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Emma L Adams

Mortal Heir: The Thief's Talisman Book 1 (Paperback)

Mortal Heir: The Thief's Talisman Book 1 (Paperback)

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Book 1 of 3: The Thief's Talisman

Changeling. Thief. Mortal heir in a world of treacherous immortals.

Raine Warren, half-faerie changeling and master thief, wants nothing to do with the family who abandoned her in the human realm as a child. But when Faerie comes knocking, claiming she's descended from Sidhe nobility, she's handed an unexpected legacy. One catch: it comes in the form of a sceptre containing dark power coveted—and feared—by every faerie court, and no instruction manual.

Now her name's on every hit list in Faerie, and the other Sidhe will do anything to take her off the playing field... permanently. Her last hope is to strike a deal with a charming thief with his own agenda and his own plans for the sceptre. On the run from assassins and hunted by the most powerful faeries in both realms, embracing the dangerous magic of Faerie might be Raine's only means of survival.

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With feet lighter than a human’s could ever be, I crept down the corridor, following the enticing scent. Like a kid raiding their parents’ liquor cabinet in the middle of the night. Except I’d never had a childhood like that, and if I got caught, I’d face a more severe punishment than being grounded.

But I never got caught. Good thieves don’t.

If I had the ability, I’d have used a glamour to make myself invisible. But my weak faerie blood wasn’t strong enough even to make my pointed ears look like human ones, so I had to rely on keeping as quiet as possible. My feet barely made a sound, trained to avoid creaky floorboards and noisy steps, to tread gracefully and not leave an impact. This was a human establishment, so they’d never know I was here. I’d slip in and out like a ghost. A handkerchief wrapped around my head covered my bone-white hair. I had a number of handkerchiefs, but I saved the rose gold one for special occasions. It was my birthday in less than an hour, and that counted as a special occasion in my book.

I paused as I found what I was looking for—a chocolate cake, fresh, icing dripping onto the work surface. I stuck my finger in the icing and licked it, tasting the sweetness on my tongue. Apparently such things used to be commonplace before the rationing kicked in after the war with Faerie. Now luxuries were only for the elite. I’d spent weeks packaging them for rich humans when I’d worked here. Before the ‘incident’.

Finders, keepers. I closed the box carefully to make sure the icing didn’t leak out. Slipping the box inside my coat—a thick fur-lined winter one I’d swiped from a clearance sale in the local market—I retraced my steps to the window.

Climbing out was my favourite part. It was also the riskiest. My feet fit carefully onto the windowsill, and I hung on with one hand, the other keeping the box from falling out of my coat. I shimmied across the sill to the drainpipe, and began the three-floor climb one handed. Maybe a particularly athletic human could do this, but not as easily as breathing like it was for me. Faeries were typically built like dancers, or athletes, and could move infinitely more gracefully. Even in a thick coat concealing a birthday cake. If not for my cumbersome load, I’d have thrown in some acrobatics. As it was, when my feet touched the ground, I turned to face the shop and gave it a rude gesture. I’d lost my job here after a particularly vindictive human colleague had decided to put pieces of iron in my pockets as a prank, and then laughed when the shards burned my hands to blisters. I’d had no magic to curse the bastard, so I’d punched him in the nose and got myself fired. Stealing a cake was a petty form of revenge, but a delicious one. 

The cold breeze did its best to tear my handkerchief loose so I held it down with my free hand, lowering my gaze to hide my too-bright blue eyes, which marked me as part of a Court I’d never set foot in. I picked up speed, heading for my least favourite part of the walk home. The contraband in my pocket sat heavily and the first drops of rain had begun to fall.

Noises followed me as I walked alongside the hedge bordering half-blood territory, shrieks and growls and whispers from the beasts in the forests that had once been small patches of woodland and had now grown to cover a huge section of the city. It was pretty much a replica of the Summer and Winter Courts, minus half the magic and with a few added rules like don’t kill anyone, half-bloods and humans included. Such rules didn’t apply in Faerie—one of many reasons I thought staying here was the better option for everyone. I didn’t quite get how the faeries had ended up invading this realm in the first place, but they were here to stay, and so were we.

As I prepared to pass by the gate, a horse rode out into the road, bearing a tall elven knight. At first, I thought it was one of those half-blood guards who liked to play dress-up as nobles. Then I saw the insignia on the banner.

This was a legit, pure-blooded faerie from the Winter Court itself.

I kept very still. I wouldn’t get into trouble for stealing, but pure faeries are well-known for being cruel and capricious, and they show us no more respect than they do regular humans. I held my breath as the horse halted, and a second rider came out through the gate. Then another. What was the Winter Court’s messenger patrol doing here of all places? There might be more travel between here and Faerie than there used to be, but it was an unusual occasion that required true Sidhe to show up. Something big was happening. Unfortunately, it was between me and my way home.

The knights turned as one, and vanished in a dazzling flash of white-blue light.

The surge of Winter magic lifted the hairs on my arms. I didn’t really feel the cold—the coat was to hide my spoils—but a full-on shiver broke out all over my skin. I’d just watched them walk into the Unseelie lands that overlapped with this part of the mortal realm. I hadn’t seen so much as a glimpse of the world behind the white flash, but some traitorous part of me couldn’t help imagining all the same. It wasn’t much help, though—only pure-blooded Sidhe had the ability to cross between realms, not that they’d really used it in the past. Aside from when they decided to come here and steal a human away for fun.

I waited sixty seconds for more knights to appear. Then I started walking again. I’d left Dad for long enough already, and if he’d seen that flash of light, he might have thought it was her. Or that I’d left for the Court. That was his new obsession these days, and the reason I didn’t like sneaking out at night as much. He thought I was like the other half-bloods, and wanted to go back to Faerie.

“Absolutely no chance of that,” I’d informed him the last time he’d asked. “I’d be lucky to last five minutes there, considering the pure faeries don’t think much of mortals.”

He flinched. “Don’t say that. You’re not one of them.”

“Don’t worry about me,” I’d told him. “They don’t have any claim on me.”

Famous last words, Raine. On that cold night, I had zero desire to follow the knights, but I didn’t know any half-faerie who hadn’t fantasised about being picked up by the Court. It was our version of a faerie tale, if you ignored the Sidhe’s murderous tendencies and their hatred of anyone who wasn’t a heartless immortal. Really, I was lucky to escape them, and so was Dad. If I ever met the faerie who kidnapped him, I’d punch her in the nose. Which would be kind of awkward, considering she was my mother.

Family drama. Half-faeries have that in spades. Those of us who are lucky enough to still have a family, that is. Often, when the faeries steal someone, they have no intention of giving them back in one piece. But for whatever reason, my mother had decided to leave my father right where she’d taken him, minus a few memories, and with an added bonus. Me.

The tension in my chest loosened as I reached the front door to our flat, on the ground floor of a run-down house converted into apartments. Not much of a home, but enough for the two of us. I sang under my breath as I unlocked the door.

“Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me…”

“Happy birthday, Raine.”

I jumped. Denzel, half-satyr and the closest to a friend I had, stood beside me. He must have silently followed me to the door. Fur covered his legs up to his waist, and instead of feet, he stood lightly on twin hooves.

“Don’t sneak up on me, Denzel.”

“I came to wish you many happy returns.”

“You’re spending too much time around humans. Birthdays are nothing to celebrate.”

“I beg to differ.” He reached past me and pushed the door open.

“What are you doing? Dad’s asleep.”

“I won’t wake him.”

Rolling my eyes, I let him into the flat. Denzel was okay. All right, he was shifty as hell and made me look like a saint by comparison, but he protected his friends, and I fell into that category.

“What do you want?”

His face fell. “Am I that obvious?”


His mouth twisted. “All right. So I’m in a bit of trouble…”

“Why am I not surprised.”

“With the mages,” he went on. “Apparently selling amulets is a serious crime. Even if they’re genuine elf-forged ones.”

“If they’re genuine, I’m a leprechaun.”

I pulled the cake box out of my coat and set it on the coffee table, then retrieved a bottle of wine from the sideboard. “Want some?”

“Where’d you get that?”

“Hen do.” I flashed him a smile. “Nobody noticed when one of the bottles wandered off of its own accord.”

“You’re a terrible person.”

“They’re rich humans. They won’t miss it.”

“I’d prefer elf wine, but you take what you can get.”

“Damn straight.” I poured two glasses, keeping one eye on Denzel in case he slipped anything into his pockets. The light-fingered little shit was a thorn in my side, but he wouldn’t call on me in the middle of the night without good reason.

“So.” He trod from one hoof to the other. “I might be in a bit of difficulty. See, I… sort of took out a loan from the Crusher.”

I choked on the wine. “You what?”

The Crusher was a half-troll with just enough human blood to know how to string a sentence together, and just enough troll blood to be able to flatten a person with one step. Nobody in their right mind crossed him. Though Denzel wasn’t what you’d call all there. I fought the urge to groan. I’d sworn not to get dragged into any of his dodgy dealings again.

“That’s why I need something to sell.”

“You know most of the stuff I steal is worthless, right?”

Honestly, I have no idea where my magpie-like habits come from. It’s not helpful. Fake gold doesn’t pay bills. But I know what does.

I sighed and handed him a coin. Not a human one, but a faerie antique I’d swiped from a visiting contingent from Summer’s Court who’d nearly trampled me with their horses.

“Hey—hey. Is that…?”

“It’s worth more than my life. Don’t lose it.”

“You’re a lifesaver.”

“You’re a liability.”

“Love you too.” He blew me a kiss and drank the wine in one go. “I should probably leave. The Crusher wants to see me in the morning.”

“Good luck. Try not to get trodden on.”

He clip-clopped out the flat. 

Shaking my head, I put the wine away. Hopefully Denzel would manage to keep his head. Literally. The Crusher, of all people. And I thought I had a penchant for getting into trouble. It was a miracle I’d made it to my twenty-fourth birthday. Tomorrow would be… trying. Dad always acted weird on my birthday. I figured it was to do with losing his memory of the day I was born. When mortals fell into the hands of a faerie, they often lost their memories and most of their sanity, forever dreaming of a world they’d never see again. I didn’t remember any of the years I spent in Faerie at all. Maybe they wiped my mind, too, or maybe the memories faded with age.

It’ll be okay. You have the cake, anyway. I yawned, tugging off my boots.

There was a knock at the door.

I frowned. Denzel didn’t usually knock. He just walked in.

Knock. Knock.

“All right.” I was kind of pissed off by now. If Dad woke up, I’d have to deal with the fallout. Who’d come here in the middle of the night, anyway?

Did someone see me stealing the cake? No—impossible. I’d been careful not to be spotted.

The image of those Winter knights flashed through my head again and a chill raced down my back. Drama was going down in half-blood land…

“Who is it?” I hissed through the door. “It’s nearly one in the bloody morning.”

“Raine,” whispered a male voice. “It’s me.”

It’d been a while since I’d fallen off a roof, but the impact of hearing his voice was pretty close to the sensation. My stomach dropped, my heart sinking as though I’d missed a step on a high staircase. I hadn’t heard that voice in a long time.

“Go away.”

“That’s not nice, Raine.”

I forced a laugh. “You can’t claim the moral high ground, Robin.”

I was too angry to be curious as to why my ex—the man who’d started and ended my performance career—was doing here in the first place. I’d never given him my address. Mostly because he hadn’t spoken a word to me since the day he ended our four-year relationship and trounced my career in one fell swoop. 

Despite myself, I inched the door open a fraction to make sure it was really him and not an illusion. But anyone with faerie blood can see through glamour, and he wasn’t wearing any. He looked exactly the same as he had three years ago—beautiful in the way only faeries could be. Pointed ears, pale skin, cornflour coloured hair, elegant features forming an expression that almost resembled remorse. If I didn’t know better.

“I’m sorry,” he said now.

“You lost your chance to say sorry. Words are cheap.”

“You’re speaking like a human. You aren’t.”

“I might as well be,” I shot at him. The closest I’d come to having my own magic was being part of his act, and that was long gone. Nothing was worth being reminded of something I could never have again.

Something I didn’t want again.

“Look, can I come in?”

“No. You’re a few years too late for an apology. It’s done. We’re done.”

“That’s not why I came.”

“Really.” I crossed my arms. “Well? What’s so important that you had to come all the way here?”

“There was… a message from the Unseelie Court.”

Unseelie. Winter. Those knights.

I edged the door open a little. “Okay. What does that have to do with anything?”

“They’re here for us. We can claim our heritage and find out who our fae parent was. Yours… well. You’d be better off finding out yourself.”

“Wait, what?” I’d never met my faerie parent. No half-blood had. They didn’t want us. “That’s a lie. Not a funny one, either.”

“It’s true.” He moved closer into the doorway. “The Sidhe came here. They saw how many of us are left, and… that woman with the faerie magic, Ivy Lane, she asked them to claim us and allow us access to the faerie realm.”

I laughed humourlessly. Sure, I’d heard the rumours about Ivy and her visit to the Courts, but she had faerie magic. I didn’t. I’d never survive in Faerie. “You can’t force a faerie parent to claim a child.”

“No,” he said. “That’s why it’s taken so long. It took me a while to find mine out.”

“Do you want a medal?” I scooted back, having had about enough of him attempting to sneak into my flat. “Knowing who they are doesn’t change anything.”

“Raine,” he said softly. “It does. Your parent is Sidhe. A Sidhe Lady of the Unseelie Court.”

I didn’t respond. I wasn’t sure I could, even if the right words showed up. No wonder he’d spoken to me again.

I was half-Sidhe. Royalty.

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