Throne of Oak (Maggie's Grove)

BOOK: Throne of Oak (Maggie's Grove)
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Throne of Oak
By Dana Marie Bell

Book two of Maggie’s Grove

Vampire Dragos Ibanescu, Mayor of Maggie’s Grove, is about to
lose his mind. His mate, the dryad queen Mina Chainey, refuses to have anything
to do with him after her ordeal at the hands of an evil witch. If he doesn’t
mate with her soon, he may lose control of the beast within him—a force far more
dangerous than anyone in town knows...

Mina’s nightmares of her time with the witch haunt her. The
Queen of the Forest can’t muster the strength needed to fight her terror. Unable
to leave the Throne, she vows she will not accept Dragos until she can stand at
his side as an equal. But the nightmares are only growing in strength, and soon
she realizes that there’s more to her pain than simple fear.

Dark forces are converging on Maggie’s Grove, and a horde of
hunters stalk supernaturals from the shadows. Only by uniting in body and mind
will Mina and Dragos find the strength to defend their home.

Delve into the Grove with
Blood
of the Maple.

82,000 words

Dear Reader,

I’m writing this just after having returned from Disney World. It wasn’t my first trip to Disney and it won’t be my last. Even though I’m not fond of big crowds, I get sick if I even look at a twisty ride (though I still like to ride a few) and by the end of our visit we’re all invariably cranky, I still love it there. Disney truly has created something magical.

Luckily, for those of you who don’t have a trip to Disney in your future, they’re not the only ones who can create something magical. Every month, Carina Press authors deliver us books that transport us to new times, new places and new adventures. This month is no different!

I’m pleased to introduce
New York Times
bestselling author Stephanie Tyler’s new series, launching this month. This romance, set in post-apocalypse America, centers around the survival of the fittest: the motorcycle gangs of the future. Dark, edgy and steamy,
Defiance
is the first in this can’t-miss new series.

Another
New York Times
bestselling author, Marie Force, is back with the next installment in her bestselling romantic suspense series. An error on the baseball field leads to murder in
Fatal Mistake.

And I’m happy to welcome Victoria Davies to Carina Press with her newest paranormal romance,
Seducing the Demon Huntress.

Joining these three is a lineup of fantastic authors returning to Carina Press. Don’t miss the latest installment of
Love Letters Volume 3:
Wicked Whispers.
Verbal foreplay goes a long way in these four steamy stories. From author Christine d’Abo comes
Sexcapades.
Sparks fly between two rival internet bloggers in this erotic contemporary romance.

Our last erotic offering for the month of June is the long-awaited sequel to Dana Marie Bell’s
Blood of the Maple
. In
Throne of Oak
, dark forces are converging on Maggie’s Grove, and a horde of hunters stalk supernaturals from the shadows.

If you’re looking for more paranormal romances, Sheryl Nantus, PJ Schnyder, and Eleri Stone all have releases this month. Check out the new installments from Sheryl and Eleri respectively,
Family Pride
and
Witch Bound.
Meanwhile, join PJ on a new adventure as she kicks off her London Undead series with
Bite Me
. Zombies have taken over London and a werewolf finds himself protecting a woman who seems determined to put herself in harm’s way.

Still in the “other world” genres, we have two releases: Fae Sutherland’s
Sky Runners
, a delicious male/male space opera; and the conclusion to Vivi Anna’s steampunk romance trilogy.
The League of Illusion:
Destiny
wraps up with sorcerer Sebastian Davenport’s story.

If you’re a fan of
Downton Abbey
, you’ll want to make sure you’re not missing out on Julie Rowe’s War Girls books. World War I generated many heroes—only some of them were men. Check out
Enticing the Spymaster
, her newest release, and go back and catch up with
Saving the Rifleman
, the first in this series. And while you’re in the past, why not stay there? Wendy Soliman’s
Beguiling the Barrister
also transports readers to a past time in this regency romance.

Last but not least, two powerhouse authors have new releases to center you in the here and now. HelenKay Dimon explores love and lust in her return to Holloway with contemporary romance
Just What He Wanted.
Sexy Travis is the story we’ve all been waiting for!

Adrienne Giordano rounds out our month of magical releases with
Opposing Forces.
In this romantic suspense, when a pharmaceutical distribution manager uncovers secret drug shipments at work, she and a savvy executive with political ties must risk everything—including their hearts—to stop the criminals and stay alive.

No matter where your reading tastes take you, whether it’s the past, the future, or an alternate world, we’ve got an extensive catalog to help give you a magical experience without ever leaving the comfort of your own house (or needing to stand in line!).

We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your thoughts, comments and questions to
[email protected]
. You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter stream and Facebook fan page.

Happy reading!

~Angela James
Executive Editor, Carina Press

www.carinapress.com
www.twitter.com/carinapress
www.facebook.com/carinapress

Dedication

To Mom, who has discovered the joys of sharing LOLCats
on
Facebook. I have no idea where she got that idea from. *whistles innocently*

To Dad, who is still, after all these years, waiting for me to write a book he can read. I keep telling him he’s not old enough yet. I’m not sure he’s going to buy it for much longer.

To Dusty, who puts up with my crap and holds my hand when I give myself my weekly Enbrel injection. Thanks for holding me while we fly out of the Throne.

Chapter One

“Are we there yet?”

Dragomir “Dragos” Ibanescu, the mayor of Maggie’s Grove and the oldest vampire in the town, damn near bit his tongue in order to keep silent. Parker had been driving him insane with his commentary all through their flight, and he was ready to strangle the younger vampire.

Why had Parker come with him? Dragos had been more than willing to fly solo—but no. Parker had insisted on accompanying Dragos as he soared above Maggie’s Grove checking for trouble. The man had been a pain in his ass ever since his
sotiei
, Amara, had joined with her tree, communing with it in the way of all dryads. She’d needed it after the fight to save the town from Terri—the deranged witch who’d been hunting Parker. Amara was a hamadryad, a rare creature only heard about in myths and legends. She was literally one with her tree in ways other dryads were not. When her life or the life of something Amara cared about was in danger, she became part tree, using the strength and stamina of the forest to protect and defend. She was a guardian in the truest sense of the word, and she served Maggie’s Grove despite their rough treatment of her when she first stepped out into the world. Her adoptive mother, Glinda, had chosen to hide Amara’s uniqueness, and because she had been underage the Queen of the Forest had been forced to bow to Glinda’s edict, avoiding Amara completely.

This had led to Amara having a very lonely childhood, something Dragos had tried to rectify to no avail as the girl grew into a beautiful woman. It wasn’t until Parker arrived that she truly came into her own, becoming what Dragos had always known she could be—a loving partner and a fierce warrior.

But every dryad needed to commune with their tree, becoming one with it after stressful events. What the witch Terri had attempted to do to both Parker and the town had been beyond stressful. It cost them one of their own. Amara had been blamed for the death of young Ken, and she’d been inconsolable. Things in the town had been tense until Parker, Dragos, Bryan, Greg and Selena had proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the blame could only be placed on the witch who had attacked them all.

It had been four weeks since Terri had been killed, four weeks where all of them hurt. The town was still deep in recovery as they made plans to rebuild both the town hall, and The Greenhouse and repair the damage Terri had wrought. It was an all-consuming job that left Dragos with very little time to deal with anything else, even a hamadryad in mourning. Hell, he barely had time to stalk...er, visit his own
sotiei
.

So Amara was communing.

And her vampire lover was bored out of his ever-loving mind.

She’d waited until after the huge party Dragos gave annually to become one with her tree. Soon after Parker started wandering around town, getting himself into trouble with just a casual smile and a few choice words. Even his Renfield, Brian, had called Dragos up, desperate to find a way to distract Parker before any more feuds broke out.

The man had a talent, Dragos had to give him that.

Recently, Parker had decided for some ungodly reason that Dragos needed cheering up. Dragos blamed Brian and Greg, Parker’s Renfields, for his sudden intrusion into Dragos’s life. Dragos would rather have his fangs drilled than have Parker’s brand of help, but Parker meant well. It wasn’t entirely his fault Dragos wanted to drop him in a volcano. All Dragos wanted to do was have a quiet evening flight, enjoy the warm night air of early summer blowing against his face, and contemplate the painful situation he found himself in.

Some days he wished he’d never left Romania.

“The snacks on this flight are rather light, aren’t they?”

Dragos growled. Why in the name of the gods had Amara wound up the
sotiei
of the most annoying vampire in existence? She was sweet and kind and loving, and Parker was—

“I wonder what the in-flight movie will be.”

Dragos came to a stop, hovering in the air as he glared at Mr. Annoyance. “Death of a Vampire.”

“Well.” Parker sniffed. “Someone woke up on the wrong side of the coffin this evening.”

“Parker.”

“What?” Parker tried to sail serenely past him, but Dragos snagged his arm, halting his progress. Parker sighed. “Really, Dragos. Have you ever seen those cartoons where a flying child is all hangdog and droopy because they didn’t get an ice cream cone or something equally stupid? Like a Superman costume or some such?” Parker hunched over, apparently imitating said children, his expression filled with such exaggerated melancholy Dragos almost smiled. Parker might be aggravating, but he had the ability to make the people around him smile with his goofy ways and staggering loyalty. “Woe is me, I have been denied the shiny underpants of a superhero.”

Dragos chuckled reluctantly. “Idiot. And I’m not droopy.” True, Dragos had been a little...very well, a
lot
upset recently.

His
sotiei
refused to speak to him, hiding in the Throne and denying him entry every time he went to visit her. The sacred circle of trees that created the Throne of Oak could hold against the strongest of predators, but it had given way beneath the dark lash of an evil witch bent on destroying Parker and anyone he cared about.

Mina, the dryad queen, had been but an object for the witch to use to bolster her power.

The abuse Mina had suffered had nearly destroyed her.

If he closed his eyes he could still see Mina—her dark hair damp with sweat and blood, her body pinned to the great oak by thorny weeds, writhing in agony as they bent and twisted inside her. Dragos had been forced to use power he had not called upon in centuries to heal the horrific wounds, but he couldn’t repair the damage to her soul. Selena knew what he’d done, had covered for him with her own healing light, but the damage had been too much for even her powers. She’d healed the spiritual wounds as best she could, repaired the damaged threads that bound the dryad to her tree, but it had been Dragos who healed most of Mina’s physical wounds. The damage to her insides had been horrific, and her oak tree had responded accordingly, leaves dropping like tears in the face of the dryad queen’s agony.

Now she was hiding herself away from the world, wallowing in misery and protecting her tree fiercely while they both recovered.

“Please. If you were any more hangdog, I’d be forced to call you Rover.” Parker placed his hand on Dragos’s shoulder, his expression turning blank for a moment. It was the same look he had when he was talking telepathically with Amara. “Amara says you should know that the nightmares aren’t getting better. If anything, they’re worse.”

Dragos winced. Mina’s nightmares were what had driven her from his side. He had no desire to put pressure on her when she was hurting so badly. Mina refused to tell anyone, even the witch doctor Selena, what the nightmares were about, but Dragos could guess.

Besides, his own situation was far from ideal. Kate, his former lover, had been doing her best to get back together with him. She’d lost all her appeal the moment Mina had stepped through the doors of the Town Hall and raked him over the coals for his lack of action where Parker’s stalker was concerned.

If there was a way to resurrect Terri and kill her all over again, Dragos would do it in a New York minute.

“She’s hiding from me.”

“She still won’t see you?” Parker floated down to one of the broken benches that surrounded the now abandoned Town Hall. More of Terri’s handiwork, and something the town council would have to do something about. They were still arguing over whether or not to rebuild or relocate the hall. Dragos was all for rebuilding—for taking the evil and making something good out of it—but he appeared to be in the minority. Even Selena thought they should raze the building to the ground, bless the site and build a garden on top of it in honor of Amara and those they’d lost. And when the witch doctor told him a place had “bad vibes” Dragos listened.

“No, she won’t.” And his beast was struggling harder and harder against the chains Dragos had bound it with, determined to go to its blood mate and claim her. If Dragos had been any other vampire he would have already have given in, his beast either forcing its way to Mina’s side or losing its life to Mina’s guardians.

“Talk to Greer and Ash. They might be able to help.”

Dragos snorted and perched on the arm of the broken bench. “They have their own problems, or haven’t you noticed?”

Parker sighed. “I have. Selena and Mollie are being difficult. I wish I’d never encouraged Carter to start seeing Mollie, but it was the only way I could think of to prove to Greer that Mollie isn’t gay. And Selena is...well, Selena.”

Dragos didn’t give two shakes about Mollie, Selena, Greer or Ash. He couldn’t. His focus had centered entirely on the Throne and the dark-haired woman hiding within it. Nothing had been able to pull his attention away, and soon not even Dragos’s...unique circumstances would hold the beast off. “When does Amara wake?”

“Soon, I hope. I’m starving.”

Dragos wasn’t surprised. As the only vegetarian vampire in existence, Parker’s dining choices were limited. He could sip the odd concoction Brian made for him, but his
sotiei’s
blood was far more nourishing than anything that came out of Brian’s blender. “We need Amara. If she can find Iva, we might be able to pull Mina out of this.”

The combined power of Oak, Ash, Birch and Yew ruled the forest and all the creatures within, something they’d proven with razor-sharp precision and ruthless cunning to the wolves that lived in Maggie’s Grove. But Iva Yamauchi, or Yew, had been missing for two months now and the other ruling dryads despaired that she would ever be returned to them. Greer and Ash had told Parker that Yew was not dead. No new Yew had stepped forward to lay claim to her title—something that would have happened had she passed on. Her tree, although sickly and pale, still lived, and the dryads tended it, hoping wherever she was it would lend her strength.

Without Yew, the power of the Throne was diminished.

And so were Mina, Ash and Greer.

“We have to do something, and quickly. Why, Greg and Brian haven’t tried to have sex on my couch in
days
, you’ve depressed them so.”

Dragos rolled his eyes.

Really. Amara couldn’t have found someone less annoying?

* * *

Mina gritted her teeth
,
knowing that Parker and Amara stepped through the magical veil that usually guarded the Throne.
Battle was about to be joined in the Throne
,
and there was nothing Mina could do to stop it.

Terri would also be aware of their presence
,
thanks to her link to Mina.
The vines gave her power here now
,
the bitch tapping into Mina’s connection with the forest.
Mina still wasn’t certain how the witch had gotten the drop on her
,
but one moment Mina was following Ash and Greer through the forest
,
and the next
...

Well.
Getting nailed to your own tree was top of her list on ways not to die.
The great oak shivered
,
leaves falling to the ground like rain as Mina tried desperately to hang on.
She had to live.
She had to hold on
,
to bring the forest back from the brink.
She had to survive
,
so that Amara would win.

The hamadryad was here
,
and Terri was dead whether she knew it or not.


Parker
,”
a
bubbling voice tried to croon.
Mina shivered as Amara grimaced.
The shambling
,
scabrous
thing
that had once been Terri was nothing but rot now.
Mina wasn’t sure the witch was even technically alive
,
but some consciousness or force animated the weeds that had once been a human being.

Whatever she’d once been
,
Terri was no longer human.
The curse she’d placed on Parker had landed squarely on her own shoulders as well.
While she walked in the form of a woman
,
Terri’s skin had a sickly greenish cast from the mold that covered her in blotchy patches.
Her hair was the dry
,
pale brown of dead leaves.
Her eyes glowed brightly enough for others to see by.
Weeds sprouted from random spots on her body—a dandelion blooming above her navel.
Naked
,
it was obvious that crabgrass had replaced the hair of her mound.
She smelled of rancid vegetation
,
like a compost heap that had sat too long in the sun.
An aura of evil—an unseen miasma like a shimmer of heat off desert sand—hung over her as she moved through the Throne to confront Parker and Amara.

An aura that hadn’t been there the last time they’d fought in the Throne.

She needed to tell Selena
,
to warn the witch doctor.
Something was desperately wrong

Mina screamed as agony rocked through her
,
her thoughts scattering like leaves on the wind.

Oh
,
gods above.
Where were Ash and Greer?
If they had been here
,
none of this would have happened.

But her protectors had been hunting the witch with Dragos
,
Amara and Parker.
Too bad none of them had thought to look closer to home.
Mina was now paying the price for their inattention.
Terri had been hiding
,
like a spider luring its prey
,
waiting for Mina to be alone.
For Ash and his silver blade to be elsewhere
,
distracted by the vicious attack on Amara and Parker.
For Greer’s sharp senses to be distracted
,
unable to sense the danger in the Throne.

BOOK: Throne of Oak (Maggie's Grove)
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