Tiernan, King of the Seelie Court, is tossed back in time without his magick where he meets Mista, a Viking Jarl, who is a seductive but brave adversary. Mista believes the handsome warrior who was present during a battle with one of her clan’s enemies is a bit not there when he claims he is a king and from a land far away.
“Thor’s hammer!” Mista cursed as she tripped over a pair of soft leather slippers. She was running late to oversee their captive’s transformation into a thrall. The dragonflies in her belly were fighting so fiercely she hoped she would not lose the scant food she’d consumed.
Why was she so nervous? The man was nothing to her. Just an enemy she needed to deal with. But what if he was innocent? Mista shook her head and sent a wave of hair into her eyes. She’d meant to pin it up but she’d slept past her normal rising. Gunhilde’s upset about the prisoner seemed to have returned. The woman had barely spoken a word when she arrived moments after Mista awakened and dropped a tray of food on the table.
To be fair, Mista understand her angst, but she had to do what was right. Until more evidence could be gathered, she would not put the man to death or even sell him on the block as many of her warriors and household wanted. Having him serve as a thrall until judgment would allow her to witness his behavior. Perhaps that would give her a key to the man himself.
She pulled on a pair of short boots over her leggings just as a bell rang somewhere in the bowels of the castle. Mista caught up her dagger and ran for the door. The thralls would be going about their chores and the warriors would be starting their morning fighting practice.
If she were lucky, Baldr would join the men and leave her to deal with the stranger. Or she could hope.
She took the stairs at a run and then grasped the side of the wall as she slipped a bit in her haste. Her breath escaped in small gasps. Mista shook her head—better to slow down than risk a broken limb. Even though she was anxious to see the warrior called Tiernan.
She arrived in the great hall just as he was escorted into the room by one of the younger warriors, Olav. Baldr was also there, and he looked none too pleased.
Displeasure also shone from the fjord blue of the prisoner’s eyes, and whereas normally she could care less what a prisoner thought, especially one of Erik’s men, this man touched Mista on a level she wasn’t ready to explore now, or maybe not ever. It would not benefit her to think about the handsome warrior. Even if he wasn’t an enemy of her people, he did not belong with her kind.
“We are ready to shear this lout of a sheep.” Baldr’s comment was gleeful in nature, and his eyes held a malice she’d prefer not to see.
“Thank you, Baldr. You and Olav may go to the practice field.” She knew her words would not find favor.
Her second-in-command’s lips twisted into a scowl, and she braced for the coming verbal assault.
“’Twould not be a good idea for you to be alone with the prisoner.” Baldr’s soft tone belied the look in his brown gaze that bespoke of agitation, frustration, and a bit of anger.
“I understand your concern, but tie his hands and then place him in the chair.” Mista smiled at the grizzled Viking. “He will be no trouble.”
“Mista…” Baldr’s words trailed off as she raised an eyebrow at his usage of her given name among those not of their clan. He knew better than to address her as such when it came to chieftain matters.
“My chieftain, I plead with you to allow Olav or myself to stay.” Baldr’s conciliatory words held a bite.
She could reply in kind, but she truly did love Baldr, and she understood his worry, yet…
“I know ’tis not how we normally would handle this, but Baldr, I would not ask you to leave if I felt I was in any danger. And to offset your worry…” Mista held out her hand. “I have my dagger. Trust me to use it if I need to, please.” She hoped her words would placate a man who had acted as advisor to her da and to her since she’d become chieftain.
Baldr scowled. “Truth, ’tis not to my liking, but I will abide by your wishes.”
“Thank you, my friend.” Mista smiled slightly and then gestured to the dais. “Olav, please seat the man and then secure him.”
Olav did as she asked dragging Tiernan up the two steps, and pushing him down into a chair. He then took a piece of braided hemp and secured the prisoner’s hands behind his back.
At a nod from Baldr, Olav left. Baldr stood his ground. “Chieftain, are you sure you would not have me stay?”
She caught his hand and patted it. “I will be fine. I was trained by two of the best Vikings that have ever been born.”
Mista did not have to say who those men were; she and Baldr both knew it was him and her da.
“All right, but if this dog gives you any trouble, do not hesitate to gut him.” Baldr slanted a look at Tiernan before following Olav from the hall.
Mista watched Tiernan as he watched Baldr leave. She expected the man was relieved to have her bloodthirsty mentor gone. When he finally looked up at her, she was amazed.
The man’s blue eyes glinted with laughter. How was that possible? He should be frightened to death.
“I would not be amused if I were in your position.”
Tiernan bit back the chuckle he wanted to release. The woman in front of him, chieftain status or not, was the size of a gnat compared to him. Even sitting down he was eye-level with her heavenly blue gaze.
And she was just as sensually alluring now, as she was last night and in his dreams. He’d love to take her to bed, to suckle the breasts she kept hidden under the loose tunic she wore, and to pull her astride his lap. The leggings encasing her lower frame would not be an impediment to feeling her lush bottom.
The thought of taking the miniature chieftain sent a pulse-wave of heat straight to his shaft. So strong was the current of lust, Tiernan prayed she would not notice.
It would just take one outraged scream to bring down the entire Einarsson clan. Something he did not relish happening.
“My apologies, Chieftain Einarsson. It was just a passing fancy.” He hoped she would let it go.
“Do you not realize you are a prisoner?” Her sunset hair spun in a kaleidoscope of colors as she walked up and down the narrow strip between the table and the wall.
“I assure you, that is something I am not likely to forget.” Tiernan flexed his wrists, but the rope didn’t give even the width of a petite faery wing.
“Well, there is no reason to put off what needs to be done.” Mista, as Baldr called her, opened a leather box, removed a metal circlet, and stepped forward.
Tiernan watched cautiously. What did the woman plan to do with the metal jewelry?
“’Twill only take a moment so hold still.” She walked behind him, and he felt the cold brace of the necklace against his throat.
There was something he needed to remember about the band she’d placed against his skin, but what?
He heard an ominous click.
“What is this for?”
The woman moved to face him. “Where are you from, and why do you not know about the thrall collar?”
Tiernan’s mind raged against the implications. He knew they were going to make him a slave, but he’d planned to leave long before being branded.
“Remove the collar. I will not wear it.” His tone rose as the indignity and truth of his plight registered.
“You have no choice.” She didn’t glare at him, but her gaze was relentless in its seriousness.
“Free me. I will show you what choices I have.” Tiernan’s heart beat so hard he could feel the pulse inside his head. His fingers trembled at the thought of spending the next year as a slave, subject to any and all that the woman in front of him might command.
“The collar remains and will continue to stay for the length of your servitude.”
“Length?” Tiernan spit out the question.
“Yes, once we meet for the Thing, it will be decided how long you will serve the Einarsson clan.”
“This is a travesty of justice. Just because I was near a battle with your enemy, you capture me and deny my freedom.” He again twisted his wrists, trying to get the unforgiving rope to loosen.
“If you are innocent of any crime then you will be freed.” The Einarsson chieftain picked up the dagger and moved to stand between Tiernan’s thighs.
“What are you planning now?” His growl was received with silence for a moment, but then the woman took a deep breath.
“A thrall must have his hair shorn to a certain length.”
The rage that had been consuming Tiernan dissipated like sun-dried dew. The new emotion touching him was simply one of horror. Never since he’d grown into manhood had he allowed his hair to be shorter than past his shoulders. His hair was a symbol of his age and stature as a fae. Fae men who were turned out from the court even kept their hair.
He wasn’t a vain man, but losing his locks as a symbol of slavery would nigh on kill him.
The fae at court would mock him, taunt him, and unmercifully brand him with their barbs.
“No, please, do not cut my hair.”
Mista stood frozen in place, holding a strand of his moonbeam hair. Not only because of the man’s muscular thighs pressed against her legs, but the almost plea in his tone touched her.
“’Tis the law to do so.” Her words were a whisper of air.
“Not where I come from. To cut my hair is to unman me as a warrior.” His words were guttural, but she felt the desperation in them.
“If I allow you to wear your hair long, then others will fight to keep theirs. What reason can you give me to placate my men?” She held her breath waiting for his answer.
“I am not what I seem to you. I come from a place so far away you would have to travel through what you call Midegarde to find it.”
Mista wasn’t prone to believe in Norse gods, although a good many of her people did so, yet she didn’t correct the warrior. His eyes glowed with blue fire when he continued.
“A place where magick is commonplace, where there are no wars or...not usually.” He chuckled just a bit, the sound warming Mista’s heart.
“And just how did you get from there to here?” She knew she sounded scornful, but the blue-eyed charmer told a whopping tale.
“I traveled through time.”
His words dropped into the pregnant silence, and Mista dropped the dagger—narrowly missing the man’s groin and her foot before it clattered to the rush-covered floor.
“Dammit, woman, are you planning to neuter me as well as as take my hair?”
“Nay, but your words are fantasy. There is no such thing as time travel.” Mista flung her statement at him as she released his hair and bent to pick up the dagger. She retrieved the weapon and straightened up, only to lose her balance. Her hands connected with the warrior’s thighs, and her gaze was drawn to his manroot. She quickly removed her hands and reached once more for his hair.
“Please, I know it’s hard to grasp, but what if I could prove it?”
She knew it was foolishness to believe the man, but she’d learned to judge men over the years, and his intent gaze showed no dishonesty.
“Perhaps, I would be willing to listen, but for right now I need to—”
“Then allow me to keep my hair until such a time we can talk about how I got here.”
Mista was torn between duty and her instincts, and although in the past they had both been the same, this time she needed to make a choice. Besides, what harm would it do for him to keep his hair? The thought of cutting such a beautiful mane made her feel a bit sick.
“All right, but you must braid and keep it tucked inside your tunic.”
The moment the words were out of Mista’s mouth, Baldr walked into the hall.
“Is there a problem, mistress? You have not cut his hair.” Her second-in-command smirked. “I will be glad to do the job for you.”
“No, thank you, Baldr.” She gave Tiernan a look that stopped the words she knew waited to spill forth.
“Our prisoner will be keeping his hair, for now.” She held up her hand when Baldr looked to argue.
“See that it is braided and tucked under his tunic, and he needs something to wear to complete his chores.” She turned back to Tiernan. “We will speak later on what you have told me. In the meantime, you will be put to work in the stables.”
Mista stepped off the dais. “Yes, Baldr, I know ’tis not usually done, but ’tis a man thing for his clan.” She gave him a hard stare. “Surely you understand the honor involved when it comes to all things male?”
As Baldr stood there with his mouth opening and closing like a Lute fish, Mista made her escape.