Once Upon a Harem, Book 4
A twisted reverse harem fairytale
Life as a princess isn’t as glamorous as it seems. For Tia Ashley, it’s a well-hidden secret. One she’s willing to take to her grave.
Her step-father, King Balsatra, isn’t a caring ruler or father. He killed her mother and turned Tia into a servant. Her stepbrothers couldn’t help her out of fear of their father’s wrath. The day Tia turned eighteen, she fled the palace and far away from the Kregon Kingdom to a small village where no one knows her.
Her new life is short lived when her three stepbrothers and their two guards arrive asking questions about the missing princess. There was no way she was going back to the palace to endure any more of the King’s abuse.
Conell, Ayen, Elion, Kieran, and Jonah had other plans. The kind that involved taking the throne and ending the Kings reign of terror.
Note: Each story in the Once Upon a Harem series is a stand alone novella. They do not need to be read in order.
The single word echoed through the grand hall, rattling the windows. Or was it the rattling in my brain? A cold shiver raked down my spine like icy claws. Terror gripped a hold of my heart at the fierce tone of my step-father, King Balsatra of the Kregon Kingdom. The most feared ruler.
And a cruel bastard.
He was also paranoid. We were the only kingdom who had a technology and magic ban. The king feared it so much, he wouldn’t trade or do business with other, more advance kingdoms.
Did he understand it left us all vulnerable to outside threats? Did he care?
“Girl! Come when you’re called.”
The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. He never remembered my name. Or never bothered to try.
The only time he sought me out was when he needed something, or wanted to beat me like a disobedient servant. The latter was usually done in front of his sons to humiliate and remind me I didn’t belong in their family. Especially when they were caught paying me attention. Sometimes I wondered if it was my step-brothers he was punishing.
My heart ached at the thought. Conell, Ayen, and Elion were becoming more to me than just my friends. That slice of truth cut the deepest. I needed to run.
Run away from the palace. From my step-father’s cruelty.
The king’s rage and need to punish me for whatever reason he could think of had grown worse in recent months. So much so, I feared for my life every time he set his attention on me.
I was out.
I’d lived through enough beatings, and wore the scars to prove it. I was eighteen, an adult, and didn’t have to remain to endure his abuse any longer. I didn’t want to think about how much worse it could get for me if I stayed.
I rushed to the back corner of the Great Hall, desperate not to be caught before I could escape the castle. After a quick glance to the main entrance, I slipped into the stairwell only the servants used, then raced down the steps. My heart hammered faster than a scared rabbit. If I didn’t escape unseen, the beating I’d get would be far worse than any he’d delivered since my mother died a year ago.
Princesses didn’t disobey their father—step or not—and servants died for running from the king. Especially if that king was cold-hearted and power hungry.
I exited the stairs into the kitchen, then continued to the side door. Relief flooded me when I entered the empty kitchen. No witnesses to my escape. Just a few feet and I’d be free, as long as the king hadn’t called the guards on me.
Just then the bells sounded, indicating that yes, the king had called them.
My step-brothers would find a way to stall them. It was part of the plan to get me out. Elion had come up with it and his two brothers backed him. It was up to me to be quick. Although I feared I wasn’t quick enough if my stepfather was searching for me.
My chest tightened at the thought of leaving them. Hell, they were the only reason I stayed as long as I had. But it was too risky now that I’d fallen for my step-brothers. Each one of them held my heart.
We had to part ways. They didn’t deserve a servant for a girlfriend. The king would kill us all if he found out.
As I grabbed the handle, a shadow fell over me. My heart sank to my feet and fear burned my insides. I close my eyes briefly before glancing at the man standing beside me.
Piercing green eyes stared at me. There was no emotion in his handsome features, but those eyes told me to run and wait for him to find me again. Kieran was one of the royal guards and another that held my heart.
He supported the princes’ plan to help me escape, then find the evidence they needed to dethrone the king. Conell had said with me safely out from under the king’s attention, they would be able to manipulate their father into confessing.
In truth, the guys wanted me far away from their cruel father. I was on board with that plan.
Kieran’s wavy brown hair fell into his eyes as he turned sharply and called out to the others. “She’s not in the kitchen.” He slipped something into my hand and closed my fingers around it. “There is a village about a day’s travel on foot to the north. Go there. Ask for Cathy. She will provide you with what you need to continue on.”
Then he left.
Relief washed through me, threatening my ability to stay upright. I wanted to hug him one last time. To feel his arms around me. We’d be caught for sure if that happened and the bastard king would kill Kieran, then beat me for days.
Tears rolled down my cheeks as I pushed through the door. The sunlight hurt my eyes at first. Pulling out my shawl from the pocket of my underskirt, I wrapped it around my head and ran across the yard to the forest.
Once inside the safety net of the trees, I heard the dogs howl and the guards yelling commands back and forth.
The dogs were Hounds. Vicious, barely sane wolf shifters who were more wolf than man.
I pressed my back against a large tree, trying to slow my breathing.
Please don’t come this way.
Peeking around the trunk, I spied the king’s private guard, Jonah, as he stood beside his horse outside the stables. No. My stomach soured. I couldn’t go back there. And he would come after me for sure.
Jonah was a wolf shifter—lethal and cold—and his senses were that of a tracker, superior to the Hounds. Once he locked onto his prey, there was no escape.
Still I waited. If he moved toward me, I’d run faster than I ever had. Then beg him for death once he caught me.
My insides froze when my three step-brothers rode up next to him on their horses. Jonah mounted his horse and directed the princes in the opposite direction from me. My fear spiked. That wasn’t part of the plan. Was it?
When the others rode off, Jonah fixed his gaze back on me. My blood froze. Could he see me from that distance?
Not wanting to find out anytime soon, I tore off toward the sound of the river.
My slippers weren’t made for running in the forest. Neither was my maid’s dress. I should have stolen Elion’s clothes. Trousers would’ve allowed for easier climbing.
Damn, I didn’t plan my part of the escape very well. The guys gave the signal and I ran.
The sound of Hounds barking and growling pushed me faster. My heart hammered in my head, throat, chest. My muscles burned.
I came to a drop off and skidded to a stop. No. I must have taken a wrong turn. Glancing over the edge, I sagged in relief at the sight of the river below. The distance down wasn’t too bad. Climbing was an option. Jumping was another. However, I didn’t know how deep the water was.
The baying and growling faded in the distance. Another shudder of relief rippled through me. I wondered if Kieran lead them in a different direction. My heart ached at the thought. He risked his life for me.
What was I doing? Running. God, I was so weak.
A tear slid down my cheek.
Just then a twig snapped and I spun around, meeting the heated, angry depths of Jonah’s stare. My heart sank to my feet. His dark red hair fell in waves to his shoulders, adding to his lethal beauty.
Taking a step back, I held up my hand. “You will have to kill me because I’m not going back.”
He dismounted from his horse, then stalked toward me, his features not altering. Hazel eyes bore into me, challenging me. But he said nothing as he prowled closer, a predator stalking his prey.
I didn’t have much interaction with Jonah. He was the king’s private guard. I tried to stay as far away from my step–father as I could. “Don’t come any closer. I’ll jump.”
He paused in mid-step, but it was brief, then flicked his gaze behind me. With speed that no man should possess, he was in front me, his large hands on my wrists. Fear froze me place. He glanced over the edge before returning to hold my tear–filled gaze.
“Goodbye, princess.” His eyes darkened like a storm brewed from deep within him.
Then he shoved. Confusion filled my brain. It took me a few moments to realize he pushed me off the cliff. I wasn’t prepared for the free fall or the freezing temps of the river. Water went up my nose and I struggled to gain control over my body. In a panic, I gasped in a mouthful.
I tried swimming to the surface but the current was too strong. My lungs burned for air. The rushing water jerked me from side to side and rolled me with the currents. I slammed into something. Pain exploded in my head, then darkness enveloped me.