Praise for Haunted:
"Spooky, sassy, sinister, and sexy!"—Cynthia Leitich Smith, New York Times bestselling author
Is it possible to change the past?
No one ever knew what happened to her except her half–brother, Viktor—and he'll do anything to keep it that way.
She just wants a normal boyfriend, a normal family–no visions of the past, no evil mermaids, no Brotherhood trying to kill her. But Anne is not normal...and she's capable of a lot more than she thinks.
He's been eighteen for nearly a century, and finding Anne is the best thing that's ever happened to him. But the magic in his blood is turning darker, forcing him to wonder whether he's the most dangerous threat of all...
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After a certain number of lifetimes, one becomes capable of much if only out of sheer repetition. Like a magician's sleight of hand, I learned to trick the world into seeing things the way I wanted.
Only later did I come to realize that there was more to my story than what showed on the surface. Magic has a price. Anything of value always does. It was one I was willing to pay. But even I did not understand the true cost.
When I was a boy, my mother told me the tale of Koschei the Deathless. My mother's eyes grew bright and her skin went pink as though the telling was of great importance. Later I would know why, but even then I understood I needed this story. Marina-for she let me call her by her name; it was only just the two of us after all-always knew.
I was Tsar Nicholas's son-not that my father ever acknowledged me. But Marina made sure I understood that it was both my truth and my destiny. It forced us all to places we might not otherwise have gone: my mother to Baba Yaga's forest, my father to a blind refusal to see what needed to be seen, and me...well, that is quite another tale.
"Stories within stories," Baba Yaga loves to say. "Secrets within secrets." How clever she thinks she is, this witch who has toyed with me since my mother first went to the forest to seek her. But she was not clever enough to stop me. Not clever enough to know the power of her words.
Koschei was a man who couldn't die. Or rather, who couldn't be killed. He had hidden his soul-as the tales go-inside the eye of a needle, tucked inside an egg that sat inside a duck, inside of a hare, locked in a solid iron box, and buried under a tree on some island that blinked and vanished as it saw fit.
As I grew older, I heard other versions. Sometimes the chest was made of gold. Sometimes the island was in a different ocean. Sometimes Koschei could be weakened. But always, always he lived. As long as his soul was hidden away, as long as he had made it impossible to find, he lived.
This was the seed my mother's story planted in me. That if I could not be my father's son, could not have the legacy of a tsar, immortality would have to suffice. I would cheat death and gain the knowledge and the power that came with living over and over.
I only knew this: I was willing to sacrifice my half sister for what I desired. My sweet Anastasia, who believed in me so deeply that, like our father, she blinded herself to what I really was. This is, I think, my only regret. That even as I found delight in the ease with which I was able to manipulate her to my cause, a piece of me ached at the destruction of this beautiful girl. Was I a monster? I prefer to see myself as a pragmatist. Still it pains me-the look on her face that day we came back from the forest. The day I lost my immortality and Anastasia chose to return to the fate that I believe would have been hers anyway. Although by then truth was a fluid thing for me; when I told her I was sorry, I was not lying.
I asked Baba Yaga to take me because there was no other way to survive. No other way to gain access to all that I was about to lose: the magic, the spells, the secrets that reside underneath. I could not be other than what I have become.
Still, even the witch was unsure of my motives. I took pleasure in that for it proved my strength. I had found a way to compel the mighty Baba Yaga. The Bone Mother. The Death Crone. She was mad with it, unable to do anything but snap up a Romanov.
For a long time now-at least as time goes in Baba Yaga's hut-I have belonged to the witch. She has owned my body and often my spirit, but not always my mind. And in those moments when she grew distracted or bored or mournful for her Anastasia and curious about Anne, I watched and learned and plotted. Always I knew there was a way. One day I understood what it was.
The witch had transformed my physical self by then-honed me down to bone in her own image. But as long as I breathed, as long as I could think and had strength enough to crawl, it was enough.
Koschei, I thought, as I brought the witch her sweet tea. Koschei, I repeated over and over in my mind as I huddled in the bed that was once Anastasia's. As I pulled the ragged comforter over the sticks that were my legs. Koschei, I said as the witch's black cat, her koshka, flicked its tongue at my fingers, harsh like sandpaper against skin as transparent as tissue. I bled onto the floor, deep red drops much thicker than anything else about me.
Here is what I hoped for that also came true: my great-great-granddaughter's heart betrayed her. Anne opened the door just enough. She let me free. She made her promises. And watched in shock as I rose from the dead.
Oh, the sweetness of the horror on their faces as Baba Yaga's horseman galloped off with me. I surprised them all: my captor, my descendant, my protégé. Even sweet Lily who falsely believed she would have her revenge. She swims still, cursed as a rusalka. I am free.
The story goes like this: no one leaves Baba Yaga's forest the same as he entered. And that is true for me. I have left much behind. But transformation is good for the soul. If I cannot be what I hoped, then I will be something else. Better to prevail than to bemoan my losses. My will is intact, my life eternal once more. This time I will be more vigilant.
Secrets within secrets. But I won't tell. They'll have to kill me. Except that's the point. They can't.