Good morning! Today, we’ve got the first three chapters of Cait Marie’s upcoming release The Lost Alliance (The Nihryst Book 3)! DO NOT READ PAST CHAPTER 1 IF YOU HAVEN’T FINISHED THE LOST PRINCE!
Also, don’t forget to grab the Nihryst short stories! They’re all FREE until June 16.
The Lost Alliance Sneak Peek
10 months earlier…
“Again, but this time, angle your hips this direction,” Michel said, coming up to stand behind Ada. With his hands on her waist, he turned her away from the target more.
Ada ignored the heat rising to her cheeks as he stepped closer. She pulled the bowstring taut and held her breath.
“No,” he whispered against her ear. His hand slid to her stomach. “Breathe. Keep both eyes on the target. Take a slow deep breath, and release on your exhale.”
One hand went to her elbow, lifting it slightly, but his other lingered across her abdomen, making it incredibly difficult to focus. She did as he instructed. She aimed, inhaled, and…
Missed the target completely.
She let out a groan, and Michel chuckled at her back. Whirling around, she pointed a finger at his chest. “This is your fault. You’re too distracting.”
He laughed harder, taking the bow from her and tossing it to the ground. With a raised brow and a mischievous grin, he said, “Is that so?”
As he lunged for her, she let out a shriek. She tried to turn, but he wrapped both arms around her. The sudden motion caught her off guard, and she tumbled to the soft grass below, pulling him down with her. They laughed and rolled until they both lay on their sides facing each other.
Michel reached out and twirled a piece of her hair around his finger that had come loose from her braid. “My graceful princess.”
His arms wound around her as she curled into his chest. She looked at the peaceful gardens surrounding them. While Michel’s mother treated Ada as her own daughter, welcoming her into their home each summer, she did not approve of her training with weapons. Ada had all but mastered throwing a dagger, but her archery needed work. When Michel suggested moving one of the targets to the far corner of the gardens, hidden from the castle’s view by tall grasses, bushes, and the occasional tree, Ada had agreed immediately. They’d spent most of their summers running through the gardens as children, she doubted the queen would suspect. If anything, she would likely assume they were sneaking off to be together. And as soon as that became a concern, their time alone would end entirely.
Though, they’d already been as close as two people could be. She’d let him into her bed over a year earlier when he’d stayed in Detmarya. There’d been a terrible storm in the middle of the night, something that had always frightened her. Knowing this, Michel had gone to check on her. When she asked him to stay, he’d only hesitated a moment for her sake. She’d insisted it was fine—that any guards who might have seen him were sworn to secrecy. In the end, he stayed to comfort her, but it didn’t stop there. She’d felt so whole that night, knowing just how much she loved him. Leaving him at the end of the summer became more difficult each year.
Tilting her chin up, Michel asked, “What are you thinking so hard about?”
She raised up on one elbow to look down at him. “How much I don’t want this to end.”
“Maybe it doesn’t have to,” he said, running a hand down her arm. “I know we should wait until after Shane’s betrothal announcement, but—”
Cutting off his words, Ada pressed her mouth to his. His fingers trailed up to the side of her neck to hold her close. Her lips parted with a gasp as he gently pushed her back until he hovered over her.
“All right, enough,” a voice called out. Footsteps stomped through the grass toward where Ada and Michel untangled themselves and sat up. Shane scowled at them with crossed arms. “Don’t make me send my best man after you for corrupting my sister.”
“Maybe she’s the one corrupting me,” Michel teased as he stood. “Besides, do you really think he could defeat me?”
Shane held out a hand to help Ada up. “Oh, Phillip could absolutely beat you.”
On her feet, Ada looked over his shoulder to Phillip, who winked. She grinned, happy he’d joined them this year on the visit to Rayerna. He’d gone with them a few times in the past but not always. And not in the last five years. Since he’d joined the guard, he’d worked throughout their kingdom in various places until Shane insisted the captain reassign him to the royal family.
Ada stepped between Shane and Michel. “All right, boys, let’s not break the centuries-long treaty on my account.”
Phillip moved around Shane and handed her a dull blade. “Shall we practice so you can defend your own honor, Princess?”
She rolled her eyes at their best friend. “You know I hate it when you call me that. But yes.”
Shane took out his own practice sword. Within minutes, the four of them paired up and moved back and forth. As Ada’s blade met Michel’s above their heads, she raised her other hand to brace herself.
“You’re much better at this than archery,” he said.
Using all her strength, she pushed him away with a grunt. “I may have been practicing at home with Phillip.” She twirled the blade around. “He taught me a few things.”
As she charged him again, he met her force with his own. She feigned left, and spinning in the opposite direction, she knocked him to the ground. Stepping on the end of his faux sword, Ada knelt with her own to his throat.
“Remind me never to face you in real combat,” he said, smiling.
With a soft laugh, she leaned forward to kiss his cheek.
“Long live the king!”
Shane took a deep breath, looking out at the chanting crowd. He felt as if he might get sick. He’d prepared for this moment his entire life, but he never thought it would come so soon.
A pair of hazel eyes met his from below the dais, and Phillip gave him a subtle nod of reassurance. The corner of Shane’s mouth twitched as Phillip nudged Adalina at his side. She moved to the steps and curtsied, swearing her allegiance before lifting the hem of her voluminous lavender dress and taking her place beside him. Shane reached down to squeeze her hand, and though she smiled at him, it didn’t reach her eyes.
Phillip was next, and seeing him kneel before him made Shane’s pulse flutter. When he stepped aside to let a couple dozen guards move forward, Shane wanted to call him back. He wanted Phillip with him as he’d always been throughout their lives.
The royal guards all knelt to take their oaths of fealty. Those on his counsel followed suit, and as soon as they finished, the chanting started again. As did the celebrating.
Music filled the air as musicians in the corner of the large throne room began playing. Some people started dancing while others moved toward the outer walls to mingle. Shane turned to his sister, holding on to her arm before she could disappear.
“I’m fine,” she said.
Adalina glared at him, shaking him off to cross her arms. He knew she was struggling with this coronation. With him officially king, it made everything all the more real. Their father was still locked in his rooms, and they had a physician sign the claim that he was unfit to rule. Between that and aiding them in creating a cure for the Kald, Talia had become an essential member of their staff the past month.
Shane pulled Adalina closer. “I’m still here.”
Her relationship with their father was complicated at best, but he was their only family left. And, with Lee gone…
“I know,” she whispered just as a throat cleared. They both looked over to see Phillip motion them down the steps. Shane led Adalina to the floor by the arm, knowing they needed to join the celebration—as solemn as it was. Their kingdom was still recovering from so much loss because of the Kald. Though Shane’s health was back to normal, it had taken weeks. And those throughout the kingdom had more diluted tonics with the Heulwen’s healing properties.
The Heulwen held a vast power that could only be used by the true heirs of Rayerna unless they allowed others to touch it. For weeks, they’d gone around giving small doses to those infected, but there were so many, and it was hard to determine who needed it the most.
Once Loxley granted the royal family, Phillip, and Talia permission to use the flower, they found that they could distribute its particles in pouches of fabric, making it so others didn’t need to touch it. Because of its strength, the smaller villages would only need a fraction of a single petal. Tomorrow, a dozen guards were heading out in different directions, each carrying a small portion of the golden dust to sprinkle in the wells across the kingdom. None knew the truth of what they carried other than that it was a remedy to the sickness plaguing their people.
The king shook his head. “Sorry, what?”
Phillip smirked. “I asked if you were paying attention.”
“I was thinking about tomorrow,” he said, still holding on to Adalina’s arm. She looked about as distant as he felt, and he wondered if her thoughts were on a ship somewhere in the southern islands.
“We’ll deal with tomorrow when it comes.” Phillip stepped closer. “Tonight, we’re celebrating you.”
“It feels wrong after everything.” Shane glanced around the eloquent room and the people dressed in their best. Tall, carved columns supported an arched ceiling, and stained-glass windows lined the upper portion of the high western walls. When the sun set, it cast a beautiful, colorful glow about the room, and it was one of Shane’s favorite parts of the castle.
Phillip brushed his hand along the back of Shane’s. “Then, let’s celebrate that you are here, alive. Both of you.”
At that, Adalina stiffened.
But she was already pulling out of Shane’s grasp. She stormed away from them, through the throngs of people. Shane watched as Gwyn tried and failed to stop her on the way out of the room.
“I don’t know what to do,” Shane whispered.
Phillip’s fingers hooked around his, hidden by his body angled toward Shane. “Just give her some time.”
“It’s been almost a month.” Shane turned toward his friend.
“I see she’s not adjusting,” Gwyn’s voice cut in as she made her way to them.
Shane let out a breath, his shoulders dropping. “She won’t talk to us.”
“Any idea when Lee will be back?” Her long black dress made her green eyes more vibrant, reminding him that she was the immortal’s distant relative. She was a descendant of Lee’s sister, Willa, making her a princess in her own right, should she ever claim the title.
The pirate and his crew had gone to distribute the flower in the south where the Kald had spread. They’d left within days of the curse breaking—of Adalina sacrificing herself and returning to life. A shiver ran through Shane’s body at the reminder. Seeing his sister dead, blood pooling on the cobblestones beneath her, was an image he’d never forget.
It had destroyed Lee too. So much that he had attacked his second in command, blaming her for leaving Adalina alone. No one could stop him. It wasn’t until Ren stepped between them, taking a sword to the stomach in place of Brienne, that the immortal’s rage ceased. They’d expected Ren to come back as the Nihryst always did, but his sister’s sacrifice had freed them from their curse. All of them were mortal.
Well, almost all of them. Lee was still immortal. And when Adalina returned to life, they discovered she was too. They didn’t know why.
“Soon, I hope,” Shane said to Gwyn. On top of dealing with her new immortality, Adalina was hurt by Lee’s departure. She had wanted to go with them but was in shock for days. The crew left in the dark, early hours without so much as a goodbye. It took at least a week to get to the southern islands, so Shane expected them to return any time now. Though, some questioned whether they would return at all now that the rest of the crew was free.
“Your Majesty,” a deep voice called out.
Phillip released Shane’s hand as they both turned toward one of his advisors.
“Good evening, Lord Harold.” Shane tried to erase the worry from his features.
The older man inclined his head. “Sire, I was wondering if everything was ready for tomorrow.”
Nodding, Shane said, “Yes, the cure is ready to go out with riders at first light. And I will personally be taking some down to the wells in the village here with some of my men.”
“Good, good.” Lord Harold had served the kingdom since before Shane’s birth, though he’d stayed away from court as much as possible for years. He had proven himself loyal multiple times in the last few months, however. Shane trusted him more than most of his council and sought out the man’s guidance when he initially tried to claim the throne. The noble had supported him without hesitation, admitting the reason he’d left court a decade ago was because of Shane’s father and the greed he’d seen within the former king.
“Your Majesty, a word?” Phillip said before more could be discussed.
Shane’s brow furrowed, but he agreed and excused himself, patting Gwyn on the shoulder as he passed. He followed Phillip to the far corner of the dais. Phillip reached back to grab his arm then tugged him out of sight behind the nearest ornate column.
“What’s wrong?” Shane asked, leaning against the marble.
“You were just crowned King. This is a celebration, not time for work.”
“It’s my duty—”
“It can wait until tomorrow,” Phillip interrupted, erasing the space between them. He braced himself with one hand on the pillar beside Shane’s head as he leaned in. “You deserve one night to relax.”
“You know that’s not how this works.” Smiling, Shane traced a hand down the front of Phillip’s navy jacket. The uniform was pristine with golden buttons and pins across the shoulder indicating his position as Captain of the Guard. Shane pulled on the lapels, bringing Phillip impossibly close.
Heat filled Phillip’s gaze, and he brushed his lips across Shane’s once, twice. When he leaned back, Shane sighed.
“We should get back out there before someone notices their king is missing,” Phillip whispered.
With a hand on Phillip’s waist, Shane said, “Or we can say I’m not feeling well, and then we can both disappear for the rest of the night.”
“I like the way you think.” Phillip smiled against Shane’s mouth. “But I’m fairly certain a blond little girl is looking for us right now, and you know there’s no escaping that one.”
Indeed, Shane heard Carys calling Phillip’s name. He laughed and kissed Phillip once more. “Fine, let’s go get your sister before she causes someone else to come find us.”
They rounded the column and spotted the young girl. Her blond curls bounced as she turned around in her search. As soon as she saw them, her eyes widened. She raced toward them, and Shane easily scooped her up into his arms. Some nearby watched him with smiles, no doubt wondering when he’d marry and have children of his own. The thought made his chest tighten. He knew he needed heirs to pass the crown on, but…
He glanced back to Phillip who stepped up beside him.
As if she could sense his unease, Carys wrapped her arms around Shane’s neck. “You’re the king now.”
“I am,” he said, shifting her to hold with one arm as they walked through the crowd toward her mother.
“Does that make me a princess?”
“That’s not how it works,” Phillip said, mirroring Shane’s earlier words and shaking his head with a chuckle.
She stuck out her bottom lip. Shane squeezed her to him, kissing her cheek. “You’re a princess.”
“You shouldn’t fill her head with such nonsense,” Mrs. Lavens said from her spot beside Talia. He knew she was right, but the sad look Carys had given him made him want to give her anything she wished for. Setting her down, he laughed as she ran to her mother and all but jumped into her lap.
“How are you this evening?” he asked Talia.
The corners of her dark eyes crinkled as she smiled up at him. “I’m well, your Majesty.”
Shane nodded, wondering if he’d ever get used to the title.
“You’re sure about this?” Phillip whispered.
Shane took a deep breath before nodding. He wasn’t, but he didn’t know what else to do. Phillip pulled out the particles from the flower petal they’d crushed up. After much deliberation, they had decided the quickest way to help the people of Detmarya was to do exactly as his father had once planned—use the water supply.
When Talia suggested dropping minuscule amounts of the Heulwen throughout Ferda, Shane had insisted he go to one of the deposits. He wanted to be a part of the kingdom’s healing—to check in with his people.
“I want to do it,” Carys said, jumping up and down at her brother’s side.
Phillip unfolded the cloth containing the golden particles. “All right, hold your hands out over the water.”
She did as she was told, still wiggling around. Shane laughed and moved behind her. Putting his hands on her shoulders, he said, “You’ve got to be really careful.”
Carys stilled, and Phillip gently put the cloth in her open palms. He put a hand beneath hers and guided her. Together, they tilted it, letting the tiny pieces of the flower sprinkle down into the water of the open well. They’d picked a well in the center of Ferda that connected to one of the main water stores.
As soon as the cloth was empty, Carys shook it out and then turned around to grin up at Shane. “I helped save people!”
With his own smile, Shane reached down and lifted the young girl into his arms. “Yes, you did.”
“All right, it’s time for you to go home, you little monster,” Phillip said, taking the cloth from her and shoving it into a pocket.
Carys tightened her arms around Shane’s neck and laid her head against his shoulder. “Do I have to? You’re the king; he has to listen to you.”
He shot a smirk over at his best friend, who did not look amused. Instead, Phillip shook his head. “Mother said to have you home by dinner.”
“Sorry,” Shane said. “I may be king, but even I still have to listen to your mother.”
Burying her face against his neck, Carys let out a dramatic whine. “It’s not fair. I never get to see you two anymore.”
Shane held her closer, his heart aching. He knew she was still having a hard time, no matter how happy she seemed. When his father had taken her and her mother prisoner, a rage like he’d never experienced filled him. Seeing her brought up in those filthy clothes after staying down in the dungeon for weeks… his stomach churned just thinking about it. It had been months, but those memories wouldn’t just go away. For anyone.
Shane glanced at Phillip before saying, “Maybe we can ask your mother about you coming to stay at the castle with us sometime soon.”
“Really?” she asked, her mood immediately improving.
Phillip mouthed a thank you to Shane before telling his sister, “We’ll ask.”
She let out an excited squeal, and they all headed toward the Lavens’ quaint home nearby. As soon as they were inside, Carys squirmed out of Shane’s arms and ran to the kitchen, likely telling their mother what he’d said. Before they turned the corner, Phillip faced him and put a hand on his chest. The sweetness in his eyes made Shane smile.
Shane lifted a hand to Phillip’s cheek and pressed a soft kiss to his lips. He hated having to hide behind closed doors, but until he could convince Phillip that everything would be fine, he’d do whatever made his friend the most comfortable.
“Are you boys coming in?” Mrs. Lavens asked as she rounded the corner.
They jumped apart, but it was too late. Shane knew she’d seen them holding on to one another.
“Mother, I…” Phillip hesitated, seemingly unsure of what to say. He glanced at Shane, his concern at being caught clear in his gaze, but the king was equally at a loss for words.
“Are you staying for dinner, your Majesty?” she asked in a soft tone before either of them could decide how to handle the situation.
“I need to go find Ada.” He hadn’t seen his sister since she ran from the coronation celebration the night before, which meant she was frantically searching for answers again. She’d barely come out of the library the past few weeks. “She’s having a hard time, and I…”
Mrs. Lavens stepped forward. “Is there anything I can do for her?”
Shane shook his head. “I don’t know. I have no idea how to help her right now.”
“You’re going with him?” She turned toward her son.
Clearing his throat, Phillip nodded. “I’m still on duty.”
The corner of her mouth lifted just slightly. When she pulled him into a hug, Shane heard her whisper to him, “That’s not why you’re going.”
He blushed as she stepped away and moved to Shane.
“Tell me if there’s anything either of you need from me.”
“Thank you,” he said, wrapping his arms around her short frame.
As she walked away, she glanced over her shoulder, pointing from one to the other as she paused near the corner of the hall that led to the kitchen. “Don’t think you’re getting out of this conversation. The next time you come for dinner, we’re discussing whatever is going on here.”
With that, she was gone, and Phillip ran a hand through his hair as he cursed under his breath.
“It’s all right,” Shane said, turning toward him. He hooked a finger under Phillip’s jaw and made him meet his gaze. “It’s fine. Trust me.”
Phillip visibly swallowed and nodded. True fear filled his eyes, and it tore at Shane’s heart. He took Phillip’s hand, lacing their fingers together, and brought it to his mouth. He kissed it once before releasing him to move to the door.
“Ready?” he asked.
Taking a deep breath, Phillip nodded again, still not speaking. Shane knew the interaction shook him up. They’d been so careful, so cautious of not letting anyone see them because of Phillip’s worries. If anyone found out about their growing relationship, they would question his position as the captain—more than they did because of their well-known friendship. But Phillip earned his role as their leader. He was the best swordsman in the kingdom, and people tended to listen to him. Shane just needed Phillip to see his own worth and know that their men would still respect and follow him if they learned the truth.
Together, they walked through the streets, keeping distance between them that felt like a wide chasm. Shane hated it. The trek back to the castle was short, but passing the clock tower brought about an ache in his chest. When the back of Phillip’s hand brushed his, he turned to one of the few people who understood the agony brought on by the place.
His sister’s blood had washed away from the cobblestone street with the rain, but the image of seeing her still body would haunt him forever. The pain of losing her was unlike anything he’d ever experienced. Those were the longest moments of his life.
“She’s all right,” Phillip said in a gentle tone as he urged him on.
The minute they’d stepped out of the Lavens’ home, his other guards had descended. It was not acceptable for the king to wander the streets without an escort, regardless of how peaceful Ferda seemed of late. They led him to safety behind the castle walls. To the place slowly coming to life under his rule.
Once inside, Shane dismissed the guards and headed straight toward the library. He needed to see Adalina. After passing the place she’d… he needed to see her.
“Shane.” Phillip grabbed his arm after the library’s large oak doors closed behind them. As if reading Shane’s mind, he said, “She’s fine now.”
Shane whirled toward the iron staircase. High above them, in the labyrinth of shelves, the sounds of books falling to the floor with the occasional groan or curse filled the air. “No, she’s not.”
Phillip put a hand on his chest. “Just give it time.”
Shane glared at his best friend. When Adalina returned a month ago, he’d had to live through the pain of losing her. Yet, somehow, finding out she was immortal was nearly just as devastating. He’d seen what a never-ending life did to a person—he’d seen the agony in Loxley’s eyes when he lost someone he loved—and Shane didn’t want that for his sister. She deserved to grow old with her family and friends. She deserved a happily ever after.
As if reading his thoughts, Phillip slid his free hand into Shane’s while the other rested over his heart. Shane looked from the top of the stairs to the man always at his side.
“She has been tearing through those books for weeks. She’s going to ruin the library—her favorite place, mind you. When she finally realizes it was for nothing, she’s going to hate herself for destroying all that history. All those stories.”
Sighing, Phillip lowered his arm. “Fine. You’re right.”
“Of course I am.” Despite the situation, the corner of Shane’s mouth ticked up. He leaned in close to whisper, “I’m always right.”
Shane kissed him once then turned back to the stairs, but Phillip stayed with him.
“I’m here,” Phillip said, squeezing his fingers.
Though Shane’s strength had returned with the healing properties of the Heulwen, the thought of climbing the stairs to face his sister exhausted him. With a deep breath, he did though, pulling Phillip along with him.
Adalina let out a huff, and a book went flying as they reached the corner of the open nook she used to curl up in. Shane ducked, but Phillip hadn’t seen it in time. It hit him in the face, and he cursed. Trying not to laugh, Shane put a hand to his friend’s cheek. “Are you all right?”
Phillip narrowed his eyes. “Not funny.”
Before Shane could argue that it was, in fact, hilarious, Phillip let go of his hand and stomped around him toward Adalina.
“I’m sorry, Phillip,” she said, her eyes widening with horror. “I didn’t see—”
Her words cut off with a shriek as he grabbed her and hauled her over one shoulder. Shane watched with amusement as the man carried her to where he stood. “So, this is giving her time?”
But Phillip didn’t stop. He walked past him to the stairs, a yelling princess trying to escape his arms.
“Let me go!”
“Not until you calm down,” Phillip said, making his way to the ground floor.
Shane trailed after them, grabbing Adalina’s hands as she beat at Phillip’s back. It reminded him so much of when they were younger.
In her room, Phillip finally put her on her feet. When she tried to move around him, he held out an arm and Shane stepped in her path.
“Let me go,” she repeated in a low voice, glaring daggers at both of them. Anger radiated from her.
“Talk to us,” Shane begged. They used to tell each other everything. Now, she barely spoke to him at all. “Adalina, please.”
“What do you want me to say?” Her arms flew out to her sides as she backed up. “He left me! After everything, he left.”
Shane sighed, scratching the back of his neck with one hand. No matter how many times he tried to reassure her that Lee would return, her frustration stayed. When the pirate insisted on taking part of the Heulwen flower and supplies to the southern islands, Shane hadn’t argued. It needed to be done.
He just hadn’t expected the man to leave Adalina behind.
“That’s what I thought,” she said. “Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
Phillip grabbed her by the shoulders as she tried to move past them again. “Sit.”
Shane bit the inside of his cheek, hiding a smile as she listened to Phillip’s demanding tone. She sat on her bed and tugged a pillow onto her lap, the fire that had filled her over the past few weeks as she searched for answers extinguished. Looking down at her hands, her shoulders curved in. It broke Shane’s heart.
“I can’t be immortal,” she whispered.
A tear splashed onto her pillow, and that was enough. Shane sat beside her and pulled her into his arms. Her own went around him as he said, “We’ll figure it out.”
Phillip knelt in front of them, smoothing a hand down her hair. When she didn’t say anything, he met Shane’s eyes.
“He left me.” Adalina lifted her head from Shane’s shoulders. “Now that he’s stuck with me forever, he wants nothing to do with me.”
Rage bubbled up inside the king, and glancing to Phillip, he knew his friend felt the same. This wasn’t his fierce, stubborn sister. She was never one to give in or pity herself.
Lee loved Adalina—Shane had no doubt about that—but something happened on that street he’d never fully understand. She broke the curse by sacrificing herself.
Except the curse didn’t fully break. Lee was still immortal, unlike the rest of his crew.
And now, so was she.