Book Two, Tales of the Black Court
“You will shed a tear, cheer and scream at your e reader while reading this book. The action is great and the love story takes a life of its own. Jessica weaves the best twisted fantasy.”
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A rebellious prince, a reluctant witch, and a mysterious prophecy,
twisted together in a tale of Beauty and the Beast
Trapped in an underground palace Prince Kian must remain a beast, or give in to the queen’s plan to strip him of his powers. But Kian refuses to submit to his mother’s evil plan and is determined to escape both his prison and his curse—even if it means dabbling in witch’s magic.
On the run for most of her life, Bryanna MacElvy has never learned to use her healing Gift. When she’s pulled by Kian’s spell into his prison, the prince sees the golden witch as his salvation. Refusing to let her, or to accept she is incapable of curing him, Kian offers her a terrible bargain—heal him, or give up her freedom forever.
Their lives entwined by fate, the prince must learn to love a human and Bryanna must learn to trust herself—or risk losing their freedom, his powers, and their passion, to the evil of the Black Queen.
Dare to enter Jessica Aspen’s world of steamy, fantasy romance in book two of her fairy tale trilogy: Tales of the Black Court
“As a huge fan of fairy tales, I had no doubt that I would simply adore this series. What makes them even better and much more intriguing is the darkness that is woven so skillfully throughout them. Prince by Blood and Bone is the second novel in the ever so thrilling Tales of the Black Court trilogy by author Jessica Aspen, and let me say, this novel is awesome! The story moves along at a very rapid pace, easily able to keep me quite enthralled, much to my husband’s amusement. Many of the characters were introduced in the previous book, and some new ones are also introduced, so it was a fantastic mix. I would recommend reading the books in order, as they each build on information from the previous novel. All in all, I absolutely loved this novel, and I believe readers will love it as much as I did.” http://www.nightowlreviews.com/v5/Reviews/Hitherandthee-reviews-Prince-By-Blood-And-Bone-by-Jessica-Aspen
Add it to your Goodreads shelf today.
Hungry for dark twisted fairy tales of fantasy and seduction? Strong heroines and supernatural heroes come together, take on evil, and fall in love. Subscribe to my new release only mailing list to receive announcements when my latest in my steamy fantasy romance series Tales of the Black Court is released and download your surprise FREE EBOOK today.
Prince by Blood and Bone
Bryanna curled her head onto her knees and let her long blond hair fall over her face, effectively blocking out the burn of the Albuquerque sun, but completely failing to warm the cold, lump of loss in her belly.
Failing too, to shut out the arguing in the kitchen behind her.
“Mama, I’ve tried and tried to have a vision about Trina. You know I have. But it isn’t coming through, and I don’t know why!” Cassie’s frustration sounded loud and clear through the open screen door. “We need to move on, we’ve been here too long and we’re putting ourselves at risk.”
“No.” Their mother repeated. As if saying it over and over again would force Cassie to listen. “Trina knows we’re here. If we move locations, she may never find us. We need to give her more time. It’s not like you’ve received any visions of danger.”
There was a moment of silence. And then her mother’s voice quavered. “Have you?”
“Mama, it’s been months,” Cassie said. Even though Bryanna didn’t want to hear what came next, she found herself holding her breath and listening, digging her fingers into the crumbling concrete of the stoop beneath her. “Trina stayed back to confront the faery queen’s spy. She would have found us by now—” Another long moment of silence that lasted far too long before Cassie finished the dreadful thought. “—if she’d survived.”
Bryanna lifted her head. The hot wind gusted, drying out her lips and blowing a stray tumble weed down the middle of the empty alley behind the house. It wasn’t only the tension strung tight under their words that kept her outside, it was the subject itself. The loss of her cousin Trina had driven a wedge into their already stressed-out family. Now, not only had they stayed too long in one place, they risked losing what held them together.
Small, hot, infested with creepy New Mexican bugs, and located in a rotten neighborhood, the squat adobe house had to be one of the worst places her family had ever used during the last fifteen years of running. Bryanna poked a stick into the wide crack splitting the bottom stair of the back stoop and tried to focus on the sun, the heat, even the dusty smell of burning pavement. Anything but the rising argument going on inside the house.
Trina had never joined them at the safe house. Never contacted them. Never called.
“Mama, she’s dead.”
“No. I won’t believe that.”
Tears clogged the back of Bryanna’s throat, and she felt like she choked on wet cotton.
She was supposed to be over this. She had to get over this. She was twenty years old now, and loss had become just another part of her sucky life.
It had been years since she’d cried like this, but losing Trina made her once again vulnerable and small—the lost little girl whose father had died and whose world had blown apart. The same little girl who’d had to leave toys and friends behind as what was left of her family fled the wrath of the queen of the faeries.
She stretched out her long legs in their short-shorts in an effort to add more color to her naturally pale skin. There was nothing for her to do. No decision for her to make or argue for. She agreed with both of them. They should stay. They should run. Either way, no one would listen to her.
“You said Trina would be alright.” Her mother’s voice cracked. “You said she’d be fine.” Bryanna tightened her fingers into balls, her nails digging into her palms hard enough to draw blood.
“Things change. What I see will be accurate, but only for a short while. Mama, something’s happened to her.”
“I don’t believe it.”
“Whether you believe it or not, we need to move on, or risk the queen finding us.” Right or wrong, Cassie always spoke as if the more firmly she said the words, the more right she was. “We’re the last of the MacElvys, and we’ve survived the queen’s purge only because we’ve been smart. Staying here is suicide.”
An ant crawled over Bryanna’s bare toe, cruising across her chipped, hot pink nail polish. The thought occurred to her that she should do something about the sorry state of her pedicure, but right now she didn’t care. Right now none of them cared about much besides the growing knowledge that Trina must be dead.
While her mother and older sister battled it out in the kitchen, Bryanna leaned back and tilted her face to the sky. They’d make a decision, and she’d follow along. And anyway, even if she had a dog in this argument, it would take more energy than she’d had since Trina had gone missing to fight for her opinions.
Cassie’s voice tightened. “Something’s wrong. I have that heebie-jeebie thing crawling up my back.”
“Nothing’s felt right without Trina.” Months of pent-up grief rushed out of Theresa’s mouth and her voice cracked. “She’s my baby, just as much as you girls are. I’ve raised her since she was little. I can’t give up on her. I won’t.”
“I know, but…oh!” Cassie’s voice cut off in mid-argument. Even the dry wind held still in the empty alley. This was it.
“Bryanna, hurry!” Theresa shouted.
Bryanna pushed off the warm, sunny stoop, and raced up the stairs. She wrenched open the creaky screen door in time to see her sister’s eyes roll back into her head and her tiny mother springing to catch Cassie’s long limbs as she collapsed.
Cassie’s body jerked and went rigid.
The voice of prophecy emerged, thin and reedy and foreign. “The ogre hoard is coming. Flee! Now!” Her head lolled back, the riot of golden red curls blocking Bryanna’s view of their mother’s face. Theresa’s body bent under Cassie’s weight, and she struggled to keep her from hitting the hard Mexican tile floor.
Bryanna hesitated, the metal of the open screen door burning her hand.
“Run Bryanna, grab your kit.” Theresa laid Cassie down on the floor. “This one hit her hard.”
Bryanna edged around her prone sister and sprinted down the tiny hallway to their room and her nearly empty bag of pre-spelled herbal remedies. When she got back to the kitchen, her mother had Cassie propped up with a pillow. Cassie blinked her eyes and moaned.
Theresa held a wet cloth to her daughter’s forehead, smoothing her long, red hair back and crooning soft soothing words.
Bryanna put on a kettle of water for the herbs before rummaging through her kit. “I think they’re getting worse,” she said. She pulled out the herbal tea they used for Cassie’s fits. “We’re almost out. This is one of the last packages of herbs I spelled last summer.” She exchanged worried looks with her mother. The spells had taken hours and the tea was almost gone.
Theresa’s brow knit. “I don’t want to put pressure on you, but…”
Bryanna bowed her head and pushed the bitterness out of her words, “I’ll try to help her.”
She was a failure as a healer, and her family knew it. She was too young, too inexperienced, too inept. She should have had someone to help her with her Gift. Should have had more than some scraps of notes and the occasional words of wisdom from the few healing witches who had let them stay. Should have had formal schooling. Trina had had Theresa to show her how to be a green witch and Cassie’s visions just came, everyone knew the Goddess favored psychics, but Bryanna had nothing.
No mentor, no training, no skills.
She spread her feet wide, closed her eyes, and inhaled, attempting to block out Cassie’s panting and their mother’s anxiety. She’d gleaned what she could from the one or two books that had survived their nomadic lifestyle. None of them had done much more than give advice on how to heal minor bumps and bruises. Psychic migraines weren’t in the table of contents.
This wasn’t working. She was too distracted by the pressure of her mother’s expectations. She couldn’t focus on her breathing, couldn’t relax enough to open her Gift and draw power. Her sister needed her, and she was failing.
She took another deep breath and searched for serenity. A trickle of calm slid over her aura, coating her in a thin layer of peace.
“Get a bowl,” Cassie panted.
Bryanna jolted. Her eyes flew open as her centering fractured.
Her sister’s sheet-white face went an odd shade of green. Before she could react, her mother placed a bowl beneath Cassie’s chin and lifted her up. Bile spewed from Cassie’s mouth and the smell of vomit rose.
She turned away. Useless. She was useless.
Even if she got focused, she couldn’t do much more than take the edge off of Cassie’s pain. She was no better than a cup of her own herbal tea.
Theresa wiped Cassie’s mouth. “Shhhh, sweetling. We’ll get Bryanna’s tea down you, and in an hour or so, you’ll be right as rain.”
“There’s…no…time.” Cassie tried to sit up, grimaced, and sank back, clutching her temple. Her green eyes were anxious. “The ogres are coming. Now.”
“Don’t be silly.” Theresa shook her head. “You’ve always managed to keep us one step in front. There’s time.”
“No! I saw them.” She clawed at her mother’s hand. “They’re here.”
Bryanna lifted the faded yellow curtain and looked out the kitchen window. She frowned.
Small, run-down bungalows lined the deserted alley. Nothing out of the ordinary, just dusty dry yards, battered chain link fences, and another stray tumble weed kicking its way down the strip of dirt separating the houses. She went to the living room. The view out the front window seemed just as empty. She realized she couldn’t hear anything. No kids, no cars, no people.
The tiny hairs on her arms lifted.
She let the front curtain drop. “There’s nothing there, Cassie.” She returned to the kitchen, crossed to the screen door, and pushed it open, taking another long look. Cassie was never wrong. The ogres would be here. Bryanna had never seen a premonition hit Cassie so hard, so fast. There was no way they could move her like this. She couldn’t even lift her head without barfing, how could they possibly get her into the van and drive?
“Mama,” whispered Cassie, as if she’d heard her sister’s unspoken thoughts. “Mama, there isn’t much time. You both have to go.” She rolled into a ball on the hard tile floor, her drawn face hidden under her bent arm and loose curls.
“We aren’t leaving you.” Theresa’s voice shook. She clutched Cassie’s free hand, desperation and fear in her eyes. She spoke quietly, her voice tight. “Bryanna, make sure the doors and windows are locked.”
Bryanna ran. With time, maybe she could center, and concentrate, and draw Cassie’s pain. But Cassie said there was no time.
As she closed the kitchen door, she spotted a whirl of dust forming in the alley behind the house. The small spiral was obliterated by a lurid, purple mist that shimmered in the hot sun. The mist grew as tall as next door’s dead fruit tree, and blocked the view of the neighboring houses.
Fear slid up her back and her heated skin went cold. She’d never seen one, but she didn’t have to, to know they were screwed.
“There’s a portal forming in the road!”
She raced from window to window, shutting and locking every one with sweat-slick hands, knowing it was pointless. The strong arms of an ogre would make short work of the thin aluminum frames. She wished they’d been able to afford a rental with protective grates of cold iron over the windows, like most of the neighbor’s houses had. Iron was protection from gang-bangers, ex-husbands, and the fae.
“Bryanna, go to my bedroom and bring me the box from my bottom dresser drawer,” Theresa said. “Hurry.”
She ran to her mother’s bedroom and struggled with the sticky drawer, digging through socks and scarves, flinging them on the floor in a mad rush. Her mother had transported the box from house to house, carrying it as if it were capable of blowing up in her hands. Never letting anyone else touch it, forehead furrowed and tense.
Bryanna’s hand hit silk-covered wood. Even through the protective cover, a quiver of power thrummed under her fingertips.
She took a deep breath and pulled back the heavy, black silk. Strange runic carvings blurred and danced. She blinked rapidly until their movement settled down, before picking it up. Electricity shot into her palms and she dropped it back into the drawer. Wiping her tingling hands on her shorts she stared at it, a snake nestled among her mother’s black, white, and purple socks.
An infinitesimal pop hurt Bryanna’s ears in a sudden drop of air pressure. She darted a look out the bedroom window. The purple-grey mist had grown larger and darker, coalescing and opening into something she’d never wanted to see, the swirling maw of a portal.
She grabbed the box, ignoring the electricity shooting through her palms and up her wrists. She raced up the short hall and into the kitchen. Cassie’s drained skin seemed even paler, her feathered eyelids were closed, and under the old, wool navy blanket, her long limbs shook.
Theresa eyed the box. “I never thought we’d be this desperate.”
Bryanna crouched down next to her mother on the floor. “What is it? What does it do?” She put the box down, relieved when her hands stopped tingling.
A huge roar sounded outside. Then another, and another, until the sound of ogres was so loud that Bryanna could barely hear her mother.
“Whatever happens, hold on to your sister.” Theresa stood up. “Come along, Cassie, it’s time.” She pulled her sick daughter up off the floor.
Cassie leaned on her mother. “Go without me. I’ll hold you back.” Her skin flushed green and she whimpered.
“Nonsense.” Their mother passed Cassie over to Bryanna and she staggered under her sister’s full weight. “Here you go, we’ll be out of here in a jiffy.”
Theresa opened the box. From the crimson, satin-lined interior, she pulled out a silver chain formed of inch-long ovals. A golden globe, the size of a large apple, swung from the chain. She pulled the necklace over her head and a soft, shimmering light spread out from the pendant.
The glow brightened. Bryanna blinked at the glare and cradled Cassie’s head against her shoulder, sheltering her sister’s sensitive eyes.
The kitchen wall shook. Chunks of ceiling fell, peppering them in dust and drywall. Bryanna stretched out her fingers and tugged the faded gingham curtain aside. The hairy face of an ogre smooshed against the glass, its brown, leathery lips spreading out wide.
Fingers still tangled in the curtain, she held her scream down deep in her throat and clutched her sister as more roaring ogres, clubs gripped in hairy fists, poured out of the misty tendrils of the portal and filled the alley. She managed to open her mouth and make her lips and tongue move, the words slow and choked. “Whatever it is, Mama, we’d better use it now.”
“Hold tight girls, and pray it works. It’s really only meant for one.”
Bryanna firmed up her grip on her sister, swallowed at the rank smell of Cassie’s breath, and shielded her from the chunks of old plaster raining down from above. Her mother wrapped her arms around them both, pressing the tingle of the globe between them. The glow grew bigger, enveloping them in a sphere of golden light. There was a slight dizzy feeling and the quiet pop of a bursting bubble.
Then the falling ceiling, the old kitchen, and the bulbous nose of the ogre crashing through the window, disappeared.
Prince Kian, only son of the Faery Queen of the Black Court, and her seemingly eternal prisoner, pawed at the book on the long wooden table. His talons cut deeply into the old vellum, shredding the page and digging into the binding.
“I don’t understand why it’s not working!” he growled, and yanked his claws out.
The book hit the floor hard, smacking down into a puddle of ash and liquid that was all that remained from Kian’s failed attempt at a witch’s retrieval spell. The crowd of rubbery white hobgoblins at his feet chittered their distress, fleeing into the shadows to bob and lurk amid the ruins of the wallpaper. Kian pushed away from the table, brushing past the hovering grey gnome at his side, and flipping off the hobgoblins with his middle claw.
Kian breathed through his nose and struggled for control. He paced the perimeter of the chamber he’d designated his work space, the claws on his misshapen toes clicking on the marble floor.
Just because his ever-loving mother had forced him into this distorted shape did not mean he had to succumb to the animal instincts threatening to overwhelm him. Even if it would feel good, oh-so-good, to take out his frustrations on Beezel and the hobgoblins, he would resist.
“I followed the spell exactly. This should be easy for me. Not only am I a lord of the fae, I am a prince of the Tuathan, damn her!” He leaned in close and waggled his blade-like digits inches from Beezel’s cringing face. “I can’t bring light and fire—children’s magics learnt at my nurse’s knee. I can’t grip a sword, nor ride a horse, and I can’t free myself from this hell hole…yet.” He stood up as straight as his current shape would allow him. “But I am determined to make this stupid spell work and fetch someone here who can play chess!”
The shaking gnome leaned away from his caustic glare. “Maybe, the trouble is, you aren’t being specific enough.” Beezel’s voice was small and hesitant.
Kian turned away, his muscles straining from the effort of not beating the gnome senseless.
As far as gnomes went Beezel was a waste. He lacked the tall stature of the Galentian Gnomes and the book-smarts of the Scalian Gnomes. He was a whining, cringing, ignorant common cave gnome, with bulging eyes and grey scaly skin. And he was the queen’s spy.
He was all Kian had in the way of companionship. Or was likely to get, given how this particular experiment had failed. But maybe the gnome was onto something.
“Explain.” Inches from the gnome’s perspiring face Kian let his large, hairy jaws gape open, revealing his ivory fangs, and uttered a low growl.
“I m-m-mean, Sire, you’re asking for a chess companion, but that’s all you’ve asked for. There m…m…may be m-m-many to pick from.” The gnome quivered in front of him. “Be more narrow in your request, and maybe the spell will be able to ac-c-commodate you.”
“I hadn’t thought of that.” He backed up a little. “I thought if I left it open, the spell would have an easier time choosing. Maybe it cannot make up its mind.” He resumed his pacing. “It’s witch magic after all. Witches use spells and cantrips, maybe some visualization is what’s missing.”
“You’ve been able to work some of the witch spells, sir.”
Kian growled. “Yes. Small, pathetic things, like making glass glow.” He resumed his pacing, trying to get his bestial anger under control so he could think. He’d struggled to do anything in the witch’s book. Even small child’s magics like calling fire required verbal spells with the correct intonation, and something called centering that he didn’t understand. The fae didn’t need to center.
“Beezel, maybe the witches need more than the words, maybe they need focus. I’ve been treating these spells like things to recite—get the pronunciation right and it should work—but that’s not how fae magic works.” He swept the little gnome off his feet and spun him around in the air. Beezel clutched his spectacles, his face turning an even paler shade of grey.
“Yes, sir. Maybe, sir. I don’t know, sir. Gnomes don’t do magic.”
“Of course you don’t.” Kian stopped spinning. “Fae magic is like blood pumping, like moving a hand. I don’t have to think about it, it just happens. But things feed it, like food, sleep, and emotions. I’ve got the food.” He swung the gnome upside down to look at all the beakers and jars on the work table. “I’ve got the means.” He plunked the gnome down. “Maybe what I’ve lacked was the intention.” He scraped the book off the floor with his talons, dropping it on the table where its savaged pages splayed out from its broken spine.
If he had to be specific, he would ask for a woman. An, intelligent, attractive sort of woman. Someone curved and sexy and real. The idea of smelling, touching, tasting the soft, scented skin of a woman…
His mouth filled with saliva and his paw-like hands shook.
“Beezel!” The gnome jumped. Kian coughed and got his voice back under control. “Get it ready. We’ll try again.”
He hardly noticed Beezel’s sigh of relief as the gnome readied the powders and beakers and flipped to the right page in the shabby book. This time, Kian pictured exactly what he desired. A slender, shapely, blond maid with chess playing abilities. One who smelled good enough to eat.
And, though he hardly dared even think it, banishing the thought before it had time to appear, he asked for one with the ability to free him from his prison.
This time, the potion developed a rosy pink glow, which crept slowly out of the glass and became a small pink cloud. The mist coalesced and grew larger, filling the room with the rich scent of spun sugar.
Kian’s pulse beat hard in his throat. This was better than the last time. Much better.
The cloud expanded, tendrils of mist stretched out into the edges of the room. Goblins shrieked and screamed, climbing over each other and racing from the chamber.
Beezel squeezed into a corner. Kian himself moved back from the now sparkling puffy wisps. No sense in getting caught in his own spell—he didn’t want to accidentally turn into a woman. Especially in his current state.
He snorted, thinking about being stuck between a woman and this mashed version of man and animal his mother had stuck him with. If he’d been forced to deal with female hormones as well as his bestial rage for the last fifteen years, he likely would have given in to his mother’s demands.
The glow grew until it filled most of the large chamber, his tension growing along with it. This was the best spell he’d attempted since he’d been imprisoned and his hopes soared.
The puffy high pink cloud shivered. The mist retracted from the corners, speeding into the center of the room until the cloud was a globular, gelatinous mass about five feet around, crouching on the floor.
He waited. Nothing happened. The hobgoblins snuck closer.
He sagged. “Fuck me.”
It wasn’t going to work. He, Prince Kian, master of the hunt, superior swordsman, and wooer of women, was a failure at simple witch magic.
Kian peered into the mass, but it had a thick, spongy quality that defied examination. Beezel crept out of his corner and huddled next to him. Together, they waited for something to happen, afraid to disturb it.
“It’s worse than before. Nothing is happening, but we’re going to be stuck cleaning up this gunk.” Kian eyed the pile morosely and mourned his blond vision. “I’m going to bed.” He turned his back on the mess. Beezel and the hobgoblins would clean it up. He trudged toward the door.
He was never getting out of here. His mother would let him rot until he died.
Beezel grunted. “Sire!”
Kian spun around.
The mass quivered and shook. It began to emit a low whine, the pink gelatin texture reflecting the lantern light on its now shiny surface. The shaking increased. The floor vibrated. Beezel ducked under the table and hung onto a leg, but Kian couldn’t take his eyes off of his creation.
The whine increased in pitch. Kian covered his still pointed ears, crouching in pain as the pink glob exploded in a burst of light. Twinkling sludge spattered everywhere, on the table, on the book, in Kian’s face.
He wiped off the gunk and stared at the tangle of long limbs and golden hair.
Beezel’s mouth fell open. “Sire, what have you done?”
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Hungry for dark twisted fairy tales of fantasy and seduction? Strong heroines and supernatural heroes come together, take on evil, and fall in love. Subscribe to my new release only mailing list to receive announcements when my latest in my steamy fantasy romance series Tales of the Black Court is released.