Graves had always freaked Scarlett out. Dead bodies trapped in boxes for all eternity and buried six feet under the ground. No. Thank. You. If Scarlett had any choice, she would be far away from the garden of the dead. But her mom now rested there in a cherry wood casket. It was mostly her sister Ashleigh’s decision, but when Ashleigh asked Scarlett if she liked it, Scarlett nodded. How could she possibly like something that would hold her mother’s dead body for the rest of eternity? But the red hue of the wood reminded Scarlett of her mother’s hair, so as far as caskets went, it worked. The sun hid behind the gray clouds as Scarlett neared the edge of the hill overlooking the cemetery below. Everything was still. Not even a bird chirped. Aside from Scarlett and her sister, the cemetery was void of people, at least anyone living. Many of the headstones scattered about had bouquets on them—some new, some withered. Others were bare.
Scarlett should keep walking. One foot in front of the other. Simple, usually. But her legs felt like cement blocks as she peered down at the sea of graves. Ashleigh was already halfway down the slope without even a look back. She walked straight to their mom. Scarlett plopped crisscross on the ground as she watched Ashleigh like some stalker too afraid to get near. The ground chilled Scarlett’s bare legs, but she didn’t mind. She doubted a creeper would be bothered either. So much for acting like an adult.
Scarlett turned eighteen one month before her mom’s death. They’d celebrated together by buying a hundred bucks worth of scratch tickets—only fifteen dollars of which they recouped—while filling their stomachs on pizza and candy. Her mom seemed normal that day. Scarlett had made it through childhood seemingly unscathed. Sure, her life was complicated at times, but that moment, as she morphed from kid to adult with the one person she loved most, was perfect. Optimism swam through Scarlett, but her high didn’t last long. And the fall crushed her from the inside out. She rolled the flower stem in her hand. A petal fell to the ground between her legs. Great.
She ruined it. Now if she found the courage to keep going, she’d have nothing to leave. Then again, it had been six months since they buried her mom and she still hadn’t found the strength to visit. She doubted today would be any different. Scarlett had always wished for more from life. More excitement. More surprises. More something. She craved new adventure. So much so, she never appreciated what she had.
Now her mom was gone, and, despite her mom’s fits and outbursts, all Scarlett wanted was to have her back. The cool breeze from the storm rolling into town caused goosebumps to rise on Scarlett’s skin. She inhaled the spicy smell of the Evergreen trees around her. So much death in one place was depressing. A sadness lingered in the air where loved ones grieved the ones they’d lost. Scarlett had spent so much of her life embarrassed by her mother, which, to some, was just a normal part of life. But unlike her friends who wished their mothers wore different clothes or drove different cars, Scarlett’s mother spoke to people who weren’t there. Hallucinations plagued her. And, though Scarlett seemed normal to everyone else, she sometimes wondered if she, too, was different somehow. An insecure teenage girl, shocker.
It wasn’t her hair or her clothes that made her feel out of place, though. Something else sent an off feeling through Scarlett. Something she couldn’t quite put a finger on. She fit in well enough with her classmates. She was liked by most, guys especially. The attention from them made her buzz inside. Sometimes too much. The more they wanted her, the more energized she felt, as if she could absorb the lust radiating from them. A shrink would probably say she had daddy issues or something. Well, lack-ofdaddy issues, since she’d never met her father and knew absolutely nothing about him.
Now she didn’t even have a mother. With only silence to listen to, she lost herself in memories: her mother’s body sprawled on the ground with limbs in unnatural positions, blood pooled at her sides. Nausea hit Scarlett. She tried to think of anything else, but the memory consumed her. Her mother’s upturned wrists revealed a vertical slit on each arm. Suicide. An aura of sorrow, anger, and guilt always surrounded graveyards: an emotional feast for Cade. He had spent the weekend practicing his battle skills and now his magic ran low. His mother discouraged him leaving Faerie, the fae realm, so often—he wasn’t as protected outside the Summer Court—but Cade found human emotion the most fulfilling. Most humans in his realm were servants who had exchanged their freedom for the kind of release only the fae could offer, their emotions already numbed by someone else.
So, from time to time, Cade came to the mortal world. A young woman sat along one of the newer graves, her strawberry blonde curls swaying in the breeze. The wind carried the warm scent of her freshly shampooed hair. He’d seen her before, always placing a single rose onto the earth. He’d fed from her emotion, but it didn’t satisfy him. She had sadness, sure, but nothing more than a small first course. Likely one of those optimistic types who saw the good in everything, even death. What good there was in dying, Cade didn’t know. The fae could die, but they didn’t suffer from disease or old age as often or as soon as humans did. Usually there were others visiting the buried bodies, but today there was no one else.
Perhaps the dark gray clouds rolling into town scared the humans away. Cade didn’t understand why humans spent so much of their time and their feelings on the dead. But grief was a strong emotion and an easy source of replenishment. The girl gently set a yellow rose down on the ground in front of the headstone. Cade was about to give up and try a bar instead. Alcohol stimulated emotion and people could be found there even in the middle of the day, drinking away their problems, as if puking somehow purged their sorrows. As he scanned the graveyard one last time, he noticed movement on top of the hill above. Another young woman sat there. She peered down the hill, still. Within a blink of the eye, Cade evanesced himself to the girl.
Even though he wore his invisible glamour, he kept his distance and hid behind a tree, its branches grazing his skin. This girl shared a resemblance to the other. Both had light blue eyes and freckles sprinkled across their noses, but this girl’s hair was a dark brown, the opposite of the light tone of the other. And unlike the other girl, a surge of emotion surrounded her. Cade inhaled slowly, allowing his aura to absorb her feelings. Sadness, fear, and guilt mixed. This girl was avoiding something. Cade had never tasted such intense turmoil. It hit her quickly— the hole in her soul. Like a chipped windshield, once cracked, the pain spread and flooded Scarlett.
She looked down and, in the distance, saw Ashleigh lay down today’s rose. She should be there, too, but she was weak. How was she supposed to move on if she couldn’t even visit her mom’s grave? The pain swelled inside her until she was ready to burst. Something else hit her. A presence of some sort, as if she were being watched. The emptiness inside her felt almost plugged. Suddenly, she didn’t feel so sad. So broken. Scarlett glanced around. She saw no one else in the opening of trees where she waited.
If she believed in ghosts, she might have thought her mother had visited her. But she didn’t. She didn’t know what to believe anymore. Ashleigh thought their mother had escaped her worldly pain and now spent her days on streets of gold. Scarlett wanted to believe her mother had finally found her paradise. No matter where her mother resided now, Scarlett had to believe she wasn’t in pain. Wherever where she was, she was gone. Scarlett couldn’t ask her for advice, couldn’t laugh with her until they cried. Her mom wouldn’t be there to watch her walk down the aisle. She couldn’t hold Scarlett’s future children.
It was unfair and stupid, and, most of all, it just plain sucked. As the pain crept back in, the pressure in her chest flared. Before she burst into tears as she had every day since her mother died, a calmness rushed through her. Nothingness replaced the knife that pierced her heart. Something was wrong. The grief Scarlett should feel had vanished. She was numb. S Chapter Two carlett was five when everything changed. She and Ashleigh were playing with dolls in Scarlett’s room when they heard their mom scream. Ashleigh hid under the bed.
Scarlett, the brave soul she was, rushed to the living room. Her mom shouted at someone to leave her alone. She gripped her ears, eyes clamped shut. No one else was there. Fear coursed through Scarlett. Would her mom be okay? What if she wasn’t? The panic swam through Scarlett’s veins like a raft down furious rapids, destined to crash. Her mind repressed the next few hours, gone from her memory like a ship lost at sea. Eventually, Scarlett’s mom calmed down and told the girls not to worry. It was just a freak incident. Things were fine.
But the voices kept coming, and Scarlett would often hear her mom talking to someone who wasn’t there. Her once vibrant and happy mom turned lethargic and apathetic. That was when Scarlett’s love for the piano began. She’d sit at its bench for hours at a time, pressing down the keys randomly as she made up her own songs. It didn’t matter how it sounded as long as it blocked out the noise of her mother talking to nothing and kept Scarlett from worrying about what would happen if the voices didn’t stop. When Scarlett’s grandma came to visit, she noticed the change in her daughter, and, after a weekend of begging, Scarlett’s mom agreed to see a doctor. Schizophrenia—the doctor said—which, with medication, could be managed. And, at first, things got better. Until Scarlett’s mom said the pills made her feel funny and she didn’t need them. The cycle continued over and over—on the pills, off the pills—until Scarlett accepted her life for what it was.
Scarlett and Ashleigh walked home silently. The cemetery was about a mile from their house—both convenient and creepy. Rain drizzled as they turned into their neighborhood, coating everything with a fine layer of dampness. Scarlett might have been worried about its effect on her hair if she cared about things like that anymore. Right after their mom had died, the sisters hugged each other and cried. Scarlett had never felt as close to Ashleigh as she had in that moment. Maybe it would be their chance to be loving sisters, Scarlett had thought. The kind who believed each other when no one else did. She wanted a sister who had her back. Any hopes Scarlett harbored had disappeared after the funeral.
Since then, Ashleigh barely spoke to her. They ate their meals together with nothing more than “pass the salt” from Ashleigh’s lips. Not even a “please.” “What did I do?” Scarlett blurted as they stepped onto their porch, its old wood creaking beneath their feet. “Huh?” Ashleigh asked, taking her hand off the doorknob. “You barely even look at me anymore.” Ashleigh rolled down the sleeves of her yellow cardigan. “It’s just hard, okay?” “What’s hard?” Scarlett stood with her arms dangling at her sides. “Losing mom.” “It’s hard for me, too, Ash.
” “I’m sure it is.” Ashleigh rolled her eyes as obviously as possible. “What’s that supposed to mean?” “You always complained about how hard your life was. I’m surprised you’re not happy she’s dead.” The words pierced her heart. Scarlett knew her attitude had sucked. Didn’t Ashleigh know how horrible Scarlett felt? She wasn’t a genie, though. She couldn’t take it all back. And life with her mom was hard—the paranoia, the compulsion, the apathy. Of course, Ashleigh would judge Scarlett.
Flawless Ashleigh who never broke curfew. Who never got a bad grade. Who always wore a smile on her face no matter what kind of day their mom was having. She didn’t worry that she’d inherited their mom’s illness. Ashleigh was good without trying—an angel sent from the heavens. Scarlett might have been a devil, but at least she was one who desperately tried to grow wings. She just sucked at it. “I know I messed up a lot. I’m trying to be better,” Scarlett said. “It’s too late, Scarlett.
Mom died.” Scarlett clenched her teeth. The breath froze in her lungs. Ashleigh’s words cut through flesh and dug into Scarlett’s soul, a million needles twisted into her heart. She screwed up sometimes. Maybe it was her fault. It didn’t matter anymore, though. Their mom was gone. Nothing could bring her back. Without another word, Scarlett stomped past Ashleigh and went straight to her mother’s room, slamming the door behind her.
The sweet smell of her mother’s perfume still lingered. Scarlett crawled into bed and under the covers like she did as a child. It had always been her safe place—from the boogie man to a bad day at school, the one place she could go and everything would feel okay again. It wasn’t the same without her mom there, but it still comforted her. She barely slept at night anymore. When she dozed off, nightmares tormented her until she woke screaming. Were they the first step in losing her mind? First, nightmares. Next, voices? She wondered what her mom’s first symptom was. Lack of sleep drained Scarlett, and, right then, all she wanted to do was fall asleep and forget her life. The sun warmed Scarlett’s face, seeping into her fair skin as her back pressed into the cold ground below.
She peered into the perfectly blue sky and searched for shapes in the cumulous clouds. Something was different. How did she get here? The last thing she remembered was falling asleep in her mother’s bed. She must have been dreaming. Her mind relaxed as she waited in the middle of an open meadow. Calmness had become a foreign feeling to Scarlett. She welcomed the serenity it held. A gentle breeze blew her dark locks. This wasn’t real. It couldn’t be.
She’d never been to this meadow before. But it didn’t feel fake either. It was unlike any dream she’d ever had. “Hello,” a voice said behind her. It didn’t startle her. It was as if she’d expected it to come. With a tone warm like honey, she relaxed even more. Scarlett pushed her body to a sitting position and turned to see a young man nearing. He approached her with an extended hand. She’d read somewhere that everyone in their dreams was someone they’d seen before, but she was certain if she’d seen this face, she’d have remembered.
His eyes were aqua, and Scarlett felt lost in them as if they were as vast as the Caribbean Sea. She reached instinctively for his hand, which burned hotter than her own. “You’re beautiful,” he said. He was beautiful, not her. The two sides of his face aligned in perfect symmetry, with ears pointed ever-so-slightly, Scarlett almost didn’t notice. His skin was smooth as silk, but his aura burned hot. Scarlett’s awe kept her silent. Who was he? He locked his fingers with hers. His piercing eyes stirred her stomach. “Who are you?” Scarlett asked.
His mouth curved into a half smile. “Cade,” he said, “but more importantly, who are you?” “Scarlett.” He leaned into her and inhaled the scent of her neck. Scarlett’s eyes closed as her nerves prickled. She wanted to press her body into his. She needed to. Scarlett had never felt such desire before. Nearly unnatural desire. Cade wrapped his free hand around her and pulled her toward him. Why was she acting like this? She didn’t even know him.
Sure, Scarlett had done her share of things with guys. But she’d never felt so out of control of herself. His mouth nibbled on her neck. A sigh escaped her lips. Her body fell further into his and her hands moved to his chest. Cade’s mouth grew more aggressive on Scarlett’s neck until he groaned. The air around Scarlett cooled as Cade’s touch left her. “Sorry, beautiful. Duty calls.” He let go of her hand and stepped backward.
“Don’t worry. I’ll find you again.” After the words left his mouth, he disappeared. Scarlett jolted upright in her bed. “Of course you’d ruin my perfectly good dream,” Cade said as he pulled out of Scarlett’s mind. Raith’s voice had broken his connection to her. Scarlett. Such a lovely human. Something about her called to Cade. To be so infatuated with a mortal wasn’t something he’d admit to.
But after only a few minutes of her in his dreamscape, magic blazed again through his veins. His training had grown brutal over the last two weeks. His mother insisted he intensely prepare himself for the upcoming battle against his brother. Cade didn’t see Raith as much of a threat. As far as he knew, Raith didn’t even train. But Raith was older, his mother constantly reminded him, and had had more time to learn his power. “To live in dreams is a waste of reality, dear brother,” Raith said. “Preying on the innocent little humans.” Raith’s loose tan shirt was half untucked from his pants as if he’d just rolled out of bed. Sloppy, if you asked Cade.
That and his unruly chin length hair made him look more like a beggar than a prince. “Oh, please. I give them good dreams that they won’t even remember.” Cade pushed himself up from his bed. “What do you care? You don’t even associate with them.” Raith shrugged. “The king wants to see us.” Cade followed Raith to the battle wing of the castle. Here, the new military recruits trained each spring. The Summer Court hadn’t been attacked in years.
They’d defeated the Winter Court a half-century ago in a small war, but still, the threat of another attack kept young, sturdy summer fae signing up to keep the kingdom strong. Cade was too young to know anything but the history of the war. Now that summer had come, this part of the castle was empty except for Cade and Raith’s training. At the end of the summer, Cade would challenge Raith for the Right of Heir. As the oldest son of the King, Raith was granted the title until Cade, his only sibling, was of age. Any time after age nineteen, a younger sibling could battle against the current heir. Most waited years, as fae power was unpredictable and harder to manage in early adulthood. But their father grew weaker every day, and Cade’s mother urged him to challenge right away. The temperature of the battle wing was at least ten degrees cooler than the other parts of the castle. Cold promoted magic alertness.
Cade walked a few feet behind Raith. The two had been close as children. Playing in the fields. Pranking the castle staff. Sneaking into the forest they were forbidden from entering. As the two grew older, the distance between them swelled. Cade knew Raith was jealous of him. His own mother had died, and Raith never accepted Cade’s mother as his own. Their father waited in the battle room in the training tower. His salt and pepper hair almost reached his shoulders now—a big change to the short hair he’d had when Cade was a child.
He wore a gold crown atop his head. Wrinkles had formed on his face. Such a rare occurrence for a high fae. The walls of stone stood high in the large room. Swords, staffs, and other weapons hung on the far wall. The king stood in the middle of the room. His hands clung to his sides, and his eyes remained closed. “My sons,” he said, his voice weak. He turned to them and opened his eyes. The quick deterioration of the king was peculiar.
Most high fae lived for centuries. A benefit of the magic that coursed through their veins was good health. Something had caused the king’s health to dwindle. Cade rarely saw his father lately. Spring was a quiet season for the Summer fae. The festivals and dances happened mostly in the summer. “Summer is here. Your battle will be the center of the Summer Festivities. Come closer.” He motioned toward them.
Cade and Raith stepped closer. Both boys stood taller than their father, Cade the tallest of the three. Raith had steel blue eyes that matched their father’s, while Cade had inherited his mother’s. The King placed his hands on each boy’s shoulder. “The Battle is inevitable, I know. As an only child, I was fortunate enough not to fight for the Right of Heir. But I never had the blessing of a sibling as you two do. I pray you remember that you will always be brothers.” The king had grown sentimental as his health decayed. Hoping for a brotherly relationship between Cade and Raith was wishful thinking, but Cade wouldn’t be the one to ruin a dying man’s dream.
“Of course,” Raith said as he mimicked his father’s gesture. “The Right of Heir should go to the most capable. No hard feelings if my younger brother wins.” Raith patted the king’s shoulder. He grinned at Cade, and Cade knew that Raith had as little faith as he did that they would ever be as close as they once were. The King took his hands back to his side. “The Festivities will start next week. You will both be obligated to attend each event. Each of you should spend most of your time training over the summer. You are each assigned a guide from my guard to help you prepare.
Please restrain from any physical harm to one another, in the meantime.” A twinkle flickered in his eye, reminding Cade of a younger version of his father. One he hadn’t seen in a very long time. “Certainly,” Cade said. A coughing spasm attacked the king, who excused himself to his bedroom to rest. Cade saw Raith smirk as they left the battle room. “Laugh now, but I will defeat you.” Raith patted his brother on the back. “I expect you to try.” “My magic is stronger than ever,” Cade said.
Raith always underestimated him, patronizing Cade every chance he had. “I have secrets that even you don’t know.” After another chuckle, Raith replied. “So do I.” It had been a long time since they’d fought. Cade had almost forgotten how it felt to have the brotherly love they once had. Or Cade had. He used to wonder if Raith ever loved him, but not anymore. All that mattered now was preparing for the battle. Cade’s mother had spoken to him on his nineteenth birthday.
“You must challenge your brother. Your father is ill, and if something happens to him, I fear for our safety,” she had said. “You are strong and far more of a leader than Raith.” She spat out his name as if it were poison. His mother had little love for her stepson. Cade remembered the determination in her eyes. He couldn’t disappoint her. He must win.