Exclusive Cover Reveal + Excerpt + Giveaway: Midnight Soul (#4, Fantasyland) by Kristen Ashley

Midnight Soul fantasyland

Pretty much anyone who knows me also knows that Kristen Ashley is one of my all-time favorite authors—I’ve yet to find a book I didn’t love. I have so many favorites (SO MANY!!!), but the books that comprise the Fantasyland series are arguably my favorite! Magic, romance, off-the-charts chemistry, suspense… these books have it ALL!!!

So today, along with my blogger partner-in-crime, Natasha Is A Book Junkie, we are through-the-roof excited to exclusively share the cover of the fourth book in the Fantasyland series—Midnight Soul!!! This is Noc and Franka’s story and I need it yesterday!!! And guess what you?! Natasha and I have the first two chapters to share with you!

Read Chapter 1 below, then hop on over to Natasha Is A Book Junkie and read Chapter 2. Make sure to scroll to the bottom of this post to enter to win a GORGEOUS Swarovski blue pendant and expandable pull chain from Alex and Ani!

Pre-Order Now: Amazon | iBooks | Kobo | Barnes & Noble ✦

Synopsis

Against his will, Noctorno Hawthorne, an undercover vice cop, finds himself embroiled in magic, mayhem and parallel universes. Too late, he meets an amazing woman only to find she’s destined for his identical twin in another world.

And things aren’t going real great there.

Noc is recruited to help save that world.

What he doesn’t know is his destined love resides there.

Franka Drakkar wears a mask. A mask she never takes off to protect herself in a world of malice, intrigue and danger.

When Franka meets Noc and he discovers her secrets, convinced she carries a midnight soul, having shielded herself from forming bonds with anyone, she struggles with accepting his tenderness and care.

When Noc meets Franka, over wine and whiskey, her mask slips and Noc knows it’s her—only her—and he has to find a way to get her to come home with him.

And then make her want to stay.

Chapter 1

Midnight Soul Teaser Chapters ©Kristen Ashley 2016

Wouldn’t Even Blink

That day had been one I wished to quickly forget.

Indeed, the months since those witches took my Antoine had been time I wished I had the power to erase from my memory.

I had power.

I did not have that kind of power.

These thoughts on my mind, I moved down the hallway of the Winter Palace, seeking my room, where I planned to pull the cord, ring a servant and request several bottles of Fleuridian wine.

Wine might not make me forget, but I’d found of late that it served well to dull the pain.

I turned the corner, my eyes to my slippers, but my senses made me lift my gaze to the passageway.

At what I saw, I halted and grew still, then slowly and quietly retraced my steps and ducked behind the corner, peering around.

Oh my.

The Prince Noctorno of the other world was in the doorway to a bedchamber.

Although he was not actually a prince. Not in this universe. Apparently, they had very few princes in that other world, a world that existed on a parallel plane where all beings had twins to my own world.

This I thought was rather mad (everything about it, obviously), but with few princes, that meant there were few kings, so who ruled?

He reported that he was instead a member of the city guard, an occupation he referred to as being “a cop.” A rather surprising statement considering all that was him.

He was no member of a guard.

He was a prince.

And he called himself Noc, for some unknown reason, as Noctorno was a fine name, a strong name, a regal name (this last was true as his counterpart in this world was a prince).

And right now, he had his back to me.

He was wearing a pair of trousers the like that couldn’t be found in my world. They were made of a rough, sturdy, faded-blue material. He also had a shirt that was not the fashion in this world. It was attractive and made of an equally attractive plaid. And it was a shirt that fit his broad shoulders magnificently.

His thick, black hair was untidy (this, also attractive).

And I could see his light-blue eyes but only in my imagination as he had his back to me.

They were not eyes you were likely to forget. With his dark hair and skin browned in the sun, those eyes were deliciously striking.

There was a day, though now that day seemed lifetimes ago, when a sight such as Noctorno Hawthorne of another world (or, indeed, this one) would have caused me to have a much different reaction, not only to him, but to my plans for the imminent future.

That was before Antoine.

That was before I met the man who introduced me to, well…me.

Now I stood peeking around a corner, my body hidden (something I would never do before Antoine, unless it served a purpose, of course), but it wouldn’t matter if I was around the corner or dancing a jig in the corridor.

The two people standing at in the doorway of the bedchamber just down the hall wouldn’t know I was there unless I shouted.

For Noctorno of the other world was not alone.

He was standing with Circe. Circe of this world, my world, but she’d spirited herself through magic to the parallel universe and decided to stay.

She was facing Noctorno, and once I could tear my eyes from his shoulders, his hair, his arse in those trousers, I looked at her face.

And again went still.

There was much I read in her look.

I was Franka Drakkar of the House of Drakkar. And if they were clever (and I was clever, very clever, but not clever enough), any member of the House of Drakkar learned early how to take in anything they could in order to read a situation and then manipulate it to their advantage.

Therefore I saw the sated look on her face and I knew why Noctorno was standing there in her bedchamber door, his big body loose, relaxed, his hand lifting as I watched so he could gently stroke her jaw with his thumb.

And what I knew as I watched this was that they’d just had relations, and at least for Circe now of the other world, she’d enjoyed it.

Greatly.

But there was more to her look. More that would, to the woman I used to be, have given me everything I needed to cut her to the quick, for social sport, or bring her low in order to cow her to my every whim.

Relief. Acute relief.

And gratitude. Extreme gratitude.

I felt something stirring in the region of my belly, looking at her lovely face, knowing her story.

Knowing how she’d been misused since she was a child. Her parents slaughtered by a king who then made her his plaything in all the ways he could do that, every one of them despicable. Knowing of her escape from his captivity, which only brought her into the hands of pirates (and further misuse). Knowing her exceptionally unfortunate luck took her from said pirates to the savage land of Korwahk where she was entered into the Wife Hunt, a heinous practice, its simple name stating exactly what it was, if not relaying the information that when the “wives” were captured, they were violated.

Awaiting the Hunt, that had been the end for her. She’d used her considerable magic, all of it, and sent herself to a different realm. Another world. That parallel universe. One, from the snippets I’d heard, that was very different from my own.

Circe had exchanged herself for her twin. And the Circe of the other world was now the Golden Warrior Queen of Korwahk, beloved, even revered not only by her people, but her husband, King Lahn.

No one would know if the Circe I saw now standing with Noctorno would have earned that adoration from a ruler and his people if she’d chosen to remain after all that had befallen her since childhood.

Therefore it didn’t matter.

Now was now.

And that very day, the evil triumvirate of witches that threatened two continents had all been dispatched.

Executed.

This made it safe for the most powerful men on those two continents to live out their days in harmony with the loves they’d found across universes.

Found them and impregnated them.

All four of them.

It was the way of men.

Quite tedious. Lay claim and then lay claim, planting their seed so they could bind their women to the servitude of motherhood and the men could live eternal through their spawn.

As far as I knew (and I was not privy to much), none of these men (save Frey Drakkar, my cousin) had been with their loves for more than a few years (and in some cases, it was only months).

And yet all the women were expecting, three of them with their second child.

This had naught to do with me.

I was going to drink wine. Sleep. Wake.

Leave.

I tried not to be in Lunwyn—my icy country, my beautiful home—very often. And not only because, to many of those I knew, I wasn’t welcome.

Even so, I didn’t wish to return to Fleuridia where I had apartments and spent most of my time either.

They were apartments I’d shared with Antoine.

I needed to be rid of them.

Where I would go, I had no idea.

Of course, it was a must I first visit with Kristian, my brother, who, after what I was forced to do in the hopes of saving my lover, had suffered.

My brother was bountiful of heart but weak of character. He needed looking after. He needed protecting.

I’d see to him.

As I always did.

Then…

I had no idea.

But now was not the time to decide that.

Now, as I stood watching Circe press her jaw into Noctorno’s touch, I knew he’d taken care of her. In so doing, I knew he’d been immensely gentle, took great amounts of time and paid tremendous attention.

All of this I understood from the replete expression on her face.

The relief I witnessed in her visage was likely, after all she’d endured, that she didn’t think any man could offer that kind of pleasure and she was delighted to know they could.

The gratitude was not for the gentleness, time, attention and the undoubted climax he’d given her.

It was simply for him being him.

The kind of man who had all of that in him.

One man in billions.

On two universes.

My vision went hazy as memories flitted through my brain.

I closed my eyes at the colossal pain those memories caused.

I had that, didn’t I, my love. We had that. Didn’t we? I grew uneasy even through the pain, wracked with uncertainty. Did I give you that, my Antoine?

As had been the case every time I sent my messages blindly to the gods in hopes they’d feel generous and send them where they were meant to be received, even before he expired after enduring such cruelty, I had no reply. I couldn’t allow the images the witches had sent of his torture to come to my mind’s eye. If I did, it would be crippling. So I only let them through when I was alone at night, in bed, and could be crippled by them, tossing and turning, sleepless for hours.

Days.

Weeks.

I opened my eyes and, again swiftly and quietly, turned and made my way back down the hall, leaving Circe and Noctorno to their moment.

As I did this, I felt my lips curl in a scornful smirk.

Look what’s become of me, Antoine. I called out silently to the ether. Walking away from that touching scene without even catching Circe’s eyes to share I’d seen what I’d seen and I knew what I knew. You did this to me, mon cœur. I must get it back. If only to have something diverting in the years to come that don’t have you in them.

I halted again, halfway down the passageway, when Antoine’s deep, polished voice sounded in my head in answer.

That is not you, mon ange, and I would be most annoyed if you went back to impersonating that woman you never were.

Mon ange, his angel.

All those months we’d spent together…

Did he even know me?

This was a vague thought.

A more crucial one came to my lips.

“Are you there, beloved?” I whispered to the empty hall.

I heard no reply.

“Antoine, mon cœur, are you there?” I called and winced when I heard the urgency and desperation in my own voice.

Even so, there was no more from Antoine.

And if a servant, or (as if I hadn’t already been cursed by the Goddess Adele to endure the unendurable), the dire happenstance of being caught by Noctorno (either of them), my cousin Frey, his Finnie, the king of Korwahk, his Circe (or the other Circe), Prince Noctorno’s Princess Cora, Apollo or Madeleine, should they walk down this corridor, they’d think me deranged.

And I couldn’t have that.

I’d shown them weakness.

With the loss I’d suffered, what I’d been forced to do to my Lunwyn, my family’s House, my brother, I no longer had it me to show them strength.

And I’d learned when that was the case, when you were brought low, escape was the wisest course.

I hurried toward the steps, deciding to find my wine somewhere else.

I knew Queen Aurora was enjoying refreshments with the green witch of the other world, a woman who went by the name Valentine (and I approved that she pronounced it in the Fleuridian manner, Val-ehn-teen) as well as Lavinia, Lunwyn’s most powerful witch.

And all of them indisputably deserved those tonics, what with the palace having all its windows blown out by evil magic, the green witch instigating her layering of plans in order to save our realm, and Lavinia having actually died at the hands of the wicked triumvirate, necessitating her being resurrected by the elves.

They’d been at it since everyone was transported back to the Winter Palace and the short debriefing had occurred.

They were all women I admired—intelligent, powerful, shrewd—in Aurora’s case, cold and strategic, in Valentine’s case, smug and calculating and in Lavinia’s case, nurturing and gracious.

I would never tell them I thought any of that.

This was not because they wouldn’t give me the opportunity, not seeking or desiring my company.

I just wouldn’t.

I was a Drakkar. Even a compliment earned was withheld, regardless if that compliment had to do with saving the world.

I finished my descent down the stairs to the first floor and caught a scurrying servant as I did.

As was habit, I lifted my chin slightly, kept it aloft and looked down my nose at her.

“I shall be in the morning room. Have two bottles of wine delivered to me, some bread and cheese. Des Champs du Sauvage, if the queen has that in her cellar.”

“Right away, Lady Drakkar.”

I didn’t even nod. I moved sedately to the morning room as the servant, who had also endured the attack that day, not to mention they had a house full of visitors to see to due to the cancelled Bitter Gales that were to happen that night, if the world had not been threatened.

I worried the morning room would have some of these visitors occupying it and was relieved to find it didn’t.

Aloneness.

What I needed.

Loneliness, my mind whispered.

What no one needed.

I drew in breath as I entered the room, seeing it was lit. The sun had long since set, as it was late evening, but regardless, the windows had to be boarded.

I was equally relieved to see that the debris from the blast that shattered them had been neatly cleaned away.

Yes, the servants were all likely dead on their feet.

That was the last I thought of that as I pulled the cord and found my seat.

Fortunately swiftly, a male servant came in. I wasted no time with pleasantries (as was my wont) and ordered a fire laid and lit.

He did this as another servant hurried in with my wine, bread and cheese.

Perhaps due to the amount of wine I’d ordered, they’d brought two glasses.

Uncharacteristically of me, after the girl poured, I did not bid her to take the extra wineglass away. I didn’t need a reminder I would be drinking alone.

She more didn’t need an extra errand this day.

You’ve made me soft, I told Antoine. Too soft.

I waited, taking the filled glass and bringing it to my lips for a sip, my body held tense, expectant, hoping to hear his beautiful voice in my head again.

It did not come.

The servants left me with all I’d asked and a roaring fire that was quickly warming the space. However, when the male made to close the door behind him, thus closing me in and keeping the draught from the hall from cooling the room, I lifted my hand lazily his way.

“No, leave it open,” I bid.

He bobbed his head, did a slight bow and disappeared out the door.

I ordered the door left open for I had no company and it’d be quite dire to sit in a closed room all by myself, brooding.

With the door open and the comings and goings of a busy palace, at least there would be something that could take my attention.

I sipped. I allowed the soft cheese to soften further in the warming room. I sipped more. And more. I replenished my glass. I spread the cheese on the bread and nibbled.

And through this, I found myself alone in a room, staring at the fire, brooding.

“Hay.” I heard and started at the strange word that pertained to barns and horses being uttered in a deep voice that was not suave, even on that short word, but rough, as if hewn through granite.

I turned my head to see Noctorno of the other world (and his appealing faded-blue trousers), moving into the room with immense masculine grace, his gaze on me.

But as he walked toward me, I took in his expression, which, like Circe’s, was sated.

There was, however, no relief or gratitude.

Instead, even if some time had passed, he seemed invigorated, most assuredly by his recent activities inside Circe’s bedchamber, and at the sight of it I felt my breath catch in my throat.

I remembered that look.

I relished that look.

Not only on my Antoine but any lover I’d had (but, obviously, getting it from Antoine was far more rewarding).

It was a look I worked toward, putting great energy and imagination into it, losing myself in these endeavors, doing it feeling free of my name, my history, my secrets, my responsibilities and reveling in my success as if I’d scaled mountains.

It was my greatest talent, bringing a man to climax and doing it making utterly certain it was one he wouldn’t forget.

This being it was my greatest talent outside, of course (as any good Drakkar would excel), honing in on any vulnerability and manipulating it for the greatest possible gain—coin, jewels, furs, favors, silence, information, or simply for amusement.

Seeing the look on Noctorno in that moment, I knew Circe too had performed well (admirably well, I might add, considering her dismal past).

I also recognized—focusing on it keenly—what Circe might have missed, or perhaps what Noctorno hid from her understanding, or simply just sensing, how she came to him.

He was not done.

Oh no.

If she had not given indication she wished him out of her bedchamber, he’d still be in it.

Indeed, he might be in it all night, and not to sleep.

He might have been in it, perhaps, for days.

As these thoughts flitted in my mind, I became aware he’d fully entered the room, was stopped not far from my chair, and was standing, chin tipped down, eyes regarding me with a scrutiny that I found so uncomfortable, I actually shifted in my seat.

I ceased this reaction the instant I became aware of it, appalled at myself.

Giving something away so easily? Especially something like discomfiture?

You’ve ruined me, I snapped silently at Antoine.

My dead lover had no rejoinder.

“You okay?” Noctorno asked.

“Am I what?” I asked in return.

His head gave a slight twitch before he went on, “You okay? All right?” His voice lowered. “It’s been a tough day, babe, for all of us. Including you.”

I looked beyond him to the fire, lifting my wine to my lips but not sipping it until after I murmured, “I’m perfectly fine.”

“Yeah, right,” he stated, and the disbelief veritably dripping from his tone made my gaze flick immediately back to him.

This meant I watched as he sauntered right in front of me to the chair accompanying mine, threw his lengthy frame in it and reached for the wine at the table that separated our seats.

He also reached for the extra glass.

These were seats, I shall add, that were turned at corners to each other with a small, round table in between so my knee was nearly touching his.

He poured.

It was on the tip of my tongue to share that I had not invited him to attend me.

Alas, I became distracted by his long fingers and the words died in my mouth.

“That shit was whacked,” Noctorno declared, easing back in his chair, lifting the red wine to finely-molded male lips while I watched. “Glad it’s done,” he finished before he drew in a sip.

With some effort I refused to acknowledge, I turned my eyes back to the fire.

“Franka, right?” he asked my name.

“Correct,” I answered, thinking that one of the other universe women claimed by men in this one should have shared with this man, princely or not, that, as a member of the guard, he was well beyond his station tossing his (long, powerful) body in a chair, helping himself to my wine and introducing himself to me with a “Franka, right?”

Inexcusable.

Perhaps this was how they did it in his world.

It was not how we did it in mine.

I was of the House of Drakkar. I was aristocracy. My cousin, Frey Drakkar was The Frey, The Drakkar. He commanded elves and dragons. He was married to the Ice Princess of my snowy country (even though she actually wasn’t, she was from a parallel universe, I had no earthly idea what had become of the real Princess Sjofn, but everyone seemed to be disregarding that so I had no choice but to do so as well, and frankly, I’d never liked the woman much anyway, her replacement, however, was quite spirited).

Not to mention, my cousin Frey had already sired the future king on her, for Adele’s sake!

I was, however, not going to offer myself up for etiquette lessons to this man.

I would sip my wine and hope he’d get the indication I wished no company through my manner. If he didn’t, I would leave (though, I couldn’t figure out how to do that and take the other bottle of wine with me without this appearing undignified).

As I turned this quandary in my brain, he said in that gentle voice, “Hay,” again, but he added at the end, for some unknown reason and for the second time in the short period he’d been addressing me, “babe.”

I turned to him and informed him condescendingly, “You speak strangely.”

That got another twitch of his head before he asked, “Pardon?”

“Hay. Babe,” I said. “What do these words mean?”

“You…uh, don’t have the words ‘hay’ and ‘babe’ in this world?”

I lifted my chin a smidge.

“Of course we do. Hay is fed to horses. And babes are wee. Newborns. I simply don’t understand why you utter them to me.”

He grinned.

My heart squeezed, the pain so immense it was a wonder I didn’t double over, fall to the floor, dead before I hit.

So handsome. That light in his striking eyes.

My Antoine had been handsome.

But when he’d smiled…

“Not saying ‘hay,’” Noctorno told me. “I’m saying ‘hey,’ with an e. It’s how people say hello, greet each other in my world.”

I battled the pain, hid the severity of the fight and nodded my head once.

“And ‘babe?’” I prompted, though I shouldn’t have. Engaging in discourse would not get him to leave.

“It’s what guys call chicks in my world.”

I drew up a brow.

He watched it go and his striking eyes lit brighter.

“Chicks?” I asked, ignoring the amused light in his eyes.

“Girls. Women.”

“Girls and women?” I asked.

“Well, you wouldn’t call a girl-girl, like a little kid, a babe or a chick. You’d call women that.”

“So it’s an endearment,” I deduced, thinking that I might, indeed, expend the effort to have a word with one of the women in this world who were of his world to share with him a few important things.

Precisely that he shouldn’t be referring to anyone he barely knew, but certainly not his superior, with an endearment.

“That, though chick is more slang,” he shared.

“In other words, in your world, you refer to the female gender with words indicating to said female every time you use them that you think they’re as vulnerable and weak as a newborn child or, the like, but that of a species of fowl.”

Without hesitation his mirth surged forth, filling the room, warming it, drawing me out of my mood, away from the events of that day, of the last months, of the loss of the only man I’d ever loved, and silently I watched and listened.

I gave no indication I enjoyed it.

But I enjoyed it.

He controlled his joviality but didn’t stop smiling or watching me as he asked, “What do you call dudes here?”

“Dudes?” I responded to his query with a query.

“Men,” he explained, still smiling. “Guys.”

“We call them men or gentlemen.”

“No. I mean, endearments or slang.”

I, personally, do not engage in uttering slang.”

He studied me like I was a highly entertaining jester who’d come to court before he inquired, “Okay, what do you call a man you’re in with?”

“In with?”

“Who means something to you. Your guy. Your man,” he stated.

I looked to the fire again, feeling my face freeze.

The instant I did, he bit off, “Fuck.” There was a slight pause before, “Babe…Franka, Tor told me about the shit that went down…fuck.” I felt strong fingers curl around my wrist, a wrist I was resting on the arm of the chair, before he finished, “That was stupid. I’m so sorry.”

With a delicate twist, I freed myself from his touch, lifted my wineglass to my lips, and before I took a sip, I murmured, “It’s nothing.”

“Bullshit.”

This odd word made my gaze move back to him.

“I beg your pardon?” I snapped.

“Bullshit,” he repeated.

“I don’t understand this word.”

Though I had a feeling I did.

There was no smile on his face. No humor in his eyes. He was regarding me closely again, but this time I was prepared and didn’t shift in my seat.

“You’re full of it,” he explained. “You’re not giving me the entire truth. You’re saying something to get past something you don’t want to be talking about.”

“And if I did this, considering what we both know I’m moving us past, it’s customary to allow the awkward moment to pass.”

He leaned slightly toward me. “You’re in here all alone, drinkin’ wine by yourself, lookin’ like the world just ended. And I get why you’d feel that way. I don’t understand, when all the others are so tight, why you aren’t tight with them. But that’s not my business. All I know is, you put your ass on the line today to save four women’s lives and the life of every being in this universe. It took courage to do that, babe. You suffered a big loss losing your man and I’m sorry for that. But at least for tonight, you should be proud of what you did for your country, for four good women and the men who love them, for the memory of the man you lost. It’s time to celebrate. The good side won and you,” he pointed a finger at me (insufferably rude!) “were a part of that.”

Again, on the tip of my tongue, words hovered to share precisely, in a calculated way, how I knew he had celebrated with Circe.

Those words did not drop off my tongue.

They vanished completely as I simply turned my attention back to the fire.

“And that kinda situation does not say wine,” he carried on. “It says whiskey, vodka, or better yet, tequila.”

I could not argue with that (regardless of the fact I had no idea what tequila was).

“To that, I heartedly agree,” I declared, deigning again to glance at him and wishing I hadn’t for his smile had returned, making me further wish I could snatch my words back.

“I’ll go find something,” he announced, putting his hands to the arms of the chair in order to heft his big frame out of it, and I felt my brows draw together as, once he was up, it seemed he was moving toward the door.

“You simply have to pull the cord and demand it of a servant,” I explained.

He was now standing, staring down at me, appearing bemused.

By the powers of Adele, if she reigned in his realm, she gave him more than his fair share of everything.

He even looked delectable bemused!

I really had to leave as quickly as I could without giving anything away.

“Uh…what?” he asked.

I gestured indolently with a hand to the cord in the corner of the room. “Pull the cord. A bell sounds….” I didn’t have the information of where it sounded as I didn’t concern myself with such matters, and continued with, “somewhere. A servant comes. We tell him we want whiskey. He brings it.”

His lips quirked.

I drew in an annoyed breath for that was delectable too.

“Right,” he muttered and began to stride toward the cord.

I twisted in my chair and called to his back, “When they arrive, share with them more fuel needs to be added to the fire.”

He stopped and turned back to me while I was speaking.

When I was done, he looked to the fire and then back to me.

“Babe, there’s a pile of logs right there,” he stated.

“Indeed, there are,” I agreed, though I hadn’t concerned myself with that matter either and had no idea if he spoke truth.

“So I can put more fuel on the fire.”

By Adele, he again looked amused.

I needed to find a way to exit this situation with all due haste.

“If you wish to dirty your hands…” I left it at that but added a slight shrug.

He shook his head, his mouth again quirking, and he turned back to the cord.

Fine.

He would order whisky.

I would imbibe a bit (or, perhaps, more than a bit). Then I’d find a way to purloin the extra bottle of wine and the glass and remove myself to my rooms.

This was my plan.

As Franka Drakkar of the House of Drakkar, I was very good with plans, making them and executing them to their fullest.

However, that night, not for the first time, I would not succeed.

postdivider

“You jest,” I declared.

I was leaning across the arm of my chair (rather inelegantly) toward Noctorno, who was lounged (rather negligently) in his chair, whiskey in hand, dancing, startling light-blue eyes on me.

“Nope,” he stated.

“Nope” I had learned through the fullness of our discourse these past hours in his world meant “no.”

Incidentally, we’d had a good deal of whiskey.

We’d also finished all the wine.

And I was sure I was likely to lament how deep in my cups I was at that present juncture.

I just didn’t have it in me to care.

“You can speak to any being you want in the entirety of your universe, as long as you have this…number you describe, by just entering it into a gadget and putting it to your ear?” I asked.

“Yep,” he replied. “And as long as they also have a phone.”

Yep, I’d learned meant “yes.”

So did “Yup,” but we had that in my world too.

I examined his face.

He looked relaxed and amused.

He did not look as if he was dissembling.

Even so, he had to be dissembling.

Therefore, I moved back an inch on my accusation. “You lie.”

He shook his head, leaning forward and reaching behind him, stating, “Nope.”

He then pulled out a thin, rectangular piece of what looked like metal and glass. It had rounded edges. It was simple but somehow exceptionally handsome.

He leaned toward me, holding this thing my way, and as I watched, the little window illuminated, showing a variety of tiny pictures on it, all lined up precisely in rows, up and down.

“By the gods,” I whispered, reaching toward it but stopping, struck immobile by the fantastical.

“Yep,” he said, moving his thumb on the window. A white screen came up with a listing of text. “That’s email. You can send mail to anyone too, if you have their address. And it gets to them in a couple of minutes. Of course, I can’t do that now, seeing as I’m way outside service. But if I wasn’t, I could call ’em, mail ’em, text ’em.”

I turned my gaze from his gadget to his face.

“Text them?”

“Type in a message,” he said, my eyes dropped back to his contraption as his thumb moved over it. “Hit send, it goes to someone else’s phone, bings, they get the message within minutes. Seconds even.”

“That’s extraordinary,” I breathed, reaching out yet again but stopping before I touched the little box of magic.

“You can take it, Franka. It won’t bite you.”

Laughter laced his words and I again looked at his handsome face.

I didn’t take his gadget.

I asked, “Is it magic?”

“We don’t have magic in our world like you do.”

I sat back in shock. “How bizarre.”

“We do,” he went on to clarify. “It just isn’t out. As in, practiced openly.”

He couldn’t be serious.

“That’s very dangerous,” I stated primly (perhaps in order to hide I also did it uncomfortably).

“It probably fuckin’ is,” he muttered.

“You should do something about that,” I informed him with authority. “It’s my understanding you’re in the city guard. You should speak to your constable. Perhaps he can speak to your…whatever title your ruler bears. They can surely do something about that, and as you can imagine with your activities here, it’s advisable.”

He shook his head. “If the president went on record making folks come forward to register that they’re witches and sorcerers…or whatever…he’d be removed from office in about twenty-four hours.”

“That’s ludicrous.”

A small grin flirted at his lips as he shook his head again. “It’s the truth.”

“Odd,” I murmured, looking back to his…phone.

He shook it side to side in a coaxing way. “Take it, babe. You can’t hurt it. It can’t hurt you. There’s games on it if you want me to show you how they work.”

I again caught his eyes. “Games?”

This time, he nodded. “Solitaire. Tetris. Trivia Crack. Think there might be Fruit Ninja on there still.”

“Fruit…ninja?” I asked the question like I was trying out the words.

He simply chuckled at that, but he did it in a way I knew he was being gracious for he appeared to be fighting roaring with laughter.

I ignored this and told him, “I don’t know these games.”

He again smiled. “That would be me showin’ you how they work.”

I took in his smile.

I looked in his eyes.

There was amusement there (as there seemed to be since he entered the room, something I’d never encountered in my life, such good humor).

There was also intelligence, a great deal that could not be hidden even if, for some reason, he were to wish to try.

And there was kindness, so much, there was more than enough to exploit should one have that in mind.

But there was no guile.

Even Antoine had an agenda where it came to me. To anyone. That was how one lived in my world. Not just my universe, the world I lived in due to the status I carried.

Noctorno Hawthorne of the world of magical gadgets had none.

And staring in his eyes, I felt a sensation gathering behind mine I hadn’t felt since I was a young child.

“You should not be kind to me,” I whispered.

His expression changed.

It did not go wary.

It warmed with a gentleness that made it feel my insides were unravelling.

“Franka,” he whispered back.

“You should not be kind to me,” I repeated.

“Babe—”

“I’ve done terrible things.”

He said nothing, just stared right into my eyes, unafraid, without judgement, holding my gaze steady.

“I love my frosted country,” the whiskey (or the wine) made me whisper. “They don’t think so. They don’t know. I can’t…” I shook my head, enough of my faculties still intact not to give him that, “I don’t let that be known. I’ve traveled the Northlands extensively. But there’s nothing like the air in Lunwyn. I prefer it in the many months it’s covered in snow. I prefer the chill. I prefer the cold air carving through your innards, washing them clean.”

Something flickered in his gaze.

Curiosity.

“Franka—”

“I would do nothing…nothing…to betray my country.” My voice dropped beyond a whisper to nearly nothing. “But for him.”

“I get it.”

I shook my head. “You don’t.” I lifted a hand weakly then dropped it in my lap. “They don’t.”

I was referring to Queen Aurora. Frey and his Finnie. King Lahn and his Circe. Prince Noctorno and his Cora. Apollo and his Madeleine. The green witch Valentine. Lavinia.

Everybody.

“They get it,” he returned.

“No, they don’t.”

“They get it, sweetheart. You don’t think, if those men had the same choice as you, their women taken, tortured, living in the pits of hell every day for weeks, fucking months…or those women had that choice with their men…they wouldn’t make the same choice as you?”

“I shared this exact sentiment with them and they—”

He leaned deeply across the seat, over the table that separated us, very close to me, and his voice was the lash of a whip when he interrupted me to state, “Lied.”

He did not move away as he continued, and when he did, his voice was no less strong.

“They fuckin’ lied, Franka. I know those are good men who have done remarkable things for their countries. I also know they wouldn’t hesitate to do anything in their power to keep their women safe and free from harm. So, since they weren’t in your position, they can say whatever the fuck they wanna say. But today, when Cora and Circe and Maddie and Finnie were taken, if they weren’t made safe as quickly as they were, if you think for one fuckin’ second each one of those men wouldn’t make a deal with the goddamned devil to make that so, you…are…wrong.”

He jerked a finger at his chest and didn’t cease talking.

“I know, ’cause I’m a man like that, and if I had a woman I loved like those men love their women, I’d do it and I wouldn’t fuckin’ blink.”

That sensation behind my eyes became stronger as I asked, “You would?”

“Fuck yes,” he stated inflexibly. “And I wouldn’t even blink.”

It had started, and for the first time in decades, I could stop the flow of words coming out of my mouth.

“I’m a traitor,” I admitted.

“You were and you aren’t the first to make the decision you made for someone you loved. Worse has happened when people made that same decision. And what you did, in the end, no one got hurt. But today, even if that’s the case, you made up for it. Those bitches could have cut you down with a snap.” He lifted his hand and made that noise with his fingers, the sound so loud I jumped. “You knew it. You still walked in there. I know vengeance, I get the need for that. I know that’s what pushed you to make the decision you made. But there was more. Loyalty. To the country you think you betrayed, to your family, ’cause I know you and Frey are blood. I get with the way he looks at you, the others do, that there’s no love lost and I don’t give a fuck why. You changed the course of history, baby, and every citizen of this nation should be grateful.”

“I walked into a room and cast a spell,” I reminded him. “I hardly wielded swords and it wasn’t even my magic.”

“And saved lives doin’ that. A lot of them.”

“You make me sound like a hero,” I scoffed.

He edged slightly back, a cloud coming over his expression.

“There is no such thing as a hero. Just a person doing the right thing in more than the usual extreme circumstances.”

It was my turn to consider him curiously.

Once I’d taken long moments to do this, I asked quietly, “Why do I think that declaration is self-effacing?”

“I’d answer that, if I knew what the fuck ‘self-effacing’ meant.”

I felt my lips curl slightly up at the edges.

“Modest,” I explained.

“It isn’t,” he stated. “It just is what it is.”

As he would say, bullshit.

I did not share this sentiment.

I also did not share my immense gratitude at the relief his words made me feel.

I simply continued to look into his remarkable eyes.

“You’re good at it,” he said softly, tipping his head my way. “That game you got goin’ on. Those walls you built that you hide behind. The distance you keep with every look, every word, every fuckin’ breath.” His gaze tipped down to the table then back to me. “When you aren’t drinking whiskey, that is.”

“Noctorno—”

“No one calls me Noctorno,” he stated flatly and leaned toward me again. “It’s Noc. Especially to friends, and Franka, I help save a universe with a woman then down a coupla bottles of wine and a whatever this is called…” he motioned with a flick of his wrist to the nearly depleted whiskey, “of hooch.”

“A decanter,” I shared.

“Whatever,” he muttered then spoke up when he spoke on. “You’re a friend. So call me Noc.”

I pressed my lips together.

He let that go and continued.

“So now I’m a friend. I’m also the man who sees you for what you are, sugarlips. You don’t fool me. And those other men,” his eyes flicked to the door briefly, his indication of Frey, Lahn, the other Noctorno and Apollo, “if they didn’t have the end of the world as they knew it breathing down their necks and took the time to see, you wouldn’t fool them either.”

I drew in a breath, burying his words, words I’d heard (of a sort) from another man, in fact, from the only other person I’d come across in my years on this earth who’d expended the energy to see.

However.

He’d called me sugarlips.

I felt my brows snap together and I couldn’t control the sneer in my “Sugarlips?”

It was then his gaze dropped to my mouth before it came back to my eyes and he whispered, “Baby, you got the prettiest mouth I’ve ever seen.”

This flirtation after that very evening he’d succeeded in bedding a woman who had been repeatedly violated for over two decades.

The gall.

“Cease flirting with me,” I clipped.

He blinked, again looking perplexed, before he stated, “I’m not. I’m just sayin’ it like it is.”

I stared at him angrily.

And again saw no guile.

This was not a man who would flirt with a woman who he knew had just lost the only man she’d ever loved in a heinous, drawn-out way the pain of which would never die.

Gods.

How mortifying.

“I…I, well…” By the gods, I was stammering! “I apologize.” And apologizing! Gods, what had become of me? I finished it quickly, “I mistook your words.”

“I like lookin’ at you, Franka, and you’re cute when you stop tryin’ so hard to be a hard-ass bitch. But no decent man would make a play on a woman in your situation,” he grinned, “he succeeds in getting her shitfaced drunk or not.”

Shitfaced?

I did not ask.

“I’m not drunk,” I lied haughtily on a toss of my head.

“Bullshit.”

I narrowed my eyes at him, declaring, “I dislike this word.”

He continued to appear amused. “I get it you think you can rule the world with a flash of those gorgeous blues, a pout on that pretty mouth and a pissed-off look, baby, and there are men who’d likely break their backs to cater to your every whim. I’m just not one of those who falls for that shit.” He leaned in mock-suggestively. “I do it the other way around, minus the pouting and pissed off parts.”

I pressed his way. “You do flirt.”

He shrugged, clearly continuing to be entertained—by me—and not hiding it.

“It’s just me.”

There was a time when I’d wish he would. When I would play with Noctorno Hawthorne in ways we’d both like.

Those times were dead for me.

Forever.

I wrapped my fingers around my mostly-drunk glass of whiskey on the table, turned to face the fire, sat back and emptied its contents down my throat.

“Hey,” he called.

I allowed only my eyes to slide his way.

“Just messin’ with you, sweetheart,” he explained.

I looked back to the fire and decided, with all that I’d already given him, there was no reason to stop doing it.

With this man, one of only two I’d ever met, it would cause no harm.

Therefore, I shared, “I miss him.”

“Bet you do,” he said gently.

“Their deaths were too quick,” I declared, speaking of Minerva, Edith, Helda, the witches who had all deservedly perished that day.

The witches who had taken my Antoine from me and then treated him to a slow, agonizing death.

“Mm-hmm,” he murmured soothingly.

“But it’s over,” I concluded.

“That’s the rub, am I right?”

I turned my head to give my attention to Noctorno. “The rub?”

“Without vengeance to concentrate on…”

I understood him even if he left it at that and I shifted my gaze back to the fire.

“Got all night, Franka,” he told me, “Goin’ to Apollo and Maddie’s wedding in a few days, hangin’ here, taking some time to be in a place not a lot of people from my world could hit for a vacation. So if you want me to pull the cord and get us more whiskey, just say the word.”

He was kind.

Too kind.

“I wish for the bread and lovely cheese I consumed earlier to remain in my stomach, not be expressed onto the carpet,” I told him.

“Think that’s a good plan,” he muttered.

I set my glass on the table and pushed out of my seat, looking down at him.

“I should find my bed and allow you to find yours.”

He stood too, putting him nearly toe to toe with me.

I was a tall woman, unusually tall for this world, and I found myself wondering if it was the same in his.

But he towered over me.

Suddenly, and in a strange way I found oddly enjoyable, I felt delicate.

Vulnerable.

He was closer than he’d been to Circe in the doorway to her bedchamber.

Thus he could easily lift his hand and sweep his thumb along my jaw.

“You gonna sleep?” he asked quietly, and I tore thoughts of his thumb on my jaw out of my mind, now feeling no joy but deep guilt for a disloyal thought so soon after I’d lost Antoine.

“Since I haven’t done that well since he was taken, I doubt tonight will be any different, regardless of the whiskey,” I answered.

“They got things you can take here, you know, that help you with that?” he asked.

“Are you referring to sleeping draughts?” I inquired.

“Probably,” he answered.

“Yes,” I said on a succinct nod. “However, I avoid them. There are those who use them who become dependent on them. I don’t wish to hazard that.”

“Good call, Franka. But one night? A couple?” He leaned infinitesimally closer. “I can see it in your eyes, babe, the shadows under them. I can see exactly how much you haven’t been sleeping. Pull the cord, sweetheart. Get someone to bring you some. Get some good sleep. Yeah?”

Why he ended his statement with a “Yeah?” (another form of “yes” from his world) as if he was asking for my agreement when he’d uttered a command right before that (I gentle one, but one nonetheless), I had no idea.

What I did know was that my head was swimming from the drink, lack of sleep, the activities of the day, and regardless that I knew I wouldn’t sleep, I was exhausted and had been exhausted, down to my bones, for months.

Further, I’d spent far too long in his intoxicating company already.

So I agreed by lying, “I’ll pull the cord, Noctorno.”

“Noc, babe,” he corrected.

“Of course,” I murmured.

“You want, I’m around, you’re still around the next couple of days, I’ll teach you Tetris,” he offered.

I wanted to learn Tetris even though I had no idea what it was. I wanted him to show me everything his gadget could do.

I wanted to be in his soothing company where no games were played.

Where it was just him and me.

“I’ll be leaving imminently.”

He studied my face, sobered and nodded.

Inebriated or not, my mask was back in place, and Noctorno didn’t miss it.

“I’ll bid you goodnight,” I said crisply, stepping back, dipping my chin into my neck and buckling my knees in a slight curtsy.

A slight curtsy.

To a commoner.

What was becoming of me?

“’Night, Franka.”

I should thank him for the evening. Thank him for the words he said. Thank him for spending time with me when he could be with others that were better company.

I didn’t do that.

I rose to my full height, gave myself the gift of one last look in his eyes, turned and swept from the room.

postdivider

Once in the bed in said room I tossed.

And I turned.

Leaving my trusted lady’s maid to her own slumber, I eventually I got up and pulled the cord.

A servant brought me a sleeping draught.

It took some time to work.

But once I fell asleep, I slept for twelve hours.

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Comments

  1. I need this book right meow!

  2. Jessica Godfrey says:

    I’m so excited for this book!!!! I need it now!!! Please. I don’t want to be rude because I love KA!!!

  3. Cool giveaway

  4. Queen V says:

    KA can never do wrong for me.😍

  5. I love this cover! It’s stunning! <3

  6. jessica says:

    I absolutely love this cover

  7. Stephanie Smith says:

    I’m so excited for this story!

  8. Jessica z says:

    Excellent…love her newest concept!

  9. margaret day says:

    Love this!

  10. Aieeee! And love the Alex & Ani giveaway!

  11. Amanda Hake says:

    So excited for this book!!!!

  12. Kathy Zuniga says:

    Can’t freaking wait!!!!!

  13. Corissa says:

    GAH! I can’t wait!! I’m binging this series again!

  14. Can’t wait! Need this book now…

  15. Shannon Lang says:

    So excited for another book from the Queen!!!

  16. I can’t wait to read this!

  17. Thank you for chapter 1l

  18. Rita Luken says:

    Love KA and the necklace is beautiful! Thanks for the chance…can’t wait for this story!

  19. Can’t wait to get my hands on this

  20. AH! I can not wait until this book comes out!

  21. Rebecca Whaley says:

    I so want this!

  22. I’ll be honest, I had to scroll to this rafflecopter. I am a HUGE KA addict and I cannot take a tease right now! lol I’ve read everything, re-read everything a million + times and teasers kill me lol Thanks for the support of KA and the giveaway! <3

  23. Martha Baltazar says:

    Can’t wait for this book. I love KA to bits

  24. jodi marinich says:

    congrats and cant wait to read more of this book

  25. Judy Thomas says:

    Awesome! Can’t wait to read it! Love the stunning necklace too.

  26. Andi M. says:

    I’m excited for this book! I love this series.

  27. Cannot wait to read the rest. Such a tease…..

  28. Victoria says:

    Can’t wait to get my hands on this one!

  29. Charlene E says:

    This is the last series of KA’s I have left to read and I’m saving it for when I’m absolutely desperate to get out of a book funk…but I still couldn’t stop myself from reading these teaser chapters. How does this woman do it?!? She is amazing!

  30. I was late to the game finding Kristen Ashley but now she’s my favorite author. I love all of her books and can’t wait for Midnight Soul.

  31. I haven’t read KA in a while (hangs head) but I adore her writing and can’t wait to get back into her magical mind!

  32. Sally Cray says:

    OMG. KA is the best!

  33. Veronika says:

    Gahhhh!!!!! WHY DID I READ THIS??!!!! Now I’m going to be dying until I can read the rest of it…

  34. Stacey K says:

    So freaking awesome! I cannot wait to read Midnight Soul.

  35. So freaking excited.

  36. Casey Britton says:

    LOVE KA! Can’t wait to read this!

  37. Christin says:

    I refuse to read these teasers because they will make it even harder to wait. I’m an so excited to go back to Fantasyland.

  38. Michelle R says:

    This makes me so excited – and quite anxious to start a reread of all the Fantasyland books!! Thanks for this!!

  39. Brandy Allen says:

    Love KA! She told me at a book event about this book and I am stoked!!!

  40. So excited for this book! Love this series!

  41. As soon as I saw this, I stopped everything and read! I flipping love this series! Love the cover.

  42. Natalia Bustamante says:

    Can’t wait for it! She’s my favorite author of all times! Loved the cover!

  43. Awesomeness!!

  44. Can’t wait to read this one.

  45. Alexandra A says:

    SO EXCITED!!!!! <3

  46. I need it to be August already!!!

  47. Maria Passia says:

    Can’t wait!

  48. sil torc says:

    I simply adore this series. I just can’t wait for this one!

  49. Theresa Kline says:

    Love, love, love this series. I cannot wait!!

  50. Kim Brewing says:

    Thank you for the chance. Love KA!!

  51. Viviana Varona says:

    Thank you! Loved this and thanks for the chance Vilma!

  52. Rebecca Whaley says:

    Thanks for the chance! I love KA!

  53. nikkiphilton says:

    KA is one of my favorite auto-buy authors. I can’t wait to read this one!

  54. Love both the cover and the excerpt <3
    Can´t wait for August!
    //Linda

  55. Veronika says:

    SO EXCITED!!!

  56. Alexandra A says:

    ADORE KA! <3

  57. Lisa B. says:

    LOVE KA! Love your blog! Thank you for the excerpt and giveaway!

  58. Gretchen Tubbs says:

    So excited!

  59. Thank you!! Loved this!

  60. Ok I said I wouldn’t read it and yet…. I did and now I am driving myself stupif by reading this 10 times 😭😭😭
    Do you guys think we could beg our way to get the 4th chapter? It’s driving me nuts 😿

  61. Omg! Love it!

  62. Brandy Allen says:

    Can’t wait until this comes out! I love it when a baddie turns good.

  63. Heather J says:

    What an awesome cover. Love KA, can’t wait to read!

  64. I’m so totally frickin excited about this book!! YAY!!

  65. Stephanie says:

    Love love love

  66. Love to feed my KA cravings!

  67. Veronika says:

    <3

  68. I shouldn’t have read the excerpt! Can’t wait for Noc and Franka’s story!

  69. Can’t wait!

  70. Alexandra A says:

    EXCITED! <3

  71. Brandy Allen says:

    Not excited for the series to end but can’t wait for this book!

  72. Great blog. This is my first visit and I LOVE it.

  73. Alexandra A says:

    This cover is truly beautiful! <3

  74. Roar.. I feel like an eejit. I have no idea how to re -instagram this or whatever it’s called. Thanks for hosting the giveaway though. I love the fsntasyland books!

  75. Alexis Toh says:

    Cant wait to read Franka and Noc’s story! Thanks for the share!

  76. Amy Pollard Woolard says:

    This is gonna be awesome!!!!

  77. Miranda says:

    EEK!

  78. Tamicka Birch says:

    Thanks for the giveaway and for the excerpt

  79. Just finished with my last Kristen Ashleys book about a week ago – going thru withdrawals now… Christ she’s good! Can’t wait for this one!!!

  80. sylve T. says:

    thank you for the giveaway and chance to win!

  81. Latifa Morrisette says:

    Thanks for the chance!! Love the teaser!!

  82. Brandy Allen says:

    I need this book to come out now!!!

  83. I need the book to come out now….. oh my god I am dying with curiousty

  84. Hmmmm. I wonder what the alternate me would be like….

  85. Only 4 more days til MORE KA GOODNESS!!! I’m SO freaking excited!! Can’t wait!! Is it Monday yet?? Is it Monday yet?? Is it Monday yet??

  86. Kelsey Jensen says:

    We’re soooooo close! I cannot WAIT!

  87. Only 4 more days! In the parallel universe, I’d be interested in finding out what my parallel significant other would be like.

  88. Rachel Wallace says:

    I love this series!! Can’t wait to dive back in!

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