Plenty people have deadbeat parents, but how many have fathers who keep showing up to kill them? Just one more example of what a lucky woman I am. Oh wait, I’m not even human anymore—I’m a Fire-controlling Elemental called a Phoenix. And boy, do I have daddy issues!
I also have long-lost sibling issues when my sister and brother show up on my new Elemental clan’s doorstep. They were rescued from Daddy Dearest’s evil lab by an old enemy in a show of good faith. Turns out that enemy’s now carrying his latest magical science experiments (twins!) and claims she can help us save my bondmate Jake’s own twin, Colin. The one we thought was beyond saving.
Now we’re in a race to find Colin’s watery grave and free my siblings from our father’s psychic powers. If only I master my own abilities as the world’s first Elemental liegelord in centuries, we might stand a chance.
The title’s gender-neutral, thank you very much, and I’m about to show Daddy Dearest he messed with the wrong daughter. Failure’s not an option, because it means that everyone I love will be mind-controlled minions of my father—or dead beyond saving.
Read on for an excerpt.
They say the third time’s a charm—but I sure hoped that didn’t prove true the next time my father killed me. The first time was the worst because I had no clue what was going on when the sociopath set me ablaze. The second time was both better and worse. Better because I’d started to come into my own as a fire-wielding user of Elemental magic; worse because I walked right into his trap despite knowing it would be there.
The icing on the crappy cake was the fact that the man responsible for so many of the worst moments of my old life got away. Thus, why I worried there might be a third time.
“Penny for your thoughts?”
I shook off the depressing images sweeping me down memory lane and focused my attention on the man responsible for the best moments of my new life. Jacob Zi epitomized the stereotype of tall, dark, and handsome. To say he made my heart go thump was both another cliché and an understatement of epic proportions. Half his heritage was Chinese, half was Irish, and he embraced both. The man was H-O-T hot from his shaggy black hair and jade green eyes to the bronzed skin that covered every part of his 6’2″ frame. And yeah, I’ve been lucky enough to explore that delectable skin firsthand.
Jake smiled when I rolled over to blink up at him. Brilliant August sunlight made it hard for my eyes to adjust, until I shifted just enough for his body to block the glare. Today’s t-shirt was electric blue covered with a faded Star Wars logo, partnered with dark blue jeans and black combat boots.
As if he needed help being irresistible, his sexiness extended beyond the physical. He could speak several languages (including Chinese and Irish Gaelic) fluently; he was like a quadruple black belt in multiple martial arts; he had taught himself to play several musical instruments; and he loved pizza, movies, and Cardinals baseball. Yeah, Jake had flaws to go along with those qualities (stubborn as hell, cover-hogger extraordinaire, entirely too cheerful in the morning), but damned if that didn’t make me love him all the more.
Even after almost three months as lovers, I still had to pinch myself sometimes.
“One measly penny?”
He crouched and planted a kiss on my lips. Sparks flew, some of them literal thanks to the magical bond still settling between us. The next minutes passed in a blur of touch, taste, and the blended fragrance of cinnamon and earth that always accompanied the man I loved.
When he finally came up for air, he gave me a crooked little grin. “Better?”
My voice was shaky when I replied, “Mm hm. You chased all those pesky thoughts right out of my head.”
Jake laughed and settled beside me on the grass, pulling my head into his lap as we turned our gazes to the burbling river. We’d spent the months since my father last killed me here at Greener Pastures, Clan Zi’s farm and its surrounding forestland, while the Clan Phoenixes trained me in the fine art of Fire magic. Once they deemed me up to speed, we hoped our bond would solidify enough to experiment with the unique twist to my magical abilities; something else I could thank Daddy Dearest for the next time I saw him.
And there would be a next time.
“You’re thinking about him again.”
I made a sour face. “How can I not? My family had to uproot their lives out of fear he’ll try to use them against me, your family has to spend resources helping protect them, and Rhianne’s still hurting from what Keith did to her. I now know my father’s the reason my mother’s dead, and he’s killed me twice.”
His fingers stroked my cheek softly. “Your family chose to move here to be closer to you,” he corrected. “After over two decades separated from their long-lost daughter who was wrongfully removed from their home, that makes perfect sense. My family is now yours, and so both you and your adoptive family are also Clan.” He grew momentarily silent before continuing. “Your birth mother gave up her life for you because she loved you. Your father wants to use you for his own purposes; that much is true. But we are going to stop him together.”
The surety in his voice had my breath catching. How far we had come in the few months we’d known each other. The initial weeks after my powers as a Phoenix were blasted open by my first death saw Jake having to rescue me from danger left, right, and upside down. Once his mother started training me in how to channel Fire, however, the balance began to shift. We’d been able to get to know each other as individuals. I’d become more confident in protecting myself, and Jake had stepped back to let me grow. This bond between us only strengthened our faith in each other. At first, I’d been worried it would make Jake leap in to protect me rather than let me hold my own. Once his overprotective Dragon instincts faded to a more bearable level, however, his faith in me had reasserted itself. Now, we were becoming true partners.
I touched his face with a fierce grin. “Damn right we’re gonna stop his psycho ass. Just as soon as we find it.”
Someone manipulated Fire nearby, causing goosebumps to break out along my flesh. I shot straight up at the unexpected sensation. Jake’s body grew alert as he tuned in to my instincts, and he frowned at the trees a dozen yards away. “What’s wrong?” he murmured.
I immediately felt silly. “Probably nothing. I just felt one of the other Phoenixes using Fire.”
Rather than calming him, however, this had him zooming to his feet and tugging me alongside. “Everyone else is either at offsite jobs or out running errands. It’s just Rhianne, Mei, and Ju Li standing watch. Liam’s somewhere nearby pretending he’s not checking up on them.”
That announcement had me stiffening. Mei and Ju Li were two of his college-aged cousins who, like his sister Rhianne, were home for summer break. Rhianne seemed eager to prove own capabilities as a fighter in the wake of being held as a hostage. She’d volunteered for every extra guard shift she could this summer, and both cousins tended to follow where she led. None of the three women were Phoenixes, however. Neither was Liam, the Gryphon who blamed Jake for the death of their brother Colin and only pretended to tolerate us for the Clan’s sake. This meant that they couldn’t be the ones I sensed channeling Fire.
That thought no sooner struck than I embraced Elemental vision, thrilling in the magic that rushed against my senses: vibrant bands of red, green, blue, and white dancing around us; the sound of flames crackling nearby; the scent of fire tickling my nose; the taste of hot food upon my tongue; soothing warmth caressing my skin. All of this flashed past in a second and then our bond allowed me to feel Jake engage his own Elemental vision: the sound of wind whipping through trees; the fragrance of pine needles mixed with soil; the taste of spring upon my tongue even though it was late summer; the feeling of wet earth between my bare toes although I was wearing sandals.
That was one of the magical twists for which I had my mad scientist father to thank. While bonded Elementals gained the capacity to see the bands of magic their bondmates could manipulate, they could not channel the other elements themselves. But some inexplicable part of my magical gifts allowed me to hijack the Elemental hands of others to mould their elements however I saw fit. For now I focused on my own abilities, channeling Fire to enhance my senses and attempting to pinpoint in which direction danger threatened. Realization struck, and I whirled to face the river, only to find it was too late.
Brilliant light flared, and three shadowy figures exploded from the water, landing on the manmade sand beach. Jake turned and we both stepped back. Our hands rose in unison as we prepared to defend ourselves.
Except nobody attacked.
My gaze flicked across the three figures, noting that each was perfectly dry despite having just burst out of the swift-moving river. One of them is obviously a Selkie.
The first two I did not recognize. A fresh-faced man with skin a shade darker than Jake’s stood to the left. He was a few inches taller than me and had shoulder-length black hair slicked into a fauxhawk. I moved my gaze to the woman at his side. The way she stood made her seem taller than him, but she was actually a couple inches shorter. Tightly-coiled black curls spiraled every which way atop her head, falling just past her shoulders. She had skin several shades darker than Jake’s and eyes that were the same dark brown as the man next to her. Both were so achingly pretty I wanted to just stare, but I forced my gaze to move one more time; which was when I saw the traitor.
Bianca, the bitchy Phoenix who had abandoned a volatile Colin Zi for Dorian Garcia, leading Jake’s twin to commit suicide by drowning in a location no one else knew. This meant that nobody could return his body to earth so that it could regenerate. Considering that Bianca’s Dragon lover was holding my best friend Si Si hostage, I had several bones to pick with her myself. And here she had appeared as if manna from the skies.
I was on Bianca so fast nobody had time to react. She managed to break her fall slightly but made a satisfying sound when I landed on top of her legs. My hands went around her neck while the others were still processing my actions. I felt the unfamiliar man reach for bands of Water as the woman reached for Air, and a smile parted my lips. Once again I struck, this time hijacking each one’s abilities to channel Elemental magic before more gently borrowing Jake’s ability to channel Earth. A small circle of Fire roared to life around the two unfamiliar Elementals, arcing six inches into the air before all four elements blended into a much taller opalescent wall that cut them off from the rest of the world. Leaving Bianca and me to duke it out alone.
Again, however, she didn’t do what I expected. She kept her body limp and stared at me with wide brown eyes that seemed to beg for mercy while my hands applied enough pressure to make breathing uncomfortable.
Jake’s hand settled on my shoulders. “Ease up a bit, Cass.”
“It’s Bianca!” I said, a hint of betrayal in my voice.
“I know. I’m not saying you have to let go entirely. But I have some questions about my brother, and she has the answers.”
His tone held enough steel that I loosened my grip. The other Phoenix sucked in air, eyes moving to check on the health of her companions. They beat impotently against the wall visible only to Elemental vision and let out a string of curses.
My bondmate crouched next to us and leveled a glare that could have shriveled harder hearts than mine upon Bianca. “How did you get past the wards?”
Fashioned from all four elements, wards served as both magical alarm and deterrence systems. Most Elementals would back off after sensing them. However, once tripped by the presence of an unauthorized Elemental, they would hold them in place until one of those keeping watch arrived to deal with them.
She coughed slightly before speaking. “W—wardstone.”
Wardstones allowed whoever carried them free passage through Elemental wards and were supposed to go only to those a Clan most trusted.
That claim had Jake blinking in surprise only to let out a sigh. “Colin.”
“When did he give it to you?”
“After he died.”
Jake’s expression grew even colder. Liam may have blamed Jake for Colin’s suicide, but Jake most definitely blamed the woman who threw her old lover over for slimy-ass Dorian Garcia when she knew the wildness held Colin in its crushing grip.
“Don’t play games, Bianca. Under Beholden law, you are a sworn enemy trespassing on Clan territory, and we are within our rights to bury you so deep you’ll never dig your way out.”
“I’m telling the truth! Colin arranged for a package to be shipped to me after he died. The wardstone was one of the items inside.”
His breath whistled out, and his butt hit the sand next to us. “What else was inside?”
“A letter to me, a letter to you, and a map.”
Jake’s eyes narrowed, and his lips pressed into a narrow line of suspicion. “A map to what?”
Bianca’s eyes met his without flinching. “A map to where he killed himself. He left clues to help decipher the map in both letters. Jake, I know you hate me, but only the two of us can decipher our own clues. We can find Colin and bring him back to life if we work together.”
My hands loosened a little more. I swung my gaze from her to Jake and back again. He wanted to believe her very badly, an emotion that pulsed along our bond. I, on the other hand, have always been the biggest skeptic in the room. “We have no reason to trust you, Bianca. Why shouldn’t we kill you and your two little friends?”
She returned her gaze to me and nodded toward the firewall. “Because, Cassidy Grant. They’re your brother and sister.”