Forty-eight months and a million years ago, I outlined a prequel to ANGELBOUND. In fact, I planned to release said prequel (named DUTY BOUND) before book one proper, but that didn’t happen for a long list of reasons. Mostly, I blame the need for sleep.
In the years since ANGELBOUND was released, I’ve been thrilled by the ongoing love for all things Lincoln and Myla. My readers even voted to have Lincoln’s story told—and since I love to make readers happy—the prequel novella will launch on February 27, 2018! Today, I’m super-excited to share the first chapter with you.
I hope you enjoy this sample and thanks for your support!
An Angelbound Prequel Novella
I am Lincoln Vidar Osric Aquilus, High Prince of the Thrax. My people are renowned as the greatest demon hunters across Heaven, Hell, Earth, Purgatory, and the Dark Lands. At eighteen years old, I’ve killed precisely one thousand four hundred and thirty-seven demons in hand-to-hand combat, more than any other thrax in history. All of which leads to a single inescapable conclusion.
I can make it through this breakfast with my mother.
At least, I think I can.
“You haven’t touched your eggs, my son.” Mother spears a strawberry off her plate. After many years of maternal encounters, I’ve learned to keep my mouth closed in situations like this one. Mother will bring up her true concerns when she’s good and ready.
In reply, I merely maintain her stare. We’ve an odd relationship, but a close one. We’re both natural schemers, so neither wants to pass up a test of intelligence and charm.
“Perhaps you dislike formal breakfasts,” says Mother as she gestures to my tunic.
“I’m fine with wearing royal garb to meals. Rest assured, all my Batman costumes are safely packed away.” As a child, I fought hard to dress as a human superhero. Unlike demon killing, that was one battle I ultimately lost.
“So you say.” A small smile rounds Mother’s mouth. “Those tunics hide quite a lot.”
“True. I’ve a Bohemian Rhapsody T-shirt on under this thing.”
“I have no idea what that is, but I’m pleased to see you turned out so well.”
This morning, I’m dressed in a velvet tunic, leather pants, and tall boots. Meanwhile, Mother looks regal and lethal in her black velvet gown. She has porcelain skin, delicate features, and an all-knowing glare that reduces hardened warriors to mush.
Needless to say, I’m pleased that her glare has softened. I must remember to work Batman into our conversations more often.
For a few minutes, Mother and I continue our breakfast in silence. It would be pleasant, except for the setting. Our new feasting hall is located in Purgatory.
This place combines the worst of a rundown human suburb with the best of a rotting Dumpster. The sky is constantly cloudy with two types of weather: rainy and about to rain. It’s part of the magic of this realm that the weather is always dreary. Plus, the sky never reveals the sun or moon, and even if it did, those celestial bodies follow different patterns than they do in other realms.
Closing my eyes, I let my thoughts return to the glittering caverns of my homeland. As a rule, thrax live underground on Earth in the realm of Antrum. For some reason, the oracle angel, Verus, has demanded the royal family—and our noble entourage—move to Purgatory for a short period of time. This wasn’t a popular idea, but the oracle’s word is law, so we arrived here three months ago. Until Verus sets us loose, our days will be spent in tents and wooden halls like this one.
I scan the empty benches around me and sigh. It’s hard being separated from the bulk of my people. Quiet breakfasts like this only make things worse. Usually our feasting hall is packed with thrax sharing breakfast at communal tables. However, today Mother insisted on having a family-only morning meal, which in this case translates into me, Mother, and a half-dozen terrified workers. Father should get here any minute now. I can only hope he arrives before Mother’s temper returns.
As if in reply to my thoughts, Mother spears another wilted strawberry with a vengeance. Looks like her temper will resurface before Father does. Bugger.
“You never answered my question,” says Mother. “You haven’t touched your food.” She spears a grape with such force the entire table wobbles.
“Careful there,” I say. “You’ll bring down the roof down.”
“One perk of being queen. I can bring down roofs and no one says a thing.”
At those words, the half-dozen servants in the room visibly shiver.
There’s no question about the general topic of Mother’s angst, either. It’s always the same issue: the House of Acca. That tribe is the largest and most troublesome of all thrax.
At this point, problems with Acca could fall into one of two categories.
One, Mother might be worried about my impending marriage contract with Acca’s most eligible noblewoman, Lady Adair. If Mother thinks there are problems on that front, she would be sorely mistaken. It’s a business arrangement, nothing more. I’d regret that, but I’m a prince. I always knew I’d never marry for love.
Two—and far more worrisome—would be if Mother discovered my ongoing scheme against Aldred, the dreaded Earl of Acca himself. I’ve many issues with the Earl, but my largest is how Aldred keeps leading his warriors into ill-planned demon attacks on the Earth’s surface. Thanks to the Earl of Acca, hundreds of good thrax meet bad ends every week. I meet with the families of the fallen, trying to provide comfort as their worlds fall apart. So many tears and ruined lives…and all so the Earl can prove his so-called prowess in battle.
Even worse, my parents have forbidden me from doing anything to stop Aldred’s bloodshed. Per some ancient treaty, if I interfere with Aldred’s rights to lead his troops, then the Earl has the unmitigated right to execute me on the spot.
And as every royal knows, execution threats and breakfast do not mix well.
Mother narrows her eyes. Like all thrax, she has mismatched irises, one brown and the other blue. “Answer the question, child. Why aren’t you eating?”
I stare at my plate of runny scrambled eggs. “Not hungry.” I’m not much of a foodie on any occasion, but the royal menu has taken a serious nosedive ever since we moved to Purgatory. This realm doesn’t even have cable, let alone the ability to run power lines to our campground. All things considered, the royal chef’s doing wonders with mobile stoves and Bunsen burners.
Mother waves at the roomful of servants. “Leave us.” A half-dozen thrax in traditional medieval garb skitter from the room. The queen is in a mood, and they all know it.
Sadly, I can’t escape so easily.
Mother daintily pats the corners of her mouth with a white linen napkin. “I’m quite concerned about Acca.”
And here it is.
Mother is ready to confront me, and hopefully not about the topic of execution. With a force of will, I keep my features calm. “And what about Acca?”
“You…” She pins me with another withering gaze. Mother can always sense when I’m hiding something.
Unfortunately for me, I am.
“Me…” I say slowly. “You’re about to say how wonderful I am, right? Running the government, fighting demons? You couldn’t wish for a finer prince.” Normally, this reply gets me a half-smile at least.
Not this morning.
Mother leans back on her bench, and I can almost picture the gears of her mind whirring overtime. “You’re an excellent son. That’s not what concerns me.” Her nostrils flare. “You danced with Lady Adair at the ball last night.”
I shrug. “I danced with a number of noblewomen. Adair didn’t receive any special attention.”
“I wish I could believe that. Do you…” Mother inhales a shaky breath. “Do you love her, Lincoln?”
My parents have always been a united front on the “no love in royal marriage” rule. For my mother’s part, I know it’s because she and father continue to battle over Acca. She sees love as her weakness; it makes her give in to Father on all things Aldred. She’s not wrong, either. That’s why I’ve never fought that particular rule. Nothing like watching years of your parents sparring to convince you to sidestep the love part of “love and marriage.”
Father is a different story. I never have been able to figure out why he’s so dead set against my falling in love. Eventually, after years of trying to suss it out, I’ve given up on the subject. I agree with them both and that’s all that matters.
“So you wish to know if I Iove Lady Adair.” I shrug. “How can I? I barely know her. By all accounts, she seems a fine woman, and I’m sure she’ll make a competent queen. We’ll grow to respect each other with time. That’s more than enough.”
This is the mantra I’ve been raised on. Still, saying the words out loud always makes something in my chest tighten. There’s nothing to be done about it, however. It’s not like I’ve met any woman who would tempt me in that regard anyway. Some men simply aren’t built for love.
Mother visibly slumps with relief. “Excellent. Emotion has no place in royal marriages, my child. You know how I adore your father, but when it comes to ruling, love only adds unnecessary levels of complexity.”
“I know, Mother. Believe me.”
I glance toward the door. Speaking of unnecessary levels of complexity, Father is late for breakfast, even by his lax standards. Every morning, my father has an early and extended walk with Aldred. Tension coils up my spine. I can only hope the Earl hasn’t discovered my secret plans. Recently, I secretly borrowed a few rather incriminating books from his library. If Aldred finds that out—and shares the news with Father—then my scheme could fall apart. More lives would be lost, including mine.
“What were you thinking of just now?”
Damn. My concern must have shown. “Nothing at all, unless you count contemplating how agreeable it is to share breakfast with my dear mother.”
“Bah. I’m being perfectly gruesome, and you know it.” Mother taps her pointer finger against the side of her teacup. “You’re hiding something from me.”
“Everyone needs to have secrets. You taught me that.”
She leans forward. “So you are developing an attachment to Adair.”
This is growing tiresome.
“No, I’m not.”
“How I wish I could be certain.”
Mother and I share yet another long look. We both have the same analytical nature. Together, she and I essentially run Antrum. Most times, the job is fatiguing but manageable…except when Father injects himself into the mix. And Father only does that when the House of Acca is involved. Quite sadly, Acca involves themselves quite a lot.
Here’s the crux of the challenge with Acca. They’re the only house not under the direct rule from the crown. It’s all because my house, Rixa, broke away from Acca and took their throne. At the time, granting Acca some autonomy seemed the gracious thing to do. That was five hundred years ago. Today, that autonomy makes Acca nothing but a pain in my backside. All of which is why a closer alliance with them is necessary. Marrying into Acca will give me more control over that unruly house.
Unfortunately, it won’t allow me to stop the Earl of Acca from leading his warriors to their doom. That’s where my scheming comes into play. In a matter of days, the waning moon rises. Acca calls it the Archer’s Moon. According to my research, there’s a rare Acca tradition associated with that occurrence, and if I work things out correctly, I can use it to break Aldred’s hold on his warriors.
Assuming I don’t die in the process, that is.
And that I make it through this breakfast.
The main door swings open, hitting the wall with a thud. Father bursts into the room, all burly chest, white hair, and jovial manner. A hive of servants buzzes in behind him. Mother’s eyes glitter as her gaze meets his.
Father races up to Mother, pulls her from her bench, and twirls her about. “Morning, Octavia.” He nibbles at her neck; she giggles.
For the umpteenth time, I wonder at how Father can promote Acca until Mother is ready to scream with frustration, and yet the next day he’s able to sidestep the entire issue with a charming good morning. Mother’s ability to forgive is a skill all in itself. For better or worse, it’s one gift that I didn’t inherit.
Most of all, that’s why my marriage will be one of convenience, nothing more. I’ve even started the royal architects on building a new Queen’s Wing for our palace. It will be regal, comfortable, and far away from the King’s Wing. No need to see one’s spouse more often than necessary.
Mother takes Father’s hand; their fingers entwine. Then her eyes narrow as she flips his arm behind his back, pinning him to the wall.
“Oh, my. Octavia, you beast!”
“Please. That was far too easy.” Mother used to be quite the warrior in her day. Still is. She could kick Father’s ass any time she wanted to.
He laughs. “I’m getting soft, I won’t deny it.” Craning his neck, Father talks over his shoulder at Mother. “You should at least break my arm. Teach me a lesson.”
She chortles. “Maybe next time. We head out on our anniversary trip today. I wouldn’t want you incapacitated.”
Father winks. “How very thoughtful of you.”
This is my chance to leave. If I know these two—and I do—then they’ll be all cute and cuddly with each other for ten more minutes, minimum. That is, until Father drops his latest bomb from Acca. No doubt, after meeting with the Earl this morning, Father is ready to launch yet another long list of unreasonable demands. Hopefully that list doesn’t include any sanctions on my secret plans. Some of the books I borrowed cover obscure Acca house laws, including ones that touch on demon patrol. Talk about your red flags. If Aldred discovered those books were missing, they might piece together my true intentions.
All the more reason to exit before the topic arises.
With maximum stealth, I step toward the door, but Mother releases her captive, blocking my path. “Husband, did you notice your son at the ball last night?”
Father shoots me a look and winks once more. “Not at all, my dear. What do they say cloud-side on Earth?” He sets his hand on his chest and starts to sing. “I only had eyes for yoooooou.” He lumbers over to one of the tables and pulls a honey roll from a stack, which sends a dozen others tumbling to the floor. The host of servants who followed Father inside now race to put the bread back in place.
Father’s wink wasn’t lost on Mother. He’s had a hundred years of marriage with the Queen of the Poker Face, and yet Father still hasn’t learned how to hide a single emotion. Mother purses her lips. “Don’t bother playing games with me.” She frowns. “Lincoln was dancing overmuch with Adair, as you well know.”
Father plunks into a chair and bites into his roll. “I don’t think one dance is overmuch.”
“We should reinforce that emotion has no place in royal marriages.” Mother primly smooths back her hair. “Don’t you agree?”
Father finishes another honey roll and licks the sticky sugar off his fingers. “Please. Our son isn’t some addlebrained fool about to fall in love. That’s right, Lincoln, isn’t it?”
“Obviously.” Once more, I slip my way closer to the exit. “While I appreciate your collective concern for my emotional well-being, I promised Zachary some pointers on how to keep a good watch.”
Father taps his lips. “Zachary?”
“Ormand’s son.” Mother rattles off facts on her fingertips. “The boy’s lineage is three-fourths Rixa, one quarter Gurith. He has the heart of a warrior.” Gurith is Mother’s house. She openly favors anyone with their bloodline.
“Oh, that’s right.” Father rubs his whiskered chin. “The lad is eight now, I believe. A little flighty, isn’t that so? Draws pictures, too.”
I take another step toward the door. Not far now. “Flightiness goes along with being young and new to training.” All thrax warriors start their training at eight. “And a talent for drawing doesn’t mean he won’t be a fine warrior one day, either. If you’ll excuse me.” I wrap my fingers around the wooden handle.
That’s when Father clears his throat. My chest tightens.
No good conversation ever started with Father clearing his throat.
“One more thing,” says Father.
I slowly turn around. “Yes?”
“Aldred tells me you’ve been snooping around his archives.”
And there it is. The fact that leads to my secret schemes to keep Aldred from killing his own people. Once again, I keep my demeanor calm. “I may become heir to his house; I should get to know its history.”
“Snooping in archives?” Mother straightens her back, and that’s another warning sign if I ever saw one. “My spy network told me no such thing.”
“Even your network has limits, Octavia.” Father returns his attention to me. “You took some books, I hear.”
“On history.” And other things.
“Does that history have anything to do with Aldred and his demon patrols, my boy?”
Of course, the books I took cover the topic of demon patrol. I won’t reveal that to Father, though. Demon patrols are a thrax way of life. Each thrax house takes turns policing the Earth’s surface. We ensure that humans are safe and unaware of the many kinds of evil that walk among them. In general, I run all of these missions, except for those led by Acca. Technically, it’s during those patrols that Aldred has the right to send his warriors into unnecessary battle.
For now, he does.
I grip my hands behind my back. “I thought we were discussing my impending marriage to Adair.”
“Nope, I’ve changed topics,” counters Father. “I don’t know what books you stole, but it seems Aldred knows you’re concerned about the warriors who perish on his patrols. He’s the only Earl who is allowed to lead his troops personally. That’s a right he’ll protect forever, and it won’t change with any marriage contract.” The lines of Father’s face tighten. “He let me know that if anyone threatens that right—anyone at all—then the law says Aldred can execute them.”
“I’m aware.” And I’m willing to take the risk.
“Please be careful,” says Mother. “Aldred is positively insane when it comes to his rights over demon patrol. Avoid the topic like the plague. We simply can’t lose you.”
“And you won’t lose me. Ever.” Behind my back, I tighten my grip on the handle so hard I’m surprised I don’t yank it off the door. “Is there nothing else?”
Mother gives me another classic from her collection of soul-searing looks. “There is, but I’ll have to suss it out on my own, it seems.” She reseats herself at the table and lifts her teacup.
“Good day to you both.” With that, I quickly leave the feasting hall without any further interruptions.
Walking at full speed, I rush off to meet young Zachary in the stables. With every step across the yellowing grasses, my resolve hardens.
Avoid it like the plague, indeed.
Dozens of thrax perish every week due to Aldred’s incompetence.
I’m fighting him with everything I’ve got.
End of Sample
The DUTY BOUND prequel novella releases on February 27, 2018