Dark Vortex:Mated by MagicBy: Stella Marie Alden & Chantel Seabrook
The door chimes clanged and two large men, carrying a third, burst into the tea shop.
Zoe jumped up and her fresh coffee toppled onto her lap. Hot. Hot. Hot.
“Where’s Olivia? We need her. Now.” The older of the two strangers ignored her dance of pain and struggled with the weight of the man he carried.
“I aah...” She pushed her glasses up her nose, shaking out her wet shorts, and pointed to the curtain. “Put him on the daybed in the backroom.”
She grabbed her cell phone, and tapped her cousin's number.
Five...six…unanswered rings. Come on Liv, pick up.
“Help us,” the younger man yelled from the doorway.
With an uneven breath, she left the ice cream parlor décor of the front room and entered the exam room. Even before she approached the men, the overpowering stench of rotting fish made her stomach turn. She swallowed the bile that rose in her throat.
“You're both going to have to leave." The two glared, refusing to budge, and she gritted her teeth. “I can’t help him with you close by."
She pointed to the paisley curtain that divided the two spaces.
The men snarled, but obeyed. When they were gone, she took a deep breath and tried her cousin again. Please pick up.
“Hi, leave a message for Olivia’s Natural Herbal Remedies…” Damn, damn, damn.
The man on the bed moaned and Zoe took a tentative step toward him. His white t-shirt was torn, the fabric charred at the edges, but his olive skin seemed unscathed. He needed a doctor, not an herbal concoction. The people in this town were even crazier than the ones she’d encountered during her short stay in New York.
She should call his friends back and tell them, or better yet, dial 911. Zoe was about to do just that when she saw it. What the hell?
Under the man’s skin, a leach-like creature strained and writhed, making black web marks. She swallowed a scream and backed into the large cabinet where Olivia kept her herbs and tonics. She’d seen a lot of weird shit over the past three months, since coming to stay with her cousin, but this had to be the craziest.
Zoe glanced at her phone and cursed Olivia for leaving her alone. She didn’t know how to deal with this voodoo crap. Liv was the self-proclaimed healer. No matter how many times her cousin had tried to teach her to read auras and understand herbology, Zoe couldn’t wrap her brain around it.
What would Liv do if she were here? Probably chant some ritual prayer and make tea.
“Tea–” She could do that. Keeping a close watch on him, she put the kettle on to boil.
The man had gone still, his skin stark white in comparison to the inky lines that sketched over face, down his neck, arms, and chest. Zoe shivered. She took a few tentative steps towards the bed and knelt beside him.
She moved his matted bangs, and placed her palm to his forehead. He was burning up, but at least he was still alive.
“Where's Liv?” Large fingers clamped around her forearm.
The black substance seemed to enter her from where he held her in his vise-like grip, and her stomach twisted and cramped. Little pinpricks of light floated before her eyes, and something else, something much more intimate, mixed with the dark energy.
For a moment, time seemed to stand still. Ice and fire rushed through her, down her arms and legs, to the tips of her fingers and toes. A strange wind rushed through the room, causing her dark hair to whip around her face.
The kettle screamed for her attention. She flinched, but he didn't release her. His nostrils flared and his pupils dilated.
The man was handsome, if you ignored the slight crook in his once broken nose. The dark stubble on his chin and upper lip outlined high cheekbones, square jaw, and full lips. But it was the eyes that caught her attention, the lightest brown, with flecks of gold that seemed to flicker in the dim light.
“Who are you?” he growled between clenched teeth.
The energy between them increased until Zoe was certain the entire room would combust into flames. Fear overpowered the desire that swelled within her.
“Let me go.” The words caught in her throat and came out as a strangled cry.
He uncurled his fingers and thumped his head back on the daybed, groaning.
Zoe staggered back to Liv’s workstation and placed her hands on the counter. With steadying breaths, she prepared the tea the way she’d seen Liv do it a hundred times. She just prayed that she was using the right ingredients. There wasn’t anything in any of the tins that could make him worse than he already was–she hoped.