Forbidden as Forever
The Bligh Family Series, Book 3
Crooked Shutters Publishing
In 1816 England, the hidden world of the Other is threatened as ancient magics and new desires collide…
After her father’s murder, Mariah Penkevil renounced her magical abilities, seeking only to find a quiet place within the normal world. But normal is about to be shattered when a man claiming she’s the latest reincarnation of a dark faery crashes into her life.
Raised by the Fey, Rhyse MacAillse has crushed his humanity beneath a cold arrogance. What little warmth remains to him is all for his foster-mother, Sìle. Now injured and near death, her only hope for recovery lies with Mariah and her inherited abilities.
But it’s a race against time, because while Rhyse fights to convince Mariah to use her powers, a ruthless Other bent on vengeance will stop at nothing to find and destroy them both.
Port Nare, Cornwall
Mariah felt the disapproving eyes of her mother-in-law boring into her back as she crated up the last of the Sèvres china. Unable to take the unblinking glower another moment, she rounded on the dusty, cobwebbed woman, returning stare for stare.
“I’m sorry, Lady Anne, but if you want to blame someone, look to that portrait of your wastrel son on the far wall and leave me in peace.”
She received no answer, but then hadn’t really expected one. Thank heavens. How much worse would it be if the old woman were still alive to see her treasures sold one by one?
Still, after a few more moments of the woman’s unwavering accusation, Mariah’s patience snapped. She pulled a chair to the wall and climbed upon the cushioned seat.
Composed again, she stretched up and removed the unflattering portrait of Lady Anne Penkevil from its place upon the gallery wall and placed it on the floor, face against the wall.
Back on solid ground, Mariah sighed. Hands filthy, she pushed her hair off her face with a swipe of her arm. “I’d apologize again if I didn’t half-think you deserved what’s happened. You ruined Henry long before I ever got hold of him.” Hands on her hips, she glanced around the sparsely furnished room, bereft of the last of its saleable items.” I just wish I wasn’t the one to pick up the pieces of your overindulgence.”
Grabbing her candle from a low table, she made her way down the stairs and through dark rooms, empty but for a few picked-over pieces of furniture draped in ghostly Holland covers, and into the part of the house she’d kept for her own use.
Lyddy had left Mariah’s supper on the sideboard in the library, though by the looks of the congealed gravy and cold potatoes, it had been sitting for hours. No matter. She wasn’t hungry. Hadn’t had an appetite since the full extent of Henry’s disastrous business dealings had been spelled out for her by the lawyers.
Dropping into a chair by the fire, she pushed the food around her plate, taking a few grudging bites before abandoning her dinner for a simple cup of chocolate.
Snow hissed against the windows, a quiet graceful snow unlike the icy winds they’d endured the past few weeks. Beyond that sounded the low growl of the ocean, a constant muted undertone to her life. She’d miss it when she left here. She’d always lived by the sea. As a child at her family’s estate on the southeast coast of Ireland where the waters rolled sedately onto the beaches as if guided by unseen hands. And then here at Nanvennon where the churning, foaming surf crashed against rugged cliffs and the beaches came and went beneath treacherous tides.
A mutinous thought crept into her mind. Go home, it whispered. Return to Glenaran.
Mariah shrugged off the thought as she’d done so many times before.
Liam would be no help. Her brother had troubles of his own, and little ready money to spend on a sister who’d turned her back on her family to wed a non-magical Duinedon. Rather than welcome her return, he’d likely slam the door in her face with a great big, condescending ‘I told you so.’
No, she’d find no solace there. She’d created her situation. She’d see her way through.
Glancing around at the remnants of her former wealth, she grimaced. Pride was all she had left.
Mariah shook off that last unwelcome reflection. Settled back to lose herself in less depressing memories.
But no inviting scene wavered into view. Instead, the fire leapt ever higher as if she’d dumped fresh coal upon the grate. Embers snapped and spun up the chimney as the inferno threatened to spill out onto the hearth. Red and yellow and orange changed to become green, then blue, then purple as firelight illuminated the room, drawing attention to the bare walls and ill-matched furniture, casting ghostly shadows over the drifting curtains, and reaching fingerlike across the floor toward her chair.
Her ears rang with a high-pitched drone––louder and louder until she clamped her hands over them. The maddening noise slowed in tempo, stretched out into a fairy chime. A sound she’d prayed never to hear again for it had seemed to signal all that was wrong with her life. All she’d wanted to erase when she’d abandoned Glenaran for Cornwall, and Other for Mortal.
A face appeared within the heart of the fire. Made of flame, yet as clear as if it had been rendered expertly using the most expensive of oils. Rich golden-brown eyes. Hair, black as ebony, swept back from a high brow. A mouth straight and unyielding.
The bells faded, replaced by a deep voice, one used to authority. “Zennor. I seek Zennor.”
Blood pounded through Mariah’s body as she swallowed around a throat gone parchment dry. “Who are you?” she demanded, hoping he didn’t notice the tremble threading her words.
“Help,” he said, and this time he sounded less sure. More worried. “She needs your help.”
Just as quickly as he appeared, he vanished within the flames as if he’d been interrupted or the spell too powerful to hold for more than a few seconds. The fire retreated back into the grate.
Mariah clutched the arms of her chair as if it were a rock amid the swirling intrigues of the Fey. To let go meant the risk of being swept away. And yet, curiosity tugged at her enforced indifference. Zennor, he’d said. But who was she? And what power did she possess that someone with enough mage energy to ride the flames needed her aid?
No. Mariah didn’t want to know. It didn’t concern her. Only danger lay in asking such questions. Becoming involved. Better to keep her head down, her feet firmly in this world.
Shaking, she rose from her chair to push the poker amid the blaze. Coals rolled hot through the grate. Across the bricks.
But no face returned. And the only sound came from the gently falling snow outside her windows.
* * * * *
Rhyse rubbed feeling back into his hands before stuffing them deep in his coat pockets. He’d dressed for winter, yet the chill seeped through every layer, froze his breath. Still, he lifted his face to the drifting flecks of white as they powdered his shoulders and hair. In Ynys Avalenn, there was only sun and cloudless skies. Eternal summer. Forever beautiful. Forever the same.
Here, the snow squeaked beneath his boots, the shush of it whispered ghostlike as it piled wet and sticky on the trees.
Memory teased him with other times when he’d plowed through snow to his waist. When he’d looked behind to watch the trail of his footprints upon the pristine whiteness. Or fallen on his back into the frosty powder to watch the gray smear of a winter sky pass above him. But the images faded as quickly as the snow that touched his skin. Like all his memories from before.
The years living in Ynys Avalenn had shredded them until they’d become fragile as cobwebs and took hardly any effort to push from his mind.
Just as well. He needed nothing that would distract him from his current course. The sooner he succeeded, the sooner he could return to the summer kingdom. Take up the pieces of his life as they’d been. Where long temperate days slid into equally long star-shot nights. Where he might enjoy the easy company of friends and the wild passions of Ursella.
She’d not been happy when he left. But he’d tried to ease their parting with promises of making it up to her on his return.
Unfortunately, the long weeks had pushed to months and only now had he hope that his journey neared its end.
Helplessness gripped him. Twisted a knife within his gut. Yet he pushed on through the darkness and the drifts, locking his steps on the path that would take him to the solitary house upon the headland.
The woman lived alone, they said, the garrulous men with foaming tankards and steaming coats who talked and laughed in the village inn. It had taken little coaxing to get them to speak of her. Freshly widowed when her husband met a tragic death beneath his phaeton’s wheels. Creditors descending like vultures upon the carcass of Nanvennon to pick the estate clean, leaving the young mistress with barely a pittance to call her own.
A few drinks more and they spoke of her kindnesses to the villagers. Her interest in their lives, her unstilted manner and her easy ways. Not like her husband, the high-and-mighty Mr. Henry Penkevil in that regard, though perhaps this was a result of her foreignness. Irish, she was. Come from across the sea to marry the young gentleman. More than likely she’d return to Ireland once the estate was settled. ‘More’s the pity,’ they’d said.
Rhyse soaked it in, turning this new knowledge over. Adding it to what he already knew—what the Fey had told him. Of those he’d asked among the fair folk, all had reviled the name of Zennor and spoken of her with disgust and abhorrence. They warned she’d delved too deep within the Unseelie mysteries, dabbled too closely with the sinister powers rife within that dark court.
Had her followers not intervened, she’d have ended in ignominy and defeat. Instead, her spirit lingered, returning again and again to human form, albeit within the crude shell of one of the Other—those mortals bearing the blood of both human and Fey.
Without thinking, he looked behind him to the long stretch of tracks laid out straight as stitches in the snow. Caught a snowflake on his glove, watching the lacy perfection melt away into the damp leather. Who knew when he’d encounter such beauty again?
Focusing his attention back on the treacherous track, he squinted into the swirling white to catch a glimpse of light through the trees. Which woman would he find at the end of his search? The sweet-tempered gentlewoman of local village gossip, or the power-hungry Fey sorceress? Did it matter? She was his last best hope to save his mother. For without the knowledge Mariah Penkevil carried locked within her memory, Sìle would die. And he’d have failed her. Again.
* * * * *
Mariah opened her eyes, heart pounding, mouth dry with fear. How she knew, she couldn’t say, but that she wasn’t alone within the house was certain. Someone walked the drafty corridors. Climbed the dusty stairs.
Not Lyddy. The old housekeeper spent more time in her rooms than out these days. Mariah swallowed her panic. This wasn’t Glenaran and she was no longer the terrified seventeen-year-old, forced to watch her father murdered.
She was older. Wiser. And prepared.
After lighting a taper, Mariah eased open the drawer beside her bed and removed one of a pair of dueling pistols she’d swiped from the gun room for just such an emergency. She stuffed her feet into her worn boots and threw a wrap over her nightgown then loaded the weapon with shaking hands.
Any intruder would find her fully dressed and fully armed.
Steps—no more than a stir of the air, a creak of a floorboard—came nearer as someone, found his way toward her bedchamber. No run-of-the-mill thief––the stealth of his coming spoke of greater prowess than some rogue out for a quick burgle and easy-got coins.
Her mind jumped to the man’s face within the fire. He’d wield that sort of power, though what or who he hoped to find here was beyond her. He’d asked for Zennor, but no such woman lived here, nor ever had as far as she knew.
Henry’s ancestry had hung before her in the long gallery for the last four years, and no Zennor among them. Plenty of Marys, Elizabeths, and Janes––ordinary women with ordinary lives. A large part of the reason she’d accepted Henry’s suit. He and his family were exactly what they seemed. Not a touch of magicamong the lot.
Crossing the floor, she held the pistol steady in front of her.
A deep voice echoed down the passage. “I know you can hear me. I mean you no harm.”
Rational thought fled.
This was just like the night the Fey had come for her father all those years ago. Had they come back for her now?
Mariah’s breath caught in her lungs. The pistol slithered through her slick, clammy fingers. She caught it before it clattered to the floor, but her finger tightened instinctively around the trigger. The report as it exploded rang in her ears, the floor erupting in a mess of splintered wood even as thick, black smoke curled into her face, stinging her eyes.
She’d barely time to curse her stupidity before her bedchamber door swung open, revealing the form of a man in muted relief against the gray shadows of the hall.
She had the terrified impression of a face carved by cruel arrogance, black hair falling long over shoulders broad enough to intimidate even the most well-endowed of mortal men. The lone oddity—and she only noted it because, for some reason she couldn’t look away—were his eyes. Golden-brown and thickly lashed beneath a slash of dark brows, they held a human warmth unlike the iridescent shimmer of the Fey.
This was the man from the fire. Here in her bedchamber.
He filled the doorway, his head scraping the lintel, yet he made no move to enter. Simply stood upon the threshold as if awaiting a personal invitation. Much like her late husband in that regard, though she doubted this man’s hesitation stemmed from any lack of proclivity as Henry’s had. The stranger radiated sexuality with enough force to knock her back upon her heels.
With a cry of fear, she spun, racing for the drawer and the second pistol. But he was on her like a hound on a hare, his hand closing around her forearm, the other grabbing the fabric of her robe.
Dragging her back against him, he ripped the spent weapon from her hand and tossed it on the bed with casual disregard.
She should struggle. Use fists, feet, teeth, nails—anything to break his iron grip. But her limbs refused to work. Her brain went muzzy and stupid. All as if the scene were playing out before her like a pantomime, happening to someone else while she watched from far away.
He tossed her as easily as he’d cast her pistol, sending her sprawling across the coverlet, the discarded weapon beside her as useless to her now as a lump of lead. Her heart pounded with enough force to crack her ribs.
Older? Definitely. Wiser? Perhaps. But better prepared? Not a bit of it.
This murderous villain could carve her into pieces and paralyzed as she was by fear, she’d lie there and let him.
“I’m no villain,” he said, drawing himself up as if offended. “Nor do I mean you harm so you can stop staring at me as if I’m about to ravish you.”
He’d snatched her very thoughts; another sign this man was as dangerous as he was beautiful.
She inhaled a shaky breath, her gaze flicking to the open drawer where resided her only hope.
His eyes followed, a cold smile playing over his mouth as he drew the second pistol out. “Is this what you seek?” And in one violent move, he smashed it over the headboard, bending the barrel before tossing it beside its mate. “I may not plan murder, but I’ll do what I must to defend myself.”
Her gaze narrowed. Now that she knew he wasn’t bent on murder, all her earlier fury returned. “Who are you? What do you want?”
For the first time, caution clouded his expression as if he’d not planned what would happen once he subdued her.
The threat of instant annihilation receded. The scenario of a dark Fey lord coming to destroy her with one glowing flick of his finger vanished to be replaced by a slightly less threatening situation of—she raked him with a long, lingering stare—a dark Fey lord coming to terrorize her for unknown reasons in the middle of the night.
Tension and impatience banded his shoulders and, as if to relieve it, he worried a heavy gold ring on his right pinky. “I seek the counsel of Zennor. I need her powers. Her knowledge. I was told she lived here. Among the Duinedon.”
Sensation returning to her frozen limbs, Mariah sat up, yanking her wrap tighter around her. “You heard wrong. No such woman lives or has ever lived here. You’ve routed me out of my bed and frightened me half to death for nothing.”
He pinned her to the bed with a mesmerizing stare. “But I’ve come seeking you, Mariah Penkevil. You are Zennor.”