Read An Excerpt

by Rachel Caine

Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal/Urban Fantasy

 | Read Book Review

Rahel turned and stalked toward the door.

It blew outward in a spray of splinters—wood mist, really—and the untouched lock and knob fell with a clatter to the concrete outside. She didn’t pause on her way out. I heard one of the other doors slam open, and heard Kevin yell.

“Kevin, no!” I screamed, and scrambled to get to my feet. “Leave her alone!” I wasn’t at all afraid he could hurt Rahel, only that he was going to actually get her attention.

I made it to the door too late. Kevin had a fireball in his hand, and before I could shout again, he was throwing it at Rahel’s back.

Sometimes, the ant stings.

And there’s really only one response to that, isn’t there?

I threw myself backward and to the side as Rahel spun, braids flying, and backhanded the ball of fire out of the air, sending it rocketing at blurry speed for the proverbial bleachers. Before that had even happened, she was launching a counterattack at Kevin, a wave of force that hit the building and blew it apart in a wave of shattered concrete, rebar, and splintered wood.

I was on the floor, hugging cheap carpet. I’d lost my towel, but that was completely meaningless at the moment. As things came apart around me I grabbed the mattress on the bed and yanked it off the frame. It slid across, tilted down, and formed a small sheltered space as I curled up into a protective ball.

I heard screaming. Could have been Cherise, or the toddler. Tommy. Could even have been Kevin. I hated myself for hiding, but my body wouldn’t move, wouldn’t obey my orders to get up and help.

Nothing you can do, part of my mind said. You’re not a Warden. Rahel can’t even see you. You’re just collateral damage. Keep your head down.

What had I told Cherise, once upon a time? Mere humans were part of this, too. They were the reason the Wardens kept fighting.

And I had to fight for myself, too. No matter the odds.

Another stunning blow hit the building, and the roof overhead ripped off and went flying. The front window shattered, and a piece of glass plunged all the way through the mattress to emerge two inches from my face in a lethally sharp exclamation point. I choked on concrete dust as the cinderblock front wall collapsed in. Some of the blocks—not all, thankfully—slammed down on top of the mattress, pressing it down on me, and I burrowed in toward the bed frame to gasp in more air.

And then it got quiet.

I went very still, listening, and over the faint groan of debris that was still succumbing to gravity, I heard slow, deliberate footsteps. They weren’t heading away.

Rahel was going to finish the job.

I huddled there, heart pounding. All the will to get up and fight had bled right out of me at the sound of those footsteps; there was something terrifying about them.

The sound of death.

I closed my eyes as the crunch of shoes on debris stopped nearby.

The mattress covering me suddenly flipped up and off, flying into the air like some startled bird. I gasped as its comforting weight disappeared. I’d never felt so exposed, naked, and helpless in my life.

I forced myself to open my eyes, and saw Rahel standing over me, staring down with those eerie white eyes. I remembered the first time I’d met her—how she’d just appeared in my car, nearly sending me off the road in surprise. How she’d casually tormented me, but helped me too. I’d seen Rahel do amazing things, and terrible things, but it had always been her.

This wasn’t her. And suddenly, that made me angry.

“All right, Mom,” I said, and climbed up to my bare feet. I’d lost my towels, not sure where or how; my cold, damp hair straggled down my back and over my shoulders, and I was unevenly coated in concrete dust like I had a serious case of mange. “You want me? Here I am!” I had a black rage boiling inside me, fueled by sheer terror, and I wasn’t the type to go down without a fight. I bent and scooped up a bent piece of iron rebar. It felt gritty and cold in my hands as I took up a batting stance.

Rahel reached for me. I swung, connected with her shoulder, and the rebar snapped in half, sending a piece flying away to clatter against the rubble of the far side of the destroyed room. I wasn’t done. I jabbed at her with the broken end, hoping to bury it in her guts, but she just batted it easily away. When I tried it again, she took hold of the rebar and ripped it out of my hand.

She flung it contemptuously after the other half.

I thought desperately of David—not as a savior, not as someone to come running in and sweep me off my feet. I thought how desperately I was going to miss him, and how much this would hurt him, and how sorry I was not to be able to tell him—tell him . . .

As Rahel swiped a hand full of razor-sharp talons toward my neck, I knew I was going to die. I’d heard other people talk about coming to some kind of peace, acceptance, whatever. Not me. I wanted to howl out my defiance and fury.

Instead, I ducked.

The claws missed my throat, my face, and tangled in my hair. She instantly grabbed a fistful, yanking me off balance toward her. I fought, scratched, punched, did everything I could—a wild animal, fighting for my life.

I heard a distant, wild screaming somewhere at the very limits of hearing, a banshee kind of sound that dopplered closer in seconds. A freight train full of demented shriekers, all of it hurtling straight for me.

Maybe that was death.