In Love and Death
(Spellster and the Hound)
by Aldrea Alien
Cover Artist: Maria Arteta
Release Date: 7th Nov 2024
Genres: MM Bi-awakening Fantasy Romance
Tropes: Hurt/Comfort, Forced proximity, Forbidden love, Mage/Mage Hunter, Falling for the first time/Learning to love again, Fish out of water, Sex magic
Themes: Grief, Self-acceptance, Healthy vs toxic relationship.
Heat Rating: 4 flames
Length: 270 000 words
It is part of the Spellster and the Hound series and ends on a cliffhanger.
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In one day, Dylan’s whole life was destroyed.
In one night, he may have found the beginnings of a new one.
Still grappling with the loss of his home, Dylan has no choice but to head for Wintervale. His one solace is in travelling the same direction taken by the enemy. But the truth behind the attack on the spellster tower suggests things aren’t as clear-cut and the enemy may well be closer than they thought.
Crossing the kingdom also means remaining in the presence of Tracker, the King’s Hound who Dylan’s repressed desire refuses to let out of his head. The man’s gentle protectiveness, coupled with his flirting, certainly doesn’t help. It taunts him with ideas of the night they shared in the tower becoming something more, a thought that is no less ridiculous than remaining unleashed.
After all, it’s a hound’s job to escort or kill spellsters. They do not disobey orders. They do not falter. And they do not fall. Especially not in love.
“I thought I knew my role in the world,” Dylan confessed. “Thought I had survived the ambush because it was my fate to return home, but there’s nothing left. No home. No friends. No life. So… why was I spared?”
Why? Tracker knew that question well. The memory of it lay cloaked in the gloom of the Pit, where a sallow flickering light danced upon broken and battered bodies. Even after all these years, he recalled how thickly the tang of human blood sat on his tongue. How the only sounds over his ragged breath were the moans of air escaping the dead, yet the loudest stunned silence of the witnesses screamed the loudest, echoing in his mind for years after.
The knowledge that he should’ve been the one to die that day.
A surprising outcome. That was what their mistress had called his survival. Unexpected and problematic. She had him sent away. Officially, to be trained in seduction, but he knew it was to have little hopes like love and family literally screwed out of him.
He’d learnt different lessons. Seduction, yes—difficult not to when it was a requirement to remain working in the brothel’s upper tiers—but also compassion. They couldn’t replace the family he had lost to Hunk’s betrayal, but The Gilded Lily had offered a type of kinship. Without it, he wasn’t certain he would’ve survived the first year.
And if he had died? What would it have been altered? Which lives would’ve been saved or lost? The spellster protected by an entire mercenary company? The elven woman who had spent decades feeding on the nearby village? The countless young spellsters and would-be hounds he had aided in smuggling into Dvärghem?
And Dylan’s fate?
He bumped the spellster’s arm with a shoulder, hoping that gentle contact was enough to get the man’s attention without startling him. “I am no priest, but if I remember my childhood teachings correctly, the gods do not control how our lives play out, they merely offer alternative paths. Everything else is our choice.”
Dylan remained silent for some time. At first, Tracker thought he hadn’t been heard, then the man spoke.
“My choices are responsible for my friends dying?”
“I did not say that and this is the last time you will speak such a lie. No choice you could possibly make would have led to what happened. That blame lies squarely on another’s shoulders.” Who had made that decision was an answer Tracker didn’t currently possess, but he was going to find out. And once he did, not a thing would stop him from dealing out the ultimate consequence. “As for why you were spared…” He inhaled, unthinkingly breathing in the scent of magic emanating from the man. The wisps of power might have died down, but that storm-cloud aroma remained a beacon regardless. “I would say your strength played no small part there.”
Dylan’s face scrunched in confusion. “My strength? I could be the strongest spellster in the world and it wouldn’t… I couldn’t…” He ran a hand through his hair, further upsetting the already messy array. “I just feel…” His breath came out in one shuddering exhale. “I don’t know what.”
“Like no matter how hard I try, I’m utterly useless in keeping all the terrible things from happening.”
Tracker laid a hand on Dylan’s forearm. Even through the layers of his clothes, the man’s shaking was palpable. “There was no way you could have predicted what happened. Not the ambush, not the army, not… any other outcome.”
Dylan stared down at his hands. Unformed magic danced around his fingertips like a rolling fog. “I can’t stop thinking I should’ve done more, should’ve been more, then maybe they’d be alive.”
He drew the spellster into his arms, sensing the ghosts of pure magic crackle into something tangible as Dylan stiffened in his grasp, the flash briefer than a lightning strike.
With his ear pressed to the man’s chest, he heard the man’s heart thumping at a tempo that suggested Dylan had spent the day sprinting down the road rather than the steady pace they’d taken through the forest. “I cannot tell you it will get better, that is not something anyone can judge for you. But I am here if you need me, in whatever capacity that may be.” He didn’t know if his presence alone would be enough to help, but he hoped so.
The man’s heartbeat slowly calmed as Tracker talked. Dylan sagged into the embrace, his arms awkwardly wrapping around Tracker’s shoulders, his cheek resting atop Tracker’s head. Wetness seeped into his scalp. He ignored it and tightened his grip to match Dylan’s.
It was a while before the man unwound himself. He dried his face, giving a self-conscious little chuckle. “I really have to stop crying all over you.”
About the AuthorAldrea Alien is a bisexual, multi-award-winning, USA Today Bestselling Author of lgbt & fantasy romance.
Hailing from New Zealand, she lives with a menagerie of animals, most of whom are convinced they're just as human as the next person. Especially the cats! By day, they wrangle the family. By night, they write.