The Shadow Weave by Annette Marie


  “Many of these plants are difficult to grow and maintain,” she continued determinedly. She nodded at a bushy plant with spiky, serrated leaves. “Vandela is notoriously fussy. You’re clearly a skilled botanist.”

  The daemon seemed confused, but he focused on her with a hint of interest. “Thanks.”

  “I’d love to know more about your collection,” she suggested. What else should she say? If she’d been flirting with Lyre, it would have been easy, but …

  Hmm. Flirting with Lyre was ridiculously easy, wasn’t it?

  She reassessed the daemon in front of her. With warm bronze skin to contrast his dark hair and eyes, he was handsome in an exotic way, though his scruffy chin wasn’t helping. Nowhere near Lyre’s league. She lowered her face and peeked up through her eyelashes, trying to pretend this daemon was Lyre.

  Lyre’s sensual mouth was always distracting her. She let her gaze fall to the daemon’s thin lips, then looked back up and smiled again. She held out her hand. “I’m Clio. It’s wonderful to meet you.”

  The daemon hesitated, then took her hand. “Sabir.”

  “Hi, Sabir,” she said, trying to sound breathy as if Lyre had touched her. “How long have you been studying plants and herbs?”

  “Uh.” His brow furrowed and he seemed at a loss for words. He was still holding her hand, though their brief shake was over. “My entire life. I apprenticed under my father.”

  “That’s amazing. You must be very experienced.”

  “Yeah …”

  “I learned from my mother.” Reclaiming her hand, she touched the thin blue leaves of an Iridian plant. “I was making kanavus tea for her from the moment I could lift a kettle.”

  “I prefer a tincture over infusion for kanavus.”

  “A tincture is more potent,” she agreed, “but we drank the tea as a mild relaxant, so we didn’t want it that strong.”

  “Interesting.” He sat up straighter. “I’ve only prepared it as a sedative. How do you create the infusion?”

  “Three leaves if fresh, one crushed leaf if dried. I like to add a drop of honey to sweeten it. It’s lovely as a hot drink before bed after a stressful day.”

  He nodded thoughtfully as though filing the information away. She stared intently into his eyes, hoping she didn’t look like a complete moron. “Kanavus only grows in the northeastern mountains. Have you been there? It’s very beautiful.”

  “You mean Kyo Kawa Valley?”

  “Kyo Kawa is a closed territory, so I wouldn’t expect you to have been there.” She gave an empty-headed giggle. “That would be far too dangerous.”

  “It’s not dangerous if you know what you’re doing.”

  “You’ve been inside ryujin territory?” This time, she didn’t have to fake her amazement.

  Sabir pushed his glasses up his nose. “Many times.”

  “Wow. That’s …” She made her voice breathy again. “You’re so brave.”

  Lyre coughed again. She ignored him, keeping her focus on Sabir. His full attention was on her, his brown eyes brighter. She still didn’t know what he thought of her, but he was being friendlier, at least. Flirting. Who would have thought?

  “What about the other mountain regions?” she asked. “Irida and the northern reaches of Ra territory?”

  “I’ve visited Irida a few times, but the nymphs don’t buy much, and I’d rather collect my own plants than purchase from them. Griffin cities can be profitable, but only if you know where to sell. Their taxes aren’t friendly to small merchants.”

  Her eyebrows shot up. For a seemingly bland, unassuming guy, he was playing with fire. Entering Kyo Kawa, a closed territory renowned for murdering trespassers, and selling goods illegally within Ra borders? He was brave—or stupid. Maybe both.

  “I was wondering …” She trailed off coyly.

  He tilted his head, waiting for her to continue.

  “I need to make a quick visit to Irida, but I’ve never traveled there before.” She did the peeking-through-her-eyelashes thing again. “Is there any chance you’d be interested in a brief engagement as my guide?”

  He blinked. “Uh …”

  “I’d compensate you, of course.”

  His dark eyes met hers and an inexplicable chill ran down her spine. He smiled for the first time, a brief curving of his lips before he pursed them in thought.

  “I’ve never traveled into Irida by ley line, and going cross-country … the terrain can be grueling.” When she wilted in disappointment, he hurried on. “But I’m heading to the mountains for my next trip. I’ll be passing close to Irida’s southwestern border, so I could drop you off there?”

  Excitement flashed through her but she acted mildly pleased instead. “Really? You would do that for me?”

  He smiled again, a warm expression that made her reevaluate him. “Yes, though there’s still the matter of compensation.”

  “Right,” she agreed. “Name your price.”

  He stated a number and she countered at half that. They haggled for a minute before agreeing to a price that would severely deplete her and Lyre’s stock of coins.

  “When can we leave?” she asked. “The sooner, the better.”

  He leaned back warily. “I have a lot of stock to sell first.”

  “I’m on a tight schedule, to be honest. I need to—” She cut herself off, not wanting to reveal how desperate she was. “If we can’t go in the next few days, I’ll have to cancel. I’d hate to miss out.”

  “The next few days?” He rubbed his forehead. “Uh. I guess … two nights from now? That’s the earliest I can leave.”

  “That would be wonderful.” She caught his hand and squeezed it. “Thank you so much, Sabir. Should I meet you here, then?”

  “Yes, that would be simplest.”

  “Lovely!” She withdrew her pouch and counted out plats. “Twenty-five percent now, twenty-five percent when we leave, and the rest when we reach Irida.”

  Sabir accepted the money and slipped it out of sight under his table. “Make sure to bring—”

  With a crash and a loud screech, the crowd around the table of poached creatures surged backward. Daemons fell over each other to get out of the way as yellow feathers flashed.

  The young lycaon sprang out of its collapsed cage, screaming furiously with its huge ears flattened to its wolfish head. It launched onto a daemon’s back, its eagle talons tearing through the man’s shirt in a spray of blood.

  Clio flinched as the retreating crowd backed into her and Lyre. Sabir’s table rocked violently and he grabbed his plants before they fell. The lycaon howled and leaped into the crowd, talons slashing, and the daemons shoved backward, knocking Clio into the table. Another daemon crashed into Lyre and they both fell in a tangle of limbs.

  The shrieking creature bounded across the platform and leaped off. With its seller chasing after it, it bolted down a tunnel. Half the present daemons could have stopped the lycaon, but no one had even tried—probably fearing the merchant would charge them for damaging his merchandise.

  As the sounds of the chase faded, conversation resumed. A couple daemons picked up the bleeding guy, examined his injuries, and offered to heal him—for a price, of course. Clio straightened a few of Sabir’s plants, glad to see none had fallen.

  “Underworlder!”

  The accusing shout rang over all the other voices. Clio whipped around.

  Two daemons—the ones who’d knocked Lyre over—held him by the arms. His hood had fallen off, his pale hair and amber eyes on display for all to see. Everyone nearby went quiet.

  One of Lyre’s captors grabbed him by the hair and shoved his head forward.

  “An incubus,” the daemon sneered. “How did you get in here, mongrel?”

  Clio stood frozen, unable to react. What did she do? Against fifty daemons—a hundred if those on the platform’s other half joined in—not even a master weaver stood a ghost of a chance. Lyre didn’t move either, his expression strangely blank. Something passed over him—an
invisible shift she couldn’t quite quantify.

  Then the most lascivious smile she’d ever seen spread across his face. He canted his head, his hair still in the Overworlder’s grip.

  “That kind of treatment costs extra, darling,” he drawled in a deep, sultry purr. “Just so you know.”

  The daemon blinked, then yanked his hand away. Lyre straightened, but his body language had completely changed. There was a loose fluidity to his limbs—a soft, enticing openness.

  “I’m afraid I’m booked for the night, love,” he crooned to the daemon on his other side. “But if you’re interested, I could arrange something to your liking, hmm?”

  Both daemons released him, disgust crossing their faces. Lyre rolled his shoulders, then stretched his arms over his head, his shirt lifting to display a glimpse of his toned abdomen. He relaxed again, completely unconcerned by the danger he was in.

  “What the hell are you doing here, incubus?” someone demanded, their voice loud beneath the blanket of silence.

  “Working,” he answered, his salacious smile reappearing.

  He slid sideways, his gait swaying in a way that was both erotically suggestive and aggressively masculine. He slipped his arm around Clio’s waist, pulling her against his side. She clutched her potted vine as though it were a shield against the stares that snapped her way.

  “Bought and paid for already, I’m afraid,” he cooed at the two daemons who’d grabbed him. “But just for tonight.”

  “Why did you bring that incubus slut down here, girl?” a daemon barked at her.

  She stared gormlessly, heat rising in her cheeks. Again, Lyre jumped in to rescue her.

  “Can’t a lady enjoy a night of shopping with pleasurable company?” His voice lowered and deepened. “Clearly, you boys don’t know how to play the game.”

  The male daemons recoiled as though Lyre had admitted to something utterly grotesque. The female daemons, however, watched him with varying degrees of interest and embarrassment.

  Clio had surpassed embarrassment. She was somewhere between “absolute mortification” and “just kill me now.”

  Lyre ran a finger down her hot cheek. “Let’s take our fun somewhere else, sweetheart. I don’t mind an audience, but I know you prefer … mmm … we’ll talk about your preferences later, shall we?”

  “Get your whore out of here,” a daemon spat at Clio. “We don’t want that filth in our business.”

  Lyre smiled, slid his arm up her back, and draped it over her shoulders. “Your loss.” His gaze flicked across his audience, lingering on the women, and he ran his tongue slowly across his upper lip. “You don’t even know what you’re missing.”

  With a husky laugh, he tugged Clio into motion. She stumbled a step, then pulled herself together. Glancing at Sabir, who was watching her with an appalled expression, she mouthed an apology and held up two fingers, hoping he understood she would return in two nights.

  He hesitated, then nodded.

  Relieved, she let Lyre pull her toward the stairs. Every daemon in the station watched them leave with hostility clogging the air. A ward spanned the staircase halfway up but Lyre didn’t pause, and she followed him through it. Magic sparked over her skin, but if the “alarm” had triggered, she couldn’t tell and didn’t bother studying the spell to figure it out.

  She didn’t breathe properly until they reached a small lobby with double glass doors. Lyre pushed one open and they stepped onto a dark street across from a tall, old-style theater that had seen better days. The entrance to the station sat beneath a tall structure with an excessive number of windows. A cold wind had picked up while they’d been underground, and it whipped across them, smelling of rain.

  Lyre took three steps out of the doorway, then dropped his arm from Clio and vigorously rubbed his face. Head tilting skyward, he let out a long, violent exhale. She stared at him, still speechless. She hadn’t managed a single word since his transformation from spell weaver to lewd prostitute.

  “That,” he grumbled, sounding normal again, meaning sexy as hell but not lecherous, “was a close call. I thought I was a dead man.”

  She opened her mouth, but only a croak came out. Swallowing, she tried again. “How did you do that?”

  “Do what?”

  “Start acting like …”

  He raised his eyebrows. “Was I convincing?”

  “Uh.” Her cheeks heated again. “You seemed convincing to me.”

  “Good.” He smiled crookedly. “I would hate to have sacrificed all that dignity for nothing.”

  “Have you ever … um …”

  “What?”

  “Never mind.”

  “Have I ever what?”

  “Nothing. Never mind.”

  He leaned closer, his smile growing more wicked than playful. “Have I ever traded my body for money? Is that what you wanted to ask?”

  “N-no,” she stammered, backing up a step.

  He followed, not allowing her to put space between them. “It’s a fair question. Sex is our primary skill set. Most incubi choose to monetize it. Why not?”

  She continued to inch backward. His tone held an edge she didn’t understand, but the heat in his eyes was easy to recognize.

  “It’s not your primary skill set,” she protested weakly.

  “Actually,” he purred, his eyes darkening to bronze, “it is.”

  She gawked at him, unable to form a coherent thought. Was he suggesting he was better at sex than he was at spell weaving? Because she didn’t think that was possible.

  And why was she thinking about sex at all? Why was she thinking about what it would be like to let him show her those skills? To let him demonstrate them on her? To give in to the longings he had woken in her and discover the pleasure he was promising?

  Wasn’t she afraid of him? Hadn’t she decided she would never so much as kiss him again?

  She stumbled back another step and blinked her asper into focus, but his aura was quiet. No aphrodesia. Not even a hint. He had it tightly under control.

  His dark eyes moved across her face, then he stepped back. The hot demand in his gaze cooled. “Two nights.”

  She blinked, confused. Had he realized she was checking him for signs of seduction magic? Could he read her that easily? “Two nights of what?”

  “Two nights of … waiting? Until the supremely uncharismatic plant guy can lead us to the Overworld?”

  “Oh … right.”

  “What did you think I meant?”

  “N-nothing. I didn’t …” Damn it, she was blushing again.

  “You were thinking something. Come on, tell me.”

  No way in hell was she admitting that her mind had jumped to two nights of him—in the most inappropriate sense. What was wrong with her? It had only been a few hours since he’d coerced her with his magic, and all she could think about was kissing him again?

  With her lower lip caught between her teeth, she peeked at him out of the corner of her eye—and saw his half-hidden smirk.

  That incubus! He knew exactly what conclusion she’d jumped to. He’d led her right to it!

  Teeth gritted, she stomped past him, heading down the street. The wind carried his quiet chuckle to her ears, and her stomach did a fluttery little dance at the sound.

  Focus. She needed to focus. They had to survive two more days in the city, then they would escape to the Overworld. She almost looked back at Lyre, his footsteps only a few feet behind her, but she resisted. Once back in Irida, she would be safe, but for an Underworlder like him, the Overworld was a temporary refuge that harbored many dangers.

  Chewing on her lip, she put those questions out of her mind. For now, she would focus on getting through the next forty-eight hours alive. After that, she would worry about how to keep Lyre alive in the Overworld … and beyond.

  Chapter Ten

  Following Clio down the dark streets, Lyre waited for his heart rate to slow. After three blocks, he would’ve figured he’d calm the hell down, but no. A
drenaline still coursed through his veins. Nothing like having a hundred dangerous Overworlders turn on you all at once to give the old heart a workout.

  Amusement sparked amid his lingering anxiety and he swallowed another snicker at Clio’s reaction to his prostitute impersonation. He’d been worried her beet-red face would give them away, but he supposed anyone would be embarrassed by such a public reveal of their “indiscretions.” He was tempted to tease her about it more, but she was already in a huff.

  Teasing her was just too much fun. He was glad that hadn’t changed. After what those succubi had done, he’d feared Clio would never smile for him again.

  Later, he would acknowledge the dark pit of bitter rage and humiliation that burned deep inside him. Later, he would privately expunge the violence clinging to the edges of his mind, the sick desire to twist those succubi into broken corpses. Later, he would quell the simmering hunger that had been sucking at his mind and soul since entering the club.

  As soon as they got back to their room, he was going to take the longest, coldest shower of his life.

  Clio stalked down the middle of the street ahead of him, her arms wrapped around herself and hands tucked into the sleeves of her jacket as the wind howled between skyscrapers. The first few spatters of rain shone on the black leather. That little plant she’d bought was tucked in the crook of her arm and bobbed with each step.

  Lengthening his stride, he fell into step beside her. She glanced at him, her full lips pressed into an annoyed pout. He filled his expression with exaggerated innocence, and those lips twitched as she fought back a smile.

  “I was wondering,” he said, keeping his voice low so the wind wouldn’t carry it, “what’s with the plant?”

  She glanced at the potted vine. “What about it?”

  “Why did you buy it?”

  “I thought buying something might soften up Sabir.” She frowned at the plant, then at him. “How did you know flirting with him would get better results?”

  “How did you not know?” he asked with a laugh. “He was watching you long before you noticed him.”

 
Previous Page Next Page
Should you have any enquiry, please contact us via [email protected]