Reese woke with the mother of all hangovers.
The inside of her mouth felt like cotton, and her head pounded so hard that white lights winked behind her eyelids with every heartbeat.
She lifted her face off a wool rug that reeked of arthritic dog, and peered around the unfamiliar room. White wicker furniture with floral cushions surrounded her—definitely not a student dorm.
Where the hell was she?
Reese waited for the spinning to ease before attempting to push up to a sitting position. She was sprawled in the center of the room like someone had dumped her there. Given the soreness in her hipbone and the right side of her face, anything was possible.
She rubbed her eyes, thinking back. The last thing she remembered was going to the fraternity party by herself. And, granted, it had been a stupid move to go alone. But there was no way she was staying home the night of her eighteenth birthday. That was just pitiful. Her roommate Elena had said she would meet her there, but Elena never showed.
Even more distressing, Reese couldn’t remember much after she’d arrived at the party. The last thing she recalled was taking a shot of alcohol.
Footsteps sounded down a dimly lit hallway on her right and Reese’s heartbeat picked up. She tried to rise to a sitting position, but her body wasn’t cooperating.
Two men entered the room…and last night—how wrong this situation was—came crashing down over her.
Her breath sawed in and out of her chest. Her hands grew cold and her stomach rolled with nausea.
The first man—handsome, middle-aged—studied her like she was some kind of insect. But that wasn’t what had her freaking out. It was the younger man beside him: the hot fraternity guy she’d met at the party, before everything went blank.
“Whoa.” A handsome guy with dark hair and wearing a rugby shirt rubbed his eyes dramatically after Reese entered the fraternity house. “Can I get your picture? I want to prove to my friends that angels really exist. Here—” He handed her a shot glass of something purple while his gaze traveled down her body in the tight red dress her mother had picked out on their last shopping excursion.
The fraternity guy’s pickup line was pure cheese, but she hadn’t cared at the time. She’d needed the attention of some innocuous, nameless boy. It had been a hell of week.
Reese had learned that Elena, her roommate and closest friend at Dawson, was half Fae. Fae!
What was a Fae, anyway? All Reese knew was that Elena suddenly had the ability to change water and other compounds and elements into different forms—because that wasn’t weird. If Reese hadn’t seen Elena make water boil with a wave of her hand, she wouldn’t have believed it. Then there was Elena’s Viking-looking Fae bodyguard who’d been sleeping on their couch the last few nights. As if learning her friend was part Fae wasn’t bad enough, Reese had to discover that Fae men were just as self-centered as human guys.
Not an uplifting realization.
Considering her fragile mental state after all these bombshells, Reese shouldn’t have gone to the party by herself.
And now she wished she’d been more careful before she snatched the shot glass from the hot fraternity guy. Because inside this unfamiliar room, with the two men staring down at her, fraternity guy wasn’t looking at her with admiration anymore.
He wore a white button-down—no more rugby shirt—and his hair was combed back instead of haphazardly ruffled the way it had been at the party. More important, his smooth-shaven cheeks and angular jaw were set in hard lines, a touch of repulsion in his expression.
This wasn’t right. Not right at all.
Reese moved to stand, but couldn’t bear weight on her arms or legs, and she wound up slumping to the ground.
It didn’t take a genius to figure out that the fraternity guy had put something in the shot glass at the party. She hadn’t been there long enough to drink anything else. That was the only explanation for why she couldn’t remember anything afterward. And why she still struggled to move.
“Did I pass out or something?” She leaned on her elbows, her hands shaking like crazy, from the drug he must have slipped her, from fear—she didn’t know. In any case, her hands gave the lie to her ditzy words. But she’d be damned if she’d admit how frightened she was.
The older man crouched before her, his dark eyes intent, as though cataloging her features. His mouth, cut in a straight line, and lightly creased face gave nothing away, but she got the distinct feeling he was angry.
He reached out and Reese attempted to scoot away, but her body shook violently and she barely moved an inch. He caught her arm and slid his hand down to the coiled-snake bracelet her mother had given her when she was a girl.
His gaze met hers, some fathomless, eerie emotion in its dark brown depths.
Reese swallowed past the cotton mouth and tried to pry herself from his grip.
He released her abruptly and she fell back. “Keep her alive. For now,” he said to the younger man, “we’ll bring her with us.” He turned and started walking away.
Keep her alive?
Elena needed a bodyguard for reasons she wouldn’t explain to Reese. Did this have anything to do with that? Did these men think they could get to Elena by capturing Reese?
She ignored the pain in her head and glanced around frantically. The drapes were drawn and the place seemed empty. No one to call out to, no place to hide… “There’s been some mistake,” she said.
Halfway to the hallway, the older man didn’t slow or acknowledge her.
Before she could make a move—even if she could get her limbs to work—the fraternity guy crouched in front of her and pulled out a syringe.
“Wait. Don’t do this!” Reese’s voice rose with each word, her tone no longer smooth and calm.
Without pausing, the fraternity jerk jabbed the needle in her arm.
She stared at it sticking up, felt the cold of its contents releasing into her system, before everything blurred and the world disappeared.
* * *
No matter how tight a ball Reese curled into, she couldn’t get warm. The surface she was lying on was somewhat soft, but the air was freezing cold.
She pried her eyes open. And stared at a stone wall.
No wonder she was freezing.
Reese’s heart raced, her last memories of the men in the empty house rushing back.
She looked over her shoulder—and saw vertical metal bars half a dozen feet away.
She was in prison now?
An armed man in black peered at her from behind the bars. He was in a uniform, but it wasn’t like any police uniform she’d seen. There were no emblems or badges on it. And in addition to the all-black pants, fitted long-sleeved shirt, and combat boots, he wore a sword strapped to his back. A sword!
Reese sat up abruptly, her arms stronger than they had been the last time she’d woken, but her head hurt like she’d knocked it against these stone walls, her vision swimming.
She clutched the sides of her head. First the men, then the needle, and now this? “What is going on!”
The guard was tall and beautiful, like that jackass bodyguard of Elena’s. But unlike Elena’s bodyguard, Keen, this guy had short light brown hair instead of the longish white-blond hair Keen sported. And suddenly Reese realized something.
Those men in the abandoned house might have been human, but this soldier was not. He wasn’t a policeman with a strange military uniform. He was Fae.
And that explained everything.
Mister Tall and Beautiful was too perfect to be anything less. Plus, he wore the same clothes Keen had worn, before Keen started dressing down his Faeness on their college campus.
This was all his fault.
If Keen hadn’t given her such a hard time while he was guarding her roommate, Reese might not have left for the party without Elena.
The expression on the man in front of her was severe, his stance powerful. Elena hadn’t wanted Reese to get involved in her business with the Fae. She’d said it was too dangerous. Considering the way this man was looking at her, it appeared Reese was officially involved.
“Hey, hot guy.” She snapped her fingers to draw his attention to her eyes. He hadn’t said anything. Just stood there, his gaze flickering down every couple of seconds, scorching her bare legs. Granted, her legs were revealed almost to her crotch, thanks to the Herve Leger bandage dress her mom had bought her. Reese’s mom had a taste for trashy couture. “Why am I here?” she asked, now that she had his attention. “And can you bring me a blanket already? It’s freezing.” The air in the stone prison smelled of mold, and it was as cold as a meat locker.
The Fae smirked and his gaze slid to her mouth. “I could heat you up if you wish.”
Oh, good God. Now she had to deal with perverted Fae too? This night just kept getting worse. Or day? She wasn’t sure what time it was anymore. Given the hollow feeling in her stomach, she had a sneaking suspicion many hours had passed.
The guard thought he was clever, did he? Well, she’d heard it before! Men were all the same. Untrustworthy. Arrogant. Users. Which was why she was a card-carrying commitmentphobe, and proud of it.
“No thanks.” She smiled sweetly. “But you could let me out of here. I’d be most grateful.”
He huffed out a breath through his nose, then turned his back on her.
Human men stumbled over themselves to get up her skirt. Fae men were crushing her pride. Not that she would have put out just because this guy let her go free, but he didn’t know that.
Reese looked down at her legs, now bluish-tinged, thanks to the cold. They were slim, her toenails prettily painted red and strapped inside spike heels. Unless the drugs these people had dosed her with had given her a sudden case of the uglies, she resembled her golden-haired mother, a retired Hollywood beauty.
“Hey! Quit screwing around and let me out of this box of rubble!”
He looked back and lifted a brow. “You do not know?”
Reese had never met a man she couldn’t run circles around. Well, maybe one, but he was the reason she was in this mess. Keen had insulted her. Repeatedly. Her!—a scholar, tae kwon do badass. Keen was the reason she’d needed a slutty fraternity guy to boost her self-confidence.
She wasn’t sure what was more pathetic—how shameless guys could be in order to get laid, or her emotional weakness when it came to that stupid Fae bodyguard. She wasn’t proud that she’d gone to the fraternity party to get attention. It was dumb. Desperate.
Never again would she allow a guy to make her feel that way.
Reese relaxed her face and curled her shoulders innocently inward. “Do I know what? No one’s told me anything.”
Okay, so it was a shameless move to appear the needy female, but desperate times and all that. Plus, it worked.
The guard’s wide mouth softened. He crossed his arms over his massive pecs. The Fae had insanely hot bodies—if she were into manly Fae physiques. Which she was not.
“You are in the New Kingdom dungeon for observation.”
Reese’s heart stumbled over itself. The fuck? “Um, and that would be where?”
“Tirnan. Fae realm.” He turned around as if the conversation were over.
What the hell, what the hell!
Reese patted down her body, searching for anything—her purse, her wallet, better yet, a phone. The chamber she sat in was empty except for the cot she lay on, which didn’t contain a sheet, never mind a blanket. Electronics of any kind were out of the question.
How did she get from the fraternity party, to the house, with those two human assholes and their needle, and now to the Fae realm? As far as she knew, Fae and humans didn’t work together.
During the brief, mostly frustrating moments she’d spent around Keen, she’d learned that Fae thought humans beneath them, which explained Keen’s shitty attitude toward her. The only reason they’d worked with Reese’s roommate Elena was because of Elena’s powers, which were supposedly unusual in Halven, the Fae term for people who were half human and half Fae. In fact, working with Halven of any kind was a huge exception—as in, never been done before.
According to Elena, she’d been the Fae’s last resort, and that was why they’d approached her. Fae never got sick, but some psycho had created a virus that was killing them.
And now they wanted Reese for observation? She was human; what could she possibly do to help?
Though her head no longer pounded the way it had when she’d first awakened, her limbs were weighed down by a thousand pounds of exhaustion. She wasn’t getting anywhere with the guard, so she sank back onto her shitty cot and curled into a ball to keep warm. She would close her eyes for a second only, just enough time to rest up while she considered her next move. Whatever that would be. They couldn’t keep her here forever. This was ridiculous.
After a few minutes, her stomach cramped with hunger. Her mouth sticky and dry, she said, “How about some water?”
“Ah,” came a woman’s voice. “She is awake.” Reese rolled over, blinking dazedly. A tall woman with thick, wavy gray hair stood beside Reese’s jailer. “You may wait by the door, Ulric.”
The guard retreated and the woman approached the metal bars of Reese’s cell, along with the older man from the house. The human.
But the woman was Fae.
Though her gray hair reflected middle age, like the man standing next to her, the woman’s skin was supple and smooth. Only light lines around her eyes came close to indicating the years her hair represented. And she was tall—crazy basketball player tall. This woman had perfect, pretty features and a narrow, flawless figure. Nothing like the physique of the muscular Fae guard, but the height, the coloring… She had to be Fae.
“You are certain, Marlon?” The woman stared at Reese.
“Yes. The bracelet. It is my father’s emblem. And her face…”
Reese glanced at her wrist. The bracelet she wore had been an odd gift from her mother when Reese turned nine. The snake curled in a figure eight and…well…ate its tail, for lack of a better description. But Reese hadn’t cared at the time. The gift was different and it had come from her mother, who never bought anything that wasn’t expensive clothing. Though beautiful, the jewelry wasn’t trendy, and that made it special. Along with the message her mother had given with the gift.
“This represents who you are,” she had said.
Reese always wore the bracelet. But now she wondered what it really meant.
“I also noted that she is changing,” the man said.
The older Fae woman and the man she called Marlon spoke freely in front of Reese, as if her presence didn’t matter. Underestimating and misjudging her like everyone else. If Reese hadn’t been so damned tired, she’d give them a piece of her mind.
“This one has abilities, I can sense it,” he said. “Further proof she is my father’s child. If we keep her, we can use her to get to him. To control him.”
His father’s child? Abilities? They must think Reese was Halven like Elena.
This was one huge mistake. Reese wasn’t Halven, and her parents weren’t Fae.
Reese’s father was a screenwriter from Orange County, busy writing the next blockbuster in between banging his assistant behind her mother’s back. Her mother knew about her father’s infidelity, of course—and retaliated with the twenty-four-year-old personal trainer she kept on salary.
The Fae woman chuckled and cut Marlon a look. “You surprise me. Your ruthlessness shows no limits.” She tapped a blunt fingernail on the metal bars and stared at Reese. “We will keep her. For now. I am curious to see what ability she possesses. You are correct in using her to gain access to your father.”
The woman’s head shifted slightly and she studied Marlon out of the corner of her eye. “He never viewed you the way the rest of my kind do. He accepted you, to a certain degree, and he will accept her as well. Particularly if she possesses powers. He will not wish to kill his Halven daughter the way most Fae do. But are you certain of this path? Your father stood beside you when no other would. I will be most displeased if I find your fealty remains with him.” Ice cut into the woman’s tone, and suddenly Reese was happy to be on her side of the bars.
Marlon’s gaze remained inside the cell. “Would I have created the only virus capable of killing my father—had that Halven not intervened—if I’d sworn him loyalty?”
The virus. This guy had created it? And he’d said a Halven intervened. He must mean Elena. Had she managed to cure it?
Did they really believe Reese was like Elena? A Halven? Reese’s parents were known for their infidelity…
It was possible.
The woman paused for several seconds. “We will press forward with the plan.”
That didn’t sound good.
The woman glanced at someone out of view. “Do not indulge her, Ulric.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.” It was the voice of the Fae guard.
The woman’s gaze returned to Reese—hard, cold, like the cell Reese lay in. “I want her weak.”