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Release Date May 15, 2018

We're the D’Artigo sisters: savvy half-human, half-Fae agents of the Otherworld Intelligence Agency. My sister Camille is the Queen of Dusk and Twilight. Menolly is now a vampire princess. And me? I’m Delilah, a two-faced werecat and the Autumn Lord’s only living Death Maiden. Even as Trytian’s father maintains the Daemon front raging against him, Shadow Wing is seeking greater power by draining his own armies of their lives. His necromancer Telazhar is dead, but the Demon Lord has found a new threat to move against us, putting my fiancé, Shade, in the most dangerous situation of his life...

Shadow Wing sends Yerghan the Blade after us. The warrior led the battle alongside Telazhar during the Scorching Wars, and was banished to the Sub-Realms along with the ancient necromancer. Now, his new mission: kill my sisters and me. When Yerghan attacks my home, Shade finds himself fighting for his life. Deep in a coma, he’s lost in the Realm of Wandering Souls. My sisters and I must journey there to find him and bring him back. But in order to do so, we must face our darkest fears, or forever risk losing my love among the mists of limbo.

 

Excerpt:

Chapter 1:

“YOU HAVE TO be kidding me.” I stared at the dress that the sales associate was holding up.

A nightmare in tulle and ruching, the gown must have had twenty yards of billowing material draped in folds and layers with a train that spilled out, begging to trip me up. The color was a soft eggshell and the neckline had been contorted into a weird, asymmetrical shape.

“Did the designer drop acid or X or whatever the drug of the month is?” I asked. My question was met with an icy silence. “This is the third dress you’ve brought out that is light years away from what I asked. Have you heard a word I said?”

The woman’s silence extended into a long, offended stare.

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Camille snorted, and Menolly pressed her lips together, trying not to laugh. Iris glared at me, with an expression that I recognized as her Will you behave look.

I let out a long sigh. “Let me try this again. I don’t want a white dress, or any shade of white, cream, ecru, eggshell, ivory, or any variant thereof. I’m not Cinderella. I don’t want a ball gown, or a princess gown. I don’t want a mermaid gown, or anything that looks like a cupcake. I asked you to show me something streamlined. Just a nice long dress that doesn’t poof, fluff, or spill out. I want a pretty, simple gown in a lovely shade of green, or something that suits my coloring.” I had explained this in detail to three different shopkeepers. Each time, we had gone through the same rigmarole, with the same result.

The sales associate let out a little huff. “I’m sorry, miss, but I don’t think I can help you. We don’t sell green wedding dresses. I suggest you might want to try a department store. Or look into buying a prom dress. Or you might find something appropriate at a thrift store.” Her snotty tone ruffled my fur, but Camille grabbed my hand, squeezing tightly before I could respond.

“You’re right,” Camille said, brushing past the saleswoman. “And since you obviously can’t satisfy our needs, then we’ll find a store that will be happy to accept our money. If you’ll excuse us, we’ll be on our way,” she said, her voice dripping with icicles. She motioned for us to follow her.

Grateful that it wasn’t me on the other end of my sister the ice queen’s shade, I grabbed my purse and slung it over my shoulder, following her out. We were almost to the car, Camille still fuming, when I happened to glance down the street. There, a few doors down and still open, was a little vintage shop tucked between a tattoo parlor on one side and a used bookstore on the other. In the window, a mannequin was draped in a vision that took my breath away, a long gown in a rich green, no less.

“Wait!” I dashed toward the shop, the others following me.

The dress in the window was an elegant sleeveless A-line with a fitted bodice. The shoulders were beaded with delicate pearls, and a sheer chiffon overlay stretched across the upper chest. Gathered at the waist, the skirt flowed into soft layers to the floor, with flower appliqués spaced over the top layer that were the same dark silvery-green as the rest of the dress. It was everything I was looking for. Elegant simplicity, and as green as the forest. Praying to Bast that it fit me, I started toward the door before they could close, my sisters and Iris right on my heels.

“Pardon me, Your Majesty, Princess Menolly, Miss Iris, and Miss Delilah, but we have to check it out first.” A man caught up to us, darting around us. One of Camille’s bodyguards, he and the other four men who were tailing us did a good job of giving us the illusion of autonomy, but the fact was, anywhere Camille went, they were always in tow. She groaned, but waved them on.

Inside, the clerk looked worried as the guards entered, but after Jal, the head of Camille’s personal retinue, spoke with her, she brightened up and beckoned for us to come inside.

The clerk was smiling as she saw us. She curtsied clumsily. “I’m honored to have you in my shop, Your Majesty. May I help you with something?”

Camille inclined her head, smiling. “Actually, my sister has a question.” She motioned to me in what felt like a gesture that had been finely tuned for public use. I flashed her a bittersweet smile. Her life really wasn’t her own, anymore.

I gestured to the mannequin in the window. “That dress—the green one. Do you think it would fit me?” I turned to Camille. “They always say you’ll know the right dress when you see it. This is the right dress.”

A soft smile played on her lips. “I know, Kitten. I can see it in your eyes.”

The clerk peeled it off the mannequin. “You’re in luck. I was going to change the window display tomorrow and this would have come down. Here we go.” She glanced at the tag, then with a critical eye, scanned my figure. “I think it should fit you. Would you like to try it on?”

I nodded, surprised that I cared so much. Shade had been after me for the past two months to get it together and help him make some sort of plans for our wedding. I had told him whatever he wanted was fine with me, but he refused to let me off the hook. You’re not going to leave it all up to me,” he had said. “I’m not taking the blame if you aren’t happy with your wedding.”

I wasn’t the planning type. I would have been happy getting married in the living room with only my sisters, Iris, and Hanna there. But a month ago, something had happened that had thrown my laissez-faire attitude out the window. Now I was scrambling to make up for my procrastination.

A month ago, during August, I had traveled with Camille to Otherworld in order to find the last Keraastar Knight. Shortly before that, Greta had shown up. Greta was the leader of the Death Maidens, and she had trained me. This time, she had brought with her a message I hadn’t expected.

***

SIX WEEKS BEFORE the trip to Otherworld:

I was sitting on the bed, clipping my toenails, when I felt a shift in the room. I slowly straightened up, glancing around. Shade was out. He was down at Iris’s, helping Bruce to fix up their greenhouse.

I was feeling on edge. There had been too many unwanted surprises lately, so much so that I felt like I was constantly on high alert. Every noise, every nuance had become an instant alarm. Anything that shifted the energy had raised a red flag until we checked it out.

The constant vigilance was tiring, especially since Camille and Menolly had moved out right before the Summer Solstice. Everything about the past few months had felt off-kilter as I learned how to live in a house that had suddenly emptied out. Oh, Shade was still with me, yes, and Rozurial was still living out in the studio. Maggie and Hanna were with us. But the rooms seemed to echo with the absence of life.

Over in the corner, a figure began to form in a haze of mist. I reached for my dagger, but then relaxed when I recognized the familiar face.

The woman had long hair that waved past her shoulders, the coppery red strands the same color as Menolly’s. On her forehead, she bore the same mark that I did—the silhouette of a black scythe, gleaming like obsidian. Her arms were a vision in vivid black and orange, covered with tattoos of autumn leaves and vines that twined their way up to her shoulders. Again, they were the same as the tattoos on my arms. The leaves burned with color, vibrant and alive. The woman wore a sheer robe the color of twilight over a long gown, and a wreath of autumn leaves wound around her head.

“Greta, I’m surprised to see you. Is anything wrong?”

It had been a while since I had talked to Greta. She was as corporeal as I was, yet she was long dead. She was my trainer, and had become a friend in the process. She lived in Haseofon—the home of the Autumn Lord’s Death Maidens.

“I know. We’ve been giving you time to acclimate to your newest changes.”

I had figured as much. Nine months ago, both Shade and I had faced turning points in our lives. A devil-wraith had siphoned off a number of Shade’s abilities. He was half–shadow dragon, half-Stradolan—a shadow walker. The Stradolan were the descendants of the children of the Autumn Lord and Grandmother Coyote. As a race, they were elemental in nature, only taking physical form if they were half-breeds. And the only race they could interbreed with were the shadow dragons. The children were born sterile, but in physical form. The father was always Stradolan, the mother always shadow dragon.

When the devil-wraith attacked us in the middle of the night, it leeched away Shade’s Stradolan powers. The loss had proved to be a major adjustment, and though he still struggled with it, he was doing better than I had expected.

As for me, in that same timeframe, I had found myself suddenly able to see ghosts. The spirits were everywhere, at times disorienting me to the point of nausea. Greta had told me that it was all part of my transition as I settled into my Death Maiden self, but the ability had manifested so swiftly that I had ended up spending two weeks in Haseofon, learning how to harness my control of it. While I couldn’t exactly turn it off, I no longer felt like I was walking in two worlds at once.

“Then what’s happened? What’s wrong?” I realized as I spoke that, for the most part, I expected to hear bad news from any new messenger.

She held up her hand, smiling. “Nothing’s wrong, but I bring you a message from the Autumn Lord.”

I blinked. Usually, when Hi’ran wanted to talk to me, he came to me himself. Greta must have seen the look on my face, because she smiled again.

“This is his busy time of year, you know. He bade me bring you this.” She held out her hand. In her palm, she was holding a carnelian heart.

I accepted it, turning it over in my fingers. The stone was warm, pulsing with a spark that I recognized as Hi’ran’s energy. I wrapped my fingers around it, closing my eyes. The energy reverberated through me, into my core, as I felt something deep inside me quiver and awaken. His voice reverberated throughout every cell of my body.

It’s time, he said. It’s time to begin.

I paused as the realization of what he was talking about swept over me. When I had first been claimed by the Autumn Lord, it was with the understanding that I, as his only living Death Maiden, would one day bear his child, by proxy. And now, Hi’ran was calling in my promise. Wide-eyed and a little frightened, I looked up at Greta. Her expression told me that she knew what I was thinking.

“But…how…? I’m on a birth control method that lasts several years at a time. I just renewed it a year ago when I was in Otherworld.”

Greta smiled. “Do you think Himself wouldn’t be able to negate that? He’s one of the Harvestmen, an Elemental Lord of the Autumn. But I have answers to some questions he anticipated you might ask. You and Shade must go through two ceremonies. The first is a ceremony joining your hearts. The second, a darker ritual, will prepare the way for the Autumn Lord to mingle his essence with Shade’s semen, which is sterile. This will quicken it, and allow him to impregnate you. I will be your priestess when it’s time for the second ritual.”

My stomach lurched as I realized this was for real. It had all seemed academic before, sometime far off in the future, like old age or retirement. Apparently, the future was closer than I had realized.

I bit my lip. “Well, we’re planning to get married on the autumn equinox.”

“That’s perfect for the joining of hearts,” she said. “You must both undergo a purification ceremony afterward, shortly before the second ritual. The wedding will seal your hearts together. The second ritual we will perform on Samhain, and then, well, nature will take its course.”

I sucked in a deep breath and scooched back on the bed, crossing my legs. Her words reverberated through me. “Who should be our priestess for our wedding? Does it matter? I had my heart set on asking Camille to perform the ceremony.”

Greta reached out to lay her hand on my shoulder. “You may ask your sister, if you wish. Whoever officiates at your heart-joining should be someone you trust and love.” She settled down beside me on the bed. “You do realize what a great honor this is? I would love to be in your place, but I only came to him after I was dead. Delilah, the Autumn Lord would not have chosen you for this task if he didn’t foresee you being happy in the role, happy with the outcome. He’s a harsh taskmaster at times, but unlike some of the other Elemental Lords, and unlike many of the gods, he does care for those who live within the mortal realm. He may not always extend mercy, but he does have compassion. And he truly cares for those who bear his yoke.”

I straightened my shoulders, nodding. “I know. I’ve thought about this a lot over the past four years since he claimed me. While I’m frightened, the truth is that I have always wanted children, and I’ve always known they’d be different, if only because of my own heritage.”

“And Shade?” she asked, probing softly. “You love him?”

I ducked my head, blushing. “Shade? He’s become my heart. He’s my touchstone and rock, he’s my anchor when I feel adrift. He’s also taught me a lot about owning up to my responsibilities. He’s the man I never realized I needed, until he showed up in my life.”

As I spoke, the words resonated through me. I usually didn’t wear my heart on my sleeve. Cats generally preferred to keep their emotions under control, expressed only to those who were closest to them. The concept of relationships had been foreign to me when I came over Earthside with my sisters. A relationship was an affair that other people entered, but one I didn’t believe I would ever understand.

“What about Chase?” Greta knew all about my past.

“Chase? I love him like a brother. We were far too rocky together, and I couldn’t be the woman he needed me to be. I don’t have it in me to be the rescued princess.”

“And Zachary?”

I had also touched hearts briefly with a werepuma named Zachary, but he had been too afraid, too unwilling to fight for what mattered. In the end, he had saved Chase’s life at risk of his own, but now he roamed the hills of Otherworld, permanently in puma form.

I held an image of him in my mind, then let it go, watching it drift by. “He’s a bittersweet memory.”

“Then rest easy. Everything happens for a reason, even when it seems like pure chaos is raining down on your head.” Greta stood, adjusting her robe. “I’ll talk to you soon.” And with that, she vanished before I could say good-bye.

***

THE DRESS FIT perfectly, looking like it was molded onto my body. I stared at myself in the mirror, trying to comprehend that, for once, I truly felt beautiful. I never felt ugly, but I seldom felt truly feminine, like the dress made me feel.

Iris let out a gasp. “Oh, Delilah. That’s so perfect.” The house sprite took a step back, shaking her head. “It won’t need a single alteration. With a wreath of white roses, or perhaps lily of the valley, it would look exquisite.”

“Kitten, you’re so beautiful.” Camille gave me a quick hug. “The dress was practically made for you.” She worried her lip, a wistful look in her eye. “I wish Mother could see you now. The last of her little girls, getting married.”

Menolly just stood back, leaning against the wall, watching me. After a moment, she gave me a thumbs-up. “You’re all grown up, Kitten.”

Those words meant more to me than what they said on the surface. I was second-born, but both Camille, the oldest, and Menolly, the youngest, had always treated me like the baby. I had been the naïve one, insecure and entirely too optimistic for my own good. I would never lose my playful side—at least I hoped never—but the past years had toughened me up enough to withstand the disappointments of life, and to cope with the struggles we went through. To have Menolly acknowledge that I had matured meant the world to me.

“What will you wear if I get this?” I asked. Menolly was my matron of honor, Camille was officiating, of course, and Nerissa and Iris were bridesmaids.

“I think if we wear a pale green, it would complement the rich tones of the dress.” Nerissa and Iris immediately began discussing ideas for their gowns. Camille would wear her official robes as the Queen of Dusk and Twilight, naturally.

I paid for the dress, after finding a beaded vintage bag and a pair of opera-length gloves to pair it with, and we left the shop.

“We should stop somewhere for a drink,” I said. “Want to stop at the Wayfarer?” It had been weeks since we had been out together, and I wanted the night to last.

“Lead on.” Camille stared at the waiting limo, frowning. “I miss driving.”

Ever since her coronation as the Fae Queen of Dusk and Twilight, she had been forced to make a number of radical changes in her life, not all of which had gone over well. For one thing, she wasn’t allowed to drive anymore. She had a limo, and was always followed by a retinue of bodyguards. Lars, one of her guards, did the driving. Tonight, they had brought a stretch limo so we could ride in style. Camille gave him the address of the Wayfarer.

On the way there, Menolly asked, “So are you still planning to hold the wedding at Birchwater Pond?”

“Yeah,” I said. “We can’t think of a more fitting place. And we’re definitely honeymooning up at Silver Falls in Otherworld, though not right away. We want all of you to come. I know the danger of the sun, but we can rig up something to protect you, Menolly.”

Menolly, a vampire, rubbed her forehead. “Roman won’t be into camping, but he’ll be at the wedding. I’ll give it a try if we can figure out a way to protect me from the sunlight. Nerissa, are you up for a camping trip?”

Nerissa was Menolly’s wife. They had both married Roman, the Prince of the Vampire Nation, when his mother, Blood Wyne, had ordered the match. It was a convoluted relationship. Menolly and Roman had chemistry, but Menolly and Nerissa had both chemistry and love.

“Of course. I love camping. It sounds wonderful, the idea of getting away from the city for a week or so. I’ll be able to run free in my puma form without worry.” Nerissa practically purred at the thought.

“Sounds good.” I wasn’t exactly disappointed that Roman most likely wouldn’t be coming along on the camping trip. While he was trustworthy, he was entirely too formal for my tastes. “As I said, I’m not sure when we’ll go. We want to see what happens with the war.”

Camille frowned, staring out the window. “I just want it over with. I wish we would get some word from Trytian about how his father’s army is doing.”

Trytian, the son of a daemon general, was an unlikely ally of ours. Actually, the daemons themselves were our unlikely allies. Apparently the old “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” business had proved true. They were fighting against Shadow Wing in the Sub-Realms, trying to shave away the Demon Lord’s advantages until we could figure out a way to kill him for good.

Iris let out a heavy sigh. “I know. Things feel like they’re balancing on the edge of a razor. I’ve been uneasy lately.” She paused, then added, “I might as well tell you this now. Bruce and I have been talking about moving out to Talamh Lonrach Oll.”

I jerked around, my heart sinking. “No! You want to leave, too?” The thought of Iris, Bruce, and their babies leaving the land knotted my stomach. “Please, don’t you go, too.”

“We’re just talking about it right now. But Delilah, there’s so much uncertainty. We all know Shadow Wing is planning something, and my children need more protection than I can give them. Even the guards Camille sent over from Talamh Lonrach Oll to watch over the land are feeling it lately—they’ve doubled their rounds. I was talking to one of them yesterday. He said he feels like we’re being watched by something that’s biding its time. But they can’t figure out what it is, and it’s making everybody nervous.”

I knew she was right, even though I didn’t want to admit it. Shade and I needed to scrounge up a powerful witch to ward the property, now that we were in charge. Camille was too busy with her own court, and we couldn’t expect her to come out just to check the wards every week.

We reached the Wayfarer, where we crowded in. The place was jumping, and I watched Menolly as she gave a wistful look around the joint. She still owned the bar, though mostly just on paper. She stood at the counter, running her hand over the polished wood, talking to Derrick the bartender in low tones. She looked as uneasy as I felt.

“Are you all right?” I sat down beside her as Derrick moved off to take Iris, Nerissa, and Camille’s orders.

She flashed me a quick shrug. “I suppose. I’m just thinking how much our lives have changed over this past year. We’re all moving on, Kitten. We’re growing up, changing our lives, changing our natures. Ever since Nerissa and I moved over to Roman’s, those shifts have been hitting me right and left. The three of us have been together all of our lives. Now we’re expanding out, and leaving that bond behind. I love my life, but… Growing up’s a bitch.” Her fangs descended just enough for me to see their pearly whites.

I was startled by her nostalgia. Normally, I was the one caught up in ruminating over the past, but during the past few months I had been too busy with the present to focus on what was slipping into the past. Once Camille and Menolly had moved out, I had turned my attention to my own life, and I had been mulling over what we needed to do in the looming battle against Shadow Wing. It was nearing end-game time, and the promise of that last clash loomed large in my thoughts.

“We aren’t losing the bond we have. I’d say, rather, that our childhood, our time here, has become our foundation for our lives, rather than the entire building.” I brushed one of her braids back from her face. Menolly was five-one, with a petite build and long burnished braids that fell to her lower back. She wore beads in them. She said when they clicked, it reminded her she was still alive. Well, undead. Like most vampires, she made little to no sound as she moved through her nights.

She glanced up at me. “Philosophical, much?”

“Not really. I’m not much of a philosophy type. But I think I’m beginning to understand what you and Camille have been trying to teach me over the past few years. I’m standing back, staring at life through the big picture, rather than a snapshot.” I paused. I had hinted to Camille on our trip to Otherworld about what was imminent in my life, but I hadn’t outright told her. Only Shade knew at this point.

“I need to talk to you and Camille. Nerissa and Iris, too.”

“You want to talk in a private room?”

I shook my head. “No, I don’t feel like being closed in. I want to go outside. It’s a warm-enough night. I guess when we get back to the house will be soon enough for discussing deep secrets.” I suddenly didn’t feel like drinking anymore. I put down my glass and brushed my hair away from the back of my neck. I had cut it again, missing the ease of the short, spiky ‘do I’d had for so long. My neck felt like something was tickling the base of it, making me edgy.

“Do you mind if we just go home?”

Frowning, Menolly shook her head. “Not at all. I’ll gather the others.” She paused. “Are you all right, Kitten?”

“Yeah, it’s just…I feel like something’s wrong.” As she disappeared into the crowd, a cold chill swept over me and I wondered what change the wind was bringing with it this time.

***

ON THE WAY home, I glanced out the window, staring at the ghosts who walked the sides of the roads. They appeared to be from various times, long past, and yesterday. Normally, I shielded myself from them because the sights and sounds disturbed me. But tonight, for some reason, I decided to open up, to watch them wander past. Some were lost, not realizing they were dead. Others knew they were dead but still clung to the mortal realm, unwilling to leave. Some were cursed, trapped for one reason or another, while still others were mere fragments of memory, caught in a loop between the layers of time.

“Delilah? Delilah!” Camille finally broke through my thoughts.

“I’m sorry, I was off somewhere.” I straightened up. “What did you want?”

“I wanted to know whether you have a guest list yet. It’s late, but we can still send out invitations if you want. I can lend you a secretary of sorts.” She grinned. “There are perks to being a Fae Queen.”

I laughed, then. “Taking advantage of your authority, are you? Thanks, but we’re not inviting many people, and I can just call the ones we are. But if you could give me some help for the catering, I’d appreciate it, thanks. I don’t want to put the pressure on Iris and Hanna, and I’m just not good at managing that sort of thing.”

“Hey, while we’re on the way home I want to ask your opinion about a situation that’s been presented to me. I’d like your input on it, all of you.” Menolly glanced at Nerissa, who nodded.

“Tell them,” she said. “They’ll tell you the same thing I did.”

“What is it?” Iris asked.

Menolly brushed her braids back away from her face. “Okay, here’s the thing. Erin’s been promoted to head of security. I’m proud as hell of her. But…” She drifted off, looking uncomfortable.

“But what?” Camille asked. “I don’t see the problem.”

Menolly gave her a frustrated shrug. “Erin doesn’t want the job. She’s been offered another opportunity. I don’t want her to accept it, but she wants to give it a try. I could stop her, order her not to go, but Nerissa and Roman both think I’d be making a mistake by doing so.”

Even though Erin was by far older than we were—at least if you compared the human life cycle to the Fae life cycle—she was a baby by vampire standards. Menolly had sired her when Erin’s life was on the line a few years back. It had taken everything Menolly had to do so—she had sworn never to sire anyone. But when she gave Erin the choice, Erin had opted for life as a vampire over death, so Menolly had reluctantly turned her. Now, she was essentially Erin’s mother.

“What’s the other opportunity?” I leaned forward. I couldn’t imagine a job that had more prestige than being Roman’s chief of security.

“Wade’s offered her a chance to tour the country with him, setting up chapters of Vampires Anonymous all over the United States. Blood Wyne approves, and Roman’s giving Erin free choice. Erin’s waiting for my approval, and I know she wants to do it. I’m just…it’s a scary world out there for vampires who are in the public eye.” Menolly bit her lip, a worried look in her eye.

I began to understand her fear. “You’re afraid she’ll get staked at some hate-rally.”

“Well, the hate groups are loud and violent. While the vampire rights bill is before Congress right now, even if it passes, we’ve got a long ways to go before society fully accepts us.” She glanced at Nerissa. “Nerissa thinks I should let her do it.”

“Of course I do.” The Amazonian werepuma was one of the few women who could take on my sister and come out on top, in more ways than one. “Erin is spreading her wings. This is a great opportunity for her to grow into her new life. She’s smart, and she’s always been on the front lines. You know that. Hell, Erin is gay. She took on the haters when she was alive, and she can handle them as a vampire. This is a chance for her to champion yet another cause she’s passionate about. And you know Wade thinks the world of her.”

Menolly hung her head, lips pressed together. Wade had been a psychologist before someone turned him and his mother. He had decided to continue that career path, helping newly minted vamps adjust to their lives in death, and he had founded a self-help group for vampires to enable themselves to keep control over the predator within. Vampires Anonymous had caught the attention of Blood Wyne, the Queen of the Crimson Veil, and she had asked him to expand it nationwide.

I tried not to laugh. Menolly could be so fierce and deadly, and yet she was a yummy, gooey éclair inside when you poked certain areas.

“So let me get this straight. Erin has a chance to get in on the ground floor of something that can affect vampires’ lives for the better, on a nationwide scale, no less. She can make an impact on society and the world, and you’re dithering about whether to let her accept the job?” I leaned forward, tapping Menolly on the knee. “You know what you have to do.”

After a moment, she let out a sputter. “I’ve grown used to having her around, all right? I’m just…I’m going to miss her, damn it.” She sprawled back in her seat with a disgruntled grunt. “I know, I know. I have to let her do this. Grandmother Coyote told me years ago that Erin had a part to play in destiny, and I think this is it. So I guess I have to just bundle up my nerves and tell her to go with my blessing. But it’s not easy.”

“And you say you have no maternal instinct.” Iris laughed. “Remember, the nurturing instinct presents itself in many different ways.”

Standing at three-foot-ten, the Talon-haltija was a Finnish house sprite. With ankle-length golden hair, she looked for all the world like she had just stepped out of a Swiss Miss cocoa commercial. In reality, Iris was a powerful priestess who could turn people inside out when she was angry enough. She had married Bruce, a leprechaun, and they had twins. The boy was named Ukkonen, and the girl was named Maria, after our mother. Other than Bruce’s parents, we were the only real family Iris had.

“I guess that takes care of that issue. For the record, I agree with the others. You have to let Erin fly the nest.” Camille glanced out the window. The limo rode so smoothly it was hard to believe we were moving. “So what do you think the guys are up to?”

“Drinking? Remember when they got bombed out of their minds the night we all went to the Demented Zombie for Iris’s bachelorette party?” I snorted.

“Mostly, I remember Iris throwing up on the stripper when he shoved his junk in her face, and then you attacking him because he had fringe on his G-string.” Menolly stared at me, a smirk spreading across her face.

“Don’t remind me.” I had a problem controlling my shapeshifting when it came to shiny things, birds, and ribbons. Tabby loved to play, and I couldn’t repress my natural instincts very well.

“My guess is that Smoky and Shade are talking over serious dragon issues while Roz and Vanzir are playing video games,” Iris said. “Vanzir doesn’t get to do much that he used to, now that Aeval has pinned him down as her baby-daddy.”

As the limo silently glided up the long private road that led to the house, I grew nervous again. Something had set off my inner alarm and I couldn’t seem to quiet them down. We broke through the heavily tree-lined driveway into the clearing that served as our motor court, and I stared at the house.

An odd light seemed to hover around the old three-story Victorian, the same rust color that the sunset took on certain evenings. At that moment, I noticed that the drive was filled with cars.

“What the hell?” I stiffened, every nerve in my body screaming Danger!

Camille let out a soft hush. “Come on. We’ll find out what’s wrong.”

She pushed open the car door even as her guards sprang out behind us, pushing past her to head up the sidewalk to the porch stairs before she could take another step.

Leaving our packages in the car, we followed them. I knew in my gut that there was something going on inside, something that wasn’t normal. Unable to quell my nerves, I rushed up the stairs, passing the guards as I slammed open the door. My thoughts were focused on Maggie, our baby calico gargoyle, and Shade.

I headed to the living room, where I saw the lights were off. My mood plunged even further.

Camille and Menolly were right behind me, with Iris and Nerissa behind them. I fumbled for the light switch, afraid of what I might see. As I flipped it on, there was a sudden barrage of movement as a roomful of people jumped out from behind the furniture shouting, “Surprise!”

I blinked as I caught sight of a huge banner hanging against the back wall that read, “Happy Bridal Shower!”

“You guys, I can’t believe you set this up!” I started to say, trying to calm my beating heart. But then a woman entered the room from the parlor, and my stomach knotted again. Shade’s sister, Lash, was here. No wonder I had been on high alert.

COLLAPSE

Playlist for Harvest Song

Android Lust: Here and NowI
The Bravery: Believe
Broken Bells: The Ghost Inside
Buffalo Springfield: For What It's Worth
Chumbawumba: Tubthumping
Corvus Corax: In Taberna, Ballade de Mercy, Bucca
The Cure: The Hanging Garden, Cold, From The Edge of the Deep Green Sea
Damh the Bard: Silent Moon, Tomb of the King, Obsession, Cloak of Feathers, Grimspound, The Wicker Man, The Cutty Wren, Matty Groves, Twa Corbies
David and Steve Gordon: Shaman's Drum Dance
Dire Straits: Down to the Waterline
Don Henley: Sunset Grill
Eagles: Life in the Fast Lane
Eastern Sun: Beautiful Being
Eels: Souljacker Part 1: Love of the Loveless
Faun: Lupercalia, Iduna, The Market Song, Golden Apples, Adam Lay Ybounden, Rad, Sieben, Tinta, Tanz mit mir
Foo Fighters: The Pretender, All My Life
Foster the People: Pumped Up Kicks
Gabrielle Roth: Raven, Red Wind, Cloud Mountain
Gerry Rafferty: Baker Street
Gorillaz: Hongkongaton, Rockit, Kids with Guns, Dirty Harry, Last Living Souls, Feel Good Inc., Dare; Fire Coming Out of the Monkey's Head, Demon Days, Stylo
Harry Nilsson: Coconut
Eric Burdon & War: Spill the Wine
Hedningarna: Tulli, Chicago, Ukkonen, Grodan/Widergrenen (Toadeater), Raven (Fox Woman), Juopolle Joutunut, Drafur & Gildur
The Herbaliser: You're Not All That
In Strict Confidence: Wintermoon, Tiefer, Snow White, Silver Bullets, Silver Tongues
Ladytron: I'm Not Scared, Burning Up, Ghosts
Mark Lanegan: The Gravedigger's Song, Bleeding Muddy Water, Riot in My House, Wedding Dress, Phantasmagoria Blues, Methamphetamine Blues, Creeping Coastline of Lights, Little Sadie
Ohio Players: Fire
Oingo Boingo: Dead Man's Party, Elevator Man
The Police: Don't Stand so Close to Me, King of Pain
Queen: We Will Rock You
REM: Drive
Screaming Trees: Where the Twain Shall Meet, Dime Western, Gospel Plow
Sister Sledge: We Are Family
Spiral Dance: The Goddess and the Weaver, Boys of Bedlam, Asgard's Chase, Tarry Trousers, Rise Up
Stealers Wheel: Stuck in the Middle with You
Steppenwolf: Born To Be Wild, Magic Carpet Ride, Twisted
Tempest: Queen of Argyll, Nottamun Town, Buffalo Jump, Black Jack Davey
Three Dog Night: Mama Told Me
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Mary Jane's Last Dance
Wendy Rule: The Circle Song, The Wolf Sky, Evolution, Elemental Chant
Woodland: Silent Dance, Blood of the Moon, Golden Raven's Eye, First Melt, Conjure, Bacchus and the Maenads, Secrets Told
Zero 7: In the Waiting Line

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Harvest Song