Prologue and Three Chapter Preview!
Hands chained and bound, I stare through the cage bars. It’s quiet today. It’s been quiet all week, in fact. Quieter than usual.
Something is happening.
Closing my eyes, I let my head fall against the stone wall behind me, and I see her. Her blonde hair getting tucked behind her ear as she smiles over at someone who is too blurry to make out. She must be farther away today.
But I see her.
That’s all that matters.
I’ve seen this image before. Many times. Her smile keeps me from losing my mind, because I want to see it at least once myself.
Not that I’ll claim her.
I just want to see her with my own eyes.
See if she’s as perfect as she’s been in my head all these long years.
The ground vibrates under me just enough to cause me to open my eyes and look around. Numerous pairs of eyes meet mine, everyone looking to me like they’re asking me to answer what that feeling of power is.
Then the ground rumbles, and every cell seems to shift.
Jerking at the chains, I force myself to my feet, feeling my arms stretched to their limit as everyone else follows my action. As everyone finishes standing to their feet, I listen, hearing something happening far above.
“There’s a fight going on,” someone whispers.
Hope becomes a stench in the room. Haven’t they learned better than to feel hope by now?
Don’t they know how stupidly dangerous such an emotion is?
Before I can remind them, I hear a loud crack seconds before wind rushes through the cells with such explosive power that it almost blows me off my feet. Numerous others are knocked down or thrown into walls.
The volatile wind disappears as quickly as it came, and my eyes take in the dull, lifeless cage bars that suddenly look like iron instead of spelled confines. Daring to hope just a little, I glance down at my chains.
I’m one of the few who is chained inside the cell, because the cell alone wouldn’t hold me.
With one harsh jerk, the chain on my wrist groans, and a smirk lights up one side of my mouth. My eyes dart around, seeing all the timid, confused prisoners studying their own bars, waiting for a trap.
It’s always a trap.
But I know for a fucking fact they wouldn’t risk freeing me.
Taking a deep breath, I rip both my arms forward. Stone crumbles around the base of the chains for the first time ever, and the chains rip free, taking plugs of the stone with them at the end.
Eyes widen all around me as I stand to my full height, feeling the power flowing through me like it hasn’t done in far too long. It’s almost drugging to feel it all surge forth with one blast.
Even in my weakened state, I feel like I could destroy the world right now. And I’m ready to. Ready to burn this place to fucking hell, along with everyone who has kept me in here.
Feeling the silver burn through my eyes, taking over with a need to be free so fierce that I almost succumb to instinct alone, I barely keep control. My hands turn to fists just as I walk over, almost feeling clumsy with the ability to take a step, and punch the cage door.
It flies off and crashes into the next cage, mangling it. It’s silent aside from the sound of my chains dragging as I walk in front of Kya’s door.
She scrambles to uncover my secret journal from a loose stone in her floor that she always sits on to hide. I arch and eyebrow as she smirks, and I rip her door open with one hand. It flies off the hinges as well, slamming into the cage across from hers and clambering down to the ground.
As if it sets off a tidal wave, the sound of cages exploding all around composes a song of violent, bloodthirsty freedom.
People start vanishing from all around, the ability to dematerialize finally restored.
It almost feels like a high when I let my own body move through the fabric of the air around me, rematerializing high in a tree outside of the compound.
Despite the yelling I hear and the hundreds of people below, I close my eyes, smelling the air around me. It doesn’t smell like home, and this isn’t even the right plane, but it’s sure as hell the closest I’ve ever been.
But as always, when I close my eyes, I see her. The girl who haunts me. The girl I want to hate for being so untouchable.
It’s a scene I’ve seen so many times before the visions of her start back over on her eighteenth birthday, and I have to relive those short years over and over, wondering if she dies directly after turning into this hawk, since it’s the last I ever see of her.
But she never feels gone. Always feels—
A ripple of awareness slices through me, bringing every nerve on my body to attention, and my eyes dart open, immediately landing on the very bloody familiar hawk that soars into the sky.
Someone shouts, and I stand in the tree, looking on with some twisting sensation in the pit of my gut. The hawk hammers an invisible force, and I feel the power shatter all around me.
As a battle explodes to life, my eyes land on the naked form of a woman who is falling. Blonde hair waves in the wind, cloaking a face I’m almost terrified to see.
When she crashes limply to the ground, something inside me—something dark, primal, and instinctively furious—stirs to life.
Without intentionally doing so, I’m suddenly at her side as I stare on at her for a split second that feels like an eternity.
My chest pounds like my heart is beating for the first time in centuries, and I suck in a breath that betrays me by forcing me to inhale her scent for the first time while there are still shackles on my wrists.
Her eyes are closed, and her breathing is shallow, but whatever power she just used has drained her.
But I know without a doubt it’s her. I’ve studied every feature of her with my eyes closed. Now, however, my eyes rake over her bare, very real body with my eyes wide open.
A growl rumbles out of me when I see a small trickle of blood from her nose, and in the next instant, I’m lifting her, cradling her to me as all the life in me begs to claim her.
Another growl is ripped from me as I mentally curse her for being here. On this night of all nights. The first day of my freedom. The day I’m finally freed from the cage that has bound me for centuries as torture met me in the mornings for too long.
Now I feel a tomb being brought up around me, sealing my destiny, caging me in despite all my centuries of planning for this day.
All because of the blonde, lethal, delicate fucking girl in my arms.
I use all my strength to launch us out of here, dematerializing us before someone realizes how badly they just fucked up before I can shed these shackles and put forth my plan to never wear another pair again.
We land in a dark forest, but the air is almost familiar. It’s not as pure as my memories, but when the trickle of a breeze blows against my face, something hot rolls down my cheek.
Ignoring the lone tear, I force my eyes open, swallowing down the emotion wadding in my throat as I spot what looks like an empty cabin in the distance.
I’ve envisioned what this moment would feel like a thousand times, but none of those imaginings were even close.
I feel like I can breathe again.
I feel like I can move again.
I feel like I can finally live to see death delivered to the doorsteps of those on my list.
My eyes drop to the girl in my arms.
I carry her into the cabin and leave her there to heal, even though it takes every ounce of strength I possess not to take her with me. I’ve spent centuries preparing to be a monster.
She looks anything but monstrous, even less so than in my dreams.
Stepping back outside, I feel power rippling through the air, warning me that someone is coming.
Kya appears from thin air, then more and more land close by, everyone looking to me. Everyone wanting the same damn thing.
Everyone expecting me to lead.
Kya takes her place near me, eyes up and steely gaze on mine.
“We’re actually free,” she whispers, almost as though she’s afraid to say it too loud.
“Let’s make sure it stays that way,” I tell her, moving toward the others in the woods.
“We need to find a point of base,” I tell Kya. “See who can help with that.”
She immediately gives the order to Simone, who darts away to carry off the task.
“After we have camp?” the misfit lycan/incubus Halfling asks me.
My lips twitch. “Then we have a list to work through to find out who the hell has kept us captive all these long years. And we kill them. All of them.”
Dark, sinister smiles form, showing several sets of white teeth below the moonlight.
“First person on my list is the traitor wolf witch,” I bite out. “Find her, and we’ll see if she has any secrets to share.”
A chorus of cheers go off, and I look down at Kya again.
“Let no one near that cabin without killing them,” I say quietly.
The surprise on her face is quickly masked as she nods, not questioning what I’m hiding. She’s the only one I trust.
Picking out a random male, I say, “You.” He looks at me when I point. “Find out how we were freed, who helped, and learn their motives. Meet back here as a rendezvous point, and I’ll decide if you’re ready to join camp based on the information you provide.”
He vanishes without a word, and I look up as the sky thunders. In fact, we all look up.
When the first trickle of rain hits my face, another hot tear is dragged out of me.
I haven’t felt the rain in more centuries than I can count. I haven’t felt water or tasted it in too long.
My mouth opens, and the first drop of wetness has my body desperate for more. So much more.
When my eyes close so I can simply feel sensation, I expect to see the blonde on her eighteenth birthday, the loop restarting.
Instead, I see her inside the cabin, her body still limp and pale but mending as her chest rises and falls steadily.
Instinct demands I go to her, but I wrestle for control, finding it easier without her being physically in front of me.
When my eyes open, I feel them burn, and I stare over at the cabin.
For just a second, a fraction of a moment too long, I understand why my brother faltered. Understand why he wasn’t strong enough to resist. And that makes me hate him a little more.
As the rain starts to drizzle, I move back to one more person as Simone comes running up.
“One of our guys knows the perfect place to go,” she tells me.
“Have him lead the way,” I tell her.
I wait until everyone disappears, and Kya finally leaves the cabin unattended. I’ve already put an intrusion spell on the place, so no one is getting in, but I don’t even want anyone to see her.
Just as Kya starts to follow, I grab her arm. “Remember that picture I had you draw two years ago? The one of the man in my head?”
She frowns. “Yes…the one I sketched for you while you instructed me.”
Kya was a child when she came to the rings. Drawing kept her from forgetting she was a child, and she got good at it.
“Find him,” I tell her.
“Of course. Who is he? Is he part of the rings?” she asks, simply curious.
“No,” is all I say at first.
There was never any sound to my dreams. I’ve never heard her voice. I only know her name because of the minimal lip reading I was able to do with the blurry images that seem to be sharpening now that I’ve touched her.
His image was always sharp enough, and I memorized every feature of him while he put his fucking hands all over her.
“He’s just someone I want to kill before anyone else gets the chance,” I add before disappearing.
I was weak and docile the first time I was in this world.
They’re not ready for the monster they created.
“Fucking find him!” I shout at Kya, who winces as she looks away.
“I’ve tried. Alton is either gone or still the demon’s captive.”
Bloody demon bitch. I will rip her out of that witch she’s possessing and destroy her one way or another.
“What about the dragon shifters?” I growl, cutting my gaze away.
“They’re settled in the Alaskan wilderness, all of them. And their numbers are much greater than they led us to believe, including the numbers of their women. Yet very few children are among them, so I believe them about the fact they’re mostly barren.”
Music thumping outside has me peering out the window, and it’s all I can do not to kill an incubus when I see him doing some weird fucking dance moves with my people.
“What the hell is that damn incubus doing now?” I say on an exasperated breath.
This day is officially my least favorite since I’ve been freed.
Kya smiles but recovers quickly, her lips returning to a respectable tense line as she clears her throat.
“I think that’s the Macarena,” she deadpans.
“What the fuck is the Macarena?”
She shrugs, looking around to avoid making eye contact with me. I swear her lips are twitching.
She’s spent too much time with those tossers.
The music changes to something about a whip and a nae nae or some nonsense, and so do the dance moves.
“I’m going to kill him,” I bite out, going to the door and jerking it open. My people are bloody laughing like their lives aren’t hanging in the balance during a time of war.
Have they all gone mad?
The incubus must be contagious.
The second Simone sees me, her eyes widen, and the music is killed.
“If you want to die, then by all means, keep dancing,” I drawl dispassionately. “If you’re here to survive and reap the souls of the ones who contained and tortured us for many long, gruesome centuries, then get your asses back on the training field and do something productive.”
Everyone scatters, sans the lone incubus, who simply takes a seat, smirking at me.
“If you were one of the seven dwarfs, your name would be Menacing. Or maybe Kill-Joy,” the pointless male tells me, which makes zero sense at all.
The dwarves I once knew had no different names than the rest of us.
“If you continue to be a distraction to my people, I will pull your spine out through your throat,” I growl.
He doesn’t even bat an eye at the very real threat. “I’ve actually heard that threat too many times to count.”
When I take a step toward him, he leaps off the seat, laughing as he darts away. Madman. That’s all that incubus does—run and laugh. Why they insist on letting him continue to be a weak link is something I’ll never understand.
But I’m sick of him. I’m sick of all of them. All of the queen’s little group who have no clue about the depths of depravity we’re up against, while they continue to laugh and joke about life as though there’s an endless amount of it to expend.
Kya steps next to me as I try to calm my anger, my fists clenching and unclenching. I was too damn close to having my brother. I could already have him locked away in the personalized prison I built for him, but that damn group wrecked it all.
And when I get my hands on Gavin, I’m going to kill him. I don’t care what the queen and her minions say.
Quite simply, I want to kill a lot of people or make them wish they were dead.
“I need to go check on my sister. Since our joining, her baby seems to be draining her more. She’s not going to be able to help us in the next fight,” Kya says on a sigh.
I say nothing. I simply turn and walk back inside. Kya has grown as distracted as the rest of them, planning a future that may not come to pass if Hannah the demon wins this war due to a lack of commitment to bringing her down.
No sooner do I get the star charts laid out in front of me, I feel the familiar sensation in the pit of my stomach. The feeling of being called to by power far too strong to ignore.
I close my eyes, seeing her the second they’re shut, just as always. I can’t even sleep anymore without seeing her.
Her silver eyes are flickering to black as energy blasts from her hands, so many colors of energy she shouldn’t have. Blue. White. Red. Yellow. It’s all there, a rainbow of destruction blazing from the most uncontrollable source.
Blonde hair whips in the wind that violently cyclones around her as a dark grin emerges and plays on her lips. She’s losing herself quickly. Too quickly. It seems to only get worse instead of better.
Fucking princess. Why does she continue to use her powers with no control?
I hear someone shouting my name, causing me to snap my eyes open. Groaning, I walk over to the door, watching as Kimber races toward the house.
“Slade!” she shouts again, her dark user appearing just behind her, his eyes trained on me like I’m the motherfucking threat she’s running toward.
“What now?” I ask dismissively, pretending as though I don’t already know.
“We got into a fight with some of the Harbingers of Death, and Ella lost it when we got outnumbered. She’s going to implode if you don’t do something!”
The panic in her voice and the shaking of her body, all paired with her wide, terrified eyes tells me how badly Ella scares them. They’re worried about her, and they’re desperate enough to come to me for help.
Time and time again.
Bloody fools. All of them.
“I’m busy trying to find out when the next portal can be opened so that we can actually stop it this time. Feel free to do something other than hinder me,” I tell her with an unconcerned wave of my hand.
“Forget it, Kimber,” Gage growls in interruption, grabbing her at the waist when it looks like she’s going to follow me.
I just smirk at him as I prop against my doorway.
“He’s pointless,” the dark user goes on.
Kimber’s scathing glare has me rolling my eyes. A visionless visionary/gatekeeper doesn’t worry me in the least, and that’s all she is. Gatekeepers are pointless if you don’t need a gate opened.
As soon as they disappear, I shut my door, mutter a curse, and close my eyes again, sensing that confounding princess and where she is. The second I’m locked in, I dematerialize and land right in the middle of a fucking storm.
The trees are bending and groaning, threatening to snap, as Ella’s eyes stay fully blacked out, dark laughter slipping out of her like an ominous melody. The black eyes are a rather new development.
She moves her hands like an orchestra conductor. The few harbingers she hasn’t cut down are dancing like puppets on strings to the movements of her hands.
That’s also new.
And a little twisted, even by my standards.
The second her dark, eerie eyes land on me, I push away from the tree I’m leaned against, and her storm falters. Distracted by my presence, her smile morphs into something predatory.
Same smile I always get once she’s wasted high on her power and lost to darker instincts.
She fumbles for footing, moving toward me as the storm she’s created slowly dissipates. With one snap of her wrists, the remaining harbingers start thrashing around in agony.
Again, that’s new.
Her power seems to be growing daily. But her control is less than ever before.
Screams of anguish give rhythm to her own little psychotic steps as she sways to them like it’s all just music, moving lithely toward me.
She’s so fucking strong that it’s almost unbelievable, yet far too young and inept to properly harness her power. Not to mention, a little too sheltered by her hovering family.
The second she reaches me, her nails dig into my sides, and I wince, growling down at her as she grins up at me. She never remembers these moments. Never knows how hard she fights to take something I won’t let her have.
She never remembers a damn thing once her mind is this lost.
Thank bloody hell for that.
My hand slides into her hair, jerking her head back as she laughs in an echoing tone like she’s delighted. One of her hands releases my side, and starts to slink down to my jeans.
This, however, is not really Ella.
This is just her darkest pieces shining brighter than her.
“Sorry, Princess,” I say with my own dark grin as her laughter stops abruptly and her eyes narrow. “But I can’t give you what you really want. At least not today.”
When she shoves me hard against a tree, I blur back to her, grabbing her at the waist. Her eyes heat, but I spin, sucking us through the planes just as the smell of the dark user taints my senses, proving he and the visionless visionary are back.
“Ella!” is all I hear them shout as we vanish completely from sight.
The second we’re inside my homemade prison plane full of the psychedelic mindfuckery patterns and swirling illusions of color, Ella stumbles to her knees, collapsing as she gets nauseous.
I spend the next thirty or so minutes in my usual corner, watching her as she reaches for things that aren’t really there, and falls over and over in her attempt to stand on a ground she probably assumes is moving, though it’s actually not.
The second I see her eyes sober and widen, I wave my hand and she’s gone from sight, landing her right in her very own bed, if my aim isn’t off.
Then I disappear from the plane as well, returning back to the inside of my cabin to go on with my day like nothing happened. I’ve developed an effective system for dealing with the dark princess, even though it’s certainly not helping any with her control.
Ignoring the fever in my veins and the beast clawing at me from the inside in protest of once again denying the pain-in-my-ass female, I move back to my charts, averting Kya’s undisguised judgmental eyes.
“One day, you’re going to explain to me the reason why you always help her, then claim to have zero interest in whether or not she lives or dies,” she finally says, though the words are spoken quietly, as though that makes it less of an offense.
My eyes skim over my journal pages, reminding myself of the plan I spent centuries building, because I need a reminder from time to time.
“One day, you’ll realize you’re wasting your time assuming I do give a damn,” I state with a fuck-you grin that has her tensing. “And maybe when that day comes, you’ll remember what is actually important.”
As I turn away from her, I close my eyes, seeing Ella as she stares up at the ceiling of her room, panting heavily as she continues to come down from her high. She sits up abruptly, as though a thought has occurred to her, and I watch—like a sick addict in need of a constant fix.
Suddenly she’s in a forest not too far from where I found her, and I silently curse, wondering if she’s going after yet another fight. Instead, she goes to a random basket packed with food and blood, retrieving it from the ground.
When she disappears from sight, it all goes blank in my mind, and I tilt my head. What the actual fuck? Why can’t I see her anymore?
Still dizzy and disoriented, unsure how I got from the grove of harbingers to lying on my bed, I move silently down the long tunnel as I materialize inside them.
This is where I was trying to go when the harbingers attacked Kimber and Gage. As always, I was desperate to help. And as always, I was suddenly lost to the twisted place in my mind that I’ve grown overly attached to. For some reason, getting lost is the only time I feel…free.
At least until I blank out and lose total control. But that five minutes of total control, uninhibited abandon, and ultimate power keeps pushing me to the brink, desperate to chase that feeling again.
I’m a monster.
If I don’t figure out how to stop the blacking-out part, I’m eventually going to stay a monster and my family…I don’t even want to think about what I might do to them on accident.
Everything is already a mess between our group. We once shared everything, or so I thought. Turns out, we’re all a complicated block of secrets and lies, and my anchor is slowly eroding, taking me into the darkness quicker each time I unleash my power.
I’ve done many things, but until now, I’ve never betrayed everyone I love by keeping a secret. But as I’ve learned, none of them have a problem keeping secrets from me.
Maybe this will help stabilize some of the balance that’s been upset and has me lashing out and blacking out too often right now. Frankly, I’ll try anything to regain even an ounce of control.
It alleviates some of the guilt I feel as I walk down into the dark chambers. My eyes land on the familiar face that tugs at those absent guilt strings. It’s not just my people I feel as though I’m betraying.
It’s also Slade…though I have no loyalties to him, so I’m not sure why this feels so wrong.
Alton is not a prisoner, but he doesn’t seem to want to leave either. I wasn’t going to sit around and do nothing, and I showed up at the Battle of the Portal too late. Morgana—er, Hannah—was escaping, but I grabbed Alton before she could run off with him too.
I had no plans of keeping him safe. Had no plans of an accidental alliance. I was going to hand him over to Slade.
Then he spoke. He became a person instead of a rumored ghost. He sounded like a wounded victim instead of a fabled villain. And he also became valuable.
“Why are you helping me?” he asks, suspicion lacing his tone as I hand him the basket of food and packs of blood.
“Mostly because you have a lot of information I need. You helped me close the portal. You know things Slade doesn’t.”
“Because I hide in the shadows and watch like a coward,” he says, regarding me, watching for my reaction.
“Everyone has a reason for what they do. I trust you’ll share your reasons with me in time.”
He picks up the sketchbook from the floor, placing it in his lap, but his eyes remain on me.
“My brother will kill you for this. If he finds out you’ve been helping me hide, he won’t show mercy.”
I swallow down the knot in my throat. “I’m aware.”
“Yet you’ll risk it?”
“My life is not as important as my family’s. If you can give me information to help save them from Hannah, I’ll do all I can to protect you from Slade. That’s a promise.”
“He can’t kill me, but he can kill you,” he reminds me.
“He can do something far worse than death to you. Trust me. I’ve seen his plans.”
A pained expression crosses his face. “It’s never a good idea to assume you know Slade’s plans. They’re usually far more intricate than we’ll ever understand,” he says quietly.
“This one is pretty straightforward,” I argue with a little compassion.
I want to feel sorry for him, but that nagging guilt remains, stripping me of any possible sympathy. He reads it in my eyes too.
“You wonder how any brother could ever decide it was better to let his brother suffer in agony? You’re wondering how any brother could ever betray the other?” he asks, reading my mind.
Unsure what to say, I answer, “As I said, I’m sure you’ll explain your reasons in time.”
His lips purse. “If you’re planning to risk your life, then you should know I only live to spare his life. I only stay hidden to spare his soul… To spare him the cost of damning his brother—because a decision like that, no matter how warranted or desperate, will destroy everything inside him. I would know.”
I’m not sure what to say to that.
He passes me the sketchbook, and I stare down in confusion at the picture he has drawn with such careful attention to detail.
“Who is this?” I ask him.
“The reason I betrayed my brother,” he says on a pained breath. “If you want to know everything, then prepare to have a piece of your soul stained for all eternity.”
A shaky breath leaves me as I lower myself to a chair and nod.
The underground tunnel is marked with all sorts of protective signs and symbols. Alton knew of its existence, and he added a number of symbols I’ve never seen before. They look ancient in design, and I have no idea what language he chanted when creating them.
He’s resting against a stone wall, sitting on the floor like it’s comfortable. The dank air around us, along with the constant drip, drip, drip of the cave roof overhead doesn’t make this too cozy, but he seems overly at ease.
I suppose, next to the atrociously inhumane prison hell he survived in for centuries, anything is comfortable.
“So what’s her name?” I ask, holding up the sketch of a beautiful woman. “Someone you two fought over? Is that why you betrayed him?”
He snorts and scoffs at the same time. “No. No woman could have ever torn us apart in the way you mean.” He looks down at his lap, staring at his fingernails like something is on them. “I’m a Gemini Twin, but more importantly, I’m a creature shifter—just like you.”
“My family refers to me as a creature goddess, same as my mother. And father, only he’s obviously not called a goddess.”
One corner of his mouth lifts in a sad smile as his eyes come back up to meet mine.
“No, not like them,” he says softly. “We’re all very complex and unique. Then of course, your line is cursed. All the ones of your royal blood struggle with the darkest recesses of their mind, losing themselves to the worst of the madness that accompanies our very powerful kind. It’s the balance of magic.”
“My mother uses hers just fine now,” I decide to point out.
“Your mother is powerful, but not close to as powerful as you,” he volleys.
“What does any of that have to do with this woman?” I ask dubiously, my eyes narrowing.
Is he trying to get me to admit my mother isn’t as powerful? Is this him playing me? Does he know of her never-ending pregnancy?
He collects the sketchbook from my hand, bringing it back to him. After a beat of just staring at the drawing of the unnamed woman, he turns the page and starts sketching again.
“One thing all creatures such as us do have in common, is what, Ella?”
“Am I being quizzed?” I ask, my eyes still narrowed on him.
“Hardly. You’d surely fail at your young age.”
For the first time, his snarky attitude reminds me of Slade, and for some stupid-ass reason, that puts me a little at ease.
“We can all shift into most forms of immortals, using their powers like they’re our own, but when we combine all of them at once, our eyes turn silver and we become the most lethal being. Or at least, we should be. Hannah is cheating,” I answer.
He smiles grimly, nodding absently. “Hannah isn’t stronger. She’s just been planning this for so long that all of you—I as well—are playing catch up. Her advantage comes from calculated maneuvers, hidden agendas, and unpredictable surprises, not strength. She’s a self-made anomaly.”
He continues to sketch; I impatiently await the answer that is supposed to explain why he betrayed Slade and sentenced him to so much pain that his immortal, unscarrable body became riddled with scars.
“But that’s not what I was referring to,” he says as though he’s answering a question I missed. “One thing all creatures such as us have in common is that we’re the only ones with a true, designated mate—if you discount the dragons who just invaded our world, that is.”
I bristle. He notices.
His eyes barely lift, as if he’s expecting me to comment. When I don’t, he smirks and resumes his task of sketching.
“The Gemini Twins were destined to be interconnected. One feels pain, we both feel it. It gave us a boost in power, but it was decidedly a curse,” he states matter-of-factly, no emotion in his voice.
“I already know this. You severed the link because—”
“You don’t know anything, Ella, I assure you,” he interrupts, turning the page before I can see what he finished sketching. He starts a fresh sketch, and I lift my eyes to study him.
“So tell me.”
Without looking at me, he says, “My brother’s end-goal is not to torture me, though I’m sure that will be a lovely perk to him. His intentions are to save me.”
That has my brow furrowing in confusion.
“I can guarantee you that’s not what he said,” I argue, wondering how he became this disillusioned, when only moments ago he seemed to be on the right page.
He smiles like that’s a good thing, but continues to sketch, never glancing at me.
“I’m sure. Slade is very cautious. He’d never tell anyone his true intentions, least of all you.”
Again, I bristle.
Again, he glances at me like he’s noticed.
Intrigue in his eyes, he stops sketching and studies me as he turns his notebook over in his lap, once again hiding the image from me.
“The Gemini curse was obviously a curse when we found the cure written in a prophecy. The only reason cures exist is to free someone.”
“Always a damn prophecy,” I grumble under my breath.
His smile stretches wider. “Indeed. It was told the end of days would come, and the Gemini Twins would be there for it. However, only one has to die. Slade is trying to ensure he’s that one.”
Confused, I shake my head. “If one of you dies, the other dies. And I can assure you, if it wasn’t so, Slade would have already killed you.”
“Just as you believe he would kill you for helping me,” he says with a shrug. “When we both know he’d simply save you.”
“You’re the one who pointed out he’d kill me. I feel like you’re trying to fuck with my head right now, and I don’t have time for this.”
Just as I stand, he speaks again. “You think you know how I severed the first bond between us, but you don’t. And one twin can die if the final bond is severed. But only Slade can do that, and he’s waiting, biding his time, so that he can inflict the least amount of damage to you before he follows through with his suicidal plan and sacrifices himself in order to punish me.”
“How would him dying punish you?” I ask, lowering myself back to my chair as an unexplainable pang of pain forms in my chest.
“Because he knows I’d never end my life if he sacrificed himself in an effort to save me. And I’d walk alone on this plane for all eternity—no family, no mate, no…one at all. He does feel as though I betrayed him. He feels as though I was stupid and weak. He feels as though I abandoned him when he needed me the most, despite the countless times he’s always been there for me.”
He pauses as he clears his throat and blinks back tears when his gaze drops to his lap. Wordlessly, he flips the notebook back over so I can see the sketch, and my head tips back as bile rises to my throat.
On the page is the same woman, only this time, her belly is rounded and tears are on her face.
With a flick of his wrist, the sketch comes to life on the page, and my breath catches as a sketched image of him joins her.
He moves to her, leaning in to drag her closer, but she pushes him away as she buries her face in her hands and her body shakes with sobs I can’t hear. The image changes and she’s suddenly on the ground, her eyes vacantly staring at nothing, as a pool of blood surrounds her and her protruding belly.
The page instantly goes blank, and my eyes come up to meet Alton’s as he watches me silently, regarding me with eerie intent.
“She was your mate,” I say quietly. He says nothing. “And that was your unborn child,” I add on a broken whisper.
He clears his throat as he gently places the sketchbook onto his lap and locks his hands together in front of him. Finally, after what seems like a never-ending span of silence, he nods.
“The curse of the Gemini can only be lifted if a mate is claimed,” he says with a tight smile. “But when I claimed her, I never knew the repercussions. We had no idea what would sever our bonds. No one did—until that prophecy was discovered. It was pure instinct demanding I take her as mine when they thrust her into the cell with me. They knew, given the circumstances, I’d never be able to resist claiming her, and they used it against me.”
“Circumstances?” I ask, confused.
“I was on high alert, constantly tortured, and my instincts were growing wilder with each passing day,” he answers as his eyes dip to the woman on the sketchbook, no longer animated by whatever magic he used. “The second I saw her, I knew she was mine, and I immediately claimed her.”
“But how did they—”
“Their visionary found her,” he says, answering the question before I even finish asking it.
I swallow down anything I might say, and he stares at me like he’s trying to get inside my head for some reason.
“I’m almost positive the claim revoked one half of the bond between my brother and I, and I heard his screams even from the other side of the prison. An emptiness immediately slithered into my bones, but then it was replaced by a heady, incomparable warmth that seemed to expand and never stop. It was…for lack of a better term…amazing. I felt her love and not his pain.”
His eyes glisten even as his lips turn up in a reminiscent smile.
“Carolina was absolutely everything to me,” he adds on a hushed breath as he absently hugs the sketchbook closer. “And I only had her for two very brief years before they filled my soul with an emptiness that has left me too hollow to carry on. Sans for the small bond I still have with my brother.”
For reasons unbeknownst to me, my heart actually hurts for him. It’s as though his pain is rolling off him so heavily, that I can feel it myself.
He clears his throat again before meeting my eyes once more. “They wanted my brother’s bond destroyed as well, so they could kill one of us and see what happened to the other. They simply studied us at that time—before the new leader took over and saw use in us for a ‘greater’ purpose.”
“Hannah,” I whisper quietly.
“Before Hannah, they wanted to know how to break us—in case another set of Gemini Twins came along. It was all a game of power and knowledge. Hannah, however, was in it with a collection of others, most of which were involved with the release of purgatory. Purgatory was needed to free the portal realms once again, giving them the magic to open them. Along with the blood of the firsts. They also needed a creature so strong that it could withstand the draining effect the portals place on the anchor, so they took over the immortal prison rings. And of course, that also gave them soldiers—male and female immortals who were so broken they’d take any semblance of freedom, so long as they got out of their cages. They also gained all the studious knowledge collected over those many centuries. They even cultivated their own experiments to learn weaknesses—preparation for this war.”
Shakily, I exhale, and he continues on, still sounding like nothing more than a shell of a man; the complete opposite of the fierce, angry, and brazen approach I’ve become accustomed to from his twin.
“They found us during the management change,” he says with a shrug. “One twin so powerful he could easily have blown it all to hell had he not been chained down with some of the strongest crests magic has ever seen. And one twin so broken, that his magic could be stolen and used to open the portals—in the event they couldn’t imprison their goal immortal.”
He gives me a pointed look. Swallowing thickly, I whisper, “Me.”
“Exactly,” he says, smiling softly. Then adds, “The visionary—the only non-prisoner being kept when the prisons were overthrown and taken over—saw you. He saw your power easily matching our combined power. But not until after you revealed yourself that night you helped free us.”
“Why not?” I ask automatically.
He looks away. “That’s a little far off topic,” he tells me so quietly I barely hear the words.
“Clearly we’re as powerful as you, so it’s not really a concern at this point. I’m sure Hannah has finally come to the same conclusion, since she already tried using me. Doesn’t really matter who is stronger. Hannah will certainly kill both of us if my brother doesn’t stop fighting his mate. He needs to sever the final bond.”
Why does my mouth sour at the thought of Slade taking a damn mate? Why do my eyes feel like they’re turning silver on their own? Why is Alton smirking at me right now?
“Didn’t realize he had a mate,” I say tightly.
“Obviously. You truly thought he’d kill you for helping me—genuinely still believe as much about him, even though he’s never once harmed a hair on your head.”
Snorting derisively, I roll my eyes. “He’s tried killing more than one of us in my family, and I’ve lost count of the threats he’s made. What does that have to do with his mate?”
He leans back, still smirking. “Something special about creatures like you and I was the fact that even before purgatory was unleashed, we could mate and have children with any immortal. The visionary saw my mate, but could never once spot Slade’s. My mate was just a simple witch—her magic nor bloodlines were very powerful.”
This guy can never just give a direct answer. I feel like I’m following him in a circle every time he speaks.
“Hannah learned of your visionless visionary—knew how to prevent her from seeing the future. And she served a purpose to open purgatory, which drained her at such a young age. The demon’s own visionary saw so much. But never once—not even when Hannah took him from his former employers and gave him a power boost—could the visionary see Slade’s mate,” he goes on.
Frowning, I lean back, confused.
“Why? If he could see your mate, then why couldn’t he see Slade’s?”
A ghost of a secretive smile toys with the edges of his lips. “Because my brother would go and somehow become fated to the most powerful woman we’ve ever heard of, and he wanted that kept a secret.”
It takes me a second, but when I realize why he’s looking at me like he’s amused, I dart to my feet, unease uncurling in me. I can’t say that it wouldn’t explain a hell of a lot, but…fuck that. Hell no.
I’ll die a damn spinster. I’ll even adopt a small kitten army as proof of my commitment to staying single for always.
“You have to be kidding me,” I blurt out.
He freaking grins.
“You can’t honestly say you haven’t already questioned the possibility a time or two on your own. Possibly far more times than that. When your instincts are the fiercest, you feel it. Know it. He’s seen you for centuries. And the night you and your family freed us? I felt it through the bond, as though it really wasn’t gone. I felt his heart pumping erratically, as if it was my own, because he saw you.”
“Saw me?” I ask, confused.
“He can always see you. Unless you have this symbol close by,” he answers, creeping me out as he points to a marking on the wall that certainly resembles an eye with a slash through it.
Slowly, Alton stands to his full, very tall height, looking down at me. With his brand of suffering, I’m reminded he can’t really be trusted. What if he tries to kill me just to hurt his brother because he really believes I’m his mate?
I’m so damn stupid that I almost just take him at his word that I really am. Because I’m gullible, it appears.
Dumbass comes to mind a few times as I take quick steps back, watching him as he moves toward me.
“He saw you when he closed his eyes,” he goes on, still stalking closer. “I was no longer bonded enough to see you with him in his mind, but I could feel the warmth in his chest on occasion when he dreamt of you. Then the night you and your family freed us, he laid eyes on you for the first time. You became real. You risked your life to save all of us—beings you didn’t even know. Pride was there—I felt it oozing from him. I watched from the shadows as he lifted your broken body, cradled you to him like you were precious, then disappeared from sight.”
I stumble a step, my mind reeling as I think back to so many months ago when I woke up in a strange cabin, mostly mended from the night before. Slade saved me. That I already knew.
The remembered feeling of the warmth I felt in his wake staggers my breath, but I try to remain a picture of composure in front of Alton as he continues to advance on me.
“I expected that final bond to come down, and then I could finally end this miserable existence for myself, while my brother got to enjoy something that was stolen from me. I could meet Carolina in the spirit world, and he could forever live in peace and happiness with his mate.” He laughs bitterly. “But the stubborn fool is too focused on making me miserable, not understanding what I already suffer.”
“So tell him,” I say, still backing down the long tunnel as he moves closer.
“No,” he says quickly. “I want to die, Ella. I want to go to the spirit world, find my mate and my child, and exist there—whether it’s hell, heaven, or purgatory. You’re the only person with the ability to free me from him.”
“What are you asking of me?” I ask, getting ready to dematerialize.
“Nothing,” he finally says, stopping in the middle of the tunnel. A sad smile graces his lips before he adds, “Because you won’t even remember this until it matters.”
With a wave of his hand, everything goes black.
My head aches as I sit up and look around my room, wondering how I got back in here. Slowly, the beginnings of a faded memory tugs at the corners of my mind.
That son of a bitch—
A scream bubbles out of me as my eyes land on a very scarred, menacing man, who is crouching in the corner of my room like a crazed creeper.
Slade smirks at me.
“Where have you been, Princess?” he asks with a deep, sexy, faux-disinterested tone.
If he didn’t really care where I’ve been, then why would he be here asking?
I swallow down the immediate answer that forms on the tip of my tongue, ready to expel my secret. The memory Alton tried to steal is still working its way out of the darkness, threading together in incoherent pieces.
“Why does it matter to you? How do you know I’ve been anywhere at all?” I volley, sounding like the smartass I usually am in his presence.
He stands, his intimidating height finally in full view, and he takes a step toward me. I remain on the bed, not moving, and ignoring all the terribly inappropriate sensations that flood my body every time he’s around.
“Answer the question,” he commands.
“Sure,” I say sweetly, a fake-ass grin on my face as I cross my legs at my ankles and make a show of getting comfy on my bed. “I went out for ice cream. Strawberry, to be exact. You might even still smell it on my breath.”
In a move so fast I don’t register it until it’s too late, he’s suddenly caging me in on the bed—his body straddling mine. My arms are pinned above my head, and his face is right at my mouth as a smirk plays on the side of his lips that I can see.
A full-body shudder wracks me as he makes a show of inhaling my breath. “Sweet, but not strawberry,” he murmurs, his lips almost touching mine. “Try again, Princess. Where have you been?”
Swallowing thickly, I try to wriggle from his grip, to no avail because he’s older, stronger, and has many centuries of experience over me. He merely seems amused as he settles more of his weight onto me, pressing me into the mattress.
His hips push my thighs wider apart, and my breaths grow heavier in response to feeling him so close. The scent of my arousal is far more humiliating than I even want to discuss, considering it can’t be ignored or go unnoticed.
He makes no sound of interest or disinterest. Just stares at me like he wants me to know how much power he has, while I have so little.
“I did some light shopping,” I say, though it comes out more breathy than snarky or strong.
“If you want me out of here, you’ll tell me where you’ve been,” he murmurs, sounding distracted as his gaze sweeps down to my cleavage.
Most of my shirt is ripped open or gashed up from the harbinger battle earlier today. It’s been a rather eventful day, after all.
My skirt is around my hips, providing very little barrier from his touch. One of his hands grips both of my wrists, holding me there even as I forget to struggle.
The weight of his gaze doubles when he bites down on his bottom lip and lets his free hand come up to tear open the rest of my shirt, exposing everything up top to him.
His hips shift, pressing down on me more, as a feral growl forms low in his throat. It’s like my entire body responds, and I embarrassingly roll my hips against him for a little friction.
His gaze snaps to mine and his eyes narrow.
“How sick are you, little princess?” he asks, his hand now moving to shove my skirt up even higher.
I’d rather not answer that question, because the answer is very, very sick. I’m not even trying to stop him from touching me. I want him to dominate me in this moment like no one else has ever been able to do.
The one man in my past who has touched me nearly broke me by using a sacred bond against me in a way I never believed possible. He was crazy. He was power hungry.
Now he’s dead. Because Slade killed him.
For no reason.
Well, no reason other than he knew what he’d done to me. Or maybe I’m foolishly—and psychotically—romanticizing his actions in my head only.
My breaths grow shakier as my back arches, pressing into him a little more, wondering if he’ll have the balls to do anything or if he’s just playing one of his head games.
He quickly rips my panties off, and my heart thunders against my chest, echoing in my ears.
“You’d really rather me take you than you tell me where you’ve been?” he asks, his voice thicker than usual as he stares at my lips.
Before I can answer, a blast of power illuminates the room, and Slade is thrown off me, crashing through the wall.
Well…this is awkward…
My dad stands in my doorway, his face twisted in fury, as he stalks through the hole in the wall he’s just created. I scramble to cover up with a sheet, just as Slade pushes up to his feet, laughing darkly while looking over at my dad.
“Bring it, King. Show me what you’ve got,” Slade taunts.
“You break into my house and force yourself on my daughter and expect to live?” Dad growls.
Before I can say a thing, Slade answers, “Trust me when I say the last thing I’d ever have to do is force myself on her.”
He even winks at Dad like he’s trying to get himself killed.
Rapid blasts and yells of rage come from Dad as he tries to hit Slade. But each streak of power misses. Slade deflects them without even trying, and his eyes land on me, proving how easy it is for him to ruin us all.
And, like the sick pet I am, I almost turned myself over to the dark devil willingly.
Suddenly, Slade vanishes from sight, and Dad curses as he yanks out his phone, glaring over at me. “Why weren’t you fighting him?” he snaps.
Yeah, no. I think it’s best to not give my father this answer.
At my silence, he goes on. “He’s a volatile ticking bomb, Ella. He’s reckless and unforgiving. He’s cruel and unapologetic. More than once he’s fought against us. His cold logic rules him, and not one ounce of humanity has been shown since our first encounter—”
“Other than him saving my life and us forming a truce with him,”
I state too quickly, and then zip my lips when that vein in his forehead peeks out.
That’s the cue for shut the hell up, Ella.
“This necessary alliance between us and him is one done out of desperation and complete distrust. Don’t think that means we’ll ever be on solid ground with him,” he grinds out.
Fortunately, his phone rings, and he spews a few flagrant words before answering. “Yes?” he growls.
“The Tabor Wolves and the Tree Light coven are having a property dispute again. I’m afraid it needs immediate assistance,” the other person says clearly enough for me to hear.
His features shift from anger to annoyance, and he blows out a breath while pinching the bridge of his nose.
His hand falls away as his eyes move to me, and a calculated grin forms on his face.
“I have the perfect person for the job. I’ll send my daughter to resolve this matter.”
My eyes narrow to slits.
This is petty diplomatic stuff. Not things we handle personally. At least not when we’re attempting to stave off an apocalypse.
“Word of caution; I believe one or both of them are stirring this conflict to be worse than usual. Two of each have gone missing, and both sides claim to have no knowledge of the missing persons,” the person on the other line warns.
Dad rolls his eyes. “This happened last time too. Ella needs away from the house for a while. Hopefully it will have her reevaluating her current life choices, since her taste in said decisions seem to be poorly lately.”
He hangs up before they can argue, and I open my mouth to tell him what a waste it is to send me off now for something completely unimportant. But he cuts me off before a word can form.
“You were the perfect teenager. Don’t start rebelling now,” he says on a sigh. “I understand that things within our circle have—”
“Imploded? Soured? Painted life-long friends and family to be shady liars?” I idly suggest.
His eyes narrow.
“—gotten out of sorts,” he finishes, belittling the constant stabs of betrayal as though they’re nothing of true caliber.
He forgets I have an inherited dark side that is fed by betrayal.
I feel…well, I feel like the little pest they have to tolerate. I’m almost on the same level with Dice at this point.
“Take Dice. You leave first thing in the morning,” is the last thing he says to me before disappearing.
Dice. I knew it. We’re total equals right now. I blame Slade for this.
Those threads of a lost memory finally weave together, my mind overpowering whatever was separating the threads to begin with.
Alton tried to make me forget.
Like everyone else, he underestimated me.
The full memory is still blurry, but it’s polishing up nice and slow, feeding me one forgotten revelation at a time.
Before I head off on a waste-of-time quest, I think I should repay Slade’s unexpected visit.
First thing tomorrow morning.
PREORDERS are ready for Unchained Beauty, book 5 of the Deadly Beauties Live On series. ️️️ Coming the 16th of this month!
Links and blurb below.
Amazon US – https://www.amazon.com/dp/
Amazon UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/
Amazon AU – https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/
Amazon CA- https://www.amazon.ca/dp/
I’ve spent my life thinking I knew the worst that could happen.
Battles come and go. Wars are almost always won in the end. It’s easy to grow complacent and forget even the deadliest should glance over their shoulder from time to time.
We thought we had it all figured out.
We were poised for this win before we even went to battle.
We didn’t win. We didn’t lose.
We thought a demon would be easier to kill, because it’s “just” a demon.
Now we’re dealing with the mess from our latest failure.
Meanwhile, I’m still trying to do something other than be the biggest disappointment of all, searching for my place while avoiding the one man who could possibly kill me, if he wasn’t so busy constantly saving me. My “hero” happens to be my family’s enemy, despite the uneasy, temporary truce between us as we combine forces to work against a common enemy.
The enemy of my enemy shouldn’t be more than that. Really, he shouldn’t. Slade is a terrible person who has done terrible things since he’s been freed. Nothing he can do can redeem himself. At least that should be the truth of it.
Just when we think we have it all figured out again…everything changes.
For once in our entire existence, it may not matter who the deadliest is, because all the rules are being broken.
**Should be read as part of the series and not a stand-alone
**Final book of the series