Due to the closure of the publisher, this title is likely to be unavailable.
A love transcending race and culture…a secret that could cost everything.
Elite Fey’na warrior Shan is driven only by hatred for Gilliad, the Lord of River Holt, the human responsible for the brutal slaying of his innocent sister. Vengeance will be his as soon as he can find a way to confront his enemy. His mind is set; his path chosen. Then he meets Jeren…
Jeren of River Holt flees for her life, desperate to escape the clutches of her brother, Gilliad, before his misuse of magic consumes what remains of his sanity. She finds safety and protection with Shan…but only so long as she hides her kinship with the Lord of River Holt. As they are pursued across the northern snow plains, their deepening trust turns to love.
A love that could shatter when he learns who, and what, she is.
“Read this book on a cold night with a blanket over your legs, your favorite beverage by your side, perhaps your own furry friend nearby….Long is a master at characterization. Deep characterization, in a short book. Madness, longing, love, desperation, motivation, hurt, betrayal–it’s all there for each primary character.”
4.5 Stars — “I haven’t read such a beautifully written tale in a very long time!”
-Natalie, The Library
5 Angels & a Recommended Read – “The fascination that I first felt when I had the chance to read the blurb for this book was well justified…I love to read books that make me feel the emotions that the players experience, be it fear, pain, anger, happiness, sorrow and frustration. The battles that these two go through make you ask yourself what next and when will it end, but the ending is very rewarding. Overall, I could read this book repeatedly and find something new in it. Thanks to R. F. Long for a very wonderful read.”
-Darksnite, Fallen Angel Reviews
4 Nymphs — “I’m pleased with the tightly constructed plot, smooth flow and nice job of describing the two races that are the focus of this story. Add in animal totems, vastly differing belief systems, death, anger, madness, betrayal and unexpected love and you have all the components needed for an entertaining afternoon read. ”
Mina was dead. Mina Roh, her guardian, who had watched over her all her life. It left a hollow place inside her, a place she never imagined could be emptied so easily.
“Who are you?” Jeren asked.
“Shan,” he told her. “You can call me Shan.”
She shivered, sick with loss. “They were all dead? You’re certain? I travelled with a woman, a lady…”
“Your companion broke her neck, little one, when your carriage left the road.” Her eyes were unaccustomed to darkness, and it hid him from her. It would have been easy to start a fire, but he hadn’t done so. Why?
Oh, but what did it matter now? Mina was dead.
She pulled her arms closer around her chest. “She…she’s dead. You’re sure?” In her own voice she heard the desperation of a child.
“Yes,” he replied simply. “Had I left you there, you would have joined her. Men were coming to kill any survivors.”
Her body tensed. Maldrine’s men? Who else would dare? Suddenly she found herself eager to hear of vengeance. “Did you kill them? Are they dead?”
“No,” he said. “I took you and left. Thus, we are both alive. Anala thought I was a fool to get involved.” The timbre of his voice resonated through her, tainted with pain. That wasn’t a good sign, Jeren thought. It wasn’t good at all. He’d been wounded saving her. And yet, he hadn’t saved the others. Mina was dead. She shook aside her concern for his obvious pain as an irritant in the way of her anger.
“You should have killed them. You should have stayed like a man and fought.”
He wasn’t annoyed. He seemed more curious than anything else. “For what purpose? To defend a pile of corpses?”
“You’re young to speak of death in such a way. There’s no honour in fighting without reason. Why do they want you dead?”
Jeren retreated into herself, recoiling without moving. How could she tell him the truth? The best scenario would be that he would hold her hostage. River Holt would ruin itself in order to win back Lord Gilliad’s little sister. Gilliad wouldn’t even have to enforce the collection of the ransom.
“I…I’m Jeren…” she began slowly. When he gave no reaction, she drew in a wavering breath. If he didn’t recognise the name, there might be a chance. Although she’d always been taught not to lie, she now had no choice. But could she look into the shadows where he nestled and spin falsehoods to the man who had saved her? At least she didn’t have to look into his face, his eyes. That would be impossible. She hung her head and continued, “I’m servant to the Lady of River Holt, Lord Gilliad’s sister. She was with me, in the carriage…”
He surged forwards as if to leap to his feet, but then fell back, with a gasp of pain. His anger came out in his voice. “She looked nothing like him!”
Jeren shied back again. He moved so fast, even wounded, and his voice held such hatred. She nodded slowly, biting down on her lower lip. “You know Lord Gilliad?”
Of course he did. There could be no other explanation for that reaction.
The seed of madness had lurked within Gilliad all his life. Even as a boy, her brother had cared for nothing but his own pleasures, and everyone had quickly learned to deny him nothing. Except for Jeren and their father. Her father had recognised the trait and sought to curb it. He had failed, as she had failed.
But who would believe her if she told? The River Holters’ loyalty to the Scion of Jern was as much a part of them as their skin. Shan must have seen it firsthand to react in such a way.
“I know he’s a curse to the world,” said Shan, “as are all True Blood. The magic in their veins makes them serpent-born.”
Gods, was that what he thought of them? She closed her eyes, thinking of her gentle father and the way he had held her, spun her around until she was dizzy and laughing. The image shifted in her mind, to Gilliad watching her with jealous eyes, to Gilliad as he had become, his grip on her arms when he had turned her around to face Maldrine. How wrong was Shan, if of all her family, he only knew Gilliad?
Jeren’s voice cracked as she spoke, deadened with exhaustion, though she took care with her words. “He’s the Lord of River Holt now. His sister was to marry the Lord of Grey Holt’s nephew. But Gilliad became reluctant…recently his behaviour…” She struggled to find a polite way of saying Gilliad was spiralling towards madness. It was too hard to express that, even to one who clearly hated her brother. After all, she was a River Holter too.
“Small group for a wedding party, wasn’t it?” he asked. His voice sounded sharper, as if he sensed the further concealment within the lie. She glanced away, hiding her secrets. However he took her silence, she didn’t know, but he conceded, his voice gentling. “Jeren, I wasn’t lying when I said you should rest. In the morning, you can decide what to do.”
Shan retreated further into darkest part of the cave. Jeren closed her eyes and closed off the world outside. The last thing she wanted to do was dwell on her own situation, to think about Gilliad and Maldrine, or the deaths of her only friends. She hated lying to Shan, though she could not say why. Perhaps, if he knew her true identity…
No. Now was not the time to think on such things. Instead, she focused on Shan and, as she always did when distressed, she allowed the magical faculties she inherited from her father to surge to life, sensing him out, feeling what he felt.
Like a firefly in the darkness, Shan’s body filled with shimmering light. His emotions were laid clear to her. Unused to pain, or to bearing physical damage, he would endure it, but deep down, he was afraid. And that was also alien to him.
“You’re hurt.” She struggled to bring her abilities under tighter control. Opening her eyes, she could almost see him now. Sunrise started to filter in from the outside. She welcomed its arrival at last. She longed for a new day to put the horror of the last one behind her, for warmth and light to drown the shadows clinging to her heart. “Let me help, Shan. I studied with the Holt’s healers and helped them on a number of cases.”
“You’re a healer now?” He shuffled farther away from her.
“What are you so afraid of?” she persisted.
His voice came out harsh with false bravado. “I’m afraid of nothing, least of all you.”
“Then why hide?”
Sunlight crept through the cave mouth. Anala scrambled to her feet at their raised voices, her claws scratching at the bare stone. The owl cried out in alarm at the sudden movement. Light stretched across the floor, illuminating his finely crafted, well-worn boots of soft grey leather. She could see the dried blood caked on his calf and fresh blood staining the soft fabric around the arrow shaft. Its broken stub projected like a jagged tooth.
Jeren stilled as the sun revealed yet more of him. He wore a tunic of the same grey-white suede. Even his skin was pale. His fingers, long and elegant, curled helplessly at his side.
Jeren’s jaw fell open. A cry of alarm came stillborn to her lips as she looked on skin as fair as one snow-touched, the veins a tracery of blue, like lines in marble. His white-blonde hair was finely braided, each strand no thicker than a child’s bracelet. His silver eyes slanted beyond those of a human and his long lashes were the same white gold. Paler than an albino, as handsome as the images of her god, this Fair One warrior had saved her life. He was younger than Ha’ledren, broader in the shoulders, but just as pale and beautiful, heart-wrenchingly handsome—and just as unapproachable.
The image of what her brother had done to the captive warrior burst like wildfire in her brain—his ruined face, the snarl of his mouth, the monster behind just such an austere mask of perfection.
“Jeren,” Shan whispered. In his musical voice she could now hear more than pain, she could also detect the first hint of panic. “Jeren, remember they’re close…little one, please…”
She couldn’t help herself. His endearment was the final straw.
Her scream pierced the spell, and she burst from the cave, running as fast as her exhausted body would allow.
Suddenly men were running towards her. The primal part of her soared with relief before she recalled why she had been hiding.
They weren’t going to help her…