It's my absolute pleasure to share with you the cover of Rebecca Jaycox' second book--sequel to The Other Inheritance--The Other Queen!
Preorder is available now and at the special price of $.99 for an ebook. I've included the link below along with the first three chapters
The Other Queen
“John, you’re not eating. Is the wild boar not to your liking?”
The polite voice coiled around him like a snake before it squeezed. John glanced up from his plate and met the cold, gray eyes of Andrius Drake, fear shivering through him. He immediately stabbed his fork into the meat wishing it were Andrius’ heart. Spices flavored the succulent boar, but it tasted like ashes in John’s mouth. He quickly swallowed and nodded at the dark mage.
“It’s delicious,” he mumbled, lowering his eyes. He felt the iciness of Andrius’ stare sweep over his face. Sneaking a quick glance out of the corner of his eye, he saw Arlene tense, her spine ramrod straight. The utter stillness of the dining room pounded against his eardrums.
“I’m glad you’re enjoying it. I would hate to think you felt I wasn’t properly caring for you,” Andrius said, sipping the amber liquid in his crystal goblet.
John choked back the words rising in his throat. Hatred pulsed inside him. He shook his head, not trusting himself to speak.
“We don’t feel that way at all,” Arlene interjected, and John looked at her gratefully. She pasted a sickly smile on her face; the expression made her resemble a possessed doll.
Andrius leaned back in his chair, swirling the liquid in his goblet. The soft sloshing seemed vulgar in the silent room. He studied Arlene, who was carefully watching a point over the dark mage’s shoulder. John took another bite of his food, observing them both beneath his lashes.
“You’re not drinking,” Andrius said, sipping from his glass.
John stiffened, his hand clenching his knife. He turned to Arlene, who had frozen in her seat. She reached out a shaking hand and took a drink from her water goblet.
“There,” she whispered, setting the goblet back on the table.
Andrius smiled at her, a gentle smile that made John’s stomach churn. “Water isn’t what you want. Drink the brandy, Arlene. It will help you forget, about Reggie, about John, about me. Escape for a little while. You’ve been so brave; don’t you think you deserve a drink?” Leaning over the table, he nudged the amber-filled glass closer to her.
Arlene jerked back as if the glass were a scorpion preparing to strike. “No, no. I can’t—I—no!”
“No?” Andrius questioned, arching one eyebrow.
Arlene panted, staring at the glass. “No, thank you,” she corrected.
“Why not take it? Life would be so much easier. You’ll feel wonderfully warm, yes? Maybe you can pretend this nightmare never happened, that you haven’t failed you daughter so abysmally. Drink it. Keep drinking into you fall into that oblivion I know you want so desperately to get back to.”
Arlene’s ragged breath grated against John’s skin. She hadn’t taken her eyes away from the brandy resting mere inches from her trembling hand. Slowly, her fingers crept toward the stem. John watched her, feeling helpless. He had failed Reggie again. He saw Andrius grin, his eyes lit with satisfaction. Rage grabbed John once more, suffocating the helplessness and the fear until he only existed in a red haze.
Jumping out of his chair, he lunged over the table, knocking the delicate crystal goblet to the floor. It bounced off the thick carpet and onto the marble surface, shattering. Golden liquid puddled on the hard surface, the strong smell of alcohol clouding the air. Arlene’s nostrils flared, and she looked at him with grateful eyes. John grasped her hand.
“How dare you?” Andrius growled, rising to his feet.
John dropped Arlene’s hand and backed away from the dark mage until he hit the dining room wall. Andrius followed, stalking John like a jungle cat.
“Please, please don’t hurt him! Please… Give me another brandy. I’ll drink. I’ll drink myself to death. Just don’t hurt him again,” Arlene sobbed.
Andrius ignored her, looming over John. “I find your behavior rude. I see I’ll have to teach you manners, like I did with Asher.”
John watched him, shaking. His mind shut down, reducing him to a terrified animal. And then his new slave collar lit up, and he screamed as his skin caught fire.
“Dude, I had no idea you were such a prude,” Reggie said, glaring at Rhys over the dinner table in his cabin. She stabbed her fork into the wild boar on her plate. Rhys glared back at her, slicing into his own meat with more force than necessary.
Brwyn grinned at them both, nudging Asher in the ribs with his elbow. “Not only is the little darling beautiful, but she can rhyme too? I had no idea she was so multi-talented.”
Asher shot him an annoyed glance as color bloomed on his cheeks. “Just shut up,” he muttered.
“I’m not being a prude, Reggie,” Rhys said. “And do you really want to have this conversation at the dinner table?”
Reggie dropped her fork, the metal clanging against the table. “Yeah, I do. You had no problem embarrassing Asher and me this morning. FYI, when a bedroom door is closed, you knock!”
Rhys grimaced, his scar pulling taunt. “I apologized for that already. I’m not used to living with anyone, especially not two teenagers who think bedroom hopping is an acceptable form of behavior.”
“But it’s so much fun,” Brwyn interjected, reaching for his wine glass. He ducked his head as Reggie’s roll flew at him.
“Brwyn, please shut up,” Reggie said, glancing at Asher. Guilt crept through her when she saw his face growing redder. Pretty soon the poor guy would combust. “When we were traveling across the Other, dodging guards and running for our lives, where do you think we slept? Look, Rhys, I get you’re trying to be all Papa Bear here, but you’re not my father.”
“I know I’m not your father, Reggie, but I am your guardian. And believe it or not, I understand how much you and Asher care for each other, but you’re both very young. You’ve just been through an incredibly harrowing ordeal, and I think it’s wise for each of you to have your own space,” Rhys replied, reaching for his own wine glass and taking a large swallow.
Brwyn studied the liquid in his glass. “He’s got a point, lovely.”
Reggie ignored him. “I agree with you. We should have our own rooms, but the private aspects of our relationship are our business.”
“Reggie—” Rhys began, when Asher’s voice interrupted him.
“We’re not trying to disrespect you, Rhys. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me. I’ll never be able to repay you for your kindness, never. But sleeping alone isn’t an option for us some nights, and not for the reasons you think. We have… nightmares. Andrius may not be my master anymore, but he still haunts me. He haunts Reggie, too.” Asher met Rhys’ eyes across the table, his celadon stare heavy with a weariness that weighed on Reggie.
Rhys put down his glass and studied them both. Even Brwyn was quiet. Reggie clasped Asher’s hand under the table, twining her fingers through his. He squeezed her hand back, his strength always a comfort.
“Has Andrius been contacting you in your dreams?” Rhys asked.
Reggie shook her head. “No, it’s not that. At least I don’t think so. He doesn’t need to contact me to cause nightmares. I…” she trailed off, looking at the half-eaten food on her plate. She glanced up, meeting Rhys’ eyes. “I shot him, okay? I killed people. That doesn’t just go away. And the worst part is, I left him alive! I—”
“Reggie,” Asher said, putting his arm around her.
She shrugged him off. “I was stupid. I had the opportunity to end this whole damn war, and I couldn’t. I wussed out when I needed to put on my big girl panties!”
“It’s okay, Reggie,” Rhys replied gently. “You’re not a killer. That’s what makes you different than Andrius.”
“But I am a killer, Rhys. And now I’ve got blood on my hands.”
“Little darling, we all have blood on our hands,” Brwyn said, a blue ring forming around his irises as his wolf-side bled through. “We’ve all killed for what we believe in, but the difference between us and him is that we don’t kill for pleasure.” That wolf gaze bore into her until she reluctantly nodded. Brwyn cocked his head like a dog. “Well, I take that back. You don’t kill for pleasure. Sometimes, I eat people when they annoy me.”
Reggie snorted as Rhys and Asher laughed, her tension melting like the butter on her roll. “Do you ever feel like turning on yourself?” she asked.
“And deprive the female population of my perfection? That’s just cruel.”
Asher leaned forward. “Tell us the truth, Brwyn. How often do you look at yourself naked in a mirror?’
“Why do you think he’s always late?” Rhys said.
Brwyn ignored their laughter and took another sip of wine. “And here I was going to help you, little darling, by pointing out to Rhys that you’re seventeen, of legal age, and technically he can’t tell you where to sleep no matter what he says.”
Reggie’s mouth dropped open as Brwyn smirked.
“So I’m a legal adult, huh?” Reggie asked Rhys.
They were in his laboratory at the back of the cabin. It had been three days since she’d met Rhys on the beach. He’d wasted no time in searching for a way to break Andrius’ spell over the Aether mages. He took samples of her blood in the morning and at night and then shut himself up in his lab trying to find the perfect solution. Reggie knew he stayed up half the night as well, barely getting any sleep. She attributed that to his angry outburst upon finding Asher in her bedroom this morning. Even now dark smudges smeared the skin under his eyes like a bruise.
“Yes, but that doesn’t mean I still won’t advise you what to do,” Rhys said, carefully measuring herbs and placing them in a stone mortar. His hair fell into his eyes, and he tossed it away.
“Feel free to advise all you want,” Reggie grinned at him. “Doesn’t mean I have to agree with you.”
She sat on a rough wooden table. Dried rosemary, mistletoe, and fennel hung from the ceiling alongside less familiar plants like mugwort, nettle, myrrh, and verbena, and provided a pleasant, medicinal smell. Glass beakers littered the room. A device similar to a Bunsen burner rested on a counter that ran along the whole of one wall. Delicate silver gadgets similar to the ones she’d seen on Andruis’ desk were haphazardly strewn across the laboratory’s various surfaces. An apothecary’s table stuffed full of vials, droppers, and substances Reggie didn’t recognize occupied one corner. Books both old and new overflowed the shelves that were fitted above the counter space.
Emptying the last of the nettle into the mortar, Rhys focused on her, crossing his arms over his wide chest. “When it comes to your personal life, you don’t have to agree with me, Reggie.” He leaned closer, his expression changing from amused to fierce, from guardian to warrior. “But I’m the commander of the Resistance, and when I give you an order, you will obey me. Understand?”
Reggie looked into his eyes, which had all the give of stone chips. She swallowed and nodded. “Yes, sir.”
Rhys turned back to his concoction. “I’m happy we cleared that up.”
Nudging him with her elbow, she said, “I knew you had a badass biker in you.”
His now-familiar wry smile broke out. “I still refuse to get a motorcycle.”
Rhys picked up a clean needle and held out his hand. Sighing, Reggie placed her hand in his, palm up. He pricked the flesh of her forefinger quickly. She flinched, watching as Rhys squeezed drops of her blood into the mortar. Crimson smoked billowed from the mixture, the air flavored with copper and an unexpected hint of cedar. Rhys ground the pestle into the new blend and the smells grew stronger. Sneezing, Reggie scooted back and tugged her tee shirt over her nose.
“Do you think this’ll work?” she asked him, the fabric muffling her voice.
Rhys shook his head. “I don’t exactly know what Andrius did, only that your blood is the key to breaking the spell.”
Reggie’s shoulders slumped. “This is taking too long. Andrius isn’t going to let me go. Sooner or later, he’s going to come for me.”
Opening a small jar, Rhys scooped up the paste and placed it inside. “He’ll never come to Hornsbay Forest. You’re safe.”
“What about the sea? He could attack us by ship.”
“Andrius won’t come by sea because of the bodies in the bay,” Rhys explained, closing the lid on the jar. “The moment he comes near them, I’ll know he’s there.”
“Yeah, fine, so Andrius won’t come get me himself. That doesn’t mean his Ravens can’t sail a ship and go all Captain Hook on our asses,” Reggie pointed out, releasing her shirt.
Rhys raised a brow. “Captain Hook?”
“You know, evil pirate. Enemy of Peter Pan. Has a big hook instead of a hand because an alligator ate it.” Reggie rolled her eyes at his blank stare. “Oh, come on. You’ve been to the Real!”
“Clearly this Hook didn’t leave an impression,” Rhys drawled. “And he wouldn’t get through either. I’ve warded the water with something very special. I don’t think anyone but Andrius himself could break through my protections.”
Reggie believed him, but she still worried. “Andrius told me he couldn’t enter the forest. But I wasn’t here before.”
Rhys’ smile had all the satisfaction of a cat that just caught a mouse. “Andrius is afraid of the forest. His spell succeeded in cleaving soul from body, but it also had an interesting side effect. One I’m sure surprised the hell out of him. The souls of the Aether Mages can sense when Andrius is near and attack him.”
“They can worm their way into his mind, make him feel their pain the way my mist drives his soldiers mad. It’s where I got the idea for the spell. If he comes too near, the souls will tear his mind to shreds.”
Reggie leaned forward, stunned. “Damn, Rhys. Maybe we’re going about this all wrong. Maybe you just have to keep waving me in front of him like a red cape in front of a bull, and eventually he’ll charge.”
He lips twisted into a brittle smile. “Ah, Regina. If it only were that simple.” He shrugged his duster on, placing the glass jar inside his pocket. “Go on to bed. I’m going to see if this works.”
Hopping off the table, Reggie grabbed his arm. “I want to go with you.” He’d refused her every time she’d asked, going into the forest alone to test the ingredients.
“Reggie,” he began and she hated the gentleness of his voice. “We’ve been through this. You’re not ready to go out there. If you don’t know how to shield your mind, the voices can drive you mad.”
“But I’m learning,” she pleaded. “Maybe I’m the one that needs to cast the spell, not you. Have you thought of that?”
“Of course I have, but I can’t risk you like that.” She jerked away from him, and he gripped her wrist. “Listen to me, your training is going well. If I’m unable to break the spell on my own, you’ll have to enter the forest with me. After you learn how to shield your mind. We have a little time, Reggie.”
“I need to see my dad. I need to get him out of there. He’s in so much pain!” She shouted. His books started to fly off the shelves in an invisible wind, one heavy volume smacking her shoulder. Rhys shifted his hold until a steel hand clamped both her wrists.
“Calm down, now. Deep breaths, just like Megan taught you,” Rhys ordered.
Reggie closed her eyes and inhaled, feeling the air fill her lungs. She counted to six and then slowly exhaled. Again. And again. Opening her eyes, she looked around the laboratory. Half the books remained on the shelves, while a few of the paper missiles had smashed into Rhys’ delicate instruments. Shards of glass glittered on the floor like dangerous diamonds.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to lose control like that. I’ll clean everything up. I just—shit, Rhys.” She looked down at the floor, miserable.
The hold on her wrists vanished, and Rhys titled her chin up with a rough fingertip. “I know, sweetheart, I know. I’ll take care of your father. He’ll be free soon. They all will be. I promise.”
Reggie was lost in a giant cornfield. Bright green stalks stretched above her head, blotting out the sun, their tops heavy with ears of corn spilling buttery yellow silk. The rows seemed to stretch endlessly in every direction, and she couldn’t get a grasp on her location. Every row looked the same. She spun around and around like a top until she was dizzy and breathless. Panic edged its way under her skin.
“Come to me,” whispered a dark, feminine voice in her mind. “I’m here.”
Reggie stilled, her heartbeat pounding an unsteady rhythm against her chest. “Who’s there? What do you want?” she said quietly. A wind rippled through the field, the cornstalks swaying.
“Help,” said the girl. “I need your help.”
“Help with what? Where are you?” She glanced around, searching for the source of the voice but seeing only the impenetrable maze of stalks.
“Move forward, forward,” the girl said.
Reggie took a step, hesitating. She didn’t like the idea of blindly following a stranger. For all she knew, this girl worked for Andrius and was leading her into a trap. Taking a deep breath, she thought hard, trying to remember how she’d ended up here. The last thing she recalled was cleaning up Rhys’ study. That had taken hours; she hadn’t stumbled her way into bed until early morning. Rhys had still been gone. If she were back at his house, then this was just a dream. But she normally didn’t have rational conversations with herself in her dreams, which could only mean…she was in the Dream Realm.
And the Dream Realm wasn’t safe. “Listen, lady, I’m real sorry you’re having problems. But you’re going to have to figure out your own shit. I’m leaving.”
“No!” cried the voice in her mind. “You’re the only one. You’re like me, like me.”
A chill swept over Reggie. “I’m not like anybody. You’ve got the wrong girl.” She started focusing her mind on the dream construct, trying to find a way to rip it open.
The girl’s frantic pleading beat wildly at her skull. “No! You’re like me. Like us. Hybrid, hybrid, HYBRID!”
Reggie stopped. She knew there were other hybrids besides herself and Asher, but they were rare and all of them were slaves. Asher had been kept in an Indentured House until Andrius had taken him, but he’d never made it clear if there was only one House. For all she knew, there could be more. Was the girl being kept in an Indentured House? But why the hell had she chosen to meet Reggie in this creepy cornfield?
“Say I believe you’re a hybrid,” Reggie said slowly. “How did you find me? It’s not exactly easy.”
“Felt your magic. Strong. Beautiful,” the girl said. “I searched in all the dark places until I found your light.”
Reggie shivered. “Try not to sound like such a stalker. How do I know I can trust you? Odds are, you work for the dark mage. I’m sure he has a stable full of Indentureds who serve him, hoping to perform the right favor to pay for their freedom.”
A wave of hatred crashed into her so hard she staggered. The vicious emotion was black and sticky, coating her mind like tar. Folding her arms across her suddenly cramping stomach, Reggie bent over. Bile gagged her and she tried very hard not vomit.
“The Dark Master fills me with holes. Tears my skin. Tears me! No, no, no, NO!” the voice screamed.
The wail, along with the horrific words, pierced Reggie’s brain. “Okay, okay, I believe you.” The suffocating hate receded. Grimacing through the pain, she straightened. With a sigh of resignation, she said, “Lead the way.”
Reggie followed the girl’s wispy voice deeper into the corn patch. There was no logic or pattern as far as she could tell; the utter sameness of the terrain unnerved her. She’d been walking for a while when the stalks grew sparser. Shards of sunlight scraped against Reggie’s eyes, and she squinted against the glare.
“Look,” said the girl.
At first, Reggie didn’t see what the girl was referring to. The small section of the field that lay ahead of her had been slightly thinned out, but there was nothing else remarkable about it. “I don’t see anything…” she began, trailing off as she noticed a faint undulation of the cornstalks in front of her. It was almost as if she were in the desert and having visions of a mirage. What the hell? The air rippled again, the emerald stalks rolling unnaturally.
“You see, you see?” the voice whispered.
“Yeah, I see it. What’s behind the glamour?”
“Hell,” the girl said, and Reggie flinched.
“You’re in there?”
“Not tonight. I’m here with you. Look up.”
The fine hairs on Reggie’s body stood on end. She suddenly felt like the token dumbass in every horror movie she’d ever watched who decided to investigate that strange noise instead of doing the smart thing and running. Heart racing, she tilted her head up. The girl hung suspended in the cornstalks like a spider, long thin limbs covered in skin so pale it glowed like irradiated matter. Her inky hair fell in uneven waves past her shoulders, but her eyes were what held Reggie in thrall. The bright yellow of topaz, they flickered like cat’s eyes in the dark. The girl tilted her head, the movement jerky as if normal motion was a foreign behavior.
“We meet at last.” The girl was at least fifteen feet above her. Dream or no Dream, Reggie was acutely aware of her disadvantage. “You got a name?”
“I am test subject 76,” the girl said, only her lips didn’t move, remaining an immobile slash across her face. “If I have a given name, I’ve lost it long ago. But I call myself the Black Queen.”
Rubbing her arms against the sudden chill, Reggie replied, “Fancy. I guess if you’re going to name yourself, go big or go home. Any particular reason you chose that?”
“My magic is dark like the void. I can hide there. He can’t find me, although, he never stops searching.”
She didn’t need to ask who he was. “I’m sure he doesn’t. What do you need me to do? How can I help?”
“Find us, Aether Mage. Find us!” the girl demanded.
“Ok, where are you—”
“FIND US!” the girl’s scream tore into Reggie’s mind, and she watched as red dots peppered the girl’s skin. No, not dots. Reggie stumbled back as blood spurted from each pinprick like she was a human sprinkler. “STOP THE BLEEDING!”
Suddenly the cornstalks rustled, monstrous faces with needle teeth forming out of the yellow silk. Reggie scrambled backward, turning to run but green strips wrapped around her arms like rope. Teeth bit into her shoulder, tearing her flesh. Screaming, Reggie ripped her mind from the Dream Realm. She bolted upright from her bed and sprinted across her room just as the door flew open.
Asher stood in the doorway, fear written on his face. She flung herself into his arms, and he lifted her off the floor burying his face in her hair. His chin brushed against her shoulder, and she winced. Asher drew back, searching her face.
“What happened?” he asked, pulling her tee shirt aside to look at her skin. It was bleeding. “Who did this?”
Reigning in her galloping heart, Reggie took a deep breath. “The Black Queen or whoever the hell she was. She tried to kill me!” She clung tighter to Asher, breathing in his familiar scent and letting his coiled strength comfort her.