Jul 22 2014 11:00am
Mortal Danger: Exclusive Excerpt
Revenge is a dish best served cold.
In Ann Aguirre's Mortal Danger, Edie Kramer has a score to settle with the beautiful people at Blackbriar Academy. Their cruelty drove her to the brink of despair, and four months ago, she couldn’t imagine being strong enough to face her senior year. But thanks to a Faustian compact with the enigmatic Kian, she has the power to make the bullies pay. She’s not supposed to think about Kian once the deal is done, but devastating pain burns behind his unearthly beauty, and he’s impossible to forget.
In one short summer, her entire life changes and she sweeps through Blackbriar, prepped to take the beautiful people down from the inside. A whisper here, a look there, and suddenly . . . bad things are happening. It’s a head rush, seeing her tormentors get what they deserve, but things that seem too good to be true usually are, and soon, the pranks and payback turns from delicious to deadly. Edie is alone in a world teeming with secrets and fiends lurking in the shadows. In this murky morass of devil’s bargains, she isn’t sure who—or what—she can trust. Not even her own mind.
Get a sneak peek of Ann Aguirre's Mortal Danger (available August 5, 2014) with an exclusive excerpt of a selected scene.
I didn’t expect Kian to be waiting for me when I left school and he wasn’t. Russ offered me a ride home, but I shook my head. “I don’t mind the T. Thanks anyway.”
“Where’s your boyfriend today?” he asked.
“He has class. See you.”
With a wave, I headed for the station, caught the train, and hopped off at Kenmore to grab takeout from India Quality for dinner. The platform was a mess, including the usual spectacle: a couple arguing; a mass of Sox fans jostling while heckling a guy who had on the wrong hat; and a mother scolding her toddler. Through the crowd I glimpsed a tall, gaunt man with pallid, oddly blurred features and thinning hair that clung to his pink scalp in damp stripes. He froze when he spotted me, and at first I thought it must be someone behind me. I half turned, glancing over my shoulder, but there was nobody.
I had to pass him to reach the street, so I fixed my eyes on the ground, shoulders down, out of reflex; that was what I’d always done when someone singled me out for unwanted attention. Somehow, even though I put plenty of space between us, he was right in front of me, blocking my path.
“The dead walk. You’re one of them. There’s a hole, a hole in the world, and things crawl through. They crawl.” His breath was a blast of graveyard rot, his teeth hanging like yellow and black husks beneath dry, chapped lips.
His eyes rolled in his head, going completely white, and he fumbled for my wrist. I jerked back, almost running into a man in a suit coming up behind me.
“What the hell’s wrong with you?” the businessman demanded. I frowned at him and pointed . . . but the spot the creepy dude had occupied was vacant now. Spinning, I searched the whole area and saw no sign of him; his stink lingered, though, proving I wasn’t insane.
“Nothing,” I said finally.
“Don’t forget your meds next time, sweetheart.” The asshole brushed by me and I followed, a cold chill creeping down my spine. It was marginally better in the heat and humidity of a sunny afternoon. Kian told you not to trust anyone but him. And he said you could bein danger. Creepy disappearing guy made my flesh crawl. I quickened my step toward the brownstone and tried to pretend my skin wasn’t still prickling with the sense that something was very wrong. Sometimes, when I was little, I’d wake up in the middle of the night, sure someone was watching me, but I was never a baby in the sense that I ran to my parents, crying, and begged to sleep in their bed.
No, even at six, I had been methodical, not prone to a wild imagination. I used to swallow the fear that something would grab my ankles just as soon as I put my feet on the floor. The first step was always a bound and then I ran to the light switch to flood the room with brightness, banishing all the shadows. I’d open all my drawers, peer under my bed, check my closet and silently reassure myself there was nothing to fear. Some nights, I just left the lights on and shut them off before I went to school. But no amount of checking the area today banished this feeling. I saw no one paying me any particular attention; it was all apartment buildings and renovated properties.
Not even a single window curtain flickered as I went past. I rubbed my fingertips up my arm, conscious of actual goose bumps.
Yet I knew someone was watching me.
Eager to get home, I mentally apologized to my parents for failing to retrieve dinner and broke into a run. As soon as I stepped in, I felt immediately safer, though I was sure that was psychological. Both my parents were there.
“No takeout?” my dad asked.
“Sorry, I forgot.”
With a faint sigh mumble of “teenagers,” my dad started cooking. My mom didn’t, unless you counted oatmeal. She was pretty ferocious on the subject of gender roles, so she’d bought a bunch of DIY repair books, and she handled all minor maintenance, like broken light sockets or leaky faucets. Since my dad had zero interest in being a handyman, he was happier doing the cooking and cleaning anyway.
“So what’re you making??” I asked.
He sounded grumpy. “Stuffed artichokes. How was school?”
“I learned a lot.” That was pretty much my pat answer every day.
Unsurprisingly, my mother asked, “Such as?”
I was prepared for the inquisition to take this turn, however, and I summarized what we covered in physics and Japanese. My mother had less interest in World History and AP Lit, though she did lecture me on the importance of writing meaningful papers. “It’s good practice for your college applications. How are you coming with those? You need to have your essay shipshape by early October.”
“I know. I’ll work on it.”
“Dinner’s in an hour,” my dad cut in.
From his conspiratorial nod, he knew he was saving me from my mother’s zealous approach to college prep. I acknowledged his intervention with a smile. “Okay. I’ll get started on my homework. Call me when it’s done.”
In my room, I remembered how the creepy guy on the platform had tried to grab my wrist, the one that now bore the infinity mark. I’d kept it hidden from my parents beneath long sleeves, but I needed to invest in some leather wrist cuffs, because eventually Mom and Dad would ask why I never wore T-shirts anymore, even to lounge around the house.
Forcing that worry aside, I powered up my laptop and turned on my phone for the first time all day. There were three texts from Kian and none of them made much sense.
There’s something you need to know.
Did he hurt you?
I guessed he was referring to the spooky guy in the subway, and I’d give a lot to discover how he knew. I read on.
Whatever you do, don’t let him touch you.
Cold crept over me, prickling my skin into goose bumps. More anxious than ever, I texted back, I’m fine. What’s going on?
I had messages from Vi and Ryu, but they were reassuringly ordinary, just chatty and full of tidbits about their daily lives. It sucked that I couldn’t tell the truth about myself, but how would I begin to explain? I responded to those while waiting for Kian to answer. When he didn’t, I tried not to worry. Pretending everything was normal, I opened my lit book and actually jumped when my dad thumped on the door to let me know dinner was ready.
Thankfully, my mom and dad carried the conversation, discussing some project that needed grant funding. I contributed little, conscious that my phone still hadn’t pinged or vibrated. I didn’t want to worry about Kian, considering how little I trusted him, but he was also my only ally in this mess.
“You look pensive,” my dad said.
“Just thinking about college options.” Probably I shouldn’t have used that excuse, but it was the first thing I thought of after he startled me.
“There a lot of great possibilities here in Boston,” my mom put in. “And you could live at home until you graduate, save up for your own place.”
“We can get you free tuition if you go to—”
“I know, Dad. You’ve made it clear that you’d love for me to go to BU.”
“It’s an option. Think about it.”
I finished my artichoke and escaped before he told me how lucky
I was to have such a bright future ahead. That night I finished all of my homework and got ready for bed, but I never heard from Kian. With a faint sigh, I carried my phone to the window and looked out over the dark street. Lights streaked the pavement, leaving patches of darkness that seemed almost sentient. The longer I stared, the more they swelled and seethed with movement until I slammed the curtains shut with trembling hands. Fear had a hold on me when I fell asleep and the next morning, its icy fingers were still wrapped around my throat.
Copyright © 2014 by Ann Aguirre.
Learn more about or order a copy of Mortal Danger by Ann Aguirre, available August 5, 2014:
Ann Aguirre is the author of the New York Times– and USA Today–bestselling Razorland Trilogy (Enclave, Outpost, and Horde). She lives in Mexico with her family.