ABOUT THE BOOK
Tensions are reaching a fever pitch everywhere Kendra Irisavie turns.
Darkness settles over elementals as a new threat stirs suspicions of a betrayal from within. Details of recent events spread through Haverleau, prompting doubts over Irisavie leadership. The mysterious Selkie Kingdom finally opens its doors, but the gesture only fans the flames of division. And despite the perils involved, Kendra finds it difficult to ignore the demands of her heart.
As the body count rises, pressure also grows to shift the tides of war. The sondaleur is on the hunt, but tracking the Aquidae leader is the greatest challenge she’s ever faced. With the Shadow playing a deadly game of obsession and horror, Kendra’s best chance to win is to unravel a tangled web of deception spanning back to the origins of the elemental world.
Nothing is what it seems and the closer she gets to the truth, the more dangerous her pursuit for answers becomes.
When the unthinkable happens, Kendra must decide if survival is worth the sacrifice.
What Readers Are Saying
There's nothing that can equal the excitement of reading a series that just keeps getting better and better...This book is filled with adventure, heroes, evil, romance, sadness and, yes, even heartbreak. The storytelling is rich and the characters are vivid.
– The Book Hookup
Deadly battles, heartbreaking losses, steamy romance, painful betrayals, Crest is filled to the brim with it all and so much more...Emma Raveling is a spectacular storyteller.
– Word Spelunking
Another amazing read in the Ondine Quartet.
– Book Passion for Life
Read Chapter 1
Shadows danced on steel.
Glimmering palette of green, blue, and red lights painted the walls, the vivid splashes heightening an atmosphere of delirious frenzy.
“Coming in.” Her condescending tone came through the earpiece. “Be ready.”
I stepped from the wall niche and slid through lightless patches stretched across the landing.
Music pulsed, a booming heart vibrating through a metal and concrete beast.
Empath carefully tracked the target.
One block away.
Ripe scent of sweat, cigarettes, and alcohol thickened the air of Jardiel, a club in the East Village.
Darkness shrouded the second floor, murky corners filled only with a few couples seeking privacy.
I leaned against the railing and looked down.
What a dive.
Floors sticky for reasons better left unexamined. Dealers working the edges, a few girls trading favors for drugs. Overcrowded, poorly ventilated, and skirting the limits of the city’s fire and health code regulations.
Oriel cut her way through writhing bodies, height and lustrous honeyed hair making her easy to spot.
She took her assigned position on the southeast corner of the dance floor and glanced up at me.
A small nod of confirmation.
I slipped into the recess above the entrance.
Metal door screeched open and I zeroed in on the figure up front.
Late twenties, hair the color of weak tea, and sharp, angular features that gave him a perpetually hungry look. A barely suppressed violence lurked in his eyes.
Virtue twitched at the black void inside him.
“Target in,” I murmured. “I’m tracking.”
During our first week in New York, Julian made contact with the city’s Aquidae cell. Shit had quickly hit the fan and now the Manhattan Lieutenant knew we were looking for him.
Edmundo came on our radar when he showed up at a crime scene involving the deaths of Mark and Barry, the demons who’d brought Julian in.
He headed directly for the bar, predatory gaze observing the human dancers.
Broken, brutalized body of a girl with flaming red hair flashed before me.
In Mark’s Fifth Avenue apartment, we’d discovered a hard drive full of videos of other girls. Other unspeakable horrors inflicted on humans.
I hadn’t been able to watch longer than a few minutes before my stomach heaved.
Edmundo was hunting tonight.
Unfortunately for him, the only person he’d get was me.
Doors opened and another group entered the club. Eyes gravitated toward a male near the back.
Crisp white shirt offset olive skin and thick, black hair tied back in a low ponytail. Icy expression, an excellent Aquidae replica, added the finishing touch.
The glamour was perfect. You’d never guess he was a chevalier.
“He’s at the bar.”
His attention turned north. “Got it.”
Strain tightened his eyes from the effort of extending his magic over three people.
“Watch yourself, LeVeq.”
“Worried about me, darling?”
Nerves pushed against the stifling sensation of his Virtue. Projection reduced my aura’s brightness, glamouring me tonight in a rounder, shorter body with an unruly mass of coppery hair.
The irony didn’t escape me.
Aquidae concealed demonic essence behind human appearances.
Elemental magic, once used to assimilate to human life, now cast us as Aquidae.
Sometimes you had to become a monster to catch one.
She brought up the rear, trailing Julian by a few feet. Arms relaxed, hips swung with an easy grace. Careless confidence shaded Renee Bessette’s every movement, a surety from growing up the beloved eldest child of a Marquisa.
Bright tawny eyes shone in a heart-shaped face with a full, berry-stained mouth. As tonight’s bait, most of Julian’s magic went toward obscuring her aura.
Red ombre streaks in her ebony hair and the removal of an intricate phoenix tattoo stretching from her neck to wrist were the only glamour applied.
She strode on to the dance floor. Julian approached the target, flickering lights making his movements start and stop every few seconds like the stuttering of an old film.
Worry pressed in and I moved closer to the stairs.
Edmundo’s shoulders tensed.
Julian carefully tilted his head, revealing the Origin mark above his carotid artery.
“I’m with Armand.”
Another minute stretched.
Down the stairs, up the west wall, diagonally across the dance floor.
Thirty seconds to get there.
Renee danced wildly, arms swinging above her head in ecstatic abandon, attention locked on the two men.
Fingers touched the cool handle of my blade.
Edmundo’s shoulders dropped.
I let out a long breath I didn’t realize I was holding.
“Where is he?”
“He’s been slightly delayed.” Julian spoke with a rapid accent, flavored with the crisp articulation of the Mediterranean. “A business emergency.”
Actually, Armand was dead on the floor of his Chelsea loft. An inspection of his home uncovered a few photos, including one of his second-in-command.
Julian had assumed his appearance tonight.
“Nothing to do with yesterday’s shipment, I hope?” Edmundo took a drink of water. “The Lieutenant is worried enough as it is.”
“Of course not.”
“Good. I don’t think Armand would want to disappoint him on such a matter.”
“It’s a simple hold-up. He’ll be here soon,” Julian smoothly lied. “Why are you meeting him at this shithole?”
Edmundo’s soft laugh made the hairs on my arm rise. “Because, my friend, it is easier to do what I like in places where no one will be missed.”
Eyes scanned the floor for any sign of trouble. Oriel maintained her position, concentration steady.
Renee flirted with two humans and inched toward the bar.
“It’s not your turn yet,” I muttered.
She ignored me and danced a few steps closer.
Julian shifted. “Armand told me there’ve been problems higher up.”
Edmundo shrugged. “After what happened with Mark, the Lieutenant is understandably concerned.”
“We need someone to replace him as soon as possible. There is uncertainty among the ranks.”
No answer. Instinct tingled.
“If we had a chance to speak to the Lieutenant,” Julian pressed, “we could help him find someone to take Mark’s place.”
Edmundo showed no visible reaction but the air trembled.
“Why are you so interested?” His voice turned silky, a snake ready to strike. “You think Armand has a chance at the position?”
Warning bells went off in my head and I rushed down the stairs.
Before Julian could respond, Renee strode to the bar and wedged herself between them.
Pulse shot into overdrive. “What are you doing?”
“Hey,” she purred. “Can I have some of that water?”
Too obvious, too soon.
Keeping the trio in sight, I pushed my way through the mass of inebriated dancers.
Edmundo handed over his bottle, watching with interest as she gulped the liquid down.
“Thanks.” She leaned in, lightly rubbing against his arm. His eyes dropped to the flushed skin exposed by her gaping top. “It’s so hot in here.”
She closed her eyes and moved sinuously, back arching, body inching closer until she was practically crawling on top of him. Inheriting her mother’s acting skills came in handy. She really looked like she was on X.
“That it is,” Edmundo murmured.
She took his hand, voice low and seductive. “Maybe we should go somewhere cooler.”
“Lead the way, gorgeous.”
“Renee. Knock it off!”
No indication she heard me. By the time I got to the bar, she and Edmundo were six feet away, heading toward the stairs located in the southwest corner.
Julian was already in motion. With my Virtue tightly locked on the other two, I followed his back through the sea of grinding bodies.
“I lost you guys.” Oriel’s worried voice came through the earpiece.
”Renee’s heading downstairs with the target,” Julian told her.
A creative stream of cursing blistered my ear. Being in the NYPD supplied her with a colorful vocabulary.
I waited until she paused to take a breath. “Meet us there. We’re going dark.”
Julian halted on the corner of the dance floor and pulled the tiny plastic mold we used for wireless communication out of his ear. I did the same.
“Remove the magic.”
“No.” He headed for the stairs.
I resisted the urge to slap the back of his stubborn head. “I need your full concentration —“
“And I need you to remain hidden in case more of them show up.”
We descended. With each step, music’s intense pounding lessened and the club’s chaotic lights faded.
“What are we looking at?” he said under his breath.
“First room on the right.” I’d scoped the entire venue out hours ago. Edmundo and Renee were in the women’s bathroom. “Floor is clear. No other humans.”
Two hanging bulbs dimly illuminated the narrow basement hallway. Stale cigarettes and danger perfumed the emptiness echoing off gloomy corners and grime-darkened ceiling.
Julian’s kouperet and my dagger were already out, blades softly glowing with Essence. Magic flowed through my veins in a steady stream, its energy ready for use.
We paused in front of the first entrance. A dingy, lopsided “Women” sign hung on the stained door.
He lifted three fingers.
Sweat coated my palms.
Metallic taste of adrenaline flooded my tongue.
He kicked open the door and I entered first.
Air shifted, magic lashing against my skin.
I ducked just in time.
The toilet lid flew out of a grungy stall, through the space my head occupied a moment ago, straight into Edmundo’s chest.
He grunted. Body smashed against the tiled wall to my left.
Renee stood beside the sink with hands on her hips, wearing a look of profound satisfaction.
Kinetics were such show-offs.
Edmundo recovered fast. He pounced, leg whipping out in a vicious attack. Impact sent Julian toppling back into the stall.
Balanced, precise movements revealed training and technique. He evaded my punch and countered with a swift, reverse roundhouse that missed my chest by a millimeter.
Raised fists gave me an opening. Dagger slashed above the rib cage, just under his arm.
I pivoted, angling the blade toward his neck.
Anticipating the move, his hand shot out, grabbed my forearm, and blocked the strike.
A sharp crack resounded. Large curved metal shot through the air and crashed into his wrist.
Edmundo flinched. Fingers tightened and yanked me forward.
Body slammed into the ground, right knee taking the brunt of the fall.
“Sorry,” Renee called out cheerfully. “I was aiming for his shoulder.”
Beneath the sink, water gushed from a hole in the wall left by the pipe.
“Not. Helping,” I said through my teeth.
Feet slid, knee screamed in protest. I grabbed the sink and pulled myself up.
Edmundo lunged, tackling me back down. Shards of pain ricocheted up my spine.
Iron hands gripped my arms, keeping the dagger away from his body.
“Need a little help, sweet iris?” Julian said.
I strained against Edmundo’s weight. “Shut up and watch the door.”
The last thing we needed was a bystander walking into this mess.
Water soaked my clothes and sloshed over my face. My back couldn’t gain traction against the slippery floor.
With an oomph, I lifted him enough to free my right leg. I kneed him in the groin and flipped him over.
Dagger pressed tight against his neck.
Blade pricked skin and a thin line of black blood oozed out.
“Tell me who you report to.”
Edmundo let out a harsh breath. “Network’s too deep —”
Arm weight increased. Pain flashed across his face.
“How do we find your Lieutenant?”
Hatred blazed in creepy eyes the color of washed out asphalt.
“The Shadow’s two moves ahead. Everywhere and nowhere. You’ll never win.”
Yeah, yeah. “You telling me or not?”
Blade pierced his Origin and blood spurted over my hand. Wincing at the throbbing pain in my knee, I pushed off him and stood.
I cleaned the blade with the edge of my shirt. “You’re welcome.”
Renee cocked her head. “For what?”
“For saving your ass.”
“Who said it needed saving?”
“What’s your problem?”
I leaned toward her. She was a few inches taller so I had to look up.
Water dripped into my eyes. Damn it.
She examined her nails. “Get out of my face.”
“You jumped early.” At least the bite in my tone made up for the height difference. “You put everyone at risk.”
Her nose wrinkled in distaste. “I saw an opportunity and took it.”
“You two are giving me all sorts of new fantasies.”
Julian’s amused voice temporarily broke the tension, but it didn’t ease my irritation. I was tired of cleaning up after Renee. This was the third time her actions placed others in danger.
Aubrey and Ian had hacked into Edmundo’s computer and obtained info on tonight’s meeting. After tracking Armand, we’d set up this operation.
Two weeks of surveillance and planning just went down the drain.
This isn’t over.
She winked. Anytime.
The sound of pounding feet preceded Oriel’s arrival. Golden skin appeared unnaturally pale under the fluorescent lights.
Sharp mocha eyes flickered over the water covering the floor, broken toilet stall, hole in the wall, discarded toilet lid, metal pipe, and splotches of black blood floating around the corpse.
She took it pretty well.
“Is everyone okay?”
“Fine.” Julian crouched and examined Edmundo. “But we didn’t get the info we were looking for.”
“I wouldn’t have had to kill him if a certain someone stuck with the plan,” I pointed out.
Renee sauntered over to the body. “I wasn’t the one who staked him.”
I shot daggers at her back and Julian quickly changed the subject. “What do you think, Ori? Robbery gone bad? Gang fight?”
She shook her head. “Better if we set it up as an OD. More believable with the amount of drugs running through this place.”
While she and Julian discussed details, Renee lifted Edmundo’s left arm and studied his wrist. Her finger dabbed at a small spot of color smudged along the edge of his shirt cuff.
Curious, I moved closer. “What is it?”
“Oil paint.” She rubbed the dark violet color between her fingers. Slightly wet and sticky. “I think I recognize the brand, Old France. Just used it for a painting a few weeks ago. High pigment, not too much filler. Expensive, very distinctive.”
“Not something he could easily come into contact with.”
She nodded. “This is very fine grade. Few places carry it in the city. In Manhattan, you can only get it at two supply stores.”
That narrowed the field of possibilities. Tracking down recent sales of the product might lead us to whatever activities Edmundo was involved with. Maybe even to the Lieutenant.
As an investment banker, Edmundo was as far removed from the art scene as you could get. Three weeks ago, we’d also spotted Barry, the first Aquidae we tracked, at the Metropolitan Museum.
What were violent demons doing with art?
Oriel got off the phone. “You need to go. My team’s coming in.”
She’d handle the paperwork to cover our tracks and Robert, another human in the city morgue, would make sure no one looked twice at the body.
Renee left to handle a few phone calls. Julian looked more tired than usual.
He once explained that using Projection on someone was like tossing a fishing net into the ocean. The caster remained connected to the other person and expended a minimum amount of energy.
But doing it across multiple people at the same time required a more complex and draining form of concentration.
Virtue did a quick sweep through the club and a few blocks outside.
“You can drop the glamour. Can’t sense any more of them.”
Magic carefully peeled off and I breathed a small sigh of relief. Empath recognized Projection as its counterpart, but didn’t like being covered by it.
Another surge of energy raced around the bathroom and white light shimmered over the scene.
Black blood disappeared as if an eraser swiped over it.
Edmundo’s corpse was now a painfully thin girl with stringy pale blonde hair and a row of track marks up her arms.
After Oriel reassured us everything was under control, we left. Julian languidly stretched his arms above his head.
Adrenaline from the fight receded, leaving behind an aching, bruised body and a simmering temper.
Don’t lose it.
We headed for the main floor, each step firing pain up my thigh.
Knee was shot. I’d have to see a Healer again.
Music rolled against us, the bass rattling our bones. We navigated through the crush of sweaty bodies and took a side door out to Fourth Avenue.
“So that didn’t quite turn out as planned,” he said easily.
Patience snapped. “I blame you.”
“I thought you were giving me looks of love.”
“More like pain. If you hadn’t brought her in —“
“You’re the one who said we needed more help.”
I shot him an incredulous look. “And your first choice was Miss Can’t-Follow-A-Plan?”
Renee waited for us on the corner. “Sidekick giving you a problem, Julian?”
I narrowed my eyes. She was treading on thin ice.
He laughed, the rich, warm sound pleasantly vibrating through me.“Tonight was fun.”
I limped a few feet down the street and edged between two parked cars.
“Where are you going?”
“It’s called walking away, LeVeq.” I craned my neck, searching for an open cab. “Before your friend ends up on the ground in three pieces.”
“Not if I yank the dagger out of your hand first,” Renee said sweetly. “And you seem to be directionally challenged. My car is this way —”
On our way to the club, she’d gotten into a pissing match with someone who cut her off on the West Side Highway. At one point, she’d impatiently squeezed between two lanes on Tenth Avenue.
I could actually read what the passenger texted in the cab beside us.
“Because you drive like a lunatic!“
“Oh, please. This coming from —“
The grating, nasal voice reminded me of quacking ducks.
A willowy woman with short dark hair and bright red lips emerged from the bar next to the club. High cheekbones, doe eyes, and an elegant bone structure completed the striking impression.
She sashayed toward us, a delicate hand placed over her heart in a feminine display of surprise. Gaudy scarlet nails appeared like claws against her ivory coat.
Absorbing the jarring disconnect between voice and appearance took a moment.
“Leila.” Did he pale a little? “How are you?”
Svelte arms wrapped around his neck. She gave an excited squeal that sounded like baying geese.
“You were in town and you didn’t call me?”
“I just arrived and I’ve been busy with —“
“Busy?” She glared at Renee and me. Eyes lingered on my flat, sopping hair and soaked clothes. “With them?”
He hastily soothed her and for a moment, I considered reassuring duck woman we posed no threat.
But my knee throbbed in time with her voice and I remembered who’d brought Renee tonight.
Let him suffer in his own bed.
Without a backward glance, I raised my hand to stop a cab and climbed in.
“Seventy-Seventh and —“
Renee slid in beside me and shut the door. “Move over.”
“Seventy-Seventh between Broadway and Amsterdam,” Renee told the driver. “Julian has the car keys. Figured he could use it more than me.”
I leaned back and shut my eyes. Maybe if I counted to ten she’d disappear.
“I’m surprised you didn’t fight that scrawny model off.” She squinted at me. “She looks like a scratcher, but I think you could take her.”
Cab jolted to life and careened up Fourth Avenue. A car cut in front of us and the sound of squealing breaks erupted.
I pitched forward, face almost crashing against the plastic partition.
Fingers tightened in a death grip around the handle above the window.
We jerked around a corner, missing a group of drunk pedestrians by a few inches.
“Don’t you wish we took my car?” Renee murmured.
I congratulated myself on having enough dignity to not answer her with my fist.