fAted WinteR excerpt
ANGEL’S FATE: BOOK 2
The shimmering liquid portal spat us out into Faerie and jerked Sebastian forward who was still kneeling and holding me. The sudden jolt made him tighten his grip and shoot agony through my bruised and broken body, drawing a whimper that I struggled to hide. I didn’t know why. There wasn’t any point. They’d just seen me at my worst — and a lot more of me than I’d wanted — and I had every reason to be in pain.
A few feet away, Hawk stumbled and fell to his knees, and Cassius and Titus staggered but managed to keep standing.
We’d arrived at the back of a massive hall that looked like it had been carved entirely of ice even though I couldn’t feel the cold. Pale glowing balls of light hovered above us, not even close to the vaulted ceiling, illuminating the space and reflecting in the semi-translucent pillars and walls.
But the sense of ice, gleaming walls, and vastness was all I could really register. Agony from the beating I’d taken at the hands of Balwyrdan, the Spring Court’s seneschal, wracked my body along with the horror of what I’d gone through. I’d been taken. Again.
And while I had a glimmer of healing power inside me, it wasn’t enough to heal any of my broken bones, since healing myself took a lot more power than healing someone else. Even if I’d been at full, it still wouldn’t have been enough because my thoughts spun, ripped apart in a whirlwind of fear and pain and I couldn’t focus long enough to pull my power from my palms and direct it to my injuries.
All of my ribs were broken, my wrist was broken, my nose was broken, and a hairline fracture sliced through my cheek. I also had a concussion, which explained, in part, why I couldn’t focus my magic. Most of my face and torso was one big swelling bruise, and I could only see out of one eye — the other had swollen shut — and my vision was blurry and dark while the room spun and lurched around me.
I wasn’t sure if there was anyone else in the room other than us, the tiny woman with the gossamer wings who’d pulled us into the portal, and her massive ice guards with their ice spears.
I could only pray she wouldn’t force me to stand. I wouldn’t have been able to, no matter what I wanted.
“God damned fucking shit,” Sebastian hissed, his body shaking and his heart pounding. But I couldn’t tell if it was from the fight we’d just won or our abduction into Faerie to the Winter Queen’s court. As it was, his complexion was gray from all the magic he’d been force to expend to save me, and I doubted he had anything left to use if we needed to fight our way free.
“We can’t stay here,” Titus growled softly, his claws fully extended — the glamour making his dragon claws look like wolf claws — and his hands and forearms covered in blood. Blood also dampened his ripped T-shirt and pasted his right pantleg to his thigh where he’d been injured. I couldn’t tell what other injuries he might have had, but my magic didn’t lock onto him so he couldn’t have been in immediate danger, and with his amazing natural healing, whatever injuries he did have would be healed sooner rather than later.
The woman with the wings flew to the center of the room, leaving the guards who stood a few feet away to glare at us, and a murmur of voices on the far side of the room greeted her.
“Your majesty. The winter faekin to swear his allegiance,” she said, her voice echoing off the icy walls.
Cassius shifted closer to us, his hands clenched but not a hint of smoke curling from his skin. He’d also used every last drop of his fire magic to save me in a terrifying display, burning Balwyrdan to ash in a matter of seconds, and there was no way he’d be able to fight us free, either. “Just swear your allegiance so we can go.”
“It doesn’t work that way,” Sebastian said.
“Of course it doesn’t.” Hawk stood and tightened his grip on his wickedly curved knife. His T-shirt was also bloody and torn, and he had a nasty set of lacerations along his ribs, likely from a shifter’s claws. He was going to need an influx of sexual energy to heal and I wasn’t in any kind of condition to help him.
“Step forward, faekin,” the woman called from her spot in the center of the room, “and bow to your queen.”
Sebastian staggered to his feet, jostling me. I whimpered again and a tear I didn’t want to cry rolled down my cheek. I hated that I was in pain and weak even though I had good reason to be at the moment.
Because I’d been taken.
I fought to shove that thought aside and think about anything else, the guys’ injuries, concentrating past the whirling room, trying to breathe without slicing pain through my chest. Anything but what had happened.
And this time I’d been seriously beaten. I swore I’d never be anyone’s prisoner ever again, done everything in my power for the last hundred years to keep that vow, but I’d been helpless to save myself. So damned helpless. I was tired of being helpless, but in a world of supernatural beings, an angel with a healing magic that could compel her to heal her enemy was weak and useless in a fight.
“Give her to me,” Cassius said, holding out his arms, the muscles of his bare chest flexing with the movement. He’d given me his shirt because Balwyrdan had ripped my dress’s neck strap.
I didn’t want to think about that, either. All of the guys had now seen me topless. And if I didn’t hurt so much, I would have been embarrassed.
“No,” Sebastian said. “If I’m holding her, they’re less likely to separate us.”
“Right.” The muscles in Cassius’s jaw flexed at the reminder that Sebastian and I shouldn’t be separated.
Sebastian had taken on Titus’s half of the leash spell that had bound us together and now I couldn’t be more than a hundred feet from Sebastian or I’d suffocate.
I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, either. The last time Sebastian and I had talked was just after having sex and I’d fled his bedroom, too stunned at what I’d just done. It had been amazing and surprising and completely out of character for me. Over a hundred years of celibacy broken in one amazing, confusing moment, and yet at the time, I’d desperately wanted him, wanted to be kissed and touched and filled in a way that I’d been holding back from because I’d been foolishly waiting for my soul mate.
“In fact, everyone stay close.” Sebastian took a careful step forward, but even that sent blazing pain rushing through me and drew a whimper.
“They must know about T,” Cassius whispered, falling into step beside Sebastian and keeping his gaze locked on the front of the room. “Why else would they come after you?”
I tried to make my breath as shallow as possible. But it didn’t matter how slightly I breathed, every miniscule movement hurt.
“I’m hoping because someone from the Spring or Shadow Courts told Her Majesty there was a winter faekin in the mortal realm who most likely needs to vow his allegiance to the queen in an attempt to get us out of the way so they could have T to themselves.” Sebastian’s trembling increased. “I really hoped I’d never have to come back.”
“Faekin,” the woman snapped. “Disobedience is death.”
Sebastian barked a quiet bitter laugh. “Maybe we’ll get lucky and this won’t take long.”
“There’s only one way to manage that,” Titus said under his breath.
“I know.” Sebastian glanced at Hawk, whose expression was pinched. “Can you give Amiah a bit of a distraction to ease her pain?”
“Ah… sure.” Hawk brushed a finger down my bare calf and a warm sensual curl of his incubus magic unfurled within me. For a second, I was drifting in a heated ocean of desire, my pain a whisper at the edge of my senses, my fears and worries muted, my focus entirely on the bone-melting sensation coursing through me. There was no hall, no guys, just blissful nothingness.
Then light flared around me and Hawk’s magic stuttered, jerking me out of my haze. Sebastian had released his hold on his glamour that kept the glow emanating from his skin at a low faekin level, letting it blaze at its full fae radiance. His ears, already with a small delicate point, grew pointier. But unlike the last time I’d seen him in his full fae form, his face also changed. His eyes became bigger, his nose narrower, his cheekbones and chin sharper.
I hadn’t thought it was possible for him to be more stunning. He’d already had the looks to compete with an incubus. Now he wasn’t just breathtaking, he was mesmerizing. Everything within me tripped, stunned, unable to think past his appearance.
“Kneel, fae—” The woman with the wings turned to us and gasped, which drew a big gasp from the people gathered at the front of the room.
A murmur rushed through the crowd and I strained to focus on them and see just who we were facing. There were maybe a hundred people in the room, a mix of men and women some with the full-body glow of fae, but others were small with wings, or tall and bulky… actually, they were all manner of shapes and sizes, although most looked humanish. The women all wore diaphanous dresses in white, silver, and blues and they all dropped into low curtsies. The men wore knee-length tunics and loose pants in the same colors, and they knelt on one knee, their heads bowed.
Behind them on a raised dais sat a tall, beautiful fae woman on a massive throne that looked like it was made entirely of ice. She had the same white and silver hair as Sebastian, although she wore hers half up with braids and half hanging past her waist instead of Sebastian’s short and spikey.
A small, delicately spun ice crown rested on her head, the thin strands woven into a complex filigree, and she wore a shimmering midnight blue gown made of diaphanous layers of fabric tailored to perfectly accentuate her slim figure and tease with glimpses of pale glowing flesh beneath.
To her right stood another beautiful fae woman with striking black hair, the color unlike any other fae in the room. An intricate ice circlet held back her hair, and she wore a similar dress to the queen’s in white as if she were the queen’s opposite.
At their feet, were a dozen men, half of them fae like Sebastian, the rest a mix of shifters and demons. They lounged on thick blue rugs and cushions, dressed only in loose pants made of the same light fabric as everyone else’s clothes, but in varying shades of red, each one of them with an exquisite physique.
All of them, the men in red and both of the fae women on the dais, stared at Sebastian with guarded expressions.
“Oh, shit,” Hawk hissed.
“The day has finally arrived,” the Winter Queen said, her voice breathy as a single, shimmering tear rolled down her cheek. “You’ve come home.”
Sebastian slowly dipped into a shallow bow. I could tell he was trying not to jostle me, but the movement still made me whimper and the room darken and lurch. “Your majesty.”
“Formalities? Really Seireadan? I haven’t seen you in over three hundred years.” The queen clapped her hands and a dozen people, a mix of men and women who looked like they’d been carved from ice like the two guards — although not nearly as tall or muscular — scurried from a small door behind and to the right of the dais. “Seireadan, prince of the realm, heir to the throne of the Winter Court has returned home. This calls for a celebration.”
The men on the dais all bowed their heads, but the woman standing beside the throne continued to glare.
“Prince?” Hawk asked under his breath. “If I’d known you were royalty, I would have charged you more.”
“Not any more. I abdicated and got the fuck out of Faerie,” Sebastian murmured back, giving him then me a pointed look. “Your magic for Amiah.”
“Shit. Right. Sorry.” Hawk brushed his finger over my calf again, stealing my breath with another sensual curl of power and sending me spinning, half in pain and half with desire.
“Yes,” the queen cooed, her eyes bright. “This will be the biggest celebration in court since your betrothal. Bigger.”
“Your Maj—” Sebastian started but the queen’s eyes narrowed, and for a second it looked like something dark and ugly flashed behind her bright joy. But it happened so fast I wasn’t sure I’d actually seen it.
“Mother,” Sebastian corrected. “We’re in no condition for a celebration.”
“Of course you are.” The queen leaned back on her throne and raised a hand. Most of the crowd scurried out of the room followed by half of the ice people, while the other half of the ice people knelt to the right of the dais and five women gathered demurely to the left — although all of them kept glancing at Hawk, unable to keep their eyes off him even though it seemed they were supposed to keep their heads bowed.
I couldn’t blame them. Hawk was as handsome as Sebastian and with his magic oozing through me it was difficult to think of anything other than begging him to satisfy me. And while the other women didn’t have his magic inside them, he, like all incubi, naturally radiated sexual desire, and I doubted he did much to hold it back.
“Oh, you look tired but I’m sure you’re more than perfectly capable of handling a celebration in your honor and selecting a bride.” She gave Cassius, Titus, and Hawk a dismissive wave. “Give your bodyguards and—” Her lips pursed and she studied me with a cold calculating look that made my insides churn. I hadn’t imagined that ugly darkness.
The man closest to her, a werepanther with a sleek, lean-muscled body, leaned toward her and mumbled something, and her grip on the arms of her throne tightened.
“I see,” she said, the darkness shifting to something else, something more… calculating? “Give your men and your concubine time to relax.”
Cassius stiffened at her words, as Titus growled low in his throat and Hawk snorted.
Concubine? I wasn’t his concubine… although I had slept with Sebastian — and with Hawk’s magic heating me, I was starting to think sleeping with Sebastian again was a good idea despite my injuries. But that didn’t make me his concubine. We weren’t in a relationship.
“I’m not going to a party,” Sebastian insisted, “and I’m not choosing a bride. I’m going home. Allow us to pass through the portal.”
“But you are home, dear, and you must choose a bride.” Actual darkness bled over the queen’s eyes, and crackling frost rushed down the dais’s three shallow stairs and across the floor toward us. “You’ll be king. You must produce an heir.”
“I don’t need to produce an heir,” Sebastian said. “Padraigin already has an heir.”
The woman beside the throne stiffened and more ice crackled across the floor around Sebastian’s feet. The temperature in the room dropped, making me shiver, and the agonizing blaze in my body devoured Hawk’s magic.
“Padraigin isn’t my heir,” the queen said. “You are.”
“You just needed time to think after that silly business with Enowen.” The queen sat forward and all the men around her straightened, ready for her command. “And now you’re back.”
I strained to breathe as darkness crept around the edges of my vision, and Hawk’s magic fought to overwhelm my pain.
“Pick a wife.” The queen gestured to the ladies who now openly stared at Hawk. I didn’t know if he was purposefully letting his incubus magic affect them or not. He seemed oblivious to them, all of his attention on me, his expression tight with concern… or was that concentration? How hard was it to use his magic to distract me from my pain without making me ignore my injuries to satisfy myself?
“I’m not picking a wife.”
“You are.” The temperature dropped again and snowflakes lazily drifted from the ceiling. “And tell your incubus to pull his power back or I’ll neuter him. The maids are for you. I’ll not have him manipulating your future wife.” The queen’s smile turned wicked. “Not until you’ve made your vows. Then you can do whatever you like with her.”
Sebastian shot Hawk a quick glance, who frowned and squinted at Sebastian before his magic evaporated.
The agony in my body surged — I hadn’t realized how much he was actually muting my pain — and I tried to bite back a sob but it escaped, a pathetic, mangled whimper.
“You’ve had your fun, Seireadan.” The queen stood and all of her men stood with her. “Now pick a wife. Your whore can always remain in your harem. They all can.”
“I can’t do that,” Sebastian said, his voice low.
“Of course you can.” More ice crackled across the floor and the snow falling from the ceiling thickened. “If none of them appeal to you, I’ll send for more.”
“I can’t. I…” Sebastian’s almost-colorless blue gaze met mine filled with apology and resignation. “I’ve already made the vow to Amiah. You know it can’t be broken.”
“You vowed your fertility to a being you can’t have children with?” The snowfall burst into a blinding freezing flurry. The flakes turned to ice pellets, stinging my already burning skin and sending tears streaming down my cheeks.
“I have,” Sebastian yelled into the storm, hugging me tighter and hunching forward in an attempt to protect me from the storm. “Amiah is my wife.”
The light in Cassius’s eyes flared and he jerked close. “You better be lying.”
“I’m not,” Sebastian replied.
My heart skipped a beat and my thoughts whirled, caught between pain and confusion. “We’re married?”
“Hey, man,” Hawk said. “Just because you licked her, doesn’t mean she’s yours.”
When did we get married? It couldn’t have been because we had sex. I was sure in his very long lifetime that Sebastian had slept with hundreds of women. He had to be lying. It couldn’t be the truth. I couldn’t be trapped like that. I couldn’t be trapped, period. Never again.
Sebastian was supposed to be helping me remove my not-yet-awakened angelic mating brand and avoid the horrible fate of having a soul bond with a complete stranger, not trapping me to him. And if he couldn’t remove my angelic mating brand, married to him or not, the brand was going to make me fall in love with someone else… and I wasn’t in love with Sebastian. I didn’t even know if I liked him.