Chapter One

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Early Winter 1943


It happened the day he became king.

The memory should've been beautiful. It was the moment she first entered his world, filling it with life and color, finally giving him a reason to draw air into his lungs and face the difficult existence the Gods bestowed on him.

If things had gone as planned, it would've been the most amazing instant of his life. Instead it plagued his dreams, turning them into nightmares for the whole of his puppyhood and well into the early days of his rule.

Max blamed his father.

Though it was an opulent Romanesque mansion, the New England estate Max called home was aged and daunting that afternoon in December. It should have been festive for his season, but a darkness had descended on them. Its white marble exterior blended effortlessly into the snowy landscape as if foretelling the tragedy to come. The curtains were drawn wherever possible. What little outside light found its way in past the frosted windows was dim due to the snowstorm that had been battering the coast since his Aunt Susan arrived, heavy with pregnancy. Her human mate helped her through the grand entryway. The winds blew the heavy doors shut behind them as they stepped in out of the cold.

"Douglas!" she yelled.

Max had seen her enter. He loved snow and was currently angry with his father for refusing to let him play in it. He had been sulking at the window seat next to the foyer, watching the snow fall more heavily.

At three, his speech was more advanced than others his age, but he was generally quiet unless he had something important to say. So he said nothing about his aunt's frantic arrival, rather he shyly watched the scene play out as a curious bystander.

His father was at his aunt's side within a blink of an eye. A huge man, all muscle, tanned skin and dark hair, Max's father dwarfed his poor aunt's husband, who was startled into stuttering when his father appeared seemingly out of thin air.

"W-Where did you—" He let go of Susan's arm to gape up at Douglas Wellington. "I-I say, I just—" He shook his head as though trying to gather his thoughts together and obviously succeeded when he said, "It makes no matter. She insisted on stopping here, but she needs to go to the hospital."

His father's eyes became dark, his large frame appearing to grow bigger with his tension. "The baby?"

"She's coming, Doug." Susan's voice was strained, yet Max could still hear her excitement. "I told you she's the one for your Maxwell. I've always known it. I should have planned better for the Solstice, but she wasn't due for another month."

Max's father found him then, his dark gaze resting on Max where he sat on the windowsill. Lord Douglas Wellington, usually such a gruff man, seemed younger and lighter as he stared at him for one long moment before he turned back to his laboring sister and her confused mate. He reached out, grasping at the smaller man's shoulder as though giving him encouragement for the safety of his unborn child.

"You will sleep now," Douglas said in a low, hypnotic voice.

Max watched the human fall to the ground, not even stirring from deep slumber when his head thumped hard against the cold marble floor.

"Doug, was that necessary?" His aunt made a move to lean down and check on him, but her stomach impeded her. She gasped out, holding her side. "He's going to have such a knot on his head tomorrow. They don't heal like we do."

"Forget the human," Douglas snapped, the hopeful look gone, replaced by one Max knew so well, that of grim duty and responsibility as he swept his sister up in his arms. He didn't even flinch at her weight as he walked across the entryway with her. "Maxwell, come."

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