Grave War by Kalayna Price

Chapter 1





The first time a blade pressed menacingly against my throat, I experienced the obligatory life-flashing-before-my-eyes panic reaction. The hundredth time, as my back hit the wall and the cold edge of the dagger pressed against my skin, all I felt was annoyed. And exhausted.

            “Yield,” I said, huffing out the word and letting my own dagger drop to my side as I tried to catch my breath.

            The man wielding the offending dagger frowned at me, his icy blue eyes narrowing in displeasure. “You can’t yield, Alex.”

            I glared at him. He didn’t even have the decency to look winded, and there wasn’t a single white-blond hair out of place under the thin shimmering circlet on his brow. I, on the other hand, was a hot mess after spending the last hour getting my ass handed to me. This had not been what I’d been expecting for the evening. Which was why the little black dress I’d worn was currently riding up to an almost indecent level on my thighs. Not that my date had noticed. He was far too busy kicking my butt. Sorry, I mean teaching me self-defense.

            My name is Alex Craft, and my specialty is raising shades, not hand-to-hand combat. Or any kind of combat, for that matter. For most of my life, that fact hadn’t been an issue. I was a private investigator, but until about seven months ago, most of my clients needed nothing more than a graveside conversation with the deceased. Since then? Well, life had been considerably more dangerous, and I was set to start my probationary trial as lead investigator for the local Fae Investigation Bureau, so I needed more than mere self-defense sparring. But come on, I’d worn pantyhose for this date.

            “I’m exhausted. Yield.”

            “If this were a true fight, you’d be dead. Now get your dagger up and figure out how to get out of this position.”

            I sighed. It was my own fault. I’d been the one who’d agreed to date a Faerie king. Currently that relationship was on the down low because in Faerie, the strongest took what they wanted and being perceived as standing between some other fae and the potential affection of a king? That could be deadly.

            I gave a disparaging glance at the dagger in my hand. Like the one at my throat, the blade was dull, the tip rounded. Then I sucked in one more deep breath and kicked out, aiming for my opponent’s knee as I angled the dagger toward his ribs. I missed both strikes when he stepped to the side. The pressure of the blade at my throat increased.

            “And your throat has been slashed. Again.”

            Of course it had.

            Falin Andrews, formerly the Winter Knight and quite newly the king of the winter court, stepped back, shaking his head as he withdrew the dull dagger. I blew air through my lips hard enough to dislodge the curls that had slipped in front of my eyes. Despite the ice coating the walls and floor around us, and the snow that fell above us, vanishing before it ever reached me, sweat beaded on my skin, making the already clingy black dress stick to me. My arms were sore, my legs aching, and even though I knew Falin was holding back, I would have bruises on top of bruises tomorrow.

            Falin took several steps backward, ending with his legs slightly spread, his weight distributed evenly as he lifted his dagger. “Again.”

            “How long are we going to keep this up?”

            “Until you score a hit.”

            One hit. It didn’t sound like much. Except that it was.

            “We’ll die of old age first,” I muttered, earning another downward twitch of his mouth. Of course, we were both fae so were theoretically slotted to live a very long time, but with him being Faerie’s youngest ruler and me being, well, me with my propensity for near-death experiences, either one of us would do well to live to something fae considered middle age.

            “This is totally not why I shaved my legs.”

            That statement made him pause. His eyes raked down my body, finally noticing how high our sparring had lifted my skirt. A wicked smile that did funny things to my stomach crossed his face, and he lifted an eyebrow. “And I will make sure to show my appreciation for that selfless act later. But first,” he said, lifting his free hand and flexing his fingers in a come at me motion, “you need to score one hit.”

            Damn. I slunk forward, practice dagger raised. My own dagger would have served me better—I might have even stood a chance as the enchanted blade possessed an intelligence that guided my hand. But Falin had insisted I learn to duel without the enchanted dagger. I’d increase my chances of surviving if I had skill to back up the blade’s magic, or so he claimed. The problem was, I had absolutely no skill at combat.