NOX (Royal Protection Academy #3)

By: Randi Cooley Wilson
For anyone who told me I could not,

because I did.





The calm had brought a sort of courage and hope with it.

Instead of giving way to thoughts of the worst,

he actually found he was trying to believe in better things.



Frances Hodgson Burnette

The Secret Garden





TRISTAN GALLAGHER

Prince of the Woodland Realm and Heir to the Paris Clan of Gargoyles



A word of advice:

When you are the heir to a legacy,

always read the fine print on the family crest.

Because the symbol alone will seduce you.

It will lure you in—have you believe that you are invincible.

Yet, it’s in the smallest of print where you learn of the true duties

and obligations of your rise to power.

Honoring bloodlines comes with great sacrifice,

none greater than to sacrifice in the name of love …





I NEED TO GET THE FUCK out of here. As I take in the damage to Serena’s bedroom, a dark, ugly sigh escapes me.

The destruction I’ve caused feels symbolic—like I’ve ruined the last part of humanity the gargoyle princess created in me. And in its place is an empty shell of the being I might have become, but no longer wish to be.

Her room at the Royal Protector Academy mirrors my current emotional state—ripped apart. Gutted. Destroyed.

Exhaling roughly, I attempt to clear the dismal thoughts threatening to push me further into this black hole of despair. I rub my hands over my face and remind myself that I don’t wallow in self-pity.

Protectors take control of the situation.

Seek revenge.

And endlessly fight for what’s ours.

With a final decision, I turn to my brother and best friend, Zander. I study his face, longing for a simpler time—when we were children, running carefree among the forest through my mother’s realm—instead of the nightmare we’re facing.

Zander was once the second in command to the woodland realm’s royal guard, under our father, Rionach.

After Rionach’s death, he was to step in as commander of the Lion Guard. That was before I renounced the throne, giving up my satyr birthright to become the king—for her.

Given Zander’s pure satyr bloodline, my brother will make a more noble king for the realm. He understands the kingdom’s needs more than I ever could. And honestly, at his core, Zander is a much better being than I will ever be.

Even so, it’s written all over his face. He doesn’t want to be the king of the woodland realm any more than I did. And now that we’ve assumed reign and protection of the water realm, he’s got that much more to rule over.

He’d much rather lead my army and protect me.

The irony in all this is that he can’t protect me.

No one can. Because the gargoyle blood that runs through my veins won’t allow me to be part of that world anymore. Neither will my love for Serena St. Michael, the heir to the gargoyle race. My reason for existing.

“Set up the meeting.” My tone is final as I change the course of my fate forever.

Zander dips his chin at my declaration before reluctantly taking his leave. Once the door is closed, my focus darts around, landing on the remains of Serena’s bed.

A vision—a distant memory of promises made between us—hits me hard in the gut, like a punch.

“I can feel it, Tristan. We’re becoming something else. Something bigger than we even know.”

“Maybe it’s time to walk away, then,” I mutter.

“Let me in.” She whispers the plea.

I wince. “Why? You’ll leave me. Hurt me.”

Her eyes water with unshed tears as she shakes her head back and forth. “I won’t.”

“Everyone else has, Serena.”

“I’ll fight for you in a way that no one else ever has.”

Her ghost flickers in and out, triggering another memory. A conversation we shared before she disappeared.

“Tell me this is real,” she pleads. I’m afraid that this … unknown shadow is going to descend on us and take you away from me. Leaving me alone.”

My fingers stroke her cheek as I stare at her intensely, allowing my thumb to run across her bottom lip. “Trust me,” I whisper, “nothing is going to happen to me, or you.”

I release a bark-laugh at the promise. It was a lie then. And after what I just instructed Zander to do, it’s a lie now.

With a firm resolve, I walk toward the door and yank it open. Zander is leaning against the wall with his arms crossed. His expression is one of concern mixed with determination. Relief floods through me, knowing he did it.

I pull out a cigarette, light it, and inhale deeply. It’s been months since I’ve had one. My eyes close as the nicotine invades my head, relaxing the edginess rattling inside me.

After a moment, my lids slide open and with an exhale, I lock my attention on my brother. “You ready for this?”

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