The sun was low on the horizon on a crystal clear December day when Harrison and the two Sitheen recruits who’d accompanied him arrived at the hotel in Reykjavik, Iceland. The hotel, like the city, was the definition of old-world Nordic charm.
Harrison had barely lifted his hand to rap on Charlie’s door when the door swung open and his brother met him with a grin. They embraced, slapping one another on the back.
“Ye of little faith,” Charlie chided, pulling away. “You were sure I wouldn’t make it.”
Harrison didn’t deny it. “I’m glad I was wrong, little brother.”
A flash of green across the room caught his eye, drawing his gaze. Harrison froze.
On a chair beside the window, her hands tied together in her lap, sat the palest woman he’d ever seen. And, God help him, the most beautiful. Princess Ilaria. Goose bumps lifted on his forearms as the hair rose on the back of his neck. Esri.
“Easy, bro,” Charlie said quietly. “Why don’t you come into the room?”
She looked exactly like the painting. Exactly. Both her skin and hair were pale, pale, pale, but not the ultra-toothpaste-white of some of the Esri. Creamy, like new ivory, startling and stunning against the shimmering emerald green of her gown.
Her hair fell in soft curls, framing a face that might have been considered delicate on another woman. But he sensed nothing delicate about this one. Her full, sculpted mouth sat firm upon an oval face framed by a strong, finely curved jaw. Her eyes, as brilliantly emerald as her gown, flashed with intelligence and steel, reminding him she was no twenty-something-year-old, no matter what she looked like.
Charlie thrust out his hand to the two Sitheen recruits, who were still standing in the hallway. “Charlie Rand.”
“Brad Parsons,” the kid replied. Not such a kid, really. Not at twenty-five. Kade had found him at Quantico, training to be a U.S. Marine.
Harrison’s gaze dipped, drawn against his will to that shimmering green gown that covered the princess neck to wrists to ankles, yet hugged her form, setting off her full breasts to perfect advantage. A charge of raw attraction bolted through his blood, horrifying him. She was Esri. But God help him, he couldn’t tear his gaze away.
“Tom Drummond,” their pilot said behind him as the introductions continued without him. Tom was mid-forties, an air force colonel Kade had found who was bored
and restless at a desk job in the Pentagon. All Kade had to do was touch a human to
know if he or she was Sitheen. All he had to do to convince them his story was true was
cut himself and let them watch him heal in an instant.
A top-notch recruiter.
Like the others, Tom had taken temporary leave until they got this invasion under control. The President of the United States himself now knew the situation and had given them carte blanche to deal with it. Only a handful outside the Sitheen circle knew what was really going on. And they intended to keep it that way.
Struggling against his unholy fascination, Harrison finally managed to wrench his gaze from Princess Ilaria. Glancing around, he took in the clean, sparse lines of the Nordic décor before noticing Tarrys standing by the foot of the bed. She gave him a small smile unlike any he’d seen on her before. Not shy this time. Not subservient. A smile of welcome. And confidence.
She’d changed. Gone was the slave’s robe, as well as the hair that had started to grow on her head. She was dressed in leather boots, dark slacks and a thick wool sweater that nevertheless accentuated her slenderness. The picture of casual bald chic. But the differences went deeper. Gone was the skittish little slave. In her place stood a woman of bearing and confidence. A woman who held herself with pride, meeting his gaze with strength and certainty.
Just what had happened to her and his brother in that place? He had no idea, but it occurred to him that maybe Charlie’s falling for her wasn’t magic after all. At least not the unnatural kind.
Charlie ushered them into the room and closed the door, then went to Tarrys, his gaze softening with an expression Harrison had never seen in his brother’s eyes. Adoration. Love. A look utterly returned by the petite Marceil. A soft, lovely smile wreathed Tarrys’s pretty face as she took the hand he proffered.
Harrison was the first to admit that he was no expert on enchantment, but he knew love when he saw it. At least in other people. Hell, between Jack and Larsen, and Autumn and Kade, he was choking on the stuff. And watching Charlie and Tarrys, he was all too afraid he was indeed about to gain an immortal sister-in-law.
Charlie pulled the small woman against him and turned to face them. “This is Tarrys, soon to be my wife.”
“She’s bald,” Brad murmured behind him.
Charlie merely lifted an eyebrow. “So?”
“Sorry, sir,” Brad said with quick contrition. His gaze skipped to Tarrys. “Ma’am. I didn’t mean any offense.”
Tarrys’s eyes turned soft with understanding. “Few women of your world go
without hair. Fewer still, willingly. It’s unusual.”
“Yes, ma’am, it is,” Brad said. “Still, I should have kept the thought to myself.”
“Neither of the women is human?” Tom asked. Harrison had briefed the men
about Ilaria, but not Tarrys.
Charlie’s gaze sharpened, but his voice remained even. “Both are from Esria. Both are immortal. Tarrys is a Marceillian priestess who’s been enslaved by the Esri.” “And I am Princess Ilaria, the rightful queen of Esria.” Ilaria’s firm yet melodious voice filled the room. It was a voice that pleasured Harrison’s ears and sent a thrill skating over his skin, raising goose bumps.
He frowned at his unwarranted reaction to her voice. Was she employing some kind of royal enchantment on them? But as he glanced at the others, he saw curiosity in their eyes, perhaps even awe. But not attraction. Not one looked like he felt as if his lungs were being squeezed from the inside out.
Her words echoed in the room, ringing with conviction and truth, yet somehow lacking arrogance. She was their prisoner, yet her green eyes revealed no fear. Instead, cunning and intelligence sparkled in those extraordinary eyes. Perhaps even a hint of humor. Was she laughing at them? Were they fools to believe they could capture a rattler and turn it against their enemies without getting struck themselves?
Her wide, well-shaped mouth curled ever so slightly upward as if a smile were indeed about to bloom on her face, and he watched with an anticipation that had chills of another kind sliding over his flesh. His reaction to her wasn’t right, it wasn’t natural. Her otherness, her Esri-ness, should have repelled him. He knew that.
Yet from the moment he’d set eyes on her, he hadn’t been able to turn away.
He clapped his hands together, desperate to break the spell, shifting the attention back to him. “Let’s get going. D.C.’s crawling with Esri and we need to get back.” Charlie made a move toward the princess. Harrison’s heart plummeted to his stomach as he remembered the way Kade had gone up in flames at a single touch. Harrison lunged forward. “I’ve got her, Charlie.”
His brother glanced at him, his eyebrow arcing. “She’s tied to the chair.”
“Then I’ll be the one to untie her. I don’t have a death mark.” He didn’t get his brother back only to lose him again, not like that.
Charlie shrugged. “She’s all yours.”
Harrison pushed past his brother and Tarrys. The princess, sitting with her back ramrod-straight on the chair, watched him draw near, snagging his gaze—not gently, not kindly. Her eyes, as brilliant as the finest emeralds, bore into his, warning of battle even as they whispered of laughter. And shimmered with heat.
She’d no doubt noticed him staring at her. He steeled himself against this unholy fascination, but as he bent over her shoulder to untie the knot that held her firmly to the chair, the scent of her hair rushed his senses, slamming him with raw desire. She smelled at once exotic and sweet, like gardenias in a tropical garden. The scent drugged him. Intoxicated him.
His fingers fumbled with the rope, finally freeing the knot. When he pushed back, straightening, he found her watching him with eyes warm and electric, as if she could feel the hammering of his pulse. As if hers pounded as well.
He tried to look away and failed, mesmerized by her high cheekbones and the perfect shape of her nose. By the curve of her jaw and that lush, ripe mouth that lifted at the corners ever so slightly. Even her skin enthralled him and his fingers itched to know if the pale marble perfection could possibly feel as warm and silken soft as it appeared.
As the blood pounded through his body, his mind recoiled at the turn of his thoughts. She was casting some kind of enchantment over him. There was no other explanation. With more roughness than he’d intended, he grabbed her arm and pulled her to her feet, her hands still tied in front of her, though no longer bound to the chair.
“Let’s go, Princess.”
“No.” To his surprise, she fought him, digging in her heels. That touch of humor had vanished, her eyes snapping with pride and anger. “Free me entirely, human. I’m tired of being bound.”
He met those brilliant eyes, for a moment stumbling into their green depths before he found his footing and steeled himself with his own anger.
“As long as you’re near anyone with a death mark, you’re staying tied.”
“I’m not a fool. I’m not going to harm my allies. Charlie is my way to the stones.”
“He was. Now we all are. I’m thinking you might consider him expendable.”
“And what would you do if I killed him here and now?” Her words cut as she
lifted her chin and stared at him.
Ignoring the unfortunate attraction still pounding through his veins, he tightened his grip on her arm, yanking her around until he was fully in her face. “If you harm my brother in any way, the gates be damned. I’ll kill you.”
She nodded calmly. “Which is why I would be a fool to try to harm him. I don’t care that he has a death mark.” One blond eyebrow rose. “I might even be inclined to forgive the mark once I have my stones.”
He stilled. “You can remove death marks?”
“I can, as the rightful queen.”
“Then do it.”
“I need the draggon stone.”
He grunted and turned, dragging her with him toward the door. “Convenient, Princess.”
“You believe I’m lying? The draggon stone answers to royal blood and always has. Within it lies my power.”
“You haven’t had the draggon stone in fifteen centuries. Forgive me for having a hard time believing you’d have left the source of your power with us, where not even your queen could find it.”
She didn’t answer for a moment and when she did her voice was low and subdued. “I did what I had to do.”
He glanced at her, trying to figure her out…trying to ignore her feminine assault on his senses. “So when we get you back to D.C., if we allow you to touch the draggon stone, you can forgive all the death marks?”
“If you allow me to touch the stone? The stone is mine, human. As the rightful queen, they’re all mine.”
“That wasn’t my question.”
Temper flared in her eyes. “Yes, I can forgive the death marks.”
She looked up at him, the light of challenge quickly eclipsing the anger in her eyes. Slowly, her mouth began to curl upward in an intriguing shadow of a smile that charged the already electric air between them.
“Allies help one another,” she purred. “Perhaps you should be trying to convince me you’re my ally, and not my enemy. Free me.”
“You ask too much, Princess. I don’t trust any Esri.” Especially one powerful spell over a Sitheen, for that was exactly what she had to be doing. There was no way he’d be attracted to an Esri otherwise. Not when he knew the evil they were capable of. Not when his own daughter suffered still. But despite everything logical and right, he was definitely, horrifyingly attracted to this woman.
Ilaria clenched her jaw tight as the human propelled her down the hotel’s hallway.
She was infuriated that he insisted on keeping her tied like a common slave. Never had humans treated her so poorly. In the old days, they’d revered her. Then again, these were no ordinary humans. They were Sitheen. Humans with a trace of Esri blood who could be neither enchanted nor tricked with glamour.
Worse, these Sitheen knew the death chant…and how to use it. Two thousand years she’d lived, yet they could destroy her in seconds.
Yes, they maddened and infuriated her, but sweet Esria, that wasn’t all.
Striding beside her, tall and strong, Harrison’s nearness caressed her skin with a tingling pleasure. Even through her sleeve, she felt his fingers curled around her arm, warm and fierce, yet surprisingly gentle. In the air between them, desire thickened, awareness sizzled.
When was the last time she’d felt desire like this for a male? Not for as long as she could remember. Yet despite his sharp, distrustful eyes, there was something about this male that pulled and tugged at her in all her darkest, most vulnerable places. He glanced at her, meeting her gaze, sending a rare force of masculine power rippling over her skin. Human males were so much more physical than Esri. So much more aggressive, more potent. The simple gaze of this one heated her, turning her to liquid deep inside. Passion burned in his eyes, passion walled behind a barricade of fierce control.
For a moment, she thought she felt something more. A touch of energy. The
shadow of a latent, untapped power she couldn’t identify, but could feel whispering through his aura.
He pulled her forward, his grip on her arm unyielding, and she fought him no longer, knowing too well his strength far exceeded her own. If she didn’t give in, she’d find herself flung upside down over his shoulder and carried as Charlie had carried her through the gate. A princess could only take so much indignity.
Her own anger steeped and stewed even as his nearness made her blood warm and her skin dance with excitement. How was it possible he had this pull on her? If Harrison weren’t human, she might question whether he possessed a rare ability to enchant an Esri. Instead, she feared the weakness was hers alone.
No, not alone. She was quite sure he shared it. And that could, possibly, work to her advantage. She must convince him that her intent was to seal the gates as they wanted her to. Convince him to hand over the stones to her. And a smitten male was so much easier to manipulate.
Of course, this human was far from smitten. He might feel desire for her, but his hatred ran deep. A hatred, she suspected, for all her kind. She might talk of being allies but they weren’t and they both knew it. The humans had made it clear they didn’t trust her, nor were they giving her any choice in what she did with the stones. Yes, this could be fun. She needed a little excitement after three hundred years of incarceration. Her own special means of retribution for this human’s disrespectful treatment of her.
A small smile curved her mouth at the prospect of the sensual battle to come as he led her through the room and out the door into the hallway where the others waited. A battle she didn’t intend to lose.
End of Excerpt
Read the excerpt from the first book in the The Esri Series »