Led Astray: The Best of Kelley Armstrong

Led Astray: The Best of Kelley Armstrong

by Kelley Armstrong

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Overview

Led Astray: The Best of Kelley Armstrong by Kelley Armstrong

Welcome to the many worlds of #1 New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong (Otherworld, Cainsville). As her SyFy channel series, Bitten , enters its second season, Armstrong continues to breathe new life into city-dwelling vampires, werewolves, and zombies. Now travel even further with her, to a post-apocalyptic fortress, a superstitious village, a supernatural brothel, and even feudal Japan.

In Led Astray , you’ll discover the stories of new characters from within and outside Armstrong’s popular novels. Here you will find two original tales from Cainsville, plus journeys to and beyond the worlds of Darkest Powers, Age of Legends, Otherworld, and more.

Bold and humorous, passionate and heart-stopping, here is Kelley Armstrong at her versatile best.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781616962029
Publisher: Tachyon Publications
Publication date: 09/15/2015
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 647,370
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.80(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author


Kelley Armstrong is the #1 New York Times best-selling author of the thirteen-novel urban-fantasy series Otherworld (Bitten, Broken, Dime Store Magic), the supernatural thriller series Cainsville (Omens, Visions), the six-book YA series Darkest Powers (The Summoning, The Awakening), and the Nadia Stafford novels (Exit Strategy).

Read an Excerpt

Led Astray

The Best of Kelley Armstrong


By Kelley Armstrong

Tachyon Publications

Copyright © 2015 Kelley Armstrong
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61696-203-6



CHAPTER 1

Rakshashi


For two hundred years, I have done penance for my crimes as a human. After twenty years, I had saved more lives than I took. After fifty, I had helped more people than I had wronged. I understand that my punishment should not end with an even accounting. The balance between good and evil is not that simple. I expected my good deeds must exceed my evil ones before I am set free.

Yet now, after two hundred years, that balance has long passed equilibrium. And I have come to realize that this life is no different than my old one. If I wish something for myself, I cannot rely on others to provide it.

Reliance on Fate is the refuge of the weak. The strong know that free will is all. What I want, I must take.


I waited in the car while Jonathan checked the house. Jonathan. There is something ridiculous about calling your master by his given name. It's an affectation of the modern age. In the early years, I was to refer to them as Master or Isha. When the family moved west, it became Sir, then Mr. Roy.

My newest master, Jonathan, does not particularly care for this familiarity. He pretends otherwise, but the fact that I must call him by his full name, where his wife and others use the simplified "Jon" says much about my master. I have attempted to revert to Mr. Roy, for his comfort, but he won't allow it. The formal appellation smacks too loudly of slavery, and he prefers the illusion that I am merely an employee.

He called my cell phone. Yes, I use cell phones. They are a convenient method of communication and I am very capable of learning and adapting.

"Amrita?" he said, as if someone else might be answering my phone. My name is not Amrita. My name is not important. Or, perhaps, too important. I have never given it to my masters. They call me Amrita, the eternal one.

"The coast is clear," he said. He paused. "I mean —"

"I understand American idiom quite well," I said. "I have been living here since before you were born."

He mumbled something unimportant, then gave me my instructions, as if I hadn't been doing this, too, since before he was born.

I got out of the car and headed for the house.


As Jonathan said, there was an open window on the second floor. I found a quiet place away from the road, not yet on the property of the man I'd come to visit. Then I shifted to my secondary form: a raven. Fly to the bedroom window. Squeeze through. Shift back to woman.

There wasn't even an alarm on the window to alert the occupant to my intrusion. Quite disappointing. These jobs always are. I long for the old days, when I would do bloody battle against power-mad English sahibs and crazed Kshatriyas. Then came the murderers and whore-masters, then the Mob, then the drug dealers. It was, with the drug dealers, that the Roys began to rethink their strategy. Getting one alone was not easy. On the streets, they came with well-armed friends. I may be immortal, but I can be injured, and while my personal comfort is not a concern, my income-earning potential is. They tried targeting drug dealers at home, but there they were often surrounded by relative innocents. So, in this last decade, they have concentrated on a new source of evil. A dull, weak, mewling source, one that bores me to tears. But my opinion, like my comfort, is of little consequence.

I took a moment to primp in the mirror. I am eternally young. Beautiful, too. More beautiful than when I was alive, which was not to say that I was ugly then, but when I look in the mirror now, I imagine what my husband — Daman — would say if he saw me. Imagine his smile. His laugh. His kiss. I have not seen him in two hundred years, but when I primp for my target, it is still him I imagine I am readying myself for.

I found the target — Morrison — in the study, talking on his speaker phone while punching keys on his laptop. I moved into the doorway. Leaned against it. Smiled.

He stopped talking. Stopped typing. Stared.

Then, "Bill? I'll call you back."

He jabbed the phone off and shut his laptop. "How'd you get in here?"

"My name is Amrita. I am a surprise. From a very pleased client."

I slid forward, gaze fixed on his. For another moment he stared, before remembering himself.

"But how did you get —"

I smiled. "I would not be much of a surprise if I rang your front bell, would I?" I glanced back at the door. "I trust we are alone?" Jonathan said Morrison was the only one in the house, but I always checked.

"W-we are."

"Good."

I sidled over and pushed his chair back, away from the desk and any alarms under it or guns in the drawers. That was all the security men like this had.

I straddled Morrison's lap. I could see indecision wavering in his eyes. He was a smart man. He knew this was suspicious. And yet, as I said, I am a beautiful woman.

I put my arms around him, hands sliding down his arms, fingers entwining with his. I leaned over, lifting our hands ... then wrenched his arms back so hard he screamed. I leapt from his lap, over the back of the chair, then bound them with the cord I'd used as a belt on my sheer dress.

I have subdued lapdogs that gave me more trouble than Morrison. By the time he recovered from the shock and pain of that first strike, he was secured. He fought, but my bonds have bound warriors. He was no warrior.

Next, I tortured him for information. It was a bloodless torture. Necessity, not preference. There are ways to inflict pain without leaving marks. Mental pain is the most effective of all, and with the power of illusion, it is easy for me to torture a mind. I can make a man believe he is being rent limb from limb, and scream with imagined agony.

As for the information I needed, it was a simple accounting of his misdeeds. Details on the financial scam that paid for this mansion. I had him write out those details, in a confession. Then I tortured him for the location and combination to his home safe.

With my help, the Roys kill — sorry, eliminate — the basest dregs of the criminal bucket. This is their divine mission, handed down to them millennia ago, when they were granted the ability to harness the powers of my kind. They seek out evil. I eliminate it. A very noble profession but one that, as you would say, does not pay the bills. Finding targets, researching them and preparing for my attack is a full time job. So the Roys, like other isha families also have divine permission to take what they require from their victims.

I did so. Then I forced Morrison to take out his gun and shoot himself, leaving the confession of his crimes on the table, and compensation for his victims still in his safe.

Before he pulled the trigger, he looked at me. They always do. Seeking mercy, I suppose. But I know, better than anyone, that such sins cannot be pardoned in this life. If they are, it will be seen as a sign of weakness, the perpetrator reverting to his or her old ways as soon as the initial scare passes.

They always look at me, though, and they always ask me the same thing.

"What are you?" he said.

"Rakshasi," I replied, and pushed his finger on the trigger.


Rakshasi. Morrison didn't know what that meant. They never do. Even those of my own heritage rarely have more than a vague inkling of my kind, perhaps a story told by a grandmother to frighten them into obedience.

Rakshasa. Rakshasi for women, though there are far fewer of us. The word means protector, which has always made me laugh. We are demon warriors, cursed after a life of evil to walk the earth as monsters, wreaking havoc wherever we go. Disturbers. Defilers. Devourers.

Though the word is used for all my kind, it is only after we accept the bargain of the isha that we become protectors. When we rise from our death-bed, we are met by a member of an isha family. He tells us our fate. Misery and guilt and pain. We shall forever feel everything that we did, in life, visit upon others. Yet we can redeem ourselves. Submit to their bargain, work for them until we have repaid our debt, and then we will be free.

I did not take the offer. I doubt any rakshasa does, at that death-bed visit. We are men and women of iron will. We do not snivel and cower at the first threat of adversity. I truly do not believe the isha expect agreement. Not then. They simply offer the deal, and when it is rejected they leave. Then, on every succeeding anniversary, they find us, and they offer again.

In the end, it was not the misery or guilt or pain that wore me down. It was the loneliness. We are doomed to be alone as we walk the earth, and after almost eighty years, I could take it no longer. I would have held out, though, if the isha did not bring me a letter one year. A letter from Daman. He too had been doomed to this existence. Our crimes were shared, as was every part of our lives from the time we were children.

Daman had accepted his isha's bargain, and he pleaded with me to do the same. Take the deal and we would be together again. So he had been promised. So I was promised. And I accepted.


We returned to the house. It is the same house I have lived in for sixty years, though Jonathan and Catherine only came a few years ago, when he took over from his uncle as my isha. I came with the house. Or, I should say, it came with me.

It was no modest family home. For size and grandeur, it was on scale with Morrison's mansion. There were no vows of poverty in this family of crusaders. Like the Templar Knights, they lined their pockets extravagantly with the proceeds of their good deeds, which may explain part of the logic behind the switch from petty drug dealers to corporate sharks. We are in a recession. To some, that means tightening the purse-strings. To others, it means seeking richer sources of income. I cannot argue with that. I felt the same way when I walked the earth as a human. But it does beg the question, how prosperous were the Roys before I agreed to their bargain? The answer is that they'd been barely able to feed their families. If they free me, they will lose the prosperity I bring them. Which gives them little incentive for agreeing I have repaid my debt to humankind.

Jonathan took me to my apartment. As cages go, it is a gilded one. Sleeping quarters, living area, kitchen and bath, all well furnished. The shelves are lined with books. There is a computer for my amusement. Anything I wish will be brought to me. Anything except freedom. The walls are endued with magic that prevents me from leaving without my isha so long as I am bound to him.

Beyond a recitation of events, Jonathan and I had not spoken on the four-hour drive from Morrison's house. Every isha is different. With some, I have found something akin to friendship. Most prefer a more businesslike relationship. Jonathan takes that to the extreme, talking to me only when necessary. He is not rude or unkind. He simply pays me no heed. It is easier for him to treat me as an object. To engage me in conversation might lead to asking my thoughts or feelings, which would imply I possess such things. That I am not a robot warrior, but a sentient being. Best not to think on that.

In my apartment I prepared dinner. A glass of human blood. A plate of human flesh. It is what I need to survive and my ishas provide it. At one time, they used their victims. Now, that is inconvenient. One of the isha families without a rakshasa saw a market of their own and filled it. Jonathan orders my meals. They come in a refrigerated case, the blood in wine bottles and flesh neatly packaged and labeled as pork. He can bring me the case and leave, never even needing to look at the contents.

I fixed a plate of curry with the flesh. I may be a cannibal, but I have retained some sense of taste. When I'd finished, I waited for Catherine. She gives me time after a job to eat, preferring not to visit while the scent of cooked flesh still lingers in the air. As a courtesy, I opened the windows. Yes, I did have windows, though I couldn't reach out them — the magical shield that kept me here blocked these exits as well.

Catherine extended me a return courtesy by knocking before she entered. Most of my ishas do not — either they forget I may have a human's need for privacy or they wish to remind me of my place. Jonathan regularly "forgets" to knock, which is his way of asserting his position without challenging me. I would hold him in higher regard if he simply barged in.

"Did it go well today?" Catherine asked as she entered. One might presume she'd already spoken to her husband and was simply asking to be polite, but with this couple, such a level of communication was not a given.

I told her it had, as I accompanied her to the living area, walking slowly to keep pace with her crutches. Catherine suffers from a crippling disease that today has a name — multiple sclerosis. In general, I'm not interested in the advances of science, but I have researched this particular ailment to help me better understand the first wife of an isha who has chosen to seek my companionship.

For most wives, it is not an option because to them, I do not exist. They have no knowledge of their husband's otherworldly abilities, and thus no knowledge of me. For decades, I have been shunted in and out a side door while the wives are out, and otherwise kept in my soundproof apartment, which they are told contains whatever brand of toxicity is currently popular. With the last isha, it was asbestos.

Occasionally, though, the Roys take a wife from within the isha community. That is where Jonathan found Catherine. And if such a choice — not only an isha's daughter but a poor cripple — helped him win his position over his brothers ...? It is not my concern. I say nothing to Catherine and she pretends, if poorly, not to believe it herself.

We chatted for a while. As to what we could possibly have in common, the answer is "little," which gave us much to discuss. Catherine was endlessly fascinated with my life. To her, I was the star in some terrible yet endlessly thrilling adventure. I reciprocated by asking about her life, but she rarely said much, preferring instead to talk about me.

"Have you been doing better?" she asked as I fixed tea.

"I am surviving. We both know that I would prefer it wasn't so but ..." I smiled her way. "You have heard quite enough on that matter."

"I wish you could be happier, Amrita."

"I've been alive too long to be happy. I would prefer to be gone. At peace." I handed her a cup. "But, again, we've talked about this enough. It's a depressing way to spend your visits. I would prefer to talk about you and your happiness. Did you ask Jonathan about the trip?"

Her gaze dropped to her teacup. "He said it wasn't possible. He'd love to, but he can't take you and he can't leave his duties here."

"Oh. I had thought perhaps he would be able to take me. That the council would consider it acceptable for me to revisit my roots. I am sorry I mentioned it then."

"Don't be. You know I want to see India. You make it sound so wonderful. I just hope ..." She sipped her tea. "I hope by the time he's free of his obligation, I'm still in good enough health ..."

She trailed off. I didn't need to remind her that was a fool's dream. By the time the next generation was ready to take over as my isha, she would not have the strength to travel.

"He would like to take you," I said.

"I know."

"He would like to go himself."

"I know. But his obligation ..."

Could be over any time he chooses. Those were the words left unspoken. Also the words: but he does not have the strength of will to do it, to defy his family by making that decision on his own, despite the fact it is his to make, and the council will support it. They have no choice. I have clearly earned my freedom.

"I would miss you," she blurted. "I'd miss our talks."

I smiled. "As would I. If you were free to travel, though, you would see these places for yourself, do these things for yourself, make new friends. Here, you are as much a prisoner as I am. Jonathan must worry about you — about retaliation from those we attack — so he must insist you stay here, in this house, for your own safety."

Did she believe that? No. She suspected, I'm sure, that he kept her here because it was convenient. She was as much his property as I was. Birds in our gilded cages. I simply gave him the excuse to keep her here. Without that, I knew she was thinking, she'd have more freedom, whether he liked it or not.

She shook her head. "Jonathan knows best. He will free you. I know he will. It just isn't time."

It never would be. These nudges weren't enough. Time for a push.


There were many things Daman and I agreed on, as partners in life, in love, in ambition. One was that, despite the teachings of the Brahmins, all men are essentially created equal. Each bears within him the capacity to achieve his heart's desire. He needs only the strength of will to see those ambitions through.

Daman's story was an old one. A boy from a family rich in respect and land and lineage, poor in wealth and power and character. His family wanted him to marry a merchant's daughter with a rich dowry. Instead he chose me, his childhood playmate, a scholar's daughter. I brought no money, but I brought something more valuable — intelligence, ambition and a shared vision for what could be.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Led Astray by Kelley Armstrong. Copyright © 2015 Kelley Armstrong. Excerpted by permission of Tachyon Publications.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Rakshashi
Kat
A Haunted House of Her Own
Learning Curve
The Screams of Dragons (original to this collection)
The Kitsune’s Nine Tales
Last Stand
Bamboozled
Branded
The List
Young Bloods
The Door (original to this collection)
Dead Flowers by a Roadside
Suffer the Children
The Collector
Gabriel’s Gargoyles
Harbinger
V Plates
Life Sentence
Plan B
The Hunt
Dead to Me
Devil May Care (original to this collection)

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Led Astray: The Best of Kelley Armstrong 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
eternalised More than 1 year ago
A collection of twenty-three short stories set in the paranormal worlds Kelley Armstrong has created. An eclectic mix, with urban fantasy series, ghost stories, some horror, it’s also a mixed bag in terms of quality. Some of the stories were amazing, and memorable, but others were a bit so-so. I generally enjoy Kelley Armstrong’s writing, but I prefer her novel-length works.
BuckeyeAngel More than 1 year ago
**I received an ARC of this story in exchange for an honest review** This is a collection of odds and ends stories by Kelley Armstrong. They vary from her difference series’ and beyond. I’ve only read two of her series, but was still really excited to read this. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t read any of the others. All of the stories were really good. It was a lot like reading stories from The Twilight Zone. I highly recommend.
Alyssa75 More than 1 year ago
***Review posted on The Eater of Books! blog*** Led Astray by Kelley Armstrong Publisher: Tachyon Publications Publication Date: September 15, 2015 Rating: 4 stars Source: eARC from NetGalley Summary (from Goodreads): Two brand new tales anchor this wide-ranging collection from one of urban fantasy's most successful authors. Here is the first time that best-selling fantasy, YA, and crime author Kelley Armstrong has had her stories collected from Otherworld and beyond. With her signature twists and turns, Armstrong gives a fresh spin on city-dwelling vampires, werewolves, and zombies, while also traveling further afield, to a post-apocalyptic fortress, a superstitious village, a supernatural brothel, and even to feudal Japan. With tales that range from humorous to heart-stopping, these are the stories that showcase Kelley Armstrong at her versatile best. - Rakshashi (standalone) - Kat (Darkest Powers universe, non-series narrator) - A Haunted House of Her Own (standalone) - Learning Curve (Otherworld universe, Zoe) - The Screams of Dragons (Cainsville universe, non-series narrator) - The Kitsune’s Nine Tales (Age of Legends universe, non-series narrator) - Last Stand (standalone) - Bamboozled (Otherworld universe, non-series narrator) - Branded (Otherworld universe, non-series narrator) - The List (Otherworld universe, Zoe) - Young Bloods (Otherworld universe, non-series narrator) - The Door (standalone, original to this collection) - Dead Flowers by a Roadside (standalone) - Suffer the Children (standalone) - The Collector (standalone) - Gabriel’s Gargoyles (Cainsville universe, Gabriel) - Harbinger (standalone) - V Plates (Otherworld universe, Nick) - Life Sentence (Otherworld universe, non-series narrator) - Plan B (standalone) - The Hunt (Cainsville universe, non-series narrator) - Dead to Me (standalone) - Devil May Care (Cainsville universe, Patrick, original to this collection) What I Liked: I don't think I've ever reviewed an anthology! I've certainly read a few, but not reviewed one (that I remember). I don't read anthologies often - the stories inside are too short for my taste, and I never feel satisfied. With this anthology, I was really only interested in the Age of Legends story, The Kitsune’s Nine Tales. While that one was probably my favorite of all of the short stories, I enjoyed this anthology as a whole. There are so many stories in this anthology, and I won't bother summarizes each one, or even commenting on each one. We'd be here all day! I'll highlight some of my favorites - The Kitsune’s Nine Tales, The Door, and Devil May Care. The Kitsune’s Nine Tales is the only story I really wanted to read in this anthology, when I first heard that this anthology would be a thing! I've read Armstrong's Darkest Powers series, and the Age of Legends series. I wasn't a huge fan of the Darkest Powers series, but I LOVE the Age of Legends series. The rest of Armstrong's books are unfamiliar to me, though I know how popular her books are (as well as she herself!). The Kitsune’s Nine Tales is the story of Alvar Kitsune and how he escaped death in the Forest. This story is very short, yet very dense. There are short cameos from Gavril, his son, but call that this story takes place over ten years ago, so Gavril is but a boy. Read the rest of my review on my blog, The Eater of Books! - eaterofbooks DOT blogspot DOT com :)
JeneratedReviews More than 1 year ago
Led Astray is a compelling compilation of vignettes escorting readers through the various worlds of Kelley Armstrong's story universe. Thought educing and gripping these stories are well crafted and highlight what a gifted and imaginative author Ms. Armstrong is. Whether you are a fan or new to this writer these tales are interesting and wonderful examples of visions outside the box. *I received this ARC via Netgalley.*
Sandy-thereadingcafe More than 1 year ago
LED ASTRAY is a collection of short stories, novellas, glimpses, and chapters from author Kelley Armstrong. Because there are twenty three (23) entries, I am not going to review each one individually but review the collection as a whole. For followers of Kelley’s CAINSVILLE series we get four short stories and/or chapters that reveal some of the back story and history behind the residents of Cainsville including two installments that look at Gabriel Walsh and his inception; his connection to the current series; and a little bit about his life as a young child. For fans of Kelley’s OTHERWORLD series most of the short stories or chapters do not connect directly to the original series except for V Plates-a short story with Nick and Noah; and The List-another short story featuring the female vampire Zoe who slips in a quick mention about a hunky blonde werewolf male. I had previously read several of these short stories in other anthologies or collections. All of the entries in the anthology are paranormal or fantasy in origin: zombies, vampires, demons, fae, werewolves, ghosts and Kitsune. The anthology can be read by all ages; there is one entry from each of Kelley’s YA Darkest Powers and Age of Legends series while the majority of the other short stories are stand alone without any direct connection to her previously released adult series. LED ASTRAY is a great introduction for readers who have yet to climb onto the Kelley Armstrong train. You do not have to have read any of the established series to understand the premise behind the short stories; every entry can be read as a stand alone that will tease your paranormal pallet leaving you wanting a little bit more.