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The Never King: Chapter 3

WINNIE

When I wake, I have the same sensation I had when I fell asleep in the back of Mom’s old car while she drove us six states west.

I’m not where I’m supposed to be, everything hurts, and nothing feels the same.

I hear the seagulls first.

We haven’t lived near the ocean in seven years, but their squawk stirs the old memories of the sand coating our floors, the sound of the waves and the smell of the dune grass.

I’ve always loved the water. It makes me happy.

I hear an intake of breath after the gulls and the breath isn’t mine.

When I open my eyes, I find a boy peering down at me.

No, not a boy exactly. He has the youth of a boy, but the presence of a man.

Long black hair is tied into a bun at the back of his head. His gaze is knife-like, sharp and glinting as he takes in the sight of me. His skin is the color of the bright side of a blood moon and black tattoos run over his bare chest. All of the lines are precise and symmetrical on both sides of his body. They start at his neck and travel like a labyrinth over the rest of him, disappearing beneath the waistband of ripped, black jeans.

He is a vision of dark virility.

“Good morning, Darling,” he says.

“Where am I?” I lurch upright only to find I’m chained to a wall.

That’s kinky.

“For your safety,” he says, nodding at the chain.

“From what?”

“Wandering off.” He smirks. He has full, puffy lips.

“She awake?” another voice says from the doorway.

I follow the sound and my brain stutters to a stop.

It’s like I’m seeing double.

Except this guy’s dark hair is cut much shorter and fans over his head in waves. The tattoos are exactly the same though, from what I can tell. This one is wearing a shirt.

“Before you ask,” the new one says, “yes, you are hallucinating.”

The other grunts. “Don’t fuck with her, Bash. She’ll get plenty of that later.”

The one named Bash comes over. “How are you, Darling? Sometimes the journey here is hard on a girl.”

My throat is raw and dry, my tongue like sandpaper in my mouth. I’m a little queasy and foggy, but other than that I seem okay.

Other than the fact I was kidnapped by someone I thought was a myth or a delusion and now I’m chained to a bed by the ocean. Back home, the closest ocean is several hundred miles away.

Just how far did they take me?

“I’m fine,” I answer.

“Water?” the one by my bedside asks.

“Yes, please.”

For my entire life, my mother prepared me for this moment, sometimes in the most painful of ways, and none of it was enough.

She literally told me this would happen and yet now that it is, it’s still hard to wrap my head around.

Is it real? Or is this delusion how the madness begins?

The bed beneath me feels real. The warm tropical air, real. The space that the boys take up in the room, the energy that fills it—very, very real.

There is something about these boys that is more potent that any of the boys I’ve hung out with before and I’ve hung out with plenty.

Pretty boys always make the time go by faster. I hate being bored. But most of all, I hate being alone.

Bash disappears into another doorway on the other side of the room and returns with a cup of water. Condensation already blooms across the glass.

The gulls cry again.

I can hear waves crashing over rocks somewhere in the distance.

As I drink the water down—it’s crisp and cool and somehow the most refreshing glass of water I’ve ever had—I take in my surroundings.

We’re in a large room with crumbling plaster walls that look like they were once painted a bright shade of emerald. There are three rectangular windows to my right with slatted wooden shutters pulled open. There are no screens on the windows. Light pours in. Beyond, I can make out the branches of a palm tree and below it, a tree blooming with bright red flowers.

I’m on a bed with a thick wooden frame and what feels like a feather-stuffed mattress. The white sheet is clean, bleached to a crisp. There is no blanket.

A wingback chair sits in the corner with a long-armed lamp behind it and an end table.

That would be a nice place to sit to listen to the gulls if I wasn’t chained to the bed.

I hand the glass back. The boy sets it on the floor. He must be sitting on a stool at my bedside because he’s decidedly sitting but with no chair in sight.

“What am I doing here?”

They boys share a look and I swear I hear the distant chiming of bells.

Goddamn. I really am losing my mind.

“How much was your mother able to tell you?” Bash asks.

“Not much.”

Last night was the first time she actually gave me any useful information.

My mother’s boogeyman thinks I, a Darling, can fix him.

What can I possibly do for him? I can barely hold together my own life.

Bash leans against the wall behind his twin, a dark echo.

I went to school with twins once back when Mom and I lived in Minnesota.

The Wavey twins. The most obnoxious, annoying little girls I’d ever met. They used the fact that they were identical to get away with everything. Including putting worms in my peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

I wonder if these boys are the same.

They look like trouble. They feel like the wrong kind of temptation. Like a pretty tree frog that can kill you with a touch.

I think everyone has a super power, something they’re just inherently good at and mine has always been reading people. Knowing what sort of a person someone is before they speak a word.

I think I need to be careful with these two if I’m going to survive this.

Whatever this is.

“I’m Kastian,” the closest twin says. “You can call me Kas.” He hitches his thumb over his broad, bare shoulder. “That’s my twin, Sebastian.”

“Bash,” the other twin says.

“Hi,” I say to them.

“We’re the nice ones,” Bash says and pushes away from the wall. He comes to sit at the end of the bed and the frame creaks beneath his weight. Even though he’s fully clothed, I can tell by the way the material skims over his body that he’s just as cut as his twin brother, all muscle and bone.

I’ve been alone in dark rooms with plenty of men, but none like the twins.

They could take me easily, in any way they wanted. Fighting them would be like fighting the ocean—pointless, futile.

But why would I?

They look like they’d be a wild ride.

I lick my lips and Bash’s nostrils flare as his attention wanders to my mouth.

When you grow up around prostitutes, you learn a thing or two about tricks.

Mine has always been setting hooks.

“If you’re the nice ones,” I say, “then who are the mean ones?”

The twins share a look.

“Peter Pan?” I guess.

“Meaner than us,” Kas admits.

“Not the meanest,” Bash adds.

“Then who—”

Footsteps sound up the hallway beyond my room. The twins sigh almost in unison.

Bash scratches at the back of his neck. “Get ready, Darling.”

“Why?”

My heart kicks up. There are more?

The footsteps draw closer, the heavy clip of a well-worn sole, the gait of someone who has a mission and will not be swayed from it.

Who is meaner than Pan? My mom never said anything about there being others. I never thought to ask.

When he darkens the doorway, the air gets lodged in my throat.

This one isn’t as muscular as the twins, but there’s something distinctly more sinister about him.

The scar. The eyes.

Three long, jagged scars cut his face in half diagonally from one temple to his jaw.

It’s changed his gaze.

One eye is bright violet. The other pure black.

Goosebumps lift on my arms despite the warm air.

“The Darling is awake,” the newcomer says in a cold, detached tone of voice. He comes over to Bash and steals the last of his cigarette, pinches it between his thumb and forefinger and takes a hit. When he speaks, he hasn’t exhaled yet, so his voice is stilted as he holds the smoke in his lungs. “She started crying yet?”

Kas frowns. “Something tells me this one will be harder to break.”

“They all break eventually,” the mean one says, eyeing me with his unsettling eyes.

I automatically look away, my body singing with a creeping sense of dread. I draw back, try to make myself smaller.

Mom said there was magic here.

What kind of magic is this? I do not shrink. Not usually.

“Vane,” Bash says. “Is that really necessary? She just woke up.”

Sweat beads along my temple and there’s a building terror threatening to spill out my throat.

A scream builds in the base of my throat.

What is happening?

“Don’t be a prick,” Kas says.

The mean one—Vane—finishes the cigarette, narrowing his eyes at me as my heart drums loudly in my head.

My breathing quickens, hands clammy as I claw at the sheet. I can’t sit still. I want to run. Tears blur my vision and then spill out.

“Vane,” Bash says again with more force.

Like a tether cut, the terror is suddenly gone and I gasp out with relief.

“What the hell was that?” I pant.

“Darling,” Kas says, and gestures to Vane with a flourish of his hand, “meet the scary one.”

“What?” I’m still gasping for oxygen, tears streaming down my face. What the fuck?

“I told you they all cry eventually,” Vane says. “Unchain her. Bring her out. I can only take dumb Darlings for so long.”

He disappears out the door.

“Come on,” Kas says. “We’ll fill you in while Bash makes you something to eat. Are you hungry?”

My stomach is queasy from whatever that just was, but it is decidedly empty too.

Maybe food will help.

Will anything help?

Mom warned me and I thought she was crazy and now I’m paying the price.

Kas is gentle as he removes the metal cuff. I see no key. I don’t know how he unlatches it. The chain, with the cuff attached, is tossed to the bed.

The twins make their way to the door and wait for me at the threshold.

“We promise we won’t bite,” Kas says.

“Not yet, anyway,” Bash adds.


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