Gabreon scowled at the corner that the human had escaped around as the bond he’d fought so hard against flared to full life. Why her—why now? He felt off-balance. Unstable. Being driven to yearn for something he shouldn’t want.
She ruined everything. He gritted his teeth against the urge to chase after the damnable human like a lovesick puppy. Some traitorous voice whispered through his mind that she wasn’t merely a human but Lina, which made it all the worse. She was supposed to be on par with his hounds. No, lower. Dirtier in every way. She shouldn’t even exist in the sphere of thought that she now inhabited, let alone in the tie she had over him. Nothing…that was what she should be. And yet she wasn’t.
Damn her to Sidheen, what had she been doing in the dumping grounds in the first place? Thieving was a risky venture. Did she not have her grandparents to rely upon? If so, there was no reason for her to resort to such measures. He’d ensured that six years ago. Besides, all Lower Chimra humans received a ration of food. Small and basic though this portion was, it was still enough to sustain life and didn’t count toward any food earned by a person’s own work.
He frowned as a memory flowed back to him. When he’d last toured Lower Chimra, he’d been astonished by the increased decline of the already ramshackle town. However, the lord mayor and his lackeys had said that its state was due to the people who lived there and their predilection toward alcohol and other vices, and not to the neglect of the basic aid kits he’d ordered within Lower Chimra. If humans wanted to live in their own filth, who was he to stop them?
However, her grandparents were far from poor. He’d seen to that. So why was she was painfully thin and her clothes ragged? The strands of her brown hair had hung limp around eyes that had seemed to swallow her face. Her appearance wasn’t one fostered by a comfortable life but instead by an existence of toil. His stomach had betrayed him by dropping at his first good look at her.
Did her grandparents not spend any of the coin on her? Or was something even more sinister at play? Both ideas sent anger coursing through him, and his hands clenched around an imaginary throat. Though in his most rational moments, he desired nothing more than to forget her—a lowly human he’d been taught to disdain—she stole into his thoughts like the thief she apparently was. He crossed his arms. It seemed he had another mystery to solve—and someone to kill.
It was just a matter of finding out who, and the first person he’d interrogate was his estate manager, which meant a trip to Gabreon’s country manor. Terril was the one tasked with making sure payment reached Lina’s grandparents. His manager also had orders to observe and oversee her and her grandparents’ welfare. Terril’s glowing reports had reassured Gabreon that they were all adequately being taken care of. Apparently, that was anything but the truth.
No one crossed him or harmed what was his. Like it or not, Lina was his on some level he couldn’t deny.
Though he’d purposely kept himself far away from her in the intervening years, he’d immediately felt her presence when he’d been with the lord mayor’s men near the dumping grounds. Horror, revulsion, and fascination had pulled him toward her, causing him to send away the others. He should’ve let her get caught and left her alone to face the consequences. That way, she’d be out of his blood one way or another.
Her death would’ve freed him more surely than anything else could. But it’d been etched into him that soulbonds were sacred and precious. Something in him, probably prodded by what linked them, couldn’t allow the wanton destruction of her. Even though she was human, he couldn’t bear the thought of her dead, which infuriated him in equal measures.
So he protected what was his, even if he couldn’t have it, didn’t want to have it. But regardless of the bond, no woman, especially a human one, would have one more iota of power over him. With her very existence, she’d already upset his life. Wasn’t that enough? Though they may be tied together at some level, he lived for no one but himself—and his duty. It was a lesson he’d only learned too well. His father, Nalin, had drilled that into him before he’d been killed, and Gabreon’s grandfather had picked up that fallen mantle. His mother … well, he only served a purpose when she needed something.
Given all that, why had he allowed himself to be drawn here? He was no puppet on a string, despite what connected them. He’d provided for Lina—or thought he had. His duty should’ve been fulfilled.
He ground his teeth at the unfairness of it all. No matter the allure, he could not, would not, succumb. He wanted to crush her, to inhale her, and that loss of control he couldn’t countenance.
Damn the day he’d ever met her. He couldn’t have her out in the dumping grounds. That just wouldn’t do.
But first, he had a traitor to unearth. When he found the culprit, he’d unleash the wrath that he usually kept tightly bound. Someone was going to pay—and pay dearly.
His thirst for blood driving him on, Gabreon landed a satisfying blow to Terril’s face. The fae man’s head slammed back against the chair he’d been seated in—and knew better than to try and leave. Not that he’d have a chance to, anyway. Gabreon had his trusted cousin, Kaelon, along to assist him.
With a scowl, Gabreon moved back and shook out his hand. That hit had hurt more than it should’ve.
From behind him, Kaelon snorted. “Need me to take over?”
Gabreon gave his cousin an unimpressed stare. “No, I’m quite capable.”
And he was. He’d merely forgotten the finesse it took to give someone a thorough beating without feeling it too much himself. Still, he’d inflicted quite a bit of damage on Terril. The manager had a few broken ribs—Gabreon had heard them crack. From the head up, Terril was in even worse shape. Blood dripped from his split lip and broken nose and into his brown hair. His hazel eyes were already swelling shut, but it still wasn’t enough. It would never be enough for Gabreon.
He wanted to tear apart every fiber of the man, reanimate him from the scraps, and then do it all over again. That kind of unrelenting rage should concern Gabreon, but he’d worry about those ramifications later. Gabreon shook his head sharply, clearing part of the haze veiling his gaze. He wouldn’t cut the bastard into pieces. After all, he wasn’t an uncouth monster and would try not to get too much gore splattered around the office of the estate manager. However, it was fitting the man would die here, where he’d so abused his position.
Gabreon inhaled deeply, and the metallic smell of fae blood drifted up his nose. “Let me understand this fully. You never sent the money, and all the reports you gave me were fictitious.” And Lina had suffered for it, which sent an icier rage spiraling through him.
Terril slowly lifted his head, pain lining his face. “The royal bloodline must be kept pure. I was only doing what I must.”
“I don’t pay you to make those kinds of decisions.” Gabreon pinned him with a cold glare as he ghosted forward to tower over his now ex-manager. “I pay you to follow my will, no other’s, let alone your own.”
“But a human—”
Gabreon slashed his hand down a gesture that demanded quiet, fury bubbling in his veins. “You knew nothing of the situation. You only had speculations.”
Terril licked his cracked lips. “It was easy enough to guess.”
“Again, what I do is not under your purview.”
“Even Lord Kaelon has to see—”
Kaelon tsked. “Don’t try to draw me into such foolery. You know I have no patience for such prejudice against humans.”
Terril’s face twisted into an ugly look. “The son of a fae peasant would say that. A bunch of human lovers you are.”
The lighthearted expression on Kaelon’s face evaporated. He moved to next to Gabreon and crossed his arms. “You don’t want to bring my father into this conversation. It will end badly for you…well, even more badly than it already will.”
Gabreon traded a grim look with Kaelon. How low of Terril to attack the names of their dead fathers. “I think that last slight about being a human lover was as much aimed at my father as yours.” Even if his father hadn’t truly qualified as a human lover. He turned to face Terril. “Any last words?”
Terril leveled a glare at him, though the effect was somewhat ruined by the blood streaming down the man’s face. “You can silence me, but my efforts to ensure that the Sidhe stay pure and noble won’t die. You’re much too soft with these human vermin, with your ration packages and call off of indiscriminate raids. Why show mercy where none is needed? I should’ve had her killed since you lacked the will to do so.”
Before Gabreon fully realized it, he’d yanked the manager up and had his hands wrapped around his throat. Terror widened the manager’s eyes as Gabreon squeezed without mercy.
Terril clawed at his hands, but Gabreon wouldn’t be denied. He wanted the man dead, though a more painful demise than this would’ve been preferred. However, Gabreon needed to get back to Chimra. Who knew what kind of trouble Lina could be falling into?
A thread of worry wove through him. She had no clue just how dangerous the dumping grounds really were, now more than ever. Damn it all to Sidheen, he could protect her from the folly she might fall into, but only if he was there. He needed to be done with this and stop wasting time. Gabreon pressed harder into the man’s neck until Terril’s face turned a blotchy red. The other Sidhe gurgled, life slowly leaving his eyes.
After Terril breathed his last, Gabreon let the body fall back into the chair and stared at it in disgust. At least, his nearly mind-numbing anger had calmed, and a semblance of control had returned to him. “What a waste. Until he betrayed me, he was a model estate manager.”
“Remind me to never cross you.” Kaelon clapped him on the shoulder.
“As if you haven’t done worse to people who’ve deserved it.”
Kaelon shrugged. “Can’t deny that. So you’ll be needing a new estate manager.”
Gabreon frowned at that reality. Any hope of getting back to Chimra by tomorrow was looking bleaker. “Another headache to take care of.”
“You’re fortunate I weary of city life and decided to visit your estate. I’ll take the position.”
Gabreon lifted a brow, backing away from the chair. “Why?”
“No one thinks I live a terribly busy life, and it’ll further my cover as an eccentric noble. Anyways, Grandfather thinks I sit around doing nothing.”
Gabreon smothered a groan. Now he truly was feeling a pounding behind his eyes and in his temples. “It’s not a role befitting the grandson of a king. Tamion won’t be pleased. You have money, and your own residences on Earth and in Sidheen.”
A slow, devious smile spread over Kaelon’s lips, and he knocked his shoulder into Gabreon’s. “I know. What better way than to anger the old bastard?”
Gabreon sent him a dirty look. “Fine, but you deal with him if he comes here demanding answers.”
A smirk of anticipation crossed Kaelon’s face. “Gladly.”
“As for needing a front, it’s not too late to back out. Are you positive you want to continue on this route?” Gabreon sighed, weariness creeping into the sound. “Not even I or your position as Tamion’s grandson might be able to save you if the wrong people find out.”
“You mean our dear family, near and far. They don’t frighten me.”
Gabreon rolled his eyes at the stupidity coming out of his cousin’s mouth. “They should. Look at our uncles. ” The mere thought of them made him frown. Raeglin was the worst out of the three brothers, though that wasn’t saying much. “They, along with various branches of the family, largely control Earth. Most aren’t known for their mercy. Fortunately for us, they’re all on other continents and seem inclined to stay there for the time being.”
“Let’s hope it remains that way. Still, Grandfather controls them—and us.”
“You know better than that. You really think he stops anything Raeglin, Miron, or Camron does? He cares not what goes on Earth. Only Sidheen matters to him.”
“All the more reason to set things straight here on Earth.” Kaelon held out a hand pleadingly. “Come, Gabreon, you can’t tell me you approve of what is being done to the humans.”
“You know I have no great love of them.” He tolerated them, as they had their uses, and even liked a few, such as Lina’s parents. Still, just because he was against the abuse of humans didn’t mean he was fond of them as a species. He also abhorred the mistreatment of animals, and unlike humans, they didn’t plot to stab someone in the back in cold blood.
Kaelon’ lips thinned. “It could be argued that neither did your father, but he still didn’t agree with what his brothers and the others were doing.”
“And look at how the humans repaid his kindness.” Gabreon crossed his arms, bitterness welling up. “They murdered him.”
“He might have died by their hand, but you know I now have my doubts about who was behind it.”
Gabreon shook his head, not wanting to go down that rabbit hole right now. “It happened many hundreds of years ago when we were but children. I deal with enough intrigue without seeking out more.”
Disappointment flashed over his cousin’s face. “Given what Lina is to you, I thought you’d want to seek change as much as I do.”
“And what does she mean to me?”
Kaelon made a sound of disgust. “Oh, come off it. We both know what ties you to her—and her to you. I’ve known for some years now, ever since the attack on Patrice, and I told you as much at the time. I can’t help it if you never want to discuss your feelings.”
“I only desire to see Lina cared for, nothing more.” Though he glared at Kaelon, his words sounded weak even to his own ears.
Kaelon’s brows shot up, and he gestured to the body. “An extreme reaction if that is true. It’s not wise to ignore the bond for so long. Now that she’s a grown woman, it’s only going to unhinge you if you keep this up. I don’t think you’re going to be one of those successful few who can ignore the bond without many repercussions. From the first, it seemed to have too much hold over you.”
Gabreon stared at him and scowled, hating that reminder. “Get rid of Terril’s body.”
Gabreon clapped him on the shoulder. “Indeed, your first order of business as estate manager will be to deliver his body to his family.”
Kaelon wrinkled his nose. “You committed the killing, so you should clean up the mess. It’s only fair.”
“You didn’t even last half an hour as my manager,” said Gabreon, turning away in dismissal. Immediately, an indignant sputtering reached his ears.
“Wait, no need to be so hasty. What do you want me to tell his widow, though?”
Gabreon faced his cousin. “The truth. That he betrayed his master, but that they, his family, will be spared any further consequences.”
“You don’t want to hide what transpired here?”
“Terril wasn’t a noble, let alone one from an important family. No one should question why I killed him in the face of his betrayal.”
Kaelon nodded toward the body. “Let me get a blanket or something to wrap him in. I’ll also nab one of the guards to help carry him.”
“You mean so you can have the guard carry him by himself.”
Kaelon beamed. “Of course. You know me so well.”
Gabreon snorted. Only his cousin could sound so flippant when dealing with death, even one that was well deserved. “Meet me back here afterward. We have much to discuss before I leave tomorrow.”
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