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The Lair

 The Farm - 2

by

Emily McKay

For all the people who’ve loved Mel like I love her and to all the folks on the autism spectrum who’ve helped with research and answered questions and given me the insight to write Mel.

And, as always, for my wonderful husband and kids.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I always choke when it comes to this part. So many people make a book possible. I could not have written this book (or any book, really) without the help of my fabulous critique partner, Robyn DeHart, and my wonderful writer friends, Tracy Wolff, Shellee Roberts, Hattie Ratliff, Sherry Thomas, Skylar White, Karen MacInerney, and Jax Garren. Thank you for giving me hope, keeping me sane, promising me I can quit right after I finish this book and never laughing at me when I get a new idea five minutes later.

Thanks to my fabulous agent, Jessica Faust, for believing in these characters and being the best agent ever!

Thanks to my editor, Michelle Vega, for letting me stretch the story to the limits and always being there to pull me back when I go too far. And to all the people at Penguin who’ve worked on the book: Erica Horisk, the copyeditor; the fantastic people in the art department who created this great cover for Mel; and of course the people at Penguin UK, Claire Pelly and Kim Atkins.

Thanks to all the people who helped with research for this book: my in-laws—who took me out to the country and let me fire all kinds of guns and bows, Cynthia Peterson—who answered all my questions about antibiotics and gunshot wounds, and finally, the wonderful staff at Barton Creek Pediatrics—who didn’t call CPS when I asked how long a newborn could survive without food or water.

A really big thanks to my two Beta readers, Kaitlyn and Kathy. Kaitlyn, you really helped keep the voice consistent and I loved reading your notes about the story. Your positive feedback kept my morale up through the final stages of getting the book to press. Kathy, you caught so many of my typos—things even the copyeditor didn’t find. I’m amazed by your keen eye. Thank you both so much!!!!

And, finally, my deepest apologies to the people of Sweetwater, Texas. It is not nearly as small as I made it seem in the book. I’ve just always loved the name and couldn’t resist using it. I drove through Sweetwater back in June and am happy to report they do have a Walmart. So if you ever need to seek sanctuary from Ticks, it’s a good place to be.

PROLOGUE

Mel

I wake to a thirst unlike any I’ve ever known. My body is a violin string plucked by hunger. I throb with it. Pulse with it. Vibrate with it. Sing with it.

I am a Slinky knotted over on myself. My beautiful coils twisted out of shape. The song my body sings is of agony and anguish.

Then the breeze shifts and my nose twitches. Food is nearby. Not fresh baked bread like Nanna’s. Not garden grown. But food.

Flashlike, my body isn’t a Slinky, it’s a spring. I poise and pounce. I fly through the air on the thrum of hunger.

I land beside the body of a Tick. The food I smelled.

My mind recoils as my body lunges. I can’t feed on that. I can’t not feed on that, either. The beat of my need is louder than my revulsion. Louder than bombs. I must feed. Feed or die.

Before I can think my way out of doing the unthinkable, something slams into me. I am flat on my back and pressed into the pavement. Flat like a flower pressed between the pages of the annotated dictionary. Not a pretty posy, but a beastly belladonna.

The force knocks me breathless. It’s him: the silent shark. Sebastian. My murderer. My maker. My mentor.

“Don’t,” he growls. If sharks can growl. Maybe only tiger sharks can.

But he’s all iron muscle, instead of limber cartilage. All gruff anger, instead of lithe irony.

I thrash against him, helpless and small like a pilot fish caught in the wake of a shark. A pilot fish drowning in air. Drowning in hunger.

“I can’t let you feed on a Tick,” the tiger shark growls in my ear.

I know there’s a logic there. A reason he’s letting me drown. But stomach trumps brain and I fight him. Unfortunately, shark trumps fish. All I know is hunger. All I feel is pain.

“I’ll let you up, but you must swear to obey my every command.”

I snap and bite. I growl.

His hand jams up under my jaw, jamming it closed.

“Swear it and I’ll feed you.”

I recoil and I fight. I can’t swear to obey him. I won’t.

It’s not in my makeup to obey. Girls are supposed to be sugar and spice and everything nice, but I’m no malleable cookie dough, to be rolled flat and cut to shreds.

Even Mary, Mary wasn’t this contrary.

“Swear it.”

The breeze shifts and I smell it again. Food. Need roars through me. Floodwaters sweeping away the last of me. Of who I was. The girl who can’t obey is gone. All that’s left is thirst. Need. Anger.

I nod.

I am free.

Free from the small, tight skin of the pilot fish.

Slowly, the weight of the tiger shark lifts from my body. Testing my obedience by increments. I’m too desperate to hate his caution like I should. I can’t breathe past the hunger eating me.

Then I am up and Sebastian thrusts something at me. Now more nurse than tiger, he puts a straw between my lips and I drink. The first drop of it hits like water on an oil-hot pan. It sparks and fizzles on my tongue. It is hot and sweet and heady, like the cocoa Nanna made for us on icy Nebraska days.

I drink and drink. I gulp and consume and devour until the fire of my thirst is extinguished and all that’s left are the red coals. Still hot enough to flame, but banked to embers.

And still Sebastian brings me more to drink.

The world is shifting back into focus. Silent and still around me. Silent as night. Still as death. Noiseless. Music-less. Sated now, I feel that loss keenly.

How can I live in a world without music? But I know this is no proper life and my drink is no warm cocoa. Nurse or not, this is nothing Nanna would feed me.

I look up at Sebastian, who stands ready with another straw, another steaming mug of silent death.

He is talking again. Maybe he never stopped. Maybe I couldn’t hear him past my roaring need.

“You can’t feed from Ticks. Ever. You can drink their blood, but you can’t drink directly from them. They all have the regenerative gene. If you pass the vampire virus to them, they will regenerate. Do you understand?”

I do, but only barely. I have always been music and math. Genetics has never been my strong suit.

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