"Husk's rich, well-developed world building makes this dark tale of loyalty, love, and redemption equally appealing to both romance and fantasy readers."Booklist
The Goblin Prince defeated the dreaded Shadowlands, but winning the love of a woman may be his ultimate undoing
He is like a prince in a fairy tale: tall, outrageously handsome, and way too dark for her own good. Amanda has been hurt before, though. And with her daughter's illness, the last thing she needs right now is a man. But the power of Dai King is hard to resist. And when he threads his hands through her hair and pulls her in for a kiss, there is no denying it feels achingly right.
After being trapped in the Shadowlands for centuries with the goblin horde a constant threat, Dai revels in his newfound freedom back in the human realm. But even with the centuries of magic he's accumulated, he still doesn't know how to heal Amanda's daughterand it breaks his heart. Yet for the woman he loves, he'd risk anything...including a retun to the Shadowlands.
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There were no decorations in the church, no family or friends filling the pews. Amanda paused and glanced at the altar where Eliza's groom waited with his brother. She took a breath and forced a smile. Eliza wanted this, and even though Amanda thought her sister-in-law was rushing to marry a man she hardly knew, she had to be happy for her. Eliza certainly seemed happy, happier than she'd been for years.
"She's on her way," Amanda called to the men as she walked down the aisle with her daughter, Brigit, at her side. The black-and-white bridesmaid dress restricted each step-well, that and the heels. She couldn't remember the last time she'd gotten dressed up. When she'd gotten married it had been in a registry office. That seemed so long ago now she could've been another person. She had been another person back then. Young and carefree. Her life had changed so fast. Widowed three months later. She glanced at Brigit, the only part of her husband she had left.
At least Brigit wasn't hampered by her dress. She walked very carefully clutching the ring Eliza was going to give Roan as if it was going to jump out of her fist. From her other hand hung the white and black little bag, made especially to match the dress. But it wasn't for show. Inside was Brigit's inhaler. She couldn't go out without it. Anything could set off a fatal asthma attack.
Please not today.
Roan turned and nodded. All Eliza had told her about him was he was from Wales and he had money and a brother. Her gaze flicked to the other man in a black suit and lingered for longer than was polite. Dai stood to one side. His long hair was loose but not scruffy. The hair and suit were at odds with how she'd thought he'd look. She'd been told he was a scholar. When she'd been at college none of the professors had looked like him. He was too...too something she didn't want to label.
Dai turned his head and caught her gaze. His eyes were dark and mesmerizing. Her heart gave a solid thump as if beating for the first time in years. Her smile widened before she could stop her lips from moving, and then a slow, creeping heat colored her cheeks. It had been a long time since she'd had such an instant reaction to anyone. The last man who'd done that had been her husband and he'd been dead seven years. Dai gave her a small nod and a smile that made her feel like she was the one walking down the aisle.
Get a grip. It was a wedding and she was just in a happy, romantic mood because of Eliza. She was living vicariously through her. Being in love was exciting...even if Eliza was rushing to the altar with a man she'd known for only a heartbeat.
Wonder what Dai thinks of the quick wedding. She'd have to ask him later. And also take the opportunity to find out a bit more about the King brothers-for Eliza's sake.
She and Brigit took their places on the other side of the altar with the scowling priest looking on. Brigit opened her hand for the third time to check on the ring.
"You'll do great," Amanda tried to reassure her.
Brigit nodded and then looked at the men on the other side. She frowned and whispered, "Why does Roan's brother have long hair?"
Her little voice echoed in the empty church. Amanda wilted on the inside; there was no way he could've missed the comment.
"I don't know," Amanda whispered with an awkward smile stuck on her lips.
He didn't need to cut his hair; it suited him, softened what otherwise might have been a fierce expression, with dark blue eyes someone could drown in.
Dai's gaze landed on Brigit, his face neutral as he spoke to his brother in another language, Welsh maybe, from the soft lilts. Amanda held her breath, ready to leap to Brigit's defense, waiting for him to either laugh or scowl at her daughter. He did neither.
"I like it long," he said in English with an unidentifiable accent.
Amanda sighed. At least he wasn't a children-shouldn't-be-heard type of academic.
"If he wouldn't cut it for my wedding, I don't think he'll ever find a reason to." Roan glanced at the church door as if he thought Eliza had changed her mind.
Amanda knew that wouldn't happen. Eliza had gushed about Roan. And he was an improvement on ex-fiancé shifty-Steve, now awaiting trial for fraud. But it was still too fast, not even long enough to give the thirty days' notice to put in the paperwork. This was a wedding in a church that wouldn't be valid, but neither Roan nor Eliza cared. At least if it didn't work there'd be no divorce paperwork either.
She shook her head and glanced at the stone floor. It had been so long since she was in love she'd forgotten what it was like. Her gaze landed on Dai again, as if drawn there of its own accord. When she realized she was checking out how nicely the suit fit his body, she looked away and studied the stained glass window before he could notice she was looking, again.
It was one thing to look at a man, and it was very easy to look at Dai and wonder what he looked like beneath his clothes, but it was another thing to act on it. She glanced at Brigit. Unlike Eliza, Amanda couldn't take risks and leaps of faith.
As she watched her sister-in-law walk down the aisle, Amanda realized she was jealous. Not pea-green, but enough that she knew what she didn't have, and what she'd lost. Matt should've been here watching his sister marry, watching his daughter grow up. Part of her had died with him and the rest had forgotten how to live as she'd poured her attention into Brigit and her battle for survival.
She didn't hear the words of the vows, only the echo of the words she'd promised years ago. Her finger touched the wedding band Matt had given her. His was at home, barely scratched after only three months of use.
A tiny bell chimed through the church. She gasped as she realized Brigit had dropped the ring and was scrambling to retrieve it as it spun on the stone floor.
Eliza let out a small laugh.
A peal of thunder rolled over the roof. Dai glanced up as if he could see something no one else could. He spoke in Welsh and his brother nodded.
"And so it is. The vows are accepted," Roan said in English.
Accepted by whom? A trickle of ice traced down her spine, the church suddenly cold. Who were these men?
She turned away when Roan and Eliza kissed, unable to fight the rising disquiet, her gaze caught and lingered on Dai. She couldn't even remember what it felt like to be kissed by a man. Dai was watching her. The moment they realized it, they both looked aside as if they'd found something else suddenly absorbing.
"It's like in Cinderella." Brigit was grinning at the idea that her favorite fairy tale could come true.
Amanda stroked her daughter's hair and hoped that Brigit would be saved the heartache she'd experienced. It was a relief to step outside. The sky was clear, and while the winter sun was bright, it lacked the heat to take away the chill. She shivered as gooseflesh rose on her arms.
"Here." Dai offered her his jacket, leaving him only a shirt and waistcoat against the cool weather.
She hesitated, not sure she wanted to take anything from him when she knew nothing about him. But that would be churlish and today wasn't about her.
"Thank you. Are you sure you won't be cold?"
He shook his head, his dark hair spilling over his shoulders. "This is practically summer."
"Of course." He was used to freezing Welsh winters and snow.
She draped the jacket around her shoulders, the lining still warm from his body. For a heartbeat she let herself be enveloped in his warmth and scent. Her body responded, craving a touch or something. It had been so long since she'd been close to any man. She pushed down the feelings. She was too old to fall over the first handsome man to offer her his jacket. Too old at twenty-seven. That little bit of envy grew a little more.
If she could, would she? If Brigit never knew, did it matter? She twisted the ring on her finger, then stopped, horrified at what she'd been thinking. Could she really betray the man she loved for a moment of pleasure?
Brigit counted out jumps and hops on the pavement, entertaining herself while they waited for the cars. Her handbag swung from her wrist. Amanda wanted to ask Brigit to stop, but she bit her tongue. She couldn't wrap her daughter up in cotton wool and force her to sit still in case she had an asthma attack-no matter how tempting the idea.
Her gaze slid sideways, but Dai had his back turned to her and was studying the church. He probably wasn't interested in her anyway. What man wanted an instant family? And if they did, it made her suspicious. On her other side, Roan and Eliza were talking softly. Their hands linked as if nothing could separate them.
That was what she missed the most. Having someone there. Someone she could count on. Someone to hold her. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. For just a moment she let her imagination wander. What would it be like to be held by someone other than Matt? To have more than Dai's jacket around her? She shivered as if cold fingers traced the nape of her neck.
"The cars are here." Brigit grabbed her hand.
Complicated. She opened her eyes. Dating was complicated even without a fragile child that required constant attention.
Two black Jags parked in front of the church. Eliza had told them to be back in half an hour, but the wedding had taken less time than that. On the way here the guys had been in one and the girls in the other. Now Roan and Eliza would take one, which left her and Dai and Brigit with the other.
Dai held open the car door and Brigit slid into the backseat. Amanda followed, carefully swinging her legs in, knees together. Stupid slim-fitting dress. Then he closed the door and got in the front. Out of the cool air, she took off his jacket and laid it on the seat, even though she wanted to keep it wrapped around her and hold on to his warmth a little longer.
She licked her lips, ready to try to get some answers. She had a hundred questions she wanted to ask, but quizzing him in the car probably wasn't the best idea. Brigit listened to everything. With a small sigh, she leaned back and gazed out the window. Later.
Or maybe she was just making excuses to spend more time with him.
The chauffeur drove back through the city and stopped at the gourmet pizza shop not far from Eliza's house. Dai went in and picked up the order. There was no fancy reception, just pizza and champagne. She watched as he walked back to the car, her fingers brushing his jacket. He didn't move like someone who'd spent his life behind a desk. There was a grace that athletes and people who understood their body acquired. There was more to his life than study.
But it was much easier to label her attraction as curiosity and ignore the tightening in her belly. She touched the ring on her finger; she'd never taken it off. Couldn't. Yet something about Dai made her want to explore the possibility.
Dai got back into the car and gave her a small smile as if he knew exactly what she was thinking. She forced herself to focus out the window. She didn't have time to indulge or even dabble in lust, and Eliza's new brother-in-law was definitely the wrong person.
With the pizza almost gone and an empty bottle of champagne sitting in the middle of the dining table, everyone eased back in their chairs. Pizza tasted better when it hadn't been stolen and brought back to the Shadowlands. Dai's lips curved. Everything tasted better when not eaten in the Shadowlands. He finished his champagne and flexed his fingers against the glass. He'd never expected to be eating in the Fixed Realm again, as a man. But then he'd never expected to live again as a man. For too many centuries he'd thought either the curse or a blade would claim him. Despite his years of magical study he'd never have guessed the cure to release him and his brother from two millennia of entrapment would've been as simple as love.
Then again, loving a goblin was never simple.
After everything they'd lived through, Roan deserved to be happy. He glanced at Amanda, who was pointedly studying her champagne. The gold band on her finger glinted in the light. She wore it even though her husband was dead-Eliza had been most helpful in filling in the details. Roan had made him and Eliza swear that neither of them would speak about the curse, goblins, and the Shadowlands to anyone, as if he were still king and could order the past away if no one ever spoke of it again.
Even if Dai lived for another two thousand years, he'd still wear the scars of his past. Unlike Roan, he couldn't wash off the Shadowlands' dust and move on. In the Fixed Realm the magic he'd studied became real and usable. If he let his vision slide, he could see the threads of magic that made everything...or that everything made, depending on the school of magical theory.
Roan and Eliza walked into the living room and put on some music. Amanda's daughter slid off her chair and followed them, fascinated by the wedding-more than her mother had been. Amanda had smiled and nodded throughout the ceremony, but he'd seen the reservation in her eyes...and that wasn't all he'd noticed. Even when he wasn't looking at her, he'd felt her gaze on him. It was an odd sensation to be looked at and not have the viewer recoil in horror; he had to remind himself he no longer looked like a goblin. It was odder still to feel the fragile magic of attraction spin out from her and reach for him, seeking a connection he doubted she even knew she was making and he wasn't sure he wanted.
For half a second he considered pushing the threads away, but he was curious. And he liked her smile-the unguarded one that lit her eyes and let him believe for a moment that he could live the lie Roan wanted him to and be a normal, modern man. For his brother he would do that today. Tomorrow...he'd see.
He put his elbows on the table and rested his chin on his hands. Amanda looked up and their gazes met. For half a heartbeat he saw more than he expected in her green eyes. More than a passing interest. Hunger, desire, longing-then she blinked and it was gone.
Maybe he imagined it, or saw his own emotions reflected there. After two thousand years as a cursed man, maybe he didn't know what he was seeing or what he wanted. It had been so long since he'd had a choice. Even before the curse, his life had been in the hands of the Roman general Claudius. A hostage to guarantee Roan's good behavior. All it had done was fuel their need for rebellion. Without the druid's curse, they would have died Celtic warriors.
Amanda ran her tongue over her lower lip and leaned forward. He smiled, encouraging her attention even though he knew it was a bad idea. Yet he couldn't bring himself to brush her off. He was too tempted to see how close he could get to the fire before getting burned.
"Was that Welsh you were speaking in the church?"
He opened his mouth to answer, but realized he couldn't lie directly to her. "A dialect." An ancient dialect no one else spoke. The language of the Decangli was as dead as the tribe.
"What did Roan mean when he said the vows were accepted? You're not part of a cult?"
Dai laughed. "No cult." He thought rapidly through the service to find an explanation. He couldn't say the gods they'd been raised to believe had witnessed the vows. She wouldn't accept that. Magic and gods didn't go hand in hand anymore, people no longer believed in magic. "The ring bouncing thrice on the floor was sign of good luck. An old sign of good luck."
More half-truths. If he wasn't careful, he'd trip on his lies and be caught in a net of his own making. Music filtered into the dining room. A slow song. He knew he'd be escaping the house for a long walk when Amanda and Brigit left. He didn't want to be in Roan and Eliza's space. He needed to find his own place. Nineteen centuries of living with his brother in the Shadowlands was long enough.
Amanda nodded, as if accepting what he said as truth. "He loves her?"
"He does, with all his soul." Or whatever was left of it after the curse. But that at least wasn't a lie.
She stood and smoothed her dress over her hips in a gesture that drew his gaze without him realizing. He looked up before he was caught lingering over the curve of her waist.
"Do you dance?" Her voice was soft and uncertain.
She glanced at the table then back at him, this time speaking with more confidence. "It's a wedding; will you dance with me?"
Amanda walked around the table, her steps short because of the narrow skirt of the dress. But it clung to her legs in a way he'd noticed as she walked down the aisle, and in a way he couldn't avoid noticing now. He learned to control the physical response to attraction long before; the self-loathing that usually followed wasn't as easy to contain.
He got up. "I'm not very good." There'd been no call for dancing either as a Roman slave or as a goblin.
"You don't have to be. It's a slow song," she said, like it explained everything.
Dai inclined his head. This wasn't a battle he was going to win, and losing should be more enjoyable. Any other man would've leapt at the chance to dance with her, but instead he was wrestling with memories from his old life that threatened to poison his future.
He took her hand and her fingers curved around his. Her hands were cool and her touch light, as if she wasn't sure about what she was doing. Her other hand skimmed over his chest to rest on his shoulder like a feather. He faltered for a moment, not sure what to do. He'd spent his life fighting both Romans and goblins, and too long at the mercy of Claudius. Was he even capable of the gentle touch Amanda deserved?
"On my waist," she murmured, her lips curving in a small smile, as if she was just as hesitant as him.
"We could go into the living room." His hand settled on her waist, the dress silky beneath his palm.
Amanda tilted her chin and looked up at him. "No, here is fine."
She moved a little closer, her perfume not masking the warm scent of her skin. She moved slowly, her body lithe in his hands. They were close, yet he wanted to pull her closer and feel her against the length of his body.
But if he did, he knew what would follow and he could only resist so much before he would succumb to the sensation. He focused on the woman in his arms and the light touch of her hands on his skin. He couldn't remember the last time someone touched him without the intent to injure. Or the last time his hands hadn't damaged all they touched.
He glanced down, but her eyes were closed. Her expression wasn't one of contentment, but one of sadness. The gold wedding band on her finger shone in the light. He was standing in for the man she still loved. For a moment he wanted to be the one to remind her what a living one felt like-after all, she shouldn't be wasting the life she had pining over what she'd lost. Life went on, whether you wanted it to or not. He'd learned that the hard way. In his next heartbeat, he knew he could never be what she needed. He knew his reactions weren't right, and he would never be normal. He was too broken.
The song ended, but neither of them pulled away. Her hand remained on his shoulder, their fingers still linked. Those little, magical threads were already strung between them, creating a bond.
She opened her eyes and glanced up at him, then leaned a little closer. He wanted to kiss her to see how she'd react. But he took a breath and pushed down the sharp-edged desire. For a moment he'd let himself be lost and he didn't want to spoil what had happened by taking something that wasn't offered.
Amanda pulled back and released his hand as if she'd been stung. The magic between them snapped. The loss was as sharp as a whip, then gone almost before he could recognize the sting.
Brigit glanced between her mother and him, and he knew he'd crossed a line that had never been drawn before. She'd never seen her mother with a man.
"Will you dance with me, Mommy?"
"Yes, of course, sweetie." She took her daughter's hand, but as she reached the archway leading to the living room, she glanced over her shoulder at him. Her lips were parted a fraction as if she wanted to say something, but she just smiled and turned away.
Dai blinked slowly and let his vision shift so he could see the weave of magic. She might be walking away, but those tentative golden threads reached for him. This time he let his own meet hers halfway, even though he knew if she took them back it would hurt.
But it was his choice to make. After so many years his life was his own to command. No king. No Claudius. No curse.
He was free, and he was beginning to understand what that meant...even if he wasn't sure what to do next.