A Strange Hymn
by Laura Thalassa
Published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Book 2 in the Bargainer Series
Siren and soulmate to the King of Night, Callypso Lillis survived the clutches of Karnon, the mad king, and his twisted prison.
But the nightmare isn’t over. Callie wears the physical reminders of her time as a captive, and mounting evidence suggests the Thief of Souls is still out there.
When a fae celebration thrusts Callie and her mate, Desmond Flynn, into the Kingdom of Flora, they take their investigation with them. But under the bright lights and striking blooms of the realm, they find there are more immediate issues to deal with. No place is more uniquely savage than the great fae halls, and no amount of bargains can save Callie from royal intrigues.
Fairies play dangerous games. Some want love, some want vengeance, some want flesh, and some want things too unspeakable to utter. One thing is for sure: no one is who they appear to be. Not even Des, who only grows more enigmatic with every passing secret.
But the Kingdom of Flora has its own secrets, from bleeding trees to branded slaves and missing guards. Something is stirring in the land of all that grows, and if Callie isn’t careful, it will claim everything and everyone she loves—and her along with it.
RATED: 18+ CATEGORY: MOOD:
Violence Urban Fantasy Shrug
Trigger warning: Flashbacks of rape and abuse
A Strange Hymn is the second book in Laura Thalassa's Bargainer series, and begins not too long after the end of the first book. Callie is trying to heal from his captivity, but the physical reminders - her siren wings, scales, and talons - don't make it easy. Especially when there are many signs that point to the Thief of Souls still out there. When Des and Callie are called to the Kingdom of Flora to celebrate Solstice, Callie is thrust into a world of dangerous fae politics, and more whispers of a coming danger.
A Strange Hymn continues to feel original amongst fae/mate stories. As for the actual arc of this book - I wasn't a big fan. I liked it. I didn't love it. Which leads me to ask - what the hell is with trilogies starting off strong, then tanking in the middle? Were there things that were great in this book? Sure. Des and Callie's characters have remained consistent throughout the books. The chemistry is still there, and I liked the romance and sex. What wasn't great was the incredibly slow pacing. Half of this book was centered around Callie and Des, and nothing of huge importance happens. We get a couple of sentences reminding us of the main issue - the Thief of Souls - and then we are right back to reading about their day to day life. If it feels like half the book could be cut out, and you wouldn't be missing anything, there is a problem. I love romance and smut - but I want a story too. We don't get into the actual main arc until the last 30% of the book.
A Strange Hymn wasn't a hit for me, but I didn't feel the urge to DNF it, nor did it stop me from picking up the next book - which is a novella, prequel of sorts from Des's POV. My hope is that the final book in this trilogy will get back to the point. Yes, I want the scenes of Callie and Des in all their moments of pure love and adoration for one another - but let's balance is with the story, eh? :)
Des setting up a bath for them, with Callie's favorite Macaroons and espresso for him
Tell me a secret
Des teaching Callie how to fly
Des and Callie in the water in Lephys
Temper breaking a portal coming to see is Callie is okay.
Des teasing Callie until her Siren comes out
Des whispering secrets in Callie's ear while the flora queen holds an audience with her subjects
Callie protecting the slave when she was being punished, and Malaki standing by her
Des telling Callie his mother's story
Des taking care of the queen's harem as retribution
Callie standing up to Mara, and Des announcing Mara's secrets
Des saving Callie
"WE ARE ALL like the bright moon, we still have our darker side." - Kahlil Gibran
Our relationship was forged on bloodshed and solidified through deception. I am the dark creature that craves sex and destruction, and he is the king of it.
Callie: "You're really freaking old, aren't you?"
A sly smile creeps along Des's face.
Des: "I can answer that, but it will cost you."
I don't need to buy a favor to know the dude must be ancient.
I begin backing away from him, heading towards the bathroom.
Callie: "Raincheck ... grandpa."
A huge grin spreads across my face when I see the giant lips and tongue printed across the faded T-shirt. It's one of Des's vintage Rolling Stones shirts.
Des: "That's on loan to you."
Callie: "On loan?"
Des steps into a loose pair of pants.
Des: "Just because I love you doesn't mean I'm going to give you one of my most prized possessions."
He just made it official: I now fully intend to keep this shirt.
Callie: "Tell me a secret."
Des: "Another one?"
He looks so legitimately put out that I laugh.
Callie: "Yes, another one."
He groans and pulls me tighter.
Des: "Fine - but only because I like you."
Des smooths a hand over my feathers.
Des: "The only thing I dislike about your wings is that they hide your ass - and I really like your ass."
The room is silent for all of three seconds, and then I can't contain my laugh.
Callie: "Des, that's not what I meant when I asked for a secret."
Des: "And yet you received a secret nonetheless. Consider yourself indulged."
Des: "For two centuries you've been nothing but a whisper of a possibility. And then I met you. You were everything I never knew I wanted. You were chaos. You were desperation. You were the most mysterious secret I'd ever come across. Everything about you drew me in - your innocence, your vulnerability, hell, even your tragic life. You were the most captivating creature I'd ever come across."
Des: "Is that supposed to be a threatening tone? Because if it is, then you've got to work on your intimidation game. I mean, you gave it a decent try, but I'm more turned on than anything else."
Fun my ass. The only thing remotely pleasant about this experience is that De is wearing an Iron Maiden shirt, his tattoos are on full display, and his leather pants are hugging the shirt out of his backside.
I mean, I can be mad at him and still enjoy the view.
Des: "This is my favorite thing."
I'm still trying to drag myself awake
Callie: "What is?"
Des: "Waking up to you each morning."
He taps a finger to my nose.
Des: "Especially when you're sleepy and adorable."
Callie: "Des, I think you broke my ass."
Des: "Cherub, you'll be making different moans when I break your ass."
Sweet Lord of heaven and earth.
Blood rushes to my face. To my horror, my skin begins to brighten.
Bad, siren. Bad.
Callie: "That will only ever happen in your dreams."
Des stops and catches my jaw in his hand, forcing me to look in his eyes.
Des: "You know, the endearing thing about you is that you still say things like that, even though you owe me a wrist full of debt."
I swallow, not sure if the excitement I feel is from dream or anticipation.
He pulls me in close.
Des: "Careful with your words mate. I'd gladly take them on as a challenge."
He releases my face, strolling forward once more.
I stand in place for several seconds before I pull myself together.
Call: "I want a divorce."
Des: "Sorry, cherub, but that sore ass of yours is mine whether you like it or not."
I make a face at his back.
Des: "Saw that."
Phaedron: "Tell me, Desmond, are all human women this feisty on earth?"
Des: "Only the best ones."
Des: "I've imagined taking you here for years."
Callie: "You have?"
Des: "Many times. Over our time apart, I've gotten very imaginative when it comes to you."
Jesus. Just him saying that sends a bolt of heat through me. They way he's looking at me doesn't help either. He stares at me like I'm his starlight, and he's the darkness preparing to devour me.
Des: "Perhaps, if you play your cards right tonight, I'll even share a few of my more creative ideas - for a price, of course."
I'm pretty sure whatever price he asks for, I'll be more than will to pay.
Des: "I could get lost in you."
Des: "I would steal the stars from the sky for you. Anything to hear you laugh like that."
If I could drink him up, I would. He's my guilty conscience, my nightmare, my mate. The man that drinks espresso out of tiny cups and sometimes wears his hair in ridiculous manbuns. The same man who likes the wild, wicked parts of me that even I'm not always comfortable with.
I roll my head back, staring up at the stars. There are thousands upon thousands of them, and their light kisses my skin. Between each one of them is unfathomable darkness. It's all around me, inside me, making love to me.
Des: "It's like you think I'm just trying to get into your pants."
As if he's not. He's a slippery fucker.
Callie: "You say that as though you didn't literally strip me of my pants five minutes ago."
Des: "I think it was a little more than five minutes ago."
I barely manage to not roll my eyes. Apparently, human or fairy, male egos are still very much the same.
Callie: "I can't believe you blew up a portal to the Otherworld."
Temper: "Bitch, that's just called making an entrance."
Des: "Give me just this evening, Callie. Then everything you want, I will give you."
Callie: "Everything I want? You know better than to make such a blind deal."
His eyes alight.
Des: "I'm eager to see what you'll do with it."
Des: "Word or warning, cherub: sass is a turn on, so if you expect me to keep my hands off you and your precious beads, you might want to work on being pleasant."
Des: "Meant ... to take this slower."
Callie: "I don't want slow. I want everything the King of the Night can give me - and then I want more."
Des: "We can do this the easy way -"
he slides the hair off my shoulder, his lips skimming my skin.
Des: "-or the fun way. I could undress you slowly and lay you out on the grass. I'd spread your legs apart and give you the most sacred of kisses."
A flush creeps up in my cheeks.
His hand smooths down my torso.
Des: "I'd savor that sweet pussy of yours right until you were on the edge, but I wouldn't give you that release. Not until you wrapped your pretty legs around my waist and begged me to buy myself in you."
I push away from him, my body crying out at the sudden distance between us. My siren batters against the walls of her cage, and my control on her is slipping.
Des: "I'd take you right out there, right where anyone might find us, just as my ancestors used to."
Jesus, that is dirty.
He circles around to the front of me, one side of his mouth curves up.
Des: "I would want them to find us, to see me claiming you."
Fuck it. I give up.
My siren surfaces, turned on by all his taboo suggestions.
Des: "There she is."
My cheek presses against his warm chest. If ever I had a home, it would be right here.
I grab one of her pillows, and bury my face into it.
Callie: "Ugh, you're right."
Temper: "Of course I'm right. Oh, uh, you don't want to be cuddling that. I'm pretty sure it was used as a prop last night when Malaki -"
I toss the pillow away while my friend laughs her ass off.
I am someone's nightmare, I tell myself.
Sure, that someone is probably the next macaroon I come across, but hey, we all got to start somewhere.
Des: "What you did ... no one will forget it. Not that woman you protected, not the room full of fairies, not the Flora Queen and her consort - and not me. Mara might wear a crown, but everyone in that room saw who the true queen was today."
Des: "After she died, I never imagined I'd come across another woman like her. Someone who'd lived through much and still inherently knew right from wrong. Someone strong and brave. And then I met you."
Temper: "Where is that fucking thundercunt? I will kill her."
Her words have Des smiling nefariously, and oh my God, the only thing worse than these two being enemies is them being friends.
Des: "You are the stars in my dark sky, cherub."
Temper: "That cheeky bastard did it, didn't he? I think I like him."
Callie: "I'm not going anywhere with either of you."
Mara gives me an incredulous look
Mara: "Excuse me?"
Callie: "I didn't stutter. You may be there queen, but you are not mine."
Mara: "Desmond, tell your ma-"
I step in front of Des
Callie: "No. The King of the Night is no message boy, and I can understand your words quite clearly, so if you have something to say to me, say it to my face."
SOLSTICE EXPECTATIONS EVERYONE shall set aside their quarrels for this week, hold hands, and sing kumbaya.
Solstice reality: everyone shall come within an inch of death at least once.
Callie: "Till darkness dies, love."
Des: "No. Even then, no."
The night could end, and she's still be mine.