Cursed Bones

Chapter 1

Isabel woke with a start, her heart hammering in her chest, her hand instinctively going for the hilt of her dagger. Once she realized where she was, she eased herself back onto her bunk and swallowed hard against the rising lump in her throat. She’d been dreaming again, the same dream she’d had for the past three nights, the dream, or rather the nightmare, where she killed Alexander.

A tear slipped down her cheek. She’d left him. The only man she’d ever loved, the best man she’d ever known, and she’d left him without even saying goodbye, without giving an explanation … nothing. And yet, she knew deep down in that calm place where reason prevailed, that she’d done the only thing she could have done. The dreams were proof of that. Proof that Phane’s dark magic was working within her, working to subvert her free will and turn her against the people she loved.

The solution was painfully simple and even more painfully difficult. She couldn’t afford to be around the people she loved anymore. As lonely a thought as that was, she knew it was the only way to protect them. More importantly, it was the only way to protect their common cause from her own inevitable betrayal.

She put her hand on her stomach and stared into the darkness of her stateroom as she swallowed back another sob.

It was one thing to face an enemy, to stand and fight, even against insurmountable odds, but this was profoundly different. It was so insidious. In the days since she’d left the dragon isle, she’d begun to carefully observe her own thoughts, scrutinizing each for its authenticity. Did it originate from within her own mind? Or was it planted there by Azugorath?

Phane’s dark minion was the immediate cause of her suffering, but the Wraith Queen was really just a symptom of a much larger problem.

Phane.

She meant to kill him.

The moment she’d left her wounded husband in his Wizard’s Den, she knew her course. It was the only path open to her. She couldn’t stay with Alexander, even though she longed to be with him. She couldn’t go home to Ruatha lest she become a danger to her friends and family. She couldn’t go to Ithilian or to the fortress island for the same reason. The only place she could go without endangering those she cared about was to her enemy.

Her intent was resolute—honed to a razor’s edge by desperation and a furious rage simmering in the pit of her belly.

That left the how.

Phane was more than a match for her in any kind of direct confrontation. She had to beat him at his own game. She had to deceive the deceiver. Only subterfuge would give her the opportunity she needed.

A little flutter of fear chased the pangs of loneliness and loss from her belly. She’d never been a very good liar. Surely, Phane would see through any direct effort at deception. In order to work, her ruse would have to be subtle and artful.

But how?

No matter.

She’d been turning these thoughts over and over in her mind for days, pondering all of the possibilities, but in the end, she decided that circumstances would dictate her tactics. Things would become clearer as she got closer to her target.

A soft knock at the door disturbed the darkness.

“Yes?” she said, quietly.

“We’ve reached the coast of Karth, Lady Reishi,” Captain Kalderson said. “We’re holding half a league from the surf.”

“How long before dawn?” Isabel asked.

“Couple of hours.”

She sat up and took a deep breath. It was time.

Captain Kalderson was waiting for her when she opened the door to