Pippa journeys to the treacherous and beguiling world of the fey in search of answers only to fall in love…
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Renée Ahdieh’s The Righteous, book three of The Beautiful Quartet—publishing December 7th with G.P. Putnam’s Sons.
Following the explosive events of The Damned, Odette faces a vampire’s final death. The Court of the Lions have done everything they can to save her but have failed. A healer from the Sylvan Vale could help her, but only Arjun Desai, as a half fey, can cross the boundary between realms. The Sylvan Vale is a world Arjun despises, and in return, it despises him. But knowing it could save Odette, he returns to the Vale with all haste, leaving the mirrored tare between the two worlds open and unwittingly setting the stage for both love and war.
It’s mere days until Pippa Montrose is to wed Phoebus Devereux and become a member of his well-heeled family, offering salvation to her own. But Celine is missing. Pippa has no idea where her best friend has gone, but she’s certain it’s in the company of vampire Sébastien Saint Germain and that Arjun can lead her to them. Pippa enjoins the help of Eloise, the daughter of a powerful sorceress, to discover the gateway Arjun uses to travel between worlds. Pippa, tired of hesitating in life, marches right through in search of her friend. But what she discovers on the other side is a dangerous, duplicitous world full of mischief and magic she doesn’t understand, and most unexpectedly, she finds love.
Pippa had experienced fear before.
When she was a child, she’d had nightmares. Dark dreams of getting lost in a shadowy wood. Of lying prone on a blanket of moss, a large wooden crate atop her chest, its contents a mystery. As time passed, the chest would shrink in size as it became heavier, until it was a tiny weight threatening to crush her into the earth.
These nightmares had grown worse as her family’s situation had deteriorated. Over the years, she’d become well acquainted with the demon of fear, especially when she realized what she must do in order to save her family. Her father had to be stopped, before his threats and vices ruined their lives beyond repair.
Pippa had done what needed to be done to save her little brother and sister.
Her worst fear had come to pass the day she’d concluded she had to leave Lydia and Henry behind in England. That— in order to provide them with a better future— he would have to cause them pain in the present. Nothing in life made Pippa more afraid than abandoning them. That kind of fear was a kind that never died. It ebbed and flowed, but remained constant, serving as an ever present reminder of what Pippa would lose if she failed.
That fear resided within her. In time, it had become part of her.
But this fear? The fear she was experiencing at this moment?
Pippa had never known fear of this kind in her life. It did not reside within her. It surrounded her, suffocating her, stealing the air and light and warmth from her body.
It was the fear that she might die. And in dying, fail to fulfill not only her promise to Lydia and Henry, but her promise to herself. That she would change her stars. Be in control of her own destiny.
Even when their father had been taken away from them in chains, tossed in the back of a covered wagon with an iron door, Pippa had not felt this afraid. Even when her mother had denounced her. Screamed about betrayal and locked herself in a small room to drown her sorrows in laudanum spiked tea. Pippa had been left to take care of Lydia and Henry with nothing to their name, but still she had not been this afraid. This fear did not ebb and flow. It only grew, all but consuming her in its wicked jaws.
Inhumanly gorgeous creatures— all and willowy, with hair and eyes spanning the colors of a rainbow— circled Pippa, their garments like shimmering water, their jewels the size of fruit. Everywhere she looked, she saw eyes that glistened with gleeful malice.
Perhaps this was how a cornered fox felt at the end of a hunt. It again drove Pippa to recall the advice from her fencing instructor, Mistress Egan:
“If you are ever trapped, do what it is least expected. Be spontaneous.”
She’d offered this advice because Pippa’s tells were too obvious. As a fencing student, Pippa had often conveyed what she intended to do three strokes before doing it. Her desire to calculate her moves and mitigate risk failed her most in these pivotal moments.
A hand darted toward her in a slicing motion across her arm. A thin stream of crimson trailed after the blade. Pippa yelled, though she did not feel any pain. Now they were drawing blood. Cutting her bare skin. Before she could take stock of her surroundings— f how to begin protecting herself— large fruit that resembled a bright red apple was heaved in her direction, striking her skirt with a sickening splat. If its aim had been truer, it could have inflicted damage to Pippa’s face. To her body.
What did these callous fairies want with her?
Pippa cried out again for help and searched for a weapon.
The circle of cruel captors only tightened, their fingers poking and prodding at Pippa’s back. They jabbed her in the stomach. Yanked at her hair. Caressed her cheek. Ran palms down her naked arms.
Touched her without permission, as if she were a helpless creature in a menagerie at the London Zoo. As if Pippa were theirs to do with as they pleased.
The fear became terror. What did they want with her? What were they going to do? She’d made a mistake. Pippa knew that. But did none of these fey possess a heart? A soul? Were they going to kill her for this mistake?
Pippa glanced around wildly. Then she spotted a familiar face. Like a light of hope in the yawning darkness. A thread to grasp before drowning in her fear.
Arjun Desai. Of course. The one who’d led her down this fateful path.
Relief flooded through Pippa’s body as his hazel eyes fixed on her face. They were like a balm to an open wound. She wanted to fall to the clover carpet and draw her knees to her chest and sob.
Arjun Desai had helped her before. Several times. It was likely the reason Pippa thought of him more than was altogether appropriate for a young woman engaged to another man.
Pippa wanted to say something. To voice her relief and hope their connection might spare her further suffering. To admit how sorry she was for stealing into his flat and following him through the magicked mirror.
But when she opened her mouth to speak, the cad shook his head. Warned her to remain silent.
What? Why? And for how long?
Arjun Desai wanted her to trust him. That much was obvious. A part of Pippa wanted to trust him. But when was the last time she’d known what it felt like to trust the word of any man?
Be spontaneous, Philippa Montrose. Stop wavering about and do what they least expect.
Pippa closed her eyes tightly. “Mr. Desai,” she screamed, her voice hoarse, “Please help me!”
Through her tears, Pippa saw Arjun Desai straighten where he stood, his hazel eyes wide.
The next instant, the spark in his gaze turned cold. Almost bleak.
A beardless man in white, his features pointed and narrow and hauntingly beautiful, turned toward Arjun, his pale lips set in a jeer. “You know this pathetic creature, son of Riya?” When Arjun failed to respond, the silver haired fey’s nostrils flared. “You will answer a highborn lord when you are asked a question, halfblood.”
Pippa’s heart dropped like a stone when she saw the expression of abject boredom on Arjun’s face. His hands in his pockets, he sauntered toward her at a leisurely pace. Then he paused to wipe the single lens of his monocle before placing it on his left eye, taking his time, as if he meant to inspect her like a horse at the Drogheda fair.
After studying her through his monocle for a spell, he pursed his lips to one side. Pippa had always thought him handsome, but this was the first occasion she truly noticed the inhuman perfection of his features. The thick arches of his black brows and the honed elegance of his jawline. The cutting edges of his cheekbones and the warm radiance of his copper skin. She wasn’t sure how she’d missed it before. Perhaps it was because he’d been in the company of immortal creatures, their beauty unfathomable, even in a city of decadence like New Orleans. Even in a world of light and shadow, where dark things came to life beneath the moon.
If Pippa had a moment to herself, she would laugh at the absurdity. At a time like this, why in Heaven’s name was she fixated on the way Arjun Desai looked?
Deep in her thoughts, she started with a sudden realization.
Her heart had ceased pounding in her chest. Now it beat behind her ribs in a steady, unassailable rhythm. As if it believed the worst had passed, now that Arjun Desai was here.
She felt… calm.
How absurd. If Pippa could have railed against her foolish heart, she would have. Arjun Desai wasn’t a knight on a white horse. He had not leapt to her aid. Why would he protect her from these creatures? What allegiance did he owe her? Pippa averted her gaze, and the fear descended on her again in full force.
What was she to these beautiful creatures, hewn like jewels cut from a nightmare?
The taunting continued around Pippa, long fingers grasping at wayward locks of her hair. At the shredded lace beneath her collarbone. She willed herself to stop crying, for the sight of her tears seemed to delight them further.
Pippa did as she’d done as a child, the night she realized her first hero— er father— and become a villain in truth. She found a way to save herself, if only for an instant.
Whenever the Duke of Ashmore, laden with drink and debt, would stumble home to their dilapidated manor, bellowing for their nonexistent servants, she would retreat into herself. Tuck into a tiny ball deep within her thoughts, to a place no one else could find. To a table with three plates. Three cups. Three smiles.
Pippa. Lydia. Henry.
To a place where they were all safe and warm and loved.
The jeers around Pippa faded to a drone. She began reciting facts to herself, seeking the comfort of truth amid the chaos.
She was in the realm of the fey. Fairies were real, and they were not kind. Her best friend, Celine Rousseau, had been missing for three weeks. She was engaged to be married to Phoebus Devereux in less than seventy-two hours.
She needed to find a tare back to New Orleans as soon as possible. Back to that sinisterly beautiful city of vampires and werewolves and otherworldly creatures.
Pippa should have known better than to follow another young man into the unknown. She recalled the night she’d trailed Detective Michael Grimaldi into the swamp and witnessed him change into a wolf beneath the light of the full moon. A full week had passed in disbelief. But she could not deny what she’d seen with her own two eyes. The howls she’d heard with her own two ears. From there, it had not taken long to uncover the identity of the creatures hidden in plain sight in the middle of New Orleans society.
Where werewolves existed, vampires could not be far.
Pippa had suspected what they were even before coming to this conclusion. Victims drained of blood. Skin cool to the touch, as Odette’s had been. Incandescent beauty. The kind that did not hail from the mortal world.
She took another deep breath.
Three plates. Three cups. Three smiles.
Pippa. Lydia. Henry.
Her thoughts arranged themselves in neat rows. A renewed sense of calm descended on her, staving off the rising panic. Then something shoved Pippa, startling her from her hard-won peace. Causing the chaos around her to take hold once more.
She caught herself on her hands just before sprawling across the crushed clovers, her gold cross and the strange necklace of braided iron and silver swinging beneath her chin. Pippa wanted to press into the earth and bury her head like an ostrich, but she refused to give them the satisfaction. Instead she stood once more, her jade skirts stained a deeper hue of green, her fingers smelling of fresh earth.
She looked toward Arjun Desai, her chin pointed high, her heartbeat knocking around in her skull. Again her pulse steadied at the sight of him. As if he were sending her reassurances without words, though he remained apart. Aloof.
Pippa didn’t need his silent comfort. She needed him to take action, dash it all. Or at the very least, vouch for her.
“Please, Mr. Desai,” Pippa said. “Tell them it was a mistake. I know you don’t want them to hurt me. I know you are a good man. Please. Help me.”
The same fey woman who had been the first to tear at Pippa’s clothes snared her by the elbow and drew her close. “The halfblood can’t do anything to save you, little dove.” She brandished her right hand, dangling it before Pippa’s face. Each of her nails was covered with a bejeweled silver talon, the tip glinting in the light. The fey woman dragged one of the talons along Pippa’s cheek. Down her jaw. Pippa’s breath caught as she listened to the scratch of metal against her skin.
Quiet laughter swelled around her, its echo sinister. The press of metal continued down her throat until Pippa stopped breathing, worried if she moved, a bejeweled talon would pierce through her flesh.
Pippa looked toward Arjun Desai. Something fired in his expression, though he continued standing there, that same bored look in his gaze, his monocle flashing with the rise and fall of his chest.
The fey woman dug her talons into the thin skin along Pippa’s throat.
Pippa gasped, her face turning toward the ceiling of branches. Toward whatever gods might be there to hear her prayers. She waited for the pain, but it did not come. Perhaps her fear had managed to dull her senses.
“Do you think you might die, pretty little mortal?” the fey lady whispered in her ear. “No, no. It will be much worse.” Her laughter was like ringing church bells.
Pippa wanted to shudder. To cry out. Warm blood trickled down her neck, soaking through the battered lace along her collar. But she did not flinch, nor did she feel pain. She stared at Arjun Desai. Instead of gripping her skirts in fear, her hands turned into fists, her jaw clenching tightly.
That same something hardened Arjun’s features, causing his eyes to flash citrine.
“Her heart is beating like a rabbit in a snare,” a male voice said from nearby. The highborn lord with the smooth pale skin and the long silver hair. Everything about him appeared to glow from within. Even the gossamer and gold trimming his garments. “I can hear it from where I stand.” He tugged Pippa away from the fey woman and into an embrace, his touch gentle. Belying the chill beneath it. “That’s what happens when a mortal feels fear. Their hearts burst from their bodies. But you would know that, wouldn’t you, mongrel?”
Pippa realized he was speaking to Arjun Desai. His face was angled just so as he continued, “Your mortal father would have taught you that much. Their blood races to their cores to protect their weak little hearts. If I were one of our blood drinking nemeses, she would look… delicious.” He breathed in her scent like he could smell her fear, savoring the way she shook in response. Then he smiled wide, as if he enjoyed tormenting Arjun more than he enjoyed tormenting her.
“Do you know this lovely little rabbit, son of Riya?” he asked again in a vicious whisper. “Answer me.”
Before Arjun Desai could reply, another set of fingers raked through Pippa’s hair, causing the rest of her long blond mane to fall from its careful coif on the crown of her head. The golden curls tumbled over her shoulders and down her back, the blood from the wound along her throat dripping onto the green moss beside her feet.
“What shall we do with you now?” said the fey boy responsible. He looked to be no more than fifteen, despite the pair of ancient silver baldrics crossed on his chest. With a cruel smile, he took hold of Pippa’s wrist, tearing her from the grasp of the fey lord with the long white hair. Then he pressed a cool kiss to the underside of her jaw. When he drew back, her blood stained his lips. He reeked of pine needles and something sharp, like smelling salts.
Pippa almost vomited.
Then he shoved her away as if she were poison, a hiss flying from his lips, and a wisp of grey smoke trailing from his neck. He clutched a hand to the side of his throat, anger storming in his luminous eyes.
“A witch’s talisman,” he said, his voice dripping with rage. “Iron.”
Iron? Pippa thought. Was he speaking of the necklace Eloise had made for her?
A fey lady who’d yanked strands of hair from Pippa’s head grabbed her by the front of her ripped bodice. “How dare you come to our court wearing that poison?”
“Arjun!” she said, clawing her way free. Staggering backward. It was the first time she’d ever called him by his given name, but standing on propriety at a moment like this seemed ridiculous.
“This little rabbit thinks you might be her hero, son of Riya,” repeated the fey lord with the long silver hair. “Does this mortal mean anything to you?”
A fey dressed in sunset colored skirts stepped forward to place a hand on his shoulder. “Beloved,” the fey said to Pippa’s silver haired tormentor. “The girl is frightened. It is enough.”
“It is enough when I decide it is enough. If I can’t get an answer out of Arjun Desai, then I will do what must be done. She has trespassed on this court, and she will pay the price for it.” He caught Pippa’s chin. Forced her to look into his inhuman grey eyes. “We will see if that talisman truly does protect you.”
Pippa’s breath caught. The fey lord released his grip on her chin.
Arjun Desai took a slow step toward them. As he strode in their direction, the circle around Pippa and the fey lord parted to allow him passage. “While I hate to put a stop to your enjoyment during your own engagement celebration, Lord Vyr,” Arjun said in a nonchalant tone, “it might be wise to consult with the Lady of the Vale before you take another plaything under your wing.” He offered Pippa a debonair wink, coupled with a grin. “Additionally, I believe this girl is someone of import when it comes to our lady’s daughter.”
Daughter? About whom was he speaking? Confusion knitted Pippa’s brow.
“As I told you before, mongrel, neither Lady Silla nor Lady Celine is at court this afternoon,” Lord Vyr retorted. “In their absence, I rule the Ivy Bower.”
Celine was a lady of the fey court? And apparently a highborn one, at that. Pippa almost gasped, a spark of anger stirring in her veins. Of course she was. And of course Pippa was the last person to learn this truth.
“Beloved,” the fey in the sunset skirts said in a quiet, calm voice. Almost as if the word were a warning. “Please. Let us return to our celebrations. This amusement has gone on long enough. Seek to help, not to hurt.”
A half smile curved up one side of Arjun’s face. “Listen to your intended, Vyr. And, if memory serves, you are not the only ruler of the court in the absence of the Lady of the Vale.” He rubbed the side of his neck while he yawned. “Perhaps you should consult with Lady Yulin before you do something rash.”
“Your attempt to seem blithe is all too obvious, Arjun Desai,” Lord Vyr demanded. “This pathetic little mortal knows you.”
“I told you.” The anger in Arjun’s words was almost imperceptible. But Pippa could sense it, buried deep beneath the apathy. A strange lilt to his tone. A tinge of violence. “She means something to Lady Celine,” Arjun said, “and I would hate to upset Lady Silla by disrespecting her daughter’s acquaintance.”
Vyr inhaled through his nose. But did not remove his arm from about Pippa’s waist. “You lie all too freely. For the time being, I will keep this golden headed poppet in my care.” A grin ghosted across his lips. “And we will wait to see if the little intruder’s fate matters to Lady Silla.”
Arjun raised a flippant shoulder, though he took another stride forward. “Vyr, I think it best—”
“I lay claim to this human,” Lord Vyr said, his tone tyrannical, as if he were making a royal decree. “She is mine.”
Indignation collected on Pippa’s tongue. A fury tinged by fear, which was, in her experience, among the most dangerous of emotions. She kept quiet, though it was not without effort. Arjun Desai must be playing some sort of game. Pippa wanted to believe he was forming a plan to help her. Perhaps he was slow to react in an effort to buy them some time.
Was she acting like a ninny for thinking that?
An uneasy silence settled on the crowd. Arjun blinked once. Twice, his expression still unreadable. Lord Vyr smiled. Something about the fey reminded Pippa of her fiancé Phoebus’ father. The son of political royalty in Louisiana, Remy Devereux had been raised to believe he was entitled to whatever his heart desired. He often took things that were not offered. Fought to hold them at all cost. Ruled over his family with an iron fist.
The fey lord and Arjun Desai exchange daggered glances.
“No, Vyr,” said the fey woman with the jeweled talons, a pout tugging at her lower lip. “You have all the fun. I want this one.”
Pippa paled at this woman’s notion of fun. “Please, I—”
“You lack the imagination for such a task, Inaya.” Vyr grinned. “If you don’t dance, do you sing?” he asked Pippa.
She swallowed. Then shook her head.
“Pity,” he sighed. “If you can’t sing or dance, then we will find something to occupy your time.” He laughed. “Take her to my chambers.” He gestured for grey cloaked warriors holding lustrous white spears to follow his orders, his hold on Pippa slackening. “And do away with that iron affront of a talisman.”
“No,” Pippa said, wrenching free. Before anyone could blink, she tore a dagger from among the many displayed on the nearby fey lord’s silver baldrics. “I’m not going anywhere with any of you.”
One of the grey cloaked warriors flourished her spear at Pippa in warning. A slight young woman with a long plait of dark hair and a fearsome countenance. “Put down the blade, mortal welp.”
“No,” Pippa replied. “I will not.” She brandished the dagger in her right hand like an épée, her feet assuming a fencing stance as she moved in a slow circle, daring any of them to come closer, just as Mistress Egan had taught her many years ago.
“How… amusing,” Lord Vyr said. “Yuri, I believe this welp thinks—”
“You ruin everything,” Arjun announced with a protracted sigh. He moved toward Pippa, pushing past the grey cloaked guard. Within striking distance of Pippa’s blade. For an instant, she considered burying it deep in his back, a fresh wave of fury unfurling beneath her skin.
“It’s truly your greatest talent, Lord Vyr,” Arjun said. “To ruin things.”
“What are you talking about, mongrel?” Vyr demanded.
“The reason the girl is here is to meet my mother,” Arjun said, staring at Pippa without blinking. Speaking to the crowd without any sign of hesitation.
Willing Pippa to play along with his game.
“You’ve forced our hand, Vyr,” Arjun continued. “When all we wanted was to surprise everyone with the news.” Then he smiled at Pippa with such unrestrained affection, Pippa could only manage to stare back dumbfounded.
News? What news? Unease trickled down her spine.
Arjun nodded. “She can’t be yours. Because she is mine. And I am hers.”
What? Pippa stifled an incredulous cry.
“We are to be married,” Arjun said. “Philippa Montrose is my bride.”
Excerpted from The Righteous, copyright © 2021 by Renée Ahdieh.