First Offense (Noir Reformatory #2) - Lexi C. Foss
In the cockpit. The aisles. Next to me.
But not behind me. No, my wings were black. Something everyone else on this plane had made abundantly clear when they strapped me into this damn chair.
No chance to ask for remorse.
Just an old guard—whom I once considered a friend—showing up to deliver a sentence.
The plane’s engines thrummed in time with my pulse. Fast. Hard. Terrifyingly loud. I couldn’t control it, my heart fluttering inside my chest with the fury of a thousand wings.
Every part of me shook from head to toe.
Including my legs, something I realized when Auric’s hot palm landed on my bare skin.
He shoved my thigh down, ceasing the nervous motion, and glared at me from behind a curtain of long blond strands. “Deal with your emotions, Princess. Or I’ll deal with them for you.”
Electricity danced along my limbs.
I used to crave Auric’s touch.
Not anymore. Not since he was assigned as my personal warrior guard on this mission to reform.
I jerked my leg free from his hard fingers and scooted as far away from him as I could. Which wasn’t far, thanks to the strap securing me and my black wings to my seat.
How is this my life? I wondered for the millionth time. What have I done to deserve this?
Auric blew out a long-suffering breath, his flinty, turquoise gaze leveled at the armed guards near the front of the plane. I could feel his irritation as plainly as I could smell his evergreen scent. It wrapped around me like a warm blanket.
A complete contradiction.
He was harsh, cold, and dismissive.
Yet he reminded me of home.
The duality was maddening.
“I’ve done nothing wrong, Auric,” I said for probably the hundredth time. “Come on. You know me. This is all some sort of mistake.”
He rolled his head on the seat rest to look at me. So beautiful with his smooth, unblemished skin, those delicate blond strands of hair, and an angular face that looked as if the gods themselves had sculpted every valley. But his expression remained remote. As distant as if the entire ocean beneath the plane separated us rather than six inches of battered vinyl seat.
He said nothing and looked away again. Dismissing me. Ignoring me. Not believing me. Just like everyone else.
My throat tightened.
Auric and I had been close, once upon a time. But playing the role of my Royal Guard had possessed an entirely different meaning back then. His absence had changed me, had changed us both.
To see him again like this… I bit my lip. This wasn’t my Auric—the one I’d fantasized about for years—but a stranger.
When I’d hugged him earlier, there’d been no familiarity. No kindness. No emotion.
He wasn’t my guard anymore but a warden assigned to fix the broken princess.
And now he hates me, I thought, my stomach twisting as I gazed out the tiny porthole window.
My reflection didn’t match my new role as prisoner—aside from the black wings strangled by the leather straps that cut into my feathers. The secured ends wrapped around my shoulders, digging into my exposed skin in a pointless effort to keep me flightless.
Like I had anywhere to go inside this tin can.
The plane heaved as we took a turn, mocking me as the motion sent Auric’s intoxicating wintergreen scent rolling over me. I inhaled, finding a sliver of comfort in what his presence used to mean to me. If I didn’t look at his stoic, perfect face, I could pretend he still respected me. I could imagine we were back home in the castle, talking and laughing like we used to.
This was all a dream. A nightmare.
A guard shoved his way to the cockpit, conversing through the plume of white feathers with the pilots, then straightened. His gaze landed on me as he ambled up the aisle, stopping right next to Auric.
“Yeah?” Auric sounded bored, his eyes having fallen closed at some point in the last few minutes. Maybe he didn’t want to look at me either.
“Ten minutes ’til we reach the reformatory,” the guard said gruffly. His gray gaze slid to me. “We’re a thousand miles from the nearest landmass. I’d suggest you follow orders once we remove your bindings, Princess Layla.”
I glowered, then fought off a shiver as his eyes drifted down to my cleavage. Because yeah, I wasn’t dressed in prisoner garb like the others. Instead, I wore an outfit meant for the court—a gauzy white top, gold shorts, and high-heeled sandals with bands that laced all the way up my calves. I’d