Mirror, mirror in my abyss, who is truly the Darkest Fae in our midst? Renaud may taste my blood on his lips, but I have his son’s blood on my hands.
The time for secrets is coming to a close. We must both step onto another killing field—far from Everenne—but fields soaked in lies turn into mines to destroy us all.
Perhaps resistance is futile. . .I have never heard of a halfling who repudiated a bond of a High Fae Lord, especially a mad Prince who is willing to kill to keep.
But I will brace my feet in the sand and hold my weight. I will not be swept away in the storm between the Old One at my back and the Ancient approaching my front.
Resistance may be futile, but my mother’s strength forms the marrow in my bones. I am the blood of an Ancient, after all.
You will not tame me easily, my Prince.
. . .I weary of this, Lady Aerinne. Of your resistance, of your rashness. Do you think my patience infinite? Have I inadvertently taught you I would stay my hand because I love you?
Your secret is finally mine, the shadow in your mind you have kept hidden from me—you are learning to navigate the board, halfling.
Learning to seduce a Prince.
You will feel the weight of my wrath. The force of my want. Bend, or break. . .I care not. You are mine. I have ensured it already. I have welded us by blood and seed, and when the flower bears my fruit. . .
Checkmate, my Princess.
An Heir for our Court.
You think I play the long game. Now you understand I play the eternal game.
HEIR TO HIS COURT is a high heat fantasy dark romance, Book 3 in the Fae Prince of Everenne series. This is not a standalone and ends on a cliffhanger. Night In His Eyes and Blood On His Lips 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.
. . .You did not heed our words of caution in the first and second parts of this tale—you are still here, Mortal Reader. We are merciful, so we will offer warning again.
Our Prince does not constrain himself with petty mortal morality. He takes what he claims, whether what he claims wills it or no. He will make his bonded strong, or he will break her. There is no other course. Our Lady of Faronne is slowly succumbing to her darkness. She is a mate for the Prince, after all. There will be blood and dark deeds and we care nothing for your tears.
Flee the High Court now if you do not have the stomach to enter.
We will offer no more warnings. Fools are made to submit.
**This is an unedited rough draft. It may change.
Blinking, I opened my eyes, staring up at the glistening white ceiling, the silver inlaid designs and rich murals depicting nightmares. Cold seeped into my back as I shifted to adjust the ache. Movement caught my attention and I turned my head.
I didn’t know how much time had passed while Nayya had me trapped in her dreamscape. Now returned to reality, and every inch of my skin felt it. Not a part of me remained untouched by hands and tongues and teeth.
The Prince knelt at my side, hair brushing the floor, eyes feral.
“Renaud,” I whispered, throat hoarse. “No more. Please.” Surprisingly, there was no pain on my neck. He had not let them take my blood. And I would have given it. I would have given it.
The Prince shook his head. “Sweet halfling, did you think I was done with you?” He flipped me onto my stomach, pulling my hips up as he rose behind me. “I am not even close to done with you yet.”
Jagged, burning darkness filled me, and though there were no screams left in my chest, I opened my mouth for one more—
—and shook my head sharply, dislodging the images as I pressed my hands onto worn wood floorboards, orienting myself.
I looked up at Renaud, standing above me as I sprawled on the floor of Faronne house’s dining/war room. He stood in front of the large window overlooking the courtyard, the drapes pulled back.
I tried to rise, knees buckling. Waited until I felt more steady, then slowly pushed to my feet, stumbling forward a step before I caught and held my balance.
“What is wrong with you? What was the purpose of that particular illusion?”
He and his mother were revealing far too much of their powers. Either they trusted me—because I was too weak to use the knowledge against them or because they counted on my bond with Raniel—or they thought I was stupid. I was betting on the latter. . .but the former was also a strong possibility. To my knowledge, no one knew of their affinity for dreamscapes. Now, the interesting nibbit was—was this an inheritable affinity from Juhainah? One I could possibly develop?
“I thought a scene of that nature would break through,” he mused, tilting his head, his gaze hard and bright. His detached voice screamed a warning at me. “But it seems I inadvertently accessed a fantasy, rather than a fear. I’ll remember this for the future.”
The soreness between my thighs belied any attempt to make me believe the events of the previous. . .hours?. . . had been illusion but then, he was an Old One.
“They didn’t touch me?” I was calm only because I was reasonably certain that it had been an illusion—my body’s psychosomatic response to what my mind had believed powerful. “You didn’t touch me?”
“I beg pardon for your disappointment, Lady. I will remedy it at a more opportune time. But I assure you, I would not be standing here unaffected if I had just had you beneath me.” His eyes flashed, then he paused. “Where are your tears? Your cries of violation? I am Montague, after all.”
As if I’d give him the satisfaction. He’d only enjoy that.
Yes, my halfling, I would.
“You’re a bastard.”
“Yes. And evidently you require further incentive.” The aura around him darkened. “I didn’t want to do this, Aerinne. But you’re a stubborn girl. You still haven’t passed the first rung.”
Baba appeared at Renaud’s side as if a veil had dropped. I inhaled sharply, and the Prince wrapped a hand lightly around the back of my father’s neck. I forced myself not to further react, matching Renaud’s energy, though pinpricks of moisture dotted my forehead. The gut deep terror that had been missing when the Prince gave me to his Court was now present. My father stared at a point over my shoulder, his expression blank, his chest rising and falling.
“Baba?” He didn’t respond, so I abandoned further attempts to communicate. Instinctively, I recognized this indignity. I suppressed the boil of fury that the Lord of House Faronne should be thrall to a Montague. “Have I paid the price for his release?”
Renaud frowned at me. “I admit, you’re draining some of the joy out of this. I expected more open fury, or at the very least, pleas for mercy. This cuts short what I imagined was going to be a long, drawn out, appropriately dramatic scene.” His hand tightened around my father’s neck, long black nails digging into Baba’s skin.
My hands twitched, wanting the comfort of a blade hilt. Who was I speaking to? This male in front of me with his mocking, insouciant air threw me off balance. Neither Raniel, Darkan, or Renaud had much of a sense of humor, certainly not in this macabre form.
“I’m trying to learn.”
I clasped my hands behind my back, regarding him dispassionately. “You don’t want my pleas or my anger. You want me to face you from a position of strength.”
He appeared pleased. “You’re aware that’s impossible, however? You’ve already made your affection for your father known. All any enemy must do is observe you for a week, and your weaknesses are made known. You are low hanging fruit, Aerinne, ripe for plucking. Fortunately for you, mine is the harvesting hand.”
Darkan was in a mood. He usually suppressed the waspish side of his tongue unless particularly aggrieved by something I’d done.
“I can work on that. I can learn to hide open affection.” I stepped forward, abdomen tensed against a faint queasiness. “I can learn whatever you wish to teach.”
“Oh, I know you can learn. Unfortunately, harming your father would not teach the appropriate lesson.”
Every time I thought I understood his aim, he shifted positions. I watched the minute shifts in his expression, trying to glean even the tiniest hint of his next move.
“You have no idea what I mean, do you?” His nails almost absently pierced Baba’s neck.
I cursed, running forward. The Prince threw my father at me, and we crashed to the ground. I rolled, laying him on his back, slapping my hands over the puncture wounds. I exhaled after a moment, fingers trembling. They weren’t deep. He remained sleeping while awake, locked in Renaud’s thrall.
I looked up at Renaud. “I don’t understand.”
He frowned, then held out a hand. “I tire of this game. It isn’t going the way I envisioned, which is typical when handling you. Nothing ever does.” The words were spoken with an almost wry affection.
“Raniel. . .”
He shook his head. “I lecture you on displaying weakness when the Courts already know you are mine—the dagger they can wield against me if they are strong enough to grasp it.”
It was one of the reasons why he wanted me stronger. He couldn’t constantly drop whatever he was doing to come rescue me.
I rose, accepting his hand, not really having any choice. Open defiance was no longer any part of my game. Baba was alive, as safe as I could make him, and I’d rather have Renaud’s full attention on me. He drew me into the circle of his arms, my father in peaceful repose. I laid my head against his chest, forcing my body to relax against him. It wasn’t difficult. Our natures weren’t so very different, after all.
“The storms disturb me,” I say softly. “And the Black Knight. Its presence seems a herald almost.”
Lips brushed the top of my head. “Your instincts were never the least of your strengths. It is herald, and avatar.”
“Avatar of something that never should have wakened. Now that its gaze is turned towards Everenne, the city I have held for eight centuries. . .I cannot allow it, Aerinne.”
I looked up at him, puzzled by the regret in his voice. Renaud lowered his head, lips a soft caress as he coaxed my mouth open, his kiss long and slow and sweet. My hands rested on his shoulders, the hard muscles flexing under my touch. That wild heat between us rose, my instinct to lay under him and submit to body and teeth and power.
“Forgive me, my halfling,” he murmured against my lips.
Stabbing pain scored my side. My breath caught in a silent gasp and I staggered back a step, looking down.
Renaud yanked the silver blade out, his hand stained with my blood. I looked up at him and retreated further, bracing on the dining room table, my avatar flickering into sight beside me. A little too late for that now. Curious that it hadn’t sensed a threat.
“Forgive me,” he said, stretching out his scarlet fingers, brushing my jaw.
Blue eyes darkened into a bruised purple, hints of the same color I had seen in the storm clouds above the city. The same shade of purple I’d seen flash in his eyes in the steam room.
“You aren’t angry,” he said.
I chuckled. “What would be the point in that?”
He lifted his brows. “My betrayal does not enrage you?”
I clasped my hand against the wound. “You didn’t betray me, Renaud. I expected this.”
Renaud’s expression went blank.
I tasted blood in my mouth. “Prince—my father. He is a pacifist. He’s never lifted a weapon, even in self-defense, and he is an able administrator. Please spare him, and the surviving non combatants of the city.”
“Even now when you should grab the reins of your power and fight me, you choose to beg.”
I almost snorted. I was willing to entertain that somewhere in me was potential. . .but right now any power I was able to access other than what shaped my Skills, was theoretical. But there was no purpose in arguing with him anymore. I pushed back to my feet, blood still seeping from the wound. The strike had missed anything vital though I was bleeding like a stuck pig. So why was I dying? Why was—ah.
“Poison.” The same from the Black Knight. The substance wound through my veins. I tracked the symptoms now that I was aware—the strange sense of detachment and infiltration. “So. You are allied with the Ancient.”
I met his gaze, held it as his blues eyes were eclipsed by purple, and braced.
“My blood,” I heard a deep, feminine voice say, though it was Renaud’s lips that moved. “I had thought the glory of my bloodline withered and all my hopes ashes. I had not thought to wake until the universe ate all the realms.” Her beautiful, haunting, awful voice paused. “And then you called me, daughter of my descendants. And I have come.”
“Accept her,” Renaud said, taking back control of his voice. “Accept her glory. If you do, I will be yours. Everenne will be yours, and Avellonne my stronghold once more. From there Ninephe will fall, my sister avenged, and our children will found new empires. The sun will never set on our power.”
I listened to them both, and there was no way to quantify the depths of my weary horror. That night he’d licked my seeping blood from my cheeks and throat, attempting to analyze the taint. Her influence must have infected him then.
“Raniel,” I whispered, my throat as dry as a forest gone cold after a fire. “Fight her.”
She chuckled, and somehow with her voice in his throat I wanted him even more. I closed my eyes, straining backwards, but his arm caught me around the waist and held me easily.
“There is no fighting me, child,” she said in her kind voice. “I do not fault you for trying. My daughters were never weak. The best of them were always a trial.”
“Juhainah, I presume.”
Her eyes—in Renaud’s face—went impossibly wide, wide, boring into my face and swallowing me whole.
“You name me.” Then she laughed. “Your mind is mine. Your body and your womb. I will live in you, and to show my gratitude I will allow you to feel the remnants of my pleasure in my consort. Raniel is the strongest of my sons and he will seed me with a daughter even more powerful than you, Aerinne. And when she is grown in her power, she will offer herself as my final vessel and be exalted over all others. You will be remembered as both my Heir, and my mother.”
What kind of twisted horseshit madness. . .this, this was why one didn’t draw the eye of a Prince, an Old One, and definitely not an Ancient.
“Sounds peachy,” I managed to say in English. “You crazy bitch. There’s just one problem.”