Lord of Snow and Ice by Heather Massey
An innocent Beauty. A fearsome Beast. A dangerous passion.
Mystery and speculation surround “the Dark Prince,” a sorcerer who dwells in a kingdom cursed by endless winter. Though shunned by all, Prince Stellan secretly crusades against a zombie plague unleashed by his tyrannical father against the Five Lands. But only an alliance with Aldebaran will provide the support he needs to eradicate the plague once and for all
Clarysa, daughter of the Aldebaran king, struggles under the weight of her role as princess. She yearns for adventure, but her father prefers to keep his youngest daughter safe within the palace walls. During one of her rare sanctioned trips beyond the walls of the castle, Clarysa comes face to face with the answer to her prayers.
She’s heard the tales of Stellan’s dangerous nature. She knows a romance with him is forbidden. But one smoldering glance draws her deep into a world of dark magic and sensuous rapture.
CONTENT WARNING: Magic, mayhem, and epic snowfall.
A Lyrical Press Fantasy Romance | Once Upon
All rights reserved, Lyrical Press, Inc.
As Prince Stellan bent to quench his thirst in the cold waters of the Elysian River, he didn’t know which sight shocked him more: the beautiful young woman who lay on the far side of the grassy riverbank, or her unabashed nakedness.
A rush of adrenaline coursed through his tired limbs as blind instinct seized control. Bereft of cover, he dropped into a crouch, keenly aware that his lean, black-clad figure left him dangerously exposed against the surrounding grasslands. He knew well his reputation as “the Dark Prince.” If he were caught wandering outside of his icy realm, the consequences would be severe.
Pain shot through his back, the result of a twelve-hour patrol that had knotted his muscles with vicious glee. He ignored it, allowing his wind-parched eyes to fully drink in the vision.
Who was this woman? Why was she here? Such a sight was scarcer than plump, ready game in his desolate world–a realization that only caused his hungry body to ache for more. His ragged, desperate breaths hammered in his ears. A trickle of sweat tortured his right cheek. He didn’t dare make a move to wipe it, lest he cause the fawn across the river to bolt. She was no doubt beyond hearing range, but he couldn’t take the chance.
Stellan sank even lower. His raging heart pounded louder and louder. Were her eyes open or closed? Difficult to tell from this distance. As a hunter, he knew subterfuge was paramount in these situations. He inched forward. Beside him, his great black stallion lowered its head and drank noisily. Stellan’s head spun. He’d almost forgotten about his companion. Sorry, my friend, but I require your absence.
Stellan whirled upward and led the horse back to a copse of trees. Here, it was completely hidden. He tethered the animal and attached a feed bag to its head. Now Stellan could observe at his leisure, for he had to learn more about the mystery woman intruding upon his secret resting spot.
At least, he had thought it secret. Stellan emerged from the trees with a quiet, measured gait. The woman came into his view once more, prompting shivers to course through his body. Springtime had wrought more than just copious greenery and sumptuous blossoms. As befitted the large, wealthy kingdom, Aldebaran’s countryside was bursting with life. This woman was no exception. She looked like a nymph birthed from velvety petals.
A thin, shallow tributary meandering along Aldebaran’s eastern border, the Elysian now brimmed with liquid silver from the melted snow of Falcon Heights. As Stellan crept closer to its edge, he coaxed a bit of saliva down his shriveled throat. A stir of any kind could mean his death. Among the local kingdoms, his reputation for odd, secretive behaviors was hardly one to engender much trust, if any at all.
Furthermore, in this very moment, Stellan was demonstrating that he didn’t care about earning any.
Folk thought him oblivious, but they thought wrong. He heard the rumors, the gossip, the lies. They called him savage, bloodthirsty, and a lunatic, among other less congenial terms. Whatever the appellation, it was always spat forth with bile and scorn, underscored by fear.
He couldn’t help his wry smile, for he did nothing to dispel the hearsay. Resentment had hardened his heart as surely as bitter cold induced frostbite. What did he care? Let them think he was a sorcerer of ill repute, of delirium. Let them think he culled his servants from the ranks of the undead, lining the halls of his decrepit castle and summoned forth when the macabre appetites of his kind possessed him.
Then he abruptly sobered. Some of the tales had origins in truth. A pang of regret surfaced, but he ground out the feeling as one would an ember. No matter. He could hardly do much about it right now.
Besides, he had a more pressing concern at the moment. Should the woman glance up in just the right way, she would espy him through the sparse wall of brown-tipped reeds. They swayed in a gentle breeze, enough to block his view with maddening precision. Of all the places in Aldebaran, why had she chosen this one? Then again, most would certainly question his presence in Aldebaran. If she recognized him, he’d be hunted until captured, perhaps even killed. In the Five Lands, a sorcerer–even one of royal blood such as he–was no better than the lowest beast.
Parting the reeds, he gazed around in all directions. A cream-colored mare grazed on verdant grass a mere stone’s throw from her mistress. Stellan frowned. There must be a lady’s maid or husband nearby. Surely this woman wasn’t so foolish as to frolic alone in a remote area! Aldebaran was protected by regular patrols of the army’s finest, but dangers hovered at the edges, constantly searching for entry at the weakest points.
Dungeon Forest, from which he had recently emerged, was also known to harbor certain…things as well, abominations to all life. The woman risked much in visiting this area by herself. He would have to exercise extreme diligence on her behalf. But there was more to it than that. Despite the potential threats, she intrigued him. He stayed to hungrily ingest every vibrant, exciting detail.
She lay on her back, one arm stretched above her head. The other rested across her stomach. Such an invitation! With a heated blush, Stellan fantasized about slipping his hand into her small one as he draped his tall frame upon her. The sight of the blond, glossy hair surrounding her face stirred unfamiliar feelings within him. Ensconced beneath the drab, overcast skies of a snow-laden kingdom he often loathed calling home, Stellan was not accustomed to such brightness.
Skin reminiscent of goldenrod wrapped her petite frame. It betrayed many such hours soaking up fresh air. Casting an eye toward the midmorning sun, he decided it paled in comparison to her beauty. Now thoroughly entranced, he greedily continued his appraisal. Pleasant, unblemished features marked her as royalty. There were other telltale signs as well. Only a member of a royal family would spend time so frivolously. The rich, lustrous sheen of her clothing was another giveaway. The fabric formed a deep puddle on the grass next to her.
Then there were her tantalizing and very full breasts.
The sorcerer stared, drawn to the forbidden nature of the sight. He had only seen one other pair of breasts, ones belonging to his adoptive mother as she nursed her infant son years ago. These before him now were of a different class entirely–exuberantly plump and firm. Pink tips jutted toward the sky, the perfect size for a man’s mouth. Stellan gripped the soft earth beneath him, squeezing it between an ever-tightening fist as he struggled to maintain control.
The woman was easily half a day’s ride from the nearest village. What purpose brought her here other than a sunbath? He had thought this stretch of riverbank to be little traveled by Aldebaran’s citizens, if at all. Needing stealth and seclusion, he came to the spot periodically for respite during patrols. Years earlier he had even built a covered trench here for supplies. Food. Clothing. Medicinal herbs. But mostly for weapons–weapons rife with deadly, magickal properties. Stellan had learned about them from another outcast, an apothecary, but he rarely made contact with him lest he endanger the man’s cover.
The trench was invisible to the naked eye. But if someone like this young waif decided to go searching for pebbles or flowers or whatever females yearned to collect… Stellan grimaced. It would not do for common folk to tamper with them. Not at all. The weapons were for one purpose, and one purpose only: extinction of the abominations.
He had depended on this area remaining deserted. Obviously, that was not the case now. With a quiet sigh, he realized he would have to relocate. Though the woman’s presence indicated a definite intrusion, it was one Stellan found he didn’t mind so very much. The feeling both surprised and troubled him.
Movement roused him from his thoughts. The living painting stretched her arms back and rolled lazily over to one side, facing away from him. This left him with a clear view of her ripened bottom, a curvaceous peach ready to satisfy his hunger. He wanted to burst from his hiding place and claim her. Then he’d steal her away to the darkness from whence he came.
But Stellan made no such move. He’d given up on the idea of a lover long ago.
Like a barbed, relentless torture device, exile had eroded vital parts of both his mind and temperament. It was sapping at his humanity despite his sworn mission to protect the Five Lands from the nameless blight. He couldn’t escape the loss no matter how many hours he spent diverting time with his ancient pipe organ, seeking solace that withered away with each passing note. Stellan sighed. Then another beguiling sight beckoned him.
The woman’s legs… She was rubbing them together. The golden thighs alone promised untold pleasures far into the night. Stellan wiped the sweat from his eyes. Damn this temptation! What was he thinking, anyway? He had another patrol ahead of him and a long, cold trek home once he left the fertile lands of Aldebaran. The woman was proving a dangerous distraction.
And yet, he couldn’t look away.
Now she had rolled back, apparently restless in her sleep. This action provided him with a view of not only her breasts, but also the seductive curve of her belly–and her sex. It glowed as temptingly as her hair.
The lush tableau prompted such wild fantasies that Stellan had to bite down hard on the inside of his cheek. Either that or release a loud moan of primitive longing. Though resigned to a lifetime of bachelorhood, he still had needs. This woman, with her wanton display of rapturous, unaffected beauty, wasn’t making his solitude any easier to bear. Neither would she appreciate his intrusion, if he made his presence known. So why was he prolonging the torture?
As his conscience waged a debate about his inappropriate advantage, a swift, hard rush of heat caused a stirring and lengthening between his thighs. The prostrate position into which he had flung himself grew increasingly unmanageable. He ached for much softer, wetter comfort than the unyielding ground. Even though his mind didn’t know quite what it wanted, his body definitely did.
Above, a few light, fluffy clouds cavorted with the sun. The blue sky seemed particularly vivid today. But it wasn’t the golden orb’s shameless heat or the breathtaking panorama of distant, white-capped mountains making his blood thrash and boil with arousal.
As anguish tempered overzealous attraction, Stellan clenched his teeth. Truly, why was he entertaining such boyish daydreams? He had left those behind even at the age of fifteen, the year of his banishment. Thanks to his purported “family,” he had neither time nor inclination for romantic relationships. His sister’s betrayal still burned hot in his soul. Up until that point, he had thought he and his twin were inseparable. Impregnable. One mind, one soul, and one heart. Together, they would have ruled a powerful, mystical kingdom. But in a single hour, Stellan had destroyed everything. The Black Mage may as well have killed his son, “the traitor,” than forced him into the depths of that cursed region–an endless hell of frozen horrors deep in the heart of the Five Lands.
Painful memories surfaced with their usual vigor. I only did what was just, and for my action I was rewarded with nothing but ruin. Inside, locked away in the deepest pit of his being, a sense of abandonment gnawed with sharp, voracious fangs. Sexual relations merely scratched the surface of the closeness he craved. But he was far too damaged to be of value to anyone. Far too bitter.
Because of all these factors, the woman who lay in peaceful repose would never want him. The knowledge that she–or any woman–could never be his sent a sharp lance of pain into his heart. She would sooner toss lye into his face than to look at him. Seeing one so enchanting was a stark reminder of his barren life, one made all the more egregious by the chilly wastes blanketing his kingdom. Even when the sun shone feverishly everywhere else, brutal winter storms draped his habitat with veils of ice.
Despite his woes, he wanted to sweep his fingers across her flawless skin, delight her with provocative touches. Her parted lips begged for capture, for feasting, and Stellan was one to deliver. He felt sure of it. The thought of one of her breasts in his mouth was almost enough to soothe his dry throat, especially as he also imagined burying a hand between the folds of her sex. By now, under a hot, steamy sun, it must have been dripping.
Ah! Stop it! Stellan shut his eyes fast against a tide of raging libido. He willed his dark part to take over, the part that hated, seething with anger. He could know neither pleasure nor comfort, nor beauty or love. A crusade such as his couldn’t be swept aside for mere indulgences of the flesh or the heart. Much work lay ahead, and he ought to be planning a clean escape. He had to exercise better control. His conscience demanded nothing less.
But when he opened his eyes, there was movement again. One more look, then. One more to last me the rest of my life. Stellan angled forward, breathing hard. He was now at the water’s edge. Dragonflies and gnats buzzed about his dampened black locks, but he didn’t care. He hoped the woman would turn onto her stomach so he might catch a glimpse of her bottom again. The anticipation made such a tightness of his leggings that they threatened to tear. Heavens but he wanted to drink every drop of her!
Then he frowned. It wasn’t the woman who was moving.
Stellan rose a few inches and gazed around. He studied the river, the woods, and the long stretches of grass. In the end, he found nothing untoward. Perhaps in the heat of his fixation he had let his imagination run wild. All the more reason he should depart. He had just begun to edge back from the river when a blur of movement passed across his vision.
He narrowed his eyes. There it was, near the woods! Something had moved the tall grass bordering the trees on the opposite side. Tufts of greenery jerked back and forth. At first, it seemed random, as though the victim of impish field mice. But the longer he watched, the more quickly a pattern emerged. Every muscle tensed, turning to stone as he poised for the worst. Surely one of them wouldn’t be so brazen as to travel this far?
He glimpsed a patch of brown. Could it be a swarm of rodents? Or perhaps an earth tremor loomed, threatening a cave-in. A large swath of grass shifted unnaturally, disproving his suppositions. Stellan wiped sweat from his forehead. What was causing the mysterious movement?
Then his scalp tingled, and not because of sexual arousal. Squatting, he parted the reeds. Though his eyes could not yet discern the type of animal coursing through the grass, other senses, evolved among his kind for generations, had different means of analyzing this new development.
Magick was present, and one of the most hostile sorts in existence.
The creature began to emerge more clearly. Its mottled-brown hide stretched far back into the woods even as it pushed forward toward the river. Stellan could both sense the enormous size and see the disturbance it created among the flora. As though revolted, the trees and grass seemed to flatten themselves away from it. This undulating menace was not indigenous to Aldebaran, of that much he was certain.
Stellan rose. The new vantage point revealed startling details. Before him was a huge slithering entity, not quite a snake, but not exactly a lizard, either. With its misshapen legs and crooked, gangly protrusions, it reminded him of a centipede, albeit the largest he had ever seen. The image was too fantastic to describe, even for the tallest of tales.
A chill passed through him. He’d been so busy studying the pulsing quagmire of flesh that he’d momentarily failed to gauge its purpose.
The creature was heading straight toward the woman.
Cursing, he leaped forward–and then fell. Snarling, he glanced down. Ropy weeds latched fast to his black boots as if trying to yank him underwater and drown him like the merfolk of legend. But only one thought dominated his mind: save the woman.
To accomplish that goal, he needed supplies from his saddlebag. With a violent kick, he freed himself and lunged toward the trees concealing his horse. It seemed too great a distance to cover. But cover it he must, or feel his soul burn eternally for failing.
Once at the horse’s side, Stellan wrenched the bag free. After affixing a coil of rope to his right shoulder, he ran back toward the river. He gulped in great breaths, pumping his legs past their limits. At this point, it didn’t matter if the woman saw him.
Words spilled from his lips, syllables of ancient tongues summoning forces from phantasmagorical realms. With a final, guttural inflection, Stellan flew across the river, the tips of his boots skimming the water’s surface. At the far bank, he jumped nimbly over a boulder and ran up the slope.
A putrid smell washed over him. The sickening scent suggested a mountain of deer carcasses dripping with rancid fat in the summer’s hot sun. He covered his nose and mouth with a gloved hand. But now, at least, he knew his adversary.
As so often was the case, the whole encounter made him ill–physically ill, but also emotionally. This foul creature had no right to invade such healthy, wholesome land. Furthermore, it represented all he held in contempt about his own kind. Yet the ignorance of Aldebaran’s citizens troubled him only slightly less. Fools, all of them!
Before he could catch his breath, the creature reared at least ten feet into the air. A lolling, cactus-like appendage formed some kind of antennae. Too many bristly, clicking pincers to count made a madcap of its head. Undoubtedly they were poisonous. Its red-slashed hide leaked sallow-colored pus, sloughing off in random bursts. Globs of it now littered the surrounding grass. Slowly, the grotesque brute began swaying back and forth, acting as though time was its slave to abuse with impunity.
Why, and for what purpose? Any further philosophizing on the vagaries of nature would have to wait, however. Its heinous existence strengthened his resolve to conquer and abolish it. Were he any other man, Stellan might simply have whisked the woman away to safety, where no doubt a kiss of gratitude would be his to claim. Perhaps more. But he wasn’t just any other man. Indeed, some would say he wasn’t a man at all.
A hungry thought blasted his mind. The alien craving was ancient and primitive and greedy–feed.
Stellan debated whether he should call out to the woman. Did slumber have such a stranglehold on her senses? How could she be so heedless? But in his heart he knew she could not have known the danger. She was an innocent person simply enjoying nature’s bounty. Over the years, Stellan had done his job almost too well, but as of late his fortune had been changing. This awful development was proof enough of that. Nevertheless, for whatever reason, the woman was clearly unaware of the hoary predator.
The creature stopped swaying. Stellan caught a flash of bright red. A protrusion he hadn’t noticed before now extended from the creature’s maw. Long. Vein-ridden. Thick. Stellan shaded his eyes against the bright sun as the appendage lengthened. Alien sensations invaded his mind once again. Rape and devour, devour and rape–in no particular order. The intent was all too clear–the creature meant to ravage the woman as fully as it knew how.
Stellan’s features contorted with disgust, but then a wave of shame coursed through him. Ripe memories of rampant lust echoed in his mind. He’d just had a brush with his own animalistic tendencies. Was he any different than the beast before him? The woman deserved far better regard than he had given.
He had to act now. If he failed, then his only task would be to rip open the beast’s body to free nothing but a dead woman.
The creature was drawing its abominable length into a lopsided, uneven coil even as its upper body targeted the woman. The dangling rod of flesh stretched before it like a herald.
No! Stellan rushed toward it. He lashed his rope around the centipede’s head. He’d force it away from the woman and into the woods. There, hidden from prying eyes, he’d destroy it.
That was the plan, anyway.
Stellan pulled hard—and crashed to the ground. Sharp stones dug into his back. He gritted his teeth against the pain. He dug his ankles into the ground and pulled again. The rope grew taut. His feet carved deep grooves in the soft earth, yet the creature moved only a few hand-lengths.
It’s useless. This damnable thing is too strong! He would have to kill it first.
Stellan lashed the rope to a nearby tree. He rummaged in his satchel for the needles with bulbous gray tips. Moving quickly, he inserted them into the creature’s flesh. Then he retreated to a safe distance.
The monstrosity twitched. So hungry, came the thought, followed by a questing probe. It turned around, seeking the source of disturbance. Then Stellan’s neutralizer began coursing through its body, infusing it with a searing, thaumaturgic fire. Its primitive mind broadcast an onslaught of excruciating pain.
But it didn’t die.
Damn! Distracted by convulsions, at least the creature would be easier to wrangle. Stellan untied the rope.
The creature’s talon-studded tail shot toward him. A gust ruffled Stellan’s hair as he dodged it. His only chance for control would be to tie the thing into a great knot of rope and sinewy body. Stellan leaped back, his gaze never straying from the unearthly chimera. He tossed an additional loop of rope around the creature’s upper body. Would it be enough?
It whipped around to face him. Multiple pincers along its midsection began clicking. The undulating mass slithered forward, coiling, tightening, mandibles stretched wide.
The centipede lunged, aiming for his head. Stellan pulled hard on the rope and shifted to his right. Sharp mandibles clamped upon a nearby tree.
Stellan drew a small dagger from its sheath. With a quick downward stab he made a deep puncture in the scaly hide. Dark green ichor swelled from the point of contact. The creature shrieked and released its hold on the tree.
The dense blanket of pines harbored deep shadows–all the better for two dark forces to clash. Stellan redoubled his efforts at pulling the creature after him.
But the bedeviled vermin grew shrewder with each passing second. Even as it fought off Stellan, another part of it somehow kept slithering back toward the woman.
“Wake up!” he shouted at her while dodging the creature’s jabs. “Wake up! Get away before you’re killed, woman! There’s danger here, danger!”
On and on he roared. Soon he noticed the place where she had lain was nothing more than flattened grass. But he didn’t dare allow himself relief until he saw her leaving or he killed the creature, whichever came first.
With a great heave, he coerced the sprawling, twisted mass farther into the woods. Pine needles scratched his face and for a few alarming moments the low hanging branches obscured his vision. All he could hear was the creature’s ominous chorus of clicks and hisses.
His opponent thrashed violently. Stellan sensed its rage and frustration. The rope began slipping through his hands. He desperately held the last few lengths, but it was precious little leverage. As he grasped for new ideas he witnessed an unexpected sight–the woman stood at the edge of the woods. She was tugging her dress onto her shoulders and peering among the trees. What in the name of the heavens was she doing? Why wasn’t she running away?
“Hello? Who’s there?” She cupped her mouth. “Who’s in there?” she said loudly.
Annoyance burned a frown upon his face as he sidestepped one of the creature’s darting pincers. She was calling out a greeting? Madness!
“Run away, you fool,” he shouted back. “Run and don’t stop!”
Still, she hesitated. This was growing tedious. Stellan couldn’t contain a venomous beast and indulge a curious sprite at the same time. He uttered an incantation–a basic one, but all he could spare at the moment. A small yellow flare appeared. Narrowing his eyes, he sent it hurtling through the woods. The impact ignited a branch by her shoulder. After one look at the consuming flame, she turned and bolted. Stellan knew the expression of shock and fear etched upon her face would haunt him in nightmares forever.
Regardless, he had a task to complete. Now that the woman was no longer a liability, Stellan could prepare his final attack. He focused his mind, drawing the eldritch energy about him. The surrounding air crackled with black discharge as he unsheathed his weapon of last resort.
He raised the roughly soldered metal tube and aimed it at the creature. Propelled by magick, three nut-sized pellets shot forth. Within seconds they unleashed their power, incinerating the beast without mercy. Stellan moved upwind of the foul stench, watching in silent vigil as the obsidian fires consumed first the rotten hide and then melted its internal organs. By the end, neither pincer nor protuberance was left unburned.
As the flames withered down into a messy lattice of ashes, remorse filled him. Despite his shield of bitterness, he missed the woman already. He lamented the fact that he’d not even had the courage to introduce himself, or ask her name. A heavy heart dragged behind as he gathered his belongings and returned to his horse.
While his steed drank its fill at the river, Stellan consumed a meal of dried meat. He intended to patrol for a few more hours and would venture deeper into Aldebaran territory than usual given his recent encounter with that abomination. Once full, he emptied the trench of its contents and filled the gaping hole with dirt. His steed faced an arduous journey with the extra weight, but better a little muscle strain than discovery of a certain sorcerer’s intentions. He quickly bathed to remove the sweat and grime from his body.
Once mounted, Stellan guided his horse northeast. He did not look back. Instead, he rode on, a dour, black streak against the vivid landscape. Resolve burned in him, more than any day during his untold years of crusading. The woman symbolized everything good and pure in the lands, everything worth saving from the vile ambitions of his clan. Even though Stellan could never know the beauty’s name, be with her, or see her again, he vowed to protect her.
Stellan knew he would continue protecting her–silent, invisible, and beyond her knowledge, until the day he died.
“I do love fairytale retellings and this one was no exception. The world and the characters were both wonderfully written and intriguing. I really liked Stellan and Clarysa. However I think a book about Lionel would be really awesome too.”Vanessa, The Jeep Diva review Blog