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An intoxicating blend of fantasy, horror, and romance–a Faustian fable perfect for fans of Holly Black, and Stranger Things.
Dee Moreno is out of options. Her home life sucks (to put it mildly), and she’s about to get booted from her boarding school–the only place she’s ever felt free–for lack of funds. But this is a world where demons exist, and the demons are there to make deals: one human body part in exchange for one wish come true.
The demon who Dee approaches doesn’t trade in the usual arms and legs, however. He’s only interested in her heart. And what comes after Dee makes her deal is a nightmare far bigger, far more monstrous than anything she ever could have imagined. Reality is turned on its head, and Dee has only her fellow “heartless,” the charming but secretive James Lancer, to keep her grounded. As something like love grows between them amid an otherworldly threat, Dee begins to wonder: Can she give James her heart when it’s no longer hers to give?
In The Hearts We Sold, demons can be outwitted, hearts can be reclaimed, monsters can be fought, and love isn’t impossible. This book will steal your heart and break it, and leave you begging for more.
A demon was knitting outside the hospital.
Dee Moreno froze. The smokers' area was where she always took her lunch break; she didn't smoke, but it made for a good place to eat—at least, when it wasn't already occupied.
If she returned indoors, she would have to eat her lunch with the other high school volunteers, and that thought made her stomach shrivel up. It was the kind of afternoon one could only find in Oregon—grass still doused with last night's rain, lit up by what sunlight managed to escape the cloud cover. Dee considered her options.
Demons weren't supposed to be dangerous, or only as dangerous as your average used car salesman. This demon sat on one of the benches. Red yarn trailed around its fingers as it knit, and the sight made Dee feel brave.
Still, she sat on the farthest bench.
"It's a bit low," she said quietly.
"What?" the demon said. In a silky voice, because of course that's the only kind of voice a demon would have. The demon didn't look at her; it kept knitting, its fingers deftly sliding a stitch from one needle to the other.
"Lurking outside a hospital," said Dee. "Kind of going for the low-hanging fruit, aren't you?"
The demon's mouth twitched. "How do you know I'm working?" It finally looked at her. The look wasn't a once-over, or at least not the kind Dee was used to. The demon wasn't tallying up her bra size or even leering at her. It was simply staring, and Dee took a moment to do the same.
The demon had dark hair cut evenly down its neck. It wore a suit with more grace than most humans could manage, the light gray material untouched by wrinkles or dirt. Despite the sunny weather, an umbrella rested against its leg. The demon was beautiful, but something in its face was subtly off, the way ancient portraits or statues never looked quite true to life. The demon also looked decidedly male, although Dee couldn't let herself think of it as a him. It was altogether too alien.
The demon's attention sharpened. "You're a little young to be working here."
"I'm a volunteer," said Dee. She'd learned from a young age to answer adults quickly and succinctly. It didn't matter if this thing wasn't human; her old reactions still snapped into place. "It's required for all Brannigan students to do community service."
"And is it customary for such students to seek out demons on their lunch break?"
"I didn't," said Dee. "I came here to eat a sandwich."
Said sandwich was mangled from hours spent shoved in her backpack, but Dee fished it out. They sat in silence for a long minute or two, until the demon heaved a sigh.
It said, "All right. What do you want?"
Dee kept her attention on her sandwich. "I don't want anything."
The demon went back to its knitting; it frowned and unraveled a stitch. "You must want something."
Dee tried to change the subject. "Are you really knitting?"
The demon's eyes never left its work. "Actually, I'm purling at the moment."
This startled a laugh out of Dee.
The demon looked taken aback. "I said something funny?"
"It's just…" said Dee. "I had a mental image of demons getting together for knitting parties. I mean, is this a normal thing? Do demons pass the centuries doing arts and crafts? Do you go yarn shopping?"
The demon echoed Dee's smile. Or at least it tried to. It was like watching an archer draw back a bowstring—the thing armed itself with its perfect white teeth and charming face.
"I got this yarn the way I get everything I want," the demon said, very softly. "I make deals."
Looking into the demon's eyes, Dee remembered all those stories she used to read as a kid—tales of ill-advised deal making where people gave teeth to fairies, queens trading firstborn children in exchange for gold-spun straw. Stories filled with magic and ambition, with dead stepmothers, wicked smiles, and cursed monkey paws. Dee found herself meeting the demon's eyes, her defiance flaring to life.
Dee didn't believe in magic.
"What do you want?" repeated the demon.
Dee refused to look away. "I don't want anything."
The demon's smile widened. "Now, I know that's not true."
A loud clanging made her jump. She whirled around, grabbing at the back of the bench. One of the hospital doors had been slammed open, and two nurses walked out, talking animatedly. Heart still pounding, she turned back to face the demon. It watched the two nurses with a tolerant smile; they barely gave Dee and the demon a glance before rounding a corner. They hadn't recognized the demon. If they'd known what it was, they'd have reacted. Looked excited or afraid or—something. But their gazes had slid over the creature and moved on.
It leaned closer to Dee, its voice lowering to an intimate tone. "You see, my dear, only a human that wants to make a deal can see a demon for what they are."
Dee discovered she was shaking when the crust of her sandwich dropped into the damp grass.
The demon was still smiling at her. A cool, almost smug smile. Again, Dee felt that little flare of defiance. "I don't want to make a deal with you," she said firmly.
The demon returned its attention to the knitting, to the bloodred yarn trailing through its fingers.
"Well, if you do," said the demon, "you know where to find me."
Dee was once an avid reader of fairy tales.
Some of her earliest memories were of her grandmother's house, of a place that smelled like cinnamon and old books. The house felt like a secret waiting to be discovered, as if she might open a cupboard door and find a whole new world. It was quiet and just a little too small—but in a way that felt cozy, rather than stifling. At night, Grandma would read aloud from one of the many old books—and Dee always picked a tome of Grimm's fairy tales. She listened to tales of frog kings and magicians, of glass slippers and brave girls in red cloaks.
But as she grew older, as her awareness of the world changed, so did the stories.
She listened to tales of a man who murdered his brother and left the bones to sing to passersby, of talking dogs that were abandoned by their owners, and sorcerers who abducted unwary young women. Her own world had become a more frightening place, and the stories reflected that.
And when her grandmother died, when the house was sold and the books were dumped into a dollar bin at her estate sale, Dee's belief in magic waned. Her own world became a place of broken promises and whispered apologies.
She learned to believe in tangible things instead: in kind words and filled seats at parent-teacher meetings. Magic was just another fantasy. It was something she created to comfort herself. There were no true fairy tales, no knights in shining armor. Just herself and her own wits. As the years went on, Dee learned how to microwave her own meals, to make excuses, to lie to everyone around her. She became her own knight; she collected those broken promises and whispered apologies and fashioned them into armor.
By the time she was ten, Dee had put away her fairy-tale books and decided she only believed in real things.
Then the demons declared themselves not two months later.
The demons first appeared in Los Angeles.
There were rumors of strange occurrences—an actress getting up and walking off a three-story fall; an explosion in a college campus in Burbank; a sighting of a strange, glowing being that conspiracy theorists swore was an alien.
Pictures flitted across the Internet. Dee hadn't given them any attention; it was like sightings of Bigfoot or alien-abduction stories. It was human nature—people blew things out of proportion. There were people on street corners shouting about the end of days while others bought holy water in bulk. On the whole, it reminded Dee of stories she'd heard about Y2K—a great deal of fuss over some imagined threat.
To stave off worldwide panic, the so-called demons organized a press conference.
We exist, they said. And we have a proposition for you.
A person could trade away a piece of themselves for a wish come true.
At ten years old, Dee accepted the demons the way she accepted everything else—she hadn't. When she looked at pictures of supposed demons, all she saw were people. Very beautiful people, but people.
Demons weren't real, she said. This had to be an elaborate hoax. Like those doctored fairy pictures. Future generations were going to laugh at them for their stupidity. You couldn't buy luck with a finger. You couldn't trade a foot for beauty. Just like you couldn't trade a whole arm for a life.
Her father had agreed.
"Aren't demons supposed to go in for souls, anyway?" he complained. He sat on their old love seat, the yellow fabric stained so often that it appeared brown. "What would they want with body parts?"
Mrs. Moreno was fumbling in her pocket, pretending to look for her cell phone, but Dee knew she was looking for a lighter. "Maybe body parts are more useful?"
Dee surprised herself by speaking up. "How is a foot more useful than a soul?" she asked, wondering if perhaps this was something an adult would know.
"Maybe hell has an overpopulation problem," said Mr. Moreno, his voice heavy with finality.
Dee knew better than to push her parents for answers. So she went to the place she always did when she needed to know something—the Internet. After all, it had taught her how to get wine stains out of the carpet, how to fix a clogged sink, and exactly what a period was. It seemed only natural to investigate the demons on her own, too.
She went searching for info—and of course, she found plenty of that. In fact, the demons seemed to dominate the Internet very quickly. In a matter of months, some demons had fan clubs. Not quite cults, but close. There were whole blogs dedicated to tracking their movements, candid photos snapped by daring paparazzi, lists trying to determine which body part what celebrity had sold for their success, even theories about which political leaders were consulting demonic entities.
There were also a great many articles trying to either prove or debunk the demons' existence. Half of the writers were convinced, saying they just knew the demons weren't human. The other half said that these were simply people who were using stage magic to trick the world. For every believer, there was someone trying to prove them wrong. And then there were those who believed but disapproved.
These were the people who tried to ward off the demons with signs and shouted words. Websites sold supposed relics and holy water. Some people took up swords and guns, and went hunting. There were literal crusades going on until the US government declared such endeavors illegal. Rumors about Homeland Security setting up their own occult branch flew across the Internet, made all the more plausible by the fact that the feds didn't comment on it.
Dee found the footage of the original press conference on a blog. She hadn't watched it when it first aired; her father told her that watching too much television was a sure way to end up a loser—and while she wasn't sure she believed him, she also didn't want to risk his annoyance by turning it on.
Dee glanced about the computer room—empty and safe—before she hit the play button on the video.
"We don't hire out to criminals or governments," said a woman with cool gray eyes and a polished smile. "We won't even work for minor officials." She turned that smile on the conference host, and he withered beneath it. "We don't get involved in politics. And above all, we do not harm humans."
"Why not?" the man managed to say.
"Because we live here, too," said the woman. "And you humans have a frightening tendency to wreck things when you get scared. We will not involve ourselves in your wars, in your petty conflicts. You have nothing to fear from us. We only offer covenants to individuals. Also," she added, turning her eyes on the camera, "we don't work for corporations, either."
"How do we know you're real?" said one audience member, echoing Dee's own thoughts.
The woman smiled, gesturing off camera. "I don't expect you to believe me. So I'll direct that question to one of my colleagues."
The screen flickered, and then changed to the scene of a hospital room. The conference host's voice boomed out, saying that they were now broadcasting a live feed of a nearby hospital.
A beautiful man stood next to a bed. The camera slowly panned over the image of a child—unconscious, breathing through a tube, and utterly still.
The man gave the camera a steady look. "Doctor?"
A doctor stepped into the spotlight; his face shone with sweat. "This girl was in a car accident a week ago. She's on life support—"
"Her mother," said the man, interrupting, "has agreed to a covenant."
The camera spun around, came to focus on a middle-aged woman. She was sitting in a chair and looked oddly lopsided. It had taken Dee a second to realize it was because the woman's left sleeve was hollow.
"Now," said the man, and touched a hand to the girl's chest.
Later, people would claim it was bad special effects or the camera guy panicking. Because the screen went fuzzy, jerking away, and seconds later, when the scene was finally visible again, there was a ten-year-old girl choking on a tube and doctors rushing around her, and the desperate, horribly relieved sobbing of the mother.
Everyone had wondered at the demon who had made such a miracle happen. But the thing Dee fixated on was that empty sleeve, the arm traded away. On the person who would do that for another.
To her, that was the most unbelievable thing.
Dee always showered after her community service. She hated how the smell of antiseptic and plastic clung to her skin, so when she walked into her dormitory she made a sharp left and strode into the girls' restroom. And today, of all days, she looked forward to the sensation of newness that accompanied her after every shower.
Five in the afternoon wasn't exactly prime bathroom time; the room's only other occupants were two seniors. One was bent over a sink, a box of hair dye in her friend's hand. Dee skirted past and ducked into the showers.
She washed off the remnants of the hospital, scrubbing away the sensation of dusty rubber gloves and the scent of bleach. Finished, she bundled her mass of hair into a towel, slipped into her robe, and hurried out of the bathroom.
The hallway was painted a cheerful yellow, with rough, industrial-strength carpet. Pictures adorned the walls—previous deans, news articles about the school's alumni, and a large corkboard crammed full of papers and thumbtacks. She paused there for a moment, her gaze roaming over the hall.
That was the best part about boarding school. It wasn't the fancy meal hall or the teachers or the new computers. It was the fact that when she came home, it was to a tiny room with beds shoved in opposite corners. It was often cluttered with books and dirty clothes, and it smelled like old carpet and burned popcorn.
Dee loved it.
Her roommate, Gremma, sat on her bed wearing boxer shorts and a T-shirt with the periodic table on it. Several stuffed bears were scattered over her desk—all of which had been vivisected and sewn up again.
Gremma had been Dee's roommate since the second semester of freshman year, after Gremma's first roommate had complained to the dean. Dee hadn't understood why anyone would go to such lengths. With her bright red hair and brighter lipstick, Gremma looked like one of those quirky, dimply girls one might see in a romantic comedy.
But Gremma's first words to Dee had been, "Let's get three things out of the way. First, you make fun of my name and I make your life miserable—my father wanted a boy named Greg and my mom wanted a ballerina named Emma. So they compromised. Second, I like girls. Third, I have an antique set of surgical scalpels hidden under my mattress. If you have a problem with any one of those facts, you should say something now."
Dee, taken aback, hadn't thought before speaking. "Are you planning on murdering your way to a single room?"
Gremma blinked. "No."
"Do you snore?"
"Not to my knowledge."
"Then we'll get along just fine," said Dee.
And they had. Gremma had the personality of a grumpy house cat, one that liked to lounge in patches of sunlight and occasionally devour mice whole. Dee could see how that might be off-putting, but Gremma was refreshingly free of pretense. Also, she wasn't stingy with her snacks and fiercely defended their dorm from would-be pranksters.
Dee regarded her roommate with a mixture of fondness and envy. But it wasn't a desire for her designer clothes or high-end laptop or even her careless beauty. It was the way Gremma held herself, shoulders thrown back and head held high as if to say, I don't give a shit. Because Gremma honestly didn't.
That was what Dee envied.
Sometimes she wished she could be like that. Fearless. Dee couldn't remember a time when she hadn't been afraid—and not even of the big things like death or pain. She was frightened of stupid things, of getting in the wrong line at the cafeteria, of people who spoke too loudly, of forgetting her bus pass, of traffic, of oversleeping.
Today, Gremma was scribbling away in a chemistry workbook. "Chemicals," she was muttering. "We're all just chemicals."
"You know chemistry riles you up," said Dee, tossing a damp towel across her bedpost. She rummaged through her dresser, found a clean pair of jeans and a bra, and began to pull them on under her robe. "It's like coffee—you're not supposed to do it after five in the afternoon."
Gremma made a growling sound. "It's due on Tuesday."
"Which means you've still got two days. Work on history instead." Dee shucked out of her robe and hung it on the hook they'd attached to the door.
Gremma shut her textbook with an audible whump. "Oh. Um. Forgot to tell you, but there was one of those official-looking envelopes in our mailbox this morning. I put it on your desk."
Dee's stomach twisted with unease. She reached down, traced the edge of the envelope with her fingertip. The return address said simply, Registrar's Office.
Brannigan Preparatory Academy was Oregon's answer to the old-money boarding schools on the East Coast. If they can have fancy schools, so can we, went the school's unofficial motto. Or at least, that's what Gremma always said.
Brannigan was as pompous as a school could get in the Pacific Northwest. It was a thoroughly modern crisscross of concrete and tinted glass, built by an up-and-coming architect ten years ago. The main building was the only nod to the school's locale, with its columns of pine and oak. Classes were filled with children of wealthy entrepreneurs, the kids of faculty, and the lucky few who managed to snag a scholarship.
Dee was among the latter. Or at least, she had been.
The waiting room outside the registrar's office was the only room that held an air of dilapidation. The chairs' polish had faded, the carpet looked slightly wilted. Maybe this building was waiting for repair, or maybe no one cared about it. Dee stepped up to the office door, braced herself, then rapped twice. She hoped there would be someone here, despite the early-morning hour. Coming here before classes was a risk, but Dee couldn't stand another moment of solitude; all last night she'd tossed and turned until her hair looked as though she'd shoved her pen in an electrical socket.
"Come in," called a woman's voice, and Dee drew herself together. She opened the door, slipped inside. It was a typical office—large desk, file cabinets, a steaming cup of coffee resting next to the keyboard. MRS. GARRETT, read her metal name plaque.
"Sit down," said the woman, smiling. Tentatively, Dee went to one of the wooden chairs and perched on the very edge. She kept her face blank, but her fingers were locked together. It took only a moment to introduce herself, to explain the nature of her visit. Mrs. Garrett found a file and placed it on her desk, flipped it open.
"Normally we'd call your parents to talk about something like this," Mrs. Garrett said. "We tried, but they haven't returned our messages."
She was one of the older faculty, probably only a year or two from retirement. Her rusty brown hair was cut at chin length, and it was tinged gray at the roots. She probably had kids, Dee thought. She spoke with a familiar gentleness, like one used to bandaging scraped knees or elbows. But rather than soothe her, that gentle tone made Dee's hands clench. This woman didn't care about her; her calm demeanor was probably the reason she'd been tapped to be this particular messenger.
"Are there any other numbers we can try your parents at?" Mrs. Garrett asked.
The word came out flat and too quickly. "No."
Mrs. Garrett's expression froze. Dee felt her mouth move, the words coming in automatic little jerks. "They work late. Sometimes forget to check their messages." She forced herself to smile so brightly she nearly believed the lie herself. "They always used to say they'd forget their heads if I wasn't around."
A nod. Mrs. Garrett accepted this explanation. "We're trying to find alternate funding right now," she said, "but the school is being forced to cut several of the merit scholarships." Her mouth drew tight. "I apologize."
"Not your fault." Those words also came easily to Dee; she always spoke to adults with the same quiet surrender. "I understand."
"You should talk to your parents. You have until the end of the school year." Mrs. Garrett slid Dee's file back into place. "We'd hate to lose a promising student."
"Yeah," said Dee numbly. "Me too."
Dee enjoyed midterms.
In the days following her visit to the registrar's office, she listened to several freshmen quizzing themselves in the library, murmuring to one another in French; two boys Dee barely knew yelled algebra equations at each other until the dorm monitor told them off; a girl's sobbing could be heard through a thin wall; a gaggle of haughty seniors flaunted their disinterest in exams by stripping down to bikinis and boxers and stretching out on the lawn, taking in the weak sunlight. Some of them read textbooks, but most had the latest gossip rags. Dee saw a picture of an actress with a prosthetic leg, decorated in tiny diamonds to match her dress. THE SECRET BEHIND HER OSCAR? went the headline.
Most of the freshmen, sophomores, and juniors looked at the seniors with resentful envy, then went back to desperate studying. When anxiety hung heavy in the air, people were their most honest—and terrified—selves. Dee enjoyed it because it was the one time she didn't have to monitor her every word; with everyone on edge, no one noticed if she slipped up. Her own worry seemed natural when people could blame it on academic pressure rather than the constant thrum of nerves that seemed to never leave her. Her shoulders were drawn tight and her jaw ached from clenching it in her sleep. Old fear beat within her, as solid and familiar as her pulse, and for once she could blame it on the stress of tests, of papers, of final projects.
"What are you doing for spring break?" asked Gremma once Dee got back to the dorm. She slouched on a large green beanbag—a joint purchase of theirs—and a chemistry workbook sat open across her lap. "Got any hot parties planned?" She grinned. In contrast to her designer jeans and high-end computer, there was a slight overlap in Gremma's bottom teeth. It's not like she couldn't have afforded to fix them. Dee wondered if Gremma had refused braces out of sheer stubbornness. It would be a very Gremma thing to do.
Dee set her backpack down and settled on her bed. "What are you planning?"
Gremma snorted. She sat up, the beanbag's foam beads crunching beneath her. "Spend a week at my parents' vacation house in Newport, hooking up with the girlfriends of the boys my parents try to set me up with. Probably drink lots of tequila, dance around bonfires, and run naked down the beach. Want to come?"
It was the first time Gremma had ever offered, and Dee considered it. Escape, if only for a week. She imagined some ritzy beach house, complete with cocktail glasses and mini umbrellas—but she would be somewhere unknown, at the mercy of strangers, and without an escape route. Her stomach twisted at the thought. "Doesn't seem like my kind of scene," she said truthfully.
"The house is nice," said Gremma. "Plenty of room." She paused, then added, "But, yeah, I can't really see you running naked or getting drunk."
Dee's smile went brittle. "Not my thing. You have fun, though."
"Oh, I will. So what will you be doing?"
Praise for The Hearts We Sold:
* "Beautifully written and elegantly characterized, this is a thoughtful, melancholy tale of love and redemption, magic and choice. Lloyd-Jones tracks Dee's Faustian journey without ever falling out of step, and the story itself will ensnare readers as surely as any bargain."—Booklist (starred review)
* "Emily Lloyd-Jones's (Illusive) depictions of the emotional abuse Dee faces are nuanced and subtle, so truthful that the reader comes to understand the depth and destruction of the abuse only in the final pages. The world-building is outstanding, but it is the smaller, true things--how Dee keeps her circle of people small, how a new, loving partner is patient with her while she navigates love and PTSD--that make The Hearts We Sold such a superb (and heartfelt) work."—Shelf Awareness (starred review)
"The slowly revealed lore of the demons coupled with Dee's adventures make for a whirlwind of a page-turner. Readers will devour this romantic, Faustian fable. A dark fantasy brimming with passion and peril."—Kirkus Reviews
"One of those unassuming reads that quietly sneaks up on you--and before you know it you've been blindsided by how awesome it is... The message in the philosophical prose is understated, but powerful, as is the surprise ending. With wonderfully developed characters, an engaging storyline and a romance that will steal readers' hearts, The Hearts We Sold is a story that's easy to love."—Romantic Times
"Lloyd-Jones's take on the Faustian myth will keep readers engaged. A broad array of well-developed characters will intrigue readers as the plot advances and curves. Offers character depth and diversity often lacking in the fantasy genre."—SLJ
"A completely original story that shatters the boundaries of YA fiction. Magic, mystery, and intrigue, paired with Jones's devilish story-telling ability, will bind readers to The Hearts We Sold until the final explosive ending."—Lindsay Cummings, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Zenith and The Murder Complex
"An inventive, heart-wrenching thrill ride."—Kim Liggett, author of Blood and Salt
"With its lush, Lovecraftian worldbuilding and a heroine as tough as she is damaged, The Hearts We Sold sucked me in and held me captive. I finished it in one sitting!"—Gretchen McNeil, author of Ten and the Don't Get Mad series
- On Sale
- Jul 2, 2019
- Page Count
- 416 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers