Can a fairy bargain bring two fey races together in love? First, she must believe.
Despite their own Otherworldly, fey origins, the Faerie gentry lost their belief in the odd beings who are the wee folk, including tiny, winged fairies. So when Nanceen first encounters the tiny, butterfly-winged man, she doesn’t know what she believes. Until Korin calls to her and makes his way to her world, becoming a gentry-sized, wingless man she can see, touch, believe in, love.
The wee folk are known for their bargains and wagers so in order to woo Nanceen, Korin must fulfill a number of confusing tasks set forth by his king. His heart, and life, depend on hearing the sound of a bell signifying completion of each task. The first, not so simple it seemed. First, she must believe. In him.
The rat king’s conditions, underhanded plans and evil conspiring throw nearly insurmountable roadblocks before Korin. The risks to his life mean little with Nanceen at his side. Until the king takes bold, unexpected action threatening Nanceen’s family. Korin must return to his tiny size and face the king alone. Will he survive and with Nanceen bring two long separated fey races together with love?
Enjoy Chapter One
The fey don’t dream. At least, that’s what they said. Whoever they were.
Just another example of how she didn’t fit in. Nanceen stared through the open portal connecting the Otherworld of Faerie to her brother’s backyard in the mortal, human world. Jaye had successfully blended the two halves of his heritage, while her twin sister, Kaelea, embraced Faerie almost to the exclusion of her human half.
But neither world seemed quite right to Nanceen, and she could not find a balance similar to her brother’s within herself. Nanceen scrubbed her hands through hair, cut short to defy Faerie custom, and sighed. Why couldn’t she find a place to be happy? Be settled, instead of so restless all the time.
A bush to one side of the clearing rustled, and the sound drew her attention. She crinkled her brow. There was no breeze, and no one else was near the portal. Nanceen closed her eyes and reached out with her senses as she had been taught by her Uncle Derrik.
A faint, hazy patch hovered within the mass of bright green leaves and sparkled with disguised magic.
Suddenly, the haze rose from the foliage and was gone.
Nanceen shook her head and rubbed one temple. She’d swear she heard faint laughter as the haze disappeared.
Curious, she took a quick step to follow the haze, but stopped with a jolt and frowned. So that was it. Someone was playing with her, trying to lead her into a game of chase for which she wasn’t in the mood. With a deep, frustrated breath, she turned her back on the unusual haze.
A quiet, deep chuckle of distant laughter trembled through her. Nanceen made a quick decision to visit Lara. More friend than niece, Lara might be able to help her work through her current dreams and unsettled emotions.
A leisurely pace took her through the brightly lit woods of her clan’s homeland to the small clearing where Lara had built her home. The flat, open area in front of the small cabin was filled with toys, made of both human plastics and intricate Faerie carving. A tiny grin tugged the frown from her lips when the twins noticed her standing at the edge of the glade.
“Ceen!” Two pairs of chubby, toddler legs pumped, carrying Antin and Belle toward her. Arms outstretched, she knelt and held her breath. The collision with the children knocked her breath away and she fell onto her bottom. The twins, eager for kisses, squirmed in her embrace.
“Ceen’s here!” Antin shouted. “Auntie Ceen.” He planted a sloppy kiss on her cheek.
Not to be outdone, Belle touched rosebud lips to the other cheek, then wiped away the sticky kiss with her small fingers. Both children chattered happily, their high voices and four- year-old lisps filling the clearing.
Gentle as a sigh, a short, soft breeze blew past Nanceen’s ear. She shivered and, expecting someone to be there, glanced over her shoulder. But the woods were empty. Except…
Nanceen blinked twice trying to bring the wispy haze into focus. It couldn’t be the same as the blur by the portal, could it? What was it?
Belle pointed at the haze. “Bu-fly. Pretty.”
The haze snapped out of existence. Nanceen fought to ignore the strange emptiness left within her chest. She shook her head and struggled to set the twins away so she could stand. The force of her imagination was getting the best of her.
“Bye-bye, bu-fly.” Belle pressed her lower lip to a pout and waved at the empty air, then reached for Nanceen’s hand. With Antin tugging her other arm, Nanceen let the children lead her toward the cabin.
A tall, golden haired woman exited the red door as they reached the wide porch. She smiled at Nanceen and held out one hand in welcome. “Nanceen. What brings you here?”
“I needed to talk, Lara.”
Lara tilted her head to one side and cast an appraising look at Nanceen. Uncomfortable under the scrutiny, she glanced away, but resisted the urge to shuffle her feet. Her niece chuckled before speaking to her children.
“Your Da is looking for you. Best go find him before he gets lost. Check behind the shed.”
Shrieking with delight, the twins took off and rushed headlong around the corner of the cabin. Lara chuckled again and brushed unruly curls back from her face. “We’ll have some quiet now. Come on in.”
“Iain won’t mind?”
The golden nimbus of curls fell back in her face when Lara shook her head. “No. He was looking out the window when you entered our clearing. He suggested we spend some time without the kids. They’ll be helping him in the garden. They love it. So much, they bring half the dirt home with them.” She led the way to a cozy nook and indicated Nanceen should sit at the wooden table. “So, tell me what’s up.”
Nanceen reached toward the ever-present bowl of chocolate, fished out a piece, and unwrapped the tiny drop. How was she supposed to describe her feelings to another when she had no idea about them herself? She stared at the light brown sweet. Where to begin?
When she looked up, Lara grinned at her. “I think I know exactly how you feel. You’re restless, like you’re looking for something, but you don’t have any idea what that something is.”
Nanceen’s mouth dropped open in surprise. “How… how did you know?”
Lara sighed and snagged her own piece of chocolate. “When I looked in the mirror before I traveled to Iain’s time and found him…” She popped the candy into her mouth and continued around it. “… I looked just about like you do now. It’s your eyes, Nance.”
A gasp passed Nanceen’s lips. “Did you hear that?”
Lara’s light brows drew together, and a thick line of concern formed over the bridge of her nose. She leaned forward. “Is it the kids?”
“No, no. It was another voice. It was…” The drop of chocolate fell to the smooth tabletop, and Nanceen rested her head in her hands. “I think I’m going crazy.”
Lara grasped both of her aunt’s hands, pulled them away, and waited for Nanceen to lift her gaze. “No, you’re not. Though, I do remember it feeling that way. You’ll be fine. Be patient and you, and the one you wait for, will find each other.”
“You’re a romantic, Lara. I’ve been in both worlds and found no one who even begins to interest me. Perhaps I’m not meant for love.”
Lara eased from her chair, circled the table, and crouched before Nanceen. She rested her hands lightly on her aunt’s shoulders. “Oh, but you are. I know it.”
Nanceen returned the kind embrace and leaned back. “Are you sure you don’t hear the voice?”
“Could it be one of the kids? Belle loves to play tricks.”
“No. Oh, never mind. It must be my imagination. I should go.”
Concern still hovered in Lara’s eyes. “Come back whenever you need to, Nance. I mean it, now. Whenever.”
“Thank you, Lara. That means much to me.”
Lara’s gaze burned into her back as she left the clearing and passed under the thick overhang of tree branches. She wandered aimlessly, following patches of sunlight that appeared on the dimmer forest floor. With her thoughts on the memory of the voice, and the few unsettling words she’d heard, she paid no attention to her path.
A faint haze separated a strange, brightly lit glade from the surrounding trees. When she stepped into the clearing, Nanceen’s skin tingled. Gazing in wonder at the tiny, grassy area, she was surprised she’d never discovered this place. Then, she shrugged and sank to the ground with her feet tucked under her. Her clan’s part of Faerie was no small land, there were bound to be places left for her to discover.
She plucked a tiny purple flower from a plant with yellow- green leaves. The rise of scent from the bloom made her close her eyes and inhale deeply. It was a mix of Otherworldly scents such as she’d never encountered. Her lips stretched into a dreamy smile.
“I’m gratified you like my flowers.”
It was the same voice–only not inside her head. Afraid to open her eyes, Nanceen paused before answering. What if it was just a figment of her imagination, her unknown desires becoming manifest?
“Don’t be afraid.”
“I’m not,” she whispered.
“Open your eyes.”
The voice was a clear tenor that rang with the power of magic. Had one of Faerie found her? Someone from another clan? Was this for whom she waited? Tremors chased each other down her spine. Slowly, she opened her eyes and looked around cautiously. There was no one in the glade.
“What foolishness is this? Where are you?”
She rose and followed the soft echoes of the voice to the far side of the glade. A blurry haze hovered a few inches above the grass and flowers. She lifted one of her hands toward the pale golden glow, reaching to touch, to discover what magic created such a small disruption in the clear air.
“What will I find?”
She dropped her hand to her side. “Don’t say such things. I’m no fool to believe such words.”
“Then, I must prove myself to you.” The edges of the haze faded and it shrank in upon itself until only a tiny, winged man remained.
Nanceen stared. Words failed to pass the dry tightness in her throat. The wings fluttered briefly to lift the figure higher and closer. When he was at eye level, a slow, sensuous smile spread across his face. Turning the deep velvety blue and silver of the wings toward her, he pirouetted in the air. When he faced her again, he bowed, nearly touching his knees with his head.
“I am Korin.”
“It’s not possible.”
He grinned. “I assure you it is, for I have always been Korin. Korin of the family Goodfellow.”
“Are… are you a… a fairy?”
He bowed once again. “Aye. One of the wee folk.” A hint of sadness colored his words.
“You don’t exist. You’re just a myth, a children’s tale.”
Korin crossed his arms. “I assure you, Nanceen of the Gentry, I am as real as you. As real as the humans who believe in neither of our races. Ah, my Nanceen. There is much you do not know of the Otherworld. It would seem the Faerie clans, as the mortals, are fools.”
Nanceen closed her eyes. “I don’t believe this. I must be dreaming.” Afraid of what she would see next, her eyelids lifted slowly. She was having delusions, seeing things. This wasn’t happening to her. It wasn’t.
Still hovering before her face, his arms still crossed, Korin’s head shook back and forth. “What shall I do so you will believe?”
“Return tomorrow, so we may talk again.” His dark wings fluttered rapidly as he turned, hovered only a moment, then sped away, rising and falling over the rolling landscape.
“Wait.” The whispered word fell on the silent, empty clearing. Nanceen drew back her hand and stared at the palm. She’d just seen a man no bigger than her hand. With wings. A fairy.
She shook her head and wiped her palm against her thigh. Fairies were creatures of imagination. She gave an unladylike snort. Of course, to most human minds, so were her people.
Tiny as he had been, Nanceen had no trouble bringing his form into sharp focus. Backed by the deep blue of his wings, his hair shone with a strange combination of gold and silver. Underlain with pale blue, the silver reflected in startling, almond-shaped eyes. And his eyelashes–pale as his hair, but long and softly spiked. Nanceen smiled and admitted to herself the weakness she’d always had for lush male eyelashes. She brushed a fingertip over her own dark lashes. Why was it males were blessed with wonderful lashes when she had only a short, stubby fringe?
A shrug lifted her shoulders and a sigh filled her chest as she tried to visualize the rest of his face. She was sure he had a nose and a mouth, but she never got that far in the short moment after he appeared. The tiny man was a wonderful fantasy.
And that’s all he was. She shook herself, anger at her notions made the movement stiff and jerking. Perhaps Lara was right, and the lack of a man in her life caused her strange, restless moods. But it was no excuse to create a being from a hazy spot in the normally clear air. And, if she was going to create an imaginary lover, she should at least make him the same size she was. Nanceen chuckled. It was time to return to the real world. She chuckled again. Her real world was fantasy to others, so why couldn’t she have a fantasy man?
Emptiness throbbed deep in her chest. Although her mind denied the fairy’s existence, her heart wished he were real. The vision of glinting sliver-blue eyes haunted her as she rose and wandered from the glade.
“Show me her.”
Korin bit back a sharp retort. It was bad enough he was forced to petition his king for permission to court, to find his mate. But to expose her to the wily Fir Dhaerrig made his
stomach churn. When the rat man discovered…
“Korin.” The warning was explicit. The red cloaked, barrel- chested, filthy king reclined on his dirt-smudged throne, one leg thrown negligently over the ornately carved arm.
“Sire.” Korin bowed his head, chewed on his lower lip, and lifted his hands. A clear bubble formed between his palms, lifted, and expanded until it was twice as tall as its maker. A gentle, whispered word swirled a smoky mist through the bubble to form a female figure. Korin could not hold back a smile when the vision of Nanceen, bent low over a thick book, solidified.
The smile died at the king’s startled cry. “One of the gentry? No, man. You will not. If you must mate, take a willing fairy maid.”
“I desire none but this woman.”
The Fir Dhaerrig leaned forward and licked his fleshy lips. His long, beaked nose twitched, making him appear even more as the rat man so many before had called those of his blood. How one of the treacherous Fir Dhaerrig became leader of his tribe was far beyond Korin’s understanding.
The obvious sexual interest his king held for the vision of Nanceen made Korin clench his teeth. His fists soon followed and hovered, quivering at his sides. The king ran one hand down the front of his loose, torn trousers to cup himself. He leaned back and laughed, drew his hand away, and flicked his fingers to make the bubble float closer.
“She is a comely thing. Perhaps when you fail, I shall pursue her.”
“No!” Clapping his hands once to make the bubble disappear, Korin leapt forward. He skid to a stop, folded back the wings that had flared with his anger, and lowered his head. “No. I will not fail.”
“It is a deed never done–to mix races.”
A bark of sarcastic laughter jumped from Korin’s lips. “Our history tells of the time long before the separation of fairy and gentry. A time when fairy was ruled by–”
“Speak not of it, Goodfellow. If you value your meager existence, you shall not speak those names. Fairy rules fairy. There is no mixing of fairy and gentry.”
“What of the tribes across the sea? What of Queen Lina?”
The Fir Dhaerrig laughed, his great belly shaking with his effort. “That whore? She weaseled her way into the Prince’s heart. Imagine, born in a flower and raised by humans. Loved by a toad. She didn’t even have wings, had to be carried away by a bird. Pah.”
Holding back a sigh for the beautiful, much-maligned queen, Korin went to one knee. “I ask no more than the prince himself found with one from outside our race. As he gave to her, I shall give to my chosen.”
“Think you to find pleasure then, Korin?” The king’s laugh became a wicked, taunting sound. “I doubt you could pleasure one of her… size.”
Korin looked his king square in the eye. “I have the magic to grow to the gentry’s size. If she would desire it, I would find the magic to bring her to this size, to know our people as well. We shall make the final choices together.”
“Such a choice is irreversible after the passing of three moons.” The king’s mouth dropped in astonishment then he shook his head. “No, I will not allow it.”
“If I don’t receive your sanction, I shall pursue my desire without it.”
“You challenge my decision?” The king tensed and clutched at the arms of his throne.
The king’s laughter rolled through his empty hall. Disgusted, Korin turned away, already planning for the agony of losing his place in the fairy lands forever. Korin took a deep breath. His place in fairy was worthless. His family had retreated to the far reaches of the land so long ago; none remembered why they chose near banishment. Now his family was gone, and he was alone.
Nanceen was worth both the mental and the physical pain of a separation from his people. Even if she didn’t choose him, he would be able to remain near her. He took a determined step toward the wide, double doors that led from the throne room.
“Wait, Korin.” The king could barely make the words intelligible through his laughter. “I believe I shall change my mind.”
Korin refused to let joy and hope show on his face when he turned back to the Fir Dhaerrig. If the fairy knew the effect of those words, Korin’s life would be made even more miserable than it already was whenever the king took notice of him.
“Yes, I have changed my mind.” The king lifted one hand and studied the chipped, dirty nails. “However, there are conditions.”
“Oh yes. You must succeed in a series of challenges I set for you. Succeed and the maid shall be yours. Fail, and wingless banishment awaits. Do you accept my challenges?”
“For the love of the maid, Nanceen, I do.”
The king clapped his hands twice. A long, feathered quill and a curl of parchment appeared before him. He tapped the side of his face with the end of the feather as he concentrated. After turning a twisted, self-satisfied smile to Korin, he wrote.
Korin held his breath for three heartbeats, then let it out slowly. What kinds of challenges would the sneak who was their king assign him? Would they be physical? Korin tensed and relaxed his well-toned muscles. A physical challenge should be no problem. Mental? Perhaps he was not so well accustomed to such things, but there would be a way to succeed, and he would find it. Would the rat king assign him a task of bringing more treasure to the already overflowing coffers, hidden where even the leprechauns couldn’t find it? Korin gave up speculating and, while he waited, the image of Nanceen filled his inner vision.
“Eh, Korin. Are you ready to hear your challenges?”
He took another deep breath. “Aye, sire.”
“Should you succeed, which I doubt, you shall hear the sound of a bell. A mark shall be made upon one side of this page. Should you fail, a mark shall be made under the name of your king. Me.” The Fir Dhaerrig laughed. “The length of time for the completion of the challenges is one changing of the moon. From dark to dark again is all the time you have to tally more marks upon your side of the page. This challenge is sealed by fairy law, and shall be witnessed by a hand’s number of my people. I shall even give you the honor of choosing those witnesses. There will be no question of the legality of this challenge.”
Korin nodded. “I understand, sire.”
“Then, call your witnesses. Get on with it. The dark moon falls upon the human world this night. I want to make sure you have all the time you need.” He laughed and spread his hands to make the parchment lie flat in the air as if supported by a table. The king leaned back, tossed his leg over the arm of his chair, and looked expectantly at Korin.
The witnesses had come, studied the parchment, nodded approval and scurried from the hall. After reading the conditions and uncaring what consequences might come from the rash action, Korin shook the parchment in his king’s face. “These are your challenges?”
The red-cloaked Fir Dhaerrig steepled his fingers under his sharp chin, tapped the tips together in a light, dancing rhythm,and grinned. The crooked cant of his lips twisted his face to a malicious leer. “Until the marks are made and witnessed, you can always back away, Korin Goodfellow.”
“Once a bargain is made, no Goodfellow has ever turned his back on the challenge.”
“Then what are your concerns?” The king’s face softened to a confused expression, but his beady eyes continued to glitter with wicked intent.
A shudder passed through Korin and he brought his wings tight against his back. He took a deep breath, cleared his mind, and dropped the parchment back to the invisible table.
“I do not understand the challenges you set before me, sire.”
“Eh? Have I made them too difficult? Will you be forced to concede to my will and forget the gentry maid?”
Knowing that even the destruction of his body would not drive the essence of Nanceen from his spirit, Korin shook his head. “No, sire, I will not concede.”
“Then perhaps part of the challenge is to understand the tasks placed before you.”
“As you decree, sire.”
The Fir Dhaerrig rose ponderously to his feet and took a step toward the parchment. “As you decree, sire,” he whined. “As you decree.” His voice settled to harsh tones and he slapped his hand on the parchment. “Korin Goodfellow, I so decree. And, since you continue to challenge me, I decree one further condition.
“Think again if you plan to seduce the maid to win her to you. You shall not join with her until…” The king let a serious, contemplative look fill his features, then tapped his finger against his chair. “Until four of the other challenges are met.”
Korin returned a cool smile to the king’s expectant expression. He had not thought to use seduction, but the thought of lying with Nanceen, of touching the soft warmth of her skin, made him weak.
Eyes narrowed, the Fir Dhaerrig’s mouth twisted to a frown. “Should you lay with her, should you mate with the gentry woman before my conditions are met, the agreement is forfeit. As is your life. Do you understand me, Goodfellow?”
Korin gave a sharp nod.
“The witnesses have acknowledged the document. If you desire to continue with this useless farce, make your mark, Korin of the family Goodfellow.”
Korin’s wings unfurled and quivered with the force of holding his anger in check. He snatched the quill from the air, drew the distinctive design of his mark, and shoved the page toward the king.
Suppressed laughter turned the king’s face the bright color of his cloak. He turned his hand so the back of his fingers pressed against the parchment. A faint glow surrounded his middle finger. An acrid smell drifted past Korin, and he turned his face from the wafting odor.
“Done.” The king snapped his fingers. “The document is marked and witnessed.”
A duplicate parchment appeared before Korin. He glanced quickly at the page, rolled it into a tight cylinder, and stalked from the chamber. When he reached the clear air he leapt high and let the light breeze carry him far from the rancid stench of the king’s chamber. How had a Fir Dhaerrig, a creature who cared for nothing but his own amusement, become king?
Korin sat on a low branch and spread the parchment over his knees. His heart sank as he read, reread, and tried to understand the challenges. One cycle of the moon. It was not much time.