Kira Brady

Hearts of Chaos

Hearts of Chaos

The Deadglass Trilogy, Book 3
Kensington Zebra • March 2014
ISBN-13: 9781420124583 • ISBN-10: 1420124587

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The thrilling finale to the Deadglass Trilogy.

Lucia and Corbette.

Death can’t stop their love.

To save her world, one woman’s fierce quest will put her up against an ancient evil–and a desire too dangerous to deny . . .

She is betrothed to Seattle’s most feared shifter clan leader. Still, the Lady Lucia can never be the dainty aristocratic wife Emory Corbette thinks he needs. And as a malevolent, all-consuming monster plots to take hold of their shattered world, Lucia will risk her untapped powers to defeat it–and challenge the Raven King’s seductive rule. No one in Emory’s many lifetimes has ever defied him. Lucia’s courage and strength are shaking his iron control to its core. . .and making him hungry for all she can give. But their only hope is a wrenching sacrifice that could unite humans and shifters in victory–or destroy everything Lucia and Emory desire most. . .

Praise for Hearts of Chaos

“Seamlessly weaving threads of Babylonian, Norse, and Northwest Native American fables, Brady creates a dark, rich tapestry. The trilogy ends as it began: with beautifully rendered prose and multidimensional characters who capture readers’ hearts.”
Publishers Weekly

“Brady has a talent for completely bringing the reader into a dark world in an alternate Seattle, full of shapeshifters and magic. The well-crafted world Brady has created is one of the things that sets this series apart in a very popular genre…. The characters are engaging and the mythos is unique, but the spark between Lucia and Corbette is what will really keep the pages turning.”
– RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars

Praise for Kira Brady and the Deadglass Series

“Imaginative. . .this fast-paced, gritty story will thrill paranormal readers.” –BookPage

“Dazzling. . .thrilling. . .irresistible.” –Publishers Weekly, starred review

“The characters are fresh and exciting, and the story is fascinating.” –RT Book Reviews

Excerpt

To the land of no return, the land of darkness,
The place where dust is their nourishment, clay their food.
They have no light, in darkness they dwell.
Clothed like birds, with wings as garments.

— From the Descent of the Goddess Ishtar into the Lower World

Lucia knelt on the blood-soaked lawn of Kite Hill and let the shouts of victory wash over her like an acid rain. A stain of crimson crept up the skirt of her white gown. Strands of her snowy hair plastered across her vision as she held Johnny’s limp hand. A drop of rain splattered his high cheekbone, and she wiped it away with her white sleeve. Innocent, virtuous white. She should have pulled black Kivati battle gear from the Aether like he had, except it hadn’t protected him from the aptrgangr’s axe. His black battle shirt stuck to his lithe, muscled torso where the blade had entered. He lay on his back, limbs akimbo, just one of the sea of bodies scattered broken across the once-green parkland. His hair, ebony as a crow’s wing, was still in a sleek queue. Tears blurred her vision. They were all there—Kivati shape-shifters, Drekar dragon-shifters, human soldiers, and the demigod Kingu’s possessed bodies—united and equal in death as they’d never been in life.

Not two feet away lay another body—aptrgangr, those who walked after death. Mud streaked the man’s thick grey overalls. Coal dust creased the worn edges of his face and decay ate the skin of his cheeks. He’d been dead a long time—since long before the battle that had turned this hill to a graveyard. But this death had finality to it. His body lay mercifully still, axe dropped an arm’s length away. The wraith that had possessed it until a few minutes ago had been banished beyond the Gate, where it belonged.

All along the hillside and down past the still burning cylindrical towers of the Gas Works, the Aether shimmered with the exodus of souls. It should be a shining, beautiful thing, but some of the mortal decay seeped up from the bodies to twist, as a foul taint, through the fabric of the universe. The Aether had been broken since the great Unraveling seven months ago. A rogue Kivati had brought down the Gates between the Land of the Living and the Land of the Dead, unleashing a legion of souls and the Babylonian demigod Kingu into the Living World, and collapsing civilization in a rain of skyscrapers and steel.

Once freed, Kingu had gathered an army of the undead and marched on Seattle seeking Tiamat’s Heart, which would give him the Babylonian Goddess of Chaos’s god powers. If Lucia hadn’t disobeyed the Raven Lord, blackmailed Lord Kai, and led Kivati warriors to join the battle, Kingu might have won. If she hadn’t, Johnny might still be alive and it’d be only the soul-sucking Drekar and humans lying on the battlefield with their mouths open and their guts ripped out. The past and the present, the destruction of the Unraveling and the dead of the Gas Works, overlapped in her vision, and she felt the familiar beginnings of a panic attack squeeze her chest. Not again. Not here.

“It was a good death,” a deep voice said above her.

She wiped her eyes and glanced up, hoping to see a lean, dangerous face looking into hers, the proud nose and intense, violet-black stare of the Raven. But it was only Kai. She squeezed Johnny’s limp hand. “I killed him.”

“Every warrior from the Western House who came knew what he was getting into. They fought for their honor and freedom. They died protecting the Kivati way. Don’t take that away from them.”

She gave a hopeless little laugh. “When did blackmail become the Kivati way?”

“Hey.” Kai pulled her to standing and pinned her with his Thunderbird gaze. The violet bands around his black irises that marked him as a Kivati shape-shifter expanded. “You’re all right, little warrior.” His broad frame blocked out the sight of the hill and his fingers sent trills of Aether to lick around her skin. She heard nothing but the soft wind and his voice until her pulse slowed. “Shock is normal. This is your first battle, and you did your people proud.” He wrapped his leather jacket around her, and she clutched it to her chest. Tall, muscled, and imposing like all the Thunderbirds, Lord Kai had been the only one who would risk the Raven Lord’s wrath to come here. He might lead one of the four Kivati Houses, but he wasn’t decent. No tailored suit could mask all that wildness. His hair was a mane of black curls and a bandolier hung desperado style across his chest. He did forbidden things just to prove he wasn’t anyone’s pawn, including sleeping with one of their sworn enemies, the Drekar Astrid Zetian. But if the Raven Lord, Emory Corbette, found out about Zetian, he would probably kill Kai. So it had been easy for Lucia, once she’d known his secret, to blackmail Kai into risking his men in battle fighting Kingu. There was honor in dying for the Kivati. There was none in being killed for fucking a soul-sucker.

Lucia knelt by Johnny, closed his eyes, and said a prayer to the Lady to guide him home. “He didn’t get much of a reprieve.”

“Seven months can seem like a lifetime to a man with a second chance.”

“Corbette was merciful.”

“Only for you.”

She glanced across Lake Union to where dusk backlit the ruined towers of downtown Seattle. The battle had taken place at the Gas Works, an old coal gasification plant that jutted out into the lake with an excellent view of Queen Anne Hill to the southwest. She could just see the yellow walls of the palatial Kivati Hall at the top of the hill hunkering down against the night. Crows from all over the city streaked the sky black as they returned to roost on the parapets and the surrounding hilltop trees. “You better pray he’ll be merciful again,” she told Kai.

“You got balls of steel, Crane.” Kai loomed over her. He leaned down, his velvet voice a seductive purr only loud enough for her to hear. “But I’m not going to be the one on my knees. You’ll use every trick—and I mean every—to deflect Corbette from the truth. You better not wuss out on me when the Big Bad turns his screws in your sweet, little fingers. You take my secret to your grave.”

She swallowed. Would Corbette hurt his fiancée? The prophesied Crane who was supposed to lead their people out of the darkness? She’d just undermined his rule by leading his warriors to battle against his orders. He couldn’t afford to be merciful. She felt the Aether, the shining water that filled the space between molecules of air and earth and, wove the fabric of time and built the Gates, heat.

Kai squeezed her arm as he flashed her a look beneath thick lashes. “Loose lips . . .”

“Got it.” She straightened her spine and pulled the leather jacket around her shoulders like a shield. The jacket was permeated with the warmth of Kai’s body and the calming scent of fir. She lifted her chin as Kivati shape-shifters in their totem forms shot into the air above Kivati Hall and flew toward Kite Hill. The two Thunderbirds were magnificent. Giant birds with silvery wings the size of a pterodactyl, they ate whales and could pull fiery thunderbolts from the Aether with a twitch of their fingers. A reverent hush floated across the field as men caught sight of the two beautiful creatures. Behind them flew a dozen man-sized Crows with their majestic midnight wings and cruel beaks.

But Lucia couldn’t tear her eyes away from the true danger—the Raven. Awesome. Terrible. Aether crackled over his feathers and pulsed out to warp the air around her. She watched his approach as if it were a steam train barreling down on her. He landed on the hillside, and torchlight glistened off his ebony feathers as he Changed. Aether shimmered over him like a blanket being shrugged off, and when it slipped away a man stood in the giant Raven’s place. Terrifyingly handsome, like a crack of lightning hurled from the Sky God’s staff, he was dark and brooding and all together arrogant. The Thunderbirds had a height and muscle advantage on him, but every inch of his frame was sleek power. Everything about him was sharp: pitiless black eyes ringed by a violet band, a hooked nose, a severe line of a mouth. He was dark everywhere she was light, with skin the color of driftwood and hair blacker than coal. He’d pulled his clothing from the Aether when he’d changed, his usual three-piece perfection of a midnight suit, silver studs in his cufflinks, silver rings in his ears. But he’d forgotten to tie his necktie, and his shirt hung open to expose the vulnerable line of his neck. There his pulse beat steady, controlled. And why shouldn’t it? Impeccable, immovable Emory Corbette would never appear in public as anything less than perfect. He might have been an automaton, all robotic movement with no capacity for human error. No heart.

Except the Aether crackled from his skin. All the Kivati shifters on the battlefield bowed their heads in the face of his dominance.

“I did the right thing,” she blurted. “We won. The city is safe.”

“Not here,” Corbette said.

“I’m not sorry for it.” Her voice rose. “Don’t punish the others. They were under my orders.”

“And since when do you give orders to my Thunderbirds?”

She clutched Kai’s jacket to her. The thick leather was no shield for the Aether writhing from the Raven Lord. He took a step toward her. The noise of the soldiers and the cries of the wounded faded to static. How many times had she wished for him to lose his self-control? To come down to her level—mortal, imperfect, touchable? But here he was with his necktie undone and anger sparkling off him like a Death Valley sun. She was terrified. Her totem Crane beat inside her. Fly, it crooned. Fly!

“Follow the Crane to destiny,” she recited.

“Haven’t you left enough ruin in your wake?”

A deep sob broke in her throat. The last line of the prophecy said, for behind her lies ruin, and Lucia had certainly caused destruction. Seven months ago her blood had brought down the Gate to the Land of the Dead. She pulled the jacket sleeves to hide her hands. Her scars had healed—she’d never scarred easily—but the memories still woke her screaming in the middle of the night. Would the image of this battle be the next one to wake her in the dark?

“You are cruel, my lord.”

Corbette’s eyes tightened. “That was uncalled for.” The violet band of his iris expanded, threatening to drown the black. “You make me forget myself.” He held out his hand, but she stepped back.

“You expect me to be the Crane, don’t you?” Had he ever looked at her as Lucia and not the prophesied Harbinger? The panic attack threatened to come back full force. She beat it down. She’d wasted too many months feeling sorry for herself. Lifting her chin, she gave him her haughtiest glare. The look was ruined by a tear that slipped free, but she pushed on. “Well, no one can follow me if I don’t lead. Kingu marched on the city, and I made the call.”

“I see.”

“You chose to stay and guard Kivati Hall. I chose to join the Drekar and humans in the fight here. They needed us.”

“You chose to join our ancient enemies instead of following my orders.”

It sounded crazy when he said it.

He took a step closer, and his voice dropped to grind like the rocks of the seabed. “Did you mean to replace me on the madrona throne, then? Should I call my second and meet you at dawn?”

Her eyes widened. The transfer of power required a fight to the death, the animal way for dominance. Grace Mercer had taught her to throw a few punches, but there was no way she would survive two seconds in the ring with Corbette.

“No?” He circled her, a predator playing with his prey. The hairs on the back of her neck rose as he took a breath at the base of her neck. “You smell like him.”

“It’s not like that!”

“I think you’d find the weight of the crown would ground your poor fragile wings, little bird.”

She clenched her teeth. He’d never spoken to her like this. He’d always been unfailingly polite, if a trifle cold. This new Corbette was seductive, but even more dangerous. “Then why marry me if I’m so fragile?” she chewed out. “Maybe you should find someone better suited to kissing your ass.”

His nostrils flared. “You wish to end our engagement?”

“Please.” With that cruel lie spilling off her tongue, the rest of the world snapped back to life. An all-too-real hush fell over the Kivati warriors surrounding her, silent as a catacomb.

Corbette didn’t blink. His lips pulled back in polite smile. His anger dissipated, the cold searing his features again into the self-controlled alpha they knew all too well. He gave a sharp bow. “As you wish.”  His shoulders relaxed. He turned to Lord Kai. “Please return Lady Lucia to her parents. They have been worried about her.”

Kai nodded.

Lucia watched the exchange while the Aether in her veins turned to ice. It was . . . over? Just like that? She hadn’t meant to challenge Corbette’s rule. She just wanted to be worthy of that stupid prophecy and mean something to her people. Something real, not an empty title. Corbette’s easy dismissal reinforced all her worst fears: he’d never really wanted her. He’d wanted a figurehead, a pretty, powerless poppet to sit at his side and agree with his every whim. The hope that he had seen something more in her—Lucia, not the Crane—fractured in a million pieces.

She wished the ground would open and swallow her whole.