Enjoy three short scenes in honor of Valentine’s Day with three couples from the Northern Kingdom. Be aware these will contain spoilers from the first three books in the series.
*The first scene gets a little spicy*
The Night Prince
One turn. How had time passed so quickly since the day I took vows with Elise Lysander?
All that had happened in that time, one thing that had not changed was the way the very sight of her stirred something deep, and greedy, and perfect in my heart.
I needed today to be smooth. Calm.
With the help of friends and our family, I had hope it might. To have a few free moments as king was not always simple. Still, I’d spent the last week expressing to the point my brother rolled his eyes, Tor ignored me, and Halvar walked the other way whenever I approached.
I couldn’t help it. This night belonged to Etta’s king and queen and no one—no one—was to interrupt with something stupid.
I would not budge even if another war began.
I had warriors to handle such things.
The only person who could not get enough of my plans was Siverie.
“I’ll have her there, Valen,” she whispered, a brightness in her eyes. Few people spoke to me without the title of king, but those closest to our court—hells, I almost demanded they address me informally.
Somedays I still maintained I was not born for this position. Elise, yes. She was a marvel as queen. Kind, just, a little brutal. Me? Most days I’d be content to live my days in the forests of Ruskig, swimming in the Fate’s Ocean, so long as her body was pressed to mine, her heart in my hands.
I adjusted the tight jacket over my shoulder. A bleeding Timoran waistcoat, but it was all part of what I thought was wholly romantic. One of those things the Guild of Shade and my brother had enjoyed taunting me about all morning.
Which I didn’t understand. They all had lovers. No doubt they did the same sort of gestures behind closed doors, and when I discovered what those things were, I would stoop to their childish levels and taunt them the same.
With Siv gone to coerce Elise into my plan, I left the opposite direction toward what was left of old Lower Mellanstrad.
The villages were not as rugged, not as tattered. But there were still areas that were abandoned, dank, and remnants of a darker past.
At times, when we visited to help clean up the streets, a thick scent of smoke and blood burned into my lungs. No doubt I imagined it, but I always looked in the direction of the scorched corpse of the Lysander manor.
I didn’t expect to feel a connection to a manor, but I’d fallen in love with Elise there; I’d learned to open my blackened heart to a woman who would grip me tighter than any curse, than any fury ever could.
By the time the sun was a narrow gleam of blood red over the fjord, I stepped into the old gambling hall.
A stench like stale ale and soap soaked every lath. Perhaps, I’d been wrong. This might not be the best idea.
When old Sven, the aleman, waved me in, though, I grinned with a bit of nostalgia. This place wasn’t his old, tattered alehouse, but he took it over after the war, and agreed to clearing out the crowds for the night.
“Ready, Wraith?” Sven asked.
By the gods, I could not get the man to call me anything but Blood Wraith. I gave him a nod and took a spot at one of the round tables along the wall.
My palms grew sweaty. What the hells was wrong with me? I was vowed to the woman and here I was as nervous as a fool about to touch a female for the first time.
When the door clicked, when it brushed across the dusty floor, I lifted my eyes. The smile impossible to control spread over my face at the sight of her.
A quickening in my chest heated the blood in my veins. She looked almost identical to the night I first saw her up close. When I’d posed as Legion Grey, I knew of the Kvinna, but from afar.
The first glance of those pale eyes, the cunning buried underneath turns of being taught she was second in value, sparked the first flame of desire.
From the first bleeding night.
I lifted my eyes, catching her gaze, from across the aleroom.
Elise removed the cowl from over her head, one brow raised. “Odd, but you look a great deal like the infamous Legion Grey, Herr.”
“Come play, de hän, and perhaps you will know if you’re correct.”
Elise grinned and dropped the cloak off her shoulders. “Strange to allow women into the game houses. You know, once they were not allowed.”
“A foolish rule.” I tipped a horn of sour ale to my lips.
“Yes, apparently the new king has the same opinion. I hear he is quite . . . fair.” She pulled out a wooden chair and gathered a hand of game cards for a game of Crowns.
“Ah, as I hear it,” I began to deal the cards, lifting a few to see the hand, then discarding what I did not need, “the man was changed after taking vows with his queen. I hear that before her, he was a rather unpleasant sort.”
Elise bit into her lower lip, trying not to laugh. “Yes. I think those rumors are true, Herr Grey.”
I lifted a brow. “So sure of who I am, Kvinna?”
“Oh, I’m certain.” She took two cards, then laid a trio of wolvyn faces for the god of shadows on the table, discarding without dropping her eyes from mine.
“Tell me,” I said adding my own set of crowns, and taking the lead. “What makes you so sure?”
Elise looked away, staring at her hand, as if she considered each word with great care. Silence surrounded us; the toe of her boot touched up and down my leg, until I needed to clench my fist beneath the table to keep from taking her mouth.
After a long pause, she laid down a line of crowns and fire. A winning hand.
I scoffed and placed my cards face down, looking up at her. With a shadow in her eye, Elise rose, then strode around the table to my side. I swallowed with effort as she leveraged a leg on either side of my hips, straddling me.
All gods. My hands went to the curves of her perfect waist, and I had to bleeding fight to keep from ripping up her skirt and taking her right then.
Her fist curled around the lapels of the waistcoat and yanked me closer. With her mouth hovered over mine, I was undone. She could command me and I would obey.
“I know you are him,” she whispered, the heat of her breath tangled with mine, “because only Herr Grey had the power to awaken this passion inside me.”
“Passion? What kind of passion?” With care, I slid the hem of her skirt up the smooth contours of her legs, baring her thighs to me. My thumbs traced the inside flesh of her legs.
I took a bit of wicked pleasure at the way Elise swallowed loudly and spread her thighs a little more.
Her head tilted, and Elise brushed her soft lips across the point of my ear. Her teeth nipped at the sharp edge. I closed my eyes and fought the urge to groan.
“A desire I can’t control.” She pressed her lips to the side of my head, her fingers touching the bridge of my cheek. “One I dream of. The kind I think of in the stillness of night and causes me to reach out and see if he is there.”
Her mouth kissed down my face, my jaw; her fingers curled in my hair.
I leaned back to meet her eyes. “And is he there?”
Elise ran her thumb over the edge of my lip, smiling. “The one who is there is the only man I will ever want, ever need, and ever love.”
I grinned and pulled her mouth to mine. I kissed her, desperately, until I heard Sven slip out of the room and lock the door behind him. Alone, I slid one hand between her legs until my fingertips ran over the heat of her center.
Elise moaned into my mouth and rocked her hips, greedy for more.
“Maybe this Legion Grey can show you how much passion you bring to him,” I whispered.
A dark heat sparked in Elise’s blue eyes. “If he doesn’t,” she said, gripping my wrist and holding my hand at the apex of her thighs. “He should know I will leave this place wholly unsatisfied.”
“Can’t have that,” I said, grinning as I dipped one, then two fingers into the wet heat of her core. Elise clung to my neck with a gasp. My lips brushed over the hinge of her jaw. “Now can we?”
I kissed her with a new ferocity. My tongue split the seam of her lips, claiming her mouth the way my hands claimed her body. She panted against my kiss, her body rocked, and arched, and tensed the closer she came to the edge. She tried to bring her hand to my belt, but I pulled her away.
“Now, now, Kvinna,” I said in a pleasure laced rasp. “This is a demonstration for you alone.”
“By the hells, you’re cruel.” Her head fell back, throat bared. I wanted to sink my teeth into her, to devour her.
I tormented her with my fingers until Elise could hardly draw in a full breath and her cries filled the alehouse. I held her steady through the jerky pulses of her release, then kissed her, deep and thorough.
After a moment, I brushed her hair out of her face. Her cheeks were flushed, her eye alight with the fiery passion I promised to bring. I smiled softly, studying every inch of her. “The night I met you here forever changed me. The first hint of admiration began mere paces from this table. Making the choice to take vows with you is the best decision I’ve ever made.”
The corners of her lips quirked up. “Would it surprise you if I admitted the only reason I came into the game halls was to catch a glimpse of the handsome Legion Grey.”
I chuckled. “You own my soul, My Queen. No need to ruffle my feathers now.”
“I would never,” she said. “It is very true. As I said, Legion incited a passion that leaves me clinging to the man beside me. You happen to be him, and Valen, and the Night Prince, and the Blood Wraith, and My King all rolled into one. I would choose you a thousand times over, Valen Ferus. I knew it when you were Legion Grey, and I know it now.”
My smile faded. I traced the lines of her face as though I might find a new place to memorize. Then, I kissed her, and kissed her, and kissed her until she knew this night—this celebration of us—was only beginning.
The Sun Prince
When centuries once divided you, how does one plan the first night alone, without worries of war and torture, and all those wretched things, with one’s consort, friend, lover?
With the one person who knows you inside and out?
After the shift in power, to say Torsten and I had time to be alone and reacquaint, would soon become a running joke.
I thought—foolish to do so—that having been parted all these agonizing turns, being drawn away from each other due to duty and court positions would be nothing. So long as I saw him again at night.
Not so. I missed him during these peaceful days as much, if not more, than days when I lived in a cell.
In truth, the desire to make up lost time was as maddening as the curse that once warped my mind.
I was the bleeding oldest prince of Etta and at long last tossed my title at the annoying king’s feet. Good of him to remember I was still his older brother.
Tonight no one, not even the king himself, was allowed to interrupt me. Hells, I would not mind if the entire bleeding castle cleared out for the evening. I had a great deal to say to Tor, words I hadn’t said in centuries, words I would not waste another damn moment keeping inside.
What we both understood was how quickly life could change.
Not always for the better.
When thoughts were nothing but incoherent notions for so long, one thing I’d discovered was words were hard to work through now. I was not skilled with them. At least, not in any poetic way. Most of the time I was brisk, or silent. Rarely did I express everything my heart wanted to say.
Tor knew it.
He knew the nightmares were there. He knew when I went silent it was not because I had nothing to say to him. Tor knew it was a scar still healing.
To tell him how much I valued him was the least I could do.
The door to the north chamber—the rooms I’d always had as a boy—opened. Tor stepped inside. His dark hair tied off his face.
His thoughtful eyes were tired, but when he found me seated near the mantle, they brightened like a starlit sky.
“What is the look?” he asked, stripping his weapon belt from his waist, letting the blades and knives land on the edge of a wooden bench near the door.
“No look,” I said. “Perhaps I’m merely happy to see you.”
“No. That look is something different.” Tor crossed the room. “This look, this is a look I know well. One I’ve missed, no mistake, but it is one where Sol is plotting.”
He leaned over the arms of my chair, face close, a coy grin on his lips.
I didn’t cave to him—not yet—and lifted a drinking horn to my lips. A bit of dark shadows clouded his gaze. Not the reaction he wanted being so near, no doubt, but he could be patient. If I did not hold back, we would never get through this night before I decided it would be better to stay inside and stay put until dawn.
“Plotting?” I said. “I never plot.”
Tor chuckled and straightened again, removing the leather sheath off his shoulders. “Well, you should. I may have need of you to plot against someone in the high court.”
“Oh? Who is this person I must add to some conniving scheme for you?”
“Your bleeding brother. Hells, his demands. One might think he was the king or something.”
I smiled and stood, taking his hand in mine. “You’ll be happy to know, I already made demands of Valen tonight. No one is to come here. Not until well after dawn. We have the king’s word.”
The corner of Tor’s lips twisted. “I knew you were plotting.”
My smile faded. I rested a hand against the side of his face, stepping closer. “Tor.” My voice was rough. “I wanted one night, like we used to have before the raids. You’ve been so patient with me, and—”
“Sol,” he interrupted. “What you survived . . . there will not be an end to my patience.” His hand took mine, gripping it tightly. “To have you alive, as you are, I would not give it up for anything.”
I loved him. Always had, even when I could hardly remember my name. The thought of someone kept me alive, kept me thriving. To look back now, it was Tor. As if something whispered he still lived, and I needed to survive for him.
I pressed a kiss to his palm and tugged him toward the door. “Still, I have things to say and show you in my impressively eloquent way.”
Tor laughed, doubtless since he knew I was quite the opposite. He interlocked our fingers and followed.
In the corridors, servants and a few of our guards and warriors gave us respectful nods.
We returned them, but mostly ignored anyone who looked interested in a chat. I hurried us out the back doors of the castle, toward the gardens.
“Where are we going?”
“I told you, have things you need to see.” My stomach tightened in anticipation. For the first time since the war ended, I had a lightness about my shoulders. It did not seem as if the world crushed me into fine powder beneath its weight.
Tor as well.
From what Elise had told me, Tor was surly. Serious. A man who wanted little to do with anyone outside of Hal, Valen, and Elise.
He was not unkind before the raids. I knew him better than most, and Torsten was pensive, inquisitive. He was quiet, but I did not need him to talk a great deal to know he was the one I loved.
From my closest friend to consort, I did not know a time without Tor.
I wanted him to know it tonight more than ever. I had hope healing would be had here, for us both, and together we could step into this new kingdom stronger than before.
At the edge of the garden, I paused, gave him a long look, then pulled back draping moonvane vines.
Tor smiled with a touch of longing at the small pond. Already, since Valen and Elise had claimed the throne, the wildflowers bloomed high and fragrant like old Etta. The water was cerulean glass. Untouched, private. A sort of sanctuary. But at the edge were two wooden longboats. Tiny things, with handsewn sails.
When Tor saw them his eyes widened. “Sol, where in the hells did you find these?”
He released my hand and hurried to the toy boats with their hand-whittled captains at the sternposts. Painted in dyes, both captains looked rather formidable with childish strokes and designs.
I lowered to my haunches at his side, touching the sail of one boat. “When the false king still ruled here, I noticed them on a shelf in one of the studies. I could hardly grasp onto my name, but the sight of these stopped me. A memory so distant, it was nothing but shadows and fading laughter in my head. But peace overwhelmed me.
“The guards beat me, tried to pull me away, but I kept staring at these ships, desperate to cling to the power of them. Something told me they mattered.”
Tor’s jaw pulsed, he took my hand, saying nothing. There weren’t words that needed to be said. Not yet.
“Do you remember them?” I asked.
He blinked to me, smiling softly. “You think I would forget?”
“The day I bested you in a race? No, I don’t suppose you would.”
Tor shoved my shoulder. “Think again, My Prince, you lost terribly and were the sorest of losers.”
I laughed and recalled the day when Kjell brought Tor and I to the pond. We were young, barely five turns old. Valen had been born mere days before, and I was rather petulant about having a new prince take my parents’ attention.
We built the ships with Kjell and Tor’s mother until they were ready to set sail. All day we raced them, laughed, and competed.
“When we left that day,” I said, staring at the surface of the pond, “I knew.”
“That you were my greatest friend.”
Tor looked at me with intention. He smiled, covering one side of my face again with his callused palm. “You have always been mine.”
I kissed him quickly, smiling against his lips, using his distraction to nudge one of the ships onto the water.
“Dammit. You still cheat, Sol!”
For a time, until the night breeze filled the air, we raced boyish longboats again. Laughing, reminiscing, returning to days where peace was all we knew.
We left the boats on the shore, and I led us toward the stables.
They were empty, as promised, and I silently vowed to repay Valen by telling the kingdom he was ill, so he could have an uninterrupted day with his wife soon enough.
I rested one hand on the gate of a stall.
“Are we going for a ride?” Tor asked, leaning against one of the wooden posts.
“Not unless you want to.” With my fingertips, I stroked a roan’s velvet nose. “The guards would leave me out here sometimes. It was one of the only places I could calm myself when I turned violent. Which I tried to do nearly every day.”
Tor laughed, but there was a bitterness to the sound. He had unfinished business with many of the Ravens who’d tortured me. Business he planned to handle in the Otherworld since most of the bastards had bled out on the battlefield.
“I thought it might be the horses that brought me peace, but it was something more. Do you remember?”
He stared at the straw and folded his arms over his broad chest. “I told you . . . I told you I loved you here.”
I smiled and faced the roan again. “Yes. My heart never forgot it, but now I am glad my head remembers as well. It was one of your grandest moments.”
He snorted. “I looked like death and couldn’t stop shaking. Very grand. Hells, I was so nervous I vomited at least twice beforehand.”
“I don’t know what worried you so much.”
“We were friends, Sol. I didn’t know what would happen if you did not feel the same. The thought of losing you was terrifying.”
I faced him, taking his hand in mine. “And I thought I had been so obvious for at least a turn before.”
Tor tilted his head. “Ah, the truth is out. You felt the same, yet you made me suffer and do it first.”
“I never said I was brave enough to take the first step.” I pulled him closer, chest to chest, heart to heart. “I asked you to be my consort here too. I asked you to spend your life with me. When we were parted, this was the only place I found clarity and calm.” I dropped my brow to his. “I know I keep things inside. Fears, anger, probably hate about the raids and Ravenspire.”
“No,” I said, trapping his face in my hands. “I need to say this. I needed to bring you out here again, to let you know even when I was not myself, you were in my thoughts and heart. I never stopped loving you, and I never will. I am trying to be better for you, trying to be open and honest with you more than anyone. You remain my truest friend, Torsten. You are my heart, and every bit of love I have to give is yours.”
He held the back of my neck, meeting my eyes for a few breaths before he kissed me. The sort of kiss that spoke of pain from the past, but more of the healing relief of a bright, hopeful future.
The First Knight
“Halvar, by the gods, stop moving.” Valen smacked the back of my head like I used to do to him when we were boys, and he was the tagalong. Now he was king, and I didn’t suppose I could very well get away with it when so many eyes were on us.
Truth be told, I didn’t know how to do this without fidgeting my way out of my skin.
The feckless lover of the Northern Kingdom. My oldest brother had always called me that before the raids. I wholly disagreed, of course. One could not cap the love my body was willing to give as a young fae.
When we awoke from the curse, I anticipated I would fall into old ways. A lack of heart and a bed of lovers.
Until I saw her.
Ragged, beaten, broken. But with a fire and fierceness for the freedom of all folk. The same ferocity was matched in my own desire.
Any other would’ve died. They would’ve given up when so many people hated them for what they once were.
A Timoran. A bleeding Raven had stolen my heart, body, my entire being. The woman had to be part spell caster. She’d captured me, and I had grand plans to keep her forever. Long into the Otherworld where we’d pester the gods with our jokes only we understood.
Still, to know today would make it official, my body could not stop moving in anticipation to get out there and get her into a private alcove where I planned to show the woman with my mouth and hands how much she owned every piece of me.
“You look delightfully handsome.” Elise brushed the tops of my shoulders and handed me a silver dagger with a smile.
“See, now, the queen knows how to speak to a man.” I kissed Elise on the cheek. “I’ve always liked you best, you know.”
She rolled her eyes, no doubt, recalling all the times I was not her friend. When she discovered Valen was actually the Blood Wraith came to mind. Still, Elise Lysander was loyal and in truth had become one of my fiercest friends.
Halvar Atra before the raids would never be friends with women. Love them? Romance them? Yes.
I rather liked the new Halvar.
He had more fulfillment. The greatest part was out there, waiting for him.
“Everyone is taking vows but me.” Ari had returned for the ceremony from the Southern kingdom, and now pouted in the corner.
“Ah, dear Ari,” I said. “Not everyone has the stomach to take you on as we do.”
He snorted a laugh and tossed one of the woven pillows on the study chairs at my head.
“Ready?” Tor asked at the door. Sol glanced at Elise, then messed up my freshly combed hair, to annoy me or his sister, I wasn’t sure. But it was a pleasure to see more of the old Sun Prince than not.
“I was ready for this woman before I knew her name,” I said. “Lead on my subjects. My wife awaits.”
Valen scoffed but took Elise’s hand and led the way to the corridor.
I stopped halfway down the hall. “Siv?”
Another friend. Hells, I’d hated Siverie when I thought her to be nothing more than a dirty Agitator sent to kill my darling Kvinna. Now, Siverie and her lover, Mattis, were some of the few who could hold their own with me at the alehouse.
“Uh, there is . . .” Siv wrung her hands, glancing at the others. “There is . . . ah, hells. Kari wishes to speak to you.”
My stomach knotted. Why? We weren’t supposed to see each other before vows. No. She couldn’t be changing her mind. I did not crumble easily, but not to take vows with Kari today, I had few doubts I would not be able to stand upright long.
I buried my disquiet well, and with a nod, followed Siv toward the back chamber.
The others had at least a shred of decency to give us a moment without butting their curious faces in our business.
I held my breath as I stepped into the room. Unwise since the moment I looked at her, the way her pale blue gown draped over her delightfully perfect body; the way her golden hair hung in ribbons of curls; the way her eyes brightened simply by meeting mine, I could not find the ability to draw another breath.
She robbed me of it, through and through.
And she had tears on her cheeks.
“Hells,” I said, crossing the room and wrapping her in my arms. “Who has upset you? Tell me, and I will make their death bloody and swift, and with a great deal of wicked vengeance.”
She laughed and rested a hand over my heart. “Hal, I—”
“Kari, I must warn you,” I whispered, close to her lips. “If you’ve decided not to take vows with me, I think it would be better if you take my knife and run me through.”
She kissed me. Hard, greedy. Her tongue tangled with mine. She had me spinning in a thousand thoughts of the things I would rather be doing than standing here on our feet.
When she pulled away, she wiped away some of the lip paint that smeared onto my mouth. “I am in love with you, Halvar Atra. Foolishly, so. Dishonorably, so.”
“My favorite kind,” I said, gripping her braided hair.
But, alas, her chin still quivered. “You are so valuable here, and there has been such talk in the old Timoran districts. They say things to me, about me. Halvar, I love you, and do not ever wish to bring you dishonor because of who I was—”
My fingers pressed against her lips, silencing her. Never mind the way I wanted to tear out a few throats for the doubts that had been placed in her beautiful head, I needed her to know the depths I would go for her. To the hells and back, if asked.
“Kari,” I said, softly. “Who you were? You were a warrior. A woman who did not falter beneath the power of men in her world. You were considered second, yet you rose up and became the first thought in my head each morning. The first beat of my heart. You saved me in battle, you love me when I am not always easy to love. Woman, I do not care if you came from a sea pit where monsters roam. You are mine. You will always be mine. You are the half of my heart that brings honor to me. I am honored to be your choice, and I mean every word.”
She smiled and wiped away a tear. “You might be making a foolish choice, vowing with a Raven.”
“I have always been a fool.”
“But you are my fool,” she said against my mouth.
“I want nothing more.”
Kari kissed me again, softer and with a new warmth. When we broke apart, I slipped my fingers with hers. “Are you ready for this?”
I kissed her knuckles. “Then, let us go take vows, so I can take you way to our chambers and never leave again.”
“We’ll need food. Water.”
“I will ask Elise to help us. We have a standing arrangement, you see. When she misses our king too much I deliver for her and keep stupid sods away. Now, she’ll deliver for us.”
Kari grinned and hugged my arm. “Then, hurry. I can hardly wait a moment longer.”
I hope you enjoyed the romantic scenes whether you celebrate or not.
Happy Valentine’s Day