The Marked Prince274
The Marked Prince274
The Summer Court is nothing like Sebastian remembers. The oppressed lower classes are drained of their magick, and around every corner political intrigues threaten an already unstable regime. Sebastian’s only hope of surviving the Court and bringing home Prince Lyne’s traitorous brother lies with Duine, a magickless Unseelie servant desperate to win his freedom. A servant for whom Sebastian, an estranged Seelie royal himself, is developing a dangerous and deepening affection.
But behind the mask Duine wears are secrets as dangerous as what’s smoldering between them. And the more Duine helps Sebastian navigate Court life, the more it becomes clear the servant is not who he appears to be. How he came to be the whipping boy of one of the most powerful and corrupt faeries in the Summer Court is a truth Sebastian is determined to uncover, even if it puts him at odds with the very people who can lead him to the missing Unseelie prince.
When a powerful enemy steps from the shadows, it could spell the end not just for the Unseelie, but for both faerie Courts. Sebastian must choose: complete the mission and earn his place among the Unseelie who took him in, or risk his very life to ensure freedom for the man he loves.
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|Series:||The Darkest Court , #2|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||956 KB|
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I wipe the back of my hand over my forehead and ignore the sweat dribbling down my back under my shirt. The apothecary's storeroom where I'm working is quieter than most of the Unseelie sídhe, a haven of greenery and moist earth and carefully organized rows of plants under enchanted sunlight. Keela, the harvest faerie who cares for the sprouts, is around, but she prefers to leave me alone while I'm working. Our war preparations are too important to risk. The valerian sprouts needed for the Unseelie medical supply are fragile and sickly and need help. Using my glamour to coax better growth from the plants is worth the pain caused by using Seelie power in the deepest reaches of Queen Mab's empire.
The sídhe bucks against my efforts, as if I'm a pesky insect it's trying to shake loose. Even now, the surge of my magick ricochets through the depths of the sídhe and flies back at me. I refocus my attention on the worst of the frail, nearly translucent sprigs and feed it as much of my power as I can.
The valerian shivers and straightens, and a new wave of dizziness rocks me. I push past it. The Unseelie might be sealed safely inside the sídhe, but the protective spell will give way eventually and we'll probably emerge from underground to find a Seelie army waiting for us. The Unseelie's inability to heal their injuries rapidly is one of the greatest threats to its armies.
Armies that include my friends who will be fighting in this war. They aren't going to die or be maimed because I was too lazy or weak to grow a few more plants. I move on to the next seedling and try again. The sídhe lashes back at me and, across the room, Keela winces.
"Sorry," I call to her.
Come on, I beg the sídhe. Let me fix this one. Just one more, okay?
It must sense my good intentions. With grudging acceptance, the sídhe allows my magick to take root. The sprout uncurls a tiny pair of leaves. It's one of the prettiest things I've seen all day.
"Sebastian," Keela calls from across the room, "did you get it?"
"Yeah," I say, exhausted. "What else can I do?"
Keela fidgets with an unplanted bulb and offers me a weak smile. "Maybe you've done enough for today."
"I'm fine," I protest. "I'm happy to help if —"
"I've got it covered," she interrupts. "You already did a lot of work today and I wouldn't want to draw any more attention."
"Any more attention?"
She tucks the bulb into a fresh pot of earth and fusses as she fills it. Only when the task is done and she can no longer avoid me does she finally say, "There've been a few questions about what you do here. I just think it might do you good to go back to your room and rest. Come back in a few days and we can look over the plants again then."
It's a dismissal. A polite, friendly dismissal that doesn't allow any room for argument since Keela's the faerie who's officially in charge. Half-Seelie fae like me aren't allowed to take on leadership positions in the Winter Court.
Which is fine, I remind myself as I trudge down the labyrinthine halls on the way back to my room. Sure, it makes things a little lonely, since all my friends are busy with the war efforts, but maybe it's better if the only person I have to worry about is myself. It's harder to let everyone down if they aren't relying on me. Besides, centuries of practice make Keela's rejection fairly painless.
What isn't painless is the sight of garish red words painted across the door of my temporary quarters. I grit my teeth and slam into the room to grab cleaning supplies. I don't want Gumba, a bridge troll and my close friend from Mathers's School of Magick, to see this. At least he isn't due back anytime soon. He's been busy lately working on an irrigation project to help support the rising population forced to take shelter here. Hopefully he'll never find out about this entire mess.
Half an hour later, I have to accept defeat. No amount of scrubbing is going to remove the message. Whoever vandalized the wood either used magick or hellhound piss to ensure the paint remained visible long after my cleaning efforts. I toss the rag down on the ground and rest my hands on my hips, glaring at the not-so-subtle warning.
Get out, Seelie basterd.
"Half-Seelie," I grumble under my breath.
That small detail about my lineage never seems to matter to those who want to target me. At Mathers, being caught between Courts just meant that I didn't really fit in with any of the fae students, although I chose to align myself with the Winter Court. Now the indifference most fae direct my way isn't enough. It's impossible to avoid me completely, and even I'm not stupid enough to ignore the sídhe's reaction to my presence. My temporary neighbors have noticed the disruption in magickal patterns too. The life-giving powers of Seelie glamour in the center of the Unseelie's home ... My very presence is an aberration. I'm surprised no one has lashed out before now.
Goddess, I never should have let Roark talk me into being sealed in here with the rest of the Unseelie. He was doing it because he knew Finny would be pissed if I weren't offered the same protection as every other Unseelie student, but I shouldn't have accepted without thinking it through. I should have left Mathers and gone back to my father's house in the Wylds and tried to eke out a miserable living there instead.
"Hey," someone calls from farther down the hall.
I glance to my left and spot the blight faerie who rooms down the hall from Gumba and me. He's got a pair of friends flanking him and they're all watching me with far too much interest considering my mundane task. "Hey," I call back, unease slithering its way down my spine. Maybe retreating into the room would be wisest. I start to reach for the door handle, but the blight faerie notices.
"What are you doing?" he asks. As he walks down the hall, he watches my grip on the handle intently until I release it and let my hand drop back to my side. He grins when he sees that and pulls his hand out of his pocket; red paint stains his fingers.
So that's how it's going to go. I mean, I know this has been coming, but it doesn't make this any easier.
His buddies stay a ways back, quiet but undeniably present. The odds are not in my favor. The blight faerie draws up at my side and examines the message on my door with amusement. "Huh," he grunts.
"Yeah," I say with what I hope is a neutral tone. "Just trying to wash it off before my roommate gets back."
"Ah, why do that?" he asks. "Might as well leave it up."
His glamour reaches out to butt up against mine and I instinctively try to curl my magick away from him. The massive influx of fae into the Unseelie sídhe has been a blessing, since it allows me to keep my head down and vanish into the crowd. Roark may have reached out to me for Finny's sake, but I'm not sure if he offered me the protection of the Unseelie sídhe with his mother's knowledge. Queen Mab has been pretty adamant that the Unseelie and Seelie aren't to mingle thanks to this war. Loosing my magick for violent purposes, where it could draw her attention, seems a death wish.
"You know, that seems like good advice," the blight faerie continues, pointing to the painted message. "It's damn selfish to take refuge here when you clearly don't belong. You've got other places to go. You should take advantage of them." It's a poorly disguised threat, without any hint of saccharine sweetness in his voice.
"Kind of hard to leave with the sealing in place," I try to point out.
The blight faerie's expression darkens. "Why are you so set on staying?" He turns toward me, his body opening up with that aggressive stance that warns of immediate trouble. "No one wants you here."
His buddies have come even closer, flanking us so I can't get around him and down the hallway to freedom.
"I don't want any trouble," I say, reaching for the door handle once more.
He smiles and bats my hand away before giving my shoulder a hard push. I stumble back a few steps and he closes the distance between us too quickly for me to adjust well. I've been in fights before. I suck at them. It's easier to talk my way out or throw some glamour at my opponent and run away. Those aren't options now.
The first punch comes faster than I expect. The faerie's shorter than me, so the blow he intended to land to my temple glances off my chin instead when I turn my head away from his fist. The sudden bloom of pain as my lip splits is enough to send my glamour surging up, despite the oppressive weight of the sídhe working against it.
He swears at the jarring clash of our glamours and steps back. I wipe at my bloody lip and try for the door again. I don't get far. He pushes me with both hands this time, and my back hits the wall behind me.
His fist raises and I know he's going to swing at me. Despite the threat of unavoidable pain, all I can focus on is the cruel, taunting message on my door and its stupid, fucking spelling error.
My magick coils tighter in a last, desperate effort at protection. A useless effort, since I went long past my limits hours ago. The sídhe responds to that conflicting pressure, roiling in the ground beneath me, an angry buzz that fills my head.
Wait ... the electric tingle spreading over my skin isn't from the sídhe. I've felt it before, at Mathers, right before —
An explosion of power arcs around me, racing through my attacker. It's so unexpected, so ridiculously over the top, I can't help but laugh. The blight faerie goes taut, just like his buddies farther back. Their bodies pull into painful torsions like living lightning rods. Their eyes roll back in their heads and they collapse to the ground, no longer a threat. The buzz of the ley line vanishes immediately, replaced with the chilling slide of Roark's glamour.
"Seb?" Finny calls to me. He's winded and the worry in his voice is motivation enough for me to stand up and give a short wave. I try to smile, but end up wincing when my split lip pulls wrong.
"I thought you were off doing war stuff," I say. Finny and Roark, the Winter Knight and the Prince of Air and Darkness, stand at the end of the hall. They're both dressed in armor, the lighter, more maneuverable kind made for actual fighting instead of ceremony. Roark's ice-blue gaze is unfathomable, but his conjured rapier is drawn and at his side. Not a dark hair is out of place and his polished armor shows no specks of blood or signs of a recent fight. Despite his impeccable appearance, the slight downturn of his mouth warns of his displeasure. At least it's not directed at me, judging from the glare he's casting at the three unconscious fae.
Unlike his consort, Finny looks exhausted. The metal of his armor is discolored with blooms from heat and the vicious power of the ley line's magick. His blond hair is darkened with sweat and pushed back from his flushed face. Even from this distance, I can see the hollowing of his cheeks. The shadows under his eyes have returned too. The last time I saw him this bad was at Mathers, before he'd learned to control his power. Whatever they were doing outside the sídhe, they must have just gotten back, and it must not have been the easy diplomatic mission Finny described this morning at breakfast.
His dark blue gaze takes in the scene in a moment, landing last on my door and its garish message. The ley line crackles and I wince against the sting of its raw fury. "Seb, how long has this been going on?"
"Umm ... not long?"
Roark is less inclined to believe me. He sheathes his rapier and stalks down the hallway, kicking one of the fae out of his path along the way. He takes in my injuries with a critical eye. "Has this happened before?"
"No," I mumble.
"Do not lie to me," he bites out.
I grimace. "This is the first time it's gotten physical."
He glances over his shoulder toward the fae and the sharp dip in temperature warns of his growing frustration. We both know this won't be the last time I'll run into trouble. Since the Accords weren't agreed on by the Courts' representatives or ratified by the Pantheons' observers, all formerly held promises of peaceful interactions between Summer and Winter fae and their Courts' boundaries no longer exist. Even if Roark wanted to formally charge these assholes for what they've done, there's a chance his mother would exonerate them to make a political statement. This is the worst punishment they can get.
No matter how much it'll hurt when they wake up, it's probably better they got fried by Finny instead of having to face Roark's wrath. Roark's response would involve carefully planned pain. Finny's response was a bit more abrupt, a bit more uncontrolled, but at least it's over now.
"When did you get back?" I call to Finny. Or, I start to call to him, since he's gone from flushed to a pale gray and is listing to the side. "Shit!"
Roark spins toward him. He makes it in time to keep Finny from crashing completely to the ground, but struggles against the weight of a limp body encased in armor. For the first time I can remember, Roark's glamour cracks. I can't look away from the mixture of fear and tenderness in his expression as he takes Finny's weight, murmuring something that Finny's too far gone to respond to. This isn't the untouchable Unseelie prince; this is my friend's husband, a man who cares for him above all others, and that devotion is what moves me down the hall to them.
I leverage myself under Finny's other side and tilt my head toward my room. "In there. It'll be private. If we hurry, no one will know that the Winter Knight just collapsed."
Roark doesn't argue. He follows my lead and holds Finny up when I have to push open the vandalized door. Once we're inside, I point to my bed and leave Roark to finish moving Finny there while I check the hall for any witnesses. No one's in sight, so I close and lock the door. Finny's settled on the bed by the time I turn back. Roark strips off his armor with ruthless efficiency, a clear sign of how many times he's done this before. The pieces fall to the floor with muffled thuds. I start when Roark glances at me and asks, "Do you have any clean cloths? Water?"
I gather what I can while he finishes settling Finny more comfortably on the bed, propped up against my pillow. Roark accepts the small bowl of water I hand him and the handful of rags I use for washing up each morning. He wipes the sweat off Finny's brow and rests the back of his hand against Finny's forehead. He makes a hurt sound in the back of his throat and wets the towel again before wrapping it around the back of Finny's neck. The hairs on my arms lift when Roark's glamour breezes through the room, icing over the towel with a gentle layer of frost. Finny mumbles something. His eyelids flutter, but he doesn't stir beyond that.
"What the hell is going on?" I whisper. "What's wrong with him?"
"He overdid it," Roark says quietly. He keeps checking Finny's temperature, adding more frosted cloths to his pulse points as he goes. "We ran into some trouble on the way back to the sídhe. After that and our practice this morning, he shouldn't have dealt with those three in the hall." His hands shake as he sets the almost empty bowl on my nightstand. "He should have left them to me."
"I'm sorry." Apologizing seems the right thing to do. After all, if I hadn't been the focus of those bastards' attention, Finny wouldn't have had to defend me. He wouldn't be like this now.
Roark ignores the apology. He's too focused on sopping up the trickle of blood leaking from Finny's nose. He leans forward and rests his forehead against Finny's and I turn away. The moment's too private for me to witness, too intimate. Roark and I have never understood each other. I don't know if we'll ever be friends, not after all the shit he put Finny through for years, but they're happy together, which means I can tolerate him for Finny's sake. I fuss around uselessly, throwing dirty clothes in a new pile in the room, until I hear the bed creaking. It's an invitation to turn around. Roark sits on the edge of the mattress, watching his husband with such flawless composure I know he's back to hiding behind his glamour. He pulls his gaze away long enough to look at me and ask, "Watch him? I need to speak with the queen."
"Sure," I agree.
He rises and leaves the room without another word. His absence does nothing to ease the tension though. I refill the bowl and sit beside Finny, watching as the frost on the cloths melts. A quick press of my fingers to Finny's skin confirms my suspicions. He's burning up, like the ley line is devouring him from the inside. Every time one of the cloths gets warm, I rinse it in the water and replace it. I'm making my fourth circuit of the cloths when Finny starts to stir.
"Hey," I say when he blinks awake.
"Where's Roark?" he mumbles.
"Had to go see the queen. He'll be back soon."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Marked Prince"
Copyright © 2019 M.A. Grant.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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