Feverborn

In Karen Marie Moning’s latest installment of the epic #1 New York Times bestselling Fever series, the stakes have never been higher and the chemistry has never been hotter. Hurtling us into a realm of labyrinthine intrigue and consummate seduction, FEVERBORN is a riveting tale of ancient evil, lust, betrayal, forgiveness and the redemptive power of love.

When the immortal race of the Fae destroyed the ancient wall dividing the worlds of Man and Faery, the very fabric of the universe was damaged and now Earth is vanishing bit by bit. Only the long-lost Song of Making—a haunting, dangerous melody that is the source of all life itself—can save the planet.

But those who seek the mythic Song—Mac, Barrons, Ryodan and Jada—must contend with old wounds and new enemies, passions that burn hot and hunger for vengeance that runs deep. The challenges are many: The Keltar at war with nine immortals who’ve secretly ruled Dublin for eons, Mac and Jada hunted by the masses, the Seelie queen nowhere to be found, and the most powerful Unseelie prince in all creation determined to rule both Fae and Man. Now the task of solving the ancient riddle of the Song of Making falls to a band of deadly warriors divided among—and within—themselves.

Once a normal city possessing a touch of ancient magic, Dublin is now a treacherously magical city with only a touch of normal. And in those war-torn streets, Mac will come face to face with her most savage enemy yet: herself.

REVIEWS

“Moning’s world-building is extensive and inspired and she never fails to keep the action fast and the stakes high.”
~The New York Times Book Review

“Absolutely electric…We have now officially gotten the band back together. Even though probably the band will now burn down the club and try to eat the audience, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
~Barnes & Noble Sci-fi and Fantasy Blog

“Feverborn is simply impossible to put down. I’m not sure how Moning is able to do it after eight books, but each novel proves more exciting than its predecessor as she continues to raise the stakes in this ongoing, exhilarating saga.”
~USA Today

“Feverborn is a masterpiece of epic proportions. With this book, Karen Marie Moning shows us exactly why she is such an indispensable writer in the genre.”
~Under the Covers Book Reviews

“Feverborn is at once the most gratifying and infuriating (in the best way possible) volume in the series yet. Moning’s proclivity for passion, emotion and shocking twists is showcased in breathtaking clarity with Feverborn; and I can damn near guarantee that fans of the series will be panting, both with heat, and a frenzied need to know what happens next.”
~Popwrapped

"Wow, so that packed a punch. When is Feversong coming out again? Feverborn, the latest installment in Karen Marie Moning’s Feverseries, takes us on a tumultuous ride (an icy, Hunter-given ride) through Fae-infested Ireland. It’s been a year to the day since Mac arrived in Dublin, and the city is once more vibrant and bustling — though far more dangerous than anyone could have expected 12 months ago. It’s a brave new world out there, filled with monsters and mayhem. Though this is the eighth book in the series, the pace isn’t slowing down anytime soon: Feverborn delivers action, sex, and banter in spades. It’s a fast-paced adventure complete with the heartbreaking twists and agonizing ending we’ve come to count on from Moning."
~ Bookbub

"KMM continues to enchant and thrill readers with her fearless risk-taking and seductive world.  There's a reason why Karen Marie Moning is my favorite author—Urban Fantasy simply doesn't get any better than this!"
~Fresh Fiction

EXCERPT

 

Chapter One

“It’s the end of the world as we know it ...”

I grew up believing in rules, thanks to my parents, Jack and Rainey Lane. I didn’t always like them and I broke them when they didn’t work for me, but they were sturdy things I could rely on to shape the way I lived and keep me—if not totally on the straight and narrow, at least aware there was a straight and narrow I could return to if I got to feeling lost.

Rules serve a purpose. I once told Rowena they were fences for sheep, but fences do more than merely keep sheep in a pasture where shepherds can guide them. They provide protection in the vast and frightening unknown. The night isn’t half as scary when you’re in the center of a fluffy-butted herd, bumping rumps with other fluffy butts, not able to see too much, feeling secure and mostly normal.

Without fences of any kind, the dark night beyond is clearly visible. You stand alone in it. Without rules, you have to decide what you want and what you’re willing to do to get it. You must embrace the weapons with which you choose to arm yourself to survive.

What we achieve at our best moment doesn’t say much about who we are.

It all boils down to what we become at our worst mo- ment.

What you find yourself capable of if...say...

You get stranded in the middle of the ocean with a lone piece of driftwood that will support one person’s weight and not a single ounce more—while floating beside a nice person that needs it as badly as you do.

That’s the moment that defines you.

Will you relinquish your only hope of survival to save the stranger? Will it matter if the stranger is old and has lived a full life or young and not yet had the chance?

Will you try to make the driftwood support both of you, ensuring both your deaths?

Or will you battle savagely for the coveted float with full cognizance the argument could be made—even if you merely take the driftwood away without hurting the stranger and swim off—that you’re committing murder?

Is it murder in your book?

Would you cold-bloodedly kill for it?

How do you feel as you swim away? Do you look back? Do tears sting your eyes? Or do you feel like a motherfucking winner?

Impending death has a funny way of popping the shiny, happy bubble of who we think we are. A lot of things do.

I live in a world with few fences. Lately, even those are damned rickety.

I resented that. There was no straight and narrow anymore. Only a circuitous route that required constant remapping to dodge IFPs, black holes, and monsters of every kind, along with the messy ethical potholes that mine the inter- states of a postapocalyptic world.

I stared at the two-way glass of Ryodan’s office, currently set to privacy—floor transparent, walls and ceiling opaque— and got briefly distracted by the reflection of the glossy black desk behind me, reflected in the darkened glass, reflected in the desk, reflected in the glass, receding into ever-smaller tab- leaus, creating a disconcerting infinity-mirror effect.

Although I stood squarely between the desk and the wall, I was invisible to the world, to myself. The Sinsar Dubh was still disconcertingly silent, and for whatever reason, still cloaking me.

I cocked my head, studying the spot where I should be. Nothing looked back. It was bizarrely fitting.

That was me: tabula rasa—the blank slate. I knew somewhere I had a pen but I seemed to have forgotten how to use it. Or maybe I’d just wised up enough to know what I held these days was no Easy-Erase marker of my youth, scrubbed off by the gentle swipe of a moistened cloth, but a big, fat- tipped Sharpie: black and bold and permanent.

Dani, stop running. I just want to talk to you...

Dani was gone. There was only Jada now. I couldn’t un-write our fight. I couldn’t unwrite that Barrons and I moved those mirrors. I couldn’t unwrite the choice of mirrors Dani made that took her to the one place too dangerous to follow. I couldn’t change the terrible abusive childhood that frac- tured her, with which she dealt brilliantly and creatively in order to survive. Of them all, that was what I really wished I could erase.

I felt immobilized by the many ways I could screw things up, acutely aware of the butterfly effect, that the tiniest, most innocuous action could trigger unthinkable catastrophe, painfully evidenced by the result of my trying to confront Dani. Five and a half years of her life were gone, leaving a dispassionate killer where the exuberant, funny, emotional, and spectacularly uncontainable Mega had once stood.

Lately I’d taken some comfort in the thought that although Jericho Barrons and his men were way the hell out there on the fringes of humanity, they’d figured out a code to live by that benefited them while doing modest damage to our world. Like me, they had their inner beasts but had spawned a set of rules that kept their savage nature in check.

Mostly.

I’d settle for mostly.

I’d been telling myself I, too, could choose a code and stick to it, using them as my role models. I snorted, morbidly amused. The role models I had a year ago and the ones I had now were certainly polar opposites.

I glanced up at the monitor that revealed the half-darkened stone chamber where, on the edge of that darkness, Barrons and Ryodan sat watching a figure in the shadows.

I held my breath waiting for the figure to once again lumber forward into the pallid light streaking the gloom. I wanted a second thorough look to confirm if what I suspected at first glance was true.

When it shuddered and stumbled to its feet, arms swinging wildly as if fighting off unseen attackers, Barrons and Ryodan uncoiled and assumed fighting posture.

The figure exploded from the shadows and lunged for Ryodan’s throat with enormous taloned hands. It was rippling, changing, fighting to hold form and failing, morphing before my eyes. In the low light cheetah-gold irises turned crimson then blood-smeared gold then crimson again. Long black hair fell back from a smooth forehead that abruptly rippled and sprouted a prehensile crest. Black fangs gleamed in the low light, then were white teeth, then fangs again.

I’d seen this morphing enough times to know what it was. The Nine could no longer be called that.

There were ten of them now.

Barrons blocked the Highlander before he reached Ryodan, and suddenly all three were blurs as they moved in a manner similar to Dani’s freeze-framing ability, only faster.

Make me like you, I’d said to Barrons recently. Though in all honesty I doubt I’d have gone through with it. At least not at the moment, in the state I was in, inhabited by a thing that terrified me.

Never ask me that, he’d growled. His terse reply had spo- ken volumes, confirming he could if he wanted to. And I’d known in that wordless way he and I understand each other that not only did he loathe the idea, it was one of their un- breakable rules. Once, he’d found me lying in a subterranean grotto on the verge of death, and I suspect he’d considered the idea. Perhaps a second time when his son had ripped out my throat. And been grateful he’d not had to make the choice.

Ryodan however did make that choice. And not for a woman, fueled by the single-minded passion that drove the Unseelie king to birth his dark court, but for reasons unfathomable to me. For a Highlander he barely knew. The owner of Chester’s was once again an enigma. Why would he do such a thing? Dageus had died or at the very least was dying, lanced by the Crimson Hag, battered and broken by a hor- rific fall into the gorge.

People die.

Ryodan never gives a bloody damn.

Barrons was furious. I didn’t need sound—although I sure would have liked it—to know down in that stone cham- ber something primal was rattling in Barrons’s chest. Nostrils flared, eyes narrowed, his teeth flashed on a snarl as he spat words I couldn’t hear and they attempted to subdue the Highlander without using killing force. Which I suspected was more a damage-control technique than a kindness, be- cause if Dageus died he would come back at the same place they do when reborn. Then they’d have to go wherever that was to retrieve him, which would not only be a pain in the ass but make a tenth person who knew where the forbidden spot was—a thing not even I knew.

I frowned. Then again maybe I was making assumptions that didn’t hold water. Maybe they came back wherever individually they died, which would put Dageus somewhere in a German mountain range.

Whatever.

Like Barrons, I was pissed.

If Ryodan broke rules with impunity, how was I supposed to figure out where to draw my own lines? What were lines really worth if you just crossed them whenever you felt like it?

My role models sucked.

I circled the desk and perched on Ryodan’s chair, staring up at the LED screens lining the perimeter on the opposite wall, wishing I could read lips.

Dageus convulsed and collapsed to the floor. He shuddered and jerked as his beast tried to claw its way from inside his skin in a vicious battle for control of the vessel they shared. It wasn’t lost on me that Dani and I waged a similar war—she against Jada, I against a Book. I wondered if that was just what happened to people who served on the front line of the world’s battles, who as Dani would say lived large: they got taken by some kind of a demon eventually. I’d seen my share of Veterans back home in Georgia that had that look in their eyes, the one I saw in my own lately. Was it inevitable for people who walked too long in the dark night beyond fences? Maybe that was the price for not staying with the sheep. Maybe that was why the stupid sheep stayed.

Maybe they weren’t so stupid after all.

Then again, what happened to me occurred before I’d even been born. It wasn’t as if I’d had any say in the matter. Psychopaths were born every day, too. Perhaps inner demons were nothing more than the luck of the draw. I also drew Bar- rons, the best wild card a woman could hold in her hand. Inasmuch as that man could be held.

After what seemed an interminable spell of painful morphing, Dageus crawled back to the shadows, dragged himself up onto a stone ledge and lay there shaking violently.

I wondered what he was in for. Were the Nine like vampires, consumed by mindless bloodlust when first transformed into whatever the hell they were? I wondered if he was even capable of thought or if his body was undergoing such traumatic changes that he was a blank slate like me. I wondered how they planned to explain this to the other MacKeltar, to Dageus’s wife. Then I realized they obviously didn’t intend to since they sent the Highland clan home with what must have been someone else’s body to bury.

What a mess. I didn’t see any way this situation could turn out good. Well, except maybe for Chloe, if she was eventually reunited with her husband. I had no problem with Barrons’ inner beast. In fact, the more I saw of it, the more I liked it. More than the man at this moment, because he hadn’t come back to me first but at least now I understood why.

The door to the office whisked open and Lor stood framed in the entry. I glanced down to make sure the chair I was sitting in was actually visible and swallowed a sigh of relief. Apparently it was substantial enough that my sitting in it didn’t make it vanish. I eased out of it carefully, so slowly it made the muscles in my legs burn, as I tried to keep it from squeaking or shifting even slightly and betraying my presence. I inched around the side and backed against a wall.

Belatedly I realized the two previously hidden panels on Ryodan’s desk were now in plain view and the monitors that had been showing public parts of the club were showing things I wasn’t sure Lor knew. Private was too mild a word for Barrons and Ryodan. Stay-the-fuck-out-of-my-business was their shared surname. I had no idea if they’d told Lor I was currently invisible, but if they hadn’t I meant to keep it that way.

Lor glanced over his shoulder, up and down the hall, to ascertain whether he was unobserved, then stepped quickly into the office as the door whisked closed behind him.

I raised a brow, wondering what he was up to.

He walked straight for the desk but drew up short when he saw the hidden panel had slid out.

“What the fuck, boss?” he murmured.

He headed for the chair and drew up short again when he saw the panel behind the desk was also exposed. “Christ, you’re getting sloppy. What the fuck sent you outta here so fast you couldn’t close things up?”

His assumption worked for me.

Shaking his head, Lor dropped into Ryodan’s chair and slid the hidden panel out farther than I knew it went, revealing two small remotes. I eased near, peering over his shoulder, then drew back sharply when he dropped the chair back into recline and kicked his boots up on the desk with a wolfish grin. He fiddled with the remote, seemingly unaware that the monitors he was preparing to watch were already on.

I inched forward again.

He hit Rewind for a few seconds, punched Play, then looked straight up at the monitor I’d watched him and Jo having sex on no more than ten minutes ago.

Was he kidding me? He’d come up here to watch the sex he just had with Jo? Freaking men!

I refused to watch it twice. Once had been bad enough. I closed my eyes, waiting for him to notice what was playing on the monitors next to the one he was watching. It didn’t take long.

“What the bloody fuck?” he said in a near-whisper. I heard the sound of something breaking, bits of plastic hitting the floor.

Yep. He definitely didn’t know.

“Fuck,” he barked, staccato sharp.

After a moment, he growled, “Fuuuu-uuuck.”

Then, “Aw, fuck, fuck, FUCK.”

Lor seemed to have gotten stuck on the word he likes the most. No surprise there.
I opened my eyes. He was standing behind the desk, ramrod straight, legs spread, arms folded, muscles bulging, tense from head to toe. The remote was on the floor in pieces.

“Bloody fucking fuck, are you fucking crazy? Have you lost your motherfucking mind?”

I’d been wondering the same thing.

“We don’t do this shit. That’s rule the fuck number one in our motherfucking universe. Not even you can get away with it, boss!”

While I found it oddly reassuring to know there were re- percussions, I found it equally disconcerting. The last thing our world needed on top of all its other problems was war breaking out among the Nine. Rather, now...the Ten.

“Sonofamotherfuckinggoddamnbitch! Jaysustittyfucking- Christ!”

That was Lor. Man of few words.

He seized the second remote, punched a button, and the office was filled with harsh groans of pain. The Highlander was curled in a tight ball on the stone ledge. I glanced at Barrons and Ryodan, now sitting in stony silence, watching the Highlander. Apparently they were done arguing. Figured once we had volume they were no longer speaking to each other.

My gaze lingered on Barrons, savage, elegant, despotic, and enormously self-contained. I recognized that shirt, open at the throat, cuffs rolled back. I knew the pants, too, so dark gray they were nearly black, and his black and silver boots. Last time I’d seen him, he’d been gutted on a frigging cliff again—me, Barrons, and cliffs are a proven recipe for disaster—and his clothes were bloody and torn, which meant at some point he’d stopped at his lair behind the bookstore for a change of clothing. Tonight, after I’d left? Or days ago, while I’d tossed and turned on the chesterfield in a fitful sleep? Had he walked through the store? How long had he been back? His senses were acute. He knew I was invisible. If he’d bothered walking through the store while I slept, he’d have seen my indent on the sofa. Had he looked for me at all?

“You fucking turned him,” Lor growled. “What the fuck is so special about him? And you killed me just for getting a little uninterrupted time in the sack and fucking Jo!” He snorted. “Aw, man, this is gonna go tribunal. You should have let him die. You know what the fuck happens!”

What was tribunal? I knew what the word meant but couldn’t fathom who might serve as the Nine’s court of law. Did this mean they’d turned humans in the past? If so, what had the tribunal done with them? It wasn’t as if they could be killed. At least not until recently. Now there was K’Vruck, the ancient icy black Hunter whose killing blow had laid Bar- rons’s tortured son to rest. Would they locate him and try to get him to kill Dageus? Would they expect me to help coax the enormous deadly Hunter near? Had Dageus been saved from one death only to die a more permanent soul-eclipsing one?

Barrons spoke and I shivered. I love that man’s voice. Deep, with an untraceable accent, it’s sexy as hell. When he speaks, all the fine muscles in my body shift into a lower, tighter, more aggressive gear. I want him all the time. Even when I’m mad at him. Perversely, maybe even more so then.

“You violated our code. You created an untenable liability,” Barrons growled.

Ryodan gave him a look but said nothing.

“His loyalties will always be first and foremost to his clan. Not us.”

“Debatable.”

“Our secrets. Now his. He’ll talk.”

“Debatable.”

“He’s a Keltar. They’re nice. They champion the underdog. Fight for the common good. As if there is such a bloody thing.”

Ryodan smiled faintly. “Nice is no longer one of his shortcomings.”

“You know what the tribunal will do.”

“There will be no tribunal. We’ll keep him hidden.”

“You can’t hide him forever. He won’t agree to stay hidden forever. He has a wife, a child.”

“He’ll get past it.”

“He’s a Highlander. Clan is everything. He won’t ever get past it.”

“He’ll get past it.”

Barrons mocked, “Repetition of erroneous facts—” “Fuck you.”

“And because he won’t get past it, you know what they’ll do to him. What we’ve done to others.”

How many others? I wondered. What had they done? “Yet you have Mac,” Ryodan said.

“I didn’t turn Mac.”

“Only because you didn’t have to. Someone else extended her life. Giving you the easy way out. Maybe our code is wrong.”

“There are reasons for our code.”

“That’s a fucking joke, coming from you. You said yourself, ‘Things are different now. We evolve. So does our code.’ Either there are laws or there aren’t. And if there are laws, like everything in the universe, they exist to be tested.”

“That’s what you’re after? Establishing new case precedence? Never going to happen. Not on this point. You want to turn Dani. Assuming she’s ever Dani again.”

“Nobody’s turning my fucking honey,” Lor muttered darkly.

“You took the Highlander, as your test case,” Barrons said.

Ryodan said nothing.

“Kas doesn’t speak. X is half mad on a good day, bugfuck crazy on a bad one. You’re tired of it. You want your family back. You want a full house, like the old days.”

Ryodan growled, “You’re so fucking shortsighted, you can’t see past the end of your own dick.”

“Hardly short.”

“You don’t see what’s coming.”

Barrons inclined his head, waiting.

“Have you considered what will happen if we don’t find a way to stop the holes the Hoar Frost King made from growing.”

“Chester’s gets swallowed. Parts of the world disappear.”

“Or all.”

“We’ll stop it.”

“If we can’t.”

“We move on.”

“The kid,” Ryodan said with such contempt that I knew he was talking about Dancer, not Dani, “says they’re virtually identical to black holes. At worst, consuming all objects within to oblivion. At best, from which there is no escape. When we die,” he carefully enunciated each word, “we come back on this world. If this world doesn’t exist, or is inside a black hole...” He didn’t bother finishing. He didn’t need to.

Lor stared at the monitor. “Shit, boss.”

“I’m the one who’s always planning,” Ryodan said. “Doing whatever’s necessary to protect us, ensure our continued existence while you fucks live like tomorrow will always come.”

“Ah,” Barrons mocked, “the king wearies of the crown.”

“Never the crown. Only the subjects.”

“What does this have to do with the Highlander?” Barrons said impatiently.

Exactly what I was wondering.

“He’s a sixteenth-century druid that was possessed by the first thirteen druids trained by the Fae—the Draghar.”

“I heard he was cured of that little problem,” Barrons said.

“I heard otherwise from a certain walking lie detector who told Mac his uncle never managed to exorcise them completely.”

I scowled, pressing my fingers to my forehead, rubbing it as if to agitate my memory and recall exactly where I’d been when Christian told me that—and if there had been any damned roaches around. That was the problem with roaches: they were small and could wedge themselves into virtually any crack to eavesdrop unseen.

“You know what Christian told Mac when you weren’t present?” Barrons said softly.

Ryodan said nothing.

“If I ever see roaches in my bookstore...” Barrons didn’t bother finishing the threat.

“Roaches?” Lor muttered. “What the fuck’s he talking about?”

“The Seelie queen is missing,” Ryodan said. “The Unseelie don’t give a shit if this world is destroyed. They aren’t bound to this planet like we are. Fae magic is destroying the world. It may be the only thing that saves it. The Highlander wasn’t supposed to die on that mountain. It wasn’t part of my plan. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my fucking vagina to be inside a black hole.”

That was certainly a visual.

“Me neither,” Lor muttered. “I like my vaginas pink and smaller. Much smaller,” he added. “Like way the fuck tight.”

I rolled my eyes.

Ryodan said, “This could be the end of us.”

The end of the Nine? I’d always kept in the back of my mind that if things got really bad on this world, I’d just grab everyone I love, along with everyone else we could round up, and travel through the Silvers to another planet. Colonize, start fresh. Unfortunately, erroneously, I’d only been thinking if things on this world got “really bad,” assuming there would still be a dangerous planet the Nine would certainly be able to battle their way off of again. I’d never considered that there might be a time this planet didn’t even exist. I knew the black holes were a serious problem but I hadn’t fully absorbed what the small tears in the fabric of our universe re- ally signified and what they might do long term. I’d overlooked the ramifications of the Nine being reborn on Earth.

And if Earth was no longer...

“We’ve got to fix those fucking holes,” Lor growled.

I nodded vehement agreement.

“Your plan?” Barrons said.

“We conceal his existence,” Ryodan said. “We push him through the change. Get the best minds on the problem and fix it. Once it’s resolved, the tribunal can do whatever the bloody hell they want. Like give me a fucking medal and the free rein I deserve.”

“Jada,” Barrons said.

“And the kid because he gets physics, which, while no longer accurate, may help us understand what we’re dealing with. Mac. She’s got the bloody Book. Between her and the Highlander, we may just have more Fae lore than the Fae.”

But I can’t read it, I wanted to protest. What the hell good was it?

I shivered again, this time with a much deeper chill. I knew something with sudden, absolute certainty.

They were going to want me to.

“Fuck.” Lor was back to his one-word assessment of life, the universe, and everything.

Fuck, I agreed silently.

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