Valentine's Day Anthology: Hearts and Handcuffs, page 5
“I didn’t do anything. It appears somebody has it in for you, Razzeline.” Cupid's golden ringlets bounced as he reached over to press a button on the enormous control panel behind him. “That poison-dart was meant for you.” He glanced to the screen by his side. “I fear your father was right all along.” His cheeks reddened. “We have a rogue Corazon on our hands.”
“Poison-darts? Rogue Corazon?” Unease, thick and cloying, spread from my chest outwards through every vein in my body. “He’s been poisoned?” The knowledge that the dart had been meant for me sunk like a stone in my gut. “Help him,” I demanded without hesitation, brushing Syras’s dark hair from his face. “You can help him, right?”
“Child, you have to understand...”
Before Cupid could finish, a door opened to the side of the control panel.
I wasn’t surprised when Fate swept into the room. “I should have known you’d have something to do with this,” I hissed, following her movements as she glided towards me.
Hair coiled in a thick braid around her head, she looked like some ethereal goddess as the pale pink silk of her gown swirled around her feet and she came to stop beside me. “Desperate times call for desperate measures, Raz.”
Dread prickled over my scalp at the meaning behind her flippant words. I held her stare. “I didn’t think even you’d stoop to this.”
“I’m merely making the most of an ugly situation.” She shrugged a delicate shoulder, her gaze flicking to Syras's head in my lap. “Agree to marry, and the Hunter will get everything he needs to live a long and happy life.” A fake innocence tickled the smile that lifted her lips.
I smoothed my fingers over Syras's forehead. He didn't deserve to die for getting tangled up in my mess of a life. “How do I know you'll keep your end of the deal?”
“You have my word.” Cupid floated to her side, and peered over the edge of his cloud, worry evident in his powder-blue eyes. “This is for the greater good, Razzeline, you must understand that.”
My teeth ground against the need to beat them both to a bloody pulp. Syras moaned in my lap.
I didn’t have a choice.
The girl's tuneless humming raked like nails on a blackboard down my frayed patience. I clenched my fists and prayed for the strength not to reach up and stab her in the eye with her comb.
“Just one more pin...” She twisted the last curled lock of my hair onto the top of my head. “...And voila. Time for make-up.”
“You come near me with that stuff, and I swear you won’t live to take another breath.” I glared at her reflection in the gold ornate mirror before me.
Her pretty bow-shaped mouth dropped, and her big green eyes darted to Fate, who sat, filing her nails in the corner of the plush bathroom.
“Now, now Razzeline. Don’t you want to look perfect for your hubby?” She flicked her wrist to glance at her watch. “Not long now until the big I do. I’d behave if I were you.”
My lip curled at her thinly veiled threat. I’d had no news of Syras since agreeing to this ridiculous sham of a marriage last night. The knot in my chest tightened. My only hope was that Cupid would keep to his word, because if it were down to this crazy bitch, Syras didn’t stand a chance.
Blowing out a long useless breath, I spun the leather chair to face her, careful not to let the hideous pink dressing gown she’d forced me into after my supervised shower fall open. “Is there any news on Syras?”
“I think a nice rose blush with cherry red lips.” Her shrewd eyes glittered beneath her perfectly arched eyebrows.
She was enjoying this. I hated her.
With a frustrated growl, I slouched into the chair and spun back to the mirror. “I’m not setting foot down any aisle until I know he’s okay.”
Fate snapped her fingers, and the girl jumped, her big boobs jiggling beneath the cotton of her uniform. She eyed me warily and began pulling bottles and tubes from a case on the vanity.
“I’ll keep it light,” she whispered with a small smile as she swirled the big head of a brush into some pink sparkly powder.
Half an hour later, the girl stepped back, her hands held up, tongue peeking out from between her lips as she examined my face. “There. You’re perfect.”
Wide gray eyes surrounded by spidery black lashes stared back at me from the mirror. I raised the sleek curve that used to be my eyebrow, and pressed my sticky red lips together.
She’d turned me into – I stood to get a closer look. Tendrils hung in soft curls around my face, the rest of my hair pinned into a complicated ball behind my left ear – She’d turned me into a fucking doll.
When I turned to tell Fate exactly what I thought of her playing Barbie with me, I came to face to face with a dress. A long white, heartbreakingly familiar dress.
“Where the fuck did you get my mother’s dress?” With trembling fingers, I reached for the gown.
My hand snapped back, and I scowled in confusion. “Then how?”
“I had a copy made. Cupid, the sentimental old fool had a photo in his records.”
I didn’t know whether to be touched by the sentiment or to slap her for making tears prick behind my eyes.
“I know you love to think of me as the baddy, Razzeline, but I’m not. The things I do are always for the greater good.”
“Then why won’t you let me see Syras?” My gaze returned to the subtle fleur-de-lis embossed on the delicate silk of the dress.
“I said I wasn’t the baddy, Raz... I didn’t say anything about not being a bitch.”
Even after my not-so-polite threats to rip Fate’s ears off and shove them up her ass, she’d refused to take me to Syras. Proof of his well-being would come after the ceremony.
Standing outside the oversized golden doors to Cupid's very own church, I smoothed my hands down the soft material of my dress and fought against the unease building in my chest. This was it. In less than a minute Fate would have gotten her way. I’d be married and my Hunting days would be over. A lump formed in my throat. I swallowed it down.
Dressing like a girl was turning me into a sap.
I tugged at the gown’s high neck. Maybe I should have taken Cupid up on his offer to have me shot with a double strength arrow, at least then I’d be rid of the heavy dread and the stupid ache in my chest.
No. They were taking my free will from me. I’d be damned if I was going to let them trick my mind into believing it was what I wanted, no matter how tempting the offer was.
A question flitted, unchecked around my head. Would the hundreds of thousands of humans I’d cu-darted over the years have let me do it if they’d known what was coming? In that second the greater good seemed like a shitty excuse to meddle with people’s lives.
I shook my head at the hypocrisy of it all and lifted the long skirt of my dress until my dirty biker-boots came into view. I smiled, smug with my small victory and the memory of Fate’s horrified face when I had refused to change them.
The tinkling of harps drifted through the door, making my stomach drop and bile slither up my throat. I was going to throw up. Fingers pressed to my lips, I breathed through my nose. In, out, in, out. The nausea passed but the sick feeling in my stomach lingered.
The big golden door clicked open. The harps were louder now, mocking me with their sickly sweet music. Bitterness seethed through the nausea. They could force me to marry him, but I sure as hell wouldn't be doing it with a smile on my face.
The skirt of my dress still gripped in my hands, I forced myself into the church.
My step faltered as I attempted to take in the space before me. Fate had truly outdone herself. Roses of all colors adorned the tall tables that ran the length of the isle, the white walls of the hall their blinding backdrop. Vines of pink and white flowers I’d never seen before, hung from every available object. Floral perfume swirled in the air, heady and rich. My teeth ground as the bridal march blared from some invisible organ.
The man by his side turned. I slowed to a stop. Recognition slithered down my spine. Rupert Heart? There was no way this was a coincidence.
I flicked my wrist. The blood drained from my face. They'd taken my crossbow. Cupid's expression sobered, and he floated backward as if he could sense that shit was about to get real.
Rupert's ugly mouth broke into an evil smirk as his arm lifted and a black dart glinted from the mini-crossbow hidden up the wide sleeve of his tunic. “There's nobody to save you now, Hunter.” The trigger clicked and the dart whirred through the perfumed air towards my head.
Time slowed, Cupid's panicked cry for help stretched out until it was nothing more than a long whine. I arced to the side, my hand reaching for the dagger in my boot as the dart skimmed past my cheek.
Everything sped back into real time the second the dagger flew from my fingertips.
The side doors to the church crashed open and Syras flew towards Rupert.
A useless cry ripped from my chest as I watch my dagger speed towards them.
They both dropped unmoving onto the hard marble floor.
I covered my mouth as a horrified sob rocked my body. “Syras?” He didn't move.
“Syras?” I stood slowly and edged towards the altar, vaguely registering the horror on Cupid's face as he surveyed the scene.
My heartbeat roared, loud in my ears. No. He couldn't be – I couldn't have killed him. I loved him.
A pissed off groan rattled from where Syras lay.
The air whooshed from my lungs and I threw myself towards him, my hands touching his face, his chest, checking for blood, for a sign of my dagger.
“Shit, woman. Did nobody ever tell you not to throw knives?” He pulled himself up and lifted his chin to where my blade had lodged itself between Rupert’s beady eyes. “Nice shot, though.”
“What the fuck were you thinking?” I punched his shoulder and got to my feet. “I thought I'd killed you.”
His face broke into a smug grin as he stood and pulled me into his arms. “Please – You wish you had the skills to kill me.”
Relief stole every one of my witty comebacks when his hands lifted to cup my face and I pressed my body against his.
“Your dress, I'll wrinkle it.” He dropped his gaze to my now grubby dress.
“Fuck the dress. Kiss me.”
His deep moan lighted a burning need through my every muscle, every nerve of my being. I arched into him, pressing closer, parting my lips to allow his tongue entrance. I didn’t care if this wasn't Fate's plan. They could all kiss my ass. His hand left my face and traveled down my back, pulling me against him, until every ridge of his body moved against me and all I could feel was him.
A throat was cleared somewhere behind me. His lips slowed and his grip on me eased.
“Well, if this isn’t the height of inappropriate, I don’t know what is.”
At the sound of Fate’s clipped reprimand, my desire cooled, and was replaced by the overwhelming need to wrap my hands around her neck and squeeze.
“Hands off the bride,” she ordered shrilly when Syras wrapped his arms around me and kissed my forehead.
“I said...” A cold fingered hand wrapped around my arm, squeezing the still tender wound across my bicep and yanked me back. “...Hands off the bride.”
Breathing hard, I shoved my hands into the pockets of my leather pants to disguise the effect of Raz’s kiss. Fate glowered in the direction of my groin, and the problem instantly vanished.
“What are you up to, Fate?” Ignoring her disapproving stare, I pulled my hand from my pocket and linked my fingers through Raz’s, tugging her to my side. I needed her close. I'd already nearly lost her twice in the space of forty-eight hours.
“Did nobody ever tell you it’s considered bad manners to kill the groom?” Fate's bottom lip stuck out, her nose wrinkled as she glanced at the very dead Rupert.
“Enough!” Cupid’s loud roar echoed through the huge hall and the ear-aching organ music stopped. Thank fuck. “Fate, enough’s enough,” he warned calmly as his cloud drew to a stop by her side. “Tell them the truth.”
“Fate?” Raz growled menacingly and took a step towards her.
I dragged her back. Fate rolled her eyes and adjusted the straps of her flimsy dress as if she wasn’t seconds from being mauled.
“Fine.” She let out a haughty sigh. “God, I remember when you used to be fun, Cu.”
“We suspected Rupert was behind the deaths of your parents and this seemed like the only way to draw him out,” Cupid admitted before Fate could open her mouth, his childlike face suddenly creased with the wisdom of his years.
“This was a set up?” I asked incredulously, bristling at how easily their stupid plan could have killed Raz. “What the hell were you thinking?”
Fate folded her arms over her chest and clicked her tongue. “I was thinking about getting the bad guy. You can thank me later by the way...” She smiled sweetly, then frowned. “Now, I'm thinking that you two owe me a wedding.”
“But...” Raz stared at me, confusion written in every cell of her face. “But, I thought it had to be a Corazon.”
“Syras is a Corazon.” Fate dead-panned, jutting her chin out like a stubborn teenager. “We've no idea where you came from, but I can tell you that you’re a pureblood.” She arched an eyebrow in my direction. “So, what do you say, Hunter? You fancy getting hitched?”
I was a Corazon? I opened my mouth. Nothing. She expected us to get married? Today?
It didn’t make sense... It made perfect sense.
“Syras?” Raz’s stunned voice pierced through my shock, her fingers tightening around mine. “You don’t have to.... I mean we don’t have to get married. We barely know each other.”
I blinked and nodded slowly. After today, there was no doubt in my mind that she was the one for me. It was quick, but it was real.
Lifting her hand to my mouth, I pressed a kiss to her knuckles and winked. “It'd be a shame to waste that dress.”
Fate clapped, bouncing on the balls of her feet. “Oh, I do love it when a plan comes together,” she sang smugly, earning herself a withering glare from everyone in the room, including a misty-eyed Cupid.
A slow smile spread across Raz’s face when she returned her gaze to mine. “If that was your idea of a proposal, it was kinda lame.” She wrapped her arms around my neck and wrinkled her nose, laughter dancing in those pale gray eyes.
A chuckle rumbled from my chest as I linked my fingers behind her back and pulled her closer. Definitely the one for me. “I’ll work on my proposal when you work on your acceptance.” I raised my eyebrows. “Was that a yes?”
She bit her lip, her grin barely contained. “Fuck it, let’s get married, pretty-face.”
Thank you so much for reading Heart Hunters. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. If you’d like to know what else I’m up to, come visit me on...
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The Invention of St. Valentine’s Day
Rosie Amber Rifae
I’m deeply grateful to the support, enthusiasm and help of my partners in this collection, and especially, Renee Grace Thompson who conceived this project. I’d also like to thank Sue Seabury, Lena Maye and Philippa Decker whose friendship, time and feedback helped shape this story and kept me sane long enough to complete it.
And finally, I owe a huge debt to the works of William Shakespeare from which I learnt a love of English words and phrases.
The royal wedding was going to be a disaster.
Lady Ceridwen, the bride to be, had disappeared.
No one knew yet. Not her father, Chancellor to the King of Wales. Not the powerful Bishop of Cardiff who had been paid in gold to give the blessing. Not even chestnut-haired Prince Edwyn, son to the King of Mercia, the husband-to-be.
The only person to know was the bride’s young sister. Lady Meredith had watched Ceridwen put on servants’ clothing, smear mud on her arms and legs — the better to blend in with the peasants — and then sneak out of the castle before dawn.
Now as the sun climbed over the hills and shone on this Feast of Saint Valentine, Meredith looked out of the window at the crowds below. Had her sister got away already, or was she still down there, among the common folk?
How many young lovers had come today hoping to marry on the same day as the royal couple? The Bishop only gave his blessings to marriages on the Day of Saint Valentine. Ceridwen’s escape will no doubt ruin this day. Meredith chewed her lip; all the other couples would have to go home disappointed tonight and wait another year. She couldn’t imagine waiting even a week to see her love.