Mated [Woodland Magic 2]
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by Anna Leigh Keaton
Description: For the first time in her life, Sheridan is alone in the world she's built around herself to help hide from the dark nightmares that live inside of her. Barachus and Dresden, a mated fae pair are the only men who have ever made her feel safe, but they live in a world of fairy tales and imagination--not the human realm where she resides. When the two worlds keep meshing, and her nightmares become reality, Sheridan finds her strength to go after what she wants, even if that means begging the fairy king to grant her just one wish?
eBook Publisher: Cobblestone Press, 2009
eBookwise Release Date: January 2010
27 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [189 KB]
Reading time: 116-162 min.
Sheridan rocked her sister, Tina, as if she were a child. The sun had set a few minutes earlier, and the temperature was falling, but Tina wouldn't let Sheridan take her inside.
Sheridan knew this was it. Her sister would be gone by morning. Tina's body was slowly shutting down from the cancer eating through her organs. She could barely breathe now, and Sheridan's heart tore in two.
"It's getting cold, sis," Sheridan said as she held the oxygen mask up for Tina to take another breath, doing everything she could to keep her voice strong and steady, to not let her sister hear the fear and pain inside of her.
Tina inhaled. What should have been a deep breath was wheezy and shallow, and she tried to stifle a cough. "I know," she croaked. "I want to stay a while longer."
The trees were in full fall color, and frost crisped the air. They'd sat out here every night for the past three weeks when Tina was strong enough to make the trek down the path. Tonight, Sheridan had pushed her in the wheelchair, but now they sat on a thick wool blanket on the grass.
"Sheridan?" Tina said, weakly pulling the oxygen mask away from her face.
"Do you really believe all that stuff you told me about fairies right after I moved here?"
"Yeah." Sheridan had shared the secret with her sister of how she'd captured the little blue fairy a few years earlier--how he'd shown his displeasure in the pesticide she'd been using on her roses. She quit using the chemicals, and he made sure she always had plenty of ladybugs around to stave off the aphids.
There were things out in these woods--magical, mystical beings--in her secluded haven that most people couldn't, or wouldn't, bring themselves to believe in.
Sheridan frowned and brushed her hand over Tina's wool ski cap. "I thought you said I was nuts."
"I did." Tina lifted the mask and took a few more breaths that Sheridan, being a registered nurse, knew caused her sister pain. "But then I met someone special. And little." She grinned.
"Aislan?" Sheridan asked.
Tina turned her head and looked up into her sister's face.
Sheridan smiled and tried keep her tears at bay. She'd wondered if her sister had been calling a creature of the woods when she was still well enough to wander away from Sheridan's little log home by herself. "I heard you out here one night calling that name."
Tears filled Tina's eyes, and she turned her head, trying to hide them from Sheridan. "He said he was your gardener, and he smelled of roses and lilacs. He is a prince."
"I haven't seen any of them around lately." For months, ever since Tina's illness became severe, none of the colorful little winged beings had come around. In the past, they'd been around her home often. She missed them, felt it was just one more thing she was losing--had lost. She bit her lip to keep it from quivering as pain shot through her heart.
"I think he got in trouble because of me." Tina closed her eyes, and Sheridan listened to the water softly lapping at the shore over her sister's labored breathing and the soft hiss of the oxygen tank. The crickets were gone now, as were the frogs. Winter would come soon.
Sheridan brushed her fingers over Tina's cheek. "Tell me what it was like." She wasn't sure if Tina was totally coherent. There had been days in the last couple of weeks that she wasn't.
"A little bit of heaven." Tina breathed in the oxygen from the mask. "His bed frame is made of toothpicks, and his table is an antique wooden thread spool. His lamp is a glowworm."
"It must have been amazing." Sheridan could imagine it, even if it wasn't real. She hoped it was. She prayed her sister had found that little bit of heaven before she died.
A tear dripped from her eye and landed on her sister's cheek.
Tina turned her head to look up at her. "Don't," she whispered.
"Tell me more," she begged.
"His home is a hollow in a tree trunk, and the inner walls are covered in the most amazing carvings I've ever seen. Better than anything in all the museums I've been in."
"My son is a great artist."
Sheridan gasped and jerked, looked up to see a man standing in front of them, his long white hair and beard reminiscent of the wizard from The Hobbit. His leggings and tunic were a rich, shimmering gray, and he held a scepter in his right hand.
"You must be the king," Tina said as she pushed herself up from Sheridan's lap to sit on her own. "I'm sorry..." She sucked in a breath of the oxygen. "...but I don't have the strength to stand."
Sheridan's heart thudded in her ears. The king? What king? What was she talking about?
"You must be the human causing me trouble with my strong-willed son."
Sheridan grabbed her sleeve. "You were serious? You and a fairy prince? Oh, my God."
"I'm sorry, Your Highness," Tina said respectfully. "I never meant to cause him trouble."
The fairy king--Sheridan supposed he was the fairy king if his son was a fairy prince--paced in front of them for a few moments. Tina closed her eyes and breathed from the oxygen mask.
"You will be dead by morning."
Sheridan gasped in outrage. "How dare you?" Though the words echoed her own thoughts, she couldn't bear to hear them voiced.
Her sister took her hand and squeezed it with what little strength she had left. "Shh, sis." She looked up at the king. "Yes, I believe that to be the truth."
"I could not let him become human. He is my son. Destined to rule. I could not let him give it all up and abandon his duties for a human."
"I never wanted for him to become human."
He folded his arms over his chest. "That was his desire, and I denied it."
A fairy had wanted to become human? To be with her sister? Even though she believed in them, had met one and seen him up close, this seemed all too unreal. Perhaps she'd gone off the deep end because of the stress of losing her sister.
"I am glad you denied him," Tina said.
"Because you do not love him?" He pierced her sister with eyes as black as obsidian.
"No, sir. Because I love him too much to let him throw away his life for me." Tina sucked in a lungful of air and burst out in a wrenching bout of coughing.
Sheridan rubbed her back and held a napkin to her mouth. There was blood in the tissue when she pulled it away.
"Go away," Sheridan shouted at the king. "You're upsetting her."
Tina squeezed her hand again. When she could speak, she panted out, "Let him say his piece."
"You say you love him."
Tina nodded, and her eyelids drooped with fatigue. "If I were to wish for anything ... it would only be to ... feel his arms around me one last time.... "She breathed from the mask, but Sheridan could see she couldn't catch her breath. Tina raised her eyes and looked up at the king. She pushed the mask away. "I love him, Your Majesty. Please don't let him doubt that. I ... he..." Tina couldn't seem to form her thoughts into a coherent sentence. "Best thing ... ever happen..." She slumped to the side, and Sheridan wrapped her arms around her.
"Tina. Tina!" Sheridan cried as she felt her sister's body go limp and her breathing stop. "No! Please!" She rocked her sister as tears poured from her eyes. "Please, sis. Please..." she sobbed. What was she going to do without her sister, her best friend, the only person in the world who knew what was in her heart and soul? She couldn't survive without her sister, because that would be living totally alone.
The gray-robed king moved closer, and Sheridan pulled her sister even tighter in her arms. "Go away!" she screamed. "Just go away!"
"There is little time."
"She's dying, you asshole!" She was sure she felt her sister's soul preparing to leave her body.
"Yes, she is," the king said. "Come along then. We will find out if she is worthy."
And then, in a flash of glittering white light--which shouldn't have been there, since dusk had settled--the world tilted.
Sheridan clung to her sister, buried her face against Tina's neck, and squeezed her eyes shut. Maybe God would take them both so she wouldn't have to be alone. Please, she begged. Take me with her!
Tina stirred in her arms, and Sheridan gasped in surprise. When she opened her eyes and raised her head, she was too shocked to take in her surroundings all at once.
Her sister lay naked in her arms. Shimmering, frantically quivering pink wings sprouted from her sister's shoulder blades, brushing Sheridan's arm wrapped around her. A soft pink, sparkling hue suffused Tina's whole body.
Then she looked up to see the fairy king standing a few feet away. He still wore the same robe, looked exactly the same, except now, behind him, were wings the color of silver, shiny and nearly iridescent. Her heart thundered in her ears. Her hand shook as she stroked Tina's long, soft hair, once a pretty blonde--non-existent the last few months because of radiation treatments--now tinted slightly pink and glittery.
"What's happened?" Sheridan croaked.
"I saved her life." The king cocked his head and looked down at her sister. "Is that not acceptable to you?"
That was when she looked around, past the fairy king, and realized they weren't in her backyard any longer. No, behind the king was a wall made of some rich, dark stone, possibly granite. She sat on a hard, cold, smooth and shiny floor. The patterns were a starburst mosaic of richly colored stones in more shades of green, brown, gold and pink than she'd ever seen, all lit by dancing candlelight. Candles sat on every surface and dangled from the ceiling in a massive chandelier that dripped crystal-like colored stones.
Licking her lips, she brought her attention back to the king. "Where are we?" she whispered, afraid to know the truth.
"In my palace, of course." His tone was matter-of-fact. A bit condescending.
In his palace. The palace of a fairy king. This was impossible.
Tina mumbled something incoherent and used Sheridan's thigh as a lever to push herself up to a seated position. Those pink wings she now had fluttered like mad. She reached up and touched her forehead, squeezed her eyes shut, then glanced behind herself when the wiggle of her wings caught her attention. Her eyes widened, and then she turned toward Sheridan. "What the fuck...?"
"You will not speak with profanity in my presence," the king said, his voice hard. "Stand up and greet your king as you should."
Tina glanced around the huge hall, the way Sheridan had, her eyes wide. "Whoa. What's going on?"
"Stand up!" the king bellowed.
Tina scrambled to her feet, looked down at her nude body, and then tried to cover her more private parts.
The king glanced at Sheridan but seemed to ignore the fact she hadn't stood with her sister. She was afraid her legs would buckle if she attempted to get up. Fear coursed through her, fear of the unknown. She was still fully clothed in her jeans, heavy sweater and denim jacket, the way she'd been on the lakeshore. And she didn't have wings or a strange color to her skin or hair.
The king glared at Tina for a long time, and her sister fidgeted under his stare. Finally, he spoke. "You confess to loving Aislan, yet you were willing to die alone rather than take my son from me. That is a sign of a strong heart, a loving heart."
Tina glanced at her fluttering wings over her shoulder again, then back at the king. "Thank you ... Your Majesty."
The king shook his head. "The boy begged me to turn you fae in order that you may live. I refused him the request. Humans have not been allowed in our midst for thousands of years. They do not follow laws of our kind well."
He began to pace in front of them, and finally Sheridan pushed to her feet and shrugged out of her jacket, but when she went to wrap it around her naked sister, she couldn't figure out how with those big ol' wings in the way. She held it out to Tina instead, but Tina shook her head, rejecting the offer.
"Once, eons ago, further back than your history travels, the fae king would turn humans into our kind to grow our numbers." He shook his head. "But humans are fickle. Stubborn. Reject our rules, our laws." He stopped pacing and narrowed his eyes at Tina. "My son has been acting very much like a human since meeting you."
Tina remained silent, and Sheridan hugged her jacket to her chest. The soles of her hiking boots squeaked on the glossy floor when she moved, so she stood still. Something huge was going on here, and what it was--just the assumption of what it was--made her want to weep.
"The boy claims to love you, as you say you love him. I have done everything in my power short of banishment to lure him into denouncing you. He has not. For months, he has sat in a cell in my dungeon. He states he would prefer death over not having you."
Tears glistened in Tina's eyes. "I never meant him harm," she whispered. "I swear it. When he wanted to stay with me, I told him to go away. I knew I was dying and he belonged with his kind." She dipped her head, and a tear trickled down her cheek.
"I have made you his kind. The king of the fae still holds such power, though it has not been used in thousands of years." He turned his cold, obsidian gaze on Sheridan, and she trembled. "You. I know of your capture of him. I also know you have not spoken to anyone but your sister of him. You are good to our kind."
Sheridan could only nod. Who would she tell? She had no close friends besides Tina, and at first her own sister thought she was nuts for believing in little flying fairies.
"You have a decision to make," he told Tina. "And it must be made now. Do you wish to live out your days--hundreds of years for a fae--as you are this moment, or do you wish to die as you were about to? If you accept my offer," he said, cutting Tina off when she opened her mouth to speak, "you will never return to the human world. You will be fae. You will live here as Aislan's mate. You will work among our kind. Make your decision, Tina of the Humans."
Tina sucked in a shuddery breath and dropped her hands to her sides, standing proud in her nudity. "You are a kind and generous leader, Your Majesty. I wish to stay and become fae. I wish with all my heart to spend hundreds of years at Aislan's side as his mate, working, living, and loving."
It took all Sheridan's will to keep the tortured cry inside of her. Even though she lived, she would never see Tina again. It was better than her death, she reassured herself. Just knowing her sister was alive and happy should be enough-- needed to be enough.
"It is done then." The king waved his scepter, and Tina was covered in a beautiful dress of pink. "You are fae--if Aislan accepts you as his mate."
Tina nodded. "Thank you, Your Majesty."
"Barachus! Dresden!" the king bellowed, his voice echoing and reverberating off the stone walls, floor and ceiling.
Heavy, wooden double doors opened behind them, and Sheridan turned to see two more fairies enter. Both male. One with gossamer wings the color of winter pine needles, the other the auburn of fall maple leaves. Their color shimmered over their bodies the way Tina's pinkness did.
"Your Majesty?" they said in unison as they bowed.
"Bring me my son."