Authors: Sydney Somers
To the incredible Lindsey Faber. I’d be lost without you. This one makes ten books we’ve worked on together, and I can’t wait for eleven and twelve and thirteen…
It was official—she was going to die shackled to a damn gargoyle.
Emma, twenty-third generation daughter of the House of Lamorak, let her hand fall back into her lap. The sound of the links clinking on the chain clasped around her right wrist only made the pain in her stomach worse.
If she’d been human, she would have sworn that being repeatedly dragged into her twin sister’s escapades was giving her an ulcer. A two hundred-year-old ulcer, since that was how long she’d been roped into fixing Elena’s problems.
She hadn’t given up hope that one of these days her sister would learn to steer clear of trouble, or find a way to solve her messes on her own. At least, she hadn’t given up hope until she’d found herself sporting the latest in magic-nulling accessories.
Emma eyed the silver and gold cuff she’d been stuck with for the last three days, no longer bothering to try getting free. The damn thing wouldn’t budge. Neither would the other end that had been secured to the feral looking stone cat she leaned her back against.
For the hundredth time since she’d been left on the roof for refusing to undo a curse she hadn’t cast, her attention drifted to the lackluster view of treetops and distant city skyscrapers.
Was it too much to ask that Elena piss off someone who favored penthouses and room service? Although, her current surroundings were quite a step up from the Korrigan’s dungeon she’d spent a week in a few years back.
Thankfully, she didn’t have to worry about the gargoyle breaking free of the stone at sunset and taking a chunk out of her. And judging by the size of the teeth permanently frozen in a menacing snarl, it would be one hell of a chunk.
She rarely crossed paths with gargoyles in their animal form, but guessed this one was bigger than most. Although she was seated on the ground next to it, the top of her head was still a few inches shy of the cat’s back.
Not having to deal with the shifter’s animal half was probably the only thing she had going for her given the enraged look on the gargoyle’s face, one paw poised to slash something—or someone—to pieces.
While the threatening stance fit the reputation of a former member of the Guard—King Arthur’s gargoyle protectors—it was at complete odds with everything else she’d learned about Cian Callaghan. Seeing as she hadn’t been able to touch anything in his room below without being assailed by the memories connected to each object, she’d learned a lot.
Nothing about the loyal, playful and charmingly arrogant man she’d glimpsed through those memories seemed to warrant the kind of punishment Elena had dealt him. It wouldn’t be the first time her sister had overreacted and would doubtfully be the last—one of the drawbacks of such a fledgling sorceress channeling that much power.
Sighing, Emma shifted her weight and closed her eyes, soaking in the last of the setting sun’s rays. How long until her captors realized that nothing she did would break the curse that had permanently locked the gargoyle in his stone form?
Only Elena could undo that, and since her twin had pulled another vanishing act, Emma was on her own. Of course, she could have just told her captors that they’d snatched the wrong sister—assuming they would have believed her.
God, how many times would she get stuck with the crap end of the stick before she let Elena dig her own way out of trouble? Problem-solving just shouldn’t be that complicated for such an incredibly gifted sorceress.
At the very least, her sister deserved to cool her heels chained to a roof for a while. Too bad Emma couldn’t hold on to that thought, knowing how heavily her twin relied on her magic.
One jerk on her chain reminded her of how powerless Elena would be against a furious gargoyle if forced to undo the curse she’d cast over a century ago. As much as she wanted to strangle her sister for inviting trouble, she’d do anything to protect her.
At least she had already left Leah, their human friend, when she’d realized the gargoyle’s family was tracking her. Keeping Elena out of harm’s way was enough of a challenge without worrying about Leah being caught up in everything along with her.
Sighing, Emma tugged on the cuffs of her long jacket, taking some small measure of comfort in the familiar weight of the leather. Even when the sun had been at its peak, she hadn’t taken it off. Not only would she have felt naked and exposed without it, one look at her tracings—or lack thereof—and her captors would have realized she didn’t possess enough magic to curse a three-day-old kitten, let alone a predator like the one she was chained to.
Out of habit she ran her fingers across the purple ivy markings encircling her wrist. Elena had over a dozen tracings—some she masked with magic—proof of her strength as a sorceress. Emma had three.
Recognizing the familiar invitation to a pity-party for one—the one event she’d sworn she’d outgrown decades ago—she tipped her face up.
“Could be worse,” she mused, running her hand across the gargoyle’s chest, imagining his heart was somewhere beneath her palm. “I could be trapped like you.”
A soft rumble echoed on the air, and she straightened. She scanned the rooftop, but nothing moved except the late evening breeze stirring the few tendrils of hair that had escaped her braid.
She settled back against the gargoyle, resigning herself to spending the night on the roof.
Warmth seeped into her back.
Frowning, she peered up at the cat. Until a few moments ago, she’d been hesitant to touch the gargoyle, but now curiosity pulled at her. She moved to her knees and ran a hand down his side.
Her gaze snapped to the gargoyle’s face. Was he getting warmer?
Standing, she smoothed both hands down his sides, slowly returning to his face. Stone eyes stared back at her.
Of course nothing was happening. She hadn’t cursed him and didn’t have the kind of power to free him. That would have been too easy, for the both of them.
She dropped her head to the cat’s. “Guess we’re stuck with each other a while longer, huh?”
She refused to think about just how long they would leave her up here. Days. Weeks. Maybe even years if his family refused to accept that she couldn’t undo the curse. The odds were higher that Elena might eventually notice she’d disappeared and come looking for her.
That could be days, weeks, or even years too.
“We’re both so screwed.”
The sound of something cracking had her head snapping up. She swung around, seeking the source, only to swivel back to the gargoyle. It took a minute to see the faint hairline cracks in the stone—cracks growing brighter. Brighter.
Scrambling backward, she tripped over her own feet. The chain went taut before she had anything close to a reasonable space between them.
Bright light exploded outward, and she ducked, shielding her head. Immortal or not, even she couldn’t survive decapitation. That, along with fire, was the only way to guarantee an immortal’s death.
Emma braced for the debris that didn’t come. The chain went slack, clattering on the roof, but she didn’t move. Not until she felt the gargoyle’s gaze burning into her. Hating the thought of being attacked while her back was turned, she lifted her head, determined to face the threat.
A warm breath puffed across the back of her neck.
Every cell in her body went still, anticipating the feel of the cat’s teeth sinking into her flesh. Opening her palm, she prepared to at least try and defend herself with fire, only to remember the chain prevented it.
Not that the cat would have given her the chance anyway. One monstrous paw came into view beside her knee and then she felt the warm, wet swipe of his tongue.
Did he just…lick her?
She pivoted on her knees to face the cat just as he butted his head against her shoulder, knocking her on her butt.
Even though she knew the gargoyle had broken free, the sight of the large black feline staring at her with such vivid blue eyes froze her in place. She’d been this close to a dragon once when it had broken free of its stone—also thanks to Elena—but hadn’t hung around long enough to get face-to-face.
A little in awe, she still had the sense to inch backward. It took another few seconds to realize she had enough slack to keep retreating. Without taking her eyes off the gargoyle, she drew the chain closer.
The other end was no longer attached to him.
Hope flared in her chest. So what if she didn’t have a clue how to get away from the cat without him pouncing on her? She preferred to take it as a good sign that he didn’t seem immediately interested in using her arm for a scratching post.
The cat rubbed his glossy black fur against her cheek, and she closed her eyes, indulging in the almost affectionate gesture. Growing up in Avalon, she’d never had a pet snuggle up against her. Even animals in the human world were wary of her, as if they all knew she’d once accidentally lit a friend’s tail on fire when they were children.
Not the cat, though. The rumbling coming from his chest deepened, and she smiled. Only when she caught herself sinking her fingers into his thick coat, getting closer, did she realize her opportunity for escape was passing her by.
Regretful, she eased to her feet.
The cat instantly curled around her like a favorite tree he wanted to rub up against.
She took another step back, hesitating when she felt a shudder run through him. His paws seemed to tremble under his own weight and he swayed against her.
“What’s wrong?” She nearly bent down, but her sense of self-preservation kicked in.
Seeing the other end of her chain lying unhampered a few feet away, she wrapped as much of it as she could around her hand.
The cat growled in distress, collapsing next to her.
She backed away but didn’t get more than a few steps before those blue eyes of his stopped her in her tracks. He needed her.
Don’t be a fool.
She could practically hear Elena in her head, demanding she look out for her own ass.
A shower of bright-colored sparks rained over the cat, and she watched, dumbstruck, as he shifted from cat to man right before her eyes.
A naked man.
Her gaze slid over him, lingering on his broad shoulders before moving over the red dragon tattoo on his back and down to his—
“Wait.” The raw whisper raced over her skin, speeding up her heart.
On his knees, the gargoyle struggled to raise his head. “Don’t go.”
She might have left without another word if he didn’t look as though it would be the worst kind of betrayal. Making that feeling a hundred times worse were his eyes. They shouldn’t be as intense on the man as they had been on the cat, and they damn well shouldn’t make her feel as though he saw her.
Saw more than the responsible twin always bailing her sister out of trouble. Saw more than the disappointing daughter her father had given up on long ago.
She shook her head. “I can’t stay. If they come, I don’t know what they’ll do to me.” The gargoyle might be free—and there would be time later to figure out how that had happened—but she doubted his family was going to thank her and send her on her merry little way. “I’m sorry.”
She closed her eyes at the sound of the rough plea. She’d made a mistake letting her curiosity get the better of her. If she hadn’t deliberately touched the things in his room, wanting to know more about the gargoyle trapped in stone, it wouldn’t be so hard to turn her back on him.
His chin dropped to his chest, his body shuddering.
Uncertain, she glanced around. Searching for an escape route or help? Damn it, she should never have touched his things. Why couldn’t the chain have muted the gift she’d inherited from her Fae mother as well?
Hoping the delay wouldn’t come back to bite her in the ass, she crouched next to him. She’d stay a minute, two tops, and then she’d go.
“Hey.” She touched his shoulder, and they both hissed out a breath. His skin was freezing.
She stripped out of her jacket, sliding it down the chain until it draped over him, then rubbed with her hands to help warm him.
He kept his head down, his body shaking violently.
“You’ll be okay soon,” she murmured, hopeful. There was no way to know what kind of magical fallout might accompany a curse that had held for a hundred years.
The tightness in her chest increased. Going to his family would definitely put a stop to any escape attempt, but she couldn’t do nothing. He’d suffered enough thanks to her sister.
Sinking to her knees, she wrapped her arms around him, tucking her face against his neck.
He growled, and she jerked back. Had she hurt him?
One solid arm immediately swept her back in. “Closer.” He rolled to his side, taking her with him, his unbreakable grip pinning her in place.
For ten seconds she didn’t move. Didn’t talk. Didn’t squirm. Didn’t breathe.