Dangerous Deception by Kami Garcia


  “This is between you and me, Silas,” Nox pleaded. “Do whatever you want to me. I won’t even fight. Just leave her alone.”

  “Don’t say that. It’s more fun if you fight.” Silas took another step closer, the burning glow of the cigar only inches from Nox’s face. “And your girlfriend isn’t getting off that easy, kid. She helped those hybrids kill my great-grandfather, and now she has a debt to pay.”

  Nox shrank away from the cigar. “I’ll pay it. Whatever she owes—whatever you want—I’ll pay it.”

  Silas took a long pull on the cigar, turning it between his fingers. “Don’t worry. I’ve got plenty of beds in the labs and enough payback to go around.” His expression darkened. “Do you think I’ve forgotten what you cost me? I’m taking every ounce of it out of her blood.”

  It’s my fault. He hurt Ridley because of me.

  “At least tell me what you did to her,” Nox said, looking at Silas.

  “Scientific improvements. Her body is having a hard time adjusting to the influx of new power. Give it some time, and maybe she’ll snap out of it.” Silas laughed. “Or maybe not.”

  Nox’s thoughts were spinning.

  Influx of new power? What kind of power? And where did Silas get it? He’s bluffing. He has to be….

  “Oh,” Silas said as if he’d remembered something important. “And I think you mean what I am doing to her. Because I’m not done yet, kid.”

  “Listen to me, Rat Man,” Nox said, angrier than he’d ever been in his entire life. “You’re done. You just don’t know it yet.”

  Without warning, Silas thrust the burning end of his cigar into Nox’s neck, like a knife.

  Nox could smell his flesh searing, but he barely felt the pain.

  He was too busy listening to the screams of the girl he loved.

  CHAPTER 16: RIDLEY

  Silent Lucidity

  Someone was talking to her from outside the bars of her cell.

  Ridley pretended to listen, which was sort of like playing a game, even though it wasn’t a very fun one. Still, it was the only game she could play in this box of a room.

  It was the Rat Man. Talking. He sounded concerned. His voice moved up and down, like he was playing an instrument. Some of the sounds were loud and urgent, others were soft and comforting. It was funny because his mouth never stopped moving, and when she forgot he was talking, he looked like a sad little fish.

  Not a rat.

  But that was the tricky thing about rats. They almost never wanted you to see what they really were.

  She tried to listen. It took her a long time to realize he was speaking to her, but it was still impossible to care.

  “Nox,” she repeated to him. “That’s your name.”

  “That’s right,” Rat Man said.

  “And you don’t want to rip my throat out?” She leaned toward him, pulling on a bit of his long, dark fur.

  He stared, opening and closing his mouth like he was talking.

  “Link?”

  He opened and closed his mouth again, and she tried to make out the words. But her mind kept drifting, and she only caught bits and pieces.

  Did he say Lincoln?

  Lincoln was the name of an American president. Why was Rat Man talking about a president? She leaned closer, resting her forehead against the steel.

  Rat Man had a nice smell. Leather and sweat and sweetness. She resisted the urge to lick his face. She didn’t want to let him get that close to her, because of his sharp teeth.

  Ridley reached out her hand. “Do you mind if I pet you?”

  His mouth opened again. She took that as a yes and moved her hand up and down the long brown fur on his head. He felt like a soft baby seal. She let her hand trail down to his face, where his cheek was warm and soft.

  That was when she felt it—a burst of heat.

  But it was the strangest sort of heat she’d ever felt. She couldn’t tell if it was hot or cold, but either way, the heat made the hairs on her hand stand on end—burning and freezing to the same touch.

  A chaotic tangle of feelings surged through her, stretching from the top of her head to the bottoms of her toes. She felt as if she were unfolding, doubling in size. Finally inhabiting the full space of her body.

  “What was that?” she breathed.

  Ridley reached out again, and the moment she touched his skin, she felt the electric shock of his power meeting hers. She craved it. She was starving for it.

  Rat Man had the only thing she needed. More fire. More of the cold, cold burn. She would’ve told him if she could have found the words.

  Instead, she drew herself into him, until her hands were wrapped around his head and her lips were pressed up against his jaw. She wanted to drink him in.

  She moved her lips to his neck.

  Who was the bone rat now?

  Rat Man only stared.

  No.

  Not Rat Man.

  She had to pay attention now.

  She could tell this was important.

  She could tell everything was about to change.

  She closed her eyes and counted.

  Three.

  Two.

  One.

  When I open my eyes, I’ll push my way through the haze. I’ll make myself listen to the words. No more lullabies.

  Time to grow up.

  Time to listen to Auntie Sarafine.

  Put away the bone rats.

  Take your place.

  You are a thing of power, Ridley Duchannes.

  It’s time to use it.

  So she did.

  And with the full force of the power exploding through her, Ridley drew this Nox to her lips and drank him in, until the universe spun around her and all the voices in her head finally stopped talking and listened.

  CHAPTER 17: LINK

  Wanted Dead or Alive

  Link only needed to say one word—one name, actually—to break down his plan for John and Liv. It was a little harder to explain to Floyd, Necro, Sam, Magnolia Blue, and the Cataclyst in question.

  Liv stared at him for a moment, speechless. “Have you completely lost your mind?”

  John rubbed his temples. “I think it’s pretty obvious he has.”

  “Where are we gonna find a better card reader?” Link asked. “Think about it. She’ll know if we can trust Angelique or not.”

  “Does someone want to tell us who this Amma person is?” Necro asked.

  Liv, John, and Link exchanged glances. Every time they heard that name, the pain of losing her returned.

  Liv sighed. “She was a gifted Seer, born from a long line of Seers that went back generations. Her powers were legendary.”

  “Almost as legendary as her pie,” Link added.

  “Then what’s the problem?” Necro asked. “She sounds perfect. I’ll channel her, and we can get her to read the Cataclyst’s cards.”

  Yeah, right, Link thought. It won’t be that easy.

  He tried again. “She’s not like other people. You can’t just pick up the phone and expect her to get on the line.”

  “Why not? I’m a Necromancer. My whole life is one giant phone call to the Otherworld.”

  It was pretty clear to him that Necro, Floyd, and Sampson didn’t understand exactly what they were dealing with here. The idea of bringing the orneriest old lady he’d ever met back from the grave—and shoving her inside the body of a blue-haired Dark Caster—was scarier than walking through a swamp full of gators, carrying raw chicken. Not that Amma would’ve let him do anything that crazy.

  She had raised Ethan, and Link had known her since he and Ethan became friends in kindergarten. Even though she couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred pounds soaking wet, she was the only woman who scared Link more than his mom.

  Now I just have to explain that without lookin’ like a punk.

  “We used to stay out of her way if she was doin’ a crossword puzzle,” he said. “She’s not the kinda lady who’s gonna be happy about bein’ disturbed in
the Otherworld.”

  Necro rolled her eyes. “Most people aren’t.”

  “She’ll get over it,” Angelique said. “Are we really still talking about this?”

  Liv paced, something Link couldn’t ever remember her doing before.

  A bad sign.

  “I’m not sure Link is painting a clear enough picture,” Liv said. “Amma Treadeau is very particular, and not the biggest fan of …”

  “What?” Sampson asked.

  “Dark Casters,” John finished. “Actually, she’s not a big fan of the Caster world in general.”

  Angelique burst out laughing. “Now we’re the problem?”

  “Of course not. At least, not the only problem.” Liv eyed her coldly. “I’m just trying to think this through.”

  “Ethan’s gonna kill me. He’s gonna kill all of us,” Link said to Liv.

  “Does your girlfriend have time for that?” Magnolia Blue asked.

  Link glanced at John, who shrugged. “It was your idea, man. You say the word, and we drop the whole thing.”

  Link took a long, hard look at his options—of which there were exactly none.

  He shoved his hands in his pockets and shook his head. “If we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna need some pie.”

  Everyone sat on the floor and formed a circle while Liv lit four novena candles in the center and placed a pecan pie next to them. “It won’t be anywhere near as good as one of yours, Amma,” she said. “But it will have to do.”

  Magnolia Blue had used her powers as a Shifter to change a souvenir voodoo doll into the pie.

  “Think it will taste the same?” Link was pretty sure it wouldn’t.

  “It’s just an offering,” Magnolia Blue said. “She won’t actually eat it.”

  Good, Link thought. Or she’ll tan my hide.

  Necro took a deep breath. Even in the candlelight, she looked pale.

  Sampson touched her arm. “Are you sure you’re okay to do this?”

  She nodded. “I’m not channeling Abraham Ravenwood. If Amma is the kind of woman they say she is, she won’t hurt me.”

  The Darkborn glanced at Link.

  Link shrugged. “Amma would never hurt anybody, unless you mess with someone she loves. So we’re good.”

  Necro closed her eyes and spoke softly.

  “Into my breath and body,

  Flesh and bone,

  I call the spirit of Amma Treadeau.

  Let my voice guide you back

  From the unknown.”

  “In spiritum et corpum meum

  Carnem et ossam

  Voco animum Amma Treadeau.

  Vox mea te reducat

  Ab incognota.”

  Link held his breath, but after a minute or so, he felt like he was going to pass out.

  It’s not gonna work. What the hell was I thinking?

  He should’ve known no one was strong enough to summon Amma. She never did anything she didn’t want to do back when she was alive.

  Please, Amma. I’m in trouble.

  Necro inhaled sharply, and her chest expanded as if her body was filling up with something—or someone.

  The blue-haired bass player still looked like herself, until she sat up straighter than his mom’s uppity friends in the DAR and stood up with both hands on her hips.

  She gave Link the Look.

  He’d seen that look in Amma’s eyes a hundred times before, mostly when he screwed up, and there was no mistaking the way she was looking at him now.

  “Wesley Jefferson Lincoln. You’d best hope the Good Lord Almighty himself told you to call me back from the other side.” Amma’s eyes settled on Liv and John. “I’m surprised to see you here, Olivia. And John. You both should know better.” Amma glanced around at the others and crossed her arms, unimpressed, before turning back to Link. “Dark Casters? That’s what you called me here for, Wesley Lincoln? They’d better be threatenin’ your life, or I will.”

  “A-Amma, I can explain,” Link stammered. “I’m real sorry, but this is a life-or-death situation, and you’re the only person who can help me.”

  Her eyes narrowed. “Help you do what, exactly?”

  This was the part he was dreading—the part where he had to explain exactly what he wanted Amma to do, knowing there was no way in hell she’d want to do it. “Silas Ravenwood’s alive, and he’s got Ridley. He’s gonna kill her or use her as a slave or somethin’ even creepier if we don’t save her, and I can’t do that without you.” Link swallowed hard. “Ma’am.”

  He swore he could see Amma’s dark eyes staring back from behind Necro’s gold ones. “Ridley Duchannes? That’s why you called me back from the best hand a gin rummy I’ve had in twenty years?” She eyed the pecan pie on the ground. “And this is what you bring me? That’s the sorriest-looking pie I’ve ever seen, Wesley Lincoln. You should know I don’t eat anybody’s pie except my own. Why don’t you just toss one a those Oreos at me and spit in my face while you’re at it?”

  “Well, your loss. I’m starving.” Angelique reached for the pie, and Amma gave her more than the Look. Angelique frowned and put her hand back in her lap. Even the Cataclyst sensed she shouldn’t mess with Amma.

  “I’m sorry, Amma,” Link said, his stomach twisting in knots.

  Amma held up a hand, silencing him. “Explain to me why I should care about any a this. These are Dark Caster problems you’re talkin’ about, and I don’t want any part a them. If Silas Ravenwood is involved, you’d best steer clear a him. I’m sure Ridley can get herself outta whatever trouble she’s gotten herself into this time.”

  Sampson stood up tentatively, as if he sensed Amma wasn’t the kind of lady you wanted to tangle with. “Excuse me, ma’am.” He tried to make his Yankee accent sound a little more Southern. “My name is Sampson, and I’m a friend of Link’s and Ridley’s. I can tell you’re not fond of Dark Casters, but my friends aren’t like the ones you’ve probably met, and they definitely don’t hurt people, the way a Blood Incubus like Silas Ravenwood does.” The Darkborn slouched, but he was still a good two feet taller than Amma.

  “And from everything I’ve heard about Ridley from Link, it sounds like Rid’s done some good things, too. If there’s any way you’d consider helping us, I’d be in your debt, ma’am.”

  Amma snorted. “I spend my days in the Otherworld sittin’ on the porch, drinkin’ sweet tea and playin’ cards with my Uncle Abner, Aunt Delilah, Ridley’s Aunt Twyla, and an ornery old Mortal lady. What makes you think I want anythin’ from you?”

  Link was pretty sure the Mortal lady Amma mentioned was Ethan’s Aunt Prue. He couldn’t imagine an ornerier Mortal old lady in the Otherworld.

  Amma took a step closer to Sampson. “And I know you’re not a Caster or an Incubus, so why don’t you tell me what you are?”

  “I’m a Darkborn. I’m not sure if we were around before you crossed over, but we were born from the Dark Fire after the Order of Things broke.”

  “So your heart’s as black as the rest a them,” she said without missing a beat. “I’m not interested in a boy like you owin’ me any kinda debt, and I’m done with Dark Casters and all their business.”

  Link knew the situation was going from bad to worse, and fast. Begging had never done him much good when Amma was alive—in fact, begging and bragging were the twin sons of the Devil, according to her—but it was all he had left. “I know how you feel about Rid, Amma, and I know she’s done a lot a bad things. But she helped save Lena, and she saved Ethan’s life out in the woods when Hunting Ravenwood’s Blood Pack attacked us. She also helped us get Ethan back after he … you know.”

  Died.

  Link still couldn’t say it—not on a good day, and definitely not to the woman who loved Ethan most. “Ridley’s not all bad, and good or bad, Light or Dark, I’m in love with her. So if you don’t wanna do it for her, or Lena and Ethan, then I’m down on my knees beggin’ you to do it for me.”

  Amma raised an eyebrow. “Doesn’t look that way to m
e.”

  Link dropped down on his knees.

  She sniffed. “That’s more like it.”

  The Seer patted her sides where the pockets of her apron would’ve been if she were alive and wearing it, which meant she was either searching for the One-Eyed Menace—the wooden spoon she wielded like a weapon—or a handkerchief. With Amma, it was hard to tell until it was too late.

  She shook her head. “I’ll consider helpin’ you, Wesley Lincoln. On one condition, and one condition only.”

  Link stood up and stumbled toward Amma, almost knocking over the candles, and stopped just short of throwing his arms around her. “Anythin’. You name it.”

  Necro pointed at him, and Link could practically see Amma’s bony finger. “You don’t involve my boy Ethan in whatever mess it is you’ve gotten yourself into. You clean it up without him. He’s had enough heartache in the last year for two lifetimes. He doesn’t need you draggin’ him down the dirty side a the drain with you. Those are my terms.”

  “You have my word,” Link said. “I won’t tell Ethan anythin’. I don’t want him to get hurt, either. That’s why I haven’t called him about this.”

  She crossed her arms. “Then what is it you want from me?”

  Liv spoke up. “We think Silas has Ridley somewhere in the labs, behind Abraham Ravenwood’s old house. But we have no idea how to get there.”

  “But I do.” Angelique waved her fingers at Amma from where she was leaning, lounging in her spot around the circle.

  Amma stared at Angelique for a long moment. “You remind me of someone.”

  “Oh?” Angelique looked bored.

  “Someone I didn’t like,” Amma added.

  “Angelique says she’ll show us the way to the labs,” Link said. “But we don’t know if we can trust her.”

  Amma gave him the Look again. “I’m waitin’ for the part that involves me.”

 
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