Hunter tried to force a chuckle from his throat. “Like I was planning to leave now.” His voice shook a little. He wasn’t afraid, not exactly, but something was building in the clearing, and his nervousness was growing right along with it. “But you still haven’t told me what we’re doing.”
“Take off your jacket and your shirt.”
Hunter gave Cole a startled look at that, but he didn’t need to voice his misgivings before Cole shook his head and took his own advice. He laid out his jacket near one of the rocks, then unbuttoned his shirt. His fingers were trembling, Hunter noticed. Was he this excited about the magic? Or was the anticipation getting to him, too?
“Come on,” Cole said. Hunter still hadn’t even unbuttoned his jacket. “You won’t freeze. Just trust me.”
Trusting Cole wasn’t the problem, Hunter thought ruefully. Not staring at him when his bare chest seemed to attract the light of the candles around them, on the other hand…
Hunter turned away as he unzipped his jacket. From the corner of his eye, he could see Cole kneeling by the leather bag in which he’d transported the ingredients he needed for magic that was more complicated than tricks of light and color. By the time Hunter had taken off his shirt and undershirt, Cole had pulled three small jars from the bag. He handed two to Hunter to hold and opened the third one. It was filled with a reddish liquid, Hunter saw when Cole dipped his index finger inside.
The same finger came to rest over Cole’s heart, and he drew a design as large as his hand on his own chest, like an inverted question mark ending in a spiral. He dipped his finger into the red mixture again before reaching out to Hunter. He seemed to hesitate for a second before he made contact, and then his finger merely grazed Hunter’s skin, the touch so light that Hunter was surprised it even left a mark on him. Even so, he shivered. He could have blamed the reaction on being cold, but warmth suffused his body, spreading from where Cole had drawn the symbol on his chest.
“What…” He had to clear his throat before he could continue. “What is that for?”
Cole closed the jar and returned it to the bag, then took a second one from Hunter’s hands. He seemed very careful not to touch Hunter as he did.
“You never want to hear about the theory behind magic,” Cole said slowly as he twisted the lid of the jar open. He sounded as though he were picking his words one by one. “But I guess you need to know about this.”
This time, he dipped his thumb into the small jar. The pigment was green. He slashed a diagonal line across his throat before doing the same thing to Hunter. He didn’t say anything more as he put the green jar away and reached out for the last one. Hunter held on to it until Cole looked up, although Cole didn’t quite meet his eyes.
“Know about what?” he asked as he let Cole have the jar.
It held blue pigment. Cole dipped two fingers in this time, one after the other, and drew a long line down his left arm, twisting it like a bracelet around his wrist. “There’s a reason magic awakens at puberty in people.” His words were coming out faster now, as though he wanted to be done with his explanation. “It’s linked to sex.”
… continued in Christmas Magic