“You must have some information about where Grace might be!” I’d been arguing with members of the Trinity coven for twenty minutes. Twenty minutes I did not have to waste.
So far they’d told me that they thought her family possibly moved to Oregon, or Chicago. Maybe even Canada. Basically they didn’t have a damn clue.
“All supernaturals have to leave record of where they’re moving. For magic users, that is with their coven and the council. I don’t have time to scour through the council records, so I need you to tell me.”
Kat was a tall, leggy brunette, with skin as dark as a midnight sky, and eyes a startling green, like a foamy ocean swell. She sucked in a deep breath and furrowed her nose in my direction as she said, “Grace never told us anything. She left no record of her family’s location. I mean, she left almost a decade ago, and even though she returned for that short time, she spent nearly all of it with your pack.”
A sense of desperation began to slowly claw its way up through my gut. That out of control feeling was back. As my unease grew, a part of me feared I would actually destroy the world we’d been working so hard to save, just to find my witch.
Turning away, I slammed the door open and left the coven’s central hut without another word. A surge of relief from all the witches inside followed me, which immediately raised my suspicions that they were hiding something. Of course, in the supe world, all the different races had their secrets and held them very close to their chests. Even as a council member, I could not command them to reveal information to me. Not without a very good reason. Which, at the moment, I didn’t have.
The sun was high as I strode back through Stratford. Classes were on for most of the young, and also some of the older supes who were still in specialized training. Technically, my brothers and I were in college still, but with all of our responsibilities we rarely made it to class. It didn’t sit well with me that we were going to graduate early, without finishing the special classes. But again, there was not much I could do. Our job now was to run the American supes. There was no time for school.
I glanced around as I crossed through the business section: technology stores, IT departments, gaming sectors. Keeping an eye out for anything amiss was becoming part of my daily routine. We received complaints and requests through a special mailbox and email server. Once a week we went through them all. This, for the most part, kept Stratford – and the rest of the American supes – running smoothly. But I also liked to keep an eye out as I made my way around.
Our town was self-sustaining. The supernaturals who lived here ran businesses, grew food, engaged in trade, and rarely had to interact with humans or venture into their parts of the world. For those few things we couldn’t procure or magic ourselves, we used a specialized group of highly trained humans who kept our secrets for great reward. The guilds.
I was starting to think I might have to turn to them for some other avenues of tracking Grace, through bank accounts and such. I’d already inquired through the supe prison network. Grace had not registered with any of those communities, which more than likely meant she was out of the supe world. So I might have to think like a human to find her.
There had to be a clue out there to her whereabouts, and I wouldn’t rest until I found it.
Bypassing the front porch, I skirted the forest, hoping the trees would work their normal magic. Soothing me. I felt … out of control. I was a magic user, for the most part, but apparently my brothers and I were not the pure-souled supernaturals we had believed. We were hybrids, and ever since we joined in the quad bond I’d been receiving a huge dose of shifter, fey, and vampire – intermingling and changing my wizard magic. I was not dealing with it very well. Controlling myself like this was a new thing, and frankly, I was pretty much shit at it.
“Any news about Grace?”
The soft voice drifted over to me and I turned to find Mischa on the back porch. With no effort I vaulted up over the railing to stand at her side. Her calm energy wrapped around me, and some of my anger inside eased. A few months ago Mischa’s presence would not have had this effect. I hadn’t trusted her at all. But now … well, now she was a valued friend and member of our pack. One of my best friends, actually.
Mischa was petite, with hair as dark and shiny as a black diamond; turquoise eyes, and arms full of a tiny supernatural. She might have been one of my newer friends and packmates, but I adored the hell out of her. She made my brother happier than I’d ever seen him, and had been there for me a lot lately, helping me deal with my shit. I could barely remember our lives before she came into them.
“It’s like she just dropped off the earth,” I answered her previous question, frustration leaking out in my words.
I held my arms out and Mischa placed Lily, my niece, straight into them. I took care to cradle the baby’s tiny head, calming even more as I cuddled the little girl. Closing my eyes for a beat, I breathed deeply, tucking Lily against my chest. She smelled of wild magic, nature, and energy. With her dark curls and blue eyes, she was one of the cutest little supes I’d ever seen, powerful and perfect.
Supernaturals had been trying for years to figure out what would control us. Turned out tiny demanding babies would do the trick – like Lily, Evie, and Jackson – the last two were Jessa and Braxton’s twins.
Seeing Maximus and Braxton happily mated, settled, with young … it was enough for me to crave the same. I could have had it a long time ago had I not had my head up my ass when Grace first expressed her interest, but the timing had not been right back then. So I had pushed her away. Not ready to settle.
I’d always known she was different, though. Her spirit had called to me, and I’d ignored it.
The Stupid Asshole of the Year award was definitely mine.
Mischa leaned back against the railings – railings I had built by hand a few years ago – and both of us stared out into the forest bordering the back of our house. She was waiting for me to elaborate on the Grace thing, so I tried to get my thoughts in order, starting with the most important part: “I have to find her. I can’t shake the feeling that something’s wrong. I waited this long because of my promise, and because we got caught up in the Kristoff battle, but … fuck, I should have gone after her the first day she left. I should have followed my instincts and made sure she was okay.”
Lily wiggled and I patted her back with gentle taps – I was now an expert at this maneuver. I’d had no choice but to learn quickly; Jessa was always dropping one of her twins into my arms while she tried to figure out how to shut the other one up. She got the loud children; Lily was quieter. I loved them all though, with a fierceness that took my breath away.
Young had a way of doing that to you, capturing your soul and never letting go.
Mischa’s pretty face creased in concern as she laid a hand on my bicep, instinctively offering comfort the way all shifters did – with touch.
“Can you feel her? Any mental connection? Try again.”
Mischa was new to our world, and didn’t fully understand the intricacies of the different race powers. She didn’t understand that my power had subconsciously been reaching for Grace since she left, to no avail – that I had used all of the tricks up my sleeve to make sure she was okay.
But, like her twin Jessa, Mischa had a stubborn streak – hidden under a gentler nature, but there – and I could tell she expected me to try right now. I felt the corner of my lips quirk up as amusement trickled through me. I was surrounded by bossy women.
Closing my eyes, I slowed my breathing to a deep rhythmic in and out, needing to calm my center before I connected to the vast crisscrossing ley lines of energy of the world around us. As a magic user, a wizard, my power was nature-based. Everything in nature contained energy … particles that vibrate … heat that exists, that can be tapped into.
I could sense the energy, and see the lines that powered the world. Wizards can tether their energy to the lines and absorb some of the power to use in spells. The ley lines were strong beneath Stratford, which was one of the reasons this area was initially used for the prison.
As I connected, the hot pool of magic in my center absorbed energy from the ley line and I used it to boost my power. I didn’t always have to use the lines, I had magic of my own, but if I wanted the most bang…
Magic users are taught to use words, ancient and powerful, to guide their energy. The words don’t create the spell, they’re just to make sure your intentions for the spell are directed in the right way. Only a very well-trained mind can shape power without words. You need absolute focus. Even a lot of sorcerers – which I wasn’t yet – had trouble with this.
“Revealisa localian … Grace Carter. Show me,” I murmured, releasing my energy. It flung from me with force. I kept my focus strong. I needed to know she was okay.
Grace! My mental shout echoed through my magic, and I felt the dark tinge to the energy. This spell was designed to find her general location – like, was she in the state of California? It wouldn’t have been more accurate than that, but it should have told me she was alive, and somewhere in America.
But there was nothing.
“I’ve been trying for over two months to trace her,” I growled in Mischa’s direction, keeping my eyes closed as I searched fruitlessly. “To assure myself that she’s okay, without breaking my promise … but it’s like she doesn’t exist. At first I thought she was blocking me, somehow, but … now I’m worried.”
There was a brief pause, before Mischa asked, “Have you tried to find her while connected in the quad bond?”
Exhaling heavily, I opened my eyes. “Yes, I tried with my brothers last week.” When we joined, our supe energy increased exponentially, giving us an unprecedented level of power. “How could she just disappear…?” I refused to believe she was dead. That wasn’t even remotely an option.
My magic flared within me; only Lily in my arms kept my energy from exploding. Mischa made a sad noise; she liked Grace. Both of them had a calm aura, soothing to others. Soothing to me.
“I don’t quite understand how the witch and wizard stuff works. Could you find any magic user if you wanted to?”
I shook my head, lifting Lily higher so she was resting against my shoulder. She started gurgling happily, excited to be able to see around. “I can only get a general vibe if I know their energy well. Grace … I should be able to find her effortlessly. It should be stronger than any other.”
Except if she’s not your true mate. That inner thought cut through me like a blade, deep and biting. It didn’t matter how many times I reasoned with myself that true mate or not I could choose Grace … I wanted the bond. I wanted it all.
Mischa’s sadness deepened. I could sense the swirl of low, pressing energy around her. She was reacting to the disappointment that was surely clear on my face. “Maybe Max will have an idea about how to find her. He was just in a meeting, but it’s done now. He should be here in a minute.”
Her eyes glazed over for a moment and I knew she was mentally speaking to my brother. Somehow, through a beautiful quirk in fate, the sharing of our quad powers meant that Maximus had enough of Braxton’s dragon shifter energy to be able to hear the thoughts of his mate. Which, generally, only dragon shifters were blessed with. Lucky bastards.
Chilly vampire energy filtered up onto the porch; Maximus was closing in fast. His urgency was not a surprise – he hated being away from his mate and daughter. Which was understandable. It had barely been a month since a crazy sorcerer had almost destroyed us all.
A smile tilted up Mischa’s lips, washing away her previous sadness.
“I’m glad you two got the mental connection. I imagine it brings a whole new dimension to the mate bond. A joining like that is special.”
The moment I spoke of their bond, Mischa’s face really lit up. Lily shifted in my arms, like she was reacting to her mom’s happiness. “The mental connection is the best thing I could have imagined. I thought I would hate the intrusion. The human-raised part of me rebels at the thought of someone being in my head. But with Max … it’s perfect.”
Her tone softened as she added, “I know you’ll experience it one day. Grace is your true mate, Ty. I feel very strongly that this is true. We just need to get her back to Stratford, give the bond some time. Max’s and mine wasn’t instant.”
There was truth in what she said, and I loved her confidence, but it was hard for me to get on board with the hope stuff. Shit had been dark for a while now, after Larkspur – the dragon king – and then Kristoff tried to destroy us. One crazy bastard after another had been attempting to take us out lately. It was probably to be expected, we were strong and powerful, and the youngest leaders of the supernatural council in America. But I could use a break from megalomaniacs for a while.
Frustration rumbled out of me: “I need to ascend to sorcery. I’m not strong enough. Maybe I need to be at my full power to be able to connect to Grace.”
Tendrils of sorcery energy had been filtering through my blood for weeks now. It was like a shark waiting for the right moment to destroy its prey, planning to shred through the wizard version of me and reform me as something else. Something truly formidable. I just wished it would hurry the hell up. Despite my many years communing with nature and the gods, I still needed to work on my patience.
Heavy boot steps signaled the vampire in our midst. He stomped through the forest, launching himself up and over the railing to land on the back porch. He wasted no time scooping Mischa up into his arms.
With a shake of my head, I shifted Lily around so we were both staring out into the forest. “Don’t you worry, baby girl, Uncle Ty thinks your parents should get a room too. Preferably one we aren’t in.”
“Shut it, jackhole,” Maximus growled as he stepped to my side, his mate tucked in under his arm. “And give me my daughter. Now.”
Demanding, possessive asshole. Vampires and shifters were possessive in the worst kind of way, and did I blame him? Fuck no, I didn’t. Lily was perfection.
I would kill or die for our three young in a second, no thought, no hesitation.
After leaning down to press my lips against her baby soft cheek, I handed her across to my brother. The second she was in Maximus’ arms, his eyes darkened and the iciness of his aura softened, becoming almost warm. He wrapped her up tightly; she looked extra tiny pressed against him.
As he kissed his way across her cheeks and down her nose, he said, “Hey, precious baby, Daddy missed you today.” Lily chuckled and raised her arms toward him.
I had no experience with children. Before this new onslaught of young in our pack, there had been very few babies around us. But I was pretty sure Lily was smashing through the milestones for her age. Barely a month old and she laughed, reached for things, rolled over, even lifted her head up and looked around. Jackson and Evie were the same. Hell, those kids were practically crawling. But since they were the first natural born dragon shifters, everyone pretty much expected they would take over the world by the time they were toddlers.
We’d been told the twins would be the most powerful of all supes, able to control the four races … and they could be good or evil. Of course, if they went evil, they would have to go through their mother first, and no one – absolutely no one – got one over Jessa Lebron. She would keep them in line if it was the last thing she ever did.
When Maximus finished greeting his mate and daughter, he turned to me. “You heading out of Stratford soon? Going after the healer?”
Mischa had filled him in already, and it was nice not to have to repeat myself. His voice lacked judgment, or opinion, but through our quad connection I sensed he didn’t want me to go. He was worried. It would probably be a long time before any of us were okay with letting each other out of our sight. Too much death, too many enemies.
“Yep, I’ve already waited too long.”
I felt the fire of Braxton’s energy moments before he stepped out into the porch, Jessa’s lighter footsteps following him. Their twins were not with them, but I could hear cooing from inside, and it wasn’t hard to guess what was happening. The two sets of grandparents, and Nash, our new little brother, would be in there; all five of them were obsessed with the babies. Jonathon and Lienda Lebron, and Mom and Dad, rarely let their grandbabies out of their sight. Nash, despite being held captive his entire life in Stratford prison, was one of the most gentle souls I’d ever come across. The babies adored him, and he adored them back just as fiercely.
Jessa crossed the wooden porch and wrapped her arms around me, pressing close as I returned her embrace. She was a badass in almost all ways, but her heart was pure gold. She loved deeply, without limits. Just don’t take her cake and she’d always have your back.
“You’re leaving, Ty? Do you think it’s safe? We can come with you.”
I kissed the top of her head. “Yeah, I’m leaving, and no, you don’t have to come with me. You have rugrats and responsibilities here. Some of the council should try and stick around the town for a while.”
Jessa’s eyes turned from sapphire to a dark, murky color, and I remembered where she’d just been. “Any change in Louis?”
Her face fell, nose crinkling as she let out a breath. “Nope! Not a single freaking change. I’ve tried everything I could think of. I yelled at him today – for five minutes straight. Still no response.”
Louis was one of the most powerful sorcerers alive. He had been unconscious since defeating Kristoff, the demon-touched sorcerer. He risked his life to save ours and was now living in a state of semi-consciousness. He was still there, but at the same time he wasn’t. I had been concerned since the first night, but now I was seriously worried.
We all took turns sitting with him, hoping one of us would figure out a way to bring him back. My frustration at that was almost as strong as my frustration about Grace. I was failing all over the place recently. “We need to do something,” I said, my words clipped with worry. “We might have to look outside our pack for help.” Louis was a private man, but we’d done everything we could think of. This was beyond us.
Braxton wrapped his arms around Jessa, pulling her back into him. Her distress was enough to have his dragon peeking out. “You’re right, this is beyond our knowledge. Who is second to Louis in power?”
We all took a moment to think it over; the power scale changed quite rapidly in our world. Well, except for the top spot – Louis had been sitting smug there for many years. Someday I’d best him, I had no doubt of that, but not this way. I would do anything to bring him back to full strength. I didn’t want to win like this.
“Marco and Elizabeth are two of the more powerful,” I decided.
Marco, from Wales in the United Kingdom, had taught a sorcery class here in Stratford. Massive monster of a man, he would have been more suited as a bear shifter, but somehow managed to be both graceful and nimble as a spell caster. Elizabeth, a tiny blond pixie of a sorceress, lived in America somewhere. She was in her late one hundreds, and had grown weary of the supernatural world, so she chose to live with humans.
“I’ll put a call out to them,” Braxton said, focusing his full attention on Jessa. He released her waist long enough to reach up and cup her face in his hands. “It’s going to be okay. Louis is a tough bastard, he won’t let that demon keep him down. He might just need a little help.”
Jessa swallowed roughly and I could see how rigid her body was. Louis was like a brother to her, and she blamed herself for his condition. All of us considered him an extended member of our pack. Even me, despite my need to beat his ass at everything to do with magic.
As a single tear escaped to run down Jessa’s cheek, yellow flickered strongly in Braxton’s eyes. Rumbles rocked his chest – his dragon was unhappy. Jessa tilted her head back to meet the gaze of her much taller mate, and then startled us all when she let out a yelp. “Josephina … shit! She said she would ask around and find out about Louis. We need to go to Faerie and find her.”
Josephina used to be bonded to Jessa, but through a sacrifice, was now residing in the dragon queen’s body. She had inherited all knowledge from the queen, and control of the dragons, making her our best chance of helping Louis.
Mischa straightened from where she was leaning against Maximus. “Do we have to go into Faerie though? Is there a way to contact her from here?”
Jessa shook her head, black hair dancing across her shoulders. “No, there’s no easy way to communicate between our worlds, and her visits are always random. There’s literally no way for me to contact her except by heading to her.”
Braxton’s chest was still rumbling when he said, “It’s dangerous there. Even if you’re only in Faerie for a day, you’ll be gone from the twins for weeks. I think it’s best if I go … alone.”
Jessa stepped back and I knew she was about to rip Braxton a new one. There was nothing she hated more than being overprotected. Unfortunately for her, that’s just how Compasses were wired. We protect what is ours. Her impending tirade was cut short by the appearance of her mother in the doorway, Evie in her arms.
“She wants her momma,” Lienda said to Jessa.
Jessa’s eyes locked on her daughter, and if love had a look, it was written all over the wolf shifter’s face. Warmth, adoration, awe, she was a total goner. Lunging across the porch, Jessa gathered her baby up, snuggling her into her chest, breathing in Evie’s scent. Her eyes closed and contentment replaced her previously tense features.
When she opened her eyes again, she faced Braxton. “You’re right. I won’t leave them alone or unprotected while they’re so vulnerable.” She again rested her head against Evie’s soft blond hair, letting out a heavy sigh. “Most importantly, I don’t want to leave them. It would break my heart.” Her gaze went very still. Predatory. “I don’t want you to go without me, but we also can’t let Louis waste away.”
I interrupted then. “Jake and I will go to Faerie. Neither of us have mates or children to leave behind. We’re the perfect choice. Just give me a few days to find Grace first.” And hopefully convince her to forgive me. “Then I’ll be free to go after Josephina.”
Jacob would be cool with the plan. He was always up for an adventure. “I’m going to hit the Grace search now. Hopefully have it all wrapped up by the end of this week.”
Lily was now asleep against Maximus’s shoulder; he was patting her back. “With a bit of luck, by the time you find Grace, Louis will be awake,” the vampire said. “We’ll still speak to those powerful magic users. They might give us something to work with.”
I nodded. “Yes, that would be the best option, but if that doesn’t happen, I will go into Faerie. Louis saved our lives, we owe him every effort.”
Braxton didn’t say much more, but he also didn’t look particularly thrilled by this new plan. He liked to deal with the dangerous tasks; he was over-protective of us all.
I wasn’t worried. I just needed to make sure Grace was okay; I’d lose my mind if that didn’t happen soon. Then I would focus on Louis. The powerful sorcerer and I might not have always seen eye to eye, but I knew without any doubt that if I was in trouble, he would figure out how to help me. It was time for me to do the same for him.
Darkness was not something I had ever feared. Fear of the dark is really just fear of the unknown, and even as a young child my senses were strong enough to always know what was lurking out there. My mom used to tell me that most monsters were no match for my magic, and I had believed her. Her advice had never let me down, until now.
For the past sixty-eight days, fourteen hours, twenty-five minutes, and some seconds in change, I had been cut off from all energy. Trapped in a world of darkness and pain, I sat and waited for my inevitable death. Because there was only so much a body could take, and mine was nearing its limit.
A door slammed at the top of the stairs and I straightened. It’s too soon! It had only been four days – I think – since my last bout of torture. The visits had been very regular. I roughly marked days across the wall, and each visit was about six days apart.
What had changed? For the first time in weeks, a zing of fear cut through the numbness in my chest. What were they bringing for me today?
The first pricks of light burned my eyes. I was so used to darkness now that it was painful to adjust to the beams of illumination. I shifted around on the hard slab of wood that was my bed. I had one thin sheet to cover myself, and it was cold down here. I also only got one pathetic meal a day, and weekly tortures, which apparently was all done to keep me weak.
They were also using a blocker to subdue my energy and powers.
They had succeeded brilliantly – I was the weakest I had ever been. But … I had not broken yet. Which, granted, was a little surprising. I generally didn’t frolic in the world of strong emotions. A side-effect, no doubt, of my many years being homeschooled. I was the indoors, read a book, do a puzzle type of witch. I did not fight back. I did not fight at all, really.
But my time here had changed me. My body might be weak, but the rest of me was going to hold on to the bitter end. Standing, as I always did when they approached, I held my head high. I might not be the fiercest supe, but I could pretend for as long as I could still stand.
As I straightened, the ache in my back exploded, the new wave of pain, sharp and fresh. The healing was taking longer and longer after each interrogation. But since there was nothing I could do about it, I forced the pain down, then widened my stance and clenched my fists at my sides. On instinct, I reached for my magic, whilst also searching for the ley lines. I found nothing but an echoing empty space in both places.
Two distinct and different sets of footsteps were clomping toward me. I recognized both. The heavy thumping pair was Son of a Bitch. I refused to call him by anything other than that now, the nickname coming about during one of his sessions. SOB had a real creative flair with a carving knife. I had screamed over and over during my first round of torture.
Since then I’d locked my pain down, no speaking or screaming. I would give them no more satisfaction. I focused on the one place they had yet to break: my mind. In there I was with my family, my true family, not these monsters. In the two months I had been held captive, I had learned very little about why I was here. They kept saying they needed to release something from within me. Considering I was just an ordinary healer witch, I was pretty sure they were wrong.
“Good morning, sunshine. How’s my favorite cousin today?” The second set of footsteps – lighter and nimbler – belonged to Trevor, my blond-haired, blue-eyed, evil demon of a second cousin. That asshole was definitely on my kill list. A spiral of darkness spilled across my mind, and with it came some very bad thoughts. This darkness had been growing stronger with each cut and bruise. Maybe the darkness was what they wanted to release? Or maybe it was a product of what they had done to me? Either way, I was really past caring.
The flickering lantern that SOB held cast shadows across the small cell I was in. In the early days I’d looked around as much as I could when they brought the light, but now I knew everything. I was in a basement, tiny, caged off. It held the plank of wood, and a toilet. Which was the only thing about this place I was grateful for.
“Hoping for your cooperation is clearly not working, so we’re moving on to phase two.” Trevor continued to bore into me with his unnatural navy-blue eyes. The shade was so flat … or maybe it was that his eyes were dead. Like his soul.
His declaration was the most worrying though.
They had been going easy on me? I had scars and burns and holes littering my body. I’d been broken and beaten and smashed in so many pieces that my body no longer felt like my own. Sure, those things had all healed. Physically at least. But the emotional and mental damage was far from gone. If I wasn’t from a strong witch line, I might have died from some of the torture. But hey, there was still time for that, right? Especially since they were upping it.
Trevor stepped back then, lantern in hand. SOB opened the door and gave me a single wave, as if to say, “After you.” I did not move. SOB let out a loud exhalation, and for the first time today spoke: “You don’t have to do this the hard way every single time. The end result is the same, so why must you add even more pain to your day?”
I was gritting my teeth so firmly they felt like they were cracking under the pressure; my nails had drawn blood in my palms from being clenched so tightly. The muscled wizard took a step closer, lunging for me. I was sluggish and weak, but I already knew his tells. I knew how he moved. I got in a decent punch to his throat and a slash of my nails across his face before he wrapped his arms around me.
He squeezed tightly, his breath wheezing near my ear. I had marked him this time, which gave me a small sense of triumph. I would continue to fight them until there was no other option – when I was dead.
Usually at this point I was chained to the bars on the door, but this time, SOB strode out of the room, and with just the small light leading the way, we moved along a hall of sorts, and then toward a set of stairs.
I remained strapped across the taller mage’s front, held by two powerful arms, my bruised and ripped-up back screaming at me in pain. My ribs had been broken during the last torture and still weren’t fully healed. My feet were dangling, so I struggled, kicking out with as much strength as I could muster. I had to try, now more than ever. This was the best opportunity I’d had in two months to escape – I was actually out of the cage, not chained up.
The grip around my chest tightened. I panted and thrashed, dark spots dancing in front of my eyes with a sudden onslaught of light.
In different circumstances, I might have cried as I glimpsed my first rays of sunlight in weeks. My first glimpse of anything to do with nature – I was a witch; we stood regularly with our Mother Earth and communed. But my tear ducts had dried up long ago and now I was empty. My focus remained locked on the trickles of light, though, following the small dancing beams.
In that moment it hit me hard – while I had been locked down in this basement, the rest of the world had continued to turn. People I loved were out there right now with no idea what had happened to me. My cousin’s favorite taunt was about no one coming to save me, but those jibes didn’t hurt me. I had made sure no one would search. I had asked – no, demanded –space. A decision I’d regretted at least a million times since I walked away from Tyson.
Tyson Compass. For the first time in a long time a real flare of emotion rocked me, leaving my chest and lungs aching as I tried to wheeze in another breath. It had always been like that with him. Too much emotion. Too strong. A great potential for happiness, but an even greater one for heartbreak.
My eyes still burned, but as I turned from the light I realized we were in a familiar, well-lit room. NO! I had never seen anything but the basement, but I knew this room.
I knew exactly where I was.
Outside the large bay windows was an expanse of green meadow I had played in hundreds of times as a child. I was at my gran’s house, where I had been heading when I was kidnapped.
Trevor was solemn as he tilted his head back to face me. “Don’t bother to call for help, the entire house is magically sealed. No sound in or out. No magical powers in or out. This is a dead zone.”
The two men moved fast through the house. Everything was open and well-lit, Gran’s polished timber floors shining brightly, skylights and windows letting in all the natural sunlight. She had new curtains, with bright purple roses patterned across them. It was the complete opposite of my dungeon in the basement. Hell, with a slice of heaven above.
I was trying not to think too hard on where they were possibly leading me. Or where my grandparents might be. Had Trevor hurt them too?
I briefly considered breaking my mute standoff. Maybe I could goad Trevor into doing something stupid, or giving me some information, but every time I opened my mouth nothing came out. Part of me knew that if I made even a single noise, I would just start screaming and never stop again. The rage and pain and hurt inside of me was a real thing, dark and stormy, just waiting for an outlet. The darkness grew in my mind again, and I tried to calm down. I sensed that if that pit of murky tendrils got out of control, I would lose something very important. Like myself.
My eyes were fluttering like crazy as the light burned them. Weak and tired, I wouldn’t last much longer in this state, but I also couldn’t give up. Not now that I knew my family might be in trouble.
The hallway wound through the lovely home. I’d imagined living here one day … after I’d finally given up on the dream of the log cabin by the Stratford forest.
The Compass cabin.
Tyson and I could just never get our timing right, and now I had no hope for a future with him. No hope in general. Just a burning desire to enact revenge and figure out what had happened to my family. This was what kept me fighting.
They dragged me to the sun room at the back of the house. There were two people standing against the windows, sunlight streaming in across them.
I had more than one question answered in that moment.
A scream built up in my throat and it took everything inside of me not to let it loose. God, no! I suddenly knew exactly what this new form of torture was going to entail, and frankly I would not survive it. My mom’s gaze met mine from across the room. Joy Carter was magically bound across her wrists and ankles, her beautiful icy blue eyes locked on me, large and shiny, the way they looked when she was about to cry. My lips trembled and my body shook as I strained to get to her.
Behind her was my gran. My father’s mother. Yeah, she was not in trouble at all. She had set this entire thing up. Fury rocked through me, greater than I had ever felt in my life as I glared at her, fighting against SOB.
I should have known. It had been a cryptic call from my grandmother – something about important family news – that had made me run from Stratford. I’d been ordered to come straight home as it was a life and death situation. I’d jumped on the first flight, and before I even made it out of the private supe airport, I was ambushed, hit with stunning magic of some kind, and the next thing I knew I was waking up in my torture chamber. I thought this was all on my cousin, that he’d lost his mind thinking I had some special magic in me.
I was wrong. Trevor was the lackey. Gran was the instigator.
She stepped forward, dragging my mother with her. “Hello there, Grace.”
She sounded like Gran, a cold, deadly version. Her dark eyes did not twinkle as they had when I was young. They were lethal and predatory.
“Grace!” she repeated.
There was something slimy about the way she said my name, so many dark and shadowy undertones. It was like staring into the face of the devil and knowing they were here for you, to punish you. She took a step closer, a smile brushing up the corners of her cheeks. She was old, even for a supe, so there were fine lines and grey hairs starting to show. “Are you ready to help us, Grace? You’re an adult now. Your energy is beginning to wake.”
God, I wished she’d stop saying my name. Every time, a chill ran down my spine. I didn’t reply. My eyes were locked on my mother, who looked frantic. She opened and closed her mouth, but since no sound emerged, they must have silenced her. Somehow Gran was getting around the magic blocker.
“I will give you one last chance,” Evil Gran said. “One last chance to be part of a revolution. You hold the key to a lot of power. To Faerie. You can choose a side, dark or light.”
My head swiveled in her direction, and SOB’s arms tightened around me – I’d half-forgotten he still held me. This was the first time she had mentioned Faerie, which would have been a huge information breakthrough, except I still had no idea what she was talking about. How could a dying world, one that had a mass evacuation of supes from it many years ago, hold anything she wanted? And what the hell did it have to do with me? Dark and light? Uh, that was a no-brainer.
Those thoughts fled my mind as Gran let out a chuckle, a deep rasp of breath that gave me those same chilling sensations. She was about to make both mine and my mom’s lives hell.
“You’ve left me no choice, Grace. If your father was here, he would agree with what I’m about to do.”
Where is my father? Grandpa? I wanted to shout at her, ask all the questions, but there was no time. Swiftly, she held a knife against my mother’s cheek. I struggled harder, fighting the brute holding me captive. Silent screams racked my body, my voice refusing to emerge even though there was so much pain inside of me that it would eventually have to go somewhere.
Darkness burst across the back of my eyes, like ink running in rivulets through my mind and into my blood, as the ruin-carved-blade slid into my mom’s flesh without any resistance. I could do nothing but fight and stare while my gran carved an intricate path of destruction across her cheeks. Red bloomed bright against the golden sheen of skin, dripping down to spatter across the tiled floor.
“You can stop this, Grace. All you have to do is give me what I want.”
“She refuses to speak. I don’t think she knows how to give it to you, Gran.”
Trevor seemed frustrated, his words short and clipped. But he did have one thing right. I had absolutely no idea what she wanted from me. If it was in my power to give her anything, I would, to save my mother.
Gran took a step closer to me. I recoiled as far as I could, slamming my head into SOB’s chest. The energy she was rocking vibrated against my own and lifted all the hairs on my body. The deadening spell on this house was doing nothing to hide her darkness, and the darkness that had been within me for weeks now wasn’t worried about evil-Gran. If anything, it seemed to like her.
“Grace just needs a little visual encouragement,” Gran said to Trevor. “The power is within her. We know this to be true. Those ice bastards might have figured out how to hide it, how to banish us, but they couldn’t get rid of it altogether. So now all we have to do is figure out the key to unlocking it.”
I really wished crazy people would stay at home, keep their insanity to themselves, and not bother the rest of us. Be great if they didn’t breed also, but since I wouldn’t be here without her, I might have to shelve that wish.
When she was done monologuing, Gran went back across the room and proceeded to slice the other side of my mother’s face. I hung limply across the arms of my captor, completely spent of all energy. Well, almost all. The darkness inside of me, swirling hot and stormy, filling me, infiltrating every part of my essence, felt scary, untamed, and completely out of my control.
Unable to look away any longer, I met my mother’s eyes again, hoping she knew how sorry I was that this was happening to her. The moment our gazes clashed, she smiled. I had seen that look many times in my life and I knew exactly what she would say to me if she could talk.
This was not my fault.
I wished I could believe that.
She trembled as more deep cuts were swirled across her skin, Gran grinning as she slipped the knife lower and lower, grazing her jugular, moving down her collarbone. My energy pulsed, the shadows dancing. Each press of the knife could be my mom’s last. Even if we hadn’t been in this magical dead zone, those wounds would take a long time to heal. I recognized the blade; it was from our family treasury, forged by fey blood in the land of Faerie. It was rumored to be able to kill any magical creature.
My body started to heat and pulse in time to whatever magic remained inside of me. The darkness that had been building within me was also renewing my witch energy.
Making a split-second decision, I struck out at SOB, who had let his guard down. Two hits into his carotid artery and I was able to slip free, tumbling roughly to the floor. I scrambled to my feet and charged straight for Gran, who also had not been expecting the attack, slamming into her, knocking my mom out of the way. Gran and I smashed through the glass wall behind us.
I felt and ignored the cuts as we landed hard on the ground and Gran let out a huff of air. Most of my new wounds didn’t bother me, but a particularly hot pulse of agony in my right arm drew my attention. Holy shit. The fey blade was sticking out of my shoulder.
As soon as I realized it was there, the throbbing took over my skin, filling me with an energy I did not know or understand. Or so I thought. Apparently my own magic knew this energy very well. Both powers collided, and I felt a rush of light and strength like no other.
Some of the shadows receded, and for the first time screams echoed from my throat. I arched my back and threw my head side to side as I fought against the pain and pressure. My skin tightened, and it felt like I was actually going to explode and release all of the energy pounding within me. A chill stole over me; my veins filled with ice; tingles ran up and down my spine. This icy energy latched onto the shadows and pushed them even farther down, until they were nothing more than a mere sliver of darkness in the pit of my being.
I felt like I should be freezing; my temperature had plummeted, but instead there was a sense of invigoration about me. I was free.
I was still on top of my grandmother, holding her down, so even though her chuckles were low and breathless, I could hear them with ease. “I knew you just needed a little inspiration,” she said through those bursts of laughter.
I wasn’t a fighter; my skills were in healing and the gentler art form of magic. I could commune with nature, soothe wild animals, breathe life back into those who were almost gone, but never had I been one to choose violence. Until now.
My fist crashed into the older sorceress’ face, all of the magic inside of me giving the hit an extra burst of strength. A circle of red, and then blue, lit up her wrinkled cheek, and there were small flakes of ice left behind when I drew my fist back. Shadows darted up through me again; the darkness liked my violent streak. I felt their satisfaction. Which would have normally scared me, but I was done with being a victim, I would embrace my dark side if it meant escaping and saving my mom.
I hit my gran again, and her laughter cut off as her head lolled to the side. Voices behind me grew louder and I knew I only had seconds to get back up to defend myself before I would be attacked. Rolling to the side and standing, I wrapped both hands around the hilt of the knife still firmly lodged in my shoulder. The second I touched it the pulsing increased, and my breath gasped out in icy fogs of air. Clenching my jaw, I fought through the black spots dancing across my vision, and counting to three in my head, sucked in a deep breath and yanked that bitch right out of my arm. Or attempted to at least.
The blade was sharp, but serrated along the lower half, and there was more than a little resistance as I tried to pull it free. The footsteps closed in, and panic warred with my adrenalin. I pulled harder. Just when I was about to give up and leave it there, it finally slid free from my shoulder. Blood poured from the wound, but I did nothing but give it a cursory glance before I gripped the knife in a fighting stance, my hand slippery with blood.
Focusing on Trevor, the ice in my chest, which almost felt like fire as it burned through me, started trickling out through my body and into my limbs. Drawing on all the training I’d ever had, I used my new frosty power and released it in one blast toward my cousin and SOB, both of whom were circling me. I had no words to direct specifically, only pure energy with a single thought: destroy them.
A huge beam of light washed across the yard, so strong and bright that I could see nothing before me, not even the house. There were shouts as my cousin and SOB tried to figure out if they should attack or flee. It sounded as if they were blind. Wasting no time, I headed toward the house, or where I thought it was. I needed to get to my mom.
Before I could reach the building, though, the light faded from my fingertips and the world came into clear and sharp clarity. Most of the frostiness from within me was gone, but I still felt an icy fire residing in my center.
I immediately looked for my attackers. What. The. Hell? I blinked a few times, trying to figure out what I was seeing. Everything was frozen. My gran was half up off the ground, her face in a haggard scowl. My cousin and SOB were about five feet from me, arms out in an attack pose. I had not managed to blast them away unfortunately, but they were covered in a thin layer of frost, which seemed to be holding them in stasis.
That wasn’t the weirdest part of it either. Where my mother had been standing was now a swirling portal of energy, pretty much filling the sun room. My mom was gone. My legs shook as I took a step closer to the house, desperately trying to understand what my magic had just done.
“Mom!” My whispered-shout was barely audible. I might have actually forgotten how to use my voice in all the time I’d been suppressing it.
My bare feet crunched through the shattered glass littering the green lawn, adding a few more injuries to my broken body. I’d done a real number on the windows when I’d tackled Gran. I hadn’t thought I’d hit her that hard, but somehow I’d blown out the entire wall to land both of us about fifty yards away. At least now I knew why it took my cousin so long to get to me.
When I finally reached the house, there was still about a meter of brick on the bottom of the wall, so I used it to hoist myself up into the sunroom. A quick glance over my shoulder reassured me that whatever magic had frozen my captors was still in full effect. I had time to examine the swirling mass of white sparkling energy that had somehow appeared in this room. I had a sneaking suspicion that this, along with the frozen assholes, were products of the blade still clutched in my hand. This was not my normal energy, so I could only assume I’d borrowed from the magic of this weapon.
I kept about three feet between me and the powerful portal. Its energy smashed against mine, or more accurately, called to mine, which had that ice at my center expanding again – as I tried to see if my mother had been knocked down somewhere close by.
“Mom?” I tried again, my voice still a rasp.
I stepped a little closer, but I couldn’t see her anywhere, or feel her energy. She must have fallen through the portal. I debated with myself – should I get help or just go straight after her? It was hard to know what to do. I was in no condition at all to be saving anyone. I could barely put one foot in front of the other.
But it was my mom. I couldn’t leave her.
Wiping my clammy hands across the filthy rags of clothes I’d been wearing for weeks, I sucked in one deep fortifying breath, lifted my leg, and slid it into the silver. A heat, almost too much to bear – mostly due to the chill in my body – engulfed it. I hesitated, hovering in the portal, one leg in and the rest of me out.
Just as I was bracing myself to make the final step, someone grabbed me from behind and yanked me back, away from the portal. Away from my mother. Into the arms of the bastards who had been doing their best the last few weeks to completely destroy everything that I was.
“Where the hell do you think you’re going?” Trevor looked a combination of annoyed and ecstatic. He shivered, glaring at me. “What did you freeze us with?”
I had no idea, and I wouldn’t tell him even if I did.
He smiled, a broad grin, and a quiver of fear hit me. He kept a tight grip on my left arm as he dragged me back across the broken glass toward the other two magic users standing silently, waiting. I fought him, but he was strong and determined and I was quite injured. Blood still dripped down my arm from the knife wound, peppering the ground as we walked.
The blade was no longer in my hand. Shit. I must have dropped it when he grabbed me. Looked like I would be facing them weaponless. In all of my twenty-five years, I had never seen my gran look as happy as she did right then. Her grin was broad, black eyes sparkling, cheeks rosy. I continued struggling, but I was no physical match for my cousin, and within seconds I stood between the three of them.
Gran, who was a couple of inches shorter than me, patted me on my cheek. For a second there it had almost looked like warmth flashed across her eyes, but the moment she opened her mouth I knew I was mistaken.
“Thank you for all of your assistance, my dear. This is exactly what I needed from you.” She gave my cheek one last pat, shifting around to face Trevor. “We need her locked back in the basement until I find … him. Once I make contact, I’ll know how to find the others, and then we can destroy the cage.” Her eyes flicked across to SOB. “Get rid of the witnesses.”
Apparently, SOB’s usefulness had just run out.
In a blink of an eye Trevor, pulled out a sword from a spine sheath. It was the length of his arm, and he must have had it magically disguised. I’d never seen him use it before; he preferred to be more hands-on with his torture.
SOB let out a curse and was reaching for his own weapon when my cousin whipped his sword around, cutting clean through his neck. The mage’s head, still wearing a look of absolute shock, bounced across the green lawn. I wasted no time caring; his death was no loss to the world, and more importantly I was about to go back in my cage. There was no way Trevor was taking me down without a fight.
His blade glowed with a vibrant blue flame: it was spelled with Eridie, magic that enhanced our fighting skills and increased the strength of our weapons. Seemed this magic dead zone had a few chinks in its armor. My ice blast had worked, so did spells on objects. Which gave me hope that I would find another chink to manipulate for my freedom.
At this point, the energy inside was just a small nub of ice, that seemed to have settled permanently into my center. At least it appeared the ice was keeping that inky darkness at bay, almost like the two energies were opposites, and neither wanted to be where the other was.
I really should have taken the time to question what was happening within my magic center, but Trevor had all of my attention. He turned to me as Gran strode away, heading right for the silvery portal. When my cousin opened his mouth, no doubt to start bragging, I slammed my knee right up into his groin. He must have seen it coming, because he twisted his body slightly and I missed a direct hit, but I still clipped his thigh, doubling him over.
Dredging up every memory of sparring classes, in a move which was a Jessa Lebron signature, I swung my leg around and cracked him in the head. It was easy as he was still half hunched over. His sword clattered across the lawn, resting about ten feet from us as he sprawled to his side. I didn’t waste a second, turning to sprint after Gran.
Footsteps pounded behind me. Shit, ass, shit. Trevor was already up and hurtling toward me. I had not expected to hurt him a lot – he was much bigger and more powerful than me – but was a bit of a head start too much to ask?
He caught me before I made it another five steps, pulling hard on the arm with the knife wound, and I used that momentum to swing my left elbow into his jaw, clocking him with enough force that my arm went numb. Now both arms were useless.
“You fucking bitch, I was going to give you a break and put you back undamaged, but now I think I’ll take my time with you.”
Holding me in place, he cocked his elbow and jabbed me hard in the face. I saw stars for a second, managing to shake it off in time to see another straight shot coming right for me. It slammed into my cheek with enough force to break bones, and I was launched backwards. My head slammed to the hard ground and darkness burst behind my eyes. My head immediately began to throb.
A heavy weight landed across me; rough hands tore at my clothing. What in the hell? He was going to rape me? As I had that thought, he ripped through my cotton shirt to expose the dirty white bra beneath. His eyes locked on my breasts and he let out a low whistle.
“Let’s have a little fun before I lock you away.”
His hand covered my mouth as I opened it to scream. He then leaned in very close and whispered, “After all, we’re only second cousins, and you have a decent enough body.”
Bile burned my throat as my stomach rebelled. If I had any food in my gut I would have vomited, but all I could do was scream and heave as I fought his hold, to no avail. Nothing I did made any difference; he had me pinned, his hands strong and his body heavy.
Lips trailed down my collarbone, heading toward my breasts. He removed his hand from my mouth so he could grip my struggling body. “Don’t make me knock you out,” he warned. “I like the girls I take to be awake. I like the fear. It makes me feel powerful.”
“I’m going to kill you,” I said, and for the first time there was no rasp in my voice. I searched for the energy within me again, and the ice responded, but sluggishly, like it was being suppressed again; the dark tendrils felt intrigued … maybe even excited.
I didn’t like that darkness.
Trevor pressed his lips hard to mine. I opened my mouth to bite him, hoping to rip half his face off, but he lifted his head before I could. “Smile for me, pretty girl. In a few minutes you’ll be back in your cage, so enjoy this.”
“Minutes,” I scoffed, bravado trying to rear its head.
His scowl was back, and I jerked my head to avoid the hard slap. It clipped my cheek, then his hands were on my pants, fumbling with the buttons. I continued to fight and buck, desperation joining the nausea. I was not above calling for help. I started praying to the gods, to my family, to anyone who would listen.
I thought of and called for Tyson, for the wizard who owned my heart and soul, the wizard who had caused me pain, but who had also given me more joy and hope than I ever expected.
I called for my chosen mate.
Tyson! Please hear me. I am so sorry. I should never have left you.
My silent lament echoed out into the world, into the bond I had always felt but had never been able to touch. I let his arrogant, gorgeous face drift across my mind. That tousled auburn hair, eyes that were this delicious mix of gold and tawny and could tear me to pieces with just one look. If this was my last moment, I would spend it with him. My cousin could take a lot from me, but he could not take that.