Kate has come a long way from her origins as a loner taking care of paranormal problems in post-Shift Atlanta. She’s made friends and enemies. She’s found love and started a family with Curran Lennart, the former Beast Lord. But her magic is too strong for the power players of the world to let her be.
Kate and her father, Roland, currently have an uneasy truce, but when he starts testing her defenses again, she knows that sooner or later, a confrontation is inevitable. The Witch Oracle has begun seeing visions of blood, fire, and human bones. And when a mysterious box is delivered to Kate’s doorstep, a threat of war from the ancient enemy who nearly destroyed her family, she knows their time is up.
Kate Daniels sees no other choice but to combine forces with the unlikeliest of allies. She knows betrayal is inevitable. She knows she may not survive the coming battle. But she has to try.
For her child.
For the world.
My son shrugged the shreds of his clothes off himself and showed Robert his fangs. “Rawrrawrrr!”
“Is he challenging me?” Robert eyes sparkled.
I put my hand over my face.
“That’s the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen.”
“Conlan,” Curran said, putting some growl into his voice. “Come here.”
Curran got up and strode toward Conlan. My kid lunged sideways, but Curran was too fast. His hand snapped out, and he lifted Conlan by the scruff of his neck. “No.”
Conlan settled into his father’s arms, eyeing Robert like he was a cobra. If we survived my father and I got to raise him, I was in for a hell of a time.
“I want one,” Robert declared.
She thought about it. “Who’s going to be watching him?”
Dali wrinkled her nose. “Is she capable of watching him? You know how she is. What if she sees a butterfly?”
Being former sahanu had severely limited Adora’s exposure to the outside world. Simple things fascinated her. She once disappeared for twenty-four hours on her own birthday, because she saw some river otter babies in the creek and followed them through the woods to watch them frolic. We’d frantically combed the city for the entire night only to have her show up in the morning covered in mud and deliriously happy. My father’s assassins didn’t get out much.
“I will pay her.”
A few months ago Adora figured out that when she did a job for the Guild, she earned money, which she could then spend however she pleased. After she’d repeatedly shown the money to me, and I confirmed several times that it was, indeed, her own money, she went out shopping for the first time and we got to find out what $1,200 of candy looked like. She ate candy for three days straight, then spent the reminder of the week on our couch with a stomachache. Now she worked as a merc, with the highest job completion ratio in the Guild. She took her jobs absurdly seriously. Through rain, shine, sleet, and hail, purple corrosive slime bubbling up from the sewers, or mysterious black snow that sparked when it hit metal, Adora would get it done. Dali knew that.
“Okay,” Dali said. Her tone told me she didn’t like it.
That was okay. I didn’t like great many things, but universe didn’t give a crap, so I didn’t see why she should bend on Dali’s account.
“You will take the best care of him, right?”
“No, I will drop him into the nearest sewer and throw dirt on his head.”
Luther sighed and picked up the ledger. “Item number 43. Logged by Joyce Cunningham. Description: squished-looking doohickey. Observed magical effect: Turns stabby.”
I walked into the circle, removed the lid from the plastic bin, and peered at the contents. A dented sphere about the size of a basketball and made of twisted metal strips lay inside. They didn’t even bother packing it in the dust. I thought the plastic bin felt kind of light.
I turned the bin on its side, giving it a little nudge, and the sphere rolled onto the floor. It didn’t look like anything special.
“Where was this found?”
Luther checked the ledge. “Unicorn Lane.”
Oh boy. Long and narrow, Unicorn Lane retained power even during tech waves, as if someone drove a colossal dagger through the heart of Atlanta’s former downtown and the wound kept bleeding wild magic. Anything coming out of there had to be bad.
The sphere lay there, perfectly innocent.
“Right then. Deploy the diagnostic rod,” Luther said.
I retreated to the far edge of the circle, picked up the seven-foot-long metal stick that used to be a pool brush handle, and poked the sphere with it.
The sphere’s metal strips unrolled, sprouting metallic thorns that looked like fangs, and lunged at the stick, wrapping around it. Metal screeched as the thorn-fangs ground at it. Sparks flew.
Luther jumped off his chair, grabbed the nearest emergency crate half-filled with magic dust, and dropped it just outside the circle line. I swung the stick with the screeching metal thing at the top and forced it into the magic dust. Luther yanked the other crate and dumped the dust from it onto the metal sphere, burying it. I turned the stick, shaking it back and forth.
“Let go. Let go, you damn thing.”
Suddenly it came free. I pulled the stick out, and Luther slammed the plastic lid onto the crate and locked it in place.
Luther squinted at the crate. “Twenty bucks.”
“I can sell it for a hundred at least.”
“What possible use could it have?”
Luther glared at me. “You’re going to let this thing out there with the general public?”
“Hey, I’m a merc, remember? Of the two of us you’re the one with the duty to safeguard said public. I’m just after the money. Make me an offer.”
Luther opened his mouth and sneezed.
I froze. An odd green dust was drifting through the room.
“Luther, are you seeing this?”
He didn’t answer.
He straightened, his eyes blank behind his glasses.
The curtain of dust floated around him, licked the salt boundary of the circle, and stayed on the other side of it. I’d put a fair amount of power into that ward. Luther could probably break it, but he would have to pour a lot of magic into it. He could also simply walk into it, since I made it open to humans, but the dust didn’t like it.
Sarrat rested just under the table, out of my reach. Getting to my sword meant walking through the dust, which wasn’t a good idea considering Luther’s glassy stare. Running to the door was out of the question. I couldn’t let it contaminate the rest of the Guild.
Luther didn’t move. The green dust grew thicker. I could barely see the walls now. It shrouded the entire room in a soft diaphanous veil. The circle remained clear.
Luther opened his mouth. A puff of dust broke free from his lips.
“Traitor,” he said, his voice sibilant.
Outside the car, Atlanta crawled by. Magic drenched the city. Ever since I claimed it, the invisible currents gained definition. If I concentrated, I could sense them ebbing and flowing, like the waters of a sea.
Curran took his gaze off the road to glance in the rearview mirror for a second. “You okay there, buddy?”
“He just likes the sound of the new word,” I told him.
“He needs a venison leg bone to gnaw on,” Curran said. “They were my favorite.”
Kill me somebody. “Can it be a cooked leg bone?”
“He is a shapeshifter,” Curran said. “We don’t have to worry about bacteria and diseases.”
“I would feel better if it was cooked.”
Curran studied me for a moment, reached over, and squeezed my hand. “What’s bothering you about this? Did you want him to stay human?”
“No. I love him whoever he is. I spent thirteen months worrying that he will stop breathing at night, or get sick, or hurt himself somehow, and raw deer femurs don’t go along with that.”
“Cooked bones splinter. He will hurt himself.”
“Then maybe we can skip the bones altogether.”
Curran turned onto Jeremiah Street. “I let him eat a mouse in the forest yesterday.”
“He caught it himself. I’m not going to take his kill away from him.”
Curran leaned forward. “Is that who I think it is?”
I peered through the windshield. A tall broad-shouldered man sat on the steps in front of our office. He wore a white T-shirt, faded blue jeans, and heavy work boots. A worn Atlanta Braves cap sat on his short brown hair.
“It’s just Teddy Jo.”
Curran gave Teddy Jo a dark look. I reached over and squeezed his hand. “What’s bothering you about this? Is it because he’s Thanatos, the angel of death?”
He bared his teeth at me.
I stuck my tongue out.
The cart in front of us stopped, blocking the street.
“It’s because whenever he shows up, he drags you off and then you come back beat up.”
“I always come back beat up. I don’t see what Teddy Jo has to do with it.”
“He just fell from those clouds. How is he still alive?”
“He is a Suanni.”
I blinked. According to Chinese myths, the dragon had nine sons, each with a different creature. Suanni was the hybrid of a lion and the dragon, a being of fire and the closest thing to a dragon we had.
“Julie. He’s been to the house. Why didn’t you tell me?”
She waved her hands. “It didn’t come up.”
“What do you mean, it didn’t come up? The next time you bring a half-dragon to the house, I want to know about it. That’s the kind of essential information I should have.”
“He’s just a guy I go to school with. We don’t make a big deal about it.”
“He’s landing,” Derek announced.
Ahead Teddy Jo swooped down. For a moment he hung silhouetted against the bright sky, his black wings open wide, his feet only a few yards above the road, a dark angel born in a time when people left blood as an offering to buy their dearly departed safe passage to the afterlife.
“Show off,” Derek murmured.
“Green doesn’t look good on you.”
Teddy Jo lowered himself on the road. His wings folded and vanished into a puff of black smoke.
“Do you know what he is when he’s flying?” Derek asked.
“No, enlighten me.”
Derek smiled. It was a very small smile, baring only an edge of a fang. “He’s a nice big target. You can shoot him right out of the sky. Where is he going to hide? He’s six feet tall and has a wingspan the size of a small airplane.” Derek chuckled quietly.
You could take the wolf out of the woods, but he would always be a wolf.