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Authors: Jane Godman

Otherworld Challenger

BOOK: Otherworld Challenger
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KING OF THE OTHERWORLD

The race is on to find the true heir to the faerie crown before the evil king Moncoya returns from exile. Mercenary necromancer Jethro de Loix will find the challenger to Moncoya's crown...for a price. One million mortal dollars. Outraged at Jethro's audacity, Princess Vashti, Moncoya's daughter, arranges to accompany him on his mission.

Jethro doesn't want company, especially not from Moncoya's belligerent, pampered daughter. But as their journey pits them against evil forces, their animosity soon gives way to an overwhelming physical attraction. When the trail ends on the legendary Isle of Avalon, can the pair face down the evil sorceress Morgan le Fay to claim a future they'd long denied themselves?

“What do you do while you're here?”

“On the island? Relax. Do some fishing, sailing, read a ton of books. Just unwind.”

“Oh.” She wrinkled her nose.

“You look like you have no idea what I'm talking about.”

Because she did it so rarely, when Vashti smiled it was like the sun had broken through storm clouds. “I suppose people might think unwinding would come naturally to a princess. But I've spent my whole life on a tight schedule.”

Something in the matter-of-fact words tugged at a chord of sympathy deep within him. Who'd have thought? Empathy toward the faerie princess. He'd have to watch himself. Vashti was still Moncoya's daughter. Like her father, she was beautiful, destructive and untrustworthy. Now was a good time to remind himself of that...while he was gazing up into those incredible blue eyes.

Jane Godman
writes in a variety of genres including paranormal, gothic and historical romance and erotic romantic suspense. She also enjoys the occasional foray into horror and thriller writing. Jane lives in England and loves to travel to European cities, which are steeped in history and romance—Venice, Dubrovnik and Vienna are among her favorites. A teacher, Jane is married to a lovely man and is mom to two grown-up children.

Books by Jane Godman

Harlequin Nocturne

Otherworld Protector
Otherworld Renegade
Otherworld Challenger

Harlequin E Shivers

Legacy of Darkness
Echoes in the Darkness
Valley of Nightmares
Darkness Unchained

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OTHERWORLD
CHALLENGER

Jane Godman

Dear Reader,

Otherworld Challenger
is the third book in the Otherworld series. It's been quite a journey so far! I hope you've enjoyed it as much as I have.

At the end of the last book,
Otherworld Renegade
, the “good guys” were facing a huge challenge.... They had to find the true heir to the faerie crown so that they could get rid of Moncoya—the charismatic, but evil, king of the faeries.

One man steps forward to offer his help. Jethro de Loix is a mercenary, selling his skills as a necromancer to the highest bidder. When Jethro names his price, Princess Vashti, Moncoya's daughter, is outraged at his effrontery. There is no love lost between maverick Jethro and prickly Vashti, so when she decides to teach him a lesson, sparks fly!

I've loved weaving elements of Arthurian legend into these books, and there are some surprises in this one as the identity of the challenger is revealed. And I'm delighted to say that there will be more Otherworld books to come.

I'd love to hear from you. You can contact me at
www.janegodmanauthor.com
, on Twitter
@JaneGodman
or on Facebook at
Jane Godman Author
.

Happy reading,

Jane

This book is dedicated to my family, who always support and encourage me...and never complain about the strange ideas I bounce off them!

Chapter 1

“I
'll do it.”

The words had the same effect on the assembled company as a volley of bullets fired into the ornate ceiling of the vast banquet hall. Every head turned in the direction of the man who had uttered them. Lounging back on two legs of his chair, his broad shoulders against the wall and his booted feet on the round meeting table, he returned their stares with his customary nonchalance and continued munching on an apple.

“You can't seriously be prepared to listen to
him
. He'd sell his grandmother to the imps if the price was right.” The words burst from Vashti's lips before she could stop them.

“The Crown Princess Vashti is reminded of the Alliance's fundamental principle of respect for all species.” The condemnatory voice of the clerk echoed around the room. “Moreover, all speakers must first be approved by Merlin Caledonius, Leader of the Council.”

Vashti felt a blush of embarrassment turn the heat of rage already burning her cheeks a darker shade of red. It didn't help that
he
was openly smirking at her humiliation. “I withdraw my remark.” She spoke the words stiffly.

“Thank you.” Merlin Caledonius, or Cal as he preferred to be known, inclined his head in her direction before turning to address Jethro de Loix. “What will you do exactly?”

“Exactly what you want. Find the true King of the Faeries and bring him back here to challenge Moncoya for the crown.”

A murmur of interest rippled around the table and Vashti smothered her derisive exclamation by turning it into a cough. Couldn't any of them see Jethro de Loix for the maverick he was? Even the way he was dressed flouted convention. Everyone else around the table respected the formality of the occasion. Not Jethro. His white-linen shirt was unbuttoned a little too far, the waistcoat he wore over it hung casually open. Those long, long legs were encased in a pair of well-worn black jeans and the battered boots that rested on the conference table looked like they had walked the length of Otherworld and back. Perhaps they had. With his overlong jet-black hair tied at the nape of his neck with a leather thong and his hawk-like profile he was too—her mind searched for a suitable adjective and could only come up with
swashbuckling
—for this solemn setting.

Jethro bit into the apple again, his teeth startlingly white against the red skin of the fruit.

Several hands were raised around the table and the clerk, a pompous little elf, noted their names in his record book. “Prince Tibor wishes to address the Council meeting.”

The vampire prince rose, bowing his head slightly in Cal's direction. Vashti could never see Tibor without being struck by two things. His stunning physical beauty and the fact that she had never met anyone who looked less like a vampire. Stella, Cal's wife, had once remarked that he looked like a fashion model or a Scandinavian soccer player. Vashti, with her limited knowledge of the mortal realm, had no way of knowing what the comment meant, but she didn't think either option sounded vampire-like.

“Esteemed Council Leader, fellow Council members, our Alliance is a new and fragile one. We have taken the decision to offer our individual dynasties democracy. Our people will soon get to vote for who will lead them and represent them at this table in the future. It was a brave and noble act on our part.” Heads nodded around the table. “We believe our dynasties will vote wisely...”

Do we?
Vashti risked a glance around the table. Tibor might be secure in the vampire vote—his loyal followers were not about to overturn centuries of tradition—but there were others whose places at the table were not so secure. Anwyl, the wolf leader, fought a constant battle against Nevan, a ferociously ambitious alpha newcomer who sought to usurp his place as pack leader. And, of course, there was the reason they were all here today. The problem that united them all.
Daddy dearest
.

“...but there is one dynasty for which we all fear the outcome. If the faeries vote to confirm Moncoya's place as their leader, Otherworld will descend once more into chaos. My friends, I fear there will be no return to order next time.”

“Garrick wishes to address the meeting.”

The elf leader stood. “You paint a gloomy picture indeed, Prince. Yet did this Council not, at its first meeting, request that Merlin Caledonius issue a warrant for the arrest of Moncoya as a war criminal for acts of barbarity against his own people? There is still time to do that. Then, should he attempt to return and take his place as leader of the faeries, surely his reign would be short-lived? Not only would he face imprisonment, if he is found guilty it is likely he would be executed for his crimes. Even Moncoya's arrogance would not lead him to take such a step.”

Cal cast an apologetic glance in Vashti's direction. He knew how hard it was for her to listen to accounts of her father's atrocities and maintain an outwardly impervious manner. “I am reluctant to take such a step at this stage. Although the battle for control of Otherworld drove Moncoya into hiding, it did not topple him from his throne. He is still the King of the Faeries and there are many who wish to see him return openly. If the faeries elect Moncoya as their leader, we will have to tread carefully. The fae population is one of the largest in Otherworld. We cannot risk alienating them by taking an inflammatory action against the leader they choose.
If
they choose him. Princess Vashti, perhaps you can aid this discussion by telling the Council the mood of your people?”

Cal had warned her in advance that he would ask her this question today. Rising, she was conscious of all eyes upon her. So why did the intense gaze of Jethro de Loix, who wasn't even part of this Council, bother her more than any other? “I wish I could give my fellow Alliance members a definitive answer to that question. Sadly, I cannot. If the faeries were asked to vote tomorrow, indications are there would be an even split with half voting for Moncoya—” she had schooled herself not to refer to him as “my father” in this setting “—and half evenly split between the other opposition parties.”

Prince Tibor raised his hand. “The princess's words raise the real possibility of Moncoya taking his seat at this table in the near future.”

The clerk gestured to Anwyl the Wolf. “I will not be part of an Alliance that includes Moncoya.” Several heads around the table nodded in agreement.

So it begins
. Moncoya's return would destroy all the good work they had done. Otherworld would descend once more into the constant battles that had threatened to tear it apart before the Alliance had been formed. Vashti met Cal's eyes briefly and she knew he was thinking the same thing. “Anwyl, the sentiments you express are the reason why it is so important for us to find the true heir to King Ivo, the faerie leader who was killed by Moncoya in the bloody coup through which he seized power. The current opposition parties, all well-meaning, do not offer the faerie race a viable alternative to Moncoya's strong rule. King Ivo was deeply loved by his people. If we can produce his heir, I believe that will sway their vote.”

Anwyl, still on his feet, looked skeptical. “What proof do we have that this so-called heir even exists?”

“We have the word of the leader of the Dominion, the fourth choir of angels. We also know that the Goddesses of Fate summoned Princess Vashti's sister, Tanzi, to them at the palace of Gladsheim recently and spoke to her of the true heir. Our biggest problem lies in the fact that the identity of the heir has been so well hidden he himself is unaware of it. The goddesses told Tanzi that the answer lies on the Isle of Avalon.”

Anwyl's noble features remained mistrustful. “The Goddesses of Fate delight in interfering.”

The clerk cleared his throat in preparation for another reminder about respect, but Cal spoke before he could intervene. “While that may be true, the goddesses are not able to lie. If we are to find the heir, someone must go to Avalon in search of him. It is a journey that is both perilous and unprecedented. We have only one offer to make the attempt. That offer has come from Jethro.”

Everyone in the room knew Prince Tibor hated Jethro and had sworn to kill him for the perceived crime of stealing the vampire leader's human servant from him. Even so, the prince's words, when he turned to speak to the necromancer, were polite. “You would do this? Knowing the dangers, you would be prepared to go to Avalon in search of the faerie heir?”

Jethro's smile—the piratical one, the one Vashti loathed with every fiber of her being—dawned. “For the right price.”

“And what is that price?” Cal's voice was razor-sharp. As the Council leader, he was scrupulously fair. He would offer no favors just because Jethro was a fellow necromancer and a close friend.

“One million mortal dollars.”

* * *

The Council leaders were huddled in groups during lunch, but it was obvious there was only one topic of conversation. Would they be prepared to part with a million dollars to maintain their Alliance and rid Otherworld of Moncoya?

“Are you serious?” Cal asked Jethro as the two men took their plates of food out onto the terrace.

“I never joke about money.”

“A million dollars is a hell of a lot of cash. It might not seem so much in the mortal realm these days, but to the Otherworld leaders, it represents the equivalent of a huge amount of money.”

“It's a hell of a dangerous job.” Jethro leaned against the stone balustrade and looked through the open full-length windows into the banquet hall. “I'll be turning down some much easier work to do this favor for you, Cal.”

“I'm honored.” Cal's voice dripped sarcasm.

Jethro turned back to face him, all trace of humor gone from his face. “My other work is hit-and-miss. This would be one big, guaranteed payday. I've been thinking for a while of giving up the mercenary lifestyle, but when the vampire prince has sworn to rip your throat out, you need a larger-than-average nest egg.”

“I could try to intercede with Tibor on your behalf about this revenge thing he has going against you. I never could understand why his human servant switched allegiance and suddenly decided you were his master.”

“No one could. Least of all me.” Jethro felt his lips thin into a line at the memory. He glanced into the room. Tibor was talking to Vashti, leaning attentively toward her as the princess smiled up at him. Since Princess Tanzi had recently thrown the prince over, it looked like Tibor was about to make a move on her twin sister. Good luck to him. They were two of a kind. “But Dimitar left him and became my friend. That bastard killed him for that reason and no other. Now he wants to do the same to me. Let him try. Don't grovel to the blood-sucking son of a bitch on my behalf.”

The good thing about Cal, Jethro decided, was he knew when to change the subject. It was the wisdom acquired through centuries of being the world's greatest sorcerer. When you were the man responsible for bringing King Arthur to the throne—the whole Camelot and Knights of the Round Table thing—you'd probably seen it all before. “Will you be going to the wedding?”

Jethro laughed. “I might have to. Just to prove to myself that my old friend Lorcan Malone is going to get married at last. And to one of Moncoya's daughters.” He looked back to where Vashti was standing alone now. Her physical beauty was undeniable...and breathtaking. That lily-pale, flawless complexion and short, light blond hair gave her a fragile appearance Jethro knew was deceptive. She was a lethal fighting machine, as vicious as Moncoya himself. And about as trustworthy. “Personally, I'll never understand the attraction.”

“I've gotten to know Vashti since the battle that led to Moncoya's exile. Except in looks, she doesn't resemble Moncoya, and I have a great deal of respect for the devotion she has shown to the faerie dynasty. It can't have been easy for her to have learned of Moncoya's crimes against his own people.”

Jethro shrugged. It wasn't like Cal to be easily duped, but he wasn't going to waste time debating the matter. His only interest in Vashti lay in whether she could sway the other Council members against him. He knew she was about to give it her best shot. “Will they go for it?” He nodded toward the banquet hall where the dignitaries were resuming their places at the table.

Cal grinned. “You'll find out soon enough. Wait here. The clerk will call you in when we've reached a decision.”

It was a long wait. Jethro paced the terrace outside the banquet hall a dozen times. What the hell was there to talk about? They were either going to pay him or they weren't. Obviously he hoped they would, but he wasn't going to lose sleep over it if the answer was no. He had a few alternative offers lined up, none of them particularly exciting. He didn't need the money for himself. He'd named the sum for the devilry of it, but now the challenge was out there and Jethro had never backed down from one of them. He needed this adrenaline rush...strange considering the entire vampire dynasty was looking to drain his blood. And there was the new threat of the mysterious but incredibly powerful sorcerer and trickster called Iago, who had sworn to kill Jethro, Cal, Lorcan and Stella.

I don't just need eyes in the back of my head, I need them on both sides, as well. Truth be told, I might already have more adrenaline than I can handle.

Jethro wondered if the Council was taking their time because they wanted to haggle over the price. He shook his head. If that was the case, they could find themselves another mercenary.
I'm not a cut-rate guy.

The French doors opened and the little clerk appeared, interrupting his deliberations. “Merlin Caledonius requests your return to the Council table.”

Jethro followed him inside and resumed his previous seat. A glance around the table told him nothing. The faces of the representatives were impassive.

BOOK: Otherworld Challenger
6.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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