Originally published: 07/02/13
They have the power to hold you spellbound, to captivate your senses, and to keep you forever in their control. Forever enthralled…
#1 New York Times bestselling author Lora Leigh returns to her sensual world of the Breeds…as one stubborn Breed meets her match, and can no longer deny her mate—or the fierce desires of her own heart.
New York Times bestselling author Alyssa Day introduces the League of the Black Swan…and the dangerous game one woman plays when her family’s curse dooms her to kill the man she loves.
New York Times bestselling author Meljean Brook delivers a new story in her steampunk world of the Iron Seas…as a man who’s lost everything returns home to find that not only is his marriage in jeopardy, but he must now fight air pirates who intend to steal his one remaining treasure—his wife.
And Lucy Monroe, national bestselling author of the Children of the Moon novels…unleashes the feral passions of a werewolf on the body, mind, and soul of his prey, his lover, his lifemate.
Also available in Audio Book.
“An award-winning quartet of authors flexes their paranormal skills in this marvelous anthology featuring stories connected to their ongoing series. Fans of all of these authors should snatch this up quick, as it is well worth the time and money! A really outstanding anthology!”
—4 1/2 Stars, Jill at RT Book Reviews
“This was a pleasant little romance that gives a glimpse of the Elan on their home turf and a chance to see prince Erik with his people before he made the trek to unite the wolves and birds.”
“Lucy Monroe, a new-to-me author tells the story of a werewolf and an eagle shifter. As this is a new author to me, I was surprised to see the amount of character depth and detailed world-building this novella had to offer. Bryant and Una’s story has convinced me to give Monroe’s Children of the Moon series a try!”
—Annie Tegelan Fresh Fiction Reviewer
“This is a sweet romance between a “cursed” human female and the half Fire Demon? Readers get a sweet story between two lonely people that find a connection.”
—Night Owl Review
The Forests of the Éan, Highlands of Scotland
1144, Reign of Dabíd mac Maíl Choluim, King of Scots and the Reign of Prince Eirik Taran Gra Gealach, Ruler of the Éan
Una stood in shock, terror coursing through her like fire in her veins, burning away reason, destroying the façade of peace she had worked so hard to foster for the past five years.
Her eagle screamed to be released. She wanted to take to the skies and fly as far as her wings could carry her until the sun sank over the waters and the moon rose and set again in the sky.
The high priestess, Anya Gra, smiled on the assembled Éan like she had not just made a pronouncement that could well spell their doom.
Faol were coming here? To the forest of the Éan? To their homeland kept secret for generations. For very good reason.
Reason Una had learned to appreciate to the very marrow of her bones five years before.
“No,” she whispered into air laden with smoke from the feast’s cooking fires. “This cannot be.”
Other noises of dissent sounded around her, but her mind could not take them in. It was too busy replaying images she’d tried to bury under years of proper and obedient behavior. Years of not taking chances and staying far away from the human clans that had once intrigued her so.
She’d even avoided Lais, one of the few other eagle shifters among her people. Because he’d come from the outside. From the clan of the Donegal, the clan that spawned devils who called themselves men.
She’d not spoken to him once in the three years he’d lived among their people.
The grumbling around Una grew to such a level, even her own tormented thoughts could not keep it out.
For the first time in her memory, the Éan of their tribe looked on their high priestess with disfavor. Many outright glared at the woman whose face might be lined with age, but maintained a translucent beauty that proclaimed her both princess and spiritual leader.
Others were yelling their displeasure toward the prince of the people, but their monarch let no emotion show on his handsome though young features. He merely looked on, his expression stoic, his thoughts hidden behind his amber gaze.
The dissension grew more heated. This was unheard of. In any other circumstance, Una would have been appalled by the behavior of her fellow Chrechte, but not this day.
She hoped beyond hope that the anger and dissent would sway their leaders toward reason.
“Enough!” The prince’s bellow was loud and commanding despite the fact he was only a few summers older than Una.
Silence fell like the blacksmith’s anvil.
Emotion showed now, his amber eyes glowing like the sacred stone during a ceremony. “We have had the Faol among us on many occasions these past three years.”
Those wolves had only come to visit. Una, and many like her – justifiably frightened by the race that had done so much to eradicate their own, had stayed away from the visitors. She’d avoided all contact and had not even stolen so much as a peek at any of them.
Not like when she was younger and let her curiosity rule her common sense.
But Anya Gra said these ones, these emissaries from the Sinclair, Balmoral and Donegal clans, would live among the Éan for the foreseeable future.
Live. Among. Them. With no end in sight.
Una’s breath grew shorter as panic clawed at her insides with the sharpness of her eagle’s talons.
“It is time the Chrechte brethren are reunited.” Prince Eirik’s tone brooked no argument. “It has been foretold this is the only chance for our people to survive as a race. Do you suddenly doubt the visions of your high priestess?”
Many shook their head, but not Una. Because for the first time in her life, she did doubt the wisdom of the woman who had led their people spiritually since before Una was born.
“Emissaries are coming to live among us, to learn our ways and teach us the way of the Faol.” This time it was another of the royal family who spoke, the head healer. “We will all benefit.”
“We know the way of the Faol,” one brave soul shouted out. “They kill, maim and destroy the Éan. That is the way of the Faol.”
“Not these wolves. The Balmoral, the Sinclair, and the Donegal lairds are as committed to keeping our people safe as I am.” The prince’s tone rang with sincerity.
The man believed his own words. That was clear.
But Una couldn’t bring herself to do so. No wolf would ever care for the Éan as a true brother. It was not in their violent, often sadistic and deceitful natures.
“It is only a few among the Faol today who would harm our people. Far more would see us joined with the clans for our safety and all our advantage.”
Join with the clans? Who had conceived of that horrific notion? First they were talking about having wolves come to live among them and now their leaders were mentioning leaving the forest so the Éan could join the clans?
Una’s eagle fought for control, the desperate need to get away growing with each of her rapid heart beats.
“In the future, we will have no choice,” Anya Gra said, as if reading Una’s mind. “But for this moment in time, we must only make these few trustworthy wolves welcome among us.”
Only? There was no only about it. This thing the royal family asked, it was monumental. Beyond terrifying.
It was impossible.
“You ask too much.” The sound of Una’s father’s voice brought a mixture of emotions, as it always did.
Guilt. Grief. Relief. Safety.
Stooped from the grievous wound he had received at the hands of the Faol when rescuing Una from their clutches, he nevertheless made an imposing figure as he pushed his way toward the prince and priestess.
The leather patch covering the eye he’d lost in the same battle gave her father a sinister air she knew to be false. He was the best of men.
And forever marred by wounds that would never allow him to take to the skies again…because of her.
“You ask us to make welcome those who did this,” he gestured toward himself in a way he would never usually do.
He ignored his disfigurements and expected others to do the same.
“Nay.” The prince’s arrogant stance was far beyond his years, but entirely fitting his station as the leader of their people. “I demand you make welcome wolves who would die to protect you from anything like that happening again.”
“Die, for the likes of me?” her father scoffed. “That would be a fine day, indeed, would it not? When a wolf would die to protect a bird.”
“Do you doubt my desire to protect you and all of my people?” the prince demanded, a flicker of vulnerability quickly gone from his amber eyes.
“Nay. My prince, you love us as your father did before you, but this? This risk you would take with all our safety, it is foolishness.”
Suddenly Anya Gra was standing right in front of Una’s father, her expression livid, no desire for conciliation in evidence at all. “Fionn, son of Micael, You dare call me foolish?”
Oh, the woman was beyond angry. Even more furious than Una’s father had a wont to get.
“Nay, Priestess. Your wisdom has guided our people for many long years.”
“Then, it is my visions you doubt,” the celi di accused with no less fury in her tone.
Una’s father shook his head vigorously. “Your visions have always been right and true.”
“Then you, and all those who stand before me today,” she said including everyone at the feast with her sharp raven’s stare. “All of my people will give these wolves a chance to prove that not every Faol would murder us in our sleep.”
“And if you are wrong? If they turn on us?” her father dared to question.
Una’s respect for her parent grew. It took great strength to stand up to Anya Gra, spiritual leader and one of the oldest among them.
“Then I will cast my fire and destroy their clans without mercy,” the prince promised in a tone no one, even her stalwart father, could deny.
Her father nodded, though he looked no happier by the assurance. “Aye, that’s the right of it then.”
Prince Eirik let his gaze encompass the whole of their community, his expression one of unequivocal certainty. “I will always protect my people to the best of my ability. Welcoming these honorable men is part of that.”
Una noted how he continued to push forth the message that these wolves were good men, trustworthy and honorable.
He was her prince and she should believe him.
But she couldn’t.
She knew the truth. Not that she hated all wolves. That would make her like the Faol who had taken her and done the horrible things they had done with every intention of killing her in the end, as they would kill any Éan they came across.
No, she would not share the unreasoning prejudices of her enemy and hate an entire race, making no distinctions between individuals.
But she could not trust them either.
Bryant and his companions rode into the clearing deep in the forest. Their guide, Circin of the Donegal clan, pulled his horse to a stop without a sound.
The six Faol soldiers also pulled their horses to a stop.
“Now what?” Donnach, the other Balmoral wolf sent by their laird to act as diplomat to the Éan, asked.
“We wait,” Circin said, his youth belied by his confidence.
In line to be the next leader of the Donegal clan once the acting laird, Barr, had trained him to his station as both laird and pack alpha, the youth was an extremely rare shifter with two animals. Not that Circin’s triple nature was common knowledge, but Bryant and the others, if they were looking, had witnessed the other man shift into his raven the night before.
Since Circin’s clan believed him to be wolf, that meant the Chrechte had a dual animal nature: both Faol and Éan.
“Why aren’t you one of the emissaries?” Bryant asked him.
He would think a man who shared his nature with both a raven and a wolf would make a better bridge for the gap between the two races than a pure wolf.
“I lived among the Éan for a year after Barr married Sabrine, but I told no one except the Prince and Anya Gra of my wolf. We all felt it best at the time.”
Considering the shared past between the two races of Chrechte, Bryant had no trouble understanding why that decision had been made. “Just as your clan isn’t aware you are a raven?”
“Some in my clan know,” Circin admitted easily.
And then something became clear to Bryant. Circin had shifted where Bryant and the others could see him because he trusted them. “You are acting a bridge even if others do not know it.”
A faint blush darkened the laird-in-training’s cheeks. “The trust between the Chrechte brethren must start with the individual man.”
“And woman,” one of the Sinclair warriors added solemnly.
They all nodded. Highland Chrechte understood the value of all their people. Among the clans, human women were often seen as chattel, but the Chrechte were not like that.
Ancient laws dictated that all had their place before the Creator. Man was nothing without woman and woman was nothing without man. Just as the Éan were not complete without the Faol and the Faol were not complete without the Éan.
The different races of Chrechte had been created for a reason and it was not the role of any individual to try to change that. No matter how misguided and downright evil the actions of some of the Faol.
He still found it hard to believe that in only a few generations the memory of the other races of the Chrechte had been taken from the Faol, leaving the wolves to believe they were the only shape changers in existence.
Now, others besides just Bryant’s family knew and believed their ancient stories were more than simply that. They were a history of people that had indeed lived and still did live. If in secret deep in the forest for the past centuries.
One day, wolves and the birds would unite with the Paindeal, their cat shifting brothers and sisters, again as well. It had to be so.
Bryant had not been chosen as emissary by accident. He passionately desired the reconnection of their races.
Had been raised since he was a whelp to believe the time would come when the Éan would be accepted once again among the Faol. Must be accepted.
The desire to make it so was imbedded deep inside him and he would see it to its conclusion.
The Éan needed to join the clans as the Faol had done, for all their good and safety.
Tucked against a branch high in her tree, Una watched in her Eagle form as the six Faol warriors followed Circin of the Donegal and her own prince on horseback into the village at the base of the trees where most of the Éan made their dwellings.
What had once been a couple of caves prepared for the humans who stumbled upon the Éan’s secret homeland to live in, the village now had several huts. They were for the mostly human families that had chosen joining their tribe over death, or been born into it since an ancestor made that choice. Very few Éan dwelt among them, those mated to a human or who had been injured in some way that prevented flight.
Her father was one such bird. The home he shared with her mother was at the base of the very tree in which Una perched. She had wanted to live with them when they’d been forced to leave their home among the trees, but her parents had both refused.
She would be safer in their old home high above, they said. A bird should not live on the ground, her father claimed. Their home should not be abandoned, her mother insisted. And Una had known that they were right on all points.
So, she had stayed in the humble dwelling built in the giant ancient oak tree by one of her ancestors.
However, the five years since her horror had been lonely ones. Her parents did not know it, but Una never invited others to share the space that echoed with the loss her family had endured because of her curiosity and disobedience.
Because it was not just wolves she had a difficulty being in close proximity with. There were a select few she could stand to be nearby, and the children. The little ones caused no panic in her.
Thanks the Creator, because Una’s one contribution to her tribe hinged on her ability to be near the young ones.
Her thoughts of the children ceased as the warriors drew close enough for her eagle’s vision to make out details of the wolves sent by the clans to somehow prove the improvable…that a Faol could be trusted by the Éan.
The warriors were huge, appearing even bigger as they got closer. Some few among their people, like Prince Eirik, shared such stature, but it was not so common among the Éan as the Faol to stand head and shoulders above human men.
One wolf in particular caught her sharp eagle’s eye. Wearing the blue and green plaid with thin yellow stripes of the Balmoral, this one wore no shirt with his kilt. The muscles on his arms and torso bulged with strength. A triangle of dark hair to match that on his head covered the skin of his chest made golden by its exposure to the sun.
Brown hair brushed his broad shoulders, the hairs on his face neither clean shaven, nor bristly with an unkempt beard. Sheared neatly to his skin, they accentuated the hard angles of his cheeks and strong jaw.
The wolf’s feet were bare, the muscles of his legs strong and corded. The only thing he wore besides the plaid was a huge sword and a knife at his waist.
He looked more imposing than the wolf counterpart he could shift into.
And this man was supposed to come in peace, an emissary for the Faol?
Though the others continued on, he stopped his mount near her father’s hut. Turning first to the right and then to the left, he seemed to be looking for something. He cocked his head, inhaling, as if sniffing the air.
Why? What had caught his attention?
Una let out a strangled screech when his head snapped up and his piercing grey gaze was directed right toward her.
A wolf, not an eagle, he should not be able to see her amidst the leaves and branches. Only she felt as if his keen grey eyes were looking right into those of her eagle.
One of the soldiers doubled back, stopping next to him. It was the other Balmoral soldier, by the colors of his plaid. He said something to the grey-eyed wolf, but she could not make out the exact words.
She’d perched herself too far up and unlike the wolves, her sense of hearing was barely better than that of a human.
Petrified by the Faol warrior’s presence and yet feeling a wholly inexplicable longing to fly down and get a closer look, she remained still on the branch.
The other soldier said something again, this time his tone sharper. The grey-eyed man finally turned away and kneed his horse into motion. Just as her father came out of the hut.
Collision seemed imminent and Una let out a shriek of distress, her eagle louder than her human woman would ever be.
But her father did not end up in the dirt, his bad leg taken out from under him. The wolf, moving faster than she’d seen even among the Éan, had dismounted and nudged his horse out of her father’s path with his own body.
Unable to deny the need to get closer, Una hopped down from branch to branch until she could hear the Balmoral soldier apologizing to her father.
Her father ignored the man’s words, turning without acknowledging him and staring up into the tree. As if he too could sense her presence, which was far more likely. Considering he did have the vision of an eagle and was her father besides.
Even if he had not seen her eagle among the limbs of the tree, her father would know of Una’s need to see the wolves as they entered the village.
“You are not to come to the village for the time being,” he called up to her, proving her supposition correct.
She had no intention of coming into the village with the wolves there, but something stirred inside Una that had not stirred in five years.
Curiosity and aggravation at the restrictions placed on her. It only took remembering what those feelings had led her into before and she was taking flight, making her way back up toward her home with a speed she would normally reserve for chasing prey.
Not that she did much hunting. Even in her Eagle form, she could not stomach the hunt. Not after being made into prey herself.
An eagle, Una should have become a warrior like the princess, Sabrine, and some of the other strong women among their people.
But Una had no stomach for battle and even less for bloodshed. She should be protecting her people, but Una was inept at the any but the most basic tactics of fighting.
Her parents had never said so, but they had to be so disappointed that their only child had turned out to be such a poor Éan.
Bryant watched the older Éan go back into his hut, unsurprised by the surly lack of welcome.
The Faol had a lot to answer for in their past treatment of the Éan. He and the other wolf soldiers were here in the forest of the Éan for a purpose…to show that the Faol as a whole no longer held the wrongheaded views of their ancestors.
There were still some out there, acting in secret against their brethren shifters, but they would be dealt with when they were revealed.
With more mercy than most deserved, but the eagle shifter Lais was proof that not only could those beyond the Faol be prey to the wrong thinking that led to wanting to eradicate the Éan, but at least some of those so deceived could be convinced of the truth as well.
With the help of information from Lais, Barr was searching the Donegal clan diligently for the old seeds left behind by their former laird, an evil man who had not respected either human or Éan life.
As his horse took him forward, Bryant’s wolf howled in protest. The beast inside him wanted to climb that tree and investigate the intriguing scent that had stopped him at its base.
Considering the number of looks of distrust, and some of outright fear, he and the other wolves had received upon their arrival that was one course of action that could lead to the very opposite result from the one they wanted. Bryant needed to show the Éan he wasn’t a threat.
Against the urges of his wolf, he nudged his horse forward to follow Circin and Prince Eirik further into the village.
Four of the soldiers were placed in homes with human members of the Éan tribe. None with the bird shifters, and two of them, Bryant and Donnach were given their own small hut to share. Which meant out of all the homes in the village, only four had been willing to have wolves staying with them.
Prince Eirik had explained that after his people had grown used to their presence, Bryant and Donnach would be given the option of living in the treetop dwelling that housed the prince and his grandmother. From there, they would be able to spend more time with the Éan themselves.
Bryant chose to see that as progress rather than further proof the Éan were not ready to integrate with the clans. As his laird had warned him was most likely the case.
According to stories Bryant’s grandfather told, the wolves had not liked joining the human clans either. Especially after MacAlpin’s betrayal, but his forefathers had realized that if the Chrechte wanted to survive, the move was a necessary.
And in some ways, it was easier done after MacAlpin’s betrayal, when no easily acknowledged prince among their own people could be identified because MacAlpin had killed them all.
Not like with the Éan. They had Prince Eirik, who all expected to be named king upon his twenty-fifth birthday.
The Éan had their own spiritual leader too, and a sacred stone, the Clach Gealach Gra, used during their Chrechte rituals. The Faol had either never had a stone, or lost it many years ago and had long since given up their celi di in favor of the human’s priests.
The Ean were also used to living as they did in the forest, like thieves hiding from the magistrate.
Convincing them of the need to rejoin their brethren and become part of the clans, where many of their freedoms would be curtailed even as they enjoyed others, would be no easy task.
And still, Bryant’s wolf had more interest in the scent that caught his attention than their task at hand.
The mists of the spirit world swirled around Una’s legs, even as her shift grew damp and clung to her form. Though she slept, this was no dream.
She had heard of this, the ability some Chrechte had to meet on a plane not purely physical. Oh, it felt real enough, but she experienced it on a level that would impact her body, could even leave marks on it, if the stories were to be believed, but where her body had not actually come.
She had always believed such was only possible for the celi di, those of the royal blood and some very blessed sacred mates. She was none of those and yet she was here. Wherever here was.
The forest around her did not look like her forest, but had trees wider than ten Faol warriors standing shoulder to shoulder and so tall she could not see their tops standing below them. The green moss growing on the north side of their trunks was a brilliant green, brighter than anything in the forests of her home.
Flowers in grew in clumps of vibrant colors, irises standing waist high to peek through the ever swirling mists. Birds chirped, though she could not see them and the sound of a brook babbled in the distance.
Though she’d gone to sleep in the night, the moon high in the sky, it was early morning here, the sun still trailing a golden glow on the horizon.
The sound of a rider on a horse approaching had her turning from the sun, only to see the man of the day before galloping on his big brown war horse. He spied her. There was no question that he’d done so, for he quickly changed direction, pulling his huge beast of a horse to an abrupt halt before her.
The horse tossed its head as the rider looked down at her in confusion. “Who are you?”
“I am Una.” None of the panic she usually experienced around strangers came to plague her and she found the smallest of smiles tilting her lips upward.
There was joy in being able to address this man without fear.
“I do not know you,” the grey-eyed man said, his brows drawn together.
“I am aware.” Her smile grew. “I have told you my name. Now, tell me yours.”
She did not know this boldness in the physical world, but here, she felt safe. This was the Chrechte spirit realm, a place she as Éan could only be called to, and a place where no harm could come to her.
No Faol with intention to harm would be allowed to enter. Of this her eagle was so certain, even her human heart had to accept it.
“I am called Bryant.”
“You are Faol.”
“You are Éan?” he asked, rather than stated.
“Are you celi di?” Though the way his storm cloud gaze roamed over her said spiritual guidance was the last thing on his mind.
“No.” Familiar shame that had no place here still assailed her. “I am nothing special.”
“I am sure that is not true.”
“You would not know.” All urge to smile had fled.
Concern darkened his eyes, as if her sadness truly bothered him. “I am drawn to you.”
She merely shook her head.
Bryant dismounted with an ease of movement she knew was not simply because they conversed in the spirit realm. His natural grace delighted her here, though were she to see it at home she would consider it a threat she knew.
“Were you sleeping when you came to this place?” he asked as he came near, seemingly unconcerned with what his horse might get up to without its rider.
“So, this is a dream?” he asked.
“No.” Even in her dreams, her terror of the Faol would never let her stand so close to him.
“Where are we then?”
“You are so sure I have the answers?”
“I know only that I do not.”
“It is the Chrechte spirit realm.”
“I have heard stories.” He frowned. “But surely this is not real. This is naught but a dream.”
She put her hand out, rejoicing in her temerity to do so, and touched his muscular arm. His hand came up seemingly of its own volition to cover hers. Warmth spread between them, though the mists surrounding them were still cool in the early morning air of this place.
“This does not feel like a dream,” he said with quiet awe.
“Because it is not.”
“But who are you, if not celi di, to bring me here?”
“I did not bring you.”
“Then I brought you?” he asked, sounding unsure.
“No. Perhaps we are not even here for each other, merely at the same time.”
It was his turn to say, “No,” but with a great deal more vehemence than she had uttered the denial. “You are here for me.”
“You did not even know where you were, how can you be so sure of that?”
“My wolf wants you.”
There was no mistaking the heat in his grey eyes.
“Perhaps wolves are not taught they cannot have everything they want, but we of the Éan know differently.”
He tugged on her hand, moving her to stand between his feet, so close their bodies touched.
Her heart raced, but it was not in terror. Her breath caught, but not because her lungs refused to work. For the first time in five years, Una found herself wanting to be near another adult, craving a physical closeness she was sure would be denied her always.
“You crave me as well,” he claimed, his expression no longer confused, but knowing in a way that made heat pool low in her belly.
“Here, I may feel all that I am denied when I am fully myself.”
“What do you mean?” he asked, his head bent as if to listen more closely.
Or kiss her.
Was it possible that she actually hoped for the latter?
“I cannot abide any but my parents and the very young in close proximity.”
“It is not something I would speak of here.” The ugliness of her past and her ongoing pain did not belong in this beautiful place.
“One day you will tell me.”
She laughed then, as she so rarely did – and only then around the children. “You assume we will see one another again.”
“I am living among your people now. If I do not see you in this miraculous place again, I will see you in your village.”
She simply shook her head, knowing differently. “I do not go to the village.”
At least right now. Her father had forbade her.
“As time goes on, we will be allowed into the trees.”
“I doubt that.” Some of the humans living among their tribe had never even received an invitation to do so.
His smile was knowing, but he did not argue with her. Instead, he lowered his head further and whispered against her lips. “I wonder.”
“What do you wonder?” she asked breathlessly.
“If you taste as delectable as you smell to my wolf.”
She would have answered. She might even have denied him, though she did not think so, not when this was the only taste of intimacy she was likely to ever have.
But he gave her no chance to do either. He simply pressed his lips to hers, kissing her.
It was the most amazing sensation Una had ever known. Her lips did not merely tingle against his, they felt so much more. Pleasure. Fire. And the need for more and more and more.
She gasped her shock at the delight of it and felt his tongue tickle her own through her parted lips.
Her entire body pressed to his, an ache growing inside her for something she had no name for. She moved restlessly against him, the damp shift no barrier between his warm skin and her own.
One large warrior’s hand moved down to cup her bottom in a gesture so intimate, Una cried out from it.
And then he was gone.