Chapter One

The fire on the hearth stone rose and fell at the low, monotonous sound of chanting. Flames licked over sharp-smelling pine that burned brightly, crackling, casting lively shadows against the walls of the underground lair. Living tree roots lined the walls of the centuries-old home, gnarled and entwined, looping in and out like Celtic knots. Trees lived in the space, residents as rightful as the faeries themselves. Candles burned here and there, set along those roots and across a wooden table nearby, its top thick with melted beeswax. The sweet smell of the candles, burning wolfclaw, and nettle mingled with the scents of wood smoke and earth.

The faerie Daghda—An Daghda Mór to those who once worshipped him—lounged naked beside the fire, comfortable on silken, feather pillows, drowsing as Morrighan cast her spell. But, comfortable as he was, he tired of waiting. He stirred and propped himself on one elbow to watch. She was dawdling, he knew it. He was being ignored, and he hated that. More than anything, he hated being ignored.

“Come,” he said. “Lie with me and forget the damned mortal.” He held his hand out to her in invitation. His ball mór swelled as he gazed upon her flushed, glistening skin. The sweet ache made him shift position and he raised his knee. It had been far too long since she’d last shown interest in him and the longing was no longer tolerable.

She declined to reply, ignoring him still, and lifted the sword over the fire to cense it in the smoke. Her words were in the Old Tongue, muttered under her breath. He couldn’t hear what she said, though he lay quite near. She was shutting him out on purpose now. Anger rose, and he sat up on the pillows.

His voice took on a petulant tone, though he hated it and coughed first to clear it from his throat. “What might be the purpose of it? If it’s the blood lust ye desire for him, he’s human and therefore filled with it already. Or is it fear in yourself? Do ye think his powers are greater than your own?” He knew her well, and wouldn’t hesitate to prod her most tender places.

That brought an evil look, and a smile touched his mouth as she paused in her chanting. Smoke drifted past the blade of the aging sword—a worn Scottish broadsword with a heart-shaped basket hilt of pierced steel. “He’s but a mortal.” She sneered, but he thought there was more to it. Such as lust of her own. Jealousy rose again in Daghda, and he spoke more firmly this time.

“Exactly as I said, mo caraid.”

“It might interest you to learn, he calls his dirk Brigid after your daughter.”

That did nothing more than irritate him further, and whether he felt it toward the mortal or toward Morrighan, Daghda couldn’t say. Nor did he care. He replied, “All my daughters and sons are dead. He’s welcome to consecrate his dirk as he likes. Also, the goddess of war holds the life of every man, save the cowardly who are of nae account in any case. Leave him be and come to me.”

Daghda refrained from mentioning his own powers, for his best days were far behind him. Any more, he was happy enough merely to not age like a mortal, for that was nearly the only power left to him now that the Sidhe were dwindling. Only a few scattered faeries remained in the isles, hiding from the increasing numbers of men and their new powers of construction and destruction.

The pleasures of Morrighan’s flesh were his only joy in life any more, and her waning interest tore at him. Longing filled him for the day he’d first seen her, straddling a burn, washing the heads of men slain in battle. Her thick, black hair had draped over her face and shoulders, and she’d eyed him with such a bright, hot look of lust, he’d taken her on the spot. In the flowing water, surrounded by the spoils of her triumphant day, he’d taken her to him and made her his own. At least, he’d thought of it that way. It had been a glorious coupling, recounted through the centuries in story and song. Remembering the mindless joy, her excitement for the death all around, the heat and strength of her body, his skin warmed, glowing red in the firelight.

Morrighan spoke, a low growl of anger, and her lip curled as she struggled to retain her concentration on the work at hand. “He knows things I cannot. He speaks to the Tuatha De Danann without fear. He hears the tree spirits and they attend to him. They do his bidding. I must ken what he has seen, and understand his power. Where it lies. How it might be had. I must have it.”

“And if his power is naught but luck?”

A crooked smile crept over her blood-red mouth, and her cold eyes made him shiver, warrior though he once had been. “In that case, he’ll need luck beyond imagining simply to live.” With a quick flurry of words she finished the spell, her red-clad breast heaving and her skin ruddy with power. She held the sword aloft and the blade glinted in the firelight. Aloud, she cried, “Let the will of the great art be done!”

The sword disappeared amid crackling, sparkling air as the fire leapt. The hairs rose on Daghda’s arms, and he rubbed them down. Morrighan sighed and stared at the now empty space, satisfied.

Daghda let a smile lift the corners of his mouth as Morrighan’s gaze wandered over him. A fine sheen of sweat covered her and her eyes were wild, dancing. He said, his voice husky with longing, “Seeing ye like this, recollects me of the day I came upon ye with yer feet spread wide and yer skirts tucked up to yer waist, letting the burn run between yer legs all free.” Lying back on the pillows, he touched his tongue to his lip.

She smiled. Her eyes glittered in the high, hot firelight. In one movement she dropped her crimson robe from her shoulders and came to kneel between his splayed knees. His blood surged and he reached for her involuntarily, wishing to have his mouth on hers. Or any part of her. His hand slipped behind her neck, and she slithered the length of him, skin on skin, until her hips pressed hard against the insides of his thighs. He moaned, deep in his chest as the ache in his groin sharpened to sweet pain. Her mouth found his as she straddled his hips. As she claimed him and he surrendered to her, he thought that perhaps he would like her to cast a spell such as this every day.

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