Storm bound, p.1

Storm Bound, page 1

 part  #2 of  The Grim Series Series

 

Storm Bound
 



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Storm Bound


  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

  Text copyright © 2014 Dani Harper

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

  Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle

  www.apub.com

  Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Montlake Romance are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc., or its affiliates.

  ISBN-13: 9781477818237

  ISBN-10: 1477818235

  Cover design by Kerrie Roberston

  Library of Congress Control Number: 2013917819

  For Ron, the man who owns my heart—and takes such good care of it.

  CONTENTS

  START READING

  ONE

  TWO

  THREE

  FOUR

  FIVE

  SIX

  SEVEN

  EIGHT

  NINE

  TEN

  ELEVEN

  TWELVE

  THIRTEEN

  FOURTEEN

  FIFTEEN

  SIXTEEN

  SEVENTEEN

  EIGHTEEN

  NINETEEN

  TWENTY

  TWENTY-ONE

  TWENTY-TWO

  TWENTY-THREE

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  There is no spectre half so terrible

  As shadows of old wrongs.

  —Frederick Tennyson

  ONE

  Black Mountains, Wales

  A.D. 1124

  Heavy muscles bulged as the tall man strained repeatedly against the fine silver chains that bound him, wrist and ankle, to the high stone wall of the courtyard.

  “Such an ungrateful mortal you are, Aidan ap Llanfor,” she chided. “Is it not an honor to be a guest of the Tylwyth Teg?”

  He lunged at her, but though she stood within an arm’s length of him, she neither recoiled nor shrank. Aidan’s chains had been forged with faery magic, and as such they would not break, not even for the largest bwgan, much less a human. The man’s iron-gray eyes, however—were they daggers, she would be pierced, she thought, and her sapphire blood would be poisoned and pooling around her delicate silk slippers.

  For the briefest of moments, she felt something, and she thrilled to it, eager for more. But Aidan immediately bridled his anger, reining it back like a blood-crazed warhorse. It was as if he could sense her craving for emotion—any emotion—and refused to give it to her.

  “I have not sought to visit your land,” he gritted out between his teeth. “Nor have I trespassed upon it. I have given thee no cause to bring me here against my will.”

  “Are you so certain of that? I seem to remember a bold and comely child playing on the faery mound beyond the village. Such a dear little wooden sword he had, hacking at bushes and slicing at trees like they were dreadful monsters.”

  The tiniest jolt of surprise flickered briefly behind the man’s glare. Celynnen derived great satisfaction from his reaction, although in truth it also puzzled her. How was it that mortals remembered so little when their lives were so short? Years had passed for him, but for her? It was scarcely a day ago that Aidan ap Llanfor had traded his wooden sword for the business of adults, mere hours since he’d apprenticed to the village blacksmith, moments since he’d inherited the forge and took over the business. She had observed it all, fascinated, in the way that a cat is fascinated by a bird.

  “I could have spirited you away that first time,” she continued, “simply for setting foot on fae territory. But it was much more fun to watch you. You played often at the mound, though you saw me not. I was witness to not one but many trespasses, Aidan ap Llanfor. You’ve lived your life thus far in your tiny mortal world only because I permitted it.”

  “A child is not held accountable for things he knows not of.”

  “Human rules,” she sniffed. “Why do you waste so much time making them when you have such fleeting lives? You’re like the mayflies that dance above the water for less than a day. The Tylwyth Teg are ancient beyond your ability to grasp, and our laws are ancient too—made once, to stand for all time. And by those laws, you are mine to do with as I like.”

  “Release me, Faery,” he said in a dangerous tone.

  “Think you to make demands?” She laughed and shook back her hair, well aware of her unearthly beauty and its near-hypnotic effects on most mortals. The man would perceive a tall woman of flawless perfection, a goddess in his eyes—especially since her skin glowed with living light. Her luminous white hair flowed to her hips like a frozen waterfall, tumbling over her vivid red gown. To a human, her dazzling eyes were every color at once and none of them. “Know to whom you speak,” she declared. “I am Celynnen of the House of Thorn of the Tylwyth Teg, and my blood is pure.”

  “You are a tywysoges, then, a princess of the Fair Ones.”

  She shook her head. “The princess, human. My great-aunt is the queen, and she is childless. Therefore, I alone am heir to the throne of the Nine Realms.”

  He gave her the slightest of nods, a scant acknowledgment of her station, and not one mote of reverence more.

  Others had died for less, and Celynnen could have killed him herself if she’d been so inclined. Still, for the sake of the entertainment he afforded her, she could forgive him much—for a time. She had often watched him at his forge, hammering hot metals into clever shapes, particularly that most fearful of all elements, iron. Years of striking sparks amidst the glow of flames had not bent his tall frame; they only had added strength. Even when he was clad in his dull brown tunic and scarred leather apron, his face streaked with soot and sweat as he labored over his latest project, she had had to admit that the comely child had grown into a very attractive man. Her people often took human lovers, and she had begun to consider the delicious possibilities.

  This morning, however, Aidan had not gone to his forge as usual. He had not donned his rough blacksmith’s clothing either. Instead, he had bathed at length and dressed in what passed for finery among these common mortals. His blue woolen tunic was open at the neck to reveal a pale linen shirt beneath. His dark rectangular cloak was newly made and clasped with a large heavy brooch that she had not seen before. It was round, a Celtic cross set with five large garnets. It was a gift that a woman would give, and only a human woman could have done so.

  Annwyl.

  The raven-haired Annwyl of the village of Aberhonddu was the woman whom Aidan ap Llanfor planned to marry. Today. And that’s when Celynnen made her decision to spirit him away to the kingdom far below the Black Mountains.

  “Release me, Your Grace,” he said.

  The significance of the royal title was not lost on her. It was hardly filled with admiration and awe, but it was devoid of sarcasm. This was not a man who would beg, ever—but she had just won a major concession from him. What else can I win? The thought of such a challenge excited her. She would enjoy playing games with Aidan ap Llanfor just as much as lying with him, perhaps even more. “Nay, I believe I will keep you.”

  “Do not do this, Your Eminence. For the sake of my bride whom I will wed this day, for the sake of the promises I have made to her and her family. Make me not an oath breaker, for ye yourselves do despise such.”

  It was an eloquent argument. Once given, the word of any of the Tylwyth Teg was unbreakable. In fact, humans who did not keep their promises to each other often suffered justice at the hands of the Fae. Celynnen brushed her fingers over the brilliant scarlet of her dress and traced the birds and flow
ers embroidered there in silver thread and seed pearls. “A man of his word is a rare commodity, so it seems fitting that such be rewarded. You may put your mind at ease on that point. No oath will be broken.”

  From her flowing sleeve, she drew a black gem the size and shape of a robin’s egg. Not a pearl or a crystal or even an opal, yet it resembled all three. Tiny flashes of blue, green, and purple sparked in its dark depths, and some fae craftsman had dared to carve it with intricate spirals and ancient symbols. Celynnen cupped it in her hand, where the stone gleamed and pulsed like a live thing. Bringing it close to her lips, she whispered a few words in the ancient language, then blew gently over it. A wisp of pale green light, like a luminous spirit, spiraled from the stone and floated towards Aidan.

  He drew back as far as the chains would allow, suspicious but unable to avoid the approaching wraith. “What are you doing?” he demanded of Celynnen, and jerked as the eerie radiance touched him. Instantly his entire body was enveloped in a glowing green caul.

  “I have simply granted you what you wanted.” The emerald light flared outward until it filled the broad expanse of the courtyard, illuminating every petal of each exotic flower in the labyrinthine gardens and every detail of the fine carving and crafted stone that surrounded them. The radiance brightened still, until it was the blinding white of a star’s heart. Just as it seemed that the walls must surely melt, the brilliant light abruptly vanished as if it had never been.

  Celynnen’s iridescent eyes didn’t even blink, of course. She was unaffected by the magic she had called, as were the fae flowers in the gardens. Aidan, however, was dazed and reeling, as if struck by a giant’s fist. Good, she thought. Perhaps he would remember her little display of power and be more cooperative in the future. She tucked the stone back into the hidden pocket in her sleeve as she glided towards the high arched doorway. “I must make an appearance at Court for a time,” she called over her shoulder.

  “Wait!” he shouted, regaining his alertness far more quickly than she’d expected. “Release me! My wedding—Annwyl will be waiting for me!” He rattled the charmed silver chains that bound him until they pealed like ropes of silver bells.

  Celynnen turned and arched a delicate eyebrow. “You did not wish to be an oath breaker, and so you will not be. Your intended is not waiting for you. There is no wedding party, and indeed, no betrothal. Therefore, you are quite free of all mortal obligations.”

  He stilled, and horror crept across his bold features. “What have you done?” he breathed through gritted teeth, bracing as though some part of him already knew.

  “I merely revised the tiny history of your boring little village. Annwyl will not mourn you.”

  “What have you done to her?” Aidan roared, straining so mightily against his bonds that for a brief instant Celynnen thought they might actually give way. Instead, blood ran down his wrists and spattered both floor and walls. A flying droplet struck her hand and she backed out of range, blotting the spot away hastily with her sleeve as it began to burn her skin. Human blood got its curious red color from the iron it contained—and iron was deadly poison to all fae creatures, including the Tylwyth Teg.

  The precious fabric failed to cleanse the spot well enough, however. Her hand hurt, and pain was not something she was acquainted with. She snapped at him. “You foolish mortal. Did you think I was going to let you go? You were concerned for your honor, and I have graciously protected it. Even more merciful, your treasured Annwyl will suffer no broken heart over you. Indeed, her heart will not grieve for anyone, not even her dear mother.”

  “Her mother died of a fever just over a year ago,” he said carefully. “She mourns the loss deeply.”

  The apprehension in his voice was utterly delicious. “Nay,” she whispered, as if confiding a secret. “Dear Annwyl took ill and died at the very same time. She never knew of her mother’s death and, much more important, she never met you.”

  The impact of her words was immensely gratifying to her. Celynnen thought of a mighty stag pierced by a silver arrow, stunned and confused, unable to comprehend what had just happened to it.

  Aidan struggled to speak. “You killed her.”

  “Of course I killed her. How else could I secure your precious honor?” she retorted. “Annwyl is gone, her family does not know who you are, and in fact, your own family does not recall that they ever had a son. In short, Aidan ap Llanfor, you have ceased to exist outside of this kingdom. You. Are. Mine.”

  The shock fell away from him like a curtain suddenly dropped, and Celynnen found herself looking into the face of pure wrath. It was utterly fascinating. The harsh fury in Aidan’s gray eyes burned hotter than any iron he had ever drawn from his forge, so hot it seemed it might set her ablaze where she stood. Regrettably, however, the potential for entertainment would have to wait. She had a real burn to attend to, and she swept from the room to find a healer before the tiny mark upon her hand became an abhorrent scar. Halfway down the vast hallway, the last thing she heard from Aidan was a full-fledged snarl: “By Gofannon, god of the fire that transforms, I will spill your damnable blue blood with weapons forged by my own hand! I swear I will have your life for my Annwyl’s!”

  Laughter, cold and crystalline, burst from Celynnen’s perfect lips. “My poor, dear human, you will have to remember her first.”

  TWO

  Walla Walla, Washington

  Twenty-First Century

  I’m sorry, but I can’t sell you a spell to make somebody love you. I know that you see it in storybooks all the time, but it’s unethical.” It was the last in a long line of calls to return, and Brooke Halloran’s fingers were getting cramped from holding the smartphone. From holding it together actually—she needed a new one badly, but it hadn’t been in the budget, since she’d set up shop in an old diner. Her business, Handcastings, had grown profitable as an online company, and she’d sold a great deal of pagan, Wiccan, and New Age supplies from her website over the past few years. As a business administration graduate, she would have advised herself against risking investment in a physical location in such an uncertain economy.

  As a dedicated witch, however, she needed to make herself more available to those who needed her help. Sure, she’d done plenty of phone consultations, and she still did. But a more personal connection generally led to more effective magic, and she knew she needed a place to consult with clients face-to-face. Brooke had tried meeting with people in their homes, but it was time consuming to make house calls, and she much preferred to have more control over the environment and its energies.

  She looked at several locations in Spokane, the city she had grown up in, but nothing had the right feel. Finally, some of her friends who had moved to Walla Walla persuaded her to try that city. It was older than Spokane, and the brick buildings and old houses possessed an inviting charm. It wasn’t long before she found exactly what she had been hoping for.

  The two-story red brick building was a Renaissance Revival style from 1900. Despite the historical appeal of its tall windows and ornate white detailing—or perhaps because of them—it had remained empty for the past several years. It was just off a busy part of the downtown core, nestled in a row of similar buildings, but Brooke had felt both potential and positive energy in this one. Plus it had a fairly new furnace and a solid foundation, and it required no major repairs other than a fresh application of sealant on the flat roof. With the real estate market in a tailspin, she’d managed to coax the desperate seller into holding the mortgage for her without any more magic than the contents of her savings account as a down payment. A little cleaning (okay, a helluva lot of cleaning), plus some paint and fresh upholstery in a black, turquoise, and silver palette for strength, serenity, and intuition, and ta-da, she had a shop of her very own. The financial responsibility of that still scared the bejeebers out of her some days, degree or no degree.

  “No, no love potions either.” Brooke listened patiently to the caller’s negative reaction and refused to be goaded into sa
ying something childish. She couldn’t help mouthing it silently though: I am too a real witch! And a real witch would seek to bring wisdom to the situation. Somehow she had to instruct instead of argue, right?

  Brooke glanced around her shop for inspiration.

  The open shelves on the wall behind the main counter had once held stacks of stoneware dishes. Now the plates and mugs had been replaced with big square jars of herbs and ingredients for potions. Mental note: stock one of those with instructive things to say to potential customers.

  A soft undercurrent of honey scented the air thanks to a display of beeswax candles by the old chrome cash register, but it brought no particular wisdom. The shiny black countertop boasted glass inserts, and beneath them Brooke displayed some of the more costly items she sold. She scanned the illuminated array of large crystals but gleaned no help for her current situation. The arrangement of magical tools—athames, bolines, and even an exquisite silver sword—held no ideas either.

  She switched hands and used her stiff fingers to try to comb her chin-length black hair away from her face as she scanned the booths that lined the east wall. They had high partitions between them, making them perfect for clients to enjoy herbal teas, examine books, or have reasonably private consultations. The roomy corner booth on the far end was Brooke’s favorite, though—that was where she did her tarot readings for customers. The round table was large enough to accommodate a complete Celtic Cross spread.

  Right now, though, that booth held her best friend in the whole world.

  “Well, sure, spells like that exist of course.” She tried to explain the appropriate uses of magic to her prospective client as she walked to the back of the room. “But I don’t do that, no. I believe in doing no harm, and forcing someone into love is…well…it’s…it’s…”

  “It’s not fair to the other person,” whispered George Santiago-Callahan without even looking up. He was engaged in doing what he did most: sketching on a large pad, as his black and blue spiked mohawk bobbed along to whatever tune was being pumped through his earbuds. Brooke was forever losing her own buds, but G’s wires were securely threaded through the silver tunnel plugs that pierced his earlobes. He listened to music more or less continuously, yet he always seemed able to hear her. Like now, thank the goddess.

 

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