Authors: Nancy Corrigan
A vow to the dead…the mark of the Hunt…a love with one chance to survive.
, Book 2
In the slice of a moment, Ian Callahan lost everything he cared about—a deed done by his own hand. He awakens on the edge of sanity, chained in his own personal hell. He is to be the newest rider in the Wild Hunt, if he can learn to control the rage and guilt that consume him.
Then…a whiff of vanilla. The face of a lover he’s seen only in his dreams. He doesn’t know her name, only that she stirs the hungry beast within him.
For a millennium, Tegan and her sibling riders of the Wild Hunt were imprisoned, suffering under a curse meant for the Unseelie Court. Though her body is free, she carries the curse with her—and the additional burden of finally knowing the name of her destined mate. A human named Ian Callahan.
He’s her Trojan horse, the only one who can heal her heart. Just one last challenge stands in the way of claiming each other, once and for all. Failure means facing eternity the incomplete halves of a whole.
Warning: Contains a hero who’s more than just the total…package. And a daughter of the Underworld who thought she knew what Hell was…until she fell in love. Boundaries of monogamy pushed, pulled, stretched—but never broken.
Ian Callahan panted through the rage gripping him. Something had caught his attention. He closed his eyes, blocking out the view of the rock-carved walls of his cell, and listened. The sound of a heartbeat reached his ears. It raced. So did his. Excitement fed his heart’s rapid cadence. He hadn’t been able to focus on anything beyond the wrath consuming him in days, weeks maybe. He’d lost track of how long he’d been chained spread-eagle to his bed.
He sucked in a deep breath, desperate to hold on to the awareness the person’s presence offered. The rich scent of vanilla drugged him. He moaned, or tried to, at the very least, but his roughened voice garbled the sound. The feeling behind it remained the same. He recognized the fragrance. It was her.
His dream lover.
She’d returned in his worst hour, to tempt him. Arouse him. Make him beg.
The brown-eyed minx had ruined him. In all the years she’d visited him, she never fulfilled her wicked promises. Never gave him relief. She always disappeared before he could explode. She’d made him question his sanity and his sexuality. A growl crawled up his throat, even as blood rushed south, thickening his dick. It tented his shorts.
He groaned. His cock was so damn hard. Thinking about her always aroused him. Chained to the bed, he couldn’t even jerk off. He yanked on the chains and snarled.
Her gasp carried over his angry sounds.
She watched him.
Did she want him too? He waited for the door to open, for her to come to him. Seconds passed with only her quickened heartbeat betraying her interest. He dragged in more vanilla-scented air but couldn’t pick up on her arousal. She wasn’t close enough, and his Huntsman’s sense of smell confused him more often than not. It was too new, much like the emotion that had landed him in Hell.
“Angel?” He didn’t care how she’d teased him before, or if she continued to do so. He needed her. “Come to me.”
He held his breath.
The clunk of boots answered him, each thump fading in volume.
“No! Don’t leave me.”
She did. She abandoned him. Again.
“Forsaken, always forsaken.”
Her love, her passion, her soul—it belonged to him. How? Why? He didn’t know. The truth remained. She was his heaven, the only one a bastard like him would ever find, yet he feared she’d always remain just out of reach.
He roared his frustration and gave himself over to the rage consuming him.
* * * * *
Tegan paced the length of the living room in the Huntsmen’s new estate. She’d walked out of the fairies’ prison a week ago, but freedom had not been sweet for her. Guilt, jealousy and sadness had left her on edge. The emotions had no place in her heart. To give in to them would likely push her into the abyss, where only rage ruled. She’d lived there once before. She had no desire to revisit it.
Her siblings, the other riders in the Wild Hunt, had sensed her unease. They’d tried to coax her into exploring the modern world. She’d refused. Losing herself in booze or meaningless sex wouldn’t help her deal with the fallout of her elder brother’s revelation.
Not only was her fantasy lover real, he was also the newest rider of the Wild Hunt.
She paused in her restless loop around the room and faced the fireplace. A roaring blaze filled the hearth. The oppressive warmth it offered heated her body. Sweat beaded on her face. She licked a droplet off her lip and stepped closer, relishing the fire’s comfort.
She wasn’t chilled. The October weather in the Catskill Mountains of New York was mild. No, the blaze turning the room into a sauna was necessary to keep Rhys from cornering her and demanding an explanation for her behavior. Besides Calan, her leader in the Hunt, Rhys was the only other Hunter who had any authority over her.
The fact that the Huntsmen had just been released from their personal hells should be reason enough to explain her discontent. It wasn’t, not in Rhys’s eyes. They had a duty to fulfill and a curse to break. Still, after dying over and over for a millennium to ensure the barrier to Hell remained intact, she deserved a small reprieve. A few days to adjust to freedom. Some time to get past her heartache. Was it so much to ask?
Yes. Yes, it is. The clock is ticking, and our time is running out.
Frustration choked her. She turned her hand over and stared at the jagged black line bisecting her palm. Her breath caught. The mark, the visual reminder of the curse she carried, appeared thicker than it had when she’d first stepped out of her prison.
The squeak from the door forced back her concern. She’d worry about what the change meant when she had time alone to think. Her siblings hadn’t given her much over the past week, and the woodsy scent of a campfire which swept into the room suggested another brother planned to meddle in her affairs. She couldn’t tell by smell alone which one braved her fury. They all carried the scent of Hell with them.
She gripped the mantel, refusing to meet her brother’s probing gaze, and peered into the image of the male who’d haunted her for years. Unable to stop herself, she took Ian’s picture from its treasured spot on the shelf and let his features tease her.
Long, thick lashes framed the hazel eyes she’d fantasized about staring into while he loved her body. Full lips she wanted on hers were curved into a smile she suspected had broken many females’ hearts. Combined with his rough features and unkempt hair, he was simply…
She brushed her finger over his frozen image. Warmth pooled low.
“Ready to talk?”
Rhys’s voice shocked her enough to break her focused study of the human Huntsman. She returned the framed photo to its resting spot, then glanced over her shoulder. Her brother’s silver eyes drew her attention. He watched her intently, and the curiosity in his focused stare worried her. She didn’t want him to take any interest in her affairs. He’d hound her until he uncovered every last detail. No way would she allow that. She’d walked in the shadow of shame once. She had no desire to be on the receiving end of his pity ever again.
“I hadn’t expected to see you here.” With her gaze locked on to her brother’s pale silver eyes, she motioned toward the flames crackling inches from her legs. “Is the fire not
enough to keep you away?”
A tic developed along Rhys’s jaw, the only hint of his discomfort. She knew exactly what the sight of the hungry flames did to him. Repeatedly being burned alive was the death he’d endured while imprisoned. She sympathized with him, but each of them had suffered. They’d all emerged half-crazed too. Duty, honor and stubbornness demanded they endure and continue functioning. So they did. Simple as that.
He moved closer, maybe not as confidently as she’d normally expect from him, but he closed the distance. She had to give him points for that.
A foot away, he stopped with hands balled into white-knuckled fists. “Why should it? The death it offers is like an old friend. I do not fear its return.”
She laughed. Rhys’s stoic expression fueled her bitterness. She stood on her tiptoes, the additional inches not bringing her close to his face. It didn’t deter her. Being the smallest of the Huntsmen never had.
“Liar. I hear the rapid beat of your heart. You fear it.”
He bent closer. His deadened gaze held her frozen in place. “I fear nothing, little sister.”
She smirked. “Prove it.”
Why she taunted him, she didn’t know. Actually, she did. Rhys had no doubt come to talk to her about Ian, not her mood. Rhys couldn’t care less how miserable she was, as long as she rode in the Hunt.
They needed every one of the Huntsmen to defeat their enemies, and Ian had proved his worth in battle, even if he’d only ridden a couple of days before succumbing to his rage. The obligation to help him deal with the weight and pressure of his new role belonged to all of them, yet none had been able to reach him.
No one, besides me.
After a long moment, Rhys tilted his head. A lock of dark brown hair slid over one eye. He didn’t bother pushing it away or blinking. “You still enjoy your games, I see.”
“I have nothing else.”
“Don’t you?” He raised a brow. “Then let me give you something. Care to play my game?”
“No, I do not.”
She shoved against his wide chest. He didn’t budge. In her human form, she held little advantage. The power of the Hunt gave her the edge over her enemies.
“Why?” Rhys stepped into her personal space. “Are you afraid?”
He offered her a crooked smile. “Yes, I am.”
He’d always been proud of it too. She worked her jaw. Finally, she blew out a rough breath. “What game—”
“—shall we play?” His smirk widened at her glare. She hated being interrupted. He knew that too. It didn’t stop him from antagonizing her. Like most siblings, they bickered.
Minutes passed. All the while, the heat from the fire at her back beat against her. Sweat ran down her spine, soaking her clothes. A sheen formed on Rhys’s tanned face. He didn’t move, even as perspiration beaded and trickled over his forehead.
She locked her knees, refusing to make anything easy for him. If he wanted to grill her, they’d do it in front of the flames.
“I’ll prove I’m tough enough to face my personal hell”—he lowered his voice—“if you do the same.”
She forced another chuckle. “Unless you’ve developed the ability to suck my life force from me, you can’t.”
Although being repeatedly ripped away from the dream she’d shared with Ian had hurt, it hadn’t been the punishment she’d endured for a millennium. Several times a day, she’d died by being turned into a lifeless husk, shriveled until only skin and bones remained.
Sheer will kept the memories buried.
He raised a brow. “Well? Yes or no.”
She let a smile spread, a demented one, but the only kind she could conjure at the moment. “Yes.”
Rhys bent, never breaking their gaze, and shoved his hand into the hungry flames. The scent of burning flesh filled the room. After a moment, the sizzle of skin added to the sensory details of her brother’s stubbornness. She didn’t bother stopping him. He wouldn’t die from the small wound. Even if he did, their tie to Arawn, the Lord of the Underworld, ensured they’d regenerate. They could not die permanently, not from the loss of their heads or any form of wicked torture conceived.
Some days she hated that fact. Others she was grateful. Today she couldn’t care less.
She let her beloved sibling burn.
He held her gaze. No flinching. No blinking. No sign he even felt the pain. Finally Rhys pulled his hand free. He raised the mutilated appendage between them. The remaining charred pieces of flesh fell from his bones. Flesh regrew. Within moments, unmarred skin covered his fingers.
She stretched her arms out to the side.
“Go ahead.” She chuckled. “Turn me into a prune. The beating of my heart is annoying me anyway.”
Because it hurt.
Ian had broken it when she’d walked into his home and found the little slip of paper on his desk, inviting some unknown person to his wedding. A marriage to a female who wasn’t Tegan.
“Your death is not a condition of this game.”
Rhys’s voice pulled her back to the present. She smirked. “Then I guess I win by default.”
His piercing gaze never left her face, nor did he speak. She ground her teeth.
“If you’re here to talk about Ian, don’t waste your breath. I just left the male. He’s too far gone for me to reach him.” She sidestepped, shoving against Rhys until he conceded and allowed her to escape.
She stopped walking. “Yes.”
“That’s not what I heard,
Rhys’s mocking tone set her on edge. “You spied on me?”
“Of course.” No apology. No remorse.
She glanced over her shoulder. Rhys faced the fireplace, preventing her from seeing his expression. The lust in Ian’s voice when he’d demanded she come to him had been clear. To her, at least. Or maybe she’d wanted to hear it.
“He sensed a woman. You were right about suggesting sex as a tool to calm him. But I won’t be his crutch. I no longer allow males to use me.”
“That’s what he wanted?” He caught her gaze. “The affectionate nickname meant nothing?”
“He probably confused me with someone else.”
Like his dead fiancée.
She barely stopped herself from looking at Cynthia’s picture. Tegan had considered destroying the photo, but she hadn’t wanted to desecrate anything that belonged to Ian.
“If that’s what you want to believe, but we both know it’s a lie. He’s a Hunter now. As such, his senses are enhanced. He would’ve known you didn’t smell the same as Cynthia.”
She rubbed her arms, hating that Rhys could read her so well, but not surprised. “I don’t know where you’re going with this, but I want no part of it. I fulfilled my promise to Calan. I went to Ian, but I can’t be what he needs to bring him out of his rage.”
A minute passed in silence, then another. All the while, Rhys stared at her. She shifted from one foot to the other. Rhys had always been able to unnerve her. Too cold, too regimented, too disciplined—he was the most calculating of their Teulu, their family of Hunters connected to Arawn. Rhys acted as their strategist in battle and their counselor in life. The first he excelled at. The second was questionable. He approached their issues as if the source of their pain was a puzzle he needed to solve.
“You didn’t even speak to him.” Rhys’s assessing gaze lingered on her arms wrapped tightly around her middle. She dropped them. One corner of his mouth rose. “How can you be sure it’s sex he wanted?”
“His cock lengthened with my approach. I’d say that’s a dead giveaway, wouldn’t you?”
“Maybe.” He gave a small shrug. “But it’s odd he didn’t have the same response to Rowan’s visit. I can’t help but wonder why.”
Rowan was the only other one of their sisters who’d walked out of the fairy prison with her mind pieced together enough to function. Tegan loved her dearly, but if Rowan had touched Ian, she’d bleed. Tegan would enjoy every minute of putting Rowan in her place too.