Kalen was thirteen when his grandmother told him that he'd been born under a black moon.
That didn't sound so great, and to be honest, Kalen didn't want to hear it. Wasn't he enough of a freak without adding another nugget of crap to the pile? His dad already had plenty of excuses to beat his ass, and like hell did Kalen need to give him one more. On top of that, it was Saturday-his dad's busiest day at the shop where he worked as an auto mechanic, which meant hours of glorious freedom. A whole day of no yelling, no fists. No new bruises. As soon as Kalen could get away and hurry to meet his friends, he'd make the most of it, too.
He squirmed as his grandma's old, gnarled hands gripped his. Who the heck cared about this moon thing? He resisted the suicidal urge to roll his eyes. Barely.
"A black moon is a rare occurrence in astrology, but you were born during the rarest of the four types-a month with no new moon or full moon at all."
Kalen suppressed a sigh and tried to appear interested. "Yeah, so?" He loved his grandma, and she loved him right back, but jeez. The guys had probably taken off on their bikes without him. "Do we have to talk about science stuff right now?"
Ida May's faded blue eyes bored into his. "Pay attention, my boy. You're old enough to understand what I have to tell you, and my stay in this world won't last forever," she said, the gentleness in her tone at odds with her intense expression.
All thoughts of his friends and a sunny Saturday of screwing around vanished as fear curled in his stomach. "Are you sick?" he asked in a small voice. "What-"
"Never mind that. Have you been practicing the arts?"
Flushing, he kicked the toe of his scuffed tennis shoe on the carpet. "Not much, since the last time Dad caught me." He swallowed hard, remembering the awful scene. How his mother had once again refused to intervene with his father. How he'd begged her to at least call Grandma. But she'd just stood there, grim-faced, as he curled on the floor of the living room, yelling in pain and fear while Dad kicked the shit out of him.
His grandmother's lips thinned. "You must keep developing your skills, no matter the danger. One day you're going to need every ounce of the incredible power you've inherited from my ancestors. Dark days are coming for you, my boy, and I won't be around to see you through them."
"Don't talk like that," he said hoarsely. "Please. I need you, Grandma, not some stupid magic."
She ignored his plea. "You're going to be the greatest Sorcerer the world has ever known, your power beyond comprehension. And that means there are those who would seek to control that power, or take it from you altogether."
Kalen tried to calm his thundering pulse. The world's greatest Sorcerer? Dark days? He swallowed the smartass remark that threatened to burst from his mouth. Because Grandma was serious as hell, and she was never wrong when it came to the supernatural. Shit. "Okay. If that's true, what does it have to do with the black moon?"
"Everything." She paused. "The moon is protection, an omen of inner strength and good for our kind. A Sorcerer born during an absence of a new or full moon is at great risk for being swayed to the dark arts. For using his power for evil. Do you understand?"
"I-I guess," he said, though he didn't. Not really. The scope of what she was telling him was so vast and overwhelming, he couldn't grasp it. He picked at a ragged hole on the knee of his jeans. "So what am I supposed to do about it? Who's gonna help me if-if not you?" His throat almost swelled shut with grief at the mere idea of his beloved grandma not being around. She loved him, cared for him as best she could. She was the one soul in the world who did, and she could not leave him.
"That's why I asked you to come over, my boy-so I can give you something important."
Standing, she walked slowly and stiffly to an antique sideboard and slid open a drawer. She reached inside, withdrew a small wooden box, and returned to sit beside Kalen. Handing the box to him, she nodded for him to open it.
Curious, he raised the little hinged lid and peered inside. "Wow," he said, touching the cool metal object. It was a silver pentagram pendant about the size of a silver dollar, attached to a matching chain. Excited, he lifted the necklace and studied the swirling design etched into the pendant. "A Sorcerer's amulet?"
"Awesome! This is mine?"
"Yes. It's been in my family for generations. The story goes that it was blessed by Druid priests to protect the wearer from all harm, no matter how great the source of evil." Again she hesitated, a shadow of sadness in her blue eyes. "It would've been your mother's, but she didn't inherit the gift. And then she married your father and he turned her mind against the arts and eventually against you. . . . Well, it doesn't matter now. It's yours. Perhaps I should've given it to you already, but I thought you were too young to understand the responsibility of owning it. Of taking good care of it."
And she'd given it to him today because she was running out of precious time.
The pendant shook in Kalen's grasp. "So I just wear it? That's all?"
"Wear it and never take it off, Kalen." Her bony fingers grasped his knee. "Not to shower, to sleep, to play ball or ride bikes. Not for any reason, ever. Is that clear?"
"Yes, ma'am," he croaked. Fumbling with the clasp, he lifted the necklace, reached behind his neck, and fastened it after a couple of tries. "There. Mission accomplished. I'm safe from all the creepaziods in the world." He tried a cheeky grin, hoping to lighten things up.
Grandma returned his smile, and though the shadows in her eyes remained, she seemed happy enough now. "That you are, little hellion. Run along and join your friends," she said with a throaty laugh. "You're practically vibrating with impatience."
Leaping to his feet, Kalen grabbed the box and gave his grandma a quick kiss as she rose. "Thanks! I promise not to take it off!"
The heavy visit at an end, he once again looked forward to his Saturday and all the promise it held. Jogging to the front door, he yanked it open. And suddenly stopped. Turning, he faced the woman he loved more than anyone on earth, hurried back to her, and impulsively threw his arms around her middle. Hugged her close and breathed in her sweet scent.
"I love you, Grandma."
"I love you so much, my boy. Always will." She kissed the top of his head. "Go on now, have fun. The day is wasting!"
Grinning at her, he turned and dashed out, down the porch steps, his heart light. He'd think about the bad stuff later. Everything would be cool. Right?
It might have been. If only he'd kept his promise.
And if only he'd known that the lingering warmth of her love, enveloping him like a cozy blanket as he pedaled away, would have to last him for the rest of his life.
Kalen Black stood apart from his team, awash in guilt. Impotent in his shame.
Right this second the Alpha Pack's beloved resident Fae prince, Sariel, might by dying. On top of that, Aric Savage's mate had nearly been killed a short while ago by the witch Beryl before Aric ripped out Beryl's throat, thereby putting an end to any information they might have gained from her.
The danger surrounding them all increased daily. Hourly. A traitor walked among Kalen's friends and colleagues, slowly drowning in the darkness clogging his lungs. Overtaking his soul.
And it's all my fucking fault . . . because the traitor is me.
As Aric tended to Rowan and the prince was rushed to the infirmary, Kalen hung his head. He tried to find comfort in the fact that Aric's mate was all right, but it didn't work. Then he wanted the earth to swallow him when Nick Westfall, the Pack's commander, ushered everyone into the conference room and demanded to know, "How the fuck did Beryl get out of Block T?"
"I let her out." His voice caught. "God, I'm so sorry-"
"Why? Did she seduce you, or was it Malik?"
Kalen died a thousand deaths during the questions that followed his confession and the truthful answers he supplied. In Kalen's wretched lifetime he'd suffered abuse and humiliation. Isolation. Starvation. More horrors than most people ever had to face.
But none of those were worse than almost achieving his dreams of a home, a job, a family of sorts, and most of all, acceptance among those who were as different as himself. Almost. Before Malik, king of the Unseelie and Sariel's evil sire, decided that Kalen Black-Sorcerer, Necromancer, and panther shifter-was exactly the sort of powerful ally he needed in his quest to rule the world.
And that he'd begin by taking over Kalen's mind. One wicked suggestion at a time.
Facing them all, Kalen whispered his admission. "Not her. Malik." He resisted the urge to squirm under Nick's hard gaze.
"He gained control of your mind long enough to make you let her out?"
"Yes, sir. I think Beryl spelled me back at the house where we caught her. My defenses are . . . crumbling. I can't keep him out for very long at a time."
The witch had placed a bloodied finger to the center of Kalen's forehead and whispered, "Abyssus abyssum invocat."
Hell calls hell.
"Jesus," Aric said, his tone dripping with horrified disgust.
The red wolf wasn't any more disgusted with him than Kalen was with himself. Though the spell wasn't Kalen's fault, and he hadn't known that Beryl would try to murder the Fae prince, it hardly mattered. He was to blame. He should've been stronger, even without the protection of his silver pentagram pendant. The one he'd given weeks ago to Dr. Mackenzie Grant, his onetime lover, and made her swear never to remove.
Nick cursed and rubbed his eyes. "Okay. We'll figure this out. At least now we have Malik's human name-Evan Kerrigan. Grant is tracking him down, gathering intel. With any luck we'll have his location and a complete profile soon."
The man Nick referred to was General Jarrod Grant, Mackenzie's father. Kalen wondered what the man would think of what Kalen had done to his precious daughter. He doubted the man knew-Kalen was still in one piece.
When Mackenzie walked into the room, her blue eyes briefly meeting Kalen's, they were filled with such pain it stole his breath. Kalen could feel nothing but self-loathing. As she looked quickly away, his gaze settled on the beautiful doctor, hungrily devouring the woman he could never have again, never allow into his mind or heart. The woman he had to protect at all costs from Malik.
"I'm sorry to interrupt, but we knew you'd want word of Sariel. We believe he'll recover." Murmurs of relief sounded around the room. "But he was already weakened from some health issues stemming from being in our world, so healing will take time. He's stable, though, so I wanted to pass the good news along."
"Thank you, Mac," Nick said, bringing Kalen back to the present. The doc returned Nick's tired smile and left.
Without looking at me again.
Nick went on. "All right. I need to speak to Kalen. We'll adjourn for now and discuss this mess later."
Nick nodded at Kalen, indicating for him to follow. He trailed the commander, wondering if he could take the man in a fight. Nick was tall and muscular, strode with his broad shoulders back, head up, all easy grace and confidence. Yeah, this man could walk the walk, but he also had the power and skill to back it up. Kalen had seen him take on dozens of enraged Sluagh, huge batlike creatures that were Malik's drones. Just swat them down like they were flies and spit on their carcasses. The man didn't need the gift of sorcery; he could definitely dispose of Kalen with brute strength alone.
Not that Kalen would defend himself. No. Whatever the white wolf chose to dish out, he deserved.
In Nick's office, the man closed the door and walked to his desk, parking his ass on the edge of it. With a sigh, he ran a hand through his short black hair threaded with silver at the temples and crossed his arms. "Sit down."