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by Alyssa Day


  The pale yellow brick glowed in the night air, resonating with the quiet dignity of walls that had stood sentinel, indifferent and stoic, as the tempests of humans had ebbed and flowed over the centuries. If walls could talk, as the old saying went, these would offer a history lesson on power—or a cautionary tale for those in search of it.

  Somewhat like the ancient tales of Atlantis herself.

  Floating over the spot where the Duke of Wellington’s statue had been before somebody decided to banish it to the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich—ha, the fleeting nature of fame, Duke, old boy—he examined the exterior windows of the Waterloo Barracks, opposite to the scaffolding and white stone of the White Tower. A flicker of light glinted off a gargoyle as it . . . moved.

  Damn. Either imagination or adrenaline was working overtime, because Christophe was sure that the gargoyle had moved an inch or two. He approached it, still suspended as mist, only to find exactly what he should have expected: there was no way the gargoyle had moved since somebody put its butt-ugly self there in the first place.

  He must be having hallucinations.

  It was adrenaline. The excitement of doing something different for a change, instead of the same old same old. He’d had enough of killing vampires and smiting shape-shifters to last a lifetime. And Atlantis was no better. It was getting crowded in the palace, with all of his fellow warriors finding women. Not temporary women, either. No, these were keeper women, the long-term, asphyxiate-a-guy kind of women.

  No, thank you. Not for him. He was going to steal the Siren, the enormous aquamarine that graced Vanquish’s hilt, and take it back to Atlantis so it could be reattached to Poseidon’s Trident, where it belonged. Hand that sucker straight over to Alaric. Or better yet, instead of to the high priest in person, to one of his minions, so there would be no repeat of Alaric’s most recent lecture: Why Christophe Was Wasting His Magical Abilities by Refusing to Join the Priesthood, Part 784.

  He didn’t want to be a priest. He wanted some fun. Like this job. It was a heist, pure and simple. Fun.

  The jewels were housed on the first floor, with nobody but the Tower Guard, various electronic devices, and the Yeomen Warders to protect them. Of the three, only the Yeomen Warders concerned him at all. The shape-shifters in that group were rumored to be pretty damn tough, and no few of them claimed to be descended from the shape-shifters who’d been among the original Warders back in 1485.

  Of course, back then, shifters weren’t roaming around in broad daylight, with everybody knowing who and what they were. Vamps, either, for that matter, but the past decade-plus had brought big changes to the world.

  Mostly for the worse.

  The Tower Guard was part of the Queen’s Guard, according to the handy tour guide a tourist had conveniently left on a bench for Christophe to find. They didn’t live in the Tower, but the Warders still did, unfortunately. If only everybody trusted their electronics these days. Atlantean magic wreaked holy hells on electricity.

  The thought of powerful Brennan, locked in that electric cage with Tiernan, flashed through his mind, and his mood soured. Sometimes the electricity won.

  Christophe eyed a tiny crack in the casement of a third-floor window on the tower, just to the left of the main doors. Not even a large insect could fit through that crack.

  Mist, however, could get in just fine.

  * * *

  Fiona had timed out the midnight-to-eight A.M. shift patterns of the Tower Guard and the Yeoman Warders on multiple occasions over the past several weeks. One thing was certain: the men and women, human and shifter alike, who guarded the Jewel House, were serious, dedicated professionals. No mere thief would get anywhere near those jewels.

  Good thing she was no mere thief. She was world class.

  Stealing onto the grounds had been child’s play, but breaching the Waterloo Barracks and the Jewel House would be a little trickier. She knew her . . . talent would keep them from seeing her, but shadowing only completely fooled living eyes and cameras. Motion detectors made for trickier adventures.

  From her position leaning against a tree in the courtyard at an angle to the main doors, she saw the team of two stride around the corner of the building exactly on time. Two A.M. on the dot; one could set her clock on the punctuality of the guards. These were two enormous, burly men, probably shifters, having a lovely conversation about rugby or something else vital to England’s national stature.

  She slowly leaned farther back into the rough bark of the tree, concentrating fiercely. Shifters were tougher to hide from than humans—she’d have to bend air as well as light, and the shifters’ minds were not as easily amenable to clouding.

  Ribbons of silken moonlight danced through the air surrounding Fiona and the tree, circling her with nearly imperceptible shadings of dappled light. A spill of liquid darkness spread over her—through her—so gradually that only the keenest observer would have felt even a tingle of awareness. Light and the very air itself bent to her will as Fiona focused on dispersing her scent and disappearing from view.

  The shorter of the guards stopped suddenly, his body tensing and leaning forward in the unmistakable sign of alert. He held up a hand, and his partner whirled to face the direction from which they’d come and settled into the same wary crouch. Precision back-to-back stance; these were no decorative guards put in place to amuse and delight tourists with their furry hats. These were the guardians of the dark hours between dusk and dawn, and their honor stood guard with them. For a shifter to lose face over the theft of a jewel under his care would be a gut-wrenching, soul-deadening failure.

  For an instant sympathy encouraged hesitation in her mind, but she forced herself to visualize the rebuilding of Wolf Hall as a headquarters for the United Kingdom shifters. More than one hundred million euros of public money had been thrown into the project thus far, with much more to come. Now that the family of Jane Seymour, the third wife of Henry VIII, were rumored to have been shifters, the press were tantalized, and even Hollywood had come to call. Anyone who questioned the extravagant expenditure was drowned out in the usual British religion of celeb worship.

  Shape-shifters with ties to royalty: the new rock stars.

  Fiona clamped down on her mental wanderings when indignation made her focus waver for a split second. The taller guard lifted his nose into the wind and leaned forward, staring into the shadows around her tree. His sense of smell wouldn’t be nearly as keen in this form as when he was a wolf, but still better than that of any human.

  Deeper. She sent her mental command arrowing ever more deeply into her own brain, until she felt the almost audible click that signaled total control of her Gift. Air and light bent to her will in the space surrounding her. The scent of her body dispersed into the vestigial odors of the millions of tourists who crossed this courtyard. Her image vanished, hidden by the shadows caressing her. Even the sound of her heartbeat and breath floated away, broken up and scattered with the obedient winds. To any of the guards’ five senses, she simply did not exist, so long as she didn’t get close enough to touch.

  Damn the luck, though. Her Gift had no control over the sixth. Intuition. Hunches. The peripheral senses of shifters who trusted their own instincts—they’d come near to unveiling her more than once in the past. Her lips quirked at the idea of how unhappy Hopkins would be if her outrageous streak of good fortune chose now to desert her.

  She caught her breath and tightened her hand on the grip of her tranq gun as the shifter took a step toward her. There was no possible way she could outrun a wolf, not even one in human guise. It was the matter of a moment, anyway, for the more powerful shifters to transform, and these looked anything but weak.

  The guard with his back to her glanced over his shoulder at his partner. “What is it?”

  “I don’t know,” the one with the nose said. “Nothing. Something. Maybe.”

  The first one snorted out a laugh. “Thanks for clearing that up.”

  “I don’t know. But whatever it is—�
��

  The sharp sound of pebbles clattering to the ground interrupted him, and Fiona and the guards all turned their attention to the sky. Or, more specifically, to the roof of the building, from where the pebble shower had originated.

  “Maybe a bird?”

  “That was no bird.” The guard lowered his gaze and aimed one long last stare at the tree where Fiona stood—perfectly still, perfectly silent—with her gun at the ready. “But maybe what I thought I sensed over by the tree was.”

  “Or maybe we’ve got vamps playing games,” the other one snarled, as he turned sharply on his heel and started running back the way they’d come. “I warned those freaks the last time they tried to hang out here—”

  “Bloodsuckers don’t listen to warnings.”

  Neither do ninjas, Fiona added silently, as the pair vanished behind the building, presumably making for the particular side door that was the guards’ preferred entrance. But with just a bit of luck, they’d call in for replacements who might choose a different door. The main entrance not thirty feet away from her, for example.

  It took her fewer than ten seconds to make her way to the side of the double wooden doors and plaster her body up against the wall. Another ten seconds and the sound of pounding feet approached, and the doors swung open, spilling out a new pair of guards. This time, they were both human, but their reflexes were almost shifter-quick.

  Fiona wasted no time in ducking under the arm of one guard to enter the building, seconds before he yanked the door closed. Still shadowed, she slowly stood, careful not to move until she’d scanned the area for further guards, either human or shifter. Glowing carriage lamps with modern bulbs lit up the dark hallway, their illumination dimmed for night but still bright enough for their light to pounce on any unwanted visitor.

  It was a familiar sight and one she’d toured often enough, usually with guests from elsewhere. A left turn would take her to the Hall of Monarchs with its various and sundry thrones and coats of arms. Glorious, but not really what she was after tonight. Nor was the cinema room with its video of Elizabeth II’s coronation, or Processional Way, with its walls of shining maces, or even the Temporal Sword of Justice. No, Fiona wanted a jewel from a quite different sword and it was in the Treasury. The jewel part of the Crown Jewels.

  One jewel in particular.

  And all she had to do was liberate William the Conqueror’s sword to take it.

  No worries.

  Chapter 3

  The Summer Lands, in the forest not far from the Unseelie Court palace

  Prince Gideon na Feransel stared at Maeve and wondered, not for the first or tenth or even the hundredth time, how the smartest, most powerful Unseelie Court Fae prince in recorded history—himself, naturally—had been saddled with an idiot for a sister.

  “Maeve, if you’d quit playing with your hair and listen for a single minute, I’d explain this in words even you could understand.”

  Maeve continued brushing her silky blue-black hair and rolled her eyes at him. Which he hated—which she knew.

  Damn Fae princesses were astonishingly arrogant.

  “We tell the humans we’re cousins, because the closer relationship of brother and sister would involve certain expectations we don’t wish to entangle us.”

  She handed her hairbrush to one of the fawning males who always surrounded her. “Such as?”

  “We’d have to pretend to like each other.”

  Her delicate features screwed up in a tiny moue of distaste. As Fae, she could never be truly ugly, but Gideon privately thought this expression came close. Of course, his taste ran to paler beauty. A certain blonde had caught his eye.

  “You’re wrong, in any case, brother,” she said. “I know many human siblings who despise each other.”

  “This is all beside the point, Maeve. Now if you don’t mind, please send your entourage away so we might speak privately.”

  She shot a speculative glance at him, reminding him anew that vanity was not a signal of lack of intelligence. Anyone who underestimated Maeve na Feransel was a fool, and Gideon was many things, but never, ever a fool.

  “Go,” she said, waving a slender arm. The various men—lesser Fae and human both—all bowed and fled, obeying her order with an alacrity that underscored his reason for the conversation with his sister.

  He leaned against the trunk of a winged elm tree and inhaled deeply, comforted by the scent of all things green and growing. The soil beneath his boots was a touch dry, but he knew rain would soon arrive to soothe and nourish the forest. The connection with the earth and all things growing was so much a part of Fae nature that he sometimes wondered how humans survived without it. Perhaps it was how they could destroy nature with so little concern or remorse.

  Perhaps he was a fool to try to save any of them, but then again, he did occasionally need them. All of that chaotic life-force energy was so delicious.

  “I’ve put out the word that a very wealthy buyer will pay top money for the sword Vanquish,” he said. “I’ve also told Telios, but that fool vampire is more interested in murder and destruction than anything else, so I doubt he’ll be able to come up with a coherent plan to steal it.”

  “Why don’t you just steal it yourself?” Maeve turned away from him and bent to admire a profusion of wild orchids tangled around the base of a jasmine bush. “I know you’re only after the Siren and what it can do. The power to enthrall shifters on a large scale? Why would you possibly care about that?”

  “Power held is never useless. Far more important, though, is power withheld from others. If the vampires were to learn what the Siren can do, their misguided attempt to take over the entire world would be one step closer to its realization. Even you should realize that this would be utter annihilation for the Fae.”

  “You do know that Rhys na Garanwyn is working with the Atlanteans toward the same end? Why not join forces?”

  Rage flared inside him with sudden, sharp intensity. He forced it to recede. The time would come for him to unleash his fury. Not now. Not yet.

  “I will consider all options,” he managed to say calmly. “For now, if you see your little human friend, encourage her to steal the sword for me.”

  “Friend? What are you talking about?”

  He started laughing at her so-obvious attempt at deception. “Don’t bother to deny it. I know that your friend Lady Fiona is a thief. The Scarlet Ninja, isn’t that what they call her?”

  She whirled around, and he saw her shock before she masked her emotional response.

  “I don’t know what you’re talking about. She—”

  “Don’t bother,” he repeated, folding his arms over his chest. He was enjoying this. “I targeted her, specifically, by making sure her contacts got the word. She has Fae in her, you know.”

  This time, his beloved, wicked, deceitful sister could not hide her shock. “How did you know?”

  “The way you were drawn to her from the first, when you attended that human school. Don’t you think we noticed? Do you really believe we would allow you, a Fae princess, to mingle in the human world without constant surveillance?”

  She shook her head. “No. I would have known. I watched for anyone. There were no guards.”

  “There were dozens of guards, you fool,” he said, enjoying the way her lovely white skin paled even further. “Always. The first time we caught her shadowing, we backtracked her heritage. We’re almost certain she’s of Fae blood. Probably Seelie Court, and quite possibly royalty.”

  “You leave her alone,” Maeve said hotly. “She’s mine.”

  “Yours? I thought your tastes ran only to the male of the various species.” He swept his gaze over her luscious curves. Too bad she was his sister. He was in the mood for a little bed play.

  “Not like that. She’s my friend. You hurt her and you will answer to me.” Her voice was quiet as she said it, but somehow deadly. For just an instant, a chill of apprehension slid over him, but then he came to his senses. She was so far belo
w him in the hierarchy of power as to be entirely unimportant.

  “You aren’t threatening me, are you, little sister?” He strode over to her, crossing the distance between them with slow, deliberate intent. “Never forget who holds the power of Feransel. I could crush you with a thought.”

  She paled again but said nothing. Just bowed her head.

  “Permission to return to my rooms, Lord Feransel?” This time, her voice held nothing but submission and a tinge of bitterness.

  Better.

  “Yes, go. But have a care. If Telios approaches you, be sure to emphasize how important that sword is to me, but make no mention of the jewel on its hilt. I’d steal it myself if William’s witch hadn’t ensorcelled it to destroy any Fae who touched it when not freely given.” He laughed. “William the Conqueror, indeed. How did they never wonder how he became such a conqueror? A powerful witch on his side for all those years, and none suspected.”

  “You knew,” she pointed out.

  “Yes, but what care did I have for human affairs at that time? There were more than enough of them and the vampires still hid in the dark. Now, things are different. I want that gem. A perfect aquamarine, or so I hear.”

  She bit her lip but said nothing. Probably thinking about her next bed partner. Useless female. He made a go-away gesture with his hand and she all but ran off down the path toward the palace.

  “The Siren and Lady Fiona. I’ll have them both. Quite lovely prizes for one who seeks to rule both courts, don’t you think?” he asked the empty air.

  Only the trees heard his laughter.

 

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