Think again! Belladonna Bordeaux gives one of your favorite fairy tales a unique twist in her hot, hot, hot retelling of this classic story.
Vampires, werewolves, and magic. Curses, suspense, and passion.
Canoir MacBaine is a pariah amongst all the Kinds. Not only will his blood kill both vampire and werewolf, but on the full moon his world is turned upside down when he becomes the accursed Beast. A mindless killing machine, he’s nearly given up hope of ever finding the woman who can break the curse hanging over his head, until a threat greater than the hex he suffers from threatens the Borderlands.
Alexandra Common is the last of the royal strigoi bloodline. Despite her gifted ancestors, Alexandra is no great wielder. She is, sadly, not much of anything in the dynamic that is the chaotic strigoi court. That is, until she meets a man who is not only both werewolf and vampire, but also is the Beast from the legendary tale. Reluctantly, she must come to terms with the fact she is the Beauty meant to break the spell tormenting Canoir.
From Falstaff Manor to the Borderlands, Alexandra and Canoir will race against time and a threat greater than the Borderlands to save not only the Kinds, but each other.
Content Notes: Hot, Anal Play, Anal Intercourse, Exhibitionism
‘Tis best to leave some things well alone.
The Prophecy of the Seven Seals
The Angelic War might be far in the past,
But there is only one way for the peace to last.
The Seven Pure strains will meet thrice each year,
And through conversation the future they’ll steer.
Be aware and be warned of a simple fact,
The ramifications are fiery if you break this pact.
For every seal that is broken, the damage is done.
If all are destroyed, Hellfire and Damnation will be won.
“He what?” Canoir MacBaine stared at his friend for a long moment, his brow curled into a frown.
Soren Elfson, Prince of the Elves, appeared to be dead serious. Irritation brewed in the elf’s ice-chip gray eyes, an undeniable irritation Canoir was quickly adopting in his own mood. “Are you saying that Peter Mishpokov is going to barter all the souls of his Kind to Satan himself for ultimate control of the Greyfold?”
Sadly, ‘twas exactly what Soren told him. The foreboding expression on the elf’s face only punctuated the dire admission.
The depth of degeneration coming from the newly crowned king of the Strigoi was nearly incomprehensible.
Why? The single question rolled over and over in Canoir’s head. Why does the leader of the strongest Kind want this type of power? Is being a wielder as well as a shifter not enough?
Obviously not. Then again, the strigoi kings had been after a war for decades now.
Stunned, Canoir raked his fingers through his hair. A shiver raced through him. The Greyfold. ‘Twas a hideous proposition to think of one man controlling the unruly and deadly mist. Hideous and terrifying, indeed.
Well, Canoir sighed, the Greyfold was not deadly as in finality, but deadly as in turning a person into a living statue. The prospect of the Royal Strigoi obtaining his wish was enough to chill the blood in his veins.
“Mishpokov will need to have all Strigoi heads of household sign the pact. We need to stop this.” Soren appeared ready to take his battle axe and cleave something in two. “We can’t risk him becoming the ruler of the Greyfold.”
An understatement if ever Canoir heard one. “He’d have to take control of Castle Night Shade to see his plot come to fruition.” He tamped down on the shiver threatening to rake the length of his spine.
The Prince of the Elves glared at the fire burning brightly on the grate. He scowled. “Satan can do so. Princess Avawain is as susceptible to his power as aught other.” He suddenly stood. Clasping his hands behind his back, the ice elf seemed to contemplate whatever was rolling about in his brain. Soren began to pace in front of the Great Hearth in Canoir’s Keep. “She may not want to. She may fight tooth and claw to keep the Greyfold at bay, but she is only one elf. Granted, a nightshade elf that controls wild magicke, but still, only an elf.”
“You have no faith in her legions or her men at arms.” ‘Twasn’t a question but a statement of fact.
“Nay. The few full-blooded night shade elves are on Earth performing their duty to her. They cannot abandon the Temporal Plane, for wild magicke already has a foothold there, wreaking its havoc upon unsuspecting mortals who decide to dabble in white magicke. To abandon the mortals will break the covenant binding Castle Night Shade as the only gateway holding the full force of the Greyfold at bay.”
Canoir clasped his hands behind his back as he pondered the problem. The issue started and ended with Peter Mishpokov and his desire for a war. Not just any war, either, but a war meant to sweep across the Borderlands and raze his enemies’ realms to the ground. With the Greyfold under his control, Mishpokov would turn his enemies to stone instead.
Canoir’s heart missed a beat.
And enemies the strigoi had in droves. So many Kinds despised the weasel of a paranormal, several had considered removing him from his position. But if they did, who would take control of the strongest of the Kinds next? Would they be even worse than Mishpokov? It wasn’t a risk any were ready to assume. That was also atop the fact a Strigoi could only be killed by a very specific blade—one handled by a wielder and preferably one forged for a Stygian Knight.
The blade he could acquire through his friendship with the leader of the Stygian Knights, Seth Jorgenson. Still, he despised the thought of leaving the throne open. There were far too many of his kind who also desired a war.
Then again, they’d desired a leadership change with Mishpokov’s sire as well. The number of plots to destroy Mishpokov’s father, Alexander, hadn’t been just intricate, but malicious. His enemies wanted to extract a pound of flesh for every insult the former king had delivered.
Canoir refocused his attention on the conversation. “I will contact Prince Mikhail, since I still have an ally in his ranks. He may be able to provide her with a modicum of protection.” Yet, a legion or two of vampires would be little resistance to the power of the Greyfold should Mishpokov gain all the signatures required to satisfy Satan. “How did you come to know of this Blood Pact?”
“How do you think?” Soren snapped.
“Morrigan,” Canoir surmised. “Mishpokov actually approached the Warmonger?” Fool.Granted, Morrigan was the deposed Goddess of War as well as one of Satan’s Hell Riders, but Mishpokov should have known better than to go to a being that held such close ties to the realm of the elves. Exactly what tied her to the elf realm no one was completely certain of, save for the ice elf standing in front of the fireplace.
“Aye. He was trying to intimidate her into seeing the plan through on her own. As if that was a possibility. She’s powerful, but not that powerful.” Soren snorted with derision. “Morrigan is wilier than him by half, though. She came to me with the information, knowing I would intercede since Elfheim would be overrun by the Greyfold within a day should Mishpokov execute his plan. Still, she had no choice but to put the request for a contract before her overlord. Satan is hedging on the Blood Pact.”
“Not even Satan wants this to come to pass,” Canoir deduced. Why would he?
Aye. The All Evil was always on the hunt for more souls, but to take all of the Strigoi would be naught short of sheer insanity. The half-shifter/half-wielders could very well take over Hell if they so choose. That was how powerful they were. ‘Twas also why the King of the Strigoi sat as regent over the Council of Seven and the Hellfire Club. Their gifts were that immense and all other Kinds had no choice, but to acknowledge the fact. And, most likely, Peter Mishpokov would be leading the way as the Strigoi conquered Hell, should his preferred plan fail. “We are damned either way.”
“Aye.” Soren acknowledged with a nod. “We need a single signee to agree to reject his overlord’s command, otherwise we will have to kidnap one so as to thwart Mishpokov’s plan.”
“You jest.” Canoir couldn’t have heard Soren correctly. “A Strigoi who would turn his back on Peter Mishpokov? The king has terrorized his kind into submission.” Canoir frowned. “He had his father killed so he could ascend to the throne. The bastard usurper’s done everything within his power to strike fear in his people. Even the commoner of their kind and those residing on Earth would be reluctant to come willingly to another realm or go into hiding on the Temporal Plane. He holds control with an iron grip and the threat to disenchant any who dare gainsay him.”
“The nature of his father’s death is an ill-guarded secret amongst the Kinds, but it is true nonetheless that he had his father murdered.” Soren stopped pacing. For a moment he appeared as if he had more to say on the subject, but he merely shook his head. He leveled his glacial stare on Canoir. “This may very well turn into a case of ‘not willingly involved.’ I will say this once and only once, for there are ears listening in every realm in the Borderlands, including this one. For this to work, ‘twill be a case of an outright kidnapping.”
“‘Tis the only way to stop him.” Canoir heaved a long, drawn-out sigh. Dear Goddess! This is a mess and then some. He thought over their limited options. ‘Twasn’t as if they had one. They would have to take a chance that a head of household would listen to reason. If not, he’d have to hijack one.
Canoir nodded. “Fine. I’m invited to Falstaff Manor for the coming Hellfire Club and meeting of the Council of Seven.” He held up his hand for silence when Soren cocked an eyebrow in his direction. “I am always welcome on the anniversary of the curse, but you know this. Also, Mishpokov is in search of more allies to bring to his cause.”
‘Twas disgustingly true, but with the assistance of the Greyfold, allies would no longer be a concern. Mishpokov would terrorize the realms into surrender.
No other way. Canoir turned his gaze to the balcony. Beyond the closed French doors lay the Land of Lost Legends. In his mind’s eye, he pictured his realm with an acutely critical eye. He ruled over a section of the Borderlands filled to the brim with empty castles and mystical hollows where faeries and goblins of yore once resided. Halls where great kings once held court, and abyss-like caves from which monsters rose.
Sick to his stomach with the proposition of what he was about to do, he gritted his teeth before steering his face back to Soren. “I’ll find a would-be victim and bring him here.” His attention snapped to the balcony once more when the wind rattled the double doors until they opened. The Land of Lost Legends stretched as far as he could see. Considering he was the only living creature in this realm, he growled low in his throat. He did not know what the mystical power which protected his realm would do once the outsider was ensconced in one of the castles. Probably extract a pound of flesh from my hide.
He could imagine the massive thorn bush surrounding the ancient home of Sleeping Beauty stretching its long vines toward his home, Castle Beast. There were ways around him finding a hostage to keep Mishpokov from gaining all the signatures needed, but he wasn’t about to let Soren Elfson in on that. There were other complications that needed to be seen to as well. First and foremost was his change to the Beast.
“You do understand I will change into the Beast upon the rising of the full moon. Naught can stop that from coming to pass.”
“Aye.” Soren threw a glance over his shoulder. “I’ll be close should the hour grow late and your change overtake you.”
“I’ll call upon Seth to set the cage early. That should give us a modicum of time to see this poor, unfortunate Strigoi away from me.”
“Fine.” Soren extended his hand. “Be careful and may the Goddess be with you.”
The Goddess deserted me years ago. Still, Canoir took his friend’s hand. “Good luck.” He pursed his lips tightly. “We’re going to need it.”
Something is not right with the world.
Falstaff Manor, the English Countryside, the Mortal Realm
Alexandra Common rolled her eyes in dismay as yet another of her cousin’s spells went awry. The count so far was: her majesty, Queen Mishpokov’s topiaries, five; Cornelia Mishpokov, nil.
“Oh, bother,” Cornelia huffed as she strode away from the podium where her Book of Shadows lay open. “I simply cannot explain what is wrong with me.” She settled her bum on the stone bench with another snort of frustration. “Less than a senight ago, I was building great spells and now…this.” She waved her hand at the destroyed sculpted bushes.
Alexandra winced at the sight of the smoldering boxwood that, but a moment ago was a beautiful depiction of a rearing stag. What would you like me to say? That this is, but a shift in magicke? She knew ‘twas not.
Nay. More was at work here than met the eye.
Or, perhaps not, Alexandra mused. Oh, why am I bothering to debate this?
Considering her spell-casting had never been noteworthy, Alexandra shrugged. She was loathe to engage her cousin in another disagreement regarding how Alexandra was certain the reason the Strigoi’s spells were now foul was because Peter Mishpokov had displeased the Great Goddess of the Tuatha de Danan.
‘Struth, she was mildly surprised the Great Goddess had waited this long to dole out a penance to the Strigoi kind. After all, was it not She, the deity who’d blessed all the paranormal Kinds with their powers and built the Borderlands for those Kinds, who’d once excommunicated the elves for fighting a bloody war against each other?
Mishpokov’s sins were even greater. At least they were in her mind.
Peter Mishpokov not only played a hand in his predecessor’s plan to conquer the Fay realm of Tir na nOg in the Borderlands, but had offended not one, but two other members of the Council of Seven so much so they left the ruling body and closed their realms as well. And that was only after his predecessors insulted two other sects into leaving the Council of Seven.
Alexandra rolled her eyes at the number of the Kinds who’d like naught better than to wring Mishpokov’s throat. ‘Twouldn’t stop their overlord. Nay. He couldn’t die by being beaten to death. ‘Twas a benefit that kept him in power.
She sucked in a sharp gasp when she considered the man who currently ruled their Kind. The most grievous sin, at least amongst the Strigoi, ‘twas the suspicion Peter Mishpokov had taken a hand in the murder of his predecessor…his father, Alexander Mishpokov.
‘Twould take a miracle for the Great Goddess to not be displeased with Mishpokov. That only a handful of Strigoi, her father and brother included, tried to stop Mishpokov from his plan to bring war to the Borderlands was just as grievous when one thought on it. Mishpokov’s justice leveled on those who’d stood against him was not only swift but, in all’s opinion, barbaric.
A minor wave of nausea assaulted Alexandra, but she managed to push it down.
She wrinkled her nose in disgust when one of the bushes crackled from latent magicke finally sputtering to life, only to die out in the blink of an eye.
‘Twas obvious why the Goddess was taking out her displeasure upon all and not just Mishpokov.
The most powerful of the Kinds failed to intervene with the grandiose machinations of their leader.
Thus, now they were all guilty in the eyes of the Great Goddess.
“Fine. Let me try something else.” Cornelia stood, brushed her palms down the skirt of her day gown and purposefully strode back to the lectern. Sweet, determined Cornelia was a girl who stood slightly taller than Alexandra, but was blessed with classic coloring and great bone structure. Her blonde hair flowed around her shoulders perfectly and her snapping blue eyes hardened with determination. A slight blush pinkened her cheeks as she nibbled on her lower lip. “What think you, Alexandra? A spell of reconstruction?”
One of the many ghosts who haunted the manor peeked up from the smoldering ground. The abrupt appearance of the specter reminded Alexandra that like the strigoi's realm in the Borderlands, Falstaff Manor was also a haven for ghosts.
“I think you’ve corrupted enough of the garden as it is,” Alexandra whispered. Folding her hands in her lap, she flashed Cornelia a shaky smile when the young lady glared at her. “All right. Let us see if ‘tis possible to repair the damage.”
“You are so smart and sensible, Alexandra. A repairing spell is much better than a reconstruction spell.” Cornelia flipped through her grimoire until she found the incantation she was looking for.
Aye. Smart and sensible, that is me. Alexandra blew out an exasperated sigh. “Mayhaps, ‘tis in your best interest to have Lord Mishpokov lead you through the casting.”
“Pish-posh.” Cornelia heaved a haughty huff as if the notion of needing help was insulting at best and repulsive at worse. “He’s far too busy preparing his schedule of meetings.” Cornelia drummed her fingernails on the lectern. “What think you of a remaking spell?”
Reconstruction. Repairing. Remaking. Why are you even bothering? The Strigoi magicke is spoiled as if ‘tis twenty-day old milk left out in the sun.
Again, Alexandra took a noncommittal stance. “Do what you wish. ‘Tis not as if you’d listen to me one way or t’other.” At least that was true. Cornelia was determined to get one spell right. The young strigoi miss knew the blatant truth. So did her cousin.
Alexandra sighed when Cornelia began to chant in their native language. Even the crashing of syllables sounded out of tune. Her nerves began to twang. Energy, dark and bleak, crackled in the air.
Alexandra braced herself for the worst as the ball of light building between Cornelia’s palms grew brighter and brighter. Tiny wisps of ash-gray fog twisted around the enchantment.
A flash-in-the-pan vision of Cornelia obliterating the entire garden shot through Alexandra so quickly that for a second she doubted her own precognition. Bolting upright, she gasped when another shot of sensory perception struck her.
There were people in the garden. Invitees to the morrow’s meeting of the Council of Seven. Which, considering how many members had left the elite group, ought to be re-titled the Council of Three. Only the strigoi, the dragul and the were-kinds remained a part of the governing body.
“Cornelia, nay!” Alexandra shouted.
‘Twas too late. The final syllable escaped Cornelia’s lips and the ball shot off.
All Alexandra’s warning cry served to do was throw Cornelia’s aim off. The ball of light slammed into the gurgling fountain, ricocheted to another of the benches, then took haphazard flight as it literally bounced off one hard object after another until it raced toward the back of the garden. In its wake it left gaping holes in hedgerows and decapitated the rose bushes.
Alexandra had to stop it before the enchantment struck something not made of stone or greenery. Bile gurgled in her stomach when she pictured the enchantment blowing a hole straight through someone. Gathering a handful of her skirts, she raced after the ball of light.
“Where are you going?” Cornelia screamed.
“We can’t let it into the countryside,” Alexandra returned. “We have to capture it.” Exactly how she’d accomplish that goal, she wasn’t certain, but she had to at least try.
She heard Cornelia chase after her. The woman’s heavy footfalls crunched against the remnants of the topiaries.
“Nay. Nay!” Alexandra shrieked. She waved wisps of smoke from her line of sight. “Go back to the manor and locate Lord Mishpokov. Perhaps he knows a counter-spell.” Later, she’d berate herself for shouting the wrong title. Mishpokov was the self-appointed King of the Strigoi.
Alexandra cast a glance over her shoulder in time to see Cornelia reverse her course. The desire to breathe a sigh of relief was squashed behind the sheer panic flowing through her system.
This is bad!
Nay. This is colossally terrible!
All she could do was follow the soft thuds the incantation made as it continued its bouncing path. She glimpsed it when glowing ball flew past a man who had the wherewithal to duck before it struck him in the head.
“Beg pardon, sir,” she rasped as she ran past.
Horror struck her squarely when the ball of light connected with the face of the garden wall. It came zooming back toward her at breakneck speed.
A tiny scream of terror broke from her throat. The next instant she was forced to the grass by the weight of a body.
The air in her lungs was expelled in a mighty whoosh. She came to her senses quickly.
“Let me up. I have to stop it,” she wailed. Puffing and panting for air, she realized the body lying atop hers wasn’t moving.
Her terror turned to dread. Listening carefully for the hit of the enchantment, she swallowed hard when all that hit her ears were shouts from the manor.
Cornelia killed him!
“Nay. Nay. Nay.” Her fingernails clawed at the ground as she began to wriggle her way free. She crawled out from beneath the body. “Oh, please, don’t let it be so.”
With her heart beating in her throat and blood pulsing in her ears, Alexandra finally kicked her feet free from beneath him. Uncaring that her gown was ripped in several places and her hair was in wild disarray around her shoulders, she knelt beside the prone man.
She attuned her ears for the sound of the wayward spell. Actually, with sinking suspicion, she prayed for the sound.
Nothing. Not even a whisper of the enchantment reached her ears.
Pushing aside her fear of finding the man maimed by the spell, she swallowed hard.
Terrorized beyond all comprehension, she used every ounce of her strength and turned the man onto his back. Employing great caution, she checked him for damage. Her brow curled into a frown and then a scowl. “How is this possible?”
There wasn’t a scratch on him. His shirt, however, was sporting a good-sized burnt-out hole in it. The scent coming off his clothing was rank at best.
She crinkled her nose. Unbidden, she stroked her fingers over the pristine skin of the man’s chest. I don’t understand.
Tiny sparks flew from her fingertips up her arm in a jolt that confused her even more. “What?”
“Alexandra? Alexandra Common?”
“Here!” she shouted when the voices of servants and invitees called out to her. “We’re over here.”
Following the prescription her governess employed the only time Alexandra had swooned, she tapped the man on his cheek. “Wake up. Come along. You are causing me enough worry.” She tapped his other cheek.
She was about to perform the act again when a hand wrapped around her wrist. Stunned, she instinctively pulled back. She tilted her head to the side when the man opened his eyes.
“Canoir?” Someone shouted.
Mesmerized by the rich, mahogany color of his eyes, Alexandra gasped. The man was gorgeous. “Are you Canoir?” she asked in a whisper.
Tremors of trepidation scurried up her spine when he gave her a solemn nod. Exactly what she feared about this man, she wasn’t sure. Still, there was an aura about him that practically shouted, Don’t come near me!
Through her true-sight, the gift of viewing a paranormal’s altered form while in their mortal state, she watched the man’s face contort into that of a werewolf then shift again to that of a vampire. She shook her head. Impossible. Finally, his countenance changed for the last time back to his mortal form.
How? She pondered him in utter dismay. She’d seen many wild-appearing Kinds using her true-sight, but never one such as him. If her ability was to be believed, this man was both werewolf and vampire.
Opening her mouth to ask him what he was, she never got the words out. Jerked away from him by a set of strong hands, she was set to the side. She crumpled to her knees, still not recovered from her shock or her mad dash after the enchantment.
A man she recognized straightaway knelt beside Canoir. The Lord of the Crymrae, Seth Jorgenson, helped who she assumed was his friend to his feet.
Well, she didn’t know if the solitary Lord of the Crymrae was his friend, but ‘twas beside the point. She reached for Seth Jorgenson’s hand when he held it out. Belatedly recalling this man was the leader of one of the few Kinds who could destroy a strigoi, she snatched her hand back and gained her feet under her own steam.
Part of her said, Run. Another part shouted, Hide. Her good manners rescued her from making a total fool of herself by following through on those cowardly instincts.
After all, why would the Lord of the Crymrae do her harm? She was basically nothing. In actuality, she was indeed less than an ant which needed squashing. She was useless.
She sighed dejectedly. That news had been told to her many a time.
In the past, she’d just not chosen to believe such was the truth of her existence.
Now that her kind were losing their powers, ‘twas only a matter of time before all the strigoi would become like her—a paranormal breed which would eventually fade to a vague legend.
Her pulse rate elevated when Seth Jorgenson leveled his icy gray eyes on her. He took her in with a sweep of his gaze. A stiff nod accompanied his inspection.
A twinge flew through Alexandra. She shivered. Good Goddess, Seth Jorgenson was handsome. Not as fetching as his friend, but handsome nonetheless.
She concluded that her silly reaction was wrought from being a maiden who’d finally entered her first mating cycle. The fact the full moon was but a few nights away had done naught to rescue her from the lurid dreams she’d suffered every night. The same explicit fantasies that were now creeping into her waking hours.
Quick-shot images of her engaging both men in a tryst blasted across her mind’s eye. A bubble of warmth seated itself deep in her belly. Her nipples turned to hard buds when the vision gained clarity.
Is this precognition? She couldn’t fathom a guess. Far too caught up in the lurid fantasy of taking the Lord of the Crymrae’s cock into her mouth while Canoir fucked her from behind to care if the vision was precognition or merely a telltale sign of her mating season, Alexandra shook herself out of her stupor. 'Struth, she'd welcome the scenario. 'Twould be a grand ending to her first mating season.
She audibly swallowed when Canoir cocked his right eyebrow at her. “We should have Lord Mishpokov see to you, sir,” Alexandra said. She winced when she once more used the wrong title. “What I meant to say is we should have King Mishpokov check your wounds.”
Canoir remained stonily silent. She shivered when he inspected her from the top of her head to the hem of her grass-stained and torn day gown and then reversed his eyes’ course. Forcing herself to pay attention to the other man, Alexandra sighed. Seth Jorgenson grinned at her mistake.
“Come along, little one. We will see you safely back to the manor,” Canoir said, finally breaking his silence. He had the most amazing accent this side of the Borderlands. His words rolled smoothly off his tongue in a combination of a Scottish brogue and something else.
Making a mental note to dedicate that aspect of him to memory, she thanked him with a small smile and a slight nod.
What she really wanted to do was stop staring at the chiseled planes of his face. She surely did, but couldn’t manage to drag her gaze from him.
“Alexandra! Come here, this instant!” Peter Mishpokov’s nasally voice broke the spell holding her transfixed.
She bobbed a slight curtsy to the two men. “Coming, Your Highness.” Her smile widened. At least I remembered to use his proper title.
* * * *
Canoir MacBaine watched the young miss walk to where the Bastard Usurper, Peter Mishpokov, stood. He tilted his head to the side as he took in the gentle sway of her hips. The way her glorious brown hair swished as she moved. The most stunning revelation came to the fore of his thoughts.
She wasn’t afraid of me!
The realization hit him harder than the force of the enchantment he’d caught. He shook the sting from his hand. It probably hadn’t been in his best interest to pluck the magical orb of light from the air with his bare hand. Too late now.
While he continued to shake out the residual tingle from the offended appendage, he pondered the twist the unknown female represented. Very interesting.
“Are you hurt?” Seth interrupted Canoir’s musings.
Canoir shook his head. “Who is she?” he demanded of his friend. He couldn’t take his eyes off her if he wanted. A low growl rumbled in his chest when Peter Mishpokov began to berate the young woman. The sudden urge to step forward and throttle the strigoi rolled through him. The fact he knew what Mishpokov was up to nearly sent him into a rage which would go down in the annals of history. He clenched his teeth together tightly when the growl turned to a furious roar of detestation.
His beast prowled inside him and the realization the king was willing to commit the young lady’s soul to Hell to see his plan through brought up all of his protective instincts and then some. His hands curled into fists. His wolf clawed at his insides.
“Who is she?” he reiterated his question. He took a step forward when the “king” grabbed the young miss’s arm and began storming away. Seth’s hand on his chest stopped him from going after Mishpokov. Canoir’s sole intent of teaching the newly appointed and self-proclaimed Royal Strigoi some manners wasn’t completely forgotten, but he recognized now was not the time to let his knowledge of the Strigoi’s plan show.
“Not sure.” Seth clapped him on his shoulder. “She’s strigoi, but that is a given, considering who she bowed down to.”
Forcing his wolf to calm, Canoir nodded.
A small smile quirked the edges of Canoir’s lips when he recalled how she couldn’t get Mishpokov’s title correct. It disappeared just as fast. To the class of paranormals which he belonged, Mishpokov was on the level of slime and most of the common kind referred to him as the Bastard Usurper. But that was before Soren’s visit to Castle Beast. ‘Struth, what he was didn’t mean aught. What needed to happen was Peter Mishpokov had to be stopped.
“Are you sure you weren’t hurt?” Seth asked again. “You took quite a blow from that…that…mistake.” Seth shook his head. A deep scowl marred his brow.
“What make you of that, wielder?” Canoir inquired. He slid his gaze to the tall, blond-haired man standing beside him. “Was she practicing wild magicke?” Or worse, was she dabbling in the Dark Arts?
“Nay. The spell was bad.” Seth sighed. “There is gossip amongst the wielders that the Strigoi can no longer cast circles, let alone full spells.” He motioned for Canoir to join him at the rear of the garden. He leaned his weight against the stone wall where the ball of light had hit. Taking on a nonchalant air, he inspected the burn mark marring the granite wall. Tiny sparks lit from the scar as his fingers moved over it. Pulling his hand away, he rubbed the soot between his thumb and forefinger. He nodded. “They are being disenchanted.”
Considering the source of the information had wielded magicke for over a millennia and a half, Canoir gritted his teeth. “So, ‘tis true.” Was the Goddess preemptively taking this Kind to task, or was she nullifying their power should Canoir or any of the others employed to stop the plot from achieving its goal fail in their part of the mission? “They are on the offside of the Goddess.”
“Mayhaps. Mayhaps not. The spell-caster might be paying a penance to Mishpokov.” Seth shrugged, but his gaze remained fixated upon the sparks crackling across his fingers.
“He’s that powerful?” Canoir scowled.
“He shouldn’t be.” Seth took a square of linen from his pocket and rubbed the grime from his fingers. A sizzling noise sputtered in the air. The smudges of soot took hold and spread until the totality of the cloth was as black as pitch. Seth tossed it into the air. The rag burst into flames.
“Is that natural?” Canoir’s scowl deepened as the ash floated to the ground.
“Nay. ‘Tis not.” Seth caught a fleck of ash on the tip of his index finger and then blew it away. “Why do you ask?”
Because, if his plan was to work he needed to know the truth and posthaste. He had to pick a head of household and take them away from Falstaff Manor. If he couldn’t achieve that, he had an ally in the newly formed country of America who was ready to hunt down a family of strigoi and take them into his keeping. Personally, he didn’t want Jaeger Beuruth to get involved in this mess. After all, the werewolf was already on the outs with his own kind for breaking pack rule as well as being a friend of the werewolves’ greatest enemy, the Cu Sith.
‘Struth, ‘twas hard to believe Jaeger followed any of the pack rules. He was a loner by nature, but a loyal friend by life experiences. He’d forged his own path from the moment he was bitten and had fairly snubbed aught who wanted him to fall into the rank and file of being once bitten.
Canoir shook himself out of his worries. Remain focused on what you need to do. There was something about this young miss that struck him—most notably her initial reaction to him. “I think she is the one who can break the curse Belesme placed on me.” He wished he could tell Seth what Mishpokov wanted to do, but settled on telling his friend what had been prophesied forever. ‘Struth, this was just him grasping for a miracle as the last vestiges of his hope waned. Still, that she’d not shied away from his aura was reason to pray he’d finally found the cure. “She may be the one.”
“You’re serious.” Seth’s gaze snapped to Canoir.
“Aye.” It helped him not that she smelled like manna from heaven and the first violets of spring. Every one of his instincts was shouting at him to find her and then make her his mate. His cock hardened at the thought of taking her to his bed and fucking her thoroughly.
Damn me. ‘Twas too late for that. He was already cursed. I’ve no need for my mating cycle to come into full bloom now.
He watched the young lady retreat into the manor. “Why are you here?” he asked, more to himself than the powerful wielder standing beside him.
“She’s a maiden coming into her first mating.” Seth sucked in a sharp breath and then released it slowly. “Mishpokov is using the Black Mass Banquet to educate the young ladies of his kind since they are no longer welcome in Tir na nOg.”
“The fay orgies,” he whispered under his breath. Canoir’s mouth filled with a vile taste. He spat. His overactive imagination conjured up a fresh batch of fantasies. By the Goddess, he wanted her with a passion that threatened to singe him alive. “He thinks to make them handmaidens at the Black Mass Banquet?”
"Nay. Most likely he is determining their worth by the amount of blushing they do during the Black Mass Banquet."
The twist also served as the perfect cover for Mishpokov to bring many of the strigoi heads of households to Falstaff Manor. Of course those men would want to view potential mates for their sons. Falstaff Manor had long been considered a sort of neutral ground, even though it was Strigoi-held. The Mortal Realm was good for that, if little else.
"I wouldn't put aught past Mishpokov. If he brought the maidens into the antics of the lower tables—by the Goddess." Canoir shook his head.
Seth dragged his fingers through his hair. “The Great Goddess help them if they are offered to the low table.”
“Aye. The mood amongst the common kind toward the strigoi in general is foul at best.” Canoir concurred. “Murderous is what I would call it.”
“‘Tis fortunate that only a wielder can destroy them. If that weren't the case then Mishpokov’s head would have already been removed from his shoulders.” Seth motioned for Canoir to walk with him. “That is the opinion of the Kinds.”
“None wanted this war.” If that is what you can call a stalemate. “Least of all the common kinds. The vampires are running wild over the Highlands. They have no person to impose order upon them.”
“They’ve attacked you?” Seth sounded surprised.
“A few tried. They learned a very deadly lesson to not drink from someone who is twice bitten.” Canoir glared at the manor. He watched Mishpokov finish his lecture to the maid. Then, as if he had to prove he was indeed disenchanted, he held his hands out before him. He didn’t have the strength to even form a ball of light. More concerning was how Mishpokov paled considerably while trying to muster some magicke. He would have fallen on his arse had the young maid and a servant not caught him.
“By the Goddess,” Seth murmured.
“They are becoming mortal,” Canoir whispered back. His wolf growled. His vampire side hissed. The fangs of his bloodsucking side itched to be free of his gums. He fought down the urge to shift.
Internally, Canoir felt the cure for the curse placed on him become naught but a pipe-dream and wishes made upon stars twinkling in the sky. Then he thought about Mishpokov’s plan to control the Greyfold.
‘Tis his just dessert to lose all his powers.
Still, the mere thought of the maid being subjected to the common kinds’ revenge had his wolf in an uproar. ‘Twas a case of sooner rather than later the other Kinds would discover the truth about the strigoi becoming disenchanted. They would plot and then execute an act of revenge. Of that there was no doubt.
He could protect her from werewolves and vampires, but he could offer little protection from the other paranormals who normally joined the low table of the Black Mass Banquet. His only hope was that Mishpokov used some common sense and sent them home, or place them under lock and key, until the Council of Seven adjourned. At least they weren’t any of the ones he needed to kidnap.
Reconsidering the Black Mass Banquet, Canoir growled. Bah. His arrogance won’t allow for that. Reminded of his own arrogance, which had landed him under the mantle of the Belesme Curse, Canoir forced that particularly painful memory away. “How would you protect her if you had the means?”
“I’d kidnap her to the Borderlands and hide her in an uninhabited realm,” Seth said.
“Then that is what I will do.”
“You can’t. Mishpokov will hunt you down…”
“And do what to me?” Canoir growled. Refraining from reiterating what had already been discussed regarding the Goddess’s displeasure, he turned to face Seth. His gaze dipped to the thrice-forged sword at Seth’s side. ”‘Twould do nay good to murder Mishpokov now. The Bastard Usurper’s plan was already in motion and the Goddess only knew what Satan would do, should Mishpokov be taken out of the mix early.”