King of the Islesby Debbie Mazzuca
And it very well might be. Evangeline may be powerfully persuasive in her way, but convincing the notoriously wild Highland king Lachlan MacLeod to strengthen his alliances with a strategic marriage seems to be asking the impossible. Stubborn and proud, Lachlan seems determined to go against her/b>
She'll find him a bride if it's the last thing she does.
And it very well might be. Evangeline may be powerfully persuasive in her way, but convincing the notoriously wild Highland king Lachlan MacLeod to strengthen his alliances with a strategic marriage seems to be asking the impossible. Stubborn and proud, Lachlan seems determined to go against her will, even if it means endangering the people he's sworn to protect and the enchanted isle that has already seen so much discord.
Yet the battle-scarred Highlander cannot ignore his sultry advisor for long. When his mentor is kidnapped, forcing him to ride into combat alongside the beautiful Evangeline, he must choose between her safety and his own independence. It's a choice he makes in an instant. . .but once wed to the woman he could not resist, he'll soon find that his heart is in even greater danger than his kingdom. . .
Praise for Debbie Mazzuca and Lord of the Isles
"Delightful. A wonderful debut!" --Hannah Howell
"Mazzuca weaves Fairy magic, Scottish highlanders and time travel into a delightful adventure of love that's meant to be!" --Melissa Mayhue
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King of the Isles
By DEBBIE MAZZUCA
ZEBRA BOOKSCopyright © 2012 Debbie Mazzuca
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFae Realm June 1607
For the greater good.
Hidden within the shadow of ancient oaks, a safe distance from Rohan's palace, Evangeline repeated the familiar mantra, allowing the sentiment to smooth over the ripples of doubt seeking to gain a foothold in her mind.
It was her only option, she reassured herself. Fae law prohibited the magick she was about to attempt, but the law had been put in place to protect the Fae, and that was precisely what she intended on doing. She may not be a seer, but Evangeline knew danger lurked amongst them and no one could tell her otherwise.
The Faes' opinion no longer mattered to her.
If she could break through the barrier between the Fae and Mortal realms, she would have secured a viable escape route should the standing stones be disabled. The granite monoliths were portals between the two worlds. Portals Rohan, high king of the Seelie Council and overseer of the five Fae kingdoms, had closed before. She couldn't risk being trapped on either side. The thought of leaving her friend Syrena unprotected in the Mortal realm was as difficult to consider as leaving the Fae unguarded.
But more importantly, Evangeline would have proof her magick surpassed the most powerful of wizards and would serve her well when the time came to protect the Fae of the Enchanted Isles. And with Lachlan MacLeod, the half-blood highlander, as their king, she knew without a doubt that day would soon be upon them.
Concealed by the dense foliage, reasonably certain she was safe from prying eyes, Evangeline widened her stance. Flexing her fingers, she tipped her head back and inhaled the sweet, earthy fragrance of the forest to center herself. A gentle breeze riffled the leafy canopy above, caressing her face as though it was encouraging her efforts. A soft smile played on her lips and she closed her eyes, raising her arms to call upon the magick within her. A warm white glow blossomed low in her belly and she welcomed it as though it were a much-loved friend.
Snap. On a startled gasp, her eyes flew open. Heart racing, she frantically searched the woods. A bird, its iridescent blue and yellow tipped wings flapping noisily, shot from the branches overhead with an outraged shriek. Evangeline jumped, then shook her head at her nervous display.
No one knows what you attempt, she chided. The Fae have no interest in you.
Her bitter laugh punctured the enveloping silence. That was not entirely true. They watched and waited for the day she would show her true colors. For the day the seeds everyone said her mother Andora had sown inside her took root.
She ignored the dull ache in her chest. Their censure didn't matter. Perhaps at one time it had caused her pain, but no longer. She would prove to them all she was nothing like Andora. She would protect them as her mother had once destroyed them. They would have no choice but to acknowledge she was not evil then.
And you, Evangeline, will that be enough to make you believe you are not? a voice inside her asked.
With an impatient flick of her hand, Evangeline shooed the question from her mind and resumed her stance. A rustle of leaves drew her attention and she squinted, scanning the shadows for movement, unable to shake the sensation someone was watching her. She lifted her gaze to the leafy canopy, thinking perhaps it was another bird. When moments passed without the brightly plumed creature making an appearance, she concluded her frazzled nerves were to blame.
Hastily, shoving aside the sense of foreboding, she returned to her previous position. There was no time to waste. Rohan had called an emergency meeting of the Seelie Council, and it was a meeting Evangeline refused to miss. Not with that fool Lachlan MacLeod about to receive his comeuppance. At the thought, she called upon her magick with a self-satisfied smile.
A soft moan of pleasure escaped her parted lips as the white light flooded her with power, exciting her as nothing or no one else could. Her body crackled with heat, blue sparks shooting from the tips of her fingers. With a keening howl the wind gusted through the trees, lifting the carpet of leaves from the forest floor to swirl about her in a frenzied dance. The words of the forbidden spell she murmured joined the wind on a rising hum of power.
Captured in the whirlwind's grip, she spun with dizzying speed. Her pointed toes dug into the damp loam, flinging it in every direction. Beneath her feet the ground cracked open and, on an exultant cry, she disappeared below the surface. Within a sphere of white fire, the bright flame illuminated the cavernous depths. She carved easily through layer after layer of earth and granite until she hit the barrier with a resounding bounce.
Sprawled facedown, her frustrated groan was smothered in a thick, jellylike substance. Gritting her teeth, she peeled herself off the sticky film. She pushed and prodded the dense membrane, but it resisted her efforts. Refusing to admit defeat, she dug deeper inside herself than she ever had before. Her muscles quivered with the demands she put on her powers, the transparent fabric shivering beneath her. Then, with a loud tearing sound, she exploded through the membrane, somersaulting with stomach-wrenching speed through wispy clouds. Disoriented, fighting against panic, it took a moment before her vision cleared. Focusing on the moors far below her, she flashed to the top of a hill in the Mortal realm of the Hebrides, landing with a soft thud.
Wrapping her arms about her waist, she embraced her accomplishment, drowning out the niggling of guilt with a joyful laugh. A low whicker interrupted her celebration and she followed the sound to the base of the verdant mound. Two dark-haired men on horseback stared up at her in openmouthed astonishment.
"An angel, Padraic, we've found ourselves an angel," the younger of the two said in an awestruck voice.
"Nay," his companion said, not taking his intent gaze from Evangeline. "Angels no' 'ave 'air as black as night."
"And 'ow many angels 'ave ye seen?"
She lingered, interested in the man's response. After all, if angels were making an appearance in the Mortal realm, it was something she needed to know.
But the one named Padraic ignored his friend's querulous question. His dark eyes locked on her chest, a salacious grin creased his rawboned face. "And 'tis sure I am they no' 'ave the curves—"
"Mortals ... men," she muttered, rolling her eyes. They were all the same. Her mind turned to a certain mortal—half-mortal—and the talk of Lachlan MacLeod's lusty appetites. She harrumphed; if King Rohan had his way, that was all about to change.
Unwilling to miss the arrogant highlander being taken to task before the council, she raised her hand, flicking a finger at Padraic. The words he was about to utter came to a gurgling halt in his throat. Eyes bulging, he clutched his neck with both hands, shooting a panicked look at his companion.
Since the spell would not last long, Evangeline wiped both men of their memories before she shot back through the clouds to hover beneath the tear she'd made in the barrier.
Lying prone beneath the length of membrane that flapped in the gentle breeze, she was aware of the importance attached to mending it carefully—to leave no weakness as a port of entry. With a low murmur, she called on her magick, frowning at the lukewarm heat and dull wash of white that responded to her call. Spidery threads of panic latched on to her guilt. Did breaking Fae law somehow cause her powers to diminish? As if in answer, a wisp of black smoke snaked its way through the light, wrapping its inky tendrils around her mind, dragging her deep inside herself to a dark and tortured void. With chilling certainty she recognized it for what it was—the evil within her.
What had she done? Fighting against her horrified alarm, she clawed at the shadows.
Why do you protect them when they condemn you? A voice slithered through her senses, stopping her cold. Show them your power, treat them as they treat you, the voice cajoled seductively. Destroy them as they would destroy you.
"No," Evangeline cried, digging feverishly through the muddy light for her magick. Her vision hazed. Breathe, just breathe. She found a finger of light and latched on to it, tugging until a glowing ball exploded inside her, eviscerating the darkness. She gasped for air, trying to banish the words from her head. But the fear she'd inadvertently unleashed the evil her father Morfessa said dwelled within her overwhelmed her. She couldn't rid herself of the thought that by using forbidden magick she'd finally become the monster he said her to be.
No! She refused to listen to his spiteful opinion of her. He'd hated her from the moment she'd drawn her first breath. Shielded by the knowledge, she searched her mind for a logical explanation.
It was an anomaly, she finally decided, clinging desperately to the explanation. Her body and her magick had simply been traumatized from coming through the barrier. The mind-numbing fear that held her in its grasp eased somewhat, but any pleasure she'd felt at her accomplishment evaporated. Knowing she could not remain suspended in midair for much longer, she raised a trembling finger to the membrane. Sparks sizzled, smoke filling the air as she repaired the fissure. She prodded the area where the tear had been to be certain the seal was as strong as it appeared.
After one last poke, her ability to remain hanging above the clouds vanished. She dropped like a stone. Her stomach lurching as she fell from the sky, she tried to shake off the panic the violent free fall induced. As a child, the idea she could fly like the angels had intrigued her. She hadn't known the ability was beyond her and had foolishly jumped from the top of a mountain. Unable to control her magick, she'd slammed into the rocks at the base of the cliff. Her broken body had repaired, but it had taken months for the bones to painfully knit together and she'd never gotten over the experience.
Forcing herself to take slow deep breaths, she focused on the circle of standing stones far below in the Mortal realm and transported there. Dwarfed by the granite slabs, she took one last uneasy look up at the barrier to assure herself the membrane was secure, then stepped through the stones to enter the Fae realm.
Flashing to Rohan's palace, she reminded herself that no one knew what she'd done, least of all witnessed the consequences of her actions. She pushed open the gilded doors. Before she crossed the marble entryway, she took a moment to compose her features into a mask of icy disdain. A mask that was as much a part of her as her magick. A mask that dared the Fae to trifle with her ... Evangeline, the most powerful wizard in the Fae realm.
Crouched behind a tree, Morfessa spat out his silent contempt on the forest floor. What is the she-devil's spawn up to? He shifted his weight, leaning forward to see around the thick trunk. A branch snapped beneath his foot and she jerked her gaze in his direction. He eased back, assuring himself it was not for fear of what she would do upon discovering him there, but fear he would miss the opportunity to learn what she tried to hide.
A bird flew from the branch above him and he saw the moment she let down her guard, a look of relief upon her face. A face as hauntingly beautiful as her mother's—the woman who'd ruined him. Even now, twenty-six years later, the thought of Andora's betrayal caused his stomach to churn. As if using him to destroy the Fae of the Enchanted Isles had not been enough, the traitorous bitch had borne him a child. Evangeline, a constant reminder of his failure, his weakness. If not for Rohan—the softhearted high king of the Seelie Council, the man he served—staying his hand, Morfessa would've been rid of the she-devil's spawn long ago.
Soon, he promised himself, soon.
But he had to proceed with caution. If he took her life without evidence of her evil, Rohan would strip him of his position as Imperial Wizard to the Seelie Council. Morfessa would never let that happen—his position was all he had left, all that mattered to him.
He ignored the niggling of doubt that he would be able to kill her. She is not that powerful. Not yet, he amended. From the time she'd been a small child, she'd exhibited an aptitude for magick well beyond anything he'd ever witnessed. He'd warned his king, made his concerns known, but Rohan paid him no mind. It was Andora's fault. She'd diminished him in his king's eyes.
His knees ached from holding the cramped position. He shifted, rustling the leaves beneath his feet. She stiffened, and he cursed inwardly. He should have sent someone in his stead. Someone like his apprentice, whose agile body would not feel the strain as Morfessa's did, but he couldn't deny himself the satisfaction of being the one to condemn her.
She murmured an ancient chant, the words rising and falling on the wind. He strained to hear what spell she wove. He picked out first one word, and then another.
No, she wouldn't!
Reeling from the shock of what she attempted, Morfessa staggered from his hiding place. She spun in a swirl of light and leaves, then the ground cracked open and she disappeared.
The magnitude of the power she now wielded brought him to his knees on the damp upturned earth where she'd stood. His heartbeat hammered in his head, drowning out the roaring hum of her power. The knowledge that her magick now surpassed his own was like a cesspool spewing its poison inside him. But the thought he now had proof of her evil spurred him to action. If he hurried, he'd catch her coming through the barrier.
Staggering to his feet, he transported to the stones. With the knowledge he would soon have her at his mercy, the haze of his fury dissipated, allowing him to think clearly. It was then he realized Rohan would never believe him. She'd wormed her way into his king's confidence, usurping Morfessa's rightful place at Rohan's side. One more reason she deserved to die. He slammed his palm against the granite slab. He had no choice. He had to return for a witness.
The first person who came to mind was his assistant, and he flashed to the library of spells deep in the bowels of the three-story whitewashed building beside the palace. He cursed the wards that prevented him from transporting in and out of the library and flung open the thick oak door. The wards had been placed on all buildings in the Fae realm to prevent a surprise attack from their enemies. But today, they simply served to stymie his attempt to capture the one woman he'd always known would become their greatest threat.
He hurried across the wood-planked antechamber, uttering an impatient oath when he came to the door leading down to the library and found it sealed. It was his own fault. He'd activated the binding spell earlier in the day. He hadn't trusted his assistant Tobias not to try to escape from his duties.
Minutes later, he opened the last of the seals. "Tobias," he yelled as he pounded down the spiral staircase, leaning over the oak rail to seek out the boy. Frustrated when his assistant failed to make an appearance, he slammed down the rest of the steps, bellowing as he went, "Tobias!"
"Yes ... yes, I'm here, Your Imperialness." His assistant scurried from between the floor-to-ceiling bookcases lining the back wall. Noting his heavy-lidded gaze, the imprint of a hand on his gaunt cheek, Morfessa was certain his assistant had been sleeping. But now was not the time to berate him. Striding toward him, he grabbed Tobias by the front of his navy robes and hauled him up the stairs after him.
"I confess! I confess! I was sleeping," the boy shrieked.
"Quiet!" he shouted, in no mood to listen to his assistant's inane jabbering.
As soon as they stepped from the stones into the Mortal realm, Morfessa lifted his gaze to the clear blue skies for some sign of her. He prayed he was not too late. His vision impaired from years of using the caustic potions in his experiments, he launched from the stone circle, dragging Tobias along with him to fly toward the barrier.
In a frenzied panic the boy wrapped his gangly arms and legs around him. "Master, we're not angels, we cannot fly. Set us down!"
"Calm yourself !" Morfessa tried to shake free of Tobias's strangling hold while searching the skies beneath the barrier. If he didn't need his assistant as a witness, he would shoot him with a bolt of his magick. When he could find no sign of her, his anger knew no bounds and he did exactly that.
Excerpted from King of the Isles by DEBBIE MAZZUCA Copyright © 2012 by Debbie Mazzuca . Excerpted by permission of ZEBRA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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