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Fire & Ice (Lost Realm #2)

Fire & Ice (Lost Realm #2)

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Fire & Ice (Lost Realm #2)

ratings:
4/5 (2 ratings)
Length:
272 pages
4 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Oct 7, 2011
ISBN:
9781465852632
Format:
Book

Description

Sequel to Blood & Ash.

When the vampire Fenton discovers the hideout of the witches who kidnapped Skye’s brother, the fae prince knows that he has to go with him to confront them. It will mean travelling into the unknown corners of the world, but with Fenton by his side, Skye knows that he’ll be safe.

Ash and his vampire lover Azrael have been safely returned to the Realm, but Ash quickly discovers that fae law forbids their relationship. Changing the law becomes an obsession, but even the king claims that it’s unbreakable.

The two brothers set off on separate journeys, both trying to do what they think is best for the Realm, but what they discover along the way will profoundly change them, and make them doubt everything that they thought they knew.

Old alliances will falter, new enemies will emerge, and they will discover that there is good and bad on both sides. Ash learns that love against the odds isn't easy, and Skye fears that love alone might never be enough.

Publisher:
Released:
Oct 7, 2011
ISBN:
9781465852632
Format:
Book

About the author

Born in Liverpool, Kate Aaron is a bestselling author of the #1 LGBT romances What He Wants, Ace, The Slave, and other works. She holds a BA (Hons) in English Language and Literature, and an MA in Gender, Sexuality and Culture, and is an outspoken advocate for equal rights. Kate swapped the North West for the Midwest in October 2015 and married award-winning author AJ Rose. Together they plan to take over the world.

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FIRE & ICE

Book Two in the Lost Realm Series

Kate Aaron

Copyright 2011 Kate Aaron

Croft House

CHAPTER ONE

The moon rose palely over the sandy wastes of the plains. The wind blew the abrasive dust into their faces, stinging their skin through the loose wraps they wore to shield themselves. Ash considered stopping for the night, but his destination wasn’t far off now, and the moon would guide them on. They had been travelling for days, trudging through the barren landscape, nothing but sand as far as the eye could see. He was sick of walking, sick of the dust and the dirt, sick of the way his calves ached and his skin dried and cracked and flaked raw. He was sick of always feeling hot and sweaty and dirty and uncomfortable. Ash longed to douse himself in cold, clear water and wash his body clean of the grit that had accumulated in every fold and crevice of his skin. He pressed on, promising himself that he would have that shower tonight.

Azrael reached out to squeeze his hand briefly, a small electric current running through their fingers as they touched. Ash didn’t dare look at him, not when there were witnesses to interpret the affectionate gesture as anything more than platonic camaraderie. He made another silent promise to himself: after his shower, he would also have Azrael. His body ached to feel his lover pressed against him again, but they dare not risk it: the warriors and servants travelling with them made that impossible.

He felt someone bump his shoulder roughly as they pushed past him and looked in surprise at Rowan’s retreating back. His friend had done nothing but sulk since Ash had returned to the palace, and he had no idea why. He’d missed him so much during the long weeks he’d been held captive by the witches in the world. He sped up, drawing level with Rowan, whispering to him fiercely.

What was that for?

Rowan rolled his eyes. You two, you’re being so obvious.

Ash stopped, shocked. He quickly recovered himself and hurried back to Rowan’s side. You know? he hissed.

Everyone knows, Rowan shot back. They’ve known for days. You don’t think you were being subtle, do you?

I can’t believe it. Ash’s mind raced furiously. All this time we’ve been hiding, when we didn’t have to…

What? Rowan stopped and stared at him in amazement. The other members of their group carried on past them, but their pace slowed and Ash knew their ears would be burning.

I can’t believe you all know, Ash reiterated, breathless with relief. We don’t have to pretend anymore.

You don’t think this is normal, do you? Rowan was aghast.

Ash faltered.

Everyone hates it, everyone’s disgusted by it. You must be able to see that?

Ash looked like he’d been slapped. Ahead of them, Azrael stopped walking and turned to stare back at the quarrelling youths.

"It’s not right, what you’re doing. He’s another man, Ash, and a vampire. What are you thinking?"

I love him, Ash said stiffly.

No. Rowan was emphatic. You can’t love him. He’s bewitched you or something. I know it shook you up when he told you he was gay, I remember how upset you were, but you’re not like that, you can’t be.

I am, Ash said simply.

Rowan shook his head sadly. You can’t be, Ash. You just can’t. I’m your best friend, I would have known if you were different.

I’m sorry. Ash reached out to him. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you but I didn’t know myself, not until I met him.

Rowan shook his hand free.

What? Ash stared at his friend, hurt. Don’t you want me to touch you now?

No, I don’t, Rowan hissed. You sicken me, do you know that? He turned and stalked away, pushing Azrael roughly aside as he passed. This is all your fault, he spat angrily at the vampire.

Rowan, wait, Ash ordered, hurrying to catch him. I said stop, he demanded when Rowan refused to slow down.

Azrael caught Ash’s arm. Let him go, he counselled. He’ll come round.

I don’t understand. Ash stared at him, his eyes wide. He’s my best friend. I’m still the same person.

I know. Azrael held him close, pressing Ash’s head into his chest as he felt his body shake. It’ll be okay, he promised, stroking his hair.

But it’s not just him, is it? Ash pushed Azrael away angrily. Look at them, he gesticulated towards their convoy, who had stopped and were staring nervously back at them. You heard what Rowan said, they’re all thinking it. They all think we’re disgusting.

Why do you care what they think?

"But I do care, Ash groaned. We should never have come back here. There must be somewhere we can go, in the world, where we’re not different?" He looked hopefully at Azrael.

You know we can’t, Azrael reminded him softly. As long as Alyssia is still out there, you wouldn’t be safe.

But I was happy, with you, Ash confessed.

We were prisoners! The vampire stared at him, amazed.

But we were alone together, too. I don’t remember the rest of it — the bad stuff. I just remember you.

It won’t always be like this you know, all this sneaking around and hiding how we truly feel. It gets to me, too, Azrael confided. All I want to do is touch you and kiss you; hold your hand when we’re walking; lie beside you at night. Tell you how much I love you, he broke off and stroked Ash’s face softly.

He glanced back at the small group huddled together waiting for them. Come, he beckoned to Ash, we’ll reach the chambers before morning.

*****

She must be somewhere. She can’t just have vanished!" Skye stormed angrily around the great hall, glaring at the Generals sitting in silence around the long table.

Don’t worry, Oak counselled him, we’ll find her sooner or later.

That’s not good enough! Skye slammed his fist into the table, scattering a multitude of papers across the floor. We need to find her quickly, before she has a chance to regroup.

We’re doing everything we can, Sire—

We need to do more. I will not have thirty warriors die for nothing. Skye glanced into the adjoining chamber at the neat bodies, each ceremonially dressed and laid on the traditional plinths. Some had already begun to fade, but most looked like they were newly dead, or sleeping.

Thirty-one, Fenton interjected. Dominic died too, remember.

Thirty-one, of course, Skye accepted the correction, choosing to ignore Oak’s outraged expression. Fae or vampire, they had all died to free Ash from Alyssia’s clutches.

We’re missing something. Skye paced, thinking aloud. What have we overlooked?

I don’t think we’ve missed anything. Fenton rose fluidly from his chair and approached him. She knows our forces can’t function properly in the world, but she can’t breach the portals either. I think she’s lying low and hoping to bait us into leaving the Realm.

So what, we just do nothing? Skye stopped and stared at him.

We have time on our side. Fenton smiled. She’s only mortal. If we secure the Realm for a century, our problems will solve themselves.

No, I don’t like it. Skye resumed pacing. Alyssia knows she can’t afford to wait, and even if she dies, there will always be others. She’s started something that must be finished or the Realm will never be safe.

You look exhausted, Fenton murmured, reaching out to stop him, staring openly at his haggard features. When did you last sleep?

Sleep? Skye smiled wanly. What’s that?

Go to bed, Fenton ordered. Things will look better in the morning.

If we’re retiring, I think it’s time for you to go, vampire, Oak growled.

Leave us, Oak, Skye snapped. He watched through narrowed eyes as the General stormed from the room. He’d had just about enough of his sniping at the vampires recently.

You didn’t have to do that, Fenton mumbled. He’s right, it’s time I left.

Stay, won’t you? Skye asked. At least for an hour? I won’t sleep yet, and I need to have a normal conversation before I go mad.

Fenton smiled and followed Skye into the library, settling himself in a chair opposite the prince. So what would you like to talk about?

I don’t know. Skye sighed. Anything that’s not the bloody witches.

How’s Ash doing since he got back? Has he recovered?

Skye’s face fell. That’s something else I don’t think I want to talk about.

He and Azrael, they’re still—

In love? Skye looked hard at him. Yes, they are.

Is that such a terrible thing? Fenton asked quietly.

It’s forbidden, Skye explained. It’s High Law, one not even the king has the authority to unmake. I’ve tried everything I can think of to make Ash see sense, but he won’t listen. I’m afraid that if I send Azrael away, Ash’ll just find a way into the world to follow him and it’s not safe for him out there. We were lucky to get him back last time, and all those men died to rescue him.

What is the penalty for breaking this law?

Skye shuddered. Death.

And Ash knows that?

Skye nodded.

And still he disregards it? Fenton gave a low whistle.

I don’t know what to do, Skye cried, he can’t stay with Azrael in the Realm; I daren’t let him go into the world; and I can’t bring myself to forcibly separate them either, it’s so obvious that they’re in love, and I could never bear to hurt him like that.

Where are they now?

Gone to the chambers in the southern plains. I promised my father I’d send Ash to him. He wants to see him one last time before he dies.

Does he know about them?

I don’t know. Skye shrugged. I’ve warned them to be discreet, but to me it’s obvious. Ash is so much happier with Azrael around, it’s like he’s suddenly come alive.

Fenton nodded. Love is a wonderful thing.

I wouldn’t know. Skye sighed forlornly.

Surely there must be someone?

Skye shook his head. I never seemed to find the time. What is love when you’re learning how to rule a nation, or command an army? Then Ash was born. I brought him up myself, mostly: my father didn’t want to see him. Sometimes he feels more like my son than my brother.

Why didn’t the king raise him? It’s not unusual among the fae for the men to raise their children.

No, most have no choice. You know our women fade after childbirth. My father just couldn’t bear to be around him in those early years; he reminded him too much of what he’d lost. That’s why he called him Ash: he said that after our mother died, all that was left was ashes. He smiled weakly.

But you didn’t resent him?

No. Skye looked away, remembering. I knew what was going to happen after he was born, our mother prepared me for that. All I ever felt when I looked at him was love: he was so small and fragile, it seemed impossible that I could protect him. He looks very like her: he’s got her eyes. I know our father finds it hard to look at him sometimes, but I always thought it was comforting, like a part of her’s still here in a way. That must sound so pathetic, he laughed at himself.

Not at all, Fenton assured him, reaching out to touch his hand. I wish you’d felt able to tell me all this at the time.

Skye smiled at the vampire warmly. You’re a great friend, Fenton. Thank you for staying and listening to me tonight.

Any time, Fenton promised. But now I really must leave — before Oak has me forcibly evicted. He grinned.

I’d like to see him try, Skye muttered darkly, rising to walk with his friend to the closed portal.

Skye watched it shimmer momentarily in the seconds after Fenton passed through it. He laughed as the vampire turned and waved back at him before it closed again — knowing full well that Fenton was unable to see the portal from his side. He hoped there were no witnesses to his sudden appearance, seemingly out of nowhere, or to his odd behaviour. He doubted it: the location was remote and protected by the dryads of the oak grove into which the portal opened. Fenton would have to go a long way to hunt tonight.

*****

Oak stormed angrily around his room, clattering his few belongings unnecessarily as he toyed with them, his hands restless. He was bursting with rage and humiliation. How dare Skye dismiss him before the vampire — how dare he? His eyes lingered over his great sword, itching to grasp the blade and run the accursed creature through. The Realm was suddenly overwhelmed with vampires, it seemed — Skye had even allowed Ash to take one as his lover! It was barbarous; monstrous. Treasonable, even.

Oak missed the old days, before Skye had been given control of the army. Under the king’s command Oak had quickly risen through the ranks, and even the king himself had deferred to his leadership, admitting that he was the true ruler of the warriors. The monarch was merely the mascot, a rallying-point for the troops. No-one ever expected the king to actually lead. And now this princeling, who had lived for less years than Oak had been a General, thought that he could control the army; he could lead the men better than Oak himself? Oak snorted. It was ridiculous.

And now Skye filled the Realm with vampires, the mortal enemy of the fae. Oak was old enough to remember the battles and the massacres from all those centuries ago. He had met the cursed creatures in combat more times than he cared to remember. They had killed many of his best men, and enjoyed it too. But suddenly he was expected to welcome them with open arms; trust them because Skye said so? It would never happen.

Oak toyed absently with the silver blade of his dagger. This weapon had dispatched more vampires than Skye had seen sunrises; it had never failed him. As long as those creatures were around, Oak would take it with him everywhere, and at the first sign of treachery he would be ready. He would strike back for his people; for his Realm; he would run the vampires off for good, he would pursue them even into the world. There would be nowhere they could hide from him.

He saw himself a hero, beloved, an avenging force of terrible, beautiful power. Skye’s fascination with the vampires was an aberration, a mistake he would realise all too soon. The day would yet come when the princeling would regret ever welcoming the devious creatures; ever trusting them. Skye would hang his head in shame when he publicly admitted his failings; his misjudgement. But Oak would not be too hard on the young prince, he would not humiliate him, as he had been humiliated by Skye. His would be the gift of magnanimity: he would be seen as just and wise and forgiving.

Azrael would be the first to die. Oak’s lip curled grimly as he tested the wicked blade with his thumb, picturing himself driving it into the vampire’s heart. He should have killed him when he had the chance. For a century now he’d had to sit, impotent, watching Azrael insinuated himself more and more into Skye’s life; into the Realm; into the ranks of the warriors even. That Oak shared his title with that filthy creature galled. The thought rose like bile in his gut: Azrael, a General? It was obscene. Oak would see him stripped of that title; bound in silver and flogged for daring to assume it in the first place. For violating the High Law alone Oak would be justified in having him executed — or he would be, were his lover not Skye’s own brother. That he had corrupted Ash, who for so long had been kept pure and innocent, unsullied by the horrors and truths of life, was by far his most sickening crime. The boy must be saved from this monster of the night; the two-faced demon that he’d welcomed into his bed — influenced, no doubt, by Azrael’s malevolent powers.

Skye may be blind to the horrors that he had inflicted upon his people, but Oak was not. His eyes were open, and he saw all.

CHAPTER TWO

Ash moaned with pleasure as he stepped under the hot shower, feeling the refreshing stream soak his parched skin and lift the sand and dirt that had become ingrained there. He closed his eyes and raised his face to the showerhead, letting the strong jets blast away all traces of the desert. He scrubbed his hair and body vigorously, determined to remove every mote of dust and grain of sand that had irritated his skin for the past week.

What are you doing? Azrael smiled as he shut the shower door behind himself, eyeing Ash’s pink and glowing body. You’ll flay your skin off if you scrub any harder.

Ash pulled his lover to him, kissing him lingeringly. He turned him around, Azrael’s body pliant under his hands as he began to wash his back and shoulders, revelling in the feel of his soft skin and hard muscles. Azrael leant into him as his hands strayed lower, grasping the vampire’s firm buttocks. Ash pressed closer, wrapping his arms around Azrael’s waist, kissing him softly between his shoulder blades. I’ve missed you, he murmured.

Azrael turned in his arms, cupping his face and kissing him, the hot water cascading over them both as their hands explored, refamiliarising themselves with each other’s bodies. Azrael turned off the water and led Ash out of the shower, wrapping him gently in a soft, white towel and slowly rubbing him dry. Ash kissed him deeply, wrapping his arms around Azrael’s neck, clasping the back of his head as he reciprocated. The towel fell to the floor as Azrael pushed Ash against the cool wall, caressing him, kissing him hungrily.

He picked Ash up, holding him close as he carried him into the bedroom. Ash wrapped his legs around Azrael’s slim waist, stroking his long damp hair as Azrael

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