Title: The Key
Author: Jennifer Anne Davis
Published: November 15th, 2013 by Clean Teen Publishing
Word Count: 80,000
Genre: YA Fantasy Romance
Recommended Age: 14+
Within these pages lie kingdoms with castles and princes who fall in love with fair maidens, but make no mistake−this is no fairytale.
His father’s kingdom is on the brink of upheaval and at the center of it all is an ordinary girl who could be the key to its undoing. When faced with the ultimate choice, will he choose the girl he’s falling in love with or the kingdom he has sworn to protect?
An ordinary girl with an extraordinary past. All she wants is to be free. What she doesn’t realize is that freedom comes with a price she can’t afford to pay. She’s forced to accept the proposal of a prince she despises, even though her heart belongs to someone else . . . his brother.
Seventeen-year-old Rema lives in a brutal kingdom where travel between regions is forbidden, people are starving, and looking at someone the wrong way can mean death. Nineteen-year-old Darmik is the king’s son and Commander of the King’s Army. He spends his days roving the island, doing his father’s bidding and trying to maintain control over the people.
When a chance encounter throws Rema and Darmik together, they share an instantaneous connection, but any sort of relationship between them is strictly forbidden. Darmik’s brother, the Crown Prince, notices Darmik’s interest in Rema and, in a calculated, political move, blackmails her. Faced with an impossible choice, Rema is forced to sacrifice her heart in order to save her family.
As Rema is taken to the palace with the Crown Prince, Darmik confronts the growing rumor that a legitimate blood heir to the throne exists and is trying to overthrow Darmik’s family. In Darmik’s quest to hunt down and kill the threat, he discovers that nothing is as it seems. Locked in the king’s castle, Rema finds herself a key player in a massive power struggle. When Darmik shows up, she’s not sure if she can trust him. The line between friends, enemies, and loyalty becomes blurred. As truths are unlocked, Rema understands that she just might be the key to finding the rightful heir and restoring peace to the kingdom… if she can manage to stay alive long enough.
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Jennifer graduated from the University of San Diego with a degree in English and a teaching credential. Afterwards, she finally married her best friend and high school sweetheart. Jennifer is currently a full-time writer and mother of three young children. Her days are spent living in imaginary worlds and fueling her own kids’ creativity.
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Rema politely curtsied. Prince Lennek stepped forward, closing the distance between them. The music started and he placed his hands on her, expertly gliding her around the dance floor. At first Rema was afraid she would trip over her own feet and fall, embarrassing herself and probably meeting everyone’s expectations, but she didn’t. Surprise washed through her, especially since she hadn’t danced with anyone other than her aunt and uncle. But Lennek was dancing a basic four-step foot pattern of which she was well acquainted.
“We haven’t properly met,” Prince Lennek commented. His voice was soft and smooth, like butter. She had the urge to reach out and caress his handsome face. He looked very much like his brother, Prince Darmik. Even Prince Lennek’s tattoo was similar to his brother’s, although Lennek’s black swirls appeared more like knives than flames, especially when the light shone on the silver in the marks. Rema forced herself to focus on the prince’s face, instead of his body.
“No, we haven’t met, Your Highness,” Rema said sarcastically, wanting to stand her ground. She wouldn’t allow him to see the slightest amount of infatuation or intimidation on her part. “So I find it rather interesting that you would summon me here. You are aware that I am engaged to be married?”
He twirled Rema around and pulled her back to him, his eyes sparkling with amusement. Rema felt everyone watching and appraising her. She tried to focus on the dance and Lennek, not allowing the people’s silent judgments to overwhelm her thoughts.
“I am Prince Lennek and you are Rema, the local horse merchant’s niece.” His voice was seductive. “And yes, you are currently engaged.” His head bent forward, his lips only inches from her ear. “But things can change. Nothing is set in stone,” he whispered.
She wasn’t sure what he was implying. Did he know she secretly didn’t want to marry? His strong arm slid lower on her back. Rema stumbled, but Prince Lennek changed directions, keeping her upright. She quickly regained her footing, only missing one beat.
“Who taught you to dance?” he pleasantly asked.
Her thoughts refocused on Lennek. “My aunt.”
“Interesting. Most people in the merchant class do not know the dances of the upper class—especially dances done with royalty.” His eyes held a questioning look, awaiting her answer.
“We are dancing ‘The Courting Dance,’” Rema replied. “It was so named because it is only danced at court, also because it is usually done when a member of the royal family has decided to court someone. It reveals his intentions to his court.”
Lennek’s eyebrows lifted up, surprised. “Why do you know the dance, then?” he inquired.
Was he insulting her? Before she could think her response through, she said, “Perhaps my aunt thought such a beautiful dance shouldn’t be wasted on a select group of people who truly can’t appreciate it.” She smiled sweetly.
“Do you have an answer to everything?” he asked, amused.
“Usually,” she replied, holding her head high.
Prince Lennek laughed and twirled her around again. This time, he pulled her in a little closer. Rema’s chest touched his. His warm hand held her tight. Without meaning to, she glanced up into his eyes. There was something hypnotic about them, and she was unable to look away.
“I am so glad you wandered into my life.” Prince Lennek chuckled, like it was a private joke. “You are the key to everything.”
The music ended and the prince glanced away from her, breaking the spell. She stepped back, about to return to her seat when Lennek grabbed her arm.
Shocked, Rema stared at him. His smile vanished. His eyes were cold, as if a mask had been ripped from his face. She tried to step away, but his grip only tightened.
“What do you want?” she whispered.
It felt like spiders crawling over her skin. “You can’t have me,” she said.
His features softened. “Really? We’ll see.” He snickered, his mask of charm instantaneously back on and the harshness gone.
Prince Lennek motioned for his steward.
“Rema is leaving the party now.”
Excerpt # 2 from The Key by Jennifer Anne Davis:
Darmik had to talk to her again. He ran to the back of the stables, hoping to catch her alone. He rounded the corner, slamming into her, knocking her to the ground. Big, round sapphire eyes looked up at him.
“I’m sorry,” Darmik stammered, reaching down to help her up. “I didn’t realize you were there.”
“Prince Darmik,” she politely nodded, getting to her feet on her own. Her eyes quickly scanned him from head to toe, lingering on his royal markings that covered his neck and shoulders. The black stallion whinnied and ran away from them. Tabitha sighed, exasperated. “What are you doing here?”
“Um,” he wasn’t usually at a loss of words, but there was something about her piercing gaze that made him forget what he was doing. She cleared her throat and brushed the dirt from her dress.
“Sorry about that,” he pointed to her, indicating the collision. Her eyes darted behind him. Darmik glanced back, but no one was there. “Are you looking for someone?” he asked.
“My uncle. He’s waiting for me. We just came to deliver this horse.” She waved her hand toward the black stallion grazing nearby.
Tabitha certainly was bold, and far more interesting than any of the nobles Darmik had ever met. But then again, she wasn’t from the noble class—she was from the merchant class. Still, she stood out like she didn’t belong to anyone or anything.
“Tabitha?” He took a step toward her, wanting to get closer.
“That’s not my name,” she stated.
“Excuse me?” He remembered her band: Tabitha, seventeen years old, niece of Kar and Maya, not yet married or engaged.
“Aren’t you the commander of the King’s Army?” she asked. Darmik nodded. “Don’t you have an army to run? Or do you only hunt and mosey about, pretending to be of use to the kingdom? I thought King Barjon would manage to keep you busier.”
Was she serious? Nobody had ever spoken to him in such a manner.
“Well,” he began to answer, but she started laughing.
“I go by Rema.” She held out her hand in greeting.
Darmik never shook hands with anyone. Even though he was the commander of the army, he was also a prince, and his men addressed him as such. Shaking hands was for commoners. Her pale hand remained suspended in air, waiting for him.
His hand slid into hers. “Prince Darmik,” he responded, shaking her warm hand, eager for the chance to touch her again.
“I got that part,” Rema smiled. Her breath smelled sweet like apples. She tried pulling her hand from his, but he refused to release her.
“Let me escort you inside the stables.” Darmik put her hand on his arm. She seemed reluctant at first, but he pulled her along toward the front of the stables, not giving her a chance to refuse. “Do you live nearby?” he asked.
When she didn’t elaborate, he forged on. “I haven’t seen blonde hair very often. Does your mother have the same coloring?” As soon as he asked the question, he knew he’d made an error. Her body tensed. He looked down at her, remembering her band said she lived with her aunt and uncle. Rema shook her head, refusing to answer.
Afraid he’d offended her, he continued on. “I’ve traveled to Emperion. Almost everyone there has blonde hair and blue eyes.”
“You’ve been to Emperion?” she asked, squeezing his arm.
“Yes. For training.”
Rema’s eyes widened. “Tell me about it,” she demanded. Darmik smiled in response to her excitement.
“Rema!” a stablehand yelled.
“I forgot about my uncle,” Rema said. “He’s waiting for me. I have to go.” She jerked her hand away from Darmik’s arm and spun around, heading back the way they came. Rema glanced over her shoulder and smiled at him. Then she rounded the corner and disappeared.
Not ready for her to go, Darmik jogged after her. Nearing the corner, he heard the boy say, “We’ll miss seeing you Rema.” Darmik turned the corner and saw the stablehand holding a pitchfork, his face bright red. “You have such a way with the horses,” the boy stammered.
“I’m getting married, not dying.” She smiled mischievously. “You’ll see me again.”
“Rema,” Darmik couldn’t help himself. “You’re engaged?”
The stablehand dropped to one knee and bowed his head.
Rema’s smile vanished. Standing just behind her next to the stables was an older man. The elderly man’s eyes moved from Darmik to Rema and back again. His face lost all color as he knelt on the ground. Darmik assumed this was Rema’s uncle.
Rema’s eyes bore into Darmik’s. “Yes, Prince Darmik,” she answered, kneeling before him. “I am engaged,” she replied softly. “The signed contract was delivered to Lord Filmar today. My band is going to be marked tomorrow.”
Darmik was about to reply when a flicker to his left caught his attention. His brother, Prince Lennek, stood just inside the stables with a devious smile. Darmik prayed he hadn’t drawn any attention to Rema. Lennek leaned against the wall, watching.
“You’re dismissed,” Darmik said, trying to sound nonchalant. He moved past Rema, into the stables. Seconds later, Darmik heard the sound of a wagon pulled by horses, and Rema was gone.
Lennek sauntered over to him. “She was beautiful, in a wild sort of way,” he mused. “She looks like a bit of a challenge.” He cocked an eyebrow. “Might be fun though. And you know how much I love a challenge.”
Darmik had the urge to punch that smirk off his brother’s face. Lennek always knew which buttons to push. Anytime Darmik was interested in something, Lennek had to have it, whether he wanted it or not, just to prove he was better.
Darmik drew in a deep breath, smelling horse sweat and sweet hay. He couldn’t dismiss Rema—Lennek was too smart and perceptive. “Blonde hair is so rare that I found her appearance interesting. Not my type though. Not only is she a commoner, but she’s engaged.”
Lennek’s eyes sparkled. “Definitely a challenge.”
“Laws are laws, Lennek. Some not even you can break.”
“No,” he laughed, “but there are always ways around them.” Lennek strolled out of the stables.
Excerpt # 3 from The Key by Jennifer Anne Davis:
Prince Lennek slouched on the seat, putting his muddy boots up on the velvet bench across from them, appearing disinterested. Rema hated to admit it, but he was handsome. The side of his lips curled as his eyes sliced over to her. She’d been caught staring. Conceited, she thought. He was beautiful, and he knew it. Rema hated the idea of finding a murderer, someone so vile and repulsive, attractive. It sickened her. She focused her attention outside the carriage and remembered Bren, beaten and bloody from orders given by the prince.
“When we reach the city,” Lennek said, “I’ll introduce you to the people. Then I’ll propose, you’ll accept, and a huge party will be given in our honor. We’ll be married in a few weeks.”
“Why wait so long?” she asked, the hatred seeping through. “What if you get tired of me and change your mind?”
“Hmm,” he smiled, as if contemplating how much to reveal. “You needn’t worry. Everything is going according to plan.”
It was only a matter of time before Rema discovered what Lennek was up to.
Today the mountain range was closer—cold and unwelcoming, rising straight up into the sky. They were topped with snow and desolate of trees. No wonder nothing survived up there.
“I want to make sure you play the part,” Lennek said, recapturing her attention.
“And what would that be?” She glared at him. “Just so we’re absolutely clear.”
Prince Lennek chuckled softly. “Rema, darling, you are a feisty one.” Feisty? He had taken her away from her family. He had ordered Bren’s death. Rema was filled with rage.
Lennek’s countenance changed. His eyes turned shrewd, the lines of his face hardening. There was a ferocious quality to him that sent a chill over her body. “You will maintain your place.” He must have seen the confusion on her face. “You’re a horse merchant’s niece. Don’t you ever forget that.”
“How could I possibly?” she harshly said.
“Hmm,” he mused. “Then make sure you don’t forget that I am the Crown Prince, and as such, you are obedient to me.” His menacing eyes penetrated into hers.
Rema tried to control her emotions. There was no way Prince Lennek could know how afraid she was of him. “I understand, Your Highness,” she said, bowing her head, mocking the prince.
Lennek turned so his entire body faced hers. Rema tried to focus her attention outside the carriage, but he reached for her chin, forcing her to look at him. Their eyes locked. “You are going to be my wife,” Lennek said in a low, cold voice. “You will be royalty. Do you understand?”
“No. I don’t,” she answered as his nails dug into her chin. “Let go of me.” Rema knew she was out of line by making demands, but she wanted to know what she had to work with—how far she could push him until his temper exploded.
Lennek smiled wickedly at her. “You’re mine now. Get used to it. I’m giving you everything. Show some gratitude.”
He leaned closer. She could smell him—an odd mixture of rosemary and horse. Rema refused to close her eyes.
“And don’t forget, if you don’t play the part to my satisfaction, I know where your aunt and uncle live. I won’t just have them killed. They’ll be brought before you, tortured while you watch, and then slowly dismembered.”
He released Rema’s face, pushing her away from him like she was cow dung. Lennek slid back into his side of the carriage, no longer looking at her but at a sapphire ring on his finger—the ring of a prince.
Excerpt # 4 from The Key by Jennifer Anne Davis:
“Where are we going?” Rema asked, glancing behind her toward the rest of their riding party.
“Just over this rise.” Darmik left the path, leading the way up the hill.
The leafy ground turned to slippery rocks. Darmik offered Rema his hand, but she refused his help. He remembered finding her alone in the forest, and he realized he knew nothing about her—yet he wanted to know everything.
When they reached the top of the hill, he saw what he was looking for.
“A silent waterfall,” Rema gasped. She stood next to him, amazement clear on her face.
On the hill opposite them, water cascaded along tendrils of mossy grass growing from the rocks. It slipped down the soft, green padding until it reached the pool below.
There were a million questions Darmik wanted to ask, but he had no idea where to begin. He rarely did anything on impulse. Looking at Rema’s face, her penetrating eyes, he decided not to think. Pulling off his boots and socks, Darmik threw them on the ground. He unclasped his riding cape and removed his tunic, leaving on his long sleeve shirt and pants.
He ran and jumped, knowing he’d make it to the water below. The pool was in fact quite deep. When he and Lennek were younger, they used to dare each other to jump. But unlike Lennek, who was always taking chances, Darmik wouldn’t jump until he checked the pool to make sure it was deep enough. Only then, did he follow Lennek with a giant leap.
Hitting the cold water, Darmik cringed, welcoming the feeling of losing control and the freedom that came with it. Kicking, he swam to the top, broke the surface, and took in a deep breath.
A splash hit him in the face. A moment later, Rema surfaced wearing a huge smile. “Now that was fun!”
Swimming over to the edge, Darmik pulled himself out. The bank was mostly moss covered rocks that were slippery and difficult to maneuver on. He turned around to help Rema, but she was already hoisting herself onto the shore. She looked like the first time he had seen her—soaking wet and happy.
There was a small patch of sun on a large, dry rock big enough for the two of them to sit next to each other. Darmik carefully climbed over and lifted himself up onto it. The rock was warm from the sun’s heat. Rema stood at the bottom with her hands on her hips like she was trying to figure out a way to join him. Darmik rolled onto his stomach and lowered his arms. She grabbed onto him, her grip strong. He pulled her to his side and released her.
Once she was safely on the rock, they stretched out on their backs, basking in the warmth. Darmik tried his hardest not to look at her. Rema was only wearing her white underdress. It would’ve been too difficult to swim wearing all of her clothes. Still, he didn’t want to be caught staring and offend her in any way. Yet, her body was like a magnet pulling his eyes in her direction.
Unable to resist any longer, Darmik peered at her. Rema was smiling with her eyes closed, looking peaceful and content. Her white underdress clung to her ribcage and wrapped around her legs. Her chest rose and fell with each breath she took. Goose bumps covered her arms. Her hair lay above her head like a halo.
Something shiny caught in the light. A delicate gold chain hung around Rema’s neck. Strung on the chain, lying on the rock near her ear, was a gold skeleton key. Embedded in the bow was a heart-shaped ruby diamond. The jewelry was befitting of a queen or princess. Rubies were not only extremely rare, but they cost a fortune. Did Lennek give her the necklace?
Darmik glanced to the top of the cliff from which they had jumped. No one was about. He hoped to conceal the entire outing, but it was vital Lennek never learn Darmik spent this time alone with Rema on this rock, unsupervised. It was illegal and his brother would punish him with the full force of the law.
There was a soft rustle as Rema’s head turned toward him.
“How did you end up here? Engaged to my brother?” He forced his eyes to remain on hers—away from her body. It was easier to pretend she was fully clothed, dry, and certainly not a mere six inches away from him, their hands lying side-by-side, almost touching.
“I was hoping you knew the answer to that one,” she whispered, droplets of water glistening on her eyelashes.
His suspicions were confirmed—she didn’t choose Lennek. That meant she didn’t love him. But why was she wearing his necklace? “My brother and I aren’t close like that. He doesn’t share his plans or his feelings with me,” Darmik said.
“He has feelings? Really?” She laughed and looked away.
Most women were blinded by Lennek’s charm and position as prince. But Rema seemed to know the real Lennek. A selfish and cruel man. Had Lennek hurt her? She flinched earlier when Darmik had offered her his hand. Usually women only acted like that if they have been hit or beaten by a man. His fingers curled into a fist. She knew who Lennek truly was because he had revealed his true nature to her. What game was his brother playing? What kind of horrors had Rema seen?