One year after the Mage Challenge, Elena invites her friends to meet her betrothed, Erich. Instinct immediately alert, Alex uncovers a plot by exiled firemage Charlton and Erich to assassinate Elena, Alex, and Elena's heir. Meanwhile, Alex gets word that her estranged father is dying. Reluctantly, she goes to see him, but it's a trap. She and Anders are forced to take refuge in her father's village, where she meets an intriguing young scout, Gwynn, who keeps turning up unexpectedly. While Alex and friends plan their strategy to prove Erich as traitor, Jules's sister and twins are kidnapped by a renegade mage. With an uneasy alliance with her father, Alex learns more about the odd magic she controls. When the friends search for the missing victims and the renegade mages behind the kidnapping – Alex unwittingly finds more than she was looking for. And throughout her journey, Alex discovers just how open her heart can become.
“Lucky the same guard’s on duty,” Anders whispered in my ear as we waited in Elena’s sitting room. “I just wish you’d all visit each other during the day like normal people. But I suppose that’s asking too much.”
I laughed and leaned back against him, closing my eyes. “It is, but I wish we met during the day, too. I’m tired of all this running around. And if I’m so weary,” I teased, “what must your old bones be feeling?”
“Pain and aches, if you must know. Why not wait until morning?” he asked in exasperation, yanking at a lock of my hair.
“Elena would be disappointed.”
“I would?” Elena chose that moment to make her entrance, yawning and looking weary but content, in a scarlet silk bedrobe.
And I was bent on destroying that contentment. I wished desperately there was a way she wouldn’t be hurt, but I couldn’t see any other option. Not unless we somehow made Erich out to be a wronged hero, and I wasn’t charitable enough to tolerate that.
“Of course you’d be disappointed if I came during the day. You’d think that I was angry with you. Why else would I be so polite?”
Elena smiled fondly at Anders, tossing midnight black hair over one shoulder. “She’s right, you know.”
“I’ve stopped trying to understand the whole lot of you.”
Bringing a bottle of Marain Valley wine with her, Elena eyed me as she handed the bottle to Anders. As he popped the cork free and poured us each a glass, she sat opposite me. “Something’s wrong. What is it?”
“I know who’s trying to murder me.”
Her eyes widened as she leaned forward. “Well?”
“Alex, I exiled him,” she said, bewilderment in her voice. “I made very sure he’d never be allowed to set foot in Tuldamoran again.”
“Yes, well, he’s found his way back.” I took a sip of the cool fruity wine and sighed. “Not your fault. The man’s crafty. And that means I’ll have to confront him again to get rid of him for all time. He’s getting tiresome.”
“I’m sorry. I’ve heard no rumors about him, which is unforgivable. I’ll put a troop at your command.”
She paused, glass in mid-air, staring at me, forcing me to explain.
“I have to go alone.”
“Absolutely not.” Elena set the glass on the ground so hard I expected the crystal to shatter. “I rarely use my authority with you, Alex, but this time you leave me no choice.” Unaware she’d mimicked Brendan’s earlier statement Elena stared at me with stubborn defiance in every angle of her slender body. “I forbid it.”
“Elena.” I sighed with unfeigned fatigue. “I’m tired, and I don’t have very much energy to argue.”
“Flameblast you, listen! Your troops would be useless. I know where Ravess is hiding out, and I’ll confront him alone.”
“Alone? Really alone? Without Anders?” Elena looked from one to the other of us in disbelief. “Anders?” There was a trace of barely controlled anger and disappointment in her crisp voice as she challenged him.
“It’s her battle, and Alex is capable of defeating him again.” Anders met her angry glare without flinching. “Besides, someone should remain in Port Alain if you need help. As Crownmage, I’m obligated to take Alex’s place until she returns.”
“If she returns,” Elena said coldly, standing up.
“When I return.”
Disturbed, Elena stood by the chamber’s huge window, overlooking the darkened city below, and then turned calculating eyes on Anders. “I thought you loved Alex.”
I started to laugh before he could answer her accusation. “Nice try. But it won’t work, Elena.”
“Charlton Ravess almost killed you the last time you fought him.”
“He did not.” I yawned and leaned back against an embroidered pillow, stretching the kinks from my aching legs. “I had no idea what I was doing then. I do now. I’ll be fine.”
A look of pure skepticism flashed in her eyes, which should have insulted me, but didn’t. “Where are you going?” When I threw Anders a swift glance, Elena cut in before I could answer. “I want the truth.”
“I’m heading back toward the Bitteredge Mountains. We think Ravess has been conspiring with some, ah, discontented mages from Glynnswood who don’t appreciate my perverse talent.” I stifled another yawn. “I need to check that out, too.”
“I don’t like it.”
“Neither do I,” I admitted in all honesty. “But it has to end. Carey was almost murdered in my place,” I added, telling her what happened, watching her expression soften to anxiety for Lauryn and the boys, and, of course, Jules. She paced again, absently tightening the knot of her silk robe until her slender waist looked in danger of being strangled. “Now be a good queen and don’t forbid me.”
“I can’t believe Anders will let you go alone.”
“He’s respecting my decision.” The gentleness of my words forced Elena to look back at me.
She started to say something but caught back her words. “Damn it. You expect me to do the same, don’t you? If you let Charlton Ravess murder you, I’ll never forgive you.” With a savage glare, Elena left the room and slammed the door behind her.