Authors: M.J. Scott
“M. J. Scott’s
is a steampunky romantic fantasy with vampires that doesn’t miss its mark.”
New York Times
bestselling author Patricia Briggs
is an entertaining novel. Lily and Simon are sympathetic characters who feel the weight of past actions and secrets as they respond to their attraction for each other.”
New York Times
bestselling author Anne Bishop
“M. J. Scott weaves a fantastic tale of love, betrayal, hope, and sacrifice against a world broken by darkness and light, where the only chance for survival rests within the strength of a woman made of shadow and the faith of a man made of light.”
—National bestselling author Devon Monk
“Had me hooked from the very first page.”
New York Times
bestselling author Keri Arthur
“Exciting and rife with political intrigue and magic,
is hard to put down right from the start. Magic, faeries, vampires, werewolves, and Templar knights all come together to create an intriguing story with a unique take on all these fantasy tropes. . . . The lore and history of Scott’s world is well fleshed out and the action scenes are exhilarating and fast.”
“A fabulous tale.”
—Genre Go Round Reviews
Also by M. J. Scott
A NOVEL OF THE HALF-LIGHT CITY
M. J. SCOTT
A ROC BOOK
Published by New American Library, a division of 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.)
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Penguin Books Ltd. Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published by Roc, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Copyright © M. J. Scott, 2012
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.
REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA
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 Web sites or their content.
If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”
For Katrina, Jo, and Linda.
As always, there are many people to thank. . . .
Miriam Kriss, agent extraordinaire, who knows good writing, how to talk writers down off the ledge, and where the best cocktails and coolest things to do in any city are to be found. Jessica Wade for a keen editorial eye that untangles plots and slays writerly dumbness with a single glance.To everyone else in the Roc team, particularly the wonderful, talented art department, who have blessed me with covers of beauty and brilliance. I owe you all more Aussie cookies.To my awesome family and friends who have seen me through a year that has been somewhat of a roller coaster with cheers, hugs, shopping enablement, champagne, and whatever else I needed at the time. And lastly to my wee mad torti cat, who has taken over writer companion cat duties with considerable aplomb.
You do not see us, we who hunt the night.
We pass unseen, silent as owls.
Some hunt for food, some for trouble.
Others hunt a different prey.
We watch. We listen.
We find the secrets you would hide.
Knowledge is power, and power has a price.
It takes its toll with no remorse
In gold, in tainted choices, in friends betrayed
And sometimes . . . the price is blood . . .
clock in my head ticked the seconds too fast. Not literally—the precision of that inner countdown was a hard-won skill—but I was running out of time. It had been nearly ten minutes since I’d let myself into this tiny room and I still had another two charms to place before I could leave. Trouble was, hiding places were scarce.
The room was small to begin with and mostly empty. I’d already tucked a charm into the base of the sole lantern hanging on the wall, hidden another under a creaky floorboard—not ideal for a hear-me, but beggars can’t be choosers—and a third into a hole in the wall I’d discovered behind some peeling wallpaper.
Which left few options for the last two. Some would call five charms overkill, but I didn’t like leaving things to chance. Particularly not when I had to use charms I’d activated a day earlier, to allow the tiny drops of blood I used to coax them to life to lose their fresh scent. Unfortunately that also meant that they lost power. More charms meant more chance of them working as I needed them to.
Taking another inventory of the room, I made up my mind. There were two chairs in the room, one upholstered in badly faded cheap cotton and the other plain wood. Flicking open my cutthroat, I dropped to my knees and tipped the chair up, slicing a neat seam in the bottom of the upholstery and stuffing the charm inside. Hopefully the fabric would hold.
I used the other chair, plain wood, to reach the top of the window that grudgingly let moonlight through its grimy panes and laid the fifth charm along the top of the frame, behind the decaying curtains. It was a risk . . . if anyone drew the curtains, then it might fall, but I’d layered the hear-me charms with as many layers of protections and ignore-me and fading glamour as I could force into them and it was just going to have to do.
It took another minute to make sure the room was exactly as I’d found it and then I let myself back out after triggering yet another charm to deaden my scent behind me. An expensive night, but then my client was paying me well.
The first part of my night’s work achieved, I set off for the vantage point I’d selected earlier to settle down and wait and see what happened next.
An hour later I was wishing that I’d chosen a different profession as I slowly froze solid on the rooftop of the building across from the one that held the room I’d charmed.
I was secure in my little niche next to one of the chimney stacks, yet another charm rendering me safely invisible. But invisibility is sometimes a curse rather than a blessing. For one thing, turning invisible can confound your sense of where you are in space and time. You reach for something and miss, or walk too close to a door frame and blacken an eye. And for another, it doesn’t protect you from the elements.
As the current lack of feeling in my chilled-to-the-bone fingertips attested to.
I blew silently on my fingers and huddled closer to the chimney pot beside me, hoping it would somehow magically begin to block more of the unseasonably icy wind. Not surprisingly, it didn’t. The brick wasn’t even warm. After all, it was summer and not supposed to be so cold. No one who lived in the ramshackle building below the roof I was currently skulking on had money to spare for extra firewood or coal for something as luxurious as heating in summer.
No, they would be wrapped in extra clothing, muttering imprecations at whoever their choice of deity might be and hoping for a return to more seasonal weather, much as I was. I wondered if the grating screeches of the ancient weather vane spinning slowly atop the useless chimney pot annoyed them as much as it was annoying me.
If I spent much longer on this roof, I would be both frozen and deafened. The only benefit of the chill was that the wind whistling around my ears and finding every gap in my clothing didn’t smell quite so strongly of rot and garbage as it usually did in Seven Harbors. But that was little comfort as I huddled deeper into my clothes and glared in the direction of the building opposite whilst the muscle in my right calf started to cramp.
Normally I wouldn’t have needed to wait so long, but not only had I needed to leave enough time for the charm to erase my scent from the room; I’d also had the misfortune of being tasked to watch for two people who had apparently been detained elsewhere this evening.
One of them had finally arrived about ten minutes ago, and the room I was observing was now bright with lantern light. Through the dirty window, I had a perfect view of Henri Favreau, one of the senior
in the Favreau pack, pacing the floorboards. Not known for his patience, he was starting to look as annoyed as I felt.
Rightly so. The person he was supposed to be meeting was late. Almost thirty minutes had passed since their rendezvous had been due to start. Thirty minutes of icy immobility. My calf tightened further, the pain more piercing, and I gritted my teeth.
Time to move.
I gripped the chimney pot and rose cautiously. I wasn’t worried about being spotted. My invisibility charm was freshly triggered with a drop of my blood and it would hold. My charms always hold when I use them on myself. Not being full Fae, they tend to be unpredictable when it comes to working for anyone else. A pity, really. If I could spend my days spinning charms for the wealthy, I wouldn’t need to earn money sneaking about on rooftops.
But wishing for what might be never changed anything. For now I was rendered safely invisible by the charm tucked through my belt. A useful thing for a spy.
The slate tiles were damp and slick beneath my feet as I straightened one leg then the other, stretching to ease the cramp. Moving made the blood flow somewhat faster, warming me a little. Not much. I would be grateful when I could return to my room above the Swallow’s Heart and fill my belly with tea and toast. A hot bath would be even better, but there wouldn’t be time for that.
A flicker of movement caught my eye and I turned my attention back to the window.
Henri had been joined by his tardy companion. Ignatius Grey. One of the Blood Lords currently battling in the nasty tangle of scheming and violence that was Blood Court politics since Lord Lucius had unexpectedly disappeared six weeks earlier. Ignatius wasn’t amongst the highest ranks of the Blood, but he had a reputation for viciousness and had been ruthlessly making his way up in the court even before Lucius died.
It seemed he intended to keep rising.
It also seemed that Henri Favreau was an unhappy Beast who might have decided to rise with him. Maybe Henri was getting tired of being several rungs too low in his pack hierarchy to ever have a real shot at leading. Christophe Favreau, the current alpha, was no friend to Ignatius. Henri was risking a lot being here.
The shift and flow of alliances and power plays since Lucius had vanished was making life very interesting in the Night World. Everyone assumed Lucius was dead. No one knew how. And no one knew who to trust, not that anyone in the Night World really ever trusted anyone else. Everyone wanted information. Hence my unpleasant rooftop sojourn this evening.
Information is what I deal in. Well, mostly. I’m not above retrieving objects as well, but information is generally easier to fence.
And my employer tonight was paying dearly to have confirmation that Henri was talking to Ignatius. I was happy to take the money. It was likely that jobs would dry up for a while soon. The treaty negotiations were getting closer and traditionally the lead up to the negotiations brought a kind of cease fire amongst the four races. No one wanted to be caught doing something not exactly legal under the treaty and be the cause of their own kind losing any of their privileges.
The treaty set the terms of the peace in the City and governed other things to keep balance. Rations of iron and silver, rules of conduct for the Blood and Beasts and Fae outside their own territories. Breaking the treaty, and being found out, could bring serious repercussions.
Of course, bending it a little was business as usual here in the Night World.
I set my feet, seeking purchase on the tiles, finding my balance in readiness to resume my uncomfortable crouch and watch and wait. Hopefully the hear-mes would be doing their job as well, recording the words of the vampire and the werewolf, but just in case, I would wait and watch, reading lips if I could.
My employer would pay well for confirmation of this meeting. She would pay even better for knowledge of what was said.
That was the plan. A damned good one.
Or it would have been if not for the fact that, as I started to crouch, a deep voice bellowed, “You there, halt!” from the street below.
Split seconds can be deadly. So can instincts. Despite the invisibility charm, the accusing tone of that voice was commanding enough to make the deepest reaches of my brain think
Discovered. Caught. Flee
. My head whipped around to see who had found me, and the movement was enough to send one of my feet slipping, just a fraction.
A fraction too far.
I overbalanced, grabbed for the chimney pot, and missed. Instead my hand fastened around the weather vane. And whilst the chimney pot was solidly built, the weather vane was not. It had succumbed to rust and decay like half the things in this benighted borough.
It snapped with a dull twang and I tumbled forward. There was a jerking tear as my invisibility charm caught on the edge of the chimney pot and tore free. My arms blinked into visibility as I tipped over the edge of the roof. I grasped hopelessly for the gutter—missing it by a margin of inches—then my head twisted toward the street four stories below. The only other thing I noticed was a man on a horse. He looked up, shock flashing across his face as I screamed.
Lady knew what good screaming would do. Four stories is
. I was about to die.
But I didn’t die. Instead, somehow, the man on the horse hurled himself off its back and caught me. I landed in his arms with a thump that knocked the wind out of me. He staggered a little under the impact but kept his feet. I stared up at him, gasping like a gutted fish, unable to believe what he’d done. Tears sprang to my eyes as twin bands of pain burst across my back where it had connected with his arms.
He stared down at me, pale eyes—blue, perhaps—looking as shocked as I felt. How in seven hells had he gotten off his horse and caught me?
“Are you all right?” he said in a deep rumble of a voice.
My lungs finally remembered how to work and I sucked in a huge breath. The oxygen must have reached my brain because I suddenly realized that the reason my back hurt so badly was that my rescuer wore chain mail. And there was only one sort of person who rode the streets of the City wearing chain mail.
I’d fallen off the roof into the arms of a gods-damned Templar.
A Templar who was now looking from me, to the roof, and back again, with a little too much interest for my comfort.
“Yes. Put me down please.”
I tried not to look guilty as his gaze fixed on me. Very nice eyes—definitely blue, I decided, despite the muddying effect of the flickering yellow light from the streetlamps—but they looked damned suspicious right now.
Lords of hell. I bit back a curse, mind racing. For a moment I considered trying to glamour him. I could still him for a moment, make him forget he’d ever seen me. The last thing I needed was a Templar poking around in my business. But my success rate with casting a true glamour on others was hardly impressive. Too risky. I was going to have to do this the old-fashioned way. “Down?” I repeated.
His arms tightened. His grip didn’t make the pain in my back worse, but it was strong. Too strong for me to break. Apparently I wasn’t going anywhere just yet. Any other man and I would’ve tried for my cutthroat, but trying to fight free of a Templar could only be foolhardy.
“What were you doing up there?” he asked.
I thought fast. “Checking the weather vane. It was making a dreadful racket. Keeping me awake.” I followed the words with what I hoped was a suitably dull-witted grateful smile.
The Templar raised pale eyebrows. He wasn’t wearing a helm, just the mail and a white-with-red-cross Templar tunic. His hair was light too, even if the gaslight made it difficult to determine exactly what shade it might be.
“In the middle of the night?”
It was barely eleven o’clock. Hardly the middle of the night. But I didn’t quibble with his definition. “It was either that or lie awake all night.”
“So you thought you’d climb up there and fix it? Very . . . enterprising.” His tone suggested stupid was a more appropriate term. Or perhaps it was suggesting that he didn’t believe a word of my story.
I tried to remember exactly what bits and pieces were hidden amongst my clothes. Another invisibility charm and a hear-me, if they’d survived the fall. Though the charms resembled metal pendants more than anything, nothing overtly incriminating. True, there was my cutthroat tucked in my boot, but not many people walked around Seven Harbors completely unarmed. The gold chain around my neck gave a clue to my heritage, but being a half-breed wasn’t illegal either.