Laigin (Ireland), 1014 AD
The man woke with a blinding headache, stripped of his clothing as well as his memories.
With a groan, he sat up, shoving his tangled hair out of his face. It was immediately obvious he was in a damp cave. A strange place to wake. But not nearly as strange as the abrupt realization that something was terrifyingly wrong with him.
Despite the darkness he was able to see the limestone walls that had been chiseled by the water dripping from the low ceiling as clear as if it were day. And it was not only his sight that was unbearably acute.
He could smell the distant salt of the sea. And hear the faint scramble of a bug crossing the stone floor. He could even detect the warmth of two creatures that were rapidly approaching the cave.
What madness was this?
No man should have the senses of a god. Not unless he was a monster.
The dark thoughts barely had time to form before they were interrupted by a hunger that thundered through him. He groaned. It was as if he hadn't eaten in weeks. Months. But it wasn't the thought of food that made his stomach cramp, he realized with a flare of horror.
It was . . . blood.
His mouth watered, the pain of his fangs ripping through his gums startling him as the image of the red, intoxicatingly rich substance filled his mind.
He had to feed.
Aye. That was what he needed.
Disgusted with the knowledge, he slowly rose to his feet, a virile strength running through his massive body even as his head remained thick with confusion.
His instincts urged him to leave the cave, to hunt down his prey and bury his fangs deep in their throats, but the tantalizing scent of fresh strawberries kept him frozen in place.
It appeared that his prey was willingly coming to him.
And they smelled . . . delectable.
Like an animal, he warily shuffled to the deepest shadows. From his vantage point, he silently watched the two slender creatures enter the cave. His eyes widened at the sheer beauty of the strangers. The male had hair the color of rust with bold green eyes set in a lean face, while the female possessed long tawny hair with eyes the shade of spring grass.
They looked like angels.
His fangs ached, his muscles tensing as he prepared to strike.
Angels or not, they were about to become dinner.
But before he could charge, the male held up a slender hand, the scent of strawberries becoming overpowering.
“Hold, berserker,” he commanded, a tingle of magic in the air.
He frowned. “I am a berserker?”
The confusion only deepened. “Were?”
“Two nights ago you were attacked by a clan of vampires.”
He shook his head, his hand instinctively lifting to touch his neck.
The pretty female grimaced. “Not as a human. The local villagers left you in this cave to see if you would rise as a vampire. Even now they are on their way to either witness your corpse or slaughter you.” She held out a slender hand. “Come with us in peace and we will harbor you until you are able to care for yourself.”
Vampire . . .
He went to his knees in shock.
Ireland, present day
Cyn, clan chief of Ireland and former berserker, moaned as he slowly regained consciousness. His brain was fuzzy, which meant it took a full minute to realize he was lying butt-naked on the cold stone floor of a cave.
Bloody hell. It had been a millennium since he'd woken in this precise cave, naked and disoriented. He didn't like it any better today than he had a thousand years ago.
With a groan he forced himself to a sitting position, his body hardening at the intoxicating scent that teased at his nose.
A fine, crisp vintage that made his entire body tingle with anticipation.
For a blissful minute he allowed the fragrance to swirl around him. It was oddly familiar. And, surprisingly, it stirred a complex mixture of emotions.
Arousal. Wariness. Frustration
It was the frustration that abruptly forced him to recall why the scent was so familiar.
Muttering a curse, Cyn had a searing memory of following a beautiful fairy through a portal. No . . . not a fairy, he wryly corrected himself. A Chatri. The ancient purebloods of the fey world who'd retreated to their homeland centuries before.
He'd been there to help Roke locate his mate, but Princess Fallon had shoved him out of the throne room when it was obvious that Roke and Sally needed time to work out their differences, insisting that he leave them in peace.
He'd only been vaguely annoyed at first. He didn't trust the cunning Chatri as far as he could throw them, especially not their king, Sariel. But he wanted Roke to work out his troubles with his mate.
Besides, he was male enough to appreciate being in the company of a beautiful woman.
Or in the case of Fallon . . . a breathtakingly exquisite woman.
Her hair was a glorious tumble of rich gold brushed with hints of pale rose. The sort of hair that begged a man to bury his face in the silken mass. Her eyes were polished amber with flecks of emerald and framed by the thickest, longest lashes Cyn had ever seen. And her ivory features . . . gods almighty, they were so perfect they didn't look real.
He might be suspicious of Fallon, but that didn't mean he couldn't enjoy fantasizing about having her tossed on the nearby chaise longue while he peeled the gown off her slender body, he'd assured himself.
So he'd allowed himself to be distracted by the lovely female as he sipped the potent fey wine, not realizing the danger until his head began to spin and the world went dark.
He should have known that they were plotting something.
He might have a fondness for the fey, but that didn't mean he wasn't well aware of their mercurial natures.
And their love for luring the unwary into their clever traps.
With a low growl he turned his head, easily spotting the female who was sprawled naked on the ground, her golden hair shimmering even in the darkness.
He wanted to know how the hell she'd managed to bring them to the caves beneath his private lair. And he wanted to know now.
Cyn moved to bend beside her slumbering form, pretending that he wasn't acutely aware of the enticing temptation of her long, slender body and the fragile beauty of her pale face.
Sleeping Beauty . . .
A scowl marred his forehead. Aye. She was a beauty. She was also a powerful fey princess who'd managed to catch him off guard once.
It wasn't going to happen again.
“Fallon?” Cyn murmured, his voice deep and laced with an accent that hadn't been heard in this world for centuries. She heaved a sigh at the sound of his voice, but she remained stubbornly asleep. Cyn knelt at her side, knowing better than to touch her. The feel of that satin skin beneath his fingertips was guaranteed to make him forget he was pissed as hell at her little trick. “Fallon,” he growled, his voice a command. “Wake up.”
She gave a small jerk, her lashes fluttering upward to reveal the striking amber eyes with the shimmering flecks of emerald.
For a long moment she studied him in stunned confusion.
Most people found Cyn . . . intimidating.
At six foot three he had a powerful chest and thick muscles that marked him as a warrior. His thick mane of dark blond hair hung halfway down his back except for the front strands that he kept woven into tight braids that framed his face.
His features were chiseled along blunt lines with a square jaw and high cheekbones. His brow was wide and his jade green eyes heavily lashed. Females seemed to find him handsome enough, but there was never any mistake that he was a ruthless killer.
She sucked in a shaky breath as her gaze lowered to the barbaric Tuatha DÃ© Danann tattoos that curled and swirled in a narrow green pattern around his upper arms, emphasizing the perfect alabaster of his skin.
His lips twisted, wondering what she would think of the golden dragon tattoo with crimson wings that was currently hidden beneath the thick mane of his hair.
He'd earned the mark of CuChulainn that was branded onto his right shoulder blade after he'd survived the battles of Durotriges.
It marked him as a clan chief.
“Vampire,” she muttered, as if having difficulty remembering who he was.
He narrowed his gaze, wondering what game she was playing. “Cyn.”
“Yes . . . Cyn.” Her confusion was replaced with a horror as if she were suddenly remembering who he was. A horror that only intensified when she belatedly realized they were both butt-naked. “Dear goddess.” She shoved herself to a sitting position, curling her arms around her knees as she glared at him with angry accusation. “What have you done to me?”
“Me?” He made a sound of disbelief, unconsciously reaching to push a strand of golden hair off her flushed cheek.
“No . . .” With a flare of panic she was scrambling backward, a genuine fear flaring through the amber eyes. “Stay away.”
Cyn muttered a low curse. Her pretense of confusion was annoying the hell out of him, but he didn't like the thought that she was afraid of him.
Strange when he'd devoted several centuries to terrifying his enemies.
“Settle down, princess,” he murmured softly.
“Settle down?” A flush stained her beautiful face. “I wake up naked in the company of a strange vampire far away from my home and you want me to settle down?” She bit her bottom lip, her flush deepening to crimson. “Did youâ”
What the hell? Cyn surged upright. Six foot three of quivering, offended, naked male.
“No, I didn't damned well violate you,” he rasped. “And if I had, I can assure you that you would not only remember, but you'd be on your knees thanking me for the privilege.”
Her fear was replaced by a more familiar disdain. As if he was a bug that needed to be squashed beneath her royal heel.
“Why, you arrogant . . . leech.”
He folded his arms over his massive chest. “At least I'm not a stuck-up prig of a fairy.”
“If you didn't violate me, why are we naked?” she demanded, careful to keep her gaze locked on his face. Was she afraid his bare body might strike her blind? “And how did we get here?”
He snorted. “That's a question I should be asking you.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I'm a vampire.”
Her lips thinned in annoyance, her chin tilted as she continued her ridiculous charade of innocence.
“Yes, I had managed to figure that out.”
“Then you know that I can't create portals,” he snapped, deliberately allowing his gaze to skim downward. Unlike the aggravating female, he had no problem enjoying a naked body. Especially one so appetizing. “Only the fey can do that.”
She frowned, belatedly realizing she couldn't try and pin the blame of their abrupt teleportation on him.
Odd, she hadn't struck him as stupid.
Just the opposite, in fact.
“Fey aren't the only creatures who can create portals.” She tried to hedge.
“Well, I obviously didn't do it.”
“Neither did I.”
He made a sound of impatience. Why was she continuing with this game?
“You expect me to believe you?”
The flecks of emerald shimmered in her eyes. “My father has forbidden his people to leave our homeland.”
“Oh aye, and a daughter has never dared to disobey her father.”
She cast a condemning glance around the barren cave. “Trust me. If I did decide to defy my father, I wouldn't choose to travel to this dump.”
His low growl filled the air. He was a true hedonist. A vampire who reveled in rare books, fine wine, and beautiful women.
And in turn, women adored him.
But this female . . .
She wasn't the warm, willing, bundle of pleasure he was accustomed to. She was rude and prickly and downright dangerous.
“Watch your tongue, princess,” he snarled. “This dump happens to be a part of my private lair.”
“There.” She pointed an accusing finger toward him. “I knew it. You kidnapped me.”
Cyn rolled his eyes. Could this farce get any more ridiculous?
“The only one kidnapped was me.”
“Why would I kidnap an oversized, ego-bloated vampire?”
Yeah. Why would she? It took him a minute to shuffle through his still-fuzzy thoughts.
“To keep me from protecting my friend,” he at last concluded.
Hadn't she pulled him out of the throne room, leaving Roke at the mercy of her father, Sariel? And then she'd plied him with some wicked fey brew that had knocked him unconscious.
Aye. It made perfect sense that it was a nefarious plot to separate him from his friend.
At least it did until she glared at him in outraged disbelief.
“Are you completely mental? Your friend was exactly where he wanted to be.”
Okay. She had a point.
Roke hadn't looked like he needed Cyn's services. In fact, the last he'd seen of his fellow vampire, he was wrapping his mate in his arms, his expression one of besotted devotion.
“Then perhaps you simply wanted to be alone with me.” He flashed a smile that revealed his snowy white fangs. One way or another he was getting answers. “You wouldn't be the first female to use magic to get me into your bed.”
She muttered something distinctly unladylike beneath her breath.
“I am a fairy princess.”
“And I don't share my bed withâ”
He planted his hands on his hips, his expression daring her to finish the sentence.
Her lips parted to complete her insult, but before she could speak there was a sizzle of power in the air. Cyn turned toward the center of the cave, his muscles coiled to attack as there was a faint pop, and then a tiny demon dressed in a long white gown appeared out of thin air.
Cyn gave a startled hiss, his eyes widening at the creature who could easily pass as a young girl with her small stature and long silver braid that nearly brushed the floor. Cyn, however, wasn't fooled. He recognized the strange oblong eyes that were a solid black and the sharp, pointed teeth.
This was no harmless juvenile.
She had enough power to crush him and his entire clan.
Even worse, she was an Oracle. One of the rare demons who sat on the Commission, the ultimate rulers of the demon world.
“Enough squabbling, children,” she chided, folding her hands together as she studied them with an unnerving intensity.
“Holy shite.” Cyn offered a belated bow. “Siljar.”
Fallon crouched on the ground, her arms wrapped around her knees in a futile effort at modesty.
“You know this person?”
“Not person,” Cyn corrected, shivering as Siljar's energy sizzled over his skin. “Oracle.”
The amber eyes widened. “Oh.”
“Forgive me.” Siljar gave an absent wave of her hand and Cyn made a strangled sound of shock as he found himself covered by a plain white robe that hit him just below the knees. The Oracle gave another wave of her hand and Fallon was covered in a matching robe. “I haven't created a portal into the fairy homeland for a number of centuries.”
Cyn scowled, ignoring Fallon's I-told-you-so glare. “You brought us here?” he demanded.
Siljar gave a nod of her head. “I did.”
“Because I have need of you.”
His acute hearing picked up Fallon's soft sigh of relief as she rose to her feet and brushed her hands down the satin robe.
“You need the vampire?”
“I have a name,” he reminded the princess with a snap.
Siljar clicked her tongue, her gaze shifting from Fallon to Cyn.
“I need both of you.”
Cyn stiffened. It was never, ever a good thing when an Oracle had need of him.
There was the unmistakable scent of sulfur as Siljar's expression tightened with anger.
“I fear the Commission is being tampered with.”
Cyn arched a brow. Hadn't Styx sent word that they'd uncovered the plot by the strange demons who'd been holding Fallon's father captive?
“Aye, we know the Nebule planted a spy to pose as an Oracle,” he said.
Siljar shrugged. “He has been destroyed.”
Oh. Cyn grimaced. “You suspect there's another traitor?”
“That was my first thought,” Siljar admitted. “But I believe that on this occasion the Oracles are being manipulated without their knowledge.”