Authors: Marie Hall
Tags: #Paranormal Romance
Imp, deceiver, villainous mastermind…Rumpelstiltskin’s been called all these names and more, and for the most part, they’re entirely true. But there is more to the brooding, blond haired Adonis than brokering deals for the devil. He’s hiding a terrible, hideous secret. One that threatens to fray the already delicate strands of his sanity and reason. A secret that he’s desperate to make right, to see whole again, and there is no one and nothing that will stand in his way of getting what he wants—no one except a slip of woman with hair like fire and skin like finest porcelain. Something about Shayera Caron calls to the beast inside him and makes him question his motives for the first time in his life.
Shayera Caron is the daughter of the infamous Gerard Caron, former lothario of Kingdom but now a reformed rake and settled husband and father. She can go nowhere in her tiny hamlet without seeing the sneers of women and hearing the murmurings of their disdain for the blood that runs through her veins. Shayera is desperate to get away from the gossiping hens, so when Rumpelstiltskin rides into town, she doesn’t think twice before going wherever he leads. Only thing is Shayera is not as innocent as she might seem, for she hides a secret too. One that will bring the most feared man in all of Kingdom to his knees…
To my devoted Kingdom fans, for refusing to let me end this series, I can’t imagine a world in which I did not write Rumpel’s story. Having learned who he really is, this book had to be written. You guys are the best, thanks for believing in me and loving this world and my characters as much as I do… And to all of you discovering Kingdom for the first time, all my books (with the exception of The Huntsman’s Prey) can be stand alone reads. So don’t be scared, even though this is book 8, I promise you won’t be lost.
“You failed.” Rumpelstiltskin looked at the girl dressed in red, standing before him with her chin thrust forward a notch and her spine rigid. Her hair was long and brown and gleaming. Her face was elfin, with striking cheekbones. She was pretty in a banal kind of way.
Angelica glared at him with eyes as cold as steel. Her ruby-red lips thinned. “You lie!” Her body quivered with fury.
The volcanic mountainside rumbled as the slide of heated magma ran slowly down the black rock between them. The sky was an angry shade of gray and against that dreary backdrop, he could almost believe her to be a warrior goddess, especially the way she stood barefoot on the jagged shards of rock, feet torn and bloody, with the sulfur-tinted breeze whipping through her tresses. Her face was covered in angry red scratches and her once-luxurious gown was now little more than shreds of ribbon clinging to her.
The woman knew what she was about. He smirked.
Snapping his fingers, Rumpel made her oath manifest itself as a scroll of parchment that gave him the right and authority to do whatever he wished with her. She’d sealed her acceptance of his every condition in a bloody signature. Her blood, to be more precise.
The crackle of fire curled around the edges of the brown sheaf. “See this?” He pointed and smirked when her eyes widened. He could practically taste the slick slide of fear oozing from her pores. “This here is an oath, a binding one, my dear. One that gives me absolute power over you.”
“I hate you.” She glowered.
“Oh come, Angelica, honestly. I gave you what you craved. Beauty, power. You struck the deal.” Crossing his arms, he rested his weight against his chrome-and-steel steed.
Her lips trembled as her fingers clenched tight to her sides. “You know the future, how can you say I lost?” she spat out. “I passed each one of your tests easily. I found the treasures each time. You simply refuse to acknowledge it.”
Gods, give a woman a little beauty and they became such a pain in the arse. He rolled his eyes. “You know, I much preferred you when you were just a simple country mouse. And what do I honestly stand to profit by claiming you’ve lost? Accept facts, chameleon. You may now be a beauty, but your brain is as it always was. Empty and dull.”
She gasped, daring to take a step toward him.
He chuckled. “You bore me. Our contract is terminated.”
“No! Wait!” She held out her hand, the heat of her fire completely banked in her desperation that he might take it all away. “I can do anything. I will… I would…” Nibbling her lip, she stared at the ground, then back at him. “I will sleep with you. Yes!”
She smiled and it was so uninspired, so put on, that his lip curled in instant revulsion.
“You made me thusly, surely this body”—she traced a slim hand down the length of her svelte form—“tempts you.” Her voice dropped an octave, becoming huskier and what he could only assume she meant to be sexy—problem was it sounded to him like a woman straining from constipation. Her fingers plucked at the laces around her breasts.
“Stop.” He shook his head. “I can promise you you’re doing nothing more than embarrassing yourself.”
Now there were tears shimmering in her eyes. Nausea rolled like bile in his gut at her theatrics. His amusement with her had run its course and he was well beyond the point of caring.
“You cannot do this to me, you promised—”
“And I delivered.” Jerking upright, he nodded. “I kept up my end of the bargain, you did not. The contract is now null and void.”
The moment the words were spoken, a shimmering wave of incandescent light rained upon her. She shrieked, dropping to her already gashed-up knees as her hands flew to her face. Her skin shifted like melting wax, reforming and reshaping her from what she now was to what she’d once been.
When the light died, she blinked up at him. Her face was plump—hardly fat, but definitely fuller. Her skin was dull, her hair greasy and lifeless. The chit wasn’t the foulest creation known to man by any means, but those who came to him rarely believed reality but rather their own perception of the truth.
She saw herself as hideous to behold and had been willing to trade her soul for a chance at comeliness.
Shrieking, she covered her eyes with her forearm. “You’ve ruined me,” she cried. “You swore to me, Rumpel. You swore and I did all that you asked me to do. I won this gauntlet.”
With a scoff he straddled his bike. “You can find your own way home.”
“What?” She shot to her feet, the dress that’d fit her so well just a day earlier now had to be held in place so as not to expose more of herself than was seemly. “I’m several days walk from home. At the very least—”
“I owe you nothing more. Be grateful, mouse, that I didn’t kill you for wasting my time.” With a final glare in her direction, he revved his stallion and left. Her screams echoed behind him.
There were only a few names left on his list. His heart clenched as the muscle in his jaw tensed. The blast of wind against his face as he rode failed to calm his nerves as it normally did.
Riding pockets of air currents, he streaked across the sky like a hellish blaze of fire and brimstone. Somewhere in Kingdom was the woman who’d end his curse. It seemed impossible to believe that she might possibly come from the loins of one Gerard Caron, but if she was here, there was nothing and no one that would prevent him from doing any and all manner of vile things to possess her.
No matter how, he meant to see this nightmare come to an end.
“The devil’s come to collect his due, Caron.” He laughed and his bike roared.
“I forbid this!” Danika shrieked, gazing furiously at a smirking Rumpelstiltskin. The blond demigod was lounging on his steel stallion from hell with his hands clasped firmly behind his head, looking for all the world as if he were the cat that ate the canary.
The black leather pants he wore fit him like second skin, and the white shirt outlined the sharp planes and grooved demarcations of a body honed by a master sculptor. No one was really sure whether Rumpel was as devastatingly wicked as he appeared or if the demonic little imp had simply glamoured himself to appear thusly, but one thing was certain, he was as evil as he was beautiful.
The ground beneath her feet rumbled as his bike purred, the clouds were gray and gathering with the first stirrings of an apocalyptic storm, and a bolt of lightning struck a massive oak not ten yards from them. The unmistakable odor of ozone permeated the air, making her fight an urge to sneeze. Holding her ground, refusing to be cowed by his garish display of power, she balled her hands into fists and gave him a withering glare.
Thankfully, she’d managed to route the imp on his way into Gerard and Betty’s village, otherwise his show might have actually succeeded in scaring off the townsfolk. Danika herself was merely cross; she too had magic and could wield it just as sharply as he if she so desired.
“Oh come now. Just because you’re Gerard’s godmother doesn’t give you any right to interfere in this. In case you’ve forgotten, you don’t actually get to tell me what to do.” His gleaming ride spewed a tail of fire from its chrome pipes. Red headlights seemed to almost blink back at her.
While Rumpel himself did not frighten her, she had to admit that the sentience of that contraption did make her knees knock together like rolling marbles. Thankfully, she was wearing a dress of woven starlight that covered her to her ankles.
His smile was lascivious with a hint of cruel intentions twisted up in it. “Mmm, Danika, truly you’re a sight to behold, little fairy. Quite lovely you’ve become since that horrid affair ended with the sun and Hatter’s daughter. Which, I might add”—he lifted a finger—“I helped to negotiate. No?” His brows quirked.
Danika huffed with indignation. “You were never good enough to kiss the soles of my muddy shoes, old man, and had you not interfered in
business,” she said, stressing the word, “I can assure you I still would have found a way to—”
He scoffed, making that damnable dimple appear. God, but she hated the reactions that man elicited from her. She did not want to like him, did not want to enjoy looking at him, and yet she was as helpless as iron shavings drawn to a magnet. He had the sort of evil pull about him that simply demanded a woman stop and stare.
Blinking and screwing up her courage, she averted her gaze and realized she could breathe just a little easier when she did it.
“You do think highly of yourself, Danika, and should Jericho ever cease to divert you, I’d willingly step up to the plate. But come, come, fairy, will you not at least look at me?”
The devil was in that man’s tongue.
“Nay.” She glowered. “I will not. And I still say you are to leave my charge alone.”
From the corner of her eye, she saw him stand from his perch and shake his head with a semi-bored look. “Technically she is not that either. You see, I know these things. Her father is your charge; Shayera doesn’t even have a godmother yet. Tsk. Tsk. I mean…” He scrubbed his lightly stubbled jaw with strong, blunt fingers. “’You’ve as good as invited the Big Bad Wolf to come and snatch her up.”
Jerking her gaze up, she glared at him. “One, I know the Wolf and he’s an honorable man. Two—”
He sighed as a glittering roll of parchment crackled to life before him. Her heart sank; Rumpel’s deals were legendary and binding. Her dragonfly wings buzzed in agitation.
“What is that?” She hissed, squinting her eyes against the blinding flame curling at its edges.
“What? This?” He pointed at the sheet, smiling in a way that could only be called supremely satisfied. “Why, only a binding, legitimate contract between one Rumpelstiltskin—that’s me.” His brows waggled. “And one Gerard Caron. Hmm.” He stared at the sheet with a perplexed sort of frown. “Did he not tell you? Did you not know? Why, I thought your bad five had reformed their ways. How very naughty of him.” His accent was a mix between Gaelic and British and made her insides curl with fronds of heat to hear it, to feel it almost like a lover’s stroke against her flesh.
She hated that man, truly she did. Bastard was most definitely glamouring himself.
The parchment rolled up, disappearing in a bright flash of flame as he sat back down on his rumbling beast.
Danika shook her head. She would have never known what Rumpel had been up to if the Huntsman hadn’t whispered in her ear about a certain prophecy the imp was working obsessively to stave off. A prophecy that he was apparently sure involved Caron’s wild beauty, Shayera.
“Why do you want her?”
Frowning, Rumpel gunned the throttle and the machine came to life, roaring so loudly that she felt the wave of sound rush through her. His smile was grim. “Why I want her is none of your concern. She’s an unchaperoned denizen of Kingdom.”
Meaning he didn’t need to explain himself to her and well she knew it.
Twisting his hair in a knot behind his head, he nodded at her.
“Wait!” She held out her hand, rushing to his side. “You must vow to do her no harm. Swear it, Rumpel, or I’ll hide her from ye.” She trembled, but not with fear now, no… with determination to do what was right.
“Oh, come now,” he whispered with that shivery burr of his. “You know that’s beyond the pale. You hide her, I’ll tell the fairy council of your abuse of power and your wings will be stripped. Is one lone girl really worth all that?”