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

  Using his free hand, Lyre withdrew a small vial from his pocket and pulled the cork out with his teeth. Eyes fixed on the parallel weavings they had created, he upended the vial over the metal disc between them.

  Silver liquid spilled onto it. The quicksilver didn’t splash or splatter but pooled on the metal, spreading across the glowing weave already embedded in the steel. The liquid crept outward until it reached the weave’s edge, where it stopped as though the line of magic was a physical barrier. The pristine surface reflected the spell above it, a perfect mirror.

  Lyre’s eyes met hers through the weave between them and he guided their creation down. It touched the quicksilver mirror and golden light flared. He pushed it into the liquid. The weaving melded with the quicksilver, and the runes and lines shifted within the solution, taking on a new form.

  Her eyes widened as the true shape of the spell revealed itself to her asper.

  When the shifting weave settled, Lyre set the empty vial in the center of the liquid pool and a spark of magic ran down the glass. The weaving in the disc brightened, then the quicksilver moved as though coming to life—climbing the sides of the vial and pouring itself into the container. Every single drop crawled back inside, leaving the metal disc perfectly clear.

  As Lyre corked the container and slipped it back into his pocket, exhaustion hit Clio like an ocean wave. Letting her aura shift back to green, she groaned and stretched her stiff muscles. How long had they sat there weaving? A hollow ache in her head warned her that she’d depleted a significant amount of her magic reserves.

  “It worked,” he murmured. “It would have been impossible without you.”

  “I’m glad I could help.” She hesitated. “Lyre, that weaving, it looked like …”

  “It isn’t finished yet. That’s just one part.”

  She considered prying for more information, but she was just too tired.

  They picked themselves off the floor and collapsed wearily on the lounge. Lyre didn’t seem motivated to clean up the mess left over from his weaving, so she decided not to worry about it either. She flopped back onto the pile of cushions. “What a night.”

  “Tell me about it. I’d already blown myself up a few times before you came in.” He canted his head toward her. “How did your dinner go?”

  “Well enough.” She pulled a face at the memory. “More importantly, Miysis is giving Rouvin permission to come here. He’s sending a messenger tonight.”

  “Good. Assuming they can sort things out, that should throw off Bastian and his grand plans in a big way.”

  “My father said … he’s deposing Bastian.” She peeked at Lyre, but he didn’t look surprised by the news. “Petrina will become the crown princess.”

  “Rouvin doesn’t have much choice. He can’t overlook treason.” He leaned back until he was lying across the foot of the daybed, his head hanging off the edge and eyes closed. “Will Petrina be excited to have her sister become a princess too?”

  “I don’t know. I think so?” She twisted her hands. “I haven’t had a chance to think about the …”

  “Repercussions” was the word that came to mind, which surprised her. For so long, she’d wanted nothing more than to be part of the Nereid family, but now that it had happened, she was more concerned than excited about what it meant for her. As nymph nobility, the anonymity she’d always enjoyed would be gone. Would she be expected to join their elite society and take on the duties of a princess?

  “Clio?” Lyre asked as he sat up. “What’s wrong?”

  She realized how stiffly she was lying on the cushions. Pushing herself upright, she fidgeted absently with her braided hair. “I’m just not sure how to feel about … being a Nereid.”

  “Isn’t this what you wanted?”

  “Well, yes—I mean, I thought it was, but …” She tugged the tie out of her hair and started plucking the braid apart, just for something to do with her hands. “If Rouvin had asked me first, I’m not sure what I would have said.”

  His forehead creased in bewilderment. “You mean you might have turned him down?”

  Having a family, being part of a family, was all she’d wanted for years. She’d devoted herself to Bastian and Petrina, never questioning anything.

  “It was the only thing I wanted,” she whispered, “until I met you.”

  His eyes widened.

  “Getting the KLOC to save you was the first time I made a real decision, a life-changing decision, that had nothing to do with the Nereids.” She pushed her unbraided hair off her shoulders. “Since meeting you, I’ve realized a lot of things.”

  He went still, focusing on her with unexpected intensity. Without thinking, she touched his face, tracing the invisible tattoo that marked his cheek under his glamour.

  “I always thought family and bloodlines were more valuable than anything else in the world, but now there are other things that matter more to me.” She drew in a breath, a slight tremor betraying her fluttering heartbeat. “Like you. Especially you.”

  Something flashed in his eyes—a look almost like panic.

  She stuttered, but she couldn’t stop now. “Lyre, I don’t know what the future will bring for either of us, but I—we can’t just go our separate ways when this is over. We … I want to be with you.”

  He looked away from her, his jaw tightening and his expression indecipherable.

  “You feel that way too, don’t you?” she asked, a strange desperation rising in her when he said nothing. “Lyre, I—I love—”

  He shot to his feet and took two lurching steps away from her.

  “Don’t say that to me.” The words were flat, his back to her, his shoulders rigid.

  Pain pierced her, deep and tearing. “But Lyre—”

  “Don’t,” he growled, “say those words. Do you know how many women have said that to me? Cried it, screamed it, begged me to say it back? Those words are meaningless to incubi.”

  Her voice vanished, buried beneath a tide of anguish.

  He didn’t turn, keeping his back to her. “Whatever you feel, I can’t reciprocate. Incubi can’t. I’m sorry.”

  The silence was so heavy that the air felt like water in her lungs, the weight crushing her heart.

  “I’m sorry,” he repeated, his voice cracking. “I only wanted …”

  He wrenched out of his frozen stance. Without looking back, he strode across the room, disabled the lock spell, and vanished into the hallway. The door swung shut behind him, the clack of the latch shattering the quiet.

  She sat unmoving on the lounge chair, staring at the door. Tears trickled down her cheeks.

  For years, she hadn’t pursued a single selfish desire besides having a family. Now, she’d finally found something she wanted, someone she could fight for, but he didn’t want her.

  Pressure built in her chest, crushing her lungs until she couldn’t breathe. I’m sorry. I only wanted … Whatever he wanted, it wasn’t her love. He hadn’t wanted to hear the words, but his refusal to listen didn’t change how she felt.

  “I love you,” she whispered to the empty room.

  The dam inside her broke and a sob tore through her lungs. She pulled a pillow into her arms, buried her face in it, and cried.

  Chapter Thirteen

  Coward. He was a fucking coward.

  He stormed up and down the length of an empty corridor lined with rows of arched windows, the farthest point from his room that he could get without leaving this floor. But he wished he could keep going. Keep running.

  Coward. The word rang in his head. He should have looked at her. He should have had the guts to face her while he broke her heart, but seeing her face, her beautiful eyes filled with pain he had caused her … he hadn’t been able to do it.

  He paced the length of the hall. Why had he let this happen? He should have been more of an asshole or something. He should have … what? What could he have done? Women fell in love with incubi all the damn time, whether they were charming or horrible or pathetic
. Didn’t Clio know that incubi couldn’t love?

  Jerking to a stop, he closed his eyes. Love, no. But infatuation?

  He wasn’t an idiot. He knew he was infatuated with her. He cared about her, lusted for her, dreamed of her. He’d wanted her since the moment they met, and he only grew more obsessed the longer they were together.

  But that’s all it was. He wanted her because he couldn’t have her. That’s the way it always went for incubi. No matter how much they might want to stay with one woman, after a few days or weeks, they’d get bored, get distracted, and the next thing they knew, they were in bed with some other girl. He couldn’t do that to Clio.

  Pinching the bridge of his nose, he backed up to a pillar between windows and sank onto the floor. He’d already hurt her. He couldn’t make it worse by pretending to love her for however long his interest lasted.

  Once this was over, he’d disappear, just like he had with every woman he’d slept with … every woman who’d ever claimed to love him.

  Arms folded on his knees and head bowed, he didn’t move from the corner, lost in dark thoughts as aching cold welled inside him. He knew the feeling well. Some incubi reveled in their transient encounters, but for others, loneliness was a constant companion, a hole they tried to fill with a parade of lovers to whom they could never remain faithful, even when they bothered to try.

  Except now he realized how that cold ache had been less present these past weeks—since he met Clio.

  Quiet scuffs sounded on the marble floor and he shot to his feet before identifying the sound. For the barest instant, he thought the feminine footsteps might belong to Clio, but the cadence was wrong.

  A young woman with an armload of folded silk hummed softly as she ambled down the corridor. She spotted him standing beside the open-air window and jerked to a stop.

  “Oh!” she gasped. “You startled me.”

  Belated recognition sparked and he forced himself to relax. She was one of the body artists who’d pampered him, but he couldn’t remember her name.

  “What are you doing out here at this hour?” she asked curiously, shifting her load to one arm.

  He shrugged, aware of how suspicious he looked wandering the corridors in the middle of the night. He wasn’t even dressed properly, having left his tapa somewhere in his suite. His shirtless state hadn’t escaped her either, and her gaze drifted down to admire her ink handiwork displayed across his abdomen.

  “I’m just stretching my legs,” he answered nonchalantly. “Too restless to sleep.”

  “It’s too beautiful a night for sleeping,” she murmured as her eyes gradually climbed back up to his face. “Perhaps some company would help settle your spirit.”

  He forced himself to really look at her. Luxurious blond hair in two braids that hung down her shoulders, a curvaceous figure wrapped in teal- and violet-patterned silk, her green eyes bright and lined with dark ink to make them smolder. Feathered wings were tucked close to her back and her tail swished idly behind her.

  She was lovely. Exotic. Obviously interested, ready and willing to fall under his power.

  He hadn’t taken a woman to bed since Clio had arrived in Asphodel. A long time for an incubus to remain celibate. His obsession with her had only grown in that time, and he could pin some of the blame on pent-up desire.

  He should erase Clio from his mind and fill the chasm with something else—with someone else. A willing body, another faceless woman, was right here, waiting for him to offer what she wanted. Mutual exploitation. He would use her, and she would use him.

  A dozen smooth replies to her invitation jumped to mind, from subtle to seductive to blush-inspiring and bold. He drew in a breath—but he couldn’t say a single one.

  He didn’t want her. This young, beautiful, lush woman was offering herself to him, and he didn’t want her. He had no desire to touch her, kiss her, undress her. He could have done it anyway, tested to see if the distraction would work, but even imagining it was unpleasant.

  His hands shook and he clenched them into fists to hide it. With a wan smile, he turned away and leaned on the window parapet.

  “It’s been a long day.” He spoke to the spectacular view of city lights. “I think I’ll head to bed.”

  With a soft rustle, she joined him at the window, propping her bundle of fabric on the stone rail. He glanced at her, surprised by her sympathetic smile.

  “You have the look of a man with a lot on his mind.” She fidgeted with the folded silk. “I can listen, if you want to talk.”

  “I really am tired.”

  She laughed softly. “I wasn’t aiming for an invitation to your bedroom. Two rejections from the most gorgeous daemon I’ve ever met is enough.”

  He grimaced.

  “I’m offering an ear if you need it, that’s all. You’re far from home and isolated here in the citadel. That can’t be easy.”

  He huffed out a breath. “It’s not that bad.”

  “Mmm,” she agreed noncommittally, staring out the window as though she had nothing better to do. A thousand warm lights flickered between the stone buildings, and a fair number of daemons moved through the streets, taking advantage of the cool night. Above, countless stars glowed in the velvety sky, not a cloud to be seen, and the planet radiated pale light across the dark dunes.

  He wished she would go away. He’d prefer to return to his tormented brooding, thanks very much. He still had to figure out how to face Clio, how to explain that his infatuation was no more than stupid incubus instincts going into overdrive. Would she understand? Could she move past her feelings for him and …

  … and what? And be his friend?

  A choking sound—disgust and disbelief—rasped from his throat, and he rubbed a hand over his face with more force than necessary. What an inspiring new low he’d achieved.

  “Could I have some space?” he growled abruptly.

  “You know,” the griffin girl replied, stubbornly unmoving, “when my betrothed got that sort of look, he always felt better after talking about it.”

  “You’re betrothed?” He didn’t bother to hide his sneer at her disloyalty.

  “I was,” she said simply. “He died.”

  He bit back a curse. “I’m sorry.”

  “Loving a soldier has its risks.”

  He remembered the griffins who’d died in the embassy and the raiders who’d died in the Brinford smugglers market, wondering how many of them had lovers, wives, children. It was easy to label enemies and forget they were anything more than obstacles and threats.

  “What was it like?” The question was out of his mouth before he stopped to think.


  He considered dropping it, then plowed on. “Loving him. Being in love. What did it feel like?”

  She looked contemplatively at the stars, sadness ghosting through her eyes. “You think about them constantly. You worry about them when they aren’t with you. You miss them. When you’re together, you can finally relax. You don’t even realize how tense you are until they’re back at your side.” Smoothing her bundle of silk, she smiled wistfully. “It’s like a part of your soul belongs to them. When they’re near, you feel complete. When they’re gone, you feel hollow inside.”

  He drew in a slow, steadying breath. “But how do you know you’ll always feel that way? What if it changes?”

  “We can never really know, can we?” Gathering the folded silk into her arms, she stepped back from the window. “But when you truly love someone, they keep that piece of your soul forever … even after they’re gone.”

  With a final smile and a murmured farewell, she strolled away. He watched until she was out of sight, his mind churning. Infatuation. Obsession. Love. Where was the line between them?

  Hollowness ached in his chest. When they’re near, you feel complete.

  He surged away from the windows. He barely saw the dark halls as he strode back toward his room. With the aid of a cloaking spell, he slipped past the griffin guards at the head of
the corridor. A pair of nymphs stood in front of Clio’s door and he couldn’t hide from their asper, but they pointedly ignored him. Was Clio back in her room, or were they guarding an empty suite?

  He stopped at his door. He could sense her somewhere on the other side and the hollowness in his chest faded.

  Incubi couldn’t fall in love. The fact was as immutable and steadfast as his power to seduce. Seduction without connection, lust without love, a thousand fleeting encounters without a single meaningful bond. That was the gift and the curse of incubi.

  But if incubi couldn’t fall in love, then what was this?

  He pushed the door open. The room was dark, lit by a lone sconce, and the floor where he’d left his weaving tools was cleared of everything but the heavy steel disc. His tools were stacked on the desk, his notes in a neat pile.

  Clio stood in front of the desk, staring at it, her arms hanging at her sides as though she’d been standing there for a while. At the sound of the door closing, she whirled around.

  “Oh.” She shrank at the sight of him, withdrawing to make herself a smaller target. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have …”

  He started forward, drawn to her as though caught in her gravity.

  “I didn’t mean to …” she mumbled incoherently. “I’ll go back to my room.”

  She rushed forward, angling to sweep past him, but he stepped into her path. Halting, she fixed her gaze on the floor. Every second she refused to look at him hurt.

  Motions slow, he reached for her face and gently cupped her cheek, tilting her head back. Her wide eyes met his, rimmed red from crying, her summer-sky irises darkened to ocean blue.

  “I’m an idiot,” he said hoarsely.

  Her eyes went even wider and her lips parted, but she didn’t speak. His harsh words from earlier still held her in silence, and maybe it was too late to take them back.

  “I don’t know,” he whispered as he brought his other hand up to cradle her face in his palms, unwilling to let her bow her head because of him. “I don’t know if I can be what you want me to be. I don’t know if I’ll just hurt you.”

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