A girl at the end of the world. Two brothers fighting for opposite sides.
And a dragon who can save them all...Or set the world on fire.
Trinity's world changed forever the day she stole Emmy's egg. Now she's on the run with the last living dragon and twin brothers from a war-torn future. Connor may have betrayed his mission to kill Emmy, but he'll still do whatever it takes to prevent the coming dragon apocalypse.
When a video of Emmy flying over the skies of West Texas goes viral, the government closes in-and the future they've risked everything for is about to go up in flames.
Don't miss the next firey, action-packed installment in Mari Mancusi's heart-pounding Scorched trilogy-and for more, be sure to pick up the epic conclusion Smoked in September.
Praise for Scorched:
"Tense and action-packed. It's a brave new world and I reveled in every page!"-Sophie Jordan, New York Times bestselling author of Firelight
"A heart-pounding, twisty, time-travel fantasy." -Melissa de la Cruz, New York Times bestselling author of the Blue Bloods series
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Mari Mancusi is a two-time Emmy award-winning television producer and author of novels for adults and teens. A graduate of Boston University, she now lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and young daughter. When not writing or producing she enjoys traveling, snowboarding, reading fantasy novels, and her favorite guilty pleasure: video games.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The monster was back.
Somehow Scarlet could always tell. As if she had a sixth sense, warning her when he was near. A hint of smoke, tickling her nostrils, a low growl echoing in her ears. An uneasiness prickling at the back of her neck as her pulse throbbed in her throat-her consciousness gearing up for the inevitable fight or flight that was sure to come.
Should she face him this time? Or was it better to run?
With the monster, it was usually better to run.
Her pace slowed. Her arm extended, effectively blocking her mother's path up the steps and into the run-down singlewide they'd shared for the last sixteen years. It wasn't much of a home. But it was theirs-at least until the monster had made it his.
"Wait," she said.
Her mother shot her a questioning glance, the glow of her lit cigarette illuminating her lined face. Scarlet sighed. Her mother never could sense the monster's presence. Even if she could, it would have made no difference. She'd still open the door. She'd still walk inside. She never ran from the monster-even when she should have.
Under the moonlight, Scarlet could just catch the smudge under her mother's left eye, black with traces of purple and yellow fading out into copper skin. The mark of the beast.
"We should go," she told her. She reached into her pocket, pulling out a handful of crunched up bills, tips from the lunch crowd. "I have enough for a motel. We can stay there tonight. Maybe he'll get bored and leave."
Her mother's eyes narrowed. Her gaze flickered from her daughter to the trailer's rusted-out front door then back again. Her thin lips, cracked from years of smoking, dipped to a frown.
"No way," she said, shaking her head vehemently. "This is my house. He's not going to scare us away."
Scarlet opened her mouth to protest, not sure what she'd say. That she was already scared? That if her mother had a lick of common sense she'd be scared too? It made no difference-her mother was already pushing past her, marching up the front steps and yanking open the screen door. As Scarlet watched, her feet glued to the pavement, the door slammed shut with a loud crash.
It was done.
For a moment, Scarlet wondered if she should run-far away from the trailer and the monster inside. But where could she go? And even if there was somewhere-how could she leave her mother behind? Her brother's words echoed maddeningly through her head, as they always did in moments like these.
Promise me, Scarlet. Promise me you'll look after Mom.
She forced her feet into submission, one after the other, up the front steps, her hand wrapping around the door handle and prying it open. Trying to still her ragged breath. Trying to quell the fear tripping down her spine.
I will, Mac. I promise I will.
The trailer was dark, only the flickering blue glow of the television set serving to light the cramped space. The monster had made himself at home, as he always did, sprawled out on the stained and ripped La-Z-Boy, a half-drunk bottle of whiskey propped next to an overflowing ashtray by his side. He wore no shirt and his bulbous gut hung over his filthy jeans. His eyes had a glazed look to them, a look that filled Scarlet with dread.
Her mother didn't seem to notice. She put her hands on her hips, staring him down. "What the hell are you doing here?" she demanded, her voice cracking at the edges, betraying her unease. "I thought I told you to leave last night."
The monster looked up lazily. "I did leave," he said in a slurred voice.
"And now you're just back? No apology? No nothing?"
"Mom," Scarlet tried, putting a hand on her arm as she glanced nervously at the monster. "Come on, let's go to the bedroom. We can watch our Downton Abbey DVDs. I'll make popcorn."
"No!" Her mother wrenched her arm away with a force that almost sent Scarlet sprawling. "I'm not leaving. Not without my apology." She turned back to the monster. "You can't just waltz back in here like nothing happened and think I'll just forgive and forget, no big deal."
Scarlet stood there helplessly as her mother attempted to meet the monster's eyes. When he dodged her gaze, Mom stepped in front of the television, arms crossed over her chest, purposely blocking his view. For a split second, Scarlet could almost see the reflection of her ancestors-the proud Zuni tribe that had once driven Spanish conquistadors from New Mexico-reflected in her mother's angry black eyes.
But it was gone as soon as it came, forcing Scarlet to face reality once again. Her mother was no fierce tribal warrior of old, ready to defend her land and property, but merely a shell of a woman who had downed too many rum and cokes at dinner. "Liquid courage," she had called it. More like liquid stupidity.
The monster sighed deeply. "Will you please get the hell out of the way?" he asked, trying to look around her. "I've got money on this game. Your fat ass is blocking the set."
Scarlet's mother's face turned purple. In one fluid movement, she turned, grabbing the television set and throwing it out the sliding glass door behind her. The closed sliding glass door. Scarlet gasped as the box crashed through the windowpane and smashed onto the back porch in a cloud of sparks and smoke and broken glass.
For a moment, the monster just stared out the window in stunned disbelief. Then he rose to his feet and started toward her mother. She stared back at him defiantly, as if daring him to do his worst. The look on his face told Scarlet he didn't need a double dare.
She threw herself in his path, a vain attempt to shield her mom from what was coming. The monster tried to shove her aside, but she stood her ground, throwing her full weight against him. He staggered, the alcohol and whatever else he was on slowing his reflexes enough to give her a slight advantage. She'd take it.
"Don't you touch her!"
Her hands shot out, shoving him as hard as she could. He flailed, losing his footing, and for a brief moment she thought she had him. But then his hands latched on to her arms, his ragged fingernails digging into her skin. Together they tumbled, following the trajectory of the television set through the broken glass window and onto the porch outside. Scarlet screamed as heat slashed at her arm and her ankle wrenched violently.
"Scarlet!" she could dimly hear her mother scream from back inside the trailer. "Bob? Are you okay?"
The monster was already on his feet. "Psychos!" he growled. "The two of you are goddamned psychos!" He stormed back into the house through the broken window, glass crunching loudly under his boots. A moment later, Scarlet heard the bedroom door slam, and her mother came running around the side of the trailer.
"Oh God, sweetie, are you okay?" she whispered, her eyes wide and frightened.
But Scarlet wasn't frightened anymore. She was pissed. She rose to her feet. "I'm fine. Mom, you have to call the cops. Now."
Her mother's face paled. "No," she said, shaking her head. "I can't."
"Why not? You kicked him out. He's trespassing."
"He's on the lease, Scarlet. He has every right to be here if he wants to be."
"Not if you get a restraining order."
Her mother was silent for a moment. "Do you remember what happened the last time I tried to do that?"
Unfortunately, Scarlet did. All too well.
"Don't worry. I'll talk to him."
"Scarlet, I need you to go down to Maddie's, okay? Stay there until I call you."
"I'm not leaving you."
"Scarlet, you hanging around is only going to make things worse. I can handle him, okay? Just go to Maddie's and wait for me to call."
With that, her mother turned, heading back around the house and through the front door. Scarlet watched her go, fury warring with helplessness. Half of her wanted to storm into the trailer and face the monster head on. But the other, wiser half knew it wouldn't do any good. It would only put her mother in more danger.
And the monster always won in the end.
A heaviness sank to her stomach as she forced herself to turn, to limp through the trailer park on her sore ankle. As she made her way down the street, she could feel the cold, curious stares of her neighbors, hidden behind closed shades and closed doors. In a normal neighborhood, someone probably would have called the cops for her. Here, they all had too many secrets of their own.
She passed the trailer of her old babysitter, Maddie, which sat on the outskirts of the park. The lights were out; Maddie was likely asleep and Scarlet didn't want to wake her, didn't want to drag her into yet another mess-didn't want to see the pity she'd knew she'd find in her eyes.
Instead, she dove into the woods, dodging the thick underbrush and gnarled cedar trees until she came to a familiar clearing. Dropping to her knees, she pushed back the overhanging brush and crawled into the small cave behind the concealing foliage. She and Mac had found this secret hideout back when they were children and it had served as their official pirate base camp ever since.
Mac. She sighed deeply, lighting the candles she'd stashed in the corner. If only Mac were here now. He'd know what to do.
But he'd left her all alone.
She felt a sharp twinge and looked down at her arm, annoyed to realize it was still bleeding. Bleeding quite hard, in fact-the glass must have cut deep. A little scared, she yanked off her sweater, wrapping it around her arm to put pressure on the wound. But the blood soaked through almost instantly and her stomach roiled with nausea.
Did she need stitches? Should she go to the hospital? Of course, they couldn't afford a trip to the hospital. And even if they could, the hospital would ask questions. Questions she couldn't answer-not without putting Mom at more risk.
Anger rose inside her. Helpless, all-encompassing anger. At her mom. At herself. At the monster and her damn, traitorous arm. "Stop bleeding!" she cried furiously at the cut. "Just stop it!"
Dizziness washed over her and she wove and spun, grabbing on to the cave wall for support. This was not good. This was so not good. She closed her eyes, attempting to reset her sanity.
"Help me," she whispered in a voice so weak no one could possibly hear. "Please...help me."
Her eyes shot open, a sudden sound ripping through her ears. Followed by a loud thud-something huge and heavy coming in for a crash landing just outside the cave. Scarlet froze.
What the hell was that?
Her first thought was of the monster, that he'd found her somehow-that he'd come for round two. But that was ridiculous. He was too drunk, too lazy to expend the energy to come after her. Besides, he had no idea where she was.
But...something was out there. She forced herself to sit perfectly still, her ears straining. Some kind of animal perhaps? Drawn to the scent of her blood? There were lots of things living in the Texas Hill Country. Coyotes, mountain lions-even some bears.
Frightened, she inched further into the shadows, until her back pressed against the cave's posterior wall, praying that whatever it was would go away. That it wouldn't find her. That it wouldn't-
The foliage rippled at the cave's entrance, parting like the Red Sea. Scarlet's eyes bulged. Her jaw dropped. An involuntary squeak escaped her lips as her eyes fell upon the dark silhouette framed by the mouth of the cave.
It wasn't a coyote. It wasn't a mountain lion. It wasn't a bear.
It was a monster. A true monster, her crazed mind corrected. Not the human kind she was used to dealing with-but an honest to goodness beast ripped from the pages of a Stephen King novel. Thick scales, slavering jaws, leathery wings.
"Oh God," she whispered. "Oh my God."
Whimpering, she tried to back away then remembered she was already as far back as she could go. What had once been her safe haven had been transformed into a prison cell.
Or a dining room, depending on your perspective.
The monster stepped closer. Scarlet's heart was now in her throat. "Please don't hurt me," she found herself begging. As if it could speak English. As if it could possibly understand her desperate pleas. But what else could she do?
It would kill her. Devour her. Leave nothing behind.
Leave her mother all alone.
"Oh, Mom," she whispered. "I'm so sorry."
The monster loomed above her, now only inches away, its heavy jaws creaking open with a long, loud hiss, revealing a cavern of razor teeth and a massive black tongue. Terrified, Scarlet squeezed her eyes shut, numbly mumbling what she could remember of the Lord's Prayer as she prepared for the pain of being eaten alive.
But it didn't come.
In fact, instead of pain, strange warmth seemed to wrap itself around her, as if enveloping her in a hug. At the same time, the sharp sting in her arm ebbed to a dull ache.
What was going on? Was she dead already? If so, the whole "being eaten alive" thing was certainly quicker than she'd expected. Not to mention a lot less painful.
She opened her eyes, half expecting to be floating through the air, looking down on her lifeless body like always seemed to happen on TV. But no. She was still on the ground, still in her own skin. She looked down at her arm, surprised and disturbed to find it dripping with a strange, black, oil-like substance. As she watched, dumbstruck, the oil seemed to seep into her skin, dissolving into her flesh. A moment later, it had completely disappeared, leaving no wound behind.
Not a scab. Not a scar. Just unblemished skin, as if there had never been a wound at all.
Scarlet looked up in disbelief, meeting the monster's eyes with her own. Blue eyes, she realized suddenly. The monster has blue eyes. And the source of the oil? It was dripping from a quarter-sized rip in one of the creature's scales.
"Did you...?" she whispered, desperately trying to put two and two together. She wasn't sure whether to be fascinated or horrified-or maybe a little of both. "Did you...heal me? With your blood?" It sounded insane, even as she was saying it out loud, but what other explanation could there be?
The creature didn't answer, of course, though the corners of its mouth seemed to lift, as if in a crooked smile. Then it turned, loping through the underbrush and disappearing from view.
For a moment, Scarlet just sat there, frozen, too astounded to move. Then a wild idea struck her and she sprang into action, fumbling for her phone, her fingers trembling so wildly she could barely load up the video app. It took even more effort to hit record on the screen.
She scrambled out of her hideaway as fast as she could, spotting the creature now standing at the edge of the clearing, unfurling the most beautiful wings she'd ever seen, bright and shining in the moonlight-as if covered with actual emeralds.
As Scarlet held her breath, overwhelmed by the majesty of it all, the creature lifted its snout to the skies, effortlessly rising into the air and disappearing into the night. Scarlet watched it go, unable to speak...
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