Read an Excerpt
Table of Contents
Praise for WiTCH BLOOD
“Any paranormal fan will be guaranteed a Top Pick read. Anya has provided it all in this hot new paranormal series. You get great suspense, vivid characters, and a world that just pops off the pages . . . Not to be missed.”
—Night Owl Romance Reviews
“Gritty danger and red-hot sensuality make this book and series smoking!”—Romantic Times
“Deliciously sexy and intriguingly original.”
—New York Times bestselling author Angela Knight
“Sizzling suspense and sexy magic are sure to propel this hot new series onto the charts. Bast is a talent to watch, and her magical world is one to revisit.”—Romantic Times
“A sensual feast sure to sate even the most finicky of palates. Richly drawn, dynamic characters dictate the direction of this fascinating story. You can’t miss with Anya.”
—A Romance Review
“Fast-paced, edgy suspense . . . The paranormal elements are fresh and original. This reader was immediately drawn into the story from the opening abduction, and obsessively read straight through to the dramatic final altercation. Bravo, Ms. Bast; Witch Fire is sure to be a fan favorite.”
—Paranormal Romance Reviews
“A fabulously written ultimate romance. Anya Bast tells a really passionate story and leaves you wanting more . . . The elemental witch series will be a fantastic read.”
—The Romance Readers Connection
“A terrific romantic fantasy starring two volatile lead characters . . . The relationship between fire and air makes the tale a blast to read.”—The Best Reviews
Berkley Sensation Titles by Anya Bast
Heat Titles by Anya Bast
the chosen sin
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada
(a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Group Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.)
Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia
(a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.)
Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—110 017, India
Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand
(a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196,
Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
A Berkley Sensation Book / published by arrangement with the author
Berkley Sensation mass-market edition / January 2009
Copyright © 2009 by Anya Bast.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
eISBN : 978-1-101-01468-4
Berkley Sensation Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
BERKLEY® SENSATION and the “B” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
For my mom,
thanks for your support in everything I do.
I love you more than I can say.
TWENTY-THREE YEARS AS THE HANDMAIDEN OF A daaeman had prepared Claire for many things, but not this. Nothing could have prepared her for this.
She huddled back against a brick wall, the cold seeping through her thin dress, and watched the inky shadows grow on the building opposite her. Discarded paper disturbed by the wind rustled over the pavement and a sudden bloom of voices and laughter came from the mouth of the alley and gradually faded away.
Still the shadows grew.
Claire glanced at the street beyond the pocket of shadows in which she’d secreted herself, where pale yellow light from street lamps pooled on the sidewalk. She didn’t think she could make it. She didn’t think she could outrun them.
There were few people in the world—any of the worlds—who could outrun a determined daaeman, especially an Atrika.
The alien earth sighed and shuddered far beyond the concrete beneath her feet, reacting to her dulled and confused magick. This place, this Earth, was nothing like she remembered. The place she barely recalled was green, soft, and redolent with fragrant, growing things. This place was hard and chilly. Too loud. It hurt her eyes with sharp edges and bright lights.
Part of her had longed to return to this place, even while most of her had feared it. Claire knew now she’d been right to fear.
Pass me by. Please, pass by.
The odd dry tang of Rue’s magick still flavored the back of her mouth. The hot rush of it had faded to something bitter. It tingled through her body, giving her the shakes from time to time as her body struggled to contain this thing that was so much bigger than her. She wasn’t meant to hold this power. She wasn’t made for it. It wasn’t hers. The elium, the most powerful weapon of the Ytrayi. Or at least, that’s what she suspected it was. Whatever it was, the Atrika wanted it and that could only mean her death.
The only question was whether it would come slow or fast.
She squeezed her eyes shut, remembering. It had only happened yesterday, but it seemed like years had passed. When the Atrika had breached the palace defenses, Rue had taken her to the portal room with the intention of destroying the interdimensional doorway that bridged Earth and Eudae.
But when the Atrika had broken into the chamber, Rue had blasted her with a ball of magick so strong it had momentarily taken her sense of sight, smell, and hearing. As he’d meant it to, the blast had catapulted her backward, into the doorway. Rue had meant to destroy the portal after she’d fallen through, and undoubtedly he had, but not before two Atrika had lunged in after her.
On the Earth side of the portal, she’d taken one single moment to orient herself and then had lurched forward into a run for her life, knowing the Atrika would be fast behind her. Even though her stomach had been heaving with the aftermath of her fall through the doorway, even though her head had been ready to split like a too ripe melon, she’d run.
But not fast enough. Not far enough. And she certainly hadn’t hidden well enough.
Last night she’d climbed a set of metal stairs and curled up on the top of a building to sleep with the sounds of a city she almost remembered, but not quite, below her. In the morning, forced to find food, she’d climbed down and had done her level best to avoid the two Atrika she’d known were hunting her.
In all her years on Eudae she’d never even seen an Atrika up close. Rue, the Cae, leader of the Ytrayi daaeman breed, had treated her as a pampered pet. He’d protected her from anything that might hurt her . . . until now. With Rue, she’d wanted for nothing, never gone without food. This, all of this, was utterly foreign to her.
She needed to find Thomas Monahan and the aeamon, half-breed daaeman/humans, who resided on this planet. They called themselves elemental witches here. They were the only ones who would understand what had happened. They were the only ones who could help her now.
Claire knew little of them, didn’t know where to find them, or how they functioned in this world. She couldn’t even use her magick, not with Rue’s gift fluttering inside her. She had no idea how her power would react. If it was elium Rue had imbued her with, accidentally tapping it could mean utter destruction. The inability to use her power was perhaps the worst thing about her current condition.
Worse than the cold. Worse than the hunger or the fatigue or the fear.
In every way imaginable, she was hobbled.
Claire had never been so cold. In all the demonic winters she’d spent on Eudae, where the temperatures ranged into the bone-shattering range for an aeamon, she’d never been this miserable. The wound she’d sustained on her foot the first day as she’d run from the Atrika hadn’t so much healed up as it had frozen up. Hunger constantly distracted her and made her weak. By now she was so bedraggled, people on the street gave her a wide berth and pitying glances.
Never had she been so humiliated.
Today she’d walked down streets, not knowing where she was headed. She’d only known she had to keep moving since the Atrika might be able to track her magickally.
People had pressed paper and coins, which she recognized as money, into her palm once in a while. However, when she’d inquired where she could find the elemental witches, they’d only given her strange looks and hurried away. Inquiries as to how to protect herself against demons—the human’s pronunciation of daaeman—had met with a similar response, so Claire had stopped asking. These random acts of generosity were few and far between, but they’d already helped her buy a little food, a transaction she’d stumbled through badly. And the resulting piece of meat wrapped in soggy bread had been horrid.
She’d managed to evade the Atrika for a while, but then she’d turned a corner and there they’d been. Claire had whirled and tried to go in the other direction before they spotted her, but it had been too late. So she’d run to this alley and endeavored to hide.
Now they were searching for her. She could smell them. Daaeman magick had a peculiar sharp scent and these Atrika weren’t masking their true nature at the moment. Likely they were trying to spook her.
It was working.
Claire opened her eyes just for a moment and glanced up into the dark sky with its odd absence of stars. Nothing but concrete here. Concrete and square shapes. Black, cold sky. On Eudae, in the capital city of Ai, the buildings were made of lavender and rose marble, sometimes black or gray. They all shone and glittered under the sun. Structures built in columns, gentle slopes, and arches. The palace, called Yrystrayi, was majestic in its architecture.
Daaeman were brutal regardless of breed. Even the Syari, the scholar class, were more prone to killing before asking questions. The warrior class, the Atrika, were the worst. Unlike the rest of the breeds, they dined on rotting flesh, loved to drink blood, and became aroused by torture and pain.
But all the breeds, even the Atrika, had beautiful architecture.
Her mother told her she’d been born here on Earth, and Claire did have some hazy, early childhood memories of this place, but mostly she felt like she’d slipped down a rabbit hole. Her mother, before she’d died, had told the story of Alice in Wonderland often to Claire. Maybe her mother had felt like Alice when she’d first come to Eudae as much as Claire did now on Earth.
Footsteps crushed refuse underfoot, disconcertingly close. Claire froze, the saliva in her mouth drying up.
The shadowy fingers on the building opposite her lengthened and then halted. Claire caught her breath and didn’t blink. Honking and voices from the street barely filtered into her arrested awareness. The fingers reversed and came back in her direction.
Claire balanced, ready to take flight. Run. That’s all she could do. She wanted to tap her magick, use her best weapon. Her fingers tingled with the desire to do it.
A daaeman face appeared above her. “Got you.”
His huge hands came down on her shoulders and squeezed. Tears burst into her eyes from the pain. She struggled and his grip dropped to her wrists making her yelp.
The second Atrika grabbed the first around the waist and hauled him back away from her. “She’s mine!” he growled.
The first daaeman who’d grabbed her—Claire believed he was called Tevan—gathered himself from where he’d been knocked to the pavement. With a low growl trickling from his throat, he launched himself at the second. Both their eyes glowed red and their teeth had extended.
Claire stood for a split second, watching the daaeman face off. If the magick Rue had imbued her with was elium, it was very valuable to them. Of course they’d fight over it. Within her lay all their hopes and dreams of victory against the ruling Ytrayi. They would each want control of it.
Lucky her to carry such a treasure.
Realizing they’d lost their prey, the Atrika stopped their territorial dispute and followed her.
Ducking low and swerving, she just evaded Tevan’s grasp and shot out of the alley, dodging tall silver cans, lumpy black sacks, and jumping over discarded boxes. Her shoes, made for the sleek marble floors of the palace, hadn’t fared well on the concrete pathways of Earth. Shredded on the bottom, they provided little protection.
Something sharp stabbed her sole and she yelped, feeling a gush of hot, sticky blood. She cursed in Aemni, one of the languages commonly spoken among all the breeds. Now she was leaving a perfect trail for them.
She careened out into the street and nearly collided with a man. He yelled at her as she dove around him and sped down the sidewalk.
Across the way, a flood of people exited a building, spilling out into the night-dark streets under a brightly lit overhanging sign, talking and laughing. Knowing a crowd was her only chance, Claire detoured, pounding across the road. The shiny fast-moving conveyances—cars, that’s what they were called—honked and swerved.
She plunged into the crowd on the other side, scattering those directly around her with surprised gasps. Risking a glance backward, she saw the two Atrika had reached the street and had spotted her. They made their way toward her.
“Help! Help me!” Her voice sounded rusty and she choked on the English. She’d used it with Rue when he wanted practice and with the earth witch, Thomas, when he’d been trapped in Yrystrayi. Otherwise she hadn’t spoken it since her mother had died.
The people around her appeared alarmed. Most didn’t look at her. They pretended she wasn’t standing there asking for aid in tattered shoes and a torn, dirty dress that provided no protection against the cold bite of the air. Some glanced at her with pity on their faces; others smirked and talked behind their hands. A woman pressed one of the pieces of green paper into her palm. Claire stared down at it, uncomprehending. She’d asked for help, not money.
“Please, the daae—demons,” she whispered. “The Atrika demons will get me.”
The Atrika would crack the seat of her magick open to get the elium. Crack her like a nut for the meat inside. How had Rue ever expected her to succeed? One aeamon servant against two motivated Atrika daaeman?
She closed her eyes, reliving the moment when the Atrika had forced the door of the Ytrayi portal chamber down. The burst of brilliant magick, the bellows and war whoops, the Atrika all in a killing rage. Rue could even now be dead. There was no help in her immediate future. Even if Rue had survived, it would take a long time to open another doorway, even longer for Rue to track her down.
A hand curled over her shoulder, startling her. She looked up into a handsome male face. Elegant, sloping brown brows, green eyes, a smile. “Come with me,” the man said. “There’s a diner just up the way. We’ll get a meal and see what we can do to help you.”
Her gaze flicked back to the daaeman crossing the street. They were growing very close now. She grabbed the man’s arm. “Yes, let’s go.”
He patted her hand. “It’s all right. Calm down now, okay?”
She glanced backward at her pursuers. “Let’s stay with the crowd. Do you mind?”
“Of course not. Will the crowd keep the . . . demons . . . away?”
Oh, thank all Four Houses and the Patrons! He understood. She nodded emphatically. “They won’t hurt me if I’m with humans. They don’t want to incite an interdimensional incident.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Ah. Let’s go then. What’s your name?”
“Claire, what a lovely name. What’s your last name?”
She didn’t answer because she didn’t know it. Her mother had never told her. She only shook her head and glanced away, embarrassed. Were surnames very important here? A mark of class, perhaps?
As they walked, the man flipped open a small black object, punched some buttons and spoke into it. Claire didn’t pay attention to what he said, she was too focused on the daaeman following them. They kept their distance now, but they would stalk her until they found her alone and vulnerable. All she’d done was buy herself some time.
Claire hoped the humans had some way of dealing with Atrika. She’d heard one had been stuck here without a doorway for many years. The witches had dealt with that one. Perhaps the elemental witches were rulers in this place. It would make sense, considering their abilities. Although that didn’t explain all the blank looks she got when she asked about them. At least she’d found one man who understood about the Atrika. Hopefully, he’d know how to find Thomas Monahan.
The good news—if there was good news—was that there were only two Atrika and no more could follow, since Rue had destroyed the doorway.
A hysterical laugh bubbled up from her depths. She was penniless and lost in a foreign world she hadn’t walked on since she was six years old and there only two Atrika who were chasing her. That was the good news?
The man looked concerned when she laughed. He hesitated, then pulled the door of a restaurant open for her. “We’re here.” Claire’s mind had been spinning so hard, she hadn’t even noticed they’d reached their destination.
She entered a small establishment, glancing at her surroundings. People sat belly up to a long counter. Others sat in the booths near the large front window that gave a view of the darkened street. Most of the restaurant’s patrons turned and looked at her, making Claire self-conscious about her clothing and dirt-smudged face.
“No vagrants in here,” said a skinny, sharp-faced waitress wielding a pot of some dark, unidentifiable liquid.
Horror shot through Claire. “I am not a vagrant.” She glanced away, knowing full well she looked like one. She’d been—was—handmaiden to the Cae of the Ytrayi daaeman breed. Slave, perhaps, but slave to the master. That meant the best of everything, even though she’d been property.
The man set a hand to her shoulder. “Of course you aren’t.” Then he turned to the waitress. “It’s okay. I’m a clinical psychologist and . . .” He pulled the waitress aside and spoke in low tones to her. The waitress nodded and glanced at her.
Claire’s intuition niggled. This was not a good thing.
That had not been a good glance.
A clinical psychologist? Her mind sorted through the notebooks filled with English lessons and vocabulary her mother had left her. A psychologist was a physician of the mind. Why had he mentioned that to the waitress? Did he think Claire was crazy?
She sucked in a breath. Her alarm factor ratcheted upward. She had to get out of here. What had seemed like a safe refuge a moment ago didn’t seem so anymore. Houses, she had no idea who to trust in this world, which meant she could trust no one.
She lifted her gaze to the window and saw the darker-skinned Atrika staring in at her. His eyes were shadowed and full of menace. He parted his lips and flashed fang at her—a silent promise.
The bell on the door behind her jingled and she turned to see the other Atrika, masking as human, enter the diner. This one was lighter than the other—tall, blond, broad-shouldered. Ripped with muscle, this one could break her bones with a twist of his wrist. This was the one she thought was called Tevan. If it was Tevan, he was one of the leaders of the Atrika uprising. A commander.
Oddly, he looked like Rue. It made her throat close with longing for home—safe, warm home. She had mixed feelings about the Ytrayi, but right now the thought of them was a familiar comfort in a world of threat.
Hundreds of years ago, the Ytrayi—leading two of the other daaeman breeds—had tried to exterminate all Atrika from the face of Eudae. They’d missed pockets of them and those survivors had gone underground, vowing to take Eudae for themselves one day. The attempted genocide had fueled an already growing war between the breeds.
The one she thought was Tevan caught her gaze for one long moment and she couldn’t look away. Violent promise shimmered deep in his dark blue eyes. He ducked into a booth and pretended to read the plastic menu. He still wore his fighting leathers from head to toe and drew many curious glances.
All of the daaeman breeds, there were four of them, could mask their appearance through magick. An Atrika could appear to be Ytrayi or Syari or Mandari, for example. They only showed their true faces when angered or on a hunt. At the moment Tevan was indistinguishable from any other male in the restaurant, but for his powerful build.
Claire turned back around, her heart thumping. She pasted a purposefully bland look on her face. It would not help to allow the Atrika to know how badly they frightened her. They loved it when their prey was afraid. It made the hunt that much more fulfilling to them, made them want to be more savage once they caught their prey.
Claire took a second glance around her surroundings, noting the entrance to the kitchen and a small hallway leading to two doors nearby. There was probably a back exit, but she couldn’t go that way. The second Atrika was undoubtedly on the other side of it by now; he’d disappeared from the sidewalk in front. She needed a window or something that let out on the side of the building.
The clinical psychologist turned back to her, a tight little smile on his face. “Please, let’s sit down. I ordered a nice orange juice for you.”
Claire didn’t know what this nice orange juice was, but she wanted no part of it. “I need to, uhm . . .”
He took her by the upper arm and led her to a booth. “Just sit with me a little. I want to talk to you about the . . . demons.”
Yes, now she heard the disbelief in his voice when he said the word demon, heard the hesitation. Perhaps the witches here were underground. Maybe the humans knew nothing of them or daaeman, nothing of their intersection with the people of Eudae in their ancient past.
How could they be so ignorant?
Claire slid uneasily into the booth, feeling the slick plastic beneath the fabric of her dress. At least it was warm in here. A moment later the waitress set a tall glass of bright liquid in front of her.
The man leaned forward, making the plastic beneath him creak. “Claire, do you know what year it is?”
She didn’t. Claire stared hard at the tabletop.
“Claire? Do you know what country you’re in?”
That one she knew. She looked up. “The United States.”
The man smiled. “Very good. Yes, you’re here in Chicago, among friends. Do you know who the president of the United States is?”
She could take it no longer. “Of course I don’t! I’ve been trapped in a demon dimension for twenty-five years, since I was six years old! I only just came back a day ago, after being forced to ingest a ball of magick I shouldn’t be carrying and then pushed through an interdimensional doorway. I am being chased by two of the most aggressive of the four demon breeds for that magick. They’ll kill me to get it.” She pursed her lips together and stared at his dropped jaw and wide eyes. “So, you see, sir, I do not want to sit here and answer meaningless questions about who your president is.”
Outside a high-pitched whine grew louder. She frowned, glancing out the window. Something approached. What was that horrid sound?
“I’ve called some people to come and help you, Claire.”
Another laugh burbled from her depths. “Help me? No one can help me now. Most especially not you.” She slid from the booth and bolted for the kitchen. Behind her, she heard the Atrika rise and follow her, his footsteps heavy on the shiny floor.
The man also followed her, yelling at her to stop. She glanced back, seeing Tevan shove him to the side. The human male went sprawling against the counter and careened to the floor while the diner’s patrons gasped.
She plunged through the doorway and into the kitchen, immediately becoming engulfed in strange greasy odors. Claire skidded to a stop in front of a cook who stood slack-jawed, loosely holding some sort of food preparation implement.
Claire ran down the stairs near the man, the only exit available to her. Hearing heavy tread behind her, she raced to the only safe place she could see—a doorway leading into some sort of storage room—and slammed the door closed behind her.
She pulled a shelf filled with cans and food sacks over in front of the door just as the Atrika hit it on the other side with teeth-rattling strength. Tevan bellowed in outrage even as she wedged the shelving into a space that would prevent him from pushing the door open.
She had one advantage. The daaeman wouldn’t be able to jump—teletransport themselves—for a couple of days. They needed to find true equilibrium with the vibrational frequency of this dimension before they could do that. The molecules of this place moved slower than those of Eudae, and to bend space to jump before they found a balance might kill them.
She should be so lucky.
Claire whirled, eyes wide and breathing hard. Her magick pulsed within her chest, tingled through her arms and legs, begging for release, but it was in there, mixed with the other, strange daaeman magick. She had to deny it.
Copper? Was there any copper here? All the daaeman breeds were allergic to it. It was banned on Eudae, even dug up and disposed of in toxic waste areas, but here on Earth it wouldn’t be. She saw none in her vicinity that she could identify. Too bad, since likely Tevan and his friend hadn’t yet been able to develop any partial protection against the metal.
Tevan pushed and yelled on the opposite side of the doorway. It was only a question of time before he found a way through magickally.
Time to leave. Frantically, she searched for a way out.
There! A small window close to the ceiling, above a low counter strewn with cans of vegetables. Apparently, this room was mostly underground.
Behind her, the door opened a crack and the metal of the shelving bent. “I am Tevan, commander in the Atrikan military, and I almost have you, little witch.”
CLAIRE SCRAMBLED ONTO THE COUNTER AND unlocked the window. Her movements made oddly precise from the terror coursing through her, she pushed with all her might until the old window gave and slid upward. She pulled herself out of the opening, standing on cans to boost herself upward.
Immediately, hands clamped down on her shoulders and yanked her up like she weighed nothing. She struggled, kicking and screaming, thinking it was the other daaeman who’d come around to guard the window.
“Stay still! We’re trying to help you!” demanded a gravelly voice.
Four hands pushed her down to the cold pavement. “Let me go! They’re after me. Please!” she cried.
“Yeah, yeah. We know. Demons are chasing you, right?”
Strong arms yanked her to a standing position. She found herself blinking up into the faces of two tall men, one with dark skin and the other with light. They wore uniforms. She struggled for a moment, trying to place it . . . ah, they were policemen. Meant to protect and serve. Guardians of the peace, protectors of the innocent. She relaxed. She was safe.
“Claire, right?” asked the dark-skinned officer.
Glancing around at the dank, narrow passageway between the buildings, she nodded. Where had the Atrika gone?
“I’m Officer Adams and this is Officer Evans. We’re going to take you in, get you some help.” He began to draw her toward the street, but she dug her heels in. The officer stopped and turned toward her with a sigh. “We’re going to make sure the demons don’t get you, all right?”
His tone. She frowned. He sounded like she was his tenth crazy person that day and he was weary of all of them.
“How can you protect me from the demons when you don’t believe in them?”
Officer Evans took out a pair of cuffs on a sigh. “Look, lady. We’re almost off shift, you know? Why don’t you let us bring you in nice and easy, without cuffs. I understand you were being chased by some man . . . was that your boyfriend, honey? There’s another unit around front, dealing with him. You can press charges against him at the station. So, let’s just go, okay?”
“I can’t go to your station. If I go with you now, the demons will find me and kill me.”
“That’s it.” He grabbed her and forced her arms behind her back. The snick of the cuffs around her wrists declared her truly in trouble. He mumbled a bunch of meaningless words at her while he secured her.