Once upon a time a prince raced through the blinding snow, having abandoned his men on the battlefield with the words of his enemy ringing in his ears.
I hope you said your goodbyes, for they will have been your last. My will is done.
With every syllable, the prince’s heartbeat like a drum. How could he have been so foolish? How had he not seen the battle for what it was? A distraction.
Those soldiers were nothing more than lambs to the slaughter. The king knew they’d made a monster of him. The prince was a champion of death itself. He should’ve known it was a ruse. For while he fought, he’d left the most sacred part of him exposed.
Tightening his hands on the reigns of his horse, the prince’s knuckles turned white. The blood frosting along his armor froze him to the core, but he could not stop. No matter how much the idea of his men fighting alone weighed on his shoulders.
A prince was made for battle, to fight alongside his people, but he would gladly carry their loss on his shoulders for eternity, so long as she lived. He had to find her. He had to save her. His salvation. His balm against the hell of his birthright. His angel. His precious Sonja.
“Sonja,” her name sat on his tongue like a prayer, issued to heaven with every breath he took. She couldn’t be gone. She couldn’t be.
He smelled the scent of char a mile from his home. The woods had grown quiet, and as he brought his horse down into a slow trot, approaching the final bridge before the village, he saw the blood. Running like a river across the stone arch, it cut through the center of his path like a vein.
He pushed his horse forward and walked over the ridge to see every house a blackened husk. The bodies were lined up along the streets wrapped in white linen. Red crosses sat painted upside down over every chest. A village of lost souls.
Tears welled in his eyes, and he turned his gaze to the palace in the distance. The blood trail stretched up the mountain to its gates. The beautiful golden gates his father had gifted his mother on their wedding day. The gates that now sat black and broken.
Kicking his horse back into a gallop, he raced past his people lying dead on the ground. A blasphemy in his father’s eyes and his own, but he had to know. He had to know if he had come too late. There was only one place his Sonja would be. One place that would strike at the heart of him.
Leaping from his saddle at the palace stairs, his boots slipped on the stone. He scrambled to his feet and pushed through the entryway. The palace should’ve been full of laughter, and decorations at this time of year. His people gathered in the great hall on nights like this telling stories, sharing gifts. They were a family.
In all his life, the great palace had never been quiet, but now the only sound breaking through the silence was the rapid thud of his footsteps. Winding through the front hall, passed the soldiers quarters, the galleries. He took the small staircase down to the inner courtyard, and then stopped frozen at the door to the night garden.
Sonja loved flowers. The natural and preternatural blooms of the world filled her gardens, but in this section each petal unfurled only at night. The ones born from the ground with power glowed brightly like stars plucked from the heavens, and the breeze that often wafted through smelled sweet as sugar. This was their sanctuary, this was where they’d first admitted their love for each other, where he’d first taken her beneath the stars, where he’d proposed. It was the home for every happy memory he had, and he knew now, as his boots crunched in the snow that he’d come too late.
Stepping onto the powdered lined path, he waded through the brightly shining roses, the nightshade blossoms, and thick leaves of plants he couldn’t name. His eyes scanned every inch of the ground for some sign of life, but it wasn’t until he found the center of Sonja’s colorful maze that he saw her.
Lying flat on her back, surrounded by thousands of vibrant ruby red rose petals, she looked like a ghost. Pale as the snow around her in her golden gown. Her ebony hair had been combed out around her face like a lion’s mane, and her lips…still looked bright and warm as if she lived on.
The prince’s legs gave out at her side, and as a great sob broke from his lips, he hauled her up into his arms, cradling her impossibly light frame against his chest. He paid no mind to the blood or the cold of his armor. His Sonja was too far gone to care. He simply held her tight, rocking as he cried.
“I’m sorry, my love. Forgive me. Please, forgive me. I did not see. It should’ve been me. I should be the one laid low, not you. Not you. This is all my fault.”
Above him the night sky flickered, the moon blacking out for a moment, and he heard the rustle of feathers as the wind whipped around him. Pulling his cloak down around Sonja’s body, he shielded her from the debris kicked up by the torrent. He felt it pelting against his back, his neck, but didn’t care so long as she remained whole, her soft features smooth and at peace.
As the wind died down, he lowered his arm, and before him stood the witch of his nightmares. “Morgaine.”
“Prince Philo,” she drawled walking out of the shadows. “It seems your foolishness has cost my sister her life.”
“You can bring her back. I know you can,” he said, through his teeth. “You have the power. Bring her back.”
The witch’s eyes flashed with lightning. “Why should I? She stole the prize that was mine. She slipped into your bed when it was mine. Why would I bring her back? Why would I fix what you did?”
“She is your sister,” he snarled, hoisting Sonja’s limp form into his arms as he stood. “Bring her back.”
Morgaine narrowed her eyes at him and flexed the fingers of her right hand. The crystal dangling from her neck emitted a sickly green flash, and Philo’s legs grew weak.
“What would you give to bring my sister back?” she asked, tilting her head to the side, giving him a once over.
“Anything,” he said, digging his fingers into Sonja’s flesh. She still felt warm, as if death hadn’t conquered her. If Morgaine acted quickly, she could save her. He’d seen enough of the witch’s powers to know that much at least. “I would give anything for her. Anything.”
Morgaine, let her eyes slide to the side, and wandered over to the nearest rose bush, plucking the petals from a shining bloom. “I want you throne, and a piece of your soul, dear prince. What do you say to that?”
“Take them, they are yours,” he said, ignoring the guilt that crept up his throat like bile. “Just bring her back.”
The witch closed her fist around the petals she’d plucked, and as they crumbled into sparkling ash, slipping from between her fingers, she whispered something he couldn’t understand.
Sonja’s body flashed and in the blink of an eye she was gone, her body turning to rose petals in his arms. He made a grab for them, thinking to save her, but the crumbled under his touch.
“No! Where is she?” He demanded, taking a surging step forward.
Morgaine’s hand shot upward, and power flashed around his body, freezing him in place. His muscles locked, his jaw tense as Morgaine’s crystal glowed.
“She is well, and alive in the tower, sleeping peacefully in your bed. Just as my people are beginning to return from the grave.”
Relief flooded through the prince. Sonja alive. His Sonja lived. “Let me see her.”
Morgaine smiled. “It wouldn’t make much of a difference, dear prince. She will not remember you.”
“What?” He spat through his teeth.
“You granted me a piece of your soul,” she said, with a shrug. “I simply took the part of you that rested in her. The part that made you soulmates.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Of course you wouldn’t. You’re nothing but a human prince. A prince who is going to pay for what he did to me,” she said, her lip curling back from her teeth.
“I was honest with you. I didn’t love you. Would you rather I lied to you?” His nostrils flared, and pain spread through his calves.
“You were supposed to love me!” She shouted and pain cracked up his hips and into his chest. He couldn’t feel his toes any longer, or his legs.
“What are you doing to me?” He demanded, feeling an ache spreading up his chest, into his shoulders.
“For your crimes against me, and my sister, I have devised a punishment for you. As death would be too sweet a release.” She chuckled walking towards him. “You corrupted the love between me and my sister, so I will corrupt yours. You’ve always valued this castle as part of you, so you will become a part of it. Locked awaked unmoving, and secret in this garden. You will see her from a distance, but never again will she say your name. Never again will your people know how you fought for them. You will be erased.”
“You will pay for this witch. You cannot hold forever.”
“That dear prince, was you first mistake,” she said, her eyes flashing white. “You underestimated me.”
The burning in his chest spread and it became hard to breathe. He’d find away out of this one day. He’d find away free. Somehow.
“You’re second mistake,” she said, tracing her fingers over his chin as his arms turned to stone. “Was underestimating how long I can hold a grudge.”
Fire burned through his body, and a scream ripped through his chest. His back bowed sending a great crack through his spine, and the rest of him turned to stone.
Locked in a perpetual scream, his body turned monstrous. Morgaine smiled at him for hours, and then she appeared. His Sonja. She stood at the edge of the garden. Clutching a white shawl around her shoulders.
“Sister,” she called. “What are you doing out here? It is cold, and the wind sings of trouble.”
Morgaine turned her crystal going dormant as she turned toward her. “Just saying goodnight to my monstrous friend.”
Sonja’s eyes slid past her, and she frowned. Her red lips pouting in confusion. She took in the sight of the monster he’d become and shivered. “I wish you would get rid of that statue. It scares me.”
“Go inside, little sister. I will be along shortly.”
Sonja nodded, and she disappeared. They both disappeared. Leaving him to his thoughts for eighty years.
The cold air cut through Kat’s jacket like a knife. Pulling it tighter around her as she ascended the staircase out of the subway. Shoving her hands deep into her jacket, she tucked her nose into her scarf. The day had been fairly warm, but the moment the sun disappeared behind the high rises around the city, the New York air had grown absolutely frigid.
Her boots crunched on a light coating of snow on the sidewalk. The scent of the food truck parked like across wafted under her nose and her stomach growled violently. It’d been too long since she’d eaten, but it was worth it. She’d closed her case and filed all the paperwork she’d had piling up on the corner of her desk. She could go into this weekend without having to worry about the boss getting mad at her. She could visit her sister, and actually relax for once.
Stepping into line behind other late-night patron, Kat glanced up at the chalk board posted beside the window on the truck. It was marked with all the usual staples. Hot dogs, coffee. Quick things.
The man in front of her moved and she stepped up to see the man behind the window. She cleared her throat, bouncing on her toes. “Hey, Victor.”
He jumped spinning around and smiled wide. His grey hair looked freshly brushed, and his dark eyes shone in the bright inner lights of the truck. “Ah, Princess. You’re here, I was getting worried about you.”
“Worried? About me?” She laughed.
“You’re out there working your tail off to protect us little folk. Of course, I was worried about you.” He smiled. “Your food was starting to get cold.”
“My food? You made my order already?” Her face hurt from the force of her smile. “You are such a sweetheart, Vic.”
“It’s the least I could do for my best customer,” he said, pulling a hotdog, and raspberry tea out from beneath his counter.
“You Sir are a godsend,” she smiled, handing him a twenty. “Keep the change.”
“I’ll donate it to the Children’s Fund,” he said kissing the bill and saluting the sky. “You have a good night, now. And get home safe.”
“You too, Vic. Don’t stay open too late.” She pointed at him sipping her drink.
He waved her off with a smile, and she took off down the road in the direction of home, tucking her tea beneath her arm to unwrap the hotdog.
Covered in ketchup, it tasted like heaven after such a long day. She sipped at her tea and rolled her shoulders back. This was exactly what she needed. This and a long hot—
Her cellphone let out a loud squawk in her back pocket. She stopped, listening for a second as the strains of the Doctor Who theme rang out, and a lance of panic shot through her chest. That was her sister’s ring, but Gemma was never awake after midnight. She liked her sleep and woke early for work.
Shoving the last of the hotdog into her mouth, she grabbed the phone held it to her ear. “Gem? What’s wrong?”
“Wha-What? Nothing’s wrong,” she said, clearing her throat on the other end of the line, her proper British accent curling around her words. “What would make you say that?”
“The fact that it’s at least three hours past you’re your bedtime, and you’re calling me.”
“Oh, I’m not that predictable, am I?” She laughed, but it sounded wrong. The usual ring to her voice was dulled.
“You are and given the fact that I’m a cop, it’s refreshing. So, what’s wrong? Where are you?” Listening closely, she could tell her sister wasn’t home. If she was home there would’ve been some kind of classical music in the background, but now if she wasn’t mistaken, Kat could hear cars moving in the distance. She was outside somewhere.
“I’m on my way home,” she said, but she was lying. Kat could hear it in her voice, she just couldn’t be sure why she was lying.
“Alright,” Kat said, tossing her hotdog wrapper in a can at the end of the block. “Why are you calling? Is something wrong?”
“No, not at all. I just…I had to have something mailed to your apartment. When it gets there, I need you to promise you’ll keep it safe for me…until I can come get it from you.”
“What is it?” Kat frowned.
“An old relic that I wanted to surprise my client with. Nothing too important, but it is fragile, and I didn’t want him to see it when he comes by my place tomorrow,” she said, her voice breathless.
“Gemma, what’s wrong? Where are you?” Kat asked, starting to turn back in the direction of the subway. Her sister lived on the other side of Manhattan. If she hopped on a train—
Two load pops rang through the phone, and Gemma swore. “Shit. He’s found me. Izzy, I’m sorry, but I have to go. Look for the package and keep it safe. Don’t let anyone else take it. You understand. You keep it safe.”
Another pop sounded and Gemma screamed, there was a thud and then the faint sounds of something rustling through the trees.
“Gem?” Kat called out. “Gemma? Are you there? Gemma?!”
Her voice echoed off the wall of the building next to her, but there was no response on the line. Frozen in place all she could do was listen as something panting came near the phone, and growled, then the line went dead.
“Shit,” Kat hissed, checking her phone. The signal had cut out, and the call dropped.
Victor called out from the back of his truck. “Princess? Is everything alright?”
She glanced at him and pulled up the Find My Friends app on her phone. She clicked through the log in and brought up the map to locate Gemma.
“Hey, what’s going on?” Victor asked, appearing at her side. His voice full of concern.
“M-my sister. She’s…something’s happened, but I don’t know where I—She’s in central park, shit. I don’t have my car.” Kat growled in frustration and started walking back in the direction of the subway.
“You need to get to Central Park?” Victor asked. “Don’t bother with the train. Get in my truck. I’ll take you.”
Kat stopped short. “What?”
“Get in. I’ll take you,” he said. “I was closing down for the night anyway.”
Glancing at the truck, Kat felt a tiny spark of relief ignite in her chest. He’d already closed his windows and taken down his awning.
“Are you sure?” she asked, walking with him towards the passenger door.
“Your chariot awaits, Princess. I’ll take you where every you need to go,” he said.
“Thank you,” she sighed, getting in as he opened the door for her. “I need to get to the Alice in Wonderland statue as quickly as you can.”
Victor nodded, closing her inside the truck, and raced around to hop in the driver’s seat. At the late hour, the streets weren’t quite so bad, and he was able to whip them around and point them in the direction of the park.
“I knew something was wrong, I knew it,” Kat grumbled, bouncing in her seat.
“Tell me what happened,” Victor said. “Maybe it’s not as bad as you think.”
Kat frowned. “My sister called me. She sounded weird, and I was trying to get the truth out of her, to figure out where she was, and then…”
Swallowing around the fear she watched the traffic move out of their way like the parting of the red sea. As if her will had urged them on. They had to get to Gemma, they had to find her. She had to be okay.
“Someone was shooting at her,” Kat said finally. It was the one truth she had. She’d have recognized that sound anywhere.
“Shooting at—I didn’t even know you had a sister.”
“No one does.” She thrust her hand out, pointing at the cars ahead of them. “Make a left here.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Victor nodded, and jerked the wheel to skid around the corner. A chorus of shouts and honking went up, but they made the turn cleanly, but it was taking too long. They were still too far from the park, and the park itself was huge.
Pulling out her phone, she tried the app again, to get a better read on her sister’s location. She was certainly close to the statue, but how close. Swiping her fingers over the screen, Kat tried to zoom in, but the park had no roads where her sister’s signal came from. The map was too vague.
“Do you want me to park or just drop you at the first open space along the curb?” Victor asked, breaking her train of thought.
“As close as you can get me, as quick as you can,” she said, shoving the phone back into her pocket. She had an idea of where to start, that would have to be enough.
“Shouldn’t you call this in?” he asked, eyeing the park looming ahead of them.
“Not until I know what’s going on,” she said, and pointed to a stretch of sidewalk nearby. “Pull over there.”
Victor jerked the wheel and slammed on the breaks to the chorus of more honking and screaming. Kat leapt out and as she darted across the open grass, she heard him call out to her. “Be careful!”
Kat waited until she made it to the statue, into the shadows of the park, before she pulled her gun from its holster on her belt. She clipped her badge beside it once more and started circling the walkways. Gemma would’ve stayed on the walkways to get home, but if she was worried about someone following her, she would’ve gone for the trees.
That’s right, Kat thought. The crunching and rustling. She was running through the trees.
Turning to the grass beyond the statue, she checked the app on her phone again. She wasn’t far, but what scared Kat the most was that her sister’s phone hadn’t moved since she’d brought up the app.
Racing down the paths, she cut into the grass in the direction of the signal and kept walking until she found herself surrounded by a bunch of trees.
“Gem?” She called out, flipping on her phone flashlight. “Gem, are you here?”
No sound came back, but as she swept her phone over the ground, it caught on something red and shiny lying in the snow. Kat inched forward, eyeing the shadows, as she crouched to pick it up. She turned it over, and the screen was broken like someone had stomped on it.
“Shit, Gem, what have you gotten yourself into,” she muttered under her breath, rising to her feet.
“What’s this?” hissed a quiet voice from behind her.
Kat whirled around and brought up her gun. “Who’s there? Show yourself.”
A dark sharp dropped from the trees above her chuckling, and she jumped back, readjusting her aim, as a pale face turned up to smile at her. It’s purple lips stretching thin around yellowed teeth.
“What the hell?” An uneasy feeling washed over her.
“Who do we have here? Calling out for riches in my woods?” The figure giggled, rising to its full height.
“Who—what—stay back,” Kat said, swallowing around the bile rising in her throat.
“Oh, I won’t harm you, little one, not unless you harm me. My master has come and gone with his prize. Though I suppose you would make a fine meal. He did not feed us today,” the creature said, flexing its long fingers and yellowed claws.
“What the hell are you?”
The creature darted forward, but before Kat could squeeze off a shot, it was gone. The uneasy presence at her neck as it whispered. “I am behind you.”
Yelping in surprise she staggered to the side, and tried to bring her gun up, but the creature slashed at it, knocking the weapon from her hand.
Hot blood raced from the cuts along her forearm, and she ground her teeth against the pain. She had to get out of here. She had to run, but where was Gemma?
“Where is my sister?” She demanded. “Where is Gemma?”
The creature laughed. “I told you my master has taken his prize. Now hold still, while I take my—”
Kat turned and ran. As fast as her feet would carry her, out over the open ground, across the snow. Her boots slipped against the grass beneath, but she had to keep running.
Her breath clouded around her mouth as she panted for air. Her chest burned, hotter than her cheeks, and just as the road came back into sight, something heavy slammed into her shoulders, sending her careening down the hill instead, end over end until her head thwacked hard against what she guessed was another tree. She couldn’t say for sure as her vision blurred, but she was pretty sure there were trees above her, moving in the wind.
“Foolish, little one. Running will get you nowhere,” the creature drawled, crawling towards her across the ground. Its black hide was like leather in the moonlight. It’s skin, pale as bone.
“Gem-a,” she groaned, trying to right herself against whatever it was behind her.
“I am so hungry,” the creature grumbled, placing a hand on her ankle.
“No!” Kat whimpered, trying to pull away, but her body felt too sluggish. What the hell was going on? She couldn’t make sense of it.
She turned her face away as the white face came closer, and a great roar ripped through the air as a burst of wind whipped past her face. The creature’s claws scratched against her leg, but then it was gone. The unease she’d felt was gone.
Kat rolled her head around to find the source of the roar, and for a moment her mind was playing tricks on her. She thought she saw a man with wings standing before her, marching toward, but that couldn’t be, could it?
All she could be sure of was that when he came closer, the smell of lilies, and rain washed over her. His skin was warm, and his voice deep as he whispered to her. “You’re safe now, Milady. Rest. I will see you home.”
THE STONE PRINCE
The people who get close to detective Katherine “Kat” James usually get burned. It’s why she keeps everyone at a distance, except her sister, Gemma. Kat likes her space, and loves catching criminals. It’s what she’s always been good at.
At least, that’s what she thought until the night Gemma called her, running for her life in Central Park. Kat races to the rescue, but her efforts are thwarted when dark creatures come crawling from the shadows. She tries to fight the monsters off, but the last thing she can remember is a man with the wings of a bat carrying her up into the clouds.
Philo Cross has been cursed for centuries. Half man, half beast, under the light of the moon, and a stone gargoyle during the day, he has lived in secret for too long. He is tired, and lonely, stuck in a loop. Forever mourning the loss of his one and only love, Sonja.
He never thought he’d see her face again, until he stumbled across a girl getting attacked in Central Park and brought her home.
Kat James lights a fire in him and as the past comes racing back to haunt them both, their intertwined fate forces to him to ask one question. Is this his second chance…to save her?
US Link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09Q2TTV5K
CA Link: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B09Q2TTV5K