Penguin.com (usa)

Iron Kin

A Novel of the Half-Light City

M.J. Scott - Author

ePub eBook | $7.99 | add to cart | view cart
ISBN 9781101614945 | 352 pages | 02 Apr 2013 | Roc | 18 - AND UP
Additional Formats:
Summary of Iron Kin Summary of Iron Kin Reviews for Iron Kin An Excerpt from Iron Kin
Imagine a city divided. Fae and human mages on one side, vampire Blood Lords and shape-shifting Beast Kind on the other. Between these supernatural forces stands a peace treaty that threatens to shatter at the slightest provocation....
 
I was raised to do the right thing. But to my family that means staying safe behind the walls of human society. To be a respectable metalmage and never put myself at risk. But the treaty is faltering. And if it fails, nothing is safe. To help save the city and everyone I care about, I will use whatever means I can to ensure the negotiations to renew the treaty are successful—even if that means forging an alliance with a man who is the very opposite of the right thing....
 
Fen is trouble. Wild. He would rather bind himself in iron and drink himself into oblivion than learn to master the visions that come to him. Those visions might just hold the key to peace, and it seems that my power might hold the key to his control—if I can keep it around him....


Chapter One

Fen

My head hurt like a bastard.

Nothing terribly unusual in that, but the fact that my wrist also throbbed like a Beast had chewed on it was disconcerting. If I’d drunk enough to set devils driving spikes into my brain and yet had still had to tighten the iron around my wrist, then the visions must have fought me yet again. Hard.

They were getting worse.

I lay for a moment, breathing cautiously, trying to remember. But the images of last night were hazy and blurred together with the past weeks. Each new day, harder than the last. Right now, I wanted to will myself back to sleep. And the oblivion it brought.

But just as I was savoring the thought, I remembered the ball.

The oh–so–respectable human ball I had promised to escort to Regina to.

Shal e’tan mei.

The muttered curse made my head pound harder. Couldn’t I just stay here in bed?

No. Veil’s buggering eyes. There was no way to do that without risking seeing that shadowed look that all too often haunted Reggie’s blue eyes since Holly had rescued her from Summerdale. I’d do many things to avoid seeing that expression. Reggie was still too quiet and a little too thin and the ball had been one of the few things that had seemed to genuinely engage her interest these past few weeks.

So I wasn’t going to disappoint her. Or Holly. A gentleman doesn’t let down his best friends—the closest thing I had to family—after all, and even though, in the eyes of most people who would be attending tonight’s shindig, I was very far from a gentleman, I liked to think I still knew how to behave.

I opened one eye and the headache redoubled its relentless jig inside my skull. Somewhere in my room was a vial of the foul–tasting hangover cure Madame Figg sold to her patrons. I didn’t know where she got it or who made it for her, but it worked if you could stomach the taste.

Tonight it was going to have to work its hideous magic quickly. The crack of sky showing through my crookedly drawn curtains was dark. I’d overslept. Not even started the day and already it was going to hell. I needed all the help I could get.

Five minutes later—once my stomach had apparently determined it wasn’t going to violently reject the hangover cure and the jig–dancing devils had quietened—I decided I might live.

After a quick bath, a shave, and several mugs of strong tea, I even looked vaguely alive. But my wrist still throbbed where the iron chain pressed against it. Madame Figg’s miraculous cure–all was no help there. Each link felt like a razor peeling my skin away with acid–bathed teeth, even though to the naked eye there was nothing to see other than ever–deepening bruises.

Despite the pain I couldn’t risk taking the chain off. Without the iron, the visions would knock me flatter than the hangover.

I gritted my teeth and untwisted the links, laying them flat against my skin before tightening the clasp. My hand shook a little as I slid a gold and jade hoop through my ear. Human men didn’t usually wear earrings, and doing so would, no doubt, earn me some dubious looks at the ball. But given that I had little chance of fitting in anyway, I might as well look like myself.

I drank more tea as I dressed. I couldn’t afford to start in on the brandy. Not yet. Not until the ball was well under way. Escorting Reggie, making sure that she felt safe and no one hassled her, meant I needed my wits about me. I allow myself a glass or two of whatever the DuCaines were serving, but nothing stronger until my duties were done.

Which was going to make the whole thing even less bearable.

I bared my teeth at my reflection and moved to set the mug down on my dresser. The chain bumped against the wood and the pain flared bright, making the room swirl around me. I sucked in a breath, cursing my clumsiness.

I was pushing too hard. Every night, out in the taverns and brothels of the border boroughs, loosening the chain a little and letting the visions rise, trying to see if I could glean anything useful.

I’d never loosened my control over the visions to such a degree and for such a lengthy period before. Every night, no matter how tightly I wrapped the chain around my wrist, it became harder to lock them away again, to push them back to the point where I had some peace and could function like a normal person. Every night it took more alcohol to offset the pain of iron and visions denied.

I didn’t know how much longer I could keep going. Not whilst keeping my sanity.

Too bad my options were limited. I could stop looking. But that might mean missing some useful snatch of the future. Something that might keep me alive. And if I confessed the truth to the human healers, then . . . what exactly? They could give me something stronger to fight the pain? Opium or worse? Something to knock me out and render me useless.

Humans didn’t have the Sight. They wouldn’t know how to help me. The problem was that my Sight had two possible sources. My Fae father. My Beast Kind grandmother. Going to either branch of my very estranged family for help was something I wasn’t yet desperate enough to try. Both sides would try and use me, try and tie me down. I’d spent most of my life staying out of their way. Keeping my freedom. I wasn’t ready to give that up.

There had to be another way. But damned if I knew what it was.


When my carriage door flew open, I knew my night was about to go to hell.

The thick stink of Beast rolled into the hackney as my visitor scrambled in, tugged the door shut, and seated himself opposite me, all while holding a gun at the ready. My hand drifted down to the gun concealed beneath my coat as I studied my unwelcome guest.

“I thought I made it clear last time that I wasn’t going to do this anymore?” I said, keeping my voice coolly polite.

Willem Krueger shrugged and smiled, revealing teeth a little too white and pointed. “It doesn’t matter what you think. It matters what my Alpha wants.”

“He’s not my Alpha,” I said in the same cool tone. I was a true City mongrel—part Fae, part Beast, and part human. I didn’t let any of them claim me, least of all the Beasts. My grandmother was one of the immuable, the unchanging.

Beasts who only knew human form.

They were often gifted with the Sight, as though the gods wished to compensate for their lack of access to the wolf side. My grandmother had been particularly blessed, one of the strongest seers in generations. The immuable are usually treasured by their packs, their powers invaluable, but my grandmother had defied her father to marry a human and had been cast out. Left to fend for herself, without the security and tight–knit obligations of the pack. She’d survived but she’d never forgiven.

But minor details like history and tradition seldom stopped Martin Krueger from making use of any tool he could.

“He’s my Alpha,” Willem said. “And he wants to see you.”

I bit back a curse. The Lady definitely had it in for me. “When?”

“Tonight.”

I gestured down at my frock coat. “I have a prior engagement.”

“Martin doesn’t care.”

I knew that all too well. Martin had been calling on me—or rather sending his bully boys to fetch me—from time to time since I’d been a teenager. Usually what he wanted was innocuous enough. Glimpses of things that I saw no problem in sharing.

But now things were different. So far, I’d managed to walk the tightrope and maintain the illusion that I was a neutral party. Nobody in the border boroughs or the Night World yet knew that I was feeding information to the humans through Holly where I could. They still just saw Fen, the feckless fortune–teller, drinking and whoring around. Business as usual.

I couldn’t keep up the pretense much longer and now, staring at Willem’s hostile expression, I wondered if the game was finally up. Had Martin found me out? If so, I should just shoot Willem and have done with it. Putting myself in the clutches of a pissed–off Beast wouldn’t be good for my health.

Martin had a short fuse. My ribs still remembered the last time he’d been unhappy with me. That had been just before Lord Lucius—undisputed lord of the Blood Court—whose disappearance had stirred the current tensions in the City to boiling point, had vanished. That time I hadn’t seen what Martin had wanted me to see and I’d paid the price.

I’d managed to avoid him since then, but apparently tonight my luck had run out. Still, the fact that he’d sent only Willem rather than a whole squad of guerriers suggested that maybe my secret was still safe after all.

Regardless, I didn’t want to face down Martin tonight. Not while I was feeling like the blighted depths of the seven hells. “I’m due at a ball thrown by the DuCaines. They’re not the sort of people you disappoint.”

“Neither is our Alpha.” Willem sounded casual but he shifted a little on the seat. Afraid to tangle with the sunmage and the Templar was he?

“Your Alpha,” I corrected. “Perhaps not, but Simon DuCaine’s invitation was polite. Perhaps Martin could learn from him.” Simon DuCaine was a sunmage, a gifted healer. He was innately courteous but that didn’t mean he was to be underestimated. Even Martin wasn’t thickheaded enough to aggravate one of the most powerful mages in the City. Or was he?

Willem bared his teeth again. There wasn’t the faintest trace of humor in his expression. “You can come voluntarily or I can drag you there.”

I thought of Reggie and Holly, waiting for me to show up. I had no doubt Willem would do exactly as he threatened. I couldn’t match the strength of a Beast. But I could outthink one. There might be something useful to be gained from a visit to Holt’s End. The Kruegers, like all the packs, were embroiled in all sorts of things, none of them good. Not quite on the level of the Rousselines, who were the closest to the Blood lords, or the Favreaus, who wanted to be, but no Beast pack in the City was entirely free of the Blood and their games these days. I might be able to learn something.

“How about a compromise? I’ll be done at the ball by two. Surely Martin can wait a few hours.” The Beast Kind, like the Blood, lived largely nocturnally.

As Willem’s expression turned grim, I drew the gun. “Let me phrase it another way. You can tell Martin that I’ll see him later or I can put a hole in you.” I was gambling that Willem wouldn’t actually shoot me. If Martin really wanted to see me, then Willem needed me alive. The sound of the hackney moving over the cobbles echoed loudly as we stared at each other.

Finally Willem blinked. “Fine. Three. No later or we will come to fetch you. You won’t enjoy it.”

I nodded. “I’ll be there. Now, get out of my carriage.” I pointed to the door with the tip of my gun. Willem snarled but pushed the door open and swung himself out. We weren’t going terribly fast, not enough to worry a Beast at least. I reached out and pulled the door closed before taking a deep breath, trying to take the edge off the adrenaline rush. Teasing a savage dog is never a good idea. My gamble had paid off for now. But it could still backfire later on.

Wanting to be sure Willem had actually gone, I stuck my head out the window of the hackney. Only to yank it back suddenly as a horn sounded and an autocab came careening past us, making the horses swerve wildly.

I caught a momentary glimpse of a woman in a dark cloak in the back of the cab, staring at me in shock—eyes big against pale skin—before the ’cab had pulled ahead and I was left with the sound of the hackney driver’s curses ringing in my ears.

Muttering a few curses of my own under my breath, I settled myself back in the seat, trying to slow my pulse down. An ultimatum and a near decapitation. And the night had only just begun.


Sometimes even I can’t see the future. If anyone had asked me as little as a month ago where I would be tonight, there would have been no chance I would have picked my current location.

Standing in the middle of a grand society ball, of all things. Surrounded by humans in their pretty dresses and suits, pretending the world was perfectly all right.

Little did they know.

I swallowed more champagne, watching the smiling people swirl around me and wishing I had brandy. But it was still far too early for that. Not with Martin and the Kruegers to deal with later on.

The champagne did little to ease the pain in my wrist and here, surrounded by so many people, even doubled iron didn’t stop the visions.

Everyone was ghosted by the images of the futures that rose around them, so many that they blurred and mingled and, thank the Lady, made it difficult to get a clear picture of anything. Other than an omnipresent sense of darkness.

Darkness and flames, pressing around me so tightly I could smell smoke in the air. It made my stomach clench and my heart race with the suppressed urge to tell them all to flee.

My hand tightened around the delicate crystal glass. I focused on trying to feel the etched patterns in its surface, to connect to something real. To remind myself that the panic and doom I felt didn’t belong to this moment. This place.

It helped somewhat. Which was good, because here I was and here I had to stay since I was stupid enough to be a man of my word when it came to two particular people in my life.

Across this grand ballroom stood one of my best friends, Holly Evendale and her lover, Guy DuCaine, smiling and looking like they were having a perfectly splendid time. Guy in evening clothes looked only slightly less intimidating than he did in his Templar mail, looming tall beside Holly, his pale blond head bent toward her. As usual, the visions clustered strongly around them and I saw the gleam of gold on their hands where no rings yet existed in reality. They hadn’t made any announcements, but I was near certain they were getting married. If we didn’t all die in whatever darkness was bending the futures to fire and pain.

Next to them stood Simon, Guy’s brother, and Lily, his fiancée, all four of them listening intently as an elegant woman wearing a deep green dress, her fading blond hair piled in an elaborate coil, spoke. Stones the same color as her dress winked from her hair. Simon and Guy’s mother, Hilary DuCaine. She was the one throwing this particular folly. An extravagant celebration to herald the start of the treaty season.

Treaty season. A very frivolous name for a very serious time. Every five years the four races—humans, Blood, Beasts, and Fae—gathered to renegotiate the treaty they had forged centuries ago. The treaty that was the only reason the City was still standing and, quite likely, the only reason that the humans had survived here. The negotiations were vital. They determined the shifting lines of territories, punished violations, and maintained the balance between the races with a new law here or an adjustment of the rations of iron and silver allocated to the races who used them for protection and industry.

Crazy humans to celebrate the start of what could be the City’s downfall. But celebrate they did, which meant the DuCaine brothers were called to the social duties that came with their family’s place in the City. Where Simon and Guy went, so did Lily and Holly. And where Holly went, so did Reggie. Which, right now, meant that I was dragged along as well.

So here I was, watching over her, even though so far Reggie seemed perfectly at ease and in demand as a partner.

She was out on the parquet floor in the center of the ballroom right now, circling with some human scion, her pretty pale blue dress just one in a sea of pretty dresses. Which left me with not much to do other than drink champagne and tighten the chain around my wrist to try and stave off the visions swimming at the edges of my sight like ghosts.

Ghosts with teeth.

A thousand competing futures, all shouting for attention. Swirling together to funnel my sight toward the larger fate of the City. Different from when I was among fewer people, getting glimpses of individual futures. There were flashes of those here. The odd pleasant flash . . . a woman with a child or a man winning at cards, but mostly it was a haze of that unrelenting sense of doom. Sharper with each passing moment.

The end of the night couldn’t come fast enough. I drained my glass and gestured for another. Reggie and Holly would frown disapprovingly if they spotted me, but that was all the more reason to drink fast.

I raised the fresh glass to my lips, felt the prickly fizz of bubbles across my tongue as I let my gaze go unfocused. Sometimes that helped . . . not looking directly at anyone. Sometimes it didn’t. Tonight, it seemed, was going to be one of those times. The visions still hovered around me insistently.

Buggering Veil’s eyes.

I squeezed my eyes shut for a few seconds, denying them. I didn’t want to look, didn’t want to know what fate might await us all. Whatever happened in the City, it would be the people on the edges of society who felt the brunt of it.

As hard it was to be Blood or Beast Kind or even a human in the City, those of us who were half–breeds were the ones who were truly screwed. Betwixt and between and not really wanted by anyone. Mongrels indeed. Though some of the females I’d bedded in the past would’ve probably used “bastard” instead. Which was also true. My father never married my mother. The Fae don’t marry whores after all.

I looked across again at Holly and Lily. They knew better than anyone how I felt. Holly’s father, recently dead at Guy’s hand, was a true prick of a Fae lordling if ever there was one. He’d used and discarded her mother and tried to force Holly into betraying Simon to further a plot against the Veiled Queen. He was the reason for the shadows in Reggie’s eyes. If he hadn’t already been dead, I would’ve cheerfully cut his throat myself.

Lily was something different altogether. A wraith. Half Fae, half unknown. Reviled by the Fae for her ability to turn incorporeal and move through any substance at will, she’d been sold not long after she’d been born to Lucius, the late unlamented Lord of the Blood Court, who’d used her as an assassin, a tool of fear and blood to enforce obedience to his will. The fact that she’d moved from that world to this one after meeting Simon was probably the one thing stranger than my being at this ball.

But if either Holly or Lily was uncomfortable being here, they didn’t show it. Holly wore a deep bronze dress that was a little more conservative than those she’d worn when spying on the Night World amidst the theater halls and Blood Assemblies they frequented. Tonight her hair was glamoured to match the dress, and her eyes, happy as she looked up at Guy, glowed nearly the same shade. Lily, pale and redheaded, wore something soft and simple in a pale green that made her look innocent. If I’d had to guess, I’d have said that Reggie, who worked as a modiste, had picked a design for her that was intended to make people see something sweet and unthreatening rather than the trained killer she was.

It worked, to a degree. Lily was smiling, like the others. Her gray eyes were watchful, and I would’ve bet good coin that she could describe all the exit points to the room and likely had picked out anyone who was armed amongst the crowd. Holly probably had a good idea of that as well, plus she probably knew some interesting secrets about some of the starched shirts surrounding her. Since I’d known her, Holly had owned the modiste salon where Reggie worked. But that was only for appearances’ sake—her real talent lay in using her considerable skills in charms and subterfuge to spy for whoever paid the highest price.

But right now both Holly and Lily looked as if there were nothing more pressing in their lives than dancing and drinking under the elaborate chandeliers. I frowned as I swallowed more champagne. Enough alcohol and maybe I could look relaxed as well.

Reggie reappeared at my side. “Haven’t you had enough?”

“Not by half,” I muttered. I avoided meeting her gaze. Eye contact always made the visions worse when they slipped my control. I still caught glimpses anyway. As always, Reggie was surrounded by colors and textures—a sign of her vocation as a modiste—and images of dancing people dressed in beautiful clothes. There were Fae faces amongst them now, more than there had been before she had been held in Summerdale. Some danced, but some watched. The images had an unsettling mistiness. As though the fates weren’t sure of what they showed. But that was probably just due to the general uncertainty I felt right now.

Reggie flipped her fan toward me. “You’re meant to be dancing with me, not propping up the bar.”

I glanced at the nearly full dance card dangling from her wrist. “Doesn’t look to me like you’re lacking partners.”

“I saved one for you,” she said coaxingly.

I wondered if she’d done so in collaboration with Holly. A “let’s distract Fen to cheer him up” ploy. True, I wasn’t averse to dancing now and then, but tonight I wasn’t in the mood. “Ask me later.”

Reggie tossed her head, her silver and blue filigree earrings bouncing. “Who says I’ll still have any unfilled dances later?”

“Then that will be my loss.” I rubbed at my wrist absently, wishing the champagne would at least do something to ease the iron’s bite.

“It’s hurting tonight, isn’t it?” Reggie said in a softer tone. Eyes the same shade as her dress filled with worry. “Can’t you take it off?”

“Not here.” Not unless I wanted to cause a scene by screaming. I forced a smile. “I’m fine, love. Go and have fun.”

“The idea is for you to have some too.”

I just raised an eyebrow. She frowned, snapped her fan shut, then sighed and turned away. I watched her thread her way back across the ballroom to Holly and Lily.

Simon and Guy had moved out of my line of sight, leaving just the women, still talking animatedly. Beside Holly stood a girl I didn’t recognize. Her back was half turned to me, so all I could really see was the pale pink sweep of her dress and dark—reddish perhaps—curls falling down to hide the line of her face and neck. Both Holly and Lily were smiling at her—perhaps she worked at St. Giles Hospital, where Simon was Master Healer?

Reggie reached the group and obviously reported my recalcitrant behavior. Holly craned her neck to frown at me over the unknown girl’s shoulder. I tipped my glass to her, then turned back to the bar before she could send me any further indicators of her concern. The starched white linen covering the polished wood offered no reproval, at least. No answers to any of my problems either.

When I turned to look again, the girl in the pink dress had disappeared, leaving just Lily and Holly and Reggie clustered together. As I watched, a young buck in immaculate evening dress came up to Reggie and bowed. There. She had a partner. She was safe. No need to feel guilty.

“Don’t you like to dance?”

The voice came from my side, low for a female and somewhat amused. I turned my head. It was the girl in the pink dress. Tilted green–gray eyes watched me with interest and she smiled, revealing a dimple in her left cheek that only added to her prettiness.

I tipped my head, taking her in. The pink dress floated over sleek curves, to curl around her feet in a sea of flounces. Her hair was unadorned, apart from a single bar of pale pink pearls that matched those at her ears. Lovely. Lovely enough to distract me for a while at least. I smiled at her. “I don’t generally dance, no.”

Her smile widened—there was something vaguely familiar about that smile and the dimple. “Oh good. I hate it too.”

I blinked. Not what I expected a well–brought–up human female to say.

The girl turned to the barman and asked for champagne. Another blink. I would have thought her a little young to be drinking champagne. “Why are you at a ball if you don’t like dancing?”

She wrinkled her nose, sipped champagne, swallowed, and then sighed. “My mother requested my presence.” She flexed the hand not holding the champagne glass. She wore long gloves of an even paler pink than her dress . . . a pink that almost wasn’t. Her skin, bared between the top of the glove just below her elbows and the floating ruffled sleeve halfway down her arm, was faded gold, not pale white. And there were muscles under that skin, smooth curves revealed with the movement of her hand. Where had she got those?

“My mother has a way of talking people into things.”

“My sympathies,” I said. “I know a few people like that.” I cranked up my own smile a little.

A bored young thing at a ball. A bored, young, slightly unconventional thing. Perhaps my night wasn’t going to be a complete waste of time after all.

She laughed, then offered the gloved hand. “You’re Fen, aren’t you? I’m Saskia. Saskia DuCaine.”

I almost choked. Saskia DuCaine? This was Simon and Guy’s little sister? I took her hand gingerly and shook it, then released it as quickly as I could without being rude. The kid leather slipped over my skin softly, warm from her body as our fingers slid away from each other. I tucked my hand into my pocket before I could reach for hers again. That would be a very bad idea.

This particular bored young unconventional thing was not for the likes of me. For starters, her brothers were a sunmage and a Templar, respectively. I was fond of my head being unfried and attached to my neck. True, both Simon and Guy had chosen women who weren’t exactly the type that heirs of a powerful human family were expected to fall in love with, but I wasn’t stupid enough to think that the DuCaine daughters would enjoy the same leeway.

“Pleased to meet you,” I said, after a moment of gathering my wits. “I know your brothers.”

“I know.”

Her tone held more than a hint of eye roll. My brain clutched for something else to talk about. “Did Holly send you over?”

She shook her head, setting long dark curls bouncing. They gleamed red under the light of the massive chandeliers. Now that I knew who she was, I could see the resemblance to her brothers in the dimples and the smile. The dark hair was her own, though—both her brothers being blond—and the angled grayish green eyes made her face more exotic than either of theirs.

“No, I wanted to meet you.”

Definitely trouble. I fought the urge to move backward. Retreat would be futile with the bar at my back anyway. “Why?”

“Because everyone else in my family has.”

“Not everyone,” I said. “I haven’t met your sister . . . Hannah, isn’t it? Or your mother, other than in the receiving line earlier.” I hoped it would stay that way. Mothers didn’t approve of me. I didn’t resent them for it. After all, I rarely approved of me either.

“Well, now you’ve met one more of us.” She took another sip of her champagne and studied me over the rim of the flute. “You look concerned.”

“Did I mention I know your brothers?”

“So?”

“I’m not the sort of man your brothers want you talking to.”

That got me a dimple flash and another nose wrinkle. “My brothers don’t tell me what to do.” Her head tilted and her smile widened. “Or rather, they try to, but I ignore them.”

I ignored my desire to smile back at her. No good could come of it. “Really? ” Not many people found Simon and Guy ignorable. “How do they like that? ”

“Not very well. They seem to think I’m still sixteen.”

“How old are you?” She obviously wasn’t sixteen or she wouldn’t be at the ball. It wasn’t a debutante sort of affair.

“I’m twenty–three.” She shook her head. “If they had their way, I’d still live at home. Hypocrites, both of them. They were both Templar novices at seventeen.”

“It’s different for boys.”

“You sound like my mother.”

“Sometimes mothers make sense,” I said, more because it seemed the right thing to say than because it was anything I believed. What did I know of mothers? Mine was hardly a stellar example of maternity, but Saskia didn’t need to know that. Better she thought me boring and left me alone and I didn’t find myself being hunted down by Simon and Guy.

I looked past Saskia to see if I could spot Holly. She was still standing where she had been earlier and she raised an eyebrow at me as I caught her eye. I lifted my hand to wave at her, our long–standing “come save me” signal.

The movement made my coat sleeve fall back and for a moment my chain flashed into view.

Saskia’s smile died. “Why do you have an iron chain around your wrist? ”

I smoothed my sleeve, hiding the chain from her sight. “How do you know it’s iron?”

“I can tell.”

“From one look?” I doubted it. It was only a glimpse, after all, and one dark metal chain looked much like another.

“I’m a metalmage . . . an apprentice, at least. It’s iron.” She looked confused. “But you’re half Fae, aren’t you? Like Holly? That must hurt.”

I’d known that, somewhere in the back of my mind. Holly must have told me. I tried to reconcile the young woman in front of me with my mental image of metalmages—which consisted largely of forges and flames and grime. It didn’t work. “Some of us aren’t affected by iron. Like Holly.”

“Holly’s immunity is pretty rare. Are you saying you have it too?” It was her turn to sound disbelieving.

The lie stuck on the tip of my tongue, caught there, perhaps, by the pain in my wrist where the chain bit. Luckily I was saved from answering by Holly’s arrival.

She looked from me to Saskia and back, eyes narrowing as they met mine. I kept my face carefully bland. After all, I was innocent in this particular situation. Saskia had sought me out, not the other way around.

“I see you two have met,” Holly said.

Saskia nodded. “Fen was just telling me how the iron around his wrist doesn’t hurt him.”

Holly’s eyes widened, her famous composure, for once, disturbed. “Was he now?” One hand strayed up to toy with the chain at her neck. Worried, then. “Saskia, your mother asked me to fetch you. The speeches will be starting soon.”

I knew that tone well enough to get the “you stay right here, Fen” intent. I was being warned away from Saskia, which I had to admit stung a little. For one thing, did Holly really think I was stupid enough to mess around with a well–connected human and, for another, if she did, did she really think I wasn’t good enough for her future sister–in–law?

I watched the two of them leave, my wrist throbbing and the taste of champagne sour in my mouth. I turned back to the barman. Fuck restraint and fuck Martin Krueger. I needed a proper drink.


To keep up-to-date, input your email address, and we will contact you on publication

Please alert me via email when:


The author releases another book