By Brenna Lyons
It seems a balance, the line between Fate and Chaos, but it's a war. When one pushes, the other pushes back. Welcome to Fates Castle, home of the elders, readers of the love fates. When Ondrea is called to find her mate, she thinks she can't possibly latch onto the wrong man. Is Fate ever so simple?
Ondrea O’Ken stared at the invitation, her heart skipping with excitement. She’d been invited to a choosing event.
A magic user wasn’t invited until the matchmaking elders saw the need, and most weren’t invited until they’d reached their thirtieth years. At twenty-four, Ondrea would be one of the youngest admitted.
Her head spun with plans.
What should she wear? Since Ondrea would be meeting her destined mate, the urge to impress him beat at her. Only her finest would do.
But, he was her destined mate. He would love her for herself. Ondrea shouldn’t seek to put on airs.
How would she know him? There would be dozens of magic users invited.
Ondrea shook that thought free. The elders would see to that, with their fate magic and choosing tools. She’d lay wagers it would be impossible to latch onto the wrong man at such a function.
At least...she hoped that was true.
* * * *
Kieran Medici staggered from the Fates Room, pressing a hand to the wall to steady himself. He’d heard of the power of the room, but he hadn’t believed it.
“You’ve found her, then?” one of the red elders—one of the most revered and strongest of her kind—asked, her weathered face pulled up in a smile.
“Is the room always right?” he replied. Spirits and spells, but he hoped it was...and he hoped it wasn’t.
“Always,” she confirmed.
“Then I’ve always known,” he breathed. Ondrea O’Ken.
She chuckled, then laughed outright. “A blessing in itself.”
Or a curse. He’d been so rude to her.
I was a child. But that didn’t excuse him. The spirits only knew if Ondrea would forgive past offenses.
The Fates Room says she will.
But not outright and immediately, he cautioned himself. Knowing one’s destiny didn’t preclude working for it.
The elder’s voice shook him from his internal argument. “The welcoming ceremony is about to begin. You should hurry.” She turned to go as her sister elders had no doubt done while he was in the Fates Room.
“Wait,” he called out.
She turned and nodded permission to question her.
“Why was I granted this? Why before the event began?”
“Anything worth having is worth fighting for,” she answered cryptically.
And winning Ondrea will be an uphill battle. He winced at the term. Who knew, after all the horrid things he’d said to her, that the fighting would fall to himself?
Kieran bowed to the elder. “My thanks.”
She walked one direction, at a speed surprising for one of her advanced age. Kieran set off in the other, smoothing his clothing and finger-combing his hair.
He slipped into the back of the ceremony room, joining the ranks of men waiting to be blessed by the elders. Kieran paid little heed to their descriptions of the many tools for finding a match. Instead, he sought out Ondrea in the crowd of women.
She’d developed since he’d seen her last, of course, her waist slimmer over her woman’s hips and her breasts fuller and matured. Her light oak-colored hair shimmered in the candlelight, falling in loose curls to her waist, and her dark eyes reflected points of the same luminous flickers.
Ondrea’s eyes strayed from the elders to the invited men often, and she fairly vibrated in anticipation.
She’s been sanctioned so many times for fidgeting.
Kieran’s attention snapped back to the elders as the invited moved forward for the blessings. They filed up, and the elders alternated...first a man then a woman...
His turn came and passed in a blur. If Fate blessed him with Ondrea, it was more than he’d dared hope for.
His gaze locked on Ondrea, Kieran barely noted the rest of the blessings...save one thing. They ended on a man. Beginning on a man and ending on a man meant there was one more male than female present.
That fact set his mind working. Only those invited would be admitted. Surely no one had refused the invitation. The healer in him hoped it wasn’t some accident in transit.
Kieran smiled at the truth that such a thing wouldn’t be fatal...or even likely serious, just a delay in arrival time. After all, were the woman in question fated to die, the elders would have seen no need to invite her mate.
His mind at ease, he headed for the meeting room to mend past hurts.
* * * *
Ondrea forced her feet to the floor, reminding herself that a lady didn’t fidget. Still, her nerves jumped and her mind rioted. She had no clue how to proceed.
She replayed the tools for confirming a mate she could recall, but they required both man and woman touching them at the same time...or at least one partner with the other firmly in mind. True, simple palmistry and crystals would give a picture, but they were wildly inaccurate, and Ondrea wanted an effective tool.
“Ondrea,” a deep voice greeted her.
Her smile of greeting dipped somewhat at the sight of him. That simply, her fidgeting fled, and she stiffened. A hundred unkind words paraded through her mind, all from those deceptively-lush lips.
“Kieran.” She offered a slight tip of her head, just enough to be considered polite, not enough to invite his company.
As if invited, he raised her hand and pressed his lips to the back. Her heart skittered at the contact. Kieran didn’t release her; he held her hand, stroking soothing paths over the lines in her palm.
“I’ve heard you’re a healer,” she managed. He knew calming touches from his training. It was nothing more.
His smile made her stomach do a little flip, and the stroking moved to her wrist. He must be a very good healer to affect her so with a touch.
“A small practice with my father and grandfather,” he confirmed. “And you?”
Ondrea bristled at the fact that he hadn’t cared to follow it. He’s always assumed I’m like my father. “Life studies,” she informed him. “I’m a plant healer.”
“There aren’t enough. You’ll be in high demand.” Kieran hesitated only a moment, moving from her left hand to her right. “Perhaps you’d see fit to examine my healing herbs...at the usual healer’s fee, of course.”
“But, I’ve yet to qualify.” Surely he knew that. She’d been two years behind him in school, after all.
Kieran raised her hand and laid another kiss. “You have always been an adept student,” he complimented her.
Ondrea fought for clarity. That wasn’t what he’d said ten years ago. He’d claimed her difficulty in mastering a defensive spell was due to the fact that finesse was beyond an O’Ken butcher. Even now, it stung.
She pushed away the memory, then forced her gaze from his. “If only I knew where to begin unraveling this problem.”