In ANASTASIA FOREVER, the third and final book of the DREAMING ANASTASIA trilogy—which releases today!—things heat up. Even the cover reflects this: Books one and two were the typical paranormal YA books blue and purple covers. But book 3 is red. Lots of deep, blood red, lots of darkness. Both our heroes – Anne and Ethan – turn darker in this final installment, and the cover reflects that. The simmering romantic heat between them intensifies as well, and let’s just say it’s a hard-won happily ever after. Lots of scary stuff for these two before that final kiss.
Anne’s bloodline connects her to the Romanovs. Which also connects her to the villain Viktor. And to the doomed rusalka Lily. And ultimately by extension to the witch Baba Yaga. It’s Anne’s blood that twice opens the door to Baba Yaga’s forest.
One thing I toyed with while writing ANASTASIA FOREVER, was when and how to let Anne realize the full nature of the blood bargain she’s made with the witch Baba Yaga in book two. In one early version, I wondered what would happen if Anne’s inner witch heated up much earlier on… say while she and Ben and Tess and Ethan were all out together. In this draft of book 3, Anne is still torn about dumping Ben for Ethan. So what better time to unleash her witchy powers, and put Ben in danger. Huge danger. Your girl friend is about to chow down on you danger. Ultimately, this is not the route I took, but here is a HOT deleted scene that plays with a very dangerous what if! Enjoy.
We stop at the base of the Grand Staircase - all pretty marble and elegant looking. I’ve always loved those stairs – regal in a way that most things aren’t these days. Once when I was five, David chased me up and down the stairs until we were both red-faced and out of breath and Mom was pissed that we wouldn’t settle down and let her show us the paintings. The stairs were more fun.
“My stomach hurts,” Tess observes.
“It should,” Ben comments testily. “You just ate your body weight in Red Vines.” Then to all of us: “Coffee’s in the other building if that’s what you want.” Since we walked into the lobby, he’s been directing his comments sort of generally into the air.
“In a minute. Let’s run to the top. I need to stretch.” I don’t wait for group agreement, just lope up the stairs and assume they’ll follow me, which after a few beats, they do.
On the second floor landing, I stretch my arms into classic ballet third position – arms over my head, elbows rounded, palms inward but fingers not touching. My gladiator sandals aren’t the best footwear for this, and I’m wearing a pair of gray cargo pants and a short white tee – hardly ballet clothes - but that’s okay. Until I’d started back subbing at Miss Amy’s, I’d forgotten in the mess that is my life, how much I love dance.
“Your form needs work,” Tess says. She rises up on her toes as much as she can in her black Chucks and skinny jeans and pirouettes around me. She’s a way better dancer than I am these days, even goofing around. Of the two of I us, I’d always been more focused and disciplined. Not any more.
“Coffee?” Ethan asks again. “Wasn’t that the plan?” I know he thinks this is a waste of time – and also dangerous since everything’s at risk for girls who make bargains with witches. Ben needs to man up and move on. But I can’t just push Ben under the metaphor bus like that, and I’m sure he knows this.
I ignore his cranky tone and try out my arabesque - also in need of some serious work.
“Let’s get that coffee.” It’s Ben’s turn to sound cranky. He beckons toward the stairs. “You know that first movie won an award at Sundance. It’s really--”
“Your after shave is really strong.” The comment pops out of nowhere and I feel my cheeks redden. What a stupid thing to say. But suddenly the smell of his cologne is all I can think of. My stomach rumbles, embarrassingly loud. Maybe I should have had some of that popcorn.
I jump on the coffee train. “You know what? A latte would be great right now.”
I’ve just spent almost four hours trying not to fall into a coma while watching Swedish people look unhappy and occasionally have sex in metro bus stations and in one instance, a barn. My fingers feel all tingly. My skin feels sticky and clammy. Am I having a panic attack?
Other museum-goers stream around us. The light overhead through the huge skylight dims noticeably. I look up. Thick gray clouds. The faint sound of thunder rumbles. My heart kicks into overdrive. Am I about to throw up? Maybe it’s the flu.
“You want to talk,” Ben says. “So let’s talk. You’re right. I can’t keep pretending all those things didn’t happen. I dream about them, you know that? Your boss, Mrs. Benson? Those things – those mermaid things – they surrounded her. I heard them breaking her into pieces. You know that, right?”
“Ben.” I’m feeling sicker now, but Ben doesn’t want to be interrupted. He glances at Ethan - something dangerous brewing in his eyes and the set of his jaw.
“Outside,” I gasp. What the hell is wrong with me?
“Anne?” Ethan’s voice rises above the buzzing in my head, but I ignore him, too.
I turn and stumble down the stairs. My ears are ringing. Or is it just the thunder getting louder? I shouldn’t be doing this. But I can’t seem to think of anything but putting distance between myself and Ben. In my head, I see us a few weeks ago – my hands burning his face. Me running then, too, and calling Ethan.
I’m in the lobby now, shoulder against the heavy front doors of the Art Institute. Out onto the cement landing and then down the stairs - running onto Michigan Avenue. It starts to rain – small drops that get larger and fatter, falling on my head, my face, my hands. Even in my panic – it is pure panic right now, mixed with something else I can’t identify – I wonder if it’s somehow me that’s making it rain.
“Anne!” All three of them are calling my name – Ben and Tess and Ethan. The sound of it echoes in the air around me.
On the sidewalk, standing between the two huge lion statues that flank the Art Institute steps – the ones David and I used to love to shimmy so we could straddle their backs while Dad snapped pictures - I force myself to stop. This is ridiculous. Why am I running? What is it that I’m afraid of? My heart skips then steadies, then skips again. That weird feeling skates the inside of my stomach.
I turn. Ben’s reached me first and he puts his hands on my shoulders. His hair is wet from the rain and a drizzle of water inches down the side of his face.
“Should I be afraid?” he asks, his face serious now, his brown eyes locked on mine.
It’s the question that sparks everything inside me like a lit match falling on dry wood. Not What’s wrong? or What do you need? But “Should I be afraid?”
“Ben,” I say slowly because I understand now what’s happening and I don’t know if I can stop it. “I think you need to run. I think you need to do it now.”
He stares at me like I’m crazy. “What are talking about?”
“You need to get away from me,” I say again, but I can see that he’s not going to. That even after everything he’s seen, he still doesn’t get it. “Oh God, Ben. Go. Ethan!” I look blindly around me and even though I’m sure Ethan is right there, my vision is red and hazy and I can barely make him out. “Oh no. Ethan. You have to--”
I’m her then, not completely, but more Baba Yaga than me. Her power stretches inside me, a spiderweb of fury. I clench my fists; try to hold it back.
Ben doesn’t get it yet – how could he? He presses a hand to my cheek, palm against my skin.
“You’re burning up,” he says. And all I can think is how good he smells. How good he’ll taste.
Ben pulls his hand back. I lean toward him, my face close to his. Someone – Ethan maybe? Maybe him and Tess? – tries to pull me back, but I’m too strong. I hold my ground. Watch the confusion in Ben’s eyes.
No one should underestimate your power, says a voice inside me that sounds like Baba Yaga’s.
Anne, says another voice that I think is Ethan. Don’t. Don’t give in to it. Hold on.
“Can’t what, Anne? Anne, are you okay?” Ben sounds scared.
I try to stop. I really do. But I can’t. Or maybe I don’t want to. This scares me more than the sound of Ben’s voice.
Lightning, I think.
It shears through the sky.
Thunder, I think.
It crashes overhead.
Roar, I think.
And the two lion statues open their mouths and howl.
I press my lips to Ben’s. Will him not to pull back. His eyes widen as I sink my teeth into his lower lip – hard, then harder - until I draw blood. I lick it from his lip. Swallow. My stomach muscles ripple, seize, ripple again. My jaw loosens; the bones pop. My breath comes in ragged gasps. Pain. Red hot and everywhere.
“Anne!” I hear my name again. “Anne.”
My jaw loosens some more. I press my lips shut, a tight seam, desperate to stop it. My teeth dig into my lower lip so hard that blood starts to trickle. The taste of it mingles with the taste of Ben. The combination is suddenly the best thing I’ve ever tasted. I’m not just hungry anymore. I’m ravenous.
Understand crashes through me. No. God no. If I open my mouth, it will unhinge like hers. I know it. I know it. It’s not Ben’s cologne. It’s just Ben. He smells so good because he smells like food. And if someone doesn’t do something right this second, I’m going to eat him whole.