The Hunted by Bethany-Kris

January 01, 2020

The Hunted by Bethany-Kris

Let the hunt begin...


Synopsis

The Hunted by Bethany-Kris
After witnessing the murder of his mother by a mermaid, Prince Eryx Bloodhurst of Atlas makes a deal to sedate his need for vengeance: they’ll catch the mermaid who did the deed, but he’ll pay for it with his crown.

Arelle, third princess of the Blu Sea, has never known the true cruelty of the forbidden lands firsthand, but she will soon. The halfling prince with murder in his eyes and the sea’s songs in his blood will make sure of that.

He should kill her.
Perhaps, keeping her might be worse.

Two kingdoms are falling. One king is losing it all and another threatens to ruin everything. The rules of the land and sea are changing. Secrets of the past are spilling.

And all because of a prince and his little mermaid—whether they live or die—nothing in the realm will ever be the same.

In The Hunted, Bethany-Kris opens a new world—the 9INE REALMS—for readers with a dark fairy tale retelling, and pulls inspiration from the cult classic favorite and the Hans Christian Andersen original to redefine what it means to be The Little Mermaid.

Review

When I'm looking for a great mafia romance read, I know just who to turn to. Bethany-Kris is one of the finest minds to ever write a romance story that could completely captivate me. So when I found out that she was trying something new, something extraordinary, I dove right in with some pretty high expectations... and she met every single one!

There are nine realms and they are occupied by merpeople and humans. They are ruled by both and many enjoy a long-standing harmony. No such peace exists in Prince Eryx's realm. Mermaids are hunted, enslaved, and killed for the power that their blood gives. Life above land is a life of ease for the nobility and a life of terror for the mermaids. Deep in the sea, another realm exists - where the respective mermaids live. Their lives are limited. They can't venture far from their hold, scared to be captured. They won't even mate, terrified of loss and almost certain death. But this is where Princess Arelle lives, beneath the tyrannical rule of her father. Amidst secrets and danger, Arelle and Eryx form an unintentional connection and... you'll have to read it to know what's up.

The Hunted was a Little Mermaid retelling with an intensely dark twist and unlike anything I've ever read before. It was at once satisfying and left me hungry for more. It was heartbreakingly painful, jaw-droppingly beautiful, and I can't wait to see what happens next. The story of Princess Arelle and Prince Eryx has only just begun...

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Excerpt
ONE
Arelle

IN THE VAST expanse of the Blu Sea, the water always matched the sky. It never failed, and it was what Arelle enjoyed the most as she skimmed along the surface of the water and followed her two sisters.
Poe led the pack—a year older than Arelle’s eighteen—with Coral close behind and all too willing to hang off every word that left their older sister’s lips. Coral had done that for her, too.
What was it like to change, Arelle? Did you just know how to walk? Will I feel different?
Then, Coral had turned sixteen and the curse swimming through their blood took hold. She no longer needed to ask her sister those kinds of questions when she was able to experience them for herself. Instead, her questions turned on Poe. The only older sister who remained in their kingdom, and mated, that had experienced something she hadn’t.
A storm was rolling in to batter the Realm of Atlas, the Blu Sea surrounding it, and the small band of islands the three women currently called home, with their grottos safe from any hunters. Not that the storms would bother the sisters—it was the safest time for a mermaid to … well, live. The air became wet. Travel for the landwalkers on Atlas turned dangerous. The sea, too rough for their ships and nets and weapons.
Not that Arelle, or the rest of her sisters, were supposed to know anything about the humans. Their ways and motives were only whispered about when they learned something new from someone else.
“Down we go,” Poe said when bubbles burst in a small swirling pool. The only sign that beneath the dark waters of the churning sea there was a small enclave that led into her sister’s grotto. An underwater haven, private to Poe, made up from the remnants of a sunken ship, and the cave carved from one of the islands. Another entrance to the grotto waited behind the curtain of a waterfall but the sisters couldn’t use it to swim through like this one. “And then, Coral, I will tell you all about the mating.”
Coral let out a happy chirp—one that even underwater, her sisters would understand to be a pleased yes. Poe dove under the water, the shimmer of the green-blue scales with similar markings to Arelle’s on her tail and fins, slapping the surface before she disappeared into the rolling, black sea.
“You’re coming, yes?” Coral asked Arelle, her excitement vibrating in the water. “You can’t go back to the palace yet, Arelle.”
She smiled, struck by despite how young Coral was, even if she was only a year younger than Arelle, they still seemed like mirrors of each other. The same vibrant, fire-colored hair plastered to dainty features and cherry-red lips. People in their colony called the sisters of the Blu Sea the most beautiful.
Sirens of the water with wide violet eyes framed by long, dark lashes. Full lips shaped like bows that sang tempting songs capable of sinking ships, drawing in men, and even the sea creatures if they needed. Faces round like the sun when it dared to peek through the clouds, temples spattered with speckles of sparkling scales and olive-toned skin that glimmered like gold in the water.
As if that wasn’t enough to say the three were sisters—their fourth sister, Sarha, mated and gone from the Realm, shared their same, distinct features—the burned scar on the back of their left hand certainly did. Two arrows, one atop the other. The sign of royalty.
Blu Sea royals.
“I’m coming,” she assured her sister.
Another happy chirp came from Coral before the girl darted closer to the spot where Poe had disappeared moments before.
Arelle peeked over her shoulder to look for the guards the king—their father—constantly sent to watch them. The three mermen, imposing in their stature with spears at the ready, all lined up shoulder to shoulder with a watchful eye on her, waited for when she would head under the water to the grotto. At least they stayed far enough back that the sisters’ conversation remained private.
Coral slipped under the water. Arelle didn’t hesitate to follow, spiraling down twenty feet deep into dark water in mere seconds until the broken bow of a sunken ship came into view and she slipped within the hole, careful not to touch the jagged edges of the broken wood. The ship had sunk decades ago, much like the others surrounding the dangerous Atlas Islands. The nearby regions provided safe shelter to many mermaids in their colony.
Homes where the landwalkers couldn’t touch. Not without endangering themselves, too.
A few feet ahead of her, Coral was quick to hang her twisted golden crown on a piece of wood that stuck out from the wall of the ship, and Arelle did the same with her own. They ducked low to avoid the hanging netting their older sister’s mate used as a warning to anyone who entered his grotto. Skulls bunched like lumpy balls in a low-hanging net, like a morbid decoration Arelle had never quite gained the courage to ask about.
At least, not entirely.
Who did the skulls belong to?
Their kind?
The landwalkers?
Both?
They looked so much alike—when they weren’t in the water, of course—that Arelle thought it would probably be difficult to tell the difference between their skulls.
“Wish he’d take that down,” Coral muttered, quickly looking away from the netting full of skulls. “It’s unsettling.”
Yes, much like the rest of the grotto. A dark black from the walls of stone the home had been carved into just beyond the sunken ship, with bones as decoration and glowing fish trapped in overturned glass bowls to provide a little bit of light. The water in the grotto tasted of her sister and Poe’s mate as it passed Arelle’s lips and she exhaled through the gills in her throat.
She didn’t have one of those yet—a mate, that was. Although with her eighteenth year passed, it was only a matter of time. Her suitor had already been chosen, his travel to her underway, and once he arrived, she too would find herself in a situation similar to her older sister. Only unlike Poe, Arelle would not be staying in this kingdom—she would leave with her mate to return to his homeland.
It wasn’t that which bothered her. It was everything that had to come before.
Coral shrieked as the purple octopus Poe seemed to like so much flicked a sticky tentacle a little too close to her face when they passed by his small den before entering the largest portion of their sister’s grotto. “It feels dark and … where is the color or the pretty things, Arelle?”
“Tak leads Father’s royal guard but also spends his time hunting creatures in the sea,” Arelle returned, “and you think he wouldn’t have a penchant for all things malevolent? The man doesn’t go anywhere without something sharp in his hand.”
Her sister chuffed but didn’t reply.
In the water, they went back to their mother tongue. A language made up of clicks and cheeps and noises produced from their throats that traveled even in the choppiest of seas; one the humans hadn’t learned, despite how easily the mermaids absorbed their language and ways.
“Could always go back to the palace if you don’t like my grotto,” Poe said as the two entered the largest section of the underwater cave.
The cave reached so high under the island that, at the very top, a hole big enough for two allowed them a view of dribbling water and a rocky ledge.
Arelle didn’t want to go back to the palace though she wouldn’t tell her sisters that fact. There was nothing waiting for her there. Except, perhaps, the suffocating control of her father, and a court that couldn’t seem to look away whenever she was in view.
Poe didn’t give the two a chance to respond before she lifted herself to sit on the ledge. What seawater remained in her lungs exasperated in her next exhale, sliding down from the gills at her throat and over her breasts, which were covered by the long length of her hair. Just like that, with her first breath of air instead of water, her sister’s shimmering scales disappeared by the churning water where she rested her tail.
Gone was her fin.
The blue-green scales.
All the black markings.
In its place were her sister’s very human legs and bare feet. Poe stood from the edge, walking to sit where she kept all her favorite things in her grotto. Arelle followed suit, pulling herself out of the water at the rocky ledge and letting the curse—although some believed it to be magic—take hold and change her, too. Despite how it looked to see her scales melt away into legs and feet, it never felt like anything more than a tickle racing over her skin and through her blood.
Coral, on the other hand, stayed skimming the surface. Arelle passed her a look, shaking her head at the same time and asking, “How are you ever going to be comfortable on your legs if you don’t use them?”
“I use them,” Coral replied.
A bit too defensively, really.
“Not nearly enough,” Poe muttered when she picked up an old, leather-bound book from the floor. She flipped through the pages, clearly knowing where she had left off. Arelle often wondered how her sister managed to get books, not to mention, keep them from getting ruined in the very damp, earth-smelling grotto. Besides that, how had she even learned to read? “Yet, you want to take to land every other day.”
“I just—”
“Need to learn to use your legs. What if you need to run?”
Coral quieted.
Arelle dropped next to her sister’s seat, enjoying the smooth, cold rock against her skin. As naked as the day she slipped from her mother’s womb, she stared up into the hole of black overhead, considering the storms again.
“How long do you think the storm season will last this year?” she asked.
Poe grinned slyly.
Out of all of her sisters, Poe could be the most dangerous, Arelle thought. Calculating, always able to say the right thing, and capable of great violence when she knew she could get away with it. Beautiful, too, and the only one of Arelle’s sisters who had been able to pick her own mate—a merman who was just as prone to violence and dark things as she was.
“Long enough, I hope,” Poe replied.
“For what?” Coral asked.
“I’d like a child this season.”
That silenced the grotto but for the constant drip drip drip of water.
“Will Father—”
Poe’s stare cut to Coral, stopping her from asking more. “I’ve been mated for a year—why wouldn’t he allow me to have a child this season?”
She had a point.
Not that it would make a difference to their father. As the King of the Blu Sea, Zale made all the choices for the people in his realm. Because when even getting pregnant required them to change and leave the sea where they were most vulnerable … it was a risk. Not to mention, having young meant his people would protect them more than even him or themselves.
“I just don’t understand,” Coral muttered, her cheeks pinking when her sisters’ attention turned on her. “I’m not allowed to ask.”
Ah, yes.
Not even the king’s children, or his mate for that matter, were exempt from his control. The girls saw their mother more infrequently as they got older. As for them, their father believed the less they knew about the ways of their people and their traditions the less they’d want to be included.
That was never the case. He’d not yet learned.
Coral, ever curious, had no understanding of mating although she would soon gain a companion to teach her everything. Except she wanted to know now.
“How does it … work?” Coral asked.
“Which?” Poe replied.
“Sex.”
Coral promptly turned as red as the hair on their heads. She wouldn’t even meet their stare, was far more interested in making circles in the water with her fingertip.
“Anyone can fuck,” Poe said, sighing. “Fucking is just that—fucking. A bit different with your tail than in your walking form, but you should know about that, don’t you? Your cleft, Coral …”
Their stares turned on their younger sister, who still didn’t seem to want to look back at them. Coral might be the most curious, but she was also the one who wasn’t at all ready to be grown.
Arelle decided to give the girl an easy out for this side of the conversation. Only because she didn’t think Coral understood anything about sex as a merwoman because her younger sister hadn’t yet had sex. “You’ll learn soon. A companion will be picked to teach you everything. It comes easy.”
Poe sighed. “But if you want a child …”
“We can only conceive when we’re like this,” Arelle added when her older sister didn’t elaborate, waving at her naked legs. “And when we give birth, too. The curse, again.”
Beside her, Poe laughed a tinkling sound. “A curse—doesn’t feel like that when the thrall comes over you, and the heat begins.”
“And how does that work?” Coral asked, at least managing not to squeak with her embarrassment that time.
Arelle allowed Poe to answer, knowing good and well she didn’t have the firsthand experience to give Coral.
“It’s …” Poe’s gaze darted to Coral, and then to Arelle before going back to the book in her hands. “It’s instinctual, a need in your blood, Coral, and when it is your time, you will know what to do. That’s all I can tell you.”
Coral’s fingers danced along the rocky ledge of the grotto. “So, when the storms come, we take to land.”
“Right, Coral.” Poe nodded. “We have to take to land.”
“Where the landwalkers are.”
“Not always. The storms scare them. They’re not like us—they die in the water.”
“We die in the water sometimes,” Coral pointed out. “Right?”
“But the water doesn’t kill us when we can breathe. They can’t.”
“Oh.”
“Anyway,” Poe said, flipping another page in her book, “I want a child this season. I’ll have to ask if Father will allow me that—it’ll make others want the same, which means people will go to the land, and he might not like that.”
Right.
Their numbers were not great anymore. With each season, it seemed as though the landwalkers found more cunning ways to capture them. With children to protect, it made everything even more dangerous.
Their father didn’t like that. Disobeying him—for anything—meant punishments sometimes worse than death. It was, after all, how he kept his people firmly in line.
Arelle looked to Coral who had grown quiet, staring down at her nails, which she picked nervously.
“The landwalkers—they believe we’re like this because we’re magical. They’re wrong. This has always been a curse,” Arelle said, knowing her sister would understand she meant their shifting forms. “We’re doomed to need the sea as desperately as we need the land to survive. And now that they’ve taken the safety of one from us, they’re determined to take the other, too.”
Because they were the hunted. Thought to be magical. Their blood, coveted. Arelle just thought they were doomed. Doomed to be the prey of those who walked on land.
Forever.
“Where is your mate?” Arelle asked Poe.
“Hunting. I want to give him a surprise when he gets back. His favorite fruit, I think. He’ll like that.”
Arelle’s brow lifted high. “Do you mean the fruit from—”
“The west side of Atlas, yes. The water orchard. It’s the only place it grows, now.”
“You can’t go there,” Coral whispered. “It’s forbidden.”
Poe rolled her eyes. “Everything is forbidden, but only if others know you did it.”
Arelle did smile at that. Poe wasn’t wrong.
“I’ll go with you to get the fruit,” she told her older sister. “Tomorrow, when the court is distracted with Father?”
“It’ll be the perfect time. The guards fall back with the others and tend to stay away. Easier to slip out, of course.”
“I want to go, too,” Coral spoke up.
She was back to that whine again.
The older sisters shared a look.
“She stays with you,” Poe warned. “She doesn’t understand anything. And I have other things to worry about than looking after her.”
“Hey!”
They ignored Coral.
“She stays with me,” Arelle agreed, and then she gave Coral another look. “That is, if she doesn’t decide to stay.”
What was the worst that could happen?

About Bethany-Kris

Bethany-Kris is a Canadian author, lover of much, and mother to four young sons, one cat, and three dogs. A small town in Eastern Canada where she was born and raised is where she has always called home. With her boys under her feet, a snuggling cat, barking dogs, and a hubby calling over his shoulder, she is nearly always writing something ... when she can find the time.

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