The night before we moved away, I couldn’t sleep. Not bothering to turn on the light,
I sat up in bed at three a.m. and put my earbuds in to blast the audiobook for
Rain beat down on the jacaranda tree in our front yard. I resolutely gazed out at
it to avoid seeing the walls of my room, which had been stripped of all my posters
and photos, leaving nothing but uneven holes and sticky tape residue.
The man reading Shakespeare’s play had a crisp English accent, but his voice didn’t
have the depth of Caleb’s. No one’s did. No one human, anyway.
. Thinking his name sent a stab of longing up from my heart to tighten my throat.
We’d talked till midnight, but I hadn’t laid eyes on him in weeks.
“Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air . . .”
Something glinted in the corner of my eye. I caught sight of a gray van slipping into
the rain-soaked fog down the street.
We’d stolen a van like that, a white one, from the Tribunal, my otherkin friends and
I, after we burned their compound to the ground. But the Tribunal had other sites,
Crreeeeeee . . .
I tapped the headphones. Electronics and metal gadgets tended to break down around
me. That last noise was more like a creaky floorboard in a horror movie or the rusty
door to my medicine cabinet than Shakespeare. The iPod snapped on again.
“We are such stuff
As dreams are made on . . . ”
A shape glided through the downpour outside. The gray van was back, but now the headlights
were off. The downy hairs on the back of my neck stood up as it came to a stop across
Creeeee . . .
That didn’t come from the headphones.
I popped them out of my ears and rolled silently to my feet, senses alert with fear.
For a moment the only illumination came from my iPod, the only sound the interrupted
lines of Shakespeare coming faintly from the headphones.
Then, down the hall, light as a feather falling on grass, came a footstep. And another.
Someone had been in my bathroom at three a.m., opening and closing my medicine cabinet,
and was now heading toward the living room.
It couldn’t be my mother or Richard. I knew every variation of their footsteps, and
neither one had any reason to search my nearly empty medicine cabinet.
I used all my training to move quietly to my bedroom door and turned the knob. I didn’t
want to wake my parents. Perhaps there was an innocent reason for the sounds. If not,
I could deal with the Tribunal. And if I couldn’t, better it be me that was taken
The hallway was dark and empty. I stilled and heard the footfalls again in the living
room, moving faster now. Half-running down the hall, I kept my body out of sight as
I peered around the doorframe.
To my night-sensitive eyes, the living room lay before me as clear as day, unfamiliar
territory now that packing boxes and bubble-wrapped furniture dominated. The front
door creaked open, and a hooded figure was silhouetted for a moment against the dim
greenish streetlight before it stepped outside. Gray hood, gray camouflage, the slender
waist and broad shoulders of a man. But why would he leave without trying to kidnap
or kill . . . ?
“Desdemona?” Mom’s sleepy voice came first, then the creak of her bedroom door opening.
She had always had a motherly sense for when I was restless at night.
That was all it took. The gray figure took off, slamming the door shut behind him.
“Stay here, Mom!” I shouted, and ran. In a heartbeat, I had the door open and leaped
down the front steps, blinking against the rain. The hard, heavy drops were icy cold
and drenched me instantly.
The figure sprinted straight for the van, rounding the jacaranda tree. I was fast,
inhumanly fast in short spurts, but he had too big a head start. Then his foot bumped
hard against one of the tree’s roots, and he sprawled facedown onto the grass.
“Thanks, tree,” I said, lunging for him.
He rolled out of reach, brown eyes behind his muddied ski mask very wide, and scrambled
to his feet. I knew those eyes. The sound of his breath coming hard and fast brought
back a memory of a tall blond boy, his arm broken, his once angelic face sneering
to hide just how lost he was. It was Caleb’s half-brother.
“Lazar,” I said.
He pulled off the soggy ski mask as I moved between him and the van. Beneath it his
wavy blond hair was already dark with rain, curling against his forehead. Droplets
raced down his temples and aquiline nose, collecting on his lips as they tightened
in a familiar way. The gray trousers clung to his lean hips and thighs, and the wet
gray shirt outlined the taut definition in his shoulders and chest. His breath misted
briefly in the rain as it came fast and even. A muscle in his jaw clenched as he stared
at me, and for a moment he looked so much like Caleb that my heart skipped a beat.
Then he spoke, and his voice, harsher, more guarded than Caleb’s, broke the spell.
“Desdemona. Let me go.” It was a warning, not a plea.
I glanced over my shoulder. Behind me, steam rose from the van’s exhaust pipe, but
no one emerged. Maybe they hadn’t seen us in the darkness and the deluge. But that
didn’t explain why Lazar hadn’t summoned them on the communicator every member of
the Tribunal wore on every mission.
His slightly tip-tilted eyes, with their thick, rain-spiked lashes, were the same
size and shape as Caleb’s, but with rich brown irises rather than black. His gaze
flicked up and down my body.
Water ran down my face, plastering my T-shirt to my skin, and I realized I was only
wearing that and my underwear, my usual bedtime apparel. My cheeks grew so hot under
his stare that I was suddenly grateful for the icy rain. A month ago that would’ve
been enough to send me running for safety. Now I ignored the blush and stood my ground.
Who cares? Let him look. And if I have to shift, it means fewer clothes to shred.
“What were you doing in my house?” I demanded.
He lifted his eyes to my face, a tiny smile playing around his mouth. I realized I’d
never seen him genuinely amused before. It lit up his dark eyes and carved dimples
into his cheeks, highlighting his high cheekbones and strong chin. “I’d love to stand
here all night discussing my activities with a beautiful half-naked girl,” he said.
“But I don’t think my father would approve.”
His tone made me want to smack that look off his pretty, pretty face.
Lazar was an objurer, which meant that his voice, like Caleb’s, was a powerful instrument,
able to persuade, anger, or paralyze in just a few words. Objurers were specially
trained by the Tribunal to manipulate the minds and bodies of shifters like me. Every
word he spoke was a potential threat.
“Still Daddy’s little boy,” I said, and was glad to see his smirk drop away. “It doesn’t
look like you took anything, but maybe you planted something. Is there a bomb in my
He considered me, eyes narrowing. Then, almost imperceptibly, he shook his head.
I frowned. The gesture seemed oddly sincere. But it couldn’t be. Was he trying to
throw me off, delay me?
“If we wanted you dead,” he said, “you would be.”
“Your father tried a couple of times and failed,” I said. “How is Ximon, Lazar? Does
he beat you now that your sister isn’t available?”
“Amaris.” His voice softened when he said his sister’s name. Something in his face
A weird stab of pity hit my gut. Lazar’s estrangement from his sister had been sudden
and violent. Amaris had chosen to come with us, her supposed enemies, rather than
live under her father’s thumb and marry a man she hated. Lazar had wavered for a heartbeat,
but ultimately he’d chosen to leave her with us and escape with Ximon. When I imagined
how it felt to be raised by such a monster, all I could feel was sympathy.
“She’s doing well,” I said, even as I wondered whether reassuring him was a good idea.
“She says she misses you. Though I can’t imagine why.”
His face hardened. “Let me go. Don’t make me call the others.”
“Go ahead.” I bared my teeth, fingers curling like claws. “Call them, and I’ll kill
“Desdemona?” My mother stood on the porch, arms crossed to keep her robe closed. “Are
I startled, turning my head toward her. Lazar seized the moment and ran down the middle
of Kenneth Avenue, away from me, leaving the Tribunal’s van behind.
“I’m fine, Mom!” I shouted. “Get Richard out of the house!”
The van’s tires made wet sucking noises as they began to roll, following Lazar. So
they weren’t here to hurt Mom and Richard, which meant I could tear after Lazar. I
bolted down the sidewalk, outpacing the skidding van, and kept my ears peeled to make
sure it didn’t head back toward my parents.
Ahead of me, Lazar raced flat out, cutting left into the park. Behind me, the van
was gaining. No time to waste. I’d never shifted while running full speed before.
But I needed to find out what Lazar had been up to in my bathroom, and I’d never catch
him this way.
I kept sprinting as I sent my mind down into the darkness that always roiled at my
core, blacker than a night sky without stars.
I asked. A blazing answer of power poured forth, shooting up my spine, along every
limb. Then my feet were feet no longer, but great striped paws. My clothes ripped
and fell away as I gathered my back legs to leap forward thirty feet per stride. It
felt so good to stretch and run. The rain bounced off my coat, no longer a nuisance.
Darkness was my time to hunt, and every sound, every scent, every current of air bent
to my will.
I laid my tufted ears back, shook my whiskers, and roared.
At the sound, Lazar pelted across the grass even faster. But my great galloping bounds
ate up the ground between us. He ran past my favorite tree, the lightning tree, and
I heard another engine rev. My ears flicked forward. The gray van was still behind
us, keeping to the road, but ahead, alongside the park, another van waited, engines
on, but headlights off.
The Tribunal was thorough.
Just three more leaps, and I’d have Lazar between my paws once more. The side door
of the van up ahead slid open. A figure in gray aimed a rifle at me and fired.
I zigged left, putting the lightning tree between me and the gun. Something thunked
into the trunk, and I smelled the silver-laced tranquilizer the Tribunal used on shifters.
So they weren’t trying to kill me. Yet.
No time to wonder why. Lazar was steps from the van. I gathered all the power in my
back legs and jumped.
Lazar ducked into the van as I left the ground, while the man with the rifle followed
my arc with his gun and pulled the trigger. But I was going faster, farther than he
reckoned, and the dart zoomed harmlessly beneath me.
I went farther than even I had wanted. I’d asked my body for all it had without thinking
enough about accuracy, and instead of launching myself into the van, I arced completely
over it to land on the other side. In my astonishment, I stumbled slightly as I hit
pavement, then rolled, coming to my feet.
I looked up to see Lazar staring at me through the rain-smeared window of the van,
eyes wide in amazement. Then the tires spun hard, and the vehicle took off. I lashed
my tail and sent them off with a roar that made the raindrops fly.
The van vanished into the mist. Still energized with anger, I turned and ran at the
lightning tree, jumping onto its rough, familiar trunk, digging in my claws to climb
higher. The tree was closely linked to Othersphere, vibrating with shadow, and it
drew me like the scent of blood. Better the neighbors saw a naked girl than a tiger
in the treetops. But I didn’t want to shift back to my human form just yet.
Being a tiger felt so right, so perfect, especially near the lightning tree. A current
of power seemed to flow from deep within it up through my paws. I was atop the world
now, invincible, at one with all, yet more myself than ever.
As I watched Lazar’s van screech toward the freeway, I felt as if I could leap onto
it even now and tear its roof off with one swipe.
“Desdemona!” I turned to see our sedan headed toward me, Richard at the wheel, my
mom in the passenger seat, her head out the window, yelling.
So much for Tiger Queen rules the world
. I climbed down and then dropped to the ground as Mom got out of the car, clutching
a thick terry-cloth robe, and ran on her tiptoes across the squelchy grass to me.
“Are you all right?” She patted my neck as I butted my head into her waist, automatically
marking her as mine. “What the hell were they doing? Richard couldn’t find anything
different about the house. They didn’t take anything we could see, and left nothing
She draped the robe over my long back. It was drenched already, as was she, but when
I shifted back to my human form, at least I had something to cover me up.
“It was Lazar,” I said, pushing long damp strands of hair from my face.
“Caleb’s brother?” She blinked back water drops, one hand massaging her stomach, looking
I nodded. “I have no idea why he was here. And he seemed kind of . . . I don’t know.
Mom’s eyelids fluttered more rapidly. She looked pale, even considering the greenish
light of the street lamp. “Are you okay?” I asked.
“I . . . something’s wrong,” she managed to say, staggering a few steps to lean against
the lightning tree. Then she clutched her stomach with both hands and doubled over.