Chapter Nine

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As expected, Owen voiced his question again. It was mid-morning and they were in the foundry. Fi was at the workbench he made her come atop. It was difficult for her to concentrate. But there she was, mixing herbs, acting as if the previous night's romp in the laboratory hadn't happened.

"What did you mean by I'm too important to you?" Owen was at the opposite workstation, fiddling with some mysterious, ornate, silver and lapis box.

Blowing out a breath that ruffled the herbs in the stone bowl, Fi asked a question of her own. "Do shaman have mates like shifters? Or destineds like witches?"

There was silence for a moment, then Owen answered. "No, we are more like many humans. There are many who fit but we don't feel there is a soul mate."

That revelation didn't fill Fi with much confidence. There was no way for Owen to know as unequivocally as she that they belonged together. "Well, my race is more like the others," she told him shortly.

The sound behind Fi let her know that Owen had put the metal box down and spun about on the balls of his feet. No doubt he was facing her. Instead of turning around, she played the coward and continued to crush herbs as if her life depended on the menial task.

"Are you saying I'm your...mate?"

"Basically, yes," Fi exhaled. Then she held her breath.

After a few heartbeats, Owen said, "I don't know if I believe you."

At least he's honest, Fi thought. The innocent herbs in the mortar received rough treatment as she shot back, "Why? Because of yesterday afternoon?"

"Yes," Owen did an about-face. The metal box rattled again. "You obviously were set to spy on me."

"Ugh!" Fi threw down the pestle. As it rolled across the wooden workbench, she whirled to face Owen. "Nikos is my leader. He's also Wolf's ally. If the king of shifters wants to keep his secrets so his people aren't targeted, then by default I have to help him keep them." The last was all but growled at her stubborn anima's stiff back.

Sucking in a calming breath, Fi continued. "Can't you understand how difficult this is for me? My loyalties are being divided. If I withhold information, I'm betraying you. If I give it, I'm betraying my people."

"Well," Owen told that thrice-damned mysterious box. "Yesterday proved whose side you've chosen."

"That's unfair and you know it," Fi shot. "I'm done trying to reason with you." Wiping herbs from her hands angrily on a rag, she then tossed it at the headstrong shaman's head. It bounced softly off the hard surface and floated to the floor.

Dissatisfied with the fact that she hadn't been able to give Owen a modicum of the pain he'd so easily dealt her, Fi stomped past. She'd cleared two stairs when Owen called, "Ophelia, stop."

Spinning about on the smooth sandstone step, Fi faced Owen. The man leaned a hip against his workbench. His arms were crossed over his chest.

"What?" Fi demanded.

"I'll concede that you find yourself in a difficult position." Uncrossing his arms, Owen straightened from his nonchalant lean. "But it's only fair that you share something with me in return. What are you, Ophelia?"

It was on the tip of Fi's tongue to disagree, to deny Owen had any right to demand she answer that question. The words, a reflex from years of keeping her race a secret, were swallowed. She'd known since last night that it was likely he'd ask. Upon waking, she'd tried to contact Nikos. The daemon leader still refused to speak with her, so she was unable to ask permission. Instead, she'd have to beg forgiveness.

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