A curse can erase her from his mind, but never from his heart.
…and the Beast, Book 1
After three years at war, the High Lord of the Forest returns to his lands, a victorious wolf leader intent on claiming his mate. Instead Ciar finds an empty bed and a court with no recollection of the woman he loved. Following her long-cold trail proves far easier than facing what awaits him at the end.
Sabine’s first instinct is to beg her beloved to leave. The High Lord’s mother hired a witch to curse Sabine, desperate to wipe the lowborn wolf from her son’s mind. But the spell worked too well, and Sabine has vanished from the thoughts of everyone who sees her. Including her own family.
The edges of his memory already blurring, Ciar and Sabine must race to find a way to reverse the spell. Yet every searing moment together is not enough to stop the curse’s inexorable progress. His only chance is to bind Sabine to him too tightly to be forgotten, before she disappears once and for all.
This story contains cruel betrayal, destined love, vile curses, smoldering reunions, wicked deeds between wanton shapeshifters and a happily-ever-after worthy of any fairy tale.
Mothers did not scare recalcitrant children into good behavior with stories of how the woman would snatch them from their beds as they slept. Green recruits to the warlords’ armies did not boast of how they’d fought her and bested her magic. There were no whispered rumors, no legends, no cautionary tales.
Any of these things might have been, had anyone spoken of the woman in the first place. But no one did, for no one could.
No one remembered her at all.
The wolf studied the cabin.
It was an ugly thing. Small and squat, built of dark stones packed with mud and topped with a wild roof thatched by inexpert hands. Even the High Lord of the Forest could recognize a poorly constructed hovel, for all that he had been bred a warrior and lived his days in a magnificent palace. This sad little hut couldn’t hope to keep out the weather—not the cold winter drafts rushing down from the mountains, or the heavy winds that whistled through the trees.
Had he been in his other form, he might have frowned. Instead the wolf lowered his head and sniffed at the dried leaves, hardly able to believe that the sweet, familiar scent had led him here.
The door opened and a woman stepped out. Her heavy cloak couldn’t conceal the curves that lay beneath it, nor could the rough hood hide hair like spun gold, glinting in the late-afternoon light.
She froze, staring down at her hand on the leather latch, as if she did not dare look up.
The wolf stepped forward, paws silent on the forest floor. When he stood just inside the clearing, he closed his eyes and called his other form. As easy as breathing, after so many years at war. He counted her heartbeats—three before he stood on two legs, clad in rough leathers and a sturdy cloak. They weren’t the extravagant sables and silks his mother pressed upon him, but a warrior’s clothing, attuned to him by magic so it would survive the change between forms. It could well be years before he was comfortable in anything else again.
It had been years since he’d spoken to her. “Sabine.”
“Ciar.” She turned and whispered something that sounded like either a plea or a prayer, though he could not make out the words.
Whatever it was, it fell far from an explanation. “I did not expect to return from war only to find my rooms bare of any trace of you.”
“You—” Confusion darkened her eyes, and she started forward only to draw up short. “You have been gone a very long time.”
Their comfortable understanding of one another seemed to have vanished as surely as she had. A stranger stared at him, her energy and demeanor only a hair shy of feral. Not the easy woman he’d loved. “I went to war, Sabine. You know this.”
“Yes, I know this,” she snapped, color rising in her pale cheeks. “I ceased to exist the day you left.”
He’d left orders, and he wished he was more surprised they’d been disregarded. Sabine had been the mistress of his heart, but she lacked the noble blood his mother valued above all else. “I am sorry. You will tell me who ignored my command that you be treated with courtesy.”
“You don’t understand,” she murmured, “and you should not have come.” Tears welled in her eyes.
“Sabine.” He strode forward, reaching for her, and she shrank back.
“No,” she growled, one hand held out as if to ward him off. “You mustn’t touch me.”
War had hardened him. Some nights he woke in a cold sweat, sure that blood still slicked his skin. Did she see violence in him now? Did she fear him? “I intend you no harm.”
Sabine laughed, a helpless noise that held no mirth. “You’re the only one left, Ciar, the most important. I won’t survive it if I lose you too.”
Frustration brought the edge of his wolf to the surface, turned his words to a snarl. “I don’t understand.”
She closed her eyes, hiding the longing that shone suddenly in their depths. “If you promise not to touch me, I will make some tea and explain. But you must swear it, on your life.”
“I swear it.” On his sanity, perhaps. The long nights in his tent, dreaming of warm skin and full breasts, of the sweet heat of her body, even just the pleasure of holding her—never had he imagined coming home to such coldness.
He hadn’t expected any of what he’d found upon his return home. Not the court full of near-strangers or his empty rooms, and certainly not a mother who had taken the presumptuous step of arranging his betrothal to woman he hardly knew.
Ciar had left it behind—the palace, his mother, his so-called betrothed. Nothing had mattered but the woman before him, the one who watched him now as if trying to judge his sincerity.
After a moment, Sabine unlatched the door and waved him inside.
The hut was as uncomfortable as it looked, almost unbearably chilly until she knelt and stirred up the banked fire. Only then did she remove her cloak, revealing a simple dress of dark blue. “Sit, please.”
She’d been young when she’d first come to his bed. Not so much younger than he himself, but if war had hardened him, then age had softened her. Oh, not all over—her body seemed more slender, perhaps, but with entrancing new curves that made his mouth water. Wicked hips, glorious breasts—
He was not to touch her. It was hard not to sigh as he dropped to a hard wooden chair, his discomfort magnified by his acute arousal.
Sabine hung a kettle over the fire and began to speak. “When you left, those at the palace were eager for me to go, as well. I refused. The chancellor offered me money, your mother asked me to think of what was best for you… The last thing they wanted to hear was that I’d promised myself to you.”
“They didn’t need to be told. I made it clear to everyone that they were to treat you as my mate.”
She hesitated at his words, and he saw her hands were shaking as she pulled two chipped cups from a cupboard beside the hearth. “They needed to be rid of me. Your mother had her witch lay a spell. You had gone, so she had to cast the magic on me.” She turned away. “Magic to make you forget me while you were away.”
The words made no sense. “And yet here I am. I assure you, I thought of you every night.”
It seemed to ease her. She glanced back at him and, for just a moment, she looked the way she once had—blushing at his attention. Yearning for his touch.
She blinked and it was gone. “Something must have gone wrong. Soon, no one at the palace could remember me, not even the witch.”
All thoughts of lusty touches faded in a rush of worry. “When I asked about you, I thought my mother was doing what she has ever done—refusing to acknowledge any truth which does not please her.”
“Far from it. It—” She dropped to sit across from him at the rough table, careful to keep her hands far from his, misery etched in every tense line of her body. “At first I thought it was a cruel joke, or perhaps an effect limited to the palace. When I traveled home to see my mother, I found out the truth.”
Worry turned to horror. “No.”
Sabine closed her eyes, as if it hurt her to make him listen. “It happens faster if I touch someone, or if they sleep. I don’t know why. Otherwise, I think I simply…fade.”
So she’d lived alone, in the woods. In squalor. “How long?”
A shudder took her. “I would have spared you this, Ciar. It won’t matter now, not for long, but you should know that.”
Ominous words, but he chose to pretend there might be some innocuous meaning. “You’ve discovered a way to break the spell?”
She flinched. “The witch was most affected, along with your mother. I tried to tell her what was happening, begged her to reverse the spell, but every time she turned away, she forgot I was there.”
“Sabine. What do you mean, that it won’t matter for long?”
“Your distance must have protected you from the spell’s effects. But my own mother forgot me, Ciar, and now so will you.”
“Never.” The chair scraped on the rough-hewn floor as he shoved away from the table. “Do you honestly expect me to leave you here by yourself?”
“I wish you would.” Her voice thickened with tears. “You don’t know what it’s like to look into someone’s eyes and see nothing. No hint of recognition, nothing. Think about it and tell me what would have been worse for you today—a cold reception, or if I hadn’t even remembered your face.”
He reached out but checked the gesture. “Nothing could provide more torment than this. Knowing you suffer.”
For the first time, her shoulders straightened and she looked almost calm. Peaceful. “Then I’ll take my solace in knowing I won’t torment you for long.”
“You won’t,” he agreed quietly. “Because you and I are going to find the witch. She will not be able to forget the High Lord of the Forest when he stands before her.”
Sabine smiled, though the expression fell short of reaching her eyes. “I appreciate that.”
She didn’t believe him. Well enough, he’d give her reason to believe. “May I stay tonight?”
“Of course.” She sprinkled dried herbs in each cup and poured steaming water over them. “You will always be welcome in my home.”
And I will free you. A promise to them both.
How sobering that fighting a war had seemed a less daunting task.