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Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo Read Online (FREE)

Inej forced herself to look at the Menagerie as she passed.

It’s just a place, she told herself. Just another house. How would Kaz see it? Where are the entrances and exits? How do the locks work? Which windows are unbarred? How many guards are posted, and which ones look alert? Just a house full of locks to pick, safes to crack, pigeons to dupe. And she was the predator now, not Heleen in her peacock feathers, not any man who walked these streets.

As soon as she was out of sight of the Menagerie, the tight feeling in her chest and throat began to ease. She’d done it. She’d walked alone on West Stave, right in front of the House of Exotics. Whatever was waiting for her in Fjerda, she could face it.

A hand hooked around her forearm and yanked her off her feet.

Inej regained her balance quickly. She spun on her heel and tried to pull away, but the grip was too strong.

“Hello, little lynx.”

Inej hissed in a breath and tore her arm free. Tante Heleen. That was what her girls knew to call Heleen Van Houden or risk the back of her hand. To the rest of the Barrel she was the Peacock, though Inej had always thought she looked less like a bird than a preening cat. Her hair was a thick and luscious gold, her eyes hazel and slightly feline. Her tall, sinuous frame was draped in vibrant blue silk, the plunging neckline accented with iridescent feathers that tickled the signature diamond choker glittering at her neck.

Inej turned to run, but her path was blocked by a huge bruiser, his blue velvet coat stretched tight across his big shoulders. Cobbet, Heleen’s favorite enforcer.

“Oh, no you don’t, little lynx.”

Inej’s vision blurred. Trapped. Trapped. Trapped again.

“That’s not my name,” Inej managed to gasp out.

“Stubborn thing.”

Heleen grabbed hold of Inej’s tunic.

Move, her mind screamed, but she couldn’t. Her muscles had locked up; a high whine of terror filled her head.

Heleen ran a single manicured talon along her cheek. “Lynx is your only name,” Heleen crooned. “You’re still pretty enough to fetch a good price. Getting hard around the eyes though—too much time spent with that little thug Brekker.”

A humiliating sound emerged from Inej’s throat, a choked wheeze.

“I know what you are, lynx. I know what you’re worth down to the cent. Cobbet, maybe we should take her home now.”

Black crowded into Inej’s vision. “You wouldn’t dare. The Dregs—”

“I can bide my time, little lynx. You’ll wear my silks again, I promise.” She released Inej. “Enjoy your night,” she said with a smile, then snapped open her blue fan and whirled away into the crowd, Cobbet trailing after her.

Inej stood frozen, shaking. Then she dove into the crowd, eager to disappear. She wanted to break into a run, but she just kept moving steadily, pushing toward the harbor. As she walked, she released the triggers on the sheaths at her forearms, feeling the grips of her daggers slide into her palms. Sankt Petyr, renowned for his bravery, on the right; the slender, bone-handled blade she’d named for Sankta Alina on the left. She recited the names of her other knives, too. Sankta Marya and Sankta Anastasia strapped to her thighs. Sankt Vladimir hidden in her boot, and Sankta Lizabeta snug at her belt, the blade etched in a pattern of roses. Protect me, protect me. She had to believe her Saints saw and understood the things she did to survive.