Veronica Rossi‘s latest YA fantasy offering is a wild one: Riders, out Feb. 16, follows 18-year-old Gideon Blake, who yearns to serve in the U.S. Army. But when an accident takes his life, he finds that he’s become one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse: Fittingly, he is now War. Check out the book’s high-octane trailer above, and an exclusive excerpt from Chapter 7 below — plus a handy summary to orient you in the story:
Excerpt from Riders by Veronica Rossi
For eighteen-year-old Gideon Blake, nothing but death can keep him from achieving his goal of becoming a U.S. Army Ranger. As it turns out, it does.
Recovering from the accident that most definitely killed him, Gideon finds himself with strange new powers and a bizarre cuff he can’t remove. His death has brought to life his real destiny. He has become War, one of the legendary four horsemen of the apocalypse.
Over the coming weeks, he and the other horsemen — Conquest, Famine, and Death — are brought together by a beautiful but frustratingly secretive girl to help save humanity from an ancient evil on the emergence.
Now — bound, bloodied, and drugged — Gideon is interrogated by the authorities about his role in a battle that has become an international incident. If he stands any chance of saving his friends and the girl he’s fallen for — not to mention all of humankind — he needs to convince the skeptical government officials the world is in imminent danger.
But will anyone believe him?
The next morning, I woke to the sound of my mom talking on the phone.
Actually it was more like yelling, which was what woke me.
I’d slept on my stomach without wearing my casts, and hadn’t taken any painkillers since yesterday. I should’ve been howling in pain, but I wasn’t.
I’d heard my mom raise her voice before. She was half Irish and didn’t take crap from anyone. But the way she was yelling had an edge that was extra sharp. And then there was the way she’d sounded off on me the day before. What had always been pretty rare was suddenly happening a lot.
She hung up and I heard footsteps marching toward my room. The door swung open and she stood there, her mouth pressed in a grim line that reminded me of the summer I broke our front window three times in three weeks perfecting my baseball swing.
“Something came up at work,” she said. “I have to go in for the next few days, but I talked to your sister. She’s coming up to watch you.”
This was an arrangement they’d already made. While I was recovering, my mom was going to look after me on weekdays and work Friday through Monday. Anna, who was a freshman at Cal Poly and only had classes midweek, would take weekends.
It was a Tuesday, though. Mom’s call had thrown a curveball into the schedule.
“Anna has school,” I said.
“Well, she’s going to have to just catch up. You’re more important.”
“Don’t argue with me, Gideon. She’ll be here by dinnertime.
I’ll have Mrs. C come over and keep an eye on you until—”
“No— that’s okay. I’ll be fine until Anna gets here.”
Mom dropped a kiss on my forehead, reminded me to take my meds, and left.
As soon as I heard the front door shut, I threw on running shoes, shoved some clothes into my Army rucksack, and grabbed my keys. I locked up the house and jumped into my Jeep— a beat-up ’85 CJ my dad and I were going to fix up but never got around to for obvious reasons.
I did all of that — dressing, packing, and locking up — with working limbs. Perfectly healthy limbs. As I took the steering wheel, the shiny piece of red metal on my left wrist caught my eye. Things were happening that made no sense, and the feeling was too close to how I’d felt after my dad died. My gut was telling me to move, because moving— running, hiking, driving, any kind of movement — always helped to chill me out. It gave me perspective, and I needed that badly. I backed out of the driveway, took the freeway south, and then just… drove.
When I pulled up to my sister’s college apartment complex three hours later, nothing made any more sense. I didn’t have a new perspective.
And I had not chilled out.
My sister’s college dorm was on the second floor of a new housing unit on the edge of the Cal Poly campus, with green hills and trails all around, a heated swimming pool, and a sand volleyball court in the center quad. A luxury resort, pretty much.
No one answered when I buzzed her on the intercom system and I’d left my phone at home like an idiot so I went around back, thinking I’d climb her balcony. With any luck, the glass slider would be unlocked.
A girl with blue-streaked hair was painting her toenails on the patio of the apartment beneath my sister’s. She set the red polish on a stack of textbooks by her feet and looked up at me.
This time I was ready. Mrs. C, Jackson, and my mom’s reactions had one thing in common — me. I’d been riled with that burning anger around them, so maybe I was affecting them?
It was insane, but it was also the only guess I had.
I raised my hands, showing her I meant no harm. “Hey, how’s it going?” Inside, I was begging her to stay calm, grasping for inner peace with everything I had, visualizing tranquility, finding my happy place, all that, and bingo.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“I’m Anna Blake’s brother. Gideon.”
“Her twin, the Army guy?”
“Her twin, the Army guy.”
She checked me out, which was the only genuinely good thing that had happened to me in a solid week, and introduced herself as Joy.
“You don’t look very much like her.”
I shrugged. “Yeah, she’s prettier than I am. I try not to get jealous.”
Joy’s smile went wider. “You’re like Luke and Leia, kind of.”
“We get that sometimes. Mind if I use your railing? Anna’s not there yet.”
“Go ahead. Use whatever you need.”
“Thanks.” I tossed my ruck up to the second- floor balcony.
Then I jumped, grabbing the bars above me, and swung myself up. Not bad for a guy with a broken arm and leg.
“Gideon?” Joy peered up from below. “We’re having some people over later. You should come by.”
I thanked her again. A party sounded like just what I needed to get my mind off things.
The sliding door to my sister’s place was unlocked and slid right open, which was both good and bad. Anna really should’ve known better. I slipped inside and froze when I heard the snuffling sounds of someone crying.
Dropping my duffel, I rushed to Anna’s room and found her rolled in a ball on her bed, her eyes pressed shut like she was trying to keep in the tears, her phone gripped in her hand.
“Anna?” Sitting on the bed, I put my hand on her shoulder.
“What’s going on?”
She shot away with a yelp. “Gideon?” Her eyes moved over me, like she couldn’t believe I was real, then she threw her arms around my neck. “I’ve been so worried. Mom said you’d broken your arm and your leg. She said you almost died.”
“I know,” I said, hugging her back. “I’m fine, Banana. I’m all right.” I was all right— everywhere except in the head.
She drew back and studied me. Like I’ve said, Cordero, we don’t look much alike. Not just our coloring. Anna’s pretty skinny. Not very athletic. She’d kill me if she heard me tell you that. And I’m… Well. You’re looking at me. I look like my dad. Like my dad did. His height and build.
The only thing Anna and I have in common is our dad’s eyes.
Light blue. Same shape too, with the downward tilt at the sides.
People call them soulful eyes or smiling eyes. Or Paul Newman eyes— old people always say that. But to me they’re the eyes of someone who listens with everything they’ve got when you’re talking, which is exactly my sister and it was my dad, too. So seeing Anna now, it felt good but it also made me miss my dad even more than when I’d been at home, which sucked. I’d shared a womb with my sister and almost every day of my life since. I didn’t love how hard it was just to look at her.
Anna shook her head, her expression pleading for answers
I didn’t have. “Was the accident not as bad as they thought?”
“The initial reports might’ve made it sound worse. And I’m still kind of sore,” I said, though I wasn’t.
“Worse by a lot. I didn’t think you’d get hurt training.”
“Me either. But you can’t pick when accidents happen, right?”
That word, accident, felt like knocking into a bruise that wouldn’t heal. It was the same for Anna, too. Grief passed over her face. I had to look away. On her desk I saw a framed picture from Christmas a year and a half ago. All of us wearing Santa hats and grinning like loons. We were still four Blakes then. A four- pack.
“What are you doing here, Gideon? Why aren’t you at home?”
What she meant was why aren’t you bedridden, but I took the questions at face value. “I thought you could look after me here. That way you don’t have to miss any classes.” Then I nodded at her phone, ready to leave the subject of my non-injuries behind. “You want to tell me what’s going on?”
She shrugged, smoothing her hands on her pajama pants.
I’d given them to her the same Christmas from the photo. Red flannel with Eiffel Towers stamped all over them because her dream was to study in Paris. My sister was an artist. Growing up, Anna made beautiful collectible drawings and paintings and pottery. I broke shit. Bikes, bats, surfboards. Hearts. Just kidding on that last one.
“Oh. Just stuff with Wyatt,” she said.
“Wyatt?” I knew the guy. He was a spoiled idiot from a private high school near our hometown. He and Anna started dating senior year when they met in a mock- Senate club. I was pissed when I found out he was coming to the same college. High school should’ve been the end of Wyatt Sinclair. “I thought you broke up with that loser.”
“I did break up with him,” Anna said. “It was mutual. I mean, we decided to end it together. He said he wanted a timeout so I gave it to him.”
“Like he’s a freakin’ toddler? That kind of time-out?”
Anna ignored that. “He thought we were getting too serious. He said he wanted to ‘experience college.’ ” She made air quotes. “I thought we were really done. I know he’s been with other girls since. But we were technically on a break, so it shouldn’t matter, right?”
What technically mattered was that Wyatt was an ass, but Anna clearly didn’t see it that way. I looked around at the pile of clothes thrown over her chair and the coffee mug on her desk. I couldn’t believe I was talking relationships with her when I’d fallen out of a plane a week ago. And had no injuries to show for it.
Anna lifted her phone. “He just called and said he was wrong about leaving me. He said he made a terrible error in judgment and that he wants me back.”
“And you told him to screw himself, right?”
“I love him, G.”
“Anna. My ears.”
She laughed. “Okay, maybe not. But I do like him. He’s smart and he treated me well when we were together. He’s coming over to talk. I feel like I should at least hear him out.”
“He’s really coming over? That’s great! My fist is dying to talk to his face.”
“No, Gideon.” Anna’s smile disappeared. “Stay out of this. It’s my business.”
As I stared into her eyes, I wondered if this was my fault.
When our dad died I was always gone, off on my own. Camping. Driving. Just hiding out alone. I couldn’t be around anyone. I didn’t trust myself to be. But my sister had needed someone in those days like I’d needed no one, and Wyatt Sinclair had been there for her. He’d stepped in and been her someone, and if there was one thing I understood, it was that grief was an opponent you didn’t play fair with. You did whatever it took to not let it beat you. You fought dirty against grief, period. So I understood. Anna didn’t love Wyatt. She loved that he’d been there for her during the worst time in her life.
“What is that?” Anna pulled my sleeve up before I could stop her. “Is that a cuff?”
“Yeah, so?” I tugged it back down. “Can’t I wear jewels?”
“It’s called jewelry, for one. And you can’t hate it your whole life and suddenly start liking it.”
“I don’t hate jewelry.” I just didn’t like having anything on me that didn’t have a reason to be there.
“Hogwash. You don’t even wear belts.”
True. Belts and bracelets shared a lot of DNA, in my view. I’d avoided them up until recently. In the Army, belts were a must.
Anna suddenly looked like she’d won the state lottery. “You met someone! You did, didn’t you?”
I’d never had a girlfriend, officially, and for some reason that made my mom and Anna lose their minds. In general we Blake twins were pretty screwed up when it came to relationships.
Anna stayed in a bad one. I avoided them completely.
“Easy there, Banana. It’s called an XT3 Band. It stands for Experimental Therapy Band, third generation. Highly classified so that’s all I can tell you.”
I said all this, but I still had no idea what the cuff really was. Maybe I was right?
“Seriously, what’s her name?”
“You know how I feel about this. If I wanted a commitment, I’d get a dog.”
“Wow.” She reached for a black pillow decorated with a big sparkly skull and hugged it. “So romantic.”
I made a face, because who the hell wanted to be a romantic? Then I couldn’t look past the skull pillow. “Tell me something, sis. Why do we have to make skulls cute? Some things shouldn’t be messed with. Guns, for example. Toilets . . . toilet paper . . . guns . . . They should just stay functional. Sparklefree.”
She rolled her eyes. “Please. If I had a bedazzled toilet, I’d love it and so would you. Don’t even try to deny it. You’d love a fancy can.”
I did deny it, which led to a healthy debate. Spirited, trivial discussions were the bread- and- butter of our relationship and it felt good to just be with my sister— until someone knocked on the door. Anna stopped in midsentence and vaulted off the bed. Douchebag had just arrived.
“Hey, Pooh Bear,” I heard him drawl in the living room. All pet names were inherently ridiculous but that one took first place. “How are you?”
“Honestly, I’ve been better,” Anna replied.
“I know,” Wyatt murmured. “Me too. But I’m better now that I’m with you. I’ve missed you, Pooh.”
I grabbed the sparkly skull pillow and dug my fingers into it. Ignore, Blake. Ignore. “I don’t know if I can do this again, Wy. How am I supposed to believe you really want to be with me? Or that you’ll stay with me this time?”
You’re not, Anna. Move on.
“We’ll just take it one day at a time. You know I never stopped caring about you.” He lowered his voice. “Anna, the others girls were nothing to me. They didn’t mean anything.
Not like you do.”
No. . . . Did he really just say that?
I flew off the bed.
“Stop right there,” Anna said, the instant I crossed the door.
I did what she said and leaned against the doorjamb. Seeing Anna upset had sidelined my own drama for a little bit, but now that sharp, tangible buzz of anger was back, seething from my skin. I couldn’t even fight it. This was about my sister.
My self- control was under siege.
Wyatt gaped at me, taking a half step back. “Your brother is here, Anna? I thought he was hurt.”
“Sorry to disappoint, jackass.” Well, that came out. But I didn’t care. Wyatt might have been good to Anna in the past but he was taking advantage of that.
“I told you to stay out of this, Gideon,” Anna said.
“Yes! Stay out of this please.” Wyatt pushed a hand through his preppy hair. As a general rule, I didn’t like guys who styled their hair like they just woke up. Messiness should never be a goal. It should be a consequence. “God, Anna. I don’t think this is going to work. How are we supposed to talk with him around?”
“I didn’t know he was coming down here, Wyatt. I’m sorry.”
Was she actually apologizing to him?
You’re not sorry, Anna. You are pissed off.
Anna shook her head like she was shuffling her thoughts.
“Wait a minute. You’ve been messing around with other girls for the past month and you’re mad that my brother is here?”
Now, that was more like it.
Wyatt frowned, clearly surprised by the pushback. “I thought we were trying to fi x things, Pooh Bear. He’s going to interfere with that.”
“I’m not interfering. I’m just standing here.” I smiled.
“See? He’s already doing it. Anna, I thought you wanted to be with me. Maybe I was wrong.”
What a load of guilt- tripping crap. Don’t stand for it, Anna.
“This was a mistake, Wyatt.” She opened the apartment door. “I think you should go.”
Wyatt stepped toward her, turning his back to me. “I came here because I want you back in my life,” he said in a hushed voice. “But we’re never going to figure this out if you’re going to be irrational.”
Irrational? That sounded good to me. Let it rip, sis.
Anna slapped him across the cheek. Wyatt’s head whipped to the side. For a few seconds, no one breathed. We all just stood there, hearing that fleshy echo, until Anna said, “Leave,
He shot me an accusatory glare, like he suspected I was behind Anna’s actions. I was less suspicious. In fact I was pretty sure I’d influenced Anna’s behavior. Somehow, I’d focused my anger on her and propelled her through the entire thing. But how was that even possible?
After Wyatt left, Anna fell back against the door. “What did I just do?”
“You took care of business. You don’t need that moron in your life, sis. You did the right thing.”
“I hit him.” She looked at her hand like it wasn’t part of her. “I slapped him.”
“You were nicer than I would’ve been.”
Anna shook her head, her eyes welling up. “That doesn’t help, Gideon.” Then she darted past me into her room and slammed the door.
I reached for the handle just as the lock clicked. “Open the door. Come on, Anna. It’s his loss, sis.” I could hear her crying inside— one of the worst sounds in the world for me— and I felt anger rising inside me. “Anna . . . let me in,” I tried again, but it was clear that wasn’t going to happen for a long while.
Excellent. I’d succeeded in making her more upset. Now what?
Behind me, I heard the quiet scuff of keys as someone entered the apartment. That had to be Anna’s roommate, Taylor. The last thing I wanted was another bizarre social interaction, so
I hustled to the balcony, climbed down, and took off.