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Shapeshifted

Edie Spence 3

by

 Cassie Alexander

To everyone who helped make the

Affordable Care Act a reality.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I’d like to thank all the usual brilliant suspects—my editor, Rose Hilliard; my agent, Michelle Brower; my incomparable alpha reader, Daniel Starr; for the book you’re holding in your hands. Aleta Rafton, my cover artist, and Laura Jorstad, my copy editor, and their counterparts in other countries translating me. My husband, Paul, for his perpetual support, and Rachel Swirsky and Barry Deutsch again, my late-night writing friends.

I’d also like to thank Jen Coreas and Kelsey Luoma for their Spanish help—although any mistakes that remain are definitely mine!

And my thanks to everyone who’s read about Edie so far, especially to my fellow night-shift employees who e-mail me late at night. I hope I’ve made your shifts go by a little faster.

CHAPTER ONE

I’d lost fifteen pounds in six months.

Being a nurse, I’d run through the worst-case scenarios first: cancer, diabetes, TB. When I’d checked my blood sugars and cleared myself of coughs and suspicious lumps, I was left with the much more likely diagnosis of depression. Which was why I was here, even though here was an awkward place to be.

“I can tell you anything, right?” I asked as I sat down across from the psychologist.

“Of course you can, Edie.” She gave me a comforting smile, and adjusted her long skirt over her knees. “What do you feel like talking about today?”

I inhaled and exhaled a few times. There didn’t seem to be any good way to launch into my story. Hi, I used to work with vampire-exposed humans. Once upon a time, I dated a zombie and a werewolf. So, you know, the usual. I snorted to myself, and admitted: “I’m not sure where to begin.”

“Anything that feels comfortable for you is fine. Sometimes it takes a few sessions to rev up.”

“Heh.” Six months was a long time—I should be getting over things already. Things like being fired … well, shunned, which felt a lot like firing. Maybe I should have let them wipe my memory when I’d had the chance. Figured I would make the wrong decision. “I’ve just been through a rough time lately.”

“How so?”

“I had this job that I really enjoyed. And I had to leave it. To go elsewhere. Ever since then, my life just feels … plain.” I’d spent the end of winter up to now, July, working the full-time night shift in a sleep apnea clinic, monitoring patients while they slept. It was dull. My skin was paler than ever, and my social life was long gone.

There was a pause while she attempted to wait me out. When I didn’t continue, she filled the gap. “Let’s talk about what you used to enjoy. Maybe we can figure out what you enjoyed about it, and think how you can bring those qualities over into your current situation.”

“Well. My co-workers were good people. And my job was exciting.” I paused, chewing on the inside of my cheek.

“What was exciting about it?” she encouraged me.

I looked at her, at her nice office, nice couch, nice shelves with nice things. It must be nice to be a psychologist. I looked back at her. She smiled, and opportunity blossomed inside my heart. We, she and I, had patient–therapist privilege. As a registered nurse, I knew the boundaries. As long as I wasn’t a danger to myself, or to anyone else, she’d have to keep what I told her quiet. It wasn’t like she was going to believe me, besides.

I leaned forward, my elbows on my knees. “What do you think about vampires?”

The smile on her face tightened for just a fraction of a second. “It’s more important that I know what you think, not the other way around. So, tell me, Edie. What do you think about vampires?”

“What if I told you they actually existed?” I said. Her smile appeared increasingly strained. “Here, I won’t make it into a question. I’ll tell you what I think. They do exist. There’s quite a few of them out there, actually. They have human servants, some to do their dirty work, and others just to get blood from, like human cattle.”

The words poured out. I knew I wasn’t supposed to say anything, and I knew from looking at her that she didn’t want to hear it—but it felt so good to finally talk about it. The dam had broken. I couldn’t stop now.

“And there’s werewolves too. There were two big packs, but now there’s just one, and they race around on full moon nights in the parks outside of town, and then there’s also zombies, and I dated this zombie for reals once—I knew he was a zombie going into things, and I still dated him. You know how I knew? He told me. I was his nurse one night. At the hospital where I used to work.”

I sank back into the world’s most comfortable couch and pressed a hand to my chest. “I cannot believe I just told you all that. That felt so good.” Looking up, it was clear my confessions hadn’t had the same effect on both of us.

She gave me a tight high smile. “Do the vampires tell you to hurt yourself?”

Not lately! was the wiseass answer that I wanted to give—but everything I told her was going into a file. If I was going to abuse her listening skills, the least I could do would be to take things seriously, and stay polite. “No. They don’t. They’re not in my head either.”

She tried a different tack. “Do the vampires tell you to hurt other people?”

Not anymore! “No. They’re not allowed to talk to me anymore.”

I could see her measuring me, weighing my sanity. It was pull up now and laugh, like everything I’d said had been part of a prank or crazy joke, and wasn’t I hilarious? Or sink like a stone—which was the direction I was heading in. It could be said I lacked the gene for self-preservation that most people came installed with.

“There was this one vampire that I was really close to. She kicked me out to protect me, after I destroyed all the extra vampire blood in the county. I saved everyone … but I ruined everything too.”

The therapist inhaled and exhaled deeply. “Edie, at twenty-five you’re a little old to be having a schizophrenic break. But we need to do some reality testing here.”

Reality testing. Like everything that’d happened to me this past winter wasn’t real. I stared at the patterned carpeting beneath my feet. “That’s the thing. It was all real. All of it. But I can’t tell anyone about it. You know what’ll happen to you when I leave this room? If you believe me?”

“No.” Her face looked like she was sucking on an increasingly sour candy. “Why don’t you tell me?”

“The Shadows will come out of the ground and erase your memory of everything I said. Maybe even of me.” I nudged the carpet with my toe.

“Edie, how long have you been having these delusions?”

I didn’t answer her.

“I know you’re a nurse, and no one wants to put you on meds less than I do, but my co-worker next door— he’s a psychiatrist. We can go together and check in with him. He could get you in as an emergency visit, and then you can go fill your prescription. Risperdal does wonders for people.”

“Risperdal?” I startled and looked up. I was crazy … but I wasn’t crazy. “No.”

“Edie—” Her voice went low. I grabbed my bag and started walking toward the door. “You’re not going to

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