Jessop, the first woman to join the Hunters, has finally been reunited with those who mean the most to her. In her quest for vengeance, she has left many embittered and betrayed, chief among them Kohl O'Hanlon, the Hunter who once loved her.
Now, as the feared Falco Bane leads his forces into the Hunters' territory, Kohl attempts to retaliate, flooding their infamous Shadow City with his own followers. Jessop must fight a war on two fronts, testing her commitment to the ones she loves and challenging her abilities as the most elite warrior among the Hunters. With the future of Daharia's leadership at stake, Jessop is determined to protect those closest to her at all costs . But when allies turn into adversaries, the real threat comes from a place least expected . . .
"This thrilling, action-packed debut ties together strong characters with a building story line that will have readers clamoring for the next volume in this new series."
-Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW, on The Glass Blade
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.42(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Azgul Present Day
In her dream, Jessop wore a linen cloak, identical to one she had first donned in the Blade's mystical pool. He wore dark funerary robes, and he moved quickly, disappearing around corners, catching her eyes in the shadows. She followed him through the maze, wondering where he went, what he thought. She quickened her step, trotting after him, chasing through the dark corridors. She spun around the wall's end, and felt a sudden ache in her abdomen. His arm was around her instantly, holding her close to his body. She looked down, over the sheer linen, and saw between her breasts the hilt of his dagger, his gloved hand still tight around the weapon. Blood soaked the robe, slick and crimson, sticking to her form. She wasn't angry with him; it hadn't hurt that badly. She rested her hand against his chest, and blood leached through her fingers. She looked up into his dark eyes. A tear ran over the star-shaped scar.
"You're bleeding," she whispered, pressing firmly against his chest, ignoring her own wound.
He smiled at her, shrugging casually. "It's only my heart."
Jessop woke to the sound of crying, lurching up in her bed. It had been the same dream, for the hundredth time. Her hair snaked around her neck with sweat, her brow damp and hands clammy. Again, the small cry called to her. She glanced over the large, dark bed where Falco slept, motionless and silent. She rolled off, her feet finding the cool ground, and crossed the room, her eyes navigating the dark with their usual ease. Jeco was sitting up in his bed, his damp dark hair standing on end, his large gray eyes brimming with tears.
She looped her hands under his shoulders and pulled him to her body. "I couldn't sleep either, love." He clung to her tightly, burying his small face under her chin. He didn't care that she was slick with sweat or weary with exhaustion; she was his mother, his protector.
In the darkness, large arms wrapped around her, and she leaned back into Falco, finding the safety in his arms that their son found in hers. Falco was silent in the night, a predatory creature whose abilities amazed her as much in that moment as they had a decade before.
His lips kissed the space where her neck met her shoulder. "Nightmares again?"
"Both of us, it seems," she whispered, her breath travelling over Jeco's short hair.
"What should I do when my family cannot find peace?"
Jessop breathed heavily at her husband's question. It had been a month since Kohl had escaped the Blade, nearly killing her in the process. The Blade had been his home for most of his life. It had been more than a home. It had been his training facility, where he had lived with his Hunter brethren, patrolling the Daharian galaxy on behalf of Hydo Jesuin. The same Blade she had infiltrated and handed over to her husband, Falco. Jessop pushed the thought back, blinking away the image of Kohl O'Hanlon's face. "Find the one who torments me," she ordered.
* * *
The following morning, Trax arrived early to visit with Jeco, his new favorite resident in the Blade. Jessop had never felt comfortable with anyone except Korend'a watching their son, but Trax DeHawn was different. He was Kuroi and a skilled Hunter capable of protecting Jeco better than most; he was fiercely loyal to the true Lord and Protector of the Blade of Light.
"Good morning, Hasen-Ha," she greeted him. His golden eyes shone even brighter as he smiled for Jeco, who reached out towards him. Jeco wasn't simply Trax's newfound friend; Trax was a person of great wonder to Jeco. Jessop watched the two smile at one another and wondered if Jeco could see Trax's eyes as they truly were, as only one of Kuroi blood could see them — glowing. Unlike hers and Trax's, her son's eyes did not glow; they were the beautiful, muted gray of his father's.
"Dey-a, Oray-Ha," Trax greeted her in turn, taking Jeco into his arms. Before either spoke further, Falco appeared from the bathing room, running a hand through his dark, wet hair, a warm smile on his face.
He immediately approached Trax and offered him his hand. "Dey-a, Hasen-Ha, aruk 'ta raney'ha Jeco?" Jessop smiled at Falco's hard-learned Kuroi, listening as he asked what Trax had planned for Jeco that morning.
Trax readjusted Jeco in his arms. "I thought we might attend a morning meditation. Some of our youngest students will be there, as I am sure you remember?"
"Med-a-shen, Tax," Jeco misspoke, studying Trax's face intently.
Jessop smiled at her son, touching his back softly.
"Yes, Master Jeco, we go to meditation," Trax answered.
Falco nodded. "Alright. You know the drill — don't let him out of your sight."
"Not for a second."
Falco cupped his son's head, leaning in to kiss his forehead. "I love you, Jeco."
Jeco smiled, bashful. "Love you, Dada."
Jessop followed suit. "I love you, darling."
Jeco said nothing, instead turning and pushing his face into Trax's neck. It was the third time he had ignored her sentiment since their reunion, and it stung as sharply as the first.
"Dona teim, Oray-Ha," Trax advised. Give it time. Falco had counseled the same. She tightened her mouth, nodding sharply, before turning away from them.
* * *
Falco kissed the back of her neck, winding his arms around her abdomen with ease. "He loves you, Jessop, you're his mother."
"Yes, I am, and I left him. All this time, here with Kohl, in this place, I wasn't with him. Or with you."
She had spent so long in the Glass Blade, the training facility for the Hunters of Infinity — the Daharian galaxy's supreme authority — infiltrating their ranks and ultimately becoming the first female Hunter in existence. Her superior abilities hadn't been enough to secure her a position in the Blade. That had only been achieved by winning over the heart of Hunter Kohl O'Hanlon. Kohl had once been Falco's closest friend before he betrayed him. That had been many years ago. Many years allowed for her and Falco to plan the ultimate subversion. Kohl's involvement in the plan had not been a mistake. Any feelings she had developed for him during the execution of their plan — of fooling him to fall in love with her — those had been a mistake.
Falco turned her slowly in his arms, urging her to look at him. "What is it that bothers you most?"
Jessop pushed out of his arms, putting necessary distance between them. "What bothers me most? I had to leave. For our plan to work I had to leave Aranthol, and our son may never forgive me for that. You may never forgive me."
He inclined his head, confused by her words. "Why wouldn't I forgive you?"
She had said too much. She shook her head, running her hand through her long hair. She needed them to go back to how they were before. She needed to be honest with him. But the truth was terrifying. "I slept with Kohl. I had a relationship with him, the whole time I was here ... and before him, it had always only ever been you."
"I already know all of that. I'm sorry you had to sleep with him but you did it to secure our son's future, to ensure justice could be claimed. You did it for us," he reminded her, closing the space between them with easy strides.
"Where is that justice now? Hanson, despite his mistreatment of me — and of yourself and Kohl — lives! Hydo, who killed my parents, who scarred your entire body, still lives. Kohl ... I let him into my bed, Falco, but he let me into his heart, and I betrayed him."
Falco narrowed his gray eyes at her, his long scar flinching across his face. "Never forget, he betrayed me first, Jessop."
She knew she had said too much. She nodded, reaching up and cupping his face with her small hand, her thumb resting on the scar tissue under his eye. "Of course."
"I understand the guilt you feel. Your son has been hurt by a plan we hatched for his betterment, and he takes it out only on you. Kohl fell in love with you, as planned, and deceiving him was difficult. But he betrayed me years ago, and more importantly, he tried to kill you, as his false Lord once tried.
"All you need to know, my love, is not whose heart you reside in, but who resides in your own."
He pulled her closer to him, her breast pushing into his chest, the rise and fall of their breathing in perfect synchronicity. "My heart is for only my son, and his father."
He lifted her into his kiss, his warm mouth traversing hers with ease. They kissed with equal parts familiarity and passion. There were no parts of him she did not know, they could map one another's bodies blind, and that kind of closeness allowed for expert navigation. She ran his tunic off his shoulders; he pulled hers off over her head, parting lips for a mere second.
He ran his hands from her lower back, up her rib cage, over her breasts, finally nestling over her neck and jawline, framing her face for his kiss to travel deeper. His tongue moved over hers with deliberation, tasting her slowly. As they fell to the bed, he propped himself on top of her. He pulled away from her kiss and stared down at her. Between her breasts, closest to her heart, was their scar — the twisted fishhook design. Centered in his chest was the exact same mark, and as he hovered above her, the images were perfectly mirrored.
His muscular body tensed as he held himself up on one arm, bringing his spare hand to the mark on her chest. He touched it gingerly, and then covered it with his palm, feeling her heart beat underneath the silvery scar between her full breasts.
She copied him, raising her hand to his and covering it with her palm.
"And the way the two loved each other ..." he whispered the start of their quote, waiting for her to finish it.
She smiled up to him. "... it was as if they were one."
* * *
Her head rose and fell with each breath he took, his ribs strong underneath her cheek. He played with her long hair, brushing her strands out with his fingers.
"I love you, Jessop, and I always have," he spoke, touching her temple softly.
She couldn't help but smile, kissing a scar on his rib cage. "I'm not sure about that," she teased.
His fingers froze in her hair. "What do you mean?"
She turned over, resting on his chest, facing him. "There was a time when you thought I was quite the annoyance ... simply your responsibility."
He smiled back at her. "We were young."
"Very," she spoke softly against his skin.
"I loved you then, too. I loved you from the start. I loved the way you looked at me ... Like you needed me. You needed me to keep you safe, and I needed you to feel less alone in the world. I loved the way your green eyes watched me as I trained. I loved the way you saw my future — our future — before anyone else did. I definitely loved you then, I simply didn't know it yet."CHAPTER 2
Beyond the Grey Thirteen years ago
Jessop knew she was supposed to be collecting wood, but they already had a bunch sitting right outside their front door. Plus, she hadn't seen Mar'e in days, not since before the Kuroi girl's excursion through the desert, a ritual for all who had reached twelve years of age.
Mar'e had told her it was just a really long walk, where they had all followed a tribal elder around, discussing sands and winds during the day, and stars and signs in the night. Jessop wouldn't admit it to the other girl, because it would have brought her too much satisfaction, but she was jealous. She was only part Kuroi and that exempted her from tribal rites of passage. Despite this, the elders were good to her, recognizing her and her mother as being of their people. They let them live in the green, walk their lands, visit in their shelters, trade and work with their people. Dezane DeHawn, the true elder, had been a constant source of kindness to her all her life.
"It was very intense," Mar'e concluded, nodding slowly, like she had some newfound wisdom that Jessop didn't.
Jessop shrugged. "It doesn't sound that intense."
The other girl squinted her glowing yellow eyes. "Well, it was."
"If you say so," Jessop chided, getting to her feet. She didn't want to listen to Mar'e talk about the excursion anymore. She should have just gone to find more wood.
"Jessop, you're not Kuroi, you don't know," her friend snapped back, getting to her feet just as fast.
"Who are you, Mar'e Makenen, to decide who is and is not Kuroi?" The voice of Dezane DeHawn startled them both. Jessop spun around to see the true elder standing several paces away, perfectly still as he watched them. His dark skin shone under the bright light of midday, his robes tucked around old lines of well-fortified muscle. His bright green eyes glowed at them both, emeralds on fire. The leader of the Kuroi inclined his head at the young girls. He was older than any knew, but he wasn't aged. "Jessop may not be full blood, but her eyes shine as mine do, and her Kuroi tongue is better than all of those her age — yourself included." Dezane spoke to Mar'e, but kept his eyes on Jessop.
She smiled up to the elder, thankful for his support.
Dezane's soft smile turned to a frown. "There are foreign travelers in our parts today. Both of you should get yourselves home, now."
Jessop shivered, thinking of the telepath with the dark eyes, the one who always traveled with a younger companion. She kept her gaze fixed on Dezane. "You mean those men with mind control?"
"They are telepaths, and many of them possess telekinesis, yes, but they do not control minds. Your mind can only be controlled if you let it be, Jessop." She knew that in this, as in everything, Dezane was right. But it didn't stop her from seeing the cloaked figure, drunk, yelling at his boy, moving everything from errant barrels to slow-moving people out of his way with just a flick of his hand. It was difficult for her to understand being able to control a whole human body, but not a small human mind.
"Return home," Dezane reiterated. Jessop would have usually hugged Mar'e goodbye, but not today. She offered a tight smile to her friend and a sincere one to Dezane before turning on her heel away from the village.
* * *
Jessop crossed the desert sands quickly, her leather sandals light on the golden granules. The forest was just up ahead, the one salvation from the dunes. It was an oddity to find a lush forest in the middle of the desert, and many who passed through simply stared at it as though it were a mirage, some false salvation. It was no mirage though. It was her home. Her part of the world with her parents, where no one else lived and no one else entered. One may have thought it would have been lonely being ostracized to the woodlands by the Kuroi, but not Jessop. She knew the soft ground, the trees, the creatures, their shadows and their movements, as well as she knew herself. Plus, she wasn't alone. She had her parents.
Mar'e hated her own mother and father. So did most of the village children it seemed ... but not Jessop. Her father, Hoda Jero, had taught her how to track the creatures of both the forest and the desert. He had shown her how to follow the side winding of a snake and the swoops of any bird. He was determined for her to know their lands as well as any full-blooded Kuroi, probably because he knew them in such ways despite possessing no Kuroi blood. Her mother, Octayn Jero, was Jessop's best friend, and the most beautiful woman she had ever seen. She possessed the Kuroi blood, and with it, the same glowing green eyes her daughter had inherited. And she had endlessly flowing fair hair that she let Jessop braid every night after supper.
Jessop didn't need Mar'e, or anyone else. She had her parents, and her forest, and she was fairly certain that was all she would ever need. She ducked into the shade of the trees, curving under a low hanging branch. Immediately, she felt at ease. Mar'e was a spiteful friend. That was what her mother had called her. Her parents had told her much about Mar'e. They had explained that her friend felt Jessop's mixed lineage rendered her somehow inferior, despite her superior skills in all things Kuroi. They had told her this was not Jessop's problem, but Mar'e's. Jessop and the girl had a relationship that swung from hatred to love on a near daily basis, and Jessop shouldn't shoulder the misconceptions of her friend.
Jessop stepped over a fallen branch, and moved expertly around a thick mud pit. She didn't —
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of screaming. Her feet stopped. Her heart stopped. And then, all at once, everything started back up again at lightning speed. She took off into the shadows of the forest, weaving through the trees, expertly navigating the treacherous soft ground, swinging over and under, through the thick line of trees. She leapt into the clearing, where her home was nestled against the belly of a mountain. She waited on bended knee, scanning the perimeter. The front door to her house was open.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Shadow City"
Copyright © 2018 Ryan Wieser.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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