Piper thought she could handle the Sahar, the most powerful magical weapon in existence. She thought she could protect her loved ones and stop a war. She thought she could make a difference.
She was wrong, and her mistakes were paid for in blood.
Leaving her world—and her failures—behind, she retreats to the Underworld with Ash and the other draconians. They forge deep into long abandoned mountains, the first draconians to fly the valleys and passes in centuries—or so they thought. Until now, Ash’s mysterious heritage has been nothing but a name, but his presence does not go unnoticed. A new danger stalks him, one that may be even greater than what they escaped.
Cut off from the power she’d come to rely on and lost in a world where she doesn’t belong, Piper has never felt so hopeless. But she must find her strength, and find it quickly, before she loses Ash to an ancient power he can’t fight, before her home is devastated by the daemon war, and before her mind, body, and soul are consumed by the Sahar’s insidious magic.
A tingle of magic sparked in the air, coming from Lyre. She looked up and felt a violent swoop in her belly. He had dropped glamour. His impossibly beautiful face was calm and smooth, but grim resolve hardened his golden eyes into steel. His pale hair gleamed in the last of the sunlight, a ruby shining like a drop of blood at the end of the thin braid that hung down one side of his face. Staring at him, she couldn’t even breathe.
He reached over his shoulder, fingers brushing across the feathered tips of his arrows. He pulled one free from the quiver, but instead of nocking it on his bow, he spun the shaft in his hand. Pointing the arrowhead down, he dragged the razor point across the palm of the hand in which he held his bow. Blood welled, running down his wrist.
Shocked out of her trance, she realized what he had done. Blood magic. He had just activated a spell on the arrow—likely the most powerful spell he had.
The arrow spun in his hand again and the next moment, it was nocked on the bow and he’d drawn the string back to his cheek. His blood clung to the tip of the arrow as it began to glow an eerie red. Her heart leaped with hope—hope that his spell, one so deadly his blood was required to unleash it, would be enough to save Ash.
Warm hands landed on her waist and she choked on a shriek of surprise.
The hands slid downward to curl over her hips as they pulled her back into a hard body. Hot breath bathed her ear.
“Hello beautiful,” a male voice purred.
Piper flung an elbow back with enough force to crack a rib. Chuckling, her assailant slid away as though she were moving in slow motion, his fingers trailing across the small of her back as he retreated. She whirled around with her fists ready to strike.
The young man with wandering hands casually put himself out of easy reach and propped an elbow on the counter. If sex appeal were an artist, he was its masterpiece. Golden brown skin sheathed lean muscle and flowed over the sharp planes of his cheekbones. His hair was an impossible platinum blond much lighter than his skin, his eyebrows dark, and his eyelashes thicker than any man should have. They framed eyes of an exotic amber shade like a dark patina brushed over ancient gold.
Piper gave him her most disgusted glare. “Lyre, can’t you ever keep your hands to yourself?”
“No,” he replied in his deliciously deep voice. There was no apology in his expression, only grinning amusement at her discomfort. “You’re just so easy.” His eyelids lowered. “So am I.”
She straightened from her aggressive stance and gave him an insulting once-over, taking in his impossible style of metrosexual crossed with a hint of Goth. Damn, the guy knew what he was doing. Clean, safe, and charming but with that oh-so-sexy hint of bad boy—exactly the kind of guy who would appeal to almost any girl. And that body packaged with that face? Very few women said no to Lyre.
Surprisingly, he didn’t seem offended she was one of those few. Then again, he never missed a chance to flaunt his availability.
“Would you mind finding someone else to harass?” she growled. “I’m not in the mood right now.”
His mouth quirked up. “I’m always in the mood.”
“Piper!” he roared.
She bolted, arms flailing for balance as she ran for the waiting car. The back door opened. She caught a glimpse of Miysis before he moved back to make room for her.
“Piper, get back in here right now!”
She dove into the darkness of the car. Miysis reached across her and pulled the door closed as the car began moving. Piper glanced out the window in time to see Quinn running across the lawn after her, fear stamped across his face. Her insides squirmed with guilt. He couldn’t know who owned the black car and he couldn’t have seen Miysis in the shadowy interior. All he’d seen was his daughter, wearing a dress for the first time in years, sneaking out to a mysterious car with unknown occupants one night after he’d found out she was possibly participating in illegal activities. She hoped he didn’t think she’d just been picked up by a pimp.
Miysis eased back into his seat as the car sped up. She pulled her skirt down to where it belonged and gave him a quick once over. Her heart sank. He looked like a million bucks in a smoky gray tux with a silvery vest and a fancy-collared shirt. His honey blond hair was tousled in a perfect mix of messy and deliberate and his golden-green eyes almost glowed in the dark interior of the car.
Sitting next to him, she looked ridiculously cheap and underdressed. His gaze flicked over her stupid little dress. He opened his mouth to speak.
“I didn’t have anything to wear,” she wailed before he could complain. “I didn’t have anything.”
“I know,” he said with a hint of a smile. “That’s why I brought you something.”
He pointed to a long garment bag hanging beside him.
She blinked. “You bought me a dress?”
He smiled, by all appearances totally serene. “You didn’t think I would let my date go in rags, did you?”
“Your—your date?” She gaped at him. “I’m going as your date? I—I thought you were making me one of your attendants or something.”
Daemon royalty always had a gaggle of advisors, attendants, and bodyguards following them around.
“Really, Piper. How would I explain the daughter of the Head Consul waiting on me? You should be glad I didn’t have a date already.”
“But—but—” She goggled.
Miysis was one of the top-ranking Overworld daemons. Going as his date was like going to a coronation with a member of a royal family. She’d never imagined he would go out on a limb like that for her. The entire political community would be gossiping about it for months. She might be the Head Consul’s daughter, but compared to Miysis, she was a dirt-poor commoner.
“But aren’t you worried what people will think?” she asked.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the looks on their faces,” he said with satisfaction. “The confusion and alarm will be priceless. They won’t know what to make of it.”
She thought about it then shrugged. “I guess if you don’t mind …”
He canted one eye toward her. “Do you?”
The daemon rose to her feet, shedding her glamour in the same movement. Her wild red hair drifted outward, suddenly immune to gravity. Her ears were now pointed, cheeks hollow beneath dramatically sharp cheekbones. Her eyes were huge and black as coal. Her body, more willowy and lightweight than ever, coiled in readiness. Narrow red things—scales? feathers?—rose in lines on her arms like a cat’s hair standing on end.
Before Piper could even finish her protest, Kindra sprang out of the trees. With impossible speed, she flashed across the expanse of lawn. Piper swore under her breath and ran out after her, keeping low.
Kindra was on the first man before he could turn. Piper didn’t see what Kindra did but the man screamed as he fell. The others spun toward the daemon. She dashed away, almost too fast for the eye to follow, then reappeared, making a grab for a second one. The third got his gun up and fired but Kindra abandoned her target and flashed away, a dark blur. His gun flipped up, hitting him in the face, struck by an invisible blow from the daemon. He staggered, brandishing his rifle and wildly looking around for Kindra.
Between the darkness, the haze of rain, and the lethal daemon, none of them noticed Piper coming.
“So your spell will disable the collar for . . . how long?”
“Maybe five minutes.”
She masked her shock. Most daemons performed magic through on-the-spot spell-casting. Magic could also be woven into materials such as metals and gemstones, but that was far more complex. Creating weavings that could interact with other weavings was high-level magic. She couldn’t do anything like that, and neither could Ash. Sure, they’d learned how to set a spell in a piece of stone or metal, but they weren’t inventing intricate, interactive weavings.
Developing new magic was the life’s work of the most gifted daemon minds. The only daemons she knew with that kind of talent worked at Chrysalis, Samael’s most sinister business. They’d developed some of the most complex magic she’d ever heard of, like the collar that had nearly killed Ash.
She studied Lyre, swallowing the touch of suspicion trying to creep into her voice. Spell weaving wasn’t something a daemon picked up on the fly.
“Where did you learn to make stuff like that?”
He rolled his eyes. “You’re right. This is the perfect time to share my life’s story.”
An animal snarl ripped through the silence as the beast dove for them like a half-ton missile. She threw her hands up and cast a shield. Black fire exploded outward when the creature slammed into her spell. The dragon rebounded into the air, great wings beating as it roared.
Piper spun to see that all the apprentices were on the ground, having thrown themselves down when the monster had charged them.
“Get up and run!” she yelled.
Lexa yanked Lee up by his arm. “Go!”
The apprentices scrambled to their feet and bolted down the alley. Lexa ran after them, but Piper’s eyes were locked on the second shadow. It held still, standing on the rooftop with partially spread wings. She could feel the burn of the draconian’s gaze on her. He was here for her.
With a frantic glance toward the fleeing apprentices, she turned and ran between two buildings. Just before her line of sight was cut off, she saw the dragon swoop over the heads of its prey, letting out a terrifying roar even as it deliberately missed them by several feet. It must be herding them away.
Fighting for calm, Piper sprinted down the narrow passageway between buildings—too narrow for a draconian’s wingspan. Darkness enclosed her but she didn’t dare create any light. She ran on, stumbling over cracks and garbage. She could feel the press of the draconian’s stare and knew he was following her, not the others.
Ahead of her, the passageway opened up into a wide street faintly illuminated by a single streetlamp. She skidded to a stop just short of the sidewalk, lifted her gun, and waited.
Annette Marie is the author of the Amazon best-selling YA urban fantasy series Steel & Stone, which includes the 2015 Goodreads Choice Award nominee Yield the Night. Her first love is fantasy, a limitless realm of creativity where she can break all the boring rules of real life, but fast-paced urban fantasy, bold heroines, and tantalizing forbidden romances are her guilty pleasures. She proudly admits she has a thing for dragons, and her editor has politely inquired as to whether she intends to include them in every book. Annette lives in the frozen winter wasteland of northern Alberta, Canada (okay, it’s not quite that bad). She shares her life with her remarkably patient, comparatively sensible husband and their furry minion of darkness—sorry, cat—Caesar. When not writing, she can be found elbow-deep in one art project or another while blissfully ignoring all adult responsibilities.