Herd Mistress (In Deception's Shadow Book 2)

BOOK: Herd Mistress (In Deception's Shadow Book 2)
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Herd Mistress

 

In Deception’s Shadow Book 2

 

 

 

 

By Lisa Blackwood

 

Herd Mistress © 2015 by Lisa Blackwood

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or
transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying,
recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without
permission in writing from the publisher.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any
similarity to real persons, living or dead, or events, is coincidental and not
intended by the author.

 

Cover design by Hanna James

www.heyhannajames.com

 

First eBook Edition *October 2013

 

Other books

by

Lisa Blackwood

 

 

The Avatars

 

Stone’s Kiss

Stone’s Song

Stone’s Divide (Fall 2015)

Stone’s War (Forthcoming Spring 2016)

 

 

In Deception’s Shadow

 

Betrayal’s Price

Herd Mistress

Death’s Queen (Forthcoming fall 2015)

City of Burning Water (Forthcoming Fall
2016)

 

 

Warships of the Spir
e

 

Vengeance (Fall 2015)

 

Back Cover

 

Fantasy Romance by Lisa Blackwood

 

Magic. It
turned Sorsha Stonemantle's world on its head.
Yet
she can't hate magic for without it Shadowdancer, the Santhyrian ambassador,
would never have come into her life.

In the days following their first meeting,
Sorsha knows Shadowdancer completes her soul. There's only one problem. He's a
horse, or at least, enough like one that any relationship beyond friendship is
an impossibly.

From the moment Shadowdancer encountered
Sorsha, he knew she was a Herd Mistress—a rare worker of magic, key to the
Santhyrian nation's survival. His first obligation is to protect her and bring
her back to the safety of the herd, but when Sorsha is threatened by Lord
Master Trensler and his priesthood, they soon discover Trensler serves a darker
master, one willing to devour all magic until the world dies. And that evil
wants Shadowdancer and Sorsha.

When a second ambush set by Trensler
cripples Sorsha’s magic and traps Shadowdancer in the form of a man, they
barely escape with their lives. Unwilling to allow her lack of magic to rule
her life, Sorsha sets out to teach Shadowdancer that being human isn't a curse.
The proud Santhyrian stubbornly tries to push Sorsha away, but when they are
endangered once again, they realize they must work together to find a way to
heal themselves. If they fail, Trensler’s master will devour first them and
then everything else Sorsha and Shadowdancer ever loved.

 

 

Chapter One

 

Sorsha’s fingers bit into the stone ridge above her
head. The slight strain in her shoulders edged up another notch as her entire
weight dragged on muscle, bone, and joint with familiar discomfort. The dull
pain wasn’t new or particularly unexpected seeing how her body
wasn’t
designed for hanging suspended four floors above the ground. But never one to
let small things like limitations thwart her, Sorsha denied defeat this night
like all the ones before.

She shifted positions and lowered herself with a slow
caution at odds with the reckless elation building in her blood. The ever
present coastal winds buffeted her, yet she bit back a joyous laugh. Focusing,
she bent a knee and envisioned her toes finding a hold.

Arms aching, shoulders on the verge of popping from
their sockets, she fought past the pain and stretched farther. Just when she
thought she’d shrunk, or the Stonemantle residence had suddenly grown like a
tree stretching toward the sky, her bare feet found the ridge she sought.

With stone once again under her toes, Sorsha released
a sigh of relief. The top portion of her downward climb always tested her
skills. It wouldn’t be such a chore if she had her sister’s height. Luckily, a
couple of well placed trellises below her window made the rest of the climb a
gentle outing.

Sorsha’s feet hadn’t yet touched the ground and
excitement already quickened her pulse. A hurried survey of the ground below,
and another along the pale stone path skirting the manor, reassured her she
hadn’t been seen. Her reputation wouldn’t survive if someone glimpsed her
sneaking out of her bedroom window at night. She couldn’t bring herself to
worry over such a mundane thing for long. Not when for the first time in her
life, she’d found another soul who matched her own. The knowledge made her
brave and a tad foolish. Though, she didn’t truly fear getting caught. She’d
long since made a nightly habit of escape, and could practically hide in a
guard’s own shadow if she wished—one of many valuable skills she’d learned from
her sister, Ashayna. Dressing in a stolen set of her sister’s scouting leathers
never hurt either.

Movement to her left, barely more than a hint of
motion on her peripheral vision, caught Sorsha’s attention. She held her breath
as a deep purple shadow, two shades darker than night, darted between the trees
skirting the manor.

Though her nighttime trips had, in the past, involved
meeting a clandestine lover, these last few nights were for a completely
different purpose. And perhaps more fulfilling than anything she’d known in all
her life, for they hinted at the possibility of adventure, of freedoms she’d
never experienced or dreamed possible—a feasible escape from the tedium and
limitations of a noblewoman’s sheltered life.

A foolish grin pulled at her lips. In a hurry, she
dropped the rest of the way to the ground. Freshly turned earth and a recent
rain softened her landing. She wiggled her toes in the dirt for a moment,
enjoying the sensation and the rich, loamy scent. Then she ducked her head,
swung her boots from around her neck, and untied the knotted laces while she
waited.

At the sound of hooves on gravel, she turned and cast
a smile in the direction of the noise. Her accomplice stepped out of the
darkness and nudged her with his velvety muzzle, searching until he found the
carrot she’d hidden in her back pocket for him. The Santhyrian ambassador stood
eighteen hands high, his dark bay coloring more a velvety black at night. His
long mane flowed across his arched neck, brushing against her shoulder and arm
as he stepped alongside her. As always, the silky texture enticed her to groom
it, and for the hundredth time, she reminded herself not to touch without an
invitation. Shadowdancer wasn’t a horse, as much as he looked like one.

“Well, little mane ornament, shall we ride?”

Sorsha grinned at the name, and his mental tone—half
term of endearment, half insult.

“I’ve been waiting on you, big brute.”
She was inordinately pleased her mind speech sounded
clear and strong. With the help of his nightly training sessions, she was
starting to learn and understand her magic, though she still found it odd to
think another creature lived within her. Larnkin, he called it—a creature from
the spirit world.

As if her Larnkin knew her thoughts, it stretched
within her, molten power flowing under her skin.

“Wait, little one.”
Shadowdancer bobbed his head and shoved her shoulder with his muzzle.
“Do
not call your power here. We might be found out by an Acolyte, and I do not
like how those priests look upon my brethren and I. Sorntar doesn’t trust the
priests either.”

At the reminder of the Crown Prince of the Phoenix,
Sorsha narrowed her eyes. While she had Sorntar to thank for introducing her to
Shadowdancer and the other Santhyrians, she was still annoyed with him. She
bent to pull on her boots, jerking them on with more strength than needed.

“I thought you liked your sister’s bondmate?”

Sorsha crossed her arms and remained silent.

“Well?”
he
asked with an accompanying bump to her shoulder.

She huffed out a breath. “First he abducts my sister,
then he returns to his own people for months and I get no word from Ashayna—she
could have been dead for all I knew. Then he comes prancing back here with her,
but he won’t even say how long they’re staying.”

“Actually, he flew here.”
Shadowdancer snorted and tossed his head. His hooves
dug furrows in the gravel.
“Get on you little faker—we must talk.”
He
continued to butt her chest until she mounted.

Her anger ebbed once she was astride, the wind and
fields calling her to race.

“You’ve the soul of a Santhyrian, little one.”

“Thank you for the compliment. Now, are we going to
ride or stand here all night?”

In reply, Shadowdancer broke into a trot, navigating
the night-shadowed world by the light of two crescent moons.

When they were clear of the settlement of River’s
Divide, Shadowdancer lengthened his stride into a full gallop. The ground sped
past in a heart pounding blur. She clamped her legs against Shadowdancer’s
barrel, turned her face up to the moons, and lifted her arms above her head,
her eyes drifting closed. It was dangerous—which intensified the thrill—and yet
it was not dangerous at all. With each strike of his hooves against the ground,
the stallion gathered power until his magic echoed up into her body and they
were one, a merging of mind and soul.

Seen through his eyes, the path was clear before him,
the ground level. As her mind settled more firmly in his, the smallest
imperfections in the terrain became visible. She could feel each of his foot
falls, sense the current of magic in the ground, and stronger still, feel the
tightly knotted core of his power—his Larnkin—just out of reach. Joined this
way, she imagined she could talk with his Larnkin, communicate with it almost
as well as Shadowdancer could.

Yet doubt held her back. Fear of destroying such an
utter sense of completeness stopped her from asking if Shadowdancer felt the
same. No matter how much she hated to admit it, the closeness she felt could be
nothing more than her imagination. While she could see what Shadowdancer saw,
his emotions were shuttered.

Sorsha drifted in her own thoughts as Shadowdancer
galloped onward, leaving the Stonemantle residence far behind. Ahead, the dark
forest waited with its seductive promise of freedom.

 

* * * *

They rode in silence for a time. With her eyes still
closed and her fingers buried in his mane, Sorsha listened to Shadowdancer’s
breath, the thunder of his hooves, the wind in her ears—the sounds of life and
joy and love. Her power built within her, twisting upward and higher still, a
burning weight which sought…something. There lay another problem. She didn’t
know what she, or her power, really wanted. Perhaps if they rode just a little
longer or faster, the knowledge of what she sought would come to her. It was as
if her fate was just beyond her reach, waiting for her to find her purpose and
claim it.

When Shadowdancer slowed his pace, Sorsha opened her
eyes and lowered her arms. Frustration enveloped her, but she didn’t give it
voice. It might be nothing but her fantasy to escape life as a noblewoman and
return with him to the Elementals’ city and find another life—one with more
meaning. Just like her sister, Ashayna, had found with the Crown Prince of the
Phoenix.

“I think I should be jealous.”
Amusement colored Shadowdancer’s mental voice.
“You’ve
thought of Sorntar at least three times tonight.”

“Oh.” Sorsha frowned, annoyed with herself for
allowing private thoughts to bleed across the link. But Shadowdancer didn’t
seem ruffled in the least. Maybe blunt honesty was best. “I don’t covet
Ashayna’s bondmate. Prince Sorntar is handsome to be sure, but his personality
is a little…bland. Too tame for my tastes. I love a good challenge. While I’m
on the topic of challenges, I demand you tell me how you read my thoughts so
easily without me knowing.”

“I must keep a few secrets from my little trellis
monkey.”
Shadowdancer snorted in
humor when she slapped his neck.
“And you do realize you just called a
Phoenix bland—they’re fiery by their very natures.”

“I’ll believe it when I see it.”

“For your sake, I hope you never do.”
Shadowdancer halted when he came alongside a stream.
“Before
we started out, you were going to tell me why you were angry at Sorntar.”

Sorsha dismounted. Kneeling, she stared at the stream
in silence for several moments before she scooped up a handful of water and
drank. Thirst slaked, she splashed refreshingly cold water on her face.
Shadowdancer dipped his nose in the stream next to her, and she didn’t miss how
he rolled an eye in her direction.

“Fine.” She huffed, embarrassed all over again at the
memory of the pitying look Sorntar had bestowed upon her the last time she’d
cornered him. It was as if the damned Phoenix could see all the way to her
soul, and had known the impossibility of her heart’s desire. “I asked if I could
return to the Elemental’s city when you and your people leave.”

“Prince Sorntar wisely said no. And I agree with his
decision.”

She drew in a sharp breath at his words, surprised by
the twinge of pain. She’d thought Shadowdancer would side with her—they were
friends, were they not? Apparently not. But then…it would mean whatever strange
power engulfed her when he was near was a one-sided phenomenon. Perhaps that
knowledge was the cause of Sorntar’s pity. To her great embarrassment, her
throat tightened, and her eyes filled with tears.

Don’t cry
,
she snarled to herself.
I have not cried since I was a young girl. I’m not
going to start now.

“Easy, little one. I want you to
return with us—I will do all in my power to convince General Stonemantle that
your sister would benefit from another human’s presence. But the peace
agreement is still in its infancy and the general has many, many
responsibilities and must act in a way his peers and his emperor will not
object. And it doesn’t help that the general is also your father. No
responsible father would let you go without very good reason, and it would
start a war if I just spirited you away.”
His mental thoughts trailed off, but his magic
still touched her mind—a lingering caress. It allowed her the chance to feel
his deep sorrow at the thought of leaving her.
“I can’t keep you, little
one. Even if I want to.”

She chuckled. “I’m not a pet, you know.”

Her muscles unclenched and she smiled as she reached
out to rub his nose. He lipped at her fingers. Almost of their own accord, her
arms encircled his neck and she bowed her forehead against him. “I know this
sounds foolish, but no one has ever understood me until you.”

A long pause answered her words. Heat mounted her face
in a burning wave. Oh, blessed Creator, she’d just said the wrong damn thing
again. Like she was prone to with the Santhyrian—there was just something about
him that made her drop all her defenses and expose her soul. Embarrassing. But,
in her defense, having Shadowdancer as a friend was a little like being able to
talk to a beloved animal companion, but one with the double-edged gift of
having intelligence and wit equal to a human’s. Sorsha admitted when she closed
her eyes and let her mind drift she sometimes forgot Shadowdancer was neither
horse nor human and let private thoughts slip. Like now.

Just when she was scouring her brain for something to
add to her last comment to make it sound less like it had come from a
love-struck fool, he answered her.

“Honestly, it never entered my thoughts I would one
day befriend a human—your kind fears magic and distrusts the elder races to
such an extent, it just didn’t seem likely. But then fate laughed at me and
tossed you under my hooves, so to speak.”

“You terrified me.” Sorsha laughed at the memory, now
safely behind her. She’d been riding through the familiar forest on her way to
visit her friend, Beatrice. The peasant girl lived with her brother and
grandmother—an old wise woman known only as Old Mother—who avoided civilization
as much as possible. On that particular day, Sorsha had been bringing supplies
to the three when she’d heard the thunder of hooves closing in on her location.
When a big black shadow had burst onto the path directly beside them, her mare
had reared, dumping Sorsha in an undignified heap at Shadowdancer’s hooves. By
some miracle Shadowdancer had managed to avoid stepping on her. “I still
haven’t forgiven Shadegrove for throwing me.”

BOOK: Herd Mistress (In Deception's Shadow Book 2)
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