Demon Princess: Book #3
Available JANUARY 2012
in ebook and print versions
Prophesies, demon slayers, dragons, homework… It’s going to be a hell of a week!
It’s been a dangerous ride for Nikki Donovan since she first learned she’s a demon princess. And the ride isn’t over yet!
She’s just found out that her best friend is a demon slayer in training, one who doesn’t know that Nikki is exactly the prey she’s sworn to hunt. Nikki’s demon king father has signed her up for lessons in how to master her erratic half-demon powers, and that’s on top of her regular homework! Also, she’s torn between two boys—Rhys, the faery king she’s prophesied to marry, and Michael, a Shadow whom she’s forbidden to love.
To top it all off, a dark force is haunting Nikki, something mysterious and evil that wants the demon princess dead…but who—or what—is it?
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My name is Nikki Donovan, your normal, everyday sixteen year old.
At least, I was normal until a month ago when I found out the truth.
I’m actually a princess.
A demon princess.
I know. It’s hard to believe. But it’s all true.
When I turned sixteen, I finally got the chance to meet my estranged father, a demon king, who is stuck in his castle and can never leave. He rules over the Shadowlands, another dimension which sits right between the light and the dark worlds. If it wasn’t for my father, the dark worlds — the Underworld and Hell — would be able to spill over to the light worlds — the Faery and Human ones.
I learned that some demons really wanted to visit here. Or, in other words, destroy, enslave, and dominate. Not necessarily in that order. That was what the Shadowlands worked to prevent. No demon could get through to the light worlds without permission from King Desmond.
Since I’m only half-demon, that makes me something called a Darkling. Half-human/half-demons aren’t welcomed with open arms in the dark worlds. Or any other world for that matter. And there actually is no “we.” I’m the first of my kind in a thousand years.
I just wish I could tell my mother that my father hadn’t purposely abandoned her when she was pregnant with me — he had absolutely no choice in the matter. And, also, that he loves her to this very day. He refuses to admit it, but I know he does.
He, of course, has sworn me to secrecy about all of this.
I’m kind of getting sick of keeping secrets just because I’ve been told to.
We’ll have to see what happens next…
It’s not easy being best friends with a demon slayer.
Not when you have a secret like mine.
In the hall by our lockers, Melinda looked…upset. Seeing her so unhappy made me unhappy. The first day back to school after the winter break was turning out to be worrisome and first class hadn’t even started yet.
I’d last seen Melinda on New Year’s Eve. Instead of going to a big party, she’d been asked to babysit her cousins, five kids all under eight years old. She’d agreed, which was my first indication that something was wrong. The Melinda I knew would have made any excuse to get out of that obligation so she could go to a party instead. Since I wasn’t really feeling in a partying kind of mood, myself, I’d stopped by and helped out, putting the kids to bed by eleven and then we watched the new year ring in on TV at midnight.
She’d looked at me then and said, “This is going to be a good year, Nikki.”
It wasn’t said with enthusiasm. It sounded way more desperate than that. Like she hoped against hope that things would be better. It made my heart break.
Then I said something I had a feeling I would come to regret. “You know you can tell me anything, Mel. Right? Anything at all. No matter how difficult it is.”
She stared at me so long that it began to make me nervous, like she could see right through me and know what I was holding back from her. She reached over and clutched my hand so hard it made me flinch.
“You’re my best friend in the whole wide world, you know that?” Her voice broke a little as she said it.
“And you’re mine.”
I wanted to help, but I knew I couldn’t be honest with her about my own problems. If a demon slayer — even one still in training — found out her best friend was half-demon, things wouldn’t end very well.
So that was my little secret she didn’t know.
But I knew hers. And that made life complicated for me.
I also knew that she’d recently stopped her intense training sessions, uninterested in the commitment it took to follow through. I didn’t understand how it worked, really, but I knew her decision wasn’t acceptable to her trainer, Patrick. He’d promised to come back and try to convince her otherwise. For all I knew, he’d been successful.
So here we were, back to school. Back to normal.
Only…I wasn’t totally sure what normal was anymore.
“What are you doing Friday night?” Melinda asked as she grabbed her binder for first class from the inside of her locker.
“Friday? No plans so far. What are you thinking?”
“Sleepover. At my place.”
I shrugged. “That sounds like fun.”
“Brittany and Larissa are coming too.”
It was getting less fun by the minute. Brittany and Larissa were two of Melinda’s long-term friends. Two friends that didn’t approve of my sudden inclusion to their social circle. I was still the new girl here and had only started at Erin Heights High School in the fall. Some people resisted anything new and unfamiliar — and they’d resisted me. They’d mostly ignored me lately, deciding the part of “Melinda’s best friend” would be up for grabs again very soon.
If Melinda ever found out I was a little bit demonic, I think it would be. Because I’d be dead, either by Melinda’s hand or by her trainer’s.
Let’s not think about that.
Hard not to. My life used to involve homework and trips to the mall. Now it involved deception and potential destruction. And stress. Lots of stress.
“Okay, here he comes,” Melinda said nervously under her breath. I think she was speaking to herself, not me.
I turned to my left to look and tensed immediately at the familiar form moving down the hallway toward us. Tall and very cute, with chestnut-colored hair and chocolate brown eyes, he looked vaguely uncomfortable in a casual T-shirt and dark jeans. They were human clothes, after all. And Rhys, the king of the Faery Realm, wasn’t all that used to playing human.
And yet he still tried.
Rhys’s parents had recently been murdered, which meant he had to become king at such a young age without having any say in the matter. Then he learned about me, the demon princess who was prophesied to be the “destroyer of worlds.” That prophecy that had thankfully turned out to be false, manufactured to get me in serious trouble.
He came here to investigate if I was a threat. And also enjoy life as a “normal” teenager before taking over his throne full-time.
I hadn’t seen him since the last day before school break, which was almost two weeks ago. It was the day he decided he and Melinda were going to officially start dating. She’d had a crush on him from the moment he started here as a “foreign exchange student.” Melinda had no idea this meant he came from a different world, one that butted up with the human one, but had to be accessed through a magical gateway. It was a place where there were a lot of trees, a lot of bubbling streams, and at least one unicorn wandering freely about.
But he was back. I wasn’t totally sure he would be.
“I’m glad to see you. You look beautiful today,” Rhys said.
I opened my mouth to reply, but he leaned in and…kissed Melinda.
He hadn’t been talking to me.
“Thanks. You look great, too,” she said when they parted. She pushed her light blonde hair back over her shoulder and jostled her binder and book in her arms.
Then Rhys glanced at me out of the corner of his eye as if to gauge my reaction to his public display of affection.
I just stood there placidly. Patiently. With, what I hoped was a very “who cares?” expression.
His eyes narrowed and it felt as if we had a wordless conversation.
Jealous? his eyes asked.
Not even remotely, my eyes replied.
Seen your boyfriend lately?
Not for a while.
Too bad. I know you think you two are meant for each other. You know, if you don’t take our prophecy into consideration.
The prophecy that you wanted to ignore?
You can’t ignore prophesies, Nikki. Not forever.
If that’s so, then why are you stringing my best friend along and trying to treat me like crap?
Ditch your Shadow boyfriend and maybe we’ll talk.
Since I wasn’t a mind reader, nor were me and Rhys bound by any telepathic abilities, this was all just my imagination talking. But still, given our history, I didn’t think I was too far off.
“Talk to you later,” Rhys said to Melinda and gave her another quick kiss before he took off to first class without a backward glance. The entire time, not counting our intense eyeball exchange, he hadn’t said a word to me. Not even a “hello.”
He was so annoying, I couldn’t even believe it. He wanted to make my life more difficult than it already was.
This particular prophecy stated that the faery king, namely him, would one day marry the half-demon princess, namely me.
Since faeries hated demons, he hadn’t been happy to hear this. Neither was I. Not only wasn’t I interested in him like that, we were both sixteen years old. I wasn’t marrying anyone for a very long time. Period.
My mother had been married four times. That example alone was enough to turn me off the prospect of saying “I do” in the foreseeable future.
Besides, I was seeing someone else. Sort of. Yes, my complicated and completely forbidden relationship with Michael, a guy I also hadn’t seen since before Christmas. But the difference between Michael and Rhys for me was a big one. Just the thought of Michael made me miss him desperately and wish he was here.
Michael was a Shadow, and Shadows were servants to demonkind. Michael was my personal servant, assigned to me by my father for protection and guidance. Of course, Michael was also completely gorgeous and I fell for him before I learned such feelings were forbidden. Let’s just say, demons have a lot of stupid rules and interspecies dating was a big no-no with some nasty penalties if anyone found out. But just because we couldn’t be together officially, we were still together unofficially.
At least, I thought we were. I hadn’t exactly seen him in two weeks.
I suddenly realized Melinda hadn’t said anything after Rhys walked away. I glanced at her to see her face was haunted.
I touched her arm. “Hey, you okay?”
She seemed to snap out of whatever trance she was in and gave me a weak smile. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
“So, you and Rhys, huh? You’re officially together?”
She blinked. “I don’t know.”
I frowned. “What do you mean, you don’t know? Two weeks ago you were head over heels for him. Now you two are…together, right?” I only winced a little saying it out loud.
“He’s using me,” Melinda said.
I tried not to gasp out loud. “What?”
“He doesn’t really like me. He likes you. I’m not stupid, Nikki. I can see that for myself. He’s using me to make you jealous.”
Oh boy. My stomach churned. “He doesn’t like me. And I don’t like him. Not like like.”
“If you say so.”
“I do.” I cringed at my bad choice of words when wedding prophesies were involved. “So…I don’t understand. You just kissed him. You’re still going to date him, even feeling this way?”
She shrugged. “Sure. For now. I want people to think I have a boyfriend. Maybe then…” Her expression shadowed. “Maybe then he’ll finally leave me alone.”
“Who are you talking about?”
Melinda shook her head. “Forget it. It’s nothing. I…I’ll see you at lunch, okay?”
“Yeah, okay.” I watched her walk away. It didn’t take me too long to clue in to who she was talking about. Patrick, her trainer. He seemed very possessive of her when they’d been together — almost as if he was an older, overbearing boyfriend. Being with Rhys might get him to keep his distance. Was that what Melinda thought?
The bell rang, which meant I was now late for class. I grabbed my books, shut my locker, and hurried to my right –
– only to bash right into someone.
I clutched my books tighter to my chest and looked up with surprise — and dismay — at who it was.
Chris Sanders stared at me, his brows drawn tightly together. He didn’t move, he didn’t speak. He just stared.
When I first came to Erin Heights, Chris was the most gorgeous guy I’d ever seen in my life. Dark-blond hair, blue-gray eyes, a killer smile, broad shoulders, a fantastic body. He was a year older than me, a senior. Absolutely perfect.
And, total shocker, he’d asked me to Winter Formal, during which — while drunk — he showed me just now non-perfect he really was when he tried to attack me in the back seat of a limo. He thought he could get whatever he wanted, whomever he wanted, whenever he wanted. But he couldn’t have me.
I’d recently learned of my demonic side and that was the side I’d unleashed that night. I’d shifted to my “Darkling” form, which was the term for a half-demon/half-human like me. Let’s just say: wings, horns, and about twenty times more strength than I normally had. Plus I could throw energy balls — both destructive and great self defense against drunk dates who outweigh you by seventy pounds. I’d kicked his butt and chased him away. Later, however, I’d been afraid he’d tell everybody my secret.
He hadn’t. Chris, too, had a few secrets of his own. His mother was a dragon oracle — a dragon-shifter who could foresee the future. Which made Chris half-dragon, something he hadn’t known. I wasn’t sure if he even knew it now. But the side effects of being half-dragon were beginning to weigh heavily on him.
Gone was the perfect appearance he’d had before, a guy who could have anything he wanted. Now he looked…crazy. And scattered. And his very unfashionable gray sweatshirt had a rip in the sleeve. The old Chris never would have worn something like that.
I had no idea what was going on in that brain of his, but it wasn’t good and it wasn’t anything he could control. That his mother was also a licensed psychiatrist didn’t seem to be helping matters at all.
“Chris –” The halls were empty except for the two of us. “How are you?”
“You’re in danger, Nikki.”
I gasped. “What?”
He drew closer and I forced myself to stand my ground. “You need to be watchful. Wary.”
“Two things I am lately, so don’t worry.”
He shook his head. “I see it. Sort of see it.” He brought his hands to his temples. “It’s coming. And it wants to hurt you. You have something it wants.”
A shiver went down my spine. “What? Who?”
He glanced over his shoulder. “I need to go. But I have something for you. I dreamed it and I drew it. It’s fuzzy and I can’t see anything clearly, but it might help you.”
He pulled something out of his back pocket, a dirty piece of paper that had been folded multiple times. He pressed it into my hand.
“What is –?”
He clutched my wrist and my eyes shot back to his.
“Destroyer of worlds,” he whispered, “you must survive. No one else can find the truth but you.”
And then he let go of me and walked away, disappearing around the corner at the end of the hall.
I stood there in stunned silence. Destroyer of worlds? That was a false prophecy. Knowing that gave me closure and confidence. But — Chris had seen it in a vision? Him just saying the words out loud had been enough to trigger a the sick feeling in my gut.
Shifting my books to tuck them under my arm, I unfolded the piece of paper Chris had given me. Cold fear slithered through me. It was a roughly drawn sketch of a dark figure with large black wings stretching out behind it. I didn’t know what it meant, but it felt like something I shouldn’t just ignore, even though I desperately wanted to do just that. What Chris had said repeated in my brain, over and over again.
“It’s coming. And it wants to hurt you. You have something it wants.”
So much for this being a shiny new year.
Biology was one class I couldn’t just skip, but I wished I could. Rhys was in it with me.
Our teacher, Mr. Crane, gave me a questioning look as I slunk in through the door five minutes late, interrupting him in the middle of whatever he’d been saying.
“Nice of you to join us, Ms. Donovan.”
“Happy to be here,” I replied easily, earning a couple laughs from the back row. I wasn’t normally a smartass, but it still came easily to me.
He gave me a stern look, which I tried to ignore as I took my seat. I’d spent more time than I would have liked with Mr. Crane over the break, including Christmas dinner, since he was currently dating my mother. Talk about awkward. And I didn’t even think it would help me earn an easy A. I figured he was going to take the opportunity to be extra strict with me to show that his relationship with my mother had no influence over his grading.
Luckily, today it seemed as if he was going to give me a break and not make a big deal over my tardiness. He started talking again, about everything we’d covered so far in class, and how it was all leading up to our big end-of-semester exam coming up at the end of January. I would be having one of those for all of my classes. I tried not to think about it too much. I’d been focused on a lot of things lately, but studying wasn’t one of them.
Before long, it all became background noise as my problems swirled in my head. The sketch Chris had given me had freaked me out. What was that supposed to be? Something with wings? I’d only seen two things that had wings in person — faeries and demons. Despite being fierce, dangerous, and territorial, faeries had delicate-looking wings. Rhys used a glamour to cover up any noticeable faery traits he had. Namely his wings and the pointed tips to his ears he had in his own world. And demons — they had large leathery wings unless they were in human form.
“You must survive. No one else can find the truth but you.”
Chris Sanders = crazy. That was probably all this was. I wondered if I should try to help a guy who’d made my life more difficult or should I just stand by and watch him self-destruct?
Something caught my eye and I turned just a little to see that Rhys had placed something in the very center of our shared desk. A small white box.
I stared at it for a moment, but didn’t make a move to touch it.
He finally tore his seemingly undivided attention away from Mr. Crane to give me a sidelong glance. “It’s a gift.”
My heart started pounding hard. “Why?”
“Do I need a reason? Open it.”
Instead, I turned my eyes straight forward, but soon realized that Mr. Crane’s voice had become muted and impossible to understand. Rhys had the ability to magically put a privacy bubble around us so no one could hear what we were talking about. It was helpful a lot of the time, but right now I didn’t want to be private with the faery king.
“You shouldn’t be buying me gifts,” I said.
“I didn’t buy it.”
I hissed out a breath. “Then you shouldn’t be stealing me gifts.”
“It’s not bought or stolen. Cross my heart.”
I glanced at the little white box again, hating that I felt curious about what could be inside. “You should be giving presents to your brand new girlfriend, Melinda. Remember her?”
“I did get her something from the mall as a belated Christmas present. This, however, isn’t from the mall. I thought you’d like it.” He was silent for a moment. “It’s not an engagement ring, I promise.”
I relaxed a little at hearing that. Stupid prophecy.
Finally, when the room didn’t become unmuted, I knew he was going to keep the bubble over us all class if I didn’t open the box. I reached for it, dragging it in front of me with the tip of my index finger.
“It’s not going to bite you,” Rhys said with amusement. “It’s just a little something from the Faery Realm.”
Great. Maybe it was a miniature unicorn. I’d always wanted a pet.
I exhaled slowly, then finally took off the lid and raised the box a little so I could see what lay inside.
It was a single red rosebud. Perfect and beautiful. It had a sweet, fragrant scent — I’d never smelled anything so incredible in my life.
“It’s so pretty,” was all I allowed myself to say.
“It’s not just any rose. It’s very rare: a faery rose. It will never die. It will always be as beautiful as it is at this very moment.”
I looked at him with surprise, but his attention was back on Mr. Crane and the room’s volume increased to show he’d lifted the privacy bubble. I bit my tongue so I wouldn’t say anything else. What was I going to say? He’d just given me a tiny, rare piece of immortal beauty while he’d given, or would be giving, Melinda something he’d picked up at the mall.
He spoke again, without meeting my gaze, “Probably a lot better than what the Shadow could ever give you, right? Then again, I am a king and he’s only a lowly servant. You should try to remember that.”
Whatever mildly warm and confusing feelings I’d started to feel for the boy seated next to me went frosty at the edges. “Thanks for the rose. And for the reminder that you’re an elitist jerk.”
I supposed I could have refused the gift entirely, but instead I put the lid back on the box and tossed it into my bag hanging off the back of my chair.
I was glad he reminded me why I didn’t like him all that much. For a moment there, I’d completely forgotten.
I didn’t look at the rose again that day. Rhys’s attitude had successfully put a sour taste in my mouth. I wondered when he was planning on going back to the Faery Realm permanently. The sooner the better, as far as I was concerned.
By lunch, Melinda even seemed like she snapped out of whatever funk she’d been in that morning. She was friendly, smiling, laughing with friends and looked at Rhys over the lunch break as if she really did like him every bit as much as she had before.
I resolved to keep a close eye on her and make sure she was really okay.
She, however, wasn’t the talk of the school. I listened to Brittany and Larissa discuss another important subject over the lunch table. They were both part of the “Royal Party,” or what the more popular kids at Erin Heights High had named themselves. Kind of ironic that me, a princess, and Rhys, a king, were now a part of it and nobody knew except the two of us.
Brittany and Larissa were both beautiful, the kind of girls you’d expect to be cheerleaders, but they’d decided they didn’t have time for things like that. Larissa had dark hair and tanned, flawless skin — no freckles on her nose like I had — and Brittany was a redhead whose only major appearance flaw was that her favorite color to wear was pink, a color that inevitably clashed with her hair.
“What is up with Chris lately?” Larissa asked. “Did you see him this morning?”
“Yeah.” Brittany nodded, then twisted a finger through her long red hair. “I heard he suffers from panic attacks and had a nervous breakdown a few weeks ago.”
“Then he should go somewhere else. Like a hospital. Doesn’t his mother work with crazy people? I mean, how could she let him leave the house wearing that today? He used to be so hot.”
“So hot,” Brittany agreed.
“And now he’s” — Larissa grimaced — “so not. Such a waste. I would have gone out with him in a minute before, but now he’s definitely not a prospect.” Her gaze moved across the table and fell on me. “What did you do to him, anyway? You’re the last girl he went out with before he got all weird.”
I just shrugged a shoulder. “No idea.”
“Really helpful, thanks.” Her expression tightened. “And then there’s Melinda…”
I looked at her sharply. “What about Melinda?”
Larissa sent a look down the table to the girl in question who was currently out of earshot. “I don’t know. She’s acting so distracted lately. I’m starting to get worried about her.”
Yeah. That made two of us. But I wasn’t going to share that with Larissa.
Melinda laughed at the end of the table and I shot a glance toward her. The laugh sounded so fake, but no one else seemed to notice. It was toward something Rhys had just said as he gave her the belated Christmas gift he’d bought at the mall: a silver bracelet with a heart charm. He glanced back in my direction as if to see if I was paying attention to how happy Melinda was with him.
This wasn’t going to be a fun week. I just knew it.
Chris didn’t bother me again over the next couple of days, instead choosing to stay at the sidelines of the school and act strangely. Not strangely enough to require a guidance counselor intervention, though.
There was no love lost between the two of us, nor was I remotely interested in him anymore, but I still worried about him since I knew what was causing his recent problems. Had his mother finally told him the truth about his origins? Not everything could be swept under the carpet forever. Some of those things started to creep back out all by themselves whether you wanted them to or not.
As I got ready to leave school on Wednesday afternoon, I passed Melinda and another girl at the end of the hallway sitting on the steps leading toward the exit toward the parking lot.
“Nikki!” Melinda called out to me. “Need a ride home?”
“That would be great. Thanks.” It wasn’t that far of a walk, but touching base with Melinda at the mid-week point might be a good idea. Despite her near-misery on Monday morning, she’d really been keeping up a shiny, happy exterior ever since. I just didn’t know if it was real or not.
“Hey, do you guys know each other?” she asked, turning her attention from me to the other girl. “This is Clara. She’s new to Erin Heights. Clara, this is Nikki, my best friend.”
Clara was very pretty, with long dark hair and bright blue eyes. She gave me a smile. “Hey, Nikki.”
I smiled back at her. “Hi. Where did you move from?”
I grimaced. “My condolences. I’m sure you miss the palm trees and beaches. Snow storms and icy sidewalks aren’t exactly a nice consolation prize, are they?”
She laughed. “You sound like you speak from experience.”
“I do. I’ve lived a bunch of places, including San Diego. It was gorgeous there.”
“This is cool too.”
“Cool being the important word in that sentence. Very cool. Freezing, actually.” My mother had grown up in this area so this was like a homecoming for her, but I was new to cold winters like this. Spring couldn’t come soon enough, in my opinion.
We’d moved here when she married her most recent husband, a marriage that only lasted a couple of months before she threw him out for being an abusive jerk. Only one problem — we were still living in his house while he stayed with friends. Eventually we’d have to find somewhere else to live, but I knew Mom liked it here and thankfully had no intentions of picking up and moving us across the continent again. Despite the weather and the drama I’d had to face since moving here, I didn’t want to leave.
“Clara’s coming to the sleepover at my place on Friday night,” Melinda said, standing up and brushing off the fronts of her jeans. She swung her leather bag over her shoulder.
“Sounds good to me,” I said. And I meant it. Anything to divert Larissa and Brittany’s attention from me was a very good thing.
“My mom’s picking me up in five minutes out front,” Clara said. “See you later, Melinda. Great meeting you, Nikki.”
With a wave, she took off down the hall to our left.
“She’s really nice,” Melinda assured me.
“I’m sure she is. How did you meet?”
“She’s in my English class.” She smiled. “What can I say? I like to be nice to the new girls.”
I laughed. “This new girl appreciated it, too.”
“So it’s the three of us, is it?” Rhys asked.
I jumped a little and looked to my right to see him approach. I deflated. I thought I’d be able to spend some quality alone time with Melinda to help me figure out how she was coping this week.
“You know what?” I said. “On second thought, I think I’ll walk.”
Melinda frowned. “You sure?”
“Don’t go on my account,” Rhys said with a knowing grin.
“I don’t want to get in the way,” I said, faking a friendly smile toward him. “Three’s a crowd.”
“Maybe you should give your boyfriend a call. We could do a double date over the weekend. Seen him yet?”
I tried to control my glare. Not only hadn’t I seen Michael since before Christmas, but it was also really starting to bother me. It was as if Rhys could sense that and wanted to rub my nose it in.
“Sounds like a plan,” I instead said sweetly.
“Are you still seeing that guy?” Melinda said. She’d met him in passing at a party. “Michael, right? I haven’t seen him around lately.”
“Uh, yeah. We are still…seeing each other. Now and then. But it’s not serious or anything.” I cringed as I said it, even though, based on his absence, it was obviously the truth. “He doesn’t live here in town and can’t get away to visit me all that easily.”
Michael was at the mercy of my father when it came to getting permission to come to the human world. I had a gut feeling that my father was keeping him away on purpose.
Melinda grinned. “He was a little strange, but so hot.”
“You’re right,” I said pointedly. “Michael’s probably the hottest and most amazing guy I’ve ever met. He’s just a little shy. But guys who aren’t all vain and showy are more my type anyway.”
“He sounds delightful,” Rhys said, a thin smile on his face. “Please give him my regards if you do see him again soon.”
“I’ll do that.” And that was about all I could take of this particular conversation. “See you tomorrow.”
“Bye Nikki,” Melinda called after me as I took off.
It was good to get some fresh air. The cold helped me focus on one thing, which was walking in as straight a line as possible to get home. There’d been some mild weather over the holidays to clear away most of the snow, leaving brown lawns and clear streets behind. But the temperature had plunged. It was subzero today and I wrapped my red scarf around my face as I made my way home. A quick walk, since I took the shortcut, so it wasn’t too bad.
Once I got home, I passed my mother’s office on my way up to my room.
“Hey Nikki,” she said when she caught a glimpse of me. “Just let me finish another chapter and then maybe we’ll order pizza for dinner. Sound okay?”
“Sure. How’s the writing going?”
“Pretty good. Trying to get into the new book. It takes a while to get the momentum going.”
My mother wrote paranormal romance novels for a living. She’d written over twenty of them, actually, and was able to do it full time. Her chosen vocation described her personality pretty well. She loved love. Loved romance. Loved the idea of the “ideal” hero who swept the heroine off her feet and they got to have a happily ever after, even if she’d become jaded over the years about it happening for her in real life.
No, real life romance didn’t seem quite as perfect or dependable as fiction. Thus her four marriages and divorces, her most recent currently in the works. She wanted to meet the perfect man who would make everything wonderful and love her back like the vampire heroes in her books loved her heroines, but so far, it hadn’t worked out so well for her four ex-husbands.
I hated to think Mr. Crane might be on his way to becoming number five.
Not that I had anything against him. He was nice enough, way nicer than a couple of the others had been. He was smart and, for an old guy of around forty, reasonably good looking. Plus they were taking things really slowly. But…
Well, he wasn’t my father.
That was who I knew my mother was meant to be with — why she couldn’t find true happiness with anyone else. Only I couldn’t say anything. He would be furious if I did since their relationship from the very beginning was forbidden by demon law and any contact now would put her safety in jeopardy. He’d had no idea she’d even been pregnant — and he’d had no clue I even existed until just last month.
My mother had her heart shattered into a million pieces when he disappeared without a trace over sixteen years ago, leaving her as a single mother who’d had to support both herself and me from the time she was only eighteen — not all that much older than I was now. Even though I now knew why he hadn’t been able to say anything or stay in touch, I understood how she must have felt then. How she still felt now. Betrayed. Abandoned. Heartbroken.
I wished I could tell her the truth. I wondered if it would make any difference to her. Was there a chance she could still love my father, even after knowing the truth about what he really was?
Just because she wrote about vampires in love, didn’t mean she could deal with a real live demon. Even if he was a demon king.
In my room, I eyed the two things on my nightstand in silence. The little white box containing the faery rose on one side, and the drawing Chris had done on the other. Both freaked me out, but not enough to throw either away. They’d just sat there for the last few days, taunting me.
“You don’t scare me,” I told them.
Finally, as if to show just how much they didn’t scare me, I looked at each one up close again. The drawing of the ominous winged figure was still as creepy. Chris had drawn it in pencil, pressing so hard in some places that it had torn right through the paper. It made me shiver as a weird sensation of dread filled me. I folded it back up and slid it into the drawer so I wouldn’t have to see it and worry about what it might mean. After all, it could mean absolutely nothing.
Then I lifted the lid off the faery rose and its sweet scent hit me immediately. It was as beautiful and as fresh as it had been on Monday morning, but, oddly, it wasn’t red today. It had changed to a soft pink color. This surprised me, but didn’t fill me with dread like the drawing did. It filled me with happiness that I’d been given something so exquisitely beautiful. Which, really, was still disturbing, considering who’d given it to me.
It also went into the drawer.
After pizza and an evening of mind-numbing TV, I went to bed at eleven. My room felt warm since Mom had cranked the heat all day. She liked to work in shorts and a tank top, so she kept the house warmer than I preferred it. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to fall asleep, but knew it would be difficult. I think I tossed and turned for at least an hour before…I heard it.
A tapping. On my window pane.
Since my room was on the second floor, this wasn’t exactly normal. I clutched my sheets as my heart began to race.
More tapping made me sat straight up and swing my legs out of bed. Slowly I made my way over to the window. I clenched my fist at my side and I could feel the tingling as I summoned a little energy into my hand. Not enough to create an energy ball — I had to be in Darkling form to do that — but enough to help give me some courage and extra strength.
Reaching for the curtain, I pulled it to the side a little to peek out, half expecting it to only be a tree branch brushing against the glass.
It wasn’t a tree branch. Someone sat on the ledge of my window sill.
I relaxed. A little.
Then I unlocked the window and slid it open. Cold air rushed in.
Michael smiled at me. “Hello, Princess.”
I wanted to be angry with him for scaring me. And for disappearing completely from my life for nearly two full weeks. But I didn’t feel angry right now, I just felt elated to see him again. Still, I didn’t want to be overly friendly.
“I’m sorry, what’s your name again?” I asked. “You look really familiar, but I can’t quite place you.”
His smile slipped and a frown creased his brow. He pushed the dark hair back from his forehead and away from his vivid emerald green eyes. My heart skipped a beat. “It’s me, Princess. Michael.”
He looked so serious that I had to laugh a little. “I was just kidding.”
“Oh. I…knew that.”
“No you didn’t. You really thought I’d forget you that easily?” I shrugged a shoulder. “I mean, it has been a while.”
His smile hadn’t returned yet. “I know.”
“No visits. No lurking. Nothing at all. Total silence.”
“I’m sorry. I wanted to come here…”
“Of course I did.” He slipped a little on the window ledge, which was too narrow to hold him for long. It was meant more for squirrels and birds and maybe a flower pot or two, not for a six-foot-tall seventeen year old boy.
“You’re going to break it,” I warned, opening the window wider. “Come in, but just…be quiet. If my mother finds you in here she’s going to lose it.”
Quiet was definitely one thing a Shadow could be. He swung around and slid his long legs through the open window in two seconds flat so he now stood next to me in my bedroom. This immediately made me self-conscious and fully aware that I was wearing pajama bottoms and a tank top and had just emerged from my very messy bed only two minutes ago.
He’d never been in here before. His gaze moved over the dark interior as if assessing the area for potential danger. In the darkness of the room, his amulet glowed a little, pulsing with a soft green light. He always wore it. An oval stone, about two inches tall, which looked like an emerald — an exact match for the color of his eyes. All Shadows had one. And all Shadows had green eyes. From what I’d been able to understand about the very enigmatic Shadows, the stone was essential to their existence. Without it, they lost solid form and became, just as their name suggested, like formless shadows. They could also summon energy through the stone and use it as a weapon — but that was forbidden. Plus it was exhausting and draining for them.
If they lost their amulet, lost form, then it wouldn’t be long before they lost their hold on the world completely and faded away to nothing. In other words, it would kill them.
Shadows had been servants to demonkind for ages. Well, maybe “servant” was the wrong word even though that was the term everyone used. Shadows had no choice in what they were and were punished if they tried to rebel. To me, that made them slaves — it was a thought that turned my stomach.
Michael had lived in my father’s castle since he was only a baby and his parents died. His father and my father had been good friends. But, despite those close ties, my father still considered Michael a servant. Embarrassed by this lowly status, it took Michael a long time to come clean to me about who he was and what it meant. By then I had developed some serious feelings for him. None of which involved me ordering him around like a haughty princess with a lowly servant boy. He was my equal. All Shadows were my equals. I refused to think of them any other way.
However, nobody seemed to feel this way except for me and I had no idea why. I guess some stigmas and traditions were hard to shake, even if they were wrong.
“Why are you here?” I asked, breaking the silence between us. Just being close to him made my heart twist into crazy shapes. I was ready to forgive him way too quickly. “Did my father send you?”
“No. I came on my own.”
I frowned. “You did? I didn’t even know you could do that.”
“Sometimes I can. I am allowed some freedoms.”
Which made his absence even more troubling. “I guess you’ve been really busy lately.”
That anger I hadn’t been feeling before began to bubble up. “Two weeks, that’s how long it’s been since I last saw you.”
“Rhys is back at school with me.” I wanted some sort of reaction out of him and I knew he didn’t like the faery king. It was totally petty of me, but I’d be grateful for even a little jealousy right now. It would mean Michael still cared about me like I cared for him. “He even gave me a present. A faery rose.”
“How generous of him. Faery roses are very rare.”
I was disappointed that he didn’t really seem to care. “I know. It’s beautiful. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
He studied me for a moment. “You’re mad at me.”
“You’re smart.” I thought he might smile at that, but he didn’t. He grew more grave. I glanced out the window to the dark street past the driveway.
“I stayed away for a reason, Princess. A good one.”
I turned away from the window to see that he’d drawn closer. He was way taller that me and he always dressed in dark hoodies and faded T-shirts. It was as if he was trying to look like a human teenager who would fit in with everyone else, but hadn’t quite gotten the hang of it yet.
“Then why?” I asked.
“I want to show you something.” His expression shadowed. “It’s a secret. You have to promise not to tell anyone about this.”
“Of course,” I said immediately, concern gnawing at the edges of my mind. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. Better than before. Are you watching?”
I nodded, finding it difficult to breathe for a second.
He took a step back from me, his gaze remaining fixed on my face. Then he pulled his amulet off from around his neck and tossed it to the side. It landed on my nightstand.
I stared at it with horror. “Michael, what are you doing? You can’t take that off!”
“I can.” A smile stretched over his face. “I figured it out, Princess. They’ve been lying. We’re not what they think; what I’ve always thought we are.”
“What are you talking about?”
He closed the distance between us and reached for my hand. I was surprised when he was able to take it. He was still solid, even without the amulet. The feel of his skin against mine made me shiver.
“See?” he asked. “I’m still here.”
My eyed widened. “I can’t believe this.”
“How is this possible?”
“It’s the reason why demons have tried to keep Shadows repressed for so long. They’re afraid of us because they know what we can do. How powerful we can be.”
My head spun. I knew demons had rules and laws about Shadows, mostly due to fear. Most Shadows had no idea how strong and powerful they could be. But none of this had been confirmed, especially when it came to their amulets. “Please put it back on. I’m afraid you might be wrong.”
“I’m not wrong.” He took my face between his hands. Strong hands. Warm skin. His eyes glowed green in the darkness of my room just as his amulet had before. “I need to show you something else, too.”
The night was full of surprises. I didn’t think I could handle another one.
I saw something then in the darkness of the room. Behind Michael. Stretching out behind him on either side.
Were they shadows? Dark forms, stretching, spreading.
Oh, my God. They were wings…black wings.
“Isn’t it incredible?” he whispered. He still had my face in his hands, his eyes staring deeply into mine.
“The sketch,” I whispered. Chris’s sketch of the form with black wings. Had it been a drawing of Michael?
“I came here tonight to show you this. And to kiss you.” He leaned over brushed his lips against mine. It felt good, but it still filled me with a strange fear. “I’ll only take a little, I promise. I can’t be near you anymore without wanting this from you. I need it more than anything.”
I felt him drawing something out of me through his hands on either side of my face. They’d heated up so much that they almost burned me. I began to feel weak and I couldn’t seem to break away.
I began to grow very afraid of him as I grew dizzy as my energy drained away.
This suddenly reminded me of something that had happened before. Another Shadow — he’d absorbed the life force of a demon right in front of me. And then he’d tried to do the exact same thing to me. But he’d been in full Shadow form at the time.
His green eyes burned into mine. His hands moved down to either side of my throat.
“Michael…stop,” I managed to say as I began to feel weak.
“I can’t. Even if I wanted to, I can’t.”
Suddenly, he staggered back from me. There was a dark look on his face now. It was greed. It was hunger. And it was directed at me.
He reached out toward me in the darkness. His hand glowed with green light, just like his eyes did and cold fear raced through me. “More.”
Just then, someone clutched my arm and my gaze shot to my right.
“Princess,” Michael said. “I got here just in time.”
It was another Michael standing there next to me.
“What the hell?” I managed, panicked and confused now. “What is going on? What is this?”
“You can’t trust him.” The new Michael grabbed my shoulders. “He’s a liar. He’s evil. And he will hurt you. Do you hear me?”
“But he is you. Isn’t he?”
His expression tensed. “Don’t look at him.”
But I did look. The Michael now standing in the corner of my room had grown darker, his shape becoming less familiar. But those dark wings only grew bigger. Soon, it was just a black silhouette with piercing green pinpricks of light where his eyes had been. The sight filled me with horror.
I cast a fearful look at the other Michael, the one still wearing his amulet.
“What do we do now?” My voice shook.
“Now,” he said, reaching out his hand to me, “we run.”
I just nodded and grabbed his hand.
The two of us ran out of my room and thundered down the stairs heading for the front door. I grappled with the handle, but it was locked. Of course it was locked. It was after midnight.
“I’m sorry,” Michael said to me as I tried to twist the lock. My hand kept slipping. “This is all my fault.”
I shook my head. “That’s not you. You’re not like that. That was a monster who was trying to look like you.”
“Nikki,” my mother called down to me from the top of the stairs. “What’s going on?”
I looked up to the top of the stairs to see that she was staring down at me over the railing, bleary-eyed. She tied her blue bathrobe tightly at her waist.
I was about to say something, but the words stuck in my throat as I saw the black winged thing approach from behind her. She didn’t even sense anything was there until those scary black wings wrapped around her. That was when she started to scream.
Terror gripped me like a clawed hand around my throat. “Mom! No!”
But then she disappeared. The shadowy winged thing disappeared. And Michael disappeared, leaving me standing there all alone.
I finally woke up from my nightmare.
My eyes shot wide open and I stared at my bedroom ceiling, sweat pouring down my face and my heart pounding like a jackhammer.
A moment later, my mother opened my door and peered in at me, concern on her face. “Hey, Nikki. You okay in here?”
“Yeah.” I was so relieved to see her that I almost started to cry. “Just a bad dream.”
“It’s not every night I get woken up by a scream from my daughter. You almost gave me a heart attack! You sure there’s nothing else wrong?”
I took a ragged breath. “I’m fine. Sorry.”
“Okay. Well…goodnight, honey.” She sounded uncertain as she closed the door with a soft click.
Just a bad dream, I told myself again and again until I started to believe it. Just a stupid, stupid dream.
I really wished it hadn’t felt so real.
Thursday. School again.
Melinda acting distracted, but fakely happy. Rhys ignoring me to the best of his ability, even though I still caught him looking at me frequently. Chris lurking at the edges of the hallway, scribbling in his ever-present sketchbook.
Nothing new here.
Today, however, when I left school to walk home after a long and tiring day — especially since I wasn’t able to get much more sleep after my nightmare — there was something new waiting outside.
Michael leaned against the wall as I turned the corner. Immediately, my heart began to hammer hard in my chest. His smile faded little by little when I didn’t immediately return it. And I didn’t slow down to give him a proper greeting. Without a word, he began to follow me, quickly catching up so we were side by side.
“Happy New Year, Princess.”
It was January the sixth today, but whatever.
“Let me guess,” he said when I didn’t reply. “You’re not speaking to me.”
I stayed silent, keeping my focus on putting one foot in front of the other and ignoring the cold. The temperature never bothered Michael. Even today, all he wore for protection against the sub-zero temperature was a black hoodie. Faded jeans encased his long legs. I couldn’t see what color T-shirt he wore, but his amulet was clearly visible on the outside of the zipped-up garment.
Slightly reassuring that he wore it. But not by much.
Despite the nightmare I’d had, I was thrilled to see him. I fought hard not to show it, though. A ton of emotions stormed through me at seeing Michael again — a flood of happiness just by the sight of him, a trickle of fear from the dream, a lightning bolt of anger from feeling abandoned.
::Princess, are you going to say anything to me?::
The telepathy almost froze me in my tracks. It wasn’t mind reading. We had to willfully project what we were thinking toward each other, which meant our private thoughts could be shielded, but it was a handy tool when we were near each other. It didn’t work long-distance. It came along with the bond created between us when my father had officially assigned Michael to me as my servant. I assume it was to make ordering him around easier.
Not a nice thought.
We reached the park that was part of my shortcut to get home. This was where Michael and I had first met, actually. He’d followed me here to tell me my father was a demon king and I was a half-demon princess. I’d thought he was dangerous at the time — not to mention crazy — and hadn’t reacted well. I ran for my life at my first opportunity. It took a while for me to accept everything. Quite honestly, I was still working on the acceptance. Avoidance, however, hadn’t gotten me anywhere.
I felt his gaze on me as he waited for me to say something.
I finally stopped walking and faced him. “Where have you been?”
This time, he was the one who didn’t answer for a moment. “Pardon me?”
The ache in my heart I’d been trying to ignore all this time increased. “Two weeks, Michael. Two weeks and nothing. Not a word. Even if you didn’t want to see me socially, aren’t you supposed to be protecting me? Watching over me like some sort of guardian or bodyguard? Where have you been? Or have you been here lurking in the shadows and not saying anything like you used to do. If so, I don’t appreciate that very much.”
He was silent for a moment, his gaze locked with mine. His brows drew together. “I wanted to see you. Trust me, I did. But I couldn’t.”
“Why? Did my father ground you?”
He didn’t answer me. If my father had been the one to keep him away, he didn’t want to just come out and say that. My father was a king, after all. And tattling on a king, even to his daughter — especially to his daughter — wasn’t necessarily a smart idea.
His jaw tightened. “You’ve been safe?”
“I’m still here, aren’t I?”
“Yes, you are.” He exhaled slowly. “Just for the record, I’m glad to see you.”
My heart skipped a beat, but I refused to forgive and forget quite that easily.
I tore my gaze away from his and forced myself to start walking again. “So he just refused to let you come here? He’s such a jerk.”
“Don’t say that. He’s just trying to protect you.”
“He didn’t protect me for the first sixteen years of my life, so now he’s trying to make up for all that time by making me miserable?”
He studied me. “You were miserable not seeing me?”
I opened my mouth to say yes, but closed it. While I really liked Michael — more than liked him — I didn’t want him to get all cocky about my feelings toward him and how much I’d missed him. “No, I mean…whatever. It doesn’t matter. It was only two weeks.”
“Your father wants to know if King Rhys is still going to your school,” Michael said a moment later. “Is he?”
I hesitated before I nodded, then flicked a glance at him to see if this meant anything to him. It did. His face tensed and his eyes flashed with anger.
“Has he been bothering you?” he asked.
I couldn’t help but smile at his fierce look, so different from the reaction of the Michael in my dream who didn’t seem to care if Rhys and I were friends. “Constantly.”
Michael clenched his fists at his sides. “Have you been spending a lot of time with him?”
“He’s dating Melinda now.” It was sort of a non-answer, but it would do.
“She is.” Among other things I didn’t feel ready to disclose.
He nodded, as if satisfied by that answer. “I’m not here only because of the faery king, Princess. I’m here because your father has sent for you. He wants to see you immediately.”
“So you definitely can’t come here without his permission. You can’t just slip through any gateway?” That was what Evil-Dream-Michael had basically said.
“King Desmond must create the gateway and give me permission to use it. There’s no other way to get here.”
I wanted to tell him about my nightmare, but I held back. It was just a dream, anyway. Maybe having him gone for so long had made me start to doubt things. Doubt him. And seeing Chris’s sketch had burned that particular image of an ominous winged figure into my mind. My unconscious mind had simply blended the two.
“Nice of him to make an exception after all this time,” I said dryly.
“After you meet with him, he’s asked me to do something else.”
“Oh? What’s that?”
“Your Darkling powers. I know they’re new for you and still hard to control. He’s asked me to help you practice with them.”
I raised my eyebrows. “You’re going to coach me on how to be a Darkling?”
He nodded and gave me a smile that made my heart twist. “I’ve been studying up.”
“Is that what you do with all your spare time in that big, empty castle? I was wondering.”
“Reading. Lots of reading. I have a training program all organized for you.”
I considered this. “Sounds like extra homework.”
“Aren’t you interested in doing this?”
Learning how to use my Darkling abilities properly and also getting to spend time with Michael with full permission of my father? I couldn’t think of anything better, actually.
“I guess I can spare an hour or so.” I chewed on my bottom lip as I considered all of this. “I do have one question I’ve always wondered about.”
“The wings.” I tried to ignore the image of Chris’s sketch that came immediately to my mind; also, the image of “evil” Michael’s wings in my dream. “Demon wings. Darkling wings.”
“What about them?”
“Are they just for show or do they actually work?” I twisted a finger through my hair. “I mean, can I fly?”
He kept his expression neutral, but his now mischievous smile grew. “I guess you’re just going to have to wait to find out.”
I glared at him, but my mood had brightened substantially in the last five minutes. Being with Michael felt good — too good. I wanted to forgive him for everything and put the last two weeks out of my mind forever. Then I had a thought. “Do…Shadows…have they ever had wings, too?”
Michael was silent for a moment, frowning. “No. Never.”
He looked at me curiously. “So you want to be the only one here with the impressive wingspan, is that it?”
“I’ll have the wingspan, you can have the shiny green bling around your neck.”
Finding out that Shadows didn’t have wings had helped to ease my mind. I hadn’t realized exactly how disturbed I’d been at the thought of it until it had been proven false. “Okay fine. Then let’s go. As long as I’m back by dinner, my mother won’t worry. Besides, I’m looking forward to having a little talk with my darling father, anyway.”
He raised an eyebrow. “For some reason, I suddenly feel sorry for King Desmond.”
His green eyes were so beautiful, it made it very hard for me to look away from him. “That makes one of us.”
“Be kind to him, Princess. He only does what he must because he cares about you. Every decision he’s made recently has been with that in mind. Even the things that seem harsh, he’s done to help you.”
I wasn’t so sure about that. I decided I was more angry at my father than at Michael — after all, he was the one who prevented Michael from coming to see me. “Fine. I’ll go easy on him. Although, I still think it would have been nice for us to be together on New Year’s Eve. I ended up helping Melinda babysit. It wasn’t all that much fun.”
He looked skeptical. “You think it would have been more fun with me?”
“At midnight it would have been.” A kiss from the boy I liked more than any other would have been a really nice way to welcome in the New Year. I studied his lips for a moment, resisting the urge to pull him to me and make up for lost time. I cleared my throat and ran a hand through my hair. “Okay…um…let’s find a gateway.”
I started walking, but he grabbed my arm to pull me to a stop. His touch sank into me and my breath caught. I looked up at him.
“I wanted to be there,” he said very seriously. “I want you to know that.”
I nodded, feeling the burn of tears that had come from absolutely nowhere. I fought to hold them back. “I know. It’s just…we’ve been through so much together in such a short time. Not seeing you –”
“Feels like we’ve taken a big step back.”
I blinked, nodding. “Yeah. It feels like I need to get to know you again from scratch. I mean, not that I really knew you all that well to begin with.”
“You know me.” He swallowed hard, his hand still circling my wrist. I didn’t pull away. “You know me better than anyone else.”
“I think so.”
I hissed out a breath and tried to hold it together. ‘This is all my father’s fault. He refuses to accept that I…”
“That you…?” he prompted.
I looked up into his eyes. “That I want you as my boyfriend.”
His expression grew serious. “I’m a Shadow.”
“And I don’t care. You know I don’t. You know I consider you my equal, not a servant.”
“I know.” He moved his hand to my chin to tilt my face up. He leaned closer and my breath caught. I thought he was going to kiss me. His eyes darkened. Then he blinked and stepped back from me. “We should find a gateway.”
I couldn’t help but feel disappointment thud through me. He so was going to kiss me just now, but something stopped him.
All this time and so little progress. Hopefully us working together on practicing my Darkling powers would give us some very important time to get to know each other better. And shockingly, my father seemed okay with this.
Maybe there was hope after all.
Michael led me out of the park and down a laneway by the Erin Heights Town Center where I spotted a soft glow at the far side of the mall’s parking lot.
A gateway to the Shadowlands opened up when it was needed — like when someone like Michael was here for a quick visit and needed a way back — but shifted position frequently. With focus, he could sense where it was. Humans couldn’t see the gateways at all, which was good. Having a human randomly going through glowing magical doorways and finding themselves in another world wouldn’t be a good thing.
This one was very visible to me and it flickered like a faulty light bulb. That usually meant that it wouldn’t last very long. Michael must have sensed that too because he grabbed my hand and pulled me quickly toward it. It could take a while before we found where it would appear next.
“Ready, Princess?” he asked.
I nodded. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”
He reached down to take my hand firmly in his and a nice shiver went through me from his touch. Then, the very next moment, we jumped.
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