Emma licked her lips and tightened her grip on the stick she held. “All right.”
Killian gestured with his free hand. “Come at me again.”
Using the lunge he taught her, Emma surged forward, her shoes kicking up gritty sand. Her heart pumped against her chest, and she felt invigorated as their sticks clacked together.
He shouted commands and words of praise at her as she swung her blade. Instinct took over, and she twirled, smacking the base of her weapon against his just as he’d arced his toward her.
A grin spread over his handsome face. “Nicely done, love.”
But he was stronger, and her arms shook as she pressed with all her might.
“Use your legs,” he ordered her.
And she understood what he meant. Balance was just as important, and she pushed from her heels, surging forward and knocking him back. He stumbled and fell on his rear in the wet sand.
As he laughed with delight, she jumped and said, “I did it.”
“You did,” he agreed, panting.
Her breath came short, as well, and she leaned down to offer him a hand up.
He clasped her wrist and stood, but before he got his feet under him, she pulled his head down and kissed him. As her heart flew to the heavens, she dropped her stick and wrapped her arms around his neck.
His own weapon hit the grit beneath their feet, and he circled her waist, gripping her to him tightly.
True love. She couldn’t believe it. She was his true love. Like in a fairy tale.
But there would be no sleeping curses. No villain would triumph over them. She wasn’t a princess in a book, and she wasn’t about to prick her finger on a spindle or eat an apple. She was too smart for that.
As she drank from him, he lifted her off her feet, and she sighed inwardly. He was hers. And she was his. How much better could it get?
She broke away and set her forehead on his, her chest heaving, her pulse racing. “There’s nobody better than you.”
A noise of disbelief came from him, and he nuzzled his nose against her cheek. “I’ll not argue that, love, but I’m fairly certain you deserve more than a lowly deckhand.” He lowered her to the ground.
“Nope. You’re it. Always.” She grinned up at him.
“Well, I’m not going to let you get rid of me, so it doesn’t matter if some other fellow is more deserving.” He brushed a tendril of her hair behind her ear. “Wanna go again?”
“In a minute. Need to catch my breath.”
“All right.” He let go of her and stooped to pick up his stick.
“If I’m from the Enchanted Forest, who do you think I belong to?”
He paused for a moment, then faced her, a questioning look in his eyes.
“I mean,” she continued hastily, “if I have magic, and magic comes from your world, then I’m from there, right?”
As he propped the bottom of his weapon in the sand, he replied, “Probably.”
She cocked her head, excitement thrumming through her. “What kind of people have magic?”
That didn’t help her.
“Fairies, witches, royalty, the common folk.” He lifted one hand in uncertainty. “Magic chooses the person, and just because one has it, doesn’t mean one is better than another.”
Concern flashed through her. “I don’t think I’m better than you.”
He grinned. “I know. I didn’t mean it that way.”
Relieved, she slumped her shoulders. “Good.” After a second of silence, she said, “I just keep thinking that if I’m from your land, I should go back there. Maybe…” She swallowed. “Maybe my parents didn’t mean to give me up. Maybe I was sent away because I have magic.”
He rubbed his chin in thought. “Maybe.” His brow furrowed. “What are you getting at?”
She bit her lip and stepped toward him. “If, or when, Liam finds you…do you think we could go back with him? I mean, do you think I could go back?”
Hesitancy moved in his gaze. “Of course, love.”
Thoughts and hopes raced through her mind. “Could I think of my parents as we jump into the portal, and then all three of us would be transported to them?”
He nodded slowly. “Yes.”
Elation whipped through her. She might be able to find her family. She might know what had happened, why she’d been given up. Or sent away.
But his worried expression gave her pause. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
After a slight upturn of his lips, he replied, “Nothing really. It’s just…well…” A sheepish look come over his face. “Your family might not…that is…I might not be found in favor as a suitor for you.”
Taken aback, she could only blink at him. When she recovered, conviction rang in her tone as she promised, “Nothing and no one will keep us apart. If you’re my true love, then we’re destined to have a future, right?”
He ducked his head. “Of course, love.”
Concerned she hadn’t convinced him, she cupped the back of his neck with her hand and looked directly into his eyes. “Hey.”
His gaze connected with hers.
“Nobody tells me what to do, and nobody tells me who to love.”
A flicker of hope gleamed in his blue depths.
“We will always be together, and if anyone thinks you aren’t good enough, well, they’ll feel my sword.” She lifted her chin.
And now a gorgeous smile graced his lips. “I’m glad I’m teaching you how to use it, then.”
She let out a chuckle.
He lowered his forehead to hers. “Emma…my love.”
As she turned her mouth toward his, flashes of light split the sky. She gave a yelp and jumped. Before she could get her bearings and see what had invaded their space, Killian shoved her behind him.
“Captain Silver,” he growled.
Emma gasped and peeked around Killian’s shoulder. A man in a long leather coat and vest glared while a portal spun behind him. Three more men walked through, each wearing clothing similar to Killian’s. They’d found Killian!
“Do you know how many bloody people I had to kill to get beans?” The captain stormed toward Killian. “You are in servitude to me, Killian Jones, and I’ll be damned before I lose money on your foul self.” The vortex closed.
Emma felt Killian tense and his hands clenched into fists. She whipped around and searched for her stick. It was the only thing she had. Spying it in the sand, she raced toward it and scooped it up.
Sounds of fists hitting jaws reached her ears, and she spun around. Killian fought like the very devil, but the other people who’d come through the portal bore down on the dueling sailors.
“No,” Emma shouted, and she shot toward them, blood roaring in her ears. Fear gave her wings, and she swung her weapon high and hard into the face of one of the men. He grunted and went down.
“Emma!” Killian cried. “No!”
She knew he worried about her safety, but she had to help him. She couldn’t lose him.
The remaining scoundrels glared at her and laughed.
She could hear the grunts from Killian and Captain Silver behind her. She held her stick at the ready. “Come on,” she dared, her muscles vibrating with the need to stop them from whatever they planned.
But neither challenged her. Confused, she took one step forward, but before she could attack, an arm wrapped around her waist and lifted her high. She bucked and kicked, doing anything she could to get free. She swung her stick, trying to connect with her assailant, but she couldn’t see him.
More ribald laughter sounded, and Killian cried her name. “Don’t hurt her, Jenson. I’ll kill you.”
Emma flew, and she screamed. She landed in the dirt, her skin scraping against the grit.
“You’re a dead man,” Killian shouted.
Sand had gotten into her eyes, and she heard more punches and snarls.
“That’s enough,” a voice bellowed.
Emma brushed her hand across her face and shoved to her feet. When her vision cleared, she found Killian, being held by two men, his head hanging in defeat. “No,” she rasped and took a step forward.
Captain Silver shot out his arm. “Stay where you are, girl. If you care for him, you’ll not move closer.”
She froze. As she panted, she wracked her brain for how to get Killian away from them. “He belongs here. With me.”
Snickers came from the brutes holding Killian.
“You’re wrong,” Captain Silver declared. “Whatever he’s told you, it’s a lie.”
Emma sneered. “He would never lie.”
“Emma,” Killian gasped and looked at her. Blood streamed from a cut on his face. Helplessness shone from his perfect eyes.
“He’s coming with us.” Captain Silver removed an object from a pocket in his vest. “He has a debt to work off.” The captain tossed the item he held in the air, and a portal appeared.
Fear shot up Emma’s throat. “No,” she shouted and hurried forward.
The men backed away.
“No,” she cried again and threw up her arms. White light blasted from her fingers, knocking one of the deckhands to the muddy bank.
Panic overcome the men, and Emma stared in disbelief at what she’d done. The scoundrel she’d hit scrambled to his feet.
“Love,” Killian breathed, still trapped by the strong holds of his captors. Killian struggled. “You did it.”
Sparks flashed from her hands, and she stared down at her palms, breathing heavily. “Oh my God.”
“Let’s get out of here,” someone shouted.
“Go,” Captain Silver commanded in a forceful tone.
Emma jerked her head up. “Killian,” she cried as she threw her hands at the escaping sailors. Magic surged once more, but it was swallowed up as the portal closed, blasting her with air.
And then there was nothing. No sound. No Killian.
She sank to her knees. “Killian,” she sobbed.
Energy surged inside her, and she lifted her hands before her eyes. She could’ve stopped them. If she’d known how to control it, she could’ve…
Resolve strengthened inside her, and she swiped the tears from her cheeks. “I will find you, Killian. No matter what. I will always find you.”