Love & Wishes
The Ancient One
Kadar had it all: so sinfully attractive he could have any woman he wanted, more power than any other priest of ancient Egypt…Then he lost it all - tricked into captivity and made no better than a djinn – forced to do the bidding of whoever opened his bottle.
The Dagda Princess
Lady Cynthia Learson, daughter to the Duke of Hawthorne, grew up believing she knew what her life would be like. Then, in the year after her debut, she learned her family carries the ancient bloodline of the Dagda…
The Lady of the Lake foretells the end of the world. Lady Cynthia is the only one who can change the future…and it all hinges on one act. Dare she free the one who may be her undoing? Or will freeing him be the one thing that will save them all?
Beads of sweat trickled down a face that would make any woman swoon.
A golden circlet, engraved with ancient writing, interrupted the perfection of his forehead and disappeared into his lustrous black hair. Eyes an incandescent green, eyebrows a perfect arch of jet above them, nose, and chin that had to have been chiseled by the gods themselves.
His clothing left little to the imagination. Long baggy trousers cinched at the ankles and a short sleeveless tunic that left his entire chest and midriff bare. Its vibrant red made his eyes and skin glow. The golden edging on both the trouser and the tunic enriched its appearance without making it gaudy. A golden armband with the same type of carving circled his upper right forearm.
Not a spare ounce of fat on his frame, just gloriously corded muscle that would make said female dribble in anticipation. The smooth expanse of his chest, the indentation of corded abdominal muscles all seemed to invite decadent indulgence. They beckoned for just one little taste.
His entire body was beaded in perspiration as he paced the narrow confines of his eternal prison. The glorious temptation of this particular male had been sealed away for all time from all women.
To see him was to want him—to want him was to lose oneself entirely to the wicked insanity of immersion into his world and his games. Too many had fallen to his charms as he had fallen to the charm of none.
He had played games all his life with the endless parade of females that threw themselves at him. He had made them laugh with joy, he had made them pant with anticipation, and oh! how he had made them scream in ecstasy!
He loved women, loved the taste and touch and sound of them. He had as much fun as the women he pleasured. In his time, he had willingly spent hours on pleasuring his willing companions.
The slight frown, along with the thinning of his lips in anger, did nothing to diminish his glory as he thought of other things. If there was one sound he absolutely could not abide, it was the sound of their pleas. They always wanted more. More of his time, more of his attention, more of him. It seemed that whatever he was willing to give was never enough!
Except for one time…and one woman…
He pulled his thoughts away from that dangerous ground. More than once he had to use force to get women to understand that no meant no. But that had been before.
Before that bitch!
How was he to know that she was a Queen and that she had legions of wizards at her command? How was he to guess that she would react so to his lack of interest in pursing anything more than a temporary alliance? His eyes glazed as the memories took him back.
She lounged on the divan of one of the imperial guest rooms. The wide-open doorways offered the cooling breezes of the Nile. Through those doorways the palms waved and the Pharaoh’s prize birds sang.
Her identity was a secret known to none but the Pharaoh himself. She had arrived in the darkest of nights, accompanied by the Pharaoh’s guards and five old men that were strangers to the palace. When she was not closeted with the Pharaoh and his advisors, she had free run of the palace—a thing unusual for even the most exalted of visitors. It was on one of her jaunts into the palace gardens that he had encountered her. She had made no secret of her lust, nor he of his. It had not taken long for a look to become something else.
Their first time had been a tumble right there beneath the palms in the garden. He had not even seen her fully unclothed until much later.
She was just like any other female of his acquaintance, the only difference being the degree of ardor. She made no secret of her desires in the bedchamber, and more than once when he had left her, she was too tired to even move.
There was no trace of that desire in her eyes during their final encounter, though.
“You would refuse me?” Her voice was that of a cat hissing, her face imperturbable, and eyes cold. Her wavy hair was piled in lustrous locks on top of her head. Her eyes were ringed with kohl. Both spoke of an attempt to look like one of them. Yet it was not a good attempt—her hair was still dyed in the same scandalous crimson it had been when she arrived.
What color was her hair really? She had told him it was customary for females of her land to always be shorn of all body hair. Her eyes were a strange shade of blue. Of all the people at the Pharaoh’s court, only the magician class had light-colored eyes. The few children born that were not acknowledged as being a part of their class were sacrificed to the gods as was fitting. Her eyes set her apart as nothing else could have.
He had never thought of taking a wife. It was not a requirement of his bloodline. It was felt by most that the seed of the magicians was far too valuable to restrict to specific females.
“I am sorry, my lady,” he replied in his native tongue, refusing to allow her the satisfaction of answering in hers, “but I can offer you no more than what we have had.”
“Does your master, the Pharaoh, know of this?” she demanded, still in her own tongue.
He had not been the only one unaware of the true identity of his dallying partner, it seemed.
“My master, if I choose to obey one,” he had answered haughtily, “is my father. He is the right hand of the Pharaoh and I his oldest son. For the magic that runs in our veins, we have always been the pride of the ruling dynasty.” The Pharaoh would not order him to marry her. The implied message was clear.
“I see.” Her voice had a cold ring of finality that he had not liked even then. Yet he had brushed off the warnings of his instinct and waited. Fool that he was! He should have remembered his teachers and the lessons of his father.
Always trust your instinct! For it is the voice of the gods!
She stared off through the open doorway, a cold expression on her face. “Then the Pharaoh will not listen to my words were I to speak of you.”
It was a statement.
“My lady…” he said. He was unaccustomed to explaining himself. He was unwilling to have a guest leave his lands with such an expression on her face or such bitterness on her lips. “I do not understand. What we had was immensely pleasurable, but soon you must leave. I cannot and will not leave my land.”
“I offer you me!” she hissed. “I have never offered another a place at my side! To have my offer spurned is of immense displeasure.” Her intonation infused the words with sarcasm.
He was even more put off by her words than he had been by the initial offer.
It was not civilized for a woman to decide she wanted a man and have done with it. There were proper channels, rites to perform, gods to consult, parents in some cases, and ultimately (in his case) the Pharaoh. The Pharaoh’s blessing was always of import.
He had said nothing.
“Leave me.” Her waved hand was dismissive, and he chose not to argue. He inclining his head slightly to her once more and then bowed to the five old men who sat on a stone bench against one wall of the room. Then he left.
It was the last time he had seen the deep blue sky over Kemet. The last time he had seen the palms wave in the wind or heard any birds sing.
Imprisoned and bound by laws set out in the only book he had in his prison, he waited.
In his solitude, he swore never to think of either female. One had shaken his world with her love, the other had taken his world away as vengeance. Both were now dust.
His only interaction with the rest of humanity in that time was the sound of her harsh laughter and the taunts she would occasionally deign to offer. Then, as she grew older and he aged not at all, the taunts lessened in frequency…until that too ended.
There was nothing and no one since then. No one to interrupt the silence or to hear his pleas for help.
Eventually he had tired of speech and learned to silently listen.
Sometimes, when he was very quiet, the sound of the world outside could be heard.
He listened, and he hoped.
He prayed silently to gods whose names the rest of the world had long since forgotten.
One day, he would be freed.
One day soon, if his instincts were any guide.
He swore to all the things he held sacred, that when such a day came, any woman who crossed his path would pay.
It was not often that a female was alone outside the walls of the great Keep of the McDougal clan. It was even rarer for a guest of the clan to be allowed to wander unescorted.
Yet here she was.
The Lady Cynthia Learson, only daughter to the Duke of Hawthorne, wandered the countryside alone. It would take more than walls and vigilant guards to keep her where she did not wish to be.
She had earned the name Cyndy when her father observed that her given name denoted a far more demure persona. She had years of practice in sneaking out. How else could she find those solitary moments of serenity? She had done this at their country home. She had done this in London and at her brother’s house. There was no reason why she would not do it here.
Especially when they were in the middle of paradise. A paradise which, according to the stories she had been told, was one guaranteed by none other than the immortal Queen of the Tuatha de Dannan.
This valley was unlike anything she had ever seen. Spring’s new growth tantalized the senses with the hint of things to come. Everywhere was the bright green that heralded the vibrant life that pulsed through all the plants that had slumbered undisturbed through the long cold winter.
The birds had already begun to return from the warmer southern climes and their song filled the air. The domestic animals in the field showed new joy that brought a smile to the lips.
The sound of children at play filled the air of the little villages outside the Keep.
Her family had visited the McDougal clan with the intention of only a short stay for Christmas. Yet, they had been so warmly welcomed that a longer stay had turned into one that would probably last well into the summer or beyond. There was really nothing to be done in the city anyway. This was the time of year when the family usually retreated to their summer home to relax or receive visitors.
Cyndy thought of the oddity of the combined current company. She was sure that nowhere in all the world would there be a stranger gathering.
Her father, the current Duke of Hawthorne, could ill afford to be gone from his English estates for such an extended period. True, he had sufficient trustworthy managers on his estates, but even the most trustworthy bore watching to some extent.
Her brother Daniel, eventual heir to the Dukedom, had his own profitable concerns to manage. Though she was sure that he would rather spend every moment of his time at the side of his lovely wife Jade, she was also sure that he would not shirk his responsibilities. Then again, Jade had been abducted so many times in her life he was probably making the right decision. Their two-month-old daughter Shaylee was the darling of everyone there.
Cyndy’s mother Lady Elizabeth Hawthorne, though happy to be there, also had her own interests back in England. The fact that she had a new grandchild was probably the only thing that kept her content.
Then there was the Laird, Jade’s father. Douglas McDougal was an exceptionally handsome man…and looked Jade’s age, thanks to the Queen of the Tuatha de Dannan and her guilt at what she’d done to him and his family.
Dammit! There was something wrong about a man old enough to be a grandfather looking like a man in his prime. However, after Cyndy had heard the story of his young wife and unborn child being taken from him, she had been inclined to agree that the mighty Tuatha de Dannan owed him some recompense, and youth was a small enough thing given the pain he’d been through. His wife, the lovely Muriella, was content to spend all her time with him, in an effort to make up for all the years of loneliness. While she had been trapped in a place where time had no meaning, he had spent the long years alone. She had also borne the knowledge that her only daughter, Jade, would have to be raised by others in order to be safe.
Yes, there was something truly odd about doting grandparents who looked the age of the parents.
Then to add to the madness, Robin seemed to be a constant visitor. Robin Goodfellow, the well-known trickster of the Fairy—uh, Tuatha de Dannan court—was practically always in attendance. It seemed that while the mighty Queen was deciding what his full punishment for duplicity should be, he had been assigned to be at the beck and call of Jade and Daniel.
The great and powerful trickster of the Tuatha de Dannan court now ferried the English visitors instantaneously from one place to the next. He was a glorified groomsman, albeit without the horses!
You would have thought that Robin would be at least a little peeved by all this. Yet he seemed to be extremely happy to be among them. He claimed that proximity to Shaylee totally removed any pain from being in the mortal realm. Maybe it did. Maybe the wily one had other reasons for wanting to be close. Cyndy knew Jade still had her doubts about his motivation for helping them.
So, Cyndy’s father visited his estates, sometimes accompanied by her mother, and Daniel visited his concerns. Cyndy had, thus far, declined to visit any of her friends in England. Not only did she not trust the wily one, she also had her doubts about her ability to lie to everyone she met. It was not that any of them were her dear and close friends, really. She was very sure that any attempt to lie would result with her on the floor, in gales of laugher.
Such a strange mix of people and elements…
Cyndy was happy most days. She and Jade spent so much time together, and she loved her niece Shaylee. Yet, she could not stifle the feeling of unease she occasionally felt. It was not unease precisely; more a feeling that this level of contentment would not last forever.
Just looking at the three happy couples was enough to remind her that she had a life she was supposed to be living. She was not getting any younger, and there was little time before she would be considered an old maid by the ton’s standards. She was probably already there.
She was supposed to find a husband and start a family of her own. The thought of being sold off to a rich husband would have driven her into a fury when she was younger. Now she trusted her parents enough to know that they would not make a match that did not have her heart as its core consideration.
When she was younger, she would never have guessed that they would consent to their heir marrying a commoner, though Jade was hardly that either.
She knew in the very core of her being that she wished to be as happy as Jade was, as Muriella was, and as her mother so obviously had always been.
“Ah, silly human child…” a sibilant voice whispered. Cyndy stopped walking. Her heartbeat speeded up. Where had the voice come from? There was no one here at the edge of the little lake in the middle of the quiet wood.
It hardly warranted being called a lake, but she supposed it would have to be man-made to be called a pond? Besides, this particular tiny lake had a little stream that entered and left it.
There! A faint shimmer like heat haze off the stones on a hot day. It was close to where a jumble of rocks in the center of the stream forced the water to flow around them. She looked again and could make out the faint outline of a female shape.
She corrected that thought. It was a slightly elongated shape and only vaguely suggested it might be female. The shape darkened, which is to say that it became less a transparent shape made of water, and more like a real figure. She noticed that it gathered color to its eyes first and made them a pale green. The hair-like tendrils on its head became the pale lilac of water lilies. It smiled, revealing sharp fanglike teeth.
“Who are you?” Cyndy asked with a calm she did not fully feel.
If the appearance of the King and Queen of the Irish Connaught Tuatha de Dannan out of nowhere on Christmas Eve was not supposed to faze her, then who was she to expect reality to continue as it had for her first eighteen years?
Correction: her perception of reality. After all, she had recently learnt that her family carried the blood of the Dagda, an ancient clan of warriors that had named themselves after one of the greatest warriors of their kind. They owed allegiance to no one. They chose their causes and fought where they would.
“Hmm, another human child who asks the wrong questions,” the voice lilted. Lush red color filled the lips that smiled mockingly.
Cyndy swallowed the lump in her throat. If all things developed teeth to suit their diet, what did this creature of the water eat with those razor-like teeth? That was a question she was obviously not going to voice out loud.
She hoped fervently it was fish.
She took a deep breath and asked, “To what do I owe the honor of a visit from one such as you?”
“Hmm, you seem to have more manners than the child of the King and Queen. Do you mock me by deliberately omitting what ‘one such as I’ may be?”
“Oh no,” Cyndy protested. “I would not mock, ‘tis just that I do not know your name.” She kept her face straight and only just stopped herself from crossing her fingers behind her back.
The Lady smiled. “To know the name of one such as I would give thee power over me, to come when summoned, to do thy bidding.” It seemed she loomed larger and more ominous. “Do you wish power over me child?”
“N-no…” Cyndy stuttered. “I apologise for giving offence yet again.” She bowed her head contritely, deciding to say nothing further.
“Do you know what an oracle does, child?” the creature of the water asked, eventually taking pity on her.
“Of course.” Cyndy nodded.
“Well, all you need to know is that my sisters and I have powers similar to that of an oracle. We are given to see certain things about specific people and may choose whether to enlighten them. I chose to enlighten you. Do you wish to be enlightened?”
“About my future?” Cyndy practically screeched. “Oh, but of course!”
Now this was absolutely too delightful! She dropped to the ground and folded her legs, prepared for the thrill of her life. This was better than any fortuneteller she had ever been to, because this time she knew it was for real.
Her heart had speeded up to almost twice its normal rate and she leaned forward intently. “Go on,” she urged with a gesture.
Almost, it seemed, the creature—correction, the Lady sighed. “Ah! Humans are all the same, standing on tiptoe to peer into the future, never content with the present. Do you not realise that if I chose to speak to you, it cannot be all good? In fact, does it not occur to you that it must be dire indeed?”
“Ah, never mind that.” Cyndy waved the warning away. “How bad could it be? Are you going to tell me that I will marry an old man who has the gout? Are you going to foretell of love found and lost at an early age? Nothing you can say to me will be as bad as my own imaginings.”
The Lady of the waters smiled again. This time there was no mistaking the sympathy on her face, or the mockery. “Such a limited imagination when so much has happened in your family recently. Listen…”
And Cyndy listened, her face rapt…until she paled at what was foretold.