Philadelphia is locked in the grip of an evil magic that transforms its streets into a nightmare landscape the minute the sun sets each night. While most of the city hunkers down and hopes to survive the long winter nights, Becket Walker is roaming the darkened streets having the time of her life.
Once, the guilt of having inadvertently let the night magic into the city—and of having killed her onetime best friend—had threatened to destroy her. But now she’s been Nightstruck, and all her grief and guilt and terror have been swept away—along with her conscience. So what if she’s lost her friends, her family, and her home? And so what if her hot new boyfriend is super-controlling and downright malevolent?
Mesmerized by the power and freedom of not having to care about anyone but herself, Becket is sinking ever deeper into the night magic’s grasp. But those who love her refuse to give up on her—even if she’s given up on them. If they can’t find a way to help Becket break the night magic’s hold, the entire city might soon find itself shrouded in perpetual night. But the last thing Becket wants is to be “rescued” from her brand new life, and she will fight tooth and claw to stay exactly where she is.
Night Magic will become available May 30th. Please enjoy this excerpt.
Chapter OneI was trapped in a quarantined city that went foaming-at-the-mouth crazy every night. My house was trashed so badly it was unlivable. My father was dead. I’d shot and killed my best friend.
And I was having the best time of my life.
I walked down the streets of Center City, Philadelphia on a beautifully brisk winter night hand in hand with the hottest guy I’d ever seen and couldn’t stop smiling.
Aleric grinned at me, his green eyes glittering in the darkness. The power was on— you could tell from the lighted windows all around— but the streetlamps turned into gallows every night, so the city didn’t have the ambient glow I was used to. I loved the air of intimacy the darkness added.
“Are you wondering now why you resisted for so long?” Aleric asked.
“Stop being so smug.” I punched him in the arm with my free hand. He laughed, letting go of my hand and putting his arm around my shoulders. I slipped my own arm around his waist, sidling closer until our hips were touching and we were forced to time our steps to each other. I rested my cheek against the buttery soft leather of his jacket, inhaling its delicious scent.
Just yesterday, I’d been almost suicidally miserable. I’d blamed myself for the darkness that had descended on the city, for all the deaths that darkness had brought, for all the suffering. I’d even blamed myself for the death of my father, though with my new, clearer viewpoint it was hard to remember why. Any idiot could see that it wasn’t my fault. Well, any idiot except the non-Nightstruck me, that is.
I’d slipped away during the night intending to kill Piper, but I never really expected to succeed. I wasn’t depressed enough to take my own life, but I’d been in a bad enough state that taking a suicidal risk had seemed like a good idea. Piper and Aleric had known that, had counted on it to lure me out into the night. In the end, it had all been a giant trick, designed to weaken my psyche and make me susceptible to the lure of becoming Nightstruck. Turns out all it takes to become Nightstruck is to be outside during the Transition from night to day. If you’re weak and vulnerable, the lure of the night magic will call to you and you’ll be swept away to…well, wherever the Nightstruck disappeared to during the day. Even being Nightstruck myself, I wasn’t sure I understood exactly what happened to us when daylight hit.
I’d desperately tried to avoid becoming Nightstruck, tried to get inside before the dawn Transition occurred, but I hadn’t made it.
Thank God! It was hard to imagine why I’d fought something so wonderful. All that pain and guilt and grief…Gone, in the blink of an eye.
I rubbed my cheek against Aleric’s leather jacket again, enjoying the decadent texture. Then I looked down at myself and frowned. I was wearing the same clothes I’d worn yesterday, obviously.
I couldn’t go back to my house and get a change of clothes, seeing as Piper and her Nightstruck friends had destroyed every thing I owned. It was too cold for me to be terribly rank yet, but I still felt kind of scuzzy. Not to mention that my nice warm puffer coat was hideously ugly, made even more so in contrast to Aleric’s gorgeous black leather jacket.
“I need some new clothes,” I said, then frowned. “But I can’t exactly go shopping, can I?” Aside from the fact that I had no money, all the city’s stores were closed and locked up tight by sunset.
Aleric snorted. “You’ll never have to shop again. Anything you want is yours for the taking.”
“Well yeah, I know, but all the stores are closed, and the ones that didn’t have good security have been stripped bare by now.” When the city had first gone mad, packs of the Nightstruck had roamed around breaking into stores and houses willy-nilly. Those without good enough security measures had long since been picked clean, and the rest were virtual fortresses at night.
Aleric shrugged. “Th at may be a problem for the more run-of-the-mill Nightstruck, but you’re different. I’m the king of this city and you are my queen.”
He whistled loudly. A group of Nightstruck who’d been hanging out on someone’s front stoop passing around a bottle of booze snapped to attention at the sound, then hurried to gather around us when Aleric beckoned with his free hand. The Nightstruck stared at him attentively, like a pack of devoted dogs, but he didn’t speak. I gave him a quizzical look, but he just winked at me.
We must have stood there for like five minutes, the Nightstruck never taking their green eyes off Aleric, never speaking, barely even twitching. He was the center of their universe, and I had the vague sense that the old me would have been completely creeped out by the way they were looking at him.
“What are we waiting for?” I finally couldn’t help asking. The temperature was dropping, and warm though my ugly puff er coat might be, I was starting to shiver.
“Patience, Becket,” Aleric said with another of his smug smiles.
“I’m Nightstruck, idiot,” I told him. “Patience is not one of my virtues.” It felt just a little strange to talk to this virtual stranger, this guy I’d once considered my enemy, as if we were the best of friends. The old me had always been shy and tongue-tied, carefully thinking about every word that left my mouth. All that had changed, and I felt absolutely no discomfort about calling this powerful, dangerous person an idiot.
Aleric seemed more amused by my rudeness than irritated, and a moment later I heard the metallic clang of something approaching. Something four- footed, by the sound of it.
Most of the city’s statues came to life at night, transformed from their daylight selves into nightmare constructs that would happily prey on any non-Nightstruck person who dared set foot outside. I figured that since we were only a few blocks away from Rittenhouse Square, the approaching footsteps came from one of those statues, and it turned out I was right.
I’d had some nasty run-ins with Billy, the bronze goat statue from the square, but what turned the corner now was about ten times more terrifying. I was pretty sure that during the day, it was a snarling lion that was as dangerous-looking as Billy was harmless, but the night had given it a serious make over. Its mane consisted of a mass of writhing, hissing metal snakes, and its tail had turned into a scorpion- like stinger. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, it also had a set of finger-sized mandibles that looked very much like a spider’s. Being Nightstruck, I was supposedly immune to the terror of the city’s constructs, but this one gave me a serious case of the shivers.
The mutant lion sauntered right up to Aleric, the other Nightstruck moving quickly aside to let it by. Guess I wasn’t the only one who thought the creature was scary. Aleric, however, reached out to pet the damn thing’s head, heedless of the snakes and the constantly moving mandibles. I shuddered and slipped out from under Aleric’s arm when the lion made a low thrumming sound that I supposed was a purr and butted its head—very gently—against his chest.
“Leo here would be happy to take us shopping,” Aleric said. “Wouldn’t you, Leo?”
Leo made a whuff of what was probably agreement. Aleric reached for my hand, but I shied away. I’m not one of those girls who runs screaming at the very thought of a snake, but I had no interest in getting closer to that writhing, hissing mass on Leo’s head, and the spider jaws made my stomach turn.
Aleric laughed at me but made a little shooing motion with his hand. “Back off and give us a little room, there’s a good kitty.”
Leo stepped back by maybe about ten inches. He was still way closer than I liked, but I didn’t want Aleric thinking I was a wuss, and I knew that the construct wouldn’t hurt me. I gritted my teeth and stepped forward to take Aleric’s hand. One of the snakes in Leo’s mane lunged at me. I squeaked and tried to jump back, but Aleric held me fast and the snake’s fangs snapped together about six inches from my nose.
“Relax, Becks,” Aleric said. “He’s just playing with you.”
I was more relieved than I could say when Aleric gave my hand a little tug and we started walking down the street again. The Nightstruck fell in behind us like an untidy army, and Leo walked beside us, his metal claws clanking against the pavement with each step.
Our little parade made its way over to Walnut Street, one of the more fashionable shopping areas of the city. Many of the windows were boarded up, the stores having been early victims to the marauding Nightstruck before anyone knew they needed extra protection. Th e rest were covered by metal doors or grilles. At least, I’m sure they were metal doors or grilles during the day. At night, they looked like age- yellowed bones or rock-like scales or swarms of small metal bugs. Unlike most of the changes that took place during the night, these were actually semi- helpful, making the stores even harder to get into than they would be if the window coverings were mere grilles.
The first store Aleric stopped in front of was a small boutique that sold ridiculous fur and leather goods, the kind of place where you could buy a pair of mittens for twenty-five hundred dollars. In other words, a store I had never set foot in and had never really aspired to set foot in. It looked even less inviting now, thanks to what had once been a set of bars but had become frothy tentacles reminiscent of a giant jellyfish.
“How about we start here?” Aleric suggested, gesturing to his little army.
Like obedient and highly stupid zombies, the Nightstruck waded in, grabbing handfuls of tentacles and tugging them aside. Ordinarily, the constructs ignored the Nightstruck as if they didn’t exist, but apparently these tentacles didn’t appreciate being under attack. The Nightstruck screamed as the tentacles wrapped around them and started squeezing. Some seemed to have sharp edges that drew blood, and some seemed to crush bones with the force of their grip.
The tentacles were so busy crushing the life out of the Nightstruck that they left an opening through which we could see the store’s front window. Leo squeezed himself into that opening. One of the Nightstruck freed an arm and tried to grab hold of Leo’s mane, screaming for help. Leo casually turned his head and bit the poor guy’s hand off , the spider jaws eagerly shoving that hand down his gullet as blood fountained and the screams reached a new height.
I watched all this happen with a kind of appalled fascination. These people were dying for me, screaming in fear and pain. I thought it was kind of a waste— surely there would have been some other way to get inside without getting people killed— but I didn’t feel particularly bad about it. I certainly didn’t feel any need to try to help them. If they were so blind stupid that they walked into a mass of killer tentacles just because Aleric told them to, then it was their own damn fault they were dying. It was an interest ing feeling, watching those people die and not being overcome with horror and guilt. I wasn’t completely unmoved by their deaths, and I would have saved them if I could.
At least, I’m pretty sure I would have. But it was obviously pointless to try, because if all of them weren’t enough to take on the tentacles, what the heck could I do? And realizing I couldn’t help but could only get myself hurt made it surprisingly easy to just stand there and watch.
“You didn’t have to kill anyone to prove your point,” I told Aleric as Leo head- butted the front win dow and shattered the glass.
“But how else could I prove that I would kill for you?”
I had no answer for that. Aleric gestured for me to go through the hole Leo had created in the window, and I saw no reason not to do so. The hole was big enough that I didn’t even have to worry about being sliced by stray shards. The floor crunched beneath my feet. Th e Nightstruck weren’t screaming anymore.
I expected Aleric to follow, but he remained standing on the sidewalk, looking in at me through the broken glass.
“Aren’t you coming?” I asked.
He gave me a lopsided smile and raised his eyebrows. It took me a moment to remember that he was more like the constructs than like the Nightstruck. Th e Nightstruck were human—at least something very like human— but Aleric and the constructs were creatures created by magic, and for what ever reason, they couldn’t seem to enter buildings.
I turned away and groped at the wall until I found a light switch. I fl icked it on and found I was standing next to a mannequin that was wearing a black knee-length mink coat. I reached
out to stroke the sleeve, and it was possibly the softest thing I’d ever touched. Without meaning to, I sank my fingers into the fur, luxuriating in the feel of it.
Even if I could have afforded it, I would never have chosen to wear a fur coat of any kind before I’d been Nightstruck. I recoiled every time I saw a human being wearing fur, overcome with pity for all the animals who had died to make said human being feel impor tant. I wondered how many cute little weasels had been slaughtered for the sake of this coat, but I realized it didn’t matter. They were already dead, and me refusing to touch a coat made of their pelts wouldn’t bring them back.
“Try it on,” Aleric suggested.
I hesitated. It was one thing to pet and admire the coat, another to actually put it on. “It’s a little much, don’t you think?”
Aleric rolled his eyes. “Th at’s your old self talking. You can have what ever you want. If you want a mink coat, take a mink coat. If you’d like to wear evening gowns every night, be my guest. You make the rules.”
I bit my lip and shivered. My parents were such sticklers they wouldn’t even buy me a crappy used car because they thought it would spoil me. The thought of just taking what I wanted—no working for it, no begging my parents, no disapproving looks—was so intoxicating I felt almost dizzy with it.
“At least try it on,” Aleric urged. “See how it feels.”
“I guess there’s no harm in that,” I muttered under my breath. I stripped off my puffer coat, dropping it to the floor, then carefully slid the mink off the mannequin’s shoulders and put it on.
“Oh my God,” I moaned as I clutched the lapels closed then tied the belt. The coat was like a mink bathrobe, and aside from being so wonderfully soft, it was about ten times warmer than what I’d been wearing. It also weighed about ten times as much, but that was a price I was more than willing to pay.
Thinking of price, I checked the tag that was attached to the belt— and almost choked on my own tongue.
“Th is thing costs almost nineteen thousand dollars!” I screeched. My mind could barely encompass the idea of wearing something that cost more than some brand new cars.
Aleric gestured for me to come closer, and I did. He reached out like he wanted to touch the fur, and I leaned forward through the broken window so his hand didn’t have to cross the threshold to touch me. But instead of admiring the coat, he yanked off the price tag and smiled at me. “Tonight, for you, it’s free.”
I laughed with pure delight as I realized he was right, then hurried back into the store to a full- length mirror to get a good look at myself.
I let out an involuntary gasp when I saw a pair of bright green eyes staring out of my face. It shouldn’t have surprised me. All the Nightstruck had unnaturally green eyes. But the face I saw in that mirror was not the one I thought of as mine.
I told myself to pretend I was wearing green contacts and shook off the strangeness. The coat looked absolutely fabulous, like it was made for me. The rest of me, though…
I tugged off the knit hat I had pulled down over my ears and searched the store until I found a white chinchilla hat that was so soft it almost made the coat feel scratchy. Th e white hat looked a bit weird with the black coat, but I loved it too much to resist it. It wasn’t like Aleric or the Nightstruck were going to look down on me for my poor fashion sense.
A little more shopping, and I found the perfect pair of shearling boots to keep my feet warm during the long winter night. I was by now sweltering inside the store— the heater was doing its best to counter the arctic blast coming through the front window— but I wasn’t about to take my wonderful new furs off. I looked at myself in the mirror one more time and frowned at the cheap skinny jeans that peeked out between the hem of the coat and the tops of the boots.
“I need new jeans,” I declared. “Something with a little pizazz. And doesn’t come from someplace like Target.”
“I can make that happen for you,” Aleric said.
I had no doubt he could.
Copyright © 2017 by Jenna Black