by Selene Drake
Genre: Paranormal Romance
A passionate fairy tale about forbidden love and a vengeful man’s secret longing to end a curse that only true love can cure.
Love was never meant for a man like me until she stumbles into my forest. Isabella Rose, with her jet black hair, mahogany skin, and intoxicating scent, called to me from miles away.
Blade is a beast of a man, a towering presence, a chiseled body, sharp fangs, and he runs with a pack of wolves. Wolves, my father, killed. And I’m willing to trade my life for his.
My Bella…My Enemy…Our Love.
Is it possible that she’s the one to break the curse? That she can feel anything, other than fear, for a man like me?
But the moment I sense enemies lurking to reclaim my Bella, our differences don’t matter because there’s no way I’ll let them harm her. And I’m prepared to fight, hoping the solution isn’t to let her return to the real world leaving me to remain a beast forever.
I write romantic stories laced with love, legacy, and fate. My novels feature culturally diverse characters and I hope to renew or deepen your love for magic, shifters, and romantic imagination.
$10 Amazon Gift Card
Follow the tour HERE for special content and a giveaway!
To Weave a Highland Tapestry
A Tale from the Order of the Dragon Knights
by Mary Morgan
Genre: Time Travel/Scottish Medieval/Paranormal Romance
Print Length: 196 pages
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press, Inc
Publication Date: December 9, 2019
Patrick MacFhearguis, hardened by battles won and lost, desires what he can never have—peace within his heart and soul. Yet, the ever-meddling Fae weave a new journey for him to conquer—a task this Highlander is determined to resist.
When skilled weaver, Gwen Hywel, is commissioned to create a tapestry for the MacFhearguis clan she embraces the assignment. While seeking out ideas, she finds herself clutching the one thread that can alter the tapestry of her heart and life.
A man conflicted by past deeds. A woman with no family of her own. Is it possible for love to unravel an ancient past in order to claim two badly scarred hearts? Or will the light of hope be doused forever?
Award-winning Celtic paranormal and fantasy romance author, Mary Morgan, resides in Northern California with her own knight in shining armor. However, during her travels to Scotland, England, and Ireland, she left a part of her soul in one of these countries and vows to return.
Mary’s passion for books started at an early age along with an overactive imagination. Inspired by her love for history and ancient Celtic mythology, her tales are filled with powerful warriors, brave women, magic, and romance. It wasn’t until the closure of Borders Books where Mary worked that she found her true calling by writing romance. Now, the worlds she created in her mind are coming to life within her stories.
If you enjoy history, tortured heroes, and a wee bit of magic, then time-travel within the pages of her books.
$25 Amazon Gift Card
Follow the tour HERE for special content and a giveaway!
by Tammy L. Bailey
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Print Length: 292 pages
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press, Inc
Publication Date: December 2, 2016
At twenty-five, Grace Evans is steadily picking up the pieces of everyone else’s life. So, when her younger sister decides to turn into a runaway bride just four weeks before the wedding, Grace, drops everything to chase after her and bring her back home. Only, when the trail leads to Mistletoe, Washington, she finds herself at the mercy of the town’s most handsome and emotionally unavailable bachelor.
Ex-Army officer, Ayden McCabe, has three creeds in life: never make the first move, never fall in love, and never take anyone to Mistletoe’s Christmas Dance. Wanting nothing more than to keep his matchmaking sister from meddling in his personal life, he agrees to help Grace if she agrees to play his girlfriend. Too brunette and meek for his taste, Ayden believes Grace can’t tempt him enough to break any of his creeds. He could not be more wrong.
A LEO wife, mother, and military veteran, Tammy began writing when the shows and movies she watched didn’t end the way she wanted them to end. Whether it’s historical or contemporary, for her, there must always be a happy ending.
When she’s not writing, she’s spending time with her husband and two boys near Cleveland, Ohio. Without their sacrifice and understanding, she believes she would have never been able to pursue her passion of writing or her accomplishment of becoming a published author.
Follow the tour HERE for special content and a giveaway!
My Fake Rake
The Union of the Rakes Book 1
by Eva Leigh
Genre: Historical Romance
Print Length: 384 pages
Publication Date: November 26, 2019
In the first book in Eva Leigh’s new Union of the Rakes series, a bluestocking enlists a faux suitor to help her land an ideal husband only to be blindsided by real desire…
Lady Grace Wyatt is content as a wallflower, focusing on scientific pursuits rather than the complications of society matches. But when a handsome, celebrated naturalist returns from abroad, Grace wishes, for once, to be noticed. Her solution: to “build” the perfect man, who will court her publicly and help her catch his eye. Grace’s colleague, anthropologist Sebastian Holloway, is just the blank slate she requires.
To further his own research on English society, Sebastian agrees to let Grace transform him from a bespectacled, bookish academic into a dashing—albeit fake—rake. Between secret lessons on how to be a rogue and exaggerated public flirtations, Grace’s feelings for Sebastian grow from friendship into undeniable, inconvenient, real attraction. If only she hadn’t asked him to help her marry someone else…
Sebastian is in love with brilliant, beautiful Grace, but their bargain is complete, and she desires another. Yet when he’s faced with losing her forever, Sebastian will do whatever it takes to tell her the truth, even if it means risking his own future—and his heart.
Eva Leigh is a romance author who has always loved the Regency era. She writes novels chock-full of determined women and sexy men. She enjoys baking, spending too much time on the Internet, and listening to music from the ’80s. Eva and her husband live in Central California.
Eva also writes in multiple romance genres as Zoë Archer.
Follow the tour HERE for special content and a giveaway!
family. It may be the family we make, the one we were born into, or
the one we hope to find. These Christmas stories are all about
Christmas, in the future, the past or now. Come with us, let’s
celebrate the holiday season.
About the Author
Alice Gaines lives in the San Francisco Bay Area in a fixer-upper house she never fixed up. Aside from writing and reading hot, hot romance, she loves cooking, knitting and crocheting, and her church. She has a pet corn snake named Casper and she’s insanely passionate about the funky soul band, Tower of Power.
The Revenge Game
by Alice Gaines
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Print Length: 156 pages
Publisher: Entangled: Indulgence
Publication Date: September 23, 2019
Adam Morrow is a self-made millionaire. But one night with her could ruin everything…
I’ve worked my ass off for what I have, and I’m damn proud of it. I started off with nothing and now I’m filthy rich. Let me tell you, there’s nothing like revenge to help you get your ass in gear. And that’s what I’m taking, with every exclusive resort I open—sweet, sweet revenge…on her.
Nicole Westmore was my first love. The poor little rich girl stole my heart with her sweet smile, hot body, and irresistible innocence. The summer I worked for her father was the best time of my life…until he drove me away. Even then, I thought Nicole would wait for me. She didn’t.
And so, I decided to get even, opening rival hotels, slowly driving them out of business. The old man is gone now, but Nicole is still running the company that’s about to collapse. All my hard work will soon pay off.
And then I catch sight of her at a wedding, and all those feelings come rushing back–for both of us. Still, she doesn’t know what I’ve done—yet—and she seems more than willing. What will one night in her bed hurt?
The sex is hotter than ever, and I can’t help wondering if I’ve made a mistake. Until I get up the next morning…and realize I’ve been kidnapped!
Adam sat at the table in their cottage on the cove and watched Nicole prepare dinner. It was exactly the sort of scene he’d fantasized about when he’d been young and in love. And for once in a very long time, he faced an inner struggle.
Did he still hate her? No. Did he still hate her father? Sure, but what was the point? The man was dead, and Adam was having sex with his daughter again. That in itself would have the bastard spinning in his grave.
Did he still want to sink Westmore Hotels? Getting rid of the competition was a good business move, revenge or not.
But the most important issue involved his own emotions. If he was having honeymoon sex, would he be able to walk away when he’d had enough? Hell, would he ever have enough of this woman? Sometime soon, he’d have to return to the office. And she’d have to go back to work. They’d leave here, and then what? Could he do without her, or was he already in too deep?
He’d tried just about everything one body could do with sex, and it had all been fantastic for him and for all his partners. But none of it compared with being with this woman, even in the most ordinary of ways. Emotion—feelings—had to account for the difference. You had honeymoon sex with someone you loved. Grant hadn’t said that, but he’d implied it. Was he falling in love with Nicole all over again? Good God in heaven.
She glanced over her shoulder at him. “You look pensive.”
“I was only wondering if you’ve become domesticated,” he lied.
She laughed. “Not likely. I love to cook, but I’m happy to have someone else clean up.”
“Spoiled little rich girl.”
“There are some good things about being spoiled and rich.” She picked up a colander full of greens and a bowl and approached the table.
“Here,” she said as she put both in front of him. “How good are you at tearing up lettuce for a salad?”
“I promise you, I can tear up anything you want.”
She laughed again. She seemed to do it easily, quite in contrast with the tense woman who’d confronted him at Grant’s sister’s wedding. They were getting along now…more or less. As long as she didn’t find out about Vivian.
She went back to work near the sink, shelling shrimp for a Cajun dish. An array of spices and fresh herbs stood all around her cutting board. This promised to be quite a feast.
He had to end the honeymoon before he lost control of his emotions completely. They were competitors, and he might still end up taking over Westmore Hotels. If he did, she’d hate him, and they’d end up back at square one. No. He had to get back to New York and get some distance from her so he could clear his head and figure out where to go from here.
But first, he had a little treat in store for her, if she liked that kind of thing. He’d made a detour to the resort gift shop and had liberated a few silk scarves. Long ones. Long enough to tie wrists and ankles to the posts at the corners of their bed.
She was wearing shorts that snuggled against her butt in a particularly tempting way. They weren’t super tight, allowing movement, but they still showed off her curves. He’d cupped her buttocks with his palms as he drove himself into her, so the mere act of staring at her aroused him. She might not go for the silk, but he’d definitely have sex with her. One last indulgence before he got her to agree the time had come to return to the real world.
“Why don’t you take a break and come over here?” he said.
She turned and cocked her head, staring at the lettuce she’d put in front of him. “You haven’t touched that.”
“I don’t feel like cooking right now.”
“It can wait for a while,” he said.
She put down her knife, turned, and rested her backside against the counter. “What on earth could you possibly have in mind?”
He gave her a grin—that came more easily now, too—and he turned in his chair and patted his knee. “Why don’t you come over here and find out?”
She sauntered toward him. “You’re a sex fiend, you know?”
“I’ve been called worse.”
She sat on his knee and draped her arms around his shoulders. Being this close to her, he could get lost in the emerald gleam of her eyes. They definitely held a wicked twinkle.
“I had a really nasty thought as I watched you on the elliptical today,” he said.
“You were watching me?”
“You know I can’t take my eyes off you,” he said.
“That’s nice.” She pressed her lips against his, just long enough to give him a taste of her. “Really nice.”
With her butt on his thigh, her legs sat near his crotch. Her kisses and the scent of her perfume had already warmed his libido, and his sex thickened and hardened in anticipation of having her yet again. If she’d been a drug, he would have been addicted long before now. This was exactly why he needed some distance. But not quite yet.
“So, anyway…my wicked thought,” he said.
She moved her mouth to his ear and blew into it. “Do tell.”
He shuddered as a bolt of lightning slashed through him. Holy crap, she could turn him on. “A little exotic play, maybe. But only if it excites you.”
She straightened. “Exotic? How?”
“Trust. I’m going to prove to you that I trust you completely.” For now, they’d leave aside the question of whether she could trust him.
She leaned back and looked at him out of the corners of her eyes. “You’re not going to fall backward and trust me to catch you, are you?”
“Nothing quite that innocent,” he said. “I’m going to let you tie me up.”
She hooted. “You’re kidding, right?”
“Only if you want to. It’s your call.”
She stared into his eyes. “You’re serious.”
“There’s a bag from the hotel gift shop in the bedroom. It has enough silk scarves to tie me pretty securely to the bed.”
“I did see that bag.” She bit her lip. “Silk scarves, huh?”
“You wouldn’t hurt me, of course,” he said.
“But I could tie you up, and…”
“Do whatever you want to me.” The more he thought about this plan, the hotter he got. Imagine, her crawling all over him. Getting naked but not allowing him to touch her. He couldn’t do anything for his own pleasure unless she allowed it. If she toyed with him for a good, long while and then finally allowed him to climax, the orgasm would tear him apart. What a way to go.
“Would that really turn you on?” she asked.
“It already has. Touch me if you want proof.”
$25 gift card from the winner’s retailer of choice
Follow the tour HERE for special content and a giveaway!
The Duchess in His Bed
Sins For All Seasons Book 4
by Lorraine Heath
Genre: Historical Romance
For a duchess with practical desires, falling in love is an inconceivable part of her plan…
As owner of the Elysium Club which caters to women’s fantasies, Aiden Trewlove is accustomed to introducing adventurous ladies to sin and vice. But he is uncharacteristically intrigued by the mysterious beauty who visits his club one night, yearning to indulge in the forbidden—with him. Drawn to her indomitable spirit, he breaks his rule of never becoming personally involved with his clientele and is determined to fully awaken her desires.
A recent widow, Selena Sheffield, Duchess of Lushing, has never known passion, not until Aiden’s slow, sensual seduction leads her on a journey of discovery and incredible pleasure. But her reasons for visiting the notorious club are not all that they seem.
As Selena’s motives become complicated by love, she finds herself with a most unexpected choice: forge ahead with a secret plan that could secure her future—or follow her heart which could prove ruinous.
Harper Collins: https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062676078/the-duchess-in-his-bed
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Lorraine Heath always dreamed of being a writer. After graduating from the University of Texas, she wrote training manuals, press releases for a publicist, articles, and computer code, but something was always missing. When she read a romance novel, she became not only hooked on the genre, but quickly realized what her writing lacked: rebels, scoundrels, and rogues. She’s been writing about them ever since. Her work has been recognized with numerous industry awards including RWA’s RITA(R).
Follow the tour HERE for exclusive content and a giveaway!
“I am here to be bedded.”
The bluntness of her words took him off guard.
He didn’t like at all the singular purpose for which she’d come to his club, and the irony was not lost on him. He reveled in sin, enjoyed his role in introducing people to vice. What the devil was the matter with him?
“If you look closely, you’ll see that some of the gents wear a red button on their left lapel. They will provide that service for you.”
“I’m not interested in them. You intrigue me, Mr. Trewlove. You are the one I want.”
“I do not involve myself with my clientele.”
“I’m not asking you to involve yourself. I’m asking you to bed me.”
Was it even possible to bed her without involving himself?
“We can stand here and debate or we can waltz and debate.” Bowing slightly, mockingly, if truth be told, he waved toward the dance floor. “Shall we?”
A Hidden Legacy Novel, Book 4
by Ilona Andrews
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance
From #1 New York Times bestselling author Ilona Andrew comes an enthralling new trilogy set in the Hidden Legacy world, where magic means power, and family bloodlines are the new currency of society…
In a world where magic is the key to power and wealth, Catalina Baylor is a Prime, the highest rank of magic user, and the Head of her House. Catalina has always been afraid to use her unique powers, but when her friend’s mother and sister are murdered, Catalina risks her reputation and safety to unravel the mystery.
But behind the scenes, powerful forces are at work, and one of them is Alessandro Sagredo, the Italian Prime who was once Catalina’s teenage crush. Dangerous and unpredictable, Alessandro’s true motives are unclear, but he’s drawn to Catalina like a moth to a flame.
To help her friend, Catalina must test the limits of her extraordinary powers, but doing so may cost her both her House–and her heart.
Harper Collins: https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062878342/sapphire-flames
“Ilona Andrews” is the pseudonym for a husband-and-wife writing team. Ilona is a native-born Russian and Gordon is a former communications sergeant in the U.S. Army. Contrary to popular belief, Gordon was never an intelligence officer with a license to kill, and Ilona was never the mysterious Russian spy who seduced him. They met in college, in English Composition 101, where Ilona got a better grade. (Gordon is still sore about that.)
Gordon and Ilona currently reside in Texas with their two children and many dogs and cats.
They have co-authored several NYT and USAT bestselling series. They are currently working on urban fantasy of Kate Daniels, the paranormal romance of Hidden Legacy, and their independently published series, Innkeeper Chronicles.
Follow the tour HERE for exclusive content and a giveaway!
I was swimming through the warm water of the Gulf when someone knocked on the sky. The bright little fishes following me scattered, the crystal-clear water vanished, and I landed on the sand.
The sky above me shuddered. Boom, boom, boom.
The dream tore like wet tissue, and for a disorienting moment, I didn’t know where I was. Slowly the familiar contours of my bedroom came into focus through the gloom. The alarm clock on my nightstand glowed with bright red. 2:07 a.m.
Someone was pounding on my door.
“Catalina!” my sister yelled. “Get up!”
Panic pierced me. I jumped out the bed, sprinted across the bedroom, and flung the door open. “Did the plane go down?”
I sagged against the door frame in relief. Our older sister, Nevada; her husband; and her mother-in-law were flying to Spain for a funeral. Over the ocean. It caused me no end of anxiety.
“The plane is fine,” Arabella told me.
“Then what is it?”
Arabella’s face was flushed, and her blond hair stuck out from her head in weird directions. She wore an old, stained Sailor Moon T-shirt, and her basketball shorts were on backward.
“Augustine is downstairs.”
“Augustine who? Augustine Montgomery?”
I snapped out of my relief back to full alert. “Why?” Why in the world would the Head of House Montgomery be downstairs, in the middle of the night?
“He wants to see you. He says it’s an emergency. Hurry up before Mom shoots him.”
She turned around and ran down the stairs leading from my loft suite to the rest of the warehouse we used as our home and place of business.
Augustine was absolutely the last person I expected at two o’clock in the morning. Something terrible had happened.
I looked at myself. I wore an oversized grey T-shirt that came to my knees and said, “I ♥ Sleep.” No time to change. I took the stairs barefoot and followed my sister into a wide hallway. The light in the media room was on, casting a warm electric glow and illuminating the way just enough to see.
The hallway led to a door on the left where a small section of the warehouse was designated as the Baylor Agency’s office. The entire family congregated in front of the door, all except Mom.
Grandma Frida, thin, tan, with a halo of platinum curls, looked worried. Bern, my oldest cousin, resembled a bear awakened halfway through his hibernation—big, muscular, his dark blond hair disheveled, holding a tablet that looked too small for his hands. Next to him, Leon, his younger half brother, and complete opposite leaned on the wall, totally awake. Lean and dark-haired, Leon was a ball of wiry energy. And he still wore the jeans and T-shirt I had seen him in last night. Either he fell asleep in his clothes, or he felt the need to be fully dressed at two o’clock in the morning for some nefarious reason. Leon didn’t have any other kind of reasons.
Ahead of me, Arabella darted up the stairs and into her bedroom and emerged with a huge Texas A&M sweatshirt. She threw it at me. “Boobs.”
Bern woke up enough to roll his eyes.
“Thanks.” I pulled the sweatshirt on, hiding the fact that I wasn’t wearing a bra. “How did Augustine get here?”
At night, access to the warehouse was blocked by concrete barriers. Only one road remained open, guarded by a checkpoint staffed with our security people, who were supposed to prevent exactly this sort of thing from happening. Augustine was ruthless. He could have killed us all in our sleep.
“Did our guards let him in? Did anyone call and say he was coming?”
“Funny thing,” Leon said. “We have this lovely footage.”
Bern turned the tablet toward me. A view from the surveillance camera inside the security booth showed two guards, a Hispanic female in her forties and a white man in his mid-twenties with dark hair. Lopez and Walton. A silver Bentley Bentayga pulled up to the booth. The passenger window of the car rolled down, revealing me.
“Hello, Ms. Baylor,” Walton said.
The fake Catalina nodded.
“Check the log, check the log . . .” Leon sang out.
The log of arrivals and departures lay right there, on the counter. It would show that I was already home.
The guard reached over, his hand passed above the log to the switch attached to the barrier mechanism.
“Epic fail!” Leon announced.
Walton flipped the switch and a heavy metal clang announced the spiked barrier retracting. The window rolled back up and the armored vehicle slid forward and out of view.
I couldn’t even. My ability to even was severely compromised.
Lopez frowned. “When did they get a Bentley?”
The male guard shrugged. “Who knows? Maybe it was a birthday present.”
“Dumbass,” Arabella said.
Augustine Montgomery was an illusion Prime. He could look like anyone, he could sound like anyone, and he could pass both fingerprint and retinal scanners. And he just breezed past our security like it was nothing.
“We’re in trouble,” I said.
“No shit,” Leon said.
“Catalina,” Grandma Frida said, “your mother is in the conference room with that ass and a Desert Eagle. Get in there before she puts a .50 round between his eyes.”
I opened the door, walked into the office hallway, and shut the door behind me. This part of the warehouse with its high-traffic beige carpet, a drop ceiling, and glass walls looked just like any regular workspace. The three offices on my right and the break room with a kitchenette on my left lay shrouded in gloom. Only the conference room, just past the break room, was brightly lit, and the electric light shone through the glass into the hallway.
I took a step and stopped. As of three days ago, when I officially turned twenty-one, I also became the Head of House Baylor. We were a brand-new House, formed only three years ago. Our grace period, a reprieve which shielded us from attacks by other Houses, was about to expire. I had dealt with magical heavy hitters before in the course of our business, but this would be my first interaction with another Prime as the Head of a House. And Augustine was a shark in a four-thousand-dollar suit, a sleek, deadly great white with razor-sharp teeth.
I had to do this right. I couldn’t just barge in there. Emergency or not, I had to act the part.
My stomach fluttered.
Think Prime, Head of the House, Victoria Tremaine’s granddaughter, confident, dangerous, not afraid, woken up in the middle of the night . . . annoyed. Definitely annoyed.
I walked into the conference room with a slightly irritated expression.
Augustine pivoted toward me in his chair. Louis Auchincloss, who wrote novels about polite society and old money, once famously said, “Perfection irritates as well as it attracts, in fiction as in life.” Augustine was deeply irritating.
Being an illusion Prime, Augustine crafted his appearance the way one would paint a masterpiece. His face was beautifully sculpted with defined cheekbones, a square jaw that communicated masculinity without implying brutishness, a straight nose, and a broad forehead. His cheeks were slightly concave, just enough to communicate maturity. A virtuoso barber had turned his blond, nearly platinum hair into a masterpiece. A thin pair of glasses was the only imperfection Augustine allowed himself and it wasn’t enough. There was something ageless and cold about him. He was about as alive as a marble statue.
At the other end of the table, my mother sat watching him like a coiled cobra. Her right hand stayed under the table, most likely touching the Desert Eagle .50, the largest legal caliber for a handgun in the US. It was the closest thing to handheld artillery Mom could conceal under the table. It could send a round through a full refrigerator and kill a person on the other side.
My mother spent almost ten years as a sniper and her magic guaranteed that she didn’t miss. If she killed Augustine, Montgomery International Investigations, the firm Augustine owed, would crush us. If he miraculously survived, he would kill her. As happened often in life, there were no good options. I had to get him out of here.
I made my tone cold and annoyed. “Mr. Montgomery, while you’re always welcome in our home, it’s the middle of the night.”
“I apologize,” he said. “It’s an emergency.” He reached into his pocket, pulled out a phone, and showed it to me.
On the screen, an adolescent boy smiled into the camera. Bright red hair cut short, grey eyes, pale skin, and the smug grin of a teenage boy who has just gotten away with mischief. He looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember where I saw him before.
“This is Ragnar,” Augustine said. “He’s fifteen. He has a dog named Tank. He likes detective books and the Sherlock Holmes show. He plays a Ranger in Hero Tournament. Two days ago, his mother and sister died in a fire.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Right now he’s standing on the roof of Memorial Hermann Hospital. He’s thinking of jumping and he’s a Prime, so nobody can get to him. If we don’t hurry, his broken body will be the leading story on the morning news.”
Alarm rolled through me in an electric rush.
“Augustine, you know that’s not what I do. I’ve never pulled someone off a roof before. If I fail, I’ll be responsible for his death . . .”
“But you can do it. It’s within your power.” He looked straight at me. “Your sister asked me for a favor once. I’m now asking you for assistance, one Head of House to another. He has one sister left. Right now, she’s at the hospital praying he doesn’t fall to his death.”
And if I tried and failed, there would be a grief-stricken Prime who could turn all of her agony and rage onto me. This was beyond reckless.
“I don’t know if I can help you. I may make this worse.”
Augustine’s composure cracked, and a human being looked back at me through his eyes. “He’s just a child, Catalina. He already lost so much. He’s in the worst pain of his short life and he has no idea how to contain it. He just wants to stop hurting. Please try.”
I opened my mouth to tell him no and thought of a boy standing on a ledge, all alone in the dark. So desperate and hurt that he was willing to end it in the most painful way possible.
My father had stood on a ledge like that, except his ledge was cancer. We had tried so hard to pull him from it. We fought for every minute. We sold the house and moved here, into the warehouse, to pay for his medical bills. Then we mortgaged our business to Augustine to pay for experimental treatments. My dad had built Baylor Investigative Agency from the ground up. He viewed it as his legacy, a business that would feed and clothe us, and we had used it as collateral to borrow money. It felt like a betrayal, and we hid it from my father, because it would have killed him faster than any cancer. In the end, we only delayed the inevitable by a few months, but it was worth it. I would give anything for one more day with my dad. Anything.
Ragnar was only fifteen years old.
“Yes. I’ll try.”
“Are you sure?” my mother asked.
“Take Leon with you,” she said.
“No.” If this situation turned ugly, I didn’t want him getting hurt.
“I’ll bring her back safe and sound,” Augustine promised.
My mother gave him her sniper stare. “You do that.”
Augustine’s silver Bentley sped south on Gessner Road. It was after 2:00 a.m. and even the Houston roads lay empty. The chauffer squeezed every drop of speed out of the heavy armored car. Normally, the trip to Memorial Hermann would’ve taken at least fifteen minutes. We would make it in less than half of that.
Augustine rode in the front passenger seat, presenting me with a view of his blond head. I really wanted to reach over and smack it. If someone told me this morning that I would end up in the backseat of Augustine’s car in the middle of the night wearing a sweatshirt over my sleep T-shirt and a pair of sneakers without socks, I would’ve asked them what they were smoking and told them to seek professional help.
I missed my weapons. It made me feel naked.
Augustine was right though. Nevada did owe him a favor.
My father was born into House Tremaine, a small House consisting only of him and my grandmother Victoria. A truthseeker like Nevada, Victoria could wrench information from a person’s mind against their will. My father had no magic and Victoria was a terrible mother, so when he turned eighteen, he had escaped and started a new life under an assumed name. In her search for him, my grandmother had rampaged through the Houses all across the continent. Just mentioning her name made powerful Primes back off.
Three years ago, before we became a House, Victoria came looking for us. Augustine knew Nevada’s identity. He could’ve shared it with my grandmother and benefited from it, but instead, he had allowed Nevada to mess with his mind, so Victoria left empty-handed. I hated debts of any kind. It would be good to get this one over with.
It didn’t change the fact that I had no idea what I was doing.
“How do you know the family?” I asked.
“Ragnar’s sister contacted MII in regard to her mother’s and sister’s deaths. She doesn’t think the fire was an accident.”
“I’m not at liberty to discuss the details.”
Right. “Did you take the case?”
“She knows our rates.”
“You turned her down. Augustine! She came to you and you turned her down, and now her brother is going to kill himself.”
He looked in the rearview mirror, his expression iced over. “If I’m going to put my people in danger, I have to properly compensate them. I’m not running a charity, Catalina. You of all people should know how much can be at stake when one looks into a Prime’s death.”
Oh, I knew. When a team of hired killers stormed your home, sending tornados of fire and summoning monsters into the slaughter, it tended to leave a lasting impression.
I glanced out the windshield and saw the futuristic crown on top of the Memorial Hermann Tower, outlined with glowing red, white, and blue triangles shining against the ink-black sky from the height of thirty-three floors. Almost there.
“Did you at least tell his sister what to expect if I have to use my magic?”
“I told her the boy would have to be sedated.”
The car pulled into the parking lot. A Hispanic man, his face frantic, ran to the car and swung my door open. A blast of January air hit me. Winter in Houston tended to be mild, but a cold front had come through and the temperature had dropped to below thirty. My bare knees shook.
“Did he jump?” Augustine barked.
“Come on.” Augustine jumped out of the car.
I scrambled out of the vehicle. Wind tore at me with icy teeth.
Augustine and I hurried at a near run to the doorway. The glass doors slid open, letting us pass, and the warm air of the hallway bathed me. A group of people waited by the bank of elevators, some in scrubs, others in professional clothes, and all wearing the same panicked expression. They saw us and scurried out of the way, leaving behind a young woman with red hair. She turned. Recognition punched me.
“Runa? Runa Etterson?”
Her tear-stained eyes widened in recognition. “Catalina?”
Three years ago, at Nevada’s wedding, an enemy of House Rogan poisoned the wedding cake. The only reason any of us were alive now, Augustine included, was because Runa purged the toxins before the cake was served. She was a Prime Venenata, a poison mage. She could kill everyone in this room in seconds. And the boy on the roof was her brother. Oh my God.
Augustine strode past me into the open elevator. “Catalina, there is no time.”
I had come this far. Poison mage or no, Ragnar was still a fifteen-year-old boy on the edge of a skyscraper’s roof. If I didn’t try to save him, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.
I hurried into the elevator. The doors slid shut. The last thing I saw was Runa looking at me like I was the answer to all her problems.
The elevator hummed, carrying us upward, brightly lit and perfectly normal. I caught my reflection in the mirrored wall. I looked like I had just rolled out of bed. There was a touch of surreal in it all: me in my sweatshirt, standing next to impossibly perfect Augustine in an elevator of mirrors and electric lights and soft music. Maybe I was dreaming.
Runa’s mother and sister were dead. And Augustine must have quoted her an impossible price. I had planned to simply walk away if I managed to get the boy to safety, but this changed everything.
“You didn’t tell me he was Prime Venenata.”
“I told you he wouldn’t let anybody on the roof.”
Dread washed over me. “Did he kill anyone?”
Augustine sighed. “He’s a gentle child. He made them sick enough to turn back, but he didn’t inflict permanent damage.”
“What did he do?”
“Don’t worry. You’ll smell it.”
The numbers in the elevator’s digital display crawled up.
“When the doors open, turn left,” Augustine said. “Go to the door marked exit, and up one flight of stairs. There will be a metal door that will give you access to the roof.”
“That’s a terrible plan,” I told him.
“Ragnar will hesitate to hurt you. If he does, I’ll be there, and I’ll help.”
“If he sees you . . .”
“He won’t see me.”
The elevator doors swung open with a soft chime. I made a left and followed the hallway to the exit door and up the stairs. My hands shook.
The air stank like acid and vomit. A trail of chunky stains marked the steps. I didn’t want to look too closely at it.
The ice-cold metal door handle burned my fingertips. I pushed it and stepped onto the roof. The dark sky unfolded above me, impossibly huge and black, with the crown glowing against it. The frigid wind pierced my body, going straight through me all the way to the bone.
Ragnar stood on the very edge of the roof, a thin figure in faded jeans and a hoodie, balancing on a concrete ledge. He seemed so very small against the night, like an ant on a skyscraper.
He turned and looked at me, his face lit by the neon glow of the crown. I saw certainty and relief in his eyes. He wasn’t relieved to see me. He was relieved because he’d made up his mind and decided to jump. I had no time.
“Tell Runa I’m sorry—”
I hit him with everything I had.
When the Keeper of Records named my magic, he called me siren, which fit me well, because like the sirens of legend, I called people to me and they couldn’t resist. And like ancient sirens, I had wings, beautiful magic wings nobody could see unless I let them. They snapped open behind my back now, as the focused torrent of magic-drenched Ragnar.
He froze. His heels protruded an inch over the ledge. One slip and he would die.
“Ragnar,” I called him, turning his name into a singsong lure.
He licked his lips nervously. “Hi.”
“Hello. I’m Catalina.” Magic stretched from me to him and I wove more and more of it around him with every syllable.
“You’re so pretty,” he said.
“Thank you. It’s cold and dark. Do you think we could go inside?”
He nodded, fascinated.
I held out my hand. “It’s scary up here. Will you hold my hand?”
He moved, stumbled, teetering on the edge, his arms waving . . . My heart jerked, trying to leap out of my chest.
Augustine materialized out of thin air next to Ragnar, grabbed a handful of his hoodie, and yanked him back. Runa’s brother landed on the concrete roof.
Holy crap. My knees almost gave out.
Ragnar righted himself, walked over, took my hand, and offered me a shy smile.
I smiled back. “Let’s go inside.”
We went through the door and down the stairs with Augustine bringing up the rear. I scanned him. Clean. None of my magic had hit him. I had focused all of it in a laser-tight beam on Ragnar. Augustine could turn himself invisible. Nevada would lose her mind when I told her.
We boarded the elevator. Sweat glistened on Augustine’s flawless forehead. He was breathing like he’d run up all thirty-three floors to the roof. Ragnar held my hand very gently as if my fingers were made of glass. It wouldn’t last.
Most magic users had to put some effort into doing magic. I was the opposite. I had to hold mine in. When I was born, a nurse tried to kidnap me. She paid for it with her career. In the years that followed, before I learned to control my power, perfectly normal people did insane things to hold on to me. My elementary teacher attempted to smuggle me out of her classroom and into her car. My classmates tore out chunks of my hair so they could keep a piece of me.
Other kids were encouraged to be cute, to perform for adults. If I smiled, the adults became mesmerized, and if I wanted them to like me, they would love me with obsessive intensity. Their children would cry hysterically when I left the playground.
Right now, Ragnar loved me, madly, beyond all reason. Soon touching me wouldn’t be enough. He would want to hold me, crush me to him, rip out a lock of my hair to smell and taste. He’d want a piece of me to stroke and to bite.
The Keeper might as well have called me Orpheus. Sooner or later those who tasted my magic would want to tear me apart and they would love and worship every precious drop of my blood and shred of my flesh as they killed me. Only my doctor was immune; we didn’t know why. And my family. I didn’t need to magic them. They already loved me.
The elevator stopped. The doors swung open and Runa lunged to hug her brother. Her arms closed around him, breaking Ragnar’s hold on me.
Ragnar screamed as if cut. It was a raw animal sound. His sister let go, stunned, and he dived at me and clamped my hand in his.
A man shouldered his way through the crowd, carrying a small medical case.
“Ragnar,” I called.
He gazed at me with adoration in his eyes. I knew it was temporary, but even so, it made me cringe.
“That gentleman is going to give you a shot. I’m scared of shots. Are you?”
“No.” He shook his head. “No, I’m brave.”
“Will you show me how to be brave, Ragnar?”
He held his arm out, his gaze fixed on me. Runa hugged him. I watched the needle go in. “You’ll feel a little sleepy in a minute. It’s okay to fall asleep.”
“I won’t leave,” I promised. “I’ll stay here and hold your hand.”
Ragnar’s hold on my hand slipped. He sighed happily, closed his eyes, and sagged in his sister’s arms.
I turned to Augustine. “I need you to transport him back to the warehouse.”
“He needs to be under observation,” Augustine said.
“No, he needs to be back at the warehouse, so I can purge my magic from him. If he wakes up and I’m not here, he may escape and try to find me. And this time, people will die.”
Augustine turned to Runa. “It’s your call.”
I met her gaze. “You know me. You’ve seen what I can do. Please trust me on this.”
“Let’s go,” she said.
The trip home was taking considerably longer. The chauffeur seemed in no hurry, and the Bentley all but crawled up the dark street. Runa’s rented Nissan Rogue had no trouble keeping up. She had insisted on following us with Ragnar in her car.
I sat on the backseat next to Augustine. The adrenaline had worn off, leaving behind a soft fatigue. If I wasn’t in the vehicle of a dangerous Prime, I would have closed my eyes and gone to sleep.
“Well done,” Augustine said.
I didn’t need his approval. “Nevada’s debt to you is paid in full. We’re even.”
“Agreed. Although technically it was a favor to House Etterson.”
“Your dealings with House Etterson are between you and Runa. I’m surprised you cared enough to get involved tonight.”
“I know what it’s like to be responsible for a younger brother.”
Oh. Humanity from Augustine. Unexpected.
Augustine tilted his head. “House Etterson may prove a valuable ally for you, if they survive. They now owe you a favor they can’t refuse. You need allies, Catalina. The reprieve granted to your House is about to expire. People will be coming for you and yours. You’re powerful but inexperienced, and because of your sealed records, you are an unknown. Unfortunately, being an unknown isn’t enough of a deterrent.”
“What are the terms?” I asked.
Augustine raised his eyebrows.
I counted off on my fingers. “You separated me from my family. You’re aware that my older sister and my brother-in-law are out of the country and are unable to advise me at the moment. It’s the middle of the night and I’m tired from expending magic. You’ve complimented me, you’ve mentioned the danger facing my House, and we are driving at barely fifty miles per hour. You have an offer for me. Let’s hear it.”
Augustine cleared his throat. “Good. Skipping extended explanations and hand-holding makes things easier.”
“I offer a strategic alliance between House Montgomery and House Baylor. Occasionally, cases which are uniquely suited to the talents of your family cross my desk. I’d like you to handle them. In return, I offer generous financial compensation, access to MII’s resources within the scope of those particular investigations, and the benefits of an association with my House.”
He was offering protection and guaranteed income. More, he offered contacts and data. The MII maintained an extensive network of informants and observers. Very little took place in Houston without Augustine knowing about it. He hoarded sensitive information, holding on to it until someone paid or threatened him. Access to that database was truly priceless.
Augustine was also a master at determining precisely what people needed most. It didn’t take a genius to recognize that our most urgent need was security.
I had to make a decision.
“House Baylor is flattered by your generosity. However, at this time, we must regretfully decline.”
Augustine chewed on it for half a minute.
“You have made a similar offer to Nevada three times. I’m aware that she declined, and I share her reasons for it.”
“Indulge me,” Augustine said.
“Very well. The real value of this partnership for us wouldn’t be in money.” Although we could certainly use it. “It would be in the connections and the elevated profile that comes from working with a Prime clientele. A way for us to enter Prime society and forge relationships and alliances that would anchor our House.”
And of course, the database and access to the MII surveillance agents, who were legendary. We both understood that, so there was no need to mention it.
I kept going. “I want to underscore that I fully understand the value of your offer. However, currently, there is a massive power imbalance between House Montgomery and House Baylor. I have seen how MII operates. If we agree to your proposal, you’ll expect us to abide by your contract, which may require us to compromise our ethics. We’re a family business. All we have is our name and our reputation. We follow only three rules. First, we try not to do anything illegal. Second, once bought, we stay loyal to the client. And third, at the end of the day, we have to be able to look our reflection in the eye. Those are the principles my father laid out for us, they are the rules my older sister followed, and I will follow them as well. If we have an alliance with House Montgomery, we’ll enter this alliance as equals, not as vassals or subcontractors, and we will adhere to our own norms of behavior.”
The silence stretched out between us.
Augustine opened his mouth. “We’re not equals.”
“Exactly. House Montgomery is a behemoth and we’re small and new. As you have said, we may or may not survive. But we must stand on our own. We worked very hard to move out of House Rogan’s shadow and I won’t trade that independence for an easy paycheck.”
Augustine’s face was impassive. “Thank you for your honesty.”
“There may be a time I’ll come to ask for your help,” I told him. “If I do that, I’ll be sure to bring information of equal or greater value.”
The Bentley turned onto our street.
“Then I’ll leave you with this piece of advice,” Augustine said. “It’s free. Do not become involved in the Etterson case. I know exactly what you’re up against, and the price I quoted her was a gift. Sometimes when you search the night, you’ll find monsters in the dark. You’re not ready.”
“I’ll keep it in mind,” I told him.