Wicked Abyss – Kresley Cole

As King Saetth leisurely wiped blood off his sword, Lila choked down her fury. Seated upon his throne, he took his time, keeping everyone in suspense. With two executions complete, only one trial remained. Mine. Would she follow her parents’ fates? Through one of the throne room’s towering windows, a ray of sunlight beamed over the king. His blond locks and his ornate crown—a wreath of gilded evergreen branches—seemed to glow. Even the sun wanted to touch him. For all of her thirteen years, Lila had been just as enamored of him. Off to the side, whispers sounded from her backstabbing royal cousins. “Saetth’s about to behead his child fiancée!” “The foulmouthed brat got used to being the king’s favorite.” “Why isn’t the little bitch crying?” “Or begging for her cursed life?” Crying or begging? As if. Lila faced Saetth with her chin up and shoulders back, her pampered appearance belying her fortitude. The perils of this fey court had honed her mettle. Learning from the mistakes of others had sharpened her acumen. Yet nothing could stifle her unfeylike temper; after all, she’d been betrothed to Saetth since her birth, raised to become the queen of this realm.

Rumor even held that she was a princess reincarnated. Fate wanted her to be a queen. Lila had worn a purple silk gown for this occasion; the color was royal—and defiant. As the castle’s clock tower tolled, Saetth finished cleaning the weapon he always carried, the Ancestors’ Sword, the unifying symbol of their royal line. He raised the blade to the sunlight, eyeing the edge with his piercing blue gaze. Her earliest memories were of sighing over his handsome face, imagining him as her husband and her dollies as the subjects they protected. Yet now her king suspected Lila of treason? How could her coldhearted parents have plotted against such a powerful ruler? They’d foolishly trusted an informer, leaving their only child’s life hanging in the balance. Secrecy equals survival in this court. They’d never cared about her—never pretended she was more than a valuable bargaining chip— which was one of the reasons she’d bonded so strongly with Saetth, who’d at least shown her attention. He sheathed his sword.

Peering down at her, he began her trial with one question: “Why shouldn’t I believe you were involved in your parents’ plot to steal my crown?” Lila pinned his gaze with her own uncanny one. Her defense consisted of eight words: “Because it still sits upon your godsdamned head.” Stunned silence reigned. Saetth’s shock turned to amusement. “And that is why you remain my betrothed, Calliope of Sylvan, the queen of my heart.” He laughed, his gaze seemingly warm. “If there was ever a girl born to rule, you are she, cousin. But I too was born to rule, and I’ve kept this crown for millennia because I allow no threats to fester around me.” His smile disappeared as if it’d never been. “I hereby exile you from our woodland kingdom.

” Leave her beloved Sylvan? Lila would almost rather die. The forests were what separated the Sylvans from the other fey. The splendor of those great trees was equaled only by the shining, meticulous order of life at court. Just two weeks ago, at a ball in her honor, the lights from a thousand candles had reflected in her jewels as Saetth had led her out to dance. The next day she’d run through the woods alongside bounding deer. Separating her from this place would be like draining her veins of blood. “To where?” “The mortal realm.” Gasps sounded; some of her cousins tittered. He might as well have sentenced her to hell. She would go from proudly displaying everything that made her a Lorean to hiding her very species from prying mortal eyes.

From the order the fey so cherished to human chaos. Saetth said, “We’ll see if my hothouse rose can survive among primitive humans.” Lips drawn back from her teeth, she said, “Careful, cousin, this hothouse rose intends to flourish and grow sharp thorns.” More gasps. Saetth’s eyes flickered with excitement. He leaned down and said, “I am counting on it.” “And if the fey-slayer finds me, what then?” Rune Darklight, a homicidal archer and one of the Møriør, was murdering the Sylvan line of succession. Lila was one of only fourteen left. This castle had a barrier to keep Møriør out; she’d be vulnerable anywhere else. “Test your new thorns against him,” Saetth said.

As if any of the monstrous Møriør could be fought! “If you’re truly the queen I deserve, you’ll figure out something, I’m sure.” “How long until I can return?” Six months? A year? “Should there come a time when you can prove your loyalty to me through great personal sacrifice, I will provide you the chance to take your rightful place by my side. Until then, wait for my word. ” TWO The Happiest Place on Earth Present day . Lila stood on the balcony of the castle in her cornflower blue ballgown and sparkling tiara, gazing out over the nighttime beauty of her magic kingdom. As a balmy breeze coaxed light-brown strands from her chignon, the kingdom’s symphony started to play below. She sighed, reliving her last ball. The scent of roses and candlewax had filled the air as Saetth twirled her around the immaculate ballroom. Closing her eyes, she collected her skirt with a gloved hand and swayed— “Step into the magic!” a human announced over the PA system, snatching her from her reverie. “The magic of Walt Disney World!” Too bad Lila’s life was all make-believe.

She got paid to dress up like this. Her fairy-esque ballgown was polyester and covered with candy smudge prints from the mortal children who touched it with reverence: Are you weally a fairwy pwincess? I am. I really am. The pointed tips of her ears were expertly hidden beneath her coiffure. Loreans kept themselves secret—revealing paranormal activity to humans resulted in severe punishments—so a theme park filled with security cameras was an immortal’s worst nightmare. To elude Rune the archer, she’d decided to hide in plain sight, taking a gig as a “face character.” After each shift, she came to this balcony in Cinderella Castle and pretended her tiara was real. Fearing discovery by the archer and by mortals, she maintained no friendships or social life. No love life. Outside of work, she would go running—slowing her natural pace—then hole up in her drab apartment to speed-read or complete another online degree.

A young couple below caught her eye. She sighed with longing when they started making out against a wall. The things she’d seen in this park . She’d never had sex—some part of her must still believe she could become queen—but she’d risked fooling around more and more since she’d started transitioning to her full immortality. As all of her senses heightened to a supernatural degree, so did her lust. Loreans called this stage “overstimulation.” Lila called it “in heat.” Even from this distance, her enhanced eyesight could spy tiny details. The bite of the woman’s nails into the man’s shoulders, his subtle thrusts against her . Suddenly, the tips of her ears began to twitch.

Wariness filled her. Another Lorean neared— “A fairy princess pretending to be a fairy princess?” a deep voice said from behind her. Saetth. Stay cool, stay cool. Calm the hell down! “Took you long enough, cousin.” Turning to him, she craned her head up. Lost her breath. Dressed in full court regalia, he wore a tailored, fawn-colored suit that highlighted his rangy frame. Amusement lit his riveting blue eyes. Golden blond hair tumbled over his forehead just so.

His sword scabbard accentuated his royal air, and his crown still sat proudly upon his head. He was the epitome of masculine perfection. Fucker. Take away the fact that he’d exiled her and she’d spent more than a decade cursing him . I’d do him. Of course, at this point in her development she wasn’t very choosy. “Calliope, you’ve grown into a vision.” His gaze roamed over her. “What’s this—do your eyes now match?” “A contact lens.” Her appearance required approval before she was allowed to mingle with park guests.

Her mismatched eyes would never make the cut. “Why are you here?” Take me the hell home. All I want is to go home. “How about a proper greeting for your betrothed?” Betrothed. Was she truly still in the running for queen? Her heart tripped, but not because of any lingering love for him. Lila was in love with the idea of having as much control over her own life as possible. Of not constantly looking over her shoulder for the Møriør. Being a ruler would give her the most safety and control she could ever hope for. “Are you still my betrothed? I wouldn’t know since I haven’t heard a fucking word from you.” A hint of a grin played on his lips.

“Has little Calliope developed an even tarter tongue since she’s been away?” Tarter? You have no idea, cousin. Her exile had only fueled her temper. “And yet I wager it will taste so sweet.” He grasped her shoulders and drew her closer. To kiss her? She’d wondered what this would be like for far too long. Especially of late. Even when she’d kissed other guys, she’d dreamed of Saetth, unable to deny he was probably her ideal match, socially, royally—and sexually. Had he imprinted on her in some way? He leaned down. As their lips made contact, fireworks exploded. The eight-o’clock fireworks show.

Not so much with the kiss. She’d experienced more heat making out with the mortal who played Goofy. Saetth groaned, slanting his mouth, touching his tongue to hers. That was better, but nothing she’d write home about. Not that I could ever write home, since it’s in a dif erent godsdamned dimension and they don’t make stamps for that. She broke away and pushed against his chest. He wasn’t discouraged at all. Releasing her, he murmured, “Sweet as honey.” So that was the extent of their first kiss? How . anticlimactic.

With a smoldering look, he turned and leaned his elbows on the railing to take in the fireworks blazing across the sky. She’d seen this show so many times that she knew the purple, red, and blue zigzaggy cascades came next. “Clever to use mortals as your cover from the archer,” he said. “And to masquerade as a fairy princess is the boldest choice you could have made. Why am I not surprised?” I can’t believe I just kissed Saetth. “Are you here to take me back or not?” He straightened and faced her. “I am not.” She bit back a string of insults. How much longer? “I traveled here with a friend to discuss something with you. Ah, here she is now.

” A stunning black-haired female with golden eyes strolled out onto the balcony. She rocked a scarlet sheath dress. A live bat perched on her shoulder like an accessory. Was the creature eating a tuft of cotton candy? A package of it jutted from the woman’s messenger bag. Saetth said, “Calliope, this is Nïx the Ever-Knowing, the Valkyries’ soothsayer.” Nïx? She was one of the most famous—or infamous, depending on your alliance—immortals alive. “I’ve read about you in my Book of Lore.” Lila’s only connection to the immortal world, the book updated itself with every major battle or power shift. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Though Nïx was a crucial leader in the Vertas alliance, the Valkyrie was also rumored to be crazy.

By way of greeting, Nïx said, “Have you ever wanted to dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?” Huh? Saetth said, “I think what Nïx means to ask is if you’ve ever wanted to strike back against the Møriør.” Also known as the Bringers of Doom. “Of course.” Rumor held that those tyrants were journeying from their side of the universe to invade this one. Their archer had already arrived in advance of them. Since she’d been old enough to understand what a bogeyman was, she’d lived in fear of them all. Growing in lockstep with her fear was fury, the two emotions seeming entwined. “Not a minute goes by that I don’t think about them. I’ve forfeited so much to remain hidden from their threat.” She pointedly added, “During my exile.

” Saetth arched a blond brow. “I told you that you could return home once you’d made a great personal sacrifice to prove your loyalty. Are you ready to?” Lila stilled, working to calm her heart rate. She would do anything to live in Sylvan again. Anything. “Yes, how?” “Nïx has assured me that victory against the Møriør on a battlefield is impossible, but she’s also provided us a unique opportunity to deal that alliance a blow.” Nïx drew a dossier from her bag and handed it to Lila. King Abyssian Infernas, the Devil’s Own. He was the primordial demon of the Møriør alliance. Lila flipped through the pages of the file, skimming a description: Physically flawless .

the phrase “handsome as the devil” came about because of comparisons to his notoriously seductive sire . aggressively pursued by females . Under the miscellaneous section, she read: The oldest living demon . proficient in all weapons, but has carried the same battle-ax for ten millennia . can fell an entire army on his own . newly crowned king of Pandemonia, A.K.A. hell. That fabled realm had always intrigued Lila to a curious degree.

“What do you expect from me?” She closed the file. “I’ve never shot a bow or wielded a sword.” Though she didn’t possess fighting skills, she had read widely on the subjects of battle, survival, and weapons. She could do everything from orchestrating an ambush to constructing a trebuchet—in theory. “You have three innate advantages that are even more valuable,” Nïx said. “You can read and write his language.” Among many others. They came easily to her. “You developed mental blocks against mind reading when growing up.” For protection at the insidious fey court.

“And you are his mate.” Shock gut-punched Lila. Mate??? She reeled on her feet, latching onto the balcony railing. “No way. There’s no way fate would connect me to one of those monsters.” The thought arose: Maybe my fascination with Pandemonia isn’t so curious. But she quashed it. “You’re the Devil’s Own’s own,” Nïx said, her eyes glimmering. “You’ll go to hell and use that connection to garner information from him—plans for upcoming battles, details about his alliance, and so on. I’m especially keen to learn about Orion, the Møriør’s leader.

” Go to hell? Reading about and visiting were in no way the same. Saetth said, “As soon as you’ve uncovered weaknesses, we will extract you.” Lila’s palm sweated through her opera glove as she gripped the dossier. “You want me to be a spy? This mortal realm is bad enough, but at least I’m not damned.” And mated! How could fate have screwed her over like this? Lila’s tiara must be on too tight. She’d cut off circulation to her brain or something. Saetth’s lips thinned. “When I first heard Nïx’s plan, it sounded as if I’d be sending a lamb into the lion’s den. But the demon will be compelled by his instinct to protect and care for you.” “And also to claim me.

” Nausea churned at the thought. Nïx said, “I’ve assured Saetth that the demon cannot and will not hurt you. Abyssian’s tender feelings for you will make it easy to coax secrets from him.” She tapped her chin with a pink claw. “Of course, you might have to encourage those feelings. ”

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