Ash may have escaped the immortal-worshipping cult that killed her mother, but the love of her life is still under its thrall. Dane has been possessed by his diabolical ancestor Coronado, a man who's fabulously wealthy, dripping with fame, and the leader of Europe's most dangerous immortal network. Dane begs Ash to join him at Coronado's castle in Spain, and swears that his blood bond with Ash is stronger than Coronado's hold over him. Ash is desperate to help Dane vanquish Coronado without having to sacrifice herself to the darkness. But when you're all in, blood and salt, the only way to hold on to the light might just be by setting everything on fire.
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S TA N D I N G O V E R T H E dried-up bed of Quivira grass, I pricked the tip of my finger. Blood rushed to the surface as if aching for escape.
Dripping onto the neglected soil, I watched the dark green color creep up every blade, making it lush again. Making it new.
How I longed to be a blade of that grass.
But I would never change. Never die. Because I was immortal.
Lying down, feeling the crush of the blades against my back, I couldn’t help but think of my mother. This twelve-by-twelve-foot raised bed of sod in my mother’s studio was always her favor- ite part of the house. She grew it herself from seeds that came from Quivira, Kansas, the cult where she grew up. It was lush and strong now, but it would be dried up, dead as a doornail, by tomorrow evening. All it took was one drop of my blood to make it come to life, to pretend I was still there, at the edge of the corn,
listening to the stalks hulk and sway like a churning sea.
If I closed my eyes, I swore I could still feel my five-hundred- year-old ancestor cutting into me, claiming me as a vessel for her soul, her memories unfolding in my bloodstream like a poem of heartbreak, betrayal, and revenge.
Normally, I wouldn’t let myself delve into this kind of mad- ness, but this was a day for remembering.
One year ago today, my brother, Rhys, and I tracked our mother to Quivira, thinking we were going to save her from giving her body over to Katia in some ancient ritual, when I was the one Katia wanted all along.
And like a fool, I met a boy there—a beautiful, treacherous boy—who I not only gave my heart to, but chose to blood bind to, making him my immortal mate. The same boy who lied to me, killed my ancestors by leading them into a possessed, bloodthirsty field of corn, and also happened to be marked as a vessel for Coronado’s soul, Katia’s former lover and enemy.
While my mother sacrificed herself for me, using her light, her love, to rip Katia’s soul from my body, Dane didn’t have anyone to save him from that fate. I watched Coronado take over his body—infect his mind. And I knew only too well what it was like having another person’s soul inside of you—an unrelenting darkness.
And because without darkness there can be no light, my twin brother got the f lip side of the coin. While my blood has the power to heal, Rhys’s blood carries pure death, which we found out the hard way when he accidently got a drop of blood on our friend Beth and nearly killed her. I was able to heal her with my own blood, but the look of horror on his face when he realized what he was capable of haunted me. He took off running into the corn and that was the last time I saw him.
A dark ripple of energy rushed through me at the thought. I tried to shake it, but it never really left me.
It made me wonder whether something got left behind—a rotting organ? A memento mori? I half expected to cut myself open and find Katia living inside of me, but I’d witnessed her soul enter my mother’s body. I’d watched them turn to ash as I slipped the dagger into her heart. The darkness I felt had to be my own. Sometimes it seemed as if my mother’s light was the only thing keeping the darkness at bay . . . keeping me from becoming just like Katia. A monster.
All I knew was that everything I ever loved or hated had been taken from me in one fell swoop.
“Morning, sunshine!” Beth chirped as she f lung open the drapes, f looding my mother’s studio with light.
Well, almost everything.
Gripping the grass, I pulled myself to a sitting position. Strange, I felt a deeper connection to that tiny plot of grass than anything else on this waking earth. As much as I hated Quivira and everything it stood for, I’d left a part of my soul there—the good part—my innocence. And I wasn’t quite ready to let that go.
I held up my hand in front of me, the sun glinting off the tiny particles of gold dust that clung to my skin. I used to think the gold was beautiful on my mother. Now it just reminded me of the sacrifice she’d made—her parting gift that was carved into my skin. The alchemical formula for making gold.
My body was covered in scars no one could see. Some that would never heal.
I ran my hands over my arms, my chest, settling on the scar below my collarbone—the last tattoo my mother gave me—a circle with a dot in the center, the alchemy symbol for gold or sun. I didn’t dare let my fingertips drift any lower, to the place where I’d cut myself so I could become blood bound to Dane.
“Isn’t it lovely?” Beth said as she stared across the muddy Hudson.
“Sure.” I inspected my newly healed finger. “Another great day to be alive.”
“I’ll say!” She grinned back at me.
I wish there were a dimmer switch for Beth. It seemed like the more miserable I was, the more manic her happiness became, but she was probably always the same, which meant I was getting worse.
“You know what today is?” Beth asked as she began to straighten up the mess of perfume vials and testing strips scat- tered around the studio. She knew better than to ask what I was working on. It was embarrassing for both of us, like discovering a drug addict in the midst of their addiction. It was my dirty little secret, how I kept trying to capture Dane’s scent, but I
could never get it exactly right. It tortured me.
“Yes. Of course, I know what today is,” I whispered. “It’s the one-year anniversary of when my mother disappeared . . . the beginning of the end.”
“Oh my stars! Is that right? Well, it’s also Saturday. The day you said I could finally ride the subway.”
“Look.” I exhaled a measured breath. “We have a driver. He’ll take you anywhere you want to go.”
“I don’t know where I want to go. That’s the whole point. I want to let the rails decide.”
“You’re not a hobo in a forties movie,” I said. “Oh, wouldn’t that be grand!”
“Yeah. Super.” I brushed the lush blades of grass from my palms. “But I can’t risk something happening to you.”
“I know all the rules,” she said as she bounced on the balls of her feet. “We’ve been over them a million times. This is my no-no square—you can’t touch me there. Stranger danger. Don’t look people in the eyes. Just say no. Nine-one-one. I’ve got a rape whistle and pepper spray. I can do this. I know the subway map like the bottom of my foot.”
I couldn’t help but smile at that. I don’t think she messed up the words. I literally think Beth knows all the lines on the bottom of her foot.
“Pretty please,” she trilled as she skipped around the raised bed of grass like a deranged six-year-old.
“Fine,” I groaned. Anything to get her to stop.
“Thank you, thank you, Ash!” She hurled herself on top of me.
I got out from under her and made my way over to the work- table, squinting up at the bottles lining the shelves.
It was thrilling at first, figuring out the formula and making the gold. But with each ingot poured, it reminded me that time was passing. I wonder if that’s how my mother felt at the end. Spent and worried, as she waited for Katia to come for her.
But it didn’t look like anyone was coming for me. Including Dane or Coronado or whatever he was.
Not even my own brother. My twin.
When Beth and I left Quivira and drove to New York City, I kept thinking it was only a matter of time before Rhys returned. My brother was a creature of habit. But days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. I’d made enough gold to last ten lifetimes by now, hired the best private investigators, but Rhys never surfaced. My brother could hold a grudge like nobody’s business, but this was different. He either hated me so much he couldn’t bear to see me again or he felt like a monster. A killer, which is something Rhys wouldn’t be able to bear. He couldn’t even kill a roach. We’d have to capture it and take it to a park to release it.
I kept thinking maybe he had amnesia—that one day he’d fall out of bed and suddenly remember who he was and come home, like some cheesy Lifetime movie, but deep down I knew it wasn’t that simple.
“Come downstairs.” Beth smoothed her hand over my shoul- der. “Let me make you something to eat.”
“No, I’m fine.” I pulled out a pound of lead from the scrap pile. “I want to make another dozen ingots today.”
“Okeydokey,” she said as she turned to go downstairs. “An omelet it is.”
I opened my mouth to argue, but there was no point. Beth only heard what she wanted to hear, or it was sent through a filter process I just didn’t understand—like some rickety game of Mouse Trap with a few of the pieces missing.
I was all set to ignore her when I sensed a dark shadow pass over me. Looking up at the padlocked skylight, I shivered in the warmth. I knew it was probably just a pigeon, but it spooked me. I recalled last year when I came home to find my mother gone and the studio full of crows. Coronado’s crows. The ones who followed him wherever he went, like an omen of doom.
“Be right down,” I called to Beth, my voice betraying me with a slight waver.
My walk quickly turned into a run.
Slamming the steel door shut behind me, I took in shallow gulps of air.
Slipping my hand into my pocket, I felt the black silk ribbon graze my fingertips. This was the same black silk ribbon Katia gave to me, that came alive when I met Dane. But maybe the ribbon was reacting to Katia’s blood inside of me, reaching out for Coronado’s blood inside of Dane. And now that Katia was gone, so was its magic.
I coiled my finger around the black strand and a f lash of remembrance came over me—Dane under Heartbreak Tree, the place of our blood binding. His hands in my hair. Limbs entwined. The ribbon dancing all around us. And for a moment, I thought I felt something, but it was only a trick of the senses, a phantom limb. The black strand was lifeless in my hand, a cold, dead memory of another time, another place, another life. Untangling my fingers from the ribbon, I buried it as deep in my pocket as it would go. I should’ve left it behind long ago, but it wasn’t just a symbol of my tumultuous love affair . . . it was a reminder of my undoing, how easily I was led into Dane’s arms. And that’s something I couldn’t allow myself to forget. Because of my foolishness, I’d torn my family to shreds. I didn’t deserve to forget.
I told myself the bird passing overhead was probably just déjà vu, but I couldn’t afford to ignore my instincts. Not anymore.
I ignored them once before, and look where that got me.