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Preview For Book Two: 1


I stood before the ancient stone as the sun turned the distant skies light gray. I waited silently, my skin erupting in waves of chills. I’d never shaken the eeriness of this sacred place, of the feeling that the ghosts of my past were just beyond the veil, just out of reach. The wind picked up, causing the trees to sway and bend to its will. I could feel the tinge of autumn in the air as it stilled once more. The sun rose ever higher, but I focused solely on the stone, the carvings etched there by my husband’s ancestors. The rusty, faded stains of blood still visible from the previous fall’s sacrifice.

The world as I knew it was changing still; it had only seemed to pick up speed as it careened out of control. I knew not what to expect of our future, only that our peace was fragile, the big gulp of air before the plunge into the water. I knew, deep in my heart, that I’d have to accept the things I could not change, and simply remain strong. Our lives depended on it. I placed my hand over my lower stomach, smiling as I felt the tiny bump. I’d protect what was mine, no matter the cost.

The sun finally peaked, bathing my face in its rays. I closed my eyes, waiting. When I reopened them, she was there, in all her ethereal beauty. Some called her a faerie, others a witch. To me, she was our only source of hope.

“Mistress Elise, you can’t—”

I glared pointedly at a distraught Remi as I rolled out yet another batch of pie dough. Our lands swelled with newcomers, more each day, and all were insatiable. I wiped the back of my hand across my brow, feeling the grit of flour on my face. I sighed in annoyance. I was in a constant state of nausea and discomfort, and I knew it would only worsen with each passing week. Freyja had given me fair warning. I’d told Remi time and again to quit calling me Lady or Mistress, but she insisted it was proper etiquette.

Miss Meerie chuckled from near the hearth, stirring a vat of venison stew. Today had been the coldest this season, though with the sun streaming in through the high windows, and the blazing fire in the hearth, it felt more like a hot summer’s day.

“Don’t you have something better to do than hassle me?” I asked curtly. Whoever had commanded Remi to be my guard dog would soon feel my wrath. She gulped, nervous. I squinted at her.

“Where’s Jon?” I said. He was usually the one to heckle me, saying I was fragile because I was with child. He’d learned to never speak such nonsense to me again, still trying to get back into my good graces. Remi fiddled with her hands.

“Umm,” she shuffled her foot. I placed my hands atop the floury table, glaring at her.

“Tell me.” I growled, already having a sense of where—and what—he was doing. Miss Meerie laughed again, though she quickly resumed bossing around the other women, truly the lady in charge of this entire clan. Bear whined by her feet, waiting for more scraps.

When Remi continued to stall, I stalked out of the kitchens, wiping my hands on my apron. The fresh air hit my face, relieving me instantly. I could hear the sounds of a spar in the clearing, something normal now as men honed their skills for battle. I picked up my skirts angrily, stomping through the mud, Remi running behind me to catch up.

I watched as Jon threw a young boy to the ground, a grin on his blotchy, scruffy face, his black curls wild in the wind. I stopped, my breathing ceasing as well, as I caught sight of him. My anger fled, replaced by a deep lust that felt unquenchable. He was handsome, strong and ruthless, while still maintaining his good nature and humor. He was the center of my world, the man I loved and cherished above all else.

The boy struggled to get up out of the mud, his red curls nearly black now. I placed my hands on my hips as Jon extended his arm to my not-so-little brother, pulling him up and clapping him on the back. Benji beamed, all cheeks and teeth. Bane laughed from the sidelines, shaking his head, a mug of ale in his giant hand. Jon turned, feeling my eyes on him. He smiled impishly, tucking tail and making his way over.

“Ye angry wi’ me, princess?” He said breathlessly. I tapped my foot. The wind rustled his hair again, thinning my resolve. Despite the ever-present nausea, I couldn’t seem to stave off my desire to be intimate.

“I’m pregnant. I’m always angry with you.” I glared. He chuckled, winding his arm around my waist and pulling me to him. He kissed my head, smelling of dirt and sweat. I stared up at him as he gazed over Macdara, over his land and his people, a look of deep pride on his face.

“Would it help if I said sorry?” He teased, staring down at me now. I rolled my eyes.

“You know my brother is no warrior. He’s only thirteen.” I said for the thousandth time.

“Ahh, I was wieldin’ a sword from the time I could stand, princess. He wants to learn. And the lad is near fourteen now.” He argued, also for the thousandth time. Benji jogged over to us, a wide grin on his face. Remi had slipped away, avoiding my hormonal outburst. Only Jon was strong enough to tame me, it seemed.

“Did ye see, Elise?” Benji said, breathing heavily still. I was astounded at how quickly he was growing into a young man out here. He had also picked up on Jon’s accent a bit. He admired my husband, making him his hero.

“Yes,” I sighed, relenting for now. Jon chafed my arm.

“Get ye back in to spar with Bane now,” he teased, causing Benji’s eyes to widen.


Jon shook his head curtly, being tough on my brother, something he’d never experienced before.

“Ye will only get better by fightin’ the best. Three more rounds,” he winked. Although Benji acted rather put-out by this demand, he bounced back over all too cheerfully. Jon smiled as he watched him go.

“The lad wants a tough presence he can respect,” he said, turning back to me, his black eyes depthless and warm to me. I felt pride swell in my chest, for how gracious he was toward my family. There had been no hesitation for him to step in and resume the role of my father, only I’d found he was excelling at the task. Jon had chalked it up to the way his own father had raised him.

“Well, what does that make me?” I teased. He smirked, gripping a handful of my rump. I blushed, knowing how many people were able to see.

“It makes ye the tough presence I can respect,” he bent forward, kissing me deeply before extracting himself, walking backwards slowly, smiling at me.

“River?” He asked, his voice carrying to me on the wind. I blushed even more.

“One hour!” I called back. He laughed and turned away, joining in the next fight. Shaking my head, I picked up my skirts and made my way back to the castle, spotting Emmelyne and Killian near the entrance. Killian was crouched, gripping fistfuls of Bear’s fur.

They’d saved my mother, Boudica, and her people with their early warning of attack. We’d been pleased to find them here when we’d returned home. Jon had given them residence in Vala’s old cottage in the woods, close to the river, sensing they wanted privacy and time to acclimate to clan life. The eligible (and married, for that matter) women of Macdara shot Killian constant, lustful glances. It was easy to see why. He was tall, muscled from head to toe, his blue eyes flashing like stormy seas, his orange curls always playing in the wind. He’d smirk more than he’d smile, his mouth tilting up on one side as he spoke. He had a confidence about him that made you feel rather inferior. Him and Jon had quickly become close friends.

His woman, Emmelyne, was another case of pure beauty. Her long brown hair was always braided, sweeping past her hips. Her cheeks were round, her eyes wide as a doe’s and a different, lighter shade of blue than Killian’s. I’d never seen the two apart. He clearly adored her with a love that always reminded me of my husband. I was thankful there was another, younger couple that we had the chance to get to know.

“Hello,” Emmelyne said kindly as I approached. I smiled at her. Killian stood, wrapping an arm around her waist and tugging her close. He nodded to me, smirking.

“Mistress,” he said.

“Ugh,” I growled, pushing my way inside, hearing him chuckle behind me. Everyone knew I detested the niceties.

I continued peeling ripe, juicy peaches, waiting for my torturous hour to be up. Wiping my hands, I slipped away out the back, shooing Bear with my foot. I wound my way down the trail, pushing aside low hanging, moss covered branches. The river was nearly in sight. My anticipation continued to build, thankfully pushing the omnipresent nausea away. I broke free from the trees, scanning the grassy slope where Jon and I usually met. I was early.

I stared across the river, hugging myself against a chilly breeze. The land stretched for miles; rolling, grassy hills dotted with sharp, black rocks. We’d never gone that way. It made me wonder what lands stretched beyond our own, reminding me of a time in which I’d thought the Mountain was all there was. Now, I was so very thankful to have been proven wrong.

He had a way of approaching so stealthily, as though he were a ghost. Jon wrapped his arms about me, causing me to yelp in fright. He clapped a hand over my mouth, chuckling darkly in my ear.

“Shh, princess, we don’ want to attract any attention,” he planted a feathery kiss on my neck, just below my ear. I moaned into his hand, leaning back into his chest and his warmth, winding my hand up and into his damp hair. He removed his hand, spinning me to face him, placing his full lips onto mine, gripping my hips and tugging me closer in heady greed. I sighed against him. I’d thought we’d grow bored of this at some point. I knew now that we never would. It was more than just lustful desires, especially now. Our love had been challenged time and again, and we’d emerged broken but victorious.

He fell back onto the springy, dying grass, the wet, earthy scent clinging to us. I lay atop him, kissing him more eagerly as his hands found their way under my skirts to rest on my bare thighs. I shivered, making him laugh.

“You’ll be soaked,” I breathed against him, nodding to the grass.

“I don’ care,” he pulled my face back down to his. Unable to prolong the inevitable, Jon threw my skirts out of the way, hastily tugging the ties on his breeches at the same time. Before I had time to prepare, he pushed into me, making me collapse onto his chest, gripping his shirts as I moaned. We stilled for a moment, adjusting, before I pushed myself up and began grinding my hips against his. He gripped the tops of my thighs, biting his bottom lip as he closed his eyes, groaning in pleasure.

The wind, the rain, the chill—none of it could stop us in this moment. Jon bucked his hips suddenly, clearly close to the edge. He gripped me tight, rolling us without breaking our connection, so he could be the one in charge.

I giggled at the sight of his flushed face.

“Think that’s funny, eh?” He smirked. I nodded, but gasped as he drove himself faster and deeper.

“Jon—” I breathed, clutching and clawing at his back. I couldn’t fight it any longer. I let myself go, trembling in his grasp as he did the same, spilling himself into me, making me his for all eternity.

He collapsed onto me, rolling away but pulling me close and kissing me deeply.

“I love you,” I whispered, still feeling the high, giddy sensation pulsing through my body.

“And I you.”

“’Tis a boy for sure,” Jon said, holding me close as I lay my head on his chest. I scoffed.

“How can you be so sure?”

“I just know,” he shrugged. We lay in the cold grass as the sun began to set.

“Hmm,” I said, brushing my fingers along his sharp, scruffy jaw.

“I’ll have to think o’ some good, strong names,” he said, rolling his shoulder so I was in the grass on my back. I smiled, seeing how deeply happy he was. He placed his big hand over my stomach with a tenderness that brought tears to my eyes. He grinned like a fool.

“I don’t get a say?” I asked, clearing my throat. He smirked.

“It’s our tradition, for the men to name the boys,” he explained, rubbing his warm hand across the tiny bump.

“Oh really?” I raised my brows, challenging him.

“Aye, but I’ll make sure ye approve,” he winked, dipping down to kiss me briefly. His smile faltered.

“He’ll know of his older sister. I know it, that they’ve met in the halls of my fathers.” He said. This time, nothing could stop the tears that leaked from my eyes. The sensation of loss was something I’d never quite been able to get past, but knowing our first child, my precious Gloria, was with our past family members was a great comfort to us both.

“Yes,” I croaked, nodding. Jon’s eyes flashed to me, black in the failing light. He brushed his thumb over my temple, wiping away my tears.

“I’ll be wi’ ye, princess, the entire way this time. I promise ye that.” He said with seriousness. It had been torture, finding out I was with child and losing that child, all without Jon knowing. But he was a man of his word, and I knew he would let nothing come between us now. We were safe, we were home, and our love was growing more each day in the form of our child. The sun fell behind the distant hills, the warm halls of the castle beckoning us. He pulled me up as we brushed off our clothes, walking us hand in hand back up the trail.

I stopped dead in my tracks, a deep and sudden fear causing me to do so. He whirled, his eyes ablaze, looking for the unperceived threat.

“What is it?” He growled.

“You must promise me you won’t name our child Bane.”

His deep, booming laughter echoed throughout the forest.

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