Dangerous Deception by Kami Garcia


  He waited a few minutes to make sure they were gone before he headed for the trophy room or whatever it was. To Nox, it was nothing more than a thousand disembodied skins and heads. But there was a door on the other side of the room, and his gut told him to start there.

  As he slipped past the mantel, the eyes of dead animals stared at him from every side, some mounted on the walls like the ones above the fireplace, others frozen in lifelike positions on the floor. In one corner, the back of a full-sized mountain lion ready to pounce served as a side table, complete with a crystal ashtray.

  I should get one of those for my apartment.

  Across the room, a grizzly stood at least ten feet tall, its massive claws rendered less frightening by the silver tray of cigars it was holding.

  That one’s all Sampson.

  Nox shook his head as he reached the door, remembering how much his own father had hated hunting. “Never take pleasure in killing anything, Nox,” he’d said. “Even if you don’t have a choice about doing it.”

  Which is why my dad’s dead, Nox reminded himself, and Silas Ravenwood isn’t.

  But his father had been right about one thing: This whole place was disgusting.

  The scarlet-carpeted hallway didn’t have any alcoves, so he hoped for the best as he passed even more rooms.

  He slid into the first open door and found himself in an office crammed with file cabinets and a huge computer monitor, facing a wall plastered entirely with photos of women. Green-eyed Light Casters, golden-eyed Dark Casters, and black-eyed Succubuses stared blankly back at him.

  At least their eyes were open, which meant they were alive.

  Then, Nox thought.

  They were like an endless parade of victims at a crime scene—hundreds, maybe thousands.

  Why only women? Are they all Sirens? After all these years, is that still all the Ravenwoods care about?

  Nox looked more closely. Some of the photos were covered with huge black X’s. His stomach twisted as he imagined what those X’s might represent.

  He tried not to think about it.

  Nox scanned the wall, desperately praying Ridley’s photo wasn’t among them. But he wasn’t used to having his prayers answered, and this time wasn’t any different.

  The picture was front and center, right near the top—a dazed-looking Ridley Duchannes. Even in the photo, she was as dead-eyed as every other face on the wall. But as with the others, her eyes were open.

  For a second, Nox stopped breathing.

  Because there wasn’t an X across her face.

  She’s alive.

  CHAPTER 10: RIDLEY

  Shout at the Devil

  Death would be better than this, Ridley thought as Silas unlocked her cell door.

  She couldn’t remember feeling more desperate. More destroyed.

  All this could’ve ended at the club. Maybe it should have.

  For the first time, she felt the total absence of hope.

  Silas moved toward her, flanked by his thugs. The smoke from his Barbadian cigar reached her first.

  I wish I’d never made it out of Sirene.

  It was too late. Link wasn’t coming. Neither was Lena or Ethan, Ridley or John. Not even Nox. A quick death would be the best outcome now.

  Silas reached out and touched her cheek with the hand holding the cigar. Embers singed her skin, and she winced.

  I wish I’d gone up in flames with the Beater.

  Because Silas Ravenwood had a way of looking at you that made you want to die.

  Predatory. Hungry. And desperate for my blood on his hands.

  She could see it behind his eyes.

  Ridley vowed right then never to let him see what was behind hers. Instead, she spat at his feet, her eyes blazing.

  Silas Ravenwood only smiled.

  “You’ve kept me waiting a long time, Miss Duchannes. And I’m not a patient man.” The sadistic glimmer in his eye reminded her of Abraham Ravenwood, another man who had taken pleasure from other people’s misery.

  Ridley forced herself not to look away. “And all this time I thought you were just a bully and a scumbag.” She sat up on the mattress, lifting her chin.

  Come a little closer.

  You want to come a little closer.

  Silas did, but then he shoved her down, grabbing her wrist. “I’m both of those things.” He smiled, leaning over her face until his eyes stared straight into hers. “And I’m about to become your worst nightmare.”

  Her hands curled into fists.

  You don’t want to hurt me.

  You want to let me go.

  Silas covered her mouth with his hand, his face hovering over hers. “Your turn, Siren. I’m going to let you go—”

  Ridley felt a momentary surge of relief, but then Silas motioned to the guards behind him.

  “—out of your room and straight into mine. Are you ready to find out what you’re really made of? Because I am.”

  Ridley thrashed, angry at herself for believing Silas Ravenwood was stupid enough to leave himself open to a Siren’s powers. He must’ve found a Cast or potion or Charm that could render him immune to her.

  She dreaded to think how he was doing it.

  “Now, now.”

  Ridley struggled to bite him, but the Incubus was squeezing her jawbones so hard it felt like he was crushing them.

  When she tried to scream, the sound came out more like a whimper.

  Silas licked his lips. “Caster got your tongue?” He snapped his fingers and his guards moved toward them. “Take her to the operating room.”

  A hood came down over her head and everything went black.

  Ridley couldn’t see much through the rough burlap hood, and every breath left her choking on dust. She was being dragged down some kind of hallway—bits of floor tile and the occasional doorway blurring past her.

  Within minutes, the floor changed from tile to sterile white linoleum, and the scent of disinfectant made her gag. When they pushed her through a set of swinging doors and she heard the beeps and buzzing of machines, it seemed like they were in a hospital.

  Why would Silas take her to a hospital?

  He wouldn’t.

  He’d made their destination sound far more menacing.

  The operating room. That’s what he called it.

  But everything around her reminded Ridley of a hospital—the fluorescent lights, the white floor, the stench of disinfectant.

  The realization dawned on her slowly. If this wasn’t a hospital, there was only one other possibility….

  Abraham’s labs.

  The place where he’d experimented on Casters and engineered John. The place she’d known she was headed to the moment she saw Silas in her cell—and the one thing she’d feared more than anything.

  Her blood ran cold.

  Not there. Anywhere but there.

  No! No! No!

  Ridley kicked and thrashed until someone pressed a cloth against the burlap over her mouth and nose. It smelled like bleach and dust and alcohol, all mixed together.

  It only took a second for her knees to buckle. Then her thoughts flickered and she disappeared into the darkness.

  Ridley opened her eyes.

  Darkness.

  Footsteps.

  A word, here and there.

  Dangerous.

  Experimental.

  Fatal.

  Patient 13.

  Ridley blinked. A single circle of light was aimed at her face. She could barely make out the bulb hanging from a long wire above her, like it was reaching down from the black shadows of the ceiling.

  The harsh light burned her eyes, but she didn’t look away. She didn’t want to look at Silas as he emerged from the darkness beside her.

  You bastard.

  “No risk, no reward,” Silas said, stepping closer to the table she was strapped to. “We’re making history here, Doc.”

  “I understand, Mr. Ravenwood,” another man answered, his voice shaky. “But there are limits.?
??

  “Not in my world.” Silas laughed. “Relax, Doc. All in the name of science, right?”

  Ridley struggled to stay calm.

  You have to be smart if you want to get out of this mess alive.

  She pulled against the restraints.

  Shackles.

  She ran her hands along the table. Smooth, hard, cool. Metal, most likely.

  An operating table.

  “Don’t waste your energy.” Silas bent over her and flipped what sounded like a switch under the table. “You’re not going anywhere, Siren.” There was something strange about the way he said the word. “When I’m finished, you’ll be so much more.”

  More? More of what?

  Silas snapped his fingers at the man she couldn’t see. “Begin the infusion,” he said, leaning closer to Ridley. “I’m afraid this is going to hurt. But not nearly as much as I’d like it to.”

  Ridley focused all her energy in the direction of the unseen man, somewhere in the darkness.

  Don’t begin the infusion.

  Don’t begin anything.

  “I said, start things up,” Silas barked over his shoulder.

  Ridley didn’t feel anything change, and she was so tired….

  But she couldn’t give up.

  You don’t want to hurt me, whoever you are.

  You want to leave.

  “Do I have to—?”

  She heard the door close in the distance, footsteps in the hall beyond. Then she felt a slap sting her face.

  “You have no idea who you’re messing with.”

  Ridley stared back at him from beneath her tangled blond mane. Her signature waves had become something closer to dreadlocks.

  “Yeah? Maybe I think you have no idea who you’re messing with,” she said through gritted teeth.

  He grabbed Ridley’s chin, forcing her to look at him. “Oh, I think I do.”

  She smiled, steeling herself. “Your grandfather said something like that. Right before my friends and I killed him.”

  Silas brought his fist down on a panel next to her, and an electric current shot through Ridley’s body like her blood was on fire.

  She screamed.

  The fire burned its way from the entry point in her arm, pulsing up to her shoulders and head, then back down her spine to her legs. Her feet. Her toes. Like a second thunderous heartbeat.

  With each pulse, Ridley’s body writhed and spasmed. Her mind lost track of the fire and she focused on the sound of that other heartbeat.

  The one far steadier than her own.

  If she could hear the sound of that heartbeat, it meant she was still alive.

  Didn’t it?

  As Ridley let go, she heard another sound from somewhere in the back of her mind.

  A song.

  The one Mamma used to sing.

  “Mockingbird.”

  Maybe it meant she’d get to see Mamma again.

  And Reece.

  And Ryan.

  And Lena.

  She really wanted to see Lena.

  Ridley smelled something burning far away.

  Barbeque, maybe. A boy I once knew loved barbeque.

  Link. I think his name was Link.

  The thought made her smile.

  Until she realized the burning smell was coming from her body.

  And not just the smell.

  The screaming, too.

  After that, she surrendered to the pain and the fire, and listened to the voice singing “Mockingbird” in her head.

  Only when the bird sang, it sang her to sleep with a boy’s sweet, off-key voice.

  That boy must really love me, she thought.

  I only wish I could remember his name.

  CHAPTER 11: LINK

  Wasted Years

  I think this is it,” Sampson called out, pulling Link out of his thoughts.

  When Link looked up, Sampson was standing in front of a wall of green hedge.

  Another dead end.

  Before Link had a chance to complain, Sampson reached into the hedge and pushed, and it opened up onto what looked like a small-town Southern street, back when Link’s grandma was a kid and Gatlin only had one traffic light.

  Another Caster door.

  Figures.

  As Link stepped through the Caster door and back into the Mortal world, he realized the door was cut into a huge Spanish moss–covered oak. On the other side, there was nothing around but more towering oaks and a broken-down house at the edge of a deserted intersection.

  “Looks like we found it,” John said.

  “Where are we?” As far as Link could tell, there was nothing to find.

  John pointed up at the white signs at the intersection that read 61 and 49, and Liv checked her selenometer as if they weren’t standing in the middle of nowhere.

  “Are those numbers supposed to mean something to us?” Floyd asked.

  “We’re at the intersection of Highways 61 and 49 in Clarksdale, Mississippi,” John said.

  Sampson shook his head. “I feel like an idiot. Any guitar player worth his strings knows about this place. It’s where Robert Johnson made a deal with the Devil.”

  Floyd’s eyes widened. “Seriously? We’re at the crossroads?”

  John nodded. “The one and only.”

  Liv glanced at John. “I’m assuming this is an American thing.”

  He put his arm around her. “Yeah, sorry. It’s an old rock and roll myth—at least as far as Mortals are concerned. In the 1930s, a blues musician named Robert Johnson disappeared for a couple of weeks. According to the story, he brought his guitar right here to this crossroads—”

  Link jumped in. “Then he traded his soul to become the most famous blues guitarist in history.”

  Sampson tugged on his leather pants, which weren’t the best choice in the Mississippi heat. “Totally a fair trade, as far as I’m concerned.”

  “Thought the same thing myself,” a man’s voice called out from behind them.

  Link wheeled around.

  A young man wearing a wrinkled white shirt, a black jacket, and a Panama hat stood on the side of the road with a three-legged black Labrador. There was a weariness in the man’s eyes of someone much older. A battered guitar hung from a strap slung around his back.

  Lucille and the black Lab circled each other until the dog gave up and flopped down in the dust.

  “Holy crap.” It was the only thing Link could think of to say.

  “I say that myself all the time, son,” the young man said, which was weird since he didn’t look that much older than the rest of them. He noticed John and tipped his hat to him. “Haven’t seen you since you were a boy.”

  John shoved his hands in his pockets. “So you remember me, Mr. Johnson?”

  “I think we’ve both seen enough to get past all that Mr. Johnson nonsense. Especially since I never did catch your name.”

  John held out his hand. “It’s John Breed, sir.”

  The bluesman stared down at John’s hand. “I don’t shake hands anymore. Can’t be too careful. But it’s nice to meet you all the same, John.”

  Sampson inched forward. He actually looked nervous, which was completely out of character. “So the story’s true, then?”

  Johnson looked up at Sampson and whistled. “Kids sure have gotten taller since my day.”

  “Sampson’s a bit … different,” Liv said.

  “You a Caster?” Johnson asked.

  “You know about us?” Necro sounded shocked.

  Johnson took a closer look at Necro’s blue hair and piercings. “Of course I do.” He glanced up at the midday Mississippi sun and walked toward a small house sitting alongside the road like a tornado had dropped it there. “Let’s go inside. It’s gettin’ hot out here.”

  Link scanned the area, but there were no other homes anywhere in sight. The bluesman climbed the rickety porch steps and opened the screen door, the three-legged dog hobbling behind him. “Come on in. Make yourselves at home.”


  The house was small inside, but it was crammed full of stuff. The front door spilled them into a living room full of threadbare armchairs and mismatched picture frames on the walls. It reminded Link of the Sisters’ house back in Gatlin. Ethan’s three great-great-aunts had lived together for as long as he could remember with just about everything they’d ever owned—at least until Abraham Ravenwood burned the place down.

  When Link and Ethan were young, they’d stop by the Sisters’ after school and load up on sour lemon candies and buttercreams that were probably older than Ethan and Link combined. The Sisters’ house looked like a museum, because the three old ladies never threw anything away. If they couldn’t display it on the walls, they settled for any flat surface.

  Johnson’s place was no different. But instead of tiny spoon collections, broken china, and old photo albums, his place was decorated with blues relics and memorabilia—like a bowl of old harmonicas on the coffee table next to a collection of broken guitar strings in a jar. Link couldn’t help but think about how disappointed the Sisters would be if Johnson invited them over without having a single dish of candy on the table.

  Lucille slunk through the room, as if she felt right at home.

  Sampson, Floyd, and Necro studied the yellowed newspaper clippings framed on the walls alongside old photographs and the broken-off neck of a guitar.

  Johnson sat down in a sagging upholstered armchair beside a whirling fan and set his guitar on the floor next to him. The Lab curled up at his feet. “Go ahead and sit down,” he said. “I don’t get many visitors.”

  Liv and John sat down on the sofa across from him. Link took a seat at an old pine table in the corner. He noticed a pencil sticking out of a mug, and without thinking, he pulled out the piece of paper he’d been writing songs on. He knew the lyrics sucked, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself from writing ever since Rid disappeared.

  The bluesman leaned forward in his chair and looked John in the eye. “Things must be pretty bad if you came lookin’ for me.”

  “It has to do with Abraham Ravenwood.”

  “His grandson, Silas, actually,” Liv added.

  The moment John spoke Abraham’s name, the bluesman stiffened, his hands gripping the arms of the chair so hard his knuckles turned white. “Haven’t heard that name in a long time, and I would’ve been fine never hearin’ it again.”

 
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