Greta and the Lost Army ONLY
a Mylena Chronicles novel by Chloe Jacobs
After spending the last four years trapped in a place of monsters, demons, and magick, the last thing the fierce teenage bounty hunter Greta expected was to ever be back on Earth. But a rare opportunity gives her and the Goblin King Isaac the opportunity to do just that. Now she’s home. With a boy in tow. And her parents have lots of questions.
Although Greta finally has her heart’s deepest wish—to see her family again—every step she takes to reconnect with them drives her further away from Isaac. Greta and Isaac planned for her to return to Mylena and become his queen, but she’s not sure if she can go back to that harsh world, though staying on Earth means giving up the boy she loves.
But a powerful enemy refuses to let Greta escape. A demon who will stop at nothing to destroy her and everything she loves. Even if it means following her to Earth and forcing her to face a fate as unavoidable as love itself.
Title: Greta and the Lost Army
Series: Mylena Chronicles, #3
Author: Chloe Jacobs
Genre: Young Adult
Length: 377 pages
Release Date: February 2016
Price listed is for the U.S. digital format. Please confirm pricing and availability with the retailer before downloading.
An Excerpt from:
Greta and the Lost Army
by Chloe Jacobs
Copyright © 2016 by Chloe Jacobs. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
As often as Greta came to Maidra’s, it never got any easier to make herself walk into that closed and crowded room. It was always stuffed to the rafters with all manner of Mylean species, most of them dangerous, and who’d be happy to kill her if the truth about her human origins was ever leaked—which was a good enough reason for her to keep coming back. She wouldn’t stay away out of fear. And if anyone tried something? Well, she could always use the sword practice.
Besides, it was the only place to get a decent mug of linberry tea. And it was one of the best places to find new jobs. There was a public board for notices where the warrants and bounties were often posted, and when the ale flowed, conversation inevitably turned to the ones who were Lost…and that was her business.
Standing at the curve of the road leading to the tavern’s front door, she glanced behind her—because she always glanced behind her, not because she thought someone was actually there. Ironically, if someone had been following her, she liked to think she would know without having to look.
Clouds hung in front of both of Mylena’s moons, and the deep shadows were oppressive this evening. The ground was thick with snow. It had been falling steadily for the last three days, accumulating on the roads and making travel treacherous. Even so, it looked as if the tavern was busy tonight. Maybe everyone else in the goblin kingdom had felt as shut in by the recent weather as she had.
At least the winds had died down, and the white stuff was almost pretty. Then again, when winter lasted as long as it did in Mylena—forever—snow had stopped looking pretty years ago.
She maybe shouldn’t have come without Luke, but she was trying to prove to him that she was ready, that she could handle herself in Mylena on her own and didn’t need her pater to babysit her anymore. That was an ongoing battle, since he could still dump her flat on her ass during seven out of ten of their training sessions, and he said that meant the odds of someone else getting the best of her were at least that good.
But even Luke had to admit that she’d become an expert at going unnoticed when she wanted to, which was pretty much always. Invisibility was her best defense against the prejudice and hatred that was her deadliest enemy in this harsh world. Not the creatures that she hunted. They were only poor souls who’d lost their way—and would never find their way back. Those lost souls—literally called the Lost—were dangerous and needed to be dealt with, but after almost four years, she wasn’t worried about them so much as she worried someone would find out her secret…that she was human and didn’t belong here.
Still, every once in a while the loneliness and melancholy got the better of her, and she needed the distraction of other people, so she went to Maidra’s, even if she didn’t speak to a soul while she was there.
This was one of those times. It wasn’t every day a girl turned seventeen, after all.
On her birthday that first year with Luke, she’d mentioned it to him ever so casually. He’d looked her up and down, then simply nodded and kicked her ass on the training field—a clearing in the woods behind his little cottage.
While she’d lain on the ground, bleeding and gasping for air, he’d thrown her sword into the dirt by her side and said that survival was no milestone to be celebrated. Everyone was expected to accomplish at least that much. If she wanted recognition for something, she should train harder, and on the day she could take him down in a fight, he would let her hunt on her own. That was all the recognition she should ever need.
She hadn’t brought it up again. Greta wasn’t even sure why she continued to keep track. Last year for her sixteenth birthday, instead of a pool party with all her friends, she’d been stalking a ghoul through the Brimstone Caves. The only present she’d opened was the creature’s chest…a split second before it had tried to spray her with a stream of corrosive poison from a mouth filled with jagged, razor-sharp teeth.
This year she’d tried not to care at all, but she just couldn’t let the day go by altogether. Even if it was just her and a cup of linberry tea, she felt the need to do something, and so she’d sneaked out of the cottage after Luke went to bed—not that she was under any illusions that he hadn’t heard her leave.
She climbed the front steps of the tavern and opened the door. The first thing she noticed was the heat. So many bodies, combined with a roaring fire in the large hearth, made for a wave that billowed toward the door and smacked her in the face.
She paused at the threshold to absorb the blast and survey the scene. She knew better than to enter an enclosed space without determining what potential dangers lay in wait.
The tavern was packed with the usual suspects. Mostly of goblin origin, but Maidra’s was a species-neutral public house. A lone ogre sat at the bar a few stools away from a group of rowdy gnomes. There were quite a few sprites living in this neck of the goblin forest, and they liked their ale as much as everyone else. A table of them gave thanks to the Great Mother before downing the cups being dropped off for them by the barmaid.
There weren’t many available tables. The one she would have chosen—farthest away from the door against the wall so that she wouldn’t have to put anyone at her back—was taken by a goblin boy who couldn’t be much older than she was, despite his massive size.
Her heart sped up faster than the last time she’d faced a pack of gnomes. The boy had broad shoulders and arresting features, noticeable from all the way across the room. She would have thought the earth and fire sprites would be crawling all over him, desperate for a little action. But he was alone.
A few of Maidra’s customers turned to see why the front door was still open, letting out all the precious heat. She quickly stepped all the way inside and closed the door.
She tipped her head down and tugged on her braids to make sure her hair covered her very human un-pointed ears as she slipped through the crowd to the next best table. It was nice and dark and mostly private, but it also put her directly beside the goblin, who was in her usual spot.
Without removing her hood or her scarf, she sat back and waited for Maidra’s only server—the sprite’s daughter, Tamsin—to notice that she’d gained a new customer. Given the bustle of activity that might take some time, but it was okay. She was suitably occupied. Her gaze kept sliding back to the goblin boy.
As busy as this place was, all of the tables around him—other than the one she’d claimed—were empty. And even though he was obviously alone, it was equally obvious that he wasn’t a stranger. Too many of Maidra’s patrons watched him, not with curiosity, but with poorly veiled discomfort. Not worried, not exactly. She knew how a room felt when the possibility of violence existed, and that wasn’t quite the tone here now, but there was something about this guy that evoked caution and restraint.
Tamsin finally saw her and stopped in front of Greta’s table with a polite smile. Even though Greta had been successful in hiding her human identity, she hadn’t exactly been making friends in Mylena. Her job as a bounty hunter set her apart from others.
“Linberry tea, danem?” the girl asked.
“Yes, thanks.” Tamsin turned away, but suddenly Greta changed her mind and called her back. “Actually, bring me an ale, would you?” she said.
It was her birthday, after all, and if this was the only way for her to celebrate it, then so be it.
She might not have been considered legal back home, but in Mylena, there were no such restrictions. She was old enough to carry a sword and take a life…and she was old enough to have a drink in a bar if she wanted one.
Tamsin didn’t even bat an eye, but the moment she left, Greta wanted to call her back and ask for the tea instead. Luke’s voice echoed in her head. He would have pointed out the stupidity of her decision. Alone in a public place when she was feeling melancholy and homesick…not a good time to try her first drink.
But Tamsin was already halfway to the bar, and if she called the girl back, she would only draw attention to herself. Instead, she would accept the ale when the barmaid returned, and let it sit untouched on the table. It was a waste of money she could have used more wisely, but again…birthday.
Greta watched as Tamsin reached the bar and leaned over it to give Greta’s order to her mother. Maidra glanced up and found Greta with a polite nod. If Greta had to pick someone she would consider a friend, it would probably be Maidra. Not that the woman had ever really spoken to Greta, but she’d at least been polite and welcoming. Greta’s life was such at this point that she didn’t expect any more from anyone else.
She’s like that with everyone. You are not special. Not to her, not to anyone here.
If only she could go home, but in all the time she’d been stuck in Mylena, the opportunity had never presented itself, and Greta had been looking. Less and less with every Lost creature she hunted, but still…
The ogre at the bar was saying something to Tamsin as she waited for Greta’s ale. The sprite shook her head, but the ogre leaned in closer. His arm swung out, and he put his meaty hand on her hip and dragged her into his side with a loud laugh. Tamsin tried to shove him away, but he was three times her size, and he’d obviously decided she owed him more than just another drink.
The gnomes on the other side of them chucked each other on the shoulders and laughed, watching. Most of Maidra’s patrons respected her rules—which included no fighting and no rowdy behavior—but this time when Tamsin frowned and said something to the ogre, pointing to the door, it wasn’t having any impact. The big guy wasn’t listening.
Greta pushed her chair back and started to get up, one hand on the hilt of her sword. Before she could slip around the table, the lone goblin boy was up and moving toward the bar.
The entire room went quiet, like a forest full of birds quieted by the movement of something big, something predatory. The only sound came from the crackle of the fire and Tamsin’s reedy objections as the ogre continued to angle for a cheap feel.
The goblin boy’s voice boomed as if he had a microphone pinned to his chest, but it was just him. Just him standing alone in the middle of a crowded, nowhere tavern.
The boy was either very stupid or very brave. Greta gauged her chances of taking them both down if things got ugly. It would all depend on how solid the ogre’s temperament was, and whether he was in danger of going Lost if challenged.
If that happened…man, they were screwed. This place would turn into a cage. The fact that the ogre was an ogre didn’t automatically make this a disaster waiting to happen, but it didn’t not make it a disaster waiting to happen, either.
Greta crossed her arms, aware of the balanced weight of the sword at her hip and the dagger strapped to her ankle. She waited to see what kind of balls this goblin boy had, getting ready to bail him out of trouble.
The burly ogre let go of Tamsin and turned around with a growl. Greta braced herself, but the ogre took one look at the boy who’d stood up and challenged him—without even breaking a cold sweat or pulling a weapon or anything—and totally backed down.
He stepped away from the bar and raised a hand in a “Hey, I was just leaving” gesture.
Even the foursome of coarse gnomes quieted down. One of them sneered at the goblin boy, but he didn’t get any support from his buddies.
The goblin didn’t wait to make sure the ogre was really leaving. His gaze swung around the room, seeming to catch every single eye…and ended with her as he turned his back to the entire place.
His gaze was sharp and penetrating, and as he returned to his table, he didn’t look at anyone else. Just her.
Her stomach clenched as she caught a flash of amethyst in his eyes. She ignored the sudden strange flutter in her belly and gritted her teeth as she broke away from that deep gaze with a shrug. She returned to her seat, purposely ignoring the ogre, the goblin boy, and all the other patrons of Maidra’s place.
She shouldn’t have gotten out of her seat. Greta hadn’t come here to be a bouncer or a bounty hunter or anything else. Tonight, she only wanted to pretend that maybe, maybe, she had some smidgeon of hope for a halfway decent birthday. A simple drink before she was forced to go back out into the cold, alone, was all she’d wanted.
The noise level in the tavern was slow to return to normal. Tamsin approached a few moments later, balancing two tall cups made of hollowed-out deadwood on a platter shaved from the same material. She looked uncomfortable and wary. Like everyone else, she was focused on the oddly compelling goblin boy, but she tried to pretend she wasn’t. It was kind of funny, actually, and if Greta had been in a different sort of mood, she might have laughed out loud and pointed out how crazy they were all being.
Then again, maybe they knew something about this boy that she didn’t.
Tamsin plopped the first mug in the center of Greta’s round table unceremoniously—obviously not worried about her. She didn’t even wait for Greta to say thank you or pay for her drink before moving to the goblin boy’s table and setting the other glass before him. He got a deep curtsy and a formal thank you, which Greta acknowledged was probably deserved. The guy had staved off a bar fight with a single word, after all…although everything might have been completely fine without his interference, too. Nobody would ever know.
Scratch that. Greta knew. She’d had a hand on her sword for a reason, and somehow this goblin had changed the tide. Very few people wielded that kind of influence. She wanted to figure out what was so different about him.
He was fit, that was for sure. Tall and wide and intimidating. Most of the customers in Maidra’s had removed their outerwear, including the goblin boy, and his muscles stretched out a plain white linen tunic in a way she’d never really noticed on anyone else before.
He sat back in the chair. His posture was relaxed, but alert.
She took in everything, from the relative quality of his clothing to the size of his hand resting on the scarred wood of the table. Suddenly he stood, and her gaze jumped to his face.
He came around the table again, and the room quieted in anticipation of his destination, but Greta already knew that he was coming for her.
She’d been in countless battles and faced all manner of creatures who’d wanted her dead. She had stayed alive only by learning how to keep her cool in any situation.
So why was her heart pounding so hard the whole room must hear it?
Keeping as still as possible, she stared into her cup to better hide her face. She bristled as he stopped in front of her table. He just stood there, looming over her.
She surveyed the room from beneath the protection of her scarf and hood. Everyone was watching. Tamsin was the least discreet about it, her mouth hanging so far open that her chin may as well have been dragging on the floor.
After a long moment, it was obvious that he wasn’t going to take the hint and leave, so finally, she looked up. “Is there something I can help you with?”
Her tone should have made it clear that she actually had no interest in helping him with anything, but he either didn’t care or he was that obtuse, because he pulled out a chair opposite her and sat down.
She groaned and started to get up. “Excuse me, but I was just leaving,” she said shortly.
He nodded in the direction of her untouched cup. “You haven’t finished your ale.” His voice rumbled. It was so deep, with a slight inflection that reminded her of how much she didn’t belong here, because she couldn’t have imitated that accent if her life depended on it.
“It’s okay. Why don’t you take it?” she offered.
“But I have my own.” He leaned across the space between their two tables and grabbed his cup. Greta’s mouth went dry as she watched his big body unfold, and something deep inside her woke up for the very first time, making her eyes widen with sudden understanding and awareness.
He straightened and smiled at her, and she had to stifle a shiver. “I thought that perhaps you would agree to share it with me.”
Her instinctual reaction was to make a break for it. She glanced at the door, but when she looked back at him, she hesitated. Behind the smiling confidence was something darker. Something she recognized, because she lived with it every day.
He sat back, his jaw tight as if he had already resigned himself to her rejection.
“All right,” she said, feeling oddly shy and reckless at the same time. “I’ll have a drink with you.”
His smile returned, a genuine smile of pleasure that transformed his whole face. He went from being a little stern looking and defensive to…just a boy. A boy who wanted to sit with her. It took Greta’s breath away. Nobody had looked at her like that in so long—maybe ever—she was suddenly fighting a monstrous lump in the back of her throat.
She slowly sat back in her chair. “What brings you to this neck of the kingdom?” she asked, because she didn’t know how to do this small talk thing, but it seemed appropriate since she’d never seen him here before.
He laughed. Behind him, all the people who’d slowly gone back to their own conversations, suddenly swung back around to watch them again.
She cocked her head. “That was funny?”
His throaty chuckle faded softly. “I have lived in the goblin castle all of my life,” he answered.
She’d been there often, usually to visit the king’s treasurer with Luke to collect payment on a bounty. “I’m surprised I haven’t seen you before, then.”
He shrugged, but the gesture came off less casual than he seemed to want it to be. “I see very few people.”
“By choice?” The question came out before she realized what she was saying. His mouth tightened, and she rushed to apologize. “I’m sorry. That was a stupid, personal question. I don’t see many people, either, so when I do, I almost always put my foot in my mouth.”
He tipped his head, as if trying to make sense of her words. Mylena was a pretty literal place, and her human speech had gotten her curious looks more than once…another reason she kept to herself.
“Not by choice,” he answered. “But sometimes our…responsibilities dictate the direction our lives must take.”
She nodded. He was big, so he might have been fostered out younger than usual. If he lived at the castle, he might be a guard. She generally tried to avoid the castle guards, so it was conceivable that they would not have run across each other before. His being a guard would also explain why everyone in this place had afforded him such deference.
“I get that,” she said, offering him a small smile. It felt alien on her lips, but she held on to it nevertheless.
She was grateful to Luke for taking her in after she’d been stranded in Mylena, but he’d never once let her forget that she was human. It was there, like a wall between them.
It was good to talk to another person. This was the first time she’d let herself have a conversation for any reason other than to get information for a job. It was scary, but at the same time, there was something invigorating about taking such a chance.
She took a small sip of her ale. It was bitter and warm, but as the liquid went down, she felt a little more comfortable and relaxed. Maybe that was a bad, dangerous thing, but she wasn’t worrying about it now. “So, are you a castle guard or something?”
His mouth twitched, and he pointed to her sword. “You must be a bounty hunter.”
He hadn’t answered her question, but she nodded in answer to his.
“Do you enjoy such work?” he asked, his gaze turning skeptical.
“Why? Because I’m a girl?” Being a bounty hunter was the perfect job for her. It had given her a practical outlet for all of Luke’s training, and it kept people at a distance. Nobody wanted to get too close to the person who would have to hunt them down and kill them if they went Lost and started terrorizing villages.
“No, of course not. But it can be quite dangerous.”
“Danger is this world’s middle name,” she said with a snort.
He raised a brow. “This world?”
She cleared her throat and quickly put her cup back on the table. That had been a dumb mistake, a slip that wouldn’t have happened if she’d been drinking linberry tea or sitting here alone, or better yet, if she hadn’t been here at all.
“I think I should be going,” she said quickly.
But she didn’t really want to.
“Must you?” he asked.
Maybe it was the alcohol affecting her good sense, or maybe it was that he looked like he would understand her loneliness, but she wanted to stay more than she wanted to protect her secrets. Some risks were worth taking, right?
“If I stay, you have to tell me something about yourself,” she said.
“What would you like to know?” He appeared suddenly wary. Why? Did he have secrets of his own? And what if he does? He certainly wouldn’t be the only one between the two of them with something to hide.
She decided to keep it simple. “What do you do for fun?” Fun. The word barely existed in Mylena. There was little time for fun when the environment made simply living so very difficult.
“I enjoy creating things with my hands, but I was not permitted to be fostered out to a blacksmith or a carpenter, so I suppose it is something I do for fun.”
His voice had lowered, and Greta leaned forward, elbows on the table. “What kinds of things?”
He came closer, too. “I’ve always wanted to find ways to help my people live and work better. I want to create tools that will make farming the harsh land easier.”
That was ambitious, more ambitious than she’d ever heard of in Mylena. Like fun, there wasn’t much room for aspirations and dreams. Harvesting a single field of grain from ground that was perpetually frozen solid was consuming enough.
“Do you have any ideas?”
He grinned. “Hundreds.”
She found herself grinning, too, her heart pounding fast. “Like what?”
“When my mother was still alive, she would get so upset because the clouts we used to hammer into the wall to hang the tapis would slide back out of the stone. So one day I made her a clout with spikes fixed to the shank, hoping it would grip the stone better and thereby keep from pulling out of the wall.”
“And it worked?”
He chuckled. “Not the first time…nor the second, but I continued to improve the design until I had one that did work, and now these special clouts are being made throughout the goblin kingdom.”
“Wow, that’s a big deal. What else?” She wanted to hear more.
“Well, it occurred to me that perhaps we could attempt to grow crops indoors where it would be easier to keep the soil soft and warm. But the plants would still require sunlight and irrigation, so I have been working on developing a structure built of glass.” His face was animated and bright as he spoke.
He wanted to build greenhouses in Mylena.
It was actually a great idea, and she marveled that no one had thought of it before. Then again, glass was an expensive commodity.
“It would have to be sturdy,” he continued. “But glass magnifies light passing through it, and if the heat within the enclosure was not allowed to escape, would it not continue to build and form moisture that could in turn fall back into the soil to feed the crops? A structure like this might even sustain itself.”
She’d almost forgotten where they were, that they were surrounded by a room full of strangers. Their table in the corner had become an insulated little bubble. It felt intimate and protected, as if nothing could interfere, and it could be just the two of them there for as long as they wanted.
“That’s impressive. Surely, since you showed such promise in ironworking and agriculture, your parents might have considered fostering you out to a blacksmith or a farmer, instead of the castle guard,” she said, still assuming that he was a guard.
He didn’t answer that one, so she said, “Do you like your work at the castle at least?”
He paused. “I sometimes wish that I had the freedom to choose another path,” he said finally. “But destiny and the Great Mother decided long before I was born how my life must play out.”
“Why would you just swallow that crap without a fight? We always have a choice. It may not be the popular choice and it might not make you any friends, but if you know there’s a better path for you, shouldn’t you fight for your right to travel it?”
His gaze narrowed. “I don’t know any other person in all of the goblin kingdom who believes such a thing. The people accept the will of the Great Mother as their own.”
She gulped. He was right, of course. “You obviously don’t accept the will of the Great Mother, not if you’re talking about having dreams above and beyond what your fostering decrees,” she countered. “I bet everyone else feels exactly the same way, but they’re all too afraid to talk about it.”
He crossed his arms and sat back in his chair with an indulgent smile, as if he was having fun arguing with her. “Why do you think they would be afraid to speak their minds?”
“You say that the people accept the will of the Great Mother, but the Great Mother hasn’t shown her face in a long time. She doesn’t care whether Tamsin over there should be a barmaid or a seamstress, and she doesn’t care whether I’m a bounty hunter, or you’re a castle guard. People make those decisions. They either make them for themselves, or they’re told to by other people who think they’re better and more important than we are.”
“Oh, and who would these better, more important people be?” he asked.
She bit her lip, remembering too late that she was talking to one of the king’s guards. “Nobody,” she croaked.
“Perhaps you meant the goblin king.”
She shrugged. What was he going to do if she voiced her opinion? Call her out for treason and haul her off to the dungeon?
Um, yes of course. That.
“You can tell me your thoughts,” he said. “Do you think I would condemn you for them?”
“I really don’t know anything about you,” she admitted. Something that seemed to slip her mind whenever their gazes locked. “You could be here on his behalf as a spy, to root out dissent within the goblin kingdom.”
“That would be quite the challenging commission for one such as I,” he answered with a mocking chuckle.
“Why do you say that?”
“Because every patron in this place,” he tipped his head to her, “already knows my identity.”
He was right. Instead of getting busier as the night wore on, as would have been usual, the tavern had cleared out considerably since they’d started talking. Those who remained had shifted farther away from their table.
He was pretty observant for such a young guy…and he was young, despite the ancient weight that she sensed sitting on his shoulders. She wondered if he was even old enough to have gone through his first Turn.
When Mylena’s moons were eclipsed, the entire place became a mad zone, but children were immune from the effect until they reached maturity, usually around eighteen years old. He could be close to eighteen.
“I haven’t figured out what brought you out here then. If this is where you come to get a drink, I would have seen you before tonight,” she said.
He cocked his head and seemed to be considering his answer. “I admit, I had heard the tale of a female bounty hunter fostered to Dolem Lucius the wood sprite from the castle treasurer, and was curious.”
She sucked in a sharp breath, tasting the bitter tang of fear. “About me? Curious? That’s why you’re here? Why?” Her hand slipped under the table to the hilt of her sword, and her body tensed.
He was giving her a careful once-over. “Because Dolem Lucius is an outlier of the goblin kingdom with no immediate family, and he failed to approach the goblin king for permission to foster a child from another Province.”
That was an actual rule? “So? What does it matter to you? Let the king summon Dolem Lucius if he wants to. Why do you even care?”
“Should I not care what happens in my own kingdom?”
“Your kingdom? Your kingdom?” What was he saying? She glared across the table.
He had the decency to look shamefaced. “I suppose I should not let you continue under such a falsity of assumption,” he said.
Mylena was more formal than her own world, but nobody was that formal. God, she’d been so wrong about him.
“And what false assumption have I been under?” she asked, just barely holding herself in check as she waited for his confession.
“I am not one of the castle guards.”
She’d been expecting the admission by that point, but the words still punched her in the gut. She held her breath and waited for more. He paused and sat up straight. His gaze sharpened, and he seemed to fill up and out with a single deep breath.
“I am heir to the goblin kingdom.”
“Heir?” Her mind raced to decode the word, but there wasn’t much to it, now was there? It was pretty damn self-explanatory. “Heir” meant that he was someone important. “Like, a prince?” Her voice cracked. Of course. “You’re the prince? The freaking goblin prince?”
He simply nodded.
She jumped up from the table, ignoring the startled gasps that echoed all around the room. “It’s been lovely, your highness,” she said in a low, tight voice, “but I’m out of here.”
He grabbed her hand as she started to slip around him. Shock and alarm froze her in place, and she looked down at his fingers curled around hers and wondered why she didn’t immediately jerk her arm free.
“What are you doing?” she said.
“I am asking you to stay.” His eyes were almost level with hers, even though she was standing and he was still seated. They practically glowed, the reflection from the flames in the hearth dancing in depths of amethyst. God, he had beautiful eyes. “I admit that I came here at the behest of my father,” he said. “But the girl that I found is not who I expected.”
“What do you want from me?” She gazed pointedly at his hand on hers.
He followed her gaze and let her go as if he hadn’t even realized what he was doing, but the warmth of his touch lingered on her skin. “I only want to keep talking, like we have been until now.”
His smile was so disarmingly boyish, her breath hitched. “Because I’m the goblin prince, and you have no choice but to obey?”
She started moving again with a snort, but he held up his hand to stop her—at least without touching her this time.
Color stained his cheeks. “Wait! I was only…”
“Teasing?” Could it be true? Was she really being teased by a boy?
He nodded. “My apologies, danem.” A shyness flashed across his face, but he didn’t look away. “But not for wanting to continue our discussion.”
“Then why?” She gave him her hardest glare. “The real reason this time.”
He shrugged. “Because I’ve never talked this way with anyone else before.”
She waved her hand up and down, encompassing the height and breadth of him. “You’re telling me that you look like this and you’re a prince, but you want to sit in a bar talking with a stranger because you can’t get a date.” She snorted again. “Forgive me if I find that difficult to believe.”
The stunned expression on his face threw her. Either nobody had ever complimented him before, or nobody had dared talk to him that way.
Heated embarrassment crept into her face. “I didn’t mean…I was just saying…”
“Stay with me for a while longer,” he murmured. “Let us continue as we were, without the spectre of position or responsibility encroaching upon us.”
She hesitated, tempted. Despite being complete opposites from different worlds, it seemed they both craved the same thing. One night to be just a regular guy, a regular girl. Not a prince of the realm, and not a hated human.
“All right, I’ll stay. But you’re buying the next round.” Greta sat back down in her chair. “So what do I call you, anyway?”
His enthusiastic grin was both charming and captivating, and she found herself smiling, too.
“Just call me Isaac.”