Page 17

I weigh my options and realize I have none. This is the only crossing for thousands of kilometers. I must go through when the sun rises.

After a quick weapons check, I stride out onto the road and head for the barrier. “Tavaran.” I keep my hands at my sides. No need to draw a blade until I get a handle on what’s going on. After all, this may have nothing to do with me. The feral snickers at the very suggestion.

Tavaran turns, his eyes growing beady. “It’s Captain Tavaran. Where are your changeling companions?”

“Why?” I stop about twenty meters away and size up the small army before me.

“Where are they?” He advances, one hand on the hilt of his sword.

I turn and look around, then up, then down, then back at Tavaran. “I don’t see them. Do you?”

His countenance hardens. “Queen Aurentia demands the return of the special changeling. The one who bears the soulstone.” He motions to one of his soldiers. “Take ten men and turn this city upside down.”

They take off, and it isn’t long before I hear doors being kicked in and frightened screams. The other fae close ranks in front of the barrier.

“Well, as you can see, I don’t have a changeling on me.” I move forward, trying to judge how many soldiers stand between me and the crossing. “Stand aside.”

“Not a chance. Queen Aurentia’s orders were clear. We are to escort the changeling back to Byrn Varyndr. You can cross, but not with her, and I’m sure you understand I can’t let you go until she’s found.” He raises his hand, and his soldiers draw their swords. “She must not be allowed to pass to the winter realm.”

“You know, Tavaran, I’ve never liked you.”

“My heart breaks.” He draws his sword and bangs the hilt against his gold armor. “An unseelie dog doesn’t like me. What ever shall I do?”

His soldiers laugh. More rumbling behind me is the harbinger of additional summer realm troops. I’m trapped. But I will never break my promise to Taylor, no matter the cost. I must get through the crossing. Once I’m in my realm, the soldiers won’t dare follow.

I step closer, ice crunching beneath my feet. “You summer realm fae and your insults.” I shake my head. “But perhaps you’re right. I am unseelie.” A frigid wind whips my hair back, and I crack my neck.

Tavaran’s confident sneer falters, and he backs up a pace.

I take another step, the ice building inside me until all I can hear is the roar of the winter wind. “But not just that.” I hold out my hands, ice spiking from my fingers. “You seem to forget, I’m the unseelie king.”

My blast of winter knocks Tavaran on his ass and sends his soldiers flying backward.

I have to go, and it has to be now. I send a prayer to the Ancestors that Taylor is far enough away, and I launch myself toward the crossing.



“Your aura.” Ravella rides next to me, her hood keeping her face in shadow. “It’s subdued. How did you do it?”

“I swallowed a witch’s pea.”

She turns her head toward me sharply, her eyes open wide. Too wide.

Oh. “Pea,” I say quickly. “Like p-e-a. Not p-e-e.”

Her face returns to stoic, though I can almost sense a hint of amusement in her dark eyes. “Is that where you got the obsidian blade?”

“You saw that?” I thought I’d hidden it in the folds of my dress and then under the fur.

“I see a lot of things.” She glances at the forest all around us, the tall dark trees hiding the starlight as a light snow falls.

“Well, yes. Selene gave it to me. She actually pulled it off her body.” I’m glad I closed my eyes when she did it, but I can still hear the sharp cracks. I shiver.

“You must have impressed her for an obsidian to grant you such a gift.”

I shrug, though the thick fur muffles the movement. “I tried not to judge her, is all.”

“Well, you weren’t eaten, so I say that’s a win.”

“So, do you have any magic?” I shake my head. “Sorry, was that rude? I know I’m not supposed to ask if people are mated, but can I ask about magic?”

“You can ask me anything.” Her frank tone backs up her assertion. “And yes, I have magic. I’m a mystic.”

“What’s a mystic?”

“I can travel through the vale, read auras, do a few other handy tricks.”

“What’s the vale?” I feel like a child with all my questions, but Ravella doesn’t seem to mind.

“Think of it like the world behind this world, or perhaps more like a mirror of it. I can travel there, unseen. There are shortcuts, and sometimes there are other creatures or wisps of knowledge.”

“Sounds like the otherworld.”

“You’ve been to the otherworld?” She eyes me, this time with a bit more curiosity.

“Once, and I’m happy to never go there again.”

“Interesting.” She hides her face in the shadow of her cloak again.

Awkward moments pass until I’m compelled to press my palms to my frigid face. “Does it ever get warm here?”

She laughs, quiet and lovely. “You’ll get used to it.”

A thought strikes me. “How do you grow food?”


“We made a deal with the Vundi to trade goods with them, provide food. But if it’s forever winter, how do you grow anything?”

“We’re a hardy people. Excellent hunters.” She smiles, a hint of pride in her profile. “But some of us are rather ingenious, as well. When we get to Cold Comfort, you’ll see most buildings there have a greenhouse atop them. And if you venture to the east and into the Aurora Fields, you’d find long stretches of fields and crops, all safe and warm inside stone walls with latticed wooden roofs. We burrowed deep beneath the frozen surface to create vents of heat from the depths of Arin. Not even the hoarfrost can touch the plants we tend there.”

“Geothermal energy. Wow.” Here I was thinking it was all barbarians and nothing to eat but snowcones. “That’s pretty advanced.”

“We feed our people. It isn’t always easy, and there are lean times, but ever since Leander became king we’ve made huge leaps in just about every area.” She shrugs. “But it will always be cold.”

“As long as there’s plenty of furs and fire, then I think I—”

A howl pierces the night air, and an electric tingle runs up my spine. “What was that?”

A frosty wind picks up, swirling the snow around us, and the flakes fall heavier.


“You must go. Now.” Gareth rides up next to me, his face pinched.

“What is it?”

“Leander is through the barrier. He’s here, and he’s out of control.”

Beth wrinkles her nose. “How do you know he’s—”

The howl rips through the night again, and my insides turn molten. Is this fur hot?

“That’s how.” Gareth leans over and checks my grip on Kyrin’s reins. “It’s his feral.”

“Like separate from him? Like Delantis?”

“Yes. We’ll try to hold him off. But you must ride swiftly. Stick to the road, Kyrin. You know the way.” Gareth, satisfied with my hold, rears back and slaps Kyrin’s flank. “Fly!” he cries as Kyrin takes off, his hoofbeats muffled on powdery snow as I lean forward. I hold on, my eyes stinging from the cold wind.

The howl is closer this time, the sound sending tingles through me until I’m panting as hard as Kyrin. Trees blur past as the snow falls harder, the wind like a tangible fist pushing us back. We run and run, the landscape hilly and full of trees. Eventually, Kyrin slows, his breath coming out in steamy bursts.

“It’s okay.” I run my hand down his mane. “It’ll be okay.”

The wind forms a white funnel ahead of us, and Kyrin halts. I’m not afraid. Not of winter. Not of my mate.

“It’s him.” I can feel it down to my toes. “He’s come for me.” Holding onto the saddle, I slide down Kyrin’s side, and my feet hit the snow with a soft crunch.

“Leander.” I step toward the funnel of wind and snow.

The vortex dissipates, and I see him. The feral. A huge white wolf—bigger than Kyrin—with ice blue eyes. It rears back and howls, the sound burning me up. I push the fur cloak off my shoulders, and when the wind wraps around me, I can feel its cool fingers sliding along my skin.

The wolf approaches, and through the snow, I see another shape. Leander, his chest bare and his gaze fixed on me.

“I warned you, little one.” He stalks closer as the wolf circles me. His fangs are long, the tips impossibly sharp.

I swallow hard and clench my thighs together. “I know.”

“Waiting for you has been the sweetest agony of my life.” He reaches me and presses his cool palm to my hot cheek. “And I can wait no longer.” The wolf howls its agreement, and I can’t seem to catch my breath. Hot, so hot. Leander’s hand snakes around my neck, cooling my overheated skin, and his mouth meets mine in a bruising kiss that rocks me off my feet.

He swoops me up with one arm and crushes me to him, his possession complete. I open my mouth as he ravages me with his tongue, teasing and taking as I hold onto him and the vortex forms around us. Snow and ice spin and dance as we kiss, and I feel his claim on me, seared into my heart and written on my soul.

Pulling back, he strokes my cheek. The wolf is gone, and I can sense it inside him. His low voice is almost guttural. “I want you, Taylor. All of you.”

His dark eyes sparkle in the night, and ice sits atop his head like a crown. He is the winter, the bite of frost and the crackle of ice, but I’ve never been warmer in all my life.

“I want you.” I kiss him softly. “I feel it, too.” The connection I’ve been denying for so long roars to life inside me. “Please, Leander.”