Home > Bite Of Winter (Fae's Captive #3)

Bite Of Winter (Fae's Captive #3)
Author: Lily Archer

1

Leander

(Author’s Note: If you haven’t read Book 1, Fae’s Captive, or Book 2, Road to Winter, you’re going to want to do that before starting Bite of Winter.)

“Release her.” The Vundi warrior astride Kyrin raises the obsidian blade and points at me.

I hold the Vundi leader in my grasp, her death only a whisper away. All I have to do is squeeze and her neck will break in my palm.

“I wouldn’t do that.” Gareth takes a step toward Kyrin, but the warrior brings the blade down to Taylor’s side, almost touching her with it. My mate.

Another blast of cold whips through the air around me, and the leader groans. The feral fae in my breast demands I kill them all and take back what’s mine. I want to agree. I’m almost there, my bloodlust welling inside me with a sweeping vengeance I’ve never felt before.

“That female?” Gareth risks another step. “Is Leander’s mate. And he hasn’t claimed her yet. Do you have any idea what he will do to you if you harm her?”

I lift the Vundi leader higher as she claws at my arm. Killing her will be a pleasure. And the one who touched Taylor? I will end him slowly. Tie him to Kyrin and drag him through the Red Plains as we make our way to the winter realm.

“Release Para.” The Vundi juts his chin toward me.

A few warriors rise from the road, their wounds not enough to keep them down. They should have stayed on the ground. I’m done talking, done negotiating, done with anyone or anything that tries to keep me from my mate.

“Easy now, Leander. We can solve this.” Gareth holds a hand out toward me, his entire posture reminiscent of a wince, as if he knows the murder brewing in my soul.

“Yes, we can.” I whistle a sharp burst of three notes.

Kyrin bucks hard. I throw the Vundi leader to the ground and rush forward. Taylor lands in my arms as the Vundi with the obsidian blade flies off the back of my horse.

Her eyes flutter open. “What the—”

The Vundi warrior must have bespelled her to sleep. Gareth backs to me, his blade in front of him as the Vundi warriors regroup. A tall red cloud grows in the distance, a sense of foreboding on the already-tense air.

“Are you hurt?” I kiss Taylor’s forehead.

“No.” She blinks hard. “I was riding away, but then I saw the Vundi. He has the strangest eyes. And then I … fell asleep somehow.”

I put her on her feet and keep her behind me as I turn to face the Vundi leader. She’s grasping her injured neck. I should have snapped it. There are too many Vundi warriors, and now that Taylor is in the thick of it, there’s no way for us to get out without risking her. But I can’t give her up.

The leader, Para, straightens her shoulders and grabs one of the blades from her slain brethren. Her soldiers advance. Hooves catch my ear as Beth pounds up on Sabre, but she slows as she approaches the fray.

“Stand down, proud Vundi.” Though it takes every bit of self-control I have, I lower my blade—but not all the way. “If we continue like this, more of your people will die. I don’t want that. But you must know that I will kill you all to keep my mate safe.” I motion to Gareth, and he holds his hands up, a maelstrom of wild magic swirling between them. The red cloud behind the Vundi grows, the sun turning a shade of crimson as dust rises high in the air.

Para winces and holds up her hand. “We can’t let you go. Not with her.”

“Seems we’re at an impasse.” Gareth lets his magic expand, but not too much. If it gets any bigger, he won’t be able to control it.

Ice builds in my veins, choking my thoughts, the feral fae ruling me and demanding vengeance against anyone who would harm my mate.

Para’s eyes widen as she looks at the two of us, but she doesn’t back down.

“Wait.” Taylor tries to step from behind me, but I don’t let her. She growls a little, and my cock hardens despite the circumstances.

She leans out a little so her voice will carry. “Can we at least talk about this? If we can’t solve it, then fight after, okay?”

“There’s nothing to talk about.” Para coughs, her throat no doubt raw. “I can’t let this opportunity go. If I give you to the king beyond the mountain, he’s promised crystal and coin. Enough for my people to survive, even thrive. No more going hungry, no more sending what little we have to that bitch on the throne. And all I need is you.”

“You go hungry?” Taylor’s voice softens.

“It’s a hard life out here.” Para lowers her weapon just a hair. “Harder when the fae at Byrn Varyndr demand what little we’re able to farm.” The bitterness in her voice could kill a woodland fairy. “We keep our warriors fed, but others …” She shakes herself and raises her blade. “I won’t watch another child go hungry when all I have to do is turn you over. I’m prepared to die for it.”

My cold seeps through the ground, snaking toward the warriors. She’s prepared to die. I will grant her a quick end.

Taylor pulls on my arm and leans forward, her gaze locked with Para’s. “Para, is it? I know what it’s like to be hungry. Not the sort where you’ve missed a meal or wake up too late for breakfast. I’m talking about the kind where it hurts. The kind that makes you wonder how long you can stand it. And the kind where, eventually, you don’t even feel it anymore. You’ve gone so long without that you can barely feel anything at all.”

Para blinks, then nods slowly. “Yes. That’s exactly what it is. Too many of my people suffer it, and you’re the way to change all that. I can’t let you leave.”

My ice grows, coating everything and cracking the red dirt beneath it. I should slay them all and leave nothing alive. And then I will comfort my mate, assure her that she will never go hungry again.

Taylor squeezes my arm and whispers, “Hang on. Give me a chance, please.”

I keep the magic at bay, the ice stopping like the edge of a frozen lake just in front of the Vundi.

Taylor raises her voice again and addresses Para. “I don’t know you, but I don’t want you to die. And maybe you haven’t noticed, but Leander is on the verge of freezing all of you to death. Can we all just pull back and talk about this? Everyone put their weapons down.”

Para finally breaks her eye contact with Taylor and looks up at me. Her brows furrow and she lets out a low sigh, as if she’s defeated, disgusted, or just tired. Based on the circles under her eyes and her gaunt cheeks, no longer hidden by the scarf, I would guess the latter. She seems to weigh Taylor’s words, then says, “Winter king, give me your word you will keep your magic in abeyance during our talks, and I will have my people stand down. But I make no promises, not to you or your changeling, about what happens after we meet with the council and the high priestess.”

“We can’t trust her,” I growl.

“Leander, please. Hasn’t there been enough death?” Taylor rests her forehead against my back, her warmth soothing the cold heart of winter inside me. “If there’s a chance we can talk our way out of this, we should at least try.”

I wrestle with my need to destroy them, to freeze their hearts until the threat is gone. But the non-feral part of me is yelling to stand down. With every day that passes, that voice gets quieter and quieter, the feral side of me growing louder.

“Leander.” She strokes her hand down my back. “Please, for me.”

“Anything for you.” Even the feral fae can agree to that, though it still sneaks in a whisper of “claim her, here on the ground in front of them all” before dissipating along with my ice. “Gareth.” I give him a nod.

“Weapons down, all of you.” He shrinks the ball of destruction between his palms until it disappears.

Para whistles high and sharp, and her warriors sheathe their blades and drop back, but not far.

“The storm is almost here.” The warrior who wields Taylor’s obsidian blade steps to Para’s side. Light brown scales fan out from beneath his crimson scarf, ending along the lower parts of his cheeks.

“We’ve called destruction to us with the scent of blood.” He surveys the dead along the ground.

Para spares a glance over her shoulder. “The Ancestors are punishing me.”

“Dust storm.” Gareth whistles, and Sabre hurries to him. “We need to make camp before it hits.”

Kyrin walks over and nuzzles Taylor. She rubs his muzzle like an old friend.

“So we’re running from the storm, yeah? Because it doesn’t look like fun.” Beth peers into the distance.

“You can’t run from the wrath of the Ancestors.” Para motions to her warriors. They disperse, dragging their dead with them and seeping into the red oblivion on either side of the road before disappearing. The one with the scales and the obsidian blade remains, guarding Para’s back.

“Wait. I need your oath.” I’m asking for more than simple words. An oath among the fae is so serious as to be unbreakable. Any fae who ignores this fact will be branded an outcast and never allowed to speak amongst their brethren without reproach. And if the oath is serious enough, it can kill the fae who breaks it. “A promise to the Ancestors that we will be safe in your realm and that you will not attempt to take my mate.”

Para bristles, then gives a curt nod. “I will give my oath to the Ancestors that you shall not be harmed and will be treated as honored guests if you promise to never speak of what you see during your time with the Vundi.”

“And my mate?”

“She will not be harmed.”

“And you will not attempt to take her.” It’s not a question.

“We will allow you to speak to the high priestess and the council of elders. You have my word that she will not be taken before that time.”

Her companion’s eyes, now slitted like a snake’s, narrow, but he doesn’t interrupt.

“And after?”

She presses her lips into a fine line.

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