Taken to the Ebon Court

When a half-demon general conquers Irizel’s homeland, he claims her as his own, drawn by her beauty and bloodline. Upon discovering she’s a healer, he forces her to accompany him to the Ebon Court–a nest of political intrigue and carnal decadence–so that she might heal his hybrid infertility. The proof he demands: she must bear his child. Teased by erotic dreams and confronted by her own desires, she finds herself yielding to his touch…

An erotic dark fantasy romance of 55,000 words.

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Read an excerpt below.

Chapter One

Irizel hadn’t expected Summerstone Keep to fall so quickly; hadn’t expected the armies of the Crescent Empire to attack here at all, not when her brother had taken most of the soldiers to the east. The small garrison left behind to guard the keep was being dying even now. The sounds of swords clashing and battle-cries came to her from the courtyard even through the thick walls, and she tried not to put names to the voices before they were abruptly silenced.

She could have healed them had she reached them before they died, but the captain of the garrison had locked her in a storeroom with the only key.  “Lord Bardin’s orders,” he’d said gruffly, and she cursed her brother now. Did he truly believe a locked door would keep her safe?

Then she realized that all had gone quiet outside, and she willed that door to be as strong and immovable as a mountain.

A click. She didn’t think it was the captain returning, and there was only one way he would have given up the key.

She moved swiftly to the corner of the storeroom where some barrels were stacked. They were poor cover, but with dim light and good fortune, she might remain hidden behind them. She crouched and hugged her knees, trying to make herself as small as possible, just as someone stepped inside.

There was only a single set of footfalls. She had a chance of escaping one man’s perusal, surely.

She heard rustles and thuds as the man examined each object in the storeroom with deliberation. This was no hasty searcher. He even lifted the lids of the barrels in front of her, and she held her breath as he sifted through their contents. Apparently unsatisfied, he gripped the barrel and rocked it forward, spilling grain all over the floor and revealing her huddled form.

She leapt to her feet and tried to dart past him toward the open door. He took one stride after her, grabbed her arm, and twisted her around to face him. She stumbled, unable to stop her momentum, and fell into his hold. He pinned her arms to her sides.

“Summerstone Keep is mine by right of arms,” he said in a low, assured voice directly into her ear. “Will you surrender yourself or make me use force?”

She swallowed. If he was claiming the keep, she knew who this must be: the empress’s right hand and commander of her armies. His soldiers were overrunning Thiria, her homeland. And there were dark whispers about him… “General Kenar Moryon,” she whispered.

“And you?”

“No one important,” she said desperately.

He chuckled. She could feel it through his chest, pressed against him as she was, and it seemed to thrum through her. “There is always something valuable behind a locked door. Since nothing else here is of any worth, it must be you.”

So much for the lock keeping her safe. “My name is Irizel Emeros.”

“Irizel Emeros, do you cede?”

With her family name invoked thus, she would not lie. “I cede to you, my lord.”

He released her. She took a cautious step back and took him in for the first time. He was tall, with short-cropped hair and a thoughtful expression. His surcoat was black and gold, stitched with the moon that was the Crescent Empire’s sigil. She didn’t know what she had expected: a brute of a warrior, perhaps, or a man with a cruel smile and thin, grasping hands. He was none of these. His voice was clear and cultured, and there was an air of cool authority about him despite his battle-weariness.

He was studying her in turn. “I wasn’t aware that there were any women living of the Emeros line.”

She flinched. He not only conquered her home and took her captive, but brought up the most painful point in her history. “I was born the illegitimate daughter of Gereth Emeros. He recognized me shortly before his death.” He’d been desperate for her aid then. But healers couldn’t heal everything.

“And does your half-brother recognize you as well?”

Such a deceptively mild tone for a fraught question. He was asking after her value as a hostage. She hesitated, but it was one of the cornerstones of her life, that her brother cared for her as deeply as though she were fully of his blood. She couldn’t pretend otherwise. “Yes.”

“I assume he rode east to intercept us at Needle Pass?”

Her breath caught. How had he known of Bardin’s strategy? And if the general headed eastward as well, he would meet with her brother’s force, but from an unexpected direction. It would be slaughter. “Please spare him, my lord.”

He tilted his head as though he found the notion to be of some slight interest. “He is a traitor.”

It was true. Her brother owed fealty to the empire, and had rebelled instead. “He was incited by the alliance of kingdoms that border us to the west. You could use his help against them, if you took him back under the crescent banner.”

“What would you give me for his life?”

She lifted her gaze to his. His eyes were as black as ink; she’d never seen any so dark, and couldn’t help a shiver. “Whatever you wish.”

He moved forward, closing the distance between them. “Would you swear blood-oath to me?”

She blinked. A blood-oath was a rare, ancient ritual. There was no promise of loyalty more binding, and it barred all lies between the two people so linked. She would be bound to total obedience to him. But if it would save Bardin… “Yes, my lord.”

He reached for her hand. She couldn’t help herself from trying to pull away, but his fingers gripped hers with easy strength and spread her palm. He drew a dagger and let its edge caress her palm, leaving a stinging line of crimson. Then he did the same to himself, and waited.

They said that Kenar Moryon was demon’s get, only half-human, and yet the blood that marked his palm was as red as hers. She searched the spare lines of his face. There was little patience to be found there, and no choice at all. Slowly she fit her hand to his so their cuts aligned. “I link my life to yours. In all things I shall serve you, General Kenar Moryon. I swear it by blood.”

“And I will spare the life of Bardin Emeros. I swear it by blood.”

Her hand tingled and a sudden dizziness seized her. She reached out to lean on one of the barrels for support, but to her dismay, the general’s arms came around her. She tried to jerk away, but he only tightened his hold.

“Don’t fight me,” he said sharply. “You went suddenly pale. Are you unwell?” He bent down to lift her.

“I don’t need you to carry me,” she said, trying to summon indignation, but a warm languor began to spread throughout her body. It felt strongest wherever she felt his body heat against her skin. She sighed a little and relaxed against him, unable to do otherwise.

Vaguely she noticed that he took her into another room. But her attention was snared by the hard angle of the shoulders she grasped, and the not-unpleasant musk of sweat and armor and his own personal scent. She was suddenly curious about the texture of his skin. She freed one hand and stroked her fingers along the side of his neck.

He stiffened and lowered her onto a bed. His eyes were narrowed in suspicion when he straightened. “I did nothing to you.”

Her head was suddenly clear, the haziness of her thoughts burned away by outrage. “You captured me and forced me to swear a blood-oath. Perhaps that’s trivial for the imperial general.”

He ignored her words and brushed his knuckles against her cheek. Bewildered, she quieted. His fingers glided down her throat and paused just about the cloth of her dress. “What do you feel?”

Her limbs felts sluggish and she couldn’t move, although his touch scorched her. “It burns,” she said uncertainly.

There was a subtle shift in his expression. His eyes seemed even darker than before. He traced her neckline with one finger. “And now?” His voice had grown husky.

She made a soft sound of unconvincing protest. It turned into a gasp as his finger hooked over the edge of the fabric. Surely a trail of ash marked where he touched her, but her skin was flawless. Her senses focused on that one point of exquisite contact between them.

He drew away, breathing hard. “Are you a sorceress?”

“No,” she said, too disoriented to be offended.

“Yet you’re sensitive to my gift.”

She couldn’t grasp what he was saying. “I’m a healer. We have empathy, to feel our patients’ pain.”

“I have heard of healers,” he said thoughtfully. “Can you heal me, then?”

She didn’t want to tend to this man, but she was sworn to him now. She sat up and nodded, glad that he wasn’t dwelling further on her body’s humiliation betrayal to his touch. “I will need to see your wounds.” It was unusual for her not to have detected him in the first place, but she’d been…distracted.

“Of course.” He began to work at the fastenings of his armor.

She couldn’t help searching the body he bared to her for signs of his supposedly mixed heritage. He was well-formed, with broad shoulders and lean hips, and the jagged white lines of old scars and the crimson of newer cuts crisscrossed his skin—human in all ways, and even, she found to her surprise, handsome. She hadn’t thought to regard him as a man, only as an enemy who might as well be faceless. But the Moryon line was famed for beauty, and justly, if that was where he had inherited his sharp cheekbones and shadow-dark hair.

She forced herself to look for his injuries, rising from the bed as he sat upon its edge.

There was a scrap on his shoulder, so she laid a hand there and concentrated on re-knitting the skin and blood vessels smoothly. A familiar sense of both warmth and fatigue entered her, and when she lifted her hand, his shoulder was undamaged. A dark bruise marked his ribs. As she healed it she could feel his heartbeat, and that unsettled her. Her father had often said that those of the line of Moryon had no hearts.

One slash, deep but clean, marred his thigh. She knelt before him so it would be easier for her to set her hand upon it. The flow of blood was too swift for her liking; he’d been walking about too much after receiving the wound. Too busy killing the guards.

She took a breath and settled her thoughts, trying to see him as a patient to tend to. Her earlier healing had tired her, and it took a long time to gather the will to close the wound. She closed her eyes and tried to lose herself in the workings of his flesh and the pulse of his life-force. Under her hand she could feel the blood-loss slowing, and then the reweaving of tissue. A scare would remain; she didn’t have the energy to make it otherwise.

When she opened her eyes, she saw that he was aroused.

She stilled. It wasn’t the first time that a man she’d healed had reacted in such a way. Flush with healing and feeling the delicate touch she used for her gift, they often couldn’t help themselves. But new to her was the shy answering desire to see more clearly what strained the cloth of his breeches. She needed only to reach out and unlace them, then lean forward….

Frightened by her inexplicable longing, she stood and took two quick steps away. His amused voice caught at her before she could flee altogether.

“You overlooked one.”

She turned back and saw him holding out his hand, showing her the mark of the blood-oath. Unwillingly she went back to him. Remembering her frank appraisal of him earlier now brought heat to her cheeks, and she didn’t look at him as she placed her unhurt hand over his. The healing went quickly, as he’d judged the cut well, making it no deeper than necessary. But when she sought to withdraw her hand, he didn’t release her.

“What of your own cut?” he asked.

She shook her head. “Healers can’t heal themselves.”

“So there are limits.”

“Yes. Using the gift is tiring, and too much is dangerous. A mortal wound might be healed at the cost of the healer’s life.” She’d almost died herself, trying to heal her father. “But we can still help man.”

Slowly he said, “You would be useful in the Ebon Court.”

Her throat closed in horror. The Ebon Court was the source of more dark rumors than she could count, and all at once she could remember every one of them. The empress who ruled there was reputed to be a sorceress, the nobles well-versed in occult pleasures, and the court itself a nest of snakes tangled in intrigue. Honor was said to be upheld only where it was visible, and duels were frequent and to the death. She knew better than to expect to survive a place so rich in decadence, where lords cared more about games of secrets than the armies they so casually sent out to fight wars. And he wanted her to go there?

“I can’t—“

There might have been a glimmer of regret in his gaze, but it was so swift she wondered whether she had truly seen it. “You swore to serve me.”

“You command me to go there?” she breathed.

“Does it seem so terrible a place?” he said with irony.

“It spawned you,” she said deliberately.

His face hardened. “You will leave tomorrow for the Midnight City.”

She wanted very badly to strike out at him, but the cut on her palm throbbed and reminded her painfully of her blood-oath. “I will obey, as I must.” Her voice shook.

He nodded as though he’d expected nothing else. “When you reach court, show this to the empress.” He pressed something into her hand: his signet ring.

She closed her fingers around it. She didn’t mean to ask, but heard herself saying, “And what of you, my lord?”

“I will go there as well, after I finish dealing with your brother.” He came to his feet, and his hand rose to touch her face.

The caress was curiously gentle. She thought he would say something, perhaps an apology or a promise; his lips parted slightly. She remembered the beat of his heart under his hand. I want him, she thought wonderingly. Then: He is my enemy. His touch became something to endure, then, a five-fingered brand that burned her with shame.

Her expression must have changed, for he lowered his hand and stepped past her. She didn’t turn and watch as he donned his armor again. “You’ll leave in the morning. I’ll have one of my men escort you. Fair journey, Irizel.”

Before he could walk out of the door, she couldn’t help asking, “Is the court as bad as they say?”

He laughed: a short, humorless sound. “Worse, I fear.”

He strode away, abandoning her to the fate he’d doomed her to.