The time has come! Owned by the Cruel Prince is going to hit the Zon by the end of this month! It’s been a few good months since the title was supposed to come out, which is why I decided to share the first chapter here with you. You’ve waited enough, and I thank you so much for your patience! Okay, so here we go. Let me know what you think, I’m always glad to hear from you, so feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts.
It’s true, what they say about me. I am half fae and half demon, which to the fae kind means that I have a predilection to evil. If they didn’t need me as desperately as they do now, they’d try to f*cking lynch me.
And they’d f*cking fail.
I’m a centuries-old warlord, I’m not easy to kill. I’ve been bred for war, and now that the Antichrist is ready to take over the world, I could destroy the fae, or I could save them. So I’m faced with a choice—join the devil, or fight against him.
A choice that would be easy to make if it weren’t for her—Edith Snowstorm.
My fated mate, and the woman who betrayed me.
I came to the human realm for her, determined to get her back.
For months I’d been fantasizing of subduing her again, of owning her, of doing to her the things she hates to love.
But I found her with another man.
Don’t f*cking ask how I resisted the urge of slitting him open right in front of her. But that would have been too little of a punishment for the two of them.
Edith opened Pandora’s box, and now she’s gonna pay for it. I’ll enslave her, watch her fall apart under me, I’ll make her tremble with guilty pleasures, and hate herself for it. I’ll have her know the taste of sin, I’ll have her writhe for it, because I know this one thing—she might not love me, but she sure as hell wants me. She always has, and she’s not even trying to deny it.
So I might as well chain her to me for the time I have left, since chances are, the fires of hell are gonna consume my soul anyway. But there is also a small hope, that she might save it. And, along with my soul, the world.
Here we are again, Sandros Nightfrost and I. Right back where we started, with my puppy brown eyes raised to his beastly golden irises as we face each other across the table. He’s as heartbreakingly unattainable as he was years ago, when I was first placed “under his wing”. Or, better yet, in his power. After all, he was the “master” and I his servant, even if it was on a battlefield where we acted as one, telepathically bonded.
Things have changed since then. A lot.
Now I’m the lady of a French castle, the trophy wife of Lord Durion Mithriel for all the town’s high society is concerned. To them, I’m an ethereal blonde with waves of white-blonde hair cascading down her back, always designer dressed and a bit drunk. I play the part best with a glass of champagne in my hand at social functions. I never actually drink it, but no one ever notices. As long as it suits the image they’ve made of me, my true identity is safe.
The opulence of my dresses and jewelry is also necessary. The physical appearance of the fae is unusual for humans, and believe it or not, the best way to keep suspicion at bay is by flaunting it. People often refer to this effect as ‘surreal beauty,’ even though I personally don’t consider us more beautiful than humans. We’re just more like what they desire for themselves. So Durion and I freely display the luxury we live in, our expensive clothing, the cars, the chateau. This way, people just assume we ‘bought’ our looks too—good crèmes, the best pills, the right surgeons, some even consider bioengineering. I heard them whispering at the last function we attended.
We also have to display a relationship that doesn’t actually exist. Though we play the married couple, in the months Durion and I have been exiled here in the human realm I’ve come to loathe him. He treats me like his possession, and there’s always an undertone of menace in his communication toward me. But I have no choice but to put up with him, otherwise I know he’s got ways to hurt me.
Sandros doesn’t know all this, of course. He doesn’t know that the closeness between Durion and I is a ruse. He didn’t give me the opportunity to explain, neither the first time we saw each other at the mayor’s birthday party two days ago, nor during the two minutes we had to ourselves in this room before Durion stepped in, stiff and square-shouldered like a royal rooster with his full head of golden curls and his chest pumped forward. He’s come to take this charade of the two of us being a married couple of noblemen dangerously seriously and now, as we sit here across from Sandros, more so than ever. The possibility of his sliding his hand under the table on my thigh hovers like a dark cloud over my head. It’s a possibility that Sandros feels, too.
Despite Sandros’ hostility towards me, our bond is still there. It’s an inescapable connection, one that he obviously hates being tangled in. He doesn’t love me, while I always have loved him, ever since the very beginning, even as he treated me like shit.
Because I’m an idiot like that.
This time Sandros doesn’t face us as the army general that everyone used to fear, the beast in studded leather armor that every woman at the winter court secretly wanted to fuck but would never dream of admitting it. No, this time he’s sitting across from us in a fitted suit that wraps his amazing body in a mouthwatering way, classy but also wild with his sharply chiseled face and long black hair. No wonder the plates clatter on the server girls’ trays as they scurry around with starters and drinks.
“So, you’re telling me that Nessima sent you here to speak to her benefactor on her behalf,” Durion says, his face filled with suspicion. “I’m sorry, but I find that highly improbable.”
“And why is that?” Sandros rumbles, his voice like low, distant thunder.
“You stayed back at her estate as her prisoner. Two months later you emerge her right hand? I’m sorry, but it doesn’t make sense.”
“I found a way into her heart, and from thee, into her trust zone.”
I fidget in my seat. Bastard must know he just plunged a knife into my heart.
“We’re together now,” he twists the knife. “I’m sure that, if you think about it, it’ll make sense that she’d let me handle some of her more serious affairs.”
“As I am sure you understand my reservations. This isn’t some Shanghai CEO that she sent you to meet, it’s not Bill Gates or the President. It’s the fucking Antichrist.” Durion’s last word makes me flinch, which isn’t lost on Sandros. His golden eyes move between Durion and me as Durion places a hand over mine.
“It’s taken Nessima centuries to gain access to him,” Durion continues. “It seems unlikely to me that she should share that power, no matter how in love she is. Especially after what happened with her first husband.”
“Officially, Eldan Blackfall is still her husband.”
“So you and her can’t really be together?” Durion says. “And yet she’s given you more power than she ever even took for herself?”
“She actually asked me nicely to take it,” Sandros rumbles, his golden eyes glinting like honey and hellfire. “As a warrior, I have a reputation. She wanted that reputed skill and influence on her side.”
That sounds so true it cuts yet deeper.
My pulse rises to the point that I can’t breathe. It’s hard to put up with the tension between the two men, and even harder to withstand the waves of hostility that hit me from Sandros. I’m painfully focused on his presence, and I can’t shake it. Everything seems to fade around him, even this chateau with its paneled walls and luxury fittings. There’s no comfort in the expensively holstered chairs or the intricately carved ornaments of the great fireplace, not even in the intimate light of the candelabra, or the statues and expensive art surrounding us.
The flames from the fireplace cast a golden light on the sharp angles of Sandros’ face, licking his caramel-bronze skin. Maybe I’ve lived among humans for too long, and gotten so used to their appearances, that this fae warlord now seems as surreal to me as he does to them. Even looking at him hurts.
“Suppose we believe you, Edith and I,” Durion tells him. “Say we accept that Nessima sent you here to act on her behalf. Did she give you his identity then? Because we’ve been here for months, and still haven’t got the slightest clue. It could be anyone from the town mayor to the baker.”
“Yes. I do know who it is.”
My breath stops, my eyes enlarging in shock.
“You do?” I whisper.
“Unfortunately I cannot share that information with you.” His gaze brushes unwillingly over to me. “Either one of you.”
A server enters, awkward on her feet, the china clattering on her tray. It must be Sandros’ handsomeness that’s gotten her all flustered, because it couldn’t be the topic of our conversation. We’re speaking winter fae language, which resembles human English, but she doesn’t understand that one very well either, and even if, she still couldn’t know what we’re talking about.
“I’m here because Nessima needs more of his support, and she thinks he would grant it to me easier than to her. There are things that I can offer him, and she can’t. Things are also becoming urgent because, ever since her husband Eldan came out of the coma, the King has been planning an invasion of the North, meant on crushing her forces. She will rely on her benefactor more than ever.”
“And may I ask how Eldan has been cleansed of the evil that kept him unconscious?” Durion pushes. “We all know that Nessima implanted it into him, and only she could get it out of his system.”
Sandros raises his square chin.
“I persuaded Nessima to retract it from him.”
Durion throws his head back, letting out a fake laugh. “Really now? And all that only through your talents as a lover?”
“I offered her my complete allegiance in return. My unwavering loyalty.”
“And she believed you?” I chime in, pressing the lid down on my boiling feelings.
Sandros stares at me out of those golden eyes, and it feels like a damned train crash.
“That’s where my talents as a lover came into play.”
And, with that, the knife tears deeper into my flesh.
It’s obvious that Sandros isn’t here only a mission, he’s also back to torture me. It seemed surreal that he should have turned on the King of Winter, his own half brother that he served for centuries upon centuries until this woman Nessima came along and screwed up our lives, but apparently it’s true. So true that the blood drains from my head.
How could he? How could he betray the king, and more yet, how could he betray me? We’re bonded mates, and that’s something almost impossible to break. But this bond must feel different for Sandros than it does for me, and if I’m completely honest with myself, deep down, I always knew. When he first took me in that storeroom under the stairs at Nessima’s estate, I knew I was doomed. I’ll always want this warlord, while he’ll always find reasons to despise me. As intense as our sex was, as deep our connection, it was about love to me, and about possession and power to him.
“Now here’s how things are going to go down,” Sandros says, broadening his shoulders. I’m a sucker for his powerful build, and he knows it. “I’m going to contact him, but that will have to be in a crowd, because a crowd is what best confers anonymity. So let’s start by making a list of upcoming events and, if there aren’t any, we’ll set up one ourselves.”
“Why would we help you?” I bite out, defiance balling behind my eyes. “You’re betraying your brother the King of Winter, and everyone you professed to care about by doing this. All this means we’re not on the same side anymore—doesn’t it, Durion?”
Durion blinks and babbles a little before he replies, “Why yes, yes, of course, yes.”
It must come as a shock to him that I’m putting us in the same boat, him and me, but he likes it, I can tell. It softens him toward me and the entire situation, which is good, because even though I loathe him, I need all the allies I can get right this moment, since I feel like I’m going to hell.
The hint of this new alliance isn’t lost on Sandros either, who assesses us for a few moments out of those golden eyes before a wicked grin quirks up his chiseled, forbidden-fruit of a mouth. He leans forward, slowly, placing his elbows on the table, seeming even bigger, his shadow growing over the curtains behind him in the firelight. Durion stiffens in his seat, his shoulders and jaw clenching as he tries to hang on to his resistant attitude.
“The two of you make one hell of a pair,” Sandros slurs.
I don’t respond. Let’s see just how far Sandros’ rotten opinion of me can go.
“You will help me because you have no choice,” he eventually says, pushing his chair back. When he rises, he does it like a gliding python.
I watch him as he prowls over to the fireplace. The sleek suit doesn’t do anything to mask his feral nature, on the contrary, it works as an enhancement. He picks a red rose from a gilded holder on the mantelpiece, pushing his free hand into his pocket. The suit tightens on his arm, sending a flash of memory involving those arms around me, subduing me.
I shake my head to cast out the memory that threatens to spread through me like a disease.
“These look like they are more than just decoration.” His voice is as controlled as ever, but I can feel the veiled irritation behind it. I hold back from probing his mind telepathically, because he would feel me there, and I’m not sure I want to know the full extent of his resentment. “Are red roses a regular gift in this place?”
“I’ve spared no effort to make Edith’s exile in the human realm as pleasant as possible.”
“Oh, but being in the human realm has hardly ever been torture for her,” Sandros rumbles, his tone lashing. “Let me remind you her illegally crossing over into the human realm and screwing human boys was the reason she got thrown in the Ice King’s dungeon in the first place.”
“Come on, Sandros, that was ages ago,” I bust out. “I’ve paid for my mistakes, I was locked down for years, and then I served you in the war against the Lord of Fire. Sure, the stigma never went away, it might never go, but I won’t have you judging me, not anymore.”
Durion places a long-fingered hand on my shoulder, and this time I don’t shake it off. Two servers enter with the last of the tableware and make to take positions by the door, standing in expectation to wait on us, but Sandros has other plans.
“Thank you very much for everything,” he tells them in a deep voice that makes the blood surge into the women’s cheeks. They’re so affected by him their thoughts are senseless clamor in my ears. “You can leave now. Take the night off. Actually, take tomorrow too. Tell the rest of the staff, it’s three free days for everybody.”
The two women look at each other, and then at Durion and me. I can feel his thoughts, he’s furious that Sandros should take upon himself to give our staff orders, but he knows that clearing the chateau of personnel is the right thing to do. The safe thing to do. We nod at the women, and watch them reluctantly leave. Their thoughts still echo inside my skull, and I can make out some sense in them—they’d love to stay, find out more about the mysterious visitor. One of them particularly likes having his eyes on her, it stimulates her sexual fantasy in which he’s forcing her down to her knees, fist clenched in her hair. She wonders if he’s married, but doesn’t seem to care even if that’s the case.
“I quit judging you a long time ago, Edith,” Sandros addresses me as soon as the servers have cleared the room. “I think by now we know each other well enough to know what to expect.”
“Believe it or not, I would very much prefer to return to the Winter Realm,” I say. “To the Queen, who I’m honored to call my best friend, and to the King, who happens to be your half-brother.” I stick out my chin. “I guess I don’t know you as well as you assume. I would have never expected you to switch sides. To cross to Nessima Blackfall’s side, no less, who tried to kill your best friend Eldan in punishment for having found the love of his life in a man instead of her. You’ve turned your back on all the centuries that you and the King have fought side by side? And for what? Pussy?” I scoff.
It’s satisfying to hold the words on my tongue like that. He sure didn’t expect that kind of reaction from me, and on the one hand it felt hood. But on the other it feels like I’ve just drunk poison because I’m putting things into a perspective that’s hard as Tartarus to bear. But since he’s determined to think the worst of me, I might as well return in kind.
Yes, years ago I found a way to slip into the human realm and have fun at frat parties. I had my first lover there, but I wasn’t doing it with ‘boys’. It was only one boy, and Sandros knows that. When we connected, current running through us, creating the mates’ bond, he saw the guy with the number eight on the back of his jacket.
“I’m not here to explain my motives to you.” His tone is flat as if my words had bounced against a wall. “I’m here to let you know how things are going to go down. So—”
“We don’t need to make a list of events,” I cut him off. “There’s enough high society in this town that there’s always something going on. There was the mayor’s birthday two days ago, and there’s the engagement of Count Guerin’s son on Saturday. He’s celebrating at the same restaurant as the mayor—the medieval tower on the hill, the best place in all the region.”
“Not going to have every person in town there, though,” Durion argues. “It’s only going to be the high society, so the person you expect to meet there—”
“The high society is all we need,” Sandros declares.
“So then we know the Antichrist is a member,” Durion says under his breath.
“Not surprised.” I pick up the bottle of champagne and pour myself a drink, refusing Durion’s attempt of helping with one forbidding look that he doesn’t challenge. He hasn’t seen this side of me before, and that takes him a little off balance. Quite frankly, I don’t know myself like this either. “Who would imagine the devil’s very son wandering the world in a state of poverty or even merely as someone mediocrely well-off?”
“The Antichrist came here to enjoy the good life, that’s for sure,” Sandros says. I feel his eyes on me as I keep pouring champagne into my glass. I do it slowly, watching the liquid glisten and the foam swell, tilting the glass to prolog the process.
“Who’s on the guest list?” Sandros goes on.
I leave the replying to Durion, downing my champagne and letting my eyes wander over Sandros’ frame.
Will I ever be free from his spell, or am I doomed to die under it, like all the other disposable women that came before me in his life? When Sandros Nightfrost chooses to unleash his masculine talents on a woman, it’s not long until she becomes his emotional slave, just like I’ve become. No doubt in the months we’ve been apart he’s made an adoring idiot out of Nessima. By Tartarus, I wish that the champagne could give me the slightest high, I’m in desperate need of it. But nothing but a particular kind of fae nectar is going to do that trick.
“Listen, Sandros,” I interrupt. “Any chance you brought along some nectar?”
He cocks an eyebrow inquisitively.
“It was the last of my concerns, but I’m sure I can arrange something for you, if you work with me now. Let’s get back to our business at hand, and talk contraband later.”
So the bastard’s going to make me work for it.
“All right, so the engagement party,” Durion resumes, probably deciding it’s better not to antagonize the warlord any further. Everything about him screams we better not try to stand in his way, or things are going to get ugly.
But I’ll be damned. I can’t wrap my head around the fact that Sandros is here to betray his brother the King of Frost after so many centuries in which they’d been so close one could have sworn they were Siamese. I can’t believe he’s aiding Nessima and the Antichrist in taking over the Winter Realm.
Durion pushes his chair back, the wooden legs scraping the floor, and walks around the table to Sandros, who watches him with hawkish eyes.
“There are a few people of note in this town, and they like to be around each other, you know, they feel safer that way. The rich don’t despise the poor as much as they fear they would feast on the crumbs from their tables.”
“I didn’t come here for philosophy,” Sandros cuts him off, but Durion doesn’t seem bothered by the humuliation. I scoff under my breath. Now that it’s become clear where the real power lies, he’s sucking up to it again. I’ve tried hard not to despise him, but look at him now.
“The mayor isn’t the most important person in this place,” he continues, picking up an oyster and slurping on it, while Sandros leans with his shoulder against the fireplace, the flames dancing in his golden eyes.
“Guerin the Count de Auvergne is the oldest and most respected citizen here. A number of mayors showered him with distinctions over the years. From what I gather he played a huge part against Hitler, but he’s too old now to play a part in anything remotely challenging. He’s extremely well connected though, and he’s trying hard to pass his connections on to his son, Antoine. Except skill and life experience isn’t passed on as easily as money, and Antoine’s turning out a good-for-nothing that’s squandering his father’s inheritance before the old man’s even in the ground isn’t making it any easier. He’s a drunk, an addict, and a womanizer.
“Guerin has started to see that Antoine has anything but a bright future ahead of him once the old man’s dead, so he’s trying to save the situation through an arranged marriage. The engagement party between Antoine de Auvergne and Simone Carrera is thus based on anything but love. She’s not a noblewoman, but she’s rich, an heiress. Used to be a great beauty, and she’s still attractive, by human standards, even though she’s got her best years behind her. So she could still have her choice of men, easily, so old Guerin has to make the union interesting for her, and especially, profitable. They must have struck a good deal. She’s very savvy in the business area, I’ve heard.”
Has the champagne started to have an effect, or is Sandros glancing at me every other sentence?
“So these three will be the main people at the engagement party on Saturday, but there will also be the mayor, Jean Dubois. He’s a cliché-ish middle aged politician pervert that won’t miss a chance to hover around Giancarlo Botini, a fashion designer who’s not entirely cliché.” He glances at me with hidden meaning. “He’s extravagant, dark sunglasses at midnight and such, but he’s as into women as it gets. Most of all into Edith.”
Sandros’ eyes fly over to me, the complete mirror of Durion’s, except there’s also some sort of reproach in there, as if I’m to blame for the attention.
“Come on Durion, what he wants is for me to model for him,” I counter, even though I hate it that I want to set Sandros’ opinion straight. “To him, I’m the stereotypical trophy wife with an alcohol problem and good legs. He just thinks I’d look good on a catwalk.”
“Which you most certainly would,” Durion says. “But the truth is, Sandros, it’s not only the pretty trophy wife that Botini sees. As a fae, I have no doubt Edith is the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. Unless, of course, he is the Antichrist, and he’s seen this kind of supernatural beauty before.”
Sandros walks around him as if he’s heard everything he needed to hear. “So all these people are going to be at the engagement party.”
“Them and more.” Durion spins on his heel to face Sandros’ back as the latter takes distance. “The mayor’s connections, high-flying politicians and corporatists, also the more important part of his extended family will be there. The mayor also has two sons from a surrogate mother, but I suppose they’re irrelevant.”
“Now why would you suppose that?”
“What do you mean why? They’re toddlers. Twins.”
Pretty weird looking twins, if you ask me, but I could still kiss and pinch those doughy cheeks. They’re chubby, and sweet, and yet I can understand people’s reluctance to go anywhere near them. They have disturbingly wiry copper hair and uncomfortably piercing blue eyes that would make the night unsettling for the most settled of minds. Human minds. Not used to facing demons and dragon shifters in battle, oblivious to the incredible worlds existing around their own.
“It’s decided, then,” Sandros states matter-of-factly, placing the rose slowly on the table right across from me. “We’ll be attending that engagement party on Saturday, and you will be introducing me as your distant cousin.”
Our eyes meet, and his eyes nail me to the chair. Durion can’t catch the look between us, since Sandros is with his back at him, and I manage to suppress any reaction that threatens to move a muscle on my face.
“And by what name should I introduce you?” Durion says. “Because I can’t possibly use your real one. These are generations’ old noblemen and politicians and corporate moguls, they’ll know—”
“They’ll know I’m someone they’ve never heard of, and yet someone with enough power to infiltrate their ranks. Someone that looks different enough to raise their curiosity. When these things awaken curiosity, respect tends to follow. It will open all the doors that need to be opened.”
Silence falls over the room, only the fire’s rustling filling the air, the flames bathing the place in a timeless light. I like it because it reminds me of my old world, of my true home in the Winter Realm. The Snowstorm estate, the abandoned fortress of my family. It’s now probably infested with Nessima’s dark power, since her evil has gaped to swallow the entire territory beyond the Northern forest.
“I’ll be staying in the east wing. Tell the staff not to venture there. I understand it’s still undergoing renovation anyway,” Sandros declares, turning to leave.
“The renovations have only just started,” Durion corrects him. “It’s actually in a pretty bad state right now, it’s hardly a proper lodging for—”
“I’ve had worse. I spent half of my life in war camps. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.”
“Can’t say the betrayal wasn’t expected,” Durion says when we’re alone again, his eyes still fixed on the archway through which Sandros has just exited. He pours himself a glass of champagne, and downs it in one go. Alcohol doesn’t have an effect on either of us, but the prickling, fine taste of French booze can be soothing. “You should have known, too. He’s the son of the former winter king and a powerful demoness from Hell. Evil has always coursed through his veins, that’s why our people have always been instinctively wary of him.”
For a moment, Durion looks like he’s about to slap himself. “Wait, you actually agree with me for once? What’s the catch?”
“No catch. It’s the way it is. Pour me some, too.” I wave my hand to the bottle, slouching back in my seat. I must look like a heart-broken mess. My dress is off the shoulder, which I guess adds to my overall desolate appearance as I let a man I loathe fill my glass instead of the one I want, who left the room without giving me another glance. I keep staring at the rose he placed in front of me, which has already started to wilt, as blackening under his dark power.
“I don’t think you’ve ever agreed with me on anything before,” Durion says as the champagne gurgles into the glass.
“I’d be an idiot to not agree with you on this one. But agreeing isn’t going to get us anywhere.” I meet Durion’s eyes as I re-run the evening in my head. “The realms are in mortal danger again. The Antichrist is here, in the human world, the centerpiece that holds all the worlds together. And now, the darkest prince of the Winter Realm has joined him. If these two come together, the worlds are going to collapse, and evil is going to swallow us all.”
Durion nods, dread starting to spread in his large brown eyes. “We have to do something.”
“First of all, we have to find out who the Antichrist is.”