A lone wolf finds himself forced to wed a faery in a marriage of convenience.
Kirnan Savauterre's loyalty to his werewolf pack is absolutewhich is the only reason he agrees to an arranged marriage. But a marriage borne out of duty soon takes on a whole new spin. For Kir discovers his bride is an utterly enticing mystery. Beatrice is half-faery, maybe a little bit vampire, and altogether delightful. As for Bea, she has this much in common with her new husband: she can't resist the passion they share.
But a relationship that began as a political alliance is soon threatened by discord between the Unseelie court and the werewolves of Paris. And Kir's investigation into Bea's lineage reveals disturbing truths about what she is. Their love is strongbut so are the forces arrayed against them
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"What's going on behind closed doors?" Kir asked Jacques Montfort, the pack's scion, and his best friend. The men stood outside the pack principal's office door, and Kir had caught Jacques with an ear tilted to listen through the door.
The dark-haired wolf, who was built like an MMA fighter, shrugged back his shoulders and lifted his chin. "An emissary from Faery is in there with my dad."
Kir whistled and leaned against the concrete-block wall. Etienne Montfort was principal of pack Valoir, an old and revered group of werewolves that had been a cohesive group for centuries. Kir had been born and raised within the pack.
Both men tilted their heads toward the door. With their heightened werewolf senses, they could hear much through thick walls, but something about the conversation was muted. Faery glamour? The idea of a being from Faery visiting their pack was too interesting for either one to stop eavesdropping. And neither could deny they had a tendency to get into trouble together. They'd been raised side by side, more brothers than most siblings could claim.
"You ever meet a faery?" Jacques asked. His blue eyes twinkled with curiosity.
Kir shrugged. "I've seen them in the nightclubs. They're colorful."
"That's for sure. And their wings are freaky. So, you ever you know."
Kir knew Jacques's unspoken implication was that he wanted to know if he'd had sex with a faery. "Haven't had the pleasure. If you can call dodging wings pleasurable."
"I hear they're delicate."
Smirking, Kir let that one go. Jacques was the one with the fiancée. And a raging curiosity for all things female that had gotten him in more trouble with the little woman than a man should have to deal with. But his bride-to-be was a werewolf, so Jacques won the King of the Perfect Score award in the men's minds. It wasn't often werewolves mated with their own kind, because of the rarity of the female. Even those wolves in packs often had to look elsewhere for a mate because most of the female pack members were spoken for upon birth.
Jacques was a lucky wolf.
Kir, on the other hand, had gone without a date for months. The idea of a delicate faery didn't appeal to him. A match with a fellow wolf would feed his sexual desires perfectly. Beyond his species, the only other option was mortal women. Some proved open to his aggressive needs. He could also withstand the occasional witch, but they tended to be unpredictable and sometimes just plain creepy.
Ah, hell, wasn't as if he was looking for love anyway. He didn't believe in love.
Hookups were fine for now. Besides, there was a certain danger involved when pursuing a wolf from another pack. Packs tended to protect their females fiercely.
On the other hand, life wasn't worth the ride without risk.
"Twenty bucks says he's trying to negotiate the hunting grounds again," Jacques said.
Etienne's goal was to appeal to Faery so the pack could be allowed to hunt in their realm. The more the mortal realm evolved and the cities pushed out into the country, the less safe it became for a werewolf to hunt without risking discovery by humans. Their breed required vast acreage unhampered by hunters with guns and curious human eyes. Faery offered that. And, if a portal to Faery were opened right here in Paris, the trip to the hunt could be quick and easy.
"Let's hope, for the sake of the pack, you won that bet," Kir said, "and that he's successful."
A harpie in human guise sat across the office desk from Etienne. Arriving without notice, she'd waited ten minutes in the office while he'd been summoned on this bright weekday morning that had seen him lingering in bed beside his wife's warm body.
The visitor was tall, slender, wore her hair in a short black bob, with eyes equally as dark. Her skin was dark brown, smooth and utterly flawless, and yet Etienne avoided staring at her overlong. Look at one of the sidhe the wrong way or too long? A man could sprout horns.
"I'll get right to the point," the harpie said. She spoke French with ease. Etienne knew that the sidhe had the ability to pick up languages foreign to them almost as if by magic.
"First, if I might have your name?" Etienne asked carefully. Faeries did not give their full names freely, but he could hardly refer to her as Mademoiselle Harpie.
"You may call me Brit. And you are Etienne Montfort, principal of pack Valoir, ouz?"
He nodded. He'd been principal since the 1940s and had witnessed remarkable changes in the mortal realm. But he'd rarely had experience with faeries until lately. Apparently, someone had taken note of his campaign to gain access to hunting grounds.
"To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?"
"I have been sent as an emissary representing the Un-seelie king, Malrick."
Etienne sat up straighter. This sounded promising.
The harpie splayed her long, graceful fingers before her over the wood desktop. "You are aware there are portals to Faery here in your mortal realm?"
Etienne nodded. He was aware but had no clue as to their location. Not that he hadn't, on occasion, considered searching. He did know that unless a portal was marked with faery glamour, it wasn't visible to any but the sidhe. Yet he would never attempt to breach Faery without permission. He prided himself on maintaining strong alliances with the various species.
"A portal has recently been unlocked by sorcery and it opens directly onto Unseelie territory," Brit stated in a businesslike tone. "This is a source of much misfortune and annoyance to my kind."
"I can imagine. Are mortals entering the Faery realm?"
"All sorts. It is, in a word, disgusting. My king, Malrick, requires a guard posted on this side of the portal until specific magics can be conjured to close the portal. It is a difficult task summoning such powerful magic to seal a portal that we did not open, so it will take some time."
"A guard?" Etienne suddenly sensed the gist to this visit. Perhaps not as fortuitous as he'd hoped.
"On behalf of the Unseelie king, we would request pack Valoir take on the task of guarding the portal. It would not require more than one man posted outside the portal. You could assign shifts. Fighting back curious humans should cause you no more trouble than growling at them."
"Indeed, it would be a simple post." And pack Valoir was large enough to provide the wolves for the job. "Have you an estimate on duration?"
"Your mortal time moves much differently than ours." She shrugged, obviously at a loss.
"We'll leave it as an open standing agreement." But Etienne wasn't about to shake hands just yet. "And what would my pack receive as recompense for taking on such a task?"
The harpie spread her hands on the desk and smiled warmly. Her eyes glowed violet now. Etienne was ever charmed by sidhe eyes. Or was it that their charm was so powerful he could not resist? He had to remind himself not to stare.
"The Unseelie would grant pack Valoir the right to hunt on our land," she offered.
"In Faery?" Etienne said on a gasp.
That was immense. To be allowed such freedom in a realm that offered what was rumored myriad hunting opportunities? Why, it was unprecedented. "Pack Valoir will be allowed free rein. Only, we request you do not hunt as a pack. Only one wolf in timed intervals. A measured means to hunting."
"That can be done."
"Do you accept the assignment, Principal Montfort?"
Etienne sat back in his chair, not bothering to hide the grin that curled his mouth. His pack would shout and howl at such fortune. And, truly, the task of guarding the portal would be minimal. It would not disrupt their lives, and he shouldn't think those who worked enforcement would have to be tasked for the job.
He nodded decisively. "Yes, I agree. On behalf of pack Valoir, I accept the bargain issued by your king, Malrick."
"Excellent. And know, because of the unique nature of this agreement, my king requests a specific requirement to sealing said contract and to make it binding."
"Uh Oh, oh, yes." Twining his fingers together, Etienne leaned forward. "What exactly is required?"
"It won't tax your pack, I promise. In fact, it will only require the compliance of one pack member of your choosing."
Damned faeries were all about ceremony and pomp. And Etienne suspected that one pack member would not like what the harpie next requested. But if it would allow the entire pack to hunt freely? Sacrifices must be made for the good of the pack.
When the door had opened to let out the visitor, Jacques and Kir shuffled down the hallway. They watched her walk by, and just when they thought the coast was clear to slip around the corner and out of the back door, Etienne called out to Kir.
Damned werewolf senses. No wolf could hide from another's sense of smell. Jacques nodded to him that he'd see him later.
With the office door closed behind him, Kir waited with hands stuffed in his back pockets.
Etienne paced over to a window that overlooked the Seine in the 16th arrondissement. "You drew the short stick," he said to Kir.
"I wasn't aware there was a drawing, Principal Montfort," Kir said lightly. "What nasty task have I been assigned today?"
"This weekend, actually." The leader steepled his fingers before his lips. Pale brown eyes assessed. "Sunday. In the forest edging Versailles, where the pack often celebrates midsummer's eve. Malrick, king of the Unseelie court"
"Yes. I've just finished speaking with a liaison he sent with a most exciting offer that will benefit the entire pack."
"You're bargaining with the sidhe now? Do you think that wise?"
"Of course, if it will grant us access to Faery for hunting."
Kir's jaw dropped open. So his guess had been right. Etienne had actually managed to snag hunting rights in Faery!
"That's a generous offer," Kir said. "What did you have to offer in return?"
"Kirnan, this deal affects the whole pack." The sudden serious tone in Etienne's voice alerted Kir. His principal saved that dour bass tone for announcing bad news or chastising those in need of an attitude adjustment. "Seems Malrick is concerned about a portal from this realm into Faery," Etienne explained. "It's been cracked by common humans, and the Unseelie are experiencing an influx of the idiots landing in Faery. He wants our pack to guard the portal until the proper magical spell can be conjured to close it."
"How long will that take?"
"Not sure. Could be weeks, months. Hell, the way the time is screwy in Faery, it could be years. It is a minimal task, according to the liaison with whom I spoke. And we've the manpower. I expect you and Jacques will not be required to hold post, since you both have the enforcing that keeps you busy."
"The enforcement team is solid. If you should need one or the other of us, I'm sure we could manage a day now and then."
"Good to know. So in exchange for us guarding the portala simple task that will require one-man shifts round the clockour pack gets to hunt in Faery. In an orderly and scheduled fashion, of course. Malrick doesn't want the entire pack running loose in his realm, but a few wolves during the days preceding and of the full moon will be tolerated."
"Of course, you accepted this offer?"
"I would have been foolish not to!" The principal's enthusiasm spilled out in a gleeful clap of hands.
And Kir was right there with him with the enthusiasm. Until he recalled what Etienne had said to him when he'd entered the office. "So where do I come in holding this short stick?"
The principal's demeanor drew to a solemn yet regal stance. An uneasy feeling trickled up the back of Kir's neck. Etienne was a kind, elder wolf who rarely used aggression or faced down his pack members to keep them in line. He left that to his scion, Jacques, who took to such tasks with relish. Yet he sensed in the man now a certain dire reluctance.
"The sidhe have ceremonious ways to seal bargains. Something we merely consider good fortune may be considered a grand boon to them. And the liaison pointed out that this is a unique bargain that must be honored. So to seal this pact, Malrick proposes to offer one of his daughters to marry one from our pack. The couple will bond, thus providing the final seal to the deal."
"A marriage? That's extreme."
"Not for the sidhe. Their bonding rituals, which are elaborate and varied, are the stamp of approval, so to speak, for such an extraordinary bargain. Either that, or they request a life sacrificed or one of our firstborn. You know how the sidhe can be."
No, he did not. As he'd indicated to Jacques earlier, Kir hadn't much contact with the winged ones. Marriage seemed a bit much to ask. On the other hand, a sacrifice or handing over one's firstborn seemed more extreme.
The poor wolf who had to step forward to marry some faery he'd never seen before would certainly not like it.
Kir met his principal's hopeful gaze. His leader was pleased to have scored such a propitious arrangement for the pack. Indeed, it was a valued prizebut a marriage?
"Sunday," Etienne said. "You will be ready for a day of ceremony and pomp."
"Of course." Likely the entire pack would have to don suits and pin on tiny flowers or whatever it was wedding parties were required to wear. He could deal with that.
"You're taking this rather well. Good man, Kirnan. Good man."
"Whatever details you need me to arrange, I'll see to them. I assume that's what you intended when you said I drew that short stick?" He smiled, but his leader only matched it with a shake of his head. And an imploring lift of brow. "Wait."
The more he thought about it If he had drawn the short stick.
Kir's heart stopped beating for a full three seconds. He swallowed, flexed his fingers at his sides and then croaked out, "You mean me??"
Etienne nodded. "We went down the chain of command. I, of course, am happily married to my beloved Estella. Eighty years and counting. And my son and the pack scion, Jacques, as you know, is engaged to sweet Marielle. So the task falls to the third in command."
Kir spoke before thinking. "Oh, hell no." Now that he understood he was the unlucky sap, he smacked a fist into a palm and paced before Etienne's desk.
"It must be done, Kir. You are young. You have no current romantic entanglements."
Not for lack of want. A guy didn't need to be in love to have a good time.
"You are an excellent offering."
"An offering?" Kir winced at the word. It sounded so sacrificial. A burn of bile stirred in his throat.
"I shouldn't have put it that way," Etienne added.
"I can't marry a woman I don't know. Principal Mont-fort, when I do marry I want to marry for love."
"Are there any females in the pack whom you desire?"
"No, I" Kir shoved his fingers roughly through his hair. "As you've said, I'm young yet. Twenty-eight years is but a pup in a werewolf's lifetime. I have never given thought to marriage. Well, hell, yes, I have. I do want family and a happily-ever-after. But I want to date freely until I've met the one."
"The one." Etienne smirked. "Estella and I were an arranged marriage. Do not rule out the possibility of an interesting match, Kirnan."
"Interesting?" The word felt vile on his tongue. Interesting was not love. "You and your wife are an amazing couple, Principal Montfort. But I'm not like you. Not patient or, apparently, so accepting."
And, hell, his dad had screwed up his marriage; what made Kir think he could manage a loving family without an eventual nasty divorce? And abandoning the children to scar them forever?
"I've my work with the enforcement team that keeps me busy," Kir tried. "I don't have time to dote on a wife and do the things a husband needs to do."
Like what, exactly? He didn't know. And he didn't want to know! Not this way.
"Isn't there another wolf in the pack with equal standing?"
Etienne shook his head. "It would shame Valoir were we to offer a male who had not an esteemed rank. You are the highest ranked wolf who is available. Please, Kir, I'm asking you to do this as a favor. I'm not commanding you."
Pacing before the window, Kir's brain zoomed from standing at a dais and getting a first look at a woman he must vow to shelter and love forever to running away from the pack, becoming a lone wolf, freeyet forever ostracized and alone. Like his father.
He didn't want to repeat the sins of his father.