There are monsters in the city. And one of them is her...
Ava Kalle's empty soul devours magic. And her hunger is deadly. She's sharp, quick and can live in shadow, making her work as a spy for the Mages a natural choice. She lives on the fringes of society and likes it that way.
When the man she loves takes another woman for his mate, the darkness in her heart unravels and she'll do anything to get him back. She makes a dangerous deal with a fire elemental, Heyerdar, who has a vested interest in agreeing: together they'll use forbidden magic, harnessing their sexual energy to drive the couple apart.
But soon their pact pushes them both into a dark sexual obsession. One that Ava may not be able to control...
Sunlight gilded his muscled body.
Ava let her head drop into her open palms and leaned heavily on the balustrade. Marble dug into her bony elbows but she ignored the pain for her illicit moment of man-watching. The teken on her right hand--the symbol of her magic--burned against her cheek. In the silence, the cool air carried the turn of his bare feet over the sand of the arena, the soft huffs of his breath as his supple body flowed through the series of twisting, intricate moves.
Captain Nahum Heyerdar put on his naked show every morning, just as the sun crept over the curtain wall. Welcoming the fire of the sun as she touched the earth.
He was the only elemental in the Institute. Had grown up there and been guided into the Guard by nervous mages. Old magic surged up through his flesh, and that intrigued and terrified them. Every other elemental had vanished, disappearing into the mountains, into distant lands, far from the reach of the mages and their high magic.
Except him. Why he stayed was a mystery. Even to her.
"Do you think he really needs to do this every day?" Reist leaned on the wide stone lintel and placed a steaming mug of tea before her. "Or does he simply crave the attention?" He pointed to the dark dots on balconies, in windows, shadows under archways. Her fellow watchers. Servants, apprentices, the odd mage. There with her every morning.
It was a familiar remark her mentor had made down the years. Though he never questioned her satisfaction in watching the captain or tried to pull her away. Odd, but true. She didn't know what Reist thought about her watching a naked man move with absolute ease and perfection. And she couldn't ask him. Her relationship with Davin Reist was...complicated.
Reist's arm brushed hers, and a quick shiver ran under her skin. For a moment, she let the sure rhythm of Heyerdar's movements, the flow, the precision, calm the uneven beat of her heart. The weight of her dark center cleared the remaining flickers.
"Only these this morning." Reist dropped a muslin bag beside the cup and Ava opened it to find five thick chunks of barely cooked mutton within a thin flour wrap. "You can find more. You must."
Ava twitched a smile. There was an order there. Reist had brought her breakfast for as long as she could remember, knowing how the darkness of the thief gnawed at her. And how almost-raw meat pushed back its hunger. But even this simple ritual was changing. Reist was changing. Pulling away from what they had. He had a different woman in his life.
Her stomach growled and she ate the small parcels of meat. She remembered to chew. No one ever needed to see how she should eat. The taste of sheep blood only seemed to whet her appetite. The ache to feed, to feel blood and bone in her mouth, was increasing every day. Sometimes even the air around her seemed alive with hunger, itching against her skin...
Crazy. She was going crazy.
Ava licked her fingers. "This is from one of the emperor's own ewes."
"The head cook was dressing a carcass. A hunting dog got loose in their enclosure." He lifted an eyebrow. "I thought of you."
"Was I the sheep or the hunting dog?"
Reist shrugged. "I leave the choice to you. As always." His gaze moved over her, and her body tensed, a quick and anxious pulling of muscle. "You'd look good fluffy."