Mac stretched to lazily but insistently pull her closer to him, unwilling to let the moment go so quickly. “Isn’t one of the perks of being the boss being able to come and go as you please?”
With a chuckle, San swatted him playfully but snuggled all those soft, sexy curves closer. “Only if you want to go out of business.”
Snorting, he caught her wrist, loving the look of the delicate limb trapped in his larger, stronger, darker one, and kissed her hand. “Faere Trade’s been around forever. It’s an institution. It’s not going anywhere.” More than that, it was a place of community and power and no one was going to fire the ageless witch who’d been running and guarding it for the better part of a century. She was irreplaceable; almost as much of an institution as the café. He stroked her forearm, trying not to be so in awe of her. “You know, at least not for the length of a long lunch.”
He froze for a moment, a cold shudder seizing him, when his pinky brushed the raised skin near her elbow. He hated that reaction, but he couldn’t help it.
As a black man in America, there had been times in his life when his survival had depended on his ability to seem unfazed. When, in the face of danger or even death, he’d needed to project strength and calm, even and especially when those were the last things he was feeling.
But, in countless ways, San fazed him.
Mac found San undeniably beautiful, from head to toe. But there were places on her body—along her upper arms and shoulders, snaking up her thighs and hips, even over the bridges of her feet—that felt off limits to him, where red scars scoured her skin in intricate patterns like delicately woven barbed wire. Most of the time, he didn’t think about them. But, the moment he touched them or looked at them too long, his thoughts felt caught.
And it wasn’t as if they made her less attractive. On the contrary. Everything about them, from the sight and feel of them—even just knowing they existed, so often hidden beneath her clothes—almost seemed to call to him.
Which scared him.
“You know, it’s ruder not to ask.”
Mac looked down at her. “What was that?” He tried to force his body to relax. Not for the first time since he’d met her, he wondered if she could read thoughts.
She rolled onto her stomach, putting some space between them. “It doesn’t take a psychic to know what made you tense up. You couldn’t be thinking about my scars louder, if you tried.” She pushed her dark hair off her face and sighed. “You have questions. Ask.”
Mac bit the inside of his cheek before pushing up to sit on the bed. “I don’t want to pry.” He knew a bit about her history. You didn’t get to be where she was, what she was, without seeing some shit—without wading in it. Or being weighed by it.
Mac was still, by comparison, new to this whole magic thing. But, even as a newly made immortal, he couldn’t quite wrap his head around what living as long as she had would inevitably mean.
“Yes, you do.” She snorted. “Rather, you want me to be pried; you just don’t want to be the one to do it.”
“Hey now.” Mac may not have her magical resume, but he’d been in the muck of it long enough to know that magic, for all its wonders, could do real damage. In the few years that he’d been involved in it, there’d been memories that he knew he’d never share because sharing meant remembering, reliving. And there were moments he didn’t think he could afford to give that kind of power. “I figured, if you wanted to share, you would. If you didn’t…” He shrugged. There were worse things than wondering.
She tilted her head thoughtfully before nodding. “Not much to tell. All magic requires sacrifice. Be it time, effort, dedication to learn the craft.” She shrugged. “And some spells are fueled by blood, some by pain, some by loss. Some of the strongest ones draw on all three.”
Mac stiffened against a shiver. “What do those kinds of spells do?”
She gave a stiff smile. “Nothing good.”
Mac wanted to ask for more. And he didn’t. He’d heard stories. Myths and legends, fairytales and horror stories, that had their roots in her. Her history literally haunted humanity’s. Looking at those scars now, they almost seemed like ripples in her skin, like echoes of impacts. Part of him might be curious about them, about her. And maybe one day he’d ask. But, for today, she was right; there were parts of her he knew he didn’t have the courage to disturb.
So, instead, he reached out, letting his hands hover over the marked flesh. He couldn’t tell if he was being fanciful, but the space around the scars felt strangely charged. His skin prickled, almost like the start of frostbite, not painfully but not pleasantly either. He wanted to wrench his hand away. Instead, he let himself settle into the sensation. “They look fresh.” He didn’t think they were; she’d had them as long as he’d known her. Or, at least, as long as they’d been having sex. Scars didn’t take that long to heal. “Do they hurt?”
She shrugged, causing her shoulder to touch his fingers. He felt the connection like an icy shock. “Power like that lingers.” She said it so nonchalantly.
He shook his head. “So you just live with the pain?”
Her scoff held centuries. “Doesn’t everyone?”
He supposed that was true enough. As an immortal, he’d died many times in many different ways. Some were just to see if it was true. Some to prove how true it was. Each one hurt. Each one, uniquely. Some in mind-breaking ways.
But, once you made your way back from broken...well, nothing put pain, no matter how extreme, into perspective quite like survival. And people like them could survive a lot.
But to live with it every day. It didn't seem fair.
Closing his eyes, Mac leaned down and kissed her shoulder. He felt power crackle against his lips, felt it reach out to him. Reach inside of him.
It made him want to reach back. He wanted to heal her, to erase the painful parts of her past. He wanted to slip inside her and somehow share her burden, ease it, even just a bit, for just a moment.
So he trailed his lips over the raised skin. “That doesn't hurt, does it?”
San didn't know how to answer that.
It did. It always did. Knew that touching them must hurt him too. That was the nature of them.
Yet. “It feels better.” And it did. It felt strange to have someone touch places on her body most people avoided. She'd carried these scars for most of her longer-than-most life and had more than her share of lovers in that time.
But, long before any of them, she'd let darkness inside her, gave parts of herself to it. She'd been sure, just as her lovers had, that those parts belonged to that dark past and always would.
That was the price of that kind of magic. No one used it without giving up something of themselves.
But, with Mac, she felt tenderness in every touch. Every brush of his lips or fingers seemed to heal even as it hurt. As if he were leaving a bit of himself on her too.
She'd lived long enough to know that few things lasted. Least of all love, despite what all the stories told. It would take more magic than a few touches to make those parts of her belong to him. But, with the sun and his attention warming her, she felt the cold grip of her past loosen, just a bit.
He made his way lingeringly slow down her shoulders, over her arms, and along her breasts. He made the path over and over, making the sting of his lips over her scars blur and blend with the feel of his hands on her breasts, his tongue across her nipples. It made for a dizzying circuit, overloading her senses as pain and pleasure mixed…
Read Part Two Here