Herd Mistress (In Deception's Shadow Book 2)

By: Lisa Blackwood
In Deception’s Shadow Book 2

Chapter One

Sorsha’s fingers bit into the stone ridge above her head. The slight strain in her shoulders edged up another notch as her entire weight dragged on muscle, bone, and joint with familiar discomfort. The dull pain wasn’t new or particularly unexpected seeing how her body wasn’t designed for hanging suspended four floors above the ground. But never one to let small things like limitations thwart her, Sorsha denied defeat this night like all the ones before.

She shifted positions and lowered herself with a slow caution at odds with the reckless elation building in her blood. The ever present coastal winds buffeted her, yet she bit back a joyous laugh. Focusing, she bent a knee and envisioned her toes finding a hold.

Arms aching, shoulders on the verge of popping from their sockets, she fought past the pain and stretched farther. Just when she thought she’d shrunk, or the Stonemantle residence had suddenly grown like a tree stretching toward the sky, her bare feet found the ridge she sought.

With stone once again under her toes, Sorsha released a sigh of relief. The top portion of her downward climb always tested her skills. It wouldn’t be such a chore if she had her sister’s height. Luckily, a couple of well placed trellises below her window made the rest of the climb a gentle outing.

Sorsha’s feet hadn’t yet touched the ground and excitement already quickened her pulse. A hurried survey of the ground below, and another along the pale stone path skirting the manor, reassured her she hadn’t been seen. Her reputation wouldn’t survive if someone glimpsed her sneaking out of her bedroom window at night. She couldn’t bring herself to worry over such a mundane thing for long. Not when for the first time in her life, she’d found another soul who matched her own. The knowledge made her brave and a tad foolish. Though, she didn’t truly fear getting caught. She’d long since made a nightly habit of escape, and could practically hide in a guard’s own shadow if she wished—one of many valuable skills she’d learned from her sister, Ashayna. Dressing in a stolen set of her sister’s scouting leathers never hurt either.

Movement to her left, barely more than a hint of motion on her peripheral vision, caught Sorsha’s attention. She held her breath as a deep purple shadow, two shades darker than night, darted between the trees skirting the manor.

Though her nighttime trips had, in the past, involved meeting a clandestine lover, these last few nights were for a completely different purpose. And perhaps more fulfilling than anything she’d known in all her life, for they hinted at the possibility of adventure, of freedoms she’d never experienced or dreamed possible—a feasible escape from the tedium and limitations of a noblewoman’s sheltered life.

A foolish grin pulled at her lips. In a hurry, she dropped the rest of the way to the ground. Freshly turned earth and a recent rain softened her landing. She wiggled her toes in the dirt for a moment, enjoying the sensation and the rich, loamy scent. Then she ducked her head, swung her boots from around her neck, and untied the knotted laces while she waited.

At the sound of hooves on gravel, she turned and cast a smile in the direction of the noise. Her accomplice stepped out of the darkness and nudged her with his velvety muzzle, searching until he found the carrot she’d hidden in her back pocket for him. The Santhyrian ambassador stood eighteen hands high, his dark bay coloring more a velvety black at night. His long mane flowed across his arched neck, brushing against her shoulder and arm as he stepped alongside her. As always, the silky texture enticed her to groom it, and for the hundredth time, she reminded herself not to touch without an invitation. Shadowdancer wasn’t a horse, as much as he looked like one.

“Well, little mane ornament, shall we ride?”

Sorsha grinned at the name, and his mental tone—half term of endearment, half insult.

“I’ve been waiting on you, big brute.” She was inordinately pleased her mind speech sounded clear and strong. With the help of his nightly training sessions, she was starting to learn and understand her magic, though she still found it odd to think another creature lived within her. Larnkin, he called it—a creature from the spirit world.

As if her Larnkin knew her thoughts, it stretched within her, molten power flowing under her skin.

“Wait, little one.” Shadowdancer bobbed his head and shoved her shoulder with his muzzle. “Do not call your power here. We might be found out by an Acolyte, and I do not like how those priests look upon my brethren and I. Sorntar doesn’t trust the priests either.”

At the reminder of the Crown Prince of the Phoenix, Sorsha narrowed her eyes. While she had Sorntar to thank for introducing her to Shadowdancer and the other Santhyrians, she was still annoyed with him. She bent to pull on her boots, jerking them on with more strength than needed.

“I thought you liked your sister’s bondmate?”

Sorsha crossed her arms and remained silent.

“Well?” he asked with an accompanying bump to her shoulder.

She huffed out a breath. “First he abducts my sister, then he returns to his own people for months and I get no word from Ashayna—she could have been dead for all I knew. Then he comes prancing back here with her, but he won’t even say how long they’re staying.”

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