Home > Haunted (Otherworld #5)

Haunted (Otherworld #5)
Author: Kelley Armstrong



Women of the Otherworld series
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Acknowledgments

 

As always, I'm deeply indebted to everyone who helped get my book from that first spark of an idea to a complete novel. Heaps of thanks to my agent, Helen Heller, and my editors: Anne Groell at Bantam US, Anne Collins at Random House Canada, and Antonia Hodgson at Time Warner UK.

A special thanks this time around to my Web site moderators, who've really helped ease the workload on my burgeoning discussion board. To Ian, John, Julia, Katrina, Laura, Raina, Sonny, Taylor, and Tina.

Thanks so much—without you guys, I'd never have time to actually write.

France/1666

MARIE-MADELINE LIT THE FLAME UNDER THE BOWL. A draft through the empty fireplace blew it out. She adjusted the metal screen in front of the hearth, then moved the bowl and tried again. As the flame took hold, smoke swirled through the room, filling it with the acrid stink of burning hair and the sweet smell of rosemary.

" Entstehen, mein Nix," she said, tongue tripping over the foreign words. She recited the rest of the incantation. The air rippled.

"You have failed… again," a woman's voice whispered.

Marie-Madeline's fingers trembled around the bowl. A few red-hot cinders tumbled out, and scorched her hand. "It isn't my fault. You aren't giving me enough. This—it isn't easy. I need more."

"More?" the voice hissed, circling her head. "This is not one of your potions, witch. You cannot drink until you've had your fill. What I give you is the power of will, a finite quantity of that which you so sorely lack. Whether you choose to use it is your own decision."

"But I want to use it. Gaudin must have his revenge, and I must have my freedom."

 

The Nix's voice sounded at her ear, words blasting on a stream of hot air. "You are a fool, Marquise. A mewling little worm of a woman who stumbled upon that spell to summon me, then lied to me and wasted my time. You do not want resolve. You want deliverance. You want me to do this thing for you, to absolve you of the responsibility and guilt of patricide."

"N-no. I'd never ask—"

"I will grant it."

Marie-Madeline went still. "You will… grant it?"

"You are not the only one to dabble in arcane magics, witch. I have a spell that I have been waiting to use, waiting for the right vessel—a worthy vessel. With it, you can allow me to possess your body, carry out this deed, and have my reward. Then you may claim the credit to your lover."

"What is the spell? Tell me now. Please. Gaudin grows impatient."

The Nix's chuckle wafted through the air. "As do I. Listen carefully, my Marquise, and we will be done with this thing before daybreak."

 

The Nix opened her eyes. She was lying on the floor. Candles blazed all around her, their light so harsh it made her blink. The smoke filled her nostrils. She coughed instinctively, then jumped, startled by the sensation.

She lifted her hands. Human hands, soft and bejeweled. The Marquise's hands. She flexed, then clenched them. The long nails drove into her palms and she gasped. So that was pain. How… intriguing. She dug her nails in deeper, letting the pain course down her arms. Blood dripped onto her gown. She reached down and touched it, lifted her finger to her nose, inhaled the scent, then stuck out her tongue and tasted it.

The Nix pushed to her feet, wobbled, caught her balance. She'd taken on human form before, but never like this, inhabiting a living being. It was very different. Awkward… and yet interesting.

She lifted her head and sniffed the air. Dawn was coming. Time to get to work.

 

She carried the soup to the Marquise's father, bearing it before her like an offering, luxuriating in the heat that radiated through the bowl. It was so cold here, the stone walls leaching drafts at every turn. She'd commanded the staff to light more fires, but they'd only mumbled something vaguely obeisant, then shuffled off and done nothing. Such insolence. If she were their master—but this was only a temporary inhabitation, to test the spell.

As she stepped into the room, she looked at the old man, seated with his back to her. Then she glanced down at the bowl of poisoned soup. The dose had better be right this time. Marie-Madeline had tested it on her maid, Françoise, but the girl hadn't died, so her lover, Gaudin Sainte-Croix, had adjusted the dosage. But rather than try again on a fresh subject, they'd declared the mixture sufficient.

Lazy, imperfect humans, and their lazy, imperfect half-measures. Like the servants who didn't wish to venture outside the castle walls and chop more wood for the fire. What lessons she could teach them!

Perhaps she would. As she crossed the floor, looking down at the bowl of soup, she realized, with a jolt of surprise, that the next move was hers. She could give the poison to Marie-Madeline's father or she could feed it to the lazy servants who had ignored her command. For once, she was the actor, not the spectator.

For three hundred years she'd had to sit by and hope humans used the resolve she gave them. Her reward was pain and suffering and chaos. But if they failed, she was left hungry—as helpless as a starving street urchin, begging for a crust of bread. That was what the humans had called the offspring of the Nixen—urchins—as if they knew and laughed at the power they wielded over these demi-demons. And yet, here she was, bearing in her hands the power of death, to deliver as she saw fit. She smiled. Perhaps she would stay a little longer than Marie-Madeline intended.

Hearing her footsteps, Marie-Madeline's father turned. "You didn't need to bring that yourself."

She curtseyed. "It is a daughter's duty, and privilege, to serve her father."

He beamed. "And it is a father's joy to have such a dutiful daughter. You see now that I was right about Gaudin Sainte-Croix. You belong with your husband, and with your father."

She bowed her head. "It was a passing fancy, one that shames me all the more for the shame it brought on my family."

"We will speak no more of it," he said, patting her arm. "Let us enjoy our holiday together."

"First, you should enjoy your soup, Father. Before it grows cold."

 

For the next four days, d'Aubrey suffered the agonies of a slow death. She stayed at his side, genuinely doing all she could for him, knowing it wouldn't save him, using the excuse to linger and drink in his suffering. At last, he lay in her arms, a hairsbreadth from death, and he used his last words to thank her for everything she'd done.

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