Quinns lady, p.1
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       Quinn's Lady, p.1

         Part #2 of Brynn Tor series by Amanda Ashley
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Quinn's Lady


  Quinn’s Lady

  Amanda Ashley

  Contents

  Prologue

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Epilogue

  About Amanda Ashley

  Prologue

  Trapped in a prison of stone. How long had it been? One year? Two? How was it even possible that he could still be alive?

  Was he alive? Or was this dream-like state really Hel -- periods of awareness followed by bizarre dreams and nightmares punctuated by nothingness.

  He tried to remember who he was, but he had no memory of himself. No recollection of his past. Only a sense of emptiness. Of loss.

  How had he come to be here?

  How?

  The image of a woman flashed across his mind -- a beautiful, treacherous woman with hair the color of cinnamon and eyes as black as the ebony caves of Brynn Tor.

  Her name danced along the edges of his memory, always just out of reach.

  A relentless hunger clawed at his vitals. All-consuming. Excruciating.

  And then the blackness swallowed him up again.

  QUINN’S LADY

  Chapter 1

  Seleena sat in her favorite rocking chair, one hand lightly stroking the big black cat sleeping on her lap.

  She stared into the flames that danced and crackled in the fireplace while silent tears tracked her cheeks. Her daughter -- her only child -- was dead, though, in reality, they had lost Serepta years ago.

  Guilt nibbled at her conscience. Was it her fault her daughter had chosen to pervert her gift and embrace black magic? Her fault that Serepta had chosen to enhance her magic by becoming a vampire? Seleena dabbed at her tears. Should she have tried harder to redeem Serepta? Had it even been possible?

  In her heart, she knew she could have done nothing to help. Serepta had been blessed with a wonderful gift, but it hadn’t been enough. She had craved power the way some craved strong drink, chased it relentlessly until she found what she was looking for. In the end, it had destroyed her…

  Seleena rose so abruptly, Freyja tumbled from her lap.

  Her daughter was dead, but what of the people she had left behind? Had they all fled the castle? Or, unaware of Serepta’s demise, were they awaiting her return, unwilling to leave for fear of incurring her wrath?

  Chanting a translocation spell, Seleena donned her cloak.

  Moments later, she stood in the great hall of Serepta’s black castle.

  It was eerily silent, as if the very walls were holding their breath. She cocked her head to the side, listening intently, but heard only the faint sound of the wind scratching at the door.

  Feeling as though she were walking across her daughter’s grave, she made her way through the castle’s rooms. All were empty of life. Only bits and pieces left behind by the previous occupants remained -- among them a single shoe, a pair of trousers, an apron, a bonnet.

  She went down to the dungeons last. It was here where Serepta had imprisoned the shape-shifter, Gryff Donovan. Here where she and Serepta’s father, Nardik, had confronted their daughter, intending to deprive her of the magic they had once bestowed upon her. Here where Serepta had died.

  Seleena closed her eyes and saw it all again…

  Serepta tore free of her father’s grasp. Bodies rigid, they stared at each other, a silent duel raging between them. Sparks exploded through the air.

  Eyes blazing, Nardik hissed, “Now!” He lunged forward, his cloak folding around his daughter like the wings of a large, black bird until it covered her from head to heel. Seleena rushed forward at the same time, her arms wrapping around Nardik and their daughter.

  Power seethed in the room as the three witches struggled.

  And then, as if someone turned a switch, the air stilled. Seleena had backed up a few steps. Nardik’s cloak fell away. He stood straight and tall, his dark eyes alight.

  “What have you done?” Serepta stared at them, her eyes filled with confusion. “What have you done?” She screamed the words.

  “Deprived you of your gift,” Nardik said, his voice as cold as the stone floor. “You have abused it long enough.”

  “No! No, that’s impossible!”

  “I am sorry,” Nardik said quietly. “Seleena, let us depart.” Taking her hand, he turned to leave.

  Serepta stood as though frozen, her expression blank. And then, eyes filled with rage, she lunged at Gryff, her fangs bared, her hands like claws.

  With a growl, Gryff had shifted into a large, black wolf and sprang at the vampire’s throat…

  With a strangled cry, Seleena opened her eyes. A thought took her out of the dungeon and out of the castle. She stood there a moment, breathing in the cool, fresh air.

  A twisting path led her into a garden where wildflowers bloomed in colorful profusion, even though the sun had set hours ago. Tall green and yellow ferns shared space with blood-red roses. A variety of trees grew to remarkable heights. Their leafy branches intertwined at one end of the garden, providing a thick canopy capable of blocking both sun and rain.

  Curious, she followed one of the footpaths that meandered through the verdant foliage. Stone benches had been placed at intervals. Brilliantly colored peacocks wandered the grounds.

  Rounding a bend in the path, she came upon a number of statues -- soldiers and peasants, warriors and maidens -- all remarkably life-like down to the last detail. The workmanship was truly amazing.

  At first glance, they appeared made of stone, but as she drew closer, she realized they weren’t statues at all, but flesh and blood rendered inanimate by a spell more horrible than death. She trailed her fingertips down the cheek of the nearest statue. It was a man. He wore no shirt, only a pair of tight-fitting buff-colored trousers and brown boots.

  Seleena shook her head, sickened by such cruelty, by the horror reflected in the unblinking eyes of those who had displeased her daughter and paid a terrible price. With Serepta’s death, it was unlikely that any still lived, but if there was a chance…

  Bowing her head, Seleena called upon her magic, felt the very air around her hum with power as she chanted softly, then unleashed the spell with a wave of her hand.

  And nothing happened.

  Perhaps it was just as well, she thought. Who knew what manner of men and women were trapped inside the stone?

  And then the statue in front of her moved. The cold shell that encased him fell away and he stood there, his dark blue eyes blazing with hatred. For a moment, he pinned her with his gaze, then, in a voice rusty with disuse, he growled, “Where is she?”

  “If you’re asking about Serepta, she’s not here.”

  “Where is she?”

  “Nowhere you can follow,” Seleena replied.

  “I don’t care where in Hel she’s gone,” he declared. “Just tell me where to find her.”

  “I’m afraid your need for vengeance must go unfulfilled,” Seleena said quietly. “My daughter is dead.”

  He stared at her. “She was your daughter?” He wondered why he hadn
t noticed the resemblance before. Though this woman wasn’t as tall as Serepta, their features were similar. They both had waist-length hair the color of cinnamon. But Serepta’s eyes had been Hel-black. This woman’s were a clear dove gray. “Are you a witch, too?”

  Seleena nodded. “I’m sorry for the pain she caused you.”

  He was a handsome man, tall and broad-shouldered, with shaggy, dark brown hair and the tawny skin common to those from the north country. A faint white scar ran in a jagged line from just under his right ear to his collarbone. He might have been a soldier, she thought. Or perhaps someone in law enforcement. He had that look about him. A black dragon tattoo covered his left arm from his shoulder to his elbow. The creature’s forked tail curled around his bicep.

  “Pain?” He barked the word. “Pain! Do you know what it’s like, to be unable to move or to speak? To be trapped in smothering darkness?”

  “No. It must have been horrible. But it’s over now.”

  “Is it? How do I get back the days or years I’ve lost?”

  Seleena shuddered. Could he truly have survived years in there? A few days would have been beyond bearing.

  He shifted from one foot to the other. Tension poured off him like heat from a stove.

  Seleena took a wary step backward as his eyes went red. “Vampire!” She spat the word as she summoned her magic once again. “Another bloody vampire!”

  Chapter 2

  Quinn’s gaze moved to the pulse in the witch’s throat and felt a faint stirring similar to hunger only much stronger. She had called him a vampire? Was that what he was?

  The witch took several steps backward, one hand at her throat. “Don’t even think about it,” she warned. “My blood will sicken you to the point of death.”

  “I don’t believe you.”

  “No?” She pushed her hair behind her ear, then cocked her head to the side, a challenge in her eyes. “Come see for yourself.”

  He took a step forward, then paused. What if she was telling the truth? He was in enough pain. “Why don’t I remember being turned?”

  She shrugged. “Perhaps she wrought the change just before turning you into a living statue.”

  He shook his head. You’d think a guy would remember something as life-changing as that.

  “How are you called?”

  “Quinn.”

  “I am Seleena. How did you meet my daughter?”

  “I was on my way to Bosquetown.” He frowned, wondering how he could remember something as insignificant as that but couldn’t recall being turned into a vampire. Or a statue.

  “Is that where you live?”

  “I don’t live anywhere.”

  She lifted one brow. “Why not?”

  “I’m a bounty hunter.” The memory came easily. “I don’t stay in one place long enough to put down roots.”

  “A despicable profession,” she muttered under her breath.

  He shrugged. “It’s a living.”

  “Who do you work for?”

  “Jagg.” It wasn’t his whole memory that was gone, he decided. Just parts of it.

  “The owner of the slave auction?”

  “He pays well,” Quinn said, grinning. “And there are benefits.”

  Seleena grimaced. She could only imagine what those “benefits” might be. Jagg sold men, women, and children to the highest bidder. Except for Bosquetown, such human trafficking was illegal in all the other regions of Brynn Tor.

  Moaning softly, Quinn wrapped his arms around his waist and doubled over.

  He needed to feed, Seleena thought. But letting him prey on some poor unfortunate soul was out of the question.

  Grabbing his hand, she murmured a quick incantation. A moment later, they were in the timbered hills of Nardinnia.

  Quinn shook his head. “How about a little warning next time?” He glanced around. “What are we doing here?”

  The witch gestured at a herd of wild cattle.

  “Yeah? So?”

  “You can survive on animal blood.”

  He stared at the big, shaggy, brown and black cows. “Are you shittin’ me?”

  “No,” she said, her tone covered in ice. “I am not shitting you. If you’re thirsty, drink your fill.”

  “I need blood, witch. Not milk.”

  “Cows have blood.”

  Quinn shook his head. “I want human blood.” He started walking away, only to be brought up short when she waved her hand. “What the Hel!”

  “I will not let you feed on humankind.”

  “Dammit, woman, you’re not my mother, or my sire, or my keeper. Turn me loose!”

  “Perhaps you would like to be a statue again?” she asked, ever so sweetly. “You would look quite handsome in my fountain at home.”

  Eyes red, fangs bared, he glared at her. Try as he might, he couldn’t move.

  She folded her arms over her chest, one foot tapping impatiently.

  Five minutes passed. Ten.

  “Fine.” He spat the word through clenched teeth. “I’ll feed on the damn cows.”

  She freed him with a wave of her hand. He stalked away, his whole body screaming resentment. She found a log to sit on, then watched curiously as he approached the herd. Most of the cattle moved away, some instinct warning them of danger. A few watched him warily, then they, too, trotted away.

  Quinn wasn’t deterred. With preternatural speed, he hurled himself at the nearest animal, wrapped his arms around its neck and wrestled the creature to the ground. He glanced at Seleena over his shoulder, his eyes blazing red, and then sank his fangs into the cow’s throat.

  Gagging, Seleena turned away, her mind filling with ghastly images of her daughter bending over some poor unsuspecting human male, drinking her fill.

  She didn’t hear Quinn’s footsteps but she sensed him coming up behind her.

  Vampire.

  She spun around to face him, gathering a protective spell around her, but there was no danger. The cow he had fed on had rejoined the herd, grazing now as if nothing had happened.

  Quinn grimaced. “I can’t survive on that stuff,” he remarked as he licked a bit of blood from the corner of his mouth. “Neither did Serepta. I know, because she fed on me before she turned me.” He frowned. “She was able to walk in the sunlight. How was that possible?”

  “She was a witch. Her magical powers allowed her to walk in daylight and eat and drink mortal food.”

  “Can you make me a witch?”

  “No.” She hesitated a moment. “But I can conjure the same spell for you so that you can walk in the sun. And consume mortal food, if you wish.”

  “Yeah?” His eyes narrowed suspiciously. “What’s it gonna cost me?”

  “Your promise not to feed on humankind.”

  He snorted. “I’m a vampire, remember? I can’t make a promise like that.”

  “Then you must swear to me that you won’t kill anyone, and you won’t prey on children.”

  He considered a moment, then nodded. “I can do that.”

  “If you break your word, the spell will also be broken. It won’t be pleasant.”

  “So, do it.”

  “I can’t do it here.” She held out her hand. “Come along.”

  He took her hand in his. It was small and warm. Fragile. One squeeze, he thought, and he could break her fingers.

  She looked at him, one brow arched, as if she knew exactly what he was thinking.

  She murmured a few words in a language he didn’t understand.

  Quinn closed his eyes as her magic wrapped around him. It was warm, tingly, but not unpleasant. When he opened his eyes, they were in the great hall in Serepta’s castle. He shuddered as he looked around, remembering all too clearly how easily he had succumbed to the allure of the beautiful vampire-witch, and the excruciating pain that had followed.

  “Let’s go upstairs,” Seleena said. “I need a bowl and a little of your blood.”

  He trailed behind her. Their footsteps echoed off the walls.
<
br />   “I take it you’ve been here before,” Quinn remarked.

  Seleena nodded. “Briefly.” She moved slowly down the corridor, checking each room until she found the one she was looking for. It was large and square. The walls were white and bare save for a full-length mirror edged in gold. A long black table held a cauldron, a knife, several bowls in different sizes, some made of wood, some of silver. A shelf held a number of unlabeled jars and containers in various shapes and sizes.

  “What is all that stuff?” Quinn asked, moving into the room behind her.

  “Tools of the trade. Herbs. A few more exotic things.”

  “Like what? Eye of newt? Dragon’s teeth?”

  “Among other things.” She picked up the athame and tested the edge of the blade with her thumb. “Give me your left hand.”

  Quinn held it out and she made a shallow gash in his palm. His blood was thick, dark red, almost black. She held his palm over a small silver bowl. He jerked his arm back, hissing with pain when his hand touched the basin. Few things could hurt him, but silver was one of them.

  He bled only a few drops before the cut healed itself. She cut him again, and yet a third time, before she had enough. “What kind of magic is this?”

  “It’s an advanced form of mind magic and blood magic. I learned it from a wizard some years ago.”

  “Have you done it before?”

  “No.”

  He looked at her, one brow raised, then shrugged. “Now what?”

  “Be quiet.” She opened a small blue jar and poured a small amount into the bowl. Then, using her finger, she stirred the bloody mix. Next, she took Quinn’s hands in hers, closed her eyes and began to chant softly.

  Power filled the room, lifting the hair on Quinn’s arms, making it difficult to breathe. The contents of the bowl bubbled and hissed then turned into a dark mist. Unable to help himself, he breathed it in. When he would have backed away, her hands tightened on his. A shock sizzled through him, as if he had been kissed by lightning. It seared his veins like liquid fire. And then it was gone. He glanced at the bowl. It was empty.

  Seleena dropped his hands and stepped away, unsettled by what she had felt when she touched him. Had he felt it, too, that sense of inevitability?

 
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