In loving memory of my grandmother Marian Woodard, who was never without a book close at hand.
The Nightkeepers’ world is well hidden within our own; bringing it to light isn’t always an easy process. My heartfelt thanks go to Deidre Knight, Kara Cesare, Claire Zion, Kara Welsh, and Kerry Donovan for helping me take these books from a dream to a reality; to J. R. Ward for her unswerving support; to Suz Brockmann for being a mentor and an inspiration; to Nancy N. and Julie C. for being rock-star beta readers; to Liz F. for taking over the Keepers’ message board; to my many other e-
friends for always being there for a laugh or cyberhug; to Sally Hinkle Russell for keeping me sane; and to Brian Hogan for too many things to name in this small space.
What has come before . . .
The beginning of a new day
“I just got the booty call,” Jade announced as she let herself into Anna’s office, which could’ve doubled as the set for a movie of the archaeologist-slash-adventurer-saves-the-day variety, with artifact-crammed shelves and framed photographs of rain forests and ruins. After closing the door to make sure nobody out in the cool, faintly damp halls of the art history building could overhear unless they made a real effort, Jade dropped into the empty chair opposite her friend’s desk and let out a frustrated sigh. “Thing is, it wasn’t the booty-er calling. It was your brother.”
Anna winced. “Ew.”
“No kidding, huh?” Not that Jade thought Anna’s brother was an “ew”—far from it. Strike was massive, raven haired, and seriously drool-worthy, but he was also thoroughly mated, and the fact that he was the Nightkeepers’ king had added to the squick factor, taking the uncomfortable phone call from
Propping her feet on a cracked, knee-high clay pot that showed a sacrificial scene of a victim’s beating heart being ripped out, and which currently served as Anna’s trash can, Jade slumped down and let her long, straight hair fall forward around her face. It obscured her view of the trim jeans and upscale, low- heeled sandals that would’ve looked casually elegant on Anna, but on her just blended.
As she slouched, she swore she heard Shandi’s voice in her head, chiding,
Tucking her hair behind her ears and straightening her spine—because she wanted to, not because of her
Really, though, she had zero problem with what she was being asked to do. Her problem was that Strike had been the one doing the asking.
“You could bail.” Anna leaned back in her desk chair, toying with the thin metal chain that disappeared at her neckline. The king’s sister was a striking woman in her late thirties, wearing a moss-colored lightweight sweater that counterpointed her dark, russet-highlighted hair and the piercing cobalt eyes she and Strike had both inherited from their father, King Scarred-Jaguar. Despite her heritage, though, Anna had recently stepped up to head the human university’s ancient civilizations department. Of the scant dozen Nightkeepers still living, she was the only one who had refused to take up residence at Skywatch and commit to the Nightkeepers’ war against the