Ace Assassin Book 1
Rhian is content in her life. As a pwca, a Welsh shapeshifter, she is bound to the Dark God Arawn as an assassin. So when he assigns her as ambassador to oversee Ontario for him, it's a shock.
Her new job? To find out who murdered her predecessor and bring them to justice, as well as to oversee the otherkin and clean up their messes before the humans find them—all to preserve the illusion that magic and supernatural creatures do not exist.
The problem? One of the otherkin she's supposed to oversee is her estranged husband, Kai, the only person Rhian never regretted having sex with, and the only one she can't forgive.
Publisher: Ninestar Press
Pairings: F-F, M-F, M-M-F, Includes NB
Heat Level: 5
Romantic Content: 4
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Ace, Bisexual, Demisexual, Genderfluid, Non Binary, Pansexual, Polyamorous, Transgender
Protagonist 1 Age: Ageless/Immortal
Protagonist 2 Age: Ageless/Immortal
Protagonist 3 Age: Ageless/Immortal
Tropes: Alpha Character, Antihero, Bad Breakup, Badass Hero, Criminals & Outlaws, Everyone is Queer, Fairy Tales Revisited, Friends to Lovers, Interracial Relationship, Menage, Rescue, Reunited and it Feels So Good, Second Chances, Slow Burning Love, True Love
Word Count: 92000
Setting: London, Ontario Canada. Earth and Annwvyn, Welsh Otherworld
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Continuous / Same Characters
Kaelan Rhywiol © 2018
All Rights Reserved
One: Remember Your Vows
“This is a story of vengeance, magic, lust, what it means to love, and what you’ll pay to have it. It’s not a pretty story, but it’s mine, and it’s real. Oh, and I swear a lot. Fair warning.”
Everything ached. I lay back in the hot water lapping around the curves of my breasts and inhaled the intoxicating aromas of jasmine, rose otto, and sandalwood. I needed to restock my essential oils next time I went Earth-side, or maybe just pay someone to go for me. I didn’t really like going to Earth anymore; it brought back too many bad memories. So many things I’d rather forget.
I lifted my foot and tried to let the cascade of drops from my toes distract me.
It didn’t work.READ MORE
My heart burned like molten lead in my chest and my eyes stung with unshed tears. It’d been three hundred years since I’d fled our small, garret apartment. I’d carried nothing but my clothes and my beloved husband’s guitar.
My family had welcomed me with open arms, and I’d started training in their arts the next day. I rubbed my fingers together over the flat roughness of my bow-string calluses. I’m not sure I would’ve come if I’d known they were assassins. Not even with my father’s threat.
I dropped my head back against the curve of my pool and let the scalding heat of the water soak into my bones. I couldn’t age, but my years weighed heavy as the depths of the sea god Manawydan’s dark home tonight.
I opened my eyes to find dusk had stalked in on cat paws as I soaked. The coronas from my candles gleamed sparkling gold through the steam rising in drifting curlicues on the evening air.
My bath sat in the middle of my backyard, surrounded by riotous dark-green yew hedges. Eldritch hot tubs were so much better than the kinds on Earth. Or so I tried to convince myself. I leaned forward to refill my glass, then settled in to rest against the curved and polished bottom of the pool to sip my wine.
Hoping it would ease the ache of repressed tears as well as numb the pain in my arm.
I finished my drink, and the glass clicked against the polished stone lip of the pool. I needed my solitude, especially tonight. With a glance, I took in the wild pixies zipping over my garden and then listened with closed eyes to the buzz of their wings. All underscored by the mournful howls of the spirit-hounds as they cried their grief.
I’d caused that.
I nibbled a piece of cheese—also imported—a rich, double-cream Brie. Expensive as all get out, but what good was being a god’s assassin if I didn’t use my murder-gotten gains as I wished?
The hellish fire of strained muscles painted my shoulders from grappling my opponent, and I winced as I extended a leg. I think I’d pulled a glute too. Gave new meaning to the concept of pain in the ass.
Which this contract had been, and then some. My prey had taken me all over—this side of the veil—before I’d found and finished her. She’d made me slew through bogs, avoiding the water-leapers, so they didn’t try to eat me. The bat-winged, frog-like, carnivores called llamhigyn y dwr usually left we hunters alone, but avoidance equaled wisdom with something that could make me its dinner.
I lifted my left arm out of the water. Searing claws still raked up the nerves, but I sat watching the wound close that would’ve left a human in surgery for months. It had finally stopped bleeding and healed over.
I poked at it and winced. “Gormless nimrod.” My muttered exclamation hushed the pixies’ quiet murmurs for a moment, but then they went about their business.
The arm was still incredibly tender, and the skin stretched thin and silk smooth over the gouges and punctures. The rogue cwn annwvyn had been evil in the worst definition of the word, and canny with it. The spirit-hunting, red-eared, white hound had marked me well before I’d taken her down.
She’d betrayed our Lord and Master Arawn. She’d taken numerous children in a disgusting pact made with one of the Dark God’s banned scions. But she’d been my friend, and my heart ached with the memory of her blood spraying in searing arterial jets—the same brilliant red as her ears—across my face. My gut twisted at the recollection of how her eyes had glazed over as her life fled. I’d known Halley all my life—or most of it—for all the years since I’d run away from Earth, anyway.
I hadn’t wanted to kill her. The cries of her kin on the wind tortured my already broken heart.
I smiled through my heartache, a battle rictus more like, reaching for some joy to alleviate the grief. At least, I’d been able to restore a child to its family and recalling the sight of the mother’s face filled me with gladness. I only wished I could return all of the stolen bairns. I’d never wanted kids of my own, but seeing the mother’s weak-kneed joy had warmed my heart from the death-born chill of murder. For a while.
A buzzing whir akin to the sound of a hummingbird’s wings came from the darkened maw of the open doors of my home. The jet-black six-inch form of one of my servants—also known as nagging busybodies—zipped through the opening, her eyes blazing gold.
“Tsk. I wish you’d be more careful, mistress.” One of my few servants, Carys, was a burly pixie female dressed in nothing but her saffron yellow hair. She lifted the clay pitcher of wine to fill my glass. “You heal well, but I don’t like seeing you injured. You may be a big, bad hunter for our god, but you’re still my charge.”
Pixies, like most of us otherkin, took their vows seriously.
“Don’t fuss, Carys. Please. I’m absolutely knackered.”
“Yes. Well. I’ll worry if I want to.” She stuck her nose in the air and sniffed at me. With a sad look on her face, she said, “A messenger has just come and brought this for you, mistress.”
Carys’s great-granddaughter, Aderyn—one of the other pixies belonging to the small clan that made its home with me—flew into the back garden. She dodged curls of steam, carrying a gold-flecked green-black scroll case. I dried my hands on a plush teal towel before I reached for the elaborately carved item.
Only one being would send me something like that. The value of it on Earth-side would be enough to feed a small country given the price of kin-stone. The gemstone created from the crystallized blood of my people was rare, tightly regulated, and difficult to work with.
My guardian pixies waited like attendant cats while I uncapped the case, pulled out and unrolled the high-linen-fiber paper from its kin-stone spool. I read the words written in old Welsh three times before I believed them, and then rage boiled like bile in my gut, threatening to overwhelm me.
“No.” My voice echoed a broken note against the enshrouding hedges and standing stones of my garden as my present life crashed into the wreckage of my past.
“What is it, mistress?”
For a long moment, I couldn’t speak. Then I didn’t as I closed my eyes, concentrating, reaching within myself for the blood-bond with My Lord and Master. A bond born of loyalty and arcane blood ritual. ‘Why?’
He answered immediately. ‘As you have had a trying day, I will explain. This time. You are the only available hunter I have with the appropriate skill sets. You are deserving of the boon. You have served me well as a hunter for two centuries. It is more than time I honored you with a promotion and lands of your own. You are beautiful, which will be of aid to you as my ambassador. You have contacts in many layers of society, and you are currently off mission. It behooves me to send you there. Your abilities and attributes are ideal for the assignment and… you have avoided it long enough, my hunter.’
‘No, I don’t want it. No.’
‘Yes.’ His tone made it clear He’d accept no argument. That to Him, an immutable decision had already been made. ‘You have crossed the veil several times over the centuries, and you have never seen him. Never dealt with it. Aside from that, your predecessor has been murdered, and you are the only one with enough skill on the otherside in the twenty-first century to be able to solve the mystery. You are the only one of my hunters who I can send. It is immaterial that it is to London.’
‘Yes. I expect you to find amelioration with him and remember your vows.’
‘Do you love and trust me, my hunter? Do you have faith in me to know what is best for you, and to look out for your well-being?’
I did love Him, and I trusted Him, but this asked too much. I reluctantly answered, ‘Yes, My Lord.’
‘Congratulations on your promotion, my pwca.’
‘Yes, My Lord.’
He cut off the contact, and I sat in my bath, my arms wrapped around my waist. Tears leaked down my face in a scalding rain as my pixies looked on in worry.
“Which bloody vows?” My voice echoed forlornly in my garden, sounding as lost as my soul felt.
I liked the life I’d forged here in Annwvyn. I loved my home. I glanced up at its graceful, silvery branches swaying above my head. I adored my place among the other hunters, free of burdens other than the contracts given us by our Lord. I held no title and wanted none. I had the honor of being part of Arawn’s court with none of the responsibilities and the freedom to avoid most of my nasty family.
As His warrior, His messenger, His enforcer and assassin, He paid me well, and I got to exercise my bloodlust within acceptable boundaries. This? This boon of His? It tore me from everything I loved about my life, taking with it every ounce of peace I’d managed to find to fill the void in my heart.
“Fuck.” I reached for my wineglass and guzzled it.
Carys silently refilled it. “My lady?”
“He’s promoted me. The rat-bastard is sending me to the otherside to hold Ontario for Him.”
“But…isn’t that where—”
“Yes, of course. He knows that too.”
“Oh, my lady, I’m so very sorry.”
I laughed, harsh and bitter. “Me too, Carys. Me too.” I swallowed through a tight throat full of sandpaper. It hurt to force words out. “Pack my bags. I’ll need to cross over soon. His Lordship hasn’t ever been known for patience.”
“Yes, mi’lady.” The two pixies, jet-black bodies and brilliant hair flashing, disappeared into a tree the size of a skyscraper, my home, to pack my things.
I stayed in the tub, drinking wine like water and silently raging at my Master.
The hounds of Annwvyn continued to mourn.COLLAPSE
Minerva Spencer on Goodreads wrote:
Blood-Bound is a haunting and Gothic vampire novel, not without humour, and a strong female lead who is described as grey-aromantic. I wouldn’t normally bang on about a character’s chosen gender or sexuality but it does form a major aspect of the book, and to understand the characters, you kind of have to get a handle on what their preferences are. In this book, the author is very clear from the start, so the main character’s relationships with their closest friends are not in any doubt. Xie has also included a comprehensive glossary at the back of the book, which proved invaluable when I was losing my way with some of the unfamiliar words and meanings, especially pertaining to Welsh folklore. (Welsh does seem a language where consonants are thrown up in the air and where they land, there forms a word….)
So the story revolves around Rhian, who resents being sent to Ontario as an ambassador as it brings her too close to her husband, who she believes betrayed her. Inevitably their paths cross, with messy and sticky circumstances. There are trigger warnings at the beginning of the book, referring to self-harm, violence and sexual violence, but actually, it all worked and didn’t feel gratuitous at all. At times it was a fetid, sometimes sexy, always lusciously described brew of the good, the bad and the ugly. I felt I was in safe hands with the author, despite an initial mis-step. There was an element of confusion to start with, as xie mentioned London, so I started out thinking the action was based in the UK. Rhian definitely speaks with a British accent, so this caused a mental switcheroo when I realised the book was based in Canada. It’s a small thing, but I didn’t need that element of doubt right at the start of the book. It threw me off for a while.
When I did find my stride again, there were two things I really liked about this novel. Despite the brooding atmosphere, there is a slash of humour which tells me it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s very subtle, a hint of a wry smile, but it’s there.
The other thing is the author’s mix of Welsh folklore and unabashed attempts to challenge the reader’s expectations of a character’s sexuality and gender. It was cleverly done and didn’t feel arch or “topic of the moment.” In a world of shape-shifters and vampires, it was a good introduction to the challenges of being a world-class human being.
And, of course, there are the lashings of sex and violence, which is always welcome (by me, anyway) set against a glamorous backdrop that I could picture perfectly. The cover, though, beautiful, almost suggests a book of sparkling vampires and teenage angst, but this is far from it. This is a very adult book, and a challenging, exciting read.
E.M. Hamill on Goodreads wrote:
I received this book from Netgalley. Let me just start off by saying, DAMN! Rhywiol knows how to grab a reader by the scruff and shake them GOOD!
Usually it takes a few pages for me to get into a book, no matter how well-written. But there was something about Rhywiol's voice (and don't hit me with a stick if I use a new-agey word) that was so very, very authentic. What do I mean by that? I mean it felt like this story was being told just for ME. There was an intimacy about the book that made it very easy for me to jump right into the story and I was invested in Rhian's future within pages of starting. I don't know how other readers feel about fantasy, but I want to be TRANSPORTED to another world-- different world: I want to escape, in other words. I personally read sci fi and fantasy to keep my brain flexible. Good sci fi and fantasy should challenge your perceptions and make you view things in a way you never could have imagined.
Blood-Bound transported me and I didn't want to leave Rhian's world (not that I wanted to face the dangers she does, thank you very much!)
The pace of the novel is fast without ever being confusing and this story is unlike anything I've ever read. And--something you don't expect in fantasy all the time--Rhywiol's humor is funny and dry and I found myself snickering often at the internal commentary.
Rhian isn't the only character I loved, I was also crazy about Kai. I also loved the world-building. The author does an excellent job of leaving you with questions but not leaving you with a cliffhanger. MORE! MORE! What can I say? I can't think of anything I didn't like--except having to WAIT for more! This book was an all-around winner for me and I'm grateful to Netgalley to try a new author.
K. Parr on Goodreads wrote:
I love Welsh lore, and when I found out this book was based in Welsh mythology it was a given I was going to devour it! I've been a little bit bored by a lot of the fae-based fantasy books I've read (with two or three notable exceptions lately), but this was a very well written, exciting story with tons to love.
Kaelan Rhywiol's Blood-Bound is just the kind of urban fantasy tale I like: gritty and sexy, with a lead heroine who kicks ass and takes names. There's a murderer in town, and when Rhian's Lord and Master, the Welsh god of the underworld, promotes his favorite pwca assassin to fill a slaughtered diplomat's role as the ambassador between the supernatural realm and the human world, you know that it's going to end messily for somebody.
The murder mystery kept me going and wondering how it would end. Rhywiol's world-building is fascinating and the realm of "otherkin" politics was wholly believable.
The other main story point is the relationship between Rhian and her estranged husband Kai. As an asexual being, Rhian can only find sexual intimacy welcome and bearable with someone she loves and trusts absolutely. Her vows to the Dark God are not only made from loyalty but affection. Her job stands between Rhian and a total reconciliation with Kai--and he's still the only one who gets her hot and bothered, even after three centuries of separation.
It's a great read for anyone who likes urban fantasy with a steaming side of sexy angst.
I really enjoyed this book! The characters were great, with sass and wonderful dynamics. I liked that the protagonist was demisexual, and made it very clear how that worked for her. I also liked the world-building, and the way fantasy meshed with reality. The writing was strong, too, with good descriptors and an excellent use of body language that conveyed each characters' unique traits. Lovely overall!