Flame Within Excerpt:

"What are you hiding, Flame Curate?" His words stung her.

She slapped at the branches. "I told you, I no longer hold that position."

"Did you delegate it thinking you were going to die?" He stepped closer.

"Yes!" She lifted her chin at him. "It was the prudent thing to do, and I did it during the last mission as well." But she wouldn't be taking her old job back this time. Too much was happening as she stood here playing with water and leaves for her to take back the mantle of authority from Roge.

"What are you hiding, by Ash? Why do you wear their foul cloaking spell?"

"Nothing! Everything! This is about privacy, Odan. This is about the fact that for centuries your people have been able to read humans' every emotion, from fear to desire, and use it against us. We wanted a shield, a way to live without your condescending meddling."

"Meddling!" He stepped forward, and now the shadows of his stripes flared out from his nose, rising up to his temples and across his forehead. "That meddling was policing your own sorry, selfish natures from the greed that infects your spirit and drives humans to seek out power at any cost. At your own King's request!"

"You're not better than us! Just because you can't become darkmages doesn't mean you're without your own darkness. Or are you ignoring the fact that a rogue Bear is now a pet of the darkmages?" She stepped forward, too, quivering with indignant ire. Her neck tipped back to meet his glower.

He leaned over her, breathing hard.

She whispered, "The spell was developed out of pride and fear. It was selfish, and it has led to increased freedom for the darkmages. We realize that, and finally, it's ending, now. But you don't know what it's like, to be so easily read, so easily-" claimed. The word echoed in her head. She swallowed to keep it back. By Skyfather's light, don't give him any ideas.

He raised up a hand and brushed the backs of his fingers over her cheek. "You don't think I know what it's like to have my every opinion known? But I do. Vivienne, we're not immune to this ability. We scent each other constantly, among the eleven Clans. My father knows when I'm horny, my Alpha knows when I'm angry, my friends know when I'm frustrated. You fear something that is natural to us."

He frowned down at her, but now his frown was more perplexed. "Look at my face. What am I feeling right now?"


He nodded. "See, you can do it, too. Do I go around with a mask on all the time, to keep you from reading me?"

"You have the ability to control your face. We couldn't hide our scent, until this."

"No one controls their eyes, face, and body all the time. People are meant to interact. We're meant to touch and be touched, with all our senses, with all of the Six." He took her hand loosely in his, and lifted it between them. He studied her short nails, the few shiny patches from old burns, the lines of her palm. When he looked up at her, his eyes were blue. "What is there to hide? Why would you want to move through life pretending to be something you're not? Who are you, Vivienne?"

His words were a coal flaring to life in a heart that had been beaten down by responsibility, guilt, and a need for approval. "I don't know."