Stone Cold Revenge
a Set in Stone novel by Jess Macallan
Put on house arrest by her maniacal father, the king of the shadow elves, and his equally sadistic henchmen, Elleodora Fredricks doesn’t think her life could get much more complicated. Not only is she being forced to train as her evil father’s heir, but she’s hurting over the betrayal of her gargoyle betrothed, Jax, and confused over the feelings still simmering for her first love, MacLean. Even her powers as a shadow elf are in flux—her abilities are young and uncertain, but her fate has decreed they will manifest fully on her twenty-eighth birthday, just a few short weeks away.
With help from two long-lost family members, some unearthed memories, and even her deceased mother, Elle discovers there’s more to being part shadow elf than she ever knew. And it’s not all pure evil. But time is running out as her father’s sinister plans unfold, and Elle must decide with whom her heart lies and harness her unique abilities to protect those she loves before it’s too late.
Praise for Stone Cold Revenge:
“A sexy gargoyle, a hot phoenix, and a heroine just coming into her own all add up to a great read!”
– Alexis Morgan, author of the Paladins series on STONE COLD SEDUCTION
“Clever, sexy, and razor-sharp–STONE COLD SEDUCTION is a magical, thrilling page-turner.”
– Alayna Williams, author of DARK ORACLE on book one in the Set in Stone series
© 2013 Jess Macallan
Two weeks ago, the worst day of my life began with a double mocha.
Two weeks ago, I knew nothing.
I thought I was a normal woman, running a perfume shop in Seattle, mixing bath oils and body lotions while I lusted after my hot employee. And today? Let’s just say, I wish I could live that double mocha day over again, instead of doing what I have to do right now: move into a palace. A palace filled with shadow elves and hunters and other creatures that I had no idea existed when I spilled that double mocha…
The palace—more of a mansion, really—was in a private gated community overlooking the Puget Sound. The eleven-thousand-square-foot home sat on eight secluded acres. Nestled among trees and other multi-million-dollar homes, it reeked of wealth and excess.
I hated it. Always had. What child wants to live in a beautiful, cold museum? No running, no yelling, no fun. And those were only a few of the rules I’d grown up adhering to. My father, Jedren, was coercing me to move back in with him, using tactics that I’d only seen in Godfather movies. Thankfully, he’d agreed to let me live in the guesthouse. I refused to share that house of horrors with him. Being on the same property would be bad enough.
We were buzzed through the gate and pulled up in front of the main house a few moments later. The late October day was a little warmer than usual at sixty-three degrees, but still typically overcast. The gray skies were the perfect gloomy backdrop for the neoclassical-style monstrosity. The huge pillars gracing the entrance had always made me wonder if my father had built a monument to himself. He certainly had the arrogance of Zeus. I took a deep breath. Ready or not…
My best friend, Teryl, helped me unload the trunk. He’s an oracle who specializes in finding things or people. He’d suggested that he give me a ride and moral support today and I’d jumped on his proposition, because I never knew when his abilities would come in handy. We’d just shut the trunk when the front doors to the mansion opened. “Elleodora, you’re late.”
I stiffened but took a breath before turning around to face my father. We hadn’t spoken since he’d kidnapped me in Scotland. I still had nightmares about that creepy estate—worse than this one—and the torture I’d endured there at the hands of his bodyguard. All of it had led up to this moment. My father had the misguided idea that I’d actually want to be his heir and take over the empire he’d created under his business, Warlow Imports. Threatening my loved ones and beating me senseless had made it necessary for me to show up here today, compliant. But I had my own agenda. What I wanted to mutter was, “I didn’t realize you were so eager to die. I would have come sooner.” Instead, I didn’t breathe a word.
Jedren didn’t seem to expect a response. His long-suffering sigh was a perfect combination of drama and condescension. “I should have known you would be late. But you’re a princess, and you need to start acting like it. Being punctual is a requirement. We made an agreement—don’t test me so soon. I believe I outlined the consequences quite clearly.”
I heard Teryl suck in a sharp breath, and I turned around. Well, crap. This was going to get out of hand fast, and we hadn’t even made it through the front door.
“It’s okay,” I said softly, so only Teryl could hear. My father had proven time and again he wouldn’t hesitate to kill to get his way. Teryl’s fiancée Clio worked for Jedren and had recently become his latest pawn. Clio was also an oracle, but her power as a seer made her far more attractive to a shark like my father. I didn’t know how much she could predict, but I knew Jedren would take what he could get. I considered her his hostage, so I had to be more careful.
Maxim Bannon, Teryl’s older brother, walked down the front steps toward us. To say they shared bad blood was an understatement. Maxim worked for my father. Maybe worshipped my father would be a more appropriate description. He was Jedren’s personal oracle assistant.
“Hello, Elleodora.” Maxim’s tone dripped with contempt as he stood next to one of the giant pillars. I wondered if he was consciously or unconsciously mimicking my father’s posture. He’d learned the disdain from Jedren, but the posing was too much. Maxim couldn’t carry it off quite as well.
I turned my back on him, knowing it would get under his skin, and asked Teryl, “Where did I put the list of stipulations?”
Teryl reached for the folder in the back seat. “Right here.” He handed it to me with a flourish.
I rummaged around in my purse for a pen, slapped the folder on the side of the car, and added, I will only answer to Elle. I hated my full name. It had been used as an insult during my formative years. Plus, Elle fit my personality better. I recapped the pen and whispered, “Maxim must be acting as my father’s gopher today.” I watched Maxim out of the corner of my eye as he moved down the steps after an impatient gesture from my father. He stopped next to the trunk, eyeing my luggage as if he expected it to jump up and bite him.
“More like his little bitch,” Teryl muttered under his breath. Maxim was eight years Teryl’s senior. They’d never been close, but since Maxim had suggested Clio’s transfer to the London office, things had been even worse. I didn’t blame Teryl for being angry with him. I was, too.
Maxim must have heard because his eyes widened, and I thought his mouth would drop open in shock. But no, he had better control than that. He smoothed his tie and sneered at me, his comment for my ears alone. “You won’t last a week.”
My smile spread, wide and genuine, and I responded just as softly. “A week? Aren’t you generous. Or maybe I should say, jealous. You can’t be his heir, no matter how much we all wish you were.” And that was the one truth Maxim couldn’t handle. My father might have wiped many of my memories clean, but he’d left the ones I had of Maxim, which wasn’t a gift. For as long as Teryl and I have been friends, Maxim has been making our lives miserable. As an adult, I recognize his motivation for what it is—jealousy and a blind desire to climb over, plow through, or crush anyone who steps in the way of his quest for success. I used to think it was because of the money. My father had more than hundreds of people could ever spend in a lifetime.
Now I knew better.
Maxim wanted the power of my father’s crown. He had everything Jedren needed in an heir: ambition, a complete disregard for anyone else, and business savvy. The only thing he lacked was the right DNA. While not a shadow elf, Maxim wanted to rule.
I, on the other hand, didn’t want any of it. I wouldn’t wish these genes on anyone—so far they were nothing but trouble. Jedren’s assets were dirty. Covered in blood, death, torture, and any other bad karma you could think of.
Maxim’s face turned an interesting shade of red, then purple. Before he could spit out a response to my insult, my father lost his patience. He projected his voice perfectly from his lord-of-the manor position at the top of the stairs. “Maxim, grab her bags. Take them to the guesthouse.”
“No thanks.” I shook my head, still watching Maxim. “I don’t trust him.”
My father smoothed the lapel of his perfectly pressed three-piece suit, his silver hair impeccably groomed. Nothing was ever out of place with his appearance. “Don’t be absurd.” His eyes were frowning, but his face stayed smooth.
How did he manage not to have lines when he frowned? Women everywhere would love to learn that trick. “I don’t trust him,” I repeated. “I don’t want him touching anything of mine.”
“Don’t flatter yourself,” Maxim mumbled quietly, shooting me a venomous look. “Nothing you’ve got is worth touching.” He wasn’t quiet enough, though, because my father arched a single, silver brow at him. Maxim flushed and stumbled over an apology. I pressed my lips together to keep from laughing. What a suck-up.
Jedren couldn’t care less if Maxim insulted me. He just hated it when someone stooped to vulgar behavior in public—and because we were standing outside of the house, in front of Teryl, it could be considered public. Plus, there were never fewer than four guards out front, not including the groundskeepers, kitchen staff, and hunters my father hired. I knew from past experience they all carried weapons, and most were trained in some form of martial arts. Ah, home sweet home.
I ignored Maxim’s sputtering and handed him the list of stipulations I’d created. “I want this signed in blood by my father before I step one foot inside the guesthouse. Teryl will act as my witness.” I was still learning how contract negotiations worked in a world inhabited by creatures I’d only recently found out existed.
Maxim obediently ascended the stairs to deliver the contract to the man he idolized. Without a word, my father took the sheet and read through it. He looked up after a minute, face impassive. “You’re serious about these?”
I nodded. I couldn’t tell what he thought—and I didn’t care, as long as he agreed. The list gave me a modicum of protection from losing another loved one or being attacked by any of the guards. It would be a welcome change from my childhood.
He sighed. “I named you Elleodora. I won’t call you by a nickname. Your grandmother would be so displeased by the crude epithet.” He said it with obvious distaste.
I’d figured he’d balk at that. I had to choose my battles wisely, and this war was just getting started. Conserving energy at this stage was critical, so I’d compromise. “Then everyone else has to.”
“It’s hardly a businesslike stipulation,” Maxim said, undoubtedly licking my father’s boots with his imitation disdain.
“You call me Elleodora, and your fetching and carrying days will be over, Gopher Boy.”
“Stop.” My father’s tone barely changed, but I could feel the air turn glacial with his irritation. “As my assistant, he’ll be working with you to bring you up to speed on the business side of things. You two will be working together closely.”
After a few seconds of shock, we both began protesting at once. My father held up his hand. “Enough. I’ll sign your ridiculous list.”
“In blood,” I reminded him. The thought of signing in blood was repugnant, but it was necessary to me. Blood, I’d recently learned, held power, and if I was signing a contract with the king of shadow elves, I wanted to have his blood signature as a guarantee. Jedren was a master at manipulating situations and finding loopholes. I could only hope this would minimize opportunities for him to do that. At least until I could kill him—and Luke.
Jedren’s left eye twitched at my interruption, but he went on smoothly. “In blood, but I also have stipulations. Working with Maxim is one of them.”
So far, so good. Maxim was a jerk, but if that was the worst of it, I could compromise.
“And Luke will train you,” he added. His pale eyes watched me carefully, gauging my reaction. Bastard. I clenched my fists. I wanted to rant at him, but we had an audience. If I lost control, who knew what he’d do? I wasn’t willing to take the risk—which I knew was what he was counting on. But training with Luke wasn’t going to happen. Ever. Just thinking about it caused my adrenaline to surge, and for a few seconds, I wavered between fight or flight.
“No.” I turned toward Teryl and picked up the nearest suitcase. “I’m ready to leave.” I took two steps toward the car.
“If you think you are going to show up at my home and dictate to me, you are mistaken. You’ve forgotten your place.”
I reached for the car door handle with shaking fingers. I wouldn’t back down. Not on this point. Choose your battles, I reminded myself. And this was one worth fighting.
“Luke will train you to handle hunters and anyone else you might encounter.”
I looked at my father over my shoulder. “I’m going to kill Luke; I’m not going to work with him. Not for anything. I won’t compromise on that.”
Jedren’s eyes gleamed with barely suppressed irritation.
ÒYour father is disappointed in you.Ó Luke’s voice came from directly behind me.
Rigid with fear, I looked to the stairs leading up toward the front door. They were only ten feet away, but if I tried to run, I’d never make it. The feet would stretch and yawn into what would seem like a mile, and Luke would catch me long before I hit the first step. I’d have far more bruises for my efforts than would be worth it.
I’d spoken out of turn at dinner. Two of my father’s business associates and their wives had been in attendance. I couldn’t remember quite what had happened—maybe I’d asked one of the women to pass the butter, or commented on her dress. What I did know was that after we’d seen his guests out to their cars, after we’d said our polite farewells and their chauffeurs had closed the car doors for them, my father had turned to me, face full of rage.
Luke had been waiting behind me. He always seemed to know when my father wanted me punished.
Luke’s grip on my arm was painful, as he half dragged, half shoved me into the house, toward the room reserved for my punishment. He pushed me into the chair, using more force than necessary. I didn’t resist. It rarely helped. I pressed the pads of my fingers against the bottom of the chair, hard enough to feel discomfort. Anything to keep me from passing out from fear. Luke wanted me to respond. If I did, he’d only hurt me more.
ÒI think you need a permanent reminder of your place.Ó
I bit my lower lip at his words, hard enough to make my eyes water. Don’t say a word; don’t make a sound, I reminded myself. I could feel his breath on the back of my neck, and I couldn’t stop my shudder of disgust.
ÒI’ve always wanted to try my hand at art. What do you say, Princess?Ó he whispered.
This time, I couldn’t utter a word. A whimper escaped when the dagger shredded the back of my shirt, exposing my shoulder blades. By the time he finished, I’d gouged the bottom of the chair with my fingernails. My throat was raw from screaming.
Luke’s satisfied sigh grated along my nerves. ÒI hate to leave it unfinished, but it will have to do for now. We’ll wait for that to scar upÓ
I couldn’t ignore the sharp pain along my shoulder blades, and I dropped my head to my chest and shook with silent sobs.
I buried the memory with some effort. “I won’t train with Luke, now or ever.” I knew Jedren didn’t take my death threat seriously, and that could work to my advantage. I had told him at our last “meeting” in Scotland that I’d kill them both—and he’d find out soon enough how serious I was. But in the meantime, I wouldn’t give Luke the chance to mark me again.
Jedren considered me for a moment. “Shall we add that to your stipulations?”
I couldn’t tell if he was mocking me or not, so I didn’t answer. I kept my hand on the door handle.
He sighed. “Very well. I will find someone else to train you. But you must be trained; I won’t negotiate on that. If you’re going to be my heir, you must be capable of running Warlow Imports. It’s a global corporation and you’re ill prepared to handle any of the divisions, let alone the entire company.” He clasped his hands behind his back and waited for me to respond.
I stared up at my father. Suspicion made me hesitate. “Why? What’s so important about the training?” I had no idea if he meant knives, martial arts, or worse. In my youth, he’d had Luke torture me repeatedly because I wasn’t capable or worthy as his heir. What was going on? Who would train someone to fight after that someone had vowed to kill him?
“Elleodora.” Jedren emphasized my name. The bastard did it on purpose, knowing I hated it. “You are my heir. I’m a powerful man. I have enemies.”
Sheer willpower kept me from looking at Teryl. Enemies? Jedren was one of the most hated men I knew. To say he had enemies was like saying Hitler had suffered from mildly troubled thoughts.
“Because of that, you’ll need to be adequately prepared for whatever situation might arise,” he continued. “You must defend yourself against physical as well as political and financial threats.”
Okay, I didn’t like the sound of that. “So as your heir, I take on your enemies?”
“We can’t be too careful. The estate is adequately protected, but I won’t have you unprepared. Now, shall we go sign this so you can move your things into the guesthouse? I’ve had the kitchen cook a dinner.” He turned and walked into the house through the elegant but bulletproof French doors, not bothering to wait for my reply. The guards flanking the entrance lowered their heads in deference as he passed.
I looked at Teryl and shrugged. If Jedren was going to sign, I would, too. I touched the pendant at my neck for luck. I hadn’t taken it off since I got back from Scotland, and it bolstered my courage now. We followed my father up the steps, with Maxim grumbling behind us. Yeah, this was shaping up to be a really difficult day.
The grand foyer of my father’s home looked like a showcase, marble floors and walls decorated with priceless works of art, displayed to their best advantage so the “wow” factor grabbed you right as you walked in. I’d always found it pretentious and overwhelming. Plus, the fear that I’d break something had kept me from fully enjoying the magnificence. It was so perfect, visitors were instantly uncomfortable. Jedren knew how to wage psychological warfare from the moment “guests” stepped inside.
Give me my comfy little apartment with secondhand furniture any day. I’d take a home over wealth.
We wandered down the hallway, past the grand staircase and back to my father’s office. Adjacent to the two-story library full of numerous first-edition books, Jedren’s office was huge. Inside sat a conference table, his large desk—made from an incredible exotic wood—plush leather chairs, a big-screen television, two computers, and more antiques. Hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment and relics filled the room.
Suddenly and foolishly, I wished I’d worn something besides my plain lavender cotton shirt and jeans—business casual would have been better suited to this meeting. I needed to remember to play the part, and dressing up even a little would have given me a confidence boost. My long dark hair was braided in an effort to tame the unruly waves, which was a step up from my normal ponytail. Seattle’s climate was hell on curly hair. At least I’d put on makeup and worn cute leather mules.
Teryl whistled under his breath, making me smile. I’d forgotten he’d never been in the grandiose office. When we’d played as kids, it had always been at my mother’s house—my real home. “Over the top, isn’t it?” I whispered.
He nodded with a faint frown, still trying to take it all in.
Jedren indicated we should take a seat at the conference table. An older gentleman was already there, waiting patiently with his hands resting on his lap. I watched him warily.
“My attorney, Charles Janson,” my father said, in answer to my unspoken question.
“Er…hello,” I replied, not sure what to make of having an attorney present. I wanted the contract binding with blood, but I hadn’t thought about the normal, human legalities.
The attorney stood and offered his hand. I shook it, still confused. “Do I need an attorney too?”
My father lifted the corner of his mouth in what I’m sure he intended to be a smile. “No, Mr. Janson is fae. He’ll ensure the contracts are official and fair.”
Fair? I doubted he knew what the word meant. However, I trusted Teryl to interpret the legalese for me.
I looked at Mr. Janson more closely as he sat back down. He didn’t look fae. I don’t know what I expected to see—wings, or sparkles shooting out of every orifice, maybe. Instead, he looked like a regular guy. I think something out of the ordinary would have made me feel more comfortable. Mr. Janson’s normalcy made it creepier somehow. He continued to sit patiently under my inspection.
“If it will ease your concerns, the fae are neutral, so the contract is in both of your favors. Can I answer any questions?” he asked in a polite, quiet voice.
Embarrassed to be caught staring so blatantly, I sat down. “No, sorry. I’ve never seen a…uh…fae before.”
I blinked at him. “What?”
“I am a faery,” he explained in the same polite voice. “I am fae, which references the group of us. Plural. By myself, I am a faery. Singular.”
Um, okay. Grammar lessons from a faery. “Great, thanks for clearing that up.” I looked at Teryl, who winked. At least someone had a sense of humor.
The attorney nodded and smiled, as if pleased to be of assistance. I turned to my father, hoping to speed up the process and get out of here. “You are holding my stipulations. What else needs to be signed?”
“Our contract. I had Mr. Janson draw one up for us.” He handed me a stack of papers.
I glanced at Teryl, who watched Mr. Janson. “Is that true?” No way would I take my father’s word for it.
He met my gaze. “Yeah, it should be fine. The fae are impartial, so they keep things fair. It’s a common practice. Here, let me look it over.” He reached for the papers and scanned through them for a few minutes. I noticed Maxim had taken the seat next to my father and had a legal pad and pen at the ready. I had no idea how I’d tolerate working with him.
Teryl handed the papers back. “Looks good to me.”
“Whom, exactly, do you work for, Teryl?” Jedren asked in a mild voice. He sat back and crossed one ankle over the opposite knee. “The last time I checked, you were on my payroll.” Mild but pointed, the rebuff hit home.
“Isn’t it my day off?” Teryl asked, keeping his composure. Score one for Teryl.
“He’s here as my friend, not as anyone’s employee,” I countered.
“Actually, that’s one of the things in the contract,” Teryl said.
“What are you talking about?” If my father had fired him…
Teryl smiled, though it was strained around the edges. “Your father wants to transfer me from his accounting department.”
“To where?” If he shipped Teryl overseas, I’d walk out right now.
“He wants to appoint me as your adviser.”
My adviser. I looked at Jedren, who had an amused glint in his eyes. Jedren wouldn’t know humor if it slapped him in the face. Not once in my entire life had he done anything nice for me if it didn’t benefit himself.
“Consider it an early birthday gift,” Jedren said as I stared at him.
In six days’ time, I would turn twenty-eight. Two weeks ago, I had been looking forward to it. Now? It made me nervous. This birthday could prove to be my undoing. Mentally speaking.
My recent trip to Scotland was to find my fate. After learning my father was a shadow elf, I had also been told by Teryl that I had a fate written specifically for me. My father should have given it to me years ago but hadn’t for reasons known only to him. The trip had yielded far more than I’d bargained for, including the knowledge that my mother wasn’t a nice, normal human, either. She was a demigod. I still wasn’t clear on why my father had killed her, but I was guessing her demigod status had played a significant role.
Because of my demigod blood, I would gain my full powers on or around the age of twenty-eight. I didn’t know what to expect. The surprises I’d encountered so far didn’t offer much hope. They’d all included pain or death.
I ruthlessly silenced my depressing inner monologue and focused on Teryl. “Are you okay with that?” What I really wanted to know was if he’d read more into it. Would he even want to change careers, knowing the risks involved in working so closely with my father? He worked for the accounting department of Warlow Imports, but he hadn’t been on my father’s radar until now. I was scared for him.
“Yeah, it’s great.” Teryl’s eyes spoke volumes. We’d have a lot to talk about later. But if he thought it was okay to sign, I might as well get it over with.
“Okay, how do we add my stipulations to the contract?”
Jedren handed my sheet to Mr. Janson, who looked it over. “You agree to these?” he asked my father.
“I agree, with a few edits.” He pointed them out, and they made adjustments until we were all satisfied.
Mr. Janson nodded, pulled out a small stamp, and added his official seal of approval. “If both parties are in agreement, we’re ready to sign.”
My father took off his jacket and rolled back one of the sleeves. He gestured at my right arm. “Roll up your sleeve. The blood must be taken from the palm of your right hand.”
I obeyed automatically, years of programming kicking in. Mentally slapping myself, I stopped. “Why the palm of the right hand?”
Mr. Janson cleared his throat. “Are you right-handed?” At my nod, he went on, “Then the right hand is your power hand. The blood is stronger there, magically speaking. An open palm signifies trust, and it binds the contract for both parties.”
That made sense, I guess. “Thanks for clearing things up.” Again.
He smiled, the wrinkles on his face crinkling in interesting ways, and grabbed a box from the chair next to him. He set it on the table carefully. My father waited, palm up, as the attorney pulled out a long, wicked-looking dagger.
My breath hissed between my teeth. “You’re going to cut us with that? I mean, can we just do a drop of blood? Is that…uh…weapon necessary?” I thought a small needle would work just fine. That thing looked like it could take off a few limbs and maybe chop down some trees.
Mr. Janson shifted in his chair, his only sign of impatience. “My dear, this is a ceremonial fae dagger, carved from the bone of a fae. It seals the contract. It’s part of the magical binding.”
Bone? I looked at the serrated edge closely. Instead of a polished, shiny blade, this dagger had a dull, muted finish. Yes, it definitely looked like bone. Nasty. I didn’t want someone’s bone cutting my palm.
“We all have better things to do today,” my father said. Despite his calm tone, I heard the underlying threat. He’d barely tolerated my stipulations, and now I was trying his patience. It had been my suggestion to sign this in blood; I couldn’t get squeamish now. And anyway, I’d been on the wrong side of a knife more times than I could count. Luke had used his knife, which the bastard named “Princess,” to mark me throughout my childhood. To willingly submit to being cut again would be nearly impossible. It took most of my mental strength to hold the old fears at bay. I’d sworn to prevent Luke and Jedren from hurting or killing anyone else. This was just one more step toward that goal.
Stifling a sigh, I stood and offered the attorney my right palm. Better to get it over with and not piss off my father. I stared at the far wall when Mr. Janson took my hand in his, and I felt a small jolt of energy when he touched me. It seemed to be coming from the dagger. I closed my eyes when I felt the sharp tip touch my skin. Don’t pass out; don’t show weakness.
Right as the blade drew blood, the shock of a ward hit me. I’d recently learned a ward is like an invisible, magical security system attached to an item or building. I’d run into a number of them in Scotland. I wasn’t expecting one to hit in Seattle.
I had a split second to think, Oh crap. Words whispered through my head, searing into my memory. I gritted my teeth to prevent them from spilling out of my mouth and locked my knees to keep from falling. I didn’t know if Jedren knew about this new power of mine, but I couldn’t tip him off now.
Still, a small groan escaped my lips before I could help it. The burning sensation indicated a ward mark had settled onto my upper left thigh. It stung like hell. Damn it. Last week, I’d discovered that not only are there such things as wards, but that I’m a ward thief. I still don’t understand what that means, exactly, but when I come into contact with a ward I absorb the magic. Depending on the size and type of ward, it ranges from a mild tingle to the feeling of being electrocuted. Or so I assume, having never been electrocuted. Needless to say, it’s not a pleasant experience. And I end up with a mark, signifying which ward I now have permanently etched in my brain and on my body.
The first ward I’d accidentally stolen had been a big one. It had felt much like I assume a Taser would—minus the loss of bladder control. I didn’t like the label of thief, because it hadn’t been intentional. But if nothing else, I hoped the wards would come in handy. First, I had to figure out how to use them.
I added that to my mental To Do list.
I opened my eyes to see Mr. Janson staring at me questioningly. His eyes were a strange, light green color behind the sheen of his glasses. And they were very old. I had an unpleasant feeling he saw much more than I wanted him to.
“Elleodora, it’s a small enough cut. Don’t be so dramatic.” Disgust laced my father’s words, but I felt the sudden tension in my shoulders ease a bit. He didn’t know I’d just stolen a ward. I wanted to keep it that way.
“Sorry,” I muttered, pulling my hand away. I sat down heavily in the chair, wishing my knees would stop shaking.
Mr. Janson watched me for a second before taking the bloody knife and distributing my blood in an odd pattern on the paper. He then sterilized the dagger and reached for my father’s hand, repeating the process with meticulous care. My father didn’t make a sound, merely watched with indifference. After muttering a few words I couldn’t understand, Mr. Janson drew symbols in the air above the contract.
He bowed his head for a moment, then looked at me. “All finished. I’ll keep the original at my office and will have my secretary send you a copy later this week.”
“Oh. Okay, that’s fine.” I looked at my father, who adjusted his sleeve, then back to Mr. Janson. “Is that all?” It seemed a little anticlimactic.
“Yes,” Mr. Janson answered. “I have a few things I need to discuss privately with you, Elle. Mr. Warlow, a pleasure to see you.”
My father gave a curt nod, and his pale eyes cut to me. “I’ll give you the day to settle in. Though I expect you to meet with Maxim tomorrow afternoon. In the meantime, he’ll find a new trainer for you.”
Maxim practically jumped out of his chair and hustled to open the library door for Jedren. “Yes, Mr. Warlow.”
Jedren left the room without another word.
I looked at Teryl, who shrugged at me. Okay, then.
Mr. Janson shuffled a few papers. “Elle, I haven’t seen a ward thief in many years. Your magic is very strong. Do you know how to handle the one you’ve taken?”
“Son of a…” Teryl trailed off with a sigh, covering his face.
Well, damn. I had hoped no one would notice. “Was it that obvious?”
Mr. Janson smiled, an expression genuine and startling in its in-tensity. “Only to a member of the fae. You now own one of our wards.”
“It’s not something I can control. Trust me, I didn’t mean to take it.” I watched his smile dim, and I quickly went on. “I just discovered it last week, and the few wards I’ve collected seem to—”
His mouth opened in shock and he interrupted my rambling. “You’ve collected a few in a week?”
“Yes, but it was an accident, and I…”
The attorney’s face had paled.
“What?” I looked at Teryl, who watched the exchange in resignation.
“I…” Mr. Janson took a breath. “I haven’t heard of a ward thief with that ability for centuries. Does your father know?”
I bit my lip. I’d have to tread carefully here.
He waved a hand at me. “Never mind; I know the answer. Some advice, young lady.” He leaned toward me, green eyes serious behind his glasses. “Keep that information to yourself. A ward thief of your caliber will cause quite a stir. I doubt you’d last long in your father’s care.”
I swallowed hard. I didn’t need a reminder of that fact. After my parents divorced, I’d spent two weeks out of every year with my father, two weeks that had been full of torture at Luke’s hands. Jedren had eventually arranged a marriage for me to MacLean—one of my two mates—which meant I’d then spent more time here. It also meant Luke had had more opportunities to use his knife.
I lifted my chin. I’d lasted longer than most. “Care to elaborate?”
Mr. Janson shuffled the papers again. “The longer you fly under the radar, as they say, the better your chance of success.” He looked me straight in the eye when he said, “You’ll need your mate’s help.”
“For what?” I whispered.
“To defeat Jedren.”
I opened my mouth to protest because I have two mates. My fate specified, Fated for two, meant for one. Just thinking about Jax and MacLean calmed me. One was my employee, the other my former fiancé.
Mr. Janson shook his head before I could say anything about them. “We know. It was written decades ago. You’re the one.”
“Why does everyone keep saying that? I have no idea what it means.” And it grated on my nerves. “It would be nice if someone could enlighten me. Besides, aren’t you my father’s attorney? Why would I trust you? Better yet, why are you telling me these things?”
“You need your mate’s help to fulfill your fate. He will play a crucial role. We want you to succeed, but many of us can’t interfere directly.” His lips tightened for a moment in frustration. “The gods prevent us if it’s not written in our fate.”
“If they prevent it, then how do you know? Is it written in a book? Are you making an assumption? I’m nobody’s hero, but I’d really like to know why some of you believe I am.” I had no desire to ride in to save the day, unless it involved getting rid of Luke and Jedren. “I’d also like to know why I have two mates. Am I the only one?”
Mr. Janson looked troubled by that question. “As far as I know, you are. I’ve never heard of it happening before. But the gods don’t do anything without good reason.”
Was it just me, or did he sound a little bitter? “Okay, so I’m the only one to have two mates in a while. Is this why I keep getting the ‘you’re the one’ line?”
“In part. Everything is connected, and your fate will become clear as your birthday moves closer. I’ve already said more than I should, though I wish I could elaborate.”
“Will the gods punish you if you answer a couple of simple questions?”
“I think a better question to ask Janson is, what does Jedren hold over him?” Teryl muttered.
Mr. Janson tilted his head toward Teryl. “Very astute. I am paying a debt to your father, Elle. No more, no less. I owe him no allegiance. The gods are a different matter, though. I will say this: you’ll find many allies. More than you might realize.”
Baffled, I stared at him. “Allies?” Thus far, I’d met only enemies, with the exception of Jax, Teryl, and MacLean.
He nodded. “This is much bigger than any of us. It goes beyond personal vendetta.”
I swore I saw reproach in his eyes. It rankled. “You don’t know anything about me. I’m not even sure what you’re referring to.” Lie. “And I don’t care.” Another lie. How did he know so much? Anyone who worked with my father automatically fell under suspicion. Maybe he was making it all up. It could be another of my father’s mind games.
“To answer your initial question, you are the one who will restore the lines.”
I knew this. It was another useless piece of info from my fate: You are the chosen. The one. Your birthright is great. The clouds will clear as your twenty-eighth birthday nears.
“As trite as it sounds, many are counting on you.” Mr. Janson looked over my shoulder and his demeanor shifted back to professional mode. “Welcome. You’re right on time. We’ve got paperwork to review.”
I heard Teryl snicker, but I knew it was from nerves, not humor. I turned and my blood pressure skyrocketed. My plans for settling in quietly fizzled out. Awareness singed my skin.
MacLean was here.
So was mate number two: Jax.