Prologue (The Manx Cat Guardians)
Princess eyed the new house that was going to be her home as she strolled up to the back door. It had been several years since her last owner had met his soulmate, and it had been a wrench to leave them, but like most good things it had had to come to an end.
They’d never noticed that she didn’t get old or sick, which was all to do with her magic. She was an ancient Manx guardian cat over three hundred years old. She’d been working her magic on soulmates for all of those years, and she loved her job… well, most of the time. She got a sense that this time things might be different. Her mother had been a little cagey about this guardian role.
The door in front of her opened and she darted past the old woman and into the house. The woman shouted something, but Princess didn’t stop as she ran towards the boy sat on the floor playing with a doll. Her soul instantly recognised him as her charge. Why was she getting him so young? The men in her charge were normally just that—men. Or at the very least they were teenagers, but this boy could only be four or five at most. Princess eyed him as he looked up, a sad smile appearing on his face.
“Hello kitty,” he cooed, dropping the doll to reach for her.
“Brad, be careful, the cat might not like you touching it,” the woman said kindly.
Brad giggled as Princess pushed into his hand, feeling the instant connection between them. The boy’s eyes widened and gleamed. “Granma, she’s won’t hurts me. Will you’s Princess? She’s mine to keep.”
The woman gave a sigh and Princess watched as the woman crouched next to them. “Brad, why did you call her Princess?”
“Dat’s her name. She told me.”
His simple answer received arched eyebrows in response. “I’m not sure. She probably has an owner who will be missing her,” the woman insisted.
Brad gave her a serious look, “No, Granma, she’s all alone and she wants to be mine.”
“Brad, let me ask around the neighbourhood, and if we can’t find her owner, then we’ll keep her.” The woman’s lips pursed and she got a worried look on her face. “You won’t be able to take her home, you know that right? Your father won’t tolerate a cat.”
Princess’s hackles rose as Brad gave a mournful sigh. “I knows.” His eyes shone with hope as he looked at his grandma. “You’lls keep her here for me, won’t you, Granma?”
Princess could see the resignation on the woman’s face before she nodded. “Okay, but only if no one claims her.”
Fifteen Years Later
Princess licked her paws and watched Brad, concern and dread unfurling in her tiny tummy. As Brad’s anxiety, grief and sadness overwhelmed her, she was reminded of her first encounter with the small boy. Understanding of why she’d been given to him at such a young age had dawned not long after his seventh birthday.
The life he lived away from his grandmother was very different to the one he lived on the Isle of Man. After his grandmother’s death, all Brad had felt was fear. Fear for the future, fear of what his father would do when he found out that Brad had inherited everything from his father’s mother.
Brad’s jumbled thoughts ran into one another, Princess struggling to make sense of them all. It seemed his biggest fear was not being loved, and her heart bled for him. Bled for the damage a family could cause to a boy who had just wanted to be accepted for who he was.
The clock ticked on the mantelpiece as Brad roamed across to the window and looked out, his back rigid. “I’ll be safe here, I will. I’ll make a good life, won’t I, Princess?”
Princess prowled over to Brad and rubbed herself against his leg until he bent to pick her up. He nuzzled his face into her neck and she opened her mind to him, letting her love for him flow through their link, even though she wasn’t supposed to. A sob rose from him, and then another, until his body was shuddering, her fur growing wet.
Her head was filled with chanting.
Safe, safe, safe.
“You are, Brad. You’re safe here with me,” she whispered to him, praying that the other guardians she was connected to weren’t paying attention at the moment.
Brad’s Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed and looked at her. She held his gaze, giving him what he needed regardless of the possible consequences of being caught.
“It’s just you and me now.”
Princess purred loudly, the vibrations skittering up Brad’s fingers and reinforcing that she was there for him.
Brad’s lips curved up. “I could do with a friend right now. Do you think that’s what we could be? Friends?”
Princess licked his cheek.
“Eww, you licked me!” Brad shuddered at her antics, but he also giggled so she took it as a win. “You’re the best thing in my life, you know that?”
His smile dimmed as he spoke, his mind going to places Princess didn’t want to follow, but she did, needing to know.
The boy braced at the whistling sound as the belt cut through the air. It was his only warning before the belt struck with deadly accuracy, flaying the skin on Brad’s back. Already wet with blood, the sheet underneath him stuck to Brad’s skin. Brad cowered, feeling the intense hatred his father felt for him in every blow.
Princess cried out as a rage unlike any she’d ever experienced before filled her, coursing through her tiny body. She squirmed in Brad’s arms as it pounded at her, using her magic to shield the man from the past as best she could.
“Princess, you can’t change the past. Focus on the here and now, and finding this boy the love he deserves,” her mother whispered in her mind.
“I know, but look at what the poor boy endured.”
“It can’t be changed. Help him find his future.” The voice faded away, Princess barely resisting the urge to roll her eyes.
Instead of fretting over the past, she focused on filling Brad’s mind with new dreams, working hard to combat the negativity that threatened to take over, images continuing to plague them both. I can do this, I can!
Brad’s fingers tensed, digging painfully into Princess’s fur as his mind returned to the present. Princess didn’t let up for a second, not until Brad’s body relaxed and his mind quietened.
Her whiskers twitched as Brad shook his head, his eyes dazed. Princess whispered words of encouragement into his head. “Things will be better from now on. You’ll see. All you have to do is trust me.”
His mind opened to new possibilities as ideas flourished. They bloomed in his mind, encouraged by her love. The brightness touched everywhere inside him, and the darkness receded. At least for now.
All Princess had to do was keep it that way! It should be a piece of cake… or at least she hoped so.