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Protector of the Light

Champion of the Sidhe #4



Since the Collapse of the Mounds, Lugh has spent every waking moment collecting the artifacts he needs to rebuild a magical realm for the fey. But without the fey realm to replenish the magic he expends, Lugh is Fading. Fast! Time’s running out. Enemies are circling. Forging dangerous alliances may well get him killed... or drive him down a dark path from which he might never be redeemed.

 

Excerpt


 

Chapter 1



Lugh raised his cupped hand before him, hiding the light of the magicraft in his palm. Within the small glass vial spun a vortex of gold dust, glowing like a fairy light. If anyone saw him in the dim illumination of the nearby streetlamps, it might appear that he shielded a match within his hand, with the light it produced glowing on his face and between his fingers. Lugh closed his fist over the vial and slipped it back into the pocket of his slacks.


Across the boulevard, the neon light of the sign for the Satin Club hummed, glowing red against the dark bricks. He'd encountered enough vampires in his time to reliably identify one, even from this distance. More than one had already entered the club. None had spied him yet, even though he was not using even the slightest wisp of Glamour to disguise himself. Their focus on their companions and on private conversations distracted the hunters from noticing potential prey practically on their doorstep.


Then again, this was a changed time since Lugh last walked the surface for more than a brief visit. Most humans, and their kin the parahumans, appeared consumed within themselves. Preoccupied with inner thoughts. It served Lugh's purposes well, that he could travel unnoticed without the need to waste his magic on maintaining a Glamour. If he garnered notice at all it seemed only the appreciation of his attractiveness, and not the observation that he was not human. The clothing that Willem procured for him aided in his disguise. To his surprise, the human clothing was more comfortable than he'd first guessed. The satins, suede, and silks of fashions past gave way to denim and cotton. His slacks were comfortable and tailored to fit. The button-front cotton shirt he wore defined his musculature with a flexibility that ensured that if he needed to fight, he'd have complete freedom of movement. While the cut of the clothing flattered him, it left no good place to disguise a weapon of any useful size, so this evening he was armed with nothing but his skill and his magic. At one time that was more than enough, but with the advancing effects of the Fade upon him magic grew less and less of an option.


Lugh timed his crossing between the autos that prowled along the lane and then stepped upon the curb before the club entrance. Over six and a half feet tall, his height alone commanded a certain respect. The vampire stationed at the door held it open for him, but he could feel the curiosity in his stare. Whether the young vampire knew one of the fey when he smelled one was not clear, but he definitely wouldn't mistake Lugh for any derivation of human.


The club was more of the type he'd heard termed a 'lounge.' Settees of the kind that softly sucked you into the cushions, too comfortable to withdraw from quickly, were liberally spaced around the room, many of them occupied by couples or threesomes in various stages of groping. The scent of blood lingered even over the alcohol and tobacco smoke. Lugh crossed to the bar, noting that its tender was at the far end at the moment. He leaned back against the bar, elbows propped on the polished wood. In the low lighting one might have missed the occasional flash of fangs as the vampire clientele freely smiled and laughed, not bothering to disguise themselves. The music that overlay the scene with its hypnotic purr encouraged the slithering, though surprisingly, the patrons remained more sensual than overtly sexual, and even the feeding was sporadic and discrete.


Lugh found the performance neither titillating nor repulsive. Truly, among the fey such casual consorting was tame by comparison. Although he kept his attention diffused enough to gather the sounds and movement about him, for it would not be long before the heady scent of Sidhe blood attracted more attention, Lugh quickly scanned the room. He slipped the vial from his pocket and glanced down, as though checking a pocket watch, just long enough to determine the general direction the vortex indicated, and then he tucked it away once more, lest the light be noticed.


Already, eyes lit upon him. Even as he memorized the items displayed in the niche indicated by the magicraft, his peripheral vision alerted him as the first vampire approached him. Sleek, blond hair so shiny as to be nearly iridescent framed the vampire's pale beauty. The blue of her eyes caught the same sparkle as the sapphire on a silver chain nestled into the hollow of her throat. His gaze lingered overly long upon the silver before trailing down the rest of her svelte figure wrapped tightly within a body-hugging, black sheath of a dress that barely reached mid-thigh. The corners of his mouth quirked up in the hint of a genuine grin of appreciation for the grace and beauty gliding toward him.


Even in heels, the woman's natural height would have only brought her up to his chin, had Lugh been standing upright. Slouched back as he was against the bar, she was just shy of being eye-to-eye with him. It meant that she was still able to give him that upward sweeping look that showed off her long lashes before her face was raised toward his. She smiled at him familiarly as she wrapped her bare arms around his neck. Her body draped against his with yielding femininity. For a moment he thought she might well kiss him, but she only lay against him instead, pinning him neatly against the bar with her lithe, feline body. "Now, what would a Sidhe be doing here in my place, all alone and so delectable?"


"I have never feared those who walk with the night." Lugh's arms slung casually around her back, only to slide down with the silky fabric until his palms cupped her bum. As she angled her hips to slip between his thighs, Lugh smirked and drew her comfortably against him. She'd claimed to be the proprietor of the establishment, and with this display she established her claim upon him. Immediately, the other vampires that had begun to take notice of him relaxed back into whatever previously occupied them, undoubtedly keeping a subtle watch.


"Clearly." Nothing unpleasant in her musical laugh. No suggestion of a threat or hungry growl. The effect more of a friendly acknowledgment that she was well aware of the protection she provided, and she offered it now because it pleased her to do so. "Not at all shy and retreating like the earthborns."


Lugh's attention peeled away from their surroundings as he fully focused upon her. "Like the what?"


"The earthborn Sidhe" she replied, matter-of-factly, clearly expecting him to know of whom she spoke.


"Earthborn Sidhe?" Lugh's normally schooled expression lost its composure, his unawareness of what she referred to blatantly obvious. Nothing about the vampire indicated that she fabricated a falsehood, and yet he could not begin to fathom of what she spoke. Had she confused some tribe of lesser fey for the Sidhe? Indeed, some races of elves could easily be mistaken for Sidhe by non-fey, just as he would lack the awareness to discern one tribe of humans from another.


As she laughed, her body brushed against his in a pleasant way. Her tapered fingers glided down his arms, discovering the shape of his biceps with clear enjoyment, before settling in the curve of his elbow. "Seems I have some information you might be willing to trade for." She leaned in closer and sniffed seductively along the side of his throat. "And you know what I want."


Lugh stroked his hands up her back, enjoying the feel of the woman in his arms, even if she was a vampire. Never departing from her body, his caress slipped up to cradle her head. He used the fall of her hair to shield his skin from the silver of her necklace. Sensual though it was, it also gave him the control he desired. Leaning close enough to feel the stir of her breath against his lips, he inquired, "And by what name shall I call this lady of midnight who desires the pleasure I can give?"


"Selena," she confessed.


"Selena," he repeated, the sensuality of his voice caressing her name like a lover. An easy game to play. A familiar one. One he'd mastered ages ago. As his mouth hovered ever so close to hers, Lugh's tongue dipped between her lips. The quick prick of his tongue against fang brought forth a mere trickle of blood. In the kiss that followed, Lugh barely tasted his own blood, as Selena hungrily consumed every drop. She moaned into his mouth and he returned the compliment. He wasn't the only one who'd honed the art of the kiss for centuries. Even after the slight wound ceased to bleed, neither of them ended the mutual appreciation abruptly, allowing the kiss to linger and subside naturally.


Her gaze remained fixed upon his mouth for a thoughtful moment, savoring the memory, he imagined, and no doubt craving more. He prompted her, "About the earthborn Sidhe?"


"The children of the Unseelie exiles who fled the Mounds over the last few decades."


Lugh absorbed her explanation, still no closer to true understanding. Unseelie exiles? His spies in the Unseelie Court had made no mention of any such exiles. "The Sidhe do not sire offspring as swiftly as other races. Surely, these children are not true Sidhe."


"Oh, but they are." Selena stared at his mouth almost obsessively. "Nothing else tastes like Sidhe."


This much he knew. Magic laced the blood of the fey. Blood drinkers craved the fey above all other donors. And the Sidhe, with the purest and strongest natural magic, over the other races of fey. From what he'd gleaned, the scent of Sidhe blood could be detected through intact skin and at a short distance. Even a vampire who had never before sampled Sidhe blood instinctually salivated with feral desire at the mere whiff of a nearby Sidhe. "Where might I discover these earthborn Sidhe, that I might gaze upon them with my own eyes and know them for what they are?"


With a lovely and thoughtful tilt of her head, Selena considered her answer, no doubt determining her price. "What brought you to my place? Not the search for the earthborns, but certainly something worth risking your neck." As Selena stroked over the flesh of his throat, Lugh felt the light drag of her fingernails along the pulse of his artery. No spent vein blood for this nightwalker. She craved the heart-fresh manna with the thickest concentration of magic. The woman knew how to feed from a Sidhe to the greatest intoxicating effect. Arteries dwelt deeper than veins, more challenging to pierce and potentially more deadly. Should she feed from him there he'd immediately suffer blood loss to the brain, impairing his judgment and reaction time.


"I propose to offer you a trade." With a smile of seduction, Lugh gathered her closer. Never did he release her hair, trusting her not that far. Controlling her by her silken tresses, he arched her neck for him. The subtle brush of his nose traced her jaw and she rewarded him with a catch of her breath. With his lips feathering against her ear, he murmured, "I shall grant you the remainder of the evening in a private sharing of selves, in which you yield all command to me, in exchange for one item of my choosing. No questions or exceptions."


Her fingers curled in the fabric of his shirt, demanding more of the attention that he lavished. "And for the location of the earthborns?"


"I shall grant you the privilege of muscle blood." The least potent. He offered her not a vessel of any consequence, but the dregs which might be lapped from a flesh wound. If not for the Fade, he might have offered more, but he dare not waste even what magic laced his blood.


Selena's deep, purring laughter chilled him with the delight of a predator. With an amused snarl, she pushed back from his embrace even as she tore open his shirt, scattering the buttons that popped free and baring the definition of his muscled chest for all to see. Abandoning the whisper of their conversation, she demanded, "And why shouldn't I just take what I want, Sidhe? Take you for my own and bleed you whenever I choose?"


Although Lugh's gaze never departed from her face, the awareness of the vampires that now blocked the front entry and the back hall with the 'exit' sign above it was not lost upon him. No one spoke now. The vampires watched with hungry eagerness, edging closer like beta dogs wanting access to the kill. Undoubtedly, they believed him a brazen fool to stride into the vampire's lair with any expectation to leave it. Selena already proved her aggression and intent, challenging him to deny her. Lugh's easy smirk lost none of its flirtation. "You shall not harm me, nor allow any other to do so. My offer is fair. My friendship and good humor are prizes not to be squandered. Think carefully before discarding them."


Wisely, the vampire mistress hesitated. "What don't I know?"


"My name." Lugh relaxed back against the bar once more, propped easily on his elbows, hands hanging relaxed. Not at all bothered by the damage to his clothing, nor the covetous leers.


"Which is?" Selena's fingertip trailed down the line of his breastbone. A tease. More so a symbolic demonstration that she might take from him anything she wished. Such a small gesture, though, proved her trepidation. She was no more a fool than he.


"Lugh."


He chuckled as nearly a third of the vampires fled the establishment, leaving nothing but a brief blur of movement in their wake. Those that remained were either brave or ignorant. He categorized Selena among the brave, even though her hand snatched back from him.


"Sun god." The whisper escaped her as if unbidden. With that clarification, the ignorant departed in a second wave. The humans, abandoned by their companions, slipped away in silent retreat. Only the stalwart of Selena's coven remained, refusing to abandon their mistress, though none stepped forward to test conclusions with him.


"Have we an accord, then?" Presumptuously, Lugh gathered Selena against him once more, his arms easily wrapping about her narrow waist. Her cool form softened against the solid wall of his chest. No longer challenging or resisting him. "I have use for a vampire ally of your proclivities."


Though the glint of distrust flickered in her eyes, she played his Seelie game with aplomb. With true feminine prowess, Selena curled about him, yielding to his touches. One of her thighs slipped between his legs, so that each tiny sway of her body caused her to rub intimately against him. The tactic could distract a less determined man. As could the press of her breasts. Or the inviting caresses of her hands over his bum, drawing them closer still. "An ally? In what war would you have me enlist?"


"The war to save the Sidhe." Lugh's gaze purposefully lowered to her lips with a hunger that was not wholly feigned. "A connoisseur of your refined tastes surely can appreciate such a quest."


"I can indeed." She tilted back her head, offering her mouth to him. "We have a deal."


Which they sealed with a kiss both deep and salacious.



The adventure continues in Protector of the Light - Champion of the Sidhe #4