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Blurb

Forced from Mysteria University, and his own home, by a scheming father, Maer must make his way in a world he knows little about.

Luck is on his side when he encounters an accounting wizard, Ethan, Ethan's wife, Princess Sophy, and a mage, Darius. However, Maer finds himself fighting an unexpected attraction to the mysterious mage.

As they take on quests to battle bandits, help a demon prince, a sprite and a noggin, Maer becomes more and more fascinated by Darius. Too bad it's such a dangerous liaison in Aurora, and for the sake of both of their lives, Maer has no choice but to ignore his own feelings.

Excerpt

“You’ve been kicked out of the university?” Kella asked in an incredulous tone.

“No.” Maer replied, continuing to pack his clothes. While his father refused to pay Maer’s school case and ordered Maer home, it wasn’t the same as being banned. “Drusi wants me home.”

“Oh.” Kella lost interest with the mundane explanation. “Too bad you’ll miss the Mid-Moon drills.”

Maer had other more important matters occupying his thoughts. As Kella chattered on, Maer folded his clothes and tried to figure out what Drusi was up to. It wasn’t like his father wanted Maer’s company, because a growing son reminded Drusi too much of the man’s aging.

When Kella fell silent, Maer looked up and saw Tri Ellen standing in the doorway. Kella jumped from the bed to bow to the teacher as Maer did the same.

“I would like to talk to Maer privately.”

“I was just leaving, Tri Ellen.” Kella side-stepped the teacher and ran out the door.

“I heard you won’t be attending the next case, Maer.” She shut the door, then approached Maer.

“My father wants me home.”

“So I’ve heard.” Her dry retort spoke volumes.

There wasn’t anything Maer could say to the comment, and he resumed packing. “Maybe I’ll be able to come back someday.”

“That’s why I’m here. I want you to have these.” Three books materialized in the teacher’s hand.

Maer stared at them in surprise, realizing Tri Ellen couldn’t have permission to give them to him.

“They will help you keep up until you can return to the university, Maer. I’d hate to see you suffer through no fault of your own.” The air of subterfuge fit ill on the older woman, but Maer was grateful for the unexpected aid.

“I don’t know what to say.” He took the books and buried them in his pack.

“I’m doing this because you have considerable skill. You must return for additional training.” An unusual warmth softened the stern features. A second later Tri Ellen spun around and stalked out.

Maer hadn’t thought about his chances of returning. The money his deceased mother had paid into his account had been used up, and his father refused to pay for Maer’s case.

Frustrated and unhappy, Maer finished packing. Although he knew his father’s coach waited for him, before he left he was determined to stop at the school store. There was still a small amount in his account he could use for supplies. The gods only knew when he would get another chance.

He glanced around the room, biting at his lip. The exclusive halls of Misteria were empty. The rest of his schoolmates were still in their classes, so he didn’t have to deal with their questions. After shouldering his pack, he went out into the corridor. It took a great deal of effort for Maer to act calm and composed.

Other students, in between classes, were heading to the Great Hall for the mid-meal. Maer waved to a couple of his friends before entering the supply center. Tears weren’t far from the surface, and Maer blinked them back as he selected what he might need and could afford.

“What are you doing here? I thought you were in Tri Hamel’s class.” The jovial voice of his friend, Travis, interrupted Maer’s concentration.

“Drusi sent for me, Travis. I have to go home.” He answered in a low voice.

“Why would he do that?” He looked flabbergasted, mouth agape like a fish.

Maer winced at the brutal question. Travis had a reputation for being blunt and living with his foot in his mouth. Though older than Maer, they had always gotten along well.

“I have to leave now.” Before he could protest, Maer found himself enveloped in a bear hug.

“You better send messages, Maer, or I’ll hunt you down.”

When Travis released him, he murmured, “I will. I promise.” He gathered his supplies and stuffed them in his pack.

Travis stood, watching him without a word. He gave his friend a small wave before he walked out to the main corridor and to the outside drive where the coach waited. A servant helped him into the carriage, and the horses trotted forward with the coachman’s whistle.

Once outside the main grounds of the school, the neighborhood became blocks of two and three level gray stone tenements crowding the street. The walks were filled with people disrupting the traffic of coaches as they crossed the street with little heed for their own safety.

Part of Maer resented being pulled out of school; another side of him clung to a more optimist hope that his father had good reason to take him out. Drusi might very well lack the funds to pay for Maer’s account, though as far as Maer knew there had been no reversal in his family’s fortunes. Maer couldn’t imagine Drusi’s reasoning.

The street began to smooth, jolting the carriage far less as they drove past the well-to-do homes. A number of Maer’s friends were from the Diast district. He’d visited several homes during his vacations. Drusi hadn’t known, and Maer knew the man would never approve of the friendships.

No doubt he would be able to sneak out of the house to visit some of them when he could. As the house came into view, Maer noticed it still had the same sterile, immaculate lawns and flower beds. Drusi prided himself on his entire household and its grounds being neat and well ordered.

The house itself had been built of gray crystal stone and reflected the light of the low sun. The circular five-story tower rose above the main rectangular structure of the house. The tower had been his mother’s work space, and Maer could still remember the times he’d spent helping her. High arched windows were set in the façade of the house, and blue and green stone moss crept up the side wall except for the three bay windows lining the front wall. The side section of the house had been built in a pentagon pattern with a set of wide stairs leading to the entrance. A recessed door to the tower was just visible.

The carriage stopped and a footman opened the door for him, offering Maer a hand. He waved him away and got of the carriage. The butler stood at the head of the steps, directing the other servants to take care of the luggage.

“Averon.” Maer greeted him with a smile.

“Welcome home, Lord Maer.” The warm smile was the same as he remembered. The elder butler had always been kind to him. “Your father isn’t expecting you to attend to him, but he does want you to join the young people in the blue drawing room.”

“Already?” He winced. After taking off his jacket, he handed it to Averon. “Not even a chance to change?”

His drab gray pants and pristine white shirt were not acceptable for the drawing room of his father’s house. However, it wasn’t like Maer had anything appropriate for any kind of socializing; all of his clothes were school uniforms. At the sympathetic shake of Averon’s head, Maer sighed and walked to the blue drawing room.

One of young maids sprang forward and opened the door for him. The room itself was an ostentatious display designed to intimidate visitors. Every available surface was covered with the gaudiest, most expensive trinkets and paintings; the furniture carved from black Vista wood and covered in the most luxurious upholstery. Its message meant to remind others its owner had far more gold than most of them could dream of. Drusi wasn’t the wealthiest man in the kingdom for nothing, and all of the public rooms were the same.

The chatter of the boys and girls in the room stilled when Maer entered. There were five girls and two boys of varying yerls; one looked close to Maer’s age. They were dressed far more richly than Maer, and every face turned to him with various expressions of interest or boredom.

“You must be Lord Maer.” The leader of the group seemed to be a brunette clad in a form-fitting, sparkling blue dress as exquisite as she was. Ringlets of dark curls danced around her features, and her blue eyes matched her dress. “We’ve been waiting for you.”

She patted the seat beside her, inviting Maer to join her before she introduced herself and the others. “I’m Sarma Ihklom. The blonde girl in the green dress is Teka Esacoh, and the twins next to her are Fasha and Neshe Adael. The last three are my youngest sister, Arlet, and two brothers, Ase and Loro.”

The red-headed twins eyed Maer’s clothes with contempt, but Maer took no offense. Compared to their sartorial splendor, he was positively dowdy. The elegant cream and emerald half-length dresses suited the warm beauty of both girls, and the confection of flowers and lace decorating their coiffed hair perfected the vision.

“Can you do magic?” Arlet asked in an excited whisper. The young girl was similar in looks to her older sister. She seemed to be as warm and friendly, and a twinkle lit her brown eyes.

“Arlet.” Sarma protested her sister’s rude manner.

Ase gave Maer a sympathetic look but remained as silent as his brother. Both of the young men were dressed in finery that rivaled their female counterparts.

The haughty looks faded from Fasha and Neshe’s faces as they shifted in their chairs, waiting for Maer’s answer.

“Yes, I can.” Maer refused to lie no matter what his father thought or said.

“Can you make me a love potion?” Neshe questioned Maer.

“I will pay you for a potion to make me more beautiful.” Arlet chimed in. The small rosy splotches on her face were noticeable. It was the only thing Maer could see that might bother the young girl. “I can pay you fifty gold.”

Teka piped up. “I can pay you more for a love potion. I need one, too. Is one hundred gold enough?”

Maer’s brow rose, and he saw an incredible opportunity he hadn’t expected. Very few of the elite and upper class people in society could perform magic, and those things were easy enough and cheap to make. However, most people misunderstood how love potions worked.

“Of course I can make potions for you, and I would be happy to, but love potions aren’t what you think.”

Wisely, the other males in the room remained silent as a couple of the girls jumped from their seats to surround Maer and question him. Arlet pressed ten gold pieces in Maer’s hand. “Is this enough to buy the ingredients? I can visit you tomorrow and give you the other forty.”

“That’s fine, Arlet.” Maer smiled, slipping the money into his pocket. I can have the potion for you tomorrow.”

“So quick?” Delighted, Arlet clapped her hands together and beamed at Maer. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”

“What did you mean about love potions?” Teka interrupted to ask.

“A love potion doesn’t make someone fall in love with you, Teka.” It was a common misconception among non practitioners, and Maer didn’t want any misunderstandings about what the potion he made would do. “If you drink the potion, anybody already in love with you or fond of you will admit to their feelings. That’s all it will do.”

There were potions that could force someone to fall in love with another, but Maer had no desire to manipulate another person in such a distasteful way.

“That’s fine. I think Ehet likes me, he’s just too shy to tell me.”

“A lot of my friends will want potions and lotions from you.” Fasha chuckled and Sarma laughed with her. “So will mine.”

Each of the girls gave him several pieces of gold, and Maer took out his small notepad to write down what they wanted. He planned on milking this for all it was worth and for as long as he could. With any luck he might be able to return to the university after all.

The door opened and Maer half turned to see Drusi standing in the doorway, eyeing him with a surprised look. His father’s expression returned to its habitual unflappable calm as Drusi spoke. “Children, your parents are waiting for you.”

Still chattering, they gathered their things and headed for the door. Once the door shut and silence returned, his father’s contemptuous gaze ran over Maer. “I’m surprised to see the young ones have taken to you. It should serve you in good stead.”

“They were kind to me, Drusi.” His father hated to be referred to in any other way by his son, and Maer wasn’t about to tell Drusi what his new friends had been talking about.

“I see you need new clothes. I suppose I should have expected it. Well, it will be a necessary expenditure much as I hate to have to. It can’t be help, and I expect you to be grateful, Maer.” Impeccably dressed, Drusi exuded the confidence and air of a gentleman of his station. His titian hair was sleek and tied back, a few well-placed curls framing his face His silver eyes were as cold as the darkest winter moon. While Maer might resemble his father, Drusi found no favor in it.

“Why did you bring me home?”

“I have better use for you here.” Drusi had never been kind or loving to Maer. It simply wasn’t in him. The fact Drusi would part with any of his gold to spend on Maer was near blasphemy to the man. He circled Maer, examining his son with a critical detachment.

For a brief moment, the overwhelming need for his mother threatened to break through Maer’s outer reserve. He hadn’t dealt with his father’s coldness or been hit by the sudden void of his mother’s absence for a very long time. Maer’s hands curled into fists and he shoved them in his pockets. His nails dug into his palms, helping him control and compose himself.

“You are far behind others of your own age in society. I blame your mother for raising expectations in you and sending you to that awful school, but she never would listen to me.”

“My mother hoped I would take her place with the Council Elders, Drusi.” Maer spoke in a monotone. He refused to allow his father to get to him, to touch him in any way.

“The Council has no importance to us.” Drusi dismissed them without second thought. “Tieral will take you shopping after the low moon meal. You will dine in your room unless we have guests.”

He turned away from Maer, movements smooth and leonine. A certain satisfaction laced his voice in his last words to Maer. “You won’t be in this house for long, child. Make the most of it.”

Uncertain of what Drusi meant, Maer followed behind him and stayed silent.

* * * *

Maer stood off to the side, doing an excellent job of not drawing attention to himself. After the last several suns of being properly primped and dressed, Maer wasn’t in much of a mood to stand in the middle of a ballroom.

He watched the happy, whirling couples on the dance floor below. At that moment, he felt the acute difference between them and him. This had never been his world, and he had no clue how to fit in with them. He’d made a number of friends among them with his potions, but this portion of it was beyond him.

Before, his days had been taken up with classes, his nights with long sessions of studying. The frivolous activity he saw would have no place in the halls of Misteria. Now he looked more like the couples below, but he didn’t feel like them.

The ballroom itself was an architectural dream, and he examined it, avoiding any gaze directed at him. Sand-colored marble pillars, with green accents along the carved surfaces, circled the outer edges of the room. Arches high above connected the pillars across the ceiling, and the high polished floor reflected the colorful dancers above it.

“Maer?” A low voice sounded close to his ear.

He jumped then whirled to see Berne standing in front of him. The sight surprised and delighted him. He hadn’t expected to see one of his classmates. The familiar red, unruly mop of curls made Berne distinguishable in any crowd. “Berne? What are you doing here?”

She laughed at Maer’s question. “I’m the daughter of the Vice Royal. Father makes me attend these things every chance he gets. You hiding up here, too?”

Maer winced at the way she put it. “I guess. I’m just not used to this kind of thing.”

She draped her arm around Maer and stood at the railing, glancing down at the others. “Can’t say I’m surprised since I never thought I’d see you at one of these things. Why aren’t you at Misteria?”

“Drusi pulled me out, and he doesn’t plan on letting me return.”

Berne gave him a long, measuring look. They’d been friends ever since he’d started school so Berne had always been pretty good at reading him. “Are you planning on doing anything about it?”

“I’ve been selling potions.” His wry smile matched his tone. “Society girls will pay a great deal of gold for love potions and creams to make them beautiful. If I’m lucky I can pay for my own account.”

“Never thought of selling my talents to this lot.” Her speculative gaze swept over the assembled crowd below. “They’re amusing in their own ways once you get used to them, Maer. I bet I could steer some of my friends into giving you more gold.”

Maer knew she’d understand his predicament. “I never realized high society would be such a goldmine. Some parents visit me too.”

“Most practitioners prefer to work in the capitals, Maer, where there’s more gold to be made. The smaller provinces have to make do with traveling magicians. You didn’t have the Practical Application classes yet. It’s one of the classes Tri Larist teaches.”

The touch of superiority in her voice for knowing more made Maer grumble. “I would be in the class if Drusi hadn’t taken me out.”

“Hey, I have faith in you, Maer. You’ll get back to Misteria.” Her hand tightened around his in encouragement. “You know I’ll help out where I can.”

“Can you teach me to dance, Berne?” He asked dryly.

“What?”

“I’d like to learn to dance. Drusi neglected to get me lessons.” Maer doubted whether Drusi cared or not.

“No wonder you’re standing up here. Sure, I can teach you.” Her expression became rueful as she added, “I assumed you knew, but how could you? You never left Misteria. I’ll stop by tomorrow and give you a lesson.”

Even grateful for her aid, Maer rolled his eyes. “You never do think much, and you’re as tactful as a brick, Berne.”

“Nobody pays me to. Now come on. I’ll introduce you to some of my friends.”

Laughing, he followed alongside her as she led him down the stairs and to a group of people standing near the exit to the back gardens. Several of them greeted Berne as she pulled Maer into their midst.

“Who’s your friend, Berne? I’ve never seen him around.” The others turned in their direction when one of the men questioned Berne.

“Everybody, this is Lord Maer Devril, a friend of mine from the university.” As she introduced him, she ran through a list of names Maer knew he’d never remember.

At Maer’s dazed look, one of the women laughed and said, “Don’t worry, Maer. You’ll get to know our names. I’m Lady Asterlia Noas in case you missed my name in that garble.”

Berne glanced around before he asked, “Where did Tameh go?”

“You promised to dance with her brother, and she thinks you forgot. So she’s mad at you. She was in the refreshment room last time I seen her. Go find her and leave us alone, Berne.” She imperiously waved Berne off and returned her attention to Maer. “I heard about you from Fasha Adael, and I was hoping to meet you.”

Without saying anything, Berne deserted Maer and hurried off in to the direction of the refreshment room.

“Most of us have already heard about you, Lord Maer. Arlet Ihklom can’t keep her mouth shut. My name is Sasta Apor.”

“Nice to meet both of you.”

“Lord Maer, there you are. I thought Lord Drusi said you were going to be here, and I was looking for you.” Sarma walked up to them, smiling warmly at Maer before she greeted the other two. “Hello, Sasta and Lady Asterlia.”

“We were about to tell Lord Maer about Arlet.” Sasta gave him a mischievous grin.

“Great Lords, she is in alt, Lord Maer.” Sarma chuckled as she explained, “Ehet approached our parents to talk to father. Their companion ceremony is being arranged as we speak. She is telling everybody it was the doing of your potion.”

Asterlia lowered her voice to a conspiratorial level. “You have no idea of how many of the others are dying to get their hands on their own potions. Some of the men are in great fear of you.”

“I hope Arlet explained the potion can’t make anybody fall in love. No male has anything to fear unless they already love somebody.” Torn between dismay and laughter, Maer wasn’t sure what his reaction should be.

Berne returned with another friend in tow and interrupted them. “Sarma, I need you at Lord Maer’s house tomorrow after the mid-meal. Can I count on you?”

“Yeah, sure. I can be there, Berne. I have a list of requests for Maer, and I planned on dropping it off.”

“Lord Maer, would it be possible to concoct a special fragrance for me? I heard some of the sorcerers and sorceresses in Proteria have special ones that react with the owners and create their own scent.”

“The ingredients are very expensive, Sasta.” Maer hesitated because it would cost at least three hundred gold for the necessary components.

“I know. My cousin said she was charged two thousand gold for her perfume, so I know how much it will cost me.”

“Could you make one for me as well?” Asterlia spoke before anyone else could, and a moment later, Sarma jumped in. “Count me in as well. I’ve wanted one ever since I heard Sasta’s cousin talking about them.”

Six thousand gold minus the cost would be more than enough to pay for at least one case at the university. Maer couldn’t believe his luck. “I would be happy to make them. It will take me a bit of time to brew them, but I can have them ready by the new moon.”

“You are such a good friend, Lord Maer.” Sarma thanked him with a great deal of enthusiasm.

Sasta took Maer’s hand, squeezing it. “I agree with Sarma, and I add my gratitude. Thank you, Lord Maer.”

“It is very kind of you.” Asterlia added her thanks too.

“You are welcome. All of you. Now I better find Drusi.” Maer excused himself, then turned to head into the Queen’s chambers. He knew right where his father would be. Drusi sat near Queen Iroba, and their ethereal looks complemented one another like moon and sun.

The Queen’s blonde tresses glittered with numerous jewels, sparkling in brilliant hues in the light. Large, blue crystal stones were sewn on the pale blue lace of her dress, and they winked with her every movement. The woman wore more precious stones than most families bought in a lifetime, and Drusi rivaled all of them.

Green crystal stones dripped from Drusi’s coronet and covered the imperial robe he wore. Drusi always dressed to remind one of his royal back ground. A woman stood behind his father, hand resting on Drusi’s shoulder.

Maer had never seen her, but had a feeling she was close to Drusi from the looks she directed at his father.

She looked younger than Drusi, her face sweetly beautiful and unlined. Dark brown hair brushed her shoulders and when she looked over at Maer, he noticed her eyes were as dark as her hair. From her petulant expression, he figured she didn’t care for the sight of him as he stopped in front of them and curtseyed to the Queen.

“Good low moon, Maer.” The Queen greeted him in a gracious manner. “You’ve arrived in time. Your father was just speaking of leaving.”

Maer suppressed a smile, seeing Drusi wince at Queen Iroba’s reference to your father. An amused light gleamed in the Queen’s eyes, signifying she’d noticed as well.

“Good low moon, your Highness.” Maer couldn’t help the twitch of his own lips as he addressed the Queen.

“Niot, I will see you later.” Drusi stood and curtseyed to the Queen, then straightened. A moment later he motioned impatiently for Maer to follow him.

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