t sucks to be king.
Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if I got a castle and servants and my face on a bunch of money.
But no, I get to be the king of a scattered race of mythical creatures that no one’s ever heard of. And they expect me to swoop in and defeat the evil warlord who’s been tormenting them for the last few decades. Oh, and hey, while I’m at it, I can marry their former princess and restore the royal line!
Yeah, thanks, I’ll pass.
I already told the Gale Force—my “army” or whatever—what they can do with their “betrothal.” And I’ve been tempted to tell them exactly where they can shove the rest of their little plans for my life.
But . . . it’s hard to stay angry when they keep giving me this desperate you’re our only hope look. And they’re all so full of stories about the things Raiden’s done to their friends and families, and the horrifying battles they’ve fought. Risking their lives to protect me. The last Westerly.
The only one capable of harnessing the power of all four winds, twisting them into the ultimate weapon.
Well, they think I’m the only one.
Which is the other reason I’m playing along with the whole Your Highness thing.
I have someone to protect too. And I can do that much better as Vane Weston, king of the Windwalkers.
So I’ll follow their rules and train for their battles. But as soon as Audra comes back . . .
She left twenty-three days, twelve hours, and fifty-four minutes ago—and yes, I’ve totally been counting. I’ve felt every second, every mile she’s put between us, like our bond has claws and teeth, tearing me apart inside.
And it’s been loads of fun trying to explain to the Gales why my guardian left me unprotected. Every day that passes makes the excuses I’ve given seem weaker.
I thought she’d be home by now.
I thought . . .
But it doesn’t matter.
Audra promised she’d come home—and I want to give her the time she needs.
So I’ll wait for her as long as it takes.
It’s the only choice I have.
’m not running.
Racing the sun across the sky, carried by the whim of the wind. I have no plan.
No guide along this journey.
Just the whispered songs floating on the breezes, promising that
hope still lingers on the horizon.
The birds circle me as I fly, dipping and diving and begging me to join their game. But they’re lost to me now, like everything else. Everything except the one person I should be trying to erase.
I can feel him in the air.
In my heart.
In the empty ache from the space between us, mixed with the delicious sparks that still burn in my lips from our kiss.
I will not regret forging it.
But I’m not ready to face it either.
Not until I’ve sorted through the tatters of my life. Swept away the lies and mistakes and found someone who’s more than the guardian who broke her oath.
More than the traitor who stole the king.
More than the daughter of a murderer.
The last word turns my stomach, and I’m grateful I’ve gone back to denying myself food and drink.
I’ve paid for my mother’s sins every day for the last ten years.
I won’t pay for them anymore.
But is locking her away enough to erase her influence? Or does it sink deeper, like one of Raiden’s wicked winds, breaking me down piece by piece?
I always thought she and I were sunrise and sunset—two opposites that could never meet.
But I have her dark hair and deep blue eyes. Her connection to the birds and her stubborn temper.
I’m more like her than I ever wanted to be.
Maybe I am running.
But not from Vane.
really miss sleep.
The clock by my bed says 3:23 a.m., and all I want to do is faceplant on my pillow and close my eyes for about a year.
I drop to the floor and do push-ups instead.
Exercise is the only way to stay awake. And hey, maybe Audra will appreciate how ripped I’m getting from these late-night workouts. Though I’m not sure how much longer I can keep them up.
I haven’t slept more than a few hours over the last two weeks— and it was hardly what I’d call restful.
Freaking Raiden and his freaking winds.
The Gales thought he’d wait to see how powerful I am before he made any sort of move—though they as**signed me a new guardian and set up a base nearby, just in case. But after a few days Raiden found a better way to torture me.
Creepy, broken drafts keep slipping into the valley, drawn to me like heat-seeking missiles. And if they catch me when I’m asleep, they slip into my dreams and twist everything I care about into a Slideshow of Suck.
Walls and windows can’t block them, and no one can find a command to keep them away. So it’s either be a Vane-Zombie all the time or suffer through the nightmares. I’ll take zombie any day.
I’ve seen my friends and family tortured so brutally it’s hard to look them in the eye. And Audra . . .
Watching someone hurt her is like drowning in boiling oil. I wake up screaming and soaked in sweat and it takes forever to convince myself it wasn’t real. Especially since I can’t hold her or see her to know she’s really okay. The pull of our bond tells me she’s alive, but it can’t tell me if she’s safe. For that I have to feel her trace. And that’s not easy to do, considering my uptight new guardian, Feng—I call him Fang to annoy him—thinks the only way to protect me is to never let me out of his sight.
He’s seriously insane—and I’d probably be going insane too if it weren’t for Gus.
I glance at the clock, grinning when I see it’s 3:32.
Gus is supposed to take over Fang’s stand outside vane’s window like a stalker shift every night at three thirty, but I swear he shows up late just to drive Fang crazy.
Tonight he waits until 3:37.
Fang screams at him so loud it scares Gavin—Audra’s stupid pet hawk—out of his tree. But when I glance out my window, Gus is totally unfazed. He winks at me as Fang paces back and forth, waving his burly arms and shaking his head so hard his dark, scraggly braid keeps whipping him in the cheek. The tirade goes on at least five minutes before Fang switches to the nightly update.
I stop listening.
It’s always vague reports from other bases with weird names and weirder army terms, and the few times I’ve asked anyone to translate, it turned into yet another lecture on Why I Need To Teach Everyone Westerly. It’s just not worth the fight.
I switch to sit-ups, trying to keep my energy up, and I’ve done 314 before Fang finally flies away. Physically, I’m rocking at my training. It’s the memorizing a billion and a half wind commands that’s killing me. That, and covering for Audra—though hopefully she’ll be home soon and I won’t have to worry about that part anymore.