I’m not sure if you’ll get these but I wanted to keep some sort of record of my trip. Oliver and I arrived safely from Scotland, and despite being exhausted from the flight I found the energy to go out to eat and buy shoes. You would so proud. I bought four pairs – on his credit card! As you promised, the food here is in fact amazing. I may gain ten pounds on this trip, but it will be worth every bite.
Oliver’s “little” place in Milan is beautiful. It’s a five bedroom house that sits in the heart of the city. I can walk out the front door and shop in designer boutiques or eat amazing things until I can’t wear the clothes in the boutiques. The kitchen is something I think you would kill for. Creamy red marble counter tops on antique golden colored cabinets. Don’t worry, I am taking pictures. I think you’ll have to come visit with us next time we come back.
Gotta run. Oliver is cooking dinner for two.
After Ian stepped up as Laird and out-of-town guests started returning to their homes, I had a chance to finally explore the grounds. I had wanted some one-on-one time with Dani the entire week that we had both been here. This afternoon was my last chance before she and Oliver left in the morning. “Are you glad you came?” I asked her.
She shrugged. “I’m glad I was here for a friend. It was interesting to see a Werewolf funeral. I won’t lie though, I am very excited to wear clothes again tomorrow. I like the glamour that keeps me from leaving a trail of glitter everywhere I go.”
I laughed. “Yeah, I can see that. After all those times I threatened to glitter bomb your house, it’s funny to me that you now do it to yourself. Now I know where the idea for a sparkly Vampire came from. Obviously, Oliver isn’t the first to date a Pixie.”
Dani reached over and shoved me hard, almost knocking me off balance. “I hope my Pixie just got in everything you own and you’re washing it out for weeks to come.”
“I guess I’ll just chalk it up to decoration for my binding ceremony.” I tried not to roll my eyes. I didn’t understand why we needed to be in such a hurry for it anyway.
“Yeah, don’t let Hue pressure you into that. There is something bigger picture going on with Ian and Hue,” she told me.
“You’re right. We’re doing it partially for Ian. He says he won’t have any peace until I mate with Hue and put an end to our chapter.” I wrapped my arms around myself at the memories of my day with Ian.
“Kat, I met this woman. She said something about the Wolf and the Dragon being the same. She wanted to tell Ian not to give up hope.” Dani stopped walking. “I don’t think you should mate with Hue yet.” I started to argue with her but she held up a hand. “I think you and Hue belong together, I’m just not sure you and Ian don’t belong together too.”
“I’m sort of up against a wall on this. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for either of them and it’s the only request they have made of me.” I was sure I loved Hue, but I was also sure I loved Ian.
“Just think it over,” she told me.
We started walking again. This time I led her towards the lake where I had gone through the cleansing ritual. Clothes weren’t the only thing I was looking forward to. The glamour that protected my true form had washed away and I was ready to return it to its proper place, shielding me. “Oh, I wanted to talk to you about something. I met a woman in the woods the night of the funeral pyre. She was part Ghost or something.”
“What do you mean?” Dani asked, tipping her head to the side.
“I mean I could see right through her. I was able to touch her, though. She spoke in a whisper and had dark eyes and hair. She said her name was Tessa,” I told her.
“I met a Tessa, but she looked Human to me until she talked about flying. I thought she had somehow wandered onto the property by accident.” Dani stopped a few feet from the lake and picked up a stone,tossing it out into the water. “She’s the one that said the weird stuff about Ian and Hue.”
“Then I hope we will meet again,” I said. I idly noticed a crow sitting on a low branch in a nearby tree. It was the only bird I had seen on the property in days.
Dani looked at the sky that was starting to darken. “Hey, I gotta get back to the manor and make sure Oliver and I are all set to leave before dawn in the morning. We’re sharing a private room tonight so dinner may be the last I see you until I get back from Italy.”
“How long are you going to be there?” I asked.
“A little over a week. Maybe a week and a half if something comes up. Any tips? You mentioned really loving Rome.” She smiled.
“Eat until you can’t eat anymore. Seriously Dani, the food there was so good.” We exchanged glances and laughed.
“I’m worried about his family,” she admitted.
“Don’t. You’re amazing and he’s lucky to have you. If they can’t see that then it’s their loss, but Oliver is crazy about you so don’t worry too much. If they threaten to eat you let them know your best friend happens to have a very close connection with the Fire element.” I gave her a playful wink. We both laughed and after a big hug we waved and promised to speak at dinner.
She had just disappeared out of sight when I heard a rustling in the nearby tree. I turned just in time to watch as the crow transformed into a cute dark-haired young woman. Her skin was pale and her eyes were every bit as dark as the ethereal form I had met a few nights before. “I thought she would never leave,” she told me as she stretched her arms and slid off the branch.
I blinked a few times. “Tessa, right?”
She nodded. “That I am. You’re the Princess that doesn’t die,” she said with a satisfied smirk.
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“Oh, all of us know about you. The only other creature besides the Lady of the Lake able to swim to the bottom of the lake and out the other side, then make it back out. You must think you’re really something,” she said with an almost snide tone.
“Actually, I think I’m really lucky,” I told her. “I knew I would either die without Hue or die trying to save him,” I explained. “I was lucky that I survived.”
She shook her head. “Ian was still alive. Hue and Ian had to die at the same time, but that didn’t happen because Hue sacrificed himself to save you. It would have worked out if Ian had also done so, but he didn’t.”
“Huh?” I said, blinking at her.
She rolled her eyes. “Well, Princess, we can foresee death, but with you all I see is fog because you’re… you. Since Hue died and Ian didn’t there is no longer a death plan for either of them. You need a Soul Mate. You’re the one being that MUST have one.”
“Yeah, I don’t really get what you’re saying,” I said apologetically.
“You will.” She sighed.
“Who are your people? Crow-were?” I asked hoping to change the subject and learn more about our mysterious guest.
“Crow what?” She looked at me in confusion before glancing back at the tree and nodding in understanding. “Oh, that. Yeah, I don’t really know why I can turn into a crow, but I can. No, I’m a Banshee. My job is to foretell the passing of someone important, but my abilities go far beyond that. We see death.” She stopped and looked at me. “Well, where there is death to be seen. You’re so new and shiny.”
“I’m sorry?” I told her.
With a shrug she smiled. “Don’t be. Around you, everything is quiet. I can’t see anything. Case in point, your friend Dani. When we first met I could see everything, but with you her future is hazy, like it has a different possibility and purpose. But best of all, I can’t see it.”
“Wait, you know when Dani is going to die?” I asked with horror.
“Not exactly. I could see what the end looks like, not so much when, but when people are with you it all changes. I know that when she enters your court everything in her path changes and her end isn’t foreseeable any longer.” She smiled. “We all have an end. That can’t be helped, but she will carve her own destiny. It won’t just be sitting out there waiting for her.”
I sank down to the bank and stared up at Tessa. “That has to be the worst existence ever,” I said to her.
“Tell me about it,” she said, sinking to the ground beside me. “You changed her destiny once when you chose to tell her what you were and pulled her into your world. She willingly joined you, but everything changed. More will change for her and everyone else you choose to let in.”
“So I’m what? Some Fairy Godmother who has the magic to change lives?” I wasn’t sure what to make of that.
“Nope. You’re the Princess and you are here for a reason. Believe it or not, you will change many things – you just have to want it bad enough.” Tessa reached out and took my hand. “That’s why I want your help.”
“Help how?” I eyed her carefully.
“Banshees have no memories of their lives before that became Banshees. We have no clue where we are from, how old we are, if we even have families. It’s a curse. If we can break the curse then we regain all our memories, and we also gain control over our powers.” She looked hopeful and for the first time since I met her, her eyes almost looked happy. “If anyone can help me break the curse it will be you.”
“Can you meet me back in Everbloom in a few days after all this is wrapped up here?” I asked.
She shook her head. “I don’t know where Everbloom is or how to cross realms. I’m afraid I’m going to need quite a bit of help on this one.”
I looked heavenward and closed my eyes. I reminded myself that the most important thing was that I was kind and worked hard. When I opened my eyes to the dark sky, I let out a slow breath. “Meet me and Hue at the Manor tomorrow at noon. Bring anything you’re going to need because I can’t see me coming back to Scotland for a while. Ian and I are going to try some distance.”
“Because that worked so well last time,” she mumbled. I looked at her, shocked. “Sorry, word gets around about you Princess. Tomorrow, at noon. I’ll be there.”
Now all I had to do was explain why I was taking a Banshee home with me to both Hue and Ian. That was a conversation I wasn’t looking forward to.
Of all the awkward experiences I have had during my friendship with Kat, sitting naked in bed with her mate Hue, Ian’s mate Briar, and my boyfriend Oliver sits fairly high on the list. I have a high tolerance for nudity and even I was feeling a bit uncomfortable. “So when will Kat be back?” I asked.
Hue was preoccupied with his own thoughts but snapped back to the present when I spoke. “She’s with Ian until tonight,” he answered.
“So they aren’t coming back here today?” I poked.
Hue shook his head. “Ian can only have the company of one person the day of the ceremony. As expected, he chose Kat.”
“What will they do?” I wondered out loud, but knew by everyone’s looks what would be happening. “But you’re her mate,” I argued.
“I am, but I’m not blind. She loves him just as much as she loves me. I just happen to have the luxury of being her mate. As Briar is Ian’s.” Hue looked over at Briar who looked perfectly content to read her book.
“But it’s different. She loves you. Hue, if she hadn’t rescued you…” I stopped to let out a sad breath. “Cariss wouldn’t be the only funeral this summer. I would have lost her.” I wiped away the tears that had collected in the corners of my eyes.
“Ian wouldn’t have let her,” Hue said distantly.
I suddenly remembered. “Your mental link. You can see and feel everything that Kat does, can’t you?”
Hue nodded. “As well as Ian.”
I sat stupefied while I processed those words. Oliver was able to articulate what I could not. “You have a link with Ian?”
“Yes. We didn’t really interact until Kat, but we’ve come in contact with one another several times in the last two hundred years. Fate has a strange way of leading people together.” He rolled off the bed and went to stand by a window. “We’ve been aware of each other for a long time, but a lot of it has been chalked up to there being so few of non-Humans in Tarell.” Oliver nodded in agreement. “When we emerged from the lake and I watched the way she collapsed and felt Ian’s heart stop as she fell, I couldn’t deny the bond.”
“Does Kat know about your connection?” I asked.
“Of course,” Oliver said with a look of discomfort. “Because she has it too.”
I looked back and forth between Hue and Oliver quickly. “Wait, what?” My mind raced with the possibilities. “So she has two Soul Mates?”
Hue turned to face us. He leaned back against the window. “No, she is my Soul Mate, but she also has a bond with Ian I can’t deny. Our best hope is to return to Everbloom or Drakemoore, complete our bonding, and hope that it ends the connection.”
Something about Hue’s assumption that she was his irritated me just a little. I started to say something but Oliver squeezed my shoulder and shook his head, cutting me off. Oliver cleared his throat. “Have you ever thought that maybe it’s the other way around?” Hue leveled his gaze with Oliver. “Maybe she is destined for so much greatness that you’re her Soul Mate and Ian is too.” Hue rolled his eyes.
“She is destined for greatness, but I will be the one to protect her. I’ve done it in the past and will do it again.” Hue looked angry now, like he was past the point of being on edge. I wanted to urge Oliver to relax and let it go for now.
I broke the standoff. “You wouldn’t have the bonding ceremony before we returned from Italy, would you?”
Hue backed down and looked amused. “I had planned to complete the ceremony upon returning to Everbloom, but the actual celebration would likely wait. I know she would want you there at least for the celebration.” His face softened and he smiled. “Unless you are volunteering to witness the consummation?”
I felt my cheeks turn red. “Nope, I can wait for the celebration.” Even Oliver smirked. They forgot that although I had never witnessed a binding ceremony, I had read about several. I stood and walked to the door. “I’m going for a walk,” I announced.
Outside the sun was warm and I wondered how long it would be before I started turning pink. While it wasn’t cold, Scotland was certainly cooler than Seoul in July, but still every bit as sunny. I imagined myself turning the dreaded pink that Kat so mercilessly teased me about. I was so lost in thought I didn’t see the young woman standing in my path until we collided with each other. I staggered back a few steps and began apologizing for running into her. When I looked up I realized she was dressed. She was the first clothed person I had seen in days. “I am so sorry I ran into you. Are you all right? Are you lost?” I asked.
She shook her head and smiled. There was no happiness in her eyes though. “I’m sorry, I should have paid more attention. My name is Tessa, I’m on my way to meet with the new laird.”
“Ian?” I asked.
She nodded again. “That is correct.”
Remembering what I had learned earlier, I decided to politely recommend that she come at a different time. “His father just passed away. Today is a ceremony in preparation for tonight and he’s a little busy.”
“He will see me. I saw him walking with the Princess atop the tower.” She pointed at the south end of the manor where an out of place turret stood.
“How could you see that far?” I asked her.
“I saw them when I flew over,” she explained.
“Oh! You’re an otherworlder. Got it!” I breathed a sigh of relief. “You mentioned the Princess, do you know Alizeyah?”
“We met briefly last night, but it’s more that I know of her.” Tessa seemed polite enough but something about her didn’t make much sense.
“I still don’t think now is good. Can I deliver a message?” I offered.
“Tell him not to lose hope. The Dragon and the Wolf are one and the same,” she told me.
“You mean they are both her Soul Mates?” I said, looking back up at the tower, for the first time wondering if Kat really did have a choice.
“No. They are the same,” she whispered. When I turned around to ask for clarification she was gone. Right now my fingers itched for my library.
It’s the funeral day. I shouldn’t be happy. I refuse to open my eyes and end this moment. Ian’s bed was the most comfortable place I had ever slept. The moment felt perfect and I didn’t want to acknowledge that it was because I was snuggled up with both Hue and Ian at the same time. Dani and Oliver had segregated themselves off to one side. Even with realizing that Briar’s head was resting on my thigh didn’t ruin how wonderful it all felt. I was starting to understand the Werewolf reasoning for sleeping like this. It wasn’t sexual – it was strangely comfortable.
How long are you going to pretend you’re still sleeping? Hue asked.
As long as she wants, Ian answered.
I sighed and finally spoke. “Three voices in my head feels excessive.” I opened my eyes and struggled to sit up.
“Three?” Briar asked sleepily.
“Yes, it would seem Ian is now privy to my brain as well.” I looked down at the very pregnant Werewolf.
“Good, you can have him and bear the next baby.” She growled, rubbing her extended belly.
“Whoa. I’m no baby factory,” I laughed.
She looked at me with brown puppy eyes. “It’s not so bad.”
“Yeah, I’m not buying it,” I told her as we all started getting up and moving.
Dani sat up and looked at me with her usual early morning confusion. She glittered. Not like my scales, but she left a little sparkly trail behind her everywhere she went. Her hair, even first thing in the morning… or evening, as it were, was perfect. “Is there breakfast?” she asked, stretching.
“Pixie dust…” I muttered.
“Huh?” She blinked at me.
“Your hair is perfect,” I told her.
She smiled and shrugged. “I know.”
“It’s the Pixie Dust isn’t it?” I asked.
“I think it’s just awesome genetics.” She reached over and poked Oliver a few times.
“Nope, it has got to be magic,” I exclaimed.
Oliver’s true form took some getting used to. I would say next to myself, his was probably the most shocking change… at least for me. His skin was dark and his eyes were black. His fangs were very visible. It wasn’t that he wasn’t beautiful, because he was. I just felt that standing next to each other, we looked like some strange depiction of heaven and hell. He met my gaze and just sighed. “Kat, she may have perfect hair, but you actually glow. As a Vampire it makes me a little uncomfortable to look at you.”
I winked at him. “Good, then don’t check out my rack today.”
“I can’t help it. You and Dani both just have… boobs. Shiny Fae boobs,” he argued.
I glanced at Briar, who was nodding. “He’s right. I’m not attracted to females and I can’t help but look at both of your breasts. Fae breasts are just magical.”
“I’m not Fae!” I argued.
“Yes, but you are Elven, which is still a creature of the light,” she explained.
Growling at the occupants of the oversized bed I crawled to the edge and made a dash for the bathroom. All I wanted was a quick shower.
When I returned from the shower it was to find everyone waiting on me. “Sorry to keep you,” I apologized.
Both Dani and Briar glared at me in perfect unison. “Food.”
“Fine, fine,” I said, holding up my hands and following the others out of the room. I couldn’t figure out why we all had to leave together but there seemed to be some sort of rule about it because other rooms observed the same behaviors. What was weirder is that we could go to bed whenever we wanted.
“Are you hungry?” Hue asked, leaning close to my ear.
I shrugged. “I guess.”
“You should eat up. The funeral pyre is tonight and can take hours. Frequently, it lasts till morning and none of us can leave until it is over,” he explained.
“We eat after, right?” I asked.
“Not until the next moon rise. Then we feast.” Hue grinned.
“Got it, eat up,” I said. I followed Ian around the table, taking whatever he recommended. So far he hadn’t let me down on what dishes to avoid and which ones to eat extra of. Everyone ate in silence and as we finished we all made our way outside.
Just outside the doors the old Wolf women from the pond a few days earlier caught me by the arm. “Come with us child.” Before I could snag anyone else, I was taken away from them to the large pyre and circle. “You retrieved a sacred wood from the fire and weren’t burned. You will be playing a major part in tonight’s ceremony,” the oldest woman explained.
“Ummmm, are you sure that’s a good idea? I mean Hue probably wasn’t burned either. The Dragon thing makes us fairly fire retardant.” I was babbling and they just shook their heads. “I just wouldn’t want to mess anything up.”
The Wolf that had marked Grace smiled at me. “You won’t. All you must do is wait for the drumming to start, then dance around the pyre and make sure it catches fire. Then just keep dancing until the entire thing is ablaze.”
“Is that all?” I asked a bit sarcastically.
“That’s all,” they all answered. The oldest spoke again. “Wait here at the forest edge until you hear the drums.”
I looked at the row of trees near us. “That’s a forest?” I asked.
“Yes. A small one. Only forty or so acres,” she explained.
“Only,” I mumbled. I met their eyes and gave them a nod and watched as they made their way to the circle. I stood in silence, waiting and scanning the woods beside me. It was creepy how quiet everything was. I heard the crack of a twig and I spun around to completely face the forest. “Hello?” I called in a whisper. There was no answer. Something told me I wasn’t alone though. Looking once over my shoulder at the circle in the distance I decided unwisely to investigate the sound.
I had taken a dozen or so steps into the forest when I saw a shadowy figure. “You there, wait!” I called out. The figure froze. The closer I got the easier it was to see. The creature before me was pale and translucent. Her hair was black like the night’s sky. Her clothes were grey robes that seemed to float around her. “Who are you?” I asked.
She looked at me with confusion. When she spoke it was with a whisper. “I tell the passing of the soul. Don’t look at me like that,” she started to back up.
I reached out and grabbed her wrist. “Wait.”
She stopped and stared down at my hand and I let her go. She looked closer at me. “What are you? Who are you?” she asked again in a whisper.
“What do you mean?” I asked, confused.
She reached out and touched my cheek. She let out a slow breath. “I don’t understand. I don’t see it.”
“Don’t see what?” I all but demanded.
She sank back in fear. “Your end,” she said softly.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“Tessa. You may call me Tessa,” she explained. She dropped her hand. “Your drums are sounding, Princess.”
I turned and look back over my shoulder at the circle. Sure enough, as soon as I did the sound of drums began beating. When I looked back at Tessa, she was gone. “What the fuck?” I said out loud, and decided to think about it later. I turned and went running for the circle.
The circle of watchers was huge. I hadn’t realized how many people had come for the funeral, but it made sense. I could feel hundreds of sets of eyes on me as I entered the circle. The drum beat matched my heart. It was then I realized I had no torch. I looked around frantically but couldn’t find a pair of eyes I recognized and panic rose within me. Just then a swirl of wind wrapped around me and I relaxed. I began moving again with the drums and chanting to the elements. I began dragging my hands about the pyre and watched with fascination as fire seemed to spring to life from my touch. The flames danced with me, their movement matching my own.
I danced and set glowing flames across every beam of wood. I danced until my body hurt, and then past that until it just felt numb. When the entire pyre finally danced with glowing flames I slowed my dancing and the drumbeat changed. I felt weak and shaky as I took steps towards the drums. I made it just to the edge of the circle and a pair of arms reached up and pulled me down to sit in a lap. I looked up into Hue’s beautiful eyes, then rested my head against his shoulder. The drummer beside us stopped playing long enough to give my shoulder a squeeze and I recognized it immediately. I rested there in Hue’s arms until daybreak, dozing somewhere between waking and unconsciousness.
When dawn came and the last of the flames died, I looked at the smoking ash at the center of circle. Everyone held their breath as a crow appeared, swooping down into the ashes. It picked through them and gathered something into its beak. It hopped a few times, then flew away. A sigh of relief ran around the circle. It broke apart as Ian and Arjin went to the ashes and gathered them. Hue and I waited for them to finish and we all walked back to the manor together. At the door Ian handed his uncle the urn he held and didn’t say anything until he left. “Kat, if you follow me, we will go wash away the soot and ashes.”
I looked at Hue who nodded. I’ll see you tonight. I want a shower myself.
Ian took my hand and led me to a hallway I hadn’t gone down yet. We climbed a spiral staircase and entered a room that looked out over the grounds of the estate. “Where are we?” I asked finally.
Ian cleared his throat. “Tonight I will become Laird of my clan. I can choose one person to spend the day with in preparation for the ceremony.”
“Why me?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“Because it has to be you. You’re the only one I would want to spend my last free day with,” he explained. “It should be with the person who owns my heart.”
I smiled. “What happens when this is all over?” I asked.
He looked sad. “I will stay here. You have your mate and I have mine. Hue and you are Soul Mates. You always have been and I will honor that bond. It’s the most powerful bond in existence.”
But what are we if not bonded? I asked without words.
Ian pulled me close and captured both sides of my face. Leaning down, he pressed his lips to mine. I melted against him. We are not Soul Mates. We can never be anything else beyond this day.
“So I just go home and we never speak of our bond again?” I asked. Despite my efforts tears pricked at my eyes. I knew they shouldn’t be there because I was being selfish.
“I have sworn my life to you. I will always return to you. Once my heir is born there will be no others,” he told me.
The tears were unstoppable. “I don’t want you to be alone,” I cried.
You are forever in my head and heart. I will never be alone again. It’s not fair to anyone else to try and compete with you. Ian released my face and motioned to follow him. We made our way to a large shower and then to a bed where he made sure he would forever be in my heart and mind.
When Hudraer and I arrived in Inverness the next day, I took the time to finally call Dani and Oliver to alert them to what was going on. Oliver quickly took over the phone call to confirm train stations, buses, and time tables. I could hear the rustle of Dani in the background starting the packing process, or perhaps finishing it. We all knew what was coming. Hue and I had come directly from the seaside retreat. He sent word to Geren to have someone come care for the horses while we were gone. Having only been to Scotland once, I was able to get us by portal bead to Edinburgh, but no further because I had no other direct pull to anywhere in the country.
As we waited for the train I looked at Hue and offered a halfhearted smile. “I should have had you portal us here. Isn’t Scotland your ancestral home?”
“It is,” he said. “I left it centuries ago. I’m not sure I would have done much good with the portal bead myself.”
I considered that for a moment. I wanted to pry furthet but wasn’t sure if it was a wise choice at the moment. Instead I decided to switch gears. “At some point I will need to go find appropriate clothes.”
Hue smirked. “It’s a Werewolf ceremony and party.”
I looked down at my sun dress and then at his outfit, which looked like something out of a Prince Valiant comic, and winced. “Yeah, but there is something to be said for class.”
Hue shook his head. “You don’t understand. Remember Yule? Do you remember how hard it was to keep people clothed? The entire next week will be mostly skyclad.”
“Skyclad? As in naked?” I asked. A little ways down the train platform an older woman and man watched us with humor. They were obviously amused by my reaction to the word skyclad.
Hue even chuckled. “Yes, naked with body paint and jewelry.” He saw my unease. “Not everyone will be staying at the main house. There are many small satellite buildings on the massive property. It wouldn’t surprise me if they put most of us in those and only kept immediate family and mates in the main house.” He reached out, snaking his arm around my waist and pulling me close. “You’re not afraid to spend a week naked with me, right?”
I felt my cheeks glow red as the nearby older couple chuckled loud enough for me to hear clearly this time. “No,” I said, shaking my head. “I’m not afraid.” I thought about the connection I had felt with Ian the day before and looked at Hue. And what if Ian decides my place is by him in the house for the next week?
Hue’s eyes gleamed in a way I hadn’t expected. He’s in pain and seeks comfort. I will not fault you for comforting him.
Once you told me you could feel everything I was experiencing with him. I wouldn’t want to hurt you, I explained.
Hue cupped my chin in his hand. All three of us are connected through you for some reason. I don’t know if it’s temporary or permanent, but I daresay he would experience you and I together as well.
The thought chilled me to the bone. I was silent the rest of the trip to the family estate. When we finally arrived I stood quietly outside the cab while Hue paid the driver. Taking a deep breath, I walked up to the front door and pushed the button that would proclaim our arrival. I was surprised when Grace and Justin answered. I shouldn’t have been though, suddenly remembering that Grace was Cariss’s niece. Justin’s eyes lit up and he stepped past Grace and me to hug Hue. The two were old friends and I was sure that Justin felt a measure of relief at knowing there were familiar faces. It was then I realized Justin was sobbing.
“I thought you were gone forever, old friend,” he said to Hudraer. Justin turned to see the shock on my face. He smiled and pulled me into a bear hug. “Thank you. I don’t care what ancient laws anyone thinks you may have broken. You have returned one of my oldest friends. I swear I will personally make sure you are permanently on the nice list.”
I snorted in to keep from laughing. This wasn’t the welcome I had been expecting. “Thank you?” I said with a question.
I looked at Grace, who offered a sad smile. “We just arrived about a half hour before you and have yet to go through the ritual cleansing. If you check in with my father Arjin he will tell you where you are staying and we can go through the cleansing together.”
Hue nodded. “That would be helpful as this is Alizeyah’s first Were funeral. Where will we find Arjin?” Grace gave us directions, which we followed to the letter, but still managed to get lost. We were just rounding another corner when I walked into a wall of muscle. Strong hands reached out and steadied me. The familiar scent of clove and earth filled my senses.
“Ian?” I said, looking up.
Ian stared deep into my eyes for a moment then crushed me to his bare chest. He buried his face in my hair, taking deep breaths, and pressed me tighter against himself. “By the gods above, you’re here. I’m so glad you’re here,” he whispered.
“Where else would we be?” I asked.
“Not here.” He lightened his grip and extended his arm, pulling Hue close and into our embrace.
My voice was muffled from being squeezed between two much larger men and almost disappeared. “We were looking for your uncle, Arjin. We need to find out where we are staying then go do a cleansing.”
Hue and Ian both looked down at me and took steps back. Ian cleared his throat. “As I am sworn to you, you are both part of my pack. Your place is with me.”
I shot a look at Hue, who shrugged and seemed fine with it, so I followed along through the maze of stairs and hallways until we arrived at a large pair of dark wood double doors. Ian took a breath and pushed them open. “We are still staying in my chambers as my father’s haven’t been vacated and cleaned yet.”
I looked around the room. At the center was a large bed sunk into the floor like the one in Hue’s chamber back at the nest, but in this case ‘large’ was an understatement. “Huge,” was all I could say. Ian laughed but didn’t say anything. One wall was all windows draped in heavy green velvet curtains. Along the back wall was a series of doors that most likely were closets and storage. In front of the bed, in the same dark woods, was an intricately carved mantle above a fireplace. If I looked through the fireplace I could see a bathroom on the other side that shared the wall. A large stone tub was visible from where we stood. “So this is where you grew up?” I asked
“It is,” he said, reaching out to take my backpack from me and setting it down. “Do you have what you need for the cleansing?” he asked.
Hue nodded. “I brought ash for both of us.”
Ian nodded and led us back down to the main floor where Grace and Justin waited patiently. At the foot of the stairs Hudraer stopped me to hand me a small blue pouch. “Take this with you. They’re ashes from your ancestral home. Grace will know what to do.”
“Where did you get these?” I asked.
“Geren brought them, from your mother,” he told me, as he waved, following Justin.
One of these days he’s going to tell me how he talks to my mother without me knowing, I thought to myself.
No I’m not, Hue retorted.
I followed Grace out into the damp air. We walked around the manor house and down a path that led us to a group of old women beside a small lake. There was a small fire burning before them and they had several large bowls in front of them. I watched as Grace stripped away all of her clothes and turned to look at me. “Give them your ashes, then strip.”
I handed the closest woman the bag. She opened it and breathed deeply, then looked up and eyed me closely. “You’re the Princess that caused all the trouble for Laird Ian?”
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes and silently nodded before disrobing. Standing bare before them I felt scrutinized under their gazes. They leaned their heads together, speaking softly. “What’s next?” I asked.
Grace grabbed my attention and waved me towards the water’s edge. “This way, Kat. We take some of the sand from the bottom of the pond and scrub our whole body with it. Then rinse it away with the water.” She paused and looked at me as she tugged out her ponytail holder. “Even our hair.”
I nodded and followed her into the water. Watching Grace closely, I did my best to copy her as exactly as I could. As I sank deeper into the water I noticed a strange tingle in my skin. I watched closely as my scales became more evident the more I scrubbed. I dunked my head to rinse out the sand and when I re-emerged all the women and Grace gasped. “What?” I asked Grace.
“Your hair,” she said.
I tugged a few curls and pulled them over my shoulder to look. My hair was golden and silver. I stared at it a long moment before tucking it behind my ears, pausing as I felt very obvious points on each tip. I touched my face and looked closer at my arms before examing my reflection on the surface of the water. My skin was pale and seemed to glitter with tiny scales. My eyes were huge and cat-like. They even seemed to glow. Tall, pointed Elven ears were a shocking counterpoint to my hair. “What’s happened to me?” I asked with a bit of panic.
The oldest of the women on the shore laughed and waved me out of the water. “All the glamour of the world has been washed away from you. Is this the first time you have seen your true form?”
“I thought I had. It involved wings and claws,” I told her as I stepped onto the bank.
“You saw your Dragon form, but not your true form. What you see before you is what you would look like with your soul exposed to the world, if glamour didn’t guard it from the view of others.” She smiled. “I understand now why Laird Ian and Lord Hudraer think you are so worth fighting for.” She took a scoop of the ashes from the bag I handed her and dumped it into the bowl in front of her. “Kneel here child, and wring your hair into this bowl.” I followed her directions. She mixed the water and ash to make a paste. “Now take a blade and give me some of your blood to finish the paint.” I glanced at Grace, who dragged a dagger through her palm and dripped the blood into the bowl. I picked up the dagger and repeated the action. The old woman mixed the paste more. “Now retrieve a burning stick from the fire and hand it to me.” I reached deep into the flames and picked up a thin white twig to give to her. “Interesting,” she said, studying it. “Do you know what this is?” she asked.
“No,” I said simply.
“It’s hawthorne that is so charred it has turned white. Were you told to take this branch by anyone?”
I shook my head. “I know nothing about this ceremony. I’m sorry.”
She reached out and took my hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. “No child, that is perfectly fine. Now, I will take this and use it to apply runes to your body.” She dipped the twig, flame and all, into the paste. The flame extinguished. She began drawing symbols across my body as I knelt motionless before her. I peeked at my wrists as she finished one symbol and was amazed as it glowed like fire before disappearing beneath the skin. “You’re done,” she told me. “For the rest of your time here your true self will be on display for the world to see. Your soul is so pure,” she whispered.
I thanked her and silently followed Grace back to the manor in all my naked glory. When I entered the main house all sound stopped as a half dozen eyes turned to stare. Hue’s scales showed along with his golden eyes, but he still didn’t glow like I did. Ian looked for the most part like Ian, just more fierce and animalistic. Even Justin seemed more rock-like. Everyone else just continued to stare. I resisted the urge to cross my arms over my chest and lower my eyes. Ian broke the silence. “I never stood a chance. I’m a moth.” Hue nodded in agreement.
Have you pre-purchased your copy of Dragon’s Guide to Slaying Virgins? It comes out tomorrow morning bright and early. It’s not to late to grab a pre-sale while you still can. If you order it today, you can have it wirelessly delivered to your Kindle e-reader or Kindle app to start enjoying with your morning cup of coffee. You know you want to know what Vallen has been up to while he’s been hating on Kat.
There is big trouble in Everbloom and Drakemoore. Vallen, with his sense of pride and honor, foolishly believes he is the only one that can stop it, but can a slightly insane half Fae save him from himself?
I was dreaming about tea parties in Wonderland when pain shot through my chest. My eyes opened and immediately slammed closed again as I gasped for air. Pain wracked me, so intense it felt like someone had reached into my chest and squeezed my heart, willing it to stop beating. I felt Hue’s arm around me tighten and he turned me onto my back, begging me to open my eyes and tell him what was wrong. The chest pain turned to deep heartaches and I began to sob uncontrollably. I wanted to speak but at the moment I was filled to the brim with intense sadness. The likes of which I had only felt when I lost Hue. I forced my eyes open to meet his gaze.
He looked at me for a moment and I could hear him reaching out to my mind to soothe me. As my body and mind calmed I heard it for the first time ever. A second voice. It sobbed and babbled in a language that was both familiar and unintelligible. I slowly became aware that Hue wasn’t soothing me, he was soothing the other voice. Sure, he held me close and rubbed my back, but I wasn’t the one he was speaking to. “Hue?” I finally asked.
“Cariss has died,” he explained simply.
I processed that, too shocked to fully understand what all of it meant. “Is this pain coming from Ian?”
Hue nodded and continued to whisper to me, or possibly Ian. “Yes, you and Ian have a very close connection. It makes sense that you could feel and hear him now in this moment.”
Panic started to set in. I felt myself gasping for air again. “Hue, what does this mean?” My heart ached again, but this time for different reasons. “Why can I hear him? Why can I feel him?”
“I don’t know.” He shook his head.
“I can’t have two Soul Mates, can I?” I was still in panic mode.
“Of course not.” He sounded strangely not confident.
“But we knew from the moment we met. I felt a spark with you I’ve never felt with him,” I told him.
He seemed to relax fractionally at my words. “I’m sure there is a reason for it. It probably has to do with the blood bond between the two of you. That’s all. Try and be calm. Try and give him strength. If you can feel his sorrow, perhaps he can feel your love.” Hue’s words were reassuring.
I laid back down onto the bed, clutching a pillow to my chest. Hue snuggled close, wrapping his arms around me after pulling a cover over us. I closed my eyes and focused on Ian. Please Ian, know I am with you. Know that I love you.
Kat? asked a familiar presence. It was like Ian had been there all along.
How are we-? Are we really? I could feel his confusion and frustration. You know what? I don’t even care how or why. Thank you for being here with me. Even if it’s not in person.
I found myself crying again. Hue’s whispered, reassuring me to speak and reach out to Ian. I’m sorry I’m not there in person, but I will be soon.
We are both here for you, Hue told him. I felt hesitation on both sides.
Thank you, was all Ian said after that.
“All right, I have it planned out,” Oliver had piles of papers spread across our tiny kitchen table. I blinked at the mess, hoping that he intended to explain it quickly then move it so we could eat.
“Ok, so explain,” I said calmly, glancing around the kitchen for a sign of dinner.
“I have booked us open-ended tickets from Seoul to Inverness, then from Inverness to Milan, and then from Rome to Seoul.” He looked rather proud of himself.
“Why not Milan to Seoul?” I asked out of curiosity.
“My personal home is in Milan but the family estate is in Rome. I want you too see my home before I take you to meet my family.” I could tell he was excited to show me his place in Milan.
I looked closer at the stacks of paper on the table. When my eyes saw the prices of what he was paying to fly us first class I just about fainted. “Oliver, please tell me that these prices are in Korean won and not US dollars?”
He stared blankly at me. “Of course they are in US dollars. I found the best rates using American websites.”
“You’re spending what I made last year as a teacher just in airfare. I’m fine traveling coach.” I pictured all the books I could buy with the money he was spending on airfare and almost cried.
“It is a small price to pay for the comfort of first class,” he assured me.
“How big a difference can four inches make?” I pleaded with him to see reason.
“I swear it makes a HUGE difference to me.” He pointed to his height to emphasize the point.
I crossed my arms over my chest and almost pouted. “Please tell me then that there is dinner?” I gave him my best poor-me eyes.
He smiled. “I thought we would go out for Thai food tonight. That cute little place in Itaewon you like?”
“Are you trying to placate me with pineapple fried rice?” I asked as he stacked the papers neatly before shoving them into a manila envelope and tucking them into a bookshelf.
“Absolutely,” he answered, grabbing his car keys. “And if the Thai food doesn’t work I’m willing to bring out the big guns and take you for ice cream.”
My eyes narrowed on him. “Oh, I’m going to need ice cream.”
Fifteen minutes later we were seated in his little car stuck in traffic. He played with the radio until he found a station that would appease both of us. The last little bit of the chorus to “I Want to Hold Your Hand” played loudly and I found myself singing along, sad that it ended so soon. When a commercial started playing he turned down the volume and glanced at me. “Have you heard anything from Kat about Ian?”
I shook my head. “No, what about you?”
He sighed. “I’m sure when Cariss passes the OAC will be one of the first groups notified, but I guarantee Kat will know before even the OAC.”
I eyed him suspiciously. “You make these comments from time to time that make me think you know something the rest of us don’t. Can she see the future and just doesn’t know it yet?”
Oliver looked shocked and started laughing. “Lord help us all if she can. No, she and Ian have a deep bond. I’ve seen it several times. Ian’s blood during their battle wouldn’t have been enough to complete her transformation if there wasn’t a link there.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“Hue and Ian plotted to complete her Darkling transformation. It required Ian’s blood. She had already taken Hue’s blood before. As mates it should have been enough.” Oliver pursed his lips for a moment. “I don’t know what the connection totally is yet, but I believe that for as much as she is Hue’s Soul Mate, there is just as strong a bond between her and Ian.”
I thought about his words for a moment and remembered her plans to retrieve Leonide and Hue. In both cases it hadn’t been just Kat – t was Kat and Ian. I bit my lip and ignored the radio, really thinking about what Oliver had said. “Do you think she would have succeeded at any of her recent quests without Ian?”
Oliver shrugged as he drove. “I don’t know. She may be super woman, but I know that Kat, Ian, and Hudraer are each ridiculously powerful and put together they are near unstoppable. I wouldn’t want to fall on their list of enemies.”
I laughed uncomfortably and focused on the passing surroundings.
Ok Otherworlders, I need some reviews on Goodreads and Amazon for my last two books. Dragon’s Guide comes out in a week and people should know my stuff is fun and awesome! Or, you know, at least tolerable.
If you have read one or both of my earlier books, write a review! Tag me and let me know. Each review is worth an entry for a chance to win a FREE copy of “Dragon’s Guide to Slaying Virgins”.
So if you write a review for Princes and post it to both Goodreads and Amazon, that counts for 2 entries. Do it again for Holiday and get another 2 entries.
Winner will be announced on 6/26 at noon (Korean time), or 6/25 11pm EST.
Winners will be able to choose from a Kindle, Nook, Kobo, or Smashwords edition.
I wanted to take a moment to before Dragon’s Guide to Slaying Virgins is released and break from the Elven Life story to talk about something that is important to me. I call it ‘smart publishing’ or ‘smart printing’. When Princes and Holiday released last year, I had a number of readers contact me because they thought something had happened in the formatting process on my books because my chapters don’t always begin on the right-hand side. While the first chapters of my books will always start on the right side, I chose not to start all chapters on the right, but rather let them naturally fall to the left or right depending on their length. I also chose not to use drop caps (starting a chapter with an extra-big letter) at the beginning of my chapters.
Why do I do this when it is industry standard?
I found that by allowing chapters to naturally fall in my books and removing drop caps, I cut twelves pages out of Dragon’s Guide alone. Let’s say I sell one hundred copies of the book in trade format – that means I removed twelve-hundred pages of wasted space. Maybe that doesn’t sound big, but it’s a small step I can take as an author to reduce paper consumption. I don’t believe that you have to be an activist to make a difference. We can all make small changes in the way we do things that can improve the world around us.
No, I am not the only author that has decided to do this, and I certainly hope I’m not the last.
I hope each of you that read my blog and books continue to enjoy the stories I bring you.
Until we speak again, kindest regards,