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.



Driving across Lance’s lawn, Tana ran over a coiled length of hose and crushed the daffodil patch that his mother had planted. Then she threw the Crown Vic into reverse and pulled up to the window as tightly as she could. As soon as her bumper hit the wall, she got out, climbed on top of the car, and tried to wriggle back through the window, this time holding a tire iron.

It took several tries and a lot of jumping and scrambling and kicking. When she did make it in, her calves and hands scraped, she realized that the room was darker than it had been. The shadows were lengthening as afternoon turned inexorably toward evening. It was probably after six already, maybe after seven. The smell of death hung heavy in the air.

“Tana,” Aidan said as soon as he saw her. “Tana, they’re going to come in as soon as it’s dark. They told us.” He looked pale and frantic, worse than she remembered him looking when she’d left. “We’re going to die, Tana.”

Condamné à mort,” a voice rasped from the other side of the door. She could hear the creatures whispering to one another in the hall, shifting hungrily, waiting for the sun to set.

Her hands shook.

She whirled on Gavriel, who was watching her with those eerie garnet eyes, huddled in the corner like a black crow. “What does that mean?”

“There are so many odd dappled patches of sunlight here,” he called to them from his pile of blankets and jackets, ignoring her. “Come in. I long to watch your skin blister. I long to—”

“Don’t say that!” she cut him off, panicked. If the vampires pushed their way in, she had no idea what she would do.

Run, probably. Abandon them.

Aidan pulled against his bonds. “They keep talking to him in a whole bunch of languages. A lot of French. Something about the Thorn of Istra. I think he’s in trouble.”

“Are you?” Tana asked.

“Not exactly,” said Gavriel.

Tana shuddered and looked back toward the window and her car with longing. The Thorn of Istra? She’d once seen a late‐night special called Piercing the Veil: Vampire Secrets from Before the World Went Cold. On‐screen, two guys in tweed jackets talked about their research into how vampires had stayed hidden for so long. Apparently, in the old days, a few ancient vampires held sway over big swaths of territory, like creepy warlords, with more vampires who were basically their servants. Vampires took victims who wouldn’t be missed, killing after every feeding. But if a mistake was made and a victim survived long enough to drink blood, it was a Thorn’s job to hunt down that newly turned vampire and to kill anyone it bit during its short, savage life. Being a Thorn for one of the old vampires seemed to be half a punishment and half an honor.

On the program, the tweedy men had chuckled over how desperate those Thorns must have been once Caspar Morales started his world tour, all of them scrambling to put down an infection that had already spread out of control.

The Thorn of Istra had, apparently, been driven mad by it. The special showed a grainy video of a meeting beneath the Père‐Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. And while elegantly dressed vampires conducted business around him, the Thorn had been in a locked cage, his face and body streaked with blood, laughing. He’d laughed even harder when they found the videographer and dragged him up to the cage, howling wildly just before he bit out the man’s throat. She’d seen the expressions on the pale faces of the other vampires. He’d frightened even them.

“The Thorn of Istra’s hunting you?” Tana asked. The thought of the Thorn out of his cage was chilling. “But that’s no problem?”

Gavriel was silent.

Maybe she should leave him. Untie Aidan and get the hell out of there, even if it meant leaving one chained‐up vampire to fend off however many were on the other side of the door. Even if it was unfair.

She took a deep breath. “Last chance. Are you in need of rescuing?”

His expression turned very strange, almost as if she’d struck him. “Yes,” he said finally.

Maybe it was that nearly everyone else was dead and she felt a little bit dead, too, but she figured that even a vampire deserved to be saved. Maybe she ought to leave him, but she wasn’t going to.

She walked over to Gavriel, her gaze tracing the configuration of his heavy chains. One was looped around the foot of the bed frame. His wrists had been manacled together in front of him with thick iron cuffs, those chains linked to the ones attached to another pair of cuffs, these on his ankles.

The easiest way to free him would be to lift the bed, something he could probably have done if his arms weren’t restrained, but she wasn’t sure she could do it. She was certain she couldn’t do it with Aidan still lying on the mattress, weighing the whole thing down.

“Do you think you can keep from biting me?” she asked him.

Aidan was silent for a long moment. “I don’t know.”

Well, at least he was being honest.

She grabbed Gavriel’s gag from a heap of things on the floor and climbed onto the edge of the bed. “You’re not so far gone yet. Try,” she told him. Bending down, she tied the cloth around Aidan’s mouth as quickly as she could, double‐knotting it on the back of his head so that it would take a while to work free. At least she hoped it would.

He stayed still and let her. When she was done with the gag, she started unhooking the bungee cords restraining his legs. That went fast, at least; there were no knots. It did involve climbing over him in the bed, and despite the fact that he was Cold, despite the fact that they were in danger, Aidan still managed to cock an eyebrow at her.

She was about to say something quelling when, on his left ankle, she found twin puncture marks with slight bruising around them, the blood itself taking on a bluish tone. She inhaled sharply but didn’t say anything, didn’t touch them. They seemed horribly private.

Then, because there was no way around it, she untied Aidan’s arms. He sat up, pushed himself back against the headboard, and rubbed at his wrists. His chestnut hair hung in his face, tousled, as if he’d just woken up.

Get them in the car, she told herself. Lock them in the trunk, get away, and figure out everything else from there.

“If you try to take off the gag, I’ll hit you with this tire iron,” she warned him, fetching it from the floor and waving it in what she hoped was a menacing way.

Since Aidan couldn’t talk, he made a sound that Tana hoped was agreement.

“Okay, now you’re going to help me detach Gavriel’s chains from the bed,” she said.

Aidan shook his head vigorously.

“We don’t have time to argue,” she told him.

His shoulders lowered and he sighed through his nose. She gave him a long look, and then he moved reluctantly to brace his hands against the footboard. Tana knelt down so that when Aidan lifted the bed, she managed to pull the heavy chain free. She scooted out and Aidan let go. The frame crashed back down, shaking the floorboards.

The vampire shifted, links pulling, the whole rattling thing making an eerie sound that reminded Tana of medieval dungeons on late‐ night movies.

He lifted his arms, his cuffs still attached.

Aidan tried to say something, but the words were muffled by the gag. Tana guessed that what he had to say was sarcastic.

“There’s a roll of the garbage bags that were taped up on the windows,” she said, poking around the floor at the collection of things the vampires had abandoned. “Maybe if we wrap some of those around you, then even if the blanket slips, you won’t burn. We can duct‐tape it together. As long as you don’t mind looking ridiculous.”

The vampire smiled a closemouthed smile.

Tana passed the black bags and the tape to Aidan. Squatting down in the shadows, Aidan began half assing together some makeshift plastic armor for Gavriel. It looked as silly as Tana had promised, even before the blankets.

“If I’m hurt,” Gavriel said as Aidan worked, “you must be very careful.”

“We’ll be careful,” she told him. “Don’t worry.”

“No, Tana, you must listen,” he said. “You must be careful of me.”

It was the first time he’d used her name, and the sound of it in his mouth, said with his odd accent, made it unfamiliar.

“We won’t let you get burned,” she said, turning away to open handbags and stick her fingers into the pockets of jackets, hoping against hope that one of her friends carried a knife. “Even though you’re a vampire and you probably deserve it.”

I’m sorry, she said to each of the dead as she unzipped and unfastened their things. I’m sorry, Courtney. I’m sorry, Marcus. I’m sorry, Rachel. I’m sorry, Jon. I’m sorry I’m alive and you’re dead. I’m sorry I was asleep. I’m sorry I didn’t save you and now I’m taking your things. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. There were no knives or stakes. The only things she found were a length of cord with several religious symbols from around the world knotted on it, including a large evil eye that glittered with crystals, and a small stoppered bottle of rose water with a piece of thorn‐covered vine floating in it.

Tana could use all the protection she could get. She took the water and the cord, stuffing them into her purse. Then she picked up Rachel Meltzer’s cell phone. She dialed 911 and chucked it onto the bed.

Outside the door, a floorboard creaked.

“Little mouse,” a voice said through the keyhole. “Don’t you know the more you wriggle, the greater the cat’s delight?”

Aidan made a soft whining sound behind his gag. Tana felt a wave of terror roll over her. It was all‐consuming animal fear, vast and incomprehensible. There were things that could think and talk, and they still wanted to kill her and eat her. For a long moment, she couldn’t move.

Then, pushing through the weight of her terror, she looked toward the window, where the first orange streaks of sunset were turning the trees to gold. The dark was coming.

“We have to go,” she told Aidan. He wasn’t as done with covering Gavriel as she would have liked, but they’d run out of time. She lifted the tire iron and swung it at the window, smashing the pane and the wood rails and stiles.

Glass fell around her in a shimmering pile.

“We’re going now!” she yelled. “Now! Aidan, come on. Get Gavriel over here.”

The operator was calling from the phone on the bed, her tinny voice sounding very far away. “What is your emergency? Hello, this is 911. What is your emergency?”

“Vampires!” Tana shouted, throwing down her boots and tossing the tire iron after them.

Aidan helped Gavriel up, wrenching him to his feet. He was wrapped like some modern mummy, shining strips of duct tape holding together garbage bags and blankets, lurching toward the window. Tana had no idea if it was enough to keep him from being burned, but it would have to do. Already, she was trembling with the urge to abandon all plans and just escape, slither out onto the lawn, and run—

“Aidan, you go out the window first,” Tana said, cutting off her own train of thought, shoving down her fear. “Someone’s got to be down there to take Gavriel’s feet.”

Aidan nodded and swung his leg over the sill. He looked back at her for a moment, as though trying to decide. Then he jumped, landing badly on the roof of the Crown Vic.

Behind Tana there was the sound of splintering wood, as though something very large had hit the door. “No,” she said softly. “Oh no. No.”

“Leave me,” said Gavriel.

Something struck the door again and the dresser fell over, crashing against the bed. Forcing herself not to turn, she pushed the wrapped body against the window.

 “Shut up or I might,” she told him. “Now sit, swing your legs over, and drop.”

He shifted his body, and Tana braced herself to act as a counterweight and to keep him from falling before he was in position. Aidan stood under the window, catching his feet. Taking a deep breath and hoping the duct tape and blanket shroud would hold, she let him go.

Aidan eased Gavriel onto the top of the trunk.

The door of the room cracked open behind her.

Keep going, she told herself. Don’t look back. But she looked anyway.

Two creatures stood framed by the doorway—one male and the other female. Their faces were puffy and pink, bloated from all the blood they’d consumed. Their mouths and sharp teeth were ruddy, their eyes sunken, clothes stiff and stained dark. They weren’t the slick vampires from television; they were nightmares and they were coming at her, wading through the jackets, flinching from waning pools of light.

Tana scrambled for the windowsill, her body shaking, her hands trembling so ferociously that she almost couldn’t get a grip on the wood frame. Going up on her knees, she threw herself forward, missing the car entirely and falling onto the lawn.

Fingers clamped down on her calf, pulling her back. She kicked hard, dragging herself forward with her arms. Teeth scraped against the back of her knee just as she pulled free and toppled away from the window. Behind her, there was a high, keening cry of pain. She hit the dirt, falling onto her back, the air knocked out of her. Dazedly, she turned to one side, looking out at a lawn glass, as though someone had tossed handfuls of diamonds in the air after a heist.

“Jesus!” Aidan shouted, hands in his hair. “You should have seen how that thing’s arm got scorched. He nearly got you.”

She staggered to her feet. The fresh scrape on the back of her leg burned and she started to shake all over again. “I think he did get me.”

“What?” Aidan took a step toward her and Tana shook her head.

“Not now,” she said. The car was right there. They were almost free. “Help me with the trunk!”

Rolled up in the blanket, Gavriel looked like a body that a pair of murderers were planning to dump somewhere. He was lying on his side, body bent so that his back was turned to the sun. Together, Aidan and Tana heaved him up and off the car. But as they tried to carry Gavriel, Tana stumbled and pulled the wrong way. The bags ripped, the cloth falling open. She slipped, tumbling onto the grass. For a moment, she saw his side and hand blackening in the sun, light seeming to eat away the flesh. Before she could think to do anything, Gavriel rolled over, turning his body so that the exposed part was pressed against the dirt, hidden from the light.

“Gavriel?” Tana said, scrambling up, wrapping the blankets back around him.

He tried to stand.

Stumbling and exhausted and not very careful, they managed to open the trunk and dump Gavriel heavily inside. Aidan slammed it shut, donning his bad‐boy‐about‐to‐do‐a‐bad‐thing grin.

Aidan,” she said, taking a step back, her voice coming out half as if he’d annoyed her and half as if she was afraid, which she was. “Aidan, we don’t have time. You have to get in there with him. I can’t drive with you wanting to attack me.”

“Have you looked at yourself?” he asked her, his voice odd, almost dreamy. “You’re covered in blood.”

She glanced down and saw that he was right. Her skin was dappled with shallow cuts, welling and streaking red down her arms and legs. A smear on the back of her hand where she’d wiped her face. It must have been fragments of glass from the window.

“We have to go, Aidan.”

“I’m not getting in the trunk with a vampire,” he said, looking at her hungrily, his eyes black with desire, the pupils blown. “See, I’m controlling myself. You’re bleeding and I’m controlling myself.”

“Okay,” she said, pretending to believe him. “Get in.”

As he walked toward the passenger side, she picked up the tire iron and her boots. She knew what she should do—hit him in the back of the head and hope it knocked him unconscious—but she couldn’t. Not with a house full of dead kids behind them. Not when she wasn’t sure he would survive the blow. Not when she was shaking so hard she was about to shake apart.

She took a deep breath and made her decision.

“No, on the other side,” she told Aidan. “You’re going to drive.”

He turned back to her, brows knitted in confusion.

“It’ll give you something to concentrate on other than biting me. And I can keep an eye on you.” She held up the tire iron. “And we head where I say—understand?”

“I’ve been good,” he complained.

 “Get in!” she shouted, and somehow that, of all things, seemed to work. With a sigh, he walked around the front of the car. She got in on the other side and passed him the keys, holding the metal bar up with her other hand to show she’d use it if she had to. It was solid and smelled faintly of oil and hung comfortingly heavy in her grip.

Aidan took a quick look at her face and turned the key in the ignition.

“Go,” she said under her breath, like a prayer. “Go, go, go, go.”

He pulled across the lawn toward the road. In the rearview mirror, the house looked like an ordinary clapboard farmhouse, except for the broken window and the bit of curtain fluttering through it, a lone and lonely ghost.

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