Palace of Pleasure
Silver Wood Coven Book 13
The deadliest earthquake in history is about to strike.
Although the Ming dynasty province of Shaanxi appears elegant and serene, nothing could be further from the truth. Summer and her team land in a nest of intrigue and high-stakes politics. When the search for the second Fae crystal takes them to the regional palace, the governor’s wife takes a special interest in Summer and her mates.
But the imperious lady isn’t the only one spying on their every move. The Wiccan cultists are on their own search. Determined not to fail their master but without a head start, the cunning and violent crew are happy to use Summer and her team—and then kill them.
What Readers Are Saying
I can't believe the mind behind this series. Plot twists galore and the flow from book to book is seamless. If you haven't started the series then you need to get reading ASAP.
Sooo moving, gripping, steamy, intriguing! I LOVED the detail of the past put into this book. Simple things like the bath at Meng's house, and the palace and it's rooms. I love how Elettra and Shelton are getting closer. Will they finally get together, even just once?
This book is wonderful. Every book in the series has some new plot twists and the characters doing interesting things that test their abilities. I love the myth, magic, action, fantasy and sensual rhythms of the book/series and recommend it. t really lives up to its name. I could hardly put it down.
This series really just keeps getting better and better. I am completely drawn in from the first sentence and I can not wait until the next book comes out. I was never one for series that have cliffhangers but this author, oh my. She is really quick to get the next installment out. If you love adventure and fast paced stories you will really love this.
I appreciated the emotion-evoking moments that allowed me to become invested in the characters and their outcomes. I enjoyed the twists and turns of the story that kept me engrossed and entertained. I also adored the dynamic between Brennus and Althea, as well as the progression of their relationship.
WE CAME BACK in time to save the world, not to die trapped in Pompeii.
Summer Lautner backed away from the window of the jail cell. The long-dormant volcano inside Vesuvius had erupted, pouring millions of tons of its fiery heart into the sky. The fifteen-mile-high plume had just collapsed, and now raced down the mountain’s slopes in an enormous, gray and black cloud of death. The surge made no sound, appearing only as a massive billow of smoke and ash. Yet Summer knew in a few moments the superheated tephra would entomb her and every living thing in the city. That included the two men she loved, two Templars she didn’t trust, and a Fae woman who had already survived being buried alive in a diamond crypt for ten thousand years.
We are not dying today. Not while I still breathe.
Power surged through Summer as she turned from the horrifying sight, and held out her hands.
“Form a circle, now, quickly.”
Michael Charbon nodded to Elettra GemSage, who took his hand and Troy Atwater’s. The men clasped the hands of Lemuel Bowers and Cyrus Shelton, the two Templars, who then moved to flank Summer. When she took their hands she channeled her power through everyone, completing the circle.
As the volcanic surge reached the city, the stone floor beneath their sandals shook and cracked.
Summer could feel bits of pumice pelting her face as it flew through the window. The inside of their cell suddenly became like an airless blast furnace. Closing her eyes, she cast the time-traveling spell.
“From this time we must flee, take this circle of travelers to Shaanxi, the day ninth, the month January, the year fifteen fifty-six A.D. So may it be.”
The time portal opened above them just as the volcanic flow engulfed Pompeii’s forum. But Summer kept her mind and power focused on the circle. The unbearable heat blistering her skin vanished, and a moment later she stood in cool, silent darkness.
Shelton’s large, hard hand tightened on hers.
“Are we buried, then?” he asked. But his deep, gruff voice echoed slightly. She felt him shift. “In a cave?”
“Be still, Templar,” Elettra said, and muttered something in an ancient tongue.
Tiny white stars showered over her petite, ordinary-looking body, and changed it into Elettra’s true form, which was that of a towering, golden-haired goddess. As Shelton gaped the Fae woman conjured a dozen small, floating amber light orbs which illuminated their surroundings.
“You are not wrong, Brother,” Bowers murmured. “It’s a yaodong, I think, a cave that serves as a home.”
Summer glanced around her. The cave-house seemed very tidy, with sparse furnishings that had been neatly made from wood. Along the edges of one wall stood a row of baskets and clay pots filled with uncooked rice and dried fruit. Herbs had been hung to dry from a long rope made of woven vine. Large straw hats stood stacked beside a heavy drape of patched, worn fabric. It all seemed appropriate for medieval China, but the air smelled dry and musty, as if the yaodong had remained empty for some time.
“Let’s see if anyone else is here,” Bowers said.
He gestured for Elettra to lead the way, followed by the bigger Templar. But neither Michael nor Troy joined them. Summer looked up to find Michael’s jade-green eyes and sooty, muscular body glowing with one of Elettra’s golden lights.
“Come here, Beauty,” he said.
Summer hadn’t realized how badly she was shaking until he pulled her against him and wrapped his strong arms around her.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “That was too close.”
“You kept us alive,” Troy said, embracing them both. His vivid blue eyes looked deep into hers. Then he kissed her brow. “That’s enough.”
For a moment she allowed herself to take comfort from their embrace. Troy and Michael had been destined to become her sentinel mates, but since they had bonded they had become much more than that. Summer loved her men so much she could no longer imagine life without them. In times of great danger, she often had to act to protect them, but they were her partners as well as her guardians.
“I was careless,” she said, holding on to both of them, “and we underestimated Wickerman. That can’t happen again.”
She needed to focus on their quest, as impossible as it seemed. All they needed to do was chase a murderous rogue warlock through time, and find four hidden Fae crystals before he destroyed the world with them. She let go a heavy sigh and rested her face against Michael’s warm chest. Wickerman had already stolen RainLance, the crystal of water concealed in the tip of a spear. It had been lost along with Pompeii. But she also felt convinced that the killer and his cultists had somehow caused Vesuvius to erupt prematurely.
“What is done is done,” Michael said, his deep voice rumbling in his chest. “It does no good to dwell on it.”
Summer slowly nodded. Through the telepathic link that she, Troy, and Michael shared, he had heard her thoughts.
“We’re in sixteenth-century China now,” Troy said, his gentle voice just behind her ear. “The cultists left just before we did. We stand a fighting chance of finding TerraCairn before they do.”
The crystal of earth would be swallowed up in the worst earthquake in human history. But if Wickerman managed to find it first, and moved through time to collect the other two, there would be no future for any of them.
“There is no one here,” Elettra announced.
As the room brightened, Summer reluctantly separated from her men. She turned to watch Bowers and Shelton pull aside a drape and look out of a long, brick-lined opening. Beyond it were other buildings.
“We cannot leave,” Michael said, and tugged at his own tunic. “We are still dressed like Romans, and our satchels are now buried with Pompeii.”
Elettra peered outside. “I see no one out there. I will go and find proper clothing for us.”
Another shower of stars changed her back into her mortal guise. Before anyone could speak she walked outside. Shelton gave Summer a pointed look before he followed after the Fae.
“I have some knowledge of China in this era,” Bowers said, as he moved to the back of the room. “The people live in caves they excavate out of the loess cliffs. They are not made of stone, but a wind-blown silt that has accumulated over the centuries. It’s why so many are going to die in the Great Shaanxi Earthquake.” He reached out and raked his hand down the wall, sending bits of yellow gravel and dust raining down. “Loess is little more than hard-packed dirt.”
“How many will die?” Michael asked.
The short, fair-haired Templar exchanged an unhappy look with Michael.
“Our records indicate only an estimate. But the quake will destroy more than five hundred square miles, and kill over half the population.”
“How many is that?” Summer asked.
Bowers grimaced. “Over eight hundred thousand souls.”
• • • • •
Elettra stopped in the center of the dust-caked wooden bridge to survey the deserted village. She had not seen a single mortal since leaving the cave-house, and it seemed all the other dwellings had been abandoned. At first the empty pens made sense. People leaving a place always took their livestock with them. But then she saw the wide swaths of rusty stains curdling the soil. Small twig cages that hung from poles swung in the cold, dry wind. Some still held the dead, shriveled remains of song birds left to starve.
She paused at a well cover, and brushed away a thick yellow layer of silt. Lifting it away revealed a rope tied to its underside. Several hand-over-hand pulls brought up some water in a bucket. Though it was drinkable, she wiped her mouth on the back of her hand. Even the water tasted like tears.
Dry leaves scuttled across the discolored ground. The hollow moan of the wind might have come from her own heart. Had they somehow brought death with them from Pompeii? The grit of ash still lingered on Elettra’s skin. She had felt a queer kind of relief when she saw the volcano’s spew rushing toward them. It had promised to release her from more than her long life. She hadn’t known Summer could cast the time-jumping spell so quickly. But she had, and now Elettra would have to live on, and betray her Wiccan friends. If she didn’t steal the crystals once they had been recovered, and kill the two Templars, the Fae king had promised to bury her alive again—this time for eternity.
“A penny for your thoughts, lady,” a deep voice said.
“I am not a lady, Shelton.” She did not look at the big, dark Templar who joined her. Every time she did she wanted to punch him again. “Keep your penny and go away.”
“They butchered the stock,” he said, “but took the people.” He nodded toward the dirt road leading away from the village across the plateau. “You can still see where they were marched out.”
“They did not go slowly, or willingly,” she said. Shelton gave her a questioning look. She nodded at the twig cages. “They would have freed their birds before they left.”
Feeling tired now, she walked across the bridge to the nearest cave-house, and ducked inside to search for suitable clothing. When she emerged Shelton took the bundle of what she’d found and tapped a long, dirt-stained scroll pinned to one of the outer coverings.
“I’ve seen these all over the village,” he said. “Bowers can read these marks, I think.” He removed it and rolled it up.
“These people are small and thin,” she said. “You and Charbon will have to wear cloaks over your Roman garments.”
As she brushed past him Shelton caught her arm. “Why do you still disguise yourself as a Wiccan? We know that you are Fae.”
Elettra looked down at his hand. “Do you wish to fight me again? I would be happy to beat you into the ground this time.”
The reminder of their duel made him scowl, and he released her. His dark eyes searched her face as if seeking some flaw.
“No,” he said. “I only wish to…never mind.”
He turned and strode back toward the cave-house where the others waited.
Elettra felt a tingling where Shelton had touched her, and an ache where he had not. Everything about the wretched warrior-priest annoyed her. He had no magic or powers, but his every look seemed to bespell her. Long ago she had resigned herself to her lot. As the last surviving GemSage, and the traitor who had destroyed her own clan, she had made herself a pariah. No Fae clan would welcome her into their stronghold, and she would never find a mate among her own kind. The rest of her life would be spent in some solitary place, where she would look after herself, sculpt crystal again, and perhaps find some peace.
Shelton made her wish for more. Shelton made her want it. But he could give her naught but more wanting. She harrumphed before resuming her search in a different house. They would need proper footwear.
As she peered under some sturdy benches, footsteps approached from outside: not heavy enough to be Charbon or Shelton, not light enough for Bowers or Summer.
Atwater’s shadow fell through the doorway.
“I thought I’d give you a hand,” he said.
“I have two,” she said, not turning. “That is plenty.”
But when he didn’t leave, she stood.
“Why did Vesuvius erupt too early?” he asked.
If Atwater knew just how malevolent the four crystals her clan had created were, he might not ever feel safe near them or her again. She shrugged.
“Perhaps it was because Charbon stopped a horse from trampling his handler. Or perhaps it was because the sea became like lead when Wickerman’s minions stole RainLance from the Temple of Neptune. Our breath in the air, our steps on the ground, the food we ate, the people we spoke to—none of it should have happened, but it did, and it changed the past.”
The dark warlock started to say something, and then looked puzzled.
“The pressure did change while we were fighting underwater,” he said.
Elettra retrieved some woven straw sandals and a pair of wooden clogs from under the bench.
“RainLance did not wish to be taken,” she said. “I wager it made the sea heavier to hurt us.”
“Gods,” Troy muttered and dragged a hand over the back of his neck. “That has to be why the mountain blew too early. The increased pressure from the heavier water.”
“How can that be?” Elettra said. “The mountain was miles from the shore. The water never touched it.”
“We’re seeing the same thing in our time,” he said. “As the glaciers melt, the sea level rises and increases the pressure on the earth’s crust, which in turn results in more volcanic activity. By doing the same thing much more rapidly, RainLance triggered a premature eruption.” He paused and studied her face. “Do you think it was trying to kill us?”
“I cannot say,” she said, keeping her face as bland as her tone. She handed him some of the footwear as she headed to the door. “We have enough shoes.”
They walked back to the cave-house together, where Summer was lighting some simple oil lamps. Elettra and Troy handed out the shoes while Bowers sat at a low table examining the scroll Shelton had found. He had already changed into a padded indigo jacket and some faded hemp trousers.
“Can you read their odd little picture writing?” Elettra asked him.
“The hànzi are primitive,” the Templar said. “But I can still make it out.” He glanced up at Summer and her mates. “This was a decree issued by the governor of the province. If my translation is correct, then I’m afraid it’s rather grim news. At least for the villagers.”
Troy pulled off his tunic and shrugged into a wide-sleeved brown overshirt.
“Read it to us,” he said, as Charbon and Shelton slung large capes over their broad shoulders.
Bowers stretched out the scroll. “It says: ‘If any under rule of Chang Xishan, the venerable and esteemed Shaanxi governor, do congregate unlawfully, create disturbances, transgress the laws or excite rebellion, they shall be punished for their crimes under the statutes of the empire direct. This decree is given that all of the people of Dingcuan village are guilty of such crimes, and shall serve in the governor’s mines until he is stirred to forgiveness. Oppose not the mighty Xishan’s decree, or submit to slow slicing.’”
“Slow slicing of what?” Summer asked, looking perplexed.
“The body,” Bowers said, his voice bleak. “The practice is known in our time as lingchi. They tie the prisoner naked to a pole in a public place, and go to work very slowly with a blade. They slice away at the condemned until he dies, or a thousand cuts have been made. To add to their suffering some prisoners are kept alive for days, even weeks.” He looked up at Summer. “The entire village left to work as slaves in the governor’s mines so they wouldn’t be cut to death.”
Book 1: Rescued
Book 2: Stolen
Book 3: United
Book 4: Betrayed
Book 5: Revealed
Book 6: Lost
Book 7: Divided
Book 8: Gone
Book 9: Burned
Book 10: Reclaimed
Book 11: Call of Fate
Book 12: Sea of Love
Book 13: Palace of Pleasure
Book 14: House of Desire
Book 15: Ship of Dreams
Book 16: Lens of Time
Silver Wood Coven Box Set