Tag Archives: Bite

Harvest Bite

To celebrate its full release,  today I’m sharing an excerpt from chapter one of A Harvest of Dreams & Embers, Eight Kingdoms book five! The second half of the saga begins with Merlin…and mayhem.

 

Chapter One

Sleep had come to Spring, though it did not belong there.

Myrddin advanced alone through the stillness of the Wyrdwood and found even the birds sunk into slumber. Drowsiness had descended, and with it a sacred silence that brought disharmony, reducing the promise of the branches to the ghost of leaves. There had never been such lethargy in immortal Spring before, but the season had traded away its show of splendor for somnolence.

King though he was, even Myrddin was tangled in threads of torpor and his own sudden awareness of the presence that incited them. Why here, why now? Father?

Yes.

With the feeling of acknowledgment came a summons Myrddin could not deny, though he wanted to. No other being was so perilous to him, had ever cost him so much, as his own father. And now, now that he finally had Kas for his own…

Neither the time nor the place of the visit pleased him, but Myrddin could no more deny the summons of the one who had sired him than the buds could refuse the spring.

His heart clenched. Had he regained what he’d lost only to have it taken away? Kas. All his desires were bound up in the single syllable of that name. He would not give his lover up again, no matter what demand the god of the wild had for him.

Myrddin found his father at the heart of the forest, wrapped around its most ancient oak. He knew it was his father, but Myrddin had never seen him like this. As the Stag of the wood, yes, carrying the moon in the spaces between his antlers. As a mist, or in a man’s shape, but like this?

The god of the wood had come to him as a dragon. His father was a moss-backed beast with leafed and feathered wings whose span stretched beyond Myrddin’s sight. He was the wildest and most beautiful of his kind Myrddin had ever seen, but he was a dragon all the same.

Did that mean…he was no longer a god?

There was a shiver in the branching pinions, a sibilant trembling of feathers. A sound like silk being stretched too tight and too quickly snapped through the air as the great wings beat once then settled.

“Father…” The dragon opened his mouth and breathed out the scent of somnolent blossoms, but not a single word in answer. “Father?”

He resisted the urge to go to one knee as he resisted the drowsy pressure of the air, a sudden urge to yawn. Silence greeted him. More than before, stronger the closer he came to the unsteady orb of his father’s eye. He recognized the source of the unnatural sleep with a familiarity that reminded him of his own long-vanished past.

‘My little shoot.’

Not his father’s voice, but the memory of his mother’s, brushed Myrddin with a faint prickling of dread. This sleep was akin to his own lost winter slumber. The sleep that had taken him at Samhain each year, before Spring had had a rite, or a kingdom… When winter had come to him as to the blossoms and dropped him down the well of the sleeping season.

His father blinked one enormous eye, and the flickering facets drew Myrddin in. The eye became a world, a universe in the shape of an ochre orb. “I forget who I was before the birth of this moment.

 

Want more? A Harvest of Dreams & Embers is currently available at Pride Publishing, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other retailers. Grab your copy today!

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Shadow Bite

To celebrate today’s early release at Pride Publishing,  today I’m sharing an exclusive excerpt from chapter one of The Shadow Road, Eight Kingdoms book four! 

Enjoy this crunchy little bite, and of course, if you want more, grab a copy here!

Through the barrow, across the ice, over the bridge and the river’s black water, Macsen ran quickly, following the promise of heat. Summer fire was making its presence known in the middle of Winter, fire and coiling smoke and the scent of golden power.

A smile crawled across his face, eager with anticipation. He knew where Bran was now, and he stalked around the palace, through the green of the orchard. Yes. Yes. He could see through the open spaces of the entryway that Bran was at his forge, muttering to himself, shaping the precious metals Macsen had left for him with practiced movements.

Bits of work were scattered here and there on tables. The beginnings of what might be a silver bridle, golden baubles filled with fire and a dozen gossamer lengths of chain were coiled and piled on each other.

Macsen’s attention was drawn to Bran’s hands, the smoothness of their movements, the easy way his fingers shaped the softness of the gold. There was something sensual in the motions, in his perfect focus, the way his eyes didn’t wander at all and a tiny wrinkle deepened between his brows. The intensity of his attention to his work was such that he still hadn’t noticed Macsen’s presence.

He almost took a step forward, arm outstretched, but caught sight of his own fingers, dark with bloodstains, and grimaced. Quietly, still unnoticed, he slipped away, up to their room and the bath. Macsen stripped out of silk as bloody as his body, and the water went red as he stepped into it. It grew redder still as he bathed, scrubbed gore from his face, his hands, even his hair.

When it flowed clear, he lingered for only a moment before he grabbed a towel and wandered back into the bedroom, considering. Talaith was gone. He would have to do everything himself, or find some other servant, and even the thought made him scowl. When Macsen opened the wardrobe, it was empty, nothing hung. His clothes, where were they? But then she did that too, didn’t she? He’d have to go down into the storage closets and find everything there.

He wrapped his towel around his waist, pushed wet hair back out of his eyes and contemplated a secondary irritation. His comb, where was that? He scowled, then turned to face the door as it opened.  It wasn’t Bran, he knew that instantly, and who else would dare? But he saw first not the one who had come, but what they had brought with them—his clothes, and things glinting silver. Momentarily, a familiar face emerged from behind the pile.

“Saoirse! What are you doing?”

“I… Since Talaith… I thought you…” And she stopped dead, but still peered up at him, curious and perhaps confused. “Should I leave? I didn’t mean to be trouble, but I helped Talaith sometimes and I never once saw you come down where everything is, so I thought you would need…” Again she stopped. “Red King?”

He had too many thoughts for words, and only shook his head and turned away. Whatever she thought of that, he didn’t know. Her stillness dissipated and she came into the room, began to lay things out on the bed. Tunics and trousers in red and silver, blue and gold, more choices than he needed and some that weren’t even his clothes.

“Girl—”

“There’s things for Bran, too. He likes new clothes after he’s been working. And I brought combs and brushes, but not jewelry. Bran doesn’t need it, not with your gift, and I haven’t seen you wear anything but your crown. Do you, Red King? If you do I’ll bring it next time but—”

Next time. Have you appointed yourself my keeper, Saoirse?” But he was already laughing before she could answer, laughing and shaking his head. “Do what you please, I won’t complain. You’ve done well. I don’t know where anything is, not after so long. But how did you know? How did you know I needed you?”

“I told you, I helped Talaith—and I was watching for you. Bran asked me to. He said he gets distracted when he’s working. He said he wouldn’t notice when you’d come back. I don’t know why he wanted to know, it’s not like you wouldn’t go to him first. You always go to him first. But you looked like you wanted to surprise him and you were very bloody, so I haven’t said anything, not anything. I went downstairs instead.” She wrinkled her nose. “Red King, tell him please that I did notice, and it’s only your fault that I didn’t say.”

He raised an eyebrow. “You think he’ll be angry?”

“Not Bran. It’s not easy to make him angry—you know that.”

Macsen studied her more closely when she smiled. Subtle changes that he had missed were making themselves known to him now, and he was…confused. Were her features sharper, her teeth more pointed?

She is not the same as she was.

“Girl, you’re changing.”

“I am. I am!”

“And you like it.”

“Yes.”

“Good.” And as if he had never said anything else, he returned to the previous subject. “Since you’ve done so well, this will be your responsibility. You’ll be our handmaid, mine and Bran’s.” He met her gaze. “You don’t mind? You were a princess once.”

She dimpled, grinning, and he saw that, yes, her teeth were sharper. “This is more fun, Red King.”

Darkest Bite

To celebrate the contract being signed just this morning, and because a few lines of this were shared during #1lineWed on twitter today, enjoy a tiny Bite of Deathless!

 

Deep in the winter’s dark promise, as far from spring and his own country as he had ever been, Myrddin finally encountered something completely beyond his experience. Slim, naked, wild-haired, beautiful, a stranger was crouched by the water of a trailing spring, black as the night, black in the chill, and when he turned at Myrddin’s voice, the wide of his black eyes was the wide of the startled deer.

“Hello -” Myrddin paused, heard something riled, whispering, but it came from the air all around him and not from the stranger he had spoken to. “Where did you come from, where are you going? Will you let me stay a while, will you answer my questions?” He took two steps closer, then three. “I’ve been looking for someone. Someone to help me with a rite of spring. To invent something beautiful and take away the power overflowing my soul. Someone… Do you know anyone?”

He was answered by nothing, and at the same time by a myriad of silences, one quiet become many voiceless truths. The wideness was fading out of the dark eyes that confronted him a little at a time. The voice that answered him was soft, but it only spoke his own words with the intonation of some other power heavy behind them. “Some…one. Anyone?”

The words were halting, the sound of them almost swallowed, more a questioning echo than real speech. Myrddin took one step closer. The stranger took one step back. “Can’t you answer me? Who are you? What’s your name?”

“Your name?”

“Myrddin—my name is Myrddin. And you?”

“You…”

“Do you not have a name? Do you not know words? Who are you?”

“Who are you?”

“I’m Myrddin!” But this time he started laughing and couldn’t stop—it really was like talking with an echo. Maybe this stranger didn’t know how to speak? But he was gorgeous, and the dark of some terrible, magnetic power leeched out of his skin like rain from clouds, soaking and unavoidable.

 

Lost Bite

To celebrate the upcoming blog tour accompanying its full release, enjoy this exclusive Bite of Undone!

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Tighe wandered through Summer, and the wood wound a path to nowhere, because that was his desire. Nowhere was a lake he didn’t know, a quiet river and the warm sun on the green grass beckoning him forward. He lay there, drowsing by the water, and let the silence and the sun’s reflection soothe his new and not unexpected heartbreak.

It was his own fault. Maybe by now he should have learned to look away, close his eyes, not listen when someone said things he couldn’t bear. He should have learned to live with the lie, but it was the same every time. He couldn’t do it, and now here he was again.

He wasn’t focused on Nuala. She would fade fast enough from memory, just like the others who’d been in her place in the past. But the things he missed when he was alone—a warm companion, someone to hold and hold him, pleasure and teasing and conversation… His thoughts turned to those things one at a time, then all at once. Each one was its own small torment.

More than all other things, he hated to be alone, unless he was working. There were only so many hours he could spend in his workshop, and what then?

“What now?” He closed his eyes and sighed. Maybe because of the sun, maybe because of the silence that came to him on the breeze, Tighe fell asleep there by the water, and only woke to the sound of splashing and a sudden gasp. He jerked himself upright and blinked into wary wakefulness in an instant. There was a screen of brush between him and the water, and he peered between the leaves, still but for his stare.

He saw a stranger, shedding drops of water like shining scales, his hair dark with dampness and the silk of his trousers clinging to his skin as he came out of the deep water and into the shallows.

Upcoming Events!

With the recent release of The Burning Season and the upcoming release of Undone (June 9th! Woo!) I’ve started appearing all over the place!

For now, you can check out Once Upon A Time, a short piece about inspiration, fairy tales, and what they’re doing in our world. (Though for some reason they posted Undone’s cover with The Burning Season’s blurb. Don’t be confused!)

A new Bite that is actually from Undone will be out later today, in anticipation of my upcoming Blog Tour!

Speaking of which, take note! On June 9th,  visit with me at Scattered Thoughts and Rogue words. On the 10th, I’ll be with The Novel Approach. The 11th sees me with Love Bytes Reviews, and finally, on the 12th, I’ll be finishing up at Crystal’s Many Reviews! I’ve been hard at work on guest posts covering everything from where gancanagh come from to LGBT characters in modern fairy tales, and each stop on the tour comes with it’s own exclusive excerpt from Undone!

Accompanying this lovely little tour are a couple of interviews (fates preserve me), which will be wild in the world on Tuesday the 9th and Friday the 12th…and, finally, to wrap it all up, keep an eye out for an upcoming giveaway of signed copies of The Burning Season, Eight Kingdoms book three!

Broken Bite

The first Tale of the Eight Kingdoms, Undone, is now on early release through Totally Bound! As such, it seems like a good time to give you all a taste of Tighe’s story – enjoy!

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Chapter One

“It’s over between us, whatever it was that we had.”

The Summer air was bright, but the beauty of the day did nothing to soften the words that Tighe had come to say to his lover. Blinking, shaken, Nuala stared back at him with something shimmering in her eyes, maybe almost-tears, not quite. “Tighe, you don’t mean it. You can’t!”

“I do.”

“But I love you!”

“You don’t.” He watched her for a long moment, daring her to speak. She said nothing, and he shrugged, almost smiling. They always say nothing. He reached out to the curve of her cheek. “You might want to or wish you did. You don’t. Why would you say you do when you don’t?” He pulled back his hand and shrugged again. “Goodbye, Nuala.”

“Tighe!”

He walked away and didn’t turn back to face her. She would be watching for him to do just that, for any sign that he would give in and return to her. But I won’t, Nuala. Over between us, he’d said, and he’d meant it. She had come to him years ago seeking the secrets and the strangeness of the son of her mistress, her queen. She had been so sure of her own beauty, her own charm, that she had been laughing and unafraid, at least at first. There had been no worry in her when she’d met his eyes.

She had been unafraid until she had learned the truth. Until she knew what it was he was really seeing, the secret heart of her, essence and echo. Fear had grown from that seed, had hidden a no behind every yes. I saw everything you are, Nuala. Ever since you have been pulling away, and now—

The lie had been in her voice. He hadn’t even needed to look at her to see the truth, but it was right there, right in front of him. The only lie he couldn’t forgive. So now it’s over, and in a day or a month or a year of Summer time, she’ll be healed of me, while I go on forgetting how to forget.

He could keep no one. He would be alone without her, as he had been alone before. I knew it would happen. Already he was missing her. If only there was someone else…but who would bother? He had grown famous in Summer, and for a while it had seemed as if he’d never have a shortage of partners. There were so many eager to try their luck. But luck wasn’t with him—or them.

It occurred to him that it might be time to leave Summer again, wander out of the hidden kingdoms of the west and travel into the gray, to seek some other secret world—the silk lands, the dream lands, the Yaksha kingdom or the ships of the middle sea. But that was running away, and he knew it.

Instead, he walked around the front of the palace, entered the great gates and strode through the gleam of the entrance hall looking for his mother. She was in her throne room, alone in her high seat and smiling. Even when she looked up and saw him she was smiling, not a flicker of distress. It was disturbing.

Not since the first time he had met her, a boy of twelve, had she failed to react to the peering curse of his glance. Now all he saw in her was softness and a loving glow. “I thought you should know. Nuala won’t be happy for a while.”

“You left her? Tighe.” She sighed.

Burning Bite

Pre-order for The Burning Season  starts Friday! As promised,  I thus deliver to you this second Bite, which continues from where Summer Bite left off!  And of course, keep an eye out for a tiny, exclusive preview of this month’s Lick, to be posted tomorrow!

Winter’s love is blood and chaos…but fire isn’t all that smolders at Summer’s heart.
Winter’s love is blood and chaos…but fire isn’t all that smolders at Summer’s heart.

 

From Chapter One

Macsen opened his eyes and stared up at the golden ceiling of Bran’s room for only a moment before he was blinded by dazzling reflections. He covered his face with his arm again. There would be time enough for those thoughts. For now…he would have to think of a proper good-bye. Bran wouldn’t like it, but he had responsibilities… And Summer isn’t good to me.

He knew the first thing Bran would suggest, but Macsen couldn’t bring Bran with him, not this time—not so soon, and not when his intentions were to make a point that couldn’t be questioned. “It will be sharp and deadly…at least for you, Elenn.” His smile gained teeth. I promised you pain. I always keep my promises, always.

“Macsen, you can’t kill my mother.”

He turned and caught Bran looking at him, wide-awake and a smirk on his face to match the tone of his words.

“How long have you been up, Bran?”

“Long enough.”

“Summer’s made you sneaky.”

Bran snickered at him. ”Like that means anything coming from you. What are you thinking? I thought you said you’d be good.”

It was Macsen’s turn to laugh. “Good? Me? Never.” He turned and took Bran into his arms. “I wasn’t really thinking about your mother, I was thinking about you. About courting you, and what her face will look like when she’s forced to acknowledge me as yours.”

Bran blinked at him. “Don’t you mean acknowledge me as yours?”

“No. It will be far worse for her to know that you have chosen me. After all, she already knows you are precious.” Macsen drew his fingers across Bran’s chest, up past his throat and tangled them into his hair. “Just like I know it.” Macsen kissed him, pressed closer. Bran was heat and eagerness in his hands, and Macsen took full advantage of his willingness to deepen the kiss, nip at his lips.

“Too soon I’ll miss you, Bran…”

Summer Bite

As the pre-order date for The Burning Season draws closer (April 10th!) snippets and bits – and thus bites! – shall begin to appear. This first one comes from the very beginning, which is always the best place to start! 

To claim Bran forever, Macsen has begun the ancient ritual of sidhe courtship—but such a rite is a trial in more ways than one. Tradition requires that Macsen seek Bran’s favor in his own country, and a Summer courtship is teasing and promising. More than that, Summer’s Queen will come between Macsen and her son however she can. But despite his mother’s disapproval, Bran’s will is bent to the same purpose as his Macsen’s—the achievement of four proofs of love, proofs that only Bran can determine or acknowledge. One step at a time, they come closer to a day when nothing will be able to separate them—but a familiar foe is more than willing to try. In the mortal world, the year has continued to pass without a hint of green. The Green King has prevented the spring, and thus all seasons but winter…but it’s Macsen whom Dealla blames, and all her plans for violent retribution are directed at him. Failure may cost her everything, but that is a price she has long been willing to pay.  In the wake of her invasion, Macsen is left with a dilemma that might not be easy to solve. Love, or vengeance—which should he choose? Can they live together in the same heart?
This is that shiny, shiny cover I was bragging about – Beautiful, Bran!

 

Chapter One

Macsen lay unmoving, not sleeping, a hand over his eyes to block out the damned and brilliant sun. He was as the wolf in his winter coat, oppressed by the Summer swelter, but he endured for Bran’s sake. He had made a promise to stay, despite his discomfort in a place ruled by the sun. He had kept it, would keep it, but the time had come to go back to his own place. To return to the Red Kingdom, even if only for a little while.

He smiled to himself. Yes, only a little while. Then I will return for you, Bran. The last time Macsen had come here had been for him, too. For the oath that almost shattered us…but nothing will come between us now. He bared his teeth. Despite himself, he knew that nothing wore the shape of the Summer Queen. Your mother does not want me to have you, lover.

Privately, he considered that she might have good reason for her fear and suspicions. The last few times he had come here had been for Bran, love on his mind, but long before, he had come here in response to a challenge. He closed his eyes, and the memories were there within him, waiting. Winter chill superimposed over the green of the leaves. The great lake frozen and red with blood, and all the blossoms fallen under the weight of snow.

If there was one thing that was the same, it was that even then, he had come for a son of the Summer Queen…

Sun Bite

This bite, like the first,  comes from Dark Side of the Sun. Enjoy a taste of Bran Fionnan – Macsen does!

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Bran burned to see what was in Macsen’s hand, gleaming yellow, calling to him with his own power. It was the dagger Bran had made for Noirine. The dagger that had been meant to kill the Red King, this smug vampire standing in front of him with a smile on his face.

The old mix of fury and guilt rose up and choked him. The heart of his rage, close to the surface after a day spent brooding, had been soothed by the promise of Macsen’s mouth and hands on his skin, had faded into the background confronted by something as inexplicable as this vampire presence and his own trust. Now instead of the pleasure those touches had promised, he was being goaded into a fight, and even knowing the reason didn’t relieve the sting of Macsen’s last comment.

“It won’t be so difficult—after all, you’re the one that forges these weapons, aren’t you? You should know how to use them.”

Bran was aware that as of yet, the one he intended to fight had done nothing to him to warrant such a violent response. He was aware that it was unfair to take out twenty years’ worth of pent up emotions on someone who had himself been hunted and harried for his existence alone.

The Milesians were fools, of course, to think they could influence or destroy the Red King and his court. Standing in Macsen’s presence, he could see that now. He couldn’t see what it was about Macsen that drove the Milesians to such extremes, seeking to destroy him, any more than he had ever been able to see what it was about himself that disgusted them so.

He was aware that men did not hold the wolf responsible for its kill, that the wildcat was not reviled for eating the flesh that sustained it. It was stupid to assume that men would have no predator, and completely idiotic to think that men could destroy such a predator if they found it.

It occurred to Bran that the Milesians had been badly misled by the ease with which their ancestors had banished the Irish sidhe, but that was a misconception that would only be corrected by future pain.

Bran looked up at Macsen, resolved to do what was necessary, and nodded once.

“All right. All right, I’ll do what you want—and hold you to your promise, Red King.”

Macsen smiled slowly. “Sidhe don’t break their word like men, Bran. What I say, I will do. Now, choose a weapon!”

Blacker than the night sky, Macsen’s aura flowed around Bran and buffeted him with power. Bran took a step to his left, his gaze fixed on Macsen, and reached behind him through the open door of the smithy. The staff was where he had left it, leaning against the wall just inside the threshold, and Bran grasped hold of it and squeezed it tightly. It hummed in his hands, drawing on the spark within him to further awaken the living gold in its bright, new spirals.

Bran faced his opponent and breathed deeply. He held the staff he had made poised across his body and saw Macsen stare at it, appraising. It was a gorgeous weapon, iron-hard oak capped and shod and inlaid with gleaming gold.

“Make a good show of it, Bran Fionnan!”

They rushed together and the lash of air that accompanied Macsen’s movements was a blow on its own. Bran’s thoughts overflowed in the wake of it. No wonder Noirine hadn’t succeeded. How could she? She had been fast, but not fast enough, strong, but not as strong as the Red King.

Bran came back to himself to find that while he’d been distracted, Macsen had gained a steady grip on his staff. He stared at Macsen’s hands, pale, smooth, the nails glinting like glass, then found himself flying over Macsen’s shoulder and down onto the ground. Macsen tossed the weapon away from them into the night, and Bran sucked in a deep breath and met violet eyes with his own gaze. He saw promise in them, promise and lust and amusement.

That last irritated him, and he wondered if he might be able to make an impression. He had no weapon, but so what? The power inside him was what was dangerous, wasn’t it?

Bran grinned and pushed himself onto his feet, crouched low to the ground and tracked Macsen’s approach. When the Red King laid hands on him, exercised a tithe of his strength and lifted him, Bran dangled in his long-fingered grasp like a doll for half a moment. Then he reached for power and felt heat flood his flesh. His skin glowed with gold light, but Macsen only laughed at him and squinted through the brightness.

“That won’t do a thing, Bran Fionnan. Not your power, not to me. Not even you and the gold you wake together can harm me. It’s just bad luck for you, none of your kin would have as much trouble. Weren’t you listening? There’s a bond between us, a bond neither of us can break. A bond of trust…and a bond against such dangers.”

Bran understood nothing but that he had failed, but he wasn’t too unhappy, just confused. He hadn’t really wanted to hurt Macsen, after all.

Macsen put him down, but his hands held Bran still, and Bran twisted in struggle. He didn’t know if he was struggling for show, or because of his own internal conflicts, and he didn’t know if what came next was an accident or not. Was it because he pressed too hard, moved just too far trying to get away? Was it just because Macsen wanted it, even as Bran himself did?

A kiss.

First Bite

An excerpt from Dark Side of the Sun, Book One of the Eight Kingdoms series. Enjoy – and do leave me your thoughts below, I love hearing from my readers!

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This is…one of those dreams.

The Red King scowled in his sleep.

A Samhain dream.

Most often, Macsen’s sleep brought him nightmares. He had visions of destruction, of mortals in the woods of the hidden kingdoms, moon and firelight shining on their weapons. He saw flames consuming his palace, or his throne overturned, its frost and darkness both dispelled.

Only on Samhain did Macsen have this dream, in which he was someone other than himself.

He didn’t like it. He didn’t like not being in control of himself, and while he dreamed Macsen remembered things that he knew would not come back to his memory in waking life.

Other visions, other days…the face of a child, a golden power, and… But it was lost to him then, Macsen’s own thoughts caught up in the rush of the images that had hold of him.

Gold grew alive in his hands through some inner power. He looked down, saw a stranger’s face reflected in the gilded steel, had a thought that was his own, disassociated with whoever he was in the dream.

Beautiful, he’s beautiful. Who are you, stranger?

One hand reached up and pushed back blond hair, but it fell forward again over blue eyes dark as summer twilight.

“My lord—”

Macsen’s awareness recoiled.

“— wake up!”

The images wavered like a reflection on a pool.

“Wake up, My Lord!”

The vision vanished into darkness. Macsen opened his eyes and tensed his fingers in the fur drawn up over his body. He blinked at the smooth, familiar features of the face leaning over him, then let his hands relax and closed his eyes to the presence of the female bent over his bed. The smile on her face was obscenely cheerful, and all he wanted was to go back to sleep.

For the first time he could remember, Macsen wanted to go back to one of his Samhain dreams. Despite the haze over the recollection, the thought of that male stuck with him, the shade of those blue eyes.

Was he human or sidhe? Mortal or immortal? Real…or not? As he considered it, Macsen thought that those blues eyes were set in a face he had seen before. A face he knew, and not from someone he’d drunk.Sidhe, then. But who?

A name hovered at the edge of his consciousness.

“My Lord—”

The voice cut the thread on which Macsen had been reeling the name into his awareness, and frustration boiled in him.

“Enough, Talaith! I’m awake, go find someone else to torture.”

Despite his tone, Talaith’s smile didn’t change. She obeyed, but without hurrying. Before she left Talaith opened the great window in the western wall to let in the moonlight and the night.

The sounds of his winter kingdom’s dances and the horns of the waiting Hunt came faint but clear to Macsen’s ears. He felt a tingle on his skin, a cold wind that came through the open window with the scents of pine and snow.

The Red King closed his eyes again and tried to bring back the memory of his fading dream, but as had happened every year before, the details were gone. Macsen remembered only that he had not been himself. That he had seen blue eyes in a beautiful face.

He scowled then, irritated he couldn’t remember whose face it was, and threw off the covers. The Red King couldn’t ignore his duty, even if he wanted to. The moon was at its half in the sky outside, and tonight was a night of power. His presence was required for the taking of the sacrifice.

But he had seen those blue eyes before, had dreamed of being someone who was not himself before, he knew at least that much. Every year on Samhain night—for how many years now? More than ten? More than twenty?

Macsen wondered if he would ever know what it meant, then shrugged and grinned with all his teeth showing.

Probably. One day.

His was a world in which everything happened for a reason.

Macsen lifted himself out of bed then and crossed to stand naked before the great window that looked out across his kingdom. He tried to push his dream out of his thoughts. It was Samhain, and the night was just begun. He was looking forward to the sacrifice, and wondered which of his pets Talaith had chosen.

He hoped it was one with blue eyes.

 

* * * *

 

Macsen passed down a long curving stair and out into the wild celebration of his court. Shouts of welcome and screams of glee greeted him. His presence meant the highest point of the rite had come. With deliberate steps, Macsen passed through the crowd and came to stand at the foot of the stairs that led up to his throne. Talaith was waiting for him, holding a woman spellbound by dark allure.

He took the sacrifice into his arms, stroked her auburn hair and ran his fingers over her skin, pale in the starlight. Her eyes were blue, but not the shade that he was hungry for. Still, Talaith had chosen well as he had known she would. Eight hundred years at his side had taught her his preferences.

Macsen held up the sacrifice before his people and listened to them howl for her death. She was only a human captive from last year’s Hunt, but tonight she bore the full attention of the Red Court. Under the pressure of Macsen’s allure she submitted to his grasp, to the hungry howl of the sidhe. She was a creature without a will of her own.

The Red King put her down on her feet and gathered up the length of her hair in one fist. He addressed his court in a ringing voice.

“For the Hunt, and its power!”

A tide of whispers from his court returned the words to him.

“For the Hunt and its power!”

“Because I am your king, unless one among you would challenge me!”

Below him, a hundred sidhe drew a breath in unison. No one spoke. He hadn’t thought anyone would. His power was legend, as much to his own as to humans.