Dangerous Deception by Kami Garcia

Angelique stared at them in disbelief. “Is this an actual conversation or are you two staging it for my benefit?”

  “I’m all done talking.” Floyd took off her jacket and handed it to Link. “And to answer your question, I don’t have the power of invisibility. But I can make myself look like all kinds of things, temporarily.”

  Link knew it was true. Ridley’s brother, Larkin, was an Illusionist, and Link had seen his powers in action.

  Even if he was a tool when he was alive.

  Sampson closed his eyes. “I’m not picking up on anything.” When he opened them again, he seemed satisfied that no one was waiting to grab Floyd on the other side, and he stepped away from the door. “It seems clear, but I wouldn’t go far. If this really does lead into the labs or anywhere near them, Silas will have his thugs around somewhere.”

  “I’ve got this.” Angelique pushed past him and rested her hand on the door, whispering the words to open it. The seal broke on the Caster door, and it opened just enough for Floyd to squeeze her skinny body through without opening it any wider.

  Sampson closed it behind her just enough to fool a casual observer, but Link kept his hand wedged in the top of the doorjamb just in case.

  It felt like an hour passed before Floyd finally returned, even though Liv had been keeping track of the time and it had only been seven minutes.

  With his supersonic hearing that trumped even an Incubus’, Sampson was the one who heard Floyd on the other side of the door. When the Darkborn opened it, Link grabbed Floyd’s arm and pulled her inside.

  “Ow!” she said. “Take it easy.”

  “You were gone long enough,” Link said, scowling.

  “What’s wrong?” Floyd shrugged. “Did you miss me?”

  Liv cleared her throat loudly. “Did you actually see anything?”

  “Yeah. I saw plenty.” Floyd crossed her arms, suddenly all business. “There are a bunch of trees and a big building on the other side. I’m guessing it’s the labs, because this place is crawling with Incubuses and Darkborns.”

  “How many?” Sampson asked.

  “I’m not sure,” Floyd said. “I saw at least three Incubuses and another two or three Darkborns. Oh, and one of the Darkborns looked like she was the one in charge.”

  “Wait. She?” Sampson raked his hands through his hair. “Did she have blond hair?”

  Floyd gave him a strange look. “Yeah, platinum. It was practically white. How’d you know?”

  “We’re screwed,” he said. “That’s Chloe Boucher. She’s the most dangerous Darkborn in the Underground. She’s an assassin.”

  Link raised an eyebrow. “But you can take her, right?”

  “Chloe Boucher has been around longer than I have, which makes her stronger. No one even knows where she came from. She just showed up on the scene with a buck knife and a name for killing.”

  “Chloe Boucher doesn’t sound that intimidating,” Liv said.

  “It’s the last name. She started using it because she thought it was funny,” Sampson said, looking pale. “Boucher is French. It means ‘butcher.’ ”

  CHAPTER 21: NOX

  Witching Hour

  As Nox stared at the iron bars in front of him, he was at a crossroads. Until now, his interactions with women had always been simple. Caster girls threw themselves at him in one of his clubs, hoping for something—a TFP from his winnings, a supernatural favor, another chance after their luck ran dry at one of his gambling tables.

  Nox’s answer was usually no, except on the rare occasions when he met a girl who just wanted to be with him. Sometimes, if he was bored enough and she was attractive enough, he’d give her what she wanted.

  But until now that had never included his heart.

  This time it was different.

  This time, Ridley was the girl and that changed everything.

  He finally understood all those stupid love songs and tragic romance movies, because the girl he wanted more than anyone in the Mortal or Supernatural universe wanted him, too. Desperately, fully, completely wanted him.

  Now Rid was looking at Nox the way she used to look at Link. Maybe in a way she’d never looked at Link. And Nox wanted her. He had always wanted her. That had never changed.

  But that also wasn’t the point.

  If he let this happen, if he let his guard down and surrendered to the feelings and the impulses that had been building up inside him since the day he first met her—if he took anything at all from Ridley, knowing she wasn’t herself—then he wasn’t man enough to be worthy of her.

  So he sat there staring at the metal bars between them.

  We have to get out of here.

  Nox looked over at the next cell, where she lay resting a few feet above the bed, on what appeared to be an endless gust of wind that never seemed to settle anywhere at all. Her pink-streaked blond hair fanned out beneath her, giving the illusion that she was floating on the surface of a rippling body of water.

  Rid caught his eye—and before he said a word, he found her lying next to him, on her side of the row of iron bars. She wasn’t dressed in a hospital gown anymore.

  Now she was wearing her red leather bodysuit, tight and leaving nothing to the imagination. Like the Devil’s own version of Catwoman, Nox thought.

  “Well?” She reached through the bars, twisting the edge of Nox’s jacket. “Feeling any better?”

  He let her pull him to the edge of the bars. As she moved her face toward his, he couldn’t resist. In some ways, he was only human, after all.

  You live among them long enough and it’s bound to happen.

  Again.

  And again.

  CHAPTER 22: RIDLEY

  Revolution Calling

  The moment she kissed Nox, Ridley had a realization. A breakthrough, really. You could even call it an epiphany.

  For the first time in her life, Ridley didn’t crave sugar. She didn’t feel sweet, and she didn’t want to be sweet, either.

  Not that the latter had ever been her problem.

  She was hungry for something much more substantial than sugar. It was time to put the cherry lollipops aside. The power games of her childhood were no longer enough.

  This kiss only proves that.

  Nox didn’t taste sweet. He tasted strong.

  Like steel and fire.

  Electrical fire.

  That was the taste of power.

  That’s what I want now.

  Isn’t it?

  She had a fleeting thought of Link—of his partly Mortal warmth, his open face, the goofball way he curled his enormous hand around her smaller one, his lanky arm around her slight one. Then she put those thoughts aside.

  Link was just another toy from her childhood. She couldn’t imagine feeling anything for him now. She remembered feeling something—scattered moments, a rogue look in his eye, a sudden, Linkish laugh—but even those were fading into a distant, hazy blur.

  Nox was the only one who understood her—who could give her what she needed.

  Besides, how can I inflict myself on a Mortal in this state? What has Silas even done to me? What kind of Caster am I?

  I’m nothing that has ever been before.

  Silas had made sure of that.

  Nox could see it, too, and he wasn’t frightened. At least, those weren’t the signals he was sending right now.

  She pulled him closer, feeling the burn against her lips—when she heard a sound in the corridor and opened her eyes.

  “What the—?” Nox pulled away from her as Silas waved his Darkborns into the glorified dungeon containing their prison cells. One of them quickly unlocked the door of Nox’s cell.

  Silas’ thugs flung Nox against the far cell wall before she could say a word. Silas moved into Nox’s cell behind them.

  “Silas, stop it.” Ridley panicked, clutching the bars between them.

  “That’s exactly why I’m here. To stop it”—he looked at Nox—“from living.”

  “Don’t be ridiculous. You can’
t kill him,” she said, trying to hide the fear rising inside her. “He’s on our side now. I promise.” She had no idea what she was saying. Nox had never been on Silas’ side—and he never would be—but she was desperate to keep him safe.

  “Ridiculous? Listen to your own babble.” Silas glanced in her direction and laughed. “I don’t care whose side this kid says he’s on. He screwed me, and now he’s going to pay for it.”

  “Silas. Listen to yourself. You sound like an angry child.” Ridley was the angry one now.

  Silas’ eyes narrowed. “Yeah? You screwed me, too, so I’d be careful how you talk to me.”

  Nox stumbled to his feet, moving between them. Even after a beating, his first instinct was to protect her. Ridley appreciated it, but she also knew she wasn’t the one who needed protecting at the moment.

  “It’s okay, Rid. Don’t worry about me.” Nox gave her a weak smile. “I knew this was coming.” He looked at Silas. “Weak men have no mercy. Especially not Ravenwoods.”

  One of the guards grabbed the back of Nox’s neck and slammed his face against the bars.

  “No!” Ridley shouted, heat burning through her veins.

  Blood gushed from Nox’s nose.

  Silas shook his head. “You got a real gift for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, kid.”

  “Stop! You’re hurting him!” Ridley ran to the door of her cell, her fingers curling around the bars. She shook them, but they didn’t budge.

  I won’t let you hurt him. I’ll kill every single one of you first.

  The moment the thought took shape in Ridley’s mind, she realized something new about herself. Her new self. It wasn’t just a threat. She could actually do it.

  The delicious cocktail of powers swimming inside her was calling to her—saying: Don’t let them hurt the boy you love.

  The words formed themselves before she could stop them.

  Do I love him?

  Is that what this is?

  Do I want that?

  But it didn’t matter. Ridley gripped the bars tighter, focusing her wrath—and her power—on the Darkborns dragging Nox out of his cell.

  You’ll let him go. One way or another.

  The walls in the dungeon began to move—at least they looked like they were moving. Ridley knew it was only an illusion, but even she had never seen one that looked so real.

  Silas looked around, as if he wasn’t sure he could trust his own eyes.

  The four walls that formed the cellblock drew in toward the middle of the room.

  “What’s going on?” the Darkborn holding Nox by the neck called out, her eyes darting around the small space.

  Silas smiled. “Ignore it. The Siren’s creating an illusion. It’s just a reaction to how I juiced her up. For an Illusionist, it’s perfectly natural, not all that much different from a tantrum.” He turned to Ridley. “Though we might have to find something else to call you after this little display. You aren’t exactly a Siren or an Illusionist anymore, are you?”

  Ridley didn’t answer.

  Her mind was elsewhere.

  She pictured the walls crushing the Darkborns—and the moment she did, the back wall of Nox’s cell burst through the barred doors on that side of the room. The Darkborns threw themselves—along with Nox—toward Ridley’s cell, narrowly escaping the falling metal bars. But the wall didn’t stop moving. And the ones at either end of the dungeon were coming closer, too, now.

  Ridley fixed her violet eyes on Silas. “One more chance, little man.”

  “Excuse me?” Silas looked at her, raging.

  “I said … Let. Him. Go.”

  You want to let him go, Ridley thought, focusing every ounce of her Power of Persuasion in Silas’ direction. Tell your men now, before I kill you all.

  Silas rubbed his hands over his face, looking confused. He was one of the strongest Blood Incubuses in existence. Ridley knew he wouldn’t be that easy to take down, but she didn’t care.

  “Silas, make her stop,” one of the Darkborns called out as the back wall pushed him closer to Ridley’s cell—and to being crushed.

  “This isn’t an illusion!” the other shouted. “I can’t breathe.”

  “Shut the bitch down,” called the first.

  But Silas didn’t. He was too confused to do much of anything. He opened his mouth to say something, and then closed it again without a word.

  It was true.

  She wasn’t just one thing. Not since Silas had given her the transfusions.

  Idiot.

  He was the one who had set her free without even knowing it.

  There was no limit to what she could do—at least, it didn’t feel like there was.

  Here they’d been, trapped in these little rat cages, when all she had to do was force them open in her mind.

  Ridley felt a surge of heat and a wave of dizziness as she summoned whatever power she had left.

  Let Nox go, she thought, her eyes drilling into Silas like she was reaching into his mind. And while you’re at it, unlock my cell.

  The Darkborns who weren’t holding Nox had their palms flat against the shifting walls now, pressing against them.

  Screaming.

  “Let the boy go,” Silas said.

  The Darkborns moved toward Nox, their shocked expressions only fueling Ridley’s power—and the incredible high it gave her.

  Not enough, she thought.

  She closed her eyes again, and the walls shuddered. Plaster fell from the ceiling.

  “I said let him go!” Silas shouted, looking even more confused. He seemed even more surprised by the words coming out of his own mouth than his thugs were.

  The Darkborns released Nox, and he fell to his knees, in the center of what was slowly turning into a shoe box of a room.

  The walls in the room stopped moving all at once.

  “Ridley, you can stop.” Nox choked out the words. “I’m okay.”

  I’m not finished yet. I want Silas Ravenwood to know that no one controls me.

  Her eyes darted back to Silas. You want to open my cell, Silas. More than you’ve ever wanted anything in your pathetic life.

  Silas marched toward Ridley’s cell, as if he were a little puppet on a string.

  My puppet. My string.

  When he reached the door, he held out his hand to one of the guards. “Keys.”

  The Darkborn dropped them in his palm.

  Silas looked back at Ridley.

  Do it, she thought. Do it now.

  The Incubus raised a shaky arm. “Are you sure?”

  “Oh, I am.” Ridley smiled. “It’s about time for the princess to rescue herself from the dungeon. And maybe burn down the castle while she’s at it. You know how these things go. It’s nothing personal.”

  Ridley looked at Nox. “The prince is welcome to come.” Then she looked back at Silas. “The dragon, not so much.” She nodded, and Silas moved the key, slowly, as if he was fighting for control of his own body.

  “This is a mistake,” he said as the key slid into the lock.

  “I like to think of it as more of an upgrade,” Ridley said as she pushed the door open and stepped across the threshold.

  “Ridley 3.0.”

  CHAPTER 23: LINK

  Queen of the Reich

  Angelique smiled when Sampson mentioned the meaning of Chloe Boucher’s last name, but Link had a completely different reaction.

  The Butcher? That can’t be good. Like slasher-movie-Stephen-King not good.

  “So what’s the game plan?” Link asked. “You know, besides you gotta kill ’em all?”

  No one laughed, not even Link.

  “Any thoughts, ladies?” Angelique asked, addressing Necro and Floyd, the other Dark Casters.

  “I might be able to deal with the Incubuses,” Floyd said. “But the Darkborns are out of my league.”

  “They must have a weakness,” Liv reasoned, turning to Sam. “We just have to figure out what it is.”

  He held up his hands. ??
?Don’t look at me. If we have one, I don’t know what it is.”

  “Humility?” Necro asked innocently.

  “How many Darkborns did you say there were out there?” Angelique asked Floyd.

  “I’m not sure. At least two, plus Chloe the Butcher.”

  Angelique pushed up her sleeves and moved toward the Outer Door. “I love a challenge. Not to mention a butcher.”

  Link stepped in front of her. “Hold up a minute.”

  Angelique stared at him with an expression that said Move it or lose it.

  He took the hint and stepped aside. “Sorry. I just missed the part about what the rest of us are supposed to do.”

  Angelique pointed her finger at the door, and without a word, it flew open. “Try to stay out of the way.” She stalked out of the protection of the Tunnel and into a sea of grass and trees behind the plantation’s main house. “I wouldn’t want to kill you accidentally.”

  Link scrambled after her with his friends as the Cataclyst shook out her red curls and cracked her knuckles like a thug getting ready to fight. The bloodlust propelling her reminded him of the only other Cataclyst he’d ever met, and Sarafine had been a complete psycho.

  Sampson fell into step next to Link. “She’s crazy,” he said, keeping his voice low. “And she’s going to get herself killed before she makes it into the building.”

  “I’m not so sure,” John said.

  “You’ll have to pass notes later, children,” Angelique said. “We have company.”

  Two Incubuses emerged from the trees. Neither one was paying attention, until they spotted Angelique marching toward them. The Incubuses’ black eyes narrowed as they zeroed in on what they probably considered their next victim.

  This is either gonna be really good or really bad, dependin’ on which side you’re on, Link thought.

  Angelique raised her hand, but Floyd jogged up beside her and pushed her out of the way. “Don’t be a ball hog. I’ll take care of these two.”

  Angelique backed off, intrigued.

  The trees around the Incubuses began to change, the massive oaks transforming into towering mirrors. Within seconds, they formed a maze, like the House of Mirrors at the Gatlin County Fair. The Incubuses waved their arms in front of them to avoid crashing into one of the huge trunks.

 
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