by Katie LaRae (@The_Katie_LaRae)
Editor: Maria Tureaud (@Maria_Tureaud)
Peace requires change, and change demands great sacrifice.
Seventeen-year-old Adara isn't like the other nobles of the Courts—not that they have the slightest clue. She’s a secret witch, a spy amongst them, and she's made it her life's mission to save her kind from the witch-hating royal family. Other than the occasional complicated prison break, things have been easy enough—until the crowned prince proposes, and her repressed power of fire awakens.
Adara would rather rot in a dungeon than marry the murderous prince. Besides, she’s in love with someone else: the Witch Queen’s son. But when he dies at the hand of the crown, a devastated Adara is more determined than ever to end the slaughter of her people. Risking her secret and her life, she swallows her morals and agrees to marry the prince if he changes the law—guaranteeing the safety of witches.
When he accepts her terms without a fight, she knows he can’t be trusted.
But the prince is playing with fire, and Adara is prepared to sacrifice everything to win.
HEART OF EMBER is a YA fantasy novel complete at 85,000 words. Written in a comparable style to A Court of Thorns and Roses and Shadow and Bone, HEART OF EMBER will appeal to fans of the tangled romances, snarky banter, and element-inspired magic found in both series.
I’m a debut writer with a B.A. in English, and when I'm not reading or writing, I can be found spending time with my family and baking lots of cookies.
First Five Pages
Another night, another prison. A chance to save innocents. To right past wrongs. But between me and the iron door at the end of the hall, between me and nine witches waiting to be rescued, was a soldier—his lantern a beacon in the dark.
Oh, for Kings’ sake.
I ducked behind an ancient pillar and pressed against the cold stone of the corridor wall, shadows devouring me whole. All things considered, the approaching soldier was a minor inconvenience. I’d faced worse odds in the Courts, surrounded by the very people who would kill me if they knew who I really was—what I really was. He was a mouse compared to wolves wearing fine clothes, glittering jewels and predatory smiles. Still, that mouse had a rifle.
Tugging the hood of my cloak, I sucked in a lungful of rotten air and silently prayed to Kings Past the shadows would conceal me.
With each step the soldier took, golden light carved away the darkness fraction by fraction, until the heat of that dancing flame caressed my cheek. Until his clomping boots drowned out the roaring in my ears. Until my heart stopped completely.
I was a shadow. I was darkness. I was the night. But he was there. He was right there. So close I could touch him. So close I could see the sweat beaded on his brow.
I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t do anything but press against the jagged stone wall until it hurt, praying he wouldn’t drag me away to a cell of my own. Oh Kings—those dead bastards better have been listening. They’d better do something for once, for me, before—
The soldier passed me none the wiser, his footsteps fading along with his lantern light.
Once the darkness swallowed me whole again, I slumped against the wall, my trembling legs threatening to give way. Taking a breath, I fought to steady my manic pulse.
A smarter person would have fled then, while they still had the chance. For Kings’ sake, a smarter person wouldn’t sneak into a prison at all. Of course, if a smarter person had written the damn laws, I wouldn’t have been there in the first place. And until a person with some sense wore the crown, until that terrible law was re-written, someone had to be foolish. Someone had to risk their life—someone like me.
Damn the soldiers. Damn the Crown. Damn the law. And damn those dead Kings, too.
With shaking hands, I fumbled for the flint matches waiting inside the breast pocket of my cloak, striking one against the rough wall. I lit my oil lantern, golden light blooming in the dark, and crept onward. The soldier would loop back soon. I didn’t have a moment to waste.
In a breath, I reached the door—the heart of Havinwood’s prison. I’d passed ordinary cells along the way, but the one I stood before now was solid iron—and beyond it, a room fashioned in the same manner. Not built of stone, but that poisonous, gift-stealing metal witches have feared since the beginning of time.
I reached into the front of my dress, pulled out the silver skeleton key I’d stolen from my father, and unlocked the wretched door. It swung out on groaning hinges, turning my blood to ice. I waited for an eternal heartbeat, and as panic squeezed my chest, I wondered what would happen to Marrian if I never returned home, what my father would do. If he’d punish her when he learned she helped me sneak out at night. Kings knew it wasn’t her fault, but he wouldn’t care—just another reason why I couldn’t afford to be caught.
Fortunately, no soldiers came to investigate the noise. And when my blood thawed, when I could move again, I killed the lantern flame and squeezed inside that vile cell.
Into an iron box.
Blue moonlight poured in from a small barred window at the top of the cell’s back wall—an almost empty cell. My stomach dropped when I saw only one prisoner chained to the floor. One prisoner—who looked up between shaggy locks of dark hair and smiled.
“Well, if it isn’t my favorite fire-weaver,” Rook drawled, sitting up as best as he could with the shackles on his wrists.
I wasn’t surprised to see Rook on the other side of an iron door—again. Getting captured was a bad habit of his, and warmth bloomed in my chest as it did every time I saw the brown-eyed wind-maker. But his smile wasn’t enough to make me forget why I was here. Eight witches were missing, and I knew for a fact my sources were correct. Servants knew everything.
“Where are the others?” I whispered, and his grin widened.
“They’re in good hands,” he said proudly. “Safe and sound in the Glade.”
I gaped at him. “You mean, you—”
“Beat you to it?” he interrupted.
“Freed nine witches,” I corrected.
He smirked. “How else do you think I got caught?”
I rolled my eyes, a smile of my own tugging at the corners of my mouth as I knelt down to free Rook from his shackles. Gripping the iron in a gloved hand, I retrieved my silver key.
“Perhaps you should be more careful next time,” I suggested. “To avoid being captured.”
“I would never get to see you otherwise.”
That was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever heard.
“You saw me just last week,” I countered, his first shackle falling away.
“That hardly counted. You weren’t in The Glade to see me. You were there to see Vera.”
“Well, if you’re ever the Witch King, I’ll make special trips to see you.”
He leaned in close until our breaths were one—or would have been, if I hadn’t been holding mine. Kings, he needed a bath.
“Only me?” he murmured.
Green eyes met brown, and the heat that swirled in his dark gaze spread through my blood, melting me like it always did. Reeking stench or not, my heart faltered in my chest.
“I’m sure that could be arranged,” I replied, my words little more than a whisper.
He leaned back, grinning broadly.
“I suppose that means I’ll have to kill my mother.”
I snorted. As if he could. The witch crown—a crown won by blood spilt, not blood inherited—sat on her head for a reason.
“My gold’s on Vera,” I replied, a smirk tugging the corner of my mouth.
Rook chuckled. “Mine, too.”
My smile grew, until his last shackle clanged against the floor.
I traced a pale finger across the ragged scars that marred the dark skin on his forearms. I’d seen them before—a hundred times, at least—but it still made my breath catch in my throat. The pain he must have endured—the torture—because he was a witch, like me. Because he was different.
“Don’t worry,” he said softly. “I can’t feel it anymore.”
It took most of my willpower to drag my gaze away. I tucked a wavy strand of black hair behind my ear as I stood and offered Rook my hand.
“Come on.” I cleared my throat. “We need to get out of here.”
He grunted as I pulled him to his feet, that easy smile of his never faltering.
“Lead the way, Little Raven.”
I didn’t want to let go, not when he looked at me that way, when certain thoughts consumed me.
But first we had to survive the night.
Pulling my hand from his, I snatched up my lantern and struck another flint match, reviving the flame behind the glass.
“Still can’t fire-weave, eh?” Rook said as I pulled the iron door open.
A muscle flickered in my jaw. It had been years since fire raced beneath my skin, since it warmed my blood. Now, it was buried somewhere in the depths of my soul—out of sight and out of reach. Maybe even gone for good.
“Are you sure you’re a fire-weaver?” he asked. “Maybe you’re a wind-maker and you don’t know it. Or a stone-mover.”
“I’m a fire-weaver,” I insisted, peering past the door.
Only darkness lurked beyond.
“How do you know?”
“Because I’ve woven fire before,” I retorted. “Now stop talking before you get us killed.”
He didn’t reply. Good.
I moved forward, not bothering to check to make sure Rook followed. His echoing footsteps said enough, and together, we crept down the stone corridor in silence.
For a few heartbeats, anyway.
“Adara,” he whispered.
I stopped at the sound of my real name, warmth blooming in my chest when Rook’s fingers intertwined with mine. When he gently pulled, I turned to face him. His other hand reached up and cupped my cheek, my eyes meeting his. And for the first time since I’d met Rook three years ago, the confident, swaggering witch looked uncertain. Worried. Afraid.
Then I heard it—an unmistakable click. The kind of click that could make even the most fearless soldiers beg for their lives, that could stop a heart in a breath—as it did mine.
I should’ve waited until I was back home, safe at my father’s manor before I cursed the Kings. Because as that rifle cocked behind me, those dead bastards held my fate in their hands.