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Jaci Burton

  An Ellora's Cave Romantica Publication


  ISBN # 1-4199-0517-1


  Aftermath Copyright(c) 2006 Jaci Burton Edited by Briana St. James Cover art by Syneca.

  Electronic book Publication: February 2006

  This book may not be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written permission from the publisher, Ellora's Cave Publishing, Inc.(r) 1056 Home Avenue, Akron OH


  This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the authors' imagination and used fictitiously.


  The following material contains graphic sexual content meant for mature readers.This book has been rated E-rotic by a minimum of three independent reviewers.

  Ellora's Cave Publishing offers three levels of RomanticaTM reading entertainment: S (S-ensuous), E

  (E-rotic), and X (X-treme).

  S- ensuous love scenes are explicit and leave nothing to the imagination.

  E- rotic love scenes are explicit, leave nothing to the imagination, and are high in volume per the overall word count. In addition, some E-rated titles might contain fantasy material that some readers find objectionable, such as bondage, submission, same sex encounters, forced seductions, and so forth.

  E-ratedtitles are the most graphic titles we carry; it is common, for instance, for an author to use words such as "fucking", "cock", "pussy", and such within their work of literature.

  X- treme titles differ from E-rated titles only in plot premise and storylineexecution. Unlike E-rated titles, stories designated with the letter X tend to contain controversial subject matter not for the faint of heart.



  Jaci Burton


  To the Breakfast Bitches, for...breakfast and bitching, of course.

  To Shan, for your obsession with Roarke.

  To Mandy, for your love of the faeries...okay, so it's also an obsession. That's why I adore you.

  To Bree, for your all-over obsession with the faeries...and for making me do these snicker.

  To Charlie, as always, for putting up with this madness and loving me anyway.


  Trista swallowed sharply and gaped at the castle of Braedon, King of Greenbriar. Harsh afternoon sunlight sparkled along the water in the moat.

  Soon, she would do what she'd come here to do. Tell Braedon of Greenbriar that her sister Solara would not marry him. Once Solara was released from her bonds, Braedon would be free to marry someone else. Someone other than Trista's sister, who loved Roarke, Garick's right hand and friend. It was Roarke who was Solara's destiny, not this southern king.

  She glanced over at Garick, her brother-in-law. Her sister Noele had been most fortunate to fall in love with her betrothed, the King of Winterland. And now Solara had fallen in love with Garick's protector, Roarke.

  Trista would make sure Solara was allowed the freedom to choose Roarke.

  She found the custom of faerie princesses being required to marry a king antiquated and ludicrous. Why could they not choose their own mates? What if one was betrothed to a king they did not love? Would they be forever doomed to a life of misery?

  Nay, this would never happen to her. Or to Solara. Which was why she hid Solara's note from the others. They thought her sister was missing, though Solara had only gone off to think. But her trick bought Solara some time, and brought her here as emissary for her sister.

  She would speak up on behalf of Solara and break this chain of forced marriages once and for all. Her father would be upset with her, at least for a while. But he would eventually see reason. They all needed to see reason. Could they not see how much Roarke and Solara loved another? 'Twas not fair that she be forced to marry a man she did not love.

  No one should marry if they were not in love. Trista never would, no matter what they told her she had to do. She would find a man who made her heart sing with love, her body vibrate with desire. Not a match selected for her by anyone else, but one she chose for herself.

  "You are deep in thought, daughter," her father said, turning around to look at her.

  Trista managed a tight smile for her father. "I am anxious to return to Winterland to see my sisters." Her father nodded. "Soon enough, little one. As soon as we deliver the message of Solara's delay to King Braedon, we will return to Winterland, find Solara and bring her here where she belongs." Solara did not belong here. As they rode through the gates and approached the entourage of men standing in the middle of the courtyard, she summoned up all her strength to do what was necessary to release her sister.

  Sometimes fate needed a small nudge in the right direction.

  Peering around the ample girth of her father, her eyes widened as the giant in the center of the crowd came into view.

  "Stars," she whispered against her father's back. The man was beautiful. His body had surely been shaped by celestial beings. Broad-shouldered, muscles stretched taut against his leather jerkins, lean-waisted with strong legs.

  For the first time in her life, Trista was incapable of speech. Not a very good thing, considering what she must do.

  "Braedon of Greenbriar, we finally meet. I am Garick of Winterland." This was Braedon, king of the southern lands? Perhaps she was remiss in keeping Solara from such a fine specimen of man. No, not true. No matter his beautiful appearance, this man was not destined for Solara.

  "'Tis good to finally meet the king of the northern lands." He held out his hand and clasped Garick's.

  "This is the father of my bride and king of D'Naath, Fraynor. He is also the father of your betrothed, Solara."

  Her father nodded and also shook Braedon's hand.

  "I welcome you to Greenbriar."

  Once again, the strange male stared at her. Surely he didn't think she was Solara. If so, she would have to correct that misconception immediately. She was not destined to marry this man.

  Open your mouth and say something, Trista, before your father or Garick do. It would have to be now or she would have made the trip for nothing.

  She stepped boldly in front of her father, trying to quell the shaking of her legs.

  Braedon frowned as she stood before him and looked her up and down, assessing her from head to foot. Heat that had nothing to do with the sun had her flapping her wings to create a cooling breeze.

  She tried a polite smile, but his facial expression did not change.

  Did the man know how to smile? Maybe he was completely toothless. A grim line sealed his lips together.

  Where was her voice? She swallowed and tried to speak, but no sound came out. If she did not say something soon, all would be lost.

  "Braedon of Greenbriar, I am Trista, faerie princess of D'Naath and younger sister of your betrothed, Solara. I wish to speak." Her voice quaked and squeaked, but she pressed on. The last thing she wanted was for her father or Garick to stop her.

  Braedon arched a brow then nodded. "State your piece." Breathing a sigh of relief that he had given her permission to continue, she nodded, wiping the sweat from her palms onto her shift.

  "Trista," her father warned under his breath. She ignored him.

  You can do this, Trista. Remember, it is for Solara.

  "I am here to ask for release for Solara. It is my right as kin to request that you choose another bride and that Solara be released from her betrothal to you."


  She winced at the sound of her father's booming voice, refusing to turn around and face what she knew would be his very angry face.

  Braedon's lips curved slightly upward in what could
only be described as a sneer. Perhaps that was his way of smiling? Surely the stories of his grumbling personality were not true. No one could have as sour a disposition as he had been rumored to have.

  He crossed his arms and regarded her. "So your sister does not wish to marry me." It was not a question, yet she answered anyway. "No, she does not." Garick reached for her arm. "Trista, be silent!"

  Braedon held up his hand. "Let her speak freely."

  Garick's grip on her arm loosened. For a moment she was afraid Garick was going to toss her onto the back of her horse and drag her out of the castle. She knew she was going to be in deep trouble with both her father and Garick when they left, but if this worked, her sister would be free to choose her own man.

  She would risk their punishment for Solara's release.

  "Trista, tell me. Did your sister send you here to inform me she did not wish to marry me?" If she told him the truth, he could still ask for Solara to hear the words from her directly. She hated lying, but it was the only way. "Yes."

  "May I speak, Braedon?" her father interrupted.


  "It is vital you marry a D'Naath princess. Our lands are bound to be joined by custom and law, which can only be done with the marriage of a faerie princess and the king of Greenbriar. In joining, we have strength against the armies of wizards bound to take over our lands. I ask that you reconsider this foolishness spouted by my daughter and allow us to bring Solara to you."

  "I am aware of the protocol, Fraynor. I am also aware your daughter Solara has every right to beg release from our betrothal contract. And it appears that through Trista she has exercised that right." Braedon rubbed his thumb over his bottom lip. Trista wondered if he did that while thinking. His mouth was generous, and she had a fleeting image of tugging on his lip with her teeth.

  Shocked at the direction of her mind, she inhaled sharply and forced her mind to stay clear of such thoughts.

  "Are all your daughters betrothed, Fraynor?"

  "Nay. Trista here was betrothed to the King of Boreas, who as I'm sure you know suffered an untimely death several years ago."

  "Ah yes, I had heard that."

  Trista frowned. Something was amiss here, something she hadn't considered when she'd concocted her plan. Why were they discussing her and the death of her original betrothed? What did this have to do with Solara?

  "It is required that I marry a princess of D'Naath. Since one princess has invoked the right of refusal, perhaps I will take this one as my betrothed instead." Trista's heart dropped to her stomach when Braedon pointed at her.

  "No!" she cried, then clamped her mouth shut and closed her eyes, mortified at her own outburst.

  "Trista!" her father hissed in her ear. "Enough of your talk. I think you have spoken enough. It is my turn now."

  Before she could turn and beseech her father not to take Braedon's suggestion seriously, he grasped her by the elbow and propelled her forward. Despite digging her slippered heels into the hard ground, her father dragged her easily. She stumbled into the arms of the king.

  He wrapped his arms around her to hold her upright, his body as solid as the trunks of the tall oaks in D'Naath's forest. Afraid to even look at his face, she focused only on his chest.

  That is, until he tipped her chin upward with his finger. She squeezed her eyes shut, refusing to open them. This was all a very bad dream, and soon she would wake up back in Winterland again, with her sisters around her. They would laugh at her nightmare and her foolishness.

  "Open your eyes, faerie."

  No dream, that voice. Like the darkest, sultriest night of summer, it called to her with sensual promise of delight and wicked pleasures. She lifted her lids. His blue eyes mesmerized her, made her forget things she should not forget, made her all too aware of things she should not be thinking.

  A wisp of awareness caught in his gaze. A subtle sensuality like a cloud passing over a bright, sunlit day.

  Just as quickly as it appeared, 'twas gone from his eyes, replaced instead with a coldness that chilled her.

  "Aye, this one will do. After all, one bride is as good as another. Trista, princess of D'Naath, I claim you for my betrothed. We will marry in one month, allowing us time to get to know one another and for preparations to be made. This will suit you, Fraynor?" She waited for her father to deny the request.

  Instead, he said, "You are most kind to accept my daughter Trista. I am honored to betroth her to you." Despite the warmth of the morning, a cold dread filled her body.

  This could not be happening.

  Chapter One

  Trista stood in the courtyard of Greenbriar, sweat beading between her breasts as she watched her father and Garick mount up their horses. She held her palm against her forehead to shield her eyes from the glaring sunlight of midday.

  They had arrived but one day ago, and already they were leaving. In such a short period of time, her entire world had changed.

  Now, instead of Trista accompanying them back to Winterland, she was being left behind! Despite her vehement protests, her father decreed that since she had foolishly requested Solara be released from her betrothal, Trista would remain in Greenbriar and marry Braedon, the King.

  How had this happened? How could such a simple plan spiral so out of her control? She had meant only to release Solara from her betrothal. Nowhere in Trista's plans had she considered she would be forced to marry King Braedon instead.

  "Let this be a lesson to you, daughter," her father said, his mouth set in a grim line. He mounted his horse and looked down at her. "You will reap what you sow."

  "Father, you cannot leave me alone here!" she pleaded, wringing her hands and desperately trying to come up with a plan that would extricate her from this predicament. "I meant no harm to Solara nor to King Braedon. Solara belongs with Roarke."

  Her father frowned. "'Twas not your place to say. However, King Braedon has graciously offered to accept you as his betrothed. Behave yourself, young lady." Trista looked to Garick but found no sympathy in his frozen gaze. Instead, his voice dripped a cold ice so like his homeland. "If I had the time, I would turn you over my knee and give you the spanking you so richly deserve. You must learn not to meddle in others' affairs." Her continued protests fell on deaf ears. They turned their horses and headed out through the main gates, the contingent of Winterland guards trailing behind them.

  She stood rooted to the spot until she could no longer see them. Despite the sweltering heat and the thick shift she wore threatening to smother her, she refused to budge, refused to turn around and face what was behind her.


  King Braedon.

  He cleared his throat. She could not very well stand and melt in his courtyard, though the idea was somewhat appealing. She turned, clasping her sweating palms behind her.

  Now what was she going to do? She had been lucky before. The king originally chosen for her betrothed had died an untimely death, leaving her without a match. Which suited her just fine. She did not wish to marry anyone she hadn't selected for herself.

  A pox on these antiquated laws! Why could she not choose?

  Although if one had to make a choice, at least in appearance, Braedon of Greenbriar would be a most appealing option. Though she was shocked to discover the inhabitants of Greenbriar were humans, she could not fault the appearance of the king. Sun-streaked dark blond hair hung to his shoulders, looking windblown and eminently touchable. He wore a closely cropped beard that gave him the look of a fierce warrior. His blue eyes sparkled like the turquoise southern ocean. Truly a beautiful face to behold.

  Although it would be much more appealing if he smiled, which she had not seen him do yet.

  Then again, she had avoided him completely for the past day, hoping he would not seek her out.

  He had not, instead spending all his time with Garick and her father. She had been sent to the bedchambers and forced to remain there until someone had called her to meals. No one had come to visit her, no one had
made overtures of friendship or greeting.

  It was as if each person stayed to themselves. As far as she could tell, there was no socializing here.

  She would never survive this place.

  "Are you going to stand there and die of heatstroke, or will you come into the shade of the keep?" Ignoring the clipped tone of Braedon's voice, she sighed and said, "I suppose I have no choice but to comply." When he turned away and strode through the inner gates, she followed.

  Once inside, blissful shade from the overhanging and tall trees offered respite from the heat.

  "Is it always so hot here?" she asked, hurrying her step to keep up with him.


  "There are pools in the D'Naathian forest inside the gates of your property. Do your people swim there?"


  Well, that would have to change soon enough. Her delicate skin would never survive this wicked heat without constant cooling. "I will bathe there."

  He stopped so suddenly she almost ran into his back but halted herself in time. Turning to face her, he scowled and leaned down as if speaking to a child. Now he stood practically nose to nose with her.

  Stars, he was a handsome man. Square jaw, a long nose and lips that begged to be kissed. Her body heated, though this time not from the sun.

  "You will not bathe there."

  When he pivoted and resumed his brisk walk through the inner courtyard, she hurried again to keep up.

  "Why not?"

  "'Tis not safe."

  "Of course 'tis safe. 'Tis my forest."

  "You may think so, however the wizards claim the D'Naathian forests as theirs." Hmph. As if those skeletal creatures had a say-so in the land of the faerie. "The wizards are mistaken and do not dare venture into the forests of the faerie. Truly your people would be safe there." He did not answer her, just kept walking.

  "What happens now?" she asked.

  "Now I am going to practice sword fighting with my men."

  "What am I supposed to do?"

  He halted again and turned to regard her, starting at the top of her head, raking his gaze over her breasts, hips and legs. When he looked up again, his eyes had darkened and she felt the shocking warmth of his desire.