Yield the Night by Annette Marie


  Kindra appeared again, this time behind the second last man, and grabbed his head, clearly intending to break his neck.

  The last man whirled to face his comrade—and opened fire.

  Piper screamed. Kindra fell backward, the man she’d been about to kill collapsing on top of her, riddled with his companion’s bullets. Neither moved.

  The last man spun around and leveled his gun at Piper’s chest. She braced for the blazing agony of bullets.

  But he didn’t fire.

  “I don’t believe it,” he said flatly. He glanced swiftly over his shoulder. “Sergeant!”

  Piper looked in the same direction. Three more men were running toward them, clutching their weapons and breathing hard. They slowed as they drew near and raised their guns toward Piper as their eyes scoured the bloody scene.

  “What the hell happened?” one of them barked.

  The man who’d shot Kindra didn’t immediately answer. He was still staring at Piper, his face hidden behind a black ski mask, the barrel of his gun barely a foot from her chest. Cold rain peppered them, the flickering flames of the Consulate fire reflecting off the wet metal of the gun. Her gaze darted from the dark heap that was Kindra beneath a dead man, and back to the man who’d killed her. Tears stung her eyes. Rage closed her throat. Her right hand clenched and unclenched. If she only had the Sahar, she would show these bastards what a real explosion looked like.

  “What happened?” the leader demanded again.

  The guy in front of her snapped out of his reverie.

  “Do you know who this is?” he asked, the words edged with an emotion she couldn’t name—something between fury and fear.

  “No idea.”

  “That’s Piper Griffiths.”

  “What?” The leader peered at Piper. “Are you sure?”

  “Of course I am,” the man retorted.

  “What’s she doing here? She wasn’t supposed to be here.”

  “Holy shit,” another muttered. “Good thing she didn’t die.”

  Piper looked between them, confusion battling fright.

  The one who’d recognized her lifted his rifle and rested it on his shoulder. With his free hand, he grabbed the bottom of his ski mask and pulled it up to reveal a cold, angry sneer.

  Her heart skipped in her chest.

  “Fancy seeing you again,” he said. “Last time we met you left me to die in a burning Consulate. Shame I couldn’t return the favor.”

  She stared, barely able to comprehend what she was seeing—who she was seeing. The first time she’d met him, his smile had been friendly and open, his sandy hair a little longer and his face smooth with carefree youth. Shortly after that, she’d strangled him unconscious so she could rescue her uncle.

  His name was Travis. And he was a Gaian.

  CHAPTER 3

  PIPER stared at the bare wall across from her and wondered why the hell these things kept happening to her. Abducted again, less than twelve hours after arriving home. It wasn’t fair.

  Beneath her disgust at her awful luck, fury and fear simmered. Fury at the Gaians for destroying her home. For killing Marcelo and the two daemons in the basement. Above all, fury at Travis for killing Kindra.

  Fear twisted her stomach because she didn’t know what was going to happen next. But she wasn’t terrified. She wasn’t trembling. It was hard to fear the Gaians, who had already revealed they had no plans to kill her. Her last abductor had been a thousand times more terrible. The Gaians might be capable of murder but Samael had turned torture and killing into an art.

  After capturing her, Travis and the others had taken her to their vehicle. She’d been bound and blindfolded for the three-hour—by her best guess—drive. Still blindfolded, she’d been led into a building and dropped off inside her new accommodations: a closet. A big closet, but still a closet. Likely in a basement since they’d gone down some stairs and the air was dank in her nose. She wasn’t tied up anymore, which was nice. But she couldn’t break the lock on the door or otherwise get out, which wasn’t so nice.

  She sat with her back against the far wall, watching the door. Light leaked in from the gaps around it. She sighed. She must be jaded; being kidnapped just didn’t faze her anymore. Or maybe she was still in shock from surviving the attack on the Consulate.

  Letting her head fall back against the wall, she twisted the leather band around her wrist, thinking about Ash and Lyre. Her hand drifted toward her pocket where Lyre’s note was tucked away. What would he do when she didn’t show up and he discovered the destroyed Consulate? What then? The questions circled in her head, and a few hours of worrying passed before footsteps sounded in the hallway. A key slid into the lock. The handle turned.

  Piper squinted as the door opened, flooding the room with light.

  “Piper!”

  A silhouetted form swooped down on her.

  “Sweetheart, are you okay? Are you hurt?”

  Arms clamped around her, squeezing the breath out of her.

  “Mom?” she wheezed.

  “Of course, Piper.” Mona leaned back and, her vision adjusting to the light, Piper saw tears in her mom’s hazel eyes. “I’m so glad you’re all right. I almost fainted when they told me you were inside the Consulate.” She stood up and tugged on Piper’s hand. “Your clothes are filthy, sweetie. Let’s get you into something more comfortable.”

  Piper followed her mom out of the closet, glancing in bemusement at the concrete walls and floor of the hall. Free from her cell already. That had been easy. A man and a woman, both clad in black like Travis, stood in the hallway, their stares suspicious.

  “Come along, Piper,” Mona said cheerfully. “Ignore them. You aren’t a prisoner.”

  Piper’s eyebrows shot up. Not a prisoner, really? She followed her mother down the hall, their escorts keeping pace behind her. Emotions roiled, threatening to crack her cool facade. It had been over three months since she’d seen her mother, and before that, she’d thought her mother was dead. She still hadn’t come to grips with this new mother: a Gaian leader.

  Piper had no idea what sort of building they were in but she was surprised when Mona led her to an elevator. She pushed the call button and the doors opened. The four of them got in and Piper saw all of the buttons—twenty-five, to be exact. She hadn’t expected the building to be this large. Mona pressed the button for Floor 12 and the doors closed. Piper suppressed a cringe as the elevator rattled and creaked upward, shuddering to a stop after a painful two minutes.

  The doors opened and they stepped inside a drab hallway. It soon opened into a wide space filled with rows of dusty cubicles; headsets lay on desks as though the workers would be back at any moment. The computer equipment had long since been poached but who needed a hundred cheap headsets?

  “Where are we?” she asked.

  Mona smiled over her shoulder. “We’ve had possession of this building for some time. This is home. We’ll get you a real room soon, but this will have to do for now.”

  They passed the sea of cubicles and entered a hall lined with office doors. Mona opened the one at the end. Piper warily walked in, eyeing the dust-coated executive’s desk in the corner. A new cot had been set up along the wall, with a cardboard box sitting on top of the folded blankets. Glancing back at her mother, she stepped up to the window and pulled down the horizontal blinds to peek out. The city beyond was cloaked in near darkness, skyscrapers silhouetted against the faint light of the approaching dawn.

  The door closed and Piper turned. The two nameless guards had left. Mona sat on the cot and patted the spot beside her. Piper reluctantly sat with a strong sense of déjà vu—sitting on the sofa beside her mother while they had their first conversation in nine years.

  “I know your belongings were destroyed,” Mona said, her forehead crinkling. “I collected some clothes for you, just something for the time being. Hopefully some of it will fit.”

  Piper gave a stiff nod, not prepared to offer any thanks yet.

  “Sweet
heart ...” Mona folded her hands in her lap and sighed. “You probably have some questions.”

  “Yup,” she replied with cutting nonchalance. “Let’s start with why the Gaians blew up my Consulate. I almost died. Another Consul and three daemons did die. Did I mention the third daemon was shot to death by one of your guys? Oh, and did I mention that guy shot another Gaian while he was at it?”

  Mona sighed again. “It’s all for the greater good, Piper. You weren’t supposed to return from Westwood Academy until late this morning.”

  “I was early.” Piper shook her head. “I can’t believe you destroyed the Consulate. What if Father and Uncle Calder had been there? Maybe you don’t care but they’re my family.”

  Mona’s eyes widened. “I would never hurt you like that. We knew they weren’t there. That’s why we picked tonight. I wouldn’t let your father and uncle be killed, sweetheart. I wouldn’t do that to you.”

  She decided it wasn’t the best time to analyze her mother’s moral spectrum, where “don’t upset your estranged daughter” ranked higher than “preserve human life.” Taking a deep breath, she struggled to keep her emotions on a tight leash. When she had spoken to her father about the things Mona had said during their previous encounter, Quinn had informed her that Mona was insane. Piper didn’t know whether that was true but there was a good chance her mother was a few cards short of a full deck.

  “So what’s the grand plan?” she asked, her voice cool. “What’s the justification for all the murder?”

  “Fewer daemons have died this week than humans killed by daemons last month,” Mona replied sharply. She paused. “We need to talk.”

  “We are talking.”

  Mona gave her a long look. “About your future.”

  “You want me to stay with you.”

  Mona nodded. “I want you to join me. Join the Gaians.”

  “Look, Mom—”

  She held up a hand. “Piper, just listen. I know you don’t agree with some of the things we’ve done. Maybe you don’t agree with our goals. But you’ll come to understand them. We can be a family. Not just you and me, but all of us. You belong with us. You belong here.”

  Piper shook her head, her chest tightening. Belonging was a dream she thought she’d given up on a long time ago, but Mona’s words had more effect than she would have anticipated. As a magic-less haemon in a world of magic, she’d never been good enough for her father, the other Consuls, or daemons.

  But belonging with the Gaians? They hadn’t seemed like one big happy family when Travis was shooting his partner.

  Mona stood up. “I’m sure you’re tired; you’ve been up all night. We can talk again later in the day when I give you a tour.” She beamed. “I’m so glad you’re here. And so glad you’re safe. Oh—and happy birthday, sweetheart!” She leaned down and hugged Piper.

  Piper nodded, mumbling, “Good night.”

  Mona closed the door behind her, and a moment later, the lock clicked into place. Not a prisoner indeed.

  Heaving a sigh, she moved the box onto the floor, unable to work up enough energy to look inside it. She lay on the cot, exhaustion crashing over her. Twenty-four hours ago, she’d been sleeping in her dorm room, dreaming about being home. Twelve hours ago, she’d been walking into the Consulate for the first time in two months.

  Now, the Consulate was gone and Piper was a prisoner—of her own mother. Whatever Mona might say, Piper knew she wouldn’t be allowed to leave. The locked door was enough of an indicator. She would never be given her freedom, not now that she knew where they were hiding a major base of operations.

  Even if someone figured out who was behind the attacks, no one would know where to look for her. An image rose in her mind of Lyre standing in front of the smoldering remains of the Consulate, wondering where she was.

  She closed her eyes and a bitter smile tugged at her lips. A prisoner she might be but one thought comforted her: no matter how bad the Gaians were, they couldn’t be as bad as Samael.

  . . .

  Mona was irritatingly perky when she woke Piper that evening. Her mother just didn’t seem to get that Piper wasn’t a fan of her new prisoner status—whether or not Mona wanted to admit that her daughter was a captive. Piper tried not to scowl too obviously as she followed her mother through the building. A new pair of guards once again trailed in their wake.

  “This floor is the communal area for our residents.” Mona waved a hand at the massive open space on the fourteenth floor.

  A few dozen people were scattered about the four areas: kitchen, living room, workout/games, and some kind of practice area. Three children around ten years old were sitting on a sofa, giggling over something Piper couldn’t see. A few nearby adults glanced curiously at Piper. As her mom led her to the practice area, she tugged self-consciously at the end of her ponytail. A shower would have been nice but she hadn’t been given that option yet. At least she had clean clothes instead of looking like she’d been dragged through a fire pit.

  The pickings in her box of clothes had been slim. Her shorts had begun life as jeans and the person who’d wielded the scissors hadn’t done a very neat job. The only other option had been men’s sweatpants, so she’d chosen to deal with the tickly white threads hanging off the shorts. Her red top had been protected from the dirt and smoke by her hoodie so she’d kept it on, layering on a loose-knit sweater with black and grey stripes, an oversized hood, and a plunging V-neck.

  “This is the practice area for magical self-defense,” Mona explained, gesturing. “Our more experienced members teach the newer ones.”

  They stopped to watch. The teacher had her students, varying in age from teenagers to forty-somethings, lined up in a row facing stacks of cardboard boxes. At her call, they made wild throwing motions. Three-quarters of the boxes went flying into the wall behind them. The teacher applauded.

  Mona smiled. “As you can see, a beginner class. Did you know the majority of haemons born to human parents are never taught how to use their magic? Many, especially the younger ones who live here, left their families to find others like themselves. Some of them didn’t even know what they were until we found them.”

  Piper blinked. She’d had no idea.

  “This class has only been practicing for a couple of weeks. Their control is improving quickly.” Mona started walking again, heading for the kitchen where a few people were clustered around the table with plates of food. Two massive pots were steaming on the stove and other dishes sat on the counter, waiting for the hungry hordes to descend.

  “We take in a lot of teenagers,” Mona continued, pointing her chin at a pair of girls in their mid-teens discussing something over their dinners. “They often run away from home, unable to fit in with humans. Or, if they don’t know their true parentage, they’re unable to understand what’s happening to them and go looking for others in the same situation.”

  Piper nodded slowly. It made sense. Daemons almost exclusively disguised themselves with glamour while on Earth; many women probably had no idea their one-night-stands had actually been with a daemon. How would she know to warn her child about the inevitable onset of magic at puberty? Having grown-up with daily exposure to haemons and daemons, Piper had never given much thought to what it was like for haemons born into a human family in an all-human community. For rural towns especially, daemons were an exotic rarity one never expected to see and weren’t entirely sure existed.

  “We have a network in place for abandoned infants.” Mona glanced at Piper. “When we find them, we place them with couples here. Since we don’t allow haemons to reproduce together, we have many eager adoptive parents.”

  “People abandon their babies?” Piper mumbled. Another thing she’d never thought about. Gaians not allowing their members to have children together made sense; for haemons who could reproduce—not many, as the majority was as sterile as mules—they risked a fifty percent chance of having a female child who would die before reaching puberty. Piper was the only female alive
with two haemon parents.

  “Yes, more frequently than you’d imagine,” Mona answered. “Many humans don’t want haemon children and conceived unintentionally, without knowing their partner was a daemon, or as a result of force. Mothers will often leave their newborns at medical centers. We take them all and ensure the children grow up loved in a community that welcomes them.”

  She looked at Piper, gauging her reaction. “Then there are the female daemons who accidentally become pregnant. We suspect the majority of their newborns are never found, but the ones we hear about, we take in as well.”

  Piper nodded again, unsure what to say. She wasn’t ready to admit that the Gaians did some good things, not after what they’d done last night, but she honestly couldn’t find any faults in their efforts to protect haemon children and create homes for haemons who’d been rejected by human communities.

  They stopped beside the long, banquet-style table. Mona gestured around the room.

  “Those who live here don’t have any other home. The majority of our members live normal lives in human communities, but for those without homes, we make space as best we can. It’s not perfect but we’ve tried to make it as comfortable as possible. We have several facilities like this across the country.” She patted the table. “Why don’t you sit and have some dinner? I have some things to take care of. Just hang out here for a bit and I’ll come get you soon.”

  “Okay,” Piper agreed. It wasn’t really a choice. Mona gave her a quick hug and hurried off.

  Her two shadow guards sat a little ways away and picked up newspapers from the piles scattered across the table. She shot them a narrow-eyed look, not buying their casual act for a minute. One of the two flicked a glance at her, meeting her stare with dark eyes. He was well built, with pale hair somewhere between blond and ashy brown. He held himself like a man who knew how to fight.

  They stared at each other for a heartbeat longer before he turned back to his newspaper. Her escape plans would have to take him into consideration; she wasn’t sure she wanted to go head to head with him. He gave her a bad feeling.

 
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