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Formally published as
Carnival of Souls

Melissa Marr

Table of Contents

To Loch,
this one wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t married
a Marine/comic-book addict/film junkie.

summoned Selah was nothing like what she’d expected. In truth, he looked no different than many daimons she’d met: implacable expression and a musculature that would serve him well in one of Marchosias’ fighting competitions. It was only his eerie blue-and-gold witch eyes that revealed his true nature—and those eyes were fixed on her.

Selah uncovered the face of the still-sleeping child in her arms. A tiny stone pendant was woven to the edge of the blanket that she’d wrapped around her baby when they’d fled. When she’d become pregnant, she’d sold most everything she had to procure the stone for her child. The rest of her coin she’d used for this audience.

She stared into the eyes of the witch who stood before her as she admitted, “Stoneleigh said you might help.”

Sudden displeasure on his face made her pause, but she’d come too far to hesitate now. “I am not ruling class, but I’ll find a way to pay. Information. Pleasure. Blood. I’ll do whatever you want if you protect my daughter.”

“Marchosias is her sire? You swear on it?”

“I do.” Even if she wanted to lie, she couldn’t: she was a daimon held in a witch’s summoning circle. Adam was one of the oldest witches; he’d been one of the witch children who escaped several centuries ago when the wars ended. He could probably compel her without a circle, but he’d been given her name to summon her into his world and into a binding circle—at her request.

Adam continued to watch her with his unnatural witch’s eyes, and Selah couldn’t decide if bowing her head submissively or holding his gaze was wiser. Witches might look like daimons, but they were a different species, tolerated in
world only if they were weak or under Marchosias’ control. Here in the human world they might hide from the other mortal creatures, but every daimon knew that they were terrifyingly powerful. She opted for kneeling
holding his gaze.

“What’s her name?”

“Mallory,” Selah whispered.

“Swear that Mallory is given freely into my care, that if I accept your offer you will obey me in all things.” Adam paused and stepped as close to the circle as he could without breaking it. “Swear that you will accept death before endangering her or me.”

Selah’s arms tightened around her daughter. “Bound by this circle and my vow, I so swear.”

He nodded. “Your bargain is accepted.”

At his word of acceptance, the tension that had grown during pregnancy and intensified in the first few weeks of her daughter’s life abated. Marchosias would have killed her when her daughter was born if he’d known she was seeking the aid of a witch, but the risk had been worth it. Now, at least, she could stay in Mallory’s life—for as long as the witch allowed it.

Selah had traded one cage for another. The difference was that this cage would allow her daughter to survive. In the two centuries Selah had lived, every one of Marchosias’ heirs had died before they reached adulthood. When he’d chosen her that unlucky day in the Carnival of Souls, she’d prayed that it was only for pleasure, not for breeding. Briefly, she glanced at her still-sleeping daughter. Now that she’d given birth, Selah could only pray that her child would live. That meant leaving The City; it meant leaving the only world she’d known and coming here—where witches and humans lived.

Adam spoke again, drawing her gaze to him. “I’m guessing Evelyn already expects us if she sent you to me.”

“Expects us?”

“To arrive at her office. Even Marchosias can’t send anyone to retrieve you or the child if we’re wed. The Witches’ Council won’t allow it.” He lifted one hand and swept it to the side, dropping the circle that had contained her. “Mallory is
now. No one—not even you—will have authority over her before me. I can hide what she is, protect her here, until she is eighteen. You are welcome to stay if it’s in her best interest, but if your presence ever threatens her safety, you will leave.”

He reached out, and for a moment Selah thought he was going to help her to her feet. Instead, he took Mallory. With her daughter in his arms, he walked away, leaving her kneeling in the now-defunct daimon circle, hoping that she hadn’t entered into a bargain worse than the one she was escaping.

Almost seventeen years later

to herself after school before she had to be at practice, so she’d ducked into the only independent coffee shop in Smithfield for some overpriced, oversweetened coffee. Admittedly, she’d spent more of the hour thinking about Kaleb than doing her homework, but AP Physics wasn’t nearly as interesting as the first boy she’d felt at ease around. She’d even told him the names of a couple of the towns where she’d lived over the years—and talked about her family. And the moment she’d done
, she’d realized she needed to stay away from him. Anyone who made her let her guard down that much was dangerous.

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As she returned her empty mug to the counter, she looked out the large front window and saw Kaleb standing across the street from Java Junkies as if she’d conjured him with her thoughts. Admittedly, Smithfield was a tiny town, so she bumped into Kaleb every time he was home from school, which seemed to be a lot lately. Still, Mallory felt the same warm flush of excitement she did every time she saw him and then quashed it.

Bad idea. Very, very bad

She lowered her gaze, suddenly finding the words painted on the door fascinating, and stepped onto the sidewalk with her eyes still downcast. She should be scanning the area for danger, but all she wanted to do was look at Kaleb. She stole a glance at him and debated going over to at least say hello. Nothing could come of it. She knew it—but she couldn’t bring herself to tell
that. It was foolishness, but she wanted something to come of it. She’d never felt so instantly at ease or so embarrassingly attracted to anyone. Telling him to go away wasn’t something she could bring herself to do—despite how inevitable it was. Instead, she walked away, forcing herself not to look at him. She let her gaze wander over the flowers in planters along the street, the man in the rumpled suit playing his cello for change, the debris that accumulated in gutters . . . anything but the boy who had occupied all of her free thoughts the past month.

She hadn’t gone more than a few steps when Kaleb caught up with her. “Are you ignoring me?”

“No,” she lied.

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His voice always made her want to shiver. Kaleb’s voice was like dark chocolate, so rich that she felt strangely sinful listening to him talk about the most mundane things. She resisted the temptation to close her eyes.

He stepped closer to her. “So you didn’t just see me and walk away?”

“Maybe,” Mallory half admitted.

If she needed to, she
put him on the ground, but Kaleb wasn’t an enemy. He was just a guy. She stole another glance at him.
Just a guy?
He was six feet of lean muscle, perpetually unruly hair, and eyes that were too dark to be called brown. To add to his allure, he had a ferocity to him that slipped out when he looked around the street. He’d only ever been sweet to her, but he had an attitude that hinted at an ability to wade into trouble; it gave her a foolish hope that he could handle the world she knew, even as logic warned her that she was clinging to illusions.

Until she’d met Kaleb, she’d actually worried that something was wrong with her. Her classmates had started talking about boys—or girls—a few years ago, but she was almost seventeen and, until the past month, she’d never had the sort of reactions they all talked about. The forget-your-name nervousness, the racing heart, the why-did-I-say-
—it was as foreign to her as a life without witches . . . until Kaleb. He made her wish for things that were impossible, for a life that she could never have.

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The sound of the cars on the street drew her attention, and her gaze slipped away to check the shadows for threats.


“Yes?” Her hand went to the pendant she wore under her blouse. The reasons she shouldn’t see him, the need to see him, the way she’d had to lie to him—thinking about all of that made her feel horrible inside.

“I’m glad I found you,” he said.

He moved in so he stood just a shade closer than could be considered polite, and she wondered what he’d do if she thanked him for evoking the blushworthy thoughts she was having.

She realized that he was watching her expectantly, but she wasn’t able to admit that she was happy to see him too. Instead, she said, “I didn’t expect you.”

“I just got into town,” he said.

She started, “I need to go—”

“Do you want to go somewhere?” he asked at the same time.

They both stopped. She shifted the bag on her shoulder, surreptitiously adjusting the hilt of the knife she wore hidden under her arm. Her jacket concealed it, but sometimes the top of the hilt poked the underside of her bra. That was one of the many things she didn’t want to discuss.
So, why are you wearing a knife?
She smiled at Kaleb, continuing the imaginary discussion in her mind.
In case I need to protect us from monsters . . . not that I’ve had to fight them yet, but, you know, just in case.

“Mallory?” Kaleb stared at her in that too-intense-for-comfort way he had done since they’d first met a little over a month ago. Everything about him seemed intense though. When he listened to her talk, he acted like what she was saying was really important, even when it was just meaningless chatter about a show she’d watched on television or an article she’d read online. The thrill of being the center of his attention made her want to linger longer, even when she knew that she couldn’t truly date him. Still, she suspected that even a small friendship with Kaleb would be better than dating any other boy.

He gestured away from the tiny downtown where the coffee shop was. “Do you want to walk or something? Even if you only have a few minutes, we could—”

“I can’t,” she interrupted and then silently added,
I need to go practice killing things.

The temptation to skip practice crossed her mind, but that would lead to questions from her father, and those would lead to either admitting she’d met someone who interested her enough to skip practice
it would mean lying to her father. Neither of those seemed like very good ideas. But as Kaleb stared at her, frowning in frustration or maybe in confusion, she wished rather desperately that she could lie to her father—or tell Kaleb everything.