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Ransomed to the World by Stacey Brutger



Annora risked everything to save her mates, exposing her deepest secrets, and now she must face the consequences when her past catches up with her. To protect her mates, she makes a deal with the devil himself. The only problem—it could cost her soul.

Suspended from university, she and her mates are forced to leave its protective walls, dodging hunters and assassins every step of the way. As she trains to master her magic, she learns more about her mates, and discovers she isn’t the only one hiding from their past…secrets that threaten to destroy their fragile bond.

When they arrive in Phantom City, not everything is as it seems. If she gives in to her father’s demands, the rest of the world will be in peril—if she doesn’t, she’ll lose her mates once and for all. Neither is acceptable. A daring plan takes shape, but one wrong move could send her world tumbling down around her, and she isn’t sure she’s strong enough to survive it this time.


Ransomed to the World by Stacey Brutger Book Chapter One


Two weeks later…


Cause one small riot.

Get some people killed.

Murder a powerful alpha who wanted to take over the world.

Incite a war.

Who knew it would get a girl suspended from school?

Annora sat in the back seat while Xander expertly drove the vehicle up the single winding mountain road, the truck engine screaming under the strain. She absently ran her fingers over Prem’s head while the ferret slept in her lap, the action calming her.

It had been two weeks since they left the university.

Or more like two weeks since she was asked to leave the only home she’d ever known.

With the knowledge spreading that phantoms were real, the university decided to take precautions. After a lengthy discussion, the directors had voted and asked her to leave campus until things were settled between her and her father, saying it was too dangerous for the other students if she remained.

She couldn’t argue with that.

Maybe she should consider herself lucky they didn’t try to execute her—or worse, imprison her. She shuddered at the thought of being held captive again and at the mercy of power-hungry assholes. Director Greenwood protected her as much as he could, but he’d been outvoted.

Instead of remaining at the university without her, the guys took a leave of absence. They were adamant about staying by her side. While she was more thankful than she could say, she felt selfish for pulling them away from their lives.

Annora couldn’t help but be suspicious of the timing.

Since she didn’t have a clan or coven or even a family, the school had promised to protect her…for a price.

They thought she would grovel.

They were wrong.

So they took away the protection.

They wanted her power and were willing to do whatever was necessary to take it. Annora didn’t have a single doubt they’d soon begin hunting her in earnest.

She would not bow.

She would not break.

She’d survived torture.

She’d survived death.

Fuck if she’d let life kick her in the lady balls while she was down. She had too much to live for—most especially her mates—to lose it all now. They meant everything to her. They gave her a reason to live. They gave her a purpose. They were her family, and she’d do everything in her power to keep them safe…even if she had to tear the world apart to do it.

The guys had been training her hard over the past two weeks. Camden was trying to cram in as much information as possible about the different shifters and their laws. Mason and Xander doubled down on her physical training. Edgar was teaching her everything he knew about the afterworld, while Logan helped her detox and kept her from being overwhelmed by spending evenings with her watching all the movies and video games she’d missed growing up, and then he’d carry her to bed when she fell asleep in his arms.

It wasn’t until the sound of the engine died that Annora became aware that the SUV had stopped. The guys slid out of the vehicle, and Prem took the opportunity to jump out the door. He sniffed the air curiously, then loped away to explore the area, pausing every few feet to investigate.

The guys began collecting the items from the back. Everyone had been allowed one personal bag each, while the rest of the packs were supplies. When she hefted out her bag, Mason snatched it from her hand. “It will be a long hike before we reach the tribe. You’ll need all your strength to reach the top.”

She touched his arm, still concerned about his silence during the ride. Even now, he rubbed the back of his neck, the tiny lines near his eyes showing the strain he was under. “Headache?”

He gave her a confused look. “Trolls don’t get sick.”

It was her turn to frown, but she kept silent about her concern, promising she’d keep a closer eye on him. Maybe it was just the stress of returning home. She had to admit, it bothered her as well. “I’m not looking forward to being in troll territory.”

Especially since the trolls had always treated Mason as a second-class citizen for being born half troll.

Now they were demanding his presence.

It was fucking suspicious timing, and she couldn’t get over the feeling that the trolls were setting them up.

Mason tipped her face up, his pink hair swaying toward her, and he stole a light caress along her cheek with the backs of his fingers. “It’s the safest place for you until we’ve had time to complete your training. Not to mention you must lay claim to me in front of my tribe for the mating ritual to be complete.” He winced, dropping his gaze and fussing with tying her bag to his pack, looking nervous and uncertain. Even his hair wilted, subdued. “It’s a silly custom, but they won’t recognize the claim until you do.”

Most people found Mason’s size and slightly exaggerated facial features intimidating. Hell, she actually saw him crush a car with his bare hands, but he’d only ever been gentle with her.

She trusted him with her life.

He would never hurt her, and it pained her that he didn’t believe he could be himself around her.

Annora stepped into his personal space, placed her hand on his chest. He froze at her touch, then he slowly lifted his eyes to hers, the vulnerability in them slaying her. “I have no problem laying claim to you in front of your entire family—or the world for that matter. I’m honored to have you. I just don’t trust them not to try and keep us apart.”

His face softened at her vow, and he flashed her a crooked smile, but it didn’t banish the despair lurking in his lavender eyes. “You’re right not to trust them. Though my standing in the tribe is less than a slave, they’ll find any way to make you pay for claiming me. Don’t let them fool you. Don’t allow them to demand more than I’m worth.”

He was fucking serious.

Annora could only gape at him, rage burning in her gut that they dared to treat him as something less than worthless.

Darkness from the afterworld seeped out of her skin. The grass withered, turning brown and brittle under her feet, the very air murky. She took a deep breath to calm herself, the dark particles floated back to earth like ash, and the sun peeked through the trees once more.

She reached up, slid her fingers into his hair, and brushed them along the crown of horns that rimmed his head, then yanked him down toward her. “Say that again, and I’m going to have to kick your ass. And don’t think I won’t find a way to do it, either. You are worth more than all the rest of your clan put together. If they think they’re going to keep you from me, I’ll bring the mountain down on top of them, so it’ll take years for them to dig themselves out. You’re mine. They gave up any right to you long ago.”

She smashed her lips to his, then nearly squeaked when their heavy bags plunked down next to her with a thump. Mason plucked her up off the ground and wrapped her in his arms. He devoured her with a kiss, like he couldn’t get enough, and she tightened her arms around him, wrapping her legs around his waist.

It was only when the rough bark of the tree pressed against her back did she lift her head, breaking the kiss. His lavender eyes were dark with lust, his chest heaving, but it was the complete devotion on his face that caused her insides to twist.

“Don’t let them take you away from me. Don’t give up on us. If they want a fight, I’ll bring it to them. I’m not letting you go. Ever.” She caressed his cheek, pressing her forehead against his, determined to make him believe it. “Understand?”

A growl vibrated in his chest, his fangs more prominent as they peeked out between his lips, pure possessiveness etched on his face as he studied her. “Yes.”

At his husky rumble, her thighs tightened around him, lust nearly pulling her back under. His smile turned cocky, more predatory, when he inhaled deeply, and she hid her heated face against his shoulder.

No doubt if he could smell her arousal, so could the others.

But she refused to feel too embarrassed.

Two weeks had passed, and none of the guys had touched her romantically.

Not even once.

Damn it to hell, they barely came within a foot of her, let alone gave her anything more than a paltry peck on the cheek.

They were fucking driving her batty with denied lust.

Not that she had much time to do anything after the rigorous training schedule the guys created. It was a struggle to even stay awake and watch their nightly movie with Logan without conking out after ten minutes. Nonstop combat, phantom, and magical training left her nothing more than a wrung out rag by the end of the day.

But she was getting better.

Every day, she was learning, getting faster, getting stronger.

She hoped getting them away from the school would help them see her as their mate again instead of a student to run into the ground.

Licking her lips, Annora gave him her most seductive look, peering up at him from under her lashes, hoping they could sneak away from the others. “Mason, why don’t we go—”

“Here.” Willa tossed her a bag, and Annora barely dodged out of the way, narrowly missing getting hit in the face.

“If you want to carry a bag, you can carry mine.” The hedge witch smirked and sauntered away to join the others at the head of the trail, while Annora fumed and glared at her back. Willa was worse than all the guys combined.

If Annora didn’t know better, she’d swear the bitch was cockblocking her.

Willa’s green eyes sparkled, casting Annora a smug looked over her shoulder.

Annora caught every one of the guys watching her hungrily…until she narrowed her eyes at them. Then they all turned away, conspicuously busy with something else.

Like they’d asked Willa to protect their fucking virtue or some shit.

Mason stiffened, then heaved a sigh and carefully lowered her to the ground, kissing the top of her head before collecting all three bags and striding away without a word.

That’s when she knew her suspicions were correct.

Well, two could play at this game.

If they were determined to drive her insane, she would return the favor.

It was only fair.

When Willa learned they were leaving, she’d insisted on coming. No way was she going to be left behind.

Not that the girl had much choice, since her coven demanded she accompany Annora wherever she went, the asshats no doubt insisting on regular updates.

Thankfully, Annora managed to talk Terrance and Kevin into staying at the house to keep things organized while they were gone. The wolves were both too weak for the trip, and she refused to have their deaths on her conscience. They’d survived too much to lose it all now.

As the rest of their caravan pulled up, Annora sighed and put her hands on her hips as Loulou and her wolf pack emerged from the remaining two vehicles. She counted a dozen wolves and one little bunny rabbit. While Annora had tried her damnedest to warn them the trip would be dangerous, the wolves insisted they owed her a debt.

Then there was Loulou.

The bunny refused to let Annora go alone—and what Loulou wanted, Loulou got.

Annora couldn’t help but grin at the sight of her friend chatting a mile a minute at the wolves, floating from one to another with her boundless energy as she rambled on about how wonderful it was to be out in nature.

Until she smashed the first mosquito that tried to land on her. She pulled her hand away and frowned at the carcass with a sneer of disgust.

For all that she was a shifter, Loulou had never been out of the city.

Annora wandered closer to her friend as the wolves organized their gear and scurried away, glad to hand off the duty of watching Loulou to her. “I told you not to come.”

Loulou rolled her eyes and wiped the remains of the bug off on her jeans with a grimace. “And I told you, no way was my bestie going on another adventure without me.” She wiggled her fingers and grinned. “Four rabbit paws—consider me your super-duper good luck charm.”

Loulou darted away to direct the guys on how her luggage needed to be handled before Annora could protest that this wasn’t a vacation. The wolves dutifully nodded at the rabbit, giving her their complete attention, but Annora could see they were all about ready to burst out of their skins to get away. Not that she blamed them. Loulou in chatterbox mode was a force to be reckoned with on a good day.

She saw the trip as an adventure.

Annora wished she could see it the same way.

It felt more like a trial that if she didn’t pass, she risked not only her life, but those of her mates and friends as well.

Failure was not an option.

Preparations were underway to present her to the phantom world.

She had two weeks remaining to complete her training before she’d be called in front of the council and publicly claimed by her father. That was only half the problem. If she survived, she’d then have to enter the banished lands—a place that was considered deadly to phantoms like her—and convince the reapers to release Daxion from his mating mark. If she failed, the asshole would hunt down her mates and kill them.

Ah, nothing like fatherly love.

Her dear old dad just oozed it.

Feeling like the world was spinning out of control, she turned and headed toward the guys where they’d gathered at the head of the trail. Half of the wolves had already shifted and were spread out, patrolling the area. Camden and Xander were hovering over the waterproof map, discussing strategy. Edgar was talking with Willa, no doubt plotting more ways to torture her with their lessons.

When she scanned the area for her kitsune, her eyes came to rest on a sleek fox with an inky black face and a dark crimson undercoating.


Since he’d been taken, he’d been avoiding getting too close to her.

Not that she could blame him. He needed time to heal, but it was killing her not to go to him. She missed his affectionate, mischievous nature.

He peered at her, his crystal blue eyes glowing, his fluffy tails weaving around him almost hypnotically. The tips shimmered red, like the ends were ready to catch fire at any second.

He was still skittish, still underweight, but he was getting better. Every night, he held her tight, as if afraid something might happen if he wasn’t touching her, and every night, the nightmares faded a bit more.

She wished she could do more for him. Thanks to her sadistic uncle who raised her after her mother died, she knew physical pain was easier to deal with than the mental scars that remain unseen. She walked toward him and ran her fingers over the tips of his ears, smiling when he brushed his face against her palm for more snuggles before he darted off into the woods.

Prem quickly gave chase, determined to bedevil the guy no matter what form he took, and she laughed as the two of them tussled. When she turned away, she saw the rest of the guys were ready and waiting for her.

Inhaling deeply, she took the first step that would take them deeper into the forest and up a freakin’ mountain. Everyone wore backpacks except for the girls. Loulou laughed and chased butterflies, the wolves doing their best to corral her, while Willa put on her sunglasses and popped in a set of earbuds, as if they could block out the rest of the world.

After the first hour, they fell into a rhythm. As the morning turned into afternoon, the guys pushed them along relentlessly, their never flagging energy making her more than a tad cranky. To keep herself busy, she called on the afterworld, pulling a couple of butterflies into existence. They floated around her, beating their wings slowly as they waited for her command.

Prem stretched up on his hind legs and sniffed at them curiously, but otherwise ignored them. Not wanting the others to notice, she sent them scattering in every direction, including into the sky. While she trusted the wolves to scout for them, they might not know about all the possible dangers.

She fed the ravenous insects tiny pulses of energy, getting a glimpse of the surrounding world in return. Her influence was limited to only a few miles before they faded back to the afterworld, but each time she tested them, she discovered she could push them farther and farther.

Edgar glanced over his shoulder at her with knowing eyes, but he didn’t scold her. Now that the phantoms knew about her, there was no point in keeping her abilities a secret. He slowed his pace until he was next to her.

Though he appeared as unruffled as the others with the recent turn of events, she knew he still hadn’t regained his full strength. She suspected it had something to do with his refusal to visit the phantom realm to recharge. Not that she could blame him. She knew what it felt like to be trapped. It took more than a few months to get over being left to die.

She reached over and laced her fingers between his, allowing the dust from the phantom world to lick at his skin. He sucked in a startled breath, his hands tightening on hers, and she watched his fathomless blue eyes darken until the gloom of the afterworld stared back at her.

“You’re getting better at that.” He blinked away the darkness, the sharp angles of his face softening as he gazed at her.

Annora reached up and stroked his brow. “And you worry too much.”

Instead of answering, he helped her climb over a fallen log by swinging her over as if she weighed nothing. Before she even landed, he’d leapt over it in a single bound. He moved differently than the shifters—with the effortless self-awareness she associated with phantoms. It was like he knew and could control every atom of his body.

Knowing him and his control freak tendencies, she wouldn’t be surprised if he could.

She just wished it was one of the abilities she’d inherited.

Instead, when the others weren’t looking, she ghosted herself through objects instead of using her limited athletic ability, saving her energy in case she needed it later. From the slightly reproving look Edgar cast her, he knew what she’d been doing.

“What? You wanted me to practice.” She gave him an innocent shrug, avoiding the stubborn look to his jaw that said he wanted to argue. “I’m practicing.”

As so often in the past few weeks, he gave a sigh and conceded to her without an argument. It was starting to piss her off. What happened to the grump who fought her every step of the way? The one who argued with her for the sake of arguing?

She tightened her grip on his hand, dragging him to a stop, then placed her hands on her hips and glared up at him. “Now that we’re away from the campus and the others, maybe it’s time for you and the guys to tell me what the hell is really going on.”

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