Unbinding (World of the Lupi)

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9780425263372: Unbinding (World of the Lupi)

In the newest Novel of the Lupi, the human and elven worlds are both about to come under attack...

After questing through the sidhe realms with her ex-hellhound lover, Nathan, Kai Tallman Michalski has finally returned home. But she knows Nathan will eventually be called back to serve his queen—and Kai will have to decide whether to enter her majesty’s service as well. Sure, the job comes with great bennies, but there’s one big downside: she would have to swear absolute fealty to the Queen of Winter.

For now, though, Kai is glad to be home, and glad that Nathan completed his mission for his queen with surprising ease. But what seemed to be a quick conclusion turns out to be anything but. The two of them helped thwart the sidhe god of chaos—and he is not happy about that. He’s got plans for them. Plans, too, for the sidhe who killed him some three millennia ago. Nor has he abandoned his plans for Earth, as they learn when chaos begins bursting out all over...

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About the Author:

Eileen Wilks is a USA Today bestselling author, a three-time RITA Award finalist, and the recipient of a Career Achievement Award from Romantic Times. One of the previous Novels of the Lupi, Blood Challenge, was a New York Times extended list bestseller.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

“I remember Eileen Wilks’s characters long after the last page is turned.”

—Kay Hooper, New York Times bestselling author

PROLOGUE

Aléri in Winter

KAI hadn’t had a cup of coffee in eighteen months.

That’s what she was thinking about when the Queen of Winter’s emissary came to see her—about coffee and her favorite mug, the purple-blue one with little speckles that she’d bought at a pottery shop in Oklahoma City. As she followed the emissary out into the streets of Aléri, she thought about that mug and the coffee table she’d painted turquoise and the necklace her grandfather had given her for Christmas four years ago. The Queen had arranged for her things to be put in storage while she was gone, and she appreciated that, but she missed that table. And her grandfather. And cell phones. She missed cell phones and the people she could call on one.

She missed home.

Aléri was one of the largest cities in Iath. Kai had been here several times since traveling to the sidhe realms, aka Faerie. Her mindhealing teacher lived here, in a stilted treehouse not far from the human quarter. Elves hated being crowded, and they loved trees and fields, lakes and gardens, so Aléri was more like a broad scattering of towns and villages than the kind of city Kai was used to. Incredibly lovely towns and villages, that is. Every structure, small or large, stone or wood, low to the ground or perched in the limbs of a huge tree, was meant to add to the city’s beauty.

But Aléri as she’d seen it before was nothing compared to the city when it hosted the court of the Winter Queen—which did not involve a Disneyesque snow castle or fantastical ice sculptures. Those images had lurked at the back of her mind until she arrived at court. Reality had been a real pop in the face.

Nathan suggested that she think of Winter’s court as an ongoing creation, a composition in time and people, as well as space. It was certainly beautiful, an unpredictable tumble of art and artifice through what seemed to be untouched nature. But Winter’s court was as hard to pin down as the elves who mostly populated it.

Parts were stable; parts were sheer illusion; and parts of it shifted with the wind, or on a whim, including its location. When Kai first arrived at court, her bedroom window had overlooked a slate-gray ocean with a slim crust of beach separating the sea from her cottage. She’d woken four days later to find the same window looking out on a forest of towering conifers. Last week, the scene had shifted yet again—this time to the top of a hill overlooking the white roofs of Aléri, the largest city on the continent of Bá, in the realm of Iath.

Iath, home to the Queens of Summer and Winter. And way too many elves.

The structures of court mostly occupied a low, craggy butte on the western edge of Aléri. Kai’s guide led her even further west until they met with a beaten-earth path that wound through waist-high grass set to whispers by a steady breeze. The sound reminded her of the ocean’s endless murmurs. But this was a pale ocean, sere and shallow, edged in gold where the slanted breath of sunset stroked color along the blades of grass. Kai walked smooth and easy, with no trace of a limp.

That astounded her. The first time Dell had healed her surely ought to be the real marvel, but it was the more recent healing that boggled her brain. But that first time—over a year ago now—she hadn’t been paying attention, being too close to the darkest of edges to be aware of more than the easing of pain. Plus, she’d hadn’t known how to pay attention that time; it had taken her months to learn how to observe her body from the inside. She still had a lot to learn, but fourteen days ago she’d been able to watch while the chameleon reknit her crushed knee . . . and today she walked painlessly on the hard ground of Iath’s central plains, following a white rabbit.

That’s what her guide looked like, anyway. The colors of its thoughts proclaimed it something much different. Definitely sidhe, and probably an elf. A few of the Wild Sidhe could wear other seemings, but most couldn’t. It was the elves who’d mastered illusion.

She was so bloody damn sick of elves.

Elves were not human. This was both true and obvious, but it was a truth Kai sometimes tripped over. Human and elf were, she thought, like water and vodka—two clear liquids that shared many qualities, but heaven help you if you threw the wrong one on a fire. The very existence of a court and the courtiers who peopled it underlined some of the similarities. Sidhe from multiple races and realms came here to show off, to exert their power or connect with the powerful, which made it not much different from Washington, D.C., the court of Henry VIII, or Caesar’s Rome. Some came as guests. Some held positions in the court.

Kai was a guest. Her partner and lover was not. Nathan was no elf, however. He was Wild Sidhe. If the other sidhe races were like planets orbiting the elves, the Wild Sidhe were comets—affected by the gravitational pull of the most powerful race in their system, but living mostly apart and on their own terms. Nathan’s position was as unique as he was. He was the Queen’s Hound.

That was a position of power. Nathan had his own, innate power, too, and elves respected power. Kai, on the other hand, was pretty much nobody. Sure, there was a trace of sidhe blood in her ancestry, but not enough for her to register as sidhe. Not that she wanted to, but being human in Faerie could be a pain in the ass.

The cute little bunny had stopped a few yards ahead. One ear twitched. It looked back at her.

At least it didn’t pull out a pocket watch and exclaim about being late. Maybe the Queen of Winter had never read Alice in Wonderland? Or maybe this particular minion didn’t know how to play to the joke. From what Kai could tell, most elves didn’t have much of a sense of humor. A sense of amusement, maybe, but that wasn’t the same thing.

“I suppose not,” a silvery voice said from behind her in flawless American English.

Kai jumped and spun. Ten paces back along the path stood a luminous woman dressed in white. The Queen of Winter always wore either white or black.

Beyond the color, Kai never noticed what the Queen’s clothing looked like. Who would? Her presence overwhelmed even as her beauty pierced—a stark, inhuman beauty like the translucent glory of ice or a single wolf’s call in the dead of winter. Her hair was black. Her skin was white. Truly white, not merely Caucasian, but a white that changed with the light, or maybe with her mood. Sometimes it made Kai think of camellia petals, inexpressibly pure and soft. Other times it was more like pearls, hard, and hinting at rainbows.

It took Kai a moment to gather herself after her first stunned reaction. It always did. Not that they’d met often. The first time they met, Winter had decided to send her on a three-part quest instead of killing her. They’d spoken each time Kai completed the first two parts of her quest, and again just as the last segment of her quest went so horribly wrong. The Queen hadn’t held her to blame. There’d been too much wrong in that realm for any two people to fix, even when one of them was Nathan. So much wrong that, for the first time in over three thousand years, the two Queens had left their home realm at the same time.

Kai had seen what Winter and Summer could do, acting together. What they would do if lords of the sidhe broke Queens’ Law. She shuddered at the memory and knelt on one knee, lowering her head.

“You may rise,” the Queen told her.

Kai did, and found an extraordinary pair of eyes studying her. Winter’s eyes were the color of water—no color and every color. At the moment they looked ash gray. Her skin, caressed by sunset, reminded Kai of an orange-kissed moon, and today her midnight hair fell to her hips, straight as rain. Small silver bells had been braided into it. They chimed sweetly when she tilted her head. “I thought the bunny shape might amuse you, but perhaps you’re too irked with us to find amusement in such a conceit.”

Why hadn’t Kai heard those bells until this moment? Maybe the Queen had just now arrived. Maybe she’d been following Kai all along, but cloaked from any sense Kai possessed. Either was possible. “Perhaps I am,” she agreed.

“You have been offered no discourtesy here.”

No, she’d been courtesied half to death. Sometimes barbs lay beneath the exquisite politeness of the courtiers. Sometimes curiosity. Such an oddity Winter had chosen to invite to her court! And why? No doubt it was meant as a courtesy to her Hound, but Winter seldom acted from only one cause. “I’m sure the fault lies with me. This doesn’t lessen my discomfort.”

“Or your annoyance.” The Queen’s voice was light, her lips curved in a smile. “My court is difficult for a human. There are other humans here, however. Has not Malek made you welcome, as I asked?”

“He’s been very helpful.”

Winter tipped her head. “You dislike Malek.”

She disliked most slimy little weasels, but it wouldn’t do to say that. Kai didn’t know if the Queen liked Malek, but she found him useful, mostly as a messenger. Like Kai, he was a one-off, with a Gift so rare it was thought to be unique among humans: he could cross between realms without a gate. Naturally, the sidhe believed this meant he had a trace of sidhe blood in his ancestry. The one thing she did like about the man was his quiet but firm insistence that he was human, period. “Malek is embarrassed by me. He’s trying to help me overcome my deplorably human manners so I won’t stick out so much at court. He hasn’t had much success.”

“Ah, I understand. Most humans wish to blend in when they are among us. You do not.”

Anger that Kai had been suppressing for too long burst to the surface. “Blend in? Humans can’t blend in with elves. No matter what we do, you will all remain more beautiful, more graceful, more steeped in power and art than we can ever hope to be. Blending in is a cheat. It blinds us to what is genuinely ours.”

“True, though you may want to consider the utility of camouflage.” She paused, her eyebrows lifting delicately. “I do have the right word? I refer to a nonmagical illusion that allows one to take on the seeming of one’s surroundings.”

Kai suspected she’d been gaping. “That’s the right word. I was surprised that you agreed with me.”

“Yes, that was obvious.” Winter turned away. “The young always believe they’ve stumbled upon concepts their elders have never dreamed of. Walk with me.”

Kai hurried to catch up. As she reached the Queen, the path obligingly widened to allow them to walk side by side. It was disconcerting.

For several minutes they simply walked. Kai wondered why she was here, what the Queen wanted . . . because she wanted something. Kai couldn’t see Winter’s colors, but she felt sure the Queen had a purpose.

A small smile touched Winter’s lips. “You think I am without whim?”

“I think even your whims have purpose.”

“It bothers you when I read your thoughts.”

“It’s a bit one-sided, isn’t it?” Not that Kai could read thoughts, but she saw them. With almost everyone else, she saw the colors and patterns of their thoughts. Not with Winter.

“It bothers you,” she repeated, “but it doesn’t frighten you. I don’t frighten you.”

Kai, too, could repeat herself. “Because even your whims have purpose. You’re unlikely to kill me or seriously harm me. You love Nathan and wouldn’t lightly bring him the pain of—of such sundered loyalties. You might turn my life upside down again, but not for a small reason. Not out of pettiness. And while I can’t hide my thoughts from you, you don’t require or expect me to be anything other than what I am.” It was oddly relaxing, in fact, to walk and talk with this queen.

“Has Nathan not told you that truth is part of my domain?”

Kai frowned. It was hard to conceive of truth as a domain, yet if it were, it would belong to Winter, wouldn’t it? Truth was hard, uncompromising, even ruthless at times. It’s what was left when everything else was stripped away. And it explained why Kai found it necessary—even easy—to speak candidly with a woman who’d ruled for longer than any human civilization had existed. A woman who, with her sister, could rearrange continents. “How do your courtiers manage?” she blurted. The words “candid” and “elf” normally didn’t belong in the same sentence, and the courtiers she’d met had mastered the art of the oblique.

The Queen’s expression didn’t change, but a spark of—amusement? Glee?—lit those changeable eyes. “I am not easy to serve.”

Kai surprised herself with a quick grin.

They walked on without speaking. Kai held her tongue both because she was supposed to—one didn’t speak until the Queen indicated a desire for speech—and from sheer intimidation. But they walked side by side, so she wasn’t looking directly at that heart-stuttering beauty. The awe factor faded, and their silence grew easy. It reminded Kai of walks she’d taken with her grandfather, who’d taught her the value of sharing silence.

At one point Winter crouched and for several minutes watched a thin string of ants cross the path, her fascination as keen as any three-year-old’s. At another, their footsteps startled a flock of birds into the air, and Kai paused to watch their dark shapes rise like smoke into the sky. That time, the Queen waited for her. Eventually Kai realized that their path did have a goal—a pool, dark and still and round. An island of water in the ocean of grass. At the pool, the path transformed from earth to small, pale stones to encircle it, forming a perfect frame for the dark water. Four benches sat at the cardinal points around the pool.

Winter sat on one bench—the one at due north—and motioned for Kai to sit, too. As if there had been no break in their conversation, the Queen went on, “Because truth is my domain, I am concerned with the effect my people have on yours. The human skill at mimicry renders you more vulnerable than other races. Malek is a good example. He has grown almost elfishly subtle over the years. He would be devastated to learn that his skill failed with you. I suppose he didn’t allow for your Gift . . . ?” The barest hint of a question lifted her voice at the end.

Was that a trick question? The Queen had asked that Kai not reveal to anyone at court what her Gift was. Some of them had the Sight, of course, but seeing Kai’s magic wouldn’t tell them much. She had it on good authority that she looked like a binder, but the Queen would have killed a binder, not invited her to court, so even those able to see her magic wouldn’t understand what they saw. “As far as I know, Malek has no idea what my Gift is.”

The Queen chuckled. It was a surprisingly human sound, quite unlike the wind-chime beauty of elfin laughter. “Had you not realized why I asked you not to speak of your Gift? It’s been amusing, watching everyone scramble around, trying to figure you out. I would be very disappointed in Malek if he hadn’t located your teacher by now.”

That was a jolt. She’d known the elves were curious about her, but that they—and Malek—might have been surreptitiously investigating her—

“Nathan doesn’t care for court, either,” Winter said, “though he enjoys the hunts. You dislike Malek.”

Mental whiplash could be a problem in conversations with elves. Kai took a moment to sort out her thoughts. “You used him as an example. I suppose he’s just that for me—an example ...

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Descripción Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2014. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. In the newest Novel of the Lupi, the human and elven worlds are both about to come under attack. After questing through the sidhe realms with her ex-hellhound lover, Nathan, Kai Tallman Michalski has finally returned home. But she knows Nathan will eventually be called back to serve his queen--and Kai will have to decide whether to enter her majesty s service as well. Sure, the job comes with great bennies, but there s one big downside: she would have to swear absolute fealty to the Queen of Winter. For now, though, Kai is glad to be home, and glad that Nathan completed his mission for his queen with surprising ease. But what seemed to be a quick conclusion turns out to be anything but. The two of them helped thwart the sidhe god of chaos--and he is not happy about that. He s got plans for them. Plans, too, for the sidhe who killed him some three millennia ago. Nor has he abandoned his plans for Earth, as they learn when chaos begins bursting out all over. Nº de ref. de la librería AAS9780425263372

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Descripción Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2014. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. In the newest Novel of the Lupi, the human and elven worlds are both about to come under attack. After questing through the sidhe realms with her ex-hellhound lover, Nathan, Kai Tallman Michalski has finally returned home. But she knows Nathan will eventually be called back to serve his queen--and Kai will have to decide whether to enter her majesty s service as well. Sure, the job comes with great bennies, but there s one big downside: she would have to swear absolute fealty to the Queen of Winter. For now, though, Kai is glad to be home, and glad that Nathan completed his mission for his queen with surprising ease. But what seemed to be a quick conclusion turns out to be anything but. The two of them helped thwart the sidhe god of chaos--and he is not happy about that. He s got plans for them. Plans, too, for the sidhe who killed him some three millennia ago. Nor has he abandoned his plans for Earth, as they learn when chaos begins bursting out all over. Nº de ref. de la librería AAS9780425263372

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