Authors: Jaci Burton
Tags: #Book - Paranormal Erotica Series
To my friend, Mel, aka Melani Blazer. Thank you for helping me add beautiful color to Roarke and Solara’s story. Your friendship means the world to me, and I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to read my stories. I wish you much success and happiness in your writing career.
To Patti and Missy. Thank you for all you do to help me. Truly, I’d be lost without you.
To my editor, Briana St. James. Yes, you can have all my “R” heroes (grin). And thank you for loving my ‘men’ as much as I do.
To my wonderful Paradise group – thank you for giving me a refuge and a place to laugh. Thank you for your friendship and warm acceptance of me.
And, as always, to Charlie. When you walk into a room, I feel the magic of your love. Truly, we were fated. My soul is forever yours. I love you.
Solara, faerie princess of D’Naath, shifted her position on the stairs and peered through the slats, figuring her vantage point would leave her unnoticed by the two men. Or at least the one man she didn’t want to notice her. She watched intently as Roarke, captain of the elvin guard, did sword battle with one of his soldiers.
Training, they called it. To her it looked like a fight to the death, both elvin warriors straining with the efforts of their exercise.
Moisture beaded on Roarke’s brow as he lifted the heavy broadsword and struck a downward blow on his opponent. The clang of metal against metal rang out in the empty courtyard and echoed in the surrounding trees.
Roarke’s well-muscled back strained and flexed, yet he wielded the sword as if it were no heavier than a dinner knife. But she knew it weighed half as much as herself. His powerful muscles gleamed with sweat in the already heated morning sun.
What compelled her to venture forth at daybreak? Was she purposely seeking him out? It did her no good to mull over that which was not meant to be. Soon she’d be leaving for Greenbriar, the land of the southern king, Braedon.
’Twas her fate to marry Braedon in less than a month. A man she’d never seen, a man known as cold and emotionless, the complete opposite in nature of his warm, sun-filled lands.
The complete opposite of her.
They had arrived only yesterday. Determined to spend some time with her sister, Noele, Solara had brought along her three younger sisters, Trista, Elisa and Mina. After all, this could be the last time they were all together, since Solara would be ensconced in the southern king’s lands before long.
She was here to see Noele and Garick.
She hadn’t seen Roarke until this morning. As yet, they hadn’t spoken. She wanted these few moments to watch him. To gauge her own reactions to seeing him again. Would her feelings for him be as strong as they were when they’d first met? Had that been nothing more than a chemical reaction, or was there something more?
Now, looking at him again, she knew whatever reaction she’d felt when she’d met him the first time had not dwindled in the least. Her heart still fluttered against her breast. Her blood still pounded through her veins, her breathing labored.
All from merely looking at Roarke.
Oh, why did she have to meet Roarke all those months ago? Why had she made a connection with him that fired her blood and refused to leave her be? It had been six long months since Noele’s wedding. Six months since she’d first laid eyes on Roarke. Surely enough time had passed that she would be over any feelings she’d had for him.
And yet from that first moment, that first time he had touched her in the official elvin greeting, she had known they shared a destiny. A destiny which could never be.
She’d tried to dismiss it as some kind of physical reaction to an attractive male. Not that Roarke was the first good-looking male to cross her path, but she’d certainly reacted to him as if he had been.
They’d been separated since she and her sisters had returned to D’Naath. Now, returning to Winterland, she realized nothing had changed. One glimpse of him and the same wild reactions occurred within her.
Solara sighed and once again fixed her gaze on Roarke’s naked back, imagining how his muscles would ripple under her touch, how he would bring her body to life with his strong, powerful hands. The same visions that had haunted every sleepless night since the last time she had seen him. No matter how she tried to fight the demon desire that lived inside her, one look at him and she was reminded of everything she had tried to forget.
How was she to marry one man when she clearly felt something for another?
But she had not come to Winterland to moon over a man she desired and could not have. She was here to visit her sister, Noele, before she made the long journey to Greenbriar.
She pondered the combatants, with every passing second more and more convinced that she would be unable to go through with a marriage to a man she did not love.
Noele had been lucky. She had been destined as Garick of Winterland’s bride, and their match had ended up one of love. The passion between her sister and Garick was palpable to anyone who stood near them.
’Twas what she wished for herself. If that was selfish, so be it. Her heart ached for another. She could never be the bride of a man as cold and unfeeling as Braedon of Greenbriar was said to be.
Picking at a speck on her blue shift, she concentrated on her hands, willing the melancholy that had settled over her to vanish like a butterfly on a gusty wind. Yet it had remained for days now and she could not force it away.
Her fate was sealed, her destiny not of her own choosing. What could she do but see it through?
No. There had to be another way. She could not do this!
“What ails the beautiful faerie today?”
Glancing up, she squinted in the blinding sunlight. It did not matter that her sight was restricted. Roarke’s voice entered her very soul.
“Nothing ails me.” How had he snuck up on her when she’d only averted her eyes for the briefest of moments? Had she known the men had ended their skirmish, she would have disappeared before Roarke had the chance to look up at the stairs and see her sitting there.
Now that he stood so close, her body reacted by flaming to life. ’Twas like an illness making her feverish. He kneeled on the stairs, blocking the light from her eyes with his body. His skin was bathed in a fine sheen of sweat and she balled her fingers into fists to keep from swiping her hand over the corded muscles of his shoulders and down his bare chest.
Truly, he took her breath away. Hair as dark as the bark of the trees in D’Naath hung long to his shoulders. A short, clipped beard and moustache graced his angular jaw. Would that beard tickle her lips and her cheeks when he rubbed against her? And what of his mouth? Could he perform magic on her body with that mouth?
How would his beard and lips feel lower on her body, rubbing against her swollen sex?
“Is there something wrong, Solara?”
She shook her head, forcing her thoughts away from pondering his full lips. “No. I was just catching the morning sun and breathing in the beautiful air of summer.”
“You appear unhappy.” He reached out and traced her forehead.
Shock registered deep within her at the power of his touch. Her sex moistened and began to thrum with a now familiar ache, and her nipples thrust hard and needy against her thin shift. She backed away from his hand, unable to bear the sweet torment.
“What is wrong, sweet Solara?”
Oh please go away. I cannot bear the pain of your touch,
the fiery promise in your deep voice.
She shut her eyes and willed him to disappear. When she opened them, she found his dark eyes studying her, a frown on his deeply handsome face. “There is nothing wrong. I must go find Noele now.” But when she stood and turned to leave, he reached out and laced his fingers around her arm.
“I have to. I cannot stay here.”
“What if I ask you to stay?”
His voice held a teasing edge, and yet the undertone carried a serious question. Were they still talking of her leaving to see Noele? Or had their conversation shifted to something deeper, more permanent?
Something she’d thought constantly of, but refused to lend voice to.
“You know I cannot. I am destined elsewhere.”
He dropped his hand. “Aye, I know. It’s foolish.”
“Aye, it is.”
She should walk away. Or he should. Neither of them had the right to be alone together. Solara knew that, and she was certain Roarke did, too. But he didn’t leave. And she found her feet to be immobile.
But standing here next to him, inhaling his musky scent, forcing her hands to remain at her sides so she didn’t reach out and touch him—’twas all too much to bear.
“I should go.”
He still watched her, tilted his head to the side. “Aye. You should.”
“There is no reason for me to stay.”
“No, there is not.” He reached for a scarlet curl, threading it through his fingers. “And yet you remain.”
“You could leave,” she offered, wondering why he expected her to be the one to walk away.
“I could. But for some strange reason I don’t wish to.” She closed her eyes for a brief second. His words should mean nothing. He played a game with her, and nothing more. But when she opened them again, she realized he was as torn as she was, and unable to take a step either forward or backward.
“This is wrong, Roarke. We should not even be talking.” He released the curl he’d been holding and moved his hand over her bare shoulder, letting it rest there.
She fought her body’s reaction to his touch, to no avail. She was on fire.
“I think there is much unsettled between us,” he whispered. “I would speak with you alone this eve, if you can manage.”
Her breath caught and held as his eyes flamed, mirroring the desire she found so often in her own reflection. So, he had felt it too. That all-consuming passion for someone who was nearly a stranger.
Knowing he had feelings for her only made their situation worse. And yet she was too curious to resist that which she knew she should.
“After all have retired. Meet me in the rear gardens at the end of the courtyard.” Against her better judgment, she nodded. With a seemingly reluctant slide of his fingers, he let go and turned away, moving down the stairs to greet the other guards who had entered the courtyard for morning training.
Garick entered the courtyard too, his booming voice resounding in the bailey, Solara sighed and walked away, climbing the wide steps toward the hall. She pushed open the heavy door, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the darkness of the room. Voices emanated from the corner of the hall, and she followed the sound. Noele should be somewhere about, likely in the kitchens.
She found Noele fluttering around the tables in the great hall, making sure that all the settings were in place before the men came in to break fast. She smiled when she saw Solara, and motioned her over.
“Did you sleep well?”
Solara lied. “Aye. Just fine. And you?”
A half smile lit up Noele’s pale face, her silver sparkles shimmering in the rays of light streaming through the windows. “I did not sleep much at all.”
Warmth spread within Solara, and she knew what she saw on Noele’s face was the deep love she felt for her husband. Oh, why couldn’t she have found a mate that matched her in heart and soul? She laid her fingers over Noele’s arm. “I am very happy that you have found your love mate.”
“As am I. Now let us hope the next of us to marry will do the same.” Noele meant her, of course. Not wanting to burden her sister with her foolish thoughts, she attempted a smile. “Let us hope.”
Setting a goblet aside, Noele reached for Solara’s hand, a questioning look in her clear blue eyes. “It was not too long ago that you asked me this question. Do you fear the coming joining?” Solara well remembered asking Noele of her fears. Noele had been honest with her sister. Could Solara do the same?
“In many ways, I do. I have heard terrible things about this Braedon of Greenbriar.” Lips so like her own curved in a gentle smile. “Do not believe everything you hear, my sister. Stories like that are typically lore and have no basis in fact.”
Then again, they could very well be true. But what she did not reveal to Noele was that it wouldn’t matter if Braedon was the kindest man in all the kingdoms. She could never be happy marrying one while loving another.
Forcing that unpleasant thought aside, she worked with Noele, helping her serve the plentiful food and drink. The warriors kept close to the castle these days because of all the wizard attacks in the past. With so many of them present, the multiple tables took extra hands to serve them. Solara gladly assisted, thankful for something to do to keep her mind busy.
“When I first came here, they would not let me help,” Noele mused with a chuckle. “It was only after I insisted repeatedly that Garick allowed me to do more than sit upon the throne and look like a simpering idiot.”
“Faerie must stay busy or die of boredom.”
“Aye. Which is what I had to convince Garick of. And then Isolde, and finally the servants. They were shocked I would wish to perform labors around the castle, but truly I gain pleasure from doing so.” She swept her arm in a wide arc across the room. “This is my husband’s home. It is my duty to see it is well-cared for.”