The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

Monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown's gates, you can never leave.

One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a wholly original story of rage and revenge, of guilt and horror, and of love and loathing from bestselling and acclaimed author Holly Black.

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3. CHAPTER 3

Aidan’s eyes were wide and terrified. He strained against the bungee cords, trying to talk through the tape. Tana couldn’t make out the words, but she was pretty sure from the tone that he was begging her to untie him, pleading with her not to leave him. She bet he was regretting that time he’d forgotten her birthday and also the way he’d dumped her via a direct message on Twitter and, almost certainly, everything he’d said to her last night. She almost started giggling again, hysteria rising in her throat, but she managed to swallow it down.

Sliding her fingernail under the edge of the duct tape, she began to peel it back as gently as she could. Aidan winced, his caramel eyes blinking rapidly. Across the room, the rattle of chains made her stop what she was doing and look up.

It was the vampire boy. He was pulling against his collar, shaking his head, and staring at her with great intensity, as though he was trying to communicate something important. He must have been handsome when he was alive and was handsome still, although made monstrous by his pallor and her awareness of what he was. His mouth looked soft, his cheekbones sharp as blades, and his jaw curved, giving him an off‐kilter beauty. His black hair was a mad forest of dirty curls. As she stared, he kicked a leg of the bed with his foot, making the frame groan, and shook his head again.

Oh yeah, as if she was going to leave Aidan to die because the pretty vampire didn’t want his snack taken away.

“Stop it,” she said, louder than she’d intended because she was scared. She should climb over the bed, to the windows, and pull down the garbage bags. He’d burn up in the sun, blackening and splintering into embers like a dying star. She’d never seen it happen in real life, though, only watched it on the same YouTube videos as everyone else, and the idea of killing something while it was bound and gagged and watching made her feel sick. She wasn’t sure she could do it.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid, said her heart.

Tana turned back to Aidan, her hands shaking now. “Stay quiet, okay?”

At his nod, she pulled the tape free from his mouth in one swift rip.

“Ow,” Aidan said. Then he lunged at her teeth‐first.

Tana was reaching for the bungee cord restraining his wrist when it happened. His sudden movement startled her so much that she stumbled back, losing her balance and yelping as she fell onto the pile of jackets. His blunt canines had grazed her arm, not far from where her scar was.

Aidan had tried to bite her.


Aidan was infected.


She’d made a noise loud enough to maybe wake a nest of sleeping vampires.


“You asshole,” she said, anger the only thing standing between her and staggering panic. Forcing herself up, she punched Aidan in the shoulder as hard as she could.

He let out a hiss of pain, then smiled that crooked, sheepish smile that he always fell back on when he was caught doing something bad. “Sorry. I—I didn’t mean to. I just—I’ve been lying here for hours, thinking about blood.”

She shuddered. The smooth expanse of his neck looked unmarked, but there were lots of other places he could have been bitten.

Please, Tana, please.

She’d never told Aidan about her mother, but he knew. Everyone at school knew. And he’d seen the scar, a jagged mess of raised shiny skin, pale, with a purple cast to the edges. She’d told him how it felt sometimes, as if there were a sliver of ice wedged in the bone underneath.

“If you just gave me a little, then—” Aidan started.

“Then you’d die, idiot. You’d become a vampire.” She wanted to hit him again, but instead she made herself squat down and root among the jackets until she found her own purse with her keys. “When we get out of this, you are going to grovel like you’ve never groveled in your life.”

The vampire boy kicked the bed again, chains rattling. She glanced over at him. He looked at her, then at the door, then back at her. He widened his eyes, grim and impatient.

This time, she understood. Something was coming. Something that had probably heard her fall. She waded through scattered jackets to a dresser and pushed it against the door, hopefully blocking the way in. Cold sweat started between her shoulder blades. Her limbs felt leaden, and she wasn’t sure how much longer it was going to be before she couldn’t go on, before the desire to curl up and hide overtook her.

She looked over at the red‐eyed boy and wondered if a few hours before he’d been one of the kids drinking beer and dancing and laughing. She didn’t remember seeing him, but that didn’t mean anything. There’d been some kids she didn’t know and probably wouldn’t have remembered, kids from Conway or Meredith. Yesterday, he might have been human. Or maybe he hadn’t been human for a hundred years. Either way, he was a monster now.

Tana picked up a hockey trophy from the dresser. It was heavy in her hand as she crossed the floor to where he was chained, her heart beating like a shutter in a thunderstorm. “I’m going to take off your gag. And if you try to bite me or grab me or anything, I’ll hit you with this thing as hard as I can and as many times as I can. Understood?”

He nodded, red eyes steady.

His wax‐white skin was cool to the touch when she brushed his neck to find the knot of the cloth. She’d never been this close to a vampire, never realized what it would be like to be so near to someone who didn’t breathe, who could be still as any statue. His chest neither rose nor fell. Her hands shook.

She thought she heard something somewhere in the bowels of the house, a creaking sound, like a door opening. She forced herself to concentrate on unknotting the cloth faster, even though she had to do it one‐handed. She wished desperately for a knife, wished she’d been clever enough to pick one up when she’d been in the kitchen, wished she had something better than a pot‐metal trophy covered in gold paint.

“Look, I’m sorry about before,” Aidan called from the bed. “I’m half out of my head, okay? But I won’t do it again—I would never hurt you.”

“You’re not exactly someone who’s big on resisting temptation,” Tana said.

He laughed a little, before the laugh turned into a cough. “I’m more the run‐toward‐it‐with‐open‐arms type, right? But really, please believe me, I scared myself, too. I won’t do anything like that again.”

Infected people got loose from restraints and attacked their families all the time. Those kinds of stories weren’t even headline news anymore.

But vampires weren’t all monsters, scientists kept insisting. Theoretically, with their hunger sated, they are the same people they were before, with the same memories and the same capacity for moral choice.

Theoretically.

Finally, the knot came apart in Tana’s hand. She scuttled back from the red‐eyed boy, but he didn’t do anything more than spit out the cloth gag.

“Through the window,” he said. His voice had a faint trace of an accent she couldn’t place—one that made her pretty sure he was no local kid infected the night before. “Go. They’re swift as shadows. If they come through the door, you won’t have time.”

“But you—”

“Cover me with a heavy blanket—two blankets—and I’ll be tucked in tight enough against the sun.” Despite looking only a little older than Aidan, the calm command in his voice spoke of long experience. Tana felt momentarily relieved. At least someone seemed to know what to do, even if that someone wasn’t her. Even if that someone wasn’t human.

Now that she was out of his range, she set down the trophy carefully, back on the dresser, back where it belonged, back where it would be found by Lance’s parents and—Tana stopped herself, forced herself to focus on the impossible here and now. “What got you chained up?” she asked the vampire.

“I fell in with bad company,” he said, straight‐faced, and for a moment she wasn’t sure if he was joking. It rattled her, the idea that he might have a sense of humor.

“Be careful,” Aidan called from the bed. “You don’t know what he might do.”

“We all know what you’d do, though, don’t we?” the vampire accused Aidan in his silky voice.

Outside, the sun would be dipping down toward the tree line. She didn’t have time to make good decisions.

She had to take her chances.

There was a comforter on the bed, underneath Aidan, and she started yanking on it. “I’m going for my car,” she told both of them.

 “I’m going to pull up to the window, and then you’ll both get in the trunk. I have a tire iron. Hopefully, I can snap the links with that.”

The vampire looked at her in bewilderment. Then he glanced toward the door and his expression grew sly. “If you free me, I could hold them off.”

Tana shook her head. Vampires were stronger than people, but not by so much that iron didn’t bind them. “I think we’re all better off with you chained up—just not here.”

“Are you sure?” Aidan asked. “Gavriel’s still a vampire.”

“He warned me about you and about them. He didn’t have to. I’m not going to repay that by—” She hesitated, then frowned. “What did you call him?”

“That’s his name.” Aidan sighed. “Gavriel. The other vampires, while they were tying me to the bed, they said his name.”

“Oh.” With a final tug she pulled the blanket free and tossed it over to Gavriel.

Her heart thundered in her chest, but along with the fear was the reckless thrill of adrenaline. She was going to save them.

There was a sudden scrabbling at the door, and the handle began to turn. She shrieked, climbing onto the bed and hopping over Aidan to get to the window. The garbage bag ripped free with one tug, letting in golden, late afternoon light.

Gavriel gasped in pain, pulling the blanket more tightly around him, turning his body as much behind another dresser as he could.

“Lots of sun still!” she shouted between breaths. “Better not come in.”

The movement outside the door stopped.

“You can’t leave me here,” Aidan said as Tana shoved at the old farmhouse window, swollen by years of rain. It was stuck.

Her muscles burned, but she pushed again. With a loud creak, the window slid up a little ways. Enough to get under, she hoped. The cool, sweet‐smelling breeze brought the scent of honeysuckle and fresh‐mowed grass.

Looking over at the lump of comforter and jackets and shadow where Gavriel was hiding, she took a deep breath. “I won’t leave you,” she told Aidan. “I promise.”

No one else was going to get killed today, not if she could save them. Certainly not someone she’d once thought she loved, even if he was a jerk. Not some dead boy full of good advice. And she hoped not herself, either.

Leaning forward, she ducked her head under the window frame, ignoring the splinters of worn gray wood and old paint. She tossed out her purse. Then she tried to shimmy a little, to get the swell of her breasts over the sill and cant her hips so that she could grab hold of the siding and pull herself forward enough to drop down headfirst into the bushes. It was a short, bruising fall. For a long moment, the sunlight was too bright and the grass too green. She rolled onto her back and drank in the day.

She was safe. Clouds blew across the sky, soft and pulled as cotton candy. They shifted into the shapes of mountains, into walled cities, into open mouths with rows and rows of sharp teeth, into arms reaching down from the sky, into flames and—

A sudden gust made the branches of the trees shiver, raining down a few bright green leaves. A fly buzzed in the grass near her shoulder, making her think suddenly of the bodies inside, of the way flies would be landing on them, of the opalescent maggots that would hatch and tunnel, multiplying endlessly, spreading like an infection, until black flies covered the room in a shifting carpet. Until all anyone could hear was the whirring of their glassy wings.

Tana started to shake like the trees, her limbs trembling, and was overcome by such a wave of nausea that she was barely able to twist onto her knees before she was sick in the grass.

You said that you were allowed to lose it, some part of her reminded herself.

Not yet, not yet, she told herself, although the very fact that she was renegotiating bargains with her own brain suggested things had already gotten pretty bad. Forcing herself up, Tana tried to remember where her car was parked. She walked across the sloping lawn, toward a line of cars and then past each, touching the hoods, feeling as if she was going to vomit again every time she noticed stuff inside—books, sweaters, beads hanging off rearview mirrors—the small tokens of people’s lives, the things they would never see again.

Finally, she got to her own Crown Vic, opened the door with a creak, and slid inside, drinking in the faint, familiar smell of gasoline and oil.

She’d bought it for a grand the day she turned seventeen and sprayed its scrapes with a can of lime‐green Rust‐Oleum, making it look more like a vandalized cop car than anything else. She and her dad had rebuilt the engine together, during one of the few periods when he came out of his fog of misery long enough to remember he had two daughters.

It was big and solid, and it drank gas with an unquenchable thirst. When she slammed the door shut, for the first time since she walked out of the bathroom, maybe for the first time since she arrived at the party, she felt in control.

She wondered how long it would be before even that slipped through her fingers.

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