Even best friends.
Swirling black descends like ravens, large enough to block the glow of the streetlights. A dull roar starts like a train on the 'L', a far-away rumbling that grows louder as it pulls closer, until it's directly overhead and you feel it in your chest, except this doesn't pass you by. Verity, white-faced and eyes blazing, shouts through the din, ""Run, Mo!""
Mo Fitzgerald knows about secrets. But when she witnesses her best friend's murder, she discovers Verity was hiding things she never could have guessed. To find the answers she needs and the vengeance she craves, Mo--quiet, ordinary, unmagical Mo--will have to enter a world of raw magic and shifting alliances. And she'll have to choose between two very different, equally dangerous guys--protective, duty-bound Colin and brash, mysterious Luc.
One wants to save her, one wants to claim her. Which would you choose?
""Who doesn't love a character torn between two dangerous worlds and two risky guys? The only thing safe about this book is how good it is."" --Lee Nichols, author of Deception, A Haunting Emma Novel
""Dark, exciting and totally addictive! Just. . .wow!"" -Kristi Cook, author of Haven
""Dark, magical, and delicious!""
--New York Times Bestselling Author C. L. Wilson
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Erica O'Rourke lives outside Chicago with her family, including two very bad cats. She is the winner of the prestigious Romance Writers of America Golden Heart award for Best Young Adult Manuscript.
Read an Excerpt
By ERICA O'ROURKE
K TEEN BOOKSCopyright © 2011 Erica O'Rourke
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI woke up to the smell of Lysol and the end of the world. In my defense, I didn't know it was the end of the world at the time. I didn't know anything, and it was better that way. There's a reason people say ignorance is bliss.
The room looked like every crappy emergency room I'd ever seen on TV, with the notable difference that I was in it—light blue curtains for walls and rolling supply carts labeled with black marker and masking tape, a ceiling of water-stained acoustic tiles and flickering fluorescent lights. The clock on the wall read 12:38 AM, and the ER was just gearing up for the night, the clatter and bustle clearly audible through the curtains surrounding me on three sides.
I struggled to sit up in the hospital bed, which turned out to be a bad idea, and slipped back with a gasp. The pain was everywhere, waves of it crashing through my body like Lake Michigan during a storm, and the room turned inky around the edges. I tried to draw a breath without whimpering, and failed.
Moving was out, and breathing seemed dicey, but I needed to find Verity. If I was here, she was, too, and worse off than me. That, at least, I remembered.
Swirling black descends like ravens, large enough to block the glow of streetlights and neon shop signs. A dull roar starts like a train on the "L," a faraway rumbling that grows louder as it pulls closer, until it's directly overhead and you feel it in your chest, except this doesn't pass you by. Verity, white faced and eyes blazing, shoves me, shouting through the din, "Run, Mo! Run, damn it!" And then a scream, and when I wake, she is on the ground, the copper scent of blood and fear filling the air, my hands stained red to the elbows. "Hang on, Vee, don't go, don't you go, someone please, God, help us, please don't go ..."
"No visitors until the doctor's cleared her," said a woman in the hallway, jerking me back to the ER. Two pairs of legs halted outside my room, their feet and calves visible below the curtain's hem. Pink scrubs and white Nikes stood on the left, navy pants and scuffed, sturdy black shoes on the right. "Besides, she's still out."
Without thinking, I shut my eyes. The curtain rustled, then snapped, like it was yanked open and closed again. "Satisfied?" huffed Pink Scrubs. "She'll wake up soon. I'll notify you myself."
"Did you see the other one?" Navy Pants said, with a gravelly South Side accent. Their voices grew softer as they walked away.
I opened my eyes and strained to hear them. Pink Scrubs was silent.
He spoke again. "Seventeen years old. Seventeen. The guy is still out there. And you want me to sit around while he does it again? To some other little girl?"
Verity. She was here, and these two knew where. I ignored the pain in my shoulder and slowly, slowly pushed up to sitting, biting down hard on my lip to keep from crying out. A black plastic clamp was attached to my finger, wires trailing to a blinking monitor nearby. If I took the clamp off, they'd know I was awake, and Navy Pants would want to talk with me. I needed to talk to Verity first.
The memory of her made something catch in my throat. For a minute, all I could do was stare at my hand, swathed in layers of gauze. Farther up my arm, rusty streaks had dried, flaking off on the white blanket. The sight made me queasy, and I rubbed with a corner of the blanket until the marks were mostly gone. I eased one leg over the side of the bed, planning to drag the monitor on its wheeled cart along with me, when a nearby voice drawled, "Best you not be doin' that just now."
I whipped my head around. Black fuzz appeared again, and I blinked until it dissipated. In the corner of the room stood a guy dressed like a doctor, hands tucked in the pockets of his lab coat, slouching against a supply cart.
Silently, fluidly, he moved closer to the head of the bed, stopping a few inches away. Even though I was in so much pain my molars hurt, I could see he was hot—nothing wrong with my eyesight except for the fuzz. He looked way too young to be a doctor, except for his eyes, which looked ancient and ... angry, somehow. They were startlingly green, like you'd read in a fairy tale. But this guy wasn't a prince—he was probably a med student. And it didn't matter what he looked like. He could have horns and a pitchfork, for all I cared, so long as he knew where Verity was.
"I need to find my friend," I whispered. Farther down the hallway, I could see Navy Pants's feet pacing back and forth. "Can you help me?"
Something—pity, maybe—crossed his face. "Sit back," he said, his hand closing gently over my throbbing shoulder. "Close your eyes."
"I really need to find her." I settled back as his fingertips brushed against my forehead, feather light. He murmured something I couldn't catch and didn't care about.
"Her name's Verity Grey. Have you seen her?" I asked. His hands paused in their tracings, my skin pleasantly warm where he'd touched, the pain softer edged. I opened my eyes. His expression was stony, mouth tight and eyes hooded.
"Verity's dead," he said shortly.
"What? No. No. No." My voice rose, turning into a wail, and he clamped a hand over my mouth. I struggled against him, trying to explain why he was wrong. She wasn't dead. She was the most alive person I knew—laughing, clever, charming Verity, bright and bold and reckless enough for both of us. She couldn't be dead, because there couldn't be a world without her. I shook my head against the pressure of his fingers on my lips, my tears splashing down over his hand. If I said no enough times, Verity would still be alive. This wouldn't be real. I wouldn't be alone.
His eyes met mine, and I recoiled from the fury in them. "Yes. Listen to me. Verity's gone."
A sound—an awful, wounded-animal sound—filled the room. It was me, I realized, but he kept talking. "She was gone before she got here, and if you want to help her now, if you want to be her friend, you need to be keepin' your mouth shut. Nod if you understand me."
I bit his finger, hard, and he snatched his hand away. "Damn it, I am tryin' to help you!"
"Who are you?"
"A friend. And I ain't got a whole lot of time, so pay attention. Verity's dead, and the rest is flat out beyond you, Mouse."
The air rushed out of my lungs all at once, the room going hazy again. Only Verity called me Mouse.
Before I could ask him about it, he took my injured hand and swiftly unwrapped the gauze. A large gash across my palm was oozing blood, and I looked away. It should have hurt, but all I could feel were his words, each one like a blow.
"In a few minutes, this room is gonna be lousy with people asking you 'bout what happened in that alley." His fingers hovered over the injured skin, pressed against my wrist, and he murmured again, impossible to hear over the rushing sound in my head. "Don't tell them. Say it was a mugger, say it was a gang ... say you don't remember."
"That's the truth." Mostly. I frowned at him, swiping at my eyes with my free hand.
He looked up approvingly for a second. "Say it just like that. You might be able to get out of this after all." He rewrapped my hand and stepped back.
Get out of what? I tried to ask, but the question was crowded out by what he'd said—Verity was dead, and everything in me felt frozen, the pain I'd felt before a shadow compared to the shards of ice gathering in my chest.
He turned to leave, and I was finally able to speak, the words ragged. "Why? Why Verity? Who would—"
He cut me off. "Too many questions. Best for everyone not to ask." He paused and cocked his head toward the hallway. I could see Pink Scrubs's feet approaching, Navy Pants following close behind. "Time to go, Mouse. Remember to forget, hmn?"
Pink Scrubs—a harried, middle-aged nurse—dragged the curtain aside. Right behind her was Navy Pants, a rumpled, bearlike man with a receding hairline and stubble that was emphatically not a fashion statement. I turned to look at the doctor, but he was gone.
"Maura Fitzgerald?" Navy Pants asked as the nurse moved to my side, snapping on gloves and pulling out a small penlight. I nodded dumbly.
"Glad to see you're awake," Pink Scrubs said cheerfully, shining the light into my eyes. She gestured to my forehead. "That looks better already. How are you feeling?"
"Where's Verity?" I croaked, swiping at tears again.
They exchanged a look—the look adults give each other when they're trying to figure out the most effective stalling tactic. I knew that look. I'd seen it before, more than once. It always meant life was going to suck, very badly, for a very long time.
"I need to check your vitals," the nurse said after a moment. "The doctor will be in soon, and she'll answer your questions, okay? Your family's on the way."
She. Not he. I watched the nurse's hands, in their purple latex gloves, reach for the blood pressure cuff, and a wild hope sprang up in me. The green-eyed guy wasn't a doctor, obviously. He'd never put on gloves, had never looked at my chart ... he hadn't even worn a stethoscope, for God's sake. Not to mention he'd been way too young. He must have been some sort of nut job imposter, and he didn't have a clue about Verity. Which meant she was alive. I sank back and let the nurse wrap the black strap around my arm.
Navy Pants flashed a badge at me and brought out a small notebook. "Detective Kowalski, Miss Fitzgerald. I need to ask you some questions."
"Where's Verity?" The blood pressure cuff tightened on my arm, but I ignored it.
Kowalski looked at the nurse again. She checked her watch, made a notation on the chart resting on the counter, and said quietly, "We can't release patient information unless you're family."
At the sympathy in her tone, and the small shake of her head, all that wild fluttering hope collapsed. Mystery Doctor was right, and the frozen feeling swallowed me up again.
"Miss Fitzgerald," Kowalski said. "Maura. I need you to tell me what happened tonight."
"It's Mo," I corrected him, stomach clenching. Nobody calls me Maura, not unless I'm in trouble, and since I've spent the last seventeen and a half years avoiding trouble, I don't hear it very often. Mystery Doc had called me Mo, right off the bat. And he'd been straight with me about Verity; this guy was just giving me a measuring stare and asking questions. Screw that, I decided. If the cop wasn't going to tell me anything, I didn't have to share, either.
"Okay, Mo." He raised his eyebrow, clearly humoring me. "What can you tell me about this evening?"
I fiddled with the blanket. "Nothing."
"Nothing? Where were you and Miss Grey going?"
"For ice cream," I said. August in Chicago is like living in a bowl of chicken broth, the heat and humidity making the air oily and oppressive. Air conditioning and ice cream are the only cures.
He smiled, like a coconspirator. "Just down Kedzie? My wife says I gotta lay off their butter pecan."
This must have been the good-cop part of the routine. When I didn't smile back, or say anything else, he wrote something down in his notebook. "What time was this?"
"I don't know. Nine o'clock, maybe? Ten? I wasn't really paying attention. We had a lot to talk about." Like Verity blowing off our college plans for absolutely no reason. I shoved the thought away.
"So you left Martino's, and then what?"
I had another vision of those leathery black shapes and shuddered before I could help myself. My rib cage protested sharply. "I don't remember."
Kowalski's eyes narrowed. "Try."
"I don't know." My voice cracked. "They came out of nowhere."
"There was more than one?"
"I ... think so." Too many to count, especially after the first blow.
Gingerly, I folded my arms over my chest, as if it would protect me from his questions. "I don't know."
Kowalski sighed wearily. "Mo," he said, "I have been a cop for twenty years this March. I have four daughters, every one of them my pride and joy. My youngest is just about your age. And even though I've been on the force her whole life, she still thinks she can put one over on her old man. She's wrong, which is why she's spent more time grounded than a Cubs pitcher on the disabled list. Now, you look like you've got more sense than my Jenny, so why don't we skip the part where you jerk me around."
I wondered if poor Jenny had to sit on the receiving end of a lot of lectures like this. Probably. "It was dark. Someone hit me. I don't remember anything after that." Verity's scream, beneath the roar.
"Someone did a hell of a lot more than hit you. The doc says you've got a cracked rib and a dislocated shoulder, for starters."
That felt about right. I shrugged with the good shoulder.
"You recognize anyone?"
I shook my head. It sounded crazy, especially in the bright light of the ER, but I wasn't sure they had faces, much less any I knew. But saying so didn't seem like a great idea.
"They say anything?" Words I couldn't understand, more guttural than German, and whatever they were saying wasn't, "Welcome home." Verity's words—the few she'd been able to shout before they cut her down—were nothing I'd heard before, either, something fluid and silvery in the dark of the alley. I took too long to answer.
"Mo. What did they say?"
"I don't know." True enough. And I didn't know why I was stonewalling Kowalski. Maybe I thought he wouldn't believe me. Whatever had come after us in the alley was unbelievable, but I had the bruises to back up my story. Maybe I thought he'd blame me.
Maybe he should.
But Mystery Doc had been honest when I asked about Verity, and Kowalski had just ignored me, so round one went to Mystery Doc.
Kowalski tapped his notebook against the bed rail, and I tuned in again. "Your uncle is Billy Grady, right?"
I scowled at the change of subject. "He's my mom's brother."
"You two close?" A commotion was building down the corridor.
"He owns the bar next to my mom's restaurant. I help out sometimes. So?"
"Your father worked for him, too?"
My hands clenched the blanket, and I forced them to straighten again. "My dad?" Seriously, who cared about my family right now? The only family who mattered was Verity, and she was dead. Kowalski was worried about my dad? My father was a lot of things—absent, selfish, and a felon, to boot—but he sure as hell wasn't in that alley with us.
The curtain was ripped aside with a harsh rattle. "Don't say another word to this man, Mo."
Uncle Billy, in the flesh.
Chapter TwoI dropped my head back against the pillow in relief. Uncle Billy brushed past Kowalski, full steam ahead, but the sight of me stopped him short. I wondered how bad I must look to put that stunned look on his face.
"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph," he breathed.
Pretty bad, then.
Without taking his eyes off me, he called out, "In here, Annie," and my mother appeared, looking decades older than she had at the restaurant this afternoon. Another cop, younger, in a uniform, followed her in.
"Maura! Oh, Mo! Oh, my baby!" Eyes welling, she rushed to me. "Oh, sweetheart," she cried, pushing my hair back with trembling hands.
I love my mother, but she is not at her best in a crisis. Still, the sight of her, in her sensible khaki skirt and blue blouse, her hair scraped back into a bun, her wedding band worn and glinting dully on her hand, made everything too ordinary not to be real, and my tears began again. "Mom?"
"What happened?" She kept smoothing my hair back, like she did when I was a kid, and she smelled like violet hand cream and tea. "I was in bed for the night—you know I'm working the morning shift tomorrow—and then the hospital called, and so I called Billy, and we came as fast as we could. Do you know how I felt, Mo? I've been dreading that call. Every parent has nightmares about it. It was horrible—just horrible—I was frantic, absolutely frantic. I said rosaries all the way here." Also typical Mom. She asks me a question and answers before I can get a word in.
She paused for breath, and Uncle Billy cut in. "What happened?"
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Kowalski pause in his conversation with the other cop, shift his weight, and turn his head to catch my response.
"It's all a blur," I mumbled. "My head ..." My head really did hurt, and with each new visitor in the already-crowded room, the ache spread and deepened.
"Are you in pain? Can they get something for you?" Mom held her hand against my cheek for a second, grasping my good hand as if I might slip away. "Tell me what you need."
"They won't tell me anything about Verity." I choked out the words.
Excerpted from Torn by ERICA O'ROURKE Copyright © 2011 by Erica O'Rourke. Excerpted by permission of K TEEN BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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