My Soul to Keep Page 74

“I overslept. Sophie’s fine, too, by the way.”

The reaper shrugged. “Like I’m going to pass up an opportunity to smack your cousin.”

I grinned, half hoping that next time she was possessed, I’d be there to do the honors. “You ready?”

“As ready as I’m gonna be.” He strode past me toward the car, sneakers squeaking on the concrete.

“You think Alec will make it?”

“Addy said she’d do her best. They won’t let her near Nash or your dad, but she thinks she can get to Alec. She’ll pay for it later, though.” Tod’s jaw bulged and he stuffed tightly clenched fists into his pockets. “We shouldn’t have involved her.”

“That’s her call, Tod. If she wants to help, she has every right. And we’re kind of screwed if she can’t get to Alec.”

“I know.” Conflict was clear on his face as he stepped through the passenger’s-side door and settled onto the seat with that weird, selective corporeality reapers typically flaunted. It must have been hell having to choose between the girl he loved and his own brother. Maybe as hard as it was for me to choose between Nash and my dad. Only Tod hadn’t gotten out of making his decision.

The school parking lot was already half-full when we got there, the pink-and-purple sunset reflecting broad streaks of color on row after row of windshields. Once the carnival actually began, cars would line the street in both directions. Fortunately, the park across the street was still mostly empty, and thanks to the frigid temperature, no one sat in front of the fountain. In our reality, anyway.

I parked as close as I could, then hunched into the fading warmth my coat held as Tod and I made our way toward the fountain. It was a simple scalloped circle of brick with a smooth concrete ledge, surrounding a single broad jet of water, still spraying in spite of the near-freezing temperature. We were hoping that since we were half an hour early, the crowd in the Netherworld would be as sparse as the one in our world.

“You want me to check first?” Tod asked, after one look at the terror which must have been churning in my eyes.

“That’d be great.” What I really wanted was for him to find out where Nash and my dad were being held, so we could cross over right next to them, then escape before anyone noticed we’d arrived. Unfortunately, they were probably being held in the Netherworld version of some building I didn’t have access to in our world.

Which was why we needed Alec.

“I’ll be right back,” Tod said. “And if for some reason I’m not, do not cross over alone. Okay?”

I nodded, but we both knew I was lying. If he didn’t come back, there would be no one left to go with me, and I wasn’t going to leave Nash and my father to die in the Netherworld. Or worse.

Tod shot me his lopsided,cherubic grin, then blinked out of existence.

I sat on the edge of the fountain, just out of reach of the frigid spray, prepared to wait as long as it took. Which turned out to be about fifteen seconds.

“This isn’t gonna work,” Tod said, and I heard the first word almost before he materialized in front of me. “They’re everywhere. It’s like that big Halloween party they have downtown, only the costumes are real. And everybody looks hungry.”

Great. My pulse swooshed rapidly in my ears, and my heart began to ache from beating so hard. “Did anyone see you?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know, but I don’t think it matters. Reapers aren’t very appetizing. You’re the one we have to worry about.”

“Okay, so what do you suggest? A costume?” I asked, thinking about the furry werewolf mask in a box at the top of my closet.

Tod frowned. “No costume you could possibly own would make you look like an actual monster. Some of them don’t look all that different from us, anyway…” His voice trailed off, and I saw the idea the moment it sparkled in his eyes. “But everyone is all dressed up for the festival, so if you had a fancy dress or something, you might pass for one of the harpies, or a visiting siren. I could pop into a store and try to find you something.” He stepped back and eyed me critically. “What size do you wear?”

“No need…” I said as movement from the school lot caught my eye. If I hadn’t known her all my life, I might never have recognized my cousin from such a distance, but there was no mistaking that slim build, or easy, rhythmic sway of nonexistent hips as she walked down the sidewalk with a skinny friend who could only be Laura Bell. And if Sophie had arrived, so had her pageant gown. “Come on. I think I know where we can get one.”

Assuming I could squeeze my normal-size body into her skeleton-size dress.

We found Laura’s car in the third row, and when we were sure we were alone in the lot, Tod stepped through the door and sat in the driver’s seat with one leg hanging out as he popped the trunk from the inside. I pulled up the trunk lid when it bounced open, then lifted the long, white dress box from inside, hoping the gown would be long enough to cover my sneakers. Because even if I managed to squeeze myself into Sophie’s dress, I could never wear her size-five heels, and running around the Netherworld barefoot was not an option. Not after I’d nearly died when a Crimson Creeper vine had lashed itself around my ankle.

I changed into the dress from the semiprivacy of my own backseat, but had to emerge and suck in a deep breath so Tod could force the zipper past my hips. And finally I understood why pageant contestants had such good posture: they had no choice. I couldn’t breathe in the stupid dress, much less slouch.

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