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Before I Wake

(The sixth book in the Soul Screamers series)

A novel by Rachel Vincent

This is for every reader who’s ever stayed up too late to read just one more chapter. For every reader with a paperback in a purse or backpack or glove compartment. For everyone with an ebook on a phone or tablet or laptop. For everyone listening to an audio book in the car, at the gym, or on the train.

This is for every reader the librarians know by name.

For everyone who’s ever said, “You have to read this!”

Thank you all so much for making Kaylee and her friends a part of your lives.

1

I WAS A virgin sacrifice. And yeah, it’s just as creepy as it sounds. I died on a Thursday, at twenty-seven minutes after midnight, killed by a monster intent on stealing my soul. The good news? He didn’t get it. The bad news? Turns out not even death will get you out of high school… .

* * *

I’ve always hated Mondays, but this particular Monday, a beautiful day in late April, seemed ready to deliver its very own brand of hell. I stood in front of the bathroom mirror at seven-thirty in the morning, staring at myself, trying to decide exactly how alive I should look. In the movies, people are always faking their own deaths, but I couldn’t think of anyone else—real or fictional—who’d faked survival. I’d have to blaze this trail all on my own.

How pale would a person look twenty-nine days after being stabbed to death? That would depend on the severity of the wound, right? On the number of organs injured? On the amount of blood lost? Since no one at school knew any of those details, they wouldn’t know if my performance was off. So I could play the part however I wanted. Right?

No one had to know that my pale skin and sweaty palms were really the result of a colossal case of first- day-back nerves.

My stomach churned as I stared at my reflection, wondering how I could possibly feel so different, yet look exactly the same as I had before I died, except for the new scar. Exactly the same as I would look next year, and the year after that, and a decade after that, and for as many centuries as my afterlife lasted.

“Kaylee! Breakfast!” my father called from the kitchen.

“I’m dead, Dad,” I called back, dropping my hairbrush into the drawer. “I don’t eat anymore.”

A minute later, my father appeared in the doorway in a grease-splattered T-shirt and jeans, frowning at me. “You don’t have to eat. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. I think you’d feel a lot better if you had something warm in your stomach.”

I turned and leaned against the counter, crossing my arms over my chest. “That’s not really how it works.”

“No arguments. I made pancakes and bacon. I want you at the table in five minutes.”

I sighed as his footsteps retreated toward the kitchen. He was trying. I wasn’t sure what he was trying, but he was serious about it.

I crossed the hall into my room for a pair of shoes and blinked in surprise at the empty space at the center of my room, where the bed used to be. It had been four weeks since we’d gotten rid of the ruined mattress and sheets, and I still wasn’t used to the new purple quilt that had replaced the blue comforter my psychotic math teacher had bled out on.

After my death, I’d avoided my room for nearly a week until my father figured out what I’d been too embarrassed to tell him—that I couldn’t go in there without seeing it all in my head. Reliving my own death.

That night, he and Tod had rearranged every piece of furniture I owned until my room was unrecognizable. That was three weeks ago, and I still couldn’t get used to seeing my bed against the wall, my desk slanted across one corner of the room. But this time when I glanced into that corner, I couldn’t help but smile.

Tod sat in my desk chair, his curls golden in the glow from my bedside lamp, his eyes as blue as the ocean, the one time I’d seen it. Styx was curled up on my bed, asleep, paying the reaper no attention whatsoever. Half Pomeranian, half Netherworld guard dog, she was the fiercest, most dangerous six pounds of frizzy fur and pointy teeth I’d ever seen, other than her littermates. She was also a living, breathing, growling security system, bred to warn me when danger approached on either side of the world barrier.

It had taken her weeks to understand that growling at Tod wasn’t going to get rid of him.

Tod’s brother—my ex—was wrestling with that same conclusion.

Tod stood as soon as he saw me, and I couldn’t resist a smile, in spite of the nerves still twisting my insides into knots.

My arms slid around his neck and delicious, tiny little sparks shot up my spine as his hand settled at my waist, and I secretly marveled at the fact that I was allowed to touch him whenever I wanted.

This was still new, me and Tod. Our relationship was only a month old, yet somehow, he was the only thing that still seemed to fit, since my death. Going through the motions in the rest of my life—an ironic term, if I’d ever heard one—now felt like trying to fit into clothes I’d outgrown. Everything was uncomfortable, and too tight, and not as bright as I remembered.

But Tod was the same. Only better.

“Aren’t you supposed to be at work? Eventually Levi’s going to notice that you keep skipping out,” I said when I finally had to let him go. Levi, his boss, had a soft spot for Tod, but in their line of work, leniency could only go so far. Tod was a reaper—more than two and a half years dead, but perpetually nearly eighteen. He worked the midnight-to-noon shift at the local hospital, reaping the souls of those scheduled to die on his watch.

Except when he was delivering pizza. And helping me pretend I was still alive.

“I had a break and I thought you might be nervous this morning. So I brought you this.” He handed me a paper cup of coffee, and I took a cautious sip. Caramel latte. My favorite, and the only edible thing I still seemed to crave since my unfortunate demise. “And this.” He spread his arms, showing off a physique even death couldn’t mar, and I wanted to touch him some more. Then some more after that. “I figure one or the other will make you feel better.”

“Both. They both make me feel better.” I pulled him close for a kiss, then didn’t want to let him go. “I don’t wanna go back to school today.”

“So don’t. Come hang out with me at work.” Tod dropped back into my desk chair and swiveled to face me while I knelt to grab my sneakers from beneath my bed. “We can play naughty dress up with the hospital gowns and rearrange the supply closets.”

“Isn’t that dangerous? What if they can’t find some important drug or equipment in an emergency?”

Tod shrugged. “Nobody’s gonna die without my help, anyway, so what’s the harm?”

The harm? Potential brain damage. Paralysis. And all kinds of other nonlethal catastrophes. Fortunately, his grin said he was kidding, so I didn’t have to go through with the lecture.

“Kaylee!” my dad shouted, and Tod sniffed in the direction of the hall.

“Is that bacon?”

“And pancakes.” I shoved my foot into the sneaker and tugged on the laces to tighten it. “He thinks I should start my first day back at school with a healthy breakfast. I think he’s been spending too much time with your mom.” In addition to being an amazing amateur baker, Harmony Hudson was the only fellow female bean sidhe I knew.

“It’s not a bad idea,” Tod said. “Breakfast is my third favorite meal of the day.”

“Not today.” Standing, I tugged him closer so I could slide my hand behind his neck, my fingers playing in the soft curls that ended there. “I think he needs some father-daughter time.”

As grateful as my father was for everything Tod had done to try to save my life, he’d had his fill of houseguests for a while. Tod and I had spent nearly every waking moment together since my death, and for two

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