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Authors: Erica O'Rourke


BOOK: Tangled
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The Covenant
I glanced at Luc again. He stood completely still, lips parted as if he wanted to speak but couldn’t find the words. His eyes were shadowed and intent in the torchlight. It was hard to tell what he saw when he looked at me, and I was afraid, all over again, that whatever he saw wasn’t truly there.
My life, I thought. That’s what was on the table. My life and Constance’s, and Verity’s, too, twined together like a braid. I’d seen how cruel and unforgiving a force the magic was, how easily it could destroy people. The only reason I was alive, able to make this deal, was because Verity had sacrificed herself for me in that alley months ago.
And so I crossed the stage and took the pen from Dominic.
It was made of clear, cool glass, sinuous and heavier than it looked. The ink gleamed, black as Luc’s hair, along the finely etched tip. I bent and signed my name, Maura Kathleen Fitzgerald. Dominic whipped the contract away with a flourish, and I jerked upright at the sudden movement.
“That’s all?” I whooshed out a breath. That wasn’t so bad. The Binding Ceremony with Luc had hurt a lot more.
Dominic patted my shoulder. “One last task.”
There always was, with these people.
Also by Erica O’Rourke
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
To Danny and my girls:
Home is wherever I’m with you.
Once again, I am faced with the task of figuring out how to adequately thank all of the people who have helped bring this book into the world. The number is so great, and their contributions so huge, I’m not sure it’s possible—but I will try.
Joanna Volpe has championed Mo and her story from the first time she read it. I am continually amazed by her brilliance, her heart, her dedication, and her willingness to forgo sleep for the sake of her authors. Sara Kendall has been incredibly generous with her time, attention, and advice, and I am eternally grateful for all three. Nancy Coffey, Kathleen Ortiz, and the rest of the NCLMR family have had my back every step of the way—words are inadequate, but I thank you nevertheless.
Alicia Condon gave me the chance to tell Mo’s story and then pushed me to make it even stronger. I am so fortunate to work with someone as encouraging and supportive as her, and I appreciate her faith in me and this project more than I can say. The entire team at K Teen / Kensington has been wonderful, especially Megan Records, who wrote out Verity’s postcards by hand to make sure they looked just right, Amy Maffei, copy editor extraordinaire, who triple-checks my math so I don’t publicly humiliate myself, and Vida Engstrand, my publicist, who has worked tirelessly to get the word out.
As always, the members of Chicago-North RWA have been the support system every writer dreams about. They listen, they encourage, they prod, and every time we meet, I come away excited to go back to the page. Lynne Hartzer, Keiru Bakke, Clara Kensie, and Ryann Murphy have become friends as well as colleagues, and I am the richer for it. Blythe Gifford and Margaret Watson are the epitome of graciousness, talent, and professionalism, and I am continually in awe of them. My other writerly groups—the Unsinkables, the Broken Writers, the MargaRITAs—are equally precious. They are smart, funny, gifted writers, and I love them all.
Some people get by with a little help from their friends—but the help my friends have given me is no small thing. Loretta Nyhan’s intelligence is matched only by her talent and her kindness. Lisa and Laura Roecker have welcomed me without reservation. Lee Nichols is warm and generous and sends the nicest e-mails when I need them the very most. Kim MacCarron’s sharp eye catches all the things I miss. KC Solano is always willing to bounce ideas and design postcards, even when she’s sleep-deprived. Lexie Craig is the best long-distance neighbor I could ask for. Lisa Tonkery has saved my sanity—and my bacon—more times than I can count.
Hanna Martine is a brilliant writer and an even better friend. She never, ever lets me take the easy way out, and for that, I would follow her to the ends of the earth.
Eliza Evans reads every word I write. Even the bad ones.
the bad ones—and she sticks around regardless. I’m glad, because without her, I couldn’t write a grocery list, much less a book. Best friends like her are a rare and beautiful thing. Her friendship is one of my greatest treasures.
I knew my family was awesome—but I didn’t realize the depths of their awesomeness until I began this journey. My mom has shown me what it means to work hard and accomplish a goal—it was the most important lesson she could have taught me. My dad has demonstrated, every day of my life, what it means to have a moral code. He also taught me about money laundering, but it was strictly from a theoretical standpoint. My sister is brave and smart and makes me laugh until I cry, and is an amazing aunt to my girls. My mother-in-law cheerfully visits museums with my kids, and never complains when I disappear from family visits to write.
Writing these books has brought me great joy, but it pales in comparison to watching my three girls grow up. Smart and feisty and strong and beautiful, and I am so very, very lucky to be their mom. I hope I make them as proud as they make me.
And lastly, Danny, because he is the best person I have ever known. Because he is always pleased, but never surprised, when I do something clever. Because he is the heart of everything I write, and everything I do, and because thank you doesn’t even begin to cover it.
ruth is overrated. Lots of things are overrated: Oreos, the Christmas windows on State Street, classic rock, marriage. Everyone wants you to think that the truth is this beautiful shining gift that will set you free. They are lying.
The truth is scary, and usually painful, and it might set you free, but it can also leave you lonely. People say that truth hurts—and they’re right, it does—but you can survive the truth. Lies, on the other hand, will kill you dead.
And here’s the lie I told myself: I could get my old life back. I could let the nightmare that began my senior year fade away and be the girl I used to be. Ordinary Mo Fitzgerald.
Like I said: The truth might be overrated, but a lie will kill you.
“I don’t believe you,” Lena Santos said, leaning against a bank of lockers while I rummaged through mine, looking for a library book. “No. Sorry. Not possible.”
I shoved aside loose papers, hair elastics, and SAT prep guides until I found it, stuffing the dusty volume into my already-overloaded bag. “Got it. I will not be sad to finish this presentation.”
“Don’t try changing the subject. I refuse to believe you are skipping the Sadie Hawkins dance.”
“I don’t have a date.”
“So? Neither do I, but I’m still going. Have you even asked anyone?”
We trudged up the staircase, in no particular rush to get to the library. Other schools had lounge furniture and a welcoming staff. St. Brigid’s had wooden chairs and Sister Agatha, with her thick black glasses and perpetual shushing. Our presentation on the 17th-century French monarchy was not an incentive to pick up the pace, either.
“Who would I ask?” I shrugged, adjusting my book bag.
Lena made a show of tapping her chin thoughtfully. “Oh, I don’t know ... Colin?”
“Trust me. Colin Donnelly is not the type to attend a high school dance.”
“He would if you asked. Aren’t you two kind of ... together?”
“We’re figuring it out.” I stared at my shoes as we rounded the corner. There was a lot to figure out, like why Colin had put the brakes on—way, way on. Our relationship was like rush-hour traffic. A tiny bit of progress, accompanied by rapid, forceful application of said brakes. He had his reasons, he said, but I was losing patience.
“Besides, can you imagine what my mom would—ow!” I slammed into someone and went sprawling, books, binders, and pens spilling everywhere.
“My apologies,” said the man I’d run into—an older gentleman in a black wool top coat and slightly outdated pinstriped suit. He looked like someone’s well-off grandfather as he leaned heavily on an ivory-handled cane. “Are you all right?”
There was the faintest trace of an accent in his voice, but I couldn’t quite place it. His hat, a black fur dress cap, the kind you usually saw in winter, had fallen nearby. “My fault,” I said, handing it to him as I scrambled up.
“No, no. Let me help you.” He bent and picked up my bag, then smiled approvingly at me. “One good turn deserves another, yes?”
Bowling him over didn’t exactly seem like a good turn, but I took the olive-drab bag and returned the smile. He wasn’t wearing the stick-on ID badge that the office printed out for all visitors, which was strange. The security guards were pretty good about making sure people checked in.
Lena must have noticed something was off, too, because she said solicitously, “Are you looking for someone? Do you need directions?”
“No, thank you.” He clamped his hat to his head. As he headed toward the stairs, swinging his cane jauntily, he called back, “I found who I was looking for.”
My grip tightened on the strap of my bag and I stood, unmoving, until he was out of sight.
“Library,” Lena said, nudging me.
As Sister Agatha shelved books and frowned at our whispered conversation, we grabbed a computer and pretended to review our presentation slides.
“What about the other guy? From this fall?” Lena asked when Sister Agatha had tottered into the stacks. “Ask him to the dance.”
“He’s gone.” Saying the words out loud felt like a door slamming shut inside me. Gone was good, I reminded myself.
My tone must have been too harsh, though, because Lena drew back and inspected her notes for our history presentation with a lot more care than necessary.
I felt a pang of guilt. Lena was smart, and fun to hang out with, and pretty much the only person at St. Brigid’s who didn’t treat me like a leper. Since my best friend’s murder, people had avoided me, like grief was contagious. I didn’t want to drive Lena away, too.
“We could do something after the dance. You could crash at my place. If you don’t have plans already,” I said.
She thawed. “That sounds fun. You’re sure you don’t want to go?”
I shook my head, and she sighed. “Okay. Sleepover after. Hey, have you sent in your NYU app?”
I swallowed, careful to keep from sounding defensive. “Ummm ... not yet.”
“What?” She looked genuinely startled. “I know your interview was a disaster, but they’ll understand.”
Disaster was putting it mildly. I’d walked out midquestion. With good reason, but none that I could explain to the college rep I’d been trying to impress. It had ruined my shot at early admission, and maybe even getting into NYU at all.
“You haven’t changed your mind about going, right? You’ve been talking about NYU since freshman year, you and ...” She trailed off. “You and Verity. I get it now.”
She really, really didn’t. And there was no way I could explain it to her. Verity and I had always planned to go to college in New York, the two of us united, leaving behind my family’s shady history and her picture-perfect one. Now Verity was dead, and I was the one left behind. Despite the rumors, I hadn’t blown the interview to sabotage myself. I’d bailed because no matter how much I wanted to get into my dream school, revenge for Verity’s death was more important. I’d gotten it, and now I needed to get my life back to normal.
It was nearly impossible to picture normal these days. I knew what it was
to look like: Verity and me, window-shopping at the funky Wicker Park boutiques she liked, scoping out college guys over sushi, poring over guidebooks for New York, and making plans for our great escape. But that world vanished the day Verity died. In its place was one of ancient magic, dangerously beautiful and full of secrets, with a boy to match. We’d saved his world, and I hadn’t seen him since. Every day I reminded myself how little I missed him.
After the things I’d seen and done, I wasn’t sure how to make a normal life again. I wasn’t sure I wanted to.
But one thing was certain: Normal wasn’t going to happen here in Chicago, in the shadow of my family. I needed to be in New York, where people reinvented themselves every day. It was what Verity and I had planned all along, and I owed it to both of us to make it happen.
I rubbed my temples, trying to dispel the headache that had been brewing all morning. “I tanked in the interview, and Jill McAllister was perfect. If they compared us during early admission, there’s no way I’d get in. If I wait until regular admission, I might have a shot.” Plus, I could show them I had recovered from Verity’s death. Strength of character, triumph over adversity, all the things admissions counselors liked to see in an applicant. It felt like I was trading on my grief, but I’d learned that even when the world was falling to pieces, you had to carry on and make do with what you had.
Through the glass doors of the library, I could see someone coming down the hallway, weaving slightly, leaning against the wall for balance. Lena followed my glance. “Jesus,” she said, voice low. “Speaking of missing Verity. That girl is going downhill fast, chica. Do you think she’s wasted?”
“Constance?” I shook my head. Baby-faced Constance Grey, my best friend’s sister. She was struggling, sure, but I couldn’t see her filling a water bottle with vodka just to make it through Biology class. “Maybe she’s sick.”
Constance stumbled, lolling her head. Her caramel-colored hair, a few shades darker than Verity’s, swung in a curtain across her back. My skin prickled, like I’d scuffed across shag carpeting in my socks.
“Cover for me with Sister?” I asked, standing up. Lena nodded, with a look mixing pity and exasperation.
“She won’t want your help,” she called.
The library doors swung shut behind me. Constance and I were alone in the deserted hallway. “You okay?”
Her head snapped up, and my heart squeezed. She looked so much like Verity. Lighter eyes, more freckles, features more rounded. But the same nose, the same cheekbones, the same slight wave to their hair. For a second, I wondered who she saw in the mirror each morning: Herself? Or Verity?
She scowled and turned away. “I’m fine. Go ’way.” Her voice was strained, like she couldn’t get the words out, and she banged into the lockers with a crash. Lena was right—she didn’t want my help. I still had to try.
“Are you sick?”
“I said, go away!” She turned to glare at me, and I stepped back at the sight of her pupils, so enormous they were barely ringed with blue.
“You’re on something.” She didn’t smell like alcohol, though. The prickling feeling intensified, centered in my palms. I rubbed my hands together. “Constance, what did you take? If one of the teachers finds you ...”
“No! Don’t feel good. Itchy,” she said, sounding fretful. “Skin’s too tight.”
“Somebody gave you something. What was it?” Glancing around, I guided her into the bathroom.
“Nothing!” Inside, she pressed her cheek against the tile wall and moaned, scrabbling at the sleeves of her navy sweater. Her nails scored thin red lines along her arms. “Too tight.”
I reached for her hands, but she shrieked and twisted away. I had to talk her down. Someone would hear her soon, and we’d get caught, and it wouldn’t matter how sorry people felt for her—a fact she’d been using to her advantage since the first day of school, blowing off homework and mouthing off to teachers, skipping chapel and coming in late every day. If they found her high as a kite in the bathroom during second period, she’d be starting school at a building with metal detectors and a visible police presence by the end of the week.
Constance hated me. She’d made that clear the day of Verity’s funeral, and who could blame her? Verity and I both went for ice cream. I’d lived. Verity hadn’t. What she didn’t know—and what I couldn’t tell her—was that her sister’s death wasn’t a random street crime. It was an assassination. Maybe if she’d known, things would be different between us. Maybe she’d let me take care of her. But I kind of doubted it, especially when her elbow caught me across the face and I staggered back, crying out.
“What the hell, Constance? Knock it off!” Blood poured out of my nose, and I clapped my hand over it, trying to staunch the flow. The tingling sensation spread from my hands to my arms and into my chest, uncomfortable but not painful. I glanced around the room, shoving back dread and the feeling that I was in over my head. Again.
“How long?” I asked.
She rapped her head against the tile, still clawing at her arms, the shrieks transforming to agonized moans.
I grabbed her wrists and dragged her away from the wall, blood dripping onto my shirt. “When did this start?”
“This weekend,” she panted, the veins in her neck standing out. “It hurts so bad. What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know, honey. Hang on.” The scar on my hand, a shiny, mottled pink, pulsed painfully, and Constance started to keen. Around us, the air thrashed and twisted, the caustic scent of ozone burning my nose. As I watched, her dark gold hair began to lift and kink into knots.
“I’m here. It’ll be okay.”
I was lying. It was the last thing I said before my best friend’s little sister went supernova in the second-floor girls’ bathroom, taking me with her.
BOOK: Tangled
6.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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