Are you a Melissa Marr fan? Do you have a monthly spreadsheet on your computer of every YA/Fantasy/Fae novel releasing soon? If so, then we’ve got the read for you!
On the off chance that you haven’t yet checked out Marr’s Seven Black Diamonds, you’re sadly missing out. Last week, we gave Marr’s most recent release a temperature of 94 in our Heat Index column, writing, “Lilywhite Abernathy, daughter of a wealthy crime boss, has anything she could ever want at her fingertips, she also happens to be half-faerie, half-human. But on her 17th birthday, life changes and thrusts her into the world of the Black Diamonds, six half-humans just like her, who are determined to destroy the human race. Now positioned firmly in the middle of an ancient war and forced to be the seventh Black Diamond, Lilywhite just might be the only one that can stop the end of humankind and save her race in the process. I was mesmerized from page 1 to page 381 and didn’t want to ever leave the world that Marr created.”
Hooked yet? If we haven’t totally convinced you to either A) run to Target and grab a copy NOW or B) download it to your Kindle app, then here’s an excerpt of the first two chapters. You won’t be disappointed! Happy reading.
“You were created to serve.” The Queen of Blood and Rage sat on a throne inside her small throne room. The throne in this room was nothing more than wood and vine. It flowered at her will, but the blooms were absent today. The queen herself needed no ornamentation to evoke terror. Her eyes did that without any seeming effort from her. Today, she was worse than usual as she’d been preparing to spar when the Sleepers were brought before her. Her hair was bound back in a tight braid. Her hands were gloved, and she wore armor the color of battle-blackened blood.
Behind her on the wall were an assortment of sharpened blades, swords as well as axes and daggers. In front of her, kneeling on the bone-white floor, were five of her Sleepers, half-fae, half-humans who were created to serve as soldiers in her war on humanity. At the queen’s either side were her two living children, her Unseelie son Rhys and Eilidh, the queen’s daughter with the king of Seelie Court. No one else was in the room. The usually crowded chamber seemed almost cavernous with so few people present. Unlike many meetings, this one was secret. Neither of the courts knew of the queen’s Sleepers.
Eilidh wished she didn’t know either—especially when the girl kneeling in front of her mother said, “I’m not a murderer.”
“Truly,” the queen murmured.
Anyone who lived in the Hidden Lands would recognize that tone. Eilidh suppressed a wince. She was the queen’s heir, and whether or not she wanted to be the next in line to the Hidden Throne, Eilidh had a duty. She would stand in this small room with her mother and brother. She would witness the proceedings with an emotionless mien.
“I understand that we were born to serve your cause,” the girl said. “We all do.”
The five Sleepers behind her said nothing.
“We will not kill for you though,” the girl said. She was still on her knees, but her voice was strong, echoing slightly in the queen’s private throne room, despite the obvious danger in disobeying the Queen of Blood and Rage. The other five Sleepers remained silent. At least one of them looked as foolishly brave as this half-fae girl who was facing the queen.
Their silence condemned them.
Endellion ruled both the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, and even those fae-blood who lived outside the Hidden Lands. Possession of any fae blood was enough to be declared her subject—by decree of both fae and human law.
“Stand,” the queen commanded.
“You need to understand . . . I was raised as a human. We all were. You can’t expect us just to murder them. It’s—” “Them or us.” The queen spoke over her as she descended from her throne.
“I’m both,” the girl argued as she came to her feet. “My mother is human. There is no them or us for the Sleepers. Can’t you see that?”
The queen glanced at Rhys, her gaze conveying the order.
When Rhys walked toward the girl, Eilidh stayed beside the queen’s throne. Protocol was a part of life in the Hidden Lands, even in the tiny private room where there would be no living witnesses beyond the royal family. Eilidh’s role as heir was to observe the proceedings, to learn, to see what a queen must do for her subjects.
The girl stood, but she did not move.
Rhys could’ve made her. He was the queen’s most trusted guard and truest servant. If the queen wanted him to move the young half-fae, half-human girl, he would do so, but the queen held up her hand.
She stepped down and walked over to face the girl. “Do you speak for your whole team?”
Eilidh wanted to tell the girl, to tell all of them, to stop what was about to happen. Instead, she forced herself to watch, knowing that these moments were what defined a future queen. She didn’t ever want to take the Hidden Throne, but as she had so many times already, Eilidh swore to herself that she would be a different sort of ruler than her mother.
The girl lifted her head to meet the queen’s eyes. “I do. We are a unit, but not the terrorists you’ve tried to make us become.”
None of the other five people dissented when the queen’s gaze drifted over them. “So you all choose to be human rather than fae? So be it.”
In the next moment, a scream began and ended. One of the queen’s various blades sliced across the girl’s throat. Between one breath and the next, she was dead.
Eilidh didn’t let her wince show on her face. Showing her feelings was not something she was allowed to do, even when the witnesses would be soon dead. Weakness wasn’t ever acceptable.
Looking up from the body at her feet, the queen ordered, “Mind Eilidh’s safety.”
Rhys stepped closer to the heir of the Hidden Throne, as their mother glanced at the rest of the group.
In mere minutes, they were dead. They stood no chance against the queen. She had held the Unseelie throne for centuries and had bloodied her blade with every fighter who came close to being her equal. Even the Seelie King himself wasn’t so foolish as to raise a blade to her. Centuries ago, when she’d walked into his court, dripping with the blood of his best fighters, and had announced that they would mate and unify their courts, he simply acquiesced.
Standing in the room with her children, the floor strewn with bodies, Endellion sighed. “I need to speak to the other handlers. Most of the Sleeper cells are not performing as they need to be.” Her longsword was pointed at the floor; blood dripped from the fae-wrought steel to the stone floor. The queen herself wasn’t even winded. She sighed and said, “My jewels are the only Sleepers that haven’t needed to be eliminated . . . yet.”
“Why?” Eilidh asked before she could stop herself.
Her mother smiled. “Because they were created with a different level of attention.”
Eilidh had questions, but she didn’t bother asking. The queen shared only what she thought necessary. That was the privilege of ruling. Eilidh bowed her head and held her silence.
Rhys drew their mother’s attention then. “Shall I clean this or do you still want to spar?”
Endellion looked briefly at him and then back to her heir. “Eilidh will tend to this.You will spar with me. Come.” And then she walked away with no other word, leaving Eilidh with five dead bodies.
“You need to stop hiding and go downstairs.” Shayla stood in the doorway to Lily’s bedroom. Her long graying hair fell neatly over her shoulders instead of being bound into some kind of twist or held captive under one of her innumerable scarves. An elegant dress, no doubt by a runway designer, made her look like the lady of the house rather than Lily’s caretaker, assistant, governess, whatever-her-title-was-now.
“I know. I just don’t want to. Daidí knows I don’t like parties.”
Shayla’s entire attitude switched from sweet to stern. “You’re being honored. Act like it.”
Lily couldn’t meet Shayla’s eyes.
“You will put a smile on that pretty little face of yours and march yourself down there,” Shayla continued. “You’ll go thank your father for the party, and you’ll smile at the guests, and make a point to say hello to that Morris boy that’s going to sing.”
Despite herself, Lily smiled. Creed Morrison was in every tabloid, toured worldwide, and was even in a movie. As if being a rock star wasn’t enough, he had to add acting. He had been her fantasy since she’d seen her first photo of him—and now he was here in her home.
“Morrison,” she said. “His name is Creed Morrison, Shayla.”
Shayla waved her hand dismissively. “Whatever. Creed. Morris. Unless he is in one of those musicals your father gets me tickets to see, I don’t care.” She came over to stand in front of Lily and fussed with her hair, pulling at the curls, unpinning and re-pinning it in several places as she spoke. “What matters, Lilywhite, is that Nicolas brought the boy here to sing for you. So go be charming.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Lily leaned in and kissed Shayla’s cheek before heading toward the door. Once she was sure she was out of reach, she teased, “Maybe you ought to come down too and check on Daidí. Make sure he’s not under siege from one of the fripperies.”
“Your father can handle himself just fine with those girls,” Shayla said.
“Come on. For me?”
“Hmph.” Shayla didn’t bother arguing further. She went on in front of Lily, effectively buying her a few minutes of peace.
Shayla was the closest thing to a mother that Lily had.
Shayla and Daidí both swore that there was nothing romantic between them, but Lily kept hoping. Her mother had been gone for twelve years, and Shayla had filled her vacant place. They certainly functioned like a family. Shayla raised Lily when Daidí was off on business trips, and she looked after both of them when he was home.
Slowly, Lily walked through the hall, hating that she had to wear shoes, even though the tiny sandals were nothing more than a few strips of leather. She’d learned to tolerate shoes, but heels still made her feel wrong. Feet were meant to touch the earth, the floor, the sea. They weren’t to be locked away in prisons of leather or fabric. Sandals were the closest to normal that Lily had found, and tonight—surrounded by people—she needed the comfort of nearly bare feet.
At the top of the great staircase, just out of sight, Lily paused to smooth down the skirt of the dress she’d been given to wear. It wasn’t as fancy as Shayla would like, but the pale-green dress made especially for her was as flattering as any dress could be. An asymmetrical neckline and fitted bodice topped a skirt made up of layers of some sort of delicate material. Tiny stones sewn into the layers caught the light and shimmered as she moved. Lily didn’t have the heart to ask if they were real gems or not. It was easier to avoid an argument if she didn’t know. She’d already lost the fights about her bracelets. Obscenely expensive diamonds and emeralds dangled from her wrists and ears.
The short blade that Lily had sheathed in a hand-sewn leather holster under her ephemeral dress was real too though. Its weight made her feel secure despite the glittering facade. Lilywhite’s blade was a double-edged dagger that had been handcrafted for her. She wasn’t eager to use it, preferring the tidiness of her longer blades, but she could never be truly unarmed.
For all of her father’s protections, he’d also taught her that she was ultimately responsible for her own safety. The party was at her home, and the guests had all entered through a metal detector and been patted down, but she was the daughter of the head of one of the most successful criminal organizations in the world. That meant that, even here, she was armed.
Lily rounded the corner and started down the stairs. Her father looked up at her, and the pride in his face made her feel guilty for delaying. He smiled at her, and she knew that she’d been wrong to stall. Mingling at the over-the-top birthday party that Daidí insisted on this year was a little bit beyond terrifying, but he wanted to celebrate her birthday, so celebrate they would. These events layered civility and elegance onto their often violent world, and Lily knew well that the layer of softness was important—not just for how others saw the underworld, but for how the demimonde saw itself.
As she walked down the stairs, she could hear soft music in the ballroom. Soon, Creed Morrison would sing, but right now, a chamber orchestra played classical music that wove around the spaces between conversations. Servers circulated with finger foods and drinks. Usually, Lily stayed at her father’s side when she had to attend these sorts of things. Tonight, though, Daidí insisted that she talk to people her own age—other than just her friend Erik.
Erik was there, of course, but for Lily’s seventeenth birthday celebration, Daidí had invited all of his associates’ children, and he’d hired her favorite singer. It was perfect on paper, but Lily didn’t mingle with people her own age. She could escort Daidí to parties, play hostess of the manor as needed, make small talk with the leaders of the underworld, but around other teenagers—even those groomed in the odd etiquette of their society—she felt awkward.
And Creed Morrison? How, or even why, her father hired him for her birthday party was a mystery. He was only a year older than her, but he was already an international phenomenon. If he wanted to, Creed could have dropped out of school entirely. He’d never need the things that were taught in the classroom—any more than she would. Her curriculum consisted of drug routes, interrogation methods, and old family hierarchies.
Those lessons left her ill equipped for casual conversations, but they would be essential if she took over the family business. The social part didn’t come naturally to her. It never had, but she’d never be much of an asset to Daidí if she couldn’t handle her peers.
Smile firmly affixed, she descended the stairs until she reached the landing. Daidí stayed where he was, talking to one of the growers from the South Continent. As she walked through the black-tie crowd, Daidí’s associates smiled and wished her a happy birthday. Their children were a little less practiced in their false magnanimity, but they were far more polished than they’d been the last time Daidí had to insist on their socializing. Being Nicolas Abernathy’s heir apparent and a daughter meant that people her own age weren’t sure what to do with her.
Several boys nodded at her. The girls, however, kept their eyes carefully averted. Lily wasn’t like them. She wasn’t a bartering chip that would be used to strengthen ties to other organizations, nor was she sheltered from the ugliness of her father’s job. The boys acknowledged her, even though they weren’t sure if they should approach her as a potential date or as a future colleague. The one exception was her friend Erik. They’d shared a few kisses now and again, but under threat of retribution if any word of it was spoken.
Daidí knew, of course, as did Shayla, but they also understood that Erik didn’t occupy her heart. Instead, she fantasized about Creed Morrison and Zephyr Waters—celebrity darlings she suspected of sharing her same hidden, and illegal, heritage. She’d studied them in the magazines, but she’d had no intention of ever meeting them. That was part of their appeal. Having one of them here was not something she knew how to address.
Daidí didn’t mean to upset me. As she did with every- thing confusing in life, Lily thought through the Abernathy Commandments until she found her answer: Commandment #9: Be kind to those who deserve it. Her father deserved her kindness.
As she walked toward her father, her step was measured, and her smile was convincing. She might be filled with anxiety, but no one would know.
The crowd was manageable. Everything was okay. She could succeed at this if she thought of it like a regular business gathering.
She straightened her shoulders and sailed through the crowd—until Creed Morrison stepped into her path, stopping her advance, leaving her uneasy in a way no one ever had.
Creed had the beautiful dark complexion of the Seelie fae. The fae long thought to be both kinder and better were those whose skin was sun-burnished. Creed’s skin had the telltale signs of fae heritage, but Creed’s human father was African American, so Creed had a human excuse he could use to explain his Seelie-dark skin. Lily shared his heritage, but she’d inherited her father’s pale skin instead of her mother’s dark skin. Not all of the fae-blood were able to pass as human, not like Lily was.
“Lilywhite,” he said. She’d heard his speaking voice, listened to interviews for hours actually, but hearing her name from his lips made her unable to reply.
She nodded. Abernathy Commandment #2: Be yourself.
“I looked for you before the crowd arrived,” he said, as if they were friends.
In the tuxedo-and gown-filled room, Creed’s jeans, T-shirt, and boots were very out of place. The art etched on his skin stood out, more because it was visible than because it existed. He was far from the only person in the room with tattoos, but his weren’t hidden under sleeves or jackets. Creed Morrison demanded attention. It was a well- documented—and oft-photographed—fact. She’d read every article on him, clipped pictures from magazines and filed them away. It wasn’t an obsession; actually speaking to him was the last thing she wanted. She had suspected that he was fae-blood and wanted to understand how other fae-bloods lived. Now, seeing him in person for the first time, she knew. Now, he was here, and he was exactly what she suspected—and she wanted to flee.
She fidgeted with one of her bracelets, twisting it around her wrist, staring at the glittering green stones. “Had you needed something, Mr. Morrison?”
“Creed,” he stressed. “Creed,” she repeated quietly.
He smiled and said, “I wanted to wish you happy birth- day before I sing.”
Again, she nodded.This time, though, she looked up— and wished she hadn’t.
Creed was watching her with an utterly inappropriate intensity. If her father saw, he’d toss Creed out the door, despite the obscene sum he’d probably paid for his presence. Lily felt like her skin was electrified everywhere his gaze fell. She’d felt a tingle of recognition a few times when she’d seen other fae-bloods, but not like this.
Nothing had ever felt like this.
“I didn’t know you did these sort of things,” she finally managed to say. “Talk to beautiful girls at parties?”
“No. Sing for hire at parties,” she corrected him.
“I don’t.” He smiled, and she wondered how anyone ever thought he was anything other than fae-blood. He radiated energy. Maybe it was harder for people without fae ancestry to see it, but she’d glimpsed it even in photographs.
Lily resisted the urge to match his smile with one of her own and added, “Incidentally, flattering me is pointless. The sons of Daidí’s associates all try it to curry favor with him. I’m immune to praise.” She met his eyes, reminding herself who she was, reminding them both that she was not the shy creature she felt like in that moment when she’d first seen him. “The no-one-else-matters gaze is a nice touch, but Daidí hired you to perform. Tonight will be the beginning and the end of your contact with the notorious Mr. Abernathy, no matter what you do or say.”
“What if I want your favor?” Creed asked as he took a drink from a tray that a waiter held out to both of them.
Lily gave him a derisive smile, but said nothing.
Once the waiter was gone, and they were again alone in the crowd, Creed continued in a low voice, “You’re a hard girl to get to meet, Lilywhite. I took this job specifically to meet you. No publicity. No one outside of the guests here right now even knows I’m doing this.”
“Fantasies of the crime lord’s daughter on your arm to add to your image?”
Creed laughed. “Not quite.”
“I might not believe everything I read, but I’ve seen enough photos of you with different girls to know that you have two types: ones who add to your reputation and ones who are simply . . . unusual. I’m guessing your inter- est in Nick Abernathy’s daughter is about a fifty-fifty split between intrigue and business.”
Creed shook his head. “What if it isn’t Nicolas Abernathy’s daughter I wanted to meet, but Iana’s?”
Lily stilled. No one talked about her mother. It simply wasn’t done. Daidí’s considerable reputation for cold vengeance prevented it. “Those are dangerous words.”
“For people of our heritage, there are a lot of dangerous words,” Creed murmured as he leaned close and brushed a kiss on her cheek.
The feel of his skin on hers resonated through her body like she was a vessel for nature itself. If Creed Morrison’s words hadn’t confirmed that he was a fae-blood, his touch would have.
When he leaned back, he paused as if the contact had jolted him like it had her, but then a heartbeat later he was kissing her other cheek and saying, “If you want to talk privately later, I’d like that.”
Lily realized that he was pressing a small card into her hand. She curled her fingers around it so it wasn’t visible to anyone when he stepped back.
Whatever angle Creed Morrison had, Lily couldn’t risk honesty with him. The world was divided: humans made up most of the population, fae-bloods—those with any degree of fae ancestry—existed in secret in the human world, and true fae lived in the Hidden Lands. Possessing a drop of fae blood was enough to result in imprisonment within the human world, but the alternative was to to seek entrance to the Hidden Lands, to turn away from humanity. For many fae-bloods, it was safest to simply pass as human. The war carried out by the Queen of Blood and Rage meant that any of her subjects were considered war criminals by the human courts, even those who had not sworn fealty to the faery queen—or even met her.
“My only heritage is as Nick Abernathy’s heir,” Lily said levelly, suppressing the wince from the physical pain of the lie.
She was, in fact, more fae than human. She’d known that for years. Being so fae meant that the words hurt to utter, but admitting her ancestry to the wrong person could mean the kind of imprisonment that would try even the considerable limits of Daidí’s power. Lily wasn’t foolish enough to risk that with someone she’d just met.
“Liar,” Creed whispered.
“Fae-blood can’t be liars,” she said, twisting the truth just enough to ease the pain of a complete falsehood.
Creed’s expression went carefully blank and he said, “I’m not fae-blood either. Not a drop.” He paused, watching her study him, and then added, “You can learn to hide the physical pain of lying, Lilywhite; surely you know that as well as I do. I know what you are, what we are.”
There was nothing she could say to that, no retort that would disprove his blatant truth.
Creed glanced briefly at her hand, which was curled around his card so tightly that the edges of it were pressed into her skin. Casually, he reached out and trailed his fingers over the knuckles of her closed fist.
She concentrated on not reacting.
“Tonight,” he said. “Later. Anytime. I want to talk to you.”
“I don’t . . .” She looked down at her hand. “I don’t know why you think I’m . . . what you say I am.”
He stared so intently that she could swear she felt his gaze like a physical thing, but she refused to look at him as he said, “Impure water burns your throat. The wrong soap makes your skin blister . . . and alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, they all affect you so much more than they do other people, non-fae people.”
Lily kept her lips firmly closed. She still wasn’t admitting a thing, but she obviously didn’t need to. Creed wasn’t guessing. He knew. He’d known before he’d met her—as she had about him.
“You don’t need much sleep at all unless you have their toxic food,” he continued. “When you do, you feel weak and need to sleep for hours.”
She looked up finally.
“And I’d bet that you have a bit of yard that is meticulously upkept, no pesticides, no gardener allowed in it. You feel it there without needing to hide. Soil or air, water trickling under the earth, or stone humming secrets. You know what you are when you are connected to nature. You know what we are.” His voice grew soft, lulling her into a peace that she only ever felt outside. Suddenly, all Lily wanted was to sit and listen to him forever. There was magic in the way words slid from his lips, magic in the truth of them and in the boy speaking them.
She took a step closer to him.
“You like to stand on the bare ground, burrow your toes into the soil when you’re tired, feel the earth and its pulse beating to match your own. Nature calls to us, Lilywhite.”
Lily reached out and touched his wrist. She wanted to deny everything, but she couldn’t lie again. Not to him, not right now. Creed reached out and covered her hand with his.
She wasn’t sure how long they stood like that—or how long they would’ve stayed that way, but Daidí walked over and held out his hand to her. “Lilywhite.”
She moved to him obediently, grateful for the familiarity of being at his side at a party, grateful to have a routine to fall into instead of whatever was happening with Creed. Daidí extended a hand to the boy, who accepted it easily. “Mr. Abernathy,” he greeted, shaking Daidí’s hand briefly. “I’m glad I made an exception to my manager’s rules to be here to sing for Lilywhite.”
Daidí’s stiff expression flickered briefly to amusement at the reminder that Creed was there as a favor and a very expensive one no doubt. “My daughter likes your music, and there is nothing in this world I wouldn’t do for her happiness—or for her safety.”
Creed nodded, acknowledging the warning implicit in Daidí’s voice, and glanced at her again. “Any particular songs you want to hear, Miss Abernathy?”
The titles of Creed’s songs, some of which she’d listened to until she could pick them out after only a few notes, all fled her mind. “Surprise me.”
“Haven’t I already?”
Her eyes widened just enough that Lily was glad Daidí was frowning at Creed instead of scrutinizing her.
Creed smiled, a genuine soul-searing smile that she’d rarely glimpsed in the hundreds of photos she’d seen in magazines, and then with a nod to them both he walked toward the stage that had been set up for him.
At her side, Daidí was silent as they walked to the table at the front of the ballroom where she was to sit like a regent holding court. For all of her father’s suggestions that she mingle with those her own age, he still set her apart. Soon, his colleagues would come and give her gifts. Shayla would arrive and catalogue them, and Daidí would nod approvingly. Everyone would pretend that the people her own age who did approach her did so by their own choice. All the while, she would watch Creed sing for her as if private concerts from global celebrities were her due.
“He’s like you,” Daidí whispered as he seated her at the birthday table. It was a question as much as a statement.
On stage, Creed inserted a little earpiece into his ear and nodded at the man who was stationed to the side at a complex-looking control board. Creed seemed less intimidating now, like the unapproachable rock star in her fantasies. He was safer now that he was at a distance.
“I thought as much from the way you studied him in those journals,” Daidí said with a satisfied tone that made her glance his way.
She caught her father’s hand as he started to turn away. When she tugged him down beside her, he didn’t resist. She kissed his cheek as an excited daughter should and assured him, “I admitted nothing. I never have to anyone.”
“You can with him,” he said.
Daidí straightened again, saying no more, but she knew that her father had had his people thoroughly investigate Creed. No one was admitted to Abernathy Estates without thorough background searches.
As Creed started the opening chords to “Deadly Girl,” his eyes were fixed steadfastly on her and her father. She could feel his words like a lure.
Air. Creed Morrison’s affinity was air.
The articles she’d read all explained that fae-blood were typically associated with one element. Those of purer fae lines had a second. True fae had two or sometimes three. Nothing explained why she had four, and she’d never met another fae-blood she could ask.
Here, though, was one in her home.
The music covered Daidí’s words as he told her, “I want you to talk to him. If he doesn’t give you his contact information, I’ll have Shayla get it for you. You need to know more of your people. That’s why I brought him here.”
Lily glanced from her father to Creed and back again. “Happy birthday, Lilywhite,” Daidí said.
The real present wasn’t the party, or the jewelry, or even the concert. Her father had delivered Creed Morrison to her like a gift. All he needed was a bow.