Night of the Dark Horse (An Allegra Fairweather Mystery)

BOOK: Night of the Dark Horse (An Allegra Fairweather Mystery)
6.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Night of the Dark Horse
By Janni Nell


I had barely arrived in Ireland to investigate a pooka terrorizing the villagers of Dingaleen when I got called to ride the fairy horse myself. When a pooka calls, you answer—and hold on for dear life.

Unfortunately, the beast tossed me into a bog. Fortunately, my gorgeous guardian angel fished me out. Just barely.

You see, Casper is still weak from tangling with an evil spirit on our last case. So he’s not even much help to me in the land o’ the green. The powers-that-be are even hinting at retirement...

But I won’t lose Casper. Not now. Not ever. As luck would have it, I have a chance, albeit a slim one, to save him and get the answers I need to solve the pooka case—if I just take a wee trip through Fairyland. Except angels aren’t welcome there, humans can’t eat, drink or sleep there, and time is running out.


56,000 words

Dear Reader,

April is when the romance conference season really starts to get busy for me. Every spring, I attend the
convention, a gathering of about 500 authors, readers and publishing professionals who come together to celebrate their love of both romance and genre fiction. Each year, I come away from that conference, and the many others I attend that are focused on the love of books (like the Lori Foster Reader Get Together in Ohio), with a renewed enthusiasm for diving back into my to-be-read pile. As well as a long list of authors and books to add to that to-be-read pile! But because it’s a busy travel time of year for me, that also means more time on the plane and in airports for reading.

Maybe you’re like me—traveling to conferences and in need of some plane reading. Or maybe you just need one more book to add to your to-be-read pile. Possibly you’ve got a newborn baby who keeps you up at night and gets you up early in the morning, and you need something you can read on the ereader in one hand while the baby is in the other. Or perhaps you’re just in search of a good book. You’re in luck; our April books can fill all those needs!

The first book in our newest genre addition, New Adult, releases this month. If you love contemporary romance, sports romance, a (mostly) Jewish, spunky heroine and a hero who will make your heart melt, you’ll want to read
Rush Me
by debut author Allison Parr.

This month, I’m pleased to introduce the first book in a six-book series written by four authors. Ginny Glass, Christina Thacher, Emily Cale and Maggie Wells kick off a series of contemporary romance short story collections with
Love Letters Volume 1: Obeying Desire
. Each volume will center around a different seriously sexy theme. I’ll bet you can’t guess what the theme of the first volume is, with a title like
Obeying Desire
! Look for the second volume,
Love Letters Volume 2: Duty to Please
, releasing in May 2013.

Fans of contemporary romance will enjoy
Saved by the Bride
, the first book in a new trilogy by RITA® Award-winning author Fiona Lowe. Who knew that being a klutz and combining it with a distrust of wedding bouquets could lead to a black eye?

Joining Fiona and Allison in the contemporary romance category is Kate Davies, with
Cutest Couple
, book two in Kate’s high-school reunion trilogy, Girls Most Likely to… Look for the conclusion of the trilogy,
Life of the Party
, in May 2013.

Co-authors Anna Leigh Keaton and Madison Layle deliver another scorching Puma Nights story with
Falke’s Renegade
, while Jodie Griffin joins them in heating up your ereader with her third erotic BDSM Bondage & Breakfast book,
Forbidden Fires

On the paranormal and science fiction front, we have a number of titles for fans. Veteran author Kate Pearce begins a new series with
Soul Sucker
, in which
The X-Files
in San Francisco Bay and two worlds collide. Kat Cantrell, winner of Harlequin’s 2011 So You Think You Can Write contest, joins Carina Press with her first science fiction romance,
, while returning author Eleri Stone gives us another jaguar shifter in
Lost City Shifters: Rebellion
, book three in this compelling series.

Clockwork Mafia
by Seleste deLaney brings us back to the Western steampunk world of
. Inventor Henrietta Mason is retiring from airships and adventuring to return home to Philadelphia. Determined to erase all trails leading to her late father’s duplicity, she dismantles his lab and removes all records of the Badlands gold. And last but certainly not least in the paranormal category,
Night of the Dark Horse
by Janni Nell continues the adventures of Allegra Fairweather, paranormal investigator.

This month, Bronwyn Stuart follows up her fantastic debut historical romance,
Scandal’s Mistress
, with her unique regency romance,
Behind the Courtesan
, featuring—you guessed it—a courtesan heroine.

On the non-romance side, Jean Harrington brings us the third Murders by Design cozy mystery installment,

And joining Carina Press with an epic fantasy trilogy, Angela Highland tells the story of a half-elven healer with no control over her magic. Faanshi has always been a pawn of the powerful, but after healing two mysterious and very different men, she faces a choice that may decide the fate of a whole kingdom. If you love fantasy, pick up
Valor of the Healer
, book one in the Rebels of Adalonia trilogy.

As you can see, April is full of books to distract you wherever you are, whatever you’re supposed to be doing, and even if you have a baby in your arms. I hope you enjoy these titles as much as we’ve enjoyed working on them.

We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your thoughts, comments and questions to
[email protected]
. You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter stream and Facebook fan page.

Happy reading!

~Angela James
Executive Editor, Carina Press


This is for the readers. I cherish every one of you.


Many thanks and big hugs to:

My editor, Liz Bass, who has championed Allegra from the beginning. Where would I be without you?

Copyeditor Kim Cannon, who made some very good saves. Thanks for all your hard work.

Frauke Spanuth, who is responsible for the amazing covers. The use of color is sublime!

Angela James and all the wonderful people at Carina Press.

These things I warmly wish to you—

Someone to love

Some work to do

A bit o’ sun

A bit o’ cheer

And a guardian angel always near.

—Irish saying

Chapter One

“Allegra Mabel Fairweather. I call you to ride.”

I peeped through the window like a wussy maiden aunt. Jagged lightning strobed the cottages that lined the main street. It seemed deserted, but I knew something was out there. Something that liked storms better than sunshine, darkness better than light. A volley of rain hit the window. I flinched. A hand touched my shoulder.

Ronan said, “You’re not goin’ out there, are you?”

Well, I didn’t want to, but staying warm and dry wouldn’t help me solve the case. I’m a paranormal investigator and I’d been hired to stop a certain creature from terrorizing the good people of Dingaleen. I waited for the next flash of lightning to illuminate the street. It came with an abruptness that made me squint and shield my eyes.

A sleek black horse stood in the middle of the road. Wind whipped its mane into a Medusa frenzy. It pawed the slick tarmac. Throwing back its head, it snorted a stream of flames. The air was thick with the scent of sulfur.

“Allegra Mabel Fairweather,” it called again in a voice laced with shamrocks.

I know, I know, a talking horse, but this was a pooka—an Irish shapeshifter who could become a variety of creatures, including the dark horse I now faced. Their favorite pastime was taking humans on midnight rides. When one called your name, you didn’t refuse. Not unless you wanted your garden trampled, your windows kicked in, or worse.

As I headed for the door, Ronan’s fingers locked on my wrist. “Don’t go outside. That thing will kill you.”

I pried his fingers from my arm. Ronan had hired me to stop the pooka, and I couldn’t do that hiding behind his drapes. I yanked open the front door. A blast of rain-laced wind smacked my face making me gasp.

“Wait.” Ronan handed me a waterproof coat. “You’ll need this.”

I could think of more useful things: a saddle and bridle, a copy of
, a very large piña colada...but I took what was offered. Shoving my arms into the too-short sleeves, I stepped into the freezing night. The pooka’s feral eyes pierced the darkness. More flames shot from its nostrils.

“Is that the best you can do?” I demanded. Nope, I didn’t have a death wish. I wanted to unsettle it. Angry creatures are more likely to make a mistake.

The thing snarled, exposing thick teeth just right for grinding human bones. “Ye’ve got a gob that begs for a kickin’. Shut it and climb on me back.”

“Gee I’d love to, but we’ve not been properly introduced. What’s your name?”

The pooka pawed the ground impatiently. “Just climb on me back.”

“Not until you tell me your name.”

“You can call me Pooka.”

“That’s not a proper name. It’s like calling you ghost or goblin. If we’re going to chat during this ride—”

“Ye’ll be screamin’ too hard to chat.” The pooka made a sound that was two parts snort, one part evil laugh. It reared up, taking aim at me with lethal hoofs. I dodged out of the way, but it came after me, rearing and pawing the air, its rabid eyes gleamed with malice. “Sure, and that’s a taste of what ye’ll get if ye refuse to ride. Now climb on me back.”

“Why are you terrorizing the people of Dingaleen?”

A deep rumble came from its throat. “That’s me own sweet business.”

“Looks like we’re done, then.” I turned back to Ronan’s house. He stood at the open door. The porch light was on and rain slashed his face.

The pooka said, “Not so fast, Allegra Fairweather. I called ye to ride and ride ye will.”

“I don’t think so. Not unless you answer my question. Why are you hurting the people of Dingaleen?”

The pooka flicked its ebony tail. Impatient. “If ye refuse to ride, I’ll call for Ronan again.”

No way could Ronan ride with his leg in a brace. He could barely walk without a stomach full of pain pills. If
had to ride to save Ronan from further injury, so be it. I sucked it up and prepared to mount.

The pooka was taller than your average horse. His back was bare and so shiny I feared I’d slide right off. “Don’t suppose you have a saddle?”

“Don’t be an eejit. One more stupid question and I’ll call for Ronan.”

“Okay, okay.” I wrapped my fingers in its thick mane and threw one leg over its back. I was sitting astride when it suddenly reared up. I lost my grip, clutched air and started to slide down its back. Just before I sailed right off, the beast lurched, bucking its butt and propelling me forward. My forehead crashed into its neck and I got a mouthful of mane. I was pulling hairs from my mouth when it shot forward, going from zero to gallop in seconds. I leaned low, wrapping my arms around its neck noose-tight. Its hair grazed my cheek. Its rippling muscles bruised my thighs. Holy crap, if I ever walked again it would be a miracle.

Soon we had left the village behind. For a while the pooka stuck to the road. There wasn’t much traffic at midnight and we didn’t pass a single car. A gallop is the fastest gait of a horse. Unless it’s a pooka. Double the fastest gallop of the fastest horse and you’d still fall far short of the pooka’s speed. Even when it left the road it didn’t slow down, plunging through the woods like an out-of-control rollercoaster. It was particularly fond of passing under low branches as though it hoped I’d hit my head. I was too quick, though, ducking every time.

It charged on, weaving and dodging around trees, leaping over undergrowth, snorting flames and having a great old time wreaking havoc—until it suddenly stopped. There was no warning, no slowing down, just a dead stop. At the speed we were traveling, I had no chance to halt my forward motion. I barely had time to think
before I sailed over the pooka’s head and plummeted to earth. My fall was broken by something soft and squishy.

The bog was so deep I couldn’t feel the bottom. I spat mud and flailed around trying to reach firmer ground. With each movement, the mud sucked me deeper. The bog was like a living thing, hungry for human flesh. It took a super-human effort just to keep my mouth and nose above the surface.

“Hey, Pooka, I’m gonna drown here. Help me out.”

It trotted to the edge of the bog and stared down at me. “How can I help? I’m just a horse.”

Right, so the creature was going to be difficult.

I sucked up my impatience and said sweetly, “There are branches on the ground. Pick one up in your teeth and throw it to me. Look, that one there. It’s long enough. If you anchor the other end with your hoof, I can haul myself out.”

The pooka picked up the branch and dragged it to the edge of the bog.

“That’s right,” I encouraged. “Now throw it to me.”

The pooka swung its head and tossed the branch, which sailed over my head and landed in the center of the bog with a loud splat.

“Oops,” said the pooka. “I’m shite at rescuin’ people. I’ll get help. Don’t ye move now.”

It galloped off, leaving a trail of maniacal laughter in its wake. I didn’t think it would be back any time soon, but maybe I was just being pessimistic. I floundered around, trying to reach the bank. My mouth filled with mud, and I spat and coughed. Drowning in a bog was not my preferred way to die. Besides, I had a case to solve, and no fire-breathing pooka was going to stop me. It was time to call in the cavalry.


I had first met my guardian angel when he pulled me from the path of a speeding car. I’d been six years old. Now I was almost twenty-six. Over the years my feelings for Casper had changed from friendship to something deeper. Not that I could act on those feelings. Casper’s Rules of Conduct prevented him from getting involved with me. Or anyone else for that matter. During his lifetime, when the Romans had ruled Europe, he’d been a Germanic Warrior committing all the usual acts of violence. He had spent the last two thousand years making amends and trying to earn enough credit points to enter Heaven. All his good work would be wasted if he broke his Rules of Conduct and joined me in a horizontal mambo.

“Casper,” I yelled, when he failed to appear immediately, “where the heck are you?” Too late I remembered something Casper had told me recently.

During my last case, in Spain, he’d been badly injured. He had explained that he might never fully recover. He’d warned me to avoid dangerous situations, which was kind of like advising leprechauns to give up making shoes or smoking pipes. Why do you think the Powers-That-Be had given me a guardian angel in the first place? They don’t do that for everyone. But now it seemed I was on my own for the first time in twenty years. Getting out of the bog without heavenly assistance wouldn’t be easy, but I’d give it my best shot.

I moved my arms very, very carefully and tried to kind of float my way to the bank. With each movement the mud roped around me, sucking me deeper. Shoulders, neck, chin, nose. I struggled to poke my mouth above the mud. One breath was all I managed before I started to sink again. Right before the mud invaded my ears, I thought I heard a deep masculine voice call, “Hang on. I’m here.” Then my head went under.

In a last ditch effort to save myself I worked one hand through the mud. Cool air brushed my fingers. I wiggled them hoping Casper could see. Beneath the mud I held my breath and waited for his big hand to close over mine and haul me to safety. Something plopped into the bog right above my submerged head. I felt around until I touched the end of a thick branch. I caught hold of it. Relief flooded me as I was pulled to the surface. The fresh air tasted amazing. I wiped mud from my eyes.

Casper always looks good, but never more than when he’s rescuing me from certain death. His hair is more gold than blond, and frames a strong jaw and wide cheekbones. He’s several inches taller than my six foot and one half inch frame, and as built as you’d expect a former Germanic warrior to be. He doesn’t even have to work out. He remains in the same excellent condition as he was prior to his death sometime around 1AD. Oh, did I mention his eyes? They’re probably my favorite of his features—a strange mixture of green, brown and amber that reminds me of the dappled light in an ancient forest.

Casper pulled the branch—and me—toward the bank. Despite his trembling arms, he made steady progress until my coat snagged on something beneath the mud. My hands slipped off the branch. I flailed around fighting to regain my grip and only succeeded in sinking deeper.

“Stay still.” Casper caught hold of a nearby shrub and leaned out over the bog. “Take my hand.”

His skin was slick with rain. My hand slid out of his once, twice. Then I got both hands around his wrist and locked on tight. Slowly he dragged me toward the bank. I was within reach of safety when the effort became too much for his weakened body. He shuddered and swore, losing his balance and pitching forward into the mud. He landed on top of me, forcing us both below the surface.

We were only inches from dry land, but it would take a miracle to untangle our limbs and reach the surface before I drowned. I was giving it my best shot when my hand hit a rock. It took a chunk of skin from my wrist, but I didn’t care. This was my way out. I put one foot on the rock and pushed upward. My head broke the surface. I grabbed a nearby branch and hauled myself out of the bog. Safe on the bank, I looked around for Casper. Not in sight. Ah, crap.

I hooked my legs around the same shrub he’d used to anchor himself, and leaned out over the bog digging my hands deep below the surface. When I couldn’t feel him, I plunged my head under, eyes closed, and felt around. The first thing I got hold of was his hair. This was no time to be choosy or kind. I tightened my grip, dragging him through the mud until I could slide my hands under his arms and pull him onto solid ground. That’s when I threw up a river of mud and who-knew-what else. Casper sprawled on the ground beside me, coughing and choking.

“I’m sorry,” he said, when he stopped retching. “I couldn’t hold you. My arms...”

“Don’t speak. Rest,” I said. He fell backward, flat on the ground, and didn’t move.

In Spain, Casper and I had joined forces to defeat an evil spirit. Although we’d been successful, the battle of good against evil had left Casper extremely weak. Last time I’d seen him, a few weeks ago, he’d needed a walking stick for support. Nothing much had changed. The walking stick was in easy reach, but Casper hadn’t moved. Raindrops pattered onto his closed eyelids. His chest rose and fell very slowly. The fury of the storm had diminished with the departure of the pooka, but the rain continued, washing some of the mud from my face and clothes. It might be summer, but an Irish summer isn’t known for its hot nights. I was wet through and Ronan’s soggy coat was making me colder.

“We have to get inside. Somewhere dry,” I said. When Casper didn’t respond, I asked, “Can you hear me?”

“Yes.” He didn’t open his eyes.

“Can you move?” Inch by inch he struggled into a sitting position. I asked, “Can you fly?”

“It’s easier than walking.”

“Great, you can fly me back to Ronan’s place. It’s the big house just outside Dingaleen.”

“Didn’t I warn you not to get into danger until I’d recovered?”

“Who knew the pooka was going to throw me?”

“Oh come on. It’s what they do.”

“Look, I couldn’t say no, okay? It threatened Ronan.”

Casper didn’t have the energy to reprimand me further. Everything he had was focused on getting to his feet. I helped as best I could, handing him the walking stick when he was fully upright. He leaned on it heavily. Then closed his eyes, focusing on making his wings appear. They sprouted through his clothes as they always did, but the golden feathers no longer shone brighter than the Queen of Fairyland’s dewdrop tiara.

I tried not to stare at his drab plumage. “You sure you’re okay?”

“I’ll be fine,” he said. “Grab hold of my shoulders. I’m going to take off.”

I loved flying Air Casper. Not only was it really quick, but it gave me the chance to get up close and personal with my favorite angel. I put my arms around his neck and prepared for takeoff. As usual, he took off vertically and gradually leveled into a horizontal position. It was good to feel his body lifting me on the air currents. I closed my eyes. I wasn’t even cold anymore. Then his muscles began to tremble. He dipped sharply, losing height.

BOOK: Night of the Dark Horse (An Allegra Fairweather Mystery)
6.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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