Unyielding fingers dug into my arms as the creature’s mouth lowered, and the invisible chains of demonic power latched onto my soul. A painful tear—like a stitch being plucked out—twisted my insides. I couldn’t stop my ragged cry from breaking free.
Batista’s eerie chuckle slithered over my clammy skin. He enjoyed my pain. Every whimper was another cherry on top of his delicious dessert. “You’re going to be such a tasty treat, witch.”
Unfortunately for this demon, one tiny taste was all he’d get. Sensing my impending demise, my magic plowed through the cage I’d buried it in six months ago when I left Illyria, home of the witches. Power filled my body to the brim, and my lids closed as it consumed me, bringing with it the very reason I ran away.
My dark gift.
My lids snapped open, and my palms fastened to his cheek. One touch was all it took for his life to begin draining.
Batista’s face blanched as he became frozen in my death grip. When he tried to speak, only choking gasps escaped his mouth. His veins blackened while pale gray washed over his complexion. The fear clouding his gaze made it abundantly clear he understood the kind of power attacking him.
He knew what I was.
His fondest memories flashed through my vision. Stealing souls from innocent victims, sex with beautiful women and men, killing other creatures for pure entertainment…
A steel wall slammed down in my mind before any more unwanted images could smash through. Witnessing my victim’s memories might have been the worst part of my gift. If I asked for his deepest, darkest secret, he’d have no choice but to serve it up on a blood-soaked silver platter.
But this wonderful power didn’t come without consequences. The more I used it, the more my soul blackened, souring bit by bit until maybe one day I’d be just as soulless as a demon.
Like ashes of a fire in a windstorm, Batista’s life dissolved into nothing. I should have released him minutes ago, but after being starved for so long, my gift craved the demon’s existence.
A loud commotion finally yanked me back to reality, and I pried my hand off the demon. He dropped to the polished marble, his lifeless, vacant stare locked on the tall, coffered ceiling.
Acid curdled my stomach. I’d killed him.
I shuddered as the name for my cursed powers shot through the air like the crack of a whip searching for bare flesh. The bar had gone entirely still except for the second-floor balcony where a man stood, his chilling eyes laser-focused on me.
Air siphoned from my lungs. King Lachlan Blackwood of the Unseelie Court leaned on the gilded railing, an all-too-familiar eagerness cresting over his handsome, arcane features. He had called me by the name I tried to forget.
“I need to speak with you immediately, young witch.”
Not fucking happening.
I pivoted and darted toward the curtain, but Jasper blocked my path. “Get out of my way.” Fae or not, he seemed like a decent guy, and I didn’t want to hurt him.
“No can do.” He lifted his hands placatingly like I was a skittish animal on the verge of attacking. “The king only wants to talk.”
But it wouldn’t end there.
“I’m sorry.” Magic crackled down my arm and into my left hand, forming a violet energy ball. I tossed it at Jasper hard enough to send him flying into the wall. I snatched the crumpled application bearing my real name and zipped into the madness of the club.
“Sentries, after her!” The king’s powerful voice boomed over the thumping music before I disappeared into a crowd.
Hot, sweaty bodies jostled me as I forced my way onto the dance floor in the center of Shade. The disorienting strobe lights warped their movements into a frantic, terrifying tango. The shimmering lily stamps marking nightworlders mixed with the black ivy leaf on humans. I clutched my head and tried to steady myself. The walls closed in, the pressure crushing my lungs until my breaths came in short gasps.
Glamours faded in and out of focus, revealing the gossamer wings of a couple of pixies in the crowd along with horns and glowing demon eyes. Vampires spotted the club, luring victims into dark corners.
Get control, Thorn!
I mentally sent myself a hard slap. If I fell apart now, the fae sentries would drag me back to the king, and I knew exactly what he wanted—my gift at his disposal.
Could my night get any worse? I got fired, possibly chased by a Maleor Suprema coven member or some other creep, killed a demon, and outed myself in front of none other than the Unseelie king.
I wiped beads of moisture off my forehead. Had my clothes not already been damp from the rain, they’d have been drenched in sweat. Another exit had to be around here somewhere, but the bouncing lights didn’t reveal anything beyond the trees and moss enveloping the walls.
My teeth ground so hard they threatened to crack. I was stuck.
Heavy glares seared the top of my head, and I glanced up, cursing. The king’s sentries had spotted me from their position at the second-story balcony, pointing a spotlight in my direction.
I dropped to my hands and knees, crawling through the gyrating bodies. Pain slammed against my hand as the heel of a stiletto stabbed me. Warts on a witch, that hurt! Good thing I wasn’t human, or blood would be oozing from a massive wound.
A girl squealed as she knocked into me and then tumbled over my back. Pandemonium unfurled, pointing out my exact location again. Magic rippled from my hands, forcing feet back and clearing a path. Thankfully the mist covering the floor helped mask my movements.
I finally escaped the dance floor and skulked through the fog toward a heavily shrouded VIP section. Moans emanating from a couple on a couch spilled over the music. I cringed as way too much flesh speared across my vision.
I’ve got to get out of here.
My trembling hands ran along the rough bark of trees and then downy moss, searching for an exit.
“The door is over there.” A drunk girl giggled as she pointed to a mass of tangled ivy. “My friend Marwick works here. He took me into the back to show me around.” She gave a dramatic wink.
Holy shit. This could save my ass. “Are you sure?”
“You got it, chick.” She blew me a kiss before hobbling into the dancing bodies.
I sprinted forward, dodging an inebriated guy who looked like he’d been about to hit on me. My fingers dove through the ivy, finding a doorknob.
I grabbed it as a presence coalesced behind me, and a hand clamped down on my shoulder.
“Just come with me, and you’ll be fine.” The tree-trunk-of-a-fae bouncer from the front door loomed over me, his platinum hair changing colors with the lights.
“No, I won’t.” I flicked my hand and shoved him backward into a waitress balancing a full tray of drinks. I didn’t wait to see the disaster unfold. Instead, I wrenched the door open and sprinted into a softly lit hall.
I took off, yanking gnarled strands of hair out of my face. A chill spread over my body now that the severe heat of the club had disappeared. My boots squeaked on the polished floor, making me cringe more than nails scraping a chalkboard.
An exit had to be close. I hadn’t gotten this far to get lost in a maze of back hallways at Shade. I turned the corner, my hand brushing the smooth evergreen walls, and then slammed into something hard.
“I got her!” A towering male fae wrapped his long arms around me, crushing my cheek into the Unseelie Court crest pinned to his shirt.
My ragged breaths bounced down the opulent corridor. “Not yet.” I stomped on the sentry’s foot and then released a gentle jolt of magic that sent him flying.
Maybe it wasn’t that gentle. I couldn’t help it. I’d barely used my powers in the last six months, so I was bound to be a little rusty.
I rocketed down the hall, taking another corner. The gods suddenly shined down on me, or rather on the beautiful red exit sign gleaming above a wide metal door. A cry of relief tumbled out of my mouth.
But it was all for naught. Two more sentries rushed through a side hall right before the door, blocking the exit.
My boots squeaked as I halted to a stop. Damn it. “Get out of my way.” Magic crackled threateningly over my hands.
A tall, sinewy one with a hook nose and slanted, penetrating eyes laughed. “You’re not the only one with magic, witch.” A harsh wind tunneled through the hall from the fae, hitting me square in the chest.
My arms flailed as I tried to keep my balance in the windstorm. I gritted my teeth and pulled on my powers, thrusting my hands forward. The fae’s elemental magic dissolved into nothing.
His stocky partner jabbed a fist into the air. The stone floor between us rumbled and then exploded up, tossing me off my feet.
I hit the ground hard, a metallic tinge coating my mouth. Son of a bitch. No wonder plants and stone covered this building. Elemental earth magic users had plenty of weapons.
Too bad for these fae I had plenty of weapons at my disposal too.
I scrambled up as an electric surge bubbled in my center. Strands of violet energy slithered down my arms, popping and sizzling. The two fae shot each other wary glances.
“We don’t want to hurt you.” The one with air magic lifted his hands in a pacifying gesture. “The king only wants to ask you a few questions.”
“I’m sure that’s all he wants.” I’d rather die than be forced to use my death raker magic for anyone.
My wrists snapped forward, firing violet ropes toward the two sentries, ensnaring them around the middle. They had no time to react as I yanked hard. Their bodies went airborne, zooming past me and crashing against the wall at the other end of the corridor.
I peeked over my shoulder and ignored the knot of guilt trying to surface. They’d be fine. They were only out cold.
I sprinted for the exit, crashing through the dense metal door. Icy rain stabbed my heated skin like sharp needles as swollen gray clouds released a downpour. I sprinted along the back street behind Shade, frantic puffs of steam blowing from my mouth.
A wild laugh slipped out. I’d made it. All I had to do was get home. Caleb knew my real name, but good thing I used a fake one to rent my crappy apartment.
The street lay within my reach when a large figure bounded from the roof, landing directly in my path to freedom.
“Going somewhere, witch?”
Speak of the devil.
None other than Caleb Blackwood loomed a few feet away, rain bouncing off his broad shoulders and those luminescent eyes cementing me to the spot.