Authors: Corrina Lawson
Tags: #immortals, #psychic powers, #firestarter, #superhero, #superheroes, #comics, #invisible, #phantom, #ghost, #mist, #paranormals, #science fiction, #adventure, #romantic, #suspense, #mystery
The cure they desperately need just rose from the ashes of evilâ¦
The Phoenix Institute, Book 3
Richard Plantagenet, self-exiled prince of an immortal court, is content living the uncomplicated life of a California surfer. Until his brother's sudden death and his Queen's wasting illness wrest him from his ocean-side solitude for one last quest.
The Queen needs a cure. To get it, Richard needs assistance from someone with a singularâand slightly illegalâtalent.
As the latest of a long line of ghost-walkers, Marian Doyle can, literally, walk through wallsâbringing objects with her. Her gift comes in handy for her family's shady antiquities business, but Marian's had it with breaking the law. She wants a life of her own choosing.
Instead, she gets Richard.
Their mission seems simple: Find the body of Gregori Rasputin and procure a small sample of his DNA. But when they discover the Mad Monk of Russia is very much alive, the prince and the phantom must form a bond to battle a man who desires to remake the world in fire.
Warning: This book contains one hot immortal surfer dude and a woman who's been waiting for a chance to just go wild.
For those who listen to me vent when I need to vent at chatroma. I couldn't have written this without you.
“I thought you were going to be Maytagged but, dude, you terrorized that wave!”
That's because the waves are the only thing left in this world to conquer.
Richard acknowledged the praise with a nod and a smile. “Better get out there while they're up.”
Lucas headed into the surf for his turn to ride the waves. It was an unwritten surfer code. Always go for the waves because you never knew how long they'd last. In many ways, a ride was sacred.
It was an altogether different code than the one Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, had learned as a youth centuries ago, both before and after his supposed death, but it was a code that suited him at present.
Some days were good, like today. He'd hit the top of the wave and owned it all the way down, as if the water itself obeyed his board. Bad days were when the rushing water swept over him, rolled him under until his lungs nearly burst, and smashed him against rocks before spitting him out, disoriented and near death.
, as his admirer called it.
No dishonor to lose to Poseidon.
He set his foot on the bottom of the wooden steps that wound their way up the cliff to his ocean home, looked up and saw a man standing on his balcony, staring out at the surf.
His appearance boded ill. Periodically, his brother or others in their court attempted to convince Richard to leave his beach retreat and return to them. He sent them all away. Surfing kept him young, quite literally. His unconscious healing power worked only when he wanted to live, and he lived for the waves. If he left them, he would falter, grow old and die.
He had no interest in what the Court was doing or how they stayed alive. He fought his own battles. Let them fight theirs. Yet this was the first time Marshal had come.
Once at the top of the stairs, Richard set his board down in the rack on the balcony. Marshal watched but remained silent. Proper court manners, still, after all these centuries. Princes spoke first.
Richard took his time, toweled off his hair, unzipped the top of his wetsuit and peeled it off to the waist. Water from his hair dripped down his chest.
“Hail, Marshal,” he finally said.
“My prince.” Marshal had not changed, save his white beard had been replaced by a close-cropped mustache. His bearing was unalterable. Over eight hundred years old and Marshal would always appear a soldier: upright, formal and deadly.
“I have ill news, Richard.”
Richard tossed the towel to the side. “You wouldn't be here for anything but ill news.” He sat at his balcony table and gestured to the other chair. Marshal took him up on the offer. He stretched out his long legs and peered intently at Richard.
No more court formality. This was personal, then.
Marshal cleared his throat. “Your brother, Edward, is dead.”
“Impossible!” Vaguely, Richard heard the waves hitting the sand and the gulls screeching overhead. He closed his eyes. The familiar sounds made sense. Edward being dead did not.
“In battle with a madman, while performing a task for the Queen.”
In battle. That was something. But Edward was Marshal's special pupil, a student who had long ago surpassed his master. “Who had enough power to defeat my brother?”
“A rogue. One like us in healing power but damaged in mind. He became insane at the thought ofâ¦ Well, perhaps you do not wish to hear the rest. You have not cared about our court for a long time.”
As always, Marshal's rebukes were as well aimed as his sword strokes.
“I hear you. Enough.” Richard waved away the criticism. “Tell me more.”
Brother, what did you do?
“If you care not about us, why ask?”
Richard wouldn't win this contest of wits. The only option was to quit the field. “Tell me why this madman wanted my brother dead, Marshal.”
“Edward was in charge of the project to bring us gifted children. This man's sperm was used and he had some emotional attachment to the pregnant mother.”
“A man protecting his woman and his child. Not such a madman after all.”
Oh, Edward. Did I not tell you all those years ago that asking people and giving them an illusion of choice saved so many problems? But, no, you demanded obedience and damn those who got in your way.
Richard had simply removed himself from Edward's orbit. The rest had obeyed or died. Until now.
“He died for the Court. And, as your surfing keeps you young, his missions kept him alive,” Marshal said.
“And Edward didn't care what methods he used, as always.”
“He was loyal.” Marshal closed his eyes. “I cannot fault him for that.”
“You miss him.”
“As I miss half my heart.” Marshal looked away. “As I miss you.”
Richard's guilt and grief crashed over him, like a monster wave. “I'm sorry.”
“Not as sorry as I am, sending him on a mission that resulted in his death.”
Marshal had seen so much death. They both had. Richard had the waves to live for. Marshal, he guessed, had his Queen.
“And now you want to complete Edward's mission?”
Marshal sighed, deflated, his stolid bearing gone, leaving only a tired old man sitting in a lawn chair. “There is no hope of success in that mission now. The mother is too well protected and we lost too many men we couldn't afford to lose. It took a goodly amount of money and influence to cover up the incident.” Marshal walked to the balcony. “No, that battle is done.”
Richard stood. “My brother's death goes unanswered?”
“You seek vengeance rather than the waves now? That's a change.”
“I would've expected the Court to take care of its own,” Richard snapped. Dammit, Edward was as contradictory an influence in death as much as in life. Half of him was relieved that his sneering, imperious brother was gone. The other half wanted to destroy whoever had killed him.
“Your brother was a soldier who fell in battle. There's nothing to avenge. And there is another life at stake now.”
“Another life? Explain.”
Marshal set his hands on the railing and watched the waves break.
“Your home reminds me of the beaches in the Middle East.” Marshal turned to face him. “You're not surfing properly.”
“What do you know about surfing?”
“Once it became an interest of yours, I made it a study of mine.” He curled his hand around Richard's forearm. “A sword should be an extension of your arm. You always battled the blade for control instead of letting it become part of you. You're doing the same with the waves. You fight them instead of merging with them.”
Richard looked back to the sea. “Your advice is that I need to be one with the water. Hah. It's advice I've heard before, but I never expected it from you.”
“I think surfing will not ultimately bring you peace.” Marshal released his hold.
“I love it.”
“Love does not always bring peace. Quite the opposite.”
“Stop stalling, Marshal. What else is wrong? Whose life is at stake?”
“Everything is at stake.” Marshal paced away from the railing. “She is ill. No, she's dying. Edward's death hit her hard, but she was failing before then.”
She. There was only one “she” in Marshal's world. “The
is ill? The Queen cannot die.”
She was the Queen.
“Yet she fades each day.” Marshal stopped, his back to Richard. His shoulders shook, and his voice was uneven. “She has lost the will to live. I cannot reason with her, I cannot help her. If Edward's task had been successful, it might have saved her. But with that failure and his death, she'll be gone. Soon.”
Richard put his hand on Marshal's shoulder from behind. “How can I possibly help her if you and Edward couldn't?”
“She told me she has a quest for you. It's the only set thought in her mind.” Marshal cleared his throat. “I cannot lose her. Will you come?”
“You doubt me?”
“You've given me no reason to believe you still cared,” Marshal snapped.
He deserved that.
“Yes, I'll come.”
As the limousine that had picked them up from the New Orleans airport pulled up to the house, Richard peered out the window. So little had changed in the Queen's residence since he'd left almost a quarter of a century ago.
“Has she altered anything?” Richard asked.
“She likes the familiar. You know that,” Marshal said. “She'll not like your garb.”
“I like it.” His hoodie and loose khakis, along with the boat shoes, didn't qualify as proper court attire. He supposed he should have at least worn a T-shirt under the hoodie, but he was feeling perverse. “If the Queen dismisses me because of my clothes, then she's too far gone for me to save.”
“If you cared about her, you would indulge her when she is so ill.”
“I'm indulging her. I'm here, right?” And, besides, he had no other clothes. Nor the desire to don the role he'd abandoned so many years ago.
Richard stepped out of the limousine. He stared at the three-story, gray-and-purple mansion in front of him. Two perfectly matched hundred-year-old trees in the yard guarded the home, but they seemed less imposing than he remembered. The wrought-iron fencing was shorter than he recalled.
Richard saw no sign that Hurricane Katrina and the resulting flooding had touched this place. But the French Quarter survived all that, though the residence was now surrounded by a city still somewhat in ruins.
A fit metaphor for the Court, he decided.
He wondered if the Queen was truly sick or if this was a ploy. Marshal told the truth, but it could be only the truth as he perceived it. The Queen loved her games.
“It looks smaller,” he said to Marshal.
“You've become used to California mansions,” Marshal said. “Or perhaps your memory plays tricks on you. That seems to be the case far too often with memories.”
The old warrior had spoken little on the flight, save to emphasize he didn't know why his Queen was failing. There hadn't been much to say about that.
“How bad is she, truly?” Richard asked.
“You think she's shamming and I was fooled by some ploy to bring you home, Richard? I wish that were the case.”
Marshal dismissed the driver and stood next to Richard on the street. Perhaps he was also reluctant to go inside.
“We've brought in modern doctors. Nothing they've tried has worked. She only seemed to regain a semblance of herself when I called and told her I was returning with you. If you can't reach her, she's doomed.”
“You lay a heavy responsibility on the black sheep.” What was the surfer term for ultimate calm? Ace. Yes. He would be ace. He would imagine himself in the circle of a wave, alone and untouchable.
Richard walked past the unlocked gate and up the stairs to the doorway that was framed by two Corinthian columns. Before he could knock, a butler opened the door and ushered them inside. The man, whom Richard did not recognize, took their coats. As all their butlers had been through the years, he was dressed impeccably in a gray suit.
“You're new,” Richard said.
“I have served the house for over twenty years, sir. Perhaps you are new and are unaware of the rules of proper dress?”
Behind him, Marshal coughed. Richard hoped that was to cover a laugh.
“I'm aware. But perhaps you've heard of me. They say I do as I please. They're right.”
“This is Prince Richard Plantagenet,” Marshal said.
The butler's eyes widened. He bowed. “Welcome, my prince.”
Richard patted the butler's shoulder. “Thanks, dude.”
The butler stepped back, his mouth open, perhaps in shock.
“Is the Queen in her quarters, Winscott?” Marshal asked.
“Yes. I let her know you'd arrived, Lord Marshal. She is with the doctor and a handmaiden.” The butler's face held the ghost of a smile. Not for me, Richard thought. For Marshal. Richard regretted the tease. The man was doing his best.
“It's good to see you back, sir,” the butler said.
“Thank you,” Marshal replied.
Marshal won men's loyalties with his innate honesty. The Court worshipped the Queen. They loved Marshal. And Richard was with them on both.
“You didn't need to behave that way to Winscott,” Marshal said as he led Richard up the winding staircase to the third floor of the mansion.
“Yeah, I know.”
Richard hesitated in the hallway at the top of the stairs. This was the final step. He tapped the stone hanging from a string around his neck. An ordinary beach rock held by an ordinary string, but it was a touchstone that reminded him of his real home.
Richard opened the door to the Queen's main receiving room. To his left were her private offices and, beyond that, the palace room. Richard wondered if it still had a proper throne. On the right were the Queen's living quarters, including her parlor and bedroom.
A young woman, hunched over her embroidery, greeted them. Like Winscott the butler, she was unfamiliar. If his friends from California were here, they'd instantly dub her a babe.
“Howzit?” Richard asked her.
“Um, sir? I'm not sure what you mean.” She stared past him to Marshal, obviously pleading him to help her sort out this maniac.
“It's all right, Greta.” Marshal sighed. “This is Prince Richard, Edward's brother. He's returned to us today.”
“My apologies, Prince Richard! I should've recognized you. You look much like your brother.”
“So it's always been said. Greetings, Greta.”
She placed her embroidery to the side, stood and bent her knee in a curtsy. “Welcome home.”
This is not home.
“Thank you.” More teasing didn't seem appropriate, just now.
“How many are with the Queen?” Marshal asked.