At night, in the dark, were the only times I couldn’t get it to go away.
The screams, the smirk on Cole Saxon’s face, the sound of my mother’s first cough, when I didn’t understand yet, and the second one, when I did. Her bloodied face. People falling all around me, choking on their own blood because of mine.
In waking hours—like now—my brain took those same memories and did something different with them.
The guy I was watching across the party was short, with dark hair, wearing a tuxedo. I could only see his back as he meandered from the bar to the edge of the property, gazing out over the twinkling lights of Jerusalem.
“Kuklachka,” Stellan said in my ear.
I squinted. Now that he was closer, I could tell the guy’s hair was curlier than I’d thought. Longer. He finally turned around, taking a sip of his champagne. It wasn’t Cole Saxon. None of them ever were. I should be glad. If the Saxons actually showed up here, it would mean nothing good.
I turned to Stellan. “What?”
He rested a hand possessively on my lower back and leaned in close. “I asked if you wanted to go skinny-dipping in the fountain. Liven up this party a little.” I stared up at him blankly. He sighed. “I asked if you’d happened to see the Rajesh family come in while I was talking to Elodie.”
I should have smiled at the joke. That’s what he was trying to do: loosen me up, make me look like a girl in a cocktail dress at a party should. But my brain no longer remembered how to create that feeling on its own. So I rearranged my features in a way that I hoped from the outside looked more pleasant and less robotic than it felt. “No. I don’t think they’re here yet. Maybe we should start with someone else.”
He didn’t even attempt a fake smile back.
A firework burst, loud enough to shake the ground. Nearby, next to the very fountain Stellan had been trying to joke about, Jack and Elodie both glanced up at the sky. Elodie leaned in to whisper to Jack, and she winced almost imperceptibly. She’d been shot and was still healing, which meant she was still at half capacity. She hated it. But she was here tonight, for us. Just like she was every day. For the past month, she and Jack had been with Stellan and me as friends. Tonight, they were here as our Keepers.
This party was a celebration, and we were the guests of honor. Tomorrow, we were to be initiated as the thirteenth family of the Circle of Twelve.
It had been almost a month since my mother had died, since Cole Saxon had released the virus in a crowded room at a Fashion Week show in Paris and my world—and the whole world—had been turned upside down. That night, we’d told the rest of the Circle exactly what the Saxons had done. We’d told them about how my half siblings, Lydia and Cole, with the blessing of our father, Alistair, had been murdering Circle members all over the globe, and blaming it on the Circle’s longtime enemies, the Order, trying to scare the Circle into uniting behind them. We told them how the Saxons now had a biological weapon to make any attacks even easier.
What we didn’t tell them was that the biological weapon was made of our blood.
Stellan and I were the One and the girl with the violet eyes. The couple foretold in the mandate, a prophecy of sorts that the Circle had believed in for thousands of years. But we’d recently discovered that the union we were to create, which the Circle believed would give them great power, actually meant that if Stellan’s blood and mine got mixed and an unsuspecting Circle member ingested it, they would begin to bleed uncontrollably, and die within minutes.
Another round of fireworks lit up a bridge in the distance. Closer, the walls of the old quarter of Jerusalem were cast in various shades of purple. I could pick out one that looked just like my eyes. I wondered what kind of celebration the Melechs had made up to explain the display.
At first, all the on-the-nose, over-the-top Circle business had been dazzling: Living in the Louvre. A ball inside the Eiffel Tower. Fireworks over the city for a private party. Now I saw how it was a smoke screen. The fanfare served to remind them how important they were.
And now we were at the center of it all.
I’d spent the last month hoping it wouldn’t come to this.
Announcing who we were to the Circle had been the only way to hold the Saxons accountable and keep them from hurting anyone else, but as the rage and fear had melted into grief and numbness, I wanted everything that came with it less and less. Being an official Circle family would bring power, yes, and there were certain things that appealed about that. But it would also bring politics and danger and worst of all, being a pretty little symbolic pawn in this world that had taken everything from me.
Despite our attempts, though, we hadn’t been able to put off the initiation any longer. And it turned out it was a good thing we hadn’t. We needed something from the Circle, and this initiation was the way we were going to get it.
From across the courtyard, I saw Laila Emir and her little brother staring at us. Stellan saw, too. He tucked a strand of hair behind my ear and grinned. I leaned into his palm with a coquettish laugh.
Beyond the Emirs, I glimpsed Daniel Melech in the crowd. He gave us a dirty look. The Melechs, though they’d organized this lavish party since the initiation site was here in Jerusalem, were the Saxons’ most loyal allies. Their son Daniel was especially close with Lydia.
I wanted nothing more than to hold the knife I had strapped to my leg to Daniel’s throat and force him to reveal where my sister was. Tell him about how I’d dreamed of putting a bullet in my brother’s head every night for weeks, and that by helping them hide, anything they did was his fault, too.
I knew vaguely that I should be appalled at myself for thinking those things, but all I felt was empty. Ever since that night, it was like I was a robot with only one command programmed: Stop them. Kill them. I could lie and say it was only because I wanted to prevent them from hurting anyone else. Though I did want that, the truth was, the only real emotion that broke through the emptiness was the drive to ruin the Saxons like they’d ruined me.