Out on May 20th, 2014, Ridley Duchannes is nobody’s heroine. She’s a Dark Caster, and a Siren. She can make you do things. Anything. You can’t trust her, or yourself, when she’s around. And she’ll be the first to tell you to stay away—especially if you’re going to do something as stupid as fall in love with her.
Lucky for Ridley, her wannabe rocker Wesley “Link” Lincoln never listens to anyone. Link doesn’t care if Rid’s no good for him, and takes her along when he leaves small-town Gatlin to follow his rock star dream. He teams up with a ragtag group of Dark Casters, and when the band scores a gig at a hot underground club, it looks like all of Link’s dreams are about to come true.
But New York City is a dangerous place for both Casters and Mortals, and soon Ridley realizes that Link’s bandmates are keeping secrets. With bad-boy club owner Lennox Gates on her heels, Rid is determined to find out the truth. What she discovers is worse than she could have imagined: Link has a price on his head that no Caster or Mortal can ever pay. With their lives on the line, what’s a Siren to do?
Want another goodie? JJJ was lucky enough to get our hands on a bit of the first chapter from the the e-novella, Dangerous Dream, out today!
Click inside to read it!
Principal Harper was trying to rap. Those are five words I never thought I’d say. Everything has got an end, so toss those caps and let’s hit Send. Try getting that out of your head.
As I sat there on the bleachers at the Stonewall Jackson High School graduation—Ethan Wate being uncomfortably alphabetized between Savannah Snow and Emory Watkins—it didn’t feel all that much like the end of anything.
I wished it would end. Graduation, at least.
But it wouldn’t—not until the fat lady had sung. Or, in my case, not until the skinny lady, Miss Spider, had conducted the school orchestra. According to the folded paper program, it was going to be a Celine Dion medley.
Featured solo by Emily Ellen Asher, “Her Heart Will Go On…and On and On and On.”
Of course it would. Even though her heart could give the Titanic a run for its money in a downward-spiral contest. I tried not to catch her eye, but I could see Emily looking at me, all the way from the A’s.
I could take it, one last time. It felt like torture, but I’d faced worse. This was Gatlin-style torture, not Otherworld-pile-of-bones-maze-that-goes-nowhere or damned-waters-of-the-undead torture.
Principal Harper rapped something about facing the world around us by standing up with courage—mostly, trying to rhyme courage with scourge, which didn’t really work. Besides, I was pretty sure his approach to “facing the world” didn’t include a whole lot of standing up for anything.
He was more of a sitting-it-out kind of a guy.
I was relieved when he finally did sit down after a good twenty-two minutes, but who was counting? But then our class president, Savannah Snow, went on about how she’d miss teasing Link, and how excited she was to get on with being the most popular girl at the University of South Carolina, over in the big city of Columbia, and how her daddy was going to buy her a new Dodge Charger for graduating without getting knocked up, and how she could finally admit that she really had been better than Emily and Charlotte and the rest of the cheer squad all along.
That’s probably not exactly what she said, but it’s close enough to what she was thinking. None of us were actually listening anymore. It was too hot and too late for that.
On the plus side, Savannah wasn’t rapping.
With crushing heat like this, it was hard to believe that the Order of Things had been restored—that the curse and the chaos that had almost ended the world as Gatlin knew it was all behind us now. A debt had been paid. We’d lived so long with it all hanging in the balance, it felt weird to be only worrying about the heat wilting the flowers our families had ordered from Gardens of Eden, cooking the blooms until they looked like a bunch of dead broccoli clumps.
I squinted to find my dad. He hadn’t let me wear sunglasses; he said Amma would have rolled over in her grave, if she’d had one. But I knew Amma couldn’t give a crap about whether or not I wore my aviators with my cap and gown, not where she was now. She was probably too busy sassing all my Aunt Prue’s husbands, or yelling at my mom about her fried green tomatoes, or hanging out on the porch with Uncle Abner. That was the Otherworld for you, but I couldn’t expect my dad to understand.
When I finally found him, he was sitting with my Aunt Caroline, who had driven up from Savannah for the occasion. His new girlfriend, Mrs. English, had to sit with the faculty, and I was grateful that I didn’t have to kiss up to her today. Or watch him kiss her, for that matter.
We all had to take this slow.
On the other side of my dad was my girlfriend’s family: Lena’s cousin Ridley, wearing a black straw hat as big as a hubcap, and a little black dress as small as a handkerchief; Aunt Del, fanning her face with a peacock feather fan; and Lena’s cousins Reece and Ryan, in matching round sunglasses. Uncle Macon was back home, since the whole town still thought he was dead. Long story. But our friends John Breed and Liv Durand were there to report the whole thing to him—what little of it, that is, that Boo Radley couldn’t report himself, from where he sat on the grass near the stage, wagging his tail in time with the band.
John waved from the crowd when he saw me, even though Liv elbowed him. I didn’t wave back.
Could this go on any longer? Lena Kelted to me, sounding as grouchy as I was, even in my mind. There were some drawbacks to having a Caster girlfriend, like a nasty curse and an even nastier mother (now in the Otherworld, another long story), but there were benefits, too. She had lots of unique abilities—including allowing us to hear each other’s thoughts.
I craned my neck to see her, down in the front row with the A’s through the D’s. Duchannes, Lena, was seated perilously close to Asher, Emily.
I smiled. I’m just trying not to pass out, L.
Five more minutes of this and I’ll join you, Ethan.
A louder thought shoved past the others. You think we can hide beneath the bleachers without anyone noticin’? Which would be Link, my best friend and former Mortal, now one-quarter Incubus. Lena and I always managed to forget that he could Kelt, too, ever since he Turned. As a result, he found a way to pop in at the most awkward times.
Get out of my head, butt wipe, I Kelted back.
Down on the bleacher in front of me, he shook his head. Hey, don’t lose it on me. Tell your girlfriend there to squeeze out a little rain. I’m not wearin’ anythin’ under this gown, and my cheeks are sweatin’ so hard it looks like I peed my pants.
I burst out laughing. Savannah Snow glared at me.
Shut up, both of you. They’re starting. We may actually get home before midnight.
The head of the school board had begun to read the names. “Emily Asher.”
Mrs. Asher led a round of hysterical applause, mostly featuring every Asher within ninety miles of Gatlin. A few Snows chimed in for good measure, but considering it was the Ashers, there were about as many folks not clapping.
Emily marched up to the podium to the tune of “Pomp and Circumstance.” Her shoes were like two skyscrapers strapped to her feet. Even her hair was taller than I’d ever seen it, as if she’d been electrocuted. Black eye goop was sweating down her face, drowning raccoon-style. She had definitely pulled out all the stops.
It was hard to look at her, even from back here in the W’s.
No sooner had Emily taken her diploma and smiled for the camera—Ozzy Phelps, from Gatlin’s only paper, The Stars and Stripes, moonlighted as the school photographer—when the diploma turned into a snake.
Hissing and rattling, it wrapped itself around her wrist like a fancy pharaoh’s bracelet.
Emily screamed, and then the crowd screamed—because the basket of diplomas next to the podium had become a crawling, slithering, writhing bundle of snakes.
Rattlers, from the look of it. A whole mess of them.
Then the usual stuff happened. Lots of screaming. Lots of chaos. Everyone running, except Miss Spider’s ensemble, who started playing “My Heart Will Go On” in all the confusion.
Within minutes, graduation was a wrap. Everyone had cleared the field.
Everyone, that is, except Lena’s family, who sat in a row looking like the only people at a funeral. The sea of empty chairs surrounding them made you wonder if the crowd wasn’t looking for any excuse to clear out of there.
My dad went to find Mrs. English in the parking lot, and I was actually relieved. I didn’t want to have to explain this new situation to him. I’d spent the last few years explaining plenty of stuff already.
When Lena and I climbed down from the bleachers, we made a beeline for the one person who had it coming.
Also the one person who couldn’t have cared less.
“Ridley, I swear!” Aunt Del had beaten Lena to the punch, which was what she looked like she wanted to do to her daughter—Lena’s infamous Siren cousin, and my best friend’s on-again-off-again girlfriend. A good bad girl, or a bad good girl, depending on the day.
Del was already mid-scold by the time we walked over. And Ridley wasn’t having any of it. “Oh please. I love it how one little thing goes wrong around here and everyone assumes I’m to blame.” Ridley twirled a bright red lollipop between her equally red manicured fingers.
Reece rolled her eyes.
Ryan couldn’t stop laughing. “Did you see their faces?”
Ridley sat, legs crossed, looking like she’d stepped out of some kind of movie where the bad girl really didn’t have a heart of gold after all. Not even tin. There was probably a big, gaping hole between her lungs.
“What? She deserved it, that little snake.” Ridley’s red-lipsticked lips curved into a smile. “Takes one to know one. I barely had to do a thing. Those snakes wanted to be there. For her.” She whistled. “Talk about venom. That girl was positively lethal.”
Link put his arm around Ridley, pulling her up out her seat. “That’s my girl.”
“Wesley Lincoln!” He looked up to see his mother frantically waving from the edge of the field.
“Gotta go,” he said with a sigh, kissing Ridley on the cheek. “You know how my mom feels when I’m in league with the devil.” Mrs. Lincoln had tangled with my family and Lena’s, and now she mostly stayed away. Which was probably why she’d stopped at the edge of the field instead of marching over here to hiss at us directly.
“And I wore my best horns today,” Ridley said, twisting her long blond hair around her finger. For a moment, I could’ve sworn the pink stripe in her hair was actually red.***
It would have been Tunnel of Fudge, if Amma was still here. That’s what I was thinking as I lay in bed, sweating and staring up at my old blue ceiling. The cake at my graduation dinner. It should’ve been Tunnel of Fudge.
Instead, it had been three pieces of my Aunt Caroline’s chocolate pecan pie, and while it was good, it wasn’t Amma-good. I had to eat all three pieces, or my dad and Aunt Caroline would’ve known what I was thinking—that things were changing in Gatlin, and they changed more every day.
It was time to go. I never expected it to feel so strange when that time actually came.
When I was little, my parents didn’t ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up. They asked me where I wanted to go. I said away. Then they bought me a map.
It was a natural reaction to life in Gatlin, South Carolina, I guess. Our small town was far enough from Charleston—or any civilization, for that matter—to feel like its own planet. And like any good astronaut, from the moment I could read well enough to study that map, I spent every waking moment planning exactly how I would get to use it. I had a box crammed with college brochures under my bed, and I always said I’d go anywhere, as long as it was at least a thousand miles from Gatlin.
Instead of a box of college brochures under his bed, Link had his plans plastered all over the garage walls, where his latest band, Meatstik, practiced. The bands Link worshipped, like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and the Rolling Stones, had already proven that all you needed to get out of any small town were big dreams and a band. Link had both. He also had Ridley, and a destination—New York City.
Thanks to Lena, I had spent enough time studying in the last two years to earn a scholarship somewhere I actually wanted to go.
Okay…somewhere not all that far from where she wanted to go.
What can I say? I’m a guy who loves his girl.
I’d go anywhere for Lena Duchannes, whose name rhymes with rain—whose birthmark looks like a Caster moon, whose hair curls when she uses her powers, whose green and gold eyes shine brighter than the sun.
She is the other half of me.
In the last two years, I’d figured something out—something I never would’ve believed before I met a Caster girl and fell in love; before I died fighting for our lives against Lena’s Dark Caster mother, Sarafine; and before I died the second time to save the world and the people I loved, and then fought my way back to them.
Happy endings don’t come cheap.
It isn’t enough to know you’ve found your soul mate, if you believe in that kind of thing. I do, because I have one.
You have to make it happen. You have to will the whole world to bend around you and the person you love. You have to kick fate in the teeth and poke fortune’s eyes out. You have to fight and claw and scrap your way to her side. You can’t let anyone or anything or any reason—supernatural or otherwise—stand in your way.
Your future together?
To get there, it means refusing all the other crap the universe hands you. It means telling the Wheel of Fate to suck it and roll over someone else. It means not settling for any of the other endings you see coming.
It means holding out.
If Amma were here, she would’ve said it was all in the cards. But that was true only if Amma was the one reading them. She taught us that.
The rest of us had to make our own destiny.
Lena and I knew that better than anyone. Ridley and Link, they still had to learn it the hard way.
I guess that’s sort of where this whole story begins.