Blackhearted Betrayal is Book 3 in my urban fantasy series, Shades of Fury, for Penguin/Ace Books.
Trust is a luxury some women can’t afford…
As a Fury, Riss Holloway belongs to an arcane race that has meted out justice since time immemorial. As Boston’s Chief Magical Investigator, she’s responsible for solving any crimes committed by or against supernaturals. But now that she’s going home, Riss has no idea just how dangerous–and personal–the crimes have become.
Riss Holloway has taken a leave of absence from her mortal job as Chief Magical Investigator for the Boston PD. Right now she’s determined to focus on her Fury duties: like assisting her mother with an unsettling friction brewing in the Sisterhood–a faction of Furies sworn to serve all the Deities equally. Until now.
Someone is playing favorites. As a result Riss is ushered into a tumultuous civil war–and not one just tearing apart the Sisterhood, but one embroiling every god and goddess into the chaos as well. What was once a precept, to stand as a united whole policing arcanekind for millennia, has been divided by something Riss never imagined–and choosing sides could be the most dangerous move she’s ever made.
What they’re saying:
“The third outing of MacKenzie’s red-hot Shades of Fury series finds the magical world in major turmoil. MacKenzie is doing a terrific job of building a complex world fronted by a truly kick-ass heroine. She’s definitely a rising star in the UF genre!” —RT Book Reviews, 4 stars.
“Like the other books in the Shades of Fury series BLACK-HEARTED BETRAYAL is filled with action and suspense. Riss and her allies hardly have room to breathe before the enemies are on them again. I thought that there was a lot more brought to the table compared to book 2 and I hope that it continues with book 4.” —Urban Fantasy Investigations, 4 stars.
“I was so happy to see Riss being back to her usual tough as nails self…[S]he stood her ground and held true to her quest despite it almost costing her what she holds the most dear. In fact, Riss realizes how far she is willing to go and just how much she would sacrifice to uphold her duty… I feel like we have only scratched the surface of potential in these books… Blackhearted Betrayal has completely renewed my faith in the Shades of Fury Series, and shouldn’t be missed.” —A Book Obsession, 4 stars.
Read on for an excerpt…
Nothing killed a postparty buzz like waiting all night to jump your lover’s bones only to have a Harpy bust into your home while you’re getting frisky on the sofa. Even worse, a pregnant Harpy, whose enormous belly, swollen ankles, and raging mood swings served as a walking billboard for conscientious birth-control use. I let out a choked scream and covered my nakedness with an afghan when the Harpy Queen waltzed through my front door entirely-too-early in the morning. Scott Murphy, the love of my life, became alert—er, the other kind of alert—and lunged to his feet, fortunately still wearing his tuxedo pants.
I grabbed his arm before he could strike. “Down, boy; it’s Serise.” The only Harpy neither of us would attack upon sight. Normally, when a Fury—like me—became so overcome by Rage, she couldn’t control it and Turned Harpy, which was bad news. But Serise had earned my trust enough that I’d programmed my magical wards to allow her inside without raising a dozen alarms. Something I was very much starting to regret.
“Somebody had damned well better be dead, Your Majesty, or you may well soon be, baby bump or no.”
She blinked yellow-green eyes and laid a protective hand upon her stomach. “Have I interrupted something important?”
Trust a Harpy to completely miss any and all social cues, like the half-naked couple getting busy on the sofa. She might be slightly saner than her sisters thanks to her status as Queen, but that didn’t make her any less socially awkward. “Seriously, Serise, you have like five seconds to get to the point before I kick you out of my house.”
“Nobody is dead, but I believed the two of you would wish to know about the man I caught shadowing me after I dropped off your nieces at their home.”
My hackles rose in a more figurative sense than those of my Warhound lover beside me. “You let some strange man follow you to my brother’s home?”
Serise finally seemed to clue in to the absurdity of conducting a serious conversation while Scott and I were half-naked in the living room. “Perhaps you would prefer to clothe yourself before—”
“Gods damn it, Harpy Queen, are my nieces in danger?”
“Of course not.” She actually sounded offended. “Firstly, I never claimed the man was unknown to me. Secondly, you should know I would never be so clumsy as to allow anyone to trail me while on guard duty, especially not my children’s sisters.” Serise’s children—the one already born, Rinda, along with the unnamed bun in her oven—shared the same unknown father’s DNA as my adopted niece, Olivia, who was biological cousin to my niece, Cori. In Serise’s eyes, both girls shared kinship to her own children, which meant they were to be protected. Came in damned handy, considering all the recent abduction and assassination attempts aimed at my family.
“Furthermore, this man was already at your family’s home in Salem. He followed me back to Boston, where I led him on a fruitless chase until I knew the wedding reception would be over, and you would be home.” We had just come from the wedding of Scott’s old flame. Of course, a serial killer had almost gotten in the way, but that was another story.
I leaned forward with narrowed eyes and yanked the afghan up when it started to slip. “Who the hell do we know that would follow you from my family’s home into Boston without trying to talk to you?” Or, as was more likely since most arcanes hated Harpies, to kill her?
Serise’s disconcerting gaze moved from my face to Scott’s. “The man you’ve been looking for since the night your sister Fury died, the missing Warhound, Sean Murphy.”
The unexpected revelation hit me like a combat boot to the stomach; and yes, I knew how that felt from personal experience. My duties as both member of the Sisterhood of Furies and Chief Magical Investigator for the city of Boston came with hazard pay for good reason. With everything I had experienced over the years, few things took me completely by surprise anymore, but hearing that Scott’s baby brother had transformed from missing person to Harpy stalker managed to wallop me right upside the figurative head.
Sean had vanished in the chaos when I led a group of allies against the mortal scientists who’d been experimenting upon arcanes like Vanessa, my childhood friend and sister Fury who died giving birth to Olivia. We’d believed Sean to be captured by the brainwashed Sidhe serving the scientists, but shadowing Serise from Salem to Boston indicated he possessed at least a modicum of freedom. Considering we’d been turning over every stone we could to find him for months, and he hadn’t had the courtesy to let us know he was still alive, that didn’t sit too well in my stomach.
Scott’s sudden growl hinted he didn’t like the sound of it either. “You saw my brother tonight and you’re just now telling us?”
Serise gave a careless Harpy shrug. “I did not recognize him until I circled back to shadow him for a time.”
Scott clenched his fists, and I could just picture him counting to ten beneath his breath so he wouldn’t lose his cool. Hound tempers may not have anything on the supernatural Rage that fueled both Fury and Harpy magic, but they came in a close third. “Did you talk to him? Are you sure it’s him?”
“I did not approach lest I scare him away before you could speak with him. I did, however, memorize the address of the building he went into.”
She scrawled the details onto a piece of paper, and Scott frowned like it personally offended him. I touched his arm. “Problem, sugar?”
He shook his head and looked up at Serise. “Thanks for the info. Can you do me a favor and keep this between us?”
“Of course, if you feel that’s the wisest course of action.” Her gaze grew suddenly fierce as she curved her hand against her belly again. “Provided you inform your brother that continuing to shadow me will be extremely hazardous for his health. Only the fact I recognized him as your kin kept me from eliminating the potential threat to my children.”
Scott nodded. “You have my thanks for sparing him, Your Majesty.” He nodded to the door in a not-so-subtle hint, not that his lack of tact would particularly bother the Harpy. “Do you need an escort home?”
Serise shook her head. “No. Two of my sisters accompanied me tonight and await me outside.” Then, without further ado, she made good her escape. Not too big on niceties like hello or good-bye, that one.
I let the afghan drop once the front door clicked shut and snatched the scrap of paper from his hand. Reading the numbers and letters didn’t shed any light, however. Years of working Boston’s streets helped me identify the address as being inside the city’s magical Underbelly, but that wasn’t terribly revelatory. “Spill it, Murphy. I know that something about that address has you spooked.”
He dropped back onto the sofa and shook his shaggy auburn hair. “Not spooked so much as surprised. We’ve got a job scheduled at this address starting tomorrow night.”
By we, he meant the Shadowhounds, a group of mercenaries founded by his father, Morgan, which Scott was leading. At least, until his big sister, Amaya, recovered enough from her run-in with those aforementioned mad scientists to resume her position as Shadowhound Numero Uno. At which point I planned to recruit him to the MCU.
“Okay, no way is that mere coincidence. Who’s the job for?”
His expression grew slightly sheepish. “Boston’s head Anubian priest.”
I forced myself not to scowl from the reflexive disgust that swept over me anytime someone mentioned my least favorite immortal, Jackal-Faced Anubis. Just my typical bad luck that the one god who detested me also happened to be my lover’s patron deity.
Back when my best friend, Vanessa, had first disappeared, I’d crashed Anubis’s slice of the Underworld and gotten the tiniest bit snippy with him. Okay, maybe a whole lot of snippy, but who could blame me? My closest friend in the world had been missing for months; I couldn’t find any sign of her or a body and had been convinced her narcissistic ex-lover had murdered her. In order to bring him to justice, I needed confirmation that she was indeed among the deceased, and Anubis could have given me that very thing. Instead, he’d become a whole lot of divinely wrathful with my ass and kicked me out of the Underworld. Scott didn’t know just how bad the blood between his deity and me ran, but he did know Anubis was nowhere near being on my Christmas-card list.
Not that I was ever organized enough to send those out on time.
“Do you think Sean is trying to ambush you via the priest?”
Scott’s generous lips tugged downward. “Now why would my brother want to ambush me, Riss?”
Because he was getting kinda crazy stalkerish with me before he disappeared? Because he started acting like he kinda hated you and wouldn’t be too sad to see you out of the picture? Not exactly suggestions I could pose to Scott at the moment seeing as how I’d never found the right time or words to come clean about the things his brother had done and said in the time leading up to his disappearance.
“Er, by ambush, I mean ask you for help without letting anyone else know he needs it.”
His expression changed from annoyed to thoughtful. “That would make sense. I mean, if he’s in trouble and can’t risk bringing it back home, the Anubian temple is a damned good choice to arrange a rendezvous.”
His sudden distracted air had me letting out an inner sigh. If Serise’s abrupt appearance hadn’t already killed our amorous mood, his brotherly concern would have hammered the last few nails into its coffin. Not that I could blame him. One of the things we had most in common was our deep love of family.
“You may as well go back to your place tonight, then, so you can get an early start on figuring out what the heck is going on with your brother.”
Sheepishness gave way to a look of gratitude mixed with guilt. “You sure?”
I brushed a kiss on his lips. “Of course I am. I’ll be busy all day tomorrow getting Trinity up to speed for my leave of absence, anyway.”
“That’s right; Cori all ready to swear her oaths to the Sisterhood?”
My fifteen-year-old niece had finally Fledged as a Fury after several anxious years where we waited to see if she would follow in both her aunts’ arcane footsteps or instead remain a magical skip like her parents. “More ready than you can even imagine. Mom’s meeting us the day after tomorrow to make sure no little accidents happen during the trip to the Palladium.”
The Palladium existed in the slice of the Otherrealms controlled by the Sisterhood of Furies and was where we conducted most official business. It also happened to be one of the few places in the Otherrealms not currently debilitated by a strange supernatural plague. The fact that the Otherrealms were slowly but surely dying off was the primary reason arcanes had traveled en masse to the mortal realm several decades ago, which nowadays kept me gainfully employed as Chief Magical Investigator in charge of all crimes committed by or against arcanes.
Scott wrapped his arms around me and squeezed. “You afraid of another attack?”
Discord had broken out among the Furies in the past months, pitting sister against sister in deadly strife, something I once would have thought impossible. “It would be foolish not to anticipate that as a possibility. I’d rather be prepared and not need to be than the alternative.”
“That’s what I like most about you, baby. Always thinking ahead.”
I shifted against him, pressing my bare chest against his own suggestively. “Really? That’s what you like most about me?”
His earlier distraction faded, and golden Hound eyes glowed with rekindled desire. “One of the things I like most.”
“Oh yeah? What else do you like?”
“I can think of at least a few things.” His voice grew husky, and his warm, callused hands caressed my lips teasingly. “Like your beautiful smile.” Those amazing hands moved several inches lower. “And your delectable neck.” He leaned forward and nipped the sensitive flesh in question, before trailing his fingers down to the serpent heads tattooed onto each of my shoulders. “Not to mention your sensitive shoulders.” I moaned when he dragged his fingernails across them, then down to my quivering chest. “And most especially your perfect, gorgeous breasts.” His mouth soon followed caressing fingers, and I was most gratified to discover that the Harpy Queen hadn’t been a complete buzz-kill after all . . .
The obnoxious sound of “Who Let the Dogs Out?” had me clawing for my cell phone and cursing Cori’s prankster ways at an hour that felt way too early the next morning. One of these days I was going to learn how to prevent her from changing my ringtone when I wasn’t paying attention. “This had better be important,” I barked into the phone after my bleary eyes registered it wasn’t even 7:00 a.m. I’d gotten used to sleeping in until the decadent hour of 8:00 ever since I’d hired Kale and Mahina, the husband-and-wife Night Owls who oversaw the Magical Crimes Unit’s night shift, meaning I rarely had to pull eighteen-to-twenty-four-hour shifts anymore.
“Now, is that any way to greet the loving mother who was only restored to you a few short months ago?”
My lips twitched upward, and I relaxed back into the plush pillows behind me. “It is when she wakes me up more than an hour before my alarm goes off.”
“Oh, is it that early in the mortal realm?”
The feigned innocence in her tone made my lip twitching turn into eye rolling. “You know damned good and well what time it is here.”
Her voice lost its teasing edge. “I do know how little sleep you usually get and wouldn’t disturb your rest unless it was important. New rumors are flying among the Elders that the Alecto Prime has cut off ties with the Tisiphone Prime.” Alecto, Tisiphone, and Megaera were the classes of Fury, and I was a Tisiphone.
I frowned. “Officially or unofficially?”
“Either way spells trouble, especially considering the Megaera Prime’s attacks upon our family and a new, even more disturbing development.”
“So when exactly are you ever going to call me with new, even less disturbing developments?”
“So when exactly are you going to give me another grandbaby?”
Oh, touché, Mom. She knew just how much the thought of bringing children into the world at that time freaked me the hell out—and wasn’t adverse to throwing that in my face to shut me up. Something I might have done were the roles reversed: I was so my mother’s daughter.
“Okay, so tell me about this new, more disturbing development.”
“Maylin refused to appear before the Conclave when summoned yesterday.”
I sat up straight in bed, nearly dropping the phone in my rush. “Whoa, wait, what? Can she do that?”
Maylin Chang had the distinction of serving as Tisiphone Prime, meaning she ruled over the class of Furies both Mom and I belonged to with pretty much an iron fist. That being said, all sisters were subject to the authority of the Conclave of Fury Elders, our governing body, up to and including the Primes. The closest analogy among the mortals might be the difference between the state and federal governments in the U.S. Traditionally, each class of Furies kept the identity of its Prime secret from the other classes—and most especially from non-Furies—but when the Conclave summoned, Primes were supposed to appear before a closed Conclave session under a cloak of anonymity, at which point they revealed their identity to the fifteen sisters who served on the Conclave’s Lesser Consensus. Those sisters were sealed under oath not to reveal the identity of any Prime.
“What did Maylin say when you asked her what the hell she was thinking?”
“She’s refusing to see me now, too.”
My heart sank because Mom was right; this really was a disturbing development. Mom and Maylin had become close friends during the Great War several decades earlier—what the mortals euphemistically referred to as the “Time of Troubles.” Our Prime had been one of the first to welcome Mom back from her MIA status with open arms and had pushed hard for the other Tisiphones to elect Mom to our vacant seat on the Conclave’s Lesser Consensus. She’d not yet been officially voted onto the Lesser Consensus, but things were looking pretty promising.
“Are you telling me that Maylin is the one pulling Nan’s puppet strings?”
My grandmother, Maeve (who my family had called Nan as long as I could remember), had miraculously awakened from a prolonged magical coma not too long ago, which should have been as amazingly good news as Mom’s being rescued from those mad scientists. Unfortunately, Nan wouldn’t talk to either of us and had inexplicably challenged Ekaterina, the sister serving as the head of the Lesser Consensus, to a duel for her seat on the Conclave’s ruling council. The levelheaded Nan Mom and I knew would never return from the brink of death only to challenge another sister to a potentially deadly duel over what amounted to mere politics. Mom and I suspected that someone else had used dark magic to wake Nan from her coma and manipulate her into those bizarre actions, or else had killed Nan and was impersonating her magically. Not completely far-fetched, since Furies had impressive shape-shifting abilities.
“I’m not sure, but I don’t believe this is all coincidence any more than you do. I think it’s more important than ever that you bring Cori to the Palladium as soon as possible. I’ll feel better if you’re both here where I and my allies can watch over you until we figure out what is going on in our class—not to mention the strife with the other two classes.”
I glanced at my bedside clock. “I have to finish filling Trinity in on some administrative details before I start my official leave, but I can grab Cori first thing in the morning and meet you at the rendezvous point.”
“Will you be able to drag yourself out of bed early enough to meet us at 9:00 a.m.?”
I ignored her gentle dig. “Us?”
Her tone turned grim. “Given the number of near accidents we’ve had lately, I recruited Laurell and Patricia for escort duty.”
“Oh, good, I’ve fought beside those two before. Wicked fierce in battle.”
“Exactly why they were my first choice. That, plus their staunch support of my bid for the Conclave seat the past few months.”
“I better get going so I can finish everything I need today and make sure Cori will be ready in time. See you at nine tomorrow morning then?”
“Sounds good. You take care, darling, and bring Cori to me safely.”
“Will do, Mom. Love you.”
“Love you, too.”
I couldn’t help the goofy grin that spread across my face whenever she said that. Having her back in my life after more than twenty years of believing her dead was hands down the best thing to happen to me in ages. Granted, getting back together with Scott had made me ecstatic, but nothing and no one could compare to your mother—or love you quite the same. Which made Nan’s incomprehensible behavior to her own daughter all the more unbelievable.
We’ll figure out who has screwed with her head, and we’ll make things right again.
I had to believe that—any other result was simply unthinkable.
Trinity LaRue looked up from a bowl of gruel when I leaned against the doorjamb of her office next door to mine in the PD. “How on earth can you eat that squirrel food?” She finished chewing with what had to be pretended bliss. I refused to believe anyone could actually enjoy eating sugarless granola cereal with fat- and taste-free milk.
“It’s good for you. Much better than all that sugar and caffeine you ingest.”
“Yeah, well, I’ve got to keep my Fury metabolism fueled, thank you very much.”
“You’re such a lucky bitch that you never gain an ounce despite all that junk you shovel into your face.”
“Yes, well, that souped-up metabolism comes along with assassination attempts every other day and the danger of Turning Harpy whenever I channel Rage.”
She wrinkled her nose sympathetically. “True, I’ll take the health food and my newfound gym-addict status over the constant death threats and uncontrollable anger.”
“Don’t forget: You’re the one with the Spyder.” Her eyes went a little dreamy at the mention of the electric blue sports car her older brothers had rebuilt for her thirtieth birthday not that long before. It sure as hell beat the MCU’s land whale of a stakeout van that I commandeered whenever flying on my own two wings or taking the subway just wouldn’t do. “You ready for me to get you up to speed on where everything stands?”
Trinity and I had worked together on the Boston police force for several years before we officially formed the MCU, with me as chief and her as deputy chief. She’d been assuming more and more responsibility as I managed to loosen up my controlling ways and conquer my fear for her safety as the lone hundred-percent mortal on our team. Once she called me out on that tendency to coddle her, I’d done my best to curb the habit. She’d proven herself on every occasion, and she sure as hell deserved my respect.
She spooned up the last bite of squirrel food and popped up to come around her desk. Her office was nearly as compact of mine—minus the conference table and chairs squeezed against the wall—so I immediately noticed the oversized vase of calla lilies when she brushed past the credenza upon which she had placed it. The extremely expensive vase of calla lilies, which I knew were her favorite flower.
“Well, somebody must have gotten lucky last night.”
A smile spread across her face as she gave a saucy wink. “Oh, like you didn’t after you and that Hound of yours got half-drunk last night.”
“Me less than half-drunk and him more than half-drunk, thank you very much.” Thanks to that whole Fury metabolism I had going on, which gave me the opportunity to play designated driver with Scott’s zippy red Ferrari. “But wait, I didn’t see you leave the reception with Penn’s brother.”
“That’s because I didn’t.”
“You little vixen, you! So if things didn’t pan out with Tariq, who are the flowers from?”
Her smile took on a mysterious edge. “That’s for me to know, and you to maybe find out, if things keep going as well as they have been the past little while.”
“Damn tease. At least tell me if I know the guy.”
“You have previously made his acquaintance, I believe.” She pushed me gently away from her doorway. “Now, that’s all the info you’re allowed until you get back from your leave, or we’ll never get any work done because you’ll be busy hounding me or, even worse, the poor guy who may very well at some point get lucky.”
Trinity dated a lot—with her good looks, sharp brains, and sly sense of humor, no surprise there—but she guarded her heart carefully and took her time before deciding whether a guy was worth getting more intimate with. She was like me in that regard, probably one of the reasons we had connected so well as partners. For all our differences, we had a lot of the same core values. Like our dedication to the MCU and protecting the people of Boston from various and sundry magical crimes. I couldn’t think of a better person, mortal or arcane, to entrust my city with during my absence. Good thing, too, because there really wasn’t anyone else I could entrust it to.
We spent the next few hours going over various mundane—but necessary—administrative minutiae, with me trying like crazy to ferret out more details from her regarding the guy who had sent her such lovely flowers. She didn’t crack the slightest bit, taking extreme pleasure in watching me try without success to guess who the new man in her life was. I finally gave up when we knocked off for the night, she presumably to head off for a dinner date with Mr. Mysterious, and me heading to Scott’s apartment so we could hopefully enjoy a repeat of the night before—minus the overbearing Harpy Queen—before I left for gods knew how long to clean house in the Palladium. A Fury’s job was just never done.