Read The Reluctant King (The Star-Crossed Series) Online
Authors: Rachel Higginson
The Reluctant King
The Star-Crossed Series
By Rachel Higginson
Copyright@ Rachel Higginson 2012
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Any people or places are strictly fictional and not based on anything else, fictional or non-fictional.
Editing services provided by Jennifer Nunez.
Printed in paperback December 2012 and available in Kindle and E-book format as of December through Amazon, Create Space, Smashwords and Barnes & Noble.
To Ron, Randy and Robbie,
The best and worst kind of brothers.
Three years ago
I watched him from across the square. He was incredible, completely restrained aggression and feral energy. His body seemed barely able to contain his electric charisma as he bounced around, constantly fidgeting, constantly chewing on his thumb nail.
And he was gorgeous.
His jet black hair was pulled back to the nape of his neck in messy bun that managed to look both roguishly handsome and devilishly dangerous. He had his tux jacket off, laid over the chair he was placed at and I could see the faint outlines of his tattoos through the thin material of his starched white shirt. They covered his arms, his wrists, the back of his neck. I silently groaned thinking about what the intricate lines would look like covering the ripples of his back or contours of his flat stomach.
A shudder rippled through me at the thought of his name.
We had been introduced earlier today, but that was all, just an introduction.
And he hardly acknowledged my presence, let alone taken the time to acknowledge
Ugh. This was silly. Ridiculous even. My infatuation with him was bordered on obsessive and I felt like nothing more than a pathetic fan girl.
I hoped my once-princess-status and relationship with his sister would garner me some kind of attention, some kind of reaction. I was two full years younger than him, so I knew I had my work cut out for me, but I also knew I wasn’t ugly.
Of course he was a king now and I was sixteen….
I took a deep breath and rocked back on my treacherously high heels. Maybe that was all this was, an infatuation with royalty. Not that I hadn’t been around royalty my entire life, just finally I wasn’t related to someone.
But even in my argument with myself, I lost. My crush on Avalon was about so much more than his status in the Kingdom or even his accomplishments before he was King. It was everything about him. What he had done for our people and what he was going to do, his focused goals and dedication to a cause greater than himself. He was inspiring and breathtaking all at the same time. And he was funny and smart and cool.
He was the perfect mixture of hero and bad boy and I was lost to him…. even before I met him.
Of course, I kept all these thoughts to myself. I couldn’t share them with anyone. My two closest friends were way too deep into this thing to be of much help. Eden would most likely try to talk me out of it and Seraphina would never let me hear the end of it.
Besides it was only crush.
It was only a crush.
“Are you ready for the dance?” Seraphina whispered in my ear, surprising me out of the blue.
I sucked in an unsteady breath, not sure if I was. Yesterday it was decided that I should dance the wedding party dance with Avalon. He didn’t have a partner because he wasn’t a groomsman. He had walked Eden down the aisle in place of her recently murdered father. Eden wanted Roxie to be a part of this dance so Titus offered to be her partner. This left me without one and so Eden volunteered her brother to dance with me.
First I had to find the courage to talk to him.
And then I had to find the charm to make him fall in love with me.
Seraphina pushed me gently forward, two hands on my shoulder blades and there he was. The world seemed to fade away beyond Avalon. He walked toward me with savage grace, seeming to devour the space between us with conquering steps. His brilliant green eyes locked on mine and I was helpless in the gravitational pull of his body.
I focused on breathing, on keeping steady breaths so I wouldn’t pass out at his feet. I just had to keep it together for this one dance, I reasoned. I just had to be calm, cool and collected for one song and then I could excuse myself to the restroom and throw up everything I’d eaten that day.
Which, granted, wasn’t a whole lot. I’d had to squeeze into my bridesmaid dress after all.
Avalon smiled down at me and I was lost.
His complete attention was focused on me, his perfect smile meant to help me relax, his arms wrapped around my waist and holding my hand, pressing me against him. It was his presence that sucked everything else out of focus and left me dizzy and longing. He made me fall in love with him.
I touched him once. He smiled at me. And I was in love.
I was also in trouble.
I commanded my lips to smile back, but I faltered with nerves. Focused on breathing, all I could smell was him, clean, soap, man. He even smelled amazing!
This was not a fair fight.
He opened his mouth to say something as the music started and I felt myself lean forward on my tip toes, ready to drink in his voice and listen raptly to words that were only meant for me.
But then his gaze shifted and his expression fell. My body went tight right along with his as he dropped his arms from me.
When he finally spoke it was not at all what I was expecting to hear, “Go on and finish without me.”
My mouth dropped open and I didn’t even get a word out before he was walking past me. His hand swung back and smacked me firmly on the butt. I let out a yelp of surprise as the imprint of his hand stung against my skin.
What the hell?
I was only sixteen, but the concept of love was suddenly very jaded. I didn’t get what the whole fuss was about with Eden and Kiran, I found the entire ordeal too easy to fall into and even easier to fall
out of. In the end, the only thing love gave me was an early trip to my grave because I was sure I would die of embarrassment.
This was not how I wanted to spend my afternoon. This was not how I wanted to spend any afternoon, but especially this one. It was nice outside after weeks of seemingly endless rain. The Romanian sun was finally shining. The birds were chirping, the leaves were changing colors…. and all that other BS.
I shifted uncomfortably on the hard, gold seat and kicked my heel back against the solid base. Dangit, that hurt. No amount of magic could make a throne comfortable.
They were horrible to sit in. And even worse to try to be hospitable in.
“What do you think, Avalon?” Gabriel asked from across the room. I stifled a laugh at how serious he looked in his priest’s outfit. I got it, the whole…. dedicated to the cause thing. I mean, seriously, if anybody got marrying oneself to an endeavor, it was me. But I also knew that Gabriel was a badass fighter, with the temper of an angry bull, so the whole black suit, white collar thing looked drastically out of place.
Despite my rude sense of humor, I glared back at him. He knew I wasn’t listening. He knew I
My gaze moved from Gabriel who was sitting stoically with that disappointed look on his face again to Silas, who seemed annoyingly entertained, to Angelica and Talbott who both tried to hint discreetly at how I should respond.
At least I could count on them. But really, they were all traitors. The whole lot of them.
It had been three years since Eden and I destroyed the Monarchy. Three freaking years. And here I sat, ruling from this damn uncomfortable throne, the same one I had promised myself I would melt down into tiny little action figures of myself like an upgrade of G.I. Joes, as if the only thing we actually did was lead a successful political coup.
I wanted a democracy. Hell, I would have even taken a corrupt republic over this. Ok…. maybe I was done with the corruption. But none of it mattered anyway because in their first act as a freed people? Yeah, the
people voted to maintain the Monarchy.
And voted to keep me as King. Well, me and my brother-in-law.
All of them.
Besides, who had ever heard of being co-King? It was so not a precedented historical event.
So a whole lot of good that freaking Resistance thing did me.
Granted, the status of the Kingdom was exceptionally improved and my people actually were free in every sense of the word; marriage was open, nobody was being hunted, tortured or killed on a regular basis and my sister got to marry her prince charming. So all was right in the world.
Except that I wanted a people that believed in themselves enough to govern themselves, and a sister who was actually around once in a while, instead of honeymooning her life away. They had been gone for two years. Two years. What on earth could one couple do for two whole years without wanting to kill each other or die of boredom?
Ok, I knew in theory what they could be doing. But that was something I would never, ever, ever, in a million years think about. She’s my sister. So gross.
And what about my freedom? I wanted to be free too! Instead I had to put up with an uncooperative know-it-all board of advisors, the same advisors I wanted to give to the people as their democratic council and was shot down. I had to sit on this god-awful throne for eight hours a day listening to people whine about their problems or even worse I was forced to meet eligible girl after eligible girl.
Ok, but that’s all I was doing really…. whining about my problems. So I took a breath, and tried to read Talbott again, he was usually the best at giving me a sign. I figured it was from years of prompting Kiran.
“I…. agree,” I announced tentatively and then when Talbott started shaking his head furiously I retracted my statement immediately, “I mean, I disagree.” I nodded my head authoritatively and propped one elbow onto the arm of the throne with my fist extended in a symbol of power and confidence.
“You disagree about what?” Gabriel asked, his tone of impatience firmly chastising me.
“Uh….what was the question?” I gave in sheepishly and admitted that I wasn’t listening.
“The question was simply what you would like to serve at the homecoming dinner for Kiran and Eden,” Gabriel repeated. His narrowed orange eyes flickered like a flame and I knew I was in for one of those, “but this is your destiny” speeches.
“Oh, right,” I mumbled. I looked down at the man that originally asked the question and realized for the first time that he was the head chef. If I would have been paying one iota of attention I could have put two and two together. Shoot. “Uh, let’s have steak. That’s Eden’s favorite.”
“Steak, sir?” The head chef clarified. I forgot his name. I forgot everyone’s name….
“Why? Is that not Ok?” I asked, feeling like he was patronizing me. Or maybe I was just being paranoid. I wasn’t good with trusting people anymore. They always had an alternative motive since the crown became a permanent part of my wardrobe, one that usually consisted of me marrying their daughter, or niece, or granddaughter, or goddaughter…. or any female within spitting distance.
“It’s just….,” he hesitated and I watched the internal battle he waged. After two years of my laid back if not aloof reign, people still treated me as if I was Lucan’s tyrant replacement. I encouraged him with a benevolent smile, one that I had practiced in the mirror because apparently it was difficult for me to look benevolent. “Steak is fine, sir.” He finished without even attempting an argument. Apparently I needed to get back in front of a mirror. “What should I serve for the vegetarian option?”