“But where is here?”

“The place where all magic-wielders must come if they want to become powerful.” The voice changes into Leander’s. “And you, little one, could be the most powerful of all.”

“I’m just a human. No magic. No—”

“Wrong.” It tsks.

“No, it’s true. I can’t do any magic. I’m a college student. I—”

“Lies don’t become you.” The creature morphs again, this time into my mother. “Stop fibbing about Steve, Taylor. He’s a good man. He’d never hit you. And I don’t see a mark on you. Go to your room!”

“Stop.” I shrink back, my skin going cold and clammy. I’m not supposed to be here. Where’s Leander?

It swirls again and takes on Beth’s shape. “Don’t worry. Just take my hand. I’ll show you all you need to know.”

“You’ve got the wrong person.”

It sighs hard and long, then changes into a tall fae with a stern brow, one I recognize.

“Remember me? From the stables?” It pulls down the top of its tunic and shows me black streaks spreading from where I struck the stable fae with my blade.

“I don’t—”

“Magic.” It snaps its fingers. “This is magic. The darkest kind of all.”

“It came from the knife! It was Leander’s. He gave it to me. There must have been some sort of poison on the blade. I don’t know.” I wrap my arms around my knees.

“No simple poison can inflict instant death.” The black spreads farther, dark lightning streaking along its chin and into its cheeks. “But you can.”

“No.” I scurry back across the grass, but the blue smoke keeps up with me, hovering along, its hand out yet again. “Come with me. We shall dance with the darkest denizens of night. I am not afraid of you. Not like the rest of them will be.”

“Afraid of me?”

“Yes.” It oozes closer. “When they find out what you are.”

“Wh-what am I?”

“I will tell you all, show you all, give you all. Just take my—”

Someone calls my name, the sound growing louder until I see an orb of bright white light. “Taylor, come now before the magic drags you down.” It’s Delantis’s voice. But can I trust it?

“Stay here, little one.” The blue is Leander again. “I can protect you.”

“Don’t listen to it! Come, girl. Run!”

I jump to my feet and, with one more look at the blue smoke, I dash toward the white orb. When I hit it, my body goes numb and my mind silent, but I can hear the shriek of the blue smoke, its anger vibrating in notes of frustration.

I wake encased in granite. No, not granite. Leander’s arms. He rocks me slowly, a song lilting off his tongue. The words must be in old fae, because I don’t understand them. His voice is deep, the low notes soothing. I hold my breath, not wanting him to stop.

But he does, the sound fading away. “You’re awake.”

“Hi.” I look up at him.

“Thanks to the Ancestors.” He crushes me to his chest.

“Can’t breathe,” I grit out.

He pulls me away and peers at me. “Are you hurt?”

“I’m fine.” My ears aren’t bothering me anymore, and my back isn’t itchy. Winning on all fronts, really. “What happened?”

“Your stone.” He looks at it.

“You can see it now?”

“Delantis broke the visual enchantment, but we still can’t remove it.” He reaches for it but can’t touch it. It repels him the same way it repelled the obsidian witch.

“Hey, that reminds me. Selene could see the necklace, but she couldn’t touch it.”

He frowns. “She is a powerful creature of the dark. I have no doubt her powers could overcome most enchantments. But if even she couldn’t lay a finger on it.” He shakes his head and presses his palm to my cheek. “Do you have any idea how worried I was when the magic took you?”

“Magic took me?”

“To the otherworld. Delantis didn’t realize undoing the stone’s spell would create a magical connection straight to the otherworld.”

I press my palm to my forehead, my memory surfacing like a sea monster. “I remember. There was this blue smoke creature that could become anyone, and it wanted me to go with it.”

“Never follow the magic,” he says starkly. “Never. If the magic seduces you, you could become lost in the otherworld forever.”

“I don’t even know what it is. Or where it was. Or what I was doing there.” My heart races as I remember it changing from one person to the next, always with its hand out to me. “Why do I have this stone?”

“Delantis doesn’t know. Or, at least she’s not telling. Removing the enchantment drained her, and she had to be carried out of our rooms.”

Jeez, I almost broke the oldest fae ever made. “I hope she’s all right.”

“She should have known better.” His voice is rough, fatigue written on his face. “She put you in danger.”

I glance around, but it’s impossible to tell night from day this far below ground. The ceiling glows the same as it did when we first walked in. “How long have I been asleep?”

“All night.”

“What?” I thought he’d say fifteen minutes. “All night?” I brush his dark hair off his forehead. “Were you awake the whole time?”

“I couldn’t sleep. Not when you were …” He shakes his head, as if tossing away whatever he was going to say.

He held me all night. I stroke his cheek and lean up, placing a soft kiss on his lips. “You are too much.”

“Is that a bad thing?” A cocky smirk turns the corner of his lips before he returns my kiss, not softly. Not gentle or tentative. He takes me.

I wrap my arms around him as he grips the back of my neck, holding me just how he wants as he lays me on the bed, his hard body pressing against mine.

He nips at my bottom lip. “I would’ve followed you to the otherworld. I will always come for you, no matter what happens.”

“I know.” And I really do. Leander has proven again and again that he will never give me up. A fissure opens in my heart when I think about returning home.

“What is it?” He kisses down my jaw line. “I can read you, mate. And soon, you will find you can read me like one of your alchemy textbooks you were telling me about.”

“It’s just that I have an entire life back on earth.” I try to focus on my words even as his lips trail to my throat.


“And I can’t just—”

“You can.” He sucks on the spot between my neck and shoulder. “You can stay here and be my queen, rule the winter lands and have a strong—” He nips at my flesh as punctuation. “Dedicated—” Another nip. “Loyal fae king at your disposal.”

“I can’t think when you do that.”

“Good. Don’t.” He moves on top of me, one knee between my thighs as he returns to my mouth, his kiss a heady distraction that I’m beginning to crave.

I stumble onward, pulling from memory. “There’s more. The magic said I have death in me. Or something like that? It wasn’t really clear. There was that stable fae who I cut with the knife and there was this black stuff that I thought was poison on the blade and—Oh!” I moan as he pulls my sleep shirt down and licks the top swell of my breast. “And.” My voice is breathy, and I have the distinct need to rock my hips against him. “And the stone. Why couldn’t you see it? Why do I have a fae stone? I shouldn’t have—”

“After what happened with Delantis, I suspect you’re something more than a changeling. The witch said as much in the forest. The stone could be the key to discovering what.”

My mind refuses to believe it. “I have human parents. I’ve lived a normal human life. Only a human. Not magical, not—”

He stops my mouth with his, then says against my lips, “We’ll discover what it all means. Together. In the winter realm surrounded by my Phalanx where you’ll be safe. And I don’t care if you turn out to be a three-headed fire viper from the Burning Woods of Galendoon, I will never stop loving you.”

“Love?” My eyes water instantly. He’s called me his mate, told me I’m meant for him—but he’s never dropped the ‘L’ bomb on me.

“You’re surprised that I love you, Taylor?” He twists a lock of my hair around his finger, his dark eyes devouring me. “I admit that sometimes fated mates aren’t in love at first, but I thought it was clear how I feel about you.” He kisses me again, hard and strong until I’m senseless.

“But you love me?” I struggle to clear the lust haze. I can’t lose the plot. Not now.

“More than my own immortal life.” He smiles, the harsh planes of his face turning almost boyish. “Didn’t you know?”

“I … Well I just sort of thought, you know, that maybe you … I don’t know?” I end weakly.

He laughs and buries his head in the crook of my neck, his fangs brushing my skin. “Will you ever stop being adorable?”

“I certainly hope not.” I run my fingers through his hair, my nails against his scalp.

“Careful, little one.” His voice is low, gravelly. “The feral is already demanding I take you. Any more encouragement, and I’ll have you right here and now.”

Maybe I want to be taken. Maybe it’s time. That nightmare spent in the otherworld reminded me how soon I could be gone. This isn’t my world, and I’m not guaranteed another day, not even another minute. I should live for now. I open my mouth to say as much, but a knock sounds at the door.

“Para is here,” Gareth bites out.

Leander sighs. “What does she want?”