Dangerous Deception by Kami Garcia


  “Link wants you to read her cards.” John pointed at the tarot deck on the floor.

  “Of course he does.” Amma eyed the deck disapprovingly and turned back to Link. “I don’t like readin’ from somebody else’s deck. It’s almost as bad as bakin’ from another person’s recipe.”

  “Are you going to read my cards or what?” Angelique asked. “I have places to burn down.”

  Amma pointed at the candles. “Move those things outta the way so I have somewhere to lay out the spread.” She watched as Floyd and Sampson rushed to move them, then looked at Magnolia Blue. “I reckon I’m gonna need that deck.”

  Magnolia Blue pushed the tarot deck across the floor in front of her and nodded respectfully.

  Link rushed forward to hug the old lady he loved more than his own grandmother. “Thanks, Amma.”

  Amma stopped him just shy of reaching her. “Don’t thank me yet. The cards reveal what they want to tell us, not necessarily what we want them to.” She sat down cross-legged in the center of the circle and wagged a finger at Angelique. “Come on over here.”

  The Cataclyst scooted forward until she was sitting in front of Amma. “This should be fun. The fortune-tellers at the carnival were always my favorite.”

  Liv sucked in a sharp breath, as if she knew what was coming. Calling a Seer a fortune-teller was like calling a lawyer an ambulance chaser.

  “I. Am. Not. A. Fortune-teller.” Amma enunciated each word like she wanted to bite Angelique’s head off with every one. “Now shuffle.”

  Angelique seemed amused, but within seconds, the cards were flying between her hands like she was a Vegas blackjack dealer. Everyone watched in silence as Amma fanned out the deck and the Cataclyst chose her cards. Then Amma flipped them over one by one, her eyes widening. “The Tower, the Devil, the Hermit, the Moon—”

  The Seer glanced at Magnolia Blue, who looked equally shocked, and continued. When she turned the final card, Link recognized it—the Death card.

  “Does that mean she’s gonna die, or she’s gonna kill us?” Link asked.

  Amma sniffed. “Neither. Death card’s about transformation, a new cycle.”

  “That’s good, right?” Sampson asked.

  “Depends on the position in the spread.” Amma shook her head. “But this spread doesn’t make any sense.”

  “Do tell.” Angelique perked up, suddenly interested. “I love a good mystery.”

  Amma studied the images staring back from the floor—a horned beast, a gray tower, a knight riding a white horse—then turned her gaze back to the Cataclyst. “There’s somethin’ familiar about you and this spread.”

  “Oh?” Angelique asked, the smile never leaving her lips.

  “What is it?” Magnolia Blue asked.

  For a moment, Amma was silent. Then she reached down and scattered the cards.

  “What’s wrong?” Link asked, because he’d known Amma long enough to recognize when something had her rattled.

  “What did you see?” Liv asked, looking almost as worried as the Seer.

  Amma pointed at Angelique. “This one’s trouble, sure as the day is long and I’m livin’ in the Otherworld.”

  John put his arm around Liv. “So we can’t trust her?”

  “She’ll take you to the Ravenwood labs like she told you,” Amma said. “But I can’t see what’ll happen after that.”

  “Did you see Rid?” Link couldn’t stop himself from asking.

  “Do I look like your personal crystal ball, Wesley Lincoln?”

  He swallowed hard. “Sorry, ma’am. I had to ask.”

  Liv pulled at the strings tied around her wrist like bracelets. “And there was nothing else?”

  Amma sighed. “Like I told you before, the cards don’t always tell you what you want to know. The rest is up to you to figure out.” She straightened the bottom of Necro’s leather skirt like it was one of her good church dresses. “Now I have a glass a sweet tea and a game a gin rummy to get back to. You take care, Wesley. And don’t forget what you promised me.”

  Link shook his head. “I won’t, ma’am.”

  “Then I’ll be seein’ you. And if you disappoint me, I’ll be payin’ you a visit or two down here. So don’t.” Amma closed her eyes, and a second later, Necro drew in another sharp breath, followed by one of the worst coughing fits Link had ever seen—not that he was surprised. Channeling someone like Amma couldn’t be easy.

  Sampson rushed to Necro’s side and rubbed her back.

  “I’m okay,” she choked.

  “You don’t look like it,” Sampson said.

  Floyd handed her friend a bottle of water, and Necro took a huge swig. “Better?”

  “Yeah, thanks.” Necro slumped against the wall, looking exhausted. “Are you sure that old lady wasn’t a Caster?” she asked Link.

  “A hundred percent,” Link said. “Maybe two hundred. Amma was more Mortal than I am.” He couldn’t stop staring at Necro. Now that Amma was gone, he felt the sadness of losing her all over again.

  Ethan’s gonna kill me if he ever finds out about this.

  “What did she say?” Necro asked, closing her eyes.

  Angelique stood up and strode over to a carved table that was probably Magnolia Blue’s desk. The Cataclyst hopped up and sat on the ancient wood like it was the hood of a car. “Big picture: The Seer said you can trust me to take you to the labs.”

  Necro seemed to sense there was more to the story and looked up at Sampson. “And after that?”

  The Darkborn frowned. “She wasn’t sure.”

  “Oh, please,” Angelique said. “Let’s not get bogged down on the details, here.”

  It didn’t matter to Link. If Angelique knew how to get to the labs, he was going with her. He approached the Cataclyst slowly, trying to get a read on her—as if he had any chance of seeing something Amma couldn’t. “Tell me the truth, Angelique. Can we trust you after we get to the labs?”

  A mischievous smile tugged at the corners of her mouth like she was thinking about something funny. “Of course you can’t. But that’s why I’ll be the one to do what needs to be done once we get there.”

  Link was afraid to ask the next question, but someone had to. “What is that, exactly?”

  Angelique looked him dead in the eye, and a vicious smile spread across her lips. “Kill them all.”

  CHAPTER 18: NOX

  What Is and What Should Never Be

  Nox broke off the kiss and pushed her back, out of breath.

  But the moment they weren’t touching, an inexplicable sadness washed over him. He stared through the bars at the girl he’d risked his life to save.

  The girl he loved.

  Ridley.

  The girl watching him wasn’t the Ridley Duchannes he met in that game of Liar’s Trade a few months ago—and years before that on a beach in Barbados when they were kids. This girl was a different kind of predator. She tracked his every movement—stalking him the way he had watched her the first time he laid eyes on her.

  What did Silas do to you, Rid?

  Do you even know?

  Nox had to find a way to reach the girl he fell in love with, even if it meant losing her. “Rid, you’re talking crazy. You’re with Link.” He hesitated, dreading the next part. “You love him.”

  It was about the third time he’d tried to say it, but it didn’t seem to be sinking in. Part of him wanted to shut the hell up and pull her mouth back against his.

  The rest of him knew the truth.

  Not like this.

  I don’t want her this way.

  Ridley said nothing. She moved closer to the bars again, never taking her eyes off him. The way she was looking at him—biting her lip, with those sleepy eyes beckoning him.

  Every cell in his body told him it was real—

  She isn’t thinking about Link, you idiot. She wants you.

  She closed her eyes.

  “Three.”

  She slid one arm around Nox’s neck.

&
nbsp; “Two.”

  She found her way through the bars with her other hand.

  “One.”

  She opened her eyes, pulling him close, until her lips hovered next to his….

  Nox pushed her away, though it was the last thing he felt like doing. “You don’t know what you’re saying.”

  “I know what I’m saying. I’m saying Mortal boys can’t give me what I need. They don’t feel like this.” She reached her hand inside the collar of Nox’s shirt. “Don’t you feel it?”

  “Feel what?”

  “All of it,” she said. “Everything that matters. The burning cold. The electricity. The chaos when we touch. The power surge.”

  As she spoke, Nox realized it was true. There was something different about her touch now. She’d always driven him wild—even the thought of her, the one person he couldn’t have—but now even the brush of her skin against his sent him over the edge.

  “That’s not true,” he said, though he didn’t know why he said it. Every cell in his body was telling him to shut up, to kiss her back, to never let go.

  She laughed in his face.

  “This isn’t you,” he faltered, trying again.

  She snuck her arm back around his neck as a black snake slithered out from under the bed. It wound itself around Ridley’s bare leg and twisted its way up her torso, looping itself around her neck. She didn’t seem to notice at all.

  “The snake,” Nox pointed. “Around your neck.”

  She glanced down and ran her fingers over the delicate skin below her chin until she reached her collarbone. Her fingers slipped right through the serpent’s body, as if she’d touched a hologram.

  It’s an illusion, Nox thought. Of course.

  He’d seen Floyd manifest illusions often enough. He should have recognized this one. He’d probably won a handful of Illusionist powers in TFPs, too. Liar’s Trade seemed to draw Illusionists to the game tables.

  But she wasn’t finished.

  The cell darkened around her, like a wave of black clouds was rolling in. A flash of lightning cut across the space above her head, which suddenly looked exactly like a real sky.

  Nox looked up at the darkness that used to be the ceiling. “Is that you, Ridley?” He’d never seen her do anything like this before.

  “How long have you been projecting illusions, Rid? Do you remember what Silas did to you?” He hated asking but couldn’t figure out how to undo it unless he knew.

  Maybe I don’t want to undo it. She wants me.

  What’s my problem? I just need to shut up.

  We could finally be together, if we can get out of this place.

  Rid licked her lips and tilted her head to the side. “He made me more powerful. More of what I was destined to be.” She paused. “More of everything, Nox.”

  The way she said his name made him shiver. Her powers were stronger now. He could feel the pull—tugging at him.

  “I feel it even more when I touch you.” Ridley raised her arms over her head, exposing the Dark Caster tattoo that encircled her navel. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m still going to kill Silas. No one does anything to me without my permission. Even if it does feel absolutely decadent.”

  “You might not get the chance to kill anyone,” Nox said, trying to emphasize the gravity of the situation. “There’s no way out of here.”

  The dark clouds around her disappeared. Only the snake remained, coiling through her pink-streaked hair.

  “There’s always a way, Nox.” She kept saying his name, making him forget everything but her. “If you want something bad enough.”

  Ridley slid her hands down the bars, and Nox could almost feel her touching his skin. She lowered her voice. “Do you want me bad enough? Do you want us?”

  The intensity in her eyes—

  The need in her voice—

  Nox’s head swam.

  “More than I’ve ever wanted anything,” he said.

  I want you, Rid. More than you’ll ever understand.

  He tried to pull his eyes away from the Siren standing in front of him.

  I want to kiss you and hold you and run my fingers through that wild hair.

  He tried not to think about it, about her, about the way she said us.

  I want to protect you and make sure no one ever hurts you again.

  He knew what he wanted. Maybe he had always known.

  I want you to let me love you. Finally.

  But first he had to find the girl he loved.

  Is she still the same girl?

  This girl wanted him, so could it really be her?

  He knew they belonged together the first night he met her at the card table—maybe even before that, on the beach in Barbados—and he also knew that if Link wasn’t part of the equation, Ridley would’ve acted on her feelings. He was sure of it.

  Was it so wrong if he let her love him now?

  You don’t even know if her feelings for you are real.

  She probably doesn’t even know.

  Still …

  The sound of boot steps echoed through the passageway, and Ridley turned toward the noise. The snake around her neck vanished, replaced by the stench of a Barbadian wafting through the air.

  A moment later, Silas Ravenwood’s wing tips followed. He ignored Nox and walked straight to Ridley’s cell. “How is the most powerful Siren in history feeling today?” He smiled at her like a proud father.

  Nox’s stomach twisted.

  Ridley tossed her blond locks over her shoulder. “I’d be doing a lot better if I was sleeping on silk sheets in a real bedroom.”

  “There will be plenty of time for that if you behave yourself.”

  “I always behave myself,” she purred.

  Silas took a pull on the cigar, studying her. “But you’ve got a lot of power pumping through your system, my dear.”

  “That’s how I like it.” She pouted.

  “We have to make sure you’re stable.”

  “Why? That never stopped me before, and I’m pretty sure it never stopped you, either.” She leaned toward Silas. “We’re not stable. We’re Dark.”

  Nox couldn’t stand to watch any more of this. He could see it now. Ridley had become another person entirely.

  “Tell me what you did to her, Silas. Or I’ll make you suffer when I figure out how to get out of this cell. And I will find a way out.”

  Silas turned toward Nox and flicked his ash into Nox’s cell. “Sorry, kid. You won’t get the chance. Today is the day you’re going to die.”

  CHAPTER 19: RIDLEY

  Eyes of a Stranger

  None of it was real—not the snakes or the rats.

  Ridley understood that now.

  After they dragged the Rat Man away, she’d had plenty of time to think about it, and the realization had settled over her slowly. She realized the ceiling wasn’t actually rolling with storm clouds. Her arms weren’t crawling with snakes, and her cell wasn’t teeming with giant rats. The storm was inside her—something Ridley had always known. But it was comforting to finally have confirmation.

  It also meant she was done cowering in the corner of her cell.

  I just have to practice controlling this new power. No one else is going to help me.

  Ridley couldn’t count on anyone except herself—something else she had always known.

  It had been that way since the night her powers were Claimed for the Dark at sixteen.

  Why should things be any different now?

  Her memories were coming back, too. Silas threatening her. Those idiot doctors discussing her infusion. The Rat Man—Nox’s—face.

  Nox.

  The idea that he might have been there with her, and not just an illusion, seemed even stranger. How did he survive the fire at Sirene? Why would he risk his life to come here, after he’d escaped Silas?

  For me … he came for me.

  That thought—and the hope that came with it—was the anchor keeping her from drifting back to the crazy place. The pl
ace Silas left her after he pumped her veins full of a power that might have killed her.

  How did Silas do it? Infusing one Caster with another’s powers wasn’t like mixing a martini. It must’ve required research, maybe years’ worth.

  Who cares? You’re even stronger than you were before. A Siren with Illusionist powers—you’ll be unstoppable. You just have to figure out how to control the powers. Don’t let them control you.

  It was easier said than done.

  The illusions came and went without warning, and they always caught her off guard, with heat searing its way through her veins and her vision blurring until the flashes started.

  The cell door opening on its own.

  Snakes twisting around the bars.

  Her senses were in some kind of supernatural overdrive, and it was still hard to differentiate reality from illusion.

  When Ridley heard Silas’ Darkborns in the passageway, she pretended to be asleep. If they were really out there, maybe they’d leave her alone. If they were another illusion, she could practice ignoring it.

  “Did you clear all the other girls out?” one of the Darkborns asked. “Silas doesn’t want anyone down here except for the two of them.”

  “Yeah. Moved ’em all earlier,” the other guy said. “What do you think Silas is gonna do with him?”

  “Kill him. What else?”

  “Or experiment on him, which is probably worse.”

  Ridley tensed as the rage burned inside her again.

  I’m not your victim. But eventually, you’ll be mine. Right after Silas gets what he deserves.

  “Then kill me already,” someone groaned.

  Rid recognized his voice.

  Nox.

  He had survived whatever Silas had done to him. He was really here.

  The images came back to her slowly. Nox standing outside her cell, talking to her. The sound of her own screams. Silas grabbing Nox and dragging him away.

  She’d begun to think he was just another illusion for sure. Something she conjured to feel better. Something to give her hope.

  Was that it?

  The Darkborns had dragged his beaten body down the dim passage to the cell next to hers and slammed the door. Nox lay on the floor, blood smeared across his cheek, as if Silas wanted to be sure she saw him.

 
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