There had to be something wrong with her.

Nick watched the woman through the front window of the Nevada chapterhouse. She sat on the large, well-tended lawn, basking in the light of the sun, her body perfectly still. Her legs were folded like a pretzel, and her wrists rested on her knees. A couple of students playing Frisbee nearby almost stumbled over her, but she gave no sign of noticing.

“You flew all the way across the country to find a match for her?” he asked.

Standing next to him, Jeffries loosened his tie. He’d already taken off his jacket, and his shirtsleeves were rolled up.

“That’s right,” the man said.


Slipping out of her position, the woman straightened her legs, bent forward to grasp her feet, and eased down until her chest rested on her thighs. Nice, Nick thought. He’d added more stretching to his workout lately—too much time lifting weights tended to make muscles tighten up—but he’d never be able to bend like that. After thirty seconds or so, she stood. He saw now that she had a classic hourglass figure, not fat, but not slender either. Balancing on one foot, she raised the other to press against her inner thigh, knee angled out. Her hands came together in front of her, fingers pointed upward, and once she’d settled into the pose she again fell perfectly still. People walking by gave her curious glances.

“She has a unique channeling style,” the man answered. “There aren’t many Crafters we feel might be able to handle her.”

Talent Scouts like Jeffries weren’t usually so cryptic. Nick scowled at him. “Unique how?”

“It’s difficult to explain. I’d like you to meet her. Touch your Talent to hers, and see for yourself.”

“ I’ve already got a dozen resumes on my desk from more experienced Channels looking for a partner. No offense, but this chick isn’t in my league.”

“This ‘chick’ is in a league of her own. You’re the top Crafter in the region, and frankly, it’s been too long since you had a real challenge.”

Nick raised his eyebrows. He couldn’t remember the last time anyone had talked to him like that and wasn’t sure he liked it. He considered telling the Scout to piss off, but his gaze was drawn back to the woman. He didn’t usually go for blondes, and she wasn’t particularly beautiful, so why was it so hard to look away from her?

“Fine,” he said. “We’ll play it your way. Bring her to meeting room two.”

Without waiting for an answer, he strode off down the hall.

He’d already made sure the space would be available. As one of the senior Crafters in the North American Spellbinders’ Association, Nick’s needs took priority over nearly everyone else’s. He preferred not to pull rank unless he had good reason. Meeting a potential match, he’d decided, was important enough to inconvenience whoever else had intended to use the room. Now he went there and paced, nerves inexplicably on edge. When one of the chairs at the long conference table blocked his path, he shoved it away with a mutter of annoyance.

Though he had his back to the door, he knew the instant she arrived. Even without actively engaging his Talent, he felt the other-worldly power swirling around her, unlike anything he’d ever come across.

Nick froze. All spellbinders emanated a certain amount of energy. One of the first things a trainee learned was how to cloak his or her Talent, and to shield against that of others. It became ingrained over the years. The low, steady hum that hovered around another practitioner was little more than background noise to Nick by now, but the magic surrounding this woman sizzled and hissed and was impossible to tune out. The sheer volume of it staggered him. Fascinated, he opened the edge of his cloak just enough to send a wordless query, and the woman shocked him by opening herself completely, granting access to every part of her.

What he found there turned him around to stare.

Wild, red-hot magic called to him, and the moment he touched her Talent, his sang out in a response so intense it made him dizzy. He’d had many partners over the years, but they’d never felt quite right. Now he understood why. This was what he had been born to craft, not the cool, malleable energies the others drew down.