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Authors: Jessa Slade

A Little Night Muse

BOOK: A Little Night Muse
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Convicted of treason, Adelyn has been banished to the sunlit
realm of humans—a fate worse than death for a
musetta
who exists only to inspire other
phae.
To reverse her exile, she must find a pair of lovers who have
fled the court and return them to face the Queen’s wrath. But once in the mortal
realm, she meets a man who unveils her hidden desires…

When Josh Reimer discovers an ethereal beauty at a cabin near
his ranch, he decides the neighborly thing to do is take her in. Adelyn inspires
a passion unlike anything he’s ever known and he vows not to lose the magic
they’ve found together—even if that means she must choose between her home and
their love.

A Little Night Muse

Jessa Slade

Chapter 1

“...For the crime of treason against the
phaedrealii
, the court of our steel-born Queen, the
punishment is—and seriously, this should surprise no one—death.”

As the goblin chamberlain made the pronouncement, Adelyn stared
down at her clasped hands where the iron chains burned. True enough, everyone
knew the penalty for treason. It was easy enough to remember. The same sentence
was meted out for sedition, insubordination, noncompliance, obstructionism,
incompetence, various forms of folly, and—sometimes—yawning in the presence of
the Queen.

So, no, Adelyn wasn’t surprised. But terror squeezed her heart.
With each frantic beat, crimson welled from her blackened wrists to smoke
against the manacles. Even looking at the dull metal brought tears to her
phae
eyes.

Phae
blood in every rainbow
color—red like her own, yellow, green, purple, even black—had been shed in the
Queen’s court. But Adelyn never imagined she would be the one in chains. She was
best beloved of all the
musetta
who served as
inspiration to the
phaedrealii
courtiers. How had
she fallen so far?

Though she could not flee the iron agony, one tear did escape.
She ducked her head to hide her emotion, but the droplet traced a cool path down
her cheek. For a heartbeat, it trembled at the edge of her jaw, refracting
shards of light. The sparkles danced across the nearest courtiers who leaped
back, swatting at the unseemly display as if they could knock away her forbidden
expression of feeling.

The tear fell. It struck the marble floor not with a splash but
a chiming
ping
.

The faceted emerald teardrop bounced away from her gilded
slippers—less gilded after what seemed like an eternity in her iron-clad prison
cell. Cursing courtiers scrambled from the stone’s path. No one wanted to be
touched by her disgrace.

Between the fleeing bodies darted one of the chamberlain’s
imps, freakishly fast on three crabbed limbs. It snatched the rolling emerald
between its rubbery lips. A single bulbous eye boggled at her before the imp
tipped back its head and swallowed. Then the wretched little monster burped.

No shining proof of her innocence would be allowed. Not that
Adelyn believed her guilt or innocence was at all relevant.

“Take her away.” The chamberlain’s peg-toothed sneer reflected
in the blank screens of stolen smart phones strung around his scaly neck. “She
is nothing to us now.”

As one, the courtiers in all their
phae
glamour furled their wings or tightened the luxurious falls of
their cloaks or closed their eyes. Shutting her out. Their whispers chased to
the far edges of the hall like the distant hiss of a retreating tide.

As if the terror wasn’t bad enough. For a
musetta
like her—desired for her power of inspiration that compelled
thoughts and dreams to dizzying heights—such rejection burned worse than
iron.

Hands reached for her, but she strained away, tearing the
spider silk of her veils. She had wrapped herself in the fluttering scarves—an
age ago, it seemed—to emphasize her dusky-skinned, dark-haired beauty. Now the
pale veils only served as a stark backdrop for her blood. “You can’t send me
away!”

“Silence,” the goblin barked. Everyone knew the last words of
the condemned held particular power.

Drawing in a deep breath, she forced down the pain of her
scorched wrists and the humiliation of exposing her knack of jeweled tears.
Every reluctant eye was on her now.
Musetta
inspired
music and poetry, art and science, the wildest flights of fancy.

But she could also inspire fear.

Adelyn took no pleasure in the stark faces, but she would not
let them pretend as she had pretended she was untouchable. She swept her gaze
around the hall, slashing at the
phae
with a glare
as edged as a shattered jewel. “Any of you could be next.”

Adelyn had time for nothing else as she was pushed into the
dark corridor that led to her death.

Her tears—mere water now, her knack drained—blinded her.
Unbalanced by her bound hands, she stumbled. The rip in her veils dipped forward
over her breasts. Stupid gilded slippers had no traction.

A sudden burst of illumination flared beyond her tears.


Musetta
.” The voice of her looming
death—low and rough, as she might have guessed six feet deep would sound—froze
her in her tracks.

The Queen might be capricious and terrifying, and her goblin
chamberlain was petty and horrendous, but the Queen’s vizier existed in a dark
realm all his own.

Adelyn closed her eyes, hoping death took her quickly. The
vizier’s grim countenance was known to send courtiers into fits of madness. And
those were
phae
who
weren’t
convicted of treason.


Musetta
, look at me.” A note of
compulsion forced her eyes open.

She clamped her tongue between her teeth to stop herself from
begging for mercy. The Queen had no mercy. And no mercy’s name—at least as it
was screamed by hopeless
phae
in their last
moments—was Raze.

Swathed in a gray samite robe, his hulking figure was a drear
wall, his glare equally gray above cheekbones as whetted as the exposed steel of
the athame hanging from his belt. Amongst beings who could conjure any
masquerade, his stark—and, frankly, uninspired—presentation seemed a mockery, as
if he had never left the Iron Age behind. It vexed Adelyn’s
musetta
power to no ends; a muse did not
do
gray.

Not that she would say so aloud, not to Raze the Ruiner.

A glint in his half-closed eyes made her think he read her
thoughts, despite her determined silence.


Musetta
.” His voice sliced, slowly
and dagger-cruel, through the word as if he might trick—or torture—her into
sharing her real name. With such precious insight he could twist her into
whatever he wished. “You find yourself in desperate straits.”

She lifted her chin to an angle between elegance and disdain.
“Straight as an executioner’s blade.”

He laughed. “The Queen’s death sentences are—like most words
from
phae
lips—open to interpretation.”

Adelyn bit her tongue again. She would
not
beg. As inspiration personified, she could not be moved by
necessity or entreaty.

Though she longed to let her wrecked golden slippers move her
far, far away.

The Ruiner crossed his arms over his chest, his gray-gloved
hands gripping his biceps with knuckles aimed her way. “Don’t you wish to hear
your options?”

She scowled at his malicious teasing. “
Musetta
I am, but I will not incite you to more enthusiastic methods
of murder. Specifically, my murder.”

Raze drummed his fingers. “The Queen wants you out of her
sight. Death would do. But exile accomplishes much the same results.”

Exile? Her heart twisted in her chest. “Exactly the same
results for me. I cannot leave the
phaedrealii
.”

Raze snorted. “Many
musetta
have
journeyed out of court. Where do you think humans find their inspiration?”

His offhand reassurance gave her no comfort. “I never wanted to
inspire humans.”

“And yet you’ve done it so well,” Raze purred. He fingered the
torn neckline of her veils. “You are everything a man could want to inspire
him.”

She leaned away, holding her breath against the stink of
lightning that clung to him. Out from the gap of his sleeve, a hairy gray spider
as big as the vizier’s hand scuttled over her breast. She gasped as it pattered
across her skin, but Raze’s grip trapped her.

The spider gathered the edges of the tear. With a few pumps of
its spinneret, it laced the rip, then it vanished up Raze’s sleeve. Adelyn
sagged back, and this time the vizier let her go.

He glanced over his massive shoulder. “William, come. And bring
the key.”

A hysterical sob congealed in Adelyn’s throat. “Why is
he
here?”

“He wanted to see you off. And to tell you—”

William elbowed Raze aside as only one of the Queen’s lovers
would dare. “Sweet muse, I had no idea it would end like this.”

“You are fucking our Queen,” she snapped. “Yet you wrote a poem
to
my
eyes. How else would it end?”

William’s cherubic blonde curls bobbed as he ducked his head,
though his ravenous gaze on her was anything but saintly.

Raze
tsk
ed at her. “Poor boy, he
just couldn’t help himself. You are
musetta
. You
inspired him.”

She never bothered with humans. Why waste the breath of
inspiration on creatures that breathed only a hundred years or so? Making her
place in the
phaedrealii
was hard enough since
musetta
had no real value themselves except what they
inspired in others. Now she fastened her gaze on the iron key dangling from
William’s fingers. She pitched her voice as
musetta
did, echoing the smooth slide of rich fabric or fine wine. “Free me,
William.”

William hesitated. As a mere human, he shouldn’t have resisted
her voice. Shouldn’t have
wanted
to. But her
influence had waned under the shackles and the fear that pulsed like her
iron-poisoned blood.

Raze chuckled. “William wants to keep you here. He forgets a
musetta
can’t be imprisoned.”

William scowled at the vizier, bold in his passionate idiocy
the way the Queen preferred her human lovers. Somehow they kept that callow
foolishness, no matter how long she ensnared them. “I know she can’t stay. The
Queen is so angry.” Awareness flickered behind his eyes, then vanished in a
phae
haze. “But I’ll make her forget.”

Raze waved one hand. “Everyone forgets. Makes it damn hard to
get anything done around here. But before you tra-la-la along, unlock the
musetta
.”

Adelyn couldn’t hold back a moan of relief when William fumbled
at her bindings and the manacles fell away. The
phae
who had survived the Iron Age were resistant to more refined versions of the
ore, but even the steel-born
phae
avoided raw iron.
Tucking her burned wrists against her belly, she glared at William. “Thank you.
If only these ode-worthy eyes of mine had never glimpsed you.”

His mouth twisted. “Sweet muse—”

“You doomed me. Also, your cadence was off and your rhyming
sucked.” She put all the
musetta
force into her
voice. “Go.”

He went with a wrenching sigh, as if she had torn the
exhalation from him.

Raze laughed again. “You are unkind,
musetta
.”

She held out one wrist in mute evidence.

The Ruiner shrugged. “I have nothing against cruelty. It might
help in the task I’m giving you.”

Adelyn stared down at her slippers. “I don’t suppose you want
to write a poem?”

“Hardly. I need you to find a thief.”

“I am no Hunter.”

“All the Hunters I have sent have...not returned. This
particular thief is a Hunter himself. He took one of the Queen’s
sylfana
and is hiding in the sunlit world. I want you
to find them.”

Adelyn shuddered. “If he kills your Hunters—”

“He won’t kill you. Quite the opposite. Your helplessness will
inspire him to bring you closer. When you find him, contact me. Our Queen wants
words with the missing Hunter and his
sylfana
.
Perhaps words of a poetic nature, though I doubt it.” He smiled, inviting Adelyn
to share his amusement.

She never wanted to hear another poem ever. “Why would I help
you?”

“Because you must, to end your exile and return to the
phaedrealii
which justifies your existence. Your
choice,
musetta
.”

She stared down at her mangled wrists. Somehow, the damage felt
deeper. “As you command.”

“The Queen’s handmaid will prepare you.” Raze grasped her chin
to tilt her face upward. “Do not fail me,
musetta
.”

“Is that not one of my choices, then?” She could not turn her
face away, but she closed her eyes.

Raze left when the Queen’s handmaid arrived. EveStar brought
Adelyn a satchel with salve for her wounds and spores to open the way between
the worlds. Tiny will-o’-the-wisps orbited around them as they headed down a
little-used corridor, and Adelyn wondered if she’d ever see that serene,
flawless glow again. Her sob sent the closest wisp spinning on the eddy of her
breath.

The handmaid peered at her. “Is this your first foray to the
sunlit world, child?”

The sunlit world. The name sent chills across Adelyn’s skin.
She clutched her veils around her, but the spider silk felt as light and
revealing as...well, spider silk. “My first exile, yes.”

EveStar smiled vaguely. “Such an adventure.” The handmaid’s
ethereal golden beauty was rightly called timeless. She was one of the few to
endure the Iron Age and the brutal court battles that spawned the steel-born
phae
. The Queen kept her as a reminder of a lost
era. And maybe as a warning. None of the iron-born left the
phaedrealii
. Ever.

Adelyn’s burst of envy at EveStar’s pristine silk slippers was
eclipsed only by her desire to stay in the court too. “I am hunting a Hunter who
will likely slaughter me.”

The handmaid clicked her tongue. “Why, I’ve heard a dozen
phae
have chased after the runaways, never to return.
And now a
musetta
sweet as yourself is cavorting
with a dark Hunter? How times have changed.” The soft gold of her eyes glinted
with something much harder, something angry.

BOOK: A Little Night Muse
8.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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