Jackson knows Cymmera will never be safe until the traitor, guilty of treason, is detained and executed. After ordering Cymmeran guardsmen to scour the land, he and the Death Dealer team brave the wilds of Argonas in search of the informant who spotted his foe. And in his absence, Jackson not only leaves the throne empty, but the kingdom vulnerable to attack . . .
As a vicious army descends on Cymmera, Ryleigh is forced to flee to an uncharted realm with a small group of survivors—a place Jackson has no chance of discovering. Alone, but for the few people she was able to save, Ryleigh must decide whether to reclaim her kingdom or remain in the new realm forever, forsaking all she left behind . . .
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By Dani-Lyn Alexander
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Dani-Lyn Alexander
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Needing a moment to gather her thoughts before their conversation escalated into another argument, Ryleigh Donnovan stroked Max's thick fur and avoided her little sister's steady stare.
The enormous gray and white wolf sat beside her throne and lowered his head onto her lap. Intelligent, deep blue eyes offered compassion, but unfortunately, held no answers.
Mia had grown quiet and secretive over the past few months. Maybe it was living under the constant threat of attack, or maybe she was having a hard time adjusting to the reality of living in another realm.
Whatever the problem, Ryleigh had no clue how to reach the sister she'd once been so close to. Though she only stood a few feet away, there may as well have been an ocean between them. "I don't understand what's going on with you lately, Mia."
Mia rolled brilliant blue eyes like only a fifteen-year-old could. "I don't know what you're talking about." She massaged her temples, not bothering to hide her third headache in four days.
That Ryleigh knew about. "Have you spoken to Kiara about the headaches?"
"No." Sighing, she lowered her hand. "I took ibuprofen."
"Maybe you need to return to the human realm for a while." She'd have to speak to the healer herself. They'd already been in Cymmera longer than they'd stayed last time, when Mia had gotten so sick she'd almost died.
"How many times have we been through this?" Blood dribbled from Mia's nose. She pulled a blood-stained handkerchief from the back pocket of her jeans and wiped her nose. "I'm fine. Just busy."
"Busy doing what, Mia?" Ryleigh couldn't sit still any longer. Giving up hope that Mia would accept her invitation to sit together and discuss whatever was happening, she shoved to her feet.
Max jerked his head back and stood beside her, his flank at her right hip, as always.
She descended from the platform, desperate to connect with Mia somehow. "Where is it you keep disappearing to for hours, sometimes days, at a time?"
"I already told you."
"You've already told me you're studying. Studying what?"
The blood flow increased. Mia pinched her nose and shrugged. "Stuff. History mostly."
Lifting a brow, Ryleigh cocked her head and held Mia's gaze, an expression that had always worked when Mia was younger. She waited patiently, sort of, for her to elaborate.
Mia stared at the stone floor.
Ryleigh missed the days when they'd been close, when Mia had looked up to her and trusted her. Losing Mia's trust hurt more than anything. "You expect me to believe you spend hours and days at a time locked in the library, alone or with Elijah, studying history?" She'd already confronted the prophet several times, but his answers were just as cryptic as Mia's.
Mia released her nose and pressed the handkerchief to it, mopping up the last of the nosebleed. "Look, Ryleigh. I told you what I'm doing. If you don't believe me, that's not my problem." She frowned. "I didn't realize you needed a play by play of my every move."
Ryleigh lifted Mia's chin, forcing her to make eye contact. "Look at you. You're a mess."
Mia squirmed out of her hold, but her gaze remained locked on Ryleigh's.
"You have black circles around your eyes, your cheeks are all sunken in, and how long have you been having nosebleeds?" Even the mass of brown curls that usually tumbled into her face whenever she tucked it behind her ears now hung limply.
She took a step back. "I'm fine."
Liar. There had to be a way to get through to her.
"I don't have time to stand here arguing with you right now. You're not the only one with things to do, you know." Mia strode toward the door.
Oh, no. "You stop right there, Mia."
Mia's footsteps echoed off the stone walls.
"Mia." Ryleigh refused to run after the stubborn brat. She rested her hand on the sword that hung in the sheath at her side, the one Jackson insisted she wear at all times. The one that got in the way every time she went to put her hand on her hip. "I am not done talking to you, Mia."
Mia grabbed the iron handle and pulled one of the heavy wooden doors open.
"Freeze, Mia." She couldn't let her leave with things between them so strained. "That's an order."
Mia stopped, glanced over her shoulder at Ryleigh, and lifted one brow. "Really, Your Majesty? Or what? You'll throw me into the dungeon?"
The door clanged shut with a frightening sense of finality.
Ryleigh undid her belt and laid the sheath and sword aside, then plopped down onto one of the platform steps.
Max snorted and flopped at her feet in commiseration. At least he understood.
She must have done something to earn Mia's disrespect. While she'd been busy adjusting to her new responsibilities, she'd allowed Mia to pull further away. She should have paid more attention. Nothing, including her role as queen, was more important than her little sister. She missed the closeness they'd shared growing up, missed their life in the human realm, when it had just been the two of them.
How on earth had she gone from being a normal teenager, well a normal teenager with an abnormal amount of responsibility, to queen of a realm she knew so little about?
The door screeched open, and she jerked upright. No point letting Mia catch her in a moment of weakness if she'd finally come to her senses.
Jackson strode through the door. Oh, right. That's how she'd become queen. She'd met Jackson Maynard. It was still hard to think of him as a king and even harder to think of him as her mate, though she supposed technically he was since he'd claimed her.
"You have no idea."
He sauntered toward her, his dark hair skimming the black T-shirt stretched taut across his broad shoulders, his even darker eyes intently focused on her. "What's wrong?"
"I have to do something about Mia. She was just here, and she had another headache, and this time her nose was bleeding. I'm scared for her."
He patted Max's head, then eased behind her on the platform, propped his feet on the bottom step on either side of her, and lifted her hair. He dropped it in front of her shoulder and massaged the bunched muscles in her neck. "Have you spoken to Kiara?"
Jackson's healing touch always soothed her. "No, but I'm going to." She lowered her voice, half afraid to voice her concerns out loud. "Ever since we rescued her from Chayce, she's grown progressively quieter, seeking solitude more often than not."
That was just so unlike Mia. She wasn't particularly outgoing, but she liked people. At least, she always had.
"Maybe she just needs some time to adjust to her new home." Jackson kept up the steady pressure. He slid his hands lower, sending sparks of heat throughout her back. "Do you think she needs time in the human realm? The Jacobs' would be happy to have her stay with them again."
"I have no idea. I do know I saw her blow Sadie off not long ago." Lucas and Kiara's little girl was like Mia's shadow, following her everywhere, mimicking her.
Mia adored every minute of it. She never ignored Sadie.
"Hmmm ... She loves spending time with Sadie."
"I know." Ryleigh tried to clear her mind. If anyone understood the mindset of someone who'd been held captive, it'd be Jackson. Yet she'd avoided the conversation every time she thought of asking.
Maybe she was too afraid of knowing what had been done to Jackson. Afraid Mia had suffered a similar fate. At least Mia hadn't come back in the same condition Jackson had. The memory of his battered body sent a shiver through her, and she cut the thought off immediately. "I can't help but wonder if more went on while Mia was in captivity than she was willing to admit." There. She said it. She held her breath and waited.
The silence was deafening, and she shrugged out of his grasp and faced him. "Do you think he did something to her? Hurt her in some way, and she was afraid to tell me?" Ryleigh had always tried to make sure Mia understood she could come to her with anything. Her secrecy cut deep.
"I think something is going on with her." Jackson took her hand in his, sending sparks flying, and smoothed his thumb over hers. He shrugged and shook his head, his pained stare lingering on their joined hands. "But I just don't know what. I spoke to Elijah about it, but I got the usual, 'I can't tell you anything about decisions that affect the future,' speech." He finally lifted his gaze to hers. "Have you tried asking Payton? If anyone knows how Chayce treats a prisoner, it would be her."
Though Jackson seemed to have complete faith in the woman he'd rescued from the underground prison in Argonas, Ryleigh had her doubts. She couldn't figure out exactly what the problem was, but she didn't trust her. The fragile woman had supposedly been taken from the human realm and enslaved in the realm of Argonas. Yet something about her story seemed rehearsed. "You were his prisoner too."
"Yeah, but Chayce treated me differently." He left out the fact Chayce had tortured him almost to death.
Ryleigh didn't need the reminder. Things had been going fairly well. She'd finally had some time to spend getting to know Jackson without the direct threat of death. All right, she and Mia were having some issues, but even in an alternate realm, teenagers sometimes rebelled. Right?
The door screeched open, saving Ryleigh from further discussion of Payton.
Max sprang up and stood at attention.
"Your Majesties." A guard jogged into the chamber, dropped to one knee, folded his hands over his other knee, and lowered his head in the traditional greeting for the King and Queen of Cymmera. Eyes wide, he jumped to his feet.
She retrieved her sword from the step, suddenly needing the illusion of safety its presence brought.
Jackson stood and helped Ryleigh to her feet. "Yes?"
"Sir." The guard extended a rolled parchment toward Jackson. "We've just received word."
Jackson stilled, Ryleigh's hand clutched in his. If not for the increased pressure on her fingers, she might have thought he didn't realize it must be news of Chayce Maynard. Jackson took the scroll and let it drop to his side unopened. "Where?"
Max's hackles rose.
"The wilds of Argonas, sir." His sword clanked against his armor as he shifted from one foot to the other. "A courier arrived only moments ago and delivered the scroll to Darius Knight. I don't know much, only that it was quite vague, but he told me to bring it to you immediately. He's calling the council to order as we speak. They will meet you in chambers."
"Thank you." Jackson nodded a dismissal, and the guard left.
Jackson started forward with Ryleigh at his side.
Max fell into step in his accustomed position beside her.
As Queen of Cymmera, she would accompany Jackson to the Council Chambers where they would have a meeting about the logistics, but in the end, Chayce Maynard had already been tried and sentenced to death for treason. Her part in that sentencing still gnawed at her gut. The traitor had tortured Jackson pretty much to death, kidnapped Mia, and done who knows what to her, betrayed his kingdom, his father, his brother. Yet, sentencing a man to death and actually enforcing his execution were two very different things, the second of which Ryleigh wasn't sure she had the stomach for.
* * *
Jackson strode toward the Council Chambers.
"Hey, wait up."
He'd almost forgotten Ryleigh was at his side, her stride much shorter than his. He slowed his pace for her and Max to catch up, then resumed his trek toward whatever dilemma awaited him. His long anticipated confrontation with Chayce didn't seem quite as appealing now that the time had apparently come.
"Are you all right?" She slid her ice-cold hand into his.
Like all Cymmeran men, he'd been devoid of feelings until he met his destined mate, and emotions that hadn't burdened him for hundreds of years before he met Ryleigh battered him now. Images of Chayce as a young boy, running with Jackson, imitating him while he practiced with his sword. What had happened to the boy who'd once looked up to him with such admiration?
He forced the memories into a corner of his mind where they couldn't torment him. Indulging in ridiculous memories from a lifetime ago served no purpose. They no longer held a place in his heart.
If he couldn't recapture the cold indifference he'd indulged in before Ryleigh, he'd do better to harness the rage and betrayal Chayce brought to the surface. At least those feelings might allow him to do what was necessary.
Another image came unbidden. Chayce, flail held high, eyes filled with contempt and hatred before his weapon slammed into Jackson's side.
"Sorry." He loosened his hold on Ryleigh's hand, but she only gripped his tighter.
"It's all right." She frowned as she studied him.
He shifted his gaze away from hers. Ryleigh was too intuitive, too in tune with him. No sense letting her see his conflict. She'd probably want to talk about it. That was the last thing he needed.
"Are you okay?"
"You know, Jackson —"
"Yes, Ryleigh." He stopped and faced her, releasing his death-grip on her hand. "I do know. I know exactly what I have to do, exactly where my responsibilities lie, and exactly how this must end."
They'd had this discussion before, numerous times, and he couldn't handle it right now. Chayce had to die. Period. There was no room for sympathy, no room for compassion, no room for anything but determination and strength.
Given the chance, Chayce would destroy Cymmera and everyone in it. Chayce would be strong. He would be decisive. He would not lack the courage to achieve his goal.
Knowing that didn't make Jackson's mission any easier. "There's no other choice, Ryleigh."
His father had ruled this kingdom with an iron fist. It couldn't always have been easy. Yet, he'd never bowed under the pressure, never caved no matter how difficult the circumstances. Even at the moment of his death, he'd remained strong enough to pass on the knowledge his oldest son would need to rule Cymmera. Too bad Jackson hadn't been strong enough to see and accept it sooner.
"Let's go." He continued toward the chambers without taking Ryleigh's hand again. His feelings for Ryleigh made him soft. He would have to get a grip on them. If he was going to have emotions, so be it, but he'd be damned if he'd allow them to get in the way of his responsibility to his kingdom. Again.
He pushed through the door of the Council Chambers into chaos. The Council heads had already gathered, as had the Death Dealers, the Queen's Army, and a few of the upper Cymmeran Guard members. News traveled fast in Cymmera. "What's going on in here?"
"Sir." Elijah, the prophet and Jackson's most trusted advisor, dropped to his knee in greeting.
The others in the room followed his lead. An undercurrent of excitement sizzled in the strained silence and continued as the men and one woman rose to their feet. There should have been two female council members present, Tatiana Storm, head of the Disciplinary Council, and Mia, Ryleigh's closest advisor. Mia's absence, in addition to the odd behavior she'd been exhibiting lately, heightened Jackson's concern. He'd have to check on her when this was done.
Jackson and Ryleigh took their places at the center of the horseshoe-shaped, stone table. The other twelve council heads stood at attention behind their seats, six on either side of the table, waiting for Jackson and Ryleigh to be seated. The Death Dealers and all eight members of the Queen's Army, along with the few Guardsmen, lined the back wall.
Dakota Knight, head of the Advisory Council and Jackson's partner on the Death Dealer team, stood at his left, Ryleigh at his right. Together, Jackson and Ryleigh sat.
Max settled at Ryleigh's right, between her and Mia's empty seat.
Chairs scraped against the stone floor. Voices rose as everyone struggled to be heard. Papers and books rustled and thumped against the table, echoing through the chamber.
Dakota leaned close to Jackson. "Do you think it's true?"
"I don't even know what it is yet, Dakota." And he'd never find out if he didn't restore some sense of order to these proceedings. He slammed the gavel against the tabletop.
A tense hush fell over them.
Darius Knight, head of the Security Council, approached the podium in the center of the horseshoe. "Sir. I have received word of your br — uh, Chayce Maynard." Everyone knew better than to refer to that traitor as Jackson's brother in his presence, but he'd have to forgive an occasional slip. Old habits and all that.
Excerpted from Lost Princess by Dani-Lyn Alexander. Copyright © 2016 Dani-Lyn Alexander. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
All I can say is if you don't read these books you will be missing something great in your life.
The book was a good continuation of the series. It continues to build up the realm and is very creative. I recomend it if you have read the other books in the series. I do think you need the books before for the background knowledge of what is going on and why.