Penn had never experienced terror like this. Jora stood at the front line of their attack on the unstable barrier. If disaster struck, she would bear the brunt of the backlash. He hated—hated—knowing there was nothing he could do about that.
But she was a warrior in her own right, even if her weapon was a magic he couldn’t see and didn’t understand. When she glanced back at him one last time he smiled his reassurance, hoping it was enough.
Jora began to chant. He stood shoulder to shoulder with Arik on one side and Larem on the other; the hair on his arms and neck stood on end as her voice increased in volume. He could feel her demand for more power pounding in his head and pressing on his chest, making it almost impossible to breathe. If it was this hard on a man his size, what was it doing to her?
But there she stood, her shoulders back, her head held high as she called on her special abilities to save the world. The barrier was streaked with sickly colors and small tears. One of Arik’s Blademates collapsed from the strain, but the rest of them stood firm.
The rift ripped through the barrier, burning bright enough to light the caves in both worlds. Arik dropped to the ground without a sound, followed quickly by Larem. That left only Penn to keep Jora grounded as she started to waver. With all the strength he could muster he took a step forward, reaching out to put his hands on her shoulders.
Energy sizzled through his feet from the rock below, ripping up through his body and out the palms of his hands to Jora. Her chanting increased in volume and strength. Small jolts of lightning crackled along the boundary line, leaving the clean burn of ozone in their wake.
With a loud crack, the rift exploded in a burst of sound and light. Jora’s head snapped back, and her knees collapsed. Penn managed to break her fall before he joined her in a heap on the floor.
Someone was groaning, and there was a hundred-pound rock sitting on Penn’s chest. No, not a rock. A woman. His woman. Jora. Was she—? He cut that thought off immediately. Instead, he concentrated on remembering how to make his hands work. One finger twitched, then a second. Finally, he lifted his hand up enough to touch Jora’s sweet face.
Her skin was warm. Good. He rested his fingertips on her throat, feeling for a pulse. Thump, thump, thump. Very good. His hand dropped back down, his energy spent.
Jora moaned again, then lifted her head. “Did we do it?”
They both looked toward the barrier, which was humming along, happy and healthy.
Penn was too tired to smile. “It looks good to me. We’re not dead, and the world hasn’t been destroyed.”
She rested her palm on the floor of the cave. “The pressure is gone.”
It took a while for them to recuperate enough to get up off the floor of the cave.
Penn offered Larem a hand up, and then Arik. Both were tired but otherwise unharmed. Their three prisoners weren’t so lucky. The one Jora had fought with was unconscious and unresponsive, while his buddy was clearly dead. So was the third one.
Larem knelt down to see what he could do for the lone survivor. “He won’t make it.”
Jora looked sick. “I didn’t mean to kill them.”
Larem stood. “I’m guessing that it wasn’t anything you did, Jora. I suspect their energy signatures were tied to the rift. The backlash killed them when the rift disappeared.”
Penn didn’t know if Larem was right or not, but he was grateful for the man’s attempt to ease Jora’s mind.
“Arik, when Barak gets back from the other crossing with your other men, we’ll send you home.”
The Sworn Guardian nodded. “That would be a good thing. I think I could sleep for a week.” He held his hand out to Jora. “You have done our people a great service. If you ever have need of my sword, you only have to ask.”
“Thank you, Sworn Guardian.”
“Call me Arik.” The male’s smile held too much warmth for Penn’s comfort. “If you would ever like to visit your homeland, I would be honored to serve as your escort.”
Jora shook her head. “I’ve seen enough of other worlds to last me a lifetime. Besides, I’m planning on making my home wherever Penn is.”
“He is a lucky man.” Arik held out his hand to Penn. “The offer of my sword extends to you as well, Paladin.”
“And mine to you, Sworn Guardian.”
Barak came limping in, supporting Arik’s Blademate. “He’s fine, just tired. Let me rest for a bit, and I’ll send them home.”
Jora said, “With Penn’s help, I should be able to do it.”
She reached for his hand and began chanting. Just that quickly, she created a pathway for Arik and his men. They slipped through, dragging the three casualties across as well.
“Their deaths will serve as a warning to others who seek to do evil as they did.” Arik saluted them with his sword as the barrier snapped back into place.
Many hours later, back in their motel room, Penn said, “Jora, I have to go back to Seattle.”
She lifted her head off his chest and glanced at the clock. They’d been asleep for over twelve hours. “When?”
He toyed with a strand of her hair. “Sooner rather than later. For one thing, I have to take Barak and Larem back to Seattle.”
Her pulse sped up. Where did that leave the two of them?
Penn held up his right hand and flexed it. “My wrist is stronger than I thought it was, but I believe this is as good as it’s going to get. I’ve been afraid to admit that before now, because I didn’t think there was any kind of life for me other than swinging a sword.”
He smiled down at her. “But because of you, that’s all changed now. And I owe it to my friends in Seattle to tell them in person that I’m going to be moving here—if you’ll have me.” His hand stroked up and down her back. “Will you marry me and build a new life with me, Jora b’Larth?”
She heard his heartbeat, strong and steady, as she laid her head on his chest again, and knew his love was just as steady and true.
“I can’t think of anything I want more, Penn Sebastian. Forever.”