Brayden sat on the settee, holding Ariel in his arms, gazing at her. She rested her hands on his chest and snuggled up to him, breathing deeply. He tightened his hold on her and began to gently kiss her hair. His wife. The woman he loved so much. He brushed the side of her face with his thumb, then leaned down and began to kiss her. Her arms went around his neck as she kissed him back. He held her close, wanting to take her to the bed they’d barely left over the last week since they’d gotten married. He began to kiss her neck, excitement running through him as she sighed in pleasure.
She ran her fingers through his hair, then put her lips to his ear. “More,” she whispered.
He didn’t need to be told twice. He took her hand and led her to the bedroom. They lay down, kissing each other, their clothes coming off and their bodies joining together. Every time with her was amazing. It was always so sensual, so exciting. He’d never tire of making love to her. Not for the rest of his life.
He stared at her when they were finished, lying beside her, then trailed his fingers over her stomach.
She giggled. “That tickles,” she said, smiling at him, her blue eyes filled with warmth.
He smiled. “Well, I can’t be tickling the home of our baby,” he said, running his fingers over her stomach again.
Ariel laughed, pushing his hand away. “Stop it. That’s not fair,” she said, giggling. “Don’t make me use my magic on you.”
He raised his eyebrows but knew it was an empty threat. He drew her to him, wrapped his arms around her, and kissed her forehead. “Ariel,” he breathed. “I can’t wait for him or her to arrive. You think you’re a few months along?”
“About that,” she said softly. “I can’t wait, either. I can’t wait to meet our baby. I wish I’d told you I was pregnant earlier, but I really thought the early symptoms were just due to stress over what I’d been through. By the time I realized I was pregnant, we were about to be married. I know I’m a few months along—your mother said it’s normal for some women not to show at this stage. I guess I’ll be huge later, though.”
Brayden smiled, then kissed her forehead again. “You’ll still look lovely, though.” Ariel snuggled up to him, shutting her eyes and lying there silently. Brayden smoothed his hand over her long, flowing blonde hair, his mind drifting over how they’d met, nearly five months ago. They’d been thrown together but grown close so quickly. Meeting her was the greatest thing that ever happened to him.
He’d been working at an inn, and Ariel had arrived there as a guest. When Brayden had tried to help her use her magic, he’d discovered she was a High Witch—one of only three witches in the world with a rare kind of power. He knew all about High Witches—his family was descended from one.
They’d learned a man named Julius was after Ariel and wanted to put her through an ordeal called the test. Julius had used the test in the past to turn women who were High Witches, making them kill someone to save themselves when he tried to hurt them. When the women became turned, they lost any goodness inside of them and became enslaved to Julius.
Ariel and Brayden ran, but eventually Julius caught up with them. The High Witch who was currently with Julius was named Nadia. She fought Ariel in a battle, and Ariel only just escaped with her life. Julius kidnapped Brayden’s mother, Emily, and forced them both to go to him. Ariel was stuck—she had to go through the test or Julius would kill Brayden’s mother.
Julius killed Nadia, then tried to turn Ariel. Ariel was tortured by an enormous machine. If she killed Brayden, she would be turned but Julius would release her. But Ariel didn’t kill him. She let herself die by the machine, sacrificing herself to save Brayden. No witch had ever passed the test before.
Ariel miraculously came back. They all saw the result of someone passing the test: she was revived, made whole. Ariel killed Julius, then Brayden and his mother and her were all safe. They went home, and four months later, she and Brayden got married. On their wedding day, Ariel told him she was pregnant.
That was one week ago, and Brayden couldn’t be happier. He felt their lives were perfect. Just Ariel and him and soon their child. It was all he could ever want. Ariel worked with his mother brewing potions to help others, and Brayden sold them at the market. They had their own place and a new life. He had never felt so content before.
Ariel sighed deeply in Brayden’s arms, and he smiled. He adored it every time she sighed.
She moved to look at him. “Brayden?” she asked, looking a little nervous. “Are you mad at me?”
He frowned, confused. “Why would I be mad at you?”
“Because,” she began, “I haven’t started looking for the other High Witches yet. I told you I would—I told you I’d try to find them. I love living here, being with you, but I can’t put it off forever. They need to be protected. We know one is only a baby, born the day Nadia died, but the other one might be my age, or younger, or older. I don’t want someone to turn her.”
Brayden kissed her hair. “I’m not even remotely angry with you. We only just got married—we deserve to rest for a while. But if you want to start looking, we can. The thing is, she could be anywhere. She’s not likely to be nearby.”
Ariel sighed. “I know. But if Julius could find me, I can surely find her. We’ll start looking soon, okay?”
“Whatever you wish, Ariel,” Brayden said, a little fear running through him but also awe at how kind-hearted she was. He held her closely, then ran his hand over her waist and down her thigh.
Ariel smiled. “Brayden,” she whispered, kissing his neck. “You’re always distracting me.”
“I’m just trying to make you feel better. I don’t want you to feel your morning sickness.”
“Ha!” Ariel laughed. “You know I just use my magic to heal myself of that. But I’m not complaining, my love. Not for a second.”
Brayden kissed her, becoming lost in the feeling, delighting in her touch. But in the back of his mind, he still felt a little fear.
The next day they were sitting in their kitchen, a sunny room at the back of the house, drinking tea together. They had another week together before he and Ariel went back to work. Sunlight shone through the light curtains onto the wooden table, the bench and cupboards also bathed in the glow. There was a fireplace along the wall and various cooking utensils around the room. A vase of yellow flowers stood in the middle of the table.
Ariel took another sip of tea, then gasped, putting her hand to her stomach.
Brayden frowned. “What is it?” he asked.
Ariel looked at him. “I don’t know. I just felt something. Like movement, or something. But it’s too soon for that yet. I don’t know what it was.”
Brayden stood and walked over to her, placing a hand on her shoulder. “Do you want me to bring my mother here? Do you need some help?”
“No, it’s probably nothing. It was only the once. It’s okay.”
He sat back down, but felt a little uneasy. “Alright. Have you given any thought to how you want to locate the other High Witch? The older one? We don’t have a lot of money and aren’t really in a position to travel around. We’d need to hear stories about a witch with enormous power who may have done something big at some stage. She may not be aware of what she is, like you weren’t. I’m not quite sure how to go about this.”
They were silent for a moment. “Surely there’s a spell I could cast, something that could reach out to her?” Ariel said. “There has to be some way I could use magic to find her.”
Brayden shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe. Nadia certainly didn’t know of a spell, or she would have used magic to find you. But it does seem hard to believe that you have all that power—that the other witch has all that power—and you can’t find each other. Do you want me to find some books about locating spells?”
Ariel nodded. “Yes, please. It would be a start. And then…” Ariel gasped again, then was thrown back in her chair. She held on to the table, breathing deeply. She looked at Brayden, her eyes wide.
He stared back in horror.
“Brayden, can a baby use magic in the womb?”
Brayden shook his head. “That’s impossible. She—she’s not even big enough yet. You’re not even showing yet! She can’t… it can’t be! I… I…”
Ariel put a shaky hand to her stomach, then disappeared on the spot, reappearing in a corner of the kitchen.
Brayden rushed to her side and clutched her tightly.
She reached out her arms and held on to him, shaking. “Something’s wrong,” Ariel said. “That wasn’t me. She’s using magic. It’s coming out of her somehow. I’m frightened, Brayden.”
Brayden took a deep breath, petrified. Something was definitely wrong. He brought Ariel into a hug, determined to find a healer who knew about magic straight away. They didn’t need anything bad to happen.
Heaven help them if something bad happened.