·SERIES: Masters of Maria #2
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Cursed by his vengeful elf ex-lover eight hundred years ago, Tamatsu lost not only his voice but his power, and became consumed by a ravenous hunger for food, sex, violence, and other earthly pleasures. Now he’s ready to make a deal with his former flame and tormentor: the return of his voice in exchange for the location of her missing elf queen.
But the Fates have a way of throwing monkey wrenches into the best-laid plans. After so many years in the human realm, Noelle isn’t sure she can remember what happened to his voice or even what made her mad enough to curse Tamatsu in the first place…
Can she find a way to make amends with the only person who’s capable of balancing her? Tamatsu must also decide if being intimate with Noelle again is worth exacerbating his insatiable appetites. It’s not a match made in heaven, but they could make a hell of a team.
THEN—January of 1212 A.D., Japan
Using fae magic to transfigure herself, Fionnuala blended seamlessly, cloak and swords and all, into the trunk of a Japanese maple. She had to bide her time. The tree gave her an unobstructed view of the house where she’d last slept, but holding the form was difficult, and her focus was spotty.
Exhaustion dulled her reflexes and soured her mood. Her demeanor had been cheerful enough before she’d had to climb into that tree. After three sleepless days, she’d returned from an urgent errand and found that her lover wasn’t alone. Fionnuala had always been generous in sharing her bed partners, but those lovers had simply been temporary distractions.
Placeholders that warmed her bed and punctuated her solitude.
But that man wasn’t a placeholder. He was her mate, and she didn’t want to share.
She’d wasted three days in search of a kinsman. There’d been rumors—some local farmer spouting gibberish about creatures that disappeared into mist and trees. She’d had to be sure the man’s visions weren’t true, because there was no such thing as an apolitical elf. If the wanderer were on the wrong side, there would be no ignoring of each other. Someone would have to die, because there was no middle ground. There were two sides: the queen’s and the king’s. Fionnuala had shoved her sword through the king’s gut before leaving Ireland, so her allegiance was clear. There was no more kingdom, but Lorcan’s guards would probably follow her to Earth’s edge and shove her off if they could.
She hadn’t been running from them, though. She’d traveled because her queen had told them to disperse until their magic waned. When elves converged, their combined magic made them a beacon of energy that rendered them easier to locate. Useful when friends and loved ones were separated. Dangerous when foes were on the hunt.
Fionnuala, possessing more magic than most of her kind—and also more enemies—had no choice but to set out on her own. She’d parted from everyone she’d known, as had her queen. Not only was Cinnia in the wind, but so was her trail. It was undetectable even to those who’d been closest to her—those she likely knew would disobey and try to follow.
Fionnuala had been on countless boats and on countless roads, on foot, on horses, and in carts, wandering aimlessly with a heavy heart and no companion for nearly two hundred years toward anything at all.
Toward him, it turned out. An angel on Earth.
Tamatsu. He was the only thing that belonged to her in the strange realm of humans and other upper-worlders. She had been forced to become a part of their reality because the elves no longer had a home. Her queen’s last spell had triggered irreversible changes. They’d lost their distinguishing features—their pointed ears and sylphlike frames—along with the bulk of their magic so they could better fit in amongst the humans.
Still, they often stood out.It turned out the addlebrained farmer had only been spouting gibberish. There was no other elf in the area. A wasted trip. She’d been eager to return to Tamatsu. The love of her life was in that borrowed farm dwelling, but not alone.
Two women, unclad and with long black hair loose over their shoulders, leaned in the open doorway. They were chattering in the local dialect, and the occasional response came from within—deep and resonant. Foreign words to Fionnuala’s ears, but the sounds were familiar.
She closed her eyes at the sight of the women and wasted a little more of her exhaustible magic to stop the tremors coursing through her body. If she wasn’t careful, she’d make herself visible. She’d show those women that the crazy farmer was right about things disappearing into mist. Fionnuala couldn’t afford to slip. Secrecy was still one of her kind’s most important tenets. Their safety depended on it.
She had to be sure.
The queen had always told her to be sure before she acted, because sometimes, there were no take-backs. No do-overs.
Fionnuala had been bred to be reckless, but the queen thought she could be better. Gods knew she tried to be.
She opened her eyes and watched a third woman step outside. The comely peasant emitted a brash laugh and brazenly pinched Tamatsu’s hakama around her body like a robe. If he’d truly been a samurai, he would have been more respectful of the garment. Days before, he’d draped that fabric over Fionnuala as she lazed sated atop him, smiling and content. She’d been happy for once in her life, in spite of everything.
The woman with the hakama laughed shrilly again. She threw her head back and slapped her hand against her thigh as if he’d told the most riotous joke she’d heard in her short life.
Fionnuala doubted that. Tamatsu’s sense of humor was the sort that people responded to with knowing smirks, not cackles. Either the woman was too stupid to understand the nuances, or she understood and wanted him to be quite aware that she did.
She’d thought she could trust her. All of them. They’d smiled welcomingly in her face, but the vipers had apparently been waiting for her to turn her back.
Fionnuala couldn’t watch for another minute. Her pride could only sustain so many blows, and she was tired. Winter approached, and would drain her vigor just like it would the maple she clung to. An elf’s bane in the “new” world.
She pulled in a breath and blew the transfiguration magic away, knowing instinctively that she’d never be able to use it again. Her queen had allowed the elves enough of their old magic to keep them safe until they could find new homes, but Fionnuala could never really be at home anywhere her queen wasn’t. Cinnia wasn’t just her charge to protect, but her dearest friend.
After two hundred years, Fionnuala was down to wisps of power. Only a few of her old tricks remained, but she still had anger.
Anger worked even if magic didn’t.
She held onto a thick branch of the maple, letting her legs dangle below. As blood flow returned to her numb feet, she watched the women put up their hair.
They didn’t care that they were naked.
How long had they spent in such a manner in each other’s company to become so comfortable?
“Trí lá,” she snarled through clenched teeth, and dropped to her feet onto the path with her hand already clenched around her sword hilt. Three days.
The women yelped with fright, but then two of them breathed relieved sighs. After all, they knew her—the foreign woman who’d been traveling with the big man who’d rendered them awestruck with as little as a nod. They’d offered hospitality, but Fionnuala should have known not to trust them. Her bigger mistake was thinking that she could trust him.
Their mouths were running as fast as hummingbird wings as she approached. She hadn’t learned their language yet, but she could tell they weren’t scared. They were excited. For all she knew, they could have been relaying intimate details about the man within, or giving him tips on how to make love to him as though she were just one more strumpet for him.
They weren’t afraid yet, but she had no doubts that they would be soon enough.
She pushed through the chattering peasant gauntlet and into the house. Her feet knew the way even before her gaze landed on the stark naked giant seated on a cushion by the hearth.
Beautiful, devastating Tamatsu.
Hers, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t leave. She wasn’t going to be one of many. She was supposed to be his only. That was what her dreams had told her, and her body, too. She hadn’t been able to draw a deep breath since she’d met him. Her anxiety wouldn’t ebb until they were perfectly in sync, and that took time for elves. Months, maybe. Years for her parents.
She hadn’t had nearly long enough with Tamatsu.
He’d barely opened his mouth before she’d put her hands around his throat and said in Gaelic, “When I’m gone, never forget that you needed three to replace me.”
Whatever rebuttal he was going to make wasn’t voiced, because he had no voice. She pulled it inside her and, unsheathing her sword with one hand and swiping a charm of confusion in front of his face with the other, she backed away.
He’d hurt her in the worst way a mate possibly could, so she wanted to hurt him, too. She wasn’t only taking his voice, but the parcel of power attached to it. She’d seen the terrible deeds he could set in motion with a whisper. He could rend great faults into land and mend them. He could make entire forests grow up around him and then raze them all in a minute. He could manipulate the flow of water in ways she’d probably never understand. And he could move between realms that no other creatures could even fathom.
He’d probably even touched the sun.
He hadn’t scared her. She’d been in awe of him. Her power may have been waning; his was inexhaustible. He was going to keep her safe the way her fellow guards once had. He’d be the partner she hadn’t found amongst her own kind, but already, he’d proven he didn’t deserve her trust.
Obviously, he didn’t deserve her love, either.
Shaking her head as she backed away, she let angry tears burn down her cheeks, and her heart ached at his vacant stare.
If she were lucky, for a few minutes he’d remain frozen and she could get far enough away that he wouldn’t be able to track her. A normal man might not have woken up for days, but he wasn’t a man. He was a fallen angel. She shouldn’t have expected him to be good.
Something in her eyes must have warned the women to hold their tongues. They stepped away, ashen and speechless as Fionnuala spun around.
“Forget me,” she said on another aching torrent of magic, and they would. She’d be but a hole in their memory.
Though she ran in earnest, she didn’t get far. Where Tamatsu went, his friend Tarik often followed.
He appeared on the path ahead of her, materializing out of thin air as his kind so often did. Stoic and looming as always. Perhaps he sensed something was amiss because he made immediately for the dwelling.
Fionnuala ran, but not fast enough.
He was back on her in a minute, halting her at the edge of a field. “Return it,” he said in her tongue.
“It’s mine now.” Even as she backed slowly away, she worked up what little bit of confusion magic she had left. There was no doubt she’d need to use it again to get away from him.
“Vicious thief. Return what you’ve taken. You cannot possibly understand the gravity of what you have done.”
Nor did she care.
She scoffed and tossed the magic at him, slowing his progress, and finally making him grind to a halt.
It was such a pity to see a magnificent fallen one such as him incapacitated, even for a moment, that she had to backtrack and give his strong jaw a caress. He was almost as pretty as his friend, but of course she was biased. She was attached to the other one. Elves tethered once in their lifetime to mates, and they had to be perfect. Her heart thumped erratically with anxiety, because they were a repair that hadn’t been completely finished. They’d been fated to be together—tethered pairs always were. He was supposed to fix her.
The Fate assigned to them had obviously fallen down on the job.
“Return it,” Tarik ground out before his face went completely immobile, except for his startlingly gold eyes. His pupils shrank and enlarged as she moved.
He could see her, and hear her, too.
Tamatsu couldn’t have his voice back, but she was fae, and compelled to make a bargain to anyone who made a demand of her. It didn’t matter if the challenge was impossible to complete. Cinnia hadn’t wanted to be followed, but Fionnuala would beg for her forgiveness later if she had to. She’d thought that finding her mate meant she’d never have to be alone again.
“I’ll return his voice,” she said, hostility and embarrassment coursing back, “if he finds my queen. Her trail is absent to anyone who’s ever known her. If he comes to me before then,” she said, willing her chest to just move and to let her breathe, but she couldn’t. Not when running away from her mate and back to solitude. “I vow that you’ll never hear him speak again.”
She didn’t have much magic left to spare, but she cast what she had left and ran, never stopping to look back. She’d run ten miles before she slowed, and then another five before she could no longer breathe or see through her tears.