“You don’t know that for sure, not when—”

A short knock at the door has both of us on our feet, hands on our weapons.

Gareth strides to the faded wood. “Yes?”

“May I come in?” Para’s voice carries.

Gareth opens the door and stands back so she can enter. Her white hair is neatly plaited on top of her head, and she wears a more formal dress, though still in the Vundi crimson.

“I’ve spoken to the elders and the high priestess.”

“And?” I glare down at her, even though she isn’t the true object of my ire. I am. I pushed Taylor too far.

“And the council will meet with you in the morning.”

“Why not now?” I need to get Taylor out of this rock prison and to the safety of winter.

“The council will have to deliberate amongst themselves for a while before hearing from you.”

Gareth blows out a hard sigh. “Fine. We could use some rest.”

“And there’s another item.”

“What’s going on?” Taylor stretches, her white bedclothes loose on her frame. She doesn’t seem angry with me. But that’s fine. I’m angry enough with myself for both of us.

“Para was just leaving.” I stride to Taylor, keeping myself between her and the Vundi.

“The other item?” Gareth broaches.

Para eyes me, as if she’s waiting for me to blow up. Her instincts are dead on.

“The high priestess would like to meet with your changeling—”

“Taylor. Her name is Taylor,” I correct her.

“Again.” Taylor rubs her eyes. “Standing right here.”

“Taylor. Yes. Our high priestess would like to speak with you alone.”

“No.” I’ve had enough of creatures with questionable motives speaking with my mate alone.

“You are under Vundi protection. Nothing will happen to your mate.” Para’s brows draw down, two dusky thunderclouds on her tan face. “Or do you question my oath?”

“We don’t question it.” Gareth is quick to intercede. “But we are, naturally, protective of Taylor, especially given the circumstances.”

“I gave my word—”

“No. The answer is no.” I turn my back on Para.

“In that case, I may as well speak to her in front of you.” A wizened fae appears in the doorway, her silver eyes dimmed with filmy white, and her back bent. I’ve never seen a fae this old, not when peace awaits with the Ancestors. Power seems to emanate from her, her skin covered with a gossamer glow and the tips of her fingers nigh on translucent with light.

“Delantis.” Para bows low.

“Aren’t you an ornery king?” Delantis grins up at me.

“Delantis? You’re the one from the statue.” Taylor steps forward.

“Wasn’t I something?” Delantis takes the nearest cushioned chair and motions Taylor over. “Hips for days and a cushy rear that made many a male beg for my attentions.” The sparkle in her eye verges on lascivious. “And you’re the changeling I’ve heard so much about. The one the king beyond the mountain covets.” She wrinkles her nose as she mentions his name. Good.

I keep to Taylor’s side as she sits across from the ancient fae.

Lifting her gaze to me, she says, “My, my, you’re half feral right now, aren’t you winter king?”

I bare my fangs. “Twice as dangerous to anyone who threatens my mate.”

“Leander.” Taylor shakes her head at me, the scolding in her tone just as adorable as her disapproval. “She’s an elderly woman. Don’t scare her.”

“Don’t be fooled, little one.” I keep my gaze on the white fae. “She’s far more than she seems.”

Delantis laughs. “No threats from me, my lord. Though I must warn you, I’ve followed the magic to the otherworld, learned its secrets and danced to the forbidden music of the moon and its guardians. The son of a rebel noble and a swordsmith does not frighten me, no matter how kingly he might be.”

Despite my misgivings, I rather like this Delantis.

“Now.” She turns back to Taylor. “I’ve come to talk about the stone.”


Delantis waves a hand across her throat and reveals an egg-shaped stone with veins of silver and pearl, a large opal.

“What about your stone?” I peer at it.

“Not mine.” She points at Taylor. “Yours. Where did you get it?”

Taylor’s hand goes to her throat the same way it’s done so many times over the past weeks. Whenever she’s uneasy, she strokes her neck. I’ve assumed it was just a cute tick. Because there’s nothing there. Only her bare throat.

She looks down at her hand as if she’s holding something. “I’ve had this necklace for as long as I can remember.”

“Wait.” I stare at Taylor’s neck, the skin alabaster and bare. “You’ve had what necklace?”

Taylor turns to me. “What do you mean?”

“There’s no necklace.”

“Yes there is. Right here. I’ve had it on this whole time.” She pulls at air between her collarbones.

Gareth’s brow furrows. “Nothing there, my queen.”

As Gareth and I search Taylor’s bare throat, Delantis laughs, her mirth loud and full. “You fools have no clue what’s going on, do you?”

Perhaps I don’t like her so much after all.



“You really can’t see this?” I hold out my pendant, the stone warm in my hand.

Leander kneels down and looks hard—almost comically so—at the stone. “No. I’ve never seen a necklace on you.”

“But you’ve looked at it when I touch it.”

“No, I’ve looked at you touching your throat. I’ve never—”

“What’d I miss?” Beth strolls into the main room, her eyes sleepy.

“Do you see this?” Taylor holds the supposed amulet toward her.

“See what?”

“This necklace.”

“What necklace?” Beth walks over and frowns. “You got jewelry from king feral over here?” She pushes my shoulder. “You are really trying to get that mating on, aren’t you? I respect that.”

“Changeling.” Gareth rubs his temples in frustration.

“What?” Beth sits on the arm of Taylor’s chair.

“What is the gem? Is it dangerous?” Leander eyes my fingers as if they might be holding an adder.

Delantis sits back and runs her finger along the large gem at her own throat. “It’s a shard of soulstone, and it can be dangerous if wielded by the wrong hands.”

“Take it off.” Leander wraps his arm around my shoulders. “Please, Taylor.”

I reach behind my neck to undo the clasp, pressing the mechanism beneath my fingernail, then bring my hands back around to the front.

The necklace is still on.


“I didn’t get it off somehow.” I try it one more time, but once again, come up emptyhanded.

Delantis nods. “You’ve never taken it off.”

“I …” I pin my lips between my teeth and think back, but my memories of the necklace are almost fuzzed over in my mind. “No. I mean, I can’t remember a time when I’ve taken it off, no. It’s weird, I guess, that I never have. But I don’t think about it. It’s sort of out of sight, out of mind.” A creepy crawly sensation skips up my throat, and I try one more time to remove the necklace. It doesn’t come off. “What do I do?” I attempt to push the rising freak-out back down, but it doesn’t stay away. I pull at the stone, trying to break the chain.

“Calm, Taylor.” Delantis reaches out and takes the stone in her hand and closes her eyes. “The one who bestowed it on you had powerful magic, so strong that the stone keeps itself hidden. A disguise within a disguise.” The wrinkled skin on her forehead scrunches up as she seems to concentrate on it, the stone glowing in her palm, light shooting out between her fingers. “But someone else will remove it.” She winces. “Someone from the dark.”

My ears begin to burn, and my back itches, and my lungs feel too small.

“I can’t—” I grip the sides of the chair as the light intensifies. “I can’t breathe.”

Beth gasps and scrambles away from me.

“What’s wrong?” Tears stream down my cheeks, and I can feel everything, the texture of the chair’s fabric, the humidity in the air, the heat of Leander pressing against my side. “Leander.”

“Release her,” he demands.

“Wait.” Delantis, concentrates harder, the glow from the stone spreading through her until her hair verges on neon white.

“Please.” Spots dance in my vision, and my lungs burn. “Lean—” I fall.

And I keep falling. Through stars and oceans and trees and veins and neurons and swirls of ember and night. When I land, it’s on a tuft of the greenest grass beneath a perfect azure sky. I reach for my necklace, but it’s gone.

Sitting up, I feel a cool breeze rushing down my skin and rustling the grass at my toes. My ears hurt, and my back is itching so badly I contemplate lying down in the grass and wriggling.

“Leander?” My voice seems to carry impossibly far and echoes back to me despite the wide open emerald field.

“Here you are.” A wisp of blue shoots up from the grass in front of me and coalesces into a female form.

“Where am I?”

“You know you’re giving off sparks? Dark bursts of starlight.” She leans down. “It’s beautiful, but dangerous.”

“The witch said she dimmed it.”

“Nothing’s dim here.” The blue smoke twirls around and returns, this time taking Leander’s form. “Everything is possible here. Stay.” He offers me his hand, the streaks of blue eddying inside his long fingers.