Read Belladonna Online

Authors: Anne Bishop

Tags: #Magic, #Imaginary places, #Fantasy fiction, #Fiction, #Fantasy, #General, #Fantasy Fiction; American, #Epic, #Dreams

Belladonna

Belladonna

Ephemera Book 2

By

Anne Bishop

From the back cover:

'Heart's hope lies within belladonna ...'

For the women of Elandar, these words are a riddle ... and a warning, for death stalks the cities and villages, and the very world seems to tremble in fear.

For Michael, a wandering musician, the riddle is the first step on a journey that will reveal the true nature of the power he wields and lead him to the woman who haunts his dreams: Glorianna Belladonna. But Michael has a secret — and a terrible choice to make ...

And for Glorianna, the arrival of Michael and his sister Caitlin opens doors to other landscapes and the truths within her own heart.

PRAISE FOR BOOK ONE OF LANDSCAPES OF EPHEMERA

'Erotic ... superbly entertaining,
Sebastian
satisfies'
Booklist

'this latest page-turner from bestseller Bishop flutters its eyelashes at you like a shy country maid and then sinks its teeth in like a hungry succubus'
Publishers Weekly

For

Mia Qian Lee Debany.

Welcome to our landscapes.

And for the

Magicians, who understand that

love is the real magic.

ACKNOWLEDGENTS

My thanks to Blair Boone for continuing to be my first reader, to Debra Dixon for being second reader, to Doranna Durgin for maintaining the website, to Dirk Flinthard for answering questions about the Irish whistle, to Nadine and Danny Fallacaro for information about things nautical, and to Pat Feidner for sharing the joys and sorrows of the journey.

Chapter One
Present

I

n the pale gray light, that herald of the dawn, Glorianna followed the path through the woods until she reached the two-story cottage. The shutters had been painted recently, she noted as she skirted the building. In fact, the whole place looked like it had been turned out for a thorough cleaning. Even the surrounding land showed signs of being brought to order.

Good thing her cousin Sebastian and Lynnea, his heart's desire, had married at the end of summer. If Lynnea had been able to plant the gardens she wanted as well as tidy up the cottage, it was doubtful Sebastian would have had enough energy left to fulfill his duties as a married man once he fell into bed at night. Since Sebastian was an incubus and thought breathing was the only activity more necessary than sex, that was saying something about Lynnea's ambitions.

Amused by the thought, Glorianna grinned when she spotted her cousin. He stood on the other side of the lane that ran past the cottage, where a break in the trees gave him a clear view of the sky and the lake beyond the cliff The grin warmed to a smile that held all the love she felt for him. His head turned a little, the only sign that he heard her approaching, but he didn't take his eyes off the sky as the sun rose.

"Will I become like other people?" Sebastian asked quietly as she slipped her arm companionably through his. "Will I start seeing the sunrise as a commonplace thing and no longer feel the wonder of it? Will I reach the point where I look at the first light of the day and see it as nothing more than a way of marking time?"

"You had to earn your sunrises," she replied, blinking away the tears that suddenly stung her eyes. "So, no, Sebastian, I don't think you'll ever take them for granted."

She could have lost him. When she'd gone to Wizard City to trap the Dark Guides, who were the most insidious allies of the Eater of the World, she had gambled on Lynnea's love and courage to keep Sebastian safe when she unleashed Hearts Justice. If Lynnea had faltered, Sebastian would have been drawn into a dark, twisted landscape that resonated with the bleak life the Dark Guides had made him believe was all he deserved.

But Lynnea hadn't faltered, and Sebastian had followed his heart, bringing them to the cottage. During the years he had lived there alone, the cottage had existed within the boundaries of the dark landscape known as the Den of Iniquity. Now it stood in the daylight landscape of Aurora, her mother Nadia's home village.

Sebastian sighed with pleasure, then looked at her. "Want some koffee?"

"Sure." But she made no move to go back to the cottage. A wistfulness floated on the new day's light, making her heart ache.

Sebastian's marriage to Lynnea — followed a week later by her mother's marriage to Jeb, a woodworker who had been Nadia's neighbor and lover — had been a joyous celebration. But it had also been a sharp reminder that she'd never known a man who had loved her that way. She'd had sex partners, but no one she would have called a lover.

Well, no
real
lover. There had been times over the past month, as she drifted off to sleep, when she could have sworn she felt the heat of a man's body, felt the comforting weight of his arms around her.

Should she mention those wisps of dream to Sebastian? An incubus could create the feel of a tangible lover by connecting with a woman through the twilight of waking dreams, and the pureblood incubi, who had escaped the dark landscapes that had been sealed up with the Eater centuries ago, were deadly. But she didn't think any incubi, pureblood or otherwise, would stay around for a dream that had the warmth of romance but no sexual fire.

She looked up and forgot what she was about to say. The peculiar expression on Sebastian's face made her wonder how long she'd been drifting in her own thoughts — and made her wonder if the birthday gift he'd given her was created from a little more than just his imagination.

"Your birthday was last week," Sebastian said, brushing the subject of her thoughts a little too closely for comfort. "So now you're older than me."

The subject might have been close, but the content was not. "I'm always older than you," she replied, trying not to sound sour about it. After all, it wasn't like she was
old.

"Yes, but there will be months and months when I can say I'm thirty and you have to say you're thirty-one, and it will be obvious to
everyone
which of us is older."

The temptation to pout embarrassed her, so she stepped away from him. "I'll get my own damn koffee." She turned on her heel and stomped toward the cottage. Right now, adulthood was a frayed scarf, and the harder she tried to hold onto it, the faster it frayed. In another minute she was going to resort to childish name-calling and shin-kicking. Well, not name-calling. She'd never indulged in name-calling. That would have hurt Sebastian too much. But when they were eight years old, she'd done her share of shin-kicking.

As she reached the lane, his hand gripped her shoulder, stopping her. She considered giving him one little shin-kick as a present to herself, but his expression warned her that he wasn't above retaliating. So she grabbed the frayed ends of adulthood and wrapped them around herself — and realized being annoyed with him had eased the wistfulness that had made her heart ache.

Which, she was sure, had been his intention. Even when he wasn't slipping into someone's dreams, sometimes Sebastian read emotions much too well.

"So," Sebastian said, tipping his head to indicate the break in the trees. "I know why I'm up at this time of day. Why are you?"

Now that the question had been asked, she really didn't want to talk about the reason she had sought him out so early in the morning. "Lee snores."

"Uh-huh."

"Well, he does."

"Tell that to someone who hasn't slept in the same room as Lee on occasion. Unless there's something unusual about the acoustics in Jeb's old cottage, Lee doesn't snore loud enough to keep someone awake — especially someone in another room."

Sebastian gave her an astute look. "Unless you were having trouble sleeping to start with, and you're dumping the blame on him."

Caught. What excuse could she give that Sebastian would believe — or, at least, accept instead of pushing?

There wasn't one. Her brother Lee, feeling the weight of his own efforts to protect Ephemera's shattered landscapes from the Eater of the World, wouldn't push. Sebastian would.

She looked at her cousin. His hair was dark brown instead of a true black, but he had green eyes like she and Lee did, and in build and face he and Lee were similar enough to be mistaken for brothers. But where Lee's handsomeness was tempered by a natural friendliness, Sebastian was all dangerous sensuality. Now that the wizard side of his heritage had manifested, he was not only an incubus but the Justice Maker for the Den of Iniquity.

Despite his gifts and his new role as the Den's protector, Sebastian didn't have the responsibility for so many lives as she did, being a Landscaper, or as Lee did, being the Bridge who kept her pieces of Ephemera connected. Maybe because he wasn't directly involved with the gift that had given her too many sleepless nights lately, she gave in to voicing her fears.

"It's been over a month since I stood outside Wizard City and performed Heart's Justice, depriving the Eater of the World of some of Its strongest allies," she said, looking away from him. "There's been no sign of It since then. At least, not in the landscapes under my control or in Mother's care. But after It killed the Landscapers at the school, It had access to all the pieces of the world anchored in all those gardens. It could be anywhere at this point, sowing fear in people's hearts, nurturing feelings that feed the Dark currents. Without realizing it, people will diminish the currents of Light that would have given them the hope and strength to turn aside the Dark. In the end, if there is no Landscaper to impose her will on the world, Ephemera will reshape pieces of itself to resonate with those darkened hearts — and other nightmare landscapes will be born."

"Could the Eater have been destroyed when you took the Dark Guides out of the world?" Sebastian asked.

She shook her head. "It was formed from the dark side of the human heart. As long as the heart is capable of those feelings, It will continue to exist."

"Then how can we destroy It?"

"Not 'we.' Me. I'm the only Landscaper strong enough to light It. And I'm not sure I'm strong enough to defeat It." There.
That

was the fear that plagued her nights. If she couldn't find a way to contain the Eater of the World as the first Landscapers had so long ago, nothing would stop It from changing the world into manifestations of humans' deepest fears. Those first Landscapers, the Guides of the Heart, had shattered Ephemera during their battle against the Eater. That had worked to their advantage, since they were finally able to isolate It and take It and Its dark landscapes out of the world. But what had worked to their advantage now worked against her. She could only reach the landscapes that resonated with her, while the Eater, if It found a way to cross over, could prey on the rest of the world, out of her reach.

"You're not alone, Glorianna," Sebastian said, running his hand down her arm to soothe and comfort. "You have to be the leader, but you won't be fighting alone."

Yes, I will
"You offered me koffee, remember?"

He studied her long enough to make her wonder what he might be picking up from her feelings that she didn't want to share.

Then he took her hand as they crossed the lane and led her to the back of the cottage.

When they reached the kitchen door, he hesitated and said, "Best to keep things quiet."

"Lynnea is still asleep?"

"Yes, but she'll sleep through the sound of people talking. Bop won't."

Glorianna's eyebrows lifted. "Bop?"

"The keet."

Since they were supposed to be quiet once they got inside, she tugged Sebastian back a step to stop him from opening the door. "Why did you name him Bop?"

"Has something to do with him smacking into my forehead every time we let him out."

Glorianna frowned. Lynnea had gotten the baby keet from Nadia, who should have noticed if there was a problem with the bird. "Is there something wrong with his wings that he can't fly well enough to avoid colliding with you?"

"He has no problem flying in circles around Lynnea or following her from room to room," Sebastian grumbled. "He has no problem flying up to the sills above the doors and windows when he wants to play 'catch the keet.' But me? Standing, sitting, makes no difference. He flies straight at me and —" He smacked his fingers against his forehead.

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