What’s a Princess to do when the man Fate has chosen for her denies her?
As a Princess of Fey, Neiva has led a privileged life. When she sees her mate in the Waters of Fate, she is shocked at who Fate has paired her with. When he refuses her again and again, her shock quickly turns to anger.
Rhys has been friends with the King of Fey for centuries. Surely, Fate would not be so cruel as to mate him with his friend’s daughter? Never mind that he hears the Song of Souls when she is near—she has mistaken the situation, and he must let her down gently.
After yet another denial from Rhys, Neiva decides it’s time to move on. She leaves the Fey Realm and goes to the human world—the world of her mother—determined to find some semblance of happiness. Rhys is given the duty of watching over her while she is there—a task that drives him mad with desire and frustration. But danger has followed Neiva there. Now she is not only in danger of losing her heart, but also her life.
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Neiva, Princess of Fey, wandered through the gardens surrounding the royal residence. She hadn’t a clue where her friends had gone. Off flirting with boys, no doubt. She rolled her eyes. Goddess, they were so daft at times. She couldn’t understand why anyone would act so silly just to impress boys. And really, did it impress them? If it did, boys were even dafter than girls.
She hummed as she walked. It felt great to be away from lessons and tutors for a while. Sometimes, she simply wanted to be alone. That was a rare occurrence. Though Dad said it would only get worse, and she should enjoy this “carefree time”. Neiva snorted. What did he know? He hadn’t been fourteen in centuries.
A rustling to her left caught her attention, and she stopped. The hedges parted to reveal a path. She tilted her head, trying to see where it led. She’d never noticed it before. Curious, she started down the narrow trail. It wound farther and farther away from the formal gardens. A part of Neiva’s mind told her to turn back—her father would be furious if he knew she was in unfamiliar areas without protection—but she continued on. Something was drawing her. She didn’t know what, but she couldn’t sense anything bad or harmful.
The overgrown path opened up to a small glade. In the center, a pool of water stood surrounded by a rough stone wall. Neiva approached and peered into the water. It was crystal clear; she could see the flat stone lining the bottom. Tentatively, she dipped a finger. The cool liquid began to swirl at her touch.
“Good afternoon, Princess.”
Neiva jolted and spun toward the voice.
“I’m sorry I startled you.”
A young woman stood barely a foot away. How had she approached without Neiva’s notice? Even if she had flashed into the small clearing, Neiva would have felt the disturbance on the air.
“Good afternoon,” she answered. “I don’t know you. How is it you know who I am?”
“Everyone knows the Princess of Fey.”
Neiva felt her cheeks heat, embarrassed at the obvious answer.
“I’m Mara. You look lost, Princess. Is there something I can assist with?”
She squinted slightly as she studied the woman. Why did she have to wander away?
Now she was alone, in an unfamiliar place with an unfamiliar person. This was the type of situation her father lectured about constantly. Though the woman appeared harmless.
“I’m not lost,” she insisted. “The pool called to…” She stopped herself from finishing the sentence. People thinking she was crazed was not a good thing.
Mara smiled. “It called to you. Of course. That is the way it often is. Have you looked within?”
Neiva frowned. “At what? It’s just water.”
“Look again, dear one,” Mara encouraged.
Uneasiness caused Neiva’s stomach to clench. “Why? What am I looking for? What is this place?”
Mara laughed, and Neiva closed her eyes at the beautiful sound. It traveled on the wind and wound around her, like a living thing. It soothed her, calmed the tightness inside her.
“So distrustful. Wonderful! Your parents have done a fine job. Have you heard of the Waters of Fate?”
“Of course.” Neiva rolled her eyes. Everyone knew about the Waters. “They tell you whether you have a true mate. Sometimes, they’ll only show enough for you to know you have one, and sometimes, they’ll actually reveal who it is.” She glanced at the pool. “These are the Waters?”
“They are indeed. Have you looked within?” she repeated.
“All I saw was water.” Neiva was mortified as tears welled up. “I guess I don’t have a true mate in this life.”
“Perhaps you should look again,” Mara suggested. “You only had a moment before.”
Neiva turned and stepped to the pool. Bracing her palms on the rough stones, she leaned forward and peered into the Waters. After a moment, the water darkened and swirled. Soon, it was churning—a small, contained storm—splashing up on the wall, bathing her hands in coolness.
“Keep watching,” Mara murmured.
In the middle of the chaotic water, images began to form. Neiva could make out the forms of a man and woman. They were embracing. But, Goddess, it was so blurred. She leaned farther. The image sharpened. Her heart stuttered as she recognized herself—or rather an older version of herself. She shifted her gaze, and her heart stopped altogether.
“It can’t be. He’s my mate?” She straightened and turned to look at Mara. “How? How can it be him? My father will never allow it.”
“Never question Fate, Princess. She has paired the two of you together. You are halves of the same soul. Even the King cannot deny or change that.”
Neiva looked into the Waters again, where the man and woman still shimmered on the surface. They looked so happy. Warmth blossomed in her stomach and spread through her body.
“How will I tell him? Blessed Lady Above, how will I tell Dad?”
Again, Mara’s laugh slid around her, comforting her. “You’ll have no need to tell your mate. He’ll know when the time is right. As for the King, you and your mate will find the right moment to inform him. How fortunate you are, Princess. Not everyone finds their other half in this life. He is a good, strong man.”
Neiva knew that to be true, but her head spun over the revelation. “Maybe it’s a mistake…” Her mouth dropped open.
The woman was gone. The glade was empty, save Neiva. She glanced back down. The Waters were clear once again.
She sighed. One thing was certain. She was telling no one about this. They’d think she was insane. She started down the path to the gardens on trembling legs.
Goddess, she had a true mate…
* * * *
Rhys entered the Great Hall and surveyed the splendor. It was the Princess’ twentieth birthday, and a grand ball had been planned for the occasion. As second-in-command to the King, he was handling last minute details while Kaelen spent the day with his wife and daughter in private. All was well and ready for the festivities. Rhys hoped the Princess enjoyed herself. She’d always been a bit shy at social gatherings, seeming to prefer one-on-one conversations. He’d been honored with many of those conversations and had grown to appreciate his future Queen’s deft mind and sharp wit. In fact, quite often he sought her out for a bit of verbal sparring.
Speaking of Her Highness… He turned around and all reason was lost. The Princess was absolutely stunning. The silver gown clung to curves he was certain weren’t there earlier that day. The skirt flared out and whispered across the floor as she moved closer to him. Her chestnut hair was swept away from her face but left to fall down her back to her waist. Rhys made a fist to squelch the temptation to run his fingers through the curls.
“How do I look?” She twirled slowly. “Dad couldn’t talk. He just stared, and Mom got all teary. I didn’t know if that was good or bad.”
He found his voice, barely. “Good, I’m certain. You look lovely, Princess.”
“Thank you. You will save a dance for me, won’t you?” She batted—actually batted—her eyes at him.
“Of course I will. Though you may not have time. After the young men see you, I’ll not be able to come near.” His stomach clenched. The thought of her being courted unsettled him. And why shouldn’t it? Not only was she a youth, she was Kaelen’s daughter.
“Truly? You really think so? Most of them avoid me.” She let out an unsteady giggle and moved another step closer to him. Her eyes were wide as she gazed up at him.
Rhys nearly laughed. He understood now. She was uncomfortable around boys and nervous about the attention she was certain to receive at the ball. Perhaps she even had a young suitor in mind. She was practicing her flirtations on him.
“Princess, they avoid you because they’re afraid. You’re a beautiful, intelligent and powerful woman. Every one of them likely fantasizes about courting you but hasn’t worked up the nerve to ask.” He patted her shoulder in what he hoped was a reassuring manner.
She stared at him and, after a quick glance around the room, threw her arms around his neck. Rhys struggled to grasp a thought—any thought—as her mouth covered his. He remained motionless. Until her warm, slick tongue slid over his lips. Then, Goddess help him, he simply reacted. He deepened the kiss, his tongue exploring the hot confines of her mouth. She sighed deep in her throat and pressed her body closer.
Music floated on the air around them. Joy filled Rhys as he wrapped his arms around Neiva. He couldn’t control it. He had to get closer to her, feel every inch of her. Every cell in his body sang as she rubbed against him. The music grew louder, the notes more intense.
He needed to get her to his dwelling, into his bed, needed to be inside her… By the Blessed Lady!
It took every ounce of strength he had to push her away.
“What are you playing with, Princess?” His voice shook. Anger mingled with the powerful arousal.
Neiva’s lips trembled, and her eyes filled with tears. “W-w-what do you mean?”
“That song is not to be trifled with. Whatever little spell you conjured up to make the Song of Souls sound is dangerous. You do not mess with Fate!” A sick feeling churned in his gut, and a cold sweat covered his body from head to toe.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I wove no spell, I swear. The Song sounded because we’re meant, Rhys.” The pleading note in her voice only added to his panic.
“We are not. This is a sick joke. If not of your doing then of someone else’s.” He jerked around, searching for the culprit.
“Listen to me!” Neiva shouted. “We are meant. I saw it. I saw it in the Waters. On my honor, Rhys, I saw it.”
He went absolutely cold. No, Fate would not be so cruel as to bind him to the King’s daughter. His best friend’s daughter.
Stepping forward, he grasped her shoulders and gave her a hard shake. “Understand this, we are not meant. I have no true mate. That is what I saw in the Waters.”
“But that was before…before my dad saved my mom. He changed everything—”
“No. You are never to touch me again. Do you hear me? Never!”
He cut off any protests by flashing to his residence. With an oath, he slammed his fist into the wall over and over. Blood covered his knuckles, but the pain helped clear his head. Breathing labored, he turned, pressed his back against the wall and slid down until he was on the floor. Dropping his head forward, he scrubbed his palms over his face.
What in Goddess’ name was he going to do?