“Oh.” Karen waved a hand as she filled the electric kettle. “They don’t want to overwhelm you. Sari warned them your mind isn’t protected yet. But you’ll learn the spells soon, and then they’ll introduce themselves. Everyone’s excited to meet you. We don’t get many new people.”
Bruno crossed to her and reached out his hand. Ava took it, and the immediate wash of comfort almost broke her control. Bruno held her hand in both of his big paws and bent down, smiling. “Welcome, Ava. I’m Bruno, and this is my mate, Karen. It’s very nice to meet you. We’re glad you’re here.”
“And I’ll try to be quiet, huh? So we don’t wake your guard.” He winked one blue eye, and Ava had the sudden image of Bruno in a red cap and coat.
“Do you ever play Santa at Christmas? Because you’d be awesome.”
Bruno threw his head back and laughed, patting his flat stomach. “I’ve been trying to fatten up, but it doesn’t seem to work.”
“Shh! You’ll wake Damien.” Karen shook her head and turned back to the kettle.
Ava shook her head, smiling as she walked to the table. Bruno slipped behind Karen at the counter, bending down to wrap his arms around his mate.
“Did you hear, sweet? Ava says you’re not feeding me enough.”[email protected]@@@[email protected]@@@@=======
Karen said something Ava didn’t understand; it made Bruno growl low in his throat and pull Karen closer to drop a kiss on her neck. Ava turned her head from the easy intimacy between them. She pulled three plates from the cupboard, then turned back and got another. There was no way that Damien would be sleeping for long, not with Bruno’s booming voice filling the kitchen.
In fact, by the time the coffee was poured, dark and steaming from the French press on the counter, Damien was wandering out of his room, hair mussed from the night but already dressed in warm flannels.
“We took down a tree yesterday, and he’s still awake at this hour,” Damien said, eyeing the steaming cup that Karen was already pouring cream into. “Bruno, you’ve scribed a spell I don’t know.”
Bruno winked at Ava again and pulled Karen’s chair closer. “Yes, but I’m not sharing. You’ll have to figure it out on your own.”
“Damien, how is Sari?” Karen asked. “Any progress?”
Bruno guffawed as Damien closed his eyes. “Woman, don’t you know he gets that question in some form or another ten times a day?”
Karen shrugged. “That’s because we all know she’d be far less… cranky if they reconciled.”
“We’ll be fine,” Damien said, sipping his coffee. “I’m not leaving until we’ve resolved some things.”
“Good,” Bruno said, reaching for some of the spiced nut bread that Karen had set out. Instead of grabbing a piece for himself, he reached across the table and put a piece first on Ava’s plate, then Karen’s, before passing the basket to Damien. “What I want to know is when Ava is meeting with Orsala.” He looked at her, wiggling his eyebrows. “We’re all very curious what you can do.”
Ava tried to smile. From the first day here, she’d felt and heard the probing curiosity. She wasn’t convinced there was anything special about her other than her mysterious parentage. Certainly nothing like Sari’s elemental powers or the healing she’d witnessed Astrid perform the day before. Even Karen seemed to have some sixth sense regarding baked goods.
“I can take really good pictures,” Ava said. “But that’s not very supernatural.”
“Hmm,” Karen mused. “But why are you such a talented photographer? Practice and training, I’m sure. But often, we hone our gifts without realizing their full potential. I wouldn’t be surprised if something about your chosen profession relates to your talents as an Irina.”
Bruno winked again. “See? Chamuel’s blood. My sweet girl has a sense about these things.” His eyes flicked to Damien. “I have a feeling our friend here has his suspicions, as well.”
Damien shrugged when Ava turned to him. “You’ll meet Orsala this afternoon. She’ll be able to read you.”
Karen said, “Bruno teases that I have a touch of Chamuel’s blood.”
“Chamuel? Is he an angel?”
“He’s our forefather who gifted the Irina with empathy and mental influence. My mate is probably right—”
“Say it again.” Bruno sighed. “It’s music to my ears.”
Karen gave him a wry smile. “I have a touch. But Orsala? She has Chamuel’s gift, only far stronger than me. She’s a very potent empath and she’ll be able to read you.”
“Empath? So, she can actually… feel what I’m feeling?” Ava was reluctant to vent her own emotional roller coaster on another person, even one who was supernatural.
“She can feel what you’re feeling and influence your mind, though she won’t unless it’s necessary.”
“I don’t want her in my mind.” Forget it. She’d run away before she met this Orsala person. She’d rather take her chances with the Grigori.
Karen reached out a hand. “She won’t do anything. Not unless it’s necessary. And she’ll always tell you ahead of time. Our songs say that is why empathy and influence go hand in hand. Only those with extreme empathy for another can be trusted not to use that influence to manipulate.”
Damien said, “In short, Ava, Orsala could influence your mind to do almost anything, but since she would feel your emotions—feel the consequences of forcing you to do something against your will and the mental agony that would produce—she would never do it. Does that make sense?”
“I guess.” Ava felt herself start to relax.
“It’s the reason that Sarih?fn is protected,” Bruno said. “Orsala gives everyone a mental prompt—a safety—so we are unable to reveal its location. This is what keeps us safe from Grigori who might try to kidnap one of our people and make her talk.”
“Has that happened?” A chill went down her neck.
“Yes,” Karen said softly. “A number of times. The Grigori finally realized that kidnapping us wouldn’t work. So now they just kill us on sight.”
“Orsala will give you that mental prompt when you meet her, Ava,” Damien said. “You won’t have a choice about it.”
“I’m fine with that.”
The thought of being forced to lead the Grigori to this peaceful place made Ava want to throw up. Instead, she steadied her hands on her coffee cup and took another bite of bread, deciding to steer the conversation into less dangerous waters.
“So, Karen, if I baked, I’d ask you for this recipe. But I don’t, so I’m just going to ask that you bring it by a lot.”
Karen gave her a bright smile. “Would you like to learn how to bake?”
“Unless you want your kitchen in flames, it’s probably a bad idea.”