When the gods make the rules, the players must choose: Sacrifice their love to save the world, or choose love and let it burn?
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from This Cursed Light, the second book in the YA fantasy duology The Last Finestra by Emily Thiede, out from Wednesday Books on December 5th.
Six months after saving their island from destruction and almost losing Dante, Alessa is ready to live happily ever after with her former bodyguard. But Dante can’t rest, haunted by a conviction that the gods aren’t finished with them yet. And without his powers, the next kiss from Alessa could kill him.
Desperate for answers, Dante enlists Alessa and their friends to find the exiled ghiotte in hopes of restoring his powers and combining forces with them to create the only army powerful enough to save them all. But Alessa is hiding a deadly consequence of their last fight—a growing darkness that’s consuming her mind—and their destination holds more dangers than anyone bargained for. In the mysterious city of the banished, Dante will uncover secrets, lies, and ghosts from his past that force him to ask himself: Which side is he on?
When the gods reveal their final test, Dante and Alessa will be the world’s last defense. But if they are the keys to saving the world, will their love be the price of victory?
The previous day’s cold snap withered as Dante stopped to catch his breath at a rocky outcropping on the beach. Hands on hips, he savored the tang of brine and citrus, the tingle of ocean spray on his bare chest.
Lying next to Alessa had been an exquisite kind of torment, with every soft sigh and rustle of sheets a promise denied. He’d lain awake for hours, watching her sleep, full of regret for every night he’d insisted on keeping his distance. When he had finally dozed off, another damned vision—not nightmare—snatched him right back from the brink of sleep.
An hour of running wasn’t enough to escape the specter of choking ash, streets running with blood, hordes of leering eyes, and the crackle of scorched flesh, but at least he got to leave the city behind.
No walls, no expectations, no curious looks from strangers. Nothing but the air in his lungs, the rocky beach beneath his feet, and the sea beyond.
Somewhere on the other side, his people were waiting to be found, his best hope for regaining his powers and warding off Crollo’s threat.
Unease stirred in his gut. Were the ghiotte still his people now that he’d lost his powers?
It stung how Alessa skittered away from the topic, as though speaking it aloud was what would make it true. After staying by his side for months while he recovered, never questioning his visions or the mission Dea had given him, he was finally fit and ready to find them, but now she had doubts? Whether she believed it or not, Crollo was coming, and Dante would be there to greet him.
But first, he had a part to play.
Alessa’s Name Day Celebrations were a formality—an archaic one at that—but they marked the end of her servitude, when she’d finally reclaim her name, or a new one of her choice, and no longer have to exist as an idol set apart from the rest of society, addressed only by her title.
It was important to her.
So he’d endure an evening of wearing the stiff clothes, mingling with pompous strangers, and even—he gritted his teeth—being nice to Saverio’s elite.
Nice might be a stretch. Civil would have to do.
With a reluctant sigh, he turned back toward the city. Everything would be open by now, and he had something to finish before returning to the Cittadella.
It was a big day for Alessa. People gave gifts for that sort of thing, didn’t they?
An hour after Kamaria and Saida arrived to help Alessa and Kaleb prepare for the festivities, the mood in the Fonte suite was deteriorating rapidly.
“Love is terrible. Boys are terrible.” Saida made an exquisite portrait of heartbreak, reclining on the chaise longue, her curves swathed in cobalt silk. Even her black curls draped dramatically over one shoulder.
“Valid,” Kaleb said, stuffing an entire samosa in his mouth.
Apparently, Saida had embarked on a brief but tumultuous relationship while they were away, and Kaleb’s attempts to
find a date for the after-party had not gone well.
“I am likable,” Saida said stubbornly, bracelets glittering as she dabbed at her kohl-lined eyes. “Even Kaleb likes me!”
Kaleb nodded, looking slightly alarmed.
“You’re the most likable person I know,” Alessa said. She pulled her robe tight and began gathering crumb-covered plates and hiding half-empty bottles, careful not to muss her pile of curls as she tidied.
Saida glared at the uneaten samosa in her palm. “I wish I liked girls instead.”
“Bad news, cupcake.” Kamaria patted her head. “Girls are just as bad. Ask me how I know.”
“Not you too,” Alessa said. “Is heartbreak contagious?”
Kamaria smirked. “Gods, no. I’m young, famous, and I helped save the world. You couldn’t pay me to get tied down right now. No offense.” She flicked a hand between Alessa and Kaleb. “At least your marriage isn’t a real one.”
“Thank Dea for that,” Alessa said, patting a stray curl back into place.
“What?” Kaleb clutched his chest in mock outrage. “You mean to tell me this gods-sanctioned marriage of convenience hasn’t evolved into a love match? You aren’t soaking your pillows with tears every night over my callous indifference? Here I thought Dante was your consolation prize.”
Alessa waved a bottle at him. “Don’t even joke about that. You know how he is.”
“I do.” Kaleb plucked the samosa from Saida’s hand.“Dante has more baggage than anyone I know, and I collect luggage.”
Kamaria took a swig from a wine bottle, unfazed by the angst all around. Her black hair was newly cut, shaved on the sides with tight curls on top, and her sleeveless black tunic showed off her tall frame and lean, muscular arms. She’d have no trouble finding dance partners.
“I saw our portraits downstairs, and yours is stunning, Saida,” Kamaria said. “Just pose next to that all night and you’ll be the belle of the ball.”
Alessa had bucked the trend of having the Duo painted together and requested to have individual portraits of herself, Kaleb, Dante, and the other Fonti on display instead. After all, Kamaria, Saida, Josef, and Nina had also been on Finestra’s peak, lending their powers to Alessa during Divorando, and a team effort deserved team recognition.
“Did you see mine?” Kaleb struck a pose to match his portrait. “I look like a pirate king.”
“I don’t want to dance with anyone,” Saida groused. “Love is evil.”
“It’s not evil.” Alessa snatched the last cream puff from the tray before it vanished into Kaleb’s insatiable maw. “You just need to find the right person.”
“Ha!” Saida chucked a pillow at her. “Easy for you to say. You found your true love at eighteen.”
Alessa’s cough sent a puff of powdered sugar into the air. “And he died.”
“Yeah, but he’s fine now,” Kamaria said.“All’s well that ends well.”
“I can barely touch him!”
“That part stinks.” Saida nodded sagely. “I’ll give you that. But you still lose, even if you have to sleep with a pillow wall between you.”
Kamaria shrieked, pointing at Alessa’s face.“Do you really? Sorry, I shouldn’t laugh. It’s not funny.”
“Yes, it is,” Kaleb said. “Where is he, anyway?”
“I saw him running stairs earlier,” Kamaria said.“Seems he has some energy to burn off, if you know what I mean.”
Excerpted from This Cursed Light, copyright © 2023 by Emily Thiede.