But if not Varen himself, then there at least had to be something for her here. Some kind of token or sign that would reassure her that he was still waiting for her, still holding on.

Even something as minute and simple as a single red rose petal.

There was nothing, though.

Instead the entire street felt hollow, drained of the timeless beauty it had possessed that autumn afternoon when he’d first brought her here.

Isobel looked back at the fountain.

Curly-haired cherubs frolicked beneath the basin in a captured moment of abandon. Though the figures might have seemed playful in the daylight, something about the mix of shadows and stark light cast on their small faces by the floodlights made them appear more mischievous than free-spirited, more impish than gleeful.

The large swans that reveled with them, rearing back with wings outspread, looked somehow frantic.

Isobel took a step back and then another.

Blocked by the wide bowl of the basin, the lights could not reach the sultry figure of the nude woman who stood at the very top of the fountain, her veil billowing out behind her. She remained swathed in shadow, a silhouette that belonged to the night.

“You won’t win,” Isobel whispered under her breath.

Her gaze locked on the woman’s face, featureless in the dark.


“Whether what I’ve seen is true or not,” she went on, her voice growing louder with conviction, “no matter what you’ve made him believe, you won’t stop me. As soon as I find him, as soon as he sees me, he’ll know you’ve lied. Demon or not, you can’t scare me anymore. I will bring him back. And then I’ll find a way to stop you for good. To keep you from doing this to anyone ever again. I swear it.”

Isobel turned her back on the fountain. She strode to the curb and bent to pick up Danny’s bike.

“Is that some kind of bad habit of yours? Making promises you can’t keep?”

Isobel halted. That voice . . .

Slowly she turned, glancing toward the fountain again. Then, lowering the bike, she let it drop at the last second before hurrying to make her way around its circumference in quick strides, stopping when she found him.

He sat with his back pressed to the fountain’s base, just below one of the unfurling swans. To his right, one of the bronze cherubs seemed to lean toward him with cautious interest.

The buckles of the Noc’s tight straitjacket-style coat were open, exposing a portion of his alabaster chest. Right where his heart should have been, Isobel saw an open crater the size of a softball.

Next to him sat a pile of what at first glance looked like a collection of small rocks. That was when she realized they weren’t rocks at all but shards, broken bits of Noc.

Isobel did her best to keep her face free of expression as he lifted one of the shards between the crimson claws of his finger and thumb. He held the shard up to the floodlights and studied it like a jeweler would a diamond. Then he brought the shard to his chest, carefully fitting the sliver into the gaping black cavity. She heard the piece attach with a quiet tink.

“Our jacket,” Pinfeathers said, selecting yet another shard without glancing up from his task. “The one you found on your closet door. Have you guessed yet that wasn’t me?”


Secret Deeds

Though it was a gruesome thing to witness Pinfeathers piecing together the gaping black hole in his chest, Isobel couldn’t seem to bring herself to look away. She also couldn’t help but wonder how he’d acquired the damage, but she knew better than to ask.

“Why are you following me?” she demanded, doubting the Noc would give her a straight answer. “Is she sending you to spy on me?”

“On the contrary, cheerleader,” he said. “I’ve been here all along. Waiting for you.” He smiled his jagged grin. “Of course.”


“—did I know you would come?” he asked, finishing the question for her. “Because.” He glanced up for the first time, his soot-black eyes locking with hers. “You said you would.”

She shook her head, a slight motion. “I never—”

“You did,” he corrected, interrupting her a second time. “Even if you haven’t been listening, cheerleader, we have. Speaking of . . .” He cocked his head to one side and blinked. “Didn’t you hear what I just said?”

Isobel’s jaw tightened. She pinched her lips together, not allowing herself to speak until she could trust herself not to say something that might provoke him. She liked him right where he was: at a distance, sitting and with hands occupied.

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