Chapter 1

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WARNING: This book contains depictions of death, violence, and sexual assault. It's still a PG13 rating (no graphic scenes), and I'll warn you before the SA chapter, but the contents may be triggering to some.

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I never expected war paint to encompass charcoal eyeshadow and bronze powder, yet here we were. Valerie insisted on making a positive impression on the jury, and apparently, that meant transforming this delinquent into someone older, colder, and put-together.

"You look fierce," she sighed, rearranging my wild curls like a bouquet of dying flowers. 

I glared at her in the hand mirror, but I had to admit, blackening my eyelids really made the irritation pop. "Are we done?"

"Almost." She extracted a metal tube from her bosom and handed it to me. "For those windburned rashes you call lips."

Ouch.

I popped off the lid and frowned at the vibrant red paste. "Isn't this a little much?"

"You want to make a statement, don't you?"

I applied the lipstick with a cautious hand. "A little concerned we have different statements in mind, Val." The archer had arrived in a V-neck sweater with rooster feathers in her hair, after all.

She pushed the tube more firmly against my lips, forcing the color out. "You'll face a horde of demons, and you're scared of a little lipstick? Please."

"I think you look lovely," Mrs. Price contributed from the other end of the room, wearing a floor-length, bishop sleeve dress. She handed Siren a cup of tea and a heated bag of barley. "Professional, but intimidating. Desirable, but untouchable. Fits you perfectly."

The compliment pulled a reluctant smile out of me.

As a mother of three boys, Ellen had offered to help Siren with her third trimester, providing tips and tricks and reassurances. That role couldn't be filled by any of Siren's childless warriors, and despite their jarring differences, I'd watched the two women form an inseparable bond these past few weeks.

I never thought I'd live to see the day I respected someone like Mason's mother, but she'd only offered support, love, and understanding to everyone in Havenbrooke. The widow had become a mother to all of us refugees, and I'd realized there was simply nothing there to disrespect.

Siren winked at me from the chair she occupied, teacup propped on the swell of her belly. "You ready, Kingsley?"

I glanced back at the image in the mirror: wine red lips, choppy white hair, hazel eyes more brown than green—like a forest torched by wildfire. I bore my mother's olive complexion, nose, lips, and cheekbones, and my father's rough and weathered edges. But as much as I loved my parents, I no longer saw myself as a sum of their parts.

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