A love of legendary proportion
In another time, in a place once known as Camelot, they had been lovers. Torn apart by betrayal and lies, Lancelot Du Lac and Nimueh, the Lady of the Lake, had each suffered greatly. But the magic of the fae had reawakened a man once trapped in stone, and Lancelot was determined to find his long lost love. Only, Nim was desperate to hide her fae soul, as she was marked for death by their mutual enemy.
Though centuries apart had not diminished their passion, they would once again face a dangerous test to prove each was the other’s destiny.
Her feet flew over the pavement, swift and all but silent. She ran like a deer, leaping over obstacles and dodging from path to lane, road to filthy alley. She ran like the wind because her death was behind her. She ran like prey.
She found cover at last, though it was barely enough. There were two stairs down to a basement door, just enough of a dent in the narrow road for concealment. Crouching low, she made herself as small as she could. When that wasn’t enough, she huddled on the ground, her knees and palms on the dirty concrete.
Words came out of the dark, soft and cruel. “Where are you? I want to see your beautiful face.”
She held her breath, clamping both hands over her mouth to keep from gasping. Her lungs burned with exhaustion, crying out for a soothing gulp of air she dared not take.READ MORE
“Nimueh, where are you? Nim—oo—ay.” Her pursuer’s voice lilted upward in mockery. “Oh, resplendent Lady of the Lake, hear my call. The queen wants a word.”
A word? Queen Morgan LaFaye wanted her dead. At least she’d paid Nimueh the compliment of sending one of her private assassins instead of any old thug. Nim squeezed her eyes shut. There was no traffic after midnight in the commercial district and no one she could run to for help. Not that the fae ran for help from humans.
“You took the enemy’s side,” he added. “Nobody liked the prince, but he was her son. You participated in the murder of the heir to the throne of Faery.”
As if Nim needed an explanation for the Queen of Faery’s wrath. Before this, she’d been one of LaFaye’s advisors, and she knew defying Morgan LaFaye was seriously stupid. But dread of Prince Mordred had overtaken Nim’s fear of his mother. After a tour of the prince’s dungeon, she’d decided someone had to put an end to the maniac. Better that than end up one of his broken toys.
“Come, my lady. Let’s finish this.” A note of boredom crept into the assassin’s voice even as he spun his long knife in the air, making the fine steel sing. “Your magic won’t help you now. Weave a spell and I’ll scent it like blood in the water.”
If that was true, he had one of the queen’s tracking amulets. No doubt that’s how he’d found her tonight, though for months she’d barely used her powers in her effort to hide among the humans. To complicate things still more, the amulet protected the wearer from magical attack, so Nim couldn’t blast her way to freedom.
She silently cursed. The assassin had her. Fae were immune to age and disease, but a blade to the heart could still end her life. For all her natural advantages, right now she was as vulnerable as a human.
Without lifting her head, Nim scanned her surroundings, counting on her dark clothes and a knit cap to blend into the night. Like much of the neighborhood, the brewery where she hid was a derelict nest of trash and cobwebs, half the windows boarded up and the other half gaping mouths with teeth of jagged glass. Something crawled over her hand and she flicked it off before she could stop herself. Nim silently cursed, afraid her pursuer’s sharp eyes would detect the sudden movement.
The next few seconds were an agony of suspense as she waited to feel that blade kiss her spine, but instead, his unhurried footfalls echoed in the empty street. The skin between her shoulder blades twitched. Then stopped. A hesitant scuff of shoes on pavement told her the assassin was looking around, his gaze slithering over the street to find her. She waited, silently willing her nerves under control.
Unexpectedly, he gave an impatient sigh and moved to the left, his footfalls leading away from her refuge. Luck? No. What little luck she’d known had slipped through her fingers long ago.
Nim counted out long minutes before emerging from her hole, silent as a shade gliding against shadow. She glanced around, finding a street number on the gate across the road. Ironically, she’d been on her way to this neighborhood when the enemy had picked up her trail. He’d all but chased her to her intended destination, a run-down warehouse three blocks away. If she could hide there, she would be reasonably safe until daylight filled the streets with humans again. The rules of lore and magic were clear about hiding the shadow world from mundane eyes. Not even the Queen of Faery’s assassin would parade their world’s existence before humans. At least, not yet.
Nim crept forward, calculating the safest route. If she kept close to the building, she could avoid the few pools of light from the windows above. She made it as far as the corner before the assassin sprang, knife flashing. Instinct saved her as she spun away and flung up an arm. Pain seared as fae-forged steel sliced her leather sleeve. Her breath whooshed out in shock, every nerve screaming. For an instant, she teetered on the edge of panic but, even with her magic sidelined, the Lady of the Lake fought for her life.
Nim used the momentum of her spin and slammed a booted heel into her attacker’s shoulder. She was half his weight, but the force of the blow made him drop his weapon and stagger back a step. She scooped up the knife, driving the point into his hip until it ground against bone. The assassin’s mouth stretched in a silent scream. Even now, the brutal training of LaFaye’s private guards held fast. No one ever heard their cries.
Nim quit while she was ahead. She wrenched the blade free and fled, every step making her arm throb. The warehouse she wanted, a century-old hulk of brick, was straight ahead. She had to get in without telltale magic, but that worked to her advantage. Her opponent wouldn’t expect a fae noblewoman to use plain, old-fashioned burglary skills.
When Nim reached the foot of the wall, she slid the knife through her belt and climbed. Her injured arm was almost useless, but she was a fae raised in the ancient woods of the Forest Sauvage and climbing was second nature. Nim used the knife to jimmy open the window, slipped inside and dropped lightly to the floor. Dust flew up in a choking cloud.
There was just enough light from the grimy upper windows for Nim to make out the shapes around her. Boxes and crates were stacked in haphazard rows and, according to her research, they housed part of a private art collection that was strewn across the country in hidden treasuries like this. The owner was dead, the heirs locked in a legal battle that had already lasted decades. No one was absolutely sure where all the loot was stored.
Nim had investigated quite a few warehouses before her hunt had led to Carlyle, Washington—right back to where her search had begun. Who’d have thought even a rich eccentric would stash priceless treasures in a town where the most notable industry was a medieval theme park? But then, if she’d thought about it, the collector had been born in Carlyle. An elementary mistake, forgetting humans were sentimental that way.
But the hunt was behind her. Now she just had to find the one item that mattered.
She walked slowly up and down the rows, her feet silent on the carpet of dust. She was still wound tight, all too aware the assassin was outside, but this place was better than any cloaking spell. Low-level magic hummed among the artifacts, covering any trace of her presence. The collection came from Babylon, the Egypt of the pharaohs; Greece; Rome and the cold Viking fjords. And there were pieces from medieval Britain.
She stopped before a large, steel-strapped crate and dusted off the label. It was torn, but there was enough text left to tell her she’d found what she was looking for. The crate was too tall to reach properly, so she dragged another box close to use as a step stool. She used the assassin’s long knife to pry up the lid until she could force the fingers of her good hand into the crack. Fae strength did the rest. The top came off with a squeak of wood and nails. She set it aside gently, making as little noise as she could just in case someone—like her assassin—was within earshot.
It was a primitive packing job, nothing like the customized containers used to ship art from proper museums. There was a waterproof lining, but then loose packing material filled the empty spaces. The rats had been inside, chewing the fibrous fill to dust. She brushed it away in long sweeps of her bare hand.
Her fingers slowed, meeting the kiss of cold stone inside the crate. It was here, literally in her hands. For a human, the moment would have brought triumph, hope or even anger, but Nim was fae. All she could manage was a muted shadow of feeling, for her people felt no love, no desire, none of the wild passions that had made the immortal fae what they were. Their vital fire was in ashes—unless they turned to utter and complete monsters, willing to commit any atrocity to regain what they had lost.
Still, Nim had curiosity enough to quicken her movements, clearing the features she’d known so very well once upon a time. She leaned deeper into the crate, finding stone hands, a sword hilt that in life had been studded with rubies, and the curve of an arm. Bit by bit she uncovered a knight—her knight—frozen by Merlin into a stone effigy. Finally, she looked into the face of Lancelot du Lac.
“Oh!” Her soft exclamation hung in the dark space, strangely forceful against the dusty silence. She hadn’t seen him since before the demon wars. Whatever she had expected, it hadn’t been this sudden compression of time, where the heartbroken woman she had been collided with the ruin she was now. And all these centuries, Lancelot had remained unchanged.
His features had never been meant to be so still, so robbed of color. His hair had lingered between autumn brown and gold, changing with the seasons and the sun. A beautiful youth, he had matured into a sternly handsome man. The lean angles of his face were the same as she remembered, all aristocratic cheekbones and a long, straight nose. Lancelot was King Ban of Benoic’s son, from a bloodline as old and noble as it had been impoverished. What they had lacked in coin they had made up for in pride. She could see it in the cut of his lips and the clean angle of his jaw. The one thing that had softened his expression were his deep-set eyes. The darkest brown, they had shone with every impulse he’d ever had. It took a measure of innocence to be as noble as Lancelot had been when she’d first met him. She wondered if any shred of that boy had been left when he’d finally been turned to stone upon his empty grave.
Despite herself, Nim traced Lancelot’s face, relearning the contours with her fingertips. His lids, the planes of his cheeks, the dip beneath the bow of his lower lip. In repose, his cheeks were smooth, but there were creases when he smiled. Once, he had smiled often.
He’d been called Lancelot du Lac for her sake, for she was the Lady of the Lake. He had been her protégé, her lover and her champion before ambition had drawn him to Arthur’s side—and before the young queen, Guinevere, had stolen away his love. Before he betrayed… Nim’s breath hitched, snagged by memory, but the strange sensation didn’t last. It was only the echo of remembered jealousy—once fierce as a ravening tiger, now cold as grave dirt.
And yet bitterness had a way of leaving its taste behind even now. How ironic that the man she’d loved so fiercely was before her and utterly at her mercy. Guinevere was long dead. Nim was at long last fully in control. She could shape their future together, remake everything exactly as she’d wanted—if only she wasn’t cold inside.
If only he hadn’t stopped smiling long before he’d been turned to stone.
Nim leaned down, balancing carefully so that only her lips brushed his. She exhaled, her warm breath bouncing back almost as if he’d sighed against her. But she was not fooled. The shape of his mouth was right, but there was none of the yielding pleasure of its soft touch. There was no demand, no promise. Nothing. He was as cold and stiff as a fae.
Nim frowned. Like all her kind, she knew exactly what she’d lost. Without souls to leash their powerful natures, the fae could easily turn into nightmares. Of course, the queen was counting on that very quality to conquer the mortal realms. She’d honed the fae’s loss into a weapon.
A few at a time, Nim’s people had returned from their home in the magical realm called the Hollow Hills. They infiltrated human cities in positions of influence where their grace and charisma—and lack of compassion—could do the most damage. When the queen was finally ready, the takeover of the mortal realms would be unstoppable. Brutal. Absolute.
Nim was no warrior, but she could not watch her people transform into monsters for LaFaye’s pleasure. Nim still remembered who they’d been before confusion, fear and addiction had made them slaves to the queen.
Blood dripped from her wound onto Lancelot’s cheek. She wiped it away, suddenly conscious the stone effigy was in truth a living man. Without taking her eyes from Lancelot’s face, she fished in her coat pocket for her phone, scrolled through her contacts and selected a number.
Morgan LaFaye’s only real foe was her kinsman, Arthur Pendragon, who had become the king. The family tree was complicated, human, witch and fae families intermarrying until few could make sense of the bloodlines. LaFaye had always believed Arthur had stolen the crown of Camelot, but had never been able to seize it for herself—especially not after Nim had given Arthur the sword Excalibur, the one weapon that could kill the fae queen. If Nim wanted to fight LaFaye, her best bet was to help Camelot.
That was why she was here in this warehouse. The one hundred and fifty tombs housing the Knights of the Round Table had been scattered. So far only a handful of knights had been awakened from the stone sleep—but now she’d located one more.
Lancelot had always been Arthur’s champion, and that was, Nim told herself, the reason she’d worked so hard to find him. It had to be more than the need to see his face one more time, and to know that her heart was truly dead. Being a fae didn’t guarantee a fairy-tale ending.
But now she was done, and it was time to seek help to disappear so completely that not even LaFaye’s assassins could find her.
The phone rang twice before someone picked up.
“Medievaland Theme Park,” said a deep male voice. “Come for the fantasy, stay for the feast.”
Nim cleared her throat, her gaze inexorably returning to Lancelot’s face. With the merest whisper of magic, she disguised her voice and caller ID. “I have an anonymous tip for your king.”COLLAPSE
Books That Hook wrote:
I gave Enchanted Guardian 5 out of 5 stars and it deserves
every single one of them!
Bloodthirsty Muses wrote:
Sharon Ashwood knows how to captivate her readers . . . I couldn’t put the book down till I reached the end.
Always Reviewing wrote:
SO much going for this story. It’s a squishy, angsty, steamy romance, it’s full of action, passion and magick. The combination of modern suspense and classic mythology is irresistible.
Sharon Ashwood certainly knows how to make scenes riveting with attention-grabbing imagery, and every depiction seemed so precise. I always felt as though I was right in the heart of a battle or an emotion-filled encounter, because reactions are genuine plus each detail is fully explained. How dilemmas play out kept me engrossed from the first hint of trouble until all concludes.