Read The Sharpest Blade Online

Authors: Sandy Williams

The Sharpest Blade

PRAISE FOR

THE SHATTERED DARK

“A compelling, action-packed follow-up to
The Shadow Reader
. Fans of urban fantasy should definitely pick up this series and give it a try.”


Fiction Vixen Book Reviews

“An intriguing series that is sure to appeal to urban fantasy lovers of the noir. I look forward to reading more about Ms. Williams’s world.”


Smexy Books

“The world that Sandy Williams has created for the land-hopping fae continues to amaze . . . The emotional ending really blew me away.”


Dark Faerie Tales

“Every bit as good as the debut,
The Shattered Dark
is an impressive read that will keep you up until the wee hours of the morning.”


A Book Obsession

“Be prepared for nonstop action, intrigue, and a few bombshells that will leave you dying for book three.”


All Things Urban Fantasy

PRAISE FOR

THE SHADOW READER

“A fresh take on the fae, packed with suspense, surprises, and real moral dilemmas. Sexy and fun, this is a must for anyone who likes their fae modern, their stakes high, and their property damage extensive.”

—Seanan McGuire,
New York Times
bestselling author of the October Daye novels

“Combines top-notch writing and world-building with characters you’ll adore . . . and the star-crossed lovers may just break your heart . . . If you enjoy fae urban fantasy, then don’t miss this splendid debut. Loved it. Can’t wait for the next book.”

—Ann Aguirre,
USA Today
bestselling author of
Perdition

“When facing this stubborn, smart escape artist of a heroine, watch where you walk, as every footstep leaves a shadow and every shadow tells a longtime reader like McKenzie Lewis the truth . . . whether she wants to know it or not.”

—Rob Thurman,
New York Times
bestselling author of
Slashback

“Fantastically fun urban fantasy! One of the best debuts of the year . . . [It] checked off all my urban fantasy wish-list boxes, and I can’t wait to read the sequel.”


All Things Urban Fantasy

“A gutsy heroine and plenty of fae lore.”


Library Journal

“Sandy Williams packs a powerful punch with her debut urban fantasy . . . I encourage all readers with a love of urban fantasy to run, not walk, to your nearest bookstore and get your very own copy . . .
The Shadow Reader
is a must-read.”


Smexy Books

“This is a book that kept me reading well into the night. It is without a doubt a page-turner . . . I loved the main character, the world . . . I am more than excited to see what comes out next.”


Paranormal Haven

“Inventive fantasy that promises to be a series worth following.”


Fantasy & SciFi Lovin’ News & Reviews

“Kept me turning pages frantically.”


Fantasy Literature

“An exciting, turbulent adventure . . . A home run of a debut novel.”


Fresh Fiction

“A gripping alternate-reality fantasy.”


The Romance Reader


The Shadow Reader
has it all: suspense, romance, action, and laughs . . . McKenzie is an awesome lead female character.”


Nocturne Romance Reads

Ace Books by Sandy Williams

THE SHADOW READER

THE SHATTERED DARK

THE SHARPEST BLADE

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

USA • Canada • UK • Ireland • Australia • New Zealand • India • South Africa • China

penguin.com

A Penguin Random House Company

THE SHARPEST BLADE

An Ace Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2013 by Sandy Williams.

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

Ace Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group.

ACE and the “A” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.

For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-61430-3

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Ace mass-market edition / January 2014

Cover art by Gene Mollica.

Cover design by Lesley Worrell.

Map by Adam F. Watkins.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Version_1

CONTENTS

Praise for Sandy Williams

Ace Books by Sandy Williams

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Acknowledgments

Map

ONE

TWO

THREE

FOUR

FIVE

SIX

SEVEN

EIGHT

NINE

TEN

ELEVEN

TWELVE

THIRTEEN

FOURTEEN

FIFTEEN

SIXTEEN

SEVENTEEN

EIGHTEEN

NINETEEN

TWENTY

TWENTY-ONE

TWENTY-TWO

TWENTY-THREE

TWENTY-FOUR

TWENTY-FIVE

TWENTY-SIX

TWENTY-SEVEN

TWENTY-EIGHT

TWENTY-NINE

THIRTY

THIRTY-ONE

About the Author

To the coolest grandmother on the block. I love you, Grandmommy.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

First, I want to send out a big, heartfelt thank-you to all my readers. Your e-mails, Facebook messages, and your general enthusiasm for McKenzie and her friends have made this writing gig a wild, wonderful ride. I hope you find this book as satisfying an end to McKenzie’s story as I do.

To my regular beta readers, Trey, Shelli, and Renee, you guys continue to rock. And to my new betas, Leah Lewis, Paris Hansen, and author Marika Gallman, thank you for your awesome feedback. Marika—your comments were perfect and hilarious!

I owe a debt of gratitude to my agent, Joanna Volpe, who always has my back, and to my editor, Jesse Feldman, who did a wonderful job of catching up with the series and who helped me bring it to a satisfying end.

ONE

T
HE TIME IN
the bottom right corner of my computer screen mocks me. I try not to look at it, but no one has come to the reference desk in over an hour, and I can stare at nothing for only so long. Even though this is only my fourth day working as a library clerk, I know every hour is going to drag. Theoretically, that should be a good thing. It means no one’s swinging a sword at my head or aiming a gun at my chest, and I’m not in a situation where I’m forced to hurt or kill someone. The problem is if I’m not distracted by people asking questions, I’ll be distracted by something else.

Or rather,
someone
else.

A flicker of emotion travels through the bond I share with Kyol. If I close my eyes, I can picture him perfectly, his firm, unsmiling lips and his dark silver eyes. His gaze is always steady and unwavering. He’s one of the strongest men I know, and sometimes his presence unravels me, especially when chaos lusters spark across his face. It’s hard to believe we haven’t seen each other in three weeks. It feels like I’ve spent every day with him. I know when he’s asleep. I can tell when he’s sparring with his men or when he’s talking to Lena, the Realm’s queen. Right now, he’s thinking about me. Probably because I’m thinking about him.

I force out a frustrated sigh because he’s not the fae who should be invading my thoughts. Maybe he wouldn’t be if Aren were around, but there’s been no sign of him or Lena or any of the rebels since I left the Realm. They’re giving me space, time to live my life without interruptions from the fae. That’s something I’ve asked for a hundred times in the last couple of years, but now that I finally have it, I’m going a little crazy. Not having any news from the Realm makes me restless.

Kyol’s mood darkens when he senses my unease. I try not to let that affect me, but I fail, and a cloud settles over me just the same.
This
is one of the reasons I’m glad I haven’t gone back to the Realm. Even though Kyol and I are in separate worlds, our emotions spiral off each other’s until one of us is distracted enough to feel something else. It would be a thousand times harder to block him out without the In-Between separating us.

And the other reason I haven’t returned? I lean back in my swivel chair and scan the quiet, calm library. This is the first time in ten years that I’ve been a normal human.

Of course, I’m not
completely
normal. If I were, I wouldn’t see the pale, erratic lightning flitting across the skin of the girl who’s coming in the library’s door. Two of her friends are with her. I don’t know their names, but I’ve heard them call her Kynlee before. She’s shown up here after school every day I’ve worked. If she were human, I’d guess that she’s fifteen, maybe sixteen years old. Her friends are definitely close to that age, but they’re not fae. Kynlee doesn’t really look fae either. She laughs and smiles like a normal American teenager. She’s dressed like one, too, in jeans and a yellow crew-neck tee. The only thing odd about her clothing is the purple gloves that reach up to her elbows, but I understand their purpose: they keep her from skin-to-skin contact with humans.

When the trio walks by my desk, I lock my gaze on my computer screen to keep myself from staring at her chaos lusters. I’m almost certain her friends don’t know what she is. Humans who don’t have the Sight like I do can’t see the lightning, but they would feel the hot, tingling sensation when it leaped to their skin. Or, in Kynlee’s case, they would feel a surprisingly chilly sensation. Her chaos lusters aren’t as bright as a normal fae’s, which means she’s
tor’um
. She has little to no magical ability, and if this were the Realm, she and others like her would be considered the dregs of society.

After the
tor’um
and her friends take a seat at a table in the Teen section, my gaze ventures back to the time on my computer screen. Only three freaking minutes have passed since I last looked at it.

“You shouldn’t scowl,” the woman sitting next to me says.

“What?” I ask, turning toward Judy, my supervisor, even though I think I heard her clearly.

“It makes you look unapproachable.”

Yep. That’s what I thought she said. Surprising advice given that she’s always scowling. Judy is a full-time librarian with twenty years of experience marked by gold stars on her name badge. Unfortunately, she happens to hate having degreeless library clerks like me manning the reference desk. But it’s not my fault the city of Las Vegas had to make budget cuts, and considering that the most difficult question I’ve been asked today is “Where’s the restroom,” I’m pretty sure I can handle the job.

Planting a semipleasant expression on my face, I rest my folded arms on the edge of the desk and stare out at the bookshelves. At least the
tor’um
was enough of a distraction to break the cycle of emotion Kyol and I were close to being caught up in. He’s not thinking about me anymore; he’s concentrating on something else. What that something is, I don’t know. We can’t hear each other’s thoughts or see what the other is doing, but we have a ten-year history together. Even without our magical life-bond, I know him well enough to link his emotions to his thoughts, and right now, he’s not focused on my feelings. He’s focused on his actions.

I feel myself frowning. I can’t help it. Kyol is calm, but he isn’t relaxed. My muscles mimic the tension in his. It’s a strange sensation, one that makes me sit straighter in my seat. I don’t think Kyol’s worried, but he’s heading somewhere that isn’t safe.

I draw in a breath, then let it out slowly, trying not to let my emotions distract him. He was the previous king’s sword-master and is Lena’s lord general. He’s more than capable of taking care of himself.

Just like Aren is capable of taking care of himself.

A little stab of pain cuts through my stomach. I never thought Aren would stay away this long. I thought he’d come to his senses quickly, get over the life-bond, then come get me. The fact that he hasn’t hurts, and I don’t know whether to be pissed off about it or devastated. Most of the time, I’m both.

Still, I want to see him, but I can’t get to the Realm on my own. Fae can fissure from any point they want to as long as they’re not surrounded by silver, but I have to be escorted through a gate to survive the trip through the In-Between. Plus, if Aren wanted to see me, he would have found me already.

Which leaves only one conclusion: he doesn’t want to see me.

I don’t want to believe that because, if it’s true, if he’s letting this life-bond—a life-bond I didn’t have any control over entering—break us up, then I was wrong about him. He doesn’t love me half as much as I thought he did. He doesn’t love me half as much as I love him.

I swallow down the lump in my throat and scan the library again, looking for something to distract me, but no one looks like they’re lost or need help. There’s not even a paper jam at the printer station. My gaze finally rests on Judy, who’s flipping through a magazine. If she’s doing that, then she shouldn’t have a problem with me checking my e-mail for the hundredth time today. I’ve contacted every hospital in London looking for Shane, the Sighted human I left behind to save my friend, Paige. I lost track of him in a mass of panicked people at a concert, and I don’t know if he escaped, died there, or ended up in the hands of the fae. The London authorities have assured me he never checked into a hospital, and I keep hoping he’ll turn up somewhere safe.

As I’m reaching for the mouse, goose bumps break out across my skin. This is the only warning I ever get when a fae fissures into this world, so I stiffen, waiting for a flash of light. Several seconds tick by without anyone appearing in the library. I frown. Then I hear the soft rumble of the air-conditioning unit.

“Are you going somewhere?” Judy asks as she pulls on her thin white sweater. She’s looking over the brim of her bifocals at me, and I realize my hands are braced on the edge of the desk like I’m about to rise.

I clear my throat, then say, “I’m going to take a quick restroom break.”

“Your regular break is in five minutes,” she says. “You can wait.”

If I really had to go, I’d get up anyway, but since I don’t, I bite my tongue and sink into my chair. I really hate working with Judy, but hey, at least I have a job. And at least she’s my biggest problem at the moment. It could be so much worse.

As if to confirm that last thought, my chest tightens as a new emotion surges over Kyol. It’s not quite fear. He isn’t hurt, and he’s not fissuring in and out of a fight, but there’s definitely some kind of tension running through his body. Maybe I was wrong about him being somewhere unsafe. He could just be sparring with someone or—

Kyol’s pain hits me. It’s so potent and solid, my chair flies back when I leap up. I try to build a wall between my emotions and his, but I’m disoriented—too off-balance to even stay on my feet—and he’s too hurt to shelter me from what he’s feeling. I stagger into an empty book cart, knocking it over and falling to the ground.

Someone hurts him again. It feels like someone’s just punched me in the chest.

My vision blurs. I blink to clear it, then focus on the industrial-grade carpet beneath me, staring at the specks of white scattered through the blue pattern. Instead of blocking out what Kyol’s feeling, I project what I’m feeling: the cool touch of the air-conditioned air and the solid, steady ground beneath my hands and knees. I don’t think it helps. He’s still hurting, and I’m a whole fucking world away from him.

“McKenzie?” Judy asks, standing over me.

I look up. Her face is blurry, but she sounds genuinely concerned.

“I’m okay.” I force out the lie. I am not okay. I can barely think. If I’m affected this much by what’s happening to Kyol, then he must be . . .

No, he can’t die. I won’t let him.

Kyol!
I mentally scream. I’ve shouted his name in my head before, and even though he can’t hear it, he can feel it. He’s always sent a wave of reassurance in return, but there’s no reassurance now. He’s badly injured.

Another surge of pain washes through me. I squeeze my eyes shut as I reach up for the phone. My hand knocks the whole thing off the desk. I grab the receiver anyway, manage to hit “9” to dial out, but who do I call? Everyone who can help is in the Realm. How the hell am I going to get there?

After slamming the receiver down on its base, I look up. Kynlee and her two friends have shot to their feet and are staring at me.

The whole library is staring at me.

I don’t have time to worry about it. I have to help Kyol, and I’m already on my feet and moving toward the
tor’um
’s table.

Kynlee’s eyes widen as I stride toward her, but she doesn’t move until I reach out to grab her arm. I manage to catch her gloved wrist.

“Hey!” the sandy-haired boy standing next to her says.

“I need to get to the Realm,” I say. Kynlee’s dark gray eyes widen even farther.

“What?” she squeaks.

“There has to be someone you can call,” I say, taking my cell phone out of my pocket and shoving it into her hand. “Someone who can fissure.”

“You can see . . .” She fades off, obviously figuring out that, yes, I can see the pale lightning on her skin.

“Call someone,” I order, shaking her arm. She won’t take my phone. I hear Judy calling my name, but her voice sounds as distant as the voices of all the other patrons murmuring in the background. I don’t care that I’m acting like a freak; all I care about is getting to Kyol.

“I don’t know anyone—”

“You have to!” I’m trying not to panic, but Kyol’s fighting for his life right now. If she doesn’t know a fae who can fissure me to the Realm, I won’t be able to get to him in time to save his life.

I might not be able to save him anyway.

“You have to know someone,” I say again, desperation leaking into my voice.

The guy standing to Kynlee’s left—her boyfriend, maybe?—steps forward.

“I think you need to go,” he says. There’s a little too much uncertainty in his voice for me to really pay attention to him, probably because I’m a good decade older than he is. He’s just a kid. So is Kynlee, I’m pretty sure. I shouldn’t have a death grip on her wrist. I shouldn’t even consider dragging her outside with me and—

“Okay,” she says softly.

“Then call them now.”

“No, I mean”—she glances at the guy—“I can do it. I can take you there.”

My grip tightens on my phone. “But you’re—”

“I know what I am,” she interrupts. “But I can do it. Well, I can do it if you, uh, have an anchor. I’ve never been there before. Oh, and I don’t know where a . . .” She looks me up and down. “Well, you’re . . . you and I can’t just, you know.”

I’m human. She can’t just fissure me to the Realm. She has to take me through a gate.

Beside her, her maybe-boyfriend frowns, understandably confused. “Kynlee?”

“It’s fine,” she says, turning to him with a forced smile. “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”

She grabs her backpack.

“Are you sure?” he asks.

I don’t hear her response to that. Tears pool at the corner of my eyes when agony surges through the life-bond. All traces of reason vanish from my mind. The only thing that matters is getting to Kyol.

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