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Secrets When in Shadow Lie by Jennifer St. Clair (Fantasy: Vampire/Werewolf/Elf)

Secrets When in Shadow Lie by Jennifer St. Clair (Fantasy: Vampire/Werewolf/Elf)
 
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Twelve years ago, Ryan Grey was cursed by a witch to hide a secret he doesn't even know. He has lived with her curse--and has died many times because of it, slowly losing the memory of his past until little remains.

But now, after a chance meeting with an elf named Zipporah, he discovers the key to unlocking the secret--and breaking the curse, once and for all.

But will he survive the breaking?

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Secrets When in Shadow Lie by Jennifer St. Clair (Fantasy: Vampire/Werewolf/Elf)
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Sample Chapter

Prologue

Secrets when in shadow lie,
watch the farce of truth pass by,
hidden, they absolve the crime,
until the passing of the time,
breaks the spell that sets truth free,
and unlocks the tragedy.

Ryan opened his eyes and lay still for a moment, staring up at the dark trees overhead.

He was in the forest, then. Come dawn, when the sunlight filtered through the trees, his flesh would ignite and anyone who cared would find ash instead of bones.

But--he squinted up at the trees and found them blurry. Why was he alive?

The last thing he remembered was the axe arcing down towards his unprotected throat and his last desperate struggle--not that he could ever win free of the triplets--twins, he supposed, now that their sister was dead.

If they had cut off his head, then how was he still alive?

Ryan managed, after a bit of thought, to raise his arm and touch his throat. He felt no scar, no sign at all that they had killed him, but he couldn't imagine that his executioner had missed. Or that anyone would have bothered to stop their vengeance.

He'd killed their sister, after all. Their vengeance was just. And after weeks of captivity--maybe months--he'd rather looked forward to death.

Again. He frowned, struggling with murky memories. Hadn't he died before?

Somewhere on the edge of hearing, he heard the jingle of a horse's bridle; an innocuous sound any other time but this; and he wondered if they'd left someone behind to make sure he died this time.

This time. Ryan closed his eyes. He had died before.

The front of his shirt was sticky with blood; enough blood to make him dangerously weak if he tried to stand. But standing would have meant he'd made some sort of a decision to try to escape this death--how many times had he died before?

He rolled over, tasted leaf mold against his lips. Managed to get to all fours and crawl across the forest floor until he reached an insurmountable obstacle; a fallen tree, its trunk immense. There was a depression of sorts under the trunk--shallow enough to hide a body.

But hidden enough to save him from the sunlight?

Ryan didn't care. He squirmed under the tree trunk, vaguely surprised that something inside of his mind obviously wanted him to live.

But why? What sort of life would he have as a fugitive? He closed his eyes again and nestled deep down inside the litter of leaves and twigs and dirt. At least if the sun caught him here, he'd die at peace.

If he would even die from the sun. Ryan truly did not want to wake up from burning.

Hours passed with the moon's slow march across the sky. Sometime past midnight, Ryan fell asleep again. This time, he awoke to voices.

"This is none of your affair," someone said--Ryan's mind provided his name as Erik, one of Nadia's humans and the triplet's gofer. The watcher, more than likely, sent to ensure that he was dead.

"You're in our territory," another voice stated, a girl this time. "Why are you here?"

"To see justice done," Erik said shortly. "If I am truly on your land, then I'll remove the body elsewhere and resume my task."

Ryan felt his muscles jerk in protest. He opened his eyes wide and tried to see through the darkness, but he couldn't see through the trees.

"The body?" Another voice, half-familiar. His mind tried to supply a name, but failed.

"Whose body?" the girl asked.

Erik must have not wanted to answer, because his horse burst through the vegetation a moment later, and he stared right at the spot where Ryan had awakened.

The spot which was--now--empty.

Ryan watched from his hiding place as Erik dismounted and knelt beside a patch of bloody ground. When two more horses appeared behind him, Erik turned to face them, his hands clenched into fists, his face white in the darkness.

"What did you do with it?" he asked, and Ryan knew he wasn't the only one to hear the hysteria in his voice.

"There was no body here when we passed through," the girl said, and spread her hands as if to show him they were empty.

"Whose body?" her companion asked.

Erik straightened up and glared at them. "Why should I tell you?"

"Because if this person you've killed isn't truly dead, then which way would he flee? To your land or ours?" The girl this time, her voice sharp.

"He was dead," Erik snapped. "They cut off his head."

Involuntarily, Ryan's hand inched towards his throat.

Both the girl and her companion seemed shocked by his words; they stared down at Erik, horror on both their faces.

Familiar faces. But Ryan couldn't remember their names.

"Doesn't beheading normally do the job?" the girl asked softly.

"Not this time," Erik replied. "This is the fifth time they've killed him; Nadia charged me to make sure he was truly dead and now I'm going to have to kill him again." He started towards his horse, but they blocked his way.

Five times? Ryan's mind reeled under the shock. No wonder he had no strength. No wonder he couldn't think.

"No more," the girl's companion snarled. "You're tresspassing. I suggest you leave--now--before we invent a reason to murder you."

Erik stared at them both in disbelief. "If you kill me, it will be an act of war," he said, but he sounded uncertain again, and knew it by the expressions on their faces. "You can't--"

"Our land," the girl reminded him. "Our territory. Not yours. Not your mistress'."

"Whose body?" her companion asked for the third time.

Erik stepped back, fumbling for a weapon, but of course he'd left it tied to his saddle.

The girl leveled a sword at his throat. "Answer my brother's question and I'll let you go free."

"Ryan Grey," Erik spat, but Ryan thought they already knew the answer. At least, they didn't seem very surprised. "Traitor!"

"If Ryan Grey is still within our territory, then he is our problem now, not yours," the girl said. "Go. Report your failure to your mistress."

"He was sentenced to death," Erik shouted. "To death!"

"Not by us," the girl said as soon as he'd mounted his horse and rode away. "Not by us." She glanced at her companion; her brother. And Ryan knew they were not his friends; his allies, but he doubted they would try to kill him again.

"Five times?" her brother asked. "Is he still sane?"

"If they cut off his head, I doubt he could have gotten very far," the girl said, and dismounted. "Search near the creek; I'll try to find his trail."

"We should have brought a dog," her brother replied, and spurred his horse into the trees.

Ryan watched as the girl knelt near the puddle of his blood, then turned her head directly towards his hiding place--the only obvious place to look, in truth. She walked slowly, bending here and there to touch something on the ground, until she reached the tree trunk.

Then she sat, only a few feet away, her legs within arms' reach.

"Five times?" she asked, her voice soft.

Ryan surprised himself by replying, but he hardly recognized his own voice. "I don't know."

"Maybe it's better if you don't remember," the girl said. "I wasn't sure you were under there--"

"Dawn's coming," Ryan whispered, which should have explained everything.

"Yes. It is." The girl seemed to think for a moment, or maybe she just didn't want to say what she knew she had to say out loud. "Will you come with us?"

Ryan's throat ached when he spoke, but he welcomed that pain. Pain meant he wasn't quite healed; that his wounds still sapped his strength. "Do I have a choice?"

"Do you know who I am?" the girl asked in reply.

"Merian Crowe's daughter." He thought that was right, at least, but he still could not remember her name.

"Yes. My name is Sarah."

"Sarah Crowe," Ryan whispered.

"Yes." She was silent for a little while again; Ryan thought she might have been waiting for her brother. "What did you do to deserve a death sentence, Ryan Grey?"

Ryan struggled to remember, but the memories would not cooperate. "I killed--someone."

"Who?"

"Alice," Ryan breathed, and remembered; the cold blade she'd shoved through his chest; the sting of silver poison as it raced through his veins. Her shouted cry of 'traitor'; her accusations.

And then, waking up whole. And he'd killed her so she wouldn't try to kill him again.

Her brothers had taken care of that. Five times.

"You killed one of the triplets?" Sarah's voice rose too loud; her brother appeared a moment later with his sword drawn.

"I didn't find him," he said with a questioning glance at the tree trunk.

"I did," Sarah said. "He's alive. And he killed one of the triplets."

"She killed me first," Ryan hastened to say, as if that would matter.

"Did you think that would shelter you from the sun?" her brother asked curiously.

"I just wanted--to get away," Ryan whispered, and felt tears on his cheeks now, washing away both blood and grime.

"Do they know?" Sarah asked abruptly.

"Do they know what?" Ryan asked, and started to raise his head before he remembered the tree trunk above him.

"Do they know that you are with us?"

Was he with them? Was he truly a traitor? He could not recall. "Am I with you?"

"You were," Sarah's brother said. "Are you still?"

Ryan sighed. "I don't know. I don't remember--" But then, just like before, he did remember. Merry--Merian Crowe, arguing. She hadn't wanted to let him leave the house. There was a traitor. Once they found and disposed of the traitor-- "I did not betray you." He thought he'd better say that, even though he had no idea if it were true.

"That is neither here nor there, nor would you be blamed if you did," Sarah said. "You've been gone for over a month, Ryan. Five weeks. We thought you were dead."

"I was," Ryan whispered, and throttled the insane urge to laugh. But then he was crying again, his breath hiccuping into sobs and he curled under the tree trunk and desperately tried not to let them hear.

Sarah knelt in front of his hiding place, her face troubled. "Give me your hand. I'll help you out of there."

Ryan extended his hand. Her lips tightened at the sight of it; bony and knobby and much too thin. The rest of his body was no better. Even Sarah's brother's calm mask slipped a bit when he slid out of his hiding place to huddle on the ground in front of them.

"A blanket," Sarah said quietly, and her brother hastened to obey.

The blanket gave Ryan a bit of dignity, but he couldn't keep his eyes open, not after losing so much blood. He tried to tell them, but they knew, of course, and they'd brought provisions. But he knew as well as they did that he needed more than bottled blood to recover both his wits and his strength.

Somehow, they managed to bundle him onto a horse. Somehow, with Sarah seated behind him, holding him upright, they made their way through the forest and to safety--the dubious safety of Merry's fortress where no one would try to kill him and he could rest in peace.

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