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” Leesha said. I cheat by paying attention. Aunt Millie. It’s no wonder I always win. “What did you just do?” Leesha lifted her piece. scanning the arrangement of pieces on the game board. repeating the move.” “You always win because you cheat!” Aunt Millie said. “I want to know why a pretty young girl is sitting Leesha Middleton pushed her rook across the alabaster . rolling her eyes. “Yeah.O Dead to Me o By Cinda Williams Chima chessboard and settled back into the pink wicker chair. “You have to pay better attention. “Your move.” Aunt Millisandra cocked her head.
“You always win when I get tipsy. severely.” Aunt Millie warned.” “Why?” Leesha snapped.” Aunt Millie conceded. A period of mourning is certainly in order. playing chess with her great-aunt. “You should be enjoying the golden light of August.” Leesha said. Aunt Millie paid attention to some things. putting her hand over her glass once it was full.” Aunt Millie said. nodding. “I’m partying with you.” 2 .” Leesha pointed out.” “Oh. “You’ve been down in the dumps ever since your young man broke your heart.” her aunt said. well. dropping a sprig of mint into her glass. Aunt Millie tended to set ﬁre to things when she was deep in her cups. my dear. “You used to be quite the partyer. It’s time to rally.” Leesha scooped up some artichoke dip with a water cracker.” Leesha said. “He died. “Don’t try to get me tipsy. Aunt Millie. the south of France is a long way from here. “and that broke your heart. She lifted the frosty decanter of mimosas from the ice bucket and reﬁlled Millie’s glass. I know better than that.” Aunt Millie said. “Yeah.” “He died. “Is there a statute of limitations or something?” “Don’t be cross.S Dead to Me here on a Friday night.” Well. “And don’t try to change the subject. Alicia. Alicia. but it’s been more than a year. I always used to spend August in the south of France.
the sun was bronzing the surface of Lake Erie as it descended.” Aunt Millie tossed back her drink and extended her glass for a reﬁ ll. resulting in a fatal ﬁre at an afterhours club. She’d sold the warrior Jack Swift to magical trafﬁckers. “Have you considered the beaches of Dubrovnik? I’m willing to wager that very few wizards in Croatia have heard of you. She was confused much of the time. “but it’s rainy this time of year. Oh.” She paused. they had their reasons. but you couldn’t really count on it. 3 . back when everybody in town hated her. (Who knew he couldn’t hold his ﬂame?) She’d nearly delivered the powerful Dragonheart stone to the cruel and despicable Warren Barber.S Dead to Me “My point. To the northwest. And a period of absence can dull the sharp tongues of gossips. “Cabo is nice. exactly.” That was the thing about Aunt Millie. and kidnapped his friends Will Childers and Harmon Fitch to force him to ﬁght in a deadly tournament. off her boots. The sailboats swarmed like mayﬂies. taking advantage of late-summer fair weather before the cold of autumn set in.” Leesha said.” Millie mused. She’d betrayed the only boy she’d ever loved. “A European tour can be great therapy for the blues. There’d been a time when Leesha would have given anything to shake the dust of Trinity. and I hear there’s a lot of bad ﬂame on the street.” “I’m not going to Dubrovnik. She’d drugged Seph McCauley with wizard ﬂame. thinking. Ohio.
it gets a person out of bed in the morning. “Well.” “Alicia Ann Middleton. “Pfft. tugging at her waistband.” Leesha said. in her heart of hearts.” Aunt Millisandra scowled at her. blowing out her cheeks in frustration. Guilt. speaking a charm that was probably meant to return the set to the cabinet. that’s a shame. eyebrows knitting together in suspicion. where it splashed into the waves at the edge of the horizon. Everybody—even those who despised her—was making an effort to forgive and forget.” Aunt Millie persisted.” 4 . or you’ll lose your lovely ﬁgure.” Millie said. on the other hand .S Dead to Me Now it was worse. . she knew she didn’t deserve. or you will be once I pass on. . and it zoomed out over the lake. then squinted down at the game board.” Aunt Millie said. “You need to get out more. She gestured toward the chessboard. “They’re comfortable. Instead. nearly decapitating her. she sent it winging toward Leesha. I won’t have you spending your time pining away in some colonial backwater. “What did you just do?” Leesha walked her through it. you are one of the wealthiest young wizards in the empire.” “Yoga pants. Say what you want about hate and resentment. Leesha ducked. “And stop wearing those sweatpants all the time.” “Checkmate. and I don’t even have to change clothes when I go to bed. Which. “It’s seventh-century Persian.
“And it begins with your changing out of those pants. Aunt Millie?” Leesha asked. A day spent shopping in Knightsbridge. You’d better change into something more presentable. Rutherford was a pale.” “My—what?!” “I have a very special weekend planned for you. the arrogant heir to a blueblooded wizard family whose ancestors had been on the winning side in the War of the Roses. 5 .” Leesha stuck with “Claridge. and the markets was therapeutic.” Aunt Millisandra was right about one thing—there was something about dressing up that always brightened Leesha’s spirits. Your date will be here in less than an hour. The boutique hotel near Buckingham Palace was top-drawer. from the commodities markets to the taxicab system in London. And the private jet to London was certainly distracting. Finding it impossible to spit out the name “Rutherford. and after that they got on reasonably well.” Aunt Millie said. Alicia. Still.S Dead to Me “Would you like to play canasta. “You don’t have time. pillowy young man with an annoying tendency to “mansplain” everything. one Rutherford P. Playing cards would be less deadly when they took to the air. darling. Oxford Street. The only ﬂaw in Aunt Millie’s plan was Leesha’s date. she had to blister his hand to convince the young wizard that Leesha was not part of his special weekend package. Millie judged the angle of the sun.” seeking a bit of distance. Claridge.
A ﬂicker of motion caught Leesha’s eye. “If young Rutherford doesn’t suit you. exposing weathered brick walls. she peered down at the water. Still. Leesha had never had trouble maneuvering in social situations where nobody had a reason to hate her. Were there really ﬁsh in here? Leaning on the rail. there will be plenty of other ﬁsh in the canal. where she could watch the shoreline slipping by. Flirting was. and some of the other partygoers were witty and charming in a way only the British aristocracy can be. hosted by the scion of some well-connected wizard family. The Regent’s Canal was barely wide enough to accommodate their boat in places. colorful grafﬁti.” Aunt Millie had said. especially under the bridges. Some of the bridges were low enough that even Leesha had to duck. the sides of historic buildings. Leesha escaped to the washroom and emerged on deck. In an attempt to elude him. Followed by three days at an estate in the Cotswolds. the food and the music were good. “Here you are!” Leesha felt the sting of wizardry as Claridge’s hand came down on her shoulder. it was too long. Like most boat rides. and green parklands prowled by feral cats.S Dead to Me The centerpiece of Millie’s plan was a “boating party” on the Regent’s Canal in London. The canal cut a slice through the historic layers of London. like breathing. and soon she was surrounded by a circle of admirers while Claridge sulked on the fringes. something rippling at the canal’s surface. “Are you 6 . after all.
controlling thing. we traveled on my dime. I didn’t bring you all the way to London to be stiff-armed. you’re with me. In fact. “Claridge. there was deﬁnitely something swimming toward the boat.” she said. “We’ve already had this conversation. “If I’m not mistaken. I don’t expect anything in return.” she murmured. . That’s never good. as if to intercept it.S Dead to Me avoiding me. scanning the water again.” “But . “You’re my date. “Do you see what I— ?” Somebody gripped Leesha around the neck. It’s so last year. . and she slammed Claridge with a blast of frigid air. so hard that he ﬂew back into a pillar. anointing her with a series of sloppy kisses and groping whatever parts of Leesha he could reach. she thought. and her skin prickled with unease. Over Claridge’s shoulder. It was Claridge. I think we should see other people. Alicia?” He’d been drinking all the way from Browning’s Pool.” Leesha snorted. Yes. Leesha saw a head emerge 7 . The scent of rotting ﬂesh ﬂoated up to her from below. she turned her back on Claridge. and his veneer of gentility had slipped a bit. An image of a sneering Warren Barber coalesced in Leesha’s mind’s eye.” Claridge growled. beginning now.” Deliberately. hands on hips. The hairs on the back of Leesha’s neck stood up. turning her and pressing her up against the rail. The good news is. “What don’t you understand about ‘hands off ’? I’ve already done the abusive.
three more heads poked over the rail. It was attached to a decomposing body. Not his soul. horriﬁed. but had little effect otherwise. they were certainly zombie-esque. horriﬁed. Leesha set her feet and sent ﬂame roaring into the huddle of walking dead. if they weren’t zombies. What Jason called “juice. squalling. brighter and brighter as it ﬁlled. as one of the creatures fumbled with a small iridescent bottle. No. and Claridge slumped to the deck. What was the word for the walking dead? Revenants? Zombies? Well.S Dead to Me over the rail on the far side of the boat—a grinning skull only partially covered with ﬂesh. It set their clothes to smoldering. It came up in a low crouch.” The bottle gleamed. As Leesha watched. but the wizard’s slobbery mouth was blocking hers. and crept toward them. pressing it to Claridge’s body as if to ﬁ ll it with his departing soul. landing on all fours on the deck. “Claridge!” Leesha tried to shout. The iron bar came down with a wet crunch. The creature vaulted the rail. Since they didn’t seem to feel pain. Leesha watched. she guessed they’d keep on coming unless she hacked them 8 . sending him rocketing back. directly into the arms of the walking dead. releasing the stench of charred ﬂesh. What’s more disgusting than a zombie? A vampire zombie that feeds on magic. an iron bar clutched in one hand. His magic. So she ﬂamed him.
they came for her. totally ripped and very much alive. the screaming began. Well. “They don’t go down easy. and nobody had told her? Personally. “That’s more of a stabbing weapon. this is inefﬁcient. Leesha grabbed the iron bar that one of them had dropped and commenced to reducing some of her attackers to bags of broken bones. but it’s better than nothing. Leesha thought. Leesha spun to ﬁnd cadavers climbing the rails on all sides. “What you need is a cutting blade. down below.S Dead to Me apart completely. Leesha took three steps back. Hearing the rattle of bones behind her. Real life was scary enough.” He sent a dagger spinning toward Leesha. He was tall and bald. swinging a wicked ax.” 9 . Was this a horror-themed cruise. she’d never been fond of haunted houses. Since she was the only one alive on deck.” the newcomer said. littering the deck like macabre fruit. and she somehow caught it without losing any ﬁngers. Just then a young man appeared out of nowhere and plowed into the zombies. so that the monsters charging toward her tumbled through to the deck below. then charred a large hole in the decking between her and them. The dead went down but continued to drag themselves across the deck toward Leesha. When jets of wizard ﬂame failed to discourage them. A moment later. Body parts went ﬂying in all directions.
S Dead to Me Once again. I’d get off the boat. “If I were you. clung to the outside for a moment. That was where the canal was at its narrowest. Leesha boosted herself over the rail. Then he threw himself ﬂat. and he and the boat passed under the bridge and disappeared. It seemed like good advice. into the chaos below. For a long moment. barely missing the stone foundation of the bridge. Then he leaped down the stairs. “What are they?” The boy looked at her for a long moment. even coming from someone who used wizard like a curse. allowing no room for zombies to climb up the sides. Leesha saw that they were just about to pass under a bridge. Then deciding no. 10 . as if deciding whether to respond. landing on the roof of the pilot’s cabin. he stood silhouetted against the night sky. “Who are you?” Leesha stammered. scraping zombies off like—like whatever gets scraped off a boat. Leesha swept her immediate area clear of zombies and ran for the bow of the boat. and came to her feet in time to see a boy with a massive sword leap from the middle of the bridge. She landed. The banks crowded in on either side. wizard. the wind stirring his hair. rolling.” he said. like some kind of an avenging god. Leesha cursed the wizard inability to identify the members of the various magical guilds. then launched herself onto the bank. Wielding the bar in one hand and the dagger in the other. Looking up the canal.
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