Excerpt for Adrienne (A Bron Universe Novel) by , available in its entirety at Smashwords







D. Reneé Bagby





http://dzrb-books.com/






Table of Contents


Praise for Adrienne

Copyright

Dedication

Foreword


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Chapter Twenty-six

Chapter Twenty-seven


Other Books by D. Reneé Bagby

About D. Reneé Bagby






Praise for Adrienne by D. Reneé Bagby


Adrienne is a fantastic exploration of a magical universe full of intrigue, supremacy and creative characters.

—Rosemary, Joyfully Reviewed, Recommended Read


You will be hard pressed to put this book down even for a moment, as you will become so caught up in the magic, betrayals, danger and treachery that makes this book a definite keeper.

—Margo Arthur, The Romance Studio


Time well spent on this wonderful book.

—Renee Kautz, Historical Romance Club Reviews


Although this is a fantasy, the well-defined multicultural characters tackle some real-life issues… and all ends well.

—Gail Pruszkowski, Romantic Times BOOKreviews Magazine Issue July 2008


I was biting my nails in reaction to all the perils, betrayals, danger, treachery, hope and joy that are such integral parts of this splendid romance.

—Vi Janaway, Romance Reviews Today


The novel also flowed absolutely wonderful, and you just have to continue reading to see just where these two will go, as well as what is on the next page.

—Denise Kivett, ParaNormalRomance.org






ADRIENNE

A Bron Universe Novel

Copyright © 2007 D. Reneé Bagby


Cover by Fiona Jayde Media


ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.


First Ebook Publication: July 2007

Second Edition: September 2017


ISBN: 1-63475-051-9

ISBN-13: 978-1-63475-051-6


This title is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales, or organizations is entirely coincidental.






Dedication


To my dad, who gave me my first romance novel and my love of reading.

To my mom, who knew I could and would do it before I was totally sure what it was.

To Ms. Morse, my high school English teacher and my very first beta reader (and editor).

To Mr. Boyle, my college Creative Writing professor, who taught me to write for my audiences’ tastes as well as my own.

To Panya, who—as my beta reader—was forced to put up with the dynamics of a romance novel when she normally reads straight fantasy.

To Terez, who had to put up with my whining before, during, and after the writing process of my first novel.

To my husband, who has to put up with everything.

To Liz, my first fan—even if we never did finish that comic.

And, to the former Samhain Publishing for giving me my debut and the chance to unleash my madness… uh… creativity on the world.





Author’s Note


This is my debut novel—my first published work that launched me into my career as an author. Adrienne is my time capsule, allowing me to look back at my beginning and see just how much my writing has grown and changed over the years. As such, I’ve left it alone. Beyond adding a few commas (Oxford comma forever!) and giving it a new cover, this title has not been changed from its original release.






Foreword


She’s the queen he will have at his side, even as death threatens to keep them apart.


Coming up on the last spring break of her college career, Adrienne has more than earned a week of rest and relaxation. But a late night on campus leads to an assault by a former classmate who ends up killed by Adrienne’s rescuer… with a sword. Just when she thinks her life can’t get any more surreal, she’s whisked away to a magical dimension where she’s expected to be queen. And turning down the position isn’t an option.


Malik is king, but he won’t be for much longer if the spell he enacted doesn’t find his bride. He’s racing against time to keep his kingdom out of the hands of his enemies. When his bride is located, he doesn’t hesitate to eliminate all obstacles to claim her. But he’s about to learn being an absolute monarch means nothing in a marriage to a woman whose temper and passion matches his own.


The honeymoon has barely started for Adrienne and Malik when a new threat rips them apart. There’s more than one way to steal Malik’s kingdom, and his usurpers have chosen the route over Adrienne’s dead body. This time Malik will need more than magic and a sword to save her. He’ll have to put aside a generation’s long feud and trust his enemy if he hopes to get his queen back alive.

Chapter One


March 17, 2006

Adrienne shuffled papers around the desk. She cupped the phone between her head and shoulder so she could lift a stack of folders with both hands. She had put the pen on the desk earlier. By all rights, it should still be there. It couldn’t have gotten up and walked away. Adrienne would like to think she would notice a walking pen… and have a camera handy, because no one would believe her otherwise.

“Adrienne? Adrienne, are you listening to me?” the woman on the phone asked in an annoyed voice.

“Yes, Mother, I’m listening to you. I’m also in the middle of grading tests. The Scantron machine picked today of all days to break. I promised Ms. Evers I’d get the tests graded and the mid-semester marks up on the website before I left for the night.”

“Why couldn’t this Mrs. Evers person do that herself? You’re a teacher’s aide, not a teacher, Adrienne.”

“I know what I am, Mother.” Adrienne sighed. She checked the spot directly in front of her. The pen hadn’t been there the first three times, but she might have overlooked it.

It wasn’t there.

And Ms. Evers isn’t married—yet,” Adrienne continued. “Her fiancé dropped by with plane tickets earlier today. She wanted to put him off because of this whole mess with the midterms, but I wouldn’t let her. I’m not doing anything important, and I don’t have to catch a plane. I’m driving. Besides, I prefer night driving. Less people on the road.”

Against her better judgment, Adrienne moved from behind the desk to search on the floor in her immediate vicinity. She hadn’t put the pen on the ground, but it never hurt to check in case she’d knocked it off the desk while looking for it.

“I just called to let you know I’ll be home tonight after I finish with these grades. I’ve already finished with the tests and now I’m calculating grades. It won’t be but another hour, at most.” What started as a simple conversation had turned into a two-hour-long lecture.

“That’s just my point, honey. Your father and I don’t want you attempting a three-hour drive so late at night,” her mother complained.

“I’ll be fine. Aha!” The pen was on her chair. How it had gotten there she would never know and didn’t care. Ten minutes had passed while she searched for the stupid thing.

Her mother asked in concern, “What?”

Adrienne shook her head even though her mother couldn’t see her. “I found my pen. Look, Mom, I gotta go. I’ll get to the house in another four hours. Don’t wait up. I’ll be fine. And make sure Castor and Pollux stay out of my room.”

The muffled voice of her father filtered through the phone.

Adrienne couldn’t make out what he said.

Her mother translated, “Can’t you let your father come get you?”

“And be home without a car for a week during spring break? No way. Bye, Mom.”

“Wait, Adrienne—”

She hung up the phone. Her mother liked to argue a point until the other person gave in just to shut her up. The only other option was to cut her off. Sure, Adrienne would catch an earful once she got home, but she had won herself a few hours’ reprieve.

It was almost eight o’clock. The darkness outside turned the glass of the window near the desk into a mirror. Instead of looking out and seeing the campus below, Adrienne’s light brown eyes stared back at her. She smiled at her reflection. Her hair looked horrible. She smoothed a few errant black strands back over the rows of braids that graced her head. It didn’t help. She would have to redo the braids when she got home.

This late at night, on an empty campus, no one would see her to care what her hair looked like.

If they could see me in the dark, she thought with a quiet laugh. Adrienne’s cinnamon-brown complexion had the uncanny ability to turn her invisible on dark nights.

Speaking of night, if she didn’t get to work soon it would end and she would be stuck on the highway in morning rush hour—exactly what she wanted to avoid.

Pen in one hand and a calculator in the other, she started to tally up the midterm grades of the students from the Introduction to Literary History class. Adrienne was glad she’d already taken Ms. Evers’s course. The teacher used harsh and rigid rules in her classes because she loved the subject. That love had transferred to Adrienne, and in another two months, she would graduate with an honors degree in literary history.

The only thing she looked forward to more than graduation was spring break. That time had come, albeit an hour later than what she had quoted to her mother. Adrienne punched in the last grade, gathered up her stuff, and bade farewell to the English department building.

She made sure she had her car keys in her hand and Ms. Evers’s office keys in her purse before the building door closed behind her. After hours, the door had an automatic lock that needed a key code Adrienne didn’t know, since she was a student.

Adrienne followed the lighted path to the parking lot a few yards away. Her car seemed to smile at her, like it knew they were headed home. The restless movements of her hand made her keys jingle at her side. Just a few more feet and she would be on her way home for rest and relaxation.

“Spring break has officially started,” she declared.

“Yes, it has,” agreed a man from the shadows.

Adrienne gasped in surprise. She clutched her purse to her chest as the man who had spoken stepped onto the path in front of her.

There was another man with him. He kept to the shadows the large oak trees cast in the lights of the street lamps.

It took a while for Adrienne to register the face of the man who had spoken. He’d traded his designer shirts and tailored slacks for a nondescript black T-shirt and jeans. He’d even covered his blonde hair with a black skullcap.

“Josh?” she asked to make sure.

“In the flesh, teacher’s pet.”

Adrienne gave a nervous laugh. She took a step back from the men. “What are you doing on campus this late? I thought you would be halfway to Europe… or someplace equally as expensive.”

“I thought I would be, too,” he said with an offhand shrug. “I mean, I had the tickets and was all set to leave. Just one problem. Go on, ask me the problem.”

Something didn’t feel right. Adrienne looked around for an emergency phone. There wasn’t one in sight.

Figures, she thought.

She looked back at Josh and her car, which was a few steps past him.

“What’s the problem?” she asked, hoping to stall until one of the night security guards came along.

Maybe he wanted to scare her. It was late at night and people had to get their jollies somehow. She wished they had chosen another target, but as one of the last remaining students on campus, she was the lucky winner of the booby prize.

“You,” he said flatly. He started up the path towards her. “I pride myself on having pretty good scores. I mean, I pay enough money for them,” he said with a chuckle. “This semester has been crap for me, though. It took me a while to figure it out, but it’s all started and ended with you.”

“Me?” she asked as she backed up more. She needed to get back to the building. Adrienne may not know the code, but there were still a few teachers there doing last-minute grades.

“I knew I would have to be careful with the bribes these last two semesters. Seniors are under more scrutiny. All my planning went to pot when I found out our teacher was a lazy bastard and he left it up to our peers whether we should pass or fail the senior sem.”

Now she understood. “You plagiarized that paper. I might have overlooked a quote here or there, but I found the exact same paper on the internet. I had to point it out to the professor,” she explained in what she hoped was a stern yet somewhat sympathetic voice. She didn’t feel any sympathy for the lazy prick. He only needed to think she did.

Josh’s sneer let Adrienne know he didn’t buy it. “Who, in turn, took it to the dean of the English department and then the president of the school. I’ve been expelled. Seniors don’t get second chances. One mistake and you’re out of there, bucko.”

“Oh, shit.” Adrienne turned tail and ran. The building wasn’t that far away. She could make it.

Why had she worn a long skirt today? She grabbed handfuls of the skirt and hiked it up to her thighs so she could run faster.

“This was your one mistake, Adrienne,” Josh yelled after her.

She screamed when someone tackled her. She barely had time to raise her hands to keep her face from bouncing off the ground. Her assailant flipped her onto her back in one move.

It was Josh’s friend.

Adrienne started hitting him with her purse and kicking him.

The man grunted. Her attack didn’t seem to faze him in the least. He smiled at her and beckoned her to hit him more.

She obliged him because she might land a lucky hit and get away.

“How do you like Greg? He’s an old buddy of mine from back in high school. We used to con idiot girls into sex, then tally up our points with a few other friends. I won, even though some of those twits needed convincing, like you.” From his back pocket, Josh produced a credit-card-sized digital camera. He clicked a picture.

The flash dazzled Adrienne. She squeezed her eyes shut before he flashed another picture. Stars danced around the backs of her eyelids. “Don’t do this.”

“That’s what the other girls would say. No, please, or stop, don’t do this, I beg you. In the end, they all loved it. It’s not like I’m going to kill you or anything. I’m going to take some nice little pictures of Greg and you. Not showing Greg’s face, of course. After spring break, you’ll go tell the dean you switched out my paper with one you found on the web. Call it academic jealousy or some shit like that. Make up something that sounds plausible and pathetic. You look like you can do pathetic.”

“Like hell I will,” she screamed. “Let go of—”

Greg pressed his hand over her mouth, cutting off her high-pitched command and her ability to yell for help.

She continued swinging her purse while scratching his wrist with her free hand.

“Or else these pictures end up all over the campus grounds and website… Oh, and I might send a few copies to your parents.”

“Dude, quit talking and cuff her already,” grunted Greg as he caught another smack in the face from her purse.

In her struggles, Adrienne saw an emergency phone near the door of the English building. Typical, she thought angrily. Maybe she would get lucky and a campus security guard would happen by.

Josh pocketed his camera and pulled out a pair of handcuffs. When he got close enough to Adrienne to cuff her, she changed targets and whacked him with her purse. He clutched his mouth and hissed through his fingers. “Damn it, Greg, hold her.”

Greg reared up and planted his fist in her stomach.

All the air left Adrienne’s body. Her assault on the two men was forgotten as she tried to get breath back into her lungs.

One of the men took her purse away while the other stretched her arms over her head and snapped the handcuffs around her wrists.

“Take her in the trees while she’s still out of it,” Josh commanded.

Adrienne could only glare at the smirk Josh threw her way.

Greg grabbed the chain of the handcuffs and used it to drag Adrienne towards the trees.

Josh patted one of the oak trees as he walked past it. “Never thought these stupid oaks would be useful for anything—other than firewood.” He bent over and pulled off one shoe and sock and tossed the sock towards Greg. “Gag her, too. Don’t want campus security getting nosy.”


ef


Gemmabulan 17, 6954

The forty-eighth King of Ulan, Malik, had all the signs of a man well past the limits of boredom.

He held a crystal goblet that he twisted back and forth, which made the liquid inside swirl and slosh over the edge. The droplets splashed on the polished marble floor of his twenty-step throne dais and on the edge of his black leather boot. He’d slung his other hand over the arm of his throne so his fingers could make lazy circles in the fur of his pet, Feyr—a giant black panther-like cat whose temperament usually matched that of his master.

Feyr let out an angry growl every few breaths. The cat’s vocalizations indicated Malik’s mood wasn’t all that it seemed.

His outward calm, a façade he perfected years ago, served to hide his true feelings from the people around him. Like the only other person in the room, a honey-colored leman who had her head buried in his lap. Malik couldn’t recall her name and didn’t care enough to try. She wasn’t the woman he wanted.

He wanted his bride. Her absence had caused his fouler-than-normal mood. Malik had three months to find a suitable bride and marry her before he had to forfeit his throne.

Locating his bride was supposed to be an easy task. Forty-six generations ago, Malik’s ancestor cast a spell on the royal bloodline that would locate a perfect mate for each heir to the throne. Malik’s woman had yet to be found.

With time running out and Malik’s patience at an end, the leman before him had better start to please him soon or he would take his frustrations out on her.

Feyr let out a loud roar.

Malik looked away from the leman to the throne room doors. They had opened without his permission. He watched High Chancellor Travers enter the room. The palm-sized glass orb he held completely engrossed the man.

“If you value your present health, Travers, you will give me a good reason for your intrusion.”

Travers jerked to attention. He looked around himself, then at Malik. He cleared his throat, coughed a few times, and then said, “Sorry for the interruption of your time with Lady Juven, Majesty.”

Malik shifted so his weight rested more on one hip.

The movement made Travers jump. The man rushed out, “I have located your bride, sire.” He held out the orb as proof of his statement.

“Bitch,” yelled Malik. He dropped his crystal goblet, balled his fist into Juven’s thick brown hair, and jerked her away from his lap. The crystal goblet shattered on the marble floor and sent droplets of crimson liquid running down the throne dais stairs like rivulets of blood.

Juven had bitten him… hard.

Malik’s other hand cracked across her face. The force of his blow sent her flying down the stairs.

Feyr followed her progress. He snapped at her feet and growled every time he missed.

“Feyr.”

A single word from Malik halted the cat, who was primed to attack the woman once she stopped rolling.

Feyr stopped one step above Juven and sat on his haunches. He glanced up at Malik, then back at his prey with a tiny chirp of impatience.

Juven clutched her face. Malik saw fear in her light brown eyes. “Forgive me, Majesty,” she cried.

“You remain unscathed only because I refuse to sully my good news with your blood,” Malik snapped. He ignored Feyr’s whine at the news of Juven’s pardon. “You have lost my favor, Juven. Return to the others.”

Juven tripped over herself in her hurry to get out of the throne room.

Feyr climbed the dais steps and resumed his place at Malik’s side. He growled when Malik patted his head.

“There will be other times, Feyr,” Malik whispered. His words were meant for Travers. The man would know true pain if he brought false hope. Malik’s bride wasn’t a subject to be mentioned lightly or joked about.

Malik straightened his clothing and sat down. The rage he’d displayed only moments before disappeared like the small piece of lint he flicked from his shoulder. The pain and damage of Juven’s bite healed without Malik having to concentrate on it. Such magick was as involuntary as his heartbeat, and happened when needed.

Well, High Chancellor, why is she not here? I wanted her brought to me, not news of her,” Malik said.

“She is located on an alternate Bron, Majesty. The parallel dimension caused the delay of the blood spell—or that is my guess. Only you are strong enough to handle an interdimensional portal.”

Malik took the compliment even though he wasn’t sure he could handle a portal that bridged dimensions. He’d never tried before. For his bride, he would make it work. “Show her to me.”

Travers nodded. He spread his hands away from the orb, which started floating and expanding.

“What is this?!” Malik roared.

The orb showed two black-clad men with a bound-and-gagged woman—his intended bride, he assumed—held between them. The larger of the two men used a knife to cut the woman’s clothes away.

Malik snapped his clawed hand towards Travers.

The other man grabbed his neck and gasped for air.

Malik hissed, “If this is your idea of a joke, High Chancellor—” Rage choked his words when one of the men manhandled the woman’s bare breast.

The woman’s muffled cry and Travers’s yelp of pain mingled with each other.

You’re hurting him.”

“I want to hurt him,” Malik growled.

No, you want to hurt them. I suggest you hurry up before they get much further.

Malik made an angered noise before flinging his hand outward. The motion sent Travers careening into the throne room doors. The sound of the man’s pain as he hit didn’t alleviate Malik’s mood. He looked at the two men in the orb.

“She is your bride,” Travers croaked. He tried to stand with the help of the wall but ended up in a heap on the floor.

“Get out.”

Travers nodded and crawled out of the room. The doors closed after him.

Feyr leapt from the throne dais, landing in front of the orb. He glanced back at Malik with a questioning look.

Malik said, “You are not coming, Feyr. This is between me—” a sword appeared in his hand and he pointed it at the assailants “—and them.”

He pushed his power through the sword. It hit the image with a loud crack. Instant, cold fear hit Malik mere moments after the interdimensional portal formed. His breath fogged.

This was his bride’s fear. He could feel her emotions, which proved her identity. And the feeling of it added to his overwhelming need to see the blood of both men smeared on his sword.

The larger of the two assailants had his back to the portal. The man’s companion, who faced the portal, would be able to see Malik—and his own imminent death—if his attention weren’t so focused on the woman.

Their mistake.

Malik hurtled his sword like a spear towards the bigger man’s back. He leapt from his throne and followed the sword’s path. The time had come to claim what was his.

Chapter Two


Greg knelt between Adrienne’s legs. His pants were unzipped and he had a leer on his face. Behind her head, Josh snapped picture after picture.

Adrienne wanted to twist away from Greg but he held her knees in a painful grip. Her hands were stretched over her head so the handcuffs could pass around the leg of a cast-iron bench.

Josh had decided to handcuff her to the bench so his hands would be free to work the camera.

Adrienne didn’t understand why no one saw the flashes and came to investigate. Where was the night security guard?

Why hadn’t she kept her mouth shut about the paper?

She should have let her father come and get her. She squeezed her eyes shut in hopes of blocking out everything. Tears seeped from the corners of her eyes.

“Get ready, bitch,” warned Greg.

He grunted.

It took a moment for Adrienne to realize nothing was happening. In fact, Greg had let her go.

She knew it!

It was a prank. A stupid, elaborate joke, but a joke nonetheless. She would open her eyes and Greg and Josh would be gone, leaving her to try to figure out how to get out of the handcuffs.

Something hit the ground near her head.

She opened her eyes.

Josh stood with his hands grasping air since he had dropped his camera. His attention wasn’t on her any longer, but on Greg.

Adrienne looked at Greg. The sock in her mouth muffled her screams, but that didn’t stop her from doing it.

Moonlight filtered through the treetops and glinted off a sword that protruded from Greg’s stomach. He had released her legs so he could grip the blade.

She kicked at him to get him away from her. When that didn’t work, she twisted her hands, grabbed the handcuffs, and pulled herself closer to the bench. Her eyes never left Greg.

Movement in her peripheral vision made Adrienne look at Josh.

He took two steps back then turned and ran.

She tried to call after him.

He was leaving her. A sword-toting maniac had appeared and Josh left her chained to a bench. He didn’t get far.

The sword was ripped from Greg’s body and sent spinning after Josh. The blade whistled as it cut the air. The spin of the blade caused Josh’s head to come sailing back towards Adrienne when the sword separated it from his neck. It landed a mere inch from her leg.

There were two faint thuds.

Adrienne looked up to see the sword had gotten stuck in a tree and Josh’s body had collapsed. She looked at Greg.

Blood gushed from his wound. He would be dead soon, as well.

Adrienne didn’t want to be next. She struggled against the handcuffs. Ignoring the pain in favor of saving her life, she leaned back and shoved with her foot at the same time. There was no way Josh had gotten real handcuffs. She hoped they were novelty cuffs and would break.

The handcuffs didn’t give.

She would wonder how Josh got real handcuffs later. For now, she had to get free. It was time for a different tactic.

The benches weren’t bolted down, so she should be able to tilt it enough to free herself. She braced her shoulder under the bench and pushed. The bench scraped as it slid backwards but didn’t lift. She tried again.

More scraping.

Frustrated tears flowed down her face.

The sound of a twig snapping wrenched a startled cry from Adrienne. She forced herself to turn and look at the killer.

He looked strong enough to cause her severe damage without the use of his sword.

She shied away from him when he stopped in front of her. He reached out to her and she squeezed her eyes shut.


ef


Malik lowered to his haunches in front of his bride. With a thought, he ended the shielding spell he’d erected around her before his attack started. Little droplets of the assailants’ blood fell to the ground—blood he hadn’t wanted to taint his bride’s skin.

The suffocating chill of her fear continued, enveloping his body. He had caused that fear. Killing the two men while she watched showed poor judgment on his part. He would make it up to her at a later date. His priority was her freedom.

Once she saw that he meant her no harm, she would stop being scared of him. And he could regain a measure of his original warmth. Malik remembered his father telling him that he would feel his mate’s emotions and she would feel his. He hadn’t known this was what his father meant.

He reached out with the intention of removing her gag. Instead he brushed his fingers across her cheek.

She flinched away from him.

Her reaction made him focus. There would be time to get to know her feel later.

He removed her gag, then cupped her bound hands in both of his.

She tried to pull away but he held her. “Don’t hurt me,” she rasped.

“I do not plan to, my lady,” Malik soothed in a low, soft voice.

Her language, while remarkably similar to Oteino’s, felt cumbersome in his mouth. He wanted to use his own but decided the magicks needed to bridge the communication gap could be better used elsewhere.

With a single thought, he melted her chains. His bride’s earlier struggles had torn the skin around her wrists. Blood seeped from her wounds and coated her hands.

It was simple enough to heal her the way he had melted her chains, but Malik couldn’t help but make the act more intimate. He brought her wrists to his lips and breathed the healing magicks over her skin.

His bride opened her eyes and watched him.

He smiled at her.

She looked confused.

Correction, she was confused. The emotion felt like itself instead of a temperature. Malik knew he wasn’t confused, so the emotion belonged to her.

The chill of her fear started ebbing away. He took that as a good sign. With slow movements, he rose to his feet and pulled his bride to stand next to him.

She snatched her hands from him and rubbed her wrists. The feeling of her confusion intensified. She looked down at her hands, then back up at him. “What?”

“I am Malik of Ulan, my lady. Your servant,” he said with a bow.

“My… Huh?”

“And your name?”

“Adri.. Adrienne. Adrienne Backett.”

Malik told himself to stop staring at her so intently. The feel of her fear had returned, and she looked ready to run. He reached for her hand to hold her at his side.

“I should go home now,” she said with a tug of her hand.

“Would you leave in such a state of disarray?”

Adrienne looked down at herself and gave a cry of shock. She snatched her hand away from his and pulled her shredded shirt together over her naked breasts.

Malik swept out his hand. A cloak appeared out of nowhere and he placed it over Adrienne’s shoulders. He brought the ends of it together in front of her.

She grabbed the edges of the cloak with a murmured thank you.

He smiled at her bowed head. “Such as this is my pleasure, my lady, as I would do anything to make you happy.” He stepped closer to her, which forced her to look up at him. He asked softly, “Shall we return?”

“Return? Yes, I need to go home. My parents will be worried. If you tell me your address, I’ll mail this cloak back to you.”

You misunderstand.” His voice remained low and soothing. “I meant my home.” He slid his hand around her waist and pulled her close. The action indulged his baser needs. He recognized the lust he felt. What he didn’t understand was his urgency.

Even when he was new to sex he had never felt this anxious to be with a woman. Something about Adrienne made him want to forget all the rules and have her now.

“Let go of me. I’m not going anywhere with you.”

Malik bent to place his other hand under her legs and lifted her effortlessly against his chest.

“I’ll scream.”

“You could, as it is your right. I do not see the merit in it and think you would be better served with rest rather than theatrics.”

“I’m not… I…” Her words stumbled to a halt as sleep claimed her.

He smiled at his sweet burden.

She would understand once he explained the entire situation to her.

He laid a feather-light kiss on her temple before starting back the way he had come. His fingers brushed over the hilt of his discarded sword when he passed it. The sword faded and disappeared. It would return when Malik needed it.

“Freeze!”

Malik looked back at the man who pointed a light, and what seemed to be a weapon, in his direction. It wasn’t every day someone dared command him to do anything—or threatened him. The sheer novelty of it made him obey.

“Okay, buddy, put the girl down nice and slow and back away.”

“Are you the guardian of this place?”

Yeah. I’m the guardian, buddy,” agreed the security guard in a humoring tone. He pointed the flashlight at Adrienne. “I want you to put the girl down.”

“No. I would not leave her to such an incompetent guardian. Your aid has come too late, as I have done your job for you,” Malik said. He moved his gaze to the two bodies the guard had overlooked.

The guard glanced quickly in the direction Malik looked. “Holy Jesus!” he yelled.

“I leave the rest to you then, guardian. You shall leave the girl to me.” Malik walked back to the portal. The guard yelled for him to come back, but the novelty had worn off so Malik ignored the man.

The guard ran to catch up. He would be too late.

Malik closed the portal after himself.

A soft sigh from Adrienne made Malik pause and look down at her. For the first time in a long time, Malik felt the burden of his rage alleviating. He had his bride. Everything else would fall into place from this moment forth.

Chapter Three


“Ah, you are awake. I shall inform His Majesty immediately,” said a woman from Adrienne’s right.

Adrienne, who had started her usual pre-wake ritual of stretching just to turn over and go back to sleep, opened her eyes to see who had spoken. Her gaze never made it to the owner of the voice. The unfamiliar ceiling caught her attention.

It was painted to resemble the sky on a sunny day. There were wisps of clouds and a flock of birds flying by.

Flying by?

She immediately closed her eyes. This had to be a dream. She would open her eyes and be at home in her own room. The sound of a door as it opened and closed made Adrienne open her eyes again.

The scene hadn’t changed. The sky was still the sky and it remained on the ceiling. The clouds moved and so did the birds, who were almost out of sight. Maybe the ceiling was see-through? That made a little more sense.

This wasn’t her room.

Afraid to move, Adrienne let her gaze track from the ceiling down to the far wall.

The room was big—more like huge. The far wall sported a tapestry with an image she could barely make out. It looked like an intricate knot design.

Her attention strayed from the tapestry to the rest of her surroundings. The bed she occupied seemed to be it.

Like the room, the bed was huge. Her toes made a tent in the covers that marked the halfway point before the edge. She turned her head and saw the foot of the bed wasn’t the only thing far away. This bed was a king times three—maybe four.

Who needed a bed this big? Paul Bunyan?

Adrienne finally worked up the nerve and sat up. She was wrong—other furniture did adorn the room. Several tall vases stood like sentries on either side of each of the large windows. The largest window—it reached from the floor to the ceiling above—had a table situated in front of it. The table looked big enough to seat four but only had two backless chairs.

Where was she?

Looking around hadn’t answered that question. The woman who had spoken earlier had left to retrieve whoever this Majesty person was, so Adrienne couldn’t ask her.

Had royalty picked her up after her attack?

Her attack!

She looked down at her wrists. The evidence of her struggle against the handcuffs was gone—no scratches, no bruises, not even a little soreness. She ran her hands over her wrists anyway, just to be sure.

Nothing hurt.

Then she remembered the man. He said his name was Merrick.

No, Malik.

He had done something to her wrists. But what?

She also remembered trying to get away from Malik but falling asleep instead. Had he taken her somewhere while she slept? The obvious answer was yes, he had. But where and for what purpose?

She looked back at the bed, which made her notice her attire. Someone had taken off her ruined blouse and skirt and replaced them with a sheer nightgown. She could take it off and wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Whoever had put it on her had a sick sense of humor.

A knock at the bedroom door made Adrienne gasp and grab the blanket to her chin. The person on the other side of the door took that to mean come in, since they pushed the door open and entered.

“Good morning, my lady,” said Malik with a smile. “I trust you slept comfortably?”

She nodded dumbly, not sure what to say to the man’s obvious good cheer. A million things were appropriate at this moment. Where am I? How did I get here? How long do you plan to keep me? Can I get some real clothes?

None of her questions would leave her mouth.

Her inability to speak could be traced to the man in front of her. Had Malik looked this good last night? He was Asian—his slanted eyes and black hair made that obvious. But his aquamarine eyes and towering height said more than Asian made up his ancestry. She had only come up to his collarbone when she stood next to him the night before.

Malik wore close-fitting dark pants that showed off his muscled legs, and a loose, white button-up shirt covered by a floor-length black vest.

“Shall I fetch breakfast, Majesty?” the woman behind Malik asked.

The voice belonged to the woman who had spoken earlier. She had slanted, dark eyes and delicate features that reminded Adrienne of the older Asian lady who ran the sushi restaurant near the campus. Her black hair was braided and wrapped around her head like a crown, which gave her a regal air that suited her.

Belatedly, Adrienne wondered if this woman had dressed her. Adrienne may not know Malik very well—or at all—but she would bet he suggested the sheer nightgown. Either way, someone would get a piece of her mind.

“Take your time. My lady and I have many topics to discuss,” Malik said.

The woman curtsied and left the room. She pulled the door firmly closed behind her.

The sound of the door closing made Adrienne jump. She watched Malik, ready to run in case he tried something funny. Even if he had saved her virtue—and she was thankful for that—he might be dangerous. If need be, she could use the blanket’s edge to strangle him in case he had changed his mind about killing her.

Her grip on the blanket tightened as he approached.

“There is no need to be scared of me. I will not hurt you.”

“Then stay over there.” She scooted across the bed, away from him.

“There is no need to be so cautious, my lady. I merely wish to talk.”

“About?”

“Us,” he answered.

“What us? I only met you last night. Did I live out a lifetime in that moment and not notice?”

He chuckled. “No, you are correct. We did only meet last night.” His look turned serious. “Though I have waited for you for a lifetime.”

“Waited for me to do what exactly?” She shifted so her knees were under her. Whether to jump at him or away from him, she wasn’t sure, but she planned to be ready either way.

“To marry me and rule by my side as the Queen of Ulan,” he answered proudly.

Adrienne’s mouth dropped open. Of all the things she expected him to say, that hadn’t made it to the list.

Then the meaning of what he said registered.

She frowned. “The queen of who?”

“Ulan,” he supplied. “Of Bron’s fourteen kingdoms, it is the second most powerful.”

Ulan? Bron? What the hell was he talking about? The countries didn’t sound familiar. Geography never interested her since countries came and went so quickly nowadays.

Malik elaborated, “All that I tell you and plan to tell you will make more sense if I first clarify that you are no longer on Earth.”

“I’m no longer what?” she squeaked in horror. She jumped off the bed, happy it was between her and Malik. The man was nuts and she wanted him to keep his distance. “What do you mean I’m no longer on Earth? Where the hell am I? I’ve been abducted by aliens! Why did you bring me here?”

All of her questions were sound and justified given the situation, but Malik couldn’t bring himself to focus on any of them at the moment. The sight of her breasts beneath the sheer nightgown had completely caught his attention. Her breasts had been bare the night before, but it was dark then. The joy of finding her at last had made her state of undress secondary in Malik’s mind.

Not so now. Adrienne was safe. Malik could allow himself to think of other things, such as lust.

Imagining cupping her ample breasts made his hands twitch at his sides. He wanted to touch all of her. Her slim waist, her round hips, her long legs—he wasn’t picky so long as he could touch her.

The urgency of the night before returned full force.

Malik didn’t realize he had started around the bed to indulge his longing until Adrienne screamed. The frantic sound and the cold fear that nipped along his senses snapped him back to himself.

Adrienne looked around the room for a way to escape. Malik stood between her and the one door she knew to be an exit. There were a few other doors in the room, but those could be bathrooms and closets and the like. She wanted to get away, not trap herself further.

Her agitation made her feel hot. She fanned herself with one hand, but it didn’t help. The room wasn’t hot, she was. A sensation like warm oil oozing over her skin had her body tingling. She looked back at Malik to accuse him of drugging her, but the words became strangled in her throat.

He simply stared at her. The lust in his eyes was almost a tangible thing.

She took a step back when he started towards her. The cloth of her nightgown brushed her ankles. She remembered the sheerness of her clothing and screamed as she tried to cover herself with her hands and reach for the blanket on the bed at the same time.

Trying to do both at once accomplished neither. She finally settled on ducking below the edge of the bed and tugging on the heavy bedcover with both hands.

This was a nightmare. She would wake up any second and have a good laugh at her own expense.

Malik’s voice jarred her out of that fantasy. “Forgive me, my lady. I did not mean to stare.” His voice sounded strained.

“Then why did you put me in this… this… this thing?” she asked in an accusing tone. Finally, the end of the cover slipped over the edge. Adrienne wrapped herself in it and made sure no part of her body could be seen before she straightened and glared at Malik.

“I did not. Once I brought you back from Earth, I gave you over to the care of your lady’s maids. They are the ones who dressed you.”

“What do you mean I’m not on Earth?”

“We are currently on a parallel Earth known as Bron.”

Adrienne gave him a look to let him know she thought he was nuts. The look turned back to a glare when he laughed at her.

“I assure you, this is a different dimension from the one you are familiar with,” he continued. “Bron’s months and days have different names, the count for our years started much earlier than yours and many other subtle differences but it is the same planet—third from this solar system’s star—merely another version.”

“You brought me here… to… to marry you.”

He nodded.

You have got to be kidding me. Even if I bought this pile of horseshit with your money, why me?” She pointed out the window. “There are probably millions of women on Bron, just like Earth. Why the hell would you go all the way to an alternate dimension to get me?”

Malik raised his hand, and Adrienne stumbled back to get farther away.

She sucked in a surprised breath when a glass orb appeared out of thin air to float over Malik’s hand.

“This is not a joke,” he assured her.

“Okay, so you can do magic. Big deal. I’ve seen—”

He reached out with his other hand and pulled a sword out of the air. The same sword he’d used to kill Josh and Greg.

Adrienne tried backing away but ended up on the ground when she tripped on the bed cover.

Malik released the sword, which continued to float, and pointed at Adrienne. He gestured towards the ceiling.

She looked up, thinking there was something to see, then yelped as her entire body lifted into the air. Her yelp turned into a cry of panic when the blanket started to unravel. She grabbed at it to hold it in place and it fought against her.

“You can believe me, or I can continue,” he said with a grin on his lips.

“I believe you! I believe you! Stop it! Put me down!” she yelled.

“As you wish, though I preferred to continue.”

The blanket stopped fighting with her and her feet were placed on the ground. She sat on the bed in relief. Her gaze stayed on Malik to see what he would do next.

“To answer your earlier question, I first have to explain the history of Ulan and Kakra.”

“Of who and who?”

Malik smiled. “I am confusing you, and I am sorry.”

She was way past confused. Confused was the last rest stop before the eighty-mile stretch she found herself on now. After a moment of silence, she asked quietly, “I’m not dreaming, am I?”

“No, my lady.”

“But—”

A knock at the door cut off what she would have said next.

Malik glared at the door. “Come,” he snapped.

The woman from earlier entered the room followed by two younger women carrying trays. The older woman excused, “I am sorry to interrupt. I took as long as I could, Majesty.”

“Fine,” breathed Malik in frustration. He pointed to the table near the windows. “Put the food there and leave. I do not want to be disturbed once the door closes behind you. Is that clear?”

The woman nodded quickly. She signaled the younger women forward and followed after them but stopped when she chanced a glance at Adrienne. Surprise showed on her face. “Are you cold, Highness? I can use a warming spell—”

“Mushira,” Malik warned in a cold tone.

Adrienne grabbed on to the opportunity to keep the women in the room. “Mushira? Is that your name?”

“Yes, Highness. The two girls are Hani and Nimat. We are your lady’s maids,” Mushira answered with an encouraging smile.

Adrienne looked at the girls. They looked close to her age. They weren’t Asian—or, she should say, Asian-looking—like Mushira. This wasn’t Earth, after all, and Bron might not have an Asia.

Mushira had introduced the girls too quickly so Adrienne didn’t know which was which and couldn’t match their names with their looks.

The blonde girl to the left of the table was tall and willowy. The smile on her face looked like it was never far from the surface and her green eyes glittered with it.

The other girl was a head shorter than her companion and looked Indian—India Indian—brown skin, dark eyes, and black hair. Like Mushira, the girls had their hair braided and wrapped around their heads in a crown.

Both girls stopped unloading food onto the table and curtsied to Adrienne.

She nodded at them with a wan smile, and then looked back at Mushira. “So, you’re the one who put me in this nightgown?”

Mushira must have heard the accusation in Adrienne’s tone. The woman bowed her head and answered quickly, “I’m sorry if the gown is not to your liking, Highness. My only excuse is that I have yet to learn your tastes and therefore couldn’t guess what you would like to wear.”

“Okay,” Adrienne said in complete dismissal of the woman’s apology. She didn’t care if the woman was sorry. She wanted to be decent. “Is there a robe or something around here that isn’t see-through?”

“Of course, Highness. I should have set it out for you as soon as you awoke. I was careless in that regard,” Mushira said in a shaky voice. She glanced towards Malik, then rushed over to the closet and rifled through it to find the robe. Once she pulled it out, she all but ran back across the room to present it to Adrienne. “Here you are, Highness,” she said with a quick curtsy.

Adrienne didn’t take the robe, even though she wanted to. It was perfect—orange, floor-length, and terrycloth-esque. Her problem was with Malik. She glared over at him.

He turned his back before she could tell him to.

Her attention stayed on him for another few seconds before she trusted he wouldn’t turn back.

Mushira helped her out of her blanket cocoon, and then she put on the robe.

Adrienne wasn’t happy until the front halves of the robe completely overlapped, almost cutting off her oxygen, and the sash tied in one huge knot. She thanked Mushira.

Mushira stammered out another apology.

Malik yelled, “Out! All of you! Now!”

His tone made Adrienne flinch. She watched, helpless, as all three women curtsied on their way out the door. Nothing she could say would keep them there.

He smiled at her and she looked away from him to stare across the room.

The food-laden table was in her direct line of sight. The smell hit her as soon as she looked at it, reminding her that she hadn’t eaten since lunch the day before.

“Would you like to hear how I came to choose you, now, my lady?”

Adrienne ignored his question to move towards the food. Nothing looked familiar but it all smelled delicious.

She asked over her shoulder, “Can I eat while you talk?”

He joined her at the table before answering, “Of course. I would not dream of making you wait until the end of such a long story.” Malik held the seat for Adrienne and she thanked him automatically.

Her good manners ended there. She grabbed a piece of bread and bit into it before Malik rounded the table to sit.

The orb Malik had summoned earlier floated over to the middle of the table and grew. It stopped at the size of a small television. An impressive trick, but Adrienne was more interested in her food.

“Bron is a world in which magicks exist, Adrienne. Unlike on Earth, science never had a chance to stamp it out.”

Around a mouthful of meat, she asked, “Is there any way to skip to the important parts that explain why you kidnapped me?”

“A spell was cast to lead me to my perfect mate, and you are it, Adrienne.”

“By?”

“By what?”

“Who cast the spell?” Adrienne asked in annoyance.

Malik’s grin made her think he was being purposefully vague to make her ask questions. He tapped the orb. A tall Asian man appeared. Malik said, “This man.”

“Who is that?”

“Kenji.”

“Who the hell is…” she trailed off on a growl. It took a great deal of will to keep from throwing her knife at him. “You’re being obtuse on purpose. Stop it.”

“You told me to skip to the important parts, my lady. I do but obey.”

She sighed and decided to play along. “Just tell me.”

“Tell you what?”

“Whatever you were going to tell me. Just tell it your way.”

“Are you sure?”

She pointed her fork at him in a threatening manner and he laughed. The sound preceded a soft fuzzy feeling, like touching cotton. It made Adrienne want to laugh even though she felt annoyed, not amused.

Malik began, “Because of stipulations set forth by my ancestor, I must marry before my twenty-fifth birthday or I will forfeit my throne.”

“What does that have to do with me and the spell that found me?”

“You said you wished me to impart this information in my own way, my lady.”

Adrienne rolled her eyes, then signaled him to continue. She planned to ignore him and eat anyway. It didn’t matter what he said or how.

The soft, fuzzy feeling intensified.

Amusement tinged Malik’s voice as he continued, “In order to answer your question about Kenji and why he cast the spell, I must first explain about the feud that exists between Ulan and Kakra.”

Chapter Four


Forty-eight generations ago, Malik’s kingdom of Ulan and its bitter rival Kakra were joined as one kingdom under the rule of Derex, Malik’s ancestor. Foluke, the combined kingdoms, was the strongest of Bron’s thirteen kingdoms.

“Earlier you said there were fourteen kingdoms,” Adrienne corrected.

“I assume you know simple math, my lady.”

She glared at him.

“Take away two and add one. That is thirteen.”

“Get on with it.”

Malik tapped the orb again. A red-headed man seated on a throne appeared. Beside him, a small Asian woman sat on her own throne. Two men, one with black hair and one with red, stood on either side of the couple. Malik pointed to the standing man with red hair and said, “This is Kakra.” He moved his finger to point at the man with black hair. “This is Ulan.”

“Let me guess, the kingdoms were named after them.”

“Yes.”

Ulan and Kakra were twins and bitter rivals in all things. Their constant fighting threatened to tear Foluke apart. Derex decided to split his kingdom along the Tano River and give each son their own kingdom to rule upon his death. He hoped this would placate his sons and the feuding would stop.

He was wrong. Each wanted to rule Foluke as a whole, not simply a part of it. Derex decided to use his sons’ greed against them. He set forth two stipulations on the newly formed kingdoms—only legitimate sons could inherit, and the heir to the throne had to be married before his twenty-fifth birthday.

“Only kids born in wedlock can be crowned.”

No, my lady,” Malik replied. “Only sons that are conceived in wedlock may inherit the throne.”

There’s no way to be sure the child was conceived in wedlock.”

Malik unbuttoned his shirt, smirking when Adrienne stopped eating and watched him. He felt her confusion return along with an edge of fear and a tiny hint of curiosity. His bride wanted to see more of him, and he planned to show her.

He peeled back his shirt and revealed his shoulder, tattooed with Ulan’s crest—a coiled serpent. “This crest is magickal and only marks legitimate children, sons and daughters alike, though the daughters will never rule,” Malik said.

“Why not?”

“Derex felt women were too stupid and emotional. Kakra agreed. Ulan, however, married a competent queen who could help him rule. His son Kenji did the same.”

“He’s the one who cast the spell?”

“Yes. Kenji cast a blood spell—the most powerful kind—that would flow through the generations from one Ulanian heir to the throne to the next. Each time, the spell would find the heir’s perfect queen, who would be equal in magickal power and rule at his side.”

“I don’t know magic,” Adrienne said in a cheerful voice. “That means I’m not the one you want. Feel free to send me home.”

Malik reached across the table to caress Adrienne’s cheek. He didn’t need to touch her but doing so proved his point faster. He asked, “Do you feel that?”

“Your hand? Yes.”

“No. Warmth. Warmth that makes your skin tingle and your body feel hot. Do you feel it?” he purred.

Her small shiver was his answer.

He leaned across the table. A smile curved his lips when Adrienne did the same.

Their faces were only a few inches apart. He could bridge the distance easily. Instead, he whispered, “What you feel is lust, Adrienne. My lust for you. That you can feel it is proof that you are my intended bride.”

Her lips parted and she gave a tiny gasp. She looked at him with wide eyes.

Malik felt the murmur of her lust on his skin.

She had started to respond to him and he wanted to act on it.

He couldn’t. He needed to be wed to Adrienne before he could have her. He threw himself back into his seat with an annoyed growl. “You are my bride and we will be married.”

“What if I don’t marry you?” she asked. She met his eyes but he didn’t see defiance, he saw curiosity, and felt it, too. “If Kakra comes to take your throne, just fight them off. You seem like a good fighter and, I’m betting, you make sure your army is full of good fighters, too.”


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