Michelle Rowen

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Demon Princess: Book #1
Reign or Shine

Walker Books for Young Readers
October 2009

ISBN-10: 080279534X

For Nikki Donovan, being a teenager can be hell. Literally.

Nikki didn’t think her life could get any more complicated after she moved to the dreary town of Erin Heights—fitting in at a new school while navigating the social scene was stressful enough. But when her sixteenth birthday rolls around, she’s visited by a mysterious stranger, Michael, who tells her that her long-lost father is actually the demon king of the Shadowlands—the dimension that protects our world from the Underworld and Hell.

Maybe it’s because she’s in shock, or maybe it’s because Michael is seriously cute, but Nikki follows him into the Shadowlands. There she learns about her half-demon powers, about the potential war between the Shadowlands and the Underworld, and that her father wants her to assume the throne—forever. Not to mention that her growing crush on Michael is completely forbidden…

Ruling a kingdom, navigating a secret crush, and still making it home by curfew—what’s a teenage demon princess to do?

Available from:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Chapters | Indiebound


Check out the first two chapters below!


C h a p t e r   1

 

“That guy is staring at you.”

I glanced over at the far right corner of the cafeteria and groaned. Melinda was right. In fact, I knew the tall, dark-haired guy in the faded Van Halen T-shirt and hooded sweatshirt had been staring at me for about ten minutes and I was relieved someone else had noticed.

“Who is he?” I asked. “I don’t recognize him from around here.”

“No idea. Some loser.”

“Just ignore him,” I suggested.

She grinned at me before taking a sip from her bottle of Evian, the sum total of her Wednesday lunch. “Maybe he wants to ask you to Winter Formal.”

I made a face. “No thank you.”

“Well, he’s going to be too late.” Her grin widened. “Because I know who is going to ask you.”

I blinked. “Who?”

She shrugged. “Can’t tell. It’s a secret. But not for long.”

Great. A secret. I felt my blood pressure shoot up about fifty points right then wondering who she was talking about.

Melinda looked way too proud of herself. She couldn’t possibly know how much stress she was causing me with her cryptic statements. She didn’t have any comprehension of what a loser I’d been before I transferred to Erin Heights High School two months ago — not that I felt all that much different now. Though I’d seriously lucked out when I’d become friends with her.

Not only did my mom move us three thousand miles away from our old home in San Diego, but she’d moved us right out of the country. We were now settled in the small town of Erin Heights, which was about thirty minutes west of Toronto in Canada, nestled right next to Lake Ontario. Mom had been born in the area so she was excited to be back. Me? Not so much.

And it was cold here. Like, cold. I knew it was only like this during the winter months, but unfortunately, being that it was December 7th, one day after my not-so-sweet sixteenth birthday, we still had a whole lot of winter left to shovel our way through. Snow should be for skiing through on vacation, not for trudging through in less-than-adequate shoes on your way to school. That was my opinion, anyway.

I hadn’t been in a very good mood when we arrived back in October. In fact, “miserable” probably would have best described me. I had to start school while the semester was already in progress — the absolute kiss of death for trying to fit in.

Mom got married to Robert, a Canadian accountant she met on a singles cruise and we had to move up here right after the honeymoon. I probably should be used to this kind of thing by now, though. My mother’s been married four times (including this one), and I’ve had to start at a different school each and every time. Since I’d never had much of a chance to settle in and get to know people who already had established cliques and friendships, I was usually out of luck.

Nikki Donovan: Outcast. Welcome to my life.

Which is what I was expecting the first day I moseyed into Erin Heights High. Up until lunch time my first day, it was exactly that. I was ignored. I got some curious stares, a few unfriendly glares, but nothing too major.

I ate my oh-so-gourmet peanut butter sandwich alone and seriously considered dwelling eternally in my morbid unhappiness for lack of anything better to do.

But then Melinda James and her entourage entered the room and sat down in the very center of the cavernous cafeteria. I had overheard a couple of classmates referring to them as the “Royal Party,” and at first glance I could tell that Melinda was the queen. Pretty, blonde, stuck-up, and wealthy — a total high school cliché. Or at least that was my first impression of her.

The reason that we were best friends two months later was quite simple.

Five minutes after she walked into the cafeteria that day she nearly choked to death on a honey mustard pretzel.

I was clued in that something was wrong when everyone around her started to freak out and I turned, curious to see what was going on.

Melinda had her hands around her throat and she was making odd little noises. Everyone thinks that when you choke on something you cough, but when you’re choking, no air is getting down your throat so, actually, no coughing. Her face was quickly turning blue. Her perfectly smooth long hair was messy from tossing her head back and forth. Her model-pretty face wore an expression of terror. And everyone in her general vicinity had taken one rather large step away from her.

No one knew how to save her. No one was even willing to try.

Well, except for me. Thanks to being forced by my mother to take a CPR class the previous summer, I knew the Heimlich maneuver. When I approached, Melinda stared up at me with wide, watery eyes. Her lips had quickly developed a distinctive purple tinge.

Without saying anything first — it wasn’t exactly the time for friendly introductions — I grabbed her designer shirt, spun her around, and tried my best not to break any of her ribs. The offending piece of honey mustard pretzel flew out of her mouth and hit a guy named George Rodriguez, whom I’d later learn was the president of the chess team, squarely in the forehead.

George wasn’t too thrilled about the situation. But Melinda was grateful. Very grateful.

“You are my guardian angel,” she said very seriously, with her hand against her throat. “Uh . . . who are you?”

“I’m Nikki,” I said nervously. “Nikki Donovan.”

“You saved my life.”

“It’s no big deal.”

“It is a big deal. Huge.” She took a drink of water with shaking hands. “You’re new here?”

“Brand new. This is my first day.”

“So you don’t know anybody yet. You were over there eating alone, right?”

I looked down the table of Royal Party members — the most popular kids at school — all staring at me as though I’d done something miraculous. I really hated being the center of attention. “I haven’t met too many people yet. No.”

“Then consider yourself my new best friend,” she said. “For a week. I can introduce you to everybody and help you fit in here. And you can sit at this table at lunch. Does that sound okay?”

I shook my head. My mouth felt dry. “Forget it. It’s really not necessary.”

Her eyes widened a little, possibly with surprise that I hadn’t jumped on her offer right away. “Come on. One week. You have to say yes.”

I had to?

I chewed my bottom lip as I considered my options. Basically, be alone and try valiantly to make friends with people who already had established cliques that year, or take Melinda up on her one-week offer of friendship and try to make the best of it.

“Okay,” I finally agreed, careful not to get my hopes up too much that it would lead to a real friendship.

The other members of the Royal Party mostly ignored me or kept their distance, which was fine by me because they were kind of intimidating. But the more I hung out with Melinda as the days went by, the more I realized that she wasn’t all that scary. Since I had a really hard time faking being nice — I wasn’t much of an actress, I guess — I just behaved like myself. Warts and all.

I don’t actually have any warts. It’s just a saying.

After the week was over, I assumed that was it — I’d be on my own again. But Melinda kept chatting with me by the lockers after school like nothing had changed.

“Isn’t my week up?” I asked her plainly.

She looked at me with confusion for a moment. “Your week?”

“My allotted week to hang out with you.”

Slow realization came over her face. “Oh. You mean you don’t want to be my friend any more?”

Now I was the one who was confused. “You said I could spend time with you for a week. The week’s over.”

She waved a hand. “That was just the screening process. I wasn’t sure if you would try to use me or not.”

I blinked. “Do a lot of people use you?”

“You’d be surprised.” She shrugged. “I only realized it recently — it became, like, crystal clear to me — that at least half my so-called friends aren’t really my friends. They usually try to use me for what they think I can get them — popularity, hot guys, you name it. So they flock. Therefore, my friendship screening process recently came into effect.”

“And I passed?”

“With flying colors.” She grinned. “I think it’s totally fate that you saved my life.”

I felt kind of stunned by all of what she’d said. “You never know.”

“So, can we be friends?” she asked. “For real?”

I could have been wrong, but I swear I saw a glimmer of doubt in her eyes, as if she half-expected me to say no. Melinda James — the queen of the Royal Party — scared I wouldn’t want to be her friend?

I hadn’t even thought it was possible, but at that moment I could admit to myself that, yeah, I did want to be Melinda’s friend. I’d realized over the week that we had a lot in common. I mean, she was perfect and I was far from it. But we liked the same movies, television shows, even books. We’d talked for hours one night about absolutely nothing. I felt comfortable with her.

“Friends,” I agreed with a smile. “For real.”

And that was that.

Suddenly I had a chance to fit in somewhere and be accepted after sixteen years of being a big nobody. I hadn’t asked for it, but being friends with Melinda was like winning the social life lottery.

Which apparently included being stared at by a really strange guy with shoulder-length dark hair that hid his face so I couldn’t even see what he looked like.

He was starting to seriously creep me out.

Melinda eyed me. “He’s bothering you, isn’t he?”

“Forget it.”

But she didn’t forget it. She stood up instead, and everyone along the cafeteria table stopped eating and talking long enough to turn and look at her.

“Hey, loser!” she shouted in the guy’s general direction. “Why don’t you take a picture of her? It lasts longer.”

I felt my cheeks heat up. “Melinda —” I pulled at her arm, then glanced over to see the guy shove his hands in the pockets of his jeans and walk out of the cafeteria.

She smiled. “See? You just have to be more confrontational.”

“If you say so.” I glanced back at the entrance and this time my breath caught in my chest because at that very moment, Chris Sanders walked in.

Picture: hot, gorgeous, fabulous, wonderful, and popular. Dark blond hair, blue-grey eyes like the ocean on a stormy day, broad shoulders, and a killer smile. A whole year older than me. Total perfection.

That was Chris.

He was my major crush since I’d started at Erin Heights, and since he was also a member of the Royal Party, I’d actually had the chance to talk to him a few times. Every time I’d tried very hard to hold back the drool.

“Here he comes.” Melinda grabbed my hand. “Just try to stay calm.”

My eyes widened and I turned to look at her. “He’s not the one you were talking about, is he?”

She gave that noncommittal shrug. “Maybe.”

“And did you have anything to do with this?”

“I might have helped a little bit.” She grinned. “I figure you’ve been here two months. It’s about time for you to start dating somebody worthy of your new social status. Besides, it’s only two days till the dance and you still haven’t accepted anyone else’s invitation.”

No, I hadn’t. A couple guys had asked me, but I wasn’t interested in any of them. I’d actually planned on skipping the dance altogether.

Chris Sanders was going to ask me to Winter Formal? Me?

If that was the case then I’d seriously have to reconsider my decision.

I inhaled so sharply that I almost had a coughing fit. Luckily, I didn’t. That wouldn’t have made a very good impression on the hottest guy in school, who was getting closer to me with every step he took.

I forced myself to be cool. It was a struggle.

“Hey, Nikki,” he said as he approached the table.

“Hey,” I squeaked as if I’d been chewing on a helium sandwich.

His gaze flicked to the very amused Melinda and then back to me. “Can I talk to you?”

“Uh huh.” Another squeak.

His dazzling smile widened. “Let’s go out in the hall. If that’s okay.”

“Sure.” I slid out from behind the table and followed him to the hallway, right next to a long bank of lockers that I leaned against to give the illusion of casual confidence. I wished Melinda had given me some kind of warning so I could have worn something nicer than black jeans and my old blue cable knit sweater. At least my ankle boots had heels. Since Chris was tall — and I wasn’t — it helped a bit.

“I want to ask you something,” he began. “I know this is last minute, but I’d really like you to go to Winter Formal with me. If you want to.”

And there it was.

Since I was completely stunned, I didn’t say anything for a moment. I think he took that to mean I wasn’t sure how to answer.

His smile faded a bit around the edges. “I mean, I know we don’t know each other very well, but I think you’re really cool. And pretty. And you’d be great to hang out with. But if you’re not interested, I totally understand –”

“No.” I cut him off. “I’m interested. I’m definitely interested. I’d love to go to the dance with you.”

The smile returned. “Well, good. I’ve got a limo and everything lined up.”

“That’ll do nicely.” I grinned at him.

A limo. Wow. I knew that Chris’s father was a big-time lawyer in Toronto and his mother was a doctor. They definitely didn’t have to worry about money.

My mom, on the other hand, wrote romance novels. The non-office freedom of her job helped when she had to make her sudden marriage moves around North America. As long as she had her laptop she could write from anywhere. But my father? I had no idea what he did for a living. I’d never known him. He’d left my mom when she was still pregnant with me.

“This is good,” Chris said. “I’ve wanted to ask you out since you moved here. I guess I was worried you’d say no.”

I almost laughed out loud at that. Who in their right mind would say no to Chris Sanders?

“Well, then I guess it’s good that I said yes.”

“It is.” He put his hand against the locker next to my head and leaned in toward me. He was so close now that I could feel the warmth from his body. “And I wanted to tell you something else, but I’m a day late.”

“What’s that?” I breathed. His mouth was only inches away from mine.

“Happy birthday.”

“You know it was my birthday yesterday?”

He nodded. “Did you have a good one?”

“There was cake. Chocolate.”

“That sounds exciting.”

“It was,” I said with mock seriousness. “It really was.”

“Well, happy birthday, Nikki.” He leaned closer and kissed me.

I was kissing Chris Sanders. I’d dreamed about this so many times since I’d moved here, but never thought I’d actually get the chance.

Kissing him. In the hallway at school.

I could die happily now.

When he leaned back from me I was about to say something — I wasn’t even sure what — when Chris glanced to his left.

“Can I help you with something?” he asked with a frown.

I swiveled around to see that the same guy who’d been staring at me earlier in the cafeteria was down the hall from us.

Staring at me.

Creepy.

He didn’t reply to Chris’s question. Instead, after a short hesitation, he turned and walked away, exiting the school completely through the doors at the end of the hall.

“He totally interrupted us.” Chris looked down at me with a grin. “That’s just rude, don’t you think?”

“Very rude,” I agreed, deciding to put whoever he was out of my mind immediately.

“Now, where were we?” he asked.

“Before or after you kissed me?”

“I’m thinking . . . during.” He bent his mouth to mine again for another quick kiss before the bell rang signaling that lunch was over and I had to head to my next class.

By then I had a permanent smile on my face.

I was finally sixteen years old. I had the coolest best friend. A gorgeous, popular guy had just asked me to go to the school dance. And he’d kissed me! Everything I’d ever wanted in life was finally coming to me. I seriously couldn’t have asked for anything more.

Now I just had to make sure that nothing spoiled it.

 

C h a p t e r   2

I stayed after school to study for an English test I had the next day on Romeo and Juliet. When I left at five o’clock it was already dark outside, but I didn’t hurry home since I knew nobody was there. Mom and Robert were at his company’s Christmas party and wouldn’t be back before midnight.

I’d forgotten to wear the hat, gloves, and scarf Mom had given me yesterday as part of my birthday present. The winter chill bit deeply into me as I left school property, but I felt in too good of a mood to let the sub-zero temperature bother me.

Well, not much, anyway.

It was a fairly short walk home. Twenty minutes if I went the regular way — up the hill and through the maze of well-populated streets. If I wanted to, I could even hop on the bus that went right past the mall on the way to my new neighborhood. But I’d found a shortcut by walking through a park nicknamed Hungry Hollow which was at the bottom of a deep ravine and shrouded by thick trees. Once I went over the bridge on top of a narrow, meandering river, and past the parking lot — empty at this time of year since it was meant for people using the soccer field during the warmer months — past a small kiddies area with swings and a seesaw, then up the equivalent of three flights of wooden stairs to get to the ravine-set houses, it was only ten minutes from school to home. Twelve if I took my time.

I’d walked the same route for two months and hadn’t run into a single problem, except for the odd monster snow drift. I always made sure I was fully aware of my surroundings. You never could be too careful.

Unfortunately, today was going to be the exception. I was in such a good mood after what had happened with Chris, and I was so caught up in wondering what I was going to wear to the dance, that I didn’t notice somebody was following me until after I’d fully entered the poorly lit park. And by then it was too late to change my mind about the direction I was going in.

With a sick, sinking feeling I realized it was the weird guy who’d been staring at me in school that day. I recognized the sweatshirt after a quick glance behind me.

Who was he? What did he want?

Maybe nothing, I thought. Maybe he’s just taking the same route as me. Coincidence only.

If that was the case, then fine. But if it wasn’t . . .

I swallowed hard and picked up my pace. I had a ways to go before I got to the wooden stairs, but first I reached the big oak tree and a patch of thick foliage that stood in the center of the park. As soon as I knew I was out of sight from the main path, I ducked behind some snow-covered bushes.

The guy stopped in front of the huge tree and turned around with an expression of confusion showing under the dark hood of his sweatshirt. He craned his neck to see where I’d disappeared to. When his gaze reached the bushes, he stopped.

With a sharp stab of panic, I realized that he could clearly see my hiding spot.

He squinted at me. “Nikki Donovan?”

I felt a flare of anger push past my fear. “What do you want?”

“Why are you down there?”

I hissed out a breath and watched the air freeze in front of me. My heart was thudding wildly against my ribs. I didn’t want to be the kind of girl who hid from danger or got pushed around. I’d much rather be like Melinda in the cafeteria today — the sort of girl who confronted things head-on without fear. But yelling across a crowded room was one thing. Being followed into a deserted park was another one altogether.

A quick head-to-toe scan of the guy confirmed that he wasn’t carrying a knife. Or a gun. In fact, he didn’t have anything, not even a winter coat or scarf to keep him warm. I forced myself to stand up and shuffle away from my protective area — which I now realized wasn’t very protective at all.

I crossed my arms tightly in front of me. “You shouldn’t follow people into dark areas.”

He frowned. “Sorry. I . . . I didn’t mean to scare you.”

Naturally, I wasn’t convinced.

“What do you want?” I asked again, glancing over at the wooden staircase. I could get to it in less than thirty seconds if I ran fast. I wished my backpack wasn’t so heavy, but it was filled with books I needed to finish cramming for my test tomorrow.

“I need to talk to you,” he said. “It’s urgent.”

I swallowed hard. My guard was still up. Way up. “Who are you?”

He looked confused. “Who am I?”

“It’s not a trick question. What’s your name?”

For a second I didn’t think he was going to tell me, but then, “Michael. My name’s Michael.”

I’d been nursing a headache since having the chocolate cake last night and I’d gone all day without any Tylenol. My head was pounding now and getting worse by the minute. “Why are you following me, Michael?”

“I have to talk to you. I tried to earlier, but there were too many people around.”

My hands felt like they were freezing into two solid blocks of ice. Maybe it was the cold that was helping to numb my fright a bit. Not a lot, but a bit.

“You should have talked to me at school, then. I have to get home now.” When I turned to leave, I felt him grab my arm. I froze, and not just with the temperature. I turned to face him, my eyes wide with fear. “Let go of me.”

He let go of me immediately and took a step back. “Sorry. It’s just that I have to talk to you. There’s no time.”

“You need to leave me alone.”

His jaw tensed. “I can’t do that.” He stared at the ground and then pushed the dark hair off his face. I finally got a glimpse of what he looked like underneath. I don’t know why I’d expected him to be ugly. The fact that he was attractive surprised me, but didn’t ease my mind at all.

He wasn’t as thin as I’d thought at first glance, more lean and athletic under the ill-fitting clothes. Which would explain the killer grip he had. He had high cheekbones and stern eyebrows like black slashes above his emerald green eyes.

“The cops patrol this park all the time,” I told him. “So I think you should leave or there’s going to be trouble. I’m going home and I strongly suggest you do the same.”

He raised his gaze to look directly at me. “Not yet, Princess.”

I blinked at that. “Who are you calling Princess?”

“You.” He took a step toward me.

I took a big step back. “You need to stay away from me or we’re going to have a serious problem here.”

He frowned deeply, then reached into the pocket of the navy blue hoodie he wore. I clenched my fists, trying to ready myself for anything. My throat felt too tight to scream, but I’d give it my best shot.

He pulled out an envelope and offered it to me. I stared at it without moving.

“What’s that?” I managed.

“It will explain a little. But you need to come with me right now. He’s waiting for us.”

“Who’s waiting?”

“Your father.”

My mouth dropped open. Out of everything he could have said to me, I hadn’t expected that. At all.

“You’re obviously mistaken,” I said. “I don’t have a father.”

“You do. Please, take the envelope.”

My fear and anger were quickly losing ground to a deep annoyance. “Look, I don’t know who put you up to this, but it’s not funny.”

The hand that held the envelope dropped a little. Michael seemed uncertain of what to do now, since I wasn’t being at all agreeable. “He . . . he said you’d be surprised to hear from him after all this time, but there’s no other way.”

“My father sent you to give me a message,” I said with major disbelief.

“And to bring you to his side.”

I still couldn’t believe I was hearing him correctly. “Well . . . why you?”

He frowned. “Because he asked me to.”

This was so unreal. I’d barely thought about my father for years. It helped that my mother refused to talk about him even on the rare occasion that I was curious to learn more about where I came from. I guess being left alone and pregnant at eighteen has a tendency to make you want to forget the somebody who’s treated you so badly. Made sense to me.

Michael waited patiently with his arms crossed, the envelope held loosely in his right hand.

“Let me tell you a little something about my father,” I said. My headache was getting worse the longer I talked to this weirdo. “He got my mother pregnant and then he disappeared without a trace and left her all on her own. Sixteen years and he hasn’t tried to see me. Not once. Not a letter, a phone call, or an e-mail. So even if I did believe you, why would I want to see him at all?”

His face looked strained. “Because there are things you need to know. About him. About you.”

My eyes narrowed and I hissed out a frozen puff of air. “I have an idea. Why don’t you take that envelope you have there back to whoever gave it to you and tell them to shove it?”

He raised his eyebrows. “I don’t think that message would go over too well.”

I had to admit, I’d always imagined what it might be like to have a real father. The four guys my mother had married over the last twelve years hadn’t exactly fit the bill for me — and in the end, obviously not for her either. Somebody doesn’t get married that many times if they’ve found Mr. Right.

Robert the accountant was the latest. I didn’t like him much. That was an understatement, actually. His hobbies seemed to include yelling a lot and getting mad at stupid things — like when I left my homework on the sofa in front of the television one night. Not exactly anything to freak out over, in my opinion. I really didn’t like how he treated me — or my Mom, for that matter. Mom said it had only been two months and it might take a bit of adjusting to our new living arrangements. I wasn’t so convinced, but I figured I’d try to wait it out.

I’d seen too many of her relationships start out strong, only to fizzle after a couple of years. Sometimes it didn’t even take that long for her to realize she’d made a mistake. This was always after we’d already moved across the country, though. Atlanta, Phoenix, San Diego, and now Erin Heights — which wasn’t even in the same country. I was kind of sick of being told what to do and forced to move all over the place. But I didn’t really have much of a choice in the matter. I went where I was told to go. I did what I was told to do. I tried not to make too much of a fuss about it. End of story.

But any of the jerks she’d married were better than my biological father. At least I’d seen them with my own eyes. As far as I was concerned, my father didn’t even exist.

I was pacing a small section of the park, and when I glared at Michael, it was with anger now, not fear. Why did he have to stir up old issues for me? And after I was having such a great day, too.

He was ruining my good post-birthday mood.

“If you’re the delivery boy for my long lost father,” I said, “then tell me. Where is he? Why couldn’t he come and see me himself if he’s so interested all of a sudden? And why now, after all these years?”

Michael raised his eyes to mine and his expression looked uncertain. Maybe he didn’t know. Maybe somebody had given him money to contact me. Strange, but possible.

“You probably won’t believe me right away,” he said. “But you have to. It’s all true.”

“Tell me.”

“Take the envelope and I’ll tell you.” He held it out to me again.

I had to take a step closer to him as I snatched it out of his grip. “Fine. Envelope delivered. Now tell me. Please.”

He took a deep breath in and let it out slowly. “Your father is the King of the Shadowlands.”

I blinked slowly. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“The Shadowlands is the dimension that separates this human realm from the Underworld and Hell.”

I didn’t say anything for a moment. Again, this guy had managed to render me speechless. He certainly wasn’t predictable.

“Another dimension,” I repeated.

“Yes.”

“And my father is the king there. In this other dimension.”

“That’s right.”

“And that’s the reason why you called me Princess before. Because my father is a king.”

He nodded. “You’re the current heir to the throne.”

My mouth felt very dry and my head throbbed. I rubbed my temples. “You’re kidding, right?”

“No, I’m not kidding. I knew you’d have a difficult time believing me; you’ve lived the life of a human for sixteen years. That’s why you have to see your father personally. He’ll explain things much better than I will — even though I’m supposed to answer any questions you have to the best of my ability. He wants you to read his letter and then come with me –”

“Let me guess. To the Shadowlands?”

“That’s right.”

I frowned. “Hold on. Did you say that I’ve lived a human life for sixteen years? What other kind of life could I have lived?”

He jammed his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “Your father is a demon.”

“You’re crazy. I’m not listening to this.” I began to walk away.

“And as of your sixteenth birthday you will start to manifest the powers of a Darkling,” he said, following me. “One who is half-demon and half-human.”

“A Darkling?” I sputtered, coming to a stop and glaring at him.

“You’re the first one in a thousand years. Your father is concerned how this might affect you. He had to leave the human realm sixteen years ago and has been unable to communicate in any way since –”

I held up my hand. “Stop. Just stop, would you?”

He stopped. “I know this is a lot to grasp.”

“No, not at all,” I said. “I’m a half demon princess. Sure. What’s so hard to grasp about that?”

Michael was crazy. Certifiable. Maybe that’s why I’d never seen him around school before — because he didn’t go there at all. He was an escaped mental patient. Somebody dangerous and about to have a major psychotic break if he hadn’t already had one. And for some reason I’d managed to work my way into his delusion. Just great. It was sick and twisted, and I’d feel sorry for him if I didn’t feel incredibly concerned for my own safety.

He eyed me warily. “So you accept everything I’ve told you?”

“Demons don’t exist.”

“Yes, they do.”

“No, they don’t.”

He sighed. “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to explain it properly. That’s why you have to come with me and see for yourself.”

I backed up a step. “I’m not going anywhere with you.”

“Please, Princess, your father needs to see you. You have to come with me –”

But I wasn’t listening anymore. I turned and ran away from him as fast as my feet could carry me, thundering up the stairs in record time and down the street to my house where I slammed the door behind me and tried to put Michael out of my mind forever.