make it real, and no matter how little time I had left, I wasn’t ready for that. Not yet.

So I would focus on the facts, rather than the truth. Because no matter what it sounds like, there’s actually a very big difference between the two.

“Are you sure?” I asked, holding the cold can with both hands, relishing the discomfort because it meant that I was still alive.

Tod nodded miserably. “Normally I don’t see the names more than a day or two in advance, but because you’re already on borrowed time, your name came on the special list.”


I was on borrowed time because I’d already died once. I was only three at the time, and thirteen years later, I only knew what I’d been told long after the fact: I was scheduled to die that night, on the side of an icy road in an accident. However, my parents couldn’t stand the thought of losing their only child, so my father tried to exchange his death date for mine. But the reaper was a vicious bastard, and he took my mother’s life instead.

I’d been living my mother’s life—literally—since I was three years old. And now her lifeline was coming to its end. Which meant that I would die. Again.

“Aren’t you just a rookie?” My father frowned skeptically. “How do you even have access to this special list?” Normally, my dad wouldn’t hesitate to question the reaper, based solely on the fact that they didn’t get along. But his disbelief this time had a deeper root. One I understood.

If Tod was wrong, or even lying for some reason, then maybe I wasn’t going to die. Maybe my borrowed lifeline wasn’t really sliding through my fingers faster than I could cling to it.

“That’s the weird thing,” Tod said, unbothered by my dad’s skepticism. “Normally, I wouldn’t have access to it. If I’d known it was coming up, I could have looked up the specifics on the sly.” Tod had his boss’s passwords because he’d set them up in the first place—he was one of only two reapers in the district young enough to have grown up with computers. “But this time I didn’t have to. When I went in this afternoon to pick up my own list, Levi sent me into his office for something. And the special list was sitting right there on his desk, in plain sight.”

“And naturally, you read it,” my father added.

“I’m a reaper, not a saint. Anyway, I think he wanted me to see it. Why else would he have left it out, then sent me in alone with it lying right there?”

“Why would he want you to see it?” I asked, curious in spite of the huge dark cloud hanging over my truncated future.

Tod shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe he likes me. Maybe he likes you.” I’d only met Levi, Tod’s boss, once, but he had seemed impressed with my ingenuity. Impressed enough to give me a heads-up about my own death? Maybe, but…

“Why?” I asked, focused on Tod’s eyes in search of an answer. If I’d been looking at Nash, I’d have known what he was feeling just by watching the colors twist in his irises. But, like my dad, Tod was too good at hiding what he was feeling. He rarely ever let his emotions show through the windows to his soul.

“Why would he like you?” Tod’s eyes held steady. “Well, you do have this sort of magnetic effect on the darker elements of life. And the afterlife.” As evidenced by Avari the hellion’s obsession with claiming my soul. “And Levi’s definitely on the murky side of things.”

I had no idea how old Levi was—though my best guess was in the mid-triple digits—but he looked like an eight-year-old, freckled, redheaded little boy. That, combined with the fact that all reapers were technically dead, made him hands down the creepiest reaper I’d ever met. And, unfortunately, in the last six months, I’d had occasion to meet several.

But that wasn’t what I’d meant.

“No, why would he want me to know? Why would you want me to know? Nash said we’re not supposed to tell people when they’re going to die, because that just makes their last moments miserable. And I gotta say, he was right.” I didn’t know my exact time of death yet, but just knowing it was coming was enough to make my stomach revolt against the entire concept of food.

“In general, that’s true…” my father began, but Tod cut him off, sporting a characteristic dark grin.

“But you seem to be the exception to so many rules, why should this one be any different?”

“Does that mean you want me to suffer through anticipation?” I asked, hoping I’d misinterpreted that part.

“No.” My dad shook his head. “It means that forewarned is forearmed. We couldn’t have fought this if we didn’t know it was coming.”

“We’re going to fight this?” That possibility hadn’t occurred to me. I mean, someone had already fought that battle for me once, and won. I’d been saved, at the expense of my mother’s life. As badly as I wanted to live, it hardly seemed fair for me to cheat death again. No one else I knew had even had one second chance, much less two.

Then there was the other problem. The big one: extending my lifeline—again—would mean killing someone else instead. Again. And I couldn’t live with that.

“Of course we’re going to fight it!” my dad insisted. “There are ways around death, at least temporarily. We know that better than anyone. We’ve done it, once.”

“That’s the problem,” Tod said softly, his grin notably absent. “One of them, anyway.”

My father scowled at the reaper. “What does that mean?”

“The rules are very clear about second extensions.” He hesitated, and I heard what he was going to say next before he even formed the words. “There are none.”

For a long moment, there was only silence, and the deep, cold terror that settled into my chest was like hands of ice massaging my heart. In spite of my determination not to let anyone else pay for my continued existence, the death of that possibility echoed into eternity, like no fear I’d ever felt.

“There have to be exceptions,” my father insisted, as usual, the first to recover his voice after severe systemic shock. “There are always exceptions.”

Tod shook his head slowly, and a single unruly blond curl fell over his forehead. “Not for this. I already asked around, and…well, it just doesn’t happen. It can’t.”

“But you’re a reaper!” My dad stood, his voice thundering throughout the room. I felt like I should do something. Make him stop yelling, or at least try to calm him down. “What good are you if you can’t even help out a friend?”

“Dad…” I protested, uncomfortably aware that he’d never referred to Tod as a friend before. But I guess that’s what they say about desperate times…

“Kaylee, this is your life we’re talking about,” my father said, and a chill raced through me when I realized his hands were shaking. “We’re not going to let this happen. We’ll do whatever it takes. I’ll do whatever it takes.”

And suddenly I understood what he was saying. He’d tried to give me his lifeline before, and he’d do it again without a second thought.

“No, Dad…” I whispered, fear and shock rendering my voice a pathetic whisper.

My father ignored me and turned to look at Tod. “But I can’t do it without help.” The blues in my dad’s eyes churned with desperation, the strongest emotion I’d ever seen displayed there, and I was only seeing it now because he couldn’t hide it. He’d lost control, and that scared me more than anything. “Please, Tod.” My dad sank onto the opposite end of the couch, elbows on his knees, scrubbing his face with both hands. “I’m begging you. I’ll do whatever you want. Please make an exception for my daughter.”

Tod looked almost as stunned as I felt. I’d never heard my father beg for anything, not even for his own life, when Avari dragged him into the Netherworld, using him to get to me.

“Mr. Cavanaugh, I’d do it in a heartbeat.” Tod looked so earnest and frustrated that I wanted to comfort him. Especially when he turned those sad blue eyes on me, silently begging me to believe him. “Kaylee, I’d do it if I could. You know that. But it’s not up to me. I’m not your reaper.”

For one surreal moment, I wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or upset about that.

“They don’t let rookies reap under special circumstances. They’ll call in an expert. I don’t even know what zone you’re actually supposed to be in when…when it happens,” he finished miserably.

I sucked in a deep breath, trying to process everything I’d just heard. Trying to push past the tangle of

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