Elgar left his home in the Grimfer Mountains to start a new life away from goblinkind. In the village of Fairbrook he finds a steady market for his wares, a fine burrow in the woods nearby, and something he never counted on: a bride. After meeting her, he wakes the next day with a peculiar fever that worsens day by day. He suffers taunting dreams and can’t stop thinking of her. She’s human; he’s a goblin, but his condition can’t be denied. He’s found his mate. A bond between them can’t work, or can it?
Elgar slipped down from his horse when he heard the young woman weeping. Tired from the long ride to Fairbrook village, he brushed his claws over his tunic and cracked his neck. He'd come to peddle his wares, but mostly to get away from his kind and start a new life. A goblin born and raised, he had never fit in with his kin, not that he favored humans. In fact, it was quite the opposite. He'd been taught to hate them, to use them, or to wile them out of their gold at any given chance. Still, as he tossed his mount's reins over a low-hanging tree limb and lashed them into a knot, he couldn't help but feel sorry for the woman.
She sat on a carved bench by the river, her face buried in her hands, and her long, brown hair loose. The breeze fluttered tendrils of it over her rich, white gown. She didn't seem to hear his approach, too preoccupied by her melancholy to look up.
"What's the matter, pretty one?" Elgar called out to her, keeping his voice smooth. "The day is fine and warm. There's a sweet breeze from the north, and you've a fanciful dress to wear. Why do you cry?"
Her shoulders heaved. She sobbed and raised her face, tear-stained and grim. Her bright green eyes fascinated him, for they resembled the color of emeralds, the gem he preferred. "I am to wed today," she choked out, "and I do not love him."
She stared at Elgar in the same way all humans do, pondering his strangeness, but she, at least, held her tongue. Neither did she scream nor run.
"That's foul," he said, not overly concerned with her predicament. Who was he to care one way or the other? He had no reason to comfort her, and yet, he sat on the narrow bench and placed an arm over her quaking shoulder.
She paused before scooting closer to him and doing the strangest of things. The weeping woman buried her face in his tunic, threw her arms about him, and hugged him. Elgar knew he was no prize to look upon by goblin marks, or by the standards of humans, who normally shunned all but their own. He tensed in her grief-stricken embrace for a time. She smelled pleasant, perfumed as she was with the scent of roses. Her pretty hair felt soft on his cheek when he bent his head to touch his face to it. He breathed deep and closed his eyes, thinking to make the best of her affection, for it would surely be gone when she realized she clung to a goblin.
Muscles eased and the awkward feeling parted. He drew his clawed fingers tighter around her shoulders. No female, goblin or otherwise, had ever shown him such attention. It struck him as odd, but he didn't mind so much.
"Will you help me?" she pled, her words broken by sobs. "Oh please, help me."
He cleared his throat and realized she only wanted to use him, like any human. "How would I do such a thing?" He held her and did not let go, though. Even if she were a traitorous human bent on wheedling aid from him, he enjoyed her closeness. Being alone had been his lot in life since leaving the Grimfer Mountains and even prior to that parting.
"I don't know," she cried. "I don't know what's to be done. He'll come by the road yonder any moment now. My father ... he'll be looking for me. The guests are waiting in the little chapel by the mill."
Sure enough, a man's voice bellowed from farther along from the wood, shouting over and over, "Isabella!"
Elgar nodded. He relinquished his grip on the woman and stood, only she did not let go of him. She clung about his lithe body and looked up at him with her emerald eyes. Gazing at her pleased him. He didn't belong here with her, much less in the mess he knew he was about to throw himself into, but he forced a jagged goblin's smile and said, "I'll help you."
"Oh, thank you, sir," she gushed. "I will be forever grateful to you."
He pondered an asking price, a trade for his help. Her beauty seared him, and he longed simply to hold her a while more. "Perhaps we will see each other again when this terrible time is through." Standing, he shrugged and waved a hand at her to go and find her father in the woods.
She pointed toward the road. "There, just there is my fiancé." She backed into the trees, fear plain in her eyes. "Please, don't let him take me."
"Isabella?" he asked, squinting at the lone rider who approached. The man wore fine clothes, a bold red cape trailing behind him. Not that Elgar bore any attraction to human males, but this one seemed a fine specimen with his golden curls and chiseled face. He rode along looking proud and determined.
"Yes?" she answered in a meek voice.
"What's wrong with him?"
"I don't like him at all," she explained. "I would be miserable for the rest of my years if I had to marry him."
Elgar scratched his thick mane of hair before tucking a lock behind one pointed ear. He pondered the easiest method to dispose of the oncoming suitor. Lowering his gaze to the ground, he spied a fine round rock and grinned a cunning goblin's grin. Bending, he took hold of it and tested its weight in his hand. Thinking this all too easy, he took aim, reared his throwing arm back, and chucked the rock at the man's head. Goblins were known for their marksmanship, at least the ones from his cave.
The stricken rider fell backward, landing in a heap on his back. The cape fluttered up, billowed, and slowly settled to the road.
"There. All done," Elgar announced, wiping his hands together. "Be on your way now. I'm sure your father is worried."
Isabella stared at the man in the road before turning her attention to the goblin. "Oh my. This is ... well, it's..." Pushing her hair back from her shoulder, she took a step toward Elgar. "Thank you ... I think."
"You're welcome," he said and made ready to get back on the road. He strode to his mount, unlaced the bound reins, and tossed them over his horse's head. A heat had set in across his skin and a swim in a river sounded much finer than chatting here with the bride. He patted the horse and was about to set one booted foot in the stirrup when the young woman latched onto him again. The heat prickled now, as if he'd stood too close to a bonfire.
Elgar cleared his throat. Thinking her quite the puzzle, he reached down and pushed her hair away from her face. "Lady, I think it best you save your affections for your own kind. Even among goblins, I am no catch."
She smiled in a small way and his cold heart lurched. If he thought her beautiful to look upon when she wept, her joy made her radiant. He didn't want to think of what she might be if she laughed. It melted his coldness a bit and his smile echoed hers.
Her small fingers traced his lips, and he pursed them lest she fear his pointed teeth.
"Soft," she said in awe, "though your smile is dangerous. Your lips are soft as the finest silk."
He knew he ought to be on his way. Her father's voice had grown distant but continued to echo in the woods. She explored his face farther, her palms cupping his chin, his cheeks, and running over his forehead. She delved her fingers into his hair, combing through the black mass. Her face reflected a prudent curiosity. "I have never seen anything like you."
His brows furled. "Nor I you. You're a peculiar female."
"Yes. Father says I'm unusual. That's why he wants to be rid of me."
Bending toward her, he closed his eyes. The feel of her nails grazing his scalp was relaxing. Once more, she surprised him, pressing her mouth against his.