Strange angels, p.1
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       Strange Angels, p.1

           Lili St. Crow
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Strange Angels


  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright Page

  Dedication

  Acknowledgements

  CHAPTER 1

  CHAPTER 2

  INTERMEZZO

  CHAPTER 3

  CHAPTER 4

  CHAPTER 5

  CHAPTER 6

  CHAPTER 7

  CHAPTER 8

  CHAPTER 9

  CHAPTER 10

  CHAPTER 11

  CHAPTER 12

  CHAPTER 13

  CHAPTER 14

  CHAPTER 15

  CHAPTER 16

  CHAPTER 17

  CHAPTER 18

  CHAPTER 19

  CHAPTER 20

  CHAPTER 21

  CHAPTER 22

  CHAPTER 23

  CHAPTER 24

  CHAPTER 25

  CHAPTER 26

  CHAPTER 27

  CHAPTER 28

  Strange Angels

  RAZORBILL

  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Young Readers Group

  345 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.

  Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.

  Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3

  (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

  Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd)

  Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division

  of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd)

  Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi - 110 017, India

  Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand

  (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)

  Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

  Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  Copyright © 2009 Lili St. Crow

  All rights reserved

  St. Crow, Lili.

  Strange angels / by Lili St. Crow.

  p cm.

  Summary: Sixteen-year-old Dru’s psychic abilities helped her father battle zombies and other creatures of the “Real World,” but now she must rely on herself, a “werwulf”-bitten friend, and a half-human vampire hunter to learn who murdered her parents, and why.

  eISBN : 978-1-101-05713-1

  [1. Supernatural--Fiction. 2. Psychic ability--Fiction. 3. Werewolves--Fiction. 4. Vampires--Fiction. 5.

  Orphans--Fiction. 6. Identity--Fiction.]

  PZ7.S77432 Str 2009

  [Fic] 22

  2008039720

  The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

  The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

  http://us.penguingroup.com

  For Gates, who caught the line when I threw it.

  Acknowledgements

  If not for Richelle Mead (who talked to Jessica) and Jessica Rothenberg (who talked to Miriam) and Miriam Kriss (who talked to me), this book would have never grown past a small snippet that someday I’d maybe, probably, sort of get around to. Thanks to them, Dru’s story got to come out.

  Thanks are also due to Gates, who was my first and best reader. If this story rings true at all, it’s because of his suggestions and not-so-gentle shoves.

  There are also the usual suspects to thank: Mel Sanders, the other half of my writing brain, who listens to me obsess over every story; Christa Hickey and Sixten Zeiss for all the love and coffee; Maddy and Nicky for being my strength.

  I could go on and on with the thanks, but I will content myself with thanking you, gentle Reader. Without you I am just muttering at the wind. Let me thank you the way we both like best, by telling you a story. . .

  A fronte praecipitium, a tergo lupi.

  PROLOGUE

  I didn’t tell Dad about Granmama’s white owl. I know I should have.

  There’s that space between sleep and dreaming where things—not quite dreams, not fully fledged precognition, but weird little blends of both—sometimes get in. Your eyes open, slow and dreamy, when the sense of someone looking rises through the cotton-wool fog of being warm and tired.

  That’s when I saw it.

  The owl ruffled itself up on my windowsill drenched in moonglow, each pale feather sharp and clear under icy light. I hadn’t bothered to pull the cheap blinds down or hang up the curtains. Why bother, when we—Dad and me—only spend a few months in any town?

  I blinked at the yellow-eyed bird. Instead of the comfort that means Gran is thinking about me—and don’t ask how I know the dead think of the living; I’ve seen too much not to know—I felt a sharp annoyance, like a glass splinter under the surface of my brain.

  The owl’s beak was black, and its feathers had ghostly spots like cobwebs, shadows against snowy down. It stared into my sleepy eyes for what seemed like eternity, ruffling just a bit, puffing up the way Gran always used to when she thought anyone was messing with me.

  Not again. Go away.

  It usually only showed up when something interesting or really foul was about to happen. Dad had never seen it, or at least I didn’t think so. But he could tell when I had, and it would make him reach for a weapon until I managed to open my mouth and say whether we were going to meet an old friend—or find ourselves in deep shit.

  The night Gran died the owl had sat inside the window while she took her last few shallow, sipping breaths, but I don’t think the nurses or the doctor saw it. They would have said something. By that point I knew enough to keep my mouth shut, at least. I just sat there and held Gran’s hand until she drained away; then I sat in the hall while they did things to her empty body and wheeled it off. I curled up inside myself when the doctor or the social worker tried to talk to me, and just kept repeating that my dad would know, that he was on his way—even though I had no clue where he was, really. He’d been gone a good three months, off ridding the world of nasty things while I watched Gran slide downhill.

  Of course, that morning Dad showed up, haggard and unshaven, his shoulder bandaged and his face bruised. He had all the ID, signed all the papers, and answered all the questions. Everything turned out okay, but sometimes I dream about that night, wondering if I’m going to get left behind again in some fluorescent-lit corridor smelling of Lysol and cold pain.

  I don’t like thinking about that. I settled further into the pillow, watching the owl’s fluffing, each feather edged with cold moonlight.

  My eyes drifted closed. Warm darkness swallowed me, and when the alarm clock went off it was morning, weak winter sunshine spilling through the window and making a square on the brown carpet. I’d thrashed out of the covers and was about to freeze my ass off. Dad hadn’t turned the heater up.

  It took a good twenty minutes in the shower before I felt anything close to awake. Or human. By the time I stamped down the stairs, I was already pissed off and getting worse. My favorite jeans weren’t clean and I had a zit the size of Mount Pinatubo on my temple under a hank of dishwater brown hair. I opted for a gray T-shirt and a red hoodie, a pair of combat boots and no makeup.

  Why bother, right? I wasn’t going to be here long enough for anyone to care.

&
nbsp; My bag smacked the floor. Last night’s dishes still crouched in the sink. Dad was at the kitchen table, his shoulders hunched over the tray as he loaded clips, each bullet making a little clicking sound. “Hi, sweetheart.”

  I snorted, snagging the orange juice and opening the carton, taking a long cold draft. I wiped my mouth and belched musically.

  “Ladylike.” His bloodshot blue eyes didn’t rise from the clip, and I knew what that meant.

  “Going out tonight?” That’s what I said. What I meant was, without me?

  Click. Click. He set the full clip aside and started on the next. The bullets glinted, silver-coated. He must have been up all night with that, making them and loading them. “I won’t be in for dinner. Order a pizza or something.”

  Which meant he was going somewhere more-dangerous, not just kinda-dangerous. And that he didn’t need me to zero the target. So he must’ve gotten some kind of intel. He’d been gone every night this week, always reappearing in time for dinner smelling of cigarette smoke and danger. In other towns he’d mostly take me with him; people either didn’t care about a teenage girl drinking a Coke in a bar, or we went places where Dad was reasonably sure he could stop any trouble with an ice-cold military stare or a drawled word.

  But in this town he hadn’t taken me anywhere. So if he’d gotten intel, it was on his own.

  How? Probably the old-fashioned way. He likes that better, I guess. “I could come along.”

  “Dru.” Just the one word, a warning in his tone. Mom’s silver locket glittered at his throat, winking in the morning light.

  “You might need me. I can carry the ammo.” And tell you when something invisible’s in the corner, looking at you. I heard the stubborn whine in my voice and belched again to cover it, a nice sonorous one that all but rattled the window looking out onto the scrubby backyard with its dilapidated swing set. There was a box of dishes sitting in front of the cabinets next to the stove; I suppressed the urge to kick at it. Mom’s cookie jar—the one shaped like a fat grinning black-and-white cow—was next to the sink, the first thing unpacked in every new house. I always put it in the bathroom box with the toilet paper and shampoo; that’s always the last in and first one out.

  I’ve gotten kind of used to packing and unpacking, you could say. And trying to find toilet paper after a thirty-six-hour drive is no fun.

  “Not this time, Dru.” He looked up at me, though, the bristles of his cropped hair glittering blond under fluorescent light. “I’ll be home late. Don’t wait up.”

  I was about to protest, but his mouth had turned into a thin, hard line and the bottle sitting on the table warned me. Jim Beam. It had been almost full last night when I went to bed, and the dregs of amber liquid in it glowed warmer than his hair. Dad was pale blond, almost a towhead, even if his stubble was brown and gold.

  I’ve got a washed-out version of Mom’s curls and a better copy of Dad’s blue eyes. The rest of me, I guess, is up for grabs. Except maybe Gran’s nose, but she could have just been trying to make me feel better. I’m no prize. Most girls go through a gawky stage, but I’m beginning to think mine will be a lifelong thing.

  It doesn’t bother me too much. Better to be strong than pretty and useless. I’ll take a plain girl with her head screwed on right over a cheerleader any day.

  So I just leaned down and scooped up my messenger bag, the strap scraping against my fingerless wool gloves. They’re scratchy but they’re warm, and if you slip small stuff under the cuff, it’s damn near invisible. “Okay.”

  “You should have some breakfast.” Click. Another bullet slid into the clip. His eyes dropped back down to it, like it was the most important thing in the world.

  Eat something? When he was about to go out and deal with bad news alone? Was he kidding?

  My stomach turned over hard. “I’ll miss the bus. Do you want some eggs?”

  I don’t know why I offered. He liked them sunny-side up, but neither Mom or me could ever get them done right. I’ve been breaking yolks all my life, even when he tried to teach me the right way to gently jiggle with a spatula to get them out of the pan. Mom would just laugh on Sunday mornings and tell him scrambled or over-hard was what he was going to get, and he’d come up behind her and put his arms around her waist and nuzzle her long, curling chestnut hair. I would always yell, Ewwww! No kissing!

  And they would both laugh.

  That was Before. A thousand years ago. When I was little.

  Dad shook his head a little. “No thanks, kiddo. You have money?”

  I spotted his billfold on the counter and scooped it up. “I’m taking twenty.”

  “Take another twenty, just in case.” Click. Click. “How’s school going?”

  Just fine, Dad. Just freaking dandy. Two weeks in a new town is enough to make me all sorts of friends. “Okay.”

  I took two twenties out of his billfold, rubbing the plastic sleeve over Mom’s picture with my thumb like I always did. There was a shiny space on the sleeve right over her wide, bright smile. Her chestnut hair was as wildly curly as mine, but pulled back into a loose ponytail, blonde-streaked ringlets falling into her heart-shaped face. She was beautiful. You could see why Dad fell for her in that picture. You could almost smell her perfume.

  “Just okay?” Click.

  “It’s fine. It’s stupid. Same old stuff.” I toed the linoleum and set his billfold down. “I’m going.”

  Click. He didn’t look up. “Okay. I love you.” He was wearing his Marines sweatshirt and the pair of blue sweats he always worked out in, with the hole in the knee. I stared at the top of his head while he finished the clip, set it aside, and picked up a fresh one. I could almost feel the noise of each bullet being slid home in my own fingers.

  My throat had turned to stone. “’Kay. Whatever. Bye.” Don’t get killed. I stamped out of the kitchen and down the hall, one of the stacked boxes barking me in the shin. I still hadn’t unpacked the living room yet. Why bother? I’d just have to box it all up in another couple months.

  I slammed the front door, too, and pulled my hood up, shoving my hair back. I hadn’t bothered with much beyond dragging a comb through it. Mom’s curls had been loose pretty ringlets, but mine were pure frizz. The Midwest podunk humidity made it worse; it was a wet blanket of cold that immediately turned my breath into a white cloud and nipped at my elbows and knees.

  The rental was on a long, ruler-straight block of similar houses, all dozing under watery sunlight managing to fight its way through overcast. The air tasted like iron and I shivered. We’d been in Florida before this, always sticky, sweaty, sultry heat against the skin like oil. We’d cleared out four poltergeists in Pensacola and a haunting apparition of a woman even Dad could see in some dead-end town north of Miami, and there was a creepy woman with cottonmouths and copperheads in glass cages who sold Dad the silver he needed to take care of something else. I hadn’t had to go to school there—we were so busy staying mobile, moving from one hotel to the next, so whatever Dad needed the silver for couldn’t get a lock on us.

  Now it was the Dakotas, and snow up to our knees. Great.

  Our yard was the only one with weeds and tall grass. We had a picket fence, too, but the paint was flaking and peeling off and parts of it were missing, like a gap-toothed smile. Still, the porch was sturdy and the house was even sturdier. Dad didn’t believe in renting crappy bungalows. He said it was a bad way to raise a kid.

  I walked away with my head down and my hands stuffed in my pockets.

  I never saw Dad alive again.

  CHAPTER 1

  “Miss Anderson?” Mrs. Bletchley’s voice droned through my name.

  I’d propped my cheek on my fist and was staring out the window at the cold wasteland of a baseball field, waiting for the chimes to sound. Foley High School didn’t believe in bells. Instead, a sound like a cell phone ringing would echo through the room when it was time to go run on the treadmill in another classroom.

  The pencil in my hand rested against bl
ank paper, and I brought my gaze around slowly, sudden silence in the room meaning all eyes were on me.

  I hate that.

  Bletchley was round-faced, white-haired, and plump. The other teachers probably thought she was a kind, harmless soul. She had small dark hazel eyes behind steel-rimmed glasses and carnelian lipstick feathering off the edge of her lips. Her hands, when they weren’t clasping a yardstick like a cane, were constantly picking at the bottom edge of her lumpy cardigan. She alternated between three sweaters: primrose, blue with knitted roses, and a bilious yellow one with a Peter Pan collar. Today it was the yellow.

  She looked like a weasel getting ready to steal its next chicken. The kids called her Mad Dog behind her back, and she could smell weakness.

  There are two species of teacher—the soft and the hard. Soft teachers might genuinely want to help, or they might have been broken in. They’re usually nervous and afraid of kids, especially high school boys. The hard teachers are another thing entirely. They’re like sharks—machines made for eating, with a finely tuned sense for blood in the water.

  “Were we paying attention, Miss Anderson?” You could have stropped a knife on Bletchley’s tone. A tide of whispers ran through the room. Bletch had picked her target for the next thirty minutes, and it was me.

  I just love being the new girl.

  I really shouldn’t have even opened my mouth. Hard teachers are like bullies. If you don’t react, pretty soon they think you’re stupid and they leave you alone.

  The half-Asian goth kid in front of me shifted in his seat. He was tall and skinny, with a mop of wavy dark hair. The back of his neck was visible as he bent down in his seat, the collar of the black coat he never took off sticking up at the corners but folded down in back. I stared at his nape under the dark curls.

 
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