Page 15

“I’m sorry.” I try to settle myself, because Taylor doesn’t seem quite as amused. “But I don’t think you have anything to worry about.”

“Oh, but you don’t know for certain, do you?” A smile finally emerges as she takes a drink of water. “You could be a unicorn in there. A nasty, freaky unicorn.”

“I suppose that’s possible, but—”

“I guess we’ll just see who has the last laugh on that subject.”

“Taylor, I meant no offense.”

“Oh, none taken,” she says too quickly, then juts her little chin out, the picture of pique. Does she have any idea what that does to me? How badly I want to throw her over my shoulder and take her to one of the rooms upstairs?

“Come on.” Beth swipes half the loaf of bread. “You know that was hilarious.”

Taylor huffs a bit, but I can see she’s suppressing a smile.

“Just think. If he is a unicorn, you can ride him on both ends.” Beth grins and pops a grape into her mouth.

“Stop.” Taylor’s smile breaks through, the color high in her cheeks.

I take her hand and kiss it. She grumbles a little more but leans against me.

Cenet and Para, their faces tight, walk in and sit across from us.

“You two are killing the vibe,” Beth says through a mouthful of food.

“You really intend to cross the border tonight?” Cenet ignores Beth and focuses on Para.

“Yes.” She doesn’t look at him. “We’ve been over this.”

Cenet stands and stalks out. Para sighs and follows.

They aren’t mated, or at least I can’t see the bond, but there’s obviously something between them.

“Leander.” Gareth jerks his chin toward the hall.

I add a few more pieces of fruit and some vegetables to Taylor’s plate, then rise and follow Gareth out the door.

He closes it behind us. “Crossing the border could be dangerous.”

“You have news of trouble?”

“Not exactly.” He glances at the door and pulls me toward the rear of the inn near the kitchen, pots and pans clanging in the background.

“What is it?” What could possibly harm her in the winter realm? The king beyond the mountain wouldn’t dare send an assassin to High Mountain while I was there. I would kill any such interloper with nothing more than a thought.

Gareth scrubs the weeks-old beard along his cheek. “It’s you. Remember when we talked about the danger your feral poses once you cross?”

I stare up at the thatch ceiling. “Not this again.”

He doggedly continues, “When you cross the border, your powers will be at full force.”

“I know.” I clap him on the shoulder. “That’s a good thing.”

“Generally speaking, yes, but—”

I sigh. I shouldn’t fault Gareth for his practicality and carefulness, and I don’t … mostly.

“The feral.” He crosses his arms over his chest. “Look, you’ll cross that border and become the winter wind. Your feral will have more power than it’s ever known. You don’t think that will present a risk to Taylor?”

“I would never harm her.” I try to keep the ire from my tone. I fail.

“I know you wouldn’t.” He meets my eyes. “I know you better than anyone else. And I know you’d never force her or hurt her. But the feral fae isn’t something you can control. I didn’t even know they could be controlled until I saw how Delantis handled hers.”

I wave his concerns away. “I can handle myself and my feral.”

“But what if—”

“I must go to the winter realm, and I must take Taylor there.” I stab my fingers through my hair. “What would you have me do?”

“Don’t overreact, but I was thinking maybe it’s best to keep you separate when you cross.”

“I can’t go without her.”

“I know.” He moves to the side as a harried servant carries a platter full of food past us. “Look, how about I take Taylor through the crossing and continue with her toward Cold Comfort. You give us a head start. Let’s say until sunup tomorrow. Then, when you cross, she’ll be a safe distance away. You’ll burn off some of the power while you’re playing catch-up. By the time you reach Taylor, you’ll be back to an even keel.” He hitches up one shoulder. “What do you think?”

The feral rages inside me, demanding I drag Gareth outside and beat the Spires out of him for even suggesting such a thing. But I try to think about it through his eyes. And, more than that, I try to see it through Taylor’s. If Gareth’s fears are correct and the feral takes over, she could well be in danger. As much as it stings to think I would be a threat to her, it’s not worth testing the theory, not when Taylor could get hurt.


Gareth’s dark eyebrows almost hit his hairline. “Really?”

“Yes.” The feral howls in disagreement. “It’s probably for the best, and there’s no one I trust more to watch over my mate.”

“I will guard her with my life.” His gaze turns even more serious.

“I know you will.” I lock forearms with him. “Thank you for your wise counsel, old friend.”

“You realize I’m going to tell the rest of the Phalanx you called me wise, right?” The side of his lips quirk up in a smirk.

“I expect nothing less.” I release him and return to the dining room where Taylor and Beth are engaged in a heated discussion over which is worse, the Red Plains or Byrn Varyndr.

“—don’t have fae that dress like overdone chandeliers.” Beth points her fork at Taylor. “So I’m saying that’s a point for the Red Plains.”

“Sure, but Byrn Varyndr had, ummm, pretty flowers.”

“Weak.” Beth waves her hand in the air and makes a pffft sound.

“You’re right.” Taylor throws her hands up. “Byrn Varyndr sucks ass.”

Beth whistles and raises her cup. “I’ll drink to that.”

Taylor toasts with her and downs the rest of her water. The table is almost cleared of food.

Beth pats her stomach. “Best meal I’ve had in … ever? I guess?”

“If you’ve had your fill, then it’s time to cross the border.” Gareth looks down his nose at Beth, who gives him a saccharine smile in return.

“To the cold, desolate wasteland we go.” Beth stands.

Gareth grunts his displeasure. “Bad-tempered changeling.”

Taylor rises and nods, seemingly to herself.

“You all right?” I take her elbow.

“I think so.” She smooths her dress down. “I mean, this is what we’ve been waiting for, right? Your realm. And then …”

“Home.” I tilt her chin up. “Your home.”

She quirks her lips. “I know you mean your home.”

“My home is with you.” I take her hand and lead her out of the inn.

Cenet and Para stand next to their horse, Cenet’s look and tone urgent as Para crosses her arms over her chest. A lover’s quarrel, no doubt.

“Members of my Phalanx await us just over the border. Thorn should have supplies—everything you’ll need. Gareth will keep you safe.” I help Taylor onto Kyrin.

She casts a wary glance to where the unicorn had been hitched. He’s gone, thankfully.

“Hang on.” She grips my forearm as I climb up behind her. “Why are you saying that like you won’t be there with me?”

“I will be there, but I have some business to attend to here in Timeroon first.” It’s not a lie. It’s just that the business I speak of is me not mauling my mate.

Her grip tightens. “I can’t go without you.”

My mate, my heart—her need for me is the sweetest sustenance. I can live on it for the moments when we’re apart.

“It will only be for a short while.” I guide Kyrin down the main road, the cobblestones bathed in starlight and the glow from the buildings on either side. “Gareth, Beth, and Para will accompany you.”

She stiffens. “No.”

“Taylor,” I purr in her ear. “I only part with you because I must. But I will catch up with you.” Hopefully not too quickly.

“What if something happens to you?” She turns in the saddle and locks eyes with me. “Maybe you haven’t noticed, but trouble seems to follow you around like a puppy. A vicious, bloodthirsty one.”

“I tend to think you’re the one who attracts trouble, little one.” I nip at her lips.

Her lashes flutter, but then she pulls back. “Stop trying to distract me.”

“What can a simple male do? You’re distracting. Gorgeous, intelligent, fiery—appealing in so many ways.” I let my gaze drop to her throat where her heartbeat taps against her flesh in rapid strokes.

“Stop it, mister. You aren’t dodging the subject.” She turns around, but she’s breathless.

I want her so badly I fist my hands, then relax. “It will only be for a short while.”


“It’s for your protection.” Gareth rides up next to us.

“That doesn’t make sense. You and Leander go nuts whenever I’m out of your sight, so why would Leander let me wander off into the winter realm without him?”

The pearly wall between realms appears before us, a garrison of summer realm soldiers standing guard along a stone parapet set back from the shimmering magic. The barrier is thinner between two stone turrets that flank the opening on either side. The crossing.

“Holy shit.” Taylor presses a palm to her face. “How is this even possible? It’s snowing over there. Snowing! Like, fifty feet away. I’m this close to breaking a sweat over here.”

“I’m going to need a coat.” Para looks down at her crimson dress. She and Cenet argued a bit more before they parted, but she seems steady now.