“Who told you this?” Tessa Anndrais shoved back the hood of her satiny lavender cloak. It pooled opulently around her shoulders, highlighting her halo of white-blond hair. Her sapphire eyes sparkled. “I could make you my slave for such slander.”
Using that sort of magic drained her for days, not to mention the idea of controlling another’s mind gave her the shivers after her recent ordeal, but she didn’t have to tell Abarta that. He was known as the Trickster for a reason. He was also wickedly beautiful, though she’d never admit her guilty attraction to the bad boy causing such trouble among the Sidhe – especially now that he’d introduced blackmail into their relationship. The ridiculous Sidhe libido could be a nuisance at times, and this was one of them.
Abarta smiled, his full lips parting to show his teeth. “I didn’t come here to share with you, Tessa. I was told your magic and knowledge are worth your troublesome penchant for independence. You will serve me now.” Shadows slithered swiftly from between the trees. Inky darkness seeped into the clearing where Abarta had insisted she meet him, filling the air until the shadows stamped out the view of what lay beyond. Darkness closed in, so close she could smell its dank, putrid stench.
“Creepy effect, but I’m not so easily fooled by illusion.” Tessa held out a hand and closed her fist, tight. The shadows retreated in a heartbeat, and a nearby bird sang a bright note of thanks, which was answered by another shrill call. It was her turn to smile. “Tell me why I shouldn’t take you to the Sidhe Authority right now.”
“Easy. You don’t want to betray me. I’ve made arrangements in case I am harmed, go missing, or otherwise say the word. Do you take me for a fool? Besides, I’ve had third-party confirmation. Without my protection, your brother’s secret will get out.”
Tessa stood her ground, but her mind reeled. They’d been so careful, but apparently someone had found her family’s secret despite all their efforts to hide it. She weighed her options. She could go along with his blackmail for the time being, or at least play along to keep her family safe. She didn’t exactly disagree with his cause. She had no love for the humans. He needed a spy, and she had to admit she was well placed to get the information he was after.
But Tessa hated putting herself in another manipulative man’s power. Until recently, she’d had a good deal of faith in the Sidhe – faith that her people were wise, and while not always kind, they had a nobility that other races could only hope to emulate. Tessa’s recent lover, Bertran, had challenged those notions completely. When the opportunity to perpetuate the Blood Wars arose, he’d used her, to the extent of taking control over her body and using her as a puppet in his schemes. She’d trusted him, or at least enjoyed him, and her faith had been sorely tested. She didn’t want another man to have power over her. Not now.
Abarta seemed to read her thoughts about her ex-lover. “Tell Mikhail you need to know what’s going on after what happened with Bertran. He’ll sympathize. Tell him you want to help. Find out everything the Sidhe Authority knows about the half-humans, and bring that information to me.”
“If I help you, and you succeed, then you’ll tell me everything you know of your so-called third party.” Tessa would never be stupid enough to play along without asking for something that made it worth her while. Abarta the Trickster – with him any bargain must be worded with exceeding care. Give and take were each a part of the game.
“Making deals, making deals. You’re not exactly in the position, Tessa. Mikhail’s secrets–”
“I’ll help you,” Tessa snarled, her patience officially at an end. “But if you leak a word of that, you’ll wish you’d never heard it. You’ll wish eternally for an end to the pain I will subject you to.”
Abarta bowed his head, but she could still see his smile. “I hear you, and your self-righteousness is music to my ears.”
Tessa watched him resolutely. “What about the third party?” she pressed.
“I apologize. I cannot speak of them. Is there another prize you wish to ask?”
Tessa noted how he twined his fingers together as he asked the question. Abarta the fidgeter? What was it he didn’t want her to know? “If I help you, and you succeed, then you’ll leave my family alone for all time.”
“Done,” Abarta smiled as he gazed straight into her eyes, and Tessa stomach sank. That was too easy, and she already dreaded the bargain she’d been forced to make.
These half-humans were important somehow – obviously more important in the scheme of things than her own blood, if Abarta was so willing to trade for the chance to slaughter them.
Mikhail’s secret taunted at the edge of her thoughts, but she refused to think on that. He’d made his mistakes, but he was her brother, and she’d always looked out for him. And I’m not about to stop now
, Tessa thought, setting her jaw.
“Return here when I call.” He gestured around the glade amid the Middleworld forest, where he’d directed her for this meeting. “You may go now,” Abarta told her.
Tessa scowled at him. Who was he to order her around? “I will return as my duties allow after I receive your call.”
“You’re a librarian. Is your schedule that full?”
“My rank is Curator of the Texts, and I’ll not justify my availability to you. As my duties allow.”
“Why are you still arguing with me? Get out of here.”
Tessa had wondered the same thing, but she wasn’t about to lose an argument with Abarta. He would fear her, or Mikhail’s secret was lost.