Today, he is my protector. Tomorrow, he could be my ruin.
The abuser from my past has returned, bent on getting me back in his power. Now only a shadow of my former self as a cheerleading team captain, I know I won’t survive abuse at his hands again. Enter Sinai of the Yces, winter fae and badass academy star boy with a grudge against my tormentor. He offers me protection, but his reasons don’t stop at our common enemy, and he’s not exactly my friend either. I’m not sure I want him to be, not with that perfectly chiseled jaw, those bulging muscles and the smoldering way he looks at me. He’s feared, nasty and dangerous, and yet I want him all over me. I feel that his rough lust can heal me. But Sinai is sweet poison that could lead me to my doom. I should run away from him as fast as I did from the other one, except this time I’m hooked. Hooked on the deadliest man I’ve ever met.
TRIGGER WARNING. This book deals with themes of abuse (physical and emotional, NOT between hero and heroine), stalker, forced proximity, jealous/possessive hero and related tropes. This is NOT a bully romance. There is a HEA.
The affair between fae prince Salazar Shadowthorn and me, a human witch, is three things – toxic, destructive, and forbidden. Now, it might become deadly.
Salazar is a prince without a crown, a tragically beautiful force of night. Shadow and smoke are deadly weapons in his hands, and even demons have learned to fear him. Yet now a mysterious power is closing in on him and his people, and Salazar can’t beat it alone. He needs to awaken the shadow fae king. Only that awakening the king is no less problematic than the dark power seeking to gain control of his kind. Because of me.
There’s a big fat chance that I’m the king’s fated mate, which means that Salazar and I would have to stop this toxic thing we’re doing. He likes toying with me, making me beg for him in basements, and pleasuring me in public in order to humiliate me. Perverted delights, to which I’ve secretly become addicted. We’ll have to kill this sick chemistry between us, if we want to stand a chance against this new power. A rising menace that can lead us both, ruthlessly, to our deaths.
A cursed beast lurks in the woods outside my village, and it wants one thing—me.
I learned to fear the Scorpio Beast many years ago. He is the most dangerous thing out there, brutal and cruel, so when he takes me captive in exchange for my brother’s freedom, I know to expect the worst. Yet deep into the ruins of his ancient castle, I discover there’s more to Ares Amberson than his ruthless reputation. There’s a tortured soul behind his mask, and a sensual touch behind his iron fist. There’s also more to my own past than I ever knew, a secret buried in my bloodline that Ares wants to use me for. But in order to unlock my dormant powers, he needs to teach me. Train me. Seduce me. Ruin me. The pull I feel towards him is wrong on all levels, but I’m hooked on the devilish pleasures he’s giving me. I must fight against it, or die trying. The secret of our bloodlines makes it impossible for us to be anything but rivals, polar opposites, enemies. In the end, there can be only one on the throne of the kingdom that we were both born to rule.
Note: This book offers you a strong female lead and a tortured villain, so brace yourself for dark themes and possible triggers related to past trauma. These two go to work on each other. Yes, there’s a HEA.
When you’re destined for each other – as sworn enemies.
With a common rival sitting on the throne that was meant for one of us, the Scorpio Beast and I are forced to work together – as a fake couple. We must fight against the evil usurper that brought misery upon our kingdom. But, in the end, there can be only one on the throne of Celestia. In the end only Ares or I can survive a terrible prophecy – that one of us is destined to kill the other.
Throne of Lust and Ruin is Book II of the Court of Scorpio series, telling the story of a passion that can only lead to ruin. Beware of triggers and dark themes. This is an enemies-to-lovers romance.
Hey book lover! I’m working on a new book, Queen of Blades and Roses, which is expected to hit the Zon at the end of August. Read the first chapter , and feel free to comment or e-mail and tell me what you think. This is a passion project for me, on which I’m working in parallel along with the next book of the Legends of the Fae series! So here we go.
A cursed beast lurks in the woods outside my village, and it wants one thing—me.
I learned to fear the Scorpio Beast many years ago. He is the most dangerous thing out there, brutal and cruel, so when he takes me captive in exchange for my brother’s freedom, I know to expect the worst.
Yet deep into the ruins of his ancient castle, I discover there’s more to Ares Amberson than his ruthless reputation. There’s a tortured soul behind his mask, and a sensual touch inside his iron fist. There’s also more to my own past than I ever knew, a secret buried in my bloodline that Ares wants to use me for. But in order to unlock my dormant powers, he needs to teach me.
The pull I feel towards him is wrong on all levels, but I’m hooked on the devilish pleasures he’s giving me. I must fight against it, or die trying. The secret of our bloodlines makes it impossible for us to be anything but rivals, polar opposites, enemies. In the end, there can be only one on the throne of the kingdom that we were both born to rule.
The Cursed Woods looked almost romantic from the window table at the Fyre Dragon Inn and Pub. Soaked in the scents of hearth and ale and leather, this was a place where stories had been born for many, many years, and most of those stories were about the Cursed Woods.
But the truth lurking in the hilly darkness spreading out between Azoth Hollow and Doomsday Mountain was far from the romantic adventure the pub’s storytellers made it out to be. They never told things the way my brothers and I gave it to them—raw and gut-wrenching. It frustrated my brothers. As for me, I didn’t take it quite as personally. After decades of suffering under the effects of the Spades fae’s curse, people needed some fantasy to keep them sane, and I felt for them. Not so my brothers.
“Do they even see our bleeding hands when they take the gold from them?” Thornan grunted, cocking a thick black eyebrow at the loud crowd from behind his pint. Scars adorned his rough fist, and his rugged looks placed him well beyond his twenty years. Part of that were his aggressive features, but most of it was what we had been doing for a living for years.
It had turned all three of us into brutes, even if it was less obvious in me, probably because I was female. One that dealt better with swords and knives than with baking, laundry and child-rearing, but still female. I had been fighting in the Cursed Woods for over a decade to help this village survive, and I was a Scavenger before anything else.
Once every month, my brothers and I put it all on the line venturing into that forested hell, hunting for treasure—and books, which were the rarest and most valuable items. I sure lived for the occasions when we found them. We spent the rest of our time training for our incursions into the woods. It took over our lives completely, but gold, silver and gems were the only things that got the people of Azoth Hollow through the winter. It helped us buy stuff from the other human settlements that didn’t have to suffer under the Spades’ wrathful curse, the curse that had turned our home into a haunted village.
Azoth Hollow intrigued outsiders and travelers, it fascinated them, but no one in their right mind would spend a full moon night here if they had a choice. As for leaving this place to settle somewhere else—others had tried before, and failed miserably. Being born here was like a scarlet letter, as if we could carry the curse into the wider world.
And maybe we could. We didn’t know for sure, but the curse might well have affected all of us in some way.
One sure thing was that our village wasn’t safe beyond nightfall on the three full moon nights of every month. Ghosts would creep onto the streets, hungering for human flesh. Consuming it made them feel alive again, even if only for a few hours. They were spirits of dead Scorpio fae, cursed by the Spades to dwell between life and death forever, unable to resume complete physical form or to cross into the spiritual world for good.
The spirits couldn’t enter cottages uninvited, but whatever they caught outside was theirs for the taking, and they never spared a life. Their hunger for flesh was beyond themselves, almost vampiric.
It was these stories that drew travelers to Azoth Hollow like moths to a flame. It was also why the three men at the bar were here, talking to Big Reo, the inn keeper. Checking them out from the corner of my eye, I’d have said they were monks.
“Those idiots, look at them,” Kovra groaned next to me. “Scented clothes, heads swimming with bedtime fairy tales, happy to believe all that bullshit.” He banged his pint on the table, the ale sloshing over the edges. “There are no fucking fairies in the Cursed Woods,” he called out, drawing the three strangers’ attention. “No fucking mermaids in its murky lakes. Only slimy stuff coiling around your feet, skeleton hands reaching out from the mud to pull you in, scorpions roaming around every fucking pile of treasure. It’s hard-earned silver that pays for this ale.”
Kovra tossed his ale down, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and looked away. I could only hope the three men wouldn’t dare to come over, but Big Reo leaned in and whispered to them who we were. The strangers’ eyes widened as he spoke, their curiosity and spiking interest obvious in their neat, monkish faces. One of them, probably the leader, licked his lips greedily, but still hesitated, which was understandable.
Kovra’s androgynous voice was one of many misleading things about my twin brother, but his words and tone always had a sobering effect. He was angry, always on the edge, and very efficient with a blade which, for some reason, shone through in him the most. We were both blonde, blue-eyed, fair skinned and half-fae, the last part making us particularly beautiful to the human eye, but that was pretty much where the similarities between us stopped.
Kovra was everything his name suggested. Fierce and swift. He’d inherited the fae looks of our mother, but his mordacity he got from Da, the best blacksmith in Azoth Hollow, and once the best blacksmith in the Golden City of Celestia, too. Yet my twin and I would have been seen as abominations in Celestia. Hybrids between fae and humans were extremely rare, and even those rare ones were born of human mothers and fae fathers, from affairs that rarely survived the night of conception. But Kovra and I were the product of a forbidden love between a fae princess and a human blacksmith, a story that ended in tragedy.
In the aftermath of that tragedy, Da got cast out of Celestia, and sent back to Azoth Hollow with my brother and me when we were still babies. Grief for our mother almost killed him, but the Allmother took mercy, and a kind girl from the village fell eternally in love with him. I guess there’s no resisting a handsome blacksmith with a broken heart. Thornan was the result of that union, two years later. They’re fine together, Da and Thornan’s mother, but I think Da never stopped being nostalgic about Celestia, and his lost love.
Sometimes, on clear days, you could see the city with the naked eye on top of Doomsday Mountain. But such days had been rare over the last two decades, ever since the Spades usurped the Scorpios. The curse spread a permanent veil of clouds over Azoth Hollow, unleashing hell into the woods covering the hills between it and the mountain.
These were the kinds of stories that travelers came here for, and that sure wasn’t any different for the three monks heading over to our table right now.
“May we join you?” the leader inquired, sinking his hands into the wide brown sleeves of his monkish garment. The other two drew close to him as they flanked him, looking fearful but greedy for information. A holy trinity of well-fed, well rested boys. I wondered how much they were willing to risk for the knowledge they desired.
My brothers had clearly already decided the monks weren’t worth the effort of even opening their mouths. Thornan took another sip of his ale, while Kovra shot them a killer glare. Chills ran through the flankers, but number one kept his ground.
He pulled a chair, and sat down. The old wood creaked.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Kovra demanded under his breath and shot forward, his long blonde hair framing his face like glinting platinum. It made a fierce contrast with his pale blue eyes, sharp nose and the angry curve of his lips. I was his female version, only that my hair was golden and up in a tight pony tail on top of my head, my eyes sparkled more, and my lips were fuller, all an effect of the vestigial lust-inducing magic I’d inherited from our fae mother.
“We don’t remember inviting you to take a seat,” Thornan bit out.
“Big Reo there said you were The Scavengers,” the leader said. “You’re famous.”
“Very famous,” the monk to his right chimed in. I named him number two.
“You have no idea,” number three said from the leader’s left.
“Fuck off,” Thornan growled.
“We have money,” number one put in, and pulled a pouch from his sleeve. It landed on the table with the telltale clink of precious metal. Coins. “We understand that people like you don’t let other people partake in their experiences just like that. They’re valuable, the things you’ve lived, the things you’ve seen. We understand that, and we’re willing to pay for the privilege of learning.”
“So, you want to learn,” Kovra said through his teeth. “How about you join us tomorrow, and learn by doing?”
Thornan burst into a raspy laugh that made number one’s throat bob, but he got a grip quickly. He reached to the pouch, unfastened the leather string around it, and spilled its contents onto the table. Thornan’s dark eyes fell to the silver coins. He ran his tongue over his teeth, his face unreadable to the strangers, but Kovra and I knew exactly what he was thinking. We had every intention to back him up, so my twin took on an even colder, forbidding and opaque demeanor, while I leaned back to let my brothers take center stage. This could prove lucrative.
“What’s this supposed to mean?”
“Like we said—”
“A few chipped silver coins? We get that within the first few minutes in the woods.” That was a lie, but Thornan was the kind of guy you took seriously.
The monks looked at each other and, after a few moments of hesitation, number two pulled a second pouch from his sleeve. When the contents spilled on the table, Thornan’s eyes glinted.
“Diamonds and sapphires,” number one stated proudly, pushing out his smooth boyish chin. “Originals from Celestia.”
“Celestia,” Kovra said. “And how does a man like you possess something from a Golden City?”
“My brothers in faith and I come from the oldest monastery in Northern Kaledonien.”
“Hmm,” Thornan purred. “Where the pilgrims go.”
“Yes. Where the pilgrims go. They bring much value to our holy place, new knowledge, exotic goods.” He looked down at the gems. “Rare items.”
“Then why did you need to come here, to this cursed place? Why search for the stories when the stories come to you?”
“Because only here we can learn the truth about the most famous monster in the world. The Scorpio Beast.” He bent in with greedy eyes, but lowered his voice to a whisper, as if the name alone could strike him dead. “He’s said to dwell in the Cursed Woods. Ares Amberson.”
A heavy silence spread out at our table, dampening the nearby chatter. There wasn’t much noise to begin with, not with everyone’s ears turned toward the conversation at this table, but even the little cacophony there had been died down now. It was the effect of that name each and every single time someone spoke it out.
“Ares Amberson,” the leader monk pressed on. “The cursed heir of the Court of Scorpio, the—”
“We know who the bastard is, we don’t need a fucking profile,” Thornan spat out.
The monk licked his lips, his eyes so big now I could see the red under his lower eyelid. My eyes flicked down when he put his hands on the table. It was my job in the team to take in the details and evaluate danger.
“Heroes from many parts of the world come to Northern Kaledonien, and all of them know about the Scorpio Beast. But we never met anyone who’d actually laid eyes on him. He became a myth with too many versions. We’re here for the truth.”
“Why would you even want that kind of truth?” Kovra grunted. “I would un-know it anytime if I could.”
“And I can understand that,” the monk said. “You and your siblings have been through hell.”
“You understand nothing,” Kovra burst out, shooting forward and causing the monk to snap back into his seat. My twin held out a long, scarred finger in the monk’s face. “Don’t you fucking patronize us. We’re sick of you useless scribes coming around, going all paternal on us. You have no fucking idea what it’s like to feel death’s cold breath wrapping around you from the moment you enter that cursed darkness. That place out there—” He motioned with his head towards the window and the woods. “That place is hell. You want to know what it’s like? With pleasure. Tag along tomorrow, and we’ll show you.” His eyes glinted pale blue from under white-blonde eyebrows. “Unless, of course, you’re afraid we’re going to take your treasure and use your ass as fodder for the very beast you’re so eager to see.”
Number one stared with a blank face for seconds before he spoke again.
“We’re not looking for the beast. We’re looking for the truth in order to write about the beast, and keep the accounts forever protected in our library, and you of all people should see why. Don’t you think the world should know about what’s really happening here?”
“We think the world should fucking help,” Thornan interjected. “But it’s easier to just come snooping around, and then get out of town before darkness falls.”
“I think they should know about the Scorpio Beast,” I chimed in, drawing the three monks’ attention.
“Oh?” one of them breathed, as if he couldn’t believe his ears. “She speaks.”
I gave him a smile meant to make him uncomfortable. Why wasn’t I surprised that he didn’t like a woman speaking?
“We know one or two things about him, it’s true,” I began, keeping still as a statue. The monks stared mesmerized as I spoke, surely because of my looks. The fae traveled the world of men only rarely, and they tended to keep their faces obscured under hoods on most of those occasions. Kovra and I might well have been the closest thing to fae these three men had ever seen, and my appearance as a female was even more specific. I proceeded to give them some of the knowledge we’d gathered about the beast.
“Ares is the eldest son of the late Scorpio King, Zavros Amberson, and his wife, Lumeia. I’m sure you’ve heard of them. King Gariel of the Court of Spades killed both King Zavros and Queen Lumeia when he took over Celestia. For that, he used black magic, because he wouldn’t have won against Zavros any other way. The Scorpio King was the world’s best fighter, and some said his wife was one hell of a strategist. She was the commander, and he was her General. Together, they were an unbeatable force, so Gariel turned to dark powers in order to defeat them. He sold his soul to the devil, if you like. I’m sure you of all people understand the concept. Ares and his siblings survived the terrible curse that fell over their court, but at a great cost.” My voice lowered, my tone darkening. “They had to integrate the curse, to let it run through their veins. They had to become one with it, and live with it like with a disease. They were all small children when this happened. It is said Ares had the worst fate of all. Have you heard anything about what this curse did to him, honored clergymen?”
The leader blinked as if recovering from a mesmerized trance. “Indeed, yes. The curse, ahm—” He scratched the back of his head. “Like I said, the Scorpio Beast has become a myth in its own right. There are many speculations.”
“Let us hear some,” I encouraged him.
“Well, there are those who say he can kill with seduction. He can give pleasure, but that’s all an illusion. In truth, terrible things happen to people’s bodies when they think they’re being pleasured by him. Where they feel a caress or the stroke of a tongue, it’s often the tickle of a scorpion. But that’s only one of the many theories.”
“Why am I not surprised you chose one related to carnal sin? But the beast is about more than that.” I placed my elbows on the table. They made a blunt clanging sound against the wood from the elven protective plates I was wearing over my black mail. Elven armor, scavenged from the woods. The metal in my outfit had the Scorpio heraldry carved into it, the intricate undulations of a scorpion. Everything that belonged to the Court of Scorpio, including their treasure, had been thrown out into the Cursed Woods in the aftermath of the bloodbath, imbued with the same curse, which rendered the treasure untouchable by fae of Spades blood. Luckily, my twin and I were only half fae, and our mother had belonged to another court, so we could make good use of what we found.
“Let us start with the beginning,” I told the eagerly listening monks. The leader’s looks had turned slightly more lecherous, but I didn’t mind just yet. I wanted their masks off. “Tell me, clergymen, do you know how fae names are chosen?”
The two flankers shook their heads no, while the leader kept staring.
“From their birth, fae emit a certain kind of energy. An aura, if you want. Like the name suggests, Ares Amberson was first and foremost a warrior prince, because he was born with martial magic. He would one day become head of the Scorpio Army. But the dark magic King Gariel cast over the Scorpios twisted what was already inside the children. For example, it turned Ares’ little brother, Taurus, into a nasty shifter that goes mad at the scent of blood. You can hear his chilling howling on full moon nights, and you can be sure no creature happening in his path escapes with their lives.
“It turned his sister Lybra into a dark executioner, a creature that will deliver justice in cruel ways. It’s not unlikely to find a wayward clergyman with obscure sins hanging from a cross with his insides spilling out of him.” I bent in closer over the table, driving tension into the monks like a rod up their asses. Only number one retained some measure of control over his facial expressions, while the others stared like they weren’t sure they wanted to listen to this anymore. “Can you imagine what it turned Ares into?”
Snorting laughter broke through my story, giving the poor bastards some respite. It was Thornan, unable to hold back his amusement.
“Look at them, staring like you’ve turned into the fearsome creature yourself. Relax,” he slapped number two’s back, nearly throwing the man off his chair. “It’s just my beautiful lady sister. For now.”
“Let them answer my question,” I said through my teeth, not trying very hard to hide my displeasure. I made a mental note to ruin my little brother’s fun the first chance I got, too.
“A devil,” the leader said quietly. There was fear in his voice, but also reverence. My cheek twitched.
“People shouldn’t revere monsters, clergyman, for whatever reason. It’s not like it’s real admiration anyway. It’s just a suck-up to power. Yearning for a monster’s approval is a weak man’s business. And even monsters despise weak men. They use them, chew them up, and then spit out the leftovers.”
“Have you ever seen him?” he managed.
Kovra scoffed by my side.
“You don’t see the Scorpio Beast and live to tell the tale. He’s killed more monsters with his bare hands than we ever slayed with our weapons. Facing creatures like Ares Amberson isn’t how you survive those woods.” He pointed to the darkening window behind him. “And it’s sure as hell not how you scavenge treasure every month to help this village survive.”
“Find a place by the hearth to spend the night, clergymen,” I concluded, leaning back in my chair. “Brace yourselves, because tonight you’ll hear the lamentations of ghosts, and the howling of Taurus. This, gentlemen, is the most dangerous night of the month—the last of three full moon nights. Not a great time to arrive in Azoth Hollow, but it seems that’s how your fate would have it. Tonight, death descends over the village, taking on treacherous forms. That’s why we gather in large groups in places like this.” And why we, The Scavengers, would go on our monthly hunt the next day, but I left that out. The monsters gave their all on these nights, and they slept deeper the next day, which made it easier for us to move through the Cursed Woods. “I hope you appreciate the great opportunity you’re being offered. You’re going to experience the thrill of your lives, but beware. The ghosts will call on you, using their power to lure you out of your sanctuary—the very reason we stay together on these nights. Whatever happens, don’t even think about leaving the inn, because you will certainly die.”
I took no pleasure in sowing fear, and I pitied number two and three. Poor bastards fidgeted in their seats, turning to their leader, searching his face for reassurance. But number one, he deserved every ounce of this.
“You shouldn’t be joking about these things—” he paused, realizing he didn’t know my name,“—milady.”
“Vyper Gladwell is the name,” I offered impassibly. “And these are my brothers, Kovra and Thornan.” My twin and my little brother raised their pints as I gave their names. “And I assure you, we of all people take these things very seriously. Just look around.”
Patrons looked away as the monks turned to analyze their surroundings more carefully. Mothers and children had already started to pour in, raising the noise level. Babies wailed in women’s arms. A bunch of chickens used the chaos to slip in as well, expertly scuttling their way among people’s feet.
The Fyre Dragon Inn and Pub wasn’t the only place of gathering in town, but it was where The Scavengers spent the night, and people felt safe with us. Some of the women walked over to say hello before they started up the stairs, screaming at the children to stop running and stomping. Big Reo always reserved the rooms upstairs for women and children, and he had a soft spot for chickens, too. The monks’ eyes swept over the thick sheepskins and the fire logs stapled by the fire where a group of men had already settled in, close the hearth.
The leader stood up swiftly, realizing he’d have to move fast if he was going to get a spot close to the hearth. He hesitated for a moment, his eyes moving from the hearth to me and back again. Sure, he was uncertain whether to leave our conversation about the Scorpio Beast. I often found myself wishing sensation mongers like him would get a taste of the horror stories they came looking for, of the horrible things that happened to other people.
“We’ll talk some more about this in the morning?” he probed. I folded my arms across my chest.
“If we live until morning.”
The other two got up and crammed around him like scared children. The bastard found it in himself to bring about a grin.
“I don’t expect this will be The Scavengers’ last night. If you expected it were, you wouldn’t be so relaxed.”
Kovra burst into grating laughter. “Oh, believe me, clergyman, we’re not relaxed.”
“We’re just a wee bit drunk,” Thornan added, while I said nothing. The monster admirer wasn’t worth it, so I might as well save my breath.
“You’ve outdone yourself, sister,” Thornan said after the travelers left, working their way among the crowd to reach the hearth. The closest spots were already taken, but they could still squeeze in by the bar, if they curled their knees up. My brothers and I would take up position by the door, like we always did. We were here as protectors, not protégés. We hadn’t had a careless night’s sleep since we got out of diapers. “You scared the shit out of them.”
“I like this new skill of yours,” Kovra said, proudly raising his pint.
I raised mine, too. “Bottom’s up, boys. Within the hour, these streets will be swarming with ghosts.”
My brothers joined their pints to mine. I took a long pull and set mine down, turning my head to the window. Night was nearly upon us.
Our job wasn’t something that one ever got used to. The third full moon night in a month brought nightmares to life, and surviving it was never easy, especially since The Scavengers weren’t by far the badasses we projected to the village. But thinking we were strong made the people of Azoth Hollow feel safe, so we let them take comfort in that lie. The three of us were good fighters, but no real match for the evil out there.
A claw squeezed my heart as we took our places by the door, yet it didn’t have to do only with the hungry ghosts out there. I had enemies in this room too, among the very people we protected. Some believed I was the real reason why the curse had spread over Azoth Hollow, and now those men sat right by the monks. It wasn’t long until they huddled together in conversation, eyes on me.
“They’re not even trying to fucking hide it,” Thornan grunted, flanking me on my right, Kovra to my left. “Back in the day, they would have burned you at the stake.”
“Back in the day, I would have cut their balls off in the main square,” Kovra pushed through his teeth, his sharp jaw tight. “It’s what they’d deserve for being stupid today, too.”
“We all know it’s not stupidity that makes them hate me.” I hooked my fingers into the leather girdle around my waist. “It’s the lust I awakened in them when I was girl, and my powers went as crazy as my hormones. It was a scary time for all of us.”
“You were only twelve, Vyper. It’s not like you were trying to seduce drunk middle-aged men,” Kovra said.
“Yeah, well, no way of convincing them of that,” I whispered, looking away from the group, and trying to swallow the knot of disgust in my throat. “Placing blame is natural. We all do it.”
“Yeah, but not when it means punishing a mere child for our own perverted nature,” Thornan added. “I’m with Kovra. Stupidity should be as deadly as bubonic fever.”
“It’s the ghosts out there that are going to start killing unless we focus on our job,” I said, fitting two curved magic blades into my girdle. They were rare finds that could make ghosts dissipate into thin air and get sucked back into limbo.
Before long, hissing seeped into the night, a full moon rising in the sky. I watched it through the window as it took over the firmament like a queen of the underworld. I focused on it to center myself as trapped fae souls took to the streets, whispering. The room went awfully quiet as the ghosts started circling the inn. People huddled together, barely breathing. The only sound inside was the rustling fire that spread out a dim but dependable glow over the space. Upstairs, mothers and their children kept a grave-like silence.
Twenty years ago, when all this began, it had been easier for the ghosts to lure out terrified children. It wasn’t long before their mothers followed, desperate to save them. They could easily feast on Azoth Hollow. Now, decades later, people had toughened up, but the ghosts had also upped their game. My hands tightened on the hilts of my blades as ghostly whispers slithered under the door. They couldn’t infiltrate the inn, but they’d start using some of their uglier tactics soon enough. The spectral lamentations of a mother in an attempt to draw out a kindred spirit wanting to help filled the air, the cue that the fight for our lives was on. The sound was gut-wrenching, appealing to deep-seated instincts in a mother’s heart. A few years ago, one of the women had thrown herself out the window over something like this, and I couldn’t stop her. I was too late, and that was going to haunt me forever, but I’ll be damned if I’d let it happen again.
My muscles tensed, my eyes sharpened, and my hands wrapped tighter around the daggers at my waist. I would be ready this time.
Failing to get anyone to respond, the sound morphed into the wailing of babies, and then the calls of long lost, dead parents.
“Fuck it,” Thornan spat out. “They’re extra vicious tonight. Someone’s bound to fall.”
There was a heavy fatality to that statement that neither Kovra nor I could deny. Allowing yourself to be blindsided didn’t help things. We couldn’t know what everybody was hearing, because the ghosts could sound like anyone they loved. They lured people outside with promises that, if they got out there, they would be reunited with their lost loved ones. Only that this time it wasn’t a mother longing for a dead child that sought her way out. No. The one who stood and made his way towards the window, squinting, was none other than clergyman number one.
Of course. Unlike the locals, the monks were inexperienced. Easy prey.
“No,” Thornan hissed. “Get away from there.”
But the man was already entranced, mentally beyond Thornan’s reach. Those huddling on the floor didn’t bother to stop him because the foreigner going down meant more chances for the locals to survive the night. Maybe his flesh would appease the ravenous spirits. All the other watchers were upstairs with the women and children, which made us, The Scavengers, the only guardians on the ground floor. That also meant that the clergyman was our responsibility.
“Fuck! Stupid idiot,” Thornan spat out as he made his way toward number one. He got to the man before he could get to the window. The ghosts could take the shape of the Allmother herself, for all we knew, making him capable of anything.
A howl ripped through the air just as Thornan pushed the clergyman away. It sent ripples through the windowpane.
The howl of Taurus.
The blood froze in my veins, and my hands on my daggers. That was close. Too close. And if Taurus lurked in the area, Ares, the crownless king of the Court of Scorpio, wouldn’t be far.
Fuck me, this night would be the nastiest one yet. My pointy ears shifted imperceptibly as I focused on the sounds of night.
I watched Thornan with wide, unblinking eyes as he turned slowly towards the window, his lips parting.
“No! Fuck! Thornan!” Kovra sprang up, ready to sprint over and push our brother down to the floor. But what if the evil got to him, too? All I knew was that I couldn’t lose my brothers.
I shot up to my feet, jamming my shoulder into Kovra, and shoving him aside so I was the first to reach Thornan and place myself as a shield in front of him.
An icy fist tightened around my heart. My only luck, if I could call it that, was that fear always anchored me, making me hyper aware of my surroundings, which always proved an advantage. Even people’s breathing turned loud in my ears, yet clearly distinguishable from the sounds of night. Mothers hushing their babies upstairs, the quiet whimpering of a child, even rats in the basement scurrying to safety became loud thumps in my ears.
It was the first time I saw the three terrors, yet I didn’t have a doubt about who they were. You couldn’t mistake the dark executioner Lybra with a scales in one hand, and a blade in the other, or the creature to her left—a huge huffing shadow, steam curling out of its nostrils, its eyes red as fire.
A chill ran down my spine as the third creature stepped into the moonlight, right between the first two. There was no mistaking his identity, even though a hood obscured his face completely. He was bigger than Taurus, a black cloak flowing down from his broad shoulders, and he emitted so much power that all life seemed to be shrinking away from him. All he needed was a scythe, and I could have sworn I was looking at the bringer of death himself.
“Scavengers,” his ghostly whisper seeped into my head, while an icy mist coiled around my body.
Thornan shifted behind me. He must have heard him, too, and so did Kovra. I knew, because I had a direct line to my twin’s feelings. Still, I also felt the voice was addressing me more than either of them. I felt spoken to. And the more I stared at the hooded figure standing between dark executioner and shifter, the more I felt his focus. Penetrating. Cutting into my mind like knife through butter.
“Get out of my head,” I pushed out through my teeth. My jaw clenched so hard that it hurt, making speaking difficult. Was it him, not wanting me to talk out loud? What the hell, was he taking control over my body?
“I could,” he hissed, sending ice rolling down my back. “But you wouldn’t want me to come over there, would you?” A low rumble followed, as if he enjoyed this.
“Please.” I reached out to grab the sides of the window’s wooden frame. “These people are innocent. They’ve done you no wrong. Let them be.”
“They’ve done me no wrong, it’s true. But you have wronged me, and so did your brothers.”
A feeling of doom settled in the pit of my stomach.
“Scavengers,” he continued, the icy mist around me infiltrating my senses. “You’ve been violating the Cursed Woods, stealing Scorpio treasure. Now, we want it back.”
I begged the Allmother for an idea, but my mind stayed stubbornly blank. This was a monster I was talking to, the most dangerous creature in the Cursed Woods. I had to be very careful with what I did next. The responsibility weighed heavy on my shoulders. I couldn’t afford to make any mistakes.
So, I did what I had never done before. For the first time, I accessed my magic, tapping into rusty instincts. My voice changed to a rippling soft tone, not entirely seductive, but getting there. The odds that my magic of seduction would work on the Scorpio Beast were close to zero anyway, but a deeper part of me was desperate enough to try.
“We can’t return the treasure, because we don’t have it anymore. It is spent. We don’t venture into the Cursed Woods for fun, you know. We do it because the Spades’ curse took Azoth Hollow in stride, and we can’t earn a living, so we have to buy one. The cursed treasure is how we’ve subsisted all of these years.”
A low growl like distant thunder made my skin pebble. When his spectral voice spoke in my head again, it chilled me.
“Well, then you’ll find that the Scorpio Beast isn’t beastly in all ways. I could let this slide, on the condition that you never come into the Cursed Woods again. That you never touch Scorpio treasure again.”
“You know that’s not a promise we can make. It’s the only way we can survive,” I pressed on, my fingers tightening on the window frame, the ridged wood starting to give way under my grip. “If you think about it, you owe this to us. We are all suffering under your curse, and we shouldn’t have to. We’re innocent.”
He burst into laughter. It was deep, controlled, but I could hear the repressed anger behind it, and it terrified me.
“Innocent,” the voice hissed in my head. “You mean we Scorpio fae deserved this?”
“I didn’t mean—”
“Save it, princess. I’m not here to discuss morals. You either give back the treasure, or pledge not to steal any more of it. Of course, since all good things are three, there is one other thing you could do to placate me.”
Rage tightened like a fist around my neck. He enjoyed torturing me with this. I wanted to scream at him that he was the most despicable creature, since he didn’t need the scraps of treasure we found in the woods, and everybody knew that, but I pressed my lips shut.
“You could pay your village’s debt,” he said, clearly taking dark delight in this. “In fact, if you choose this third option, I give you my word that neither my siblings nor I will set foot Azoth Hollow as long as you’re in my power. And if you make yourself really useful, we might provide the village with the means necessary to survive this winter, and maybe all the winters that follow. I might even protect Azoth Hollow of the ghosts on full moon nights. What do you say?”
My mind went blank. What the fuck was happening here? Why would he want me of all people, of what possible use could I be to him?
“All you need to do, Vyper, is give yourself over to me, as tribute.” His voice darkened, and more blood drained from my face with every word he said. “Do that, and see your village spared. Even those that don’t deserve sparing. You know exactly who I’m talking about.”
I did, and it scared the hell out of me. Did this monster know my secrets?
“Why would you even want me?” Even inside my own head, my voice was barely more than a shaky whisper.
“Come to the Well of Sorrows tomorrow at midnight, and see your questions answered.”
The invisible fist of anxiety closed tighter around my neck.
No one who ever went to the Well of Sorrows ever came back. No one that ever gazed down at their own reflection in the water ever resisted the urge of throwing themselves in it. Word had it that a terrible sadness came out of the well, and it overwhelmed even the most mentally robust.
“What you ask of me is pure suicide,” I said.
“Relax. If I wanted you dead, we wouldn’t be talking right now.”
“Then what do you want with me?”
The dark hooded figure shimmered, and chilling fear went through the entire room behind me. This man was pure terror. Every creature in the Cursed Woods knew to fear him, scurrying to safety whenever they felt his presence close. The ghosts that had invaded the village streets at nightfall had stopped whispering, now barely more than a quiet presence out there, as wary of the dark triad facing me through the window as I was. People behind me crouched in silence, barely daring to breathe, while Kovra kept tense like an arrow ready to spring if I needed protection.
Not that he’d be able to protect me. If anything happened, he’d only end up losing his life. I couldn’t let it come to that.
“What do you want from me, Ares Amberson?” I pressed on in the velvety tone of a nymph, even though it only seemed to amuse Ares.
“All in good time, princess. The Well of Sorrows. Tomorrow at midnight.”
I squinted at him, trying to pierce the night and get a good look at his face under the hood. My half fae eyes were able to scrutinize the darkness, but he managed to keep himself shrouded in a veil of mystery.
He raised his head just a little, upping the static that prickled my skin. Brilliant green eyes like pure poison gleamed under his hood, emitting light that hinted at the sharp, dangerous edges of his face that seemed made of metal.
While his siblings began to draw back into the night, Ares lingered, as if he were still waiting. Something glinted behind him, a blade in the moonlight as a war cry ripped through the night. Time slowed down as the silvery light revealed the attacker’s face. My blood thumped in my ears as I screamed out his name. The sound of my own voice deafened me, wood splinters piercing my skin as my hands crushed the wooden window frame.
“Thornan, no!” tore out of my throat. Taken with the Scorpio Beast, I hadn’t noticed when my brother had slipped outside.
The ghosts must have cleared the streets in fear of Ares, and Thornan saw opportunity. He took one hell of a risk to do it, and for what? This was pure madness. Ares turned, and the veins in my neck swelled as I screamed out my brother’s name once more. Probably for the last time.
Thornan never stood a chance. My heart crumbled into pieces as I realized that my little brother was about to perish. Watching his face, much more rugged than a twenty-year-old’s should be, felt like a knife through my heart. The moment Ares raised his arm, his black garment falling back from a large hand that was obviously used to heavy weaponry and to easily twisting the necks of young men, I knew.
My little brother had sealed his own fate.
Thornan was a big brawny man, but compared to Ares he seemed almost feeble. Even in a simple fist fight, one blow from that large hand that seemed capable of cracking an anvil would have rendered my brother senseless. But it didn’t come to that. An army of scorpions emerged from under the Scorpio Beast’s sleeve, the sight of them enough to send shivers all over me. They jumped on Thornan, throwing him down and spreading out all over him like termites. He scrunched his face and bared his teeth, screaming and thrashing on the ground.
“No!” I cried. “Please!”
Ares turned, but all I could see was a poisonous green eye glowing from under his hood, his face obscured.
“Your brother, yesss?” he hissed in my head. “Hmmm. I think I’ll keep him. You know, as a token of your good faith,” he rumbled, cunning behind his words. “Make sure you don’t do anything foolish, like try lukewarm, brothel magic on me again.”
With that, Ares Amberson disappeared into the night fog beyond the moonlight, dragging my brother along with him, and leaving me only with the sound of my own blood thumping in my ears. I started to feel the pain in my palms from the splinters that had pierced my skin. Pain shot through my hands as I unimpaled them from the splintered wood. Then the room tilted, and the ground disappeared from under my feet.
“Vyper!” I heard my twin as if through water as he caught me. I grabbed his dependable arms, my eyes hanging desperately on his pale blue gaze, struggling to stay conscious, my palms leaving bloody traces on his mailed biceps.
“He’s got him, Kovra. He’s got Thornan.” My voice sounded hoarse, like I’d been screaming for hours. “He’s only twenty, this can’t be how his story ends. It just can’t, I can’t let it be. He was in love, you know? And he kept on loving him, even if he didn’t want Thornan back. All he ever knew was pain. We have to save him! We have to, I have to—” my voice trailed off, and everything went dark.
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Okay folks, so this month I intend to release two books. One of them is a fae novella, Desired by the Fae Prince, and the second one is the third installment of my dragon shifter series, Dragon Chronicles, a book titled The Dragon’s Game. While The Dragon’s Game might take until the beginning of February to hit the Zon, Desired by the Fae Prince is going to come out at the end of this coming week! Here is the opening excerpt. Enjoy, and let me know what you think.
Runar Hauldron is a fae prince in glimmering armor, but behind all that, he’s nothing but a monster. Yes, he’s a starlight fae, outrageously handsome, and he’s the ruler of this kingdom. And yes, he’s the one who made Fort Solar into what it is today, namely one of the most vibrant kingdoms in the realm. But he built all that on a pile of bodies.
Including the bodies of my family, and it probably won’t be long until I disappear down that deep black hole, too. Still, the ‘Why’ needs a bit of a backstory.
Perched on the highest mountain and overlooking the ocean, Fort Solar is one of those gems crisscrossed by winding streets that brim with magic, and bustle with business. There are stands overflowing with precious silks and gems along the roads, while special shops hold the rarest magic items. If you’re after something rare and valuable, you’re sure to find it here, which is why people travel to Fort Solar from all over the world.
The dark side to all of this abundance is that it’s procured by the blood and sweat of those like my family. Of metahumans, namely humans born with some magical abilities that we’d be better off without because all they’re doing for us is make us useful to oppressive royalty like Runar Hauldron. In Fort Solar, and all over the realm, really, we’re the lowest class. Only fit to be servants, and even slaves. No task is too low and no work too hard. Half of us die in the colonies, extracting magical gems and metals from the rock. Being traded among the rich and powerful is what happens on a good day. Surely it’s obvious there’s no breaking from that social class, no chance at higher education, no opportunities.
Which is why I am here now, at the old wine cellars that have been closed to the public for decades, meeting with the closest thing we metahumans have to a secret society. One that’s been built to break the social order, and bring down evil princes like Runar.
“We’re not nearly strong enough to strike now,” Cary blurts out—one of the prince’s servants, and my closest friend. He jumps up from his chair with wide eyes and a scared pale face. “It’s a handful of us, against one of the most powerful men in the realm!”
“It’s now or never, Cary,” the old sage replies. He’s the leader of our group and the person who made the proposition. When he speaks the rest of us hardly dare breathe, but this is a hard pill to swallow for all of us, which is why Cary grows hysterical.
“I work for the prince’s inner circle, I know what we’re up against,” he argues. “You can’t imagine the kind of security the man has around him at all times. And even if, by some absurd chance, anyone got close enough to assassinate him, he’s fucking Runar Hauldron! The slayer of the Great Unseelie King, he’s the man who defeated the Unseelie armies. Some say he’s the best swordsman in the entire realm, and I’ve seen him in close combat. Trust me, the guy is a weapon!”
“And yet we must find a way to kill him!” voices rise from the other side of the table.
“Before his dark mist kills every single metahuman outside his castle,” someone else chimes in desperately, murmurs of approval rising.
The old sage remains quiet.
“We don’t stand a chance,” Cary insists, exasperated. “Not like this. We need a plan, and we need someone strong to do it. It needs to be a supernatural, a powerful one, like him.”
“The boy is right,” a plump maid says, wringing her hands over her apron. “I work close circle, too. And we’re not ready to attempt an assassination, we might never be, not during our lifetimes. It’s just a handful of us, while there’s an entire world of them. I am fully committed to our cause but, to be perfectly honest, I don’t think any of us can do it. I don’t think we can do it even if we all attack as one, together. This kind of mission needs a few generations’ preparation.”
“And it needs military training, years of it,” another man puts in.
“Or a skilled, experienced mercenary,” another one cries from the back.
“I will do it,” I say.
All faces at the table turn toward me, surprise slapped onto them.
But the old sage doesn’t seem thrown off at all. He opens his mouth like a man with a vision, his white eyes seeming to stare at something compelling.
“The high spirits have spoken,” he muses. “It will be Sandra of the Ray.”
“What do you mean? She’s just a girl, an orphan you took under your roof. She doesn’t look like she can survive a storm, let alone the prince,” the man next to the maid says. I strain to remember his name. Oh yes, Goran Dukovnic. He and the maid—his wife—keep to themselves a lot. Her name is Lativia, if I remember correctly. Goran is a reserved guy who looks like a dependable handyman, complete with a square jaw, scruffy stubble, and a grey shirt with rolled-up sleeves that reveal strong forearms.
“You have to give us more than that, oh Wise One,” Lativia adds, giving me an appraising side-look. “Because the only idea that seems crazier than attempting assassination at this point is to send a child to do it, because that’s what she is, basically.”
“I stopped being a child the day that bastard took my family away from me,” I spit out through gritted teeth, reliving in my mind the dark mist seeping into our home and taking them away, cold and indifferent to my desperate screams. I kept trying to claw at it, but there was nothing I could grab onto, only black air. My knuckles show white as I tighten my fists on the table. “He made me an orphan! Prince Runar sent that mist, as he always does when he needs to feed the dark power that fuels him. I will stop him, or die trying.”
“Pace yourself, my child,” the old sage says in his raspy and yet soothing voice. “That you would offer yourself tonight was foretold by the high spirits. I was waiting for you to say the words. And now that you have, destiny is sealed. Still, it won’t be easy.”
“The high spirits spoke to you about this? They announced it should be me? Why didn’t you just tell me?”
“Because it had to come from you. What you did is a willing offering to the high spirits. Your intention sends precious scents towards the sky, like burning incense.”
“But why would the high spirits want it to be me?” I look up at the sky, holding up my palms. “I mean, don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful. I’ve dreamt about this for many years, ever since—” Since the only people who ever loved me were sucked away by that dark mist as if they’d never existed, and I had to go live with my uncle. But I clench my jaw before the words leave my mouth. After all these years, I still can’t talk about it. My uncle was the best baker in Fort Solar, and a kind man, yet his wife was another story. She beat me daily, bruised me, her bestiality growing until she broke my ribs. Even then, she had me keep wiping the floor, while she kept kicking me.
That’s when I ran away, hunched over and holding to my side until I collapsed at the old sage’s door. He took me in, as he often took orphans. Still, he probably saw my arrival as sent by the high spirits, because he always treated me as if I was something special, even though I’m not. I’m just a twenty-one year old wretch, without any special magical abilities except my relationship to plants. I can feel their roots, and their magical powers. Also, I’m not particularly pretty, despite Cary’s insistences on the contrary. I’m too skinny, with high cheekbones that used to look skeletal when the old sage first took me in, and small grey eyes. My hair is a heap of sand-colored hay, and my lips are thin because I made a habit of keeping them tight, giving my face a forever tense look. Still, that didn’t stop unwanted advances from men, especially when the old sage sent me to get herbs from the market or get water from the well. They’d never marry a wretch like me, but they’d sure fuck me on the edge of the well, or behind a market stand. Cary says they’re attracted to my vulnerability and femininity, but I think that’s bull. They’re attracted to how easy it is to prey on me and then dump me. The only man who ever truly cared about me that way is Cary. But no matter how badly I wish I could return his feelings, I just can’t.
Cary is also an orphan who grew up in the old sage’s house, and he’s the closest thing I have to a brother. We grew up as family. But then he started opening up to me about his true feelings since he got that job at the castle, arguing he’s got enough money now to feed another mouth, but I can’t do this to him. Not with the bitterness and anger that have been living inside me for ten years like coiling serpents.
“Who can say they can decipher the mind of the high spirits,” the old sage says. “There’s not a wise one in the world who can claim they’ve had more than mere glimpses of its divine essence. But those glimpses are priceless, and they reveal a whole world of meaning. They foretold it could only be you, my child. Only you can discover Prince Runar’s weak spot. And only you can bring him down.”
“What if he doesn’t have a weak spot?” the maid inquires. “I’ve been at the castle for a long time, and I didn’t discover any.”
“Neither have I,” Cary says.
“The high spirits have a plan, and it will be revealed to us as we go,” the old sage muses, his sightless white eyes directed at the sky, as if he were receiving answers from the high spirits as we speak. We can all feel his connection to the higher planes, to something divine and timeless that yet needs us, creatures made of flesh, to put its divine plans into action.
“We would be risking Sandra’s life,” Cary argues, shaking his head in refusal. “I can’t let that happen.”
“Then help me,” I reply, making eye contact, which gives him pause. I’ve been avoiding looking at him directly for weeks. “Help me get in. Help me get close to him. And when the time comes, help me end the bastard.”
I can’t remember the last time I felt as light in my chest as I do now, emerging from the old wine cellars. I pull my hood over my head, making sure to stay inconspicuous as I round the corner into a side alley, and then weave my way through the crowded market. Right in the middle of it there’s a statue of the starlight prince that a secret society has just agreed—however reluctantly—that I’m going to kill.
I shield my eyes against the sun to stare up at a prince Runar made of gold and precious gems. The statue depicts him in motion on a mighty stallion, sword raised high above his head, his long golden hair blowing in the wind. His armor, encrusted with precious stones, is built specifically to showcase his athletic body which is, at least in this statuesque depiction, a fantastically beautiful thing. I scoff to myself. Pretty sure he doesn’t look like that in reality. I mean, he is fae and all, but this is fucking perfection, and I’m not buying it.
Needless to say I’ve never seen the fae prince up close. But in only a few days, Cary hooks me up with a job at his court. On Wednesday, I finally get to lay eyes on him.
The first sight is from afar, of course, since the castle is humungous, and filled with nobility and military all day long. There’s less activity at night, but the corridors are never empty. The prince is always surrounded by a bunch of generals and advisors, and he seems to be working a lot, from early morning until late at night. If he’s ever alone, one can’t know when and where, yet Cary says he often spends his nights in the castle library.
But the doors are never open, and I can’t roam the castle too much at night. I might get lost if I do anyway, not only because of the winding corridors, but because of all the magic this place is imbued with. Magic meant to protect and to kill. So I have to work my way closer and closer to the prince, which I finally succeed at a Friday dinner that he throws for his closest staff. Cary made sure that I got a serving slot here, and it wasn’t easy. When I finally approach enough to get a good look at the prince’s face, I freeze with the tray of starters in my hands.
In person, Runar Hauldron is even more majestic that the statue I saw of him days ago. He’s so large that that statue of him might as well have been real-size, even though I know that’s just an illusion. He’s big, yes, as all fae are, especially the warrior types, but the larger-than-life impression he makes is something that comes from the inside. His face is milky white, his features so beautiful he’s compelling to look at, and his blonde hair falls in flowing waves down to his waist. I never thought I’d find a pretty boy so attractive, but there’s an inherent masculinity about Runar despite his ethereal beauty. He’s not wearing his armor, but a white linen shirt that’s almost see-through, and that reveals contours of his powerfully built body. He sure looks like a prince descended from the stars, which is what starlight fae are. Compared to him, I’m a blade of grass with eyes.
“Close your mouth, your jaw dropped,” Cary says as he brushes by me. I stir from the enchantment of prince Runar and make eye contact with Cary long enough to catch the jealousy in his gaze. He walks away, placing a tray of steak and one of side-dishes on the table. I manage to make my way close to the prince so that I have to lean in and place my own tray on the table right next to him. My arm brushes over his in the process.
Current runs through me when it happens, sending a shudder all through my body. And when the prince’s ocean-blue gaze meets mine, I freeze in place. The world seems to tilt around me. Is this a special power of his, making humans feel dizzy in the head just from looking at him?
“How dare you touch the prince?” one of the men at his table reacts. The hostility of his voice tears me from the enthrallment of the prince’s gaze, and my head snaps to him in time to see one of the generals reach out and grab my wrist with the look of a mad dog on his face. “So typical of metahuman filth, to think you can rub yourself in the face of royalty just because you serve at their table.”
The fae general has already started to drag me towards the exit before I even realize what’s happening. My feet skid on the polished floor, making a squeaking sound, and my face heats up as the general’s grip tightens around my neck. It’s like an iron vise, inescapable. It’s like I’ve been literally grabbed by a machine. I claw at his hand, desperate to free my windpipes, but he’s too strong. The last thing I see before squeezed-out tears blur my vision is Cary’s stricken face as we pass him by. He’s unable to react because, I realize, this must all be happening too fast for him, but a voice as strong as thunder stops the general in his tracks.
“Harthuil, let her go!”
The man stops abruptly, but it’s seconds before he drops me. I hit the floor, coughing, not even trying to come up to my feet. I know it would be a futile attempt. I take my hand to my throat to make sure nothing is broken, since part of me wonders how come I’m still alive. There’s an exchange of lines around me, two men talking, the thundering voice giving orders, while the other accepts them meekly. It takes some time until enough oxygen finds its way back into my head so I can make any sense of it. When I do, I understand the kind of trouble I’m in, and my eyes pop out of my head.
Enjoyed this? Plenty more where it came from. Check out some of my other fae books here and here, so you have something you can binge until this one comes out. I love to hear from you. so leave me a comment and tell me how you liked this excerpt, and what you’d like to see in this new book. I always take your suggestions to heart.
It’s been an intense ride, but this fae fantasy romance is LIVE, exclusive on Amazon and in KU! I have grown attached to the story and the characters as I wrote it, and it’s safe to say often I got lost in them. Here is the first chapter, I hope you enjoy it. Oh, and feel free to leave a comment, or share it with people you know might enjoy an intense fae romance for Christmas : )
A fae prince made of shadow and smoke whisked me off to another realm—with dark intentions.
We humans are nothing but lowly creatures to the fae. They’re arrogant and cruel, and who could blame them? They’re formidable beings, and they consider us nothing but mortal bundles of flesh, worthy only of the dirt under their feet. Only that this particular bundle of flesh—Yours Truly—is the shadow fae’s only chance of survival as a race.
Salazar Shadowthorn, their prince, needs me in order to rise to former glories. He’s deadly and feared, but his enemies are as many as his admirers. And they’re after his most valuable possession—me. I may be his slave, but it turns out I’m special. I have magic, and Salazar needs to help me scale it in order to use me for his purposes. Still, we were never meant to become more than master and slave. In his world, it shouldn’t even be possible. But as enemies emerge from the shadows, both Salazar and I are faced with a truth we can’t deny—if we want to win this, we have to give in to that dark, dangerous calling that we feel towards each other. Problem is, it comes with a huge price.
Hutchinson, Massachusetts, is a cursed place. With the ocean waves crashing against its dark cliffs, and thick forests surrounding it, this town has always had a foreboding air about it. I think it was this very gloom fit for a mystery movie setting that drew all the rich and famous to buy holiday estate here, though I’m sure its secluded location played a part too. As did the expensive private school.
Almost the entire population of Hutchinson consists of rich kids abandoned by their high-flying parents at the Ivy League Anne Hutchinson High, living under the meek supervision of their staff. Many seniors used to throw wild parties at their mansions, but the partying has died down now. All gates and doors are locked after dark, and the most expensive alarm systems switched on, because some seriously weird shit has been going down.
Two people went missing in the past month, and nobody has a clue what could have happened to them. It’s like they vanished into thin air, and neither police nor press, not even private investigators have gotten a single lead so far. Both of these people were from my school, and both of them female. The first was Georgia Hathaway, head cheerleader and wet dream of the entire male population at Anne Hutchinson High. The second one was Josephine Norman, a Scandinavian cold beauty with straight As in science and serious abandonment issues. She’s also my best friend.
If we’re looking at a crime, the victims are two people who couldn’t have less in common.
Josie’s disappearance has left behind two picture perfect parents, probably not as devastated as the media portrays them to be. Her father runs a film-making company, her former model mother does charities, and both of them always dreaded having to spend time with their child. There wasn’t ever any real emotional connection between them, Josie said. A child was a box that needed to be ticked before her mother turned thirty-five, so they adopted her from Scandinavia. But the glamor of being a new mom faded for the former model rather quickly, which means that Josie was mostly raised by maids and nurses.
She’s had to deal with some serious bullying at school, too, and if anyone understands bullying, and how far it can go, it’s me. As a working-class kid who’s gotten into an Ivy League high school through a scholarship, I’m nothing but a parasite to the high-flyers. One they take great pleasure in torturing. I can barely walk the hallways without being called all sorts of names, and my locker gets vandalized so often it’s not even funny anymore. A-hole Lachlan Vallar, popular jackass with a face crisscrossed by chicken pox scars but a frame big enough and a proclivity for violence steep enough to scare all the other guys shitless, never runs out of ideas. He’s the reason I always try to close the distance from school to the dorms as quickly as possible on my bike. I don’t want to give him a chance to drive after me, calling out all the things he’d do to me if I just joined him and his mates in his car.
“Neveah McKinney, you little tramp, no point hiding those perky tits behind that oversized sweater. We all know you’re dying to have cum squirting all over them,” he’d yell after me in front of all his mates, window down. ‘Tramp’ is his favorite word to use on me. I can almost taste his pleasure as he rounds the word in his mouth, and it disgusts the hell out of me. He likes painting it on my locker, and he’s threatened it’s only a matter of time until it’s tattooed on my ass, too.
I really can’t afford to stop until I get to the dorms, but a street lamp with a large Missing Person sign stops me in my tracks. I dismount my bike and hook my fingers tighter around the straps of my backpack as I stare into Josie’s face, her spectacles fitting her bone structure perfectly, but barely hiding her ever-gloomy expression. Tears come to my eyes, along with some of the most painful memories we shared.
“There she is, Hutchinson High’s sweetest little tramp.”
I spin around. Damn it, the bastard is approaching on foot, and I’d been relying on the loud rumbling of his sports car to announce his presence. I back away towards the street light as he and his friends close in on me like hyenas. Lachlan is the biggest of them all, always in the spotlight, while the others lick their snouts, anticipating the show. Josie said they might be getting off on watching Lachlan torture a skinny girl in oversized clothing. My mousy brown hair and unassuming pale face that I never apply make-up to doesn’t seem to cock-block him either. On the contrary, it seems this helpless school-girl look only turns on his dirtiest fantasies.
“Now I’m getting it, Neveah McKinney,” Lachlan says, grabbing my sweater loosely. “The baggy clothes, the gypsyish hair. It’s all a part you’re dressing up for. You know it turns me on, and it’s why you do it.”
“I’m not trying to stand out to you,” I spit out, but Lachlan’s grin gives me the chills.
“Come on, you know that’s not true.” He traps me against the street light as my backpack hits the pole. I’m shaking, my eyes feel hot, and I’m hardly blinking. He grips my face, forcing me to look up into his. It distorts with a larger grin, the chicken pox scars tightening on his skin. “Why don’t you let me feel those tits.” He pushes one hand under my oversized sweater.
“You mother—” I try to hit him, but he slams me against the pole.
“Get that backpack off of her,” he orders the others, who hurry to do his bidding and rake the backpack’s straps off of me. I struggle, desperation clouding my vision and making me wonder who this is happening to, because it can’t be me.
Lachlan’s lackeys hold me still, enjoying the show as he pushes his hands under my sweater, grabbing my breasts over my bra so harshly that I yelp.
“The more you struggle, the more difficult you’re going to make this on yourself.”
“Are you crazy, you can’t rape me! The police—” But then it hits me. What if he did the same to Georgia and Josie, and then did away with their bodies? My lips seal as the scenario runs before my eyes. No, it can’t be, Lachlan is a bastard, but he can’t possibly be a killer. Can he?
“And who do you think the police would believe?” he says. “You’re a nobody. No one in Hutchinson has ever heard your last name, which makes your family pretty much shit. Whereas mine…” He wriggles his hairless eyebrows, a gesture that finishes the sentence for him. He’s someone, I’m no one. He pushes his groin into me, his engorged member pressing like a gun into my lower belly.
“I’m gonna give you this dick, you little tramp.”
I scream and struggle like a lunatic against the other goons’ hold. They might beat me to a pulp to get me to quiet down, but it’s worth it if it draws someone’s attention, anyone’s. Only there is nothing but the great expanses of gardens between the gates hidden behind trees, and the rich mansions they belong to.
The street lamp behind me starts flickering as if some electric field were messing with it. Lachlan’s goons’ hold slackens enough for me to shake myself free of them, but that only prompts Lachlan to yank me closer. I knock against his meaty body, his beefy arms closing around me. They choke the air out of me as the light goes out completely.
Such complete darkness takes over that I wouldn’t even be sure whether the world still existed if it weren’t for Lachlan’s very real body against mine, the side of my face pressed into his chest. He whispers something above my head, his breath on my hair. To my surprise, it’s not something threatening. On the contrary, it’s monotone and calm, like some kind of magic spell. I still, listening as the darkness thickens. I’ll be damned, I would recognize those words anywhere. I know them, I’ve read them before, in my favorite books.
Legends of the Fae.
The books have been passed down through my family for generations, and I’ve been obsessed with them since the first time I read them. I have them in my dorm, on the upper shelf along with a few framed pictures and a music box, some of the few things from my childhood that I’m fond of. I used to find refuge in those books, take comfort in their fictional world, which is why I remember whole chunks of them. But that doesn’t explain how come Lachlan is whispering spells from Legends of the Fae. Dark spells, spells that are supposed to invoke shadows and smoke. The more he does it, the tighter he squeezes me as if he wants to suck me into himself, and the more I panic, rummaging desperately through my own mind for a solution. My mind gets stuck on the light spells that I know by heart from the same books, spells that dispelled shadows in the series.
Computing with a speed that I never thought it capable of, my brain plucks the words from the recesses of my memory. I breathe them into Lachlan’s chest, my eyes closed tightly. It takes a monumental effort to calm myself down enough to do it, emulating the characters from my favorite book series. If Legends of the Fae is the answer, then I must be completely calm for the spells to work, like the characters in the series had to be.
Run the moonglow through my veins,
Take the shadow by the reins,
Blind it with the silver light,
That shall carry all my might.
The street light starts flickering again. I try not to rejoice, but keep myself in that steady low frequency, and continue whispering the spells. ‘There’s a fine line between feeling the right thing and feeling nothing’, Legends of the Fae, Book One, said. But I lose the frail balance when Lachlan lets me go, and I catch a glimpse of his face—utter surprise and anger are imprinted on it.
“H-how is this possible?” he breathes, but I’m not gonna stick around to find out what he means. I take advantage of the fact that he let me go and break into a run, feeling his stricken eyes on my back as I give it all I have, heaving and forcing myself to go as fast as my legs will take me.
I should probably wonder why they aren’t coming after me. Maybe because they’re big and heavy, while I’m small and light on my feet, yet by the time I reach the expanse of lawn and snaking alleyways in front of the dorm building I hear them behind me, calling out my name. I keep saying the spells under my breath, and lights flicker on along the alleyway leading to the red brick dorm building. It seems the light causes Lachlan and his goons to fall back like vampires hit by sunlight.
I always keep my key card in the back pocket of my jeans, so I manage to take it out in time and swipe it through the entrance device. As soon as I’ve leapt inside, I force the door shut again, the system being too slow, my whole face scrunched and red from the effort. I succeed at the last moment, expecting my chasers to slam against the frosted windowpanes the moment the door falls into its locks.
I take a few steps back, eyes on the fuzzy white light that makes it through the frosted windowpane. The only sounds I can make out is the sound of my own breathing and the slow shuffling of my steps. Seconds feel like minutes as my eyes keep stuck to the windows. I’m not even blinking. Had this happened last month, it would have been surprising that no one’s on the hallways, no boisterous students disregarding some disgruntled teacher on night watch. But since the disappearances, an air of doom has been hanging over this town, and now all those daredevils prefer to keep out of the spotlight. Muscular heartthrobs and alphaholes with black belts keep their doors locked. There’s never any sign of a girl in the hallways at night, and I don’t want to hang around here for too long either.
I find my way back to my room, holding carefully onto the banister. Those goons could be thinking of something as we speak. The sensors should have picked up my presence on the hallway, for example, and turned on the lights, but that doesn’t happen. I might be falling down the steep slope of paranoia, but I can’t help thinking that maybe those bastards outside did something to cut the power off. But they wouldn’t go this far for a bullying job, would they? Or maybe this turned out more serious than they planned, and now they have to go all the way. Threatening a woman with rape in the street has consequences even for the big and powerful these days, no matter how insignificant the victim. Could they be dangerous just because they panicked?
I take the last few steps to my room at a run, slide my key card through the device attached to the knob, and storm into what I expect to be the warmth and dim light of my matchbox dorm room, but something’s wrong. The lamp on my desk by the window is off, and the heavy curtains apparently drawn, casting the room into total darkness. I stop in my tracks, the door still open behind me. I need a few seconds to make sense of this. I’m sure I let the lamp on—it has an energy-saving bulb—in order to make it look like someone’s home. There has been some breaking-and-entering going on lately. I’m pretty sure I didn’t pull the curtains shut either.
The wheels in my head turn faster as I start walking backwards, re-considering the safety of the only place I’ve ever really felt safe in. I turn around, ready to break into a run, but the door slams shut. In shock, I don’t even scream. I stand here in the darkness as it starts wrapping around me like the arms of a man.
A very strong man, because his arms don’t give in an inch as I struggle. I scream in panic, but the darkness thickens, swallowing the sound.
“Jesus fucking Christ!”
I return to the one thing that worked when Lachlan and his goons got me in the street. I take a deep breath, even though what fills my lungs is smoke, and not air. Maybe there’s a fire somewhere close, but then again, if there were fire there would also be light. Not to mention the alarm would be tearing all through the dorm building, and other students would be running out of their rooms, trying to save themselves.
With my fists clenched and my back against something that feels like stone, I say the spell again. I can hear the lamp fuse buzzing on my desk, and the man holding me whips around, turning me in the process. The lamp keeps spewing out silver light, as if struggling on its own. My captor no longer holds me, but he’s not gone either. I can feel his presence so heavily that I can’t breathe.
A face begins to take shape from the swirling smoke, and the more I see of it, the lower my jaw drops. It’s a horned man with angular cheekbones, square jaw and completely black eyeballs. I was never much of a believer in good and evil as the religions serve them, but this must be a vision from hell, and this guy must be a demon stepping out of a portal of smoke. Probably the same one that took Georgia and Josie, too.
“No, this can’t be real.”
“Neveah McKinney.” His voice sounds as demonic as his eyes look, raising the finest hairs along my spine. “Daughter of Leah McKinney, born Silverstone, only female descendant of the Silverstone family. I’ve been looking for you for a long time.” There are leather pads on his broad shoulders, and those horns look more and more like a crown. He’s obviously strong, stronger than any human could be, and his face, even though masculine and aggressive in its lines, has an ethereal kind of beauty to it. Long black hair frames his face, and his skin has the color of moonlight.
“You wield magic. You use spells from books you shouldn’t possess,” he continues. “Now, where are those books?”
I don’t have to ask what he means. Legends of the Fae, the trilogy mom gifted to me on Christmas Eve, ten years ago. Back then, I thought she only gave me the books with their chipped covers and old illustrations because she couldn’t afford to buy something new. She was already drinking heavily at that point, and Dad had started down the same path, having failed to save her. That’s where all their money went.
“You’re gonna have to let me turn on the light to find them.” My voice trembles as I point in the general direction of the shelves where I keep them. The demon smiles in the corner of his mouth, a knowing, almost seductive smile. His silence feels like an invitation, so I turn on the lamp, this time with my hand.
I walk carefully to the shelves, rise onto the tips of my toes, and slide the cased omnibus set from the upper shelf. I keep my back to the demon for a few moments, clutching the trilogy to my chest and wondering whether I should try and make a run for it. But maybe I can negotiate with him.
“If this is what you’re after, you can take them,” I say. “You can have them with my blessing. But I’m gonna want Georgia Hathaway and Josephine Norman back.”
“Oh, I will take the books. And I will take you as well.”
“What? Why? All I remember from these books is that spell. You came here for the books, and you have them now. What could you possibly do with me? I mean look at me!” I don’t even know what I’m saying anymore, I’m babbling like an idiot, backing away towards the closed door until there’s nowhere left to go. The demon—or shadow fae, it occurs to me as I start remembering the stories inside those books—stands still, wisps of smoke swirling around him until they spread over the entire room. They crawl over the ceiling and the walls, my bookshelves and my bed, exuding so much power that I can feel it crawling over my skin.
It’s magical power. I desperately try to free myself from the wisps that curl around me, pulling me closer to their master, but not even the light spells can help me now. The desk lamp goes out, and now the only source of light is this fae man’s frosty face, its natural glow that resembles moonlight.
“I didn’t come here for the books. I came here for you.”
The time has come! Owned by the Cruel Prince is going to hit the Zon by the end of this month! It’s been a few good months since the title was supposed to come out, which is why I decided to share the first chapter here with you. You’ve waited enough, and I thank you so much for your patience! Okay, so here we go. Let me know what you think, I’m always glad to hear from you, so feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts.
It’s true, what they say about me. I am half fae and half demon, which to the fae kind means that I have a predilection to evil. If they didn’t need me as desperately as they do now, they’d try to f*cking lynch me.
And they’d f*cking fail.
I’m a centuries-old warlord, I’m not easy to kill. I’ve been bred for war, and now that the Antichrist is ready to take over the world, I could destroy the fae, or I could save them. So I’m faced with a choice—join the devil, or fight against him.
A choice that would be easy to make if it weren’t for her—Edith Snowstorm.
My fated mate, and the woman who betrayed me.
I came to the human realm for her, determined to get her back.
For months I’d been fantasizing of subduing her again, of owning her, of doing to her the things she hates to love.
But I found her with another man.
Don’t f*cking ask how I resisted the urge of slitting him open right in front of her. But that would have been too little of a punishment for the two of them.
Edith opened Pandora’s box, and now she’s gonna pay for it. I’ll enslave her, watch her fall apart under me, I’ll make her tremble with guilty pleasures, and hate herself for it. I’ll have her know the taste of sin, I’ll have her writhe for it, because I know this one thing—she might not love me, but she sure as hell wants me. She always has, and she’s not even trying to deny it.
So I might as well chain her to me for the time I have left, since chances are, the fires of hell are gonna consume my soul anyway. But there is also a small hope, that she might save it. And, along with my soul, the world.
Here we are again, Sandros Nightfrost and I. Right back where we started, with my puppy brown eyes raised to his beastly golden irises as we face each other across the table. He’s as heartbreakingly unattainable as he was years ago, when I was first placed “under his wing”. Or, better yet, in his power. After all, he was the “master” and I his servant, even if it was on a battlefield where we acted as one, telepathically bonded.
Things have changed since then. A lot.
Now I’m the lady of a French castle, the trophy wife of Lord Durion Mithriel for all the town’s high society is concerned. To them, I’m an ethereal blonde with waves of white-blonde hair cascading down her back, always designer dressed and a bit drunk. I play the part best with a glass of champagne in my hand at social functions. I never actually drink it, but no one ever notices. As long as it suits the image they’ve made of me, my true identity is safe.
The opulence of my dresses and jewelry is also necessary. The physical appearance of the fae is unusual for humans, and believe it or not, the best way to keep suspicion at bay is by flaunting it. People often refer to this effect as ‘surreal beauty,’ even though I personally don’t consider us more beautiful than humans. We’re just more like what they desire for themselves. So Durion and I freely display the luxury we live in, our expensive clothing, the cars, the chateau. This way, people just assume we ‘bought’ our looks too—good crèmes, the best pills, the right surgeons, some even consider bioengineering. I heard them whispering at the last function we attended.
We also have to display a relationship that doesn’t actually exist. Though we play the married couple, in the months Durion and I have been exiled here in the human realm I’ve come to loathe him. He treats me like his possession, and there’s always an undertone of menace in his communication toward me. But I have no choice but to put up with him, otherwise I know he’s got ways to hurt me.
Sandros doesn’t know all this, of course. He doesn’t know that the closeness between Durion and I is a ruse. He didn’t give me the opportunity to explain, neither the first time we saw each other at the mayor’s birthday party two days ago, nor during the two minutes we had to ourselves in this room before Durion stepped in, stiff and square-shouldered like a royal rooster with his full head of golden curls and his chest pumped forward. He’s come to take this charade of the two of us being a married couple of noblemen dangerously seriously and now, as we sit here across from Sandros, more so than ever. The possibility of his sliding his hand under the table on my thigh hovers like a dark cloud over my head. It’s a possibility that Sandros feels, too.
Despite Sandros’ hostility towards me, our bond is still there. It’s an inescapable connection, one that he obviously hates being tangled in. He doesn’t love me, while I always have loved him, ever since the very beginning, even as he treated me like shit.
Because I’m an idiot like that.
This time Sandros doesn’t face us as the army general that everyone used to fear, the beast in studded leather armor that every woman at the winter court secretly wanted to fuck but would never dream of admitting it. No, this time he’s sitting across from us in a fitted suit that wraps his amazing body in a mouthwatering way, classy but also wild with his sharply chiseled face and long black hair. No wonder the plates clatter on the server girls’ trays as they scurry around with starters and drinks.
“So, you’re telling me that Nessima sent you here to speak to her benefactor on her behalf,” Durion says, his face filled with suspicion. “I’m sorry, but I find that highly improbable.”
“And why is that?” Sandros rumbles, his voice like low, distant thunder.
“You stayed back at her estate as her prisoner. Two months later you emerge her right hand? I’m sorry, but it doesn’t make sense.”
“I found a way into her heart, and from thee, into her trust zone.”
I fidget in my seat. Bastard must know he just plunged a knife into my heart.
“We’re together now,” he twists the knife. “I’m sure that, if you think about it, it’ll make sense that she’d let me handle some of her more serious affairs.”
“As I am sure you understand my reservations. This isn’t some Shanghai CEO that she sent you to meet, it’s not Bill Gates or the President. It’s the fucking Antichrist.” Durion’s last word makes me flinch, which isn’t lost on Sandros. His golden eyes move between Durion and me as Durion places a hand over mine.
“It’s taken Nessima centuries to gain access to him,” Durion continues. “It seems unlikely to me that she should share that power, no matter how in love she is. Especially after what happened with her first husband.”
“Officially, Eldan Blackfall is still her husband.”
“So you and her can’t really be together?” Durion says. “And yet she’s given you more power than she ever even took for herself?”
“She actually asked me nicely to take it,” Sandros rumbles, his golden eyes glinting like honey and hellfire. “As a warrior, I have a reputation. She wanted that reputed skill and influence on her side.”
That sounds so true it cuts yet deeper.
My pulse rises to the point that I can’t breathe. It’s hard to put up with the tension between the two men, and even harder to withstand the waves of hostility that hit me from Sandros. I’m painfully focused on his presence, and I can’t shake it. Everything seems to fade around him, even this chateau with its paneled walls and luxury fittings. There’s no comfort in the expensively holstered chairs or the intricately carved ornaments of the great fireplace, not even in the intimate light of the candelabra, or the statues and expensive art surrounding us.
The flames from the fireplace cast a golden light on the sharp angles of Sandros’ face, licking his caramel-bronze skin. Maybe I’ve lived among humans for too long, and gotten so used to their appearances, that this fae warlord now seems as surreal to me as he does to them. Even looking at him hurts.
“Suppose we believe you, Edith and I,” Durion tells him. “Say we accept that Nessima sent you here to act on her behalf. Did she give you his identity then? Because we’ve been here for months, and still haven’t got the slightest clue. It could be anyone from the town mayor to the baker.”
“Yes. I do know who it is.”
My breath stops, my eyes enlarging in shock.
“You do?” I whisper.
“Unfortunately I cannot share that information with you.” His gaze brushes unwillingly over to me. “Either one of you.”
A server enters, awkward on her feet, the china clattering on her tray. It must be Sandros’ handsomeness that’s gotten her all flustered, because it couldn’t be the topic of our conversation. We’re speaking winter fae language, which resembles human English, but she doesn’t understand that one very well either, and even if, she still couldn’t know what we’re talking about.
“I’m here because Nessima needs more of his support, and she thinks he would grant it to me easier than to her. There are things that I can offer him, and she can’t. Things are also becoming urgent because, ever since her husband Eldan came out of the coma, the King has been planning an invasion of the North, meant on crushing her forces. She will rely on her benefactor more than ever.”
“And may I ask how Eldan has been cleansed of the evil that kept him unconscious?” Durion pushes. “We all know that Nessima implanted it into him, and only she could get it out of his system.”
Sandros raises his square chin.
“I persuaded Nessima to retract it from him.”
Durion throws his head back, letting out a fake laugh. “Really now? And all that only through your talents as a lover?”
“I offered her my complete allegiance in return. My unwavering loyalty.”
“And she believed you?” I chime in, pressing the lid down on my boiling feelings.
Sandros stares at me out of those golden eyes, and it feels like a damned train crash.
“That’s where my talents as a lover came into play.”
And, with that, the knife tears deeper into my flesh.
It’s obvious that Sandros isn’t here only a mission, he’s also back to torture me. It seemed surreal that he should have turned on the King of Winter, his own half brother that he served for centuries upon centuries until this woman Nessima came along and screwed up our lives, but apparently it’s true. So true that the blood drains from my head.
How could he? How could he betray the king, and more yet, how could he betray me? We’re bonded mates, and that’s something almost impossible to break. But this bond must feel different for Sandros than it does for me, and if I’m completely honest with myself, deep down, I always knew. When he first took me in that storeroom under the stairs at Nessima’s estate, I knew I was doomed. I’ll always want this warlord, while he’ll always find reasons to despise me. As intense as our sex was, as deep our connection, it was about love to me, and about possession and power to him.
“Now here’s how things are going to go down,” Sandros says, broadening his shoulders. I’m a sucker for his powerful build, and he knows it. “I’m going to contact him, but that will have to be in a crowd, because a crowd is what best confers anonymity. So let’s start by making a list of upcoming events and, if there aren’t any, we’ll set up one ourselves.”
“Why would we help you?” I bite out, defiance balling behind my eyes. “You’re betraying your brother the King of Winter, and everyone you professed to care about by doing this. All this means we’re not on the same side anymore—doesn’t it, Durion?”
Durion blinks and babbles a little before he replies, “Why yes, yes, of course, yes.”
It must come as a shock to him that I’m putting us in the same boat, him and me, but he likes it, I can tell. It softens him toward me and the entire situation, which is good, because even though I loathe him, I need all the allies I can get right this moment, since I feel like I’m going to hell.
The hint of this new alliance isn’t lost on Sandros either, who assesses us for a few moments out of those golden eyes before a wicked grin quirks up his chiseled, forbidden-fruit of a mouth. He leans forward, slowly, placing his elbows on the table, seeming even bigger, his shadow growing over the curtains behind him in the firelight. Durion stiffens in his seat, his shoulders and jaw clenching as he tries to hang on to his resistant attitude.
“The two of you make one hell of a pair,” Sandros slurs.
I don’t respond. Let’s see just how far Sandros’ rotten opinion of me can go.
“You will help me because you have no choice,” he eventually says, pushing his chair back. When he rises, he does it like a gliding python.
I watch him as he prowls over to the fireplace. The sleek suit doesn’t do anything to mask his feral nature, on the contrary, it works as an enhancement. He picks a red rose from a gilded holder on the mantelpiece, pushing his free hand into his pocket. The suit tightens on his arm, sending a flash of memory involving those arms around me, subduing me.
I shake my head to cast out the memory that threatens to spread through me like a disease.
“These look like they are more than just decoration.” His voice is as controlled as ever, but I can feel the veiled irritation behind it. I hold back from probing his mind telepathically, because he would feel me there, and I’m not sure I want to know the full extent of his resentment. “Are red roses a regular gift in this place?”
“I’ve spared no effort to make Edith’s exile in the human realm as pleasant as possible.”
“Oh, but being in the human realm has hardly ever been torture for her,” Sandros rumbles, his tone lashing. “Let me remind you her illegally crossing over into the human realm and screwing human boys was the reason she got thrown in the Ice King’s dungeon in the first place.”
“Come on, Sandros, that was ages ago,” I bust out. “I’ve paid for my mistakes, I was locked down for years, and then I served you in the war against the Lord of Fire. Sure, the stigma never went away, it might never go, but I won’t have you judging me, not anymore.”
Durion places a long-fingered hand on my shoulder, and this time I don’t shake it off. Two servers enter with the last of the tableware and make to take positions by the door, standing in expectation to wait on us, but Sandros has other plans.
“Thank you very much for everything,” he tells them in a deep voice that makes the blood surge into the women’s cheeks. They’re so affected by him their thoughts are senseless clamor in my ears. “You can leave now. Take the night off. Actually, take tomorrow too. Tell the rest of the staff, it’s three free days for everybody.”
The two women look at each other, and then at Durion and me. I can feel his thoughts, he’s furious that Sandros should take upon himself to give our staff orders, but he knows that clearing the chateau of personnel is the right thing to do. The safe thing to do. We nod at the women, and watch them reluctantly leave. Their thoughts still echo inside my skull, and I can make out some sense in them—they’d love to stay, find out more about the mysterious visitor. One of them particularly likes having his eyes on her, it stimulates her sexual fantasy in which he’s forcing her down to her knees, fist clenched in her hair. She wonders if he’s married, but doesn’t seem to care even if that’s the case.
“I quit judging you a long time ago, Edith,” Sandros addresses me as soon as the servers have cleared the room. “I think by now we know each other well enough to know what to expect.”
“Believe it or not, I would very much prefer to return to the Winter Realm,” I say. “To the Queen, who I’m honored to call my best friend, and to the King, who happens to be your half-brother.” I stick out my chin. “I guess I don’t know you as well as you assume. I would have never expected you to switch sides. To cross to Nessima Blackfall’s side, no less, who tried to kill your best friend Eldan in punishment for having found the love of his life in a man instead of her. You’ve turned your back on all the centuries that you and the King have fought side by side? And for what? Pussy?” I scoff.
It’s satisfying to hold the words on my tongue like that. He sure didn’t expect that kind of reaction from me, and on the one hand it felt hood. But on the other it feels like I’ve just drunk poison because I’m putting things into a perspective that’s hard as Tartarus to bear. But since he’s determined to think the worst of me, I might as well return in kind.
Yes, years ago I found a way to slip into the human realm and have fun at frat parties. I had my first lover there, but I wasn’t doing it with ‘boys’. It was only one boy, and Sandros knows that. When we connected, current running through us, creating the mates’ bond, he saw the guy with the number eight on the back of his jacket.
“I’m not here to explain my motives to you.” His tone is flat as if my words had bounced against a wall. “I’m here to let you know how things are going to go down. So—”
“We don’t need to make a list of events,” I cut him off. “There’s enough high society in this town that there’s always something going on. There was the mayor’s birthday two days ago, and there’s the engagement of Count Guerin’s son on Saturday. He’s celebrating at the same restaurant as the mayor—the medieval tower on the hill, the best place in all the region.”
“Not going to have every person in town there, though,” Durion argues. “It’s only going to be the high society, so the person you expect to meet there—”
“The high society is all we need,” Sandros declares.
“So then we know the Antichrist is a member,” Durion says under his breath.
“Not surprised.” I pick up the bottle of champagne and pour myself a drink, refusing Durion’s attempt of helping with one forbidding look that he doesn’t challenge. He hasn’t seen this side of me before, and that takes him a little off balance. Quite frankly, I don’t know myself like this either. “Who would imagine the devil’s very son wandering the world in a state of poverty or even merely as someone mediocrely well-off?”
“The Antichrist came here to enjoy the good life, that’s for sure,” Sandros says. I feel his eyes on me as I keep pouring champagne into my glass. I do it slowly, watching the liquid glisten and the foam swell, tilting the glass to prolog the process.
“Who’s on the guest list?” Sandros goes on.
I leave the replying to Durion, downing my champagne and letting my eyes wander over Sandros’ frame.
Will I ever be free from his spell, or am I doomed to die under it, like all the other disposable women that came before me in his life? When Sandros Nightfrost chooses to unleash his masculine talents on a woman, it’s not long until she becomes his emotional slave, just like I’ve become. No doubt in the months we’ve been apart he’s made an adoring idiot out of Nessima. By Tartarus, I wish that the champagne could give me the slightest high, I’m in desperate need of it. But nothing but a particular kind of fae nectar is going to do that trick.
“Listen, Sandros,” I interrupt. “Any chance you brought along some nectar?”
He cocks an eyebrow inquisitively.
“It was the last of my concerns, but I’m sure I can arrange something for you, if you work with me now. Let’s get back to our business at hand, and talk contraband later.”
So the bastard’s going to make me work for it.
“All right, so the engagement party,” Durion resumes, probably deciding it’s better not to antagonize the warlord any further. Everything about him screams we better not try to stand in his way, or things are going to get ugly.
But I’ll be damned. I can’t wrap my head around the fact that Sandros is here to betray his brother the King of Frost after so many centuries in which they’d been so close one could have sworn they were Siamese. I can’t believe he’s aiding Nessima and the Antichrist in taking over the Winter Realm.
Durion pushes his chair back, the wooden legs scraping the floor, and walks around the table to Sandros, who watches him with hawkish eyes.
“There are a few people of note in this town, and they like to be around each other, you know, they feel safer that way. The rich don’t despise the poor as much as they fear they would feast on the crumbs from their tables.”
“I didn’t come here for philosophy,” Sandros cuts him off, but Durion doesn’t seem bothered by the humuliation. I scoff under my breath. Now that it’s become clear where the real power lies, he’s sucking up to it again. I’ve tried hard not to despise him, but look at him now.
“The mayor isn’t the most important person in this place,” he continues, picking up an oyster and slurping on it, while Sandros leans with his shoulder against the fireplace, the flames dancing in his golden eyes.
“Guerin the Count de Auvergne is the oldest and most respected citizen here. A number of mayors showered him with distinctions over the years. From what I gather he played a huge part against Hitler, but he’s too old now to play a part in anything remotely challenging. He’s extremely well connected though, and he’s trying hard to pass his connections on to his son, Antoine. Except skill and life experience isn’t passed on as easily as money, and Antoine’s turning out a good-for-nothing that’s squandering his father’s inheritance before the old man’s even in the ground isn’t making it any easier. He’s a drunk, an addict, and a womanizer.
“Guerin has started to see that Antoine has anything but a bright future ahead of him once the old man’s dead, so he’s trying to save the situation through an arranged marriage. The engagement party between Antoine de Auvergne and Simone Carrera is thus based on anything but love. She’s not a noblewoman, but she’s rich, an heiress. Used to be a great beauty, and she’s still attractive, by human standards, even though she’s got her best years behind her. So she could still have her choice of men, easily, so old Guerin has to make the union interesting for her, and especially, profitable. They must have struck a good deal. She’s very savvy in the business area, I’ve heard.”
Has the champagne started to have an effect, or is Sandros glancing at me every other sentence?
“So these three will be the main people at the engagement party on Saturday, but there will also be the mayor, Jean Dubois. He’s a cliché-ish middle aged politician pervert that won’t miss a chance to hover around Giancarlo Botini, a fashion designer who’s not entirely cliché.” He glances at me with hidden meaning. “He’s extravagant, dark sunglasses at midnight and such, but he’s as into women as it gets. Most of all into Edith.”
Sandros’ eyes fly over to me, the complete mirror of Durion’s, except there’s also some sort of reproach in there, as if I’m to blame for the attention.
“Come on Durion, what he wants is for me to model for him,” I counter, even though I hate it that I want to set Sandros’ opinion straight. “To him, I’m the stereotypical trophy wife with an alcohol problem and good legs. He just thinks I’d look good on a catwalk.”
“Which you most certainly would,” Durion says. “But the truth is, Sandros, it’s not only the pretty trophy wife that Botini sees. As a fae, I have no doubt Edith is the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. Unless, of course, he is the Antichrist, and he’s seen this kind of supernatural beauty before.”
Sandros walks around him as if he’s heard everything he needed to hear. “So all these people are going to be at the engagement party.”
“Them and more.” Durion spins on his heel to face Sandros’ back as the latter takes distance. “The mayor’s connections, high-flying politicians and corporatists, also the more important part of his extended family will be there. The mayor also has two sons from a surrogate mother, but I suppose they’re irrelevant.”
“Now why would you suppose that?”
“What do you mean why? They’re toddlers. Twins.”
Pretty weird looking twins, if you ask me, but I could still kiss and pinch those doughy cheeks. They’re chubby, and sweet, and yet I can understand people’s reluctance to go anywhere near them. They have disturbingly wiry copper hair and uncomfortably piercing blue eyes that would make the night unsettling for the most settled of minds. Human minds. Not used to facing demons and dragon shifters in battle, oblivious to the incredible worlds existing around their own.
“It’s decided, then,” Sandros states matter-of-factly, placing the rose slowly on the table right across from me. “We’ll be attending that engagement party on Saturday, and you will be introducing me as your distant cousin.”
Our eyes meet, and his eyes nail me to the chair. Durion can’t catch the look between us, since Sandros is with his back at him, and I manage to suppress any reaction that threatens to move a muscle on my face.
“And by what name should I introduce you?” Durion says. “Because I can’t possibly use your real one. These are generations’ old noblemen and politicians and corporate moguls, they’ll know—”
“They’ll know I’m someone they’ve never heard of, and yet someone with enough power to infiltrate their ranks. Someone that looks different enough to raise their curiosity. When these things awaken curiosity, respect tends to follow. It will open all the doors that need to be opened.”
Silence falls over the room, only the fire’s rustling filling the air, the flames bathing the place in a timeless light. I like it because it reminds me of my old world, of my true home in the Winter Realm. The Snowstorm estate, the abandoned fortress of my family. It’s now probably infested with Nessima’s dark power, since her evil has gaped to swallow the entire territory beyond the Northern forest.
“I’ll be staying in the east wing. Tell the staff not to venture there. I understand it’s still undergoing renovation anyway,” Sandros declares, turning to leave.
“The renovations have only just started,” Durion corrects him. “It’s actually in a pretty bad state right now, it’s hardly a proper lodging for—”
“I’ve had worse. I spent half of my life in war camps. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.”
“Can’t say the betrayal wasn’t expected,” Durion says when we’re alone again, his eyes still fixed on the archway through which Sandros has just exited. He pours himself a glass of champagne, and downs it in one go. Alcohol doesn’t have an effect on either of us, but the prickling, fine taste of French booze can be soothing. “You should have known, too. He’s the son of the former winter king and a powerful demoness from Hell. Evil has always coursed through his veins, that’s why our people have always been instinctively wary of him.”
For a moment, Durion looks like he’s about to slap himself. “Wait, you actually agree with me for once? What’s the catch?”
“No catch. It’s the way it is. Pour me some, too.” I wave my hand to the bottle, slouching back in my seat. I must look like a heart-broken mess. My dress is off the shoulder, which I guess adds to my overall desolate appearance as I let a man I loathe fill my glass instead of the one I want, who left the room without giving me another glance. I keep staring at the rose he placed in front of me, which has already started to wilt, as blackening under his dark power.
“I don’t think you’ve ever agreed with me on anything before,” Durion says as the champagne gurgles into the glass.
“I’d be an idiot to not agree with you on this one. But agreeing isn’t going to get us anywhere.” I meet Durion’s eyes as I re-run the evening in my head. “The realms are in mortal danger again. The Antichrist is here, in the human world, the centerpiece that holds all the worlds together. And now, the darkest prince of the Winter Realm has joined him. If these two come together, the worlds are going to collapse, and evil is going to swallow us all.”
Durion nods, dread starting to spread in his large brown eyes. “We have to do something.”
“First of all, we have to find out who the Antichrist is.”
The Summer of 2020 has been unconventional to say the least, which has given many of us authors time to write more, and organize and re-organize our schedules in new ways. At a certain point I had more books scheduled for this year than I could actually write, I mean write like I mean it, immersing myself in the books’ worlds properly. So, without further ado, this is the new schedule my awesome editor Tami and I came up with. Acquiring covers we fell in love with at first sight may or may not have had to do with our planning new stories *wink*. Anyways, some of these titles are already backed up with pre-orders, and there’s a link to them wherever that’s the case. We will go adding links as we add more pre-orders. So here we go 🙂