Excerpt for The Fall Of The King (Lightness Saga #3) by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

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The Fall of the King, Copyright © 2017 Stacey Marie Brown


Smashwords Edition, License Notes:

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


This is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination and her crazy friends. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.


This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It cannot be re-sold, reproduced, scanned or distributed in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author.


Copyright © 2017 Stacey Marie Brown

All rights reserved.


Cover by Dane at Ebook Launch (https://ebooklaunch.com/ebook-cover-design/)

Developmental Editor Jordan Rosenfeld (http://jordanrosenfeld.net)

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ALSO BY STACEY MARIE BROWN


Darkness of Light

(Darkness Series #1)


Fire in the Darkness

(Darkness Series #2)


Beast in the Darkness

(An Elighan Dragen Novelette)


Dwellers of Darkness

(Darkness Series #3)


Blood Beyond Darkness

(Darkness Series #4)


West

(A Darkness Series Novel)


City in Embers

(Collector Series #1)


The Barrier Between

(Collector Series #2)


Across the Divide

(Collector Series #3)


From Burning Ashes

(Collector Series #4)


The Crown of Light

(Lightness Saga #1)


Lightness Falling

(Lightness Saga #2)


Dedicated To:


David Gandy

(my Lars)


You made this story so easy…

but really embarrassing to write in public.



TABLE OF CONTENTS


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty-Three

Chapter Thirty-Four

Chapter Thirty-Five

Chapter Thirty-Six

Chapter Thirty-Seven

Epilogue

Rise From The Embers

Acknowledgments

About The Author






Chapter One

Lars


The lock clicked, released from its hold, and the sound reverberated off the stone walls deep underneath the house above. The heavily spelled door swung open, and my shoes clipped loudly on the stone floor as I stepped into the small room. Magic slammed into me, gripping my lungs. No matter how much I guarded this room with enchantments, they would never be fully contained.

The blood ignited in my veins as the power laced with my own, rushing up my spine like a geyser. My hands trembled.

One other knew of this room beside myself, but I trusted Goran with my life, a privilege only a handful of others had ever achieved in my entire existence. After I saved him from a life of being a slave for a sexually sadistic overlord, who beat and humiliated him until he was unconscious, he dedicated a life of faithfulness to me until his last breath.

A dominant force drew me to the first compartment on the wall, while the other two farther down the row were quiet. The fourth box sat empty, waiting to be filled.

Soon it will be. Soon the entire collection would be mine.

I was no fool; I understood the consequences of obtaining these objects and the power they held. However, my not having them would be an even bigger catastrophe.

The four Treasures of Tuatha Dé Danann were almost as ancient as fae themselves. The treasures were designed by Druids as gifts to honor the ancient fae kings and queens when Druids had yet to be taken into our gods’ and goddesses’ embrace, and still worked as teachers, seers, practitioners, and war consultants for the royal fae. Even then fae were aware of the Druids’ special abilities and their magic fae did not possess.

Like anything good, the offerings proved to be too tempting to the fae, who used them for their own gain. Only two of the treasures, the Sword of Nuada and the Spear of Lug, were neutral by nature, merely taking on the intent of the holder, be it good or bad.

The other two, the Stone of Fáil and the Cauldron of Dagda, developed their own desires. The stone grew gruesome with greed and power, wanting it all for itself, but the cauldron has enough power to counterbalance the stone.

Individually these treasures were more powerful than any fae. They were not meant to be together. The Druid who realized the ramifications of these objects’ power took them back and hid them from the world. They became legend, little more than folklore over the centuries, but they were no bedtime story. I had found all but one: the cauldron. And soon that would be remedied.

A tapping sound drummed against the metal of the cabinet. The stone wanted out. It longed for me to grasp it in my hand and let it free of its isolation.

My fingers slipped over the lid of the box, stroking it like a lover. My lids squeezed together, the call almost unbearable. Even alone, it was unpleasant to reveal the weakness I felt in its presence, to admit I might not be as strong as I believed. Demons craved power and control. I was no different, but my will was stronger than any others. My understanding of what these objects could really bring about kept me from indulging my desires.

One touch. The power I could give you. What we could do together. A voice entered my head, low and ancient. Do not fight me, like the human, for in the end it is pointless. You both will succumb.

“I will not. I am no ordinary fae you can manipulate,” I said back in my head. “I am your proprietor. You will do as I wish. As for the girl, she already defeated you. She was strong enough to fight you.”

She tricked me, the stone replied. But I left my mark…she will hear my call when the time comes. She will not be able to help herself. And neither will you.

A smile curled my mouth. “You greatly underestimate the girl. And me.”

I had met the human-turned-fae girl prior to the war, and she had significantly surprised me. Zoey Daniels was stronger than most fae I’d ever met. What I had learned about her life, what she had gone through, showed me she was remarkable. She grew up fast and tough in the foster care system, jumping from house to house. Abused by one of the men she lived with, she became a street fighter to never be the victim again. It also enabled her to get extra cash to help take care of a disabled foster sister, Lexie. Somehow Zoey still tried to finish school, and landed a job with the government to hunt fae, only to find out she was the government experiment. I respected her. Liked her. I could say that about few people in my lifetime, fae or human.

She had survived through a transfer of fae powers from a Wanderer. Where most humans would have died the instant the magic touched their soul, she took it in and flourished. Then she outwitted and withstood the power of the Stone of Fáil. High kings and queens had fallen to its power, yet she had not. I understood, similar to others before, how hard it was to fight the draw of the stone. It showed you everything you desired, promising you power and your deepest wishes to come to life.

Yet it was finicky in its attachment. It did not speak to everyone who touched it. The stone had fixated on the street fighter, perhaps even falling in love with her, if a stone could do such a thing. It wanted her, even more than it wanted me. The stone was not the only one who could feel desire in the air. I could sense its true longing for her. Whether for revenge or something else, it craved Ms. Daniels.

The world will be in chaos because of you. You will need me to fight it. Deep down you know it is the truth, the stone whispered, wrapping around my mind, squeezing out doubts.

My throat tightened, my teeth clenching. Every hair along my neck pricked with energy, my muscles contracting with deep-seated desire.

The stone was not wrong; I knew what was going to happen. My fate showed its hand in small but profound ways lately. It woke me up at night, and left me pacing around my desk in the day. A battle was coming, one I feared I couldn’t stop from happening unless I took preemptive steps to control it. This was why I had worked so hard to collect all the Treasures of Tuatha Dé Danann. What was heading our way would take more than what I had alone.

One touch, King. Your power will be impervious to any threat. Inside and out. You will rule without worry for the rest of time. I can give you this and more. The stone lured me closer to the box where it was contained. I also know your other desire…I can bring her back.

Images of a woman flickered through my head. Long red hair framed the most beautiful face I had ever known. Light violet eyes rimmed in a darker shade of indigo sparkled from under her dark lashes. She was tall, her toned legs peeking out from the slit in her dress, a smile, so blindingly beautiful, growing on her face.

Aisling. My heart called her name.

You three can be a family. You know she is yours. You can have it all.

Another girl joined Aisling in the vision. She was a mix of the woman I loved and myself. Or my twin brother, Devlin.

Ember’s face and mannerisms were so similar to her mother it sometimes wrenched my heart to look at her. She had one yellow-green eye from her demon ancestry, the other eye a violet match to her mother’s. Ember’s jet-black hair hung to her waist, the color the same as her father’s, with streaks of red through it, representing her mother. Daes—half fae, half demon—took after both their parents in appearance. It was easy to spot them with the different colored eyes and hair.

The secret of Ember’s parentage died with her mother’s murder. Aisling had told me Ember was Devlin’s, but that had been in a middle of a fight, when she had wanted to hurt me. Looking back, I could see why she had. Besides being so angry and hurt when I broke her heart, Devlin would have been a stable, loving father. A child to me then would have been an inconvenience. A hindrance to my goals. I had been foolish and stupid, picking power over her love.

Even when she left me for my brother, Aisling and I could not stay away from each other, our passion too strong to fight.

I had always sensed Ember was my child, but I had no way of proving it. Demon twins were identical down to the last DNA strand. Respecting Aisling’s choice of father, I told Ember I was her uncle. In truth, I hated it. Ember was mine. My daughter.

Don’t you want that? Your lover back in your arms and in your bed every night? Your daughter undeniably yours? Everyone thinks you only crave power, but I know the truth. You want a family. Love.

My fingers rolled up into a fist. The stone pulled out my most secret desire, which sounded sad and weak. I was a king! I had all I could ever want, in my bed and out, but none of it filled the hole Aisling left when she died. Nothing filled the emptiness when I mistook a need for power over her love. If I had seen what was in front of me, she would be alive, and Ember would have grown up under this roof, instead of with her adoptive mother, Lily. She would have crawled around my office, learned to walk in the family room, trained in her powers early with Alki, and been spoiled silly by me. Actually, by this whole house. Marguerite would have doted on her and plumped her with food. The love of my life and my daughter would both have been happy and healthy in my arms.

One decision changed my life in so many ways. One I utterly regretted.

With a shaking hand, I reached for the box, hooking the lid of the container. The other strongboxes were pregnant with power but did not taunt me like the stone.

Yes, demon. Aisling could be yours again. Your heart aches for her. One touch and I can take all that pain and regret away.

The top of the container opened, causing my lungs to draw in large gulps of air. Stop. You are stronger than this. A voice in my brain berated me, but my hand continued to inch down.

Almost. Just a little bit more. The stone vibrated, shoving off waves of energy, pulling my hand down even closer to its surface. My body quaked with its power, cutting a craving so deep, I felt as though I was going through withdrawals. I need it. Just a little taste.

“Sir?” A voice behind jerked me around with a start. I wrenched my hand back from the case. Goran stood in the doorway, his eyes pinched at the corners. “Sir? What were you doing?”

“None of your business.” My neck stiffened, my chin rising. “What do you want?”

“The Queen is here to see you. Again.” Goran shifted on his feet, his attention flicking to my hands briefly. I slipped my hands in my trouser pockets. “She demands to see her sister.”

I tried to fight back the groan on my tongue. Kennedy Johnson had been here twice already this week. I wasn’t the one keeping her from her newfound sibling. It was the extremely powerful, pain-in-the-ass Druid I had locked up in my cell. Fionna, the eldest daughter of Keela and Raghnall and descendant of the great Cathbad, one of the most formidable Druids to ever live, refused to see her sister.

I hated to admit Fionna was wise. I had forced Ms. Johnson to promise to find the cauldron, the one Fionna knew the whereabouts of. She understood, though, if she and her sister were in the same room, there was a chance Kennedy would get the location from her.

Fionna would do everything in her power not to let me acquire the cauldron. She had almost kept me from getting the spear. She would not let this slip through her fingers so easily. She was strong and probably one of the toughest people, or fae for that matter, for me to break, but I would find her weakness.

“Sir?” Goran hauled me away from my thoughts.

“Yes, I will be right up.” I nodded to him.

His stern face pinched again, his large muscled body slightly turning away, as though he struggled with leaving me here by myself.

“Go, Goran. Let her know I will be there shortly.”

He nodded, knowing he could not refuse my order. He gave me one last look before ascending the stone steps.

Air released in a heave from my lungs, and my gaze drifted down. Even tucked in my pockets, I could feel the tremors rattling my fingers. I drew them out, bringing them up. My gut tightened as they shook violently. The magic of the treasures was so thick, it wasn’t wise to stay more than a few minutes. But I was the High Demon Unseelie King. I could handle more than most, and I refused to be intimidated by this level of magic.

I shoved away the unease, straightened my back, walked confidently to the door, then shut and locked it. I greatly respected Kennedy, but if she went against her promise, I would do anything to keep my reign secure and my people safe.



Chapter Two

Fionna


“The Queen was here again.” A deep voice rubbed up against my ear from the doorway, like a purring lion. Sultry, confident, and deadlier than being thrown into a pit of hungry sharks. It was part of his alluring character, which made fools think he was too charming to hurt them. If you were that much of a daft wanker, you deserved to die.

I was not and did not. Staying silent, I folded my arms over my chest, curling my legs on the squeaky cot, my view pointed at the stone wall of the windowless room somewhere below the King’s compound.

“Ms. Johnson is quite upset. She wants to see you.” The King walked deeper into the tiny chamber, his shoes, which likely cost a thousand euros, clipping against the stone and chipping away at my nerves. The energy bounding off him was enough to set my teeth on edge, but his smug confidence ground my sanity into dust.

“All I need is a location. That is it, and you would be free of this room. Of me.” Lars came into my peripheral vision, his deep red tie taunting me like a matador’s blanket.

I snorted, turning my body farther toward the wall.

Free of him? Sounded like heaven, but I knew it was a lie. He wouldn’t let me go easily. I’ve learned things while living in hiding most of my life—number one, never trust a fae. Especially a demon.

Still, I was surprised he hadn’t forced me to face Kennedy. Most captors would not care what you wanted, but when I said I didn’t want to see her, he respected my decision. This only made me distrust him more; he was up to something. He also had yet to torture or starve me; I was doing the latter one on my own.

What kind of ruthless king was he, anyway?

“You disagree?” The fabric of his slacks swished as he slid his hand into his pocket. I could see why any woman or man would keel over with lust at the sight of him. No model or actor I’d ever seen in a magazine or a movie came close to his perfection. His thick, slightly wavy jet-black hair was brushed back off his face and displayed bright yellow-green eyes and olive skin. Stubble lightly lined his chin and mouth, only drawing more attention to his full lips and strong jawline. He stood tall, broad, and dominant. Without a word, sexuality, assurance, ego, power, and danger rolled off him, drowning anyone close. I had never seen a man similar to him in person, but instead of falling under his charm as most women or men probably did, I wanted to punch him in the face or toss him across the room with a few words and rip the almighty leader off his self-proclaimed pedestal.

Lars, the Unseelie Demon King, made me nauseous with abhorrence because of what he allowed to happen to my people and what he’d done and still wanted to do.

He unwisely thought trapping my sister into helping him gain information from me would lead him to the cauldron. Little did he know.

“You think starving yourself is showing strength and courage?” Lars huffed, kicking at the tray of untouched food at the foot of my bed. “All you are doing is weakening yourself.”

I twisted to look at him and snarled. “You did that the moment you put me in this room.” He was closer than I thought, and I automatically jerked back into the wall. I tried to cover up my reaction, but comprehension curved his mouth.

“You thought I would let you use your magic on me?” Lars lifted an eyebrow.

I turned back, finding a crack that trailed up to the ceiling. The prison surrounding me somehow blocked my magic. When he first put me down here without my mouth covered, I attempted to do a spell, but no magic found its way into the room. Impenetrable. It frightened me because no fae had ever been able to block us. Druid magic was different from fae magic. We could not only challenge them, but in some ways overpower them, which was why fae feared and killed Druids throughout the centuries.

But I still needed the energy from the earth, needed life to enter my words for them to be effective. Here, all energy was blocked. And the only way he could do that was if he blocked himself in this room as well.

My lips twitched at the edge, ready to push back and see if my theory was true. How I wanted to wipe the arrogance from his face. The King needed to be taken down a few notches, understand he couldn’t control everything. Especially a Druid such as me.

I was not beneath him. I was an heir of Cathbad, one of the most powerful Druids ever known. I would not cower to a fae, King or not.

My legs swept to the floor, and I bolted up. Lars took a step back, not expecting my sudden movement, his jaw tightening.

“I didn’t think you’d let me…” I countered his step, coming within a breath of him. My neck cranked back to look up at him. “But I don’t really ask for permission. I do what I want.”

A nerve strained along Lars’s jaw as he stared down at me, his eyes burning into me. “So. Do. I.”

“Then go for it. Torture me…get the information you want,” I whispered. He was so close I could smell the mix of fae—sweet and woodsy—with only a breath of cologne, manly and warm, like a glass of a top-shelf whiskey. Just enough to make you want to step closer to get a better sniff. “What are you waiting for, King? Take what you want from my mind. Force me to speak.”

Challenging the Unseelie King might not be wise, but the moment he let me out of this cell as I hoped, I would match his power with my own.

Another nerve twitched at his temple before a slight smile curved his mouth. “Have this all figured out, don’t you?” He leaned in, his breath curling down my cheek. “Get me riled up so I will foolishly try that exact thing? I’ve been King since you were young. It will take more than a Druid who thinks way more of herself than she should to rattle me.”

I looked at him through narrowed eyes, annoyed by the intensity of his nearness. Lars chuckled, low and dark, the noise vibrating against my skin.

“Do not challenge me.” Lars tipped even closer, barely an inch from my mouth. My chest locked up, but I didn’t move. I would not show fear. “You will find, Druid, you are quite unprepared for the likes of me.”

“Or maybe it’s the other way around.” I peered up, holding his gaze. “Is that why you won’t take me from this room? I’m not the only one who can’t do shite in here. Aren’t I right, King? Without your magic, you’re all talk. A balloon full of hot air.”

“You sure you want to keep this up?” A ghost of conceit twinkled his eyes. “I was trying to cordially work with you, however, you are forcing my hand.”

“Cordial? Keeping me prisoner and binding my sister is what you consider cordial?”

“Very.” He slanted his head, his expression momentarily open, as if he were being the kindest, most gracious person. “But I see being nice is not something you respond to. You answer to a little rougher game. We all have a weakness, it’s just a matter of finding yours.”

Sensing the first string of doubt leaking through me, my mouth pinned closed.

There was no way he would find out.

“That is what I thought.” He smirked and stood to his full height. “You have one more day to come to your senses before I stop playing this game with you. For the Queen’s sake, I was hoping we could come to a mutual solution. However, I see your sister is not your vulnerability.”

“Was your brother yours?” I shot back at him. Lars’s lids narrowed. “You did what was best for the masses, not for your blood. Kennedy, above anyone, would understand. Keeping you from another piece of the treasure is something I will fight for.” I stepped closer to him, now only a hair apart, our bodies touching ever so slightly. “Until my last breath.”

Lars’s intense eyes stared down into mine. “If that is the way it has to be.” He lifted one eyebrow. “I always get what I want in the end, Ms. Cathbad. Always.” Lars turned, exiting the door with a speed and quietness that screamed supremacy.

The door clicked, continuing to secure me in my magic-empty prison.


Chapter Three

Lars


The moment the prison door shut, Travil found his step behind me, causing me to growl under my breath. Strong women were nothing new to me and found little admiration in weakness, but this woman was making me crazier than most.

And that was saying a lot.

Ember’s stubbornness and power could be a challenge. Yet as frustrated as I could get with her outright disobedience sometimes, I was never riled this easily. It took a lot to really make me angry. As a demon, I learned to keep my temper under control at all times, else I might destroy cities. Whether it was because this woman had sent strighoul to my compound, almost killing Marguerite, or because she was keeping me from what I wanted most, I was slipping into anger faster than usual.

At first the similarities in looks to her younger sister with her long silky brown hair, deep brown eyes, and petite physique had me treating her with a little more care than I normally would with a prisoner. But I no longer saw the kindness and quiet strength of the Queen. Fionna Cathbad had grown up quite differently. Hiding from fae for decades in Ireland had turned her tough and ruthless. She was not shy, sweet, nor did she have the luxury of being empathetic and kind. I would never admit it, but I was impressed she’d taught herself black magic and Druid spells.

She was a force to be reckoned with. One strong enough to challenge fae.

It was true I had done nothing to stop the killing of Druids. After Aisling died, I was dealing with my brother, his insanity, and his murdering thousands. Druids were of little consequence to me.

Losing Aisling destroyed me, but Devlin kept me from completely going under by misplacing his sanity enough for both of us. I had to marshal the strength when he lost his. But when he entirely lost his mind, I had no choice but to end his reign. End him.

The door to my office hit the wall as I strode in, my shoulders still tight around my ears. “Get…” What was my new secretary’s name? For the life of me I could not remember. “Whatever her name is… I want to hear from Garrett and Cadoc in the next hour. I need something on Ms. Cathbad. Now,” I yelled at Travil, my palms smacking my desk harder than I meant to.

“Yes, sir.” He bowed his head, stepping out of my office and closing the door.

I let out a breath, staring absently down at my desk. What was wrong with me? My temper was skimming the surface too easily, and I didn’t like it. I prided myself on control, fairness, and making the best decisions for the survival of the world. If I showed any sign of weakness or recklessness, the European Eastern bloc wouldn’t be the only countries wanting to exit my rule.

“Majesty?” A slight, Latin American brunette entered the room, her five-inch heels still only bringing her up to my chest. She was a pretty little thing with caramel skin, straight brown shoulder-length hair, soft brown eyes. But something about her still irritated me. Actually, every secretary had…since Rez.

I pinched the bridge of my nose. Her name was still a sore subject with me. Theoretically I was happy for her, that she’d found her mate, but it had come at my cost. She was mine. I had brought her into my home, given her a job and a life. After all I did, she left me for a lesser fae.

Still, I was no fool. The dark dweller, West, and Rez were perfect for each other. You’d have to be a fool not to see it, which made it impossible to be around them, reminding me of what I had lost so long ago.

I had cared deeply for Rez but was never in love with her. Aisling had taken all my heart, leaving nothing but a carcass. I wasn’t capable of loving someone else. Not anymore. And Rez deserved better, which was the only reason I allowed them both to live. Any other Demon King would not have been so lenient, but my respect for Rez and the dark dweller softened my retaliation. Still, I had punished them. The law of my rule demanded it.

Perhaps the worst part of it was no secretary could live up to Rez in skills. Rez and I worked extremely well together. The majority of the time she knew what I wanted even before I did. She was a hard worker, excellent lover, and took care of the business of the compound like she was made to do it. I missed her. Every day. No one had even remotely come close to filling her shoes, and my patience for these new ones had me firing them almost as soon as they were hired.

My assistant had to do a lot more than just help run my house and businesses. I had also tried several men to fill the role. They had only lasted a few hours. I found women much more efficient, able to multitask and handle all I threw at them. This new one was competent, but I knew she wouldn’t be here much longer. She already was exasperating me by asking endless questions.

“Get me Garrett on the phone now.” I sat back in my chair. “Also get me all the files you can on Olwyn O’Sullivan. I want to know everything you can find on her.”

“Yes, sir.” She tried to curtsy, but her pencil skirt almost made her stumble over. Her cheeks flushed red, and she bowed her head, trying again.

“Just. Go. Now,” I growled, clenching the arms on my chair. She wasted my time trying to perfect her curtsy with those ridiculous heels and skirt. She teetered out of the room, closing the door.

“Marguerite?” My finger pressed the button to the kitchen.

“Yes, Mr. Lars?” Marguerite’s accented voice came through the box, calming me. She had been with me since she was a little girl. Though I was far older than her by centuries, she had taken on a maternal role in this home, and her cooking could challenge the most famous chefs. Besides Ember, she was the only one I allowed to hug me. I loved that woman. If anything happened to Marguerite, I wasn’t sure I would be able to stay sane.

“Can you get me a list of new potential assistants?” Marguerite had to approve them as much as I did.

Si, Mr. Lars.” I could almost hear the smile in her response. She had yet to okay any of the replacements either. “Made devil food cake. Will bring.”

I smirked. What began as a joke, to bake me devil’s food cake whenever I was irritated or upset, had now become our tradition. She had made me a lot of cake lately.

“Thanks, Marguerite.” I couldn’t help but smile. My mouth watered already at the thought of her cake.

“Nic! Mi hermoso chico, para de comer. For Mr. Lars!” I heard Marguerite yell through the speakers before it went silent. I chuckled softy, my head shaking.

I had discovered Nic, like Rez, in a sex den. It was a flea-infested slum and the drug of choice was magic-infused crack. They had him so strung out between the ceaseless sex, a natural high for an incubus, and actual drugs, he was close to brain damaged. Magic healers and speech therapists helped with his recovery, but the ghosts of his past haunted him a great deal. He had lost his eye in the war. As an incubus, he was afraid this would hurt his “hunting.” It did not, as the women and men seemed to only be more intrigued and lust-filled with the pirate-looking Spanish god.

Now the stone’s statement flooded into my head, stirring me in my seat. Everyone thinks you only crave power, but I know the truth. You want a family. Love. I had never thought about why I filled this house with broken people who needed a home. Each one came here from a horrendous situation. Was I trying to fill a gap? Create a family? A house full of noise and love?

I shoved the thought away. I was a demon. A king. I had more things to worry about than love or feeling lonely. They were weak qualities that caused lesser beings to seek approval and acceptance.

The two things I could never permit.


~~


“Majesty, I have Garrett on speaker, and here is everything I could find on Olwyn O’Sullivan.” My assistant stood before me, handing me a walkie-talkie device and a file. Her hair was now twisted up in a knotted bun. I really should learn her name, but my concentration was on the file in front of me. It was thicker than I thought it would be. I glanced up at her. She appeared somewhere in her late twenties and was a raccoon shifter, which were known to be good thieves. Maybe I should get her stealing instead of being my assistant. “I also had Garrett send me all the files they found so you could go through their research.” She smiled, a breath of pride curling off it.

One eyebrow curved up in surprise. Maybe I would keep her around a bit longer.

“Thank you, uhh…”

“Sofia.” She tried to curtsy again and failed miserably.

My lips pinched together holding back my sigh. I dipped my head, letting her know she was free to go. The moment she exited the room, I swiveled in my chair to the device sitting on my desk.

“Go ahead, Garrett.”

“Sir.” He spoke in his thick Irish accent through the newest version of a cell phone, one not even on the market yet. “This Druid was exceptional at covering her tracks and staying hidden. No credit card, no phone records, no internet trace of her. I thought we’d never find anything on her. Even the people in town said she and the old lady were hermits. Barely ever seen. They had nothing useful.”

“Get to it,” I growled, my impatience for all things related to Fionna Cathbad was already fraying my nerves. I never failed in getting what I wanted. Never. But if I didn’t find her weakness, the thing which would make her buckle, I didn’t know what I would do. This anxiety was a new experience, and I didn’t like it. Torture would be pointless; she would not succumb. She would rather die for her cause. She also knew perfectly well I couldn’t touch her sister, not really. I bound Kennedy to find the cauldron, and by doing that, I hoped Fionna would step up. She did not.

“Well, sir, until we found a document in a file at the county hospital on Olwyn giving birth to a girl. It was misfiled in a completely different department. But with my skills I was able to uncover it.”

I flicked the folder open, flipping through the pages until I landed on a stapled set stamped by the University Hospital Galway.


“The second and third page caught my attention. At the fourth one, I knew I found what you wanted.” Garrett cleared his throat. I sat back in my seat, turning to the second page, my eyes scrolling over the page quickly.

“If you look at the next document,” Garrett suggested. I turned the next one, my eyes widening the moment I understood what I was looking at.

“You see, sir, Olwyn’s daughter died at the age of twelve. About sixty years prior.” He paused, his energy bursting through the walkie-talkie at his own discovery. “But this says she had a baby about five years ago, giving it up for adoption. I think we all know that would be physically impossible. Five years ago she was still way over a hundred.”

Satisfaction twisted up my mouth, elation filling my chest.

“Good work, Garrett.” Approval coated my words. “I am extremely impressed with what you attained.”

We found it. The information I needed.

“You know what I am going to ask you next.” I bolted from my seat, energy buzzing up my calves. Walking to the French doors, I overlooked my property. Spring was on the horizon, but you wouldn’t know it from the angry Pacific Northwest rain spitting down in an endless stream, saturating the fields and plumping the creek running near the house.

“Already done, sir. We didn’t want to contact you till we followed the trail and retrieved what you wanted. Cadoc is doing it now.”

“Excellent.” I had been unsure of Garrett and his group when I first took them from the lowlife demon, Vadik. However, those who survived the war had turned into faithful soldiers, Garrett especially. His intelligence and hacking skills would be legend one day. “Head home the moment you do.”

“Ta, sir.” The device clicked, going quiet.

I returned to my desk, going through the rest of the documents Sofia had added to her research. What I learned was horrific and shocking, stirring anger deep inside.

I had tried to find something on Fionna originally to bend her to my will. Now I realized my actions were for the best.

“You are mine, Fionna Cathbad.” I smirked, my hand rubbing my mouth. “I have you.”


Chapter Four

Fionna


I could feel his presence even before the door opened, which considering the absence of magic in this room, was a statement of his power. Lars was his own energy field, pulling you to him like gravity.

Kicking my dinner tray away, I tucked into myself on the bed, facing the wall. I had no sense of time, only my meals giving me a base of measure. When I got eggs or oatmeal, I figured the day was beginning for most above. Sandwich or soup equaled midday. Stew, burritos, and chicken told me the sun had probably already set on my prison.

Going off this, two days had passed since the King’s last visit.

Once I gave in and started eating after Lars left the last time, I realized what a fool I was for letting all those other meals go to waste. I’d give Lars one thing, the prison food here was amazing. Rather than gruel, I was getting chef-style meals, better than anything I’d ever had in my life.

What was up with that? Why treat me so well? It didn’t make sense. Was it because of Kennedy? Or was he doing some strange reverse psychology bullshite on me? Was my chicken enchilada a device to break me? Get me sucked in by the delicious sauce so I’d let my guard down? If he took it away from me now and gave me gruel, I might break.

Goosebumps flushed over my skin the instant he walked in. I rolled away and folded in tighter against the feel of his presence.

“Ms. Cathbad?” His deep voice slid over my shoulder, entering my ear.

I was a prisoner, and he still called me by my family’s given name. Names held respect. It was another thing that annoyed me—the possibility his formal pleasantries would make me mad.

I turned to address him, air halting in my lungs. Bloody hell. Today he wore a deep navy suit with a yellow-and-gray striped tie, his hair brushed back. It never looked gelled or greasy. Most likely his hair was too scared to disobey his order to wave back in perfection.

My mouth pinched together, my gaze snapping back to the wall.

“I will take that as an answer to my final chance I have so generously given you.”

I snorted.

“Get up.” His voice went icy cold, drawing my attention back to him. The King stared at me; his heavy gaze held power and irritation. “Now.”

“Done playing nice?” A smile twisted my mouth; sweeping my legs to the floor, I stood up. “It’s about fucking time. Now we can finally start getting to the point.”

“Yes, we can.” He replied so unemotionally a chill scampered down my spine.

He tilted his head down at me. Fear coiled in my gut. Something had changed. His confidence burst out of him similar to an overstuffed turkey.

“Travil?” he called, keeping his attention on me.

The guard who caught me in Ireland stepped into the room. He had long dark hair pulled back with a band. He stood an inch or two shorter than Lars, built wide and muscular. Not someone you wanted to run into in an alley. I could never imagine him cracking a smile. His beefed-up bow and arrow hung from his back and a beautiful carved knife draped against his hip.

Fabric hung from his fingers, draping like chains.

With nowhere to go, my legs still took me backward toward my bed. He held Druid’s kryptonite. A gag. How sad was that? A piece of cloth could bring Druids to their knees.

Travil was in front of me before I could blink. I hated how fast fae could move. It was unnerving.

“Open up.” Travil ordered me, his eyes glinting with glee. He was enjoying this immensely. His dislike for me was palpable every time he dropped off my meals, clouding the room in a dense fog.

Glowering, I pinched my lips together.

“Even better,” he said so only I could hear, his hands clamping down on the sides of my face, the cloth pushing at my lips, trying to divide them.

I tried to turn my face, but his fingers dug sharper into my skin. With a grunt, he parted my teeth. The gag skated back, ramming into the corners of my mouth. I shoved against Travil, my head waggling, trying to break free. But it was too late; a knot dug into the back of my head as he tied it.

“You should always be this way.” He knotted it again. “Muzzled.”

“Travil.” Lars said his name like a warning. Travil backed up, but his glare still fixed on me. “Ms. Cathbad, you wanted to see the level I will go? Let us go find out.” He turned for the door.

Tying my hands behind my back, Travil yanked the rope as if it were a leash, forcing me to follow the demon. Anger boiled inside, ready to spout out, though physically I could not do anything. I was only five-three and a wee thing next to these brutes. Only my magic made me a giant among fae.

I never believed Lars would play fair. He was a cruel, selfish, demented man, caught up in his superiority, thinking himself untouchable. But the moment I could, the King would find he’d met his match.

“Come, Ms. Cathbad, you have guests.” Lars’s smug gaze drilled into mine.

Guests? More than one? I figured my time was up and he was going to force me to face my sister, but he was too smug, too haughty for it to just be Kennedy.

Sour acid pitted deep in my gut. No. He couldn’t have found out. There’s no way. The King had the means to find out things others couldn’t, but what I hid was untraceable back to me. I had made sure.

My throat struggled to swallow. Travil pushed me to trail after the formidable King, his bloody expensive shoes snapping the floor like yipping dogs in front of us.

Travil’s fingers dug into my arm, shoving me rougher than he needed to down the hall. Clearly he was one of those still bigoted against Druids. He disliked me purely because of what I was.

Well, okay, he might also hate me because he almost died in a bombing when I planned to kill a group of vile noble fae. To be fair, I did not know the King and Queen were there. Killing the King and his men would have been a lucky happenstance. And yes, I sent strighoul to attack the compound, but only after my first warning went unheeded, and the King dispatched a dark dweller and a siren to come for the spear. I learned my lesson. My warning had not been enough; I was too soft. So, yes, I ordered the strighoul to take one of his people and threaten him with them.

Lars would have done no less to me.

Protecting the Treasures of Tuatha Dé Danann was my first priority. History had shown us they should not be obtained by fae, especially all the objects together. Devastation and destruction would follow. The power was too much for anyone to handle. Every fae before thought they would be the one to have the strength to control them. They never did. And kingdoms had fallen.

Lars already had two I was aware of, but it was possible he had three. There had been whispers in Ireland, years before the war, that the Stone of Fáil had been turned up by a Wanderer and a human girl. As fast as the buzz came around, it went silent. There was a great probability he had found a way to secure it from them, the same way he obtained the Spear of Lug from me.

I hoped I was wrong. If he had it, we were in so much trouble. The only thing that could challenge the stone was the cauldron, but that didn’t make me any more inclined to hand it over to him. For now all I could do was guard the Cauldron of Dagda with all I had and keep a final piece from him.

Lars stopped at a door at the end of the hallway, turning to look at me over his shoulder. “Last chance, Ms. Cathbad, before you force me into extreme measures.”

I glared at him, hoping my eyes screamed fuck you.

His lip curled into a slight smirk. He opened the door and stepped in, and I followed along with his crony. I was ready to see a torture apparatus or at least my sister. I found neither of those. My neck turned my head to survey the room.

It was stone like my cell, rectangular and empty. A large, dark window took up most of the wall on one side. My eyes couldn’t penetrate the darkly tinted glass, but I knew we were still far below the ground surface. This would not be a window looking outside.

Travil moved me to face it. I gulped, acid burning my esophagus. Anxiety alighted all over me like sudden cold snow. I trusted my intuition, and it told me to be scared. Whatever he had planned for me, I might be wishing for torture.

“I would love to untie and ungag you.” Lars came up beside me, sliding one hand into his pants pocket. He was at ease, which only twined my nerves into clusters. “However, I have little faith you will not try to attack me.”

I shifted my chin higher. He was right. No point in denying it.

“I have tried from day one to work with you, Ms. Cathbad.” He flicked his chartreuse eyes toward me. “But you have forced my hand. You want me to play dirty?” The color in his eyes deepened in vibrancy. “I am a king. A demon. I can go to depths you never even dreamed of to get what I want.”

The intensity of his gaze and the authority in his voice stirred a burning heat through my body. I snapped my head away from him, feeling abhorrence and anger explode against the heat similar to a buffer. My hands clenched, letting the hate rise inside me and pushing back against whatever disgusting response this demon could make me feel.

“Go ahead, Travil.” The demon nodded to his man. The dark-haired brute walked over to the wall and flicked on a switch. It was exactly what I thought—a two-way mirror.

Light from the other side brought the room to life, showing what he had in store for me.

A gasp clogged my throat. “No!” I tried to scream through the gag, but it came out muffled. My feet moved me to the glass, my arms trying to wiggle out of the binds behind my back.

Olwyn!

My heart dived down to my toes at the sight of the old woman who raised me. She sat in a rocker, a blanket over her, her lids closed as she tipped the chair back and forth, sound asleep. She had hit a hundred and twelve last year. She only continued to live because I had extended her life. Even though she had lost most of her mind and her health a long time ago, she was all I had, and I didn’t want to be alone.

I should have known Olwyn wouldn’t be safe from him. But did he really think she was my Achilles heel, which would crumble me to a pile of rubbish and spill all my secrets? I didn’t bend for my sister; did he think a woman of almost one hundred and thirteen would have me selling out humanity?

I turned to stare at the King, straightening, my gaze level on him.

Another disturbing smile ghosted his mouth as he moved closer to me. “I figured.”

My forehead crinkled in confusion. If he knew she wouldn’t break me, then why act as though he had a winning hand? Another dose of fear flooded my gut, swiping at the lining in my stomach.

“Goran?” Lars hit a speaker button next to me on the wall. “Bring her in.” He shifted his head, his face close to mine, his voice a low whisper. “I warned you there is no depth I would not go to get what I want, to discover your most hidden secrets.”

In my peripheral I saw movement in the small chamber next to Olwyn’s. Time began to move slowly as I rotated around to see the bodies walk in. One large. One small.

Oh. Gods. No.

The earth buckled beneath me. My knees crashed to the ground and a guttural scream lashed against the fabric in my mouth. Like clamps cranked down on my airwaves, oxygen stuck in my lungs and locked in my chest.

He did it. He found the one thing I thought I had hidden so deep no one could ever find. Not just my Achilles heel, but my soul.

Fire ripped through my chest as I blinked back hot tears threatening to come. She was supposed to be safe, far away from me, from this life.

I stared at the little girl holding Goran’s hand, a stuffed animal wrapped tightly in her other, and her long brown hair shielding part of her face. Goran leaned down, whispering something. She looked up and a gasp hitched in my throat.

Deep blue eyes like her father’s glistened in the light, but everything else was me. My family genes, down to the freckles sprinkled over her nose.

She was beautiful. Perfect.

My daughter.


Chapter Five

Fionna


Pain and love pounded in equal tempo, more tears cascading down my face. I could not stop staring at her, my hands aching to reach out.

“Mother” was a word I had never claimed for myself. I had given birth to her, but I was no mother. I never even let myself hold her before they took her away.

It was for the best, I’d told myself. She would never have been safe, surely used against me by an enemy, and would spend her life in a world of death and darkness. I thought I had done the right thing, protecting her from my world.

Lars came up beside me, his figure towering over me, arms behind his back. He watched the little girl as Goran sat her down with some toys. She didn’t move to them, rolling her arms into a knot at her chest, while longing flooded from in her eyes. Goran, the huge asshole, was on his hands and knees, trying to gently encourage her.

“You hid her well. But my men are considered the best for a reason.” Lars broke my attention from her. “I did not want to use a child. You gave me no choice.” My head shot up so sharply a vein popped in my neck, heating it with blood. He slowly turned his chin down to me, his green eyes set on mine. “I am going to untie you now, Ms. Cathbad, because you understand perfectly what is at risk if you do anything to me. You grasp what will happen if you do not say yes to my request?”

My nose flared, fury boiling in my stomach. He had me completely under his command and he knew it. An inferno of hate seared through the tears trailing down my face. I had no choice.

Nodding, my lids squeezing together, the last tear soaked into the cloth wrapped around my mouth. With a nod from the King, fingers dug into my wrists, undoing the rope binding my hands. Once freed, my palms flew to the glass, pressing against it. Travil ripped out strands of my hair removing the gag, but I hardly felt it, all my attention on her.

“Ms. Cathbad, I bind you from using magic on me, anyone in this home, attached to me or this property. No loopholes or tricks. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” I whispered, feeling as if he were stripping me of my soul.

“Do you agree to this contract?”

I sucked in air, letting it flow over my lips in a long exhale. Staring at my little girl, I only had one response.

“Yes.” The moment I agreed, energy descended on me as palpable as when Lars’s ogre had decided to use me as a chair. My shoulders sagged under the weight, my teeth gritting through the pressure. Then it was gone. But I felt the bind wrap around me like a noose.

Goran sat down with the girl and nodded toward the toys. She sat but still didn’t move to touch the toys; her long silky hair blocked most of her sweet face. I couldn’t take my eyes off her for more than a moment.

“What kind of a man are you, using an innocent little girl?” I hissed.

“If you saw the family who had adopted her, you’d be thanking me for taking her.” Lars slid his hands in his pockets, nodding toward the girl. “She’s an extremely special girl. It is incredibly lucky we found her. Got her away from there…from those people,” he snarled.

“Where was she?” I croaked out, peering up at him. “What were they doing to her?”

“She was near Dublin. The family from whom I took her have filed reports several times with the police and adoption agency. They complained of her being possessed by the devil, that her tongue was controlled by demons.” Lars tugged at the cuffs of his sleeves, his forehead pinched.

My neck swung back to the tiny child. Bloody shite. She was too young to be getting predictions. She was only five. I had hoped her fully human father would water down the Druid magic, but it seemed only the opposite had happened.

I’d thought about her every day after that warm June morning when I had to give her up, wondered what she was doing, what her life was like. If she was happy. Had friends.

“They hoped beating her would expel the demons,” he growled. “When that didn’t work, they tried to get her exorcised.”

My hand went to my mouth, doing little to hold back my anguished cry. Guilt pummeled me and bent me over. I was unable to swallow over the agony I felt, air fighting to get down into my lungs.

What had I done to her? What horrors did I let happen to her because I thought I was doing the right thing? Gasps ricocheted out of me. Air wouldn’t make its way over the barricade in my throat. My nerves trilled with fear and anxiety.

Fingers came up under my chin, forcing it up with a jerk. Bright greenish eyes caught mine. “Calm down,” the voice ordered me. “Take a deep breath.”

Without hesitation my body followed the command. My shoulders dipped lower as I halted the short breaths, taking a long controlled one.

“Again.”

I sucked in through my nose, feeling the blockage dissolving on my tongue after a few more inhales. Slowly my panic ebbed, allowing me to notice the King squatted down next to me, his fingers wrapped around my jaw.

“Thank you,” I mumbled out so low most ears wouldn’t have heard, but Lars was not like most.

He nodded at my appreciation, his expression holding no emotion. “One more time.”

“I’m fine.” I tried to pull away from his hold.

“Humor me.” He leaned his head to the side, keeping his grip firm.

Normally at the first hint of anyone, especially him, telling me what to do, I would have swung out a right hook. Instead I took another deep breath, closed my eyes, and centered myself.

“She will never be harmed again. That I can promise you,” he said quietly, his voice like butter, coating me in warmth. A promise to a fae was binding. They did not toss them around casually, Lars least of all. He meant it.

Fionna, wake up! Don’t get caught in his glamour. This is all a trick!

I yanked away from him, scooting backward, my defenses slamming up.

“What is your game then? If you aren’t going to use her against me?”

He watched me for a few beats before rising.

“I never said I wouldn’t use her against you.”

Fuck. Shite. I knew it.

I flew to my feet, my shoulders rolling back. An overwhelming need to protect my daughter caused me to snarl the same as a wild animal. Magic clawed up my throat, ready to strike.

“Don’t.” Lars glared. “I warn you, even if you physically attack me, I will retaliate. You have something to live for, Ms. Cathbad, so don’t take away this little girl’s mother again.”


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