Dangerous Dream by Kami Garcia


  Ridley couldn’t stop staring at his blue eyes, lost in the sea of black and gold. In the Mortal world, he would’ve had the girls falling all over themselves to get his attention. But in a room full of sexy Dark Caster boys, he didn’t even show up on their radar.

  The song ended, and the opening band stopped playing. The spotlights trailed over the crowd until they reached the stage and the lead singer. “The headliner tonight needs no introduction. Give it up for the Devil’s Hangmen!”

  Ridley rolled her eyes. The Devil’s Hangmen? That was original. It sounded like the name of a failed eighties heavy metal band. It was almost as bad as the name of Link’s band, Meatstik. She felt a pang of something at the thought of Link, but she pushed him out of her mind—a skill at which she excelled.

  The crowd erupted into applause.

  The Mortal roadie’s head snapped up. He rushed through the wall of bodies toward the front of the club as the ragtag group jogged onstage—a lead singer the size of a linebacker, sporting leather pants and enough tattoos to pass for a T-shirt; a female bass guitarist in a faded Pink Floyd T-shirt, who tripped over the microphone cord; a pretty-boy punk with a blue faux-hawk and a guitar to match; and an Incubus who sat down at his drum kit wearing earplugs. If these were the Devil’s Hangmen, the Devil was slacking.

  Rid glanced at the door. Maybe it was time to bail.

  The drummer cracked his sticks together three times, and the band came to life in one thunderous heartbeat. And if you ignored the subpar drummer, they were actually good—a Pink Floyd Red Hot Chili Peppers mash-up, if you liked that sort of thing. Ridley didn’t, but then again, she didn’t like any bands. Not anymore. She’d trained her ears to tune out all music; it had been her way of dealing with the abuse that was Meatstik.

  The music throbbed, and she spun around, reaching for the ceiling, and danced until she couldn’t think about anything—or anyone—except catching her breath and getting a drink with something sweet in it.

  As she tossed her hair over her shoulder and turned back toward the bar, a weird feeling came over her, eclipsing the noise and the heat and the energy in the club.

  Someone was watching her.

  Ridley rapped her glitter-coated nails on the bar. If someone wanted a good look at her, she’d give the person a minute before she used her Power of Persuasion to convince them to punch the doorman in the face on their way out.

  Payback’s a bitch. She couldn’t help but smile.

  She turned around slowly, letting her black tank slide up just enough to reveal the edges of the Dark Caster tattoo that encircled her navel. Her gold eyes zeroed in on the edge of the stage immediately.

  The Dark Caster stood perfectly still next to the heavy black curtain that framed one side of the stage. He stared back at Ridley as if they were the only two people in the room. He was almost as tall as the Goliath lead singer, but this guy was no linebacker. He looked more like a Greek sculpture—lean and muscular, with chiseled features and tanned skin that made his gold eyes glow. His dirty-blond hair curled around the collar of the steel gray shirt underneath the fitted black sweater that looked as if he’d been born wearing it.

  He let his eyes wander over Ridley leisurely, drinking her in. From the long pink streak in her hair, over the dangerously low-cut neckline of her tank, to the mile-long bare legs, he enjoyed every inch.

  Suddenly, the room felt hotter and the music sounded louder. Instead of reveling in the attention, Ridley wanted to shrink back into the crowd and disappear—a feeling she had only experienced in the presence of Sarafine, Lena’s Dark Caster of a mother, and Abraham, the ancient Blood Incubus who had trapped her in a gilded birdcage. The one Link and John Breed had killed.

  There was something about this guy that sent her flight instinct into overdrive. This Caster was powerful, and he knew it.

  Ridley’s hands curled into fists at her sides, and she stared back at him intently. She would never let anyone make her feel powerless again. This guy was not Abraham or Sarafine. The days of bargaining for her life were over.

  The set ended, and the band jogged offstage.

  Someone touched Ridley’s shoulder, and she practically jumped out of her skin. “What the—” She spun around, eyes blazing.

  The roadie stood in front of her, his hands raised in surrender. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you.”

  “You didn’t scare me,” Ridley snapped as she stalked toward him, pointing a long, glittery fingernail at his chest. “I just don’t like Mortals touching me. It’s a hygiene thing.”

  He backed away, matching her step for step. “Sampson sent me over. The lead singer from the band. I’m supposed to find out if you wanna hang out after the gig.”

  “If by ‘hang out,’ he means sleep with him, I’ll pass.”

  The roadie shook his head. “I’m totally screwing this up. He’s gonna be pissed. He noticed you before. He’s just inviting you—”

  Ridley cut him off. “To the big game?”

  The Mortal’s blue eyes widened. “No. To have a drink backstage. How do you know about the game?”

  “A little birdie told me, Blue Eyes.” Ridley unwrapped a lollipop. Using her powers to extract a little information from a Mortal was certainly not the same as using them to get what she wanted from Dark Caster boys. “Now, why don’t you tell me all about it.”

  The Mortal stared into Ridley’s gold eyes, transfixed. “They’re playing Liar’s Trade, tournament-style. One winner takes all.”

  Liar’s Trade was a Caster take on the Mortal card game known as bullshit. Except Casters didn’t play for money.

  “What are they trading?” Rid asked.

  “TFPs.”

  “Are you screwing with me?” Ridley must have heard him wrong.

  “Talents, favors, and powers. That’s the buy-in,” he said.

  No one played for TFPs anymore. Wagering your powers and talents in a game was insane, even if most people only bet enough to lose their powers for a few weeks. Rid knew what it felt like to lose her powers, and she would never risk feeling that way again.

  Still, there was always a way around the rules—especially if you were a Siren.

  Ridley sucked on the lollipop for a second, then pulled it out of her mouth with a loud pop. “Get me in the game.”

  His expression clouded over in confusion, and he shook his head. “It’s impossible.”

  She leaned closer, until she and the Mortal were nose to nose. “Anything is possible, Blue Eyes. If your life depends on it.”

  If the stakes were high enough, it might take her mind off the one thing she couldn’t stop thinking about.

  And how easily he had let her go.

  Ridley had never seen so much blood. Commercial refrigerators lined the walls of the club’s back room. Inside, plastic freezer bags filled with blood were stacked next to bar staples, like bottles of orange and cranberry juices.

  Rid glanced from the bags to the Mortal. “You’re okay with that, Blue Eyes?” Most Mortals were squeamish when it came to the Dark side of the Caster world.

  He shrugged and opened a cellar door in the floor. “Better than what I had waiting for me back home. Being a Mortal is harder than you think.”

  “I wouldn’t know,” Ridley lied. She remembered every second she’d spent as a Mortal—life at the mercy of circumstances that were always beyond her control, and the constant sense of hope that tricked her into believing that her life could be different. That she could be different. Suffer would’ve been a better name for their world. What’s a little blood compared to that?

  “You’ve played Liar’s Trade, right?”

  “Of course,” Ridley lied again. She’d seen other people play, which was almost the same thing, and she didn’t actually intend to play, anyway. Just to win. Being a Siren gave Ridley the only edge she needed.

  She followed the roadie down the damp stone steps and through the tunnel at the bottom. Ornate crystal sconces adorned the walls, throwing soft light on the
reddish-brown water sloshing at their feet.

  A rat scurried past one of Ridley’s platform heels. “Classy place.”

  “It’s the Incubus VIP lounge,” he said.

  For a moment, Rid tried to imagine Link hanging out in a bloodstained tunnel decorated with chandeliers that looked like they belonged in Ravenwood Manor. But she couldn’t. Even though he was a quarter Incubus now, there was nothing Dark about Link.

  What a stiff.

  They reached the end of the tunnel and stood before the mirrored doors of an elevator. “You’re sure you want to do this?” the roadie asked.

  “Don’t worry about me, Blue Eyes. I’ve got this.” The elevator doors opened and Ridley stepped inside.

  A withered Caster with dull yellow eyes manned the elevator. “Going up?”

  Where else would she be going?

  “Does this thing go to the Underground?” Ridley asked.

  “Don’t know. I’ve been taking it up to the thirteenth floor and back here for a long time.” The doors closed, and the Caster pushed one of the two buttons on the panel: 13.

  “Maybe you should broaden your horizons and find out.” Ridley raised an eyebrow. She unwrapped a piece of gum, then wadded up the wrapper and tucked it in the roadie’s jacket pocket.

  “Can’t,” the Caster said. “I’m paying off a debt.” He sounded pathetic, and Ridley wasn’t in the mood for his sob story. So she ignored him until the elevator stopped and the doors opened. Ridley stepped into the hallway. Thousands of cigarette wrappers were glued to the walls, like someone locked in solitary confinement with nothing but a lifetime supply of cigarettes had gotten creative—or bored out of their mind.

  Rid could relate.

  As she and the roadie turned the corner, the cigarette wrapper wallpaper disappeared and was replaced by a hotel hallway right off the Las Vegas strip—black lacquer, gilded mirrors, and a bad Michelangelo-style ceiling mural. Except this hotel had only one door in the hallway.

  Number 13.

  The door opened before they knocked. The doorman stood on the other side. Ridley could tell he was a Sybil by the way he studied her face, as if he were reading a book. It was exactly the same way Rid’s older sister, Reece, looked at her every time they saw each other. Sybils could read your face and see your past, your present, and sometimes even bits and pieces of your future. They could also tell if you were lying, the Caster power Ridley hated most.

  “She’s with me.” The Mortal nodded at Ridley.

  The Sybil didn’t take his eyes off Ridley. As she stepped across the threshold, he held his arm in front of her. “Your powers stay at the door, Siren.”

  “Excuse me?” Ridley tried to push past him, but the Sybil didn’t budge.

  “You heard me. Caster rules. Mortal-style.” He looked her in the eye, reading her face. “That means no powers.”

  No powers.

  Ridley glanced at the end of the hallway and swallowed hard. She couldn’t see the cigarette wrappers papering the hallway, or the withered Caster manning the elevator. But she knew he was there.

  Luckily, Rid knew something else, too. Something no one in the club or the building or room number 13 could possibly know—the kind of something that just might save her life.

  She was ready for them.

  Before leaving the club, Ridley had grilled the roadie about the details of the game. A Mortal’s will was no match for a Siren’s Power of Persuasion, especially if the Siren was Ridley Duchannes. The roadie had spilled everything he knew. The no powers rule, and the Sybil at the door to enforce it, turned out to be the only valuable pieces of information. But it was all the information Ridley needed to figure out a way to sidestep the ridiculous rule.

  It all hinged on a little trick she’d picked up from Abraham Ravenwood while she was trapped his giant birdcage. Now Ridley was about to find out if she had remembered the spell correctly.

  She looked the Sybil in the eye and smiled. “No problem. I stripped downstairs.”

  Even as she said the words, Ridley shuddered inwardly at the thought. The idea that Casters would willingly perform a spell to temporarily strip themselves of their powers was crazy. Not only did it make her vulnerable in the worst possible way, but what if her powers didn’t come back when she performed the counterspell? After living as a Mortal when Sarafine had stripped her of her powers, Ridley couldn’t think of anything worse.

  Abraham Ravenwood, your mojo better work, you dead pain in the ass, she thought.

  The Sybil studied her face. Instead of seeing a Siren with the Power of Persuasion, he saw her in the tunnel on her way here, whispering the incantation that had rendered her temporarily powerless.

  He nodded at the Mortal. “Take her back.”

  As Ridley slipped past the Sybil, he grabbed her arm. “This isn’t a game, Siren. I hope you know what you’re doing.”

  Ridley twisted a strand of pink hair around her finger. “I always know what I’m doing, sweetheart.”

  If only it were true.

  Rid crossed her fingers as she stood in the ladies’ room, reciting the lines of the counterspell that would restore her powers.

  Come on!

  As she waited, every second felt like an hour.

  Then the familiar buzz that started in her fingers spread through her body like a charge of electricity.

  Power.

  Hello, sugar. Welcome home.

  Rid sauntered out of the ladies room and into the suite, which smelled like whiskey, sweat, and stale cigarettes. It looked like Liberace had decorated it. Ridley hadn’t seen so much white satin in one place since the winter formal in Gatlin. A Devil’s Hangmen song played in the next room, and judging from the cloud of smoke in the doorway, that’s where the liars were trading TFPs.

  Ridley didn’t wait for the roadie to lead the way. First impressions were all about owning it, and no one knew how to own it better than Ridley Duchannes. She strode into the smoke-filled room, her red patent platforms splashing across the white carpet like blood.

  There were five black felt poker tables set up inside, and all eyes were on a Caster standing in the center of the room. The lead singer, Sampson, stopped in midsentence when he saw Ridley.

  “Am I late?” Rid feigned shock, as if she actually cared what time the game started. She sighed and cast the roadie a disapproving glance. “Blue Eyes over here is so slow.”

  Sampson looked at the roadie, who stood next to Ridley, fidgeting. “I didn’t know anyone else was playing tonight.”

  But you sure are happy I came, aren’t you? Ridley stared into his eyes, transferring the thought into his mind.

  For a moment he didn’t respond, and she began to silently calculate the distance to the door.

  Sampson smiled. “But I’m glad you made it.”

  “We’ve got an empty seat over here.” The bassist from the band nodded at the empty seat to her left. Her Pink Floyd T-shirt reminded Ridley of Link, which made her dislike the girl immediately. Thinking about Link was the last thing she needed tonight.

  Ridley walked over and lowered herself into the empty chair.

  “I’m Floyd,” the girl said.

  Ridley glanced at her shirt. “How… clever.” She gave the girl a sticky-sweet smile. “Ridley.”

  “Interesting name.”

  “I’m an interesting girl.”

  The Caster standing in the center of the room rapped on the table in front of him. “Time to get started, boys and girls. The game’s Liar’s Trade. One deck per table, and we’re playing Mortal-style. You’re playing for TFPs—talents, favors, and powers. Everyone registered their bets when they came in. Once you sit down at the table, there are no changes. Whatever you registered is what you lose.”

  Ridley hadn’t registered a wager. She hadn’t even considered what to offer if she lost. Based on the looks of this crowd, most of these guys would probably like to have her as their personal genie-in-a-bottle for the day.

  Like that’s happening.
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  The Caster was still addressing the players. “Everyone stripped their powers before they came in, so tonight it’s balls to the walls. The player at the table to get rid of all their cards is the winner and moves to the next round. Last man standing takes it all.”

  Ridley wanted to ask exactly what she was going to walk away with at the end of the night, since there was no doubt in her mind that she was going to win, but the dealer was already tossing the Caster cards around her table.

  Fine. Let’s do this.

  The only differences between Liar’s Trade and the Mortal card game were that they were using a Caster deck and they were betting with TFPs instead of money. In a game this big, players logged their markers at the door. Luckily, Ridley had avoided that sucker move.

  The game was simple. Two players per table. The dealer dealt all the cards in the deck, then drew a name. He pulled Floyd’s name, which meant the bassist had to go first and discard an ace. The next player had to discard a two or a king—the card above or below the ace—and any cards that followed, if they were lucky enough to have any of them in their hand. The object of the game was to be the first player to get rid of all your cards.

  But there was a catch. The cards were discarded facedown, so players could bluff and toss whatever they wanted—at least until someone called them on it.

  Rid handily won her first game without even flexing her powers. She sauntered over to watch Floyd play a Caster wearing a dog chain around his neck. Bike Chain Boy threw in a card that he claimed was a nine.

  Floyd took a swig from the beer in front of her. “Liar.”

  Now Bike Chain Boy had to show his card. If he’d discarded a nine, then Floyd would have to pick up the entire pile. But if Bike Chain Boy had lied and thrown a different card, he’d have to take the pile.

  You didn’t need to be a Sybil to read the Caster’s face. He stood up and grabbed the bottom of his chair, flipping it over.

  “Cool your jets.” Floyd leaned back, clearly enjoying herself. “You must’ve wagered a serious TFP.”

  “Shut your mouth,” Bike Chain Boy snapped. “Everyone here did.”

 
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