Dangerous Deception by Kami Garcia


  At night, drunk Casters and Incubuses would dare each other to open one of the doors, in the Caster version of Russian roulette. Without knowing what waited on the other side, you could find yourself in some fat guy’s living room, watching him sleep in front of the television—or just as easily end up surrounded by Vexes and other deadly creatures.

  Opening the door was the rush. The Wheel of Fate decided the rest—one way or another. It was a sucker’s game. Nox would never take those odds.

  Most other Casters and Incubuses must’ve wised up, because now the narrow alley lined with doors as far as the eye could see was deserted. Knowing Abraham Ravenwood, the Blood Incubus’ door would be protected by some sort of Cast. If Nox could open it at all, it would be a trap.

  Yeah. A deathtrap.

  Nox glanced down at his watch.

  Any minute now.

  He moved through the shadows, staying close to the doorways on one side, in case he needed to hide. If the Chemist was telling the truth, the door leading to Abraham’s house was here somewhere, which wasn’t much to go on.

  Especially for a guy with no time to waste.

  I’m coming, Ridley. Just be okay when I get there.

  He fought the darker thoughts in the back of his mind. They were always with him, and he was afraid they always would be.

  Ridley Duchannes doesn’t love you. Don’t be a fool.

  She doesn’t believe in you.

  What do you believe in?

  In yourself, and in how you feel about her? Even if she doesn’t feel the same way about you?

  He closed his eyes.

  Shut up.

  I believe in the way I feel.

  I believe I can love her anyway.

  Isn’t that enough?

  He leaned his head back against the wall of the dark passageway and wondered.

  A few minutes later, he heard footsteps and looked at his watch again.

  5:50 AM.

  Right on time.

  “Get to the Mile just before the sun comes up. Ravenwood’s cook will be there.” That’s what the Chemist said.

  Nox waited for a glimpse of Silas’ cook. He probably should’ve asked the Chemist what kind of Caster she was, but it was too late now. He’d have to decide how to incapacitate her in the moment.

  After she opens the door. His hands involuntarily rolled into fists.

  Nox saw her shadow emerge from the street ahead of him, between two doors. There she is. Just like he said.

  The woman wore a lightweight coat with the collar pulled up around her neck and the hem of her black uniform skirt peeking out from beneath it. Nox heard it rustle as she walked along the Mile.

  A uniform. Of course.

  Formal and pretentious. Like Abraham. And Silas.

  Nox walked toward the woman, pretending to talk on his cell phone as if he was heading through one of those doors on his way to work, too.

  She glanced in his direction, and Nox almost stopped walking. There was something about her—something familiar. She crossed the street in the Tunnel slowly, her crooked posture betraying her age. She was curled over, face to the ground, as if she was walking into a headwind determined to destroy her. This woman was bent by something more than just time.

  Something more evil—and more powerful.

  That was when he knew.

  Silas hadn’t just inherited Abraham’s cook. He’d inherited the same cook who had worked in Abraham’s house when Nox was a kid.

  He’d inherited Mrs. Blackburn.

  It all came rushing back. Even back then, Mrs. Blackburn’s posture had been crooked when she leaned over the marble counter to knead dough or prepare tea service. By now she had to be at least sixty, by Nox’s calculations. Was he really going to knock out an old lady?

  Someone who Abraham Ravenwood already spent his life tormenting? Someone who made me cookies after he tormented me?

  I have to, he told himself. It’s the only way to find Ridley.

  When Mrs. Blackburn reached the door, she rested her palm on the wood. Just as she began to whisper something, she noticed Nox and stopped.

  He tried to act casual, as if he planned to walk right by her, but the old woman seemed to know better.

  She looked him right in the eye and gasped. “You?”

  Nox looked around, as though he thought she was talking about someone else. “Excuse me?”

  Mrs. Blackburn shook her head. “I always knew you’d come back. But you’re too late,” she hissed.

  Nox dropped the act. She obviously recognized him. “Too late for what?”

  “You can’t get what you came for. The old bastard is dead.”

  It took him a moment to realize she wasn’t talking about Silas. “You mean Abraham?”

  The old woman nodded, her Caster green eyes staring at him. He’d always wondered how Abraham had persuaded a Light Caster to work for him.

  What was he threatening her with all these years?

  Nox glanced at the door. “I’m not looking for Abraham.”

  She gave him a knowing look. “Silas?” Her voice rasped with age.

  He nodded. “We have some unfinished business. You look like you might understand.”

  Mrs. Blackburn shrugged. “There’s no other kind of business with Abraham and Silas Ravenwood.”

  He took a step closer. “Mrs. Blackburn, you were always kind to me. And I don’t—I’d never want to hurt you. But I need to get inside.”

  The bent old woman shook her head. “Whatever trouble you’re in, son, whatever you want with Silas, forget about it and get as far away from this place as you can.”

  “I can’t.”

  “I’ve worked in that house since I was a child,” she began.

  “And I was a child,” Nox added.

  She nodded. “Abraham brought my mother there, just like yours. Those Ravenwoods have evil running through their veins—black and thick—where there oughta be blood.”

  “You don’t have to tell me that.”

  “I know. But whether it’s hate or vengeance or money—whatever’s sending you back into that house isn’t worth it. Nothing is.”

  Nox leaned against the doorjamb and looked down at her. “How about love?”

  The word made her pause.

  Then Mrs. Blackburn’s ancient eyes softened. “You were always a sweet boy. I remember how Abraham treated your mother, and I know it must’ve killed you to stand by and watch. If anyone knows how you felt, it’s me.”

  Nox tried to keep it together, but all he wanted to do was break something.

  Do you? Do you know what it’s like to hide, powerless, while the person you love most in the world begs for someone to kill her and put an end to the torture?

  Mrs. Blackburn straightened the best she could. “But your mother’s gone now. Yours, and mine. It’s too late to save either one.”

  In that moment, Nox knew he could trust her.

  Mrs. Blackburn, lowly cook of the Ravenwood kitchens. Servant of unpunished and unpardoned hearts.

  You’re fooling yourself if you think you’re any freer than she is, Nox thought. You’re as bent under the weight of Abraham and Silas as the old woman.

  They were bound, the two of them, like survivors of the same plane crash.

  Refugees from a shared war.

  It’s not over. It never will be.

  “This isn’t just about the past,” Nox finally said. “Silas has someone else I care about, and he’s going to do the same thing to her that Abraham did to my mom.”

  If Ridley’s still alive.

  The old woman nodded, as if she understood more than his words. She studied his face. “Nobody in their right mind would go back through this door if they didn’t have to.”

  Nox shifted uncomfortably. “Like I said. I have to.”

  She frowned, skeptical. “And you know what he’ll do to you?”

  “I have it on good authority.” Nox pointed to the misshapen stitches along his cheekbone. “And we b
oth know there’s more where this came from.”

  Mrs. Blackburn sighed. Then she rested her palm on the door again, as if she’d made up her mind. “You must be the dumbest boy in the whole Underground. The dumbest, or the bravest.”

  He grinned. “Why choose just one?”

  She frowned. “All right, then. You can follow me through. This Tunnel leads into the wine cellar inside the main house at Ravenwood Oaks. Silas is living there now, but aside from his flashy taste in decorating, I think you’ll find the place hasn’t changed much.”

  “Thank you, Mrs. Blackburn. I know what you’re risking by helping me.”

  “Then keep quiet when we’re in the Tunnel, and when I go up through the cellar, give me at least thirty minutes before you follow. If Silas finds out I helped you, it’ll be the end of me.” She hesitated for a moment, a sad expression passing across her face. “He’ll be the end of me either way.”

  Nox nodded. “We all have to die sometime.”

  Mrs. Blackburn smiled almost wistfully at Nox. “After the things we’ve seen, maybe that would be for the best.” She turned back to the door and pressed against the frame. “Aperire domum tenebrarum.”

  Open the House of Darkness.

  “I’ll come back for you,” Nox said, his voice low.

  “Don’t,” she whispered in return. “At least one of us should be free of this place for good.”

  The door opened by itself without a creak, and Nox slipped inside behind her.

  It was a short walk through the Tunnel leading from the Mile to Silas’ house—even if Nox was having a hard time thinking of it that way. He had too many memories of Abraham in that house, threatening him and tormenting his mom, to imagine it belonging to anyone other than the head of the House of Ravenwood.

  Except for the sound of their footsteps, they moved in silence.

  It didn’t matter. Nox could still hear the ghosts following him as he walked. The chairs flying. The glass breaking. The screaming and the crying. What are you looking at, boy? Who do you think you are?

  He prayed Silas wasn’t doing the same thing to Ridley right now.

  Please be there, Little Siren. Please be okay.

  But if she was there, she wasn’t okay. Nox knew that better than anyone.

  I’m coming to get you. I swear. Even if no one came for us.

  As they neared Silas’ house, the passage turned and the Tunnel looked more like a hallway, with faded wallpaper peeling beneath paintings and black and white or sepia photographs of Ravenwoods who were probably long dead: Jessamine Ravenwood. Isaac Ravenwood. Mather Ravenwood.

  Aside from Abraham, Nox didn’t recognize any of them. But their dead black eyes marked them all as Incubuses.

  Mrs. Blackburn caught him staring as they passed by. “You seeing ghosts, son?”

  He looked away.

  He was relieved when she hauled her ancient body up a wooden staircase and mumbled the Doorwell Cast again. This time, it opened the cellar door. Walking down the Ravenwood memory lane hadn’t done much to clear his head.

  If anything, it had clouded it.

  When they reached the top of the stairs and entered the narrow wine cellar lined with wine barrels, racks of vintage bottles, and shelves of humidors, Mrs. Blackburn turned to Nox and held a finger to her lips, signaling him to be quiet. She squeezed his arm, then scurried up another set of stairs that led to the kitchen.

  And the face from his childhood was gone. The moment she disappeared, it was as if he’d imagined the whole thing. He wondered if he’d ever see her again.

  Nox checked the time on his phone. Mrs. Blackburn had asked him to wait thirty minutes, but without knowing if Ridley was dead or alive, it felt like forever.

  He tried to stop himself from thinking about it.

  He had to be patient.

  If Ridley’s dead, then you’ll know what forever feels like. And it will feel a thousand times worse than this.

  Forever feels like forever.

  Nox wanted to bolt. He wanted to ransack the place, scream her name, pound down every door. But he couldn’t. He was trapped like a rat in one of Silas Ravenwood’s walls.

  He couldn’t do anything to endanger the old woman.

  Not after she risked her life to help me.

  Nox studied the bottles; the Ravenwoods’ cellar had everything from rare vintages to newer blends from their own vineyards. But it was the Barbadians that got to him—the stench of Abraham Ravenwood’s signature cigar. The smell made Nox’s stomach turn, and as a kid, it had always sent him flying in the opposite direction.

  He didn’t know how many times he checked his phone. But after what felt like the hundredth, thirty minutes had finally passed.

  It’s time. I’ll be there soon, Little Siren.

  Unless they catch me and kill me first.

  Nox climbed the stairs and listened at the door. When he didn’t hear anything, he took a chance and opened it. He remembered that the butler’s pantry lay on the other side, just off the kitchen. What he couldn’t remember was where the door opposite it led. He needed to get outside and around the back of the house. He only knew one way into the labs—the route he’d taken so many years ago as a child.

  Nox had no choice; he was going to have to retrace his steps, relive some hide-and-seek that was almost too painful to remember. He opened the door slowly, and for once, luck was on his side.

  The back of the estate stretched out before him, partially hidden by the shadows between what was left of the night and dawn. Weeping willows and old oaks dripping with Spanish moss guarded the property, along with more than a few enormous men. They had to be Darkborns—they were too unnaturally big to be Dark Casters, and with dawn breaking, Incubuses would have already fled inside to avoid the sunlight.

  Unless Silas has more hybrids like Link and his friend John Breed.

  Either way, this was a suicide mission, which wouldn’t have mattered to Nox except for the fact that he was probably Ridley’s only hope. Based on Link’s track record of keeping Ridley safe, the chances of the hybrid finding his way here and getting her out were slim to none.

  I won’t fail you, Rid. No matter what.

  Nox stole through the darkness like a shadow himself, staying close to the trees, working his way slowly toward the entrance to the labs, behind the carriage house. He crossed his fingers, hoping the door was still there.

  As he edged his way around the side of the old building, he saw it.

  The steel door that had reminded him of a tornado shelter when he was a kid lay a few feet away, unguarded. But Nox didn’t let that lull him into a false sense of security. He remembered the Incubuses patrolling the labs the first time he’d snuck in.

  When he opened the door, a chill ran up the back of his neck, as if Abraham Ravenwood himself was there, watching him.

  Haunting him, the way he always had and always would.

  After all the people I’ve hurt, maybe I deserve it. Maybe I’m no better than he is.

  But there was no time to think about it now. Nox slipped inside and moved quietly through the passage that led to the main hallway. When the passage ended, he peered around the corner.

  Finally.

  He was startled to see how the labs had changed. When he was a kid, the labs had reminded him of a state-of-the-art military facility or futuristic hospital—with gleaming steel walls and glass observation windows.

  The steel walls were still here, but the observation window was gone.

  On the left side of the hallway, sheets of thick plastic hung from the ceiling in front of a sterile-looking white door marked AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY.

  Nox almost expected to see people wearing biohazard suits coming out at any moment. He couldn’t help but wonder if Abraham had continued his experiments—and if Silas was still conducting them now.

  One look down the other side of the hallway made it clear that Silas was doing a lot more than that in the labs. Halfway down the hall, the steel walls ended abru
ptly, replaced by intricately carved mahogany paneling.

  Strange.

  The floor was covered in the hides of more animals than Nox could count; the crowning glory was the pelt of a huge Bengal tiger, complete with its head, paws, and tail.

  What’s this weird museum doing in the middle of the labs?

  It was more than just the animal pelts and mounted heads.

  Leather club chairs were arranged beneath them, in small clusters, like you’d find in an upper-crust men’s club—and not at all the kind of club Nox himself had ever run. A huge marble fireplace added to the Masterpiece Theatre effect.

  Nox looked away from the fireplace. Even though it wasn’t lit, it was force of habit with him now.

  Careful.

  A portrait of a white-haired man in a Sunday suit hung above the mantel. Nox couldn’t tell if it really was Abraham from where he was standing, but he was too fixated on what was hanging around the painting to care.

  Animal heads—at least a dozen of them.

  From a feral-looking wolverine and a black panther baring its ivory teeth to a lion with a full mane, and a gray wolf, still snarling, the world’s most dangerous predators surrounded the greatest predator of them all.

  It’s almost like Silas has a sense of humor. A deeply deranged sense of humor.

  What could Silas possibly be doing with some kind of boys’ club in the labs? When Nox was younger, Abraham never allowed visitors in the labs, and now it seemed as if Silas was entertaining in here.

  What’s he selling? Or dealing? And why here?

  But then Nox heard voices on the other side of the biohazard door and quickly stepped back into the alcove, pressing himself against the wall.

  “It’s unrealistic. If production continues this way, we’re gonna run out of space,” a woman said. “We’re already pushing maximum capacity as it is.”

  “If you want to be the one to tell him, feel free,” a man said. “It’ll be your blood spatter on the floor. But I’m not waiting around to mop it up. I’m going home.”

  Nox got a good look at the golden-eyed Dark Casters as they walked by in their pristine white lab coats. So the place was teeming with Ravenwood lab lackeys, just as it had been in Abraham’s day.

  At least one thing hasn’t changed around here.

 
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