Man is an upstart species that was once welcomed by Aderyn’s kind—the Others. Like a weed, humans left much in ruin. And the Others retreated behind an enchanted wall guarded by Keepers. Aderyn is one such Keeper. And Man’s battles have reached her tower.
Owen, the nearly dead ex-soldier she once found at her gates, is a different sort of man. He didn’t want anything—except to give her flowers and make her laugh. As he drank in her healing magic like life-giving water, she drowned in his eyes. She was taught to defend against Man’s violence; she was helpless in the face of his kindness.
Now that she has had a taste of it, she would kill to keep it.
Her visions tell her it’s only a matter of time before more soldiers attack her boundary. With no intention of failing her people—or losing the man she loves—she uses her magic to unleash an apparition with the power to decimate armies.
But there’s a price to be paid—in blood. As the tide of it rises higher, everything she has fought for threatens to slip through her fingers. Including Owen…
Contains hot interspecies sex, a creepy boogey monster lurking in the shadows, a male gardener with not only a green thumb but shape-shifting body parts, and a horde of man-sized bloodthirsty bugs bent on world domination.
Type: Short Story
Company: Samhain Publishing
Lightning illuminated the wall between worlds, a jagged wound separating those who worshipped the concrete and those who scoffed at it. Aderyn no longer knew which side she belonged on.
She hunched inside her wool cloak. Another arc of electricity fractured the evening sky, splintering into a half dozen bolts. One started a fire on the horizon. Or maybe it just brought the blaze to her attention. She hoped for more than a light show tonight. Owen’s garden needed rain and the cistern was nearly dry.
Had she her dam or granddam’s talents, she could have raised her arms, read the runes, and coaxed the rain to fall. Her dam, however, had long since retreated from such responsibilities, leaving her with the Keeper’s logs, an empty Tower, and a gate to guard. The wall itself was more a physical deterrent to those of her husband’s blood than that which dwelled on the other side. The Others were satisfied with offerings, craved them even. Belief filled them, much like bread and cheese eased Owen’s hunger. His kind, well…she did not wish to think ill of them.
The first drop of rain struck her upturned face. She whispered her thanks, just in case anyone was listening.
“There you are.” Owen’s hands stroked her shoulders. “I should have thought to look here first.”
She turned in his grip. “The rain comes, as you prayed for.”
He grinned, the oversized droplets plastering his blond curls to his scalp. Velvety blue eyes the color of her great granddam’s sapphire choker studied her solemn face. Cupping her face in his hands, he kissed the frown lines at the corners of her lips. “You’re far too serious. What is worrying you tonight?”
Without waiting for an answer, he released her and craned his neck. Her hand automatically closed around his forearm, as if that gesture alone could prevent him from plummeting to his death should he lean too far over the Tower’s railing. Her light shone above them, warning travelers and marking the end of Man’s realm. Those who tried to venture beyond it would not find an opening here.
“The beacon blazes bright.”
She kneaded her brows with her fingertips. She loved him dearly, but sometimes his oversimplification of facts made her want to wrap her hands around his throat and see if mild asphyxiation spurred brain cell growth. “The electrical storms are increasing in frequency. This is the third this week.”
He shrugged. “There is nothing you can do about it.”
She gnawed her lower lip. Mankind stalked closer to her Tower each day. When Man first arrived, an upstart youth in an already-burgeoning realm, others like herself welcomed him. Like a weed, though, he encroached upon unspoken boundaries, took what he pleased, and left much in ruin. Had the Others been more like Man, they would have risen up and fought. Instead, they retreated behind walls and set Keepers such as herself to tend the borders. One day she’d wake up to find more of Owen’s kind on her porch. And then what would happen? She didn’t think Owen would leave her, but would he fight against his own? She doubted those who approached would have any respect for her, cloaked as she was in her frail human skin. Even less for a man who dallied with something he didn’t understand.
He folded her in his arms, her back to his chest. His nose nuzzled a tender spot behind her ear. “I met you on a night such as this. Do you remember?”
Some of the tension eased out of her limbs. “How could I forget?” He weakened her, wrapped her in muscle and masculine scent, stole moments she should have spent practicing her craft. Oh, but how could one curse his thievery when the pilfered time was spent in carnal bliss? When the army of Man came knocking at her gate and they were left defenseless, she’d remember how she’d carelessly let her talent trickle through her fingertips.
She turned. She loved to look at him. His unconscious power over her—she a daughter of the Collcrin and he but a man—left her breathless. When he had collapsed on her doorstep six winters ago, she had wondered if she was responsible or if the gods had grown weary of her nightly whining, took pity on her poor conjuring skills, and dumped him there themselves.
He undid her knot of hair, the black silk strands spilling through his fingers. “My lady of shadows.”
Her lips quirked. “My moonlit god.” She kissed his brow, smoothing the slight furrow. She never wanted to see age mar his features. When the reminder of his humanity finally arrived, it would break her. Perhaps it had been the same with her mother and father. “Remind me of our first time.”
He kissed her chastely, making her ache and crave and burn all at once. “Gladly.” Taking her hand in his, he dropped to one knee. “My lady, I know not what you are, but I pledge here and now to take your cares as my own, and with this body of mine to shelter you as you’ve given me shelter, to leave my kisses at your feet in lieu of alms, to—”
Memory and the present blurred. She pressed her hand over his mouth. “Take no oaths where others listen, lest your own words be used against you.”
Wiggling his brows, he licked her palm.
With a startled laugh, she withdrew her hand, fingers trailing over his cheek. His irreverence touched her. Cupping her hands, she filled them with raindrops and brought them to his lips. His hands covered hers and he drank.
He stared at her over her thumb. “You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.”
She was pleased. “That, my dear lord, is because I am not an ordinary woman.”