(This story takes place after Hidden. All Riley wants to do is finish baking a batch of cookies but something unexpected happens.)
The bell above the front entrance jangled. Tension flared from Riley’s neck and flowed down through her shoulders, arms and upper back. Uncle Declan wasn’t here which meant she had to attend to the customers—something she avoided at every opportunity—but right now, she was managing the shop alone and had no choice.
Riley tossed her apron on the counter next to the spoons in the cookie batter and the baking sheets half filled with lumps of raw cookie dough. Soft tingles ran under her skin—it always happened when she was around people, actually it happened for many reasons, but being forced to serve customers seemed to instigate the odd sensations. Riley didn’t know what caused it and she’d been too afraid to tell her uncle about it. He was a kind and good Kellan man, so she didn’t fear him but rather voicing her unusual sensations scared her. What if something was wrong with her? Something that… Riley couldn’t mentally finish the sentence because too many unthinkable outcomes flooded her mind.
The Kellan lowlands had been free of the barrier for over a year and while relations with the Arelians and Lirrians had improved, Kellans didn’t like people who were different. And Riley was.
Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, Riley settled the butterflies in her stomach and pushed through the kitchen door to the front of the bakery. There was one customer staring at a cake in the display case. She stopped in her tracks when the most handsome Kellan man she’d ever seen straightened and smiled at her. Her legs refused to propel her forward and her lips—that should have welcomed the customer—wouldn’t form words.
“Hi, I’m Owen.” He strode over to her.
Riley’s body and mouth finally decided to move. Unfortunately, everything decided to work at the same time and she tripped over her feet sending her flying forward. Owen was next to her in a moment catching her in his arms. Her eyes fluttered up to his very beautiful chocolate brown eyes. Her mouth drooled but thankfully her throat remembered how to swallow or she’d further embarrass herself with saliva running down her chin.
“Easy now.” He lifted her gently and she steadied herself.
“Th…thank you. I’m sorry, I must have tripped.”
“I was glad I was here to catch you then.” The smile he gave her turned her stomach and the tingles beneath her skin raced like sugar granules were pouring over her.
“How can I help you?” Riley straightened hoping to compose herself.
“My mother is Glenna, who runs the apothecary, and her birthday is in a few days. I heard it from a good source that the truffle cake is her favorite, so I’d like to make an order.”
“Glenna’s your mother?” Riley couldn’t help asking. She’d never known Glenna had a son. The older woman had come in a few times and since the barrier had fallen, she’d come in with an older Kellan man—Riley had assumed he had been stuck on the other side of the barrier all this time—but she’d never heard anything about a son though she did avoid most social gatherings, so it was highly likely that she’d just never seen him before.
“Yes, Glenna’s my mother. We were separated for a time due to the barrier, and I work in the Hidden Valley with Ciaran, so I don’t come to town often.”
“Oh, that makes sense. Did Tully tell you about the cake?” Tully was an Arelian who Glenna had raised and she and Ciaran were an engaged.
Owen nodded. “I’m afraid I don’t know my mother well having been separated for over twenty years, but Tully’s been a great source of information.”
“She does know Glenna the best.” Riley was enjoying talking with Owen and she noticed that she didn’t feel so uncomfortable anymore even the odd tingles had settled down. She grabbed a slip of paper to write down Owen’s order. “You said you wanted truffle cake?”
“It is apparently my mother’s favorite.”
“Apparently. Uncle Declan had me write the recipe out for Tully once because Glenna liked it so much.” Riley wrote down Owen’s name and the cake. “When do you need the cake ready by?”
“I’d like to pick it up in two days if possible.”
“That’d be enough time. Do you know what time of day?” Uncle Declan didn’t usually require this information, the cake would be ready by tomorrow, but something in her wanted to have a conversation with Owen again when he came by even if it was brief or even just to have him smile at her again. Her cheeks warmed at the idea and the lethargic tingles running under her skin flared. She dropped the pencil she was holding and clenched her fists in an effort to control the strange sensation.
The pencil rolled off the counter and Owen cupped his hand to catch it. “Here you go.” He handed her the pencil and when her fingers brushed his, a tiny burst of golden glittery sparks erupted. Riley yanked her hand back.
Owen stared down at his hand with a wrinkled brow.
“Did that hurt?”
“No, not at all.” Owen gave her a questioning look and Riley ducked her head sensing the heat rush to her cheeks. And silently praying he wouldn’t question things she had no ability to answer.
“Um, I should get started on your order,” she replied after a long pause and fled back into the sanctuary of the kitchen.
She heard Owen soft steps retreat and then the jingle of the bell announcing his departure. Her body sagged against the counter where her cookies were waiting for her and Riley wiped away a few beads of sweat. What had happened? She held her hand up and wiggled her fingers but nothing. They were normal and the tingles were gone. A slow sigh left Riley and she turned back to the cookies quickly filling the baking sheet.
While Riley waited for the cookies to bake, she filled another cookie sheet with raw dough and thought about her origins. Uncle Declan didn’t really know anything about her and he’d long ago confessed that she wasn’t his real niece. He’d told her about the mines and the slave trafficking operation that had gone on there under the magical deception of a Fenarian named Niels who’d been behind the barrier as well. Fenarians were a mixed race of people made up of Kellans, Lirrians and Arelians and they didn’t interact much with the Kellans, Lirrians and Arelians, but Niels had harboured bitter feelings and was part Lirrian and part Kellan. A cold shiver ran down Riley’s spine. Was she part Lirrian and Kellan? A child born of a slave woman who’d been misused? It was these thoughts that scared her and why she never brought up the unusual skin tingles with her uncle. She was afraid to know the truth because the truth might be very ugly and Riley wasn’t sure she had the strength to deal with it and eventually accept whatever her origins were.
The scent of cookies pulled her back to the present and Riley pulled out the first batch. They were a little too brown, but not over baked. She quickly put in the baking sheet for the second set of cookies, set the first batch to chill then filled up the cookie sheet.
She swept the floor and pulled out ingredients for truffle cake thinking about Owen and finding her thoughts lost in the color of his eyes. They were a light brown like milk chocolate that made you feel warm and cozy. The tingle flared beneath Riley’s skin and golden sparks shot from her fingers. Riley yelped with the uncontrollable surge and tried to clench her hand shut, but she only managed to redirect the flow striking the cookie sheet which jumped and flipped right over sending clumps of cookie dough raining down on the counter, floor and three dollops headed right for Riley. She tried to duck out of the way but one managed to land right on the top of her head.
Riley pulled at the chunk on her hair and tears spilled from her eyes. She sank to the floor and held her knees to her chest. What was going on with her? And how was she going to tell her uncle?
“Riley?” Uncle Declan’s deep resonant voice thundered from the front of the shop.
Riley wiped the tears from her cheeks with her apron but it didn’t stop the flow. She glanced around the kitchen and saw the ruined blobs of cookie dough. The burnt smell of cookie pulled her from falling further into self-pity.
The curtain to the kitchen was yanked back and Uncle Declan entered as Riley pulled the cookie sheet from the oven. Fresh tears trickled down her cheeks.
“Something’s burning,” Uncle Declan said. His eyes landed on the cookies. A serious scowl took the light from his features. Then his eyes settled on Riley and he softened. He went over to his niece and hugged her. “What’s wrong? It’s not like you to burn things.”
Riley rested her head against his broad baker’s shoulders and let her tears fall. She didn’t mean to lose it so much emotionally but her fears about what was wrong with her wouldn’t stop playing through her mind.
Uncle Declan guided her to a small table in the back and set her down then put a kettle on the stove for tea.
“What’s going on?” Uncle Declan asked.
Riley sucked in a slow breath gaining some control. “I… I don’t know. Sometimes… sometimes strange things happen to me. I get these tingles and usually that’s it, but today golden glittery sparks shot out of me and…” Riley waved at the kitchen and then picked at the bits of cookie batter still in her hair.
Uncle Declan’s expression darkened. He shot out of his chair and his heavy steps carried him from the kitchen.
Riley’s heart sank. He hadn’t told her to leave, but who would want someone like her? Telling her uncle about the strange tingles felt good even if his only response was to leave her. The tears came less heavy and Riley decided the least she could do was clean up the mess she’d made and finish the batch of cookies. She filled another cookie sheet despite the tremble in her hands and tingles dancing under her skin. She kept taking long slow pulls of air and letting them out slowly. That seemed to help keep the tingles under control.
Once the cookies were in the oven, she scooped up the cookie batter putting it in a bowl, but the golden sparks leaked out of her and swirled around her arms. Riley screamed and dropped the bowl with the cookie batter. The bowl shattered and Riley tiptoed around the broken shards. Her whole body felt alive with energy and light even though this whole experience and being alone in a kitchen terrified her.
The bell from the front entrance jingled.
“Riley?” Uncle Declan’s booming voice followed him into the kitchen. He sucked in a deep breath when he saw Riley with the golden glittery sparks swirling around her. He turned to Bain who was just coming up behind him, “Help her.”
Bain—who had lived in the Midlands while they were trapped under the barrier was the only Lirrian Riley knew and Lirrians were the only race of people who understood magic—approached her slowly.
“Take a deep breath, Riley. It’ll be alright.”
Riley felt relieved that Uncle Declan had only gone to get Bain. Since the barrier had fallen, the Lirrian seldom visited Kellan lands because he was busy with his own people and family in Lirrian lands. But he and Glenna had been good friends, so he was probably here for her birthday. She sucked in long slow steady breaths and let them out slowly.
“That’s it.” His eyes watched at the golden glitters sparking over her arms lessened and slowed. “Good.”
The sparks finally stopped and the tingles under Riley’s skin lessened.
“How do you feel?” Bain asked. His kind eyes reassured Riley.
“Better. Thank you. Do you… know what happened?”
Bain rested a finger on his chin and raised his eyebrows. “Is it the first time that it’s happened?”
“Yes. No. Sometimes I feel strange tingles under my skin, but this is the first time something physical happened.”
“And does anything cause it?”
Riley twisted her apron in her hands. “Sometimes being around people and sometimes when I feel strong emotions.” She thought of Owen and how he’d made her feel. Had that caused this to happen?
Bain nodded then looked back at Declan whose large frame was filling the space behind the Lirrian. “Do you know anything of her parents?”
Declan shook his head and Riley’s heart raced and with it the tingles sped up. She sucked in a slow pull of air to settle the sudden surge.
“She was an orphan when the revolt at the mines took place. I couldn’t leave her so I took and raised her as a niece. It seemed the right thing to do.”
Bain patted Uncle Declan’s broad shoulder. “You’re a good man and you did the right thing.”
“So what does this mean?” Riley asked thankful her voice didn’t betray her internal trembling.
“It means that somewhere along the way, you’re Lirrian.” A smile spread across Bain’s face then he embraced her.
“Wait. What?” Riley hugged him back loosely and studied the shocked expression on her uncle’s face. She pulled back from Bain. “What does this mean?”
Bain shrugged. “The truth is, we don’t know. But my guess is you’re Lirrian.”
“You mean I… those sparks… they’re magic?”
“But you don’t have sparks.”
Bain chuckled. “The Lirrian gift of magic is a gift from the Great Father and it manifests differently in each individual. I don’t have sparks but there are some who have magic like an electric current. Others seem to control nature and plant life helping it grow. You are something else and only time will tell what the golden sparks mean and what strengths the Great Father has given you.”
The truth of Bain’s words settled on her. It was oddly comforting and while she still didn’t know what her parentage was, was she part Kellan, part Lirrian or part Fenarian—that thought sent a shudder through her—was it important?
“So… this is normal?”
“Very. And the fact that you mentioned how your magic flares up around others or when you experience a lot of emotions confirmed it for me.”
Bain nodded. “Lirrian lands are deep in a forest. Most other races think we’re odd and like to keep to ourselves but our magic is attuned to the world around us. Most scholars believe it is the connection to the Great Father leading us and how we should use our magic. We prefer to stay in places of quiet and solitude so when we are around others, our ability to sense the Great Father and how our magic should be used is stronger. Being around people sets it off, like you’ve experienced today, and to cope, Lirrians will dull their reactions which nulls the magic and connection to the Great Father. Does this make sense?”
“Perfect sense. I’ve never felt comfortable around people. I always shied away from serving customers and felt overwhelmed with too many sensations in the market. And the tingles would always flare up more around people or when I felt strong emotions.”
Uncle Declan was next to me in three steps. “I’m so sorry you were going through this all this time by yourself. I wish you would have told me.”
“I’m sorry, uncle. I just didn’t know and it scared me.”
Uncle Declan’s lips bunched. “You still should have mentioned something.”
“Okay.” I turned back to Bain. “So now what?”
“Now, I look into getting you some help to train you in your magic. I will be in the Lowlands for a few days, so I’ll help you learn some techniques for control, but don’t worry, you’re not alone in this and your uncle will support you.”
Uncle Declan wrapped his thick arm around my shoulder and squeezed. “Of course. Kellan or not, I’ve raised you as my niece and you’ve been like a daughter to me. A Lirrian for a daughter.” A smile twitched across his lips.
The muscles in my neck and shoulders relaxed and for the first time in a long time I felt like everything would be okay. The globs of cookie dough were still scattered around the kitchen and the shards from the broken bowl were still scattered on the floor. I sniffed the air and rolled my eyes.
“I’m sorry uncle, I’ve burnt a second batch.” I hurried to pull out the black cookies and frowned. There was no saving this batch.
“I think you can take the rest of the day off. I’ll finish the cookies.” Uncle Declan expertly filled a tray with cookie batter and gave me a wink.
Bain slapped his thigh. “And since you have the day off, I’d be happy to spend an hour or two helping you learn some control.”
“Thank you,” I said meaning the words.
“You can use the living quarters upstairs,” Uncle Declan suggested.
“Follow me,” I said and Bain climbed the stairs after me.
Things didn’t turn out so bad after all. Milk chocolate brown eyes floated before my own and I was about to turn around and tell Uncle Declan about Owen’s order for truffle cake but then decided against it. Bain would teach me some control then I’d get up early and bake a cake and then I’d make sure I was around when Owen came to pick up the cake. Tingles danced beneath my skin and a few golden glittery sparks swirled around my fingertips. I smiled. Now that I understand what this was, it didn’t bother me so much. In fact, I was looking forward to learning more.