Daughter of Rage and Beauty Berserker Academy Book 1 by Amy Pennza
Genre: Urban Fantasy Romance
Print Length: 290 pages
Publisher: Scribble Pretty Books Publication Date: November 4, 2019
The sagas claim you can’t fight fate. I’m determined to prove them wrong.
They say your twenties are supposed to be the best years of your life.
Clearly,theydon’t know what they’re talking about.
Because right now, my life is in shambles. As the daughter of one of the most powerful berserkers in the world, I should be taking my place among the noble guild of berserker assassins. By now, I should have mastered my emotions and conquered my rage—all the better to use it as a weapon when called upon to kill.
But I’m not just Harald Berregaard’s daughter. My mother was a nymph, which makes me a magical mutt. When I was born, my father thought I might possess the best traits from both races.
He was wrong.
Now he’s shipping me off to the Berserker Academy, where the unofficial motto is “graduate or die.”
With the stakes this high, I can’t afford to get distracted. Too bad the academy’s headmaster keeps showing up at the most inconvenient moments, reminding me how much I suck at magic. And fighting. And basic conversation.
It doesn’t matter that he does it with a smile. Or that his eyes fire silver when he’s amused . . . or aroused. Hauk Sigridsson has his own problems. He’s not going to be one of mine.
On the other hand, he’s offered me a way to accelerate my studies and make it out of the academy alive. I just have to help him steal a priceless rock and defeat one of the most powerful immortals to have ever lived.
No big deal.
I’m in way over my head, but I’m determined to survive. They say you can’t fight fate. I’m going to show fate exactly what I’m made of.
A woman strolled out from one of the hedges. Her hair was the color of a tennis ball and swept up her head in a mass that seemed to defy gravity. A large blue feather stuck out from one side. The rich color matched her dress, which looked like something Marie Antoinette would have worn. Ruffles spilled down the front of a stiff skirt shaped like a bell. More ruffles decorated the edge of the parasol she carried over one shoulder.
“Ah, a dryad!” she exclaimed, walking toward us. Her beautiful face blossomed into a warm, inviting smile. “What a treat.”
I probably should have ignored her, but something about her drew me. Like the house, she was . . . off. Perfect, but painfully so. I met her gaze as we walked toward the door.
She stopped and made a low curtsy. Her corset gaped away from her chest, revealing impressive cleavage and rouged nipples. “Lord Hauk, it’s been an age.” When she straightened, her face changed. The shift was abrupt, like an out of order frame in a movie reel. Her expression was serene—and then it wasn’t. For the briefest second, something vicious and feral flashed in her face. I got the impression of bared fangs and far too many teeth.
Hauk gave my hand a squeeze.
I glanced at him. Had he noticed it, too? Maybe he could see through her glamour all the time. I suppressed a shudder.
“Morgana,” he said, offering her a formal bow. “Is he accepting visitors?”
She tipped her head to the side, making the feather curl against her cheek. A beauty patch near her mouth lifted as she smiled. “If it was just you, I’d have to say no.” She drifted forward, her emerald gaze on me.
The color sent shock waves through me. My mother had eyes like that. Even as I thought it, her face changed again. In the space of a breath, her face became my mother’s.
Then a cool hand cupped my cheek. “But since you’ve brought one so lovely,” she said, standing in front of me now, “I think he’ll make an exception.”
I recoiled, jerking my face from her touch.
She withdrew her hand, then gave Hauk a cheeky look, her face back to normal. “Oh, do tell me you’ll let me play with this one.” A thick yellow curl slipped over her shoulder.
“Sorry, Morgana.” Hauk placed his free hand over mine and tucked me more firmly against his side. “We’re working. No time for play.”
She made her lips into a pout. “Boring berserkers. Big, bad, boring berserkers.”
Hauk was silent, apparently unmoved by her alliteration.
The pout disappeared, and her manner became irritated. She swept a hand toward the door. “Well go on, then. Don’t keep him waiting.”
He gave her another bow, then moved us up the steps. As we gained the top, the white door swung open of its own accord.
“That’s not creepy at all,” I said under my breath. I looked back to see if Morgana was following us.
She was gone.
Even if she’d sprinted—which was doubtful in that dress—there was no way she could have moved that fast.
I dropped my voice to a whisper. “Hauk . . .”
“I know,” he murmured. “Don’t worry about it. Focus on what’s in front of you. Don’t get distracted.”
A shiver lifted the hairs on my nape. He made a good point. Predators often hunted in packs—and they used lower ranking members to stage little attacks on their prey’s flanks. Eventually, the target got exhausted and anxious.
And that’s when the real threat showed up.
The inside of the mansion was just as immaculate as the outside. A black-and-white-checkered floor stretched in front of us.
And stretched was the right word. We stood in what might have been a foyer, except it seemed to go on forever. It extended so far in front of us, the sides narrowed to a point in the distance.
“Intention,” Hauk said, patting my hand. “Let’s keep moving.”
As we had in the grass outside, we continued walking forward. He still carried my duffel. I thought about telling him to put it down but discarded the thought almost as soon as I had it. Leaving personal belongings unattended in this place—where anyone might happen upon them—was probably a bad idea.
Besides, my mother’s mirror was in there. I didn’t want someone like Morgana getting her hands on it.
This time, we seemed to walk for hours. My heels burned inside my boots, and a trickle of sweat snaked down my back. I hadn’t eaten since lunch on the Dragon Tower earlier in the day.
Or was it yesterday?
So much had happened, I couldn’t keep track anymore. And gods knew how time worked in this place. Faerie could be weird that way. There were dozens of tales of humans who had wandered into Underhill by some stroke of misfortune. The lucky ones came upon a benevolent Fae who led them out rather than killing them on sight. But escaping was sometimes worse. Time passed differently in Faerie, and it didn’t follow any particular rules. A few seconds could be centuries in human time. Or it could be days. Or a month.
Just when I was ready to tell Hauk we should give up, noise to my left made me turn.
Enormous gilt doors stood ajar. Through them, a man sat at a desk, his head bent over a document as he wrote with a quill. The scratching sound was what I’d heard through the door.
Hauk stopped. Voice grim, he said, “Whatever happens, don’t leave my side.”
I was too nervous to speak, so I nodded.
Arm still linked through mine, he escorted me to the doors and pushed one open so we could squeeze through.
The room was clearly a study—the kind used by noblemen in past centuries. The furniture was ornate, with delicate legs and carved decorations. Behind the desk, French doors led to a wide terrace. Sunlight poured through the glass, which was odd since it had been twilight when we entered the house.
The man spoke without looking up. “I know why you’re here, and I’m afraid I can’t help you.” His accent was Irish yet not Irish. Like Asher’s, it held something far older. The cadence was almost musical.
Hauk moved us forward until we stood a few steps from the desk.
“Can’t or won’t?” he asked.
The man threw down his quill and stood.
I caught my breath—and realized I was truly seeing him for the first time. Through glamour or some trick, he’d made himself the least interesting thing in the room.
But not now.
Now, it was impossible to look away. Well over six feet tall, he was Disney prince perfect. Blond hair fell over a broad forehead, and his chiseled jaw held just enough golden stubble to stop him from being too pretty.
And that was just his face.
Black pants hugged powerful thighs that led to knee-high riding boots. His white shirt was unbuttoned, exposing a smooth, tan chest. The hollow of his throat was curiously sensual—a gentle dip that moved as he spoke. Wait, he’s speaking?
I forced my gaze from his throat. As I did, it was like someone flipped a switch, restoring the sound in the room.
“--and you made your choice a long time ago.”
Beside me, Hauk stiffened. “It’s hardly fair to deny me help when you’re the one who cursed me in the first place.”
The man smirked. “Fair. You sound like a human.” He looked at me. “Now, here’s one who understands all too well that life isn’t fair.”
Time stopped. Or maybe it just no longer mattered. Nothing did, really, because the most amazing man was looking at me like I was the only woman in the world.
“You could be, you know,” he said.
And just like that, we were on the terrace.
Panic flooded me. I spun around. Hauk was gone, the room empty.
“Don’t worry about him.”
I turned, my heart in my throat.
Crom Cruach—because it couldn’t be anyone else—stood on the edge of the terrace. Except it wasn’t a terrace any longer. It was a balcony. The genteel decorations were gone, replaced with primitive-looking stone.
He was different, too. His hair was longer and tied back from his head with a strip of leather. Instead of riding pants, he wore red armor the color of blood. I looked closer.
Yep, that was real blood.
His blue eyes found mine, and it was like someone punched me in the gut. His resemblance to Hauk was uncanny.
“Actually,” he said, “Hauk resembles me.”
I swallowed. “You can read my mind.”
He inclined his head. “Of course. That’s something you’re going to need to work on if you have any hope of defeating Radegast.”
“I thought you said you can’t help us.” Not that I knew what kind of help Hauk needed.
Crom sighed. The movement made his armor glisten. Bile rose in my throat, and I swallowed again.
“Come,” he said, extending a gauntleted hand. “I want to show you something.”
I didn’t move. “Where’s Hauk?”
He frowned. For the briefest moment, I got a glimpse of why it would be very stupid to cross him. His whole face seemed to darken, and the deep blue eyes went empty and black.
Then his expression cleared, and he waved me forward. “Come, come, I’m not going to harm you.”
My feet wanted to stay put, but I forced myself to approach him. His gauntlet melted away as I put my hand in his.
He pulled me gently to the balcony’s railing, then braced his hands on the stone.
I looked over the edge, and my stomach dropped. We had to be hundreds of feet in the air. Far below, a battle raged. Everywhere I looked, men in armor clashed. Humans and Mythicals scattered the field.
That meant the scene had to be a memory. It had been thousands of years since men and Mythicals lived openly alongside each other. They fought as one now, centaurs and Fae, humans in conical helmets and leather armor. Giants strode through the mix, swinging axes the size of boulders. Berserkers sliced their way through the melee, lightning licking over their broadswords. Wizards in long robes cupped balls of light in their hands, then hurled them at the enemy.
Horses galloped around the edges, their riders carrying pennants that snapped in the wind. The ground underfoot ran red. Men screamed. Metal clanged. The thick, coppery scent of blood reached my nose.
“Exquisite, isn’t it?” Crom looked out at the field, his expression almost lustful. He closed his eyes and inhaled. “All that life in the air.”
“It looks like death to me.”
He opened his eyes and gave me a patient look. “Ah, Elin, don’t you see? It’s one and the same.”
I held my tongue. It didn’t seem like a good idea to argue with a guy wearing blood armor.
“You don’t like the battle?” His tone was polite, as if we were discussing our favorite foods or the types of television shows we liked to watch.
Not that he even knew what TV was.
He tsked. “You make assumptions. That’s dangerous.” Shit. I’d forgotten about the mind reading. “Sorry.”
He waved it off. “I’m actually quite interested in television. Video games, specifically.” He smiled, looking more like Hauk than ever. “I’ve experienced something of a renaissance thanks to video games. It turns out I’m a really popular character. Humans do love a villain.” He turned and leaned against the railing. “Did you know some of these young people will spend all day gaming? I mean, hours and hours. They worship the stuff. I get more juice from them than a whole village of druids.” His tone turned bemused. “It really makes you wonder about the state of parenting today.”
I almost choked. He’d stripped his own son of immortality, and he had thoughts on modern parenting?
“I see Hauk’s been filling your head with tales,” he said.
“It seems kind of cruel to curse your own kid, don’t you think?”
Crom shrugged, and his voice became wistful. “He’s an ungrateful child—a trait all my children seem to share, unfortunately.”
Hauk had siblings? Although, it made sense. Crom was thousands of years old. And he had a habit of kidnapping wives.
“Now I know you’ve been fed a line of bullshit. Sigrid came here of her own free will.” He shuddered—an emotion that seemed genuine. “Anyone’s who ever met that female knows she’s as stubborn as a pixie. It’s not my fault she wouldn’t be reasonable during the divorce negotiations.”
“So you kept her prisoner?”
“I like to think of it as an opportunity for extended reflection.”
A warm breeze drifted across the balcony, bringing a fresh wave of blood-soaked air. Crom turned and gazed at the field. As he did, he seemed to . . . not grow, really. It was more like he became more. Stronger. More solid.
This was probably as close to his true form as I’d ever see.
He looked at me. A little smile played around his mouth. “Not quite, Elin,” he murmured. Then he dropped his glamour.
His blond hair lightened and grew curlier—as glorious as a woman’s. A circle of flowers and vines perched on his head like a crown, and his skin glowed. Pointed ears peeked from his curls, which fell loose around his shoulders and cascaded nearly to his waist.
But the hair didn’t make him feminine. On the contrary, he was fierce. Beautiful and deadly. His features were sharper, like clay that had been chiseled with a knife. Impossibly blue eyes—haughty and cruel—stared back at me. Predator.
That’s what he was. A dangerous, alien predator. I knew instinctively that if he parted those full, sensual lips, pointed teeth would greet me. The being behind those eyes didn’t have the same kinds of emotions as other people—even other Mythicals. It chose to play along in society. And it could choose to stop playing whenever it wished.
In a blink, he switched back to the Hauk-but-not-Hauk form. Relief had me releasing a tense breath.
He brushed the back of his hand across my cheek. When did he get so close?
“Why so frightened?” he asked. “We’re not all that different, Elin.” He tipped my chin up and made a throaty sound of appreciation. “Daughter of rage and beauty. You might be surprised what you see if you ever bother to really look in that mirror.”
“I . . .” Warmth curled in my belly. When I spoke next, it seemed as if my voice came from far away. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Of course not,” he whispered. “Stay with me, and I’ll show you.”
He turned my head so I faced the study. But now it was filled with people. Couples in Georgian costume whirled in a waltz, the ladies’ gowns billowing like colorful flowers. The gentlemen wore powdered wigs tied back with satin ribbons, and several sported makeup as dramatic as the women’s. In the corner, a group of musicians bent over violins, the music mingling with the dancers’ laughter.
It all took place in a dreamy haze—almost but not quite like slow motion. Something like snow drifted through the air. I followed the descent of one flake, which disappeared before it touched the floor.
Crom turned my face the other way. Now I looked upon the terrace. The balcony and battle were long gone, replaced with a bright green lawn and a huge multi-tiered fountain. Women in white shifts frolicked in the lower basin, screeching and splashing each other. The water soaked them to the skin, molding the shifts to their thighs and breasts. One scooped water into her hands and let it cascade down her neck and torso, her head tipped back on a contented sigh. Naiads. Asher called them “water humpers.”
Asher. My uncle . . . A memory tugged at me. Wasn’t there something I was supposed to be doing?
Warm fingers caressed my cheek. Crom drew my attention back to him. Beautiful. He was so beautiful. Was this what I was supposed to be doing?
“It could be,” he said, smiling. “Stay with me. I’ll make you a queen. It’s all here, Elin. Yours for the taking. No more fighting, no need to chase after immortality.”
Immortality . . .
That word was important.
There was something I was supposed to do—some task I needed to complete.
I struggled against the lassitude that threatened to swamp me.
A task . . . There was a task.
No. Not a task. A quest. Hauk.
My head cleared.
Crom narrowed his eyes.
“Hauk,” I said. I pulled my chin from his grasp. “I’m here for Hauk.”
The music stopped. The dancers froze. Outside, the naiads paused their play and gasped.
I didn’t dare turn my head toward the fountain. That meant taking my eyes off Crom, whose face had darkened with anger.
His armor had disappeared, and he wore the simple pants and open shirt from before. He lifted a hand. I braced myself for a blow, but he ran a fingertip down my jaw.
Or maybe it was a claw. My heart raced, and little tremors started in my stomach and worked their way down my legs.
In my peripheral vision, the naiads scrambled from the fountain and scurried away, their bare feet soundless on the grass.
“So you’re determined to help my son, are you?” Crom’s voice was light, but there was a current of tension underneath it. Like he was restraining his temper.
“Yes.” And myself. If I could bring my mother ba--
I shoved the thought aside.
But it was too late. Crom clicked his tongue. “Ahh, quite the plot you’ve devised, fair Elin. Whatever will Hauk think when he finds out you deceived him?”
I licked my lips, which had gone dry. “I’ll make it up to him. I’ll help him find another way.”
“What way is that?”
“I don’t know. I’ll figure it out.” Even to my own ears, my response sounded lame.
Apparently, Crom thought so, too, because he rolled his eyes. “You’ll ‘figure it out.’ Spoken like a twenty-one-year-old.”
My own temper rose, but I kept silent. Hauk was already living. My mother’s life had been cut short. I had a chance to right that wrong. Hauk would understand. He had to.
Crom tilted his head. “How did she die?”
“A car crash. Shortly after I was born.”
“An immortal nymph? Struck down in a motor car accident?”
“It plunged off the side of a mountain. In California.” According to Asher, who’d raced to the scene before the human authorities could discover her body, fire had consumed everything. Not even a Mythical could survive that. It was one of the reasons humans had burned so many witches in the past.
Crom studied me a moment, and I fought the urge to squirm. If I shifted my eyes just a little, I could see the dancers suspended mid-movement. Not creepy at all.
At last, he spoke. “Do you care for my son?”
“I . . . he's a friend.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
Lying was pointless. But did I care for Hauk? I was attracted to him. I couldn’t deny that. But he’d also led me on so he could assess my ability to seduce Radegast. Sure, he claimed he’d changed his mind once he got to know me, but that could be a lie, too.
“It’s complicated,” Crom said, clearly reading my thoughts again. He sighed. “Love always is.”
“I never said I love him.”
Crom continued like I hadn’t spoken. “I’m giving you this against my better judgment. Remember that.”
Giving me what? Panic leapt in my chest. It was never good to accept gifts from the Fae, especially the high Fae. They could use it as an excuse to claim you owed them something.
He took my face in both hands. “You can pass it on to Hauk if you wish.” The side of his mouth quirked up. “I’m sure he’ll appreciate it.”
“What do you—”
He pressed his lips to mine.
I gasped, unwittingly giving him more access.
He took it, plunging his tongue deep.
My hands flew to his wrists, protests crowding my throat. Before I could push away, knowledge landed on my tongue.
It was like words yet nothing like words at all. One second, I had no idea where Radegast lived. The next second, I did. In a blink, I knew the exact coordinates for his castle. I couldn’t have written them down. I couldn’t picture them in my mind.
But if I opened my mouth, I knew I could speak them. Because Crom Cruach had just put them on my tongue.
He held my head still, plundering my mouth. And his voice spoke in my mind.
“Don’t forget to think outside the box, Elin. Also, if you tire of chasing after naughty Mythicals, my offer still stands . . .”
I pushed at his hands--
--and stood on the grass outside the mansion.
My vision was blurry. Crom’s parting words rang in my head.
Think outside the box? That’s the best advice a millennia-old god could come up with?
Strong hands gripped my shoulders, and Hauk shouted in my face. “Elin! Where the hell have you been?”
My head spun. I slapped at his arms. He released me, then put a hand on my shoulder and steadied me.
Slowly, my vision returned. He hovered over me, his face pale and worried.
I touched my tingling lips. The dizziness cleared, but my body felt weak—like my legs wouldn’t hold me up much longer. “What? How long was I gone?” I stepped back, throwing off his hand. “Where were you?”
His brows pulled together. “I told you not to leave my side.”
“I didn’t! You and Crom were arguing, and then I was alone with him.”
Hauk looked at the mansion. “Sounds like a stunt he’d pull.” He turned his gaze back to me. “Did he hurt you?”
“No,” I said quickly. He’d kissed me without permission, but if that was the worst that happened, I considered myself fortunate. Plus, the kiss hadn’t been in vain. “He told me where Radegast is. That’s why we came here, right?”
Hauk’s eyes widened. “You’re certain?”
He looked like he had more questions, but he motioned me to his side. “Come on. The sooner we get out of here, the better I’ll feel.”
He picked up my duffel and handed it to me. “Hold this. I’ll open a portal.”
“You still have it!” I took the duffel and hugged it to my middle.
He gave me a look. “It’s just been me and your bag in this field for two hours.” Two hours? “Do you think time passed differently in the real world?” What if we got back and it was a hundred years in the future?
Hauk raised his palms, then slowly pulled them apart. A white rectangle filled the air between them. “Only one way to find out.”
Clutching the duffel, I gripped his arm.
“Ready?” he asked.
“Yes.” I glanced at the mansion. “Let’s go.”
He widened the rectangle, and we stepped through it.
Amy Pennza has been a lawyer, a soldier, and a copywriter. She's worn combat boots and high heels in the same 24-hour period--and she definitely prefers flip flops. Actually, she prefers going barefoot while writing steamy romances about strong women and alpha men with hearts of gold. After years in Tornado Alley, she now makes her home in the Great Lakes region with her husband, kids, and more baskets than any one person should own. (You can never have enough.)
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