I make a discovery that totally blows...dying is the
easy part. It's coming back to life that sucks.

The year is 1 AWC—After the Wall Crash. The Fae are free and hunting us. It’s a war zone out there, and no two days are alike. I’m Dani O’Malley, the chaos-filled streets of Dublin are my home, and there’s no place I’d rather be.

Dani “Mega” O’Malley plays by her own set of rules—and in a world overrun by Dark Fae, her biggest rule is: Do what it takes to survive. Possessing rare talents and the all-powerful Sword of Light, Dani is more than equipped for the task. In fact, she’s one of the rare humans who can defend themselves against the Unseelie. But now, amid the pandemonium, her greatest gifts have turned into serious liabilities.

Dani’s ex–best friend, MacKayla Lane, wants her dead, the terrifying Unseelie princes have put a price on her head, and Inspector Jayne, the head of the police force, is after her sword and will stop at nothing to get it. What’s more, people are being mysteriously frozen to death all over the city, encased on the spot in sub-zero, icy tableaux.

When Dublin’s most seductive nightclub gets blanketed in hoarfrost, Dani finds herself at the mercy of Ryodan, the club’s ruthless, immortal owner. He needs her quick wit and exceptional skill to figure out what’s freezing Fae and humans dead in their tracks—and Ryodan will do anything to ensure her compliance.

Dodging bullets, fangs, and fists, Dani must strike treacherous bargains and make desperate alliances to save her beloved Dublin—before everything and everyone in it gets iced.

REVIEWS

"Moning returns to the heady world of her Fever series, addictive and consistently surprising... The best elements of Moning's sensual, shadowy epic are still here, from the sensual and enigmatic Fae, to the super alpha-heroes and the breathless pace of their escalating conflicts. At its heart is a heroine whose development is likely to become the stuff of legends as this unforgettable, haunting series continues to evolve."
~RT Book Reviews

"This is one of my favorite 2012 reads... It's engaging, hilarious, amazing and Dani is going to be one heck of a woman."
~USA Today

"Excellent storytelling...characters that are rendered both superhuman and superbly human, with emotional fragility and psychological vulnerability in an unstable world fraught with danger...Fast-paced, with nonstop action set in a fascinating urban fantasy world of Dublin under siege, this is a smart, bold and textured success."
~Kirkus Reviews

"Moning is a master storyteller. I don't know how she does it, but she begs me to get on my knees and pay worship to the woman who has brought me the best, most labyrinthine stories and characters I've ever had the privilege to get to know. She weaves brilliantly, unapologetically, and without exception, and she has threaded the needle into me and I've been pulled, over and over, into her tapestry, and I don't think I'm ever getting out. Iced is no exception."
~The Bawdy Book Blog (5 stars)

"Moning has taken a beloved series and made it better... [She] has a way of bringing the reader into the story with her imaginative writing style and characters that are colorful and entertaining... Please give Iced a try, you will become a Dani fan just like I did."
~Night Owl Paranormal (Top Pick)

"An exciting opening of a new Fever saga...Reader will enjoy that the prime Fever cast plays major roles and the introduction of two new unique dangerous Fae who widen the mythos."
~Genre Go Round Reviews

"[Moning] has always managed to give me everything I want in a book... Iced will not disappoint."
~Open Book Society

"We get edge of your seat action and danger. We get the promise of so much more to come. All in all, this is an excellent start to Dani's trilogy."
~Scandalicious Book Reviews

"Of course, I ended up loving this book. Just like I love everything [Moning] writes."
~Fiction Vixen Book Reviews

"Iced just may be my favorite book of the year. Terrifyingly addictive, Karen Marie Moning has ruined me for any other author or book out there. Introducing Dani to an audience who are so passionate about the series was a risk, yet Moning has proven time and again that she is one of the premier authors of Urban Fantasy. ICED is an absolute must read!"
~Under the Covers Book Blog

"It cannot be denied. Karen Marie Moning can build a world like no other Urban Fantasy author I have ever read. She completely reels me in. Captivates me. Enthralls me. Makes me go without sleep to find out what happens next. She did it with her original five Fever books and she has done it again here, with her first Dani O'Malley spinoff."
~Red Hot Books

"Mega’s joie de vivre leaps off the pages and her witty dialogue will have you grinning from ear to ear. Karen Marie Moning’s writing has no equal in the world of Urban Fantasy; the Fever universe feels like an alternate reality instead of just a fictional one. KMM has ruined me for all other books and authors because once you’ve had filet mignon it’s hard to go back to ground beef."
~Rabid Reads

"Iced was phenomenal and fecking fantastic! It was sexy, dangerous and Karen Marie Moning managed to create a 14-year-old voice that is unlike anything I have ever read. It’s definitely not a young adult novel, even though Dani is so young. It’s every bit of hot, sexy, dark and dangerous as her previous novels and I am excited to be back in this world!!!"
~Bewitched BookWorms​

EXCERPT

Chapter One

“Ding--dong! The witch is dead”: subtitled Rowena who?

I say we take Mac’s suggestion and pump the room full of concrete,” Val says.

I wince. Just hearing her name makes my stomach hurt. Me and Mac used to be two peas in the Mega pod, close as sisters. She’d kill me in a heartbeat now.

Well, she’d try.

I’m faster.

“Exactly how do you expect us to get concrete trucks down into the catacombs beneath the abbey?” Kat demands. “To say nothing of how much it would take to seal that chamber. It’s three times the size of Inspector Jayne’s training green, with a ceiling as high as any cathedral!”

I shift position, tucking my knees up, careful to be real quiet. My legs are cramped from sitting with them crossed beneath me. I’m in the cafeteria at the abbey, high up on a beam in the ceiling rafters where nobody can see me, munching a Snickers bar and eavesdropping. It’s one of my favorite perches for scoping out the details. I’m a good climber, fast and agile. Since I’m still just a kid in most people’s opinions, folks rarely let me in on the scoop. No worries there. I became a pro at letting myself in years ago.

“What are you suggesting we do, then, Kat?” Margery says. “Leave the most powerful Unseelie prince ever created frozen in a little ice cube beneath our home? That’s crazy!” The cafeteria is full of sidhe--seers. Most of them murmur agreement but they’re like that. Whoever’s talking loudest at the moment is the person they agree with. Sheep. Half the time I’m spying, it’s all I can do not to jump down there, waggle my ass and say Baaaa, see if any of them catch my drift.

I’ve been at the abbey most of the night, waiting for people to wake up and wander in for breakfast, impatient for those who’ve been up all night like me to tell everyone else the news and start discussing it. I don’t need as much sleep as other people, but when I do finally crash, I’m as good as dead. It’s dangerous to lose consciousness as hard as I do, so I’m always careful about where I sleep—-behind a lot of locked doors, with booby traps in place. I know how to take care of myself. I’ve been on my own since I was eight.

“It’s hardly an ice cube,” Kat says. “The Unseelie King himself imprisoned Cruce. You saw the bars shoot up from the floor around him.”

I’ve got no family. When my mom was killed, Ro made me move into the abbey with the other sidhe--seers—-those of us who can see the Fae, and could even before the walls fell. Some of us have unique gifts, too. We used to think of ourselves in terms of us and them, humans and Fae, until we learned that the Unseelie King tampered with us way back, mixing his blood with the bloodlines of six ancient Irish houses. Some say we’re tainted, that we have the enemy within. I say anything that makes you stronger, duh, makes you stronger.

“The alarm’s not set,” Margery counters. “And none of us can figure out how to arm the grid that keeps people from getting in. Worse, we can’t even get the door closed. Mac tried for hours.”

I don’t puke the bite of chocolate and peanuts I’m trying to swallow but it’s close. I got to get over my reaction to her name. Every time I hear it, I see the look on her face when she learned the truth about me.

Feck that! I knew what would happen if she found out I killed her sister. Got no business being mopey about it. If you know what’s coming and don’t do anything to stop it, you got no right to act all surprised and pissy when the crap hits the fan. Rule #1 in the Universe: the crap always hits the fan. It’s the nature of crap. It’s a fan magnet.

“She said it won’t respond to her,” Margery says. “She thinks the king did something to it. Barrons and his men tried to muscle it closed, but no luck. It’s stuck open.”

“Just anyone can wander in,” says Colleen. “We found the Meehan twins standing down there this morning, hands around the bars, staring up at him like he was some kind of angel!”

“And what were you doing down there this morning?” Kat says to Colleen. Colleen looks away.

Tainted blood or not, I’ve got no complaints about being a sidhe--seer. I got the best gifts of all. None of the other sidhe--seers know how to deal with me. I’m superfast, superstrong, have super-hearing, supersmell, and wicked sharp eyesight. I don’t know if I taste better or not. Since I can’t taste with anyone else’s tongue, I guess I’ll never know. The superfast part is the best. I can whiz through a room without people even seeing me. If they feel the breeze of me passing, they usually blame it on an open window. I open windows everywhere I go. It’s my camo. If you walk into a room with a lot of open windows, look sharp at breezes that seem contrary to what’s coming in from the outside.

“That’s because he looks like an angel,” Tara says.

“Tara Lynn, don’t you go there for even a second,” Kat says sharply. “Cruce would have destroyed us all if he’d thought he had something to gain by it, and that was before he read the Book and absorbed its power. Now, he is the Sinsar Dubh—-the darkest, most twisted magic of the Fae race. Have you forgotten what it did to Barb? Don’t you remember how many people the Book massacred when it -didn’t have a body? Now it has one. And it’s beneath our abbey. And you think it looks like an angel? That it’s pretty? Have you lost your mind?”

I -wasn’t beneath the catacombs last night so I -didn’t get to see what happened with my own eyes. I’d been keeping a distance from that person whose name I’m not saying. I heard what happened, though. It’s all anyone’s talking about.

Dude, V’lane is Cruce!

He isn’t even Seelie. He’s the worst of all the Unseelie princes.

I can hardly believe it. I had the wickedest crush on him! I thought he was the one who was going to save us all, fighting the good fight, on the human side of the war. Turns out he was war—-literally, as in the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’s War, riding alongside his three Unseelie prince brothers: Death, Pestilence, and Famine. Sure enough our myths were right. When they rode our world again everything went straight to hell. Nobody even knew he was alive. Cruce was supposed to have been killed three--quarters of a million years ago. Instead he was masquerading as V’lane all that time, disguising himself with glamour, infiltrating the Seelie court, manipulating events, orchestrating the prime opportunity to take what he wanted—-dominion over both races.

Fae have patience like beaches have sand. ’Course, I guess patient is easy to be when you live, like, for--fecking--ever.

I also heard he was one of the four who raped M—-that person whose name I’m not thinking—-that day at the church when the Lord Master turned the princes loose on her.

And I’d told him I was going to give him my virginity one day! He’d brought me chocolates, been all flirty--flirty!

V’lane is Cruce. Dude. Sometimes that’s all you can say.

Tara holds Kat’s glare defiantly. “That -doesn’t mean I want to set him free. I’m just saying he’s beautiful. Nobody can argue with that. He has wings like an angel.”

He is beautiful. And we have big, big problems. I went down to the catacombs last night, the instant everyone finally cleared out. I made my way through the underground maze until I found the chamber that once held the Sinsar Dubh. And still holds it—-just in another skin.

V’lane -doesn’t look like V’lane anymore. He’s sealed in the center of a block of ice, surrounded by a cage of glowing bars. His head is back, his eyes are iridescent fire, he’s roaring, and his enormous black--velvet wings are spread wide. Brilliant tattoos snake beneath skin that shimmers like gold dust. And he’s naked. If I -hadn’t seen other penises in movies, I’d be worried about losing my virginity.

“Black wings, Tara,” Kat says. “As in black magic, as in ‘deadly.’ He was dangerous before. He’s a thousand times worse now. The King never should have let him read the whole Book. He should have stopped him.”

“Mac said the King -didn’t want to leave the Sinsar Dubh split up,” says Colleen. “He was worried we -wouldn’t be able to keep it locked down in two places.”

I dig around in a pocket of the backpack I always got over a shoulder—-you never know what you might need when, and I’m always on the go—-and pull out another Snickers bar. There’s that fecking name again. Eating soothes the bruise I’m getting from repeated sucker--punches to my belly.

“We -couldn’t keep it locked down when it was in only one place,” Kat says.

“Because Rowena let it out,” Val says.

I learned that part of the story earlier this morning, listening to sidhe--seers talking in the showers. When the Sinsar Dubh took possession of Rowena last night, that person I’m not naming killed her. But not before Ro bragged about how she set the Sinsar Dubh free. And still, some folks are talking about having a service for the old bat! I say the Grand Mistress of the sidhe--sheep is dead. Hoo--fecking--rah! Break out the cake and party hats!

“It weakened Rowena,” Kat says.

Rowena was born weak. Power--hungry witch.

“Maybe Cruce will weaken us,” Kat says.

I plaster a sigh around a bite of candy bar and swallow it. The new temporary leader of the abbey and interim Grand Mistress of sidhe--seers around the world just made a big mistake. I learned a thing or two from that unnamed person when we used to hang together. Sidhe--sheep need a firm hand. Not firm like Ro’s, which was bullying, belittling, and tyrannical, but firm in a way that -doesn’t make the herd stampede. Fear and doubt are major stampeders. Kat should have said something like what a good thing it was they were all so much stronger than Rowena. Even a kid can see what’s going on in the room down there. The sidhe--seers are afraid. Rowena is dead. Dublin is a riot--ravaged mess filled with monsters. One of the good guys turned out to be the bad guy. Their lives changed too quickly in too many ways for them to deal with. They’re easy targets to be swayed by the most persuasive, strongest leader, and that means Kat needs to become one, fast.

Before somebody a lot less capable and kind does.

Somebody like Margery, who’s even now watching the crowd through narrowed eyes, like she’s got a thermometer up its butt, taking its temperature. She’s a year older than Kat, and was part of Ro’s inner circle when the old witch was alive. She’s not going to put up with a changing of the guard that -doesn’t include her. She’ll make trouble every chance she gets. I hope Kat knows how treacherous she can be. Anyone that was ever close to Ro for longer than like—-one second—-has something seriously scary about her. I know. I was closest to her of all. Sidhe--sheep politics. Dude, I hate them. They tangle you up like sticky spiderwebs. I love living on my own!

Still, I miss the abbey every now and then. Especially when I think about them baking cookies and stuff. Hearing voices in the background when you doze is nice. Knowing even if you are misunderstood, you aren’t totally alone in the world isn’t the worst thing.

Kat’s right: the Sinsar Dubh we used to have locked up and magicked down beneath our abbey is nothing compared to what we’ve got under our floorboards now.

The problem is it -doesn’t look like the Sinsar Dubh anymore.

All of the darkest magic and power of the Fae race is no longer trapped between the covers of a book. It’s in the body of a Fae prince in all his naked, winged glory. And if you’ve never seen a Fae prince before, that’s one jaw--dropping, eye--popping, mind--scrambling amount of glory.

It’s only a matter of time before somebody sets him free.

Kat -hasn’t even made her way around to the killer--critical fact yet: lots of people know he’s down there now, crammed to the gills with every last bit of the deadly magic of the Fae race.

I know people. I’ve seen all the shapes and sizes they come in. Somebody’s going to be stupid enough to believe they can control him. Somebody’s going to find a way through that ice.

Jericho Barrons is only one of a lot of different folks that hunted the Sinsar Dubh for thousands of years. None of them ever knew where it was. If they had, they’d have descended on our abbey back in the dark ages when a rough--piled, round stone tower was all that concealed the entrance to our underground city. And they would have pulled it, stone from stone, into rubble, until they got what they came for.

Now a whole bunch of humans and Fae know exactly where the most powerful weapon ever created is being stored.

Folks talk.

Soon the whole world is going to know it’s here.

I snort, imagining hordes descending on us, rioting, raging, brandishing weapons. Stupid sidhe--sheep too busy squabbling about the best way to fight back, to get around to fighting back. I sigh.

Kat glances up.

I stop breathing, hug my knees tight to my chest and stay perfectly still.

After a moment Kat shakes her head and goes back to the conversation.

I sigh again but softer.

She just made her second mistake.

Confronted by something she -couldn’t explain, she pretended it -wasn’t there. Dude, ostrich much?

Oh, yeah. Just a matter of time.

I wait a few minutes for things to get heated again, take advantage of the commotion and freeze--frame out.

I love moving the way I do.

I can’t imagine life any other way.

Whenever something is bugging me, all I need to do is zoom around the city, spy on all the slo--mo Joes trudging through, and I instantly feel a million times better.

I’ve got the coolest gig in the world.

I’m a superhero.

Until recently, I was the only one I knew of.

According to my mom, I didn’t make the normal toddler transition from crawling to walking. I went from lolling on my back, counting pudgy toes and cooing happily while she changed my diapers (I’ve never seen any reason to cry when someone is cleaning poop off you), to what she initially thought was teleporting. One second I was on the living room floor, the next I’d vanished. She was afraid the Fae had taken me—-they used to do that to sidhe--seers if they discovered them—-until she heard me rummaging around in the pantry trying to get a jar of baby food open. It was creamed corn. I remember. I still love creamed corn. Not much fuel--power there though. I burn through the punch of sugar--energy in no time.

I never got to go to school.

You don’t want to know how she kept me from leaving the house. There aren’t many options with a kid who can move faster than you can blink. And none of them are PC.

I’m not the only superhero in Dublin anymore, which annoys the feckity--feck out of me, but I’m slowly coming around to seeing it might be a good thing.

I was getting complacent. And that turns into sloppy if you’re not careful. Bored, too. It’s not much fun always being the best and fastest. A little competition keeps you on your toes, makes you try harder, live larger.

I’m all about that: living large.

I want to go out in a blaze of glory while I’m young. I don’t want to break piece by piece, lose my mind and die wrinkly and old. Given the current state of our world, I’m not sure any of us have to worry about that anymore.

Top on my list of dudes to beat are Jericho Barrons and his men. Like me, they’re superfast and superstrong. Much as I hate to admit it—-they’re faster. But I’m working on it.

Barrons can pluck me right out of thin air (dude, why isn’t it thick air? The things people say!) while I’m freeze--framing, which is what I call the way I get around. I start at point A, lock down a mental snapshot of everything around me, hit the gas, and in a blink I’m at point B. It’s only got a couple of downsides. One, I’m constantly bruised from running into things at top speed because some of the things I lock down on my mental grid aren’t stationary, like people and animals and Fae. Two, freeze--framing requires a ton of food for fuel. I have to eat constantly. It’s a pain in the butt collecting and carrying that much food. If I don’t eat enough, I get limp and wobbly. It’s pathetic. I’m a gas tank that’s either full or empty. There’s no half tank with me. You know those movies where folks wear rounds of ammo on their body? I wear protein bars and Snickers.

At least once a night I whiz over to Chester’s, Dublin’s underground hot spot for partying and scoring whatever your fantasy is and angling for a shot at immortality, owned and operated by Barrons’s go--to dude Ryodan, and I start killing every Fae hanging around outside it. It usually takes all of five seconds for his men to show up, but I can do a lot in five seconds.

Chester’s is a safe--zone. Killing Fae is prohibited there, no matter what they do. And they do some sick stuff.

Killing humans, however, isn’t prohibited at Chester’s. That’s a major issue with me, so I keep giving Ryodan grief and I’m not about to stop.

One of these nights I’m going to be faster than him, faster than all of them.

Then I’m going to slay every Fae in Chester’s.

Second on my list of competition are the Fae I hunt. Some of them can teleport. They call it “sifting.” I don’t understand the physics of it. I just know it’s faster than freeze--framing. Which would worry me more if I -didn’t have the Sword of Light, one of two weapons that can exterminate their immortal asses, so they leave me alone for the most part. She--who--isn’t--getting--named has the other weapon, the Spear.

My stomach hurts again. As I peel open a protein bar, I decide to start thinking of her as “That Person,” abbreviated to TP. Then maybe my mind will slide over thoughts of “TP” without hitching and kicking me in the stomach.

Last are the Unseelie princes. There used to be four. Cruce is out of the picture for now. Two are at large, in Dublin, no longer under the Lord Master’s rule, which makes them way more dangerous than they used to be. They’ve begun fighting with each other and are striking out on their own. There’s major trouble coming from those two. Not only can they sift, just looking at them makes you weep blood. And if you have sex with them . . . well don’t! Enough said. Already cults are forming around them. Sheep are always looking for a new shepherd when the terrain gets rocky.

I don’t test myself against the princes. I keep my distance. I sleep with my sword in my hand. I shower with it. I never let anyone else touch it. I love my sword. It’s my best friend.

I killed the other Unseelie prince. I’m the only person who ever has. Dani Mega O’Malley slayed an Unseelie prince! Gotta love it. Only problem is, now the two that are left have a wicked hate--on for me. I’m hoping they’ll be too busy fighting with each other to come after me.

My life consists mainly of watching my city. Keeping tabs on all that’s changing. I love knowing the details, spreading the important news around. I don’t know what Dublin would do without me.

I run a newspaper called The Dani Daily that I put out three times a week. Sometimes I’ll do a special edition if something big comes up. I collect messages at what’s left of the General Post Office, from folks who are having problems with tough--to--kill Fae. I like to swoop in and save the day! I take my beat seriously, like Inspector Jayne and the Guardians who patrol the streets at night. Dublin needs me. I’m not about to let her down.

I just published my first book, Dani Does Dublin: the ABCs of the AWC. Dancer helps me print and distribute it. The reviews have been great. Only problem is, whenever I learn new stuff, which is like constantly, I have to put out a revised edition. I’m on the fifth already.

Some of the folks I help are real basket cases, afraid of their own shadow. I can tell just by looking at them they won’t survive long. It makes me sad but I do all I can.

I decide to pop over to the General Post Office now, see if anybody left notes for me.

I polish off my protein bar in two gulps and pocket the wrapper. Don’t know why I can’t bring myself to litter, considering the streets are covered with debris from the riot the night Dublin fell, but adding to it feels wrong.

I narrow my eyes, look down the street far as I can see, plot each obstacle on my mental grid until it all snaps into place: abandoned cars with open doors just waiting to slam me if I’m off by an inch, streetlamps ripped from the pavement with chunks of concrete attached at the base and strips of metal sticking out that are going to kill my shins if I’m not careful, tables flung through pub windows blocking the sidewalks. You get the idea.

I take a deep breath and give in, set that sidhe--seer place in my head free and slide into a different way of being. Ro used to try to get me to explain it to her, like maybe she could figure out how to do it if she tried hard enough. The best I can come up with is this: it’s like picking your whole self up mentally and shoving it sideways, till suddenly you’re . . . just something else. I shift Dani--gears, I guess. The rush is megaintense and, well . . . I can’t imagine life without it because there’s no such thing as life without it.

I do it now, shift hard and fast, and then I’m whole and free and perfect. Wind in my hair! Freeze--framing! Can’t even feel my feet, because I got wings on them! I scrunch up my face in concentration and push harder, faster, every nanosecond is going to count if I’m going to beat—-

I slam into a wall.

Where the feck did that come from?

How could I have missed it on my grid?

My whole face is numb and I can’t see. The impact snaps me out of freeze--framing and sends me into a blind stumble. When I finally get my balance, I’m still not able to focus. I hit the wall so hard it temporarily blinded me. My face is going to be black and blue for days, eyes swollen to slits. How embarrassing! I hate walking around with all my mistakes on my face, right there for anybody to see!

I waste precious seconds trying to recover and all I can think is: good thing it was a wall, not an enemy. I’m a sitting duck right now and it’s my own fault. I know better than to lead with my head when I’m freeze--framing. You can kill yourself that way. The body can take a much harder impact than the face. You’ll drive your nose up into your brain, if you’re not careful.

“Sloppy, Mega,” I mutter. I still can’t see. I wipe my bloody nose on my sleeve and reach out to feel what I hit.

“That’s my dick,” Ryodan says.

I snatch my hand away. “Gah!” I choke out. I can feel my face again—-because, like, it’s going up in flames. What kind of universe makes me reach out at exactly that fecking level to feel what I think is a wall and puts my hand on a penis?

Then I remember this is Ryodan and scowl. “You did that on purpose!” I accuse. “You saw my hand go out and you stepped right into it!”

“I’d do that why, kid?”

Ryodan has the most infuriating way of asking questions without the proper inflection at the end. His voice -doesn’t rise at all. I don’t know why it annoys me so much. It just does. “To embarrass me and make me feel stupid! Always angling for the advantage, aren’t you?” Ryodan makes me totally crazy. I can’t stand him!

“Sloppy is an understatement,” Ryodan says. “I could have killed you. Pull your head out, kid. Watch where you’re going.”

My vision is finally starting to clear. “I. Was. Watching,” I say pissily. “You stepped into my way.”

I look up at him. Dude is tall. The only streetlamp that works is smack behind his head, casting his face in shadow, but that’s the way he likes it. I swear he stages every place he goes in order to keep the light at his back for some reason. He’s wearing that faint half smile he usually has on, as if he’s perpetually amused by us lesser mortals.

“I am not a lesser mortal,” I say testily.

“-Didn’t say you were. In fact, it’s precisely because you’re not lesser that you’re on my radar.”

“Well, get me off it.”

“Can’t.”

I get a sinking feeling. Not too long ago Ryodan tracked me down where I was hanging out up on top of my favorite water tower and told me he had a job for me. I refused, of course. Since then I’ve been telling myself he filled whatever vacancy he had with someone else.

I don’t want to fall in with Ryodan and his men. I get the feeling you don’t ever get to fall back out. You just keep falling.

Of course, that -doesn’t stop me from snooping around Chester’s. You have to know your competition, know what they’re up to. Dude wants something from me, I want to know what. Last week I found a back way into his club that I bet nobody but me and his men know about. I think they thought it was so well hidden they -didn’t need to bother protecting it. Did I ever see some things! My face gets hot again, remembering.

“I’ve been waiting for you to report for work, Dani. You must have encountered a problem I don’t know about.”

Report for work, my ass. I don’t answer to anyone. The way he says that last part makes it sound like he’s been keeping major tabs on me and knows every problem I have and don’t have. “I’ll say this one more time. Never going to happen.”

“You don’t understand. I’m not giving you a choice.”

“You don’t understand. I’m taking it. You’re not the boss of me.”

“You better hope I am, kid, because you’re a risk in my city. And there are only two ways I deal with uncontrolled variables. One of them is to offer you a job.”

The look he gives me makes it clear I don’t want to know what the second option is. I wipe more blood from my nose and puff myself up. “Thought it was Barrons’s city,” I say.

He ignores my jibe. “A risk I won’t take. You’re too fast, too strong, and too stupid.”

“There’s nothing stupid about me. I am fast and strong, though.” I preen. “Best of the best. Dani Mega O’Malley. That’s what they call me. The Mega. Nobody’s got nothing on me.”

“Sure they do. Wisdom. Common sense. The ability to differentiate between a battle worth fighting and the posturing of adolescent hormones.”

Gah! I don’t posture! I don’t have to! I’m the real thing, one hundred percent superhero! Ryodan knows just how to get under my skin but I’m not giving him the satisfaction of showing it. “Hormones don’t interfere with my thought processes,” I say coolly. “And as fecking if my ‘adolescent hormones’ are any different than yours. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.” After my clandestine visit last week, I know a thing or two about Ryodan.

“You’re human. Hormones will undermine you at every turn. And you’re way too young to know shit about me.”

“I’m not too young to know anything. I know you and the other dudes are all sex all the time. I saw those women you keep—-” I clamp my mouth shut.

“You saw.”

“Nothing. -Didn’t see nothing.” I don’t slip often. At least I -didn’t used to. But things are weird lately. My mood changes like a chameleon in a kaleidoscope. I get touchy and end up saying things I -shouldn’t. Especially when someone keeps calling me “kid” and ordering me around. I’m unpredictable, even to myself. It bites.

“You’ve been on level four.” His eyes are scary. Then again, this is Ryodan. His eyes are scary a lot.

“What’s level four?” I say innocently, but he’s not buying it for a minute. Level four is like something out of a porn movie. I know. I was watching a lot of them until recently, until somebody who -doesn’t give one little tiny ounce of crap about me read me the riot act, like TP cared. It’s stupid to think just because somebody yells at you like they worry about how you’re growing up and who you’re becoming that they care about you.

He smiles. I hate it when he smiles. “Kid, you’re flirting with death.”

“You’ll have to catch me first.”

We both know it’s empty bravado. He can.

He locks gazes with me. I refuse to look away even though it feels like he’s sifting through my retinal records, reviewing everything I’ve seen. Long seconds pass. I notch up my chin, shove a hand in my jeans pocket and cock my hip. Jaunty, flippant, bored, my body says. ’Case he’s not getting the message from the look on my face.

“I felt a breeze in the private part of my club last week,” he says finally. “Somebody passing by fast. I thought it had to be Fade not wanting to be seen for some reason, but it -wasn’t. It was you. Not cool, Dani. Way not cool. Am I speaking your language well enough to penetrate that rock--hard, suicidal, adolescent head of yours.”

I roll my eyes. “Gah, old dude, please don’t try to talk like me. My ears’ll fall off!” I flash him a cocky, -hundred- megawatt grin. “It’s not my fault you can’t focus on me when I pass. And what’s with all this adolescent bunk? I know how old I am. You the one needs reminding? Is that why you keep throwing it at me like some kind of insult? It isn’t, you know. Fourteen is on top of the world.”

The next thing I know he’s in my space, swallowing it up. Barely leaving me room to be. I’m not about to stick around for it.

I freeze--frame around him.

Or I try to.

I crash, full frontal into him, smacking my forehead on his chin. Not hard either. Freeze--framing into him should have split my head again, not tickled like a stumble.

I slam it into Mega--reverse.

I succeed in backpedaling a pansy foot or two. I don’t even make it out of arm’s reach.

What the feck?

I’m so discombobulated by failure that I just stand there like an idiot. Until this precise moment, I wasn’t even sure I knew how to spell the F--word, much less do it. Fail, with a big fat F. Me.

He grabs my shoulders and starts pulling me to him. I don’t know what he thinks he’s doing but I’m not getting anywhere near close to Ryodan. I explode into a Dani--grenade, all fists and teeth, and ten kinds of you--don’t--want--to--hold--me--when--the--pin--is--out.

At least I try to.

I noodle off one limp punch before I stop myself so I won’t telegraph any more catastrophic news to a dude that -doesn’t miss a trick and won’t hesitate to use any weakness against me.

What the feck is wrong with me?

Did slamming into him do something to me? Like break me?

Superspeed—-gone.

Superstrength—-gone.

I’m as weak as a Joe and...ew! Stuck in Ryodan’s arms. Close. Like we’re about to slow dance, or get all kissy.

“Dude, you like me or something? Get off me!”

He looks down at me. I can see the mind working behind his eyes. I don’t like Ryodan’s mind working when he’s looking at me.

“Fight, kid.”

I tilt my nose up at a defiant angle, jut my jaw at my best “feck you” slant. “Maybe I don’t feel like it. You said there’s no point. You keep telling me how large and in--charge you are.”

“Never stopped you before.”

“Maybe I don’t want to break a nail,” I toss out all nonchalant--like, to cover up that I just tried fighting. And fleeing. And for the first time in, well—-ever—-I’m . . . norm—-

The word sticks like a hard, spiky burr in the back of my throat. I can’t cough it up. I can’t swallow it.

It’s okay. I don’t need to be able to say it. It’s not true. It never will be.

I’ve never been that word. It’s not part of my reality. I probably just forgot to eat enough. I take a hasty mental tally of my fuel consumption over the past few hours: eleven protein bars, three cans of tuna, five cans black beans, seven Snickers. Okay, so my menu’s coming up a little light, but not enough to drain my gas tank. I step on the freeze--frame pedal again.

I still don’t move. Motionless is me. That and way freaked out.

He’s holding my hand, looking at my short nails that TP painted black the night she found out the truth about me. I don’t know why I haven’t taken it off yet. It chips like crazy in no time with all the fighting I do.

“You don’t have nails to break. Try again.”

“Let go of my hand.”

“Make me.”

Before I can snap off a pithy, brilliant reply, my head is back, my spine is arched like a bow, and Ryodan’s face is in my neck.

He bites me.

The fecker bites me!

Right on the neck!

Fangs bracket my jugular. I feel them, sharp and deep, sinking into me. It hurts.

Ryodan does have fangs! I -didn’t imagine what I thought I saw on the rooftop the other night when he was telling me he had a job for me!

“What the feck you doing? You a vamp or something? You turning me?” I’m horrified. I’m . . . intrigued. How much stronger might I get? Are vampires real? Fairies are. I suppose that flings the closet door wide open. Every-thing’s going to be springing out now. Does TP know about this? Is Barrons a vampire? What’s going on here? Dude, my world just got so much more interesting!

Suddenly I’m staggering for footing, resisting nothing and looking like a drunken pinwheel doing it. It pisses me off, Ryodan making me look clumsy in front of him. I wipe a smear of blood from my neck and glare at it. When was the last time somebody spilled my blood? Like never. Sure, I bang myself up. But nobody else does. Not anymore.

Bleeding? Clumsy? Slow? Who am I?

“I know your taste now, kid. I know your scent like I know my own. You will never be able to pass me again without me knowing it’s you. And if I ever catch you on the lower levels of Chester’s . . . or anywhere in my club for that matter...”

I jerk my glare from my hand to his face.

He smiles at me. There’s blood on his teeth.

Fact: it’s just wrong to be smiled at by someone who has your blood on his teeth. It offends to the bone. Where were his fangs? Did he have fangs? Natural or cosmetic implants? You never know with folks these days. They didn’t retract with a smoothly audible snick like on TV or I would have heard it. I have super-hearing. Well, sometimes I do. Like when I also have superspeed and superstrength. Which used to be all the time. Until exactly now.

“...don’t let me...”

His gaze does that unnerving flickery thing it does sometimes. I think it’s because he looks me up and down so quick that I can’t focus on his eyes changing directions, I just see a kind of ocular shiver. I wonder if I can do it, too, superspeed a single part of me, like maybe tap a finger hyperfast. I need to practice. Assuming I can superspeed again at all. What the feck is wrong with me? Did I stall? How could I stall? I don’t stall!

“...unless you’re working for me and there at my direction. That’s the deal.” He’s cold. Ice cold. And I know without him even saying what the second option is: die. Work for me or die. It pisses me off big--time.

“Are you giving me an ultimatum? Because that is so not cool.” I don’t emote disdain. I become disdain. I flash him number seventeen of my thirty--five Looks of Death. Grown--ups! They see a teenager with a little more stuff going on than they know what to do with, so they try to lock them down, box them up, make them feel bad just for being what they are. Like I can even help it. Dancer’s right, adults are afraid of the kids they’re raising.

“If growing up means turning out like you,” I say, “I’m never doing it. I know who I am and I like it. I’m not changing for anybody.”

“One day, kid, you’ll be willing to mortgage your fucking soul for somebody.”

“I don’t think you should say ‘fucking’ around me. In case you forgot, I’m only fourteen. And news flash, dude, I’ve got no soul. There aren’t any banks. And there isn’t any currency. Ergo. Never. Going. To. Happen.”

“I’m not sure you could be any more full of yourself.”

I cut him a smug look. “I’m willing to try.”

Ryodan laughs. The instant he does, I flash back to what I saw on level four the other night. He was laughing then, too. The look on the woman’s face and the noise she was making when he did that thing he was doing—- Gah! Old dude! Gross! What’s wrong with me?

He’s looking at me hard.

It makes me want to blink out of existence.

Ryodan looks at people different than anybody else I know. Like he has X‑ray vision or something and knows exactly what’s happening inside people’s skulls.

“No mystery there, kid. If you live long enough, you do know what they’re thinking,” he says. “Humans are predictable, cut from patterns. Few evolve beyond them.”

Huh? He did not just answer my thought. No fecking way.

“I know your secret, Dani.”

“Got no secrets.”

“Despite all the swaggering you do, you don’t want anybody to see you. Not -really see you. Invisa--girl. That’s who you want to be. I wonder why.”

I flip him off with both hands and freeze--frame with everything I’ve got.

It works this time! Fecking--A, it’s good to be me! Wind in my hair! Mega on the move! Leaps tall buildings in a single bound!

Well, maybe that last part’s a little exaggeration, but still...

Zoooooooom! I freeze--frame through the streets of Dublin.

When I slam into the next wall, it knocks me out cold.

 

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