Blood on his lips. Power in his touch. A maelstrom in his eyes.
The Prince, an Old One, High Lord of House Montague, is fixated on claiming me. The weight of his grip crushes my throat, and resistance is . . . well.
I am Aerinne Capulette, last daughter of Faronne, and survival forces me to accept he killed my mother, that he will drag me to his bed fighting and cursing as he laughs.
But I will not accept the subjugation of my House, my family, my friends. If any blood coats my hands, it will be his.
My unknown power stirs, and with it a glimmer of understanding. Of course he wants me for more than my body. For why am I the only person in the city who can see the shape of his power?
Renaud is power. He plays the long game.
. . .and if you wish to walk the board as queen, and not as pawn, you will play it too, my halfling.
I have said you have no choice. You anchor my sanity.
I have also said I will make you strong enough to bear me. You have noted the storm gathering on the horizon? Scented smoke and crushed blooms in the air?
Yes. A danger that eclipses us both approaches.
I will destroy you before I allow you to be taken. I do not yield what is mine.
But. . .if you submit, it may not come to such a pass. Your darkness may yet rise stronger than my own.
Give yourself to me, and I will give you answers. And then, my halfling, I will teach you to rule.
BLOOD ON HIS LIPS is an adult high heat, dark romantic fantasy, second in the Fae Prince of Everenne series. This not a standalone and ends in a cliffhanger. Book one must be read first.
For readers of Jennifer L. Armentrout, Michelle Sagara, Kathryn Ann Kingsley, N.K. Jemisin, and Laura Thalassa—bend a knee to our goddesses. If you desire submission to morally gray (the darker shade of gray) Fae Princes, murderous heroines yearning for redemption and coming into their great power, this series will seduce you.
Take heed, Mortal Reader. . .a High Court is no place for the faint of heart. Dark deeds are done by day, and even darker by night. In this tale, the Prince’s first glove comes off.
We did warn you.
I will come for you soon.
It was a threat wrapped in a promise. A lingering richness of chocolate on my tongue mingled with the memory of blood. When the Prince said ‘I will come for you soon’, he meant, ‘Think of me. Want me. Touch yourself at night imagining what I can do to you.’
‘And when I come for you. . .run, so I may hunt.’
I walked through Prince Renaud’s gardens unescorted, the ghosts of blue and black roses mocking the edges of my vision, an incongruous lavender fragrance invading my nostrils and destroying my attempt to calm my rattled nerves.
This entire evening had been a disaster.
Three weeks ago, the initial domino I’d accidentally knocked over five years prior had finally rippled through and destroyed the set. The Prince of Everenne was awake, and upon waking, he had moved swiftly to crush the centuries-long feud between our Houses, Faronne and Montague.
And as we reeled in shock, he’d done something else.
Staked a claim. On me. The daughter of his House’s enemy.
Tonight, I’d come to him for our first. . .date.
Date seemed too juvenile, too human a word to describe the invisible web Prince Renaud Gauthier was weaving around me.
I felt like I’d just barely escaped with my life—and my virtue. Such as it was.
Numair and Juliette met me in the white courtyard. They wore their off-duty uniforms, unmarked with any insignia to identify our House, if one ignored the fact the clothing was all in a midnight cobalt. Trousers, molded leather chest plate under loose suit jackets, and practical shoes. Of course, visibly bristling with weapons ruined the half-hearted attempt to look like civilians.
Juliette’s expression hardened as soon as she saw my face—and my neck. “Aerinne. What the fuck?”
My maternal cousin’s blue eyes snapped with fury, her fine boned face paling. Her blonde hair was drawn back in a ruthless braid and concealed at least one extra blade.
No one would think we were related, despite similarities in height and bone structure. My father’s Kikuyu genes had darkened my skin to bronze, my eyes to brown shading into green, my hair to a dark, curled mass down my back. But we were both daughters of Faronne, though she was knight and I was Lady.
I touched my fingertips to the bruise, the tiny punctures where Renaud had taken my blood and left behind a clear brand and met Numair’s gaze, my expression shuttered. His hazel eyes glowed with anger, lips thinning, his brown hair tousled like he’d spent the last several hours tugging at it. His worry was justified.
“What happened?” he asked.
He wasn’t a cousin—one of the few non-related knights who served as my personal protection—but we’d grown up together all the same.
My heart ached for a second, because once, Lavendre would have been on my detail with them. But Juliette’s older sister had been captured by Montague years ago and only recently been released. By the Prince, as a bribe to accept his date.
“We’ll talk on the way home,” I said, stalling for more time to decide what to talk about.
For instance, Prince Renaud’s claim, and the danger of an Old One’s fixation. A danger which drew a deep-seated frisson of thrill from my center. I ignored it. I refused to analyze the hidden part of me that had wanted him to take my blood—to take me. The part that craved to savagely conquer his blood and body in return.
Obviously, I was unwell.
“You look like a wild animal tried to tear your throat out,” Juliette snapped.
“That’s an exaggeration,” I said. “Surely.”
“Not by much,” Numair said, shoulders stiff. “What was he trying to do?”
“Make a point. Our conversation became heated.” The bruise was the least of my problems, not with two Vows twining around my neck.
Vow #1: Kill Renaud or die trying.
Our first meeting. . .hadn’t gone as expected. I was trying to learn to control my well-developed Faronnesse impulse to attack first and wince later.
Now I must contend with a second godscursed Vow, which the Prince had forced out of me in some misguided bid to protect me from my little self. I curled my lip in a silent sneer.
I couldn’t tell them about the second Vow. I hadn’t told them about the first. They would lose their minds. They would go after the Prince, and then we would all die. Tolerance only stretched so far.
In fact, it often felt like I was facing two different personalities when interacting with the Prince. One courtly, elegant, secure enough in his power to be amused by my strained manners, and the other. . .not so much. The issue was I couldn’t figure out which personality was the one courting me. That also seemed to vary according to his mood.
Such a moody bastard.
In my mind, Darkan approximated a snort. He’d been silent during the date. He never offered his advice or commentary when Renaud was physically present. I kept meaning to ask him why.
Can he be trusted? I asked, the question not entirely serious. Of course the Prince couldn’t be trusted.
Trust, was the chilly reply, is premature. Focus on understanding his goals, and the strategies he might employ to achieve them, and how those goals may intersect with your own. You may make him an ally, or an adversary. I do not suggest the latter.
You don’t seem very upset. He bit me.
Had he put you over his knee and spanked you as you so richly deserve, I would have been even less upset.
In your fashion.
I drew no weapons.
What could Darkan say, after all? It was true, and for me, not drawing weapons was the height of good behavior.
I would have to work on that, but to be fair the majority of my life had been spent away from Court and High Fae, as far away as possible. Low Fae didn’t take themselves quite so seriously, so minor offenses didn’t immediately lead to duel or death. Excepting the blood feud between Montague and Faronne, of course.
But that was different, and still didn’t require manners. That was what my father was for.
Numair ushered me into our unmarked carriage, slammed the door closed after Juliette entered, and the wheels lurched into motion.
Our District wasn’t far in terms of actual mileage, but a horse drawn carriage could only carry us so fast through the city. If it had been New York, we could have hopped in a cab and been home in forty-five minutes.
But no. . .Everenne, one of the few Fae ruled enclaves on the North American continent, had to exist in an eight-hundred-year old time bubble. Because bending enough to admit human technology had its uses would be tantamount to agreeing mortals were not, in truth, vermin.
The combination solar and steam power that joined the use of magic to undergird our infrastructure was a highly grudging compromise. Crossing the realms centuries ago had ripped away much of our original power, and the city founders had had no choice but to adopt and adapt some human innovations over the years.
Other than that, the most human culture we’d allowed in was a bastard mix of two of their major languages, French and English, and only because communication with the human cities outside of our walls was required.
We’d developed a dialect of our original language over the years which was now unique to Everenne, and if House Faronne as it was currently constituted had its way, in the next several decades my father’s birth tongue would also become a part of the lexicon.
He was the public face of House Faronne, my mother’s widower, and a much needed face since he was the only one among us with the ability to exercise any diplomacy.
I had no intention of further embroiling myself in the affairs of the Low or High Fae Courts, however, so let him handle politics all he wanted. When this damn treaty was finally signed and the feud officially over, I would turn my attention to ramming Wi-Fi and cell towers down the city’s throat and managing my string of cafés.
“I can’t tell if you want to throw up or stab someone,” Numair said, interrupting my brooding internal diatribe.
“Both,” Juliette muttered, her sidelong glance a look only another female would understand. We stared at each other, three options lingering between us.
Throw up. Gross and weak, but understandable.
Stab someone? Much more satisfying, but my therapist was diligently working with me on alternative—boring—coping mechanisms.
Turn around and return willingly to the warrior Prince I’d barely escaped and beg for him to fulfill all of his unspoken promises?
That was a dark fantasy I needed to crush.
That he’d even tapped into that side of my nature disturbed me to no end. I would chalk it up to his greater experience sizing up opponents and arrowing to the heart of their wants, but the strange pull between us might be just as much to blame. A pull, a sense of familiarity, of sameness.
Gods of my mother. In a matter of hours, his wicked sensuality had seduced me to the point where—for a fleeting moment—I wondered what it would be like.
The hard body over mine, hair teasing my skin. His power-drenched gaze spearing into my soul as his cock brutalized my body, his teeth grazing the soft skin of my neck and breasts.
That cruel mouth—everywhere. His hands holding me down, forcing my submission to our desire.
No, you can’t have him, I told myself viciously, biting the inside of my cheek as my lengthening nails bit into my thighs. My fingers flexed, but there was no enemy present. This would be much easier if I could make up my mind. Fuck him, or kill him? But not both.
It took me a moment to realize the insidious question wasn’t mine.
My cheeks flamed. Go away now, Darkan. I need some alone time in my mind.
Sounds interesting, he purred. Go ahead. I’ll just. . .watch.
If I’d been a little less self-aware, I would have gaped. Darkan had never indicated any interest in lingering in my mind when I pleasured myself. Why would he? He wasn’t a male, he was a figment of—
Icepicks stabbed my temples again.
I leaned over my knees, clutching my head. There was a curtain in my mind, and when I snarled and tried ripping it away, it retreated, like a magician’s illusion.
Hands gripped my shoulders, pulling me out of my reverie. I felt wetness on my cheeks and swiped it away. “I’m fine.”
Numair stared anxiously into my face. “Another of those migraines?”
“Yes. Don’t worry about it. Everyone is stressed right now.”
He released me, settling back into his seat. “They’re getting worse.”
I leaned back, closing my eyes—though this time I would stay out of the deep recesses of my mind—my thighs pressed tightly together. “I’ll see someone if they worsen. I need to process this evening for a few minutes, then we’ll talk.”
I doubted my grimace reassured them. “I extracted a promise of protection from him, as Nora advised.”
After a few minutes of silence, I opened my eyes and recounted the evening’s events.
“Shit,” Juliette said. “That bad.”
Numair stared out the carriage window, frowning. “Did he. . .touch you? Other than the bruise?”
“He didn’t force himself on me.”
“Would it be force?” Juliette asked.
Silence descended in the carriage. At least two of us shied from the true answer to that question.
Tell them the truth, Darkan said, a demand in his sibilant voice. Tell them what you want—if you dare to face it yourself.
I almost shuddered, sinking into the shroud of Darkan’s voice, into the memory of an inescapable grip on my hair, of the Prince holding my mouth hostage. Power brimming in the body of a male more beautiful than any in the city, taunting me with death and pleasure. With the promise that if I lost control with him. . .he could take it. Take me.
That no matter how my temper snapped and strained, no matter how I struggled to suppress my crueler impulses, if I broke and bled darkness all over him, he would only laugh and bathe in my blood and desire.
Numair turned to me, impotent fury in his gaze. “I hate this.”
“How do you think I feel?” I kept my voice soft, steady, aware that though Numair knew me, loved me, I would always have to shroud that other side of myself from him.
He was everything that was good, shining, gentle, and he—he thought I was the same. A little rough around the edges, a little damaged, but he thought his love would one day heal me when I was brave enough to fully accept it. I couldn’t bear to break his heart with the truth.
I couldn’t be healed.
Did I want to be?
I was the daughter of a High Lord, and soon to be the consort of an Old One. Gentleness should have no place in my psyche. Not if I wanted to survive, to walk the city as a Lord rather than a slave.
“Well,” Juliette said, stretching her legs. “I guess this shit is inevitable. Bargaining for protection was the first step. If he won’t leave you alone, then you have to make sure he at least doesn’t set you up to fail.”
I rested my hands on my thighs and leaned my head back. “I don’t want to play Court games.”
What you want—
Enough already, Darkan.
“Guess what my sister would say,” Juliette said. “Stop whining, bitch.”
“You would say that. You just said it.”
Numair threw Juliette an irritated glance. “We’ll figure this out together, Rinne.”
She rolled her eyes. “Lavendre would tell you to stop coddling the little princess. Aerinne doesn’t have a choice. We’re in this until the bastard cuts her loose, and our best hope is that the eventual outcome doesn’t mean a painful death.”
“As opposed to a not painful death?” My voice was dry. Numair glared at me. I loathed that Juliette was right, though. “You know what’s salt in the wound? That we have to go play nice with the other Houses at a fucking faire.” With everything that had gone on, I’d forgotten about it until now. Surreal. “Whoever came up with that twisted idea is a sadist. I bet on Baroun.”
Juliette’s expression darkened to match mine. “Games, treats, innocent family fun. . .he’s clearly a sadist. There has to be a catch.”
Numair gave us a look torn between amusement and long-suffering aggravation. “You two will make interesting mothers.”
We hissed at him. My nails sharpened further, distracting me, the nail beds aching. That they kept doing that was a sign of Fae maturation I’d thought I was too human to experience.
“At least the Prince isn’t making Aerinne give a speech, or kiss Baroun’s cheek at the ribbon cutting,” Juliette added.
“Stop the carriage. It’s time for that vomit.”
We smirked but fell silent as the carriage drove down the boulevard leading through Montague District at a brisk clip. Despite the official ceasefire, no one trusted the truce.
We were right not to trust it.