They found her on the mountain. It wasn’t uncommon for Orla to visit the place. After all, it was the burial site of her greatest ancestress, the first Mab, greatest queen in the history of faerie. Here that lady’s cairn rose fifty feet off the bald rock summit at the edge of the sea. Here the world she had ruled lay spread out before her like a vast emerald and sapphire blanket. Orla loved the view.
Ireland’s curious pathwork green stretched across the gentle valleys, and mountains crowned with the cairns of other ancestors rose to claim much of the horizon. The ocean commanded the rest. The sun was setting, raining silver upon the roiling pewter waves. A band of thick, dark clouds had begun to climb the distant mountains, and the wind was rising. Another storm was coming, and Orla would greet it from this place of greatest power and danger. She wished to challenge it at its most primal. She yearned to wash herself in it and cleanse away the sins that had brought her here.
Nothing would do that, though. The funeral pyres had been lit the night before. She would never be able to reclaim the voices silenced because of her impatience.
“Lady,” a voice spoke up behind her.
She ignored it as long as she could. The wind had risen, and it battered at her face and clothing, cold fingers of accusation that flayed at her. Thunder rumbled and cracked, and lightning forked among the thunderheads that writhed over the northern horizon. She was so taken up in it that she’d failed to hear anyone approach.
“Your pardon, my princess,” the voice spoke again, a voice she knew well,”but it is the queen.”
Orla turned to see her personal guard, Declan, standing behind her. A tall, proud elven prince, Declan had sworn himself to the queen’s service and acquitted himself well in the recent battle with the Dubhlainn Sidhe. If Orla had been the fairy she’d been only days ago, she would have liked nothing better than to pull him down onto this bare, rocky earth and wear him out with a bit of gymnastic sex. Nothing scratched the itch of moral discomfort like the blank surprise in a man’s eyes as she gifted him with his own climax.
But nothing was the same as it had been only days ago.
“Ah, Declan,” she said, looking back to where the last of the blue sky was being swallowed by the storm. “I don’t suppose herself would be in a mood to wait, would she? I’m thinking this is going to be a storm worthy of tale-telling.”
For a great, braw elf, Declan had an amusing reticence around lightning. “She didn’t have the sound of a patient woman about her, lady,” he said with a wary eye northward. “She sent the seer along with me. He waits below.”
Orla nodded and pulled a strand of wind-whipped hair from her mouth. She wouldn’t even have enough time for the rain. Ah well, so be it. She owed her mother her attention.
“Have the pyres been cleared, then?” she asked as if it made no difference.
“Aye, lady. The ashes of the honored dead have been collected for internment at Imbolc.”
Burial in the earth in the dead of winter. It made Orla shiver. Given her druthers, sure wouldn’t she rather be put down just as the new sun rose to promise the spring? Even if she weren’t there with the ashes, but in the land of the west as promised. The earth was just too cold and dark a place for any bit of a person to inhabit for long.
“Grand, Declan. Just grand.” Finally despairing of the rain she’d so hoped for, Orla turned her feet down the mountain. “Well then, we wouldn’t want to keep the queen waiting now, would we?”
“Nay, lady.” Even Declan knew better than to cause the queen any disturbance at all. “We wouldn’t that.”
* * *
Odd, Orla thought when she stepped into the imperial meadow that held the queen’s throne, a great, gnarled oak that had bent itself to its primary purpose. Her mother didn’t look impatient at all. She looked...smug.
Orla’s steps faltered a bit at the realization. She stopped several feet from where Mab sat her Oak Throne in icy dignity, the throngs of faerie gathered around her. Fairies of all kinds populated the glen: trooping fairies in their somber gray; sprites tucked up in the leaves of the trees; brownies and flower fairies and gnomes, clustered like stands of wild iris in the soft grass.
Orla considered their number and found her step slowing even further. It was time, then. Her mother was about to deliver her sentence. In all her fairy years, Orla had never known real fear. Not til recently, anyway. Not til she let her heart rule her head.
She felt fear now, sure. She trembled with it. If Mab thought she’d found a punishment greater than the taking of Orla’s gifts from her, then it must be dire. It must be everything Orla deserved.
“Ah, then, you’ve been found, little girl,” Mab greeted her in a fearsomely mild tone.
All among the ranks of faerie turned their faces toward Orla, and each reflected her own fear. All knew the meaning when Mab’s voice grew quiet.
Suddenly Orla missed her sisters, and who would have thought it? But if she had to have the truth on her, she had to admit that no matter her indiscretions, her sisters had always stood at her side. And it was her fault they didn’t this day. Goddess, she hadn’t even said a proper goodbye to them, either Nuala or Sorcha. And here she stood alone for the first time in her life.
“I have, my queen,” she said and forced herself to walk closer. As surreptitiously as possible--for it never served to betray weakness to the queen--Orla drew in a shaky breath and went down on a knee before the great queen of the Tuatha de Dannan, mightiest clan of the world of faerie. “I await your pleasure.”
“My pleasure, Orla?” the queen echoed, tilting her elegant head to the side. “Would you indeed?”
Orla raised her head to face her mother. Groveling earned nothing but disdain from the great Mab, and Orla wouldn’t abide her mother’s disdain, even if it was all she had left of her. “I would, my queen.”
“I have already taken from you your position as leannan sidhe,now, isn’t that correct? You no longer hold the power to ensorcel mortal men. Is that punishment enough, do you think, for the crime of treason?”
It was obvious her mother didn’t. A mistake, she wanted to cry and bury her face in her mother’s lap. It was a stupid mistake. She should have known, though, that even for a good cause, a bad idea came back to haunt you. The good idea was to make her mother see that the heir she’d picked was unsuitable. The bad act had been inviting the enemy into her world to help show her. Instead, he’d stolen the Coilin Stone.
Orla tried to stem the panic at the thought of how much she missed her power rings, for hadn’t her mother already stripped her of them? Citrine and smoky quartz, the colors of mystery, of primal urge, of the magic that made mortal men her sexual slaves. The stones of the leannan sidhe.
Now her fingers were bare, and it shamed her. Now she looked to a man and no longer remembered how to bring him to his knees. It frightened her, for what else was there for her?
“It is not my opinion that matters, lady,” she said anyway. “I will pay whatever price you ask. It is my fault and my punishment to bear.”
The storm clouds fingered the near mountains and sent a wash of wind before them to lift the banner of Mab’s moon-hued hair. Her pale ivory skin seemed to glow from within, and her spring green eyes smiled at her daughter without humor. Raising a languid hand, she motioned her to her feet.
“Sure, we’re all glad you know that, little girl. I’m sure it would have made your sisters’ exiles easier to have heard it before they left. It would have sent the dead more peacefully to their graves, now, wouldn’t it?”
Orla refused to look away, even as she writhed inside with her mother’s denunciation. “I imagine it would, lady. I’m afraid I was never given the chance to say it ‘til now.”
Orla thought for sure that Mab would punish her for her words. Capricious Mab did nothing more than smile. “Indeed. But we’ve all had a battle to clean up, then, haven’t we? And your sister Sorcha to be sent on her quest.”
Orla nodded as regally as her mother. “Indeed.”
“Seer,” the queen called without breaking eye contact with her daughter. “Will you tell this daughter of mine what is at stake because of her small rebellion?”
Orla almost groaned. Sure, no one could twist the knife like her lady mother.
The boy Kieran stepped forward, an odd, grave frown on his bright face. “I caution you, lady...”
The queen swung on him. “Is it a new seer you’re wishin’ me to get, young Kieran?”
The boy gave her a resigned smile. “You cannot, my queen. It is both our lots to share this time.”
“Then I’d be obliged if you’d make it as easy as possible.”
Orla watched the two of them share some kind of private communication. In the end, though, the boy shrugged his shoulders. She thought sure he muttered something under his breath about being glad to get back home. Leave it to her mother, then, to be given a seer who was as human as he was fairy. No other seer Orla knew of had to get back across the veil so he didn’t miss basketball practice.
“There are three stones,” he intoned, his eyes closed, his copper hair gleaming like burnished metal in the watery light. “Donelle, ruler of them all, who lives in the Land of the West. Coilin the Virile, who balances the matriarchal Tuatha clan with his presence in their crown. And Dearann the Fruitful, she who gentles the patriarchal Dubhlainn Sidhe.”
And what happened to the Lady Dearann? Orla intoned in her head, too tired of the story to give it reverence.
“But grievous to the heart of faerie,” the little boy went on as if answering,”Dearann was lost these many years to the world of mortals.”
“And who goes to find it?” The queen asked, as if Orla didn’t know or feel guilty enough about it.
“The Royal Princess Sorcha.”
“And what of the great Coilin Stone, seer?”
Kieran shot Orla a look, and she swore he looked as if he pitied her. She pulled herself to attention. She loathed pity.
“The Tuatha grew powerful with their Coilin Stone, leaving the Dubhlainn Sidhe resentful and dark for want of power or a female influence. In desperation, the Dubhlainn Sidhe have stolen the Coilin Stone.”
“Ah,” the queen said, as if hearing it anew. “And what will happen if this great stone stays with the Faerie of the Dark Sword?”
Another look, another blast of pity. “All life will fail.”
The queen said nothing. She simply lifted her hand to the great, ancient oak in whose lowest branch she was poised. And as Orla knew they would, every eye followed to see what Orla hadn’t yet. She actually gasped out loud.
The leaves were falling. The tree was dying.
Orla had never been one to wallow in the old lore. That had been her sister Sorcha’s role. But Orla recognized this sign of disaster, and as her mother had wanted, was stricken by the sharp edge of grief.
“All life will fail,” Mab repeated, in case everyone in the glen had missed the seer’s meaning. “What must we do, seer?”
“What has the queen declared?”
“The Dearann Stone must be recovered and given to the Dubhlainn Sidhe. The Coilin Stone must be returned to the Tuatha to restore balance.”
“And in the meantime? To keep the Dubhlainn quiet?”
Kieran looked as if he were suffering pain. Orla held her breath. The only sound in the glen was the rumble of distant thunder over Maeve’s Cairn.
“A gift, your majesty.”
“A gift, is it?” she echoed. “And what kind are you thinking?”
Kieran gave Orla such a look of pain that she knew, even before he said it. She braced herself all the same. “A daughter,” he said, his voice hushed.
The glen erupted in noise. Wings battered the unsettled air. Voices tangled, inchoate cries of distress. Orla might not be the favorite of Mab’s daughters, but she was a royal princess. To send her to the enemy!
Orla met her mother’s gaze. She trembled, and wondered if her mother knew. She hoped not. She refused to quail before this edict. Before the end of her world as she knew it.
The Dubhlainn Sidhe were monsters, destroyers of dreams and dealers in darkness. They stole souls and ate hope. And her mother was delivering her up to them.
For just a moment, Orla remembered the only Dubhlainn Sidhe she’d ever met. The one she’d let inside her mother’s realm without anticipating his perfidy. He’d ridden a fire-eyed horse, black as night, galloping over the waves on the darkest of nights, his horse black, his attire black, his hair black, his eyes bottomless pools of night. A shiver ran through her at the memory.
He’d terrified her. He’d mesmerized her.
He’d betrayed her.
She wanted nothing to do with him or his people.
“What will you, my lady?” she asked her mother.
When her mother told her, she reeled back as if she’d been struck. “You want me to what?”
* * *
They found him on the mountain. Liam had gone there, as had been his custom since the day of the great battle, to pay honor to the valiant dead, to the memory of his friends, to the ghost of lost possibilities.
He went to assuage his guilt.
And now they had come for him, and they had a way for him to do just that.
“I am honored by your concern for me, my king,” he said with a low bow to his uncle the king of the Dubhlainn Sidhe when he reached him in the fairy glen. “How could I best serve you?”
His uncle was an austere man for all that he was the lord of all the faerie. Tall and dignified, he wore colors that were muted, and a crown that was a simple circle of bronze. He had not worn the high crown since its great stone, the female force Dearann, had been lost years upon years before Liam had been aware. There were rumors floating about that a search had been set underway to reclaim her. Liam didn’t know about that. It wasn’t his business. His business was to protect what the Dubhlainn Sidhe had, not seek what they didn’t.
Except once. He’d faced a temptation greater than any and succumbed to it. And by the high god, look where that had all gotten them.
“Be seated here,” the kind offered, showing him the low sleek chair alongside the great throne. Only those the king honored sat there, as he no longer had a queen.
Liam looked at the swooping line of the backless chair and felt a frisson of unease. The king wanted something of him, something important. Something Liam had a feeling he would not want to give. He wished they’d never found him atop his lonely perch in the rocky arms of Sliabh Corcra.
He eased his backside down onto the smooth black bog oak, conscious of the fact that a warrior had no business in the queen’s chair. He was afraid he would shatter the delicate thing.
“Rest easy,” Cathal the king reassured him with a gentle smile. “That chair has withstood much more than your overlarge frame.”
It didn’t make Liam feel appreciably better. “What is it you ask of me, my king?” he asked.
Again the king smiled, his ancient eyes wry and knowing. There were times Liam thought the history of the world of faerie rested in those eyes; that and more, mysteries beyond the ken even of the fair folk. The king was as fair as Liam was dark, a sleek, silent being who ruled in whispers. He had been tested in the forges of war and carried their scars on his brow.
“I ask you to make a sacrifice, Liam the Protector. I ask it in the name of your people, in the name of your family. I ask it for the chance at peace between two great clans.”
Liam kept his silence, but he realized he’d curled his hands into fists in his lap. “You have only to say it, lord.”
For a moment, the king looked away, into the shadows that ruled the edges of the world of faerie. The glen was a quiet place, spilling over with green and water and the most fragile of flowers. Cupped within its boundaries were held the music of rushing water, the flutter of birds, the soughing of the firs in the unseen breeze.
It was a place of peace, a refuge from the world the Dubhlainn Sidhe must patrol. It was an illusion just the same. The high crags of the Reeks were where the Dubhlainn Sidhe truly belonged, the desolate heights at the edge of emptiness. Or so thought Liam.
“The queen of the Tuatha de Dannan has contacted me about a truce,” Cathal said in a soft voice that nevertheless carried terrible command.
“Why should we need a truce?” Liam asked. “We hold the power of their Coilin Stone.”
He knew. He’d recovered it himself, a hot red energy that filled a man with fight and fury. He’d carried it back to present it at this very throne, to make up for the eternal grief that had so long been suffered from the loss of the Dearann Stone.
“She offers a sacrifice to us,” Cathal said as if he hadn’t heard. “A great sacrifice indeed, and I believe it to be both gracious and sincere.”
“And my part in this sacrifice?”
The king looked at him, and Liam felt the command of the king to the very core of his fairy soul.
“You are the recipient.”
* * *
They met at the border between their realms, a deep forest that only existed in the world of faerie. Mortals saw patchwork fields and fuschia hedges, and wondered why they heard whispers at dusk. A vast contingent of the Tuatha approached the woods on soft gray horses, in the air, on the petals of the flowers that spread across the edges of the forest. Bright pennants flapped to declare each subclan, and the sliver bells of fairy bridles carolloned in the morning air. Orla rode at their head, clad in fairy gray, her crown a burden, her back as straight as a blade as she suffered the trip by horseback.
Horses, she thought impatiently. Couldn’t we for once use the feet the goddess gave them? To be forever dependent on these arrogant beasts was more than a princess should have to tolerate. Beneath her, the horse snorted with impatience.
Even worse, the bloody beast could hear her, even in silence. Intrusive, prideful creatures altogether. Well, she let hers hear her opinion of his species, because sure, wasn’t it better than thinking about what really troubled her this day. What brought her down the long distances to the gate into the world of the Dubhlainn Sidhe.
“You must begin as you mean to go on, my lady,” Kieran said from his smaller mount alongside.
Orla didn’t even bother to look over at him. “And what is that supposed to mean, seer?”
The little boy looked so solemn, so sincere. “You have much to deal with. You must take it on your terms.”
“On my terms? Not my mother’s? Not the king of the Dubhlainn Sidhe? Not my new husband’s?”
Husband. Not even consort, which she would have more easily accepted. Consorts came and went, depending on the wishes of each. The condition for this pact was marriage, though, and that meant that whatever came, she would be shackled to her Dubhlainn Sidhe husband until their ship sailed for the West.
Whatever came. She thought she’d be ill.
Kieran answered as if he’d heard her. “If anyone can triumph, lady, it will be you.”
“Don’t bother with flattery, Kieran,” she said, not taking her eyes from where the forest floor darkened to unnatural shadow. “This is no contest, and well you know it. It is punishment.”
“Only if you see it that way.”
She turned on him. “How else should I see it, then, seer? The queen has stripped me of my powers. I was leannan sidhe. I was the greatest, the most feared and coveted by mortal men for the skill of my seductions. But that is gone. And she has given me nothing in return. Not even new rings, new colors to reflect my soul.”
“But that isn’t who you are anymore.”
And finally, she spoke of what made her quake. “And who then am I, seer?”
The little boy faced forward. “That is for you to discover, my lady. It is time.”
She caught her breath. Behind her, the horde came to a halt, setting the silver bells ringing on all the horse harnesses. At the head of the massive honor guard, Declan unfurled the great Tuatha banner with its sickle moon aloft among the spreading branches of a great oak tree. Sprites fluttered into Orla’s vision to take up position, and Kieran resettled on his saddle. With a hiss, a hundred swords were drawn from scabbards. The statement was made: This is our princess. Disdain her at your peril.
The Dubhlainn Sidhe materialized out of the shadows. A great army on great black horses, with their own air fairies to attend them beating the air in among the heavy-branched trees, and half-seen flags curling in a sultry dance. Orla saw the black face of those flags and fought a shiver of dread. This was her future. A place without light or hope or grace. A nation represented by a dark sword on a darker flag. It was her penance for the rest of her long fairy life.
The two armies faced each other in absolute silence, even the great trees of the elven forest aware and waiting. Orla swore she could hear the collected heartbeats of her people and wondered if she would ever hear them again.
Enough! She was a princess royal, and this was her destiny. She might bring nothing to these people, no gift, no strength. But sure, they didn’t have to know it. And the least she could offer her own clan was her dignity.
Begin as you mean to go on. Ah well, she had no choice, then, did she? She edged her horse forward toward the invisible line that divided the two worlds. Her fairy heart battered at her chest, but none of them needed the knowing of it.
A husband from this grim group, was it? She couldn’t see that there was any difference among them, all pale as night and grim-eyed as death. There was no one she’d choose of her own.
Then a single rider separated himself from the forces around him and approached. The breath hissed in Orla’s throat.
Not him. Goddess, you couldn’t mean to visit such a sad farce on me.
“Greetings, wife,” Liam the Protector greeted her, his own posture as rigid as the mountains that waited at his back.
He sat his horse like a prince, his black cloak lifting a bit in the wind, his hair gleaming blue-black like a raven’s, almost as black as his bottomless eyes. His posture was rigid, his cheek and nose and chin carved from the very granite beneath them. The last time Orla had seen him had been in the teeth of a storm. It had been a moment when she’d found herself attracted: intrigued. But that had been before he’d stolen the Coilin Stone and sent them all to war.
And this was the fairy she was to take to her body for the rest of her days. How her mother must be smiling.
“Greetings, Lordling,” she answered with perfect poise as if the very sight of his hawklike face didn’t send her pulse to hammering. Ah, goddess, but wasn’t her punishment at least beautiful on the eyes? Couldn’t she smell the power in him? “Have they decided the penance for our impulsiveness should be an eternity of wedded bliss?”
His answering smile was infinitesimal. “Evidently. You agree?”
“I am Mab’s subject. I obey.”
There was a tiny frown now. “But do you agree?”
Orla tilted her head. “Don’t you see me sitting before you?”
Another dark fairy approached and swung from his mount on silver-shod feet. An old fairy, withered and white and just a bit stooped. His colors reflected the moon on the sea, and she knew she saw a priest. Clad in bright blue robes and crystal diadem, her own priestess, Areinh, copied his movements to stand just before him at the line that divided light from dark.
It was how Orla saw it. Night and day, the celestial white of the Tuatha and the midnight ebon of the Dubhlainn. But not a night that was familiar to her, who so loved the moon and her children the stars. That night was magic and restful; it brought inspiration and mystery. This darkness was...empty. Threatening. Terrible.
Again, she fought a shiver of despair. Did her mother now hate her so much? She hadn’t even left her with weapons to protect herself.
“It is up to you,” Kieran repeated in a whisper, as if that were some kind of answer.
“We begin,” the Dubhlainn priest intoned in a sonorous voice, his hands raised, his head bowed.
“We begin,” the priestess echoed, her own head up so that the cornstalk yellow of her hair caught the edge of the sun and the goddess could see her eyes.
The ceremony took forever. First the two celebrants intoned the lineage of the couple, one after another. Then they called on Kieran to speak of the weaving of two mighty clans into one.
“In the days of our beginnings,” he said, his high, piping voice like a bell in the still air, ”the clans of the Tuatha and the Dubhlainn were as one. Two sides of the same whole, male and female, strength and gentleness, dark and light. The stones kept us and guided us, and to the great god and goddess we give thanks for their light. May this day set us back on the course of harmony.”
Not in your lifetime, Orla thought grimly as she surveyed the faces of her new clan. They greet this action with no more enthusiasm than I. At the best, they would ignore her. At worst...
Even she didn’t have the imagination to contemplate the worst.
“So be it,” Liam said without noticeable enthusiasm and swung down from his horse.
“So be it,” Orla said, and did the same.
The two approached the dividing line, and the priest and priestess asked them to join hands. Orla felt a hot jolt up her arm at his touch, and kept rigidly still so he couldn’t know.
“From this day forward you cleave to your wife and meet her,” the wizened old man intoned, eyes closed. “Spirit to spirit, body to body, mind to mind, heart to heart. From this day she is of your clan, and you of hers. From this day she is yours to protect and provide for and bring peace to, til the day the ships sail. Do you so vow, Liam the Protector of the house of the Royal Princess Maeve and the Elven Prince Kilell.”
Orla could actually hear the fairy prince gnash his teeth. Once he said the words, there was no turning back.
“This I so vow,” he said, his face expressionless, his gaze on his priest rather than his wife, his hand barely touching hers in ritual contact.
“From this day forward,” the priestess Areinh intoned, her voice sweet as the wind,”you cleave to your husband and meet him, spirit to spirit, body to body, mind to mind, heart to heart. From this day he is of your clan and you of his. From this day he is yours to comfort and care for and bring peace to--”
“And protect,” Orla inserted. “Do not forget protect.”
She could hear the Dubhlainn suck in startled breaths, and it wasn’t just the interruption of a sacred ritual.
“If you are of my clan also,” she said to her husband, who was finally meeting her gaze,”you will accept this vow from me. The Tuatha do not stand aside if their men go into battle.”
She could see eyes widen among the women in the shadows. She didn’t care.
Liam glared at her. “No.”
She nodded. “Fine. Then we all go home.”
She could feel the fury radiate off him. She almost bowed before it, it was so fierce. But sure, he’d agreed to this farce as much as she, and would lose face by stepping aside.
“Say it,” he grated out and turned his face aside.
Orla could have sworn Areinh battled a smile. “And protect,” she said,”until the ships sail. Do you so vow to this, Orla, Princess Royal of the House of Mab and Ardai, Lord of Storms?”
Liam refused to face her. Orla refused to look away. “I so vow,” she said in the same voice she used to call her troops to battle.
Both priest and priestess bowed their heads. “Then so be it in the sight of the great god Lugh and the goddess Danu.”
It was over, then. Orla was committed to these people who resented her and this man who hated her. Ah well, she’d said she’d pay her penance, hadn’t she?
She would walk away from her people now, leave everything that was familiar. Liam stepped away from her and held up a hand. One of his guard trotted up leading a black mare with high arched neck and flared nostrils. Orla could already hear the beast’s objections at having to carry a Tuatha. Lovely.
She took a step forward. The Dubhlainn priest stopped her.
“You will remove all that you were,” he said, reaching for a long, mud brown robe. “You will return the stones of who you have been and the garments that identified you in your world.”
Ah, here it was, then. The truth so soon, whether she was ready or not. But they didn’t need to see her fear. She was a queen’s daughter. She straightened and stared down at the official.
“I beg your pardon,” she said, looking down at the old man as she would have a too-familiar lackey.
“You choose to become a Dubhlainn Sidhe,” Liam said without heat. “You will leave all you are behind.”
“I strip for no one, lordling,” she snapped.
“Lady,” Kieran murmured.
Orla whipped around on him. “This you knew?” she demanded.
His troubled young eyes met hers without flinching. “It is up to you,” he said too lowly for anyone else to hear.
And her first statement was now. Goddess.
Nakedness was not the problem. Ah sure, the world of faerie saw it as optional at the best of times. But in this place, it wasn’t a choice. It was a statement. A way to show her how small her place would be in her new world. Could they hear her thoughts after all, then? Could they smell her despair?
Well, they’d see about that then, wouldn’t they?
Straightening until she thought her spine would snap, Orla turned. She glared at the man who was now her husband and lifted her intricate bronze crown from her brow. That she handed to Areinh. Then, facing her new clan she raised her hands and slowly, so no one could mistake her intent, spread her fingers.
A gasp went up from the Dubhlainn Sidhe. She had no stones to sacrifice. What did it mean? She could hear them think in their little minds. She ignored them. Her attention was for the man who was now her husband. She measured the widening of his eyes, the clenching of his jaw. And then slowly, in challenge rather than submission, she stepped out of her wedding robe and stood before him as naked as the day of her birth.
He took a slow, long look down her body, all the way to her toes. Then, he ran his eyes back up her, as if they were his hands on her. She stood tall and silent and proud, and no matter the provocation, kept her flushes away and her eyes on him. He would not humiliate her before her people and her goddess.
“Fine,” Liam said, reaching out a hand. “Now we consummate this.”
“Here?” she heard Kieran gasp.
Liam nodded. “Here.”