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5 Angels & Recommended Read from Fallen Angels Reviews: “…Delilah Devlin is an awesome author who knows how to get a reader’s attention and keep them coming back for more…Ms. Devlin has written a fantastic story that explodes right off the pages…”
Headstrong, and seeking a little respite from a suitor’s relentless wooing, Queen Larikke rides the arctic wind far beyond the bounds of Northland, only to have her horse bolt at a shot from a hunter’s gun. Her “rescuer” is a handsome, mysterious man who lives alone in the wilderness, his cabin filled with erotic images of women.
Rather than fearing her fate, Larikke sets out to seduce him, hoping for one last fling before she settles down to do her duty and wed. Thinking he was saving a life, Drake dragged a very strange woman home, stripped her, and warmed her by his fire. Now he finds his long, self-imposed isolation may have made her allure impossible for him to resist and that he’ll endanger her when he shares his special kiss.
A blanket of fresh powder muffled his footsteps. For a moment, the bitter cold wind died down. The stillness invited him deeper into the clearing. Something in the air alerted him, an intuition that was part of his true nature told him to wait.
Wind had blown snow against large tree trunks, forming deep banks where the tall green sentinels stood close together. Everywhere pure, pristine white dusted the tops of branches, cloaking them in rich, thick wonder. Precious sunlight peeked from behind a dark gray cloud and refracted like a billion tiny prisms on frozen crystals that gilded the uppermost layer of the snow.
His breaths seemed loud, intrusive and he concentrated on being quiet so that he didn’t disturb—not that anyone was would hear him this deep in the wilderness.
Rather, all was hushed, expectant. Quiet like he preferred now. Content at last with his own company.
The first few months had been the worst. The silence had nearly driven him nuts. Now, he barely noticed. Sounds other than voices, the hum of electricity or the roar of a passing engine were replaced with softer, more predictable ones—the rustle of pine needles as a breeze swept through outstretched branches, the resonant creaking when snow weighed the branches down. The rustle of animals as they scratched in the snow for food.
The voices inside his head had also faded. The strident ones that had called him a freak and the startled screams—well, they couldn’t reach him here.
If he missed the company of a woman—so be it. Other parts of his existence flourished in the solitude. Almost filling the aching void. The decision he’d made had been the right one. He’d spend the rest of his life—however long—alone.
Do no harm.
He lived by that rule now. At least in regard to people.
For now, he had a stew pot to fill, and he’d tracked a lone deer through the forest to this spot. A soft snort, and he found the doe digging with her hooves to uncover whatever she could still forage beneath the snow.
Drake tugged off his mittens and raised his rifle, setting the stock snug against his shoulder. He had the doe in his sights and slowly pulled back on the trigger, when an unexpected tinkling sound, like bells carried on the wind, drew his attention. His gaze strayed for only moment. As his attention returned to his quarry, a sudden icy wind swept up snow, obscuring his view.
The shadow of the deer still in his scope, he pulled the trigger, jerking the barrel upward at the last moment when he realized he wasn’t looking at a doe at all—but a woman on a bay-colored horse!
The shot went wild, but the horse gave a high-pitched whinny and reared, dumping the woman to the ground before bolting.
Drake threw down his rifle, swearing silently as he clomped on unwieldy snowshoes toward the figure lying like a spill of red paint against a white canvas. Her fur-lined scarlet cloak fanned around her slender body. He knelt in its folds to reach for the woman who had yet to open her eyes.
He ran his hands over her body, checking for broken limbs, cursing himself for a horndog for noting generous curves beneath her dark gold gown. But it had been a long time since soft curves had yielded beneath his palms. Not much in the way of padded layers of clothing protected her from his inspection, just the soft fabric. What in hell was she doing wearing a costume in the wilderness in winter, even one made of heavy velvet?
Finally, she stirred, moaning softly.
He sat back on his haunches, noticing at last the luster of her mink brown hair and brows and the thick lashes that fanned the rims of her delicate eyelids. They fluttered then lifted, revealing gold-flecked brown eyes.
Struck by her beauty, he stared. Her eyes were wide set and large; her nose elegant and straight. The shape of her face was slightly triangular with a small chin that took no attention away from the sweet curves of her soft, plump mouth.
“Who are you?” she asked, with a voice as light and sweet as the bells he thought he’d heard before.
He shook his head to clear away his lustful thoughts. “The idiot who nearly shot you,” he said, his own voice thick and rusty from disuse. He cleared his throat. “Can you move? Are you hurt?”
“I’m fine, I think.”
“What the hell were you doing out here?”
She gave him a distracted frown. “Riding.” Then rising on her elbows, she glanced around her, blinking. “My horse, Windancer…”
“He bolted when I fired.”
Her confused stare returned to him. “He’s gone?” Her eyes widened until the white surrounded the brown iris. “We must find him.”
No “I must find him”. She’d included him, without even wondering if it was wise.
Snow had begun to fall again—thick, fat flakes that swirled in the rising wind, a blast of arctic chill. Knowing it was the wrong thing to do, but seeing no other choice, he said, “I’ll look for him after the snowfall ends. We need to get you inside.”
Oh hell. He’d have to take her to his place. Something he’d sworn he’d never do. She might not be any safer there. He’d lived alone too long. With her lush beauty, she was too much of a temptation.
Her mouth opened, but then closed, her lips forming a thin line. “I have to find my horse. I can’t stay here,” she said, casting a wild glance around them.
“In a few minutes, we won’t see more than a few feet in front of us. A storm’s coming in.”
“You don’t understand—”
Although, it was the last thing he should do, he held out his hand. “Come. We’ll talk later. After I get you out of the cold.”
* * * * *
Larikke stared in dismay. She couldn’t go home with him. They’d be alone. Her, alone with a human? Unthinkable! Humans were so short-lived and violent. Think of the scandal it would cause!
“We’ll both freeze if we don’t get out of this weather,” he said slowly, as though speaking to a child—one not so very bright.
Only she knew she wouldn’t. Freeze, that is. This is what she got for her stubborn bid for freedom. Stranded in a wild land—with a man. Her mage would no doubt cluck like a hen when she recounted the tale of how she’d ridden the wind and landed on her backside in a snow bank before a human as handsome as any damnable frost faerie.
She’d only wanted to put Thure firmly in his place. Remind him who was in charge of her destiny—that she had a will of her own.
And maybe to inspire him to anger and to let go of the firm hold he kept over himself whenever they were together. She wanted to see the powerful male beneath his princely trappings.
Rather like the prime specimen before her.
Oh, why couldn’t this human have been as hairy as a polar bear? Or as ugly as a walrus? Oh no! His eyes were a crystalline blue. His hair was silvery blond and fell well past his broad shoulders. Clean-shaven, his jaw was sharp-edged and strong. His brows, although drawn together in a fierce frown, were full and nicely shaped but hooded piercing eyes. Despite the layers of clothing he wore, she could tell his frame was tall and thickly muscled.
The few humans she’d met long ago, thickheaded and thick-bodied warriors stopping on their journey to Valhalla, didn’t compare. A crude, ungifted species, they’d never aroused much interest. But this one, with his rumbling voice and burly frame, nearly stole her breath away.
Perhaps she was simply addled by her spill. Or maybe she was just feeling the familiar, deepening need for something different from her prescribed future—something wicked and deplorably wrong. She cleared her throat. “I must insist we find my horse.”
He rolled his eyes and tugged her to her feet. Then before she could brush away the snow clinging to her mantle and give him the setdown he deserved for daring to handle her so familiarly, he bent and swept her over his shoulder.
Larikke’s mouth gaped. Now, this was a view of the world she’d never seen. Upside down, suspended on the shoulder of a barbarian, several long moments passed before she could gather the breath to do more than sputter in feigned outrage—for his rough handling of her person was…intriguing. “What do you think you’re doing?” she gasped.
“What you haven’t the sense to do yourself,” he grumbled, as he trudged through the snow.
Blood rushed to her head and temporarily northern parts, filling her with a breathless expectancy—something the Prince of the Frost Faeries had never managed to do with his polite wooing. Larikke gave a huff, but didn’t bother to struggle against his firm hold.
Instead, she brought her fingers to her mouth and issued a piercing whistle. The expected whinny never came. Could Windancer truly have deserted her? Was he even now making his way back to the palace without her? Gudvin would have his guts for garters!
Well, there was only one thing to do. Since she was truly at his mercy, she might as well play nice. Pressing her hand against his lower back, she arched up. “I accept your hospitality, sir. You may put me down now.”
“We’re already there,” he said, his voice deliciously gruff. He set her on her feet next to what looked like a snub-nosed metal sled.
“It looks as though you’ve lost your horses too,” she sniffed.
His startled gaze landed on her.
She shrugged. “You really should have let me wait for my horse. He’d have no trouble pulling your little sled.”
Proving his barbarian pedigree, he grunted. “Climb on.” He pointed to a leather saddle atop the odd conveyance.
Only to humor him, Larikke gathered her clothing and clumsily straddled the sled then tugged her skirts to straighten them around her. When she glanced up, he shook his head.
When she hesitated, he swung his leg wide, climbing over the sled, just behind its steering handles, then he pressed backward, nearly sitting in her lap. Larikke slid as far back as the seat would allow, but still found her front plastered to his back—and her thighs snug alongside his.
Before she could voice an objection to his proximity, the conveyance roared to life, jerking forward, and then skimming over the snow fast as a seal in water. Hastily, she grasped for something to hold on to, her hands sliding around his waist to grip him hard.
She pressed her cheek against his shoulder and squeezed shut her eyes as they sped past trees that blurred the faster they went. Just when she was beginning to enjoy the heat of his body pressed close to hers and the vibrating rumble between her legs, the sled hurtled over a crest and left the ground, only to land with a thud on the far side before speeding away again.
The idiot would kill them both! Her immortality seemed a mite more finite by the second. “Will you please slow down?” she shouted above the roar of the invisible horses.
“Already there,” he said, this time sounding suspiciously smug.
“You said that before,” she muttered.
The sled slowed, and then drew to a smooth halt.
Larikke peeked around his shoulder to find they’d stopped in front of a rough log cabin. “I was wrong. Not a human. A troll,” she muttered.
“What did you say?”
“Never mind. I assume this is our destination?”
He climbed off the sled and looked at her expectantly.
She stared, wondering when he’d offer her a hand. When he didn’t appear to take the hint, she decided to outwait his bad manners and gathered her skirts, willing strength into her trembling legs.
“For fucksake.” The blond barbarian bore down on her, his hands outstretched.
Larikke squealed when he gripped her waist and lifted her from her seat. He deposited her next to the sled and raised one eyebrow. His message was clear. He’d carry her again, if she refused to move along.
Gathering her considerable pride, Larikke gave the invisible horses a wide berth and headed toward the house, now only a looming shadow behind the whirling white snow.
She realized with a start that the pale sunlight waned. The day had been short, but not surprisingly so, given how close to Northland they were. Would anyone at home even notice she was missing?
Nearer the door, she saw the outline of figures lining a pathway in the snow. Sentries? Around a hovel? Only when she drew nearer she realized they were encased in ice, their skin, hair and clothing translucent. Frozen solid!
Was he a powerful mage? She darted a glance over her shoulder and found him alarmingly close. Would he enslave her thusly if she didn’t do as he bid? Thinking she may have been captured by a very gifted creature indeed, she was surprised she wasn’t more afraid.
Then again, he’d thought only of her safety. Her comfort. He’d brought her out of the cold to rescue her after all. Not that she really needed rescuing. Only he didn’t know that, did he? He had no clue as to her identity. If he knew, what would he do? Ransom her to the frost faeries? She shivered at the thought.
Thure would expect a large reward in return—rule over her kingdom. Her flight into the artic wind had been to escape his attentions in the first place.
The barbarian mage reached around her, thumbed the latch on the crude wooden door and swung it open. Dark as a cave inside except for the red embers of a smoldering fire in a hearth, the cabin smelled pleasantly of wood smoke and a strong pine scent she couldn’t place. She waited patiently while he shut the door behind them, dropping a board into a brace to lock them inside.
“I’ll get the fire going. Make yourself comfortable,” he said, roughly, not looking her way.
She strode further inside, surprised to find the room larger than she had originally thought. As he lit lanterns on the table and above the mantle, she took stock of her surroundings. Thick braided wool rugs in a riot of vibrant colors covered the floor. Deep-cushioned leather couches flanked the fireplace. Dark cupboards, shining from a fresh application of beeswax, reflected the warming glow of the fire. A cozy room despite the cabin’s rustic exterior.
However, what drew her fascinated gaze were the paintings gracing the crude log walls. In colors deep and vivid, they depicted nude women, lying atop disheveled beds and green meadows on coverlets of crimson, royal blue and yellows as vivid as the rare roses her winged suitor brought her during the midnight sun. The colors were alive, sensual, the whirling textures of the paint itself drawing her to touch, but the poses of the women disturbed her.
Legs splayed wide, palms cupping generous breasts, fingers sliding into glistening sexes. Her body stirred at the images as she imagined them tempting the barbarian with their naked flesh. Arousal rose swift and urgent inside her.
Had she landed in the lair of a mage who used sex magicks? The thought should have horrified her, but she’d seen proof of his powers in the sentries guarding the door. How else could she explain her response to the pictures and to him? She should have been horrified—or at the very least deeply embarrassed.
A footfall behind her made her stiffen.
“Let me take your cloak,” he said, his voice gruff.
“Will you enslave me in ice?” she asked, glancing warily over her shoulder.
His eyebrows drew together in a frown, and his gaze swept over her. “Enslave you?” he asked, tilting his head.
“Like the poor creatures guarding your door.”
“Damn.” Suddenly, he gripped her shoulder to turn her toward him. Then he reached for the frog closures at the top of her cloak and plucked them open. He slid the cloak off her shoulder to let it fall to the floor.
She found herself being pulled toward the fire, but his hands didn’t stop their wicked work. “Stop that!” she said, swatting at his dexterous fingers as they made quick work of the buttons at the neck and along the side of her gown.
“I won’t harm you,” he said, between tight lips. “You’re suffering from hypothermia. Your dress is wet. I need to get you out of it.”
“Hypothermia?” What was he saying? “Is that a curse?”
“It will be if we don’t get you out of those clothes and warm,” he said, his voice steady, but roughening.
Had he already used his magick? She was certainly growing warmer by the moment. Allowing him to finish stripping away her gown, she stood in front of him with the fire warming her backside.
His intent expression didn’t fill her with alarm. Instead, a glowing warmth from within left her breathless. What did he see when the soft undertunic slid to the floor? How did she compare with the women mounted on his wall?
He knelt and skimmed down her thin stockings, making a disapproving noise. “These won’t keep you very warm.” He pushed them to her feet and removed them along with her slippers, then slowly stood.
Finally nude, she shivered in anticipation of what he’d do next.
His gaze slid quickly over her, his cheeks reddening—but he turned and swept up a throw from one of the couches and drew it over her shoulders. “I guess you’re fine. Your skin’s warm enough.”
Her skin prickled and she shrugged off the throw, letting it sift to the floor. “It itches.”
“It’s wool,” he said, his jaw tightening. “It’ll keep you warm until your clothing dries.”
She wrinkled her nose. “It itches.”
One eyebrow rose. “You’d rather be naked?”
She drew a pillow from the sofa and sat on it before the fire, wrapping her arms around her knees, pretending his presence didn’t trip her heartbeat.
He sighed. “I’ll take that as a yes.” His feet shifted on the floor beside her.
She stretched her legs, lifting her toes toward the fire and studied the way the firelight limned her legs, all the while aware of his gaze sweeping their length like a heated caress. Did she dare give into temptation? Shouldn’t she fight his seductive allure?
He drew a ragged breath.
She glanced up and found his dark gaze roaming her body, landing on her legs, sliding upward to her hips. She tossed back her hair and let him stare at her bared breasts.
“Would you mind if I sketched you?” he asked softly.
Her glance darted toward the paintings. Is this how he seduced the women? First, he captured their souls on canvas? She remembered his roughness as he’d forced her over his shoulder, his strength when he’d lifted her from the sled. He’d brooked no argument from her. Would he be the same way when he came over her in lust?
Thure’s lovemaking had been gentle. He’d treated her respectfully, even when he thrust inside her, begging her first for the privilege. Somehow, she knew this barbarian wouldn’t be as deferential toward her rank. The thought of just how ungentlemanly he would be had her breasts tightening and a heated glaze seeping from her pussy.
“I won’t mind,” she whispered, holding his hot gaze.
He turned away, striding stiffly toward a cabinet in the corner and drew out a thick sheaf of paper and black sticks. Setting them on one of the leather couches, he unbuttoned his jacket and shrugged out of it, then rolled up the sleeves of his red shirt.
Larikke forced her stare back to the fire and tried to relax as he scratched the paper with the black sticks. She’d never watched a man create a painting—only seen the finished products which the faerie folk traded for in the faraway land. Her gaze lifted to one of the paintings, this one of a woman with her head thrown back, her teeth buried in her lower lip. She looked pained, but Larikke recognized the source as passion.
Thure was skilled and had brought her a gentle release a time or two, but she’d often yearned for something a little wilder. She wanted to be swept outside herself, frightened by the power of her desire.
Perhaps this interlude was her chance to taste true freedom from the expectations placed upon her. Soon, Gudvin would know she’d not returned from her ride. He’d mount a rescue, scouring her usual trails. When those proved futile, he’d search his golden orb to locate her.
She couldn’t stay here. But she might use the time spent here to learn her true nature—and explore the passion that even now rose up to cause her breaths to catch and her nipples to swell.
The scratching paused. “Would you touch yourself?”
Larikke blinked. If she did something so decadent, could she tempt him to show her his barbarian side? “Like her?” she asked, tilting her chin toward the painting.
He shook his head. “Do what pleases you.”
She dipped her head, embarrassed she didn’t really know what that might be. “I’m not sure…”
“Start with your breasts, then.”