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       Bloodmark, p.1

           Aurora Whittet
 
Bloodmark


  BLOODMARK © copyright 2013 by Aurora Whittet. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form whatsoever, by photography or xerography or by any other means, by broadcast or transmission, by translation into any kind of language, nor by recording electronically or otherwise, without permission in writing from the author, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in critical articles or reviews.

  ISBN 13: 978-1-940014-03-6

  Library of Congress Catalog Number: 201313946245

  Printed in Canada

  First Printing: 2013

  17 16 15 14 13 5 4 3 2 1

  Cover and interior design by Aurora Whittet

  Wise Ink, Inc.

  53 Oliver Ave S

  Minneapolis, MN 55404

  www.wiseinkpub.com

  To order, visit www.itascabooks.com or call 1-800-901-3480. Reseller discounts available.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used ficticiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entierly coincidental.

  Endorsements

  “Bloodmark is like the Baskin Robbins of paranormal books—a little something for everybody. Partially period piece, it also has elements of fantasy, light horror, and YA paranormal with engaging romantic elements. Well within my ‘buy this book now’ range, Bloodmark easily fits in the ‘buy an extra copy as a gift’ zone.”

  —Joe Alfano, “Zombie Joe” of Wicked Little Pixie blog

  “Bloodmark certainly doesn’t disappoint. A strong-willed, independent women, Ashling is an intensely appealing heroine. I couldn’t put the book down and I’ve never been so sad that I couldn’t rush out to buy and read the next book in the series.”

  —Katy Gerdes, contestant on Project Runway Season 3

  “Bloodmark is a fast-paced, beautiful blend of the emotional rollercoaster of first love and the fear of what’s around every corner, told through gorgeous descriptions and characters. The book is engrossing.”

  —Leslie Rich, Hounds of Finn

  I was drawn into the beautiful world of Bloodmark within just a few pages. Whittet’s first novel in the series perfectly blends all of the elements I love in a good book: suspense, mystery, strong characters, and most important (for me), romance. The gripping romance between Ashling and Grey quickly made Bloodmark an undeniable page-turner. Looking forward to the other books in the series is an understatement.”

  —Jessica Flannigan, editor of LivetheFancyLife.com

  There are moments in life when you truly

  realize you are in the presence of love.

  My mother was pure love. She shared it with

  everyone she met and taught us to feel the

  wind in our faces and the rhythm of the earth.

  We lost her on March 28, 2013

  and now when we feel lost, all we have to do

  is close our eyes and feel the wind in our hair

  to know she’s still here.

  For my son Henry, you are my sunshine,

  and Brian, you are my soul mate.

  Contents

  1 Acceptance

  2 Curiosity

  3 Untamed

  4 Animal Kingdom

  5 Broken

  6 Lost

  7 Sightings

  8 Caged

  9 Attraction

  10 Missing

  11 Free

  12 Promises

  13 Wild Animals

  14 Fake It

  15 Reasons

  16 Nightmares

  17 Eyes of the Night

  18 Encounter

  19 Embrace

  20 Stolen

  21 Captors

  22 Darkness

  23 Wild

  24 Survivor

  25 Bloodmark

  26 Lies

  27 Perfect by Nature

  1

  Acceptance

  “Are you ready, Ashling, my love?” Mother asked.

  “I’ve been ready for ages,” I replied.

  “It’s a three-hour drive, so don’t get too excited just yet.” She smiled.

  “Can’t we run there? We could do it in about an hour.” Just the thought of shifting to my wolf form made my pulse quicken with anticipation. It had been weeks since my brother, Mund, had visited and we could run free. I missed my red fur and four feet.

  “That would hardly be the proper behavior of a lady,” Mother said. “We want to make a good impression, don’t we?”

  I knew she was right, but I still yearned for the freedom of it. I had never left the cliffs, and the impending journey filled my soul with yearning. I wanted desperately to be part of our pack; I felt a hole inside myself where my pack should have been. I was certain Father was going brand me with the Boru Bloodmark and accept me into the pack. I should have been branded as a baby, but he had refused. I still didn’t know why. Without his Bloodmark on the back of my neck, I had no lineage and no family, no past and no future. I was the only daughter of King Pørr Boru and Queen Nessa, and no one even knew I was still alive.

  Mother was an elegant beauty with long, strawberry-blonde hair she always kept expertly woven into braids. For being over seven hundred years old, she appeared to be only in her early forties to human eyes. She was beautiful, yes, but her unending love for all living creatures was the essence of her spirit. Mother watched over the humans as though they were her own children and protected them from whatever evil lurked in the shadows. She was everything a queen should be. Sometimes I vied to be refined and demure like her, but my wild nature and free-flowing opinions prevented that. Still, I adored the earth she walked upon; it was her love that made the sun shine.

  We traveled from the southern tip of Ireland’s coast to the center, past the city of Cork, the Galty Mountains, and through the city of Cashel. The Rock of Cashel sat on the outskirts of the city limits, though the entire city was Father’s kingdom. The ruins of the medieval castle were built into the limestone terrain, and it couldn’t have been more beautiful. I had only seen photos of it in tourist books Mund brought me, but to finally see it as we approached left me awestruck.

  I eagerly jumped out of the car, nearly knocking into the guard who held my door. He was wearing a green Rock of Cashel tour-guide jacket—to inform human tourists of the Rock of Cashel’s “history” while deflecting their interest at the same time. His sleeves were rolled up, exposing his Boru Bloodmark tattooed to the underside of his wrists, a Celtic knot with two wolves’ heads; it was the heart of our pack.

  He snorted his disapproval at me as he held out his hand for Mother. “My queen,” he said.

  “Thank you, Dillon,” she replied.

  He looked at me again with a frown before looking back to her. “Follow me, m’lady.” His criticism should have bothered me, but I was too excited.

  Mother and I left our trunks with our driver and walked through the old, patinaed gate and followed him down the small, winding staircase into the dark underground. We stepped around the signs notifying tourists that it was unsafe beyond that point and continued down another flight of stairs into the deep earth.

  I didn’t see them, but I could smell the guards as we approached a solid stone wall. The only marking was the Boru Bloodmark carved into stone. Mother put her hand on the mark, and the wall began to open, revealing a hidden door. The ancient magic of our kind pulsed with the unified heartbeat of our pack. In this place, we were one. We stepped into the underground labyrinth of the Boru Kingdom, hidden underneath the earth for over a thousand years. Human generations had come and gone, but our kind stood watch over them.

  “Who’s Dillon?” I asked as we continued to follow him through a grand carved-limestone doorway.
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  “He’s the head of the guard,” she said. “This is my bedchamber.”

  Mother’s bedchamber was exquisite in every detail. Two guards carried our travel trunks into the room and set them down. I was curious to see other werewolves, and I watched them intently. I had spent my whole life with just Mother and visits from my brother Mund. I barely even knew my other brothers.

  “When can we see Father?” I asked.

  “We must freshen up before your father receives us. Now hurry, love, he is expecting us,” Mother said.

  I slipped on an ivory satin dress—simple, but I knew Mother would approve. “Who’s going to be there?” I asked.

  “I believe all packs loyal to the Boru will be there.” Mother began weaving my wild, red hair into braids like hers. “You’ll meet the Swiss Kingerys, the Spanish Costas, the Cree Indian Four-Claws of Canada, the African Sylla, the Scottish Killians, the Welsh Kahedins, and my family, the Greek Vanirs. And of course, your father and brothers will all be there.”

  I had seen Father only a handful of times and my brothers even less. I was nervous to live up to their expectations. “What if they don’t like me?”

  “Like you?” Mother smiled. “They will love you.”

  A light knock came to the door, and my heart pounded with anticipation. My brother Mund grinned. “Ash, you look lovely,” he said. I couldn’t stop smiling.

  Mund was my favorite brother; he visited me monthly as long as I could remember. He was handsome with dark-brown eyes and his shoulder-length, wavy brown hair. He looked no more than eighteen years old, but I knew him to be nearly four hundred. Wolves only began showing age when they were badly injured or when they missed a full moon without shifting, and Mund had been lucky in that respect. Despite his age, his style was sophisticated and modern, from the cut of his light-gray suit coat to the tips of his white, collared shirt. He kissed us each on the cheeks before continuing. “Father wants you both to join him in the War Room.”

  Mother frowned. “Why does he not first receive us in our family chambers?”

  “Flin summoned us.”

  Flin was my eldest brother and Father’s first in command. I met him once, but he didn’t approve of me. Mother had said it was because Flin was envious of my power to shift into a wolf from birth, unlike the rest of my kind, who had to wait until adolescence. I knew that was why they hid me in the countryside of Ireland for fourteen years; I was an embarrassment.

  “This is not proper etiquette,” Mother said, “but no matter. We shall go to him. Father is a busy man.” She gave my hand a little squeeze as we walked down the stone halls of our underground kingdom. The limestone walls were carved with our history. I ran my fingers over the rough texture, feeling the cool stone and, with it, the energy of the pack. For the first time in my life, I felt a connection to them.

  We followed Mund into a large, round room filled with books, maps, and priceless paintings by the masters—all items the humans assumed had been lost over the centuries. We protected the humans’ past just as we protected their future.

  Father’s thick, spicy scent filled the room. He leaned over a large map on the center stone table. He was strong and stocky, and his reddish-gray hair was swept back, but it was his full red beard that the legends all spoke of; he was a warrior king. Today, he was dressed in traditional linens and leather with a fur hide draped down his back like a cape. He wore a large copper Celtic belt buckle at his waist. His appearance was intimidating; if I didn’t know he was my father, I might have trembled in his presence. I hadn’t bonded with him as I had with Mother and Mund, but I could still smell his emotions—his fear washed over me as I entered the room.

  A very refined man stood next to him, dressed in a fine suit with a velvet jacket. He was near Father’s age in appearance, though I couldn’t be certain how old he really was. Standing in Father’s presence made my palms begin to sweat; I was excited and scared at the same time. I felt as though I could faint from my anxiety. I wanted to stare at him and study every feature of his face—I barely knew him, and I often forgot what he looked like. Most of all, I wanted to rush into Father’s arms and cling to him, but Mund’s hand on my shoulder kept me in my place with him and Mother as we waited to be addressed. I knew it was proper to wait, but what place did etiquette have with my own father? It felt like an eternity, but patience wasn’t a virtue I seemed to possess. Finally, Father looked up at Mother. “Nessa,” he said, “you remember Lord Beldig Kahedin.”

  He was the father of Tegan, Mund’s wife. I heard many stories of his greatness in battle. Mother smiled as Lord Beldig kissed her cheeks—first left, then right. “My queen,” he said.

  “It feels only yesterday since our Mund married Tegan,” she said.

  “Already a decade has passed,” he replied. Time was nothing to our kind.

  “May I present our daughter, Ashling,” she said, gesturing for me to join her side. I stumbled my first step forward but quickly recovered.

  “I am honored,” he said. “You look so much like your mother.”

  “Thank you, sir.”

  I blushed and looked away, suddenly distracted by the silver chains, shackles, and knives displayed on the far wall. They weren’t commonly used anymore, but I knew what they were for—torture devices used on wolves who broke the laws of our kind throughout the centuries. If pure silver touched werewolves’ skin, even for a moment, it would render us temporarily mortal and it would be impossible to shift into our wolf form until the effects wore off. The longer we would be in contact with the silver, the longer the effects took to wear off. If silver got in direct contact with our blood, the effects were instant and brutally painful. It made my skin crawl just to think about it.

  “What business brings you today?” Mother asked. “I trust the Kahedin pack is well?”

  Lord Beldig looked as nervous as I felt; he glanced at Father before answering. “The price of a bride.”

  There was a tense pause. “Has Brychan found a mate?” Mother replied. Her words were strained; something had changed.

  “I have offered Ashling’s hand to Lord Beldig’s son and heir,” father said.

  As the words sunk in, I felt my heart sink. Father didn’t want me at all; he had sold me in marriage to his ally’s son. I couldn’t stop my hands from shaking. My own father had betrayed me. My eyes welled up with tears, my misery reaching epidemic proportions.

  “She is yet a child of fourteen,” Mother said.

  “Old enough by our laws,” Father replied, turning his back on us.

  A young male werewolf entered; he appeared to be in his mid-twenties and smelled of black tea and leather spices. Brychan was a darker, more unrefined version of his sister Tegan, though they shared the same beautiful olive skin. He had startling dark-blue eyes, and a slight beard shadowed his face, giving him an even more rugged appearance. His dark-brown hair was slightly messy around his sharp, masculine features. He was taller and more muscular than Mund and wore a full suit that was tight across his chest. He was handsome. I couldn’t quite read his expression, but he seemed amused by something. He leaned casually against the giant globe at the side of the room.

  “Lord Brychan, your father and I have come to terms,” Father said to the man. “I present Princess Ashling.”

  Brychan looked at me for the first time. My lips quivered with fear and my hands still shook. I’m sure I looked like a scared animal to his inspection, not the bride he had come to bargain for. His posture didn’t change, but his eyes softened; for a brief moment, I wasn’t scared of him.

  “Pørr?” Mother interrupted.

  Still Father didn’t look at me. “It is done,” he said. Mother froze at his words. I knew she was angry—I could sense her emotions—but she knew her place and wouldn’t question him again. “Ashling, greet your soon-to-be-husband.”

  I couldn’t move—I was too scared. Father had just sold me to the highest bidder as if I were nothing more than cattle. His eyes narrowed on me, and the vein
in his forehead started to bulge out of the surface of his skin.

  “Do as you’re told, child.”

  “No,” I said, wiping the tears from my face with the back of my hands.

  He crossed the room in less than a heartbeat and roughly placed his large hands on my shoulders, digging his fingernails into my flesh. He leaned in close and whispered in my ear, “You are my property, and you will do as I say.”

  “I will not.” My voice was calmer than I could have hoped.

  His hand clenched to strike me down for my disobedience, but Mund shielded the blow with his forearm. I flinched from the forceful impact that vibrated through Mund. “Perhaps she is too young to make such a decision,” Mund said. “I will take charge of her until her eighteenth birthday, at which time, Lord Brychan, you can state your claim as her betrothed.”

  Before Father could argue, Brychan said, “I agree to your terms, Prince Redmund. I trust her safety to you.”

  “I will keep her safe,” Mund said. “Tegan and I will look after her at the cliffs.”

  I could see Father’s anger in his hideous expression. Mund’s disloyalty was a disgrace to him. “Nessa, you will resume your position here at the Rock,” Father said.

  “Husband, my king, I will fulfill my duty to my daughter until she is wed. You know where to find us.” Her words were soft, but I knew the choice she had made and she would not forgive him.

 
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