The Blood Curse (Spell Weaver Book 3) by Annette Marie

  His deep, musical voice was so unexpectedly beautiful that she almost missed the honorific he’d used.

  “I—I’m not a lady,” she protested, her voice losing volume.

  “My apologies. How shall I address you?”

  “Just … just Clio is fine.”

  His eyebrows rose and she inwardly cringed. She shouldn’t have corrected him—at least not in public. Way to make things awkward.

  “My people will tend to your animals and escort you to the citadel.” He crooked a finger at the official beside him. “Lord Makin will see to your needs.”

  “Thank you, Your Highness,” she managed.

  “It is my pleasure.” He bowed to her—a deeper bow than she would have expected—then walked away. His opinaris followed, tails snapping side to side. Lord Makin stayed beside her, but the other official scurried after the Ra royal.

  The third one didn’t move and her attention was inexorably drawn back to him. She couldn’t stop herself from checking out his deliciously toned abs, ink spiraling across his golden skin. The white clothes, accented with black and turquoise, were striking against his tan. Unlike the others, he had no wings. Was he in glamour for some reason?

  Realizing she was blatantly checking him out—thank goodness for her mask—she peered at the shadows beneath his hood, but she wasn’t the only one who’d noticed that the daemon had lingered. Abruptly turning back, the Ra griffin snapped his fingers imperiously.

  After a brief hesitation, the official hastened away. Clio bit her lip, feeling oddly guilty. Admiring another man felt like a betrayal, but she hadn’t done anything besides look. And Lyre wasn’t even here.

  As Lyre and the mysterious daemon twisted together in her thoughts, she scrunched her nose. She had bigger things to worry about, like the fact she’d just handed her father’s letter to a Ra prince. Assuming she wasn’t mistaken, that was Miysis Ra.

  And Miysis Ra was the unconscious daemon she’d left Lyre with two days ago. Suddenly, she was dying to finish here so she could return to Brinford, activate her tracking spell, and confirm with her own eyes that Lyre was safe and well.

  She and her guards spent several long minutes getting organized—griffin attendants collecting their travel packs and leading the tachies away, others offering water and sunshades—before Lord Makin and a troop of soldiers guided her group away from the plaza. She clasped her hands together, too nervous to appreciate the city sights. Her thoughts lingered on Lyre—with occasional intrusions of the mysterious other daemon.

  Damn it. Why was she so preoccupied with a stranger?

  She finally started paying attention when they passed through another gateway and entered the citadel grounds. They climbed wide steps toward the citadel doors, set in an imposingly beautiful central tower. Inside was just as breathlessly overwhelming—polished marble floors, gold trim, another pair of huge statues. Two women this time, probably past Ra queens.

  Lord Makin directed them up a wide staircase with a golden balustrade. They ascended several levels and entered a grand hallway, lined with pillars, ornamental wall sconces, and silk tapestries in vibrant colors.

  Lord Makin approached a polished door, tapped on it, and when a muffled voice responded, he put his hand on the knob and glanced at her. “This suite is yours as long as you require. Your attendants may use the room opposite this one. His Highness awaits you to ensure all is to your satisfaction.”

  As her guards took up positions in the corridor, she tamped down her nerves. Lord Makin pushed the door open and a warm breeze smelling of flowers whispered from within. She stepped into the threshold, scarcely noticing the luxuriously appointed room. Her attention focused instead on its occupants.

  Miysis Ra stood in the center of the room, his opinari guardians and armed escort nowhere in sight. Even at a glance, he looked more relaxed than he’d been in the plaza. He was speaking softly with the room’s only other occupant: the mysterious official, his face still hidden by a hood.

  She took a wary step into the room and dropped into another deep curtsy while Lord Makin closed the door behind her.

  “There’s no need for such formality, Clio,” Miysis said. “Please, make yourself comfortable.”

  She straightened—and something yanked her backward. Arms flailing, she stumbled and fell over, landing on her butt in front of the door.

  A moment of silence, in which Miysis stared and Clio’s face erupted into a scorching blush. Before she could get up from the floor, laughter burst from the other daemon—a rich, husky laugh that was so familiar her heart twisted into a knot. Her brain fizzled into incoherency as the daemon started toward her.

  “Stuck on a door again?” he observed in that deep voice that crooned to her all night in her dreams. “I’m getting déjà vu.”

  Pushing his hood back, Lyre grinned at her, his golden eyes bright with humor. She gaped at him, utterly speechless.

  He reached over her head, cracked the door open, and pulled her ungainly sleeve out from the gap where it had been caught. Then he crouched beside her, eyebrows climbing.

  “Not even a word, Clio? You had a lot to say after the last door incident.”

  Her mouth opened but no sound came out. Lyre reached for her mask and she grabbed his wrist, stopping him. His fingers were hooked under the mask’s edge, skin brushing her cheek—just like last time. In Chrysalis, he’d tried to lift her mask up after she’d freed herself from the warded door.

  This time, he didn’t withdraw his hand. He lifted the mask up until her face was exposed and her vision clear of the obscuring fabric. She stared at him, her heart careening wildly.

  “Hey,” he said softly.

  “Lyre?” she managed in a breathless squeak.

  “That’s me.”

  “But you—you—” Her gaze swung from him to the Ra prince and back again. “What are you doing here?”

  His crooked smile returned. Sliding an arm around her, he scooped her up onto her feet. She wobbled, clutching his elbow for balance. Her stunned disbelief was wearing off and she had to fight back the crazed need to fling herself into his arms.

  Lyre steered her past a sunken tub in the floor—what crazy architect would put a bathtub in the middle of a sitting room?—and pushed her down onto a cushioned lounge chair.

  “Lyre, why are you here?” A little volume came back into her voice. “How—what—I mean, when—”

  Miysis passed her a crystal goblet brimming with water and ice cubes, interrupting her stammered questions. She automatically took it, staring at the ice.

  Lyre perched on the lounge chair beside her. “I’m here because the little princess walked us out of a ley line and straight into a gang of royal soldiers.” He rolled his eyes with more amusement than resentment. “As for why I’m still here, ask the prince.”

  “I offered to let him stay,” Miysis murmured with a shrug. “He accepted.”

  Her gaze snapped between them, trying to read the undercurrents. Was Lyre a prisoner but unable to say as much?

  “I regret it now,” he groused at Miysis. “You’re a damn bully, you know that?”

  “I have no idea what you mean.”

  Clio hid her disbelief. How could Lyre talk to a Ra prince so casually? Didn’t he realize Miysis was among the top dozen most powerful daemons in the Overworld? He commanded his family’s personal militia and had partial control over Ra’s main military, not to mention his influence among the highest-ranking nobles of not only his own kingdom, but all Overworld castes.

  And why was the prince responding with equal nonchalance?

  “Clio?” Lyre’s voice softened again. “Are you okay?”

  “You need cool, quiet, and water,” Miysis told her. “Traveling in the desert during the day takes a heavy toll.” He pulled a chair over from the nearby table and sat so he wasn’t towering over them. “I need to review King Rouvin’s letter again, but first, I wanted to ask—is there anything else you’d like to add?”

  “Add?” sh
e repeated cautiously.

  “This began with you,” he said. “Prince Bastian sent you to Chrysalis, and as a result, he has a weapon with which to attack my territory.”

  “The king wrote that in his letter?” she whispered in disbelief.

  “Not explicitly.” Miysis’s gaze flicked to Lyre. “Your companion filled in the details. If not for the information he provided, the situation for Irida would be more dire than it is.”

  Her shocked stare returned to Lyre, who smiled sheepishly as though unsure whether she was about to yell at him.

  Miysis frowned. “Clio, do you not know what King Rouvin’s letter says?”

  She shook her head. “It was for the Ras alone.”

  “I see.” Miysis rose to his feet. “We will speak again at dinner—if you would be so kind as to dine with me?”

  “Y-yes, of course. I would be honored.”

  “Excellent.” He gave Lyre a sideways look. “You, however, are already the subject of enough rumors. I’ll have dinner sent to your room.”

  Lyre sighed.

  “Rest well, Lady Nereid,” the prince said. As he stepped away, he gave Lyre an indecipherable look—and the incubus nodded in response.

  She didn’t remember she was supposed to return his farewell until after the door had closed behind him. Her brain felt like a pool of overcooked mush. Plucking the half-empty goblet out of her hand, Lyre refilled it from the brass pitcher.

  “Drink it,” he ordered, standing over her. “All of it.”

  Obediently, she brought the cup to her lips and drank. The cold water rushed down her throat to her middle, cooling the exhausting heat that felt as though the sunlight had embedded into her flesh.

  Once she’d finished, he refilled the goblet again and returned it, but this time didn’t command her to gulp it all down. Hands on his hips, he stared at her in an oddly appraising way.

  “I can’t decide if I like that costume. It’s exotic but kind of bulky …”

  She blinked, then gave him a swift once-over. “What about your outfit? Why are you dressed like a griffin? I didn’t even recognize you …”

  Except part of her had recognized him—the part that had been instantly, obsessively drawn to him. She brought the goblet to her lips, hoping the ice water might fend off her new blush.

  “It wasn’t my idea.” Arching an eyebrow, he spread his arms. “How does it look? Miysis thinks I’m hot.”

  She spat out her mouthful of water. Hastily wiping her chin, she set the goblet on Miysis’s empty chair. “He …” She cleared her throat. “He said that?”

  “He didn’t say it, but he was thinking it.”

  “How do you know?”

  He smirked. “I’m an incubus.”

  “But he’s …” She shook her head, too overwhelmed to fall down that rabbit hole. “It looks good on you.”

  Actually, “looks good” was an understatement of epic proportions. Lyre was already drop-dead gorgeous, but in the striking griffin garments, half his torso on display and each curve of muscle enhanced by the elaborate ink designs, with similar patterns encircling his forearms and turquoise accents beneath his amber eyes, he was beyond description. On Miysis, the outfit was exotic. On Lyre, it was erotic—fascinating, titillating, sinfully sexy.

  “Ah,” Lyre breathed. “So you like it.”

  She looked up and found dark eyes staring at her with deepening hunger. Her lungs locked, his allure stealing her breath.

  Before she could recover, his hand slid into her hair and he leaned down.

  His mouth closed over hers. The floor dropped out from under her and she had to grab his shoulders as she was swept away in the flood of burning heat that the touch of his lips ignited inside her.

  He kissed her hard, mouth moving urgently against hers. He sank to his knees in front of the lounge and pulled her hard against his chest, still kissing her. She clamped her arms around his neck, her mind blank, her need for him all she knew. He held her even tighter, crushing her, but she didn’t care.

  In his kiss—in his touch—was a desperate edge. She felt it too. The urgent need to touch him, to kiss him, to meld with him after their separation. To feel, on every level and with every nerve in her body, that he was here, he was safe …

  … he was hers.

  Pulling back, he sucked in a deep breath, his eyes dark and pupils dilated. She panted, dizzy and clutching him. He brushed his fingers lightly across her jaw and over her lower lip, his touch soft … slow … intimate.

  Her heart raced, feeling twice its normal size. Was she projecting or was there something about his touch that went beyond sensuality, went deeper than mere affection?

  “I missed you.” A catch marred his quiet murmur—a slight hesitation as if he was unsure of what to say … or had never said those words before. Without giving her a chance to respond, he swept her into his arms and stood.

  She yelped in surprise. “What are you doing?”

  “You need to rest. Aside from that pretty flush in your cheeks, you’re pale as the moon.”

  “I’m always pale.”

  “You’re extra pale,” he clarified as he carried her toward a wall of drapes and pushed through a gap. On the other side was a huge canopied bed, shaded by the heavy fabric. The temperature dropped noticeably.

  When he made to set her down on the silk sheets, she clung to his shoulders. “Not like this! I’m covered in sand and dust.”

  “You can get new sheets.”

  He tipped her onto the bed. She tried to jump up again but he pushed her back.

  “Don’t make me tie you down,” he threatened cheerfully. “I’d hate to waste my free pass on restraints unless we’re really going to have fun.”

  “Free pass?” she spluttered, her face flushing yet again.

  He smirked and vanished through the drapes, returning a moment later with the refilled goblet and pitcher. Exhausted, she didn’t realize she’d closed her eyes until she felt a tug on her foot. Opening them blearily, she discovered Lyre sitting at the end of the bed, pulling her soft green boots off.

  “I can do that,” she mumbled.

  “You can relax.” He wiggled her other boot off and tossed it onto the floor. “You need to recoup some energy before your fancy dinner.”

  “Oh, right.” She closed her eyes again. “Why can’t I eat dinner with you instead?”

  “You’re a real emissary now. It’s part of the job.”

  She groaned at the thought. “I need to get Miysis to stop calling me ‘lady.’ I’m not a—a—”

  Her whole body went ice cold and she bolted upright so fast that Lyre sprang off the bed, ready to defend them from an unseen threat. Her breath came in a panicked wheeze. “He—he—he—”

  “What’s wrong?” Lyre’s face appeared in front of hers. “What is it?”

  “He—he called me Lady Nereid.” She grabbed his arm. “How does he know? How did he find out? No one can know, especially not Ra!”

  Inexplicably calm, Lyre sat beside her and, prying her fingers off his arm, took her hand in both of his. “You really don’t know what was in that letter, do you?”

  “No, but—”

  “King Rouvin identified you, his official emissary, as a member of the Nereid family.”

  “He … he did? Are you sure?”

  “Miysis showed me the letter.” Lyre squeezed her hand. “Your father didn’t specify your exact rank or anything, but it looks pretty official. You’re a Nereid for real now.”

  Emotions roiled through her, expanding until she couldn’t breathe. She inhaled to speak—and burst into tears instead. Lyre wrapped his arms around her, and she pulled herself together as best she could.

  Her father had named her a Nereid. It wasn’t a secret anymore.

  Lyre helped her lie back, his smile comforting. “Sleep, Clio. You’ve got a long evening ahead of you.”

  Even more exhausted than before, she let her eyes close. “Will you stay with me?”

?ll be here.” A note of amusement touched his voice. “And even if I’m not right here, my room is next door, so I won’t be far.”

  She blindly slid her hand in the direction of his voice. His fingers closed around hers, warm and reassuring.

  “Stay,” she whispered. “I want you to stay with me.”

  She was already sliding into sleep, her thoughts fuzzy and disconnected, so when he answered, she wasn’t sure if his soft, hopeless whisper was real or a shadow of a dream.

  “I wish I could.”

  Chapter Twelve

  Politics gave her a headache. In the two years Clio had spent exiled on Earth, she’d forgotten about that aspect of palace life. Her dinner with Miysis Ra and a small horde of Aldrendahar’s elite had left her almost as fatigued as crossing the desert had, but at least it was over.

  She ambled tiredly, trying not to steal too many glances at her escort. Miysis kept his steps slow, showing no signs of impatience at her snail’s pace. When she first met him, she’d been terrified of this powerful royal. Now she was less outright scared but about ten times more intimidated. And maybe just a bit awed.

  The griffin prince was impeccably refined, aristocratic, and sophisticated. Without his almost undetectable help, which had included distracting the nobles from pestering her with questions, the dinner might have turned out to be several hours of humiliation for her.

  “Did you enjoy your meal?” he asked, all smooth manners as he led her across the citadel’s grand reception hall. A pair of griffin guards and a much shorter pair of her nymph guards followed at a distance.

  “It was delicious.” She would have complimented the dinner either way, but she didn’t have to lie. The exotic fare had melted on her tongue. Their cuisine made human food seem like sawdust in comparison.

  “I hope you were able to enjoy yourself.” He smiled knowingly. “State dinners can be less than pleasant. As I understand it, you aren’t accustomed to these functions yet, but you’ll learn quickly.”

  “Hmm,” she replied noncommittally. He had introduced her to the entire banquet as Lady Nereid, so her secret was as exposed as a puddle under the desert suns.

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