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NEW TODAY!Bridging the hatred of centuries did not come easy for Freyrík Farr and Ayden Vaska. As prince of a war-torn human province, Freyrík could ill afford to fall for an enemy. And Ayden, and elven warrior with three hundred years of bitterness in his heart, wanted no part of love—not elven, and especially not human. Yet they came together despite themselves and despite the will of their peoples, joining heart and mind to fight a race of Dark Beasts threatening the extinction of mankind.
But the Dark Beast threat pales beside the dangers of the human High Court, home of the Aegis Exalted and the harshest test yet of Ayden's and Freyrík's fledgling love.
While Ayden is stripped of his magic, Freyrík is forced to choose between his love for elf, Aegis, and brother, all the while seeking the one uncertain path that might save his doomed race. Time is fast running out for mankind, and only by making peace amongst themselves and with their ancient elven enemies can they end the Dark war—and undo the tragedy that's plagued humans, elves, and Dark Beasts alike for the last three hundred years.
It is the twilight of mankind. Depleted by generations of war with a dark race, the human kingdoms and their ancient alliance stand on the brink of extinction. The outlands are soaked with the blood of the fallen. The midlands are rotting with decadence and despair.
Elfkind, estranged by past crimes, watches and waits for nature to run its course.
And then the two collide.
Ayden's life has long been guided by two emotions: love for his sister, and hatred of all things human. When he's captured in battle, he must for his sister's sake swallow his pride and endure slavery in the service of a human prince. To his dismay, this close-up view of his enemy is nothing like he expected. Now curiosity and contempt make a battlefield of his soul, even as he struggles to pick up the pieces of his shattered worldview.
Freyrik Farr, Crown Prince of Farr Province, finds his new elven prisoner puzzling. He's always known elves to be beautiful and dangerous, but never has one affected him as deeply as Ayden. Can his life of service to his people leave room for this attraction? Dancing on a dagger's edge between duty and high treason, Freyrik discovers that some choices can change a life, and some an entire world.
Between prejudice, politics, pride, and survival, Ayden and Freyrik must carve a new path, no matter how daunting. For nothing less than the fate of both their peoples rests on the power of their perseverance -- and their love.
Freyrík had long ago come to realize the gods rarely intervened in the lives of men, no matter what prayers or sacrifices were made. Yet only recently had he come to see their indifference as a blessing, for when the gods’ great shadow fell upon you, it might well blot out the sun.
Which was how he found himself in the darkness now, tucked down in the canopy bed of his traveling tent with the man—the elf—he loved. The elf he’d sworn to see safely home. The elf he was now escorting to the one place more treacherous than even the darker forests: the High Court of Aegea.
“No,” Ayden said, and none too gently at that. “How many times do I have to say it? I’ll not run away without you.”
Freyrík rolled over to face him, glad for once of the elfglow in the dark tent, wondering if Ayden could see him back in a light that was not—according to the elf—truly there. “You know I cannot leave.”
“Then neither can I. Go to sleep.”
Before Freyrík could try a new tack, Ayden rolled away. For a moment, he thought the elf angry, but then Ayden pressed his bare back to Freyrík’s chest and tugged Freyrík’s arm over his waist. He held to it with both hands as if he suspected Freyrík might take to pacing. Which, admittedly, was tempting.
“I can hear your thoughts roiling,” Ayden grumbled. “Sleep.”
As if he could, with the dangers of the morrow looming so. “Not until you’ve heard me out.”
Ayden sighed, but then pressed up tighter against him, his arse grinding against Freyrík’s groin. “Fine. Speak.” Another wiggle that would have ended all conversation were Freyrík not so anxious. “But know my thoughts are not on your words.”
Freyrík clenched his fist. ‘Twas all he could do not to push the elf away and shake some sense into him.
He startled when Ayden’s hand snaked between their bodies, probing. “Perhaps your thoughts aren’t, either?” Ayden said.
And gods befanged, but those questing fingers raised evidence to support the elf’s theory. A moment’s trying to coax more from Freyrík, then another. Freyrík grunted and pulled Ayden’s hand away before he lost the will to stop him.
Ayden hmph’d and did not try again.
Freyrík sighed. Had he hurt the elf’s feelings? What he wouldn’t give for the power to hear them as Ayden could. Mayhap then he’d know the right words to make the elf understand.
He settled for nuzzling his face into the back of Ayden’s head, nudging tufts of hair flat with his cheek. “You have sacrificed so much for me already,” he whispered. “I would not see you sacrifice more. Were you my subject, I would order you home. But I cannot, so I beg of you: Go. Now. Allow me to decline your selfless offer.”
Ayden shook his head, squeezed Freyrík’s arm. “’Tis selfishness, you idiot, not comity.” A marvel, how Ayden could make such harsh words sound so fond. “I could not bear to see you executed for treason. But I can bear High Court. We’ve been through worse together already and come out the other side.”
‘Twas true, and yet… He pulled back, dropped a kiss on Ayden’s shoulder and ran fingertips down the fine web of scars on his back. “You nearly died. What if—”
“I’m fine, Freyrík.”
“But will you still be when they bind your magic?”
Freyrík winced as Ayden tensed in his arms. ’Twas a cold, cruel thing to have said, but he’d say it again and again if it would breach Ayden’s stubbornness. And mayhap it had, for Ayden remained stiff and silent in his arms.
“Tomorrow we ride upon the Splendor," he pressed. “Once we cross the first gate, there is no turning back. You must go now. The ambassador’s escort—”
“Will think you complicit!”
“Beat me, then. Bind me. Make a show of it.”
“It would not work,” Ayden said, and gods but the weariness in his voice stabbed at Freyrík’s heart. “You have intervened for me too often in the past to escape suspicion now.”
Then make it work, Freyrík wanted to say. Break me. Kill my escorts.
But he couldn’t betray his men so. Besides, deep in his heart he knew Ayden was right. None of it would suffice in the eyes of High Court.
He ground his head against the pillow in frustration. “Let them blame me, then. You have paid in blood for me; I would do the same for you.”
Ayden’s elflight flared so bright that Freyrík, startled, snatched his hand back to shade his eyes.
When he could see again, Ayden was standing. Pointing.
“’Tis not blood they would take,” the elf growled. Not shouting, no—too aware of men who might overhear—but his words were no less sharp for it. His anger pricked at Freyrík’s skin like a thousand blow darts. “’Tis your head. I have seen the cages strung like lanterns along the outer wall, displaying what remains of slaughtered commoners and kings alike. Do not try to tell me you would be exempt!”
No, he supposed he wouldn’t, but nor did he think it would come to—
“Wait, you have seen the cages?” He sat up, swung his legs over the side of the bed. “You’ve been to the Splendor?”
Ayden lowered the finger he’d been jabbing at Freyrík and nodded. “As a child, with my father. Things were different then.”
Despite himself, a smile crept upon his lips at the thought of Ayden as a diplomat’s son, dressed to the chin in finery and standing still and mannerful at his father’s side—likely with that mop of unruly hair to ruin the impression—
“What?” Ayden demanded, folding his arms across his chest and scowling, and gods befanged but if that didn’t turn Freyrík’s grin into a full-blown laugh.
“Apologies,” he huffed when he could speak again. “I’m merely”—he shook his head, scrubbed a hand across disobedient lips—“I’m merely imagining you being polite, is all.”
“Well, stop it.” Ayden’s scowl deepened, but Freyrík needed no elven magic to hear the smile behind it. “I’ll have you know I was a terror, even then.”
“I do not doubt it,” he said solemnly. His grin cracked through again and he held his arms out, inviting. Ayden stepped into his embrace, the warmth of him soaking right through Freyrík’s skin as arms hugged round his shoulders and one smooth cheek came to rest against the top of his head.
Freyrík closed his eyes and let himself revel in Ayden’s shelter.
But only for a moment, for though he’d surrendered the argument, the danger still loomed. He gave Ayden’s arm a tug, guiding the elf to sit on the bed beside him. They angled toward each other, knees touching, hands tangled together between them. Ayden gazed upon him, eyes questioning.
“You must not be a terror this time.” Freyrík said.
Ayden squeezed his fingers. “I know.”
“The Crown Prince will greet us at the gate to the inner ward. You must seem to him a slave broken and trained.”
“And gods pray, do not wander off. Ever. I cannot protect you if you leave my sight.”
“Yes, yes, I know.” Ayden pulled his hands free and cupped them to Freyrík’s cheeks with just a bit too much pressure to be tender. “Now if you’ve finished fretting, human, I would you still your tongue that we may put it to better use.”
He could fair taste the elf at those words, and next he knew he was on his back, a hot heavy weight across his hips, his manhood straining against Ayden’s arse. Hands on his cheeks again, drawing his eyes up to Ayden’s hungry, focused grin. When Ayden leaned in to claim him, he didn’t fight it, just slid his hands round Ayden’s arse and splayed his legs, opening up beneath him.
After all, ‘twould be ungentlemanly to refuse an invitation so sincere.
Rachel is an M/M erotic romance author, a freelance writer and editor, and the Managing Editor of Riptide Publishing. She's also a sadist with a pesky conscience, shamelessly silly, and quite proudly pervish. Fortunately, all those things make writing a lot more fun for her . . . if not so much for her characters.
When she's not writing about hot guys getting it on (or just plain getting it; her characters rarely escape a story unscathed), she loves to read, hike, camp, sing, perform in community theater, and glue captions to cats. She also has a particular fondness for her very needy dog, her even needier cat, and shouting at kids to get off her lawn.
GIVEAWAY!One commenter will win an ebook of Book 1 in the series, Counterpoint. Ends midnight Friday 11/25! Must leave email address in comment. Open to international! Good luck!
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