Dark Memory

Experience a connection that defies death in this captivating novel in Christine Feehan's #1 New York Times bestselling Carpathian series.

Safia Meziane has trained since birth to protect her tribe, the family she holds so dear. All along she told herself the legends she was raised with were simply that, but now, she must call upon all of her skills to fight what lies ahead. Evil has come to their small town on the coast of Algeria, evil that Safia can feel but cannot see.

She is terrified she will not be able to protect the ones she loves. As her family's "chosen one" she has always believed she would face this task alone, until they reveal she has been promised to a warrior who will join her. An outsider. A Carpathian....

Petru Cioban is one of the oldest Carpathians in existence, and he has spent all that time without the soothing presence of his lifemate. For two thousand years he has waited for this woman to be reborn, only to find her in the sights of a monster he has fought before — a vampire risen again to finish a battle started centuries ago.

Now, Petru must face his greatest enemy and his greatest shame. He has no hope Safia will forgive his betrayal once her past life returns to her. But he will not make the same mistake again, even if he has to sacrifice everything for the woman who has claimed his immortal soul.

Christine's Notes

Christine Feehan
There are so many things I really have enjoyed learning while writing this book. It is set in Algeria and the heroine's people are Imazighen. It's an area rich in history and culture. The people are lovely, and I was fortunate enough to find someone who is Amazigh and lives in Algeria to help answer my questions.
So many aspects of this story are unique and original. I enjoy having new concepts when I write, especially since this series has been around for such a long time. I was excited to write something I'd never written and see it all unfold.
Petru and Safia started out with challenges no other couple has had to deal with. They worried they wouldn't be a fit and to be honest, so did I! Not having written a couple exactly like this was both challenging and very exciting.
Petru had this unexpected wisdom that equaled his strength. He wouldn't give her up and was determined to do what was necessary to really know her and her needs. The legend surrounding Petru in this area of the world was unique. As a hero, his history and his path are unlike any other.
Safia was a perfect mix of vulnerable and strong. She was soft inside with so much love and so much loyalty to her family. But, she was not someone to trifle with.
I expect this love story will surprise many readers and cause a great deal of conversation. Maybe even a bit of controversy. In the end though it is fresh and new and exciting. I predict that readers will be as surprised about this story as I was.

— Christine Feehan

Christine regularly writes about her books (and all kinds of subjects) in the following places:


Dark Memory

More Order Options

Dark Series ,
Book 37

Release Date: October 3, 2023
Number of Pages: 432 pages
Publisher: Berkley
Language: English
ISBN: 0593638735

Dark Memory (Dark Series, #37)

Excerpt: Chapter 1

Betrayal Sacrifice Loss

The breeze coming off the Mediterranean Sea brought a hint of the coming storm with it. Safia Meziane stood at the very top of the hillside overlooking the turquoise water, now beginning to grow choppy as little fingers of wind touched the glassy surface. The knots in her stomach tightened as she watched the water begin to churn. Ordinarily, she loved storms, but she was uneasy, certain the weather heralded something much more sinister than lightning and thunder.

"I will never tire of this view," Amastan Meziane said, his gaze on the sea. "As a young man, I would stand in this exact spot with my father and feel fortunate to live in this place." "Just as I do," Safia admitted looking up at her grandfather.

Safia's family was Imazighen. Outsiders sometimes referred to them as Berbers. Her family owned a very prosperous farm located up in the hills outside the town of Dellys. They had extraordinary views of the sea and harbor. The farm kept a variety of animals, mainly sheep and goats, harvesting the wool, spinning and dying it for clothes and rugs they sold at the local market or sent with Safia's oldest sister's family across the Sahara to markets. Some of the family members made jewelry and others pottery. All contributed to the success of the household, farm and tribe.

Her grandfather, Amastan, was the acknowledged head of her tribe. Like her grandfather, Safia had always felt very lucky to have been born into her family. To live where she lived. To be raised on her family farm. She had two older sisters who doted on her and three older brothers who always treated her as if she were a treasure, just as her parents and grandparents did. They all worked hard on the farm. When her oldest sister, Illi, married and left with her husband, Kab, no one resented the extra work. They were happy for her, although Safia missed her terribly and looked forward to the times she returned from her travels. Beside her, Amastan sighed. "Our family has had centuries of good years, Safia, and we can't complain. We've always known this time would come."

He felt it too. It wasn't her imagination. Evil rode in the wind of that storm. It had quietly invaded their farm. She had known all along but had done her best to tell herself it was her wild imagination. The number of invasive insects had suddenly increased. Three weeks earlier, she had begun to note tracks of an unfamiliar predator. One week ago, several had eviscerated a goat near the cliffs. Whatever it was seemed to disappear into the ground when she'd tried to follow it. There had been more than one, but she couldn't determine the number or exactly what it was.

"I love the way Dellys looks, Jeddi, day or night. The blend of beautiful modern built so close to the ancient ruins and the way the ruins are on the hillside facing the sea. I love the sunrises and sunsets, and the sea with its colors and ever-changing mood, the markets, and people. Dellys is so modern, and yet our history, our culture, is right there for everyone to see. And on the hillside, evidence of our history remains. We're like that. Our family. Like Dellys. So modern on the outside. Anyone looking at us would believe we're so progressive."

She loved her life. Mostly, she loved the huge tribe she called family.

Safia didn't look at her grandfather, she kept her gaze fixed on the beauty of the sea. The women in her family were well educated, unlike many females in other tribes. They spoke Tamazight and Arabic, but along with that, they had learned French and English. Safia had been required to learn an ancient language that none of the others had to master. Her grandmother and mother were able to speak it and she had one friend, Aura, who was an expert in the language, so she was fortunate to practice with her. Safia never questioned why she had to learn such an ancient language no one spoke in modern times. When her grandfather or grandmother decreed anything, it was done, usually without question.

Her grandfather believed they not only should expand their thinking, but he insisted his daughters and granddaughters learn to use weapons and how to fight hand to hand combat just as well as the males in the family. The women took care of the house, but they also worked on the farm. They learned to do everything needed and were always treated as valued members of the tribe. Their voices were heard when it came to solving problems. That was all very progressive and different from tradition in many other tribes.

Her grandfather arranged marriages in the traditional way. His word was law. He held the men they married to a very high standard. She couldn't imagine what would happen should he ever find out his daughters or granddaughters were mistreated. Amastan appeared stern to outsiders, but he was always quiet-spoken and fair. No one ever wanted to get him upset. It was a rare event, but when it happened, he had the backing of the entire tribe, not that he needed it. He was a force to be reckoned with.

"We must go inside, Safia. I told your father to call a family meeting. We can't continue to put this off. You will read the cards, and I'll consult with the ancestors tonight. We need to know exactly what we're facing and how much time we will have to prepare." He placed his hand on her shoulder as if he knew she needed encouragement.

Her heart sank. All along, she had told herself the tales she'd been raised with were simply fictional stories handed down for hundreds of years. They weren't real. Demons and vampires didn't belong in a modern world any more than the myths and legends that had sprung from the area where they lived did.

"I tried not to believe it, Jeddi," she confessed. "I've trained from the time I was a baby to fight these things, but I still didn't believe. I read the cards daily, but I still didn't believe."

"You believed, Safia, or you wouldn't have trained so hard. You're very disciplined, even more so than your mother or grandmother ever were. You work on the farm and at home with your mother, but you never once shirked your training. You believed; you just hoped, as we all did, that evil wouldn't rise in our lifetime."

She turned her head to look at her beloved grandfather. For the first time, she really saw the worry lines carved in his face. There was unease in the faded blue of his eyes. That alone was enough to make all the times her radar had gone off and the knots in her belly very real.

"When you were born," he continued. "We knew. Your grandmother, your mother and father. I knew. I consulted the ancestors just to be certain. None of us wanted it to be true, but the moment you came into this world, all of us could see you were different. You were born with gifts." There was sorrow in his voice. "You were born with green eyes."

It was true, she was the only one in her family with green eyes, but why would that make a difference? Still, she didn't question him. "I did prepare," she whispered. "But it feels as if it can't be real, even now when I feel evil on the wind. When I know the accidents on the farm were actual attacks on our family. I know these things, yet my mind doesn't want to process the reality."

She turned back to look at the town of Dellys spread out in the distance. "All those unknowing, innocent people living there. The restaurants. The shops. The market. I love the market. Everyone is so unaware of danger coming. It isn't as if soldiers are attacking them, and they can see the enemy coming. No one would believe us if we warned them. I wouldn't even know what to tell them."

"You don't know what you're facing yet," Amastan pointed out, his voice gentle. "I've told you many times, Safia, prepare but do not worry about something you have no control over — something that may or may not happen. That does you no good. If you have no idea who or what your enemy is and you dwell on it, you will make him much more powerful than he is."

She knew her grandfather was right. She trusted him. Throughout the years growing up, she hadn't known him to be wrong when he gave his advice. He was always thoughtful before he spoke, and she'd learned to take what he said to heart.

Once more she looked at the harbor. The port of Dellys was small, located near the mouth of the river Sebaou and east of Algiers. Many of the men permanently living in Dellys were fishermen, sailors, or navigators. The fishermen provided the fresh fish daily to the local restaurants. The harbor was beautiful with the boats and lights, so modern looking. Everything looked modern — so this century. Just by looking at the beauty of the harbor and the town, one wouldn't imagine it had been around since prehistoric times.

"We must go in," Amastan reiterated. "The others will be waiting. Hopefully, Amara will have fixed dinner for us, and it will be edible."

Amara was married to her oldest brother, Izem. Safia really liked Amara, who could not? But she didn't understand how the match worked, yet it did, perfectly. Amara was a tornado moving through the house and farm, one disaster after another. Through it all, her laughter was contagious. She was bright and cheerful, always willing to pitch in and help, eager to learn every aspect of farming. Clearly, she wanted to be a good wife to Izem, but her youth and exuberance coupled with her total inexperience and clumsy energy sometimes were recipes for disasters.

At the same time, she was an amazing jeweler. One would think when she was so clumsy around the farm, tripping over her own small feet, she wouldn't be able to make the fine necklaces and earrings she did. Her artwork was exquisite and much sought after. She was an asset to their family for that alone, but most importantly, because she made Izem happy.

Despite the two appearing to be total opposites, Izem was extremely satisfied with Amara. He was a very serious man. He took after Amastan in both appearance and personality.

His name, meaning lion, epitomized who he was and what he stood for. He was always going to be the head of his family. He was a man to be counted on, and maybe that was exactly why the match worked so well. Amara needed the security of Izem, and he needed the fun and brightness she brought him.

Safia loved watching her oldest brother and his wife together because she was a little terrified of her grandfather choosing a husband for her. She knew several offers had been made for her and he'd turned them down, stating she was already promised to another. He'd never explained to her what he meant. She'd never met a man she'd been promised to in marriage.

Her father seemed to accept her grandfather's decree as did her brothers. No one ever questioned her grandfather and for some reason, even on such an important subject, she couldn't bring herself to either. Seeing Izem and Amara so happy made her feel as if there were a chance she could find happiness with a man, a stranger, her grandfather believed would be the right choice for her.

They walked together, side by side, through the field toward the house. "Your leg is hurting," Amastan observed. "You were injured today."

She wasn't limping. She'd been careful not to show any signs of pain. Instantly she felt shame. How could she possibly be ready to protect her family if Amastan could so easily read her discomfort? Her enemies would be able to do so just as easily and take advantage during a battle. All those years of training and she couldn't cover a simple injury?

"I'm not ready, Jeddi," she whispered. "If I can't hide a simple injury from you, how can I defend the farm? Our family? The people in the town?"

He gave her his gentlest voice. "Yelli, I observed the tear in your trousers along with the dirt and bloodstains. You have not given anything away by your actions or expression. It is the condition of your clothes that tells me something happened."

"I did have a little accident today when I was herding the sheep in from the back pasture. They were far too close to the cliff and very uneasy." It had been in the same area where those strange tracks had been. She had been searching for them.

She didn't look up at him, but she felt her grandfather's piercing eyes on her, drilling into her, seeing right past her casual tone to the truth.

"Safia?" He stopped abruptly in front of the house.

More than a question, it was an order. Reluctantly, she halted as well and forced herself to look up at him, holding her gloves in front of her as if the thin leather could protect her from his close scrutiny. His gaze moved over her, examining her inch by inch.

"It was no accident, any more than what happened to me or any of the others, Safia. We can't pretend this away any longer. How badly were you injured?"

She pressed her lips together, reliving the terrifying moment when the dirt gave way on the cliff, and she went over. She had clawed at the dirt, rock, and scraggly tree roots as she slid over the side. It seemed to take forever before her fingers dug into the mud and roots, and she gingerly found a grip with her fingertips. She clung there, legs dangling, heart pounding, head resting against a tough rope of knotted wood.

Insects began to emerge from the mud, crawling toward her from every direction.

Stinging bugs flew around her hands and face. A hawk screamed and rushed out of the sky straight at her. In that moment, she knew exactly what she faced and calm descended. She forced air through her lungs, calling on her training to keep from panicking.

Evil had come to her family's farm. She couldn't deny it any longer as much as she wanted to. She had known for the last three weeks the small "accidents" happening on their farm were attacks against their family. She felt guilty that she hadn't been able to protect the animals or her family members from the escalating violence. It was just that she had no idea how to stop it because she wasn't certain how to fight what she couldn't see. Right at that moment, evil was striking at her as if it knew she was the primary defender.

"I was more frightened than anything else. A few scrapes and bruises." She had dug her toes into the rocks for purchase and reached with her mind for the hawk. She had gifts — incredible gifts she'd been born with. Before that moment, she had thought it was just plain cool that she had an ability to connect with animals, but the hawk turned away from her at the last moment, pulling up sharply at her command.

"Lacerations," her grandfather corrected.

She nodded. "When I was climbing back up the cliff, there were a few jagged rocks poking out. It really was more the scare of feeling the dirt give way under me, and then having to admit to myself that all these little accidents haven't really been accidents at all."

Her grandfather continued to look at her.

She sighed. "I'm sore, shaken up, but really, nothing broken or sprained, so I got off easy."

Her grandfather remained silent far too long, thinking her revelation over. There had been too many small accidents lately. Both had become aware over the last few weeks something was very wrong. Her father, too, had become suspicious. Even her brothers had grown quiet and exchanged worried looks between themselves.

"You're certain all the animals are in for the night?" Amastan asked.

Safia nodded. "Usem and Farah brought in the sheep."

Her brother, Usem, and his wife, Farah, were fast at moving the sheep. She was certain Usem had his own gift with animals. The animals seemed to respond to him, especially the sheep. Usem, was the third to the oldest and like Izem was steady and a hard worker, but much more inclined to laugh and take time to play pranks on his siblings. Farah was quiet and sweet, her gaze following Usem lovingly. She was a very good cook and did her best to help Amara learn. She treated Amara like a younger sister, welcoming her with open arms.

"Badis and Layla took care to round up the goats and get them into the shelters," she continued, turning to survey what she could see of their land.

Layla was nearly as tall as Safia's brother, Badis. Layla was tall, confident, and beautiful. There was very little she couldn't do. She excelled in combat just as she did in keeping house and making rugs. She was also kind and showed endless patience toward Amara.

Safia's brother, Badis, and Layla were a wonderful match and were never far from one another, especially now that Layla was pregnant.

Her grandfather laughed unexpectedly. "That left your sister, Lunja, and Zdan to round up the chickens with their children."

Despite the gravity of the situation, Safia couldn't help smiling too. Her two nephews and her niece loved the chickens. They spent quite a lot of their day chasing after them, collecting eggs, naming the chickens, finding new nests, whatever they could interacting with them. The chickens were given free range over the farm for the most part, only being brought in at night when predators would attack and eat them. The children were very enthusiastic about their jobs.

Zdan, Lunja's husband, was a great bear of a man, the largest in their family. He certainly looked intimidating, or he would to an outsider. It was difficult to think of him as scary when his children clung to his arms and legs, winding around him and riding on his shoulders every chance they got. Lunja looked at him as if the sun rose with him every morning and for her, it most likely did.

"I love my family so much, Jeddi," she whispered, more to herself than to her grandfather. "I'm so afraid I can't protect them. My brain refuses to really acknowledge what's happening because I worry I'm not up to the task. If something happens to any of you because I failed to train hard enough..." she trailed off.

Throughout the years, she had considered her training fun. It was extremely difficult and demanding, but she had fast reflexes that only sharpened as she got older. Every muscle and cell in her body sang when she ran or climbed or when she picked up weapons or fought hand-to-hand.

"You are ready, Safia," Amastan confirmed. "You must have faith in yourself and in your training. You were chosen. You have two older sisters, but the gift was not given to either of them. It was given to you. You were born with the talents you have, Safia. You must know, when you train with your brothers and father, when you did with your mother and grandmother or with Aura, no one is faster or more intuitive than you are."

She took a deep breath and let it out before she nodded. "I just never believed it would come to this."

"None of us wanted it to come to this, not in our lifetime, but it has, and we'll do whatever is necessary to defeat our enemies, just as our people have done for over two thousand years." He opened the door and waved her inside.

At once, Safia's stomach reacted to the delicious aroma filling the house. Amara had been busy in the kitchen and her efforts filled the house with the inviting scent of one of the all- time staples the family often relied on. Tajine was a delicious stew Safia particularly enjoyed after a long day working in the field. She was suddenly very, very hungry. She knew Amara had been trying hard to get the tajine just right.

Tajine was slow cooked with lamb or poultry as a rule. Vegetables, nuts, and sometimes even dried fruits could be included. Spices such a ginger, cinnamon, and turmeric along with a host of others were used depending on whether it was a vegetable, poultry, or lamb tajine.

Amara had trouble with the spices, sometimes dumping all kinds into the stew, or trying to make it first sweet and then savory, but she hadn't given up, determined to master the craft of cooking.

Amara had made loaves of bread to go with the tajine, and the one thing she was very good at was baking bread. Couscous was the dessert — her grandfather's favorite. Amara often struggled with couscous as well. Safia knew it was important to her that she get that right.

Amastan never said anything when the dessert was doughy or overly sweet. Although Amara laughed at herself, it was obvious to Safia she was disappointed if the meal wasn't good. Safia hoped this one would be the one to turn things around for Amara.

One by one, family members washed and gathered to eat together. After prayers, there was much laughter as the hot stew was served up in bowls of clay their ancestors had made. This was one of Safia's favorite times of day. She knew it wasn't the same for all other families, but in hers they were encouraged to talk to one another, to laugh and share their day.

She recognized Amastan's wisdom encouraging family members to give input on the farm, the gardens, livestock and even the children. Her brothers had secured land around the original farmland handed down through generations, adding to the flourishing tribal business.

The livestock was healthy, the soil was rich, and every member of the family meticulously worked to produce beautiful rugs, carpets, pottery, jewelry and clothing for sale. Many of their items were sent with her eldest sister, Illi, and her husband, Kab, across the Sahara to the markets in the Middle East. Kab's family was one of the few very familiar with the Sahara Desert and the places one could find water.

Kab's family were also artisans. Illi had been welcomed into their family, not just because she had caught Kab's eye, but she knew the old ways of making pottery and her work was sought after. Their grandmother had handed down the history and designs that went back centuries. Illi not only had the skills but could pass those skills and her knowledge on to new generations.

Safia realized just how difficult her grandfather's job as head of the tribe as well as head of the family really was. Choosing others to bring in when they had so many secrets had to be extremely challenging. She looked around the table and realized just how carefully Amastan had chosen those he allowed into their inner circle.

The newcomers had to be loyal and willing to keep secrets. They had to train every day to fight as both modern and ancient warriors. Anyone coming into their family would have to fit their personality into a unit already tight-knit and learn to accept their very different ways. It wasn't an easy ask. Every one of the chosen brides had done so, as had Zdan, Lunja's husband.

It was unusual for the man to choose to come to his wife's family rather than for her to go to his. Zdan's family had become very small. His two sisters had married and left home. His parents were dead. One aunt remained and he offered to bring her with him, but she had adamantly refused. He checked on her daily. She was very set in her ways. Safia knew Zdan's aunt would never have accepted Amastan as head of the family. He wasn't traditional enough.

Safia couldn't help noticing how anxious Amara looked as everyone began eating the tajine. Twice Amara's gaze went to Izem's and he shifted slightly toward her, giving her a reassuring smile. Deliberately, Safia took a spoonful of the stew, expecting it to be a little better than the last time Amara had made it, but this time, it was far, far better. The blend of spices was nearly perfect.

Safia looked across the table at Amara, unable to keep the huge smile from her face. She didn't want to make a big deal about the fact that the tajine was so good because that might embarrass Amara and point out all the times she had failed.

"Charif," Amastan said with a false frown. "Are you already finished with your first serving? Leave some for your elders."

Charif looked up at his father, puzzled, with a spoon half-way to his mouth. Zdan ruffled his hair and leaned down to whisper in an overly loud voice. "I have a much longer arm, Charif.

I'll get you extra helpings."

Mock fighting over the stew was the perfect way to convey to Amara that she had gotten it right and everyone was devouring her efforts gratefully. Safia once again noted the exchange between Amara and Izem. This time there were tears in Amara's eyes she hastily blinked away and pride on Izem's face. He smiled at her lovingly. The look her eldest brother gave his young wife was enough to make her wish, just for that moment, that she wasn't so alone, especially now, when she faced something evil, and her family depended on her to lead the defense against She felt her father's gaze on her, and she sent him a small, what she hoped was a reassuring smile. When her mother was alive, Gwafa Meziane had laugh lines around his startling blue eyes and a ready smile for his six children. He teased his mother and wife continually but was his father's constant companion and advisor. He worked harder than any other on the farm. He was loving toward his children, but when it came to teaching them to wield weapons and defend themselves, he was every bit as fierce and demanding as Amastan, her grandmother and mother and even her friend, Aura.

Since the death of her mother, Gwafa's laugh lines and smile had faded. Several of the "accidents" on the farm seemed to have been directed at him and Amastan, but the majority were definitely aimed at Safia. He'd grown even quieter, and he and Amastan had taken to staying up long hours into the night talking. She lay in her bed and stared up at the ceiling or paced back and forth in her room, wondering if she should reach out to her closest friend, Aura, while her father and grandfather were whispering in the other room.

She couldn't talk about her fears to her family, not when they would have to depend on and look to her for guidance. It didn't matter that she was the youngest of the six siblings. She had been born with the "gift". Amastan had decreed it was so. Her grandmother and parents concurred. That meant she carried that burden whether she thought she could or not.

"We have many things to talk about before night falls," Amastan announced once the dishes were cleared. "Everyone needs to gather close."

Dread filled Safia as they adjourned to the wide-open room they preferred, where they could sit in front of the open fire on the carpets woven by their ancestors. There was a connection always felt from past to present. Safia found it comforting to be in the room with her family, sitting on the carpets surrounded by other keepsakes from those who had gone before her. She felt their presence stronger than ever, as if they were there to give her courage.

Amastan waited until everyone had settled comfortably and looked up at him expectantly.

So many nights this had been storytelling time. This had been a favorite time for everyone as they gathered together to hear stories handed down for generations. Children sat on laps and listened with wide eyes. Safia remembered sitting on her mother's lap and snuggling close to her father's side when Amastan regaled them with tales of brave men and women defending their lands from invaders.

They were Imazighen, free people and very peaceful, but they would defend themselves fiercely when needed. They were proud of who they were and with their last breath would always declare to the world they were Imazighen.

"All of you studied the history of our country and are aware that many wars have taken place here. One of the most significant for our family was one that started with the continual political wars as one faction after another invaded Algeria. In 17 to 24 AD the Romans invaded.

They cut a road right across the migration route. Where there was once wild grass to feed livestock, there were fences to keep out the nomad's flocks from wheat the Roman's needed for their supplies."

Safia knew a little of the history of that war, but there had been so many invaders.

"An entire way of life was disrupted. The Romans sought to take the tribal lands and divide them up for settlers," Amastan continued. "The free people rebelled. The fighting became quite fierce, and those living here refused to bow down to outsiders. As Imazighen, we do not accept the dictates of any other."

Amastan paused for a moment and looked around the room at his family. "Had the tribes been fighting only humans, the battle would have been won very quickly, but that was not the case. It was not mere mortals our ancestors fought. The underworld chose that time to enter our world and turned neighbor against neighbor, sending an army of vampires and demons mixing with the invaders from Rome."

An icy shiver crept down Safia's spine. She glanced out the window. The sun was beginning to sink, and small fingers of fog began to drift in from the sea. The gray fingers looked like bones long dead and pointing straight at their farm.

"Our male ancestors have gifted us with their presence and wisdom. They share, through the elders, advice, and knowledge. Through the female side, handed down for centuries, we have been given the wisdom and direction of the cards. The gift of reading is given to only one female in the family. She not only holds the power and responsibility of the cards, but should the demons rise to attack again, she must lead us to slay them. Without her, this will be impossible."

All eyes turned to Safia. She heard Amara gasp and then hastily cut off the sound.

Glancing up, she could see that Amara had her hand over her mouth and was leaning into Izem.

Amastan's sharp gaze was on her as well. "Amara," his voice was gentle. "You have known of this almost from the day you married Izem."

She nodded. "That is true, Jeddi, but it wasn't real to me. Lately, I've felt the presence of evil, but even with that, I've done my best to ignore it. I often spoke to Izem, urging him to speak with you and Eemmi about finding Safia a husband. It didn't seem right that we were happy, and she had no one. She loves children and she works harder than any of us. Because fighting something we can't see and that the family would send her out to fight unknown evil entities didn't seem real to me, I just wanted someone very special for her. Now, it feels like we're all abandoning her. Forgive me, Jeddi, but I don't understand."

Amastan's expression remained gentle. Safia loved him even more for the way he had always allowed every family member to ask questions and share opinions. That had been a difficult concept for Amara, and Safia knew it had to have been very hard for her to express her concerns, especially in front of the entire family and Safia.

"It's natural for you not to understand completely, Amara. You weren't raised from childhood with the knowledge those born into this family have. Perhaps it was already imprinted on us for our family to accept these ideas so easily. I have never asked the ancestors this, but it is a good question. I admire you for caring so deeply about Safia, but I assure you, she is spoken for."

It was Safia's sister, Lunja, who questioned their grandfather next. "Jeddi, I have heard you express this on more than one occasion, that she is promised, and you would never say this unless it is true, but we are now in a dire situation, and she will need all the help she can get. If that is so, where is he?"

"He will come, Lunja. You must have faith. He is a great warrior."

It was Izem, her oldest brother, who brought up what Safia worried about the most. "Is this wise, Jeddi? Bringing an unknown into a complicated battle and having Safia get used to a relationship that will need time to develop? She is used to coping on her own with just us. If this man decides to take over and has his own strategy, it may well throw her off balance."

Ordinarily, Safia would have had several questions of her own, but it was nice to have family members addressing the concerns for her. Her heartbeat stayed steady, under control, a win for her. She'd trained hard to keep her heart and lungs functioning under every circumstance. The accident in the afternoon that had sent her plunging over the cliff had shaken her confidence in her abilities for a brief period of time. She'd lost that control, sending her brain into chaos. She had to be able to always think, no matter what was going on around her.

"You raise a legitimate concern, Izem. Gwafa and I worried about the same thing many times. We prepared Safia as best we could. She knows many of the customs of his people and she speaks his language."

The breath caught in Safia's lungs. A stunned silence filled the room. She pressed a hand to her throat in an effort to stay grounded. For a moment she couldn't feel her own flesh.

"He doesn't speak our language? He has different customs?" Izem echoed. "Are you saying this man you have chosen for our sister is not a member of our tribe? He is not Imazighen?" He looked to his father and then back at his grandfather. "You would have Safia leave our family? Our tribe?" He was shaking his head even as he spoke, rejecting what his grandfather implied.

He wasn't the only one. Her brothers and sister were also indicating a strong disapproval of the choice selected for their sister. It was extremely rare for anyone to disagree to such an extent with Amastan, and never over an arranged marriage.

Safia had never considered that she would be sent away from her family, especially since she had been trained to protect them. She had the family cards. She had spent her entire childhood, her teens, her early adulthood training to fight, to hone her skills. She'd been devoted to her family. She couldn't believe her grandfather would arrange a marriage to an outsider. It felt like a betrayal.

"Jeddi." It came out a choked whisper. She turned to her father, knowing she wasn't successful at hiding the shocked horror on her face. She did feel as if her father and grandfather had deceived her all these years. They had known they were going to send her away and yet they had demanded the long grueling hours of training from her. They had forced her to accept her fate as the defender of her family and she had done so willingly.

This felt like sheer treachery. Disloyalty. It didn't just feel that way, it was betrayal. Her parents and grandparents had treated her as if she were special to them, and yet they would send her away with a perfect stranger, someone not even of their tribe, not of their people. Worse, they would do so after she risked her life to save them.

Even Illi's marriage was closely monitored to ensure she was treated with kindness, acceptance, and love. Her husband was Imazighen. Once Safia was married to this stranger, her family would have no say in how he treated her. If he took her away from them, they would never know if he beat or even murdered her.

Still, with all that, she had the years of love and kindness her father and grandfather had shown to her. Could they really have betrayed her in such a terrible way? Amastan stated plainly that she was to marry outside their people. She had to get away from everyone, go somewhere to think. She couldn't breathe properly. She had to leave. Pushing up with one hand, she managed to get to her feet. All the years of training made her look good, calm, steady.

"I can't stay here right now. I must leave."


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