Authors: Veronica Wolff
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction
In The Watchers Series
IN THE GAME OF EVIL, THERE IS ALWAYS A
Annelise’s slaying of Vampire Dagursson has thrown the Isle of Night - and her own heart - into chaos. Though she shares a bond with the vampire Carden, her connection to Ronan grows deeper as he protects her from those who seek justice for and power from Dagursson's death.
But there's one thing Ronan can't protect her from - his sister, Charlotte, who is alive and sworn to destroy Annelise and everyone she holds dear. Now Annelise must decide who she trusts as she embarks on a suicide mission to rescue the most important woman she’s never met: her mother.
Trapped in a deadly game against an ancient evil, not everyone will be left standing as Annelise faces the final reckoning.
© Copyright 2016 Veronica Wolff
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Dedicated to Barbara Freethy, friend through thick, thin, and extra thin.
“You have changed my life. Given me hope.” His hand traced down my side, dipped to my waist. Stroked along my hip and down my thigh. “You are light where there was only darkness.”
I turned into him. We lay on my bed in the shadows. His eyes, even in the dimness of moonlight, were haunted. It was dark, and yet I could call to mind their deep green color as easily as I could the shape of my own hand. He was mortal and only a couple of years older than me, but sometimes those eyes made him seem as ancient as any vampire.
That gaze was heavy on me now. Drawn to me only.
“Ronan,” I whispered.
But he was done with talking. He pulled me closer and kissed me softly. I savored the feel of lips I could draw from memory. How long I’d studied every inch of that face, and yet so few days had passed since it’d been mine to touch.
He drew back. Those eyes, so soulful and all-seeing, remained locked on me. “Why are you with him when you should be with me?”
My throat clenched.
My affection for the ancient Scottish vampire ran deep. The bond I shared with him infused my blood.
But this thing I felt for Ronan, it went beyond chemical. It penetrated a secret heart I didn’t realize I had.
Ronan must’ve seen the thoughts flicker across my face because he brushed the hair from my forehead, as though he might sweep my mind clear. “Let’s run away. We’ll disappear. Live in some faraway place.” His voice was suddenly husky with intensity.
I was…what? In love with Carden?
Was I? How was that possible when all my mind could summon was Ronan?
“I’m with Carden,” I said finally. We shared a bond—a bond that might endanger me were it severed.
He pulled away completely then and rolled onto his back, leaving a Ronan-sized chill along one side of my body.
“You’re with Carden because you bonded,” he told me, his voice tight. “By accident. It’s naught more than a chemical reaction. You might as well be bonded to a drug. It’s your blood that calls for Carden.” He swung that tormented gaze back to me, and it was like the tide, mysterious and powerful, drawing me more deeply to him. “But your heart? Tell me, Ann. What does your heart tell you?”
“My heart?” My heart pumped blood that was bonded to Carden. To cut that bond would be to endure the blood fever. “There’s no way around it,” I said finally. Desperately. “The blood fever…”
I’d been parted once before from my vampire. The physical effects were devastating.
Ronan’s hand flew to my face, cupping my cheek. “The blood fever I can soothe.”
The hope in his voice cracked something inside me.
“How?” Even as I said it, I knew. I took his hand in mine. “Your touch.”
Ronan had the power of persuasive touch. It was what he used to convince kids like me to come to this island of death. The vampires identified us—teenaged misfits, runaways, addicts, those of us who wouldn’t be missed—but it was Tracers like Ronan who traveled the world, hunting us, bringing us to the Isle of Night. Different Tracers had different strengths, and Ronan’s was his touch—when he used it, it was enough to persuade anyone to do anything.
I rolled away. “Your touch could help, sure, but for how long? You’d soothe the blood fever, but eventually—”
“It could be gone forever. If you let me try.” He took my arm and pulled me back into the shelter of his body. “I’m strong, Ann. Stronger than you know.”
He was strong. Could he be that strong?
Before, I wouldn’t have thought so. But recently I’d seen him unleash his power on a vampire. It’d almost been enough to overcome one as ancient as Master Dagursson. Might it be enough to completely sever a blood bond?
“You must let me try, at least. Think, Ann. You could be parted from him forever. Let me do this for you.” His tone grew earnest then. “For once, let me use my power for good.”
I’d never heard him sound so vulnerable. I’d always known Ronan despised the work he was forced to do. Increasingly, he let me in enough to see just how deeply his hatred ran.
“But how…” The words came so slowly, my mouth frozen. “How…”
I couldn’t get the words out. Why was my jaw so leaden? My tongue so thick?
“Be easy,” I heard. There were hands on me. Cool hands. “Be easy, lass.”
I opened my eyes. I was in Carden’s arms.
My pulse gave a sharp, defensive kick.
“What…?” I glanced around, trying to make sense of this.
And then my heart plummeted. Just a dream.
“Hush, dove. You were dreaming.” Carden snuggled me closer and placed his palm over my heart. “Your blood races.” His hand swept from my chest and down along my belly, coming to rest heavy over the very core of me. “Was it me you dreamt of?”
My cheeks burned, and I was grateful for the darkness. Slowly my heartbeat returned to normal. Still, it felt as though it was pumping air, not blood.
Guilty guilty guilty.
Ronan had shocked me when he’d stolen two kisses, and apparently they were still at the forefront of my mind. The forefront of my
He’d kissed me, and I’d kissed him back, and I could never, ever tell. I dared not even think about it. If Carden were to find out, he very well might kill him.
“You expect me to say? A girl has to maintain some mystery.” I gave him a saucy smile but had to force my lips not to tremble.
His hand skimmed down and around, curling beneath my thigh, and then he swooped me atop him. “Indeed?” He returned my smile. It was wicked and roguish.
Was I imagining the distance in his eyes? Carden was of an ancient Celtic line from which he’d inherited tremendous intuitive powers. Had he sensed he wasn’t the one who haunted my dreams?
I panicked as I bent down to kiss him.
Honestly, it was no great hardship.
Handsome Carden. He was as noble as any knight. Fierce as any warrior. He’d been only nineteen when he turned Vampire hundreds of years ago. His youthful body was frozen in time, and yet his heart was ancient, righteous, belonging to a hero of old.
And that heart loved me. It was intoxicating.
He kissed me back, eagerly, gruffly. There was a growl in his throat. “That’s more like it, my beautiful wee firebrand.”
Unable to stop an abrupt laugh, I sat up, straddling him. He’d called me “dove,” “petal,” “sunshine,” “bonny,” and once, “hen.” But never “firebrand.”
“Am I that much of a troublemaker?” I asked, but a fresh pang of guilt made me queasy.
If only he knew.
“Oh, aye. In the most magnificent of ways.” He threaded his fingers through my hair and pulled me back to him. The humor in his eyes was smoldering into something hotter. “And now it’s time for show, not tell.”
He kissed me again, but as he did, a part of my mind spun out of my control. Why had I let Ronan kiss me when I had
? Carden was wonderful. So why, in my dreams, did Ronan kiss me still?
Carden’s mouth moved along my jaw and then whispered in my ear. “Where have you gone, sweetest one?”
He was immortal. Powerful. Impossibly so. He placed me above all others. Who wouldn’t want to be with such a creature?
And yet Ronan kept a hold on me.
Which one was true? Which one was love?
For the dozenth time, I shoved such thoughts from my mind. Dreams were just that—fantasies based in unreality. Even if it was the wishful thinking of my unconscious mind, it wasn’t real. And those kisses Ronan and I had shared now felt like no more than that—dreams. He hadn’t even stayed afterward. He’d said he was going away, and I didn’t even know to where.
But Carden was here, beneath me.
“I’m right here,” I told him as I speared my fingers through his hair to pull his mouth close for another kiss.
I needed to be with Carden. This was crazy.
With Ronan, it’d been just a couple stolen moments. Carden and I had shared so much more. I adored him. He’d told me he loved me, and I believed him.
And like that I was lost to my thoughts again. Before I realized what was happening, Carden had stopped kissing me. We were laying side by side. Yet another moment lost to my overthinking. “Wait.” I propped up on my elbow. “Where are you going?”
Now he was getting up. Donning his plaid.
From faraway came the distant gong of the dawn bell.
“I must hurry,” he said. “And you must lie low. That pup Ronan has set the whole isle to chaos. Killing Dagursson as he did…he made a mess of it.” He
But ultimately that’d been my mess.
was the one who’d killed Dagursson. In letting people believe he was the culprit, Ronan was protecting
I’d stolen the misericordia from Sonja, the ruler of
, this Isle of Night. It was the rarest of weapons, a dagger that could both make and kill vampires, and I’d used it to destroy one of the most powerful vampires on this island. It was only a matter of time before Sonja realized it was gone.
At great risk to his own life, Ronan had taken the blade off my hands. He’d told me how any vampire—Carden included—would do anything to have it for their own ends. He had insisted I not tell anyone about it or the part I’d played in Dagursson’s death. Seeing as Ronan had risked all to direct attention away from me, I had to honor his wishes. I’d keep our secret.
All our secrets.
Yet another secret I kept from my vampire. Yet more guilt.
Carden sat on the bed to lace up his boots. “With Dagursson dead, there is a power vacuum.”
It took me a second to follow the topic change.
“And you know how nature loves a vacuum,” I joked weakly. It was all I could muster. This chat with Carden was skirting every single white lie I’d ever told. It was pretty unsettling.
Dagursson had allied with Ronan’s sister, Charlotte. Charlotte, who was probably out there this minute, plotting my untimely death. She was a vampire now, and Ronan had been as shocked as I was when she’d appeared. Apparently, she was a little sassier—and a lot deadlier—than when he’d last seen her.
I tried to calm myself. “But Dag was just a weirdo etiquette teacher, right? So he’d been in charge of the scrolls—he can’t have been the only vampire who’s able to translate those things. How does his death change anything?”
Carden pinned me with an uncharacteristically grave look. “Don’t mistake me. I dance on that Viking bastard’s grave, but his death brings instability. There are those who’ve chosen sides, who are making their secret loyalties known.”
“Secret loyalties?” Why was my face burning? Sure, I had a secret or two, but it wasn’t a “secret loyalty.”
“Aye, not all support Fournier,” he said, referring to the headmaster of the Isle. “Perhaps not even Alcántara. And it seems some of those scrolls are missing. The pup thinks to steal the lore for himself.”
This was news to me. I knew Ronan had burned a couple of Dagursson’s scrolls, precious for the knowledge they held about genealogies and vampire blood lines. But had he returned to the scene of the crime to pilfer more?