Awaiting the perfect moment to strike.
Joy Malone finally knows who she is, where she comes from and how to live in two worlds at once. And now she can introduce her family and friends to her mysterious boyfriend, Indelible Ink. But when Ink's twin sister, Invisible Inq, calls in a favor, Joy must accept a dangerous mission to find a forgotten door between worldsa door hiding a secret that some will kill to keep.
Unseen enemies, treasonous magic and an unthinkable betrayal threaten both the Twixt and human worlds as Joy races to expose an ancient conspiracy and unleash the unalterable truthsome secrets cannot remain secret forever.
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Joy opened the door with a mix of nervousness, excitement and dread. She smiled at her boyfriend, who stood in the hall looking human.
"Ink!" she said, giving him a kiss on the cheek. He smelled like spring rain. "Just act normal," she whispered by his ear.
Ink blinked in confusion. His glamour made his all-black eyes look brown.
"I am not normal," he said.
Joy hooked his arm and squeezed. "Aaaaaand that's what I love about you." She steered him into the condo. "Ink's here!"
"We can see that," Stef said, coming up behind her. "We have eyes. Two of them, in fact. Both in working condition." He gave a toothy grin. "Imagine that."
Joy frowned. Her brother didn't mention that Ink had stabbed her in the eye six months ago when he'd discovered that she had the Sightthe ability to see the Folk like him in the Twixtbut he didn't have to; it hung in the air like an unspoken threat. The kitchen light flashed off of her brother's glyph-scribbled glasses.
"Stef" Joy warned.
He pointed to himself. "Older brother," he said. "It's part of the job. With great power comes great scrutiny."
"Stef." Their father's voice came from across the kitchen. "Are you harassing our guest?"
Joy said, "Yes!" just as Stef said "No!"
Mr. Malone shook his head. His girlfriend, Shelley, chuckled while untying her apron. "Let's all sit down," she said soothingly. "Dinner's ready."
Stef stepped aside. Joy marched Ink in.
We can do this, she thought. No problem. It's not war, it's not life-and-deathit's just dinner with my family. And my boyfriend. My inhuman, immortal, usually invisible boyfriend. She patted Ink's arm. Okay, remember: one conniption fit at a time.
"Have a seat." Joy's father waved at the table. "Glad you could make it, Mark." Mr. Malone refused to call Ink by his nickname, which was funny since "Mark Carver" was his human aliaseveryone in the Twixt called him "Indelible Ink." His True Name was written as an unpronounceable symbol, a signatura. Names were powerful things in the Twixt, and the Folk had learned to take precautions against human entrapment.
"I'm glad to be here," Ink said, careful to use contractions. Joy had coached him that he sounded more human that way. Joy guided Ink to the chair next to hers. It was the one she'd been sitting in when he'd first traced her ear, exploring the tiniest details of what it meant to be human and accidentally learning what it felt like to fall in love.
She saw him remember. Two dimples appeared, and Joy felt her cheeks warm as she smiled.
Stef sat down and began heaping chicken and green beans onto his plate. Joy grabbed the platter out of his hands.
"Guests first," Joy said through clenched teeth.
"That's right, Stef," Mr. Malone said as he offered Ink a large bowl of roasted red potatoes. "You know the rules."
Picking up the salad, Stef scooped out big chunks of feta and black olives. "Whatever happened to 'you snooze, you lose'?"
"Some rules are meant to be broken," Mr. Malone said. "Like free Wi-Fi privileges while you're home if you don't start acting more civil. Got it?"
Stef stared at his plate and nodded. "Got it."
Mr. Malone sighed. "Sorry, Mark," her dad said, reaching for the salad. "The unofficial family motto is what got this family through puberty. These two grew up eating everything in sight."
Shelley leaned forward with a stage whisper. "My advice? Watch your fingers."
Ink clutched the bowl closer, eyeing Joy and Stef warily.
Joy swallowed. "Ha-ha," she said. "Just a joke. Very funny." Given the variety of monsters who lived in the Twixt, Joy could well imagine that some of them ate fingers. She served a portion of chicken to Ink and kept the platter moving. Ink slowly relaxed, loosening his grip on the potatoes. She nudged his knee and rolled her eyes toward her dad.
"Joy has been talking about the big trip this weekend," Ink said, reciting his opening line like a pro. "How long will you be gone?"
Mr. Malone grinned. "Three days," he said and clapped a hand on Stef's shoulder. "One last camping weekend before this one goes back to college."
Stef didn't respond as he chewed, but Joy suspected it was less about his bottomless appetite and more about avoiding talking directly to Ink.
"Will you be visiting Stef on campus?" Shelley asked Joy.
Joy exchanged a look with her brother. Both frowned. "No. Why?"
"Oh, well, I didn't know if U Penn was on your list," Shelley said as she stacked three cucumber slices on her fork. "I asked your father, and he said he didn't know your plans."
"Plans?" Joy said.
"It's your senior year," Mr. Malone said. "I know we sent off a bunch of college applications, but I haven't heard anything since."
Joy was speechless. College applications had been the last thing on her mind. After Mom had left, she had quit gymnastics and joined Dad's swan dive into a sea of depression, axing her dreams of becoming an Olympian, which was all she'd ever wanted since age six. She'd become a numb, moping black hole. Shaking it off had been largely thanks to her best friend, Monica, a night dancing at their favorite club and unexpectedly getting stabbed in the eye. A lot had happened since January. She'd forgotten all about college.
"I know it's been a tough year," her dad said. "And I didn't want to push, but you really need to start thinking about what you want to do next fall." He saw her squirm in her seat and gave a slight nod, acknowledging Ink. "We can talk about it more during the trip."
Joy untwisted her fingers from the edge of her shirt. "Yeah. Okay."
"And what do you do, Mark?" Shelley asked Ink. Joy had told her father that Ink was a kind of exclusive tattoo artist it had not gone over well.
"I mark people," Ink said.
Joy almost snarfed her lemon water. She grabbed her napkin, and Ink looked mischievously pleased as he continued, "I like to say I get paid to draw on people's skin." Joy marveled at the single dimple tucked into his half smile like a smirk. "It's not exactly glamorous," he said. "But I never want for work."
Joy pressed her napkin to her mouth, trying not to laugh. He'd told the truth! "Not exactly glamorous"but it had more than paid for his glamour! The wizard's spell had been insanely expensive, but it was the only way her friends and family could see Ink without the Sight. He wore the magical projection like a suit, a perfect picture of himself, but with human-looking eyes and a tattoo of Joy's signatura on his left arm.
"But that's not a long-term thing, right?" Stef said, looking smug. "What do you want to do when you grow up?"
Joy picked up the serving spoon, debating its heft.
Shelley paused over the dressing. "I thought only the chicken was getting grilled tonight," she said and winked at Joy. Joy sent her a smile of thanks. At least Shelley had her back.
"You're just lucky I didn't invite Monica," Dad said. "She would've brought the thumbscrews."
Ink glanced at Joy. "Thumbscrews?"
"He's kidding," Joy said, patting Ink's hand. "Seriously. Kidding."
Ink's eyebrows twitched under his long, black bangs. "'Seriously kidding'?"
Stef and Dad exchanged glances. Joy's heart beat doubletime and she waved at Ink to forget about it. She'd try to explain later. If they made it through this dinner alive.
"So, Ink, where do you live?" Stef said with a wicked, knowing grin.
Joy drained her drink and slammed down her cup. "Anyone need more water?"
"You sit. I'll get it." Her father got up, snagged the empty pitcher and went to the fridge, filling the room with gurgles and the crack of the ice maker.
Shelley looked at the glares across the table and sighed. "I'll cut some more lemons," she said and joined Mr. Malone where they could talk quietly by the sink.
"Have some more ice water," Joy whispered to her brother. "Then take the hint and chill out!"
"I'm testing a theory," Stef whispered back, pointing a fork at Ink. "I thought that his kind couldn't lie."
Ink looked up, surprised. "I cannot lie."
"Oh, really, Mark Carver?"
Joy hissed, "Stef!"
"Ah," Ink said, cutting his roll neatly in half. "I see your mistake. That name is not a liemore like a time-honored tradition." His voice skimmed low over the table, crisp and clear. "I did not change my name, I simply named my glamour 'Mark Carver.'"
He grinned and took a bite. Butter wet his lips.
Joy beamed in relief, and Stef laughed despite himself. "Clever," he said.
Mr. Malone thunked the water pitcher on to the table, cutting off their conversation. He and Shelley sat down.
"Now, where were we?" he asked, setting his napkin on his lap.
"Grilling," Ink said.
Joy lunged for the earthenware bowl. "More potatoes?"
Ink spooned out three roasted potatoes and watched them wobble across his plate. He poked at one with his fork, painting a long trail of rosemary and oil. Catching a piece of herb on a tine, he examined it curiously, turning the fork over and over, watching the bit of leaf glisten under the lights. His face was a mask of pure fascination. Joy put a hand on his leg. Startled, he looked up with a smile.
"This looks delicious," Ink said.
"It is," Mr. Malone said. "It's Shelley's recipe. She's a great cook."
"Oh, stop," Shelley said and patted her red hair into place. "It's an old family recipe. The secret is to crush fresh herbs and garlic and store it in the olive oil overnight."
Ink put the potato in his mouth, chewed carefully and swallowed.
"I have never tasted better," he said. Joy grinned. Besides being polite, Ink was telling the truth: he had only recently begun to taste things because he'd only recently begun to eat. It was fun watching him talk circles around the others, hiding the whole truth behind words that were one hundred percent true.
Joy's phone rang. She glanced at her purse in the hall.
"Don't you dare," her father said without looking up from his plate. "Whoever it is can wait."
No phones at the dinner table was a new household rule. Dad was trying to reinstate the sacredness of family dinners before everyone split up again. Joy didn't recognize the ring-tone so it wasn't Monica or Kurt or Graus Claude or Luiz. It might be one of the other Cabana Boys, which made her feel nervous and guilty. Ink's sister, Invisible Inq, had a tribe of mortal lovers who supported one another through thick and thin, like an extended family of hot male models that stretched across the globe. Even if Joy technically wasn't Ink's lehman anymore, she was still considered one of thema mortal who loved one of the Folkand a call from one of the boys meant something important. Joy sat on her hands as the call flipped over to voice mail.
"Thank you," Dad said. "Now can you please pass the"
Joy's text messaging pinged. And again. And again. Dad sighed. Stef rolled his eyes. Ink looked up, curious. Joy took a shy bite of green beans. Shelley passed Dad the pepper.
"Where will you be camping?" Ink asked as he sliced a potato in half. Joy was glad that he could handle subject changes as easily as a fork and knife.
"Lake James," her father answered and took a drink of water. Ink took a drink at the same time, mimicking her father's movements, watching him with the same intensity he used while watching Joy. Ink was still learning the subtleties of how to act human. His efforts made her smile. Stef glared at his green beans as he chewed.
"It's a great place," Dad said. "We used to do a lot of family camping trips" he swerved to avoid the words before Mom left and continued smoothly "when the kids were little." The subject of Mom didn't hurt like it once hadthey'd all grown used to the weekly calls and video chats. Time healed things without meaning to, whether you wanted it to or not. "How about you?" he asked Ink. "What does your family do on vacations?"
Ink put his fork down, and Joy twisted her napkin over her thumb. This was what they'd been rehearsing ever since Dad suggested that Joy invite Ink over for dinner. Her nervousness reminded her of how Monica had felt about her boyfriend, Gordon, meeting her parents, but Ink wasn't a different race, he was a different reality. As a member of the Twixt, Ink, like Joy, could not lie but the Folk could be rather creative with the truth.
"I never knew my parents," Ink said and smiled to take the sting out of his words. "But I have a twin sister, and she's all the family I can handle."
Joy laughed. Stef didn't. Mr. Malone looked apologetic.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't know."
Ink shrugged and made looping swirls in the ketchup. "It's all right," he said. "She and I are very close. We've traveled a lot, met lots of interesting people, seen many amazing things togetherover the years, we have created our own family."
"That's good," her father said, nodding. "Family's important."
Mr. Malone glanced over at his son and smiled. It was only recently that Stef had come out as gay, and Joy had forgiven their mother for the divorce. The past two years hadn't been easy for anyone, but they'd made it through as a familyalbeit a different one from the original. A lot had changed, but they still loved each other, and that was something.
Shelley turned in her chair, sniffing.
"Did we leave the stove on?" she asked. "I smell something burning." She got up and walked over to the oven.
Joy could smell it, tooa whiff of smoke like a burnt matchstick. She recognized the odor: vellum and ash. Filly. It must have come from the pouch the young Valkyrie used to send Joy messages. Now Joy knew something was wrong. Ink did, too; his body tightened, tense and alert. Joy put down her fork, trying to think up some excuse to grab her purse and go check.
That was when she saw the face in the window.
She almost screamed but bit her lips together. It was a tiny face, different from the monstrous Kodama that had scared her that first time. The small, winged creature pressed its bulbous nose against the glass, hair and beard a wild halo of tangles. It waved to get their attention. Joy couldn't move, but she couldn't look away. Ink casually traced the silver chain at his hip to the wallet in his back pocket where he kept his blades. Joy held her breath as Shelley walked right past the creature on her way back to the table. It watched her pass, its wild eyes bulging with curiosity. Stef's face was carefully neutral, his fingers white-knuckled on his knife. Joy wasn't sure what any of them could do with Dad and Shelley present.
The creature pointed emphatically at them.
Under the table, Ink pointed to himself and raised his eyebrows like a question.
The tiny creature shook its head and pointed again, tapping the glass.
Shelley glanced at the window. "Do you hear pecking?"
"It's the birds," Mr. Malone said without turning around. "There's one of them trying to build a nest in the window box. I keep meaning to install a mesh lid."
Joy lifted her napkin to hide her hand and pointed at herself. The little creature nodded, wagging its tail. Joy dabbed her lips. Great. Now what?
The winged Folk hooked its tiny toes into the sill, licked one of its long fingers and drew a word reversed on the glass. Its saliva was brown and sticky-looking, the letters gooey and smeared.
It made a big show of licking its finger again, a dribble of drool stuck to the hairs on its chin.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Okay trevally honestly this is close to the best book of the series so far, hot and mysterious, sexy and dangerous, romantic and hectic..... I couldn't put the damn thing down....