Dangerous creatures, p.1
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       Dangerous Creatures, p.1
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         Part #1 of Dangerous Creatures series by Kami Garcia
Dangerous Creatures


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  Table of Contents

  Copyright Page

  In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher is unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by contacting the publisher at permissions@hbgusa.com. Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.

  For Link and Ridley, because we knew there was more to their story—and for our readers, because they asked to read it.

  Contents

  DEDICATION

  EPIGRAPH

  BEFORE : Ridley

  CHAPTER 1 : Home Sweet Home

  CHAPTER 2 : Symptom of the Universe

  CHAPTER 3 : Master of Puppets

  CHAPTER 4 : Learning to Fly

  CHAPTER 5 : Sweet Child o’ Mine

  CHAPTER 6 : Welcome to the Jungle

  CHAPTER 7 : Another Brick in the Wall

  CHAPTER 8 : Stairway to Heaven

  CHAPTER 9 : Use Your Illusion

  CHAPTER 10 : Dream of Mirrors

  CHAPTER 11 : Read Between the Lies

  CHAPTER 12 : Hell on High Heels

  CHAPTER 13 : Bleeding Me

  CHAPTER 14 : Appetite for Destruction

  CHAPTER 15 : Rock of Ages

  CHAPTER 16 : For Those About to Rock

  CHAPTER 17 : Runnin’ with the Devil

  CHAPTER 18 : Metal Gods

  CHAPTER 19 : Something to Believe In

  CHAPTER 20 : The Divine Wings of Tragedy

  CHAPTER 21 : Expendable Youth

  CHAPTER 22 : Damaged Soul

  CHAPTER 23 : Comfortably Numb

  CHAPTER 24 : Wish You Were Here

  CHAPTER 25 : Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

  CHAPTER 26 : Back in Black

  CHAPTER 27 : Fly to the Angels

  CHAPTER 28 : Fear of the Dark

  CHAPTER 29 : We Are Stars

  CHAPTER 30 : Some Kind of Monster

  CHAPTER 31 : Flash of the Blade

  CHAPTER 32 : Disposable Heroes

  CHAPTER 33 : Oh Yoko!

  CHAPTER 34 : Symphony of Destruction

  AFTER : Fade to Black

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  COPYRIGHT

  A PREVIEW OF ICONS

  A PREVIEW OF UNBREAKABLE

  Odi et amo. Quare id faciam, fortasse requiris? Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.

  I hate and I love. You ask why I do this?

  I do not know, but I feel and I am tormented.

  —CATULLUS

  BEFORE

  Ridley

  There are only two kinds of Mortals in the backwater town of Gatlin, South Carolina—the stupid and the stuck. At least, that’s what they say.

  As if there are other kinds of Mortals anywhere else.

  Please.

  Luckily, there’s only one kind of Siren, no matter where you go in this world or the Otherworld.

  Stuck, no.

  Stuck-up? Maybe.

  Stupid?

  It’s all a matter of perspective. Here’s mine: I’ve been called a lot of things, but what I really am is a survivor—and while there are more than a few stupid Sirens, there are zero stupid survivors.

  Consider my record. I outlasted some of the Darkest Casters and creatures alive. I withstood whole months of Stonewall Jackson High School. Beyond that, I survived a thousand terrible love songs written by one Wesley Lincoln, a clueless Mortal boy who became an equally clueless quarter Incubus. And who, by the way, is not the most gifted musician.

  For a while, I survived wanting to write him a love song of my own.

  That was harder.

  This Siren gig is meant to be a one-way street. Ask Odysseus and two thousand years’ worth of dead sailors if you don’t believe me.

  We didn’t choose for it to be that way. It’s the hand we were dealt, and you won’t hear me whining about it. I’m not my cousin Lena.

  Let’s get something straight: I’m supposed to be the bad guy. I will always disappoint you. Your parents will hate me. You should not root for me. I am not your role model.

  I don’t know why everyone seems to forget that. I never do.

  No matter what she says, Lena was meant to be Light. I was meant to be Dark. Respect the teams, people. At least learn the rules.

  My own parents disowned me after the Dark Claimed me as a Siren on my Sixteenth Moon. Since then, nothing rattles me—nothing and no one.

  I always knew my incarceration in the sanitarium that my Uncle Macon called Ravenwood Manor was a temporary pit stop on the way to bigger and better, my two favorite words. Actually, that’s a lie.

  My two favorite words are my name, Ridley Duchannes.

  Why wouldn’t they be?

  Sure, Lena gets the credit for being the most powerful Caster of all time.

  Whatever. It doesn’t make me any less excellent. Neither does her too-good-to-be-true Mortal boyfriend, Ethan “the Wayward” Wate, who defeats Darkness in the name of true love every day of the week.

  So what?

  I was never going for perfect. I think that should be clear by now.

  I’ve done my part, played my hand, even thrown in my cards when I had to. I’ve bet what I didn’t have and bluffed until I had it. Link once said: Ridley Duchannes is always playing a game. I never told him, but he was right.

  What’s so bad about that? I always knew I’d rather play than watch from the sidelines.

  Except once.

  There was one game I regretted. At least, one that I regretted losing. And one Dark Caster I regretted losing to.

  Lennox Gates.

  Two markers. That’s all I owed him, and it was enough to change everything. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

  It all started long before that. There were blood debts to be paid—though this time it wasn’t up to my cousin and her boyfriend to pay them.

  Ethan and Lena? Liv and John? Macon and Marian? This wasn’t about them anymore.

  This was about Link and me.

  I should’ve known we wouldn’t get off easy. No Caster goes down without a fight, even when you think the fight is over. No Caster lets you ride off into the sunset on some lame white unicorn or in your boyfriend’s beat-up excuse for a car.

  What’s a Caster fairy-tale ending?

  I don’t know, because Casters don’t get to have fairy tales—especially not Dark Casters. Forget the sunset—the whole castle burns to the ground, taking Prince Charming down with it. Then the seven dwarves go all ninja and drop-kick your butt straight out of the kingdom.

  That’s what a Dark Caster fairy tale looks like.

  What can I say? Payback’s a bitch.

  But here’s the thing:

  So am I.

  CHAPTER 1

  Home Sweet Home

  It was their last night of summer, their last night of freedom, their last night of being frozen in time together in Gatlin, South Carolina—and technically speaking, Ridley Duchannes and Wesley Lincoln were in a fight.

  When are we ever not? Ridley wondered. But this wasn’t just any fight. It was the knockdown, drag-out, mother-of-all supernatural takedowns—Siren Predator versus Hybrid Incubus Alien. That was what Link had called it, behind her back. Which was about the same as saying it to her face, at least in Gatlin.

  It had started right after graduation, and three months later, it was still going strong. Not that you’d know from looking at them.

  If Link and Ridley openly admitted that they were still fighting, it would mean openly admitting that they still cared. If they openly admitted that they still cared,
it would mean openly admitting to things like feelings. Feelings implied all sorts of gushy, messy, fuzzy complications.

  Feelings were how they’d gotten into this fight in the first place.

  Disgusting.

  Ridley would rather have Link stab her through the heart with a pair of gardening shears than admit to any of those things. She’d rather fall on her face like Abraham Ravenwood did, in His Garden of Perpetual Peace, drawing his last breath unloved and alone—a far fall for the most powerful Blood Incubus in the Caster world.

  At least Ridley understood Abraham Ravenwood. She was an expert on being unloved and alone.

  Worshipped and obeyed? Great. Feared and hated? She’d take it.

  But loved and together? That was harder.

  That was Lena’s territory.

  So Ridley wasn’t about to admit that she and Link were still fighting. Not tonight, or any other night. You couldn’t hit one relationship domino without toppling all the others. And if they couldn’t discuss whether they were in a fight, she didn’t even want to think about what else might come toppling down.

  It wasn’t worth the risk.

  Which was the reason Ridley didn’t mention anything she was thinking as she trudged through Gatlin’s stickiest marsh, heading for Lake Moultrie in her mile-high snakeskin platforms.

  “I should have worn kitten heels,” Rid lamented.

  “Pretty sure kittens don’t have heels.” Link grinned.

  Rid had caved and asked him for a ride to the stupid farewell party her cousin had organized. It was the first time the two of them had been alone together for longer than five minutes, ever since that night at the beginning of the summer when Link made the mistake of telling Rid he loved her at the Dar-ee Keen.

  “Meow,” Ridley said, annoyed.

  Link looked amused. “I don’t really think a you as a cat person, Rid.”

  “I love cats,” she said, wrenching one foot out of a patch of drying mud. “Half my closet is leopard.” Her shoe made a gross sucking sound that reminded Ridley of her little sister, Ryan, slurping on an ICEE.

  “And the rest is leather, Greenpeace.” Link’s spiky hair stood straight up, as usual—more bed head than boy band. But you could see what he was going for. His faded T-shirt said GRANNY BROKE BOTH HIPSTERS, and the chain hanging from his wallet made him sound like a puppy on a leash. In other words, Link looked like he’d looked every day of his life, hybrid Incubus or not. Gaining supernatural powers had done nothing to improve his sense of style.

  Just like the boy I fell for, Ridley thought. Even if everything else between us is different.

  She yanked her foot up out of the muck again and went toppling over backward. Link caught her on her way to a full-body mud bath. Before Rid could say a word, he hoisted her over his shoulder and bounded across the marsh, all the way to the edge of the lake.

  “Put me down.” Rid squirmed, tugging her miniskirt back into place.

  “Fine. You’re a real brat sometimes.” Link laughed. “Want me to put you down again? ’Cause I gotta whole lotta blond jokes…”

  “Oh my god, stop it—” She hit his back, kneeing his chest in the process, but deep down, she didn’t mind the ride. Or the jokes. Or the superstrength. There were some perks to having a quarter Incubus for an ex-boyfriend. Hanging upside down wasn’t one of them, though, and Rid tried to push her way back upright in his arms.

  Lena waved them over from her spot at the campsite, a makeshift fire pit at the water’s edge. Macon’s massive black dog, Boo Radley, was curled at her feet. Ethan and John were still working on the fire itself, the Mortal way, under Liv’s direction—not that she’d ever made a fire before. Which was probably why it was still only smoking.

  “Hey, Rid.” Lena smiled. “Nice ride.”

  “I have a name,” Link said, holding Ridley with one arm.

  “Hey, Link.” Lena’s black curls were pulled up into a loose knot, and her familiar charm necklace hung from her neck. Even her old black Chucks never changed. Ridley noticed that the ornament from Lena’s graduation had already joined her charm collection. Meaningless Mortal ceremonies. Rid smirked at the memory of Emily Asher’s diploma turning into a live snake, right as Emily shook Principal Harper’s hand. Some of my better work, Ridley thought. Nothing like a few snakes to end a boring graduation, and fast. But Lena looked a thousand times happier now that Ethan was back.

  “Down. Now.” Ridley gave Link one last kick for good measure.

  Link dumped Ridley back on her feet, grinning. “Don’t ever say I didn’t do anything for you.”

  “Aw, Shrinky Dink. If it’s the thought that counts, you didn’t.” She smiled sweetly back at him. She reached up and patted his head. “That thing’s like an air mattress.”

  “My mom says balloon.” Link was unfazed.

  “Pound it, Pudding Head.” Ethan dropped a last log on the smoking pile of sticks. He bumped fists with Link.

  Liv sighed. “There’s plenty of oxygen going to all the logs. I used a classic tepee structure. Unless the laws of physics have changed, I don’t know why—”

  “Do we have to do this the Mortal way?” Ethan looked at Lena.

  She nodded. “More fun.”

  John struck another match. “For who?”

  Ridley held up her hand. “Hold on. That sounds like camping. Is this camping? Am I camping?”

  Link moved across the fire pit. “You may not know this, but Rid is not a happy camper.”

  “Sit.” Lena gave her the Look. “Because I’m about to make you all very happy. Camping or not.” She fluttered her fingers, and the fire ignited.

  “Are you kidding me?” Liv looked from Lena to the crackling fire, insulted, while the boys laughed.

  “You want me to put it out?” Lena raised an eyebrow. Liv sighed but reached for the marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers. Between her love of snack foods, her faded Grateful Dead T-shirts, and her messy braids, Liv seemed like she should be heading back to high school, not college. Once Liv opened her mouth, though, she seemed like she should be one of the professors.

  “I’d pay serious money to see Rid campin’ for real.” Link flopped down next to Ethan.

  “Your allowance isn’t serious enough to get me to go camping, Shrinky Dink.” Rid tried to figure out a way to sit down on a stone near the fire pit without ripping the thin black spandex skirt she was rocking.

  “Havin’ a little trouble with your nano-skirt, there?” Link patted the makeshift seat next to him.

  “No.” Ridley twirled the pink stripe in her hair. Lena speared a marshmallow on a stick, laughing as Ridley took another pass at sitting on the rock.

  “Can’t rest your dogs while you’re strapped in that butt Band-Aid?” Link was enjoying himself.

  Ridley was not. “It’s a micro-mini. From Miu Miu. And what would you know? You can’t even dress a salad.”

  “I’ve got my own kind of flair, Babe. And I don’t need to buy mine at Meow Meow.”

  Ridley gave up on the rock, squatting instead at the edge of a log just down from Link. “Flair? You? You wash your face with shampoo and brush your teeth with a washcloth.”

  “What’s your point?” Link raised an eyebrow.

  Lena looked up. “Enough. Don’t tell me you two are still going at it. This has to be some kind of record, even for you.” She waved her stick and her marshmallow caught on fire.

  “I mean, if you’re referring to that one night—” Rid began.

  “It was more of a conversation,” Link said. “And she did blow me off—”

  “I said I was sorry,” Rid countered. “But you know what they say. Once a Mortal…”

  Link snorted. “Mortal? I wouldn’t believe a Siren if she—”

  Lena held up her hand. “I said not to tell me.” Ridley and Link looked away from each other, embarrassed.

  “It’s all good,” Link said stiffly.

  “Camping.” Ridley changed the subject.

  Lena shook
her head. “No, this is not camping. This is… I don’t actually know the verb for it. S’moring?” Lena caught a glop of brown and white goo between two graham crackers, shoving the whole thing into Ethan’s mouth.

  Ethan made a sound like he was trying to say something, but he couldn’t open his mouth enough to make any actual words.

  “I take it you like my s’moring?” Lena smiled at him.

  Ethan nodded. Tonight, in his oldest Harley-Davidson T-shirt and ratty jeans, he looked the same as he had the day Ridley first met him, after basketball practice at the Stop & Steal. Which was crazy, if you thought about everything that had happened to him since then. The things that boy has been through in the name of my cousin. And people think Sirens are hard on the opposite sex. He’d do anything for her.

  A little voice in Ridley’s head pointed out the obvious: Loved and together is the opposite of unloved and alone. Ridley could barely stand to watch a relationship that functional.

  She shuddered and shook her head, recovering. “S’moring? Don’t you mean snoring? Because this is no way to spend our last night together. There are enemies to be made. Laws to be broken. Cheerleaders to—”

  “Not tonight.” Lena shook her head, spearing another marshmallow.

  Rid gave up, grabbing a bag of chocolate bars to console herself. Sirens loved their sugar, especially this one.

  “Speak for yourself. I think this is brilliant,” said Liv, stuffing her face with a gooey chocolate–marshmallow–graham cracker mess. “Melted chocolate and warm marshmallow coming together as one—on the same graham cracker? That’s democracy at its best. This is why I love America. S’mores.”

  “Is that the only reason?” John nudged her.

  “The only reason? Yes. No,” Liv teased, licking a finger. “S’mores, the Dar-ee Keen, and the CW.” She shot him a playful look and he smiled, tossing a marshmallow into Boo Radley’s open mouth. Boo thumped his tail appreciatively.

  Twenty-five marshmallows later, Boo was a little less appreciative and the fire was burning down to embers, but the night was far from over.

  “See? No tears. No good-byes,” Lena said, breaking up the ash with her burnt-black stick. “And when we go, no one is allowed to say anything you’d read in a cheesy greeting card.”

 
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