Authors: C. L. Wilson
For Christine Feehan, an amazing talent and an even more
amazing soul. Your friendship is one of my greatest treasures.
And for Diana Peterfreund. Because you believed so strongly, because
you wouldn't let me quit, and because when I got "The Call," the
only person on the planet more excited than me was you.
And for Lisa Richter, my sister Lisette, just because.
You know all the reasons.
A special thanks to all the terrific folks at Dorchester Publishing, especially Alicia Condon, Renee Yewdaev
Erin Galloway, Brooke Borneman, Tim DeYoung, and Diane Stacy. All of your enthusiasm, encouragement and support these last months has meant the world to me.
As always, thanks to my friends and critique partners, my wonderful parents, and especially to my husband Kevin and our children Ileah, Rhiannon, and Aidan for being so understanding of all the long hours I've spent sequestered in my office.
A special thanks to bookseller Rosemary of Rosemary's Romance Books in Brisbane, Australia for all the wonderful e-mails and support. Rosemary, you are great!
Thanks to the richly talented artist, Judy York, who so perfectly captured my vision of Rain, Ellysetta, and the tairen with her gorgeous covers-and for letting me use them on my Web site!
And once again, thanks to the wonderful men and women of Tampa Area Romance Authors (TARA) who've been my writing family for the last five years. TARA Rocks!
I dream of wing and fang and pride, I dream of venom swift and sure.
I dream of song and cloud and sky, I dream of flame that scorches pure.
I dream of dancing crystal winds, as high aloft I soar.
I dream of enemies and prey that flee my fiery roar.
-Tairen Dreams, by Jion vel Baris, Tairen Soul
Ellysetta Baristani stood in the dark, fire-lit cavern of Fey'Bahren, the fabled nesting lair of the tairen. Nearby, six leathery eggs lay incubating in a thick, cushioning layer of hot black sand. A massive, cinnamon furred tail curled protectively around the eggs, its black tip rising and falling rhythmically, raising clouds of fine dark dust as it thumped the sand. The dust swirled about Ellie like shadowy mist, darkening her skirts with a fine layer of sooty ash. Unshed tears clogged the back of her throat and stung her eyes.
The tairen were dying.
Ellie couldn't explain how she knew it. The knowledge was just there in her mind, and it felt familiar, as if it had been there for a long, long time.
Calah, the last fertile female of the tairen pride, was growing feebler with each passing day, her life's essence draining as she struggled to maintain the viability of her six unhatched kitlings. The last hope of a future for the tairen rested with those tiny, unborn lives-three of them female-their life force weakening even as their small bodies matured in the egg.
The mother tairen's cinnamon fur was dull and shedding. Her proud feline head-larger than Ellysetta's body-rested wearily on her forepaws, and her piercing golden eyes were closed. Breath heaved in and out of her enormous body in great windy gusts. She had not eaten in two weeks. Her mate, Merdrahl, was frantic with worry. He paced restlessly by the entrance to the nesting grounds, brown wings rustling, massive paws padding not so silently back and forth across the sands, low growls emanating from his powerful chest and rumbling through the cavern like thunder. His dark brown tail curled and uncurled, flicking in agitation. His fur was ruffled, his ears laid back, and his fangs dripped deadly tairen venom. Every so often, he would pause, dig his claws into the rock, and heave an angry jet of flame.
If Merdrahl could have slain something to bring peace to his mate and protect their offspring, he would have. And Ellysetta would have helped him.
A growl sounded overhead. She looked up into the gleaming green eyes of Sybharukai, the wise one, oldest of all female tairen and makai-leader-of the Fey'Bahren pride. She crouched on the ledge above, her unsheathed front claws curling into the rock of her perch. Her dark, silver-tipped gray fur gleamed like thunderclouds and smoke in the flickering light of the cavern. The rounded tips of her ears flicked continuously Her dark gray tail swished restlessly in the air, and the lethal bony spikes hidden in its furred tip stabbed at the rocks around her. Her wings unfolded and stretched high above her back, flapping twice. The sharp claw at the mid-span joint on each wing gleamed like a curved
blade in the flickering light.
«I will find a way, Sybharukai.»
A deep, masculine voice sang the vow in the rich, vivid tones of tairen song.
Heat curled in Ellysetta's belly, drawing inner muscles tight in a series of small, rippling shudders of remembered pleasure. She turned and found Rain standing beside her.
Rainier vel'En Daris, the Tairen Soul, the legendary Fey shapeshifter who had once scorched the world in a wild, grief-stricken Rage over the death of his beloved mate, Sariel.
Rain Tairen Soul, King of the Fey, who had stepped from the sky to claim Ellysetta as his
his truemate, the only woman ever born with whom he could form a soul bond even stronger than the love bond he'd held with Sariel.
His long black hair hung down his back, straight and fine, framing a face of breathtaking masculine beauty. Black Fey leathers hugged broad shoulders, slim hips, and long, lean legs. His deadly swords and the scores of throwing knives tucked into the bands crisscrossing his chest gleamed golden in the flickering firelight. His lavender eyes were glowing, his beautiful mouth grim.
"I will find a way," he said again, aloud this time but still addressing the majestic gray tairen. "I will not fail you.”
Turning, he strode off the nesting sands towards a wide opening at the end of the cavern. Ellie hurried after him and together they jogged up a long, winding passage through the mountain and emerged on a wide, sunlit ledge high above the Fading Lands. Ellie raised a hand to shield her eyes, blinking at the brightness of the Great Sun.
When her eyes adjusted, she gave a gasp of awe-filled wonder. They were standing near the top of the steep, dark mountainside of Fey'Bahren, the tallest volcano in the majestic Feyls range that formed the northern border of the Fading Lands. Below, the rippling golden grasses of the Plains of Corunn spread out for miles. Ellie drank in the breathtaking scenery, which seemed at once familiar yet new, like a forgotten memory, freshly renewed.
"Oh, Rain," she breathed. "It's so beautiful.”
Beside her, magic gathered as Rain summoned the Change. Ellysetta's body tingled as the surge of energy swept around and through her. A fine gray mist billowed about him, about them both, and she threw back her head on a swell of pleasure so intense it bordered on pain. Though it was Rain, not she, who was the shapeshifter, she felt his body dissolve and expand as if it were her own, felt the echo of awareness as his Fey senses grew even more acute. Fur sprouted, wings spread, claws speared the rock.
Moments later the mist cleared, and a magnificent death-black tairen with huge lavender eyes crouched on the ledge where Rain Tairen Soul, the Fey King and Ellysetta's betrothed, had stood. The tairen spread his enormous ebony wings, gathered strength
his haunches, and sprang into the air with an echoing roar.
Behind him, standing alone on the ledge, still trapped in her human form, Ellysetta cried out, "Rain, come back! Don't leave me!"
Ellysetta woke with her heart thumping and tears cooling on her cheeks. The emotions of the dream still held her heart clutched tight, making her want to weep in despair for the dying tairen and the terrible, grieving emptiness that had struck when Rain took to the air and abandoned her on that ledge.
«Another nightmare, shei’tani?»
The familiar sound of Rain's Spirit voice, low and husky with sleep, sounded in her mind. An arm tightened around her waist. There was a warm, heavy weight pressed against her in her narrow bed-and it was most definitely
her twin sisters, Lillis and Lorelle, cuddling up with her as they sometimes did.
She turned her head slowly, and her breath stalled in her lungs.
For the first time in the last five days, there was no little courtship gift beside her when she woke. There was, instead, a great big one. All black leather, white skin, and inky hair, Rain lay beside her on her narrow bed, his long limbs draped over her.
Thinking she must still be dreaming, she closed her eyes, inhaled, opened them again.
He was still there, solid and warm, his face pressed to her neck.
She should leap up and get dressed before her mother came in and found her like this, but she couldn't seem to move. Instead, she lay there, staring at him in dazed wonder. Through her bedroom window the first pale rays of the rising Great Sun shone down upon them. Dawn was breaking, and Rain Tairen Soul was in her bed.
His eyes opened, and her breath caught again. The brilliant lavender irises were glowing, surrounded by thick dark lashes and centered by slightly elongated black pupils that were growing more catlike by the moment. The limbs draped over her body hardened and drew her more closely to the hard wall of his chest and the harnessed strength of his leather-clad legs.
Were you having another nightmare?
"No," she croaked. When Rain looked at her with such intensity, she had no desire to speak of the horrifying visions that had haunted her sleep all her life. She cleared her throat and whispered. "It was just a dream.”
«You were weeping.»
He touched the dampness on her cheek. "It was a sad dream.”
His hand slid down the curve of her jaw His thumb smoothed over her lips, tracing their outline. His gaze followed, so focused she could feel it brush across her face like a slow caress. The gaze lingered on her full lower lip and glowed a little brighter. The tingle of Spirit magic whispered over her skin. An invisible mouth tracked kisses in its wake.
Breathless from the magic his hands and weave were working upon her, she stammered out a quick summary of the dream. His Spirit kisses slowed when she told him about Fey'Bahren and the tairen dying, and about him singing a vow to the great gray tairen Sybharukai, then stopped completely when she told him how he'd flown off and abandoned her on the mountainside.
He rose up on one elbow, his gaze fixed upon her face. His face was solemn, expressionless except for the warm glow of his eyes. «
You wept because you dreamed I left you.»
"No, I ..." A blush suffused her cheeks when his brows lifted at her poor attempt at a lie. The dying tairen had torn at her heart, but that was not why she'd woken with tears streaming down her face. "I begged you not to go, but you just kept flying.”
He pressed a gentle finger to her lips, silencing her. "I would never leave you,
Not for any reason. My place is at your side, and has been since the moment you called me from the sky." His hand brushed through the tangled spirals of her bright, flame-red hair.
"I-it was just a dream.”
"You should not doubt me even in your dreams”
In hypnotized fascination, she watched him bend his head over hers. Long black hair draped around her, enclosing her in a shadowy veil within which only she and Rain existed.
"Ver reisa ku'chae. Kem'surah, shei’tani.
Your soul calls out. Mine answers, beloved." He whispered the vow of
claiming, first in Feyan, then in Celierian, his voice low and stirring. "Trust in that, Ellysetta. Trust in me.”
Slowly his head dipped down and he claimed her lips. Illusion spun away. Reality took its place, so much better than the weave.
Mercy. Her eyes rolled back and her eyelids fluttered down. Good, sweet Lord of Light, was it possible to die of pleasure from a single kiss? It must be, because she had no doubt that she had just died and gone to the Haven of Light.
Flows of warmth wrapped around her, enclosing her in a snug embrace even as his arms did the same. His mouth trailed a burning path from her lips to the line of her jaw and below to the sensitive skin of her neck. She arched her back, baring her throat to his kisses, gasping for breath as sensation threatened to steal all reason. "Stop. You must stop. My parents ..." But her hands clutched him far more fiercely than her words tried to drive him away.
She sensed the power gathering strength within him, knew that the tairen-the fierce predator that lived inside him-was preparing to spring, but before she could even think to be afraid, he released her and twisted in one smooth motion to sit on the side of her bed.
With a groan, he hunched his back and buried his face in his hands. She sat up, staring at the long curve of his spine, the broad strength of powerful shoulders, lean muscle, hard bone, sinew, all trembling.
"Rain?" She reached out a hand, but her fingertips scarcely brushed against his back before he sprang to his feet, scooping up the pile of leather and steel by her bed.
You are right, this is not the time, no matter how much I wish it. Though in my defense, you make me lose all sense of reason. Dangerous woman." He shook his head, his expression torn between admiration and dismay as he pulled on his leather tunic and tightened the laces. "I had not meant to fall asleep." He glanced out the window at the lightening sky. "Nor stay past dawn.”
"What are you doing here in the first place?”
The hands knotting his laces went still. He turned to face her, his eyes narrowed. "You do not remember?”
Ellysetta gulped down a knot of fear because for a moment her mind was a complete blank. Then the floodgates opened, and the memories rushed back. "Of course I remember." She laughed to hide her relief. "It's not every day a woodcarver's daughter dines with the king and queen and the heads of every noble House in Celieria." Last night had been her first official function as the future Queen of the Fading Lands.
"I meant after dinner," Rain prompted. "Your nightmare, do you remember that?”
Her pulse sped up. She recalled the hazy images of a nightmare more disturbing and horrific than any she'd ever had-and that was no small feat. Ellie saw things in her dreams that would have made battle-scarred veterans quake in their boots.
"It was a bad one." She looked at him for confirmation. She had a wavering vision of blood, bodies, her room shredded into a shambles. She glanced around. Her room looked as it always had, small but tidy, not a thing out of place. But of course, the Fey would have repaired the damage.
"You were attacked in your sleep," Rain clarified, "by someone using your dreams as a conduit to your unconscious mind. Someone most likely wielding Azrahn." Azrahn, the soul magic, forbidden to the Fey but widely used and mastered by their greatest enemies.