I’ve always been something of a dendrophile—that’s a lover of trees, in case you’re wondering. I come by it honestly. When my parents were building the house in which I grew up, my mother was adamant that as few trees as possible be cut down. In addition, there was a vacant lot next to our house had never been built on. It belonged to my grandparents, and no one but me seemed to have any interest in it. So, for all intents and purposes, it was my own private forest. I thought it was the most magical place ever.
So, it’s really not a surprise that, when I was hunting around for a Celtic legend to turn into a winter-holiday themed book, I should pick the story of the Oak King and the Holly King. Their connection with the solstices made it an obvious choice—and they’re trees!
Okay, in the original stories they’re not actually trees, and I’m probably the only person who thought to make them lovers, but other than that, it was an obvious choice.
Here’s the blurb for OAK (which was originally published as The Oak King):
Twice each year, Aine Murphy ventures into the woods to hold ceremonies to honor the Oak King and the Holly King, never dreaming these Lords of the Forest could be anything more than myth. When the legends spring to life in front of her, how can she help but fall for the sexy demi-gods she’s loved all her life?
From midwinter to midsummer, Fionn O’Dair rules the Greenworld as the Oak King–a role he feels is beyond his abilities, and one that dooms him to a loveless future, forever craving the one man he can never allow himself to have. How can he resist what Aine offers–the sweet devotion that soothes his aching soul, and the slim chance to live a “normal” life as her husband, if only for half a year
Holly King Kieran Mac Cuilenn never desired a human lover–until now. Seeing Fionn and Aine together fills him with longing for the love he threw away and awakens feelings he thought he’d buried with the last Oak King. Is there enough magic in the solstice to correct the mistakes he made years ago? Or is he doomed to be forever left out in the cold?
And here’s a short excerpt:
One night before the solstice
“Who is it you’re thinkin’ of tonight? Is it he?”
At the sound of her husband’s voice, Aine’s thoughts scattered like a flock of birds flushed out of hiding. She paused in the act of brushing her hair and met his gaze in the mirror above her dressing table. “What an odd question. Why do you ask?”
“There’s a dreamy look upon your face.”
“Aye, lass, there is.”
Aine bit back a sigh. There was a look on Fionn’s face, too, and it was anything but dreamy. Brooding and unhappy, it caused an ache in Aine’s heart. For all that he’d wronged her by tricking her into this marriage—keeping the truth of his nature a secret until after they’d wed—Aine still loved him. For an instant, she even considered denying his accusation, but what good would that do? The guilty blush heating her cheeks had surely given her away by now.
Nor would she insult them both by asking Fionn who he meant. She knew of only one man who could put so bitter a tone in Fionn’s voice, only one man to whom he could possibly be referring. Kieran. Fionn’s other half. His opposite. And Aine’s…
Ah, well now, that was the question, wasn’t it? What was Kieran to her?
He wasn’t family, despite what her neighbors had been told or might choose to believe. Though he and Fionn were as intimately connected as twins, their lives forever entwined, the two men were definitely not brothers. He wasn’t Aine’s lover either, no matter how much she might desire him, or how much Fionn might fear that was the case. In fact, now that she’d thought on it, she did know what Kieran was to her. He was a geis—a curse. He was a burden she’d taken on, all-unknowing, when she’d married Fionn. A burden she must live with for six months out of every year.
Very soon, Kieran would be by her side once again with those eyes that seemed to gaze straight into her soul, with that smile that could tempt even the most virtuous of angels into sinning, and that voice that…well, even thinking about it now caused her heart to race and her chest to ache with longing.
Strong but wounded, charming yet aloof, handsome, tormented, and just the slightest bit wicked—had there ever been a more enticing combination in a man? And that was before she’d learned of Kieran’s secret, a secret he’d hidden so well, and buried so deeply within him, she wasn’t certain he knew it himself. He was in love with her husband.
Did their mutual love for Fionn make for a bond between herself and Kieran, or did it put them at odds with one another? Aine wasn’t sure which was the case. Either way, it was reason enough for her to distrust him, or at the very least, to distrust her feelings toward him.
And, either way, she’d soon be welcoming him back into her home, as she had last year, and would continue to do every year to come. Once again they’d be sleeping under the same roof, sharing their meals and their thoughts, keeping each other company through the long winter nights and soft spring days while Fionn was away.
In truth, the prospect excited her far more than it should.
Realizing the direction her thoughts had taken, Aine all but rolled her eyes. She could hardly say any of that to her husband! “The solstice is nigh upon us, my love,” she said instead. “’Twould be wondrous strange were I not to be thinking of him at such a time. Would it not?”
“Aye,” Fionn replied in grudging tones. “It would at that.”
Aine felt her gaze soften as she looked upon her husband. He was so handsome, so serious, so concerned. He seemed larger than life—which, in a way, she supposed he was—and completely out of place in their tidy little bedroom.
Even in the depths of winter, Fionn’s skin retained the same rosy flush it had worn when first they’d met, as though he spent every day standing outside in the hot sun. He radiated warmth, vitality, and strength—the very picture of every lush, summer day that had ever dawned, all rolled into one. And all hers to enjoy.
The thought sent a delicious thrill rushing through her, as it did each time she remembered it. Tonight, however, it also brought a renewed sense of urgency. For with Kieran’s arrival, Fionn would once again be forced to leave her.
Six long months would pass before they would see each other again, and all she’d have to carry her through until summer would be the memory of these days together. She ached to once more feel his body on hers—now, while she still had the chance. She yearned for those strong arms to wrap around her and hold her close, for those sure, masterful hands to caress her skin and bring her to ecstasy over and over again. The time left to them grew so short.
“’Tis you I married,” she said, as she resumed the task of dragging her brush through her long red hair. “If you remember nothing else, Fionn, I bid you remember that. ’Tis you who are my husband.”
“Aye. That I am.” A satisfied smile curved Fionn’s lips. His eyes lit up with a fierce, possessive gleam. Pulling back the bedcovers, he beckoned to her. “Now come here to me, wife, and let me remind you of that fact.”