“You’re as safe as I can make you.”

“I know.” Even though I hadn’t shed a tear, I felt like I’d been crying for days. Raw, achy, and emotionally spent.


“I want to make you happy,” he murmured into my hair. “Tell me how.”

I whispered in his ear.

Dune pulled away so he could look into my eyes.

“I could disappear,” I said. “Not exist, except as a full-time playground for dead people. I know the timing sucks, but right now is all we have.”

“No, it’s not, Hal. I’ll make sure of it.”

“You’ll try. But you can’t guarantee it, and I don’t want to lose one more second. Do you?”

Instead of answering, he shut the bedroom door.

He hadn’t fallen asleep until dawn, and even then he’d only slept in snatches. This time, I was the one who watched him take every breath. When my phone rang, I picked it up to silence it, figuring it was Dad checking in.

My heart stopped cold when I saw the name on the caller ID.

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I shook Dune awake and answered.

“Hello, Mother.”

She sounded cool and well rested. Wherever she’d been for the past few weeks, the living hadn’t been hard.

“Where have you been?” I asked, keeping my tone as bored as I could manage. “We thought you were dead.”

“Don’t you mean hoped?”

“What do you think?”

Dune sat up beside me. The word backup had never meant so much. My mother’s lack of response gave me a petty amount of pleasure. Today, I’d take pleasure wherever I could get it.

“Why are you calling?” I leaned back into Dune’s chest. “I know you want something. You always do.”

“That’s no way to talk to your mother, Little Miss.”

It was her childhood nickname for me, a passive-aggressive insult. Her specialty. “Whatever.”

“I’m your mother. That’s why I’m calling.” She took a deep sigh for dramatic effect. “I want to help you. I want to lift the burden of the Infinityglass from you. I can make that happen. I can help.”

I tensed, saying nothing. Waiting for the bomb to drop.

“I’m in New Orleans, and I need to see you.”

“Could she be telling the truth?” Dune asked. “What if she does have a way to help?”

“Everyone should try something new once in a while. Maybe truth is her latest hobby.”

Dune had insisted on neutral ground, and Audubon Park fit the bill. We took Dad’s town car down Saint Charles. It dropped us off across from Tulane’s Gibson Hall.

We didn’t go in too deep, staying far away from the Fly, the side of the park next to the river. Even so, I could still smell the Mississippi. I knew Dune could, too. A keen edge of panic sneaked out from underneath his mask of cool every time the wind blew.

“Are you okay?” I asked, “with the water?”

“You’re beautiful.”

“Subject changer.” I turned to face him. We hadn’t recapped the events of the night before, but I couldn’t stop thinking about his skin, his mouth, his hands.

“I am not. I just wanted to say what was on my mind.” He pulled me down to sit beside him on a bench.

“I hope you’re having the same thought I am,” I said.

“Which is?”


He caught the back of my head in his hand and brought me in for a kiss. “Don’t give up yet.”

I nodded, and then a shadow blocked the sun. The afterglow disappeared in a flash.

“Hello, Mother.”

“Hallie.” She looked down her nose at Dune. “Who is this?”

“We’ve never officially met.” He stood to shake her hand, which she did, with disdain. It didn’t faze him. “I’m Dune Ta’ala.”

He put his arm around me when he sat back down, keeping his body forward, as close in front of me as he could be. His eyes had gone from sweet to wary, and the scar through his eyebrow became menacing instead of intriguing.

It was the first time I’d seen him use his physicality to intimidate, like a peacock fluffing up his plumes. It was ridiculously hot, and from the visible tension in my mother’s body, it worked.

“Does your father know about this?” Mother slid her sunglasses off and put them in her purse.

“Yes,” I answered, keeping my eyes on Dune.

“And what does he think about it?”

I shrugged. Let her wonder. If she’d been on the run, it had been somewhere that provided French manicures and root touch-ups. “You look good, but you always do. I see you’ve been shopping for jewelry, too. Why didn’t you call me? We could’ve made a day of it.”

She brushed her fingers just above the long, antique pendant that lay against her turtleneck sweater. “You’re almost eighteen, yet you show no signs of maturity.”

“You’re way past forty. Neither do you.”

“Nothing ever changes.” She sat down on the bench across from ours.

“No, it doesn’t. Probably never will. Why are you here?”

“To help my daughter.”

“Please. There are a million ulterior motives in everything you do.” I rubbed my temples. Oh, how this woman exhausted me.

“I’m here because of who you are.” She paused for effect. “What you are. How you got that way. Wouldn’t you like to know?”

“I don’t need you for answers. I don’t need you for anything.” Her expression would have frozen a hot spring solid. In July. After a moment, all the chill melted away, and she smiled.


Cold dread swirled in the pit of my stomach. I knew that smile. She had something on me, something big. She didn’t seem eager to make me work for the information, which meant she could barely contain it.

That was scarier than a hundred rips coming for me at once.

“I’ve been with Chronos for years, ever since my own parents worked for them,” she said. “I’ve seen raw talent that you can’t even fathom.” The smile faded and was replaced by calculation. “I was a scientist before I was a mother, so I had time to think about the kind of child I wanted. One just like me.”

An uneasy fear crept up my spine.

“I wanted to make sure I did everything perfectly,” she said, “so there was research. So much tedious research. I needed to verify the genetic sequence, so I located specimens.”


Her smile made a brief reappearance. “Once everything was confirmed and reconfirmed, I began experimenting. Of course, mistakes were made.”

Adrenaline numbed my face and clutched at my vocal cords. She couldn’t mean what I thought she meant.

“No one gets everything right the first time. Experiments can create monsters.”

“What kind of monsters?”

“The versions of you that I didn’t get right the first time.”

My mouth went dry. “You made multiple versions of me. Are they still out there?”

“I don’t allow mistakes.”

I stared at her, hoping for a shred of humanity. Searching for anything that wasn’t cold and self-serving. I didn’t find any of it.

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