Copyright © 2012 Dana Marie Bell
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
“Hell and damnation. The man is becoming a master cock blocker.”
Robin Goodfellow strode briskly down the marble encased corridor, his boot heels clacking on the dark hardwood beneath his feet. Being summoned by his king mid-seduction was becoming more and more common. If Robin got interrupted one more time his balls were going to fall off from lack of use.
Not that they hadn’t been emptied recently. They had. Just not into a willing woman.
Whatever was going on, why he was having the most erotic dreams of a dark-haired lovely, Robin didn’t know, but he was willing to bet it had something to do with the sculpture Shane Joloun Dunne, a hybrid with the power to see the future, had created. It graced Robin’s private chambers, a taunting reminder that his bondmate was out there somewhere, waiting for him.
Ever since he’d placed it on his mantelpiece, he’d been dreaming of her. Dreaming and spending into his sheets.
Today, for the first time in months, he’d seduced someone, if only to get some damned relief. And even that was to be denied him as he answered his king’s summons.
He paused briefly at the door to the library, captivated by the sight of a dark head of hair with a rooster-like ruff peeking over the edge of his black leather wingchair. Why she insisted on wearing her headbands that way he didn’t know. Was it a sea nymph thing?
The moment she saw him she growled.
He bowed deeply, amused that such a homely face hid the heart of a lioness. “Lady Cassandra, how do you fare this fine day?”
Cassie grumbled and glared at him. She’d been with him for two months and had learned his ways. Surprisingly, like the Blackthorns and Dunnes, once she became used to him she was unafraid of him. “I thought he wasn’t going to come here!”
It was a shame, really, that she did not belong to him. Robin could see past the too-long, almost homely face to the sweet, determined strength she bore like a badge of honor. Her hissed indignation as she sank lower into her seat had him chuckling in earnest.
“I swear, Robin, if he sees me I’m doomed.” Bright turquoise eyes dominated her face, paler than usual.
“Hide then, if you must, but if you asked for sanctuary it would be granted.” Robin would give his word, if need be, and tie her to his house. Not a thing he did lightly, but since she’d saved a dear friend of his Robin owed her.
The Hob always paid his debts.
She shot him a look so full of sorrow he tensed. “No. It wouldn’t.” She sank down in the chair. “I’ll just stay here, if you don’t mind.”
One day he would get her to tell him what was wrong, but he’d learned not to push. To hear a siren sing her sorrow was to have even the staunchest heart break in half. “Not at all. Shall I shut the door?”
He could barely see the negative shake of her head over the top of the chair. “No, but thanks anyway.”
“As you wish.” Robin left the room, puzzled once more by the mystery of his guest. She intrigued him in a way that few did, and he found himself loathe to leave her side, even at the behest of his king. He hated to admit it, but the woman’s dry wit and glowing smile had grown on him in the two months since she arrived, but Shane, acting as the Child of Dunne, had declared that Cassie was not to be his. Therefore, Robin was free to do as he wished despite her presence in his home, hence the pretty dryad who had just left his bed and home.
He’d served his lord for more centuries than he cared to count, and would continue to do so for centuries more, despite untimely interruptions and uncomfortably tight leather pants.
Still, having his fun interrupted had done nothing for his temper, something that showed in the formal bow and razor sharp grin he greeted his liege with at the front door.
He ignored the brief, indrawn breath behind him as he escorted Oberon past his library to his study. Cassie would disappear soon enough, eager to hide from the High King. Why she feared Oberon so was part of the mystery that surrounded her. Once more, he found himself intrigued, but he had little time to figure out the vagaries of the sea nymph. If Oberon had come to Robin rather than summoning him to the Gray Palace, the situation was not only dire but required the utmost discretion.
Robin closed the door, certain that Cassie would not dare eavesdrop on Robin and the High King. As to the dryad in his bedchamber, she was long gone, having used the portal therein for just such emergencies. Only Robin could activate that particular portal; not even Oberon could enter his bedchamber without an invitation.
“To what do I owe the pleasure of your presence, my lord?” Robin swept his long auburn hair behind him with an almost effeminate gesture, one that wouldn’t fool Oberon for a second. Anyone daft enough to think that the Hob was weak would get what they deserved, and Oberon had never been a dimwit.
“I need someone I trust to go to Philadelphia.” Oberon’s waist-length silver hair gleamed in the reflected moonlight coming in through the huge wall of windows that showcased the rugged, snow-covered Rocky Mountains. He’d chosen a truly inhospitable place to put his Gray Palace, and had allowed Robin to build his home beside it. Robin loved it, loved the view of the mountains and the lake, the freedom to run as he wished, when he wished, as did several of his people.
“You need me to check out those rumors we’ve been hearing?” Robin accepted the glass of cognac Oberon handed him. He swirled the glass in his hand slowly, warming the amber liquid. They’d made themselves at home in each other’s places far too long for him to be offended that Oberon had gotten into his liquor. Robin watched his liege through his lashes, observing the nearly imperceptible movements of frustration and annoyance that anyone not closely associated with his king would have missed.
“Titannia is up to something.” Oberon faced the windows once more, and Robin hid a wince at his arctic tone. Oberon had adored his ex-wife, been devastated when she’d betrayed him. Her duplicity had cost him, emotionally and politically. He’d lost a piece of himself when the gods severed their bond, and he was darker for the loss. “Gloriana’s nephew has been taken.”
Well. Titannia had certainly upped the ante this time. “Shall I retrieve him, sire?”
“No. Not yet. For one, we don’t know where she’s stashed him.”
Robin prayed she had not taken the boy to the Black Court, but chance would be a fine thing. Titannia would do anything to achieve power, even take a naive, innocent boy and twist him into her own image. Whoever she had been before the betrayal, she was undeniably evil now. Her pact with the demon had whittled away at her until Robin doubted she had anything left of her soul.
When Titannia betrayed Oberon it caused a rift in the Fae realm that would never be healed. Titannia, now the Dark Queen, ruled what had become known as the Unseelie, or Black Court. Gloriana, the White Queen, ruled over the Seelie, or White Court. By decree of the gods themselves, Oberon ruled over both Courts as the High King of the Gray Court, the final arbiter of justice when Titannia and Gloriana could no longer contain their hatred of one another. Oberon’s task was to see to it that all-out war did not erupt between the kingdoms and ensure the safety of Fae-kind everywhere by maintaining the Seeming. The gods had decreed it; indeed, the gods were the only thing that had stayed Oberon’s (and thus Robin’s) hand at his faithless wife’s throat. Their bond had still been in place, and though it had hurt Robin grievously, he had thought it would be better that Oberon die than Titannia live. Oberon had agreed, but had been spared the loss of his life at the price of Titannia’s.
Both lived, and only one suffered for it.
Still, Titannia sought to overcome the decree handed down by the gods, turning this way and that to try and unseat both Oberon and Gloriana. This, the kidnapping of one of Gloriana’s royal house, was but the latest move in a never-ending chess game that Robin was growing weary of. Perhaps Oberon would allow him to change the rules.
He’d always been fond of backgammon.
“Find out what Titannia is up to, but do not attempt to extract the boy unless all other hope is lost. Delegates have been sent to negotiate his release, arbitrated by one of our own.” Oberon finally turned around. Robin wasn’t surprised to see his king’s eyes had turned silver-gray, almost white. They only changed that way when he discussed the Black Queen. “The negotiations cannot be interrupted for any reason. Titannia must return Gloriana’s nephew before the next full moon or we’ll have full-out war.”
“I can retrieve the boy.” Robin laughed. “It would be fun.” He shot his liege a wicked glance.
Oberon sighed. “If it becomes necessary, yes. For now, I’d prefer to use diplomacy to achieve the same result.”
“And Gloriana would owe you one?”
Oberon raised a weary eyebrow, his eyes returning to their normal, stormy gray. “I don’t really care one way or the other, Robin. Just see to it the boy is returned, preferably unharmed.”
Robin bowed his normal, mocking bow. “Do we know who holds the boy?”
“No one is sure. That is another reason I need you there. Find out where the boy is being held, and by whom. If necessary we will retrieve him ourselves.”
Robin shook his head. “What does she think to gain by this?”
The stormy gray eyes turned silver once more. “I have no idea, but she won’t succeed.”
Robin took a sip of his cognac, thinking. “I can easily infiltrate the Black Court contingent if it’s large enough. If she’s decided to send only a few delegates, then things become…trickier.”
“I leave it all in your capable hands.” Oberon turned once more to the windows of Robin’s study.
Robin interpreted this as a dismissal and began backing out of the room. Oberon would leave when he was ready, and welcome he was to the little warmth Robin had to offer.
After all, had it not been for Oberon, Robin would not exist.
“One more thing, Robin.”
Robin halted at the soft tone of Oberon’s voice. When Oberon spoke that way, all listened with respect, even Puck.
“You’ll have assistance with this assignment.”
Robin was certain he’d misheard. “My liege, I work alone. I always have.”
“Not this time.”
Oberon’s back remained turned to him, but Robin could hear the faint smile in the king’s voice. “All the times, my king.” Even when he assisted his Blades, Robin worked alone.
“Do not defy me in this, Hobgoblin.”
Robin sighed. When the king called him that, he was displeased, a state of affairs Robin actively avoided. “May I ask why, my liege?” He was careful to keep his voice neutral.
Oberon waved his hand.
The chair, the white-on-white chair that Robin hadn’t even noticed was there, shifted slightly, shocking him. The chair stood and stretched, its arms elongating, its legs growing, until before him stood one of the shape-shifting pookas. The pooka smiled at Robin, his shimmering, golden eyes with their horizontal, slit–shaped pupils watchful in his narrow, aristocratic face. He wasn’t much taller than Robin’s five foot ten inches, and he was graced with a fall of blond hair that would make a Sidhe lady weep. Ridged gray horns curled up from his forehead and blended into his hair. This one must be a master shifter indeed, to hide itself from me. He saw at once why such a talented shifter would be useful in his upcoming mission. If the delegation were smaller than hoped, who would notice one more chair? And if the pooka could fool the Hob, he could more than likely fool the Black Court idiots Titannia would be sending.
Then again, Robin had not been expecting a spy in his own study. The Black Court delegation would be on their guard for tricks, especially if they knew Robin would be there. And how could they not? He was Oberon’s Blade.
“This is Lord Kael Oren. He will be coming with you. He is a cousin of the missing Prince Evan.”
Oh, this should be fun! Not. Robin smiled at the other man. He remembered the scandal following Prince Edmond Yate’s mating of a pooka commoner. The White Court had been utterly appalled that one of Gloriana’s brothers had lowered himself so, forcing Gloriana to raise the girl’s family to the peerage. Prince Edmond had told them all to go pound sand and declared that he was abdicating any right to the throne of the White Court to be with the woman the gods had declared was his.
Robin had sent them a lovely mating gift.
Robin bowed, graceful yet mocking, and saw his bow returned, mimicked nearly perfectly.
“Lord Robin.” The pooka’s tenor voice was soft and filled with amusement. He met Robin’s gaze dead on, with only a slight twinge of fear, quickly masked.
Robin grinned, intrigued. Maybe the boy has potential after all. Robin was always on the lookout for potential Blades, men and women of integrity who guarded Oberon and did his will. This one could be a recruit, if he proved himself capable.
He turned his attention back to Oberon, one eyebrow cocked, the grin still lingering on his face.
Oberon merely shook his head. They knew each other well. Oberon would know how Robin would react to Kael. “If the prince is no longer with us, I expect you to dispense justice.”
The green glow in Robin’s eyes was swiftly hidden by his long lashes as he bowed to his king and friend. “Yes, my liege.” He ignored Lord Kael’s swiftly hidden shiver of unease.
This had the potential to be fun.