Today’s theme is “holiday” and, oh, lookee here, I just happen to have a story in an anthology titled Hot for the Holidays. An anthology, I’m happy to announce, that has been on the New York Times Bestseller list for two weeks in a row!!!
Here’s a little taste of Sweet Enchantment. If you want more snippets, follow the list of links below.
Chapter One (Sweet Enchantment, by Anya Bast, appearing in the Hot for the Holidays anthology.)
Bella had vowed to never bind her life to this man’s. Now here she was, about to do it. Worse, she’d made the decision only two seconds after learning of his predicament.
Ronan still didn’t know she’d entered his cell. He knelt before her, his arms extended to either side, wrists wrapped in heavy charmed iron chain, and his gaze fastened on the cracked cement floor of the cell. How low the great mage of the Seelie Court had sunk. The only charmed iron chain in the whole of the Seelie Rose Tower resided within the walls of Her Majesty’s Prison, and he was wrapped in every inch of it. His long dark hair hung over his face, and his biceps and muscular bare back flexed as he moved uncomfortably against his bonds.
Bella liked the fact that the mage, Ronan Achaius Quinn, was in such a subservient position to her. He wasn’t a man who was subservient to anyone unless forced by charmed iron to be so. For a moment she allowed her gaze to trace over him. She’d never seen a more beautifully made man in her life. Not before the day she’d clapped eyes on him and not afterward. The sight of him made a woman want the iron silk of his body rubbing up against hers, made carnal thoughts crowd the most prudish of female minds.
His black hair shadowed his square jaw, the sensual pout of his mouth, and the icy blue eyes that were known for being able to draw the truth from the worst of liars. He wore only a pair of loose black trousers, leaving his feet and upper half bare. Ronan always wore black, even here in prison. His sculpted, powerful body moved a little as he tried to find the comfort his captors were so set on not giving him. He was strong not only in body and mind, but in magick too. However, the charmed iron neutralized the abilities he possessed. It was his sorcerer’s skills that normally kept him very high in the Summer Queen’s graces.
Not so tonight.
The Seelie wanted to kill him and she could hardly blame them. However, she couldn’t allow it. She couldn’t let Ronan come to harm, no matter what lay between them or what he’d done to land himself here. It didn’t matter that once he’d shredded her heart. It didn’t matter that she’d vowed never to offer any part of herself to him ever again. She’d been a fool to think she could ever keep a promise like that.
“I can smell your perfume, Bella,” Ronan said in a broken, gravelly voice, without looking up. “I’ve never forgotten your scent. I know it’s you.”
She shivered at his words and then shook it off. It was silly to think it was romantic. He was a mage, after all, even when stripped of his magick by charmed iron. He had a nose for different scents because of his work. His power was innate, allowing him to twist leaf, flower, and herb into powerful spells.
Not only was he a mage, he was only just on the barest side of Seelie. Ronan possessed Unseelie blood, enough to allow him to cast dark spells. The Summer Queen, the Seelie Royal, allowed him to remain in the Rose Tower because of the strength of his magick and, undoubtedly, his physical beauty. And perhaps there was a part of her that enjoyed thumbing her nose at the Shadow King, the Unseelie Royal, by denying him one of his strongest court members.
Ronan was one of the few members of the Seelie Court who possessed Unseelie blood, but he wasn’t the only one who had it.
She cleared her throat. “Ronan, it’s been a long time.”
“The last time we spoke in more than just passing, it wasn’t a happy occasion.”
A slight tremor shook her body. No, it hadn’t been a happy occasion at all. Ronan had broken her heart into so many pieces it had taken decades to put back together. Maybe it still wasn’t healed.
“Yes, and look at you now.” Her voice held the bitter edge of memory.
She walked around his body, her expensive gold and white heels clicking on the gritty cell floor and the trailing edge of her pure white stole brushing through dirt. She’d been at a Seelie Court ball sharing conversation with her dearest friend, Aislinn, when she’d received the news of Ronan’s arrest. It was cold outside—almost Yule. The Seelie often held balls, but they were especially frequent during this time of the year. Despite all that lay between them, not the foulest Unseelie goblin could have stopped her from racing to the prison.
She came to a halt in front of him.
Pulling against his chains, biceps flexing, he finally looked up at her. His hair slipped over his forehead, and he gave his head a sharp shake to move it to the side. The man was handsome enough to break any woman’s heart, and he’d broken more than just hers, Bella was certain. He was much older than she was—though they appeared the same age. That was the way it worked with nearly immortal Tuatha Dé Danann. Once they reached the age of thirty, their aging slowed to a crawl. However that didn’t hold for experience. At nearly a century her senior, he had far more life experience than she did, and that meant he’d broken far more hearts. He had kept his affairs quiet since their breakup, however. She had to give him that much. At least she hadn’t had to endure watching other women on his arm.
His gaze roved her body—clad in a filmy white and gold gown. She knew what he saw. The dress was low–cut, delving deeply at her cleavage, and it was tight, appearing to be painted onto her waist and hips and dipping down to the small of her back. He looked at her like he wasn’t in chains, like she didn’t hold his fate in her hands. He looked at her like he had a right. It piqued her that he thought he could stare her like that. It did other things, too. Things it shouldn’t.
“It’s been a long time, Bella.” He paused, swallowed. “You’re still the most beautiful woman ever to walk the streets of Piefferburg.” His voice was rich and deep, full of the sincerity she’d fallen for once.
Her cheeks heated. Anger welled, and she forced herself not to pull the stole around her body.
She slipped a hand to her hip. “What were you thinking taking a job from the Phaendir? Are you insane? You had to know that if you were caught the Summer Queen would want to kill you.”
He slanted her the cocky grin she knew so well. “Insane? Well, you know me, Bella. What do you think?”
She turned her face away and bit her lower lip. “They plan to take your head for this. Your status as the Summer Queen’s pet mage won’t protect you. No one allies with the Phaendir and escapes the consequences.”
“I’ve lived almost two hundred years, Bella. It won’t be a tragedy for the world to give me up, or for me to give the world up.”
“Sweet Danu, Ronan! “Do you have some kind of death wish? Is that why you did this?”
He only bowed his head in response, arms pulling at his bonds.
She paced away from him, toward the cell door, folding her arms over her chest and wrapping her stole more closely around her against the chill. The cold permeating her bones had less to do with the damp prison than with what she was about to do. She halted and closed her eyes, gathering her courage.
How could she just rip her heart out of her chest and lay it on a slab to be sacrificed—again—this way? But the alternative . . . She couldn’t bear to think about it.
“Ronan,” she started, turning toward him. “I’ve told the Summer Queen I’m taking you as my husband and she agreed to it.” She paused. “We’re getting married, you and I. It will protect you. It’s the only thing that will save you from the Wild Hunt.”
The Wild Hunt went out every night and gathered the souls of those fae who’d died. After the Summer Queen took Ronan’s head, the Hunt would be coming for him.
Ronan raised his head, but said nothing. For the first time in the thirty years she’d known him, apparently her words had struck him speechless. Finally, “Bella—”
“I can’t watch them kill you, no matter how stupid you are.” She lifted her chin. “I will marry you, but it will be in name only. You’ll get no . . . privileges from me. No money because I’ll want you to sign a prenuptial agreement. You’ll have to live with me, of course, but my apartment is large and there’s only Lolly, my housekeeper, and I there now. We’ll be able to stay somewhat separated.” She pressed her lips together. “You’ll get to keep your life. It’s a good deal.”
“So the great Bella Rhiannon Caliste Mac Lyr of a pure Tuatha Dé Danann bloodline has finally selected a suitor and he’s a prisoner slated for death. A man who pulled a job for the Phaendir, no less. Marked forever for scorn in the Rose Tower. A thief with Unseelie blood. The Seelie are laughing at you right now. Back at the ball you rushed from, they’re snickering behind their gloved hands and into snifters of cognac at this whole situation.”
All true, but it didn’t matter.
“You’re not a suitor.” Her voice came out in a harsh snap. “Once you were, maybe, thirty years ago. Briefly. Right now you’re just an old friend whose ass needs saving.” She turned away from him. “I can’t tell you how much I’m sacrificing to do this.” Emotionally.
Psychologically. “Aren’t you even going to say thank you?”
“I’m going to say no, Bella.”
“No?” She whirled. “What? You can’t say no. You—”
He gave his head a shake and looked up at her. His normally icy blue pupils were wide and dark, his hands clenched. “I want you, Bella, but when we come together, we do it my way. On my terms. I’ll make you mine, not the other way around.”
Danu, the arrogance. Nothing about him had changed. “The only thing you’ll ever lay claim to is the worms that will nibble your flesh when your headless body is buried.”
She whirled and went for the door, then halted, laying her hand against the cool steel frame and closing her eyes for a moment. It figured this was happening at Yuletide, the time of greatest darkness throughout the year. Even as stupid and stubborn as he was, she wouldn’t let him die. She’d go to the Summer Queen and figure out a way to force him to marry her.
She’d save his life today and he could hate her for it tomorrow.
Ronan bowed his head and made fists, working the blood through his arms and trying to ignore the slight sting of the iron. It was an effective torture for the fae. Normally charmed iron not only nulled a fae’s magick, it made him sick. Eventually, if the iron was left on the skin for too long, it would kill. However as a mage who was particularly susceptible to the metal, he’d worked for years on developing a resistance to it. He murmured under his breath and blue green magick sparked in his palms. His magick wasn’t as strong as when he didn’t have charmed iron touching his skin, but it was strong enough.
Bloody hell, could it be? Did Bella still have a flicker of feeling for him? He thought he’d killed that off along with everything else good in his life a long time ago. For the first time in decades, hope flared to life inside him.
Maybe he had something to live for after all.
He needed to find out for certain. That meant there was no way he was going to rot in here any longer. Not with Bella out there still caring for him.
And, bloody hell, she’d looked so good. His hands curled involuntarily remembering how satiny smooth her skin looked. He couldn’t wait to run his fingers over it, his tongue. That dress she’d been wearing was like sin woven into fabric the way it showcased her full, delectable breasts and how it tapered down her long, slender, kissable back. He wanted to plunge his hands into her thick fall of dark hair, wanted her legs around his waist while he fucked her until she couldn’t see straight. He wanted to put his claim on her, make her his in every way he could. It had been a long time since he’d been with a woman.
None but Bella would do.
Bella was his. He’d given her up once, but he’d learned his lesson. No way was he ever doing it again.
Ronan began to plot his escape.