Authors: M.J. Scott
PRAISE FOR THE
NOVELS OF THE HALF-LIGHT CITY
“Not only was this book just as entertaining and immensely readable as
—it sang in harmony with it and spun its own story all the while continuing the grander symphony that is slowly becoming the Half-Light City story. . . . Smart, funny, dangerous, addictive, and seductive in its languorous sexuality, I can think of no better book to recommend to anyone to read this summer. I loved every single page except the last one, and that’s only because it meant the story was done. For now, at least.”
was one of those books that I really didn’t want to put down, as it hit all of my buttons for an entertaining story. It had the intrigue and danger of a spy novel, intense action scenes, and a romance that evolved organically over the course of the story. . . . Whether this is your first visit to Half-Light City or you’re already a fan,
expertly weaves the events from
throughout this sequel in a way that entices new readers without boring old ones. I am really looking forward to continuing this enthralling ride.”
—All Things Urban Fantasy
had everything I love about urban fantasies: kick-butt action, fantastic characters, romance that makes the heart beat fast, and a plot that was fast-paced all the way through. Even more so the villains are meaner, stronger, and downright fantastic—I never knew what they were going to do next. You don’t want to miss out on this series.”
—Seeing Night Book Reviews
“An exciting thriller . . . fast-paced and well written.”
—Genre Go Round Reviews
“M. J. Scott’s
is a steampunky romantic fantasy with vampires that doesn’t miss its mark.”
New York Times
bestselling author Patricia Briggs
is an entertaining novel. Lily and Simon are sympathetic characters who feel the weight of past actions and secrets as they respond to their attraction for each other.”
New York Times
bestselling author Anne Bishop
“M. J. Scott weaves a fantastic tale of love, betrayal, hope, and sacrifice against a world broken by darkness and light, where the only chance for survival rests within the strength of a woman made of shadow and the faith of a man made of light.”
—National bestselling author Devon Monk
“Had me hooked from the very first page.”
New York Times
bestselling author Keri Arthur
“Exciting and rife with political intrigue and magic,
is hard to put down right from the start. Magic, faeries, vampires, werewolves, and Templar knights all come together to create an intriguing story with a unique take on all these fantasy tropes. . . . The lore and history of Scott’s world is well fleshed out and the action scenes are exhilarating and fast.”
“A fabulous tale.”
—Genre Go Round Reviews
Also by M. J. Scott
OVEL OF THE
M. J. SCOTT
A ROC BOOK
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street,
New York, New York 10014, USA
USA | Canada | UK | Ireland | Australia | New Zealand | India | South Africa | China
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First published by Roc, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Copyright © M. J. Scott, 2013
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.
For Chris, Carolyn, Freya, Keri and Robyn.
For many years of laughter, commiserations, chocolate, celebrations and wise words. Lulus rock!
Writing this book has spanned a year of broken ankles, new feline additions (welcoming the fuzzy girl to the ranks of writer companion cats), and many other unexpected twists and turns. So once again, there are many people to thank.
My patient and excellent editor Jessica Wade, who, as usual, made the book better and made this writer happy by not thinking the book was terrible.
My agent, the lovely Miriam Kriss, who is always supportive and full of good advice, no matter what has happened.
The wonderful team at Roc, including the ever brilliant art department, who keep coming up with covers of jaw-dropping beauty (with bonus glowing daggers), who help turn my words into a real live book (never going to get old), and send it out into the world.
All the lovely readers, who’ve been telling me that they like it here in Half-Light, which means the world to me.
And last, but never least, to my always-there family and friends who have carted me around, picked me up, brushed me down, cheered me on and gotten me through. You’re awesome.
To see too far
To know too m
Some want to look
Yet cannot see
Some would hide from sight
It’s better not to know
Because the future burns
head hurt like a bastard.
Nothing terribly unusual in that, but the fact that my wrist also throbbed like a Beast had chewed on it was disconcerting. If I’d drunk enough to set devils driving spikes into my brain and yet had still had to tighten the iron around my wrist, then the visions must have fought me yet again. Hard.
They were getting worse.
I lay for a moment, breathing cautiously, trying to remember. But the images of last night were hazy and blurred together with those of the past weeks. Each new day, harder than the last. Right now, I wanted to will myself back to sleep. And the oblivion it brought.
But just as I was savoring the thought, I remembered the ball.
The oh-so-respectable human ball I had promised to escort Regina to.
Shal e’tan mei
The muttered curse made my head pound harder. Couldn’t I just stay here in bed?
No. Veil’s buggering eyes. There was no way to do that without risking seeing that shadowed look that all too often haunted Reggie’s blue eyes since Holly had rescued her from Summerdale. I’d do many things to avoid seeing that expression. Reggie was still too quiet and a little too thin and the ball had been one of the few things that had seemed to genuinely engage her interest these past few weeks.
So I wasn’t going to disappoint her. Or Holly. A gentleman doesn’t let down his best friends—the closest thing I had to family—after all. And even though, in the eyes of most people who would be attending tonight’s shindig, I was very far from a gentleman, I liked to think I still knew how to behave.
I opened one eye and the headache redoubled its relentless jig inside my skull. Somewhere in my room was a vial of the foul-tasting hangover cure Madame Figg sold to her patrons. I didn’t know where she got it or who made it for her, but it worked if you could stomach the taste.
Tonight it was going to have to work its hideous magic quickly. The crack of sky showing through my crookedly drawn curtains was dark. I’d overslept. Not even started the day and already it was going to hell. I needed all the help I could get.
Five minutes later—once my stomach had apparently determined it wasn’t going to violently reject the hangover cure and the jig-dancing devils had quietened—I decided I might live.
After a quick bath, a shave, and several mugs of strong tea, I even looked vaguely alive. But my wrist still throbbed where the iron chain pressed against it. Madame Figg’s miraculous cure-all was no help there. Each link felt like a razor peeling my skin away with acid-bathed teeth, even though to the naked eye there was nothing to see other than ever-deepening bruises.
Despite the pain I couldn’t risk taking the chain off. Without the iron, the visions would knock me flatter than the hangover.
I gritted my teeth and untwisted the links, laying them flat against my skin before tightening the clasp. My hand shook a little as I slid a gold and jade hoop through my ear. Human men didn’t usually wear earrings, and doing so would, no doubt, earn me some dubious looks at the ball. But given that I had little chance of fitting in anyway, I might as well look like myself.
I drank more tea as I dressed. I couldn’t afford to start in on the brandy. Not yet. Not until the ball was well under way. Escorting Reggie, making sure that she felt safe and no one hassled her, meant I needed my wits about me. I would allow myself a glass or two of whatever the DuCaines were serving, but nothing stronger until my duties were done.
Which was going to make the whole thing even less bearable.
I bared my teeth at my reflection and moved to set the mug down on my dresser. The chain bumped against the wood and the pain flared bright, making the room swirl around me. I sucked in a breath, cursing my clumsiness.
I was pushing too hard. Every night, out in the taverns and brothels of the border boroughs, loosening the chain a little and letting the visions rise, trying to see if I could glean anything useful.
I’d never loosened my control over the visions to such a degree and for such a lengthy period before. Every night, no matter how tightly I wrapped the chain around my wrist, it became harder to lock them away again, to push them back to the point where I had some peace and could function like a normal person. Every night it took more alcohol to offset the pain of iron and visions denied.
I didn’t know how much longer I could keep going. Not whilst keeping my sanity.
Too bad my options were limited. I could stop looking. But that might mean missing some useful snatch of the future. Something that might keep me alive. And if I confessed the truth to the human healers, then . . . what exactly? They could give me something stronger to fight the pain? Opium or worse? Something to knock me out and render me useless.
Humans didn’t have the Sight. They wouldn’t know how to help me. The problem was that my Sight had two possible sources. My Fae father. My Beast Kind grandmother. Going to either branch of my very estranged family for help was something I wasn’t yet desperate enough to try. Both sides would try and use me, try and tie me down. I’d spent most of my life staying out of their way. Keeping my freedom. I wasn’t ready to give that up.
There had to be another way. But damned if I knew what it was.
* * *
When my carriage door flew open, I knew my night was about to go to hell.
The thick stink of Beast rolled into the hackney as my visitor scrambled in, tugged the door shut, and seated himself opposite me, all while holding a gun at the ready. My hand drifted down to the gun concealed beneath my coat as I studied my unwelcome guest.
“I thought I made it clear last time that I wasn’t going to do this anymore?” I said, keeping my voice coolly polite.
Willem Krueger shrugged and smiled, revealing teeth a little too white and pointed. “It doesn’t matter what you think. It matters what my Alpha wants.”
Alpha,” I said in the same cool tone. I was a true City mongrel—part Fae, part Beast, and part human. I didn’t let any of them claim me, least of all the Beasts. My grandmother was one of the
, the unchanging.
Beasts who only knew human form.
They were often gifted with the Sight, as though the gods wished to compensate for their lack of access to the wolf side. My grandmother had been particularly blessed, one of the strongest seers in generations. The
are usually treasured by their packs, their powers invaluable, but my grandmother had defied her father to marry a human and had been cast out. Left to fend for herself, without the security and tight-knit obligations of the pack. She’d survived but she’d never forgiven.
But minor details like history and tradition seldom stopped Martin Krueger from making use of any tool he could.
Alpha,” Willem said. “And he wants to see you.”
I bit back a curse. The Lady definitely had it in for me. “When?”
I gestured down at my frock coat. “I have a prior engagement.”
“Martin doesn’t care.”
I knew that all too well. Martin had been calling on me—or rather sending his bully boys to fetch me—from time to time since I’d been a teenager. Usually what he wanted was innocuous enough. Glimpses of things that I saw no problem in sharing.
But now things were different. So far, I’d managed to walk the tightrope and maintain the illusion that I was a neutral party. Nobody in the border boroughs or the Night World yet knew that I was feeding information to the humans through Holly where I could. They still just saw Fen, the feckless fortune-teller, drinking and whoring around. Business as usual.
I couldn’t keep up the pretense much longer and now, staring at Willem’s hostile expression, I wondered if the game was finally up. Had Martin found me out? If so, I should just shoot Willem and have done with it. Putting myself in the clutches of a pissed-off Beast wouldn’t be good for my health.
Martin had a short fuse. My ribs still remembered the last time he’d been unhappy with me. That had been just before Lord Lucius—undisputed lord of the Blood Court—whose disappearance had stirred the current tensions in the City to a boiling point, had vanished. That time I hadn’t seen what Martin had wanted me to see and I’d paid the price.
I’d managed to avoid him since then, but apparently tonight my luck had run out. Still, the fact that he’d sent only Willem rather than a whole squad of
suggested that maybe my secret was still safe after all.
Regardless, I didn’t want to face down Martin tonight. Not while I was feeling like the blighted depths of the seven hells. “I’m due at a ball thrown by the DuCaines. They’re not the sort of people you disappoint.”
“Neither is our Alpha.” Willem sounded casual but he shifted a little on the seat. Afraid to tangle with the sunmage and the Templar, was he?
“Your Alpha,” I corrected. “Maybe not, but Simon DuCaine’s invitation was polite. Perhaps Martin could learn from him.” Simon DuCaine was a sunmage, a gifted healer. He was innately courteous but that didn’t mean he was to be underestimated. Even Martin wasn’t thickheaded enough to aggravate one of the most powerful mages in the City. Or was he?
Willem bared his teeth again. There wasn’t the faintest trace of humor in his expression. “You can come voluntarily or I can drag you there.”
I thought of Reggie and Holly, waiting for me to show up. I had no doubt Willem would do exactly as he threatened. I couldn’t match the strength of a Beast. But I could outthink one. There might be something useful to be gained from a visit to Holt’s End. The Kruegers, like all the packs, were embroiled in all sorts of things, none of them good. Not quite on the level of the Roussellines, who were the closest to the Blood lords, or the Favreaus, who wanted to be, but no Beast pack in the City was entirely free of the Blood and their games these days. I might be able to learn something.
“How about a compromise? I’ll be done at the ball by two. Surely Martin can wait a few hours.” The Beast Kind, like the Blood, lived largely nocturnally.
As Willem’s expression turned grim, I drew the gun. “Let me phrase it another way. You can tell Martin that I’ll see him later or I can put a hole in you.” I was gambling that Willem wouldn’t actually shoot me. If Martin really wanted to see me, then Willem needed me alive. The sound of the hackney moving over the cobbles echoed loudly as we stared at each other.
Finally Willem blinked. “Fine. Three. No later or we will come to fetch you. You won’t enjoy it.”
I nodded. “I’ll be there. Now, get out of my carriage.” I pointed to the door with the tip of my gun. Willem snarled but pushed the door open and swung himself out. We weren’t going terribly fast, not enough to worry a Beast at least. I reached out and pulled the door closed before taking a deep breath, trying to take the edge off the adrenaline rush. Teasing a savage dog is never a good idea. My gamble had paid off for now. But it could still backfire later on.
Wanting to be sure Willem had actually gone, I stuck my head out the window of the hackney. Only to yank it back suddenly as a horn sounded and an autocab came careening past us, making the horses swerve wildly.
I caught a momentary glimpse of a woman in a dark cloak in the back of the ’cab, staring at me in shock—eyes big against pale skin—before the ’cab had pulled ahead and I was left with the sound of the hackney driver’s curses ringing in my ears.
Muttering a few curses of my own under my breath, I settled myself back in the seat, trying to slow my pulse down. An ultimatum and a near decapitation. And the night had only just begun.
* * *
Sometimes even I can’t see the future. If anyone had asked me as little as a month ago where I would be tonight, there would have been no chance I would have picked my current location.
Standing in the middle of a grand society ball, of all things. Surrounded by humans in their pretty dresses and suits, pretending the world was perfectly all right.
Little did they know.
I swallowed more champagne, watching the smiling people swirl around me and wishing I had brandy. But it was still far too early for that. Not with Martin and the Kruegers to deal with later on.
The champagne did little to ease the pain in my wrist and here, surrounded by so many people, even doubled iron didn’t stop the visions.
Everyone was ghosted by the images of the futures that rose around them, so many that they blurred and mingled and, thank the Lady, made it difficult to get a clear picture of anything. Other than an omnipresent sense of darkness.
Darkness and flames, pressing around me so tightly I could smell smoke in the air. It made my stomach clench and my heart race with the suppressed urge to tell them all to flee.
My hand tightened around the delicate crystal glass. I focused on trying to feel the etched patterns in its surface, to connect to something real. To remind myself that the panic and doom I felt didn’t belong to this moment. This place.
It helped somewhat. Which was good, because here I was and here I had to stay since I was stupid enough to be a man of my word when it came to two particular people in my life.