Merry Gentry series
Darla Cook, for being a sounding board, watcher at the gates, nag (her word not mine), and kindred spirit. Karen Wilbur, who got to read this book early. One of these years I’ll be between books on your birthday and I’ll actually have to buy you a present. To Shawn Holsapple and his Cathy, kindred spirits all. Sharon Shinn, who gave her expert feedback as the wonderful writer she is. Deborah Milletello, who I don’t get to talk to nearly enough. Mark and Sarah Sumner, who I don’t get to see enough of either. Never enough time to be with friends. Rhett MacPhearson, who is still writing delightful mysteries. Lauretta, I hope we get our families together for a trip sometime. Marella Sands, fine writer, and Tom Drennan, where’s that book?
A lot of people lounge by pools in L.A., but few of them are truly immortal, no matter how hard they pretend with plastic surgery and exercise. Doyle was truly immortal and had been for over a thousand years. A thousand years of wars, assassinations, and political intrigue, and he’d been reduced to being eye candy in a thong bathing suit by the pool of the rich and famous. He lay at the edge of the pool, wearing almost nothing. Sunlight glittered across the blue, blue water of the pool. The light broke in a jagged dance across his body, as if some invisible hand stirred the light, turning it into a dozen tiny spotlights that coaxed Doyle’s dark body into colors I’d never known his skin could hold.
He wasn’t black the way a human being is black, but more the way a dog is black. Watching the play of light on his skin, I realized I’d been wrong. His skin gleamed with blue highlights, a shine of midnight blue along the long muscular sweep of his calf, a flare of royal blue like a stroke of deep sky touched his back and shoulder. Purple to shame the darkest amethyst caressed his hip. How could I ever have thought his skin monochrome? He was a miracle of colors and light, strapped across a body that rippled and moved with muscles honed in wars fought centuries before I was born.
The braid of his black hair trailed across the edge of the lounge chair, fell over the side, and curled beside him on the concrete like some patient serpent. His hair was the only thing that seemed black on black. There was no play of colors, only a gleam like a black jewel. It seemed as if it should have been the other way around, that his hair should have held the highlights and his body been all one color, but it wasn’t.
He lay on his stomach, head turned away from me. He was pretending to be asleep, but I knew he wasn’t. He was waiting. Waiting for the helicopter to fly over. The helicopter that would contain the press, people with cameras. We’d made a deal with the devil. If the press would just stay away enough for us to have some privacy, we’d make sure that at prearranged times they had something newsworthy to take pictures of. I was Princess Meredith NicEssus, heir to the throne of the Unseelie Court, and the fact that I’d surfaced in Los Angeles, California, after a three-year absence was big news. People thought I’d died. Now I was alive and well, and living in the middle of one of the biggest media empires on the planet. Then I’d gone and done something that was even better tabloid fodder.
I was looking for a husband. The only faerie princess born on American soil was looking to wed. Being fey, especially a member of the sidhe, the highest of the high royals, I wasn’t allowed to marry unless I was pregnant. The fey don’t breed much, and the sidhe royals breed even less. My aunt, the Queen of Air and Darkness, would not tolerate anything less than a fertile match. Since we seemed to be dying out, I guess I couldn’t blame her. But somehow the tabloids had gotten wind that I wasn’t just dating my bodyguards, I was fucking them. Whoever got me with child, got a wedding. Got to be king to my queen.
The tabloids even knew that the queen had made it a contest between me and her son, my cousin, Prince Cel. Whoever got a baby first, won the throne. The media had fallen on us like a cannibalistic orgy. Not pretty, not pretty at all.
What the tabloids didn’t know was that Cel had tried to have me assassinated more than once. They also didn’t know that he’d been imprisoned by the queen for six months as punishment. Imprisoned and tortured, for six months. Immortality and an ability to heal almost anything does have some downsides. Torture can last a very, very long time.
When Cel got out, he’d be allowed to continue the contest, unless I got pregnant first. So far, no luck, and it wasn’t for lack of trying.
Doyle was one of five bodyguards, the queen’s own bodyguards, who had volunteered, or been volunteered, to be my lover. Queen Andais had had a rule that her bodyguards gave their seed to her body, or nobody. Doyle had been celibate for centuries. Again, immortality, if it goes wrong, can have some downsides.
We’d chosen one of the most persistent of the tabloids and made our arrangements. Doyle thought it was rewarding bad behavior; the queen wanted us to show positive images to the media. The Unseelie Court of the sidhe has a reputation for being the bad guys. We can be, but I’d spent my fair share of time at the Seelie Court, the bright and shining court that the media think is so perfect, so joyous. Their King Taranis, the King of Light and Illusion, is my uncle. But I’m not in line to that throne. I had the bad taste to have a father who was full-blooded Unseelie sidhe, and that is a crime for which the glittering throng has no forgiveness. There was no prison that I could go to, no torture I could endure, that would cleanse me of this sin.
They can say that the Seelie Court is a beautiful place, but I learned that my blood is just as red on white marble as it is on black. The beautiful people made it very plain at a young age that I would never be one of them. I’m too short, too human looking, and, worse yet, too Unseelie looking.
My skin is as white as Doyle’s is black. Moonlight skin is what I have, a mark of beauty at either court, but I am barely five feet tall. No sidhe is that short. I have curves and am a little too voluptuous for the sidhe—that pesky human blood, I guess. My eyes are tricolored, two shades of green and a circle of gold. The eyes would be welcome in the Seelie Court, but not the hair. It’s blood auburn, sidhe scarlet, if you go to a good salon and get the dye job. It’s not auburn, and it’s not human red. It’s as if you took good red garnets and spun the jewels out into hair. It has one other nickname among the glittering throng—Unseelie red. The Seelie have red hair, but it’s closer to human red, orangey, golden, true auburn, or true red, but nothing as dark as mine.