Read an Excerpt
A Transplanted Tales Novel
By Kate SeRine
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Kate Serine
All rights reserved.
"Who the hell are you working for, Georgie?"
The guy's feet dangled at least a foot above the ground, kicking and twisting to get out of my hold. His eyes were wide with fear, and he clawed the hell out of my hands, which were on either side of his head, threatening to squeeze until his skull popped like an overripe melon.
"I dunno!" he squeaked. "Nobody ever told me. I just move the shit!"
I squeezed a little harder, just enough to make a point. "Sure about that?"
The Tale whimpered a little, and then I'll be damned if the little fucker didn't piss himself.
Disgusted by his cowardice, I held him away from me like a diseased rat. "My patience grows thin."
"I swear to God, man!" he sobbed. "That's the truth!"
I released him, letting him fall into his puddle of piss. "The king will discover who's stealing his transports," I assured him. "And when he does, his vengeance will be visited upon the perpetrators, horrors beyond what they could possibly imagine. No Tale involved will be immune from his wrath — or mine."
I swear I could hear the bastard's gulp as he stared up at me with wide-eyed terror.
"I would suggest you find another line of work," I advised. "You don't want to be associated with the thief when he's caught."
The guy nodded, crab-walking backward until he'd scooted far enough away to be out of my reach. Then he scrambled to his feet and bolted. If we'd been in Make Believe, he probably would've left little tread marks of burning fire from his hasty retreat.
"Go ahead and run, Georgie Porgie," I muttered. "It's the only thing you're good at, you little shit."
I sighed and lifted my face to the sky, checking the progress of the moon to gauge the hour. The night was half over, and I was no closer to getting any answers than I'd been several hours earlier.
Another shipment of the king's fairy dust had gone missing — an occurrence that was becoming far too common. The highly addictive substance was carefully controlled by Tale law in the Here and Now, and the Seelie family were the only ones authorized to manufacture and distribute.
Of course, that didn't mean they were the only ones doing it — a Tale crime lord named Tim "The Sandman" Halloran had made a hefty profit on the illegal trade of fairy dust, or Vitamin D as it was called on the street. Well, he'd made a hefty profit until he struck a deal with the wrong people, choosing to trust the human Agency instead of his own kind for the sake of the almighty dollar. That mistake had cost him his life.
The Agency was a secret branch of the Ordinaries' government charged with controlling any of the paranormal beings that had inhabited the Here and Now long before we came over. In the Ordinaries' urban legends they were often called the Men in Black, but they were far more ruthless and conniving than the Ordinaries ever imagined. They had a hard-on for studying the Tales and figuring out how we'd come to this world and what made us tick. And, as we'd discovered all too well three years before, they were determined to use us to further their own agendas.
Fortunately, we Tales had at least put a stop to the Agency's interference with the fairy dust trade three years ago, and we'd been working hard as hell to maintain the tentative peace between them and the Fairy Tale Management Authority ever since. But, considering that long-standing history of animosity and distrust, when the dust started going missing again in recent months, my king was quick to blame the Ordinaries.
And I couldn't say I disagreed.
I didn't trust them. I didn't trust this peace. I knew what it was like to hammer out a truce only to have it violated with more brutal and horrific consequences than what had preceded the treaty in the first place. I had lost everyone I cared about to such a violation. I refused to lose my new family — forced upon me though it was this time — to such maneuvering.
I was on the verge of setting off for another targeted area of downtown Chicago when I felt a familiar tingling sensation around my wrists where I still bore the king's brand. I lifted my arm and peered at the marks, the intricate design blazing with the distinctive blue of the king's magic. Whatever he needed, it was urgent.
I took a deep breath and slipped into the temporal rift, arriving in the king's study seconds later. He sat behind his desk, his fingers steepled over his stomach, his brows drawn together in a troubled frown.
"Sire," I greeted with a slight bow.
He glanced up at me with a startled expression as if he'd forgotten he'd summoned me. "Ah, Gideon. Prompt as always." He gestured vaguely toward the ornately carved chair across from him. "Please, have a seat."
I eyed him askance, curious at his behavior. In the hundreds of years I'd served the king, I'd grown accustomed to his every mannerism, could read his mood without even utilizing my ability. And, yet, this was new. He seemed ... confused.
Cautiously, I accepted his offer and sat down but didn't relax for an instant. "My king," I began guardedly, "you summoned me?"
The smile he gave me was wooden, forced, completely lacking in the warmth and humor I'd come to know. "Indeed."
I made a quick assessment, sifting through a jumble of his emotions to find the root of the matter. "You have received troubling news," I surmised, "and would like me to investigate its validity."
He nodded, clearly distracted by his own thoughts. Finally, he heaved a sigh and rose, coming around to sit on the corner of the desk. "Gideon, you are like the son I never had."
"You have a son, sire," I reminded him. When his brows lifted as if I'd provided new information, I added, "Puck? He's mayor of The Refuge. We visited in the spring for the birth of a son delivered of his wife Aurelia."
He sighed. "Oh, yes, yes. Puck, of course. But you are the son I'd wished for, m'boy. Loyal, true, noble. And, if I'm not mistaken, we've become friends — family — over these many long years, have we not?"
"You are not mistaken."
The king grinned. "I wager that even if I removed the spell binding you to this family, you would continue to serve us."
I raised my wrists. "A hypothesis I am keen to test whenever you are, sire."
He chuckled and rose from his perch, returning to his seat behind the desk. "Perhaps another time."
The man was a walking contradiction. Ruthless, powerful, vengeful, he was one of the few Tales worthy of his reputation. But he was pleasant, warm, charming, to those he deemed worthy of his affection. And one would be hard-pressed to find a more generous and loving father to his numerous offspring.
He had always treated me with kindness and respect in spite of my inferior status in his household, insisting that all who served him as his subjects do the same. And when I stood trial for my clandestine relationship with his daughter Lavender some three hundred years after coming into his home, an offense punishable by death among our kind, he came to my defense, refusing to allow my execution. None on the Council dared to question his decision. And nigh on two hundred years later, the members of the Council still dropped their gazes when I came into a room.
Now, after five hundred years together, we'd come to an understanding. I'd become his friend and only confidant. And it'd been at least a century or more since I'd last contemplated slitting his throat while he slept to free myself from his spell.
"Sire," I prompted after a period of prolonged silence on his part, "would you prefer I return at another time? You are clearly preoccupied."
He tilted his head at a contemplative angle. "Preoccupied? Yes, yes. That I am. I have received most troubling news, Gideon — a lead on our thief that I had not anticipated."
My brows shot up. "Indeed?"
"Are you familiar with a Tale named Locksley?" he asked, his tone cautious as he watched me closely.
"No," I replied, curious at his strange behavior. "I can't say that I know the person."
He seemed visibly relieved by this. "I received a report from Al Addin at the Fairytale Management Authority today, providing me a list of all known thieves who'd come over and when. It seems Locksley's arrival in the Here and Now corresponds rather well with the theft of our transports."
"You are abandoning the notion that the Ordinaries are behind the thefts, then?" I asked.
"Not at all. It's entirely possible that the Agency and this person are in league. I want you to bring me this thief. I want answers."
I gave him a curt nod and made to stand, but he held up a hand, staying me. "My king?"
"This thief ..." he began, searching for words that seemed to elude him. "Well, I think it best if this operation be conducted quickly and quietly. Since arriving in the Here and Now, Locksley has caused quite a lot of trouble, making waves with the Ordinaries that we'd all prefer not to ripple out any further. And from what I understand, Locksley's quite a slippery one, evading all attempts at capture. Al has his own agenda for bringing this one in for questioning, as you can imagine, and has asked that we cooperate with his investigation. But you will bring this mischief maker to me, Gideon."
"As you wish, sire."
This time when I stood to go, he didn't stop me. Nevertheless, I paused, studying him in his preoccupation. It was rare that I saw him this pensive. The king was a man who acted decisively, his disposition suited for action more than quiet contemplation. The only other times I'd seen him in such a state was when one of his children had caused him concern — or he'd learned that his escapades had resulted in yet another wee bairn.
The man outwardly doted on his wife, seemed to love her with such blind devotion it was beyond my understanding — especially considering her disagreeable temper and determination to be unpleasant to everyone in her presence. But Queen Mab had not shared her husband's bed for as long as I had been in his house and she encouraged him to seek his pleasure elsewhere. Which he did with a great deal of success — and a shocking amount of potency.
"Sire?" I began, feeling out his willingness to confide. "Is there another child whose mother needs to be provided for? If so, I can visit her immediately and determine her intentions for the child's upbringing and education."
The king's solemn gaze met and held mine before he finally shook his head. "No, no. Nothing of that sort at the moment, my friend. Just concentrate on finding this Locksley as soon as possible. According to Al's report, the last sighting was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Several medieval relics on loan from the British Museum were stolen. There was no fault in the Ordinaries' security system or in their staff. The thief seemed to slip in and out without a trace. The only way it even came to our attention was because a Tale on staff there happened to pick up on a magical signature that was left behind."
I let my senses take him in, immediately picking up on his ire and irritation regarding this evasive thief. There were only a few thieves I'd ever come across — Tale or otherwise — who could slip in and out of a place completely undetected, regardless of the amount of security. And I was one of them. Another was the woman I'd watched fall to her death so many centuries before. The irony of the thief's name didn't escape me, and I doubt it did the king either.
In the Here and Now, the tales told of Robin Hood often ascribed the name Locksley to the lovable rogue of legend. I smothered a wistful smile. How surprised the Ordinaries would've been to discover that the Robin Hood stories they'd learned at their mother's knee were completely and utterly wrong. No one knew that better than I.
But this thief wasn't the same person. Couldn't be. No matter how much I wanted to believe she could still be alive, I had made my peace with her death centuries ago, had finally accepted that she was lost to me forever.
Still, every now and again, that hope resurged — a woman in a crowd whose nose had that same pert upturn at the end. A laugh that had the same joyful abandon. A whisper on the wind that could've been her sigh. But there was no mistaking this thief for the one who'd stolen my heart so long ago. For one crucial fact about the evidence crushed those hopes.
"This thief has magic," I mused aloud. When I saw the king's inquisitive expression, I offered him a grin to cover the direction of my thoughts and added, "That will make the hunt even more entertaining."
The king chuckled. "Sometimes I think you enjoy this a little too much, Gideon. I believe you miss the days when you were little more than a thief yourself."
He had no idea.
"Perhaps you are correct, sire."
Without thinking, I reached up to place a hand over the silver pendant I wore around my neck and kept hidden beneath my shirt. A series of interconnected, never-ending knots, it was a symbol of my love and devotion that I'd never had the chance to share with the woman whose impudent smile and ready laugh still haunted me all these centuries later.
I made my bow to the king and felt that familiar constriction in the center of my chest that assailed me every time I thought of my lost love. If this Locksley person was even half the thief my darling lass had been, then I certainly had my work cut out for me.CHAPTER 2
I slipped from the king's study and wandered the halls of the mansion, checking to make sure all was well. There was no reason for concern, I knew. The king's magic was among the most powerful I'd ever seen. Only his daughter Lavender's was more extraordinary. The protection spells around the house were unrivaled.
Yet I still checked every night, making sure those in my charge slept safely. There was only once that I'd failed to detect an intruder — but that had been an attack upon the king's psyche using a glamour to persuade him he was awake and interacting with everyone around him when, in truth, he slept, hovering near death. But that vulnerability had been addressed since then and fortified to ward off illusions more powerful than what even the great Merlin could've conjured.
I grunted at the thought of the famous wizard, unable to keep from grinning. It'd been far too long since I'd visited my old friend. But it appeared that would soon be remedied. I could think of no better person to advise me on the treasures that might tempt a thief who was partial to museum antiquities than a man who had studied all of them in his never-ending search for knowledge.
I halted immediately, the sound of Queen Mab's voice jarring me from my stroll down memory lane. Never one to enjoy the queen's company, I set my jaw, squared my shoulders, and turned to face her, counting myself lucky that I was the empath.
She stood there before me, haughty and dignified, her lids partially closed over golden eyes, not bothering to mask her disdain for a lowly servant. But she had more reasons than the crime of my birth to dislike me.
I had been under the king's command for only a few months when the queen had invited me to her bed. And I'd declined. Suffice it to say, my lady did not receive my polite refusal well. But her response then paled in comparison to her reaction when we came over to the Here and Now and my secret affair with her daughter was revealed. None had called for my execution more vociferously than Mab. And all these long years later, she still looked at me like she'd love to see my head at her feet.
Never one to do things by halves, Mab was dressed in a pale green evening gown in spite of the late hour, her thick blonde hair piled upon her head in intricate twists, threaded with pearls and jewels. She was a vision of loveliness, one of the most striking women I'd ever seen. It wasn't difficult to see why the king had been so taken with her. What puzzled me was his continued infatuation.
She'd apparently been out all evening, with whom was not for me to know or judge — although I'd noticed such engagements had become more and more frequent. But one thing I'd learned very early on was not to interfere in the affairs of the household. What the royal family did behind closed doors was not my business. I'd attempted to interfere once in the early days of my servitude and warn the king of Mab's conniving before I'd fully understood the peculiar nature of their relationship, and had paid dearly for it. And would continue to do so if the look on Mab's face was any indication.
"My queen," I greeted, keeping my tone even and offering a respectful bow even though respect was the furthest thing from my mind. "How may I serve you?"
"You may inform my husband that I will be expecting him at breakfast in the morning," she said, her tone clipped. "He has failed to join me every day for the past week and I tire of his absence. It's most inconvenient. All I have for company are two of his bastard daughters who are visiting. Again. Truly, my nerves are taxed beyond measure."
Excerpted from Ever After by Kate SeRine. Copyright © 2014 Kate Serine. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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