Excerpt Break: Brian Queen by Katherine Harbour

Need an excerpt break? Today we’ve got an excerpt from Katherine Harbour’s latest, Briar Queen, about a young woman trying to save her sister from a complicated, and often dangerous, fae word. (Can fae ever just, you know, chill?) Finn dares to venture into a universe filled with strange and magnificent fairy tale creatures. See for yourself:

Finn felt someone grab her wrist, and spun, expecting Jack.

It was Moth, in jeans and a black hoodie, his pewter-colored hair tousled beneath the jacket’s hood, his face shadowed. His gaze in the firelight reminded her of phosphorous. With the shadows sharp in his face, he looked completely otherworldly.

“Finn Sullivan,” he said in his low, British voice, his fingers twining firmly with hers as they glided in a circle, “you should not have come. Keep skating.”

“Why?” she whispered. The air began to buzz as if a thousand invisible flies had just descended. Something pricked at her brain and she felt the first drop of blood slip from one nostril.

“Because the Wolf is no longer at the door—he’s come through it.” He gently turned her so that she could see the blessed had stepped back from the bonfire and Phouka stood before it, facing away from the pond, her posture that of a warrior about to defend her castle. Some of the Fata skaters were halting near Finn, forming a protective semicircle. The other guests, the normals who hadn’t noticed anything, continued to frolic.

The world spun around Finn.

Christie and Sylvie slid to her side. Christie whispered, “What the hell is going on?”

“Don’t you see?” Sylvie’s voice was faint, her gaze fixed on the activity near the bonfire. “He’s here.”

Here is your enemy, Finn thought. Here is the one who took Lily away.

Tall shadows moved from the hedge maze, bleeding across the snow, unseen as yet by the gathering of HallowHeart’s oblivious, frivolous students. The shadows became strangers in fur coats and clothes with a punk, belle epoque flair. Old jewelry flashed on their fingers and throats. Their faces were young, beautiful, their brutal aristocracy meant to inspire terror.

One figure separated from the pack and approached Phouka. His hair was mahogany brown, his face that of a Brontë anti-hero with a thin scar across one cheekbone. He wore an expensive suit beneath a fur-lined greatcoat and he carried a walking stick like a weapon.

Phouka walked toward him and greeted him.

“No,” Finn breathed, her stomach twisting up at the betrayal.

“Finn.” It was Aubrey behind her. “You’ve got to trust her.”

Finn thought, Where is Jack? And was glad a moment later that he wasn’t here, because the Wolf was strolling past Phouka, approaching the pond, followed by his pack, and the Wolf knew Jack.

Watching Seth Lot walk toward her, Finn felt a dazzling terror that was almost ecstasy.

Seth Lot halted on the snowy shore with only a few inches of ice separating him from Finn and her protectors. He appeared exactly as he had in Finn’s memory: a young man with an exotic, black-rimmed gaze the blue of tundra skies. Those eyes reflected the firelight as he tilted his head and studied Finn, who met his gaze only because she had no choice. Confused by his attractiveness and his gentle manner—she hadn’t expected a soulful evil—she remained very still.

“Serafina Sullivan.” His eyes didn’t silver and he didn’t smile, but his voice was amiable, a young man’s voice. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you.”

He extended one hand, its fingers scabbed with rings that looked as if they could have belonged to pharaohs or Russian kings. “Please, don’t be afraid.”

This was the wolf-eyed man who had seduced Lily, who had kissed Lily’s wrist and left a mark. Finn glided forward on her skates, defiant, even as Christie tried to catch her and Sylvie whispered her name. She approached the Wolf to show him she wasn’t going to let fear rule her, and said, “Seth Lot,” holding out the hand adorned with her sister’s bracelet.

His cool, strong fingers grasped hers. Although his nails were short and manicured, she could imagine claws as he said, “You’ve heard things about me that may have been exaggerations.” He looked past her, at Moth, and softly said, “Hello, traitor.”

Finn realized Lot had stepped onto the ice. His hands firm around hers, he turned her in a circle as his gangsters prowled forward. Gently, he said, “I’ve heard things about you, Serafina Sullivan, how you caused the death of Reiko.”

“I didn’t”—her voice shook a little—“kill Reiko.”

“I think you did.” He smiled.

My, what big teeth you have. He didn’t, but the threat was implicit in that smile. Finn’s eyelashes fluttered as a poisonous drowsiness crept over her. The Wolf leaned down and, scented with winter and expensive cologne, whispered in her ear, “You know that your sister lives.” He stepped back, releasing her so so suddenly, she staggered. He said, “Come for her. I’ll give you seven days in my world. If you don’t find my house by the seventh day, I come find you. Your sister dies. Your Jack dies.”

Finn felt as if something else were speaking through her, past her terror, “And what happens when I do find your house?”

“Then I give you a fair, fighting chance to win Lily back.”

Jack’s vagabonds, in their tatterdemalion finery, now surrounded the wolves on the ice. The Fata called Atheno, who bore an uncanny resemblance to Iggy Pop, grinned and stretched out his arms. “Why does the Madadh aillaid come to a gathering of mortal children, to threaten a braveheart who only defended herself from one who did her wrong?”

The scarlet-haired fiddler, Farouche, stepped to Atheno’s side, his face remote with caution.”Careful, Atheno. It isn’t like the old days.”

“No it isn’t.” Seth Lot continued, almost lovingly, “In the old days, we would have torn all of you apart and bitten the bones.”

The blessed, and the other students—aware now of the stand-off—stood like deer in headlights, fascinated and confused. As Seth Lot and his pack faced Atheno and the vagabonds, Phouka, fierce in her punk fairy-tale glamour, moved toward the Wolf. More Fatas were arriving from the hedge maze, striding across the snow—Phouka had called in reinforcements. Finn hoped things weren’t about to get ugly as Lot’s words jumbled around in her brain.

“This is my court, Madadh aillaid.” Phouka spoke in a voice that could have cut steel. “And you are not welcome here.”

Seth Lot’s gaze scathed the small army behind Phouka. He said something low and vicious. Finn stepped back and felt Christie grip her elbow as Sylvie flung an arm around her. Then Seth Lot continued, “By the Law of Tooth and Claw, I am entitled to the lives of the queen killers.”

Phouka replied, “We don’t follow La Bestia’s rules here. This isn’t the French court or the wolf tribe. You’ve no right in this land to claim anything.”

Seth Lot’s attention returned to Finn and his blue eyes seemed to glow. Fear almost shattered Finn’s composure.           

Then a voice carried through the vagabonds, “I’m here, Wolf.”

“Jack,” Finn whispered, turning her head.

Jack, in a navy greatcoat, moved carefully through the Fatas to place himself between Seth Lot and Finn.

“Jack.” Seth Lot smiled. The two of them seemed like young men, not antique spirits. “My favorite and best sluagh. Regardless of what your false monarch says”—he nodded to Phouka—“I expect you and your muirneach to come find me. If you do not, I’ll rip through every one of these pretty children”—he gracefully indicated the blessed and the students, who were, fortunately, too far away to hear his threat—except for Aubrey, who swore breathlessly—“until you do. Do you understand me, Jack Fata?”

The tension in the air crackled like gunpowder. Finn whispered, “His name is Jack Hawthorn.”

Seth Lot’s gaze fell upon her and she continued, faintly, “He is mine and I am his. Until the end of the world.”

“Is that so, Serafina Sullivan?” Seth Lot spoke intimately, as if it were only the two of them. “Then I look forward to ending your world.”

He turned and, followed by his pack, strode past Phouka and the other Fatas, toward the hedge maze.

When the wolves had gone, Finn felt all the strength leave her. Jack’s body shored hers up and one of his arms braced her. He said hoarsely, “What were you thinking? Challenging him like that?”

She wrapped her arms around him, breathing in his scent, pressing her face against his chest and the drum of his heart. “He knows we’re coming after Lily. It’s what he wants.”

***

Finn and Jack entered her room through the terrace doors. Christie and Sylvie had driven home with a Fata escort from Phouka. Moth had remained with the Fatas.

As Finn switched on the lights, the malicious resonance of Seth Lot’s voice echoed in her head. She said to Jack, “Are you going to tell me why you’re all bruised and banged up?”

“Caliban came to visit.” Jack lowered himself onto the pink sofa, wincing a little. “He killed my cat.”

“BlackJack Slade?” She sat beside him. “Jack, I’m so sorry . . .”

Then she asked, “Do you wish—”

His mouth curved at one corner and he rested his arms on the back of the sofa, legs apart. “If you’re asking if I wish I’d never been made human, shame on you.”

She settled beside him, into the curve of his arm. “Ouch.” She slipped a hand into an inside pocket of his coat and drew out the dagger that had poked her shoulderblade. “How many of these do you have?”

“As many as I need.” He smiled rakishly as she drew her legs benetah her and frowned at him. She was much more afraid for him than she was for herself. The way Lot had said Jack’s name—it had been like an old lover who wanted to tear the other’s throat out.

“I am sorry about BlackJack.” She slid a hand into one of his and his lashes lowered briefly. A muscle twitched in his jaw. He said, “I think our main concern should be the Wolf.”

“He’s not lying about Lily.”
“Finn—”

“Why would he lie? He could just tell us to go to the Ghostlands or he’ll kill our friends and family . .  . my friends and . . . I mean . . .”

“I know what you mean.” He met her gaze, his own warm. “And you’re right—he doesn’t need to lie.”

A shiver convulsed her as her mind conjured an eternal sentience, a freak of nature that had willed itself into a solid form—the Wolf.

“We can take him,” she whispered fiercely. “You can take him.”

“No need to stroke my ego. And you sound like a gangster’s moll.”

She slid into his lap and folded her arms around him. She pressed her brow against his. “Jack. We’ll be okay.”

He shifted a little, winced again. “It hurts, doesn’t it? Being mortal. I forgot how much it hurts.”

***

Tonight, Jack walked in a garden with a girl in a red dress. As she turned, her skin split and fell away and a charred creature of fire and ashes said, “Jack . . . don’t you love me?”

He woke with Reiko’s name clotted in his throat and an unearthly cold in his bones. His heart was like a stone. He was dead again. He breathed out an anguished, “No . . .”

Beside him, Finn stirred in her sleep, tightened her hand around his, her white sweater rucked up around her midriff. Clad only in his jeans, he shivered in the cold room. He could feel things now—chill and warmth, the drum of his heartbeat, the heaviness of the blood through his body. Tonight, he felt a breathless terror of the inevitable, of his heart stopping, of the blood pouring from him, of mortality.

His heart beat once, twice, and continued its steady pulse. The blood moved sluggishly through him.

It’s only temporary, he thought, closing his eyes, this.

 He tenderly touched Finn’s warm, tangled hair with trembling fingers. To protect her, he might have to give up all that he was and once again become the otherworldly monster he had been.

Briar Queen is available now, digitally and in print. For more fantasy visit our Everything Science Fiction Fantasy page.

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