A MASTER OF LIES
Robin is a notorious trickster, a sidhe capable of powerful illusions and driven by a desperate need to avoid the boredom that comes so easily with the long life of a fey.
For the last decade, he's amused himself as a bandit, stealing from anyone foolish enough to enter his forest with more gold than good sense. But the novelty of being a hero is wearing off,and a witch has pointed him in the direction of a new adventure. A ferocious and beautiful redhead has entered his forest, and this time, Robin isn't after gold...
A HUNTRESS IN HIDING
Marian has a dark secret she's kept hidden her entire life. Now, thanks to a single arrow fired in a moment of self-defense, she's faced with a choice that might drag her shame into the light. She must make a choice. Lose the land that's all she has left of her parents, or accept help from a fey thief determined to discover what she's hiding.
A DEAL WITH THE DEVIL
Gold changes hands, and Marian's murder debt is paid with Robin's gold. Now she must serve her time in his band of thieves.Will the sidhe discover her secret? Will they survive it if he does?
USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Blackstream writes some of my favorite types of stories – fairytale retellings. Archer is a marvelous re-imagining of Robin Hood, with plenty of magic, adventure, and surprising twists and turns along the way. – Anthea Sharp
"Get comfortable with a big cup of coffee by your side because you will not want to put this delightful tale down. Adventure . . . Romance . . . and High-Jinx await your pleasure!"– Amazon Review
" It sucked me in and never let me go, pushed me through the whirlwind of emotions, of ups and downs, funny and sad, romantic and tragic scenes, and I loved every single part of it."– Amazon Review
"Simply brilliant."– Amazon Review
"If you enjoy creative retellings of classic fairy tales and you've yet to read a Jennifer Blackstream novel, then you don't know what you are missing."– Amazon Review
"I knew that I was going to get sucked in, and I found myself finishing the book in one sitting."– Amazon Review
"They're all the same, Little John." Robin's expression waxed into boredom as the belt fell into the thick grass of the clearing with hardly a sound, the shift of metal muffled by the tender green blades. "I can't remember the last man to give us a good fight, the last challenge. Why, when was the last time any of us shed more than a measly ounce of blood, hmm? When was the last time someone nearly died at the blade of a greedy noble, or a disreputable trader?"
"Not all of us are as pleased with mortal wounds as you are, Robin." The man hanging from the tree branch shook his head. "Then again, perhaps it's more fun when you're not mortal."
Robin arched an eyebrow at the speaker. "Silly Will. Don't you know that there are things ever so much worse than death?"
A sigh drew itself from the depths of Robin's being, sending him down to collapse on the ground with an unceremonious thud. "Well said."
"I told you this wasn't going to last."
There was enough heat in Little John's voice to start a forest fire. Marian tightened her grip on her crossbow as the bear of a man heaved himself off the trunk of the stressed tree, the wood creaking in relief. He took one huge step toward Robin, face darkening like dry parchment kissed by flame.
"I knew you wouldn't last a decade. I should have stayed home, kept to my territory." He threaded a hand through his thick brown beard, jerking it in sharp, agitated tugs. "I'll have lost the territory now. No doubt it's been claimed by someone else. I'll have another challenge fight to go through—you know how I hate those. I'm getting too old for thi—"
"Hold on now, I never said I was leaving!" Robin stared up through the thick canopy of leaves that shielded them from the fading rays of the sun. "I'm not leaving, not yet. Just a little bored that's all." He flicked something off his tunic. "Besides, it has been nearly nine years. You act like I gave up after a couple of days."
Little John crossed his arms, muscles bulging to strain the seams of his simple cotton shirt. "Nine years is little more than a couple of days to a sidhe."
Marian nearly choked at the sound of that word. Dear Goddess, not a sidhe.
"Well, you can't have expected me to anticipate you would realize that." Robin spread out his arms, sliding them through the grass. "I will stay, I'm not saying I'm giving up. I just need—"
"Quiet," Little John said suddenly.
Robin wrinkled his nose. "Most certainly not, you know I hate quiet—"
Little John held perfectly still. His warning had a similar effect on his two companions, and suddenly all three of them were frozen like topiaries, gazes sharpened as they peered into the trees. Marian followed the direction of their scrutiny, then smothered a groan as she realized what had caught their attention.
Too late to back out now.
Snapping twigs, rustling leaves. She was coming. Marian's heart leapt into her throat, a sheen of sweat wetting her temples. She'd forgotten about her. If she was going to approach Robin, she'd have to do it now, have to go through with her plan.
Time to make a choice.
Little John's nose twitched. "A woman. Coming closer."
"She came then. She's here." A smile blossomed on Robin's face, lighting his features as no sunlight ever could. The expression gave his eyes a shine that promised mischief and more fun than it was wise to have. Marian blinked, shook herself when she realized she'd been staring.
Will's question fell on deaf ears as Robin straightened to his full height, brushing at his clothes in a manner that came suspiciously close to primping. Marian quirked an eyebrow at his preening, the tension bleeding from her muscles. The decision was made, no reason to worry about it now. Only way to go was forward.
The branches of the thick trees that formed a sea of green around the clearing parted. A hint of a woman's cloak, pale blue, and…hooves.
Robin's jaw dropped, an expression mirrored by his companions. Marian covered her mouth with her fingertips, resolving herself not to chuckle as a pale brown cow stepped out of the forest. Bessy, one of Marian's favorites for her sweet temperament, willingness to follow direction…and near-suicidal obliviousness when it came to danger. After scouting the area earlier, Marian had left a subtle trail of rosehips—Bessy's favorite treat—that led from her pasture to this clearing. There'd been no guarantee that it would work, but here she was.
Bessy's white muzzle shifted as she chewed on a bit of foliage, calm chocolate eyes indifferent to her audience. She flicked her ears a few times, stirring the mop of hair that fell over her forehead then dropped her head to root around for another rosehip.
"Is that cow wearing a woman's cloak?"
"Yes. Yes, it is."
Steeling herself for what was coming, Marian crept through the trees toward the clearing. She glanced through a parting in the trees, saw Robin furrow his brow, drum the fingers of his right arm over the swell of his left biceps. "And is that something humans are doing nowadays? Dressing their livestock?"
"I don't believe so, Robin. Will?"
"Not that I've seen." Will released his legs' grip on the tree branch, flipping in the air and landing gracefully on his feet. He took a step toward the cow. "I believe this may be an anomaly."
Bessy continued to ignore them, though she did keep one ear cautiously turned in their direction. Marian rolled her eyes. In all likelihood, Bessy's concern didn't reach beyond the possibility that one of these strangers may be after her rosehips. The bovine was truly the dumbest—sweetest—member of the herd. Shaking her head, Marian kept creeping around the clearing, toward the tree Will had just abandoned.
"This wouldn't be the female you were expecting?"
Robin shot Little John a dirty look. "No."
"Could it be some sort of glamour?" Will asked.
Robin carefully trailed a finger over the animal's hide. Bessy flicked her tail, but accepted his inspection with good humor. Marian took a deep breath, held it, and crept around the circle of trees. Bessy was doing her part with the distraction. Now it was up to her to make use of it.
"This is no glamour."
No kidding. She pressed her body against the trunk of the ash, listening carefully, visualizing their positions in her mind.
"Are you sure?" Little John asked doubtfully.
"There is no one better at glamour than I am," Robin snapped. "I'm telling you, this is just a cow!"
"Then what is it doing here, dressed in a woman's cloak?" Little John snapped back.
"How should I know? Maybe it's cold."
"Maybe it's a pet?" Will suggested.
Marian lifted the crossbow, checking that the three arrows she'd loaded were straight and ready. Then she blew out a breath, counted to three, and swung her body around the tree, keeping the trunk at her back. "Maybe it's a diversion."
As one, Robin and his companions whirled around. Marian kept the crossbow trained on the sidhe, holding the other two in her peripheral vision. The knave in green had the nerve to wink at her, a grin sliding over his handsome face as he ignored her weapon and dragged his gaze down her body from head to toe. A flash of Guy's leering face flickered through her mind and she gritted her teeth, caressing the trigger of the crossbow.
Before she could open her mouth to say anything, Little John's eyes brightened from brown to amber. His skin grew fuzzy and his face bulged outward, lips turning black and curling up to reveal teeth much longer than they'd been a moment before. Marian's eyes widened as claws as thick as her thumb sprouted from his fingertips and a wave of shaggy copper-brown fur flooded over his body. Muscles swelled, bones popped, and clothing tore. In what felt like the blink of an eye, she found herself looking at a full-sized grizzly bear.
The urge to turn the crossbow to the medved was almost overwhelming, but Marian clenched her teeth and kept it locked firmly on Robin. He was the ringleader, the sidhe. He was the one to watch.
"Hello, pretty girl."
Will's voice was a lilting, high-pitched jeer, the sound grating on Marian's nerves. She didn't take the bait, resolutely kept her aim on Robin, witnessing a second metamorphosis from the corner of her eye. The scrawny lad of a moment ago was growing, muscles thickening, chest heaving as it doubled in width, tripled, quadrupled. The clothes that had hung so pathetically from his frame before were now strained, threads groaning with the slightest movement. Black eyes peered at her from a face much larger than it had been before, the mouth full of teeth sharper than any human's.
Robin's casual voice seemed at odds with his companions' new threatening visages. He took a step forward, his gait casual, unconcerned, and held out his arms. "Welcome to Sherwood. My little home away from home. Might I take your cloak? Will, do start a fire, won't you? It's getting dark and we need a little more light so that I can properly—"
"What do you mean I'm early?"
The smile on Robin's face turned brittle, but didn't fall away.
Marian narrowed her eyes, settling the crossbow more firmly in her grip even as dread rolled like a leviathan in her stomach. "How did you know I was coming?"
"Now, now, just put the crossbow down. I wouldn't want my friends to think you were threatening me."
Robin waved a hand at the medved and the spriggan, a flutter of fingers as if he were gesturing at a pair of lovely necklaces he wanted to sell her. Marian ground her teeth, anger eating up her fear.
"I've got an arrow for everyone. Whoever would like to receive his first, please step forward."
All three men shared a glance, Robin's eyes shining with an emotion that looked suspiciously like delight. The medved shook its shaggy head, dragging its huge claws over the ground and leaving deep furrows in the dirt. The spriggan picked at its teeth with the tip of one wickedly curved claw then lifted a shoulder in a shrug.
"Let us not waste time on unnecessary unpleasantries." He gestured at the cow in Ermentrude's cloak. "You've obviously gone through some effort to be here on your own terms—and I do appreciate a good joke. Why not put the weapon away and tell me what it is that's brought you here?"
His amusement grated on Marian's nerves, already raw from trying to keep her attention split three ways. The spriggan smirked and took a step to the left, while the medved took a large step to the right. Her pulse skipped a beat, adrenaline scalding her like acid. They're flanking me. It seemed that regardless of Robin's nonchalance, his two companions were taking the situation quite seriously. Deadly seriously.
"Stop moving. I will shoot you. Both of you. All of you."
"You will shoot no one." Robin stepped closer, hand out. Some of the amusement had leeched from his face, sharpening the line of his jaw. "Stop this nonsense and just give me the crossbow."
The medved took another lumbering step. The spriggan hopped several paces as well. A chuckle trickled from the spriggan's lips, a higher-pitched sound that she'd expected from its new size. Eyes the color of tarnished brass glittered with anticipation.
Too many teeth. Too many threats, too much movement. All smiling, mocking.
"Marian, give me the crossbow."
She had a split second to register that he knew her name. Then he stalked toward her like a disapproving parent coming to take a child's toy. There was no trace of humor on his face, nothing to soften the metallic silver glint in his eyes. And on either side of him, his friends moved to close ranks.
Marian narrowed her eyes, let out a slow breath…and released an arrow.