Sorry it's taken me so long to get this posted.
I hope you like it.
For more information about the release of BELOVED, please check out the update I posted HERE. Please don't send me hate mail. I'm doing the best I can.
And because I love you guys so much, here's the first two chapters to wet your appetite.
Kira slept for three days, waking only when her swelling brain would let her. She’d never felt so much pain. When Draego slammed her head against a tree, her world slipped sideways and crumbled into a million little pieces. She remembered some things, knew who she was and bits and pieces of what had happened, only they were jumbled and, she thought, in the wrong order.
She took in a deep breath of musty, damp air and rolled to her side. The constant drip of rain water echoing off the cave walls didn’t help her splitting headache. At her side, on the cold, clay-like soil, lay her bow, quiver of arrows, and knife. She glanced toward the small opening to find Nigel’s sleeping form slumped against the wall, silhouetted by the moonlight streaming in. As far as she knew, he’d not left her side except to find the few nuts and berries they’d eaten to stay alive.
Kira adjusted the wool blanket around her shoulders. When she drew her knees up, something moved under the blanket and brushed against her backside. She let out a squeal and shoved the blanket—creature and all—down past her feet, then grabbed her knife from its sheath. Nigel sprang toward her on his knees and scooped up the bundle, then thwarted Kira’s stab by clamping his fingers around her wrist. He shook his head, only letting go when she lowered her weapon.
“What is that?” All she could think of was a fat rat the size of a pit-bull and the thought of it snuggling up to her made the hair on her arms stand up. She hated rats, even more than she hated being called Mouse by her mother. “Get it out of here!”
The creature hissed and wiggled while Nigel slowly peeled back the blanket. Kira sat up and scooted against the wall, keeping her knife held tight in her hand.
“Are you crazy? Don’t let it out!”
The words had barely escaped her mouth, when the creature sprang from Nigel’s arms and came straight for Kira, stumbling before rolling over onto its back and begging for a rub.
“Mahli?” Kira smiled at the sight of her little friend. She remembered now—finding the cub in the forest, her mother’s throat slit and her brother’s little body ripped to shreds by some animal—most likely Shandira. Mahli had been found pressed against her dead mother’s tummy, pumping her front paws in rhythm with her heart wrenching whimpers.
Nigel shook out the blanket and draped it over the lower half of Kira’s body and legs. Mahli leapt onto Kira’s lap and curled into a fuzzy ball—or tried to. Her head drooped off one side and her butt off the other. She’d doubled in size since Kira had first seen her and it wouldn’t be long before she’d be too heavy to pick up.
Kira rubbed her arms in a frail attempt to warm herself. “Can we build a fire?”
Nigel’s brow furrowed.
“Have I asked that before? And you said no?” She vaguely remembered it.
“I’m sorry. I’m just so cold and my head . . .” She reached up and felt the tender spot on the back of her head, her chopped-off hair still matted with blood. Each time she woke she tried to heal it. She’d managed to seal the flesh wound and stop the bleeding—even the small crack in her skull had mended on the third try—but her brain was a different story. She’d relieved some of the pressure, but the swelling that remained not only left her confused and disoriented, but nauseated as well.
“Maybe I should try healing again. I feel more awake now and the pain isn’t as bad.”
Nigel scooted closer and shrugged out of his hooded cloak, draping it around her shoulders. He’d offered it several times, but she’d always refused, knowing he had nothing but a thin tunic to guard against the frigid air. This time she accepted it.
“Thanks.” She wrapped the thick black fabric around her shoulders, taking full advantage of the warmth that remained from his body. She gently flipped the hood over her head to drown out the sound of the pounding rain, leaned over Mahli and rested her face in her hands. If she could endure the pain of healing long enough, it would rid her of the constant throbbing and maybe her memories would slip into place and make sense. She could do this.
Focusing on the pain in the back of her head, she tried to imagine the swelling slowly decreasing. With every second she felt nerve endings under her flesh spring to life, tingling and pulsing as the part of her brain associated with certain parts of her body shifted and adjusted. The fingers on her left hand jerked into a spasm that made them curl awkwardly into a claw. A moment later her hand relaxed and her right foot kicked of its own accord, making Mahli jump and scramble to the other side of the cave. She hissed and her fur puffed up across her back and shoulders.
Along with the peculiar gyrations came the memories, all pouring out of her mind like the rain outside the cave. At first they were muddled—Lydia snapping pictures of wildflowers, Mahli chasing a strange butterfly-looking creature, Zerek running his hands up the front of her shirt, Octavion brushing the hair back from Serena’s face.
With that memory brought deep, deep sorrow. Oh, how she loved him and wanted more than anything to be with him now. But that would never happen. Not after the King of Kazedon put a price on her head and sent his assassins to kill her. She remembered Shandira’s last words, telling her that if Kira lived, everyone she loved would die.
Kira had chosen not to believe her. After all, Octavion had gone to plead with the king to call off his men. But on the road back to Xantara, when Draego and his brother attacked her, she knew there would be no going back. Only her death would satisfy King Tyrius’ hunger for revenge—his avengement for Kira killing his son, the prince and only heir of Kazedon.
Kira slid her hand under the blanket and rubbed her thigh where the first swing of Draego’s blade had torn her skin. She’d healed the wound almost instantly, but the tear in her leather pants still remained. She glanced up to find Nigel watching her, concern on his face.
“I can’t really remember what happened after I hit my head. It’s kind of a blur.” She closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead with the tips of her fingers. “I . . . think Draego grabbed my braid and tried to yank me up, but . . .” She looked back at Nigel. “I cut off my own hair to keep him from doing that, didn’t I? He must have lost his balance because I remember him falling to the ground and then . . .”
She looked down at her hands, then at the moonlight filtering through the rain and causing a strange rippling light show across the cave walls. A sickening feeling settled in her stomach.
“I flew.” She wasn’t sure how she’d come to that conclusion, only that she remembered the feeling of being tied to the end of a pendulum and the way her stomach felt with each swooping motion.
Nigel leaned forward and touched her arm, shaking his head. He pointed to himself, then at the ceiling of the cave.
“You flew?” Something was seriously wrong with the way she’d healed her brain if she believed for one moment that either one of them could fly. She didn’t care how strange this world was, people didn’t sprout wings and fly. At least she didn’t think so.
A smirk lit up Nigel’s face and he shook his head again. He reached for a satchel that sat near her weapons, opened the flap and took out the sketch book Kira had knocked out of his hand in the village. He opened it and retrieved a small thin piece of charcoal from a pouch in the front.
Kira watched as he drew the scene in the forest. First he sketched a set of tall trees with thick branches. Then he drew the figure of a man standing on one of those branches, the handle of a whip in his hand, the popper end of the whip wrapped around another branch. Next he drew the figure of a girl sitting at the base of that same tree. He stopped drawing, but motioned with his hand from the man to the ground in front of the girl.
“You swung down and scooped me up into the trees?”
“But . . . why? I mean, why didn’t you jump down and kill Draego?” Her mind wandered back to when she’d been held captive by Shandira—how Nigel waited until Kira had practically starved to death before bringing her food. He’d also been conveniently absent when she fought off Cael and Zerek until she’d spent all her energy and Cael had her pinned under the weight of his body, determined to rape her.
Her blood began to boil and her eyes burned cold, turning the cave a sparkly green. She could see him clearly now, as tiny flits of light bounced around their heads. She folded her arms over her chest. “Were you there the whole time, watching him beat the crap out of me?”
Nigel stiffened, shaking his head from side to side while reaching for her.
Kira backed away and stabbed a finger toward his face. “Don’t touch me.” She held his uneasy stare for a few moments while trying to figure it all out in her head. She remembered Octavion’s words about how Darkords could snap—turn from someone you could trust into a monster in seconds. Had she misjudged Nigel? Had he only saved her so she could be his pet or some kind of companion?
She shrugged out from under his cloak and shoved it at him. “You need to go back where you were. I need to think this through.”
The muscles in Nigel’s jaw tightened and his eyes darkened from their chocolate brown to ebony and back again—a quick flash of anger. He let out a huff of air then retreated to where he’d been sleeping, only this time he abandoned his cloak and exited the cave.
Kira let out a sigh of relief. The last thing she wanted was to anger him, especially since he was a Darkord, but until she figured everything out in her head, she couldn’t trust him. She couldn’t trust anyone.
“What in Zi’ah’s name were you thinking?” Altaria barked as Octavion entered their father’s sleeping chambers—a place she’d grown to call her prison cell.
He put his hand up in hopes it would silence his sister, but she continued without missing a beat.
“Have you no brain? King Tyrius is furious. You have caught him in a lie and embarrassed him in the process. He will never agree to stop hunting Kira now. He will be more determined than ever.” Altaria poked a finger at Octation’s chest. “She is as good as dead and it is your fault.”
Octavion pushed her hand away. “I did no such thing. Draego is the one who could not keep his mouth shut. He let the truth out to his drinking cronies at the village pub. You cannot blame me for that.”
“You bribed the pub owner to serve Draego his strongest brew and to keep his mug full. You even paid the other patrons to bring up the subject of Kira’s death and to encourage Draego to tell them what really happened out there. It is your fault.”
“At least now we know she is alive. You have to admit my idea worked and was worth the price I paid.”
“You are missing the point. What you did put her in even more danger. And what about Draego’s family? They will seek to avenge his death as well—not to mention the death of his brother when she was attacked. And do not tell me you had nothing to do with Draego’s head adorning a pike in the middle of Kazedon’s village square.” She shifted her weight to one foot and propped her fists on her hips. “Well?”
Octavion slumped against the wooden door. That’s as far as he’d gotten before his sister came at him with her accusations. The last thing he wanted was to fight with Altaria. Mostly because she was right, except for one thing. “I had nothing to do with his death.”
“And his head?”
“What kind of a monster do you think I am? That did nothing to punish him for his crime, only tortured the innocent women and children who saw it. If it were up to me I would have ripped him to shreds with my bare hands and fed him to the . . .” He straightened and walked to the fireplace where large flames licked the cool night air. His imagined revenge was far worse that what anyone else could have done to Draego. Maybe he was a monster. “I did not kill him.”
Altaria softened her voice. “At least tell me you have a plan, that you know where to start looking.”
Octavion turned to face his sister. “Luka has sent out scouts to gather information, but has yet to receive word. Cade tracked Althros for several hours before it began to rain. The trail he did manage to follow took him north, toward Finvarra. We’ll start there.”
“So when do we leave?” Altaria twisted her long blonde braid between her fingers.
“We?” He moved closer, putting his hand on her shoulder. “Father would have my hide if I let you leave this room.”
He expected her to put up a fight, but she didn’t. Instead she shrugged out from under his hand and went to the window. She separated the drapes so she could peek out, causing a thin strip of light to splash across the room.
“Sometimes I can feel her.”
Octavion stepped to the window and placed his hand on the small of her back. “Kira?”
She turned and looked up at him. Though her eyes were the color of blue ice, warmth radiated from them. “My kindred spirit. It is as if we are both reaching, our fingertips almost touching, then she’s swept away into the darkness.” She lowered her head and leaned into her brother’s arms. “I feel empty inside, as if my soul has been taken from me.”
Octavion’s heart clenched. With all the concoctions he’d created in his lifetime, not one could cure what ailed his sister and her kindred spirit. He tightened his arms around her and whispered into her hair. “Have you drawn on your faith? Asked Felinea for her guidance?”
Altaria’s shoulders slumped as she slowly pushed away, her focus on her feet. “I haven’t prayed since I was a child. And I have no faith.”
“Then perhaps you should start there.” He lifted her chin with the tip of his finger until their eyes met. “If you can’t believe in the gods, believe in Lydia. When she is ready, you will find her.”
He left her standing near the window, her arms sagging at her sides, eyes staring at nothing. What he wouldn’t give to see the Altaria he remembered, the one who never backed down from a fight and believed she could do anything. This Altaria was nearly a stranger to him—broken and lost. There was nothing he could do to help her.