Happy Bealtaine!

Here’s a little May Day excerpt from The Oak King…

Over the next several months, as Aine came to know Kieran better, she was pleasantly surprised to discover he was not as cold and unfeeling as she’d initially thought him. Dour his mien may have been at times, yet she sensed a dark, seductive warmth smoldering deep within, needing only a spark to bring it to light. It called to something wild within her, something that yearned to be that spark, to be the one to set his heart ablaze.

Like a roaring fire on a bleak and bitter night, there was something about him that made her want to draw close, far too close for safety’s sake; that tempted her to curl up naked beside him and dare his heat to sear her skin. Only it wasn’t just her skin she risked by getting too close to Kieran’s fire, but her heart as well.

By the first of May the tension between them, and within her heart, had begun to wear on Aine’s nerves. She was tired of the lying, of the raised eyebrows she encountered every time she met one of her neighbors, tired of having to make up stories to explain Fionn’s absence and Kieran’s presence in her home. It was Kieran who first dreamed up, and later promulgated, the unlikely pretense that he and Fionn were brothers.

“You’ll forgive my saying so, but I don’t see a resemblance.” If Aine had heard that once, she’d heard it a dozen times over. “Why, the two of you are as different as night and day!”

Each time, Kieran would respond with equanimity and an impish gleam in his eyes, either cheerfully claiming it was something he and Fionn had been hearing their whole lives, or sadly confiding that indeed he wished he could be more like his brother.

“You’re a shocking liar, do you know that?” Aine groused as they returned home from shopping in the village, their arms laden with bundles. It was a beautiful spring day. New life was burgeoning all around them. It was the kind of day that should have gladdened her heart. Instead the sight of all those green and growing things brought Fionn to mind and all the foolish dreams and wishes she’d entertained the previous summer.

Kieran’s green eyes danced with mischief as he shot a mocking glance her way. “And are you just now discovering this about me? Who was it you thought you were honoring with your prayers when you came into the woods to pay homage to the Holly King?”

Aine’s temper flared at the reminder. Her religion, once a comfort to her, was now a sore point. Though she’d never acknowledged the fact, meeting Fionn and Kieran had called all her beliefs into question. She should have felt validated, yet all she knew was loss. Since December she’d been eschewing all the rituals that had once brought her solace and peace. “What I thought of you when you were but an ideal to me is neither here nor there. It annoys me to see my friends and neighbors being played for fools.”

Kieran shrugged. “Why is that? Surely you don’t expect me to tell them the truth?”

“No. But must you take such pleasure in deceiving them?”

A dimple appeared in Kieran’s cheek as he smiled. “I confess it does amuse me. But why should I not derive what pleasure I can from such things? As Lord of Misrule, it’s a part of my duties. I am obliged to play the trickster whene’er possible and set conventions on their heads. But it’s all in good fun, is it not? Who am I hurting?”

Aine firmed her lips and said nothing. In truth, she did not know how to answer that. In his own way, Kieran was every bit as compelling as Fionn, especially when he flashed that particular smile. But whereas Fionn was like sunlight and green grassy fields—filling her heart with joy and making her want to sing and dance and make love for days on end—Kieran’s pull on her emotions was more subtle and perhaps more dangerous. She did not entirely trust herself where he was concerned.

“Come, you must have known something of my nature,” Kieran pleaded. “This cannot have come as a complete surprise?”

He sounded so lonely. Despite the sunlight, warm against her skin, the soft desolation in Kieran’s voice left Aine chilled. “There are times when I question whether I know anything about anything.”

“I know there is that about me which is twisted and dark,” Kieran continued in earnest tones. “I have never denied it. But I am what I am, and whether you choose to believe me or not, I do regret that my presence here has disrupted your ordered world. Perhaps such disruption is necessary at times. All new life begins in chaos, does it not?”

Aine sighed. “You may be right, I suppose.” Despite her best intentions, she could no more harden her heart against him than she could spread her arms and fly to the sun. “And despite what you say, I doubt you’re as dark and twisted as you pretend.”

Again the dimple appeared. Kieran’s eyes lit up. “Ah, but as we’ve just discussed, you hardly know me. You have no idea how dark my tastes may run or what twisted desires I might be harboring.”

Aine stopped in her tracks, caught between dread and anticipation. “Perhaps you should tell me about them?”

Kieran stared back at her, his eyes heavy-lidded and dark. “Perhaps I should show you instead?”

Before Aine could think of a reply, Kieran had dropped the packages he’d been carrying and was reaching for the ones in her arms as well.

“Here now, what are you doing?” she asked as her bundles joined his on the grass by the side of the road. Instead of answering, he glanced up and down the empty road, then stepped close and caged her face in his hands. Aine froze. She stood unmoving as Kieran’s lips touched hers. He tasted different than Fionn—that was the first thing she noticed, not that she’d expected anything different. He tasted darker, spicier, still equally tantalizing. Kieran crowded closer. He tilted her head to the side, then slid one hand into her hair to anchor her there. When the pressure on her head made her moan, he quickly took advantage and slid his tongue into her open mouth. Then he wrapped his other arm around her and pulled her so tight against him Aine could scarcely catch her breath.

Heat flared between them and continued to build until, finally, she kissed him back. Her mouth opened wider to allow his probing tongue better access, and her hands found their way to Kieran’s waist without any conscious thought at all. His body felt hot to her touch. Hard and strong. Better than she could ever have imagined, but different, somehow, than what she’d been expecting. He was a different size, a different shape. He wasn’t Fionn.

The thought of her husband broke the spell. Aine wrenched her mouth free and pushed at Kieran’s chest. “Stop.”

He did so at once, letting her go and stepping away with a look of dismay on his guilt-stricken face. “Aine…”

“We cannot do this.”

“I know. I-I’m sorry. It will not happen again. I give you my word.”

He’d said exactly what she wanted to hear. So why was she as disappointed as she was relieved? Why did her traitorous body continue to clamor for more? Aine smiled at him sadly. “And is your word worth anything, O king?”

Kieran glanced away, shamefaced. “It used to be.”

The Oak King is currently available in digital format at Amazon, Loose Id, All Romance eBooks, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble

Twice each year, Aine Murphy ventures into the woods to hold ceremonies to honor the Oak King and the Holly King, never dreaming these Lords of the Forest could be anything more than myth. When the legends spring to life in front of her, how can she help but fall for the sexy demi-gods she's loved all her life?

From midwinter to midsummer, Fionn O'Dair rules the Greenworld as the Oak King--a role he feels is beyond his abilities, and one that dooms him to a loveless future, forever craving the one man he can never allow himself to have. How can he resist what Aine offers--the sweet devotion that soothes his aching soul, and the slim chance to live a "normal" life as her husband, if only for half a year?

Holly King Kieran Mac Cuilenn never desired a human lover--until now. Seeing Fionn and Aine together fills him with longing for the love he threw away and awakens feelings he thought he'd buried with the last Oak King. Is there enough magic in the solstice to correct the mistakes he made years ago? Or is he doomed to be forever left out in the cold?

No comments: