“This is tiring, for you and me. Tell me what I need to know, and I’ll find you more comfortable conditions.” The giant crouched in front of me as if he was concerned for my welfare. Yet, I huddled against a wall of ice wearing nothing more than a thin gown. I didn’t even have sleeves!

My fingers had a tinge of blue on the ends. I’m sure my nose did too. Each time I spoke it became harder as my lips grew numb.

He’d asked the same question over and over for the last two days. Where was the stone? I did not understand what he meant, but he was insistent that I should. “How would I know about this? I came to witness my cousin’s wedding, that’s all,” I said between my clacking teeth. The frigid air in the cavern had increased when the giant left the opening to the cave.

“Why do you insult me? When I saw you walking toward me without the stone, I knew. Stop this pretense and tell me.”

When I walked toward him? “You can’t still think I was your bride? I entered the chambers as a guest—like I’ve told you many times. The only reason I walked toward you was to stand in the ceremony circle as custom demands.”

The giant stared at me. His gray-blue eyes measured my words. It was the first time I’d focused on his features—other than his size. I hadn’t eaten, my hair was a tangled mess, and I wanted to go home. In no way had I needed to grace the angry male creating my pain with my attention. But, I realized with a start that he wasn’t the ugly monster I’d always heard in stories. He was handsome if I had to say.

Dark hair, cropped on the sides, longer on top with a soft curl that fell against his full brow. A straight nose flared slightly at the tip, perfectly in proportion to his serious mouth and squared jaw.

His critical squint sent a surge of shivers through me, mixing into those already there from the frosty surroundings. He was terrifyingly angry, but the momentary thoughtfulness gave me hope. Something unreasonable, and irrational, flashed through me. I bit the inside of my cheek and tried to imitate his harsh features. I needed to stay strong if I was to survive.

“What is your name?” He growled.

“What’s yours?” I growled back with an arch to my brow. What did he mean anyway? He’d said he thought I was his bride, as ridiculous as that seemed, but wouldn’t that mean he’d think I was Pirreah? Granted, I didn’t know his, but I’d never cared to ask. Pirreah was marrying a giant. No other details had seemed necessary.

“You are not the princess they promised me, or you would know.”

“What?” Atta had said Pirreah was marrying as part of a peace treaty but did that mean she’d never met her intended? “As I’ve said, I’m not your bride.” I couldn’t help the way my eyes circled their sockets. Repeating myself was exhausting.

The giant flattened his lips in a tight downward curve. It added to his fearsome features, and I slouched backward. When he stood, he turned his back and slammed his fist into the icy wall.

A squeal tore from my throat as I covered my head. Bits of the ceiling fell around me like hail as I waited for the cave to collapse. But it didn’t. After several agonizing heartbeats, counted as they echoed through my ears, I peeked through my arms.

Kneehigh, fur-lined leather boots pointed in my direction. I let my gaze travel upward to see the giant had once again turned to face me