Home :: Science Fantasy (fantasy/magic in a modern world or tech in fantasy world) :: A Beth-Hill Novel: The Abby Duncan Series, Novella 2: The Uncrowned Queen by Jennifer St. Clair (Fantasy)

A Beth-Hill Novel: The Abby Duncan Series, Novella 2: The Uncrowned Queen by Jennifer St. Clair (Fantasy)

A Beth-Hill Novel: The Abby Duncan Series, Novella 2: The Uncrowned Queen by Jennifer St. Clair (Fantasy)
 
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Abby's elderly Aunt Rose has always been a bit--odd. And now she's off on a mysterious trip, leaving Abby behind to run the Rose Emporium--a rather unusual sort of shop housed in a large Victorian house in the middle of nowhere. It would have been a perfect place for Seth and the others to take a break from traveling between Faires. But when tragedy strikes and Abby and the others discover the true nature of the Rose Emporium, they will have to travel into Faerie itself before their tight-knit group is whole again.

Abby Duncan doesn't know much about her family. But she's about to find out the truth--whether she likes it or not.

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A Beth-Hill Novel: The Abby Duncan Series, Novella 2: The Uncrowned Queen by Jennifer St. Clair (Fantasy)
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Sample Chapter

Chapter One

The dream happened the same way, every night.

"There's something I need to tell you," Seth would say to Colin, who sat in the passenger seat of the little car they'd bought that past fall. "Something you can't tell the others."

He could almost quote every word of it, down to the very last sentence, which was never finished.

"What is it?" Colin would ask.

Seth would bite his lip. Drum his fingers on the steering wheel as they drove down a nameless road on a night like any other. "Sometimes, I can see the future," he would say. "My own future, not anyone else's."

Although, that wasn't quite true. He'd seen someone else's future once before, and almost ended up accused of murder.

"And you've seen your future now?" Colin would ask.

He would not doubt Seth's word. That was important. Colin would not doubt that Seth spoke the truth.

It was dark--always dark. They were headed back to the trailer, after running an errand. Perhaps for groceries. Perhaps for something else. Seth had tried to glean details from the dreams, but they were always the same. He had no clue what clothes he was wearing, or whether or not he'd eaten a last meal. He only knew this part of it, and nothing more.

"What have you seen?" Colin would ask when Seth did not explain. And then, "Seth? What have you seen?"

And Seth would say, "My death."

And Colin would say--

"Your death?" Now, he sounded disbelieving, or maybe, Seth reasoned, he just didn't want to believe Seth could know such a thing in advance. "Seth? Are you trying to be funny?"

"It's not a joke," Seth said, keeping his gaze firmly on the road ahead of them. "Sometimes I can foretell the future. And the future is that I'm going to die, sometime soon. A car accident. A drunk driver, I think." He flicked his gaze towards Colin. "I wanted to let you know. Don't tell the others."

"A car accident," Colin said. "In this car?"

"Yes," Seth said.

"And you're driving?" Colin asked.

"Yes," Seth confirmed.

"Pull over," Colin told him.

"What?"

"Pull over," Colin said. "Let me drive."

He seemed absolutely serious. Seth didn't remember this part from the dream. "You can't," he said, choosing his words with care. "I can't stop it from happening, and neither can you." He paused. "And anyway, you've never driven a car in your life!"

"I could start," Colin said. "I've watched you." He glanced out the window, arms folded against his chest. "Did you want me to come with you because--because I might be able to save your life?"

"I wanted you to come with me because--" Seth hesitated. "I don't know when it will happen. I had to tell someone. And I know I can trust you."

"You can trust me not to tell the others," Colin said after a moment. "That's what you mean, isn't it?"

"And I can trust you not to--" Seth blinked back sudden tears. "I can trust you not to try to save me, too." His voice dropped. "I thought that you'd have a better chance at surviving an accident, too. You're in my dream, too."

"You've dreamt this?" Colin asked, aghast. "Seth--pull over. Call Carmen or Matt. They'll come and get us, and we can sit down and talk about this--"

"I can't do that," Seth whispered, and wondered how much of the story he could tell before Colin would accept the fact that this--however horrible it might be--had to happen. "I've written to my sister. Her name is Adrienne. If she can get to me in time, there's a chance--"

He never saw the truck, not even in the dream. And he never, ever managed to finish that sentence.

Death, even foretold, always comes by surprise.

***

Colin awoke.

For a moment, he lay where he was, staring up at the sky, wondering dully why the stars were spinning around his head. He tasted blood--which wasn't a surprise at all, of course, but this wasn't--this wasn't normal. This wasn't--

He tried to move. Felt hard, unyielding asphalt under his body. His hand twitched, which awoke a host of pain that left him gasping for air, but even then; even then, he didn't realize what had happened until he managed to turn his head and saw--

The car.

Seth?

He opened his mouth. Felt blood dribble down his chin. Panic struck like a blow; he remembered what Seth had told him; remembered his insistence that he didn't know a time or a day or a--

Saw the truck. Halfway in the ditch.

The car, pressed up against a telephone pole. Or maybe it was a tree.

Seth?

Somehow, Colin managed to roll over. Now he saw two trucks, even though he knew there was only one. Two cars, too, and two slumped bodies against the steering wheel of the car.

The windshield, shattered. Red.

Seth?

He climbed to his knees. Crawled across the road to the car. Ignored the truck for now, even though he heard someone moaning.

He couldn't--his legs didn't want to work. The pain was a constant, no ebb and flow, just agony. He felt something shift in his chest. His breath hitched; he very nearly did not make it.

Five feet away, he knew Seth was dead. He could neither hear nor sense a heartbeat, but he forced himself to crawl around to the driver's side door and reach inside to make sure.

Seth's eyes were closed. His face streaked with blood. His head had hit the windshield; Colin thought, dispassionately, that he had died almost instantly.

The moaning from the truck intensified. Colin's gaze sharpened. He climbed to his feet. Swayed, but his legs did not collapse, even though he felt as if every bone in his body was broken.

He heard a door swing open. Someone slurred out a question, and then, footsteps. Unsteady.

Colin could smell the alcohol on the man before he actually appeared in his line of sight. He looked at Seth, then back at the man, who stood in the middle of the road now, his mouth opening and closing, his eyes suddenly wide with shock.

Perhaps that part of his mind still sane decided then to spare him what happened next, because the next time Colin opened his eyes, he sat slumped against the car, the man lay in the middle of the road, unmoving, and--and he heard a voice, whispering.

"Seth? Seth, can you hear me?"

Colin raised his head. Saw someone bending over Seth, and instantly reacted against the threat, even though the girl--and it was a girl, he saw a moment later when she glanced his way--wasn't doing anything to harm him. Or Seth. Although Seth was beyond harm, now.

"Hello," she said, her voice soft. "You must be Colin."

"He's dead," Colin said, and felt tears burn the scrapes and cuts on his face.

"I know," the girl said. "I'm not sure why. He should be--" She paused, then, and looked at Colin closely. To his surprise, he realized she was a vampire. "Did you kill that man?"

Colin thought about her question. Probed the blank parts of his memory. "I don't know," he admitted. "Did I?"

"A life for a life," the girl muttered. She turned back to the car. "Seth? Can you hear me?"

"He's dead," Colin whispered. "Dead." When she didn't reply, he realized who she had to be. "Are you--are you his sister? Adrienne?"

"Yes," the girl said, and Colin saw now that she looked like Seth, or Seth looked like her. "Older sister."

"He never mentioned you," Colin whispered.

"I hadn't seen him in at least ten years," Adrienne said. "I--I don't live around here. But he wrote to me."

"He told you--"

"That he dreamed of his death, yes," Adrienne said. "And he knew that I was the only one who might be able to save him."

"Save him?" Colin let his head fall back. Dimly, he realized that while the majority of his wounds had healed, he was in no condition for a prolonged conversation.

How much time had passed? It felt like hours, but he heard no sirens; saw no other cars pass by. This was an old road, not well-traveled. Truthfully, they would have been more likely to hit a deer.

"Less than five minutes," Adrienne said, as if he had asked his question aloud. "We don't have much time." She reached into the car, then held out her other hand. "Give me your hand. Did you kill that man?"

"He--he caused this," Colin whispered. "I don't know." He held out his hand to her, and she took it, gently. And then, she asked, "Seth? Can you hear me?"

A band of pressure choked off Colin's breath. He tried to breathe; tried to relieve the pressure, but he couldn't catch his breath; couldn't think; couldn't--

Blackness crowded the edge of his gaze. He finally managed to draw a breath, and--for the first time--Adrienne seemed to realize something was wrong.

"Oh," she said. "Oh, I see."

She released his hand. The pressure vanished as quickly as it had come. Colin found himself curled up on the ground against the crumpled car, gasping for air.

Adrienne sighed. "I'm going to have to take him with me, I'm afraid."

"With you?" Colin managed to ask.

"I'm sorry," Adrienne told him. "I can't do anything for him here."

Colin tried to comprehend this, but his brain could not wrap around the thought that there was anything to be done, truly, since Seth was--undoubtedly--dead. "I don't understand," he said. "It's too late."

She made no attempt to explain. "Did Seth ever try to tell you about his past? Where he grew up?"

"No," Colin whispered. "We never asked." He knew this to be truth, because neither Carmen nor Matt had been forthcoming about their previous lives, either. Abby was the only one apparently without secrets.

Abby had not come with them to this particular Faire. Her aunt had asked her to house-sit, but she was supposed to meet up with them over the weekend. However--

"Colin, I need you to listen to me," Adrienne now crouched in front of him, her gaze concerned. "Can you hear me?"

Colin focused on her face. "Yes."

"I'm taking Seth with me," she said. "I suggest you have Carmen or Matt report the car stolen. That way, the authorities won't look very closely at you."

The police would investigate, yes. And Colin could not be involved in any sort of investigation.

"But Seth is dead," Colin whispered.

Adrienne glanced behind her. Colin followed her gaze and saw that Seth now lay--Seth's body now lay--in some sort of cart. Hitched up to a placid gray horse. He blinked, but it was apparently not a hallucination.

"I would suggest you get away from the car as well," Adrienne said. "I'm intending to set it on fire. There's less evidence that way."

Colin didn't move. He wasn't really certain he could. "Where are you taking him?" he finally asked.

"Home," Adrienne said.

"But his home is with us," Colin whispered.

Adrienne did not respond to that. "Do you need anything out of the car?"

"No," Colin said, and closed his eyes. His knives were safe in the trailer, although he would have gladly exchanged every single one of his knives for Seth.

"Come on," Adrienne said gently, and pulled him to his feet. "You can't stay here."

Colin opened his eyes. Somehow, she'd managed to coax him as far as the cart, although he had no recollection of moving. He drew back, alarmed.

"You can't stay here," she said again. "I'll take you home."

"What--What should I tell the others?" Colin asked hoarsely. With her help, he climbed up onto the cart. The horse turned its head and regarded him calmly, not at all concerned to have a vampire as a passenger. Two vampires. And a body.

"Tell them to declare the car stolen," Adrienne said after a moment. She climbed up to sit beside him as the car abruptly whooshed into flames.

Off in the distance, he saw headlights appear at the crest of a hill not far away. Someone would be calling the police soon. And they would find the body and the car.

"As for Seth--" Adrienne flicked the reins and the horse moved forward. "Tell them he foretold his own death. And that his sister arrived to take him home. That would be for the best."

"Then leave him here with us," Colin said stubbornly. His mind seemed to be more aware now; he remembered what she had said before. "How could you have saved him?"

"Because I can resurrect the dead," Adrienne said simply, as if she'd decided she might as well tell him the truth. "And he knew that, and he wanted me to try to bring him back."

Colin considered this for a few minutes as they rode along. The horse did not seem to be in a hurry, and neither was its mistress. "But it didn't work," he finally said. "Because he's still dead. I can tell." His chest ached with suppressed grief--and guilt. He should have been able to do something. Anything.

"It won't help if you cry for him," Adrienne said.

"I can't help it," Colin snapped. "He was--we were family." He turned away from her; as much as he could, at least, on the narrow seat.

"Vampires don't usually feel that way about the humans they--oh!" Colin did not have to be looking at Adrienne to see her smile. "You feed on them, don't you?"

"Yes," Colin said. "But that's not why I'm upset. I--"

"You don't have to explain," Adrienne said. And then, she added, "But I think you need to come with me as well."

"I'm not going anywhere without Carmen and Matt," Colin said. And then, belatedly, "And Abby."

"Then he'll likely remain dead," Adrienne said simply, silencing any further protests.

"Can you really--?" Colin started to ask. But he couldn't finish the sentence, because he didn't want to lose that faint sense of hope that had stubbornly refused to die.

That everything would be okay. That Seth would wake up.

"A life for a life," Adrienne said. "Yes. I can. Usually it would have worked right away. But I think his life is tied to yours. Especially if you killed that man."

"I--I can't remember," Colin said. And that was true. He couldn't remember anything from the time between his first sight of the man and when he lay dead in the middle of the road. He touched his face; looked down at the blood on his hands, his clothes, his skin.

"Also, I've never actually brought anyone back past the Veil," Adrienne continued.

Colin licked his lips. The words 'the Veil' rang a very small bell in the back of his mind. "Faerie," he said. "That's--where you live?" he paused. "You said you were taking Seth home."

"Yes," Adrienne said. "To both, even if one was not a question."

"But he's human!" Colin protested.

"Elves are not the only ones who live in Faerie," Adrienne said. "Despite the fact they might wish it so. And there are other reasons to take him home. When he left--there were certain constraints placed upon him that should be gone in the event of his death. And he might need a bit of help to adjust to their absence."

Colin thought about this for a moment. "Would he want to go with you?" he finally asked.

Adrienne laughed. "Probably not. But I would promise to allow you to bring him back here afterwards. Indeed, I would give you my word, although he might not believe I would allow him to leave." She paused. "He has written to me of your family. Your partnership."

Colin glanced back at Seth's broken body. Seth had never mentioned a sister, or much in the way of a family. "You mentioned constraints," he said. "Magical ones?"

"You could say that," Adrienne said, and maneuvered the cart to the side of the road as an ambulance and fire truck roared past. Colin stared after them in shock. He hadn't even heard the sirens. "They couldn't see us," Adrienne said to his unasked question. "But it's still safer to stay out of their way."

"I see," Colin said, but he didn't, not really. "These constraints, would they have prevented Seth from telling us about his family? Or where he came from?"

"They would," Adrienne said. "If he had tried. Will you come with me? And help save his life?"

It wasn't really a decision Colin had to think about at all. "Yes," he said, and wondered what the others would say, especially Carmen. "But the others--"

"I have no accommodations at home for humans," Adrienne said, and turned the horse and cart down the gravel lane that led to the campground where they had been staying.

"They won't want to stay behind," Colin told her. And in fact, they must have heard the cart, because they were both standing in the doorway of the trailer when they arrived. Carmen looked as if she'd been crying; Matt's face was so pale Colin thought he might faint.

"Colin?" Carmen all-but-whispered, and the dread in her voice broke Colin's heart just a little bit more. "Seth left us letters. He--"

"He's--" Colin's voice cracked. He couldn't say the words aloud, not to them, at least. Instead, he covered his face with his hands and did not attempt to stop the tears.

Throughout this, Adrienne sat silent, apparently waiting for something, or impatient to leave, although she showed no sign of impatience. "What did he say in his letters?" she finally asked.

"That he had foretold his own death," Matt said. Colin could barely hear his voice. "And that he'd asked his sister--you, I presume--to come."

Adrienne glanced back into the cart, then at Carmen and Matt. "Let me guess. He didn't leave Colin a letter."

"No. He didn't leave Colin a letter," Matt said. "He said he intended to tell Colin about what--"

"He did tell me," Colin said. "Or, he started to. He didn't get to finish."

"That's what he wrote," Carmen whispered. "That he didn't get to finish." Tears poured down her cheeks now, but she didn't seem to notice. "Oh, Seth."

"I'm taking him home with me," Adrienne said. "If he told you that much, did he tell you what he asked me to do?"

"Save him," Matt said. "But--"

"I can save him," Adrienne said. "But not here, and not right now. I need to take him home with me, and I need Colin to come with me as well." She paused. "You can find safe passage into Faerie. But--isn't someone missing?"

"Abby didn't come with us," Colin said, and raised his head. He felt no better, despite his tears; Seth was still dead; their family rent asunder. "She's house-sitting for her aunt."

"She'll be devastated," Carmen murmured. And then, as if she'd just realized what Adrienne had said, "Wait--Faerie?"

"There's a lot Seth wasn't able to tell you," Adrienne said. "And a lot I'm sure he'll tell you once he's alive again. Will that suffice? We could sit here all night long trading explanations, but I would rather bring my brother's body home while it's still rather fresh."

Carmen winced. Matt took her arm. "You don't have to be cruel," he said. "How do we know you're telling the truth? Or that you can do what you say you can do?"

"You don't," Adrienne said. "And I can't prove it to you. Was there a letter for Abby?"

"Yes," Carmen said. "Yes, there was. We didn't open it."

"Then I suggest you do this: Report your car stolen first, because otherwise there will be too many questions. Then call Abby and tell her what happened. Bring her the letter. Go to this address--" she stopped then, to scribble something down on a piece of paper. Colin caught a glimpse of it; an address. A familiar address.

"Wait," he said. "That's Abby's aunt's address."

Adrienne stared at him. "What?"

"That's where Abby is right now," Colin said. He felt a wave of dizziness wash over him, and swayed. "At her aunt's house."

"Her Aunt Rose," Carmen said. She wiped her eyes; tucked the letter in her pocket. "Can we see him?"

"Are you certain you want to see him like this?" Adrienne asked gently. "What is Abby's full name?"

"Abigail," Colin said. "Abigail Duncan."

"Ah," Adrienne said. "The Rose is Abby's aunt? That's the best place for you to be, then. You'll need a guide, and you'll find one there." She paused. "I had intended to warn you that a guide might cost you money, but I imagine the niece of the Rose might have some pull about that."

"I'm not sure I understand," Carmen said. "The Rose?"

"You will," Adrienne promised. "Abby must know, by now. Go there. Arrange a guide. I'll keep an eye out for you, and hopefully we'll have good news by the time you arrive." She paused. "Bring warm clothes; you'll need them."

"But it's summer," Matt said, not understanding.

"Not where we're going," Adrienne said. "Colin, if you need anything from your home, now is the time to get it."

"I'll get them," Carmen said immediately, as if she realized Colin could not possibly climb down from the cart on his own.

"Are you sure about this?" Matt asked. "Colin?"

"I want Seth back," Colin whispered, dry-eyed now.

For the first time, Matt seemed to realize that Colin was not holding up very well. When Carmen appeared with the box--his knives--in her arms, Colin straightened up in his seat and wrapped his arms around his stomach.

"Sell them," he said. "I want Seth back." But the words turned to ash in his mouth; he couldn't bring himself to look at either of them now. Couldn't bear to tell them what he had done--even though he still did not remember. Couldn't bear to admit that he should have been able to do something to save Seth to begin with.

"No," Carmen said. "Take them with you. They're part of you."

"Keep them, then," Colin whispered. "Keep them safe. Please."

She'd also brought out a blanket, which she wrapped around his shoulders. She kept the box. "We have other things to sell, and money set aside. Are you sure you don't want to take them with you?"

Colin shook his head and held onto her for a long moment, fearful now that he'd never see either of them again. But he couldn't voice that fear; couldn't force a single word past his lips for fear of screaming.

All he could do was cry.

"Take good care of him," Carmen said, a warning in her voice now. "Of both of them."

Adrienne looked at her. Colin half-expected her to laugh at Carmen, but she did not. "I will," she said, and it sounded like the truth.

"Colin, we'll--we'll see you soon," Carmen said, and stepped away from the cart. "Be careful."

Be careful. Her words echoed in his ears as the cart moved away.

Be careful.

He closed his eyes.

"Try to get some rest," Adrienne suggested. "I know it's not very comfortable, but it's the best we have right now."

And that was the last he heard of anything as he let himself drift away.

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