We were close, approaching the corner of the alley, almost there. So very close.

But the rips were closer.


Images rushed around me like water swirling down a drain. It happened so much faster than before, maybe because we were trapped in the rips’ world, instead of them being trapped in ours.

My body became a revolving door for rips. The blood in my veins pumped double time, triple time, as my cells regenerated and tried to give me enough energy to handle what was coming.

The mask is more than a Mardi Gras favor; it’s my chance to find Jean Claude, to make him mine.

I approach the entryway where he’s agreed to meet me, finally, and his arm reaches out to sweep me into the darkness. He says not a word, but his hands ravage my body. They grip my waist, my hips, linger on the curve of my breasts above the corset. Air kisses my skin as he pulls down my sleeves and his lips find my shoulder.

“Take off the mask,” I command. “I’ve waited so long for you.”

Heat rolls off his body, and tension keeps his muscles tight. “Here, in the dark?” he asks, tracing the neckline of my gown. “Instead of a bed?”

“Now.” He reaches for my mask, mindful of the feathers. He knows I must go back to my husband tonight. His mouth claims mine before I can tell him to mind the lipstick, and I decide I don’t care.

New world, new players.

“I don’t want to show you anything,” the girl yells back at me. I laugh and drop the beads for her, anyway.

-- Advertisement --

I feel generous here. New Orleans is good to me. The beer is cold, and no one ever asks for my name. No one cares. About anything. Not if I drink, not if I squat, not if I steal. At the right parties, they don’t even care if I crawl into bed with them. If I get that far, they don’t care what I do next.

I stick my hand in my pocket. Wince when I catch a hangnail. Two rings, a wallet, cash. A set of car keys, a checkbook, and my favorite, a tiny knife with a pearl handle. A knife that sliced my cheek open before dinnertime, but belonged to me by sunset.

I can steal bigger things with a knife. I can hurt someone with a knife.

Will anyone care about that?

The possession let up long enough for me to reach out for Dune. I could feel him, hear him, but the next round slammed into me, swallowing me whole.

“Did you hear?” Carolina is aflutter, her fan flipping her ringlets at a furious pace. “The scandal is international. She buried bodies beneath the floorboards.”

Elizabeth has more to share. “There were experiments in the attic. She’d peeled back skin and let people—”

“Stop.” I speak too loudly for a lady, but my stomach is churning. “This isn’t a thing to sensationalize. These were human beings. People, with souls.”

“But they were just slaves.”

I stare at Carolina, wondering how her heart can be so full of darkness. How we could’ve been raised in the same household. How she can have such disregard for human life. “You should be ashamed of yourself. I’m ashamed to call you sister.”

My request doesn’t stop her. “Men and women were chained to the wall, body parts scattered all around in piles and in buckets.… ”

I cover my mouth with my handkerchief, my stomach churning at the thought of so much human pain, and the knowledge that my own flesh and blood relished it.

No more ugliness or horror. I pushed the memory away, but they wouldn’t let me go. Instead they just came faster and faster.…


I sat on the ground, her head in my lap. The rips shuffled her cells like they were a card deck, forming them into their own images.

Kaleb’s focus shifted from the rips on the street to Hallie on the ground. “What the hell is going on?”

“Rips. Funneling through her, controlling her.”

“Her face …” Lily reached out to put her hand on Hallie’s arm, hovering just above it. Tears filled her eyes. “Kaleb and I might know a way out, but I’m scared of what could happen to Hallie if the rip world dissolves while she’s possessed.”

“So am I.” I pushed Hallie’s hair out of her face, one that no longer belonged to her. The faces of those possessing her moved so fast her own features were a blur. She was underneath. She needed me.

Kaleb’s eyes were guarded. “We’ve got to stop this.”

“I don’t know how. She’s broken free from it on her own before. I never made her do it.”

“Dune?” Lily’s voice broke through my thoughts. “You need to see this.”

The alley was still dark, but the sound of the party on the street echoed off the walls. The streetlights illuminated what had put so much fear in Lily’s voice.

The rips that had noticed us on Bourbon, at least thirty of them, were lined up across the entrance of the alley. Every single one stared at Hallie.

“Hallie. Come back.” Please.

As if she heard me, the transmutations slowed enough for me to distinguish some features.

A middle-aged woman with too much lipstick, most of it smeared.

A younger guy with a gash on his left cheek.

A girl Hallie’s age, her hair in ringlets and tears in her eyes.

The same faces were reflected in the rips’ lining the alley.

And then I caught a brief glimpse of Hallie, and she whispered my name. “Dune.”

“I’m here.” I grabbed her hands. “Open your eyes.”

Hallie groaned a little and her eyelids fluttered. When she gritted her teeth and squeezed my hands, I realized what she was doing.

“She’s trying to control the rip. She’s pulling it in.”

In the street where the Mardi Gras parade raged on, a bright light flashed and narrowed. The rips began to fade around the edges. A premonition pushed into my brain.

Suddenly, the rip world began folding in on itself. Inches faded at a time, and then inches became feet. The rips lining the alley disappeared all at once, and then everything was gone except for Hallie. There were a few seconds of peace, and I thought it was over.

I was wrong.

Voices roared. A gravitational pull fought against our hands, tugging at Hallie, snatching at her hair. The force of it moved her across the ground, toward the light, and Lily and Kaleb grabbed her arms.

They were fighting for her as hard as I was, but she had to fight for herself.

“Don’t leave me, Hallie.” I had to yell over the chaos.

Her eyes flew open and locked on mine.

“I’m not ready to lose you!” The whirling air around us snatched my words as they came out of my mouth. But Hallie heard me.

“I’m not ready to go.” She sat up. Her whole body tensed as a scream that sounded like a thousand voices ripped its way out of her. Power surged through the alley, and the roaring ceased.

In one short second, the darkness swallowed the light, leaving us in complete silence.

Chapter 18


I slept for five hours.

When I woke up, Dune was in my bed with me, typing one hand. The other was on my hip. “Dune?”

“Hey.” After a couple more key clicks, he put the computer down and kissed my forehead. “What can I get for you? What do you need?”

“You.” I grabbed him and held on tightly. It took less than a second for him to hold on harder.

“You slept for a long time.” He tucked my hair behind my ears. “I think you took about thirty thousand breaths.”

-- Advertisement --