I am beyond thrilled to bring you an EXCLUSIVE bonus scene from Sting of Thorns, the second story in Kristen Brand’s Dark and Otherworldly series. By now, you’ve probably heard me rave about the series, so you can imagine my absolute delight when Kristen Brand provided this amazing treat!!
About the Books
Poison and Honey: Leigh Morgan has known that magic existed ever since an unearthly monster abducted her sister. It’s why she’s in Otherworld now, posing as a servant in its dark, decadent palace. She’s gathering intelligence and working with a small band of allies to bring down the Others and free their human captives. Her mission depends on blending in, so the last thing she wants is to attract the attention of a cunning prince.
Dredarion Rath wants one thing: to disgrace his older brother and prove himself the worthier heir to the throne. And out of all the servants in the palace, he chooses Leigh to help him. Just her luck.
Now Leigh has to keep her work a secret from a bewitching man who sees right through her–and who’s not nearly as cold and inhuman as he seems. She can’t screw this up, or the humans forced into servitude will never go home. But juggling two conspiracies at once, it’s only a matter of time before it all comes crashing down, and the man she’s falling for has her executed for her betrayal…
Sting of Thorns: The fight is over, and Leigh Morgan won. After spending months spying in Otherworld as a servant, she’s rescued the humans who were abducted by the Others and sent them safely home. She had to stay behind to destroy the gateway between worlds and keep them safe, but tough luck. She’s prepared to pay the price.
But she didn’t expect the curse the queen of Otherworld lays on her: a thorny vine growing under Leigh’s skin that will kill her when it reaches her heart. The queen will lift the curse…if Leigh uses her connections in the human realm to locate a magical weapon lost hundreds of years ago.
To ensure she succeeds, the queen sends her son, Dredarion Rath, the cunning prince Leigh had to betray to save her people. With anger and hurt still fresh, they can barely stand to be in the same room together, much less cooperate on such a dangerous mission. But as Leigh’s friends risk everything to help her, she’ll have to find a way to reconcile with Dredarion before their quest gets her and everyone she cares about killed.
The mattress was soft, heavy blankets enveloping her in cozy warmth, and everything was perfect until Leigh rolled onto her side. Pain shot up her arm, wrenching her out of blissful half-consciousness with a gasp. She jerked up, hands clenching into fists as she searched the darkness for an attacker.
A hotel room met her gaze, empty except for her and Wendy, who stirred in the other bed but didn’t wake. As Leigh’s frantic heartbeat slowed, the adrenaline fading, she remembered.
She huffed, resisting the urge to pull the blankets over her head and hide from the world. She let her hands unclench, her right stinging as she felt warm, wet blood on her skin. She must have reopened her wounds.
Using her left hand, she groped for her phone on the nightstand. The screen lit up, showing she had six minutes until her alarm would go off.
No point trying to get back to sleep, then. She switched off the alarm and crept to the bathroom, not turning on the light until she’d closed the door behind her so she wouldn’t wake Wendy.
The room smelled of cleaning chemicals mixed with lemon soap and shampoo. The light bulbs were a harsh, bright white, washing out everything—or at least Leigh wanted to blame the lighting for the waxen face and heavy-lidded eyes looking back at her from the mirror.
The vine was still inside her, no overnight miracle having lifted the curse. Its dark coils snaked up her right arm, bulging under her skin. It had grown since last night, now reaching from her fingertip to her shoulder, black thorns shooting up from under her skin like macabre sprouts from soil. Crusty, dried blood covered her shoulder, flecks of it staining the edge of her tank top.
Her skin was red and swollen around the thorns that dotted her arm, though there was little fresh blood except on her hand, where she’d torn the half-healed punctures open again.
Her stomach was empty but still managed to give a sickened heave. The sight of her mutilated arm was almost worse than the pain, but there was nothing she could do about it now. She reached for one of the washcloths under the counter, turned on the faucet to dampen it, and began cleaning up the blood.
Her left hand was clumsy, and every time she pushed too hard or moved a centimeter too far, the pressure on the vine sent waves of hot agony through her. Plus, the washcloth kept getting caught on the thorns, the small tugs to pull it free feeling like hot needles stabbing her. After three minutes, she was trembling, woozy, and still bloody.
It was too early for this crap. She hadn’t even had a cup of coffee yet.
A soft knock came at the door, and Wendy cracked it open. Her fuchsia-dyed hair was ruffled, her eyes sleepy, and she winced at the sight of Leigh’s arm. “Need some help?”
Leigh’s glare would’ve had most people tugging the door shut and backing away, but not Wendy. She just gave Leigh a look. It was a mom look, one that said, “I love you dearly, but you’re being so dense right now.”
Leigh lowered the washcloth with a sigh. “Yes, please.”
Wendy walked gracefully inside, ignored the bloody washcloth in favor of grabbing a fresh one, and tended to Leigh’s arm like a veteran nurse who saw magical, murderous vines every day. Leigh stood in silence, the cool, wet cloth a balm against her fiery skin. She found herself staring at the cartoon kitten on the front of Wendy’s nightshirt, which was snoozing over the words “Cat Nap.” It made Leigh wish her own cat, Ninja, was there. She wouldn’t accept cuddles from a person, but Ninja was different. The cat wouldn’t judge her.
“How are you holding up?” Wendy was trying for a casual tone, but it sounded forced.
“Eh,” said Leigh, who hated talking about her feelings at the best of times.
“We’re going to find a way to fix this. You know that, right?”
Or we’re all going to die, Leigh thought, though she wasn’t so tactless that she said it aloud.
Wendy seemed to hear it anyway. “Hey.” She set down the cloth, looking Leigh straight in the eye via the mirror. “You’re going to be okay. You’ve got us on your side, right? That’s two honest-to-goodness wizards, a man who’d be badass enough even if he wasn’t a werewolf, and me—”
“—a genius,” Leigh finished.
“I was going to say ‘a woman who never met something she couldn’t explode,’ but sure, I’ll take it.” She flashed Leigh a quick grin and then picked up the washcloth again, dabbing away the last few drops of blood. “Look, my point is… I know you’re used to being the one who saves all of ourbutts, but that doesn’t mean we can’t return the favor. You got it?”
Throat suddenly scratchy, Leigh had to swallow. “I got it.”
“Good.” Wendy tossed the blood-stained cloth into the trash can, making the bathroom look like a poorly cleaned murder scene. “Then let’s get downstairs before all the good stuff is gone from the breakfast buffet.”
She headed back into the bedroom to grab her stuff. Leigh gave her sallow, haunted reflection one last glance and then followed.