Bride of Fire

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247 Pages
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What’s worse than death?
Falling in love with the enemy.


A princess sent to die.
A forbidding Lord.
A desire that cannot be extinguished.


She can’t help the attraction.
It’s instantaneous and undeniable.
She must do all she can to keep her secret.
But when he and his people discover the truth,
What will become of her?
Will this forbidden love destroy them both?

Publisher’s Note: This steamy fantasy romance contains elements of power exchange.


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Published 27 July 2018
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EAN13 9781612589411
Language English

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BRIDE OF FIRE
JANE BURRELLI©2018 by Eclipse Press and Jane Burrelli
All rights reserved.
No part of the book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or
mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system,
without permission in writing from the publisher.
Published by Eclipse Press,
a subsidiary of
ABCD Graphics and Design
977 Seminole Trail #233
Charlottesville, VA 22901
The trademark Blushing Books®
is registered in the US Patent and Trademark Office.
Jane Burrelli
Bride of Fire
EBook ISBN: 978-1-948140-17-1
Cover Art by ABCD Graphics & Design
This book is intended for adults only. Spanking and other sexual activities represented in this book are
fantasies only, intended for adults. Nothing in this book should be interpreted as Blushing Books' or the
author's advocating any non-consensual spanking activity or the spanking of minors.C O N T E N T S
Character List
Hidden Embers
Playing with Fire
Fevered Longings
Jane Burrelli
Mustang WildCHARACTER LIST
House of Pyria
Houses of Valkir and Nevar
Other Notable Characters
Thallenth, The Heir’s Guardian
Astra, Iceari maid
Lord Gunnar, House of Ivrea
Lord Barek Trastmarra, No House, Chief advisor to the Ice Lord
Lady Druskia, Barek Trastmarra’s daughter, married into House of Ishmael
Rhinga, Priestess
Tarf, Iceari BlacksmithHIDDEN EMBERS
BRIDE OF FIRE BOOK ONE©2018 by Eclipse Press and Jane Burrelli
All rights reserved.
No part of the book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or
mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system,
without permission in writing from the publisher.
Published by Eclipse Press,
a subsidiary of
ABCD Graphics and Design
977 Seminole Trail #233
Charlottesville, VA 22901
The trademark Blushing Books®
is registered in the US Patent and Trademark Office.
Jane Burrelli
Hidden Embers
EBook ISBN: 978-1-948140-09-6
Cover Art by ABCD Graphics & Design
This book is intended for adults only. Spanking and other sexual activities represented in this book are
fantasies only, intended for adults. Nothing in this book should be interpreted as Blushing Books' or the
author's advocating any non-consensual spanking activity or the spanking of minors.Never forget that it is only when the night is darkest that a single brilliant flame burns the
brightest.
A special thanks to my good friends Helen, Vanessa, and the ‘Sarahs’ for encouraging me to
never give up and keeping my homicidal tendencies at bay when I wanted to murder my
infuriating characters.P R O L O G U E
M I R A
our Highness, quickly, there is not much time.”“ Y This was directed at the young woman ahead of me swallowed from head to toe in
a dark brown cloak. There were a handful of loyal guards at our front and back as we
hurried down the narrow path clinging to the mountainside. I swallowed hard and I tried not to glance
over the edge at the sheer drop. Slowly, we edged our way down through the swirling mist, each step
surreal as I placed one foot in front of the other. This wasn’t happening, my body was calm and
composed as I screamed within my skin and my fires spiraled inward. I could barely breathe.
There was so much blood.
Shock, I realized inanely, the shock I’d read about ladies suffering on occasion. I never imagined I
would be so lacking in character to experience it. Bits of rock crumbled beneath our feet and echoed
solemnly as they bounced down into the abyss. My eyes fixed firmly on the brown cloak in front,
focusing on the simple task of keeping the bland patch of color in front of me. The cloak grunted and
stumbled. A steady, bronzed hand was there to catch her.
“Watch your step, Empress,” Thallenth cautioned as my cousin, Xhara straightened. Her head
held at an unnaturally high angle and fixed straight ahead in a painful, unseeing stare. Tension
stretched over our protector’s familiar features, the slight lines in his brow emphasized. “We must
hurry,” Thallenth’s hushed tones urged. We picked up the pace ignoring the peril of the cliff, fearing
what was behind us more than the long drop beneath.
“Horses are waiting at the bottom, all of them fast and fleet,” Thallenth continued. “You will go
to the south through the jungles with me and my best men, we will guard you with our lives.”
The new empress drew her hood back revealing a shock of vibrant red hair and rubbed her glazed
eyes. “What about my cousin?”
“She will go north and then west over the wastelands.” He answered curtly, his gaze flickering
away in discomfort. Xhara stopped dead in her tracks and I almost ran into the back of her.
“The wastelands are a death trap and they won’t think to follow,” she rushed out, an edge of
hysteria to her voice until she took a steadying breath and reined it in. “I should take the northlands,”
she finished, regaining her layer of composure.
“No!” Thallenth said emphatically. “You are too valuable to our people to risk.”
It went unsaid that I wasn’t too valuable. Although it had been drilled into me that I was the weak
link in the chain, it still stung to hear it from Thallenth’s lips, a man I’d known for years. “Nymira
and two others will leave a clear trail and carry the sword.”
Xhara’s head snapped around, hissing. “I am not separating from the sacred sword.”But she would separate from me.
“The sword and heir must be separated until you can produce the white flame and lead our
people. We need to divide their forces. If they know that both the empress and the sword have gone
south they will concentrate their forces and there will be little chance of escape for you.”
Xhara’s dark eyes flashed gold. “With my cousin as the bait,” she spat in a harsh tone, nostrils
beginning to flare. All the signs that she was preparing for an argument.
Thallenth’s face became unyielding granite and, in that instant, looked every inch the veteran
soldier. “Decisions must be made with logic not emotions, this is war and sacrifices must be made.”
As long as the heir was safe there was no need for a spare. I glanced furtively over my shoulder,
the fine hairs on the back of my neck starting to prickle.
The shrill screams of the dying vibrated within me.
We didn’t have time. If we were to leave, we had to leave now. Striding forward I crouched at my
cousin’s feet in a gesture of respect and subservience—oh, how that action grated against my prideful
nature.
“Empress, I will go north and carry the symbol of our people.”
I raised my gaze, my eyes holding a silent entreaty with my hands clenched tight to my sides,
stopping them from shaking. “I swear I will guard the sword with my life and wait for your return to
bring it to you. I am strong enough for this, cousin. If sacrifices must be made, I will make them.”
Taking me by the shoulders she forced me to my feet and embraced me. Gripping me tight like she
might never let go or like she might never see me again, and she might not…
Still, she hesitated.
“We don’t have time to argue, Highness, we must go.”
Tears gathered behind my eyes and I saw my own watery reflection in my cousin’s eyes as we
accepted our fate to be parted, the decision hanging like a weight around her neck.
Desperate, I reached out and clasped her wrist. “Live free,” she whispered.
“Until the day…” I replied, forcing the words past the aching ball in my throat. I couldn’t say ‘we
meet again’, I didn’t think that was part of my destiny.
We were torn from each other and I was thrown upon the back of a horse. Tears blurring my
vision, the last two descendants of the Throne of Flames riding hard in opposite directions. Only the
goddess Khatri knew what fate awaited me.CHAPTER 1
MIRA
he mountain pass blurred as my horse steadily put one hoof in front of the other. Only aT fool would try to traverse the long journey north without preparation. Only a suicidal fool
would attempt the cold when they were fire kind. My kind. The temperature was starting to plummet,
and I poured my energy into my inner flame that flickered stubbornly inside me. For the thousandth
time in the last forty-two days, my thoughts drifted to Xhara. I hoped she had made it. If she had, it
would make the tortuous journey worth it. Gritting my teeth, I pushed on until my hands and feet
turned numb and the sky was darkening fast, I needed to make camp. Swinging down from the saddle,
my legs promptly buckled, and my arms almost wrenched out of their sockets as I clung to the horn
to keep upright. I stomped my feet hard against the frozen ground trying to feel my toes.
A fire was badly needed, it was a small comfort that I could make one in the blink of an eye.
Teeth chattering violently, I wrapped my arms tight across my chest and clamped my hands under my
arms. I thought I would never be warm again. Barely time to get some wood and choke down
unappetizing dried meat before I passed out from exhaustion. Right now, I was willing to swap the
crown jewels for a warm bath, a feathered bed and a roaring fire. To spend one night not on the cold,
hard ground and warm enough so I didn't shiver through the night and wake exhausted each morning.
I hadn’t had a restful night’s sleep since before the uprising. Stop moping, this fire was not going to
make itself. Shaking off the bone-numbing weariness I began searching for timber, the driest that
could be found. There wasn’t much, and I journeyed much further from my camp than I intended.
Stooping down to scour the thick foliage, I noticed the unnatural stillness. There was not a sound, no
birdsong or rustling of animals.
Nothing.
Every nerve and sense strained, how could I have let my guard drop? I didn’t dare breathe or
twitch a muscle.
If anyone was out there, please let them pass me by. I scrunch up my eyes tightly. Please. A
branch snapped underfoot. My nerve broke. My spine snapped straight as I turned to flee. Something
heavy smashed into my temple, taking me off my feet. The pain shot through my skull and the forest
splintered to blackness.
Oh, Goddess. My head.
I swallowed back the rising nausea as my head throbbed. Male voices battered my skull and Igroaned. Too… loud… Something was pushing into my stomach. I was… moving? A fog clouded
my mind, my limbs limp and flopping in time to a lumbering gait. Someone was carrying me, their
heavy breathing echoing in my ears. Conversations drifted to me from a long way away and I
struggled to grasp their meaning.
“What have you got there?”
“Another woman to take with us, she has an exotic look and will make an easy return.”
A hand roughly grasped my hair and yanked my head back. I moaned, they were pulling my skull
in two.
“Let's have a look.” A groping hand swept my back and sides. “Fine enough form.” My skin
crawled, appraised like an animal. I had never been so helpless, and my limbs still felt like they were
stuck in a quagmire. “You’re right, possible Firelander descent, not many with that look this far
north.”
The sword! Where was the sword? I fought to rise above the darkness.
“Is she untouched?”
“Don't know but it's going to be fun finding out.” With crude laughter echoing in my ears, I tried
not to tense, my mind quickly catching up. Now, the nausea was not just because of the head wound.
They bound my legs and arms, even my neck, the rough rope abrading my skin. I had to snap out of it.
“Throw her in the back of the wagon with the others.”
Unceremoniously I was dumped on the hard, wooden floor, my captors showing no consideration
of my injuries. The sour stench of unwashed bodies assaulted my nose. Curling on my side
whimpering, the slow creak and jarring trundle of the wagon began to jostle my aching bones. I
clawed towards consciousness. Concentrate. Fight! For the love of the goddess Khatri do something!
I forced myself to open my eyes and cringed. It was loud, and the sun was too bright. Wait—sun? It
was morning? “Drink, you must drink to stay strong.” Tepid water was pushed past my lips and soft
hands helped support my head. Shadows of women huddled together for warmth drifted through the
fog. Chained and filthy. The despair and desperation were suffocating. “Be brave, my husband will
never stop searching. He will come for me. He will free us.” The firm voice was my lifeline.
But he didn’t have to. If I could concentrate I’d free us with a flick of my hands and roast the
bastards. My heartbeat thundered in my ears, frustrated, I thrashed my head and sucked in a quick
breath as my neck clicked. My vision momentarily cleared to reveal my comforter. A handsome
woman with long, straight, blonde hair darkened by dirt. Unwashed and disheveled, defiance and fear
were stamped in every line of her body. The girls looked to her making her, obviously, a woman of
rank. An ugly, sickly bruise decorated the left side of her face, marring her proud visage. “You’re
awake.” Blue eyes blinked down at me. I scrunched up my face and tried to rise. “Be still, that is a
nasty head wound, you’ve been drifting in and out for a day and a half.”
“That canna be,” I croaked, the words scraping against my dry throat. Water was quickly
proffered, and I drank greedily, swallowed and tried again. “Where am I?” My voice came out
stronger. I sent out tentative feelers for my flame and breathed easier when I found it but when I tried
to harness it, it slipped through my fingers like grains of sand.
The woman’s eyes narrowed. “Raiders,” spitting the word out like filth. “Taking us east of the
land of Phaa for the slave auctions.”
Bitterness filled my mouth and my face hardened. “They will not have me,” I vowed, trying to lift
myself up. Her face swam in front of me and I closed my eyes against the spinning sensation. My
strength was fading fast, I grasped her arm. “The sword, where is the sword?” I mumbled frantically.
Firmly, she pressed me back down again, the thudding ache unrelenting. “Rest now, save your
fight for later. You might need it,” was her cryptic reply. The darkness dragged me back under,torturing me with the screams of the dying, flashes of fire, crying and begging. “I'm sorry,” I
whispered to the wraiths. I was heartsick and if it would have made any difference would have
begged the deities on my knees to take me instead. “I'm so, so sorry I couldn't stop them.”
Fleet feet slapped the cool marble floor. Faster. Irrational fear spurring me on as my arms
pumped furiously by my sides. Faster. Panic made me blind to all but the monsters chasing me. I
had to make it to the light. They couldn’t follow me into the white light. I could hear them coming.
Don’t let them catch me, don’t let them catch me. Tears and smoke stung my eyes and choked me.
The light was getting closer, signaling safety was almost within my grasp. A strong grip latched
onto my ankle and I pitched forward, screaming. Pain flashed and air burst from my chest as the
unforgiving ground caught me. Fighting to my hands and knees, I lunged forward. Brought up
short by the unbreakable grip on my leg. My jaw slammed into the ground and leisurely it started
to drag me back with laughable ease. Sobbing under my breath I clawed at the ground, I had to
get to the light. My nails were broken and bloodied I couldn’t get any purchase. It took me back
to the darkness.
I jerked awake. Sucking in the cold night air and it rested heavy on my lungs. It was just a nightmare.
My heart didn’t care, it still thundered in my chest. A nightmare I hadn’t had for a very long time until
the rebellion. I swallowed against the cloying, cottony taste in my mouth and licked my cracked lips,
wincing at the sting. My vision was clear, and the throbbing had settled to a dull ache. Stretching my
limbs, I only managed to get halfway before choking myself. Coarse ropes connecting my arms and
legs looped around my throat. My memory came back in a searing rush. Bastards! At least it was
rope and not chains. Ropes I could burn and shake off. Metal burned like the fires of the underworld
as it stuck to the skin and would have scarred me badly. The sweet scent of wood smoke filtered
through the air. Cautious, I levered myself onto my elbows to make out the shadowy forms ten, no,
eleven women huddled in smaller shivering groups. A booming laugh made me jump. I pushed
myself into a sitting position and turned my attention to outside my cage. Our captors, a dozen in
number seem to be having an extremely animated conversation, the firelight casting their rough
features in sharp relief.
“Get down!” someone hissed, and I spun on my bottom to find the woman I thought of as Blue
Eyes watching me in the darkest corner. Their conversation and the scent of cheap spirits carried on
the wind to us.
“What about that blonde? I heard her say she had a husband.”
I watched said blonde stiffen and she stopped breathing.
“That slender stick would snap in half with her first hard fuck, now the tits on that redhead…” I
squinted into the darkness to see who spoke, a man missing an eye moved his hands to cup the front
of his chest. “Umph, it gives something for a man to hold on to.”
“No, that blonde will have a tighter cunt.”
“For the love of the gods get back down,” she whispered frantically, fear etched tightly across her
face.
He drained the bottle and carelessly tossed it into the trees. “Well, there is only one way to find
out.” Stumbling toward us his shadow fell across the cage.“Come out, my sweet,” he crooned through the bars, a wave of stale breath hitting us in the face.
I didn’t think it was possible but Blue Eyes curled into an even tighter ball. Revulsion churned within
me. “Come out, you might enjoy being with a real man.”
The blonde jerked away, undisguised hatred vibrated off her. “I’ve known a real man and trust
me, that limp, little prick won’t even touch the sides.” His face darkened, and the menacing threat he
posed worsened with the uproarious laughter of his comrades adding fuel to the fire with their taunts
and jibes. The door clanged, and he threw it open. If looks could kill, the blonde would have slit his
throat and gutted him. Every fiber of her being was screaming that if he touched her, she would fight
like a cornered cat. Unadulterated lust glittered in his eyes, he reached in, grabbed her rope and
yanked hard. She cried out, skin scraped from her knees as she was dragged across the rough wood.
“You’ll pay for that, bitch. You’ll beg me to fuck you before this night is over.”
Feral, she bared her teeth, hissing, “Never.” He leaned in and latched onto her flailing ankle, she
struggled as much as her bonds allowed, her skirts riding up to reveal pale thighs. In doing so he
reached over me. Half choking myself, I kicked my bound feet straight out and smashed them into his
leering face.
“Get away from her!” I snarled, the words drowned out by his roar as he reared back clutching his
nose.
“Fuck! My nose! The fucking fire bitch broke my nose!”
“Touch any one of us and you will not live to enjoy it.” I attempted to sound menacing, but my
voice came out weak and reedy. The sound would have had my aunt shaking her head in despair.
“Project, Nymira, project.” I highly doubted that raiders were really going to care if I rolled my
vowels.
“Raegarr, your redhead is awake,”
Out of the frying pan and into the proverbial fire. I swallowed hard and fear clutched at me. I
couldn’t move my hands or feet and my cold muscles were petrified. “Come on, come on,” I
muttered under my breath. My flame, it was there. I could feel it dancing below the surface. Raegarr
staggered over. “Ha, she’s a hater,” he crowed. “Look at the fight in her, this one will be some fun
breaking.”
My pulse throbbed painfully in my neck, his small eyes locked on my heaving breasts. I didn’t
look away; lifting my chin, I matched him stare for stare. He licked his thin lips. “Get them both out.”
His dark eyes remained fixed on me. “Let’s see how much fight she really has.” Rough hands yanked
on my collar and choked off my air. Helpless and spluttering, I watched the blonde lose the fight as
she was dragged from the cage, my wriggling form following her in short order.
I reached for the fire hidden deep within to strike them down. My eyes flew wide open. Nothing.
My feet hit the ground and my knees instantly buckled. The harsh treatment bruised my arm and
loosened my hair, the stray wisps falling into my eyes.
“Pretty.” I fought not to retreat at the dark look in his eyes. “Is it true what they say about bedding
Firelanders?” He leered, twisting an escaped curl around his thick finger. “They fuck hot enough to
set the bed ablaze.” His foul breath rolled over me and I fought not to retch. “I guess we’ll soon find
out.”
I was trembling, I wasn’t brave, I wasn’t strong but somehow, I found the resolve to stare him
down. To inject all my hate and loathing as I managed to look down my nose despite my insignificant
height. Khatri’s tits! Of all the times for my flame to be temperamental.
He latched onto my braid, wrapped it around his fist and yanked. I cried out. My scalp screaming,
my head snapped back at a neck-breaking angle. Horrible, wet lips fell on mine. Our teeth clattering,
he tried to shove his tongue down my throat. Tugging hard, a gasp was forced from me, he forced theslimy thing past my teeth and I was choking. I couldn’t get enough air into my lungs. My bound arms
failed, unable to get enough leverage to strike out without tightening the noose on my neck. My teeth
clamped down on his bottom lip and I held on. His scream deafened my ears and a salty, metallic taste
rolled over my tongue. A fist to my gut made me release his mangled lip. I stumbled and collapsed on
the ground. The pain burned and blended into one more ache. Raegarr's nostrils flared and his hands
clenched into fists. Time slowed. He’d hit me. Stunned. He dared to hit me. Stupid idiot, you are not
a princess anymore. My senses hyper-attuned I felt like I was swimming underwater. I clawed the
ground renting the blades of grass as I tried to find my center of balance. Hearing the sounds of a
violent struggle I turned my head. Just like at the palace I froze, unable to look away or act.
“No! Get away!” the blonde woman screamed in terrified fury, raking her nails across her
attacker's face. “You will not take me!” He slapped her hard to the ground and she whimpered
clutching her cheek. Their image was ripped away. A kick flipped me onto my back, the sharp pain
penetrated the haze and panic finally roared to life. Hands grabbed my tunic, it tore. Cool air
peppered my bared breast as he undid his belt. I rolled onto my hands and knees trying to crawl away.
I was yanked and twisted onto my back, and rough hands grasped and bruised the delicate flesh of my
inner thighs, forcing them to part. I fought with all my strength to keep them shut to no avail. The
muscles creaking with strain, I panted with effort and screeched in pure frustration. He was too
strong. My hips bucked but I couldn’t dislodge his weight.
He moaned, “Squirm a little harder.” I froze at his words, not wanting to incite him further. That
split-second cost me and allowed him to get a better hold. A familiar fizzing filled my veins and
flushed me with warmth. I seized it and pushed it outwards dropping my guard completely. The fire
roared to life and filled me from within. Spiraling out of every pore the light bright and luminous
filled the space between us. There was no form or craft, it was raw and primal, ripping from me in a
way that left me gasping.
His face inches from mine, morphed from excitement to horrified surprise, recognizing at long
last what I was. Flames decorated my skin and my clothes burned away, the cloth blackening and
curling, peeling back to reveal unblemished flesh. The pressure eased, and I sighed in contentment,
basking in the warmth as my attacker screamed, the ropes dropped away, and I reached out and
grasped him to me. Refusing to let go as fire leapt from me to him. The scream became a high,
piercing shriek as flesh melted and his eyeballs burst. My ears ached but still, I held on, the scent of
burning flesh filling my senses. His face contorting in agony until there were no features left. Acid
bubbled in the back of my throat. I rolled him off and staggered to my feet, uncaring I was naked, soft
flames tickled my skin.
In the surrounding panic and maelstrom, I found a single perfect moment of tranquility. My head
rocked back on my head and I stared at the stars, a million bright lights burning in the velvet black,
my hair tickled the tops of my buttocks. Then, all hell broke loose. I threw a punch and a stream of
fire shot forth landing on the back of the man assaulting Blue Eyes, the Iceari woman. Dark triumph
consumed me as he rolled in the dirt; it made no difference my fire consumed him. They thought to
hurt me? I trembled. Rage flooding my veins, thick and intoxicating. Make me a slave? My hands
crunched to fists. Violate me! I’d make them suffer.
“Ancestors, lend your strength and make me your instrument of vengeance.” Swords in hand
the group advanced on me, but it was already too late for their friends. “May the goddess Khatri
protect all those in my care,” I pleaded. A red haze falling over my eyes, I flung my arms wide and
dropping all pretense of restraint, unleashed annihilation. A symphony of ghastly howls filled the air.
Their bodies twisting and writhing before me. I watched it all, wide-eyed and unblinking, horror
stretching my eyelids back and forcing me to witness my doing. Though disgusted, I reveled in theirfate, greedily licking flesh from bone. Their screams echoing in my ears long after the charred bodies
lay still and silent.
I couldn’t break through the fog. It was the strangest feeling, I mused, being aware of everything but
unable to react to anything. Staring straight ahead, each shallow breath misted in front of my
unseeing eyes. It was pretty stupid, I suppose, to be sitting on the ground with not a stitch of clothing
on. Yet, I couldn’t find it within me to move, intelligence was overrated anyway. I couldn’t get his
face out of my mind, the moment his face went from agony to slack. I swallowed, I had killed my
first and now I was replaying it again and again. I hugged my knees to my chest rocking ever so
slightly. Blue Eyes had thrown a blanket over my ash smeared shoulders when she failed to rouse me.
Shivering, a party of war horses charged into the clearing, the hoof beats muffled by the carpet of
pine needles
“Ilsa!” A tall, powerfully built man roared, frantically scanning each face in turn. “Ilsa, are you
here?” His head turned, and I caught sight of a scar running up his cheek, intersecting his temple
before being hidden beneath ash blond hair. “Ilsadore!” Wild-eyed, his desperation was almost
palatable.
“I’m here, Bran!” The blonde jumped up, waving so frantically that I thought her arm would drop
off and ran towards him unreservedly. A touching scene, I guess this must be her husband. He swung
down and caught her against his chest. He sank to his knees, not letting go and she followed him
down. I spied his lips moving in a prayer of thanks. He palmed the nape of her neck, she buried her
face in his shoulder. A cherished woman and a man that never wanted to let her out of his arms.
“Are you hurt, Ilsa?” he asked, trying to see her face but she wouldn’t look up.
Her voice broke, “I’m sorry. Bran.” The strong veneer cracked, and her shoulders began to heave.
“I’m so sorry for everything… they… they took my torque,” she sobbed.
“It doesn’t matter, I will have new ones made,” he comforted, rubbing her back. “All that matters
is that you are safe.”
His thumb brushed away her tears and she winced pulling away. Eyes narrowing, his fingers
curled under her chin and with the utmost care turned her face to him. His eyes turned an unholy
white taking in each and every bruise that decorated her face. “Who did this?” Though a whisper, his
words thundered in the clearing.
“I’m fine, Bran.” Circles of frost began to cover the ground at his feet. The hairs on the back of
my neck began standing to attention as I recognized a potential threat. The blonde grabbed his face,
her palms pressed to his cheeks, so she could meet his eyes. “You got here in time, my face will heal
but you got here in time.” She lowered her head and rubbed it against his shoulder. “I’m fine, please
just hold me.”
A happy ending.
One of the girls launched herself into the arms of a warrior, screeching hysterically. “She’s a
Firelander!” Her finger pointed at me. Fantastic, attention I didn’t need. All eyes turned to me. Wow,
how to make a tense atmosphere with one sentence.
“What is a Firelander doing this far north?”
Another spat upon the ground. “It doesn’t matter, kill her and be done with it.”
I realized I wasn’t any better off than I was before, it was probably a good idea to do something
right about now. My skin was being shredded but I managed to conjure a single, shifting flame that
danced on the end of my finger as I held it up in warning. In a flash, Ilsa stood in front of me, handsfisted on her hips. “You’ll not harm her.”
“Ilsa, stand back, the decision is not yours,” her husband spoke slowly.
“She saved me.” She shot a dirty look at the hysterical girl. “She saved all of us. If she hadn’t you
would have been too late.”
Her husband’s eyes narrowed. “Ilsadore, I will ask you one more time, stand aside.”
“She has done no wrong!”
His hand encompassed the blackened area. “Have you seen the destruction around you? You call
that no wrong?”
The woman, Ilsadore, didn’t budge and glowered back, any other time I would have been
impressed.
“If I possessed either ice or flame I would have done the same.”
He rubbed a hand over his face. “Ilsa—”
“No, Bran.” She grabbed her husband’s arm to halt him. “She fought for me,” she pleaded. “When
all the others cowered and pretended to sleep she kicked my attacker in the face.”
He threw up his hands in surrender. “Ilsa, she could be a spy. Why is a Firelander this far north?”
He gestured at me. “What’s wrong with the girl? Is she addled?”
“She has a head wound and was thrown in with us unconscious, I think they must have knocked
her out before she could defend herself.”
“We could leave her.”
“The girl will not last the night in the open,” another voice piped in.
And silence. For the love of my Goddess, I attracted less attention when I walked my city’s street
when I was a princess.
“Leave her to me, I will care for her.” I sensed him before I saw him, a powerful storm caged
inside a vessel of flesh. A power that could swamp me in an instant. I was under no delusions; the
strength of my element was mediocre at best not like my cousin whose flame was beginning to
blossom and grow into the very beginnings of what this man possessed. A pair of feet stopped in
front of me. Inanely, I realized I could see my reflection in the polished leather. A giant crouched in
front of me and blocked out all light. Trying and failing miserably to appear less threatening. “They
think you are dangerous,” his melodious rumble rolled over me. “But I do not.”
I tugged harder. Flames popped into being at my feet and the man jumped back. Sharp pain sliced
through my head, the image of the boots wavered, and hot blood seeped from my nose. I didn’t have
much left to give. “Enough of that.” He didn't raise his voice, but it gained an edge. The command
pulled an invisible cord and made me raise my head. “I will not hurt you, understand?” Brilliant blue
eyes locked on mine. “I will not hurt you,” he reaffirmed, the words slowly penetrating my brain. A
large hand extended towards me. “Come.” He expected to be obeyed. Gradually, I dropped the fires
and reached out to take his offered hand, the invisible rope between us winding tighter. My instincts
telling me I could trust this man. Pulling me firmly to my feet, hands snagging the edges of the
blanket and wrapping it tighter around me before lifting me into his arms like a babe. “She’ll come
with us.”
This was undignified, I should stand on my own. When my legs would hold my weight, I would
stand on my own. No one argued, but the shock was evident.
His eyes focused on my bare feet and I flinched at his oath. “Does anyone have spare socks or
boots?” his voice lashed out and people jumped to do his bidding. Eventually, some were found and
cradling each foot between his spade-like hands, treating them like spun glass, he maneuvered my feet
into the pilfered socks and boots. I whimpered at the uncomfortable heat, like hot needles sliding into
my skin.“Do you have a name?” he asked.
Answer him. My mind locked up. Oh, for the love of the sacred flame I could scream in
frustration.
“You do not need to answer now,” he soothed quickly when a wordless, distressed sound gurgled
from my throat. “You can tell me later.”
His hands braced my waist and lifted me up onto the horse’s back before instantly mounting
behind me. My back pressed tight against his chest, he wrapped his thick cloak around the both of us
and I was instantly infused with his warmth and scent. My muscles relaxed for the first time in—I
actually couldn’t remember. “Move out, let’s get away from this place and we will see about
returning the girls to their homes.”
His hot breath whispered past the shell of my ear, “Relax against me, I’ll not let you fall.” For the
first time since this nightmare began, I was warm, and I allowed my momentary weakness to show
and accepted the comfort the big, handsome stranger offered. Weights pulling at my aching limbs, I
sagged against him. I would rest my eyes, just for a second and when I felt stronger I would insist on
continuing my journey alone.
Just… one… second.
ZORREN
So, this could be her, the foretold Firelander who would breach Sevias? Zorren eyed the exotic and
delicate creature that slept so trustingly in his arms. Thick, dark eyelashes fanned her pale cheeks, a
smear of ash gracing her forehead. He snorted. There was no feasible way that this small woman
could tumble Sevias’ walls, they had stood for centuries.
He could be wrong he supposed, it might not be her. Zorren flickered back to when he had first
laid eyes on her. Sat upon the frozen ground wearing nothing more than a cloak of breathtaking red
hair and a blanket hiding the tantalizing curves beneath. Her vulnerability rousing his protective
instincts, willing him to care for the stranger, to shield her. Zorren shook his head, she wasn’t his type
at all, she was too fragile by far, the Court at Sevias would destroy her. By Havron’s name, when did
he decide he would take her to Sevias? A mate would cause far too much upheaval. And yet, she
might be something more interesting than a mouse.
When approached, her eyes had snapped with spirit, the beguiling rich green that reminded him of
high summer when the barren land transformed into a lush haven, flaring with spots of glittering
amber. Though slumped with exhaustion, she held a proud bearing as flames popped into existence to
warn him off. It would take far more than a few pitiful flames to stop him. The fire danced in her
eyes, seeking to challenge him, “come closer if you dare”, she seemed to say. Zorren’s mind flashed
to those same eyes heavy-lidded with pleasure, gazing up at him in bed, those rich tresses fanning the
pillow and her fight and daring being channeled into more pleasurable pursuits. His cock stirred, and
the mystery woman wiggled. Breath hissed out from between Zorren’s teeth, great Neftir, help him.
Putting his undeniable attraction aside, it did not explain why a Firelander was this far north. Easing
his mount back, he drew level with his cousin. Bran was similarly cradling his slumbering wife
against his chest, he hoped she appreciated just how lucky she had been. Clearing his throat, Zorren
gained Bran’s attention. “Did her belongings reveal anything?”
Bran shook his head, pulling a face like he had a sour taste in his mouth “Nothing, some clothes,
coins, though not a great amount and a sword.”Zorren sensed something more. “But…” he prodded.
Bran frowned. “The strange thing, the sword is bundled as if to be protected, not used, though
when we examined it…” He shrugged his shoulder. Ilsa stirred and Bran immediately ran his hand
over her head in a soothing caress to settle her. “It is well made, unremarkable except it had no hilt.”
Zorren frowned, curious. “No hilt? That’s it?”
Bran made a move to shrug but checked it with a glance down, when Ilsa didn’t move he released
a breath.
“Nothing to suggest either her identity or reason for being on our lands?” He grasped with
desperation. There had to be something.
“No, the girls don’t know anything either, other than she was thrown into the wagon with a head
wound.”
With the utmost care, Zorren lifted her hair back and stilled. Rage beat hard within him. Dried
blood obstructed his view of the lump that had been dealt with some force. When he ran his finger
over it the mystery woman whimpered. The bastards who had done this were lucky they were already
dead, he would not have granted them a quick one.
“When we make camp, bring the sword to me.”
His cousin’s brows reached up to his hairline but didn't say a word. The key to solving the
mystery of the beautiful stranger in his arms had to be the sword. It had to be.CHAPTER 2
MIRA
became aware of the pain first. It was worse than usual from sleeping on the hard ground.I Every. Stiff. Aching. Joint. Groaning, I burrowed closer into the delicious cocoon of
warmth and sighed happily. Until I heard it—another heartbeat. A weight banding my waist and a
tangle of limbs that were not mine. I stilled, not daring to breathe as I painstakingly extricated myself
from him. I admit having been curled together had not been an unpleasant experience. Observing my
companion, I noticed how his long, blond lashes lay against his tanned skin, the golden stubble along
his jawline. What would it feel like to run the pads of my fingers across it?
I blinked hard.
Where had that thought come from? Any other time I’d be curious and want to explore this rare
opportunity. But now was not the time. Drawing back, I forced myself to focus on my surroundings
and found the muted light streaming through the shallow globe that surrounded us, it appeared to be
thick frosted glass. My fingers reached out, quickly drawing back at the cold shock. Not glass but ice.
I reluctantly admired the handiwork of making a sheltered warm pocket in this wasteland. However,
it also meant my problems were just beginning. There was at least one Icer in the party if not more.
Squirming out from under the furs a blast of frigid air hit my body. Biting off a curse, goose
pimples jumped up on my skin. I was dressed in a man’s tunic that ended at my knees and socks that
weren’t mine but covered the rest of my legs. Goddess, every movement was taking more effort than
usual, and I gasped at the ugly bruises decorating my skin, the scrapes on my knees, the pain in my
ribs. Tentative fingers touched my face, and then moved to the soreness of my head. Tender was an
understatement and my hair was matted with blood. It could be worse.
Gritting my teeth, I crawled out of the small opening and into the bitterness of the elements.
Noting about a dozen or so domes of varying sizes arranged in a circle, I scurried to the tethered
horses. I found my dappled mare, tiny against their monstrous beasts. The raiders must have taken my
horse which the Iceari had collected in turn. Quickly, I shimmied into my trews and ditched the tunic
for a breast band and clean tunic from my pack. Covered up with heavy outer layers in a feeble
attempt to create a barrier against the cold. Curiosity getting the better of me I peeked into the largest
dome, the girls were wrapped in a pile of furs, not unlike a litter of puppies. Next, I looked into the
smaller dome to the right. A blonde head poked from beneath the arm of the burly warrior I saw
yesterday, Ilsa content in her husband’s embrace. It was touching and for a stray moment, I longed to
lean against someone else's strength. I shook off the dark feeling, noticing that the great fire of the
previous night had burned down to white ash. A bitter smile curled my lips.
Now, that was one thing I was good at, building an ordinary campfire. It was the least I could doin way of thanks, though more wood was needed. Turning on my heels I walked into the forest fixed
on my task. Pickings were once again scarce, and I lost track of time. Unease prickled the back of my
neck at the eerie familiarity of the situation. A hand wrapped around my shoulder and I shrieked!
Instantly dropping my bounty upon the ground. Flames leaping into my hands, I spun on the balls of
my feet. Instead of bandits or slavers, I found my rescuer glaring at me and rather menacingly too.
“Where have you been?” The stranger demanded, making me feel like a recalcitrant child with his
tone and towering height.
Reluctantly, I extinguished my hands, angry at myself for being taken unawares again. “You
frightened me,” I accused, my heart attempting to burst out of my chest.
He closed the distance between us. “After disappearing from camp like that you deserve much
more than being frightened,” he muttered hands planted on his lean hips.
His superior tone grated, and I thrust my chin out defiantly. “I don’t see how it is any of your
concern.” I sniffed reaching to collect my lost bundle.
“Leave it, I’ll get it.”
“No, it’s fine,” I started and instantly stopped when he knelt beside me. My breathing became
uneven and every sense buzzed, very much aware of his nearness. Hairs stood to attention on my
arms. It’s the cold, I chided myself firmly reaching for the final piece and collided with his hand. A
sharp shock traversed my arm. Jumping back, I promptly lost my balance and planted my backside in
the snow. Heat rushed to my cheeks and I was surprised the snow hadn’t started to melt. Blue eyes
twinkling, the Icer set the kindling on the ground and offered me his free hand as he straightened. I
took it, grimacing as my side protested at the stretch.
Worry furrowed his brow. “Are you hurt?”
“No.” I tried to snatch my hand back, but he held on, turning me slightly. His heavy hand
connected with my rump and I yelped as he dusted the snow off my backside with a little more vigor
than strictly required. “Hey!”
He grinned unrepentantly, and with a final, and in my opinion, wholly unnecessary swat that had
me leaping forward he released me. “That is a taster if you ever feel the need to leave camp again on
your own without telling anyone.” Stooping, he gathered the kindling while I stood there vigorously
rubbing the injured spot and gaping like a fish. It felt like his handprint had been branded onto my
buttock. “Y… you’re… you’re not serious?” I spluttered.
That blond eyebrow rose a bit more. “Very. Is this how the slaver’s caught you unawares
before?” My face heated and I found something fascinating on the ground wishing it would swallow
me whole. “I thought so.”
“B… but you can’t just lay hands on me,” I insisted. It just wasn’t done. No one would dare.
“Those slavers would have done a lot worse to you, I recall. Exercise some common sense and
we won’t have to find out.”
How could I argue with that? It should have had me railing at him, but in all honesty, I was so
tired I didn't have the energy. Besides, I would be leaving immediately so there was absolutely no
point fighting over it. Loathed to admit he was right, I settled for glaring balefully up at him and he
snorted. On the whole, my actions seemed to have caused nothing but amusement. It rankled. Still,
when he started back towards camp I fell into step. Though it went against the grain, years of training
could not be broken, and I offered my thanks.
“By the way, I am grateful for your aid yesterday and for not killing me.” He drew back looking
like he had been presented with a particularly fascinating creature. I took this pause to make my
escape and walked hurriedly ahead.
“Will you at least give me your name?” Teeth worried my bottom lip, what could I say?I am her Serene Highness, the Princess Nymira, of the House of Pyria second in line to the
Throne of Flames and Guardian of the Sacred Flame… and that was the short version. No, no one
could know who I was. I didn’t know what they would do to me. Probably hold me for ransom or
just kill me on the spot.
“Mira.” My voice carried eerily on the wind and he smiled revealing strong white teeth. “My
name is Mira,” I stated more strongly throwing off the mantel my position had thrust upon me, from
now on I would just be me. Until I was forced to go back.
“M-ir-a,” he repeated slowly, savoring each syllable as it rolled from his tongue. “A beautiful
name, it suits you.”
Why was my breathing unsteady?
“And your name?”
His head tilted as he seemed to consider his answer for a moment. “Zorren,” he offered finally. I
stole glances at his profile through my lashes, the name suited him, proud and strong. I realized that I
had let my mind wander and that he, Zorren, was continuing to talk at me. Change that, continuing to
berate me. I rolled my eyes and tension entered his shoulders. “Did you roll your eyes at me?” He
seemed incredulous that I would dare such an action. Nervousness skittered up my spine, this was not
a man to test unless I meant it.
“N-no,” I answered. What’s the matter with me? I gave myself a stern shake, I answer to no one
other than the empress.
“See that it doesn’t happen again. I can’t be disrespected in front of the men.”
I made a noncommittal noise and that eyebrow rose to precarious new heights.
“I mean it, Mira,” he emphasized, the tone of his voice morphing, becoming more serious. It
made my senses sit up and pay attention. “Not in front of the warriors. They will expect me to address
it and you will not go without reprisal. Do you understand?”
I physically bit my tongue from making a smart comment, something along the lines that I would
fry him. Choosing the wiser course of action, I muttered, “Yes.” And we returned to walking.
“I see you found our runaway prisoner.” Someone called as we moved into the clearing.
I froze in my tracks. Excuse me. Sucking in a deep breath, I released it, my nostrils slowly flaring.
My stiff necked Firelander pride decided to rear its ugly head.
“I’m no one’s prisoner.” Putting an extra swing in my hips, I walked forward and threw my wood
into the fire pit with more force than necessary. Grinding my teeth, I pointed my index finger in the
pile's direction and gave a vicious tug that had me biting my lips. Flames instantly sprouted and
chewed at the timbers. I puffed a wisp of smoke from my fingertip. “If anyone has a problem with
that, I’m more than willing to discuss it.” I held up my hands to the warmth and the tender flesh
quickly thawed.
“See, typical Firelander.” That loudmouth just wouldn’t shut up. The flames burned brighter
reacting to me until I tamped it down and did something I never did. I didn’t back down.
“No. A typical Firelander would have fried you at the first insult.” I spoke slowly like I would
when dealing with a particularly troublesome courtier. “Me? I’m pretty mellow.” I smiled sweetly
while his voice tugged at my memories. Staring hard at his face I tried to place him but ended up
staring at his thin, axe blade nose. “I will just fry you on the third insult.”
He moved to his feet faster than a man of his bulk should and I swore as I placed the voice. It
clicked. “Ahh, you’re the one who wanted to kill me and be done with it.” Narrowing my eyes, I sizedhim up for a fight and I stood my ground. “Please feel free to try now, I promise you will not find it
so easy.” The fire flared at my back. Pulsating steadily, I gathered my power. My palms beginning to
glow, ready for a fast and if need be deadly strike. The man took one step in my direction. Zorren
blocked his path, putting me at his back. “That is enough, Jorsen.”
His flickering white eyes never left me as he stared over Zorren’s shoulder. “Are you really taking
the side of a firebug?”
The tips of Zorren’s fingers began to turn blue. “Stand down.”
There was no mistaking that tone. Implacable, if he did not stand down there was going to be a
fight. There was a tense moment as neither man gave way. I waited anxiously, staring at the tight line
of Zorren’s back, swearing not to draw attention to myself and not shoot my mouth off. No one
breathed and then Jorsen relaxed his stance.
Shooting a glare at me he took a physical step back.
“Yes, my lord.”
Khatri’s tits, I’d landed nobility and I was running out of curses. Nobility meant he would be a
fairly powerful elemental and therefore all the more reason to be wary.
“Are you all right?” Zorren asked looking over his shoulder. Why was he so concerned with my
well-being?
I shrugged. “Fine.” He nodded, satisfied with my answer.
“Good. I don’t want any more infighting, Firelander.” He shot me a pointed look and my lips
curled in a smirk. “Iceari, I don’t care. Anyone who causes any more problems will answer to me.”
Pretty speech, but the weird thing was everyone seemed to perk up and listen. Commanding their
attention in a way I’d only ever seen my aunt do. A power emanating off him, holding everyone’s
undivided attention. It didn’t matter as I would not be staying. The crowd broke up and I went back to
warming myself.
“Ignore Jorsen, he acts like a great bear on the first day of spring with his head stuck in a hornet's
nest.” I glanced up to find Ilsa standing next to me, a hesitant smile on her face. A friendly face in a
crowd of hostility and suspicion, she offered a tin cup of water and I took it gratefully.
“I do not take it personally I assure you.”
Her husband sauntered up behind and wrapped a strong arm around her waist and pulled her back
against his chest. His chin resting on the top of her head.
“So, what brought you this far north?” Oh, what had Ilsa called him? Brin? No, it was on the tip
of my tongue—Bran. His stony blue eyes were bright and clear and shone with intelligence. To me,
they all began to look the same with their blonde hair and blue eyes. At least Bran had a
distinguishing feature with that scar and Zorren, no one could mistake him. He wore his power like a
cloak. I turned to hide a knowing smile, so this was the ploy to wheedle out my plans, with food and
kindness. “What do you know of the Firelands?”
His brow furrowed in puzzlement. “We have heard of nothing.”
I forced the words out in a flat monotonous tone like it meant absolutely nothing to me to repeat
the painful facts. “The empress was assassinated and during the uprising the family I served set me a
task.” I shrugged. “So, I traveled north, it is that simple.” The trick to this game was to tell the truth
as much as possible and just change the details where necessary.
“You traveled far.” Bran pointed out and I watched lazily back. The heat of the fire at my back
welcoming and I soaked up its strength. Let the verbal sparring commence.
“I did not get to choose the task.”
“Without an escort?” he pressed and Ilsa began to shift from foot to foot, distinctly
uncomfortable with this line of questioning.“There was an escort, but they were killed.” Both had died soon after we left by the party that was
hunting us. I’d been fighting to stay one step ahead of them ever since, though with no recent
sightings I had begun to hope they had lost my trail.
“And you didn’t turn back?”
“No. When I give my word, it is good. I was set a task by the family I had sworn to serve; only my
death will prevent me from completing it.” Laughing I tried to add some levity to my words.
“Besides, we Firelanders are a stubborn breed.” I took a drink and almost moaned with pleasure.
Cool and fresh, it tasted wonderful.
His lips curled, a small measure of respect entering his eyes as he rubbed his chin against Ilsa's
hair and she relaxed. “Though your mission is foolhardy your word does you credit, mistress.”
My lips pinched together. “Foolhardy, how so?”
“From what I’ve seen you know nothing of the dangers of this land.”
My eyebrows shot up. “I can protect myself and fry anything or anyone that gets in my way.”
“Hmmm, it’s that hot-headedness that will get you into trouble fast.”
Taking another sip, I countered easily. “Or give me the strength to continue on.”
Our debate was thankfully interrupted by Zorren. “Pack up, it’s time to move out.” Instantly,
everyone busied themselves with the packs and I tossed the remainder of my drink on the ground and
moved to my gear as they made their plans. Listening carefully and unobtrusively I added a dagger to
my boot, reassured by the weight. I wasn’t skilled with a blade by any means, but I could get lucky
and take someone by surprise.
“Most of the girls have come from outposts dotted along our northeast frontier before they
moved westwards, further into our lands. They’d journeyed further into our interior than they usually
dare.”
Zorren gave a brief nod absorbing and weighing the information. “We will escort the girls back
home, before turning west.”
So, it looked like we would part ways here, I could not delay and if I was followed my presence
would endanger them. Thankfully, there was no mention of me, just as I liked it but at the same time
disappointed that I had clearly escaped Zorren’s notice. Now, I was just being silly, I told myself
sternly and began to lead my horse in the opposite direction to where they were gathering.
“And where do you think you are going?” The sharp bite of his voice caused me to freeze, a fine
shiver dancing upon my spine before my shoulders hunched around my ears against the coming
storm. Uh oh, caught. Be careful what you wish for.
“I have my own mission and I cannot delay further,” I replied tartly. “I thank you for your
aid and care but I must continue on.”
“You are coming with us, it is not safe out there for a woman alone.” Towering over me with
hands planted on his hips. “And you still need to answer my questions as to why you are this far
north.”
I was willing to oblige but only up to a point. “I’ve answered all questions posed to me.” I
swallowed injecting a bit of strength back into my voice. “And my safety is none of your concern, but
I managed to defend myself and finish my foe before you arrived.”
“Aye and lose your clothes in the process proving you know nothing of this land and how to
survive,” Zorren added, looking decidedly unimpressed with my argument. “You’d have died
from exposure before you saw another sunrise. In short, I am responsible for you.”
“I absolve you of any responsibility.”
Enough of this, why was I wasting time arguing with him? I turned to walk away.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” The light words were too innocent by half and belied the