Read an Excerpt From Meriam Metoui’s Portrait of a Shadow

We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Meriam Metoui’s Portrait of a Shadow, a new young adult horror novel out from Henry Holt & Co on July 16th.

Inez is missing, but missing things can always be found.

Mae knows this as a fact, even though the police investigation has come to a standstill, even though her parents are moving on. But when she goes to clear out her older sister’s studio, she finds a mess of research and a white canvas that seems even older than the ornate frame it is set in. The closer Mae gets to the canvas, the more difficult it is to pull her eyes away from its mottled surface, its heavy layers of white paint, its peeling top corner she is tempted to pull to see what’s beneath. But she doesn’t. Not yet.

Mae decides to trace her sister’s last steps in the hopes of finding answers, certain that Inez’s disappearance is related to the painting. And she knows she is desperate enough to let the strange boy who claims to have been Inez’s neighbor tag along. Even if his good looks don’t help distract from his avoidance of her questions. So begins a scavenger hunt piecing together what they can find from what Inez left behind. One that leads to centuries-old questions best left unasked and secrets best kept in the dark.

Chapter 8

SEPTEMBER 6, 1891 12:36 A.M.

In the shadows of the woods lives a woman with no name. If one knows what to look for, they can separate her from the trees. Can pick out branches from limbs and hair from leaves. They can look into the darkness and see her looking back, two onyx eyes formidable in their ferocity. But no one knows to look and so no one sees the woman with no name.

When she ventures out of the woods, she spills into spaces like water. Falls through fingers and away from curious eyes before anyone can make sense of her. Unless, that is, she wants them to. Unless she sets her gaze on them and does not let go. It is desire that draws her out, a want as staggering as her own imposing power. Tonight, she can sense it and is almost over- whelmed by it, inundated by its sheer force.

Dev Sharma is fortunate enough to be seen. Though fortu- nate is a strong word and, depending on who you ask, entirely inaccurate. You see, the woman with no name knows much more of you than you know of her. In Dev she sees desperation.

A simmering kind that lives just beneath his skin.

A well of yearning so deep, she cannot see its bottom.

In a way, their crossing paths were inevitable, fated. As pow- erful as she was, she was so intensely drawn to his infinite well of want that she chose him as much as a moth can choose to turn toward flame.

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Portrait of a Shadow
Portrait of a Shadow

Portrait of a Shadow

Meriam Metoui

The woman with no name steps out of the dark, and there, at the edge of a pendulum, her eyes meet Dev’s.

He hears the voice first.

“You want something.”

Dev turns to see a woman made of shadows. He blinks and she steps forward into the moonlight. He is unsure if he is the target of this woman’s attention. But he walks home alone at night along the edge of the Wildwood, and there isn’t a soul but his for miles. He notes her bare feet, the white cloud of hair that surrounds her. It wraps around her shoulders and ends at her waist, one soft, hazy storm as if she has meticulously brushed out every curl. But it’s her black, dark-as-night eyes that entrance him, rooting him in place. He couldn’t escape her if he tried. It will take him a lifetime to learn that, to know this moment was inevitable.

He opens his mouth, though he does not know what to say, only continues to take her in; but she is an ocean, and he is a cup. He will never truly fathom her. She steps closer, close enough to touch, and he understands she is more creature than human. More wild than woman. He knows, the moment their eyes lock, whatever she and he are made of, they are not the same.

“You want something,” she repeats. Her voice is low, smooth, and it wafts in the air, so he can’t quite make out the source, even though the woman stands before him. She leans in closer, enough that he can feel her cold breath against his cheek, and whispers, “Escape.”

His eyes go wide, as if she has pressed her finger to a bruise, and he is afraid to admit he understands.

“What you seek lies beyond this town. Beyond its borders and all they hold. It is a painting made of want and there it lies in wait. Find Delphine Lefroy. Find her painting, and what you seek most shall find you.”

He does not know what else to do but nod.

“Be warned,” she adds as she drifts around him. “It will give, yes, but only as much as it takes.”

Dev does not think to question her. He takes this as fact, as if he’s known it all along. It is not until later, when she’s van- ished into the woods, that he wonders if this was all one lucid, walking dream. If she ever existed to begin with. But existence is a fickle thing, and Dev does not yet understand he is asking the wrong questions.

The woman with no name is made of shadows once again, her silhouette barely perceptible in the darkness. He blinks, and the only trace left of her is the chill down his spine from her cold breath against his cheek.

Chapter 9

JULY 17, 2024 9:34 P.M.

That’s it? You’re not going to explain?” Mae asks. Again.

He drives in silence, avoiding any questions he isn’t in the mood to answer, which, so far, has been all of them.

“You’re really not going to tell me why we ran out of there? Or who that guy was? Or where we’re even going?”

“I told you. I didn’t trust Ava. She was up to something and I had a bad feeling about it. I trusted my gut and got us out of there.”

“And I told you I don’t believe you. There’s something else. You know more than you’re letting on.”

She is met with more silence.

“Fine. I can make my own guesses. Clearly, the guy at the door is the brother you mentioned, the one you don’t talk to. If you want to tell me I’m wrong, you can, but it’s unlikely I’ll believe you.”

His jaw clenches in the dimming light, and she takes that as a sign she’s right so far.

“You owe him money.”

Here his shoulders relax. Okay, Mae thinks, so she’s off base.

“You killed his dog. You burned his house down. You slept with his girlfriend. No. His boyfriend,” Mae says in mock hor- ror. “How could you?”

He smiles before he catches himself a second too late.

“I promise I want to tell you, Mae. I do. But I just—I can’t. For right now, I need you to trust that I have my reasons and they would be valid had I said them out loud.”

She isn’t sure what to say to that. It is honesty she is asking for, and here he is being as honest as he is capable of. It just isn’t enough. Mae doesn’t care about the reasons he’s with- holding the truth. All she cares about is finding Inez, and here he is taking her farther away from answers Ava could have had, answers that his brother, who she’s now realizing must be connected to all this somehow, has. His showing up was as good of a lead as she was going to get, and Dev robbed her of where it would have taken them.

She’s been patient, she’s tried to keep the conversation light, but he doesn’t deserve her generosity. This boy who she’s trusted too easily. She studies his profile: the sharp slope of his nose, the soft dip of his mouth. It dawns on her that she’s let her shallow feelings, his lingering gaze and easy smile, distract her from the only thing that matters. Finding her sister, the only person she’s ever really cared for, that ever saw her truly. Inez. Why had she so easily believed that he wanted the same thing? Is it possible that he is here only to keep her from the truth? Whatever it is?

“It’s late, I’m just driving to a motel for the night until we can figure out what to do next. Is that okay?” He tears his eyes away from the road and glances at her, waiting for her approval. His eyes are kind and pleading and she wants so badly to trust them. To trust him. But the voice in her head is too loud now. She nods and he turns back to the road just in time to make the exit he needs.

Two hours after they floor it out of Ava’s, they find them- selves in a motel just outside Montreal. It’s set close to the road and the parking lot is full. It’s not exactly what she expects. After all, Dev has the money—they could have been in another hotel calling room service. But instead she finds herself staring at a run-down two-story building with a flickering vacancy sign in the office window. Not exactly the Ritz.

“I’ll go get us two rooms,” Dev says as he puts the car in park. “Do you want to grab your things? Inez might have clothes you can borrow for the night.” Mae nods, noting his use of borrow instead of have. It is only a matter of time before she comes back for her things, he seems to say. This morning she would have thought it sweet, would have appreciated the distinction, but now she wonders if he’s simply clever enough to use the right words, to make her think he’s on her side. He heads inside, and she grabs her backpack before opening the trunk to look through the poorly packed boxes and suitcases.

A part of Mae breaks in two as she opens a suitcase full of Inez’s clothes. But she shoves that piece deeper, knowing that feelings like these don’t align with the reality she has created for herself, one that has her borrowing her sister’s things. She closes her eyes. Takes a deep breath, and it is a mistake. The scent of Inez’s perfume fills her nostrils, and all she wants to do is let the rest of her fall apart too.

Excerpted from Portrait of a Shadow, copyright © 2024 by Meriam Metoui.

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