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Fae's Captive (Fae's Captive #1)
Author:Lily Archer

“I would sooner swear fealty to the summer realm than let the first winter realm mate in a century slip through our fingers. And your mate, at that.” His lips quirk into a smile. “You’ve always been a lucky bastard.”

Taylor points at the door and says something, the last word turning up in question.

Gareth responds in the changeling language. He speaks it far better than I do. I try to tamp down my jealousy that he’s able to converse with her while I can’t. It isn’t easy. I’m desperate for any word from her lips.

When they finish talking, I raise my eyebrows at him.

“She wants to know where she is.” His forehead wrinkles as he looks at her with open curiosity. “She says she’s not from here. She’s from the changeling world and just got here today.”

“That’s not possible.” I shake my head. “Exchanges aren’t allowed when changelings are this old.” The fae have few universal tenets, but that is one of them. No fae can be exchanged for a human once the human reaches maturity. Too many questions would arise, and it would violate the ages-old treaty with the humans.

“I know. She said she woke up in the prison—”

“My mate in a prison?” My fangs lengthen, but I’m careful to close my mouth. If she truly is new to the fae world, she must be terrified. Fangs won’t help. They retract slowly.

“She met another changeling there who helped her get her bearings. But otherwise, she has no idea what’s going on.”

I swallow hard, my mouth suddenly dry. “Does she know I’m her mate?”

Gareth darts his gaze away from mine. “She didn’t say.”

I force myself to stay calm, to ignore the sting. She may not know it yet, but she will when I claim her. “Who hit her?” I smooth my palm along her hairline where a dark bruise has risen.

Gareth asks her in her language.

She presses her fingers to her forehead and speaks to him, then touches her lip.

Gareth’s face turns into a glower. “She hit her head by accident. But Tyrios split her lip.”

Tyrios. And I’d just let him get away. I’ll have his head for daring to harm my mate.

She whimpers. I realize my grip has tightened too much.

“I’m sorry little one.” I press my lips to her forehead. Just that bit of contact sends a buzz through me that ends in my cock. The need to take her makes me dizzy.

“Two choices. Stay here and fight Tyrios, which would endanger the agreement with the queen. Or take your mate and flee. That option may leave a sour taste in the queen’s mouth, but at least you won’t have spilled one of her noble’s blood.”

“Tyrios will die by my hand.” My words are a promise, one that will never be broken.

“I have no problem with that. But now is not the time.” Gareth jerks his chin toward Taylor. “Getting her safely to the winter realm is the most important thing.” His eyes light, as if hope set off a spark inside them. “A royal mate. Do you know what this could mean for the winter realm? For our future? Maybe this is the end of the curse for all of us.”

I wasn’t the only one who had wished for his mate during the dark years of the war and the ones that came after. Gareth is right. Tyrios can wait. I will strike, but it doesn’t have to be now. My need to protect Taylor overwhelms even my desire for vengeance.

I peer at her—at my future—and almost burst with pride. She is mine, and I would lay down my life to keep her safe. Once we are surrounded by snow and ice, wind and cold—the chilled heart of the winter realm—I will breathe easier. “We leave at nightfall.”





7





Taylor





Being cradled in the arms of the huge warrior should be terrifying. Instead, I’m oddly comforted. His scent of crisp winter wind and warm fires calms the worry that eats away at me. But I’m still on edge and trying to figure out how to get back to where I belong.

This strange place doesn’t make sense to me—not the people, the weather, or the language. At least the other massive brute speaks English, though he hasn’t given me much comfort.

“We’re leaving tonight,” the other one—Gareth is his name—says.

“Leaving? But how can I get back if we leave?” I shake my head. “I can’t go. What if the only way back is here somewhere?”

Gareth ignores my questions and kneels in front of me.

Leander’s grip tightens for a second, then relaxes.

Gareth holds my gaze and speaks in the fae tongue, his tone lilting, the words almost a song as he stares up at me. When the near-song comes to a close, he lays his sword on the floor in front of Leander and me.

“What’s going on?” I’m almost at eye level with the scarred fae, though he doesn’t scare me. His eyes are warm, far warmer than Tyrios’s or even the royal-looking woman’s who could speak to me without saying a word.

“I have sworn my allegiance to you as my future queen.”

“As your what?” I shake my head and push away from Leander’s arms. He doesn’t let me go far.

“More will become clear in time.” Gareth bows his head. “It’s customary for the queen of the winter realm to respond to the Winter’s Oath with the phrase ‘bladanon thronin.’ It means ‘your pledge is honored’ roughly.”

“I’m not your queen. I don’t belong to Tyrios or anyone else. I don’t belong here. I just want to go home.” I finally manage to scoot away from Leander’s grip, though I realize it’s only because he allows it. He’s twice my size and made of pure muscle.

“I cannot rise unless you say the words or strike the head from my body.” Gareth lowers his dark eyes to the floor.

“What?” My voice takes on an edge of panic. What is he talking about? If things didn’t make sense before, now they were utterly bananas. Me? A queen? I’m a college student with Bs in literature and history and straight As in my science classes, a love of Friends reruns, and a penchant for eating an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s in one go. I’m not a queen. I don’t even feel like an adult half the time. Hell, I can’t even drink legally for another month!

“I’m sorry, my lady, but we are in grave danger here. We must leave for the winter realm. I have sworn to protect you with my life. If you deem me unworthy, and my pledge dishonorable, it is tradition for you to end me. And I would prefer death to living a life of shame.”

“I’m not going to kill you. I just met you, for crying out loud!” I press my palm to my forehead. It’s covered with a fine sheen of cold sweat.

Leander doesn’t intervene, just stares at me with an intensity that seems to grow by the second.

“But I need to go home.” I hate how helpless I sound.

“This is a step toward home.” Gareth still doesn’t rise.

I pinch the bridge of my nose. “So, if I say the words, we can get as far away from Tyrios as possible and find a way for me to go home?”

“Yes, we will be leaving Tyrios behind, and yes, you will be going home.”

I narrow my eyes. “I’m pretty sure your definition of ‘home’ isn’t quite the same as mine.”

“Even so.” He shrugs but doesn’t move from the floor.

“What if the only way back is here somewhere? I mean, I woke up in the dungeon. Maybe that’s the way to get back?” I chew my lip.

“Did you see any way out when you were there?” He still doesn’t look up.

“Well, no.” I search my memory. “There was just stone and bars and some hay. No other way in or out.”

“Then you were likely brought here through magic. It’s not specific to this place. Magic runs through all of Arin.”

“Arin?”

“This world. There are many, but this is Arin.”

“Arin. And magic.” I swallow the disbelief that tries to overwhelm me. “So, I can go back with magic?”

He’s silent for a beat too long, then says, “Perhaps. We have certain magic wielders in the winter realm who will know better than I can tell you. My magic is more of a … destructive variety.”

At least it sounds better than going back to the dungeon. “What are the words again?”

“Bladanon thronin.” I repeat the words and even wave my hand a little like the queen of England might.