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A lie meant to protect her could lead to her destruction…
Sylvia’s brother, Theo, reveals the unimaginable—their parents were anything but human. Her half-brother may be a dragon, but Sylvia has inherited both their parents’ magic. Her life was already complicated; now the sudden appearance of a handsome, haughty Djinn with anger management issues doubles the tension. She is both drawn to and repulsed by Rafi, which is adding to her confusion.
Rafi is shaken when he meets the sweet and sexy Sylvia. How can he—a sworn hater of humanity—be attracted to a human?! He can’t shake the power she has over him or his raging desire for her. As he struggles, determined to win Sylvia and become her forever lover, his own magical brother’s growing madness and violence threatens to overwhelm them all.
Sylvia learns there’s a spell covering her, one meant to protect her and hide her magic. She struggles to break the protecting enchantment so she can fight, alongside her brother, against the pestilence that is coming. Is Rafi on their side, or will the fidelity of brotherhood bind him to evil?
Facing a master of magic, Sylvia knows her steadfast belief in the human heart and harmony within the forces of the earth isn’t much use. As she races to find the answer to unlocking her magic, she can’t help wondering if their love—connecting Rafi’s wind and her water—can find balance and be enough to protect them and those they love from a force intent on their destruction.
Author’s note: Swimming for Air is Book 2 in the Messing Up Magic series.
I’ve gotta go. Mr. Puddles is giving me the look.
MP needs to chill. Love you. See you tomorrow night!
Sylvia shoved her phone in her pocket, pulled her long blond curls into a pony and picked up the leash. “Tina says you need to chill, Puddles. Wait until you see how hot it is outside, you’ll be wishing for chill.”
They swung out of her crappy double-wide rental and headed towards the reservoir; it was her favorite thing about living there. Every other home on Martin Street was a mansion, sitting upon incredible manicured lawns with gorgeous tropical plantings and fountains. Each had, she was certain, disappearing edge pools with hot tubs tucked into lofty pool enclosures alongside a tasteful lanai. The property she rented was the neighborhood eyesore. Two trailers teetered on a five-acre parcel with tenants in each one. When she first moved in, she loved the quiet, the access to the walking paths, and her neighbor in the other trailer, Taylor, was decent.
That changed when she met the fancy neighbors. To be more precise, one tucked a note in her mailbox detailing her sins of living in the ugly eyesore trailers. This is such a farce. Eyes rolling, Sylvia grabbed out one of her old protest signs and painted it white, sketching and filling in the letters after it dried.
Take it up with the Owner or my Attorney
Marcus Bellshire, Esq. 813-449-8382
“Like I don’t know my rights,” she muttered as she stuck it in the ground near the road. There were no more notes, but a sense of permafrost pervaded Martin Street over the following warm weeks of May. I do not care. I get ‘right of enjoyment’ with my lease. Y’all can shove your clutched pearls where the sun don’t shine.
Mr. Puddles tugged Sylvia toward the mowed trail that began at the dead end of Martin Street and led through to the Lawton C. Chiles Regional Reservoir. A twenty-foot wide walking path surrounded the water, used by the people in the adjoining neighborhoods to jog or bicycle, and every quarter mile was a doggie bag station and a trash can.
The security guy in the golf cart returned her wave as they broke into a run. The muggy mid-June air prickled her skin, but they made the mile and stopped. Puddles got his business on before crossing the path for a drink at the water’s edge. Sylvia kept an eye on the water. The reservoir’s ongoing maintenance meant it wasn’t a desirable home for gators, but she didn’t care. Better vigilant than horrified is my motto. I suppose that’s not much of a motto, but as the Puddles Mama, I’m standing guard.
Thirst slaked, Mr. Puddles cocked his head.
“Tck, tck! Let’s go, boy.”
Puddles barked, staring at the water.
“Oh, crap, is it a gator? Puddles, come! Pud…”
The roar shocked her system as water exploded in a vertical column from the reservoir, blasting her feet off the ground, the pressure slamming against her body. A reflexive yank on Mr. Puddles’ leash pulled him to her as they blew twenty feet over the bank onto the path. Sylvia whammed to the ground on her back as the forty-pound dog smashed on top of her, knocking the remaining air from her chest.
She had a death grip on Puddles’ fur, her chest and head screaming in pain. I… can’t… catch… my… air. The smothering water crashed back to earth; she shook with panic inside the pounding torrent. The sheer mass of water lifted her body. It’s grabbing us! The unbelievable force, yanking them into the current, sluiced them back toward the basin.
Sylvia rolled, fighting the returning water’s insistence to steal her away. Fright tearing her throat, she jammed her feet under her, struggling against the push, clutching Puddles close. Ankle-high, the rushing water tugging hard, Sylvia stared at the enormous whirlpool. It whipped and roared, sounding like Niagara Falls as it drained back into the reservoir, rushing down through the gaping hole. She stood, dumbfounded, the last of it drained into the earth.
It’s gone. Vanished! All of it! Holy crap, what happened?
To her right, she sensed movement and turned. That’s the biggest dog I’ve ever seen, and he’s coming straight for us! Puddles whimpered in her arms. If I run, he’ll chase us. The dog was black, 160 pounds easy, with a rough, shaggy coat, yellowish eyes, and, as it slowed, the beginning of a snarl.
Sylvia’s throat clicked as she swallowed, staring just past the dog. I know not to stare at it, that’s aggression, but oh my God, it’s huge!
“Help!” she whispered, voice gone in fright. My tummy is all twisted. I feel like puking.
The dog circled, and Sylvia felt pee running down her leg. The snarl became a growl, and she willed herself not to move. No, no, no, no, don’t. Stay. Don’t run!
The dog looked up and eased back, turning toward the scrub and trotting away, still growling. Sylvia turned, waving at the security guy and two men running towards her. They arrived and circled her, the two men flashing badges.
“Miss, we’d like to ask you a few questions. Come with us, please.”
In the scrub, the dog became a man, his quiet laugh as they led her away grew louder.
“Oh, man, she pissed herself. That’s perfect.”
A second huge black dog trotted up the soggy reservoir trail, sniffing, before veering into the brush.
The second dog, now a man, agreed. “Off the chain, my Brother.”
“The shock wave I released through the water was perfect. Yours blasted right through the bottom, a perfect shot. It’s in the aquifer now, Pirro,” Rafi said, running his big hands through his long dark hair that fell to his waist. Rafi looked to be in his mid-thirties, 6’ 7”, with huge shoulders, a broad chest, and smooth tanned skin. He was also naked.
“What happened to the girl?” Pirro asked.
“Two cops and the wimp security guy grabbed her. His golf cart slid right out from under him as the water returned.” Rafi laughed, remembering the expression on the guy’s face. “Classic.”
“You scare her?” Pirro knew of Rafi’s tendency to go soft on the human ladies. Djinns aren’t easy on humans in Pirro’s book. Their misery was the entire point.
“She pissed herself,” Rafi said, shifting to an osprey and preparing to leave. “I’m finished here. You?”
Pirro shook back his copper-red hair, spun into a long mop of tight wild curls that hung halfway down his back, shot Rafi a half smile and completed his shift. The Djinns lifted, heading for the next new trouble.
“What’s your name, Miss,” the taller cop asked Sylvia, leaning toward her.
“Sylvia Bravian. This is Mr. Puddles. I live on Martin Street. He,” she pointed to the security guard, “knows me. I run here every day.”
“Ms. Bravian, we need a statement from you. We can do it here at Mr. Gamble’s office,” he gestured at the security guard, “or we can go to the station.”
“The office is fine. I’m soaked and want to get home to dry clothes.” And a well-earned bourbon. “I have little to share, I’m afraid.”
Mortified that she might smell, Sylvia followed the guard to his office, the two officers following behind her. Thank God I’m soaking wet. At least it’s diluted.
She sat as the taller cop said, “Please describe what you saw, Ms. Bravian.”
Sylvia noticed that the shorter cop was recording. Freckled, small but wiry, he wore his red hair cut close. I bet he hates his curls.
“I left my home with Mr. Puddles at about 6:30. We came through the mowed path at Martin Street, and I waved to Mr. Gamble. Oh, it’s nice to meet you.” Her smile for Gamble trembled. “He waved back. Puddles and I ran a mile and stopped. He pooped, I picked it up and put it in the can, and let him go to the reservoir to drink. I know there shouldn’t be gators in the water, but I always watch.”
“What happened next, Ms. Bravian?”
“Puddles barked. I didn’t see a gator, but I pulled him back. The air changed. Weird. Hard, like it was a wall. It knocked me backward, and Mr. Puddles landed on my chest, The water poured out of the sky. I was sliding in water, back towards the reservoir, and I got my feet underneath me and stood. The water rushed back towards the basin, and I realized there was a hole in the middle. The water poured through the hole and it was empty!”
“Did you see anyone besides Mr. Gamble?”
“Only a loose dog. Big. Huge. Scary. You need to call animal control to come and get him.”
Sylvia shivered, and not because of the office A/C. Something about that dog was damn weird. He was thinking it over, deciding what to do with me, weighing options. Sentient over instinctive.
The shorter cop wrote her address and contact info into his notes and gave her a smile. “You were in the right place at the worst time, Ms. Bravian. Do you need medical attention for that scrape?”
Sylvia twisted, looking at the side of her shin, surprised by the long scrape. Must be from sliding across the asphalt. Ouch.
“No, but thanks. I’ve had worse from softball,” she told him, taking the card he offered. Patrick Murphy. That’s a good Irish name. Goes with his Boston accent.
“Have you been in Florida long, Detective Murphy?”
“Now, the accent gave me away, I suppose.”
“The state will send engineers to this site,” the taller cop interjected. “They may have questions for you. In the meantime, head on home and take care of your leg, Miss.”
“I will. Thanks.” Sylvia rose, grabbing the leash, and closed the door behind her, chafing her way toward Martin Street, dry clothes and the needed bourbon.
“Her story matches yours, Gamble. My gut says she was telling the truth. You ever heard of a sinkhole opening the way this one did, Boggus?”
Max Boggus shifted his weight and looked at both men. “Nope. Sinkholes are never quick. They drop open into the earth, and grow larger over time, but shooting up through water? Not how it works. When a sinkhole opens under water, the water slides in the hole, but the action happens under the surface.”
“Gamble, how much water was in this thing?”
“Fifteen and a half billion gallons.”
“With a B? Damn. At eight pounds to a gallon that’s….” Murphy’s voice trailed off.
“124 billion pounds of water,” Boggus answered.
Murphy shot him a look.
“Math is my thing,” Boggus said, a half-grin tugging a corner of his wide mouth. Boggus resembled a young Jeff Goldblum on a bender. Handsome, but it didn’t line up Hollywood perfect.
“I’m glad you were here to take that missing equipment report and saw this. What on God’s green earth could push that much water straight up into the air?” Gamble wondered aloud.
“Hell if I know,” Murphy answered, opening the door and stepping out into the humidity. “Damn, Boggus, do you ever get used to this air? Let’s go file a report that will ask more questions than it answers.”
“Here’s something,” Murphy jerked his head at his computer screen as Boggus slid his chair toward Murphy’s desk. “Our eyewitness is a water activist.”
“She’s 150 pounds sopping wet, Murph,” Boggus replied. “Gamble is confident she wasn’t near the plant. She jogs the same couple of miles, heading away from the plant buildings, every time. There’s no proof that human hands triggered this event; preliminary forensics found no evidence of tunnels, blasting materials, or bomb residue. We got nothing, Murph. I don’t know how you did it up in Beantown, but down here, we look for pieces that fit.”
“I’m not saying we’ve got a lead, but an active protest movement and a catastrophic event? There could be something there. I’m game to talk to them. We don’t have a bunch of leads.”
“We don’t have a crime, Murph. Let the engineers do their thing. We get evidence from them, we can take a shot. My best guess is a gas pocket under the reservoir that blew. It’s not scientific, but until we have facts, guessing is all we have.”
Boggus rolled back to his seat, looking at his screen and the open file of the WET (Water Equality for Tampa) protesters that had occupied most of his morning. He enlarged the next photo, finding Sylvia, then picking through the crowd, examining each face. Boggus had a good memory for faces. He’d known who Sylvia was as soon as they circled her on the walking path at the reservoir. Two males lounged against the wall behind the crowd, so tall that their heads stuck up over the crowd. They might be observers, but something blurred the image. Could be nothing, or something. Big guys, though. I’ll see what forensics can do with this picture.
Tina, looking gorgeous in a short orange dress that set off her smooth chocolate skin, sat at their favorite table, waving with her usual verve when Sylvia popped into O’Leary’s Pub.
After hugs and putting in a drink order with Tally, their favorite waitress, Tina leaned back. “Is that a new phone? You look like crap. What happened, Sly?”
At work, she was Sylvia, a sturdy, dependable name. She considered it a mature name, one of respect. She had a serious job. Away from work, her friends call her Syl, but Tina, her best friend since they hung out in the car-rider line at school, swinging legs too short to reach the ground, had always called her Sly.
“You’re too smart to be Syl. It’s so boring! You should be Sly, now that’s an interesting name,” an earnest eight-year-old Tina told her
She wracked her brains and said, “Only if you are TNT.”
“Yeah! We need a secret handshake, too,” Tina said. By the time their mothers showed up to bundle them home, they had a slip slide, for Sly, and they blew it up at the end, for TNT. Twenty years later, they were closer than ever.
“I was at the reservoir when the sinkhole opened,” Sly began. “Except, that was no sinkhole.”
Tina blinked, shifting from party-girl mode to lawyer as she looked at her. Sly’s degrees were in environmental science and geology. She’d blown through the honors college in Sarasota, then completed double masters at UF. Sly was an up-and-coming expert in the state on water issues, with several published papers. Tina went to Stetson, passing the bar on her first try, then fast-tracked to partner.
“What are you saying?”
“TNT, that water exploded damn near vertically. No idea what caused it, or how, but the air compression pushed me, knocking me back a good twenty feet. I’m grateful that the force pushed through that water; otherwise, MP and I would be dead. I’m positive.”
Tina’s eyes widened. “Wait. Who? You think this might not be natural? Damn, Sly.” She sipped her drink, thinking. “You’re on both sides of this between work and your protest efforts against water management in west Florida. What does that mean for you?”
“The WET group can’t do what I saw happen, Tina. They are 100% non-violent. This takes resources along with organizational and tactical skills the WET group does not possess.” Sylvia sipped her Jack and pushed her waist-length curls back over her shoulder, oblivious to several pairs of appreciative eyes. “They might call me to research or investigate through work, since we subcontract for the State, but in the meantime, I’m keeping an ear to the ground. If an eco-terrorist wannabe is trying to pin this on WET, they’d better be ready. That’s not happening on my watch.”
“Don’t mess with Sly!” Tina laughed and leaned forward. “The reservoir’s disappearance makes the proposed Tier water policy even worse.”
“It was a crappy policy from inception.” Sly crossed her arms on the tabletop and leaned forward. “I’m worried this creates a greater incentive for the pro-Tier people to push hard. The price of our water, which is already a scarce commodity, will jump. That reservoir failure is a significant loss. Huge. The high volume water users think they need a price break; what we need is a water conservation requirement. West Central Florida needs to use less. Period. These aquifers aren’t infinite. This fight will get angry, and fast.”
The door jingled and two men entered. Sly felt more than heard TNT’s sharp intake of breath.
“Oh, yeah. Sneak a peek.”
Both men were basketball tall, 6’ 6” at least, long-haired, with broad shoulders tapering to narrow waists and long strong legs that filled their jeans out. Packages too. Extra spicy jambalaya, tip to toe, each of them. There was no weak wingman here.
“In a band, I suspect, with that hair,” Sly murmured.
“I am with the band, girl. Like, all the way,” Tina agreed, shaking her curls and crossing her legs.
Rafi caught Pirro’s eye. “The woman from the reservoir is here. The back table near the window.”
“Perfect,” Pirro said. “Let’s chat up the ladies and get laid. We shall discover what they know of our little side project.”
Rafi snatched Sylvia up, swung her into the shop’s doorway and pinned her, feet a foot off the ground, with his body.
He’s rock hard, and he intends to kiss me right here in the street! Holy crap!
“Little one, we are about to have a night.” His dark eyes held hers as her mind scrambled, so much fluff, whirling into acquiescence.
Rafi ran a long finger down the side of her face, tracing her ear before sliding across her throat’s heartbeat and settling along her nape, his huge hand cradling her head. Sylvia couldn’t help it, she quivered. Rafi noticed and laughed, leaning in to take her mouth, his kiss telling her what he would do, a story of tongues and triumph.
The steel in her voice surprised her. A tiny line appeared between Rafi’s brows.
“No?” His voice was low, dangerous, sexy.
“No. Put me down.”
Rafi leaned his chest away from her, holding her body with his hips, sliding her down, his cock burning into her belly as her feet reached the ground.
“Your loss, love. You looked like you needed to unwind.” Rafi stepped back, tipping her face up, running a finger from the pit of her throat to just under her chin as he held her gaze.
“No,” Sylvia repeated, feeling like she was on auto-repeat, but caught in the wave of something beyond lust. I need to think. This guy is off. Something isn’t right about me, either. I need space.
Her eyes tipped up, catching Rafi’s face as it changed. I think he senses it too.
He stepped away. “As you wish, love. Good night.”
In his car across the street, Boggus watched and snapped a few pictures. How many guys that big with rocker hair are in Tampa? Not many, not many at all. She broke away from the embrace and stepped around him, heading to her car, unsteady, but not looking back. She’s not into him. I could stop her, maybe try a DUI and shake her up, but I’m more interested in him.
Boggus eased his car out of the space and turned the corner. The tall guy had vanished. He’s not in a car, not on the street. Gone. What the hell?
The warm night air broke over the wings of the soaring owl as it swooped down, landing in one of the tall southern oaks on Martin Street. Eyes searching the night, its gaze followed as her headlights slid across the expensive palms and electric gates before curving into the dirt drive and clicking off in front of the doublewide. The Hyundai’s door slammed and the quick steps of a runner tapped up the steps. A crack of light crossed the porch, darkened as her body passed through it, and the door closed, the lock clicking in place.
Safe at home. I want to see what she’s doing. The owl lifted off and landed, bouncing in a thin-limbed hibiscus near the back window. Her bedroom. Perfect.
In her room, Sylvia stripped, heading for the shower. It’s not that he overstepped. Right until he kissed me, I was one-hundred percent on board. And he stopped when I asked. Something was off there though. I knew it, and I think he did too.
She shucked her clothes, stepping out of a pair of thong panties he would have preferred to pull off in person. Rafi stared at her strong legs and fine, heart-shaped ass striding into the bathroom. She’s confident. Those are the best. When you turn a woman like her inside out, she’s either won, or she’ll burn even brighter and give you the night of your life.
Sylvia crawled into bed naked. She always slept nude and knew nobody out in the boonies gave a hoot. Her mind turned the sensation over, analyzing. It was like a piece of my brain woke up and that piece was seeing things around the corner from where the rest of my mind functions. So weird.
Rafi waited as she fell asleep, ignoring his desire for once, lifting off to fly over the now empty reservoir. I swam down to the bottom, shifted, built up my energy and released a shock wave. I blew the water into the sky as Pirro blasted the second wave, breaking the bottom of the reservoir. It was child’s play to flow out of there as vapor. It was perfect. What am I missing about this?
Rafi flew down, landing in the ruptured bottom, head turning to take in the cracks and jutting rocks, then looked up at the edge. Her. I’m missing her. She stood at the water’s edge. I looked through the water at her and the dog. That guard was farther away. She was too close. How did that woman survive me?
She shouldn’t have.