Here are 3 snippets from the upcoming LIONHEART. Please remember, as always when I post snippets of draft work it’s all subject to change (or even deletion). Anything you read will very likely have typos and grammar issues that will be addressed during the editing process. For that reason, I ask that you don’t post this in other places.
The attack happened long ago at one of those bloody masques King Oberon and his Dark Court had once been so fond of hosting.
In the early nineteenth century, those of the Elder Races—along with a select few humans, chosen for their Power and political influence—traveled from around the world to attend Oberon’s masques, and all of England knew that whatever the weather, snow always fell in the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens on the winter solstice.
The guests were treated to a lavish array of exotic foods and mulled wine, magic and mystery, all served by attendants dressed in spotless white, intricately embroidered uniforms. Intrigues always occurred, along with intimate conversations amid the entertainment. Illicit affairs were pursued in the shadows. Treaties were born, and sometimes broken, and there was always the opportunity to forge new alliances.
But mostly, the annual festival was Oberon’s way of saying fuck you to his greatest enemy, Isabeau and her Light Court. The richness of the revelry, the contrived excess—it all said, we dance in spite of you. We thrive.
Until at one masque, Oberon stood watching a swirl of costumed dancers. As he cast a silent spell, large flakes of clear ice drifted down from a cloudless midnight sky as if the frozen stars themselves fell to earth.
The flakes reflected pagan color from nearby bonfires, until the air glittered with brilliant gold and piercing light. All dancers came to a halt, and everyone stared upward in awe while fey music raced through the clearing at a hectic pace.
Laughter broke out, along with applause, even among the most Powerful and jaded of the guests. Oberon smiled to see one pretty Vampyre reaching up with a slender white hand to catch a flake. She stared, eyes wide with wonder, as the glittering ice melted in her fingers.
A sharp sting pierced Oberon’s neck, along with a sense of alien magic. It broke his concentration, and the weather spell fractured.
His reactions were swift and catlike, but even as he slapped one gloved hand over the spot and focused all his fierce attention on it, the brief pain faded. He spun around, his gaze racing over the crowd.
It had been an attack. He was in no doubt.
His gaze fell on one individual, a tall, handsome man in elegant evenig attire, wearing a plain, black domino. The man held a hollow reed between the fingers of one gloved hand.
His direct hazel gaze met Oberon’s. “I have killed you on the orders of the Light Fae Queen, and I must say I am sorry for it.”
Oberon’s lips drew back in a snarl. A savage roar burst from his throat as he lunged forward to kill the transgressor. Even as he sprang forward, an intense wave of dizziness struck him down.
Sharp voices soared overhead like the raw screech of hunting hawks. He recognized Nikolas and Gawain, even as he focused his attention inward, searching for that deadly thread of alien magic.
There it was, the enemy that had invaded his body. The magic wriggled deeper, seeking to enter his bloodstream. Where it touched, coldness spread.
Panicked hands gripped his arms, and another, more feral voice intruded upon his awareness: Robin. “Sire, what happened?”
“Assassins,” he managed to hiss.
He did not need to say more. His knights roared through the milling crowd, cutting short the festivities with drawn swords. Trusting them to do their jobs, he closed his eyes and concentrated everything on stopping the malicious spell from completing its work.
Time passed, while he tried spell after spell to counteract the attack. The masque ended early, and everyone went home. Over the next few weeks his knights roamed the streets of London, hunting the Light Queen’s Hound, Morgan le Fae, for that was who the assassin had been. They never located the sorceror. He had simply vanished, apparently into thin air.
Oberon retreated to the country where he continued to search for ways to eradicate the magic that attacked him from within. Some spells seemed to work, at least temporarily, and for a while the progress of the magic halted.
He gained a measure of time.
Weeks, months. Even years.
But each time, after a period of stasis, the bastard evil that invaded his body reawakened and burrowed deeper, always aiming for his heart.
It caused undeniable damage. He could feel himself changing. The closer the magic came to his heart, the colder he grew. Colder in his thinking, in his emotions. He grew crueler, more calculating.
Once he had taken lovers who had longed for his touch and chased him for another taste of the ecstasy he had given them. Then as he changed he took conquests, and although the pleasure he brought them was extreme, they did not beg for his return when he left.
After a few more years, he and his Court stopped hosting the annual Masque, and the Elder Races found a few popular venue in the Wyr demesne located in New York.
Oberon could see his changes reflected in the growing reserve in the eyes of those he had once considered his intimates. His family. They began to withdraw, and he didn’t care. His fight for survival was easier that way. He was growing to distrust them anyway.
The magic burrowed deeper until it pressed against his heart. Finally, he acknowledged he had to try a last, desperate gamble to save his own life.
He gathered the senior members of his Court together—Nikolas, Gawain, Annwyn, and the others. The puck Robin came too, to bear witness.
“The sorceror’s spell has almost won,” he said to them. “I’m losing control over my own magic. I must try to put myself into a deep sleep, for if I can stop my own heart from beating, his cursed spell might not gain victory. In the meantime, you must leave the palace while you can. I…I no longer trust myself.”
His cousin Annwyn clasped him in a tight hug, and he allowed it out of respect for the memory of how he had once loved her.
“We will never stop fighting,” she told him, her green eyes fierce. “Not for you, and not for Lyonesse. Rest well, Oberon, and know that you will awaken again.”
She would make a splendid Queen for the Daione Sidhe should he die. He almost killed her for it right then and there, but that act would have been anathema to the man he had once been, and he would not let the damned sorceror’s spell dictate the actions of the man he had become.
Stepping back from her embrace, he watched as they left.
The puck had lingered behind the others, his thin frame lost in a shadow. When they were gone, he crept out. Oberon said slowly, “Guard this place and watch them.”
Robin’s eyes gleamed. “As you wish, sire.”
But the question was, could he still trust the puck? They were all people he had loved and trusted once. He could no longer feel the feelings, but he still had the memory of feeling them. How could he trust his own instincts, when he could no longer tell how the spell was affecting him?
In the end, much as he hated it, there was nothing left for him to do but let go. Retreating deep into the palace, he cast the stasis spell that would plunge him into darkness.
There, full of rage, he slept and dreamed of vengeance.
New York, present day
When the Lord of the Wyr issued a summons to those he kept on retainer, one responded with as much immediacy as one could manage. While Dr. Kathryn Shaw was no exception to this rule, she also refused to walk out of surgery to accommodate his demands.
“Tell him I’m busy,” she said tersely to the nurse who had delivered the message to the operating room over the intercom.
As she spoke, Kathryn eyed the mangled leg in front of her with a frown. The leg belonged to a twelve-year-old boy who had taken a bad fall while trespassing on a construction site. It was a tricky operation that needed a combination of both magic and physical surgery—which was the only kind of case that Kathryn took on anymore—but she had her favorite surgery team with her, everyone worked really well with each other, and the boy stood a good chance of a near total recovery if Kathryn got it right.
So, she would get it right.
A few minutes later the dragon himself broke into her mind. Kathryn, I need you at Cuelebre Tower, Dragos said telepathically. Get here as fast as you can.
She paused, frustrated, and when the nurse beside her gave her an inquiring glance, she held up a gloved finger and shook her head.
Everyone else in the world had a telepathic range of ten or fifteen feet—everyone, but Dragos. His telepathic range was over a hundred miles, and Kathryn had cause to regret that more than once in her professional life.
She snapped, And I said I was busy. Is anybody on fire? Are any of the sentinels near imminent death?
No, Dragos growled.
Well, I’m in the middle of surgery, and as I’ve told you before, I don’t care for telepathic interruptions when I’m operating.
The Wyr lord was frustrated too. She could hear it in his voice. Can’t you hand the surgery to someone else on your team?
She could, but she wouldn’t. She told him, You wouldn’t want me to walk out on you if I was operating on you, would you?
As she had, in fact, recently operated on him, this hypothetical was more than a little potent. Recently, while in a battle to rescue his kidnapped wife, Dragos had been shot several times and taken a few hits to the chest. One of the bullets had come close to penetrating the truly spectacular protective casing around his powerful heart.
By his pause, she suspected that he was thinking of that injury too. No, of course not.
Then don’t expect me to do it to someone else, she said. If you don’t have a clear-cut medical emergency for me to respond to, then you pick up your damn phone and call or text—and if I say you have to wait, you have to wait. Is that clear?
Well, get here directly after surgery.
Of course. But right now, I’ve got a twelve-year-old boy’s leg to save, so get out of my head—and stay out. She inhaled deeply to get rid of the stress, then turned her total attention back to the boy on her table.
Three hours and twenty-six minutes later, she finished and stepped back to let Angus close for her. Euphoria and relief flooded her tight body. Rotating her head to release the tension in her neck and shoulders, she stripped off her operating gown, gloves, and mask and headed out.
It had been a good afternoon’s work. Better than good. It had been great. She would have a better idea of the boy’s prognosis after his body had fully absorbed the spells, but when she felt this good about a surgery she was rarely wrong about it later. She was pretty sure he would regain full mobility.
But it was too soon to tell his anxious parents that. For now, it was enough to simply tell them she was pleased that the surgery had gone very well. While she briefed them, she multitasked and drank a hot, bracing cup of coffee. After promising to check on his post op recovery that evening, she was finally able to head up to the hospital roof.
As she climbed the stairs, she texted Dragos. Out of surgery. On my way. Be there in 20.
His response was almost immediate. How is the boy?
That last caused her to shake her head and snort. Just when she got to thinking the Wyr lord was a total self-absorbed ass, he switched things up on her. She answered him rapidly. Doing well.
Excellent. Come to the meeting hall when you get here.
Once she reached the rooftop, she shapeshifted into her Wyr form, a falcon, and launched into flight.
She loved flying over New York. The cold, keen autumn wind blew away the last of the hospital scents, while the huge, glittering city sprawled beneath her. New York City had been home to Kathryn for many years. She knew its moods and seasons, and she’d watched the skyline evolve. Flying over Central Park was especially glorious, since all the trees were displaying their fall foliage in brilliant canopies of crimson, yellow, and orange.
The eighty-story-tall Cuelebre Tower was an unmistakable landmark, and as familiar to her as the back of her hand. Swooping down to the roof, she shapeshifted back into her human form and headed for the stairs.
What she really wanted to do was take a detour to the cafeteria and eat a large steak for dinner, but that would have to wait until later.
Now that she had the time to turn her attention to Dragos’s summons, she was growing intrigued.
The last she had heard, Dragos and his mate Pia had been recuperating at home with their newborn son Niall while their eldest son Liam was home visting from college.
Something had lured Dragos back to the city, at least briefly, and whatever it was had to be compelling enough to get him to interrupt his personal family time.
If Dragos had wanted to meet with Kathryn personally, he was just as likely to show up at her office at the hospital or direct her to his. If it involved a matter internal to the Wyr demesne, the meeting venue would most likely have been one of the conference rooms on the top two stories of the Tower.
Being summoned to the meeting hall… that meant outsiders were involved somehow. The meeting hall was where the Cuelebre’s annual Masque of the Gods was held. It was a massive space suitable for public occasions, with tall windows, the high ceilings decorated with crown molding, and the marble floors gleaming and polished.
It also had protection spells woven into the construction, reinforcing steels beams, walls, ceiling and floor in case anything untoward were to happen—and with the Elder Races involved something untoward almost always happened.
Kathryn hadn’t taken the time to change, so when she had shapeshifted back into her human form she still wore her standard surgery fare—blue scrubs, a white long-sleeved thermal shirt underneath, and tennis shoes, and she had confined her straight, fine brown hair in a no-nonsense pony tail. Her scrubs had been fresh when she’d donned them earlier, but now they were crumpled, and in any case, her scrubs weren’t exactly meeting hall attire.
With an internal shrug, she set speculation aside and headed down to the hall which was located just above the ground floor shops and restaurants, and just below the law offices of the Wyr demesne.
This time she took the elevator, and when she stepped out she saw two sentinels, Bayne and Quentin, standing guard at the meeting hall’s large, ornately carved double doors.
Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice would have said during her adventure in Wonderland.
Approaching, she said, “Hey, guys.”
Quentin gave her a genial nod. He was a handsome devil and quite insane, as he had mated with the harpy Aryal and appeared to be quite content with the result of his life choices. Despite his undeniable sex appeal, nobody, at least that Kathryn knew of, was tempted to try to coax Quentin into cheating.
Bayne’s handsome looks were much rougher. His Wyr form was a gryphon the size of an SUV, and his human form seemed not that much smaller.
The corners of his gray eyes crinkled as he looked at her. “Hey, Kathryn.”
Oh, she had a soft spot for Bayne. She had a very soft spot for him. They had dated off and on in a casually, and part of her was sorry that they didn’t manage to generate between them whatever it was that catapulted the Wyr into mating.
Maybe they were both too dedicated to their jobs?
Whatever the reason, their relationship was enough that she felt entirely comfortable stopping beside him and switching to telepathy. Any clues about what’s going on before I walk in there?
His smile deepened. Not my place, babe. All I gotta say is, buckle up.
Well, a girl had to try. She was tall for a woman, but not unusually so. The top of her head came to his chin, and she smiled up at him.
Let’s grab a bite to eat afterward, if you’ve got time.
I’d like that. She touched his arm. I have to check on a patient this evening, but other than that, I’m free.
Good deal. He switched back to verbal speech. “Ready to go inside?”
“I guess so.” She gave the closed doors a leery glance.
Quentin opened one of the doors and held it for her.
(Chapter Two Cont’d)
The tension in the meeting hall struck like a blow to the chest as soon as she took her first step inside, and it wasn’t just emotional tension. Power prickled through the air from magics raised but not unleashed.
Ooooh-kay then. Squaring her shoulders, she strode toward the group that had congregated in the middle of the expansive floor. As she approached she took in details.
There were three clusters, each one standing far enough away from the others to set itself apart.
The first cluster was a party of two, stationed squarely between the other groups. One of them was Dragos who stood with his arms crossed as he surveyed the others. He was large and lethal, with midnight black hair, bronze features and gold eyes.
The Wyr gryphon Rune stood beside him. Kathryn hesitated, looking between the two males. Almost as tall as Dragos but not nearly as broad, Rune’s golden hair and handsome features were a familiar sight, but at the same time it was also a strange one.
For centuries, Rune had acted as Dragos’s First sentinel, and he was a force to be reckoned with in his own right… but he and Dragos had argued while Rune had been in the middle of mating with the Vampyre elder Carling Severan. The strain of that argument had broken the relationship.
Since that time, the men had gradually been repairing it, and when Carling had been kidnapped along with Dragos’s mate Pia, they had been thrown into working together. Apparently, the crisis had eradicated any strain that had lingered between them.
Kathyrn smiled. It was good to see them together again, acting as a team, for however long that might last.
Her gaze traveled to the second cluster, which was also a party of two. A handsome dark-haired man stood beside a woman. Their scents revealed immediately that they were both lycanthropes, but as soon as she laid eyes on them Kathryn already knew who they were.
The infamous sorcerer Morgan le Fae was in attendance, along with his companion, popular musician Sidonie Martel. Kathryn had heard of the pair, but she hadn’t met them yet. The grapevine in the Wyr demesne was lively and thriving, so she already knew that Dragos had offered asylum to Morgan, along with a select band of lycanthropes that immigrated with him.
In other circumstances, her gaze might have been tempted to linger on the pair, but the open hostility in the third cluster of people pulled at her attention.
The third cluster of people was also the largest. Four individuals stood in postures of leashed aggression, their expressions tight. One was a mixed Fae female who was spotted like a cheetah, with russet hair streaked with white, and a strong, lean body.
The mixed-Fae woman stared at Morgan and his companion with undisguised hatred. A powerfully built mixed-Fae male stood beside her, while another male with menacing, intense good looks stood by a woman whom Kathryn recognized.
Immediately, she threw aside any further examination of the various individuals at the meeting.
“Sophie!” she exclaimed, in equal parts surprise and delight.
Sophie Ross was a mostly human witch with long, curly black hair, pale gray-blue eyes, and freckled skin. Earlier that year, Kathryn had met Sophie in LA and offered her the quixotic stipulations set out by Kathryn’s late father, the Earl of Weston, in his will.
Sophie had been given the opportunity to stay for ninety days at one of Kathryn’s historical family holdings in the UK. If, during Sophie’s stay, she was able to break into the magic puzzle box of a house that the Shaw family had owned for many generations, she would inherit the property and an annual stipend that went along with it.
Sophie had not only managed to break into the house. She had also fallen in love with a prominent member of the Dark Court and gotten embroiled in the centuries-long struggle between Oberon’s people and the Light Court.
If Sophie was here, that meant the dark, brooding male standing so protectively beside her would be Nikolas Sevigny, one of Oberon’s senior knights. And that meant their companions were probably also of the Dark Court…
No wonder the tensions in the hall were so high. Morgan le Fae had, for many centuries, had acted as an agent on behalf of Isabeau, Queen of the Light Court—and the Light Court and the Dark Court were mortal enemies.
Then came the news that had run like wildfire through the Elder Races in recent months: Morgan had not been working for the Light Fae Queen of his own free will. He had been enslaved by a geas.
That one fact could possibly be how Morgan and various members of Oberon’s Court could stand together under the same roof without breaking into battle… but Kathryn could see the strain was vibrating through among all of them. Even Sophie’s bright smile of greeting was brief. They would have to catch up in private another time.
Now than Kathryn’s sweep of the hall was complete, she focused her attention on Dragos again as she moved forward. Telepathically, she said to him, Surely you haven’t all been standing here for almost four hours while I finished surgery?
The Wyr Lord didn’t appear to appreciate her small spark of humor. His gold gaze flashed with irritation. I sent them to opposite parts of the building to wait it out. They’ve only been back in the hall for a few minutes. We’ve got to conduct this meeting and get it over with before somebody snaps.
Aloud, he said to the russet-haired female, “This is Dr. Kathryn Shaw, as I promised. Kathryn, this is Annwyn Mathonwy, King Oberon’s cousin and general of the Dark Court armed force, and her escorts Gawain Blackwater, Nikolas Sevigny, and Sophie Ross.” He swiveled on one booted heel and indicated the other cluster. “And over here, we have Morgan le Fae and his fiance Sidonie Martel. I’ve summoned you all here at Annwyn’s request.”
“If I may,” Morgan murmured. “My last name is Garanhir. I have no desire to be connected to the Fae in any way whatsoever.”
“Of course,” Dragos told him. “My apologies.”
Oh… dear. With a sinking heart, Kathryn watched as Annwyn prowled toward her. Nobody wore any visible weapons, but Annwyn appeared to be a weapon all on her own. She moved like danger personified, in one racy, effortless flow.
“Dr Shaw,” Annwyn said shortly.
“General,” Kathryn replied, taking the hand she was offered and shaking it. “It’s an honor to make your acquaintance in person.”
“When I approached you in the summer to ask for a consultation on my cousin the King’s condition, you turned me down,” Annwyn told her. “I’m here to ask you again, in person. Oberon remains in a deeply unconscious state, but meanwhile his Power continues to rage unchecked. Without his will to control it, it’s damaging our city and land, causing floods and forcing evacuations. We need to break through to him somehow, or we may end up with no liveable homeland left. Our physicians and mages have had no luck, either in healing or in halting what has been happening. All they can say is that the reason for his affliction is magical in nature.” Swiveling to face Morgan, her voice chilled as she said, “And that led me to ask for you.”
Morgan had put his hands in his pockets. He looked more relaxed than the raised magics snapping in the air might otherwise indicate. When he spoke, his voice was deep and pleasant. “If you intend to confirm whether or not I had anything to do with Oberon’s present condition, the answer is yes. I did.”
Annwyn hissed at him, and across the room, both Gawain and Nikolas grabbed for their waists. It was an instinctive move, Kathryn thought, as they reached for weapons they didn’t wear.
“Ease up, gentlemen,” Rune said in an aside to them. “Remember, this is a parley that you asked for, not a battlefield.”
Copyright: 2018 Teddy Harrison LLC
All rights reserved