Authors: Dani-Lyn Alexander
Ryleigh Donnovan’s life changed forever the day she met Jackson Maynard, a Death Dealer, and followed him home to the kingdom of Cymmera. Now she is trying to care for her sister while saving a realm she knows nothing about…
Jackson has reluctantly accepted the throne of Cymmera, in place of his father. But his world is in turmoil, the kingdom under constant threat of attack. Worse still, Jackson suspects there is a traitor among his court. A powerful prophet has suggested a way to protect the realm, but that solution may drive Jackson and Ryleigh apart forever…
When a magic relic goes missing, Ryleigh has no choice but to journey in search of it. When Jackson discovers Ryleigh is missing, he must make a choice that will either claim their destiny, or bring an end to the only home he’s ever known.
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Kingdom of Cymmera Series
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation
Kingdom of Cymmera Series
Kensington Publishing Corp.
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Copyright © 2015 by Dani-Lyn Alexander
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First Electronic Edition: October 2015
First Print Edition: October 2015
Printed in the United States of America
Nicky, I love you so much, and I’m always so proud of you!
This book would not have been possible without the support and encouragement of my husband, Greg. We’ve built a wonderful life together, and I can’t wait to see where our journey will lead next.
I’d like to say a big thank you to my children, Elaina, Nicky and Logan for their understanding and help while I spent long nights at the computer. The three of you have brought more joy to my life than I ever could have imagined. My husband and children are truly the loves of my life.
I also have to thank my best friend, Renee, for all of her support, long conversations and reading many rough drafts. I still wouldn’t know how to use Word without your help.
I’d like to thank my sister, Debby, who is probably my biggest fan and has read every word I’ve ever written.
To my agent, Dawn Dowdle, thank you so much for believing in me and for being there in the middle of the night every time I have a question.
Words cannot express my gratitude to Renee Rocco, for giving me this opportunity, to my editor, Penny Barber, for her wonderful advice and assistance in polishing this manuscript, and to my publicist, Ellen Chan, who went above and beyond to help make this story a success.
The soft brush of something against the carpet outside Ryleigh’s bedroom door intruded on her restless sleep. Her eyes shot open. Her heart drummed wildly in her chest. Blood rushing in her ears drowned out whatever sound had woken her. With the Kingdom of Cymmera at war, even though she was in her own realm, human traitors or monsters could attack from anywhere at any moment. Goose bumps rushed across her skin, prickling her nerves. The memory of savages invading her home taunted her.
Wait. There it was again. The slightest whisper of something brushing against…something. She slid quietly from the bed, got caught up in the blankets, and almost lost her footing. She bit back a curse, untangled her foot, and grabbed the baseball bat from beneath the bed. Although she had her choice of weapons now—sword, bow and arrow, flail, axe—the bat still felt the most comfortable in her hand, the most familiar. She switched off the small bedside lamp. No sense backlighting herself when she opened the door. She’d be an easy enough target if something waited out there.
She tiptoed across the bedroom, pressed her ear against the door, and held her breath. The rhythmic pounding of her heart slamming against her ribs masked any sound that might come from the hallway. She blew her breath out slowly, careful not to make any noise, and gripped the doorknob.
No good. Her hand was too slippery. She wiped her sweaty palm on her pajama pants and tried again. Turning the knob as soundlessly as possible, bat held at the ready, she eased the door open, just a crack at first, and peered into the dark hallway.
The small night light did little to dispel the black shadows that could hide all sorts of hideous creatures. A shiver tore through her at the memory of the savages that could emerge from a portal anywhere, at any time. With a deep breath, she opened the door enough to slip through, then closed it gently behind her.
The Jacobs’ door at the end of the hall was closed. Nothing seemed amiss. They’d gone to bed hours ago and didn’t usually get up during the night.
Dim light spilled from the open bathroom doorway.
She kept her back against the wall and crept as stealthily as possible toward the unknown. The desire to go back to bed and bury her head beneath the pillow assailed her. A fierce need to protect her sister demanded she ignore the fear. Her head pounded with the conflict.
The bathroom was empty. She crept past the door. When she passed Mia’s closed door and reached the end of the short hallway, she re-adjusted her grip on the bat. She squeezed her eyes shut and leaned her head against the wall, searching for the courage to round the corner. Raising the bat, she plunged into the dark living room. The instant she could reach it, she hit the light switch.
Now that she’d announced her presence there was no longer a need for stealth. She ran across the living room, skirting the floral print couch, charged into the kitchen, and flipped the light on. A shadow flickered across the floor and disappeared into a corner. Creeping closer, she tried to bring the image clearer, to make some sense of the shape that had skittered beneath the wood cabinet now bathed in light. She turned the bat around, hooked the handle with its end, and pulled the door open. Pots, pans, covers, all stacked neatly, as always.
Nothing behind the door or in the open laundry room. Thankfully, Mr. and Mrs. Jacobs understood the need to assess danger quickly. They’d lived in Cymmera, had battled the monsters that lived there, were aware of the dangers lurking close by. If a room was empty, the door stood open.
Still on edge, though she’d searched the entire house, she dropped onto a chair, lay the bat across the table within easy reach, and leaned her elbows on the table. She massaged her temples, the pressure doing little to relieve the intense pounding behind her eyes.
Tension squeezed her chest, and she gave up on fighting the headache. Nothing seemed to be amiss, and yet she’d been so sure she heard something.
On the counter, a teakettle sat propped on a potholder. Mia. She should have guessed. Her sister had been sleeping so poorly lately. Ryleigh got up and hefted the bat over her shoulder. Mia would need her. With one last check to be sure nothing was out of place, she shut the light, backed out of the kitchen, and started across the living room. She stubbed her toe on the wood coffee table, knocking some of the precisely fanned magazines askew, then limped the rest of the way.
Once she had the pain in her foot somewhat under control, she turned off the living room light and approached Mia’s closed door. She knocked softly and kept her voice a whisper so as not to wake Mr. and Mrs. Jacobs. “Mia?”
Ryleigh propped the bat against the wall in the hallway. She pushed the door open and found Mia sitting in bed with her knees pulled against her chest, her back against the headboard, and a thick blanket covering her and tucked beneath her arms. Steam rose from a mug of what Ryleigh knew would be Sleepytime Tea cupped between Mia’s hands.
“You all right?”
Mia nodded, but the fear in her eyes was unmistakable.
“Mind if I sit for a bit? I’m having trouble sleeping.”
Mia shook her head. A small smile tugged at the corners of her mouth, but it didn’t reach her eyes.
Ryleigh climbed onto the bed, folded her legs, and sat facing Mia. “Bad dreams?”
Mia nodded again, and a shiver ran through her. She pulled the blanket tighter. When she finally spoke, her voice shook. “Really bad.”
Her younger sister had been through so much in her fourteen years. The death of their parents in a terrorist attack. Her grandmother’s prolonged illness and eventual death. The fear that someone would take her from Ryleigh and put her in a foster home, since at seventeen, Ryleigh wasn’t yet old enough to be her legal guardian. Being chased from her home by fierce savages and forced into another realm where violence and monsters were a way of life.
Ryleigh tucked the mass of brown curls behind Mia’s ear, but it only popped out again a moment later. “I wish I could tell you everything would be okay.”
“But that would be lying.”
Ryleigh forced a smile. “It might be lying. It might also be true. We have no way to know.”
“No kidding.” Mia sighed and rolled her eyes.
The gesture threatened to bring a genuine smile to Ryleigh’s lips. She bit the inside of her cheek. “Look, Mia. We’ve talked about this before. I can’t promise you everything will be all right, but I can promise you I will always stand by your side. I will protect you and take care of you as best I can.”
Tears shimmered and tipped over Mia’s thick lower lashes. “I know.” She shook her head and swiped the tears. “But you have responsibilities now. To more than just me. An entire kingdom is counting on you to save them. You ca—”
“Stop right there.” Ryleigh held up her hand, halting any further arguments. “You come first, Mia. You always come first with me.”
Mia finally formed a tentative smile. “I know. You’re my hero.” She clutched the mug against her chest in a two handed grip and batted her lashes.
Ryleigh reached a hand under the blanket and tickled Mia’s feet. “You sarcastic little brat.”
“Stop. You’re going to make me spill my tea.” Somehow, Mia managed to balance the mug through the fit of giggles. She regained control of herself and placed the cup on the nightstand beside the bed. “You have to go soon, Ryleigh. The dreams are coming more frequently. There’s violence coming…bad things.” She tucked her shaking hands beneath the blanket and pulled it up over her shoulders.
Mia’s delicate features and slight build made her appear so fragile, yet she possessed great inner strength. She never would have made it through the past month if she didn’t. “I’ll go soon enough.”