Last Guard

Berkley Books

last guard

July 2021

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Excerpt from Last Guard
By Nalini Singh

“You’re being perplexingly optimistic for a man who is part of a family rumored to know all of the Net’s most terrible secrets.” Payal couldn’t understand him. “Perhaps you have a surfeit of empaths in your zone. They tend to shoot out rainbows and flowers even to those of us who prefer cold reason. I suppose they can’t help it.”

Canto almost choked on the water he’d just drunk. Coughing, he wondered what Arwen would make of being described as shooting out rainbows and flowers. A second later he scowled at the realization—not for the first time—of how much his cousin had shaped him. Softened him.

Because Payal was right; his statement had been one colored by hope.

Anger was a metallic taste on his tongue as he thought of all the children who’d been eliminated from the population for so-called imperfections. All the children who hadn’t had Ena Mercant in their corner. “Did anyone fight for you?” he found himself asking, needing her not to have been so painfully alone.

“In my family, only the strong survive.”

Canto’s hand spasmed on his water bottle.

Needing to do something—anything—for her, he went to the temperature-controlled storage cabinet and, putting aside the water, pulled out a couple of nutrient bars. He handed one to Payal after returning to his spot by her side. “The teleport would’ve burned a chunk of your energy. You should refuel. Especially since your anchor zone is also sucking you dry.”

She stared at the bar in her hand as if it were a strange, unknown object.

“It’s sealed,” he said without scowling—he understood that her issues with trust went to the core. They weren’t children anymore and she’d been relying only on herself for a very long time.

He had to get it through his thick skull that she might never fucking trust him.

A hard swallow before she curled her fingers around the bar. “Why do sick As keep being born?” she asked, her voice tight.

“Pre-agreement genetic testing of procreation partners should make such matches impossible.”

Canto had seen the testing record for his mother and Binh Fernandez. It had been a thing of art in its detail. Yet it had forecast none of Canto’s future physical issues. “I have a theory that we only start to sicken after birth—when the first trickle of the PsyNet begins to run through our minds.” A slow, relentless drip into pathways built to one day mainline the Net. “It’s filthy with rot and we’re caught in the stream. No other Psy engage with the Net to the same depth as As.”

“I had a tumor, too,” Payal told him without warning, almost as if the words had shoved themselves past her rigid control.

“In my brain. Medics discovered it a month after my removal from the school.”

That was powerful information to have about the Rao CEO. Canto grabbed hold of the small indication of trust—and secreted away the data in a private file about 3K that he would never ever share with anyone else. This? Him and Payal? Theirs was a private bond.

Years of lost time between them, a heavy weight of the unknown, he took the organizer and brought up a profile labeled Hub-3. “This anchor suffers from recurring skin cancers, while this one”—a profile labeled Hub-4—“has a disorder that causes severe breathing issues but that can’t be linked to any particular diagnosis.”

“You think the PsyNet is doing this to us. That as it sickens and dies, so do we—and because of that, past anchors were murdered as infants and toddlers.”

Such a short, concise summation of horrific ugliness. “Prior to initialization,” Canto said, “anchors are just ordinary children with medical issues.”

“Your theory also explains the high incidence of mental instability in our designation. As the NetMind began to lose coherence, so did we.”

“Yeah, that’s what I think.”

Payal knew she had to keep her distance from the relentless force that was Canto Mercant for her own safety. But she opened her mouth and said, “I will assist you.” The anchor problem was too critical to the future of their race for her to allow personal concerns to hold her back.

But Canto wasn’t done. “Will you be the face of our organization, the one who speaks to the Ruling Coalition?” Galaxies that threatened to suck her under. “Majority of As are ready to join the organization—I don’t foresee problems with the more hesitant, either. They just need a little hand-holding.”

“I’m considered robotic,” she pointed out. “I have no charisma.”

“You’re wrong.” Implacable. Absolute. “When you talk, people listen. You also have a spine of steel—and Designation A needs that steel, because what we’re going to say and demand is going to come as a shock.”

“Why not do it yourself? Your own will isn’t in question.” For one, he’d tracked down the loner members of a secretive designation and talked them into becoming part of a group.

“I have zero patience for politicking of any kind.” Thunder on his face. “I’d yell. A lot.”

Payal blinked. No, Canto Mercant was not predictable. “Why do you believe I can be a politician?”

“You can’t. But according to all my sneaky spying—”

Fascination had her interrupting. “Sneaky spying?”

He grimaced. “Damn bears.” Not explaining that response, he returned to his previous subject. “You’re no politico, but I have plenty of evidence that you never lose your temper. You just keep going until people listen. There’s a silent, inexorable grit to you.”

“The last time I was in negotiations with Gia Khan, she said I might as well be made out of cold iron, I was so inhuman.”

“Gia Khan is full of shit—and a sore loser.” Canto shrugged away the insult, as if it was so ridiculous it didn’t bear scrutiny. “You’re exactly who we need as our general, Payal—generals don’t care about hurting feelings or about charisma; they’re there for the battle—you didn’t break as a child and you won’t break as an adult.”

No one had ever framed her bullish and often ice-hearted tendencies in such a positive light. It . . . meant something to be valued. Especially by him, by the boy who’d seen her at the very worst, before the medications, before the therapies, before she’d thrown herself into mental and psychic training.

“Fine. I can be the face of Designation A.” The screams rising at the back of her mind, she rose to her feet. “I have a business meeting I can’t miss. Are we to have an A advisory board? We can’t speak for all As without their mandate.”

“I have a list of candidates—most of the other As just want us to deal with the situation and don’t care how we do it.”

Payal gave a curt nod, then teleported out.

Running from Canto. Running from the past. Running from the keening madness of who she’d once been . . . and could one day again become.

“The world building in this series beyond compare, and the characters are amazing, and unforgettable. I cannot recommend this series, and this book, highly enough!”

– Megan (Goodreads)

“This story is an intense, in some places, dark ride for readers of the series. It is a reminder that every person, despite their strengths or seeming lack of them, is important and can change the world.”

– Lynn, Outlander Book Club


“…would recommend it to anyone who enjoys deep worldbuilding and excellent characterization. You really can’t go wrong with a Nalini Singh Psy-Changeling book!”

– Annie (Fresh Fiction)


“You simply can’t go wrong with anything by Nalini Singh. So if you’re looking for a paranormal romance with splashes of science fiction (and even some nosy bear shifters!) Last Guard will be keeper shelf material.”

– Harlequin Junkie

“Powerful, emotional, sexy, romantic, and smart – I loved this romance and I can already tell I’ll be re-reading it often as a comfort book.”

– Stephanie (Goodreads)


For the Complete Chronological Reading Order, click here.

Psy-Changeling Series

1. Slave to Sensation
1.5a “The Cannibal Princess” – free short story
1.5b “The Shower” – deleted scene
2. Visions of Heat
3. Caressed By Ice
3.5 “Miss Leozandra’s” – deleted scene
4. Mine to Possess
4.5 “A Conversation” – free short story
5. Hostage to Pleasure
5.5a “A Gift for Kit” ~ free short story
5.5b “Movie Night” – free short story
6. Branded By Fire
7. Blaze of Memory
7.5. “Christmas in the Kitchen” – free short story
8. Bonds of Justice
9. Play of Passion
9.5a “Wolf School” – deleted scene
9.5b “Clean and Dirty” – free short story
10. Kiss of Snow
10.5 “Stalking Hawke” – free short story
11. Tangle of Need
12. Heart of Obsidian
13. Shield of Winter
14. Shards of Hope
15. Allegiance of Honor
16. The Psy/Changeling Trinity series (2017)


1. “Beat of Temptation” in An Enchanted Season
2. “Stroke of Enticement” in The Magical Christmas Cat
3. “Whisper of Sin” in Burning Up
4. Wild Invitation (featuring Beat of Temptation, Stroke of Enticement, Declaration of Courtship, and Texture of Intimacy)
5. “Secrets At Midnight” in Night Shift
6. Wild Embrace

Book 5: the Psy/Changeling Trinity series

New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh returns to a world devastated by change in her award-winning Psy-Changeling Trinity series, where two people defined by their aloneness hold the fate of the Psy in their hands…

Termed merciless by some, and a robotic sociopath by others, Payal Rao is the perfect Psy: cardinal telekinetic, CEO of a major conglomerate, beautiful—and emotionless.

For Canto Mercant, family and loyalty are everything. A cardinal telepath deemed “imperfect” by his race due to a spinal injury, Canto cares for the opinions of very few—and ruthlessly protects those he claims as his own. Head of intel of the influential Mercant family, he prefers to remain a shadow in the Net, unknown and unseen. But Canto is also an Anchor, part of a secretive designation whose task it is to stabilize the PsyNet. Now that critical psychic network is dying, threatening to collapse and kill the entire Psy race with it.

To save those he loves, Canto needs the help of a woman bound to him by a dark past neither has been able to forget. A woman who is the most powerful Anchor of them all: Payal Rao. Neither is ready for the violent inferno about to ignite in the PsyNet…or the passionate madness that threatens to destroy them both.

The Psy/Changeling series