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CHAPTER ONE

Dependable intel made the difference between walking away from a dangerous situation alive . . . or not.

Evalle Kincaid stared down the rocky slope in the North Georgia Mountains at bad intel.

She’d dug up one slim lead in forty-eight hours of racing to find Tristan. He was an Alterant like her. Similar powers and the same glowing green eyes, except he hadn’t been gifted with her natural night vision, an ability she’d needed to hike up this mountain in the middle of the night.

Disgusted, she muttered, “That’s no coven meeting.”

“No,” Storm agreed. Squatted next to her, his breath puffed white clouds against the chilly October air. “Looks more like a midnight festival for all things strange and dangerous.” Coal black hair grazed his shoulders and blended into his black leather jacket. Soft hair Evalle loved caressing. The coppery skin and sharp angles of Storm’s cheekbones had been handed down through a mix of Ashaninka and Navajo genes, as had his Skinwalker ability to shift into a deadly black jaguar. That meant he also had preternatural night vision and saw just fine in the dark.

Evalle leaned forward where they hunkered down behind an outcropping of boulders, and searched the area a hundred yards away where moonlight cascaded across a valley. At least twenty people—mostly nonhumans—had gathered, and more were coming. “You see any female in that bunch that might be a witch?”

Storm shook his head. “Only male human forms so far. Not even sure what some of those things are that have both animal and human parts.”

One creature with an eight-foot-tall orange lizard body, two sets of human arms and a vulture’s head skulked through the crowd that parted like the Red Sea in front of him. Most of the beings meandered around the edge of a thirty-foot-wide circle created by torches stuck in the ground.

A ceremonial circle?

Whatever it was, Evalle wanted the show to get rolling soon.

As if sensing her concern, Storm asked, “Think the goddess’ll extend your deadline?”

“Again? Not a chance. I was amazed when Macha gave me four more days.” That had been two days ago, and Evalle had been given that reprieve from losing her freedom only because she’d defeated a demonic Svart troll before it killed everything in its path.

Opportunities like that didn’t come along every day.

Good thing, too, or she’d stay in perpetual traction.

But gaining two extra days of freedom from Macha had balanced out getting beaten to a pulp by the Svart. Macha was goddess over all the Beladors, a race of powerful Celtic warriors who protected humans. She’d offered sanctuary in her pantheon to all Alterants who swore fealty to her.

With a catch.

Evalle first had to deliver the origin of Alterants, who were part Belador and part unknown. Since Alterants changed from human form into beasts that could kill even very powerful beings, Macha wanted that unknown part cleared up before giving carte blanche freedom to Alterants.

And Tristan had that information.

But he’d been captured. Evalle didn’t want to think about the hideous ways he might be suffering. Freeing him was her first priority.

All she had to do was find a witch called Imogenia, who was rumored to have information on Alterants and the location of Tŵr Medb, home of deadly Noirre majik practitioners, and the place where Tristan was being held captive.

Imogenia was supposed to be attending this event in the valley tonight.

A sick ball of regret rolled around in Evalle’s stomach every minute the witch didn’t show. She wouldn’t have gambled the time spent coming here if she hadn’t trusted her Nightstalker source. Generally, Grady was a dependable ghoul.

“Damned ghouls,” Storm grumbled, his deep voice ending in a growl.

“Are you sure you aren’t reading my thoughts?” she asked, still unsure of everything Storm could do.

“I’m not telepathic.”

But he was a powerful empath who picked up on her anxiety, which probably explained his comment. “Don’t blame Grady,” she said. “He can only repeat what he hears.” Evalle shifted on the cold ground to find a comfortable position.

A muscle played in Storm’s jaw, the only sign of his frustration. “When we do find Tristan, I want ten minutes alone with him before you hand him over to Macha.”

“I need him alive,” she reminded Storm, though she knew he didn’t mean to kill Tristan, but those two couldn’t stand in the same zip code without the threat of blood being shed. “I need every Alterant I can find. As it is, Macha’s insulted that none have come forward to accept her offer.”

“Grady said this was the place?”

“Yes. He heard that Imogenia had a meeting in the valley north of Oakey Mountain when the clock strikes between Friday and Saturday.” Something about the gathering sent bony fingers of anxiety clawing up her spine. Evalle opened and closed her fisted hands, grumbling, “But witches wouldn’t meet here, not in an area this exposed.”

“True, but I had hopes.”

“You’re really wanting that ten minutes with Tristan, huh?” Evalle teased.

He shifted around, using a finger to turn her chin to him. “You’ve been running on no sleep, little food and pure frustration for the past two days straight trying to find one lead on Tristan. This is it, and digging up this tip was tough. I want to get that witch’s information tonight and find Tristan as much as you do.”

“Really? But—” She caught herself. Why are you questioning him? Storm couldn’t lie without enduring pain, a downside of the gift he possessed that allowed him to discern immediately if someone else lied.

He chuckled darkly. “Don’t misunderstand me. I still don’t give a rat’s ass about Tristan. He can rot in hell for all the times he’s let you down, but if there’s a chance Imogenia has any information on Alterants, we can’t leave until we know for sure she’s not here.”

“Agreed.” Between the frigid air and being immobile, Evalle was losing feeling in her legs and butt. “Being still would be easier if it wasn’t so freakin’ cold up here.”

“This isn’t cold. You’d like it if you were doing something fun like camping or hiking.”

“No way.” She grumbled, “Anyone who’d hike up a mountain in the winter for fun would go to hell for a picnic.”

“It’s not even winter yet.” He tugged her around onto her knees and snaked an arm inside her jacket, pulling her to him.

She snuggled up close, welcoming the heat that surged off of his powerful body. The man was a natural furnace and smelled like the outdoors and . . . male. Very male. He cupped her face and kissed her as if he had every right to do so.

As far as she was concerned, he did.