Orphaned at a young age, Jess learns to survive as best she can. The world is a rough place, and a grandmother’s love can only do so much. She’s watched over by long-time friend Gedeaddon. Although he has a rough exterior, Jess sees his heart better than others—except when it comes to herself.
Ripped from her world due to a slowly encroaching war by an unknown adversary, she joins forces with Gedeaddon and escapes one threat only to land in the path of an even greater one. Changes are happening she cannot understand, both in Gedeaddon and herself, as she becomes a woman and he becomes something not entirely human. On their journey, they meet new friends with similar ambitions, and Jess discovers magic and fantasy are just as real as life and death—and that animal lords truly do exist.
Jess pulled out the second key, upon reaching the door, and opened it. She stepped inside and spun to face him. “Your voice sounds a little different. Are you getting sick?”
Gedeaddon closed and secured the door. “No. I’m just tired.” His weapons removed, he headed to the bed and dropped his cloak. “That needs to be washed.” He grabbed a clean pair of pants and, walking to her, trailed his hand over her belly. He felt only flesh under the linen. “That’s what I thought. You don’t have on any armor, do you?”
“I don’t have any armor to put on.”
“You will in the morning.” He closed the door to the bath room behind him. “We’re leaving in the morning. Be ready.” As he bathed, he eyed the wound and, finding only a slight scar, thought the rapid healing was odd. Another ugly mark. He yanked on his clean pants, strode to the bed, and lay down and listened as his sprite bathed. Afterward she appeared in his black shirt and gathered the dirty clothes into a bundle.
She answered the knock on the door with the bundle in her hands.
“I saw you come in, miss, and figured you might be hungry.” Elane set the tray on the table. “Nice to have you back, my lord.” The clothes bundle collected, she closed the door behind her.
Jess filled a bowl with several fruits.
Gedeaddon picked up the brush and patted the bed. “Come. We won’t have much time in the morning.”
Complying, she allowed him to brush dry her hair as she nibbled on the fruit. “What’s bothering you?” She sighed at his lack of an answer. “Are you going to tell me or do I have to beat it out of you?”
“I’m waiting.” He rose and quickly packed their belongings in a matter of minutes.
She tossed her hands in the air. “What does that mean?”
Spinning, he swiftly closed the distance between them. “It means that you’re all sugar and sweet now, but one day—” he grabbed her slender waist and lifted her to his height— “you’ll grow into a woman, open your eyes, and see me the way I am.”
She momentarily stared at him. “Put me down. Now.” Her feet back on the ground, she removed his hands, stepped around him, and walked to stand in the middle of the room. She faced him. “When are you going to stop trying to make me see what you want me to see when I see what’s real?”
He strode toward her. “You will leave.” Either that or die. Most die.
Jess glared. “Do you think you know me so well as to decide what I’ll do?”
Swiftly lifting her again, Gedeaddon spoke between clenched teeth. “What do you see?”
She openly studied his face. “Ebony eyes, teak brown hair, powerfully built, very muscular, taller than most men, rock solid in your ways. On the outside, you are cold and hard, but inside your heart is warm and soft. I see a good man.”
He almost dropped her. “Are you blind? I am an ugly, hideous, freaking animal. I’m a dog,” he stated coldly.
She braced her hands on his shoulders. “And that means?”
Growling, he opened his mouth and thought about the words. Tell her a wolf bit me and I really am a dog. Yep, that’s a smart one. He clamped shut his mouth.
“Do you think I see only what is before my eyes and not my heart? I don’t see most things as other people see them. In the eyes of femininity, you’re not an attractive man. In the eyes of masculinity, you are all any man could ever wish to be. Don’t you think I see strength of muscle, reliable valor, honorable intentions, steadfast gallantry, and devotion to responsibility?”
Absorbing her words, he slowly lowered her to the floor.
Her hands slid down to rest on his chest. “I’ll leave when I desire to, and that day may never come. But you will not—” Jess angrily slammed his chest with both her fists— “make me leave or drive me away. Do you understand?”
Gedeaddon stepped back. “Fine.” But you will leave sooner or later. Mark my word, you will leave me. He watched her nibble a few more pieces of cheese and fruit as an unbidden smile touched his lips. She’s so small, so delicate, so— A knock on the door broke into his musing. He let the serving woman retrieve the tray. “We’ll be leaving at sunrise. Is it possible to have a few daypacks and our water skins prepared, as well as one last meal?”
“I’ll see it’s taken care of. You and the miss be careful. Word has it the war is sure to turn this way.” The serving woman left with the tray.
Securing the door, he watched her climb into the bed. “Why do you stay, Jess?”
She snuggled under the covers. “Where would I go, and why should I abandon my best friend?”
He blew out the lamp and climbed in beside her. Stretched out on his side and propped on his elbow, he looked at her. This dainty sprite clung to him, held no fear of his appearance, stood up to his tirades, taunted his senses in a way no female had, and defended him against others, even himself.
“You’re my friend, Gedeaddon, and you can’t change that. I won’t let you.” Her voice drifted off into slumber.