The Diplomatic Heir (Etherya's Earth #7)
The Diplomatic Heir (Etherya's Earth #7)
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From USA Today bestselling author Rebecca Hefner
A new era dawns as ancient threats emerge…
Tordor, son of Queen Miranda and King Sathan, was born to inherit the immortal throne. But deep within, he feels a calling to help his people in other ways. As their imminent immersion with the humans looms, he joins a clandestine team to offer his skills.
Esmerelda, daughter of Elf King Dakath, has spent centuries evading her father’s cruelty. Striving to create peace, she leads the team that will approach the humans after the destruction of the ether. Having the kind, diplomatic immortal heir on her team is a fortunate bonus.
As Esme and Tor work together to unify the realms, Dakath’s interference intensifies, reinforcing Esme’s vow to remain free of close bonds. Even if the handsome prince is determined to break through her walls and claim her as his immortal mate…
Can Tordor push past Esme’s fears, or will her father destroy their future before it’s begun?
Welcome back to Etherya’s Earth! If you love a sizzling friends-to-lovers tale with a badass, tormented heroine and a hot prince determined to claim her, this book is for you! Enjoy the journey!
Intro Into Chapter 1
Intro Into Chapter 1
Esmerelda, daughter of Dakath and Dyana, was, quite simply, never meant to exist. In fact, her presence upon Etherya’s Earth would be called a fluke by her dear mother and a travesty by her father. Or a pestilence. Wrinkling her nose as she stood under the thick canopy of leaves that offered protection from the sprinkling rain, she pondered. Yes, pestilence was more likely the word her father would use to describe her.
It only made sense considering his primary goal was to eradicate Elven-human hybrids.
Since Esme was the result of Dakath’s dalliance with her human mother, it made her a rather interesting target indeed.
Sighing, Esme leaned against the rugged bark, supporting her back on the large trunk as she gazed to the sky. Gray clouds stared back through the trees crying soft tears of rain. Every so often, a drop would land on her face, cooling her skin as she stood in her moment of solace. Her team would need her soon, but for a few minutes, she reveled in her solitude.
She had been alone since her father murdered her mother centuries ago, and she would always choose to remain that way for a plethora of reasons. First and foremost, Esme was a runner. A solitary soul who lived in the shadows in an effort to stay off the radar of her powerful father. People who got close to her usually ended up dead, so she’d stopped forming any sort of meaningful connection centuries ago.
Just recently, Dakath had tried to poison an Elven-human hybrid child in the Arizona desert before Tatiana intervened and convinced Calinda to save him. It was one of many steps Callie had to take before fulfilling the prophecy and destroying the ether. Darkrip and Arderin’s daughter had done her part, ushering in the next phase of the transition.
And that was where Esme took over. Her role as leader of the Immortals Transition Unit, or ITU, was key in the next phase of the immersion of immortals with humans.
Esme had assumed other roles in the past. Most of them consisted of surreptitiously protecting immortals and hybrids in the human world from her father and his Elven council. Others consisted of just helping immortals in general. Most in the immortal realm were realizing what Esme had known for ages: there were many immortals who lived in the human world. As the species began to amalgamate, she felt more would emerge looking for a safe haven. As someone who’d been alone her entire life, she certainly understood the sentiment of needing help in a world where she didn’t belong.
There was something noble in protecting others, and Esme found it a fitting purpose. It gave her something to do in a life that was never supposed to be lived. She did her best to stay off her father’s radar and had grown quite resourceful as a result. As long as she stayed on the move and didn’t draw attention to herself, she could do some good in a world that sorely needed it.
Of course, her father’s threats would always loom over her head, which meant it was easier to accomplish her goals alone. Allowing someone to care for her would be extremely selfish. It would force them on her same solitary journey of evasion and fear, and she would never choose that for someone she loved.
So, she’d erected walls. Walls that were quite thick and buffered by a layer of geniality and good-natured quips. She presented a brave face to the world, which made her quite proud because damn it, she was brave. She’d evaded her father for centuries and would continue to do so until he eventually wiped her off the map…or she just became too tired to run. For now, she had a renewed determination with the eradication of the ether. Succeeding in a transition between humans and immortals would create something meaningful on Etherya’s Earth, and Esme was determined to ensure success.
Sometimes she wondered where the fire that burned within to help people originated. Although her father was now quite evil, there had been a time when he was revered by the Elves for his kindness and bravery. Perhaps she had inherited that from him before it became twisted in a mangled heap of hatred and viciousness.
Her beloved mother had also been altruistic and exceedingly beautiful inside and out. Those attributes were what first caught her father’s eye all those centuries ago. Ultimately, they led to Dyana’s death.
The old anger surged as her father’s image formed in Esme’s mind. Thick brown hair atop shrewd hazel eyes and pointed ears encased his angular features. Although Esme had inherited her mother’s blond hair, she had Dakath’s eyes. Each time she looked in the mirror, they were a stark reminder of the man who’d borne her but detested her very existence.
The hatred between them was a twisted game her father relished. For centuries, Esme had racked her brain wondering why he didn’t just kill her. It seemed so much easier in his larger scheme. And yet, although he’d hurt many she’d befriended or cared for, he’d never harmed a hair on her head.
It baffled her until Esme realized the imminent truth: the joy her father experienced from torturing her greatly outweighed any bliss he would feel from her death. After all, one could only die once, but torture was unlimited in its scope.
And, sadly, her father was the ultimate expert at torture.
She often thought about the maniacal way he tormented her from afar. Every few decades he would back away and leave her alone. Decades when the humans broke out in war and it was easier for Dakath to remain inside his fortified home in the rural mountains of Romania. But then he would return, usually leaving a poisoned immortal body in her path, and she knew he was resuming his hunt. She was the mouse caught in his trap, only to be released when its neck was moments away from snapping. Every time she evaded the snare, she rebounded, only to be caught again.
Closing her eyes, she sank into the tree as she massaged the tense muscles where her shoulders met her neck. Goddess, she was tired. She was fully committed to initiating the transition plan with the humans. The initial stages would take several months as they began the first phase of implementing immortals into the US government. Once Phase I was complete, she wanted to escape somewhere remote and quiet where she could meditate and rest for a moment.
She would continue to help the ITU as they implemented Phase II and beyond, but she would hand the reigns to someone who could assume a more permanent leadership position. So far, her father had left the ITU alone, and she knew that grew less likely each day she remained with them. It was a constant battle balancing her desire to help immortals with her need to stay off her father’s radar so no one got hurt.
Esme had become an expert at living a solitary life over the centuries. Every place she inhabited was small and nondescript. She’d learned to move in shadows and run when necessary. Squishing her eyes together, she tried to remember the last time she’d felt joy. When had she truly laughed? Hell, she hadn’t even owned a damn puppy since the last one she’d adopted in the sixteenth century returned from a jaunt in the woods with a fatal gash on its neck.
Esme had cradled the dog on the front porch of her small home in remote Italy, crying into its soft fur as it died in her arms. Then she’d stood, searching the woods as she wondered if one of her father’s henchmen had sliced the animal on Dakath’s orders. The heartlessness of the deed provided strong evidence, and her suspicions also indicated imminent danger if her father knew her location.
After burying the puppy, she vowed never to care for another pet, knowing it would give her father an opportunity to torment her. She’d wiped her tears, packed up her belongings and fled, unable to take the chance her father knew her whereabouts.
It was one of the multitude of times she’d run.
Blowing out a breath, her lips fluttered together. Evading her father was just fucking exhausting.
“You found a nice hiding spot,” a deep baritone chimed, causing her to shiver. Squeezing her lids, she reminded herself of her vow to never form connections. This meant connections of any kind, but she most certainly couldn’t form romantic connections. Even with massive Slayer-Vampyres with glowing half-fanged smiles and genuine hearts. No matter how close she felt to him, she had to maintain her resolve. It was the only way to protect the man who seemed determined to worm his way into her fortified heart.
Opening her eyes, she pasted on a dazzling smile. “Yeah, just meditating under the trees. I’m pretty Zen, if you hadn’t noticed.”
“You are pretty Zen,” was his genial reply, and her heart leaped at the emphasis he placed on the word “pretty.” Staring up at Tordor, son of Queen Miranda and King Sathan, Esme inwardly commanded her lady parts to knock it off. Of course, they didn’t listen, and she felt her pulse throb in the place between her legs that nice women didn’t talk about in polite society. Goddess, why was he so…big? Hot? Kind? Sexy?
All of the above.
“All of what above?” he asked, dark eyebrows drawing together over those gorgeous olive-green eyes inherited from his mother. Silently kicking herself, Esme realized she’d said the words aloud.
“Nothing.” Waving a dismissive hand, she straightened and pointed toward the camp. Their team of twelve immortals and hybrids had been camping at the Pennsylvania town of Rausch Gap as Esme made contact with her liaison inside the US government. The team had strategized that the United States was the first human government they would connect with and secretly infiltrate.
Rausch Gap was an abandoned town Esme had discovered years ago. Its rural location offered a fantastic place for her team to camp, but it was close enough to civilization that they could purchase supplies when needed. Its proximity to Washington, DC was an added bonus since they planned on approaching the US government first.
Their plan was to keep immortals hidden from humans while they implemented the first phases—which would be easy since humans were a vastly oblivious species. The ITU would continue to fortify the invisible wall that now stood where the immortal ether once had, separating the human and immortal realms. In the future, humans would eventually comingle with immortals and the wall would be rescinded. After all, that was what the prophecy intended when the ether was destroyed.
But for now, they needed to transition slowly and only inform those on a “need to know” basis. This included Esme’s liaison at the US government, who also happened to be a Slayer.
“Ready to head to DC?” she asked, beginning the walk back to camp as Tordor fell into step beside her. “If things go wrong, I’ll need some of that negotiation juju you have in spades.”
His warm chuckle surrounded her, and she imagined leaning closer so she could feel that smooth laugh against her ear…and maybe hump his very chiseled leg while she curled into him. Leg humping was a thing, right?
Inwardly snickering, she recalled the last man she’d had sex with over a decade ago. A one-night stand who’d scratched an itch before she left him in a hotel room in California. Esme scratched that itch every so often, moving on before any connection could be formed. Men like Tordor required connection…and commitment…and promises of futures yet to come.
Basically, all the things she couldn’t offer. Nope. She’d have to keep her mental humping to herself, even if he was the personification of Henry Cavill with fangs.
“I’ve always had a knack for negotiation,” he said, shrugging as they trailed over the wet grass. “I mean, my parents reconnected two species who were at war for a thousand years. It’s probably in my DNA.”
“In every single cell,” she teased, giving his arm a few good-natured pokes as they strolled. “It will certainly come in handy when we approach Clayton today. He’s a valuable ally and his connection with the high-ranking human general is fortuitous.”
“I’m looking forward to meeting him.” Halting, he faced her as his full lips formed a genuine smile. “Thank you for including me in your team. I feel like I finally have a purpose.”
“You’re welcome.” The rasp in her voice must’ve come from her suddenly parched throat, and she circled her tongue in her mouth, wondering why it was so dry when other parts were definitely wet…
Those forest-green eyes flashed with admiration—and something more that she refused to acknowledge—before she broke eye contact and resumed walking.
“But don’t go thinking I’m soft,” she teased, lifting a finger. “I expect you to pull your weight around here, buddy. No special treatment since you’re a royal set to inherit a realm one day.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said with a salute. “I’m your loyal soldier and will follow every command.”
She shot him a suspicious glance, wondering if he caught the slight double entendre that laced his words. His angular features remained impassive, so she chalked it up to the hormones raging through her frame and did her best to shut them down.
“You’re royalty too, you know. Princess of the Elves.”
Scoffing, she shook her head. “I’m not a princess and never will be. Dear ol’ Dad would have seventeen heart attacks if he heard you say that. Hybrids like me are an abomination to him.”
They reached the camp, the ITU recruits milling around their tents as they packed supplies for the day’s mission.
“As a hybrid myself, I don’t get the sentiment. My parents embrace all immortals.”
A tiny droplet of rain landed on his cheek, resting above a slight freckle before it began to trail down his face. Esme imagined touching the tip of her tongue to the drop before licking it away. Her attraction to him was frightening, perhaps because it was the strongest attraction she’d felt to a man in…decades? Centuries? Hell, maybe forever.
A Vampyre longs to claim his mate as new threats emerge.