Release Date: August 4, 2009
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Publisher Link: http://samhainpublishing.com/romance/ghost-star-night
Blurb: Desire. Destruction. Destiny. Thomas Myrdin knows that intrigue is part of life at court, but that doesn’t make his king’s betrayal any easier to take. Yet heartbreak troubles him less than the apocalyptic visions that haunt him. Fiery premonitions that show the world burning in ruins—and the cause, the king’s daughter. Visions and vengeance awaken a strange new power within him, but not even he is sure if he is the kingdom’s savior, the king’s pawn. Lord Adam Wexley harbors a secret longing for the elegant Thomas, but his duty is to protect the newborn princess. When a sudden threat arises, Adam seeks to procure services of Grand Magician Zachary Drake. Even if it means sacrificing his own soul—and his body. Drake has seen the worst of kings and courtiers. Now he protects himself with powerful sorcery and the adamant refusal to affiliate with any of the Four Courts. But the grand magician isn’t without weaknesses and Adam may be the one enticement that could draw him to ruin. In a rising storm of magic with the power to strip away men’s souls, the thread of desire connecting three men could be the kingdom’s last lifeline…
Adam loved the music. And the red and amber lights flashing up from the luminous floor. And the crush of dancing bodies. And the strong, sophisticated cocktails. In short, he loved this club.
Pulsing electronic beats throbbed through the smoky air so loud and so low that he felt it deep in his chest. The scenery wasn’t bad either. Although the club was mixed, both gay and straight, noble and common, the dark-haired man eyeing him from the neon-lit bar had to be a courtier. Not from Adam’s own West Court, but maybe from the North Court. He had that academic look that men from the North Court had. Adam smiled, his signature move. Normally, smiling could not be called a signature move, but Adam fully understood the power of his full lips and straight, white teeth. Smiling elevated him from good-looking blond to sexy hunk.
The lord from North Court, sitting at the bar, sat up straight and motioned Adam closer.
From deep within his pocket, Adam’s phone vibrated. He decided to ignore it, then it pulsed again, in that special rhythm. Lady Langdon, his godmother, needed him. With regret he shook his head at Lord North Court and bounded up the staircase that led to street level. He rushed up to the big gorilla doorman who controlled the line of well-dressed hopefuls waiting to get inside. The gorilla bared his teeth and his black fur bristled as Adam jostled past him and out into the humid summer night.
“How may I serve you, my lady?” he answered, slightly out of breath.
“You need to get Drake now!” Lady Langdon shouted so loudly that Adam had to pull the phone from his ear.
“Drake?” Adam squinted down the dark street, feeling too dazed with nightlife to immediately understand what she wanted from him at this hour. “The magician of the Black Tower?”
“Is there another?” Lady Langdon snapped. “Go and bring him! Promise him whatever is necessary, with the exception of your soul. You’ll need that later.”
“I would think that mere cash would be enough to encourage him.” As far as Adam knew, Drake was among the last of the freelancers. A gun for hire in a city where almost every other magician was allied to one of the four courts.
“That’s why thinking is not one of the attributes for which you are best known,” Lady Langdon said. “Don’t fail me.”
Adam rounded the corner and found his car and driver waiting. His driver, an elderly orangutan called Karl, had been lightly dozing in the front seat, and started awake when Adam rapped on the hood. He straightened his hat and scrambled out to open the door for Adam, who tumbled into the car’s backseat with the lax grace of the practically unconscious. He waited for his driver to resettle himself behind the wheel and said, “To the Black Tower.”
Karl nodded and signed, “Did you have a good night, boss?”
“Not as good as I’d hoped.”
Karl pulled onto the downtown street and started for Tower Heights. Adam stared out the window at the sidewalk, still vibrant with life, even though sunrise was quickly approaching.
Their route took them right alongside the heavily mosaicked walls of royal palace.
At this time of morning the figure of King Simon Columbain slaying the great serpent-demon seemed like it might almost spring to life. Soon the first morning rays would fall across the gilded tiles that comprised King Simon’s sorcerous sword, Demonslayer. Adam admired the strength and courage of his forbearers in their historic deeds, but tried not to think about them too long. Ruminations of that sort would only lead him to fret over his own lack of heroic achievement. Better to admire King Simon and leave it at that.
As an attendant to his godmother, Lady Langdon, Adam’s importance barely surpassed that of furniture. He looked good dressed in the West Court colors, yellow and gold. He had a nice voice. He could hold Lady Langdon’s fur coat, handbag and hat simultaneously. He could play guitar and piano, but wouldn’t unless asked. Other attendants had skills. Bankers. Accountants. Armies of lawyers to oversee the formal transfer of souls. Lady Langdon called upon them constantly. Him, she never needed for anything but to fetch and carry. This time, Grand Magician Drake of the Black Tower. Next time, maybe her umbrella.
Outside the downtown core, few cars moved, mostly delivery trucks entering the palace grounds, their square, dirty forms shabby against the polished rose marble walls.
Three soulless custodians, a thin, gray-haired man and two doughy women, finished polishing their section of wall and plodded across the entryway in a slow, silent procession. A truck driver didn’t brake as he entered the palace gates, barely missing the last man. The soulless resumed polishing the wall, carefully scratching grime from the grout, sweeping the sidewalk and picking up cigarette butts from the gutter.
He saw Karl glance over at the soulless in the same searching way that inhabited animals seemed to.
“Looking for your old body out there?” Adam asked.
Karl shook his shaggy head and expelled a snort that Adam thought was much like laughter, then lifted one long-fingered hand and signed, “My body’s dead, boss. Why do you think I’m inside of this monkey?”
“You could be a convict,” Adam pointed out.
“Not with a palace chauffeur’s license.” Karl made a left up the hill toward the Tower Heights neighborhood, and then eased to a stop in the loading zone in front of a dark monolith of a building. He turned and pulled a huge orangutan grin and signed, “Here you go, boss, good luck in there.”
It was not Drake’s custom to be awake for any part of the morning, but on this occasion he happened to be observing the flowering of a new star low on the western horizon, and he was in a foul temper because of it. New stars, though rare, were a bother to the astrologically inclined, changing the whole meaning of the sky. They were also known to be harbingers of disaster so Drake examined it closely, speaking spells and taking measurements. He’d neither showered nor shaved for three days when his doorbell rang. His hair hung over his shoulders in greasy black strings. He stank.
Drake’s servant, Nancy, appeared in his study doorway, dressed in her bathrobe and slippers. Her normally neat brown page-cut hair was so knotted and askew that it resembled a poorly kept and inexpensive wig.
“You have a gentleman caller from the West Court, sir. Lord—” She broke off, stifling a yawn. “Lord Adam Wexley.”
“I’m not at home to guests,” Drake snapped, then, turning away, murmured, “Nobles…they think they can ring your bell at any time of day they like.”
“He says it’s an emergency.”
“Everything is an emergency for them. Send him away.”
“He’s got a nice smile,” Nancy said. “And nice legs.”
Drake left his telescope and crossed to the fishbowl that he used as a scrying device. On the water’s surface, he conjured the image of his gentleman caller.
Lord Wexley was a tall rectangular man with very square shoulders and a casual looseness of his limbs that lent him a marionette-like appearance. He wore tight yellow and black club wear that looked tawdry in normal light. Drake could see Adam’s small nipples through the sheer fabric. His eyes were blue.
“You say he said his business was of the utmost urgency?”
“No, I said he said he was here because of an emergency,” Nancy corrected.
Drake waved the difference aside with an impatient hand.
“Bring our guest coffee. Tell him I will be with him as soon as I am able.”
Drake showered and shaved and found a clean black shirt and a pair of jeans and put on his rings, malingering in the bath for as long as he could before joining his guest in the living room approximately an hour later.
Adam hadn’t touched the coffee tray, apparently because he had fallen asleep.
He lay sprawled across Drake’s bone-colored sofa like he owned it, smelling of whiskey, sweat and cigarettes. His short blond hair looked sticky with spent product. Drake sat in his armchair and poured himself some coffee. Drake expected Adam to wake, but he didn’t. So Drake set the coffee pot down on its silver tray with an unnecessary clang. Nothing. Not even a snore. The grand magician leaned close to his ear.
“Lord Wexley, do you intend to spend the whole day asleep on my couch? I will expect you to pay me rent for it, I promise you.”
Adam’s bloodshot eyes popped open and he sat up, confused.
“Yes, Lord Wexley?”
“Please call me Adam.”
Drake nodded and Adam continued, “Grand Magician Zachary Drake, I wish to—”
“You wish to summon me to attend Lady Langdon, Minister of the West Court?”
“Yes, Lady Langdon—” he began, but Drake cut him off again.
“Certainly she must have told you that I prefer not to work for the Courts of the Four Directions,” Drake said. Adam looked like a confused little boy who had just been told that the world is not flat after all, but can’t quite grasp the information. His eyes roamed over Drake, as if he’d just noticed Drake had a physical presence.
Drake caught Adam’s eyes lingering on his ostentatious and obviously magical rings. Drake sensed that he was rating them, deciding which ring looked most evil. Was it the blood diamond? The talon? The fat silver spider?
Drake wanted to reach out and smooth Adam’s hair and straighten his collar. He restrained himself. He suspected that days spent doing nothing but mathematics had rendered him impulsive and delirious.
“But the astrologers have decreed that Lady Langdon’s daughter Carolyn will be in labor before noon,” Adam said as if this explained everything.
“I don’t see how I could be of any use. I’m not well practiced in midwifery.” Drake dropped a cube of cinnamon-sugar into his coffee.
“The Medallion of Rayner has been stolen. You must help get it back. Now do you understand?”
Drake understood immediately. Without Lady Langdon’s holy medallion, the protective barrier surrounding her daughter would be incomplete, leaving mother and child vulnerable to curses and possession.
“That is unfortunate, but I must regretfully decline. Because of the appearance of a strange new star, I am currently engaged with remapping the night sky. It’s a big project involving tricky mathematics that only I understand. I have no time to spare for finding Lady Langdon’s lost jewelry.” As Drake stood to leave, Adam caught him by the arm. Adam’s hand felt warm from sleep.
“She knows where the medallion is, she just can’t get it.” Adam’s cell phone rang again. He glanced at the display and looked pained. “Lady Langdon said that I must return with you at any cost, so name your price.”
Drake considered asking Adam for either a kiss or his immortal soul but decided that the former gave his hand away and the latter… He had no use for a soul as pure as Adam’s. But his earnest, guileless expression moved Drake. He thought that it was no wonder Lady Langdon had sent him. Adam fell well within Drake’s tastes and usual strike range.
Crafty old biddy knows me too well, he thought. Aloud, he said, “Is that any way to beg my favor?”
Adam flushed deep red then bowed his deepest and most formal bow.
“I, Adam Wexley of the West Court, humbly request the honor of your presence in the court this morning, Grand Magician Drake. Would you please accompany me on this matter of great urgency?”
Drake smiled. “It would be my singular pleasure.”