Do you like urban fantasy? How about tough, determined heroines? Cunning, villainous princes? If you answered yes, then have I got the ebook for you.
If you want a sneak peek of Poison and Honey, check out the entire first chapter below.
Leigh Morgan was having a nightmare about the horse-headed man when someone shook her awake. Her eyelids shot open, and every muscle in her body tensed. Where was she? Where was the closest weapon?
Awareness followed a second after consciousness. Kitchens. Dozed off. No danger. Well, no serious danger anyway. Mistress Yibba’s plump face filled her vision, the disapproving line of her mouth like a cut in a lump of dough. She slapped Leigh for nodding off, which Leigh took without comment. Thank God Mistress Yibba had woken her up first. If she’d slapped Leigh while she’d been sleeping, Leigh might have struck back before she could stop herself, and that would have been a disaster.
“Lady Kalivildra rang for tea,” Mistress Yibba said. “Bring it to her room. Quickly.”
Her tone would have been threatening if Mistress Yibba were… well, threatening. But she was just bluster and sloppy slaps. Pretending to be contrite, Leigh took the tea tray from Mistress Yibba’s hands, bowed, and left the drowse-inducing heat of the kitchens for the cool palace halls.
It was late at night—early morning really—but the evening’s revelries were still winding down. Music drifted through the corridors, an enchanting nocturne that enticed the listener to search for its source. An open door to one of the gardens revealed a woman in a luminous ball gown, dancing with several naked, green-skinned men. Moans came from a secluded corner where two half-dressed, inhuman bodies were entwined. A drunken man stumbled to bed, the feathers of his wings ruffled and his ornamental mask askew. Leigh walked past it all, more bored than anything.
Until someone grabbed her arm and pulled her into a shadowed alcove.
“Don’t make a sound.”
Leigh wouldn’t need to make a sound to drive her knee into her assailant’s gut. Then she saw who’d grabbed her.
Oh hell. It’s the prince.
The second prince. Dredarion Rath. She’d never seen him up close before but would have to be clueless not to recognize him. He stood over a head taller than her, and Leigh wasn’t a short woman. His broad shoulders tapered down to a narrow waist, and he was clothed exclusively in black. Leigh’s face was level with his chest, giving her a view of swirling, interlocking designs on what seemed to be lightweight leather armor. (So kneeing him in the gut might not have worked out so well.) And it was hard to tell if his long, shrouding cape was made of cloth or woven from shadows.
In contrast, his skin was as pale as the moon. (Earth’s moon. Not the blue ones here on Otherworld.) If he were human, she would have thought he was Eurasian, but he was an Other, not truly human at all. His ears were long and thin, narrowing to a fine point at each tip, and a crown of black crystal topped his head. He had elegant, arched eyebrows, a mouth that twisted cruelly, and cheekbones so sharp they should qualify as weapons. His hair was as black as his clothing, and so were his eyes—so dark that she couldn’t discern his pupils from his irises. They were frightfully intelligent eyes that assessed her quickly and coldly.
Leigh remembered belatedly that servants were supposed to keep their gazes downcast and looked at the tea tray. Most people probably glanced quickly away rather than make eye contact with that forceful gaze, and it annoyed her that she had to do the same. But recently she’d gotten a lot of practice at backing down from challenges.
“Hold it still,” he commanded.
Leigh didn’t know what he meant until he lifted the lid of the teapot with a black-gloved hand. Steam wafted up along with a rich, fruity scent. Dredarion produced a small glass vial from the depths of his cloak, opened it, and poured its clear liquid into the tea.
“Stay until you’ve seen Lady Kalivildra drink it.” He replaced the lid on the teapot. “Give her no indication anything is amiss, and don’t dare try to warn her. Fail me, and the next thing you drink will be filled with shards of glass. And I’ll make sure you finish every last drop of it.”
Damn it. Damn the creepy bastard and his spooky-ass cape. Leigh had no idea what kind of political plot he’d just pulled her into, but she didn’t want to touch it with a ten-foot pole. She took a deep breath and reacted the same way she did to everything in this place. First, she suppressed her immediate instinct, which was to throw hot tea in his face and then bash him over the head with the teapot. (Which was no good anyway. The teapot was too delicate to do much damage.) Next, she thought of what an average servant would do in her place. They’d probably try to obey but ruin it by panicking. Finally, she moved to what she should have done first: evaluate how this would affect her mission. But she didn’t have enough information to make that judgment yet.
“What did you put in it?” She directed her gaze to the region of his nose and mouth, not risking eye contact.
“That’s none of your concern.”
“If Lady Kalivildra drops dead after drinking something I brought her, I’m going to end up with a sword in my gut, so I think it is my concern actually.”
She realized too late how insolent her voice sounded, and she quickly dropped her gaze. Her heart pounded, filling the silence after her statement. She’d been too bold, hadn’t she? She was drawing attention to herself, standing out from the crowd, and that was the exact opposite of what she needed to be doing. This could screw up everything.
“It’s slow acting,” Dredarion said. “It won’t take effect for hours. Don’t fear retribution from Kalivildra’s people. Fear me.”
Right. There were no other options then. Leigh bowed much lower than she had to Mistress Yibba—she was being bossed around by royalty now, after all. Dredarion, apparently satisfied, checked that the hallway was clear and waved for her to depart. Leigh obeyed, carrying her poisoned teapot.
Lady Kalivildra’s guest rooms were close, giving Leigh only a few moments to curse her rotten luck. No use whining about it though. You played the hand you were dealt, and sometimes that hand sucked balls.
She reached out to knock on Kalivildra’s doors, but they flew open before she touched them. Leigh pulled back, nearly dropping the tray as she avoided a collision with the man exiting the room. Oh hell no. Was that…? Yes, it was. Rabsumorai Rath, better known as Prince Rab, Dredarion’s older brother and heir to the throne.
The brothers had a similar facial structure but otherwise couldn’t have looked more different. Where Dredarion was pale, Rab’s skin was the kind of golden brown that tanning salons advertised to white people. He was more golden than brown though and seemed to shimmer ethereally in a way no tanning bed could ever manage. The chestnut color of his hair was somehow more vibrant than any human’s, and its messy state was a dead giveaway he and Kalivildra had been banging. Rich reds and greens embroidered with gold made up his wrinkled clothing, and his mandarin collar was undone, ignored as he straightened his ornamental sash. Kalivildra followed him to the door, wearing nothing.
Rab bowed with a flourish and kissed her hand. “I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did.”
“More so, I think,” she replied with a fanged smile.
“Then until next time. Sleep well.”
Rab left without even noticing Leigh. (Good. One less witness to her being an accomplice to murder.) Kalivildra’s smile fell from her face the moment the prince’s back was turned. It made Leigh feel a sudden, strong connection to the woman. Leigh hated smiling for people too.
“Hurry up and get in,” Kalivildra snapped at her. “If that tea has gotten cold, I’ll sate my thirst with your hot blood.”
And Leigh’s sympathy evaporated. She walked past Kalivildra into her rooms, finding cushions strewn about the floor and the smell of sex in the air. Kalivildra and Rab hadn’t made it to the bed. Leigh knelt in front of a low table and began to pour the tea. Kalivildra called for one of her maids and went into another room, presumably to dress.
Leigh reviewed what she knew about Kalivildra. She wasn’t from this kingdom. As much as Leigh wanted to label all the creatures from Otherworld as “Others,” apparently they divided themselves. The people in this kingdom were called the Dwencanti. Kalivildra was a Rashrang. The Rashrang were mysterious and fearsome even by Otherworld standards, and Kalivildra was someone important among them. Leigh hadn’t known she and Rab were lovers, but Rab had a reputation for sleeping around, so she wasn’t surprised.
Dredarion’s jealousy of Rab was a well-known secret. Was that what this was about? A younger brother, breaking his older sibling’s toys because he couldn’t play with them?
Kalivildra reentered the room, now wearing a robe, her gray-haired maid stooped behind her. The lady was dark-haired and voluptuous with an olive complexion and clusters of animal-like spots on her back and shoulders. Polished horns sprouted from her head, pearl-colored at the base and black at the tips. She settled herself elegantly at the table and reached for the teacup.
Her maid slapped her hand away.
“Did you trade your brain for the prince’s cock?” the crone asked. “Poison is the Dwencanti’s favorite weapon.”
Leigh didn’t twitch. She kept her gaze downcast and her expression carefully blank.
Kalivildra’s eyes were narrowed—not with suspicion but with sleepiness. “You’re paranoid, Nocanthe, and I’m thirsty.”
“Then drink,” said Nocanthe. She turned her wrinkled face in Leigh’s direction. “But make her drink first.”
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