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

  “Stay here with me, then.”

  Pain tightened his face as he looked away. Fresh tears slid down her cheeks.

  He couldn’t stay here, and they both knew it.

  Before Aldrendahar and Kokytos, maybe Lyre could have hidden away in a remote corner of Irida. But not anymore. A single rumor could ruin everything. If Hades, and therefore Chrysalis, heard of an incubus connected to the nymph territory, they would jump to one conclusion: the deceased master weaver who’d fled Asphodel with a nymph wasn’t dead after all.

  Clio, as Irida’s regent, would have eyes on her constantly—not just nymphs and chimeras, but dignitaries, emissaries, and rulers from across the Overworld. No matter where Lyre was or how far he fled, if she went near him, she would bring all that attention with her. Seeing him at all would mean risking his life.

  Lyre rested his cheek against the top of her head, his arms tight around her.

  “I can’t stay here,” he murmured. “We knew all along I couldn’t. Incubi stand out wherever we go, and the only way I can disappear for good is to become just like them. Just one more anonymous, skirt-chasing incubus. That means going where there are other incubi.”

  She pulled back sharply. “You don’t mean that horrible ladies club in Kokytos, do you?”

  He let out a surprised laugh. “No, I don’t plan to go anywhere near Kokytos. I don’t plan to go back to the Underworld at all.”

  “I want to be with you.”

  “You belong here, Clio. You need to be here.”

  Vise-like pain crushed her heart. “But if you leave, we won’t … we’ll never …”

  “Never?” He caught her chin, tilting her face up to his. “Never is a very long time.”

  His mouth closed over hers, soft but urgent. She kissed him desperately, her arms clamping around his neck.

  “You don’t have to go yet, do you?” she asked, her eyes stinging with the threat of more tears.

  “No,” he whispered, pulling her lips back to his. “I don’t have to leave yet.”

  Chapter Thirty-Three

  Perched on a rock with the late afternoon sunlight warming her face, Clio nibbled on a piece of cheese. A basket sat beside her, fruits and nuts waiting to be sampled. The large lunch it had originally carried was long gone.

  Beams of golden light streaked through the trees, making the red and orange foliage glow. Leaves fluttered down to join their fallen comrades or landed on the rippling pond, the current churning from the short, tiered waterfall on its far side. The crystalline liquid sparkled, reflecting the green light of fireflies dancing above it.

  A splash shattered the ripples and scattered the fireflies as Lyre stood up. Water ran from his hair and trailed down his bare torso, following every delicious line of his body, hard muscles sheathed in golden-tan skin. Standing in the waist-deep water, he scrubbed both hands through his hair.

  Popping the last bite of cheese in her mouth, she wondered if he’d intentionally mussed his hair in the sexiest way possible, or if it was a fluke. Either way, she silently enjoyed the view as he splashed more water over his arms. He looked perfectly clean to her, but if he wanted to keep up the show, she wasn’t going to complain.

  As though reading her thoughts, his amber eyes flicked to her. “I can’t believe you did that.”

  “Did what?” she asked innocently.

  “You should have warned me.”

  “I thought it was obvious.”

  “Obvious that the harmless-looking shrub would explode into a cloud of pollen at the slightest disturbance?”

  She gave a dainty shrug, her chin still resting on her hand. “I told you not to touch anything in Overworld forests.”

  His eyes narrowed. She smiled at him, fighting to suppress a laugh. If she’d realized he was about to walk into the shrub, she would have warned him. But she hadn’t noticed his doomed trajectory any more than he had, because he’d been sliding his hand up her skirt as he told her in a deep, hypnotic purr about what he planned to do next.

  “You should have been paying attention to where you were going,” she added unhelpfully. He scowled, but despite the ominous expression, his eyes sparkled.

  He raised his hand and crooked a finger. “Come here.”

  “Uh-uh. I don’t need to wash a garden’s worth of pollen out of my hair.”

  His eyes darkened and power threaded into his voice. “Clio.”

  She arched her eyebrows, pretending to be unaffected even as luscious heat spilled through her. “Using aphrodesia on me? That’s cheating.”

  “I would never do such a thing.”

  Stifling a giggle, she gave him a stern look. “Aphrodesia is entirely inappropriate.”

  “What I’m going to do once you’re in here with me—that will be inappropriate.”

  Her whole body flushed in anticipation and she had to work to keep her breathless excitement hidden. She fluttered her fingers at the water lapping just below the rock where she sat. “But I’m not getting in.”

  “No?” Magic sparked over his fingers.

  “Lyre—” she began warningly.

  The glowing golden rope looped around her waist and he yanked it. She flew off the rock and plunged into the cool water.

  Popping up again, her clothes drenched, she spluttered. “I can’t believe you—”

  He reached her in three strides through the water, swept her against his bare chest, and kissed her. She melted against him, heat diving through her as his tongue slipped between her lips.

  When she was so breathless she could barely stand, he finally lifted his head. “You were saying?”

  “My clothes are wet.”

  “Good thing you don’t need clothes.”

  His mouth closed over hers again as his hands found the ties of her shirt, laced in the back. In moments, his dexterous fingers were pulling it over her head. Her skirt disappeared just as quickly.

  An hour later, the sky blazed orange, the setting suns already out of sight below the tree line. She lay tucked against Lyre’s side on their picnic blanket, blissfully relaxed as he trailed his hand up and down her bare back. Eyes half closed, she ran her fingers through his hair as leaves fluttered down from the overhanging branches.

  Summer had faded into autumn over the weeks since they’d returned from Kokytos. She had spent most of that time in the Iridian palace, busily preparing for her new role as regent by day and sneaking into Lyre’s sequestered tower by night.

  Their time together had slipped by too quickly, full of moonlight walks through the gardens and along remote mountain paths behind the tower, hilarious shared meals where she’d bring him the strangest Overworld foods she could find in the capital, and passionate nights where they would make love, catch their breath, then start all over again. They had been the best weeks of her life.

  And now they were over.

  Tomorrow was Petrina’s coronation, to be immediately followed by Clio’s official appointment as regent. Lyre shouldn’t have stayed this long. Irida’s neighbors and allies from across the Overworld were already flooding into the capital to witness the coronation—nobility and royalty from dozens of castes. Miysis, two of his sisters, and an assembly of griffin nobles were arriving first thing in the morning.

  Tomorrow, everything would change for her. She would become the new ruler of Irida, and she would be Petrina’s shield against the ambitions of others while also easing the princess into her future role. Clio could feel the weight of responsibility settling over her. A few months ago, she would have been petrified at the prospect of ruling Irida, but after everything she’d been through, she felt determination more than anxiety. She was prepared to face the coming challenges, but not excited—not when it meant losing Lyre.

  Their last day together. She’d tried so hard not to think about it.

  That morning, before dawn had touched the sky, she’d collected supplies and together, she and Lyre had snuck out of the city and into the countryside. She’d led him into the wild forests,
and they’d explored game trails and discovered streams and waterfalls as they meandered west.

  Now the suns were setting, the day over. Half a mile west, at the edge of the forest, was a ley line—the spot where Lyre would leave the Overworld and never return.

  Before she knew it, hot tears were streaking down her cheeks.

  “Clio …” Lyre whispered, his voice almost soundless.

  “I’m sorry,” she choked. “I didn’t mean to cry.”

  He ran his hand down her back. The cooling breeze washed over her bare skin and she pulled the blanket around them as she tilted her head up. His amber eyes lingered on her face as though memorizing her features.

  She touched his cheek where his family mark was hidden beneath glamour. “Lyre, I don’t want this to be the end for us. This can’t be the end.”

  He let out a slow breath, his chest rising and falling under her arm. “As much as I don’t want to, I have to leave.”

  “I know.” She pressed her hand against his face. “When Petrina turns twenty-one, I’ll step down as regent. I won’t be a public figure anymore.”

  His eyebrows furrowed.

  “Ten years,” she said. “In ten years, when my regency is over, maybe things will be different. What if by then you don’t have to hide so carefully? What if by then I can leave Irida?”

  “Do you want to leave Irida?” he asked doubtfully. “Living on Earth won’t be easy.”

  “Ten years, Lyre. So much can change. I don’t want this goodbye to be forever.” Pushing up on her elbow, she leaned over him, her hair falling like curtains around her face. “I know it’s a long time, but I can wait.”

  “Wait?” He shook his head. “You’re right, it’s a long time. People change.”

  Was he worried that he would change, or that she would?

  “Can’t we try again?” she whispered. “When I’m free from the regency, let’s find each other.”

  He touched her lips, tracing their shape. “What if our feelings change?”

  “What if they don’t?”

  Scorching intensity gathered in his stare. “You want to meet again in ten years? No matter what happens between then and now?”

  “No matter what. We’ll find each other again—and we’ll figure out a way to be together. We’ll make it work.”

  “Are you sure?”

  She leaned down and pressed her mouth hard to his. He kissed her back, deep and intense.

  “Do you promise, Lyre?” she asked breathlessly. “Do you promise to come back to me in ten years?”

  Something fierce hardened his features, an unyielding determination she’d only glimpsed in him a few times.

  “I promise.” He captured her wrist and pressed her hand to the center of his chest. “My heart is yours. No other woman has touched it, and no one but you ever will.”

  Her hand trembled, his heartbeat thudding under her palm. She knew what he was saying. He was an incubus; ten years of celibacy was impossible for him. Even if he could do it, it would be unjustifiable torture.

  But though he couldn’t save his body for her, he would save his heart. That was his promise.

  She looked into his mesmerizing amber eyes. “My heart is yours. Forever.”

  The amber darkened, then his lips were crushing hers. He rolled on top of her, his hands in her hair, holding their mouths together. Her hands slid over him with equal urgency, committing every inch of him to memory—memories that would have to last her a decade.

  Until that distant day, this was their last time together. Love and grief twisted with urgency, and she couldn’t breathe for the emotions constricting her lungs. Need more intense, more painful, more soul-searing than anything his aphrodesia could inflict burned through her.

  As the last of the sunlight faded into murky twilight, as the forest turned azure with the glow of awakening night flora, they made love one last time beneath the trees.

  With darkness settling over the forest, she and Lyre redressed and collected their things. Hands entwined, the silence between them heavy with the weight of their hearts, they walked through the luminescent flowers until the trees gave way to an open glade.

  Rising from the tall grass, the ley line danced and rippled in waves of blue and green light. The soft power rushed across her senses as she and Lyre stopped a few long steps from the line. She tightened her hand on his, chin held high as she determinedly blinked back tears.

  He turned to her. “Ten years from now, on the autumn solstice, I’ll be here.”

  “I’ll be waiting.”

  Cupping her face, he brought his mouth to hers. Slowly he kissed her, each press of his lips so intense she wouldn’t have been surprised if he was weaving a spell to bind their souls together across the realms.

  Finally, he raised his head. His thumb brushed across her lower lip as he let his hands fall. Her skin felt so cold in the absence of his touch.

  “Be safe, Lyre,” she whispered. “Take care of yourself.”

  “You too, Clio.”

  She touched a hand to her chest, over her heart. “In ten years.”

  “In ten years,” he whispered.

  When he walked away, she trembled with the need to reach for him, her hands clenched at her sides. Reaching the ley line, he turned and stepped backward into the green and blue light. His eyes met hers.

  He brought his hand up and touched his heart, mirroring her gesture. Then the rush of earthly power stuttered.

  Between one instant and the next, he was gone.

  A tremor tore through her, but she straightened her spine. Turning, she looked east toward the glittering stars and glowing face of the planet. Beneath those stars, the Iridian palace was perched upon its mountainside. For the next ten years, she would devote herself to Petrina and her kingdom.

  After that, on the autumn solstice ten years from this day, she would wait right here for the moment Lyre returned to her.

  Chapter Thirty-Four

  One perk of being an incubus was supposed to be an immunity to heartbreak. Lyre still didn’t know how that had gone wrong for him.

  He rubbed his hands together, then blew on them, his breath puffing white in the cold air. Soft white flakes drifted from the sky, twirling toward the snow-dusted ground. Heavy darkness lay over the abandoned park, broken only by a flickering pair of lampposts.

  A couple weeks out of the Overworld and he was still moping. Then again, he didn’t have much to celebrate. But beneath the unpleasant gloom was a hot spark of hope. He would cling to Clio’s promise through however many shitty days, weeks, and months awaited him.

  Ten years wasn’t that long compared to a lifetime.

  In a decade, his family should have well and truly forgotten about him, and once Clio was out of the spotlight as regent, maybe it would be safe for her and Lyre to find their own little corner of the realms where his past couldn’t reach them. Maybe. He could hope. He was going to hope.

  He blew on his hands again, wishing he could stomp his feet to ward off the cold. But making noise would defeat the purpose of standing in the deep shadows beneath the trees as he watched the little circle of empty pavement with a single rickety wrought-iron bench.

  From what he’d carefully gleaned, the bounty on his head had been dismissed and most of the mercenaries who’d flocked to the city to hunt him had dispersed again. It was almost pleasantly quiet, and he was getting better at the whole anonymity thing.

  He’d had a lot of practice pretending to be something he wasn’t. In Chrysalis, he’d encouraged his brothers to see him as careless and flippant, a sloppy smartass who didn’t care about anything. A few tweaks to that persona and he could easily fit into the role of a harmless flirt, rolling about the city with no purpose, picking up jobs here and there while hitting on every pair of pretty legs that passed by.

  To the rest of the world, he would become an average incubus with average abilities. But first, he had one more loose end to take care of.

  As he rubbed his chilled ha
nds together again, a shadow slipped out of the trees. The daemon, wrapped in a warm coat with the hood pulled up, stopped near the bench and surveyed the spot.

  Lyre stepped into the circle of light emanating from the lampposts. The daemon turned to him, and as he tilted his head up, the orange glow caught on jewel-like green eyes.

  “I wasn’t sure you’d come,” Lyre said.

  Miysis pushed his hood back a bit, revealing glamour-short blond hair, cropped close to his head. “How could I resist an invitation from a dead man?”

  Lyre arched an eyebrow in question.

  “When I inquired about your fate,” Miysis explained, “the esteemed Regent of Irida informed me that you perished in a confrontation with Chrysalis weavers. Then she handed me your letter and gave me the sort of look that promised extreme and long-lasting punishment if I screwed up.” The griffin rubbed one gloved hand over his jaw. “What especially intrigued me was that, when she said you’d died, she wasn’t lying.”

  “The incubus weaver who was running around Aldrendahar casting spells and blowing shit up did die. He’s gone for good.”

  “Is that so? Who are you, then?”

  “Someone else.”

  Miysis’s expression smoothed into his unreadable princely countenance. “I see.”

  “If another griffin asks you what happened to that incubus, what will you say?”

  “I’ll tell them the only thing I know: Clio said he died and she was speaking the truth.”

  Lyre nodded, managing not to flinch at Clio’s name.

  “So, weaver whom I’ve never met, why did you summon me here?”

  “I have a proposal for you.”

  “What might that be?” Miysis asked, almost wary.

  Lyre concealed his nervousness. He didn’t like this idea one bit, but he was at his limit. Broke, homeless, and straight up lacking in any resources or connections, he wouldn’t last through the winter without taking drastic steps.

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