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The Never King: Chapter 12

WINNIE

I wake the next morning when the sun is already high in the sky.

The air is warm but breezy and my windows stayed open all night, so the sunlight and the ocean air steals in easily.

If I wasn’t kidnapped and ferried away to some distant island by a myth of a man and then chained to a bed, I’d actually feel like I was on the best vacation of my life.

The waves are a rhythmic rush and trickle against the rocks and beach sand. I pull the wingback over to one of the windows, get comfortable in the seat and then prop my bare feet on the windowsill.

I sit there for an hour just watching the gulls dart back and forth over the beach. There’s no one outside and no one stirs beyond my room. I think this is a house of night owls.

As I sit, I can’t help but daydream about what I did last night.

A tingling heat settles between my legs and I close my thighs together, trying to drive off the arousal.

I wanted to push a wedge in between the Lost Boys, but I might have enjoyed last night far more than I thought I would.

I liked being called a whore.

If Pan called me a whore and fucked me—

“Good morning.”

I lurch upright as Cherry comes in.

“Hell,” I say. “You scared me.”

“Sorry,” she says. She comes to the bed and sets down a tray of food.

“What happened to you?” I ask her as I get up. There are scratches on her face and bruises on her arms.

“I fell down.”

“Where? In a barrel of broken glass?”

She ignores me. “I made you fresh coffee. Do you use cream or sugar?”

Beside the coffee, there’s a plate with toast and a bowl of fruit.

“Some cream would be nice.”

She removes the lid from one of the cups and pours in thick cream. The coffee pales.

“Did you sleep well?” she asks.

Oddly enough, yes, I did. Better than I have in a long time.

“Eat,” Cherry says. “I picked the berries fresh this morning. The bush didn’t produce much, but then it rarely does. So these are gold around here. Just so you know.”

I come over to sit on the giant bed. The chain comes with me. Cherry frowns at it.

“You don’t like my new jewelry?” I ask her and lift my arm with a flourish. “It’s very avant-garde.”

She laughs. She has a tinkling laugh that reminds me of Christmas and snow globes and elves.

I pluck a berry from the bowl and pop it in my mouth. Cherry watches me.

“You’re very pretty,” she says.

“I know,” I say.

She frowns at me.

“It’s best you know what your assets are,” I say, almost a parrot of Starla.

Cherry shakes her head. “I don’t know if I have any.”

“Sure you do.” I fold my legs beneath me and take a sip of the coffee. It’s honestly the best cup I’ve ever had. Better than Starbucks.

Why does everything taste better here?

“Your hair and your freckles are an asset,” I tell Cherry. “And you have this innocent look about you. Can you be devious?”

She laughs nervously. “I don’t think so.”

“I bet they underestimate you.”

She knows who I’m talking about.

“I…” She looks down at the sheet tangled at the end of my bed. “I don’t have magic or power. So I don’t think there’s anything to underestimate.”

Hand curled around the coffee mug, I bring it halfway, but watch her through the steam.

She’s lonely and desperate for attention. Something I suspect the Lost Boys will never give her.

I can give her attention. Just one more thing I can use when I need to.

“Who is your favorite?” I ask and take another sip of the coffee. God, it feels good to have something normal. Even though I haven’t been here long, everything is different. I need something that’s not.

“Of the boys?” she asks.

“Yes.”

A smile plays over her mouth and she ducks her head.

“Go on,” I coax. “Spill the secrets.”

“Well…”

“Yes?”

“Vane.”

I grimace with bared teeth. “Seriously?”

She blushes and tucks a lock of her auburn hair behind her ear. “There’s just something about him—”

“Scintillating and psychotic?”

“It’s his shadow. He—”

“Wait…his what?”

She licks her lips. Shit, I’ve caught her in something she wasn’t supposed to say.

That’s exactly why I need to befriend her.

I lower my voice. “I won’t say anything. Promise.”

She checks the door, then leans into me, excited to have a secret that I don’t. “There are more islands than Neverland. Seven islands, seven kings. Every island has two shadows. One for life, one for death. The king always claims a shadow. It’s in his blood, having the ability to claim it.” Her voice thins as she grows more excited. “The king picks which one he wants. Pan picked life a very long time ago. But when Pan lost his shadow, he lost the power and now the island is suffering because of it and I think Pan might be dying.”

I blink at her.

It’s a lot to take in.

“So Pan is a king?” I ask.

“Yes. Or he was. But that was before I was born.”

“And he lost his shadow?”

“Yes.”

A puzzle piece clicks into place.

He thinks the Darlings took his shadow. He said as much without saying it exactly.

He’s going to have a hard time getting that information out of me considering I’ve literally never heard of it and definitely don’t know how to find it.

It makes my plan even more important. Because if I can’t give him what he wants…

“What about the death shadow or whatever from this island?” I ask.

She shakes her head. “It’s been missing for a very long time. No one has seen it and no one seems interested in finding it. Death shadows are nothing to be messed with.”

Her gaze goes distant as she says this and I get the distinct impression she knows more about death shadows than she’s letting on.

“Last night, Kas was telling me about the fae and that he and Bash are fae, but they lost their wings?”

Cherry nods. “They killed their father.”

“What?!”

And here I thought the twins were the nicer ones.

“Killing another fae is grounds for banishment and losing their wings. That’s why they’re here with Pan and the Lost Boys. They were banished from the fae court.”

“Court?”

All of this information is making my head spin, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t excite me too. This is all so interesting. It’s better than a TV show.

“And you?” I ask. “What are you?”

“Me?” Her voice is squeaky when she says the word. “I’m human. I…I come from the north end of the island. Hook’s territory.”

“And who is Hook?”

“Captain of the pirates.”

“And the pirates—”

“Hate Pan.”

“Right.”

“They want to take over the island.” She fidgets with a loose thread on the white sheets. Wraps it around the end of her finger until it turns blue.

“Do they have a shot at it?”

She focuses on a distant spot on the wall, but I don’t think she’s looking at it so much as disappearing into a memory. “Maybe. Maybe not. My—Hook—is relentless.”

She knows Hook personally. But how?

“Have you ever left the island? Do you know how to…cross worlds, I guess?”

She shakes her head, unwinds the string from around her finger and the blood rushes back in.

I set the coffee cup down and collapse back against the pillows. “Just as well. I guess I’m stuck chained to this bed, bored out of my goddamn mind.”

“Well,” Cherry says, “maybe I can talk the twins into letting you come down to the bonfire tonight. Just to get you out of the house.”

“Okay. That could be fun.”

I can just imagine all of the trouble I could cause at a bonfire.

My brain conjures an image of Kas fucking that girl’s mouth last night and my stomach lights up and then the sensation dips between my legs.

There’s something about seeing the supposed nice guy act not so nice.

“I’ll ask Bash. He’ll likely say yes,” Cherry says. “Kas will be harder to come around, but what Bash wants, Kas usually gives him.”

And vice versa, I bet.

“And Pan and Vane?”

She rolls her eyes. “Even less so than the twins.”

“Something tells me they’re the guys who pop balloons at a kids’ party.”

She laughs. “You’re funny, Darling.”

“Thanks.”

“Enjoy your breakfast. I’ll be back later,” she says and slides off the bed.

“Cherry?”

“Hmm?”

“Did Vane give you those cuts and bruises?”

It’s really none of my business, but I have to know.

She bites at her bottom lip before giving me a nervous laugh. “It comes with the territory.”

“Which is what?”

“Vane has a shadow too. From another island.”

I think I know what she’s going to say before she says it.

“And his shadow is death.”


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