It is a strange and humbling feeling to look back at this trilogy and remember all the people who have nudged, guided, and encouraged me along the way. Writing Mo’s story has brought an astonishing number of wonderful people into my life, and I am so very thankful for them—and for my readers. Without them, this story would never have been written.
I owe a tremendous amount of thanks to Alicia Condon and her team at KTeen / Kensington, for their faith in me and in this story, for bringing it to life, and for always encouraging me to dig a little deeper. They gave me the chance to make my dreams real and cheered me on every step of the way, and I will always be grateful to them.
I could write a million words and still not adequately express how fortunate I am to have the brilliant Joanna Volpe as my agent. She knows exactly how to handle every situation, from stubborn plot holes to a zombie apocalypse. Working with her has made me a far better writer, and I would cheerfully walk through fire for her. I am equally indebted to the rest of the NCLMR team, especially Nancy Coffey and Kathleen Ortiz for their savvy and support at every turn. Sara Kendall’s kindness and humor are unmatched, and her keen eyes have improved this story a thousandfold. Thank you all, for the infinite number of awesome things you’ve done.
Chicago-North RWA has been with me since the very first pages of Mo’s story—they taught me how to be a writer, and it’s a debt I can never repay. The 2010 Unsinkables and MargaRITAs have cheered me on without fail, as have the Broken Writers. The YA community has brought so many wonderful people to my life, I can’t possibly name them all, but Loretta Nyhan, Jenn Rush, Lee Nichols, and Monica Vavra deserve special mention for their support and general awesomeness.
My friends, both writerly and otherwise, have kept me sane since this roller coaster started: Paula Forman, Lisa McKernan, Lynne Hartzer, Ryann Murphy, Keiru Bakke, Clara Kensie, Lexie Craig, Joelle Charbonneau, Heather Snow, Erin Knightly ... I could not have done this without them. KC Solano, Vanessa Barnevald, and Kimberly MacCarron have come to the rescue so many times, in so many ways, and I can’t wait to return the favor. Lisa Tonkery cheerfully answers my rambling two a.m. e-mails, makes me laugh until I cry, and always understands without explanations. Hanna Martine is one of the smartest, strongest, most talented authors I know, and an inspiration in both writing and life.
Eliza Evans has been an unending source of support and friendship throughout my journey in publishing, and I could not have written this trilogy without her cheering me on. From writing sprints to pep talks to brainstorming to patiently explaining pop culture, she has done it all. Having her in my life is proof positive that I am one of the luckiest girls on the planet.
I can’t overstate how thankful I am for my family, especially my mother, father, and sister, who have always been my loudest, most devoted cheering section. Time and again, they have provided child care, a sympathetic ear, research, marketing expertise, food ... the list is endless, as is my love and gratitude.
I am so proud of my three beautiful, independent, intelligent, generous, funny daughters. If there is such a thing as karma, I must have rescued a boatload of nuns and puppies from a burning orphanage in my last life to get kids this amazing. They have been understanding and patient beyond comprehension, and I hope watching me work to achieve this dream has shown them their dreams are just as reachable— and that I would move heaven and earth to help them get there.
Last, there is Danny—my true north, my true love, and my favorite person in the whole world. He makes everything possible, and he makes everything better, including me. Thanking him properly would take an entire book, so I will leave it at this: Thank you for being exactly who you are, always.
he problem with terrible ideas is that the people who have them don’t recognize how truly awful they are until it’s too late. After all, nobody deliberately chooses the worst possible course of action. They have great plans and good intentions. They’re caught up in the thrill of the moment, seeing the world as they wish it to be, blind to any hint of trouble. You can warn someone that they’re running headlong into disaster, beg them to stop, plant yourself in their path. But in the end, people have to make their own choice.
Even if it’s a terrible one.
My father’s coming home party was a perfect example of good intentions gone awry.
“This is ridiculous,” I said to Colin. “Who throws a huge party for someone fresh out of prison?”
My mom, that’s who. I’d tried to talk her out of it—I felt less than celebratory at the prospect of my dad’s return—but she’d insisted. Then I’d argued that a small family gathering at the house might be more appropriate. But for once, my mother wasn’t concerned with propriety.
So I was stuck at my uncle’s bar with everyone we’d ever known, waiting for my dad to walk in the door for the first time in twelve years.
Around me, the crowd was growing impatient, their small talk taking on an irritable note. I should have been setting out bowls of peanuts and pretzels, but instead I slumped against the back wall and watched a game of darts. “You know she’s hoping for one of those big reunion scenes. Like we’re all going to hug and cry and be a happy family again.”
Colin’s hand found mine and squeezed, but his eyes swept across the sea of people, searching even in the dim light of the bar. “Just hang in there a little bit longer.”
“I don’t know why I even agreed to come,” I said.
“Because it’s important to your mother,” my uncle said, appearing beside us. Irritation flickered across his face at the sight of my fingers linked with Colin’s. “Be grateful I told her you had to work, or you’d have been off to Indiana along with her. They’ll be arriving any moment, so start practicing your smile.”
I bared my teeth. “How’s this?”
“I’ll not have you spoil her day, Mo. She’s waited a long time for this.”
“Longer than she needed to, right?”
Billy’s eyes narrowed, and beside me, Colin made a low noise of warning. “Don’t bait the bear,” he was telling me, and any other day I would have listened. But tonight, my nerves were stretched to breaking.
Ignoring the ripple of tension along Colin’s arm, I lifted my chin and stared at my uncle. A moment passed, and finally Billy made a show of looking around the room. “Make sure everyone has something to toast with, and then you’re free for the night. I’ll need you back on Monday.”
With that, he was off to mingle. I leaned my head against Colin’s shoulder and he murmured, “The sooner we get The Slice up and running, the better. I don’t like you working for Billy.”
I wasn’t a fan of the arrangement, either, but I had no choice. As long as I worked for my uncle, Colin was safe. He didn’t know about the deal we’d struck, and he definitely wasn’t aware my job was more than wiping down tables and carting empties to the recycling bins out back. He assumed, like almost everyone else in my life, that I was working at the bar until my mom’s restaurant was rebuilt, at which point life would go back to normal.
I had learned the hard way that normal was not an option anymore.
I went up on tiptoe, brushed a kiss over his lips. His hand tightened on my waist for an instant before he edged away.
“What? Everyone knows we’re together.” I sank back down, trying not to feel hurt.
“I’m not crazy about having an audience.”
I glanced around. There were a few people eyeing us—not many, but enough to make Colin uncomfortable. “Fine. But we’re not staying here all night.”
He grinned and ducked his head, his breath warm against my ear. “Wasn’t planning on it.”
I made the rounds of the bar, my back aching from carrying a full tray back and forth. The whole time, I could feel Colin watching me, an anchor in a stormy sea, and I clung to the sensation. But gradually, I became aware of another one, a prickling awareness that made me rub my arms to ward off a chill, despite the overheated room.
Around me, voices faded to a murmur. I spun, looking for Colin, but the crowd hid him from view. The magic stirred—anticipation and stress and dread waking up the force inside me. Something was happening.
Luc? He had a knack for showing up at the worst possible moment, and I couldn’t imagine a worse one than tonight. The connection between us had lain dormant for nearly three months, a welcome break while I got acclimated to my new life and the constant presence of the magic inside me. I’d always known he would come back. I’d just hoped to have things under control before he turned my world inside out again.
My hands clutched the empty tray to my chest like a shield. I squeezed my eyes shut, feeling along the lines for the vibrating tension that would indicate an Arc was here. But the lines were quiet, their power held in abeyance. There was no sign of Luc or anyone else in the room working a spell— even a concealment. I opened my eyes and searched for a familiar green gaze and sharp cheekbones, but they weren’t there. Better that way, I told myself.
People stood three deep in front of the oak counter running along the side of the room. Behind them I could see the backs of the regulars hunched over their drinks, and Charlie, my favorite bartender. He was pulling beers and gauging who’d hit their limit, working his way down the line in a steady rhythm. He seemed to pop in and out of view as the people milled in front of him.
It was a familiar sight, but something seemed off-kilter. Like a puzzle in a kid’s magazine, where you compared two pictures of the same scene and circled the differences. What was the difference? The bar. Charlie. The customers. The party. What was out of place?
A gap opened in the crowd, giving me a clear view of the bar for only an instant. But it was enough.
The regulars all faced Charlie or the front door. From my spot at the rear of the bar, only the backs of their heads were visible. Except for one guy, facing the opposite direction.
For a split second, I could see him as clearly as if I’d taken his picture—eyebrows raised mockingly, mouth twisted in a caustic smile—and then the shutter closed as the crowd filled the gap again.
Suddenly, I wished it was.
Anton Renard. Leader of the Seraphim. A renegade Arc who wanted me dead.
The feeling was mutual.
I forced myself to walk toward him, but when I reached the barstool, he was gone, and the lines were silent as the grave.
“Problem?” Colin asked from behind me. He rested his hands on my shoulders, the weight reassuring.
I drew in a shaking breath, turning to him. “I thought I saw Anton. Here.”
His expression hardened. “You’re sure?”
“No.” If it was Anton, I would have felt the spell he’d used to hide himself as it resonated along the lines. Either I was mistaken, or he’d managed to blend convincingly into a Flat bar on the South Side of Chicago. But the Anton I knew was too arrogant for blending.
Something had triggered the magic’s fretfulness, but maybe it was my own unhappiness. Three months ago, I’d willingly given myself over to the magic—taken it inside of me, bound myself to the source of the Arcs’ power—and discovered that it wasn’t just a supernatural energy source, but a sentient being. Alive. Since then, our connection had strengthened. We couldn’t carry on a conversation, but I was getting better at interpreting its moods, and it responded to mine: a pleasant hum beneath my skin when I was content, a tremor every time I crossed the threshold of Morgan’s. I didn’t know which one of us was responsible for the disturbance I felt now.
From the front of Morgan’s, someone called, “They’re here! Where’s Mo?”
Colin took my hand, tugging me toward the narrow front doors as they opened. The crowd drew a collective breath as my mom stepped inside, cheeks flushed with cold and excitement. And I forgot all about half-seen faces, because immediately behind her, blinking at the noise of the crowd’s shouts of “surprise” and “welcome home,” was my father.
I hadn’t seen him in five years.
From behind a wall of people, I studied him carefully. He was still my dad, sharp greenish-brown eyes framed with heavy black glasses. His dark red hair, curling at the collar, needed a trim, and his narrow face managed to look surprised, even though the expression was a beat too slow to be genuine. But there were lines at the corners of his eyes that hadn’t been there before, and his hair was streaked with gray. His posture was a little more stooped, as if he were trying to withdraw into himself. He looped one arm around my mother, drawing her close as people lined up to greet him.
Billy spotted me trying to fade into the crowd and grasped my elbow. “Don’t you dare ruin this,” he muttered, and towed me into the circle surrounding my parents. His voice suddenly brimmed with good cheer. “Jack! Welcome home! Look what I’ve brought you—a sight for sore eyes, don’t you think?”
He stepped back, releasing me. The expectation of the crowd, waiting for our tearful reunion, weighed on me like the air before a storm.
After a moment, my father let go of my mom and took a tentative step toward me, spreading his arms wide. “There’s my girl,” he said, his voice cracking in the suddenly quiet room. “There’s my Mo.”
I wanted to turn away, punish him for all the pain he’d caused us. I wasn’t going to let him back in, and there was no reason to pretend otherwise.
Until I saw my mom blinking back tears, a wobbly smile on her lips. All her hopes for our family crystallized in a single moment, and my reaction would either let them grow or shatter them on the worn oak floorboards. I licked my lips and swallowed the dust clogging my throat.
“Hi, Dad.” I wound the apron string around my fingers until it cut off the circulation, untwisted it again. “It’s ... good to have you home.”
He was across the room in three strides, wrapping me in the same bear hug he used to give me when I was five, and for a second I let myself believe Mom was right. Tonight could be a fresh start, a chance for us to be a family again. His return might not be such a terrible thing after all.
And then, still squeezing me tightly, my father whispered one word to me. “Liar.”