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Authors: Lila Dubois

Tags: #Magic, #Vampires, #Fairies, #Ireland

Carnal Magic: The Wraith Accords, Book 1

BOOK: Carnal Magic: The Wraith Accords, Book 1
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What if the one you wanted more than any other was the only one you couldn’t trust?

The Wraith Accords, Book 1

Two hundred years after the Tuatha de Danann and Vampires formed a fragile alliance, the Wraith Accords are unraveling. Isabel Santiago is a leader in one of the most powerful of the vampire cabals, and she agrees to join the Fae court as a gesture of goodwill—and damage control.

While Aed mac Goll’s loyalty to Fae is absolute, he’s never supported the accords which gave the Vampires sanctuary and restored the Tuatha de’s link to humanity. The very idea he could desire an undead human is unthinkable, yet he’s drawn to Isabel’s dark beauty and fierce intelligence.

Despite their mutual mistrust, they soon find themselves lost in a dangerous game of lust and power. When the treaty shatters amid calls for Isabel’s head, Aed realizes their connection is more than physical. And to save it, they’ll have to unravel a mystery that’s been a thousand years in the making.

Warning: Contains sex, violence, magic and bloodlust. You know, the good stuff.

Carnal Magic

Lila Dubois

Dedication

As always, this book is dedicated to my wonderful husband,
tá mé i ngrá leat
. Thank you for being my number one reader. I also owe you big for being willing to take some of the tough questions I encountered while writing to a higher authority for input. This was very brave considering said authority doesn’t know Lila exists and was probably wondering why her daughter-in-law the grant writer wanted her opinion on the most authentic spelling of
Tuatha de Danaan
and how to use
tuath
in a sentence.

To my lovely editor, who buckled in and helped me shape the mystery pieces, tirelessly slogged through some difficult terminology and dealt with my propensity to spell things phonetically instead of correctly. I’d also like to thank the cover artist, who took my sparse descriptions and grumpy attitude about covers and created something beautiful.
Prologue

They met on the outskirts of Paris, where the stone streets gave way to dirt. The vampires came from the depths of the city, from their dark lairs hidden in the lost tunnels and catacombs. The Dukes of the three greatest Vampire cabals—Mexico City, Paris and the ancient seat of power, Bucharest—moved silently in the shadows as they approached the meeting point.

The
Tuatha de Danaan
came from the woods. Their horses and armor gleamed in the moonlight, but the few humans they passed didn’t see the Kings of Fae. The High King rode in front, the leader of the Fianna at his side, the Kings of Lir and Aran at his back. Never before had the rulers of two such different races met, but never before had the need for a treaty been so great.

It was the winter of the human year 1808 and the air was cold, the stars bright overhead. The dawn of the nineteenth century brought growing awareness and knowledge within the human race, threatening the Vampires’ need for secrecy and darkness. The
Tuatha de
had long been absent from the world of man that had once been their playground, but that isolation had cost them. Their power was fading. As humans forgot them and turned to new gods, the Tuatha de’s connection to the mortal world weakened. They needed to rekindle their link with the humans, and what better way to achieve that than with creatures that had once been human themselves?

High King Cormac dismounted, facing the vampires. Duke Drakul, leader of the Bucharest Cabal, stepped forward and bowed. As he straightened, his hood fell back, revealing the slim, handsome face of a man who appeared no more than forty years old, though his name was legend. King Cormac too was handsome, but his face was lined with age. His name was even older than Drakul’s, though there were few who remembered it.

“Your Highness.” Drakul spoke French, the common language they’d agreed to use.

“Your Grace.” Cormac returned the bow.

“We thank you for meeting with us.”

“Your message was…unexpected.” The Tuatha de Danaan king’s face revealed nothing. “It has been a long time since a human reached into Fae.”

Drakul smiled, showing his fangs. “I am not human.”

Cormac nodded in acknowledgement.

“You know what it is we want.” Drakul motioned to the hooded figures behind him. “We need a place where the Vampire can be safe, away from the humans.”

“But you need the humans for food.” The King of Lir did not dismount from his horse.

Drakul focused his attention there, taking a moment to study the other Fae king. “We need their blood, though the oldest among us, and those born of us, need it less.”

Silence settled between the leaders, though the night was not as silent as it might have been. Animals were drawn to the Tuatha de and the trees closest to the road were filled with birdcalls and the tiny squeaks and squeals of furred beasts.

“That you agreed to meet with us tells me you’re willing to offer us what we asked, in at least a small measure.” Drakul was impatient.

“We are willing to discuss it,” Cormac said.

Drakul’s lips twitched and his eyes narrowed. “What would you want in return for this great gift?”

For the first time emotion showed on Cormac’s face. He suddenly looked older, the corners of his eyes pinched. “We have lost our connection with this realm. We must find it again, or fade.”

“You want us to help you make that connection?”

“You
are
the connection. Despite what you say, you are human, more human than we.”

Drakul’s lips thinned into a tight line, but he did not argue the point.

Cormac touched the pommel of his sword. Light pulsed around him, and for a moment the hazy outline of a woman appeared at his side. The ghostly figure spoke into the High King’s ear, then looked at the other kings before melting away. The light surrounding Cormac darkened then faded into the night air.

“You are welcome in Fae.” Cormac struggled to hide his distaste for the words. “We will grant you lands and safe passage between the realms of Fae and the mortal world.” His hand swept out, gesturing to the distant lights of Paris. “But there are conditions.”


Bien sur
.”

“You, and whoever else holds power among your kind, must live in Fae, so that we may know you, and so any of your people who come to our realm will have a ruler among them.”

Drakul shook his head. “As you yourself pointed out, we need the humans. We could not live in Fae full time. Perhaps the Dukes or our courts could each spend six months of the year in this new place you grant us.”

“That is acceptable.” Cormac’s tone deepened. “You will live by our laws.”

The vampires stiffened at the note of threat in his voice.

Drakul bared his fangs. “We will live by our own laws. We are no subjects of yours.”

“You are guests in my realm.”

“And no one respects an invitation more than the Vampire.”

The leaders’ gazes met and the air hummed. It was a tipping point. Either they would stand on pride and turn away from this meeting or they would give in and give up millennia of tradition to ensure the future of their peoples.

“Let us make a list of rules, for both our peoples, so that we can live together.” Drakul hated to be the one to break the silence, but the Vampire needed this.

“A good suggestion.”

Over the next hour they crafted the laws, each doing his best to protect his people.

When it was done Drakul reached out a hand. “We are agreed?”

Cormac took a step forward and clasped Drakul’s wrist. It was an old gesture, between warriors who each remembered savage times. As they stood together there was a similarity between them. Not in looks, because they were as night and day to one another, but in posture. They were both strong, powerful, and yet there was an air of weariness around each of them. They were aging leaders in a time of crisis, and they’d both made the difficult decision to reach out and accept help in keeping their people alive.

“Agreed,” Cormac said.

And thus the Wraith Accords were made.

Chapter O
ne

The vampi
re’s lips parted as she passed under the silver and gold arch that marked the entrance to Tara. In her long life she’d seen many things, both beautiful and horrid, but never anything so impressive as the shaped and braided metal, stretching thirty feet in the air, that guarded the heart of Fae.

“Who are you, and what business have you with the High King and Queen?”

The gatekeeper shimmered into existence in the middle of the stone road, his words spoken first in Gaelic and then in French. He wore a full-faced helmet, primitive in style compared to what Isabel remembered soldiers wearing when she was human, but its muted gleam was that of precious metal. A breastplate of silver and moonstone over a long white robe completed the ensemble. Isabel didn’t see any weapons, and yet she was sure that the Tuatha de Danaan standing before her was dangerous.

But so was she.

Isabel threw back her hood. Smiling wide, she let her fangs gleam in the starlight that drenched the landscape. “I am Isabel Santiago, Sage of the Bucharest Cabal and Counselor to Duke Drakul, leader of the Vampire.” The words were lyrical in old French, so much more beautiful than the modern dialects or the Romanian she more commonly used.

The gatekeeper’s fingers twitched and Isabel tensed, ready to fight. She was meant to be an ambassador, a way to smooth relations between the Vampires and the Tuatha de Danaan before the treaty was broken and war erupted. It would serve no good if she couldn’t even make it past the gates.

The gatekeeper bowed low. “Welcome, Lady Isabel. Your arrival is expected.”

“Thank you.” Isabel dropped into a curtsey, and for a moment she was nostalgic for a time long gone, when such manners were the norm, not the exception. She supposed time had not passed in the same way, or customs changed as much, for the Tuatha de Danaan.

“Wait here. One of the Fianna will meet you.” The gatekeeper winked out of existence.

Isabel hid her reaction to the show of magic. Over her long life she’d learned many things, but the easy magic of these non-humans was both fascinating and alarming. Those vampires who’d interacted with them since the Wraith Accords had reported back what they knew, allowing her and the other sages of the great Cabals to update their records and indexes, yet seeing it was different than hearing about it.

Every month on the night of the half moon a representative of each race would meet at the midway point between Tara and the Vampire city to exchange gifts. The Vampire usually gifted human literature, food and even paper money. The Tuatha de gave the Vampire art and plants. The meetings had taken place without incident for two hundred years, until five months ago. The Tuatha de Danaan representative hadn’t been there on the appointed night, though when the Vampire representative returned the next night they found a basket of gifts waiting. The same thing had happened the next four months and was worrying enough that Duke Drakul had reached out to the High King and arranged this visit.

“Lady Isabel.”

He came from the shadows, a massive outline of a man, darker than anything around him. It seemed the starlight didn’t touch his armor, which was a matte black that made her think of lightless prison cells deep underground. She couldn’t stop the shiver that shook her.

He removed the full helmet, revealing a face as beautiful as the armor was dark. His hair was the rich brown of the earth with streaks of gold. His skin was pale, but not so pale as hers, more cream than white, but light enough that the blue of his eyes was startlingly bright. His hair was long and pulled back from his face, leaving his strong, angular features exposed.

Isabel swallowed the saliva that pooled in her mouth. She wanted this man. She wanted to take him, fuck him, pleasure him and hurt him. She wanted to taste his blood as he fucked her, wanted to feel his hands on her flesh. He smelled like nothing she could describe, and the assault on her senses—visual, aural and olfactory—nearly brought her to her knees. It had been a very long time since she’d had such a strong reaction to a man. If this was what it would be like each time she met one of the Tuatha de Danaan, this mission would be far more challenging than she’d anticipated.

Keeping her lips carefully closed, she nodded, hoping her trembling didn’t show. “Sir.”

“I am Aed mac Goll of the Fianna.” He bowed low.

“I am honored to meet so noble a warrior.”

“You know of the Fianna?” His features hadn’t changed but the consternation was there in his voice. He held his helmet out to the side and it melted away into the darkness.

The Fianna were the legendary warriors of the Tuatha de Danaan. They guarded the royal family and when called upon were a fighting force of unparalleled skill. Most of this was known only through human legends, the stories of Ireland detailing the exploits of the Fair Folk, who were once reported to be gods, then made mere men by the monks who recorded the tales. Fact and human myth rarely resembled each other, but Isabel had found that there was usually a kernel of truth buried in the origins of such stories, and what they’d learned of the Tuatha de Danaan since the Wraith Accords had confirmed that piece of legend.

“I know only enough to be honored.” She curtsied again.

Aed bowed. “The honor is mine. Will you follow me?”

He gestured for her to precede him. Isabel let herself be guided deeper into Tara.

Aed press
ed his hand against his armored leg, letting the edge of the metal bite into his skin. The pain helped distract him from his desire for the vampire.

The very word was abhorrent. The idea of undead humans was distasteful, and yet the woman standing before him called to him. There were rumors in both the court of Tara and in the Hill of Allen, the headquarters of the Fianna, that vampires smelled dead and that their beauty was only a veneer of magic over a rotting face.

Lady Isabel smelled like an exotic forest—hints of wood, flower and spice. If she wore a spell to mask her true appearance he could not see it, and as one of the Fianna he would be very hard to fool.

“This way, Lady Isabel.” He gestured to the stone road that led from the gate of Tara to the heart of Fae’s greatest city. At the moment the sides of the road were lined with brambles, some of the branches as thick around as Aed’s torso. They formed an arc that blocked out almost all the moonlight as they entered the thorny tunnel.

He let the vampire go first, not trusting her at his back. After a few paces she stopped. Aed came up next to her.

“Is there a problem, Lady Isabel?”

“Not at all, Sir Aed.” She reached out and slipped her left arm through his right. He stiffened, prepared for an attack, but she merely smiled.

Aed felt the rebuke in her eyes. It was a breach of manners not to have offered her his arm. Then again, he would hardly offer escort to a creature the Fianna deemed dangerous.

“Do I make you uncomfortable, Sir Aed?”

“No, my lady.” It was no lie—he was wary, not uncomfortable.

He started walking, shortening his stride to match hers. With her holding his sword arm, he was limited in what he could do if she attacked—as far as a physical battle. Though it was risky to use magic in Tara, a place as much alive as Aed himself was, if it came to it he would fell her with magic.

“I am not a threat to you or the Tuatha de Danaan.” Her words were smooth, her voice calm.

“Anyone not of the Tuatha de who enters our heart—” he gestured around at the brambles, “—is a threat.”

She reached out, pressing her fingertip to a thorn as long as a dagger as they passed. Dark blood, black against her pale skin, welled from the cut.

“You have a well-guarded heart.”

Aed bit back on the impulse to tell her that this was not as Tara could be. Normally this walkway was lined with the most beautiful plants, painted by every shade of green imaginable. Either Tara itself was warning her away or the High Queen had bid the entry road change to intimidate the ambassador.

“Tara’s defenses are many.” He wondered if the vampire were testing him, trying to learn about them in preparation for an attack.

“Of that I have no doubt.” She looked up at him, her black hair and rose-red lips gleaming as they passed under a beam of moonlight that found its way through the arch of vines. “I count myself fortunate that I will not see those defenses used against me.”

“I pray to Danu that you do not.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Tell me, Aed mac Goll, what do they say about my people, about the Vampire?”

“You were once human, and yet you hide from the humans.”

“That is both true and untrue. Some of us were born human but destined to be Vampire.”

“And you?”

“I was born centuries ago, in a time when Spain was part of the Ottoman Empire. Yet even when I was human I was a creature of the night. Being made Vampire was my destiny.”

Aed frowned. Vampires craved the sunlight they could no longer see, craved the humanity they’d lost…didn’t they?

“And you, Sir Aed. Were you born to be a warrior of the Fianna?”

“My father was a hero of the Fianna, many years ago.” He looked at her. “In a time when humans knew us, and feared us.”

“You were their gods.”

“Once.”

“It must have been very hard, to lose your place to Christianity.”

Aed didn’t respond.

“And even harder,” Isabel continued, “to have to turn to the Vampire for help from fading away altogether?”

Aed’s lips twitched. He’d grown up in the Hill of Allen, with many forays to court, both at Tara and in the other kingdoms. He knew how to tell when someone was speaking without saying anything or making a compliment an insult. He wasn’t skilled at such subterfuge himself, but he recognized it.

She’d put him in his place, reminded him of their treaty and insulted him, all with a tone of gentle question. Isabel was as proficient as any he’d ever met. The court would find themselves in trouble if they underestimated her.

“I think it no secret that the Wraith Accords are somewhat controversial among the Tuatha de.”

“A pretty understatement, Sir Aed.”

He couldn’t help it. He laughed. When he looked down at Isabel her eyes were wide, her lips parted, showing just a hint of fang.

She looked almost…hungry.

His laughter died. “Lady Isabel?” As part of the Accords the Vampire had been forbidden from feeding on the Tuatha de.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. It wasn’t until then that he realized that she did breathe, another thing he’d thought the Vampire didn’t do.

“Tell me, Sir Aed, are all Tuatha de Danaan as compelling as you?”

“Compelling, my lady?”

She raised a brow. “Surely you would not pretend not to know your own beauty?”

“I am not beautiful.”

She smiled with her lips closed. “Handsome, then.”

“Nor am I handsome. I am a warrior of the Fianna.”

“And what does that have to do with how attractive I find you?”

Aed stiffened. “I do not enjoy games of this sort.”

Isabel pursed her lips. It was growing brighter as they reached the end of the road, where the castle gates waited. There was some green among the thorns now, and Aed noticed a cluster of blackberries. Either the High Queen or Tara itself had taken time to assess Isabel as they walked and was softening toward her.

“Then I must assume that you are not considered handsome among your people.”

Aed’s steps faltered, and he reminded himself to watch what he said and did. She was too perceptive.

Her reaction surprised him. She laughed. It was a deep, true laugh, a sound full of life and happiness. She stopped and Aed turned to face her, their arms still linked. Around them the brambles came to life, leaves and small white flowers bursting from the rough-skinned vines.

“I know I should not,” Isabel said as her laughter faded, “but I am looking forward to this. What kind of place, and what kind of creatures, have a man as handsome as you thinking you’re not…” Her lips twitched, and she ran her gaze over him, starting at his feet and moving up to his face “…delectable?”

Before Aed could respond, a bell tolled. The pure, sweet sound drew the attention of all who could hear it.

“The gates are opening.” He gently turned her to face forward. “Now we enter in truth.”

Her mirth was gone, replaced by a stillness that was at once dangerous and non-threatening.

Aed had been tasked with meeting the vampire and taking her to her quarters in the castle, and remaining with her as a guard for as long as she was in Tara. Unless he sensed that she was a threat. Then he was to kill her. Aed was thankful that he didn’t have a reason to do that.

His orders included nothing about advising or helping her, but when he felt her inch closer to him, a subconscious gesture of nervousness and fear, he bent his head to whisper in her ear.

“The gardens and halls of the castle can be a dangerous place. All know you are coming, so anyone we meet will have sought you out and be looking to test you. I will take you to your chamber until it is time for you to go before the High King and Queen.”

She nodded.

In front of them the tall, arched doors in the castle wall opened.

Isabel ti
ghtened her hold on Aed’s arm. She knew he was not her friend or ally, knew that he was probably sent to meet her because he had the capacity to kill her, and yet she trusted him.

Their conversation as they walked down the grim, thorny road had been a pleasure, one she had not expected. Now that they were at the castle gates, the vines were lush and green, with sweet, fat blackberries studded throughout, and yet she felt fear for the first time.

Because the vines arched above her head, stopping only a matter of feet from the stone wall the gate was set into, she didn’t get a good look at the castle’s defenses. She couldn’t even see the entirety of the gates, which were at least two stories tall and seemed to be made of single slabs of carved stone. The intricate whirls and knots of the carvings gave off a pulse of energy, and Isabel guessed they were some form of protective magic.

They swung inward, seemingly without any assistance. She expected another gatekeeper or guard to pop up, but there was nothing.

BOOK: Carnal Magic: The Wraith Accords, Book 1
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