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384 pages, Hardcover
First published March 8, 2022
"What is there for her, beyond the looming wall of her mother's return. Who is she without the ache of her absence and the fear of losing her again?"
"All her life, love has been a scarce and precious resource, something earned or denied, something she starved for every day. But with Wes, love is different. It is reckless and inexhaustible. It is freely given. It simply is."
“How many times will she watch someone leave this place and never look back, while she is left here like a ghost to haunt it?”
The more dangerous the monster, the more glorious the hero who slays it.
“Besides, dreams don’t always have to be practical. That’s why they’re dreams. And now ours live and die together.”
“Together.” It’s such a foreign concept.
He grins at her. “It’s you and me against the world, Margaret.”
She pauses, drawing in a shaky breath when her throat begins to burn. She will not cry—not in front of him. “I’m asking you again, Mr. Winters. I won’t ask again after this. Please stay. There’s no one else I can ask.”
“God,” he says softly. “Please don’t look at me like that.”
The day he met her, streaked in dirt and despising him, he never imagined she could do this to him. How could Margaret ever think he’d lose himself to alchemy when he has already hopelessly lost himself to her?
Girls like her don’t get to dream. Girls like her get to survive. Most days, that’s enough. Today, she doesn’t think it is.
Misfortune has hardened them both. It’s roughened her, but it’s polished him to a sheen. If he lets the world believe he is all surface, then there is nothing to expose. Beneath her implacable stare, however, he is utterly naked.
He’s survived this long by letting everyone believe he’s selfish and shallow. It’s better that way. No one knows how to hurt you if you always play the fool. No one can truly be disappointed in you if they don’t expect any better.
Love is not the sharp-edged thing she’s always believed it to be. It’s not like the sea, liable to slip through her fingers if she holds on too tight. It’s not a currency, something to be earned or denied or bartered for. Love can be steadfast. It can be certain and safe, or as wild as an open flame. It’s a slice of buttered bread at a dinner table. It’s a grudge born of worry. It’s broken skin pulled over swelling knuckles.
It’s not enough anymore to do this for Evelyn. Maybe it’s for Wes, too.
As she watches him walk away, the answering squeeze of her heart is as distressing as it is painfully familiar. How many times will she watch someone leave this place and never look back, while she is left here like a ghost to haunt it?
If she must be seen tonight, she will be incandescent.
As hours became days became weeks, she realized that if her mind could protect her from remembering Evelyn’s failed experiment, it could protect her from this pain, too. She could learn how to make the sting of abandonment fade into numbness. She could learn to detach until it felt like she wasn’t real at all.
Today, one of them could die. There’s nothing for them to tell each other that they don’t already know. He sees it in her eyes. He’s tasted it on her lips. She writes it on his skin every time she touches him. But in all his mother’s legends, there is binding power in words, and Wes doesn’t want to die without his soul entwined with hers.
This is nothing more than they’ve already exchanged. A sacrifice for a sacrifice, a dream for a dream. Their bargain is its own kind of alchemy.