Priestess of Storms & Stone
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If there is one lesson I've been taught in my life, it's that fairies are the absolute worst.
Finding a fledgling succubus in Faerie is like locating a needle inside a realm-sized haystack. With a guide I can't trust and a goal more ephemeral than smoke, my odds of success are tenuous at best. Not to mention, as the last Elemental in existence, I have a giant target painted on my back.
Because one half of Faerie wants me dead, and the other half wants to use me as a sacrifice to open the gates to Earth. But I swore I would find my quarry, and I will. Even if I have to rip the entire realm apart to do it.
There is a storm coming to Faerie, and that storm is me.
Release date: March 31, 2020
Publisher: Annie Anderson
Print pages: 284
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Priestess of Storms & Stone
It was never a good sign to be drinking bourbon at ten in the morning, but after the week I’d had, I figured I was due. Self-medicating with alcohol wouldn’t take the sting out of my grief, in fact, it was likely to make it worse. But I’d needed a teensy little breather from my housemates after the last truth bomb had been dropped, and wrapping my head around my new knowledge required booze.
I could feel Della’s eyes on me, her acute vampire gaze boring a hole in the side of my face. She wanted an answer to her question, and she likely wasn’t going to leave me alone until I gave her one.
When are we leaving?
That question echoed against the walls of my brain with enough force to give me a headache. Melody was alive. She was alive, and my sister was dead.
But that didn’t make a lick of sense. Melody died right in front of me. I watched Aurelia send her soul on in a way only a phoenix could do. I watched her body burn in the flames of a funeral pyre. I needed answers before I could answer Della’s question.
Because I wouldn’t be leaving to hunt her down unless I was sure this wasn’t some kind of trick. I’d been tricked too many times in the last week, and I wasn’t falling for another one.
“Melody is dead, Della,” I whispered before taking another sip of bourbon, refusing to face my bodyguard. If I looked at her, I’d see either pity or censure, and I couldn’t deal with either.
“Then why is her son gone?” Della pointed out a big hole in the “Melody’s dead” argument.
Shit, fuck, and damn. I made a promise to Melody to keep her son safe. If it wasn’t Melody who had her son—and I highly doubted it was—then I’d have to go get him.
But hadn’t I earned a break? Hadn’t I earned the right to let someone else take up the slack?
You made a promise. You swore. You can’t turn away just because you’re hurt.
Those words cut through my thoughts sharp enough to bring tears to my eyes. I did. I made a promise to make sure her son was safe. And I’d keep it. Maybe it would make my soul burn just a little less. Maybe if I did this one thing, losing Maria wouldn’t hurt so bad.
Yeah, I doubted it.
I sniffed back the sting of tears, tossed back the rest of the bourbon, and managed to set the glass down without smashing it. I’d been on a smashing kick for the last little bit, and my living room had borne the brunt of it. At the time, I’d wanted to destroy everything Maria had ever touched. If I could just break it, burn it, wreck it, then it would have been like she wasn’t stamped all over every molecule of my house.
Wasn’t that stupid?
Like I wouldn’t see her every time I closed my eyes.
“Okay, I’ll give you that,” I muttered, finally answering Della’s question. “But I can’t just bust down the door to Faerie and find her. If it is her. We need way more to go on than a note and a can-do attitude.”
I peered down at myself. I had on black shorts and a black tank top. It was good enough for summer in Denver. All I needed was some flip-flops. Had I brushed my teeth today? Shrug. Was I wearing a bra? My tank had a shelf bra in it. It would just have to do. Plus, Barrett wouldn’t give two shits about what I was wearing. I located my flip-flops in their spot by the door, shuffled my feet into them, and raised my hand to snap my fingers.
But Della pounced on my hand before I could complete the task.
“What?” My whole body was on red alert, my eyes searching my demolished living room and relatively untouched kitchen.
“You can’t go out like that,” Della whispered furiously, her face a picture of panic.
Frowning, I looked back down at myself. Yep, all my parts were covered.
“It’s summer. Shorts and a tank aren’t going to turn any heads no matter how much ink is on display.”
A dawning realization lit up Della’s face before she winced. “You haven’t checked a mirror since you got back, have you?”
My eyes narrowed as a cold finger of dread raced down my spine. I tried to think of the last week since my return from Hell. I couldn’t recall most of it, and the parts I could, I could say with the utmost authority that looking at myself in the mirror was not high on my list of things I wanted to do.
“I can’t say that I have,” I hedged, wanting her to tell me, so I didn’t have to find out for myself. Who wanted to see puffy eyes and dark circles? And worse, who wanted to stare at the person who got her sister killed?
No, thank you. My psyche was fragile enough.
“You need to, Max.”
I didn’t want to, but I shuffled my feet to my bedroom. Sure, there were other mirrors I could use, but the one in the downstairs bathroom was right across the hall from Maria’s bedroom, and I just couldn’t. I couldn’t see her touches everywhere, her favorite soaps, the spray of makeup brushes she kept on the shelf. I wondered if the brushes would still smell like her makeup, if the hydrangea blossoms she enchanted to never wilt or die would still be sitting in their vase on the counter. If her towel was still neatly folded on the rack.
I couldn’t be in there yet. I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to.
I wasn’t sure I’d be able to look up at the mirror either, and despite the murmured voices behind me, I hadn’t yet gathered the courage. Warm arms surrounded my middle as a stubbly chin rested on my shoulder.
“You going to stand there all day, love?” Alistair’s low voice rumbled in my ear. I couldn’t explain the comfort I got from that voice. My body seemed to sigh in relief.
Yes, I could blame him. It was his father who stole my sister from me. Yes, it was Alistair who pulled me from Hell, keeping me from following my sister in death. I could blame him, but I didn’t. The rational part of my brain refused to shovel the fault his way.
“I might. Is it bad?”
“There is nothing on this earth or the next one that could make you look bad. But you need to see, love. You need to know.”
That sounded ominous. Internally, I counted to three and forced my gaze to move to the mirror. But the woman staring back at me wasn’t me.
Her hair was blue, sure, but it was a color that you couldn’t get out of a bottle if you’d tried. Her eyes were a shining golden hue, and her skin was practically luminescent. Her features were sharper, too, her cheekbones like a knife blade, her eyes just slightly tilted up, her lips a touch wider. And her ears… they were pulled into a rounded point.
This woman was a Fae. I was a Fae. Not a witch, not a demon. Not anything I’d thought I’d been.
“I look like a glowstick,” I mumbled and watched as the light in those strange eyes flared.
And that was just a touch too much for me. Shoving out of Alistair’s arms, I booked it out of my bathroom and down the stairs. I couldn’t go outside like this—looking just like what I was.
A fucking Fae.
I needed Barrett. I needed Marcus. I needed to have a stern talking-to with my mother about what in the unholy hell was going on. My chest burned with a scream that ached to be let loose.
Panic. This was a straight-up panic attack.
I needed Barrett. I needed him right now or I was going to lose it. And then I felt the pull—almost the same pull I felt when I’d accidentally summoned Alistair. It was similar to when I transported myself, but not. It wasn’t like I was pushing myself through space, it was more like my mind was already where I wanted to be, and my body was just catching up.
Before I knew exactly what the hell was going on, I was standing in the middle of a Persian rug watching as Barrett screamed like a girl. Popcorn went flying, Barrett kersplanged off the couch, and if I wasn’t so freaked, I probably would have laughed.
“What in the actual, all-encompassing fuck, Maxima?” Barrett griped from the floor. He was wedged between the couch and the coffee table, the remnants of popcorn in his hair.
I gestured at my face, my body, and my pointed ears. “You saw me when I got back, and you didn’t tell me I was like this? I look like a glowstick.”
Was that my voice sounding like a dying hyena? Maybe. But I appeared as if I took a bath in illuminator and followed it up with a glitter facial.
Okay, I was exaggerating, but still.
Barrett’s delicate fingers plucked popcorn out of his hair as he leveled me with an expression so scathing my freak-out shriveled in on itself.
“You look like a Fae, Max. You look like an embodiment of magic so potent, it leaks out of your skin. You are beautiful, and just because you look different now doesn’t mean you are different. You’re the same as you’ve always been. A giant pain in my ass. So knock it the fuck off and get your shit together,” he ordered and then paused. “Please.”
That last bit was tacked on in a teensy effort not to hurt my feelings, and I couldn’t help but laugh.
Then I asked the question that would burn me up inside if it was so. “Did you know?”
“That you were a Fae? Absolutely not. I definitely would have told you, though it does explain some things. A lot of things. It kind of makes me think we were bloody idiots for not putting it together sooner. It also makes me really want to tie your mother to a chair and peel her mind apart. The secrets that woman has.” Barrett shook his head and I shuddered at the visual.
“Tell me how you really feel, Barrett.”
“Oh, I will. Like right now, I’m feeling some kind of way about the bling on your finger. Is that a wedding ring?”
I chuckled for a second and then his words registered in my brain. My gaze traveled down to my hands to catch sight of a huge black diamond on my left ring finger. Shocked, I hid my hand behind my back like a child.
At my guilty-as-fuck action, Barrett’s eyes widened as he sputtered, “Are you married?”
Was that a shriek? Yes, yes it was.
I rolled my lips between my teeth and didn’t say a word, but I was pretty sure my wince gave me away. The diamond on my finger was most certainly a wedding ring because I’d married—or was bound to—Alistair on our little jaunt to Hell. Granted, it was so I wouldn’t be sold into slavery or eaten by a Minotaur, but still.
Married was married.
There was a bevy of shit I hadn’t told Barrett yet, but I’d been dealing with my own shit for the last little bit.
“How did I not know this? When? How? Moreover, who?”
At that second, the who decided to walk through the door, and I felt my eyes narrow. All Alistair gave me was an unrepentant grin.
“What the hell?” I asked as I waved my bling-laden hand at him.
“What the hell, what?” Alistair’s grin widened on his face. That sneaky little shit. When had he snuck that ring on my finger?
I growled for a second and resisted the urge to stamp my foot. “When did you put this on my finger, Alistair?”
His grin faltered and he crossed the room in what seemed like an instant. “Do you not like it? You can take it off if you want.”
His low whisper did something to my belly and I was struck with a pang of… of… it wasn’t sadness, it wasn’t regret, but it was something like loss at the thought of taking the ring off. I looked down at my hand, examining the ring more closely. The round black stone was three, maybe four carats, and it was haloed with tiny white diamonds and another halo of black ones.
It was perfect. If I’d ever thought of marriage—which I hadn’t—it was the ring I’d have hoped someone would have picked for me.
“I don’t wanna take it off. It’s pretty,” I muttered with a pouty frown. “I just didn’t know it was there. When did you put it on me?”
“When you were freaking out about looking in the mirror. I figured if you didn’t like what you saw, you’d like the ring. That plan backfired a bit, but I didn’t want you to think I didn’t honor what we did. And I couldn’t find the right time to…” He trailed off.
He couldn’t find the right time to give me the ring because I’d been too busy tearing my house apart.
I cupped his cheek. “What did I ever do to deserve a man like you?”
“Is that a good deserve or a bad deserve? One can never tell with you.” His lips were once again pulled up into a devilish smile.
“Good, but don’t make me change my mind.”
A snap-snap-snapping broke Alistair and I out of our little love bubble, and we turned to face a stunned Barrett who was half-goggling at us and half-ready to have a full-on hissy fit.
“Married. Explain. Now.”
I winced but held onto Alistair’s hand as I began. “So, there was this Minotaur…”
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