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Genre: Contemporary, Fantasy, Romance
Nikolai and Alexei’s love doomed the world; saving it will damn them.
After giving in to their forbidden desires, Alexei disappeared and Nikolai awoke alone only to discover a cryptic note from the mother he thought long-dead.
Now, two years later, Alexei has returned, plummeting to earth in a blaze of blood and fire and bringing with him the devastating revelation of Nikolai’s true nature and violent destiny.
With the mysterious Champion of Chaos out for his blood, and only scraps of memories of a previous life lived in the fairy-realm to guide him, Nikolai has four days to save the world without losing his soul and humanity in the process.
Adding to the danger, every time Nikolai and Alexei are together, it sends a signal that leads the Champion of Chaos right to their door. But, the pull of their split soul won’t be denied for long.
Nikolai must fight, and the battle must be won, or Chaos will destroy the mortal realm.
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It had taken every natural and otherworldly contact his kumpania had to find her. First, they’d argued about the translation of the letter, working one of the main words out to woods instead of forest or land. Then, piecing together some other bits from the letter, and from what Da remembered of where he had been when she had appeared to him, they’d narrowed it down further. But surprisingly, it had been Maria who had gotten him the closest.
“I know you think I’m ridiculous,” she said, holding the precious note. “But I can do this.”
“I don’t think you’re ridiculous. I think you are brilliant and talented and beautiful.” Because she was all of those things.
“Just not good enough to marry.” She wouldn’t meet his eye.
“Maria, sladkaya,” He took her chin in his hand and pulled her face around. “I have to find my brother first. You understand that, right?”
She yanked his hand away from her face. “Don’t talk to me like I’m a child. I understand it. I understand more than you know.”
Nikolai pulled back, hands up as if soothing a wild animal. “Okay. I’m sorry. Please, help me. What do you know?”
“I’ve read the cards,” she said, sitting down at the table. She pulled a deck of silk-wrapped cards out of her purse. “You know that.” She spread the silk with a flourish, pulled out a beautiful hand-painted deck that had been passed down from mother to daughter. With a practiced sweep of her hand, she fanned them out on top of the silk. Nikolai reached for one, and she slapped his hand. “Don’t touch.”
Her hand hovered over the cards as she talked. “I did another reading, last night. This time, though, instead of trying to find out information on Alexei, because you know how that always ends up.”
He did. None of the aunts, the bibis, could get any information. As one, they claimed their spirits had deserted them or turned away. All they got was blankness. It wasn’t as if he were dead; death was no barrier. Mulo visited all the time; it was keeping them away that was difficult. No, it was as if Alexei had never existed. Nikolai clung to the hope that if Alexei were dead, he would somehow know it.
“So,” Maria said, tapping the deck and drawing his attention back. “I decided to do a reading on this Amma Brinna. Oh, by the way, you know what I found out?”
“Amma isn’t a name. It’s a title, a term of respect in Norse culture. For a powerful woman. A seer.”
Maria shrugged. “Maybe. So bring me that letter. And a map of the United States. Let’s see if we can find this Amma Brinna.”
“What if she’s not in North America? What if she’s moved and lives in some other country?”
“Then we’ll find someone in another country to help us. You’re not alone, Nikolai.”
He didn’t understand how she could still be so kind and generous after the way he had treated her. He’d run as soon as he could when they’d gotten engaged. The attention and affection he’d shown her had been so slight as to border on insulting. She was, he realized, amazing. And he didn’t deserve her. In a different way, she didn’t deserve him. He finally understood why Alexei had been so opposed to their superficial engagements. Maria deserved someone who looked at her first, who thought she hung the moon. Not someone who was using her as a cover to stay closer to his brother. He was disgusted with himself. He felt unclean.
“I’m sorry, Maria.”
“I know.” She pulled some cards from the deck.
“No,” he said, grabbing her wrists, careful not to touch the cards. He waited until she looked up and met his eyes. “I’m really, truly sorry. For everything.”
She stared at him, reading him the way he realized she’d always been able to. He’d dismissed her as a frivolous girl because she was light and happy and enjoyed beautiful things, but he’d been wrong to do so. Those things, he realized now, were important. She had the sight, too. The dook ran deep in her. She had a depth that he had missed. So many things to mourn, it seemed.
Finally, she nodded. “Okay,” she said. She pulled cards out.
“Me mangav tuke baxt,” Nikolai said.
“I don’t need luck.”
And she hadn’t. She’d narrowed the range down to an area in Northern Minnesota. A wild land bordered on the south by the endless waters of Lake Superior and on the north by the labyrinthine boundary waters. Though summer tourists thronged the main highway hugging the Lake, up North, there were miles and miles of forest and small towns filled with taciturn people who weren’t that forthcoming to a charming dark-eyed man with a gypsy van. Nikolai could practically hear the daughters being locked up when he pulled up to the local diner. He’d found mom and pop diners or convenience stores to be the best source of what little information there was.
One day, somewhere East of Gilbert, he’d headed up a small side road on a whim, a flash of something running across the road catching his eye, and he yanked the wheel to the left. Stupid, he knew. The road was narrow and tree-lined, and there was a good chance he would have to back the van down the road when he hit the dead end.
But the road had widened and at a crossroads stood a small pink diner. The neon open sign was lit, so he parked and walked in. An imposing woman with gray braids and Hot Northern Mommas spelled out in fake rhinestones across her pink sweatshirt looked at him and asked, “What took you so long?”
That had been the first time he’d had a suspicion that he was a pawn in a game someone else was playing.
“She was waiting for you?” Alexei braced himself against the dashboard as they bumped over the rough road.
“Yeah. Apparently.” And she’d taken him home to a place that became as much home as he had ever known.
“What did she say to you? What did she tell you?”
“Not much. Big surprise. She did say she was the one who had helped mom, and that I would be as safe here as anywhere. Safe from what she never got around to telling me.”
“Maybe she didn’t know.”
Nikolai side-eyed Alexei. “Maybe. Though there isn’t much that goes on around here that she doesn’t know.” The light was growing dimmer, the heavy tree cover working with the diminishing daylight to bring an early twilight. “I always got the feeling that she was waiting for something. Someone. Every time that door opened -” He shook his head. “So, how about you give me some answers now. We’re alone. No bullshit. Even if you think I wouldn’t believe it. Even if it sounds like total crap.”
“There’s so much I don’t know.”
“Oh, I think you’re ahead of me in that area, bratiska. Let’s start with an easy one. Where have you been for the last two years?”
“Two years? That’s how long it’s been here?”
“Yes. How long was it for you?”
“I don’t really know. Time doesn’t move the same way there.” He reached for Nikolai’s hand, squeezing it. “I’m so sorry. I never meant to be away for that long. You have to believe me. I didn’t want to be apart at all.”
“Whatever. So where were you?”
Alexei’s face went through a series of expressions Nikolai knew very well. It was the look he always got whenever he was trying to figure out the least amount of truth he could tell without resorting to lying. “Don’t do that,” Nikolai said. “Don’t try to figure out the best way to say it. Just say it.”
“I’ve been in the fairy realms.”
“Oh. The fairy realms. Of course you have. Where else would you have been?”
“You wanted to know! I said you wouldn’t believe me.”