The fifth Jessica McClain novel – a fast-paced and irresistibly sexy urban fantasy novel perfect for fans of Kelley Armstrong, Patricia Briggs, Keri Arthur and Rachel Vincent
“Juanita! Juanita!” I yelled into the cell phone. “What do you mean my life is in danger?” There was no answer. I pulled the phone out in front of me to take a look.
It was completely dead.
The screen was entirely white, which wasn’t normal. I frowned as I tossed it back to Marcy, who snatched it in midair. She turned it over and raised a single eyebrow. “Please tell me that was not your Latina neighbor who just killed my cell phone? Because whatever supe she is, it’s something ancient. The signature coming off this phone was off-the-charts crazy.”
I gave her a single nod as foreboding washed over me. I leaned my head back against the airplane seat and closed my eyes for a brief few seconds.
I needed time to think.
Up until that very moment, Juanita had been my very human neighbor. I’d never guessed she’d been anything different, which is not exactly saying much, since I wouldn’t have been able to detect her otherness when I’d been a human anyway. But once I’d made my first shift, I should’ve picked up on something. My wolf paced in my mind, not liking our circumstances either. Did you ever feel a strange vibe from her? I asked. She barked, ending on a snap of her muzzle. I wonder how she hid her true nature from us.
When I’d moved into my apartment, Juanita had already been living directly across from me. So her being there had been no coincidence. If she’d known I would move there, she had to be some kind of an oracle, knew an oracle . . . or was somehow tied up with Fate.
Fate would be my best guess.
I pressed my fingers into my temples and rubbed. I’d recently come back from the Underworld, where things had gone south in a big way. I’d killed Ardat Lili before her time, so Fate was angry with me—or at least the Hags were. They were the keepers of Fate, and I’d somehow managed to throw it off its true course. Assuming Juanita was connected to all of it was as good a hunch as any.
Ardat Lili, the powerful daughter of Lilith, had sat on the Coalition, and I’d ended her life before she’d had a chance to birth a child. The unborn child was the key. It would’ve led to the rebirth of one of the Hags, the one who had lost her life battling Lilith, Ardat Lili’s mother.
It was a tangled web of power and greed.
But now, Fate was officially off its course because of me, and leaving the beautiful, peaceful Bahamian island where Rourke and I had just spent some much-needed quality time was beginning to feel like the biggest mistake I’d ever made. More foreboding crept over me and I rubbed my temples harder. Not that I could’ve avoided Fate’s wrath on the island—but at least I’d have been on a sunny beach surrounded by luscious white sand, sipping fruity cocktails delivered in hollowed-out pineapples with umbrellas and pink straws.
To make matters more complicated, after killing Lili, I’d found out about my possible place on the Coalition. It had been big, earth-shattering news—the kind of news that makes your stomach roil uncontrollably. My place on the Coalition was the reason I’d been born a female. Only females were able to serve on it. My predecessor might have even been one of the very first.
Ardat Lili had been stronger than me, and I would’ve been killed had I not been given the power of five. The combined magic of five powerful supernaturals. Now it dwelled deep inside me, waiting for me to call on it. It’d been given to me freely by the Vampire Queen, the Prince of Hell, Rourke, Ray, and Selene.
Fae, demon, shifter, vampire, and witch.
My wolf had rejoiced and treated it like a second homecoming, but I wasn’t sure about any of it yet. I hadn’t had time to fully take it in. I was just thankful my wolf had stored it away and knew how to handle it, because I had no earthly idea. I’d only been a wolf for a few months.
This wasn’t initiation to the supernatural world by fire—it was initiation by firing squad.
I finally opened my eyes and glanced over at Rourke, my mate and partner in all things. His expression was grim. We were seated next to each other on the private jet en route to Florida to aid my father and my Pack against a fracture pack of wolves who were wreaking havoc on a small town after soliciting the help of a powerful priestess who was turning humans into rabid wolves.
Rourke grabbed my hand, sensing my distress, and gave it a squeeze. “I heard every word she said, and Juanita wasn’t talking about your life being in danger because of the fracture pack. She was talking about what happened with Lili in the Underworld.”
I nodded in agreement. “I know. She was giving me a warning, and it makes me believe the Hags will strike sooner rather than later.” Before we’d left the Underworld, Eudoxia, the Vampire Queen, had speculated that the Hags might take years to follow up on their retribution. Her reasoning? We were supernatural and there was really no need to hurry. We’d all be around for a good long time. But I didn’t buy it. Why wait when you could strike me down today? “My guess is Juanita is involved with Fate somehow. Either she’s an oracle or she is a Hag herself.” I shook my head. “I can’t believe I didn’t know she was a supe. It was a rookie mistake.”
“Don’t beat yourself up about it,” Rourke said. “A supernatural that old, with that much magic, could’ve fooled anyone—even me. Powerful supes, especially the ancient ones, can keep their magic cloaked, no problem. If she didn’t want you to know what she was, you didn’t stand a chance of finding out.”
Marcy sat up straighter in her seat across from me. “Did I just hear you say you think your neighbor might be a Hag? Like, as in a Hag Hag or a hag, as in she’s ugly and awful and smelly?” I hadn’t had any time to fill Marcy in on everything that had transpired in the Underworld. She’d arrived with Ray just before we all boarded the plane. Before I had a chance to answer, she continued, “Listen, Hags are pretty badass. They run the clock—so to speak. You don’t want to mess with them unless you want to be royally screwed over. They will scramble your brains and smile like fiends while they do it.”
I grinned at my friend. I’d truly missed her. It’d been three months since I’d seen her and I had so much to tell her. “Well, that’s comforting news. And, yes, she might be a Hag—as in the all-powerful brain-scrambling kind. It makes sense, but I have no idea for sure. It’s only a suspicion.”
Marcy whistled low. “That’s crazy. So what else do I need to know? Have you pissed off any gremlins? They do serious destruction on a very large scale. What about any serpentines? They’re these creepy half snake, half man—”
I held up my hand. “Okay, I get it, I get it. I will share the details of my trip to the Underworld with you. Rourke and Ray were there for some of it, so they know a bit.” Ray grunted from his seat across from Rourke. “But Naomi hasn’t been debriefed yet either.” Naomi had her arms braced over the top of my seat, likely eager to hear the details as well. I moved in closer to Marcy. “But before I start, you have to promise me you’re not going to interrupt this recap or it will take more time than we’ve got on this plane. Understood?” Marcy nodded, running a finger and thumb over her lips to show me they were zipped, and then she mimed throwing away the key. “What are you, four?” I laughed.
“Hey”—she shrugged—“that’s the timeless international signal for ‘you have my undivided attention.’” She faked looking at her wrist with a wry expression on her face. “You just wasted seven seconds of story time asking if I was a four-year-old child. Now, get talking, you.”
“All right. Here it goes . . .” Rourke kept a solid grip on my hand as I recounted what had happened to me in the Underworld, starting from the time I’d landed there to running through the tunnels, dodging the beasts and the demons who were dressed like janitors, meeting and then killing Lili, and reviving the Princess of Hell. His touch helped keep me calm. Reliving ordeals was never fun. Naomi listened quietly behind me, and surprisingly, so did Marcy. Every so often there was a garbled agreement from Ray, and I finished with “So all we can do now is wait. There aren’t many options, since we don’t know how the Hags operate. Juanita’s call is the first thing that’s happened since we rode the portal back. So by my reasoning, if she’s involved with Fate, she either has to be a Hag or she’s an oracle who works for them—I don’t know for sure. It’s only speculation at this point.”
“Good grief.” Marcy collapsed back into her seat like she’d just run a marathon, arms out to her sides. “That was a killer story—literally. So let me get this straight.” She moved forward. “You killed this evil Lili character and now you think you’ve thrown Fate off its true course? And now Juanita is calling you to warn you—”
The plane took a sharp nosedive, tossing us around in our seats.
I grabbed on to the armrests, thankful I’d fastened my seat belt when the pilot warned us of turbulence. Rourke leapt up, roaring. Ray was just ahead of him, both of them racing toward the cockpit.
“The power’s dead,” Rourke called over his shoulder. I craned my neck and glimpsed the panicked pilot through the opening in the small doorway. He was frantically pushing levers and punching buttons.
Marcy met my gaze solidly across the seat, her face pale. “We’re nearly over land,” I told her calmly, “and we have two vamps who can fly. There’s no need to panic. We’re not going down without a fight.”
“I know that.” She shook herself, trying to relax, even though the plane was still in a nosedive. “I’m just a terrible flier. I always have been. Tally used to make fun of me whenever we flew together, the old biddy, and would purposefully make the plane bounce around in fake turbulence. But I’m a witch, for Pete’s sake. I can fix this.” Marcy had suffered from performance anxiety in the past, but she smiled at me as her eyes slid shut and she began chanting under her breath.
Her power swept over me in a hot breeze as the plane began to right itself slowly.
“Rourke,” I called, “have the pilots guide us down anywhere they can. We need to get off this plane.”
“Damn straight we need to get off,” Marcy muttered, her eyes still closed, a fierce look of concentration on her face. “I’m fixing the drop with a counterspell, but I can’t undo whatever knocked the power out. Everything on the plane is dead, just like my phone. At least I think it’s a spell . . . I can’t even be sure. It all just feels dead.” She continued to chant under her breath and the plane evened out completely.
“Ma Reine,” Naomi whispered, crouching down in the aisle next to me. “I can leave the plane and help from below if need be.”
I shook my head. “Not yet. Let’s let Marcy handle it for now. She only has to keep the plane steady for a few more minutes until the pilots can guide it down. If we let you and Ray out, that means opening the doors and I don’t want to freak out the pilots if we don’t have to.”
She nodded, alert as always. We’d been up in the air for a little more than an hour, and as I looked out the tiny window, I could see what was likely the Florida Keys passing below us.
We were closing on land quickly.
The pilot’s voice came out of the cockpit in a rush. “We just passed Eagle Key. We’re going to make it to the mainland, but just barely. We can’t make it to any airstrip. We’ll have to set it down in the marsh flats.”
Rourke stood behind the two pilots, his arms crossed, his broad back taking up all the available doorway space. “I see plenty of open space to land down there. Just keep bringing us down and everything will be fine.” His voice was calm.
“Fine?” Panic filled the plane, the pilot’s voice wavering. “We’re directly over the southern glades! All that’s down there is sawgrass marsh with big channels of water and nothing else for miles and miles.”
“Marsh means flat, right? You have to look at the positives,” Ray kindly pointed out. He stood just behind Rourke, his back against the bathroom door. He leaned forward and glanced out the little window attached to the main door. “I don’t see anything that will stand in our way. No pesky trees to worry about, no big structures. Just get us down. That’s all we need you to do.”
The copilot was a little more confident. “We can’t radio in because the electrical is dead, but they should see us go down on the radar. We can do this, Larry. It’s just like the simulator. We keep the wheels up and set her down belly‑up. It’ll be bumpy as hell, but this plane is solid. She should stay together.”
Marcy still had her eyes firmly closed, and I leaned over to whisper, “Do you have a spell to wipe their memories once we land? Once we duck out, it’s going to be a problem for them.”
Marcy cracked one eye open. “I’m working here. And, yes, I can figure out what to do with them once we land. Not a problem.”
I nodded and motioned Ray over.
He started for me right as the plane took another nosedive.
My head snapped back to Marcy. “What’s going on?” I hadn’t meant to yell so loud. “I thought you said you had this?”
“Something is fighting my spell!” she cried. “And whatever it is has some serious mojo.”
“Can’t you do something else?”
“I’m trying! But, balls to the walls, it’s taking everything I’ve got.” Marcy’s knuckles were white as she gripped the armrests and fought for control. The plane bounced around like it was in the throes of wild turbulence as she tried another spell.
Rourke caught my eye from the cockpit doorway. He’d braced his body into the opening, his arms locked solidly in front of him. He nodded once and I turned to Naomi. “Okay, Naomi, it’s time for plan B,” I whispered. “Do you think you and Ray can position the plane up?”
“I do not know for sure, but we will certainly try, Ma Reine.”
“Oh, we can do it,” Ray piped up. “We will get this plane level even if I have to wrestle it to the ground. I’m not letting us burn up in a fiery crash. Not on my watch.”
Land was coming up fast. Ray grabbed on to the handle of the door and pulled.
The pilot’s voice was nothing less than a shriek as he heard the lever flip. “What are you doing? You can’t open the door!”
Jessica, I have to knock them out, Rourke said in my mind. They won’t be able to process what’s about to happen.
Can you fly the plane? I asked.
If the vamps give me a good angle, I can get it down. I’ve flown before, but it’s been a long time.
Let’s have Marcy spell them. I don’t want them hurt if we can help it.
Fine, but have her do it quick.
“Marcy.” I reached out and tapped her leg. Her eyes flew open. “I need you to spell the pilots. Knock them out, quick like a bunny.”
“I love bunnies.” She muttered something and both pilots slumped forward in their seats. “How’s that for quick?”
Rourke wasted no time. He had them in the passenger seats beside us in about ten seconds. I rose to help, unbuckling my seat belt. “Secure that one.” He nodded at the copilot.
I reached over and made sure they were both tightly belted. We were quickly running out of time.
Ray hollered, “We’re going out.” He tossed the door open and a rush of air filled the plane. In a blink he and Naomi were gone. The wind howled fiercely, sucking everything not tied down out the door.
I braced my legs and hands against the seats. We weren’t at a high altitude, so breathing wasn’t an issue. Rourke strapped himself into the cockpit and yelled, “Jessica! Buckle yourself in.
We’re going to crash in about thirty seconds!”
I glanced over at Marcy. Her face was white as a sheet, but she kept chanting the same spell over and over. “This damn interference is killing my craft,” she moaned as I made a split decision and started for the front of the plane.
Almost immediately the plane began to nose up, slowing our rapid descent. The vamps were making it work. The landing wasn’t going to be close to perfect, but at least we weren’t going to crash headfirst. I took a seat next to Rourke and he arched an eyebrow at me.
“This seat is just as good as any,” I answered as I grabbed the shoulder harness and clipped myself in. “What do we do now?”
“Put your hands on the yoke and pull back with me,” he ordered. “We’re going to help slow the plane down if we can.”
I did as I was told, and with the aid of the vamps, the front of the plane continued to edge upward. But the ground was closing in exceedingly fast. We had only about ten seconds at most. “We’re going to hit soon.” I tried to keep the panic out of my voice. This was likely not going to kill us, unless of course the crash broke all our necks or the plane was engulfed in flames. But even if we weren’t going to die, it was going to hurt like a bitch. Being broken and mangled from a plane crash was a serious injury for any supe.
“Hold on!” Rourke shouted as a sea of marshland, water, and scrubby brush sped in front us, filling the view out the windshield.
“I’m holding!” The yoke broke under my grip.
We hit once . . . and then bounced like a superball.
My eyebrows shot up as I glanced over at Rourke. “What’s going on?” I asked. We went down again, almost in slow motion, and then bounced up like we were attached to a bungee cord.
“It’s the best I can do!” Marcy yelled from her seat. “Whoever’s messing with us managed to find a way to block the plane from my magic. But they can’t block the entire earth, suckas!”
“Sweet,” I called, continuing to grip the broken wheel in each of my fists. “But at this rate the plane is going to break apart.”
“No it won’t,” Marcy said. “The plane is cushioned from below by a spell. I thought soft and bouncy, and my brain went straight to marshmallows. That’s just how it works when I’m under pressure.”
“So the plane is mimicking jumping from marshmallow to marshmallow?”
“That’s right,” she called, pride in her voice. “It was ingenious, if I do say so myself.”
The plane began to slow to small bounces and I spotted Ray out the windshield. He was in the process of placing his body in front of the nose to try and slow us down to a complete stop. I assumed Naomi was helping him from below.
It was strange to see him out there, almost surreal.
We continued to spring over the small mounds of earth and water until the belly of the plane finally struck something hard.
The plane jerked to a stop, tossing us all forward. Then with almost no preamble, it cracked in half. I glanced back just in time to see Marcy tumble out of the belly of the plane, still strapped to her seat.
There was a splash below.
“I’m okay!” she called. “I broke my fall with a spell. Now I just have to figure out how to get marsh water out of my lady parts.”