Joining us today is Layla Dorine. She's sharing a specially written Christmas story featuring characters from her new novel, Broken Prince, Mismatched Eyes. Enjoy!
Caden stumbled back from the garderobe, fully intent on falling back into bed with his husband, Rhys, when his eyes caught sight of the countryside outside their window and his eyes lit up with glee. Sometime during the course of the night snow had begun to fall on Mauritania, and now the rolling hills and steep cliffs were covered in white as far as the eye could see.
Fat fluffy flakes clung together in clumps on tree branches and leaves, hiding the green and what remained of the fall colors. Beside him, Titus’ ears perked up as they watched a rabbit zig zag his way across the fresh powder, leaving a trail of tracks in his wake. Everything sparkled and twinkled in the early morning light as excitement built in Caden’s belly and spilled over into a joyful laugh.
He raced back to the pile of furs in front of the fireplace where Rhys still slept, mostly buried in their warmth. Only the top of his head was visible as Caden dropped to his knees beside him and began shaking him awake.
“Ugm…” Rhys muttered, rolling over and completely disappearing into the mound.
“Rhys, please get up, it’s snowing.”
“All the more reason to stay right where I am,” Rhys muttered.
“It’s beautiful out there, staying in here would be wasting it.”
“Staying in here would mean being safe from the cold, the ice and all the chances to slip and fall,” Rhys grumbled, then squawked in outrage as Caden grabbed hold of the furs and peeled them away.
Leaning in, Caden licked the stripe of flesh from Rhys’ navel to his throat, causing his husband to shiver and let out a low groan.
“Show me Mauritania like this,” Caden pleaded softly. “If you slip, I’ll steady you. If you fall, I’ll pick you back up. Please, Rhys. I want to see how beautiful it is all covered in snow, then we can come back and I promise I’ll warm you.”
Rhys groaned and squeezed his eyes shut. “I’m going to hold you to that promise.”
Caden threw his arms around his husband and hugged him tight, and the hounds, as if on cue, descended upon Rhys to lick his face.
“Okay, okay,” Rhys laughed, trying to fend them off. “I’m moving already!”
“Come on boys, give him some space, you’ve licked him enough now.”
The big hounds huffed but backed away, tongues lolling out of their mouths as their tails wagged joyfully.
Caden reached down to pull his husband up, and Rhys clasped his hand, then yanked him down into the furs and tickled him mercilessly. Caden bucked and twisted, laughing, hiccupping and trying to shove Rhys’ hands away but it seemed like they were everywhere.
“I give, I give,” Caden gasped, tears leaking from the corners of his eyes he was laughing so hard.
“Oh I can think of many, many things you can give me,” Rhys purred, right by his ear as he ceased tickling. “But you want to go outside.”
With a laugh, Rhys stumbled to his feet, but quickly got his balance and bad leg under control. Caden stared after him as he headed to the wardrobe, admiring the muscular plains of his husbands back before he picked himself up and started dressing for the cold.
Outside, the snow was still falling gently, and while the wind blew gusts of cold air down from the mountains it was nothing like the howling thunder storms the season before.
Caden raced outside, laughing, with Titus and Brutus on his heels. Rhys followed more slowly and carefully, reaching the door as Cadan threw his arms wide and began to spin around while trying to catch snowflakes on his tongue. A small smile stretched across Rhys’ face he watched his husband for a moment, before he gathered up a handful of snow and slowly began to creep up on him.
The snow he flung, intended to be packed tight, came apart in the air and blew into Caden’s hair, coating the dark strands with a glittering of white. Caden turned, a devilish look in his eyes as he scooped up his own handful of snow and advanced on Rhys.
“Wait,” Rhys said, slowly trying to backpedal. “Can’t we talk about this; negotiate?”
Caden seemed to pause, as if considering it, before reaching out to catch the front of Rhys’ fur coat and stuffing the entire handful of snow down it. Rhys howled and shook, which brought twin looks of confused amusement from the hounds as Caden laughed.
“Nope, I don’t think we can,” he said, before gathering Rhys in his arms and pulling him in for a kiss. Rhys snuggled against him, partly for warmth, but also because he loved being close to his husband and for a moment, they simply stood there as Caden’s gaze drifted over the countryside, taking it all in.
“Let’s take a walk up the hill, I want to show you something,” Rhys said, as he took Caden’s hand in his.
They fell into step easily, Caden having learned to modify his longer strides to ones that Rhys could more easily keep up with. As they reached the middle of the hill, however, Rhys paused and gazed up into his husband’s face.
“Close your eyes,” Rhys insisted.
With a nod, Caden complied, trusting him completely, and with Rhys guiding him, they finished climbing the hill. With his arms wrapped around Caden, Rhys stood on his toes and whispered in his husband’s ear.
Caden opened his eyes and let out a soft gasp. Below them, in the valley, was the manor house and the trees boarding it, covered in show, the windows lit with a soft glow.
“It’s…beautiful,” Caden murmured.
“Just like you,” Rhys replied. “The only joy I ever expected to experience was from trying to grow to be the best leader I could possibly be for my people. After the accident, I stopped hopping that anyone would every fully see me as a man again. Thank you for changing all of that. Tomorrow, when we ride home for the Yule feast, I’ll already have the greatest gift anyone could have ever given me. In you.”
Caden turned and kissed him passionately, snow drifting down to cling to their clothes and hair, melting when their fingers grazed against it, tangling in the strands.
As they drew apart, Caden cupped Rhys’ face in his hand and gazed down into his eyes. “You’ve given me something I never thought I would have as well: a home and a family that loves me. You gave me you and there is no one more wondrous in the whole of this world.”
Stepping back, Caden reached into the pack he’d slung over his shoulder and retrieved from it a cloth wrapped bundle, which he quickly unwrapped, revealing a sleek, honey colored log.
“Anwen told me about your tradition of giving a Yule log to the one you love and burning it together in the hearth while sharing your hopes, dreams and wishes for the upcoming year. I like it a lot more than dragging home a whole tree and burning it while drinking and eating to excess the way we’d always done it on the mainland. Makes it special, at least, it does to me.”
Now it was Rhys’ turn to drag his husband into a round of rowdy kisses while the hounds rolled and played in the snow around them.
“You make everything special to me,” Rhys declared when he finally broke away, shivering a little. “Come on, let’s go back inside. I believe you have a promise to keep to me.”
Grinning, Caden whistled to the dogs who fell in beside them as he began leading Caden down the hill. “It will be my pleasure.”
“No,” Rhys replied with a wide smile. “The pleasure will be ours.”
Want to read more about these characters? Then read on to see how Caden and Rhys met and fell in love.
All of his life, Caden DeMott’s mismatched eyes have made him the target of superstition and scorn. Though he is the son of a nobleman, he’s been allowed to run free over the hills and moors, mostly ignored by his family. No one ever thought to inform him that he had been betrothed since infancy, until the day his fiancé, Prince Rhys Gwyther arrived to marry him.
Rhys is the prince of the small island country of Mauritania, a land rich in gems, rose oil, and pearls, but poor in skilled artisans and seeds to grow crops. In order to further cement the trade route to the mainland, he’s been sent to marry a man he’s never met, and bring him back to Mauritania. Unfortunately, an accident years before has left Rhys with a lot of emotional baggage and very little trust in strangers.
But trust is exactly what Caden and Rhys are going to need if they are to make a life together, and help unravel the mystery of who’s been smuggling valuable gems and pearls off the island. Add in the realization that Caden’s stepmother, Mildred and her island representative, Maxwell, have been importing inferior goods for years, forcing Mauritania to become more dependent on them, and trust becomes even more difficult.
Caden possesses the knowledge to finally allow Rhys’ father to unravel the plot to ruin Mauritania, but only if the king and his son are willing to put their faith in Caden’s loyalty to his new home. Something that is difficult to do after Caden is accused of cheating on his marriage vows to Rhys with his guard, Luc. Will Rhys believe him innocent? Or will their marriage be over before it truly has a chance to begin?
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About the Author:
Layla Dorine lives among the sprawling prairies of Midwestern America, in a house with more cats than people. She loves hiking, fishing, swimming, martial arts, camping out, photography, cooking, and dabbling with several artistic mediums. In addition, she loves to travel and visit museums, historic, and haunted places.
Layla got hooked on writing as a child, starting with poetry and then branching out, and she hasn’t stopped writing since. Hard times, troubled times, the lives of her characters are never easy, but then what life is? The story is in the struggle, the journey, the triumphs and the falls. She writes about artists, musicians, loners, drifters, dreamers, hippies, bikers, truckers, hunters and all the other folks that she’s met and fallen in love with over the years. Sometimes she writes urban romance and sometimes its aliens crash landing near a roadside bar. When she isn’t writing, or wandering somewhere outdoors, she can often be found curled up with a good book and a kitty on her lap.
Layla Dorine can be found at: