NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • "Mac is back and badder than ever!" -J. R. Ward
MacKayla Lane and Jericho Barrons return in Burned, the latest novel in the blockbuster Fever series from Karen Marie Moning.
It's easy to walk away from lies. Power is another thing.
MacKayla Lane would do anything to save the home she loves. A gifted sidhe-seer, she's already fought and defeated the deadly Sinsar Dubh-an ancient book of terrible evil-yet its hold on her has never been stronger.
When the wall that protected humans from the seductive, insatiable Fae was destroyed on Halloween, long-imprisoned immortals ravaged the planet. Now Dublin is a war zone with factions battling for control. As the city heats up and the ice left by the Hoar Frost King melts, tempers flare, passions run red-hot, and dangerous lines get crossed. Seelie and Unseelie vie for power against nine ancient immortals who have governed Dublin for millennia; a rival band of sidhe-seers invades the city, determined to claim it for their own; Mac's former protégé and best friend, Dani "Mega" O'Malley, is now her fierce enemy; and even more urgent, Highland druid Christian MacKeltar has been captured by the Crimson Hag and is being driven deeper into Unseelie madness with each passing day. The only one Mac can depend on is the powerful, dangerous immortal Jericho Barrons, but even their fiery bond is tested by betrayal.
It's a world where staying alive is a constant struggle, the line between good and evil is blurred, and every alliance comes at a price. In an epic battle against dark forces, Mac must decide who she can trust, and what her survival is ultimately worth.
Release date: January 20, 2015
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Print pages: 512
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Karen Marie Moning
If this is the first book you’ve picked up in the Fever series, at the end of Burned, I’ve included a guide of People, Places, and Things to illuminate the backstory.
If you’re a seasoned reader of the series, the guide will reacquaint you with notable events and characters, when they were introduced, what they did, if they survived and, if not, how they died.
You can either read the guide first, getting acquainted with the world, or reference it as you go along to refresh your memory. You’ll find a few nuggets not mentioned in the books. The guide features characters by type, followed by places and then things.
To the new reader, welcome to the Fever world.
To the devoted readers who make it possible for me to do what I love every day, welcome back.
Eleven months ago, the Clarin House Hotel
August 6, BWC
“Who is it?”
Two a.m. Humans sleep. Her voice through the door is drowsy, sweet, southern, and young. So fucking young. Innocent. In my zoo, MacKayla Lane is an exotic.
“What do you want?” All trace of slumber is gone from her voice. She couldn’t sound more awake if she’d rolled over on a rattlesnake in her bed.
I laugh silently, mirthlessly. More than she can handle. “We have information to exchange. You want to know what it is. I want to know what you know about it.”
“Bright guy, aren’t you? I figured that out back at the store. What took you so long?”
Sarcasm fails to mask the fear in her voice. I choose my next words carefully. I want her to open the door of her own accord, invite me in. It means something, that courtesy. “I am unaccustomed to asking for what I want. Nor am I accustomed to bartering with a woman.”
She is silent a moment, liking my reply, that I placed her in a class of women with whom I am willing to barter. It makes her feel she has a modicum of control over the situation—-as if I am a “situation.” What stands on her doorstep is a fucking cataclysm. Words. Why do they always ask for words? Why do they ever believe them?
“Well, get used to it with me, bud, because I don’t take orders from anyone. And I don’t give up anything for free.”
She called me “bud.”
I might kill her for that alone before I’m done questioning her.
“Do you intend to open this door, Ms. Lane, or shall we converse where anyone might attend our business?” Formality makes her perceive me as older than I am, less dangerous. I will wear any skin to get in.
“Do you really intend to exchange information?”
“And you’ll go first?”
“I will.” So fucking gullible.
“We can trade through the door.”
In her dreams. My dick isn’t that long. I came here for two things. I’m not leaving without them. “No.”
“I am a private person, Ms. Lane. This is not negotiable.”
“How did you find me?”
Bedsprings squeak. The sound of jeans being pulled on.
“You procured a hired conveyance at my establishment.”
“We call them taxis where I come from. And bookstores.”
Is that a little spine? Does she have a backbone under all that fluff? “We call them manners where I come from, Ms. Lane.”
“You should talk,” she grumbles. “It’s not my fault. Being threatened brings out the worst in me.”
She opens the door. Peers out. Puny--ass chain across it. I could break it with a blink.
Fuck, I think. Just that. A multitude of various fucks all in one great big clusterfuck. As in: I am fucked if I want this . . . this . . . newborn imbecile. And she is so fucked if I take her. And fuck if I’m going to walk away. Letting her leave my store was bad enough. Should have killed the cabbie. Taken what I wanted then. Innocent. Soft. Smells good. Sleep--swollen. Hair a blond tangle of invitation for a fist. I see it spilling down her back, grazing the curves of her ass. Me under her, behind her. Driving up into her. What will she do? Say? How does she sound when she comes? Does she, like most women, lose a part of her soul in sex? Leave it lying there for the taking? Fuck. “May I come in?” I don’t smile. My smiles don’t make people relax.
“I wouldn’t have let you up this far.”
Her eyes are green, angry. Her nipples are hard. Lust is absurd. It strikes in the strangest places at the oddest times. She doesn’t even realize she’s feeling it. She’s erected a barricade of propriety and lies between us. I despise the type of woman she is. I loathe her soft pink innocence. My body doesn’t concur. I wonder why her? Why not, say, a streetlamp, for all we have in common? She’s chiffon and satin ribbons. I’m raw meat and razor blades. I have never been drawn to my opposite. I like what I am. “Your nipples are hard,” I murmur, allowing her the choice to hear it, or pretend she didn’t.
She blinks, shakes her head. “How did you get up here?”
Ah, the human ear has splendid filters. “I told them I was your brother.”
“Right. Because we look so much alike.”
The lace of her sleep--shirt flutters with each breath. She’s trembling, trying to conceal it. I glance beyond her, at the tiny room. It’s little better than a let--by--the--hour. It won’t take that long to get what I came for. Business first. “Well, Ms. Lane?”
“Don’t hurt yourself.”
“Don’t be a jackass.”
“You have till the count of three, then I leave. Two.”
“Oh, fine, come in,” she snaps.
I do smile then but permit it only because she has closed the door to unhook the chain and can’t see me. She opens it and steps back. I have found there to be little distance between the unlatching of a chain and the spreading of a woman’s legs. As if they can never unbar only a single entrance. It’s a disease called hope.
She pushes the door flat to the wall. She thinks it makes her safe. I enter. Don’t bother to close it. That will come later. She toes a rug and a lacy bra beneath the bed. I will see much more than that before I leave.
“So, what is it? No, wait—-how do you spell it?”
I pace a circle around her. She spins as I stalk her, unwilling to give me her back. I’m going to have it anyway. Every way. “S--i--n--s--a--r.”
“Shi--sa. Shi--sa--du.” I continue pacing. I like the way her body moves. If she glances down, she’ll see my coat is open and my suit fails to conceal how hard I am. She never takes her gaze from my face. Few keep it there.
“Oh, that makes great sense. And the du?”
I stop circling, facing the door. She stops, her back to it. Three feet separate us. I can feel her. Smell her.
“Dubh is ‘do’? Should I be calling pubs ‘poos’?”
“Dubh is Gaelic, Ms. Lane. Pub is not.”
“Don’t bust a gut laughing.”
“Nothing about the Sinsar Dubh is a laughing matter.”
“I stand corrected. So what is this gravest of graves?”
Flippant. She has no business being here. Fio was right.
It would be merciful, Jericho. Kill her quickly before one of the others tortures her for days then rips out her throat.
Does mercy look like my middle fucking name?
Do it for me, Jericho. I can’t bear the thought of what one of the others will do to her.
One of them? Or me, Fiona? Which thought can’t you bear?
I saw the look in your eyes. Jericho, how could you want that . . . that . . . that foolish, empty--headed child! What could she possibly offer you?
“Too long,” I say. Fiona has been with me too long.
“What?” she says blankly.
I’m suddenly furious that MacKayla Lane came to my city, thinks to play on the same field with me and mine, made herself my problem in any capacity. “Go home, Ms. Lane. Be young. Be pretty. Get married. Have pretty babies. Grow old with your pretty husband.”
“Oh, screw you, Jericho Barrons! Tell me what it is. You said you would.”
“If you insist. Don’t be a fool. Don’t insist.”
“I’m insisting. What is it?”
“Last chance.” For many things.
“Too bad. I don’t want a last chance. Tell me.”
I was lying anyway. Her last chance was her first one. She walked through my door. “The Sinsar Dubh is a book.”
“A book? That’s all? Just a book?”
“On the contrary, Ms. Lane, never make that mistake. Never think it just a book. It is an exceedingly rare and exceedingly ancient manuscript countless people would kill to possess.”
“Including you? Would you kill to possess it?”
“Absolutely. Anyone and anything that gets in my way. Always have. Always will. Reconsidering your stay, Ms. Lane?”
“You’ll be going home in a box, then.”
“Is that another of your threats?”
“It is not me who will put you there.”
“I answered your question, now it’s your turn to answer mine. What do you know of the Sinsar Dubh, Ms. Lane? Tell me. And don’t lie. I’ll know.” I could Voice her, force her to tell me everything. Little fun there.
“My sister was studying here. She was killed a month ago. She left me a voice--mail message right before she died, telling me I had to find the Sinsar Dubh.”
“She didn’t say. She just said everything depended on it.”
“Where is this message? I must hear it myself.”
“I accidentally deleted it.” Her gaze darts to the side.
“Liar. You would make no such mistake with a sister you care enough about to die for. Where is it? If you are not with me, Ms. Lane, you are against me. I have no mercy for my enemies.”
“I already gave a copy of this recording to the Dublin Gardai. They’re working to track down the man she was involved with.” There goes her gaze again.
“Give me your phone.”
“Not a chance. But I’ll put it on speakerphone.”
She plays the message. Never takes her gaze from my face. The things I could teach her . . . if she could survive them.
“Did you know my sister?”
I slice my head once to the left in silent negation.
“You were both after this ‘exceedingly rare book’ yet never ran into each other?”
“Dublin is a city of a million--odd people inundated daily by countless commuters and besieged by a never--ending wave of tourists, Ms. Lane. The oddity would be if we had encountered each other. What did she mean by ‘you don’t even know what you are’?”
“I wondered that myself. I have no idea.”
“Hmm. This was all she left you? A message?”
“Nothing more? No note or package or anything of the sort?”
She slices her head once to the left in silent negation. I scan her eyes. Deep but there, a hidden mirth. She just mocked me. My dick gets harder.
“And you had no idea what she meant by the Sinsar Dubh? Your sister didn’t confide in you?”
“I used to think she did. Apparently I was wrong.”
“Who did she mean by ‘them’?”
“I thought you might be able to tell me that.”
“I am not one of these ‘them,’ if that is what you’re inferring. Many seek the Sinsar Dubh, both individuals and factions. I want it as well, but I work alone.”
“Why do you want it?”
“It is priceless. I am a book collector.”
“And that makes you willing to kill for it? What do you plan to do with it? Sell it to the highest bidder?”
“If you don’t approve of my methods, stay out of my way.”
“Fine. What else have you to tell me, Ms. Lane?”
“Not a thing.” She jerks a frosty look from me to the door.
I laugh. “I do believe I’m being dismissed. I can’t recall the last time I was dismissed.” Let her think I’m leaving. It’s time to close the door.
I’m nearly past her, nearly at the door, when I grab her and slam her back against my body. The back of her skull thuds into my chest. Her teeth clack together. She makes a wordless sound, protest, and another more guttural sound that is not protest at all. I band an arm beneath her breasts.
I can smell when a woman wants to fuck. I smelled it in my store. I smell it now. She can’t see herself yet, she certainly can’t see me, can’t admit what she wants. But her body knows. Lust is a thing of the blood. Doesn’t need head or heart. Her flesh is soft and pink. Her blood is red hot.
“What are you doing?”
“Need a fucking manual?” I press hard against her ass.
“You’ve got to be kidding! You’re totally not my type and you’re . . . you’re . . . how old are you anyway? Eeew!”
“Your scent says otherwise.” I inhale. So much sweeter this close.
“My scent? Like you think you can smell—-you think I—- Oh! Let me go! Now! Get off me! I’m going to scream.”
“You will most certainly scream. I promise you that.” Beneath my arm, her heart hammers, she breathes quick and shallow. Sexual excitement alters the lines of her body, fuses it into new lines against mine. A woman’s spine changes when she wants to fuck, a subtle, supple shifting at the base, a sharper curve at that hollow where back meets ass. Breasts tighten and lift, the slant of jaw changes as the mouth prepares and muscles draw tight. I have studied humans for a small eternity. Intent infuses their every movement. Road maps to their inner navigation, plastered all over their skin. Born to be slaves.
“You’re delusional. I don’t want you. Get out of my room.”
“So you can crawl back into bed, weep for the sister you lost and brood about your own ineptitude? Scribble down your silly plans and plot vengeance? You don’t even know what the word means.” But she could learn. “Are you in such a hurry to be alone with your grief? Is it such a grand bedmate? When’s the last time you lost yourself in a good, hard fuck, Ms. Lane? Have you ever? I think it’s always been gentle, nice and sanitary, and when it was over you lay there wondering what all the fuss was about.”
“You’re crazy! You know that, right? You’re abso--frigging--lutely crazy. How dare you come in here and threaten and bully and be shitty to me then try to sleep with me? Then make fun of perfectly good sex!”
“I have no desire to sleep with you. I want to fuck you. And there is no such thing as perfectly good sex. If it’s ‘perfectly good,’ ” I mock in falsetto, “he should be shot in the head and put out of everyone’s misery. Sex either blows your fucking mind or it’s not good enough. You want me to blow your fucking mind, Ms. Lane? Come on. Do it. Be a big girl.”
Her whole body jerks in my arms. “I don’t even like you.”
“I don’t like you either. But my dick is hard and you’re wet—-”
“You can’t know that!”
My hand slides to the top button of her fly. “Want me to prove it? If you persist in lying, you leave me no choice.” I pop the first button, then the second. Her spine changes against my back, yet more curve, more pliancy. The human body is remarkable.
“Are you wet, Ms. Lane? Yes or no?” When she makes no reply, I pop the third button. “Let’s make a deal. I’ll check, and if you’re dry I’ll leave.”
“Answer the question.”
“It’s none of your business.”
“Tell me to stop.” I pop the fourth button. There’s only one left.
“I hate you.”
“I can live with that. Have you fucked since your sister was murdered? Let go, Ms. Lane. For once in your circumscribed little life, let the fuck go.”
She is suddenly steel in my arms. She pushes back with her hips, twists and turns in my arms, slams her hands into my chest and knees me in the balls. Or tries. I block it with a knee at the last second.
“You don’t know anything about me!” Her chest heaves, a pulse beats wildly at her throat.
“I know you better than those you call your best friends. I see you.”
“Yeah?” Her jaw juts. Something flashes deep in her eyes. I go still. What was that? Something very different from what she shows on the surface. I didn’t expect it. Interesting. “Just what the fuck do you see?” she practically snarls.
“A woman who’s lived in a cage all her life. And hates it. Bored in there, aren’t you? Waiting for life to happen. And when it finally does, it steals from you what you loved most. So take back. Explode. Lash out. Blow up.”
She stares up at me, wets her lip.
“Scream. Curse. Rage. Take it out on me.” I step forward, cup her hard between her legs, rub with my palm. The heat she’s throwing off is amazing. “Tell me to stop.”
She is motionless a long moment. Finally she slices her head once to the left.
I shove my hand down her pants, the fifth button pops off and clatters across the floor, I push my finger inside her and her knees go out from under her as she clamps down on me, hard. She’s so fucking wet. We go down to the floor together.
“I’m sick of feeling like this,” she hisses. “I hate my life. I hate everything about it!” She strangles me with my tie, clumsy in her haste to get it off. Still living in the world where boys undress completely and girls lie back and wait. Only two things need to be naked.
“Fuck the tie. Unzip my pants.”
She yanks it open so hard she breaks the zipper of my ten-thousand-dollar suit. I pick her up by the waist of her jeans and dump her out of them. She pushes up from the floor to turn but I’m behind her. I shove her back to the floor. “Stay there. I want you this way.”
“But you said I could—-”
“Your turn next.”
“This is about me, remember? That’s what you said. I want what I want now.”
“Try, Ms. Lane, just try.”
To her credit, she does. But I’m stronger. I get my way first, not that she’s complaining from the noise she’s making. Fist in her hair, I spread her legs wide as they’ll go, crush her flat to the floor. Later I’ll take her on her hands and knees. Now I need her still as I can keep her. I grind between her legs and she makes a choking noise. Slick with all that wet she supposedly wasn’t, I drive into her. Air explodes from us both. She arches her neck and howls. I don’t move for a moment. Movement will fuck me royally right now.
She bucks beneath me. “Move, you bastard!”
“When I’m ready.”
I close my hands on her ribs. She fights. She’ll be bruised in the morning. I dredge up a few hated memories. My blood goes cold. I get harder. I begin to move, lose track of time. Four hours feel like four minutes. For something so soft, she takes her fucking hard, with a twist. I taste her. I could eat her alive. She closes her mouth on my dick. I close my hands on her head. I might not let her go. Slick with sweat, I defile her with reverence. Or revere her with defilement. Every. Inch. Of. Her. Motherfuckingfinebody. She likes it. No holds barred with this woman. I wouldn’t have believed it of her. And she does scream . . .
Later I roll over on my back and let her rock her world all over me. Fuck if she doesn’t.
She straddles me, ass to my face, reverse cowgirl, tangled hair swinging. And son of a bitch, the woman can ride. “Slow down.” I close my hands on her ass to keep her from jacking me off in seconds.
She pushes up, drops her head down into a wet dream of a naked crouch that doesn’t have one fucking ounce of inhibition, and shoots me a feral look between her legs, around my dick. “Stop holding me,” she snaps. “You’re a control freak. This turn is mine. Do what I tell you. If that means you come and get hard again, deal with it.” She arches a brow. “Unless I’m wearing you out.”
I smirk and say nothing. She knows by now that’s impossible.
“Don’t think this means I want to see you tomorrow.” She’s back at it and I’m about to explode.
“I suffer no such delusion. And ditto,” I say savagely. She knows exactly how to work me, sliding up to the point where I’m almost out of her, teasing the head of my cock with short, fast pops of her hips before slamming down and easing back out slow. Pretty, pink Barbie fucks hard and raw like an animal.
Her head is thrown back, spine arched, she’s oblivious to rules, to moral order, to all but inner imperatives.
And I wonder: could she live like she fucks?
My dick gets even harder.
I leave just before dawn.
At the door I turn back and look at her. And shake my head. Her back is to me. She’s wrapped a sheet around herself.
She turns slowly and I say Fuck beneath my breath. Already she’s changing. It began when I started putting my clothes on. Now it’s nearly complete. Her eyes are different. Wary, guarded, tinged with that human emotion I despise the most: regret. I was wrong. She wasn’t ready. Not yet.
By noon she’ll hate me. By tonight she’ll have convinced herself I raped her. By tomorrow she’ll hate herself.
I cross the room, clamp a hand over her mouth and crush my arm across her chest, compressing her lungs so she can’t draw a breath. She lives at my discretion. I can take her breath. I can give it back.
I wonder, pushed to the wall, stripped of all defenses, tested beyond endurance, just who might MacKayla Lane become?
I press my mouth to her ear. My words are soft. “Go home, Ms. Lane. You don’t belong here. Drop it with the Gardai. Stop asking questions. Do not seek the Sinsar Dubh or you will die in Dublin. I haven’t been hunting it this long and gotten this close to let anyone get in my way and fuck things up. There are two kinds of people in this world: those who survive no matter the cost, and those who are walking victims.” I lick the vein fluttering in the side of her neck. Her heart is beating like a frightened rabbit. Fear doesn’t arouse me. Yet my dick is so hard again that it hurts. I should end it here. Rip out her throat, leave her dead in her dingy, small flat. Perhaps I’ll kill her tomorrow. Perhaps I’ll chain her in my bookstore for a time. I’ll give her a single chance to run. If she stays, I am absolved of responsibility for anything that befalls her. “You, Ms. Lane, are a victim, a lamb in a city of wolves. I’ll give you until nine p.m. tomorrow to get the bloody hell out of this country and out of my way.”
I let her go, and she crumples to the floor.
Then I bend over her, touch her face, whisper the ancient words of a druid spell, and when I am done the only memories she retains of this night are of conversation and threat. She will never know that tonight she was mine.
Don’t hide your mistakes,
’Cause they’ll find you, burn you
—“Get Out Alive” by Three Days Grace
Some of us are born more than once.
Some of us re-create ourselves many times.
Ryodan says adaptability is survivability.
Ryodan says a lot of stuff.
Sometimes I listen.
All I know is every time I open my eyes,
My brain kicks on, something wakes up deep in my belly
And I know I’ll do anything it takes.
To. Just. Keep. Breathing.
—From the journals of Danielle O’Malley
Fire to his ice, frost to her flame.
The Unseelie King stared down at the unconscious woman in his wings. She was his soul mate. He knew it the moment he found her. He’d been tortured by it every moment since he’d lost her.
In the brief time they’d shared together, he’d experienced the only true joy of his existence. Before that, darkness had ebbed and flowed in him as incessant as a stormy sea. He’d thought perhaps it was because he was young and in a quarter of a million years, give or take a few, the disquiet might ease.
To pass the restless eons, he’d made things, scraping together matter and reshaping it into mountains and trees, oceans and deserts, planets and stars, galaxies and black holes. All but one power was his: the Song of Making, which legend said had begun it all and could call forth the very fundamentals of existence. That magic belonged to the queen of his race alone.
The Seelie Queen rarely used any portion of the cataclysmic melody. As with all great power, it demanded great price. Legend held their race had stolen the sacred song in times more ancient than any of them recalled, as humans had stolen fire from their gods. If this seemed to imply the Fae had gods, the king knew better. There was nothing out there but him. He’d been looking for a long time.
Epochs passed. Civilizations rose and fell. Bored, dissatisfied, the king built and wrecked worlds and built again. He made a halfhearted attempt to live for a time at court with the Seelie Queen and count the centuries by her petty intrigues. The ancient tapestries claimed she had been sung into existence just for him. But her views were cold and limited, her court too gaudy and bright for eyes that had stared for eons at black velvet and stars, and theirs was a discordant melody with no fire.
Again, he wandered. Edgy. Alone. Seeking something he couldn’t name.
On a tiny world in a tiny corner of a tiny and utterly unimpressive universe he wasn’t even certain why he’d visited, he found her. Unpredictable, high--tempered, happy on her own, and nearly untamable, she was a challenge to seduce. It hadn’t helped that he was broody, arrogant, selfish, and a god.
She didn’t want a soul mate, she told him. And she certainly didn’t want one with wings and an attitude problem.
Yet she’d not run. She stood her ground and watched him circle around her looking for a way into her heart. They fought, tested each other, challenged and demanded.
She knew what she wanted: the best.
He knew what he was: the best.
They enhanced each other’s finest qualities, as true love will. He opened her provincial mind to galaxies of opportunity. She reminded him what it was to feel wonder and brought freshness to creations gone dull and stagnant. Together they spun universes more beautiful and imaginative than anything he’d created before.
Yet his happiness was tainted by something he’d never felt. He loved. He could lose. Human, she possessed a mere fifty more years at best, and with the passage of time would wither and die.
Unable to bear her mortality, the king constructed an opulent cage beyond time where death could never touch her.
Wild at heart, she’d despised his cage, but loved him more and agreed to dwell within it until that day came she could no longer bear it. They met in a shared boudoir of shadows and light and their love knew no bounds.
Still the king could not rest. He knew his woman’s high temper, her need for freedom, and wanted her to have no limits. He sought the Seelie Queen’s aid, but jealously she refused to use her magic to make his lover immortal.
On that day, he vowed to re-create the Song of Making himself, if it took him half of forever and cost him all that he held dear.
Vows, like wishes, are dangerous things.
In time, the king came to understand part of the song’s essence, glimpsed the fundamental building blocks. The fragments he melded into the partial song that birthed his dark, imperfect Unseelie were composed of exacting frequencies that interlocked seamlessly and made of their parts a far richer melody than their individual notes, chords, and vibrations.
Eons passed while he worked, until the day
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