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Tag Archives: Fantasy


#thatplacethursday - A place I use in my stories from our world, mythology, or my imagination. Fae is a location I love because anything is possible. People eating trees and The Hunt are possible dangers, as is getting lost forever. Despite the dangers, I imagine it as beautiful.


Druid of Oaks, Chapters 6-7




Aiden! Panic amplified the magic Jakub used to send a mental distress call to his cousin. That would hurry him along.

Much like a lightning strike indoors, Aiden appeared in the center of the showroom, using a form of transportation they tried to avoid as a human might see them.

"What's wrong?" Aiden took one look at Jakub kneeling next to Riley’s limp form and rushed to him. “What happened?”

“I don't know.” Jakub lifted Riley into his arms. “You're better at healing magic than me. Fix her!”

Aiden hovered his hands over Riley as he channeled his magic. His gaze went to the very stared out of. window Riley had stared through. He'd thought it was the storm, but if Aiden sensed something…

It was late, way past closing, and no one would be out in the rain, yet Aiden glowered at the window as if someone were standing there. “Dark magic.”

Jakub’s chest tightened. “What?”

“Do you not sense it?” Aiden asked incredulously. “Someone used dark magic on her. She’s soaked in it, Jakub. How could you miss it? Someone has been marking her for days.”

Now that Aiden mentioned it, the corrupted magic that mages used was all over her. How had he missed it? This was the exact sort of thing he was meant to look for.

Maybe after thousands of years he was losing it. Thinking a human could be his Maité. Not noticing when someone, a mage, used broken magic on her.

He roared, his power nearly bursting free. Aiden yanked Riley from Jakub as he stormed towards the front door. Yanking it open, he bellowed into the stormy night.

“Show yourself, mage!”

No response. Jakub pushed his senses further into the storm, ignoring Aiden's calls and the rain bucketing down. He caught movement out of the corner of his eye and paused, his power charging in his hands, ready to strike.

He drew on his magic and shimmered forms, becoming the raven he was most comfortable with. The Finnegans' bloodlines were ancient, and an interesting genetic blend of Other Worlders over thousands of years combined to give everyone a hodgepodge of abilities.

Most of them could shift to an animal, although they weren't true shifters who shared their bodies with an animal soul. When Jakub was a raven, he was still all Jakub.

Taking to the sky, Jakub ignored the rain and flew in an expanding, circular search pattern. There, skulking along an alley a couple of streets away, the only other person out in the storm.

Jakub swooped low, making the man skid to a stop and duck. Shimmering back to human, he stood in front of the mage. The corruption of stolen and forced magic wafted off him in disgusting waves.

A deep laugh had Jakub nearly rolling his eyes. Assholes with evil villain laughs were always the biggest losers.

Why had this mage tried to use his magic on Riley? She was only a human. She had no magic for a mage to siphon.

The mage straightened. He wore a trench coat.

Double loser. 

His hair and eyes weren't all white yet, but he was well on his way. The mage held a white ball of magic in his hand, as if that would make Jakub shake in his boots. When Jakub lifted a brow, the mage's smile faded, and he shook the ball of magic like it was broken.

“Why did you put your dark magic on my woman?” demanded Jakub.

He ignored the voice asking, Your woman?

Even if she wasn't, couldn't be, his Maité, as a resident of Bandrui's Grove, she was his to protect.

The mage squared his shoulders, as if to really take Jakub on. "She's not your woman. She's promised to me. Ask her."

A red fox joined them, and shimmered to human. Aiden held up a hand to head off Jakub's question. “She's safe in your bed.” He twitched his clothes into place. “We’ve company, I see.”

The mage took a step back. He lifted the ball of magic higher, and the brightness intensified.

Aiden nudged Jakub with an elbow. “Are we meant to be afraid of that?”

“That was my impression.” Jakub had missed the signs before, but the corrupted energy was clear now, and his magic rose to the challenge. Keeping his power tamped down so it didn't leak all over Riley had dulled his senses. Made him practically human. He hadn't realized how far down he'd locked his magic away.

No wonder he'd screwed up. Riley occupied his thoughts to distraction. His magic stretched out, reclaiming its territory, and a fight was just the thing he needed.

Looking between Aiden and Jakub, the mage appeared confused, then his face cleared. “You’re not human. So, Riley found protection with one of the Druids. She always does things with flair."

There were more options than human or Druid in Bandrui's Grove, but Jakub saw no reason to respond. If he and Aiden had been human, that magic could snuff their lives out, wipe their minds, or any number of other unpleasant possibilities.

“You don't say.” Aiden crossed his arms and his magic glowed in an apple green aura around his body, allowing him to stand dry in the rain “Hey, cousin, did you know we're not human?”

“Had an inclination.” Jakub’s jaw clenched. The more he thought about his Riley being touched by this man’s tainted magic, the more he wanted to obliterate him. "A few thousand years ago."

The man took yet another step back, nearing the edge of the alley. “Wait. If you’re that old, you’re part of the Comhairle.”

Aiden rolled his head toward the mage and waggled his eyebrows. “Check out the brain on this one.”

Jakub narrowed his gaze on his target. “Who are you?”

“My name is Shawn O'Neil.” The man stiffened. “I came for what is rightfully mine. I'll go peacefully when I have her.”

Aiden turned to Jakub. “I recognize that name. Came across our desks a month or two ago. He wanted to force a claiming.”

Jakub’s lips curled. A mage wanted to force a claiming with a human? With Riley? Forcing a claiming was frowned upon by nearly all magical communities nowadays.

Centuries ago it had been acceptable, though never with his family. Some ancient laws hadn't been eradicated from the old books. It seemed Shawn O'Neil had found one to exploit.

"I assume his claim was denied."

“Tá." Aiden nodded. "It's ringing a bell now. We told him no, all right." He glared at Shawn. "Did you not get the giant memo saying you're a sicko and to leave the woman alone?”

Jakub raised an eyebrow. Apparently, the meetings were more entertaining than he remembered.

Aiden nudged Jakub. “Is it me, or did the woman he wanted to force a claim on have some sort of magical incident and the Comhairle stepped in?”

A magical incident? Jakub racked his brain, desperate to remember. Because if this mage was here for Riley, and she'd had a magical incident… she wasn't human after all!

Somehow, she was hiding her powers. She could be his Maité, and everything that had been driving him crazy made sense!

“Tá. I believe so. Never caught her name.” Jakub looked to Shawn. “Are you here to exact your revenge on us for denying your claiming?”

"I'm only here to collect Riley and take her home. She killed someone. People are waiting for her."

Aiden laughed. "I don't think Riley has signed off on that."

"She's not going anywhere unless she wants to." Jakub stepped toward the mage, ready to end him. Bandrui's Grove was his to protect, as was everyone in it, including Riley. He couldn't imagine her murdering anyone. If there had been a death, there had to be extenuating circumstances.

This trenchcoat wearing loser didn't have permission to be here. And he'd attacked Riley.

The mage threw the orb at Jakub.

Jakub conjured his twin swords and deflected the missile back at Shawn. Now he'd attacked a Druid. In Bandrui Grove no less. That was a death sentence no matter what else the man had done.

Shawn threw a glowing white ball at Aiden. He conjured his axes and batted it back.

“This one isn't very entertaining,” said Aiden. "I think I'm done."

“Tá. Me too.” Jakub needed to get to his Maité.

His Maité!

“Shall we end this?” Aiden whacked another ball away.

Jakub stepped forward, caught the next orb in one hand, and added some of his magic, channeling the strength of his Oak. His tree was thousands of years old. This mage's power was decades, maybe.

He threw it back, hitting Shawn in the chest hard enough to lift him off his feet and send him flying into the street beyond.

Aiden laughed. “Well, that made that easy. I really hate revenge seekers. The paperwork is a nightmare.”

"You do paperwork?" Jakub started forward. With mages, it was always better to make sure they were dead. He should have set him on fire to make the clean up easier.

"No." Aiden paced alongside him. "But for some reason, that doesn't stop people from piling it high on my desk anyway."

Jakub hadn't seen his desk in centuries. They reached the street as Shawn stirred.

"Huh." Aiden nudged Shawn in the ribs with a boot. "He's tougher than I thought."

Shawn screamed, and a white flash lit the street. Jakub threw a hand up to protect his eyes, blinking as the darkness returned. Only ashes remained where Shawn had been. They held a man shape for a second, until the rain dissolved them into nothing.

"So considerate of them to self-destruct." Aiden brushed his hands together like he'd washed them of the situation. “Shall we check on your woman?”

"My woman." Jakub tasted the words, still trying to wrap his head around the idea that Riley was really his Maité.

Aiden pursed his lips. “Try to tell me she’s not your woman. I’ll call you a liar and throw your sorry arse into the nearest dumpster.”

“Fuck you.”

“I’m not into family members.” Aiden gave him an impudent grin. “Or dudes. Now. Your woman. Riley will be fine with some sleep and protective wards placed on her after you remove the mage magic. I think her Maité should handle the honors. Don’t you?”

He did. Because he'd murder any other man who touched her.





Riley raced through the dream forest of ancient trees, bare feet kicking up leaves from the soft, dark soil beneath. She kept one eye on the ground and the other on the biggest raven she'd ever seen flying ahead of her.

Every night since she'd arrived in Bandrui's Grove, she'd dreamed of the forest. It had something to tell her, but hadn't revealed the secret yet. Sometimes it felt like she spent hours wandering through the trees. Tonight was the first time she'd seen an animal.

"Wait!" She ran faster, but the bird disappeared into the dense canopy overhead. When she caught up and peered into the trees, she spotted the raven perched on an oak branch, contentedly preening his shiny, black feathers.

"That can't be what I was supposed to see."

The bird cawed what sounded like laughter and took off again.

Riley sprinted after him, but came to a sudden stop when the forest disappeared and she found herself in Jakub's office.

This was the second part of her nightly dreams — hot, sweaty sex with her boss. She stood in a corner, and watched the literal man of her dreams.

Jakub lounged in his office chair, shirtless, head leaning back, eyes half closed. The look of utter rapture on his face stole her breath.

His long legs were bare, as well muscled as his torso, tanned, and tattooed. The muscles of his neck stood out as he made a guttural sound that skyrocketed her pulse.

The tattoos inked onto his skin came to life, the magic contained in each of them obvious to her here. Raven wings glimmered in the light playing over Jakub, and one beady black bird eye winked at her.

Cheeky raven.

She'd been so fixated on seeing so much of Jakub and that raven, it took her a minute to notice the woman.

The naked woman.

… In Jakub's lap.

How had she not seen the other woman immediately? It wasn't bad enough she watched a parade of women visit Jakub when she was awake, now she dreamed about him having sex with other women?

There was something wrong with her.

The curve of the other woman's naked spine, and the spill of her red hair cascading over her shoulders were all Riley could see.

Irrational hurt carved an ache in her heart. She and Jakub had made no promises to one another. Hadn't even spoken about a relationship outside of work. Not that she'd consider being another groupie or notch on his bedpost, however beautifully carved.

But her brain and her heart had a failure to communicate. Riley's hand flew to her mouth to stifle an anguished cry at the sight of the other woman rising and falling in Jakub's lap. She rode him with abandon and enjoyed it, going by her throaty moans.

Jakub's hands slid down to grasp her ass. Riley took a staggering step back. She never should have come here. She should not be witnessing this, but no matter how much she wanted to run, she remained standing there as her torment built toward anger.

If anyone had asked her yesterday, or even hours ago, Riley would have said she wanted Jakub. Now, she couldn't stand the thought of his hands on her. She was nothing special to him, as part of her had started to believe.

No matter what happened, she wouldn’t allow Jakub to use her this way. Ever. She wanted to get as far from him as possible. More than the threat of Shawn, this was a clear sign she didn't belong in Bandrui's Grove.

There was no reason to stay.

Riley took a controlled step back as she struggled not to release the tears burning her eyes or the scream of fury burning her throat.

She could never give voice to that power again, even in the dream world.

“Jakub.” The other woman panted his name in a voice husky with sensuality.

Riley stretched out a hand to brace herself on the nearest wall. Her eyes were drawn inexplicably to Jakub. His mouth was against the other woman’s shoulder. Riley was so desperate, she imagined she felt his mouth on her shoulder.

His eyes blazed with a faint green color rather than grey. Her breath caught when his unfamiliar eyes met hers with a look of astonishment and hunger.

She'd been caught creeping. Instead of fleeing as any sane woman would, she remained frozen, unable to make a single move. This was her dream! Why couldn't she change the damn channel?

His gaze never left hers as he raked his teeth against the sensitive flesh of the other woman’s neck in a sensation Riley felt on her skin.

Riley and the other woman cried out together. The other woman clawed desperately at his shoulders, sinking her fingers in, drawing him closer as his tongue swirled over her skin.

She swore she felt his breath and tongue against her shoulder as he tasted the other woman's flesh.

Riley's breasts tingled. Her nipples puckered. Jakub seemed to know that as his eyes fastened on her chest with such hunger that her thighs trembled. How could he be staring at her with such desire while he was inside the other woman?

What was she still doing in here? Why hadn’t she fled? How could she be standing here watching him with another woman, while he watched her? Her feet remained frozen to the ground. The sheen of sweat on his body caused her tongue to lick over her lips with the urge to taste him.

She had lost her mind. Jakub was having sex with another woman and she wished it was her. Felt what he was doing to the other woman. Riley managed to take a step back, hand grabbing for the doorknob somewhere behind her.

“Do you like that?” Jakub's words froze Riley before she could bolt. His hands slid higher on the other woman’s back in a caress that moved up either side of Riley's spine.

"Yes." The other woman arched her back, and panted.

Jakub turned his head into the other woman's hair and, still holding Riley's eyes, said into her ear, “Come for me, Maité.”

Riley's body reacted as if he’d spoken to her. A moan escaped her as her inner muscles contracted rhythmically. She took another step back, torn between unanswered yearning and wanting to scream over her unreasonable reaction to him. She closed her hand around her throat.

Don't scream. Don't scream. Don't scream.

Where was the damn doorknob?

Wait. This was just a dream. A bad dream, but she should be able to wake up. She closed her eyes and willed herself awake.

Nothing happened.

A sane woman would have stormed out of here as soon as she’d entered. She most certainly wouldn’t be watching Jakub as he lowered his mouth to take one of the other woman’s nipples into his mouth, nipping at it, making her buck as her fingers scratched his shoulders.

Riley's nipple tightened, the imagined suction of his mouth making her need grow deeper.

The other woman drew blood with her nails, and Riley scented his blood in the air.

Jakub lifted his head from the other woman's breast and, for the first time since he’d noticed Riley, he looked away from her to focus on the woman in his lap.

Riley tried not to, but followed his gaze. Her eyes landed on the other woman as she arched against him and threw her head back.

The world lurched as Riley gazed at her own face. Her Dream Jakub was having sex with a Dream Riley.

She couldn’t move while she watched her… the other woman… her…

Movement drew her attention back to him. She… the other woman… whoever she was vanished, and it was only the two of them.

His green-grey eyes burned into hers when he leaned forward and clasped his hands between his legs.

“Welcome to my dreams, Maité,” he murmured.

Maité? Who was that? That's what he called the other woman… her. The song her heart recognized the term and the music hummed inside her.

"This is my dream."

"Is it? And what do you dream of happening, Riley?"

This was strange. There wasn't so much… dialogue in her previous dreams. It made things feel too real, and she didn't like reality intruding here.

"I dream you want me."

The green in his eyes blazed. "It's only you. Riley. Even in my dreams, I only want you. Tell me how wet you are from watching me with you.”

What was the harm in indulging one last time before she left? Because even though she hadn't dreamed of Jakub having sex with another woman while she watched, that irrational hurt she'd felt told her she was already more than a little in love with him. There was only hurt for her in the sanctuary of Bandrui's Grove.

“I’m soaked.” Riley stepped around the desk toward him. “Feel for yourself.”

His eyes held hers as he jerked her toward him. She gasped as she found herself on her back atop his desk, ass almost hanging off the edge.

Her heart thudded against her ribs in an ancient Irish drumbeat.

He smiled at her, and her eyes remained riveted on him as he lowered his head between her thighs. His tongue licked her clit, sending bolts of electricity racing across her skin. Her hands gripped the edge of the table as he parted her folds with his fingers and thrust his tongue inside.

Her body went tense and became boneless. Her blood ran hot and flowed languidly. She fell back against the desk, giving herself over to sensation. Grasping her ass, Jakub lifted it in his palms and pulled her closer to feast.

The slide of his tongue, his hands, and the scrape of his teeth against her flesh had her panting as her hips rose and fell with the rhythm he set.

She couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t think. She needed… needed him to….

He took one hand away from her ass to rub her clit as his tongue delved inside.

That was what she needed.

Her back arched as a cry erupted from her. She waited for the waves to crest, but they pounded through her as every nerve ending sizzled to life. Before her orgasm ended, he entered her on a single thrust.

The ripples of her orgasm, combined with his hard cock suddenly filling her, prolonged her pleasure.

Riley loved sex. Savored the sensuality of it, but had never experienced anything like that, and craved more.

From the tips of her toes to the tingling in her scalp, every part of her was alive with blissful sensations coursing through her body.

For a moment, she imagined she felt him in mind as well as body. Sights, sounds, and sensations grew sharper. Her passion joined his and ran higher. Jakub's emotions fueled hers until she couldn’t tell his ecstasy from hers.

No other man could have made her body come alive or possessed her as thoroughly as Jakub. Deep inside her, he grew thicker and stretched her further.

He’s mine. All mine. 

At least, he was in the moment here and now. His hand clamped around the back of her head as his groan reverberated against her flesh and his muscles bunched around her.

The world spun away until it was only him and her. The musky scent of their sex intensified. The slick feel of their bodies joined together became all she knew.

Harder. Faster. Harder.

Her body rocked against his as a tightening started in her lower belly and spread. She recognized the feeling of impending release, but this was far more intense and demanding.

She grasped Jakub's shoulders and used them as leverage as she rotated her hips in just the right…

Her eyes rolled back as her body splintered and ecstasy crashed through her.

His mouth on her shoulder muffled his shout as he shuddered against her. The heat of his seed spreading through her while her inner muscles contracted along his length brought a smile to her face as she nuzzled closer. Strong and protective, Jakub would make an excellent father.

Her eyes flew open. Father? Why was she thinking about children?

"Rest now, Maité. We'll talk when you wake."



Riley came awake groggily, unsure of where she was. Definitely not her studio apartment. This bed she found herself in was bigger than her apartment. The bedposts were tree trunks — carved, naturally.

Chairs, a square table, an enormous trunk, and a bookcase took up more space — all carved with a style that brought out the character already in the wood rather than trying to force the wood to conform to a desired shape.

Jakub's room.

She was safe.

Pale sunlight streamed through a window framed by heavy curtains, and kindling in a fireplace lay ready for lighting.

What had happened with Shawn? She'd screamed. Not a full banshee scream, but on the way to it. Her throat felt like fire. Had she killed him?

She had to get out of here. The Comhairle might have already sent someone to find her. Riley sat up. Her clothes were on. Where were her shoes?

Jakub appeared in the open doorway. His long black hair was down and mussed. Without the little braids, his hair looked tamed, and didn't fit the warrior image she imagined for him at all.

“You're awake. Good. We were worried.” He was minus a shirt, which was typical. He smiled.

“He was worried.” Aiden pushed past Jakub with a tray of soup, crackers, and goddess bless him, a pitcher of water. “I knew you’d be fine.”

Riley stared up at him and touched her throat. “What happened?” Her raspy voice was barely audible. She had to know how much they'd seen before she tried to concoct a story they'd believe. No point in volunteering information.

She'd never counted her banshee power as a bonus before, but having a sore throat was the perfect reason not to talk much.

“You didn't eat enough and fainted.” Aiden glanced at Jakub as if waiting to be contradicted.

As much as the idea of being seen as some helpless, fainting damsel appalled her, she'd swallow her pride and let that be the narrative if she didn't have to explain magic, what she'd done, or what she was.

Riley pulled the bedding smooth over her legs as Aiden put the tray of food across her lap. The soup smelled delicious. She uncovered the bowl. Huge chunks of potatoes in thick broth, with big pieces of bacon and shredded cheddar cheese in small mountains on top. Her stomach growled.

She sipped some water to ease her sore throat. “Please, tell me you made this, not Jakub.”

In the past weeks she'd learned Jakub could hand her a bottle of water, but anything beyond that as far as food or drink was… best avoided.

Tipping his head back, Aiden chortled. “Come on, lass. His cooking isn't that —

She arched an eyebrow.

"Yeah, you're right. His cooking is horrible.”

Jakub grinned and took a seat on the bed. “I swear I didn't prepare anything on that tray." He dipped the spoon into the soup, making sure to get potato, broth, bacon, and melting cheese, and lifted it to her lips, staring at her mouth. "Eat."

She shivered. How did he manage to put so much sexual innuendo in three innocent letters?

Aiden’s eyes widened as he stepped back. “I’ll see myself out.” He fled.

Riley opened her mouth and let him push the spoon between her lips. Almost before she'd finished that bite, Jakub lifted another spoonful near her mouth.

“Eat more.”

Shaking her head, she touched her stomach. “I can feed myself.”

“Maybe I like putting things in your mouth.” He drew the spoon across her lower lip. “Eat.”

Fire shot through her veins as she accepted another spoonful. Heat gathered lower than her stomach when she swallowed.

Great goddess. Potato soup never felt naughty before.

Jakub's gaze locked on hers. “Did you sleep well?”

She blushed and looked away, feeling like a teenager caught with a bodice ripper she shouldn't be reading. He couldn't know about her dream, could he? There was no way.

Riley chewed her lip as she stared at Jakub’s bare chest. He fed her more soup. She was ravenous. How long had she slept? Or was it being fed by Jakub that made her feel like she couldn't get enough?

There was a new look in Jakub's grey eyes. Stark hunger that riled up all kinds of tingling as he watched her. The man needed to learn to wear a shirt.

“So, you slept well? Nothing kept you up?”

He must know somehow! But that wasn't possible.

"Uh, no. I slept well."

As his grey gaze raked over her, Riley shivered. Goose bumps formed on her skin and Jakub rubbed her upper arms and shoulders.

She cursed herself for wearing the thin camisole. There was a black wrap blouse downstairs in the office, but as the storms had moved in, causing the power to go out earlier that day, she had taken it off as the office grew stuffy.

Now, she was left with next to nothing between her and Jakub’s touch. Her nipples hardened to hard points, and although Jakub made her heart race, she could do nothing more than lie there, allowing his touch as he rubbed warmth into her arms.

How could her blood run so hot and her skin feel so cold?

“You're like ice, lass. Something the matter?” The teasing tone in Jakub’s voice told her he knew damn well what the problem was. The arrogant jerk.

She had half a mind to cast a spell to make him croak like a frog for a week, but imagined how she would explain that to her cellmate in a supernatural prison.

So what are you in for?

I murdered five hundred people, cut them into pieces, cooked them in pies, and ate them. How about you?

Oh, I, uh, made an arrogant jerk croak like a frog.

At least her life imprisonment would be short. She'd die of humiliation on the spot.

Jakub returned to feeding her, and they finished the soup. He set the tray aside, removing the only thing between them. His smirk grew, as did his touching. He moved onto the bed, easing over her, pressing his body to hers, forcing her back as he moved up and over her.

What was with all the touching all of the sudden?

The feel of his erection against her stomach made her gulp. She needed to stop dreaming about that. About him. The man would break her body, then break her heart.

He chuckled as if he could read her thoughts, and hear her fear of being impaled by his massive cock. She wanted to smack his hands away, but the thought of losing contact with him made her gut clench.

Wind whipped against the bedroom window only a few feet away, vibrating the glass in its frame. Lightning lit the darkness outside. Thunder cracked across the sky. In a heartbeat, Riley was wrapped around Jakub, clinging to him.

He stroked the suddenly too sensitive skin of her upper arms and drew idle circles on the nape on her neck with strong fingers. Each caress brought a whimper closer to the surface. Still, she stuck to him.

She was going to do something stupid and have sex with him.

“It’s only the storm. You don't need to be scared, Riley. I’ve got you.” His accent thickened.

“Is it me, or is it cold in here?” she asked. "I think it's cold in here.'

“Arctic.” He pulled her against him with his warm, callused hands.

She shivered. Her nipples scraped against his chest, making her moan.

Jakub stiffened. He brushed his thumbs over her hardened peaks.

Riley could fight no longer. Her tongue darted out and over her bottom lip as her breathing grew ragged.

He's a ladies' man, the sane part of her pointed out. While she had fallen for him, she didn’t have it in her to get her heart broken.

Besides, she had to keep some sort of emotional distance from him, especially since she had to run because of Shawn. She still didn't know what had happened to him. If he was still around, she had to lead him away.

Riley tried to block the sensations being touched by Jakub brought out in her.

She failed.

Regardless, her pussy was soaked, and need twinged in her core. Fuck me was on the tip of her tongue. She was afraid the plea would actually fall from her lips.

She wanted him that badly. Only Jakub made her body react this way, and it seemed to be getting worse as time went on. What started off as mere curiosity now bordered on obsession.

Maybe she should let herself go for once. If actual sex with Jakub was anything like dream sex with him, the orgasms should last her a while.

He consumed her waking thoughts and invaded her dreams. It had to end soon. Why was she drawn to this moody millionaire who insisted on running a small antiques shop?

His looks had something to do with it. How could they not? The man’s black tousled hair hung to his shoulders, as untamable as the rest of him. His lean frame carried muscles from work, not reps at a gym. The seemingly endless tattoos adorning his body added an additional layer to Jakub’s mystique.

Setting aside his money, he was perfect. He also had the ability to not only make her feel safe, which was rare, but to make her laugh, when she'd thought she might not again.

Women flocked to him. It was sickening. They arrived at the shop in groups sometimes, retreating to the back with Jakub until the wee hours of the morning.

Riley refused to be one more in his endless stream of women. She was not a Jakub groupie, nor would she ever be one. If she had to abandon everything and run again, she'd leave with her pride if nothing else.

Disgusted by her lack of willpower, Riley steeled herself to Jakub's touch. It didn’t work. It did, however, make her painfully aware of how close she was to becoming one of his groupies.

I will not throw myself at this man’s feet.

Jerking out from under him, Riley rolled off the bed and stood, shaking her head, sending tendrils of hair flying.

Jakub moved off the bed with her, grabbing her. Her hair fell to the tips of her erect nipples, driving her closer to the brink of begging him to fuck her.

“That's it, lass, tell me what you want from me.” Jakub sounded so sure of himself. Too sure of himself. “You know you want me too.”

Riley flipped Jakub off in a very unladylike, impolite gesture that her mother would definitely not approve of.

Jakub nipped playfully at her finger. “If it’s rutting you're after, you’ve only but to ask. I’ll never deny you.”

He ran a hand over his bulging erection and arched a brow. “I wouldn't suggest being fool enough to tempt me again, or you might find yourself spread out before me like an offering. And, lass,” he added in a low voice, ''I will consume you.”

Her jaw dropped. Jakub sucked her finger and flicked his tongue, sending sparks of desire through her body. Her thighs clenched and her pussy slickened.

Jakub worked his tongue over her finger with a skill she could easily imagine him using to bring her better pleasures, since she'd just experienced his talents in her dream. He lifted her against his body. Her legs wrapped around his waist. His hands wandered up her back.

"You're mine, Maité." Jakub tugged on her camisole, and ripped it down the back.

He said those words with such longing and reverence, something inside Riley broke. She couldn't do this. Couldn't offer him the promise of what he wanted when she had to run.

Riley jerked away and targeted him with all the fury she could muster. “Jakub, I happen to have loved that shirt.”

“I’ll buy you another one.” He bent his head to take her mouth again.

She leaned away from him.

He growled. “I’ll buy you thousands of shirts.”

“You arrogant son of a bitch.” Riley slapped his face as she channeled her scorned woman persona.

Jakub set Riley on her feet. The look of confusion and sadness on his face almost undid her. But she had to be strong enough to walk away.

“You've never met my mother. She is a lovely woman who will pester you endlessly for grandchildren. And lots of them.” He offered her an uncertain smile.

Her hand seemed to rise of its own accord and slapped him again.

“I actually feel bad for your mother. I can’t imagine raising such a… a…” Riley waved her hand in the air. “…a!” She had no words. Her intelligence had taken the elevator and abandoned her again.


“Yes, a!” Riley took a half step back and the prices of her camisole fell to the floor. She squared her shoulders. “Jakub, I don’t know where this is coming from, but I’m not one of your groupies. You aren't entitled to me. I don't share my lovers with hundreds of others. You need to respect that.”

He paused and then took a step back. “Woman, do you not see I’ve nothing but respect for you?”

With a huff, she turned and stomped away, for once, unaffected by the crashing thunder rattling the window. “Funny way of showing it.”


Druid of Oaks, Chapters 4-5



Jakub watched the fiery redhead walk through the door to the back offices. He’d have followed to make sure she got a proper tour, but he needed a moment to collect his thoughts, and his powers.

Magic trickled through him, wanting free, wanting to sink into Riley, wanting to cradle her against him. His cock was on board with this idea.

He’d fucked plenty of women. More than he could remember in seven centuries, but couldn’t recall a time his dick had been this eager. He wanted Riley Doyle something fierce. His magic seemed to be making a play for her as well.

As an immortal, he'd had time to learn exacting control over his magic. He was known for his control and strength. Until Riley walked in, unable to even speak her name, and his magic had strained like a hound ready to hunt trapped on a leash.

When the magical wards around his shop had danced in excitement, he'd nearly cut his finger off. His magic had never reacted like that to anything or anyone before. He'd expected to find a powerful or unfamiliar Other Worlder had entered his store. Instead. He found a befuddled human.

The wards hadn’t shaken as they would to indicate a threat, but rather stroked tantalizing feathery touches against his power, alerting him to something he definitely wanted to see.

He didn’t think he could be surprised anymore but Riley proved him wrong. When he’d thrown open the door to find her green gaze eating him like her favorite dessert, he'd been so turned on he nearly burst into flames.

He’d wanted to grab her, kiss her, and devour her as equally as she was him. He had the strangest urge to call Aiden like there was news to share that couldn’t wait. Like they were gossipy girls.

But what news? Did he dare call Aiden and confess his magic, and his cock, had lost their minds? His cousin would never let him hear the end of it.

The front door of the shop opened.

Jakub blinked. Maybe Aiden had become part Djinn and could be summoned.

His cousin grinned, his black hair down and free from a tie today. They looked so much alike they were often mistaken for brothers. It was the same with all his brothers and cousins — broad shoulders, towering height, black hair of varying lengths, and grey eyes.

He knew a sign when he saw one. Jakub glanced where Riley had gone to make sure she wouldn't overhear, then rushed to grab his cousin’s arm and drag him to the front corner of the showroom.

“There's a woman here,” he murmured, low and urgent.

Aiden craned his head in exaggerated gestures, then eyed Jakub, a questioning expression on his face. “Is she invisible?”

“Shut it,” Jakub warned, in no mood for unwitty banter. He thought of lying but decided against it. If this was a sign, Aiden needed the truth. “She caused my wards to… waver.”

“The invisible woman rocked your wards?” Aiden smirked. "Men don't normally worry when a woman does that for him."

Jakub growled. “She’s not invisible, dolt! She’s in the back.”

The amused look upon Aiden’s face vanished, replaced by astonishment. “Truly?”

“Tá,” Jakub rolled his eyes. "I don't need to make up stories about women."

Aiden finally looked serious. “Is she magic?”

“No." Jakub sighed, his next words bitter. "I sensed no magic on her. She's as human as a human gets.” A heavy loneliness weighed his spirit down. If she were Other World, she could be his Maité.

But never a human.

Maybe he'd just been over excited because he'd been wallowing in wishes for the future when Riley came into the shop. If he could truly summon someone to appear with a thought, it would be the woman he'd been waiting seven hundred years to find.

His cousin looked him over for a long moment. “What are you not telling me, Jakub?”

Jakub bent his head, ashamed at his loss of control around the young woman. “I couldn't find words to speak when I first saw her, and my magic was all over her. It was hard to think of anything other than siring sons upon her.”

Aiden was silent for a moment, then burst into laughter. “You are joking. Nice one. I believed you right up until the sons part. That was too much for you.”

Jakub’s jaw dropped. He wasn't that bad, and certainly no worse than the other Finnegan boys.

Aiden thumped Jakub's arm. “You're as randy as they come, and do your best to get into any woman’s britches. Nice try on this one bein’ different. You're not the monogamous, settling down type.”

There was never a reason before, but he wanted to be.

A soft gasp caught Jakub’s attention. Turning, he found Riley there, just inside the door.

Shit. Had she heard them? She stared at him with a hurt expression. She'd definitely heard something she didn't like. He wasn’t sure why that bothered him, but it did.

“I, uh —” she stammered. “It looks like you were taking inventory. I could work on that if you want. Or I could go. I mean…”

“No. Stay!” Jakub practically shouted.

Aiden touched his arm. “Hello. Jakub is a rude lummox. I'm Aiden, his handsomer cousin. And you are?”

“Riley.” She smiled at Aiden.

Jakub's fist itched to smash Aiden's nose.

Aiden crossed the showroom in a deceptively casual lope. “Riley, what do you say you and I head to the back and I can help you with that inventory? I think Jakub has a few things to finish up here.” He glanced back at Jakub. “Plus, I think he may need to find a shirt.”

A shirt? One hand smacked his bare chest. He rarely wore shirts in his woodshop, and then Riley's eyes had been all over him. "Right. A shirt."

Aiden nodded and ushered Riley into the back of the store.

Jakub headed into the rainy darkness. He needed to think, to clear his head, and double-check his wards. The cold shower helped a bit.

Something was off. He’d never been this out of sorts. He headed around to the back of the building where his truck was parked.

There was no shirt inside. He conjured a shirt from the apartment rather than one of the extras he kept in his office. It would do no good to blink away a shirt if Riley was standing near it, and saw it disappear.

One did not show magic to humans. It simply wasn’t done, although most of them were so blind they couldn't see magic anyway.

While Riley had made his wards tremble, she wasn't magic or an Other Worlder. He’d never met a magic user who didn’t have at least a residual amount of power on them.

It occurred from usage and just being around it all the time. As far as he could tell, she was stunning — but very, and only, human.

He’d search through his books, to look for a way to make her immortal and supernatural, as he was.




Riley bit back an appreciative moan as a shirtless Jakub lifted the painting he was trying to hang higher. His back and arms bulged in so many interesting ways. If she had some ice cream or popcorn, she'd happily stream the Jakub show all. Day. Long.

The man made the mundane seem extraordinary, especially when his shirts found somewhere else to be, as they often did. It was like Jakub had an allergy to being fully clothed.

Not that she minded.

In the weeks she’d known him, he surprised and captivated her. Case in point, Riley couldn’t tear her gaze from his performance with the painting. Who needed cable TV and late night premium channels?

And he did love to show off what the gods had given him, always teasing and taunting her with it. She stared at his backside and did her best to remain silent. The man should not still have this much sway and power over her, but he did.

It was difficult to look away. Considering the amount of intentional flexing going on, Jakub didn't want her attention anywhere else. It would be rude not to stare appreciatively, and her mother had done her best to teach Riley to be polite.

With each sway of the painting, another bunch of muscles flexed under all that tawny, tattooed skin. She might have to sit on her hands to behave.

His biceps flexed, and she heard herself moan. Hopefully, Jakub was too busy to have heard her.

Cringing, she pushed the thought away. She most certainly could, and did, moan, drool, pant, and trip over her own two feet around him — her body loved to embarrass her.

The man twisted her into an uncoordinated, stammering, unintelligent schoolgirl by offering her nothing more than a smile.

She’d tried to make herself immune to his charms after hearing he was a man whore. That had become easier when she'd stayed late a few times and encountered some of the women.

He didn't seem to have a type. Tall and short. Lanky and curvy. Redhead, brunette, and blonde. Young to middle aged.

Jakub was an equal opportunity womanizer. After the shop closed, a parade of them went in and out of rooms he kept locked to her.

It shouldn't matter. He wasn't hers. The only relationship they had was employee and employer, so anything more would be inappropriate anyway. That didn't stop her heart aching. A little stab each time a new woman smiled at her as they came and went.

Came and went!

Riley snorted.

Jakub peered over his shoulder, catching her in his hypnotic grey eyes. "Did you say something?"

Busted. She tried to recover pitiful scraps of her self-esteem. "I think you're slightly left of center."

"Really?" He hoisted the painting again.

Riley only half watched the show now. It was almost time for her to go home, and there were ominous signs that Shawn had found her. For days, she’d been receiving hang-up calls from a blocked number on her new burner phone.

A bouquet of orange flowers had been left on her doorstep — the same flowers Shawn bought her as an apology after one of his violent streaks.

More disturbing were the signs that someone had been in her apartment. It was a tiny studio and she took particular care about everything having a place and keeping it there. When she’d returned home late last night, things had been moved. Only slightly, but not how she'd left the few things she owned.

The last thing she wanted was to put Jakub or the others she’d come to know in danger, yet she couldn’t muster the will to go. The idea of never seeing Jakub again hurt worse than the pain of watching the parade of women in and out of his rooms.

Everything in her screamed to trust Jakub, but she hadn't told her secrets to him. How could she now, when the danger had found her?

Hi, I know you think I'm human, but I'm actually a banshee on the run from a mage. By the way, I'm also in exile because the Comhairle let me keep my life in exchange for not using my magic. Oh, you think I need a room with padded walls? No surprise there. Now I've been found, so I have to leave. Thanks for everything.

It would only paint a target on him. Humans who knew the truth of magic often met with unfortunate endings — courtesy of the Comhairle. She’d heard of too many incidents to risk Jakub's life.

She shuddered at the thought of anything happening to him, or his cousin, or Niamh. Maybe it was because loneliness had become a constant companion, but they'd become a sort of family to her.

Niamh and Riley were close, or as close as she could allow anyone with her past and lack of future to get. Niamh suspected Riley had deep feelings for Jakub and teased her like a sister.

If she was honest with herself, she had to admit she was head over heels for her boss. She had been from the moment she met him, and her feelings grew stronger with each day. Maybe he was the human she could settle down with one day.

But she kept her feelings to herself. It was clear Jakub had no time for, or interest in her. Just in every other woman he met.

Jakub moved to reposition the painting again. It was a little too far to the right. Every muscle on his upper body flexed, causing Riley’s sex to flood with slickness.

“What about now?” The bulging muscles in his arms looked ready to pop, while the ones in his abs made ripples that taunted her.

"A bit to the left."

She considered using her power to help him, but thought better of it. Somehow, Riley didn’t think a floating painting would go over well.

Especially when Jakub was human. Other than that initial flash of magic on that first day, she hadn't felt anything else magical around him, or his cousin, or Niamh. The wards could very well have been placed by the protectors of Bandrui's Grove and had nothing to do with Jakub at all.

Riley hadn't met any of the guardians, but she was glad about that. She didn't want to draw attention to herself, especially the attention of anyone so powerful.

“Damn thing,” Jakub muttered, drawing her attention back to his tempting body. He shifted his weight, drawing her gaze to his ass. She licked her lips.

Today was giving her plenty to visualize for when she inevitably resorted to pleasuring herself. Each flick of her nub, each clench in her pussy would be a direct result of her imagining Jakub being the one bringing her pleasure.

It would be his dick she imagined in place of her vibrator. His fingers tweaking her nipples. If her dreams remained the same, and goddess, Riley hoped they did, Jakub would play the starring role.

If only dreams could come true.

Jakub set the painting down and cast a questioning look at her. Pulling on her all-business persona, she held out a file.

Riley tried to focus on anything other than his body coming toward her.

She’d taken over the bookkeeping. It was for the best. Jakub wasn’t great about his accounting. He didn’t seem to mind where his money went or how it was spent. He had so much that she wasn’t surprised.

“Here are your taxes. I thought you’d want to take a peek at them.”

It might be the last thing she could do for him. If she found her apartment violated again, she had to leave. Staying even this long was pushing her luck.

He glanced at the folder. “You did my taxes? Did I not tell you that you didn't have to worry about those things?”

She winced. “You did, but they needed to be done and I’d already gathered everything needed. The forms aren’t filed, just filled out. Look them over or throw them away. I was only trying to help.”

Jakub gave her his lady killer smile, “Thank you, lass. If I didn't already think you were perfect, the taxes would put you there.”

He thought she was perfect? Shame flushed her cheeks. She’d been lying to him from the moment they'd met.

“I’m not perfect, Jakub. Far from it.”

“I do not recall giving you a say in the matter.” He winked.

A huge bolt of lightning lit up the sky outside, quickly followed by thunder so loud she nearly launched herself at Jakub. Nervous and embarrassed by her fear of storms, Riley babbled.

“Did you want to look over everything tonight, or you probably have people for that. I’m sorry.”

Jakub arched a dark brow and narrowed grey eyes. He was gorgeous. “Is this really that important right now, Riley? Am I in danger of going broke?”

Not unless someone swooped in and sucked your millions dry.

The man made no sense. He was loaded beyond belief but only operated the antiques shop. His cousin had mentioned a time or two that Jakub had once owned quite a few businesses, but had decided to give them all up and go with a quieter life. He didn’t look old enough to have amassed a fortune, but who was she to question someone else's life choices?

“So…” His gaze was slightly mocking. “Am I out of money?”

Not bothering to answer, Riley dropped her gaze to the swirling shield-knot tattoo on his upper arm and bit her lip. It was one of his many markings, and he took great pride in explaining each one to her.

Riley didn't let on that she knew what the majority of them represented. Another sort of lie. There was a lot she held back from Jakub, but he had secrets too. Probably not as big as hers, though.

Another flash of lightning sent thunder rolling across the sky.

She closed her eyes. Nothing good happened during thunderstorms.

Shawn's laughter accompanied the thunder in her mind. He'd always made fun of her fear. Okay, so it was irrational, but she had no control over it. It was irrational! All the signs meant he was in Bandrui's Grove. She’d gone so far as to pack her bags for a speedy escape..

“Riley?” Jakub's deep voice brought her back from the edge of panic. “Are you well?”

She pasted a fake smile on. “Peachy.”

He didn’t look as though he believed her. She couldn’t blame him. Thankfully, he returned to his task at hand — hanging the painting.

The man looked like he should be in a gym, or, with his long hair and braids, on some ancient battlefield wielding a sword. Not hanging a painting on the wall of an antiques shop.

Riley sighed and wished again that she could call her sisters. She wanted to hear her sisters’ voices, share her feelings for Jakub with them, and even sit through their lectures about bad-boy men who would break her heart in the end.

“Lass, you feeling okay?” Jamub asked, his lilt shining through.

Growing up, Riley had been taught that the greatest heroes came from Ireland. Her father had only been allowed to marry her mother because of her ties to the motherland, and keeping with traditions was expected of Riley and her siblings would have to do the same.

Though, her older sister liked French men, which made their father crazy. Finding a man worthy enough, according to her family’s standards, was next to impossible.

Unless the man was a living, breathing Celtic warrior with unearthly powers, the chances of him passing the Doyle family tests were slim to none. She wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to find her father had a checklist of prerequisites.

Not that it mattered in her case. She’d shamed her family. And her last boyfriend was a real winner. She shuddered thinking about him. She’d known he’d find her if she stayed in one spot too long, and she’d been in Bandrui's Grove weeks, and had hoped to have longer. Maybe she hadn't been a resident long enough for the protections to apply to her.

Her magic bristled, ready to defend Jakub should the need arise. She would do whatever it took to keep him safe. Even if it meant exposing herself and magic — though she wished with all her might it would never come to that.

Countless nights she’d begged any goddess who would listen for the chance to spend the rest of her days by Jakub's side, be the one who caught his fancy, won his hand.

An equal number of days, she’d awakened to heartache, finding that she was nothing more to him than a friend, someone who helped run his shop.

Jakub propped the painting against the wall and turned to face her. “Riley, have you eaten today? You're paler than normal, and that is saying something.”

“I’m fine. Totally fine,” she said, even as the room swayed. She'd planned to eat lunch, but gotten sidetracked by the books, then she’d worked straight through.

Worry over Shawn being in town made her stomach too upset for her to think of adding anything to it. The storm outside seemed to grow in intensity and she wasn't looking forward to walking home. She glanced out the nearest window.

Gasping, Riley jerked back as she thought she saw Shawn standing on the other side of the glass pane, glaring in at her, white eyes glowing.

Terror took over. A scream burst out of her as her magic thrashed to break free of its prison. Her scream went on and on as fragments of her magic successfully escaped to power her voice.

Oh no. Oh no! She yanked her magic back and stuffed it into the box, but it was too late.

Someone was going to die.

Jakub's voice came to her from a distance. The vision of Shawn disappeared.

She whirled and bumped into Jakub, bounced off him and turned so fast her vision darkened around the edges, then closed in around her



Druid of Oaks, Chapters 1-3



Bandrui's Grove was the first place that popped into Riley's head when she needed a place to hide. It could be her new home, or so she hoped. It had a reputation as a sanctuary, which meant protection. She hoped it was enough.

Shawn's spies would make living in a major city too hard. He had contacts everywhere and had threatened to use all of them to find her.

A new beginning was required for her survival and sanity. No one could know the truth — that she was a banshee, descended from a long line of witches that could be traced back hundreds of years.

She would just be Riley. It saddened her that she had to abandon her Doyle surname. It was too well known among Other Worlders, espevislly in Ireland. She’d considered changing her first name too, but her father had given her a name passed down through the generations. She'd had to abandon her family. Her name wasn't uncommon. She could at least keep that part of her past.

Riley needed to think of a suitable surname fast if she wanted a job. A sharp wave of loneliness swept over her, bringing sudden, stinging heat to her eyes. She longed to call one of her siblings. They’d help her think of a name and cover story, Her twin brothers had a particular talent for skullduggery. Not that her sisters were slouches in that department.

But she couldn’t. No contact with anyone from her past. That was one of the many hated rules she had to live by now. She also hated the men who made the rules. The Comhairle. She didn’t want anything to do with that antiquated bunch of old men who thought they ruled the world, but Shawn had made that impossible.

She wished she was powerful enough to handle them. Well, powerful enough to handle them without killing them. Riley shuddered. That was an experience she didn't ever want to repeat.

Maybe send the misogynistic old men of the Comhairle to the middle of nowhere and see how they liked being exiled.

If she used her magic, or made a single misstep, they had her dead to rights. She'd taken a mortal life — nevermind that she'd acted in self defense.

Of course, everyone claimed innocence, so the Comhairle didn't believe her. She was only guilty of falling for a mage who had everyone convinced he was on the side of right.


Shawn lied as easily as he breathed. He had a way about him that made others hang on his every word. His magic was so potent, he'd even bamboozled a banshee. No mean feat.

She hadn't known he drew his power from darkness and preyed upon witches. Mages started off looking normal, and as they grew more corrupted, the telltale white drained their color and soul. She’d been the latest obsession in Shawn's quest for power. His charisma made turning him down impossible when they met. She’d eventually come to her senses and escaped him. He'd not taken the rejection well.

Riley had been lucky to get away, and that the Comhairle only exiled her and banned her from using her magic. They could have locked her away for life, or demanded her execution.

The only reason they gave her another chance — so long as she started over and gave up everything she knew — was because of her father’s influence.

She had to make a clean break or she’d spend the rest of her life in some prison with a bunch of supernatural lawbreakers.

Riley sighed. Starting over was a bitch, but she had to begin anew or else. So she'd fled Ireland, crossed the Atlantic and most of North America, to arrive in Bandrui's Grove — a village in high, forested mountains, nestled in the shadow of a volcano.

Damn Shawn.

Love was for idiots. She’d never make that mistake again. No. She wouldn't put her heart on the line or trust a man.

Especially not an Other World male.

She’d settle down with some clueless human once she figured out what she was going to do. Until then, she’d work whatever jobs she could find and do her best to stay below Shawn’s radar. If she could hide from him, the Comhairle wouldn't be able to find her, either.

She had been in Bandrui's Grove for three days, and so far, the antiques shop was the only place hiring. The locals claimed the owner needed help with running the shop, along with managing the books.

Since she was qualified for such a job, Riley was hoping she’d be able to land it. She couldn’t exactly hand over references or announce her qualifications. Well, she could, but the minute anyone checked, Shawn would be all over her. That wasn’t an option, and funds were running low.

Riley stood outside the store, eyeing the grey sky. It rained a lot in Bandrui's Grove, just like at home.

The antiques shop, like the rest of the village, had an old-world Irish charm to it. Bandrui's Grove had become a human tourist attraction after being featured on some television shows and magazine articles about haunted and picturesque villages. A film crew left only yesterday.

Riley had always been fascinated with Bandrui's Grove. Her family had visited a few times when she was a child, and it had felt perfect. A piece of Ireland across the world from where anyone expected to find it, located in a pocket of its own. Immune to goings-on around it. Far from problems. Far from what was normal. Safe.

And she needed to feel safe — or, at least the illusion of it, more than ever.

She peered into the window of the shop. There were no signs indicating the owner was looking to hire someone.

The air smelled of pending rain and she glanced into the distance, her gaze skimming over the mountains. It certainly looked like rain was on the horizon. Great. Just what the area needed. More rain. Seemed like all it had done was rain since her arrival.

Bandrui's Grove was losing some of its attraction. She sighed, running her hands through her long, unruly, deep red hair.

Riley would look like something the cat dragged in if she waited much longer. Her available wardrobe wasn't appropriate for cool weather. There'd been less than an hour to abandon her home. Not much time to pack discerningly.

She’d hoped her father would defend her before the Comhairle. He hadn’t. He’d agreed to exile her for ten years. She’d never believed he would allow any of his daughters to move away, let alone stand over her, looking hurt, then turning his back on her.

Her father’s disappointed expression haunted her. Shame. The last thing she'd seen on his face was shame. Of her, for violating the rules. Even he hadn't believed she’d used her power against another in self defense. But her word, against the men on the Comhairle, who swallowed every lie Shawn spouted, meant little.

Riley raised her head and squared her shoulders. She would not cry again. No. She was a stronger woman than that.

She had to be.




Jakub Finnegan bent over his woodworking bench and turned a piece of oak in his hands. He'd been toying with it for the last few days, but it had nothing to say to him yet. Oak was special to his people — the druids.

Especially his bloodline. There were many Finnegans, and each clan of the family was attuned to a particular tree. Jakub's branch was Oak.

He was a Druid, given magic and immortality, and charged to protect humans. Ironic, since they held little regard for nature. They didn't care for much, other than themselves and their personal comforts and conveniences. He was not a fan, but almost eight billion of them weren't going anywhere.

Jakub sighed. While he would never say the goddess had made a mistake, he often thought she might have chosen a bit hastily when sending him to be birthed to a family of immortal Druids, then tasked them with overseeing humans’ safety as well as the training of other magic users.

He didn’t mind the Other Worlders as much. Though, more and more, they also held less respect for the craft and its roots. They sought power for the sake of it. Those types almost always ended up going bad — becoming something Jakub, his brothers, and his cousins hunted.

It had been a month since the last threat had surfaced and he felt restless. He had ended the mage and harnessed his white magic to keep it from reentering the ether. The man had more attitude than power. He should have waited to go completely white before he tried to be a badass.

Bandrui's Grove attracted more than its fair share of danger. Most threats were simple to deal with, but every now and then, one took some effort. Aiden, his cousin and best friend, had just returned from a hunt for a mage like that — one who took a toll on the hunters.

Aiden had acquired some bruises, but was fine. The same couldn’t be said for their cousin Blake. He’d already suffered at the hands of demons and paid the price every day.

All the Finnegan men held guilt over Blake. They'd failed him. He’d been savagely attacked, held prisoner, and tortured for months by a mage who had turned to the ways of the Abhartach — blood drinkers.

They'd extricated Blake, and he'd survived, but he'd not come out of the ordeal unchanged. As a result, he was considered an Abhartach, though none of the Finnegans would hunt him.

The damn idiot thought himself a danger to mankind and was doing a damn fine job of trying to end himself. The fool had no idea that the kind-hearted man he’d once been still remained. That the blood drinker side of him did not rule him. Couldn’t get it through Blake’s thick skull, though.

Stubbornness was a Finnegan family trait every one of them inherited.

Should he try to call Blake? It would be Christmas soon. The man typically refused to answer his cell, and even magical contact yielded no results. If Blake didn’t respond soon, Jakub would bring in the big guns.


Their grandmother would straighten Blake out, or pull him by his nose to the rest of the boys so they could. Jakub had found himself on the receiving end of her disappointment and correction often enough.

For a woman who didn’t even come to his shoulder, she was terrifying when she wanted to be, but entirely loving and nurturing all other times.

Yes. If Blake didn’t respond soon, Jakub would leave the matter in Maimeó's more than capable hands.

He smiled, his focus returning to the piece of oak in his hands. This time, a form revealed itself, and his knife moved to free the Oak King.

So much of his time had been poured into carving toys, figures, and furniture over the centuries. He needed the outlet, or he’d dwell on the past, and all the things he couldn't change. That way led to insanity.

A few of them had gone that way. Their family lived such long lives, not even being born to it guaranteed immortality suited them.

Worse than the regrets of the past were the diminishing hopes of the future. The last generation of the Finnegan boys hadn't found their Maité — the other halves of their immortal souls.

What had his family done to piss off the goddess? They respected her and feared her. Did her bidding to protect humans.

Yet, they were all single. Some liked that. Others, such as himself, were more than ready to start families and have something more in life. He sighed. It hadn’t happened in seven hundred years and didn’t look as if it ever would.

For now, he’d do what he always did with his spare time — stay busy and alert for the next threat. He carved the mouth and beard of the Oak King.

The soft sounds of music from the motherland played on his speakers as he lost himself in his work. His building was large enough that he the antiques shop out front, a workshop in the back, and an apartment above it.

It was almost time to open the store, but he could carve a little longer.

Any of the Finnegans could live like kings, but they chose to lead simple lives. Others did not need to know he was worth millions, perhaps billions.

He easily recalled when he and his clan hunted for food, living off the land. Modern conveniences meant so many took so much for granted. Not Jakub. He held great respect for the land, and for the magic.

That same magic ran through his veins, often wanting to be free. With his age and position came high titles within the Other World magic community.

He, his brothers and his cousins, each held positions on the Comhairle. There were so many Finnegans that the other members joked the vote always went whichever way the Finnegans wanted.

The truth was, he avoided as many of those meetings as possible. He had no interest in politics. The threats he dealt with required swift action, not drawn out proceedings. And no jail sentence would rehabilitate a mage, once they went bad.

The old men could have their Comhairle.

Jakub had a pair of magic-eating swords.




Riley took a deep breath to summon courage, and studied the carved oak door. The thing was huge and wouldn't have been out of place in a castle. A third of the panel depicted a hunting scene of an archer aiming at a boar. Below that, fairies cavorted with humans. The bottom third was a forest of trees with a river wending through it.

She put her hand on the doorknob. At the contact, energy blasted up her arm, zipped through her blood, and ended with a warm swirl in her chest.

The magic hummed a melody she'd never heard before, but knew in her heart. It was from the old world and beckoned to her magic, trying to coax it from the box she'd locked it away in.

No, no, no! It couldn't get out! Shawn or the Comhairle would find her. She gasped and remained rooted where she was as she used every ounce of her will to shut her magic back into the prison.

It went, but not willingly. Riley blew out a breath and blinked water out of her eyes. Great. She'd been standing around long enough for the rain to start.

Hoping that brief flare of power went unnoticed, she tried to gather her wits. It would do no good showing up to ask for a job dripping magic everywhere when she probably resembled a drowned rat.

She could use her magic to dry herself and to tidy up her appearance, but after the near disaster just now, there was no way she dared risk it.

Even the slightest mistake could get her killed. That was what Shawn was counting on. Then he would swoop in to save her so she owed him her life. That… That mage had probably planned this all along.

Riley curled her hands into fists. She wanted to turn him into a worm and step on him.

Stop it before you get yourself in more trouble.

She’d never actually met a member of the Comhairle. They'd worn hooded robes during her sham of a trial, but the stories told to young Other Worlders were enough to keep a kid up at night.

They were probably decrepit-looking old men who had bald patches on their heads, and giant noses full of bristly hair.

Focus on why you're here. You need a job!

Riley turned the knob and entered the shop.

Calming scents of lavender and vanilla filled the air. The store was as pleasing to the eye on the inside as it had been on the outside. Carved furniture stood everywhere amid tables displaying statues, vases, and bric-a-brac.

Tiny carvings of wood to life-sized statues were everywhere. One wall held an elaborately hand-crafted bookcase holding tomes and decorative boxes. Someone had spent a fortune having a woodsmith custom design each piece. It was beautiful.

Riley may not be able to live among her family anymore, but this place felt like home. She’d accept anything at the moment.

“Hello?” Riley took a few steps inside, the heavy carved oak door shutting behind her. She expected an ominous thud from the heavy door, but it swung closed soundlessly.

The sound of drums and faint chants filled the air. Some sort of Celtic music playing from the back of the shop. She walked in the direction it came from, calling out two more times in hopes someone would hear her.

She ended up next to a door she assumed led to the back, where patrons weren’t welcomed. This one was also beautifully carved, depicting a scene of fairies having a party. She touched one of the figures, half expecting the winged creature to take flight.

“Anyone here?” she shouted, straining to be heard over the music.

The music shut off and the door swung open. Riley blinked, at a loss for words as she stared at a bare, very muscular chest, displaying every Celtic marking she could think of inked permanently on tawny skin.

Touching each one seemed like the best idea she’d had in… maybe forever Her gaze slid lower, to the V framing a series of intriguing ridges down the center.

Oh yeah. She wanted to touch every one of those, too.

All she could think about was the sight of the man before her. Her sisters had mentioned muscles on a man making a woman stupid, which Riley had laughed at.

As she stared at the expanse of male so magnificently displayed, her level of intelligence plummeted like a free falling elevator.

“Tá,” the man said, his voice deep, his Irish lilt evident, making her sigh softly. “Who wants to know?”

Her intelligence was still lost in the plummeting elevator car. Who? What the hell was her name? Why had she come here? She forced her gaze from his chiseled chest to his equally square, stubbled jaw line.

Her throat felt dry as she raked her gaze farther up, spotting full, kissable lips, then penetrating slate-grey eyes. Eyes that were looking at her with a strange expression. Long black hair with several braids fell to the tops of his broad shoulders.

“Who are you?” he asked.

Hot men clearly made her stupid. “Um.” Riley wasn’t sure how long they stood there, neither saying a word, but the silence ticked by, growing awkward.

“Wh — ” she croaked. Yep. She was now one of those women who couldn’t think straight around a half-naked, muscled man.

He blinked, his black brows meeting for a moment before he nodded. “Come this way, lass.”

She followed, unsure what else to do since she’d been struck stupid at the very sight of him. Of course, now her view was of his muscled back, all the tattoos there, and his ass in low hanging jeans.

Was that sawdust? He'd carved all the things in the shop? He entered a break room with a few roundtables and plastic chairs. A microwave stood atop a counter next to a fridge, which he opened, to pull out a bottle of water.

Riley stood back, still surprised by her response to a perfect stranger. He twisted the cap off and extended the water. The moment her fingers slid over his, a rush of magic surged between them.

That song her heart recognized trilled in her mind. She gasped, eyes widening as she fought to contain her magic. Her throat went drier.

Riley was about to sip the water when Mr. Muscles pulled it back, his eyes were on her chest as he gulped the water down. There wasn’t a drop left when he was done.

Laughter escaped her lips. At least she wasn't alone having issues.

Mr. Muscles looked from the empty bottle to her and smiled abashedly. “Sorry.” He went to the fridge again and got her a new bottle that he set on a table as if he didn’t want to chance getting closer to her.

That was fine. She wasn’t sure she could handle him any closer either. Smiling, Riley took the water. “Thank you.” She sipped it as he continued to watch her.

“We don't open for another thirty minutes.” His voice made her want to melt into a puddle at his feet.

She'd only sworn off love, not lust.

Best decision ever.

Riley took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. I’m here about the job. I was told you’re hiring.”

He shook his head. “What?”

“Hiring." It appeared his intelligence had left the building, too. "Are you hiring?”

Putting his palms on the table top, he leaned toward her.. “Tá. You're hired.”

She took a step back. “You didn’t ask if I was qualified. You don’t even know my name.”

He squeezed his hands into fists, watching her with a strange expression. “I seem to recall asking, but you didn't answer.”

Oh, right.

“What is your name, lass?” he asked for the third time, his lips quirking.

“Riley Doyle.”

Shit. Why did I give him my real name?

Riley tried to think of another name, but it was too late. She’d already told him the truth. All she could do was hope he didn’t run a background check on her.

“Good enough for me. You're hired.”

Riley balked. “You didn’t ask for my resume or if I’ve done bookkeeping.”

Why was she trying to talk him out of the exact decision she'd wanted him to make?. Him not wanting any of those things was a godsend. Her intelligence hadn't taken the elevator back up yet.

“I don't care. You're hired, lass. Stop trying to talk me out of it. The girl I have working for me threatened to quit if I didn’t get some help in here. She’s naught but a slip of a thing, but can scare the hide off a bear. So, you're hired. Niamh will be happy." He held out his arms. "I keep my skin in one piece.”

This man definitely needed to keep all that skin exactly how it was.

He motioned to the door he’d come through. “Look around and get to know the place. You start now.”

Riley stood rooted in place again. “Um, Mister? I don’t know your name.” She doubted he’d like it if she went around calling him Mr. Muscles.

“Jakub Finnegan,” he responded. “Owner of the shop, and your new boss.”




Grove of Bandrui

Book 1: Druid of Oaks cover reveal inside.


While I was writing Angharad and Fetu's story, I needed some Druids, naturally, since that is what Angharad studied to be.

As usual, I couldn't write just one story, and ended up with a series outlined. Druid of Oaks is the first story and will be available in September.

Madness of the Hatter, Chapters 23-24



Hatter drew his sword and faced the Queen's army. He'd known for a long time this fight was coming, but now that the day was here, he felt no anger for what the Queen had done, just a soul-draining sadness.

It felt wrong to need a weapon in the land he'd created. At the start, he'd only had to imagine what he wanted to happen, and it did.

The twins stood to his left, daggers in their hands. Harlan held no weapons, well, he was a weapon. It was only a question of who was actually wielding him.

Dressed in a red gown, skirt cut high in the front to reveal red boots and leggings, the Queen strolled after her army, then among their neat lines. He remembered when she wore white.

Alix slipped her fingers around her stun gun and snapped her baton out to its full length as she took a place to Hatter's right. He was glad he'd given her things back. It might have been a good idea to give her a sword. He had two extras.

The two sides glared at each other.

"Off with their heads!" The Queen broke the stalemate, setting her soldiers into motion.

Hatter headed straight for the Queen, ignoring everything else. She was the key. If he could take her out of the fight, her men would fold. He had to break off his planned attack when three of her men surrounded him.

They managed to keep him from the Queen, but Alix sprinted past and swung her baton. The Queen ducked, but not quite far enough. The baton struck her tall, jeweled crown and tore her wig askew, revealing blonde hair.

With blonde hair rather than dark, and blue eyes, the Queen could have been a looking glass reflection of Alix. Hatter caught his breath as he blocked a sword meant to skewer him. He'd always known they'd look alike, but they could have been twins.

The soldiers broke off their attack on him and went after Alix. Hatter stabbed one in the thigh, slashed another across the back, and tackled the third. Jumping to his feet, Hatter leapt over sprawled bodies to get to Alix's side.

"It was you." Alix stood rooted in place. "You're the first Little. The first Alice. You broke Hatter's mind!"

Not completely accurate, but close enough. Hatter diverted a striking blade to stab the ground and kicked the soldier in the chest. A second sword sliced through his sleeve.

The Queen turned an icy stare on her. "My name is Eris! How many times do I have to say it?"

"You're why Liddle girls are kidnapped. You're killing Hatter and Wonderland!"

Terror filled screams filled the air as Harlan claimed his victims. The twins worked together like only fighters who had fought hundreds of battles together could. They were too far away to help with the Queen.

Eris tossed her wig to the ground and advanced on Alix. "Not the land. Just Hatter. When he's dead, I'll have enough magic to rule this land myself and make it however I like."

Dismissing Alix, Eris turned her attention to Hatter and attacked. She didn't do her own fighting much anymore, but she hadn't lost any of her skill. Their swords clashed as another soldier struck out at Alix, forcing her from his side.

The Queen's men closed in around him again. He blocked a sword, but a fist crashed into his jaw. A boot smashed into his thigh. Sword extended, he whirled to gain some space.

Another boot lashed out, striking his sword hand and sending the blade flying. The soldiers converged on him, bodily taking him to the ground. Hatter curled into himself, trying to protect his head.

The men kicking and punching him grunted and disappeared one by one. The Attendees had come to his rescue.

He nodded his thanks and staggered to his feet.

Disarmed and bleeding from several wounds. Hatter swayed on his feet. He wouldn't last much longer. If only he knew what his magic would do!

"Time's up, Hatter." Eris clasped her leaf pendant in one hand, and slammed the palm of her other hand onto Hatter's chest. "You will pay for what you did to my sisters."

Hatter opened his mouth to scream, but the agony was too sharp. It took his voice and stole his breath.

She'd been stealing the magic of Wonderland for years, but never so directly before. He felt his blood running backwards in his veins, carrying all the magic toward the hand draining him. He pulled at her wrist, but her palm felt melded to him. Even with all his remaining strength, he couldn't dislodge her.

His only satisfaction, and remaining hope, was that he no longer served as the conduit for his own magic. He had to access it just like everyone else.

She drained his physical strength along with his power. He didn't make a sound as he fell to his knees, but Wonderland's magic screamed in an agonized, soul-wrenching wail that rang in his head.

Sword raised, the Queen laughed.

He'd heard people say on the point of death, a whole life flashed before their eyes. He'd never seen that happen any of the other times his lives ended, but maybe it would this time. Maybe he'd finally remember and have a chance to understand before it all ended. The encroaching darkness wasn't a rabbit hole he'd opened, but he fell into it all the same.



Morpheus tugged his green vest into perfect alignment, straightened his matching jacket, and flicked imaginary lint off his black-with-a-green-stripe trousers. He'd seen this type of clothing while he traveled in the dream of a visitor from the west.

It wasn't quite right. There was something missing. What else had he seen? He gave himself a hard look in the mirror as he smoothed his hands down his lapels.

The hat! Morpheus held out a hand and dreamed up a tall, green hat with a wide brim and black band. Settling it on his head, he gave himself an approving nod.

That would give the place some color. Erebus could be so dreary. The Underworld wasn't the liveliest of places, what with all the darkness and death everywhere.

Satisfied with his appearance, Morpheus strolled from his bedroom through doors that opened into a garden. The doors didn't always go into the garden, but when he had plans with his grandmother, they went to her favorite place. Nyx, Goddess of Night, loved her moonlight flowers.

Morpheus moved through the blooms, touching petals gently to add color. He dreamed up a table and two cups of tea. That, he'd discovered in the dream of a traveler from the east. The drink had been bitter at first, but now he could dream it up perfectly sweetened every time. A delicious citrus-y scent filled the air, carried on the steam curling from the teacups.

A trio of screeches disturbed his preparations. The furies were coming again. Why couldn't those women take a hint? Grandmother would have to wait.

Morpheus reached for the nearest dream and pulled himself inside. That was another thing about living in the Underworld. The dreams were lacking in, well, rich dreamy content to work with. Most of the dead didn't dream at all, and those who did, often dreamed of their deaths.

As the dream played out, some battle or another, Morpheus waited for his chance to escape. He needed the dreamer to dream of someone else.

"He was here!"

"His drink is hot."

"He can't have gone far."

The furies' voices carried to him, even hidden in someone else's mind.

Hurry up, dreamer! Frustration and anxiety made Morpheus fidget. He slipped into minds to find dreams, which let him successfully hide from almost anyone searching for him. But the furies were some of the few who could enter minds, too. If he didn't get out quickly, they'd be able to follow him.

Why had they made him such an obsession? No one fixated like the furies.

The edges of the dream wavered. They were coming. He'd used this trick too often. Morpheus seized on the dream of another, and fled to the new hiding place. He flitted from dreamer to dreamer, crossing boundaries and borders until he'd traveled far to the east, and a vast sea spread before him.

It would take a while for the furies to find him, if they could follow him all this way.

He occupied the dream of a woman… no, a ghost, sitting on the seashore. Morpheus stepped out of the dream. Golden sand stretched along the shore into the distance. Little blue waves whispered ashore and retreated. A single mulberry tree stood alone, branches heavy with purple fruit. Its thick brown trunk disappeared into a canopy of green leaves sixty feet overhead.

So many colors! His eyes drank it all in like the most perfectly sweetened vision.

The ghost woman's long black hair blew in a breeze. She had drowned and dreamed of flying. He could help with that.

Kneeling in front of her, he leaned forward, cupped her ghostly face in his hands, and pressed his lips to her forehead. Her body shimmered. Black feathers sprouted all over her skin as she became a crow with red feet and an orange beak. With a cry of jingwei, the bird circled into the sky.

The furies would never think to look into a bird's mind. His trail would disappear.

Morpheus sat on the ground and leaned back against the wide trunk of a tree. Maybe the best place to hide was his own dream. His own land. A sanctuary. Somewhere safe where anyone needing refuge could come.

What would he call it? It would be wondrous. That was it! Wonderland!

He'd have to use all his magic to create an entire new world out of a dream. Something would have to serve as a reservoir and spread the magic throughout the land. He couldn't be everywhere at once.

The tree. It could be the center of everything. Magic would grow in the leaves. Roots would spread wide underground, carrying more magic to the far corners of his new realm. Only, it would be better as a tea tree.

Placing his fingers on the trunk, Morpheus poured his magic into the tree, concentrating on color and imagination, the opposite of dreary Erebus.

Sweat made his scalp itchy under his hat. His hands shook with effort and he gritted his teeth. Through the tree, he felt the roots expand. New branches covered in tea leaves sprouted.

Gem-like rocks, bizarrely formed, exotic jeweled plants, and colorful magical fungi popped out of the ground. The world trembled. He flung his arms around the tree and held on as the earth it stood on rose into the air. Up and up the tree carried him, accompanied by the crow calling jingwei.

What did that even mean? Did the bird think he should know?

When the shaking stopped, Morpheus released the trunk, ventured to the edge of the earth, and peered over. The rocks, fungi, and plants lined the cliff-side and a path to the beach hundreds of feet below.

Hands on hips, Morpheus turned in a circle. All around the new tea tree, an empty grass plain awaited him. A pond reflected the top of the tree. The place could use some color.

He walked back to the tree, picked some mulberries, and tossed them in the air. Where they landed, colorful mushrooms with polka dots or stripes grew from the ground.

First on the agenda, a place to live. A lovely home with a view. The top of the tea tree rustled under a cloud of silvery magic as his thoughts took shape. A ramp began at the base of the trunk and wound upward. Morpheus stepped forward, but paused and lifted his boot before he finished taking his first step.

A little worm wiggled on the wooden boards. The poor thing must have been shaken right out of his home when the tree transformed.

"Sorry about that." Morpheus glanced into the dense leafy canopy. The jingwei bird was somewhere in the tree. This worm would make little more than a snack.

He scooped the tiny creature into his hands and carried it to a nearby green mushroom. It could hide better there. Or… maybe it needed to be bigger. Too big to eat. Wonderland magic swirled through his thoughts. Silver tendrils swarmed the worm and its mushroom.

When the magic finished, Morpheus regarded the result with satisfaction. "That's better. An eight-foot Caterpillar will make a much harder meal."

Things were working out splendidly. He left the creature swaying upright on its perch, and began to climb. What would his new house be like?

Laughter stopped him cold. His body tensed and he debated running. But there was no point. They flew, were invisible when they wanted to be, and moved faster than he could.

The furies had found him.

Three female bodies pressed close to him. Breasts pushed into his back, chest, and arm. Six hands caressed him. Fingers tangled in his hair and drew up his thigh. Lips kissed his cheek. A tongue licked his neck.

Why wouldn't they leave him alone?

Morpheus yanked himself free of their wandering hands and mouths, whirling to face them. "Stop! I've already told you I don't love you." He glanced nervously from one to the next, or at least in the direction he thought they'd be. "I love Eris."

The furies revealed themselves. The triplets wore skimpy red dresses. Their wild manes of red-orange hair stuck out in all directions. Orange feathers tipped with gold shone on their wings. Madness filled their orange eyes. Each carried a silver short sword in her hand.

"If you love one of us," they chorused, "you love all of us." They nodded to each other.

He sighed. He remembered them as girls. Eris' trio of little sisters. Watching them lose their minds over time had saddened him, but there was nothing he could do. His magic didn't work like that. Everyone just left them alone and hoped to not draw their attention.

"Megaera. Tisiphone. Alekto." Sometimes using their names brought them back. Their gazes snapped to him, three pairs of orange eyes momentarily clear. "Listen to me. I love you like sisters, do you understand?"

"You love Eris," they chorused.


"You love us like sisters."

He nodded. Their eyes began to cloud with confusion and insanity again.

"Eris is our sister."

"You love us like sisters."

"We're all sisters."

"So you love us," the three said together and clapped their hands.

There was no arguing with the furies. Their ability to drive others mad had made them insane long ago.

"No." He blew out a breath. "That's… not exactly what I meant."

"Don't worry about that, our love. We can make you mad for us." Six hands pulled at him, drawing him a step toward them.

Mad for us, a trio of voices whispered in his head.

This was worse than he thought. They'd never crossed that line before.

"You don't want to do this. If you hurt me, Eris will be sad. You don't want to hurt your sister, do you?"

"You'll love us like sisters."

If you won't be mad for us, you'll just be mad!

His reality hazed around the edges. Morpheus wrenched himself out of their grasps as questing fingers came perilously close to his crotch. He scrambled for a distraction, or a place to hide, and seized on a dream.

Wonderland trembled.

"What is he doing?"

"He's using his magic!"

"Don't let him get away!"

He stumbled over a mushroom, fell onto his ass, and crab-walked away from the furies. Behind him, a series of branches erupted from the ground. They intertwined, forming thick, impenetrable walls. Green leaves sprouted along the brambles.

Using so much magic tired him, and he wanted nothing more than to lie down and take a nap. But he didn't trust the furies. He staggered to his feet and toward the new hedge maze. "Race you to the center!"

Surely he could lose them in the maze. Even he didn't know which way to go. The madness the furies had inflicted on him tried to take over his thoughts. It was tainting the magic he used. He couldn't even be sure the maze had a center to find.

How big was this maze? It stopped being fun ten minutes ago, although so far had remained furies-free, so that was a bonus. How was he supposed to get out of here? Random turns weren't working. Left. He'd just turn left, no matter what.

The center, when he found it, took him by surprise. An expanse of green grass stretched before him as far as he could see.

Unfortunately, he also saw three furious furies. Before he could spin around and flee, they also spotted him. They must have flown over the brambles.

Heaving a sigh, he accepted his fate, and strolled toward them. "I'm pretty sure flying is cheating. That goes against the entire point of having a maze."

They frowned as one.

"We found you."

"We made it to the center."

"We won.'

"Uh. Right." How could he put them off? "So we must have a ceremony."

"We must?"

"A ceremony?"

"What for?"

"Because you won. We must celebrate your victory."

"Oh," they chorused. But they didn't seem convinced.

He dreamed up a round table with four chairs. A crisp white tablecloth floated to cover the wooden table. There. That looked more elegant. He dreamed up four place settings. Teacups. Saucers. Little spoons.

Candles for the centerpiece? No. That seemed too romantic. The furies needed no encouragement. The table looked a bit empty. Some food. He could distract them a bit longer with something to eat. Covered dishes appeared, along with dessert plates added to the settings. The table was full. He made it bigger to add little cakes and biscuits.

That was all he could think to do. Hopefully it was enough. Where was Eris? Please, Eris. Your sisters need you. I need you before something unfortunate occurs.

He waved a hand and offered a half bow. "Would you like some tea?"

The trio exchanged uncertain glances. "That would be lovely." They took their seats, entertained enough to go along with him — at least for now.

As he sat, Megaera pulled her chair close to his so the length of her leg touched his.

Morpheus jumped up. "I'll pour."

He spread white napkins on their laps. He poured tea into cups. He offered milk and sugar. He buttered slices of bread. He splashed brandy over the plum pudding and set it aflame. He served cakes and offered biscuits.

Anything to keep busy and keep out of their reach. But no matter how slowly he moved, he ran out of things to do. With great reluctance, he retook his seat and lifted a slice of buttered bread to his mouth.

He squirmed in his chair as Megaera's palm landed rather too high on his thigh. On his other side, Alekto slid her hand over his abdomen, seeking the button of his trousers.

Their hands were on him again. They whispered in his ears. The words of madness buzzed around his mind

They buzzed like flies.

Flies with his bread and butter.

Bread and butter on the fly!

"Bread-and-butter-fly!" Morpheus jumped up and flung his bread at Megaera. He'd had enough! He opened his mouth to yell, but stared, the words stuck in his throat.

She swiped at the bread, but missed and sent the sugar cubes flying. The bread stuck butter-side-down to her chest and a lump of sugar landed atop her head. Silvery magic caught her in its grip. Her sword fell to the ground. Her body twisted and contorted. Her screeches diminished as she struggled and shrank. Bright orange feathers fell away, leaving bare wings in the shape of bread slices with yellow smears.

He gaped as the bread-and-butter-fly landed on the table in front of him. Her face was much smaller, but still enraged, as she glared. What had he done? He'd only meant to throw the bread as a distraction. Not… not this!

Tisiphone and Alekto flew at him, swords in their hands. "What did you do to our sister?"

He scrambled from the tea table, knocking his chair over, and swiping the discarded sword up to defend himself as he stumbled away.

"Undo it!" Tisiphone slammed her hands down on the table so hard it creaked. Flames spread from her fingers, burning the tablecloth, eating through the wooden tabletop and down the legs. The bread-and-butter-fly squeaked and flew off. Cups, saucers, plates, and the teapot fell to the ground.

The whispering words of madness buzzed louder.

Fire! Dragons breathed fire from their snapping jaws.

"Snap-dragon-fly!" He picked up the dish of plum pudding and flung it at Tisiphone. The sticky slices crumbled into soggy, burning crumbs that rained down on her. Raisins, still on fire, stuck in her hair. Her skin turned a lumpy brown as she transformed. Her bright wings turned green as holly leaves, and a single raisin burned brightly on her head.

He whirled to face Alekto.

Her orange wings flared, and she shrieked her rage, attacking with her sword. Their fight was like a dance. She attacked, and he rocked back. He attacked, and she rocked back.

Back and forth they moved. Back and forth the madness surged. Flies and crazed whispers darted at his eyes and ears.

She was rocking. Rocking. Rocking!

"Rocking-horse-fly!" He dove for the ground, swept a teacup into his hand, and flung the remaining contents at her.

It splashed onto Alekto's chest. She screamed as her hands and feet grew hooves. Her skin darkened and she fell to all fours. Her bones snapped and reformed to the shape of a black horse with orange wings. Two table legs slid over the ground and attached to her left hooves, then her right hooves, and she miniaturized, becoming the tiniest rocking horse.

"Shoo-flies!" He flicked his hand to send them on their way. Morpheus rolled to his back and panted, watching the pink sky overhead. Why had they attacked him? Why did they make him fight?

His mind still didn't feel like his mind. He hadn't stopped the madness. How long he laid there, he didn't know. It could have been a heartbeat or a day. The whispers grew louder and softer, but never ceased. His consciousness drifted until a shadow fell across his face.

"What have you done, Morpheus?"

Eris! She had come for him. He focused on her beautiful face. Sky-blue eyes and long blonde hair. The white robe of her office gleamed like the sun. His heart swelled with love. "You're here."

Eris knelt next to him and brushed a lock of hair off his sweaty forehead. "Unfortunately, I'm here as Vengeance, not your lover."

"Vengeance? For what?"

"My sisters summoned me to right the wrong done to them, or punish the one who wronged them."

He sat up. "They attacked me! They followed me here and tried to make me mad. You know how they are, Eris!"

"I know. I've tried to protect them, but it seems I've just made them worse." Her blue eyes swam with emotion. "But my sisters have been damaged, have they not? Do they deserve to be in the condition they are?"

Well, he hadn't meant for the first transformation to happen. He'd just said the words as they came to mind. Nonsense, he'd assumed. But he hadn't stopped when he knew what he could do. Did they deserve it? They'd definitely deserved something! Why couldn't they have left him alone?

Morpheus stared into her implacable eyes, trying to show all his heartfelt earnestness. "If they hadn't followed me, or had stopped when I asked, I wouldn't have had to defend myself! Should I have let them drive me insane? Let them put their hands on me when I didn't want them to? What if I wish for Vengeance?"

"No, my love." Eris slumped, pressing the heel of her palm to the bridge of her nose. "Undo what you've done to the furies, and we can be together." She held his hand in both of hers. "I can take them far from here. You'll never have to see them again. I promise."

He sighed. "I don't know how. They did something to me. My thoughts are muddled. My magic isn't working like it should."

"So long as the furies are stuck in their current forms, I cannot consider their Vengeance satisfied."

"I won't fight you, if you want my death."

She regarded him with sad eyes. "No, Morpheus. I'm afraid my sisters wouldn't be satisfied with such a quick ending. They've already marked you with madness. They want to see you suffer."

"So you'll draw this out forever?" He pushed her hand away and cradled his head. The whispering wouldn't stop, and tiny voices cackled with cruel laughter.

"No. I am Vengeance, but not unfair. I think ten lifetimes is enough to suffer. You will grow madder with each life. That should make them happy. If you find a way to restore my sisters, we can end this sooner. It's inappropriate for me to love a man I must exact Vengeance from." Eris rose to her feet. "I must go. I cannot abandon my duty."

Morpheus jumped up and hugged her. "This can't be it for us! I love you. Don't leave! I've always loved only you. You are the Queen of my heart."

Silver wisps surrounded Eris. Oh no. What was the magic doing?

"Morpheus! What have you done?" Hands flat on his chest, she shoved him hard.

"I don't know!" His hat flew off as he windmilled his arms to catch his balance. "What have I done?"

"There's madness in your magic! I can feel it."

"Thanks to your sisters!"

"I can't leave! You've trapped me here with you!" Her white robe turned into a floor-length dark scarlet dress, and a crown with a heart-shaped ruby appeared on her head. She drew her arm back and punched him in the face.

Morpheus reeled and fell over backward, one foot stepping on his hat. His head swam and his jaw ached. He reached a hand to her. Eris! But she had such malice in her expression he dropped his entreaty.


He'd never seen such loathing on her face, and it was all directed at him. She whirled away, brought one foot down on his hat, and stormed into the hedge maze.

His thoughts blurred.

Eris had malice.

He had to call her back! He could fix everything if she just gave him a chance. But she didn't like him.

Eris had malice.

Eris was malice.


His tongue felt too big and his words clumsy. The world was going away again, darkness closing in.

Malice. Eris.

Eris. Malice.




Three voices unified in mocking laughter. He couldn't, he wouldn't, call her Malice. He didn't want her to be Malice. But she was no longer Eris.

He closed his eyes and tried to speak. "Alice. Please. Help me."



He opened his eyes to a green sky.

Overhead, a crow with red feet carried a stick in its orange beak. He lay where he was and watched as the black bird flew back and forth, carrying sticks from the tree to the sea and dropping them. Birds didn't often dream, but this one had a big dream of filling the sea with sticks and pebbles.

The idea that the bird could fill the sea was mad.

"Well, you're in the right place, bird. We're all mad here."

He sat up.

His past life was over. He had nine more to go. It was time to begin anew. He picked himself up from the ground and tugged his vest straight. He straightened his jacket and brushed imaginary lint from his trousers.

Something was missing.

His hat. He glanced around and spotted it half-crushed amid the debris of shattered cups and plates.

Retrieving it, he shook it out and summoned some of his magic to repair the damage. The hat became a beret, a fedora, a fez, a bonnet, a pillbox, a bowler, and a nightcap before it settled into the tall hat he preferred.

He should have a new name for his new life.

He'd call himself Hatter.

What else might he forget? Ten lifetimes. That felt like important information.

He dreamed up a notebook and a quill that manifested as a scrap of a price tag and charcoal. He had ten lives, and this was the first. Carefully, he inscribed 10/1 on the tag and tucked it into his hat band so it wouldn't get lost.

The Queen had ten lifetimes to make him suffer.

Hatter had ten chances to save himself and Wonderland.




Heart breaking, Alix watched Harlan flee into the trees. She chased him, but he disappeared just like before.


He didn't answer or come back to her. Only silence came from the clearing. Alix swallowed hard. Had anyone survived? She re-entered the meadow.

"Duman? Deegan?"

Everything was falling apart. She'd utterly failed everyone.

So many dead and wounded lay scattered around the meadow.

The twins were taken.

Dormouse had been the Cheshire Cat. What had happened to the real Dormouse?

Harlan transforming into… whatever that thing was.

Hatter lay dying. If he wasn't already dead.

Alix rushed to him, knelt at his side, and lifted his head into her lap. "Don't leave me, Hatter."

Sunken black eyes, usually mocking or sparkling with mirth, were now listless as they fixed on her face. His golden skin had a greenish pallor. His chest barely rose and fell.

"Where are you hurt?" She ran her hands and gaze over him. There wasn't any blood. Nothing broken. "What can I do?"

"Almost over now. Stay with me." Hatter's eyes closed.

Hot tears spilled down her cheeks as she stared at the hat he held on his chest. The nine on Hatter's tag faded completely, replaced by a ten in dark, bold strokes of ink.

"I'm almost late. I've had more lives than that Cheshire Cat. Ten instead of nine. Any time one can outdo a cat is an accomplishment to be proud of."

"No. Look. We'll turn your tag over." Alix snatched the stupid paper from the hatband. "Now it says 01/01, so the zeros are just placeholders. We don't need them! So really, we have 1/1, which is just one! You're whole!"

Hatter's lips curved in a lazy smile. "Do you know, when you talk about numbers, you sound quite mad."

"We're all mad here." He didn't believe her. He still thought that old rule applied to him.

He nodded sagely. "All the best ones are."

Alix curled her hands into impotent fists. The solid edges of the pendant pressed into her flesh. Surprised she hadn't dropped the thing in all the craziness, she glanced at her hand.

The pendant. It had to be the key to everything. The Queen had tried so hard to keep it. Mother had always talked about a leaf. Not just that, but…

About turning over a new leaf.

Alix opened her fist and stared at the pendant. Was it new? It was dark green, new to her, and maybe here, that was enough. What did she have to lose? Holding the leaf on her flat palm, she held her breath and extended one finger to touch it.

With a quick motion, she flipped it over.

Faint silver lines formed, running through the dark green leaf. They thickened and sparkled in her palm.


A kettle whistled from atop a nearby tea table. Beside it, a teapot stood next to a single teacup neatly centered in its saucer. None of it had been there moments ago.

"Hatter." Alix shook him.

He didn't respond.

Was she meant to make tea with the leaf? How much tea? Did Hatter need to drink all of it? Alix shifted to gently lay Hatter's head on the ground.

She opened the lid of the teapot, dropped the leaf in, and poured the hot water inside. Better to make it too concentrated than too diluted, wasn't it? After letting it steep, she poured a cup, not surprised when the entire contents of the large teapot fit into the much smaller cup.

The brew smelled of hot apples, and silver swirled within its depths.

Alix knelt, braced Hatter against her chest, then held the cup to his lips. "Have a sip. You'll be all right." He had to be all right. They had to rescue the twins, find Dormouse, and help Harlan. She couldn't do it by herself.

Hatter inhaled deeply and groaned, but pushed the cup away. "No. Give the tea to the tree."

"To the tree?" Alix let out a hysterical giggle. "You're better already. That sounds quite mad."

He smiled weakly. "I'm more myself than I've been in a long time." Hatter gripped Alix's fingers tight. "Give the tea to the tree. It's the Tea Tree."

Alix laughed. "Of course it is." Racing to the tree, she moved around the wide trunk, splashing the contents of the cup over the roots. The last of the tea emptied as she finished her third circuit.

The tree stood there. She glanced over her shoulder. Hatter lay there.

"Nothing's happening," she muttered to the empty teacup. "Why is nothing —"

Wonderland shuddered, sending Alix stumbling. The Tea Tree roots glittered with silver that expanded in a burst. Veins of magic grew, winding up the trunk and through the dessicated ground.

Cracked bark turned golden and mended. Drooping branches lifted, a healthy brown bark replaced the black. Magic sparkled up the trunk, spreading from the roots to the branches, all the way to the top. Buds sprouted along twigs, blooming into leaves and flowers until she couldn't see the Tea House behind the thick foliage.

The grass turned green on one side, bent back like a breeze blew, then turned greener on the other side. Mushrooms, small as teacups and big as tables, in all colors, sprouted from the earth.

When the magic reached Hatter, it burst from the ground to lift and surround him in a silvery bubble. The glimmer became streamers that held Hatter aloft, then dove into him. His body jerked each time magic entered him.

"Hatter!" Alix ran two steps toward him before the magic swept her up in its hold. She flinched as bright streams of magic breezed over her skin, calling to the magic already in her blood.

Party-goers sat up as magic touched them, holding their heads in their hands and groaning.

The magic receded, settling Hatter gently on the ground. One impudent tendril of silver collected his hat and flicked it to land on his chest.

Freed, Alix stumbled a step on her way to him. "Hatter?"

He bolted to sit upright, staggered to his feet, dusted off his clothes, and stared at his hat. With a flourish, he spun it in his hands and placed it on his head, cocking it at a jaunty angle.

He gave the destruction in the clearing a disdainful sniff and snapped his fingers. Broken chairs and tables repaired themselves and stood upright. Immaculate white tablecloths draped the tabletops.

A silver tea service appeared on the nearest table. Steam curled up from the spout of the teapot.

Hatter pulled a round, golden watch from his vest pocket, flipped the top up and examined the face. He twisted a knob on the side and held it to his ear. A rhythmic ticking made him smile beatifically.

Was he still mad? Alix put a hand on his arm. "Hatter, the King's Men kidnapped the twins, and Harlan is losing himself to the darkness in the woods. Dormouse –"

He glanced away from the timepiece and caught her gaze. Alix peered into fathomless black eyes, searching for madness or sanity. She saw clarity, but of what?

Hatter tucked the watch away, stepped to the table and held out a high-backed chair. Silently, he waited for her to sit, sliding her chair in as she did.

Could he not speak? Maybe with all that happened he'd completely lost his mind. Wonderland was restored — shouldn't that mean Hatter had been healed?

Flipping his coattails out of his way, Hatter took his own seat at the head of the table. Lifting the teapot, he inhaled the scented steam and tilted the spout toward her cup.





Raven Chronicles, Chapters 29-30




Azar, his beautiful bride, was resplendent in green.

As their hands were bound together with the handfasting ribbon, a sense of tranquility and destiny settled over him. Soon, their child would be born, and he would come into his full power as king.

Courtiers, from Seelie and Unseelie Courts, wished them well. After dancing, Fechin led a breathless Azar to the head table and held out her chair.

"Are you happy, maité anam?" He couldn't help asking. There was a bit more sparkle to her, slightly less sadness.

Azar sighed. For an eternal moment, he didn't breathe as she hesitated.

Her beautiful green eyes studied him, then she finally spoke. "Yes. You win. I am happy, and I love you, Fechin."

His joyous smile lit his black eyes, and he leaned toward her upturned face intent on kissing her lips swollen.

Thunderous booms roared across the sky. Fechin jerked his head up. Overhead, beyond the blue sky, a layer of grey fog hovered.

Fechin swore. The fog parted, revealing a second layer of blue sky.

"What's happening, Fechin?" Azar's voice trembled. Her fear-filled eyes darted between the sky and his face.

The protective shields around Inisfail, and the fog that shrouded them from the world at large, were being targeted. "The wards, maité anam. We are under attack."

She screamed and doubled over as she collapsed to the ground. The child!

"Maité anam!" Fechin dropped to his knees beside her. For the first time, conflict over where his primary duty lay made him hesitate. He owed everyone living in Inisfail his protection, but to fulfill that obligation, he'd have to leave Azar.

Didn't he have a greater duty to her, and the babe? Azar carried the future of Inisfail within her.

Hundreds of lightning bolts struck the fog between layers of blue skies, tearing it to shreds. Each felt like a whip lashing him. Red lines and cuts formed on his skin.

A few strikes came through, hitting the ground and forest, setting trees aflame, but giving him the flavor of the magic attacking.


Her magic had a familiar, repugnant taint. The banished were always a threat. No Fae wanted to leave their home, where their power was strongest. She'd never tried to return, though.

Fae screamed while others stared, dumbfounded. Azar trembled in his arms. Anguish and indecision tore at him.

"Go," Azar managed to get out through her clenched teeth. "Protect Inisfail."

She was right. If Inisfail's protections fell, Azar was at greater risk. She was strong.

Why was the Queen of Winter attacking? Had Beira discovered he'd set Shisti aside? There would be a reckoning for that one day, but he hadn't expected it so soon, or from this quarter.

Fechin changed to his raven form and flew toward the storm. He rose into the sky, waves of power emanating from him as the wards pulled magic through him to renew.

Almost casually, a streak of lightning broke away from the fog and struck him like swatting a gnat. The blow hit like a hammer, sending him reeling, but he flapped furiously and recovered.

He intercepted the next bolt, letting the lightning hit him and taking the damage. Again and again, he took the assault, but he was only one against the hundreds of strikes. The ones he missed hurt more than the physical torment of the ones shredding his magic.

More bolts followed the first, one after another, breaking through his protections one layer at a time. The Queen of Winter had never been this strong before. How had she channeled so much power? Rather than weakening, her magic battered him, seeming to feed on itself and grow instead of diminishing.

Fechin screamed his defiance and pushed back. He had to strengthen the protections. Protect Azar. Thwart Beira's attack.

The witch's magic felt limitless while his was finite. Until he was king, he could act as a conduit, but the magic of Inisfail wasn't his to wield as he pleased.

A lightning bolt shattered his final protection. The broken spell ate into him like shards of glass ground into his soul. Agony paralyzed him. Another strike set fire to him. The acrid scent of burning flesh and feathers filled his nose.

Body limp, Fechin turned human. The flames extinguished, but he fell.

To me…

Azar screamed.

To me…

His ravens burst from the tower and forest, coming to his aid as they soared into the sky. Each of them caught part of him or his ragged clothing in their talons and beaks. Flapping their wings in unison, the flock slowed his fall.

The birds deposited him in front of Azar. His skin burned and forks of red lightning tattooed him. Blood flowed from his eyes, ears, and nose, obscured his vision, left a bitter, metallic taste on his tongue, and dripped onto the grass. Azar's calming presence acted like a balm as his body shook uncontrollably.

Fechin reached for his maité anam as she collapsed. She cradled her middle in her arms. Their child. He groaned and tried to marshall his energy.

Magic diminished, his body jerked in reaction as bolts of lightning continued to strike the protective magic around Inisfail.

Azar screamed again.

He pushed himself to his feet using the last of his will and staggered toward Azar.

Everywhere wards weakened, splintered, and shattered, each breaking a part of him. The protective fog vanished. Huge slashes opened into his magic. Bleeding wounds that would not heal.

Tears appeared in the sky — long narrow slits that widened into gaps. More holes opened. In the forest. In the mountains. In the swamp. On the plains.

Not just holes in the protective magic. Portals. Gateways to other places.

He'd failed.

Inisfail wasn't protected from anything now.

Another tear opened. This one was close. So close!

It opened right behind Azar. Fechin fought to get to her, losing his balance. He forced himself to his hands and knees and crawled.

She reached for him. Fechin struggled to lift his arm. Scrambled desperately to rally his magic. The ragged scraps sliced and burned him. Fragmented, his magic wouldn't flow. It pooled in smaller eddies, cut off from itself.

His fingertips brushed Azar's, and for a fraction of a second, his magic and strength surged to fullness. The yawning portal expanded and reached for Azar. The edges were already touching her.

New magic wrapped around her. It coiled like serpents, slithering and writhing, forming a cocoon that cut her off from him. Her terrified green eyed pleaded for help. Tears tracked down her face, staining her cheeks with sorrow. She lay curled on her side, arms wrapped around her middle.

A burst of energy slid Azar backward, breaking the tenuous connection between his fingertips and hers. Like the maw of a colossal beast, the abyss slammed closed, swallowing his maité anam.

The portal vanished, taking his wife and child.

"Azar!" Fechin bellowed in impotent rage.

Pain seared his already raw throat.

Small hands prodded and pulled at him, dragging him over the ground. The brownies. They were taking him away from where Azar had disappeared. Fechin thrashed, but so weakened, all he could do was twitch. He couldn't leave the last place Azar had been. It was his only hope of following her. Of bringing her back.

"You need to get inside!"

"You'll die if you stay here."

"Inisfail needs you!."

"We need you to be king now more than ever!"

The brownies' voices tumbled into his mind.

Fechin couldn't make himself protest. The energy required to form words was beyond him. He couldn't even blink as he stared at the place where Azar had vanished, taking their child with her.

The brownies were stronger than their spindly, child-like bodies suggested. In no time, they dragged him through the door of Raven Castle.

The moment he crossed the threshold, strength trickled into him. Not enough to continue the battle, but he wouldn't die.

Fechin braced himself and rolled to his hands and knees. Blood dripped from his nose and splashed to the stone floor. Vision wavering, unconsciousness closing in at the edges, he stood, aimed himself at the door, and lumbered toward it.

"No!" a brownie yelled. "You musn't —"

At the threshold, Fechin slammed into a barrier that threw him across the chamber. He slammed into a wall. Bones in his already battered body snapped, and he slid to the stone floor in a heap.

The brownies were on him again, straightening his limbs and shoving a cushion under his head.

"You need to rest. Regain your strength."

"Inisfail is wounded."

"Until the magic recovers, you can't leave."

Couldn't leave? But Azar needed him!

The smooth edge of a cup pressed against his lips. Something blessedly cool and liquid filled his mouth. He swallowed without thought, soothing his aching throat.

A heaviness stole over him. Sleeping elixir. No! He didn't have time to sleep! But the potent magic had him within its hold and darkness closed in on him.

Couldn't leave.

He'd worked so hard to keep Azar in. Now he was the prisoner and Azar was… somewhere. With so many portals opened, she could have been taken anywhere.

I will always bring you home, maité anam.

He hadn't thought he'd have to do it so soon. And trapped as he was, he had no idea how he could find her.





Magic in Shisti's blood heated and raced through her, making her miss a step and catch her balance with her hands braced on a table.

The curse.

It was active and buzzed through her magic.

With my blood, I curse yours to know only short lives filled with pain. Joy will turn bitter, and to know love means death.

But it shouldn't have done anything like this. For the curse to work, Azar must have felt genuine happiness, not the resigned acceptance she'd exhibited so far. Had the stupid girl actually fallen in love with Fechin? She'd been so determined not to!

Moments ago, Shisti had been watching the farcical wedding reception playing out in the meadow. Now the world trembled, shaken to its very foundations.

Inisfail itself was being torn asunder. The protections shattered one by one. The whole realm would be revealed and vulnerable to attack.

Her heart leapt. She could get out. There wasn't much time. Everything except for her magic related possessions could be left behind to burn.

She rushed around her suite to gather her knife and bowl. The vials of Azar's blood. Those were important. She raced toward the cabinet, the spell to unlock it on her lips.

To know love means death.

Shisti stopped short.

The idea of killing Azar, or leaving her to die, held no appeal. For the first time in decades, fear for someone other than herself made Shisti's heart pound. Azar didn't deserve death for being foolish. It was hardly the first time a woman had loved the wrong man.

But the magic in a curse, once uttered, had to run its course.

Or the magic had to go somewhere else.

Shisti closed her eyes to better visualize the tendrils of energy, and pulled as much of the curse back into herself as she could. For a time, her own happiness would turn bitter, but when was the last time she'd truly been happy?

A thousand spikes of agony stabbed into her, and her vision greyed. Splinters dug into the flesh under her fingernails as she clawed at the rough, wooden tabletop to remain on her feet.

Her magic was too potent. She'd never be able to take the whole curse back without endangering her babies.

The door opened with enough force to slam into the wall, and the rescued Fae women rushed into the room.

"What's happening?"

'Shisti, are you all right?"

Their chattering cut into her concentration. She could only shake her head, afraid if she unclenched her jaw, a scream would emerge.

Focus. She had to focus.

The wards around Inisfail shattered one by one. That wasn't her magic! Hers should have only worked from the inside to let Azar out.

Lightning struck. Huge, heavy bolts that tore the protective fog apart. That was her mother's magic. Why would the Queen of Winter attack Inisfail?

More of the curse returned, filling Shisti energy with a nauseating sludge as it pushed against her magic. She swallowed hard, attempting to slow the curse.

A siphoning on her daughter shot pain through her womb. Shocked, Shisti let go of the table, clutching her stomach as she slid toward the floor.

Beira. Her mother was using Shisti's daughter to power the spell attacking Inisfail.

Hands caught Shisti as her legs folded beneath her. She threw a shield around her babies, nearly draining herself as she put all her power into it.

The Queen of Winter's magic increased, turning icier in her fury at Shisti's resistance. The curse's toxicity built, eating away at her defenses like acid.

A war on two magical fronts was too much. With a mental apology to Azar, Shisti released her grip on the curse to reinforce the shield.

She couldn't help it. The scream she'd been holding in poured out.

"Let us help, Shisti. What can we do?"

Tears blurred her vision. From pain or the offer to help, she didn't know. "Too… much… magic."

"Take what you need from us."

They had no idea what they were offering. The old Shisti wouldn't have hesitated to put the polluted curse magic into the unsuspecting women so carelessly offering themselves to her. The old Shisti would never have taken her curse back into herself in the first place.

The new Shisti, the one with friends, and a newly awakened conscience, couldn't do it.

Beira pulled on them again, drawing magic toward the forest. Portals ripped through the ruined protections of Inisfail.

Shisti screamed. Every second the gateways remained open drained her magic. What was her mother doing?

Her daughter was fading. All of Shisti's determination to protect her children was for naught. She felt herself fading too, blackness creeping in at the edges of her mind.

Love burst from her son in a bright, starburst explosion, along with innate magic, retrieving Shisti and her daughter from the brink.

Shisti grasped the lifeline.

With love and magic given, accepted, and returned, energy and life returned. Her son had saved them all. Her magic began to build from nearly empty levels.

Taking the Fae women up on their offer, Shisti reached for their energy and took in as much as each of them could live without. The women gasped and dropped to their knees.

Bolstered, Shisti shoved her mother away, renewed the shield around her babies, and leveled out the sludge-ish curse magic.

Absorbing her own curse left her weakened, but with the wards broken, there was still hope of escape.

Shisti used the connection Beira had forced to let her magic ride the drifting currents of her mother's, briefly touching each of the rips into Inisfail.

One led to yawning darkness. Another somewhere icy. The third to a forest full of the ancient magic of a wrathful goddess.

There. A portal to a desert of pale, golden sands with hot winds. Shisti sent a fragment of magic through and recognized the familiar taste of Djinn energy.


Shisti seized control of the portal and dragged it through Inisfail to Azar. Fechin was there, diminished but still interfering. What was left of his magic blocked hers. The portal couldn't get to Azar.

There was no time to waste. Inisfail wasn't going to be safe for anyone anymore. Too many doors had been opened. Fechin couldn't even protect himself now.

Growling, Shisti wrapped Azar in as much of a cushion as she could, and shoved her backward, into the gateway, safely outside the broken shelter of Inisfail.

The portal tried to snap closed, but Shisti didn't let it go. It was fragile. Caution was needed. She coaxed and guided the door to freedom toward her rooms.

Azar was gone.

She'd been a warm presence. Her sudden absence left a cold emptiness Shisti didn't like.

With the target of the curse no longer nearby, the potency of the magic Shisti had to reabsorb slackened, and she sagged in grateful relief. She propped her back against the wall as she tried to level out her power.

Where could she go? Not her father's court. The Queen of Winter wouldn't be welcoming after the fight.

Azar. Shisti couldn't go to her friend because of the curse, but the Fae could all go with Azar.

The portal floated through Shisti's balcony door — a glimmering little more than the size of her fist. With patience in contrast to the thundering of her heart and a sense of foreboding presaging some unknown doom, Shisti teased the portal bigger, an inch at a time.

It felt too delicate and wanted to close. It wouldn't be stable for much longer.

"Go," Shisti ordered her companions. "None of us will be safe here after today. Hurry."

"Come with us." A Nixie crouched beside her. "We don't want to go without you."

Shisti shook her head. "I can't. The curse magic won't let Azar and I be in the same place. Find Azar on the other side. I'll come to you when I can break the curse completely."

It should be possible, but she needed time.

The Fae women kissed Shisti's cheek and hugged her.

"Thank you for saving us. We'll never forget the debt we owe you."

They rushed through the portal before Shisti could argue they'd already repaid their imagined debt.

Shisti shoved magic at the gateway to redirect the destination as far away from Arabi as she could make it. The view remained full of sand. Despair filled her. Maybe she lacked the energy to go very far. She couldn't remain in such close proximity to Azar or the curse would never relent.

She'd have to stay in Inisfail. Her head felt too heavy to lift anymore and sagged.

A breeze chilled her skin. Shisti jerked her head back up and peered closer. This sand was more white than gold. A jungle of green vegetation and trees loomed. Waves surged onto the beach.

Shisti sent tendrils of magic through. Everything felt unfamiliar. This was nowhere near Arabi. Relief and happiness filled her. No one would look for her here.

The portal was already closing and almost too small for her to get through. Leaving everything behind, Shisti crawled forward, reaching for her freedom.

A giant, rough hand closed around her ankle and dragged her away. "No!" She kicked backward, desperate to escape the iron grip. "Release me!"

"Going somewhere?" Vilkos' voice sent a shudder through her. "I don't think so, mate."

Her concentration ruined, the spell broke, and the portal closed with a pop.

Shisti let her forehead fall to the floor, holding her breath to keep a sob inside her.

Happiness turned bitter.




Madness of the Hatter, Chapters 21-22



Harlan's inhuman heart nearly stopped when Alix screamed. She'd never screamed — not even when he'd tried to terrify her that first day. He took a slice to his forearm in order to get close to the Queen's knight, picked him up by the neck, and tossed him into the men behind him. They fell like a house of cards, into a pile of armored, squirming limbs.

Free of enemies for the moment, he whirled, eyes desperately scanning the clearing to find Alix. Seeing Hatter down and Alix on her knees in front of the Queen, a rage burned so hot inside him that his darkness recoiled.

The Queen's blade rose in a deadly blur and swung downward.

He rushed forward, knocking Alix atop Hatter, and taking the strike meant to remove Alix's head in his chest. The agony was so keen he couldn't make a sound.

"You know how much I love you, Harlan." The Queen's syrupy sweet voice slid over his soul as she yanked her blade from his body. "Never forget you have my heart."

Her words summoned the darkness.

Pain knifed through him. Harlan doubled over, arms wrapped around his middle. He screamed as his skin tore. Little tears ripped into gashes. Instead of blood, darkness poured out of him and flowed over his skin, reaching for anyone close. They tasted like terror.

"Jabberwocky!" someone shrieked. "It's the Jabberwocky!"

People shouted and shoved at one another to get away from him.

Harlan laughed, but it wasn't him. If only they were all so lucky that he was only the Jabberwocky. He'd eaten that creature for breakfast years ago.

Alix jumped to her feet and swung her baton.

When the stick smacked her wrist, the Queen shrieked and dropped her sword. "Off with her head!"

Before he thought about it, black tentacles streaked out. More darkness escaped from him.

Tables and chairs overturned as the attendees and the Queen's soldiers panicked and screamed.

Be quiet! Stop screaming!

Shut up. Shut up! Shut UP!

Harlan pressed his hands to his ears. Screams only drew the darkness inside him out faster, feeding on their terror. He felt himself dissolving. Being eaten by the creature inside him.

The Queen laughed. She was the only one who never feared him.

Until Alix.

The Queen had done this to him. The darkness in him didn't often agree with the actions he wanted to take, but they were in accord now.

Harlan drew in his darkness and focused on the Queen. He took a step in her direction.

She blanched and took a step back.

Black tentacles lashed out and wrapped around the woman responsible for what happened to him. To Hatter. To Wonderland. The darkness tasted the Queen's terror and reveled in the opportunity for revenge.

He gave the darkness control. It sent out black whips that snapped at the Queen, making her flinch. Letting her dodge and think she could escape, only to lash her in another direction.

She screamed — her terror feeding the creature she'd forced him to become. Her terror nurturing the ever-starving monster.

The whips became ropes, binding her limbs one at a time, until a coil looped around her neck and cut off her screams. He held her in place as he fed, her soundless terror all the more potent trapped inside her with no way out.

A grey color spread over her skin as he drained her of life and magic. Her energy made his stomach roil, but he didn't let her go. He had to finish this.

He fed deeper, feeling sicker and less human the more of her he took in, yet unable to stop.

The Queen's body crumbled into dust. He stared at the pile of red clothing left behind, not quite believing she wouldn't return somehow.

Alix knelt next to Hatter. Harlan dropped down beside her.

Pungent smoke poured from the hedges.

The Caterpillar. And where he went, the King and all the King's Men wouldn't be far behind.

"Run!" Duman bellowed. "Don't breathe the smoke! Get to the pond!"

That smoke could be poisonous or just something to make everyone sleep, but he couldn't let the King get his hands on Alix. Not after they'd killed the Queen. The King might have come to detest her, but he wouldn't let her death go unavenged.

Alix coughed, waving away the wisps of smoke until they grew too thick and she had to back up to find clean air. That wasn't far or fast enough. He had to get Alix out of here and come back for Hatter. He threw her over his shoulder and darted into the forest.

His fearless Alix pounded on him until he put her down. She stepped forward and put a hand on his cheek. "You still don't scare me, Harlan. Come back to us. To me."

He wanted to, but the darkness surged, stronger and more vile from feeding on the Queen. Maybe even Alix couldn't tame it now. It wanted her. Wanted something pure after devouring something rotten.

Harlan staggered and wrenched from her touch as hungry tentacles reached for her. "Back away! Don't let the darkness touch you!”

She dropped her hand, but didn't leave. "Fight, Harlan. I don't know what she did to you, or why it's worse now, but you can fight her.”

He wanted to. But the darkness had never felt like this before. Hatter was dying, and without the magic of Wonderland to keep the beast at bay, it was so much worse.

Ice spread through him, numbing his emotions. He had to leave. Get away from here before he hurt his friends.

Before he hurt Alix.

With the last of his humanity, he placed his last hope on Alix. "Save. Hatter." Without him, there was no Wonderland, and they'd all die anyway.

Alix nodded. "I'll save him. Then I'm coming for you."

The darkness swallowed him whole as ice surrounded his heart.

The darkness in him hungered. It fought to devour him, reaching tentacles out to snare more prey.

With a roar, Harlan turned away and fled into the trees.




They'd done it… hadn't they? His heaving chest, hanging arm, cuts, and bruises attested to all the fighting, and no Queen's soldiers remained in the clearing. They'd all fled when she fell.

Alix and Harlan had killed the Queen. The Queen was definitely dead. There was no coming back from what Harlan had done, but nothing felt different.

I thought something would happen when we won, Deegan thought. Some sort of sign that Wonderland was better.

Me too.

Hatter hadn't moved. If they'd done all this but lost him anyway, they hadn't won anything. If Hatter was dead, maybe that's why nothing felt different.

Alix and Harlan knelt beside Hatter. Duman never thought he'd see Harlan save anyone. If Alix could bring him back from darkness, there was hope for Hatter.

Duman waited for his twin to limp toward him, one black clad leg a bit darker with a reddish sheen. He could feel Deegan's pain and his pride. He wouldn't welcome help.

One of Duman's arms hung uselessly. He might not be much help anyway.

Movement in his peripheral vision took his attention. Duman squinted at the hedges. Had they moved? Not them. Something in the shadows around them.

Wisps of pungent smoke curled from beneath the bushes as they parted to reveal a sinuous form. The Caterpillar reared up and loomed. He blew out smoke that hung like fog over the clearing.

A bald man with a pale, egg-shaped head marched out of the hedges, white uniform gleaming. "The King requires the twins alive," General Humpty Dumpty called. "Leave everyone else."

All the King's white-armored men emerged from the maze, carrying swords and shields. A few of them lugged heavy nets.

The King wanted him and Deegan? But why? They'd left the courts and all the intrigue years ago.

Smoke poured from the north hedges. Tendrils darted from the fog overhead.

Duman covered his nose and mouth, running for Deegan. "Run! Don't breathe the smoke! Get to the pond!" They'd be trapped, but the smoke didn't flow over water.

Coils of smoke twisted and turned, like snakes seeking prey to strike. One by one, the attendees fell.

Unable to run with his injured leg, Deegan collapsed to his knees, coughing.

Get away! Don't come for me. Smoke obscured Deegan's body, and his thoughts turned blurry. It's… fine. Everything… it's all… everything is fine.

Two of the King's Men threw a net over Deegan, seized his arms, and dragged him toward the hedge maze.

"Deegan!" Duman fought to return to his twin. His eyes stung, making his vision blur. "Let him go!"

A wisp of smoke engulfed his face, insinuating itself into his nose through his fingers. He held his breath and thrashed, trying to bat the smoke away.

"Deegan!" Alix yelled. "Duman!"

Duman shook his head, trying to dispel the drugging haze. He had to fight. Stay clear headed. He should… he should… His breath burst from him and he inhaled involuntarily.

Sweet smoke filled his lungs and his thoughts muddled. A languorous sensation stole over him. He should… he should call to Alix and tell her not to worry. No one had to worry at all. Everything was fine.


His tongue felt too big in his mouth, and his limbs were heavy. Too heavy to stand. He fell down. Yes, that was so much better. Now he could fly. The men around him threw a net over him.

That wasn't nice! Now he couldn't move. How could he fly if he couldn't move? They picked him up and he laughed. Being carried was kind of like flying.

Now he could fly to Alix and they would get Deegan and go to the Tea House. Duman tried to thank the men. He hadn't realized they were his friends before.

"Thaaa… thhhhh….thaaa…" Duman closed his eyes so he could concentrate better. It shouldn't be hard to talk. He opened his eyes to a high wall of green growing larger.

They weren't taking him to Alix. They were going toward the hedges!

"Noooo." Duman tried to free an arm so he could point the right way.

The King's Men entered the hedges, and they closed around him.