Dangerous Deception by Kami Garcia


  And he’s standing in the hallway right now.

  Ridley caught a glimpse of his expensive dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up carelessly, and his stupid wing tips.

  Silas Ravenwood stopped in front of her cell, with a Barbadian cigar balanced between his fingers.

  He smiled at her through the bars. “It’s nice to see you again, Miss Duchannes. So pleased you could join us.”

  CHAPTER 8: LINK

  Winds of Change

  Link had more luck Ripping himself and Floyd to Oxford than he had Ripping them back. They ended up on top of a pile of garbage bags behind a Chinese restaurant.

  At least they’d missed the Dumpster. Link tried to feel good about that. “Welcome to the good old US of A.” He flopped back into the trash. “Home, stinky home.”

  “Thanks.” Floyd pulled a handful of rotten lo mein out of her hair. “I was already trying not to puke. You suck at this.”

  Link grabbed a handful of noodles, eggs, and cabbage. “Maybe I felt like Chinese spaghetti.”

  “Yeah. And maybe I hitched a ride with the wrong hybrid.”

  “Whatever. Rippin’ isn’t as easy as it looks. At least we’re not in China. I hope.” He stared up at the Binding Ring on his hand. “This thing shoulda kept Liv and John close¸ but I don’t see them. Do you?”

  “All I know is, you were supposed to be aiming for New Jersey. That’s what Necro said on the phone.” Floyd was getting annoyed.

  Laughter interrupted them. “Why didn’t you wait for us to eat? You guys must’ve been really hungry.” John grinned down at them.

  Of course, John and Liv weren’t covered in garbage.

  “What took you so long?” John asked, pulling Link to his feet. “Still got your training wheels on?” Link punched John in the biceps and John punched him back, which turned into five more punches.

  “Right. You’re both wankers,” Liv said.

  “Losers,” Floyd added. They finally agreed on something.

  By the time Floyd was on her feet, she had already called Necro on her cell phone. “I’ve got the address. It isn’t far. Some girl Sampson used to hook up with let them hang out at her place.”

  Link looked around. “Let’s find somewhere with less people, and me and John will Rip us there.”

  Floyd cringed. “No thanks. I’m taking the train. I’ve had enough Traveling for a while.”

  “But—” Link began.

  Floyd held up her hand. “I’m saying this as a friend. You really need more practice.”

  “The train’s fine.” Liv pulled out her phone. “It won’t take long to get there. We’re only a few stops away.”

  John noticed a snack truck parked by the curb. “Give me a minute. Link, front me some money, until I find somewhere to exchange ours.”

  Link took his wallet out of his back pocket, the silver chain dangling from the end to where it attached at his belt loop. “What do you need money for?” he asked, handing John a five.

  “Hold that thought.” John jogged over to the truck and returned moments later with a huge bag of Doritos. “I seriously missed these.”

  Floyd gave him a strange look. “I thought hybrids don’t eat.”

  John shoved a handful of chips in his mouth. “It’s a personal choice, and personally, I like Doritos.”

  “Or anything made with disgustingly orange powdered cheese,” Liv added.

  “You know you love it,” John said with his mouth full. He pulled her in for a kiss, and she jumped away with a yelp.

  She wiped her cheek. “Not a chance.”

  Link tried to smile, but he couldn’t. It was hard to watch John and Liv being John and Liv, when Ridley was gone. He noticed that Floyd was unusually quiet, too, as they walked through the station and boarded their train.

  “What’s up?” he asked as they sat down. “You haven’t said anythin’ since we came down here.”

  Floyd frowned and bit her lip. “Necro sounded weird on the phone.”

  “And now your Spidey sense is tinglin’?”

  She nodded. “I think something’s wrong.”

  “Of course it is.” Liv adjusted the dials on her selenometer and looked up at John. “And you thought things would change while we were gone.”

  When they finally made it to the apartment complex, something was more than wrong. Link had barely made it through the introductions before Sam and Necro broke the news about Nox.

  “What do you mean, he’s gone?” Link was pacing in the middle of the living room, staring at Sampson, who looked even more out of place than usual on the floral couch. “And who was stupid enough to let him go?”

  The Darkborn slid his thumb under the bike chain around his throat, fidgeting with the links. “Nox gave us the slip. He said he was going for a walk and never came back.”

  “We’re pretty sure Nox went after Ridley on his own,” Necro said. “We were about to go after him when Floyd called.”

  “Of course he did.” Link was furious. “Because all Nox thinks about is himself. How he wants to get there first and be the big hero.” Lucille threaded her way between Link’s ankles, as if she knew he was upset.

  “Calm down, Link.” Liv picked up the cat and scratched behind her ears. “I thought the reason you needed John’s help was because no one knew how to find the labs.”

  Necro ran her hands through her blue faux-hawk. “Either Nox lied to us, or he came up with some crazy idea to try to figure out where the house is himself. It’s hard to know. He’s not exactly predictable, and he isn’t really into the whole trust thing.” Nox and Necro had known each other longer than any of them.

  “He’s not exactly a whole lotta things,” Link said.

  Sampson stood up from his seat on the couch. “Enough with the chitchat. So where are these labs, and how do we get there?”

  “Slow down, big guy. It’s not that simple.” John automatically squared his shoulders like he was trying to look bigger, but Sampson still towered over him, his huge arms making John’s look scrawny—which wasn’t an easy thing to do. Finally, John gave up and shoved his hands in his pockets. “I don’t know how much Link told you, but I grew up in those labs. Abraham did things to my head. For a while, I couldn’t even remember some of the things I did. The things he made me do.”

  Liv looped her arm through John’s and leaned her head against his shoulder. “None of that was your fault.”

  “Maybe not,” John said. Link could tell he was working the hard way around to bad news. “My point is, there are things I should know that I can’t remember, like the location of the labs. Abraham created a lot of fail-safes when he screwed with my head. I think this is one of them.”

  Link felt like someone had hurled a rock at his head. He stared at John. “Wait. You don’t know where to find them? Are you messin’ with me?”

  “Relax,” John said. “I don’t know the exact location, but I do know someone who does.”

  Necro turned to Link. “You know a guy who knows a guy? That’s your brilliant idea?” She shook her head. “Why didn’t I think of that? Oh, wait, because it’s a stupid idea. In fact, it’s not even an idea.”

  Floyd leaned against the wall, arms crossed, glaring at John. “You mean we went all the way to Oxford, and you don’t even know where we’re going? Didn’t you think that was worth mentioning?”

  Floyd took a step closer to John—and walked right into Liv, who had her arms crossed in front of her. “Right. Let’s all take a breather.”

  “Your boyfriend’s lucky he’s still breathing,” Sam said, without a hint of a smile.

  “It’s not optimal. But considering you don’t know where to go, I hardly think you’re in any position to comment.” Liv turned to Link. “Which makes me wonder if we shouldn’t go after Ridley on our own. You and me and John. It’s clear that not everyone here actually cares about her.”

  “Hold on. That’s not true, Keeper,” Necro said. “Ridley’s my friend, and so is Nox. If he went after her lik
e an idiot—which I’m sure he did, since he acts totally crazy when it comes to Ridley—we have to make sure nothing happens to him.”

  “And save Rid,” Link added.

  “That, too,” Sampson agreed.

  Floyd didn’t say anything. Necro shoved her. “Oh, come on.”

  “Come on, what?” Floyd asked.

  Necro wouldn’t let it drop this time. “You may not like Ridley, but she’s one of us. We’re not going to let Silas Ravenwood have her. She’s practically in the band.”

  Floyd sighed.

  Link wanted to hug Necro, but he knew she’d rather have him slug her in the right eye. “Pound it,” he said, grinning.

  “Glad we ironed all that out,” Sampson said. “You gonna make us hug now? Or can we go after Nox? Even though we don’t actually know where we’re going.” John started to protest, but Sam waved him off. “Yeah, yeah. You know a guy. I heard.” He eyed the flowered couch. “Anything has to be better than sitting around here.”

  John’s eyes were on Link, and Link could feel the questions coming. Who is this Nox guy and why does Rid make him act crazy? And what does the Illusionist chick have against Rid?

  Get in line, Link thought.

  John took Liv’s hand and nodded at Sampson. “The big guy has a point. Why don’t we get out of here and stop wasting time?”

  “After you, little guy.” Sampson held the door as they all filed outside and locked it behind them.

  “We need to find the closest Outer Door to the Tunnels,” John said.

  Sampson nodded up the street. “No problem. It’s not far.” He took off with Lucille trotting behind him. The cat had taken a liking to the big Darkborn. Link hoped it would give Sampson some cred with John and Liv.

  Link and Floyd followed Lucille, while Necro fell into step next to John and Liv. “So who’s this guy who knows where the labs are?”

  “He’s a musician,” John said. “And he hates Abraham Ravenwood almost as much as I do.”

  Link stopped in his tracks. “Dude. I swear. I have no idea where the labs are.”

  John clapped his hand against Link’s back. “And I swear he’s not you.”

  Sampson turned down an alley, which looked like a dead end. By now, Link had seen enough Outer Doors to know better. Casters were experts at hiding the doors that led from the Mortal world into their own. It was one of the most annoying things about them, from a head-banging-into-a-hidden-doorframe perspective.

  The wall in front of them was covered in Banksy-style graffiti. In the spray-painted mural, a girl in round glasses was taking a picture of a smartphone that was taking a picture of a smartphone that was taking a picture of a smartphone. It went on and on until you couldn’t make out the images anymore.

  “There it is.” Sampson nodded at the mural.

  “A palimpsest?” Liv touched the concrete wall.

  “You mean, like Aunt Del?” Link asked.

  Liv nodded. “In a way. A palimpsest is a picture within a thousand pictures that goes on endlessly. The way Aunt Del sees places at different points in time, all at once. It’s actually sort of brilliant, for a Caster door.”

  Link tried not to think about what a dingbat Lena’s Aunt Del was sometimes. “Hope it works better than Aunt Del’s memory.”

  “Everything works better than Aunt Del’s memory,” Liv pointed out.

  “Except maybe her watch,” John said. Which was true; there was nothing like getting lost in time to make a person late for dinner.

  Sampson reached out and traced the painted black outline around the largest smartphone in the mural. His fingers slid into the wall, revealing a hidden groove.

  “Aperi portam,” Sampson whispered. The image of the cell phone disappeared, and the wall slid back, exposing a narrow passageway. He held out his hand. “Ladies first.”

  Liv shoved her way between Link and Floyd. “Why is it that guys always say that when you’re about to go somewhere fairly dreadful and potentially dangerous?”

  Sampson smiled. “I was trying to be a gentleman.”

  Liv’s eyes darted from the bike chain around his neck to his tattooed arms and leather pants before she slipped through the opening in the wall. Caster or not, Liv was still one of the bravest girls Link had ever met, right along with the one who went through next.

  Atta girl, Lucille.

  Floyd seemed unwilling to be shown up by a Mortal girl and a cat and strode forward, pulling Necro by the arm along with her.

  Only the boys were left behind.

  “Want to tell me where we’re headed?” Sampson asked. “Or who this guy you know is?”

  “I’m not sure you’d believe me if I told you,” John said as the last sliver of the Mortal world disappeared.

  “How far did you say it was?” Link looked back at John, almost bumping his head for what had to be the tenth time.

  The ceiling in the narrow Caster Tunnel was so low that Link, Sampson, and John had to bend over as they walked. Even Liv had to slouch.

  “I didn’t,” John said. “Stop complaining. It’s not far.”

  Floyd shuffled along behind Necro. “How did you hit your head? You don’t even have to duck.”

  “Link’s stupid cat ran in front of me,” Necro said.

  “Her name’s Lucille,” Link said. “I wouldn’t call her stupid. She probably understands what we’re sayin’. She’s ornery, just like the old ladies who gave her to me.” Link heard Lucille’s feet pattering across the dirt toward a circle of pale light in the distance ahead of them.

  “And that is rather an understatement,” Liv said.

  “Please let there be a high ceiling in my future,” Sampson said. The Darkborn was so tall that he was practically doubled over. His back had to be aching by now. Though Link still wasn’t exactly sure how much pain Supernaturals like Sampson felt.

  When Sampson stepped out of the passageway and stood up again, John let out a sigh of relief. “Thank god. I didn’t know how much more of that I could take.”

  Link reached the opening right after Necro and Floyd, and he was so busy looking up that he plowed into them. Floyd swayed, and Link caught her arm. She glanced down at the spot where his fingers touched her skin, and Link felt a wave of guilt. Not because he had feelings for Floyd, but because he didn’t. She was funny and pretty, in an indie rocker chick kind of way, and one of the best bass players Link had ever met. But no matter how cool Floyd was, there was one thing she’d never be.

  More like, one person.

  Where the hell are you, Babe?

  Link was so miserable and so alone, it didn’t matter how many of his friends were with him. All he could feel was the one person who wasn’t.

  “Check out the sky,” John said.

  Ribbons of pale green and lavender arched above them, the colors alternating in the same pattern as far as they could see. When Link looked carefully, he realized it wasn’t a sky at all. Except for the carpet of grass beneath their feet, the rest of the tunnel was made of flowers and vines.

  In spite of everything, it was sort of beautiful.

  “I’ve never seen anything like this, not even down here.” Necro stared up at the sea of lavender flowers. “It’s miraculous.”

  Link understood what she was saying. Miracles were made of hope.

  And hope was what they all needed most.

  Liv drew a quick sketch in her little red journal. “Actually, it’s a hedge tunnel.”

  “Buzzkill,” Floyd said.

  Liv ignored her. “We have some of the most famous ones back home, in the UK. But this looks exactly like the Wisteria Tree Tunnel in Japan.”

  Floyd gave Liv a strange look. “Who knows junk like that?”

  “People who read.” Liv walked past Floyd and Necro, heading deeper into the arched hedge. “You see, there are these remarkable things called books. They’re full of pages and pages of words.” She glanced back at Floyd. “Maybe you’ve heard of them. Or maybe not.”

  John stifled a
smile and followed his girlfriend.

  “Don’t you get a headache from memorizing all that random stuff?” Floyd shot back.

  Liv followed Lucille without bothering to turn around. “Not at all. What gives me a headache is explaining all that random stuff to other people.”

  The way Liv said people made it pretty clear that the only person she was talking about was Floyd.

  “Sometimes I really don’t understand your choice of friends,” Floyd said, looking at Link.

  “Liv’s just givin’ you a hard time,” Link said. “She’ll warm up to you, and then you two will get along great.” He tried to sound more upbeat than he felt.

  Floyd glared, and Necro raised an eyebrow. “Doubtful.”

  “Highly,” Liv muttered.

  The tunnel of flowers continued for at least a mile. Even Sampson seemed mesmerized, glancing up every few moments. But Link was having a hard time looking at them when he had no idea what Ridley was looking at right now.

  With every step he only worried more.

  What if she’s all alone and hurt somewhere? What if she isn’t alone?

  Link clenched his jaw. He couldn’t stand the thought of anyone hurting the only girl he’d ever loved. Because that was what it came down to, plain and simple. He loved Ridley, and it didn’t have anything to do with her Siren powers. He would’ve fallen for her one way or another—Mortal or Caster, Light or Dark. He loved the sound of her voice, even when she was complaining, and the way she fit under his arm perfectly, even in her crazy high heels.

  Ridley was all long legs, red lipstick, and pink-streaked hair on the outside; but on the inside, she wasn’t a bad girl. She was a girl who never had a choice about being born into a family of cursed Supernaturals, or Darkness Claiming her on her sixteenth birthday, or her family turning their backs on her after it happened.

  Inside, Ridley was all pain and heartbreak—just a regular girl who needed him.

  Almost as bad as I need her.

  CHAPTER 9: NOX

  Gates of Tomorrow

  Every Caster knew where to find the Mile, including Nox. It was hidden in the Tunnels beneath the French Quarter in New Orleans—a solid mile of identical Caster doors.

 
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