Page 45

Lucan straightened the line of his sleeve. “Do I still breathe?” He strode off.

“No,” Jayr said as Byrne turned to her. “I will not stay behind. Beau and Alys are still missing.”

He glanced at Lucan’s retreating figure before he said in a softer voice, “Then brace yourself, wife. Whatever caused that light and the ground to quake may not have left anything for us to bring back.”

Riding to the old mission took less than an hour, and when they were within a half mile of the site, Jayr began to see the damage wrought by the queerly silently explosion. The trunk of every pine they passed now tilted toward the east; some of the younger saplings lay uprooted where they had toppled. The sound of flapping wings drew her gaze up, where she saw dozens of birds flying away from the site toward the Realm.

Lucan reined in his mount, stopping in front of a blackened length of metal sticking up from the soil. “This did not sprout here.” He leaned closer, and then exchanged a look with Byrne, who rode his mount in front of Jayr’s.

“Now that I think on it,” her lover said, “you should go back to the stronghold. No doubt Alexandra will need some help with the wounded.”

“No doubt.” Jayr dismounted and strode over to the half-buried blade. An odd-looking clot of dirt clung to the hilt, one that looked more like a hand with every step she took.

“Jayr.” Byrne put himself between her and the blade. “You need not look upon this. Let us see to the rest.”

She went around him. “This is Beaumaris’s blade.” She knelt down in front of it and studied the severed body part still clutching the hilt. “He must have been holding it when the blast occurred.”

Byrne helped her up. “Then he died fighting, which is what the lad would have wanted.”

“Someone did, but not Beau.” Jayr nodded at the burnt hand. “Do you see there, on the third finger?”

Lucan joined them and peered at the appendage. “A ring.” He sniffed the air. “From the stink of it, fashioned from copper.”

“No mortal could take Beau’s blade from him,” Byrne insisted.

“No.” Jayr gazed at the oak grove, where the setting sun silhouetted the dozens of trees that had been jerked, roots and all, from the earth. “Unless Beau gave it to him. Come.” She strode to her horse.

Jayr expected to see nothing but flattened, blackened earth as they drew near the mission, but aside from a missing roof and some scorch marks on the exterior walls, the structure remained largely intact.

Jayr called out for Beau and Alys, but only silence answered her.

“They must have taken shelter in the lower chambers,” she told Byrne as they dismounted and secured the horses. “We will begin there.”

“My lady.” Lucan’s quiet voice sent a pang of dread through her. “Your man and his lady are here.”

Jayr’s steps dragged as she approached the ruin of vines and shattered stone blocking the entry to a cave. Lucan brushed back the rubble to reveal a pair of entwined bodies. Her throat went tight as she saw how Beau held Alys still cradled against him.

More stone shifted, and Lucan stepped back as a slim hand emerged from the debris. The fingers groped the air.

“A little help,” a muffled, disgruntled voice said, “would be great.”

Lucan reached into the rubble and snatched the girl from it, holding her at arm’s length before he jerked her close and embraced her.

“You are an idiot,” he muttered against the top of her head. “I am taking you home and locking you in my dungeon for the rest of eternity.”

Chris coughed out some dirt. “Hello. You don’t have a dungeon.”

Lucan began wiping the soil from her cheeks. “Then I shall build one. One riddled with rats and devices of torture and hundreds of video screens that play nothing but reruns of The Brady Bunch.”

“I’m glad to see you, too, Dad.” She rested her cheek against his shoulder.

The sound of vegetation moving and sticks snapping made Jayr scan the area, until a bedraggled figure emerged from the brush.

“I don’t know why anyone dreams of flying,” Simone said as she joined them, cradling a broken arm. “The landing isn’t very pleasant.” She looked at the bodies in the rubble. “The traitor murdered the doctor just before the explosion.” Her voice softened. “Even after she was gone, your man would not leave her.”

“No, I expect he would not.” Jayr bent down to remove the gravel away from Alys’s peaceful face before she straightened. “We will bury them together.”

“As it should be. The lass was his mortal wife,” Byrne explained to Lucan.

“Then it is fitting that they died together,” the suzerain said as he placed Chris back on her feet. “But I believe you are mistaken on one point.” When everyone looked at him, he added, “That female in your man’s arms is not human.” Lucan nodded at Alys. “Look at her face.”

Jayr gazed down and saw that the cuts and abrasions on Alys’s skin were slowly shrinking.

“God in heaven.” She pushed back Alys’s upper lip to reveal two gleaming dents acérées emerging from her palate. “She is Kyn.” She turned to Byrne. “But yesterday she was mortal.…How can this be?”

“The legends say if a mortal is worthy, the emeralds will give them eternal life.” Byrne removed a copper dagger from his belt. “’Tis no one more worthy on this earth, I think, than a courageous, warmhearted Scotswoman.” He used the blade to slash his wrist, and bent to hold it to Alys’s face. “Except perhaps a Scotsman.”

“It’s all that whiskey you lot drink,” Lucan told him. “It pickles your soul.”

A strong hand shot out of the debris to seize Byrne’s wrist.

“Easy, lad,” Byrne said, grinning with delight as Beau glared up at him. “Your lady has made the change. I’m wanting only to help her.”

“Mine.” With some difficulty Beau freed his other arm, bit into his wrist, and then pressed it to Alys’s lips.

At first Beau’s blood streamed down the sides of Alys’s face, but when Jayr gently used a hand to support her head, she shuddered and swallowed.

Beau had eyes for no one but his beloved, and when she pulled away and opened her eyes, he kissed the traces of blood from her mouth. “Why did you shield me?”

“He would have shot you in the heart.” She pressed her hand against his chest. “You couldn’t survive that.”

“Neither could you.”

“But I did, so your conclusion is erroneous.” Alys’s eyes took on a faint golden glow. “I think you’re stuck with me for a while.”

“So I am.” He kissed her again, and held her tightly. “Thank God.”

Chapter 20

“How do I look?” Alys asked, turning around to face her sisters.

“Lovely,” Simone said.

“Wrong.” Christian turned to the Frenchwoman. “I don’t know how they do it in Paris, but in this country the bride traditionally wears white.”

“White is not a color. It looks attractive on exactly no one.” Green eyes rolled. “So of course it is an American tradition.”

“If you two keep arguing,” Alys warned, “I’m going to put you both in bridesmaids’ time-out.” She glanced down at the folds of the soft amethyst velvet skirt. “Besides, I can’t wear white. It would be bad luck.”

“You see?” Simone patted her shoulder. “That is your French DNA talking, chérie.”

“Don’t tell me you buy into that whole I’m-not-a-virgin thing,” Chris complained. “Beau hasn’t been one for, like, seven hundred years.”

“No, it’s because of Robert.” Despite all her guardian had done to her, Alys still felt a twinge of sadness when she thought of him. “The few times I met him, he always wore white.”

“He did not do so when he pretended to be Father Robere with me,” Simone pointed out. “I only ever saw him in black.”

“Yeah, and he dressed like a yuppie when I met him in the Keys,” Chris added, her expression darkening. “I knew there was something wrong with that guy; I got a weird vibe from him. I just figured it was the undercover-cop thing. He sent his men after me and Jamys an hour after I met him. I should have known he was the douche bag traitor.”

Simone made a hushing sound. “He was the only family Alys has ever known.”

“We’re her family,” Chris countered.

“It’s all right. Robert didn’t care about me, not like that.” Alys picked up the bouquet of lavender roses that Jayr had delivered along with the dress, and wound one of its golden ribbons through her fingers. “When he had me taken from the keep and brought to his camp, Robert told me the truth about what he’d done. How he’d murdered my birth mother in Ireland, smuggled me out of the country, and left me with nannies until I was old enough for boarding school. All those teachers who said I had a natural talent for history and archaeology? They were actually paid by him to train me and push me and make me believe it was my idea. That was how he made me into his ‘tool.’ Who knows what I might have been if he hadn’t stolen me? But his daughter, that was one thing I never was. To him I was nothing but…a really smart screwdriver.”

“So why aren’t we popping open the champagne?” Chris asked. “The guy took your whole life away from you, and sold out Simone to her psycho adopted brother. I hate him and I’m glad he’s dead. And since he used me as sex bait for a mind-controlling immortal pirate, I think I’m allowed.”

“That is not what she means,” Simone chided, and took hold of Alys’s hand. “Robert Leeds was the only father you knew, chérie. You cared for the illusion of himself that he created in order to deceive you, not the man he really was. Now that you know it was all lies, and he is gone, perhaps you can begin to let it go.”

Copyright © novelfull All Rights Reserved.