“Concentrate.” Encouragement resounded in the low voice of Georgeanne Davenold’s new, not-quite-wanted husband. “You can do it. You’ve done it before, just let it happen.”

Silver ropes of magic wound through the ballroom of the Davenold coven’s English estate, ruffling Georgeanne’s hair. But what had been a sturdy, smooth ribbon of power before Silviu Lovasz-Davenold had broken her heart now felt to Georgie like a frayed thread—still powerful, but carrying a hint of the unexpected, as if it could snap at any moment. She reached for it, anyway.

“Yes. Feel our strength, my love. We are Magic Matches, aligning and merging our talents in ways non-Matches could never understand.”

As she drew the cool, silver current of Silviu’s talent into herself, it turned gold and grew in power, as all Matched magic did. Georgeanne let the untamed force channel through her and flood her senses. It filled a void inside her—to the brim, but the brim of the vessel she was, the container she was born to be, rose in proportion to the magic being pumped into her. She would never be overfilled.

“Our bond has been there since birth,” Silviu intoned. “Our betrothal set our futures on this path, and our marriage has only solidified our connection.”

“Our accidental marriage,” Georgie muttered. “Who knew combining sex and blood could result in a life-long union?”

“The ties of magic are unbreakable. I am your husband, now and forever.”

A fortunate circumstance for Silviu, considering the way he’d betrayed her. Georgie huffed. “And thanks to this morning’s surprise ceremony, my whole Family has accepted you as such.”

“They’ve already seen our connection.” Silviu raised his hands as if in surrender, but the gesture didn’t fool her. “Please, concentrate on the task at hand.”

Georgeanne glared at him. “I am trying.”

“Try harder.”

Concentrating as her groom demanded, Georgie made an effort to tighten her grip on the slippery threads of his magic. Power swept through the room, rustling the long velvet drapes, rattling the humongous windows. Golden light burned like a small sun. The chandelier swayed, and Georgie swore she heard the wainscoting groan under the pressure of the force she and her husband created between them—a force they would use to rule over all the covens of their insular world.

“Perfect,” Silviu called out. “Exactly like that, Georgie.”

She tipped her head back and relished the power flooding her. Having none of her own, Silviu’s magic eased an ache and healed a loss Georgie felt every day. She could almost believe his was her own magic. She could almost believe she was normal.

But she wasn’t. She was a Bane-born witch who’d pinned her hopes of inheriting her Family’s power on being blooded and named as heir by her grandmother. She was a warrior, trained in combat and politics, because magic had not been gifted to her upon birth. She was a woman who had been banished after committing an indiscretion with Silviu when they had been teenagers.

He, of all people, should not have been the one who had stolen her inheritance.

“No,” Silviu warned. “You must keep concentrating, my love.”

“Your love,” she whispered, suddenly hating the endearment.

He should have understood. He knew how she’d spent her life pressured by her Family’s aspirations, alienated because she was different. He should have talked to her the moment he’d begun to doubt her ability to host her Family’s magic, so they could make their plans together.

With those thoughts ricocheting through Georgie’s mind, the magic wavered wildly. Even as she reached for more and greedily pulled it into her, the light around Georgie dimmed—darker and darker, until the gold was swallowed by the purest black, exactly as it had done when she’d battled her cousin for the right to lead the Davenold coven.

“Damn it, Georgeanne! Concentrate!”

Untamed arcs of power shot from the previously controlled flow. Black ropes whipped the walls, tore at the drapes and made the chandelier’s dangling crystals tinkle. A gust of wind lifted Georgie’s short hair and tangled her curls above her ears. Silviu widened his stance, braced his legs and leaned into the powerful breeze. As he pumped more magic through her, she felt him struggling to exert enough dominance that the black light contracted into an impenetrable ball in the center of a golden sea.

“Get it under control, Georgeanne!”

“I can’t!” The magic was too wild. Georgie made a desperate attempt at containing it, but she didn’t have the skills she needed. While every other witch had learned how to control their magic, those lessons had been pointless for her. She was disadvantaged.

“You can,” he screamed. “Stop being so damned stubborn!”

His anger sparked against her own. The black ball exploded. Raw power streamed around Georgie, tearing at her hair before it sent Silviu staggering. Not far—his Reap strength saved him, erupting in a torrent of silver flares bright enough to have her squinting. Anyone else might have been knocked off their feet, but Silviu caught his balance quickly.

He cursed. His lips moved in a spell Georgie didn’t know and could barely hear. He waved his arms until silver sparklers trailed through the air, slicing through the black mass intent on destruction. A harrowing moment later, the magic cut off abruptly. Georgie swayed.

Silviu worked his jaw and planted his hands on his hips. “We are Magic Matches and our magic will only grow more unstable if you don’t move past your distrust.”

“I’m working on it. I realize—”

“We balance each other,” he interrupted harshly. “I love you and you love me, so there should be no impediment to our talents merging completely and strengthening into the force we need in order to accomplish our goals and keep ourselves safe. The only obstacle is you.”

“Me?” Georgie reared back. “You think it’s only me?”

“I’ve explained what happened and why I did the things I did. You—”

“When trust is broken—”

“I trust you implicitly, Georgeanne.”

“Well, isn’t that nice,” she sneered. “My head understands why you stole my Family’s power, Silviu, but you’re simply going to have to give me more time to wrap my heart around everything that’s happened—”

“We don’t have time!” He threw his hands up. “We leave for the Council Palace in a matter of days.”

“What do you expect me to do, then?” She lifted her chin as frustration prompted her to step toward him. “You’re not explaining yourself very well. You only tell me to reach, and I do. I try! But you’ve never told me how to control all this!”

“I want you to do what you did at the Ngozi wedding and again when the dark magic spell found us in the sitting room a few days ago.” Silviu rubbed his eyes and shook his head. “I know you can do it again. You just need to concentrate.”

Georgie felt hostility clawing at her restraint. “Maybe I just need a break. A funeral and a wedding all in one day is a little hard on the mental faculties.”

“Yes, I know, my love, but we can’t afford a break. We can’t afford for you to blow witches up with wild magic. That would definitely put a damper on our political aspirations.”

“Moderate your attitude, Silviu. I’ve been able to access this magic for approximately three days. You’ve had nearly three decades to learn how to do this.”

Until he’d stolen the power of the Davenold bloodline and become the new Mother, Silviu had been a member of the magically dominant Lovasz coven. He’d also been born at the height of the Reaping Moon, which only magnified his talents. He’d always had an excessive amount of magic at his disposal while Georgie, being Bane-born, had spent her life believing she had none at all.

Things had changed so suddenly and now Georgie could also access Silviu’s magical power—though she still wasn’t quite sure how to use it. It had been a little easier to do what Silviu requested when he’d physically touched her, but with him across the room and pushing her to try a long-distance connection, Georgie had barely known where to begin, and had no hope of keeping the flow stable.

Silviu’s eyebrows lowered, not marring the prettiness of his face at all. “You are a fast learner, Georgeanne, when you want to be.”

“I’m tired.”

“We can’t afford to be tired, either.”

“I just buried my grandmother, Silviu.” Georgie closed her eyes and willed away the pressure behind them. She was tired of crying. “I need a little break, then I’ll tackle this puzzle with a fresh outlook.”

He heaved a sigh as he glanced away from her. “Georgie, I don’t know what you did in your battle against Suzette. I don’t know why your magic is turning black and I don’t know how you turned your cousin Bane with a single word. These are things we must figure out before we travel to France and meet with the Council.”

As the Davenolds believed she was the new Mother, Georgeanne had had no choice but to meet her cousin’s challenge for the right to lead the Family. At first, Georgie had resisted, knowing her Bane imperviousness would shield her from Suzette’s spells, but the faces of her relatives had grown too confused and suspicious to stand firm in that tactic. She’d used Silviu’s magic to launch a counter-attack, but whatever she’d done had been dangerous and abnormal, with the golden glow typical of Matches turning black and stripping Suzette of all her abilities.

“I don’t know what I did, either.” Georgie turned to stare at the massive double doors leading out onto the wet gardens. The rain that had been near constant for the past two days pelted the inset glass. It was fitting weather for both her sad excuse for a wedding and the funeral of a beloved Matriarch.

The pain Georgie felt at having to bury her grandmother was stronger than the grief had been when the old woman had died. It was almost as if the unthinkable had suddenly become more real—as if Georgie were now truly alone, with no wise guide to lead her through the pitfalls of witching politics and no maternal advice on how to move past the betrayal Silviu had inflicted upon her.

Georgie sighed and let her shoulders slump for a brief moment. Then she straightened, smoothed her clammy palms over her black dress—the one she’d worn to her wedding that morning and her grandmother’s funeral that afternoon—and glanced around the ballroom. It was clean, no cobwebs or dust, and the still-swaying chandelier sparkled under its own light, but there was a definite air of disuse clinging to the room that had made it perfect for their exercise.

“Fine,” she finally sighed. “Let’s try it again, then.”

“It won’t work until you learn to forgive and forget, Georgie.”

She dragged oxygen through her flared nostrils. “I guess I’m not very good at living up to the standards set by old proverbs, Silviu.”

But she was trying. She was trying hard to move past old suspicions that everything Silviu had ever done had been nothing more than a ploy to gain power. She empathized with his desire to put them both into secure positions, including the highest in the witching world. She’d faced the demon within herself that whispered she’d have taken desperate measures, too, if their situations had been reversed—but doing and having it done to her were very different things.

She felt Silviu move behind her a moment before he wrapped his arms around her stiff body. “My love, when you were caught in the spell at the Ngozi residence, our magic merged perfectly. I felt it. But when Suzette challenged you for Davenold Motherhood, I also felt the distance you tried to maintain between us.”

“I was trying to figure out how to pretend to use something I don’t even have. I’m not the Mother. I don’t have access to the Davenold magic.”

“Yes, you do.” He tightened his arms around her. “You have access to all the magic at my disposal. When you used it against your cousin, I felt the instability. Your distrust might as well be a brick wall between us. I believe that is why our gold magic turned black.”

“Maybe it’s just what I do.” Georgie slipped from Silviu’s arms and turned to face him directly. “I break magic. I break witches, just like I did to Suzette when I bound her talents so completely that she lost all her power. Now she’s Bane-made because I am Bane-born. I am a creature of nightmare, just like those old stories said.”

He shook his head. “It’s within your ability to control. Your distrust of me is what’s weakening your concentration, and I am sorry for that, Georgeanne. Your magic—”

“I don’t have magic!” Georgie threaded her fingers through her hair and tugged, wishing she could get off the merry-go-round. They continued to have the same conversation with the same results—Silviu’s disbelief.

“Still?” He slapped his palms together, making her jump with the loud, unexpected noise. His voice dropped into a low tone that warned her of his growing anger. “Still, you deny your abilities?”

“I didn’t use my magic. I used yours. I am the absence of magic and I consume it.” Georgie crossed the space between them in a rush and pressed her palm to Silviu’s sternum. “You fill me up with all the extra you have and with all the natural power you can draw from the world around you when we’re linked. But none of that is mine. I’m just a convenient container to put your power into so that its force doesn’t rip you apart.”

“My father said you—”

“Your father was wrong! Vasile read some fucking fairy tales and figured they were as good as real life.”

“He’s been right—”

“He’s been half-right,” she argued. Georgie took a step back and rubbed her temples. “We can’t depend on legends alone, Silviu. We have to face facts.”

“My father believed you would be an extremely powerful witch. He believed that all your magic is locked inside you, hidden by your Bane shield, but that my magic held the key.”

“It’s the other way around,” she whispered.

“No. Magic Matches take the heft of the stronger witch. You access my magic, but I can’t access yours. That means you’re more powerful than I am, and we just have to unlock what you have, stabilize it and learn to use it.”

“I have no magic for you to access.” She held up a hand to forestall his argument. “Whatever I am, Silviu, and whatever we can be together, it’s not what your father expected.”

He stared at her for a long minute, the silver hue of his eyes darkening, his lips pulling straight. Just when Georgie was about to simply leave him to his thoughts and find a quiet place to organize her own, he moved. Silviu was lightning quick when he wanted to be, and she didn’t have a chance to register his actions before he’d caught her in an unbreakable embrace.

“My love.” His breath feathered over her ear and made her knees melt. “We’ll figure out what we can do, but only when this wall of doubt between us comes down.”

Not giving her a chance to reply, Silviu captured Georgeanne’s mouth with his own. He dominated and conquered, letting the full force of his authority bear down on hers. Reacting without thought, she fought back with slick thrusts and wet parries, doing her best to combat his patriarchal arrogance with her own feminine pride.

But the kiss dragged her under his spell—a different kind of magic. The enchantments of want, need and desire fed into the alchemy of the schoolgirl’s crush and became the woman’s greatest pleasure. The magic of sensuality between two lovers who fit each other in every way had the room spinning, swirling with gold, controlled without effort.

Silviu broke their kiss, but his lips moved against hers as he said, “I’ll teach you to trust me again, Georgeanne, the same way I taught you before—with pleasure, patience and love.”

Silviu held her to him as her bones liquefied with the stress of too many tragedies in too short a time. Georgie had rarely had anyone to lean on in times of trouble, but now she was in Silviu’s arms, and it felt like a safe haven, in spite of his crime. He felt like home.

It hurt.

As he made to take her mouth again, Georgie turned her head. “I can’t do this right now, Silviu. Let me go.”