Tempest-Sample

 

 

 

 

Tempest

By Karen Lynch

 

 

Copyright @2023 Karen Lynch

 

This is a sample. The number of pages is limited.

 


 

About Tempest

 

All Danielle Danshov has ever wanted is to become a warrior. At eighteen, that dream is within her grasp – if she can get through her final year of training, master her Fae magic, and work with the enigmatic new trainer who challenges her as no one else has.

 

Outside Westhorne, a sinister new threat is growing, and demons and shifters are disappearing without a trace. As the Mohiri search for answers, danger strikes close to home, and the investigation becomes a race to save someone Dani loves before it’s too late.

 

When Dani’s world begins to crumble around her, she must find strength she never knew she had, and harness the power inside her. She’ll need both when she faces her enemy and discovers just how much she has to lose.

 

 

NOTE TO NEW READERS: Tempest takes place in the Relentless world twenty years after the events in that series. There are numerous references to people, places, events, and creatures from the original series. If you are new to my books, I recommend you read that series (or the first three books) before you read Tempest.


 

Chapter 1

 

I crept along the upper level of the old factory, stepping over the bits of debris and broken glass littering the floor. The musty scent of mildew mingling with the smell of rust and small animal scat made my nose twitch, but I ignored it as I trained my ears to pick up sounds in the cavernous building.

Up ahead, the wall on my left ended and a railed catwalk looked out over the main floor. I stopped and went down on my hands and knees to peer around the wall into the darkness below. My eyes had already adjusted to the gloomy interior, and I did two slow scans of the space before I picked up movement at the other end. My eyes followed the dark figure until they moved out of sight, but they were too far away for me to make out whether they were friend or foe.

Pressing my comm button, I whispered, “Check in.”

Silence greeted me, so I pressed the button again. “Dima? Kai?”

Thirty seconds passed, and then a voice whispered back, “Kai’s down. I don’t think they –” He grunted, and the line went quiet.

“Dima?” I didn’t expect him to answer, and my heart began to race with the realization I was on my own. I took a slow deep breath. The odds of making it without my team were slim, but there was no going back.

I retreated a few feet and moved to the wall opposite the railing. Crouching low, I continued across the catwalk, holding my breath until I reached the other end. I swept my gaze across the main floor again. From this position, I had a wider view, which included an office with Plexiglass windows accessible only via a flight of metal stairs.

I studied the darkened office for a long moment. If I needed a defensible position where I could see adversaries coming from all sides, that was where I’d go. You could easily pick off your enemy before they got halfway up those stairs.

From inside the open doorway came a flicker of movement I would have missed if I hadn’t been looking directly at it. I watched the doorway for another five minutes until I was rewarded with a second glimpse of a shape among the shadows.

Gotcha. The thrill of the hunt went through me, but it soon faded when I remembered I was alone, and the hostile in that room was faster and stronger than I was. Coming at them directly was a suicide mission, and there was no other way into the office.

Releasing a quiet sigh, I tilted my head back in thought and stared at the ceiling of the factory, which was supported by metal rafters. My eyes followed the rafters to a beam directly above the office, and I smiled.

I cast another look around and retreated to the other end of the catwalk to study the rafters six feet above my head. It was doable. I’d reached tree branches higher than this. Bending my knees, I leaped straight up into the air until my fingers grasped cold metal. I adjusted my grip and pulled myself onto the beam.

After a few deep breaths, I made my way through the rafters until I was above the office. I stood on the beam and listened until my ears picked up the faintest rustle of clothing below me. My body tingled with nervous excitement as I took a roll of paracord from my pocket, tied one end to the beam, and soundlessly lowered myself to the roof of the office.

Ducking low, I crept to the edge of the roof and listened for sounds within. Silence. I inched forward to peer over the edge and almost jumped when a figure appeared in the doorway. He was dressed completely in black with his face covered, and he outweighed me by at least fifty pounds. I had the element of surprise on my side, but I was going to have to move fast to take him down.

He stood there for a long moment before he turned to go back inside. It was now or never.

Gripping the edge of the roof, I swung out and down in an arc. He spun, but my legs wrapped tightly around his middle, and I used my momentum to knock him off balance. He recovered with superhuman speed, but I had anticipated it. With one deft motion, I drew my knife and pressed the silver blade against his throat.

“Yield,” I uttered in a calm, steady voice.

He went still, and exhilaration pulsed through me.

It happened so fast my brain had no time to process it. One second, I had him at my mercy, and in the next, I was weaponless and pinned against the wall with a steely hand around my throat. Blood roared in my ears as I stared at the face hidden behind a black ski mask.

A light came on, nearly blinding me. He reached up with his other hand and yanked off the mask. Brown eyes bore into mine. “You’re dead.”

“How did you do that?” I asked when he released me.

Gavin smoothed down his mussed black hair. “I felt your body relax a fraction when you thought you had me. That was all I needed. You can’t let your guard down for even a second.”

I straightened my coat. “I did have you. That should count for something.”

“Nothing counts if you die,” said another voice from behind me.

I turned to see Erik’s perpetually-scowling face. I didn’t think I’d ever seen the Korean warrior smile in all the years I’d known him.

We were interrupted by a muffled shout. I looked past Gavin at the three bound and gagged people sitting on the floor against the far wall. My fellow trainees: Naomi, Sean, and Anna glowered indignantly at us until Gavin walked over to free them.

Feet pounded the stairs, and Dimitri entered the room. His eyes lit up when he saw me. “Not bad, Sis. You almost did it.”

“Almost,” I muttered. “What happened to you guys?”

My twin grimaced. “Erik set a trap, and Kai and I walked right into it.”

“Where is Kai?” I looked around Dimitri to the empty doorway.

“He was right behind me. He’s probably sulking,” Dimitri joked under his breath.

“Dima,” I scolded softly.

Kai appeared in the doorway, and I smiled at the dark-haired trainee as he entered the room. He walked over to stand on my other side, but he barely returned my smile. Across from us, Naomi, Sean, and Anna wore equally sour expressions. Weren’t we a fun bunch?

“You call that a hunt?” Erik’s hard stare moved over each of us. “First year trainees would have done better.”

Kai shifted his weight, and Naomi opened her mouth as if to speak. The rest of us stayed still and waited for what we knew was coming.

Erik looked at Naomi, who had led her team. At six feet tall, the black girl had an inch on him, and she seemed to shrink so as not to remind him of the fact. Everyone at Westhorne knew his height was a sore spot for him, and he was already pissed off enough.

“Your team was disorganized the moment you entered the building. You did not work as a unit, and you were careless, which is why you were taken out immediately. If this had been a real job, I’d be looking at a pile of corpses now.”

Ouch. I flinched with them. The trainer didn’t pull any punches as he spent the next five minutes listing every one of their mistakes. I dreaded his critique of my team’s performance, and I swallowed hard when he turned his attention to Dimitri, Kai, and me.

“Your team showed some promise until one of you missed the clear signs of an ambush and led another into it,” Erik said to Dimitri.

I looked from Dimitri to Kai, who stared ahead stonily and refused to meet my eyes. Erik went on, doling out the same harsh criticism he’d given the other team.

Gavin spoke up when Erik finished lambasting us. “Dani, your stealth and speed are impressive. You managed to take me by surprise, but you got sloppy during the attack. You need to work on that because you’ll find yourself in many situations where a second’s hesitation can be a deadly mistake.”

I nodded, replaying the scene in my head.

“That said, you were the only one to breach our lair, so I’m giving your team a narrow win for this exercise,” Gavin said with a small smile.

Dimitri threw an arm around my shoulders. “Way to go.”

Erik glowered at us. “It’s nothing to celebrate. You will all have to perform a lot better than this if you expect to graduate next year.” With that parting shot, he turned and strode from the office.

Gavin picked up the knife I’d lost in the fight and handed it to me as he followed the other warrior. The room was silent until we heard the distant sound of the outer door closing.

“Fecking hell,” Sean burst out in his thick Irish accent. “When is the new trainer supposed to get here?”

I grinned at the normally cheerful redhead. “Next week, I think, but for all we know, he could be worse than Erik.”

“I don’t think that’s possible,” Dimitri said, earning nods all around.

Grandfather had asked Erik to step in as a temporary trainer while our usual trainer, Callum, was having an extended visit with his family in Scotland. I’d always thought Callum was a tough trainer until our first session with Erik. We had no idea who was coming to replace Erik, but the new trainer had to be better than the ill-tempered warrior.

“This wasn’t a fair test,” Anna griped, tightening her blonde ponytail, which had come loose. “How are we supposed to best two trainers who are faster and stronger, and who knew we were coming?”

“Most hostiles will be stronger than us until we’re older, so we have to be smarter,” Naomi told her. “Dani almost took out Gavin, and she’s smaller than the rest of us.”

“Hey,” I protested.

Erik wasn’t the only one who hated being shorter than his peers. Dimitri and I had inherited our father’s black hair and our mother’s green eyes, but he had Dad’s height and build while mine was closer to Mom’s. I was five eight, three inches taller than her, but still short by Mohiri standards.

Naomi raised her hands. “I meant that as a compliment. You use your smaller size to your advantage, and you play to your strengths, such as being able to move as quietly as a shadow.”

“And you treat every training exercise like it’s real,” Sean added.

Dimitri grinned. “Dani’s always been like that. Playtime was brutal when we were little.”

The others chuckled, and I felt a prick of pain as an old memory tried to surface. I poked Dimitri’s ribs playfully. “When your brother is an overachiever, you have to compensate somehow.”

“Erik and Gavin are waiting for us. We should go,” said Kai, who wasn’t laughing with the rest of us.

He walked out of the office, and we filed out after him. No one said much as we exited the dark building into the midafternoon sun. In the parking lot, two dark SUVs sat with their engines running. Dimitri, Kai, and I headed for one while the other trainees went to the second vehicle.

Dimitri climbed into the front with Erik, and Kai and I took the back. As soon as we pulled out of the lot, Dimitri began grilling the trainer about his mistakes in the exercise and what he should have done differently.

I settled back in my seat and watched the streets of Boise go by, occasionally flicking a glance at Kai, who stared silently out his window. After we passed the city limit sign, I reached over and touched his arm, and he swung his head in my direction.

“It was only a training exercise,” I said in a low voice. “They expect us to make mistakes.”

His lips parted as if he was going to speak, but he faced the window again. I frowned at the back of his head and turned to my own window. If he wanted to sulk, I wasn’t going to waste my breath trying to talk to him.

The drive home took an hour, and my irritation was at a low simmer by the time we passed through the gates of Westhorne. Erik parked outside the garage, and we got out as the other SUV pulled in beside us.

Dimitri and I called our goodbyes to the others as they headed to the manor. We started toward the woods, and we’d walked about ten feet when Kai called my name. I stopped and looked back at him.

“Are we still going to a movie tomorrow night?” he asked as if he hadn’t spent the past hour ignoring me.

I lifted my eyebrows. “Are you going to be in a better mood by then?”

He smiled contritely. “Yeah.”

“Then I’ll see you tomorrow.” I turned back to Dimitri, and we resumed our walk.

He was quiet until we reached the gravel road to the lake. As soon as we entered the woods, he said, “I still can’t believe you’re dating Kai. What do you see in him?”

“He’s fun to be with, and it’s not serious.”

Dimitri scoffed. He and I had few secrets between us, so I already knew he didn’t care for Kai, though he’d never let anyone but me see it.

I hid my smile. “You don’t like him because he’s your closest competitor in class. He did try to be your friend.”

“He probably hoped he could get to hang out with Dad.”

“So what? Not everyone is lucky enough to grow up as Nikolas Danshov’s kid.” I slanted a look at my brother. From this angle, he was almost a mirror image of our father, whom he idolized. He had spent countless hours learning Dad’s fighting techniques and sparring with him. He even rode a Ducati like Dad.

Dimitri’s lip curled. “Kai’s arrogant.”

“So are you.”

He glared at me. “And he’s a sore loser.”

I couldn’t deny Kai’s moodiness annoyed me. It wasn’t as if he was the only one Erik had raked over the coals. But I saw a different Kai outside of training, so I was willing to give him a pass this time. I shrugged one shoulder. “No one’s perfect, Dima, not even you.”

He made a pained sound. “I thought you were going to stop calling me that.”

“But I like it.” Dima was the nickname our Russian grandmother had given him when we were babies, and I’d grown up calling him by that name. I gave him a sly grin. “I’ll tell you what. If you can beat me to the house, I’ll stop using it.”

His face brightened. “You’re on.”

We raced side by side down the road. We’d gone a quarter of a mile when I caught a blur of movement on my left. I skidded to a stop as a huge black shape leaped from the woods and landed directly in my path. His big head swung toward me and fetid breath washed over me as his long tongue lashed at my face.

“Woolf!” I sputtered, wrapping an arm around his thick neck to restrain him.

The hellhound gave my chin another lick and pressed his body against my side. I scratched between his ears and looked behind me at Dimitri, who was rolling on the ground with Woolf’s brother Hugo.

“Need some help?” I called to him.

Dimitri turned his head to the side and grimaced as Hugo slobbered over him. It took him almost a minute to push the hellhound off him and scramble to his feet. The hair on one side of his head was wet and stuck to his face, and he was covered in damp leaves and pine needles.

My lips twitched. “If Erik was here, he’d say you need to work on your reaction time.”

He shot me a dark look as he stomped back to the road. I couldn’t hold in a laugh when he ran his fingers through his hair, leaving behind a leaf stuck to his cheek. Hugo, trying to be helpful, began washing Dimitri’s face like an overexuberant puppy.

“Okay, boy, that’s enough,” Dimitri said, but Hugo didn’t let up.

“He misses you,” I said, stroking Woolf’s coarse fur. Ever since we could walk, Hugo and Woolf had been our constant companions and protectors. Over the last few years, as we became busier with training and friends, we spent less and less time at home and with each other.

Dimitri patted Hugo’s head. “I know, but they need to get used to us not being here once we become warriors. Just think, this time next year, we’ll be out there travelling and doing real jobs.”

I was excited to experience life out in the world, but I had mixed feelings about leaving home. I loved our valley, and I was never happier than when I was here. Mom was the same way. She’d spent a lot of her childhood in the woods in Maine. She believed our Fae side gave us a deeper connection with nature.

Unlike me, Dimitri craved the fast pace of city life. Most of the action happened in big cities like New York, LA, Vegas, and Chicago, and that was where he wanted to be. I wanted to see all those places and get in on that action, too, but I couldn’t see me living there.

“Alright, be off.” Dimitri playfully pushed Hugo away from him. “Go make sure no vampires are trying to sneak into the valley.”

At the word vampires, the hellhounds’ heads shot up, and their bodies went rigid. They let out low growls and sped off into the woods, even though a vampire couldn’t get within ten miles of here. The whole valley, including the small town of Butler Falls five miles away, was protected by powerful Fae wards.

“Now, where were we?” Dimitri smirked and took off toward home.

“Hey.” I was on his heels in seconds, letting him have the lead until I spotted the sparkling lake through the trees. Pulling ahead, I reached the front steps to our log house a good five seconds ahead of him. He might be stronger and a better fighter, but he was no match for my speed. It didn’t stop him from trying, though.

“You suck,” he called when he caught up to me.

I snickered. “That’s what you get for cheating, Dima.”

He reached out to ruffle my hair, but I ducked and ran into the house. After kicking off my boots and hanging my coat in the mudroom, I entered the kitchen.

On the kitchen island, Eliot, Orwell, and Verne argued and brawled over a blueberry muffin. The muffin was in pieces, and Verne looked like he had been rolling around in blueberry jam. The imps were so caught up in their argument they didn’t hear me come in until I cleared my throat loudly. Three guilty faces turned to look at me.

Oooh, you’re in trouble,” Dimitri said in a singsong voice behind me.

I pointed at the mess on the counter. “You guys better get that cleaned up before Mom sees it.”

Verne stabbed a finger toward the other two and chattered indignantly. I wasn’t fluent in the imp language, but I’d learned enough words to understand the gist of what he was saying.

I looked at his shirt and pants. “Don’t worry. I’ll wash them for you.” To Eliott and Orwell I said, “You two, stop picking on your brother.”

Leaving them to clean up, I walked down the short hallway off the living room to my bedroom. It was my favorite room in the house and done in soft earth tones with a pale green bedspread and a faded floral rug. Natural light flooded the room from the two large windows, one of which overlooked the lake. From here, I saw the house where Uncle Chris and Aunt Beth lived with their fifteen-year-old daughter Grace. They were currently in Europe visiting Uncle Chris’s parents, and the lake was too quiet without them.

Changing out of my training clothes, I flopped down on the bed with my phone. I was plumping up my pillow when my phone rang with an incoming video call. I grinned when I saw the caller’s name.

I hit the answer button. “Hey, Bestie.”

Summer Kelly’s smiling freckled face filled my screen. Her fiery red hair was piled on top of her head in a messy bun, and her green eyes lit up when she saw me. “Guess what. I aced that big chem test.”

“Didn’t I say you had nothing to worry about?” I adjusted my pillow into a reclining position. “Doing anything to celebrate?”

“My roommate, Sydney, asked me to go to a party with her tonight. I haven’t been to one since I got here.”

I felt a pang of envy. “Ooh. Your first college party.”

She sighed. “I wish you were here to go with me.”

“Me, too.”

Summer was in her first year at Northeastern University. When we were younger, we used to dream of going to college together and sharing a dorm room. We’d had it all planned out until Mom and Dad told me it was too dangerous for a young Mohiri to be on their own at college.

“What I’d really like to do now is shift and go for a long run.” She propped her phone up on her desk and stretched her arms over her head with a groan. “I miss being able to do that whenever I want to.”

I made a sad face. It had to be hard for a werewolf living in a city, especially when she had grown up in a place like the Knolls, which was almost completely surrounded by woods. The Knolls was an outlying part of New Hastings, Maine where Mom grew up, and it was home to mostly werewolves.

“When are you going home again?” I asked.

She sank onto her chair. “Next weekend. It’s Mom’s birthday, and Dad is planning a family barbecue, which means everyone in the Knolls will be there.”

“No one throws a party like your family.”

Dimitri let out a bellow. I rolled off the bed and ran through our connecting bathroom to his room. I found him standing in front of his dresser with a hand on his chest.

“Damn it, Brontë. How do you keep getting in there?” he asked in exasperation.

I pressed my lips together to keep from laughing and walked over to him, holding up the phone so Summer could see what I saw. His top drawer was open, and nestled among his socks and underwear was a small, sleek black feline with silver eyes and stunted ears. She stretched, giving us a peek of delicate black bat wings.

Laughter came from the phone, and Summer said. “Aw, she’s so cute.”

“You are welcome to her,” he replied.

Summer snickered. “I don’t think my dorm allows demon cats.”

Dimitri gave me a pleading look, and I shrugged. “She’s your cat.”

“She’s not mine,” he said for the hundredth time.

I let out a soft snort. “I don’t think she knows that.”

Lifting her out of the drawer, he set her down on his navy-blue comforter. She growled softly in annoyance before she curled up and closed her eyes.

I kept my distance from her. Brontë was a Krazan, a demon cat, Aunt Beth had found and brought home to us two years ago when Brontë was only a kitten. Our old cat Oscar died when I was thirteen, and we missed having a cat in the house.

There was only one problem. Being half Fae, Mom and I weren’t Brontë’s favorite people. She didn’t mind Dad, but it was Dimitri she took to the most. She had decided she belonged to him whether he wanted a pet or not.

“Never a dull moment with you guys,” Summer said. “But I need to run…literally.”

I held up the phone. “I want to hear all about the party.”

“I’ll call you tomorrow,” she promised. “Later.”

Dad’s voice drifted down the hallway from the living room. Another voice replied. Grandfather Tristan. Technically, he was our great grandfather, but that had been too much for us when we were little, so we’d shortened it.

“That’s four demons who have disappeared in the last week,” Grandfather said with a note of concern in his voice. “I need you to go to California to look into this.”

“How many does that make now?” Dad asked.

“Thirty-two that we know of.”

I started toward the living room as Dad said, “Sara thinks they are related.”

Grandfather started to answer and stopped to smile at me when I entered the room. “I heard you had your first field exercise today. How did it go?”

I made a face and sat beside him on the couch. “I guess you haven’t talked to Erik or Gavin.”

Dad sat in the chair across from us and gave me a sympathetic smile. “The first one is always the hardest. Want to talk about it?”

“I’d rather hear about the missing demons. We still have no idea what’s happening to them?”

Dad shook his head. “All we know is it started about three months ago, and it’s not limited to a certain area or a particular race of demon.”

I tucked my legs beneath me. “Why does Mom think they’re related?”

“Two reasons.” He rested his elbows on his knees. “First, all the missing demons we’ve heard about have strong ties to their communities and are not the kind to up and take off. Second is the way they disappeared. They vanished without any physical evidence of what happened to them. Someone is doing a good job of hiding their tracks.”

“Why would anyone abduct demons?” I asked, although I already had some ideas. “Could it be Gulaks running a slavery ring?”

“Gulaks are messy,” Grandfather said. “This is too clean to be their work.”

“Maybe it’s a collector,” Dimitri said as he entered the room on his way to the kitchen.

A shiver went through me. Two years ago, warriors had raided the home of a Houston collector. She had a demon menagerie in the lower level of her house containing six different types of demons in glass cages with room for more. The oldest of the captives had been only thirteen.

“That is a possibility, and we have people looking into it,” Grandfather said grimly.

“What else can we do if there are no clues?” I didn’t want to think about what could have been done to them. Mom had a lot of friends among the demon community, and I hoped they were okay.”

“There is always a clue if you know where to look for it,” Dad said. “David and Kelvan are retracing the steps of each one of the missing demons. There are security cameras, traffic cameras, cell phone tracing, and any number of other ways our movements are recorded. If there is a trail, we’ll find it.”

Mom’s friends David and Kelvan were genius hackers who had been working with Westhorne since before I was born. If anyone could find something, it was them.

The door opened, and Mom came in carrying a large basket, which she set on the island. Dimitri immediately went to open it, and she playfully smacked his hand away. “That’s dinner.”

She shot him a warning look and joined us in the living room. Standing behind Dad’s chair, she bent and wrapped her arms around his neck to kiss his cheek. He turned his head so their lips met, and although the kiss was chaste, I could feel their love from across the room. I hoped someday I’d be lucky enough to have a love like theirs.

Mom straightened and pushed back the hair that had fallen into her face. Her eyes were tired, and she stifled a yawn.

“Hard day?” Dad asked her.

“I’ve had worse.” She found a hair tie in her pocket and secured her hair in a ponytail. “I’m working with three orphans, and one of them needs more of my time than the others. And I have a warrior coming tomorrow.”

“Ariana?” Grandfather asked, referring to one of the orphans.

Mom nodded. “She’s been through so much. I’m not surprised she doesn’t trust anyone.”

“Maybe you should lighten your workload,” Dad suggested as he did every time she came home tired or stressed about her patients.

She smiled. “If I don’t help them, who will?”

He didn’t answer because no one else could do what she did. Mom was a healer with a unique gift. She could heal warriors suffering from Hale witch attacks, and she had helped many of them over the years. She had also learned to communicate with other Mori, an ability that allowed her to help Mohiri orphans with mental and emotional issues. Sometimes, she traveled to other strongholds to see them, but most of them were brought to Westhorne.

Mom turned her admonishing gaze on me. “You blew off your lesson with Aine today. You can’t keep doing this, Dani.”

I sank lower into the cushion. “The lessons are a waste of time. All we do is talk about my feelings.”

“Because our Fae magic is deeply connected to our emotions,” she said patiently, sounding like Aine. “This is an important part of learning to control your magic.”

“But there is no magic.” My throat tightened in frustration. “It’s gone, and I’m better off focusing on my warrior training.”

She came over to sit on my other side and put her arm around me. I wanted to lay my head on her shoulder like I used to, but I was angry at her for bringing this up again. We’d been over it so many times, and I wished she would drop it.

“Your magic is not gone,” she said softly, her hand stroking my hair. “And when you go through liannan –”

I pulled away from her and jumped to my feet. “Just because you went through it doesn’t mean I will. I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

“Dani,” Dad called as I ran from the living room. Reaching my room, I shut the door and leaned against it, fighting the tears burning my eyes. Why couldn’t everyone let this go?

A soft knock came at my door a minute later, and Dimitri said, “You want to talk?”

“No,” I answered thickly.

“I’m here if you change your mind.”

“Thanks.” I lay down on my bed, but after a few minutes, the walls started to close in on me. I needed to be outside.

I pulled on a pair of boots, strapped on one of my knives, and grabbed a light jacket. Stuffing my phone into my back pocket, I opened the window facing the woods and threw my legs over the sill. It was an easy ten-foot drop to the ground.

Dimitri stood at his window. Our eyes met, and he gave me a sad smile. We never talked about it, but I knew him too well. After all these years he still blamed himself for what happened even though it had been my fault.

I set off in a brisk walk around the lake. The farther I got from the house, the more my guilt weighed on me. I hated arguing with my mother, and I always felt like crap afterward. She was the warmest, most loving person in the world, and she wanted only to help me. I wished I could make her understand I didn’t need help. I needed everyone to let me be me.

The walk was not helping like it usually did, so I turned away from the lake and broke into a run, picking up speed with every step. I skirted trees and leaped over rocks and other obstacles with ease as I went deeper into the woods. The scents and sounds of the forest filled me, leaving no room for negative thoughts and emotions.

Five miles from home, my phone beeped to notify me I had passed the inner perimeter sensors. It automatically sent back a signal identifying me. The sensors alerted security when someone got within five miles of Westhorne. Once or twice a year, hikers wandered onto our land, despite the posted NO TRESPASSING signs, and someone was sent out to turn them away.

Dax, our head of security, took his job seriously. If a sensor was tripped by an unauthorized person, one of a hundred perimeter surveillance drones was automatically deployed to send back video of the trespasser. His state-of-the-art system had eliminated the need for regular patrols, for which I was grateful. I loved having the woods to myself.

I slowed to a walk when the terrain started to rise toward the mountain at the end of the valley. I thought about going as far as the mountain, but a glance at the sky told me I was already going to be late for dinner.

Half a mile into my return trip, the hair rose on the back of my neck. Slowing to a walk, I looked around but saw nothing out of place. That was when the silence registered. A hush had fallen over the woods as if a dangerous predator was nearby.

I went still and listened. Of all the creatures in the valley, only one could stalk its prey without being seen.

The only warning I got was the flap of leathery wings as he swooped down at me. I hit the ground and rolled to one side, coming back to my feet in time to see a scaly spiked tail disappear into the canopy of branches overhead.

I darted to a large cedar and pressed my back against the trunk as I surveyed my surroundings. A rustle came from high up in the tree, and several twigs fell beside me.

Pushing away from the tree, I crept through the woods, stopping every few yards to listen for sounds of pursuit. I’d gone about an eighth of a mile when I heard him coming, and I took off like a doe sprinting from a hunter.

I leaped across a brook and felt something brush the top of my head mid jump. It startled me so much I screamed and stumbled on the landing. I straightened and found myself staring into the green reptilian eyes of the wyvern standing ten feet away.

“Alex.” I wagged a finger at him. “You tried to knock me into the water.”

He cocked his head to one side. If I didn’t know better, I’d think he was grinning at me. He settled his wings against his sides and watched me expectantly.

I held out my hands. “Sorry, buddy. I don’t have any treats today.”

He snorted, and smoke billowed from his snout. He was quite capable of feeding himself and finding his own snacks, but he loved the raw meaty bones I sometimes brought him. The cooks in the big kitchen gave me the bones for Hugo and Woolf, but I saved some for Alex.

The wyvern’s head snapped up, and he let out a warning growl, which sent a chill down my spine. Nothing in this valley could hurt me unless something had managed to get past Eldeorin’s wards. And that was impossible.

A twig cracked somewhere off to my left. I reached for my knife as I whirled to face the threat.


 

Chapter 2

 

Something blurred in my vision, and the next thing I knew, a man stood between Alex and me. At least, he looked like a man from behind. He was tall with dark, shaggy hair tied back with a strip of leather, and he wore a long coat, which appeared to be made from sheepskin but was too dirty to say for sure.

My first thought was that he was a vagrant, although I’d never seen one in the area. But no human was that fast. He wasn’t Mohiri, or I would have sensed him. I swallowed dryly and gripped my knife. Could he be a vampire? I’d never been near one, so I had no idea if I’d inherited Mom’s ability to sense when one was near. But what else could move like that?

Alex growled menacingly, and sparks flew from his mouth. His flames only had a three-foot reach, but they could burn a person to a crisp. I glanced sideways at the brook, ready to dive into the shallow water if necessary.

The man shifted, and the sun glinted off metal. I stared at the sword in his hand. Vampires did not carry weapons.

A roar erupted from Alex, and he charged. The stranger waited until the last second and jumped to the side. He spun, and I watched in horror as the tip of his sword slashed at the wyvern. The blade glanced off Alex’s hard scales, but the man was already positioning himself to strike again.

“No.” I ran at the man, who was too focused on Alex to pay attention to me. I tackled him around the waist, my momentum knocking him off balance. I let go as he fell sideways and landed in the brook with a splash.

He sat in the brook, staring up at me with water dripping from his hair and his sword still clutched in his hand. His mouth and jaw were hidden behind an overgrown beard, and some of his hair had come loose to obscure most of his face. I imagined his expression, and a laugh threatened to burst from me.

In an instant, he was on his feet. I retreated, forgetting about the danger to me until I felt the wyvern’s warm breath on my back. Alex had never hurt me, but I had no idea what he would do if he felt threatened.

The man stepped out of the brook, and I took in his appearance. His clothes were dirty and he looked like someone who had just spent a year alone in the wilderness. He shook the water from his hair and took a step toward us.

“Leave him alone” I spread my arms wide as if it would protect Alex from him.

I thought I saw him frown behind his curtain of scraggly hair. He lowered his sword arm, and my demon gave a gentle stir of recognition as it acknowledged the presence of another Mori.

“You’re Mohiri,” I said, unable to hide my surprise. He continued to stare at me until I felt a flicker of annoyance. “Do you speak English?”

He gave the barest of nods as his gaze shifted to Alex again. He must have believed the wyvern was attacking me, which was an honest mistake if you didn’t know Alex.

Twenty years ago, Alex escaped from the Westhorne menagerie, and he’d decided to make a home in the mountains. Grandfather had originally planned to recapture him and ship him to Argentina where they trained wyverns to hunt vampires. But Alex only hunted game and never bothered humans, so he was allowed to stay. Most people here had forgotten about his existence by now.

My irritation at the warrior grew. “Do you talk?”

He nodded again and returned his sword to the scabbard under his long coat. I took the opportunity to study him. I’d met many other Mohiri at Westhorne and while traveling with my family, but I’d never encountered one like him. Even the ailing warriors who visited Westhorne for my mother’s help were less unkempt.

A new realization struck me, and shame washed over me. He was the sick warrior coming to see Mom. Most Hale witch victims became hostile and reclusive and stopped taking care of themselves. Some even became hermits. I should have seen it right away. Anyone meeting this strange warrior would know immediately something was off with him.

“I’m so sorry,” I blurted and softened my voice like I was speaking to a lost child. “Do you need help?”

This time there was no mistaking his frown, but I couldn’t stop myself, and I babbled on as I pulled a small bag of trail mix from my pocket. “Are you hungry? It’s not much, but it’ll tide you over until you get there. You can get a hot meal and clean clothes, and they’ll have a nice comfortable bed for you.”

His eyebrows arched, and hazel eyes stared at me like I was the crazy one. I wanted to kick myself. I’d handled this all wrong, and I hoped I hadn’t scared him off. He clearly needed Mom’s help.

I tried to remember everything Mom had said about Hale witch victims. They didn’t like it when you treated them like they were sick, and here I was doing just that.

“I…” I fumbled for the words to fix it, but he walked away. He stopped a dozen yards away and picked up a worn canvas duffle bag covered in patches. Throwing it over one shoulder, he left without looking back.

I blew out a gust of air. “I handled that well, didn’t I?

Alex snorted, and I turned to him. “I better head back. I’ll bring you some bones next time.”

I started toward home again. It wasn’t long before I noticed the wyvern’s shadow as he followed me from the air. He did that sometimes, and I didn’t know if he was lonely or if it was his way of protecting me.

The sick warrior occupied my thoughts all the way home. The more I thought about our encounter, the more heat crept into my face. Thankfully, no one but he and Alex had seen me act like an idiot, and Mom’s patients never stayed around after they were healed. I could only hope he didn’t mention my blunder to her before he left.

The roof of our house came into view, and I immediately forgot about the warrior as a fresh surge of regret filled me. Mom would be sweet and understanding when I apologized, and it always made me feel worse somehow.

Hugo and Woolf brayed and raced toward me, announcing my return. I drew in a deep breath and went to set things right with my mother.

 

* * *

I entered the main hall the following evening and checked my phone. I was half an hour early for my date with Kai. The common rooms were empty, so I ran up the stairs of the north wing, where the other trainees lived. I passed by the second floor where the boys’ rooms were and climbed to the third floor.

Every time I came up here, I thought about Mom sleeping in one of these rooms when she was a trainee. I couldn’t imagine what it had been like for her, a seventeen-year-old orphan who’d had no idea she was Mohiri until Dad found her in Maine. She’d left everyone she knew to come here and start a whole new life, all to keep Uncle Nate and her friends safe from a Master hunting her. If I could be half as brave as her, I could face anything.

A door halfway down the hallway was cracked open, and laughter spilled out. I went to it and leaned in to see Victoria and Elsie, two raven-haired cousins who couldn’t look more like sisters if they tried. The girls were sitting on Victoria’s bed, propped up with pillows and watching something on her laptop.

“Hey, girls,” I called.

They looked up at the same time, and Victoria gave me a finger wave. “Come on in.”

I joined them and sat on the foot of the bed. “What are you two up to tonight?”

“Same as you probably.” Elsie fluffed the pillow behind her. “A bunch of us are going to a movie later.”

“You’d think there would be at least one party in town on a Saturday night, but that place is practically a ghost town,” Victoria said, pouting. “I wish they’d let us go to Boise.”

I didn’t respond. We all knew why we weren’t allowed to go to the city on our own. The only reason we were free to go to Butler Falls was the Fae warding that kept vampires out. It hadn’t always been like that. When Mom and Aunt Jordan were trainees, they had been attacked by vampires at a party in town. Life around here was a lot more exciting back then.

“Did Dimitri come with you?” Elsie asked hopefully.

“No. I’m not sure what he’s doing tonight,” I said. Dimitri hadn’t been hanging out much with everyone since his best friend, Theo, left this summer. Theo was a year older than us, and he’d finished training in the spring. He was working at the Atlanta command center run by his aunt.

Victoria looked at her laptop and let out a tiny gasp. “Cassidy and Julian broke up.”

“What?” Elsie leaned toward her to see the screen. “I thought they would last.”

“Are you serious?” Victoria gave her cousin the side-eye. “They had no chemistry. She’s better off without him.”

“Friends of yours?” I asked, knowing full well who they were talking about.

Every few months, Victoria had a new celebrity crush. The last one was a rock drummer named Samson who was old enough to be her father. Her current one was Cassidy Downs, a twentysomething actress.

Victoria turned the laptop toward me. “Don’t you think she would look better with me than him?”

I studied the couple on the screen. The beautiful red-haired actress was tall and leggy in a short red dress and matching heels. Beside her was a man in a dark Armani suit with artfully messed blond hair and high cheekbones that would fill a model with envy. They looked like a good match to me, but I wouldn’t tell Victoria that.

“I think you and she would look great together,” I said,

She spun the laptop toward herself again. “He’s not even a real celebrity. He’s some boring millionaire who’s famous because he hangs out with the Hollywood A-list crowd.”

“He has a big fan following online, and I think he’s actually a billionaire,” Elsie said unhelpfully, earning a scowl from her cousin.

“Is this a private party, or can anyone join?” Naomi asked from the doorway. I looked over my shoulder as she entered with another trainee named Luis, who had moved here from Chile last spring. He and Naomi had been dating for three months, and they seemed to be getting serious.

“The more the merrier.” Victoria got off the bed and picked up some clothes she’d left on her couch.

Naomi and Luis sat and started a discussion about what movie they were going to. I checked my phone to see if I had a text from Kai and found one from Summer instead.

Just met the cutest guy at the library! I love college men.

Details?? I wrote back.

Her typing bubble appeared immediately. His name is Damon. He’s a senior and he’s studying engineering. Brains and brawn. Swoon.

I laughed to myself. What does he look like?

About six feet with dark wavy hair and dreamy eyes. He definitely works out. You know I’m a sucker for muscles. She followed her text with a string of emojis.

Any plans to see him again? I asked.

Not yet, but he seemed interested.

I want pics if you do, I replied. I’m living vicariously through you.

Her next text was a laughing emoji.

Luis’s voice caught my attention, and I tuned in to the conversation in time to hear the last of his sentence.

“…missing demons. They’ll be there at least a week.”

“What’s that about demons?” I asked.

“Mom and Dad are going to San Francisco tomorrow to help investigate some missing demons,” Luis said of his parents who were stationed at Westhorne.

I stuck my phone in my pocket. “They must be going with my Dad. Grandfather asked him to look into the disappearances on the West Coast.”

“Mom didn’t tell me that.” Luis’s eyes took on the sheen of hero worship I was used to seeing whenever Dad’s name came up around the other trainees.

“It must be serious if Tristan is sending your father to investigate,” Elsie said.

I nodded. “I think it is.”

“What do you think is happening to them?” Naomi asked the room.

“I don’t know,” I said. “But I hope we find them before it’s too late.”

“Hey, guys,” Kai said from the doorway. He looked at me and smiled. “I thought I’d find you here.”

“Come on in,” Victoria called to him.

He entered the room and came to sit beside me on the bed. I still felt a lingering irritation about his behavior yesterday, so I didn’t say anything at first.

His arm slipped around my waist, and he pressed a light kiss to my cheek. “I’m sorry I was such an ass yesterday,” he whispered in my ear. “Will you forgive me?”

“Maybe.” I didn’t meet his eyes. I couldn’t hold a grudge, and he knew it.

His nose nuzzled my ear, tickling me. “What if I promise to let you eat all the popcorn tonight?"

A smile tugged at my mouth. "It's a start."

Victoria’s laugh interrupted us. “All right, you two. No making out on my bed.”

Naomi stood. “We should leave if we’re going to make the eight o’clock movie.” She looked at Kai and me. “Are you two coming with us?”

“I’m up for whatever you want to do,” Kai said to me.

I got up and took his hand. “Let’s go.”

 

* * *

“So, you don’t have to do the lessons with Aine anymore?” Dimitri asked as we arrived at the main grounds for training two days later.

“Mom said I can take a break from them for a few weeks.” I spotted Naomi, Anna, Victoria, and Elsie standing in the small courtyard outside the training wing entrance with a red-haired girl named Teresa. I started their way and looked back when I realized he wasn’t following me. “You coming?”

He eyed the girls like an antelope watching a pride of hungry lions and shook his head. “I’ll see you inside.”

I laughed, and we parted ways. I drew close to the others, who were facing away from me and speaking in hushed voices. My curiosity was piqued when Anna said Grandfather’s name.

“What’s up?” I asked from behind them, and they all jumped.

Victoria put a hand to her chest. “Damn it, Dani. Why do you always do that?”

I shrugged. “I don't do it on purpose. I can't help if I'm a quiet walker."

“Wraiths make more noise than you,” Elsie quipped with a little smile. “I wish I could move like that.”

“So, what juicy gossip did I miss?” I asked, steering them back to whatever they had been discussing.

“That.” Anna turned to look toward the four guest cabins at the far corner of the grounds. Grandfather added them years ago for when the werewolves visited because they liked to be close to the woods. More recently, they were also used by afflicted warriors who came to my mother for help.

I followed Anna’s gaze to Grandfather, who stood near the cabins. A male warrior I didn’t recognize left the first cabin and walked over to him. He was Grandfather's height with dark hair and broad shoulders, and he was dressed like every other warrior.

I turned back to the girls. “Who is he?”

“I have no idea.” Elsie fanned herself. “He was leaving the dining hall with Tristan this morning when we went in for breakfast. When he looked our way, I swear my girl parts melted. Those eyes.”

Anna nodded and let out a lusty sigh. “He walks like a wolf stalking its prey.”

“He can stalk me any day,” Victoria said.

I cast a look at Naomi and Teresa who were barely holding back grins. Our friends were like this every time a new male warrior visited Westhorne. It was no wonder Dimitri avoided them whenever he could.

“Do you think he could be the new trainer?” Teresa asked.

Elsie shook her head forlornly. “We are not that lucky.”

Grandfather and his companion walked out of sight, and Victoria and Elsie deflated like kids who’d had their toys taken away.

Naomi slapped her hands together. “I guess that’s our cue to get to class.”

She opened the door, and we followed her inside. The first floor of the wing consisted of a hallway lined with training rooms, an equipment room, and the healing baths. The baths were particularly helpful after being pummeled or slammed into the floor a few times. Warrior training was not for the faint of heart.

The sounds of fighting and swords clashing already came from behind several closed doors. The warriors in residence used the wing for sparring when they weren’t working, and they didn’t hold back. They didn’t mind trainees watching them, but only when we didn’t have to be in class.

We entered the largest training room and found Dimitri there along with Kai, Sean, Luis, and another trainee named Jamar. I took my usual spot next to Dimitri as Grandfather’s voice drifted down the hall.

An air of anticipation filled the room. Grandfather stopped by the training area occasionally, but for him to be here immediately after we’d seen him with the stranger could only mean one thing.

Grandfather appeared in the doorway and smiled at us. “Good morning.”

“Good morning, Tristan,” said everyone except Dimitri and me. After he and I had started training, Grandfather told us we could call him by his name, but it was too weird for us.

He stepped into the room, and Elsie made a happy sound under her breath when the newcomer entered behind him. This close, his hair was lighter than I’d thought, a warm brown streaked by the sun, and his clean-shaven face revealed a square jaw and full lips.

“Everyone, I’d like you to meet your new trainer, Ronan Hale,” Grandfather said.

The trainer gave a slight head bow. His impassive expression made me suspect he did not smile often. I saw why the girls were gaga over him. He had a brooding presence, and there was something different about him I couldn’t put my finger on.

Grandfather’s eyes met each of ours as he spoke. “Ronan has agreed to take over for Erik until Callum returns from his leave. I think he’ll bring a fresh approach to your training curriculum.”

A fresh approach? Grandfather hadn’t mentioned plans to change the training program. I slanted a questioning look at Dimitri, who gave a small shrug.

I shifted my gaze to the new trainer and found myself looking into his hazel eyes. For a heartbeat, the mix of browns and greens seemed to turn to gold, and I forgot to breathe as a jolt of recognition shot through me. It can’t be.

He was the warrior from the woods.

The transformation was unbelievable. The only thing that hadn’t changed about his appearance was his eyes. No one would ever mistake this male for a mentally ill warrior.

Ronan’s eyes widened the slightest bit, and I broke our stare as my neck grew warm. He recognized me too, and I could only imagine what he was thinking. He was probably wondering how the hell the crazy girl with the wyvern had ended up in his class.

“Any questions?” Grandfather asked, drawing my attention back to him. No one spoke, and I wished I could think of something to keep him here.

“Then I will leave you to get to know each other.” The amusement in his eyes as he left only ratcheted up my discomfort.

Ronan stood near the door watching us – or more likely sizing us up. Even my normally cool brother was shifting his weight restlessly by the time our new trainer walked over to stand in front of us.

“Choose a sword,” he ordered in a brusque tone, which carried a trace of an East European accent. Everyone hurried to the racks holding an assortment of weapons used in hand-to-hand combat.

“You.” Ronan pointed at Dimitri. “Attack me.”

My brother pulled back slightly. “What?”

“Show me how you take down a hostile.”

Dimitri exchanged a glance with me and looked back at the trainer. “You don’t have a sword.”

“Neither does a vampire,” Ronan replied.

Dimitri’s fingers flexed on his sword hilt. “Yes, but I don’t care about hurting a vampire.”

“You won’t hurt me,” Ronan said without a trace of arrogance. He raised his hand and beckoned him. “Let’s go.”

The rest of us moved back to give them space as Dimitri stepped forward. He and Ronan faced off against each other, and neither of them moved for a good thirty seconds.

Ronan attacked. Dimitri reacted by bringing his katana up to block the advance. I stopped breathing, and several of the others let out soft gasps as we waited for the blade to impale our trainer.

Lightning-fast, Ronan sidestepped out of the sword’s path. Dimitri’s arm was still moving when Ronan grasped his wrist and twisted it. Dimitri let out a grunt of pain as the sword slipped from his fingers. Ronan’s boot connected with the sword and sent it flying away before it even hit the floor.

Ronan wasn’t done. The next thing I knew, my brother was face-down on the floor with his arm twisted behind his back. The whole thing had taken only seconds. Dimitri was the best swordsman in our class, and he hadn’t had a chance.

Ronan released Dimitri, who stood looking a little dazed, not that I could blame him. The trainer said something to him I couldn’t hear, and Dimitri nodded. They spoke quietly for a minute before Dimitri came back to stand beside me.

“You and you.” Ronan pointed at Naomi and Kai. “Leave your weapons.”

After watching Dimitri’s takedown, neither of my friends looked eager as they went to the front of the room. I was simultaneously glad they were the ones up there and dreading my turn.

“Attack me,” Ronan said.

“Together?” Kai asked hesitantly.

The trainer didn’t blink. “Yes.”

Kai looked at Naomi. A second later, he aimed a straight punch at Ronan while Naomi went for his throat. Ronan slapped away Kai’s fist as if it was nothing more than an annoying gnat. Muscles rippled under his shirt as he twisted his body to evade Naomi’s attack and swept her legs out from under her.

Naomi went down as Kai came back with another strike, which Ronan easily blocked. Behind Ronan, Naomi shot to her feet and tried to attack him again. He spun and grabbed her wrist, pulling her off balance. At the same time, he delivered a kick to Kai’s body, which would have broken his ribs had he put his full strength into it.

Kai and Naomi hit the floor at the same time, and their groans signaled the fight was over. Ronan offered Naomi a hand and pulled her to her feet, and then he spoke to the two trainees as he had done with Dimitri. They returned to their places, looking as dazed as he had been.

The class continued in the same manner. Ronan asked individual or pairs of trainees to attack him in different scenarios with or without weapons, and each time, he defeated them like they were first years. The knot in my gut grew as I watched it all and waited for him to call on me.

It wasn’t that I was afraid of looking bad in front of the others. I didn’t want to face him after our embarrassing first encounter, even if I was sure anyone in my shoes would have made the same mistake.

Five minutes remained in class when Ronan finally looked at me and said, “You.”

“Good luck,” Dimitri murmured.

My pulse sped up as I walked over to stand six feet away from Ronan. This close, the raw strength emanating from him sent a tiny thrill of danger through me.

Our eyes met, and my breath caught when his did that color change again, the gold bleeding into the rest of his irises. My heart thumped, and I knew what a rabbit felt like staring into the eyes of a hungry wolf.

I still held my sword, but it felt more like a hindrance than a weapon after I’d seen Ronan disarm my friends. I was almost relieved when he said, “No weapon.”

I set the sword on the floor near the wall and faced him again. He was Grandfather’s height, but he somehow made me feel less than five feet tall.

“Attack me,” he said.

I had watched him closely when he’d sparred with the others, so I knew how he would block every strike. I looked for a weakness but saw none. I’d be better off if he made the first move so I could at least try to counter his strike.

The words were out before I realized what I was saying. “You first.”

I expected a strike or kick like he’d done with the others, but he opted for a grapple. Used to fighting larger opponents, I dropped and rolled out of his reach, coming back to my feet behind him. What I lacked in strength, I made up for in speed.

Ronan spun, and I caught the flicker of surprise in his eyes. It was replaced by a predatory gleam that sent a little shiver down my spine.

He struck without warning. He slowed his speed, but I had little time to bring my hands up to block him. My first instinct was to deflect his punch, but at the last second, I grabbed his fist instead.

I gasped at the tingle of electricity that shot up my arm to my fingertips. My heart thudded as the air between us crackled with the strange energy. I stared at him, and the shock in his eyes told me he felt it, too.

I recovered first. I pushed him backward as one of my legs swept his legs. He went down, but he grabbed my wrist, taking me with him.

He landed on his back with me on top of him. A second later, he rolled and pinned me beneath him with his arm across my throat. Panting, I stared up into his eyes as my body thrummed with adrenaline and a strange heady sensation. I didn’t know if it was from the thrill of the fight or his nearness. The idea it could be the latter unsettled me.

Ronan released me and stood, his expression unreadable as he extended his hand to me. I took it reluctantly, but there was no electricity this time. His hard gaze made me want to look away, but I refused to be intimated – at least not outwardly.

“You are fast, but your technique needs work,” he said in a low, disapproving voice. “Never wait for your opponent to attack. It puts you on the defensive and gives them the upper hand. In our next class, we’ll see if you can do better with a weapon.”

I nodded stiffly. I hadn’t expected him to heap praise on me, but his expression seemed harsher than it had been with the others. Was he upset about the shock I’d given him? I had no explanation for it other than some lingering trace of my Fae magic had reacted to his Mori. But that hadn’t happened in many years, not since –

Ronan looked past me at the class and said, “I will see you again in two hours.” With that, he strode from the room, leaving a flurry of chatter behind him.

Gavin appeared in the doorway and smiled at us. “Judging by your expressions, Ronan is going to be a tough act to follow, but I’ll do my best.”

Everyone but me laughed as I picked up my sword and returned to my spot beside Dimitri. He shot me a questioning look, which I ignored. My pride still stung from Ronan’s sharp criticism, and I didn’t want to talk about it. Not even Gavin’s announcement that we were going to work on agility and climbing – two things I excelled at – could cheer me up.

Callum wasn’t due back until March. If my first class with Ronan was an indication of how things were going to be with him, this would be the longest six months of my life.


 

Chapter 3

 

“I thought that only happened in cartoons,” Dimitri called from behind me, his voice laced with amusement.

I stopped walking to glare at him. “What?”

“That little black thundercloud hovering over your head. I’m expecting lightning to shoot from it any second.”

“Ha-ha.” I spun and continued toward home.

Dimitri caught up to me as I reached the woods. “You’ve been in a bad mood all day – all week, actually. I know you don’t like Ronan, but you have to admit he’s really good.”

I scowled at the admiration in his tone. Of course, he liked our new trainer. Dimitri was at the top of our class and not receiving the brunt of Ronan’s criticism. Ronan was tough on all of us, but I could do nothing right in his eyes.

If someone had told me a week ago I’d miss Erik, I would have laughed in their face. After three days of training under Ronan, I was almost ready to call my old trainer and beg him to come back.

My brother sighed. “Okay, I have noticed he’s been a little harder on you than on the rest of us.”

A snort slipped from me.

“Did something happen?” Dimitri asked. “Did you have a run-in with him outside of class?”

“You could say that,” I muttered.

Dimitri’s eyes widened. “When? And where was I? We’re together most of the day.”

I let out a long breath. “It was last Friday.”

“Friday?” Dimitri laughed. “And how did you manage to have a run-in with our new trainer three days before he arrived?”

“He started his new job on Monday, but he arrived on Friday.” I told Dimitri about my encounter with the warrior in the woods, and how shocked I was when Grandfather introduced him to us. By the time I finished, Dimitri was doubled over holding his stomach.

“You tackled our new trainer and knocked him in the water…to protect Alex from him?” he wheezed between fits of laughter.

I crossed my arms. “It’s not funny, Dima. How was I supposed to know who he was?”

“It’s hilarious.” He straightened and wiped his eyes. “I don’t know what’s better – you treating Ronan like one of Mom’s patients or you thinking Alex needed your protection.”

“You didn’t see him,” I argued. “He looked wild.”

“Alex or Ronan?”

I threw up my arms and stalked away. “I never should have told you.”

“I’m sorry. Don’t be mad.” He caught up to me. “You have to admit it’s pretty funny.”

“You wouldn’t say that if it had been you,” I retorted.

He nudged my arm with his. “I wouldn’t have been playing cat and mouse with that crazy wyvern.”

I kicked at a stone. “Alex is not crazy. I think he’s lonely.”

Dimitri grew serious. “If Mom and Dad find out you’ve been going to see him, they will ground you for life.”

“If they think Alex is too dangerous, how do they expect me to fight vampires when I’m a warrior?”

“That is where I come in,” said a voice from behind us.

Dimitri and I spun at the same time to face the tall blond faerie standing a few feet away.

“Hello, my favorite twins,” Eldeorin smiled, and his eyes sparkled with mischief.

“Hey, Eldeorin,” Dimitri said to my godfather. “It’s been a while.”

It had been over six months since we’d last seen the faerie. I usually enjoyed his visits, but something in his expression made me wary.

“What brings you here today?” I was striving for casual, but my voice came out a little higher than usual.

Eldeorin’s smile widened into a Cheshire grin. “I’m so happy you asked. I’m here to start your new training.”

“My…training?” A small pit opened in my stomach. “What are you talking about?”

“Aine says your training with her is not progressing, and we decided it would be best if I took over.”

I took a step backward. “Mom won’t allow you to train me.”

When I was ten, Eldeorin had tried to convince my mother to let him oversee my training, and she had refused. She’d told me it wasn’t that she didn’t trust Eldeorin to keep me safe, but she thought his methods were too drastic for a young girl. Not to mention Dad didn’t like Eldeorin, and he would have lost it if Mom had sent me off alone with the faerie at that age.

“Sara and I have discussed it, and she agreed with me,” Eldeorin replied.

Mom appeared next to him as if saying her name had summoned her. No matter how many times she did it, it was still the coolest thing I had ever seen.

“I agreed to a trial.” She fixed Eldeorin with a hard stare. “And I told you I’d hunt you to the ends of Faerie if anything happens to my daughter.”

Eldeorin placed a hand over his chest. “After all we have been through, I cannot believe you have so little faith in me.”

Mom scoffed but followed it with a smile. “You forget how well I know you.”

Their light banter only increased my apprehension. “Mom, you said I could stop the sessions for now.”

“Sara and Aine are too indulgent with you,” Eldeorin said. “I reminded them how difficult liannan was for Sara, and she, at least, had some control of her magic before it began. You are the same age she was when she entered liannan. If you are not prepared for it, it could kill you.”

“Eldeorin,” Mom snapped. She came over and put her hands on my shoulders. “I would do anything to keep you from having to go through liannan, but it will happen whether we want it or not.”

I opened my mouth to speak, but she shushed me. “Eldeorin is too blunt as always, but he’s here because he cares about you. He helped me through liannan and taught me to control my new magic. I trust him to do the same for you.”

“But my magic is gone,” I protested, even as the memory of what had happened with Ronan played in my mind.

Eldeorin made a pfft sound. “Faeries do not lose their magic.”

“I’m only half Fae,” I reminded him.

He stalked over to me. I leaned away, but he would not be deterred. He laid a hand against my cheek and nodded in satisfaction. “You shielded your brother from detection when you were still in the womb, but you are not powerful enough to hide your magic from me. We will start your training today.”

“Mom.” I gave her a beseeching look, and my heart sank at the resolve in her eyes. “Does Dad know about this?”

“Not yet.” Dad was still in California investigating the demon disappearances. Her tone said he wasn’t going to be happy about this, but they had agreed long ago that she knew what was best when it came to Fae matters. He would go along with whatever she decided even if he hated it.

“It’s settled then.” Eldeorin looped his arm through mine. “Shall we?”

A sense of impending doom filled me. I met Dimitri’s worried eyes for a second before he, Mom, and the woods disappeared. The next thing I knew, we were surrounded by haphazard piles of rusty vehicles, appliances, scrap metal, and other junk. The air was heavy with the smell of gasoline and dust, and a moving crane stood nearby. The fading light told me it was late evening, which meant we were somewhere on the East Coast.

“You brought me to a junkyard?” I turned in a circle, half afraid I’d see a vampire lurking behind every stack of tires.

Eldeorin walked away from me. “You’d prefer the penthouse at the Four Seasons? I can arrange that, but training can be messy.”

“Funny guy.” I trailed after him, trying not to think about why his training was messy. “Where are we going?”

“Not far,” he said without looking back.

I followed him around a tower of old clothes dryers and came up short at the sight of a large circular cage in the middle of an open area. The cage had to be thirty feet in diameter and fifteen feet high, and it appeared to be made of silver. Inside the cage, two figures were huddled at the center, as far from the bars as they could get.

My first thought that they were vampires sent a rush of fear and excitement through me. It was immediately followed by a sharp pang of disappointment because I couldn’t sense them like Mom did.

The closer I got to the cage, the more distinct their shapes became until I made out their scaly skin, bat-like wings and reptilian eyes. Gulaks. Not nearly as dangerous as vampires but still a threat. They were mean brutes and responsible for most of the crime in the demon community.

Eldeorin stopped a dozen feet from the cage and motioned for me to stand beside him. “These two were part of a gang that stole human children and planned to sell them into slavery. The Mohiri dealt with the gang and rescued the children. I absconded with two of their captives for educational purposes.”

My mouth went dry. “What exactly are you going to do with them?”

“Not me, you.” Eldeorin snapped his fingers, and I found myself looking at him from the other side of the bars.

“What the hell?” I spun to look for the door and discovered there wasn’t one. “Let me out.”

“You may leave when both demons are dead or unconscious,” Eldeorin said.

The Gulaks shuffled nervously but stayed where they were.

“I can’t fight two Gulaks on my own.”

“Sara slayed a Gulak master when she was your age,” he said with pride in his voice.

The Gulaks began talking in urgent guttural whispers, probably planning how they were going to kill me.

I patted my leg for the knife I usually wore, but it was gone. I swung my gaze back to Eldeorin. “You took my knife?”

He walked over to stand a few feet from the cage. “You don’t need a knife. You have a weapon better than any blade. Use it.”

“I can’t.” I banged my palms against the bars. “Don’t you think I would if I could?”

“I think you fear your magic more than you fear those demons.”

I glared at him. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“We both know that is not true.” Eldeorin brushed an imaginary fleck off his sleeve. “You should get started unless you want to stay in there all night. I have nowhere else to be.” To prove it, a red wingback chair appeared behind him. He sat and crossed his legs as if he was at a Broadway show, waiting for the curtain to rise.

I looked at the demons, who stared back at me. I’d watched videos of Gulaks fighting and heard many stories about them, but none of that compared to the real thing. They were stocky and fought with brute strength, and their hard scaly hide protected their torso from heavy blows. The shape of their mouths made it look like they were snarling even when they laughed, which helped them intimidate weaker opponents.

Some Gulaks wore a cutlass, but most of them preferred to fight with wooden clubs. A quick scan of their bodies found no weapons, and I had a moment of relief until I remembered it was still two against one, and they each had at least a hundred pounds on me.

The three of us stood staring at each other. The tip of one Gulak’s horn was broken and jagged, giving him an even fiercer appearance.

Eldeorin’s voice cut through the silence. “I’ve had more fun watching trees grow.”

“Then you come in here and fight them,” I called without turning to look at him.

He chuckled. “Excellent idea. Demons, you can fight her, or you can fight me.”

“You –” It was the only word I got out before the Gulaks rushed me. Years of training and instinct took over, and I automatically fell into a fighting stance. The one with the broken horn reached me first and charged, his big clawed hands going straight for my throat. I sent a swift kick to his knee, one of his few vulnerable spots, and he howled as he stumbled back.

I straightened to face the second Gulak, but he moved faster than I expected. He’d gotten behind me, and his thick scaly arms wrapped around me in a bear hug. His deep guttural chuckle filled my ears as he tightened his hold. I struggled to break free, but his arms were like a vice slowly squeezing the breath from my lungs.

Through the black dots filling my vision, I watched the first Gulak regain his footing. He leered and started toward me again. I had seconds to get out of this, and I was no longer sure Eldeorin would step in to save me.

I let my body go limp. My captor’s arms loosened a second later, and I leaped into action. I grabbed one of his arms and thrust my hip into him as I spun and bent my body. Grunting with the effort, I used my momentum to throw him over me and into his friend. They went down amid a chorus of growls.

Panting, I backed away, putting as much space between us as I could. It wouldn’t take long for them to recover, and this time, they would be driven by rage. The one thing a Gulak hated more than losing a fight was losing it to a female.

I had reached the cage bars by the time the Gulaks charged, and there was only one place I could go. I wrapped my fingers around one of the bars and climbed. The bars were too close together to allow me to use my legs, so I had to rely on nothing but upper body strength. I’d done it plenty of times in training, but never when my life depended on it.

The bars in the ceiling of the cage were spaced wider, and I hooked my legs around them. I looked down at the Gulaks staring up at me. Even if they could touch silver, they’d never be able to climb up after me.

After an hour, Eldeorin spoke. “Do you intend to stay up there all night?”

“I have nowhere else to be,” I called back.

His sigh was audible even at this distance. In the next instant, I was standing on the ground beside him.

Eldeorin took my arm again. “Never let it be said I am not up to a challenge.”

The cage and the junkyard disappeared. I expected to arrive at home, but we materialized on the roof of a building. A quick glance around told me were in Washington, DC. Before I could ask why we were here, we transported to the back of an alley stinking of garbage and urine. The brick walls on either side of us were covered in graffiti, and a low, muffled thumping of bass came from the building on our left.

I was about to ask where we were when something moved on the other side of the overflowing dumpster. A figure stepped out, silhouetted by the light from the street, and I sharpened my eyesight until I saw it was a young woman in her early twenties. She had straight dark hair and wore black jeans and a red leather jacket. She stalked to the top of the alley, and the soft click of her heeled boots echoed through the narrow space.

I wondered why she was alone in an alley. I stepped forward to tell her it wasn’t safe, but Eldeorin put a hand on my shoulder to stop me. He pointed at the woman, who turned to walk back to the dumpster, and my eyes widened at the flash of fangs.

“A vampire,” I whispered hoarsely and clamped my mouth shut. Idiot.

Eldeorin gave my shoulder a reassuring squeeze. “She cannot see or hear us.”

“Please don’t tell me you expect me to fight a vampire after what happened with those Gulaks,” I said, staring at her with a mix of fascination and fear. I couldn’t wait to tell Dimitri I’d seen a real live vampire.

“The Gulaks did not present enough of a threat to you. I believe something more dangerous is needed to call your magic,” he said. “She is a new vampire and not much stronger than you, and she does not have your warrior training.”

I shot him a glare over my shoulder. “How do you know that? She could have been a ninja when she was human.”

He smirked. “Then you’ll have to use your magic, won’t you?”

“I really don’t like you anymore.” I turned my back on him again.

“You will once you have mastered your magic,” he said with a smugness that made me want to elbow him in the ribs.

The vampire leaned against the brick wall as if waiting for someone. Waiting for dinner is more like it. A chill went through me and settled in my chest. I’d heard so many stories about vampires over the years, and it finally hit me that soon my friends and I would be out in the world fighting them ourselves.

“So, what now?” I asked.

Two things happened at once. The vampire’s head whipped in my direction, and I looked behind me to discover I was alone with her in the alley. Eldeorin had abandoned me.

For a moment, I couldn’t breathe as panic paralyzed me. Then the part of my brain that could still reason assured me Eldeorin would not let me get hurt. In fact, he was most likely here and hidden behind a ward so he could observe me. That made me feel only slightly better.

“Hello there.” The vampire walked around the dumpster, her fangs now hidden. “How did you get back there, little girl. Are you lost?”

“I’m waiting for someone,” I said as my eyes darted around looking for something to use as a weapon.

She smiled. “What a coincidence. So am I. Maybe we can wait together.”

“Okay.” My body tensed, and I gave up searching for a weapon when she started toward me. Her stride was slow and casual, but I could feel her menacing presence as she drew near. It wasn’t until she was only a few yards away that I realized what else I was feeling. Coldness pulsated at the center of my chest like a living block of ice.

Excitement momentarily overcame my fear, and adrenaline surged through me. I can sense her!

The vampire stopped and sniffed the air. “What is that smell? It’s amazing.”

I wrinkled my nose. “It’s garbage.”

“It’s so much more than that.” Her mouth widened in a slow smile, showing off her emerging fangs. “Don’t worry. I’m hungry, so it’ll be over fast.”

It took her a few seconds to realize I wasn’t screaming or cowering in terror. Her smile faltered, but I could still see her fangs. I’d be lying if I said the sight of them didn’t scare me, but Mom always said a little fear is good. It keeps you from getting overconfident and complacent.

I didn’t know if it was the vampire’s hunger or her lack of experience that made her run at me. A more experienced vampire might have questioned why a human girl alone in a dark alley with them didn’t show fear.

She closed the distance between us quickly. I had barely enough time to side-step the attack and land a hard kick to her ribs. She stumbled but recovered fast with a new gleam in her eyes. Vampires liked it when their prey put up a fight.

I was ready when she lunged at me the second time with her fangs bared. I brought up my forearm to block her and punched her so hard in the jaw my hand went numb. Her head snapped back, and I followed the strike with a powerful kick to her chest. She slammed into the wall, stunned.

I scanned the ground again for a weapon, and my eyes landed on a two-foot length of rusty pipe sticking out from beneath a bag of garbage. I grabbed it, happy to see the other end was broken and jagged. It wasn’t an ideal weapon, but it would have to do.

The vampire snarled and pushed away from the building, and we circled each other. All at once, her nostrils widened and her expression became feverish. That was when my nose picked up a scent of copper in the air, and I saw blood seeping through a tear in my sleeve. One of her claws must have slashed me during her last attack.

I swallowed hard and tightened my grip on the pipe. A new vampire was one thing, but one crazed by bloodlust was a whole different story.

The growl she let out as she pounced at me made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. I swung the pipe as hard as I could, slamming it into the side of her head and sending her off balance. With a small battle cry, I ran at her and drove the sharp end of the pipe into her chest. It was more difficult to do than with a blade, but I pushed until it went straight through her heart.

I let go of the pipe, and she crumpled lifeless to the ground. Breathing harshly, I stood over her. I had just killed my first vampire, and the whole experience felt like a strange dream.

A slow clap brought me back to my senses, and I looked up at Eldeorin, who stood a few feet away.

“Not what I had hoped for but impressive nonetheless,” he drawled.

I stepped back from the corpse, fuming. “Has anyone ever told you you’re an asshole?”

He laughed softly. “I believe Sara called me that once or twice.”

“Gee, I wonder why.” I held up my arm to inspect the wound. It had already stopped bleeding, but my sleeve was soaked. There would be no hiding it when I got home.

I didn’t know Eldeorin was beside me until he laid a hand on my arm. My cut disappeared, and the sleeve became like new again.

“Sara will want to hear about your training, but it’s better if you return intact,” he said.

“Better for who?” I pointed at the dead vampire. “What was the point of this other than learning I have Mom’s vampire radar?”

I didn’t realize what I’d said until Eldeorin’s mouth curved in a satisfied smile.

“You sensed the vampire.” It was a statement, not a question.

I tried to backtrack. “Maybe. I’m not sure.”

“Yes, you are.” His smile grew even wider. “Your magic is closer to the surface than you want to admit. Now we must figure out how to free it.”

“If being near a vampire couldn’t do that, what makes you think you can?”

“There is always a way.” He took my arm, and the world blurred. When it came back into focus, we were where we’d left Mom and Dimitri hours ago. In the dark woods, crickets chirped, bats fluttered overhead, and an owl screeched. I was glad to be home.

Eldeorin let go of my arm, and we walked toward the lake. “Does it require conscious effort to suppress your magic?” he asked.

“I’m not suppressing it. It’s gone.”

“I am uncertain whether you truly believe that or you want others to believe it,” he said without the mockery I expected. “Perhaps it will help if we talked about the incident.”

“No.” I walked faster. “You know everything.”

He kept pace with me. “I am flattered by your high opinion of me, but no one knows everything.”

“You were there, and you know what happened.” I stared ahead as the lights from my house came into view. I didn’t talk about that day to anyone, not even Dimitri. If I could, I’d wipe it from my memory entirely.

“I won’t force you to talk about it,” he replied, and I shivered because I knew he could if he wanted to. “But I want you to think about it before my next visit. The best way to free your magic is to go back to the exact moment it was bound. In the meantime, I will look at some other options.”

“But I don’t want –” I broke off because Eldeorin was gone.

I resumed walking and stopped at the edge of the lake. I wasn’t ready to enter the house and answer their questions about my adventure with Eldeorin. Staring across the glassy, black water, my gaze fell on the weathered wooden platform in the middle of the lake. An image surfaced of the platform closer to the shore with sun reflecting off its fresh coat of white paint.

I tried to push the image away, but the conversation with Eldeorin had triggered something inside me. A floodgate opened, and I was lost in the memories of that day.

 

The lake sparkled under the bright sun, and a warm summer breeze sent gentle ripples across the surface. Along the shore, the birds sang in the trees, ignoring the two huge hellhounds snoring in the grass.

I stood up to my waist in the water, giggling at the speckled trout trying to nibble on my toes. Bending over, I stuck my face in the water and blew bubbles at him. Instead of darting away, he swam up until he was inches from my face, his large round eyes staring back at me. Mommy said fish didn’t have thoughts like we did, which made me sad. I wished I could talk to them and learn what it was like to live their whole life in the lake.

The trout wriggled and sped away. I lifted my head from the water and saw Dimitri swimming toward me.

“Are you talking to the fishes again?” he teased. “Papa said you are going to grow a tail and fins.”

I pushed my wet hair out of my eyes. “He did not.”

Dimitri grinned. “Let’s race.”

“Not until you say you’re sorry.” I turned my back on him.

He sighed dramatically. “I’m sorry.”

I spun and splashed him in the face. “Now we’re even.”

He sputtered and laughed, and we spent the next few minutes splashing and dunking each other. We could never be mad at each other for long.

“You want to race now?” he asked. He loved racing, and he usually won, but I was getting faster every day, especially in the water. Daddy said he couldn’t swim as fast as me when he was five.

“Okay.” I twisted to look at Nana Irina who sat on the deck overlooking the lake. “Watch us, Nana!”

“I’m watching,” she called.

Dimitri and I dived into the water and swam for the wooden platform twenty feet from the shore. I could hold my breath a long time, so I stayed under and swam like Ariel. A school of fish darted along beside me as if they were cheering me on.

I reached the platform and took in a gulp of air as I turned to go back. Dimitri got there as I kicked off, and I grinned from ear to ear. I was winning.

Knowing he could still catch me, I swam harder than ever. As soon as I made it to the shallows, I popped out of the water, gasping, and looked for Dimitri. He was still ten feet away.

“I won,” I shouted, waving my arms wildly. “Did you see, Nana?”

Clapping came from the deck. “Yes. You swim like a little minnow now.”

I beamed at Dimitri when he finished. “I beat you by a mile.”

“No, you didn’t.” He stood sullenly. “And it wasn’t a fair race because you used magic.”

“Did not.”

“Did too.”

“Children, behave,” Nana called.

I crossed my arms and glared at Dimitri. “You always want to win. You’re just jealous because I’m getting faster than you.”

“Only because you’re half faerie,” he taunted. “You’re not a real Mohiri.”

Nana stood and started toward us. “Dima, that is not nice.”

Tears burned my eyes. “I am so.”

“Jeremy said real Mohiri don’t have magic.”

“Jeremy is stupid and mean, and so are you,” I yelled and shoved him.

He shoved me back. “You’re stupid.”

My body grew hot, and I started to cry. Dimitri had never said such cruel things to me before, and it made my belly hurt.

“You’re mean.” I slapped water at him. “I hate you.”

The water hit Dimitri with a burst of white light. He flew into the air and plunged head first into the water.

“Dima!” I screamed at the spot where he’d gone under.

Someone blurred past me and dived into the water. Nana’s head broke the surface, and she swam toward me holding Dimitri’s limp body.

Shouts came from behind me, but all I could do was stare at Dimitri’s pale face and closed eyes as Nana carried him to the dock. Mommy ran down the steps from the house and lifted Dimitri from Nana’s arms. She laid him on the dock and lowered her head to his. Coldness spread through me at the fear on her face when she shook her head at Nana. She started breathing into his mouth, and Nana pressed down on his chest.

Daddy and Papa Mikhail ran down to the dock, and they all hovered over Dimitri, who still wasn’t moving. I wanted to go to them, but my body was so heavy I couldn’t walk. Everything around me seemed to sparkle, and I couldn’t hear over the ringing in my ears.

Mommy disappeared, and when she came back, Eldeorin was with her. He touched Dimitri’s face and said something to Mommy, who nodded. Everyone watched as he laid his hands on Dimitri’s head, and a blue glow surrounded my brother.

I’m sorry, Dima. Please, wake up. Please, please, please. I couldn’t see them anymore through my tears, and I’d never been more scared or alone in my life. I shivered, and my teeth chattered, but I still couldn’t move.

Strong arms swept me up and cradled me against a warm chest. “Daddy’s here, solnyshko.”

I curled into him, seeking warmth and safety, but for the first time, there was no comfort in his arms.

“Are you hurt?” he asked tenderly.

I shook my head, and he walked to the dock where Nana and Papa waited for us. I looked around frantically for Dimitri, but he and Mommy were gone.

“Mommy took Dimitri to the house,” Nana said. “Eldeorin is taking good care of him.”

Daddy carried me inside and upstairs to their room. I felt like I was in a dream while Nana put me in the bath and dressed me in my pajamas. She laid me in the middle of Mommy and Daddy’s bed and pulled the covers over me. The whole time, I wanted to ask if Dimitri was okay, but I was too afraid to speak.

Mommy and Daddy came in with Eldeorin, and they talked in low voices while Eldeorin touched my face and blue light came from his fingers. He asked me a question, and I didn’t know if I answered him. All I could think about was Dimitri and remember his colorless face when he lay on the dock.

“Where’s Dima? Is he going to die?” I whispered, and all the adults stopped talking.

Mommy sat on the bed and pulled me into her arms. “Dima is in his bed, and he’s going to be okay.”

Her voice was calm and reassuring, but I could feel her tremble. Mommy was never afraid, and knowing she was scared now terrified me. I lifted my head to look at Daddy and saw his worried face before he smiled to hide it.

I pulled out of Mommy’s arms. “I want to see him.”

“He’s asleep,” Daddy said.

“I don’t care.” I scrambled off the big bed. “I want to see him.”

Mommy and Daddy looked at Eldeorin, and then Daddy picked me up. He carried me downstairs to the bedroom I shared with Dimitri. Papa was sitting in a chair by Dimitri’s bed, and he looked as worried as Daddy.

I stared past Papa at Dimitri, who was dressed in his pajamas with the covers pulled up to his chest. He looked like he was asleep, but he was surrounded by a blue glow. I pointed at him. “What’s that?”

Mommy walked over to stand beside Dimitri’s bed. “That is Eldeorin’s magic. Dima is sick, and Eldeorin put him in a special sleep so he can get better.”

Daddy put me down, and I ran to Dimitri, who was so still he looked like one of my dolls. I reached over to touch his cold hand, and the blue glow surrounded my hand, too.

“It’s gone,” I cried. I could always feel his Mori when we touched, but it wasn’t there anymore.

“What’s gone?” Mommy asked.

“His Mori.” I clasped his hand and wailed, “I killed Dima’s Mori.”

Mommy knelt and wrapped her arms around me. “No, baby. Dima’s Mori is sleeping too so it can get better. It’s not gone.”

I buried my face in her neck. “You promise?”

She rubbed my back. “I promise.”

“Why don’t we go and let Dima sleep?” Daddy said softly. “We can come back and check on him later.”

“No. I want to stay with him,” I pleaded. “I won’t wake him up.”

Eldeorin spoke up. “They have a connection. It might be beneficial if she is near.”

“We will both stay,” Mommy said. Everyone else left, and she sat in the chair Papa had used.

I sat on her lap, watching Dimitri’s face as he slept. The need to be closer to him grew, and I slipped out of her arms to sit on his bed. I held his hand even though doing it made my Mori sad because it couldn’t find his.

I’m sorry, Dima. Please, wake up. I gripped his hand tighter, trying as hard as I could to feel his Mori. I wished I could help him. Mommy had taught me how to heal sick birds and rabbits, but she said my magic would hurt demons.

I bit my lip and cried quietly so Mommy couldn’t hear me. Dimitri was right. I wasn’t a real Mohiri. If I was normal like him, I wouldn’t have magic, and I couldn’t hurt him. Now he was sick, and it was all my fault. I wished I’d never been born with magic.

As if it knew what I was thinking, my magic shifted inside me. I’d always loved its warmth and felt soothed by its presence, but now it scared me. Go away! I shouted in my head as I pushed it down. It resisted, but I pushed and pushed until only a faint echo of it was left. The fight made me so tired I couldn’t keep my eyes open.

I lay down beside Dimitri with an arm across him. I promise I’ll never hurt you again.

Dimitri slept for four days. When he finally woke up, I was a real Mohiri, just like him.

 

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The Relentless Series

Seventeen-year-old Sara Grey lives a life full of secrets and she is driven by the need to uncover the truth about her tragic past. But while she is looking for vampires, they are hunting her. Will she risk everything to finally get the answers she seeks? And can she learn to trust the warrior determined to protect her even if it's the last thing she wants?

Enter a modern world of warriors, demons, faeries, vampires, and shifters, and more. Discover why readers love this New York Times bestselling series.

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4 great ways to start the series!