Briar Queen (Excerpt)

Serafina Sullivan and her father left San Francisco to escape the painful memory of her older sister Lily Rose’s suicide. But soon after she arrived in bohemian Fair Hollow, New York, Finn discovered a terrifying secret connected to Lily Rose. The placid surface of this picture-perfect town concealed an eerie supernatural world—and at its center, the wealthy, beautiful, and terrifying Fata family.

After the events of Thorn Jack, the rhythm of life in Fair Hollow is beginning to feel a little closer to ordinary. But Finn knows better than to be lulled by this comfortable sense of normalcy. It’s just the calm before the storm. For soon, a chance encounter outside the magical Brambleberry Books will lead her down a rabbit hole, into a fairy world of secrets and legacies… straight towards the shocking truth about her sister’s death.

Night and Nothing, Katherine Harbour’s dark, moody, and mystical fantasy series, continues with Briar Queen—available June 2015 from HarperVoyager. Tor.com is pleased to reveal the cover design, plus an excerpt below!

 

 

Prologue

Jack Hawthorn had begun to dread sleep. He dreamed now, and most of those dreams were nightmares. He wasn’t used to fear: the drumming of his heart, the quickening of breath, the blood coursing through him.

In his apartment above the abandoned theater, sprawled on his bed beneath a film poster of Rudolph Valentino as the sheik, he traced his gaze across the ceiling’s metal girders, down to the objects he’d collected over many, many years. Moonlight silvered the eyes of a taxidermy owl, a brass teakettle, an apple-green iPod, things he’d taken to prove that he was a part of the true world and not a phantom.

Now, he was a part of the true world, thanks to an annoyingly reckless girl with caramel-colored eyes.

He rolled off the bed. He dressed quickly and headed for the window. Shoving it open, he climbed onto the fire escape swirling with snow and dropped down into the parking lot.

In the Summerwoods now barren with winter’s descent, Jack passed the ruins of a chapel built by an English explorer named Drake and moved into a grove of birches, their paper-white bark blending with the snow to create an illusion of endlessness. Snowflakes dusted the dark brown hair falling around his face as he ventured farther into the woods.

At last, he crouched down beneath a rowan tree scored with five unsettling marks, to examine the frost-glimmering leaves. Because he was no longer a thing of the dark, he didn’t see the murdered boy crouched nearby, hyacinth flowers drifting from a cavity in his chest. The boy, whose body should have been rotting beneath the sparkling leaves, said, “Jack.

Jack didn’t hear. He picked a few things from the ground and stared at them, closed his fingers around them and bowed his head.

The dead boy once been named Nathan Clare didn’t speak again. He’d seen the locket Jack had lifted from the leaves, the human tooth.

Jack rose and walked away.

Nathan Clare huddled in the snow, one hand curled against the hole in his chest. He couldn’t tell Jack about the bloody horror of his death or warn him about what hid in the forest. Nathan would have to wait for her… the girl who had once tried to save him.

 

Chapter One

Inanna was a goddess of light. Ereshkigal, her sister, was a goddess of darkness. Inanna missed her sister and went to the underworld to visit her. When she entered that place, at each gate she passed, she had to remove an article of clothing or jewelry. Soon, she had nothing left to protect her. When Inanna reached the underworld and moved toward her sister, the creatures of the underworld thought she was trying to take Ereshkigal back to the true world. They captured Inanna and made her one of the dead. But Ereshkigal helped her sister return to the light, and so remained in the dark forever.

—A Mesopotamian myth

 

He has teeth, and claws, and eyes that bite.

The voice of her sister, Lily Rose, was clear in Finn’s head as Finn sat in a chair beneath the young oak that had once been a malevolent thing, its winter-bared branches now glowing with tiny stars that caused the snow around her to shimmer. She didn’t know why she was here, but she felt she’d done some terrible thing.

Footprints suddenly appeared in the snow—something invisible was walking toward her. She whispered, “Go away… go away…”

Someone spoke her name. She reluctantly lifted her gaze.

A shadow in a scarlet gown stood before her, its dark hair writhing, veins glowing red beneath its charred, blackened skin. The air crackled.

“Reiko,” Finn whispered. “I’m sorry.”

The girl queen’s venom-green eyes opened in her burning face. “Little mayfly. The Wolf is at the door.”

 

Something was knocking to get in.

Finn opened her eyes and heaved a breath. Cold crept beneath her bedcovers. Winter frosted the walls of her room, the floor, the mirror. One of the glass doors to the terrace had fallen open and was banging back and forth in a wood-smoke-scented wind.

She got up and shut the door. The bolt had come loose, so she secured it with a chair beneath the handle and stepped back, considering the whiteness drifting past the glass. It was the first snowfall she’d seen in a long time, and it was beautiful and menacing. As she listened to the heat rattling through the old radiators, she remembered a burning queen and what inhabited a certain abandoned hotel. She shivered. She looked around the tower room she’d made hers, with its cluttered bookshelves, her mom’s watercolors, antique furniture she’d scavenged from other rooms in the house. No books flew across the room. Nothing shattered. She still wasn’t sure if the occasional poltergeist in the house actually was her sister who had killed herself a year ago. “Lily?”

There was no answer.

 

“Does he have to be there every morning?”

“Yes, Da, he does.” Finn had dressed quickly and applied a little of the dessert-themed makeup she’d taken a liking to, the chocolate eye shadow and strawberry-cupcake lip gloss. “He walks me to classes. He’s a gentleman.”

Her father looked annoyed. When they’d moved here a few months ago, they’d only had each other. Those few months in Fair Hollow had changed everything. Finn ventured, “So… are you going out with Miss Emory tonight?”

“It’s not odd for you, is it? Me and Jane?”

“Well, she’s my botany professor.” Jane Emory was also part of a secret society who knew about Fair Hollow’s supernatural residents, the Fatas—Finn hadn’t told her father about the Fatas. She could never tell him about the Fatas.

Her father, who hadn’t shaved or even combed his blond hair, glanced out window again. He was always disorganized on Monday mornings. She’d set his thermos of coffee, his laptop, and his coat and car keys near the door.

“I’ve put all your stuff there.” She shoved her unruly brown hair into a wool hat and, grabbing her scarf, nearly knocked down a random pile of books on the counter. That even the kitchen was cluttered with books was a testament to her and her father’s reluctance to let go of anything they’d read and loved. “See you.”

“You need to carry all those textbooks?”

“Ironic, that you should ask—don’t we have shelves for these?” She poked at the pile of paperbacks on the counter. “I’ve got a lot to catch up on.” She was, in fact, dangerously close to sending her approaching exams into a tailspin.

“Tell him—

“His name’s Jack.”

“Tell Jack he’s welcome to spend Christmas with us.” Her da grimaced as if it hurt to say it. “If he’d like.”

“Da… I’m so proud of you right now.”

“Get out.”

She grinned and stepped outside. The sunlight was already turning the snow to slush, but it was still sharply cold and her breath misted as it left her. She liked the cold. It cleared her head.

Jack Hawthorn stood at the bottom of the steps, waiting. In the day, he was a sight—dark hair falling around a regal, sharply boned face that belonged to another era. There always seemed to be a secret in his eyes. His anorak was lined with fake fur. He wore jeans and work boots. The tiny ruby glittering on one side of his aquiline nose had become a symbol of the blood that now ran through him where, before, his insides had been an alchemy of rose petals and Fata magic. She looked him over, skeptically. “You’re not going to pass for ordinary, no matter how much you try.”

“I’m used to attention.” He smiled and crooked his arm. She slid hers through. As they began walking, her breath hitched.

His shadow was missing.

When they emerged from the darkness cast by a maple tree, his shadow had returned—maybe it had only been a trick of the light?

He caught one of her hands, drew off the glove, and kissed her cold fingers. His lips were warmand she felt as if a thread of electricity went straight from her fingers to her midriff. She didn’t like displaying affection in front of other people, but, with him, she didn’t mind. So she circled her arms around his neck while he held her as if afraid he might break her and kissed her with fierce caution. She always experienced a luscious peril when they kissed, as if she was practicing magic.

“We’ve got to get you to class.” His voice was hoarse.

Reluctantly, she stepped back from him and pressed one hand over his heart. “Did it hurt?”

“Did what hurt? And if you say ‘When you fell from heaven?’ I’m going to be very disappointed in you.”

“When your heart grew back?”

“Life was less complicated without it. But it wasn’t really life.”

“You look as if you haven’t been getting a lot of sleep.” She glanced at him as they began walking again. “You’ve been trying to find Nathan.”

“One of Reiko’s allies still hasn’t been accounted for.”

“You mean Caliban.” She hated speaking the name of the killer whose true soul was that of a white hyena, his mortal mask, an angelic-looking psycho. He had served Reiko Fata, the queen of a people who only mimicked being human. “So is every Fata in America an outcast or a criminal?”

“Not all. The native Fatas are lawful, but keep to themselves.”

“What about Reiko’s court? Are they all outcasts? And Phouka?” She thought of the punk-elegant girl now in charge of the Fatas.

“Renegades, outlaws, outcasts, all.” Jack tucked a sheaf of hair behind one ear. “And Phouka is still a mystery to me.”

“And Absalom Askew?”

“And him.”

She knew Jack walked in the woods at night to meet with his friends. He still had his apartment above the abandoned cinema. He continued to work for Murray, the collector of antique automata and electronic games. Jack, stolen by the Fatas in the 1800s, had lived for nearly two hundred years among the ones who called themselves the children of night and nothing. They had tried to sacrifice him, and failed, and turned him into a Frankenstein creature, heartless and bloodless. He was flesh and blood now, as he’d wanted to be for two hundred years.

She didn’t tell him about her dream of Reiko Fata, his burning queen of shadows.

 

Jack’s presence, as usual, caused friction between Finn and her two best friends. As the four of them met on the grounds of HallowHeart College, in Origen Hall’s snowy courtyard, Christie, his cheeks flushed and his dark red hair sticking out from beneath a woolen hat patterned with Celtic symbols, avoided looking at Jack. Sylvie watched Jack as if he were a lovely beast that might pounce. She toed the frosty leaves, twitched at her dark braids, and narrowed her eyes.

Christie spoke as if Jack wasn’t standing right there. “I thought HallowHeart’s core curriculum was to keep his kind away. He’s going to classes now?”

“Not yet.” Jack smiled.

Christie finally looked at him. “You nearly got Finn killed. And Sylvie. And me.”

“But you’re not dead, are you? Because, if you were, you’d notice.”

“I still have nightmares about those doll-things with all the teeth. So does Sylvie. Right, Sylv?”

“Well, not real—”

“Phouka saved you from the Grindylow.” Jack spoke patiently. “How is Phouka, by the way?”

“I wouldn’t know. You would.” Christie hunched up and returned to ignoring him.

“I don’t think I know her as well as you do.” Jack smiled again, and Finn wanted to pull his hair.

“Why is he still talking to me?” Christie pointedly addressed Sylvie, who slid to her feet and flashed a grin at Jack, who smiled back—this time, not like the devil. Sylvie said, “Walk with me, Jack?”

“It would be a pleasure, Sylvie Whitethorn.”

As Jack strolled onward with her, the two of them chatting like old friends, Finn turned on Christie. “Why are you being such a—”

“He’s antagonizing me.”

“He’s not. You’re acting like a child.”

“Compared to him, I am a child. So are you.”

“Christie, stop.”

He bowed his head. He said, “What about Nathan Clare? And Angyll Weaver? And that psycho Caliban is still on the loose. People died because of Jack, Finn.”

Finn’s throat tightened when she thought of Nathan Clare, the boy Reiko Fata had tricked into a life meant for sacrifice. He’d been missing since Halloween night. His adoptive family—now led by Reiko’s former lieutenant, Phouka—had spun it so that, to the general public, Reiko and Nathan had moved to Europe. “We don’t know about Nathan.”

“We do know, Finn. And the only thing that’s different about Jack now is that he doesn’t smell like a night forest full of roses anymore.”

She stared at him. He said, “What?”

“Nothing. You’re just very odd.”

I’m odd? Have you taken a look at your boyfriend lately?”

“Shall I sigh dreamily and say ‘Every chance I can get’?”

“I’m sad for you, Finn. I really am.”

 

Jack Hawthorn created a ripple effect in the corridors of Armitrage Hall. Walking beside him, Finn tried to ignore the stares of the other students. The rumor was he’d left his rich family to romantically survive on his own, even changing his name… all for Finn. There were a few who knew the truth, the privileged pretty boys and girls known as the blessed.

One of the blessed stepped into their path—Aubrey Drake held up a hand and smiled charmingly. His black hair was clubbed back, and his brown skin glowed as if he’d just returned from a tropical vacation. “Peace, Finn. Jack, I need to talk to you. There are some things happening.”

“I don’t recall”—Jack spoke in that idle tone that meant he was politely avoiding savagery—“needing your advice about anything.”

Aubrey looked at Finn and lowered his voice. “You wasted one of their queens, and a knight. That’s like… I mean, do you know what you’ve done?”

Two ancient beings had walked into a supernatural fire meant for her. Finn still had bad dreams about it.

“Reiko might have been an outlaw, but she had allies.” Aubrey frowned at Jack. “You really didn’t expect… I don’t know—retribution?”

“What I didn’t expect”—Jack’s smile was a razor glint—“was you and your friends to be attending the sacrifice of an innocent girl.”

Aubrey’s expression became desperate. “We didn’t know there was going to be an actual goddamn sacrifice. And we walked away.”

“Instead of helping.”

“Jack, what could we have done?”

Jack stepped close to the six-foot-tall football player and whispered with a terrible, leashed anger, “You left her to burn to death.”

Finn didn’t like the ugly turn this conversation had taken. “Jack.”

Jack’s eyes seemed to silver. He lowered his lashes and looked at Aubrey. “Good-bye, Aubrey.”

Aubrey turned and trudged away as Sophia Avaline walked past. Lovely as a fashion model in high heels and a sleek dress, the history professor glanced at them but didn’t say anything. Like Jane Emory, she was part of the cabal who knew about the Fatas. Unlike Jane Emory, Sophia Avaline had been there on Halloween night when Finn had nearly burned.

Finn frowned at Jack. “What is Aubrey talking about?”

He pushed his hands through his hair, and the bronze ring she’d once bound him with, two lions clasping a heart, glinted on one finger. “Someone—a Fata—will try for Reiko’s place. It has nothing to do with you. With us.”

“Jack, that has everything to do with us.”

He whispered, “Not here. We’ll talk later.”

The Wolf at the door,Finn thought, remembering Reiko’s words in her dream. “Okay. Later.

“I’ll pick you and Anna up. She wants to see Swan Lake for her birthday.” He flashed a smile and she almost believed everything was going to be all right, that the world would remain normal.

 

“‘The Erl King’ by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.” Professor Fairchild, as rumpled and charming as ever, stood at his desk. His British accent tended to make his words seem more interesting than they sometimes actually were. Gothic Literature was the official name of the course, not—as Christie called it—Defense Against Dark Faeries 101, although three of the poems they’d read in the past few weeks had been about malign spirits: Keats’s “La Belle Dame Sans Merci,” Robert Browning’s “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,” and Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market.” It did seem as if Fairchild was trying to teach them something about defense against the Fatas.

Christie, who had recently taken up the course, was seated beside Finn, scrawling in the margins of his own copy of Romantic Poets of the Victorian Age. Finn looked down at the passage she’d read three times now, from “The Erl King.”

 

“Father, my father, are you listening

To what the Erl King is promising?”

“Child, calm yourself, be calm, please.

It’s just the wind rustling in the leaves.”

 

Surrounded by invisible threads of electricity, by sunlight, and whispered conversations, Finn felt the hair rise on the nape of her neck. Why didn’t parents ever believe kids who claimed there was a monster under the bed or in the closet? Just because they couldn’t see the monsters? In her experience, the monsters never showed themselves to anyone who had outgrown adolescence and its aftermath.

She looked up at Professor Fairchild, who had attended the Halloween ceremony that had nearly resulted in her death.

“The Erl King,” Fairchild continued, “is an elemental, a thing of nature with unnatural intelligence. Why does he want the child?”

“Because,” Finn spoke quietly, “he’s a predator. And predators hunt the weak.”

Fairchild blinked as if she’d pulled him out of a dream. He said, carefully, “The Erl King is one of the characters in poems of that time who symbolized primordial destruction.”

“But that would mean mindless destruction.” Finn realized they were talking about something else, something dark and secret. “And predators aren’t mindless.”

“Good answer, Finn, good answer.” Christie applauded.

“Mr. Hart”—Professor Fairchild actually sounded stern—“this is not a game show.”

“You’re right, Professor. But I’d rather watch game shows, than, say, human sacrifices.”

Fairchild said, “Mr. Hart, stop wandering off topic. Now, interestingly enough”—he began to saunter around his own desk—“Mr. Hart’s ancestor, Augusta Danegeld, was an accomplished poet whose works could be considered Gothic poetry.”

Christie muttered, “Leave my ancestors out of this.”

Finn gazed down at the poem again. “Lovely, lovely child, come with me, such wondrous things you will see.

 

Finn had forgotten the story of Swan Lake, of the wicked swan and the pure one, and the evil sorcerer who ruled both. The costumes were phantasmal, the swans in tatters of gossamer, feathers, and primitive half masks, the sorcerer a feral figure in black fur and plumes, a cross between an Aztec priest and a glamorous werewolf. When the curtains parted and the orchestra’s music soared, Finn sat, enchanted, and didn’t say a word. She’d been afraid the ballet might resurrect her grief for her ballerina sister, but she became lost in the gorgeous story and the music. Jack, who was from the Victorian era, when such productions were a luxury meant only for the wealthy, was reverentially quiet.

Anna Weaver, now fifteen—who still became silent and lost whenever her own murdered sister was mentioned—never took her attention from the stage.

Afterward, outside the Marlowe Theater, Anna asked if they could visit her sister. Finn looked frantically at Jack, who said gently, “Of course.”

“Annie!” Someone moved from the theater crowds. Finn recognized Kevin Gilchriste, Fair Hollow’s local celebrity, who had starred in a movie about wolves and winter and a girl in red. With his spiky brown hair and model cheekbones, he looked like he belonged in an Abercrombie ad.

“Kevin.” Anna smiled shyly. “Did you like Swan Lake?”

“I did. I came with…” He glanced over his shoulder. “Well, she’s still in there. Anyway, happy birthday. Hey, Finn, right? And Jack?”

“Hey.” Finn watched warily as Kevin held out a hand to Jack. Jack gripped it and said, “I liked your movie.”

“Thanks.” Kevin stepped back, nodded to Anna. “I’ll see you at the shop, Annie.”

As he vanished into the crowd, Anna gazed longingly after him, and Finn thought, Is that how I look at Jack? Like a little kid? She turned her head to see Jack watching her with some amusement and said, rebellious, “Should we really be visiting a cemetery, knowing what we know about your family?”

“Phouka’s regime is a lot less deathcentric—is that a word, ‘deathcentric’? We’ll be fine.”

They drove to Soldiers’ Gate. Although the sun had set, the gates were still open, revealing a Gothic and haphazard landscape of tombstones and mausoleums beneath snow and tree branches still crystallized in melting ice.

Anna led them to a simple granite headstone piled with bouquets of flowers, angel figurines, and trinkets. She bowed her head, her sun-gold hair gleaming. Finn glanced at the headstone carved with the name Angyll Weaver. Anna whispered, “I miss her.”

“I miss my sister too.”

“The girl who was named after flowers.” Anna turned to Jack and frowned. “You’re human now. They’ll use that against you.”

“I know.”

“Who’ll use it against you?” Finn’s heart jumped. “Jack?”

Anna answered in her usual cryptic fashion, “I see their shadows in my dreams; even when I’m dreaming about stupid things like my mom’s meatloaf, or gym class, I can see the shadows, running—”

A cell phone buzzed in Anna’s coat. As she took the phone out and frowned at a text, Finn crouched down near Angyll’s marker and righted a vase of chrysanthemums that had tipped over. “What shadows, Anna?”

“I don’t know.”

There you are,” came a voice from behind.

They whirled around.

Moving through the tombstones, the lamplight silvering his citrus-bright hair, Absalom Askew was a vivid figure in a jacket of red fur and jeans with embroidered Chinese dragons snaking up the sides.

“Absalom.” Jack wryly greeted his friend. “Imagine meeting you here. In a graveyard.”

“Jack. Finn.” Absalom Askew’s red Converses didn’t make a sound on the crunchy snow and leaves. “Nice to see you out and about.”

Finn carefully asked why he was there.

“I’ll show you. Come, my children.” Unusually solemn, Absalom led them to a tombstone engraved with a winged girl reading a book. Beneath this image were the words: Here lies someone’s child, one who was sweet and mild, one who, in our eyes, will, above all of us, rise. The name Mary Booke was scripted into the marble.

Mary Booke had been Nathan Clare’s true love, a human girl stolen by the Fatas, raised among them, and murdered by Caliban. As Jack sank to a crouch before the stone, his face solemn, Finn said, “Who had this made?”

“We did.” Absalom looked at her. “No one in your world knew who she was.”

Finn touched the tombstone as Jack spoke softly—that, Finn knew, was when he was at his most dangerous. “We were all just pawns to you, weren’t we? To get rid of Reiko.”

“You weren’t my pawns.”

“Were we Phouka’s?”

“Did you know it was Anna’s birthday?” Absalom, with that unsettling way he had of abruptly changing topics, turned to face Anna. He was, suddenly, holding a long gift box wrapped in pink satin ribbons, with a little porcelain doll’s head in the center. Anna looked delighted.

Jack, rising, told Anna, “Don’t accept tha—”

“Thank you, Absalom.”

“Open it.” Absalom glanced slyly at Jack as Anna unwrapped the package and lifted out . . . an umbrella. The handle and tip were made from wood painted white, and, when she snapped the umbrella open, an extraordinary painting from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was revealed.

“How lovely,” she whispered, eyes wide as she turned it.

“An umbrella?” Finn arched an eyebrow at Absalom.

“Now, it’s just a regular umbrella—don’t go trying to do a Mary Poppins off a roof or anything,” Absalom said to Anna. Then he turned to address Jack, and shadows seemed to fall across his face. “We think the Wolf is here. Phouka believes he’s been here since All Hallows’ Eve.”

Frost-glazed leaves skittered across the tombstones and snow as silence followed Absalom’s words. Anna snapped shut the umbrella, looked from Jack, to Finn, and said, “The shadows in my dreams are wolves.”

“See?” Absalom regarded Jack, who remained grimly mute. “Talk to you later, Jack. I’ve got to be on my way.”

“Wait.” Finn stepped forward, but Absalom had already disappeared between one tree and the next. Finn turned on Jack. “What is the Wolf?

He raised his eyes to hers and said, low, “Not in front of Anna.”

“I’m not a kid.” Anna’s voice was calm. “And I’m not slow, like people think.”

“No, of course you’re not. But the Wolf is not a bedtime story for little girls.”

“I’m not a little—”

“We’re taking you home, Annie.”

 

Anna lived on Main Street, in a two-story apartment above Hecate’s Attic, the shop her parents owned. Since the shop was just across from the park, Finn and Jack left the car and walked Anna home, then went for a stroll. As they wandered down the park path, Jack said, “Do you remember the Fata I told you about? The one I first worked for in Ireland? I thought Reiko was his wife?”

Finn tugged up the hood of her red wool coat. “He was a very bad man.”

Jack gently corrected, “He was never a man.”

Finn knew he was about to tell her about the Wolf and braced herself. “Go on.”

“His name was Seth Lot. In 1800s Dublin, he was Reiko’s lover, the one, I think, who made her what she was, cruel and reckless.”

“What you’re saying is—he’s evil.”

“There are levels of evil. I saw the worst kind in Seth Lot’s house.”

The winter night became threatening. Finn began to wish she was home.

“His house was like some of the abandoned mansions here in Fair Hollow, but it’s older than any human residence. It was called Sombrus. And it could move, appear and disappear in and out of the world. Once, he and Reiko argued and she pinned his house in place. It took him and his pack a week to find the wand of sacred wood she’d staked into the roots of a tree in the courtyard, to hold the house down. For a while, he was stuck where he could do no harm.” Jack looked down at his hands. “Then he and Reiko made up. They surrounded themselves with pretty young things, unfortunates who would eventually disappear. Reiko would never tell me what happened to them.”

Finn could guess.

They were approaching the other end of the park, where a quaint white chapel stood for sale on the corner. There was a fire escape along the chapel’s side, and a mass of fir trees darkened the street beyond. It was quiet here, free even of the sounds of traffic.

“Come on.” She tugged him toward the building. The moonlight glittered on the snow, and the white chapel looked charming, not creepy.

“The chapel’s closed.”

“We’re going to sit on the roof.” She reached up and grabbed the handle of the fire escape to pull down the lower half. She felt a heady rush of fear and recklessness.

“Don’t you think it’ll be a bit icy?” He watched her, amused.

“It’s all melted and the roof’s flat.” She was still trying to tug down the ladder. “Scared?”

“You’ll break your wrists, doing that.” He took hold of the bar and pulled the fire escape down with an ease that made her feel all warm inside.

They clambered onto the roof, which was damp but not icy. The view of Fair Hollow was magical. The moon was a crescent and the wind had that peculiar warmth that sometimes came during winter’s beginning—she remembered that from Vermont, when her mom would take her and Lily onto the patio during a winter warming and make dinner on the grill.

As they selected a relatively dry space near the steeple, Finn said, “What do you think happened to the young people in the Wolf’s house?”

In the moonlight, the colors of Jack’s irises—one blue, one gray—was evident. He replied, “There was a rumor that Lot had once ruled La Bestia, the court of beasts in France.”

He’d dodged her question. She didn’t know whether to be awed or terrified that there were more Fatas: a reclusive nation here in America, and a court in France—she imagined decadent creatures in powdered wigs and punk-Regency clothing; then she pictured the things of tooth and claw that might hide beneath that glamour. She remembered reading about the eighteenth-century French writer George Sand who claimed that she’d once glimpsed a gathering of werewolves in Paris. “Okay. A court of beasts.”

“The Fatas of France aren’t actually beasts. Quite sophisticated, actually, and frivolous as hell, but it’s a name that kept their enemies away.”

“You haven’t told me what happened to the boys and gir—”

“I’m getting to that.” The ring she’d given him glinted. He’d once had a black Celtic cross tattooed on the back of that hand, but all those markings had faded when he’d been resurrected. “There is a history, in a certain region of France, of an animal that ravaged the countryside and slaughtered people during the 1700s. The Beast of Gevaudan.”

No.” Finn felt a nightmare world gaping around her—she’d read about Gevaudan in her father’s books. “Itate people, Jack. That’s Seth Lot? That’s what’s here? Will he know we were responsible for Reiko—”

“He’ll blame Phouka and Absalom, and they can defend themselves.”

“Caliban.” She spat the name and all the hope drained from his eyes. She nodded. “He’ll tell that monster.”

“We have a small army at our backs.”

“Do you think Phouka and her family care? They used us to get rid of Reiko and her boyfriend.”

“Reiko was a danger to them with what she was doing.”

Finn studied the pretty view and wished she didn’t know what she did. She changed the subject. “Why do you think Absalom is giving Anna presents?”

“Typical. I tell you the Big Bad Wolf might be here and you’re thinking of someone else’s welfare. I’ve no idea. Absalom is crazy.”

“You know he’s not. He just wants people to think he’s crazy. And I don’t want to talk about your… ex-boss anymore.” She paused. “What’s it like? To live two hundred years?”

“Appalling. You get schizo after the first sixty.”

She rested her head on his shoulder as he delicately said, “Finn. What do you want to do?”

“Go home and sleep and try not to think about wolves.”

“I mean, what do you want to do with your life? After college?”

“So much pressure.” She was glad he was distracting her from thinking about what might be lurking in Fair Hollow, waiting to avenge Reiko. “I don’t know. Be a photographer? I want to see the world. And write about it. And find out things.”

He clasped one of her hands, his grip firm and warm. “Then that’s what you’ll do.”

She noticed that he said you, not we, and that troubled her.

 

Finn woke in her dark room—she’d fallen asleep in her T-shirt and jeans, with Jack beside her. He slept with one arm outstretched, moonlight etching his profile, the curve of his throat. She’d never seen him so vulnerable, even when he’d been about to die on Halloween night. She settled closer to his lean body and twined her fingers around one of his wrists.

His skin was icy.

His chest wasn’t moving. His eyelashes didn’t flutter. His breath didn’t warm her skin. She sat up, panic stealing her ability to speak.

His eyes flew open and they were absolute black.

Then his irises returned to blue and gray, and he gazed at her drowsily. “Is it morning?”

She couldn’t move, but her heart was trying to jackhammer its way out of her chest.

“No,” she whispered, and she swallowed a sour rush of fear. “It’s not morning.”

“I shouldn’t be here.” He tugged her down against him. He wasn’t cold now, as his arms went around her. She laid her head on his chest and listened to the beat of the heart he’d grown for her.

“Jack,” she whispered, “what do you want to do?”

“I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do.” His voice was blurry. “It doesn’t matter.”

“It matters to me.”

He didn’t answer—sleep had stolen him from her once again.

 

Excerpted from Briar Queen © Katherine Harbour, 2015

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