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Book Review: Liars by Dana Isaly

Liars, The Triad Book Series Book 2 by Dana Isaly

Overall: ****

Reading Rate: *****

Romance: ****

Genre: Adult Organized Crime RH Romance 

Pages: 208

This book is the second in the fast-paced RH Triad series by Isaly. I loved book 1 and was so excited to get to read book 2! This is a true series so make sure you read book 1 first, as this book picks up right where the cliffhanger at the end up book one picked up. 

What I liked:

  • Fast paced and no time wasted getting to the action, never a dull moment.
  • I loved how Isaly makes her female characters a little broken and unhinged where as most series only let their male characters show those flaws.

What I struggled it:

  • The story was a little all over the place in this book, but it kind of goes with the mentality of the characters.
  • There was supposed to be a big cliffhanger/twist at the end but I unfortunately saw it coming so it was a little anticlimactic for me.

Overall I cannot wait for the next book to come out and get to know more about the characters.

Synopsis: 

My boys found me, but a rift has formed.

Weeks ago I was steadily gaining their trust, finding my place in their lives and their beds. Now, it seems I’m the wedge driving the three of them apart.

I’ve been beaten, starved, and kept in the dark. All to come back to three men who can’t agree whether I’m an ally or a mole. But we have bigger problems to solve.

There’s a new player in the game.

The latest contender for the Dulca throne just so happens to be my favorite cousin. He was my best friend, my partner in crime. If I can get my boys to trust me long enough to keep them from starting a war, my family’s secret weapon could end up being the key to bringing our organizations together.

But I have no clue what Motshan is hiding up his sleeve, and we might not be able to come back from the carnage it could cause.

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Book Review: Into the Dark by Dana Isaly

Overall: *****/5

Romance/Steam: This one is really hard to rate, this book is very dark and while there are steamy scenes they are more about dealing with demons than sexy.

Reading Rate: *****

Pages: 225

Release Date:10/30/2021

Recommend if you liked: Ecstasy by K.V. Rose, Haunting Adeline

I loved this book! It was so dark and you knew from the first page that is was going to tear you apart, this story falls in my “hurts so good” category.

What I liked:

  • I loved the broken characters, I don’t think I have ever seen someone like the FMC Lyra highlighted in a book before and I really enjoyed it.
  • This story reminded me of what a real world Joker and Harley Quinn would be like
  • Short and fast paced read, I finished it in one sitting (about 3.5 hours).
  • I completely loved that it was not a happy ending.

What I struggled with:

  • For sure check the trigger warnings if there are sensitive topics for you as this story contains a lot of content that could be upsetting. I do feel that all of the darkness was necessary to tell the story to its full potential.

Synopsis:

Him

I am the monster that lurks in your nightmares.

Evil incarnate. A sociopath. A murderer.

I kill women who are guilty of nothing other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Women like Lyra.

Her yellow raincoat flapped in the cool breeze when she walked by, that blonde hair making her look like a drowned rat as she stopped to taste the rain.

She wasn’t like the others, but my demon wanted her.

We followed her. Watched her. Obsessed over her.

She is ours. Of that I’m certain.

We will pull her into the depths of our darkness and keep her imprisoned there.

Until we meet our end.

Lyra

I am ordinary in every way.

Average looks. Mundane job. Boring life.

But when he looks at me, I become something else entirely.

His gaze stalks and tracks me like a game of cat and mouse, his eyes licking fire over my skin every time they glance in my direction.

My thoughts are consumed by him every moment he’s out of sight.

He is my obsession. I can’t let him go.

And once he shows me his true form, I know I’ve captured him forever.

He is mine. Of that I’m certain.

I will follow him to the depths of darkness and happily submit to his madness.

Until we meet our end.

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Book Review: Founded on Temptation by Kat Singleton

Book 2 in the Mixtape series

Overall: **** I will say that this book as a complete standalone I would only rate at a 3 but as a companion to Book 1 Founded on Goodbye it really enhances the story.

Romance: *** Less romance and more hook up style than FOG. Although you do get to relive a lot of the feels from book 1 through the storyline.

Reading Rate: ***** I think I finished this book in less than 24 hours. Short and sweet read.

Genre: Hook up Romance

After reading Founded on Goodbye earlier this year I was so excited to find out we were getting more about the characters in this world.

What I liked:

  • I loved to see the glimpses of what was happening with Nora and Nash from other points of view. Even though this book was not meant for them to be the main characters they still stole the show for me.
  • The characters were so fun to get to know, Sebastian just runs away with you.
  • The HOOK UPS!!!
  • Kat also primed us for the next book/couple in the series throughout and I am already ready to dive right in!
  • Also I still cannot get over how amazing these covers are!!

What I struggled with:

  • This book is really not set up to be a standalone as it is the same timeline as FOG and really just fills in the gaps of what was happening with Riley and Sebastian while the bigger Nash and Nora story were going on. Make sure you read FOG first, or even better it would be really fun to read them together to put the full timeline in place.
  • There is a trope done in this book that is a HUGE pet peeve for me ruined a lot of my fun, but I didn’t hold it against the books star count because I know a lot of people love it.
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Book Review Tempted by Vanessa Vale & Renee Rose

Book 2 of the Two Marks series

Overall: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Genre: adult cowboy shifter romance

Romance:⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reading rate:⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ The book is short & fast paced, I finished in one sitting

Recommend if you like: Psy-changling, A Drop of Magic

This was a really fun ménage shifter romance.it is the type of book that focuses mainly on the romance plot between the main characters and less on other plot. Even so I think a great job giving extra story line was done.it was quite predicable inconsistencies but still overall enjoyable d great for what it was.

– I did not realize this was the second book in the series until after I finished it, even so I did not feel I was missing any information to enjoy Tempted.

– I loved that the FMC is a Wolf Biologist it was real fun that she was a nerdy girl and that she already had so much lane for women.

– the book started right from the beginning with the steam between characters. There were ménage scenes but nothing dark.

– I am definitely interested to see more of what happens pack in future installments.

Synopsis:

We see a female, we want her.
We scent a female, we claim her.
We touch a female, we give her two marks.
Because in our pack, shifters share.
Two cowboys for every mate.

Renee Rose and Vanessa Vale are back with more steamy shifter cowboys! Be sure to read Wolf Ranch, then swing by Two Marks, Wyoming. Because you know it’s going to be hot. Possessive. Wild. Times two. Everything you want in romance… and more.

  Download today on Amazon, Apple Books, Google Play, Kobo, Barnes & Noble!

Amazon: http://vanessavaleauthor.com/v/1hv
Apple Books: http://vanessavaleauthor.com/v/1hw
Nook: http://vanessavaleauthor.com/v/1hy
Kobo: http://vanessavaleauthor.com/v/1hx
Google Play: http://vanessavaleauthor.com/v/1hz

Goodreads: https://bit.ly/2RnYQmT

Get the prequel Untamed for FREE!
https://vanessavaleauthor.com/book/untamed/

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Book Review: Lessons in Sin by Pam Godwin

Overall:⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

Genre: Adult taboo billionaire romance

Romance:⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

Steam:⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

Reading rate:⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5 almost finished in one sitting

Recommend if you liked: 50 Shades of Grey

I was so excited for this book I was ready to beg for an arc and was over the moon to receive one. This turned out to be a deliciously taboo student teacher, age gap and priest romance. The story dives right in with Tinsley the Fmc being dropped off at father Magnus catholic reform school for girls. Tinsley is prepared to raise hell for freedom from her old money dynasty family and Magnus us ready to do whatever it takes to bring her to heel.

Pros

  • The story was fast paced and I could not put it down
  • Totally took my heart for a ride because you know what is coming and you want it to happen but want to stop it all at the same time!
  • While it does have taboo subjects I do not consider it a dark romance, there are elements of the MMCs past that could be considered dark but they are only highlighted at high level and nothing in the non-Con space

Cons

  • For me was the wrap up and ending of the book being predictable, I really wish there had been some sort of twist or shocker
  • I also found myself lacking in any sympathy for Tinsley’s family predicament as she only seemed actually found by the whims of her mother if she did not want to give up for money and lifestyle.

Synopsis:

There’s no absolution for the things I’ve done.
But I found a way to control my impulses.
I became a priest.

As Father Magnus Falke, I suppress my cravings. As the headteacher of a Catholic boarding school, I’m never tempted by a student.

Until Tinsley Constantine.

The bratty princess challenges my rules and awakens my dark nature. With each punishment I lash upon her, I want more. In my classroom, private rectory, and bent over my altar, I want all of her.

One touch risks everything I stand for. My faith. My redemption. And even my life.

As if that could stop me. I need her pain, and her heart, and she needs my lessons in sin.

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Book Review: Founded on Goodbye by Kat Singleton

Overall: ****/5.

Genre: NA Contemporary Rock Star Romance 

Romance: ****/5

Steam: ***/5

Reading Rate: *****/5 I finished the book in a single day

Recommend if you liked: Punk 57 by Penelope Douglas 

The story hits the ground running with Nora accepting a “deal with the devil” so to speak to move her career forward and try to outrun her own demons.

Pros:

  • Fast paced and engaging story, there was never a dull moment
  • I loved the premise of the dancer and the musician, I wish I could hear some of Nash’s music in real life
  • Even though I knew whatwas coming from Page 1 of the book my heart still want not ready! This was for sure a “hurts so good” book
  • The story for being short and fast managed to have some great side characters
  • The bedroom scenes were more romantic than steamy but I didn’t mind it at all, it fit perfectly with the vibe of the book and I wouldn’t change it at all.

Cons:

  • I loved Nash but found myself mentally shouting at Nora the whole book.  She could have easily put a stop to the main issue early on, but I guess there would not have been a story if she handled it responsibly
  • Then ending of the story felt a bit rushed to me, I really wanted to see more of a redemption story for both characters.

Overall I really enjoyed the story, I would 100% read more of this word and will definitely be reading more of Kat Singleton’s works in the future.

Thank you to NetGalley and Kat Singleton for a copy of Founded on Goodbye in exchange for my honest review.

Synopsis:

His songs were better when he had a broken heart.

That sentence would change my life after my dream job was dished to me on a shiny, silver platter. 

All I had to do? 

Hurt Nash Pierce enough to get him writing good music again. 

The pop icon’s songs were no longer the phenomena they used to be. His team needed another breakthrough album—like the first he’d penned, using his heartbreak as fuel. 

The plan was simple: I’d go on tour with him as a backup dancer…and make him fall in love with me. I was hired to inspire—to become embedded into every lyric he wrote. Then, I was to set fire to it all—to destroy every feeling we hoped he’d develop for me.

It seemed simple enough. Easy, even.

I didn’t expect to be consumed myself—to see so much in the man displayed in the tabloids. I didn’t foresee falling for him. It didn’t occur to me that, while attempting to break his heart, I might just shatter my own.

Most of all, I never thought I’d fight so hard to hold on to a relationship that had always been founded on goodbye.

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Book Review: The Kings of Kearny by Navessa Allen

53357042. sy475 Overall: ****

Romance: ****

Reading Rate: ****

Pages: 310

Genre: MC Club Romance

Recommend if you like: This was my first MC book of its kind but it gave me Madison Kate/Hades vibes without the RH.


This book hit the ground running and dove right into the action (and steam) between Krista and Jakob. I also loved that the mystery kicked off right away as well. This story and the characters really suck you in while there are biker elements I feel like it was tastefully done and had more of a military service focus vs a lot of “dirty biker” filler elements I have seen in other works.


Allen did a great job in filling in backstory all the while keeping the plot moving quickly, there was never a dull moment. It was hard to put this book down and I finished in just a few weekdays. While the ending wrapped up nicely for the current storyline with no cliffhanger you can see where there is more opportunity for additional stories in the world. It was also a little extra fun for me being a Texan. I recommend for anyone who likes a fun and fast paced romance, even if you are not typically an MC fan.

Synopsis:

Jakob Larson is going to be the death of me.

That’s what I think every time he strides into my bar.

The Kings of Kearny run this small Texas town, and Jakob is their chief enforcer.

The Viking, they call him. He’s a criminal. As dangerous as he is sexy. The kind of man who makes my inner cavewoman sit up and take notice.

Him big. Make strong babies. Bring home mammoth for dinner.

I’m ready to indulge her desires, but just for one night. Unfortunately, Jakob has other plans.

Someone in town is breaking one of the cardinal rules set by the leader of The Kings. And Jakob thinks they’re using my grandmother’s nursing home as a front for their illicit activities.

Now I’m neck-deep in trouble with him, and every time I think I’ve figured out what’s really going on, Jakob reveals another piece of the puzzle.

I need to figure out how far I’m willing to go to protect this town. How far I’m willing to go with Jakob.

Because if I fall for him, there’s no going back. No hope for a peaceful ending.

But Jakob is the kind of man who makes me think that peaceful is overrated, and that descending into darkness with him could lead to something even better than a Happily Ever After.

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Blog Tour: Gild by Raven Kennedy

Today I’m excited to participate in the Bookstagram & Creative Tour for Gild by Raven Kennedy hosted by MTMC Tours! By bestselling author Raven Kennedy, comes the first book in a stunning new fantasy series where the myth of King Midas is reimagined. With romance, intrigue, and danger, the gilded world of Orea will grip you from the very first page. Perfect for fans of Sarah J Maas and Jennifer L Armentrout!

Title: Gild
Series: The Plated Prisoner #1. Author: Raven Kennedy. Publication Date: December, 2020
Genres: Adult Fantasy

Purchase a copy: Amazon | Book Depository | Indiebound | Blackwell’s
Add on Goodreads!

Synopsis: The fae abandoned this world to us. And the ones with power rule.

Gold.

Gold floors, gold walls, gold furniture, gold clothes. In Highbell, in the castle built into the frozen mountains, everything is made of gold.

Even me.

King Midas rescued me. Dug me out of the slums and placed me on a pedestal. I’m called his precious. His favored. I’m the woman he Gold-Touched to show everyone that I belong to him. To show how powerful he is. He gave me protection, and I gave him my heart. And even though I don’t leave the confines of the palace, I’m safe.

Until war comes to the kingdom and a deal is struck.

Suddenly, my trust is broken. My love is challenged. And I realize that everything I thought I knew about Midas might be wrong.

Because these bars I’m kept in, no matter how gilded, are still just a cage. But the monsters on the other side might make me wish I’d never left.

The myth of King Midas reimagined. This compelling adult fantasy series is as addictive as it is unexpected. With romance, intrigue, and danger, the gilded world of Orea will grip you from the very first page.

Please Note: This book contains explicit content and darker elements, including mature language, violence, and non-consensual sex. It is not intended for anyone under 18 years of age. This is book one in a series.

——–

INTL Tour-wide Instagram Giveaway!

Enter the Rafflecopter below to win 1 of 10 digital copies of Gild.
Ends on May 22nd, 2021. Winners will be announced in the rafflecopter & contacted via email by MTMC Tours.


Rafflecopter link:http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/2aeeb25b83/?

INTL Tour-wide Instagram Giveaway!

Head over to my Instagram account where 10 additional digital copies are up for grabs. Ends on May 22nd, 2021. Winners will be announced on @mtmctours’ Instagram account.

——-
About Raven Kennedy:

Raven Kennedy writes in a range of genres, including fantasy, paranormal, contemporary, dark romance, and romcoms.

Whether she makes you laugh or cry, she loves creating worlds and making characters you can root for.

She is a California girl born and raised, drinker of tea, and lover of dark chocolate. When she’s not writing, she can be found binge watching The Office and The Great British Baking Show, or with her nose stuck in a book.

Website | Instagram | Goodreads

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Book Review: The Prison Healer by Lynette Noni

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Overall: ***

Romance: **

Reading Rate: ***

Pages: 416

Publisher: HMH Books

Recommend if you liked: Fallen Kingdoms

I was very excited to read this story after seeing the synopsis, and this cover is absolutely gorgeous! I love trials and the idea of the prison healer was something unique but overall it fell short for me.

What I liked:

– I enjoyed the characters and the build out of their personalities even through the hardships they experienced.

– There was a lot of mystery about the world and the characters that carried through the story that I enjoyed.

What I struggled with:

– There is an epidemic within the prison that is a large part of the story. I don’t feel that it is very well timed and should be mentioned in the synopsis. I also didn’t feel it added more than filler to the story and would have enjoyed the book much more if it had been removed or reworked.

– While the story was not slow, it started to drag with a lot of repetitive scenes. I think the story could have been much shorter without losing any of the enjoyable and building elements.

– While I tend to enjoy darker books personally there are a lot if trigger warnings in this book especially for a young reader including rape, torture, self harm and the epidemic within the prison.

Without spoilers I felt the way the book ended really ruined a lot of the things that I had come to enjoy within the story. I understand it was done to create a bit of a cliffhanger and more story to have in the sequel, but for me it took the direction of the story in a direction I did not care for and I most likely will not be picking up the next book.

Synopsis:

When the Rebel Queen is captured, Kiva is charged with keeping the terminally ill woman alive long enough for her to undergo the Trial by Ordeal: a series of elemental challenges against the torments of air, fire, water, and earth, assigned to only the most dangerous of criminals.
 
Then a coded message from Kiva’s family arrives, containing a single order: “Don’t let her die. We are coming.” Aware that the Trials will kill the sickly queen, Kiva risks her own life to volunteer in her place. If she succeeds, both she and the queen will be granted their freedom.
 
But no one has ever survived.
 
With an incurable plague sweeping Zalindov, a mysterious new inmate fighting for Kiva’s heart, and a prison rebellion brewing, Kiva can’t escape the terrible feeling that her trials have only just begun.

Thank you to NetGalley and HMH Books for a copy of The Prison Healer in exchange for my honest review.

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BLOG TOUR: THESE FEATHERED FLAMES by Alexandra Overy

On Sale: April 20, 2021

INKYARD PRESS

YOUNG ADULT FICTION/Fantasy/ Epic/Fairy Tales & Folklore/ Adaptations/Family/Siblings/Romance/LGBTQ+

About the Book

Three Dark Crowns meets Wicked Saints in this queer #ownvoices retelling of “The Firebird,” a Russian folktale, by debut author Alexandra Overy.

When twin heirs are born in Tourin, their fates are decided at a young age. While Izaveta remained at court to learn the skills she’d need as the future queen, Asya was taken away to train with her aunt, the mysterious Firebird, who ensured magic remained balanced in the realm.

But before Asya’s training is completed, the ancient power blooms inside her, which can mean only one thing: the queen is dead, and a new ruler must be crowned.

As the princesses come to understand everything their roles entail, they’ll discover who they can trust, who they can love—and who killed their mother.

About the Author

ALEXANDRA OVERY was born in London, England. Ever since she was little she has loved being able to escape into another world through books. She currently lives in Los Angeles, and is completing her MFA in Screenwriting at UCLA. When she’s not working on a new manuscript or procrastinating on doing homework, she can be found obsessing over Netflix shows, or eating all the ice cream she can.

Excerpted from These Feathered Flames by Alexandra Overy © 2021, used with permission from Inkyard Press/HarperCollins.

Chapter One

The prey wasn’t meant to be a child.

When Asya had smelled the sharp tang of magic—strong even before she emerged from the tree line—that possibil­ity hadn’t so much as fluttered across her mind. It was never meant to be a child.

But the scent of magic was undeniable. That indistinguish­able combination of damp overturned earth and the metallic copper of blood, cut through with the acrid burn of power. It was overlaid with the cloying sweetness of waterose, as if someone had tried to mask it.

A futile attempt.

And Asya was sure this time. The person they were look­ing for had to be here.

The comfort of the forest stood at her back, the dark can­opy of trees stretching behind her in every direction. The fading sunlight could not break through the writhing tan­gle of branches, so in the shadow of the trunks, it was dark as twilight.

Most people feared the forest. Stories of monsters that lurked in its depths, witches who lured unsuspecting children in and tore out their hearts. But to Asya it had always felt safe, the gnarled trunks and rustling leaves were like old friends.

“This is it,” Asya said, inclining her head toward the clear­ing in front of them.

A slight smile tugged at her lips. Two years ago, when her great-aunt had first deemed her ready to try tracking herself—to follow the magic with only her mortal senses once they were close enough to the source—she’d found it impossible. More often than not, she just led them in circles until Tarya gave up on her. But today, Asya had managed it.

She might not be as unwavering as her aunt, as strong or as dutiful, but at least Asya had succeeded in this.

She glanced over at Tarya, waiting for her reaction. But her aunt stood stiller than the trees, an immovable presence in their midst. The shadowed light filtering through the leaves cast her face in stark relief, carving deep hollows into her snow-white cheeks and emphasizing the wrinkles at her brow. She could have been a painting—one of the old oil portraits of the gods, soft brushstrokes of light adding an ethereal glow to her stern face.

It made her look otherworldly. Inhuman.

Which she was. One of the creatures that prowled these trees.

While Asya, or any other mortal, could smell the resid­ual magic, her aunt could feel it. No amount of waterose or burned sage—or any of the other tricks people tried—could hide magic from Tarya.

Her dark eyes flickered to Asya. “Correct,” her aunt mur­mured, a hint of satisfaction in her soft voice.

In front of them, the comforting trees gave way to an open paddock. It had been allowed to run wild, chamomile glint­ing yellow in the long grass, like sun spots on water. Pur­ple-capped mushrooms pushed their way through the weeds, intertwining with the soft lilac of scattered crocuses.

The tinge of pride in Asya’s chest melted away, replaced by a thrumming anticipation. The paddock could have been beautiful, she supposed. But the cold apprehension burning in her stomach overshadowed it, darkening the flowers to poisonous thorns and muting the colors like fog. It was al­ways like this. Ever since the first time Tarya had taken her on a hunt. Once she was left without a task to complete—a distraction—Asya couldn’t pretend to forget what came next. She’d hoped it would get better, but she still couldn’t shake the lingering fear.

She shifted her feet, trying to ignore the erratic rhythm of her heart. She hated waiting. Each frantic beat stretching out into an eternity.

She just wanted this to be over.

After all, her sister had always been the brave one.

But that was why Asya was here. Why she had to follow this path, no matter how she wavered. She owed it to her sister. They were the two sides of a coin, and if Asya failed, then her sister would too.

Tarya’s words—the words Asya had to live by—pounded through her. This is our duty. Not a question of right or wrong, but balance.

Her aunt stepped forward. She moved silently, slipping like a shadow untethered from its owner, from the gnarled trees and out into the overgrown paddock beyond. She didn’t speak—she rarely did when she felt a Calling—but Asya knew she was meant to follow.

Asya took a shaky breath, touching one finger to the wooden icon around her neck. An unspoken prayer. She could do this.

Far less quietly, she followed Tarya into the uneven grass, wincing at the snapping twigs beneath her boots.

The paddock led to a small cottage, surrounded by more soft crocuses. Their purple seeped out from the house like a bruise. The building’s thatched roof had clearly been recently repaired, and the gray stone was all but consumed by creeping moss. The stench of magic grew with each step Asya took. Wateroses lay scattered on the ground, interspersed with dried rosemary sprigs. The too-sweet scent, cut through with the burn of magic, made her stomach turn.

Tarya stopped by the wooden door. Marks of various saints had been daubed across it in stark black paint, uneven and still wet. Acts of desperation. They felt out of place in the idyllic scene. The sight sent a prickle of unease through Asya’s gut.

“Your weapon,” Tarya prompted, her voice as low as the rustle of grass behind them.

Asya’s fingers jumped to the curved bronze shashka at her waist. A careless mistake. She should have drawn the short blade long before. She couldn’t let the apprehension clawing at the edge of her mind overwhelm her. Not this time.

She had to be sure. Uncompromising. She had to be like Tarya.

Asya unsheathed the weapon, the bronze glinting in the fading light, and forced her hand to steady.

Her aunt gave her a long look, one that said she knew just how Asya’s heart roiled beneath the surface. But Tarya just nodded, turning back to the freshly marked door. Sparks al­ready danced behind her eyes—deep red and burnished-gold flames swallowing her dark irises. It transformed her from ethereal into something powerful.

Monstrous.

Asya swallowed, pushing that thought away. Her aunt wasn’t a monster.

Tarya reached out and pressed her palm to the wood. Heat rolled from her in a great wave, making Asya’s eyes water. A low splintering noise fractured the air, followed by the snap of the metal bolt. The door swung open. All that was left of the painted sigils was a scorched handprint. Asya’s mouth went dry. She couldn’t help but feel that breaking the saints’ signs was violating some ancient covenant.

But Tarya just stepped inside. Asya tightened her grip on the blade, trying to shake off the sense of foreboding nipping at her heels, and followed.

The cottage was comprised of a single small room. Heavy fabric hung over the windows, leaving them half in shadow. As Asya’s vision adjusted, she took in the shapes of furniture—all overturned or smashed against the cracked walls. Clothes were strewn across the floor in a whirl, along with a few shat­tered plates and even a broken viila, its strings snapped and useless. A statue of Saint Meshnik lay on its side, their head several paces from their armored body. The room looked like it had been ransacked, perhaps set upon by thieves.

Or like someone wanted it to seem that way.

Tarya turned slowly, her sparking eyes taking in the room. Then her gaze fixed on a spot to her left, and flames reared across her irises again. Asya couldn’t see anything. But she knew her aunt was not really looking at the wall, she was feeling—reaching for those intangible threads that bound the world and using them to narrow in on her prey.

Asya waited, her breath caught in her chest.

Tarya moved in a flash, as though Vetviya herself had looked down and granted her secret passage through the In-Between. One moment beside Asya, the next in front of the wall. Flames, as golden and bright as sunlight, sputtered from her wrists, licking along her forearms. She put her hands on the wall, and the flames eagerly reached out to devour.

They burned away what must have been a false panel, re­vealing a tight crevice behind. Three faces stared out, eyes wide and afraid. Two children, a boy and a girl, clutching onto a man with ash-white hair, now covered in a faint sheen of soot.

“Oryaze,” he breathed, terror rising on his face like waves over a hapless ship. Firebird.

Bile burned in Asya’s throat. She took a halting step back, staring at the huddled family. It’s the man, she told herself. It had to be. The thought murmured through her, a desperate prayer to any god or saint who might be listening.

The man leaped forward, spreading his arms as though hid­ing the children from view might protect them. As though anything he did would make a difference. “I won’t let you touch her!” he cried, grabbing one of the broken chair legs and brandishing it like a sword.

Asya clenched her teeth, a sharp jab of pity shooting through her. It would be no use. Nothing would.

The flames coiled lazily around Tarya’s wrists as she watched the man with a detached curiosity. “The price must be paid.”

He let out a low sob, the chair leg clattering uselessly to the ground as he clasped his hands together as if in prayer. “Please, take it from me. She didn’t know what she was doing.”

The room was too hot, the flames scorching the very air in Asya’s lungs. This is what has to be done, she intoned. This is our duty. The same words her aunt had hammered into her. Asya’s knuckles shone white on the hilt of her shashka, the cool metal tethering her to the ground, to this moment, and not the rising guilt in the back of her mind. A panic that threatened to crush her.

“I cannot,” Tarya said, her voice hollow. “The price must be taken from the one who cast the spell.” With a casual flick of her wrist, a burst of fire sprang at the man. He dived aside, toppling into an overturned table.

The little boy was crying now, soft whimpers barely louder than the spitting flames. But the girl did not cry, even as Tarya wrapped an elegant hand around her arm and dragged her forward.

Asya saw the stratsviye clearly against the milk-white skin of the girl’s wrist. A mass of black lines that coalesced to form a burning feather, seared into her flesh like a brand. The mark of the Firebird. The mark that meant a debt had to be paid.

“Please,” the man said again, pulling himself from the col­lapsed table. “Please, she didn’t mean to—”

“Asya,” her aunt said, without looking up from the mark.

Asya knew what she was meant to do, but her legs took a moment to obey. Muscles protesting though her mind could not. But she moved forward anyway, placing herself between the man and the little girl, shashka raised in warning.

No one could interfere with the price.

The man scrambled for the chair leg again, leveling it at Asya with trembling hands. “She only did it to save her brother,” he pleaded, emotion cracking through his voice like summer ice. “He was sick. She didn’t know the conse­quences.”

Asya’s gaze slid to the little girl. To the determined set of her jaw, her defiantly dry eyes. That look wrenched something in Asya’s chest. The resolve she’d so carefully built crumbled around her. She knew what is was like to have a sibling you would do anything—risk anything—for.

But Tarya was unmoved. “Now she will know—magic always comes with a price.”

He lunged. He was clumsy, fueled by fear and desperation. Asya should have been able to stop him easily, but she hesi­tated. A single thought caught in her mind: Is it so wrong of him to want to protect his daughter?

That one, faltering breath cost her. The man swung the chair leg at her, catching the side of her head. Bright lights danced in front of her eyes. She stumbled into the wall as the man let out a fractured cry and threw himself toward Tarya.

Tarya did not hesitate.

Another tongue of flame reared from her, forcing the man back. This one was more than a warning. The acrid smell of burnt flesh sliced through the scent of magic. A low, broken sob trembled in the air as the man clutched his now-scorched left side.

Tarya’s head snapped to Asya, flames flashing bloodred.

Ignoring the throbbing pain in her head, Asya darted for­ward. She grabbed the man’s arm and twisted, sending the chair leg tumbling to the ground again. It was painfully easy. The injury made his attempt to swing back at her fly wide, and her hands fastened on him again. She spun him, one arm wrapping around him, the other holding the shashka to his throat. Her chest heaved, and her head reeled. But she didn’t move.

He let out a low whimper, still trying to struggle free. Asya pressed the blade deeper, almost wincing as a trickle of blood ran down his throat. “Don’t,” she said, half command, half plea. “You’ll just make it worse.”

Tarya had already turned back to her prey. Her gleaming eyes, still threaded with flame, stared down at the girl. There was no malice on her face, just a cold emptiness. Asya wasn’t sure if that made it better or worse.

“You must understand, child,” Tarya said. “The price has to be paid.”

And in a breath, she transformed.

Flames devoured her eyes, spreading from the pupils until they were no more than luminous orbs. Twin suns, captured in a face. But the fire did not end there. It rose up out of her like a living thing. Glinting golds and burnt oranges twisted with deepest crimson to form hooked wings, spread behind her like a blazing cape. Another head loomed above her own, a vicious, living mask. It formed a sharp beak, feathered flames rising from it to forge the great bird’s plumage. They arched up into an expression of cruel indifference, mirroring the human features below. The very walls of the cottage trembled.

The Firebird.

Asya felt her hand go slack. A deep, instinctual fear sank into her bones. She had seen her aunt transform before, more times than she could count. But that primal fear never went away. The mortal instinct that she should run from this crea­ture.

She was eleven when she’d first seen her aunt exact a price. Asya had been naive and desperate to shirk her new respon­sibility, to run back to her sister. Tarya had brought her on a hunt to see—to truly understand—the weight of this re­sponsibility.

It had terrified Asya then. It still terrified her now, six years later.

Everything about the flaming creature exuded power. Not the simple spells mortals toyed with, but the kind of power drawn from the depths of the earth, ancient and deadly.

The girl could not hide her fear now. It shone in her dark eyes like a beacon as she tried to back away, but Tarya’s curled fingers held her tight. The boy was screaming. The sound rose in Asya’s ears to a high keening, writhing through her insides.

The creature—Tarya—looked down at the girl, head cocked to one side. Considering.

Asya wanted to close her eyes. To pretend she was some­where far away, safe beneath a canopy of trees. But she couldn’t.

She had to do this. This was the duty the gods had chosen her for. The burden she had accepted.

And looking away would feel like abandoning the little girl.

Asya tried to take a breath to steady her whirling thoughts, but the very air was bitter and scorched. Please be something small, she thought. Not her heart.

She couldn’t stand back and watch that. Or, perhaps, she didn’t want to believe that she would just stand aside as this monster tore the girl’s heart from her body.

Because Asya knew she would. Knew she had to. That was her price.

The flames spread down Tarya’s left arm, coiling like a great serpent as they bridged across her fingers to the girl. A cry tore through the air, raw and achingly human. The greedy, blazing tendrils wrapped around the girl’s arm, as un­moved by the screams as their master. They consumed the flesh as if it were nothing more than parchment.

In only a few frantic beats of Asya’s heart, the girl’s left arm was gone. Not just burned, but gone. No trace of it remained. No charred bone, not even a scattering of ashes.

The price had been paid.

The flames receded, the creature folding back in on itself until it was no more than a spark in Tarya’s eyes. All that was left was a heavy smoke in the air, thick and choking.

Asya let her hand holding the shashka fall. The man threw himself forward—though Asya had a feeling he would have moved even if her blade had still been at his throat—and clutched the little girl, who was still half-frozen in shock. The boy flung himself at his sister too, his screams reduced to gasping cries.

Asya’s stomach curled as she stared down at the huddled family, enclosed in a grief she had helped cause.

She backed away. It was suddenly all too much. The suf­focating smoke. The man’s ragged sobs. The blistered stump that had been the girl’s arm. Her aunt’s impassive face, as empty as the carved saint’s head on the ground.

Asya whirled around, pushing back through the broken door. She doubled over as she stumbled across the threshold, leaning a hand against the moss-eaten stone to keep upright. Bile rose in her throat.

It had never been a child before. Despite all the hunts Tarya had taken her on, all the training lessons, Asya hadn’t thought of that possibility—that it could be a little girl desperate to save her brother.

Something wet trickled from the wound on Asya’s head, but she barely felt it. Her insides had been hollowed out.

All she could see were the little girl’s eyes. The ghastly re­flection of the Firebird in them, looming and monstrous. A creature of legend.

A creature that, one day, Asya would become.