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Every 5,000 years, a Star of Prophecies is born in the Fae Realm.
The day I first opened my eyes, the clock reset itself...
* * *
My body jolted upright on the bed, eyes snapping open with the strangled breath that escaped me. The same scene I had witnessed a million times invaded my mind.
The dream was always the same. It had plagued my nights since I was old enough to scream, but the treacherous sweat still clung to my skin. My heart still stammered against my chest in both sorrow and anger, blue strands plastered to my neck, and the sheets tangled between my legs.
No matter how many times I watched it, the ending never changed.
Every time, I killed her.
Trembling hands lifted from the mattress, trails of blood sliding off the cold silver hilt between my palms, effortlessly dripping down my fingertips. Rays of moonshine bounced off the dagger’s blade, illuminating the depths of the crimson crystal—the only thing in the universe able to kill a Starlight Faery.
Horror rushed through me at the sight of the bloodied weapon, but as I blinked, the illusion dissipated from my eyes, proving to be only the remnants of my nightmare… of my future. Struggling to catch my breath, I desperately rubbed my palms over the sheets, trying to wipe away the blood that no longer clung to my skin, though the feeling lingered.
Shutting my eyes tightly, I regained control, forcing my heartbeats to slow. I took long, settling breaths, reminding myself that it wasn’t real. It didn’t matter how many times I witnessed it. It hadn’t happened.
When my eyelids lifted once more, my gaze settled on the window that overlooked the royal gardens, and the world of mystical wonders that extended below us. The one we called Arhana—our Faeryland. Its sight brought lightness back into my soul.
Wings infused with the purest light in all nine realms burst from my back, lifting me off the bed, and taking the remnants of the prophecy away as easily as the bedsheets slipped from my body. The pads of my feet landed on the lush carpet, wings retracting while I walked towards the large windowpane.
Smooth moonstone walls gleamed all around me, rhythmically pulsating while the Night Goddess infused the palace with its flawless power. A beam of raw energy steadily flowed from the great moon above, imbuing her magic into us, and making the Moonlight Kingdom the most powerful in all of the Wynossa Osfar Arhana—the Realm of the Fae.
My small hands pressed against the frame while the blue glow of the great moon bathed me—the same hue that colored my crystalline eyes, long tresses, and magic, telling the entire realm what I was with only one look.
A Starlight Faery.
The single most revered race within Arhana.
Pushing against the ornate silver frame, I opened the window fully, and before I knew it, I was falling. With the jump, my sleeping gown fluttered all about, hair whipping along my body as the wind swept me into its sweet embrace. I closed my eyes, letting gravity have its way.
Like an autumn leaf, my body danced on its way down, carried by the playful strength of nature as I sank past our floating kingdom—approaching the forest floor of the world below at a dangerously lethal speed.
It didn’t matter. I felt free. In that moment, nothing else existed but the eerie song of the wind and me.
Light wings snapped out of me moments before I hit the ground, and I opened my eyes, swerving up once more.
“Yes!” I screamed euphorically. “Woohoo!” My shouts echoed in the night as I flew up, mixing with my careless laughter, and the sounds of the animal life that surrounded me. Adrenaline and exhilaration pumped wildly through my veins with the stunt, erasing the clingy darkness my prophecies always left behind—threatening to drown me.
Grandma always said that we couldn’t fight fate. Destiny was a tricky thing, but what was meant to happen would always find a way, no matter how hard we fought it. All we could do was to let go.
I supposed this was my way of letting go.
Some might have called me a dare devil, or an adrenaline junkie, others might have thought I was just insane. Yet, jumping off a hovering castle in the middle of Arhana and falling to what could very well be my death—if I used my wings a second too late—was liberating for me.
It reminded me I was still in control, even when everything about this life was chosen for me before I was born.
The echoes of my laughter danced over the land, and I righted myself, feeling my long hair whip my body once I stopped spinning. Nothing would ever make me feel as free as flying could. Flapping my wings, I suspended myself mid-air, taking a moment to appreciate the land that stretched both above and below me.
Two extraordinary worlds that formed one.
The Moonlight Kingdom was unlike anything any world had ever seen. It floated thousands of feet above the ground, as though Goddess Danu had scooped it off the earth with her own hands, and left it in the sky to oversee the rest of her realm.
We belonged neither to the Seelie nor the Unseelie Court. We bowed only to the Nayisa Ethasae; the Night Goddess that shone directly above us each night, giving us strength, hope, and supremacy. The moon and Danu were our only deities, and the sole reason for our existence.
Brightly gleaming, the beam of light and life that surged from the blue moon travelled down, reaching the highest point of the palace of a thousand spires, and infusing it with undiluted magic.
My eyes glazed over with pride and adoration as I watched its luminous presence envelop my home’s every surface—the earth, flowers, and the villages that surrounded it. The power overflowed from our castle, its shimmering, milky stream turning into a slim river that poured from its center.
Pure magic flowed through our land until it spilled over the side of the floating lot, trickling down onto the realm like a waterfall. The mystical River of Starlight extended below, curving and twisting while it cut through the grass and trees, travelling the breadth of Arhana and imbuing every creature, king, queen, and servant with mystical abilities.
The source of all Fae magic.
I loved my kingdom. Our purpose. Our origin, and everything that made us who we were.
Starlight Faeries were Goddess Danu’s first creation. The essence of this realm. The birth of all magic and life. The very reason we were worshipped, admired, and respected.
Yet, it was not the reason we were feared.
Glancing all around me, I attempted to decide which way to fly. Then I snorted—as if there was even a question. Angling myself, I shot forwards, allowing my wings to take me into the Winter Court. My Kingdom hovered over the center of the realm, precisely between the Winter and Summer Courts, but I hated the heat more than anything in this life. I was a creature of the cold.
Frost began to cover the grass and trees as I flew over the boundary line they had so expertly drawn to keep their sworn enemies at bay—otherwise known as the Summer Fae.
Only a few minutes later, I reached my destination. A place no other being knew about, a place that was only mine. Tiny blades of frosted grass weaved between my toes as I walked towards the massive waterfall on the side of the mountain. Hues of blues, greens, purples, and pinks painted the land, gleaming with the enchanted energy that coursed through them.
From the exotic flowers, to the trees our river nurtured, and even the animals that drank from its bend, everything near the silent waters shimmered and pulsed like our moonstone castle. It was a glow in the dark paradise that began to fade the farther away it got from the source.
The frost turned to thick snow the closer I got to the water; I was only at the edge of the Winter Court, but the temperatures swiftly dropped. The frozen, cascading water welcomed me, forming an archway of crystalized icicles of all widths and sizes, and a small smile curved my lips when my breath began to expel in puffs of white fog. Grinning, I stepped onto the frozen lagoon it created, a shiver rushing down the length of my spine as my bare feet touched the ice.
Poisonous blizzard fish freely darted below the hardened surface, my gaze following their erratic movement as frosted-white scales beamed under the moon—the only reason I could see them within the dark lagoon. Its shadows were as black as the small passage between the icicles.
Lucky for me, I was a Starlight Faery, which made me… petite.
Slightly crouching, I crossed over to the other side of the cascade, and followed the tunnel almost blindly, until a brilliant gleam began to illuminate my path. I didn’t need its guidance. I had come here so many times since I was a child that my every step remembered the way. Before long, the trickling sound reached me, and a large pond extended before me—formed from the water that seeped through the rocks along the cavernous wall. I was now right under the mystical River of Starlight.
Unlike the waterfall outside the mountain, this pond didn’t have blizzard fish, only fresh, magic-infused water. The same moonlight magic that blessed my kingdom.
This was the place where I’d endured many internal battles, and many physical ones as well.
My attention went to the wall of weapons I had collected over the years. The sharp swords, deadly staffs, venom laced daggers, and serrated whips, I had trained with since I was a child. They represented the shadows that obscured my soul. The other side of me that no one knew. One I might never be able to escape.
Carelessly, my nightgown fell to the ground, and I entered the glowing pond that illuminated the large grotto. Invigorating energy rushed through me when I submerge myself, and a strange warmth clung to my skin. Although cold, a certain heat swirled within its depths. The mixture of the two caused a delicious temperature that eased its way through my bones, relaxing my muscles.
Now, I was truly home.
After swimming for a while, I got out, eyes focusing on the primitive cabin at the end of the grotto. Sometimes I lied to myself, thinking no one but me had ever been here, but the cabin was proof that someone else had once felt safe here too. They had called this place home. I often wondered who it had been, how and why they had sought refuge in this place, but I supposed it didn’t matter. They were gone, and it was mine now. My sanctuary.
The nightgown became drenched the instant it covered my body again, but I ignored it, walking towards the wooden structure that had awakened my interest many times, although I had never found the courage to go inside. Curious fingers reached the ancient latch that held the door closed, and I clung to it for several seconds, glancing at the rocky walls and roof that formed the majority of the structure, but just as I always did, I let go.
I couldn’t open it. I didn’t know why, only that there was some kind of force keeping me from it, making me back away. One day I would though. One day I would cross the threshold and finally discover all the secrets it held.
Someday when the darkness of my future didn’t loom over me, stealing my every breath…
The question was, would that day ever come?
* * *
As I headed back to my kingdom, I noticed the last ray of moonlight drop onto the receiving spire before the sun began to rise in the horizon. I shot upwards, flying as fast as I could, and lunged into the light beam. What felt like deliciously raw electricity surged through me, and I flipped in the air, diving into the castle through the open skylight.
“What in Danu’s name?” the queen gasped when I swooped down through the ray, shamelessly stealing a little bit of light only meant for her to channel. A moment later the gleam receded, disconnecting from her throne and returning to the blue moon. “Zeneviève, stop.”
“My pleasure.” I descended onto the second landing of the staircase that led to her, glancing up at my queen while the water still dripped from my hair, and every other inch of me. My hands settled on my hips, and I gave her my most innocent grin, toes curling on the stone floors. “What’s up, Grandma?”
With an arched brow, Noreen, Queen of the Starlight Faeries, took in my state of disarray. “Dear Goddess, you are drenched from top to bottom. What on sweet Arhana have you been up to now?”
“Nothing, my queen.”
Not believing me for a second, she shook her head. She knew me too well to buy into my innocent act. She was my grandmother after all. “Zeneviève…” The warning laced her voice.
“What? I just went for a flight around the kingdom, that’s all.”
“You went flying in your nightgown, barefoot, in the middle of the night? It’s not even light out.”
“It is now.” I winked at her as the first rays of sunlight began to filter through the glass, and Grandma sighed, rolling her eyes. I loved making her do that.
With a wave of her fingers, she signaled the guards below us, and they immediately walked towards the large gears on either side of the hall. Slowly turning them, they closed the skylight on the spire just as they did each morning, securing the moon’s power within our palace.
My gaze returned to the queen. Grandma’s backless throne sat at the very top of the hundred steps, making her seem like she belonged in the sky. Made of artfully spun silver, the armrests depicted curved wings, leaving the back open not to obstruct her own. As the queen rose from the silver throne, luminous threads twinkled along the membranes of her delicate wings, which extended behind her like diamond-sprinkled webs.
She began to descend the stairs, the feathers at the edges of her white nightgown caressing each step until she stopped at my side. Grandma’s gaze lingered on mine for a moment, trying to decipher the secrets I held, but there was no need. She knew me better than anyone ever could.
“How was your night, sweetheart?” she asked kindly, taking my hand in hers. The sympathy enveloping her words made my gut tighten. She already knew.
“Average.” I offered her a nonchalant shrug, hoping not to talk about it.
“I can see that.” Her soft lips twitched in amusement even as her eyes narrowed, taking in my state once more. “I often wake up drenched from head to toe too. What a coincidence.”
Chuckles drifted around the room from the royal knights, and she lifted from the stairs, flying to the main floor of the grand hall. I let her pull me along, landing next to her just as Grandma’s ladies walked towards us with a robe.
“So, are you going to tell me what incited the bathing-under-the-stars urge?” Her cerulean blue eyes twinkled with humor as the ladies draped the robe over her, and she tied it closed.
Pretending to be annoyed, I crossed my arms over my chest. “Sarcasm doesn’t suit you, Grandma.”
“Oh, I highly doubt that, sweetheart. Most say everything looks good on me.” Smirking, she glanced at the knights. “Isn’t that right, guys?”
“Yes, my queen,” they gladly answered in unison, and I couldn’t help but chuckle as she wiggled her brows.
“See? It’s unanimous. I still got it.”
“Like they would dare say no to their queen.” I snorted, and the men laughed around us.
“Now that that’s settled…” she added, ignoring my playful jab. “What is bothering you, baby?”
When her gentle touch reached my cheek, my chest constricted. There was only one instance in which her endearment became that soft. Grandma knew better than anyone what afflicted me and robbed me of sleep. She’d heard every excruciating detail of my nightmares, of my visions, having been the one to help me understand what I really was, and what I was destined to become.
“That old tune again, huh?” she whispered, reading me like a book. “Don’t let it dim your light, baby. What will be, will be. We just need to trust that everything has a purpose, even our sacrifices, no matter how great they might seem.”
I didn’t want to believe that, but I nodded nonetheless, allowing that to be the end of our conversation. Relief and love poured into me when she brought me into her caring embrace, squeezing me tightly and kissing my temple like she had done since I was a little girl. Her love always drove the nightmares away.
“Goddess! You got me all wet.” Grandma complained, pulling away. The dampness from my long hair had seeped into the silk of her robe.
Chuckling, I watched her lift the fabric away from her body, shaking it dry.
“Jareth!” Her voice carried through the open doors, magically reaching its destination in the castle. A few minutes later my personal knight marched into the room. “I think you lost something.” The pointed look she gave him signaled to me.
“What’s up, Jareth?” I smirked as his cheeks warmed, eyes widening.
“Why aren’t you in your chambers?” he growled, then glanced back at the queen. “Your Highness, I swear to you, I left her secured in her room, sleeping, and she hasn’t stepped out yet. I have no idea how she got—”
“Free?” I snorted, crossing my arms over my chest. The way they spoke was almost as I was a prisoner or something.
“Past me,” he finished, giving me a censuring stare. “I’m supposed to be with you at all times. I’m your guardian, Princess. I protect you, remember?”
Oh, Jareth. Poor Jareth, always getting in trouble because of me.
“I jumped out the window.” I shrugged, and his honey eyes widened in horror then narrowed, promising retribution. “What? I can fly!”
Laughter burst around us, but the other knights tried to cover it with a cough. It wasn’t the first time I slipped past the poor guy’s watch, and it would most definitely not be the last. Grandma’s lips quivered at our banter, she was fully enjoying herself, but she didn’t let the smile take hold.
“Zeneviève…” Jareth warned, and I rolled my eyes, throwing out my arms.
“Why does everyone love saying my name like that?”
“Whoof, whoof!” Our heads turned to see Lucky, my teacup Pomeranian puppy, bouncing as he ran into the grand hall. He looked more like a puffy cotton ball than a human dog, but I loved him just the same.
“At least someone is happy to see me.”
Jareth smiled, unable to help it. The itty-bitty dog had been a gift from him, brought by the human ambassador that visited our realm once a year.
“Hey, pretty boy.” I crouched down, hugging him to me as he licked my cheek. “See? He doesn’t mind me getting him wet.” I challenged Grandma just as Lucky sneezed and jumped out of my arms.
Walking backwards, he sneezed again and shook his little body to get rid of the wetness.
“Jareth, take the princess back to her room to get decent and dry, please.”
“Decent?” I asked, feigning insult. “You don’t like my outfit?” My hands landed on my hips, accentuating the way the wet fabric clung to my body, showing all my feminine curves in agonizing detail.
Jareth’s eyes betrayed him, dropping straight to my cleavage. Startled by his own reaction, he swiftly looked away, but the reddening of his cheeks said it all. Grumbling something under his breath, he took off his long coat, remaining only in his uniform’s button-down shirt and trousers. Pulling it up my arms, he buttoned it, until I was swallowed by the fabric. The high collar literally covered half my face, but he didn’t seem to care as he carried me in his arms.
“Thank you, Jareth,” Grandma answered, pleased, and obviously amused. “Make sure Zeneviève is dressed in fine silks, she has a few visitors today.
“Wait, what?” I screeched, pulling the collar down so I could speak. “What visitors?”
Grandma faced me fully. “The princes of the four courts, among others, are coming for tea. To see you, spend some time with you, and get a chance to ask for your hand.”
It always amazed me how casually she dropped those kinds of bombs on me.
“No!” I choked on the word. “Why are you doing this to me?”
Laughter finally escaped the queen, and she shook her head. “You are as dramatic as your mother was. May I remind you that she too complained, but she loved your father more than anything in this world?”
A sadness tinged smile curved my lips. I hadn’t gotten the chance to meet my parents. Yet, I grew up listening to the beautiful stories of their love from everyone who had ever known them, and that had always made me smile.
“Not the point.” I narrowed my eyes at her. “You can’t just spring this on me!”
“Royal courtship and engagements start at the age of sixteen, Zeneviève. You are nineteen, I think I have given you more than enough time to wrap your mind around it. Now, be the gracious princess I know you can be, and go get ready for breakfast. The suitors arrive this afternoon.”
A defeated sigh left her when flames almost shot from my glaring eyes.
“You don’t have to marry anyone today, sweetheart. You are only meeting them. Talk to them and spend some time together. Let them woo you. You never know. You might end up wanting one of them as your husband.”
“And why would they want me?” I retorted, hearing all the male guards chuckle.
Humor danced in the queen’s eyes as she glanced at Jareth, who still carried me in his arms. “Care to answer?”
“Starlight Fairies are the epitome of beauty,” he declared, not shying away from the question. “The moonlight magic thriving inside you makes you absolutely irresistible to men. Not only those of us lucky enough to live in your kingdom, but in all the nine realms. You are the princess, Zeneviève. Any man would risk anything to be yours.”
Well, damn. That was not why I asked the question, but I’d take that answer.
With a knowing smirk, Grandma turned away, an intense gaze holding each of the guards’ as she glided towards the door. Her body swayed with the grace of a true queen, and every single man longingly watched her leave—practically drooling after her.
I wasn’t a stranger to the effect I had on men with my mere presence, and I couldn’t deny that playing games was fun, but I had other things to worry about each night.
Flirting was one thing; marriage was a completely different beast.
“I’m surprised you haven’t complained because I’m carrying you.”
Jareth’s deep voice brought me out of the silent contemplation. The memory of my nightmare had captured me again on our way to my room. I’d lost count of how many times I had seen myself hold that weapon. How many times her blood had stained my skin, yet this time, it had impacted me almost as strongly as the first time I fully understood what it meant.
Blinking, I glanced at him, catching the humor that danced in his eyes.
“What am I, stupid?” I snorted, tightening my arms around his broad shoulders. “When a hunk of a man wants to carry you, you let him carry you. Then, you try to find out what else you can get away with.”
His chuckles danced in the corridor, just as Lucky wagged his puffy tail in agreement. He was such a tiny dog that he got tired easily, so I ended up flying him everywhere. Our palace was too vast for him, and he’d somehow managed to make it to the throne room looking for me.
“See? Lucky agrees. Right, Lucky?”
“Stop trying to butter me up,” Jareth warned, but the bite was missing from his voice. “Let this be the last time you get out of your room without even telling me where you are going. For once, I’d like to seem like I’m actually doing my job right in front of the queen.”
A devilish grin curved my lips. “You know, sometimes I wonder what you would look like as a male Starlight.”
“Spoiler alert, no such thing exists.” He sent me a sideways glance. “You know very well the Starlight Faeries are exclusively a female race. And stop trying to change the subject.”
“I bet you would look even more handsome with cerulean blue hair and eyes,” I pressed, purposely ignoring him. “Can you imagine? You with light-infused wings? Yum!”
Jareth shook his head, choosing not to take the bait, and I rested my head on his shoulder, letting my damp hair drape over his back. My eyes slightly closed as I leaned forwards, taking in his comforting earthy scent, and I placed a tiny kiss on his neck. A full body shudder rocked him when my lips grazed him.
“Stop,” he all but growled at me, halting, and setting me down just outside my door.
“What? Does it bother you to have me all wet, and scarcely dressed in your arms?”
Jareth’s eyes dangerously narrowed. “Is that a trick question?”
My laughter rang in the air as he chuckled. I loved messing with Jareth, but I loved it even more when he followed my lead.
“You love torturing me, don’t you?” He held my gaze, even as Lucky whined, trying to get his attention. He loved Jareth almost as much as I did.
Lips quivering, I pinched my thumb and index finger in front of my eyes. “Little bit.”
Groaning, Jareth threw his head back dramatically and opened the door, walking into my room while I followed. He took one look at my sheets in total disarray and turned to face me. “Another nightmare?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” I mumbled, letting Lucky jump from my arms and curl up on his plush pillow bed.
“I’m not going to ask what it was about. Just tell me, on a scale from one to ten?”
Sighing, I looked up at him. “Fifty?”
Kindness filled his eyes, and he closed the door, stopping in front of me. “I’m sorry. On the plus side, now that you’ve had the worst of them, you’ll get at least a few days of rest before the next prophecy comes to you.”
“A couple of nights, at least,” I agreed, letting my hands rest on his chest. “Did you mean what you said back there?”
“About?” he asked, even though he knew full well what I meant.
“About any man wanting to be with me…”
“I’ve never lied to you before…”
My chest constricted. “They shouldn’t. If they knew what I truly am, they wouldn’t want me. Starlight Faery or not.”
Jareth’s hand lifted to my cheek, his fingertips gently caressing my skin. “If they knew who you truly were, they would want you even more.”
“Do you want me?” I couldn’t help but ask, letting myself be more vulnerable that I should… but it wasn’t the first time I’d been vulnerable with him. I trusted him completely.
Letting out a heavy breath, he shook his head, as though my question was silly. “Are you sure you don’t already know the answer to that?”
“Then let it be you who asks for my hand,” I insisted, dreading the stupid tea party my grandmother had planned for me.
“And spend the rest of my life being bossed around by you, no thank you…” Jareth walked away, putting as much distance as he could between us. “Go shower. I’ll get Cara to bring your garments for the event.”
“Spoiler Alert. You are already bossed around by me.” I arched a defiant brow at him, crossing my arms.
“Okay, let’s get something very clear.” He pointed a single finger at me. “I’m bossed around by the queen, not by you.”
I couldn’t help but chuckle. “Same difference.”
His lips quivered, fully enjoying our back and forth like he always did. “I’m serious. Go clean yourself.”
“Uh, excuse me, my hair still wet from bathing in the forest. I’m clean.”
“You smell like dirt, fish, and whatever else was in the pond you chose as your tub. Go shower.”
Ugh. “Fine. And then you’ll ask Grandma for my hand?” I gave him an extra dazzling smile, laying it on thick, and batting my eyelashes at him and everything.
“Goddess, help me.” He rubbed his face as though he needed an extra dose of patience to deal with me. He certainly did, but that wasn’t the point. His hands landed on his hips, and he let out a slow, calming breath. Jareth’s gaze held mine for several moments. “I’m just a guard, Zeneviève. There is no way the queen would ever let me marry you. You are better off with one of those entitled trolls that are coming to the palace today.”
Warmth filtered through my chest, and I slowly made my way to his side, cradling his cheeks. His honey eyes fell closed with my touch, and in the silence, I took a moment to appreciate everything that he meant to me.
“You are a Knight of Starlight, the highest rank of any court in Arhana. Chosen among thousands of Fae as a child, and even then, you bested them all—exceeding all expectations. Everyone knows you would give your life for mine without a single thought, something no one else could ever compete with. And yet, you have never been just my protector.”
His gaze settled on mine once more, and I could see the need swimming in his depths to hear those words from me.
“You are only a year older than I, but we have already been through so much together. You are my best friend, Jareth. My secret keeper. My source of happiness when the weight of this life weighs on my shoulders. You are my first… everything. You mean so much to me, I fear you’ll never truly know…”
“Do you love me?” he asked, a million thoughts dancing in his eyes.
“Of course I do,” I answered without hesitation.
“No.” Pulling my hands from his cheeks, he placed them over his chest. “Are you in love with me, Zeneviève?”
Hurt sliced through me, and my gaze dropped from his in shame. “I wasn’t made for that kind of love, Jareth. You know that.”
“Why not?” Large hands curled around my waist, pulling me closer to him.
“Because this life isn’t mine.” When my attention returned to his face, I found a deep ache reflected in his eyes. “There is only one reason I was born. To be the Star of Prophecies, and that is what I owe my life to.”
“That doesn’t mean you don’t get to be happy—”
“Yes, it does.” Sighing, I shook my head. The hurt he felt was one I had buried down inside me long ago. I had made peace with who I was and what that meant, but I didn’t think he could ever understand. “I belong to the prophecies.”
“Then tell me about them. Maybe I can help you, maybe—
“No.” My eyes fell closed with the weight of that truth. “You can’t. My visions are mine, and mine alone. No one else could ever bear them, or even comprehend—”
“Please, let me at least try.”
The need in his voice made my eyelids lift, and I reached for him, closing my lips over his. We shared a sweet kiss like we had many times, his arms wrapping firmly around my back.
“I don’t see glimpses of the future like a Seer does,” I explained. “I don’t experience possibilities or receive clues. I am meant to bring destiny to pass. Every vision is a detailed instruction. Every scene I have ever witnessed is meant to be carried out to fruition without exception. That is why I exist.”
“That is where you’ve always disappeared to. To instill fate.”
The muscles along his jaw tightened as he nodded, accepting the harsh reality. “I understand.”
He didn’t. He couldn’t even come close to fully grasping it, but I’d accept whatever he could give me, hoping he would grant me the same courtesy. I lifted a hand to his cheek, my thumb stroking his jaw, attempting to release the tension.
“No matter what you wish for me, Jareth, the day will come when my duty will rip me away from here, never to be seen again. I will disappoint you. I will betray you and everything we ever held dear, but I will have no other choice.”
“We always have a choice.”
“Not me. Not when it comes to this.” Regardless of how long I had prepared myself for it, my eyes still glistened with the admission. “Yet, I do have a choice while I’m still here. If I have to be with someone, if I must follow court laws and marry, I want it to be you.”
Jareth pressed his forehead to mine, no longer shielding himself from what he felt for me, and I gave in to the feeling of him like this. It was the moments when he gave in, that I relished the most.
“I can give you many headaches,” I vowed, grinning when his lips titled into a knowing smirk. “I can give you the love I already feel for you and cherish more than anything. I can offer you my friendship, my stubborn mind, and my body… but I cannot give you my heart.”
The words hurt, because Jareth deserved far more than that, but I had to be honest. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much else I could offer him.
“If you think you could accept me this way, then please… ask Grandma for my hand.”
With my plea, the intensity increased in his stare and he slightly leaned away, searching for something. After a few silent moments, his fingers pinched my chin, lifting it so his eyes bore into mine.
When he claimed my lips, a sigh of relief left me. For a brief moment, I feared I wouldn’t be enough for him. Our lips danced together as his hands moved over my body, letting his coat fall to the floor, followed by my nightgown. Jareth’s uniform wasn’t far behind, and our bodies pressed together in a familiar and delicious way as he carried me to the bed.
Gently laying me on my back, as though I was made of glass, Jareth kissed my neck, and I let go of everything but him—letting the prophecies, the darkness, and my uncertain fate fade into oblivion.
* * *
Magic was a beautiful thing…
Powerful. All-encompassing. Unstoppable.
There was nothing one couldn’t accomplish by wielding it. Yet, it wasn’t gentle, light, or free like many believed it to be—especially when they thought of Faeries.
It was a double edged weapon, and it always came at a price. One I was no stranger to paying.
Layers of white tulle dragged over the pebble stone pathway with my every step. The royal gardens had been dressed with garlands of white and pink flowers from the Spring and Summer Courts—butterflies fluttering around them like a living piece of art. Dried, curved branches from the Autumn Court, with a gradient of red, yellow, orange, purple, and brown leaves formed gazebos along the space, for the guests to gather and socialize.
Frozen fountains from the Winter Court adorned the center of the patio, surrounding the tea serving station. Their tall, iced-water sprays almost looked like water nymphs, performing a motionless, yet lovely dance. It was a gracious homage to the four courts that had come for the courtship affair.
Taking a sip of the fruity tea, I tried my hardest to ignore the prince of the something or other kingdom as we walked with his queen mother along the path, reaching one of the gazebos. I had lost count of how many times I nodded along to my suitors’ ramblings, offering them a fake smile that they all seem to buy as genuine.
“That is a truly gorgeous dress,” his mother offered, being the only one to notice my detached behavior. “Isn’t it, Corvus?”
Her son’s eyes instantly fell to my cleavage, and the wing cutouts that covered my breasts from his eyes. Only a band of fabric crisscrossed under my bust, and up my shoulders, formed the top of my dress, and the layered tulle skirt that accompanied it wasn’t much of a cover up either.
“Very much so,” he finally answered after she elbowed his side, bringing his attention back to my face.
“Thank you.” I gave them another fake smile, suppressing the need to roll my eyes.
Grandma had done it on purpose, of course. She’d chosen this dress for me, to make me even more uncomfortable during this stupid meat fest. Yep. I was a piece of meat, and she had totally thrown me to the Werewolves, getting them all crazed up in the process. The Starlight Queen knew I never backed down from a challenge, and if this wasn’t a dare, I had no idea what was.
Bring. It. On.
My gaze once again searched the affair for Jareth. He had left after we were together, not that it was uncommon for him. He would die if he ever got caught by the servants, and his sense of duty stopped him from ever spending the night in my chambers, but I had yet to see him again. That was not normal for him. He always returned to my side afterwards, as my knight.
Where the hell was he? Was he going to ask my grandmother for my hand, and end this stupid charade, or what? Ugh. I was going to smack him so hard when I saw him…
“Oh, I seem to have run out of tea. Please excuse me, but I’ll have to leave you two alone for a moment.” The queen gave a pointed look to her son, as though saying, ‘get her to like you, or else’, then curtsied to me.
From the looks of it, this was probably his last chance to get married. It seemed like it had been a few springs since he was last considered a young man. Or at least, that was what the tacky wig on his head conveyed, and he was not fooling anyone with the girdle he wore under his suit, hoping to squeeze the “plump” part of him out of sight.
“Of course.” I curtsied as well, seeing her step away and towards the frozen fountains.
“In hopes you shall forgive my forwardness; I feel compelled to express myself or I might suffocate. I have never been in the company of such extraordinary beauty. It is truly an honor to be in your presence, my princess.”
Sigh. Why did some Fae have to speak like this was still the beginning of time? They were stuck in ancient Arhana, thinking that made them special or more important than those of us who were young. Most of them had truly archaic ways of thinking, neither of which I found attractive. I always felt like yelling, ‘This is not the first century, you idiot! Get with the program.’
“Thank you, Prince Corvus. That is very sweet of you to say.”
“Of course.” He nervously nodded, happy his words had been well received, and pulled out a handkerchief to dab at the sweat on his cheeks. I kind of cringed when he lifted the wig and wiped his bald head. Well, bald except for the three random hairs still sticking out of it.
“You have something there too.” I pointed to his upper lip, and he bowed gratefully, dragging the handkerchief over his entire face, blew his nose, and then put it back in his pocket.
That could not be sanitary.
I kind of felt bad for him, so I decided to at least take him seriously. Judging by the way his mother glared at him from the tea station, it seemed no one had really done that for him. “So, tell me a little bit about you.”
His eyes widened with glee at my curiosity. “Well, I am the youngest of eight brothers, all married and with their own castles in the Autumn Court. I have an affinity for water abilities, but what I value the most is taking care of the forest in my parent’s kingdom.”
A small smile curved my lips. “How interesting,” I offered, understanding him a bit more. “I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have a big family.”
Horror filled his expression with my answer. “I am so truly sorry, Princess. I did not mean to bring that to your attention. Please forgive me, I beg of you. It was incredibly insensitive of me. I—”
“It’s okay,” I assured, placing a hand on his arm. “I have made my peace with it. You have done nothing wrong.”
“Still, I mustn’t have stirred the painful memories of the past.”
“You didn’t.” Sadness tinged my smile. “The few moments I got with my parents are treasured memories.”
“How could that be?” he whispered, shocked, but soon his eyes widened once more. “I beg your forgiveness. I should not have intruded.”
“Not needed to keep apologizing, Corvus. You are allowed to ask.”
“You do not mind?”
“Not at all. Like I said, I’m at peace with my past.”
“Oh…” He smoothed out his vest, blinking as he thought about it. “If I may be so bold as to inquire. Your mother died shortly after you were born, did she not?”
“Unfortunately, yes.” A heavy sigh made its way through my lungs, while I idly rubbed the teacup’s handle. “As you may have heard, I am the Star of Prophecies, and when one of us is born, a sacrifice of the purest love is required. In order for my divination powers to be imparted onto me, my mother, the late Starlight Princess, had to give her life.”
“My most sincere condolences, Princess Zeneviève.”
“If your mother died shortly after your birth, how are you able to remember her?”
“I consider it a gift,” I answered honestly. “My mind works differently than anyone else’s, and those moments spent in her arms are engraved in my mind. I can see her as clearly as I see you now. And that I will always treasure.”
“And what of your father?”
My gaze shifted from him to the mountains beyond our kingdom. The sun bathed the horizon with the most precious light, accentuating each village and enchanted race that inhabited it.
“He left when I was still a child, and I never saw him again…” When my eyes returned to him, I found understanding gleaming in his. “I don’t blame him,” I confessed. “This life I was destined to live is one that requires many sacrifices. The truth is, knowing everything I know now, if the situation were reversed, I probably would have left too.”
“I highly doubt it.” He smiled warmly at me. “If I may. Your grandmother did a wonderful job raising you, Princess. You are as kind and thoughtful as you are beautiful.”
He reached for my hand, fully bowing to me as he kissed it.
“That is very nice of you, Prince Corvus.” Something called my attention from the far left, and I turned to see Jareth entering the gardens. I had to admit it, my pulse began to race the moment I saw him.
Most male Faery were handsome, it was the trade of the Fae—except for poor Corvus, who seemed to have been dealt a bad hand. Yet, Jareth was a Woodland Faery from the Spring Court, which made him all the more exotic. He stopped just under the archways, his intense gaze slowly combing the area for me, and I couldn’t help but smirk.
Jareth was dressed in his ceremonial uniform—one word, YUM. The midnight blue jacket with silver accents on his broad chest, white pants, and black riding boots made him look so proper that I wanted to rip them off of him. Sleek, chestnut brown hair was brushed back, sitting between the two small, curled horns on the top of his head—bringing attention to the tribal markings on his forehead. Paired with his perfect caramel-tanned skin, and his liquid honey eyes, it made him irresistible.
Not every male from the Woodland Forest had horns. It was a sign of their pedigree, an honor only a very exclusive few shared. The very reason he was so enticing. However, the truth was, Jareth was beautiful inside and out.
When Jareth’s eyes finally found me, his nostrils flared. Oops, someone wasn’t happy with the dress I wore. Then his lips tilted into a reluctant smirk and he shook his head, knowing full well what he was in for with me.
“I think that gentleman requires your presence, Princess. Must you go?”
My attention returned to Corvus. “Not really, no. That gentleman is my knight, and he can wait. I’m enjoying our talk.””
“Really?” he asked, surprised.
“Really.” I offered him a dazzling smile. “What I’d really like to do is walk along the gardens, and hear a bit more about that forest you love in your parents’ kingdom. I love the forest too.”
Returning my smile so candidly that he looked handsome for the first time since we met, Corvus offered me his arm, and we began to walk along the pebbled stone path. When my gaze returned to Jareth, he crossed his arms over his chest, narrowing his eyes at me, although humor freely danced in their depths.
An arched brow in challenge was my response, yet the ghost of a thrill unfurled in my stomach. There was only one reason he would wear that uniform today… He was asking Grandma for my hand in marriage.
I bit my lower lip in an effort to keep the smile from forming. If anyone in this world could give me the little bit of happiness Jareth thought I had a right to, it was him… at least until my destiny finally came looking for me—whenever that was.