Excerpt for Protector by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Cover Copy


To love and protect…across worlds.


Eighteen-year-old Faith Stryker is prepared to leap out into the unknown world beyond her home shores of New Zealand to experience life. Only she never expected to encounter Magio, a planet with two warring countries, where its people reach adulthood at eighteen by coming into their strength and prophetic abilities. Only after Faith discovers she’s a Halfling—thanks to her warrior father she’s never met—does her own skill of forethought develop.

Peacio’s Prince Davio Loveria is sent to the young Faith Stryker by his grandfather, but not all goes as planned. Davio discovers Faith isn’t just a Halfling, she’s also his soul-bound mate—an intense relationship he cannot, nor will not, give up.

With two wars now waging…one of land and the other of the heart…can the young couple find their place in the world?




Also by Joanne Wadsworth


The Matheson Brothers Series

Highlander’s Desire, (Book 1)

Highlander’s Passion, (Book 2)

Highlander’s Seduction, (Book 3)

Highlander’s Kiss, (Book 4)

Highlander’s Heart, (Book 5)

Highlander’s Sword, (Book 6)

Highlander’s Bride, (Book 7)

Highlander’s Caress, (Book 8)

Highlander’s Touch, (Book 9)

Highlander’s Shifter, (Book 10)

Highlander’s Claim, (Book 11)

Highlander’s Courage, (Book 12)

Highlander’s Craving, (Book 13)


Highlander Heat Series

Highlander’s Castle, (Book 1)

Highlander’s Magic, (Book 2)

Highlander’s Charm, (Book 3)

Highlander’s Guardian, (Book 4)

Highlander’s Faerie, (Book 5)

Highlander’s Champion, (Book 6)

Highlander’s Captive, (Short Story Book 7)


Regency Brides Series

The Duke’s Bride, (Book 1)

The Earl’s Bride, (Book 2)

The Wartime Bride, (Book 3)

The Earl’s Secret Bride, (Book 4)

The Prince’s Bride, (Book 5)


Princesses of Myth Series

Protector, (Book 1)

Warrior, (Book 2)

Hunter #2.5, (Short Story)

Enchanter, (Book 3)

Healer, (Book 4)

Chaser, (Book 5)

Pirate Princess, (Book 6)


Billionaire Bodyguards Series

Billionaire Bodyguard Attraction, (Book 1)

Billionaire Bodyguard Boss, (Book 2)

Billionaire Bodyguard Fling, (Short Story Book 3)




PROTECTOR


by Joanne Wadsworth


Princesses of Myth, Book One



Cover Copy

Also by Joanne Wadsworth

PROTECTOR

Dedication

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Warrior, Book 2 - Next in This Series

Hunter, Book #2.5

Enchanter, Book 3

Healer, Book 4

Chaser, Book 5

Pirate Princess, Book 6

Joanne Wadsworth

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Other Series by Joanne Wadsworth

Copyright: Protector



Dedication


For my hubby, who cooks dinner while I write and brings home my favorite chocolate.


Acknowledgements


Huge thanks to my hubby, Jason, and kiddies, Marisa, Caleb, Cruise and Rocco. You allow me so much time to write, and I love you for it. With each book I publish, another dream becomes fulfilled. Your incredible support means the world to me.

For my readers, from the depths of my heart, I thank you for joining me, where imagination and magic soar.

Hugs to you all.




Chapter 1


“Faith. Hey, Earth to Faith Stryker.” Silvie Carver snapped her fingers and bobbed her head of fiery red-gold hair in front of me.

“Don’t you dare say it, Silvie.” Her thoughts bombarded me, dropped right into my mind as if I’d conjured them up myself. I shook my head forcefully. “We’re in class and there are other students around.” Except no one could halt my best friend when she had to get something off her mind, not even me.

“Faith, it’s gotta be said.” She inhaled sharply. “You need to get laid. You need someone fun to…well, you know what.”

Ugh. Elbows on the desk, I dropped my head into my cupped palms. Because there it was—Silvie’s answer to the fact we were both now eighteen and still completely single.

I lifted my head, stared her down. “Did you not hear me say we were in class, Silvie? Your timing for that analysis completely sucks. Besides, we should be studying for our end of year exams. A boyfriend comes after exams, which applies to both you and me.”

I snuck a look around the classroom, but yeah, I was now the current spectacle because unfortunately for me, Silvie’s voice could carry just as blisteringly hot as her stunning, wildfire red hair.

It didn’t help that one of our fellow male students now appeared riveted on our conversation, and giving me the worst slumberous wink I’d ever seen. “She wasn’t meaning I should have sex with you, Caleb Stiles. Look the other way.” I turned my hostile stare back on Silvie since she was the one who deserved it. “You, Silvie Carver, better sit down before I knock you down. I can’t believe you just said that, or why I always put up with you and your big mouth.”

She only laughed as she shamelessly scraped one of the blue-gray metal school chairs around next to mine. She plopped herself down on it, dropping her English books, refill pad and pen in front of her onto the desk. Next, she stretched her legs out as far as she could and crossed them idly at her ankles. “Well, this conversation isn’t over. I’m sure Belle would agree.”

“Don’t you dare bring Belle into this.” Somehow I’d managed to lower my voice and inflict some kind of control into it.

Silvie scooped her blue pen back up, casually twirled it in mid-air around her first three fingers. This aeronautical pen trick of hers always captivated me, but not right now. Because right now, I was more than peeved. I’d had the worst week ever since my eighteenth birthday, and I mean the— Worst. Week. Ever. No one should have to live through the tribulations I’d just experienced, and was still experiencing, no thanks to Belle Benner still being in town.

Silvie wagged one brow as her gaze rose over my shoulder. “Too late, Faith. Belle’s here. She and I have also been talking.”

Great. Just grrreat.

Belle pulled out the school chair on the other side of me, her dark locks settling with stunning abandon about her tiny waist as she twirled around and sat. She did everything with such finesse. Even the simple act of her sitting was like watching a moving piece of art. So moving, I had quizzed her about being a ballerina. She just had this way about every precise movement she made. Dainty and delicate.

“So what were you two talking about? I didn’t have my ears tuned precisely in,” Belle said as she tossed her pad and pen with an artful glide onto her desk. Her slim fingers came around and smoothed her silky mass of dark hair behind one ear.

I snapped my fingers, finally pinpointing exactly who Belle looked like. It was that young star female lead off High School Musical. The one who got the basketball guy and sang and danced with him.

Focus, Faith. I asked what you two were talking about. I didn’t have my hearing turned up.

There Belle went again with that telepathic skill of hers, speaking mind to mind, always trying to draw me into her mysterious world. I sighed and gave in since she knew I would’ve heard her. “Silvie thinks I should get laid.” I pushed the words along our newly formed telepathic link, the crazy link we’d created on the night of my eighteenth birthday. We’d been speaking privately like this for the past few days, something Belle called a strength skill, but something I called plain crazy.

Beyond crazy.

Only she seemed to have more insight than me into this odd, spinning frenzy that had become my life these past seven mind-boggling days. She insisted my skills came from the same place as hers, and that place was another planet in this universe—one named after their timeless skills—one she referred to as Magio.

I can feel your resistance. We are from Magio. I’ve told you this over and over since we first connected last week. I’m an empath and can feel your emotions.

I heard you say so the last one-hundred times. It doesn’t mean I have to believe you.” I sent her a very long eye roll. “My mother doesn’t have any of the skills I’ve been developing since my birthday. So there simply can’t be an alternate planet called Magio. Believe me, I’ve been scouring the NASA website for any link on this mysterious planet you’ve been spouting nonsense about. There’s nothing. Nada. Zilch. Nilch. Got that or do we speak a separate language as well?

She gave me her own dark eye roll back. “Obviously, you won’t find anything about Magio on the NASA website. Get real. If such a thing happened, the powers that be on Earth would no doubt try to bomb us to smithereens. We live a simple existence, like that of your people hundreds of years ago. We don’t harbor advanced technology as you do.

Quite frankly, I’d had enough of her talk about this other planet and this other country called Peacio. My mother was human. I was human. In fact, for eighteen years I’d been just a regular—or as regular as I could get—New Zealand girl. It was Belle who was the problem. I’d only known her for three short, unnerving months. I couldn’t shake her, and on top of that, I had no answer for this telepathy, thought-reading, and other unmentionables.

Right, let’s agree to disagree on this subject. I was getting a headache, just as I always did around her.

Silvie nudged my arm from the other side, winking while a sassy grin tugged at her lips. “Are you two talking privately again? That mind thingy-majigimy you two do?”

“Yes, and it’s about Peacio again.” Frowning, I pursed my lips. “You’ve seen those paranormal programs, haven’t you? It’s not uncommon for some of those weird beasties to speak mind to mind. That’s all this is about. I don’t believe there’s another planet like Earth out there.” And I didn’t believe I was a weird beastie either, just a weird human being it seemed.

Silvie chuckled and sighed almost dreamily. “You two are so funny. I only wish I could do what you do.”

Sheesh. I slapped my forehead, dropping my chin. My best friend needed a mind transplant. No one I knew would want to be this different this early on in life. I sat between two crazy people. I tapped my scratched up desktop, having no idea where to go from here.

“Talk to me.” Belle squeezed my shoulder. “What’s bothering you the most?”

“Everything, but most of all, I’d really like to know why I put up with either of you.” I couldn’t shake them if I tried.

Belle smiled, ignoring my rude comment as she had a terrible tendency to do whenever I slung one at her. “You put up with me because you and I share a common trait. Our home planet—whether you believe it or not.” She paused to peer past me at Silvie. “And you put up with Silvie because she’s like a sister to you. You know I can feel that.”

“Oh, would you just quit with the whole empath thing.” I threw my arms in the air. “I wasn’t exactly asking why I put up with you. I was letting off some steam. I mean really.” Still flinging my arms about. “You don’t have to over-analyze every single little word I say.”

I fell back into my chair, beginning to count, enforcing more than a little necessary timeout to calm down.

“What are you doing now?” Belle nibbled on her lower lip. “I’m getting such a strange reversal of feelings from you.”

“That’s because I’m trying to ignore your presence. For a blessed moment it worked.”

Leaning into me, Silvie chuckled. “Faith’s regrouping, Belle. It’s her calming thing. Give her a minute to wind down after all your talk of Peacio. You’ve been infuriating her with it for far too long. Particularly when she’s used to only me infuriating her, so getting a double dose lately hasn’t been easy for her.”

I rolled my shoulders in an effort to release the tension, hating how Silvie was so accepting of Belle’s talk of all things Peacio and I was not. But then I was the one hearing Belle’s voice in my head along with everyone’s random thoughts when they spewed forth. Yeah, that was lucky old me.

I squirmed in my chair and let out a haggard breath. “Let’s talk about Peacio later, guys.” As Belle would no doubt want to do since she was like a dog with a bone on that subject. “Mrs. Gray’s on her way, and I need to focus one-hundred percent on English and not some mystical otherworld.”

Belle gave me a strange look with her exotic eyes. “You can still sense when someone is coming? You’re picking up their thoughts?

Great. She was back to speaking privately. It seemed like it was her job to constantly remind me of exactly how odd I now was. I moaned with great exaggeration.

Only if they’re broadcasting strongly. Mrs. Gray is crossing the quad, examining how to prepare us for finals. I’d latched onto that. “So, are you still insisting this grows into forethought, the same thing your supposed King Carlisio has?” That was like the proverbial nail in the coffin, for Belle mentioning a fictional king had made me completely desert her farfetched notions.

Don’t flick me off again, she growled. “King Carlisio Loveria is a wise ruler and it’s because of his rare skill of forethought. As one of his Peacio protectors, I won’t abide my ruler’s name being disparaged.

Excellent. Now we were back to the whole Peacio protector thing again. I needed to do more than just flick Belle off—I needed to have her locked up in the insane ward. This time I chose to ignore all the impulses to respond, instead busying myself with my workbook. Now was not the time or place for this argument, not when—whoa.

Someone walking with Mrs. Gray released a bombardment of thoughts. They soared right at me. Thoughts belonging to a new student.

A male by the tone in his mind.

Yep, definitely a male. He questioned Mrs. Gray about me, said he knew me.

Mrs. Gray rounded the corner, her salt-and-pepper hair short, straight and styled up higher over her forehead to add volume to the thinning mass. She spoke, although she dimmed into the background as the male stepped forward, his gaze cutting straight to me.

The entire room quietened.

I’d never seen him before, couldn’t lower my gaze and break the intense eye contact between us. Such raw power emanated from him, along with a seductive aura that completely fuzzed my mind. My traitorous thoughts spun. He must be at least six foot four, far taller than any of the other boys in our class. His hair held a slight wave and was that teasing shade in between dark blond and brown, the longer length just sweeping his shoulders. His eyes were to die for, their liquid brown speckled with gold, the darker color the same exact shade as his hair.

Oh, yum, yum, yum.

He rolled his shoulders and the white t-shirt he wore stretched tight over rippling muscles. Blue jeans sat low on his hips, the bottoms tucked carelessly into a pair of black ankle-high boots with thick silver buckles.

My mouth dried out and I licked my lips.

His gaze zoomed in on them, and my cheeks heated. Oh heck, maybe Silvie was right, maybe I did need to get laid. Mmm, and he’d surely make the perfect candidate.

Oh, and the way he stared at me in return just melted me. The fire in his eyes set a glow to the golden flecks and lit them brilliantly. In the mere few seconds that had passed, this stranger had disarmed me, his hot gaze running up and down my body.

Hold on. I jerked my head back. Was he really checking me out?

I turned to check who sat behind me, because I was surely wrong, except the last desk in the room remained clear of any student. “Who’s he looking at?” I whispered to Belle.

“That’s Davio Loveria, the king’s grandson, and he’s looking at you.”

What? Did Belle just say that man, that new male student was the king’s grandson?

The fictional king?

From the fictional country of Peacio?

Surely Belle hadn’t gone quite so far as to acquire a co-conspirator.

Jeez, Belle, and if I ask that new student if he’s a prince of Peacio, will he actually confirm it?” I reverted to our telepathic connection since I didn’t need anyone else hearing what I now had to say. “I mean, do you really think for one second I don’t believe you are completely and utterly nuts?

Seriously.

I needed to get Belle a straightjacket and lock her up pronto.

She cracked a smile. “No, silly. With your emerging forethought skill, King Carlisio sent Davio to assess the situation as reinforcement to me as your protector. After Davio turned eighteen earlier this year, even he did not show any signs of the rare skill which his grandfather has. It’s sadly skipped two generations in the Loveria family and so far, you are the only one outside of the royal line who shows any signs of it. Why do you think I’m still here and have not returned home?

I quirked a suspicious brow and retaliated. “Because you to live to pester me.

Easy answer.

I’m afraid the girl was on her way to being institutionalized. There was no hope for her. Not now.

No,” she fired right back at me. “Because you are too valuable to be left unattended. You need protection.

I blew out a harsh breath, right in her face. “For the millionth, billionth, zillionth time, I am growing very weary of all this Peacio crap.” Would she never give up?

That was when her declaration sent shockwaves through me. Surprised, my jaw landed somewhere down in my lap. Now why would she feel the need to protect me? And protect me against what?

Okay, it seemed I was actually going to go there. “Exactly what are you protecting me from?

You can read thoughts, a skill that develops into forethought, and depending on how strong it is, it can’t be permitted to go under the radar. I’m a protector. Once your forethought develops, you will need me by your side to instruct you.

Belle was so matter of fact about everything she said. For a brief moment, I felt the first fluttering of belief in her, then it cemented, making me groan out loud. I needed to discover if there was any possible truth in all that she’d told me this past week. I mean, I couldn’t exactly deny these skills that had arrived to torment me.

I want to meet with Davio Loveria. I want to hear from the newcomer”—who was now sitting in his assigned seat at the front of the class—“what he has to say without any interference from you.

Belle’s lips lifted, and she answered with speed. “Excellent. Would now be an appropriate time?

I observed the princely hunk’s side profile, gathering my strength. “After class. Lunchtime. On the field.” I needed another forty-five minutes to fortify myself. “You, me and him.

* * * *

It was the beginning of spring, the first week of September, and I’d chosen an isolated spot under a large, yellow-green umbrella leaf tree on the outskirts of the school’s grassy area. Belle waited with me where the sunlight dappled through the loose formation of foliage and warmed the ground. I propped my backpack against the tree, hooked my thumb into the belt loop of my snug blue denim miniskirt and hoped I exuded at least a little confidence.

Belle rubbed her palms down her short, scarlet cotton dress and stepped forward to greet the newcomer as he crossed the lawn. “Welcome, Davio.” Belle turned and extended her hand toward me. “This is Miss Faith Stryker.”

“Thank you, Belle. So this is the one Carlisio says has forethought?” Davio narrowed his gaze on me as he stood there, his bearing firm as he clasped Belle’s arm, and far too intimately for my liking. Which I really shouldn’t have noticed, or should even care about.

Only I couldn’t help but frown at the cozy image they made. Exactly how well did these two know each other? And why did the man still look completely edible? Those blue jeans of his molded his long legs and made me drool for a bite.

Frustrated, I ground my teeth together, lifted my chin and stepped forward. “Yes, I’m the one who has forethought, and I’d say nice to meet you, but I’m not sure that’s wise.” Not wise at all.

Damn. Why was I so irritated? The man had set all my nerves on edge.

“Belle told me you’re a prince of Peacio. How do I know that’s the truth?” Hungry for more information, I siphoned through his thoughts using the skill Belle kept referring to as my burgeoning forethought. Hopefully I’d find this was all an elaborate and totally explainable ruse.

“I can feel you in my mind.” Davio released her arm and stepped closer, touched his forehead then immediately blocked, the same as Belle was able to do when I got too nosy filtering through her mind.

Now there was nothing, although not quite like with Belle. A block existed, yet I still found myself settling into a soft spot within his mind that seemed to be reserved just for me.

I gave him a cocky grin, and he damn well returned it, seriously peeving me further. “So, I guess I have to believe you’re the grandson of Peacio’s supposed king. David is it?”

One masculine brow quirked. “Davio, not David, but yes, I’m Carlisio’s sole grandson. Who is your father?”

“At present I don’t know and quite frankly, I’ve never cared.” I didn’t either. I had the world’s most fabulous mother, one who’d provided all I’d ever needed in life. While the man who’d irresponsibly provided the other half of my genes to give me that life had never stayed to even say one simple hello.

Davio crossed his arms, frowning as he drew one-step closer. “Father aside, let’s concentrate on what you’re doing right now. You are lodged within my mind—” He stopped, shook his head as if clearing it, then took another decided step forward. “There’s a warmth, like a merging or a similar form of alternate connection, I’ve never experienced before. What is it you’re doing?”

No sooner had he said the words, did I find myself dropping out of that soft spot I’d found and ending the merge he’d noted. Bad move. Ouch. I grabbed my head as my mind demanded to return to his. What the—I jerked, shoved a hand up and tried to halt his sudden advancement. “Stay right there.”

A sharp stinging pain took me as he bore down on me. “No. Stop.” I clutched my chest, gasping as more pain lanced through me. Somehow Davio’s presence caused it.

Against my wishes, my mind pierced back into his and bedded down into that soft place that brought a sense of rightness along with it. I fell against him, grabbed his arm, the closer contact with him somehow now ceasing the pain and my turbulent emotions all at once.

What on earth was going on?

I took a moment, breathing deep, the warmth within his mind rolling through to me. “This is the strangest thing,” I murmured, awestruck. “Can you truly feel my mind merged with yours?”

“I can.” He pressed his hand over my hand on his arm. “You’re in my head. I can feel your presence, but be aware you’ll not get a single thought from me since I’m now blocked.”

Clearly a set down, putting me in my place.

I gritted my teeth and dropped my hand. I backed up, and the moment I did, the pain returned and all I wanted to do was strike out at him. “I didn’t mean to pry, but this is all new to me.” Bewitchingly new. Belle had told me bits here and there, yet it would certainly take more evidence to completely sway me to her side.

Annoyance coursed through me as he glowered.

Circling me, his gaze slanted as his enormous body threatened. “Now, aren’t you a pesky little enigma.”

I curled my fingers inward, nails biting into my palms. “So my mother constantly says, Prince Davio.”

He came back around to stand in front. “It’s just Davio to you. Don’t forget where we are. I hardly need someone from outside of my home world to hear you.”

“We’re all alone out here in case you missed it.” My gut clenched into an awful mess.

“Apart from this skill of mind-merge, you know what I believe is happening between us.”

“Well, not if you don’t share it.”

“You and I are bonded,” he said with a hard, defiant tone.

“I’m sorry, we’re what?” Please let that not be what it sounded like. The word bonded certainly rang with the term of something rather deep to me, and I didn’t want deep with him.

“No, being bonded isn’t a what, Faith Stryker. Being bonded is a how.” Then he reared over me, almost toppling me over.

“Hey,” I growled, slamming a hand into him. “Attempting to intimidate me will get you nowhere.”

“We’re somehow bonded, your soul to my soul, although how that could be is beyond my understanding since you’re clearly of Earth and I’m not. Who are your parents, and how did you come to have forethought?”

Huh, as if I knew how. I didn’t even want the stupid skill I’d come into the week before. “First, I’ve always lived on Earth. Second, I have only my mother, who I might add has outdone herself in raising me.”

“What of your father? Where exactly is he?”

“I don’t know.” I had to force myself to hold his very dominant gaze. “Nor do I care.” My chest tightened, and not because I spoke of my father, but because of this man’s presence. So many emotions battered me, from roaring desire to fierce anger, and all dependent on how close he was.

“Father aside, I feel the deep tension between us. It’s too physical.”

“I agree, and I’ve decided I don’t want to meet you after all. Let’s forget this past morning ever happened and you can wing your way back to your lovely little planet of Magio.” However he managed to do that winging. Yeah, curiosity bit me swiftly in the butt. I should have asked Belle before how she’d managed to get here from Magio, only if I had, that would have likely given her too much of an opening in order to push more onto me.

“I don’t understand.” Belle stepped forward, her lips pinched. “Surely, this is impossible. You two simply can’t be mated. She’s a Halfling.”

“I don’t understand either.” I gave her a glare. “So let’s just forget everything, and you can take him away.”

“I can’t.” Her hands trembled as she pushed them through her dark hair. “I can’t interfere in a mated relationship. It is a soul-bound calling, one fixed between the two of you.” Her wide gaze begged understanding. “You have to understand. Only half of our population are mated once they come into their adult strength skills at eighteen. The male always senses the bond after he makes direct contact with his female. This is what has happened. It seems you are mated to our prince.”

I gulped. Again, not something I wanted to hear, yet if this was all real, then that meant I was likely in a world of trouble. “Okay, so we’re mated.” I turned on Davio. “Which is clearly all your fault. Why on earth would you allow a soul bond to form between us?”

“The soul bond actually forms of its own accord, and usually not long after birth. Although it’s only once a Magioling reaches adulthood that the two become aware of that bond. Until then, little is known.” He snagged my hand. “You are not one of my people. I’m not happy about that.”

I waited a moment, tortured at his tight hold and at the scowl darkening his face. He clearly detested this moment, and the discovery of our bond, just as much as I did. “Then quit touching me.” I jerked my hand free. “If you can’t tell, I’m not happy about that.”

He winced, the first sign that he wasn’t anything other than mad. “I will try. I can see you need some space.” He stepped away, propped his back against the wide trunk of the tree.

Now given the opportunity, I too scooted back.

Then it happened.

Once we reached five feet of distance between us, a strange calmness descended over me. I breathed out the last of my tension and closed my eyes, then groaned as Belle tapped at my mind along our telepathic link.

Ooo-kay,” she murmured, “You need to tell me exactly what’s going on with you? First and foremost, I’m your friend.

I ignored her, feeling a touch bad, and instead opened my eyes and took in the man who’d dropped into my life and tossed it all about within one single morning. His thoughts blared loud and clear as he eyed me blatantly in return. The light blond color of my hair captivated him, the fine strands catching the sunlight sparkling through the leaves and making the golden hue glow like woven silk.

I grimaced.

He studied my eyes, found the unusual violet color incredibly intriguing.

“Stop it.” I crossed my arms with a slap. “Can’t you block again?”

“I don’t wish to right now.” He tilted his chin and straightened as he pushed off the tree. “It isn’t just the color of your eyes I find intriguing, but you as well.”

“I’d rather you keep your unhelpful words to yourself too.” Damn it. Now he neared. I hated that every time he came so close, I turned aggressive. “Stay there.”

My blustery warning was loud and clear, but he didn’t break his stride. “I can’t stop myself. It’s this stupid, stubborn bond. Finding my mate should never have been like this. It obviously shouldn’t have been with a Halfling and someone not of my world.”

“Amen to that,” I grumbled as he ruthlessly closed in.

I threw up a hand against his oncoming assault and tried to halt him. Too late.

My palm hit his chest, his momentum driving me back several steps. Oh boy. I flushed as my aggression instantly dissolved. So strange. When he touched me, the hard emotions promptly disappeared, the pain and anger sliding right away.

“You’re more than an enigma.” Davio leaned over me, all six foot four of him, his warm honey-brown hair falling forward to curl snugly around his neck, and I longed for him, just as I had during my first sighting of him in the classroom.

“Why do I suddenly want you this close?”

“What’s happening is the bond, my mate. It will become difficult for me to keep my distance from you, both physically and emotionally. The same goes for you, unless of course I leave and end this now.”

“You really want to leave?” My heart hitched and I swayed closer. “Is that how this bond works? We find each other and then you leave?”

“No, it never happens that way. Those who are mated are bonded for life if we allow our souls their desire, except that would be the most unwise choice for us to take. You are, quite clearly, neither from my country nor from my world, and as such will have no allegiance to me or my people. I have no wish to join with one who doesn’t wish to join with me in all ways. With that being the case, I will find another when the time is right. As should you,” he added solemnly.

“Hold on.” Did he just say he would be joining with another woman?

I bit my tongue. That was good? I should leave it at that, right?

Jeez, what was wrong with me for questioning that choice?

“I’m sorry. We just met, and you’re right. Go find your, your—” Strangely, I struggled to get the words out and finally gave up. “Well, have yourself a nice long life, and all that.” I patted his chest roughly.

That was better.

The clock ticked and time slowed.

He didn’t move.

“Look at me.” With one finger sliding under my chin, he tipped my gaze to his. “This would never work.”

“I understand. It’s been pretty awful meeting you. I certainly don’t want to be bonded to you for life.” I tried to pull my mind from the soft spot where I’d bedded down, but had no luck. I actually detested the thought of letting go.

Perhaps I’d try physically first. I leaned back, only he moved his hand around to the small of my back and prevented me.

I gripped his arm. “Okay, you were going.”

This was going to be the world’s fastest breakup—no, non-breakup since we hadn’t even been together. “Let go of me so that can happen.”

Ultimately, neither of us needed the complication of the other in our life. I didn’t want a bonded relationship, not when I had high school to finish and university on my horizon.

Releasing me, he clipped his heels together and inclined his head. “Belle will remain another day, and even though she told me you two have a telepathic connection, you should take the opportunity to learn more about your growing skills while she’s here. Afterward, Carlisio will keep an eye on you, and Belle can return as necessary.”

A heavy pressure once again pulsed through my blood, and that strange pain when we weren’t touching skin-to-skin, rolled through me. “Sure.”

I inched closer, closed my fingers around his arm, the necessary and instant relief palpable. I didn’t understand this need, although it was definitely real Tentatively, I spread my fingers wider and blew out a breath. “Can I ask you one last question?”

“Absolutely.”

“Did Carlisio’s forethought not tell him all that would transpire today? Is that not how this skill he and I both have works?”

“No, any visions he has are mere snapshots and not greatly identifiable. The future is fully changeable as my grandfather doesn’t interfere in this way. One must always have free choice.”

“Good.” That I appreciated hearing. “I guess Carlisio thought it was right to send Belle to me here?”

“Yes.” His gaze switched to Belle. “I’ll send Sorrell to retrieve you tomorrow.” Without warning, he took my hand from his arm and lifted my fingers to his lips, his turbulent gaze returning to mine. “Take peace in the fact that what is between us would never work. We simply don’t belong together.” His tone, deep and flawless, was filled with firm decision.

Then he released me and shimmered, his form becoming transparent as he disappeared from my sight. He could teleport? Holy moly.

Shock at his fast departure, which in fact answered my question about how he and Belle had gotten here in the first place, roared through me. I tumbled to the ground and sank my fingers deep into the cold grass underneath me. The air tasted stale, as if in that very moment when he’d flashed away, he’d taken whatever fresh air swirled and sucked it away with him.

“He’s gone?” Astonishment and a definite spasm of pained grief shook me. “It hurts.” Now that shouldn’t have happened.

Belle scooted in beside me, and grasped my shoulder. “You wish him back?”

“No-ooo.” I shook my head. “Don’t get me wrong, but your prince made his choice, and I won’t even consider swaying his mind. He is far better back where he belongs, as are you.”

I had Silvie.

My mother too.

In fact, men had never been a constant in my life, starting right from my defective father who I’d never known, and now Davio who couldn’t have left quicker if I’d been the one to push him away.

I mean, who needed men anyway?

I pulled my knees to my chest and hugged them tightly. Ultimately, Silvie and my mother were the only people in the world who mattered to me. They would always be right by my side.




Chapter 2


Still partially in a daze, I jogged home from school after Davio’s departure. I hit the pavement along Centennial Park, my backpack strapped to my back and my PE gear of navy shorts and a white t-shirt and sneakers still on from last period. Best to do what I normally did and not wallow in Davio’s leaving anymore. This park was beautiful too, and captured my attention. It consisted of miles of green trees and gardens with a ten-foot wide, meandering blacktop drive, the common ground following a leisurely path as it wove snakelike in and around the town. It linked schools and homes, and delivered a safe pathway for cyclists, runners and schoolchildren, the park’s aged trees providing natural coverage against the elements.

I caught up to and passed primary school students walking home. Their home-time bell rang almost a half hour before ours, and my fellow classmates chattered with their younger siblings as they joined them.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have any younger siblings. It was just Mum and me, and even though there were occasional times when a real craving to share my life with a sibling struck me, I thankfully had Silvie instead to fill that gap. She was my best friend, she was my sister, the one I’d been raised with since childhood. Baby photos taken of us together in the very beginning showed Silvie with her cute red-gold locks, and me with my pale skin and tufts of blond hair just starting to grow.

I smiled and picked up my pace, fairly flying home.

Along my street, I streamed along, my long hair whipping behind me like a full-blown sail and—whoa. I couldn’t slow down. My pace increased even though that was the last thing I wanted.

Oh boy. What was happening now?

I screamed as I almost took out my mother’s newly painted gray mailbox, freaked and locked my knees. Bad move. I hurtled, head over feet then skidded across the slippery grass on my backside. Crap! My mother’s newly composted vegetable garden loomed. I tumbled and rolled headfirst into the ripest, stinkiest soil on the road.

Swearing at the stupid vegetable garden, I scuttled out and found my feet. Of all the senseless luck. Surely Belle could have warned me about this increased speed skill I’d soon be coming in to, because that’s what it surely had to be. A skill her people from Magio held. I’d never moved so fast in my entire life. Not a human speed at all.

After flinging the muck from my butt and my fingers, I tramped inside and marched down the hallway of our two bedroom, brown brick and tile home. I needed a shower. And I needed it pronto.

Snapping up the brass lever in my shower, I dealt with the stench as the burst of water sprayed on me. And why couldn’t I get Mr. Royal-pain-in-the-butt Highness out of my head? Every five seconds I thought of him.

Questions raced through my mind. Like where was Magio? And how long had it taken Davio to flash home? Because that hadn’t been some nifty little trick.

Shaking my head, I hated that I couldn’t disperse these thoughts of him just as easily as he had done with me.

Although I didn’t give in. I would attempt to dispel all thoughts of him yet.

I dried off and changed, walked into my violet and cream bedroom and shuffled my homework about on my student desk. I’d try to get my mind into gear and off the man who’d left me before we’d really even met. It was a hard thought to tolerate though, being cast aside so quickly and easily by him.

I sat.

I nibbled on my fingernail and reluctantly closed my eyes.

Then I just couldn’t help myself. I needed to see his image.

I pulled it from my memory, and let out a staggered breath as his form crystallized with stunning clarity before me. Damn, he hadn’t been so hot looking, surely.

I bit back a sigh.

“Why did you have to make the decision to leave so quickly?” I asked his illusionary image. “I mean, I know you said the bond develops and cements fast but surely we could have had a few more minutes, you know, before you poofed out of there and completely left me without another word. You worthless, worthless—”

Huh, I was acting irrational. I hadn’t even liked him.

And of course, the dirt bag didn’t bother to answer me. His obstinate form wavered and disappeared, just as the real obnoxious man had so effortlessly done.

Yeah, teleportation. I couldn’t deny I’d seen that in action.

I shook my head in frustration. I was such an undecided female. Now, he’d left me with very little persuasion on my part to stay, but that didn’t mean he should have.

Still, I had to cease these unnecessary and completely unhelpful thoughts. What was done was done.

I had a future. One I’d already planned.

One which was vitally important to study for, which meant textbook.

I flicked to the right page, gritted my teeth and forced my mind to where it should be.

Several uneventful minutes ticked by.

I heaved a frustrated sigh because there was nothing going through my foolish mind but him.

Stupid, stupid bond. I bet Davio wasn’t having these insane thoughts.

After another endless minute, I gave up, pushed away from my desk and walked to my full-length corner mirror.

Reflecting back at me was a pitiful young woman in frayed, blue denim jeans and an overstretched coral t-shirt. My feet were bare and my damp hair messy. I appeared as unraveled and exposed as I currently felt.

Birthdays truly were the pits.

I dropped into a tangled heap onto the violet covers of my bed. “Yeah, birthdays sucked big time.”

I crossed my hands behind my head and glared at the ceiling. Turning eighteen had sure been monumental. My hearing was now phenomenal if I turned it up and focused, and my running speed, well, my running speed was world-class spectacular if one actually wanted it that way.

I channeled my superb hearing to the front door as the clear creak of it opening traveled to me.

“Hey, Faith, it’s just me.” A key jingling and Silvie closed the door with a thunk.

Well, at least the precise hearing was a nice bonus. “Bedroom,” I called back. “Mum’s at work.” Where she usually was since apparently I needed to be fed, clothed and housed, as she liked to point out.

“Hey, I brought Belle with me.” Silvie blew into the room with her far too cheerful bounce. “I heard all about the prince.”

I bolted upright, hooked my knees over the side of the bed and scooted forward. “Come in, guys. I do have one day for all things Peacio to be explained.”

Belle followed behind Silvie, a worried expression on her face. She dropped in beside me and muttered, “Clearly the situation today didn’t end well. I believe, and I say this with the best of intentions, that Davio should have given you more time than he quite obviously did.”

“Ooo-kay.” Where was she heading with this?

“Davio never told you about Dralion or about the war that rages between us and our neighboring country. He should have done that.”

“Well, then tell me. Davio has left you here for a day. Is this Dralion and this war something of significant importance to me?”

“Hostility has raged between our two nations for centuries. To explain, you must understand that Peacio is rich in raw mineral deposits compared to the neighboring land of Dralion. Dralion is ruled by its monarchy, a King Donaldo Wincrest and his son, Prince Alexo. The tension between Peacio and Dralion is ugly. The Wincrests want what the Loverias have and it’s been that way for too many centuries to count. Davio’s battle is one that has continued from generation to generation, and you’re his mate, his soul match, the one woman who should be standing by his side, not standing unknown a million miles away. Davio should not have turned away from you so easily, not af—”

“Hey, hey, hold on. I’m a Halfling. New Zealand is my country. This is my place of birth. There’s no standing by his side. He ’ported away.”

“Yes, but Magiolings have strength skills which are imprinted into our DNA and passed on from parent to child. You have forethought—an ability not seen outside of the Loveria family for as long as Peacian history has recorded it.” Leaning forward, she continued, “Around ten percent of our people can teleport as Davio can. Most have excellent hearing along with the sharpest eyesight. Then there are our elite protectors who usually hold these skills plus necessary battle skills and fast-healing. Next, are those like me who hold other strength skills, all varied and spread out in some form or another. Although, a stronger lineage denotes stronger skills, as does the resulting mated matches being blessed with higher skilled offspring. How you’ve come to hold one of the strongest, rarest skills on our planet is shocking, particularly when you’re a Halfling.”

“Well, don’t ask me how I came about that skill.” I gritted my teeth, sensing exactly where this conversation was headed. “Let’s not forget Davio left and he’s not coming back.” I wanted to pace the room, but I stayed on the bed, my nerves tied into a knot. “Nothing you say will change that.”

Belle twiddled her fingers together, straining the knuckles white. “Yes, but as an empath I’m driven by feelings. I can’t leave without giving you all the facts.” She gave me a small smile as she paused for breath. “Now you’re listening—truly listening, and I need to take advantage of that.”

She was right. I needed to hear what she had to say, particularly when my forethought fully came into being. “Go right ahead then.”

“Thank you.” Belle smiled reassuringly. “One of the most important things you need to know is that our people no longer physically age past the age of eighteen, and we live easily to around one-hundred and twenty.”

“I—what?” I coughed raggedly, almost choking on that piece of unheard of news. “Please tell me you’re joking. One-hundred and twenty years?” She couldn’t be right. “L-looking like this?” I plucked numbly at the tight skin of my cheeks.

“Yes.”

I flicked a hand to her temple and double-checked her temperature.

“I know it’s a shock, but you’ll look just as you are now until the day you die. This is knowledge you should have, particularly when you’ll need to deal with the fact that you won’t age as other humans do. People will eventually notice that.”

I gulped and sent Silvie a very worried “help me” look. Except she inclined her head as if acknowledging Belle’s words and agreed. Obviously no aid from that quarter.

Turning back to Belle, I cleared my throat and tried to make her see reason. “O-kay-doe-kay, so you’re telling me I won’t be getting any gray hair, right?”

“No, not a strand.” Her gaze softened, and she squeezed my hand. “Adulthood is reached at eighteen. We come into our strength skills at eighteen. We don’t age physically past eighteen, but we do eventually die. Like I said, we live easily to one-hundred and twenty.”

My eyes almost rolled to the back of my head. “You seem to forget that I’ve never paid much attention to your previous ranting and raving of strength skills until I actually showed signs of them myself, and about reaching adulthood at eighteen, well, you’ve never once said Magiolings never aged.” I stuck both hands on my hips. “It sounds impossible.”

“Yet it’s still true, and provided you have the information that’s all that matters. Given time, you’ll see the truth for yourself.”

I wagged my finger at her, then dropped it. I needed more information, and I needed it now. “Does every Magioling have strength skills?”

“No. Not at all. At times, brothers and sisters born to the same parents differ. One may have multiple skills and the other some, or even none at all. It’s simply the luck of the draw as far as we can understand it.”

“What else can you tell me? I want details of Magio and the people. Do you not have specialized scientists as we do who can provide this information?”

She shook her head. “I’m not pre-cognitive, and we don’t live in an age as advanced as yours is in this scientific field. We don’t have such strategic technology, nor do we desire it. Peacians live by a different standard, one of simplicity and selfless giving. Our children are raised within villages by their immediate and extended family and not within bustling concrete cities where one passes another in the street that they do not know. The Loveria royal family lead, and it has been that way since the first male in their line was gifted with the knowledge of forethought and could guide us.”

“So is that how Carlisio knew to send you here three months ago? Did he have forewarning I would need our friendship, to believe in a world I can’t see?”

“Yes. Now you’re beginning to understand the wider picture. Carlisio knew I would be needed here and before you turned eighteen and met Davio for the first time. He saw your image, the image of a young Earth woman who was important to someone close to him, although he didn’t know exactly to whom. The king’s gift is not as strong as his father’s before him, and you heard Davio say his grandfather’s visions are like snapshots in time, ones he must decipher to the best of his ability. Our choices are our own and Carlisio doesn’t take that away from us. Now it’s obvious you are Davio’s mate. A mate he has decided not to appreciate when most men are overprotective where their soul-bound one is concerned.”

She edged forward. “Nothing can compare to the chemistry and our need of the one our soul is created for, and no mated male does well without his chosen female if he is one of the fortunate ones to receive one. Any feelings for another will be slow in coming, as is for all Magiolings who don’t find their soul bound mate.”

“What about you? Are you mated?”

“I haven’t been found.” A simple answer and her tone held sadness. “Yet should you ever wish to make a stand and have Davio return, I will aid you. We have our telepathic connection and it can cross the divide.”

“Hold on. Davio isn’t returning. You were there and he was pretty adamant about us not working out. Besides,” I said and flicked my fingers upward. “I’m quite happy if he stays there. We’ll both move on.”

Belle heaved a deep sigh. “If you change your mind, you must tell me.” Then a rolling wave of contrasting reassurance and comfort emanated from her, and soaked into me. “Trust me. Davio will be suffering from his decision. The male’s emotions regarding his female are all-consuming, and that’s part of the bond the males have no control over. Have you noticed your thoughts returning to him? Dwelling on him?”

There was clearly not going to be a simple answer to that question, but I gave it a shot. “A touch. Maybe a bit more.” I lifted my chin, stared down my nose at her. “But not in a good way.” That was important to point out. “So, say I believe you about all this male-female bonded stuff. Why would I ever want to convince Davio to take on a Halfling when I would only be detrimental to his line? Out of curiosity, of course.”

Silvie rested her hand on my back, her quiet touch reminding me of her presence as she said, “Perhaps you need to stop overanalyzing and just go with the flow.”

“Nope, I barely know him.” Yet a niggling doubt reared its ugly head, one that said I could know him if I wished, one that a brief second later I firmly quashed.

Belle stared at me, a thoughtful look in her eyes. “Faith, you forget I can feel your emotions. You are the soul-bound mate chosen for our prince, which means you have to at least consider the full circle behind the concept.”

Frustrated, I dropped my head into my hands. “I don’t have to consider it at all. Davio left. His decision stands, and I won’t change it.” I shrugged my heavy shoulders. There’d be no asking him to come back. What was between us was done. Finished. Over.

Belle knocked my arm with hers. “Hey, even women in Peacio are prone to changing their minds just as often as Earth women do.”

I would have laughed if I wasn’t feeling so deeply lost inside. “I’ll tell you what, should I ever see Davio again”—which according to the man in question wasn’t going to happen—“then I’ll be sure to mention your concerns.” A downright lie. I wasn’t the type of woman to consider groveling.

All in all, the current situation wasn’t going to change.

With that thought in mind, I lifted my head and forced my brightest smile. “There must be other young and well-connected women for Davio to choose from. Perhaps a noble lady or a princess or two?”

A hard elbow into my ribs from Silvie. “That’s outrageous.”

“Ow.” I glared at her. “What was that for?”

She raised her hands in the air as she quite often did with me. “A noble lady or a princess or two?”

“Well, how would I know? We have a ton of royalty here on Earth. It wasn’t that far-fetched of an idea.”

As I returned her swat, it made me feel better until she kicked out at me with a low growl. “Quit that, Stryker,” she ordered.

I grinned, feeling a little normal again.

“Okay, you two.” With a scowl, Belle pushed in between Silvie and me and sat squarely between us. “You two are so odd.” She nudged us even farther apart. “Now, we do in fact have other royalty, along with a hierarchal system similar to many cultures right here on Earth. It wasn’t an outrageous question.”

“See,” I gloated, peering around Belle to send Silvie a nasty look. “Davio can set sail and find one of his own kind. We’re all good.”

Silvie shook her head, although thankfully she kept her mouth shut. Not that she had much of a choice since Belle chatted nonstop about strength skills, their hierarchal system, their culture and almost every other necessary subject I was supposed to become aware of.

It was a weird, wacky and very long day.




Chapter 3


I woke with my brain fuzzy from the fantasy dream I’d had the night before, one which still gently floated around and kept me snuggly happy. Well, that was until I realized said dream was of one infuriating man named Davio Loveria.

Abruptly I dissolved that dream and bolted upright.

I grumbled and shuffled on my bottom toward the headboard. Leaning back, I caught the chirpy sound of a Tui bird outside in the native Pohutakawa tree. At a guess, he had wished me a good morning.

I zeroed in on the Tui bird’s pretty call and turned up my receptors to a more satisfactory level. Simultaneously, I turned down the volume of passing traffic, not to mention blocking out my mother’s atrocious singing from her adjoining bathroom. Now there was a bonus.

Ah, sublime.

Perfect.

Only the pretty Tui bird’s trill left to fill the silence.

Finally, a more fulfilling start to the day.

Especially considering yesterday.

Oh boy, yesterday. Now there was a slice of reality.

Davio Loveria.

Nope, I wasn’t going to think about him.

Not worth it.

In fact, I would forcibly thrust him and his dratted recurring image from my mind.

Yeah, that’s better.

There’s precisely no need to go back there.

He was gone and so soon would Belle be away.

That was the way it should be. Pesky, Peacian people, be gone.

With that thought predominantly in my mind, and as the Tui bird launched from the branch and flew, I pushed back the covers and dropped my feet over the side of the bed and onto the cream carpet. Time to begin my day.

Eagerly, I dressed in a blue stretch t-shirt and shorts so I could go for my regular morning run before school, a run that had become important since my birthday last week. A need that must have something to do with my increased speed.

Racing through to my mother’s beloved kitchen, I skidded on the hardwood flooring. I yanked open the white refrigerator door and grabbed a strawberry yogurt and a glass of water.

I made my way down the hallway and tapped on my mother’s bathroom door. Mum’s rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” came to a sudden halt at my insistent knocking. “Hey, Mum, I’m taking a run,” I yelled through the closed door.

“Be careful.”

“Will do.”

I cringed as Lady Gaga’s song resumed in all Mum’s vocal disharmony. Best I leave now.

I took Centennial Park Drive, my sneakers clipping across the pavement as I made the gravel entrance. The early morning sunshine beamed through the treetops, and I glanced left and right before checking my pace and slowing down my sprint so I appeared more like a normal morning jogger. None of this speeding along like a freak.

I half-smirked, half-groaned at the thought, because I really was a freak.

Perhaps I should start a support group of other half-Magiolings. Surely, there were other bizarre by-products like me who’d had an ill-behaved parent who’d spread around unknown DNA as mine had.

Not such a farfetched idea.

One I couldn’t help but consider when it seemed I couldn’t get a certain man and his country from rolling around in my scrambled mind.


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