It’s been six months since ghost-turned-golem Sinclair Youngblood Powers confessed his love, stole Dice’s heart, and disappeared from Swoon, perhaps from existence. Despite the hurt, Dice has been moving steadily toward ordinary. Dreams of Sin still plague and pleasure her sleep, and the mark Sin left remains on her skin, still sore. But Dice has been throwing herself into music, finding solace in song and sometimes even in the arms of her band mate, Tosh. Life seems almost…normal. The last thing Dice wants is to mess with anything remotely supernatural. But when her best friend’s boyfriend goes missing, Dice has no choice but to become very much involved. She knows that his disappearance was no accident, and it somehow has everything to do with Sin. Because Dice can feel it: Sin is back. And the promises and deceptions he left in his wake have returned to haunt him.
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LOVE IS BLUE. A CLEAR CERULEAN WHEN NEW. A BRIGHT, BOLD, TRUE blue in its glorious throes. And when it hurts, as it inevitably will, love turns deep, dark, the color of a bad bruise. I know all about that deep, that dark—I’ve been dealing with it for a while now. One night of true bliss with the boy I love, and then he was gone. Had he found the peace eluding him for centuries? Or was his destiny null, void, blank, nothing? Don’t ask me. All I know is that what we shared—tumultuous as it often was—went beyond tangible presence. He left me, of his own accord or by some immutable force, but he’s with me. I feel him. On me. In me. Through and through me. That’s how I can handle it.
Even though it hurts like hell. Literally. Our night was intense—naturally, he put his mark on me. There, along my inner thigh, storm-colored, tear-shaped. Only why won’t the blue bruise fade? Stroking soapy fingers across it in the shower, I fall back against the tile, his imprint still so tender and reaching all the way to my core.
Six months later—as in now—the blue bruise remains.
Like I said, I can deal. I’ve . . . adapted. Here it is, almost summer, and I’ll wear a skirt or shorts without a thought to my tarnished skin. At night, I’ll sleep, ignoring that stained aspect of my anatomy. Sure, sometimes, alone in bed I’ll press my hand there, and the pain is still the pain, except not exactly. Oh, and the nocturnal trysts, dreams that aren’t dreams, during which we chat . . . and stuff. Then there’s the after blow—the selfish ache of his absence—which kills. Only I have no control over any of it, or him. Sinclair Youngblood Powers. Boy turned ghost turned golem turned . . . who knows. My Sin.
That would be Marsh. Shrieking. Except Marsh doesn’t shriek. So I dash from the backyard, where I’m tending tomato seedlings (crazy, I know, a city girl like me) to find a foot-high blaze snarling on the stove top and my best friend haplessly flailing a pot holder.
“Marsh!” I hip-check her out of the way. “Fan the flames, why don’t you?” I find the lid to the pan, slam it over the orange plumes. Grease fires and such don’t faze me much these days. But Marsh, her eyes wide and brimming, cringes against the sink.
“It’s out,” I state the obvious. Adding, soothingly, “No worries, Marsh. No harm done.” No harm, unless you’re the chicken cutlets she’s torched beyond recognition.
She blinks back tears. Which is weird. I mean, the girl blew away her abusive father with his own Clint Eastwood special last fall, and having shouldered so much suffering at the hands of Daddy Demento, she doesn’t easily freak. I yank off my gardening gloves and put an arm around her.
Instantly she crumples. “Oh, Dice . . .”
“Marsh, come on, hush, okay? Nothing happened.”
She sniffs, hard, and gets it together. I let go and watch her as she leans rigidly against the counter.
“I must’ve got . . . distracted.” She presses a knuckle to mauve-tinged half-moons under sleepless eyes. “I’m sorry, Dice. I ruined dinner.”
I just shrug. Marsh and I have been housemates since right around New Year’s. She’d moved with her kid sisters into the new place, twenty miles away in Torrington, but the whole situation—with them, their mother, and New Pop—proved too tense. Living here, Marsh can graduate from Swonowa with our friends, still tend her beloved horses, work all summer to earn cash for vet tech school, and of course be close to her boyfriend, Crane.
The deal works both ways, though—it’s good for me having Marsh around. My parents rarely are. Daddy landed a role in a series that shoots in Toronto. (Ever see Officer Demon, that show about the vampire cop? Yeah, he’s the grumpy, overworked coroner.) And when circulation tanked at Momster’s magazine In Star, she got a new boss, this Brit who makes Simon Cowell look like the Dalai Lama; her hours are more insane than ever. Taking a four-hour train-then-cab ride or driving a rental from Manhattan to Swoon, C-T, is so not on her schedule these days. Marsh is my buttress against loneliness; and she really is—lapse into patricide aside—a regular girl: down-to-earth, no-nonsense, and so a healthy influence. Ordinary is my number one goal these days, normal my nirvana. So I say, “It’s not like your chicken supreme is so hot anyway.”
It’s true. The division of labor here at 12 Daisy Lane is usually: cooking = me, cleaning = her. Guess I was lingering in the garden too long and she got hungry.
Marsh sniffs again and slides her lank blond bangs. “Oh, shut up,” she says, and tries a smile.
I try one back, though both smiles are weak. Something’s definitely up with her. Sitting at the table in the tiny dining area, I say, “You want to tell me what’s going on?”
For a beat her eyes narrow, that look she gets when she thinks I’m playing psychic detective. The girl is still a little spooked by my so-called gift.
I cock my head, press my lips. “It’s pretty obvious. You’re not the type to space out over a sauté pan.”
Marsh sits opposite me, toys with the edge of a flea-market doily. “It’s Crane,” she says, her voice so thin it needs to be fed intravenously. “He dumped me.”
“No, no, no, no.” This may be a crazy, unstable, screwed-up world, but if anything’s for sure in it, it’s that Crane Williams loves Kristin Marshall.
“Well then, where is he?” she wants to know. “I haven’t seen him or heard from him in two days!”
Two days? Impossible. Although . . . yeah, it was two days ago that Crane’s brother Duck called to cancel practice. They have this band, the Williams boys and another guy, Tosh Peters—basically a cover band plus two originals Crane wrote—and I’m kinda-sorta in it. On impulse I sang with them last week, and they’ve been bugging me to make it official. Strange, then, after I said I’d come to the next rehearsal, that they blew it off. “Two days. Huh.”
“That’s right,” Marsh says. “And I keep going over it—what I said, what I did or didn’t do, to make him mad or . . .”
I hate when girls do that, assume that whatever went wonky with their romance is some fault or failing on their part. Of course, Marsh hardly had stellar role models in the relationship department so I cut her some slack. I stand up. “Let’s go.”
“Their house. We’ll see if he’s home, and if not, we’ll get something out of Duck.” We call him Duck but the boy’s more magpie—you can’t shut him up.
This seems to make sense to Marsh; she nods once, and we’re out the door.
“Wait a sec.” I touch her wrist. “I’ll be right back.”
A restored relic from the 1700s, our clapboard farmhouse could go up like tinder. I just want to double-check, make sure all the burners are off. Call me OCD—you dance with death enough times, you can’t be too careful. In the kitchen, though, everything’s cool. Very cool; too cool. You’d never know by the temperature that we’d just beat down a blaze. Or by the smell. Not burnt chicken but . . . roses?
There’s not a single rosebush on the property, but the scent is unmistakable, and unwelcome, snapping me back to the first and only funeral I ever had to attend. The church a sea of flowers, as you’d expect when someone so young and so beautiful so tragically dies. I see her now, my best friend since fourth grade, laid out in an open casket, her high-necked, long-sleeved gown demure, like nothing she’d ever be caught dead in. Now I’m giggling aloud, just as I did then—oh, the irony!—the giggles going headlong toward hysteria. Convulsively I laugh, I can’t help it—the smell of roses so powerful and the chill of the grave so close. Which makes no sense, no sense at all. Unless I’m about to—
I haul off and slap myself across the face so hard my eyeballs bounce. Effective. That slide into clairvoyant never-never land that I never-never want to experience again? Neatly avoided. Damn, who knew? One good self-inflicted blow can psych out a psychic episode. I’ll have to remember that.