I had been betrayed. My only warning had been the chilling howls before the mangy wolf-shifters—Tiber Alfero’s warriors—cornered me like a pack of wild dogs, snapping and snarling. I knew what they wanted—for me to peacefully go with them. Hell no! That wasn’t going to happen. Capturing me would be like herding stray cats—impossible.
As they surged forward, I mounted an attack that shocked the hell out of them. What had started out as a routine mission to retrieve the crazy Credence fae witch turned into an all-out battle to catch me without adding a body count—mission impossible.
I was a vicious fighter, something they should’ve known since my family was one of the deadliest around. They quickly paid for their naivety when I ruthlessly put down five warriors, leaving them writhing in pain on the ground. Not to mention, two warriors wouldn’t be able to walk straight or have sex for a couple days from my cringe-worthy blows to their groins.
Body count—seven for me, zero for the wolf-shifters.
More warriors rushed from the shadows, making the battle wage on longer than I was comfortable with. Tired, I made the fatal mistake of taking my eyes off them for less than a second when I was nipped on the ankle, causing me to clumsily fall forward. Disoriented by the pile of shifters that wrestled me to the ground, I could do nothing when they cunningly slapped the thick gold metal cuffs around my wrists. The invisible chains of magic tightened around me, binding my powers. Double damn, I’d been outsmarted by a pack of wolves.
Zero for me, one for the wolf-shifters.
Hopelessly, I recited the teleport spell I’d used a thousand times. Nothing happened; my powers were gone, which was a disorienting feeling for a witch who relied on her powers as a backup plan to get out of dangerous situations. And this situation was as dangerous as they came.
Tiber’s warriors roughly pulled me to my feet. I almost swallowed my tongue when a larger-than-life wolf stalked out of the shadows. Shit, I was in big trouble.
The Council summoned none other than Tiber to get me. His sea-green eyes were fixed on me as he circled me, snapping and snarling, a warning for me not to move. I smartly heeded as I carefully tracked him with my eyes, wary of any sudden movement. I gritted my teeth when he snorted sardonically before his cold, wide nose shoved my legs, sending me crashing to my knees.
Resenting his gesture of dominance, I shouted, “Shift back, wolfman, and I’ll show you who’s the boss.” My fingers clenched and unclenched, ignoring the pain of the chilly cuffs biting into my wrists.
He growled as he nudged me again, this time harder, sending me sprawling onto my back. His body shook violently as he transformed into human flesh and bones. Tiber stood before me—not as a wolf, but as a naked, tall, muscular, golden-tan man. His hard, square face was grim; his shiny black hair flowed wildly down his back. A large black wolf tattoo, the trademark of his bloodline, covered the left side of his massive chest, its fluffy tail swirling down and wrapping around his well-defined waist.
My eyes lingered a little too long below his waist. Damn, this man was hung. What a tragedy it was all wasted on Bianca, the psycho she-wolf.
He nodded, prompting two shifters—now also transformed—to pull me to my feet. My mouth twisted as I boldly looked at him.
“As much as I love a good show of masculine prowess”—I held up my bound wrists—“I must insist you release me right now! This is harassment, Tiber. I’ve broken no Other law.” Technically, not true, but he didn’t know that—yet.
His lips curled up at the edges. He had no intention of complying with my demand, especially now that he finally had me just where he wanted—at his fucking mercy.
Okay then, on to Plan B—fight like hell until one of us became the victor.
The vein pulsed along his wide jaw as he watched the not-too-subtle widening of my stance. “Don’t you dare try it, Solista.” His voice was deep and gravelly. His eyes narrowed as he absently rubbed the scar on his chin, given to him by yours truly years ago during one of our many arguments.
He knew I had no qualms about fighting dirty. Yes, it would be a bloody brawl that I would have no chance of winning, but I refused to be a victim of circumstance. Besides, he had no plans to kill me. He needed—no, wanted—me alive. That much I knew.
He stepped forward, invading my space, cutting off any chance of delivering a wicked kick to the groin.
Shit! Okay, on to Plan C—annoy the hell out of him.
“Must be serious if the leader of the Other Council has come to retrieve me.” I pursed my lips and stepped back.
He reached forward, yanking my cuffs so hard I slammed against his slick, taut body. I struggled, locking eyes with him. The weight of his stare tried to force me to look away like every other woman in his pack, but I refused. I would never give him that power over me. He had enough as it was.
So I continued my war of words. “I would think you had better things to do, like planning your big mate-claiming ceremony, than collecting a defenseless witch whose only crime was taking a peaceful carriage ride on a cool winter evening.”
His warriors snarled, lunging toward me, for my disrespect of their beloved alpha.
Impatiently, Tiber waved them back. “Do you love him, Solista?” His voice was hard as steel. His accent was thicker, an indicator of how angry he was.
He had no right to ask me anything, not after he’d broken my heart.
I defiantly tilted my chin. “Why? Are you having second thoughts about me?”
Sighing heavily, he reached down, as if he wanted to caress me in his familiar way. Stopping short, he abruptly stepped back. “Solista, why do you resent me for something that was inevitable?”
Oh, to hell with this. Taking my chances, I shoved him, running away at top speed.
I barreled into the thick of the woods, flinching with every smack of a branch across my face. I refused to let him hurt me again. I was done with all his bullshit, especially after it had been so easy for him to let it all go and turn his back on everything I’d offered him so freely. No more. I refused to let him twist my feelings for his gain . . . once again.
I sensed him before his muscled body crashed into me, pinning me to the cold earth. I struggled as he grabbed my nape, turning me around to stare into the coldness of his eyes.
He was half-transformed, his canines dropped. “So this is what it’s all about? Getting even with me for refusing to mate-claim you?”
I resisted, but he easily clamped my hands above my head. I wanted to spit in his face for his arrogance. I’d barely gotten over the fact that he hadn’t been strong enough to fight for us, to fight his pack over their prejudice because of what I was. It had been like a knife through the heart that he hadn’t loved me enough to risk it all for me, for us. This brutal truth hurt as much now as it had back then, but I was a Credence. We were used to men disappointing us.
Now I just wanted him to hurt like he’d hurt me. “Has it crossed your mind that I could actually find love after you?”
I went for a knee to the groin, but he snatched it, dragging my legs wide open, allowing his body to nestle intimately against my crotch. Feeling the familiar lust bubbling within me, I brutally squashed it.
He licked the side of my jaw, sensually nipping at it.
I pulled my face away. “The answer is yes. I love a human. And the deed is done. I told him exactly what I am, what we all are, as I’m duty-bound to do.”
His eyes glowed, a sure sign he was pissed. “Well, I guess that explains why another human is dead by the hands of the damn Credence Curse.” His voice was icy.
My heart stuttered to a stop. I was too late—again.
“The Council is tired of cleaning up the messes created by the Credence women. Now you must stand trial before the Council to answer for your crime.”
My eyes widened. “Crime? Are you serious? Why would I kill the man I love?” I shook my head in disbelief. “Besides, the Council has to collect evidence or find someone who witnessed me killing him.” This was not possible because I hadn’t killed him.
He silently looked at me.
I sputtered, “That’s ridiculous. Who would be foolish enough to bring false charges against me?”
His eyes flashed gold before he yanked me to my feet. “You know the law. Others are permitted to bring charges before the Council for deliberation.”
“This is bullshit. Just give me the name.”
“I’ve said more than I should, Solista. You must stand before the Other Council to hear the charges.”
Before I could protest any further, he swiftly cradled me against him and started running through the woods. It wouldn’t have mattered if I had because, in the blink of an eye, I was standing beside my carriage. He nodded to one of his warriors, who stepped forward and grabbed me so hard his fingers cruelly bit into my arms as he dragged me into the carriage.
This was a setup. The Others had been trying to silence my family for centuries, but I refused to be an example.
Twisting my body, I delivered a decidedly hard roundhouse kick that sent him stumbling backward. Pain flashed in his eyes and then rage as he raised his hand to slap me—a hand Tiber swiftly caught.
“Do not touch her—ever!” Tiber snarled, leveling him with a stare so heavy with alpha dominance that the warrior bared his neck in a display of submission. “Solista, get into the carriage. Now!” he snapped without sparing me a glance.
Shuffling my feet, I was too exhausted to run but not defeated enough to give in to his demands. “I will not.”
He gave me a disgusted stare before pulling me toward the carriage. I struggled, but I was no match for his strength. He lifted me against his body, his familiar scent of earth and musk filling my lungs.
He nipped my ear before saying, “Enough, my little fae witch. Do not resent me for my actions.” His eyes softened slightly as he ran his fingers through my wild, thick auburn hair. “Know that I will always love you . . . in this life and the next.”
It was bittersweet to finally hear he loved me after years of empty promises.
I almost broke from the pain and anguish in his voice, but then he continued. “But I did what was best for all. The pack would never have accepted you. And you would’ve been too much of a distraction to my reign.” He sighed heavily. “Bianca is the alpha bitch. They respect her leadership, and unfortunately, I need her to prevent the brewing pack war.”
He knew as much as I did that the pack didn’t respect Bianca. She and her self-righteous family thought they were entitled to the leadership of the pack because of their pure wolf-shifter bloodline and centuries of power among the Others.
“It’s not the pack who can’t accept me. It’s you. Let’s speak the truth for once instead of hiding behind meaningless words. You would rather die than claim me as your mate.” I felt the sadness and loneliness creeping up on me again. “Why would you? After all, who would want to breed with a hybrid fae witch? Isn’t that what you told Bianca?”
Tiber’s face fell with shock. “Solista . . . I . . .”
“Fuck you, Tiber. Don’t bother denying it. Imagine my shock when I came back to talk to you after our big argument, only to overhear you saying those exact words to her.” I fought back the sting of tears threatening to fall. “But you know what? I hold nothing against your pack. I know that not all are prejudiced or cowards like you.”
Those were my parting words before I turned my back on him forever. I stepped into the carriage with as much dignity as I could muster. Just like that, the line had been drawn in the sand. I refused to try anymore, closing off my heart to what could have been.
There were bigger issues at hand, such as unraveling who could be behind this trumped-up murder charge. This charge could lead to my execution by the only weapon powerful enough to destroy a Credence without retribution by the ancient fae—the Sword of Souls.
I peered at Tiber, the only Other born to brandish the might of the Sword. The goddess of death had handpicked him to wield the most formidable weapon in this realm that could take or save a life with one blow. This was a gift that Others—a society consisting of witches, vampires, and shifters, along with other supernatural beings—were pushing him to use to enforce Other laws. Their laws were so entrenched in prejudice and fear, like being forbidden to mate or reveal our existence, and it made my family scoff at its ridiculousness.
Our eyes locked with the full understanding that if I were found guilty of a crime punishable by death, the Others would push him to execute me. To refuse would weaken him in the eyes of his pack and the Others. It was a most brilliant, evil plan that had been concocted by someone who hated us both.
Given the fact that the Others had been unsuccessful in concealing how much they despised my family while kowtowing to our fae power, the list of enemies was long. In the shadows, they plotted our downfall, waiting for the right moment to pounce and destroy us. They gnashed their teeth as we’d thumbed our noses at them for centuries, deliberately breaking every law they’d made—including mating with humans and revealing the existence of the Others.
In our defense, we’d had no choice. Humans were our last resort for the continuance of the Credence bloodline. The magic in our fae blood bound us to expose ourselves as Others to any human we loved, or we’d be risking our death. It was a double-edged sword that gave us a chance to love and be loved, a chance at happiness, but it would be ruthlessly stripped away by the death of any man we’d loved.
Brokenhearted, the Credence women had become desperate to solve the puzzling deaths of our lovers, but the mystery remained unsolved while the body count had continued to rise. That was when the Credence women had thrown their hands in the air, succumbing to our destiny to live a lonely life devoid of love. I was the only Credence who never gave up searching for the cause of what we called the Credence Curse.
I knew deep in my soul that something dark and evil was behind the mystery—a mystery I had been so close to solving . . . before Victor’s death.
Victor was a human I’d felt the instant pull of the mate bond forming from the moment we’d met. The bond had tightened and blossomed into love, signaling it was time to tell him what I was—an Other, a descendant of the fae. I had been giddy and nervous but relieved after revealing myself. He’d still loved me. Then my heart had dropped with fear when he disappeared the next day.
Fearing his death, I’d searched tirelessly for him. Refusing to cry, I’d pressed on, determined not to lose him, as every female in my family had lost their lovers. My heart had been elated when I received the urgent note requesting I meet him out here in the forest. Finally, the Credence Curse had been lifted. We would be free of the darkness and emptiness—or so I’d thought.
I was tired and worried about my fate when we reached the castle. Tiber stepped out, walking away without a backward glance, as usual. I was escorted out of the carriage with my wrists shackled, as if I were a common human, which was very unusual. But I refused to beg for my freedom as Tiber’s warriors marched me into the castle without a word.
Everything about being in this situation was wrong—from the cloying stench of death and decay that clung nauseatingly in the air to the eerie silence in the castle. I looked around the damp, dark corridor I’d walked through many times before. Its familiarity was obviously not as welcoming, being the prisoner I now was.
Two men briskly walked toward me—Hector, the shaggy brown-haired wolf-shifter who I’d helped find a mate not too long ago, and another huge shifter with long black hair and cold black eyes.
Holding up my bound wrists, I smiled widely. “Hi, Hector. These are too tight. Loosen them, please,” I stated with a deceivingly sweet voice.
Hector’s eyes widened as he stepped forward, reaching for the keys looped through his belt.
Swiftly, the man with black hair shoved away his hand. “What the hell are you doing? She’s a prisoner.”
Hector helplessly looked at me before they both pushed open the heavy doors, revealing a large chamber filled with somber Others sitting on pews in the upper level. On the lower level, the Other Council sat gravely along a high-perched table, Tiber sitting in the middle. The Council consisted of two high-ranking members from each race, including one hybrid fae—my sister, Chance.
Tiber nodded toward Hector and the black-haired man standing watch on either side of me. “Bring forward the accused.”
They pulled me down the aisle as the crowd gasped and pointed. This was the first time in history they were allowing Others besides the Council to witness the trial. I tossed my long auburn hair, smiling wickedly at the surprised looks on the faces in the crowd. They had expected to see a monster, not a tall, curvy woman expensively dressed in cream riding britches and a long coat.
I smiled when Chance jumped up, clutching her well-rounded stomach, subconsciously protecting the last of our bloodline.
Her face was outraged as she glared at the Council members. “How dare you bind my sister’s powers like some uncivilized human!”
Tiber growled menacingly at her.
Proudly, she did not cower.
“Chance Credence! Do not question our methods. She will be treated as any Other brought before the Council.”
Not to be outmatched, Chance shouted back, “To treat her with such disrespect is despicable!”
“One more word, Chance, and you will be thrown out,” Tiber snarled.
“Sister, do not upset yourself,” I said.
I glared at Bianca Donato, Tiber’s soon-to-be mate, with disdain. In return, she gave me a smug smile before looking toward Morpheus Brasson, a bitter warlock angered by my refusal to allow his nephew to court me. Now I understood who was at the root of my arrest. They were in cahoots.
Bianca, the beautiful wolf-shifter with a face like an angel but a devious black heart, was the pride of her evil family. Our families hated each other. It was a hatred so deeply rooted no one could even tell me how and when the rivalry had started. The women in Bianca’s family hated us with a fanatical devotion. Their motto was to seek and destroy everything Credence.
“Solista Credence.” Tiber looked over at my surly stepfather. “Morpheus Brasson has accused you of two serious crimes against the Others.”
I aloofly looked at Morpheus while responding, “Do tell.”
“The first, exposing the existence of the Others to a human. The second, using your powers to kill a human. Are these accusations correct, Morpheus?”
From the cruel look in his eyes, I knew he would not stop until I was punished for rejecting his nephew.
Morpheus smiled. “Yes, they are.”
The crowd rumbled with shock. I understood what Morpheus wanted, but I refused to beg him for my release or to let him play with my mind. He was a manipulator who was pure evil. It was his way or no way, and I could no longer live that way.
Tiber nodded grimly, looking at me with no emotion in his eyes. “Solista Credence, do you have anything to say in your defense?”
I smiled frostily at Morpheus before glancing over at Chance with a soft smile.
Chance whispered, “I love you,” as tears streamed down her cheeks.
Looking boldly at the Council, with a loud voice that carried throughout the chamber, I said, “Only the truth shall set me free.”
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