Dangerous Dream by Kami Garcia

“No thanks. I’ll stick with lemonade.”

  “That’s what this is, Hot Rod.”

  Lena pulled herself out of the pool and grabbed a towel. Ethan only let go of her hand long enough to grab his own.

  Like I said, whipped. They’d probably even pee holding hands underneath the stalls if you let them. Maybe you can do that in France.

  “What are we going to do tonight, kids?” Ridley looked at her cousin. “And don’t try to tell me book club is a real thing again.”

  Lena rolled her eyes. “I didn’t make that up. Google it or something.”

  “Google? Yeah, right. Stupid word. You probably made that up, too.” Ridley sniffed. She liked to pretend she was above Mortal technology.

  Ethan laughed. “Let’s get out of here. I have to start my job at the library tomorrow.”

  “Job?” Ridley sounded annoyed.

  Lena smiled. “Ethan’s helping Liv and Marian in the stacks. Just until we leave in September. I told him I’d go hang out with him tomorrow.”

  “I’m sorry,” Ridley said.

  “Thank you?” Ethan looked amused.

  “What about John Boy? Can’t he help read things?” Ridley never said anything positive about John Breed. She never said anything positive about anyone, come to think of it.

  Why is that? Link thought, looking at her. It’s not like she needed any more self-esteem. The girl was an esteem factory.

  “John’s busy with Uncle Macon.” Lena didn’t elaborate. “And he’s also gone after this summer, you know. John and Liv.”

  Ridley looked doubly irritated.

  “That leaves you and me, Sugarplum.” Link looked at her. “Wanna go see a movie in Summerville or somethin’? The monster truck rally’s up in Columbia. Road trip?”

  “Just let me get my dip.” Ridley shot him a withering look. “I thought summer was supposed to be fun. Three days in and I’m already bored to death.”

  “Aww, it’s not that bad.” Link sat up and looked at her, pulling the towel from his head.

  “Are you talking about your hair? Because it is that bad.” She raised an eyebrow.

  Link grinned. He knew how his hair was sticking up, and he didn’t care. If you love me, you love my hair.

  The question was, did she love him?

  “There’s a new club I want to hit. Suffer. It’s like Exile, only hotter.” Ridley had made up her mind. When she looked around the sticky plastic booth at the Dar-ee Keen, though, nobody else was biting.

  Here we go, thought Link, already tired. “Everything’s hotter, Babe. It’s almost July.”

  She wasn’t giving up. She pushed away her double-cherry-chocolate shake. “Come on, guys. Just this once. Let’s get out of this boring town and light it up, Caster-style.”

  “Because our little trip to the South of France didn’t do it for you?” Ethan shoved the rest of his fries on top of his burger and into his mouth.

  He still ate as though he was making up for lost time, Link thought sadly. Or because his best friend can’t eat anymore. It was the only thing Link missed about being a hundred percent Mortal.

  That, and sleeping in. Or sleeping at all.

  “France? That was today. This is tonight.” Ridley tried to make her logic sound reasonable, but Link wasn’t buying it any more than the rest of their friends.

  Ethan shook his head. “I guess I don’t need to remind you how many times Link and I have nearly gotten our butts kicked at Exile. Caster-style.”

  Ridley shrugged. “Two hybrid Incubuses, a Siren, and a Natural. You and the Trapper Keeper will be safe as babies in butt bags.”

  Liv looked annoyed. “It’s Keeper.”

  “And they’re called diapers.” Lena shook her head.

  “Whatever.” Ridley fluttered her pink nails dismissively.

  “I’ll go,” Link said with a sigh. “I’d go anywhere with you, Sugarplum. You know that. If I’d go to Saint No Way today, I’ll go to Suffer tonight. At least the name’s settin’ my expectations where they probably belong.”

  “Aw, thanks, Shrinky Dink.” She kissed his cheek and he pulled her close, bringing his mouth to hers. They kissed across the booth table.

  Ethan and Lena and Liv and John collectively groaned, like they always did. But Ridley and Link ignored them, like they always did. Then they just kept kissing, like it was a hundred degrees inside and out.

  Like they would die as soon as this kiss was over, and neither one of them cared.

  Like it was the end of time, and there was nobody else left in the whole world to keep them apart.

  Third Degree Burns, Link thought. That’s what this is. Finally.

  By the time Link came up for air, Ridley’s arms were wrapped around his neck, and her bright pink lipstick was wrapped around his face.

  “That was seriously the most disgusting display of PDA anyone’s ever witnessed in the history of Gatlin County,” Ethan said, pushing his burger away.

  “Possibly throughout all of history,” added Liv.

  “Yeah. Gross,” John said. “Can I have those onion rings?”

  Lena kept her eyes on the table.

  But Link ignored them. He kept his forehead pressed against Ridley’s, whispering something into her face.

  A secret. Something private.

  Something he should have told her a long time ago.

  “You what?” She yanked away from him as if he’d lit her pink streak on fire.

  Link felt like she’d thrown a bucket of water in his face. “I love you, Rid. You gotta know that by now.”

  “Here we go,” Ethan said, pushing his way out of the booth.

  “See ya,” John said, grabbing the onion rings. Liv and Lena followed him out the door. They knew better than to say a word.

  All four of them ran for it.

  Link might as well have lobbed a grenade at Ridley, instead of three little words. He didn’t know what all the fuss was about. But she stood there staring at him like he’d whipped off his pants in the middle of the Dar-ee Keen.

  You could drive a monster truck through her mouth, Link thought. That’s how far it’s hanging open.

  “Don’t be stupid,” Rid finally said, without looking at him.

  Link shoved his hand through his spiky hair. “So, yeah. That’s not what you’re supposed to say when a guy tells you he loves you.” He wiped pink lipstick off his face.

  Rid rolled her eyes. “What am I supposed to say? I love you, too? Do you know how ridiculous that is?”

  “No. But I get the feelin’ you’re about to spell it out for me.” Link looked grim. In the distance, Charlotte, the Dar-ee Keen’s only full-time waitress, held up a pitcher of refill soda. He shook his head.

  Not now. Not when all hell is about to break loose.

  “Do you know how many guys have said those words to me? And do you know how many times I’ve said them back?” Ridley was losing it.

  “I’m going to go with ‘all of them’ and ‘zero,’ based on this whole conversation.” Link exhaled. Keep it calm. Talk her down. You know how to do this, bro.

  “Ding, ding, ding.” She was furious, and anger brought out her nasty side.

  “You don’t have to be nasty about it. I get it.”

  “Do you?”

  “Yeah. I get it. I’m not as stupid as you think I am.” Link flicked a piece of melting ice across the table.

  “Really?”

  He looked up. “You don’t love me. You don’t love anybody. You’re a Siren. I’ve heard it all before.”

  “Then, why—”

  “The thing is, Rid, that’s not what it feels like when you’re with me.” He had to be honest. He had nothing left to lose.

  “Please,” she snapped.

  Link kept going. “I gotta be honest with you. I kinda feel like you—”

  “Don’t say it.” She held up her finger. A threat.

  “You love me.” He smiled because he knew it was true, whether or not Rid would ever admit she felt that way. He
didn’t know why that didn’t seem to cut it anymore.

  “I said not to say it.” Ridley was backing her way out of the booth.

  “You don’t have to be so tough all the time. Not around me, Rid.” He got up after her.

  Her hands were against the glass door of the restaurant. “I am tough. It’s everything else that I’m faking.”

  “See that? You’re a liar. A big fat liar.” He leaned against the wall next to her.

  “I’m none of those things. Not big. Not fat. Not a liar.” She was like a cornered polecat, and he’d never seen her so panicked.

  “Yeah? Then what are you?” He raised an eyebrow, waiting. He could wait all night.

  “Out of here. That’s what I am.”

  True to her word, she wasn’t lying. Before Link could say anything, Ridley was gone.

  AFTERMATH

  Ridley

  There were lots of ways to forget about a guy. Especially a mostly Mortal guy. Especially one who was only part Incubus, and not even the good part. Especially a dumb guy who kept trying to force you to be something you’re not. Something you couldn’t possibly live up to…

  Ridley tried to forget every way she knew how.

  She bounced her way through Europe with a broken heart, country hopping the way some guys go barhopping.

  She met a handsome Italian football player on a train to Otranto and stayed in a castle for the next two weeks. The Florence of the South, Marco had said.

  No more dinners with your mother, Ridley had said. Not even in a castle.

  She had cruised down the Dalmatian coast with Bela, a handsome sailor in an even more handsome yacht, from Split to Brac to Hvar to the walled city of Dubrovnik. The orange-red tiles against the blue-blue sky had seemed romantic at first. Then they just reminded her of Link with his Lake Moultrie sunburn.

  In Paris, she had grown tired of champagne and oysters, and of Etienne, who had come with them. There were only so many baguettes you could break at Ernest Hemingway’s former table or F. Scott Fitzgerald’s afternoon bar. And the café Les Deux Magots probably meant something about two maggots, so what was that about, anyway?

  Berlin was arty; Ridley was not. Moscow liked salty; Ridley liked sweet.

  By the time she finally felt like she had left Gatlin behind, it wasn’t just Gatlin that was over.

  The whole summer was behind her.

  Ridley didn’t know why she’d come back here—to New York or to Suffer. The Dark Caster club didn’t have enough alcohol or enough sugar to keep her mind off all the things she had spent the summer trying to forget.

  The one thing—or the one person.

  Nothing had helped. Ridley was beginning to think that nothing would, which scared her more than she was willing to admit to anyone, including herself.

  The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”—the personal sound track that Rid had adopted after the deliciously disastrous winter formal at Jackson High—blasted from her clutch.

  Ah! She never gives up.

  It was her phone. Her perfect half-Light, half-Dark cousin, Lena, had spent the last two months trying to convince Ridley to put a cork in her champagne bottle and come back to Gatlin.

  Ridley was tired of being lectured. “I texted you a hundred times and told you I’m not coming back there.”

  “Wow. I was expecting, ‘Hi, Lena. It’s nice to hear from you,’ ” her cousin said. “ ‘I’m sorry I ignored your texts and never returned your calls.’ ”

  “You don’t have to be so dramatic,” Ridley said. “I’ve been busy. And I know he put you up to this. But I’m not coming back there.”

  I can’t, Rid thought.

  “Link didn’t put me up to anything. He’s online all the time looking for an apartment in New York. I called because it’s the end of the summer. Ethan and I are leaving for college next week, and Liv and John are heading to London. I thought you might want to see us before we go.”

  “What do you mean, he’s looking for an apartment?” Ridley knew what it meant. He was going without her. As if he’d survive a week here by himself.

  Lena sighed. “Leave it alone, Rid. You broke Link’s heart, and he was miserable all summer. I think he’s finally accepted that things would never have worked out between you two. Let it go.”

  Ridley felt like someone had kicked her in the stomach. “How do you know he’s accepted it? What did he say?”

  “Rid, please—”

  “What did he say?” Ridley repeated, her voice growing louder.

  “Just that some things aren’t meant to be.”

  The words hit Ridley harder than she ever would’ve thought possible. “I gotta go, Cuz.”

  “Rid—”

  Ridley hung up before Lena had a chance to say anything else. There was no way she was going back to that wretched town. She had stayed there too long. That was the problem.

  There was always something—John Breed taking off with her cousin back when he was still one of the bad guys. Ethan jumping off a water tower to save the world, then being trapped in the Otherworld. Ridley coming home to take on Abraham Ravenwood and save Ethan. Then Lena had begged her to stay for graduation. “It won’t be the same if you aren’t there,” she’d said.

  Whatever.

  Ridley had pretended that she didn’t want to go, but secretly she’d wanted to see her cousin graduate. At least one of them had made it through the mind-numbing Mortal high school experience without being burned at the stake. Ridley had always known it would be Lena. Rid wasn’t cut out for all that insecurity and angst and BFF crap. Best friends forever? As far as she was concerned, it was more like bitches, frenemies, and freaks.

  But Lena wasn’t the only reason she had stayed. She’d stayed because of Link, something she would never admit to a single soul.

  Wesley Lincoln.

  Rid never called him that to his face, or in front of anyone else. But it was the way she thought of him—with his cocky grin, rock and roll dreams, and drumsticks in his back pocket. Wearing a faded Black Sabbath T-shirt and driving the piece of crap Beater—he was the guy who had gotten under her skin.

  Apparently, he was the one guy who had let her walk away.

  Some things aren’t meant to be. Ridley stiffened at the thought of him saying those words. After tonight, they won’t be.

  She planned to make sure of it.

  The line in front of Suffer snaked around the block. It was the Dark Caster club of the moment, outranking Exile in terms of music (live bands instead of an aging Incubus DJ), clientele (the unattractive need not apply), and trouble (the more, the better). Not that Ridley cared about the line, since she had no intention of standing in it… until she noticed a few delicious guys waiting behind the black velvet ropes. A little window-shopping before she went in couldn’t hurt.

  Ridley ran her hands through her blond hair, with its signature pink streak, to give it that I-could-have-just-rolled-out-of-your-bed look. She zeroed in on a dangerous-looking Incubus at the front of the line.

  Rid took one last lick of her cherry lollipop and tossed it into a Dumpster. She didn’t need her Siren’s Power of Persuasion to turn heads. Tonight, she was doing it old-school, platform heels and mile-long legs, with a little pink lip gloss and something to prove.

  Bring it.

  “Let me get that for you.” The Incubus practically tripped over himself trying to unhook one of the velvet ropes so that Ridley could slip in line beside him.

  “Aren’t you sweet. What do I owe you?” She put one hand on her hip and leaned toward him just enough.

  “I’ll have to think about it,” he said.

  “Blond in the black leather skirt.” The doorman pointed at Rid. “You’re in.”

  Ridley smiled and tossed her hair over her shoulder. The Incubus started to follow her, but the doorman shook his head. “Just the lady.”

  She tapped a long silver nail against the Incubus’ chest. “Sorry, Tall, Dark, and Dangerous. Maybe I’ll see you inside.


  Or not, she thought.

  She shimmied past the doorman and stopped at the brick wall in front of her.

  “Nice trick,” Rid said, glancing back at him before she stepped right through it. The wall was a test. The doorman was an Illusionist, and if you weren’t smart enough to know it, then you didn’t belong at Suffer.

  Inside the club, spotlights suspended from the ceiling tinted everything a deadly shade of red. The crowd pulsed on the dance floor that hovered in the air, three stories above Ridley’s head.

  “You’re just going to leave me here?” a girl whined, a few feet away.

  The guy—who was probably her boyfriend, judging by the guilty expression on his face—caught her arm as she started to turn away. Ridley smiled. The girl obviously wasn’t a Siren, like Ridley, but at least she knew how to get her boyfriend to do what she wanted.

  “I have to set up the game, Baby,” the guy said. “It’s the last night. Winner takes all.”

  Ridley moved closer to the bar, and the couple’s conversation. Now things were getting interesting.

  “What do you care?” she snapped. “It’s not like they’re going to let you play. They treat you like an indentured servant.”

  The guy stiffened. That’s when Ridley noticed his eyes. They weren’t the gold eyes of a Dark Caster or the black eyes of an Incubus. His eyes were blue—Mortal blue.

  “It’s not like that,” he said. “I’m part of the band.”

  The girl laughed. “You’re their roadie. You can’t even get yourself in the game.”

  “No one can get in the game!” he shouted.

  As amused as Ridley was by the argument, she was more intrigued by this mystery game. It sounded exclusive. Why hadn’t she heard about it?

  Before she had a chance to find out more, the Mortal’s Caster girlfriend stormed off. He slumped against the polished metal bar. The bartender reached over the Mortal’s shoulder, handing Blood Incubuses tall glasses of the club’s signature drink, O Positive.

  The Mortal must have been telling the truth about being with the band, or those glasses would’ve been filled with his blood. Mortals weren’t welcome at Suffer unless they were payment for one of the dozens of illicit substances available in the Underground, the darkest part of the Caster world.

 
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