Kinked, p.1
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       Kinked, p.1

         Part #6 of Elder Races series by Thea Harrison
 
Kinked


  Thea Harrison is the pen name for author Teddy Harrison. Thea has travelled extensively, having lived in England and explored Europe for several years. Now she resides in Northern California. She wrote her first book, a romance, when she was nineteen and had sixteen romances published under the name Amanda Carpenter.

  Visit Thea Harrison online:

  www.theaharrison.com

  www.facebook.com/TheaHarrison

  www.twitter.com/theaharrison

  By Thea Harrison

  Elder Races series:

  DRAGON BOUND

  STORM’S HEART

  SERPENT’S KISS

  ORACLE’S MOON

  LORD’S FALL

  KINKED

  Game of Shadows series:

  RISING DARKNESS

  Copyright

  Published by Piatkus

  ISBN: 978-1-4055-1663-1

  All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2013 by Teddy Harrison

  The moral right of the author has been asserted.

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.

  The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not owned by the publisher.

  Piatkus

  Little, Brown Book Group

  100 Victoria Embankment

  London, EC4Y 0DY

  www.littlebrown.co.uk

  www.hachette.co.uk

  Contents

  About the Author

  By Thea Harrison

  Copyright

  Dedication

  One

  Two

  Three

  Four

  Five

  Six

  Seven

  Eight

  Nine

  Ten

  Eleven

  Twelve

  Thirteen

  Fourteen

  Fifteen

  Sixteen

  Seventeen

  Eighteen

  Nineteen

  Twenty

  Twenty-One

  Twenty-Two

  This one is for Amy

  It’s all fun and games when someone loses an eye.

  —ARYAL, HARPY

  That’s not how the saying goes, dumb ass.

  —QUENTIN, IRRITATED

  ONE

  Aryal floated and spun in the wild dark night.

  She didn’t mind living in New York as some other Wyr did. The city was edgy and raw in a way that appealed to her. But this lonesome realm that hung high over the top of the world—this was her true home. This was where she came to think, or brood or fling her fury into space.

  She flew so high that the air felt almost too thin for even her powerful lungs. The clouds lay below her, air castles of shadowed ivory, and the stars above her whirled in their dance of constellations, their lights telling ancient tales of places from unimaginable distances. At this altitude, the stars were so brilliant she almost felt as if she could leave the shackles of gravity behind forever and fly into them.

  Almost.

  There was always that one moment when she reached the peak of her ability to fly, that one instant of perfection as she hung weightless in the air, no longer straining to rise but simply existing in flawless balance.

  Then gravity would reign supreme and pull her back down to earth, but she always carried with her the memory of how she could touch that one perfect moment.

  Tonight, she didn’t fly for pleasure. She flew to brood in solitude.

  She had two hates. One, she held close and nurtured with all of her passion. The other, she had to release.

  Her first hate was Quentin Caeravorn.

  As soon as she could figure out a way to do it without getting caught, swear to gods, she was going to kill him.

  She would prefer to kill him slowly, but bottom line, at this point she would be happy to take any opportunity she could get.

  It was bad enough when Quentin’s friend and former employee Pia ended up mating—and marrying—Dragos Cuelebre, Lord of the Wyr. Once, Pia had been a thief who had stolen from the most Powerful Wyr the world has ever seen. Now she was his wife and the mother of his son.

  Ever since Pia had moved into Cuelebre Tower, the gryphons had gone batshit gaga over her; they all thought she pooped sparkly rainbows or something. Hell, as far as Aryal knew, she actually did poop sparkly rainbows.

  The Wyr in general had a more reserved (sane) response to Pia’s presence, especially since she continued to refuse to reveal her Wyr form, which Aryal thought was not only a shortsighted decision but also a rather wretched one. How could anybody expect the Wyr to accept or follow her when they didn’t even know what the hell she was? The very fact of her existence made Aryal’s teeth ache.

  Outside of the Wyr demesne, however, Pia’s popularity had skyrocketed. Her daily mail had gone from a trickle of letters and cards into an avalanche that required a separate office and its own small staff.

  Pia even took Dragos’s last name, an old-fashioned move that had Aryal rolling her eyes. Now she was Pia Cuelebre.

  Last names … they were like word parasites. They attached to people in strange ways, moved across cultural and political lines, traveled the world and reattached to others, certainly at whim and seemingly at random.

  Why didn’t anybody else see how creepy last names were? They labeled a person as coming from a particular class or geographical area or linked their identity to another person, as if someone’s identity had no merit on its own unless it had latched on to another. Aryal refused to pick a last name for herself, as so many of the first immortal Wyr chose to do, nor would she ever take anybody else’s.

  Pia was her second hate.

  Earlier today, Aryal finally, grudgingly, painfully conceded she was going to have to let go of her snerk over Pia. That was a bitter pill for her to shove down her own throat. It was sugarcoated by the most lethal weapon in Pia’s armory to date: the unbelievable sweetness in her newborn son’s face.

  After Pia and Dragos had gotten married, they had gone on their honeymoon, where she had given birth unexpectedly. Yesterday, she and Dragos cut short their trip to upstate New York to return to the city. When they had arrived back at the Tower early last evening, everybody had to see, touch, hold and/or coo over the baby.

  The other sentinels acted like Dragos had conquered all of Asia overnight, while Dragos radiated a ferocious pride. Almost seven feet tall in his human form, with a massive, muscular body and a brutally handsome face, he would always carry in his demeanor a sharpness like a blade, but Aryal had to admit, she had never seen him look so … happy.

  As for her, she refused to go anywhere near Pia and the rug rat. She didn’t want to have anything to do with them.

  Unfortunately, that hadn’t lasted long.

  Less than twenty-four hours, to be exact.

  Earlier today, when she had charged around the hall corner outside of Dragos’s offices, she nearly mowed down Pia, who pushed some kind of ambulatory, complicated-looking cart with the sleeping baby tucked inside of it.

  Pia looked tired. Her pretty, triangular face was paler than usual, and her ever-present blond ponytail was slightly lopsided with wisps of hair trailing at her temples. One of her new full-time bodyguards was with her. The mouthy woman, Eva. Eva thrust between Pia and Aryal, her bold features and black eyes insolent with hostility. She stood as tall as Aryal, a full six feet in flat boots, dark brown skin rippling over toned muscle.

  “You’re a menace just walking down the hall,” said Eva. “Do you kn
ow any speed other than one that might get someone hurt?”

  “You and me,” Aryal told her on a surge of happiness. “We’re gonna go some day.”

  “Let’s make that day today,” said Eva. “We can go right down the hall to the training room. With or without weapons. You pick.”

  “Lower your voices,” Pia said irritably. “If you wake up the baby, I’ll take you both down.”

  Eva’s expression softened as she looked at the occupant in the cart. Before she could stop herself, Aryal looked too.

  And found herself snared irretrievably.

  She was astonished at how tiny the baby was. His entire face, in fact most of his head, was smaller than the palm of her hand. He was wrapped tightly in a soft cloth. It looked restrictive and uncomfortable, but she knew absolutely nothing about babies, and he seemed content enough.

  Aryal sidled a step closer, her head angled as she stared. Eva made a move as if she would block Aryal, but Pia put a hand on her bodyguard’s arm and stopped her.

  The sleeping baby carried a roar of Power in his soft, delicate body. Aryal shook her head in wonder. She hadn’t sensed any of it before now. How had Pia managed to conceal that much Power when she had been pregnant?

  The baby opened his eyes. He looked so alive and innocent, and as peaceful as a miniature Buddha. He had dark violet eyes like his mother’s. The color was so deep and pure it seemed to hold all the wildness and mystery of the night sky.

  Some vital organ in Aryal’s chest constricted. Her hand crept out to him and hovered in midair as, out of the corner of her eye, she saw Pia twitch.

  Comprehension clipped her with an uppercut to the chin.

  Pia wouldn’t trust her anywhere near the baby as long as Aryal held on to any lingering resentment or hostility. She wouldn’t teach Aryal how to hold him, and she sure as hell wouldn’t ever leave him in Aryal’s care. Nobody would, which was hideously unfair because Aryal would cut off her own hands before she would do anything to harm a child, no matter who its parents were.

  As she struggled with the realization, the baby worked an arm loose from his straightjacket and stuck his fist in one eye. Surprise and confusion wobbled over his miniscule face. With a Herculean effort he managed to jerk his fist to his mouth. He started to suck on it noisily.

  That vital organ in Aryal’s chest—that was her heart, and she lost it to him forever.

  “Okay,” she said, her voice hoarse.

  “What exactly is okay, Aryal?” asked Pia.

  Aryal looked at her. Some sort of suppressed emotion danced in Pia’s gaze. Triumph, maybe, or amusement. Whatever it was, she didn’t care.

  She said without much hope, “I don’t suppose you would at least consider cutting off the cheerleader ponytail.”

  Pia said gravely, “I will consider it. Not very seriously, but I will.”

  Aryal met her gaze. She asked straight-out, without posturing or bullshit, “May I come visit him?”

  Pia studied her for a moment. “Yes, you may.”

  Aryal looked down at the baby again and a corner of her mouth lifted. “Thank you.”

  “Don’t mention it.” The baby started to burble plaintively. Pia said, “I think he’s already hungry again. I’d better take him back upstairs.”

  She pushed the contraption toward the bank of elevators that would take her up to the penthouse at the top of the Tower. Eva followed Pia, walking backward.

  “Don’t you fret none, chickadee,” Eva said in a gentle voice to Aryal. “We still gonna go one day.”

  Aryal balanced back on one heel and beckoned her with both hands. Bring it, baby.

  She laughed when Eva made a face before spinning to follow Pia and the little prince onto the elevator. Then Aryal turned toward Dragos’s offices and came to a standstill. She couldn’t remember why she had been going to see him in the first place.

  Behind her, she could hear the two other women’s whispers clearly just before the elevator doors closed. Pia said, “Behold the Power of the peanut. His body mass may be small, but his influence is mighty. The last holdout in the Tower has officially fallen to him.”

  “If you say so.”

  Eva sounded skeptical, but Pia had called it. Aryal had fallen in love with that mysterious new person.

  Now during her flight, for his sake, Aryal released the last of her resentment into the night.

  After all, Pia had only stolen once. While Aryal had been more stubbornly suspicious than anybody, even she had to finally admit that Pia had no real knowledge of Caeravorn’s activities, so it wasn’t as if Pia had actually ever been a career criminal.

  Granted, Pia’s theft had been a bad one, but Dragos had not only forgiven her, he had mated with her. And Dragos was not known for his forgiving personality.

  If a dragon could do it, so could a harpy, right?

  Giving up her hate on Pia for the sake of the baby was one thing, and that was hard enough.

  Quentin Caeravorn was an entirely different disaster.

  Aryal turned her attention back to her first hate, the one she held close to her own breast and nurtured with all of her strength.

  Caeravorn was a career criminal. He was also a “triple threat,” a rare and Powerful mixed-breed creature who was part Wyr, part Elven and part Dark Fae. Aryal didn’t have the details of his family history, but one of his parents had to be full Wyr while the other parent was a half-breed, because his Wyr side was strong enough that he could change into his animal form. That gave him all the status and legal rights of a full Wyr in the demesne.

  Because he had the legal rights of a full Wyr, and he hadn’t been convicted of any crime, he had been eligible to enter the recent Sentinel Games. He had fought his way through to become one of Dragos’s seven sentinels, who were the core of Dragos’s governing power in the Wyr demesne.

  And he had accomplished that, because in spite of almost two years of investigation, and several months of concentrated digging before the Games began, Aryal couldn’t pin a single goddamn thing on him.

  She knew he was dirty. She knew it.

  Her leads turned into dead ends and sources dried up. She would track down somebody only to find out that they had moved out of the Wyr demesne, or maybe they had died accidentally (and didn’t that get investigated thoroughly too). Or they weren’t directly involved in any illegal activity connected to Caeravorn, they had only heard of things—hearsay and rumors that dissipated into thin air when she tried to nail them down into concrete evidence.

  Caeravorn was a magician, surrounded by a labyrinth of smoke and mirrors while he stood at the center of it all, untouched.

  Dirty.

  He had gained access to the very heart of the Wyr demesne, and all because Aryal couldn’t get him.

  Her mood blackened. While she thought back to the events that had happened in January, two months ago, she flew higher and dove just to hear the wind scream in her ears. The sound matched the scream of outrage in her head.

  At the Games she watched every one of Caeravorn’s fights, absorbing every detail. He was killer fast and elegant, and highly, superbly trained. Normal civilians didn’t train to fight to that extent. Why the fuck didn’t anybody else have a problem with that?

  He chose a few times to fight in his Wyr form, a huge black panther with electric blue eyes that gleamed under the white-hot lights. In his human form, he kicked ass. As a panther, he was sinuous, muscular and moved like lightning. He owned every inch of that fight arena and captured the imagination of almost twenty thousand spectators.

  After the Games were over and Dragos had presented his new sentinels to the Wyr demesne, Caeravorn strolled like a conquering hero into the great hall at Cuelebre Tower along with the other seven sentinels. Aside from Quentin, there were the five who had re-won their places—the harpy Aryal, the gryphons Bayne, Constantine, and Graydon, and the gargoyle Grym—along with the other new sentinel, the pegasus Alexander Elysias.

  Dragos knew how to throw a hell of a party. I
t was like a hundred years of New Year’s Eves all rolled into a single night. There was endless liquor, and loud music from famous bands, and gourmet food and confetti, and a general stampede at all of them, but especially at the men who were all buff and reeking of testosterone and victorious swagger.

  The night was a triumph for every sentinel—for Aryal as well, and she had her fair share of propositions too—but she couldn’t let go and enjoy any of them, since the night had also been her failure.

  She held herself aloof, bitterness a hard, heavy knot in the pit of her stomach while she watched Caeravorn laugh as someone upended a bottle of champagne over his head. He was six foot two, with a long, lean body and a cat’s quick grace, spare graceful features, and dark blond hair he had once worn longer. He had cut it very short for the Games, and the severe style lay close to the strong, clean lines of his head.

  As she stood with her arms crossed, Grym came up to her side. In his human form, Grym was dark haired with even features. In his Wyr form, he was nightmarish, with huge batlike wings, a demonic face and gray skin as hard as stone.

  He had his own small share of groupies, as did all of the sentinels, but Grym actually didn’t like to talk much and that fact tended to put females off, at least after the first night or two. He was one of the few entities whose companionship Aryal found peaceful, and he had used that fact more than once to defuse her volatile temper.

  She had wished more than once that there was a sexual spark between them. Unfortunately there wasn’t. Years ago, they’d even experimented, but neither of them had any interest in taking things past first base. They had long since settled into an unconventional yet entirely comfortable friendship.

  Grym stood close enough that their shoulders brushed. “You didn’t get him,” he said. “Sometimes it happens. You gotta let it go.”

  “No, I don’t,” she said. She scowled at him.

  Grym rubbed the back of his neck. “Aryal, with the kind of hours you’ve put into digging into Quentin’s life, if you haven’t found any hard evidence by now, it’s very likely you’re not going to.”

 
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