What Lies Beyond the Veil
by Harper L Woods
Book 1 in the Of Flesh and Bone Series
Once, we’d worshipped them as Gods.
For nearly 400 years, the Veil has protected us from the Fae of Alfheimr. In their absence, our lives have shifted from decadence and sin to survival and virtue under the guidance of the New Gods. I’ve spent my entire life tending to the gardens next to the boundary between our worlds, drawn to the shimmering magic like a moth to the flame.
Then, we died on their swords.
All of that changes the day the Veil shatters, unleashing the fae upon our world once again. The magic of faerie marks those of us they mean to take, but the Mist Guard protecting Nothrek will kill us all before they let the fae have us. There’s no choice but to flee everything I’ve ever known, not if I want to live to see my twenty-first birthday as a free woman.
Now, they’ll claim what’s theirs.
But before they capture me, Caelum saves me from the Wild Hunt. Fae-marked and on the run, he is able to fight back in ways I only dream of. From tentative alliance to all-consuming passion, our bond strengthens as the fae close in and evil lurks ever nearer. With my life on the line, he is everything I shouldn’t dare to want and a distraction I can’t afford. I can’t seem to stay away, not even with something greater on the line.
What Lies Beyond the Veil was one of my monthly adult Bookish Box editions last year, and I finally decided to give it a shot. I was in the mood for a "romantasy", the cover is GORGEOUS, so I was drawn in. I'm so glad I got this book! The plot was good, if a tad predictable. The romance was definitely a slow burn, but good. The sex was hot, despite me questioning if Caelum has a foot long dick. And that cliffhanger had me glad the next book was already out - despite me seeing it from a mile away.
I can understand why some people complain that there is too any similarities to other popular series'. What Lies Beyond the Veil definitely had a "Hunger Games" feel to it, in terms of the political system on the human side of the veil. Towns and cities, all rules my a wealthy "noble", that gives the people the bare minimum to survive - shacks for home, very little food, etc ... - yet forces the citizens to work for the m for free. In Estrella case, she picked a type of prickly berry that only the wealthy seemed to be allowed to enjoy. At the end of each harvest, there would be a human sacrifice, chosen by the gods, to the veil, to keep it standing to separate themselves from the fae. And because the noble in charge on her hometown was obsessed with her, and essentially groomed her to be his future wife, when a priest hinted she was the next sacrifice, to avoid a terrible marriage with her abuser, she fully accepted her fate. Except she broke a rule before her impending death. She touched the veil. The veil itself kind of reminds me of Elise Kova's "Married to Magic" series, but only in terms that there is a veil to begin with. And the love interest was a way darker and twisted version of the love interest in the Blood and Ash series. But I felt like there was enough uniqueness to make this her own.
The characters were okay. Both Estrella and Caelum got on my nerves sometimes for different reasons, but they were ultimately likeable for different reasons. Highlight between the arrow for a spoilery thought ----------------> Caelum wasn't my favorite, because I KNEW he wasn't who he said he was. It's not until the next book that I truly enjoyed him <------------------. The romance felt a bit forced, because of Estrella's inner conflict about it. But there was chemistry there. I don't love the "Little One" pet name though.
There is beauty in knowing who you are, and in embracing that in spite of the potential consequences. Estrella: “Your children were never going to love you the way I loved my father. Do you know why, my Lord?”
I asked, letting the hatred I felt for him show in a rare moment of honesty. I couldn’t do much to hurt him, not with the pyre calling me, but I could strip away the motivation for everything he’d spent over a decade working toward.
he asked, his throat moving with his swallow. He glanced over his shoulder at the figure lurking at my back. I didn’t need to look to know who waited for me if I only turned, instead blasting Byron with the full force of my glare.
Estrella: “Because you will never be worthy of that kind of love.” Mist Guard: “It’s almost a shame to end it so soon,”
he murmured, leaning forward until his dark eyes stared into mine.
Mist Guard: “I like a woman with some fight.”
Estrella: “Then take off the collar and fight me like a man,” I bit down with all the strength in my jaw, not relenting when the coppery-sweet taste of blood filled my mouth. When any normal person would have shouted, or at least tried to get me to release his appendage from the vice-like grip of my teeth, he only chuckled in my ear and dragged me back to the pile of straw where I’d thought to relax.
Caelum: “Careful, love. I just might like that.” Leader: “That,”
the leader said, pausing as his white eyes gleamed and he wiped the last of the dirt from his face.
Leader: “Wasn’t very nice.”
Estrella: “I’m all out of fucking nice today,” Cold air touched my legs, dancing over the bare skin, and I shivered in spite of myself. I twisted the worn, mangled fabric into a knot, letting it hang at my thighs so that I’d have full range of motion.
Estrella: “Look up my dress, and you may find you wake up without any eyeballs one morning,”
I said, narrowing my eyes at him as I raised my hand up to that notch he’d shown me before. Caelum: “Oh, Little One. I am going to enjoy unraveling every part of you slowly,” Estrella: “Do you mind?”
I asked, finding him still watching me as I unlaced the top of my dress.
Caelum: “Not particularly,”
he said, smirking as he watched my fingers cease to move. I bit the inside of my cheek, shoving down the sharp retort I wanted to give.
Estrella: “I’m not taking my clothes off in front of you,”
I said, trying to ignore his infuriating, arrogant expression.
Caelum: “I promise you, I have seen a naked woman before, Little One. I’m capable of controlling myself,”
he said, raising a brow at me. I snatched the dress from his hands, turning and walking into the thicker parts of the trees with a huff.
Estrella: “I promise you I don’t care!”
I called over my shoulder, ducking behind the biggest tree trunk I could find. Estrella: “You’re so pretty until you speak,”
I said, smiling at him sweetly.
Estrella: “Do try not to ruin it.”
He chuckled as I took a seat next to him, my cheeks flushing at the smirk that claimed his lips. He sank his white teeth into his bottom lip as he studied me intently, like a predator stalking his prey.
Caelum: “Why is it that you blush when you compliment me? Shouldn’t it be my face that turns pink?”
he asked, grasping my hand in my crossed arms and tugging as if he wanted me to sit closer to him. I resisted.
Estrella: “Only you would take it as a compliment when someone tells you that you’re prettier when you’re silent,” Caelum: “Are you planning to gut me while I sleep, my star?”
he asked, as he laid himself out on the ground. Even with his cloak still wrapped around my shoulders, he didn’t seem bothered by the cold dirt beneath him. Stretching his arms over his head and cocking a knee so the bottom of his boot pressed into the ground, he bent his elbows and used his forearms as a pillow.
Caelum: “Perhaps burn me with the fire that smolders inside of you, waiting to ignite?”
Estrella: “I need you alive for now, but that doesn’t mean I need you to have all of your appendages functioning. I’ve kind of always wondered how a man would scream if I cut off his prized flesh between his legs,”
I said, wrinkling my nose. My only hesitation in doing it to Lord Byron, aside from the obvious death sentence it would bring, had been that I would need to touch it in order for that to happen. I would pass on that any chance I got.
Caelum: “There’s my girl,” Caelum: “The memory of the people who matter to us never leave, no matter how many years pass,”
he said, pausing until I met his gaze from the corner of my eye. Something dangerous shifted behind his stare, a dark reminder of how little I actually knew about the man who’d become my travel companion.
Caelum: “Never hesitate to own your love for them, and to make it known that you miss them every day.” He caught that wrist with his free hand, staring down at me with a raised eyebrow.
Caelum: “That would have hurt.”
Estrella: “Fuck you. It was meant to,” Caelum: “Whatever you tell yourself to help you sleep at night, Little One. I sleep quite peacefully with my head filled with thoughts of you, and your breathy voice moaning my name while I devour you,”
he said, relaxing his grip on my wrist. I stumbled back, finally gaining that desperately needed space between us.
Estrella: “Don’t be disgusting,”
I snapped, straightening his cloak around my shoulders and pulling it closed tight over where my nipples hardened in response to the way he stared at me. My chest heaved, my arousal and humiliation feeling tangible, stealing the very air from my lungs.
Caelum: “For you, I can be downright fucking filthy, Estrella, and you will love every Gods damned second of it,” Estrella: “You’re a dick,”
I said, huffing and gathering my hair in my hands. I toyed with the snarled edges, wincing when I realized just how disgusting I must look. How many days had it been since I’d bathed? Since I brushed my hair?
Caelum: “Why don’t we find out just how much you like my dick, Little One?” Caelum: “See something you like?”
he asked, finally stepping backward until his lower body submerged, and I was freed from the temptation to continue to admire his cock.
Estrella: “That looks more like a torture device than an instrument for pleasure,”
I said, shaking myself and wrapping my arms around my waist. Caelum chuckled, ducking his head beneath the surface. He ran his hands through his hair when he re-emerged from the water, pushing it back from his face as it dripped down over his chest and the muscles on his stomach.
Caelum: “When the time comes, you’ll take all of it and beg me to fuck you harder, Little One,” Estrella: “You and the basilisk in your trousers stay right there, thank you very much,”
I said, snapping to attention the moment he came closer. He stopped the moment I uttered the command, his face lighting with amusement.
Caelum: “I’m not wearing any trousers.”
Estrella: “And that is the problem. I like my intestines in my stomach and not shoved into my lungs. You just keep that thing away from me,” Estrella: “I swear to Gods if you touch me, I will rip it off and feed it to you, Caelum,”
I said, backing away a step. His grin widened as he took another step forward.
Caelum: “I probably shouldn’t find it so arousing when you threaten me, and yet I get a little tingle every time.”
He shrugged as if there was nothing that could be done about it, stepping closer to me with his hands raised innocently. Caelum: “He will suffer for every mark on your skin, every moment he frightened you, every tear you shed, before I finally put him out of his misery.” Caelum: “Talk to me.”
I sighed, letting my head thump against the stone as shame heated my face. He seemed so fearless, so unconcerned with any of the dangers around us.
Estrella: “I’m afraid,”
I mumbled, keeping my eyes off of his purposefully.
Caelum: “What could a star be afraid of?”
he asked, the teasing lilt to his voice reassuring me slightly. He squeezed my hand tighter in his, encouraging me to continue.
Estrella: “It seems like I’m afraid of many things lately,”
I said, shaking my head as I thought of the way I feared him more than Lord Byron. It made no sense, but Byron had been able to touch my body. He hadn’t been able to reach inside me and toy with my soul the way Caelum could.
Caelum: “And yet you continue on anyway, my brave little star. You burn so bright I sometimes fear the Wild Hunt will sense you from miles away,” Caelum: “I don’t feel so alone when I’m with you,”
he murmured, tipping forward to touch his forehead to mine. He dropped his hand to the Mark on my neck, the swirling and writhing ink of his skin brushing against mine and causing a shock to roll through me.
Caelum: “I’ve spent my entire life feeling alone, even when I’m surrounded by others. I’d do just about anything not to feel that again. You and I are the same.”
He squeezed his hand at my neck, tightening around the Fae Mark.
Caelum: “This ties us together in ways none of us understand. So you can be scared all you want, Little One, but do it knowing that you’ll have my swords at your side until the end.” I quirked my brow at him, glancing down to his trousers pointedly. I’d made my thoughts on his cock known already.
Caelum: “It’s not going to jump out and bite you, Estrella,”
Caelum: “Rest your head on me, and I’ll tell you a story until you fall asleep.”
That gave me pause. The only part of Lord Byron’s manor I would miss was the library full of books and the stories they contained. The adventures people had lived.
Estrella: “What kind of story?”
I asked, narrowing my eyes.
Estrella: “Is this a sex thing? Because I’m not above punching you in the dick.”
Caelum: “Estrella, I promise; you will know when it’s a sex thing,” Caelum: “Did you think I wouldn’t notice your body wrapped around mine? That I wouldn’t feel you even in the depths of sleep?”
Estrella: “I loathe you,”
I mumbled, shifting my hips to try to rub his hand against the dirt beneath our bodies until he had no choice but to remove it. The motion rubbed me against him, my legs spread around where he’d slid his hips in between them when he’d rolled me.
Caelum: “If this is what your hate feels like, then I can’t wait to feel your love,”
he said, leaning forward until his nose touched the end of mine. He trailed it up, tracing a path over the arch until he touched his lips to my forehead. When he drew back, his eyes dropped to my mouth.
I asked, the hushed sound hovering between us as he stared at my lips intently.
Caelum: “Yes, Little One. Love. Did you believe I was aiming to earn your friendship with my hand on your ass and my cock nestled between your thighs?”
he asked, grinding forward as if he could prove his point.
Estrella: “Friends can fuck, Caelum. I would have thought you’d be completely aware of that, given all your sexual adventures,”
I hissed, turning my head away from his. He was too close, his face lingering so near to mine that I thought he just might be able to hear the thoughts swirling in my head.
Caelum: “There’s that jealousy again,”
he teased, a growl of satisfaction rumbling through his chest.
Caelum: “Do friends get jealous of past lovers? Because I cannot promise I wouldn’t disembowel any man who has been inside you.” Caelum: “You have the sense of direction of a hydra.”
Estrella: “Aren’t they blind?”
I asked, thinking back to the paintings I’d seen in the books that warned of the horrors of Alfheimr when the High Priestess wanted to scare me into staying away from the Veil. They were filled all the creatures we wouldn’t ever have to see with the Veil to protect us, so long as I learned to leave it alone. The Fae were terrifying enough, their ethereal bodies so similar to ours but different in all the ways that mattered. The monsters and beasts of Faerie were crafted from nightmares, molded from darkness and all the evil magic brought into the world. The enormous three-headed serpents didn’t even have eye sockets.
Caelum: “Yes. Yes, they are,”
he agreed, quirking an eyebrow at me as he walked at my side, his pace relaxed so that I could keep up. As much as I feared the cave beasts, the thought of sleeping exposed to the elements and to the Wild Hunt and others who might kill us in our sleep was somehow even more terrifying. At least when I had Caelum to protect me, the two of us might have been able to escape a cave beast’s wrath. But I doubted the Wild Hunt would let us slip away twice.
Estrella: “I wish I was a hydra,”
Estrella: “Then I could just swallow you whole and not have to endure your endless hovering anymore.”
Caelum: “My star, you can swallow me whole anytime you—”
I smacked him in the stomach, drawing pleasure in the grunt that rolled into a laugh as the strike cut him off.
Caelum: “There’s that tingle.”
He laughed when I glowered at him.
Estrella: “You do realize you aren’t supposed to enjoy being punched, don’t you?”
Caelum: “I can think of worse ways to pass the time,”
he said, shrugging his shoulders as if my little violent outbursts weren’t of actual concern to him. It both infuriated me and intrigued me that he was so unconcerned with my displays of violence, when so many men would’ve had me beaten for less.
Estrella: “Do you not worry that I might bite it off if you put it near my mouth?”
I asked, braving the dangerous tension between us to continue the conversation I should have left unanswered. His gaze felt heavy on the side of my face, his attention fixated on me when I didn’t turn to meet his stare. I focused on my feet, on the way my too-large boots trudged through the leaves and underbrush on the ground.
he said finally, his eyes leaving my face as he turned his attention toward the path in front of us. A building appeared in the distance, the first of the village where we needed to gather supplies.
Caelum: “But I’d know a few moments of perfection until you did.” Caelum: “Tell me again how much you don’t want me, my star. I do so love the way you lie.”
Estrella: “I loathe you,” Caelum: “Come out and play with me, my star. I know you’re in there somewhere, burning away where you think no one can see you. Imagine how brightly you’d shine if you embraced all that fire.” Estrella: “I’m sorry,”
I added, feeling the need to apologize. I hadn’t asked for him to kiss me, but I damn well hadn’t stopped him, even though I knew better than to allow it. With just one kiss, he’d proven everything I’d already known. The man would be the end of me.
Caelum: “I would wait an eternity for you, Little One. You never need to be sorry,” He picked me up without fanfare, draping me over his shoulder as he swung the axe on his other side.
Estrella: “There are kinder ways to carry me,”
I sniped, lifting my head just enough that the blood wouldn’t rush to it and make me dizzy as he ambled through the cave entrance. He whistled as he walked, entirely unconcerned with the body draped over his shoulder like a sack of root vegetables.
Caelum: “I can drop you faster this way if I need to fight off a cave beast,”
he said, his steps remaining sure as he made his way deeper into the cave carved into the mountainside.
Estrella: “Oh, that’s much better. I do so love the idea of being dropped onto the stones,”
I said, feeling the need to argue with him just for the sake of it. I hated being reliant on him. I hated the fact that I couldn’t even walk on my own, let alone survive without him to take care of me.
Caelum: “I’d rather that than see the flesh torn from your bones. It’s such pretty flesh, after all,”
he said, using the hand that he’d wrapped supportively around the backs of my thighs to smack me on the ass.
he ordered, the word a murmur.
Caelum: “I need to listen.”
Estrella: “Convenient,” I gasped, staring at him in shock.
Estrella: “Did you just compare me to something that’s never walked before?”
Caelum: “It isn’t an exact metaphor, but it’s similar. Your body is different than it was before. You move more swiftly, come upon obstacles quicker. Your reflexes need to catch up and work more efficiently now.”
Estrella: “First, I have the sense of direction of a hydra and now I walk like a stumbling newborn deer. You truly know how to compliment the woman you’re trying to bed, Caelum the Marked,”
I said, shaking my head as a disbelieving smile tugged at the corners of my mouth. The humor dancing in his eyes couldn’t be denied, something contagious passing between us as I tried to fight off the desire to return it.
Caelum: “Tell me which part wasn’t true, and I will gladly rectify it, Estrella the Star,”
he said, raising a brow as he waited for me to argue. I wanted nothing more than to prove him wrong, but knew well enough that I’d be lost within a moment of wandering on my own, and my swollen ankle made it impossible to argue my ability to function on my own two legs.
Caelum: “The silence is positively deafening,”
he said, his face breaking into a full-blown smile.
Estrella: “Do shut up. We can’t all be perfect men who know how to navigate and fight and walk flawlessly,”
I said, biting my tongue before I could tell him something about the way his trousers hugged his ass and hips as he moved.
Caelum: “You’re perfect just as you are, Little One, stumbling on awkward legs and horrible sense of direction included. I could spend the rest of the night telling you about all the parts of you that I would never allow anyone to change,” Estrella: “Why would you tell me a story that you don’t even know the ending of?”
I snapped, lifting his hand off my stomach in protest. He chuckled, replacing it immediately and using it to turn my body to face him .
Caelum: “Because life isn’t always tidy. We don’t always have the answers we want, and love isn’t always pretty,”
he said, his gaze pointed as I swallowed audibly.
Caelum: “It’s messy and painful, but it is always worthwhile. It is always the answer, my star, not the problem.” Caelum: “If you value that hand, you will remove it immediately,”
Caelum growled, his voice echoing through the narrow tunnel as Melian stopped in her tracks and stared back at the altercation behind her.
Jensen: “Or what, pretty boy?”
Jensen asked, raising an eyebrow at Caelum in challenge.
Caelum: “Or I will sever it from your wrist and give it to her as a token of my affection,” Caelum: “There has never been a moment in the time I’ve known you when you’ve been anything less than extraordinary.”
I cocked my head to the side, the corner of my mouth tipping up in amusement.
Estrella: “Even when I fell down the ravine?”
Caelum: “Okay, maybe you were less than extraordinary then,” Caelum: “I would burn the world to the ground and lay it at your feet if you so much as asked it of me, and yet you give me nothing. You’ve never once told me that you feel the same way I do.” Estrella: “You’re going to break me,”
I whispered, not having meant to speak the words out loud, but there was no boundary between us, no part of me that wanted to take back the words I should have kept to myself. He pulled back from my neck, my skin throbbing where he’d bruised me. He stared at it for a moment before finally turning his attention to my face, his clenched jaw fading into something so tender it made my heart stall in my chest, and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was always like this. Did falling in love always come with the knowledge that we were no longer alone? Was it always more than stolen kisses in the night and two bodies coming together for a few moments?
Caelum: “No, Little One. I’m going to love you,”
he said, touching his forehead to mine. His dark eyes glimmered, tiny specks of light shining in the obsidian, like the stars that had become my namesake.
Caelum: “Until you forget what it is to hurt and then long after that. Until the scars you wear like armor have faded from memory, and only we remain.” Estrella: “You can’t kill a man just for having fucked me, Caelum,”
I argued, unable to force myself to push him away. Even when he was acting ridiculous, I’d have done anything to pull him closer. To take him inside me and make me burn.
Estrella: “Think how many women I would have to kill.”
He pressed his hard length against my thigh as he worked me with his hand, building my orgasm higher as he pulled back to stare down into my face. Malice lurked in his gaze when he met my eyes.
Caelum: “I would love to see that, my star.”
Estrella: “That’s not normal,”
I argued, my body jolting when he applied more pressure to my clit.
Caelum: “I assure you, I do not give the first fuck what is normal when it comes to you. If you want to watch the world burn, I’ll set it on fire for you. If you want to slaughter every woman who has ever taken what is yours, then I will gladly sit back and watch you play,” Caelum: “Come on, my star. Show them how bright you burn,” Caelum: "Are you wet for me? Does the idea of them watching me fuck you turn you on as much as it does me?”
Estrella: “I didn’t think you wanted them to see me,”
I whispered, trying to align his desire with his possessiveness. It didn’t make sense, leaving me with the distinct feeling that I was missing something very vital.
Caelum: “I don’t want them to see you, but I have no qualms with them seeing you take my cock like you were made for me,”
he growled, glancing up at the men who watched. His gaze paused, snagging on someone as I turned to follow it. Jensen stood at the edge of the bath, watching intently while I gulped. His nose was a crooked mess, the skin around his eyes blackening.
Caelum: “Because by the time I’m done with you, they’ll know exactly who you belong to.” Caelum: “Show me my fucking cunt,”
he ordered, slapping his free hand down on the outside of my thigh when I didn’t immediately relent.
Caelum: “Show them what they will never have.” Caelum: “Tonight, when we’re in bed and I’ve got my cock between your legs again, they’ll be lying in their bed, jerking their cocks to the memory of me fucking you. They’ll be wishing they were able to make you scream the way I do, and do you know what I’ll do?”
he asked, punctuating the words with a sharp drive against the end of me.
Caelum: “I’ll fill you with so much of my cum that they can smell it on you tomorrow and remember exactly who you belong to.” Jensen: “You would leave half a dozen Fae Marked to die, in order to save yourself?”
Jensen asked, the steel of his voice putting me on edge.
Caelum said, turning to the man he wanted to bleed with a fierce glower that made even me wither on the spot.
Caelum: “But I would do it to save her.” Estrella: “Gods,”
Caelum: “I’m your God,”
he said with a smirk, mischief dancing across his face.
Caelum: “Now tell me you fucking love me.”
Estrella: “I love you,”
I sobbed, the words torn from a place inside me I hadn’t known existed. Like they’d always been meant to hang between us, out in the open for the world to know.
Caelum: “I know you do, Little One,”
he said gently, sympathy filling his gaze as he worked my clit harder and drove into me faster.
Caelum: “Now you come for your God.” Estrella: “Let them go, and I’ll go with you. That’s what you want, right? That’s what the purpose of all of this was? Just let them go.”
I begged, swallowing down my terror at the thought of being brought to Alfheimr, and of what might wait for me there.
Caelum: “Oh, my star,”
he said sadly, sympathy filling his gaze as his hand dropped to the iron chain wrapped around my neck. He unraveled it slowly, the flesh of his fingertips burning against the touch of the warded metal until he flung it to the side.
Caelum: “You’ll come with me anyway.” Caelum: “I didn’t have to know you, because I could feel you.”
He grasped my hand in his, lifting it to press against the spot where his heart beat inside his chest. It echoed the beat of mine, pumping in tandem with the one that pounded in my chest. Oh fuck. No.
Caelum: “I waited for you for centuries,”
he said, his fingers pressing my hand into his chest more firmly when I shook my head and tried to pull back.
I said, the protest loud in my desperation to not hear what he had to say.
Caelum: “I felt you live and die for countless lives, felt every one of your life cycles end and grieved the woman I never got to meet. I know you, because you are the other half of me.”