THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME—EVEN IF HOME IS WHERE THE DEAD LIVE...
It’s the start of the fall semester, and a new crop of Acari and Trainees have descended on the Isle of Night. Watcher training has intensified, and Drew has a new roommate named Mei-Ling. But Mei-Ling harbors a dangerous secret that drove the vampires to abduct her against her will. Drew knows she shouldn’t get involved, but she can’t seem to leave her roommate to fend for herself.
Luckily, Drew has other things on her mind—like vampire Carden. A blood bond to a brawny, eighteenth-century Scottish bad boy tends to preoccupy a girl. And though she’s still figuring out what this bond means, one thing has become clear: She craves him in a major way.
But then bodies start turning up on the island. All the evidence points to the existence of a rogue vampire, and the sinister vampire Alcántara is gunning for Carden, even though Drew has proof that Carden had nothing to do with the murders. Now she has to find the true killer—without endangering Carden, Mei-Ling, or herself…
Not quite full, not quite thin. Just the right shape for an easy smile. It hitched up at the corner when he got that look—the one that said he was thinking of doing something reckless.
I’d move closer, and he’d part his lips. His eyes would drift to my—
The stern voice brought me back to myself. Crap. I was doing it again. Thinking about him. The vampire. My vampire. Carden McCloud.
“Are you paying attention?” my teacher asked. Thankfully, it was just Tracer Judge and not one of the vamps. Daydreaming in class when a vampire was your teacher was high on the list of Stupid and Possibly Deadly Things to Do.
Just after bonding with a vampire.
Like I’d bonded with Carden McCloud.
His mouth. A glimpse of fang, shimmering. I’d felt that fang, an accidental slip, a hot kiss. . . .
“Yes, Tracer Judge,” I said automatically. I gave a quick shake to my head to clear it.
Focus. I was in class. Combat Medicine. It was actually kind of cool. I wanted to focus.
I wouldn’t call myself a teacher’s pet, but I was the smartest thing they had going around here. My brains were what made me stand out. But it’d been my abusive, deadbeat dad who’d hardened me, landed me here on the Isle of Night.
Generally, every girl here had been an outcast in her former life. There were girls who’d called juvie home. Druggies and gang girls. Bad seeds. We were the sorts of girls who’d never be missed.
Only the most elite eventually became Watchers, and so vampires recruited only the strongest, the most ruthless. The best among society’s bad girls. But training was lethal, and survival demanded more. Something extra. Something special.
In the normal world, my genius IQ had made me a loser. A social reject. But here? Here it made me an object of fascination. Someone with possibilities. In a place that valued secrecy and cunning, smarts meant potential.
We all had talents, but all too often these were things like a proclivity for knife play or an inability to feel pain. (My pyromaniac, maybe-dead/maybe-not former roomie-slash-nemesis, Lilac, came to mind.)
Roommate. Now, there was a topic to consider.
As in where was mine? Fall classes had begun and there was still no sign of Lilac’s replacement.
Rather than seeing the empty bed in my room as a good sign, it freaked me out. There was no way the vampires were letting me have a double room all to myself, and it didn’t bode well that something was holding up whomever this new roomie was.
Had she already been selected? What would her gifts be? And would she view me as a freak, as Lilac had?
But, most important, would I be able to hide my relationship with Carden from her? Because this blood bond was proving to be . . . immersive.
I couldn’t get him out of my mind. And believe me, I tried. But I was drawn to him—his touch, his eyes. That mouth.
Kissing that mouth, I’d tasted the vampire blood I’d been drinking since my arrival on the island. The difference was, from Carden, it hadn’t been some refrigerated dose in a shot glass. It was hot and pulsing from the source, ringing with his life essence.
A tug of desire pulsed through my core, as though he were summoning me.
I scrubbed my hands through my hair. Must focus. I would not think about Carden’s blood. His blood had done something to me, altered me in a way I didn’t understand.
Things I didn’t understand made me intensely uncomfortable. And this was one thing I couldn’t ask anyone about. Carden’s warning echoed loudly in my head. Nobody could know about our bond.
“Answer my question,” Tracer Judge said with a peculiar note in his voice. He sounded annoyed, testy. “Preferably sometime today.”
I gritted my teeth and brightened my smile. A whoops-sorry-I-zoned-out sort of smile. “It’s a compelling question, Tracer Judge. Perhaps you’ll rephrase it for me.”
Judge didn’t smirk, though. Normally he would’ve smirked. Tracers were hard-core enough, ruthless enough, to do what it took to find and bring girls like me to this bleak rock. Some of them were decent, though, deep down. And Tracer Judge fell into that category.
He often let me stay after class to do independent studies. He taught topics in science such as infiltration, forensics, combat medicine—the cool stuff that I loved. He was okay, for a Tracer.
Except these days there was something fundamentally not okay about him. Not since his secret love, my Proctor, Amanda, had been killed.
Though killed was a pretty tame word for what’d happened to her. Ronan had given me details I was certain I wasn’t supposed to know. She’d been tortured. Dismembered. Flung from a cliff.
I suspected Master Alcántara had been responsible for Amanda’s death. On our mission, I’d gotten a peek into the Spanish vampire’s interrogation techniques. They weren’t pretty.
Amanda had been going to meet Judge so they could escape. Together. And I was sure I wasn’t supposed to know that bit.
I had no idea what Judge would do if he found out I knew. Kill me? Who could guess? I’d learned not to trust anyone on this island. People—and I use that term loosely—played for keeps around here.
I still didn’t understand why Ronan had confided in me. For a Tracer who’d sneakily relied on his hypnotic, persuasive power of touch in order to get me here in the first place, he sure could act like a friend sometimes.
But as I was constantly reminded, friends were a bad idea. Friends could die.
Enemies, though—I had those crawling out of my ears. There were any number of girls—Acari, as well as the older Initiates and Guidons—who wanted to see my ass in a sling. Especially Masha and her pal Trinity—they were Annelise Drew Enemies #1 and #2.
Just the thought sent a chill creeping along my flesh. I’d wanted to escape. That could’ve been me . . . tortured, mangled, discarded.
When I’d taken the assignment to go off the island for a mission with Alcántara, I’d thought it would be my chance to make a break for it. To run as far away from Eyja næturinnar, this Isle of Night, as I could get.
Should I have tried to escape when I’d gotten the chance? There had been a moment on our mission when I could’ve fled. Would Carden have killed me if I’d tried?
Somehow I knew he wouldn’t have. In the same way I knew I couldn’t go far from his side if I tried.
All I’d wanted was to free myself, and yet I now found myself more entangled than ever. What I felt for Carden, this sensation in my body, was beyond thirst. It was a yearning. An emptiness that only Carden could fill. And I didn’t want that—at all.
Except, part of me really did. Want it.
“Earth to Drew.” It was my pal Yasuo, sitting next to me. A tall, cute vampire Trainee, he had the bluster that came with growing up in LA and the sensitivity that came from watching his Japanese gangster dad murder his mother. He singsonged under his breath, “Drew and McCloud, sitting in a tree—”
Yas could be such a guy sometimes. At the moment, his real damage was probably that he’d overheard Emma—his girlfriend and my best friend—mention how cute Carden was.
I stared ahead, hissing into my fist, “Shut up.” But I forgave him instantly. I knew Yasuo had my back, and in a place like this, that was all that mattered.
Tracer Judge silenced both of us. “Is there a problem?” He said it with uncharacteristic sternness.
“No,” I told Judge quietly. “There’s no problem.”
Ever since bonding with Carden, I’d been scattered. Fragmented. Unable to pay attention. Aware only of this itch I needed to scratch. It was like experiencing the surliness of PMS, a parched thirst, a fever chill, and a deep-down wiggly boy-wanting feeling all at the same time.
I was off, and whenever I tuned into the feeling, asking, What is my deal?, I’d remember: Carden.
Master Carden McCloud, ancient Scottish vampire, was my deal. I blamed him.
But I could never admit to that, so instead I lied. “It’s my fault, Tracer Judge. I let my focus wander for a moment. I apologize.”
My formality seemed to mollify him, and the glare in his tired eyes eased a bit. “I repeat: What is the basic difference between combat medicine and emergency medical technique?”
Inhaling deeply, I used my breath to sweep my mind clear of Carden. Any once or future roommates, all conceivable friends or enemies, Amanda and Judge, Ronan . . . I relegated the lot of them into a tiny corner of my brain.
I sat straight in my chair, attentive Acari Drew once more. “The primary difference is that the EMT is the first responder, whereas, on a mission, if someone gets injured, the Watcher is the only respon—”
The door opened, cutting me off. I was ready to scowl—I’d assembled quite the pretty little answer in my head. But then I saw who stood in the doorway.
It was our headmaster. Silence smothered the room, sudden and complete.
Headmaster Claude Fournier rarely made an appearance in the classroom. This was unprecedented. Unheard of.
He didn’t bother with niceties; he just dug right in. “A girl has been discovered,” he said, only a hint of his French accent detectable. “Just beyond the cove. A dead girl.” His tone was flat, but his quiet delivery told me just how furious he was. “Somebody killed her, anonymously and without permission. Someone on this island bled her dry.”
I’d thought it was already silent—until we all held our breath. This was shocking news. Nobody on this island acted—or killed—without it being somehow sanctioned by the vampires in charge.
Killing without permission. Did that mean someone had actually granted permission for Amanda’s death? I shuddered.
Sure, deaths happened all the time. In a combat ring. During hazing. At the hand of a bored vampire merely wanting to teach a lesson. But random, anonymous slaughter? There was no such thing.
Most of all, there were no abandoned bodies. Every corpse was repurposed for some other grisly means. Nobody killed and left the body to rot.
Nobody crossed the Directorate.
For Headmaster to stoop to a classroom visit meant this death had upset them. It meant this was a mystery.
And then an even more frightening question popped into my head: Why had he come to this class? Was he visiting all the classes? Why not just hold a general assembly?
The hairs on the back of my neck prickled. I didn’t want to be in their sights, not even in their line of vision, considering my bond with Carden.
Headmaster Fournier scanned the room with his shuttered gaze. “The question is, who among us would want to see Guidon Trinity dead?” He pinned that icy stare on me.
My nerves became nausea.
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