Highland SorcererClover Autrey / History & Fiction / Romance & Love
By Clover Autrey
Copyright 2016 Clover Autrey
A Highland Sorcery Novel
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
Table of Contents
Charity Greves barely plunked her purse down on the counter when a mini-cyclone rippled through her kitchen, lifting her hair and zinging an electrical current down her spine. The world opened up on a slash of spiraling gray—and a naked bleeding man materialized out of thin air.
And dropped to the linoleum.
Hey. She just mopped that floor.
The gray swirling rift in space hovered in the air for a few seconds, pulling on her clothing and hair, until it closed on itself like a small universe imploding.
She frowned. Sorcerer.
Had to be a sorcerer. They were the only magic wielders around who had the ability to travel a rift from one place to another.
And a powerful one by the looks of him. There weren't many sorcerers left in the world who could tune in and sense a healer across distances and fewer still who could open and travel through a rift in space while in the weakened condition he appeared to be in.
Her pulse kicked up a notch. Should she be afraid? Backing up toward the door, she grabbed her cell phone to punch in 911, wondering just how dangerous the sorcerer could be, except…he didn’t look all that dangerous sprawled on her floor, bleeding all over it. Kicked and battered puppy was more like it. She couldn’t exactly explain how a naked guy ended up in her apartment in that condition if she called for help anyway. Besides, she was a healer. Geez, get a grip and take care of the man already.
He’d obviously come to her for help. Which was mildly flattering that someone within the magical community had actually heard of her for him to seek her out. Unless he had simply let his senses pick a healer out at random. All right, that wasn’t so flattering, but one had to take what she could get.
Charity pulled a stack of dish towels from a drawer and knelt down beside the poor guy. After all, it wasn't everyday she came home from the herbal shop to have a wounded sorcerer travel across space especially for her world-renowned healing abilities.
Okay, so she wasn't world-renowned, and she’d only been sought out maybe three times before. At most. And one of those times was a sorcerer seeking her grandmother, but technicalities. She'd been present when he came.
"All right, big guy, what's going on with you?" She began seriously looking over his condition. Yikes. These were not wounds of the stubbed-my-toe variety she realized, taking an even closer look. He was really hurt, worse than she’d at first thought. He was covered in welts and gashes, blood and grime across his torso, hips and legs. Some of those cuts looked pretty deep. His eyes remained closed though the thick lashes fluttered with each pain-filled rise of his chest. His wrists were torn and chafed as though some kind of bindings had encircled them for a long time, some kind of thick band, not rope. Since nothing inorganic traveled through a space rift she couldn't be sure what had done it. Her muscles tightened. Someone had done this to him. Maybe she should call the police in.
Whatever he'd endured, it had been horrible and her heart went out to him. What on earth had this sorcerer gotten himself into? And a more troubling thought: Would whatever he’d gotten himself into follow him here? She really didn’t want to get into any magical squabbles within the wielder community.
“Okay, easy. I’m going to help you.” She lifted his head off the floor to get a few of the folded dish towels beneath him and then smoothed a lock of sweaty dark hair off his cheek.
He flinched at the touch, eyes snapping open, and before she knew what happened, Charity was rolled onto her back with two hundred pounds of disoriented naked male on top of her, pinning her wrist against the floor.
His gaze tracked around her kitchen, dark brows scrunching together at her shiny red trash compactor before settling back on her.
"Ye are the Healer Enchantress?" he rasped and promptly passed out. Falling on her.
Charity's breath squelched out in a whoosh. The guy was heavy. This close he didn't smell so great either which, considering the coating of dirt and sweat and blood, shouldn't be unexpected, but geez. How had her day turned into this? Not to mention, this was her favorite shirt. Now it was ruined.
She heaved out a breath, her stomach pushing up against his. Really? He was all muscle. Really heavy muscle. She pushed at his chest while at the same time tried to wriggle out from beneath him. He didn’t budge. With his chin settled in the hollow between her neck and shoulder, his warm breath tickled her ear and his breathing pattern settled into sync with hers, stomach to stomach rising and falling together, which in other circumstances, all that lean male muscle over her would be…heat flushed her skin. Oh boy. Okay maybe his odor wasn’t that bad, manly. She had to get him off of her because he was also hurt and losing blood and she needed to do her job and take care of him.
Channeling her inner Wonder Woman, she finally rolled him off of her and onto his back. His arms flopped to his sides.
This was not going so well. And what was up with Healer Enchantress? Archaic title. The women in her family hadn't been called that for centuries.
Pulling herself up, Charity scurried around him to kneel at the top of his head where it wouldn't be so easy for him to grab her again. She hoped. Even semi-conscious, the man was quick.
Gently this time, she pressed another dish towel to the worst of the still-bleeding wounds on his chest and tapped his cheek. "Hey mister. Uh, sorcerer. Guy." Nothing. She poked his shoulder. "I'd, um, go ahead and heal you, but, uh, you know it works better with a name. Soooo...could you wake up again—more calmly this time? I really do want to help. It’s what you came for, right?" And let him get on his way to go do whatever sort of things sorcerers did. Which with the mistreated condition he was in probably wasn’t something she wanted to know about either.
Not so much as a twitch from him.
Okay, then. She’d do this without his name. She stretched her hands wide over his chest. It really would be better to know who he was. Names held power. And he clearly needed her best aid. Especially since, well, she wasn't exactly the most skilled healer in the family even on her finest day.
Here went nothing. She reached down deep into her center being for her magic. The thrumming started in the pit of her belly. Magic pulsed through her, the rustle of a flock of birds taking sudden flight. Buzzing energy surged upward and outward with each stroke of her heart, carrying forth the innate magic that was hers by birth and heritage.
Magic flowed through her, tingling and glowing beneath her skin like translucent static electricity. The ends of her hair lifted. Focused, Charity anchored the magic deep within her core, her essence, and guided the power outward into her arms and through her palms and outward...to flow into him. The one who needed her.
The sorcerer gasped. His back arched up, neck stretched. Shoulders and head ground into the floor, but she kept going, kept pouring the healing into him, even knowing she caused him pain.
Healing was never easy. Not for the one being healed nor for the one doing the healing.
The cuts on his flesh began mending, decreasing in size. The swollen skin around the bruises lightened. Tendrils of opaque pink glow twisted between her fingers. The man's eyes flared open. Piercing ice-blue. Penetrating. Intelligent and guarded. Large hands caught around Charity's wrists as though to hurl her hands from him, but instead his hold tightened.
"Toren," he panted out, eyes locked with hers. With the speaking of his name, magic flowed out of him, into her, forceful and hard. His magic. Sorcery. The power of his name, his essence.
That had never happened to her before.
Stunned, Charity shied back from it, until the awful quaking of his body tore at her healer's heart. She wouldn’t stop now. Bearing down, she rode the tremendous wave of energy like a pebble rolling with a landslide.
She grasped onto his magic, adding it to her own, enhancing her limited supply with what he had in spades. His magic wasn’t magic of healing. But she could take it, strengthen her own, and bend it to her gift of healing. The healing flowed from her like the pull of a tide, streaming into him, knitting flesh and bone faster than she would ever have managed on her own. A rib moved beneath her palm. Calcium fused back together.
She went deep inside him. She didn’t mean to, it just kind of happened, like being sucked into a whirlpool of churning enchantment. She felt adrift in strong emotions. His. She swirled through them, a crumbling leaf in turbulent winds, but wow—he was beautiful. Or rather, his essence was beautiful. He was protective to the extreme. A man who bore the weight of responsibility like a glowing crown or halo on his head, streaked with determination and stubbornness. He was a man accustomed to making quick and lasting judgments—Charity tried to pull away from the emotions, not understanding how she knew all that about him in a mere instant. She just felt it. Experienced every emotion with him, all his hopes, wants, and fears. And he loved. Gods, how he loved. Fiercely, with unfathomable kindness and compassion etched deeply into his soul. Pressure built behind her eyes. Her throat tightened. Gods, he…he…She suddenly knew this man better than she knew anybody, yet she didn’t even know him at all. They’d just met. This was some deep and strange messed-up kind of magical energy going on between them.
His thoughts jumbled inside her head. He was confused. Disoriented. And profoundly worried. About himself? No. Others. Others were in danger. He was determined to endure. Give them a chance…
Charity tried to break free of his turbulent emotions. She didn’t understand them, but they were so strong, dragging her under. She didn’t want them. And they were so powerful. He loved deeply and worried deeply, intoxicatingly so. She had to break away. Now. Or succumb to his feelings. She pulled back on her magic, dragging it away from his and felt the slide of his thoughts and sensations trickle away, fading from her head, her soul.
She could think a little more clearly now and dove back into the process of healing, searching for other injuries or illness, staying away from any slight touch of emotion. Another broken rib. Crushed fingers. Torn ligaments in his shoulder. Who could do such a thing to someone like him?
Reining in her distress at his mistreatment, she worked efficiently even though she had never even attempted to heal so many injuries at once. Her magic would usually be at an end by now until she could rest and replenish what she’d used from the magic of the earth. But with the magic she had borrowed from him, she seemed to have an abundant supply so she kept going, healing as much as she could while she could.
That was the thing about magic. It could be shared between willing parties, though never just taken. However, even borrowed magic could still only be used in the medium of the magical wielder using it. Charity could draw from the sorcerer’s reserves, yet that would not give her the abilities or skills of a sorcerer. The only thing she could do with it is heal. And it worked the other way around too. If the sorcerer drew upon her magic, small as it was, his would be enhanced, but he still would not have the gift of healing.
So he had sought her out.
She and her sister shared magic every now and then, and they’d both helped their grandmother when she healed a few of the more extreme injuries that came her way, but she’d never once experienced this sharing of emotions before. Which…the flow of healing abruptly stopped seeking for wounds as she was struck by a disturbing thought. Could he be experiencing her emotions right now as well? She didn’t want a stranger—a sorcerer at that—knowing her so intimately.
And it was intimate, dammit.
Think on that later. Heal him while you still have strength, her inner voice reasoned. She resumed the current of his magic, moving to another second broken rib. This was going to hurt. She readied for it, yet the pain of mending bone clawed at her throat and with the healing came images—sensations. Not the emotions again, but a full-on viewing.
What in the world is this now?
She’d never had a viewing before either. It wasn’t exactly what healers did. Healers, well, healed. Plain and simple.
Images flooded her mind like looking through the long cylinder of a telescope and zooming in with the lens. She glimpsed a woman at the other end, features indistinct and hazy. And then she was there in a darkened room beside the woman. Toren was there too, standing, his back against a stone wall. Leather bands with glowing gold markings secured his wrists above his head. His head hung down. Dark hair obscured his face, yet Charity knew it was him. She felt the unique signature of his magic rising off him.
She watched the scene around her as though she were a specter inside the room with them. The sorcerer really was a prisoner. The leather bands had caused all the damage to his poor wrists. It was archaic, completely surreal. Okay, there were a lot of magic wielders who were just plain nuts, but seriously, who did things like this? The woman’s long nails grazed over Toren's bare chest, and Charity stiffened.
She did this to him? A slender woman somehow held him captive? Why?
Without thinking, Charity grabbed for the lady’s arm to stop her, but her hand passed right through. Because, oh yeah, she wasn’t really there, because in truth she was watching a replay of scenes from Toren’s brain while she was in the process of healing him. A healing that had been interrupted by a viewing. This was so weird. She wished it would stop, that this motion picture would shut off.
Toren moaned, trying to lift his head. Firelight flickered across his sweat-dampened skin. She wrinkled her nose at the scent of smoke and pitch.
A tattered plaid kilt slanted low across his waist in contrast to the woman's pristine white gown. They looked like they'd stepped onto a historical movie set. The woman placed her palm to the wounded sorcerer's ribcage. Her lips moved. As though it possibly made any difference, Charity leaned forward, concentrating on the words.
". . . will be mine . . . hidden . . ."
That's all she got before the woman pressed her palm forward and Toren's ribs snapped. The punch of it speared through Charity. She flinched back—screamed out the pain. Toren's head flung back, grinding against the hard wall. His eyes rolled back in agony.
Charity fell forward, wrenched violently back through the looking glass, her sight tunneled in rapid force back to her kitchen and one hand caught on the floor, the other on Toren's chest at exactly the same spot the witch's hand had been above his ribs.
Charity jerked her hand away.
The sorcerer’s magic abruptly abandoned her.
And she listed a little sideways before catching herself. A tingly floaty sensation assailed her, dizziness like when you stand up too fast. The beginnings of a headache dimmed the edges of her vision, her typical physical reaction after a healing. It drained her. She could expect the headache to hit with full force in about twenty minutes and then she’d need to sleep it off for several hours. Except this headache seemed to be already pounding against her skull a little faster than usual.
Why wouldn’t it with the vast amount of magic that just flowed through her?
Toren hissed, eyes fever-bright against flushed skin, and locked on hers with a silent plea.
She pushed her own concerns aside for now. She needed to attend to him quickly and see him on his way while she was still functional. That woman had hurt him. Had been hurting him for who knew how long? But he was safe now, out of her clutches. And nearly healed, nothing that some strong meds and a long night’s rest wouldn’t get him back on his feet now. In a few hours he’d be better off than her as she succumbed to the weakness performing a healing always brought. Perhaps she should call him a cab?
"Shhh-shh." Charity ran a trembling palm across his brow. During the healing, or rather that connection between them, she'd felt his pain and vulnerability as well as the hope he'd so desperately clung onto in the midst of horrific torture. As much as she didn’t appreciate the intrusion, she also had never wanted to help anyone more than she did this man. It burned into her like a physical need. She had to help him however she could. She was going to help him. Maybe she should let him stay. For one night. Until he slept through the ordeal himself. Not that she thought letting a stranger stay when she knew she would be down for the count soon. Vulnerable. Yet. She knew him. She knew he would never hurt anyone. She could trust him to stay. "Don’t worry. You’re going to be fine."
Still staring at her, his lips quirked up in a sad smile and all sorts of things started leaping around in Charity's belly. Her heart constricted. She stared. Her mouth went dry. When he smiled like that, his face came alive. Even with the coating of dirt cracking around the lines at the corners of his eyes, he was breathtaking. Damn.
A warm palm slid around her wrist, his long fingers encircling it completely. "Ye already have." His voice was petal soft. Weak. Foreign.
"I have...?" Well, yes, she had helped him, didn’t she? She could barely speak around the shock of what his mere smile was doing to her insides. Or maybe it was just an effect of the dizzying weakness creeping over her. She shook her head to try and clear it and get back to business. It didn’t quite work so she forced herself to pull away from his gaze and take a quick inventory. Bruises lingered where cuts and welts had been. Skin tone, though sweaty, held a much healthier hue. She could feel his penetrating eyes watching her. She swallowed, trying to get moisture back in her mouth and felt along his ribcage, finding no give or unnatural movement.
Where the witch had hurt him, Charity had healed. Her heart roared to life. She'd done that?
She'd done that!
"Yes." She fist-pumped the air and immediately regretted the movement as a fresh spike of pain ripped through her head. No more fist-pumping for a while, but she couldn't stop the swell of excitement. All those injuries, all at once. She had never mended anything more serious than a light case of inflammation on her own before and that had exhausted her.
Toren shifted up a bit to lean back on his elbows. She felt him watching her. A quick glance proved it. She wished he would smile again. But why would he under the circumstances? Geez, she better get it together. He’d been held prisoner, beaten, probably starved, somehow escaped and sought her out. She was probably the first healer his magic latched onto. He was still weak.
And she needed to act like a professional. Poor guy still looked like he'd gone ten rounds in a meat grinder. Okay, she needed to get something in him before he passed out on her, maybe some soup. She could use some as well. Or tea. Definitely let him use her shower and get him something to wear, though even her baggiest sweats weren't going to fit. She had a blanket. He should be used to that. After all he had been wearing a kilt when she had the vision of him in that dungeon.
“Oh my....” She slapped a hand across her mouth, those tiny details settling into her weary mind. Her other hand started flapping.
"Oh my hell oh my hell oh my hell. You…you..."
She was so stupid, so caught up in the euphoria of being sought out and then actually healing. No wonder she'd been able to do it—with the kind of power this sorcerer had.
His magic had to be beyond immense if what she was thinking was true.
Could it be?
Was that even possible?
"Where are you from?" Her voice came out like a breathless whisper.
His head canted to the side, dark brows bunching, the picture of innocence.
Charity swallowed past the hysteria climbing her throat and tried again. "When? When are you from?"