About the Author
Rebecca Schaeffer was born and raised in the Canadian prairies. Her itchy feet took her far from home. You can find her sitting in a cafe on the other side of the world, writing about villains, antiheroes, and morally ambiguous characters. She is the author of Not Even Bones, the first in a dark YA fantasy trilogy. www.rschaefferbooks.com Twitter: @rrschaeffer Instagram: @rebecca_schaeffer
Read an Excerpt
“Nita, meet Fabricio.” The fluorescent lights of the INHUP refugee center made the white walls glow like a hospital, and Nita wondered for a brief moment if she was in some sort of hallucination. After all, the set of circumstances that had brought her to the International Non-Human Police had the quality of a nightmare—complete with kidnapping, torture, and Nita burning all her enemies alive at the end. All but one. He stood in front of her now. A few inches taller than her, his pale face was framed by slightly mussed dark brown hair, and his huge blue-gray eyes stared at her with shock she knew was mirrored in her own gaze. Fabricio. The boy she’d saved. The boy who’d betrayed her. Who’d thanked her for helping him escape, taken the money and bus ticket she’d offered him, then turned around and used the phone she’d given him to sell her to the black market. Who’d left her to be kidnapped, cut up, and sold piece by piece. Rage boiled in Nita’s veins, heating her body from the inside out. Her jaw clenched tighter and tighter, until she forced it to loosen to avoid breaking a tooth. “Nita?” Agent Quispe, the INHUP agent in charge of Nita’s case, stepped forward, the lines of her buzzcut black hair sharp in the bright light. Her Spanish was slow and calm, with a distinct flavor that reminded Nita of her time living in Peru. “Are you all right?” Nita blinked and forced herself to nod. “Of course. Sorry, I must have spaced out. What were you saying?” Quispe frowned slightly and squinted, an expression Nita had come to associate with the agent trying to parse Nita’s Spanish. Her father was Chilean, but she’d lived in Madrid until she was six, and the blend of accents was often hard for people to understand. “I was saying that I’ve noticed you keeping to yourself a lot. And since we just received another refugee your age, I thought you two might want to meet.” Quispe waved Fabricio forward. His eyebrows pulled together before smoothing out. A tentative smile crossed his face. Nita glared. What the hell was he smiling about? Then she realized: he didn’t know she’d discovered he was the one who sold her to the black market. Fabricio was still playing a part, resuming the role of the scared victim. Nita stepped forward, fist clenched, wanting nothing more than to smash his skull into the floor and dissect him while he lay dying, the way she should have done when her mother caught him the first time. She took a deep breath. She was in the middle of the INHUP headquarters in Bogotá. There was an agent standing right beside her. This was not the time to commit murder. No matter how much she wanted to. Nita swallowed and forced a grimace onto her face. She needed to play it cool for now, and not give any indication they’d met before. And hope Fabricio didn’t give her away. If INHUP found out how they knew each other, Nita’s connection to her murderous mother would be exposed, and Nita’s crimes would be laid bare. And she had a lot of crimes under her belt. You didn’t grow up with parents in the business of dissecting unnaturals and selling their body parts online without committing a few felonies. Nita couldn’t force herself to extend her hand to him. In a clipped voice, she said, “It’s nice to meet you.” He blinked and hesitated, then smiled softly, his voice gentle and whispery. “You too.” Quispe looked between them, as if she could sense the tension. “Fabricio will be staying here for the next little while. I thought you two would have a lot to talk about, since you’ve both spent time in the black market.” Nita could almost hear her unspoken comparison. Both of them had body parts hacked off. Both of them had those parts sold and eaten. Nita shifted her foot, trying not to think about the gaping absence where her toe had once been, and she kept her eyes firmly away from Fabricio’s missing ear. It wasn’t too hard, since the evidence was covered by hair. Nita turned to Quispe. “Yes. It was a good thought. Thank you. I’d like to get to know my new floormate.” Nita swallowed after the words came out of her mouth. Stilted. Fake. Why couldn’t she be better at this kind of thing? But if Quispe noticed Nita’s failing communication skills, she didn’t comment. “Of course.” She turned and left them alone. After she was gone, the silence was overpowering. Fabricio opened and closed his mouth like he wanted to say something. Nita pursed her lips and looked around. She didn’t like being inside an INHUP building. INHUP was a means to an end for her, and she didn’t trust them. Supposedly they both prosecuted and protected unnaturals—or “non-humans.” Honestly, Nita thought calling people like her “non-human” was just as offensive as calling her “unnatural.” It probably traced back to INHUP’s monster-hunting roots, before they started advocating for unnatural rights as well as policing them. Nita was using INHUP for their protection, but she knew corruption had burrowed into the soul of the organization. She was concerned about building surveillance, and the conversation she wanted to have was not one that should be overheard. By INHUP or whoever INHUP might be selling the information to. “There’s a garden outside,” Nita announced. “Let’s talk down there.” Fabricio nodded once, slowly, and followed her. They made their way through the office. Pristine white walls and white tiled floors caged them in, like a futuristic prison. Other unnatural refugees wandered the halls of the protective housing. Some Nita could’ve passed on the street and never known they were different. Others were part octopus. Nita’s eyes examined a tired-looking man in a hall, her eyes sliding down to the eight purple tentacles he had instead of legs. Ningyo. Japanese mermaid. She would have bet money on it. People said that if you ate their flesh, you’d gain immor-tality. People said the same thing about eating Nita. She tried to pull her mind away from the thought. The memory of Boulder cutting off her toe, popping it in his mouth, and swallowing it whole. His promise to come back the next day and the next, each day taking a different part of her and consuming it until there was nothing left of Nita but bones and teeth. It didn’t happen. You escaped. He’s dead. It’s over, a soft voice whispered in her head. But it didn’t feel over. Not when she was hiding in INHUP. Not with Fabricio walking next to her. Not with her face and her ability circling the black market forums. People were willing to pay a lot for a girl who could manipulate her own body—they thought eating her would grant them the same power. Who knew, maybe it would. Nita didn’t intend to find out. Her hand twitched at her side, reaching for a scalpel that didn’t exist. What she wouldn’t give to be in her dissection room right now, all her problems vanishing in the simple, clear peace of a dissection. Taking a body apart piece by piece, the world reduced to the organs in her hand and in the jar on her desk. But the image was spoiled by the memory of Fabricio, trapped and screaming in a cage, disturbing the perfect solitude of the room. As they turned a corner, Nita tilted her head to get a look at the side of Fabricio’s face, but his hair hid the bandages well. She could hardly believe it had been less than two weeks since she’d first seen him in that cage. He caught her staring and flinched. Then he looked away, his hand hovering protectively over where his ear had been. He swallowed and lowered his hand. “It’s better,” he replied, answering her unspoken question as they walked. His accent softened the edges of his words, y sounds whispering into sh sounds. “I’m getting the stitches out tomorrow.” Nita didn’t respond. She wished her mother had killed him. She wished she’d dissected him. None of this would have happened then. Nita wouldn’t be missing a toe—even though she’d used her ability to meld the skin over where it once was, there was an absence, as though her nerves hadn’t quite realized they ended in a new place now and still reached out, expecting a toe to be there. She also wouldn’t have spent the past week watching people die in the black market. Wouldn’t have had to murder them herself. She could still remember the moment she read the text exchange on her captor’s phone and realized that the person who’d sold her to the black market was Fabricio all along. The moment of sheer disbelief, followed by the sudden rush of rage, hot and vicious. Now her anger simmered, a steady glow in the pit of her stomach. If she let it loose, she’d only end up with more problems. She wasn’t sure she cared. She wanted to let it all out, no matter what the repercussions. Be rational, Nita. You can’t murder him with all these surveillance cameras around. Nita hated when her brain made sense. On the first floor, near the back of the building, thick metal double doors opened into a small garden. A high brick wall surrounded it, covered in vines and ivy, and several people sat on benches and under trees. The sun was steady and hot, and sweat quickly dripped down Nita’s back. Nita led Fabricio to a secluded part of the garden, near a floripondio tree. The bell-shaped flowers hung from the branches like unlit pink lanterns, beautiful and gentle. Also, one of the most poisonous plants in the world. Nita plucked one of the flowers and twirled it in her hand. So deadly. Hidden in such a pretty shell that no one ever guessed until it was too late. Finally, Nita turned to face Fabricio. He shifted awkwardly under her gaze. He wore blue jeans and a plain gray T-shirt, a twin to Nita’s own INHUP-issued clothes. “I’m glad you decided to run away,” he finally said. Nita opened her mouth to tell him he very well knew that she didn’t run away. But she stopped. She could accuse him all she wanted, but he’d just deny it. Even if he admitted it, what point was there in tipping him off that she knew what he’d done? She couldn’t kill him in front of all these people, and if he knew she knew, he’d be on his guard. And he should be. Because there was no way Nita was going to let him get away with what he’d done to her. So instead, she said quietly, pretending she believed his ignorance, “I didn’t run away. I was sold on the market.” He winced, and his face twisted in sympathy. “I’m so sorry. I know how awful that can be.” He ran a hand through his hair, exposing the hint of stitches creeping down one side of his head. Nita turned away and tried not to remember his screams as her mother tortured him while Nita stood by and watched. And did nothing. Maybe that was why he sold her. Because she did nothing until the last possible moment. “Was it your mother?” he asked, voice soft. “Was it punishment for helping me?” He seemed so genuine in his concern, and Nita felt a sliver of doubt creep in. Could those messages have been sent by someone else? But then she remembered how easily he’d played her before, stared at her with huge eyes, manipulated her into thinking he was completely innocent so she’d free him. Her eyes narrowed. She wasn’t going to be played again. “No.” His hands hovered, then lowered. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry. If it’s all too fresh.” He gave her a gentle smile, and Nita wanted to punch it off his face. Manipulative little sneak. He hesitated, then asked, “Your captor . . . she didn’t hurt you, did she?” “Well, she was working with a zannie, so why don’t you take a guess?” His face went gray. “A zannie?” Zannies ate people’s pain, which made them expert torturers. Nita could see Fabricio’s imagination filling in all the blanks of her time in the market with all the horrific things zannies did. “Yes.” Nita’s voice was cold. “Sometimes, when I close my eyes, I can still hear the screaming.” Fabricio flinched as though she’d hit him. His eyes widened, and something passed across his face, something that looked like it might be guilt or regret. But it was gone in a blink. Nita carefully didn’t mention she’d ended up making an ally of the zannie in her escape. She wanted Fabricio to feel as shitty about what he’d done as possible. Also, she wasn’t sure what the fact that she’d befriended a monster like Kovit said about her. Nothing good, likely. “God, I’m so, so sorry,” Fabricio whispered, and the horror on his face seemed so genuine, if Nita didn’t have evidence against him she’d really think he meant it. “I can’t believe she hired a zannie.” Nita opened her mouth to make another caustic remark, but stopped. Fabricio had specifically said “she” when referring to Nita’s captor. Multiple times. Nita hadn’t mentioned her captor was female. Nita played back the conversation, checking to see if she’d used any feminine descriptors, pronouns, any cue in her Spanish that could have indicated gender. Nothing. More proof. As if she needed it. She already had the messages between him and her captor, Reyes, hammering out the details of the deal. But perhaps some small part of her had wondered if someone had stolen the phone from him, or if maybe a corrupt INHUP agent had confiscated it or . . . something. Nita crushed the flower in her hand. All doubts were extinguished. “We’ll have to be cautious where we talk,” he said, eyeing a passing agent. His eyes roved around at the walled-off garden, lingering on all the security cameras and INHUP agents. “You might get in trouble if they knew who your mother was.” Ah. There it was. The veiled threat. The reminder that he knew exactly who she was, and if he wanted to, he could destroy her chances of getting a plane ticket home from INHUP. Well, two could play at that game. “Yes.” Nita loosened her grip and twirled the crushed flower. “And we’ll have to be careful about mentioning your father too.” He stiffened, whole body going rigid, eyes widening. Like a poorly oiled puppet, his head jerked to face her, and he whispered, “Pardon?” “Your father.” Nita tilted her head to one side as her fingers played along the petals. “Quite the bigwig, I hear. Knows all the monsters.” Fabricio swallowed and replied carefully, “Where did you hear about my father?” “The market I was sold in, of course.” Nita spoke in the mild tone of someone innocently commenting on the weather. “I hear he runs one of the biggest law firms in the world. They specialize in shell corporations, tax evasion, and all sorts of other things for rich people. Especially rich black market people.” His hands clenched. “And? You of all people should know better than to judge someone based on their parents.” Nita flinched as if he’d slapped her. She looked away. “Tell me, Nita, if we’re judging people by the sins of their parents, who is in more trouble?” Fabricio’s voice was tight. “Me? My father helps monsters save their money. Or you? Your mother kidnaps, murders, dissects, and sells innocent people.” “I’m not my mother.” But after the events in the market, she wasn’t quite sure anymore. She’d killed a lot of people to escape, guilty and innocent alike. “I helped you.” “You did.” His shoulders slumped. “And I’m not my father.” No, you’re much worse. Nita didn’t reply, just looked at the flower. Fabricio was the same. Beautiful and gentle on the outside, hiding a toxic inside. Fabricio’s jaw was tight and his gaze angry. “Is this why you’ve been so cold to me? You think I’m just another money-grubbing asshole like my father?” She shrugged, playing it nonchalant. “I don’t know. I don’t know you.” “I’m not. I’m nothing like him.” His voice was bitter. “And I never want to be. I don’t want anything to do with him or his business. All it’s ever brought me is pain.” “And money. I hear someone of your standing lives quite well.” “I’d rather have my ear back.” Nita raised an eyebrow. “What does your ear have to do with your father?” “You didn’t really think your mother kidnapped the child of one of the most notorious men on the black market to sell his body on the internet, did you?” Nita’s stomach dropped. “What?” His lips pressed together into a thin line. “Your mother was sending me back to my father, piece by piece, every time he refused a demand.” Nita swallowed. Fabricio could be lying, but it made sense in a way. Why would her mother kidnap the child of someone so important just to make a few bucks online? No, blackmail was far more her mother’s style. “Are you even an unnatural?” He sighed. “I’m exactly what she said I was. Pieces of me would make money.” Nita nodded slowly. “But?” “But . . .” He looked away. “I’m more afraid of who I am than what I am. No one would go to all the trouble she did to kidnap me just to sell me. But to blackmail my father? The sky is the limit.” Uneasiness coiled in Nita’s stomach. She’d wanted power to protect herself—to make Fabricio’s reality hers. Everyone wanted her for what she was, and in order to avoid looking over her shoulder her whole life, she wanted to make them afraid of who she was. Now she wondered if that was such a great idea. “Why?” He blinked. “Why what?” “Why was my mother blackmailing your father in the first place? I mean, there are far easier targets if it was simply about money.” He shook his head. “I don’t know.” No, this didn’t make sense anymore. Something in this picture wasn’t right. “One good thing that’s come out of all this.” A half smile flitted across his face. “Now I can be a nameless refugee that INHUP will protect. I gave them a fake last name. No one needs to know who I am. I can start over.” He looked at her. “I suppose I should thank you and your mother for that. If no one here knows who I am, no one can leak that information or try and use me for my father’s connections.” Nita gave him an incredulous look. He was one of those every-cloud-has-a-silver-lining people. She supposed if he were in her shoes, he’d say that her experience in Mercado de la Muerte—“Death Market”—had given her much-needed industry perspective. Ugh. She hated people like that. A warm wind slunk through the garden, and Nita realized her nose had started to burn under the hot noon sun, and she healed it before it could progress. She’d been so distracted she hadn’t noticed. She wiped her forehead and jerked her head to Fabricio. “Let’s go back inside.” He smiled tentatively. “It’s hot out here. They need air-conditioning for outside.” Nita didn’t smile back. As they approached the building, Nita stopped and turned to Fabricio. “Let me make one thing clear.” He paused, smile falling. “Yes?” “If you in any way reveal who my mother is, or our connection, I will tell INHUP about your father. You’ll be sent home, and your little escape plan will be ruined.” His eyes narrowed, flint and steel, and Nita finally caught her first glimpse of the real person beneath the friendly facade. “If you say anything to compromise my protection and put me in danger, I’ll tell them about your mother. And your complicity.” Nita pursed her lips. “Then we’ll both have to stay quiet, won’t we?” They held each other’s gaze for a long moment and then, as one, turned and reentered the building in silence. Nita shoved the floripondio flower in her pocket as she went, a poisonous promise to herself.