Petra Lang did not want to die.
Too bad she didnâ€™t have even the slightest say in the
A specially convened Alliance Tribunal had indicted her, an
Alliance prosecutor had outlined the evidence against her,
and the high examiner had sentenced her. Now she awaited
her punishment from within a coffin-size portable holding
cell, her hands bound tightly in front of her despite the
space being so tiny there was no way she could have even
shot someone the finger, were she so inclined.
And, frankly, she was definitely so inclined. As far as she
was concerned, the preternatural assholes whoâ€™d sentenced
her to die deserved one hell of a lot more than a rude
Never mind that she was willing to submit to whatever
restrictive and oppressive rules the Alliance wanted to
subject her to. Because of her curse, sheâ€™d been deemed a
danger to both the human and the shadow communities, and in
less than an hour, she would be dead.
She closed her eyes, trying not to think about it. Trying
not to wonder if it would hurt or if she would slip softly
away into the black. Trying not to wish sheâ€™d had the
chance to lift the curse, to touch a man, to see the
frigginâ€™ Eiffel Tower or the Great Wall of China. Hell,
sheâ€™d never even made it up to San Francisco to see the
Golden Gate Bridge. She was only twenty-six. She wasnâ€™t
supposed to die.
She hoped she wouldnâ€™t cry; if she could make it without
tears, at least then she could take some small victory with
her to the grave.
Mostly, she thought about Kiril. Worried about him. Her
brother whoâ€™d dedicated his life to protecting her. The boy
who wrote such beautiful poems and could spend hours
searching for the proper word for one of his short stories.
The sorcerer whoâ€™d exploded in a frenzy of wind and thunder
when the elite Covert Alliance Apprehension Squad had burst
through the door of their house in Studio City.
The squad members had gone for Kiril first, with such
swiftness that Petra had assumed theyâ€™d come for her
brother and had no interest in her. Sheâ€™d tried to help
him, but though the familyâ€™s magic flowed in her veins,
too, the curse had always interfered, and summoning her
meager power during a crisis had never been easy for her.
Instead, sheâ€™d watched, horrified, as the officers fired
tranquilizer darts at him, the magic fading as Kiril
collapsed unconscious onto the floor. Sheâ€™d raced to him
but hadnâ€™t made it to his side. Instead, a burly officer
had lassoed herâ€”lassoed!â€”then dragged her back toward the
Sheâ€™d fought, digging in her heels, tugging on the rope,
screaming for her brother. But she had never once run
toward her captor. Never tried to rip the cloth that
covered his body from nose to toes. Never yanked her own
glove off or tried to touch skin upon skin.
She hadnâ€™t used the curse to fight backâ€”she hadnâ€™t even
And yet it was for that very curse that she would die
tonight. Sheâ€™d intentionally pushed the curse once. Only
once. And it had been Sergeâ€™s decision as much as her own.
The vampire knew what would happenâ€”what he would become.
But theyâ€™d had no choice. Theyâ€™d been trapped, and time had
been running out.
It had been a total Hail Mary ploy, but it had paid off.
Sheâ€™d touched, heâ€™d transformed, and the monster he became
had wreaked havoc on their captors.
Serge had sacrificed his sanity, his soul, and even his
life to save countless more, but did the Alliance care? Not
one damn bit. They didnâ€™t look at the reason or the result;
they looked only at the curse, at what she could wreak with
nothing more substantial than the slightest brush of skin
She closed her eyes, clenched her fists, and wished she had
the power to turn back time. If she had, she wouldnâ€™t
hesitate. She would touch them all and take her chances
with the vicious monsters she unleashed. She would do that
very thing for which they were now executing her. She would
turn them all, torture them all, and, dammit, she would
fight to live.
She didnâ€™t deserve this.
Tears pricked her eyes, spilling out over her lashes, and
she tried to lift a hand to wipe them away, then shook with
fear and fury when her arm wouldnâ€™t move. She couldnâ€™t even
dry her own damn tears! Dear God, she didnâ€™t ask for this.
Didnâ€™t want it, would walk away if she could. So how was it
fair that she died tonight, when sheâ€™d spent her whole life
apart and alone, protecting the entire world from what she
Stop it! Stop thinking!
She almost wished the guards would hurry up and come. Right
then, locked in the small concrete cell, she had no company
other than her thoughts. And those thoughts were tormenting
A tremor ran up her spine, and she took back the earlier
wish. She wasnâ€™t ready, not at all.
â€śYes.â€ť Her voice was soft, but she took a small bit of
pride from the fact that it didnâ€™t shake.
â€śIt is time.â€ť
â€śWhat about my brother? My advocate? Canâ€™t I see them?â€ť
Didnâ€™t the condemned have the right to say good-bye to
their families? To speak one last time to their legal
â€śYour brotherâ€™s request for visitation has been denied.â€ť
â€śOh.â€ť She squeezed her eyes shut, not quite able to believe
she wouldnâ€™t get the chance to say good-bye to Kiril, that
sheâ€™d never again hold his hand when a blue moon filled the
sky, or read one of his stories, or harass him about
kicking up a whirlwind inside the house. Her chest
tightened. There were too many things left undone. Too many
things she still wanted to say. Now sheâ€™d never be able to.
She swallowed, forcing thoughts of her brother out of her
mind. â€śWhat about Montegue?â€ť she asked, referring to
Nicholas Montegue, the vampire advocate who had represented
her during the proceedings. Following the verdict and
sentencing, heâ€™d filed an appeal with the Alliance,
specifically addressing it to Tiberius, the governor of the
Shadow Allianceâ€™s Los Angeles territory.
Petra still hadnâ€™t heard the outcome, but Nicholas had been
hopeful. Tiberius, heâ€™d said, owed her one.
â€śThe appeal was denied,â€ť the voice said. â€śThe Tribunal has
ordered that your execution proceed with all due speed. And
Montegue filed no request to visit or be present at the
She tried to draw a breath as the walls of the already tiny
cell seemed to crowd even closer against her as she
processed what the voice was saying. Nicholas had fought
for herâ€”spent hours researching centuries of shadow law and
drafting brief after brief, his intensity and determination
so thick that sheâ€™d actually dared to hope.
Heâ€™d been her courage during the weeks leading up to the
hearing, and sheâ€™d relied on his quiet strength and sharp
reputation. He was Nicholas Montegue, after all, the
advocate who represented all vampiric interests on behalf
of the Alliance. Who had a hand in the affairs of Tiberius
If anyone could see her safely out of this mess, it was
Nicholas. And each day, sheâ€™d anticipated his visit,
eagerly working beside him, poring over the cases heâ€™d
copied and the statutes heâ€™d dug up from faraway
jurisdictions, so desperately grateful that heâ€™d given her
the gift of hope.
But that hope had died with the sentencing, and now he
couldnâ€™t even face her?
How completely pathetic.
â€śPrisoner!â€ť The sharp voice brought her back to the
present, to the small cell and the reality facing her. â€śDo
you willingly accept your fate?â€ť
â€śNo!â€ť The word seemed to burst from her mouth without any
There was nothing but silence around her, and she took some
small bit of satisfaction in having apparently mucked up
their formality, even if only a little bit.
â€śYou may proceed,â€ť the voice said, only this time, it
wasnâ€™t speaking to her. Within moments, the air in the cell
grew thicker, as if it was pressing in against her head,
and after a few seconds of that, the air seemed to be
actually drilling into her. She wanted to reach up and
clasp her skull in her palms, wanted to press her hands
hard against her cranium and hold her head together before
it exploded, but her shoulders were jammed against the
concrete walls and there was no movingâ€”she could only
scream, and scream, and scream.
Something moving like a worm through her mind. Digging and
twisting and turning. Searching.
Searching . . .
It hurt. Oh dear God, it hurt, and as the pain spread out
through her bodyâ€”as bile rose in her throat and her chest
heaved in acid-filled gagsâ€”she realized what it was. A
Truth Tellerâ€”a rare creature in the shadow world. Although
sheâ€™d spent years poking around in the shadows trying to
find the truth for her clients, sheâ€™d never once met anyone
whoâ€™d experienced the mind meld of a Truth Teller. It was
horrible, and the more the creature poked around, the worse
What the hell was it looking for?
The claws of the Tellerâ€™s grasp scraped through the dark
spots of her mind, riffling through long-forgotten
memories, stirring up lost scents and fears and small joys
along with the raw, red pain of the search.
Excerpted from When Wicked Craves by J. K. Beck
Copyright Â© 2010 by J.K. Beck. Excerpted by permission of
Bantam Dell, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or
reprinted without permission in writing from the