Kane leaned against the wall drumming his fingers on his sword. As a prince of the Southern land, he was unaccustomed to waiting and it grated on his every nerve that Leanansidhe had the gall to treat him like a common servant. The wooden door beside him slid open and he straightened with expectation.
A pixie scuttled out, carrying a tray with an empty goblet. The door closed behind her again, shutting Kane out with it. His snarl startled the faery and she squeaked, dropping the goblet to the cold stone floor. She leaned over to pick it up, but it slipped through her spindly fingers, clattering across the hall. Kane's anger exploded and he drew his sword to swing at the creature, but she scampered out of his reach. She eyed him briefly, then darted in, grabbed the goblet, and retreated before he could connect with his deadly weapon.
"Get out of here, then," he shouted at her. He didn't need to tell her again. She took off, her flat feet slapping the stones as she retreated.
"Why are you abusing my servants?" Leanansidhe leaned against the oak door frame, crossing her arms over her ample bosom. One delicate eyebrow quirked toward the ceiling and her full lips held a natural pout. Her silky chestnut hair was pulled back into a tight, no nonsense bun, throwing her prominent cheekbones into stark relief.
Kane straightened and sheathed his sword, shoving it into the bone scabbard that hung from his belt. He raised his eyes to Leanansidhe, locking her in his glare. When they first met, she had balked at such bravery, but soon she came to welcome his forthright attitude and refusal to bow down to her as a slave. "You're late." The comment was meant as a rebuke and his irritation bled into his voice.
She smiled, her full lips parting to reveal sharp, white teeth beneath. She sauntered over to him, moving one luscious hip at a time. Her low-cut black dress hugged her figure and accentuated all her curves. A slit up the side revealed one long, powerful leg, its smooth skin peeking through as she stepped toward him. His eyes dropped to her shoes, black and strappy with heels several inches tall, then inched up her body, pausing at the exposed navel. The material covered very little and he struggled to control himself as she reached out with a black nail and traced it along his chest. Despite the heels, she was still slightly shorter than him and she used that to her advantage.
Raising her lidded eyes to his, she smiled. "I am never late, my darling. I am always exactly on time."
He struggled to breath as her nail traced down his chest and across his abdomen. His brain screamed at him to pull away, to insist they focus on business. It was dangerous to let Leanansidhe have the upper hand like this. He knew if he let his guard slip she could get him to agree to just about anything, but at the moment, his body didn't care. It wanted to give in and let her have her way with him. He tilted his head down, his lips craving hers. He saw the predatory smile waiting there, the victory in her eyes, but the pull was irresistible.
The clatter of metal on stone broke the spell. He jerked away, stumbling back several steps to distance himself from the powerful faery woman before searching for the source of the noise. It was the servant he had attempted to kill, trying to gather the tray she had forgotten in her haste to retreat before. She stared at the pair with enormous eyes as she picked it up again. A snarl erupted behind Kane a bare moment before the pixie squealed in terror. Bending in half, she clawed at her feet, screaming with pain and fear. Kane watched as stone crept up the creature's body until she was an unmoving statue.
"Hmmph. That'll teach her." Leanansidhe dusted off her hands as if she had been playing in the dirt. "I never really liked her anyway. Too much of a sniveler." She pulled her face back into an alluring smile and took a step forward. "Now, where were we?"
Kane took another step back and rested his hand on the sword at his side. He squared his shoulders and imagined his face as the stone statue beside him. "We were going to discuss this potential business arrangement."
Leanansidhe's smile was replaced by an irritated pout. She shot a useless glare at the petrified servant and sighed. "You're no fun. Fine. Be that way." She brought back her seductive smile, but this time it held a predatory edge. "But someday, I will have you. Make no mistake about that. I always get what I want, and I want you."
Kane raised his chin and glared at her. "We'll see. For now, we need to discuss business and keep it on a professional level."
Leanansidhe nodded once and dropped her seductress act. Her manner changed entirely, becoming business-like as she turned back toward the door. "Very well. This way."
Kane followed her inside. The room beyond was paneled in rich mahogany with a large glowing fireplace along one end. A velvet-covered couch and several chairs were arrayed in a semi-circle around it. An enormous desk stood about two thirds of the way down the room on the opposite side. Behind it was a plush executive chair that would make even the Four Queens jealous.
The walls were covered with tapestries depicting gruesome battles and wild love scenes, as well as the heads of numerous faeries. Kane recognized several of them. Leanansidhe was well known for her penchant for having debts repaid in a method that was satisfactory to her, though not necessarily to the debtor. Death was her favorite payment of all, especially if it involved trophies.
She strolled across the room, making sure that Kane watched her every movement and he berated himself when he felt disappointment as her bottom disappeared behind the desk. He raised his eyes to hers and she grinned in victory before waving a hand at one of the chairs in front of the desk. "Sit, please."
Kane shot a glare her way, which only caused her grin to grow, but he settled into the chair, placing the bag on the floor beside him. The chair was stiff leather, designed to look expensive and welcoming, but squeak with every tiny motion to make its inhabitant uncomfortable. He almost smiled at the thought. Lea knew how to take advantage of every situation and he was willing to bet that she did not make a single move without weighing every option first.
"So, my darling boy," Leanansidhe oozed as she reclined in her chair, crossing her shapely legs in front of her. He could just see the tip of an exposed knee peeping over the edge of the desk. "Have you done what I asked of you?"
His glare deepened. "Would I be here if I hadn't?" He infused his voice with more venom than usual.
Her eyes twinkled. She knew she was getting to him. He chided himself at falling prey to her games so easily. With a low growl, he opened the bag and withdrew its contents. He tossed the shriveled head onto her desk, watching the blue eyes disappear again and again as it rolled toward her. Her lips curled in distaste as she stopped the offending object by placing one finger on the graying skin. She picked it up by its blond hair and gazed into its eyes. Her annoyance evaporated in a flash, replaced by a disturbing amount of glee. She began to giggle like a school girl chatting with her friends.
"Oh, this is rich. Priceless," she gushed, her eyes glowing with a wild insanity. "Oberon, King of the South. Greatest warrior... or not, apparently." She set the head down and leaned forward, resting her elbows on her desk as she clasped her fingers under her chin. "Tell me, Kane, darling, how did daddy dearest take it when he found out his one and only son was a traitor, hmm? Did it break his poor cold heart?"
The cruelty on her face did not go unnoticed. Kane pressed his lips together and met her challenge with silence. She didn't need to know that his father, the most powerful faery to ever live, had not begged for his own life, but had pleaded with his son to remain faithful. She did not need to know that Kane had shed so many tears, he almost couldn't see his father's chest well enough to pierce it with his blade. She did not need to know that his own mother had stared in silent horror, unable to even cry out, bound by her own child, forced to watch as he ripped the life from his father and then sliced off the man's head to take as a trophy. She did not need to know that Kane's own heart was breaking even then. All she needed to know was that he had paid the price she demanded.
She was still watching him, waiting for him to crack. But true to her nature, she grew bored quickly and sat back, crossing her legs. "Very well. Keep your secrets for now. I shall know soon enough. Anyway, you have proven your loyalty to me. I shall honor your sacrifice by making you my General. General Kane. That does have a nice ring to it, does it not? You will answer to no one but me, and when we remove the old hags from their thrones, Faery will be ours. The South will be yours to rule as you wish, while the rest of the land will be mine. Fair?"
He didn't answer for a moment. Though he had known the deal all along, ever since that first day when he ran into Leanansidhe in the Grey Wood after arguing with his father decades ago, he still was hesitant. He glanced at the table, staring into the cold dead eyes of the man who had given him his name, the same man who had denied him many pleasures and treated him like a common slave most of the time.
"Yes, that is fair. As long as you stay out of the South and let me keep to my business."
"Of course, my darling. The South is all yours, including all of its inhabitants." She placed extra emphasis on the word "all" and he stiffened. She caught the movement and smirked. "Mother is still there, is she not? Alone and afraid, without either of her men to care for her? But with daddy dead, that leaves room for a certain son to step up and take the place of king, does it not?"
"You're sick." He rose and grabbed the bag, stalking toward the door.
"Oh, come now, Kane. Don't be like that. I was only joking."
Her fake apology only made him angrier. He paused with his hand on the ivory handle when he reached the door, turning his head to the side. "When you need me, send word." Then he left, slamming the door behind him. He could hear her delighted giggle through the wood. It seemed to slip under the door and echo down the halls. He leaned against the wall near the statue of the servant, staring at it without seeing a thing. His mind was racing, going over the events of the last several days. He kept returning to one specific image, that of his mother, tied to the bed, screaming at him, pleading with him, the horror on her face when he ripped the life from the only man she had ever loved. He knew her pain. It ripped at him every day, threatening to tear him to shreds.
Pounding a fist against the stone wall, he growled, focusing on the pain blossoming out over his knuckles instead of the unwelcome image of a human girl with red hair, a ghost from his past. He straightened and willed the hurt in his heart to subside. He shoved the new statue out of his way as he passed and smiled in satisfaction as it shattered across the stones behind him.
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