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Authors: Marianne Curley

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BOOK: Fearless
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I retract my wings and we fly facing each other, chest to chest, Nathe's strong arms folded around me, his hands on my hips keeping me secure.

I close my eyes, listen to his heart beating and let him take me home.

It's not long before we're landing on park-like grounds dotted with thatches of tall lavender trees, shady green willows, acacias with their carpet of gold foliage and exotic flowering gardens. We appear to be on a ridge overlooking a river hundreds of metres down a sloping embankment covered in colourful wild flowers. Shae smiles as she watches me take it all in, then turns me around and walks me up a gentle hill. Both of my hands fly up to cover my mouth as I gasp at the sight of my new home, a multi-level house of sand-coloured stone bricks with wide, clear glass windows, cute jutting balconies and a roof split into various levels, giving it the appearance that's it's about to fly away.

‘Does this mean you like it?' Shae asks, her eyes flickering to Nathaneal and Isaac.

‘Like it? Are you kidding?' I spread my arms out and twirl around. ‘Look at this place.' My eyes find Nathaneal's. ‘You did this?' His nod is slight, nervous, worried. ‘It's downright stunning.'

Isaac whacks Nathaneal on the back. ‘And you were afraid she wouldn't like it,' he teases, winking at me. ‘Wait until you see what your fiancé has done with the inside.'

Nathaneal shrugs, and he's so adorable in his sudden vulnerability that I can't help but stretch up on my toes and kiss his mouth, thoroughly. He moans and wraps his arms around me and, lifting my feet off the ground, he kisses me back just as thoroughly. Immersed in each other, we forget where we are, who we're with, what we're supposed to be doing.

Isaac clears his throat several times before the sound penetrates our blissful fog. ‘Plenty of time for that later,' he says, jerking his head towards the house with a cheeky grin and a wink.

In the end though, it's the sound of beating wings that eases us apart and has us staring up at a wondrous sight in the sky.

‘Oh wow.'

I recall Nathaneal telling me once how the horses on Avena have wings, but to see one actually flying, a beautiful white stallion so similar to Shadow that tears gather behind my eyes … Except for the big brown wings he's flapping, I could swear it
was
Shadow.

The angel riding him is Michael, accompanied by Jezelle, flying solo beside the pair. She lands in her usual elegant fashion on high-heeled boots, immediately retracting her striking turquoise wings as soon as her feet hit the ground. Meanwhile, Michael rides the horse all the way down, jumping off when the horse stumbles its landing and almost throws the prince clear across the field.

I stare in awe as the horse flicks his wings to their magnificent full width, then folds them down against his sides.

Isaac gives Michael a hand up while Jezelle comes over and kisses my cheek. ‘How was your journey?'

‘G-good,' I answer, stuttering a little, unable to stop myself from walking as if in a daze towards the horse. His wings look familiar. And even while they appear somewhat odd against the horse's snowy coat, I get the sense that I should know them.

Michael kisses my cheek. ‘Welcome to Avena, little one.'

‘Thank you, Michael. You have a beautiful horse,' I remark, still unable to take my eyes off it.

He flicks a glance at it over his shoulder. ‘Yes, he is a beauty.' He hands me a gold card. ‘But he doesn't belong to me.'

‘Huh?'

He indicates the card by nodding his head at it. ‘Could you read that for everyone to hear, Ebrielle?'

‘Uh, sure.' I open the flaps at both ends and the first thing I notice is the calligraphy. Not only are the words written in flawless articulate strokes, it's as if the ink, if that's what I can call this gold lettering, is floating above the card, in its own dimension. ‘Who wrote this?'

‘The High King,' Michael says.

Closing my hanging jaw, I take a deep breath and start to read.

Dear Ebrielle,

The bond between a horse and owner can prove too deep to sever without consequence. It is the way with you, and it saddens me. I have therefore intervened with the laws of nature to set things right. The wings, donated by someone who no longer has use of them, come with glad tidings. Princess of Hope, please accept my personal gift to welcome you to Avena.

His Highness.

I glance up, searching for Nathaneal, but he's already beside me, reading over my shoulder. ‘Did you know?' I ask.

He shakes his head, speechless, his eyes glistening and brimming over with joy for me.

Shae asks for the card. I hand it to her and run the last few paces, melting into Shadow's warm, silky Arabian coat. ‘Oh, baby, you're here. You're really here with me.' Tears flow down my face but I don't care who sees me crying this time. This isn't about being strong or weak; these tears are because I'm grateful and humbled and clearly overwhelmed.

With my arms around Shadow's neck, my face flush against his beating heart, I peer sideways at Nathaneal as he examines one of Shadow's new wings with awe, and suddenly my thoughts turn to Amber. How did she take the news of Shadow leaving? He was her link to me and now she's lost that. But knowing Amber as I do, she would want this for me.

I run my hand over Shadow's chest and across to his new wings, the rich dark colour so beautiful against his snowy coat. I touch his feathers with my fingertips. They're warm, silky and seem to welcome me with a sense of familiarity. I lift one wing and gently tug it part way out.
Wow. It extends from his body as if he were born with it.

Catching Nathaneal's eye over Shadow's back, I ask, ‘What will happen to Shadow, living here?'

Nathaneal says, ‘I'm really not sure.'

But Michael is grinning. ‘The king has bestowed Shadow with immortality.'

‘
Really?
' My fingers start to tremble. ‘Did you hear that, baby? You're going to live a long life here with me.'

Shae comes and checks out Shadow's wing which I'm still holding partly extended. ‘This frame is more complex than is usual for a horse's wing.'

That's when it occurs to me. ‘I know who these wings used to belong to. I know who gave them up for Shadow.'

Nathaneal raises his eyebrows while the others exchange questioning glances. ‘My uncle,' I explain. ‘Zavier.'

Shadow lifts his head up and down, flattens his ears and flaps his tail high in the air. Nathaneal shakes his head and smiles at me. ‘I think the High King might have a soft spot for you. I hope this doesn't mean I have competition, because that could really get awkward.'

His remark has everyone laughing. But I roll my eyes and forge a private link.
There will only ever be you, my love.

As Nathaneal continues to hold my gaze, Isaac coughs softly and suggests they should head inside. They all readily agree to wait for the others in the house.

And suddenly we're alone – not counting Shadow. And while I stroke Shadow's long neck, still in awe that he's here with me, I raise my eyebrows pointedly. ‘Others?'

‘A small gathering to welcome you home.' He shrugs with an adorable smile. ‘I couldn't stop them.'

A noise from the house gets our attention. It's Tash tapping at a rear window. Considering that's Uriel I can see beside her, I'm guessing they're in the kitchen cooking up a feast. They see us looking and wave.

So while we've been out here with Shadow the house has filled up with guests. Solomon runs out and welcomes me to Avena with a kiss on my cheek before returning inside.

Meanwhile, a group of angels arrives that I don't recognise. Nathaneal watches them with interest and once they appear settled inside he slides his hand down my arm and
links fingers with me. ‘I have so much to show you, but the sun is setting soon and I believe it's time for …' He pauses to tuck a lock of my hair behind my ear. The strands wrap around his fingers. He gives a little shake and we both smile as they untangle instantly.

‘You were saying? Time for what exactly?'

‘It's time for you to meet Elesha and Rhamiel, your mother and father.'

‘They're here? Now?'

‘They're waiting inside, along with my parents and three of my brothers you haven't met yet.'

‘Nathe, I'm not sure I'm ready for mothers and fathers and brothers yet. I've only just got Shadow back.'

He points to a barn and a series of stables connected to the house's southern end by a covered walkway. ‘Shadow will be fine. We'll take him to the stables first, introduce him to his new friends.'

‘Friends?'

He just flashes his stunning smile at me.

‘I thought I was going to get a few days to unwind.'

He holds my face between his two hands and soothes me with a kiss that stops my pulse from skittering, a kiss so full of love it leaves no room for doubt. He draws back and looks into my eyes with his own a blaze of brilliant blue fire. ‘Ebrielle, you have nothing to worry about. You're home now.'

He's right. I'm finally home. And I can't think of a more beautiful place to live.

The End

Acknowledgements

What a journey I've had with this series. It began as a thought in my hospital bed ten years ago that I shelved until I could write again. Chemotherapy for bone marrow cancer, and painkillers for a broken back, had the nasty side effects of damping down my concentration levels. Once I was home, my medications had me falling asleep on the computer, literally, every day for a few years after my transplant in 2004 until my health improved and my medication decreased. It was 2007 when I began to write the first draft of
Hidden
. By December the following year the first draft was completed and came in at a massive 140,000 words. After many revisions and trimmings the manuscript landed on my publisher's desk in 2010.

Ele Fountain, Bloomsbury Publishing's Senior Commissioning Editor, read it, saw how good this series could be and made me an offer for three books. It was like starting over again with my first publication. The
joy was imme
asurable.

My heartfelt thanks go to Ele, who pushed me to lift and lift until
Hidden
was right for the market that had changed so much in the eight years since my last book,
The Key
, had been published. Thank you, Ele. It was a pleasure working with you. I wish you all the best in your new adventures.
After fifteen years and five books together I will certainly miss you.

Z
ö
e Griffiths, a lovely person and a brilliant editor, stepped in for Ele in editing
Fearless
. Z
ö
e, I could not have been happier to land in your more-than-capable hands. Thank you for reading
Hidden
and
Broken
on your honeymoon and then pushing me into making
Fearless
the best of the series.

I also want to thank the staff of Bloomsbury's London, New York and Sydney offices for their tireless enthusiasm and dedication to the
Avena
series, with special mention of the beautiful covers, for which my many thanks go to the talented designers.

To my agents Geoffrey Radford and Janelle Andrew, I thank you both. Though you live and work on opposite sides of the world, I am grateful to have you both with me on this series and taking care of the million and one things that needed doing so I could get on with what I love best – writing.

I have a truckload of thanks for Sonia Palmisano from Bloomsbury's Sydney office. Sonia, I thoroughly appreciate your remarkable organisational skills and support at my author events. Thank you for smoothing the roads and clearing the paths.

Then there is my family. My sister Therese has been the fundamental driving force behind this series. I can't thank you enough, sis, for your encouragement and belief in me. You saved my life once with your abundant healthy stem cells, and now you have helped resurrect my career. What more can a big sister do? Wait, I'm sure I'll think of
something.

Thank you also to my daughters, Amanda Canham and Danielle Curley, who have both embarked on their own writing careers. You are the first to read my stories, the first to critique them; you are my backstops, the jewels in my crown, and I am truly blessed to have you both in my life.

Finally, I want to thank
you
, my readers, for your support and encouragement, and for coming on this incredible journey with me. I am and always will be grateful.

A
LSO BY
M
ARIANNE
C
URLEY

The Avena Trilogy

Hidden

Broken

***

Old Magic

The Named

The Dark

The Key

Bloomsbury Publishing, London, New Delhi, New York and Sydney

First published in Great Britain in July 2015 by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

50 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3DP

www.bloomsbury.com

Bloomsbury is a registered trademark of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

Copyright © Marianne Curley 2015

The moral right of the author has been asserted

All rights reserved

No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

eISBN 978 1 4088 2271 5

To find out more about our authors and books visit
www.bloomsbury.com
. Here you will find extracts, author interviews, details of forthcoming events and the option to sign up for our
newsletters

BOOK: Fearless
9.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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