Authors: Cora Avery
Claiming the Prince
Copyright 2014 © Cora Avery
Cover Photographs: Image ID 6902759 © Katie Little/123rf.com; Image ID 23419392 © subbotina/123rf.com; Image ID 82100635 © coka/shutterstock.com
dented the soft flesh of her hips.
“How’s that?” he asked.
“Good. It’s good,” Magda groaned, raking her heavy bangs off her damp forehead and sitting back.
Under her, Riker bit his lip. His brilliant blue eyes slipped shut. Sweat sheened his chest, the lean muscles flexing in time to their joined rhythm.
She sank into the rocking gait of his hips, tension building and receding, building and receding.
Her gaze slid from Riker’s sculpted physique to the overflowing hamper in the corner.
Damn, she needed to do laundry, again.
Riker thrust deeper. She gasped as a scintillating pulse of pleasure spiraled up through her.
But before the coiling ache within could release, a thudding knock reverberated through the thin walls, interrupting their cadence.
Riker frowned. “Who’s that?”
The escalating force within her deflated.
Another knock, this one louder, longer.
Riker attempted to pick it up again, but she flattened her hand to his chest and withdrew from him.
He propped up on his elbows, pouting. “I wasn’t finished yet.”
“We’ll finish later,” she said, grabbing a bra and a tank from the top of the laundry pile. Sweat bit at her eyes and snaked down her spine. Sliding open the glass door that led out to the back of the mobile home, she’d been hoping for a breeze, but instead received a putrid swell of hot, garbage-scented air. Why had they missed the last pickup?
Tugging on her clothes, her shoulders bunched as the knocking turned to banging.
She ripped open her bedroom door, one leg in her jeans. “I’m coming!”
“I’m not,” Riker muttered.
“Stop whining,” she said, zipping up. She snatched his pants off the floor and threw them at him. “Take care of yourself. Or go to the beach. I’m sure you can find someone there to accommodate you.”
He gazed at her with empty, innocent bird eyes. “Are you sure you don’t want me to wait for you?”
She offered him a small smile. “I’ll see you later.”
She didn’t wait to hear his response as whoever was banging on her door hadn’t heard her or hadn’t cared. It sounded like they were trying to smash down the door.
Striding down the hall, an ache pricked at her temples as she passed the closet that housed the water heater and the stackable washer and dryer. Even after all these years, the iron in them still got to her.
“Enough already!” she shouted as the door rattled in its hinges. She hoped it wasn’t another pissed off boyfriend who had managed to track Riker down. The last one had trashed her bike.
Pulling open the door, she was about to tell their would-be visitor to lay off the ’roids, but the words dried up in her throat.
On the other side of the door stood a beast of a man in loose gray sweat-pants and a red T-shirt two sizes too small that strained over his muscle-bound chest. Thick black hair hung loose and long over his shoulders, which were as wide as the threshold. His almond-shaped eyes were gray as the winter sea. She didn’t know if it was his mere presence making her heart seize and twist or the scars.
Damion bowed, his hair falling over the taut puckered lines marring his face. “Hello, coz.”
Magda stared at this huge warrior of a man, bowing before her. The last time she had seen him, he’d been in his prime, tall and beautiful, a bit of a rogue, with the agility of a tiger and a sculpted face that made women stop and stare.
Her hand closed around her necklace’s ceramic pendant, a delicate sphere painted with brackwood vines. The surface was cool against her overheated skin. She swallowed hard and took a deep breath.
“Straighten up,” she said. “You don’t need to flatter me.”
He lifted his head, lofting a heavy eyebrow trisected by slashing white scars. His arms showed evidence of the wounds as well. Finger-knives were such deadly vicious weapons. It had been so long since she’d lived in the Pixie Lands, she’d almost forgotten. The damage they’d done to Damion hurt her heart. Not that she would’ve allowed anyone to know she had a heart—a heart never did a Pixie Rae any good.
“I’m not flattering you.” His eyes flashed as if insulted.
“What are you . . . ?” She pursed her lips. It was a stupid question. If Damion was here, there could only be one explanation. He, too, had been exiled. She cleared her throat. “Alanna?”
His gaze lowered. “Taken the High Road.”
When his eyes rose to meet hers again, they burned with cold steely light. “Lavana. Ten months ago. I would’ve come sooner, but . . . I was gravely wounded. I almost didn’t survive. And it took a long time to find you.”
“Lavana let you escape alive?”
His brow plunged. “When it was clear the battle was lost, my mistress bade me to flee. I entreated her to allow me to die by her side, but she ordered me to save myself. I could not defy my mistress.”
She stepped forward and grasped his scarred face in her hands. He flinched, his eyes widening. Fear, anger, anxiety, shame, she could feel them all ebbing off his skin, seeping through her palms in waves—cold, hot, stinging, painful.
“I feel your grief,” she murmured, tears pricking her eyes.
The hard luster in his gaze faltered. “You honor me.”
Hands sliding back, breaking their connection gently, she could see the fierce light in his eyes flare back, stronger than ever. A swell filled her chest. A smile tugged at the edges of her lips.
“I’ve missed the sight of a true Pixie warrior,” she said to him. “Come in, please.”
She moved back into the messy little living room. Overhead, a ceiling fan chugged away, cooling the midday heat. The air conditioning had cut out last month during the heat wave, and she barely made enough to pay the lot fee, let alone fix the A/C.
Seeing Damion again was good, but it was also disconcerting. It had been so long since any new arrivals had come from Alfheim, which was the whole of the old world, including the southern archipelago islands of the Elves, called the Realms, and the northern Lands of the Pixies. Suddenly, she saw the cluttered house as he must have—flimsy, dirty, alien. How strange the human world had seemed to her seven years before when she’d first arrived, barely alive herself after her own lost battle.
Damion edged in. The screen door screeped as it swung and then slammed shut behind him.
“You’re welcome to stay, of course,” she said, closing the empty pizza box left on the coffee table. “My home is yours,”—she grinned apologetically—“for whatever it’s worth.”
“I have come to offer my fealty to you, cousin,” he said, voice a steady solid rumble deep in his broad chest. “Unless you think it unworthy.”
She sank onto the creaking, cracked white leather sofa that had been left by the previous owner. “I’m afraid you’re the one who might find me unworthy of your great skill and loyalty.”
His expression darkened. “Not so great.”
“I’m sorry about Alanna,” she said.
His eyes narrowed.
“I am,” she insisted. “She may have won the right to the family, but I don’t begrudge her. Her victory was fair. She could’ve chosen to kill me, but she allowed me to go into exile instead.”
“Only because you were a child,” he said. “Not because she was magnanimous.”
She laughed. “I only hope you remain so forthright, cousin.”
The smallest of smiles played at the edges of his lips. “So long as you wish to hear the truth.”
“Please,” she said. “No one in our family has ever been served by all the lies.”
“No one?” he asked.
Her smile faded. “Their way is not my way anymore. I’m not the girl I was all those years ago. I’m not a Rae. I’m just . . .”—she sat back, kicking her heels up on the nick-ridden coffee table—“a lifeguard who lives in a trailer park.”
He glanced towards the open sliding doors, where there was a small deck facing the ocean. A warm breeze, scented of sand and salt water, trickled in every now and then. Over her neighbors’ rooftops, the Pacific cut a swath all the way to the horizon. Blue on blue.
“At least you have been able to smell the sea all these years,” he said.
“Yet I remain a terrible housekeeper,” she said, standing. Collecting the dirty clothes that she and Riker had discarded on the living room furniture, she moved around Damion into the hall.
“You were not raised to be one,” he said after her.
“You can sleep there.” She gestured back at the sofa. She balled up the clothes and tossed them on top of the washing machine, closing the shuttered doors on the dirty laundry.
How she hated washing clothes. As independent as she’d grown in this world, she failed to find any redemptive feeling in such mundane tasks. Back home, the brownies would complain and grumble about the filthiness of the clothes, yet at the same time attended to the washing of them with single-minded rigor. But she had no such servants here, just a machine that had a bit too much iron in its guts and threatened to give her a headache every time she washed her clothes. This whole world was filled with iron. When she’d been exiled here, many had considered it a death sentence, but she’d fought through the initial sickness and found ways to survive, mostly thanks to the others also in exile.
Damion eyed the couch dubiously, tugging at the constricting collar of his T-shirt. One of the conductors had probably given him the clothes. Those who helped their kind escape the Lands into this world usually kept a stash of human apparel for newcomers. The dress she’d been given when she’d first crossed over had been ill-fitting and hideous. She’d looked like a clan of imps stuffed into a polyester paisley sack, attempting to pass themselves off as a person—and failing.
“The fact is, coz,” she said, “I have no need of fealty. Yours or anyone else’s. Why would I?”
“I heard,” he said in a rather slantwise fashion, “that you’ve found yourself a Prince.”
She sighed and picked up a rag from the sink, half-heartedly wiping up the crumbs, pushing around dirty coffee mugs and bottles of water, crumpled napkins and plastic-ware, containers of muffins and donuts, a bag of oranges.
“He found me, actually,” she said, corralling the crumbs into her hand and then dumping them and the rag into the sink.
“There was a Prince in this world?”
She nodded, snagged the muffin container, and carried it the five feet from the kitchen to Damion. Popping open the lid, she held it out to him.
“Blueberry,” she said.
His nostrils flared a bit. His lip curled.
“You’ll get used to human food,” she said, taking one of the cakey muffins for herself and plunking the container down on top of the pizza box.
“Who is he?” Damion asked.
She sank into the burnt-orange, molded chair that had been given to Riker by one of his “girlfriends.” They were always giving him things—before their boyfriends came prowling around, looking for bikes to destroy.
“His mother was one of the western Raes,” she said. “Her sister took the family and left it to their father to kill her. Drowning is how they do it in the Lakelands.”
“Swamp-scum,” he said with a sneer.
“But he couldn’t do it.” She tucked one leg under her and slung the other over the arm of the chair, balancing the muffin on her knee as she picked at it. “He helped her escape instead. After she arrived, she met a warrior, a defector. And they produced a Prince.”
Damion nodded, the polished gray surface of his eyes turning distant. “If we could stop these inheritance killings, we might not have such a shortage of Princes to begin with.”
“But then we would have even more Raes,” she said softly. “If they didn’t kill each other vying to become Radiant, they’d just end up dead fighting for the Crown during the Ascension.” She cleared her throat, the dark clouds piling up in her head. “Not that it matters to us,” she said, setting her half-eaten muffin on the coffee table. “What happens in the Lands isn’t our concern. Welcome to exile.”