Home > On the Edge (The Edge #1)

On the Edge (The Edge #1)
Author: Ilona Andrews

Acknowledgments

This book wouldn’t be possible without the efforts of Anne Sowards, my editor, who took a chance on an odd idea and whose guidance and insight once again turned a mess into a book, and without Nancy Yost, my agent, who always has my best interests at heart and saves me from myself. Thank you to both of you.

A great many people worked on this book. Thank you very much to Annette Fiore DeFex for the striking cover design; to Victoria Vebell for the stunning cover art; to Kristin del Rosario for the interior text design; to Joan Matthews for the copy edit (I have no idea how you put up with me); to production editor Michelle Kasper and assistant production editor Andromeda Macri, who oversaw the entire project; to Cameron Dufty, the editorial assistant, who fixed my emergencies; and to Ace’s publicist, Rosanne Romanello, who tirelessly promoted the book. I’m deeply grateful to all of you.

Finally, thank you to all of you, the readers. Without you, none of this would be possible.

 

 

ONE

“ROSIE!” Grandpa’s bellow shook the foundation of the house.

“Why me?” Rose wiped the dish-soap suds from her hands with a kitchen towel, swiped the crossbow from the hook, and stomped onto the porch.

“Roooosie!”

She kicked the screen door open. He towered in the yard, a huge, shaggy bear of a man, deranged eyes opened wide, tangled beard caked with blood and quivering grayish shreds. She leveled the crossbow at him. Drunk as hell again.

“What is it?”

“I want to go to the pub. I want a pint.” His voice slipped into a whine. “Gimme some money!”

“No.”

He hissed at her, swaying unsteadily on his feet. “Rosie! This is your last chance to give me a dollar!”

She sighed and shot him. The bolt bit between the eyes, and Grandpa toppled onto his back like a log. His legs drummed the ground.

Rose rested the butt of her crossbow on her hip. “All right, come out.”

The two boys slipped from behind the huge oak spreading its branches over the yard. Both were filthy with reddish mud, sap, and the other unidentifiable substances an eight-and a ten-year-old could find in the Wood. A jagged scratch decorated Georgie’s neck, and brown pine straw stuck out of his blond hair. Red welts marked the skin between Jack’s knuckles. He saw her looking at his hands. His eyes got big, amber irises flaring yellow, and he hid his fists behind his back.

“How many times do I have to say it: don’t touch the ward stones. Look at Grandpa Cletus! He’s been eating dog brains again, and now he’s drunk. It will take me half an hour to hose him off.”

“We miss him,” Georgie said.

She sighed. “I miss him, too. But he’s no good to anybody drunk. Come on, you two, let’s take him back to his shed. Help me get the legs.”

Together they dragged Grandpa’s inert form back to the shed at the edge of the clearing and dumped him on his sawdust. Rose uncoiled the metal chain from the corner, pulled it across the shed, locked the collar on Grandpa’s neck, and peeled back his left eyelid to check the pupil. No red yet. Good shot—he would be out for hours.

Rose put her foot on his chest, grasped the bolt, and pulled it out with a sharp tug. She still remembered Grandpa Cletus as he was, a tall, dapper man, uncanny with his rapier, his voice flavored with a light Scottish brogue. Even as old as he was, he would still win against Dad one out of three times in a sword fight. Now he was this . . . this thing. She sighed. It hurt to look at him, but there was nothing to be done about it. As long as Georgie lived, so did Grandpa Cletus.

The boys brought the hose. She turned it on, set the sprayer on jet, and leveled the stream at Grandpa until all the blood and dog meat were gone. She had never quite figured out how “going down to the pub” equaled chasing stray dogs and eating their brains, but when Grandpa got out of his ward circle, no mutt was safe. By the time she was done washing him, the hole in his forehead had closed. When Georgie raised things from the dead, he didn’t just give them life. He made them almost indestructible.

Rose stepped out of the shed, locked the door behind her, and dragged the hose back to the porch. Her skin prickled as she crossed the invisible boundary: the kids must’ve put the ward stones back. She squinted at the grass. There they were, a line of small, seemingly ordinary rocks, spaced three, four feet from each other. Each rock held a small magic charge. Together they created an enchanted barrier, strong enough to keep Grandpa in the shed if he broke the chain again.

Rose waved the boys to the side and raised the hose. “Your turn.”

They flinched at the cold water. She washed them off methodically, from top to bottom. As the mud melted from Jack’s feet, she saw a two-inch rip in his Skechers. Rose dropped the hose.

“Jack!”

He cringed.

“Those are forty-five-dollar shoes!”

“I’m sorry,” he whispered.

“Tomorrow is the first school day! What were you doing?”

“He was climbing up the pines to get at the leech birds,” Georgie said.

She glared. “Georgie! Thirty-minute time-out tonight for snitching.”

Georgie bit his lip.

Rose stared at Jack. “Is that true? You were chasing the leech birds?”

“I can’t help it. Their tails are so flittery . . .”

She wanted to smack him. It was true, he couldn’t help it—it wasn’t his fault he was born as a cat—but those were brand-new shoes she had bought him for school. Shoes for which she had painstakingly tweaked their budget, scrimping every penny, so he wouldn’t have to wear Georgie’s old beat-up sneakers, so he could look just as nice as all the other second graders. It just hurt.

Jack’s face pinched into a rigid white mask—he was about to cry.

A small spark of power tugged on her. “Georgie, stop trying to resurrect the shoes. They were never alive in the first place.”

The spark died.

An odd desperation claimed her, her pain shifting into a sort of numbness. Pressure built in her chest. She was so sick of it, sick of counting every dollar, sick of rationing everything, sick to death of it all. She had to go and get Jack a new pair of shoes. Not for Jack’s sake, but for the sake of her own sanity. Rose had no clue how she would make up the money, but she knew she had to buy him a new pair of shoes right now, or she would explode.

“Jack, do you remember what will happen if a leech bird bites you?”

“I’ll turn into one?”

“Yes. You have to stop chasing the birds.”

He hung his head. “Am I punished?”

“Yes. I’m too mad to punish you right now. We’ll talk about it when we get home. Go brush your teeth, comb your hair, put on dry clothes, and get the guns. We’re going to Wal-Mart.”

 

 

THE old Ford truck bounced on the bumps in the dirt road. The rifles clanged on the floor. Georgie put his feet down to steady them without being asked.

Rose sighed. Here, in the Edge, she could protect them well enough. But they were about to pass from the Edge into another world, and their magic would die in the crossing. The two hunting rifles on the floor would be their only defense. Rose felt a pang of guilt. If it wasn’t for her, they wouldn’t need the rifles. God, she didn’t want to be jumped again. Not with her brothers in the car.

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