Will contain spoilers from COURT OF ICE AND ASH
The Night Prince
Elise closed my mother’s journal and looked at me with a cautious hope. She wanted more of me, but there were walls guarding up her heart. Walls I’d placed there with my distance and sharp words.
“What—” Elise cleared her throat. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m tired of distance.” The floorboards groaned as I went to her.
My hands on her body had become my lone joy in this gods-forsaken place. She was warm, soft, brutal, and perfect. My mind drew to a calm with Elise in my arms. My heart did not pound in anger, or revenge, or hate. She was a ballast in a fiery storm. I could not deny it another moment. I could not fight it. In truth, there was no desire to deny it.
Her eyes narrowed. “Distance you have created.”
“For good reason. At least I thought so.” I leaned my forehead to hers, my voice low and soft. “I feared for you tonight.”
“Makes some sense. It was frightening.”
“I did not fear for anyone else.”
My fingertips followed the line of her jaw, down the planes of her delicate neck. Elise shuddered and drew in a sharp breath.
“Valen,” she whispered. Three hells my name off her lips had power. A pull to bend the knee, to do whatever she demanded. Elise lifted her gaze to mine. “What are you doing?”
I hesitated. “Do you believe I am distant because I am indifferent to you?”
“Yes. I think you enjoy me—or like to enjoy me. Like at the Black Tomb.”
“You make it sound as if you mean nothing and are simply a warm body to me.”
She shrugged and turned away.
With one knuckle, I tilted her chin so our eyes met. “The curse was broken, so there must be no other reason for me to remain near you, right?”
“You feel indebted.”
“Ah,” I said. She was wrong, but I could not blame her for thinking otherwise. What had I done to show her the way her mere presence had my blood hot? Her laugh made me weak in the damn legs. Her touch brought my thoughts to a stop and all I could see was her. She was fierce, powerful, and I could not get my fill of Elise Lysander.
It had begun before I knew my name. The woman I’d planned to use had burrowed into the heart of Legion Grey, and Valen Ferus had never let her go.
Elise closed her eyes and let out a soft sigh, then made a horrid choice and stepped out of my arms. “Valen, maybe at first you felt differently, but I know you do not wish to be here. I know you—”
Her words choked off when I yanked her against my chest. Tonight, I needed her to know the truth. If I did not, there was a chance I would not be breathing in the morning. She was all-consuming. I could not go another day, another night, without Elise knowing how she had destroyed any resistance I tried to keep.
She was my weakness and strength all rolled into one beautiful heart.
“You’re wrong.” My voice was deep and husky. I dragged my thumb over her bottom lip. “I wish to be anywhere you are, Elise Lysander. I have lost everyone. I watched them be used against me, watched them be tortured. But the thought of losing you is worse than any agony I’ve felt in the past. And I hate myself for it.”
She curled her fingers around my tunic, holding me close. “Why?”
“Your name alone puts a price on your head.” There it was, the fear I would need to accept. It was real, harsh, and potent. Perhaps I was selfish, but living apart seemed worse than anything. “Add me, and the web of risk increases tenfold. How can I do it to you?”
“Who says you are the one who makes the choice alone?”
I coiled my fingers in the icy waves of her hair. “Distance between us is the safest. It is the best choice. For you.”
“Then why are you here?”
A half grin tugged at my mouth. “Because as my mother wrote—I never was one to make the best choices.”
Gods, I refused to keep her lips off mine for another moment. Before Elise took another breath, I kissed her.
Her mouth parted, greedy and wanting, giving entrance to my tongue. I tasted her, devoured her. Elise dug her fingernails into my shoulders. We staggered until her back hit the wall.
“You command me.” I smiled against her mouth. “All of me. Irritating, since I am a prince.”
She kicked my shin. “No. You are a king.”
Elise broke the kiss, breaths heavy. My pulse throbbed in my head. I slid one hand down the curve of her waist. I watched for any hint of hesitation, but Elise’s pale eyes burned in dark desire.
I gathered a handful of her satin chemise in my grip and slipped my hand to the smooth skin of her upper thigh.
A smirk teased the corner of my mouth. Once I’d been here before. Then, I’d had a different name, but the desire was no different. I’d wanted Elise then, but tonight I wanted her with no barriers between us, no lies, no deceit. “Kvinna,” I whispered, “if a man were to touch you like this, would you like it?”
Elise grinned, chuckling softly, then closed her eyes. She let her head fall back against the wall.
My fingers glided up the side of her thigh. The heat of her core drew me closer. I pressed my mouth to her neck. My second palm climbed her ribs, to the underside of one breast. Elise whimpered as my thumb brushed over the swell, teasing her.
“Or this?” I grinned against her skin.
“Yes,” she said in a breathless whisper.
Elise placed her hand beneath my tunic. Her touch was a flame against the bare skin of my chest. A moan slid from my throat.
She flattened her palm over my heart, and nudged me backward, as if she were pushing me away.
My knees hit the edge of her narrow bed, knocking me into a seated position.
A scratch gathered in my throat when Elise slid one thin strap of her chemise off her pale shoulder. By the gods. I gripped the furs on the bed and gave over all control.
The chemise slid off her body. Naked and perfect, I could not remember when I’d seen something so beautiful. I reached for her hand and guided her over my lap, placing one leg on either side of my hips.
The heat of her center pressed against my trousers and length. It took more control than I cared to admit to hold back the need to rock and pound against her right then. How long had I desired this? Before the curse broke, to be sure. The schoolhouse? From the first time we laughed in the library over Mattis’s love spells? When she forced me to drink dandelion tea even when she was angry I’d confronted Siverie?
All the moments of our interactions collided. No mistake, Elise won my soul piece by piece and led us to this moment. From here, there would be no return. I was hers until the Otherworld called me back.
No. I was hers until the worlds crumbled and there was nothing left. Even then, I had no doubts she would own whatever was left of me.
“Do not turn from me again, Valen Ferus,” she whispered, stroking her fingers down my cheek.
“I could not even if I tried.”
“They win if we do not live.”
I slipped my hand between her legs. My fingers glided into her core. For a few heartbeats, I teased her center. My fingers flicked and pinched until Elise shuddered. She gasped and clung to my neck.
In the next breath, I tore my tunic over my head. Skin to skin was almost too much. Too intoxicating.
I flipped her over, laid her back on the bed, settled myself between her thighs, then shucked off my trousers. We tangled our limbs in a frenzy. Our pace built to something hard, desperate, and needy. Then, in the next breath it slowed. I relished every warm piece of her body; her throat, her breasts, her belly.
My tongue devoured the sweetness of lilac soap on her legs as I licked and kissed between her thighs. She cried out my name.
By the hells, I hoped all of Ruskig could hear.
Halvar would taunt me.
Tor would worry.
Ari would be irritating and likely stake his claim on Elise all to see if he could make me throw an axe at his throat.
“I can’t breathe,” she rasped and bucked her hips.
“Would you like me to stop?”
“Do and you die, Night Prince.”
With a sly kind of grin, I pulled back, gave her time to catch a few breaths, then hooked my hands under her thighs and parted her legs again. I tugged her closer, aligned against her center, and slid inside her.
We groaned in the same breath, then Elise kissed me. Each rough gasp matched mine as I began to rock against her. Elise’s brow furrowed. She bared her throat.
“Valen. Gods, I need you closer.” She spoke with her eyes closed and hooked her ankles around my waist.
I kissed her. We moved slow and deep.
Elise writhed under my body. I shifted more onto my knees, gripping her hips to strike a new angle. She pleaded for more, whispered my name. I kissed her over and over again.
The burn of her fingernails scraped down my back. I wanted her to leave her mark on me. I wanted to be branded as hers for the eternities. She tugged on my hair as her body released the passion, the pleasure.
A hot rush of desire filled my veins when she came apart in my arms. Her body quivered and shuddered. I thrust harder. I bit her neck, groaning her name, as my release came, hot and fierce.
Strength was gone. I let my body sink over hers. Never had I felt such a thing. A sensation where my head spun, my body was weak, yet I had never felt such life, such vigor.
Sweat lined my forehead. Elise’s hair was tangled about her head. I touched her lips, then kissed her. I kissed her for there were no words to tell her that she had robbed me of my freedom. She’d taken my mind, my body, my whole bleeding soul and could command me from this day forward. I was a willing prisoner, no mistake, I would never ask for any of it back.
Elise held my stare for a breath, then cradled my head against the beat of her heart.
Before sleep took us, I whispered, “Elise. I choose to live.”
I did not know how long we slept before a forgotten dream stirred me from sleep. The dream had delivered days in Etta before the raids when I never could seem to find my place among my own folk. Memories still returned from time to time. Moments in the past that had been blurred by the curse.
I stared at the mossy rafters overhead and recalled when I was surrounded by my people, yet still felt wholly alone. My mother and father had tried to help. They’d strategically placed me in front of girls from the gentry. I’d had less interest in finding a mate match than even my fiery sister.
Sol had made Tor his consort at sixteen. Herja had always been open to the idea of lovers, but me, I was closed off. Uninterested. Gods, for turns I’d thought myself defective. Broken in the heart. I could touch and kiss and be with women in those turns, but I had never been drawn to want more. I’d never desired any one but one woman.
I looked over at Elise’s sleeping form, stunned and bewildered. I was thinking too deeply about the dreams I used to have. Surely I was wrong.
The first dream of the woman came when I was but a boy. I recalled waking the next morning, reveling more about how I looked as a man in the dream than the woman who’d been in my head. I’d dreamed of a woman with pale hair and blue eyes seated beside me on the bench in the old schoolhouse.
Like The night I’d kissed Elise in the schoolhouse, tasted her, and fell in love with her.
Exactly like the night we’d crossed the line, in my dream the cold moon had brightened our faces. Back then, Timorans were an annoyance. King Eli was a bluster my father had wanted to squash, but ignored for the sake of my mother. But Sol had been the one to point out I’d dreamed of a Timoran woman.
From then on, the dream girl had followed me. She became a companion I found strength in during moments of stress, or fear, or loneliness.
I pressed a hand to my heart when the pain of memories from being shackled and tortured during the raids invaded my thoughts. The dream woman was there. An apparition I’d conjured in the darkest moments.
I licked my lips and let out a rattled breath when the memory of the first storyteller had cursed me—Greta had been her name—came to my mind. I’d been tethered to a slab of cold stone. Halvar on one side, Tor on the other. Never had I been so afraid, so resigned to death than in that moment. Certain I was about to greet the Otherworld, I remembered turning to see my dream girl one final time. Blue eyes and pale hair greeted me from the dark corner of that pit.
She was diaphanous. I’d known in my logical mind she hadn’t been real. Until–all gods, I remembered now–until Greta had whispered in my ear. The memory of her words rushed back in a flurry.
“Faces in your dreams are real, Prince Valen. When you see her, you will not recall your dreams, but a spark will ignite in your heart. Follow it, and you will find her.”
A spark in my heart. The burn of emotion ached behind my eyes. I rolled onto my shoulder and studied Elise’s profile in the darkness.
It couldn’t be . . . could it?
A spark in the heart.
The first moment I saw Elise Lysander on that balcony declaring her desire to be more, the cold, wretched pieces in my heart had stirred. She’d brought me back to life long before breaking the curse of bloodlust.
I dragged my fingers through the waves of her pale hair. My dream girl had the same hair. The same eyes. She had been a calm presence in terror, a hope in darkness, and Elise was . . . she was all of that and more.
I wiped a stray tear away with the heel of my hand as realization settled in my heart like a warm burst of light.
I’d found her.
The storyteller had spoken true. My dream girl was real. She’d always been there. Through the darkest days, through my insecurities as a young prince, through pain and suffering. Elise had been there before she’d ever existed.
I’d found her.
I didn’t know what fury could bring Elise to me so many turns ago, but by the gods, somewhere deep within me I’d known the girl who’d haunted my dreams was real. She’d be a missing half of me whenever we met.
And she was. More than I could dream up, Elise was mine.
I pulled her body closer. Elise sighed, smiling in her sleep, and draped a leg over my hip.
I kissed her forehead, holding my lips to her skin for a long pause.
“I love you,” I whispered. “I’ve always loved you.”
I hope you enjoyed a little steamy bonus scene with Valen and Elise.
I’m still hard at work with Ari’s story and I think you will LOVE what’s to come.