Fire Trap: A Young Adult Fantasy
In love with one twin, bonded by fire to the other. Welcome back to Arcturus Academy.
I survived my first semester, but it's not getting easier. I adore Gage, so why do I share a mage-bond with Ryan, a bully who keeps trying to blackmail me and might get both of us killed? He's like a hydra. Whenever I diffuse one plot, another springs up in its place. How long can this go on before he gets what he wants?
Fire Trap is the second book in the Arcturus Academy YA fantasy series.
Read Fire Trap and let the sparks fly!
Arcturus Academy is an action-adventure series of five books by a USA Today and Amazon best-selling author. Saxony is a strong female heroine swept into a world of dizzying plot twists, sweet romance and intriguing mythology, all woven against a backdrop of elemental magic. Perfect for fans of Kelley Armstrong, Maria V Snyder, and Shannon Mayer. If you like magical power plays, page-turning action, and the high of first love, then you’ll adore A.L. Knorr’s explosive series.
Release date: October 15, 2020
Publisher: Intellectually Promiscuous Press
Print pages: 266 pages
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Fire Trap: A Young Adult Fantasy
And Guilt Abounds
“Come on in, Saxony.” Basil beckoned me into his office with a wave. “How are you? How was your holiday?”
Sneakers quiet on the ornate rug, I approached and took the nearest of the two wingback chairs in front of his desk. “It was great, thank you. I don’t mind telling you it was good to have a break from…everything.”
Truthfully it had been a much needed escape from the stress and drama of last semester. To be able to eat Mom’s Christmas baking, and to chat with RJ about his mundane life—work at the salt mine beneath Saltford and his studies to become a mechanic—was pure escapism. Chatting with my younger brother Jack was slightly less normal, given that he was a powerful empath and was in grade ten; mired in the morass of hormone-addled teens at the collection of portable buildings that passed for Saltford High. It would be another year before a new high school was built to replace the one destroyed by a supernatural storm.
Basil rubbed his hands together and peered at me over his glasses. “I can imagine, but I hope you’ve returned rested and raring to go?”
“Sure.” I gave him a side-eye, knowing that his look meant he had something up his sleeve. My talks with Basil often seemed to end up with a surprise imperative.
The headmaster smacked his palms down on the arms of his chair, oblivious to my suspicious restraint. “Excellent. Because you did such a wonderful job with April Brown last semester, I wondered if you might be interested in offering private coaching to a few others who may need some help?”
I blinked at him. “Um.”
“Come now, don’t be modest.” His chest lifted—if he’d had feathers, they would have puffed out. “April’s performance at the skills exam in December, while a little unsteady and unorthodox at times, was a monumental testament to your ability to get the best out of her.”
“Ah.” I shrank into my chair as little darts of guilt pricked at my heart. What I’d done with April had been cheating. If Basil knew... I wouldn’t be able to bear the look of disappointment on his face if he ever found out, and I’d find myself back at Saltford before I could say the word endowment. No chance at the Agency, and no opportunity to finish my time here at Arcturus. I pressed my lips together and cast my eyes down. The threats Ryan made if I didn’t help him attempt a Burning rang in my memory like the peal of funeral bells: If you think you were an outsider this semester, it’s nothing compared to what you’ll be if you don’t do as I ask.
My heart recoiled at the prospect unfolding before me, like it was a tidal wave I knew I wouldn’t be able to outrun. “But, the whole point of the exercise last semester was to nurture compassion in me. You wouldn’t let me forget that. It wasn’t about April’s skills.”
He nodded, head bobbing with enthusiasm. “Indeed, indeed! And while it does appear you are out of danger,” he paused and lifted a hand, “if you agree?”
“What? Oh. Yes.”
“Good, so we surmise you are out of danger from treading the paths of Palumbo, but we’ve also unearthed a rare talent. There are several other students in the school—not all of them first-years—who could use a guiding hand such as yours.” He shuffled through some folders on his desk, finding one and flipping it open. He scanned a page through his specs.
“I thought I’d be able to focus on myself this semester, Basil,” I replied. “Do you mind if I take a little time to think about it?”
“No, you can let me know by the end of the week.” If he had looked up he would have seen a frown. He stuck out his lower lip as he perused the pages. “Ms. Jade Alcott is in particular need.”
I gave a startled laugh.
He looked up, brows pinched. “Something funny?”
I tried to keep my expression from being too scathing. “Jade hates me, has since day one. She’ll never accept help from me.”
Basil glowered. “Well, she earned the lowest score in the skills exam last semester and didn’t shine in her theoreticals either. After seeing what you were able to coax from April, I daresay Ms. Alcott will deign to swallow her pride.”
I doubted that, but I didn’t say so. I hadn’t realized she’d done so poorly but I wasn’t concerned about Jade. I had a bigger foe to deal with. The ever-present thorn in my side.
As Basil chatted about my schedule and objectives for the semester my mind turned the problem with Ryan over and over like a Rubik’s Cube, twisting it this way and that, shifting it to view it from the bottom. How might I disabuse him of the crazy notion that I was the only one who could help him survive a Burning? How could I either force or coerce him into retracting his threat?
While no solution which didn’t involve braining him and hoping to give him amnesia presented itself, a new idea took nebulous form; the busier I was, the less available I would be and the less likely he’d be able to corner me. First he’d have to find me, then he’d have to get me alone while I wasn’t expected somewhere. If he couldn’t do either of those things, then he wouldn’t be able to force arrangements on me.
I sat up straight as this light bulb went off in my brain. “I’ll do it. Give me as many incompetent students as you can find.”
Basil stopped scrolling through his tablet. “Excuse me?”
“The tutoring.” I put on an eager smile. “I’m in. Stack my schedule, I want as little free time as possible.”
A line appeared between his brows as he looked up from my file. “I appreciate your sudden enthusiasm, but let’s not exhaust you. You’ll want to wake refreshed and ready every morning, not like a pony that’s been ridden hard and put away wet.”
“May I see that?” I held out a hand.
“Certainly.” He passed the tablet over.
Scrolling through my schedule, I pointed at the empty squares. “Here. I have four spares running Monday through Thursday. Open those for students who need coaching.” I handed the tablet back.
He took it, eyes on mine. “You’ll need those for studying and homework. The spares are given for that purpose. I was thinking you might take a student on two evenings a week for one hour before dinner. Experience has also shown me that those students who use some of their spares for social time do not suffer for it, in fact they greatly benefit from spending time with their peers. You missed out on too much of that last semester. Don’t you agree?”
I wilted again. Yes, I had missed out on socialization last semester, and when Ryan had baited me into a fight, I had suffered for it. Everything was on the up and up with Gage now too and if I had no free time, when would I see him? I already had one semester under my belt, I knew how exhausting it was. Sitting back in my chair, I just nodded, not sure what to say.
“Yes? Keep the spares for yourself?”
“Yes,” I said. “You’re right, they are important.” Under normal circumstances I would glory in spare time, but nothing about my circumstance was normal, not until Ryan and his stupid ideas about attempting to become Burned went away. I hoped Ryan’s schedule and my schedule had no spares at the same time. I could further help myself by booking spares with Gage or Tomio or April or anyone other than Ryan. If I was expected by somebody, I couldn’t be helping Ryan burn himself to death and ruining my own life in the process.
“Good.” Basil flipped through the screen on the tablet. “Then let’s discuss your skills class...”
* * *
I was about to leave my room the next morning when the sound of gravel popping underneath the tires of a vehicle drew me to my window. My heart did a little dance as the sliding door of a taxi van opened and Gage stepped out. He looked incredible wearing a navy jacket with a red stripe around the collar and a pair of jeans with white sneakers. A dark gray knit hat made his smile look even more blazing white than normal. His breath misted in front of his face as he slid the van door shut and walked around to the trunk. I felt my smile fade as Ryan met him at the back of the vehicle and the two of them pulled their luggage from the trunk.
Gage spoke kindly to the taxi driver as Ryan rolled his luggage toward the door. Typical Ryan behavior.
Would it seem too eager and uncool of me to run down and greet Gage in the main lobby? I decided I didn’t care. Shoving my arms into my favorite cardigan, I headed for the door. I locked it behind me and speed-walked the corridor, slowing down as I passed Alfred. We exchanged pleasantries. The moment Professor Knight was behind me, I picked up speed.
Emerging in the lobby on the second floor balcony, I had a clear view into the foyer. A flash of Ryan’s jacket caught my eye as he disappeared through the door leading past the lecture halls and toward his room at the far end of the men’s block. Gage stepped through the front doors of the villa pulling his rolling luggage behind him and tugging down the zipper of his jacket. His cheeks were flushed and ruddy, his expression sled-dog bright.
He looked up as I hit the top of the steps, our eyes meeting. His grin was enough to confirm that he was just as eager to see me as I was to see him. I practically floated over the carpeted stairs on the way down.
“Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes,” he said as he waited at the bottom of the stairs with open arms.
I swept into them, glorying in the feel of his solid frame, his smell. Pressing my lips against his neck as I hugged him, I melted as our mage-bond whisked through my face and swirled down the back of my neck. Somehow it was a relief to feel that the strength of our bond never changed.
Gage pulled back and planted a kiss on the tip of my nose. “How were your holidays?”
I chuckled, releasing him. “You already know. We texted almost every day.”
He wrapped an arm around my shoulders and took a dramatic inhale, his words coming out in a stream. “I know that you played a lot of cards with your family, some Ukrainian game called Hullah. I know that your parents gave Jack a puppy and he named her Phantom because she’s a Border Collie with a half white, half black face. I know that you got a new laptop even though you didn’t need one. And I know that RJ finally finished his vintage Mazda RX-7 rotary engine sports car.” He took another exaggerated breath and a tiny bow.
“You were paying attention.”
Gage nabbed the handle of his luggage as we passed through the foyer side by side, rolling it along behind us as we headed for his room.
“I was. It’s your turn. What did I get up to?”
“Is this a test?”
“Hmm.” I tapped a finger on my lips. “You memorized every detail of your uncle and aunt’s drawing room, while a never-ending line of relatives you haven’t seen since you were in diapers—sorry, nappies—marched through the house like ants, pinching your cheeks and asking you to repeat yourself and speak up this time for Pete’s sake. Your parents’ plane got delayed, leaving you to fend for yourself for a whole extra twenty-four hours, during which time you built card-houses and did puzzles of fields of wildflowers while drinking tea for constipation since it’s all your aunt has in her cupboards. Did I get it about right?”
“You’re scary, and I’m sorry I asked.” He stuck the tip of his nose in my ear. “I can’t wait to hang out, just us.”
“You have to call and arrange it with my secretary,” I teased as we mounted the steps leading to the boys’ block. “You know how Basil had me tutoring April last semester?”
Gage cringed. “Should I be worried?”
“He says that yours truly did such a wonderful job with Ms. Brown that he wants me to tutor others.”
Gage turned mock-serious. “My combustion could use some help.”
I threaded my fingers through his. Fire whooshed between our hands. “Your combustion needs no help at all.”
Glancing at the clock in the first-years’ lounge as we rolled past, I said, “You’d better hurry and drop your stuff off. Assembly is in 15 minutes. You Wendigs like to cut it close. Meet you there?”
He gave my arm a gentle tug. “Stay with me.”
I smiled and nodded. We made our way to his block, which was a mirrored replica of the girl’s block.
Gage stopped outside his room, fishing his key from a back pocket. He pushed his door open and I peered inside. His room was tidy with the bed neatly made, the closet and drawers tightly shut, the books sitting in a nice neat row on his desk and bookshelves. I shook my head. “You cleaned your room before leaving? You are a wonder.”
“Yeah, I got the Molly Maid gene. I helped Ryan move his stuff into his new suite before we left, it was a disaster. It’s always been that way.”
He left his luggage against a wall, and tossed his jacket on the bed, before pulling the door closed and locking it. We joined the thin flow of students headed for the assembly.
“I used to get so mad at him. We shared a room up until we moved when we were twelve. I used duct-tape to mark off my territory and when any of his stuff migrated to my side I would throw it back. He used to bribe me to clean his side of the room for him whenever Mum and Dad were on his case. Somehow the deal was never as good for me as it was for him.”
“Imagine that,” I murmured as we passed through the double doors and into the ballroom.
Basil was already at the podium and the professors seated on the dais. I was surprised to note that Krispy was also on the dais among the teachers.
The headmaster tapped the microphone. “Find your seats please, ladies and gentlemen.”
Gage pulled me to the closest empty chairs near the back of the room in a section usually occupied by third-years.
“Welcome back.” Basil’s voice crackled with feedback and he recoiled from the microphone. “I trust you had a restful holiday. Happy New Year.”
Some of the crowd parroted a response.
“This semester we have five new students joining the first-year roster, let’s give them a warm welcome and any assistance they need in settling into life here at Arcturus.”
Basil introduced the professors and their subjects for the new students’ sake before getting to the main business.
“A bit of quick housekeeping. You’ll notice that the ground floor of the east wing has been blocked off and a detour made through the stairwell which passes behind the kitchens. Renovations have begun which will add a diving tank to the academy’s facilities. If you are bothered by the noise, my apologies, it’s difficult not to make a racket while doing such work. I tried to make arrangements to have the work done over the summer, but Bob’s Supernatural Renovating Team was fully booked up until this year.”
There was laughter and I leaned in to Gage. “Bob’s Supernatural Renovating Team? Is he serious? Sometimes I can’t tell.”
Gage shrugged and made a clueless face.
Basil rattled off a few more announcements, most of which was for the benefit of the new students. He let everyone know that he’d be spending most weekends away from the villa so if they needed him, to book him during the week, then signed off.
“That concludes the New Year’s updates from me, which leaves a couple of items from Kris Parker, who has taken on the monumental task of yearbooks.”
Krispy got to her feet and made her way to the podium, walking with her chest out. She tapped the microphone though it had just been working for Basil. She cleared her throat into the microphone and made a few in the crowd visibly wince. “Good morning, students. I’ll be quick, I know you’re eager to get your semester started.”
She laughed, but the room remained quiet.
“As Headmaster Chaplin mentioned, I’m in charge of the yearbook. I’m looking for a couple of volunteers to help out with photography and journalism, capturing the essence of the activities of the school, that sort of thing. If you’re interested, please email me or find me in person. I’ll also be making the arrangements for the end-of-year party, which will include a dance.”
A murmur of excitement arose at this announcement.
“This year’s theme will be chosen democratically. All ideas are welcome. Secretary Goshawk will email you a link to a web page where you can submit ideas. The page will close on January 31st, then voting will commence. You’ll have until Valentine’s Day to register your vote. Anyone interested in volunteering to help make the party memorable, which we’re hoping can be hosted outdoors in late May, please make yourselves known to Secretary Goshhawk or myself. Thank you.”
Gage shot me a hilarious seduction face.
I laughed, whispering: “Do you like to dance?”
“With you,” he whispered back, waggling his brows so fast they almost blurred.
As Basil dismissed the student body, Gage’s fingers wound through mine and we left our seats as one, heat welding our skin together. How had I gotten so lucky? A guy who was polite, sweet, made me laugh, sexy, charming, clean and tidy, and who almost always said the right thing.
Sometimes he seemed too good to be true.
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