Hi. I’m Nora, and I bring people’s worst nightmares to life.
Everyone needs a hobby, right?
Gah. Don’t look at me like that. It’s not like I do it on purpose. I’m cursed. Like bonafide needle-pricking, frog-kissing, poison-apple cursed. Except worse because in addition to slowly chipping away at my soul, this thing will eventually kill me too.
Let me start over…
It all goes back to wishes. The damned things come true around me but in the worst possible way. And I don’t mean that lightly because, well… sometimes people wind up dead.
The kicker? Once I grant my quota of ill-fated desires, that’s it for me. Finito. I know because there were others before me. Just our sick family heritage. We screw people over, and then we die. Hell of a way to live, right?
I think I might be the last one too. I’ve searched my whole life and found nothing. No answers. No cure. Not one hint of magic in this entire world besides me.
Well, that is… until today.
*This is the first book in the all-new urban fantasy series: Stones & Curses. If you like fierce heroines with hearts of gold, edge-of-your-seat adventure, a touch of swoony romance, and enough mind-blowing treachery to leave you wondering what in the world just happened, this is the series for you.
Darkness settled around us, and I realized that the forest had gone completely still again. Goosebumps ran down my arms, making every little hair stand on end. I couldn’t quite put my finger on how I knew, but…
Something was watching.
“Where are we going?” I asked in a near-whisper.
Rafe put his finger to his lips, his footfalls silent. Every instinct inside of me was screaming for me to run. To hide. To get the hell out of here.
He crouched, sliding to his knees beside a massive tree. It wasn’t a palm and not a deciduous tree, but something in between that I’d never seen before. It had a dark, thick trunk the diameter of a small car that stretched toward the darkening heavens. The top held a plentiful array of branches, all draped with green leaves the size of my body.
I watched as Rafe pushed some ferny underbrush away at its base, exposing the tree’s huge, gnarled roots. The woody knots curled up and out, leaving a dark opening beneath—big enough for him to slip through. He crawled inside, waving a hand for me to follow.
Do I have to?
I glanced up one last time and instantly wished I hadn’t.
Several pairs of glowing red eyes blinked down at me from the treetops. My heart thumped like a drum, and I swallowed hard before scrambling after Rafe.
The cold, damp earth wedged beneath my fingernails as I tried to get situated in a way that didn’t put me right on top of Rafe. The pitch-black hollow was barely big enough for us to sit beside one another. Fine bits of dirt rained down, falling into my shirt while hairlike roots tickled my cheeks. It was gross, but I supposed it was better than out there.
Out there, we were dinner.
A soft glow illuminated Rafe’s face, and I turned to find the obelisk in his palm. He moved over me, reaching toward the entrance of our little hideaway. I tried to make myself as small as possible as he sealed us in, covering the way out with the broad leaves and ferns that he’d pushed aside earlier.
I watched in fascination as he used the small stone to draw a line in the dirt, and I felt the hum of magic splash against my senses. The line glowed white for just a few seconds before fading and returning to normal.
What was that?
“Protection spell,” he said, answering my unspoken question and making me wonder if he had powers of the psychic persuasion. “This is a zylas tree. Instead of spreading its roots deep, it stretches wide, often leaving hollows underneath. It also has inherent magic that, when paired with a stone like this”—he held up the obelisk—“can enhance magical properties.”
“The stone can do spells?”
“They call it a Lightbringer. It’s a protection stone with a minimal range of things it can do—like that spell. It’s not foolproof, but it should keep us safe tonight.”
I had a feeling his words were meant to reassure himself just as much as me, but it worked anyway. He had a way of making me feel safe.
A revelation that shocked me.
He settled back down beside me, pulling the small pack off his back. He rested the obelisk on a root where it continued to light our little enclosure with a faint glow. I shifted and ended up practically on top of him again.
“Well, this is awkward,” I said, only making it more so as I continued to try to get comfortable. There was a damn rock beneath my left butt cheek that seemed to follow me no matter which way I moved.
He chuckled and lifted an arm, gesturing for me to settle in the nook next to his body. I only hesitated a moment before giving in. He was the perfect balance of strength and softness, and I felt myself relaxing into it. His arm tightened around me, and he rested his cheek on the top of my head.
When did I stop hating Rafe again?
“You should get some sleep,” he said.
Right. Not happening.
With every blink, I heard the flapping of giant wings and felt the stare of red gazes. At least those thoughts kept me from reliving our blood pixie and drosera encounters. Those would come later; I was sure of it.
“What are the things in the trees?” I whispered.
“Predators. Big, big predators.”
A shiver rippled through me, and I caught sight of the tiniest hint of black smoke curling off my pinky finger. I’d begun to realize that it was a defense mechanism, triggered when I let the terror take hold. There was more to it than that—like how I sometimes seemed to run out of juice—but that was the gist. I clenched my hand into a fist.
No. I would not be afraid.
“Remind me, what keeps us from becoming their dinner again?”
I could feel him smiling against my forehead. “They can’t fit through the door.”
“Look, everybody, it’s Rafe the comedian.”
Lissa Bolts is an urban fantasy writer and the author of The Ruling Magic Series. She has a passion for creating new worlds, perilous situations, and villains you’ll love to hate.
A native to Utah, Lissa enjoys spending time with her family tearing up the powdery slopes in the winter and long lakeside camping trips in the summer.