After saving King Aodren with her newfound Channeler powers, Britta only wants to live a peaceful life in her childhood home. Unfortunately, saving the King has created a tether between them she cannot sever, no matter how much she'd like to, and now he's insisting on making her a noble lady. And there are those who want to use Britta’s power for evil designs. If Britta cannot find a way to harness her new magical ability, her life—as well as her country—may be lost.
The stakes are higher than ever in the sequel to Ever the Hunted, as Britta struggles to protect her kingdom and her heart.
About the Author
With a B.A. in English, Erin Summerill aspired to be a writer, but first she grabbed a Nikon and became a professional wedding photographer. When she isn’t writing, she’s chasing her four kids, two dogs, one cat, and five chickens. Erin and her family live in Utah. www.erinsummerill.com
Read an Excerpt
A minute spent in a shaerdanian tavern is a minute too long. I motion for Finn to fall behind as the creaky door slams closed, leaving us in the loud, crowded, lantern-lit room. We garner a few glances, but most turn back to their cups. Only a one-eyed cat perched atop an ale barrel keeps my younger brother and me in its sights. I don’t mind the surly types who hang around these places, the wenches with their skirts tied up and colorful shifts showing, and the bawdy songman accompanied by a guitar-plucking fellow. All are rightly pissedeyes blurry, smiles toothy, and voices gratingly bright. It’s the smell that gets me every time. The rain in Shaerdan makes scents stronger. Makes taverns a pungent mix of moldy floor planks, vinegar, and fermented despair. I hold my breath and slide a folded piece of parchment into the pocket on my belt. Finn watches me. He’s seen me pull it out more than a few times in the last month. Probably noticed the action has increased the farther we’ve traveled from Malam. He knows not to mention it. Finn and I walk through the tavern and sit at the bar. After the long night and half day of riding, it’s good to rest. If I dropped my forehead into my hands, I’d be asleep in a blink. Tempting if we weren’t so close to the end of the hunt. And if we weren’t still on Shaerdan soil, where being identified as a Malamian will get you gutted. A vision of a pale blond, freckled girl with a smile that has to be earned spurs me on, pierces me with longing. A card game plays out on the nearest table, Shaerdanian silvers piled high enough to entice hungry onlookers. Pushing away the fatigue, I sit taller. Force my hands to relax, one resting over my left trouser pocket full of coins. My other hand is splayed on the bar. I fight to look the part in this tavern. Mistakes cannot happen today, not when we’re so close to finding Lord Jamis’s mistress. The barkeep is a big man, no taller than me, but thicker through the gut like he’s packing a barrel of ale. Busy talking to patrons, he gives no heed to Finn or me. Typical tavern kinsmen. They love their gossip as much as a Malamian market-goer. I scowl in the man’s direction and rap my knuckles on the tacky surface of the bar. “Coming, coming,” the barkeep grumbles. He moves in front of me, arms resting on the bar between us. His eyes, yellowed whites surrounding black irises, take in my little brother and me. “What’ll ya have?” This town, Rasimere Crossing, in the remote southern plains of Shaerdan, isn’t one I’ve been to before. Since both countries backed down from the war, tension is mountain high. Harder to navigate too. Hardly a contact in Shaerdan will speak to me without drawing a sword. Yesterday, a barkeep up north confirmed that Lord Jamis’s mistress, Phelia, was only a half day ahead of us and headed here. Within days after Jamis’s arrest, the high lord had squawked about the Spiriter’s identity. Course, it took a bit of Omar’s torture to get it out of him. It’s not uncommon for noblemen at court to have mistresses. The women keep to themselves. For this reason, I doubt anyone would’ve thought her a threat. Especially since association with a high nobleman comes with some protection. Still, it’s not a mistake that I, or the few men who know the harm the Spiriter inflicted, will make again. As soon as she was identified, King Aodren sent me after her. I’ve followed Phelia’s trail across Malam and into the dangers of Shaerdan. And now, finally, Siron’s speed has bought us enough time to cross paths. The bloody hunt’s had me noosed for a month. That’s a month longer than I’ve wanted to be gone from Brentyn and Britta. And damn if I haven’t felt off the entire time we’ve been apart. Like distance has set me adrift. Today the hunt ends. Most barkeeps won’t suffer a man who’ll fill a chair and not pay to fill a cup or four. Even so, I’ve no time for primer drinks. “We’re looking for our mother, who came south to find work.” In a Shaerdanian lilt, I go on with the fib, explaining that we’re soldiers returning from the waror almost war since it ended a little over a month ago, before it officially began. “Light brown hair, blue eyes, about this tall. Goes by the name Phelia.” I hold my hand up, providing the description that the castle attendants gave me. “Seen anyone like that?” The man pushes his tongue into the side of his cheek and then slides it over half-blackened teeth. “Aye. Perhaps.” “I’m all ears.” “Yeah. Might’ve seen someone matching that description earlier.” “How long ago?” Finn cuts in. I shoot him a look. His Shaerdanian accent wouldn’t fool a deaf goat. Told him as much in the last town. The barkeep doesn’t seem to notice. He plunks a couple mugs on the counter. “Before we get too chatty, let me get you fellas a drink.” It’s a fight to keep the easy smile on my face, knowing he likely holds information about Phelia. My hand shifts to my belt, to cover the parchment hidden in the leather. The motion usually centers me. “Or, if you’re aiming to take off sooner . . .” The man taps a glass on the counter. “You can pay for a drink and leave with some answers.” Right. Should’ve thrown money at him in the first place. I withdraw some coins, dropping them to plink on the wood. “Good enough?” “Cohen.” Finn’s sharp whisper snags my attention. He reaches for the coins. The man’s fist slams Finn’s hand flat against the bar. My brother yelps. Confused, I shove my chair back and lean into the barkeep’s face. “Get your hand off my brother.” The music stops. Every eye in the tavern cuts to us. A few men rise to their feet. “No Shaerdanian would pay with Malam coins,” the barkeep says. My jaw ticks, insides seizing like Siron’s kicked me in the gut. Bloody seeds. “You think I’m one of those scrants?” I spit, leaning heavily into a Shaerdanian accent that sounds loud but flat in the silent room. Finn’s eyes volley around the tavern and back to his trapped hand. The kid hides his panic as well as a tabby cat in a wolf den. “Your brother looks like he’s about to toss his last meal. Doesn’t seem soldierly to me.” He grips Finn’s fingers, ripping away my brother’s hand to pick up the damning coins. Three prayers Finn doesn’t open his mouth. “Must’ve forgot those were in my pocket.” I lean back in my chair. Shrug. “Needed some Malamian silvers at the border. Nothing to spoil a man’s drink over.” Boots scratch the plank floor. Men step closer. The barkeep cocks his head. “A fortnight back, two teenage girls went missing. Upset a lot of kinsmen ’round here. A town over, a girl was taken just a week ago. Her pa saw the men who did it. Tried to fight them and lost his life. Poor man’s wife caught sight of the raiders as they were shoving her girl in a carriage. Heard ’em speak. Said they sounded Malamian. Now, why would a few ball-less scrants from Malam want our girls? Maybe they’re itching to rekindle the war they almost started. What do you know of that, traveler?” “No more than tavern hearsay.” During my travels I’ve caught a few stories similar to this man’s. Daughters taken at night. Some snatched during the day. No women, just girls. It’s enough to raise concerns, but that’s something to focus on after I’ve got Phelia manacled. “Now, I can see you’re a smart man,” I tell the barkeep. “You don’t really think my brother and me have something to do with that. Coins don’t mean anything. Collector’s items.” “Your brother’s awfully silent.” “He’s shy. You scare the piss out of him.” A shadow shifts over my left shoulder. A giant of a man glares down at us. “Yeah, speak, boy.” “Leave him out of this.” My unspoken warning is clear. Another person moves behind Finn, blocking the path to the door. “Maybe we’ve caught us two of their spies. Maybe we pry loose answers about where they been hiding our girls.” His bush of a beard barely moves when he talks, the comment sliding from the slits of his lips like snakes from under a briar. He must not really think we’re the kidnappers, or he’d have gutted us already. Still, I eye his hand as it moves to the dagger tucked into his belt. “Explain yourself, boy.” In Finn’s fourteen years, I figure I’ve seen every one of my brother’s expressions. The wide tooth-and-gum smile he flashes when he catches a river trout. How tight-knit his brows get when he’s frustrated or angry. The somber set of his eyes before we part for months on end. None of those expressions match the look he’s giving me now. Panic and fear and something more. Something like disappointment. I put a hand on Finn’s shoulder, squeezing. Reassuring. “He’s a boy. One who needs to get back to tending fields. Not sit around in taverns. Time to go, Finn.” “You aren’t leaving so soon” comes from the Goliath behind me. “It’s the truth.” Finn misses the accent target by a league. “He’s from Malam!” the barkeep yells. Bloody seeds! Someone reaches for Finn, but my brother skitters out of his seat. I slam an elbow into the man behind me before he can grab Finn. “Get out of here,” I rasp. My brother jerks away, maneuvering for the door before more kinsmen come at me. Four to one aren’t bad odds, considering the barkeep is blocked by the counter. The bearded man charges. I jump back, grab my stool, and shove it into his gut. Angling for the door, I slam a shoulder against another fellow. Fend off a punch. Take a fist square to the chin. Bludger. I block a hit, bob out of reach from someone coming at my side, and narrowly avoid a crashing stool. Cheers erupt over the fight. A few voices shout to end it. Or end me. The tavern is chaos. I manage to push someone onto the playing table. Cards scatter. Money falls to the floor. The diversion leaves one mountain of a man between the exit and me. He’s easily a half-head taller and a half-body bigger. The zing of his drawn sword has me cursing. The man swings. I grasp a stool, thrusting it between us to catch his blade before it takes off my limb. My arms rattle from wrists to elbows. I use all my strength to twist the stool and shove, a move that sends the man off-balance and gives me the opening I need to flee the tavern. Finn’s across the street, headed for an alley. I scramble after him, my breath running hard. The tavern thugs chase us around town, but they’re drunk and we’re sober. We wind through shops and hide in shadows until we’ve lost any followers. On the northern outskirts of Rasimere Crossing, an old barn sits unused. We settle against the wall that faces the forest and catch our breath. Sweat slides down Finn’s temples. “Cannot believe that.” “I nearly got you killed.” I’m so angry, it comes out choppy. I promised Ma and myself I’d keep him safe. Piss of a job I’ve done. “Nah, you made me leave before it got to the good part.” I rub my thumb over the scar that starts beneath my cheekbone and hides in my short beard. “The good part?” “I didn’t get any punches in, but still . . .” “Shouldn’t have been in a situation for you to throw punches.” “My first tavern fight,” he says, awed. “Don’t be a fool.” He grins, teeth and gums shining under the sun. Footsteps clap against the ground around the corner. I grab my dagger as a girl holding a sword steps into sight. There’s something familiar about her raven hair and tan face. Irritated that she was able to sneak up on us, I gesture with the point of my blade. “Stop there and state your business.” Her lips twitch. “Nice to see you too, Cohen.” My frown sets. I rack my brain. Who’s this girl? She lets out a short, squeaky laugh that sounds like it’s being pressed through a windbag. “You don’t remember who I am? We met once . . .” She trails off, as if hoping I’ll pick up the scent. “In Celize.” “I meet a lot of people.” Her grin fades. “At Enat’s home.” A memory surfaces of a log home outside of Celize. My scowl shifts into surprise. “The Archtraitor’s daughter. Lirra, right?” Her father is infamous for openly opposing the Purge Proclamationa decree that eliminated most Channelers in Malamand defecting to Shaerdan after his wife and small child were killed because of his outspoken defiance. Lirra cinches up straighter than an arrow. “Don’t call him the Archtraitor. Around here, he’s just Millner Barrett.” “No offense intended.” She eyeballs my dagger. “Lower your blade, hunter. I know where you can find the woman you’re hunting.”