Home > A Strange Hymn (The Bargainer #2)

A Strange Hymn (The Bargainer #2)
Author: Laura Thalassa

Chapter 1

Wings.

I have wings.

The black iridescent feathers glint under the dim lights of Des’s royal chambers, now black, now green, now blue.

Wings.

I stand in front of one of Des’s gilded mirrors, both horrified and transfixed by the sight. Even folded up, the tops of my wings loom well above my head and the tips brush the back of my bare calves.

Of course, wings aren’t the only thing different about me. After a particularly nasty skirmish with Karnon, the mad King of Fauna, I now have scaly forearms and claw-tipped fingers too.

And those are just the changes you can see. There’s nothing—except maybe the wounded look in my eyes—that I have to show for all those parts of me that were altered in different, more fundamental ways.

I’d spent the better part of a decade fighting the idea that I was a victim. I’d done a damn fine job of it too—if I do say so myself—before I came to the Otherworld. And then came Karnon. A small shiver courses through me even now as I remember.

All those cleverly crafted layers of armor I wore were shucked away in a week of imprisonment, and I’m not quite sure how to deal with it.

To be honest, I really don’t want to deal with it.

But, as bad as I have it, the Master of Animals got it worse. Des vaporized the dude so completely that all that’s left of him is a bloodstain on the remains of his throne room.

Apparently, one does not fuck with the Night King’s mate.

Mate.

That’s another thing I’ve acquired recently—a soulmate. I’m bound to Desmond Flynn, the Bargainer, one of the most wanted criminals on earth, and one of the most powerful fae here in the Otherworld.

But even that—matehood—is more complicated than it appears.

I still have so many questions about our bond, like the fact that I never knew I was a soulmate until a few weeks ago. Other supernaturals find this kind of thing out back when they’re teenagers and their magic Awakens.

So why didn’t I?

There’s also the fact that most soulmates can feel the bond that connects them to their mate like it’s a physical thing.

I place a hand over my heart.

I’ve felt no such thing.

All I have is Des’s word that we are soulmates—that and the sweet ache in my bones that calls for him and only him.

I drop my hand from my chest.

Behind my reflection, stars glitter just beyond the arched windows of Des’s Otherworld suite. The hanging lanterns dangle unlit, and the sparkling light captured along the wall sconces have long since dimmed.

I’m stuck here in the Kingdom of Night.

I doubt there are all that many supernaturals that would complain about my situation—mated to a king, forced to live in a palace—but the simple, sobering truth is that a girl like me cannot waltz back onto Earth with giant wings protruding from her back.

That sort of thing wouldn’t go over well.

So I’m stuck here, far from my friends—okay, friend (but, in all fairness, Temper’s got the power and attitude of at least two people)—in a place where my ability to glamour, a.k.a. seduce, others with my voice is essentially useless. Fairies, as I’ve learned, cannot be glamoured; my magic is too incompatible with theirs.

To be clear, that’s not a two-way street. They can still use their powers on me; the bracelet on my wrist is proof enough of that.

My eyes return to my wings, my strange, unearthly wings.

“You know, staring at them isn’t going to make them go away.”

I jolt at the sound of Desmond’s silky voice.

He leans against the wall in a shadowy corner of his dark bedroom, his expression irreverent, as usual. His white blond hair frames his face, and even now, even when I’m bashful and exposed and oddly ashamed of my own skin, my fingers ache to thread themselves through that soft hair of his and pull him close.

He wears nothing but low-slung pants, his muscular torso and sleeve of tattoos on display. My heart quickens at the sight. The two of us stare at each other for a beat. He doesn’t make a move to come any closer, though I swear he wants to. I can all but see it in his silver eyes.

“I didn’t mean to wake you,” I say quietly.

“I don’t mind being woken,” he says, his eyes glittering. He doesn’t move from his spot.

“How long have you been there?” I ask.

He crosses his arms over his bare torso, cutting off my view of his pecs. “Better question: how long have you been there?”

So typical for Des to answer a question with a question.

I turn back to the mirror. “I can’t sleep.”

I really can’t. It’s not the bed, and it’s definitely not the man who warms it. Every time I try to flip onto my stomach or my back, I inevitably roll over a wing and wake myself up.

There’s also the little matter of the sun never rising in this place. The Kingdom of Night is perpetually cast in darkness as it draws the night across the sky. There will never be a time when the sun glances into this room, so I can never know when exactly to wake up.

Des disappears from his spot against the wall. A split-second later he appears at my back.

His lips brush the shell of my ear. “There are better ways to spend long, sleepless evenings,” Des says softly, one of his hands trailing down my arm.

My siren stirs at his words, my skin taking on the faintest glow.

His lips brush the side of my neck, and even that lightest of touches has my breath hitching.

But then I catch sight of my reflection, and I see the wings. The glow leaves my skin in an instant.

Des notices the moment my interest wanes, moving away from me like he was never there. And I hate that. I can feel the distance between us. I don’t want him to give me space, I want him to pull me closer, kiss me deeper, make me extinguish this new insecurity I have.

“These wings …” I begin to explain, but then I stop.

Des comes around to the front of me. “What about them?” he asks, blocking my view of the mirror.

I lift my chin. “They’d get in the way.”

He raises an eyebrow. “In the way of what?”

As if he’s unaware of exactly what we’re dancing around.

“Of playing chess,” I say sarcastically. “Of … intimacy.”

Des stares at me for several seconds, then his mouth slowly curls into a smile. It’s a smile full of tricks and mischievous things.

He steps in close, only a hair’s breadth between our faces. “Cherub, I assure you, your wings will not be an issue.” His gaze dips to my lips. “But perhaps your mind would be better put to ease with a demonstration?”

At his suggestion, light flares beneath my skin, my siren immediately ready to go. Whatever my insecurities are, she doesn’t share them.

I look over my shoulder, at my wings, and my worries come roaring back. “Aren’t they a major turnoff?”

The moment the words leave my lips, I wish I could catch them and shove them back down my throat.

The only thing I hate worse than feeling like a victim is airing my insecurities. Normally all that emotional armor I don hides them—sometimes so deep I forget they’re there—but after my ordeal with Karnon, that armor is lying in scattered pieces somewhere around my feet, and I haven’t yet had the time or the will to refashion a new set for myself. I’m horribly raw and painfully vulnerable.

Des raises an eyebrow. At his back, his own wings, which I haven’t noticed until now, expand. The silver, leathery skin of them pulls taut as they extend to either side of him, blocking out most of the room.

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