Chapter 1

Allerah tried not to feel anything.

Pulling her body into a tighter ball on the rough stone floor in the back corner of her cell Allerah made sure the walls in her mind were secure. They were no cracks in the mortar and no loose bricks.  Nothing could breech her internal defenses.

If only she could block out the rest as easily.

The reek of sweat and fear hung in the air of the windowless basement. Sweat beaded on her skin in the suffocating heat. Allerah wanted to close her eyes. She didn’t want to see the guards dragging another young mixed-race girl into the already-crowded cells. But the need to know burned through her. Her father taught her to observe. He told her to see so she could report later. Like a spy, she’d been five at the time, but thinking it kept her calm.

She could pretend she had a job to do besides dying.

The girl begged through tears and mucus she couldn’t wipe with her bound hands. She pleaded, promised money, swore her family’s favors, anything for her release.

A guard laughed. “Who do you think sold you?”

“No, that’s not possible.” The newcomer protested. “My mother loves me.”

“Your mother never wanted you, bitch. Some Koonswalloon raped her. She hates you, and now she’s rid of you.”

Allerah finally forced her eyes closed and blocked out the sight of the half-Koonswalloon female. At least Allerah knew her parents loved her. They never sold her.

Someone else did that.

She tried to block the wave of pity she felt for the girl. The sobbing became muffled and she knew they put the female into a box designed to hold Koonswalloon half-breeds. This one must be able to create windows.

An Event must be soon.

The males who ran the Hell House rarely held mixed-blood Koonswalloon females long. It took too much effort with too little payoff. That, along with the increased number of people the Procurer brought in the past few weeks, meant a Special Event was coming.

“Do you think they’ll take us?” Grace asked.

The words caused Allerah to open her eyes. She looked at the twins, Grace and Hope, who shared her cell.

Grace clutched her twin sister’s hand. They were identical. Besides Allerah, Grace and Hope had survived the longest in the Hell House. Two years to her three.

“They haven’t so far.” Hope moved closer to Grace, she sounded certain. “They won’t take us.”

Allerah prayed silently to Solaris they wouldn’t take the twins. She learned early on not to make friends.

Friends died.

Still, she liked the twins. They shared a similar heritage. All three were half Illyarian. All three had warrior fathers. All three used secrets to survive.

Familiar footsteps strode down the hallway between the cells. The females shrank away from the bars. No one wanted to attract the Handler’s attention.

Allerah tried to relax. She saw Grace’s knuckles whiten as she tightened her hand in Hope’s. Their skin, so much paler gold than a pure blooded Devlarin’s, showed every fluctuation of mood.

The footsteps stopped outside their cell, and Allerah dared to look up. The Handler stood on the other side of the bars watching them. His eyes scanned all the females in the cell. His gaze briefly skirted over the twins, as if only barely seeing them. Then he looked past them, fixing on her. She looked away before she accidentally met his gaze.

A key turned in the lock, and the Handler entered the cell. He walked to the back and crouched in front of her.

“Special Event tonight, Sugar. There is a guest of honor at this event. You’re his personal entertainment.”

Allerah’s stomach clenched and for a second she couldn’t breathe. She didn’t speak or look up.

Her only job was to die. She couldn’t pretend any longer.

“Come now, don’t you want to know who you are going to be entertaining?” He grabbed her hair, jerking her head back.

Pain shot through her scalp and her eyes teared. She continued to avert her gaze. She knew better than to make eye contact.

“I’m speaking to you bitch, answer me.”

“Of course, my lord, what is his name?” she muttered.

“His name is General Cadrick. You are going to work hard to please him, aren’t you, sugar?”

General? Did warriors use those ranks? She couldn’t remember.

Would a warrior come to a Hell House? They never had in the past. Warriors protected, sometimes to protect a person needed to be violent. Every gift could pervert into vice. She of all people knew that. For a warrior that vice could mean an obsession with violence that drove them to maim and kill.

Usually the Hell House was a place where males came to pretend to be warriors by acting in violently sexual ways. But would an actual warrior ever come here? Warriors usually policed their own. Could one really live long enough to visit a Hell House? Did warriors have ranks like general?

It didn’t matter, they would never have told her his name if they expected her to survive the night.

Sweat ran down her back.

They were putting her into the Event.

She would die tonight.