Taylin Banes’ familiar world shatters when the cruel curse that kept her unable to love is broken. Now she’s bombarded by all the human emotions she’d been forbidden over eleven lifetimes. The nightmares of her deaths crack through her tough exterior, reminding her that this last life is fragile, and fear becomes a new type of torture.
Zach Buchanan comes from a long line of Guardians and has trained with the Magic Alliance his whole life. With the shake-up in the organization over the recent end of Lamont’s curse, he’s been reassigned. He is to help The Cursed learn basic protection skills. But can Zach set aside his hatred for the infamous Taylin Banes who targeted his family two generations ago?
As Taylin and Zach clash, a sinister force rises up, targeting members of the Magic Alliance and Taylin. With her last life on the line, Zach turns from instructor to protector as the frenetic conflict sparking between them transforms into a fierce attraction. Together they must stop the malevolence threatening those with innate magic before darkness consumes them all.
“Taylin, you shouldn’t walk back there in the dark.” He’s following me. I continue to head through the trees that surround the center on three sides, leading back toward the abandoned part of the institute. The stillness of the trees makes them look like they’re watching. My stomach tightens, but I keep moving, anger overriding the sheer terror that should be turning me back. I will not admit that Zach’s presence makes the night less menacing. I will not.
“Taylin,” he calls again. “We haven’t figured out who locked us in or who attacked Zoe. It isn’t safe for you to be roaming around out here.”
“If you’d stop following me, I’d stop roaming,” I throw back. One glance shows he’s closing in even though I can’t hear him. I manage to beat him to the brick building and hurry around the corner.
“I can’t,” he says, and I whirl around.
“You can’t stop following me?” I stare at his dark face in the shadows. “Is it still your job to track me, hunt me down?”
“If it was, you’d never know.” He lays heavy hands on my shoulders.
“Until you killed me. Or would you have stabbed me in my sleep so I wouldn’t know who to damn with my last breath?”
His hands drop, releasing me. “It was never my job to kill you,” he says softly.
“No, that was Patricia Ashe’s job,” I remind him. “But no one tried to stop her until she wanted to cut open the precious Siren, Jule.” Why am I talking about this? I haven’t spoken about the incident that broke the curse to anyone. Yet here I am out in the dark, vomiting it up all over Zach, a Hunter.
Zach raises his hands and I take a step backward. “She was nuts, Taylin. Alba didn’t figure out her plans until the very end. We were supposed to just watch you three.”
“And that’s why you have a tat of the blade that was supposed to kill us. Not a set of binoculars to watch us, but a triblade to slaughter us like the Hunters two hundred years ago.”
He runs a hand through his hair, looking every bit the warrior in his costume, his face hard and sliced by splashes of moonlight. “It’s an old symbol, Taylin. That’s all. It means nothing now, especially since the curse is broken.”
Stupid tears press against my eyes so I walk farther behind the old psych hospital. He follows and I breathe relief that I’m not alone out here in the dark. If he’d just leave, I could leave.
“Those of us who were trained as Hunters have been reassigned. The job is obsolete.” He grabs my arm, forcing me around.
My jaw aches. “I’m sure you’re not the only Hunter at the center. Maybe someone still wants me dead.”
“I was in that sauna with you,” he says.
“Maybe you just got in the way.”
“Or maybe you did. What if I’m the target? Someone attacked my sister.” He drops my wrist. “Taylin,” he says and stares hard at me. “I get it.” He looks sincere, but his expression borders on pity. I almost pop him in the nose, but I want to hear this.
“You get it?” I ask.
“Yeah. You’ve lived life after life knowing you’d be born again. This is the first time you’ve had to face mortality. When you die now, you die for good. That change would freak anyone out.”
I stare at him, unmoving, but the tension in my chest presses hard. He takes a step closer, his voice low. “Everyone is afraid of dying, Taylin. I know what that’s like. It’s the unknown.”
“So,” I start just as low, drawing out the word. “You’ve got me figured out.” My smile is anything but warm. I nod. “So, Zach Buchanan, you know what it’s like to have a blade jammed into your middle, slicing open your intestines like they are sausages. You know how it feels to refuse chemo because no matter what docs give you, it won’t work and you’ll waste away. You know the burn in your lungs as you breathe in water until the world around you fades away.” I shake my head but keep my eyes on him. “Oh, how about dying of scarlet fever, alone, because no one wants to risk caring for you? And my all-time favorite, being burned alive.”
“Shit, Taylin,” he murmurs. “You’ve been burned alive?”
I blink and push his pity behind my hard eyes. “Luke shot me in the forehead with a crossbow before the flames reached me.”
He rubs a hand over his face but still watches me. I release a bitter chuckle and glance upward so the tears will stay put inside. “You, Zach, are afraid of the unknown.” I level my gaze on him. “I am afraid of the never-will-forget.”
About the Author
When she is not picking her teen’s brain for authentic attitude and finding time to write, she is usually found educating women on ovarian cancer symptoms. Ms. McCollum has recently slayed the cancer beast and resides with her very own hero and 3 kids in the wilds of suburbia on the mid-Atlantic coast.