Authors: Bella Forrest
OF VAMPIRE SERIES
Derek & Sofia’s story:
Rose & Caleb’s story:
Ben & River’s story:
A SHADE OF DRAGON TRILOGY
A SHADE OF KIEV TRILOGY
BEAUTIFUL MONSTER DUOLOGY
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© 2016 by Bella Forrest
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
t had been almost
an entire week since Theon’s betrayal had left me stranded in Beggar’s Hole, and three days since I’d intruded upon the same cave creature Theon himself had visited. She’d said she’d known I would come—but she hadn’t said it aloud. Her eerie voice had a way of echoing around in your head, curling and twisting into your ears without making a single vibration.
Your eggs are half-count and spoiled, would-be queen,
the oracle’s voice slithered through my mind.
I have told the fool prince all of this before, but if I must, I will tell you, too. One day, one night, one of you is bound to accept it.… Accept the law of the stars.
The strange creature had dipped down into the puddle again. She had submerged and vanished, but her voice continued to throb in my temples like a bad hangover.
Accept that the fool prince—your so-called husband, mortal lover—is destined to continue the Aena dynasty, I give you that. But his children await within the womb of the Everwinter ice queen.
Michelle Ballinger, of the Boston Ballingers.
My best friend in childhood, and worst enemy after puberty.
She wasn’t even supposed to be in Theon’s dimension.
Except that, according to the oracle, she was. She was not only supposed to be there, but destined to be there.
And my eggs… half-count? Spoiled? At nineteen?
That couldn’t be right.
So I set up a clandestine appointment with Dr. Whitney Glazier, a fertility specialist in Portland.
Her bedside manner had been friendly and approachable, but, at the same time, I couldn’t help but bristle at her every word, subconsciously blaming her.
“You’re awfully young to be visiting my office,” she commented.
“Would it be funny to you if I said that a fortune-teller told me I couldn’t have children?”
Dr. Glazier smiled at me, until she realized my eyes remained flat and my expression humorless. Her own smile fizzled away and she cleared her throat. In a detached way, I did pity her. I wouldn’t want to deal with me while I was like this either. I hadn’t been this cold in a long time.
She asked me all the standard questions about my sexual activity, my lifestyle choices, habits, pains, and then finally she said that there were some warning signs present of various disorders. It was a red flag that I had heavy menstruation. It was another that I suffered occasional twinges of back and pelvic pain, although I’d never damaged either to my knowledge. Finally, she agreed that a pelvic exam would help determine potential causes.
After the exam was complete, and biopsies were obtained, Dr. Glazier had a different countenance. A darkness in her eyes. A sadness to her mouth.
“I can’t be entirely sure until the biopsy lab reports back to us,” she said.
My brow knitted together. “How sure can you be until then?”
Dr. Glazier winced. “In the ninetieth percentile,” she confessed. “Your uterus resembles that of a sufferer of endometriosis… a particularly severe case of endometriosis.” My glare intensified. “What this means is that tissues vital to reproduction are growing outside of your womb, rather than inside. It also indicates that the fluid of your womb is more harmful to your eggs, and to sperm, than we commonly find in a healthy uterus.”
She continued to talk about my options for treatment, but none of it was curative. I stared at the wall across from us: a rack of magazines.
magazine. A smiling woman on the cover, leaning over a fat baby beneath a colorful mobile.
t was all
a wash after that. I couldn’t remember the drive back from Portland to Beggar’s Hole. Somehow, I ended up in the living room at my dad’s beach house, staring at another wall, curled up on the couch. Dr. Glazier had told me to not give up hope yet, because that biopsy was still indefinite. But… she’d also said ninetieth percentile, just from the naked eye alone. And besides. The oracle had confirmed it before I’d even consulted the medical sciences.
“Honey?” A voice came to me, as if out of a heavy fog. “Nell?”
I blinked and Mom materialized right in front of me. Her black hair was cut into a severe, no-nonsense bob, and her ivory complexion was unusually worn.
“Hey, Mom,” I whispered.
She moved to my side. “Didn’t you notice that I was standing in front of you?” she asked.
“Well.” I blinked slowly at her. “You should say something next time.”
“I did.” She pursed her lips—one of many habits we shared—and touched my knee.
“When did you get to Beggar’s Hole?” I wondered.
Mom sighed. “I’ve been here since you went missing,” she told me. “You know that.”
“Oh. I must’ve forgotten.”
“I can see how it’d be easy to forget,” Mom allowed. Her eyes crusted with tears, and only this roused me from my stupor of self-pity. Mom never cried. Ever. “You’ve hardly looked at any of us since you got back, much less spoken. Even the police couldn’t get a word out of you. They keep reminding us that Michelle is still missing, but there’s only so much you can do. You’re just a girl.” Mom wasn’t speaking to me so much as herself now. “If you’re not ready, then you’re not ready, and besides, Michelle… Michelle is probably…” She pursed her lips and looked down into her own lap.
My instinct was to snap again—
“No one needs to worry about Michelle Ballinger; she always comes out on top!”
— but I held myself back and instead said, “I suppose I’m afraid you’re going to have me committed.”
“Oh, Nell. First of all—you’re nineteen. It’s not legal for your parents to assume guardianship of you without a court order that you have been found unable to mentally care for yourself.”
A smile cracked the corner of my lip. That was Mom. She’d be a lawyer until the day she died, and she seemed to sense that it was the reason for my rueful grin, as she squeezed my knee again and strained to make eye contact with me. I wasn’t making it the easiest thing in the world to do. “What I meant to say is”—she laughed softly—“you can trust us. You can trust me.”
I held her gaze and sucked in a breath. There was only one way to determine whether or not that was true.
“What if I told you that I left our dimension?”
Mom’s eyes iced over. “What?”
“If you’ve been here for, what, over two weeks now—Dad must have told you about Theon.”
And then her eyes darkened. Black ice. “He did mention an older gentleman,” she allowed. “A foreigner you’d met on the beach who claimed to be a prince in his home country.” Mom’s eyes slid away and hardened further as she thought of Theon—the Theon she had been told to hate. “But his home country didn’t even exist.”
“But it did,” I interjected.
Her eyes flew back to me, and I recoiled slightly.
“He took me there,” I explained in a rush. “And I was kidnapped by an ice prince named Lethe.”
“An ice prince.” Mom exhaled. Her chest sagged inward. “And Michelle? Did the ice prince kidnap her as well?”
“He married her,” I answered.
Mom whimpered and one hand came up to her lips. Her eyes squeezed shut tightly.
“Oh, Nell,” she sobbed. “What must you have been through, to create such an elaborate story? Maybe we will never know what that psychopathic bastard did to you.”
I reeled at her reaction.
She thinks I’ve gone completely crazy.
And she thought that Theon had done something to me.
“I’m telling you the truth.” How could she beg and plead, and then, before my story had even really started, dismiss it all as some traumatized fantasy world? I wished there was some way to prove to her that where I had been was real. “Go into the cave on the beach if you don’t believe me! Ask the oracle!”
“Stop,” Mom said.
“I knew this would happen.” I stood from the couch and moved past her, head pounding, desperate to depart from the house. I didn’t belong here. I had never belonged in this world, and now that I’d found my place, I’d been thrust from it. Here I was hung up on a rail. Go to school and get a job. But there—on the other side—I meant something. I mattered. There was Theon, and a city in the throes of insurgence, and magic, and destiny. Here there was The Shenandoah Institute, where I was still a freshman with an undecided major. Here was living in DC with my mom, television, and cars, and dating apps. It would make anyone want to die, wouldn’t it? “I have to get out of here,” I said, making my way to the front door. My hands were shaking.
“Nell, please!” Mom cried, getting up from the couch. “It’s getting dark! At least take your pepper spray!”
I turned to look over my shoulder at her, and it did move me to see my stoic mother’s face streaked in tears, to hear her begging me to not go outside in the dark, as if I was five years old again. But I couldn’t go back; not to last week, and not to last year. I couldn’t undo what had happened to me. I couldn’t erase Theon, and I wouldn’t, even if the technology existed.
“I have to get out of here,” I repeated. “I have my pepper spray.” Turning from her, I wrenched open the door and a blast of January wind cut into the living room. I stepped onto the porch and slammed the door behind me, descending the long wooden stairwell onto the isolated strip of moonlit beach.
my way to the rock formations which jutted around the mouth of the cave where I had met Theon. So much of our history had transpired on this shore. This was where he had saved my life, blowing magical heat through my frozen, sodden body. This was where he had revealed his dragon form to me, massive and gleaming, dangerous and exotic. At the pinnacle of this cliffside had been the nest of harpies who had plucked me from the beach and brought me to their home—a nest of debris as large as a studio apartment. Theon had used the necklace—a shard of magical mirror, heirloom to his family—in order to track me there. He had broken one of the harpies’ wings and dismantled the entire nest by thrusting it to the rocks below with his boot.
To think… a harpy infestation in Beggar’s Hole, Maine.
I stared up into the sky, toward the Cliffside location of the harpy nest which had been there only two weeks ago. Well—it had been up there before Theon had destroyed it.
If I remembered correctly, birds only used nests to lay eggs and raise their young. When the young had gone, the birds abandoned the nest. So—had the harpies built the nest to lay eggs in it? And, after Theon had destroyed it, would they return to build another? After all—if they did like the seclusion and ocean access of the cliffside—they might not find another area that catered to those preferences. They might have returned after all.
I pursed my lips and gripped a low-hanging rock, jutting from the cliff. I wedged my foot into another and heaved my body upward. The last time I had been at the top of this summit, the harpy flock had clawed at me, had even infected my arm with a strange germ; I was certain they would have killed me if Theon had not arrived. Was I suicidal?
Maybe a little bit reckless.
But I didn’t have any other options. Was I supposed to just return to DC, and The Shenandoah Institute? Just get some job at an office or a learning center, become a receptionist, forget the rock island somewhere a few miles off the coast of Beggar’s Hole—the rock island which would lead me home at last… to Theon?
Was I supposed to start going to therapy, like my mom would beg and beg? Let them tell me I’d been molested and tortured, until I could finally parrot back to them what a pervert and criminal Theon had been?
I couldn’t go back. I could only go forward. My feet found chinks and crevasses, my fingers found bulbs and juts. I pulled myself higher and higher, refusing to look down, until I had reached an even plain of black rock on which rested a nest the size of a studio apartment.
They’d come back. They’d rebuilt.
I stared breathlessly, hair whipping across my face, as I contemplated what to do.
The harpies, from our brief interaction, had seemed vicious. It would do me well to arm myself somehow, or prepare to make some sort of offering which could satisfy their needs. But what did a giant bird-woman need?
I crept closer to the nest and peered over its edge.
Inside lay fragments of broken speckled eggshell.
And twisting, thrashing babies with birdlike bodies and humanoid faces, half my size. They were deformed: missing wings, missing eyes, misshapen, lopsided. Something was askew in their figures.
I was so spellbound by the bizarre young inside the nest, I almost didn’t see the harpy approach until she was right on top of me. There had been four on the night of my attack: two brown and mottled, one black, and one white. This was one of the brown and mottled ones, but she must have been the one whose wing was not broken by Theon. Her wings were wide and powerful as she settled onto the rim of the nest; her feet were talons, and her thighs and abdomen were feathered. Her arms were withered and held close to her chest. Only her face was recognizably “human.”
“Girl,” the harpy greeted me in a hiss. I’d forgotten how their teeth were like little white spikes. Creepy. She looked like a cross between Cindy Crawford and a Venus fly trap. “Mate of Theon.” She cocked her head to the side, and the gesture was so avian, I almost giggled. “Wherefore have you returned to this nest?”
I clutched the pepper spray dangling from my belt. But she didn’t advance on me. Why? “I came…” She hopped down into the nest and toward one of her malformed young. “I came to ask… to see…” And she leaned over it, vomiting meaty sludge onto its face. My hands flew to my mouth and I gagged, horrified. The baby rolled away from her, uninterested in the offering. “If you could help me,” I finished.
The harpy stepped away from her young, clearly distraught at its refusal to eat. “Help you,” she echoed. It reminded me of myself—how I had been only half present during conversations the past few days. She looked up at me, sharp again. “Why would I help you? I’m under orders to
you, mate of Theon.”
“Whose orders?” I asked, surprised. I’d thought that harpies would just kill anyone, and didn’t need special reason.