Authors: Thea Harrison
Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy
Table of Contents
“Black Dagger Brotherhood readers will love
. . . I’m hooked!”
—J. R. Ward, #1
New York Times
“I loved this book so much I didn’t want it to end. Smoldering sensuality, fascinating characters and an intriguing world—
kept me glued to the pages. Thea Harrison has a new fan in me!”
New York Times
“Thea Harrison has created a truly original urban fantasy romance . . . When the shapeshifting dragon locks horns with his very special heroine, sparks fly that any reader will enjoy. Buy yourself an extra-large cappuccino, sit back and enjoy the decadent fun!”
New York Times
is full of tense action, toe-curling love scenes and intriguing characters that will stay with you long after the story is over. All that is wrapped inside a colorful, compelling world with magic so real, the reader can feel it. Thea Harrison is a fantastic new talent who will soon be taking the world of paranormal romance by storm.”
—Shannon K. Butcher, national bestselling author
“Thea Harrison is definitely an author to watch. Sexy and action packed,
features a strong, likable heroine, a white-hot luscious hero and an original and intriguing world that swallowed me whole. This novel held me transfixed from beginning to end! I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes open for the next book in this series.”
New York Times
“Fun, feral and fiercely exciting—I can’t get enough! Thea Harrison supplies deliciously addictive paranormal romance, and I’m already jonesing for the next hit.”
—Ann Aguirre, national bestselling author
Berkley Sensation Titles by Thea Harrison
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A Berkley Sensation Book / published by arrangement with the author
Berkley Sensation mass-market edition / August 2011
Copyright © 2011 by Teddy Harrison.
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ISBN : 978-1-101-51745-1
Berkley Sensation Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
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SENSATION and the “B” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
I owe a big debt of gratitude to all the usual suspects, but a few bear special mention.
To my agent, Amy, and my editor, Cindy, thank you for everything you do. I will never take either of you for granted.
To Lorene and Carol, your support continues to be miraculous.
To Matt, my generous and patient rock-star web designer. You are totally made of angel material, and you created a classy, beautiful site.
And to Kristin, who came along at a very late date to join the beta reading. Your enthusiasm, prompt replies and fine eye for detail were a total pleasure. You, Shawn, Anne and Fran have made my work much classier than it would otherwise have been.
1. the wife or widow of a king
2. a female monarch
4. a royal pain in my ass
—NINIANE LORELLE, DARK FAE QUEEN
ou didn’t ignore a summons roared from the Lord of the Wyr in New York, since it usually heralded a disaster of some proportion. You especially didn’t ignore it if you were one of his sentinels.
Tiago strode out of the Starbucks located on the ground floor in Cuelebre Tower. He jogged up the north stairwell to the seventy-ninth floor. He could have taken the elevator, but he was feeling trapped and restless. He could have pushed out the coffee shop’s street exit, shifted into his Wyr form and flown to the roof of the Tower then gone down two flights, but frustration gnawed at his insides and he wanted to feel the burn of the climb in his muscles and lungs.
He didn’t like modern urban spaces. He was counting the minutes until he could get out of New York. A rainy, wet springtime had evaporated to sultry ninety-degree weather, bypassing mild early summer temps like they never existed. Now June felt like August. Exhaust fumes, construction detritus, trash, restaurant odors, dry cleaner chemicals and all the various other scents of modern humanity sizzled in the heat. The smells burned the back of his throat, leaving him feeling irritable and out of place.
He was one of the ancient Wyr who were so long-lived they were known as immortal. The old ones had either been formed in the creative fire from the birth of the solar system or had been born so long ago their origins were a mystery even to them. They had existed in their animal forms for millennia, but when the new species of humans burgeoned, the old Wyr learned how to shapeshift so they could walk in secret among humankind.
Civilization was a dance, and the ancient Wyr were late to the ball. They donned masks and slipped with silent predatory grace into the ballroom. They watched with sharp eyes that glittered deep in the shadows behind their assumed facades, recording and learning the twist and rhythm of the dance, the social mores, when to bow and press their lips to the back of the hand, how to smile and say good evening, please and thank you and yes, I shall take more sugar with my tea.
All the while they noted the pulse that fluttered at the base of the dancers’ necks, the scents of sweat and the quickened breath. They noted these things because they remembered they were animals playing a role.
was the first word they understood when they learned language, for that was what they were. Despite their smiling human masks, they were feral creatures who knew how to survive by the slash of tooth and claw. They remembered the gush of blood from the jugular as they crushed the life from their prey.
The ancients settled into their guises and grew comfortable with them, some with more charm, skill and enjoyment than others. But all of them carried that feral wildness at their core, the certain knowledge that they needed to roam the secret uncultivated magic places of the world.
Time and space had buckled when the Earth was formed. The buckling created dimensional pockets of Other land where magic pooled, time moved differently, modern technologies didn’t work and the sun shone with a different light. What came to be known as the Elder Races, the Wyrkind and the Elves, the Light and Dark Fae, the Demonkind, the Nightkind, human witches and all manner of monstrous creatures, tended to cluster in or around the Other lands.
Those of the ancient Wyr that chose to adapt to human civilization were driven from time to time to slip away from modern cities and towns. They would shake loose from their human facades and drench themselves in archaic argent sunlight as they lost themselves in flight, or in plunging deep into the magic-saturated green of the oldest of untamed forests. There was a fundamental difference between the old ones and the younger Wyr. The younger Wyr were born into civilization. They arrived at the ball already tamed.
Tiago was not tame. He was more feral than the majority of even the most ancient Wyr. He needed to be worked hard, to face tough challenges and to be let loose to roam free. It was not wise to hold him too long in a city.
Two and a half weeks had passed since Rune had called him back from South America. Dragos Cuelebre, Lord of the Wyrkind demesne, had been missing at the time. Tiago had just arrived back in the States when Dragos had reappeared with a strange woman. The tale they told was one of thievery, kidnapping, magic and murder.
A lot had happened since Tiago’s return and Dragos’s reappearance. Some of it had been fun, like tracking Dragos’s new mate when she had been kidnapped—again—and being in on the kill when Dragos had finally taken down his old enemy Urien, the Dark Fae King.
Vengeance, served hot. That had been Tiago’s kind of party.
Since then all he had been doing was cleanup and busywork. Make sure all involved Goblins were dead, check. Chase down and slaughter any Dark Fae that had been part of Urien’s party, check. Go to sleep with his thumb up his ass, check.
He smacked open the door that had the number 79 painted in a circle. His long legs ate up the distance as he strode down the marble-floored hall.
Cuelebre Enterprises was a multinational corporation that made an ungodly amount of money. Corporate employees and those involved in the governance of the Wyr demesne were compensated extremely well. Wyr sentinels had expense accounts that took care of clothes (the violent aspect to the sentinels’ lives made this a substantial perk), travel, food and weapons. What else did a guy need? Once in a while Tiago would double-check his escalating bank balance to make sure all the numbers added up, but otherwise, for the most part he ignored it.
He remembered when Cuelebre Tower had been built. The 1970s had seen the invention of the neutron bomb, the Three Mile Island disaster, the terrorist attack at Munich’s Olympic Games and the construction of Cuelebre Tower.
Yeah, staying far away from that project had been a good thing. He had been quite content to travel across the world to hunt down, depose and kill a dusty little sorcerer in South Africa who had acquired his own army and a penchant for the Power he could gain through human and Wyr sacrificial rites. When Tiago returned to New York—and he had been sure to take his own sweet time in doing so—Cuelebre Tower had erupted onto the landscape and forever changed the skyline of the city.
The outer surface of the Tower was sleek and gleaming, reflecting the changeable sky, while the interior had been decorated with an extravagance of gold-veined Turkish marble flooring, gleaming frosted glass lights and polished brass fixtures, along with strategically displayed, priceless works of art and sculpture. The entire skyscraper was a proclamation of the Wyr Lord Dragos Cuelebre’s wealth and power.
The achievement had more than architectural or economic significance. It made more than a political statement to the other Elder Races. The year of the Tower’s construction went down in recent Wyr folklore as a miracle of collective cooperation, personal dominance and merciless rule. Just as Dragos had dragged the recalcitrant, volatile Wyrkind under his reign so many centuries before, he bludgeoned them into modernity and forced them into compliance.
Although some of the Wyr bloodied each other during the highest-stress points of the Tower’s construction and the subsequent move of corporate and administrative offices, nobody actually dared to commit murder. They had been in the final stages of settling in when an amused Tiago had taken a tour of the skyscraper. All Wyr had been sent to their respective corners to settle ruffled fur or feathers, lick literal and metaphorical wounds, furnish their offices and unpack files. Now, without exception, anyone who had been involved in the creation of the Tower spoke of that time with pride and without the slightest comprehension of irony.
Tiago reached the conference room. It was a large executive boardroom with all the perks: black leather seats, a large polished oak table, state-of-the-art teleconferencing equipment and mysterious black metal contraptions that Tiago had been told were designer cappuccino and espresso machines. He couldn’t remember the instructions for how to operate them. As soon as he had realized they weren’t some kind of newfangled weapon the sentinels would be trained to use, he had lost interest in the conversation.
Dragos and all the other Wyr sentinels were already in the boardroom. Tiago almost twitched when he saw that Dragos’s new mate, Pia, was also present. She had come out of nowhere and now all of a sudden she played a major role in Dragos’s decision making.
When Wyr mated, they did so for life. It was a rare occurrence, especially in their exceptionally long lives, and it was an irrevocable one, so the change was here to stay. Dragos’s mating had sent shock waves through the Wyr demesne, and no doubt through all the other demesnes as well. It wasn’t a change Tiago liked, but he, along with the rest of the world, had to suck it up and start getting used to it. Dragos, a massive dark man with gold dragon’s eyes, paced at one end of the room.
“About time,” the Wyr Lord snapped.
Tiago stalked to his customary corner where he held up the wall during their sentinel meetings. “I’m here now, aren’t I?”
Tiago’s sharp hearing caught Dragos’s mate, Pia, as she whispered to the gryphon Graydon at her side, “Are you sure he’s housebroken?”
Tiago chose to ignore her. Instead he took his first good look around at those in the room. All the usual suspects were present, minus one. The four gryphons, Bayne, Constantine, Graydon and Dragos’s First sentinel, Rune, were all tawny, suntanned and muscled. They kept the peace in the Wyr demesne. The harpy Aryal, who was in charge of investigations, sat with her arms and legs folded, jiggling a foot. That chick didn’t do well with the concept of sitting still. Cuelebre Enterprises’ head of security, the gargoyle Grym, sat by Aryal as usual, half of his attention on the harpy. More often than not, when Aryal’s impetuous temper got her into trouble, Grym was there to haul her ass out of it.
Tiago scowled as he acknowledged the one person who had not joined them, and who would never join them again. Tricks, the faerie who used to head the PR department for Cuelebre Enterprises, had been an integral part of their group for a long time. Odd, how the absence of one cute little faerie could cause such a big hole in the room.
Then there was yours truly. While his Wyr form was known to the American Indian nations as the gigantic thunderbird, most just saw his human form, a six-foot-four, two-hundredfifty pound male with barbed wire tattoos circling thick muscled biceps and swirls shaven into his short black hair. His face looked like it had been hewn with a hatchet, and he didn’t often remember to smile. When he did, he seemed to cause alarm more often than not.
Here was the central dynamic of his life: while he went about the business of war, the usual tenor of his days was surprisingly peaceful. The reason why was simple. People tended not to argue with him.
Several hundred years ago he had become head of Dragos’s private army, most of which was currently traveling back from a canceled engagement in South America. He should be traveling with his troops and preparing for their next assignment instead of sitting in New York with his thumb up his ass. Fuck.
The upset in the room finally registered. Tiago’s eyes narrowed. Everybody had some kind of unhappy vibe going on. He said, “What’s up?”
Dragos spun at the end of the room and paced another lap. “Tricks is missing. She’s not answering her cell either.”
Tiago straightened from the wall and planted his hands on his hips. “She’s only been gone four days. What happened?”
Dragos turned to the huge flat-screen on the other side of the room and aimed a remote at it. “Some people have already seen this.”
Tiago turned. The flat-screen came alive to MSNBC morning news. The running ticker tape across the bottom of the screen indicated it was from this morning. The recording was only a couple hours old.
An unsmiling female reporter faced the camera. “It’s a story that could have come straight from a faerie tale—a fictional one, that is. It has captured the imagination just as Marilyn Monroe once captured hearts all around the world. For many years Thistle Periwinkle has been America’s sweetheart and one of the most famous public personages of the Elder Races. She has acted as PR spokesperson for Cuelebre Enterprises since the early 1970s. Both the paparazzi and the public love her. She has graced international magazine covers, made regular TV appearances, and was once a guest on Johnny Carson’s
. . .”
Tiago’s brows lowered in a scowl as photos and film clips of Tricks were shown while the reporter spoke. Taken from a wide variety of sources, they showed the petite faerie in different styles over the years. He learned more about her in just a few minutes than he had ever known before.
In one film clip she wore her hair in a Mary Tyler Moore flip. In another, her dark hair was teased and bouffant, à la Monroe, as she winked at the camera. In a third clip from the 1960s, she wore long braids, platform shoes and a tie-dyed minidress. The braids clearly showed delicately pointed ears, long dark gray Fae eyes that were larger than most humans’, high-cheekbones, a snub nose and angular face and a full mouth that was more often than not beaming a wide smile.
This was not going in a good direction. His stomach clenched. He demanded, “Why are they talking about her in the past tense?”
He got shushed by several of the other sentinels who were focused on the screen, their expressions tense. His scowl deepened, but he turned his attention back to the film clip. It cut back to the reporter, who said, “Then just days ago America was shocked when Dark Fae King Urien Lorelle was killed in a freak riding accident . . .”
“Freak riding accident,” Graydon snorted. “Yeah. He accidentally got torn apart by an angry dragon. Oopsie.”
This time Tiago joined in shushing the gryphon. The news segment was just getting relevant.
“. . . and it was revealed that Thistle Periwinkle was in actuality Niniane Lorelle, the long-lost daughter of deceased Dark Fae King Rhian and his Queen Shaylee. Niniane Lorelle had long been assumed dead, but both DNA and magical tests confirmed Thistle Periwinkle’s claim. She was indeed the heir to the Dark Fae throne.” The reporter paused dramatically. “After the break we’ll show the already infamous footage captured last night on a bystander’s cell phone. The clip shows an incident that has left three Dark Fae dead and the heir apparent missing. Posted to YouTube late last night, the video has quickly gone viral. It has taken the Internet by storm and left the Chicago police and Fae authorities asking serious questions. What really happened in that dark Chicago alley last night? Is Niniane Lorelle responsible for the Dark Fae deaths? Where is the heir apparent to the Dark Fae throne? Stay with us.”