They say that when a banshee sings, someone dies.
It’s true. But only if we mean to kill.
I pulled my knifeblade tighter against the gangster’s throat and jammed his heavy body harder into the rainbow-sprayed brick wall with my hip. Tall shadows stabbed into the grimy alley beneath a hot moonlit sky, and the evil scent of his blood watered my mouth.
Unluckily for him, I meant it all right.
Sweet poison music swelled in my lungs, dripping with enspelled emotion and blood. I crooned a withering curse, and his dark-stubbled cheek blistered under my breath. “You murdered three of my friends, Sonny Valenti. All I have to do is sing.”
Summer heat tingled my hypersensitive ears like a distant symphony, the dry air murmuring below distant traffic noise and soft breeze. Beside me, moonlight glinted silver in Joey’s hellgreen eyes, his blond hair gleaming white. He slipped closer, a lean black shadow in his dark suit, and his voice slid like a needle, bright and easy under my skin, where it belonged. “Easy, Mina. Let him talk.”
My name in his mouth made me shiver. Joey DiLuca is my boss—he pays, I fight—and I know he doesn’t deal death lightly. If Joey says Sonny deserves to die, that’s fine with me. Joey’s the thinker in this outfit. I just do.
I yanked Sonny’s black curls back in my fist, easing the knife off a little to let the blood run. He’s a big tough guy—he’s not the Valenti family’s chief headkicker for nothing—but I held him no problem. With my spellsparked reflexes, I’m stronger than I look. “Tell us who helped you, and this’ll hurt a whole lot less.”
“I never had nothin’ to do with it.” Sonny struggled, his face scraping bloody streaks on the jagged bricks. “I never even knew what they done. Get the fuck offa me.”
Joey tapped his shiny black cane impatiently on the concrete. “Persuade him, Mina.”
I inhaled, tingling. Summer warmth soaked my tight leather vest, safe and comforting. The music of midnight in Melbourne: sparking neon, stifling heat, a storm’s sharp ozone tang, and the throbbing roll of thunder. My ears exulted at the delicious vibration. To a banshee, everything is music.
Melody wrapped around my tongue like a fairy lover’s kiss, and I sang sweet terror.
Sonny gurgled, spit bubbling. His hard muscles jerked against mine, splashing me with the dirtybright scents of cold sweat and fear. He shuddered, but hatred twisted his lip. “I ain’t telling you shit. Fuckin’ snakewhore.”
I didn’t pity him. An evil man, this Sonny—killer, armed robber, beater-up of girls, and torturer of minions for money. He and his Valenti friends had murdered our boss and his closest cousins in a spiteful preemptive strike. Which dumped the responsibility for leading our gang squarely and unexpectedly on Joey. We’d moved up in the world, like it or not. Joey didn’t ask for it, or want it. He just dealt with it, calm and unruffled as always.
So here we were, getting our own back. And I had extra reason to hate Sonny. When I was a mouthy teenage brat who did any dirty thing for cash, he spat on me, kicked me, laughed at me along with the rest. Maybe I slept with him. I don’t remember a lot of things I did back then.
Besides, we DiLucas didn’t start this gang war. That happened before my time, when we were all just small-time gangsters, running illegal games and protection rackets, selling the latest psychotic fairy drugs, and minding our own business. But the demon court brought their eternal bickering to town—imagine a cross between Gossip Girl and a pack of soulthirsty hyenas—and the old ways of tolerance and sharing erupted in blood and bullets. The demon prince, Kane, wanted the city for himself, and he chose Angelo Valenti, a crafty old vampire gang boss, to rule his turf. So Ange and his crazy-ass cousins systematically crushed their opposition, killing and maiming and damning souls to hell, until Joey and our little gang were all that remained.
We have our demon patron, too, or rather, patroness—I don’t trust Delilah’s sultry lies, but Joey says we can’t do without demon backing, not with Kane and the Valenti gang gunning for us—so I guess we’re all hellbound. But who cares? They’d forced us into a corner, these vicious Valentis, and like any cornered beasties, we fight back.
That didn’t make killing easy, or mean I’d enjoy it. But it had to be done. It was my job. Let’s just get on with it.
I yowled, imminent death a rich thrill in my mouth. “You done, boss?”
Joey shrugged, fluid. “Last chance, Santino. Anything intelligent to say?”
Sonny spat, spit and blood splashing Joey’s shirt. “Angelo’s gonna rip your heart out and drink your shitstained blood—”
“Didn’t think so. Thank you, Mina.”
My magical melody swelled and twisted in my chest like a snake, longing to sing free. She’s a cruel deathwish mistress, my song, and she’d warp the world to her capricious will if I let her. She makes me strong, but her hunger shivers ice in my blood. I don’t want to be a killer.
Sometimes fate doesn’t give a fuck what you want.
I closed my eyes, the better to hear my racing heart, and imagined Sonny was the man who murdered my mother.
Memory chilled my skin, trailing goose bumps and the dark scent of flowers in its wake. I inhaled, and with a rush of blood, I was fourteen again, huddling behind the dusty velvet sofa with fear freezing my muscles solid.
The lights are broken. I can’t see much, but even if it were daylight, I couldn’t drag myself out. I’m so scared, I can’t move. My untrained song is dry and jagged like crackers in my throat. I whimper, and no sound comes out.
The footsteps come closer, soft and unstoppable like a vile ticking clock. My mother howls and thrashes on the floor, and the window behind me shatters as her wild harmonics rend the air. The smell of her blood rips my stomach raw.
My heart judders. My bowels run like hot honey, and I wrap shaking arms around myself so tightly, my gut aches. I’m gonna piss myself, and he’ll smell it and when he’s killed her, he’ll kill me, too, only he’ll do things to me first, the kind of things that have only ever meant hell to me and are about to get a whole lot worse.
The footsteps stop. My mother’s nails scrape the floor, razors on a blackboard, her beautiful magical voice shredded like tinfoil: Please. Help me.
Tears carve hot channels down my face. I want to scramble up, leap on him, and chew his throat out, but terror washes my will to water. Shame savages my heart. Oiled metal clicks, and my mother screams no, and then the sound of a gunshot rips my head apart.
I opened my eyes. Moonlight slashed through cold tears, scratching in my ears like sandpaper. Weak, terrified little girl, hiding while her mother died screaming.
Black lust for revenge bubbled inside me like tar, and the olive-shaped poison sacs under my tongue swelled hard, threatening to burst.
Sonny didn’t kill my mother. His death wouldn’t give me revenge. But sure as the dev il lived in Toorak, it’d make me feel better for now.
Bloody deathsong swelled hot and delicious in my lungs, and the promise of release built like a dam in my fevered veins. I yanked Sonny’s head back, forcing his bleeding ear closer to my lips, and opened my mouth to kill.
The air whistled, and flashing glass wings scythed from the sky.
My neck whiplashed, my skull forced at right angles. Pain exploded like a firework and poured molten down my spine. I tumbled, dragged aside by cold grasping hands. My knife clattered to the pavement, lost.
Sonny staggered and fell, blood streaming from his skull, and his pistol bounced away.
Body weight crunched me into the ground, ultrasmooth limbs flexing around mine, cold claws grasping for my throat. My neonblue hair tumbled in my face, blinding me. A fresh crystal chuckle tinkled. “Sing for me, bluebell. I dare ya.”
I wriggled beneath him, drenched in the smell of roses and rainwet glass, and my pulse skipped over a thin squirt of fear. I knew this glassfairy asshole better than I should—a Valenti minion, swift and dangerous with a conscience as brittle as his element—and they didn’t call him Diamond for nothing. Word was, Sonny and Diamond hated each other. It didn’t matter. They hated us DiLucas more.
And in the tall shadows, cold silver eyes glinted that weren’t there a moment ago. A spriggan snorted and snuffled, the wet leather stink giving him away, and I heard a rush of wings and a dirty fairy snigger that didn’t come from Diamond.
Sneaky fucker hadn’t come alone. Ambush.
Joey hissed. Shiny black webs crackled out from under the skin between his knuckles, and blood-tipped talons stretched from new, glossy black fingers. He braced his cane in front of him like a staff, and a green venomdrop plinked from one claw and sizzled on the asphalt. Shiny snakefangs flickered out, threatening. “Let it be, Diamond. Not your fight. Don’t piss me off.”
Diamond just cracked that mad fairy giggle and yanked my hair tighter.
I scrabbled for my jacket, my other knives. My nails ripped on rough ground, but my hand was pinned. I dragged my face up, only to have it jammed down again. Pebbles scraped my cheek raw. My teeth sliced into my tongue, and honeysweet poison popped and splashed. My mouth was stuffed with hair and poisoned blood and dirt. I choked, my throat parched, and only a weak gurgle came out.
Diamond giggled and licked my cheek, his smooth hot tongue lingering at the corner of my mouth. “What you gonna do, pretty? Sweat me off you?”
My skin recoiled, and fury iced my blood. Don’t squirm. Never let them see you’re afraid. Never show weakness. Joey taught me well.
I dragged in a breath and hummed deep in my larynx, letting the song grow and fester. Music warmed my blood and my belly, harmony vibrating sweetly in my lungs, and I stretched my torn lips in the dirt and let it burst out.
Shrill chimes tore the air ragged.
Glass cracked. Diamond yelped and flitted off me, shattered wingtip fragments tinkling rosy on the ground. He leapt onto the wall and hung there on shining claws like a glowing pink harpy, long glassfibered hair tangling over ruby eyes, jagged glitterwings swept back. Pity the broken bits would grow back.
He snarled like a roseglass panther, crystalline fangs glinting. “That all you got?”
In the dark, Sonny hulked to his feet in a spray of blood and curses. Diamond’s flunkies slithered and giggled, sugar-fragrant wing glitter puffing from the shadows.
Beside me, Joey hissed dangerously in his throat and flexed poison-tipped fingers. “Back it off, Mina.”
Frustration buzzed in my ears like a maddened wasp. The Valenti clan and their arrogant demon lord had it over us, so we DiLucas had to be careful who we killed and who found out. This was meant to be a safe, secret ambush, not a fight stacked against us. How in hell did Diamond find us?
I scrambled up, cold hatred warbling in my throat. Heat haze twisted, ghostly, the air vibrating to my magic.
Diamond unsnicked one hand from the wall and beckoned to me with two fingers and a lascivious glassfae grin. Crimson veins glowed in his thick-muscled arms, translucent skin shining. “Dare you, scaredy-banshee. Show us what-cha got.”
Four against two. I’d run from better odds. But Diamond’s taunts scratched my skin raw and reckless. I flipped out a spare blade, slid into a fighting crouch, and snarled, my mouth wet with blood and the toxic melody of disorientation. “C’mon, then, jewelboy. I’ll smash off a few more important bits. Not that anyone’d miss ’em.”
“Shut it, songwitch.” Sonny staggered, my spell dizzying him. He swiped blood from his face and charged at Joey like an angry, drunken bull. Quick, for such a big guy.
But Joey’s faeborn blood made him resistant to my spells, and he snaked aside and swung his cane hard, clubbing Sonny right in the balls. No one said this game was fair.
Sonny retched and clutched himself, and quick as a moonlit cat, Joey dropped the cane, whipped up Sonny’s pistol from the asphalt, and leveled it at Sonny’s temple. His fingers reshifted, black webs sliding away under white human skin as he snapped back the slide.
He stared at Diamond, unblinking. Joey rarely blinks. Snakes don’t need to. “Back off.”
He was right. We couldn’t win. Goddamn it. “Boss—”
“I said back. The fuck. Off.” Joey’s jaw set tight, crisp blond hair tumbling across his cheek. “Both of you.”
Frustrated obedience curdled my song in my chest. I sheathed my knife and sprang backwards, lighting beside Joey with a crack of sharp heels, my palms flat on the pavement.
Sonny stumbled away against the wall, blood splattering from his hair, his face, his nose. He laughed scarlet bubbles. “You’re chickenshit, DiLuca.”
“And you’re a corpse. Just not tonight.” Joey’s aim didn’t waver as he reached down for my hand and pulled me away with him, and carefully we retreated, broken pavement scraping under my heels.
Diamond swooped into the air like a glassy dragonfly. Behind him an albino firefairy slunk from the shadows, his white hair rippled with scarlet flame, sharp black teeth gleaming wet. The snot-nosed spriggan scuttled out on all fours, claws tapping like a spider’s legs. His squat green body rippled with muscle, a sawed-off shotgun strapped to his brawny shoulder. We’d done the right thing, but it itched me like a rash.
Diamond winked at me, rainglitter lashes flashing. “Run and hide, little banshee. It’s what you’re good at.”
My hand trembled, flashes of that petrified little girl clawing shame and fury into my heart. Damn him. I didn’t want Joey to see me weak. We’d screwed this up because of me.
But Joey squeezed my fingers, effortlessly strong and comforting, and whispered low for my ears alone. “Peace, Mina. Walk away.”
Retreat hardened like a rock in my stomach, and frustration shook my muscles sore. At the last minute, I flexed down and fetched the boss’s cane from rainslick asphalt. My fingers slid on wet black lacquer, and I held on tight as we turned the corner. I liked the feel of it, so smooth and light—like both of us, more potent than it looked.
I liked Joey’s hand in mine more.
I flushed, my pulse still racing from the fight. Don’t even think it, Mina. No good can come of it, his smooth palm on yours, the slick slide of his reptile skin retreating, the tantalizing roughness of that ridge below his knuckles where the spines hide. You’re just a tool, and not a very useful one. You just screwed up his night’s work. You’re nothing to him.
But tingles crept up my arm, a hot teasing melody I couldn’t shake off. His pulse, the tension in his wrist, the whisper of hair on his cheek, the smooth moist sound of his breath. Sometimes, when he touched me, his skin stung cold, his blood slow and sluggish like the creature he hid inside him.
To night, he was warm.
I snatched my hand away as we rounded the corner, my face burning for more reasons than one. Diamond’s triumphant voice floated after me, singsong and taunting. “Be seeing you, bluebell.”
Retort bubbled to my lips in a wash of bile so banal, I forced a swallow to keep it down so I wouldn’t make an ass of myself.
You sure will, you slimy silicon-ass son of a worm.
But not if I see you first.
Excerpted from Poison Kissed by Erica Hayes.
Copyright © 2010 by Erica Hayes.
Published in October 2010 by St. Martin’s Paperbacks.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.