Within these pages lie kingdoms with castles and princes who fall in love with fair maidens, but make no mistake−this is no fairytale.
Seventeen-year-old Rema lives in a brutal kingdom where travel between regions is forbidden, people are starving, and looking at someone the wrong way can mean death. Nineteen-year-old Darmik is the king’s son and Commander of the King’s Army. He spends his days roving the island, doing his father’s bidding and trying to maintain control over the people.
When a chance encounter throws Rema and Darmik together, they share an instantaneous connection, but any sort of relationship between them is strictly forbidden. Darmik’s brother, the Crown Prince, notices Darmik’s interest in Rema and, in a calculated, political move, blackmails her. Faced with an impossible choice, Rema is forced to sacrifice her heart in order to save her family.
As Rema is taken to the palace with the Crown Prince, Darmik confronts the growing rumor that a legitimate blood heir to the throne exists and is trying to overthrow Darmik’s family. In Darmik’s quest to hunt down and kill the threat, he discovers that nothing is as it seems. Locked in the king’s castle, Rema finds herself a key player in a massive power struggle. When Darmik shows up, she’s not sure if she can trust him. The line between friends, enemies, and loyalty becomes blurred. As truths are unlocked, Rema understands that she just might be the key to finding the rightful heir and restoring peace to the kingdom… if she can manage to stay alive long enough.
Excerpt From: THE KEY
Rema politely curtsied. Prince Lennek stepped forward, closing the distance between them. The music started and he placed his hands on her, expertly gliding her around the dance floor. At first Rema was afraid she would trip over her own feet and fall, embarrassing herself and probably meeting everyone’s expectations, but she didn’t. Surprise washed through her, especially since she hadn’t danced with anyone other than her aunt and uncle. But Lennek was dancing a basic four-step foot pattern of which she was well acquainted.
“We haven’t properly met,” Prince Lennek commented. His voice was soft and smooth, like butter. She had the urge to reach out and caress his handsome face. He looked very much like his brother, Prince Darmik. Even Prince Lennek’s tattoo was similar to his brother’s, although Lennek’s black swirls appeared more like knives than flames, especially when the light shone on the silver in the marks. Rema forced herself to focus on the prince’s face, instead of his body.
“No, we haven’t met, Your Highness,” Rema said sarcastically, wanting to stand her ground. She wouldn’t allow him to see the slightest amount of infatuation or intimidation on her part. “So I find it rather interesting that you would summon me here. You are aware that I am engaged to be married?”
He twirled Rema around and pulled her back to him, his eyes sparkling with amusement. Rema felt everyone watching and appraising her. She tried to focus on the dance and Lennek, not allowing the people’s silent judgments to overwhelm her thoughts.
“I am Prince Lennek and you are Rema, the local horse merchant’s niece.” His voice was seductive. “And yes, you are currently engaged.” His head bent forward, his lips only inches from her ear. “But things can change. Nothing is set in stone,” he whispered.
She wasn’t sure what he was implying. Did he know she secretly didn’t want to marry? His strong arm slid lower on her back. Rema stumbled, but Prince Lennek changed directions, keeping her upright. She quickly regained her footing, only missing one beat.
“Who taught you to dance?” he pleasantly asked.
Her thoughts refocused on Lennek. “My aunt.”
“Interesting. Most people in the merchant class do not know the dances of the upper class—especially dances done with royalty.” His eyes held a questioning look, awaiting her answer.
“We are dancing ‘The Courting Dance,’” Rema replied. “It was so named because it is only danced at court, also because it is usually done when a member of the royal family has decided to court someone. It reveals his intentions to his court.”
Lennek’s eyebrows lifted up, surprised. “Why do you know the dance, then?” he inquired.
Was he insulting her? Before she could think her response through, she said, “Perhaps my aunt thought such a beautiful dance shouldn’t be wasted on a select group of people who truly can’t appreciate it.” She smiled sweetly.
“Do you have an answer to everything?” he asked, amused.
“Usually,” she replied, holding her head high.
Prince Lennek laughed and twirled her around again. This time, he pulled her in a little closer. Rema’s chest touched his. His warm hand held her tight. Without meaning to, she glanced up into his eyes. There was something hypnotic about them, and she was unable to look away.
“I am so glad you wandered into my life.” Prince Lennek chuckled, like it was a private joke. “You are the key to everything.”
The music ended and the prince glanced away from her, breaking the spell. She stepped back, about to return to her seat when Lennek grabbed her arm.
Shocked, Rema stared at him. His smile vanished. His eyes were cold, as if a mask had been ripped from his face. She tried to step away, but his grip only tightened.
“What do you want?” she whispered.
It felt like spiders crawling over her skin. “You can’t have me,” she said.
His features softened. “Really? We’ll see.” He snickered, his mask of charm instantaneously back on and the harshness gone.
Prince Lennek motioned for his steward.
“Rema is leaving the party now.”