What Hunts Inside the Shadows
by Harper L. Woods
Book 2 in the Of Flesh and Bone series
The Wild Hunt waits for none...
not even the secrets waiting at the gates of Alfheimr.
As much as I loved the first book, I didn't love What Hunts Inside the Shadows as much. I didn't hate it. I didn't love it. I was in the happy middle, I guess. And do you want to know why? Estrella. She drove me crazy in this book. She spends most of the book hating Caelum for what he is, and ignores everything he has done to protect her. She chooses to ignore his good qualities in favor of believing what she has been told her whole life. Seeing doesn't equal believing for Estrella. Doesn't stop her from fucking him and hating herself for it after though. It's not until the end of the book that she finally owns her feelings, instead of falling back on her multitude of excuses. Her inner dialogue for the first three quarters of this book was painful.
Listen - I'm not going to sit here and say that Caelum is perfect, and Estrella is a mega-bitch that doesn't deserve him. He is obviously in the morally-grey area of literary heroes. He deceived her (but come on Estrella ... it was so obvious!) But at least he owns it. And all the while Estrella treats him like crap, he still loves and supports her! Okay. Maybe she was a bit of a jerk.
What I still enjoyed about this book was the world building. The fae politics we slowly learn about. Estrella's growing magical ability. Where I can see this story going. But aside from that, I felt like this book was filler.
What Hunts Inside the Shadows definitely suffered from "second book syndrome", but I have hopes that Harper Woods can turn it around.
Caldris: “You know me as well as you know yourself, my star. The heart that beats inside your chest is mine. The soul that resides within your body has been mine for longer than you have existed,”
I said, keeping my voice soft and gentle as I took another half-step toward her.
Caldris: “Everything you have felt is real. Everything you will continue to feel for me is real. You were made to be mine.” Caldris: “You are too young to understand what we share. Just because you would take it for granted now does not mean that you will not come to appreciate me in time, as your fear and prejudice against my kind dissipates. You have a lifetime of untruths to overcome, but I can be patient for you. I have already waited centuries to feel the love we share. I would wait one hundred more.” Estrella: “I hate you,”
I whispered, fresh tears burning my eyes and nose. His face softened further, pain lancing across his brow as he pursed his lips and hung his head forward.
Caldris: “I know,” Caldris: “There’s a fine line between love and hate, Little One, and you are looking at me like you can’t quite decide if you should kiss me or kill me.”
His lips spread into an alarmingly arrogant smile.
Estrella: “You’re the bane of my existence,”
I said, shaking my head with a bitter smile as I tore my eyes off his lips and tried to shake off the desire I had to feel his mouth on mine and have his arms around me, surrounding me with warmth once more.
Caldris: “And you are everything I have always wanted and more,” Estrella: “You’re a God. So fuck me like one.” Caldris: “See how brightly you burn when you lean into all that hatred in your heart? Think of what you could do if you didn’t waste it on the one person in this world who loves you more than anything.” Caldris: “Your essence flows down the bond between us—light and good, tainted by my darkness. But at your core, there is this well of beauty that flows from you. You don’t love easy, but you do love hard. And I have spent centuries feeling you fall in love with men who didn’t deserve you. Feeling your heart flutter for men who would never have been able to give you what your soul craved in the end, and knowing that, I was trapped on the other side of the Veil waiting for you. Just waiting for centuries to be able to hold you.”
I protested, shaking my head to try to dislodge his grip. He held me steady, staring down at me as if he needed me to hear the words I didn’t want to hear.
Caldris: “And then it broke, and I met you and you were everything I’d ever dreamed you would be and more. I felt you fall in love all over again, but with me this time. I see in your eyes that you wish you could take it back more than anything, but you can’t. Because you and I both know what you felt; we both know you loved me with everything you were. More than you ever loved your husbands in all your past lives. You still do, and you can’t wish that away, because you were born to love me, whether I deserve it or not.” Caldris: “It is time for the stars in the sky to rest for the day, Little One, and that means the star I hold in my arms must rise,” Caldris: “With the God of the Dead wrapped around your finger, you can mold the world into whatever you want it to be.”
He seemed to grasp the thread of fate, tugging against it to remind me of the very real tether between us. Finally opening my eyes to see the flash of gold shimmering in the rising sun, I ignored the weight of his stare on the side of my face where he peered down at me.
Estrella: “I don’t want to mold the world. No one person should have that kind of power.”
Caldris: “Those who do not want it are the only ones who should wield it in the first place,” Caldris: “Dainsleif was forged by the dwarves and cursed to demand the payment of a life anytime it is wielded in battle. When drawn, it requires a life debt from you.”
Estrella: “That’s perfectly fine with me. I’ve no intention of letting the male who murdered my brother walk away.”
The leader quirked a brow, turning his curious stare toward where Caldris watched from beside him.
Holt: “This mate of yours suits you. She’s vicious.”
Caldris: “Isn’t she?” Aramis: “How am I supposed to fight her when Caldris will skin me alive if I hurt her?”
Holt: “You’re not,”
the leader said, lifting a hand to examine his nails as if he didn’t have a care in the world.
Holt: “But I think I’ll enjoy watching her play with you anyway.”
Estrella: “I don’t plan to play with him,”
I argued, lunging for his middle. He narrowly avoided the thrust that would have caught him in the belly, twisting to avoid it with the kind of skill that took centuries to hone.
Estrella: “Just kill him.”
Aramis: “You stabbed me three times, you fucking little menace! I’d say we’re even,”
he protested, dodging back when I swung for him again. The blade warmed my hand, the magic within it throbbing through my arm. It wanted blood. It wanted a debt to be paid.
Holt: “For fuck’s sake, Aramis. Just let the woman stab you already. Dainsleif will demand a life, regardless of who pays it. It might as well be yours,” Caldris: “Of course it’s more than just sex. I am your mate, Estrella. We are incapable of anything less than the complete melding of our souls. If you’ve convinced yourself that all the times that came before this were anything less, then you are further lost to me than I thought,”
he snapped, rising to his feet. Woman: “Like your mate won’t use his cock to pry anything out of your stupid little head,”
another one of the women said, her glare scathing as she settled it onto me. I turned my head away, ignoring the ire she leveled at me and wishing there were something more interesting to stare at.
Estrella: “I don’t think you understand how the human body works,”
I remarked, turning back to her with a saccharine smile.
Estrella: “It isn’t my mind he’s penetrating when he fucks me.” Woman: “Just because you’re willing to debase yourself in such a way, doesn’t mean the rest of us lack the self-respect to do so, Faerie whore.”
I tilted my head as I studied her, remembering a time when that insult had made me cringe. Now, there wasn’t a single reaction in me; not a cringe or a flare of anger at the accusation.
Estrella: “I didn’t just fuck a Faerie,”
I said, shrugging my shoulders as I leveled a glare at her.
Estrella: “I fucked a God. Remember that, the next time you think to trick yourself into believing that it was any kind of life, lying in bed with your legs spread for the flaccid flesh of the husband they chose for you.” Estrella: “Am I a whore for entertaining him? Or am I pathetic for losing his interest so quickly? I do apologize, but I can’t seem to decide which logic is more convenient for you at this moment,” Caldris: “You think they’re watching us because they want to see us squabble?”
he asked, leaning into my space.
Caldris: “They’re watching us because they’re hoping I’ll bend you over and fuck the attitude right out of you, Little One.”
I blanched, turning to look at him in shock. The words were a direct confirmation of what Holt had told me the night before when I’d thought to run while Caldris was getting food. An implication that they fully expected him to fuck me while they watched.
Estrella: “That isn’t going to happen.”
Caldris: “Maybe not tonight,”
Caldris agreed, pursing his lips in thought.
Caldris: “But we all know it’s only a matter of time before you embrace your true nature and all that goes with it. You want to lay your public claim over me just as desperately as I want to push you to your knees and shove my cock down your throat, so they can watch you choke on it. I want all the males to wish they were me, to know that your pretty, sharp tongue is mine to paint with cum.”
I stilled, the image he painted causing heat to flush through my cheeks. He touched his lips to my jaw as he murmured the darkest secret torn from my soul.
Caldris: “And you want them to know that you’re the only one who will ever have my cock and my cum again.” Caldris: “Thank you,”
he murmured, his eyes soft.
Estrella: “For what?”
I asked, my voice coming out breathy.
Caldris: “For accepting the darkest parts of me—the ugly ones—even if you can’t give me those words yet,”
he said, and the way his brow furrowed nearly broke my heart. I knew what it was to be out of control. To feel like a monster waited to take control of my body. I’d do whatever it took to bring him back from that brink.
Estrella: “Always.” Caldris: “You participated in a ceremony worshiping the Old Gods?”
he asked, his lips twitching in amusement.
Estrella: “Shut up,”
I said, rolling my eyes at the satisfied way he puffed up his chest in response to the new knowledge. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I’d merely been curious; it wasn’t out of some grand act of faith the way it was for the others.
Caldris: “It would seem your hatred for my kind does not go as deep as you would have me believe, my star. If you would like to worship me, I can tell you exactly how to—”
He coughed when I slapped his chest with the back of my hand, the chains of my shackles rattling with the motion.
Estrella: “Do not even think of finishing that thought.”
Caldris: “Too late,”
he said, reaching forward to grasp my chin. Adelphia: “We would be happy to pledge our loyalty to the Gods of Old if it suits you, Caldris, God of the Dead, Crown Prince of Winter and Shadows.”
I snorted, in spite of my best instincts, brushing off my curiosity of just how Adelphia had come to know enough about the Old Gods to recognize Caldris.
Estrella: “Please don’t. His ego is quite large enough, thank you,”
I said, ignoring the glare Caldris leveled at me. Caldris reached up to grab my wrist, finally forcing the blade away from his neck while I struggled. But instead of guiding it away from his body, he shifted it down his chest and cut a thin line toward his heart. Pressing the tip of the blade to the skin covering his beating breast, he held my hand steady.
Caldris: “It is yours. Whether it beats or not,”
he murmured, reaching up to cup my cheek with his other hand.
Caldris: “I have felt your desperation coming through the bond all day, Little One. If my death is what brings you peace, then I will pay that price.” Caldris: “I love you, Estrella. I have loved you for centuries and waited for you to be mine. If there is no hope, no chance of you accepting me into your heart in truth, then I will gladly allow you to be the one to end my eternity of suffering. If the last thing I see is your face, then I can go to the Void in peace.” Holt: “They did what was necessary,”
Holt said, defending the choices his riders had made in his absence.
Estrella: “They did what was easy,” Imelda: “Don’t you dare pollute her head with your grand notions of a romance. The Wild Hunt are abominations of nature. I would sooner die than allow him to come anywhere near me,”
Imelda argued, her nostrils flaring with the slightest irritation. I’d clearly missed something.
Fallon: “There doesn’t need to be romance involved for you to sit on his face, Imelda. God’s sake,”
Fallon said, and she burst into laughter at the way I leveled an incredulous stare at her. Imelda: “Do you ever shut up?”
Imelda asked, pushing to her feet.
Fallon: “Only if you pet me and tell me I’m pretty,”
Fallon returned, blowing the witch a kiss as she stood in front of Fallon. Estrella: “Given that I nearly died, I should think you’d be showing me how grateful you are to see me alive. Not making demands.”
I watched as he chuckled with amusement.
Caldris: “You sound as if you’re convinced I don’t have plans for your pussy after,”
he said, his chuckle trailing off as he reached out to touch my cheek. He stroked a thumb over my lower lip, sinking the tip into my mouth.
Caldris: “The woman I saw was not victimized by what was done to her. She was an angry, vengeful goddess, hell-bent on the destruction of those who’d wronged her. She bit back, and now I want to feel those vicious little lips wrapped around my fucking cock.” Octavian: “Hello, Little Witch,”
he said, and it took everything within me to remain still. When Holt called her witch, it felt like banter. It felt like something playful, resembling foreplay, but this reeked of insult, the disrespect practically dripping from his tongue. Imelda didn’t move her body at my side, but I felt the moment she tilted her gaze up to meet his.
Imelda: “Hello, Pet,”
she returned, her voice frosty and disinterested all at once.
Imelda: “Such a shame these last centuries did not get rid of you.”
Octavian: “I am not so easy to kill,”
Octavian said with a scoff, leaning forward to touch his lips to the corner of Imelda’s mouth. She didn’t flinch back, allowing him the contact with nothing but boredom on her face. Holt took a step toward the scene from where he watched at the edge, but seemed to catch himself with a confused, disgruntled look on his face that brought me far too much amusement under the current circumstances. When Octavian finally straightened to full height, he grinned down at Imelda. She tilted her head to the side, her brow furrowing in confusion.
Imelda: “Aren’t you really?”
she asked. No part of her moved, not her mouth or her hands at her sides, but a strangled sound bubbled up Octavian’s throat in response. His hands flew to his throat, nails digging in on either side as he dropped to his knees. I watched in horror as his face turned red.
Imelda: “What’s that? Witch got your tongue?”
Imelda stared down at him, turning her head to the side and leaning forward as if she would be able to understand the babbles coming from him. He coughed suddenly, the color returning to his face as he gasped for breath.
Octavian: “You fucking bitch—”
Imelda: “I would say that you’ve forgotten how to spell from lack of oxygen getting to your brain, but let’s be honest. You never really had one of those to begin with,”
she murmured and looking down at him as if he was a sad little puppy.
Octavian: “Mab will kill you. You cannot get rid of me so easily without facing the consequences from her,”
he protested, beginning to push to his feet. Imelda put a single finger on his forehead, pressing him down softly, yet his body collapsed beneath him anyway.
Imelda: “She’ll want you alive, but I highly doubt she’ll care if I take a few pieces from you along the way, hmm?”
she asked, twisting that finger against his skin. Her nail cut into him, leaving blood to well in response. It dissolved as soon as it touched the air.
Imelda: “A Sidhe will always be a Sidhe. You do not change or evolve, but we witches do. I am not so little anymore, Octavian. You would do well to remember that.” Estrella: “My dignity is worth far more than the freedom to fuck anyone I please,”
I said, turning my face forward to look in the direction that we rode.
Estrella: “I can understand if you do not have any, but do not project that onto me.”
There was silence between us for a few moments as Octavian studied the side of my face.
Octavian: “I like her,”
he said suddenly, his laughter filling the air as he tossed his head back.
Octavian: “She has spent far too much time with the witch to be anything but amusing.”
Estrella: “If I have spent too much time with the witch, I find it necessary to remind you that I may be your Princess soon. I do not look favorably on men who call me ‘amusing.’ I am far more than a source of entertainment for you, Sidhe. Perhaps one day soon, I’ll make you entertain me, and I promise you, my idea of entertainment involves spilling blood. Not sex,” I yanked the dagger from the sheath strapped to Caldris’s thigh, pulling the blade free and extending my arm as Aramis came up beside us.
Aramis: “No wonder you killed him—”
he said, his voice cutting off when I sank the blade into the flesh of his upper thigh.
Aramis: “What the fuck was that for?”
he asked, his voice wheezing in pain as I pulled the blade free and returned it to the sheath it called home.
Estrella: “You looked at me,”
I snarled, the monster feeling closer to the surface than ever before. The complete aggravation that was Jensen would drive me to do far worse before the day was up. Caldris: “Es to un caoin asteren en min awyr,”
I murmured, watching as her eyes lit with the words that she tried to translate in her mind, attempting to focus on them beyond the slow drag of my cock through her flesh.
Caldris: “You are the only star in my sky.” Caldris: “I love you, Little One,”
I murmured, leaning forward to touch my mouth to hers as she came around me.
Caldris: “Until chaos reigns.”
Estrella: “Until chaos reigns,”
she whispered as she breathed through her orgasm. I released her hands finally, letting the ice melt back into snow. She wrapped them behind my head, holding me so that my breath mingled with hers.
Estrella: “I will love you long after.” Caldris: “I am going to love you until the stars disappear from the night sky and the sun ceases to shine. Until the world returns to the void from whence it was born and chaos reigns once again.”
He touched his lips to mine as he dropped his hands to grab my own. Raising them at our sides, he pressed his palms against mine and aligned our fingers the best he could. My skin hummed with warmth as I closed my eyes, breathing in the deep scent of lotus flowers on the lake in the summer with a hint of sandalwood as the winter breeze washed over my face. When he pulled his mouth away, I blinked up at him, the golden light radiating from our hands. Something in the magic required an answer, a calling I couldn’t ignore.
Estrella: “Until chaos reigns and eternity begins anew, and for every moment after,”
I said, turning my attention to our laced fingers. Golden threads twined around the backs, squeezing them together until I gasped in pain. The threads cut into my skin, the red stain of blood trailing down Caldris’s skin in the same way.
Caldris: “My soul, my heart, my flesh, and my sword are yours, and if ever there should come a day when your heart ceases to beat, I will follow you into the Void.”