More than she wanted a slave to do her bidding, she wanted those stories. Needed those stories. Because she and Bianka were twins, they were constantly teased about sharing what had been meant for one. Beauty, strength, anything, everything. As if they each had only half of what they should.

I’m enough, damn it! And I will prove it.

She would take the man here, now, in front of everyone.

Nearly bursting with urgency, Kaia turned to her sister and cupped her wind-pinkened cheeks. Worry consumed Bianka’s delicate features, but that didn’t stop Kaia from saying, “Allow no one to pass this point. I’ll only be a moment.”


“Please. For me, please.”

Unable to resist, her sister sighed. “Oh, all right.”

“Thank you!” Kaia kissed her right on the mouth then marched away before the sweet-tempered darling could change her mind. She palmed a dagger. The men pretended not to notice her as she shoved her way past them, and not a single protest was uttered. Good. Already they feared her.

When she reached the object of her young desire, she posed as she’d seen her mother pose a thousand times before. Hip cocked to the side, a fist resting on top, the blade of the dagger pointing outward.

The man sat on a stump, his elbows propped on his scabbed knees. His head was slightly bent, his inky hair falling over his forehead.

“You,” she said in the human tongue. “Look at me.”

Through the tangled locks, his dark gaze lifted and leveled on her. He was handsome, she supposed. Each of his features appeared to be chiseled from stone. He had a blade of a nose, sharpened cheekbones, thin but red lips and a stubborn chin.

Up close, she realized his chains were wrapped around his wrists and only his wrists, a metal link stretching between the two. Nothing bound him to a post. Either Juliette had no idea how to properly restrain a captive or the man was weaker than Kaia had assumed.

Disappointing, but she wouldn’t change her mind now.

“You’re mine,” she told him boldly. “Your previous mistress might try and fight me for you, but I’ll defeat her.”

“Is that so?” His voice was deep and husky, seemingly layered with thunder and lightning. She repressed a shudder. “What’s your name, little girl?”

Her teeth gritted together, her momentary apprehension forgotten. She wasn’t a little girl! “I’m called Kaia the… Strongest. Yes, yes. That’s what I’m called.” Titles were important among the Harpies, chosen by the tribe leaders, and while Kaia had yet to receive hers, she was absolutely certain her mother would approve of her choice.

“And what exactly do you plan to do with me, Kaia the Strongest?”

“I’m going to force you to meet all my needs, of course.”

He arched a brow. “Such as?”

“Doing my chores. All of my chores. And if you don’t do them, I’ll punish you. With my dagger.” She wiggled the weapon in question, the silver blade glinting lethally in the sunlight. “I’m quite cruel, you know. I’ve killed humans dead before. Really dead. So dead they even hurt afterward.”

He didn’t flinch at the weapon or at her implied threat, and she fought a wave of frustration. Then she consoled herself with the knowledge that most humans had no true concept of a Harpy’s skills. Clearly, he was one of the uninformed. Because he himself couldn’t lift a thousand-pound boulder, he probably couldn’t fathom anyone else doing so.

“When shall I begin these new duties?” he asked.


“Very well, then.” She had expected an argument, but he unfolded his big body from the stump. Gods, he was tall, forcing her to look up…up…up.

She wasn’t intimidated, though. While training, she’d fought beings a lot taller than him and won. Well, maybe they’d only been a little bit taller. Fine, they’d all been shorter. She wasn’t sure anyone was as tall as this man. No wonder Juliette had claimed him.

Kaia grinned. Her first solo raid, in broad daylight no less, and she would be leaving with a prize among prizes. She’d chosen well. Her mother would find no fault with the man, and might even want him for herself. Maybe after Kaia finished with him, she would gift him to Tabitha.

Tabitha would smile at her, thank her and tell her what a wonderful daughter she was. Finally. Kaia’s heart skipped a beat.

“Don’t just stand there.” Before the male had time to reply, she rushed behind him, wings flapping frantically, and pushed him. “Move.”

He stumbled forward, but quickly managed to catch himself. With his head held high, he marched the distance. Just before he reached the edge of the enclosure, however, he stopped abruptly.

“Move,” she repeated, giving him another push.

He remained in place, not even twisting to face her. “I can’t. This clearing has been encircled with Harpy blood, and the chains prevent me from leaving without suffering severe pain.”

Her gaze narrowed on the muscled width of his tanned back. “I’m not a fool. I won’t remove your chains.” Plus, she wanted him docile while she paraded him through camp, not vying for freedom. When Juliette discovered what she’d done, a challenge would be issued. Kaia would need her attention focused, not divided.

“Removing my chains isn’t necessary.” Not by tone or deed did he reveal a hint of his emotions. “Simply add your blood to the circle already there, then smear a drop on the chains, and you can lead me across without any problems.”

Ah, yes. She’d heard of blood-chains before. They trapped the wearer within the confines of the circle, however wide or small that circle was, and only a Harpy’s blood could negate the restriction. Any Harpy’s. “Good idea. I’m glad I thought of it.”

She surveyed the Harpy camp. No one had noticed her, but Bianka was nervously shifting from one foot to the other, looking from Kaia to the camp, the camp to Kaia, her gaze pleading.

With swift precision, Kaia used her dagger to slice her palm. The sharp sting barely registered. After adding her blood to the crimson ring on the ground, she smoothed her weeping flesh over the cool links of metal between the man’s wrists. That done, she raced behind him a second time and pushed.

He stumbled past the circle, paused to shake his head, stretch his spine, flex his shoulders. No matter how hard she pushed this time, she couldn’t budge him. Then he turned back and grinned at her. Before she could reason out what was happening, he had his hands wrapped around her neck, her feet lifted off the ground.

Her eyes widened as he choked the life out of her with a power no human should have possessed.

Despite her lack of air, fogging brain and burning throat, realization struck. He wasn’t human.

Hatred suddenly poured from him, his dark eyes swirling hypnotically. “Foolish Harpy. I might not be able to break these chains, but that circle was the only thing preventing me from rampaging through the camp. Now, all of you will die for the insult delivered to me.”

Die? Hell, no! You have a dagger. Use it! She tried to stab him. Laughing cruelly, he batted her hand away.

In the background, she heard Bianka shriek. Heard footsteps pound as her sister hurriedly closed the distance. No, she tried to shout. Stay back. Then her thoughts fragmented as the man choked harder, tighter.

A black wave swept her into a sea of nothingness.

No, not nothingness. Screams echoed…so many screams… Grunts, groans and growls. The slide of metal against flesh, the pop of breaking bones, the sickening sound of wings being ripped from their slits. The nightmarish symphony lasted hours, perhaps days, before at last quieting.

“Kaia.” Callused hands wrapped around her upper arms and shook her. “Awaken. Now.”

She knew that voice… Kaia fought her way from the sea, her eyelids fluttering open. A moment passed before her mind cleared and the darkened haze faded. Through a sliver of moonlight, she saw a blood-soaked, scowling Tabitha Skyhawk looming over her.

“Look what you’ve done, daughter.” Never had her mother’s timbre lashed so harshly—and that was saying something.

Though she wanted to refuse, she sat up, grimaced as pain lanced through her neck to attack the rest of her, and shifted her gaze, studying the camp. Bile rose. Harpies and…other things floated in rivers of scarlet. Weapons lay on the ground, useless. Strips of cloth from decimated tents had caught on tree branches and now waved in the wind, a sad parody of white flags.

“B-Bianka?” she managed to gasp, her voice raw.

“Your sister is alive. Barely.”

Kaia pushed to shaky legs and met her mother’s amber eyes. “Mother, I—”

“Silence! You were told not to enter this area, and yet you disobeyed. And then, then you tried to steal another woman’s consort without gaining my permission.”

She wanted to lie, to preserve her dream of the coming accolades. She found she could not. Not to her beloved mother. “Yes.” Tears stung her eyes, that dream quickly flaming to ash inside her. “I did.”

“Do you see the destruction behind me?”

“Yes,” she repeated softly.

Tabitha showed her no mercy. “You alone are responsible for the travesty this day.”

“I’m sorry.” Her head fell, chin resting against her sternum. “So sorry.”

“Keep your sorries. They cannot undo the anguish you have caused.”

Oh, gods. There was hatred in her mother’s voice now. True, undiluted hatred.

“You have brought shame to our clan,” Tabitha said, ripping the medallion from Kaia’s neck. “This, you do not deserve. A true warrior saves her sisters. She does not endanger them. And so by this selfish act you have earned your title. From this moment on, you will be known as Kaia the Disappointment.”

With that, Tabitha turned and walked away. Her boots splashed in the blood, the sound echoing crudely in Kaia’s ears.

She fell to her knees and sobbed like a child for the first time in her life.