Cold snow lay in her palm, small specks of ice forming from being near her. Freya called the ice and snow, demanding they return to liquid form so she could create her masterpiece. It obeyed and the water flowed in the air above her hands, ready and eager for her command. With a flick of her wrist, the water flowed, creating the ice sculpture of the picture in her mind on the ground before her. Orion’s lean body was created quickly, but his face took more time. Focusing, she thought of each line, of each chisel, of each dip so it would look exactly like him.
So concentrated on the sculpture, she didn’t hear the man or the beast closing in on her.
“Princess Freya!” A man with a deep voice called in terror.
Freya spun, coming face-to-face with the largest dagoon she’d ever seen in her life. Fire simmered in the three massive eyes staring at her and at least six arms thrashed through the snow to capture her body. Refocusing the ice she played with, she shielded herself with no success. The long claws sliced through like it was paper and a low growl sounded through the forest. He was close, close enough he was breathing on her face and she could hear his long claws scratching at the icy ground below them.
A tall and built man without a shirt on jumped through the air and landed beside her. He took her hand, an electric current racing through her body and landing on the space above her left breast. Freya’s skin burned for a second before a warm and satisfying heat took over. She felt the mark start and finish, but there wasn’t time to worry about that now. The dagoon would eat them if they became distracted.
“I’m fire. Stand back,” he directed. She stood her ground, but allowed him to take point. The mark on his chest called to her and quickly, she averted her eyes.
His hands lit and the area around them melted quickly. She faced her palms to the liquid and calmed the water, allowing it to tickle her senses and nip at her skin while she watched this man battle the dagoon. He was fierce, an obvious warrior, and didn’t hesitate to light the beast up. The dagoon screamed and howled in pain, but the flames engulfed it so fast it couldn’t retaliate. It withered to ash on the ground, mixing with the water surrounding us. She forced her magic down, pushing the watery mix into the ground below, then waved her hand so the snow replaced the mess. No one must know she was out here on her own. As the sole heir to the winter kingdom and the person responsible for freeing her people from the curse, putting herself in danger wasn’t acceptable.
She glanced at the fae, seeing his ripped muscles tight under his skin and the way a scruffy shadow curved around his chin. Not allowing herself to linger, she gathered her dress skirts in her hands and started the trek back to the castle. “I appreciate your assistance, sir,” she called behind her.
Heavy stomps followed but she kept moving. Dealing with this man, the mark, and everything it meant was not something she wanted to do today.
“Your Majesty?” His voice was extremely close now and his breath tickled her neck.
A shiver ran down her spine and she hated herself for wanting him closer. She spun and glared at him, but noticed the pond forming behind him. “You melted the snow with your fire!”
Blasting a stream of power from her hands, she quickly fixed the mess he made and gave him another evil stare. “Can I help you with something else? Would you like a reward for your actions? A gold star on your record, perhaps?”
He chuckled and shook his head. “What they say about you is true, I see. Well, nonetheless, I’ve been marked. You’re stuck with me. We can head back to the castle and deal with it in the warmth.”
“Shouldn’t you be warm with your affinity?” Freya snipped.
He leaned closer and she felt the heat radiating from his body. “Baby, you have no idea how hot I am.” His words caressed her skin and a chunk of her chilled heart settled in the pit of her stomach.
This was not what she wanted today. Dealing with the mark and the mate that came with it was not on her agenda now…or ever. She didn’t care if it meant she may die, she did not want to deal with it.
Angry with the reaction and his words, she sprayed him in the face with water and growled. “I’m not your baby.”
He let out a belly laugh and swept his arm out. “Please, lead the way, my Princess.”
The way he called her princess did something to her, but she fought to hide her reaction. She trudged to the castle, ignoring his overwhelming presence. Everything about this man, his smell, his face, his body, his warmth, was attacking her senses and sending her heart into a beating fury.
Once up the stairs, she strolled through the castle entrance as the knights opened the doors for her. Orion, her personal attendee, stood at the staircase with his arms crossed. He’d practically raised her and she knew the look on his face. He was angry.
The sternness in his voice almost made her cower like she did when she was a child and was caught misbehaving. “Orion,” she replied.
He opened his mouth to speak but quickly shut it when he noticed the man. “Who is our guest?”
She gazed at him, realizing I didn’t even know his name. He smirked and bowed.
“Attendee Orion, I am Sir Henry of Winter and Fire. It’s my most honorable pleasure to meet you.”
Henry. The name sent flutters through her chest and stomach and she gripped the latter in fear of vomiting. Orion moved to welcome Henry but stopped short.
“You’ve been marked, Freya!” he bellowed.
And there it was.
She sashayed past him and threw her hand back in Henry’s direction. “Can you do something with him? I’ll be in my rooms.”
Orion didn’t listen, as usual, and followed hot on her trail. “Freya! We must discuss this! Now!” He hurried behind her and she was too slow to lock him out of her rooms. He joined her and sat on the bench. “What happened?”
Looking at him, she noticed the tiredness in his hazel eyes and wariness in his shoulders. After her mother and fathers had been murdered, and her sisters and she were separated to their cursed lands, Orion and his partner, Joe, had raised her. She’d only been four years old and they’d taken her in as their own without a second thought. He’d raised her in the castle, along with Chef Helen, Housekeeper Nathan, and Butler Dennis. Other castle workers had come and gone, but these were her family.
“I was in the forest…” she started.
He scowled at her. “Alone?”
SHe nodded. “I was making an ice sculpture for your birthday party.”
His expression softened and he gestured for her to continue. “And then he was there. I don’t know where he came from or why he was out there, but as soon as he got within a foot of me, the marks appeared.”
“Freya…you have to find the others. We only have two months before your birthday.”
She felt the weight of his words and she knew her duty, but damn if she didn’t want to. “I know what I must do.”
He stood and took her hand. His grey hair had long grown white and the wrinkles on his face were too many to count. When she was younger, she would tease him and count each wrinkle because he told her they were a secret map which led to treasure. Orion smiled kindly and brushed her hair from my face. “Freya, I know you don’t want to find your frollick. I honestly can’t blame you, but the land will be cursed to winter forever. You’ll never become queen. You don’t want that, do you?”
Freya shook her head. She truly didn’t want to let down her people, but the thought of marking three other men was terrifying to her. She was only twenty-two. She wasn’t ready for this kind of commitment. Her mother had children with all four members of her frollick. And now all her sisters and she were cursed to the season they were born in.
What if something like that, or worse, happened to her future children?
“Freya, I can see the thoughts and fear churning in your mind. You don’t have to love each of them. The mark doesn’t mean that.”
She sat on my bed and patted the space beside me. “Explain it again.”
“The mark means you are meant to be. Not necessarily as lovers, but as partners in life. Those who are marked are destined to help you break the curse on your land and bring back the other seasons. You must mark a man from each season and with each affinity. Sir Henry is Winter and Fire, so the other seasons will be found elsewhere. Freya, you don’t have to love them, but they will probably love you. Every man in this kingdom, and your sisters’ kingdoms, knows the risk they are taking and have vowed to be true if the mark appears. Your family has a long history of queens loving their frollick, but you have never been like the others. You are fierce, rebellious, and kinder than any of your family members I’ve met. And I’m three-hundred years old, so I know a few things about your family.”
The tears welled in her eyes, so she took his hand and squeezed. “Thank you, Orion. I guess I should get to know Henry.”
He grinned mischievously. “He’s not bad to look at, my dear. It won’t kill you to speak with him.”
Rolling her eyes, she allowed him to drag her to her feet. “Do I have to?”He nodded and pulled her along. “You’ve kept him waiting long enough.”