Sun
Jul 16 2017 11:02am

Amanda Bouchet Excerpt: Heart on Fire

Amanda Bouchet

Heart on Fire by Amanda Bouchet

Who is Catalia Fisa?

With the help of pivotal figures from her past, Cat begins to understand the root of her exceptional magic, her fated union with Griffin Sinta, and Griffin's role in shaping her destiny.

Only Cat holds the key to unlocking her own power, and that means finally accepting herself, her past, and her future in order to protect her loved ones, confront her murderous mother, and taking a final, terrifying step—reuniting all three realms and taking her place as the Queen of Thalyria.

What doesn't kill her will only make her stronger...we hope.

Get a sneak peek at Amanda Bouchet's Heart on Fire (available January 2, 2018) with an exclusive excerpt of a selected scene.

Lycheron. Good Gods. He’s still as potent as a horse can get. Half-horse. Half-man. And the male half is…

I’d swallow, but my mouth has gone dry.

…something to look at.

Frankly, the horse half isn’t bad, either. Sleek. Black. Muscled. Huge. Everything—huge.

Next to me, Ianthe stares at him in utter fascination. What worries me, though, is how Lycheron is staring back. The Ipotane’s focus is only partially on Griffin. His equine ears twitch, and his massive man-shoulders keep angling our way, as if he can’t help leaning toward Ianthe. He sniffed me on the Ice Plains, like he was drawing my essence and my magic right inside him and tasting and learning them. Well, now he’s sniffing my sister, repeatedly, and his tawny eyes turn hooded. Muscles quiver down his long horse back, and Ianthe’s lips part on a softly shuddering breath. Her color rises.

The Ipotane Alpha keeps watching her, something fierce in his eyes, and the pit of my stomach starts to feel all wrong. Not because Lycheron is a magical creature. He’s wholly male, and even I have a hard time not staring at his chiseled chest, sculpted arms, and decadently handsome face. It’s because I feel the tension snapping between them—both of them—and the churning inside me springs from thinking I know exactly what the Ipotane will demand in return for his help.

Lycheron reluctantly turns his attention to Griffin again. He tosses his head, sending ebony hair rippling down his back. “Our agreement was to guard your insignificant border for no longer than six months. If you don’t need us here any longer, we’ll return to the Ice Plains.”

“I still want you to guard my border for the time remaining,” Griffin says. “But, as I’ve just explained, my border has moved a weeks’ ride to the east.”

Lycheron scoffs. “A week for you. For me, three days at the most.”

My jaw nearly comes unhinged. The Ipotane can cross all of Tarva in just three days?

“Three days, then,” Griffin says. “It’s still my border. The deal should stand.”

“It shouldn’t. And it doesn’t. You specified the border between Sinta and Tarva. Here I am. If this border no longer exists, I have no reason to guard it. And I certainly have no cause or reason to patrol the border with Fisa.”

Griffin narrows his eyes, looking ready to shoot gray arrows from them. “You’re reneging on our deal,” he seethes.

Lycheron stamps a hoof hard against the ground. “Our deal involved Sinta and Tarva. By your own decree, those two realms no longer exist. It’s just Thalyria, no border, free movement, and my herd is trooping up and down the middle of it.”

“I still have a border that needs guarding,” Griffin snarls softly.

“Then I suppose you should have worded the deal differently.” The Ipotane Alpha’s tone is cool, flat, and final. I can tell he’s not done, though. He’s too interested in Ianthe for that.

Griffin’s nostrils flare on a calming breath. It takes more than one. “Then I offer you a new challenge.”

Lycheron’s honey-brown eyes gleam with genuine interest, but then his expression hardens again, and he visibly squashes the temptation. “No. I’ve seen how the Gods favor you. It’s vexing, to say the least.”

Bollocks. I thought the Ipotane couldn’t resist a challenge. Apparently they can—when they think they won’t win.

“We won’t call a God,” Griffin quickly says. “Especially not here.”

Lycheron shakes his head. “They’re always watching you two.”

Always? Ack! I hope not.

“Offer me something else,” Lycheron says, looking straight at Ianthe.

No. No. No!

“I have nothing to give that you’d want.” Steel edges every word of Griffin’s answer.

“I want her.” Lycheron nods in our direction.

Griffin lunges for me, grabs my arm, and then shoves me behind him. From his angle, he must not have realized who Lycheron was really staring at.

“Not me,” I squeak, clutching the back of his tunic.

Griffin twists around, his eyebrows slamming down. “What do you mean, not you?” From the completely baffled look on his also livid face, I think he can’t even conceive of Lycheron wanting someone besides me.

I tilt my head to the side, grinding out, “It’s Ianthe he wants.”

Griffin’s eyes flick to my sister, his jaw like cut stone.

Lycheron takes another long breath, filling his lungs with the air around Ianthe until his impressive chest expands, clearly—and sensually—savoring whatever scent or magic he draws into his huge body along with the deep inhale. Ianthe noticeably shivers.

Griffin’s enraged glare hits Lycheron like a thunderclap. “You can’t have her, either.”

I glare daggers at the Ipotane, too. Damn right, he can’t!

Lycheron swishes his silky black tail, whipping his muscled hindquarters with it. “Then you’re right, you have nothing I want.”

Apparently, I don’t make the cut anymore. Not that I’ll complain.

Lycheron smirks, this time at me. “Little Origin, your scent has changed.” He inhales again, and it’s like a warm fist wraps itself around my insides and gently tugs.

I shiver. How does he do that?

Little Bean’s life force reacts with a hearty wiggle and thump. She felt it, too!

“Ah, I see,” the Ipotane says.

My hand instantly covers my belly. I don’t want him seeing anything in there.

Down there.

Anywhere!

Lycheron shrugs. “No wonder you lost your appeal.”

I gape at him, offended. I can’t help it. Griffin looks like he’s about to explode. Behind us, Bellanca snorts a laugh, and I whip my head in her direction. The look on my face shuts her up fast. Everyone else is quiet. Good.

“So that’s it?” Griffin growls out in anger. “That’s what your word is worth?”

Lycheron bares his teeth and paws the ground, stirring up clumps of soil. An amber glow pulses to life in the depths of his eyes, and deep-rooted anxiety jumps to full and sudden attention inside me. It comes straight from that place where survival instincts live, and right now, they’re telling me to run.

Raw power laces the air with enough magic that it chafes my skin, and I can almost taste it. But wanting to turn tail and actually doing it are two very different things, and together, Griffin and I stand our ground. It helps knowing that while Lycheron may be terrifying when he chooses to be, there’s no way in Hades he would risk the Gods’ wrath by harming us.

“My word is worth my weight in gold, and my weight is significant,” Lycheron snarls. “A bargain was struck. The wording was precise. The consequences are yours.”

I hate to even think it, but unfortunately, he’s right. I squeeze Griffin’s arm, trying to convey that. We don’t have a leg—and definitely not a hoof—to stand on. We naively hoped that Lycheron would give us the entire six months he promised, despite the specific terms of the bargain. But the fact is, we did specify the location of the border, and that’s our fault.

“Reconsider.” Lycheron looks at Ianthe again. His voice turns almost ominously deep. “You know what I want.”

A flush crawls up Griffin’s neck as his blood heats. His denial, while resting purely verbal, borders on violent. “I don’t bargain away my family’s free will. Ianthe is not for sale.”

Ianthe inhales sharply. I can practically hear her heart pounding from here, and mine sinks like a ship. Griffin has no idea what he’s just done. He defended her, called her family, and put her wellbeing above his own ambition and needs. I’d bet my magic that no one has ever done anything like that for Ianthe before. If she’s anything like me, and I’m pretty certain she is, his fierce denial to use her for his own gain just won him her undying loyalty. And we already know she’s radically and terrifyingly self-sacrificing when it comes to us.

“No, Ianthe—”

Ianthe lifts her chin and speaks over me. “I’ll go.”

“No! I just got you back!” She’s my Elpis. My other Elpis. I need her. She can’t just go. Doesn’t she want to stay with me?

“I’ll go,” Ianthe repeats with even more force, looking first at me and then at Griffin. “You need this. You both do. We have to protect the rest of Thalyria from Mother. With the Ipotane at the border, she won’t try to get past. You can invade, not her. You can attack without fearing what’s coming at your back.” She shrugs shoulders that are slight, almost too thin, but so incredibly strong. “Besides, he can’t be any worse than Galen Tarva. And it’s only six months, not forever.”

“But I don’t know what he wants from you!” My voice comes out too high, and shockingly loud. I bite my lip nearly to the point of drawing blood.

“I know what he wants,” Griffin snarls, his tone so dark it’s like a curtain of doom. My husband is incredibly angry right now.

Ianthe scoffs, understanding immediately. “That’s not possible.”

“Have you seen the Nymphs?” I hiss.

She slowly pales to a shade I don’t like at all. Then her spine stiffens and a cool, detached look changes her face entirely. Her expression grows distant. “Like I said, he can’t be any worse than Galen Tarva.”

No! I stumble a little. I can hardly breathe. She just confirmed my worst fears, and I can’t help seeing in my mind how frightening and awful it must have been. It makes me sick inside, the thought of that meaty brute on top of her, holding her down, and my little sister screaming and kicking and struggling underneath.

Mother sent her there. To be used. Abused. Ianthe could have fought him off with her Water Magic, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Galen Tarva made her believe the consequences of that kind of resistance would be even worse. For herself, and for others. A man like him would have no problem hanging the safety of his entire household over Ianthe’s head—Bellanca, Lystra, gentle, addled Appoline. Everyone.

My voice shakes with rage, and I look hard enough at Ianthe that she finally looks back at me. “You are not an object to be used. We do not barter with your body.”

“Stop speaking before I get angry.” Lycheron’s low voice swells with the warning rumble of a thousand pounding hooves.

I look at the Ipotane Alpha, and fear ices me over. He wasn’t angry before? I guess not, because now his very presence hollows my chest and coats my stomach in acid. His eyes glow a violent amber, and I shudder, literally shaking in my boots. I don’t scare easily. I don’t know how he does this to me. Even Griffin looks cowed. I feel more than see the people behind us backing away, cringing, cowering. I want to do the same. Only Ianthe is standing tall.

“I do not force myself on females. Goddess, creature, or human,” Lycheron says.

“You’ve been with a Goddess?” Ianthe asks.

I turn, gaping at her. That’s what she’s worried about?

My head whips back toward the Ipotane leader. “Swear to me,” I demand, knowing that I’ll detect any falsehood in his words, and that he’ll be magically bound by the vow. “Swear to me that you won’t touch Ianthe in a sexual way. If she goes with you, you will not touch her.”

“Ianthe.” Lycheron savors my sister’s name on his tongue like a spicy mulled wine, dragging it out long enough to uncover all the nuances that make it both zesty and sweet. His power-charged eyes fade back to a warm, only slightly luminous brown, their heated concentration solely on my sister. His gaze is so focused that it’s almost an ocular touch. “I swear to Ianthe that I will not touch her in any way she does not wish.”

Ianthe flushes deeply. Her lips part. Her breathing accelerates. She nods once, her green eyes huge, and Lycheron’s skin shudders over his taut muscles, absorbing the jolt of his unbreakable vow.

My heart starts pounding even harder than before. He swore to Ianthe, cutting me out of the loop. But there was no lie in his words when Lycheron said he doesn’t force himself on females. He swore only to touch her in ways she doesn’t object to. She… Oh my Gods. Ianthe might actually be safe with him. Safer than with us! We’re heading for Fisa. For war. For Mother.

All of a sudden, I feel much better about this.

Griffin takes a deep breath that expands his chest. His head bows, and his hands fall to his hips. For a moment, he looks defeated. When he looks up again, to Ianthe, he says, “I should thank you, but I really wish you’d just take it all back.”

She breaks eye contact with Lycheron to look at him. “Take care of Talia.” Her voice wavers at the end when she truly sees Griffin’s face and understands his sincerity—he does wish she would take it all back. “…Brother,” she adds hesitantly, as if it’s a new word she’s trying out for the first time, one she only just learned the meaning of and isn’t quite sure how to fit into her reality yet.

It breaks my heart, and the way my chest contracts literally cuts off my breath. From Griffin’s tortured expression, he understands the gift Ianthe just offered with a single word—trust. And letting her leave with this volatile, otherworldly male now pains him even more. Upset doesn’t even begin to describe him. He’s outwardly calm and quiet now, but I know the storm that rages underneath.

Ianthe looks away, but not before I see the glistening sheen in her eyes. We’re her family now, the one she’s probably secretly dreamed of since the day Eleni died, and in my selfish grief, I left her behind. Ianthe was nine. Alone. Unprotected. No Thanos. No Eleni. No me. Her magic was still so far from being mature that I didn’t even know she would turn into a powerful Water Mage. Being the youngest among us probably spared her life but not much else. She’s seventeen now, all innocence irrevocably lost.

I take a sour breath that tastes like my own failures and lay my hand on Griffin’s arm. Already tensely coiled muscle tightens under my fingers. Ianthe isn’t only a new sister to him, a female relation only two scant years older than Kaia. I think he also sees her as me, the young me he didn’t know yet and wasn’t there to defend and protect. I can feel him practically shaking under my hand with the need to shield Ianthe now from the things that have already happened to us both. But it’s too late. We’re Fisan royals. We were born without shelter, in the middle of a raging storm. We were wrecked and laid bare by a person we should have been able to trust, in a place most people consider safe. Mother. Home.

I grip Griffin’s arm, maybe to keep from reaching for my sister myself. Ianthe is a grown up. This is her choice, and we need to respect it.

Lycheron steps closer to Ianthe, carnality in his every look and move. “And now you’ll swear something to me, my fragile little dove.”

Ianthe cocks her head back to meet the Ipotane Alpha’s penetrating gaze. Her voice gently rasps. “What?”

“Yes, Alpha,” he rectifies, watching her carefully.

The slightly dazed look on Ianthe’s face vanishes, and she snorts.

Lycheron grins, a slow, predatory smile that probably makes every female within ten miles flush. I know I do.

He doesn’t insist, but he insists on something else. Lowering his voice, he leans in close to tell her what he wants. “The only male or beast you’ll ride for the next six months is me.” It’s impossible to miss the possessive—and baldly sexual—undercurrent in Lycheron’s words.

Her back straight, her chin high, and not shaking in the least, Ianthe hands me her reins. Looking at her, I see densely compressed spirit. Vitality, magic, courage, love—when she detonates, she’ll rattle the world.

“I swear it,” Ianthe says. “For the next six months, I’ll ride only you.”

She tenses as her vow crashes into her bones and blood. Her bright-green eyes dilate, and then she blinks. Satisfied, Lycheron holds out his large hand. Ianthe places her much smaller one in his. In the next instant, she’s on his back, her legs wrapped tightly around his huge frame and her hands gripping his bare shoulders for balance. She gasps.

Lycheron’s ocher eyes flare with heat, burning a bright amber for the space of a heartbeat. Then, to Griffin he says, “You need not worry about the Fisan border. In three days, I’ll have it covered and impenetrable from the east.”

Without another word to us, he wheels and charges off, leaving a pounding of hoof beats in the air along with a thundering call to his herd to make haste across the realm.

My heart in my throat, I lunge after my sister. “Ianthe!” I scream.

Her lithe form fades fast, her long, dark hair snapping on the wind. She doesn’t turn. Maybe she doesn’t hear. Or maybe she doesn’t want to look back.

After eight years apart, she’s gone again with only the clothes on her back, and we didn’t even say goodbye.

***
Copyright © 2017 by Amanda Bouchet.
***
Learn more about or order a copy of Heart on Fire by Amanda Bouchet, available January 2, 2018:

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SA Today bestselling author Amanda Bouchet grew up in New England and studied French at the undergraduate and graduate levels, first at Bowdoin College and then at Bowling Green State University. She moved to Paris, France, in 2001 and has been there ever since. She met her husband while studying abroad, and the family now includes two bilingual children, who will soon be correcting her French.

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John Naylor
2. John Naylor
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