Storm crossed, p.1

Storm Crossed, page 1

 part  #4 of  Grim Series Series

 

Storm Crossed
 



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Storm Crossed


  PRAISE FOR DANI HARPER

  “Kept my interest from beginning to end . . . Really looking forward to reading more in Ms. Harper’s Grim world, and I definitely recommend Storm Warned if you’re in the mood for some Fae.”

  —Literary Addiction

  “Wonder touches Spokane Valley, Wash., and the life of veterinarian Morgan Edwards in Harper’s beautifully narrated foray into Celtic myth and legend . . . Harper provides excellent texture and depth with a touch of sincere empathy for animals, rounding out an already excellent novel.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “Harper skillfully builds characters and situations that evoke empathy for the good citizens of both the human and shapeshifter species . . . ”

  —RT Book Reviews

  “Storm Warned is captivating! The characters are great and the world the author has built is strongly reminiscent of the original dark faery tales.”

  —Bibliophilic

  “A delicious and elegant read, filled with humor, beauty, friendship, hotness, and a little horror (as things with the fae often are). I think Dani Harper is a MUST READ!”

  —Fangs, Wands, and Fairy Dust

  “Harper has created touching stories about love and loyalty with an added bonus of humor.”

  —I Smell Sheep

  “Not your everyday werewolf story line. Changeling Dawn has romance, kidnapping, and murder . . . along with some mystery and intrigue.”

  —Dee’s Musings

  “Dani Harper’s Changeling Moon is one of those rare stories that literally catches you with the first paragraph and never lets go.”

  —Kate Douglas, author

  “Harper’s changelings are among the best in the genre.”

  —RT Book Reviews

  “Dani Harper breathes life into her characters.”

  —Coffee Time Romance

  ALSO BY DANI HARPER

  The Grim Series Novels

  Storm Warrior

  Storm Bound

  Storm Warned

  Storm Crossed

  The Changeling Shapeshifter Series

  Changeling Moon

  Changeling Dream

  Changeling Dawn

  A Dark Wolf Novel

  First Bite

  The Haunted Holiday Series

  The Holiday Spirit (All She Wants for Christmas Is a Ghost)

  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. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

  Text copyright © 2018 by 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: 9781503948945

  ISBN-10: 1503948943

  Cover design by Jason Blackburn

  In memory of Dianne MacDonald.

  Thanks for being a loving mom to my daughter when I couldn’t be there. Thanks for raising such a wonderful young woman to be my daughter’s best friend, too! And thanks for being my friend. I always appreciated your smile, your ready laugh, and your encouragement. No writer could ask for a truer or kinder fan. I hope you’re reading this book over my shoulder!

  CONTENTS

  START READING

  PROLOGUE

  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

  TWENTY-FOUR

  TWENTY-FIVE

  TWENTY-SIX

  TWENTY-SEVEN

  TWENTY-EIGHT

  TWENTY-NINE

  THIRTY

  THIRTY-ONE

  THIRTY-TWO

  THIRTY-THREE

  THIRTY-FOUR

  THIRTY-FIVE

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  AUTHOR’S NOTE

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  When the student is ready, the teacher appears.

  —Unknown

  PROLOGUE

  Darkness held no terrors for the boy. Shadows were soft, colors veiled, sounds muted. A relief from the overbright and noisome day that jangled his senses and hurt his head. And when the moon rode the indigo sky, everything was brushed with silver: his rock collection, his coloring markers in their lumpy clay cup, his bookshelves, and even the rows of crazy copper-wire creatures on his desk had paled to a gentle pearl gray. The moon’s light created a magical and comfortable world just for him.

  Tonight, the moon was round and fat. The boy lay on his side in bed, where he could watch through the tall window. Once, his teacher had read a story about a man who lived in the moon. But although the boy always looked, he didn’t see the man.

  The moon was his friend, though. And sometimes, the moon’s light showed him things: hazy images of new places or new people. The boy understood that it was sort of like a television show—they weren’t really in his room with him. But he knew they would come into his life soon. A few days, maybe a week or two, but they would come. It was nice of the moon to tell him ahead of time, as if it understood that new things made him uncomfortable.

  The light of the night was soft and silent as it inched over the floor and crept across his bed. Just as it brushed his Squishy Bear, the silvery glow rose like gentle smoke and shimmered to form a picture. A man and a dog. The man was tall, with long white hair and strange eyes, but there was something else different about him . . . Try as he might, the boy couldn’t see what it was. Besides, what he really wanted to look at was the dog. It was crazy big, bigger than any dog he’d ever seen, maybe even the size of a lion. The boy liked dogs, even big ones. Animals were always easier to understand than people. Easier to be around, too.

  Gradually the picture faded and sank into the sheet of moonlight atop his blanket. But the man and the dog were fixed in his mind. They’re coming. Soon.

  And they were going to need his help.

  ONE

  Royal Court, Palace of Queen Gwenhidw

  Heart of the Fae Realms, Wales

  A Thousand Mortal Years Ago . . .

  There is no such thing as love!” Trahern shoved at his twin. “Your foolish ideas will get you banished, and for what? Nothing in the Nine Realms will change. Nothing! Eirianwen will rule the House of Oak for yet another millennium, while you live out your days in exile. What will you have proven?”

  Braith shoved back and followed it with a punch of magic that sent Trahern sailing backward across the royal garden until he slammed high into the trunk of a tree in a flurry of golden leaves. It was as if they were children again, testing each other like young stags. But that was centuries ago, and this was no game. The palace loomed large over them as they argued in its sprawling gardens. Braith had been called to appear before the Royal Court.

  “I will have Saffir, and her alone. I will not bend to Eirianwen’s wishes. I will not consent to this pairing with Idelle.”

  Trahern landed lightly on his feet and brushed oak leaves from his tunic. The fact that he would bear a b
ruise or two was not without irony. The amber and claret crest of the House of Oak bore the creed Our enemies break upon us. Briefly he considered retaliating, but it would be no contest. His brother’s blow had been pure luck magnified by anger. Almost all fae beings possessed magic to some degree, but Trahern had been gifted with the rare, full measure of a sorcerer’s power. Despite his years of study to hone his talent, however, he didn’t know of any magic that would alleviate his twin’s stubbornness or persuade him to see reason.

  Even Braith’s own talent was of no help. He had been born with the most coveted of all abilities: he was a farseer, able to view the future. It was a cruel paradox, however, that the nature of that gift prevented it from being applied to the seer’s own life. Braith was as blind to his future as anyone else—although a lifetime of dealing with the matriarch of the House of Oak surely should have taught him that resistance to her will was purest folly.

  “Why Saffir?” Trahern finally asked. “She belongs to no noble house and has no wealth or connections to speak of. Idelle is the daughter of one of the three princes of the House of Rowan, and they would be valuable allies. What does Saffir have to offer us?”

  “Listen to yourself. You sound like Eirianwen—everything must add to the power and standing of the family.” Braith spat on the blue-flowered grass. “And you know full well that she doesn’t want allies, she only wants pawns and resources. Rowan’s leadership is weak, and Eirianwen will have them all supplanted before long.”

  Trahern knew that supplanted likely meant systematically slain. Which is precisely why Braith should not defy her. He sighed then, knowing that Braith would be of the opposite opinion. Despite being twins, they differed as greatly in personality as they did in appearance. Trahern’s long hair was white from birth, a color much preferred by the Tylwyth Teg elite, while Braith’s mane was the blue-gray of a storm cloud. Braith’s temperament was that of a storm as well. Trahern had assumed the role of the quiet and studious one, the one who stood in the background observing. The favored one, perhaps, if any offspring of the House could be called a favorite. If not totally obedient, then at least the one wise enough to never give offense . . . or clever enough not to get caught. As children, if they were called to task by anyone other than Heddwen, their guardian and tutor who knew the brothers better than their own kin, it was the recklessly impulsive Braith who was blamed and punished. While there was nothing strange about his current rebellion, the consequences this time would be far worse than losing favored toys.

  Trahern tried another tactic. “Idelle is fair to look upon. And well accustomed to the Royal Court.” He left unsaid that Saffir, though lovely, would be considered quite plain by the Court’s standards. And surviving that den of whispering vipers required carefully veiled intent and masked diplomacy. Perhaps because she wasn’t of the nobility herself, or perhaps because she was a healer and therefore more practical, Saffir spoke her mind without regard for the station or office of those she addressed. The Court would eat her alive and spit out her bones.

  “The love that I share with Saffir is the most beautiful thing I know,” Braith said simply. “We are Pâr Enaid.”

  Twinned souls? Surely his brother did not believe Heddwen’s nighttime stories. “A pleasant myth and no more, but if it pleases you, then keep it. Agree to an official pairing with Idelle, then spend your time with Saffir.” Most members of the Court publicly dallied with whoever they pleased—and often as not with their partners present. “Eirianwen will have gotten what she wants, Idelle will have a much-coveted bond with the House of Oak, and you will have this love that you speak so highly of.”

  Braith shook his head. “You do not understand. To do as you have suggested would make me no better than a betrayer. My feelings for Saffir are sure.”

  “I understand that your so-called feelings will bring down Eirianwen’s wrath. She will banish you.”

  “Then so be it.”

  “This is madness! If you care not for yourself, then think of Saffir. Eirianwen has eyes everywhere. If she learns that this woman is at the root of your defiance, she will have her slain or worse.”

  “Eirianwen doesn’t know. Besides, fae law supports our cause.”

  Trahern put little faith in ancient fae law. It had slowly eroded over the ages, until it was strangely silent on many acts—even murder—yet adamant about far lesser infractions. One of its few remaining statutes, however, was devoted to the subject of pairings. No citizen of the Nine Realms could be forced, threatened, or otherwise coerced into a binding partnership, and Queen Gwenhidw and King Arthfael had reinforced this in a royal decree soon after their own pairing. Come to think of it, theirs was said to be a love match. Some stories claimed that the royal couple were Pâr Enaid and that Gwenhidw yet mourned her husband’s death after all these centuries.

  Stories and myths, surely. Trahern was too young to have seen the rulers together, and he had certainly never witnessed anything that could be construed as love among the Tylwyth Teg nobility. In fact, he doubted them capable of such an emotion, if it did exist. Still, many whispered proverbs and old half-forgotten songs claimed the unthinkable: that the Fair Ones envied mortals their fabled passions. Especially love.

  Proverbs will not help my brother, and neither will the law. Aloud he said, “You cannot hope to keep Saffir a secret. She will be discovered sooner or later.”

  “After I have answered this summons, I will take her to the human world.”

  Trahern could not believe what he heard. “Leave the Nine Realms? You might be expelled from the Court, perhaps even from our territories, but you need not leave our world entirely. And surely you would not choose to dwell among mortals?”

  “If I cannot have the life and love I wish here, then yes, and gladly.” Braith smiled. “And if you visited their world for more than simple plants for your potions, brother, you would not appear so shocked. Though their lives are short—or perhaps because their lives are short—humans possess many worthwhile attributes that the Tylwyth Teg have all but forgotten.”

  “How can that be? Do mortals not call us the Fair Ones?”

  “Truly, most have forgotten us entirely,” said Braith. “And those who yet remember do not give us pleasing names out of admiration—”

  The sudden deep resonance of a stone bell forestalled any further discussion. Though the self-absorbed courtiers observed little by way of ceremony, no one would fail to heed the uncommon call to convene. Trahern and Braith turned as one and strode into the palace.

  Trahern was no stranger to the Royal Court, his lineage assuring him a permanent position in it. As usual, the spectacular costumes, towering headdresses, and shimmering adornments of those who frequented the grand hall failed to impress him. Features visible behind the vivid trappings were flawless, but he was well aware that the exquisitely beautiful faces were masks as well. A radiant smile could conceal the most devious of intentions—but today there were no smiles at all. Many glittering eyes turned to appraise him and his brother as they walked. Normally there would be a few jovial greetings, some flirtatious comments or bawdy invitations at the very least. Instead, there were only hushed whisperings, and the crowd shrank away as if he and his brother were diseased. Among them, however, Trahern glimpsed a hooded figure in a sapphire tunic. Something about the figure seemed familiar, and he paused—

  “Eirianwen of the House of Oak!”

  The announcement caused the courtiers to scatter like a flock of bright and chattering birds, and the stranger who had caught his attention disappeared from his view. The colorful crowd clustered around the massive crystal columns that lined the walls, still whispering among themselves despite their genuine dread of the grand matriarch. And with finer emotions rare among the Tylwyth Teg, Trahern had no doubt that the trepidation throbbing in their blue-blooded veins was as delicious to them as the spectacle.

  In his own heart, however, beat true fear for his twin. And despite the novelty of the sensation, there was nothing pleasant a
bout it.

  His brother stood alone in the very center of the gleaming tiled floor, the sudden absence of the crowd revealing an intricate mosaic dotted with precious stones at his feet. It had been a long time since Trahern had been able to fully see its depiction of a formal faery procession through the ancient Silver Maples forest. The detailed figures were breathtaking, particularly the likeness of their leader, Queen Gwenhidw. He had met her face-to-face only once, when he was yet a child, but she was impossible to forget. He’d lost a filigreed ball in the palace garden and was sick with dread he would be punished when suddenly the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen, before or since, found it for him. Her gown was the deep blue and silver of the night sky, and therefore she must belong to the House of Thorn. The Royal House. He’d braced for a reprimand, maybe even worse, for trespassing in the garden. Instead, she gently dried his eyes and wiped his dirty face and hands with her exquisitely embroidered sleeve, then played a game with him until Heddwen arrived to take him away.

  Among the vast jeweled trees on the floor loomed darker figures in the design, mounted on glowing-eyed steeds and accompanied by pure-white hounds: The Wild Hunt. Their role was complex in the fae world, even more so in the human world above. While they protected Gwenhidw certainly, it was also said that they kept the Balance, acting as both protectors and judges, defenders and executioners. Although the queen ruled all else, the mysterious Hunt was an entity unto itself, as was its dark lord, Lurien.

  Right now, however, the exquisite mosaic seemed only to mock Trahern. Both Gwenhidw and Lurien are said to be just. Surely one of them will intervene in this matter! But the queen’s banners did not fly over the palace at present, signifying that she was in residence elsewhere in the Realms. And in truth, she rarely graced the prattling Court with her presence, preferring the formality—and perhaps the quiet—of the great room that housed the Glass Throne when her people required her. And as for the Hunt, who knew where they might be found?

  And so, his twin stood without a champion. Braith was lean like all the Tylwyth Teg, but few of them could boast the hard muscle of his bare arms. As tall and strong as he was, however, he seemed strangely small, lost in the immensity of the cavernous room, the vaulted crystal ceiling so high above him that even echoes could not find their way back.

 

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