At least twenty of them raced out of the warehouse next door. No slow amble, but a sprint, their arms flailing as they reached for us. Steam curled from saggy skin, the bright rays of the sun like an oven.

I spotted collars. Someone was controlling them.

Slayers began stepping from their bodies and throwing themselves into the fray. Me? I looked around the area. I wanted to know who was responsible. Street—empty. Parked car—empty. Another parked car—empty. Two people striding along a crosswalk, each carrying a briefcase. Unaware. Parked car—two people in front...facing this direction.

My targets.

I raced toward the car, my dagger hidden by my forearm. The pair didn’t seem surprised as I neared. They didn’t pull a weapon on me, either. Instead, they dropped the remotes and sped away just before I made contact.


Less than two minutes later, the zombies fell to the ground—the control must work only from a short distance. The spirits writhed, the sun continuing to bake them like Christmas hams. Darkness never had been able to handle light.

As slayers ashed zombies and returned to their bodies, I wondered what Anima had hoped to accomplish. If they’d actually hoped for a battle, the men would have stuck around.

“Anyone hurt?” I asked.

“No.” Cole sheathed his crossbow. “The zombies were unable to focus on a specific target. They were simply flailing.”

Jaclyn and River rushed from the apartment, ten of his fighters not far behind. The group noticed the ash floating through the air and stopped abruptly.

“What happened?” River demanded.

“We won,” Cole responded.

I explained about the guys in the car, and a heavy silence descended.

“We’ve got more to think about than we realized,” Cole said to River, and the boy nodded.

* * *

At Mr. Ankh’s, Cole bounded from the car without a word to anyone. Even me. Or maybe a better way to phrase that was especially me. Still mad. Got it.

Frosty tailed him, adopting the same M.O.—still mad.

“I thought I was dating a guy, not a baby,” Kat muttered as we trudged inside the house. “Clearly, I thought wrong.”

“Frosty’s worried about you, that’s all.”

“And what’s Cole’s problem? Because, gator, that boy’s temper puts the others to shame.”

“He isn’t getting his way.” And that, right there, was the truth of the matter.


When we hit the stairs, a text came in from Nana. I slowed my pace.

Are you safe? No matter how you feel about me, I deserve an answer.

Me: I am. No worries.

Nana: Good. That’s what I like to hear. Or, see.

Me: And how I feel about U? Nana, I love U.

I remembered my vulnerability with Cole, how much assurance I’d needed from him. I figured Nana was in a similar riotous state.

Nana: Still?

I imagined her trembling.

Me: Always.

I got it now. I really did. Why she hadn’t told me. For the same reasons I’d kept Helen a secret from Cole. Fear of the unknown. How could I blame her for it?

“Ali! Kat! How cake.” Reeve leaned on the banister railing. “I thought I heard your voices. Did Bronx come back with you?”

“Yep,” Kat said, “but don’t expect to see him anytime soon. He’s with Cole and Frosty, throwing a temper tantrum.”

For a moment, Reeve was the picture of disappointment. Then she shook it off and said, “Why don’t you two come to my suite? We’ll protect each other from their negativity.”

She led the way. In the sitting room, tarp covered the couch and coffee table, but everything else had been moved out. The edges of the wall were taped.

“You’re painting?” I asked.

“Yes. To distract myself from the horror of waiting for you guys to return from a mission, I decided to renovate.”

We moved through the little kitchenette and into the bedroom, where the computer screen flashed a picture of Frosty. I did a double take. He wore a formal gown, as pink as Reeve’s walls used to be, complete with ruffles and bows.

“Do you like it?” Kat asked, noticing the direction of my gaze. “It’s a little something I threw together for Frosty. Had it blown up and framed. Best Christmas present he’s ever received. Classiest, too. I couldn’t not share its beauty with Reeve—and half the kids at our school—to use as a screensaver.”

Priceless. “I’d like one of Cole in the same outfit. Only sleeveless.”


Reeve giggled.

My phone beeped, and I expected to find another text from Nana. But when I checked the screen, it was blank. I frowned—until I remembered I still had Ethan’s phone. Trembling, I withdrew it from my other pocket. Justin’s face stared up at me. He was alive, just as Helen had said, and holding this morning’s paper. One of his eyes was swollen shut. His lip was cut in two places, and there was a knot in his jaw. He needed medical attention ASAP. No, he needed our fire.

Below the photo, Ethan had typed, My apologies for the delay. We lost the other boy. We’re still willing to trade—are you?

My hands clenched so tightly the sides of the phone cracked. I forwarded the text to my cell and from there forwarded it to Cole.

Cole: Tell him U’ll give an answer 2morrow. We need time 2 plan.

I did as commanded.

Ethan: Until then.