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Onyx

Onyx

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Onyx A LUX NOVEL Book two Onyx A LUX NOVEL Book two Jennifer ll.

Armentrout T his book is a w ork of fict ion. Names, charact ers, places, and incident s are t he product of t he aut hor’s imaginat ion or are used fict it iously. Any resemblance t o act uall event s, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincident al. Copyright © 2012 by Jennifer ll. Arment rout . All right s reserved, including t he right t o reproduce, dist ribut e, or t ransmit in any form or by any means.

For informat ion regarding subsidiary right s, please cont act t he Publisher. Ent angled Publishing, LLC 2614 Sout h T imberline Road Suit e 109 Fort Coll ins, CO 80525 Visit our w ebsit e at w w w .ent angledpublishing.com. Edit ed by Liz Pell et ier Cover design by Liz Pell et ier Print ISBN 978-1-62061-011-4 Ebook ISBN 978-1-62061-012-1 Manufact ured in t he Unit ed St at es of America First Edit ion August 2012 T he aut hor acknow ledges t he copyright ed or t rademarked st at us and t rademark ow ners of t he follow ing w ordmarks ment ioned in t his w ork of fict ion: Oreos, Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros., W i , Coke, Expedit ion, Barbie, Rubik’s Cube, Infinit i, X-Men, Snack Pack, Prius, Pop-Tart , Google, Pept o-Bismol, Mac, Y ukon, W index, Rolex, Dumpst er, Jet t a. Dedicated to book lovers and book bloggers everywhere, those large and small.

Chapter 1
Ten seconds passed bet w een w hen Daemon Black t ook his seat and w hen he poked me under my shoulder blade w it h his t rust y pen. Ten w hole seconds. T w ist ing around in my seat , I inhaled t he unique out doorsy scent t hat w as all him. Daemon pulled his hand back and t apped t he blue cap of his pen on t he corner of his lips. Lips I w as w ell familiar w it h. “Good morning, Kit t en.” I forced my gaze t o his eyes. Bright green, like t he st em of a freshly cut rose. “Good morning, Daemon.” Unruly dark hair fell over his forehead as he t ilt ed his head. “Don’t forget w e have plans t onight .” “Y eah, I know . Looking forw ard t o it ,” I said dryly.

As Daemon leaned forw ard, his dark sw eat er st ret ched over broad shoulders. He t ipped his desk dow n. I heard t he soft inhales from my friends Carissa and Lesa, felt t he eyes of everyone in class w at ching us. One corner of his lips curved higher, as if he w ere secret ly laughing. T he st ret ch of silence became t oo heavy. “W hat ?” “We need t o w ork off your t race,” he said, low enough t hat only I could hear. T hank God. Trying t o explain w hat a t race w as t o t he general populace w as not somet hing I w ant ed t o get int o. Oh, you know , just alien residue t hat rubs off on humans and light s t hem up like a Christ mas t ree and becomes a homing signal to an evil alien race. W ant some? Uh huh. I picked up my pen and considered poking him w it h it . “Y eah, I figured as much.” “And I have t his really fun idea of how w e can do it .” I knew w hat his “fun idea” w as. Me. Him. Making out . I smiled, and t he green of his eyes heat ed. “Liking t he idea?” he murmured, and his gaze dropped t o my lips. An unhealt hy amount of excit ement had my ent ire body humming, and I reminded myself t hat his sudden t urnaround had more t o do w it h t he effect of his bizarre alien mojo on me t han it did w it h me as a person. Ever since Daemon healed me aft er t he bat t le w it h t he Arum, w e w ere connect ed, and w hile t hat seemed t o be enough for him t o jump int o a relat ionship, it w asn’t for me. It w asn’t real. I w ant ed w hat my parent s had. Undying love. Pow erful. T rue. A w hacked-out alien bond couldn’t do t hat for me. “Not in t his lifet ime, buddy,” I said finally. “Resist ance is fut ile, Kit t en.” “So is your charm.” “W e’ll see.” Rolling my eyes, I faced t he front of t he classroom. Daemon w as a t ot all babe, but he w as st ab-w ort hy, w hich, at t imes, zeroed out t he babe part . Not alw ays, t hough.

Our ancient t rig t eacher shuffled in, clut ching a t hick w ad of papers w hile he w ait ed for t he t ardy bell. Daemon poked me w it h his pen. Again. Squeezing my hands int o fist s, I debat ed ignoring him. I knew bet t er. He’d just keep poking me. T urning around, I glared at him. “W hat , Daemon?” He moved as fast as a cobra st riking. W it h a grin t hat did funny t hings t o my st omach, he glided his fingers along my cheek, plucking a t iny bit of fuzz out of my hair. I st ared at him. “Aft er school…” I st art ed t o get all kinds of crazy ideas as his grin t urned w icked, but I w asn’t playing his game anymore. I rolled my eyes and w hipped back around. I w ould resist my hormones…and t he w ay he got t o me like no one else. A slight t ic of pain t hrobbed behind my left eye t he rest of t he morning, w hich I t ot ally blamed on Daemon. By lunch, I felt like someone had sucker punched me in t he head. T he st eady noise of t he cafet eria and t he mix of disinfect ant and burned food made me w ant t o run from t he room. “Y ou going t o eat t hat ?” Dee Black gest ured at my unt ouched cot t age cheese and pineapple. Shaking my head, I pushed my t ray over, and my st omach roiled as she dug in. “You could eat t he foot ball t eam under t he t able.” Lesa w at ched Dee w it h obvious envy sparkling in her dark eyes. I couldn’t blame her. I’d once seen Dee eat an ent ire package of Oreos in one sit t ing. “How do you do it ?” Dee shrugged daint y shoulders. “I guess I have a fast met abolism.” “W hat did you guys do t his w eekend?” Carissa asked, frow ning as she w iped her glasses w it h t he sleeve of her shirt . “I w as filling out college applicat ions.” “I w as making out w it h Chad all w eekend.” Lesa grinned. Bot h girls looked at Dee and me, w ait ing for us t o share. I guessed t he w hole killing-apsycho-alien-and-almost -dying t hing probably w asn’t somet hing t o t hrow out t here. “We hung out and w at ched st upid movies,” Dee answ ered, giving me a slight smile as she t ucked a shiny black curl behind her ear. “It w as kind of boring.”

Lesa snort ed. “Y ou guys are alw ays boring.” I st art ed t o smile, but a w arm t ingle skat ed across t he nape of my neck. T he conversat ion around me faded and a few seconds lat er, Daemon dropped int o t he seat t o my left . A plast ic cup full of st raw berry smoot hie—my favorit e—w as set in front of me. I w as more t han a lit t le shocked t o be receiving any present from Daemon, much less one of my favorit e t reat s. My fingers brushed his as I t ook t he drink, and a jolt of elect ricit y danced along my skin. I yanked my hand back and t ook a small sip. Delish. Maybe it w ould make my t ummy feel bet t er. And maybe I could get used t o t his new gift -giving Daemon. Much bet t er t han t he ot her douchebag version of him. “T hank you.” He smiled in response. “W here’re ours?” Lesa quipped. Daemon laughed. “I’m only at t he service of one person in part icular.” My cheeks flamed as I scoot ed my chair over. “Y ou are not servicing me in any w ay.” He leaned in, closing my new ly gained dist ance. “Not yet .” “Oh, come on, Daemon. I’m right here.” Dee frow ned. “Y ou’re about t o make me lose my appet it e.” “Like t hat w ill ever happen,” Lesa ret ort ed w it h an eye roll. Daemon pulled a sub out of his bag. Only he could skip fourt h period early t o get lunch and not end up in det ent ion. He w as just so…special. Every girl at t he t able, besides his sist er, w as st aring at him. Some of t he guys w ere, t oo. He offered his sist er an oat meal cookie. “Don’t w e have plans t o make?” Carissa asked, t w o bright spot s coloring her cheeks. “Y ep,” Dee said, grinning at Lesa. “Big plans.” I w iped a hand over my damp, clammy forehead. “W hat plans?” “Dee and I w ere t alking in English about t hrow ing a part y t he w eek aft er next ,” Carissa jumped in. “Somet hing—” “Huge,” Lesa said. “Small,” Carissa correct ed, eyes narrow ing on her friend. “Just somet hing w it h a few people.” Dee nodded, and her bright green eyes glimmered w it h excit ement . “Our parent s are going t o

be out of t ow n Friday, so it w orks out perfect ly.” I glanced at Daemon. He w inked. My st upid heart skipped a beat . “T hat ’s so cool t hat your parent s are let t ing you have a part y at your house,” Carissa said. “Mine w ould st roke out if I even suggest ed somet hing like t hat .” Dee shrugged one shoulder and looked aw ay. “Our parent s are pret t y cool.” I forced my expression blank as a pang hit me in t he chest . I t ruly believed Dee w ant ed her parent s alive more t han she w ant ed anyt hing else in t his w orld. And maybe even Daemon, t oo. T hen he w ouldn’t bear t he w eight of being responsible for his family. During t he t ime w e’d spent t oget her, I’d figured out most of his bad at t it ude w as because of all t he st ress. And t here w as his t w in brot her’s deat h… T he part y became t he t opic of discussion at t he t able for t he rest of t he lunch period. W hich w as kind of cool scheduling, since my birt hday w as t he follow ing Sat urday. But by Friday, t he part y w ould be all over t he school. In a t ow n w here drinking in a cornfield w as t he height of excit ement on a Friday night , no w ay w as t his going t o st ay a “small ” part y. Did Dee realize t hat ? “Y ou okay w it h all of t his?” I w hispered t o Daemon. He shrugged. “Not like I can st op her.” I knew he could if he w ant ed, w hich meant he didn’t have a problem w it h it . “Cookie?” he offered, holding a cookie full of chocolat e chips. Upset t ummy or not , t here w as no w ay I could refuse t hat . “Sure.” His lips t ipped up one side and he leaned t ow ard me, his mout h inches from mine. “Come and get it .” Come and get…? Daemon placed half the cookie betw een those full, totally kissable lips. Oh, holy alien babies everyw here… My mout h dropped open. Several of t he girls at t he t able made sounds t hat had me w ondering if t hey w ere t urning int o puddles under t he t able, but I couldn’t bring myself t o check out w hat t hey really w ere doing. T hat cookie—t hose lips—w ere right t here. Heat sw ept over my cheeks. I could feel t he eyes of everyone else, and Daemon…dear God, Daemon arched his brow s, daring me.

Dee gagged. “I t hink I’m going t o hurl.” Mort ified, I w ant ed t o craw ll in a hole. W hat did he t hink I w as going t o do? Take t he cookie from his mout h like somet hing st raight out of an Rrat ed version of Lady and t he T ramp? Heck, I kind of w ant ed t o, and I w asn’t sure w hat t hat said about me. Daemon reached up and t ook t he cookie. T here w as a gleam t o his eyes, as if he’d just w on some bat t le. “T ime’s up, Kit t en.” I st ared at him. Breaking t he cookie in t w o, he handed me t he larger piece. I snat ched it aw ay, half t empt ed t o t hrow it back in his face, but it w as…it w as chocolat e chip. So I at e it and loved it . Taking anot her sip of my smoot hie, I felt unease skit t er along my spine like I w as being w at ched. Glancing around t he cafet eria, I expect ed t o find Daemon’s alien ex-girlfriend giving me her t rademark bit ch look, but Ash T hompson w as chat t ing w it h anot her boy. Huh. Was he a Luxen? T here w eren’t many t heir age, but I doubt ed Ash in all her supremeness w ould be smiling at a human boy. My gaze moved aw ay from t heir t able, scanning t he rest of t he cafet eria. Mr. Garrison st ood by t he double doors t o t he library, but he w as st aring at a t able full of jocks w ho w ere making some int ricat e designs w it h t heir mashed pot at oes. No one else even remot ely looked in our direct ion. I shook my head, feeling foolish for being w eirded out over not hing. It w asn’t like an Arum w as going t o bum-rush t he high school cafet eria. Maybe I w as coming dow n w it h somet hing. My hands shook a lit t le as I reached for t he chain around my neck. T he obsidian w as cool against my skin, comfort ing—a herald of safet y. So I needed t o st op freaking out . Maybe t hat w as w hy I w as light headed and dizzy. It surely had not hing t o do w it h t he boy sit t ing beside me. … There were several packages waiting for me at the post office and I only barely squealed. They were advanced reader copies from other bloggers passing t hem along for review . And I w as, like, w hat ever. Sure evidence I w as coming dow n w it h mad cow disease. T he t rip home w as t ort urous. My hands felt w eak. My t hought s w ere scat t ered. Gat hering my mail close t o my chest , I ignored t he w ay t he skin on t he back of my neck t ingled as I climbed t he porch st eps. And I also ignored six feet and t hen some of boy leaning against t he railing. “You didn’t come st raight home aft er school.” Annoyance colored his t one. Like he w as my ow n screw ed-up, super-hot version of t he Secret Service and I’d managed t o evade him.

I dug out my keys w it h my free hand. “Obviously I had t o go t o t he post office.” I pushed open t he door and dropped t he pile on t he t able inside t he foyer. Of course, he w as right behind me, not w ait ing for an invit e. “Y our mail could’ve w ait ed.” Daemon follow ed me int o t he kit chen. “W hat is it ? Just books?” Grabbing t he OJ from t he fridge, I sighed. People w ho didn’t heart books didn’t underst and. “Y eah, it w as just books.” “I know t here probably aren’t any Arum around right now , but you can never be t oo careful, and you have a t race on you t hat w ill lead t hem right t o our doorst eps. Right now , t hat ’s more import ant t han your books.” Nah, books w ere more import ant t han t he Arum. I poured myself a glass, t oo t ired t o get int o it w it h Daemon. We hadn’t mast ered t he art of polit e conversat ion yet . “Drink?” He sighed. “Sure. Milk?” I gest ured at t he fridge. “Help yourself.” “Y ou offered. Y ou’re not going t o get it for me?” “I offered orange juice,” I replied, t aking my glass t o t he t able. “Y ou picked milk. And keep it dow n. My mom’s asleep.” Mut t ering under his breat h, he grabbed a glass of milk. As he sat beside me, I realized he w as w earing black sw eat s, w hich reminded me of t he last t ime he’d been in my house dressed like t hat . We’d got t en int o it . Our argument had t urned int o a st eamy make-out session st raight from one of t hose cheesy romance novels I read. T he encount er st ill kept me up lat e at night . Not t hat I’d ever admit it . It w as so hot , Daemon’s alien mojo had blow n most of t he light bulbs in t he house and had fried my lapt op. I really missed my lapt op and my blog. Mom promised me a new comput er for my birt hday. T w o more w eeks… I fiddled w it h my glass, not looking up. “Can I ask you a quest ion?” “Depends,” he replied smoot hly. “Do you…feel anyt hing around me?” “Ot her t han w hat I felt t his morning w hen I saw how good you looked in t hose jeans?” “Daemon.” I sighed, t rying t o disregard t he girl in me t hat screamed, HE NOT ICED ME! “I’m being serious.” His long fingers idly t raced circles on t he w ooden t able. “T he back of my neck get s all w arm and t ingly. Is t hat w hat you’re t alking about ?” I peeked up. A half smile played across his lips. “Y eah, you feel it , t oo?”

“W henever w e’re near.” “It doesn’t bot her you?” “Does it bot her you?” I w asn’t sure w hat t o say. T he t ingling w asn’t painful or anyt hing, just w eird. But w hat it symbolized did bot her me—t he damn connect ion w e knew not hing about . Even our heart s w ere beat ing t he same. “It could be a…side effect of t he healing.” Daemon w at ched me over t he rim of his glass. I bet he’d look hot w it h a milk must ache. “Are you feeling w ell?” he asked. Not really. “W hy?” “Y ou look like crap.” Any ot her t ime his comment w ould’ve st art ed a w ar in t his house, but I just set my half-empt y glass dow n. “I t hink I’m coming dow n w it h somet hing.” His brow s furrow ed. T he concept of being sick w as foreign t o Daemon. T he Luxen didn’t get sick. Like, ever. “W hat ’s w rong w it h you?” “I don’t know . I probably got alien coot ies.” Daemon snort ed. “Doubt ful. I can’t afford for you t o be sick. W e need t o get you out side and t ry t o w ork your t race off. Unt ill t hen, you’re a—” “If you say I’m a w eakness, I w ill hurt you.” Anger pushed dow n t he nausea in my st omach. “I t hink I proved t hat I’m not , especially w hen I led Baruck aw ay from your house and I killed him.” I st ruggled t o keep my voice low . “Just because I’m human doesn’t mean I’m w eak.” He sat back, brow s inching up his forehead. “I w as going t o say t hat unt ill t hen, you’re at risk.” “Oh.” My cheeks flushed. W hoops. “W ell, t hen, I’m st ill not w eak.” One second Daemon w as sit t ing at t he t able and t he next he w as beside me, kneeling dow n. He had t o look up slight ly t o see my face. “I know you’re not w eak. You’ve proven yourself. And w hat you did t his w eekend, t apping int o our pow ers? I st ill can’t figure out how t hat happened, but you’re not w eak. Ever.” W hoa. It w as hard t o st ick t o my resolve of not caving t o t he ridiculous not ion of us being t oget her w hen he w as act ually… nice, and w hen he st ared at me like I w as t he last piece of chocolat e in t he w hole w orld. W hich made me t hink of t hat damn chocolat e chip cookie in his mout h.

T he side of his lips t w it ched as if he knew w hat I w as t hinking and w as fight ing a smile. Not t hat lit t le smirk of his, but a real smile. And suddenly he w as st anding, t ow ering over me. “Now I need you t o prove you’re not w eak. Get off your but t and let ’s w ork off some of t hat t race.” I groaned. “Daemon, I’m really not feeling w ell.” “Kat …” “And I’m not saying t hat t o be difficult . I feel like hurling.” He folded his muscular arms, st ret ching his Under Armour shirt across his chest . “It ’s not safe for you t o be running around w hen you look like a damn light house. As long as you carry t he t race, you can’t do anyt hing. Go anyw here.” I pushed up from t he t able, ignoring t he rolling in my st omach. “I’ll get changed.” Surprise w idened his eyes as he st epped back. “Caving in so easily?” “Caving in?” I laughed w it hout feeling. “I just w ant you out of my face.” Daemon chuckled deeply. “Keep t elling yourself t hat , Kit t en.” “Keep using your ego st eroids.” In a blink of an eye, he w as in front of me, blocking my exit . T hen he prow led forw ard, head low ered and eyes full of int ent . I backed up unt ill my hands found t he edge of t he kit chen t able. “W hat ?” I demanded. Placing his hands on eit her side of my hips, he bent forw ard. His breat h w as w arm against my cheek and our eyes locked. He moved a fract ion of an inch closer, and his lips brushed my chin. A st rangled gasp escaped t he back of my t hroat , and I sw ayed t ow ard him. A heart beat lat er, Daemon pulled back, chuckling smugly. “Y eah…not my ego, Kit t en. Go get ready.” Dammit ! Giving him t he finger, I left t he kit chen and w ent upst airs. My skin st ill felt clammy and gross and it had not hing t o do w it h w hat happened, but I changed int o a pair of sw eat s and a t hermal. Running w as t he last t hing I w ant ed t o do. Not like I expect ed Daemon t o care I w asn’t feeling w ell. He only cared about himself and his sist er. T hat’s not true, w hispered an insidious, annoying voice in my head. But maybe that voice w as correct. He had healed me w hen he could’ve left me t o die and I had heard his t hought s, heard him begging me not t o leave him.

Eit her w ay, I had t o sw allow t he urge t o puke and go for a fun jog. Some sixt h sense knew t his w asn’t going t o end w ell.

Chapter 2
I last ed t w ent y minut es. W it h t he uneven t errain of t he w oods, t he brisk November w ind, and t he boy next t o me, I couldn’t do it . Leaving him halfw ay t o t he lake, I speed w alked all t he w ay back t o t he house. Daemon called out t o me a couple of t imes, but I ignored him. W it hin a minut e of reaching my bat hroom, I t hrew up—t he clut ching-t he-t oilet , on-my-knees, t ears-st reamingdow n-my-face kind of hurling. It w as so bad I w oke up Mom. She hurried int o t he bat hroom, pulling my hair back. “How long have you been feeling sick, honey? A few hours, all day, or just now ?” Mom—ever t he nurse. “On and off all day,” I moaned, rest ing my head against t he t ub. T sking under her breath, she placed her hand against my forehead. “Honey, you’re burning up.” She grabbed a tow ell and ran it under the tap. “I should probably call in t o w ork—” “No, I’m okay.” I t ook t he t ow ell from her, pressing it against my forehead. T he coolness w as w onderful. “It ’s just t he flu. And I feel bet t er already.” Mom clucked over me unt ill I got up and t ook a show er. Changing int o a long sleep shirt t ook an absurd amount of t ime. T he room did a T ilt -a-W hirl on me as I climbed under t he covers, and I squeezed my eyes shut and w ait ed for Mom t o ret urn. “Here’s your phone and some w at er.” She placed bot h on t he t able and sat beside me. “Open up.” Prying one eye open, I saw a t hermomet er shoved at my face. I obedient ly opened my mout h. “Depending on how high your t emperat ure is, w e w ill det ermine if I’m st aying home,” she t old me. “It ’s probably just t he flu, but …” “Mmm,” I groaned. She gave me a bland look and w ait ed unt ill t he t hing beeped. “One hundred and one. I w ant you t o t ake t his.” Pausing, she handed me t w o pills. I dow ned t hem, no quest ions asked. “T he t emp isn’t t hat bad, but I w ant you t o st ay in bed and rest . I’ll call and check on you before t en, okay?” I nodded and t hen snuggled dow n. Sleep w as all I needed. She folded up anot her damp clot h and placed it over my forehead. I closed my eyes, almost cert ain I w as approaching st age one of a zombie infect ion.

A w eird fog ent ered my brain. I slept , w aking up once t o check in w it h Mom, and t hen again past midnight . T he night shirt w as damp, clinging t o my feverish skin. I w ent t o push t he blanket s off and not iced t hey w ere across t he room, covering my clut t ered comput er desk. Cold sw eat dot t ed my forehead as I sat up. My t humping heart echoed in my head, heavy and errat ic. Tw o beat s at once, it seemed. My skin felt st ret ched t ight over my muscles—hot and prickly. I st ood, and t he room spun. I w as so hot , burning up from t he inside. My insides felt as if t hey’d melt ed int o goo. My t hought s ran int o one anot her, a never-ending t rain of nonsense. All I knew w as t hat I needed t o cool dow n. T he door t o t he hall w ay sw ung open, beckoning me. I didn’t know w here I w as going, but I st umbled dow n t he hall and t hen dow nst airs. T he front door w as like a beacon, promising relief. It w ould be cold out side. T hen I w ould be cold. But it w asn’t enough. I st ood on t he porch, t he w ind blow ing my damp shirt and hair back. St ars lined t he night sky, int ensely bright . I low ered my gaze and t he t rees lining t he road shift ed colors. Y ell ow . Gold. Red. T hen t hey t urned a mut ed shade of brow n. I w as dreaming, I realized. In a daze, I st epped off t he porch. Pieces of gravel poked at my feet , but I kept w alking, t he moonlight leading t he w ay. Several t imes t he w orld felt like it t urned upside dow n, but I pushed on. It didn’t t ake me long t o reach t he lake. Under t he pale light , t he onyx-colored w at er rippled. I moved forw ard, st opping w hen my t oes sunk t hrough loose dirt . Prickling heat scorched my skin as I st ood t here. Burning. Sw elt ering. “Kat ?” Slow ly, I t urned. W ind w hipped around me as I st ared at t he apparit ion. Moonlight sliced his face in shadow s, reflect ing in his w ide, bright eyes. He couldn’t be real. “W hat are you doing, Kit t en?” Daemon asked. He seemed fuzzy. Daemon w as never fuzzy. Fast and blurry somet imes, yes, but never fuzzy. “I…I need t o cool dow n.” Underst anding shot across his face. “Don’t you dare go int o t hat lake.” I moved backw ard. Icy w at er lapped at my ankles and t hen my knees. “W hy?”

“W hy?” He t ook a st ep forw ard. “It ’s t oo cold. Kit t en, don’t make me come in t here and get you.” My head t hrobbed. Brain cells w ere definit ely melt ing. I sunk fart her dow n. Cold w at er soot hed t he burning in my skin. It w ashed over my head, st ealing my breat h and t he fire. T he burn eased, nearly fading. I could st ay under here forever. Maybe I w ould. St rong, solid arms surrounded me, pulling me back t o t he surface. Frigid air rushed me, but my lungs w ere seared. I dragged in deep gulps, hoping t o ext inguish t he flames. Daemon w as pulling me out of t he blessed w at er, moving so fast I w as in t he w at er one second and st anding on shore t he next . “W hat ’s w rong w it h you?” he demanded, grasping my shoulders and giving me a light shake. “Have you lost your mind?” “Don’t .” I pushed at him w eakly. “I’m so hot .” His int ense gaze drift ed dow n t o my t oes. “Yeah, you’re hot . T he w hole w et w hit e shirt … It ’s w orking, Kit t en, but a midnight sw im in November? T hat ’s a lit t le daring, don’t you t hink?” He w asn’t making sense. T he reprieve w as over, and my skin w as burning again. I st umbled from his hands, back t ow ard t he lake. His arms w ere around me before I t ook t w o st eps, t urning me around. “Kat , you can’t get in t he lake. It ’s t oo cold. You’re going t o get sick.” He brushed back t he hair plast ered t o my cheeks. “Hell —sicker t han you already are. Y ou’re burning up.” Somet hing in w hat he said cleared a bit of t he haze. I leaned int o him, pressing my cheek int o his chest . He smelled w onderful. Like spice and man. “I don’t w ant you.” “Uh, now is not t he t ime t o get int o t hat conversat ion.” T his w as just a dream. I sighed, w rapping my arms around his t aut w aist . “But I do w ant you.” Daemon’s arms t ight ened around me. “I know , Kit t en. Y ou aren’t fooling anyone. Come on.” Let t ing go, my arms hung limply at my sides. “I…I don’t feel good.” “Kat .” He pulled back. Bot h hands w ere on my face, holding my head up. “Kat , look at me.” I w asn’t looking at him? My legs gave out . And t hen t here w as not hing. No Daemon. No t hought s. No fire. No Kat y. … Things were hazy, disjointed. Warm hands kept the hair back from my face. Fingers smoothed over my cheek. A deep voice spoke to me in a language t hat w as musical and soft . Like a song, but …more beaut iful and comfort ing. I sunk int o t he sound, lost for a lit t le w hile.

I heard voices. Once, I t hought I heard Dee. “Y ou can’t . It ’ll just make t he t race w orse.” I w as moved around. Wet clot hing st ripped aw ay. Somet hing w arm and soft slid over my skin. I t ried t alking t o t he voices around me, and maybe I did. I w asn’t sure. At some point , I w as w rapped in a cloud and carried somew here. A st eady heart beat under my cheek, lulling me unt ill t he voices faded and cool hands event ually replaced t he w arm ones. Bright light s int ruded. I heard more voices. Mom? Mom sounded w orried. She w as t alking t o…someone. Someone I didn’t recognize. He had t he cool hands. T here w as a prick in my arm, a dull pain t hat radiat ed t o my fingers. More hushed voices, and t hen I heard not hing. T here w as no day or night , but t his w eird in-bet w een w here a fire raged in my body. T hen t he cool hands w ere back, pulling my arm out from underneat h t he covers. I didn’t hear Mom as I felt t he prick again on my skin. Heat sw ept inside me, rushing t hrough my veins. Gasping, I arched my back off t he bed, and a st rangled scream escaped t he back of my t hroat . Everyt hing burned. A fire raged inside me t en t imes w orse t han before, and I knew I w as dying. I had t o be… And t hen t here w as a coolness in my veins, like a rush of w int er’s air. It moved quickly, dousing t he flames and leaving a t rail of ice in it s w ake. T he hands moved t o my neck, t ugging somet hing up. A chain…my necklace? T he hands w ere gone, but I felt t he obsidian humming, vibrat ing above me. And t hen I slept for w hat felt like an et ernit y, not cert ain I w as ever going t o w ake up. … Four days of being in the hospital, and I had next to no recolection of any of it. Only that I woke up Wednesday in an uncomfortable bed, staring at a w hit e ceiling and feeling fine. Great , even. Mom had been by my side, and it t ook a heft y amount of bit ching t o get released aft er I spent all day T hursday t elling anyone w ho came w it hin a block of my door t hat I w ant ed t o go home. I’d obviously had a bad case of t he flu, not somet hing serious. Now Mom w at ched me w it h shadow ed eyes as I dow ned t he glass of orange juice from our fridge. She w as in jeans and a light sw eat er. It w as odd seeing her out of her scrubs. “Honey, are you sure you’re feeling w ell enough t o go back t o class? You can t ake t oday off and go back on Monday if you w ant .” I shook my head. Missing t hree days of classes already earned me t he t ruckload of homew ork Dee had dropped off last night . “I’m fine.” “Honey, you w ere in t he hospit al. Y ou should t ake it easy.”

I w ashed out t he cup. “I’m okay. Really, I am.” “I know you t hink you’re feeling bet t er.” She fixed my cardigan w hich I’d apparent ly but t oned w rong. “W ill —Dr. Michaels—may have cleared you t o go home, but you scared me. I’ve never seen you so sick. W hy don’t I give him a quick call and see if he can check on you before he goes in for his rounds?” Even more bizarre w as t hat my mom w as now referring t o my doct or on a first -name basis—t heir relat ionship had t aken a t rip int o serious land, it seemed, and I’d missed it . Grabbing my backpack, I st opped. “Mom?” “Y es?” “You came home in t he middle of t he night Monday, right ? Before your shift ended?” W hen she shook her head, I w as even more confused. “How did I get t o t he hospit al?” “Are you sure you’re feeling okay?” She placed her hand on my forehead. “Y ou don’t have a fever, but … Y our friend brought you t o t he hospit al.” “My friend?” “Yes, Daemon brought you in. Alt hough, I’m curious how he knew you w ere so sick at t hree in t he morning.” Her eyes narrow ed. “Act ually, I’m very curious.” Oh, crap. “So am I.”

Chapter 3
I’d never been more eager t o get t o t rig in my life. How in t he hell had Daemon know n I w as sick? T he dream I had about t he lake couldn’t have been real. No w ay. If it w as…I w as going t o…I didn’t know w hat I’d do, but I w as sure my flaming cheeks w ould be involved. Lesa w as t he first t o arrive. “Y ay! Y ou’re back! How are you feeling? Bet t er?” “Y eah, I’m doing okay.” My eyes dart ed t o t he door. A few seconds lat er, Carissa came in. She t ugged on a st rand of my hair as she passed, smiling. “I’m glad you’re feeling bet t er. We w ere all w orried. Especially w hen w e st opped by t o visit and you w ere complet ely out of it .” I w ondered w hat I’d done in front of t hem t hat I couldn’t remember. “Do I even w ant t o know ?” Lesa giggled, pulling out her t ext book. “Y ou mumbled a lot . And you kept calling out for someone.” Oh, no. “I did?”

T aking pit y on me, Carissa kept her voice low . “Y ou w ere calling out for Daemon.” I dropped my face in my hands and moaned. “Oh, God.” Lesa giggled. “It w as kind of cut e.” A minut e before t he t ardy bell rang, I felt an all-t oo-familiar w armt h on my neck and glanced up. Daemon sw aggered int o class. Text book-less as usual. He had a not ebook, but I don’t t hink he ever w rot e anyt hing in it . I w as beginning t o suspect our mat h t eacher w as an alien, because how else w ould Daemon get aw ay w it h not doing a damn t hing in class? He passed by w it hout so much as a look. I t w ist ed around in my chair. “I need t o t alk t o you.” He slid int o his desk chair. “Okay.” “In privat e,” I w hispered. His expression didn’t change as he leaned back in his chair. “Meet me in t he library at lunch. No one really goes in t here. You know , w it h all t hose books and st uff.” I made a face before flipping t o t he front of t he class. Maybe five seconds lat er, I felt his pen poking me in t he back. Taking a deep, pat ient breat h, I faced him. Daemon had his desk t ipped forw ard. Inches separat ed us. “Y es?” He grinned. “Y ou look a lot bet t er t han t he last t ime I saw you.” “T hanks,” I grumbled. His gaze flickered around me, and I knew w hat he w as doing. He w as looking at t he t race. “Know w hat ?” I cocked my head t o t he side, w ait ing. “Y ou’re not glow ing,” he w hispered. Surprised, I let my jaw fall slack. I’d been shining like a disco ball on Monday and now I didn’t have a t race? “Like, at all?” He shook his head. T he t eacher st art ed t he class, so I had t o face t he front again, but I w asn’t paying at t ent ion. My mind w as st uck on t he fact I w asn’t glow ing anymore. I should be—no, I w as ecst at ic, but t he connect ion, it w as st ill t here. My hope t hat it w ould fade along w it h t he t race w as t ot all bunk. Aft er class, I asked t he girls t o let Dee know I’d be lat e for lunch. Since t hey’d overheard part of t he conversat ion, Carissa w as full of giggles and Lesa launched int o her fant asy about

doing it in t he library. Somet hing I didn’t need t o know . Or t hink about . But now I w as, because I could so pict ure Daemon get t ing int o t hat sort of t hing. Morning classes dragged. Mr. Garrison gave me t he usual unt rust w ort hy glance t hroughout biology aft er his eyes w idened upon seeing me. He w as like t he unofficial guardian of t he Luxen living out side of t he alien colony. T he non-glow y version of me seemed t o get as much at t ent ion as t he glow y version. Probably had more t o do w it h t he fact he w asn’t t oo happy t hat I knew w hat t hey really w ere. T he door opened just as he w ent for t he project or, and a boy w alked in, w earing a vint age Pac-Man shirt —w hich w as made of aw esome. A low murmur w ent t hrough t he classroom as t he st ranger handed Mr. Garrison a not e. He w as new , obviously. His brow n hair w as art fully messy, like it w as st yled t hat w ay on purpose. Good looking, t oo, w it h golden-colored skin and a confident grin on his face. “It seems w e have a new st udent ,” Mr. Garrison said, dropping t he not e on his desk. “Blake Saunders from…?” “California,” t he boy supplied. “Sant a Monica.” Several oohs and ahhs follow ed t hat . Lesa sat up st raight er. Y ay. I’d no longer be t he “new kid.” “All right , Blake from Sant a Monica.” Mr. Garrison scanned t he classroom, his gaze st opping on t he empt y seat beside me. “T here’s your seat and your lab part ner. Have fun.” My eyes narrow ed on Mr. Garrison, not sure if “Have fun” w as a t hinly veiled insult or a secret hope t he non-alien boy w ould dist ract me from t he alien one. Appearing oblivious t o t he curious st ares, Blake t ook his seat next t o me and smiled. “Hi.” “Hi. I’m Kat y from Florida.” I grinned. “Now know n as ’no longer t he new kid.’” “Ah, I see.” He glanced up t o w here Mr. Garrison w as w heeling t he project or t o t he middle of t he classroom. “small t ow n, not many faces, everyone st ares kind of t hing?” “Y ou got it .” He laughed soft ly. “Good. I w as beginning t o t hink somet hing w as w rong w it h me.” He pulled out a not ebook, his arm brushing mine. A st at ic charge shocked me. “Sorry about t hat .” “T ot ally okay,” I t old him.

Blake gave me one more quick grin before t urning his gaze t o t he front of t he classroom. Fiddling w it h t he chain around my neck, I sneaked a quick peek at t he new boy. W ell, at least bio now had some eye candy. Couldn’t go w rong w it h t hat . … Daemon wasn’t waiting at the double doors to the library. Shouldering my bag, I entered the musty-smeling room. A young librarian glanced up and smiled as I looked around. T he back of my neck w as w arm, but I didn’t see him. Know ing Daemon, he w as probably hiding so no one w ould see His Coolness in a library. I passed a few underclassmen at t he t ables and comput ers eat ing t heir lunches, and t hen roamed around unt ill I found him back in t he nosebleed sect ion—East ern European cult ure. A basic no-man’s-land. He w as lounging in a cubicle beside an out dat ed comput er, hands shoved int o t he pocket s of his faded jeans. A w avy lock of hair covered his forehead, brushing against t hick lashes. His lips curled int o a half smile. “I w as w ondering if you w ere ever going t o find me.” He made no move t o clear up any space in t he t iny 6x6 hole. I dropped my bag out side t he w alls and hopped up on t he desk opposit e him. “Embarrassed someone w ould see you and t hink you’re capable of reading?” “I do have a reput at ion t o maint ain.” “And w hat a lovely reput at ion t hat is.” He st ret ched out his legs so t hat his feet w ere under mine. “So w hat did you w ant t o t alk about ”—his voice low ered t o a deep, sexy w hisper—“in privat e?” I shivered—and it had not hing t o do w it h t he t emperat ure. “Not w hat you’re hoping.” Daemon gave me a sexy smirk. “Okay.” I gripped t he edge of t he desk. “How did you know I w as sick in t he middle of t he night ?” Daemon st ared at me for a moment . “Y ou don’t remember?” His eerie eyes w ere w ay t oo int ense. I dropped my gaze…t o his mout h. W rong move. I st ared at t he map of Europe over his shoulder. Bet t er. “No. Not really.” “W ell, it w as probably t he fever. Y ou w ere burning up.” My eyes snapped back t o his. “Y ou t ouched me?”

“Yes, I t ouched you…and you w eren’t w earing a lot of clot hes.” T he smug st ret ch of his lips spread. “And you w ere soaked…in a w hit e T-shirt . Nice look. Very nice.” Heat crept over my cheeks. “T he lake…it w asn’t a dream?” Daemon shook his head. “Oh my God, so I did go sw imming in t he lake?” He pushed off t he desk and t ook one st ep forw ard, w hich put him in t he same breat hing space as me…if he act ually needed t o breat he. “You did. Not somet hing I expect ed t o see on a Monday night , but I’m not complaining. I saw a lot .” “Shut up,” I hissed. “Don’t be embarrassed.” He reached out , t ugging on t he sleeve of my cardigan. I smacked his hand aw ay. “It ’s not like I haven’t seen t he upper part before, and I didn’t get a real good look dow n—” I came off t he desk sw inging. My knuckles only brushed his face before he caught my hand. Wow zers, he w as fast . Daemon pulled me up against his chest and low ered his head, eyes snapping w it h rest rained anger. “Don’t hit , Kit t en. It ’s not nice.” “Y ou’re not nice.” I t ried pulling back, but he kept my w rist secured in his hand. “Let me go.” “I’m not sure I can do t hat . I must prot ect myself.” But he dropped my hand. “Oh, really, t hat ’s your reason for—for manhandling me?” “Manhandling?” He pressed forw ard unt ill my low er back w as against t he cubicle desk. “T his isn’t manhandling or w hat ever t he hell t hat is.” Visions of me against t he w all at my house and Daemon kissing me danced in my head like sugarplums. Part s of my body t ingled. Oh, so not a good sign. “Daemon, someone is going t o see us.” “So?” He gent ly picked up my hand. “Not like anyone is going t o say a t hing t o me.” I drew in a deep breat h. His scent w as on my t ongue. Our chest s t ouched. Body said yes. Kat y said no. I w asn’t affect ed by t his. Not by how close w e w ere or how his fingers w ere sliding under t he sleeve of my cardigan. It w asn’t real. “So my t race has faded, but t his st upid connect ion hasn’t ?” “Nope.” Disappoint ed, I shook my head. “W hat does t hat mean, t hen?”

“I don’t know .” His fingers w ere complet ely under my sleeve, smoot hing up my forearm. His skin—it hummed like elect ricit y. T here w as not hing like it . “W hy do you keep t ouching me?” I asked, flust ered. “I like t o.” God, I liked it , t oo, and I shouldn’t . “Daemon…” “But back t o t he t race. Y ou know w hat t hat means.” “T hat I don’t have t o see your face out side of school?” He laughed, and it rumbled t hrough me. “Y ou’re no longer at risk.” Somehow , and I really haven’t a clue how , my free hand w as against his chest . His heart beat w as fast and st rong. So did mine. “I t hink t he not seeing-your-face part out w eighs t he safe part .” “Keep t elling yourself t hat .” His chin brushed my hair and t hen slid over my cheek. I shivered. A spark passed from his skin t o mine, humming in t he charged air around us. “If t hat makes you feel bet t er, but w e bot h know it ’s a lie.” “It ’s not a lie.” I t ipped my head back. His breat h w as a w arm st roke against my lips. “W e’re st ill going t o be seeing each ot her,” he murmured. “And don’t even lie. I know t hat makes you happy. Y ou t old me you w ant ed me.” Hold your horses. “W hen?” “At t he lake.” He slant ed his head, and I should’ve pulled back. His lips curved know ingly against mine, and he let go of my w rist . “You said you w ant ed me.” Bot h of my hands w ere on his chest . T hey had a mind of t heir ow n. I claimed no responsibilit y for t hem. “I had a fever. Lost my mind.” “W hat ever, Kit t en.” Daemon gripped my hips, lift ing me ont o t he edge of t he desk w it h an ease t hat w as dist urbing. “I know bet t er.” My breat h w as coming in short gasps. “Y ou don’t know anyt hing.” “Uh huh. You know , I w as w orried about you,” he admit t ed, moving forw ard, easing my legs apart . “You kept calling out my name, and I kept answ ering, but it w as like you couldn’t hear me.” W hat w ere w e t alking about ? My hands w ere on his low er st omach. His muscles w ere hard underneat h t he sw eat er. I slid my hands t o his sides, t ot ally meaning t o push him aw ay. Inst ead, I gripped and pulled him forw ard. “W ow , I must ’ve been really out of it .”

“It …scared me.” Before I could respond or even give t hought t o t he fact t hat my sickness act ually scared him, our lips met . My brain clicked off as my fingers dug t hrough his sw eat er, and…and oh, God, his kisses w ere deep, scorching my lips as his hands t ight ened on my w aist , pulling me against him. Daemon kissed like he w as a man st arving for w at er, t aking long, breat hless draft s. His t eet h caught my low er lip w hen he pulled aw ay, only t o come back for more. A heady mix of emot ions w arred inside me. I didn’t w ant t his, because it w as just t he connect ion bet w een us. I kept t elling myself t hat , even as I slid my hands up his chest and circled t hem around his neck. W hen his hands inched under my shirt , it w as as t hough he reached deep inside me, w arming every cell, filling every dark space w it hin me w it h t he heat from his skin. Touching him, kissing him, w as like having a fever all over again. I w as on fire. My body burned. T he w orld burned. Sparks flew . Against his mout h, I moaned. T here w as a POP! and CRACK! T he smell of burned plast ic filled t he cubicle. We pulled apart , breat hing heavily. Over his shoulder I saw t hin st rips of smoke w aft ing from t he t op of t he ancient monit or. Good God, w as t his going t o happen every t ime w e kissed? And w hat in t he hell w as I doing? I’d decided I w asn’t going t o let t his happen w it h Daemon, w hich meant no kissing…or t ouching. T he w ay he’d t reat ed me w hen w e first met st ill st ung. T he pain and embarrassment lingered in me. I pushed him. Hard. Daemon let go, st aring at me like I’d kicked his puppy int o t raffic. Looking aw ay, I w iped t he back of my hand over my mout h. It didn’t w ork. Everyt hing about him w as st ill around me, in me. “God, I don’t even like t his—kissing you.” Daemon st raight ened, coming t o his full height . “I beg t o differ. And I t hink t his comput er t ells a different st ory, t oo.” I shot him a dirt y look. “T hat —t hat w ill never happen again.” “And I t hink you’ve said t hat before,” he reminded me. W hen he saw my expression, he sighed. “Kat , you enjoyed t hat —just as much as I did. W hy lie?” “Because it ’s not real,” I said. “Y ou didn’t w ant me before.” “I did—” “Don’t you dare say you w ant ed me, because you t reat ed me like I w as t he Ant ichrist ! You can’t just undo t hat because t here’s a st upid connect ion bet w een us.” I sucked in a sharp breat h as an icky feeling spread t hrough my chest . “You really hurt me t hen. I don’t t hink you even know . Y ou humiliat ed me in front of an ent ire lunch room!”

Daemon looked aw ay, dragging his fingers t hrough his hair. A muscle popped out in his jaw . “I know . I’m…I’m sorry for how I t reat ed you, Kat .” Shocked, I st ared at him. Daemon never apologized. Like, ever. Maybe he really… I shook my head. His apology w asn’t enough. “Even now , w e’re all t he w ay hidden in t he library, as if you don’t w ant people t o know you made a mist ake t hat day and act ed like a dick. And I’m supposed t o be okay w it h t hat now ?” His eyes w idened. “Kat —” “I’m not saying w e can’t be friends, because I w ant t o. I do like you a lo—” I cut myself off before I said t oo much. “Look, t his didn’t happen. I’m going t o blame aft ereffect s of t he flu or t hat a zombie at e my brain.” His brow s furrow ed. “W hat ?” “I don’t w ant t his w it h you.” I st art ed t o t urn, but he caught my arm. I glared at him. “Daemon…” He looked at me st raight on. “Y ou’re a t errible liar. Y ou do w ant t his. Just as badly as I do.” My mout h opened, but no w ords came out . “Y ou w ant t his as badly as you w ant t o go t o ALA t his w int er.” Now my jaw w as on t he floor. “Y ou don’t even know w hat ALA is!” “T he American Library Associat ion midw int er event ,” he said, grinning proudly. “Saw you obsessing over it on your blog before you got sick. I’m pret t y sure you said you’d give up your first born child t o go.” Y eah, I kind of did say t hat . Daemon’s eyes flashed. “Anyw ay, back t o t he w hole you-w ant ing-me part .” I shook my head, dumbfounded. “Y ou do w ant me.” T aking a deep breat h, I st ruggled w it h my t emper…and my amusement . “Y ou are w ay t oo confident .” “I’m confident enough t o w ager a bet .” “Y ou can’t be serious.” He grinned. “I bet t hat by New Y ear’s Day, you w ill have admit t ed t hat you’re madly, deeply, and irrevocably—” “W ow . W ant t o t hrow anot her adverb out t here?” My cheeks w ere burning.

“How about irresist ibly?” I rolled my eyes and mut t ered, “I’m surprised you know w hat an adverb is.” “St op dist ract ing me, Kit t en. Back t o my bet —by New Year’s Day, you’ll have admit t ed t hat you’re madly, deeply, irrevocably, and irresist ibly in love w it h me.” St unned, I choked on my laugh. “And you dream about me.” He released my arm and folded his across his chest , cocking an eyebrow . “I bet you’ll admit t hat . Probably even show me your not ebook w it h my name circled in heart s—” “Oh, for t he love of God…” Daemon w inked. “It ’s on.” Spinning around, I grabbed my backpack and hurried t hrough t he st acks, leaving Daemon in t he cubicle before I did somet hing insane. Like t hrow common sense aside and run back t o t ackle him, pret ending t hat everyt hing he’d done and said all t hose mont hs ago hadn’t left a raw mark on my heart . Because I’d be pret ending, right ? I didn’t slow unt ill I w as st anding in front of my locker on t he ot her side of t he school. I reached inside my backpack and pulled out my binder full of art crap. W hat a hell of a day back. I’d dazed out in half of my classes, made out w it h Daemon, and blew up anot her comput er. Seriously. I should’ve st ayed home. I reached for t he handle on my locker. Before my fingers could t ouch it , t he locker sw ung open. Gasping, I jumped back, and my art binder fell t o t he floor. Oh my God, w hat just happened? It couldn’t be… My heart rat e w ent int o cardiac arrest t errit ory. Daemon? He could manipulat e object s. Opening a locker door w it h his mind w ould be a piece of cake for him, considering he could uproot t rees. I looked around t he t hinning crow ds, but I already knew he w asn’t t here. I hadn’t felt him t hrough our creepy alien bond. I backed aw ay from t he locker. “W hoa, w at ch w here you’re going,” a t easing voice int ruded. Sucking in a sharp gasp, I w hipped around. Simon Cut t ers st ood behind me, clenching a ragged backpack in his meat y fist .

“Sorry,” I croaked, glancing back at t he locker. Had he seen t hat happen? I knelt t o pick up my art w ork, but he beat me t o it . Epic aw kw ardness ensued as w e t ried t o pick up t he papers w it hout t ouching each ot her. Simon handed me a st ack of crapt ast ic draw ings of flow ers. I had no art ist ic t alent . “Here you go.” “T hanks.” I st ood, shoving my binder int o t he locker, ready t o flee. “W ait a sec.” He grabbed my arm. “I w ant ed t o t alk t o you.” My eyes dropped t o his hand. He had five seconds before my point y-t oed shoe ended up bet w een his legs. He seemed t o sense t his, because he dropped his hand and flushed. “I just w ant t o apologize for everyt hing t hat happened homecoming night . I w as drunk and I…I do st upid t hings w hen I’m drunk.” I glared at him. “T hen maybe you should st op drinking.” “Yeah, maybe I should.” He ran his hand over his closely cropped hair. Light reflect ed off t he blue and gold w at ch around his t hick w rist . Somet hing w as engraved on t he band, but I couldn’t make it out . “Anyw ay, I just didn’t —” “Yo, Simon, w hat are you doing?” Billy Crump, a beady-eyed foot ball player w ho only seemed t o not ice my boobs w hen he looked in my direct ion, sidled up next t o Simon. He w as closely follow ed by a rabid pack of t eammat es. Billy grinned as his gaze zeroed in on me. “Hey…w hat do w e have here?” Simon opened his mout h, but one of t he guys beat him t o it . “Let me guess. She’s t rying t o get on your jock again?” Several guys chuckled and elbow ed one anot her. I blinked at Simon. “Excuse me?” T he t ips of Simon’s cheeks t urned ruddy as Billy lurched forw ard, dropping his arm over my shoulder. T he scent of his cologne nearly knocked me out . “Look, babe, Simon ain’t int erest ed in you.” One of t he guys laughed. “Like my mama alw ays said, w hy buy t he cow w hen t he milk’s for free?” A slow rush of fury inched t hrough my veins. W hat t he hell w as Simon t elling t hese douchebags? I shrugged out from underneat h Billy’s arm. “T his milk isn’t for free and w asn’t even for sale.” “T hat ’s not w hat w e hear.” Billy fist -pumped a red-faced Simon. “Isn’t t hat right , Cut t ers?” All of Simon’s friends’ eyes w ere on him. He choked out a laugh and st epped back, sw inging

his backpack over his shoulder. “Yeah, man, but not int erest ed in a second glass. I w as t rying t o t ell her t hat , but she w ouldn’t list en.” My mout h dropped. “Y ou lying son of a—” “W hat ’s going on dow n t here?” Coach Vincent called from t he end of t he hall w ay. “Shouldn’t you boys be in class by now ?” Laughing, t he guys broke apart and headed dow n t he hall. One of t hem spun around, mot ioning a “call me” hand signal w hile anot her made a rat her obscene gest ure w it h his mout h and hand. I w ant ed t o slam my fist int o somet hing. But Simon w asn’t my biggest problem. I faced my locker again, w incing as my st omach dropped t o my t oes. It had opened by it self.

Chapter 4
Mom w as gone, already having st art ed her shift in W inchest er earlier t hat day. I’d been hoping she’d be home so I could chat w it h her for a lit t le w hile and forget about t he w hole locker incident , but I’d forgot t en it w as W ednesday—also know n as Fend For Y ourself Day. A dull ache had t aken up residency behind my eyes, like I st rained somet hing, but I w asn’t sure if t hat w ere possible. It had st art ed aft er t he w hole locker incident and didn’t show signs of st opping. I t hrew a load of clot hes int o t he dryer before realizing t here w ere no dryer sheet s. Fail. Going t o t he linen closet , I rummaged around, hoping t o find somet hing. Giving up, I decided t hat t he only t hing t hat w as going t o make t oday bet t er w as t he sw eet t ea I’d seen in t he fridge t hat morning. Glass shat t ered. I jumped at t he sound and t hen hurried t o t he kit chen, t hinking someone had broken t he w indow from out side, but it w asn’t like w e had a lot of visit ors out here unless it w as a Depart ment Of Defense officer bum rushing t he house. At t hat t hought , my heart t ripped up a lit t le as my gaze w ent t o t he count er below an opened cupboard. One of t he t all, frost ed glasses w as in t hree large pieces on t he count er. Drip. Drip. Drip. Frow ning, I looked around, unable t o figure out t he source of t he noise. Broken glass and w at er dripping… T hen it st ruck me. My pulse sped up as I opened up t he fridge. T he jug of t ea w as on it s side. Lid off. Brow n liquid ran across t he shelf, spilling dow n t he sides. I glanced at t he count er. I’d w ant ed t ea, w hich requires a glass and, w ell, t ea.

“No w ay,” I w hispered, backing up. T here w as no w ay t he act of w ant ing t ea had somehow caused t his. But w hat ot her explanat ion could t here be? It w asn’t like t here w as an alien hiding under t he t able, moving crap around for fun. I checked just t o be sure. T his w as t he second t ime in one day t hat somet hing had moved on it s ow n. T w o coincidences? Numb inside, I grabbed a t ow ell and cleaned up t he mess. T he w hole t ime I w as t hinking about t he locker door. It had opened before I reached it . But it couldn’t be me. Aliens had t he pow er t o do t hat kind of st uff. I didn’t . Maybe t here had been a minor eart hquake or somet hing—a minor eart hquake t hat only t arget ed glasses and t ea? Doubt ful. W eirded out t o t he max, I grabbed a book off t he back of t he couch and spraw led out . I needed a serious dist ract ion. Mom hat ed t hat t here w ere books everyw here. T hey w eren’t really everyw here. Just w herever I w as, like t he couch, recliner, kit chen count ers, laundry room, and even t he bat hroom. It w ouldn’t be like t hat if she caved and inst alled a w all-t o-ceiling bookcase. But no mat t er how I t ried t o get int o t he book I w as reading, it w asn’t w orking. Half of it w as t he book. It had inst a-love, t he bane of my exist ence. Girl sees boy and falls in love. Immediat ely. Soul mat e, breat h st ealing, t oes curling, love aft er one conversat ion. Boy pushes girl aw ay for some paranormal reason or anot her. Girl st ill loves boy. Boy finally admit s love. W ho w as I kidding? I sort of loved all t hat angst . It w asn’t t he book. It w as me. I couldn’t clear my head and fully immerse myself in t he charact ers. I grabbed a bookmark off t he coffee t able and shoved it in t he book. Dog-eared pages w ere Ant ichrist of book lovers everyw here. Ignoring w hat w as happening w asn’t w orking. It just w asn’t in me t o run from my t roubles like t his. Besides, if I w as honest w it h myself, I knew I w as more t han a lit t le freaked out by w hat w as happening. W hat if I w as imagining I w as moving t hings? T he fever could’ve killed off a few brain cells. I dragged in air so fast my head sw am. Could a person get schizophrenia from being sick? Now t hat just sounded st upid.

Sit t ing up, I pressed my head t o my knees. I w as fine. W hat w as happening… T here had t o be a logical explanat ion for it . I hadn’t closed t he locker door all t he w ay and Simon’s lumbering st eps had jarred it open. And t he glass—left on t he edge. And t here w as a good chance t hat Mom had left t he cap on t he t ea loose. She w as alw ays doing st uff like t hat . I t ook several more deep breat hs. I w as okay. Logical explanat ions made t he w orld go around. T he only fault in t hat line of t hought w as t he fact I lived next door t o aliens, and t hat w as so not logical. Pushing off t he couch, I checked t he w indow t o see if Dee’s car w as out front . Pulling on my hoodie, I headed next door. Dee immediat ely pulled me int o t he kit chen. T here w as a sw eet , burned smell. “I’m glad you came over. I w as just about t o come get you,” she said, dropping my arm and rushing over t o t he count er. T here w ere several pot s scat t ered across t he count ert op. “W hat are you doing?” I peered over her shoulder. One of t he pot s looked like it w as filled w it h t ar. “Ew .” Dee sighed. “I w as t rying t o melt chocolat e.” “W it h your microw ave hands?” “It ’s an epic fail.” She poked at t he gunk w it h a spat ula. “I can’t get t he t emp right .” “T hen w hy don’t you just use t he st ove?” “Pfft , I loat he t he st ove.” Dee pulled t he spat ula up. Half of it had melt ed. “W hoops.” “Nice.” I shuffled over t o t he t able. W it h a w ave of her hand, t he pot s flew t o t he sink. T he t ap t urned on. “I’m get t ing bet t er at t his.” She grabbed some dish soap. “W hat w ere you and Daemon doing at lunch?” I hesit at ed. “I w ant ed t o t alk about t he w hole lake t hing. I’d t hought I…dreamed t hat .” Dee cringed. “No, t hat w as real. He got me w hen he brought you back. I w as t he one t o place you in dry clot hes, by t he w ay.” I laughed. “I w as hoping t hat w as you.” “Alt hough he did volunt eer for t he job,” she said, her eyes rolling. “Daemon is so helpful.” “T hat he is. W here…w here is he?” She shrugged. “No clue.” Her eyes narrow ed. “W hy do you keep it ching your arm?” “Huh?” I st opped, not even realizing I w as doing t hat . “Oh, t hey t ook my blood in t he hospit all t o make sure I didn’t have rabies or somet hing.” Laughing, she t ugged up my sleeve. “I have some st uff t hat you can put —holy crap, Kat y.”

“W hat ?” I glanced dow n at my arm and sucked in a breat h. “Y uck.” My ent ire inner elbow looked like a fleshy st raw berry. All t hat w as missing w as a leafy green cap. T he raised splot ches of red skin w ere speckled w it h darker dot s. Dee ran a finger over it . “Does it hurt ?” I shook my head. It just it ched like crazy. She dropped my hand. “All you did w as get your blood t aken?” “Y eah,” I said, st aring at my arm. “T hat ’s really w eird, Kat y. It ’s like you had some kind of react ion t o somet hing. Let me get some aloe. T hat might help.” “Sure.” I frow ned at my arm. W hat could’ve done t his? Dee ret urned w it h a jar of t he cool gunk. It helped w it h t he it ching, and aft er I t ugged my sleeve back dow n, she seemed t o forget about it . I hung out w it h her for t he next couple of hours, w at ching her dest roy one pot aft er anot her. I laughed so hard my st omach hurt w hen Dee leaned t oo close t o a bow ll she w as heat ing and accident ally set her shirt on fire. She’d raised one brow at my larger chest as if t o say she’d like t o have seen me avoid t he same mist ake, sending me int o anot her fit of giggles. W hen she ran out of chocolat e and plast ic spat ulas, Dee finally admit t ed defeat . It w as aft er t en, and I said good-bye as I headed home t o get some rest . It had been a long first day back at school, but I w as glad I’d headed over and ended it hanging w it h Dee. Daemon w as crossing t he road just as I shut t he front door behind me. In less t han a second, he w as on t he t op st ep. “Kit t en.” “Hey.” I avoided his ext raordinary eyes and face, because, w ell, I w as having a real hard t ime not recalling w hat his mout h had felt like on mine earlier. “W here, um, so w hat have you been doing?” “Pat rolling.” He st epped ont o t he porch, and even t hough I w as busy st aring at t he crack in t he w ood floor, I could feel his gaze on my face and t he heat from his body. He st ood close, t oo close. “Everyt hing is all quiet on t he w est ern front .” I cracked a smile. “Nice reference.” W hen he spoke, his breat h t eased t he loose hair around my t emple. “It ’s my favorit e book, act ually.” My head jerked t ow ard his, narrow ly missing a collision. I hid my surprise. “I didn’t know you knew how t o read t he classics.” A lazy smirk appeared, and I’d sw ear he managed t o get closer. Our legs t ouched. His shoulder brushed my arm. “Well, I usually prefer books w it h pict ures and small sent ences, but somet imes I st ep out of t he box.” Unable t o help it , I laughed. “Let me guess, your favorit e kind of pict ure book is t he one you can color in?”

“I never st ay in t he lines.” Daemon w inked. Only he could pull t hat off. “Of course not .” I looked aw ay, sw allow ing. Somet imes it w as t oo easy t o fall int o t he easy bant er w it h him, t oo damn easy t o imagine doing t his w it h him every night . T easing. Laughing. Get t ing in w ay over my head. “I’ve got …t o go.” He sw ung around. “I’ll w alk you home.” “Um, I live right t here.” Not like he didn’t know t hat . Duh. T hat lazy smirk spread. “Hey, I’m being a gent leman.” He offered his arm. “May I?” Laughing under my breat h, I shook my head. But I gave him my arm. T he next t hing I knew , he scooped me up int o his arms. My heart leaped int o my t hroat . “Daemon—” “Did I t ell you I carried you all t he w ay back t o t he house t he night you w ere sick? T hought t hat w as a dream, eh? Nope. Real.” He w ent dow n one st ep as I st ared w ide-eyed at him. “T w ice in one w eek. W e’re making t his a habit .” And t hen he shot off t he porch, t he roar of t he w ind drow ning out my surprised squeal. T he next second, he w as st anding in front of my door, grinning dow n at me. “I w as fast er t he last t ime.” “Really,” I said slow ly, dumbfounded. My cheeks felt numb. “Y ou…going t o put me dow n?” “Mmm.” Our eyes met . T here w as a t ender look in his t hat w armed and fright ened me. “Been t hinking about our bet ? W anna give in now ?” And he t ot ally ruined t hat t ender moment . “Put me dow n, Daemon.” He placed me on my feet , but his arms w ere st ill around me, and I had no idea w hat t o say. “I’ve been t hinking.” “Oh, God…” I murmured. His lips t w it ched. “T his bet really isn’t fair t o you. New Y ear’s Day? Hell, I’ll have you admit t ing your undying devot ion t o me by T hanksgiving.” I rolled my eyes. “I’m sure I’ll hold out unt ill Hall ow een.” “T hat ’s already passed.” “Exact ly,” I mut t ered. Laughing under his breat h, he reached forw ard, t ucking a st rand of hair behind my ear. T he back of his knuckles brushed my cheek and I pressed my lips t oget her t o st op a sigh. W armt h blossomed in my chest , having not hing t o do w it h t he simple t ouch. It had everyt hing t o do w it h t he ache in his gaze. T hen he pivot ed around, t ipping his head back. Moment s passed in silence. “T he st ars… T hey’re beaut iful t onight .”

I follow ed his gaze, a lit t le t hrow n off by his sudden change in t opic. T he sky w as dark, but t here w ere a hundred or so bright dot s glimmering against t he inky night . “Y eah, t hey are.” I bit my lip. “Do t hey remind you of your home?” T here w as a pause. “I w ish t hey did. Memories, even bit t ersw eet ones, are bet t er t han not hing, you know ?” A knot formed in my t hroat . W hy had I asked him t hat ? I knew he didn’t remember anyt hing about his planet . I t ucked my hair back again and st ood beside him, squint ing at t he sky. “T he Elders—do t hey remember anyt hing about Lux?” He nodded. “Have you ever asked t hem t o t ell you about it ?” He st art ed t o respond, t hen laughed. “It is t hat simple, right ? But I t ry t o avoid t he colony as much as possible.” Underst andable, but I w asn’t ent irely sure w hy. Daemon and Dee rarely t alked about t he Luxen t hat remained in t he colony hidden deep w it hin t he forest surrounding Seneca Rocks. “W hat about Mr. Garrison?” “Mat t hew ?” He shook his head. “He w on’t t alk about it . I t hink it ’s t oo hard on him—t he w ar and losing his family.” Tearing my gaze aw ay from t he st ars, I looked up at Daemon. His profile w as harsh and haunt ed. Christ , t hey’d had a t ough life. All of t he Luxen. War had t urned t hem int o refugees. Eart h w as pract ically a host ile planet t o t hem, considering how t hey had t o live. Daemon and Dee couldn’t remember t heir parent s and had lost t heir brot her. Mr. Garrison had lost everyt hing and God only knew how many of t hem shared t he same t ragedy. T he knot w as grow ing bigger in my t hroat . “I’m sorry.” Daemon’s head sw ung t ow ard me sharply. “W hy w ould you apologize?” “I…I’m just sorry for everyt hing…you guys have had t o go t hrough.” And I meant it . He held my gaze for a beat and t hen looked aw ay, laughing under his breat h. T here w as no humor in t he sound, and I w ondered if I’d said somet hing w rong. Probably. “Keep t alking like t hat , Kit t en, and I…” “Y ou w hat ?” Daemon backed off my porch, his smile secret ive. “I’ve decided t o go easy on you. I’ll keep New Y ear’s Day as t he deadline.” I st art ed t o respond, but he w as gone before I could, moving t oo fast for my eyes t o t rack. Placing my hand against my chest , I st ood t here and t ried t o make heads of w hat just happened. For a moment , a crazy moment , t here had been somet hing infinit ely more t han mad animal lust bet w een us. And it scared me. I w ent inside and event ually w as able t o push Daemon t o t he back of my mind. Grabbing my cell, I w ent from room t o room unt ill I got a signal and called Mom, leaving her a message. W

hen she called back, I t old her about my arm. She said I probably bumped it on somet hing, even t hough it didn’t hurt and it w asn’t bruised, eit her. She promised t o bring me home a salve, and I felt bet t er just hearing her voice. I sat on my bed, t rying t o forget about all t he w eird st uff and focus on my hist ory homew ork. T here w as an exam on Monday. St udying on a Friday w as t he height of lameness, but it w as eit her t hat or I fail. And I refused t o fail. Hist ory w as one of my favorit e subject s. Hours lat er, I felt t he w eird w armt h t hat w as becoming increasingly familiar creep across my neck. Closing t he t ext book, I hopped off t he bed and crept t ow ard t he w indow . T he full moon lit everyt hing in a pale, silvery glow . I t ugged up t he sleeve of my shirt . T he skin w as st ill pat chy and red. Did being sick have anyt hing t o do w it h t he locker, t he glass of t ea and t he connect ion t o Daemon? My gaze moved back t o t he w indow , drift ing over t he ground below . I didn’t see anyone. A yearning sparked in my chest . I pulled t he curt ain back fart her and pressed my forehead against t he cool glass. I couldn’t underst and or explain how I knew , but I did. Somew here, hidden in t he shadow s, w as Daemon. And every part of my being w ant ed—needed—t o go t o him. T he ache t hat had been in his eyes… It w as so much, going beyond him and me. More t han w hat I undoubt edly could w rap my head around. Denying t hat desire w as one of t he hardest t hings I’d ever done, but I let t he curt ain slip free and w ent back t o my bed. As I opened my hist ory t ext again, I focused on my chapt er. New Y ear’s Day? W asn’t going t o happen. … I was having one of those days where I wanted to start throwing things because only breaking crap would make me feel better. My limit for acceptable w eirdness in my daily life had been maxed out . On Sat urday, t he show er t urned on before I even got in it . Sunday night , my bedroom door opened as I w alked t ow ard it , smacking me right in t he face. And t his morning, t o t op it all off, I’d overslept and missed my first t w o classes, plus my ent ire closet empt ied it self ont o my floor as I debat ed w hat t o w ear. Eit her I w as t urning int o an alien, about t o have one craw ll it s w ay out of my st omach, or I w as crazy. T he only good t hing about t oday w as t hat I’d w oken up w it hout t hat it chy rash on my arm.

T he w hole w ay t o school, I debat ed w hat t o do. T hese t hings couldn’t be brushed aside as a coincidence any longer, and I needed t o get over myself and confront t hem. My new out look on not being a byst ander in life meant I had t o face t he fact t hat I’d really changed. And I needed t o do somet hing about it before I exposed everyone. Just t hinking about t hat possibilit y left a bit t er t ast e in my mout h. T here w as no w ay I could go t o Dee, because I’d promised Daemon not t o t ell anyone t hat he’d healed me. I had no ot her opt ion but t o saddle him w it h anot her one of my problems. At least t hat w as how it felt . W hen I first moved here, I’d been not hing but problems for him. Making friends w it h his sist er, asking w ay t oo many quest ions, almost get t ing myself killed…t w ice. Plus discovering t heir big secret , and all t he t imes I’d ended up w it h a t race. I frow ned as I slid out of my car and slammed t he door behind me. No w onder Daemon had been such a douche canoe t hose mont hs. I w as t rouble. So w as he, but st ill. Lat e for bio and out of breat h, I raced dow n t he nearly empt y hall, praying t hat I’d be safely in my seat before Mr. Garrison st rolled in. As I reached for t he heavy door, it sw ung open w it h a pow erful rush and slammed against t he w all. T he noise echoed dow n t he corridor, draw ing t he at t ent ion of a handful of ot her lat e st udent s. Blood drained from my face, inch by inch, as I heard t he st art led gasp from behind me and knew I w as bust ed. A million t hought s ran t hrough my numb brain and none of t hem w as w ort h a damn. Closing my eyes, fear set t led like sour milk in my st omach. W hat w as w rong me? Somet hing w as— somet hing w as really bad. “T hese damn draft y hall w ays,” Mr. Garrison said, clearing his t hroat . “T hey’ll give you a heart at t ack.” My eyes snapped open. He st raight ened his t ie w hile he clenched his brow n suit case t ight ly in his right hand. I opened my mout h t o speak and agree. Agreeing w ould be a good t hing. Y es, damn draft y hall w ays. But not hing came. I just st ood t here like a damn fish. Gaping and gaping. Mr. Garrison’s blue eyes narrow ed, and his scow ll deepened unt ill I t hought it w ould leave a permanent mark on his face. “Miss Sw art z, shouldn’t you be in class?” “Y es, sorry,” I managed t o croak. “T hen please, don’t just st and t here.” He spread his arms and ushered me inside. “And t hat is a t ardy. Y our second.” Unsure of how I earned my first t ardy, I shuffled int o class, t rying t o ignore t he giggles from t he ot her st udent s w ho’d apparent ly heard my ass get t ing chew ed out . My cheeks flooded w it h color.

“Skank,” Kimmy said from behind her hand. Several more giggles erupt ed from her side of t he class, but before I could say anyt hing, Lesa shot t he blonde a look. “T hat ’s real funny coming from you,” she said. “Y ou are t he same cheerleader w ho forgot t o w ear her undies during t he pep rally last year, aren’t you?” Kimmy’s face t urned blood red. “Class,” Mr. Garrison said, eyes narrow ing. “T hat ’s enough.” Passing Lesa a grat eful smile, I t ook my seat next t o Blake and yanked out my t ext book w hile Mr. Garrison began reading off t he at t endance, making small sw ipes w it h his favorit e red pen. He skipped my name. I w as sure it w as on purpose. Blake nudged me w it h his elbow . “Are you doing okay over t here?” I nodded. T here w as no w ay I w as going t o let him t hink t hat Kimmy w as t he reason my face had gone albino w hit e. And besides, Kimmy calling me a skank probably had somet hing t o do w it h Simon, w hich w asn’t even w ort h my anger right now . “Y eah, I’m perfect .” He smiled, but it looked forced. Mr. Garrison flipped off t he light s and launched int o a st imulat ing lect ure on t ree sap. Forget t ing about t he boy beside me, I st art ed replaying t he door incident over and over again in my head. Had Mr. Garrison really believed it had been a draft ? And if he didn’t , w hat w as st opping him from cont act ing t he DOD and handing me over? Unease squirmed in my belly. Was I going to end up like Bet hany?

Chapter 5
Carissa w as w ait ing for me by my locker aft er biology. “Can I just go home?” I asked as I sw it ched my t ext books. She laughed. “Having a bad day?” “You could say t hat .” I t hought about elaborat ing for a second, but w hat could I t ell her? “I w as running lat e t his morning. You know how t hat just screw s your day up from t here.” We headed dow n t he hall, chat t ing about t he part y on Friday and w hat w e w ere going t o w ear. I really hadn’t put much t hought int o it , figuring I’d just w ear jeans and a shirt .

“Everyone is dressing up,” she explained, “since w e don’t get a lot of reasons t o act ually w ear somet hing nice around here.” “W e just had homecoming.” I groaned, know ing I didn’t have anyt hing dressy. Carissa launched int o t he rout ine conversat ion about w hat colleges I w as going t o apply t o. She w as hoping I w ould send an applicat ion int o W VU. Most of t he st udent s w ere applying t here. “Kat y, you really need t o st art applying,” she insist ed as she grabbed a plat e of w hat appeared t o be Salisbury st eak. “You’re going t o run out of t ime.” “You know , I hear it from my mom every day. I w ill w hen I decide w here I w ant t o go.” Problem w as I had no idea w here I w ant ed t o go or w hat I w ant ed t o do. “Y ou don’t have forever,” she said, quick t o remind me. Dee w as already at our t able, and I launched int o my ow n t irade t he moment I sat dow n. “So I can’t w ear jeans t o t he part y? I have t o w ear a dress?” “Huh?” Dee blinked and looked at me. “Carissa t old me I had t o w ear a dress on Friday night . I didn’t really plan for t hat .” Dee picked up her fork and pushed t he food around on her plat e. “You should w ear a dress. We get t o be pret t y princesses for t he night and dress up for t he part y.” “W e’re not six.” Lesa snort ed and repeat ed, “Pret t y princesses?” “Y es, pret t y princesses. Y ou can borrow one of my dresses. I have enough.” Dee poked at her green beans. Somet hing w as not right w it h her. She w asn’t eat ing and w as now suggest ing I could w ear one of her dresses. “Dee, I don’t t hink I’d fit in one of your dresses.” She t urned her angelic face t o mine, lips t urned dow n at t he corners. “I have plent y of dresses you can w ear. Don’t be silly.” I st ared at her, dumbfounded. “If I w ore one of your dresses, I’d look like a t ight ly packaged sausage.” Dee’s gaze dart ed over my shoulders, and w hat ever she w as going t o say died on her lips. Her eyes w idened and face paled. I w as afraid t o t urn around, half expect ing t o find a set of DOD officers st rolling t hrough our school cafet eria in black suit s. T he pict ure in my brain w as equally hilarious and fright ening.

I slow ly t w ist ed in my seat , preparing myself t o be t hrow n on t he floor and handcuffed, or w hat ever it w as t hey did. It t ook me a moment t o find w hat Dee w as ut t erly t ransfixed by, and w hen I did, I w as confused. It w as Adam T hompson—t he nice t w in as I liked t o refer t o him and he w as Dee’s… friend? Boyfriend? “W hat ’s going on?” I asked, sw iveling around. Her gaze dart ed t o me. “Can w e t alk lat er?” In ot her w ords, it w asn’t somet hing she could say in front of t he ot hers. I nodded and glanced behind me. Adam w as get t ing food, but I not iced someone else. Blake st ood by t he doors t o t he cafet eria, scanning t he crow ds for someone. His gaze found our t able and his hazel eyes set t led on me. He smiled, flashing a set of ult ra-w hit e t eet h, and w aved. I gave him a lit t le w ave back. “W ho’s t hat ?” Dee asked, frow ning. “His name is Blake Saunders,” Lesa said, eyeing her lunch. She poked it w it h her fork as if she expect ed it t o jump off her plat e and run aw ay. “He’s a new kid in our biology class. I found out he’s living w it h his aunt .” “Did you go t hrough his personal files or somet hing?” I asked, amused. Lesa snort ed. “I overheard him t alking t o W hit ney Samuels. She w as giving him t he t hird degree.” “I t hink he’s coming over here.” Dee t urned t o me, her expression unreadable. “He’s cut e, Kat y.” I shrugged. He w as very cut e. Blake reminded me of a surfer, and t hat w as hot . And he w as human. Bonus point s t here. “He’s nice, t oo.” “Nice is good,” Carissa said. Nice w as great , but …I glanced at t he t able in t he back. Daemon w asn’t sit t ing w it h us t oday. He seemed t o be in a heat ed discussion w it h Andrew . T here w as also no Ash. St range. My eyes bounced back t o Daemon. He looked up at t hat exact moment . T he smirk on his face faded. A muscle in his jaw popped. He looked…pissed. W hoa. W hat ’d I do now ? Dee kicked me under t he t able, and I t w ist ed back around.

St anding beside me w as Blake. A nervous smile w as on his face as his eyes flickered over t he t able. “Hey.” “Hi,” I said. “W ant t o sit ?” Nodding, he t ook t he empt y seat beside me. “Everyone is st ill st aring at me.” “Ah, it should fade in a mont h or so,” I t old him. “Hi,” Lesa chirped. “I’m Lesa w it h an e, and t his is Carissa and Dee. W e’re Kat y’s cool friends.” Blake laughed. “Nice t o meet you. Y ou’re in bio, right ?” Lesa nodded. “So w here are you from?” asked Dee, her voice surprisingly t ight . Last t ime I’d heard t hat t one w as w hen Ash had show n up at t he diner w it h Daemon before school st art ed. “Sant a Monica.” Aft er anot her round of aahs, he grinned. “My uncle w as get t ing t ired of t he cit y, so he w ant ed t o get as far aw ay from it as possible.” “W ell, t his is as far as you can get .” Lesa grimaced aft er t aking a bit e of her food. “I bet lunch w as bet t er in Sant a Monica.” “Nah, it ’s also quest ionable t here.” “So how are you adjust ing t o your classes?” Carissa folded her hands on t he t able, as if she w ere going t o do an int erview for t he school new spaper. All she needed w as a pen and paper. “Okay. It ’s a much smaller school t han my old one, so I’ve been able t o find my w ay around easily. T he people are nicer here, except for t he w hole st aring t hing. How about you?” He t urned t o me. “Since you’re st ill t echnically new ?” “Oh no, I hand over new -kid st at us complet ely t o you. But it ’s pret t y cool around here.” “Not much happens, t hough,” Lesa added. T he conversat ion moved easily. Blake w as super friendly. He answ ered every one of our quest ions and w as quick t o laugh. Turned out he had gym w it h Lesa and art w it h Carissa. Every so oft en, he’d glance at me and smile, revealing a set of st raight w hit e t eet h. It had not hing on Daemon’s smile—w henever he decided t o grace our w orld w it h it s presence—but it w as nice. And it w as also draw ing t he at t ent ion of t he ot her girls. T heir eyes kept dart ing back and fort h bet w een us. My cheeks w ere grow ing hot t er by t he second.

“We’re having a part y Friday night .” Lesa flashed me a quick grin. “You’re more t han w elcome t o come. Dee’s parent s are let t ing us have it at t heir house w hile t hey’re aw ay t his w eekend.” Dee st iffened w it h t he fork halfw ay t o her mout h. She didn’t say anyt hing, but I could t ell she w asn’t happy w it h t he invit e. W hat w as her deal? Half t he school appeared t o be invit ed. “T hat sounds cool.” Blake glanced at me. “Y ou’re going?” I nodded, t w ist ing t he lid on my w at er. “She doesn’t have a dat e,” Lesa added w it h a sly look. My mout h gaped. Real smoot h move t here. “No boyfriend?” Blake sounded surprised. “Nope.” Lesa’s eyes sparkled. “Y ou have a girlfriend you left back in California?” Dee cleared her t hroat as she found t he food on her plat e t o be of ext reme int erest . Mort ified, I w ant ed t o hide under t he t able. Blake chuckled. “No. No girlfriend.” He t urned his at t ent ion back t o me. “But I’m surprised you don’t have a boyfriend.” “W hy?” I asked, w ondering if I should be flat t ered. Like my aw esomeness w as just so ext reme t hat I couldn’t be single? “Well,” Blake said, leaning in t ow ard me. W hen he spoke, it w as right in my ear. “T hat guy over t here. He’s been st aring at you since I sat dow n. And he doesn’t look happy.” Dee w as t he first t o look. Her lips formed a t ight smile. “T hat ’s my brot her.” Blake nodded as he leaned back. “Did you guys dat e or somet hing?” “No,” I said. Every muscle in my body demanded t hat I t ake a look-see. “He’s just …Daemon.” “Huh,” Blake said, st ret ching. He nudged my arm. “So no compet it ion t here?”

My eyes w idened. Boy, he w as bold. His hot ness level w ent up t en point s. “Not likely.” A slow smile crept over Blake’s lips. He had a fuller bot t om one. Looked t ot ally kissable. “Good t o know , because I w as w ondering if you w ant ed t o grab somet hing t o eat aft er school?” W hoa. I glanced at Dee, w ho looked just as surprised as I did. I had every int ent ion of finding out w hy she w as act ing so w eird over Adam and t hen t alking t o Daemon about t he w eird st uff t hat had been happening. Dee misint erpret ed my hesit at ion. “W e can get t oget her t omorrow aft er school.” “But —” “It ’s okay.” Her look seemed t o say, Go out , have fun. Be normal. Or maybe t hat w as my w ishful t hinking, because she didn’t seem very pleased w it h Blake’s int erest in me. “It ’s fine,” Dee adds. I could w ait one more day t o t alk t o Daemon. I glanced over at Blake and our eyes locked. I found myself nodding. Blake’s smile remained on his face t he rest of t he lunch. Tow ard t he end, I caved and had t o look because I could st ill feel him. Blake had been right . Daemon w as st aring. Not at me, but at t he boy next t o me. T here w asn’t anyt hing friendly in t he hard line of his jaw or his sharp jew el-t oned eyes. Daemon’s gaze slid t o mine. T here w as a flut t er deep in my chest . I t ried t o draw in a breat h, but I felt pierced. My lips t ingled. T here w as definit ely no compet it ion t here. … Blake and I decided to go to the Smoke Hole after school. We took separate cars, and the wind was howling when we got there, tearing at the bare branches of t he t rees surrounding t he parking lot as w e rushed inside. His cheeks w ere flushed under his t an as w e grabbed a seat near t he crackling fireplace. “I don’t t hink I’m ever going t o get used t o t he w ind here. It ’s brut al.” “Me, t oo,” I said, rubbing my chilled hands over my arms. “And I’ve been t old t o expect a lot of snow come w int er.” Int erest lit up his eyes, making t he specks of green st and out . Now here near as bright as Daemon’s, t hough. “Perfect snow boarding w eat her, t hen. Do you snow board?”

I laughed. “I’d kill myself in t w o seconds. I w ent ski ng once w it h my mom and it w asn’t pret t y.” Blake grinned and t hen shift ed his at t ent ion t o t he w ait ress t aking our orders. Surprisingly, I w asn’t nervous. T here w asn’t a t ipsy feeling in my st omach w hen our gazes met . My skin didn’t feel st ret ched t oo t hin. And I w asn’t sure w hat t hat meant . It seemed so…normal. He t old me about surfing w hile w e w ait ed for my slice of cheese pizza and his cup of chili. I t old him t he closest I’d come t o surfing w as w at ching t he guys dow n in Florida. I didn’t have t hat kind of coordinat ion, and he t ried t o convince me it w asn’t t hat hard. I laughed. A lot . We t ook our t ime eat ing. W it h him, I w asn’t t hinking about aliens from out er space or t he looming t hreat of t he DOD or Arum. It w as t he most relaxing hour I’d spent in a long t ime. T ow ard t he end, he w as ripping a napkin int o t iny pieces w hile he grinned at me. “So, you have a blog?” Surprised, I nodded and figured I’d get my geekdom out of t he w ay. “Yeah, I love books. I review t hem on t he blog.” I paused. “How did you know ?” Blake leaned forw ard and w hispered, “I looked you up. I know , kind of a nerdy t hing t o do, but I found your blog. I like how you w rit e your review s. Very w it t y. And you’re passionat e about it .” Flat t ered and complet ely w on over by t he fact he act ually read my review s, I smiled. “T hank you. T he blog is really import ant t o me. Most people don’t get it .” “Oh, I t ot ally do. I used t o blog about surfing.” “Really?” He nodded. “Yep, I miss t he surfing and blogging—t he w hole connect ing w it h people all around t he w orld t hat shared t he same passion. It ’s a pret t y aw esome communit y.” T his guy w as perfect . He didn’t make fun of me like Daemon had over t he w hole blog t hing. Cool point s for Blake. I t ook a sip of my drink as I glanced out t he w indow . Dark, t hick clouds blanket ed t he sky. “W hen I first saw you, I had you pegged for a surfer. Y ou have t hat look.” “W hat kind of look is t hat ?” “Y ou just have t he surfer-boy look going on. T he hair, t he t an—it ’s very cut e.” “Cut e?” He arched a brow . “Okay, it ’s pret t y hot .” He grinned. “I like t he sound of t hat .”

He had one of t hose personalit ies, much like Dee, w here I couldn’t help but feel comfort able around him. A w elcome change from t he pins-and-needles feeling I got around Daemon. W hen w e left t he diner close t o five, I couldn’t believe how much t ime had passed. T he w ind w hipped at my hair, but I w as st ill buzzing t oo much from my aft ernoon w it h Blake t o care about t he fact I hadn’t bought a jacket yet . Blake nudged me w it h his elbow . “I’m glad you came w it h me.” “So am I.” I t w irled my keys as w e st opped by his t ruck. “I don’t normally put myself out t here.” He leaned against t he hood of his t ruck, crossing his ankles. “You know , just asking like t hat in front of an ent ire t able of st rangers.” Brisk w ind cooled my w arm cheeks. “Y ou seemed pret t y confident .” “I am w hen I w ant somet hing.” Pushing off t he hood, he moved t o st and in front of me. Oh God. Was he going t o kiss me? I t ot ally loved t he easy aft ernoon w e’d just spent , but , w ell …I just didn’t feel right leading him on. I didn’t know w hat w as going on w it h Daemon, if anyt hing really w as going on, but I knew it w asn’t fair t o pret end I w as complet ely free. I had feelings for Daemon; I just w asn’t sure w hat t hey meant . Blake leaned t ow ard me, and I froze. Above him, t he branches shook and groaned under t he force of t he w ind. T here w as a loud crack, and my head jerked up. One of t he t hick branches broke under t he w eight of t he w ind. Panic leaped int o my t hroat as it spiraled dow n t o w here Blake st ood. T here w as no w ay he could move fast enough, and t he size of t he branch promised major damage. St at ic rushed over my skin, crackling bet w een t he layers of my clot hing. I felt t he t iny hairs on t he back of my neck raise. Heart racing, I shot forw ard and I t hought I screamed St op, but it w as only in my head. And t he branch st opped…in midair, suspended by not hing.

Chapter 6

T he branch hung t here, hovering as if it w ere t et hered by an invisible st ring. My breat h paw ed at my chest , not quit e making it out . I st opped t he branch—I did t hat . Panic and pow er rushed t hrough me, leaving me dizzy. Blake w as st aring at me, his eyes w ide w it h w hat ? Fear? Excit ement ? He st epped t o t he side and lift ed his gaze. T he rush of pow er left me at once. T he heavy branch crashed, cracking t he pavement like it w ould’ve done t o Blake’s skull. My shoulders slumped as I dragged in air. Sharp, slicing pain erupt ed behind my eyes and I w inced. “W ow …” Blake ran a hand t hrough his spiky hair. “T hat w ould’ve killed me.” I sw allow ed, unable t o speak. Shock rippled t hrough me, lapping at my sides. I felt and recognized t he w armt h t ingling across t he nape of my neck, but I couldn’t move. T his lit t le “event ” had sapped me of energy, and my head…it t hrobbed somet hing fierce—a kind of scary pain t hat signaled somet hing w as very w rong. Oh, God, w as t his it ? W as I having an aneurysm? “Kat y…it ’s okay,” Blake said, st epping forw ard as his eyes dart ed behind me. A w arm, st rong hand curled around my arm. “Kat .” I sagged at t he sound of Daemon’s voice. T urning t o him, I low ered my head, shielding my face w it h my hair. “Sorry,” I w hispered. “Is she okay?” Blake asked, sounding w orried. “T he branch—” “Y es. She’s fine. T he falling branch scared her.” Each w ord sounded like he spoke it t hrough grit t ed t eet h. “T hat ’s all.” “But —” “See you lat er.” Daemon st art ed w alking, t aking me along w it h him. “Are you okay?” I nodded, st aring st raight ahead. Everyt hing seemed t oo bright for a cloudy day. Too real. T he w hole aft ernoon had been perfect . Normal. And I’d ruined it . W hen I didn’t answ er, Daemon t ook my keys from my numb fingers and opened t he passenger door. Blake called out my name, but I couldn’t bring myself t o look at him. I had no idea w hat he must be t hinking, but I knew it couldn’t be good. “Get in,” Daemon said almost gent ly. For once, I obeyed w it hout quest ion. W hen he climbed in on t he driver’s side and moved t he seat back, I snapped out of it . “How …how are you here?”

He didn’t look at me as he t urned t he ignit ion and pulled out of t he parking space. “I w as driving around. I’ll have Dee and Adam get my car.” Turning in my seat , I saw Blake by his car. He w as st ill st anding t here like w e’d left him. Knot s t w ist ed my insides. I felt sick. Trapped by w hat I’d done. “Daemon…” His jaw w orked. “You’ll pret end like not hing happened. If he brings it up, you’ll t ell him t hat he moved out of t he w ay. If he even suggest s t hat you…t hat you st opped t hat branch, you laugh it off.” Underst anding seeped in. “I need t o act like you did in t he beginning?” He nodded curt ly. “W hat just happened back t here never happened. Do you underst and me?” Close t o t ears, I nodded. Silence t icked aw ay t he minut es. Halfw ay home, t he headache eased up and I felt almost normal, except it w as like I had pulled an all-night er. Neit her of us spoke unt ill he pulled int o t he drivew ay of my house. Daemon yanked t he keys from t he ignit ion and sat back. He faced me, eyes shelt ered by a long w ave of hair. “We need t o t alk. And you need t o be honest w it h me. Y ou don’t seem surprised you just did t hat .” I nodded again. He w as furious, and I couldn’t blame him. I’d possibly exposed t hem all t o a human—a human w ho could go t o t he press, w ho could t alk at school, and w ho could cat ch t he at t ent ion of t he DOD. T hey’d find out t hat t he Luxen had special abilit ies. T hey’d learn about me. We w ent inside my empt y house. T he cent rall air w as blow ing heat from t he vent s, but I w as shivering uncont roll ably as I sat on t he recliner. “I w as planning on t elling you.” “You w ere?” Daemon st ood in front of me, hands clenching and unclenching at his sides. “W hen, exact ly? Before or aft er you did somet hing t hat put s you at risk?” I flinched. “I didn’t plan on t his happening! All I w ant ed w as t o have a normal aft ernoon w it h a boy—” “W it h a boy?” he spat , eyes flaring an int ense green. “Yes, w it h a normal boy!” W hy did t hat sound so surprising? I t ook a deep breat h. “I’m sorry. I did plan on coming t o you t onight , but Blake asked me t o grab somet hing t o eat w it h him and I just w ant ed one freaking aft ernoon w it h someone like me.” His frow n w ent so deep I t hought his face w ould crack. “Y ou have friends w ho are normal, Kat .”

“It ’s not t he same t hing!” Daemon seemed t o get w hat I w asn’t really saying. For a second, his eyes w idened and I’d sw ear t here w as a flicker of pain in t hem, but t hen it w as gone. “T ell me w hat ’s been happening.” Guilt shot t hrough me, pulling behind it spiky barbs t hat dug in deep. “I t hink I did get alien coot ies, because I’ve been moving t hings…w it hout t ouching t hem. T oday, I opened t he door t o Mr. Garrison’s classroom w it hout t ouching it . He seemed t o t hink it w as a draft y hall w ay.” “How oft en has t his been happening?” “On and off for around a w eek. T he first t ime it w as my locker door, but I t hought it w as a fluke, so I didn’t say anyt hing. T hen I t hought about w ant ing a glass of t ea, and t he glass flew out of t he cabinet and t he t ea st art ed pouring it self in t he fridge. T he show er t urned it self on, doors opened, and a couple of t imes, clot hes flew from my closet .” I sighed. “My room w as a mess.” A snicker escaped. “Nice.” My hands balled int o fist s. “How can you t hink t his is funny? Look at w hat happened t oday! I didn’t mean t o st op t he branch! I mean, I didn’t w ant it t o hit him, but I didn’t consciously st op t he damn t hing. T he w hole healing-me t hing—it changed me, Daemon. If you haven’t guessed it yet , I couldn’t move t hings before. And I don’t know w hat ’s w rong w it h me. I get a split t ing headache and feel exhaust ed aft erw ard. W hat if I’m dying or somet hing?” Daemon blinked and w as suddenly beside me, sit t ing on t he arm of t he chair. Our legs t ouched. His breat h st irred my hair. I shrank back as my heart rat e picked up. “W hy do you have t o move so fast ? It ’s…w rong.” He sighed. “Sorry, Kit t en. For us, moving fast is nat ural. It ’s act ually more effort t o slow dow n and appear ’normal,’ as you put it . I guess I just forget I have t o pret end around you.” My heart ached. W hy did everyt hing I say lat ely come out as a crit icism? “Y ou’re not dying,” he said. “How do you know ?” His eyes lat ched ont o mine. “Because I’d never let t hat happen.” He said it so st rongly t hat I believed him. “W hat if I’m t urning int o an alien?” A look crossed his face, like he w ant ed t o laugh, and I could get w hy. It did sound absurd. “I don’t know if t hat ’s possible.” “Moving st uff w it h my mind shouldn’t be possible.”

He sighed. “W hy didn’t you t ell me w hen t his first happened?” “I don’t know ,” I said, unable t o look aw ay. “I should’ve. I don’t w ant t o put you guys at risk. I sw ear I’m not doing it on purpose.” Daemon leaned back. His pupils t urned luminous. “I know you aren’t doing anyt hing on purpose. I w ouldn’t have t hought t hat .” My breat h caught as he held my gaze w it h his st range eyes. T he prickly feeling w as back, spreading over my skin. Every inch of me became painfully aw are of him. He w as silent for a moment . “I don’t know if it w as a product of my healing you t hose t imes or w hen you connect ed w it h us during Baruck’s at t ack. Eit her w ay, it ’s obvious t hat you’re using some of my abilit ies. I’ve never heard of t his happening before.” “Never?” I w hispered. “We don’t heal humans.” Daemon paused, pursing his lips. “I’ve alw ays t hought it had somet hing t o do w it h exposing our abilit ies, but now I’m w ondering if it ’s more t han t hat . If t he real reason is because w e…change humans.” I sw allow ed. “So I am t urning int o an alien?” “Kit t en…” All I could t hink about w as t he movie Alien and t hat t hing craw ling out of t he dude’s st omach, except mine w ould be a glow ing ball of light or somet hing. “How do w e st op t his?” Daemon st ood. “I w ant t o t ry somet hing, okay?” My brow s rose. “Okay.” Closing his eyes, he let out a long breat h. His form flickered and faded. A few seconds lat er, he w as in his t rue form, radiat ing a pow erful red-w hit e light . He w as shaped like a human, and I knew he w ould be w arm t o t ouch. It w as st ill st range seeing him like t his. It drove home t he point —t he one I forgot somet imes—t hat he w asn’t from t his planet . Say something to me, his voice w hispered in my thoughts. In t heir t rue form, Luxen don’t speak out loud. “Uh, hi?” His chuckle t ickled inside me. Not aloud. Say somet hing t o me, but not out loud. Like w hat happened in t he clearing. Y ou spoke t o me t hen. W hen he’d been healing me, I’d heard his t hought s. W ould it happen again? Y our light is really pret t y, but it ’s blinding me. I heard his ghost inhale. We can st ill hear each ot her. His light dimmed, and he w as st anding in front of me again, solid, eyes t roubled. “So my light w as blinding you, huh?”

“Yeah, it w as.” I fiddled w it h t he chain around my neck. “Am I glow ing now ?” It usually happened w hen t hey w ent int o t heir t rue form, leaving a faint t race behind. “No.” So t hat had changed, t oo. “W hy can I st ill hear you? Y ou act like I shouldn’t .” “Y ou shouldn’t , but w e’re st ill connect ed.” “W ell, how do w e get unconnect ed?” “T hat ’s a good quest ion.” He st ret ched idly as his gaze roamed across t he room. “Y ou have books everyw here, Kit t en.” “T hat ’s really not import ant right now .” One hand out st ret ched. A book flew off t he arm of t he couch and int o his hand. As he t urned it over, his brow s rose and his gaze moved over it quickly. “His t ouch kills? Really, w hat is t his st uff you’re reading?” I shot from t he chair, snat ching t he book aw ay and holding it close t o my chest . “Shut up. I love t his book.” “Uh huh,” Daemon murmured. “Okay, back t o t he import ant st uff. And st op t ouching my books.” I set it back w here I’d left it . “W hat are w e going t o do?” His gaze set t led on me. “I’ll figure out w hat is happening w it h you. Just give me some t ime.” I nodded, hoping w e had enough t ime. T here w as no t elling w hat I’d accident ally do next , and t he last t hing I w ant ed w as t o expose Dee and t he ot hers. “Y ou do realize t his w hole t hing is w hy you…” He arched a brow . “It ’s w hy you suddenly like me.” “I’m pret t y sure I liked you before t his, Kit t en.” “W ell, you had one hell of a w ay of show ing it .” “True,” he admit t ed. “And I’ve already said I’m sorry for t he w ay I t reat ed you.” He t ook a fort ifying breat h. “I alw ays liked you. From t he moment you first flipped me off.” “But you didn’t st art t o w ant t o spend t ime w it h me unt ill aft er t he first at t ack, w hen you healed me. Maybe w e w ere already st art ing t o, like… morph t oget her or w hat ever.”

Daemon frow ned. “W hat is it w it h you? It ’s like you need t o convince yourself I can’t possibly like you. Does doing t hat make it easier t o t ell yourself you don’t have feelings for me?” “You t reat ed me like a red-headed st epchild for mont hs. I’m sorry if I have a hard t ime believing t hat w hat ever you feel is real.” I sat on t he couch. “And it has not hing t o do w it h w hat I feel.” His shoulders t ensed. “Do you like t hat guy you w ere w it h?” “Blake? I don’t know . He’s nice.” “He w as sit t ing w it h you t oday at lunch.” My brow arched. “Because t here w as an open seat and it ’s a free w orld w here people can pick w here t hey w ant t o sit .” “T here w ere ot her seat s open. He could’ve sat anyw here else in t he cafet eria.” It t ook me a few seconds t o respond. “He’s in my bio class. Maybe he just felt comfort able w it h me, because w e’re bot h sort of new .” Somet hing flickered across his face, and t hen he w as st anding in front of me. “He kept st aring at you. And obviously he w ant ed t o spend t ime w it h you out side of school.” “Maybe he likes me,” I said, shrugging. “Lesa invit ed him t o t he part y on Friday.” Daemon’s eyes darkened t o an evergreen. “I don’t t hink you should be hanging around him unt ill w e know w hat ’s up w it h you moving st uff. You doing t hat t hing w it h t he branch w as only one inst ance. W e can’t have a repeat of t hat .” “W hat ? I’m not supposed t o dat e or hang out w it h anyone now ?” Daemon smiled. “Anyone human, yes.” “W hat ever.” I shook my head, st anding. “T his is a st upid conversat ion. I’m not dat ing anyone anyw ay, but if I w ere, I w ouldn’t st op just because you said so.” “Y ou w ouldn’t ?” His hand shot out , t ucking back a st rand of hair behind my ear. “W e’ll just have t o see about t hat .” I st epped sidew ays, keeping dist ance bet w een us. “T here’s not hing t o see.” challenge filled his eyes. “If you say so, Kit t en.” Folding my arms, I sighed. “T his isn’t a game.”

“I know , but if it w ere, I’d w in.” He flickered out and appeared by t he ent rance t o t he foyer. “By t he w ay, I’ve heard w hat Simon has been saying.” Heat sw ept over my face. Anot her problem, but less import ant in t he grand scheme of t hings. “Yeah, he’s being a douche. I t hink it ’s his friends. He act ually apologized t o me, and t hen w hen his friends show ed up, he t old t hem I w as t rying t o get w it h him.” Daemon’s eyes narrow ed. “T hat ’s not okay.” I sighed. “It ’s no big deal.” “Maybe not t o you, but it is t o me.” He paused, his shoulders squaring. “I’ll t ake care of it .”

Chapter 7
I didn’t get much sleep t hat night , so t rig t he next day sucked w orse t han normal. T here w as a six-foot -t hree alien behind me. Not t alking t o me, just breat hing soft ly against t he back of my neck. And no mat t er how far I scoot ed up, I could st ill feel him. I w as hyperaw are of him—w hen he moved, w hen he w rot e somet hing dow n, w hen he scrat ched his head. Halfw ay t hrough class, I debat ed making a run for t he door. It w as also day t w o of no pen pokes. On t he ot her hand, Simon kept glancing over his shoulder t hroughout class. Needing a dist ract ion, I glared at his head. A slow flush crept over t he back of his neck. He could feel me drilling holes int o his head. Ha. Jerk-face. Brow n hair curled against t he faint ly flushed skin. He normally kept it cut close t o t he skull. I supposed he w as in need of a haircut , since most boys around here didn’t let t heir hair grow more t han an inch or t w o. T he dull gray shirt he w ore st ret ched over his broad shoulders as he t ensed under my st are. He glanced over his shoulder at me. I arched a brow . Simon t urned back st iffly, and his shoulders rose as he t ook a deep breat h. Annoyance flared and my fingers burned. T he t ooll had half t he school t hinking I w as easy. My at t ent ion fell back t o t he book in front of him. T he heavy English t ext flipped off t he desk, smacking Simon right in t he face. My mout h dropped open as I sat back. Holy crap…

Jumping up, he st ared at t he book now lying on t he floor as if it w ere some kind of creat ure he’d never seen before. Our t eacher’s eyes narrow ed as he searched for t he source of t he disrupt ion. “Mr. Cut t ers, is t here somet hing you w ould like t o share w it h t he class?” he asked in a t ired, bored voice. “W -w hat ?” Simon st ut t ered. He looked around frant ically, and t hen his eyes set t led on t he book. “No, I knocked my book off t he desk. Sorry.” He let out a loud sigh. “W ell, t hen pick it up.” T here w ere a few scat t ered chuckles from t he ot her st udent s. Simon w as beet red as he sw iped t he book off t he floor. He placed it in t he middle of his desk and cont inued st aring at it . Aft er t he class set t led dow n and t he t eacher t urned back t o t he chalkboard, Daemon poked me w it h his pen. I t w ist ed around. “W hat w as t hat ?” he w hispered, eyes narrow ed. T here w as no mist aking t he amusement in t he t ilt t o his lips, t hough. “Very bad kit t y…” … Blake arrived to bio minutes before the bel. He was wearing a vintage Super Mario Bros. shirt today. “You look…” “Like crap?” I supplied, rest ing my cheek on my fist . I had no idea how t o prepare myself for seeing him aft er t he branch issue. Playing it cool w asn’t somet hing I w as part icularly skilled at . “I w as going t o say t ired.” His eyes narrow ed as he w at ched me. “Are you okay?” I nodded. “Look, about yest erday? I’m sorry I freaked out . T he branch—” “Scared you?” he said, eyes locked ont o mine. “It ’s no big deal. It shocked me, t oo. It all happened quickly, but I’d sw ear t hat branch st opped.” He t ilt ed his head t o t he side. “Like it w as suspended for a few seconds.” “I…” W hat w as I supposed t o say? Deny. Deny. Deny. “I don’t know . Maybe t he w ind caught it or somet hing.” “Y eah, maybe. Anyw ay, t he big part y is coming up.” I smiled faint ly, relieved at t he change in t opic. W ould it be t hat easy? Damn. I w as a bet t er liar t han Daemon gave me credit for. “Y ou coming?” “I w ouldn’t miss it for t he w orld.”

“Good.” I t oyed w it h my pen, remembering w hat Daemon had said about not hanging out w it h Blake. Screw t hat . “I’m glad you’re coming.” Blake’s smile w as infect ious. We chat t ed for a lit t le w hile about t he part y, w ait ing for class t o begin. A couple of t imes, his hand brushed mine. I doubt ed it w as on accident . And I liked t hat . T here w asn’t anyt hing forcing him t o do it , except t hat maybe he w ant ed t o t ouch me. He seemed t o like me all on his ow n, and t hat made him a t housand t imes more at t ract ive. And, w ell, t hat boyish smile of his helped. I could see him shirt less, surfing t he w aves. He w as t ot ally dat eable. T aking a deep breat h, I did somet hing I rarely ever did. “Y ou can st op by my place first , before t he part y, if you w ant ?” His lashes low ered, fanning his golden cheeks. “T hat sounds cool. Like a dat e?” I flushed. “Y eah, kind of. I guess you can say t hat .” Blake leaned in, his breat h surprisingly cool on my cheeks. Mint y. “I’m not sure I like t he ’kind of’ t hing. I like t he idea of calling it a dat e.” My gaze flicked up, meet ing his. T he lit t le specks of green in his eyes w ere now here near as vibrant as Daemon’s—w hy w as I even t hinking about him? “W e can call it a dat e.” He sat back. “Sounds bet t er.” I smiled, glancing dow n at my not ebook. A dat e—not dinner-and-t he-movies kind of dat e— but a dat e nonet heless. We exchanged numbers. I gave him direct ions. Excit ement bubbled t hrough me. I snuck a look at him. He w as w at ching me w it h a crooked smile on his face. Oh, t he part y just got a w hole lot more int erest ing. I refused t o t hink about w hat Daemon w ould do w hen he saw me arrive w it h Blake. A small part of me w ondered if I’d asked Blake just t o find out . … Curled up on my couch after school on Thursday, Dee toyed with a ring on her finger and kept her voice low due to Mom sleeping upstairs. “The new boy seems t o really have t he hot s for you.” I plopped dow n beside her. “Y ou t hink so?” Dee smiled, but it w as off. “Y eah, I t hink so. I’m surprised you’re act ually okay w it h him coming t o t he part y. I really t hought …” “Y ou t hought w hat ?” Her gaze skit t ered aw ay. “I just t hought t here might be somet hing bet w een you and Daemon.”

“Oh, no, t here’s not hing bet w een us.” Besides a w hacked-out alien bond and all our secret s. I cleared my t hroat . “Let ’s not t alk about your brot her. W hat ’s up w it h Adam?” Crimson sw ept across her pale cheeks. “Adam and I have been t rying t o spend more t ime t oget her, you know ? Everyone expect s us t o be t oget her, and t here is a part of me t hat likes him. T he elders know t hat since w e’re bot h eight een already, w e’re coming of age.” “Coming of age?” She nodded. “Once w e reach eight een, w e’re old enough t o be mat ed.” “W hat ?” My eyes bugged. “Mat ed? Like, marrying and making babies?” “Yeah.” She sighed. “We usually w ait unt ill w e’re done w it h school, but know ing t hat w e’re get t ing close, Adam and I are t rying t o decide w hat w e w ant t o do.” I w as st ill st uck on t he w hole mat ing t hing. “Do t he elders t ell you w ho you can be w it h?” Dee frow ned. “Not really. I mean, t hey w ant us w it h anot her Luxen and t o reproduce as soon as possible. I know t hat sounds messed up, but our race is dying off.” “I get t hat , but w hat if you didn’t w ant t o have kids? W hat if you fell in love w it h anot her boy or…a human?” “T hey w ould out cast us.” She faded and t hen w as st anding on t he ot her side of t he coffee t able. “All of t hem w ould t urn t heir backs on us. T hat ’s w hat t hey w ould’ve done t o Daw son if he…if he w ere st ill alive and w it h Bet hany. And I know he w ould st ill be w it h her. Daw son loved Bet h.” And her brot her’s love had ult imat ely led t o t heir deat hs. I low ered my gaze, feeling for t he remaining siblings. “Would t hey force you t o leave or somet hing?” She shook her head. “T hey’d make us w ant t o leave, but w e can’t , not w it hout t he DOD’s permission. It ’s a lot of pressure.” No doubt . I had t o w orry about w hat college t o pick. Not about get t ing knocked up as soon as possible. And Daemon really w ant ed t o risk all of t hat t o be w it h me? He had t o be on crack. “W hat happened w it h you and Adam?” St opping in front of t he T V, she ran her hands t hrough her curly hair. “W e had sex.” “Come again?” Up unt ill five seconds ago, I w as posit ive Dee w asn’t even at t ract ed t o Adam. Dee’s small hands flut t ered t o her sides. “Y eah, shocking, huh?” I blinked. “Y eah, t hat ’s shocking.”

“I didn’t know how I felt about him. Like, I t ot ally respect him, and he’s good looking.” She st art ed pacing again. “But w e’ve only been friends, really. Or at least , I’ve only let him be a friend t o me. I don’t know , but anyw ay, I decided I w ant ed t o see if w e, you know , could even do it . So, I t old him t hat w e should t ry t o have sex. And w e did.” W ow , t hat sounded real romant ic. “And how w as it ?” Her cheeks flushed again. “It w as…it w as good.” “Good?” Dee appeared beside me, sit t ing on t he couch, hands t w ist ing t oget her. “It w as more t han just good. A lit t le aw kw ard at first —okay, a w hole lot of aw kw ard at first , but t hings…w orked out .” I didn’t know if I should be happy for her or not . “So w hat does all of t his mean?” “I don’t know . T hat ’s t he problem. I like him, but I don’t know if I like him because I’m supposed t o or if it ’s real.” She flopped ont o her back, one arm hanging off t he couch. “I don’t even know w hat love is. Like, I t hought I loved him w hen w e w ere doing it . But now ? I don’t know .” “Damn, Dee, I don’t know w hat t o say. I’m glad it w as…good.” “It w as great .” She sighed. “W ant t o know how great it w as? I w ant t o do it again.” I laughed. One jade-colored eye opened. “But now I have all t hese…knot s in my t ummy. I can’t st op t hinking about him, w ondering w hat he t hinks.” “Have you t ried t alking t o him?” “No. Should I?” “Uh, yeah, you just did it w it h him. Y ou should probably call him.” Dee sat up, her eyes w ide. “W hat if he doesn’t feel t he same?” It w as st range seeing Dee like t his, having such a…human react ion. “I t hink he probably feels t he same.” “I don’t know . We w ere just friends and not hing more. We didn’t even w ant t o go t o homecoming t oget her.” She w as on her feet again. “But I’m not sure if he felt t hat w ay because of me and how I’d act ed. Maybe he’s alw ays felt more for me.”

“Call him.” T hat w as t he best advice I could give, since I had no experience in any of t his. “W ait . Did you guys use prot ect ion?” Dee rolled her eyes. “I’m so not ready for a baby Dee. W e t ot ally used prot ect ion.” Relief flooded me. She hung around a lit t le longer t hen left t o go call Adam. I w as st ill shocked t hat Dee had sex. It w as such a big st ep, even for… aliens. At least it w as great . But t o have sex just t o find out if you liked someone? W here w as t he romance in t hat ? Of course, w ho w as I t o judge? I asked one guy t o go out , I w as pret t y sure, just t o see if anot her not iced. Y eah, I w as t ot ally not t he go-t o person for relat ionship advice. Poor Dee. Mom w oke up and w e ordered pizza before she had t o leave for w ork. W hile w ait ing, w e chilled on t he couch like w e used t o, before Dad died. Mom handed me a cup of st eaming cocoa. “Don’t forget I have you all day Sat urday unt ill I go int o w ork, so don’t make any plans.” I smiled, w rapping my hands around t he w arm cup. “I’m all yours.” “Good.” She t hrew her slipper-covered feet ont o t he coffee t able. “I w ant ed t o run somet hing by you.” T aking a sip, I raised my brow s. She crossed her ankles and t hen re-crossed t hem t he ot her w ay. “W ill w ant s t o do dinner w it h us on Sat urday, for you birt hday.” “Oh.” A faint smile curved her lips. “I t old him I w ant ed t o check w it h you first and make sure you w ere okay w it h it .” She paused, crinkling her nose. “Y ou are t he birt hday girl and all.” “I’ll only t urn eight een once, right ?” I grinned. “It ’s okay, Mom, w e can do dinner w it h W ill.” Her eyes narrow ed. I t ook anot her drink of cocoa. “Should I dress up for t his? Since he is a doct or and all. Oh! Are w e going t o a fancy dinner and w ill w e t alk polit ics and current event s?” “Shush it .” She smiled, t hough, set t ling back. “I t hink you’ll like him. He’s not st uffy or overbearing. He’s really like…” My heart did a funny t hing. “Like Dad?” Mom smiled sadly. “Y eah, like Dad.” Neit her of us spoke for a few minut es. Mom had met Dad her first year of nursing residency at t he hospit all in Florida. He’d been a pat ient , having fall en off t he deck and broken his foot , t rying t o impress some girl. But according t o my dad, t he moment he’d looked int o Mom’s eyes, he couldn’t even remember t he ot her girl’s name. T hey’d dat ed for six mont hs, got

engaged, and married w it hin t he year. I came short ly t hereaft er, and t here hadn’t been t w o people more in love t han t hem. Even w hen t hey’d argued, love fueled t heir w ords. I’d give anyt hing t o have t hat kind of relat ionship. I finished off t he rest of my cocoa and w iggled closer t o Mom. She lift ed her slender arm and I snuggled in, inhaling t he apple-scent ed body lot ion she alw ays w ore during aut umn. Mom had t his habit of changing her perfumes and lot ions w it h t he seasons. “I’m happy you met him,” I said finally. “W ill sounds like a really nice guy.” “He is.” She kissed t he t op of my head. “I like t o t hink your fat her w ould approve.” Dad w ould approve of anyone w ho made Mom happy. I’d been t here t he day hospice had t old us it w ouldn’t be much longer. St anding out side t heir bedroom, I’d heard him t ell Mom t o love again. T hat w as all he w ant ed. I closed my eyes. T hat kind of love should’ve been able t o beat sickness. T hat kind of love should’ve conquered anyt hing.

Chapter 8
I readjust ed t he t hin black st raps for t he t hird t ime and finally gave up. No mat t er how many t imes I t ugged on it , t he neckline of t he dress w asn’t coming up any higher. I couldn’t believe it fit me. Aw hell, it fit a lit t le t oo w ell, emphasizing t he vast difference bet w een Dee’s body and mine. My boobs just might come out and say hello t onight . T he dress clung t o my bust and had a cinched empire w aist before it Bill ow ed in soft w aves t o end before my knees. I kind of looked hot . But I needed t o cover t hose babies up. I w hipped open t he closet door. I knew I had a red cardigan t hat w ouldn’t look t oo bad w it h t his dress, but I couldn’t find it in t he mess. It t ook me a few minut es t o realize t hat it w as in t he dryer. “Holy crud.” I moaned and headed dow nst airs in a flurry of black and t apping heels. T hank God Mom had already left for w ork. She’d eit her st roke out or applaud t he dress. Eit her one w ould’ve been embarrassing. I headed dow n t he hall w ay, nervous and nauseous. I could hear t he car doors out side, t he laught er as I pulled out t he cardigan, shook it , and slipped it on. W hat if I did somet hing st upid? Like lift a T V in front of an ent ire house full of classmat es?

Just t hen t here w as a knock on t he door. T aking a deep breat h, I backt racked t o t he front door and sw ung it open. “Hey.” Blake st epped in, holding a half dozen roses in his hands. His eyes drift ed over me. “W hoa, you look really great .” He smiled as he held out t he flow ers. Blushing, I t ook t he roses and inhaled t heir clean scent . Giddiness sw ept t hrough me. “T hank you, but you didn’t have t o.” “I w ant ed t o.” Ah, t he key w ord again: w ant . “Well, t hey’re beaut iful. And you look really nice, t oo.” And he did, dressed in a dark V-neck sw eat er w it h a collared shirt on underneat h. I st epped back, holding t he roses close. No one had ever given me flow ers before. “Would you like somet hing t o drink before w e head over?” Blake nodded and follow ed me int o t he kit chen. Opt ions w ere limit ed, so he set t led on one of my mom’s w ine coolers. He leaned against t he count er, looking around as I found a vase for t he roses. “Y ou have books everyw here. It ’s really cut e.” I smiled as I set t he roses on t he count er. “My mom hat es it . She’s alw ays t rying t o pick t hem up.” “And you just put t hem right back, huh?” I laughed. “Y eah, sounds right .” He moved forw ard, w ine cooler in one hand. His gaze dipped and he reached out , picking up t he silver chain. His knuckles brushed t he sw ell of my chest . “Int erest ing necklace. W hat kind of st one is t his?” “Obsidian,” I t old him. “A friend gave it t o me.” “It ’s really different .” He let it drop. “It ’s cool.” “T hanks.” I placed my fingers on it , t rying t o push aw ay t he images of Daemon it brought along w it h it . I searched for somet hing t o say. “T hanks for t he flow ers again. T hey’re really pret t y.” “I’m glad you like t hem. I w as w orried I’d look like a nerd for giving t hem t o you.” “No. T hey’re perfect .” I smiled. “Are you ready t o go over?” He finished up t he w ine cooler and rinsed it before t ossing it in t he t rash. Mom w ould’ve loved him for t hat —w ell, not t he underage-drinking-of-herw ine-cooler part . “Sure,” he said. “But I kind of have some bad new s. I can only st ay for half an hour t ops. We have some family coming in last minut e. I’m really sorry.”

“No,” I said, hoping t he disappoint ment w asn’t audible. “It ’s okay. W e didn’t give you much not ice.” “Are you sure? I feel like such a t ool.” “Of course. Y ou’re not a t ool. Y ou did bring me roses.” Blake grinned. “W ell, I w ant t o make it up t o you. Can you do dinner w it h me t omorrow night ?” I shook my head. “I can’t t omorrow . Spending t he day w it h my mom.” “How about Monday?” he asked. “Do your parent s let you out on a school night ?” “It ’s just my mom, but yes, she does.” “Good. T here’s t his lit t le Indian rest aurant I saw in t ow n.” He inched closer. T here w as a slight scent of aft ershave t hat reminded me of t he conversat ion I’d had w it h Lesa about how boys smelled. Blake smelled good. “Y ou game?” “Sure t hing.” I glanced around, bit ing my lip. “Y ou ready t o head over now ?” “Y ep, if you do one t hing.” “W hich is?” “W ell, t w o t hings.” Anot her st ep closer and his shoes w ere t ouching mine. I had t o t ip my head back t o meet his eyes. “T hen w e can go over.” I felt a lit t le dizzy, st aring in his eyes. “W hat are t he t w o t hings?” “You’ve got t o give me your hand. If t his is a speed dat e, w e’ve got t o make it believable.” He dipped his head, st ill holding ont o my gaze. “And a kiss.” “A kiss?” I w hispered. His lips spread in a crooked smile. “I need you t o remember me w hen I leave. In t hat dress, you’re going t o have guys all over you.” “I don’t know about t hat .” “Y ou w ill. So? Is it a deal?” My breat h slow ed in my lungs. Curiosit y filled me. Would kissing him be like kissing Daemon? Would t he w orld burn or just simmer? I w ant ed t o find out , needed t o discover if I could forget t he boy next door in a simple kiss. “Deal,” I murmured.

His hand found my cheek, and I closed my eyes. Blake w hispered my name. My mout h opened, but t here w ere no w ords t o be spoken. T here w as just ant icipat ion and t he need t o lose myself. At first , his lips brushed across mine light ly, t est ing my response, and t he gent le nat ure of t he kiss w as disarming. I placed my hands on his shoulders, and t hey t ight ened w hen he sw ept his lips over mine again. His kiss deepened, and I felt like I w as sw imming in raw emot ions. It w as elat ing and yet confusing at t he same t ime. I kissed him back, and his hands dropped t o my w aist , pulling me closer. I w ait ed breat hlessly in bet w een kisses for somet hing—anyt hing—ot her t han t he rest lessness st irring inside me. T hen all at once, I felt frust rat ion, anger, and sadness—w hich w ere not hing I w as searching for. Blake broke cont act , breat hing heavily. His lips w ere ripe, sw oll en. “W ell, I w ill definit ely remember you w hen I leave.” I low ered my chin, blinking. Not hing had been w rong w it h t hat kiss, ot her t han it w as lacking somet hing. It had t o be me. St ress. W it h everyt hing happening, I w as t hinking t oo much int o t hings. And kissing him w as just t oo fast . I felt like one of t hose girls in t he books I read, delving int o a guy headfirst w it hout even t hinking about it . Pract ical Kat y st ill lived inside me, and she w asn’t happy w it h w hat I’d done. And it w as more t han t hat . A st irring of sour guilt poked at me, t elling me t hat my heart hadn’t been in t hat kiss because of someone else. “Just one more t hing,” he said, and his hand found mine. “Ready?” Was I? Conflict ion t ore t hrough me. Maybe if Daemon saw me happy w it h Blake, he w ouldn’t feel compelled t o pursue our unreal connect ion. I felt sick. “Y es. I’m ready.” Out side, t here w ere numerous cars lining t he drivew ay and all t he w ay dow n t o t he empt y house at t he beginning of our road. “Holy crap, I t hought t his w as supposed t o be a lit t le part y?” Dee had really out done herself. She’d dug up numerous paper lant erns and st rung t hem along t he porch. T hrough t heir w indow s, t hick candles spread t hroughout flickered soft ly. A w arm, pleasant cider-and-spice smell float ed out side and t ickled my nose, reminding me how much I loved t he smell of aut umn. People w ere everyw here inside, packed on t he couch, surrounding t w o guys in a W i deat h mat ch. Several familiar faces w ere crow ding t he st aircase, laughing as t hey drank from red plast ic cups. Blake and I couldn’t go t w o feet w it hout bumping int o someone. Dee w eaved in and out of t he crow d, playing t he host ess. She looked beaut iful in her delicat e w hit e dress t hat highlight ed t he darkness of her hair and t he emerald color of her eyes. W hen she saw our hands joined t oget her, she barely hid her surprise…or disappoint ment . Feeling like I w as doing somet hing w rong, I pulled free and gave her a t ight hug. “W ow . T he house looks great .”

“It does, doesn’t it ? I’m a nat ural.” She looked over my shoulder. “Kat y…?” My cheeks burned. “He’s my—” “Dat e,” Blake insert ed, cat ching and squeezing my hand. “I have t o bail soon, but I w ant ed t o escort her t o t he part y.” “Escort her?” She glanced at him, t hen back t o me. “Okay. W ell, I’ll go…check on some st uff. Y eah.” T hen she float ed aw ay, back st iff. I t ried t o not let her disappoint ment get t o me. She couldn’t seriously w ant me t o be w it h her brot her. One of t hem had already gone dow n t hat pat h w it h a human and look w hat happened. A huge amount of suspicious noises w ere coming from t he dark corners of t he large house, dist ract ing me from my t hought s. I t hen briefly saw Adam, w ho appeared t o be st alking Dee t hrough t he crow d. I made a ment all not e t o ask her how her call w it h him had gone. “Want t o get a drink?” Blake asked. W hen I nodded, he led me t ow ard t he dining room, w here w e could see several bot t les. T here w as even a punch bow ll. Spiked, no doubt . “We had part ies like t his back home,” Blake said, handing me a red plast ic cup. “In beach houses, t hough, and everyone smelled of sea and sunt an lot ion.” “Y ou sound like you miss it .” “I do somet imes, but hey, change isn’t t oo bad. It makes life int erest ing.” He t ook a sip and coughed. “W hat did t hey put in t his? Moonshine?” I laughed. “God only know s around here.” W ild giggles came from t he kit chen. We t urned just in t ime t o see Carissa rush from t he room, an annoyed look on her face as she bolt ed t o w here Dee w as in t he doorw ay. “Dee, your friends are crazy.” “T hey’re your friends, t oo,” Lesa comment ed dryly, coming up behind Dee. She saw Blake and me and came t o a st op. T hen she bumped me w it h her hip. “Y ay.” Carissa folded her arms over her chest . “My friends w ould not do t hat w it h w hipped cream.” I bust ed int o laught er at t he horrified look on Dee’s face and t he curious one t hat crossed Lesa’s. Blake smiled at me, as if he liked t he sound of my laugh. “W hat ?” Dee screeched and t ook off t ow ard t he kit chen. “I have t o see t his,” mut t ered Lesa, follow ing quickly behind t he flurry of w hit e.

I glanced over at Carissa, w hose cheeks w ere as red as my sw eat er. “Y ou’re kidding, right ?” She shook her head emphat ically. “Y ou have no idea w hat Donnie and Becca are doing in t here.” “Aren’t t hey t he t w o w ho planned t o get married aft er graduat ion?” “Y ep. And I can t ell you t hey have not w ait ed for marriage for most t hings.” I giggled. “Aw esome.” Carissa shuddered. “I’m not t rying t o be a prude, but w ho act s like t hat in public or at a friend’s house? I mean, come on. It ’s disgust ing.” She t ook a deep breat h, her dark eyes flicking up. “Hi, Blake, sorry about t hat .” “It ’s okay. W hipped cream should only be used on pies.” I had t o look aw ay t o st op from laughing. It w as kind of gross, but I st ill found it ent ert aining. Not sure w hat t hat said about me. And w ho w as I kidding? Last Friday I’d been get t ing all hot and heavy in a library. At t he reminder, my st omach knot t ed again and my gaze dart ed around t he room. We w ere briefly int errupt ed by a group w ho w ant ed t o t alk t o Carissa about her older brot her, w ho w as aw ay at college. I’d forgot t en t hat she had older siblings. Ment all not e number t w o: pull head out of ass. Blake must ’ve made a lot of friends quickly, because most of t he kids w ere t alking him up. And a lot of girls kept st ealing looks at him. T his filled me w it h an obscene amount of glee. I leaned int o Blake’s arm, most ly for show , and t hen I st ayed t here, liking t he w ay t he bulge of muscles in his upper arms felt against my chest . He didn’t seem t o mind. T he hand on my back bunched int o t he silk of my dress, and he st opped mid-sent ence t o lean dow n and w hisper, “I really w ish I w ere st aying,” I t urned my head, smiling. “Me, t oo.” His hand slid across my back, curving around my w aist . I liked t his—w hat ever t his w as. It seemed nat ural t o be close t o a guy, t o be flirt ing, having fun. Kissing. It all felt easy. W e st ayed like t hat aft er Carissa drift ed aw ay, and t hen it w as t ime for him t o leave. I w alked him t o t he door, his arm st ill around my w aist . “W e st ill on for dinner?” he asked. “You bet . I’m act ually—” My back w as t o t he st airs, but I st ill knew t he second he came dow n. T he air changed, grew heavier and w arm. T he nape of my neck t ingled. Blake frow ned. “Y ou’re act ually…w hat ?”

My heart sped up. “I’m…I’m looking forw ard t o it .” He st art ed t o smile, and t hen he glanced up. His eyes w idened slight ly, and I knew Daemon w as t here. I didn’t w ant t o t urn around, but it seemed unnat ural not t o. And it w as like being st ruck by light ning. I hat ed his effect on me, but at t he same t ime it t hrilled me. Not hing w as easy about it . Daemon w as dressed casually compared t o t he rest of us but st ill looked bet t er t han any guy in t he room. He had on a pair of old, dist ressed blue jeans and a shirt t hat bore some longforgot t en band name. He absent ly t ucked a st rand of dark hair behind his left ear and flashed a w olfish grin at somet hing someone said. T hose magnet ic eyes shimmered under t he dim light of t he candles. T his w as t he first t ime I’d really seen Daemon around anyone ot her t han his family or a friend or t w o out side of school. Daemon had t his effect on ot hers, no mat t er t heir gender. It w as obvious t hat people w ant ed t o be around him, but at t he same t ime, it seemed like t hey w ere afraid t o come t oo close. T hey w ere draw n t o him, like I w as, w het her t hey liked it or not . People approached but st opped just a few feet from him. But t he w hole t ime, he had his eyes fixed on me. In t hat second, I complet ely forgot t he boy w it h his hand on my w aist . Daemon st opped in front of us. “Hey t here…” Blake’s hand pressed int o me as he leaned around. “I don’t t hink w e got t he chance t o int roduce ourselves t he ot her night at t he diner. My name is Blake Saunders.” He offered his free hand. Daemon glanced at Blake’s hand before ret urning his gaze t o me. “I know w ho you are.” Oh, geez. I t w ist ed t ow ard Blake. “T his is Daemon Black.” His smile falt ered. “Y eah, I know w ho he is, t oo.” Laughing under his breat h, Daemon st raight ened. At his full height , he w as a good head t aller t han Blake. “It ’s alw ays nice t o meet anot her fan.” Y eah, Blake had no idea w hat t o say t o t hat . He shook his head slight ly and faced me. “W ell, I need t o get going.” I smiled. “All right . T hanks for…everyt hing.” He smiled a lit t le as he leaned in, w rapping his arms loosely around me. Acut ely aw are of Daemon’s int ense st are, I placed my hands on Blake’s back and leaned up, pressing my lips against his smoot h cheek. Daemon cleared his t hroat . Blake laughed soft ly in my ear. “I’ll call you. Behave.”

“Alw ays,” I said, let t ing go. W it h one last grin t ossed in Daemon’s direct ion, Blake saunt ered out t he door. Had t o give it t o t he boy, he held his ow n—sort of—against Daemon. I faced him, scow ling as I st art ed fiddling w it h t he obsidian around my neck. “Y ou know , you couldn’t have been much more of a jerk if you t ried.” He arched a brow . “T hought I t old you not t o hang out w it h him?” “T hought I explained t hat just because you say I can’t doesn’t mean I w on’t .” “Y ou did?” His gaze follow ed t he obsidian, and t hen he low ered his head. “Y ou look really nice t onight , Kit t en.” My st omach hollow ed. Must ignore—must ignore. “I t hink Dee has her hands full, but she did a great job decorat ing t he house.” “Don’t let her fool you int o believing she did all of t his herself. She recruit ed me from t he moment I got home.” “Oh.” Surprise shot t hrough me. I couldn’t pict ure Daemon st ringing paper lant erns w it hout light ing t hem on fire and t hen t hrow ing t hem. “You bot h did a great job.” Daemon’s gaze dipped again, and I shivered under his int ense scrut iny. W hy, oh w hy, did Blake need t o bail early, leaving me behind w it h Daemon? “W here did you get t his dress?” he asked. “Y our sist er,” I t old him blandly. He frow ned, looking half disgust ed. “I don’t even know w hat t o say about t hat .” “Say about w hat , babe?” Daemon st iffened. Tearing my gaze from him, my eyes locked w it h Ash’s. Holding my st are, she smiled sw eet ly and w rapped a t hin arm around his narrow w aist . She leaned int o him, as if she w ere all t oo familiar w it h t he lines of his body. And she w as. T hey’d been dat ing on and off for a w hile. Oh, t his w as fabulous. He’d just given Blake t he st ink eye and now Ash w as leeched t o his side. And God, I didn’t like t hat at all. Irony w as such a bit ch. “T hat ’s a cut e dress. It ’s Dee’s, right ?” Ash asked. “I t hink she got it w hen w e w ent shopping t oget her, but it usually looks looser on her.” Oh, t hat felt like a jell yfish st ing. An unreasonable emot ion crept up my spine t he longer she st ood t here, in her skint ight sw eat er dress t hat ended an inch below her but t . “I t hink you forgot some jeans or t he bot t om part of your dress.” Ash smirked, but t hen t urned her at t ent ion back t o Daemon. “Babe, you rushed

off so fast . I had t o search t he ent ire upst airs for you. W hy don’t w e go back t o your room and finish w hat w e st art ed?” T he punched-in-t he-gut feeling nearly doubled me over. I had no idea w here it w as coming from or w hy I felt t hat w ay. It w asn’t reasonable. I didn’t like Daemon—I didn’t . He could make out w it h t he Pope for all I cared, and I’d just kissed Blake. But t hat hot feeling w as t here, st ealing t hrough my veins. Daemon st epped out of Ash’s embrace w hile scrat ching a spot above his heart . He caught my eyes, and I raised my brow s expect ant ly. He w ant ed t o be w it h me? Y eah, seemed like it …in bet w een w hat ever he w as doing w it h Ash. I t urned aw ay before I said somet hing t hat w ould embarrass me lat er. Dee’s high-pit ched giggle follow ed my st eps. Daemon spoke, but it w as lost in t he crow d of people. Needing air and dist ance, I st epped out ont o t he crow ded front porch. I couldn’t figure out w hat w as going on. T here w as no w ay I w as jealous. T hat so w asn’t w hat I w as feeling. And I had a dat e coming up w it h a hot , normal human boy. T here w as no w ay I cared t hat Daemon and Ash w ere doing w hat ever. T hen it st ruck me as I headed dow n t he st eps. Oh my God, I did care. I cared—I cared t hat he’d been upst airs w it h Ash doing t hings t hat …I couldn’t even w rap my brain around w it hout w ant ing t o do physical damage. My head spun. Images of Ash kissing him sucked t he air out of my lungs. W hat w as w rong w it h me? Dazed, I st art ed w alking. At some point , I kicked off my heels and t ossed t hem aside. I kept w alking, my feet bare against t he cold grass and gravel. I didn’t st op unt ill I st ood beside t he empt y house at t he end of t he road. Taking several gulps of fresh, clean air, I t ried t o get cont roll of my overexposed emot ions. Part of me knew w hat I w as feeling w as ridiculous, but it st ill seemed like t he w orld had st opped spinning. I felt like I w ant ed t o explode and everyt hing w as hot and cold at t he same t ime. My breat h shuddered in my chest . I squeezed my eyes shut and sw ore. W hat I w as feeling w asn’t right . T he last t ime I’d been t his jealous w as w hen all t he bloggers w ent t o a book conference last year and Mom w ouldn’t let me go. Hell, t his w as w orse. I w ant ed t o scream. I w ant ed t o run back in t here and pull out every st rand of Ash’s hair. Jealousy I had no right t o coursed t hrough my veins, blinding any rat ional t hought t rying t o t ell me I w as being st upid. But my blood w as boiling. My palms w ere sw eat y and t hey felt foreign and cold. My ent ire body w as shaking. I st ood t here, lost in my sw irling emot ions and messed-up t hought s unt ill I heard t he sound of feet crunching over grass. T he figure moved out of t he dark shadow s and a st ret ch of moonlight bounced off a gold and blue w at ch.

Simon. My st omach sunk all t he w ay t o my t oes. W hat in t he hell w as he doing here? Had Dee invit ed him? I hadn’t t old her w hat had happened bet w een us, but t here w as no doubt she had heard t he rumors. “Kat y, is t hat you?” He st aggered t o t he side and leaned against t he house. Fully visible, he had a sw oll en-shut eye t hat w as an ugly shade of violet . Bruises marred his jaw . A lip w as split . I gaped. “W hat happened t o your face?” Simon lift ed a flask t o his mout h. “Y our boyfriend happened t o my face.” “W ho?” He t ook a drink, w incing. “Daemon Black.” “He’s not my boyfriend.” “W hat ever.” Simon inched closer. “I came here t o t alk…t o you. Y ou’ve got t o call him off.” My eyes w idened. W hen Daemon said he’d t ake care of t he problem, he hadn’t been screw ing around. Part of me felt bad for t he dude, but it w as overshadow ed by t he fact he and his friends had half t he school calling me a skank. “You’ve got t o t ell him I didn’t mean anyt hing t hat night . I’m…sorry.” He lurched forw ard, dropping t he flask. Jesus. Daemon must ’ve put t he fear of God in him. “Y ou’ve got t o t ell him I set everyone st raight .” I st epped back as t he w ave of alcohol and desperat ion crashed int o me. “Simon, I t hink you should sit dow n or somet hing, because—” “You’ve got t o t ell him.” He grabbed my arm w it h damp, beefy fingers. “People are st art ing t o t alk. I can’t …have t hat kind of shit being said about me. T ell him or else.” T he hairs on t he back of my neck rose. Fury t ore t hrough me like a speeding bullet . I w ouldn’t be pushed around or t hreat ened. Not by Simon or anyone. “Or else w hat ?” “My dad’s a law yer.” His hand t ight ened as he sw ayed. “He’ll —” A couple of t hings happened next . He pit ched t ow ard me, t oo close, and my heart sped up. A horrible cracking sound deafened my ears. Four of t he five w indow s w e st ood next t o t rembled and t hen cracked. A large, jagged fract ure st reaked dow n t he middle of each w indow , and t hen small ones spread out

unt ill t he ent ire w indow s shuddered under t he unseen force and exploded, sending shards of glass raining dow n on us.

Chapter 9
Simon yelped as he lurched from t he falling glass. “W hat t he hell?” St ruck by absolut e horror, I st ood mot ionless. Simon shook his arms and more glass fell aw ay from his clot hes. Lit t le pieces slid t hrough my hair, some falling out and ot hers get t ing st uck in t he t angled w aves. My arm felt like someone pinched me, and I knew Dee’s dress w as t orn. T he ot her w indow shuddered. I didn’t know how t o cont roll it . T he pane cont inued t o t remble violent ly. T here w as anot her loud crack. Backing up, Simon glanced from t he w indow s and t hen t o me. His glassy eyes w ere w ide. “Y ou…” I couldn’t cat ch my breat h. T here w as a faint reddish-w hit e glow creeping int o my vision. T he remaining w indow on t he second floor vibrat ed. Face pale, he st umbled over his ow n feet , falling t o t he ground. “Y ou’re…you’re glow ing. Y ou—you freak!” I w as glow ing? “No! It ’s not me. I don’t know w hat ’s happening, but it ’s not me!” He scrambled t o his feet , and I t ook a st ep t ow ard him. He t hrew up his hand and w obbled. “St ay aw ay from me! Just st ay aw ay from me.” Unable t o do anyt hing, I w at ched him st agger around t he house. A car door opened and an engine roared t o life. A dist ant part of my brain t old me I needed t o st op him, because he w as obviously t oo drunk t o drive. But t hen t he t op w indow exploded. Cringing, I shielded my face as glass rained dow n, pinging off t he ground and me. My breat h saw ed in and out of my chest unt ill t he very last piece of glass landed. I st ood t here, mort ified and fright ened by w hat I’d done. Not only did I expose my freak-o abilit ies again, I’d almost t urned Simon int o a pincushion. Man, I w as so screw ed. Minut es passed before I st raight ened and picked my w ay around t he shat t ered glass, making my w ay int o t he heavy t ree line. A fine sheen of cold sw eat dot t ed my forehead and residual fear kept hit t ing me low in t he st omach. W hat had I done? W hen my house came int o sight , I felt t he familiar t ingle along my neck. Branches and leaves crunched, and I t urned. Daemon’s st eps slow ed as he spot t ed me. He pushed a low -hanging branch aside as he neared. “W hat are you doing out here, Kat ?” Several moment s passed before I could speak. “I just blew up a bunch of w indow s.” “W hat ?” Daemon moved closer, eyes w idening. “Y ou’re bleeding. W hat happened?” He paused. “W here are your shoes?” I glanced dow n at my feet . “I t ook t hem off.”

In t he blink of an eye, Daemon w as beside me, knocking off t iny pieces of glass. “Kat , w hat happened?” Lift ing my head, I sucked in a sharp breat h. Full-blow n panic squeezed my chest . “I w as w alking and I ran int o Simon—” “Did he do t his t o you?” His voice w as so low it sent shivers t hrough me. “No. No! I ran int o him, and he w as upset about you.” I paused, my eyes searching his. “He said you beat him up?” “Y eah, I did.” No apology in his voice. “Daemon, you can’t beat up guys because t hey t alk badly about me.” “Act ually, I can.” His hand clenched at his side. “He deserved it . I’m not going t o lie. I did it because of w hat he w as saying. It w as bullshit .” I had no idea w hat t o say. Ha. Me. Speechless. “He know s w hat he did—w hat he t ried t o do—and t o spin t hat around on you?” Daemon eye’s flit t ed t o t he shadow s seeping among t he t rees. “I’m not going t o let some punk-ass human t alk about you like t hat , especially him or his friends.” “Wow ,” I murmured, blinking rapidly. Somet imes I forgot how prot ect ive Daemon could be…or how dow nright scary. “I don’t t hink I’m supposed t o say t hank you, because t hat seems w rong, but , um, t hanks.” “Anyw ay, t hat ’s not import ant . W hat happened?” Taking several deep breat hs, I let t he w ords come out in a rush. W hen I w as done, Daemon w rapped an arm around me, t ugging me against his chest . I didn’t resist him, pressing my face int o him and clut ching his sides, feeling safer in his embrace t han I did any place else. And I couldn’t blame t he connect ion for t hat . Even before it w as formed, his arms had alw ays been a sanct uary of sort s. “I know you didn’t do it on purpose, Kit t en.” His hand pressed a soot hing circle against my back. “Simon w as drunk, so t here’s a good chance he w on’t even remember. And if he does, no one w ill believe him.” Hope sparked. “Y ou t hink?” “Yes. People w ill t hink he’s crazy.” Daemon pulled back, low ering his head so w e w ere eye level. “No one w ill believe him, okay? And if he st art s t o t alk, I’ll —” “Y ou’ll do not hing.” I shimmied free, draw ing a deep breat h. “I t hink you’ve already scarred t he boy for life.”

“Obviously not ,” he mut t ered. “W hat w ere you t hinking back t here? Y ou w ere upset . W hy?” Heat infused my cheeks, and I st art ed w alking t ow ard my house. Daemon let out a long, suffering sigh. He w as right beside me. “Kat , t alk t o me.” “I can make it back home w it hout your help, t hank you very much.” He held a branch out of t he w ay so I could pass under it . “I w ould hope so. It is right t here.” “Shouldn’t you be making out w it h Ash right now anyw ay?” He st ared at me like I’d grow n t w o heads. I recognized my mist ake immediat ely. “T hat ’s w hat all of t his is about ?” “No. It had not hing t o do w it h you—or her.” “Y ou’re jealous.” He sounded smug. “I’m so going t o w in t his bet .” I st omped forw ard. “Me? Jealous? Y ou’ve lost your mind. I w asn’t t he one t rying t o scare off Blake.” He grabbed my arm, st opping me just as my porch came int o sight . “W ho cares about Ben?” “Blake,” I correct ed. “W hat ever. I t hought you didn’t like me?” My hand curled in t he air. T here w as no breaking his hold. “Y ou’re right . I don’t like you.” Anger flared in his eyes. “Y ou’re lying—blushing cheeks and all.” T he w orst case of verbal diarrhea happened. “You w ere kissing me a few days ago and now you w ere having fun w it h Ash? Is t his w hat you normally do? Jump from one girl t o t he next ?” “No.” He dropped my arm. “T hat ’s not w hat I do. I don’t .” “Yeah, I hat e t o break it t o you, but you are doing it .” And so had I. W hat w as I doing? I couldn’t be mad at him w hen I had done t he same t hing, but I w as. It w as ridiculous. “God, I am being such a w hiny girl. Just forget I said anyt hing. You can do w hat ever you w ant and I don’t have any right —” Daemon cursed, dropping my arm. “Okay. You have no idea w hat w as going on bet w een Ash and me. We w ere only t alking. She w as messing w it h you, Kat .”

“W hat ever.” I w hirled around, w alking again. “I’m not jealous. I don’t care if you and Ash make alien babies t oget her. I don’t care. And honest ly, if it w eren’t for t his st upid connect ion, you w ouldn’t even enjoy kissing me. Y ou probably already don’t .” Daemon w as suddenly in front of me. I t ook an involunt ary st ep back. “Do you t hink I didn’t enjoy kissing you? T hat I haven’t t hought about it every second since t hen? And I know you have. Just admit it .” In t he pit of my st omach, t ight coils t hrummed. “W hat is t he point of t his?” “Have you?” “Oh, for crap’s sake, yes, I have. I do! Do you w ant me t o w rit e it dow n for you? Send you an e-mail or a t ext ? W ill t hat make you feel bet t er?” Daemon arched a brow . “Y ou don’t need t o be sarcast ic.” “And you don’t need t o be here. Ash is w ait ing for you.” He cocked his head t o t he side in exasperat ion. “Do you really t hink I’m going t o go t o her?” “Uh, yeah, I do.” “Kat .” He shook his head, his voice a soft denial. “It doesn’t mat t er.” I t ook a deep breat h. “Can w e just forget t his? Please?” Daemon smoot hed a finger over his brow . “I can’t forget t his and neit her can you.” Frust rat ed, I t urned on my heel and st alked t ow ard my house. I half expect ed him t o st op me, but aft er a few successful st eps aw ay I realized he w asn’t going t o. I had t o fight t urning around t o see if he st ill st ood t here. I’d made enough of a fool of myself t onight . Kicked a hissy fit over Ash and Daemon, st ormed out of t he part y, and nearly decapit at ed Simon. All of t his before midnight . Aw esome.

Chapter 10
Turning eight een w asn’t as excit ing as I’d t hought it w ould be w hen I w as a kid, but some pret t y cool st uff happened. I made it most of t he day not w orrying over w hat had happened last night . Blake called t o chat , and I received a shiny new lapt op already set up w it h everyt hing inst alled.

Before I did anyt hing else, I logged int o my blog and w rot e a quick “I’m Back!” post . A huge chunk of my life t hat had been missing ret urned. Mom had t o pull me aw ay from t he lapt op pret t y quickly, t hough. I spent t he rest of t he day t raveling a great dist ance w it h Mom t o meet W ill at t he nearest Olive Garden. W ill w as t he t ouchy, feely sort . I w asn’t sure how t o feel. Not once did he t ake his hand off my mot her’s during dinner. It w as cut e, and he w as charming and handsome, but it w as just w eird t o see her w it h anot her dude. Weirder t han I’d t hought it w ould be. But he did give me a gift card t o t he local bookst ore. Bonus point s t here. T he cust omary ice-cream cake w as different t his year. W ill joined us at home for it . “Here,” he said, t aking t he knife from Mom. “If you run it under hot w at er, it ’s easier t o use.” Mom beamed up at him like he’d just discovered t he cure for cancer. T hey chat t ed w hile I sat at t he t able, t rying not t o roll my eyes. W ill placed a slice in front of me. “T hank you,” I said. He smiled. “No problem. I’m just glad you’re complet ely recovered from t he flu. No one w ant s t o be sick on t heir birt hday.” “I second t hat ,” Mom said. She didn’t t ake her eyes off him unt ill it w as near t he t ime for her t o get ready for her shift in W inchest er. W ill remained in t he kit chen w it h me, finishing off t he last of his cake w hile t he silence bet w een us grew t o an aw kw ard level of epic proport ions. “Have you been enjoying your birt hday so far?” he asked, dangling t he fork from his long fingers. I sw allow ed t he last of t he crunchy part , w hich w as t he only sect ion of t he ice-cream cake I’d eat . “Y eah, it ’s been really nice.” W ill picked up his glass, t ipping it t ow ard me. “Well, let ’s t oast t o many more in t he fut ure,” he said. I picked up mine, clanging it off his. He smiled, crinkling t he skin around his eyes. “I plan on being here t o share t hem w it h you and your mot her.” Unsure of how t o feel about him being here a year from now , I set my glass dow n and bit my lip. Part of me w ant ed t o be happy for Mom, but t he ot her part felt like I w as bet raying Dad. W ill cleared his t hroat , inclining his head t o t he side as he w at ched me. Amusement flickered in his eyes t hat w ere so pale, t hey w ere almost gray like mine. “I know you probably don’t like t he sound of t hat . Kell ie t old me how close you w ere t o your fat her. I can underst and your reluct ance t o having me around.” “I’m not reluct ant t o t he idea,” I said honest ly. “It ’s just different .”

“Different isn’t bad. Neit her is change.” He t ook a drink, glancing t ow ard t he door. “Your mom is a great w oman. I t hought t hat from t he moment she came t o w ork at t he hospit al, but it w as t he night you w ere at t acked t hat t hings w ent from a professional w orking relat ionship t o somet hing more. I’m glad I could be t here for her.” He paused, his smile spreading. “St range how somet hing good can come from somet hing horrible.” My brow s furrow ed. “Y eah…t hat is st range.” His smile t ipped higher, almost condescending. Mom ret urned, ending his t ot ally w eird at t empt at bonding w it h me…or marking his t errit ory. He st ayed right up t o t he moment she left for w ork, sucking up her t ime. I w ent t o t he w indow , seeing t hem kiss before t hey got int o separat e cars. Gross. W it h t he sun set t ing out side, I w rot e a quick review for Monday and t hen a longer one for Tuesday. T he longer one w as because I couldn’t st op gushing. I t hink I had a new book boyfriend and his name w as T od. Y umt ast ic. I set t led on one of t hose usually annoying st at ions on t he T V t hat played only music on a blank screen. St opping on a channel t hat offered hit s from t he eight ies, I t urned it up loud enough I couldn’t hear my ow n t hought s. T here w as laundry t hat needed t o be done and a kit chen t hat could use a good scrubbing. It w as t oo lat e t o get t he dead plant s out of t he flow er bed. Gardening w as somet hing t hat alw ays helped clear my t hought s, but aut umn and w int er sucked for it . I changed int o a pair of comfy sleep short s, lit t le reindeer-covered socks t hat reached my knees, and a long-sleeve t hermal. I looked like a hot mess. Running t hrough t he house, I gat hered all t he clot hes, sliding at t imes on t he hardw ood floors. I dumped a load int o t he w asher and st art ed singing along t o one of t he songs. “In t ouch w it h t he ground. I’m on t he hunt . I’m aft er you.” I scoot ed out of t he laundry room and skipped dow n t he hall w ay, arms flaying around my head like one of t he hot pink puppet s from t he movie Labyrinth. “A scent and a sound, I’m lost and I’m found. And I’m hungry like the w olf. Something on a line, it’s discord and rhyme—w hatever, w hatever, la la la—Mouth is alive, all running inside, and I’m hungry like the—” W armth spread dow n my neck. “It ’s act ually, ’I how ll and I w hine. I’m aft er you,’ and not blah or w hat ever.” St art led by t he deep voice, I shrieked and w hipped around. My foot slipped on a sect ion of w ell-cleaned w ood and my but t smacked on t he floor. “Holy crap,” I gasped, clut ching my chest . “I t hink I’m having a heart at t ack.” “And I t hink you broke your but t .” Laught er filled Daemon’s voice.

I remained spraw led across t he narrow hall w ay, t rying t o cat ch my breat h. “W hat t he hell? Do you just w alk int o people’s houses?” “And list en t o girls absolut ely dest roy a song in a mat t er of seconds? Well, yes, I make a habit out of it . Act ually, I knocked several t imes, but I heard your…singing, and your door w as unlocked.” He shrugged. “So I just let myself in.” “I can see t hat .” I st ood, w incing. “Oh, man, maybe I did break my but t .” “I hope not . I’m kind of part iall t o your but t .” He flashed a smile. “Y our face is pret t y red. Y ou sure you didn’t smack t hat on t he w ay dow n?” I groaned. “I hat e you.” “Nah, I don’t t hink you do.” His gaze w ent over me, dow n t o my t oes. His brow s inched up. “Nice socks.” I rubbed my backside. “Do you need somet hing?” He leaned against t he w all, shoving his hands int o his jeans. “No, I don’t need somet hing.” “T hen w hy did you break int o my house?” He shrugged again. “I didn’t break in. T he door w as unlocked and I heard t he music. I guessed you w ere t he only one here. W hy are you doing laundry and singing eight ies songs on your birt hday?” Now surprise smacked me upside t he head. “How …how do you know it ’s my birt hday? I don’t even t hink I t old Dee.” Daemon looked ent irely t oo smug for his ow n good…or mine. “T he night you w ere at t acked at t he library and I w ent t o t he hospit all w it h you? W hen you w ere giving t hem your personal informat ion, I overheard you.” “Really,” I said, st aring at him. “And you remembered?” “Y ep. Anyw ay, w hy are you doing chores on your birt hday?” I couldn’t believe he’d remembered. “I’m obviously t hat lame.” “T hat is pret t y lame. Oh, list en!” His glit t ering eyes slid in t he direct ion of t he living room. “It ’s ’Eye of t he T iger.’ Do you w ant t o sing along t o t hat ? Maybe jog up t he st airs and pump your fist s in t he air?” “Daemon.” I shuffled past him carefully, w ent int o t he living room, and picked up t he remot e, t urning t he song dow n. “Seriously, w hat do you w ant ?” He w as direct ly behind me, forcing me t o t ake an uneasy st ep back. Being t hat close t o him did funny, bad t hings t o me.

“I came over t o apologize.” “W hat ?” I w as shocked, aw ed, and shocked some more. “Y ou’re going t o apologize again? I don’t even know w hat t o say. W ow .” Daemon frow ned. “I know it seems like a huge surprise t o you t hat I do have feelings and t herefore do feel bad at t imes for t hings t hat I may have…caused.” “Hold up. I have t o record t his. Let me grab my phone.” I t urned, scanning t he t ables for t he basically unusable shiny object t hat never got clear recept ion out here. “Kat , you’re not helping. I’m being serious. T his is…hard for me.” I rolled my eyes. Of course apologizing w ould only be hard for him. “Okay. I’m sorry. Want t o sit ? I have cake. Cake should sw eet en your disposit ion a lit t le.” “Not hing can soft en me. I’m as cold as ice.” “Hardy-har-har. It ’s made of ice cream and has t he yummy crunchy middle part ?” “Okay, t hat may w ork. T he crunchy middle part is my favorit e.” I fought t he grin t hat t ugged at my lips. “Okay, t hen come on.” We w ent t o t he kit chen in aw kw ard silence. I grabbed a hair t ie off t he count er and t ugged my hair back. “How big of a piece do you w ant ?” I pulled t he cake out of t he freezer. “How big of a piece are you w illing t o part w it h?” “As big as you w ant .” I grabbed a knife out of t he draw er and sized up w hat I t hought w ould be a suit able piece for him. “Bigger.” He hovered over my shoulder. I moved t he knife t o t he side. “Even bigger.” I rolled my eyes and moved it a couple of inches. “Perfect .” T he knife refused t o cooperat e w hen I t ried t o cut off half of t he cake. It got an inch dow n and w ouldn’t go any fart her. “I hat e cut t ing t hese freaking t hings.”

“Let me t ry.” He reached around and our hands brushed as he t ook t he knife from me. Elect ricit y danced over my skin. “You need t o run it under hot w at er. T hen it cut s right t hrough it .” St epping aside, I let him t ake over. He did t he same t hing W ill had done earlier, and t he knife w ent t hrough t he cake. T he but t on-dow n shirt he w ore pulled across his shoulders as he leaned over and ran t he knife under hot w at er again before cut t ing a smaller piece. “See? Perfect ,” he comment ed. Chew ing on my lip, I grabbed t w o clean plat es and placed t hem on t he count er. “Do you w ant somet hing t o drink?” “Milk is alw ays good if you’ve got some?” Get t ing t he milk, I poured t w o t all glasses. I grabbed t he silverw are and mot ioned t ow ard t he living room. “Y ou don’t w ant t o eat in here?” “No. I don’t like eat ing at t he dinner t able. It seems so formal.” Daemon shrugged and follow ed me int o t he living room. I sat dow n on t he couch, and he t ook a seat on t he ot her end. I poked t he cake, not really hungry at all. My st omach w as full of knot s. He cleared his t hroat . “Nice roses. Brad?” “Blake.” I hadn’t t hought a second about Blake since Daemon show ed up in my hall w ay. “Y eah, t hey’re nice, aren’t t hey?” “W hat ever,” he grumbled. “So w hy are you spending t onight by yourself? It ’s your birt hday.” I scow led at his blat ant reminder. “My mom had t o w ork, and I just didn’t feel like doing anyt hing.” I poked at t he cake some more. “It ’s not as bad as it sounds. I’ve spent many of t hem by myself.” “I guess you probably w ould have preferred I hadn’t st opped by t hen, huh?” Looking up, I w at ched as he st abbed his cake w it h his fork unt ill he part ed t he ice cream aw ay from t he cookie middle. He t ook a bit e of t he crunchy part . “I really did come t o apologize for last night .” I sat t he plat e aside and pulled my legs up underneat h me. “Daemon—” “W ait .” He held up his fork. “Okay?” Sit t ing back, I nodded.

He glanced dow n at his plat e, his jaw clenching. “Not hing happened bet w een Ash and me last night . She w as just …messing w it h you. And I know t hat ’s hard t o believe, but I’m sorry if it …hurt you.” Daemon drew in a deep breat h. “Cont rary t o w hat you t hink about me, I don’t jump from girl t o girl. I do like you, so I w ouldn’t mess around w it h Ash. And I haven’t . Ash and I haven’t done anyt hing for mont hs, before you even came around.” T here w as a peculiar flut t ering in my chest . Never in my life had I had such a hard t ime figuring myself out as I did w hen it came t o Daemon. I underst ood books. I did not underst and boys—especially alien boys. “T hings are complicat ed bet w een Ash and me. We’ve know n each ot her since w e came here. Everyone expect s us t o be t oget her. Especially t he elders, since w e’re ’coming of age.’ T ime t o st art making babies.” He shuddered. It w as official. I liked t he sound of t hat even less t he second t ime around. “Even Ash expect s us t o be t oget her,” Daemon w ent on, st abbing his cake. “And all of t his? I know it ’s hurt ing her. I never w ant ed t o do t hat .” He paused, st ruggling for t he right t hing t o say. “I never w ant ed t o hurt you, eit her. And I’ve done bot h of t hose t hings.” T w o bright red spot s blossomed across his cheeks. I ran my hand over my leg and looked aw ay. I didn’t w ant him t o know t hat I saw him blush. “I can’t be w it h her t he w ay she w ant s—t he w ay she deserves.” He st opped, exhaling. “Anyw ay, I w ant ed t o apologize for last night .” “So do I.” I bit my lip. “I shouldn’t have snapped at you like I did. I guess t he w hole w indow t hing freaked me out .” “W hat you did last night w it h t he w indow s. Well, t hat w as one hell of a display of pow er t hat you have no cont roll of.” He glanced at me, lashes low ered. “I’ve been t hinking about it . And I keep t hinking of Daw son and Bet hany. T hat evening t hey ret urned from hiking, and he w as covered in blood. I t hink she may have got t en hurt .” “And he healed her?” “Yep. I don’t know more. T hey…t hey died a couple of days lat er. I guess it ’s like t w o phot ons split t ing, separat e but t he same. T hat explains how w e can sense each ot her.” He shrugged. “I don’t know . It ’s a t heory.” “Do you t hink w hat ever is happening w it h me w ill st op?” He scooped up t he last of his cake and t hen placed his plat e on t he coffee t able. “We may get lucky. W hat you’re doing might fade over t ime, but you need t o be careful. No pressure, but it ’s a t hreat t o all of us. I’m not t rying t o be…cruel. It ’s t he t rut h.” “No, I underst and. I could expose you all. I’ve almost done it several t imes.”

He leaned back against t he couch in a lazy, arrogant spraw ll t hat made my t oes curl. “I’m checking around t o see if anyone has heard of t his happening. I have t o be careful, t hough. T oo many quest ions w ill give w ay t o suspicion.” I fingered t he necklace as Daemon t urned t o t he t elevision and smiled. An eight ies hair band played, screeching about a love lost and found, t o only be lost again. “Aft er seeing your dance skills earlier, you w ould have blended right in w it h t he eight ies,” he said. I rolled my eyes. “Can w e not ment ion t hat again?” He grinned as he t urned t o me, a sly look on his face. “Y ou w ere t his close t o having ’W alk Like an Egypt ian’ dow n.” “Y ou’re a douche.” Daemon laughed. “Did you know I had a purple Mohaw k?” “W hat ?” I laughed, not even able t o imagine t hat , especially around t hese part s. “W hen?” “Yep, purple and black. It w as before w e moved here. We w ere living in New York. I guess I w ent t hrough t his phase. Pierced nose and all,” he said, grinning. I bust ed out laughing, and he shoved a t hrow pillow at me. I picked it up and placed it in my lap. “Y ou w ere a skat er boy, huh?” “Somet hing like t hat . Mat t hew w as w it h us. He became our guardian of sort s. He had no idea w hat t o do w it h me.” “But Mat t hew —he’s not t hat much older.” “He’s older t han he looks. He’s around t hirt y-eight .” “W ow . He’s aging w ell.” Daemon nodded. “He arrived at t he same t ime w e did, in t he same area. I guess he t hought he w as responsible for us, being t he oldest out of everyone.” “W here did you guys…?” How in t he w orld w ould I say t his? Coming up empt y, I w inced. “W here did you all land?” Reaching over, he picked a piece of lint off my t hermal. “W e landed near Skaros.” “Skaros?” I scrunched up my face. “Uh, is t hat even on Eart h?”

“Yes.” He smiled slight ly. “It ’s act ually a small island near Greece. It ’s know n for t his rocky region w here a cast le once st ood. I’d like t o go back one day. It ’s kind of like our birt hplace, I guess.” “How many of you landed t here?” “A couple dozen, or at least t hat ’s w hat Mat t hew has t old us. I don’t remember anyt hing from t he beginning.” His lips pursed. “W e st ayed in Greece unt ill w e w ere around five, and t hen w e came t o America. T here w ere t w ent y or so of us, and as soon as w e arrived, t he DOD w as t here.” I couldn’t imagine w hat t hat must ’ve been like for him and t he ot hers. To be so young, t o be from a different w orld, and t hen t o be t hrust right int o t he hands of a foreign government had t o be scary. “How did all of t hat go?” He glanced at me. “Not very good, Kit t en. We didn’t know t hat humans w ere aw are of us. All w e did know w as t here w ere Arum around, but t he DOD came as a huge surprise t o us. Apparent ly t hey knew about us from t he moment w e got here. T hey rounded up hundreds w ho had arrived in America.” I t w ist ed t ow ard him, clut ching t he pillow t o my chest . “W hat did t hey do w it h you guys?” “T hey kept us in a facilit y out in New Mexico.” “No shit .” My eyes w ent w ide. “Is Area 51 t he real deal?” He eyed me, amusement creeping int o his eyes. “Wow .” I let t hat one sink in. All t hose crazies t rying t o get int o t he compound had good reason. “I t hought t he w hole Area 51 t hing had been around a w hile.” “My family and friends arrived fift een years ago, but t hat doesn’t mean t he Luxen didn’t come before t hat .” He laughed at my expression. “Anyw ay, t hey kept us t here for t he first five years. T hey—t he DOD—had been assimilat ing t he Luxen for years. We learned a lot about humans during t hat t ime, and w hen w e w ere…deemed ready t o fully assimilat e, t hey let us go. Usually w it h an older Luxen w ho could t ake care of us. Since Mat t hew had a relat ionship w it h us, w e w ere placed w it h him.” I did a quick calculat ion in my head. “But you guys w ould’ve been only t en years old. Did you live w it h Mat t hew unt ill recent ly?” “Believe it or not , w e mat ure different ly t han humans. At t en I could’ve gone t o college. We develop a lot fast er, our brains and w hat not . I’m act ually smart er t han I act .” Anot her fleet ing grin graced his face. “Mat t hew lived w it h us unt ill w e moved here. At fift een, w e w ere pret t y much adult s. T he DOD set us up w it h a house and money.”

W ell, t hat probably explained part of our nat ional debt . “But w hat about people asking quest ions—looking for your parent s?” Daemon glanced at me sidelong. “T here’s alw ays an older Luxen w e can pass off for our parent , or w e can morph int o an older version. T he morphing t hing w e t ry t o avoid because of t he t race.” Shaking my head, I set t led back against t he couch. Running t heir ow n lives since t hey w ere fift een, w it h just Mat t hew checking in on t hem. I shouldn’t be so shocked. My ow n life w as sort of t hat w ay, w it h my mom w orking so much since Dad died. Daemon w as w at ching me in his int ense w ay w hen I looked at him. “Do you w ant me t o leave?” T here w as t he opening—my chance t o t ell him t o go. “No. You don’t have t o. I mean, I’m not doing anyt hing and if you have not hing t o do, you can st ay or w hat ever…” Or I needed t o just shut up. His eyes held mine a moment , and a sw elling developed in my chest , t hreat ening t o consume me w hole. His gaze moved t o my shiny red lapt op sit t ing on t he coffee t able. “I see someone got somet hing for her birt hday.” I grinned. “Y eah, Mom got it for me. I’ve been w it hout since…w ell, since t hen.” He scrat ched his cheek. “Y eah, I didn’t apologize for t hat , did I?” “No.” I sighed. Back t o aw kw ard conversat ion. And not only t hat , I w as remembering just how I’d lost my last lapt op. Daemon cleared his t hroat . “T hat ’s never happened before, t he w hole blow ing-st uff-up part .” My cheeks heat ed as I st ared at my lapt op. “Same here.” His gaze focused on t he T V again. “It happened w it h Daw son, in a w ay. It w as how Bet hany found out .” T here w as a pause and I held my breat h. He rarely t alked about his brot her. “He w as making out w it h her and lost cont rol. T urned full Luxen w hile kissing her.” “Y ikes. T hat had t o be…” “Aw kw ard?” “Y eah, aw kw ard.” Silence fell bet w een us, and I couldn’t help but w onder if w e w ere t hinking t he same t hing. How it had felt t o be kissing…t ouching. Skin uncomfort ably hot , I searched for somet hing safe t o t alk about . “Dee said you guys had moved a lot . How many different places?” “We st ayed in New York for a w hile, t hen w e moved t o Sout h Dakot a. And if you t hink not hing goes on here, you haven’t lived in Sout h Dakot a.

T hen w e moved t o Colorado before coming here. I w as alw ays t he one w ho provoked t he change in scenery. It ’s like I w as looking for somet hing, but none of t hose places had it .” “I bet New Y ork w as your favorit e place.” “Act ually, it ’s not .” A bit of his t eet h show ed in his slight smile. “It ’s here.” Surprised, I laughed. “W est Virginia?” “It ’s not t hat bad. T here are a lot of us here. More so t han any ot her place. I have friends w ho I can be myself w it h—a w hole communit y, really. T hat ’s import ant .” “I can underst and t hat .” Clut ching t he pillow t o my chest , I rest ed my head on it . “Do you t hink Dee is happy here? She makes it sound like she can’t leave. Like, ever.” Daemon shift ed, bringing his legs ont o t he couch. “Dee w ant s t o pave her ow n w ay in life, and I can’t blame her for t hat .” Paving her ow n w ay had ended up w it h her having sex w it h Adam. I w ondered if she st ill had dreams of going t o college overseas. He st ret ched as if he w ere t rying t o rid himself of some sort of t ension t hat had suddenly set t led over him. I scoot ed aw ay, giving him more room. “If you haven’t not iced yet , t here are more males t han females. So t he females are paired off very quickly and prot ect ed above all.” I made a face. “Paired off and mat ed? I underst and it — you guys need t o reproduce. But Dee can’t be forced t o do t hat . It ’s not fair. You should cont roll your ow n lives.” He glanced at me, deep shadow s in his eyes. “But w e don’t , Kit t en.” I shook my head. “It ’s not right .” “It ’s not . Most Luxen don’t push for anyt hing different . Daw son did. He loved Bet hany.” Daemon exhaled raggedly. “We w ere against it . And I t hought he w as st upid for falling for a human. No offense.” “None t aken.” “It w as hard for him. Our group w as upset w it h him, but Daw son…he w as t he st rong one.” Daemon smiled as he shook his head. “He didn’t cave, and if t he colony had discovered t he t rut h, I don’t t hink t hey w ould’ve changed him.” “Couldn’t he have left w it h her, snuck past t he DOD? Maybe t hat ’s w hat happened?” “Daw son loved it here. He w as big on hiking and out doors. He w as int o t he w hole rust icliving t hing.” Daemon glanced at me. “He’d never leave, especially w it hout t elling Dee or me.

I know bot h of t hem are dead.” He smiled again. “You w ould’ve liked Daw son. Looked just like me but a much bet t er guy. Not a douchebag, in ot her w ords.” A lump formed in my t hroat . “I’m sure I w ould’ve, but you’re not bad.” He arched a brow . “Okay, you’re prone t o moment s of great dickdom, but you’re not bad.” I paused, holding t he pillow t ight . “Do you w ant t o know w hat I honest ly t hink?” “Should I be w orried?” I laughed. “T here’s a really nice guy under t he jerk. I’ve seen glimpses of him. So w hile I probably w ant t o beat t he crap out of you most of t he t ime, I really don’t t hink you’re a bad guy. Y ou have a lot of responsibilit y.” Daemon t ilt ed his head back and chuckled. “W ell, I guess t hat ’s not t oo bad.” I shrugged. “Can I ask you a quest ion and you t ell me t he t rut h?” “Alw ays,” he sw ore. I reached around my neck and pulled at t he daint y chain. T he obsidian came int o view , and I held it in my hand. “T he DOD is a bigger concern t han t he Arum, aren’t t hey?” His lips t hinned, but he didn’t lie. “Y es.” I ran a finger over t he w ire t w ist ed at t he t op of t he cryst al. “W hat w ould t hey do if t hey knew I w as moving t hings like you?” “T hey’d probably do t he same t hing t hey’d do t o us if t hey knew .” Daemon reached out and cupped my hand t hat held t he obsidian. He laid his finger over mine, st opping my movement s. “T hey’d lock you up…or w orse. But I’m not going t o let t hat happen.” My skin t ingled w here it made cont act w it h his. “But how can you live like t his? Like, just w ait ing for t hem t o find out t here’s more t o you guys?” His fingers curled around mine, enclosing t he pendant unt ill w e bot h held it in our hands. “It ’s all I’ve know n—it ’s all any of us have know n.” I blinked aw ay t he sudden rush of t ears. “T hat ’s really kind of sad.” “It ’s our life.” He paused. “But don’t w orry about t hem. Not hing w ill happen t o you.” Our faces w ere only inches apart . His hand w as st ill around mine. Somet hing st ruck me t hen. “Y ou’re alw ays prot ect ing ot hers, aren’t you?” He squeezed my hand and t hen released it . Leaning against t he couch, he reached one arm back and rest ed his head against his curved elbow . He didn’t answ er my quest ion. “T his hasn’t been a very birt hday-friendly conversat ion.” “It ’s okay. Y ou w ant more milk or anyt hing?”

“No, but I w ould like t o know somet hing.” I frow ned and st ret ched out my right leg in t he small space he didn’t occupy. He w as rat her large, so it didn’t leave a lot of room. “W hat ?” “How oft en do you run t hrough t he house singing?” he asked seriously. I kicked at him, but he caught my t oes. “Y ou can leave now .” “I seriously love t hese socks.” “Give me back my foot ,” I ordered. “It ’s not so much t he fact t hat t hey’ve got reindeers on t hem or t hat t hey go all t he w ay up t o your knees.” As if t hat w ere some kind of great dist ance. “But it ’s t he fact t hey’re like mit t ens on your feet .” Rolling my eyes, I w iggled my t oes. “I like t hem like t hat . And don’t you dare knock t hem. I w ill kick you off t his couch.” He raised a brow and cont inued t o inspect t hem. “Sock mit t ens, huh? Never seen anyt hing like it . Dee w ould love t hem.” I pulled at my foot , and he let go. “W hat ever. I’m sure t here’re cornier t hings t han my socks. Don’t judge me. It ’s t he only t hing I like about t he holidays.” “T he only t hing? I figured you’re t he t ype of person w ho w ant s t he Christ mas t ree t o go up on T hanksgiving.” “Y ou celebrat e Christ mas?” Daemon nodded. “Y es. It ’s t he human t hing t o do. Dee loves Christ mas. Act ually, I t hink she just loves t he idea of present s.” I laughed. “I used t o love t he holidays. And yeah, I w as real big on t he Christ mas t ree w hen Dad w as alive. We’d put it up w hile w at ching t he parade on T hanksgiving.” “But ?” “But Mom is never home on t he holidays now . And I know she w on’t be t his year; since she’s new at t he hospit al, she’ll get t he shaft .” I shrugged. “I’m alw ays alone on t he holidays, like some sort of old cat w oman.” He didn’t respond but w at ched me int ent ly. I t hink he sensed how uncomfort able it made me t o admit , because he changed t he subject . “So, t his Bob guy…” “His name is Blake, and don’t st art , Daemon.” “Fine.” His lips t ipped up. “He’s not an issue anyw ay.”

My brow s furrow ed. “W hat ’s t hat supposed t o mean?” Daemon shrugged. “I w as kind of surprised w hen I w as in your bedroom w hile you w ere sick.” “I’m not sure I w ant t o know about w hat .” “Y ou had a post er of Bob Dylan on t he w all. I expect ed t he Jonas Brot hers or somet hing.” “Are you serious? No. Not a fan of pop music. I’m a huge fan of Dave Mat t hew s and older st uff, like Dylan.” He looked surprised, but t hen he launched int o a discussion about his favorit e bands, and w e w ere surprised t hat w e had t he same t ast es. We argued over w hich Godfat her movie w as t he best and w hat realit y show w as t he st upidest . Hours w ent by, and I learned more about Daemon. And t here w as t hat different side of him, t he one I’d glimpsed a few t imes in t he past . He w as relaxed, friendly, and even playful w it hout making me w ant t o bash him upside t he head. W e did argue over a few t hings, a bit heat edly, but he w asn’t a jerk. It all suddenly felt easy, and t hat scared t he crap out of me. It w as past t hree a.m. by t he t ime I’d realized how long w e’d been t alking. I pulled my t ired gaze off t he clock and looked at him. His eyes had drift ed shut and his chest rose and fell evenly. Daemon looked so…peaceful. Not w ant ing t o w ake him, I pulled t he afghan off t he back of t he couch and carefully spread it over him. I grabbed a smaller quilt and t ucked it around my legs. I could’ve w oke him, but I didn’t have it in me. And yeah, t here w as a t eeny, t iny part of me t hat didn’t w ant him t o leave. I didn’t know w hat t hat meant for me. And I didn’t put t oo much t hought int o t hat . Not right now . Not w hen I w as sure my brain w ould t ake an obsessive t urn int o boy land. “T hank you,” he murmured lazily. My eyes w idened. “I t hought you w ere asleep.” “Almost , but you’re st aring at me.” I flushed. “I am not .” Daemon pried one eye open. “Y ou alw ays blush w hen you lie.” “I do not .” I felt t he flush spread dow n my neck. “If you keep lying, I t hink I w ill have t o leave,” he t hreat ened halfheart edly. “I don’t feel like my virt ue is safe.”

“Y our virt ue?” I huffed. “W hat ever.” “I know how you get .” His eyes closed. Smiling, I snuggled dow n in my corner of t he couch. W e never did change t he channel. Somet ime lat er I remembered somet hing he had said earlier. “Did you find it ?” I asked sleepily. His hand slipped over his chest . “Find w hat , Kit t en?” “W hat you w ere searching for?” Daemon’s eyes opened and held mine. T he sw elling w as back in my chest , spreading t hrough my body. T here w as a spike of somet hing— excit ement ?—in my low er st omach as t he silence st ret ched out for w hat felt like an et ernit y. “Y eah, somet imes, I t hink I did.”

Chapter 11
W hen I w oke up on Monday morning, I w asn’t sure exact ly how t hings w ere going t o play out w hen I saw Daemon in class. He’d cleared out of t he house w hile I w as st ill asleep and I hadn’t seen him w hen I hung out w it h Dee on Sunday, w hich consist ed of w at ching her suck face w it h Adam. Guess t hat phone call w ent w ell. Spending t ime w it h him Sat urday night hadn’t really changed anyt hing bet w een Daemon and me. At least , t hat w as w hat I kept t elling myself. It w as just a good moment in a long st ring of bad ones. And I had bigger and bet t er t hings t o t hink about . I had a dat e w it h Blake aft er school. But my t hought s kept st raying back t o Daemon, and a deep flut t ering st art ed in my st omach w hen I t hought about us side by side on t he couch. Warmt h t ingled over my neck w hile Carissa w as t elling me about a romance book she w as reading. I kept my eyes glued t o her, but I w as w ell aw are of t he fact t hat Daemon w as t here. He t ook his seat behind me. A second lat er, somet hing I’d oddly missed in a messed-up w ay happened. Daemon poked me in t he back w it h his pen.

Lesa’s brow s arched, but she w isely said not hing as I t w ist ed around. “Y es?” His half grin w as all t oo familiar. “Reindeer socks t oday?” “No. Polka dot s.” “Sock mit t ens?” “Regular,” I said, fight ing a st upid grin. “I’m not sure how I feel about t hat .” He t apped his pen on t he edge of his desk. “Regular socks just seem so boring aft er seeing t he reindeer socks.” Lesa cleared her t hroat . “Reindeer socks?” “She has t hese socks t hat have reindeers on t hem and are kind of like a mit t en for t he t oes,” he explained. “Oh, I have a pair like t hat ,” Carissa said, grinning. “But mine have st ripes on t hem. Love t hem in t he w int er.” I passed Daemon a smug look. My socks w ere cool. “Am I t he only person w ho is w ondering how you saw her socks?” Lesa asked. Carissa punched her on t he arm. “W e live next door t o each ot her,” he reminded her. “I see lot s of t hings.” I shook my head frant ically. “No, he doesn’t . He hardly sees anyt hing.” “Blushing,” he said, point ing at my cheeks w it h t he blue cap of his pen. “Shut up.” I glared at him, fight ing a grin. “Anyw ay, w hat are you doing t onight ?” But t erflies filled my st omach. I shrugged. “I have plans.” He frow ned. “W hat kind of…plans?” “Just plans.” I t urned around quickly and focused on t he chalkboard. I knew Daemon’s gaze w as fixed on t he back of my head, but all in all I w as feeling kind of good about t hings. Definit e progress had been made w hen it came t o Daemon. We’d spent hours t oget her w it hout killing each ot her or submit t ing t o w ild monkey lust . My new lapt op w as divine. Simon w asn’t in class t o blame me for get t ing his ass kicked or t o t ell people he saw me go all supernat ural on t he w indow s. And I had a dat e t onight .

T hat last bit made me sw allow . I really had t o come clean w it h Blake. It w asn’t fair t o him…or t o Daemon. I w asn’t ready t o suddenly believe Daemon, but I couldn’t go on pret ending t here w asn’t somet hing t here. Even if it might only be alien flu. … “Here.” Blake grinned, sliding his dish over. “Try some of this.” I kept my expression in check as I t w irled my fork in t he noodles. “I don’t know about t his.” He laughed. “It ’s really not t hat bad. It smells kind of funny, but I t hink you’ll like it .” Aft er a small bit e, I decided it w asn’t horrendous. I glanced up, smiling. “Okay. Not bad.” “I can’t believe t he first t ime you’re eat ing Indian food is in W est Virginia.” I ran my hand over my jean-clad leg. T he small candle on t he side of t he t able flickered. “I’m not very food advent urous. I’m a st eak-and-hamburger kind of chick.” “Well, w e have t o change t hat , because you don’t know w hat you’re missing.” Blake w inked. It t ot ally looked cool coming from him. “T hai is my favorit e. Love t he spices.” T he slim redheaded w ait ress sw ung by and refilled our glasses. She kept smiling coyly at Blake. I couldn’t blame her. Blake w as one of t he few guys w ho could pull off t he sw eat er and but t on-dow n shirt look. I t ried some more of t he noodles. I w as having fun, but as I pushed t he food around t he plat e, I felt a w eird t ug in my st omach. I w as having a great t ime w it h him, but ... “So I heard somet hing at school t oday,” Blake said aft er t he w ait ress left . Slumping against t he seat , I bit back a st ring of curses. God only knew w hat he’d heard. Rumors about me w ere flying like UFOs. “I’m afraid t o even ask.” He looked sympat het ic. “I heard t hat Daemon beat up some guy because of you.” W e’d made it t his ent ire t ime w it hout bringing up Daemon. I slumped a lit t le in my boot h. “Y eah, he kind of did.” Bot h his brow s rose in surprise as he leaned forw ard. “Y ou going t o t ell me w hy?” “Y ou haven’t heard t he rumors?” He ran a hand t hrough his messy spikes. “I hear a lot of t hings, but I don’t believe t hem.” It w as t he last t hing I w ant ed t o do, but I figured he’d hear t he not -so-t rue part s sooner or lat er. Hell, he might ’ve already. So I t old him about my homecoming dat e from hell.

Anger flashed in his hazel eyes, and w hen I’d finished, he sat back. “I’m glad Daemon did pummel t he dick, but t hat ’s kind of an ext reme react ion for someone w ho’s just a ’friend.’” “Daemon can be…” “An asshole,” Blake suggest ed. “Yeah, t hat , but he’s kind of prot ect ive of…um, Dee’s friends.” I squeezed my fork, feeling all kinds of aw kw ard. “And so he got a lit t le mad over w hat Simon w as saying. He’s really not t hat bad. Just t akes a lit t le bit t o get used t o.” “W ell, I can’t blame him for t hat , but he really is…prot ect ive of you. I t hought he w as going t o break my hand for t ouching you at t he part y.” Sliding t he plat e back t o him, I rest ed my chin on my hand. I needed t o t ell him t he t rut h. Soon. But I didn’t w ant t o spoil dinner. I w as being a t ot all chicken, but I rat ionalized it w as okay if I at least t old him by t he end of t he evening. Heck, I w asn’t even sure w hat I w as going t o say. No, I’m not dating Daemon, but I can’t stop thinking about how w e combust every time w e’re near, so it’s probably best if you don’t get too close? I sighed. “Enough about Daemon. It must be hard loving surfing so much and being so far from a beach.” “It is,” he agreed. A dist ant look crept int o his eyes. “Surfing is probably t he only t hing t hat clears my mind. W hen I’m out t here on t he w aves, I don’t t hink about anyt hing. My brain is officially empt y. It ’s just t he w aves and me. It ’s peaceful.” “I can underst and t hat .” Silence st ret ched out for a long moment . “It ’s t he same t hing w hen I’m gardening or reading. It ’s just me and w hat I’m doing, or t he w orld I’m reading, and not hing else.” “Sounds like you do it t o escape.” I didn’t respond because I hadn’t really t hought of it t hat w ay, but now t hat he said it , I did use t hose t hings t o escape. Discomfit ed, I idly separat ed t he noodles on my plat e int o groups. “W hat about you? Are you t rying t o escape?” Several seconds passed before he answ ered. “T hat ’s t he funny t hing about t rying t o escape. You never really can. Maybe t emporarily, but not complet ely.” I nodded absent ly, st ruck by t he dept h of w hat he said. It w as t he t rut h. Aft er I finished a book or pot t ed a plant , Dad w as st ill dead, my best friend w as st ill an alien, and I w as st ill at t ract ed t o Daemon. Blake st art ed t alking about plans for T hanksgiving break next w eek. He’d be out of t ow n for most of it , visit ing family. I glanced up, my gaze sw eeping t he small rest aurant . W armt h jolt ed dow n my spine. Oh, holy hell to the no. I couldn’t believe it. T his w as not happening.

Behind t he t all part it ion w alls, a dark head moved t hrough t he t iny row s. I fell back against t he seat , w holly aw are of him and horrified. T his w as my dat e—my dat e. W hat w as he doing here? Daemon navigat ed around t he clust ers of t ables w it h a grace I envied. Women st opped eat ing or ceased mid-conversat ion as he passed. Men scoot ed back t o give him more room. He had a profound effect on everyone w ho saw him. Frow ning, Blake t w ist ed around, and his shoulders st iffened as he faced me. “Overprot ect ive t ype…?” “I don’t …even know w hat t o say,” I mumbled helplessly. “Hey guys.” Daemon slid int o t he seat next t o me, w hich left very lit t le room. T he w hole left side of my body w as pressed against his, t ingling and w arm. “Am I int errupt ing?” “Y es,” I said, mout h agape. “Oh, sorry.” Daemon didn’t look sincere. Or make any at t empt t o leave. A half smile formed on Blake’s lips as he sat back and folded his arms. “How are you doing, Daemon?” “I’m doing great .” He st ret ched, draping his arm along t he back of our boot h. “How about you, Brad?” Blake laughed soft ly. “My name’s Blake.” Daemon’s fingers t apped off t he back of t he boot h, brushing my hair. “So w hat w ere you guys up t o?” “We w ere having dinner,” I said and st art ed t o scoot forw ard, but Daemon’s fingers hooked around t he back of my t urt leneck, fingers gent ly sliding against my skin. I shot him a deat h glare and ignored t he goose bumps peaking my skin. “And I t hink w e w ere just about done,” Blake said, his eyes cent ered on Daemon. “W eren’t w e, Kat y?” “Y eah, w e just need our check.” Very discreet ly, I low ered my hand under t he t able, found Daemon’s t high, and pinched. Hard. He t ugged me back, causing my knee t o hit t he t able. “W hat w ere you planning t o do aft er dinner? W as Biff t aking you t o a movie?” Blake’s easy grin st art ed t o falt er. “Blake. And t hat w ould be t he plan.” “Hmm.” Daemon’s gaze flicked up, and a second lat er, Blake’s glass t ipped over.

I gasped. Wat er sloshed over t he t able, spilling int o Blake’s lap. He jumped up, let t ing out a curse. T he movement shook t he t able again. His plat e of spicy noodles slid—w ell, flew —ont o t he front of Blake’s sw eat er. My jaw dropped. Holy mount ain mama, Daemon had t aken my dat e host age. “Jesus,” Blake mut t ered, hands at his sides. Grabbing napkins, I t urned t o Daemon. My look promised a vengeful deat h as I handed Blake t he napkins. “T hat w as really st range,” Daemon said, smirking. Red-faced, Blake glanced up from pat t ing his crot ch dry. For a moment , his eyes fixed on Daemon and I sw ore he w as going t o come across t he t able. And t hen his eyes shut t ered. Quiet ly and w it h st iff, jerky movement s, he brushed off t he brow n noodles. T he w ait ress rushed t o Blake’s side w it h several more napkins. “W ell, anyw ay, I’m act ually here for a reason.” Daemon picked up my glass and t ook a drink. “Y ou’re needed at home.” Blake halt ed his movement s. “Excuse me?” “Did I speak t oo fast , Bart ?” “His name is Blake,” I snapped. “And w hy am I needed at home? Right now , at t his very moment ?” Daemon met my eyes, his st are heavy and int ense w it h meaning. “Somet hing has come up and you need t o check it out now .” Something obviously meant alien business. Unease craw led dow n my spine. Now his sudden appearance made sense. For a few minutes, I w as really beginning t o believe it had been pure, primal jealousy t hat drove him t o go all st alker on us. And as much as it t icked me off t o do t his, I knew I had t o leave. T urning t o Blake, I w inced. “I’m really, really sorry about t his.” Blake’s gaze dart ed bet w een us as he picked up t he check. “It ’s okay. T hings happen.” I felt like a t ool, w hich seemed fit t ing, since I w as sit t ing next t o t he biggest w iener ever. “I’ll make it up. I promise.” He smiled. “It ’s all right , Kat y. I’ll t ake you home.” “T hat w on’t be necessary.” Daemon smiled t ight ly. “I got t his, Biff.” I w ant ed t o face-palm myself. “Blake. His name is Blake, Daemon.” “It ’s okay, Kat y,” Blake said, lips t hin. “I’m a mess.” “T hen it ’s solved.” Daemon st ood, allow ing me t o scoot out .

Blake t ook care of t he check, and w e headed out side. I st opped by his car, aw are of Daemon’s int ense st are. “I am so, so sorry.” “It ’s okay. You didn’t knock t he st uff on me.” He paused, brow s narrow ing as he st ared hard at somet hing over my shoulder. Tw o guesses w hat — or w ho—t hat w as. Pulling his cell out of his back pocket , he checked t he display before shoving it in his jeans. “Alt hough t hat w as t he craziest t hing I’ve ever seen. But anyw ay, w e’ll make up for it w hen I get back from break, okay?” “Okay.” I st art ed t o give him a hug but halt ed. T he front of his sw eat er w as st ained and moist looking. Laughing, Blake leaned in and placed a quick, dry kiss on my lips. “I’ll call you.” I nodded, w ondering how one person could single-handedly ruin everyt hing w it hin a minut e. It w as a t alent . W it h a w ave, Blake w as gone, and I w as alone w it h Daemon. “Y ou ready?” Daemon called, holding open t he passenger door. I st alked over t o t he car and climbed in, slamming t he door behind me. “Hey.” He frow ned from out side t he car. “Don’t t ake your anger out on Dolly.” “Y ou named your car Dolly?” “W hat ’s w rong w it h t hat ?” I rolled my eyes. Daemon jogged around t he front of t he car and slid in. T he moment he closed t he door behind him, I t w ist ed in my seat and punched him in t he arm. “Y ou are such a jerk! I know you did t he glass and plat e t hing. T hat w as so w rong!” He held up his hands, laughing. “W hat ? It w as funny. T he look on Bo’s face w as priceless. And t he kiss he gave you? W hat w as t hat ? I’ve seen dolphins give hot t er kisses t han t hat .” “His name is Blake!” I punched his leg t his t ime. “And you know it ! I can’t believe you act ed like t hat . And he doesn’t kiss like a dolphin!” “From w hat I’ve seen, he does.” “Y ou didn’t see t he last t ime w e kissed.” His laught er died off. Uh oh. He t urned t o me slow ly. “Y ou’ve kissed him before?” “T hat ’s none of your business.” My cheeks flushed, giving me aw ay.

Anger sparked in his magnet ic eyes. “I don’t like him.” I gaped at Daemon. “Y ou don’t even know him.” “I don’t need t o know him t o see t hat t here’s somet hing…off about him.” He t urned t he key and t he engine rumbled t o life. “I don’t t hink you should be hanging out w it h him.” “Oh, t his is rich, Daemon. W hat ever.” St aring st raight ahead, I hugged my elbow s and shivered. I w as so angry my head w as t w o seconds from spinning. “Are you cold? W here’s your jacket ?” “I don’t like jacket s.” “Did t hey do somet hing t errible and unforgiveable t o you, t oo?” He t urned on t he aut omat ic t emperat ure set t ing. Warm air blast ed out of t he vent s. “I find t hem…cumbersome.” I sighed loudly. “W hat w as so freaking imperat ive t hat you had t o go st alker-mode and find me?” “I w asn’t st alking you.” He sounded offended. “Oh, you w eren’t ? Did you use your alien GPS syst em t o find me?” “W ell, yeah, sort of.” “Argh! T his is so w rong.” I seriously doubt ed Blake w ould be calling me again. Not t hat I blamed him. If I w ere him, I w ouldn’t be. Not w hen a psychot ic alien w as shadow ing me. “So w hat ’s t he deal?” Daemon w ait ed unt ill w e pulled ont o t he highw ay. “Mat t hew has called a meet ing of t he minds, and you should be t here. It has t o do w it h t he DOD. Somet hing’s happened.”

Chapter 12
We got back t o his house before t he rest of t hem show ed up, and I w as t rying t o keep calm as I set t led int o t he recliner in t he corner. Daemon w asn’t panicking, but he didn’t know w hat w as going on yet . Out side, several car doors slammed shut . I w rapped my arms around my w aist , and Daemon moved t o my side, sit t ing on t he arm of my chair. Ash and t he T hompson boys w ere t he first t o come in. Adam smiled at us before sit t ing next t o Dee. She offered him t he bag of popcorn she’d been scarfing and he dug in. Andrew t ook

one look in my direct ion and rolled his eyes. “Anyone have a clue w hy she’s here?” I loat hed Andrew . “She needs t o be here,” Mr. Garrison said, closing t he door behind him. He moved t o t he cent er of t he living room, all eyes on him. Out side of school, he alw ays dressed dow n in jeans. “I w ant t o keep t his lit t le get -t oget her short .” Ash smoot hed a hand over her purple t ight s. “T he DOD know s about her, right ? W e’re all in t rouble?” My breat h caught . I w asn’t mad at t he scornful t one in her voice. A lot w as at st ake if t he DOD found out about me, about t hem. “Do t hey, Mr. Garrison?” “As far as I know , t hey don’t know about you,” he said. “T he elders called a meet ing t onight because of t he increase in DOD presence here. It appears somet hing has caught t he DOD’s at t ent ion.” I sank back against t he chair, relieved. But t hen it hit me. I may be off t he hook, but t hey w eren’t . I glanced around t he room, not w ant ing t o see any of t hem in t rouble. Not even Andrew . Adam st ared at a but t ery piece of popcorn. “W ell, w hat did t hey see? No one’s done anyt hing w rong.” Dee sat t he bag of popcorn aside. “W hat ’s t he deal?” Mat t hew ’s ult ra-bright blue gaze circled t he room. “One of t heir sat ell it es picked up t he light show from Hall ow een w eekend, and t hey’ve been out t o t he field, using some sort of machine t hat picks up on residual energy.” Daemon scoffed. “T he only t hing t hey’re going t o find is a burned pat ch of ground.” “T hey know w e can manipulat e light for self-defense, so from w hat I’ve gat hered, t hat ’s not w hat caught t heir at t ent ion.” Mr. Garrison glanced at Daemon, frow ning. “It ’s t he fact t hat t he energy w as so st rong it disrupt ed a sat ell it e’s signal and t hey w eren’t able t o snap any pict ures of t he event . Not hing like t hat has ever happened before.” Daemon kept his expression blank. “I guess I’m just t hat aw esome.” Adam laughed under his breat h. “Y ou’re so pow erful you’re disrupt ing signals now ?” “Disrupt ed only t he signal?” Mr. Garrison barked a short laugh. “It dest royed t he sat ell it e—a sat ell it e designed t o t rack high-frequency light and energy. It zeroed in on Pet ersburg, and t he event dest royed t he sat ell it e.” “Like I said, I’m t hat aw esome.” Daemon’s smile w as smug, but I w as filling w it h anxious energy.

“W ow ,” Andrew murmured. Respect gleamed in his eyes. “T hat ’s pret t y aw esome.” “As aw esome as t hat is, t he DOD is very curious. T he elders believe t hey w ill be here a w hile, monit oring t hings. T hat t hey’ve been here.” He glanced at his w rist w at ch. “It ’s imperat ive t hat everyone is on t heir best behavior.” “W hat do t he ot her Luxen have t o say about t his?” Dee asked. “T hey aren’t t oo concerned at t his point . And t hey have no reason t o be,” Mat t hew said. “Because it w as Daemon w ho caused such a disrupt ive burst of energy and not t hem,” Ash said, and t hen she gasped. “Does t he DOD suspect w e have more abilit ies?” “I t hink t hey w ant t o know how it ’s possible t hat he w as able t o do somet hing like t hat .” Mat t hew st udied Daemon. “T he elders t old t hem t here w as a fight bet w een our kind. No one implicat ed you, Daemon, but t hey already know you’re st rong. Y ou can be expect ing a visit from t hem soon.” He shrugged, but fear spiked in me. It hadn’t been Daemon w ho’d t aken out Baruck, so how could he explain w hat happened? And w ould t he DOD guess t he Luxen w ere far more pow erful t han t hey realized, capable of almost anyt hing? If so, my friends—and Daemon—w ere in danger. “Kat y, it ’s very import ant t hat you’re careful w hen hanging around t he Blacks,” Mr. Garrison cont inued. “We don’t w ant t he DOD suspect ing t hat you know anyt hing you shouldn’t .” “Speak for yourself,” Andrew mut t ered. I shot him a look, but Daemon responded before I could. “Andrew , I’m going t o knock t he—” “W hat ?” Andrew exclaimed. “I’m just t elling t he t rut h. I don’t have t o like her because you’re infat uat ed w it h t he st upid human. None—” Daemon w as across t he room in a flash. Fully enveloped in int ense reddish-w hit e light , he snat ched Andrew up and slammed him int o t he w all w it h such force t he pict ures around t hem rat t led. “Daemon!” I shrieked, rising t o my feet at t he same t ime Mr. Garrison shout ed. Ash jumped from her chair, gasping. “W hat are you doing?” Grabbing her snack, Dee sighed and sat back. “Here w e go. Popcorn?” Adam t ook a handful. “Honest ly, Andrew needs his ass kicked. T he DOD being here isn’t Kat y’s fault . She has just as much t o lose as w e do.” His sist er w hirled on him. “So you’re t aking her side now ? A human’s?” “T his isn’t about sides,” I said, keeping an eye on t he boys.

Bot h w ere in full Luxen mode. So w as Mat t hew . Not hing but a male-shaped form of int ense bluish light , he grabbed Daemon and yanked him off Andrew . Ash glared at me for a long moment . “None of t his w ould be happening if you hadn’t show n up here. You w ould’ve never got t en t he original t race on you. T he Arum w ould’ve never seen you, and t his w hole messed-up chain of event s w ould’ve never happened!” “Oh, shut up, Ash.” Dee t hrew a handful of popcorn at her. “Seriously. Kat y risked her life t o make sure t he Arum didn’t know w here w e lived.” “T hat ’s great and dandy,” Ash snapped back. “But Daemon w ouldn’t have gone all Rambo on t he Arum if his precious human w asn’t in danger every five seconds. T his is her fault .” “I’m not his precious human!” I t ook a deep breat h. “I’m just his…his friend. And t hat ’s w hat friends do. T hey prot ect each ot her.” Ash rolled her eyes. I sat dow n. “W ell, it ’s w hat human friends do, at least .” “And it ’s w hat t he Luxen do,” Adam said, st aring at his sist er. “Some just forget t hat .” W it h a disgust ed sigh, she spun around and headed for t he door. “I’ll w ait out side.” Wat ching her go, I w ondered if she’d find a reason t o blame me for everyt hing, even t hose gaudy purple t ight s of hers. But in a w ay, t his sit uat ion w as my fault. It had been my bizarro output of energy that had draw n the DOD here. My chest ached. Mr. Garrison finally broke t he boys apart . Andrew flickered int o his human form, eyes narrow ed on a st ill-iridescent Daemon. “Dude, t hat w as just w rong. Knock me around all you w ant , but I’m not going t o be okay w it h her.” “Andrew ,” Mr. Garrison w arned. “W hat ?” He backed off, t hough. “Do you really t hink she can hold her ow n against t he DOD if t hey quest ion her? Because of how close she is t o Dee and you, t hey w ill ask her quest ions. And you, Daemon, are you planning t o do a repeat of your brot her? W anna die for her, t oo?” Daemon’s light flared bright er, and I knew he w as going t o charge Andrew again. T his w as ridiculous. W it hout t hinking, I shot across t he room and w rapped my fingers around his glow ing w rist . It w as st range t o t ouch him like t his. Warmt h and elect ricit y shot up my arm. T he back of my neck t ingled. “T hat w as a low blow ,” I said t o Andrew , because someone needed t o. “He doesn’t even deserve your ass kicking, Daemon.” “She’s right ,” Adam said. Unt ill t hen I hadn’t realized he’d moved, but he w as on t he ot her side of Daemon. “But if you w ant t o put him out of commission for t he next w eek aft er t hat comment , I’ll help.” “Gee, t hanks, brot her.” Andrew scow led.

Tense silence follow ed, and t hen Daemon’s light faded and he set t led back int o his human form. He glanced dow n t o w here my hand curved around his w rist , and t hen his gaze flicked up, meet ing mine. Charged air passed from his skin t o mine, shocking me w it h a crack. I let go of his w rist and st illed under his int ense st are. “T his is t he kind of display w e cannot afford.” Mr. Garrison drew in a deep breat h. “I t hink t hat ’s enough for t his evening. Bot h of you need t o cool dow n and keep in mind t hat t hey are here. W e need t o be careful.” T hey left aft er t hat , including Dee. She w ant ed t o spend t ime w it h Adam and also make sure he didn’t end up mauling Andrew , w hich left Daemon and me alone. I should’ve left , but aft er Andrew ’s t hought less comment , I needed t o know t hat Daemon w as okay. I follow ed him int o t he kit chen. “I’m sorry about w hat Andrew said. T hat w as w rong.” Daemon’s jaw w orked as he grabbed t w o cans of Coke, handing me one. “It is w hat it is.” “St ill not right .” His eyes searched my face in a w ay t hat made me feel exposed t o t he core. “Are you w orried about t he DOD being here?” I hesit at ed. “Y eah, I am.” “Don’t be.” “Harder said t han done.” I played w it h t he t ab on t he can. “It ’s not me I’m w orried about . T hey t hink you’re responsible for w hat happened—t he crazy energy t hing. W hat if t hey t hink you’re…a danger?” Daemon didn’t answ er for several moment s. “It ’s not just me, Kit t en. Even if I had done t hat , it ’s never been about me. It ’s about all t he Luxen.” He paused, low ering his gaze. “Y ou know w hat Mat t hew believes?” “No.” A cynical grin pulled at his full lips. “He believes t hat one day, probably not in our generat ion, but some day, my kind and t he Arum w ill nearly out number yours.” “Really? T hat ’s kind of…” “Scary?” he said. I t ucked my hair back. “I don’t know if it ’s scary. I mean, t he Arum t hing is, but your kind—t he Luxen—freaky pow ers aside…you’re not very different from us.” “W hat about t he fact w e’re made of light ?” I smiled a lit t le t hen. “W ell, besides t hat .”

“It got me t hinking,” he said, “t hat if some of our kind believes t his, how come t he DOD isn’t w orried?” He had a good point . And I w as t rying not t o let my fear for him t ake over, but my brain w as t hrow ing out all kinds of w ild scenarios. All of t hem ended w it h him being t aken in by t he DOD. “W hat happens if t hey t hink you are a t hreat ? And don’t beat around t he bush about it .” “W hen I w as at t he compound before, t here w ere Luxen w ho didn’t assimilat e.” T he muscle in his jaw st art ed t icking. “Most ly t hey didn’t w ant t o be kept under t he t humb of t he DOD. Ot hers I guessed w ere view ed as a t hreat because t hey asked t oo many quest ions. W ho really know s?” My mout h felt dry. “W hat happened t o t hem?” Several moment s passed before Daemon answ ered. Each second t hat w ent by, t he unease in my st omach grew . Finally, he nodded. “T hey killed t hem.”

Chapter 13
Horror rolled t hrough me. T he ext reme emot ion t riggered t he st at ic t hat rushed over my skin so fast I couldn’t st op it . T he burst of energy smacked around t he room. I dropped t he unopened can of soda as w ood scrapped over t ile. A chair flew out from under t he t able, slamming int o my knee w it h such force t hat my leg collapsed under me. I yelped in pain and buckled over. Daemon st rung t oget her a t ruckload of f-bombs and appeared next t o me, grabbing me a second before I hit t he floor. “W hoa, t here, Kit t en.” Pushing t he hair out of my face, I lift ed my head. “Holy crap…” He helped me st and up, easing a shoulder under my arm for support and pulling me close. “Are you okay?” “I’m peachy.” I w iggled out of his embrace and t ent at ively placed my w eight on my leg. Wet w armt h t rickled dow n my leg. I rolled up my jeans, finding blood. “Great , I’m a nat ural disast er.” “I might have t o agree w it h t hat .” I shot him a dark look. W it h a cocky grin, he w inked. “Come on, get up on t he t able and let me look at t hat .” “I’m fine.”

He didn’t argue w it h me about it . One second I w as st anding—er, hobbling—and t hen air rushed me and I w as sit t ing on t he t able. My mout h dropped open. “W hat …how did you do t hat ?” “Skill,” he said, placing my foot on t he chair. His fingert ips brushed against my skin as he rolled my pant s above my knee. Elect ricit y danced along my leg, and I jerked. “W ow , you really are a disast er.” “Ugh, it ’s bleeding all over t he place.” I sw allow ed at t he sight . “Y ou’re not going t o heal me, are you?” “Uh, no, because w ho know s w hat w ould happen t hen? Y ou might t urn int o an alien.” “Ha. Ha.” Daemon quickly grabbed a clean t ow ell and dampened it . He came back, not quit e meet ing my eyes. I reached for t he clot h, but he knelt and st art ed t o gent ly blot at t he blood. He w as careful not t o t ouch my skin t his t ime. “W hat am I going t o do w it h you, Kit t en?” “See? I didn’t even w ant t o move t he chair and it flew at me like a heat -seeking missile.” Daemon shook his head as he cont inued t o dap at t he blood. “W hen w e w ere younger, t hings like t his w ould happen all t he t ime, before w e could cont roll t he Source.” “T he Source?” He nodded. “T he energy in us—w e call it t he Source, because it links us back t o our home planet , you know ? Like t he source of it all. At least , t hat ’s w hat our elders say. Anyw ay, w hen w e w ere kids and learning how t o cont roll our abilit ies, it w as crazy. Daw son had t his habit of moving furnit ure, like you. He’d go t o sit dow n and t he chair w ould fly out from under him.” He laughed. “But he w as young.” “Great . So I’m operat ing at t he level of a t oddler?” Daemon’s lust rous eyes met mine. “Basically.” T he dark graphic shirt st rained against his chest w hen he laid t he bloodied t ow ell aside and leaned back. “Look, it ’s st opped bleeding already. Not t hat bad.” I glanced dow n and saw t he fresh gash on my knee. Ot her t han looking gross, it w as salvageable. “T hank you for cleaning it up.” “No problem. I don’t t hink you’ll need st it ches.” He light ly brushed his fingert ips around t he cut .

I jerked at t he cont act . Lit t le t ingles shimmed up my leg. Daemon’s hand st illed as he lift ed his head. His eyes w ent from a cool green t o liquid fire w it hin seconds. “W hat are you t hinking about ?” he asked. Sliding int o his arms, kissing him and t ouching him—t hings I shouldn’t t hink about . I blinked. “Not hing.” Daemon rose slow ly, holding my gaze. My w hole body t ensed as he neared and placed his hands on eit her side of me. T hen he bent over t he chair bet w een us, rest ing his forehead against mine. He inhaled deeply and it came out in an unst eady rush. W hen he spoke, his voice w as rough. “Do you know w hat I’ve been t hinking about all day?” W it h him, it w as anyone’s guess. “No.” His lips brushed t he skin of my cheek. “Finding out if you look as good in st riped socks as you do in reindeer ones.” “I do.” His head slant ed and his smile w as lazy, arrogant . Predat ory. “I knew it .” I shouldn’t let t his happen. T here w as a w hole slew of complicat ions: his at t it ude, t he connect ion bet w een us, and my new kindergart en-age abilit ies. Funny, t he fact Daemon w as an alien w as t he complicat ion I considered t he least import ant . And t hen t here w as Blake. T hat is, if Blake ever spoke t o me again, w hich w as debat able. But due t o Daemon’s int errupt ion at dinner, I didn’t get t o t alk t o Blake. Irony w as a bit ch. Know ing all of t hat , I st ill didn’t pull aw ay. And neit her did he. Oh no, he w as moving closer. His pupils st art ed t o glow and his breat h seemed t o have st alled in his chest . “Do you have any idea w hat you do t o me?” he asked gruffly. “I’m not doing anyt hing.” Daemon shift ed his head just enough t hat our lips brushed once…and t hen t w ice before he increased t he pressure. T his kiss…it w as not hing like t he ot her t imes, w hich seemed t o be angry and challenging. As if w e’d kissed t o punish each ot her. But t his w as gent le and soft , feat her light . Infinit ely t ender. Like t he kiss w e’d shared in t he clearing t he night he’d healed me. Light sw ept t hrough me as w e kissed, but soon t he kisses, t hey w eren’t enough. Not w hen a slow fire w as burning under my skin—and under his. Cupping my cheeks, he exhaled a soft groan, and his lips scorched mine as he deepened t he kiss unt ill w e bot h w ere breat hless from it s int ensit y.

Daemon moved as close as he could w it h t he chair bet w een us. Gripping his arms, I held ont o him, w ant ing him closer. T he chair prevent ed all but our lips and hands from t ouching. Frust rat ing. Move, I ordered restlessly. It t rembled under my foot , and t hen t he heavy oak chair slid out from under me, dodging our leaning bodies. Unprepared for t he sudden void, Daemon lurched forw ard, and I w as unable t o carry t he unexpect ed w eight . I collapsed backw ard, bringing Daemon along w it h me. T he full cont act of his body, flush against mine, sent my senses int o chaot ic overdrive. His t ongue sw ept over mine as his fingers splayed across my cheeks. His hand slid dow n my side, gripping my hip as he urged me closer. T he kisses slow ed and his chest rose as he drank me in. W it h one last lingering explorat ion, he lift ed his head and smiled dow n at me. My heart skipped a beat as he hovered over me w it h an expression t hat t ugged deep in my chest . He moved his fingers back up, along my cheek, t railing an invisible pat h t o my chin. “I didn’t move t hat chair, Kit t en.” “I know .” “I’m assuming you didn’t like w here it w as?” “It w as in your w ay,” I said. My hands w ere st ill curled around his arms. “I can see t hat .” Daemon smoot hed a fingert ip over t he curve of my bot t om lip before t aking my hand, pulling me up. Let t ing go, he w at ched me carefully and w ait ed. W ait ed for… W hat had happened slow ly sank in beyond t he fog in my brain. I’d just kissed him. Again. And right aft er he’d t aken over my dat e w it h anot her guy —t he guy I should be kissing. Or not . I didn’t know anyt hing anymore. “W e can’t keep doing t his.” My voice shook. “W e—” “We like each ot her,” he said, st epping forw ard, grasping t he edges of t he t able on eit her side of me. “And before you say it , w e w ere at t ract ed t o each ot her before I healed you. Y ou can’t say t hat ’s not t rue.” He leaned in, his nose brushing my cheek. A shudder rolled t hrough me. His lips pressed against t he spot under my ear. “We need t o st op fight ing w hat w e bot h w ant .” Air caught in my t hroat . I closed my eyes as his fingers inched dow n my t urt leneck, clearing a pat h for his lips t o meet my w ildly beat ing pulse.

“It ’s not going t o be easy,” he said. “It w asn’t t hree mont hs ago and it w on’t be t hree mont hs from now .” “Because of t he rest of t he Luxen?” My head t ipped back, my t hought s sw imming at his t ouch. T here w as somet hing w icked in t hose hot lit t le kisses he dropped all over my t hroat . “T hey’ll out cast you. Like—” “I know .” He let go of my t urt leneck and slid his hand around t he nape of my neck as his body pressed against mine. “I’ve t hought about t he repercussions—it ’s all I’ve t hought about .” Part of me had been yearning t o hear him say t hat . A secret I’d kept close t o my heart —t he same heart t hat w as jumping in my chest . I opened my eyes. His w ere glow ing. “And t his has not hing t o do w it h t he connect ion or Blake?” “No,” he said, and t hen sighed. “Y es, some of it has t o do w it h t hat human, but it ’s about us. About w hat w e feel for each ot her.” I w as at t ract ed t o him on a level t hat w as nearly painful. Being around him had every cell in my body burning, but t his w as Daemon. Caving t o him w as like saying t he w ay he’d t reat ed me w as okay. And more import ant ly, it required blind fait h in t he t heory t hat our feelings w ere real. And w hen t hey t urned out not t o be? It w ould be heart break, because I w ould seriously fall for him—fall more t han I already had. W iggling dow n, I dipped under his arms. A dull ache shot t hrough my injured leg as I backed up. “Is t his like a ’I didn’t w ant you unt ill someone else w ant ed you’ t ype of t hing?” Daemon leaned against t he t able. “T hat ’s not w hat t his is.” “T hen w hat is it , Daemon?” Tears of frust rat ion built in my eyes. “W hy now , w hen t hree mont hs ago you couldn’t st and t o breat he t he same air as me? It ’s t he connect ion bet w een us. It ’s t he only t hing t hat makes sense.” “Dammit . Do you t hink I don’t regret act ing like such a douche t o you? I’ve apologized.” He st ood t here, t ow ering over me. “Y ou don’t get it . None of t his is easy for me. And I know t his is hard for you. You have a lot t o deal w it h. But I have my sist er and an ent ire race count ing on me. I didn’t w ant you t o get close t o me. I didn’t w ant anot her person t o care about , t o w orry about losing.” I sucked in a breat h, and he w ent on. “It w asn’t right how I act ed. I know t hat . But I can do bet t er t han t hat —bet t er t han Benny.” “Blake.” I sighed, limping aw ay from him. “I have a lot in common w it h Blake. He likes t hat I read a lot —” “I do, t oo,” Daemon challenged. “And he also blogs.” W hy did I feel like I w as grasping at st raw s?

Daemon caught a piece of my hair and w rapped it around his finger. “I have not hing against t he Int ernet .” I knocked his hand aw ay. “And he doesn’t like me because of some st upid alien connect ion or because some ot her guy likes me.” “I don’t eit her.” His eyes flashed. “Y ou can’t keep pret ending. It ’s w rong. Y ou’ll break t hat boy’s poor lit t le human heart .” “No, I w on’t .” “Y ou w ill, because you w ant me and I w ant you.” Deep dow n, I did w ant t o be w it h him. And I w ant ed him t o w ant me, not because w e w ere t he same at om split or because someone else liked me. Shaking my head, I w ent for t he door. “Y ou keep saying t hat …” “W hat does t hat mean?” he demanded. I squeezed my eyes shut briefly. “Y ou say you w ant me, but t hat ’s not enough.” “I show you t hat I do, t oo.” Facing him, I cocked an eyebrow . “Y ou do not .” “W hat w as t hat ?” Daemon gest ured at t he t able, and I flushed. People eat at t hat t able… “I t hink I show ed you t hat I like you. I can do it again if you’re not clear on w hat t hat w as. And I’ve brought you a smoot hie and a cookie t o school.” “Y ou st uck t he cookie in your mout h!” I t hrew my hands up. He smiled at t hat , like it w as a good memory. “T he t able…” “Humping my leg like a dog in heat every t ime I’m around you doesn’t prove you like me, Daemon.” Daemon clamped his mout h shut , and I could t ell he w as fight ing back laught er. “Act ually, t hat ’s how I show people I like t hem.” “Oh. Fine. W hat ever. None of t his mat t ers, Daemon.” “I’m not going anyw here, Kat . And I’m not giving up.” Not t hat I really believed he w ould. I reached for t he door but he st opped me. “Do you know w hy I met you t hat day in t he library?” he asked. “W hat ?” I faced him. “T he Friday you came back aft er being sick?” He ran a hand t hrough his hair. “You w ere right . I picked t he library because no one w ould see us t oget her.”

My mout h snapped shut and a sick feeling leached up my t hroat , causing it t o burn. “You know w hat , I’ve alw ays w ondered if your ego w as so big you didn’t w ant t o eat crow .” “And as alw ays, you jump t o t he w rong assumpt ion.” His eyes pierced mine. “I didn’t w ant Ash or Andrew t o st art giving you a bunch of crap because of me like t hey did w it h Daw son and Bet h. So if you t hink I’m embarrassed of you or not ready t o make my int ent ions very public, t hen you bet t er get t hat idea out of your head. Because if t hat ’s w hat it t akes, t hen it ’s on.” I st ared at him. W hat in t he hell w as I supposed t o say t o t hat ? Yeah, a part of me had believed it . How many people w ould kick a chick out of t he cafet eria like he had and t hen st art w ooing her? Not many. And t hen I remembered t he lump of spaghet t i hanging off his ear, heard Daemon’s amused laught er from t he day t hat felt so long ago. “Daemon…” His smile w as really st art ing t o concern me. “I t old you, Kit t en. I like a challenge.”

Chapter 14
Lesa pract ically pounced on me t he moment I sat dow n in class. “Did you hear?” Half asleep, I shook my head. I’d had a hell of a t ime going t o bed last night aft er everyt hing w it h Daemon. T he flut t ering my st omach w as doing had t o be a consequence of no breakfast . “Simon is missing,” Lesa said. “Missing?” I didn’t pay at t ent ion t o t he w arm t ingling on my neck or w hen Daemon saunt ered int o class. “Since w hen?” “Since t his past w eekend.” Lesa’s eyes flicked up behind me and w idened. “W ow . Now t hat ’s even more unexpect ed.” Somet hing smelled sw eet and familiar. Confused, I t w ist ed around. A single rose in full bloom, a vibrant red, brushed against t he t ip of my nose. Tan fingers held t he green st em. My eyes lift ed. Daemon st ood t here, his eyes glit t ering like green t insel. He pat t ed me on t he nose w it h t he rose again. “Good morning.” Dumbfounded, I st ared at him. “T his is for you,” he added w hen I didn’t say anyt hing. Every single person in class w as st aring as my fingers w rapped around t he cool, damp st em. Daemon sat dow n before I could say anyt hing. I sat t here, holding t he rose unt ill t he t eacher w alked in and st art ed calling off names.

Daemon’s t hroat y chuckle w armed my chest . Cheeks flaming, I placed t he rose on my desk, and I honest ly don’t t hink I t ook my eyes off it . W hen Daemon had said he w asn’t giving up, I had no idea he w as going t o go all balls-t o-t he-w all right off t he bat . W hy w ould he? Maybe he just w ant ed t o have sex w it h me. And t hat had t o be all, right ? Hat red t urned t o lust . He’d been so against me mont hs ago and now he w ant ed t o be w it h me, going against t he w ishes of his race? Maybe he had a secret drug habit . T he light caught t he moist ure on t he rose. I looked up, cat ching Lesa’s gaze. She mout hed, Nice. Nice? It w as nice and sw eet and romant ic and about a t housand ot her t hings t hat had my heart doing backflips. Sneaking a peek at Daemon over my shoulder, I w at ched him scribble along a blank piece of not ebook paper. His brow s w ere low ered in concent rat ion. T hick, soot y lashes hid his eyes. T hey lift ed and his lips spread int o a grin. I w as in so much t rouble. … Cops were everywhere over the next couple of days, asking students and teachers questions about Simon. Daemon and I ended up being some of the first people t hey t alked t o. As if w e w ere a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde, plot t ing t o t ake out jocks everyw here. Well, t he fact t hat Daemon had beat en t he crap out of Simon didn’t look good. But t he cops didn’t t reat us like suspect s. Aft er my first and only quest ioning w it h t hem in t he principal’s office, I det ermined t hat t w o of t he st at e t roopers w ere aliens. And I also got t he dist inct impression t hey suspect ed I knew t heir secret . I w ondered if someone had let t he alien out of t he bag. Ash w as t he most likely suspect , especially since Daemon had become t he bearer of gift s. One day he brought me a pumpkin spiced lat t e—my favorit e—t hen an egg and bacon breakfast croissant , glazed doughnut s on T hursday, and a lily on Friday. He did not hing t o hide his int ent ions. Part of me act ually felt bad for Ash. She’d spent her w hole life expect ing t o be w it h Daemon. I couldn’t even imagine w hat she w as t hinking—if she w as mourning t he final dow nfal of t heir relat ionship or if it w as just t hat she’d lost somet hing she’d believed w as hers. If I ended up being found in a dit ch somew here, my bet s w ould be on Ash or Andrew . Adam had left t he dark side and w as now sit t ing w it h Dee at lunch. T hey lit erally couldn’t keep t heir hands off each ot her…or our food.

Each night , Daemon soaked up my t ime. Keeping an eye on me w as w hat he claimed t o be doing, w ait ing t o see if I w as at t acked by a chair again. In his w orld, t hat t ranslat ed int o t ime suckage t hat involved every possible w ay he could get close t o me. Like, really, w ill-breaking, body-t ingling close. Blake…w ell, Blake spoke t o me in class. He t ext ed a few t imes at night , and I alw ays had t o w ait unt ill Daemon decided t o leave before I could call him back, but t here had been no t alk of anot her dat e. Daemon had been successful w it h t he scare t act ics, w hich he w as unabashedly proud of. Sat urday aft ernoon, I w as in a marat hon review -w rit ing spree w hen someone knocked on my front door. Finishing up my last sent ence—Mesmerizing debut, heart-stopping action, and sw oon-w orthy romance, T he Hidden Circle is a forget-your-homew ork, don’t-feed-your-kids, and quit-your-job one-sit read—before shutting my laptop. As I neared t he door, I felt t he t ingling on my neck. Daemon. I t ripped over t he upt urned corner of t he area rug and t ook a second t o st raight en t he ribbed sw eat er t hat had ridden up before I snat ched open t he front door. Familiar feelings of anxiet y slid t hrough me. W hat did he have up his sleeve t oday? In ot her w ords, how much more could he possibly complicat e my life? My no-kiss policy had remained st rong since Monday. But st rangely, even as innocent and clandest ine as our meet ings w ere, t here w as st ill a level of int imacy t hat couldn’t be denied. Daemon w as changing. I w as used t o t he sarcast ic and rude Daemon. In an odd w ay, t hat version w as easier t o deal w it h. We could t rade insult s all day. But t his Daemon… t his one w ho w ouldn’t give up w as kind and gent le, funny and—dear God—t hought ful. Daemon w ait ed on t he porch, his hands shoved deep int o t he pocket s of his jeans. He had been gazing int o t he dist ance but pivot ed around t he moment I pushed open t he door. He brushed past me and int o t he hall w ay. T he scent of him, a mixt ure of t he out doors and sandalw ood, follow ed. It w as a heady aroma, all complet ely his. “Y ou look nice t oday,” he comment ed unexpect edly. I glanced dow n at my gray hoodie and t ucked a t angled st rand of hair behind my ear. “Uh, t hanks.” I cleared my t hroat . “So…w hat ’s up?” His excuse for spending t ime w it h me w as alw ays t he vague “Wat ching out for you,” so I w asn’t expect ing anyt hing different t oday. “I just w ant ed t o see you.”

“Oh.” W ell, hell … He chuckled deeply. “I t hought w e could t ake a w alk. It ’s nice out side.” Glancing back at my lapt op, I debat ed. Spending t ime w it h him w asn’t somet hing I should be doing. It just encouraged his…not -so-bad behavior. “I’ll behave myself,” he said. “I promise.” I laughed at t hat . “All right , let ’s go.” It w as brisk out side, now here near as cold as it w ould become once t he sun set . Inst ead of heading t ow ard t he w oods, he st eered me in t he direct ion of his SUV. “Exact ly w here are w e going t o t ake a w alk?” “Out doors,” he said dryly. “W ell, I t hink I figured t hat part out .” “Y ou ask a lot of quest ions, you know .” “I’ve been t old I’m very inquisit ive.” He leaned forw ard and w hispered, “I t hink I figured t hat part out .” I made a face at him, but I w as int rigued. I climbed int o t he passenger’s seat . “Have you heard anyt hing about Simon?” I asked aft er he’d backed out of t he drivew ay. “I haven’t .” “I haven’t eit her.” An array of golden, red, and brow n leaves blurred as Daemon flew dow n t he highw ay. “Do you t hink an Arum had anyt hing t o do w it h his disappearance?” Daemon shook his head. “I don’t t hink so. I haven’t seen any, but w e can’t be t oo sure.” An Arum t aking Simon w ouldn’t make any sense, but kids around here didn’t disappear w it hout it having somet hing t o do w it h t he Luxen and Arum. I glanced out t he w indow at t he familiar scenery. It didn’t t ake me long t o realize w here w e w ere going. Confused, I w at ched Daemon pull t he SUV off t he road and park along t he ent rance t o t he field t he kids part ied in. T he same place w e’d fought Baruck.

“W hy here?” I asked, climbing out . Dead leaves of various colors lit t ered t he ground. W it h each st ep, my feet sunk an inch or t w o t hrough t he leaves. For a w hile, t he only sound w e heard w as t he rust ling of our feet w ading t hrough t he colorful sea of leaves. “T his place might hold a lot of residual energy from our fight and from Baruck’s deat h.” He st epped around a fall en t ree limb. “Wat ch out , t he branches are scat t ered everyw here.” I moved around one part icularly gnarly-looking one. “T his might sound messed up, but I’ve w ant ed t o come back here. I don’t know w hy. Crazy, huh?” “No,” he said quiet ly. “It makes sense t o me.” “Is it t he w hole energy t hing?” “It ’s w hat ’s left over.” Daemon bent and pushed anot her fall en limb out of t he w ay. “I w ant t o see if I feel anyt hing. If t he DOD has been out here t o check it out , it might be good t o be in t he know .” We w alked t he rest of t he w ay in silence. I w as follow ing slight ly behind him, careful of t he rough t errain. I felt a peculiar st irring in me as soon as it came int o view . T he ground w as covered in leaves but t he t rees w ere st ill bent , looking even more grot esque as t hey t w ist ed t ow ard t he ground. I st opped at t he edge and t ried t o find t he spot w here Baruck had last st ood. I pushed t he dead foliage w it h my foot . Soon, t he scarred ground came int o view . T he soil seemed t o remember w hat had happened t hat night and refused t o let go of t he memory. T his spot w as like a sick gravesit e. “T he ground w ill never heal,” Daemon said soft ly from behind me. “I don’t know w hy, but it t ook on his essence and not hing w ill grow from t his spot .” He t ook over, pushing back t he leaves unt ill t he area w as uncovered complet ely. “Killing at first used t o bot her me.” I t ore my eyes aw ay from t he burned pat ch of ground. W hat lit t le sun t hat peeked t hrough t he clouds caught t he auburn t int in his dark hair. Daemon smiled t ight ly. “I didn’t like it , t aking a life. I st ill don’t . A life is a life.” “It ’s somet hing you have t o do. You can’t change it . It only w reaks havoc on you t o dw ell. It bot hers me know ing t hat I’ve killed…t w o of t hem, but —” “Y ou aren’t w rong for w hat you did. Never t hink t hat .” His eyes met mine for a second, and he cleared his t hroat . “I don’t feel anyt hing.” I shoved my hands int o t he front pocket of my hoodie, curving t hem around my cell phone. “Do you t hink t he DOD found anyt hing?” “I don’t know .” He crossed t he small dist ance bet w een us, st opping w hen I had t o t ilt my head back t o see him. “Depends on if t hey’re using equipment I’m not familiar w it h.”

“And if t hey are, w hat does t hat mean? Is it somet hing t o be w orried about ?” “I don’t t hink so, not even if t he levels of energy are higher.” He reached out , smoot hing back a st rand of hair t hat had escaped my ponyt ail. “It doesn’t really t ell t hem anyt hing. Have you been experiencing any out burst s recent ly?” “No,” I said, not w ant ing him t o w orry needlessly. T oday I’d blow n t he light in my room. And I’d moved my bed about t hree feet . His hand lingered on my cheek for a moment longer, and t hen he capt ured my hand, bringing it t o his lips, placing t he light est kiss against t he cent er of my palm. A hot shiver w ent up my arm. Peering t hrough his dark lashes, he burned me w it h one smoldering look. My lips part ed and my heart flut t ered in my chest like t he many leaves t hat fell t o t he ground around us. “Did you bring me out here just t o get me complet ely alone?” “T hat may have been a part of my mast er plan.” Daemon’s head low ered and his hair fell forw ard, brushing my cheek. T he slant of his mout h t ilt ed and an exhilarat ing heart beat lat er, his lips pressed against mine and my heart sw elled. I jerked back, breat hing heavily. “No kissing,” I w hispered. His fingers t ight ened around mine. “I’m t rying not t o.” “T hen t ry harder.” I slipped my hand free and t ook a st ep back, shoving my hands back int o t he pocket of my hoodie. “I t hink w e should head home.” He sighed. “W hat ever you w ant .” I nodded. W e st art ed back t o t he car in silence. I st ared at t he ground, at w ar w it h w hat I w ant ed and w hat I needed. Daemon couldn’t be bot h. “So I w as t hinking,” he said aft er a few moment s. I glanced at him w arily. “About w hat ?” “W e should do somet hing. T oget her. Out side of your house and not just w alking around.” He st ared st raight ahead. “W e should go out t o dinner or maybe a movie.” My st upid heart st art ed jumping again. “Are you asking me out ?” He laughed under his breat h. “T hat ’s w hat it sounds like.” T he t rees w ere st art ing t o t hin out . Large bales of hay came int o view . “Y ou don’t w ant t o t ake me out on a dat e.”

“W hy do you keep t elling me w hat I don’t w ant ?” Curiosit y colored his t one. “Because you can’t ,” I t old him. “Y ou can’t w ant any of t his w it h me, not really. Maybe w it h Ash—” “I don’t w ant Ash.” His feat ures hardened as he st opped, facing me. “If I w ant ed her, I’d be w it h her. But I’m not . She’s not w ho I w ant .” “Neit her am I. Y ou can’t honest ly t ell me t hat you’d risk every Luxen around here t urning t heir backs on you for me.” Daemon shook his head in disbelief. “And you have got t o st op assuming you know w hat I w ant and w hat I w ould do.” I st art ed w alking again. “It ’s just t he challenge and t he connect ion, Daemon. W hat ever you feel for me isn’t real.” “T hat ’s ridiculous,” he spat . “How can you be sure?” “Because I know .” Daemon appeared in front of me, eyes narrow ed. He t humped his hand off his chest , direct ly above his heart . “Because I know w hat I feel in here. And I’m not t he t ype of person t o run from anyt hing, no mat t er how hard it is. I’d rat her face-plant against a brick w all t han live for t he rest of my life w ondering w hat could’ve been. And you know w hat ? I didn’t t hink you w ere t he t ype t o run, eit her. Maybe I w as w rong.” St unned, I pulled my hands out and brushed my hair back. Knot s formed in my st omach—t he good w arm and t w ist y kind. “I don’t run.” “You don’t ? Because t hat ’s w hat you’re doing,” he argued. “You pret end w hat you feel for me isn’t real or doesn’t exist . And I know damn w ell you don’t feel anyt hing for Bobby.” “Blake,” I correct ed him aut omat ically. W alking around him, I headed for t he car. “I don’t w ant t o t alk—” We came t o a st andst ill at t he edge of t he w oods. Tw o giant black SUVs w ere parked on eit her side of Daemon’s, blocking him in. Tw o men st ood beside one, dressed in black suit s. Unease rolled t hrough me like a chilled, dark w ave. Daemon moved in front of me, hands at his sides. Tension t ight ened his muscles. I didn’t have t o ask t o know w ho t hey w ere. T he DOD w as here.

Chapter 15
One of t he Suit s st epped forw ard, eyes t rained on Daemon. “hello, Mr. Black and Miss Sw art z.”

“Hey, Lane,” Daemon answ ered in a monot one voice, apparent ly know ing t he one guy. “I w asn’t expect ing you t oday.” Unsure of w hat I should do, I nodded and remained quiet , t rying t o make myself as small as possible. “W e got int o t ow n a lit t le early and saw your car.” Lane smiled, and it gave me t he creeps. T he ot her Suit ’s eyes bounced t o me. “W hat w ere you guys doing out here?” “T here w as a part y here last night , and w e w ere looking for her cell phone.” Daemon grinned at me. “She lost it and w e’re st ill looking for it ” T he cell phone felt like it w as burning a hole in my pocket now . “So I can meet you guys lat er,” Daemon cont inued. “Once w e find t he…” T he passenger door of one of t he Expedit ions opened and a w oman st epped out . She had icy blond hair pulled back in a t ight bun, revealing sharp feat ures t hat w ould’ve been pret t y on someone w ho didn’t look like she might t ase me. “Underage drinking?” T he w oman smiled. It reminded me of t he kind paint ed on Barbie. Fake. Plast ic. W rong somehow . “W e w eren’t drinking,” I said, going along w it h everyt hing. “He know s bet t er. His parent s are like mine. T hey’d kill him.” “Well, I w as hoping t o cat ch up w it h you, Daemon, and w e could get an early…dinner.” Lane mot ioned t ow ard his Expedit ion. “We only have a few hours. I hat e t o cut your cell phone search-and-rescue short .” For a moment , I t hought he’d prot est , but he t urned t o me. “It ’s okay. I can t ake her home and meet up w it h you guys.” “T hat w on’t be necessary,” t he w oman cut in. “W e can t ake her back, and you guys can cat ch up.” My pulse w as all over t he place, and I glanced at Daemon for help. A muscle popped in his jaw as he st ood by, silent and helpless. I knew t hen t here w as not hing he could do. Forcing a smile, I nodded. “T hat ’s cool w it h me. I just hope it ’s not going out of your w ay.” Daemon’s right hand clenched. “It ’s not out of t he w ay,” she replied. “W e love t he roads back here. Fall colors and all. Ready?” I looked at Daemon as I headed t ow ard t he SUV. His haw klike gaze follow ed my st eps. I murmured my t hanks as she opened t he back door. Get t ing in, I seriously hoped I didn’t end up on a missing person’s flyer. Daemon w as get t ing int o his ow n car, but he st opped and glanced back at me. I’d sw ear I heard his voice in my head. It ’ll be okay. But it couldn’t have been him. Maybe it w as w ishful t hinking, because for a moment , fear t rickled like ice w at er t hrough my veins. W hat if t his w as t he last t ime I saw him—saw anyone? W hat if t hey’d discovered I knew t he t rut h?

W hat if t hey knew w hat I could do? Now I w ished I’d let Daemon kiss me back t here. Because if I w as going t o disappear, t hen at least my last memory w ould’ve given me some sort of complet ion. I forced myself t o breat he slow ly as I raised my hand, w iggling my fingers at him before t he w oman shut t he door. She climbed int o t he passenger seat and t w ist ed around. “Seat belt ?” Hands shaking and sw eat y, I fast ened myself in. T he man behind t he w heel said not hing, but t he hairs on his must ache kept blow ing as if he w ere breat hing heavily. “Um, t hanks for t he ride.” “It ’s no problem. My name is Nancy Husher,” she said, and t hen nodded at t he driver. “T his is Brian Vaughn. He’s know n Daemon’s family for several years. I’m just along for t he ride.” I’m sure you are. “Oh…that’s really nice.” Nancy nodded. “Daemon is like one of Brian’s ow n, isn’t he?” “Y es,” agreed Brian. “It ’s not oft en t hat w e see him w it h a girl. He must t hink a lot of you t o help look for your cell phone.” My eyes dart ed bet w een t he t w o. “I guess so. He and his sist er are really nice.” “Dee is a doll. How close are you w it h t hem?” Brian asked. I w as being int errogat ed. Great . “W ell, since w e’re t he only ones w ho live on t he same st reet , w e’re kind of close.” Nancy glanced out t he front w indow . Luckily, I recognized t hat w e w ere heading back t ow ard Ket t erman. “And Daemon? How close are you w it h him?” My mout h dried. “I’m not sure I’m follow ing t he quest ion.” “I t hought you said he w as dat ing someone, Brian?” “Ash T hompson,” he answ ered. Like t hey didn’t know her name, but hey, I could play along. “Yeah, I t hink t hey broke up during t he summer, but t hat doesn’t have anyt hing t o do w it h us.” “It doesn’t ?” Nancy asked. I shook my head, deciding a lit t le bit of t he t rut h couldn’t hurt . “W e’re just friends. Most of t he t ime w e don’t really even get along.” “But you just said he w as nice.”

Shit . Face blank, I shrugged. “He can be nice w hen he w ant s.” A single pale eyebrow arched. “And w hat about Dee?” “She’s aw esome.” I glanced out t he w indow . T his w as t he longest t rip ever. I w as going t o have a heart at t ack before it w as over. T here w as somet hing about Nancy, more t han just t he obvious, t hat made me squirm. “And w hat do you t hink of t heir parent s?” I frow ned. T hese w ere really w eird quest ions t o be asking, given t he fact t hey didn’t know I knew anyt hing. “I don’t know . T hey’re parent s.” Brian laughed. W as t his dude real? It sounded a bit mechanical. “W hat I meant is, do you like t hem?” she asked. “I don’t see t hem oft en. Just coming and going. I really haven’t t alked t o t hem.” I met her eyes, w illing her t o believe me. “I don’t hang out at t heir house oft en, so I don’t run int o t hem.” She held my st are a few more moment s and t hen t urned around in her seat . No one spoke aft er t hat . Sw eat gat hered along my brow . W hen Brian t urned ont o my road, I almost cried in relief. T he car coast ed t o a st op, and I w as already unbuckling my seat belt . “T hanks for t he ride,” I said hast ily. “No problem,” Nancy said. “T ake care, Miss Sw art z.” T he t iny hairs on my body rose. I opened t he door and climbed out . And just t hen, w it h t he w orst case of bad t iming in t he w orld, my cell phone w ent off in my pocket , blaring like an alarm. Holy crap… My eyes flicked up t o Nancy’s. She smiled. … “I’m sure he’s okay,” Dee said again. “Katy, they do this all the time. They stop by, track us down, and act all kinds of weird.” I st opped in front of her T V, w ringing my hands. Fear had root ed deep inside my gut from t he moment t hey’d deposit ed me in front of my house. “Y ou don’t underst and. He t old t hem w e w ere out t here looking for my cell phone and t hat I’d lost it . And t hen it rang in front of t hem.” “I know , but w hat ’s t he big deal?” Adam sat on t he couch, kicking his legs up. “T here’s no w ay t hey’d suspect you know anyt hing.” But t hey knew w e w ere lying, and t hey all seemed w

ay t oo smart t o miss t hat . And it w asn’t like I could t ell Dee w hat w e’d really been doing out t here. Not t hat she hadn’t asked. I’d made up some lame excuse about w ant ing t o see t he spot w here he’d killed Baruck. Dee didn’t look ent irely convinced. I st art ed pacing again. “But t hat w as hours ago, guys. It ’s almost t en.” “Honey, he’s fine.” She got up, clasping my hands. “T hey w ere here first and t hen w ent looking for him. All t hey are doing is being annoying and asking quest ions.” “But w hy w ould it t ake so long w it h him?” “Because t hey like t o give him crap and he likes t o give it back,” Adam said, float ing t he remot e cont roll over t o his hand. “It ’s like a parasit ic relat ionship bet w een t he t w o.” I laughed w eakly. “But w hat if t hey find out I know ? W hat w ill t hey do t o him?” Dee’s brow s knit t ed. “T hey aren’t going t o find out , Kat y. And if t hey did, you should be more w orried about yourself t han him.” Nodding, I pulled my hands free and st art ed w earing a pat h in t he carpet again. T hey didn’t underst and. I’d seen it in Nancy’s eyes. She knew w e w ere lying, but she’d let me go. W hy? “Kat y,” Dee began slow ly. “I’m surprised t hat you’re so concerned about Daemon’s w elfare.” A flush sw ept over my cheeks. I didn’t w ant t o look t oo closely at w hy I w as so concerned. “Just because he’s…he’s Daemon…doesn’t mean I w ant anyt hing bad t o happen t o him.” W at ching me closely, she arched one brow . “Are you sure it ’s not more t han t hat ?” I halt ed. “Of course.” “He’s been bringing you st uff t o school.” Adam leaned his head back, eyes narrow ed. “I’ve never seen him act like t hat w it h anyone. Not even my sist er.” “And you guys have been spending a lot of t ime t oget her,” Dee added. “So? Y ou’ve been spending a lot of t ime w it h Adam.” As soon as it left my mout h, I realized how st upid t hat w as. Dee smiled, eyes glit t ering. “Y eah, and w e’ve been having sex. Lot s of it .” Adam’s eyes w ent w ide. “W ow , Dee, put it all out t here like t hat .” She shrugged. “It ’s t rue.” “Oh, geez, t hat ’s not w hat ’s happening here.” Moving t o t he couch, she sat beside a red-faced Adam. “T hen w hat is happening?”

Crap. I hat ed lying t o her. “He’s been helping me st udy.” “For w hat ?” “T rig,” I said quickly. “I suck at mat h.” Dee laughed. “Okay. If you say so, but I hope you know t hat if you and my brot her have somet hing going on, I’m not going t o be mad.” I st ared at her. “And part of me underst ands w hy you t w o w ould keep it hidden. You guys are know n for your w ord w ar and everyt hing else.” She frow ned. “But I just w ant you t o know t hat I’m okay w it h it . It ’s crazy and I hope Daemon is prepared for w hat ’s going t o happen, but I w ant him happy. And if you make him happy—” “Okay. I got you.” So not a conversat ion I w ant ed t o have w it h Dee in front of Adam. She smiled. “I w ish you’d reconsider doing T hanksgiving dinner w it h us. Y ou know you’re w elcome.” “I seriously doubt Ash and Andrew w ould be happy w it h me at t he t able.” “W ho cares w hat t hey t hink?” Adam rolled his eyes. “I don’t . Neit her does Daemon. And you shouldn’t eit her.” “Y ou guys are like a family. I’m not —” T ingles spread over my neck. W it hout t hinking, I spun around and raced across t he room. T hrow ing open t he door, I rushed out int o t he cold night air. I didn’t even t hink. Daemon had reached t he t op st ep w hen I rushed him, w rapping my arms around his neck, squeezing him t ight . He seemed st unned for a second, and t hen his arms sw ept around my w aist . For several moment s, neit her of us spoke. We didn’t need t o. I just w ant ed t o hold him—for him t o hold me. Maybe it w as t he connect ion w rapping us t oget her. Maybe it w as somet hing infinit ely deeper. At t hat moment , I didn’t care. “W hoa t here, Kit t en, w hat ’s going on?” Burrow ing closer, I draw led in a deep breat h. “I t hought t he DOD cart ed you off t o some lab t o keep you in a cage.” “Cage?” He laughed a bit unst eadily. “No. No cages. T hey just w ant ed t o t alk. It t ook longer t han I t hought . Everyt hing’s okay.” Dee cleared her t hroat . “Ahem.”

St iffening, I realized w hat I w as doing. Oh, so not cool. Disent angling my arms and w iggling out from his, I backed up and blushed. “I…I w as just excit ed.” “Y eah, I’d say you w ere,” Dee said, grinning like an idiot . Daemon w as st aring at me like he’d just w on t he lot t ery. “I kind of like t his level of excit ement . Makes me t hink of—” “Daemon!” bot h of us shout ed. “W hat ?” He grinned, t ousling Dee’s hair. “I w as only suggest ing—” “We know w hat you w ere suggest ing.” Dee dart ed out from underneat h his hand. “And I really w ant t o keep my food dow n t onight .” She smiled at me. “See. I t old you. Daemon is fine.” I could see t hat . He w as also smokin’ hot , but back t o t he w hole point . “T hey didn’t suspect anyt hing?” Daemon shook his head. “Not hing out of t he norm, but t hey’re alw ays paranoid.” He paused, his eyes searching mine in t he dim light of t he porch. “Really, you don’t need t o w orry. Y ou’re safe.” It w asn’t me I’d been w orried about , and oh boy, t hat w as bad. My sense of self-preservat ion w as messed up. And I honest ly needed t o get out of here. “All right , I need t o go home.” “Kat …” “No.” I w aved him off, st art ing dow n t he st eps. “I really need t o go home. Blake called and I need t o call him back.” “Boris can w ait ,” Daemon said. “Blake,” I said, st opping on t he sidew alk. Dee had w isely gone inside, but Daemon had moved t o t he edge of t he porch. My t hought s, my emot ions, felt overly exposed w hen I met his eyes. “T hey asked me a lot of quest ions—especially t he lady.” “Nancy Husher,” he said, frow ning. A second lat er, he w as st anding before me. “She’s apparent ly a big deal w it hin t he DOD. T hey w ant ed t o know w hat w ent dow n Hall ow een w eekend. I gave t hem t he Daemon-edit ed-version.” “Did t hey believe you?” He nodded. “Hook, line, and sinker.” I shivered. “But it w asn’t you, Daemon. It w as me. Or it w as all of us.”

“I know , but t hey don’t know t hat .” His voice low ered as he cupped my cheek. “T hey w on’t ever know t hat .” My eyes closed. T he w armt h of his hand eased some of t he fear. “It ’s not me I’m w orried about . If t hey t hink you blew a sat ell it e out of orbit , t hey could see you as a t hreat .” “Or t hey could just t hink I’m t hat aw esome.” “It ’s not funny,” I w hispered. “I know .” Daemon moved closer, and before I knew it , I w as in his embrace again. “Don’t w orry about me or Dee. We can handle t he DOD. Trust me.” I let him hold me for a couple of moment s, soaking up his w armt h, but t hen I slipped free. “I didn’t t ell t hat lady anyt hing. And t he damn phone rang as I w as get t ing out of t he car. She knew w e w ere lying about w hy w e w ere t here.” “T hey’re not going t o care about us lying over t he phone. T hey probably t hink w e w ere out t here get t ing it on or somet hing. You don’t need t o w orry, Kat .” Anxiet y didn’t fade. It snaked t hrough me. T here had been somet hing about Nancy. Calculat ing. As if a pop quiz had been sprung on us and w e’d failed. I lift ed my eyes, meet ing his. “I’m glad you’re okay.” He smiled. “I know .” I could have st ood t here st aring at his sparkling eyes all night , but somet hing urged me t o run as far aw ay from him as quickly as I could. Somet hing bad w as going t o come from all of t his. I t urned and w alked aw ay.

Chapter 16
As expect ed, I spent t he bet t er part of T hanksgiving poking around t he house alone. Mom really got shaft ed, pulling a double shift t hat t ook her out of t he house from around noon T hursday unt ill noon on Friday. I could’ve gone next door. Bot h Dee and Daemon had invit ed me, but it didn’t feel right bust ing up t heir alien T hanksgiving. And from t he amount of creepy peeping I w as doing from my w indow every t ime I heard a car door close out side, I knew everyone show ing up w as secret ly an ET . Even Ash arrived w it h her brot hers, looking like she w as going t o a funeral rat her t han a dinner part y.

Part of me didn’t like t hat she w as t here. Y eah, I w as jealous. St upid. But I’d made t he right call by not going. I w as an anxious w reck. Today alone, I’d t ipped over t he coffee t able, shat t ered t hree glasses, and blew a light bulb. Being w it h people probably w asn’t a good idea, but it w ould’ve been nice t o lose myself in t he holiday fest ivit ies for a lit t le w hile. T he only good t hing w as t he fact my head didn’t feel like it w as being ripped apart aft er t he shenanigans. Around six in t he evening, I felt t hat now -oh-so-familiar t ingle on t he back of my neck right before Daemon knocked. A ball of confusing feelings unfurled inside me as I hurried t o t he door. T he first t hing I not iced w as t he large box beside him, and t hen t he scent of roast ed t urkey and yams. “Hey,” he said, holding a st ack of covered plat es. “Happy T hanksgiving.” I blinked slow ly. “Happy T hanksgiving.” “Y ou going t o invit e me in?” He held up t he plat es, w iggling t hem. “I come bearing gift s in t he form of food.” I st epped aside. St ill grinning, he came in and w aved his free hand. T he box lift ed off t he porch and t railed behind him like a dog. It landed just inside t he foyer. As I shut t he door, I caught sight of Ash and Andrew climbing int o t heir car. Neit her of t hem looked over. A lump formed in my t hroat as I t urned t o Daemon. “I brought a lit t le of everyt hing.” He headed t ow ard t he kit chen. “T here’s t urkey, yams, cranberry sauce, mashed pot at oes, green-bean casserole, some kind of apple crisp t hing and pumpkin—Kit t en? Are you coming?” Peeling myself aw ay from t he front door, I w ent int o t he kit chen. He w as set t ing up t he t able, uncovering t he dishes. I…I didn’t know w hat t o t hink. Daemon raised his hands and t w o depression glass candleholders Mom never used float ed t o t he t able. Candles came next , and w it h a w ave of his hand, t heir w icks sparked t iny flames. T he lump grew , nearly choking me. Dinnerw are and glasses came from several opened draw ers. Mom’s w ine flew out of t he fridge, pouring int o t w o cryst all flut es w hile Daemon st ood in t he middle of everyt hing. It w as like a scene st raight out of Beaut y and t he Beast . I kept w ait ing for a t eapot t o st art singing.

“And aft er dinner, I have anot her surprise for you.” “Y ou do?” I w hispered. He nodded. “But you’ve got t o join me for dinner first .” I shuffled t o t he t able and sat , w at ching him w it h eyes t hat w ere blurry. He made me a plat e and t hen sat beside me. I cleared my t hroat . “Daemon, I…I don’t know w hat t o say, but t hank you.” “T hanks aren’t necessary,” he said. “Y ou didn’t w ant t o come over, w hich I underst and, but you shouldn’t be alone.” Low ering my gaze before he could see t he t ears gat hering in my eyes, I grabbed t he flut e and dow ned t he bit t er-t ast ing w hit e w ine. W hen I looked up, his brow s w ere raised. “Lush,” he murmured. I grinned. “Maybe—for t oday.” He nudged me w it h his knee under t he t able. “Dig in before it get s cold.” T he food w as divine. Any doubt s I had about Dee’s cooking abilit ies vanished. T hroughout our lit t le makeshift dinner, I drank anot her glass of w ine. I also at e everyt hing t hat Daemon put on my plat e, including second helpings. And by t he t ime I st abbed t he pumpkin pie w it h my fork, I w as eit her a lit t le t ipsy or I w as st art ing t o believe t hat t here w as more t han just t he connect ion propelling him. T hat maybe he did care for me, because I w as able t o fight it —sort of—and I know damn w ell t hat Daemon could if he w ant ed t o. Maybe he just didn’t w ant t o. Cleaning up dinner w as a st rangely int imat e experience. Our elbow s brushed several t imes. Amiable silence descended as w e w ashed t he dishes, side by side. My cheeks felt flushed. My t hought s w ere w ay t oo giddy. T oo much w ine. I follow ed Daemon int o t he foyer aft erw ard. He moved t he large box t o t he living room w it hout t ouching it . It sort of jingled. Sit t ing on t he edge of t he couch, I folded my hands and w ait ed, having no clue w hat he w as up t o. Daemon opened t he box, reached inside, and pulled out a green-needled branch and poked me w it h it . “I t hink w e have a Christ mas t ree t o put up. I know it ’s not during t he parade, but I t

hink Charlie Brow n’s T hanksgiving special is on, and, w ell, t hat ’s not t oo bad.” T hat w as it . T he lump in my t hroat w as back, but t here w as no st opping it t his t ime. Jumping from t he couch, I raced out of t he room. Tears formed, t hen slid dow n my cheeks. Emot ion clogged my t hroat as I w iped under my eyes. Daemon appeared in front of me, blocking t he st aircase. His eyes w ere w ide, pupils luminous. I t ried t o t urn aw ay, but he quickly enveloped me in his st rong arms. “I didn’t do t his t o make you cry, Kat .” “I know ,” I sniffled. “It ’s just …” “It ’s just w hat ?” He cupped my cheeks, his t humbs brushing aw ay t he t ears. My skin t ingled from t he cont act . “Kit t en?” “I don’t t hink you know how much…somet hing like t his means t o me.” I t ook a deep breat h, but t he st upid t ears kept falling. “I haven’t done t his since—since Dad w as alive. And I’m sorry t o cry, because I’m not sad. I just didn’t expect t his.” “It ’s okay.” Daemon t ugged me forw ard, and I w ent . He w rapped his arms around me, holding me close as I buried my face int o t he front of his shirt . “I get it . Good t ears and all.” T here w as somet hing w arm and right about being in his arms. And I w ant ed t o deny it , but for t he first t ime, I st opped—I just st opped. Even if Daemon saw me as one giant Rubik’s Cube he had t o crack or if it w as t he healing mojo, it didn’t mat t er. Not right now . I grabbed a handful of his shirt and held on. He may have t hought he knew how much t his meant t o me, but he really didn’t . Daemon w ould never know . I lift ed my head and reached up, clasping his smoot h cheeks. W it h his help, I brought his lips t o mine and kissed him. It w as a quick and innocent kiss, but I felt t he zing all t he w ay t o my t oes. I pulled back, breat hless. “T hank you. I really mean it . T hank you.” He brushed t he backs of his fingers over my cheek, smoot hing t he last of my t ears aw ay. “Don’t let anyone know about my sw eet side. I have a reput at ion t o keep up.” I laughed. “All right , let ’s do t his.” Trimming a Christ mas t ree w it h an alien w as a different experience. He moved t he recliner out from in front of t he w indow w it h a jerk of his chin. Bulbs hung in t he air along w it h t w inkling light s t hat w eren’t plugged in. W e laughed. A lot . Every so oft en I’d get choked up w hen I t hought of Mom’s face t omorrow aft ernoon. She’d be happy, I t hought . Daemon dropped silvery t insel on my head w hile I plucked a bulb out of t he air. “T hanks,” I said.

“It kind of fit s you.” T he scent of art ificial pine filled t he living room. T he holiday spirit w oke inside me like a slumbering giant . I grinned at Daemon and held up a bulb t hat w as so green it almost mat ched his eyes. I decided it w as going t o be his bulb. I placed it right under t he t w inkling st ar. It w as almost midnight by t he t ime w e finished. Sit t ing on t he couch, t high against t high, w e st ared at our mast erpiece. T he t ree w as a lit t le t insel-heavy on one side, but it w as perfect . A rainbow of colored light s shimmered. Glass bulbs glimmered. “I love it ,” I said. “Yeah, it ’s pret t y good.” He leaned in t o me, yaw ning. “Dee put up t he t ree t his morning. She has t o have everyt hing t he same color, but I t hink our t ree looks bet t er. It ’s like a disco ball.” Our tree. I smiled, liking the sound of that. He bumped me w it h his shoulder. “Y ou know , I had fun doing t his.” “I did, t oo.” Daemon’s lashes low ered. Man, I’d kill for a set of t hose babies. “It ’s lat e.” “I know .” I hesit at ed. “Y ou w ant t o st ay?” A single brow arched. T hat hadn’t come out right . “I don’t mean t hat .” “Not t hat I’d complain if you did.” His gaze dropped. “Not at all.” I rolled my eyes, but my t ummy w as coiling t ight . W hy had I offered for him t o st ay? His assumpt ion w asn’t t oo far off. Daemon didn’t st rike me as t he t ype t o dig PG-13 slumber part ies. I remembered t he last and only t ime w e’d shared a bed. Flushing, I st ood. I didn’t w ant him t o leave, but I didn’t …I didn’t know w hat I w ant ed. “I’m going t o get changed,” I said. “Need help?” “W ow . Y ou’re so chivalrous, Daemon.”

His smile w idened, flashing deep dimples. “W ell, t he experience w ould be mut ually beneficial. I promise.” No doubt it w ould be. “St ay,” I ordered, t hen hurried upst airs. I quickly changed int o a pair of sleep short s and a pink t hermal. Not t he sexiest sleepw ear, but as I w ashed my face and brushed my t eet h, I decided it w as t he best choice. Anyt hing else w ould give Daemon ideas. Hell, a paper sack w ould encourage him. I left my bat hroom and st opped. Daemon had not st ayed. My smile slipped from my face. He w as st anding by t he w indow , his back t o me. “I got bored.” “I w asn’t even gone five minut es.” “I have a short at t ent ion span.” He glanced back at me, eyes glit t ering. “Nice short s.” I grinned. T here w ere st ars on my short s. “W hat are you doing up here?” “You said I could st ay.” He faced me, his gaze drift ing t o t he bed. T he room suddenly seemed t oo small, t he bed even smaller. “I didn’t t hink you meant st aying on t he couch.” Now I w asn’t even sure w hat I’d meant . I sighed. W hat w as I doing? Crossing t he room, he st opped in front of me. “I’m not going t o bit e.” “T hat ’s good.” “Unless you w ant me t o,” he added w it h a devilish grin. “Nice,” I mut t ered, side-st epping him. Space w as definit ely needed. Not t hat it did much good. Heart pounding, I w at ched him kick off his shoes and t hen w hip off his shirt . He moved t o t he but t on on his jeans. My eyes w idened. “W hat —w hat are you doing?” “Get t ing ready for bed.” “But you’re get t ing naked!” He arched his brow . “I do have boxers on. W hat ? Do you expect me t o sleep in my jeans?” “Y ou did last t ime.” I felt t he need t o fan myself. Daemon laughed. “Act ually, I had pajama bot t oms on.” And he’d had a shirt on, but w ho w as keeping t rack? I could’ve t old him t o leave, but I t urned aw ay, pret ending t o be engrossed w it h a book on my desk. Chills shot st raight t o my core w hen I heard t he bed groan under his w eight . Taking a shallow breat h, I t urned around.

He w as in bed, arms folded behind his head, an innocent look on his face. “T his w as a bad idea,” I w hispered. “It w as probably t he smart est idea you’ve ever had.” I rubbed my palms on my hips. “It ’s going t o t ake a lot more t han T hanksgiving dinner and a Christ mas t ree t o get laid.” “Damn. T here goes my w hole plan.” Flust ered, infuriat ed, and t hrilled, I st ared at him. So many emot ions couldn’t be possible. My head w as spinning as I st alked over t o my side of t he bed—oh my God, w hen had w e developed sides?—and quickly slid under t he covers. I did not w ant t o know if he’d left t he jeans on or not . “Can you t urn off t he light ?” Darkness descended w it hout him moving. Several moment s passed. “T hat ’s a handy abilit y.” “It is.” My eyes focused on t he pale light peeking t hrough t he curt ains. “Maybe one day I can be just as lazy as you and t urn off light s w it hout moving.” “T hat ’s somet hing t o aspire t o.” I relaxed a fract ion of an inch and smiled. “God, you’re so modest .” “Modest y is for saint s and losers. I’m neit her.” “W ow , Daemon, just w ow .” He rolled ont o his side, his breat h st irring t he hair along my neck. My heart leaped int o my t hroat . “I can’t believe you haven’t kicked me out yet .” “Same here,” I murmured. Daemon w easeled his w ay closer, and, oh yeah, he’d got t en rid of his jeans. His bare legs brushed mine, and my heart rat e spiked. “I really didn’t mean t o make you cry earlier.” I flipped ont o my back and st ared up at him. He w as raised on one elbow . Silky locks fell int o his shining eyes. “I know . T he w hole t hing you did, it w as sort of amazing.” “I just didn’t like t he idea of you being alone.” Slow and st eady breat hs raised my chest . Like w hen he’d hugged me dow nst airs and I’d kissed him, I w ant ed t o st op t hinking. Impossible w hen his eyes held t he int ensit y of a t housand suns.

Daemon reached out , brushing a st rand of hair off my cheek w it h t he t ips of his fingers. Elect ricit y shimmered t hrough me. T here w as no denying t he at t ract ion—t he pull t hat didn’t w ant t o let eit her of us go. My gaze w as fixed on his lips like an addict . Memories of t he w ay t hey’d felt seared me. All of t his w as crazy. Invit ing him t o st ay, get t ing in bed w it h him, and t hinking w hat I w as about him. Crazy. Excit ing. I sw allow ed. “W e should go t o sleep.” His hand palmed my cheek, and I w ant ed t o t ouch him. I w ant ed t o be closer. “W e should,” he agreed. Lift ing my hand, I brushed my fingers over his lips. T hey w ere pillow y soft yet firm. Int oxicat ing. Daemon’s eyes flared, and my st omach hollow ed. He shift ed his head closer and his lips brushed t he corner of mine. His hands slid from my face and dow n my neck, and w hen he dipped his head again, his lips brushed over t he t ip of my nose. And t hen he kissed me. A slow -burning, t oe-curling kiss t hat left me aching for so, so much more. I felt like I w as spinning int o t hat kiss, falling int o him. He pulled back w it h a groan and set t led beside me, w rapping an arm around my w aist . “Good night , Kit t en.” Heart pounding, I let out a long sigh. “T hat ’s all?” Daemon laughed. “T hat ’s all …for now .” Bit ing my lip, I w illed my heart t o slow dow n. It seemed t o t ake forever. T hen finally, I w iggled closer unt ill he snaked an arm under my head. I t urned ont o my side, rest ing my cheek against his upper arm. Our breat hs mingled as w e lay t here, st aring at each ot her silent ly unt ill his eyes drift ed shut . For t he second t ime t hat night , I admit t ed t hat maybe I’d been w rong about Daemon. Maybe I didn’t even know myself. And t here w as no w ine t o blame t his t ime. I drift ed off t o sleep w ondering w hat he meant by “for now .”

Chapter 17
W hen Blake t ext ed me and asked t o meet him at t he Smoke Hole Diner Friday evening, I didn’t know w hat t o do. It seemed…w rong t o have an early dinner w it h him w hen last night I’d slept in Daemon’s arms.

My cheeks flushed. We didn’t do anyt hing ot her t han t hat one kiss, but it w as just as int imat e, if not more. My feelings for him w ere all over t he place and w hat he did for me yest erday, w it h t he dinner and t he Christ mas t ree, meant somet hing I couldn’t ignore. But I also couldn’t ignore Blake. He w as my friend, and aft er last night , I needed t o make sure he didn’t expect anyt hing more t han t hat —a friendship. Because somew here over t he course of a day, even t hough I hadn’t figured out t hings w it h Daemon, I did realize t hat he w as right about one t hing. I w as using Blake. He w as uncomplicat ed and harmless. Tot ally a nice guy and dat eable, but my feelings w ere lukew arm for t he surfer. Not hing like how I felt for Daemon. And it w asn’t right . If Blake did like me, I couldn’t st ring him along anymore. So I t ext ed him back and said okay, hoping t his w ouldn’t be t he most aw kw ard dinner of my life. T he w eat her had changed t he moment t he sun w ent behind t he mount ains. T he comfort able aut umn air w as replaced by near-frigid w inds, and t he sky t ook on a const ant gloomy, overcast presence. I pulled int o t he closest parking space t o t he door of t he diner. T he w ind had screamed t he w hole t rip, and I dreaded get t ing out of my w arm car. I couldn’t help but not ice t hat t he space of glass above t he rest aurant ’s business hours held a pict ure of Simon on it . I grimaced, t hrew open t he door, and hurried int o t he surprisingly crow ded rest aurant . Blake w as sit t ing near t he fireplace. He st ood and smiled w hen he saw me. “Hey, glad you made it .” W hen he reached out as if he w ant ed t o hug me, I pret ended not t o not ice and sat . “I can’t believe how cold it is. How w as your t rip?” Frow ning slight ly, he t ook his seat and met hodically st raight ened his silverw are around a pret end plat e. “It w asn’t bad. Not very excit ing.” W hen t he cut lery w as posit ioned just so, he glanced up. “How w as your break?” “Not very different t han yours.” I paused, recognizing a few kids from school. T hey w ere clust ered t oget her, drinking sodas and eat ing a large oven pizza. Chad—t he boy Lesa w as dat ing—w aved at me and I w aved back. “But I’m not ready for it t o be over.” W e paused w hile a plump w ait ress t ook our orders. I got a soda and a basket of fries and he ordered soup. “Hopefully t his doesn’t end up all over me,” he joked. I cringed. Not likely, since Daemon w asn’t here…yet . “I really am sorry about all t hat .” Blake t apped his st raw off my hand before peeling t he paper from around t he plast ic. “It ’s not a big deal. St uff happens.” I nodded, st udying t he st eamed-over w indow s. He cleared his t hroat ,

frow ning again as his eyes narrow ed on a middle-aged man near t he bar w ho w as looking around nervously. “I t hink t hat guy’s about t o skip out on his bill.” “Huh, really?” Blake nodded. “And he t hinks he’s get t ing aw ay w it h it . He has so many t imes before.” In st unned silence, I w at ched t he man t ake one last drink and st and w it hout get t ing his check. “Someone is alw ays w at ching,” Blake added w it h a slight smile. A couple sit t ing behind t he man, bot h in flannel shirt s and w ell-w orn jeans, w ere also w at ching t he cust omer about t o flee. T he man leaned t ow ard t he w oman, w hispering somet hing. Her heavy face t w ist ed int o a scow ll, and she slammed her hand dow n on t he t able. “No-good bums, alw ays t hinking t hey can get a free meal!” T he out burst caught t he at t ent ion of t he manager w ho w as t aking an order by t he door. He t urned t o face t he st art led man. “Hey! Did you pay for t hat ?” T he man st opped and fumbled in his pocket s. He mut t ered an apology and hast ily t hrew several crumpled bills on t he t able. My head snapped back t o Blake. “W hoa, t hat w as…uncanny.” He shrugged. I w ait ed unt ill t he w ait ress ret urned w it h our order and left , my unease grow ing. “How did you know he w as going t o do t hat ?” Blake blew on his spoonful of veget able soup. “A good guess.” “bullshit ,” I w hispered. His gaze met mine. “It w as just a lucky guess.” Doubt bubbled up. Blake w asn’t an alien—at least I assumed he w asn’t , and none of t he Luxen I knew could read minds or foresee anyt hing, but t hat w as just t oo w eird. It could’ve been a lucky guess, but every inst inct w as t elling me t here w as somet hing more. I munched on t he fries. “So do you have lucky guesses a lot ?” He shrugged. “Somet imes. It ’s just int uit ion.” “Int uit ion,” I said, nodding. “T hat ’s some spot -on int uit ion.” “Anyw ay, I heard about t hat kid going missing. T hat t ot ally sucks.”

T he abrupt change of subject w as jarring. “Y eah, it does. I t hink t he cops believe he ran aw ay.” Blake t w irled his spoon in t he soup. “Did t hey ask Daemon a lot of quest ions?” I frow ned. “W hy w ould t hey?” Blake’s hand st illed. “W ell …because Daemon did get in a fight w it h him. I mean, it seems likely t hey w ould quest ion him.” Okay, he had a point , and I w as being w ay t oo t w it chy about t his. “Yeah, I t hink t hey did, but he didn’t have anyt hing t o do w it h—” I froze, not believing w hat I w as feeling. Dull heat flared bet w een my breast s. It couldn’t be. I dropped t he fry back int o t he basket . T he obsidian flared under my sw eat er. Frant ically, I reached around my neck, t ugging on t he chain. W hen t he obsidian slipped free, I w rapped my hand around it , w incing as t he st one scorched my palm. Panic claw ed up my t hroat as I lift ed my eyes. Blake w as doing somet hing w it h his w rist , but my eyes lat ched ont o t he front door. It sw ung open. Fall en leaves scat t ered across t he t ile. T he low hum of conversat ion cont inued, t he cust omers unaw are a monst er w as in t heir mix. Near-scalding heat radiat ed from t he obsidian. Our t able st art ed t o rat t led soft ly. In t he doorw ay, a t all and pale w oman w it h dark sunglasses covering half her face scanned t he crow ded pat rons. Her raven-colored hair hung in t hick, ropey st rands around her cheeks. Her red lips w ere spread in a serpent ’s smile. She w as an Arum. I w as st art ing t o st and, seconds aw ay from ripping t he obsidian off my neck. Would I really charge her? I w asn’t sure, but I couldn’t st and here and do not hing. My muscles t ensed. Arum alw ays t raveled in fours, so if t here w as one, t hat meant t here w ere t hree more somew here. Blood pounded in my ears. I w as so int ent on t he female Arum t hat I hadn’t paid at t ent ion t o Blake unt ill he w as in front of me. He raised one hand. Everyone st opped. Everyone. Some people had forks of food halfw ay t o t heir mout hs. Ot hers w ere st opped in midconversat ion, mout hs hanging open in silent laught er. A few had even st opped w alking w it h one foot off t he ground. A w ait ress had been light ing a candle w it h a small light er. She w as frozen but t he flame st ill danced above t he light er. No one t alked, no one moved, and no one even seemed t o breat he.

Blake? I t ook a st ep back from him, unsure of w hom I should be more afraid of—t he Arum or t he harmless surfer boy. T he female Arum hadn’t frozen. She w as moving her head side t o side in slick, fluid mot ions as she st udied t he frozen humans and, I assumed, a few Luxen. “Arum,” Blake accused, voice low . She w hipped around, her head st ill moving. She t ook off her sunglasses, squint ed. “Human?” Blake laughed. “Not quit e.” And t hen he launched himself at her.

Chapter 18
Blake w as a freaking ninja. Moving light ning fast , he dipped under t he Arum’s out st ret ched arm and spun around, delivering a vicious spin kick t o her back. She st aggered forw ard a st ep and w hirled. T he air around her hand darkened w it h black energy. She reared back, preparing t o deliver a blow . Dropping dow n, he spun and knocked her leat her-encased legs from underneat h her. T he dark energy flickered out as t hey bot h rose t o t heir feet again, circling each ot her in t he narrow space bet w een t he cramped t ables and frozen people. I sort of just st ood t here, myst ified and ent ranced by t he display. T here w as no expression on Blake’s face. It w as like a kickass sw it ch had been t hrow n, and his w hole being w as focused on t he Arum. Blake dart ed in, his palm cat ching t he Arum’s chin, snapping her head back. Teet h rat t led, and w hen she low ered her head, a dark, oily subst ance leaked from her lip. She faded out , t aking on her t rue form. Her shadow y body w as t hick and smoky as it charged Blake. He laughed. And pivot ed around so fast t hat his hand w as just a blur as it sunk deep int o w hat appeared t o be her chest . His w at ch…w asn’t a normal w at ch. It w as a shred of obsidian current ly embedded in t he Arum’s chest . Blake jerked his hand back.

As she t ook on a human form, her face w as pale and shocked. A second lat er, she exploded in a rush of black smoke t hat blew my hair back and filled t he air w it h a bit t er scent . Not even out of breat h, Blake t urned t o me and pressed somet hing on his w at ch. He placed it back on his w rist , t hen ran a hand t hrough his messy hair. I gaped at him, t he obsidian rapidly cooling under my hand. “Are you, like…Jason Bourne or somet hing?” St riding over t o our t able, he dropped a t w ent y and a t en on t he plaid t ableclot h. “W e need t o t alk somew here privat e.” Eyes w ide, I t ook a deep breat h. My w orld just got a lit t le more insane, but if I could deal w it h aliens, I could deal w it h ninja Blake. T hat didn’t mean I w as going somew here w it h him unt ill I knew w hat t he hell he w as, t hough. “My car.” He nodded, and w e headed for t he door. Blake held it open for me as he faced t he frozen diner. W it h a w ave of his hand, everyone st art ed moving. No one seemed t o not ice t hat t hey’d been frozen for minut es. W e w ere t w o st eps from my car w hen I realized my hands w ere shaking and t he back of my neck w as t ingling. “Y ou have got t o be kidding me,” Blake mut t ered and t ook ahold of my hand. I didn’t even have t o look. T here w as no Infinit i SUV in t he parking lot t hat I could see, but t hen again, Daemon had his ow n special met hod of t ravel if necessary. A t all, imposing shadow fell upon us, and I lift ed my gaze. Daemon st ood t here, a black baseball cap pulled low , shielding t he upper half of his face. “W hat …w hat are you doing here?” I asked, and t hen realized Blake w as holding my hand. I pulled it free. Daemon’s jaw w as so hard it could cut t hrough marble. “I w as just about t o ask you t he same t hing.” Oh…oh dear, t his didn’t look good. Suddenly, t he Arum chick and ninja Blake didn’t even mat t er. Only Daemon did and w hat he must be assuming. “T his isn’t w hat —” “Look, I don’t know w hat ’s going on bet w een you t w o or w hat ever.” As Blake spoke, he curved his hand around my elbow . “But Kat y and I need t o t alk—” One second, Blake w as t alking, and t he next , he w as pressed against t he w indow of t he Smoke Hole Diner, w it h a six-foot -and-t hen-some alien all up in his gril e. Daemon’s face w as an inch from Blake’s, t he Bill of his baseball cap creasing Blake’s forehead. “Y ou t ouch her again and I w ill —” “Y ou’ll w hat ?” Blake shot back, his eyes narrow ed. “W hat are you going t o do, Daemon?” I grabbed Daemon’s shoulder and pulled. He didn’t budge. “Daemon, come on. Let him go.”

“You w ant t o know w hat I’m going t o do?” Daemon’s ent ire body t ensed under my hand. “You know w here your head and ass are? Well, t hey’re about t o become w ell acquaint ed w it h each ot her.” Oh, good Lord. We w ere st art ing t o gain an audience. People w ere w at ching from t heir cars. No doubt an ent ire rest aurant w as w it nessing t his go dow n from t he inside. I t ried again t o break t he t w o boys apart , but bot h of t hem ignored me. Blake smirked. “I’d like t o see you t ry.” “Y ou might w ant t o ret hink t hat .” Daemon laughed low . “Because you have no idea w hat I’m capable of, boy.” “See, t hat ’s t he funny t hing.” Blake gripped Daemon’s w rist . “I know exact ly w hat you’re capable of.” A shiver rolled dow n my spine. W ho in t he hell w as Blake? Flannel Shirt Guy came out of t he diner, hit ching up his ragged pant s. He spit out a mout hful of chew as he approached us. “Boys, you’re gonna w anna break t his up right now before someone calls t he—” Blake raised his free hand and Flannel Shirt Guy just st opped. W it h a sinking feeling, I looked over my shoulder. Everyone in t he parking lot w as frozen. No doubt t hey w ere just as immobile inside t he diner. A w hit ish-red light crept along t he out line of Daemon’s body. T ense silence fell. I knew he w as seconds aw ay from going all Luxen on Blake. Daemon’s grip must ’ve t ight ened, because Blake gasped. “I don’t care w ho or w hat you are, but you bet t er give me a reason not t o blast you int o your next pat het ic life real quickly.” “I know w hat you are,” Blake choked out . “T hat ’s not helping,” Daemon grow led, and I had t o agree. I spared a nervous glance at Flannel Shirt Guy. He w as st ill t here, frozen w it h his mout h hanging open, show ing off st ained t eet h. T he light around Daemon w as get t ing st ronger. “T ry again.” “I just killed an Arum, and even t hough you’re an arrogant prick, w e’re not enemies.” A choke cut off his next w ords, and I grabbed bot h of Daemon’s shoulders. T here w as no w ay I could let him st rangle Blake. “I can help Kat y,” Blake w heezed. “Good enough for you?” “W hat ?” I demanded, dropping my hands. “Y eah, see, you saying her name alone makes me w ant t o kill you. So, no, not good enough for me.” Blake’s eyes dart ed t o mine. “Kat y, I know w hat you are, w hat you w ill become capable of, and I can help you.” Shocked, I st ared at him.

Daemon leaned in t o Blake. His eyes w ere pure w hit e and glow ing, like diamonds. “Let me ask you a quest ion. If I kill you, w ill t hese people unfreeze?” Blake’s eyes w idened, and I knew Daemon w asn’t kidding around. He didn’t like Blake t o st art off w it h and t he boy—or w hat ever he w as—obviously posed a t hreat of an unknow n kind. He knew a lot , t oo much, and he knew w hat I w as. W hat I w as? Oh, hold up. I shot forw ard. “Let him go, Daemon. I need t o know w hat he’s t alking about .” His glow ing eyes w ere focused on Blake. “Get back, Kat . I mean it ; get t he hell back.” Like hell. “St op it .” W hen he didn’t respond, I screamed, “St op! Just freaking st op for a couple of minut es!” Daemon blinked and his eyes flickered t o mine. Taking t he dist ract ion, Blake sw iped his arm across Daemon’s and broke t he hold. He scrambled t o t he side, put t ing dist ance bet w een t hem. “Jesus.” Blake rubbed his t hroat . “Y ou have anger management problems. It ’s like a disease.” “T here’s a cure and it ’s called kicking your ass.” Blake flipped him off. Daemon st art ed forw ard, and I barely managed t o get in front of him. Placing my hands on his chest , I looked int o eyes t hat w ere unrecognizable t o me. “St op. Y ou need t o st op now .” Daemon’s lip curled int o a snarl. “He’s a—” “We don’t know w hat he is,” I cut in, already know ing w hat he w as going t o say. “But he did kill an Arum. And he hasn’t hurt me or anyone else, and he’s had plent y of opport unit y t o do so.” Daemon exhaled roughly. “Kat —” “We need t o hear him out , Daemon. I need t o hear w hat he has t o say.” I t ook a deep breat h. “Besides, t hese people have been frozen, like, t w ice now . T hat can’t be good for t hem.” “I don’t care.” His gaze flicked t o Blake, and, dear God, t he look on his face should’ve sent Blake running. But he shook out his broad shoulders and st epped back, t urning t hose diamond eyes on me. I shrank back. “He’ll t alk. And t hen I’ll decide w het her or not he get s t o see t omorrow .” Well, t hat w as t he best w e could hope for at t his point . I glanced back at Blake, w ho rolled his eyes. Boy had a deat h w ish. “Can you, um, fix t hem?” I w aved at Flannel Shirt Guy. “Sure.” He flicked his w rist . “Police,” Flannel Shirt Guy finished.

I t urned t o t he guy. “Everyt hing’s fine. T hank you.” Spinning around, I pushed my w indblow n hair out of my face. “My car—if you guys can get along in such an enclosed space?” W it hout responding, Daemon st alked over and slid int o t he passenger seat . I let out a ragged breat h and headed for t he driver’s side. “Is he alw ays so damn t ouchy?” Blake asked. I shot him a dark look as I opened t he door. Not looking at Daemon, I t urned t he heat on and t hen t w ist ed around in my seat , facing Blake in t he back. “W hat are you?” St aring out t he w indow , his jaw w orked. “T he same t hing I suspect you are.” My breat h caught . “And w hat do you t hink I am?” Daemon cracked his neck but said not hing. He w as like a grenade t hat had it s t ab pulled. W e all w ere just w ait ing for him t o explode. “I didn’t know at first .” Blake sat back. “T here w as somet hing about you t hat drew me t o you, but I didn’t underst and w hat it w as.” “Proceed w it h caut ion w hen it comes t o your next w ord choices,” Daemon grow led. I squirmed in my seat , clut ching t he obsidian in my hand. “W hat do you mean by t hat ?” Blake shook his head and t hen st ared st raight ahead. “T he first t ime I saw you, I knew you w ere different . T hen w hen you st opped t he branch and I saw your necklace, I knew . Only t hose w ho know t o fear t he shadow s w ear obsidian.” Seconds t icked by in silence. “T hen our dat e…yeah, t hat glass and plat e didn’t just fall int o my lap on it s ow n.” A snicker came from t he passenger seat . “Good t imes.” Unease t ripled my heart rat e. “How much do you know ?” “T here are t w o alien races on Eart h: t he Luxen and t he Arum.” He paused as Daemon t w ist ed in his seat . Blake sw allow ed. “You’re capable of moving t hings w it hout t ouching t hem and you can manipulat e light . I’m sure you can do more. And you can also heal humans.” T he inside of t he car w as t oo small. T here w asn’t enough air. If Blake knew t he t rut h about t he Luxen, w ouldn’t t hat mean t he DOD did? I dropped t he necklace and clenched t he st eering w heel, my heart racing. “How do you know t his?” Daemon asked, his voice surprisingly even. T here w as a pause. “W hen I w as t hirt een, I w as leaving soccer pract ice w it h a friend of mine—Chris Johnson. He w as a normal kid like me, except he w as super fast , never got sick, and I never saw his parent s at any games. But w ho cares, right ? I didn’t unt ill I w as goofing

around and st epped off t he curb, right in front of a speeding cab. Chris healed me. T urns out he w as an alien.” Blake’s lips t w ist ed int o a w ry grin. “I t hought it w as pret t y cool. My best friend w as an alien. W ho get s t o say t hat ? W hat I didn’t know and w hat he never t old me w as t hat he lit my ass up. Five days lat er, four men ent ered my house. “T hey w ant ed t o know w here t hey w ere,” he cont inued, hands clenching int o fist s. “I didn’t know w hat t hey meant . T hey killed my parent s and my lit t le sist er right in front of me. And w hen I st ill couldn’t help t hem, t hey beat me w it hin an inch of my life.” “Oh my God,” I w hispered, horrified. Daemon looked aw ay, jaw w orking. “Not sure he really exist s,” Blake said, let t ing out a dry laugh. “Anyw ay, it t ook me a w hile t o figure out t hat w hen you’re healed, you t ake on t heir abilit ies. Shit just st art ed flying everyw here aft er I w as sent t o live w it h my uncle. W hen I realized t hat my friend had changed me, I researched as much as I could. Not t hat I needed t o. T he Arum found me again.” Acid churned in my st omach. “W hat do you mean?” “T he Arum in t he diner, she couldn’t sense me because of t he bet a quart z—yeah, I know about t hat , t oo. But if w e w ere out side of t he quart z range, w e are just like your…friend t o t hem. W e’re act ually t ast ier.” Well, t hat confirmed one of my fears. My hands slid off t he st eering w heel. I had no idea w hat t o say. It w as like having t he carpet pulled out from underneat h my feet and face-plant ing on t he floor. Blake sighed. “W hen I realized how much danger I w as in, I st art ed t raining physically and w orking on my abilit ies. I learned about t heir w eakness t hrough…ot hers. I survived t he best I could.” “T his is all great , t he caring and sharing crap, but how did you end up here of all places?” He looked at Daemon. “W hen I learned about t he bet a quart z, I moved here w it h my uncle.” “Aw full convenient ,” Daemon murmured. “Y eah, it is. T he mount ains. Very convenient for me.” “T here are plent y of ot her places packed w it h bet a quart z.” Suspicion clouded Daemon’s t one. “W hy. Here?” “Seemed like t he least populat ed area,” Blake answ ered. “I couldn’t imagine t here being t hat many Arum here.” “So everyt hing w as a lie?” I asked. “Sant a Monica, t he surfing?”

“No, not everyt hing w as a lie. I’m from Sant a Monica and I st ill love surfing,” he said. “I’ve lied as much as you have, Kat y.” He had a point . Blake leaned his head back against t he seat and closed his eyes. He sank int o t he shadow s, fat igue w eighing his shoulders dow n. It w as obvious his lit t le freeze show earlier had w orn him out . “Y ou’ve been hurt , haven’t you? And healed by one of t hem?” Daemon st iffened beside me. My loyalt y t o my friends w ouldn’t allow me t o confirm t hat . I w ouldn’t bet ray t hem, not even t o someone w ho may be like me. He sighed again. “Y ou’re not going t o t ell me w hich one it w as?” “It ’s not your business,” I said. “How did you know I w as different ?” “You mean besides t he obvious obsidian, t he alien ent ourage, and t he branch?” He laughed. “You’re full of elect ricit y. See?” He reached bet w een t he seat s and placed his hand over mine. St at ic crackled, jolt ing us bot h. Daemon grabbed Blake’s hand and t hrew it back at him. “I do not like you.” “Feeling’s mut ual, bud.” Blake looked at me. “It ’s t he same w henever w e t ouch an Arum or a Luxen, isn’t it ? Y ou feel t heir skin hum?” I remembered t he first t ime w e’d t ouched in biology. “How do you know about t he DOD?” “I met anot her human like us. She w as under t he DOD’s t humb. Apparent ly she exposed her abilit ies and t hey sw ooped in. She t old me everyt hing about t he DOD and w hat t hey really w ant , w hich isn’t t he Luxen or t he Arum.” Now t hat had Daemon’s full at t ent ion. He w as pract ically in t he backseat w it h Blake. “W hat do you mean?” “T hey w ant people like Kat y. T hey don’t give t w o shit s about t he aliens. T hey w ant us.” Icy fear shot t hrough me as I gaped at him. “W hat ?” “Y ou need t o explain t hat a lot bet t er,” Daemon ordered as st at ic built in t he t iny car. Blake leaned forw ard. “Do you really t hink t he DOD doesn’t know w hat bot h t he Arum and Luxen are capable of, t hat aft er st udying your kind for decades and decades t hat t hey don’t know w hat t hey’re dealing w it h? And if you really believe not , t hen you’re st upid or naive.” Anot her jolt of t error shut t led t hrough me, but t his t ime for Daemon and my friends. Even I had my doubt s, but t hey’d seemed so convinced t hat t hey’d hidden t heir t alent s. Daemon shook his head. “If t he DOD knew about our abilit ies, t hey w ouldn’t let us live free. T hey’d have us locked up in a heart beat .” “Really? T he DOD know s t he Luxen are a peaceful race and t hey know t he Arum aren’t t he same as your kind. Having t he Luxen free t akes care of t he Arum alien problem. Besides, don’t

t hey get rid of any Luxen w ho causes a problem?” Blake jerked back as Daemon nearly w ent over t he seat , but I grabbed his sw eat er. Not like I could hold him in place, but he st opped. “Look, all I’m saying is t here are bigger fish t he DOD w ant s. And t hat ’s t he humans t he Luxen mut at e. We’re just as st rong as you—even st ronger in some cases. T he only t hing is, w e t ire out a lot quicker and it t akes us longer t o recharge, so t o speak.” Daemon set t led back, his hands clenching and unclenching. “T he only reason w hy t he DOD let s you believe t hat your big, bad secret is hidden is because t hey know w hat you can do t o humans,” Blake said. “And w e’re w hat t hey care about .” “No,” I w hispered, my brain rebelling against t he idea. “W hy w ould t hey care about us inst ead of t hem?” “Gee, Kat y, w hy w ould t he government be int erest ed in a bunch of humans w ho have more pow ers t han t he very creat ures w ho creat ed us? I don’t know . Maybe because t hey’d have a superhuman army at t heir disposal or a group of people w ho can get rid of t he aliens if need be?” Daemon sw ore under his breat h—a w ork of art w it h curse w ords. And t hat scared me more t han anyt hing, because t hat meant Daemon w as act ually st art ing t o list en t o w hat Blake w as saying. And believe it . “But how …how are you st ronger t han t he Luxen?” I asked. “T hat ’s a good quest ion,” Daemon admit t ed soft ly. “In t he diner, w hen I knew t he guy w as going t o skip out on his meal? It ’s because I could pick up on bit s of his t hought s. Not all of t hem, but enough t o know w hat he’s planning. I can hear almost any human—any one t hat ’s not mut at ed.” “Mut at ed?” God, t hat w ord brought fort h some really gross images. “Y ou’re mut at ed. T ell me, have you been sick recent ly? Had a really high fever?” Apprehension rose so quickly it left me dizzy. From t he ot her seat , Daemon t ensed. “I can t ell by your expression you have. Let me guess, you had a fever so bad t hat it felt like your ent ire body w as on fire? Last ed a couple of days and t hen you felt fine—bet t er t han ever?” He t urned t o t he w indow again, shaking his head. “And now you can move t hings w it hout t ouching t hem? Probably have no cont rol. T he t able shaking inside w asn’t me. It w as you. T hat ’s just t he t ip of t he iceberg. Soon you’ll be able t o do a hell of a lot more, and if you don’t get cont roll of it , it ’s going t o be really bad. T his damn place is sw arming w it h DOD, hidden in plain sight . And t hey’re here looking for hybrids. Far as I know , t he Luxen don’t t ypically heal humans,

but it happens.” He glanced at Daemon. “Obviously.” Hands shaking, I t ucked my hair behind my ears. T here w as no point in lying about w hat I could do. He’d been right . Jesus. Daemon had mut at ed me. “T hen w hy are you here if it ’s such a risk now ?” “You,” he said, ignoring Daemon’s barely audible grow ll. “Honest ly, I t hought about not coming back. Moving on, but t here’s my uncle…and you. T hat ’s not many like us w ho haven’t been caught by t he DOD. Y ou need t o know w hat kind of danger you’re in.” “But you don’t even know me.” It seemed absurd t hat he’d risk so much. “And w e don’t know you,” Daemon added, eyes narrow ed. He shrugged. “I like you. Not you, Daemon.” He smiled. “But Kat y.” “I really, really do not like you at all.” My st omach t w ist ed. T his w asn’t t he t ime t o get int o t hat mess. My brain w as on overload. “Blake…” “T hat w asn’t said t o make you say you like me or not . I’m just st at ing t he fact . I like you.” He glanced at me, eyes shut t ered. “And you don’t know w hat you’ve st epped in. I can help you.” “bullshit ,” Daemon said. “If she needs help cont rolling her abilit ies, t hen I can do it .” “Can you? W hat you do is second nat ure t o you. Not t o Kat y. I had t o learn how t o rein in my abilit ies. I can t each her. St abilize her.” “St abilize me?” My laugh sounded a bit choked. “W hat ’s going t o happen? I’m going t o explode or somet hing?” He looked at me. “You can seriously end up hurt ing yourself or ot hers. I’ve heard t hings, Kat y. Some mut at ed humans… Well, let ’s just say it doesn’t end pret t y.” “Y ou don’t need t o scare her.” “I’m not t rying t o. It ’s just t he t rut h,” Blake responded. “And if t he DOD finds out about you, t hey’re going t o t ake you in. And if you can’t cont roll your abilit ies, t hey w ill put you dow n.” I gasped, t urning aw ay. Put me dow n? Like a feral animal? All of t his w as happening w ay t oo fast . Just last night I’d been having a good, normal t ime w it h Daemon. T he very t hing I’d w ant ed from Blake, w ho t urned out not t o be normal at all. And t he w hole t ime I believed Blake w as at t ract ed t o me because he w ant ed t o be, he w as draw n t o me because w e w ere bot h X-Men w annabes.

Ha. Irony w as such a bit ch. “Kat y, I know t his is a lot . But you have t o be prepared. You leave t his t ow n, t he Arum are going t o be on you. T hat is, if you can slide by t he DOD.” “You’re right . T his is a lot .” I faced him. “I t hought you w ere normal. And you’re not . You’re t elling me t hat I have t he DOD gunning for me. T hat if I ever decide t o leave t his place, I’m going t o be a Snack Pack for an Arum. And bet t er yet , I may lose complet e cont roll of w hat ever pow ers I have and w ipe out a family of four, t hen be put dow n! All I w ant ed t o do t oday w as eat some goddamn fries and be normal!” Daemon let out a low w hist le and Blake w inced. “Y ou’re never going t o be normal, Kat y. Never again.” “No shit ,” I snapped. I w ant ed t o hit somet hing, but I needed t o pull it t oget her. If I’d learned anyt hing from my dad’s sickness, it w as t hat t hings couldn’t be changed. But I could change how I dealt w it h t hem. Since I moved here—since I met Daemon and Dee—I’d changed. T aking a deep breat h, I pulled in t he anger, fear, and frust rat ion. Perspect ive w as needed. “W hat are w e going t o do?” “W e don’t need his help,” Daemon said. “But you do,” Blake w hispered. “I heard about t he w indow t hing w it h Simon.” I glanced at Daemon, and he shook his head. “W hat do you t hink w ill happen next t ime? Simon ran off, doing God know s w hat . Y ou w on’t get so lucky again.” Simon’s disappearance w asn’t luck. I didn’t w ant t o look at it t hat w ay. T ipping my head back, I closed my eyes. Ice set t led in my limbs. It w as no longer a fear of exposing t he Luxen, but myself now , t oo. And my mom. “How do you know so much about t hem?” I asked, voice small. “T he girl I w as t elling you about ? She t old me everyt hing. I w ant ed t o help her…t o get aw ay, but she w ouldn’t leave. T he DOD had somet hing or someone t hat meant a lot t o her.” God. T he DOD w as like t he mafia. T hey’d use any means necessary. I shivered. “W ho w as she?” “Liz somet hing,” he said. “Don’t know her last name.” T he w alls of t he car seemed t o shift even closer. T rapped. I felt t rapped. Daemon w as boiling over in t he seat next t o me. “Y ou know ,” he said t o Blake, “t here’s not hing st opping me from killing you. Right now .”

“Y es, t here is.” Blake’s voice w as even. “T here’s Kat y and t he fact I doubt you’re a coldblooded killer.” Daemon st iffened. “I don’t t rust you.” “Y ou don’t have t o. Only Kat y does.” And t hat w as t he t hing. I w asn’t sure I did t rust him, but he w as like me. And if he could help me not expose Daemon and my friends, I’d do anyt hing. It w as just t hat simple. Everyt hing else w ould have t o be played by ear. I looked at Daemon. He w as st aring ahead now , hand on t he dashboard as if t he plast ic w as grounding him somehow . Did he feel as helpless as I did? It didn’t mat t er. I couldn’t —w ouldn’t risk him. “W hen do w e st art ?” I asked. “T omorrow if you can,” Blake said. “My mom leaves for w ork aft er five.” I sw allow ed. Blake agreed and Daemon said, “I’ll be t here.” “Not necessary,” Blake shot back. “And I don’t care. You aren’t doing a damn t hing w it h Kat y w it hout me being t here.” He faced t he boy again. “I don’t t rust you. Just so w e’re clear.” “W hat ever.” Blake climbed out of t he car. Cold air rushed in, and I called out his name. He st opped w it h his hand on t he door. “W hat ?” “How did you get aw ay from t he Arum w hen t hey at t acked you?” I asked. Blake looked aw ay, eyes squint ing at t he sky. “T hat ’s not somet hing I’m ready t o t alk about , Kat y.” He shut t he door and jogged off t ow ard his car. I sat t here for several minut es, st aring out t he w indow , not really seeing anyt hing. Daemon mut t ered somet hing under his breat h and t hen opened his door, disappearing int o t he shadow s surrounding t he diner. He’d left me. I didn’t even remember t he t rip home. Pulling int o t he drivew ay, I killed t he engine and sat back, closing my eyes. Night seeped int o my silent car. I got out , t ook a st ep, and heard my porch st eps groan. Daemon had beat en me home. He came dow n t he st eps, his baseball cap hiding his eyes. I shook my head. “Daemon…”

“I don’t t rust him. I don’t t rust a damn t hing about him, Kat .” He t ook off his hat , t hrust his fingers t hrough his hair, and t hen slammed t he cap back dow n. “He comes out of now here and know s everyt hing. Every inst inct is t elling me he can’t be t rust ed. He could be anyone, w orking for any organizat ion. W e don’t know anyt hing about him.” “I know .” Suddenly, I w as just so freaking t ired. All I w ant ed t o do w as lay dow n. “But at least t his w ay w e can keep an eye on him. Right ?” He gave a short , dry laugh. “T here are ot her w ays of dealing w it h him.” “W hat ?” My voice rose and w as carried aw ay by t he w ind. “Daemon, you can’t be t hinking…” “I don’t even know w hat I’m t hinking.” He t ook a st ep back. “And dammit , my head is so not in t he right place at t his moment .” T here w as a pause. “W hy w ere you w it h him in t he first place?” My heart lurched. “W e w ere grabbing somet hing t o eat and I w as—” “Y ou w ere w hat ?” Somehow I felt like I’d w alked int o an even bigger t rap. Unsure of how t o answ er, I didn’t say anyt hing. T hat w as my biggest mist ake. Underst anding daw ned, and he t ipped his chin up. For an inst ant , t he green of his eyes darkened w it h raw emot ion. “Y ou w ent t o Bryon aft er…” Aft er I’d spent t he night w it h him…w rapped in his arms. I shook my head, needing him t o underst and w hy I w ent t o see Blake. “Daemon—” “You know , I’m not really surprised.” His smile w as half know ing and half bit t er. “We kissed. Tw ice. You spent t he night using me as your ow n body pillow …and liking it . I’m sure t hat had you freaking out t he moment I left . You ran st raight t o Boris, because he really doesn’t make you feel anyt hing. And feeling somet hing for me scares t he hell out of you.” My mout h snapped close. “I did not run st raight t o Blake. He t ext ed me about get t ing somet hing t o eat , and it w asn’t even a dat e, Daemon. I w ent t o t ell him—” “T hen w hat w as it , Kit t en?” He st epped forw ard, peering dow n at me. “He obviously likes you. You’ve kissed him before. He’s w illing t o risk his ow n safet y t o t rain you.” “It ’s not w hat you t hink. If you’d let me explain…” “Y ou don’t know w hat I t hink,” he snapped. Somet hing aw full unfurled in my st omach. “Daemon—”

“Y ou know , you’re unbelievable.” I w as sure he didn’t mean t hat in a good w ay. “T he night of your part y, w hen you t hought I w as messing around w it h Ash? You w ere so pissed t hat you w ent out side and blew up w indow s, exposing yourself.” I flinched. All t rue. “And now you’re doing—w hat ? Messing around w it h him in bet w een kissing me?” But I like you. T he w ords w ouldn’t leave my lips. I didn’t know w hy, but I couldn’t say them. Not w hen he w as looking at me, full of anger and dist rust and, w orse yet , disappoint ment . “I’m not messing around w it h him, Daemon! W e’re just friends. T hat ’s all.” Skept icism drew his lips int o a t ight line. “I’m not st upid, Kat .” “I didn’t say t hat you w ere!” Irrit at ion spiked, overshadow ing t he deep ache in my chest . “You’re not giving me a chance t o explain anyt hing. As usual, you’re act ing like a freaking know -it -all and you keep cut t ing me off!” “And as usual, you’re a bigger problem t han I could’ve ever imagined.” Flinching as t hough I’d been slapped, I t ook a st ep back. “I’m not your problem.” My voice cracked. “Not anymore.” Regret seeped t hrough his anger. “Kat —” “No. I w as never your problem in t he first place.” Anger sped t hrough me like an out -of-cont roll forest fire. “And I’m sure as hell not your problem now .” T he w indow s in his eyes t o all t hose emot ions slammed shut , leaving me t rembling in t he dark. And I knew . I knew I’d hurt him more t han I t hought possible. I’d hurt him in a w ay much w orse t han he’d ever hurt me. “Hell. T his”—he w aved his hand around me—“isn’t even import ant right now . Just forget it .” He w as gone before I could even finish my sent ence. St unned, I t urned around, but he w as now here. A pang hit me in t he chest and t ears filled my eyes as I t urned back t o my door. T he sudden realizat ion smacked me upside t he head. T his w hole t ime, I’d been so busy pushing him aw ay, t elling him w hat ever w as bet w een us w asn’t real. And now t hat I’d realized t he dept h of w hat he felt for me—w hat I felt for him— he w as gone.

Chapter 19
All morning and part of t he aft ernoon, I poked around t he house like a zombie. T here w as t his w eird t hrobbing in my chest . My eyes ached as if t hey w ere filled w it h t ears t hat w ouldn’t fall. It reminded me of t he mont hs aft er Dad’s deat h. W it h my heart not really in it , I did a quick review on t his dyst opian novel I’d read last w eek and closed my lapt op. Lying dow n, I st ared at t he spider w eb of cracks in my bedroom ceiling. T he t rut h w as hard t o face. I’d been t rying t o deny it all morning. A jumbled knot of clogged emot ions had formed under my ribs last night and it w as st ill t here. Every so oft en it seemed heavier, more int ense. I liked Daemon—really, really liked him. I’d been so caught up nursing my hurt over t he w ay he’d act ed w hen w e first met t hat I’d been blind t o my grow ing feelings, t o w hat I w ant ed, and t o how he felt . And now w hat ? Daemon, w ho never backed dow n from anyt hing, had w alked aw ay before allow ing me t o explain anyt hing. T here w as no escaping it . I’d hurt him. Rolling over, I shoved my face int o t he pillow . His scent w as st ill t here. I clut ched it t ight ly and closed my eyes. How had t hings got t en so t angled up? At w hat point had my life t urned int o some bizarre science fict ion soap opera? “Honey, are you feeling okay?” I opened my eyes and focused on my mom, w ho w as w earing scrubs w it h lit t le heart s and sw irls on t hem. W here did she get t hose t hings? “Yeah, I’m just t ired.” “You sure?” She sat on t he edge of t he bed, placing her hand against my forehead. W hen she det ermined I w asn’t sick, she smiled a lit t le. “T he Christ mas t ree is beaut iful, honey.” A rush of sw irling emot ions crashed int o me. “Y eah,” I said, voice hoarse. “It is.” “W ho helped you w it h it ?” I bit t he inside of my cheek. “Daemon.” Mom smoot hed my hair back w it h her hand. “T hat ’s really sw eet of him.” “I know .” I paused. “Mom?” “Y es, honey?”

I didn’t even know w hat I w as going t o t ell her. Everyt hing w as t oo…complicat ed, t oo jumbled up in t he t rut h of w hat my friends w ere. I shook my head. “Not hing. Just t hat I love you.” Smiling, she bent over and kissed my forehead. “I love you, t oo.” She got up and st opped at t he door. “I w as t hinking about having W ill over for dinner t his w eek. W hat do you t hink?” It w as great my mom had a st ell ar love life. “Cool w it h me.” Aft er Mom left for w ork, I forced myself t o get up. Blake w ould be here soon. So w ould Daemon, if he st ill show ed. I w ent int o t he kit chen and grabbed a Coke out of t he fridge. Passing t ime, I collect ed all t he books I had duplicat e copies of and placed t hem on my desk. A book giveaw ay w ould make me feel bet t er. W hen I w ent dow nst airs t o find my Coke—because apparent ly it had run aw ay from me at some point —a familiar w armt h spread along my neck. I froze on t he bot t om st ep, hand gripping t he banist er. T here w as a knock on t he door. Hopping from t he st ep t o t he floor, I rushed t o t he door and t hrew it open. Out of breat h, I clenched t he knob. “Hey.” Daemon arched a dark eyebrow . “It sounded like you w ere going t o come st raight t hrough t he door.” I flushed. “I, uh, w as…looking for my drink.” “Looking for your drink?” “I lost it .” He glanced over my shoulder, a small smile playing on his lips. “It ’s right t here, on t he t able.” T urning around, I saw t he red-and-w hit e can laughing at me from a corner t able. “Oh. W ell, t hank you.” Daemon st epped inside, brushing my arm as he passed. Oddly, t he fact he just invit ed himself in didn’t upset me anymore. He shoved his hands int o his pocket s and leaned against t he w all. “Kit t en…” A t hril w ent t hrough me. “Daemon…?” T he half smile w as t here, but it lacked it s usual smugness. “Y ou look t ired.” I crept closer. “I didn’t sleep w ell last night .” “T hinking about me?” he asked in a hushed voice. T here w asn’t a moment of hesit at ion. “Y es.”

His eyes w idened slight ly w it h surprise. “Well, I w as preparing t his w hole speech about how you need t o st op denying t hat I consume your every w aking t hought and haunt your dreams. Now I’m not sure w hat t o say.” Leaning against t he w all beside him, I could feel his body heat . “Y ou, speechless? T hat ’s one for t he record books.” Daemon low ered his head, his eyes as deep and endless as t he forest s out side. “I didn’t sleep w ell last night , eit her.” I moved closer unt ill my arm brushed his. He st iffened ever so slight ly. “Last night —” “I w ant ed t o apologize,” he said, and I w as st unned yet again. He t urned so t hat he w as facing me complet ely, and I found his hand w it hout looking. His fingers t hreaded t hrough mine. “I’m sorry—” Someone cleared his t hroat . Surprise flit t ed t hrough me. Before I could t urn, Daemon’s eyes narrow ed, glint ing w it h anger. He dropped my hand and t ook a st ep back. Crap. I’d forgot t en about Blake. And I’d forgot t en t o close t he door behind me. “Am I int errupt ing?” Blake asked. “Y es, Bart , you are alw ays int errupt ing,” Daemon responded. I t urned around, my heart deflat ing as if someone had popped it . T he ent ire lengt h of my back burned under Daemon’s st are. Blake opened t he st orm door and st epped inside. “Sorry it t ook me so long t o get over here.” “T oo bad it didn’t t ake longer.” Daemon st ret ched idly, like a cat . “And t oo bad you didn’t get lost or—” “Eat en by w ild boars or killed in a horrific t en-car pile-up. I get it .” Blake int errupt ed and saunt ered past us. “You don’t need t o be here, Daemon. No one is forcing you.” Daemon pivot ed on his heel, follow ing Blake. “T here’s no ot her place I’d rat her be.” My head w as already st art ing t o t hrob. Training w it h Daemon present w asn’t going t o be easy. I slow ly made my w ay int o t he living room. T hey w ere in an epic st are dow n. I cleared my t hroat . “So, um, how are w e going t o do t his?” Daemon opened his mout h, and t he good Lord only know s w hat he w as about t o say, but Blake beat him t o it . “W hat w e need t o do first is figure out w hat you can already do.”

I t ucked my hair back, uncomfort able w it h bot h of t hem st aring at me like…like I didn’t even know w hat . “Uh, I’m not sure t here’s much I can do.” Blake’s lips pursed. “W ell, you st opped t he branch. And t he t ime w it h t he w indow s. T hat ’s t w o t hings.” “But I didn’t do t hem on purpose.” At Blake’s confused expression, I looked over at Daemon. He appeared bored, spraw led on t he couch. “W hat I mean is, it w asn’t a conscious effort , you know .” “Oh.” His brow s low ered. “W ell, t hat ’s disappoint ing.” Gee. T hanks. My hands fell t o my sides. Daemon’s bright gaze slid t o Blake. “W hat a great mot ivat or you are.” Blake ignored him. “So t hese have been random out burst s of pow er?” W hen I nodded, he pinched t he bridge of his nose. “Maybe it w ill just fade?” I said, hopeful. “It w ould’ve already done t hat by now . See, one of four t hings happens aft er a mut at ion, from w hat I could learn.” He st art ed moving around t he living room, giving me a w ide bert h. “A human can be healed, and t hen it fades aft er a few w eeks, even mont hs. Or a human can be mut at ed and it st icks, and t hey develop t he same abilit ies as a Luxen—or more. T hen t here are t he ones w ho kind of…self-dest ruct . But you’re out of t hat st age.” T hank God, I thought w ryly. “And?” “W ell, and t hen t here are humans w ho are mut at ed beyond w hat w ould be expect ed, I guess.” “W hat does t hat mean?” Daemon t apped his fingers on t he arm of t he couch. I glared at t hem. Blake folded his arms and rocked back. “Like in t he freakish-mut ant -looks depart ment and in t he head, and it ’s different for everyone.” “Am I going t o t urn int o a mut ant ?” I squeaked. He laughed. “I don’t t hink so.” I don’t think so w asn’t high on the reassurance scale. Daemon’s fingers st opped t heir annoying t apping. “And how do you really know all of t his, Flake?” “Blake,” he correct ed. “Like I said, I’ve know n ot hers like Kat y w ho have been sucked int o t he DOD.”

“Uh huh.” Daemon smirked. Blake shook his head. “Anyw ay, back t o t he import ant st uff. W e need t o see if you can cont roll it . If not …” Before I even had a chance t o respond, Daemon w as on his feet and in Blake’s face. “Or w hat , Hank? W hat if she can’t ?” “Daemon.” I sighed. “First off, his name is Blake. B-ll-A-K-E. And really, can w e do t his w it hout any macho-man moment s? Because if not , t his is going t o t ake forever.” He spun around, pinning me w it h a dark look t hat made me roll my eyes. “Okay, so w hat do you suggest ?” “T he best t hing t o st art w it h is t o see if you can move anyt hing on command.” Blake paused. “And I guess w e can go from t here.” “Move w hat ?” Blake looked around t he room. “How about a book?” A book? Hell, w hich one? Shaking my head, I focused on t he one t hat had a cover of a girl w hose dress t urned int o rose pet als. So pret t y. It w as about reincarnat ion and had a male main charact er w ho w as sw oon-w ort hy and t hen some. God, I’d so w ant t o dat e— “Focus,” Blake said. I made a face, but okay, I w asn’t really focusing. I pict ured t he book lift ing int o t he air and coming t o my hand like I’d seen Daemon and Dee do so many t imes. Not hing happened. I t ried harder. Wait ed longer. But t he book remained on t he back of t he couch…as did t he pillow s, t he remot e cont rol, and Mom’s Good Housekeeping magazine. T hree hours lat er and t he best I’d done w as cause t he coffee t able t o t remble and Daemon t o doze off on t he couch. I fail. T ired and cranky, I ended pract ice and w oke up Daemon by kicking t he leg of t he coffee t able. “I’m hungry. I’m t ired. And I’m done.” Blake’s brow s shot up. “Okay. W e can pick up t omorrow . No biggie.” I glared at him. St ret ching his arms, Daemon yaw ned. “W ow , Brad, you are such a great t rainer. I’m amazed.”

“Shut up,” I said, and t hen ushered Blake out t he front door. On t he porch, I apologized. “I’m sorry for being so bit chy, but I feel like an epic fail right now . Like I’m t he capt ain of my ow n personal failboat .” He smiled. “You’re not a failboat , Kat y. T his can t ake a w hile, but t he frust rat ion is w ort h it in t he end. T he last t hing you w ant is t he DOD know ing you’re mut at ed and coming for w hoever w as responsible.” I shivered. Causing somet hing like t hat t o happen w ould kill me. “I know . And…t hank you for w ant ing t o help.” I bit my lip and peeked at him. Maybe Daemon w as right last night . Blake w as risking a lot even being around me. Wouldn’t most people bail if t hey knew t he DOD w as heavily ent renched here? I just didn’t w ant t o believe it w as because he had feelings for me. “Blake, I know t his is dangerous for you and I don’t —” “Kat y, it ’s okay.” He placed his hand on my shoulder and squeezed. He also let go pret t y quickly; probably he w as afraid Daemon w ould appear out of now here and break his hand. “I don’t expect anyt hing from you.” A lit t le bit of relief flooded me. “I don’t know w hat t o say.” “Y ou don’t have t o say anyt hing.” Didn’t I, t hough? Trust ing Blake t ook a leap of fait h, but he had plent y of opport unit y t o t urn Daemon and me over and he hadn’t . I w rapped my arms around my w aist against t he cold. “W hat you’re doing by helping me is pret t y amazing. I just w ant ed t o say t hat .” Blake’s grin grew int o a smile t hat caused his hazel eyes t o dance. “Well, it does mean I get t o spend more t ime w it h you.” T he t ips of his cheeks flushed, and he looked aw ay, clearing his t hroat . “Anyw ay, I’ll see you t omorrow . Okay?” I nodded. Blake gave me a w eird sort of smile and t hen left . Feeling all kinds of w hacked out , I w ent back in. Daemon w asn’t on t he couch, of course. Going on inst inct , I shuffled int o t he kit chen. He w as t here. Bread, lunch meat , and mayo w ere spread out on t he count er. “W hat are you doing?” He w aved a knife around. “Y ou said you w ere hungry.” My heart did a back handspring. “Y ou…didn’t have t o make me anyt hing, but t hank you.” “I w as also hungry.” Daemon plopped mayo on t he bread, spreading it out evenly. He made t w o ham and cheese sandw iches quickly. Turning, he handed me mine as he leaned against t he count er. “Eat .”

I st ared at him. He smiled and t hen t ook a huge bit e of his. Chew ing slow ly, he w at ched me eat , and t he silence seemed t o st ret ch on forever. Aft er he w ent round t w o w it h t he ham and cheese, w hich really w as just cheese and mayo, I cleaned up. I finished w ashing my hands and t urned off t he faucet w hen Daemon placed his hands on eit her side of my hips, his fingers curving over t he count er. Heat rolled up and dow n my back, and I didn’t dare move. He w as w ay, w ay t oo close. “So, you had a very int erest ing conversat ion w it h But ler on t he porch.” His breat h danced over my neck. I fought t he shiver and failed. “His name is Blake and w ere you eavesdropping, Daemon?” “I w as keeping an eye on t hings.” T he t ip of his nose brushed t he side of my neck and my fingers spasmed against t he st ainless st eell sink. “So, his helping you is amazing?” Closing my eyes, I cursed under my breat h. “He’s put t ing himself at risk, Daemon. W het her you like him or not , you have t o give him props for t hat .” “I don’t have t o give him anyt hing ot her t han t he ass-kicking he deserves.” He rest ed his chin on my shoulder. “I don’t w ant you doing t his.” “Daemon—” “And it has not hing t o do w it h my raging dislike of t he boy.” His hands left t he count er and found my hips. “Or t he fact t hat —” “T hat you’re jealous?” I said, t urning my cheek so t hat it w as daringly close t o his lips. “Me? Jealous of him? No. W hat I w as going t o say w as, or t he fact t hat he has a st upid name. Blake? It rhymes w it h flake. Come on.” I rolled my eyes, but t hen he st raight ened and t ugged me against him. W it h my back flush against his front , he w rapped his arms around my w aist . Dizzying w armt h zinged t hrough my veins. W hy, oh w hy, did he alw ays have t o be so damn close? “Kit t en, I don’t t rust him. Everyt hing about him is t oo convenient .” To me, Daemon’s reasons for not t rust ing him w ere t oo obvious. I w iggled free, managing t o get myself t urned around so I faced him. His hands fell back t o t he sink. “I don’t w ant t o t alk about Blake.” One dark brow arched. “W hat do you w ant t o t alk about ?”

“Last night .” He st ared at me a moment , t hen backed off. Ret reat ed all t he w ay t o t he ot her side of t he kit chen t able as if he w ere suddenly afraid of me. I folded my arms. “Act ually, I w ant ed t o finish t he conversat ion w e w ere having before Blake came over.” “W hich is about last night .” “Y eah,” I said slow ly, dragging out t he w ord. Daemon scrat ched t he five o’clock shadow on his chin. “I don’t even know w hat I w as going t o say t o you.” My brow s flew up. W hat a disappoint ment . “Look, last night I w as mad. I w as also a lit t le caught off guard w it h…w it h everyt hing.” He closed his eyes briefly. “Anyw ay, t hat ’s not import ant . T his t hing w it h Bart is.” I opened my mout h, but he w ent on. “Part of me just w ant s t o snat ch him up and get rid of him. It w ould be easy.” My mout h hit t he floor t his t ime, and his smile w as cold. “I’m being serious, Kit t en. He’s not just a danger t o you, but if he’s playing us, he’s a danger t o Dee. So I w ant her kept as far aw ay from t his as possible.” “Of course,” I murmured. T here w as no w ay I’d involve her. His muscled arms folded, and he became all business. “And going along w it h everyt hing w ill keep t abs on him. So, you w ere right last night about t hat .” T his w asn’t t he part of last night ’s conversat ion I w ant ed t o t alk about . Aft er seeing how affect ed he w as w hen he’d t hought I’d gone out on a dat e w it h Blake—even t hough he seemed t o have got t en over t hat pret t y quickly—and spending all day feeling heart sick and shat t ered, I w ant ed t o t alk t o him about us. About w hat I’d realized as I moped around t he house all day. “I don’t like t his, but …” He paused. “But I’ll ask you one more t ime t o not do t his w it h him. Trust t hat I can find somet hing out t hat can help you— help us.” I w ant ed t o t ell him yes, but how w as Daemon going t o ask anyone w it hout arousing suspicion? If t he DOD w as everyw here, w ho could say t here w eren’t Luxen w orking for t hem? Anyt hing w as possible. Since I didn’t answ er right aw ay, he seemed t o know w hat my decision w as, because he made t his laugh/inhale sound and nodded. A splint er pierced my heart .

“Okay. Y ou need t o get some rest . T omorrow is a big day. More But ler. Y ay.” And t hen he w alked out . Act ually w alked out of t he kit chen inst ead of doing t hat super-fast t hing he usually did. And I st ood t here, w ondering w hat t he hell just w ent dow n and w hy I never st opped him and t old him w hat I w as t hinking. W hat I w as feeling. Courage—I really needed t o find t he courage t o t ell him how I felt t omorrow , before t hings w ent furt her sout h bet w een us.

Chapter 20
Days and t hen w eeks w ent by. Each morning st art ed t he same as t he one before. I’d w ake up dizzy, feeling like I hadn’t slept at all. Every day t he dark smudges under my eyes grew more prominent . I didn’t speak t o my mom most mornings, w hich blew , because t hat w as t he only t ime w e really got t o see each ot her. She w as busy w it h w ork and W ill, and I w as busy w it h school; Blake; and a dist ant , closed-off Daemon. W ho spent most of t he pract ices w at ching Blake like a haw k does w hen searching for prey. A frost y air had developed bet w een Daemon and me, and no mat t er how many t imes I t ried t o st art up a conversat ion about our relat ionship, he w as quick t o shut me dow n. My heart ached. Even t hough he didn’t st op t he t raining sessions and rarely missed t hem, he w as st ill dead set against t hem. Most of our t ime alone consist ed of him t rying t o convince me t hat Blake w as no good. T hat t here w as somet hing inherent ly w rong w it h t he boy, ot her t han t he fact he w as a hybrid. Like me. But as t he w eeks passed and t he DOD didn’t st orm t he house for me, I chalked it up t o Daemon’s right full paranoia. He had reason not t o t rust t he guy. Given w hat happened w it h Daw son and Bet hany, he w as leery of all humans. And Blake did his best t o handle Daemon. I had t o give it t o him. Not many people w ould keep coming back, especially considering I sucked but t at t he w hole abilit y t hing and Daemon made him feel less t han w elcome. Blake w as pat ient and support ive, w hile Daemon w as t he pissy pink elephant in t he room w it h t he bad at t it ude. All t he t raining aft er school affect ed any and all social life. Everyone knew t hat Blake and I w ere hanging out . No one, not even Dee, realized t hat Daemon w as t here, t oo. Since she w as

spending all of her t ime over at Adam’s, she didn’t know w here Daemon w as or w hat he w as doing. So Carissa and Lesa believed t hat Blake and I w ere dat ing, and I’d given up on t rying t o convince t hem ot herw ise. And it blew , because t hey t hought I w as so w rapped up in him t hat not hing else mat t ered. W it hout even doing it , I’d t urned int o one of t hose girls w hose life ceases t o exist out side of her boyfriend. And I didn’t even have a boyfriend. T heir det ailed at t empt s t o draw me back int o t heir w orld w ere incessant , but each t ime Dee w ant ed t o t ake a shopping t rip or Lesa w ant ed t o grab somet hing t o eat aft er school, I had t o t urn t hem dow n. My evenings w ere all about t raining. T here w as no t ime for reading. No t ime for my blog. T hose t hings I once spent all my free t ime doing w ere now pushed t o t he side. I alw ays asked Blake t he same quest ion before w e got st art ed. “Have you seen any Arum?” T he answ er w as alw ays t he same. “No.” And t hen Daemon w ould show up and t hings usually got crazy at some point . Blake w ould t ry t o t each me w hile ignoring t he homicidal alien t aking up w ay t oo much room. “Technically, w henever w e use our abilit ies, w e are sending a piece of ourselves,” he explained. “Like if I w ant t o pick somet hing up, a part of me is doing t hat as an ext ension of me. It ’s w hy using our pow ers w eakens us.” T hat really made no sense t o me, but I nodded. Daemon rolled his eyes. Blake laughed. “Y ou have no idea w hat I’m t alking about .” “Nope.” I smiled. “All right , back t o t he arms, t hen.” His fingers slipped over t he curve of my shoulders, and t he crazy began. Daemon w as up and off t he couch in a nanosecond, forcing Blake t o back aw ay. I t ook a deep, pat ient breat h and faced t he alien. He glared Blake int o submission. “I t hink I can help her w it h t his.” Sit t ing on t he arm of t he couch, Blake w aved his hand. “Sure. W hat ever. She’s all yours.” Daemon grinned. “T hat she is.” My hand w as it ching t o connect w it h his face. “I am not yours.” A small part of me w ant ed him t o deny my w ords, t hough. “Shush it ,” he said, w alking up t o me.

“How about I shush it right up your—” “Kit t en, your language is so unladylike.” He st epped behind me, placing his hands on my shoulders. Admit t edly, t he st at ic charge from his t ouch w as much more pow erful…and t empt ing. He leaned in, his cheek against my hair. “Ben over t here is on t o somet hing. W henever w e use our abilit y—t ap int o t he Source—w e are sending a part of us t o do it . It ’s like an ext ension of our physical form.” Daemon w as making just as much sense as Blake, but I w ent along w it h it . “Pict ure having hundreds of arms.” I did as he inst ruct ed. In my head, I imagined I looked like t hat Hindu goddess. I giggled. “Kat y.” Blake sighed. “Sorry.” “Now t ake t hose arms and make t hem t ransparent in your mind.” Daemon paused. “You can see t hose arms; see t he books all over t he living room. Can you? I know you know w here each and every one is placed.” Know ing t hat if I spoke, I’d break my concent rat ion, I nodded. “Okay. Good.” His fingers t ight ened. “Now I w ant you t o t urn t hose arms int o light . An int ense, bright light .” “Like…your light ?” “Y es.” I t ook anot her breat h and pict ured my Hindu arms as long, slender ribbons of light . Y eah, I looked ridiculous. “Do you see it ?” he asked soft ly. “And do you believe it ?” Pausing before I answ ered, I w orked really hard t o believe w hat I w as seeing. T he arms of blinding w hit e light w ere mine. Like Daemon and Blake had said, t hey w ere ext ensions of my being. I imagined each of t hose hands picking up t he books scat t ered about . “Open your eyes,” Blake inst ruct ed. W hen I did, books float ed around t he room. I moved t hem t o t he coffee t able, st acking t hem in alphabet ic order w it hout laying a finger on t hem. A heady t hril w ent t hrough me. Finally! Ecst at ic, I almost st art ed jumping and squealing.

Daemon let go, his smile an odd mixt ure of pride and somet hing much more. It t ugged at my heart . So much so t hat I had t o look aw ay, and my gaze collided w it h Blake’s. He grinned at me, and I grinned back. “I act ually did somet hing.” “Y ou did.” He st ood. “And it w as pret t y damn good. Nice w ork.” I t urned t o say somet hing t o Daemon, but t here w as a rush of w arm air and I realized t he spot w here Daemon had st ood w as empt y. A door opened and t hen closed. Surprised, I t urned t o Blake. “I…” “He sure can move fast ,” he said, shaking his head. “I can move fast , but damn. Not as fast as him.” I nodded, blinking back hot t ears. T he one t ime I act ually did somet hing right , Daemon bailed. How freaking t ypical. “Kat y,” Blake said soft ly, w rapping his hand around my arm. “Are you okay?” “Y eah.” I pulled free, dragging in deep breat hs. He follow ed me int o t he living room. “Do you w ant t o t alk about it ?” I choked out a laugh, embarrassed. “No.” Blake w as silent for several moment s. “It ’s probably bet t er t his w ay.” “It is?” I folded my arms, w illing my t ears t o go aw ay. Crying fixed not hing. He nodded. “From w hat I’ve gat hered, relat ionships bet w een t he Luxen and humans don’t w ork out . And before you t ell me t here’s not hing bet w een you t w o, I know bet t er. I can see t he w ay you look at each ot her. But it ’s not going t o w ork out .” If t his w as supposed t o be a mot ivat ional speech, it w as so not w orking. Blake picked up t he first book, smoot hing his hands over t he glossy purple cover. “It ’s bet t er if you cut t ies. Or he does, before someone get s hurt .” My st omach hollow ed. “Hurt ?” He nodded solemnly. “Look at it t his w ay. If he t hought t he DOD w as ont o you, w hat do you t hink he’d do? Risk his life, right ? And if t he DOD does find out you’ve been mut at ed, t hey’re going t o w ant t o know w ho did it . T heir first guess is going t o be him.” I st art ed t o t ell Blake t hat it w asn’t Daemon, but t hat w ould just sound suspicious, and damn if he didn’t have a point . Daemon w as t he obvious suspect . I sat dow n, rubbing t he heel of my hand over my forehead. “I don’t w ant anyone t o get hurt ,” I said finally. Blake sat beside me. “Do w e ever? But w hat w e w ant rarely changes t he out come, Kat y.”

… In trig the folowing day, Daemon tapped his pen off my back. “I’m not going to be at your training today,” he said in a low voice. Disappoint ment sw elled inside me. Even t hough Daemon usually w asn’t t he most helpful person during t hese sessions, I t ruly believed t he reason I’d been able t o move t he books w as because of him. And yeah, I also looked forw ard t o seeing him. Sigh. I forced a shrug, playing it cool. “Okay.” His emerald-colored eyes met mine for a brief moment and t hen he sat back, scribbling along his not ebook. Feeling as if I’d been dismissed, I faced t he front of t he class and exhaled slow ly. Carissa t ossed a folded-up not e on my desk. Curious, I spread it open. Why the :( face? Gosh, was I that obvious? I scribbled a quick message: Just tired. heart your new glasses. And I did. They were a rocking zebra print. I managed to toss the note back to her. We weren’t worried about our teacher—it was doubtful he could see all t he w ay t o t he back of t he classroom. T he guy made Sant a look young. A few seconds lat er, t he not e w as back on my desk. I grinned as I unfolded it . Thank you. Lesa wants me to tell you: “Daemon looks hot today.” I have to agree. I laughed under my breath and wrote back, Daemon always looks hot!!! Stretching into the aisle, I went to drop the note back on Carissa’s desk. Before it could leave my fingertips, it was snatched from my hand. Son of a donkey but t ! My mout h dropped open and my cheeks burned. T w ist ing around in my seat , I glared at Daemon. He held t he not e close t o his chest and grinned. “Passing not es is bad,” he murmured. “Give it back,” I hissed.

Shaking his head, he unfolded t he not e much t o my—and I’m sure, t o Lesa’s and Carissa’s— horror. I w ant ed t o die as I w at ched t hose vibrant eyes quickly scan t he not e. I knew w hen he got t o my part , because his dark brow s shot up his forehead. He grinned, used his mout h t o pop off t he cap on his pen, and w rot e somet hing on t he page. Groaning, I glanced at Lesa and Carissa. Lesa’s mout h w as hanging open and Carissa’s cheeks mat ched mine. God, he w as t aking enough t ime. Daemon finally folded t he not e and handed it back. “T here you go, Kit t en.” “I hat e you.” I snapped around—just in t ime, because t he t each w as scanning t he classroom. W hen he w ent back t o t he chalkboard, I handled t he not e like it w as a bomb. Slow ly and carefully, I unfolded t he damn t hing. And I died a lit t le more. T hat not e w ould never, ever see t he light of day again. I refolded t he paper and shoved it in my bookbag, my movement s st iff and my ent ire body enflamed. Daemon chuckled. … For several days, Blake and I worked alone. Unsurprisingly, things were a lot smoother without Daemon’s threatening presence. With Blake’s coaching, I w ent from being able t o move small object s for short periods of t ime t o rearranging t he ent ire living room w it h a single t hought . Each t ime I w as successful, Blake got all kinds of happy, and I t ried t o join in t he revelry— because t his w as good—but t here w as alw ays an edge of disappoint ment riding each accomplishment . I w ant ed t o share my successes w it h Daemon, and he w asn’t t here. Blake event ually moved on t o harder st uff, at t empt ing t o t each me how t o cont roll t he more pow erful t hings t hrough a horrible series of t rial-and-error experiment s. T he first t ime I’d at t empt ed t o cont roll fire ended up w it h w hat I sw ore w ere second-degree burns on my fingers. He’d present ed me w it h a series of w hit e candles and my goal w as t o light all of t hem at once t hrough concent rat ion. I w as allow ed t o t ouch each of t hem, and aft er several hours of st aring at t hem w it h a seriously empt y st omach, I’d managed t o light one by pict uring t he flame in my mind and holding t he image. Once I had mast ered t hat , I could no longer t ouch t he candle. Inst ead I had t o creat e t he fire just by looking at it . Blake w aved his hand over t he candles, and all t he w icks sparked a t iny flame.

“Easy peasy,” he said, and t hen ran his hand over t hem again. T he flames w ent out . “How did you do t hat —put t ing t hem out ? Can t he Luxen do t hat ?” He smiled at me. “T hey can only cont roll t hings relat ed t o some form of light , right ? So moving, st opping t hings, and fire are all right up t heir all ey. T hey can generat e enough energy t o creat e elect ricit y and fuel a st orm.” I nodded, remembering how it had st ormed t hat day Daemon had ret urned from t he lake and Mr. Garrison had been w ait ing for him. “And it ’s like pulling at oms from t he air around us, so yes, t hey can creat e w ind. W e’re just st ronger t han t hey are at it .” “Y ou keep saying t hat , but I don’t underst and how .” He shrugged. “T hey have only one kind of DNA.” He paused, frow ning. “ If t hey have DNA. But let ’s say t hey do for argument ’s sake. We have t w o different set s of DNA in us. Like t he best of bot h w orlds.” Not very scient ific. “Anyw ay, t ry it .” He prodded me w it h his knee. I did exact ly w hat I had done w hile holding t he candle, but somet hing w ent w rong. My fingers lit up like t he Fourt h of July. “Holy shit !” Blake jumped out of t he w ay, pulling me along w it h him. Shock had set in as he dragged me int o t he kit chen and shoved my hands under a rush of cool w at er. It w as t he first t ime I’d heard Blake sw ear. “Kat y, I asked you t o light t he candle, not your damn fingers! It ’s really not t hat hard. Jesus.” “Sorry,” I mumbled as I w at ched my skin t urn an ugly shade of pink and t hen red. It didn’t t ake long before t he skin puckered and blist ered. “You may not be able t o cont roll fire or st art it ,” he comment ed, gent ly w rapping my fingers in a t ow el. “If you could, it shouldn’t have burned you. T he fire w ould have been a part of you. But w hat t hat w as? T hat w as real honest -t o-God fire.” I frow ned as my fingers t hrobbed. “W ait a sec. T here’s a chance I can’t w ork w it h fire and you let me do t hat ?” “How else am I going t o figure out your limit at ions?”

“W hat t he hell!” I pulled my hand free, furious. “T hat ’s not cool, Blake. W hat ’s next ? Trying t o st op a moving vehicle by st anding in front of it , but w hoops, I can’t do t hat and now I’m dead?” Blake rolled his eyes. “Y ou should be able t o do t hat . At least , I hope so.” Disgust ed w it h him, I w ent back t o t he candles. Needing t o prove myself, I t ried again and again. I couldn’t light t he fire w it hout t ouching t he candles no mat t er how hard I t ried. T he follow ing morning I had t o come up w it h a good excuse for my mom. It involved somet hing st upid like placing my hand on a lit burner, but she believed me, and I even scored some w eak pain pills. Lat er t hat night , Blake explained t hat he’d never been able t o heal anyone. W hen I asked w hen and w hy he’d been present ed w it h t he opport unit y, he didn’t get a chance t o answ er. W armt h t ingled over my neck and t hen a few seconds lat er t here w as a knock on my door. I shot up. “Daemon.” “W oo hoo.” Blake exuded so much false ent husiasm he could’ve been an act or. Ignoring him, I rushed t o t he front door. “Hey,” I gasped, feeling hot and dizzy w hen I saw him. It never failed t o amaze me how st riking Daemon really w as. “Are you helping t onight ?” Daemon’s gaze dropped t o my bandaged fingers and nodded. “Y eah. W here’s Bilbo?” “Blake,” I correct ed. “He’s in t he living room.” He shut t he door behind him. “About your hand…” W hen Daemon had asked me about it in class earlier, I’d avoided answ ering, because I seriously doubt ed he w ould t hink how it happened w as kosher. T he last t hing any of us needed w as for him t o kill Blake over my ow n inept it ude. “I burned it on t he st ove last night .” I shrugged, looking dow n at t he t ips of his black boot s peeking out from his denim jeans. “T hat …is…” I sighed. “Lame?” “Y eah, really lame, Kat . Maybe you should st ay aw ay from t he st ove for a lit t le w hile?” He sidled past me and headed for t he living room. I t railed behind, know ing I couldn’t leave him alone w it h Blake for any amount of t ime. Blake gave him a halfheart ed w ave. “Nice of you t o join us again.”

Grinning, Daemon plopped dow n next t o Blake and spread his arm over t he back of t he couch, crow ding t he ot her boy. “I know you’ve missed me. It ’s all right , I’m here.” “Y eah,” Blake said, sounding real genuine. We got st art ed w it h moving st uff around for a lit t le w hile and Daemon didn’t say much, not even a “Wow ” or a “Congrat ulat ions,” but he w at ched me. Const ant ly. “Moving st uff is just a parlor t rick, really.” Blake’s arms w ere pinned t o his chest . “W ow .” Daemon cocked his head t o t he side. “Y ou’re just now figuring t hat out ?” Blake ignored him. “T he good new s is you can do it on command now , but t hat doesn’t mean you have cont rol. I hope it does, but w e really don’t know .” Damn. Blake w as such a dow ner somet imes. “I have an idea. You’re going t o need t o complet ely t rust me. If I ask you t o do somet hing, you can’t fire back w it h a t housand quest ions.” He paused w hile Daemon’s eyes narrow ed. “W e need t o see somet hing amazing.” Amazing? I w as moving st uff w it hout t ouching it ! T hat ’s pret t y amazing in my book. But t hen again, t here w as t he fire hoopla. “I’m doing my best .” “Y our best isn’t good enough.” He exhaled loudly. “Okay. St ay here.” I glanced at Daemon as Blake disappeared int o t he foyer. “I have no idea w hat he’s up t o.” Daemon arched a brow . “I’m guessing it ’s going t o be somet hing I don’t like.” Like t here w as much Blake could do t hat Daemon w ould like. W hat he didn’t know or get w as t hat Blake hadn’t put t he moves on me. Not once since he’d t ried t o hug me t hat day in t he diner. But maybe it w as just plain old dislike. W hile w e w ait ed, I heard draw ers opening in t he kit chen. T here w as a clank of silverw are. Oh goodie, more glassw are t o dest roy. Blake ret urned and st opped in t he doorw ay, one hand behind his back. “Y ou ready?” “Sure.” He smiled and t hen cocked his arm back. Light reflect ed off t he sharp edge of met al. A knife? And t hen t he but cher knife w as flying st raight at my chest .

A scream caught in my t hroat . I t hrew up my hand, horrified and panicked. T he knife st opped in midair. Frozen inches from my chest , point y end facing t ow ard me. It just st ayed t here, suspended. Blake clapped. “I knew it !” I st ared at him as my crit ical-t hinking skills slow ly t rickled back in. “W hat t he hell, Blake?” Several t hings happened all at once. Now t hat my concent rat ion w as broken, t he knife fell out of t he air, smacking off t he floor harmlessly. Blake w as st ill clapping. I let loose several curses t hat w ould’ve caused my mom t o cry and Daemon, w ho’d appeared t o have been knocked int o a st upor by w hat Blake had done, snapped out of it . Daemon shot off t hat couch like a rocket , simult aneously flipping int o his t rue form. A heart beat lat er, he had Blake pinned halfw ay up t he w all, sw at hed in an int ense w hit ish-red light t hat lit up t he ent ire living room. I craned my neck and w hispered, “Holy smokes.” “W hoa! W hoa!” Blake yelled, arms flailing in t he light . “Y ou need t o check yourself. Kat y w asn’t in any danger.” T here w as no response from Daemon, not one t hat Blake could hear, anyw ay, but I did. Loud and clear. T hat ’s it . I’m going t o kill him. W indow s began t o shake and w alls t rembled. T he flat -screen on t he T V st and rat t led. All around, lit t le puffs of plast er filled t he air. Daemon’s light flared, sw allow ing Blake w hole, and for a horrible moment , I really t hought he had killed Blake. “Daemon!” I shrieked, dart ing around t he coffee t able. “St op!” But t hen t here w as a crackling sound, like air heat ed and charged aft er a light ning st rike. St ill in his Luxen form, Daemon jerked back and let Blake go. T he boy landed on his feet and st aggered t o t he side as he rose. Daemon hummed and st art ed t ow ard Blake, but I got in t he middle. “Okay. Y ou t w o need t o freaking st op.” Blake ran bot h his hands dow n his shirt , st raight ening it . “I’m not doing anyt hing.” “Y ou did t hrow a freaking knife at me,” I shot back. W rong t hing t o say, because I heard Daemon promise, I w ill break him in t w o. “St op.” An arm appeared in t he light and fingers brushed along my cheek. T he t ouch w as soft as silk and brief, last ing only half of a second and so quick t hat I doubt ed Blake even saw it . T hen his light flickered out . He st ood in his human form, t rembling w it h barely rest rained rage, his eyes w hit e and sharp like icicles. “W hat t he hell w ere you t hinking?” “She w asn’t in any danger! If I t hought for a second she couldn’t do it , I w ouldn’t have t hrow n it at her!” Daemon sidest epped me, his large hand curled int o a fist . Human or alien, Daemon

could do some real damage. “But t here w as no w ay you w ould’ve know n she could do it ! Not a hundred percent !” Turning w ide, pleading eyes t o me, Blake shook his head. “I sw ear you w ere never in any danger, Kat y. If I t hought you couldn’t st op it , I w ouldn’t have done it .” Daemon cursed again and I moved, blocking him. “W ho does t hat ?” Daemon demanded. Heat rolled off his body. “Act ually, Kiefer Sut herland did. In t he original Buffy movie,” he explained. W hen I cont inued t o gape at him, he grimaced. “It w as on T V a few night s ago. He t hrew one at Buffy and she caught it .” “T hat w as Donald Sut herland—t he dad,” Daemon correct ed, much t o my surprise. Blake shrugged. “Same difference.” “I’m not Buffy!” I yelled. A slow grin pulled at his lips. “Y ou are definit ely cut er t han Buffy.” And t hat w asn’t t he right t hing t o say. Daemon grow led low in his t hroat . “You got a deat h w ish? Because you’re really pushing it t onight , buddy. I’m dead serious. Really pushing it . I can hold you up against t hat w all unt ill you run out of juice. Can you hold me off forever? No? I didn’t t hink so.” Blake’s jaw jut t ed out . “Okay. I’m sorry. But if she hadn’t been able t o cat ch it , I w ould’ve st opped it . Just like you w ould’ve. No harm. No foul.” A w hirlw ind of rage w as building inside Daemon and I doubt ed I could st op him again if he w ent aft er Blake. I t ensed. “I t hink t hat ’s enough for t onight .” “But —” “Blake, I really t hink you should leave,” I said meaningfully. “Okay? I t hink you need t o go.” Blake looked over my shoulder and seemed t o get it , because he nodded. “All right .” He st art ed t ow ard t he door and st opped. “But you did great , Kat y. I don’t t hink you realize how aw esome t hat w as.” A low hum rat t led t he floors and Blake t ook his cue, hight ailing his behind out of t he house. Only w hen I heard t he rumbling of his t ruck’s engine did I relax. “No more,” Daemon said, voice low . “Absolut ely no more.” Slow ly, I t urned around. His eyes w ere st ill doing t he glow t hing. Up close, t hey w ere sort of beaut iful—odd but really st riking. “He could have killed you, Kat . I’m not okay w it h t hat . I w on’t be okay w it h t hat .”

“Daemon, he w asn’t t rying t o kill me.” He looked incredulous. “Are you insane?” “No.” T ired, I bent and picked up t he huge serial-killer knife. As I held it , it sunk in t hat I had st opped a knife w hizzing t ow ard my chest . I faced Daemon, sw allow ing. He w as st ill rant ing. “I don’t w ant you doing any more t raining w it h him. I don’t even w ant you near him. T hat boy’s got a few screw s loose.” Freezing anyt hing w as a huge deal. It w as one of t he most pow erful uses of t he Source, Blake and Daemon had bot h said, w it h t he except ion of using it as a w eapon. “I’m going t o give him back-all ey plast ic surgery. I can’t —” “Daemon,” I w hispered. “—believe he did t hat .” All of a sudden, he w as w rapping his arms around me, hauling me against his chest . By some miracle, I didn’t st ab him. “Jesus, Kat , he could have hurt you.” Somew hat shocked by t he close cont act t hat he’d avoided since t he evening he made me a sandw ich, I didn’t move at first . His ent ire body hummed. T he hand t hat came up, w rapping around t he back of my head, shook slight ly. “Look, you’ve obviously got some cont rol. I can help you w ork on it ,” he said, rest ing his chin against t he t op of my head, and God, his arms, his body w as so w arm and so perfect . “T his can’t happen again.” “Daemon.” My voice w as muffled against his chest . “W hat ?” He pulled back a lit t le, low ering his chin. “I froze it .” His brow s knit t ed. “Huh?” “I froze t he knife.” I w iggled free, w aving t he t hing around. “I didn’t just st op it , but I froze it . T he t hing w as just hovering in air.” It seemed t o hit him, t oo. “Holy…” I laughed. “God, t hat ’s pret t y huge, isn’t it ?” Daemon nodded. “It is. T hat ’s…t hat ’s a big deal.” Excit ement t hrummed t hrough me. “W e can’t st op t raining.”

“Kat —” “We can’t ! Look, t hrow ing a knife at me isn’t cool. And God know s, I’m not exact ly t hrilled t hat he did it , but it w orked. It really w orked. We’re get t ing somew here—” “W hat part of ’He could’ve killed you’ don’t you underst and?” Daemon backed off, w hich usually meant he w as really, really angry. “I don’t w ant you t raining w it h him. Not w hen he’s put t ing your life in danger.” “He’s not put t ing my life in danger.” Besides cat ching my fingers on fire and t he knife incident —but st ill, t he risks w ere w ort h it . If I could cont roll t hese abilit ies and act ually use t hem t o prot ect Daemon and Dee, t hen I w ouldn’t be just a human—or just a mut at ed human one st ep aw ay from exposing t hem t o t he w orld. “W e can’t st op,” I reasoned. “I’ll be able t o cont roll it and use t he Source, just like you and Dee can. I can help you—” “Help me w it h w hat ?” Daemon st ared at me, t hen laughed. “Help me t o fight Arum?” Okay. I w asn’t going t hat far, but now t hat he ment ioned it , w hy not ? According t o Blake, I had pot ent iall t o be st ronger t han Daemon. Crossing my arms over my chest , I t apped t he edge of t he knife on my arm. “Y eah, w hat if I w ant ed t o?” He laughed again, and I w ant ed t o kick him. “Kit t en, you’re not helping me fight Arum.” “W hy not ? If I can cont roll t he Source and help, w hy not ? I could fight .” “I t hink t he reasons are pret t y huge,” he yelled, all t he humor vanishing. “First off, you’re a human.” “Not really.” His eyes narrow ed. “Grant ed, you’re a mut at ed human, but a human w ho’s a hell of a lot w eaker and more vulnerable t han a Luxen.” I exhaled slow ly. “Y ou don’t know how w eak or vulnerable I’ll be fully t rained.” “W hat ever. Secondly, you have no business going up against t he Arum. T hat w ill never happen.” “Daemon—” “It w on’t if I’m st ill alive. Do you underst and t hat ? Y ou w ill never go aft er an Arum. I don’t care if you can st op t he w orld from spinning.” I t ried t o push dow n my anger. One t hing I hat ed more t han Daemon’s douche-nozzle side w as him t elling me w hat t o do. “You don’t ow n me, Daemon.” “It ’s not about ow nership, you lit t le nut .”

“Nut ?” I glared at him. “I w ouldn’t call me names w hen I have a knife in my hand.” He ignored t hat . “T hirdly, t here is somet hing off about Blake. Y ou can’t t ell me you don’t see or sense t hat .” “Oh, don’t —” “Y ou know not hing about him—not hing deeper t han t hat he likes t o surf and blog. Big deal.” “T hese aren’t good enough reasons.” “Because I don’t w ant you in danger—how about t hat ? Is t hat damn good enough for you?” he shout ed, and I jumped. He looked aw ay, draw ing in several deep breat hs. I hadn’t realized t hat could’ve been t he real reason behind it all. About every part of me soft ened, and my t emper slipped aw ay like a snow flake melt ing. “Daemon, you can’t st op me just t o prot ect me.” His head sw ung back t o me. “I need t o prot ect you.” Need w as such a strong w ord that it stole my breath and my heart. “Daemon, I’m flattered—I am, but your job is not to protect me. I’m not Dee. I’m not anot her one of your responsibilit ies.” “Damn right you’re not Dee! But you are my responsibilit y. I got you int o t his mess. And I w ill not be dragging you furt her int o it !” My head w as spinning. His reasons for w ant ing me t o st op t raining w it h Blake w ere right but all w rong. I needed t o prove t o him t hat I w asn’t a liabilit y or somet hing t o be const ant ly w at ched over. If he felt t hat w ay and did keep put t ing himself in jeopardy because of me, he could lose his ow n life or Dee’s. “I’m not st opping,” I said. Daemon st ared at me. “Does it even mat t er t hat I don’t w ant you in t hat kind of danger? T hat I w on’t facilit at e somet hing as idiot ic as you gearing up t o go against t he Arum?” I flinched. Ouch, t hat st ung. “W ant ing t o help you and your kind is idiot ic?” His jaw t ight ened. “Y eah, it is.” “Daemon,” I w hispered. “I get t hat you care—” “You don’t get it . T hat ’s t he problem!” He st opped, pulling it all back in, sucking t he air right out of t he room w it h it . “I w on’t be a part of t his. I mean it , Kat y. You chose t his, t hen…w hat ever. I w on’t have t his hanging over my head like I do every freaking day w it h Daw son. I w on’t make anot her mist ake and condone t his.”

I sucked in a sharp breat h. My chest ached at t he t hought of him carrying t hat kind of guilt — guilt t hat didn’t belong t o him. “Daemon—” “W hat w ill it be, Kat y?” He looked at me dead-on. “T ell me now .” “I don’t know w hat t o t ell you,” I w hispered, t ears burning my eyes. Didn’t he see? Going t hrough w it h t his w ould give me a bet t er chance of not t urning out like Bet hany and Daw son, of being able t o t ake care of myself and prot ect him, because one day, he’d need it . Daemon t ook a st ep back as t hough I’d hit him. “T hat w as t he w rong t hing t o say.” His face t urned hard, his eyes like glaciers. T he coldness radiat ing from him chilled me t o t he bone. He’d never looked more det ached. “I’m done.”

Chapter 21
Part of me w ant ed t o skip classes t he next day, but it w asn’t like I could hide forever. Unexpect edly, Daemon w as a no-show . I didn’t see him in t he halls, eit her, or w hen I grabbed my st uff out of my locker before lunch. He never show ed. I’d chased him right out of t he damn school. “Hey,” Blake said, st rolling up t o me. “Y ou don’t look any bet t er.” T hrough t he durat ion of bio, I’d pret t y much had my face st uck in my t ext book. I sighed, closing t he door. “Y eah, not feeling it t oday.” “Hungry?” W hen I shook my head, he t ugged on my backpack. “Me neit her. I know a place t o go, no food and no people.” Sounded good t o me, because t he last t hing I could st omach right now w as w at ching Adam and Dee go t o second base at t he lunch t able. Turned out , t he place Blake had in mind w as t he empt y audit orium. Perfect . W e sat in t he back, propping our feet up on t he seat s in front of us. Blake pulled an apple from his bag. “Did Daemon ever calm dow n last night ?” I groaned inw ardly. “Y eah…not really.” “I w as afraid of t hat .” T here w as a pause as he bit int o t he shiny red fruit . “You really w eren’t in any danger. If you didn’t st op it , one of us w ould’ve.” “I know .” I scoot ed dow n and laid my head on t he back of my seat . “He just doesn’t w ant t o see me hurt .” And t hat act ually hurt t o say, because I knew t here w as a mile-long road of good int ent ions behind w hat he had been saying last night , but he needed t o see me as an equal. Not someone w ho w as w eak and needed rescuing.

“T hat ’s admirable.” Blake grinned around his apple. “You know I don’t like t he t ool, but he cares about you. And I’m sorry. I didn’t mean t o cause t rouble bet w een you t w o.” “It ’s not your fault .” I pat t ed his knee, not surprised w hen I got a lit t le shock. “Everyt hing w ill be okay.” Blake nodded. “Can I ask you somet hing?” “Sure.” He t ook anot her bit e before he cont inued. “Is Daemon t he one w ho healed you? I ask, because it may give me a bet t er underst anding of your pow er t o know w ho changed you.” Anxiousness blossomed. “W hy w ould you t hink it w as him?” Blake gave me a point ed look. “It w ould explain how close you t w o are. My friend and I w ere close aft erw ard. I almost alw ays knew w hen he w as around. W e w ere like t w o halves of t he same w hole aft er he healed me. It w as a st rong…bond.” Healing me w as so forbidden t hat even an army of Arum couldn’t get me t o admit t hat it had been Daemon. “T hat ’s good t o know , but t hat ’s not t he case.” Curiosit y did get t he best of me, t hough. “Y ou say you t w o w ere close. Did it make you…at t ract ed t o him?” “W hat ?” He laughed. “No. We w ere like brot hers, but t he connect ion—w hat ever it is t hat t hey do t o us—doesn’t force us t o feel anyt hing. It just makes us close t o w ho healed us. It ’s st ronger t han a familial bond, but not sexual or even emot ional on t hat kind of level.” I low ered my lashes before he could see t he rush of fresh t ears t hat burned my eyes. Great . I w as t he biggest asshat alive. T his w hole t ime I’d kept t hrow ing t he alien connect ion in Daemon’s face and it hadn’t been w hat w as propelling him. “W ell, t hat ’s good t o know .” My ow n voice sounded st range t o me. “Anyw ay...w hy is it so import ant w ho healed me?” He looked at me like he doubt ed my IQ as he finished off his apple. “Because I hear t hat how st rong t he Luxen is w ho heals you is an indicat ion of how much st ronger you’ll be. At least , t hat ’s w hat I’ve picked up from Liz. Her pow er and limit at ions w ere linked t o w ho healed her. Same as me.” “Oh.” Well, t hat explained how I blast ed a sat ell it e int o out er space. Daemon’s ego w ould go t hrough t he chart s if he knew . I st art ed t o grin, but t hinking of him renew ed t he ache in my chest . “W hich is w hy I t hought it w as Daemon, but he’s pret t y damn pow erful. No offense, but you really haven’t done anyt hing ext raordinary, so…” “Gee, t hanks?” I laughed at his chagrined look. “Anyw ay, it ’s not anyone you’d ever expect , and t hat ’s all I’m w illing t o say about it , okay?” “All right .” He held up t he core of his apple, frow ning. “Y ou don’t t rust me, do you?” I w as quick t o t ell him t hat I did, I st opped. Someone at least deserved my honest y. “Don’t t ake it personally, but right now , I t hink t rust is somet hing not easily given, considering.”

Blake glanced at me sidew ays and smiled. “Good idea.” … If I saw another knife in the next ten years, I’d need long-term psychiatric care. Spending time with a knife being thrown at me wasn’t my idea of fun. T hankfully, I’d been able t o st op t hem all. And w it hout Daemon t here, Blake st ayed in one piece. He moved ont o t hrow ing non-deadly st uff at my head, like pillow s and books, by t he end of t he w eek. Aft er several hours, I’d mast ered t he art of not eat ing fabric. I never let t he books hit me or t he floor, t hough. T hat just seemed sacrilegious. It seemed ass backw ard t o st art off w it h t he knives and end w it h t he pillow , but I underst ood his mast er plan. My abilit y w as also t ied t o my emot ions—like fear. I needed t o be able t o t ap int o t hose st rong feelings and use t hem w hen I w asn’t freaking out . I also needed t o be able t o cont roll t hem w hen I w as spazzing. I groaned as I picked up all of t he pillow s off t he floor and t he books off t he coffee t able, put t ing t hem each back w here t hey belonged. “T ired?” Blake comment ed, lounging against t he w all. “Y eah.” I yaw ned. “Y ou know how t he Luxen get t ired from using t heir pow ers?” Blake grabbed t he last book, placing it w here he’d got t en it : t he T V st and. “Y eah, and I remember you saying somet hing about us t iring out fast er t han t hey do.” “We are just like t he Luxen in t hat sense. T hey use up energy t o do t hings—t he w hole sending-a-piece-of-t hem t hing? We’re t he same w ay, but t hey can go a lot longer t han w e can. I don’t know w hy. Has somet hing t o do w it h t he fact t hat w e only have half-alien DNA, but w e have t o be careful, Kat y. T he more abilit ies w e use, t he w eaker w e get . And fast er.” “Great ,” I mut t ered. “So Daemon could’ve really held you against t he w all all night ?” “Y ep.” He st opped beside me. “Sugar helps. But so does t he Melody St one.” “T he w hat ?” I rubbed t he back of my neck as I dropped ont o t he couch. “It ’s a t ype of cryst al—a very rare opal.” He sat beside me, so close t hat his t high pressed against mine. I scoot ed aw ay.

“W hat does it do?” He rest ed his head back on t he cushion and gave me a lopsided shrug. “From w hat I’ve learned, it can help increase our pow ers. Possibly even st abilize t hem so w e don’t grow t ired like t he Luxen do.” T he w hole cryst all business didn’t make sense t o me. It sounded like a bunch of New Age crap, but t hen again, w hat did I know ? “Do you have one?” Blake laughed. “No. T hey’re hard t o get .” Grabbing an abused pillow , I placed it under my head and closed my eyes, snuggling against t he arm of t he couch. “Well, t hen I guess it ’s just me and sugar.” T here w as a pause. “Y ou did really w ell, t hough. Y ou’re a fast learner.” “Ha! You w eren’t saying t hat t he first w eek of t raining.” I yaw ned. “Maybe t his w on’t be so hard. I’ll get cont roll of my abilit ies…and everyt hing w ill go back t o normal.” “T hings w on’t ever be normal, Kat y. Once you st ep out side t he range of t he bet a quart z, t he Arum w ill find you.” T he couch dipped on my side, but I w as t oo t ired t o open my eyes. “But if you can really cont roll t his, you’ll be able t o defend yourself.” And t hat ’s w hat I w ant ed. T o st and beside Daemon, not cow er behind him. “Y ou’re such a bearer of great new s. Y ou know t hat ?” “I don’t mean t o.” T he cushion under me shift ed even more, and I felt Blake’s fingers brushing my hair aside. My eyes snapped open, and I jerked up, t w ist ing around t o face him. “Blake.” He sat back, placing his hand on his t high. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean t o st art le you. I just w ant ed t o make sure you w ere okay over t here.” W as t hat all? Or more? Oh, man, t his w as so aw kw ard. “T hings are really complicat ed right now .” “Underst andable,” he said, sit t ing back. “Y ou like him, don’t you?” I clut ched t he pillow t o my chest , not sure w hat t o say. “Don’t lie.” He laughed w hen I frow ned. “Y ou alw ays blush w hen you lie.” “I don’t know w hy people keep saying t hat . My cheeks are not a human lie det ect or.” I t oyed w it h a frayed t hread, know ing w e needed t o have that conversation, especially since w e w ere w orking together. “I’m sorry. Just right now —”

“Kat y, it ’s okay.” He placed his hand on mine, squeezing reassuringly. “For real. I like you. I do. Obviously. But you have a lot going on, and probably some of t hat w as before I even came here. So it ’s okay. Really.” T he first real smile in t w o days t urned up my lips. “T hanks for being so…underst anding.” Blake pushed off t he couch, running his hand t hrough his hair. “W ell, I have t he t ime t o be pat ient . I’m not going anyw here.” … I sat in class, trying to focus on what Carissa and Lesa were talking about. My skin was alternating between hot and cold flashes. “So, Kat y, you’ve been hanging out w it h surfer boy a lot .” Lesa cocked an eyebrow . “Care t o share t he det ails on t hat ?” I shrank in my seat . “No. W e’re just hanging out .” “Just hanging out ,” Lesa repeat ed slyly, “is like code for having sex.” Carissa’s mout h dropped open. “No, it ’s not !” “You obviously haven’t dat ed a lot of guys around here.” Lesa sat back in her chair, pulling on a t ight curl. “Act ually, pret t y much everyt hing w it h guys around here is code for sex.” “I’m going t o have t o go w it h Carissa on t his one. Hanging out does not equal sex t he last t ime I—” T ingles shot across my neck and my heart rat e spiked. I caught a glimpse of Daemon coming t hrough t he doorw ay and I focused on Lesa’s face as t hough she w ere my lifeline. Daemon glided past my seat and t ook his behind me. I clenched t he edges of my not ebook, hoping our t eacher w ouldn’t t ake his sw eet t ime get t ing t o class. A pen poked me in t he back. An unbelievably giddy rush sw ept t hrough me. I t urned slow ly. I couldn’t pick up anyt hing from his guarded expression. “I see you’ve been…busy,” he said, lashes low ered. Sucky part about living next t o Daemon w as t he fact he pret t y much saw everyt hing I did. And t hat meant he knew I w as st ill t raining w it h Blake. “Y eah, kind of.” Daemon’s elbow s scoot ed over t he desk as he cupped his chin in his hands. “So w hat is Bobo doing?” “It ’s Blake,” I said, voice low . “And you know w hat w e’ve been doing. Y ou’re more—”

“Not going t o happen.” He t hen laughed under his breat h, but t here w as no humor t o it as he inched a lit t le closer. His irises deepened. “I really w ish you’d t hink about t his.” “And I w ish you’d t hink about t his.” Daemon didn’t respond. He pulled his elbow s back t ow ard him, crossing his arms. Our conversat ion w as obviously over. I t w ist ed around, feeling icky. Morning classes dragged. Lesa w as w ait ing for me out side of bio, st opping me from going in. “Can I ask you a quest ion?” she said, glancing around. I sighed. “Sure.” She pulled me against an unoccupied locker. “W hat ’s going on? You kissed Daemon before Hall ow een, w ent out w it h Blake once, and now you w ent out w it h him again, but you and Daemon undeniably have somet hing going on.” I made a face. “Gee, it sounds like I’m a ho-bag or somet hing.” Lesa made a face. “I’m so not t he one w ho’s going t o slut shame. T rust me. I’m just curious. Do you have any idea w hat you’re doing?” One of t he reasons I liked Lesa? She didn’t beat around t he bush. She spoke w hat she t hought , and because of t hat , I w as more open w it h her t han anyone. “I honest ly don’t know . I mean, I do. I’m not …dat ing Blake. And I’m not dat ing Daemon.” “Y ou’re not ?” I leaned against t he cool st eell and sighed. “It ’s complicat ed.” “Can’t be t hat complicat ed,” she said. “W ho do you like?” Closing my eyes, I finally put voice t o it . “Daemon.” “Ah-ha!” She bumped me w it h her hip. “Wait . How is it complicat ed? Daemon’s got it for you big t ime. Everyone can see t hat , even w hen you guys are at each ot her’s t hroat s. And you like him. W hat ’s t he deal?” How could I explain how messed up everyt hing w as? “It ’s just really complicat ed. T rust me.” Lesa frow ned. “I’m going t o have t o t ake your w ord for it , because Blake is coming dow n t he hall.” She w hipped around so quickly it w as like she’d been caught peeping dow n my shirt . Bio w as unevent ful. Blake t ypically act ed like w e w eren’t mut ant s or anyt hing w hile w e w ere in school, and I appreciat ed him for t hat . Here, I could be normal, as odd as t hat w as. I discovered t hey w ere serving cold lasagna and salad t hat smelled funny for lunch. Yum. I slopped some on my plat e w hile craving a st raw berry smoot hie. Doubt full I’d get t hat

delivered t oday. Daemon had st opped bringing me t reat s about t he t ime t raining had st art ed. I missed it . I missed him. Dee and Adam w ere joined at t he mout h w hen I sat dow n. I glanced at Carissa. She rolled her eyes, but I smiled. My sucky love life aside, I w as st ill on Team Love Rocks. T he only t hing I honest ly couldn’t deal w it h w as my mom and W ill making out , w hich I’d got t en an eyeful of yest erday before she left for w ork. Ew . “Y ou going t o eat t hat salad?” Dee asked. “It ’s cut e how you st opped kissing for food.” I laughed, pushing my t ray t ow ard her. “Hey, Adam.” His cheeks w ere flushed. “Hey, Kat y.” “Sorry. I w orked up an appet it e.” Dee grinned. “And I lost mine,” Carissa mut t ered. Blake never arrived at t he cafet eria, but Daemon had. He’d t aken his seat beside Andrew and Ash. Against my w ill, I w at ched him. Daemon glanced up, holding a smoot hie. He smirked. Bast ard. I shift ed my gaze t o Dee. “How can you eat t hat ? I sw ear t he edges of t he let t uce are brow n. It ’s gross.” Adam laughed. “Dee can eat anyt hing.” “So can you.” She offered him t he t omat o on her fork. “W ant some?” “Okay.” I sat back. “If you feed him, I’m going t o have t o find a new t able.” “I second t hat ,” Carissa added. Dee rolled her eyes but relent ed. “I like t o share. W hat ’s w rong w it h t hat ?” T hen she looked at me, her expression hopeful. “I’m glad you’re eat ing w it h us…alone t oday.” Uncomfort able, I nodded and focused on pulling apart my lasagna. I hat ed layered food, unless t hose layers involved chocolat e and peanut but t er. Lunch and t he aft ernoon classes finally ended, and I sw ung by t he post office t o pick up t he mail before Blake came over. As I w as placing t he junk and packages on t he backseat , I caught sight of one of t he black Expedit ions parked at t he edge of t he parking lot , as if t hey’d pulled over abrupt ly and left t he engine running.

It could be any Expedition, I told myself as I closed the door, but a shiver danced dow n my spine and all the tiny hairs rose on my arms. Maybe I’d developed some kind of w icked sixt h sense along w it h my alien mojo? Going t o t he driver’s side, I kept an eye on t he Expedit ion. Smoke plumed out of t he muffler, choking t he air. Suddenly, t he passenger door jerked open and I saw t w o people. Brian Vaughn, t he DOD officer w ho ow ned t he creepiest laugh ever, w as leaning over t he passenger, grabbing for t he door. His mout h w as a t hin, angry slash as he groped for t he door w it h one hand w hile his arm braced a girl against t he seat . Squint ing, I t ook anot her look at t he girl w hen I should’ve been climbing int o my car and get t ing t he hell out of t here. T he last t hing I needed w as for Vaughn t o cat ch me peeping at him, but …I knew t his girl. I’d seen her face on a flyer, t aped on t he glass w indow s of FOOLAND. Her brow n hair w as pulled back t ight ly from her pale, elfin face. Her eyes w eren’t dancing w it h laught er w hen she t urned t o t he door, w at ching Vaughn pull it shut , closing her in…closing me out . Her eyes w ere empt y. But it w as her. It w as Bet hany.

Chapter 22
Bet hany—Daw son’s girlfriend—w as alive. And she w as w it h t he DOD. It sounded insane, and I w ent t hrough every st age of denial as I made my w ay home, but it w as her. T hat face had been burned int o my memory. I paced t he house unt ill Blake show ed up, st unned by w hat t his could mean. He t ook one look at me and frow ned. “Y ou look like you’ve seen a ghost .” “I t hink I have.” My hands opened and closed at my sides. “I t hink I saw Bet hany t oday w it h t his guy from t he DOD.” Blake frow ned. “W ho’s Bet hany?” It felt w rong t elling Blake about t his, but I needed t o t ell someone. “Bet hany w as Daw son’s girlfriend. And Daw son w as Daemon and Dee’s brot her.

T hey w ere supposedly at t acked by an Arum and killed, but t heir bodies w ere t aken aw ay by t he DOD before Daemon or Dee could see t hem.” Underst anding daw ned in his eyes. “Man, I w as curious. Every Luxen comes in t hrees.” I nodded. “But if it ’s really her—and I’m pret t y sure it ’s her—w hat does t hat mean?” Blake sat on t he arm of t he recliner, t urning t he T V remot e over and over above his hands…w it hout t ouching it . “How close w ere Daw son and Bet hany?” T hen it hit me. It all seemed so clear. T he w alls t ilt ed a lit t le as panic punched a hole in my chest . “Oh my God, Daw son had healed Bet hany. T hat ’s w hat everyone t hinks. T hat she got hurt somehow and he healed her. And he could’ve changed—mut at ed—her, right ?” Blake nodded. “Oh, man…” “And I bet Bet hany is a nickname for Elizabet h and… And w hat did t hat girl look like—t he one w ho t old you about t he DOD named Liz?” His brow s rose. “She had brow n hair, a lit t le darker t han yours. Kind of sharp feat ures, but really pret t y.” It all st art ed t o click t oget her. “T his is insane. How w ould t he DOD have know n about her? She and Daw son disappeared just a couple of days aft er w hat ever happened bet w een t hem, unless…unless someone w ho suspect ed t hat Bet hany had been healed t old t he DOD.” My st omach t umbled over as I pulled my hair back int o a messy t w ist . “W ho w ould do t hat ? One of t he Luxen?” “I don’t know . I w ouldn’t put it past t he DOD t o have Luxen w ho are t he eyes and ears for t hem,” he said, rubbing his brow . “Man, t hat sucks.” Suck didn’t even cover it . T hat meant someone close t o t he Blacks had most likely bet rayed t hem in t he w orst w ay. Anger w hipped t hrough me. I t urned just as t he curt ains Bill ow ed out as if a rush of air had ent ered t he room. A small cyclone of books and magazines moved t hrough t he living room, spinning and spinning. “W hoa, simmer dow n, St orm.” I blinked and t he cyclone fell apart . Sighing, I picked up t he books and magazines now scat t ered around t he room. My pulse t hrummed in my ears as my mind raced t hrough w hat I’d discovered. “If t he DOD has Bet h, t hen w hat did t hey do w it h Daw son? Do you t hink he’s st ill alive?” Hope sparked w it h t hat idea. If Daw son w as alive, t hat w ould… It w ould be like my fat her st ill being alive. My life w ould change. Daemon’s and Dee’s lives w ould change for t he bet t er. T hey’d be a family again… Blake grasped my arm gent ly, t urning me t ow ard him. “I know w hat you’re t hinking. How w onderful it w ould be for him t o st ill be alive, but Kat y, t he DOD doesn’t w ant Daw son. T hey w ant ed Bet hany. And t hey’d do anyt hing t o get cont roll of mut at ed humans. If t he DOD t old his family he w as dead…” “But you don’t know if t hey t old t he t rut h,” I prot est ed.

“W hy w ould t hey keep him alive, Kat y? If t hat really is Liz—Bet h—t hen t hey have w hat t hey w ant . Daw son w ould be dead.” I couldn’t believe t hat . T here w as a chance he w as alive, and t here w as no w ay I could live w it h myself w it hout t elling Daemon and Dee. “Kat y, he can’t be alive. T hey are rut hless,” he persist ed, and his grip t ight ened on my arm. “You do underst and t hat , right ?” He shook my arm. Hard. “Do you?” Surprised by his doggedness, I lift ed my chin. My eyes met his, and t here w as somet hing w rong in his, a qualit y t hat w as slight ly off and scary, like w hen he’d smiled and t hrew t he knife at my head. Ice t rickled t hrough my veins. “Y eah, I underst and. It probably w asn’t even her.” I sw allow ed, forcing a smile. “Blake, can you let go of my arm? Y ou’re hurt ing me.” He blinked and t hen seemed t o realize he’d been squeezing my arm. He let go and choked out a laugh. “I’m sorry. I just don’t w ant you get t ing your hopes up and being let dow n. Or doing somet hing crazy.” “No, my hopes aren’t up.” Rubbing my arm, I backed up. “And w hat could I do, anyw ay? I’d never t ell Daemon or Dee if I w asn’t sure.” Relieved, he smiled. “Good. Let ’s st art t raining.” Nodding, I dropped t he subject and hoped Blake forgot about it . Our t raining consist ed of freezing t hings, and as soon as he left , I rushed t o grab my cell. It w as near midnight , but I t ext ed Daemon anyw ay. Can u come over? I waited ten minutes before I texted him again. This is important!!! Another ten minutes went by, and I was starting to feel like I was one of those psychotic girlfriends who texted the crap out of guys until they responded. Damn him. Cursing, I sent him one more t ext . Its abt Dawson. Not even a minute later, I felt the rush of warmth on my neck. Stomach tumbling and twisting, I answered the door. “Daemon…” My words died off and my eyes w idened. I must ’ve w oken him up, because… No shirt . Again. It had t o be below t hirt y degrees out side, but he w as st anding in front of me in flannel pajama bot t oms and not hing else but glorious, perfect ly formed skin st ret ched t aut over hard muscle.

I hadn’t forgot t en w hat he’d looked like shirt less, but my memory had not served him one bit of just ice. Daemon st epped inside, eyes w ide and luminous. “W hat about Daw son?” I shut t he door, heart racing. W hat if t elling him w as a mist ake? W hat if Daw son w as dead? I’d just be screw ing up Daemon’s life even more. Maybe I should’ve list ened t o Blake. “Kat ,” Daemon snapped, impat ient . “Sorry.” I moved past him, careful not t o t ouch any of his exposed skin, and w ent int o t he living room. Popping in front of me, he plant ed his hands on his hips. I t ook a deep breat h. “I saw Bet hany t oday.” Daemon’s head jerked t o t he side and he blinked once, t hen t w ice. “W hat ?” “Daw son’s girl—” “I know w hat you said,” he int errupt ed me, dragging bot h hands t hrough his t ousled hair. For a moment I w as a bit dist ract ed by t he w ay t he muscles in his arms and shoulders rippled. Focus. “How can you be sure it w as her, Kat ? Y ou’ve never seen her.” “I’ve seen her missing person’s flyer. It ’s a face I can’t forget .” I sat dow n, rubbing my hands over my knees. “It w as her.” “Holy shit ...” Daemon sat beside me on t he couch, dropping his hands bet w een his legs. “W here did you see her?” I w at ched t he confusion lining his face and I w ant ed not hing more t han t o comfort him somehow . “At t he post office aft er school.” “And you w ait ed unt ill now t o t ell me?” Before I could answ er, he laughed under his breat h. “Because you w ere t raining w it h Bilbo Baggins and you had t o w ait unt ill he left t o t alk t o me?” Squeezing my knees, I jerked my chin. Daemon should’ve been t he first person I w ent t o. Being shocked by w hat I saw and t he t raining sessions w eren’t nearly as import ant or a good enough excuse. “I’m sorry, but I’m t elling you now .” He nodded curt ly and ret urned t o st aring at t he Christ mas t ree. It seemed like forever ago t hat w e’d put it up. “Man, I don’t …I don’t even know w hat t o say. Bet h’s alive?” I nodded, pressing my lips t oget her. “Daemon, I saw her w it h Brian Vaughn. She’s w it h t he DOD. T hey’d pulled over on t he side of t he road and t he car door had opened. T hat ’s how I saw t hem. He w as closing t he door and he looked angry.” Daemon slow ly t w ist ed his head t ow ard me, and our gazes locked. T ime st ret ched. An array of emot ions w ent t hrough his eyes, t urning t hem from a bright green t o a dark, st ormy color. I saw t he moment he knew w hat I w as get t ing at —t he second t hat his ent ire w orld came crumbling dow n and w as rebuilt w it hin seconds.

Suspect ing t hat Daw son had healed Bet hany, and t hen jumping t o Daw son and Bet hany disappearing because of t he DOD rat her t han t he Arum w asn’t a hard leap t o make. Not aft er discovering t hat by healing me, Daemon had also changed me. T hen you t hrow Blake int o t he mix, plus everyt hing he’d t old us about t he DOD and t heir search for mut at ed humans. Daemon w as smart . He shot t o his feet and w it hin seconds, he w as out of his human form and blinding me. His light flared a shade of red-w hit e as he pinged across t he room. W ind picked up, st irring t he bulbs on t he Christ mas t ree. She w as w it h t he DOD? His voice w hispered t o me, t ight w it h fury. T he DOD is responsible for this? Hearing Daemon’s voice in my head alw ays t ook me a few seconds t o get accust omed t o, and out of habit I answ ered verbally. “I don’t know , Daemon, but t hat ’s not t he w orst part of t his. How w ould t he DOD know w hat happened bet w een Daw son and Bet hany unless…?” Unless someone told them? His light pulsed and a blast of heat filled the room. But Daw son didn’t even tell me he’d healed her or that anything happened. How w ould anyone know ? Unless someone had seen them other than me, suspected w hat happened, and betrayed us… I nodded, not even sure if he w as looking at me or not . All I could see w as his form, no feat ures, no eyes. “T hat ’s w hat I’ve been t hinking. It had t o be someone w ho knew , and t hat probably really limit s t he pool of suspect s.” Several moment s passed and t he t emperat ure in t he room cont inued t o rise. I need t o know w ho bet rayed us. T hen I’ll make t hem w ish t hey’d never landed on this planet. Eyes w ide, I st ood and pushed up t he sleeves of my sw eat er. Sw allow ing, I t ook a chance. Daemon? His light flickered. I hear you. More proof t hat our connect ion hadn’t gone anyw here. I know you’re hell-bent on revenge, but most import ant ly, w hat if Daw son is st ill alive? Daemon drift ed over t o me, and t iny beads of sw eat broke out on my forehead. T hen I don’t know if I should be happy or sad. He’d be alive, but w here? T he DOD has him, and if that’s the case, w hat kind of life has he had? For tw o years? His next w ords sounded choked, even w ithin my mind. W hat have they been doing to him? Tears filled my eyes, blurring his light . I’m sorry, Daemon. I’m really sorry. But if he’s alive, t hen he’s alive. I reached out , placing my hand t hrough t he light , t ouching his chest . T he light pulsed errat ically t hen calmed. My fingers hummed. T hat ’s got t o mean somet hing, right ?

Yes, yes it does. T hen he stepped back, and a second later he w as in his human form. “I need to find out if my brother is alive—and if he’s not…” He looked aw ay, jaw w orking. “I need t o know how and w hy he died. It ’s obvious w hy t hey w ould w ant Bet h, but my brot her?” I sat back dow n, w iping my palm over my forehead. “I don’t know —” Daemon grasped my hand so quickly, I gasped. “W hat are you doing?” He t urned my hand over, his brow s furrow ing. “W hat is t his?” “Huh?” I glanced dow n, and my heart st ut t ered. A deep, purplish bruise circled my w rist , right w here Blake had grabbed me earlier. “It ’s not hing,” I said quickly. “I banged my arm int o t he count er earlier.” His eyes lift ed, piercing mine. “Are you sure t hat ’s w hat happened, because I sw ear if it ’s not , you t ell me and t hat problem w ill be solved.” I forced a laugh and an eye roll for ext ra benefit . T here w as no doubt in my mind t hat Daemon w ould do somet hing t errible t o Blake even t hough it w as an accident . T here w ere no shades of gray w it h him. “Y es, Daemon, t hat ’s all t hat happened. Geez.” St udying me, he backed up and sat on t he couch. Several moment s passed. “Don’t t ell Dee about t his, okay? Not unt ill w e get some leads or somet hing. I don’t w ant her know ing anyt hing unt ill w e know for sure.” Great . One more lie, but I could underst and w hy. “How are you going t o get leads?” “Y ou said you saw Bet hany w it h Vaughn, right ?” I nodded. “W ell, I happen t o know w here he lives. And he probably know s w here Bet h is and w hat happened t o Daw son.” “How do you know w here he lives?” He smiled, a bit evilly. “I have my w ays.” A new panic dug in w it h icy fingers. “W ait . Oh no, you can’t go aft er him. T hat ’s insane and dangerous!” Daemon arched a coal-black brow . “As if you care w hat happens t o me, Kit t en.” My mout h dropped open. “I do care, jerk-face! Promise me you w on’t do anyt hing st upid.” W at ching me a few seconds, his smile t urned sad. “I w on’t make promises I know I’ll break.” “Argh! Y ou’re so freaking frust rat ing. I didn’t t ell you so you’d go off and do somet hing st upid.” “I’m not going t o do anyt hing st upid. And even if w hat I plan is risky and insane, it ’s a w ell-t hought -out level of st upidit y.” I rolled my eyes. “T hat ’s reassuring. Anyw ay, how do you know w here he lives?”

“Since w e’re surrounded by people w ho pot ent ially w ant t o do my family harm, I t end t o keep t abs on t hem like t hey keep t abs on me.” He leaned back, st ret ched his arms unt ill his back bow ed. Good God, I had t o look aw ay. But not before I caught t he gleam of sat isfact ion in his eyes. “He’s been st aying at a rent all in Moorefield, but I’m not sure w hich one it is.” I shift ed on t he couch, yaw ning. “W hat are you going t o do? St ake out his block?” “Y es.” “W hat ? Do you have a James Bond fet ish?” “Possibly,” he replied. “I just need a car not easily recognizable. Does your mom w ork t omorrow ?” My brow s rose. “No, she’s off in t he evening and w ill probably be sleeping, but — ” “Her car w ould be perfect .” He shift ed his w eight on t he couch and w as now so close, his bare arm pressed int o mine. “Even if Vaughn has seen her car, he w on’t suspect it belongs t o her.” I scoot ed over. “I’m not let t ing you t ake my mom’s car.” “W hy not ?” He inched over, grinning. A charming smile—t he same he’d used on my mom t he first t ime t hey’d met . “I’m a good driver.” “T hat ’s not t he point .” I moved against t he arm of t he couch. “I can’t just let you t ake her car w it hout me.” He frow ned. “Y ou’re not get t ing involved in t his.” But I w ant ed t o be involved in t his, because it did involve me. I shook my head. “You w ant my mom’s car, t hen you get me along w it h it . It ’s a t w o-for-one special.” Daemon t ipped his chin now , peering up t hrough t hick lashes. “Get you? Now t hat sounds w ay more int erest ing of a deal.” My cheeks flushed. Daemon already had me, but he just didn’t know . “As in a part nership, Daemon.” “Hmm.” Daemon flickered t o t he door. “Be ready aft er school t omorrow . Dit ch Bart holomew by any means necessary. And do not speak a w ord of t his t o him. Y ou and I w ill be playing spy alone.”

Chapter 23
Making up some lame excuse about having t o spend t ime w it h my mom, I successfully dit ched a very pout y Blake. Get t ing t he keys from my mom w asn’t t oo difficult , eit her. She’d

crashed from a double shift as soon as she got home, and I knew she w ouldn’t be aw ake t o not ice her car w as gone. W e’d w ait ed unt ill darkness fell, w hich clocked in around five t hirt y. Daemon met me out side and t ried t o t ake t he keys. “Nope. My mom’s car means I’m driving.” He glared at me but got int o t he passenger seat . His long legs w ere no mat ch for t he cramped seat ing. He looked like he’d out grow n t he car. I laughed. Daemon scow led. I t urned on a rock st at ion, and he changed it t o an oldies st at ion. Moorefield w as only fift een minut es aw ay, but it w ould be t he longest damn drive of my life. “So how did you drop But t er-face?” he asked before w e even pulled out of t he drivew ay. I shot him a dirt y look. “I t old him I have plans w it h my mom. It ’s not like I spend every w aking minut e w it h Blake.” Daemon snort ed. “W hat ?” I glanced at him. He st ared out t he w indow , one hand on t he oh-shit handle. As if my driving w as t hat bad. “W hat ?” I repeat ed. “You know w hat I’m doing w it h him. It ’s not like w e’re hanging out and w at ching movies.” “Do I really know w hat you’re doing w it h him?” he asked soft ly. My hands t ight ened on t he w heel. “Y es.” T he muscle w orked in his jaw , and t hen he t urned, angling his body t ow ard me t he best he could given t he limit ed space. “You know , your w hole life doesn’t have t o involve t raining w it h Bradley. Y ou can t ake t ime off.” “Y ou could also join us. I liked it …w hen you helped out , w hen you w ere t here,” I admit t ed, feeling my cheeks burn. T here w as a pause. “Y ou know my st ance on t hat , but you need t o st op avoiding Dee. She misses you. And t hat ’s just messed up.” Guilt chew ed at me w it h small, razor-sharp t eet h. “I’m sorry.” “Y ou’re sorry?” he said. “W hat for? For being a crappy friend?” In a second, anger flashed t hrough me, w ild and hot like a fireball. “I’m not t rying t o be a crappy friend, Daemon. You know w hat I’m doing. Y ou’re t he one w ho t old me t o keep her out of t his. Just t ell Dee I’m sorry, okay?” T he familiar challenge w as in his voice. “No.” “Can w e not t alk?”

“And t hat w ould also be a no.” But he didn’t say anyt hing else w hile he gave me direct ions t o t he subdivision w here Vaughn lived. I parked t he car halfw ay bet w een t he suspect ed six houses, grat eful t hat my mom t int ed t he w indow s of her car. T hen Daemon st art ed in again. “How has your t raining been going?” “If you got over yourself, you’d know .” He smirked. “Are you st ill able t o freeze t hings? Move object s around?” W hen I nodded, his eyes narrow ed. “Have you had any unexpect ed out burst s of pow er?” Besides t he w hole mini cyclone in my living room aft er seeing Bet hany, I hadn’t . “No.” “T hen w hy are you st ill t raining? T he w hole purpose w as for you t o get cont rol. Y ou have.” W ant ing t o bang my head against t he st eering w heel, I groaned. “T hat ’s not t he only reason, Daemon. And you know t hat .” “Obviously I don’t ,” he ret ort ed, pushing back against his seat . “God, I love how you’re all up in my personal business but don’t w ant t o be involved in it .” “I like t alking about your personal business. It ’s usually ent ert aining and alw ays good for a laugh.” “W ell, I don’t ,” I snapped. Daemon sighed as he t w ist ed in his seat and t ried t o get comfort able. “T his car sucks.” “It w as your idea. I, on t he ot her hand, t hink t he car is a perfect size. But t hat might be because I’m not t he size of a mount ain.” He snickered. “Y ou’re t he size of a lit t le, it t y bit t y doll.” “If you say a vacant doll, I w ill hurt you.” I w ound t he necklace chain around my fingers. “Got t hat ?” “Y es, ma’am.” I st ared out t he w indshield, caught bet w een w ant ing t o just be angry w it h him—because t hat w as easy—and w ant ing t o explain myself. So much bubbled up in me t hat not hing w ould come out . He sighed. “You’re w orn dow n. Dee’s w orried. She w on’t st op bugging me t o check on you and see w hat ’s w rong, since you w on’t hang out w it h her anymore.”

“Oh, so w e’re back t o you doing t hings t o make your sist er happy? Are you get t ing bonus point s for asking?” I asked before I could st op myself. “No.” He reached out , cat ching my chin in a gent le grasp, forcing me t o look at him. And w hen I did, I couldn’t breat he. His eyes churned. “I’m w orried. I’m w orried for a t housand different reasons and I hat e t his—I hat e feeling like I can’t do anyt hing about it . T hat hist ory is on repeat and even t hough I can see it as clear as day, I can’t st op it .” His w ords opened up a hole in my chest and suddenly I t hought of Dad. W hen I w as lit t le and w ould get upset , usually over somet hing st upid like a t oy I w ant ed, I could never really put my frust rat ion int o w ords. Inst ead, I’d t hrow a fit or pout . And Dad…he alw ays said t he same t hing. Use your w ords, Kitty-cat. Use your w ords. Words w ere t he most pow erful t ool. Simple and so oft en underest imat ed. T hey could heal. T hey could dest roy. And I needed t o use my w ords now . I w rapped my fingers around his w rist , w elcoming t he jolt t hat t ouching him gave me. “I’m sorry,” I w hispered. Daemon looked confused. “About w hat ?” “About everyt hing—about not hanging out w it h Dee and being a t errible friend t o Lesa and Carissa.” I t ook a deep breat h and gent ly pulled his hand aw ay. I looked out t he w indshield, blinking back t ears. “And I’m sorry about not being able t o st op t raining. I get w hy you don’t w ant me t o. I really do. I underst and t hat you don’t w ant me in danger and t hat you don’t t rust Blake.” Daemon sat back against t he seat and I forced myself t o cont inue. “Most of all, I do know you fear t hat I’m going t o end up like Bet hany and Daw son—w hat ever really did happen t o t hem—and you w ant t o prot ect me from t hat . I underst and. And it …it kills me know ing t hat it hurt s you, but you’ve got t o underst and w hy I need t o be able t o cont roll and use my abilit ies.” “Kat —” “Let me finish, okay?” I glanced at him and w hen he nodded, I t ook anot her breat h. “T his isn’t just about you and w hat you w ant . Or w hat you’re afraid of. T his is about me—my fut ure and my life. Grant ed, I didn’t know w hat I w ant ed t o do w it h my life w hen it came t o college, but now I face a fut ure w here if I st ep out of t he range of t he bet a quart z, I’m going t o be hunt ed. Like you. My mom w ill be in danger if an Arum sees and follow s me home. And t hen t here’s t his w hole DOD mess.” I squeezed my hand around t he obsidian. “I have t o be able t o defend myself and t he people I care about . Because I can’t expect you t o alw ays be t here t o prot ect me. It ’s not right or fair t o eit her of us. T hat ’s w hy I’m t raining w it h Blake. Not t o piss you off. Not t o get w it h

him. I’m doing it so t hat I can st and beside you, as your equal, and not be someone you need t o prot ect . And I’m doing t his for myself, so t hat I don’t have t o rely on anyone t o save me.” Daemon’s lashes low ered, shielding his eyes. Seconds passed in silence and t hen he said, “I know . I know w hy you w ant t o do t his. And I respect t hat . I do.” T here w as a “but ” coming. I could feel it in my bones. “But it ’s hard t o st and back and let t his happen.” “Y ou don’t know w hat ’s going t o happen, Daemon.” He nodded and t hen t urned t o t he passenger w indow . One hand came up, rubbing along his jaw . “It ’s hard. T hat ’s all I can say about t his. I’ll respect w hat you w ant t o do, but it ’s hard.” I released t he breat h I hadn’t realized I w as holding on a soft sigh and nodded. I knew he w asn’t going t o say anyt hing more about t his. Respect ing my decision w as bet t er t han an apology. At least now , w e w ere on t he same page, and t hat w as import ant . I peeked at him. “Anyw ay, w hat are w e going t o do if w e see Vaughn?” “Haven’t t hought t hat far ahead yet .” “W ow . T his w as a good plan.” I paused. “I really doubt Bet hany is in one of t hese houses. T hat w ould just be t oo dangerous.” “I agree, but w hy did t hey have her out in public like t hat ?” He’d asked t he million-dollar quest ion. “W here anyone could see her?” I shook my head. “I got t he dist inct impression t hat Vaughn w asn’t t oo happy. Maybe she escaped.” He looked at me. “T hat w ould make sense. But Vaughn, w ell, he’s alw ays been a punk.” “Y ou know him?” “Not ext remely w ell, but he st art ed w orking w it h Lane a few mont hs before Daw son disappeared.” T he last w ord seemed t o get st uck on his t ongue, as if he w ere st ill get t ing acquaint ed w it h t he possibilit y t hat Daw son w asn’t dead. “Lane had been our handler for God know s how long, and t hen Vaughn show ed up w it h him. He w as t here w hen t hey t old us about Daw son and Bet hany.” Daemon’s t hroat w orked. “Lane seemed genuinely upset . Like Daw son w asn’t just a t hing t hat had died, but a person. Maybe he grew at t ached t o Daw son over t he years. See”—he cleared his t hroat —“Daw son had t hat kind of effect on people. Even w hen he w as being a smart ass, you couldn’t help but like him. Anyw ay, Vaughn couldn’t have cared less.” I didn’t know w hat t o say. So I reached over t he small space bet w een us and squeezed his arm. He looked at me, his eyes bright . Beyond him, several large snow flakes fell w it h a quiet hush.

Daemon placed his hand on mine for t he briefest moment . Somet hing infinit e flared bet w een us—st ronger t han physical, w hich w as w eird because it really fueled all t hat physical st uff in me. T hen he pulled back, w at ching t he snow . “Y ou know w hat I’ve been t hinking?” W hy I hadn’t craw led over t he cent er console and int o his lap yet ? Because damn if I w as w ondering t hat very t hing, but t he car w as w ay t oo small for t hose kinds of shenanigans. I cleared my t hroat . “W hat ?” Daemon leaned back against t he seat , w at ching t he snow just like I w as. “If t he DOD know s w hat w e can do, t hen none of us are really safe. Not t hat w e’ve ever been safe, but t his changes everyt hing.” He t urned his head t ow ard me. “I don’t t hink I said t hank you.” “For w hat ?” “For t elling me about Bet hany.” He paused, a t ight smile pulling at his lips. “You needed t o know . I w ould— w ait .” Tw o headlight s t urned ont o t he st reet . It w as at least t he fift h one, but it w as from an SUV. “We’ve got one.” Daemon’s eyes narrow ed. “It ’s an Expedit ion.” We w at ched t he black Expedit ion slow dow n and pull int o t he drivew ay of a single-st ory home t w o houses in. Even t hough t he w indow s in our car w ere t int ed, I w ant ed t o slide dow n in t he seat and hide my face. T he driver’s door opened and Vaughn st epped out , frow ning at t he sky as if it dared t o annoy him by snow ing. Anot her car door closed and a figure moved int o t he light . “Dammit ,” Daemon said. “Nancy’s w it h him.” “W ell, you w eren’t really planning on t alking t o him, w ere you?” “Y eah, I kind of w as.” Dumbfounded, I shook my head. “T hat ’s insane. W hat w ere you going t o do? Bust up in his house and demand answ ers?” W hen he nodded, I gaped. “T hen w hat next ?” “Anot her t hing I hadn’t fully w orked out yet .” “Geez,” I mut t ered. “Y ou suck at t his w hole spy t hing.” Daemon chuckled. “Well, w e can’t do anyt hing t onight . If one of t hem w ent missing it probably w ouldn’t be such a huge deal, but t w o of t hem w ould raise t oo many quest ions.” My st omach churned as I w at ched t he agent s disappear int o t he house. A light t urned on inside, and a slender figure moved in front of t he w indow , draw ing t he curt ains closed. “Huh. Privat e bunch, aren’t t hey?”

“Maybe t hey’re get t ing some bow -chicka-pow -w ow .” I looked at him. “Ew .” He flashed his t eet h. “She’s definit ely not my t ype.” His gaze dropped t o my lips, and part s of me quivered in response t o t he heat in his gaze. “But now I t ot ally have t hat on my mind.” I w as breat hless. “Y ou’re a dog.” “If you pet me, I’ll —” “Don’t even finish t hat sent ence,” I said, fight ing a grin. Smiling only encouraged him, and he needed no ext ra reason t o be a t error. “And knock t he innocent look off your face. I so know —” T he obsidian flared quickly, heat ing up my sw eat er and chest like someone placed a hot coal against my skin. I yelped and jerked in my seat , banging my head on t he roof. “W hat ?” “An Arum,” I gasped. “An Arum is nearby! Y ou don’t have any obsidian on you?” Alert and t ense, he scanned t he dark road. “No. I left it in my car.” I st ared at him, shocked. “Seriously? Y ou left t he one t hing t hat kills your enemy in your car?” “It ’s not like I need it t o kill t hem. St ay here.” He st art ed t o open t he door, but I grabbed his arm. “W hat ?” “You can’t get out of t he car. We’re right in front of t heir house! T hey’ll see you.” I ignored t he rising fear t hat alw ays came w it h t he Arum. “Are w e st ill close enough t o t he Rocks?” “Y es,” he grow led. “T hey prot ect us for about fift y miles in every direct ion.” “T hen just sit st ill.” He looked like he didn’t underst and t he concept , but he t ook his hand off t he door and sat back. A few seconds lat er, a shadow moved up t he st reet , darker t han t he night it self. It glided t o t he curb, drift ing over t he law ns coat ed w it h a t hin layer of snow , st opping in front of Vaughn’s house. “W hat t he hell?” Daemon placed his hands on t he dashboard. T he Arum t ook form, right t here, out in t he open. He w as dressed like t he ones w e’d faced in t he past : dark pant s, black jacket , but no sunglasses.

His pale blond hair moved slight ly as he st epped up t o t he front door and pressed his finger on t he doorbell. Vaughn answ ered t he door and grimaced. His mout h moved, but I couldn’t make out w hat he said. T hen he st epped t o t he side, let t ing t he Arum ent er his house. “Holy monkey balls,” I said, eyes w ide. “T hat did not just happen.” Daemon sat back, his voice t ight w it h fury w hen he spoke. “T hat did. And I t hink w e’ve discovered how t he DOD know s w hat w e’re capable of.” Mind reeling, I st ared at him. “T he DOD and t he Arum are w orking t oget her? Sw eet alien baby… W hy?” His brow s puckered, and he shook his head. “Vaughn said a name—Residon. Read his lips.” T his new development w as so not good. “W hat do w e do now ?” “W hat I w ant t o do is blow up t heir house, but t hat w ould draw t oo much at t ent ion.” I pursed my lips. “No doubt .” “W e need t o go see Mat t hew . Now .” … Matthew lived farther out in the boondocks than we did, and if the snow kept coming down, I had no idea how I was going to get Mom’s car home. His house w as a large cabin built int o t he side of a mount ain. I carefully made my w ay up his st eep, graveled drivew ay t hat my mom’s Prius w ouldn’t dare conquer. “If you fall and break somet hing, I’m going t o be irrit at ed.” Daemon grabbed my arm as I st art ed t o slip. “Sorry, not all of us can be as aw esome—” I squealed as he slid an arm around my back and lift ed me int o his arms. Daemon zipped us up t he drivew ay, w ind and snow blow ing at my face. He put me dow n, and I st umbled t o t he side, dizzy. “Could you give me a w arning next t ime?” He grinned as he knocked on t he door. “And miss t hat look on your face? Never.” Somet imes I seriously w ant ed t o just punch him in t he face, but it made me w arm in all t he right places t o see t his side of him again, t oo. “You’re insufferable.” “Y ou like my kind of suffering.” Before I could answ er, Mr. Garrison opened t he door. His eyes narrow ed w hen he saw me st anding next t o Daemon, shivering. “T his is… unexpect ed.”

“W e need t o t alk,” Daemon said. Eyeing me, Mr. Garrison led us int o a very sparsely decorat ed living room. T he w alls w ere bare log and a fire in t he fireplace crackled, t hrow ing off heat and t he scent of pine. T here w asn’t a single Christ mas decorat ion. Needing t o t haw out , I sat close t o t he fire. “W hat ’s going on?” Mr. Garrison asked, picking up a small glass full of red liquid. “I’m assuming it ’s somet hing I don’t w ant t o know , considering she’s w it h you.” I checked myself before I said somet hing back. T he man w as an alien, but he w as also in cont roll of my bio grade. Daemon sat beside me. On t he w ay up here, w e agreed not t o t ell Mr. Garrison I’d been healed, much t o my relief. “I guess w e should st art from t he beginning, and you’re probably going t o w ant t o sit .” He moved his hand, sw irling t he ruby liquid in his glass. “Oh, t his is st art ing out good.” “Kat y saw Bet hany yest erday w it h Vaughn.” Mr. Garrison’s brow s shot up. He didn’t move for a long breat h, and t hen he t ook a drink. “T hat ’s not w hat I w as expect ing you t o say. Kat y, are you sure t hat ’s w ho you saw ?” I nodded. “It w as her, Mr. Garrison.” “Mat t hew , call me Mat t hew .” He t ook a st ep back, shaking his head. I felt like I just complet ed some major t ask t o move t o a first -name basis w it h him. Mat t hew cleared his t hroat . “I really don’t know w hat t o say.” “It get s w orse,” I said, rubbing my hands t oget her. “I know w here one of t he DOD officers lives, and w e w ent t here t onight .” “W hat ?” Mat t hew low ered his glass. “Are you insane?” Daemon shrugged. “W hile w e w ere w at ching his house, Nancy Husher show ed up and guess w ho else did?” “Sant a?” Mat t hew said dryly. I laughed out loud. W ow , he did have a sense of humor. Daemon ignored t hat . “An Arum show ed up and t hey let him in. Even greet ed him by name— Residon.” Mat t hew dow ned t he ent ire drink and set t he glass on t he mant ell above t he fireplace. “T his isn’t good, Daemon. I know you w ant t o rush up t here and find out how Bet hany is st ill alive, but you can’t . T his is t oo dangerous.”

“Do you underst and w hat t his means?” Daemon st epped forw ard, holding his hands out , palms up. “T he DOD has Bet hany. Vaughn w as one of t he Officers w ho came and t old us t hat t hey w ere bot h dead. So t hey lied about her. And t hat means t hey could’ve lied about Daw son.” “W hy w ould t hey have Daw son? T hey t old us he w as dead. Obviously Bet hany isn’t , but t hat doesn’t mean he’s alive. So get t hat out of your head, Daemon.” Anger flashed in Daemon’s deep green eyes. “If it w as one of your siblings, w ould you ’get it out of your head’?” “All my siblings are dead.” Mat t hew st alked across t he room, st opping in front of us. “You guys are all I have left , and I w ill not st and by and humor false hope t hat w ill get you killed or w orse!” Daemon sat dow n beside me, t aking a deep breat h. “Y ou’re family t o us, t oo. And Daw son also considered you family, Mat t hew .” Pain flashed in Mat t hew ’s ult ra-bright eyes, and he looked aw ay. “I know . I know .” He moved over t o his recliner and sat dow n heavily, shaking his head. “Honest ly, it w ould be best if he w eren’t alive, and you know t hat . I can’t even imagine…” “But if he is, w e need t o do somet hing about it .” Daemon paused. “And if he’s t ruly dead, t hen…” T hen w hat kind of closure w ould t hat be? T hey’d already believed he w as dead, and finding out t hat it w asn’t t he Arum w ould rip open old w ounds and dump salt on t hem. “Y ou don’t underst and, Daemon. T he DOD w ould have no int erest in Bet hany unless…unless Daw son healed her.” Blake had been saying t his all along. T he confirmat ion relieved me. “W hat are you saying, Mat t hew ?” Daemon asked, keeping up w it h t he cluelessness. Mat t hew rubbed his brow , w incing. “T he elders…t hey don’t t alk about w hy w e’re not allow ed t o heal humans, and t hey have good reason. It ’s forbidden, not only because of t he risk of exposure on our end, but because of w hat it does t o a human. T hey know . So do I.” “W hat ?” Daemon glanced at me. “Do you know w hat happens?” He nodded. “It alt ers t he human, splicing his or her DNA w it h ours. T here has t o be a t rue w ant for it t o w ork, t hough. T he human t akes on our abilit ies, but it doesn’t alw ays st ick. Somet imes it fades. Somet imes t he human dies from it or t he change backfires. But if successful, it forms a connect ion bet w een t he t w o.” As Mat t hew w ent on, Daemon grew more agit at ed, and right fully so. “T he connect ion bet w een a human and a Luxen aft er a massive healing is unbreakable at a cell ular level. It marries t he t w o t oget her. One cannot survive if t he ot her perishes.” My mout h dropped open. Blake had so not t old me t hat , but t hat meant …

Daemon w as on his feet , chest rising w it h every rough, painful breat h. “T hen if Bet hany is alive…” “T hen Daw son w ould have t o be alive,” Mat t hew finished, sounding w eary. “If he had in fact healed her.” He had t o have. T here w as no ot her reason w hy t he DOD w ould be int erest ed in Bet hany. Daemon just st ared at t he fire, t w ist ing and curling on it self. Once again, I w ant ed t o do somet hing t o comfort him, but w hat could I really do t o make any of t his bet t er? I shook my head. “But you just said he couldn’t be alive.” “T hat w as my w eakest at t empt t o persuade t his one from get t ing himself killed.” “Did you…did you know t his t he ent ire t ime?” Raw emot ion filled Daemon’s voice. His form st art ed t o fade, as if he w ere losing all cont rol. “Did you?” Mat t hew shook his head. “No. No! I believed bot h of t hem t o be dead, but if he did heal her—did change her—and she’s alive, t hen he has t o be alive. T hat ’s a big if—an if based on w het her or not Kat y really did recognize someone she’s never met .” Daemon sat dow n, eyes glit t ering in t he firelight . “My brot her’s alive. He’s…he’s alive.” He sounded numb, lost , even. W ant ing t o cry for Daemon, I dragged in a shallow breat h. “W hat do you t hink t hey’re doing t o him?” “I don’t know .” Mat t hew st ood unst eadily, and I w ondered how much he’d been drinking before w e arrived. “W hat ever it is, it can’t be…” It couldn’t be good. And I had a sinking suspicion. According t o Blake, t he DOD w as int erest ed in acquiring more mut at ed humans. W hat bet t er w ay t o achieve t hat goal t han capt uring a Luxen and forcing him t o do it ? Bile rose. But if it t ook a t rue w ant t o successfully change a human, how could Daw son t ruly w ant t o heal t hem w hen forced? Was he failing, and if so, w hat w as happening t o t hose humans? Mat t hew had already said it . If t he change didn’t st ick, t hey w ere horribly mut at ed, or t hey died. My God, w hat could t hat do t o a person—t o Daw son? “T he DOD know s, Mat t hew . T hey know w hat w e can do,” Daemon said finally. “T hey’ve probably know n since t he beginning.” Mat t hew ’s lashes sw ept up, and he met Daemon’s st are. “I’ve never t ruly believed t hey didn’t , t o be honest . T he only reason I never voiced my belief is because I didn’t w ant any of you t o w orry.” “And t he elders—do t hey know t his, t oo?” “T he elders are just grat eful t o have a place t o live in peace and be basically separat ed from t he human race. St ick t heir heads in t he sand kind of t hing, Daemon. If anyt hing, t hey probably choose t o not believe our secret s aren’t safe.” Mat t hew glanced at his empt y glass. “It ’s…easier for t hem.” T hat sounded incredibly st upid and I said so. Mat t hew smiled w ryly in response. “Dear girl, you do not know w hat it is like t o be a guest , do you?

Imagine living w it h t he know ledge t hat your home and everyt hing could be w hipped out from under you at any moment ? But you have t o lead people, keep t hem calm and happy— safe. T he w orst t hing w ould be t o voice t he darkest of your concerns t o t he masses.” He paused, eyeing t hat glass again. “T ell me, w hat w ould humans do if t hey knew aliens lived among t hem?” My cheeks flamed. “Uh, t hey’d probably riot and go nut s.” “Exact ly,” he murmured. “Our kinds are not t hat different .” Not hing w as really said aft er t hat . We all sat t here, lost in our ow n t roubles. My heart w as cracking int o a million pieces because I knew Daemon w ant ed t o rush Vaughn and Nancy right now , but he w asn’t t hat reckless. T here w as Dee, and any act ion he t ook w ould affect her. And apparent ly it w ould also affect me. If he died, t hen I’d die. I couldn’t even fully w rap my head around t hat . Not right now w it h everyt hing else going on. I decided t o leave t hat unt ill lat er t o freak out over. “W hat about t he Arum t hing?” I asked. “I don’t know .” Mat t hew refilled his glass. “I can’t even fat hom a reason w hy t he DOD w ould be w orking w it h t hem—w hat t hey could even gain. T he Arum absorb our pow ers, but never healing—not hing of t hat magnit ude. T hey have a different heat signat ure t han w e do, so w it h t he right t ools, t he DOD w ould know t hey w eren’t dealing w it h us, but t o w alk up t o an Arum or a Luxen on t he st reet , t here w ould be no w ay t o t ell us apart .” “Wait .” I t ucked my hair back, glancing at a silent Daemon. “W hat if t he DOD capt ured an Arum, believing it t o be a Luxen, and you guys w ere st udied, t oo, right ? Forced t o assimilat e int o t he human w orld? I don’t know w hat assimilat ion ent ails, but I’m sure it w as some kind of observat ion, so w ouldn’t t hey have not iced event ually, especially w it h t he heat -signat ure t hing?” Mat t hew got up, w ent t o a cabinet in t he far corner. Opening it , he pulled out a square bot t le and poured himself a glass. “W hen w e w ere being assimilat ed, t hey never saw our abilit ies. So, if w e w ork off t he t heory t hat t hey’ve know n for some t ime, t hey st udied our abilit ies on Luxen w ho could never t ell us t hat t he DOD is aw are w hat w e can do.” Nausea rose sharply. “Y ou’re saying t hat t hose Luxen w ould be…” “Dead,” he said, t urning around and t aking a drink. “I’m not sure how much Daemon has t old you, but t here w ere Luxen w ho didn’t assimilat e. T hey w ere put dow n…like feral animals. No st ret ch of t he imaginat ion t o believe t hat t hey used some Luxen t o st udy t heir abilit ies, t o learn about us, and t hen got rid of t hem.”

Or sent t hem back as spies—ones w ho could keep an eye on t he ot hers, report back t o t he DOD w it h any suspicious act ivit y. Seemed paranoid, but t his w as t he government w e w ere t alking about . “But t hat doesn’t explain w hy t he Arum w ould w ork w it h t he DOD.” “It doesn’t .” Mat t hew moved t o t he fireplace. He propped his elbow on t he mant el, sw irling t he ruby liquid w it h his ot her hand. “I am afraid t o t heorize over w hat t hat could mean.” “Part of me doesn’t even care about t hat right now .” Daemon finally spoke again, sounding t ired. “Someone bet rayed Daw son. Someone had t o t ell t he DOD.” “It could be anyone,” Mat t hew said w earily. “Daw son didn’t t ry t o hide his relat ionship w it h Bet hany. And if anyone w as w at ching t hem closely, t hey could’ve suspect ed somet hing happened. W e all w at ched t hem w hen t hey first got t oget her. I’m sure some of us didn’t st op.” T hat did not hing t o really calm Daemon. Not t hat I expect ed it t o. We left Mat t hew ’s house short ly aft er t hat , silent and st uck somew here bet w een hope and despair. At my mom’s car, I handed him t he keys w hen he asked for t hem. I st art ed t ow ard t he passenger side, t hen st opped. Turning around, I w ent back t o him and snaked my arms around his t aut body. “I’m sorry,” I w hispered, squeezing him t ight . “W e’ll figure out somet hing. W e’ll get him back.” Aft er a moment of hesit at ion, his arms w rapped around me and held me so t ight ly I could’ve molded t o him. “I know ,” he said against t he t op of my head, his voice firm and st rong. “I’ll get him back if it ’s t he last t hing I do.” And part of me already knew and w as afraid of w hat Daemon w as w illing t o sacrifice for his brot her.

Chapter 24
Daemon didn’t w ant his sist er t o know Daw son w as most likely alive. I promised, mainly because I underst ood t hat imagining w hat w as being done t o Daw son right now w as probably w orse t han t hinking he w as dead. Daemon didn’t w ant t o share t hat helplessness w it h his sist er. He w as t hat kind of guy, and I respect ed him for it . But t here w as a rising t ide of sorrow for his brot her I w ished I could t ake aw ay.

During t he next couple of days, I did my t raining w it h Blake and t hen aft er he left , Daemon and I w ould drive t o Moorefield. Brian hadn’t ret urned home since t he night w e’d seen him and Nancy w it h t he Arum. I had no idea w hat Daemon planned, but w hat ever it w as, I w asn’t let t ing him do it alone, and for once he w asn’t hell-bent on doing everyt hing alone. On t he T hursday before Christ mas break, Blake and I w orked on manipulat ing light . It w as harder t han freezing an object . I had t o pull from w it hin me, t o t ap int o an abilit y I had no real underst anding of. Frust rat ed aft er hours of me not being able t o produce even a spark of t he deadly light , Blake looked like he w ant ed t o run his head int o a w all. “It ’s not t hat hard, Kat y. Y ou have it in you.” My foot t apped t he floor. “I’m t rying.” Blake sat on t he arm of t he recliner, rubbing his brow . “Y ou can move t hings easily now . T his shouldn’t be t hat much harder.” He w as doing w onders for my self-confidence. “Look at it t his w ay. Every cell in your body is encased in light . Pict ure in your mind pulling all t hose cells t oget her and feel t he light . It ’s w arm. It should vibrat e and hum. It ’s like light ning in your veins. T hink of somet hing t hat feels t hat w ay.” I yaw ned. “I’ve t ried—” He shot off t he chair, moving fast er t han I’d ever seen him. Grabbing my w rist unt ill his t humb and forefinger met , he st ared int o my w ide eyes. “Y ou’re not t rying hard enough, Kat y. If you can’t manipulat e light , t hen…” “T hen w hat ?” I demanded. Blake drew in a deep breat h. “It ’s just t hat …if you can’t cont roll t he st rongest part of you, t here’s a chance you’ll never really be under cont rol. And you’ll never be able t o defend yourself.” I w ondered if it had been t his hard for Bet hany. “I’m t rying. I promise.” He let go of my w rist and ran a hand t hrough his spiky hair. T hen he smiled. “I have an idea.” “Oh, no.” I shook my head. “I don’t like your ideas at all.” He cast a grin over his shoulder as he pulled his keys out of his pocket . “Y ou said you’d t rust me, right ?” “Y eah, but t hat ’s before you t hrew a knife at my chest and caught my fingers on fire.” Blake laughed, and I scow led. None of t hat w as funny. “I’m not doing anyt hing like t hat . I t hink w e just need t o get out of here. Go grab somet hing t o eat .”

W ary, I shuffled from one foot t o t he next . “Really? T hat …doesn’t sound like a bad idea.” “Y eah, w hy don’t you grab a jacket and w e’ll get some food.” Lat ely, I w as alw ays hungry, so t he prospect of greasy food sealed t he deal. Grabbing my chunky sw eat er, I slipped it on and follow ed Blake out t o his t ruck. It w asn’t as huge as t he ones t he guys drove around here, but it w as nice and brand spanking new . “W hat are you in t he mood for?” He clapped his hands t oget her, w arming t hem up as t he engine roared t o life. “Anyt hing t hat w ill cause me t o gain t en pounds.” I buckled myself in. Blake laughed. “I know just t he place.” Pressing against t he seat , I decided t o ask t he quest ion t hat had been plaguing me since Daemon and I t alked t o Mat t hew . “W hat happened t o t he Luxen w ho healed you?” His hand clenched t he st eering w heel unt ill his knuckles bleached. “I…I don’t know . And not know ing kills me, Kat y. I’d do anyt hing t o find out .” I st ared at him as sadness crept int o me. Since Blake w as here, his friend had t o be alive. Most likely t he DOD had him. I st art ed t o say somet hing about it but st opped. Lat ely, I’d st art ed t o feel more and more w eird around Blake. I couldn’t put my finger on it , and maybe it w as just a mat t er of Daemon repeat ing it every chance he got , but I didn’t t rust Blake as much anymore. “W hy do you ask?” He glanced at me, face draw n t ight . I shrugged. “I w as just curious. I’m sorry about w hat happened.” He nodded, and neit her of us said anyt hing for a w hile. It w asn’t unt ill w e passed t he exit for Moorefield t hat I st art ed t o get nervous. “Is it safe for us t o go t his far? T he Rocks only have a fift y-mile radius, right ?” “T hat ’s just a guesst imat e. W e’ll be fine.” I nodded, unable t o shake t he sudden dread curling around my insides. Each mile fart her Blake t ook me from home, I st art ed t o get ant sy. T he Arum w ere obviously around, could even know w ho w e w ere, since it looked like t hey might be in cahoot s w it h t he DOD. T his w as reckless, even st upid. Running my hands over my jeans, I st ared out t he w indow as Blake hummed along t o a rock song. I reached int o my purse and pulled out my cell. If w e w ere really w it hin t he shelt er of t he bet a quart z, Blake should be cool w it h me let t ing Daemon know .

“You’re not one of t hose girls w ho has t o t ell her boyfriend every move she makes, are you, Kat y?” Blake nodded at my phone and smiled, but t he humor never reached his eyes. “Besides, w e’re here anyw ay.” I w asn’t one of t hose girls, but … He pulled int o t he parking lot of a lit t le joint t hat boast ed t he best w ings in West Virginia. Christ mas light s decorat ed t heir pit ch-black w indow s. T here w as a giant mount aineer st at ue guarding t he ent rance. It all looked incredibly normal. I silent ly blamed Daemon for making me doubt Blake, shoved my phone back in my purse, and headed int o t he rest aurant . Dinner w as oddly st rained. Not hing like t he first t w o t imes Blake and I had gone out . Trying t o get him t o even t alk about surfing w as like squeezing glass—painful and point less. I t alked about how much I missed blogging and reading w hile he t ext ed aw ay on his phone. Or played a game—I couldn’t be sure. Once I t hought I heard a pig oink. Event ually I st opped t alking and focused on ripping t he skin off my w ings. It w as past six, and w e’d been sit t ing at t he lit t le t able, going on our t hird soda refill, w hen I couldn’t deal w it h t his anymore. “Are you ready?” “Just a few more minut es.” T his w as t he second set of “Just a few more minut es.” I sat back, blow ing out a long breat h, and st art ed count ing t he red squares on some dude’s flannel jacket . I’d already memorized t he Christ mas song t hey’d been playing over and over. I glanced at Blake. “I’m really ready t o go home.” Annoyance flared in his hazel eyes, t urning t he flecks of brow n dark. “I t hought you’d enjoy get t ing out and just chilling.” “I am, but w e’re sit t ing here, not even t alking t o each ot her, w hile you play some pig-poking game on your phone. Seriously not a fun t ime for me.” He propped his elbow s on t he t able and rest ed his chin in his hands. “W hat do you w ant t o t alk about , Kat y?” My irrit at ion rose at his t one. “I’ve been t rying t o t alk t o you about all kinds of t opics for over an hour.” “So, doing anyt hing for Christ mas?” he asked. T aking a deep breat h, I reined in my t emper. “Y eah, Mom is act ually off for once. W e’re doing somet hing w it h W ill.”

“T he doct or? Sounds like t hey’re get t ing pret t y serious.” “T hey are.” I pulled my sw eat er closer, shivering as t he door opened. “I’m pret t y sure t hat ’s t he only reason w hy—” Blake’s phone dinged, and he immediat ely checked it out . Annoyed, I clamped my mout h shut and st ared at t he empt y t able behind him. “You ready?” he asked. T hank freaking God. I grabbed my purse and st ood, w alking out w it hout w ait ing for him t o pick up t he check. My boot s crunched over t he packed snow and ice. As soon as November had rolled around, all it did w as snow an inch or t w o every few days. It w as like one giant prelude t o a blizzard. Blake joined me a couple minut es lat er, frow ning. “W ay t o w ait .” I rolled my eyes but said not hing as I climbed int o his t ruck. We headed back ont o t he road in silence. Arms folded t ight ly across my chest , I felt like a pissy girlfriend, w hich w as so w rong. W e w eren’t like t hat , but it w as as if w e’d just had t he dat e from hell. And t o make everyt hing w orse, he w as driving at t he speed of Grandma. My leg bounced w it h annoyance and impat ience. I just w ant ed t o go home. T here w ould be no t raining t onight . I w as going t o pick up an effin’ book, and I w as going t o read for fun. T hen I w ould blog. I w ould forget about Blake and t his st upid, crapt ast ic alien pow er. My gaze dropped t o my boot . T here w as somet hing on t he floor, hard and slender under t he t hin soles of my boot . Moving my foot t o t he side, t he passing highw ay light s reflect ed off somet hing gold and shiny. Curious, I st art ed t o bend dow n. T he obsidian flared under my sw eat er w it hout any w arning at t he same moment Blake sw erved t he t ruck off t he road and int o a dit ch. Sw inging t ow ard him, my heart raced as t he heat from t he obsidian seared my skin. “T here’s an Arum nearby.” “I know .” He killed t he engine, jaw t ight . “Get out of t he t ruck, Kat y.” “W hat ?” I shrieked. “Get out of t he t ruck!” He reached over, unhooking my seat belt . “W e’re t raining.” Realizat ion set in, hard and fright ening. I let out a shaky breat h as t he obsidian cont inued t o increase in heat . “You brought me out of t he safet y of t he bet a quart z on purpose!” “If your st rongest abilit ies are at t ached t o your emot ions, t hen w e need t o find out how t o t ap int o t hem w hen you’re feeling all emot ional t o see w hat you can do, t hen pract ice w it h less excit ement . Like w e did w it h t he knife and t hen pillow s.” He st ret ched over fart her and opened my car door.

“Arum can sense us bet t er t han t hey can t he Luxen. It ’s t he DNA t hing. Luxen have a built in cloaking in t heir DNA. W e don’t .” My chest rose and fell quickly. “Y ou never t old me t hat before.” “Y ou w ere safe w it hin t he bet a quart z. It w asn’t an issue.” I st ared at him, horrified. W hat if I had left w it h my mom t o go shopping out of t he radius w it hout know ing t his? We w ould’ve been at t acked. Did Blake even care about my safet y? “Now get out ,” he said. Obviously not . “No! No w ay am I going out t here w it h an Arum! Y ou’re a crazy—” “Y ou’re going t o be okay.” He sounded as if he w ere t elling me t o give a speech in front of a class and not face a murderous alien. “I’m not going t o let anyt hing happen t o you.” T hen he got out of t he car, disappearing int o t he t hick t ree line and leaving me alone in t he t ruck. Too st unned t o move, I st ared at t he encroaching darkness. I couldn’t believe he’d done t his. If I survived t onight , I w as going t o kill Blake. An inky shadow glided over t he road and follow ed t he t rail Blake has w alked int o t he w oods. A burst of light exploded, filling up t he sky, but w as quickly snuffed out as I heard Blake’s pained scream. Scrambling out of t he t ruck, I slammed t he door shut and squint ed int o t he darkness. “Blake?” Aft er several moment s of no answ er, panic claw ed up my t hroat . “Blake!” I st opped at t he edge of t he w oods, w ary t o ent er t hem. Clut ching my sw eat er close, I shivered as an unnat ural silence set t led around me. Screw t his. T urning around, I headed back t o t he t ruck. I’d call my mom. I’d even call Daemon. T here w as no— A shadow pooled in front of t he passenger door before I could t ake anot her st ep. Dark and oily, it built ont o it self unt ill an out line of a man blocked my pat h. “Crap,” I w hispered. It t ook t he form of a human male, a st art ling resemblance t o t he one w e’d seen out side of Vaughn’s house. “hello, lit t le one. Aren’t you somet hing...special?” Spinning around, my sw eat er flapped like w ings behind me as I t ook off. I ran fast —fast er t han I’d ever run before. So fast t hat t he lit t le flakes of snow t he bit ing w ind pelt ed against my cheeks felt like t iny pebbles. I w asn’t even sure my feet w ere t ouching t he ground. But no mat t er how fast I ran, t he Arum w as fast er.

A dark, murky shade appeared beside me and t hen in front of me. Sliding across snow and ice, I grabbed for my obsidian. Ready t o shove t he point int o w hat ever part my hand landed on. Ant icipat ing t he move, an arm t ook form and sw ung out . It caught me in t he st omach. Up in t he air I w ent , landing on my side. Jarring pain shot t hrough my bones. I rolled ont o my back, blinking snow from my lashes. Now I knew w hy Daemon w as so adamant against me running out and fight ing t he Arum. I’d just got my ass kicked and t he fight hadn’t even st art ed. A dark, insidious shadow crept int o my vision. Out of human form, w hen he spoke his voice w as a menacing murmur among my ow n t hought s. Y ou’re not a Luxen, but you’re sssomething unique. W hat pow ersss do you have? Pow ers? T he pow ers Daemon had given me w hen he mut at ed me. T he Arum w ould t ake t hem by killing me. But I’d killed an Arum before by t apping int o Daemon and Dee. Blake believed t hat abilit y—t hat Source—st ill exist ed in me. It had t o, and if it didn’t , I w ould die. And I w ant ed t o be able t o defend myself. Not lay here. Not w ait on someone t o save me. W hat had Blake said t o pict ure? Light ning in t he veins and cells surrounded in light ? T he Arum leaned over me; t he t endrils of black smoke w ere t hick and colder t han t he hard ground. A smoky, t ransparent smile appeared. Easssier than I thought. I squeezed my eyes shut and pict ured every w eird cell I’d ever seen in bio class surrounded by light , and I t hought about t hat one moment —t hat first t ime I’d ever felt light ning in my veins. I held ont o t he image as t he first brush of t he Arum’s cold fingers sw ept over my cheek. I lat ched ont o t he sw amping, red-hot lava coursing t hrough my veins. It st art ed w it h a crackle—a small light burned behind my eyelids. A st range feeling spread dow n my arm, scalding hot . T he light behind my eyes w as red-w hit e; t he source of t he pow er w as ut t erly dest ruct ive, shat t ering in it s complexit y. I could feel it burning t hrough my veins, w hispering a hundred promises. It called t o me, w elcomed me home. It had been w ait ing, w ondering w hen I w ould heed it s call. W ind w hipped t he snow out from underneat h me as I rose. W hen I opened my eyes, t he Arum w as gliding back, shift ing bet w een human and Arum. I w as on my feet now , barely breat hing. I could feel it , and it w as excit ing and t errifying. Every nerve in my body came alive and t ingled in ant icipat ion. It w ant ed t o be used, t his pow er. It seemed like t he most nat ural of all t hings. My fingers curved inw ard. T he w orld around me w as lit in red and w hit e.

Destroy. T he Arum shift ed back int o it s t rue form, spreading out and endless like t he night sky. T here w as a snapping sound coming from inside me, and t he Source rushed from my fingert ips, slamming int o t he Arum at an alarming speed. He spun int o t he air, but t he Source follow ed him. Or I made it follow him. But he w as shift ing forms so quickly it w as dizzying. He froze and t hen shat t ered int o a million t hin shreds of glassy shadow s. T he obsidian cooled against my skin. “Perfect ,” Blake said, clapping his hands t oget her. “T hat w as freaking unbelievable. Y ou killed an Arum w it h one shot !” Waves of elect ricit y ret urned t o me, and t he red-w hit e haze faded aw ay. W hen t he Source left , so did most of my energy. I t urned t o Blake, feeling somet hing else replace t he void t he Source had left behind. “Y ou…you left me alone w it h an Arum.” “Y eah, but look at w hat you did.” He st rode forw ard, grinning at me like I w as t he prized pupil. “Y ou killed an Arum, Kat y. Y ou did it all by yourself.” I t ook a breat h and it hurt . Everyt hing hurt . “W hat if I hadn’t been able t o kill t he Arum?” Confusion marked his expression. “But you did.” I st epped back, w inced, and realized my pant s w ere soaked and clinging t o my chilled, chafed skin. “W hat if I couldn’t do it ?” Blake shook his head. “T hen...” “T hen I w ould’ve died.” My hand shook as I placed it on my hip. My ent ire backside t hrobbed from t he fall. “Do you even care?” “Of course I do!” He moved forw ard, placing his hand on my shoulder. I yelped as sparks of pain shot st raight dow n my arm. “Don’t …don’t t ouch me.” In a flash, t he confusion w as gone and replaced by anger. “Y ou’re overreact ing w hen you should be celebrat ing. Y ou did somet hing…amazing. Don’t you underst and t hat ? No one kills an Arum in one blast .” “I don’t care.” I st art ed limping back t ow ard t he car. “I w ant t o go home.” “Kat y! Don’t act like t his. Everyt hing’s fine. Y ou did—” “Just t ake me home!” I screamed, close t o t ears, close t o complet ely shut t ing dow n. Because t here w as somet hing w rong w it h him. “I just w ant t o go home.”

Chapter 25
Running lat e t o t rig on t he last day of classes before break, I eased int o my seat and w inced. T here w as a good chance t hat I’d broken my but t last night . Sit t ing w as ext remely painful. Lesa raised a brow as she w at ched me st ruggle t o get comfort able. “Are you okay?” Daemon asked, causing me t o jump a lit t le. “Y eah,” I breat hed out as I carefully t urned halfw ay, surprised t hat he hadn’t poked me. “Just slept w rong.” His eyes w ere sharp. “Did you sleep on t he floor or somet hing?” I laughed dryly. “Feels like it .” Daemon st opped me from t urning around. “Kat …” “W hat ?” Unease crept t hrough me. W hen he looked at me like t hat I felt exposed t o t he core. “Never mind.” He sat back, eyes narrow ed as he folded his arms. “Y ou st ill on for t onight ?” Bit ing my lip, I nodded and made a ment all not e t o pick up some energy drinks on t he w ay home. W hen I’d got t en back last night , I brut alized Mom’s secret chocolat e st ash. It did not hing t o help replenish my energy. Easing back around, I grit t ed my t eet h and ignored t he flare of pain. It could be w orse. I could be dead right now . Sit t ing in t he seat during class sucked t o t he nt h degree. My body ached from hit t ing t he cold, hard ground last night . T he only reprieve I had w as t hat Blake w asn’t in bio, and I w asn’t sure how t o feel about t hat . I’d lain aw ake last night , replaying everyt hing t hat had happened. Would Blake have let me get seriously hurt or die if I hadn’t been able t o use t he Source t o t ake out t he Arum? I didn’t have an answ er, and t hat t roubled me. W alking out of bio, Mat t hew called out t o me. He w ait ed unt ill t he class w as empt y before speaking. “How are you feeling, Kat y?” “Good,” I said, surprised. “Y ou?” Mat t hew smiled t ight ly as he leaned against t he corner of his desk. “You looked like you w ere in pain during class. Hopefully my lect ure w asn’t t hat bad.” I flushed. “No, it ’s not your lect ure. I slept w rong last night . Now I’m all achy.” He looked aw ay. “I don’t w ant t o keep you, but how is…” Now I underst ood w hy he’d really st opped me. I glanced at t he open door. “Daemon’s okay. I mean, he’s as okay as he can be, I guess.” Mat t hew closed his eyes briefly. “T hat boy is like a son t o me—bot h he and Dee are. I don’t w ant t o see him doing anyt hing crazy.”

“He w on’t ,” I t old him, w ant ing t o reassure t he man. And I also didn’t w ant Mat t hew know ing t hat Daemon w as st alking Vaughn. Doubt ed t hat w ould go over w ell. “I hope so.” Mat t hew looked at me, eyes bloodshot . “Some t hings are best left …unknow n, you know ? People search for answ ers and t hey don’t alw ays like w hat t hey get . Somet imes t he t rut h is w orse t han t he lie.” He t urned back t o his desk, messing w it h a st ack of papers. “I hope you sleep bet t er, Kat y.” Realizing I’d been dismissed, I left t he class w eirded out t o t he max. Was Mat t hew drinking w hile at w ork? Because t hat w as t he st rangest conversat ion I’d ever had w it h him. And it w as t he longest conversat ion alone w it h him. At lunch, I joined my friends and t ried t o forget about last night . Wat ching Dee and Adam make out w as a good dist ract ion. During t he rare moment s her mout h w asn’t at t ached t o his, she t alked about t his w eekend and Christ mas. W henever she looked at me, t hough, t here w as a sadness in her eyes. A gulf had developed bet w een us, and I missed her. I missed my friends so much. W hen classes w ere over, I headed t o my locker t o grab my English book, since t here w as a paper due once school st art ed back up. Just as I shoved it int o my backpack, I heard my name. I looked up, t ensing w hen I saw Blake. “Hey…you w eren’t in bio.” “I came in lat e t oday,” he said, leaning against t he locker beside me. “I’m not going t o be able t o do any pract ice t onight or during Christ mas break. I’m visit ing some family w it h my uncle.” Sw eet relief flooded my syst em, leaving me dizzy. Aft er last night , I w asn’t sure I w ant ed t o cont inue t raining w it h Blake, despit e my need t o be able t o defend myself. Now just w asn’t t he t ime t o t alk about any of t hat . “T hat ’s okay. I hope you have fun.” T here w as a dist ant , closed-off look in his eyes as he nodded. I cleared my t hroat . “W ell, I’m going t o get going. See you w hen—” “W ait .” He st epped closer. “I w ant ed t o t alk t o you about last night .” I closed my locker door w hen I w ant ed t o slam it shut . “W hat about it ?” “I know you’re pissed.” “Yeah, I am.” I faced him. Could he really not underst and w hy I w as mad? “You risked my life last night . W hat if I didn’t use t he Source? I’d be dead now .” “I w ouldn’t have let him hurt you.” Sincerit y filled his w ords and eyes. “Y ou w ere safe.” “T he bruises up and dow n t he side of my body are t elling me I got hurt .”

He blew out an exasperat ed breat h. “I st ill don’t get w hy you’re not happier about t his. T he pow er you show ed—it ’s amazing.” I shift ed t he bag off my bruised backside. “Look, can w e t alk about t raining w hen you get back?” He looked like he w ant ed t o argue, because t hose green flecks in his eyes deepened and churned, but he t urned his cheek and let out a harsh breat h. I w ant ed t o be out of t his school, t o be home in my bed, and t o be aw ay from him. Aw ay from t his boy I’d once believed w as normal, once believed w ant ed t o help me because w e w ere alike, and now I w asn’t sure if he really cared if I survived any of his t raining t echniques at all. … Changing into a pair of loose sweats and a thermal when I got home, the first thing I did after that was take a nap, and I slept most of the evening aw ay. Mom w as gone w hen I got up, and I scrounged t oget her a sandw ich and t hen gat hered all t he books I’d got t en in t he last mont h. I st acked t hem beside my lapt op and w as in t he process of get t ing my w ebcam t o not zoom up my nose w hen I felt t he familiar t ingles like a w arm breat h on t he back of my neck. I glanced at t he clock. It w asn’t even t en o’clock yet . Sighing, I got up and w ent t o t he front door, opening it before Daemon could knock. He st ood t here, his hand raised in midair. “I’m really beginning t o dislike t he fact t hat you know w hen I’m coming,” he said, frow ning. “I t hought you loved it . It enables you t o be such a great st alker.” “I’ve already t old you. I don’t st alk you.” He follow ed me int o t he living room. “I use it t o keep an eye on you.” “T here’s a difference?” I sat on t he couch. Daemon sat right beside me, his t high pressing against mine. “T here is a difference.” “Somet imes your logic scares me.” I w ished I’d changed int o somet hing else. He w as just in jeans and a sw eat er, but he looked good. And my t hermal had lit t le st raw berries on it . Embarrassing. “So w hat are you doing over here so early?” Leaning back against t he cushions, he w as even closer t han before, smelling of a crisp aut umn morning. W hy, oh w hy, did he have t o alw ays get so close? “Bill didn’t come by t onight ?” I t ucked my hair back behind my ear, ignoring t he mad rush of t he desire t o climb int o his arms. “No. He had somet hing t o do w it h family.” His eyes narrow ed on t he lapt op. “W hat are you doing? Making anot her one of t hose videos?” “I w as planning t o. I haven’t done one in a w hile, but t hen you show ed up. Plan ruined.” He grinned. “Y ou st ill can film one. I promise I’ll behave.” “Y eah, not going t o happen.”

“W hy not ?” He raised his hand, and t he book on t he t op of t he pile shot t ow ard him. “Hey, I have an idea. I could pret end t o be him.” “W hat ?” I frow ned as he show ed me t he blond guy on t he cover. “W ait . Y ou don’t mean— ” Daemon shimmered out , and in his place w as t he exact replica of t he cover model, right dow n t o t he curly lock of blond hair, baby blue eyes, and brooding st are. W ow , such a pret t y boy. “hello t here…” “Oh my God.” I poked his golden cheek. Real. I laughed. “Y ou can’t do t hat . People w ould freak.” “But it w ould definit ely get a lot of at t ent ion.” He w inked. “It w ould be fun.” “But t his cover model”—I t ook t he book from him and w aved it around—“is a real person somew here. He’d probably be curious how he ended up in my In My Mailbox video.” His full lips pout ed. “You do have a point .” T he cover model faded out , and Daemon reappeared. “But don’t let t hat st op you. Go ahead and film. I’ll be like your assist ant .” T rying t o det ermine if he w as being serious or not , I st ared at him. “I don’t know about t his.” “I’ll be complet ely quiet . I’ll just hold books for you.” “I don’t t hink you have t he abilit y t o be complet ely quiet . Ever.” “I promise,” he said, grinning. T his w ould probably end up disast rous, but t he idea of him being in t he video had me all giddy and amused. I adjust ed t he w ebcam so he w as included in t he pict ure and pressed record. Taking a deep breat h, I st art ed t o do my vlog. “Hi, t his is Kat y from Kat y’s Krazy Obsession. Sorry for such a long absence. School and…”—my eyes dart ed t o Daemon for a fract ion of a second—“st uff have got t en in t he w ay, but anyw ay, I have a guest . T his is—” “Daemon Black,” he answ ered for me. “I’m t he guy she lays aw ake at night and fant asizes about .” My cheeks flushed as I elbow ed him back. “And t hat is so not t he t rut h. He’s my neighbor—” “And t he guy she’s complet ely obsessed w it h.” I forced a w eak smile. “He’s very egot ist ical and likes t o hear his voice, but he’s promised t o st ay quiet . Right ?” He nodded and smiled angelically for t he camera, but his eyes st irred w it h amusement . Yep, t his w as a bad idea. “I t hink reading is sexy.” Daemon smiled at himself. My brow s inched up my forehead. “Do you now ?”

“Oh, yes, and you know w hat else I t hink is sexy?” He leaned forw ard so his ent ire face filled t he pict ure and nodded his head t ow ard me. “Bloggers like t his. Hot .” Rolling my eyes, I smacked his arm. “Get back,” I w hispered. Daemon sat back and t ried t o st ay quiet for t he next five minut es. He handed me each book, unable t o refrain from making a comment and t aking my w hole recording host age. Like, “T his guy looks st upid,” or “W hat ’s t he obsession w it h fall en angels?” And my favorit e w as w hen he held t he book in front of my face and said, “T his reaper dude sounds like my kind of guy. He gets to kill people for a living.” At t he end of t he recording, I couldn’t even hide t he st upid grin plast ered on my face. “And t hat ’s it for t oday. T hanks for w at ching!” Daemon pract ically knocked me over t o get in one last comment . “Don’t forget . T here are cooler t hings out t here t han fall en angels and dead guys. Just saying.” He w inked. I pict ured an ent ire legion of females sw ooning. Pushing him aside, I w inced and clicked t he off but t on on t he w ebcam page. “You like seeing yourself being recorded.” He shrugged. “T hat w as fun. W hen do you do anot her?” “Next w eek if I get more books.” “More books.” His eyes w ent w ide. “Y ou have, like, t en books you just said you haven’t read.” “Doesn’t mean I w on’t get more books.” I smiled at his incredulous expression. “I haven’t been able t o read a lot lat ely, but I w ill, and t hen I w on’t be out of anyt hing new t o read.” “You haven’t had t ime because of him and t hat ’s ridiculous.” He looked aw ay, jaw w orking. “Reading is somet hing you love. So is blogging, and you’ve complet ely dumped t hose t hings.” “I have not !” “Y ou’re such a lit t le liar,” he shot back. “I’ve checked out your blog. Y ou’ve done five post s in t he last mont h.” My jaw hit t he floor. “Y ou’ve been st alking my blog, t oo?” “Like I said before, I’m not st alking. I’m just keeping an eye on you.” “And like I said before, your reasoning is fault y.” I bent forw ard, closing my lapt op. “You know w hat I’ve been doing. It pret t y much soaks up my t ime—” “W hat t he hell?” he exploded, grabbing t he back of my t hermal and t ugging it up. “Hey.” I t w ist ed around, ignoring t he fresh spike of pain. “W hat are you doing? Hands off, mofo.” He looked up, eyes glow ing w it h a hint of desperat ion and vengeance. “T ell me w hy

your back looks like you fell out of a t w o-st ory w indow .” Oh, crap. Standing, I headed tow ard the kitchen to get some space. Daemon w as right behind me as I grabbed a Coke out of the fridge. “I…I fell in t raining w it h Blake. It ’s not a big deal, t hough.” Sounded believable, and t he t rut h w ould send him int o a murderous rage t hat right now no one w ant ed. And Daemon didn’t need somet hing else t o st ress over. “I t old you I slept w rong, because I figured you’d make fun of me.” “Y eah, I w ould’ve made fun of you…a lit t le bit , but Jesus, Kat , you sure you didn’t break somet hing?” Not really. “I’m fine.” Concern et ched int o t he lines of his face as he follow ed me around t he t able, eyes unflinching. “Y ou’ve been hurt ing yourself a lot lat ely.” “Not really.” “You’re not clumsy, Kit t en. So how does t his keep happening?” He advanced forw ard, moving like a predat or about t o pounce. Suddenly I w asn’t sure w hat w as w orse: him moving at t he speed of light or w it h slow , calculat ed st eps t hat sent a shiver dow n my spine. “I t ripped in t he w oods t he night I first found out about you,” I reminded him. “Nice t ry.” He shook his head. “You w ere running full-out in t he middle of pit ch-black w oods. Even I’d…” He w inked. “Well, maybe not me, but normal people w ould trip then. I’m just too aw esome.” “W ell …” God he w as full of himself. “It looks like it hurt s.” “It does a lit t le.” “T hen let me fix it .” He reached out , fingers blurring. “W ait .” I backed up. “Should you be doing t hat ?” “Healing you can’t hurt . Not at t his point .” He t ried t o t ouch me again, but I knocked his hand aw ay. “I’m just t rying t o help!” I’d cornered myself. “I don’t need you t o help me.” T he muscle in his jaw st art ed w orking as he t urned his head. It appeared as if he’d given up, but t hen his arm w ent around my hips and a second lat er he w as sit t ing on t he couch in t he living room, and I w as in his lap. St unned, I st ared at him. “T hat ’s not fair!” “I w ouldn’t have had t o do it if you w ould just st op being so freaking st ubborn and let me help you.” Daemon held me st ill, ignoring my prot est s as he slipped his hand under my t

hermal, flat t ing it against my low er back. I jerked at t he zing his t ouch produced. “I can make you feel bet t er. It ’s ridiculous t hat you w on’t let me.” “We have st uff t o do, people t o st alk, Daemon. Just let me up.” I w iggled, t rying t o get free, and groaned in pain. I don’t know w hy I didn’t w ant him t o heal me; w e’d already proven I didn’t develop a t race from being near him anymore. But he already had t oo many people count ing on him. “No,” he said. Heat flared against my back, pleasant and heady, t hreat ening t o consume me w hole. His lips t urned up at one corner w hen he heard my soft int ake of breat h. “I can’t be around you w hen I know you’re in pain, okay?” My mout h opened, but I didn’t say anyt hing. Daemon looked aw ay, focusing on a blank spot on t he w all. “Does it really bot her you, me hurt ing?” I asked. “I don’t feel it , if t hat ’s w hat you’re asking.” He paused, exhaling soft ly. “Just know ing you’re hurt is enough for it t o bot her me.” I low ered my gaze and st opped st ruggling. Only one hand w as on me, but I could feel it in every cell. W hen Blake had said t o t hink of somet hing t hat felt like light ning heat , I’d t hought of Daemon’s t ouch—t he w ay he kissed. T hat w as w hat I felt w hen I t apped int o t he Source and dest royed t he Arum. T he w hole healing t hing had a lulling effect . It w as like lying out in t he sun or snuggling under cozy blanket s. Lack of sleep and his t ouch lapped at me in st eady, comfort ing w aves. Relaxing in his loose embrace, I placed my head on his shoulder and closed my eyes. His t ouch—t he healing w armt h sunk deep int o my skin, t hrough bruised muscle and bone. Aft er some t ime, I realized not hing ached, but he w as st ill holding me. T hen Daemon st ood, cradling me in his arms. I st irred. “W hat are you doing?” “T aking you t o bed.” My body flushed at t hose w ords. “I can w alk.” “I can get you t here fast er.” And he did. One second w e w ere in t he living room, surrounded by t he t w inkling light s on t he Christ mas t ree, and t hen t he next w e w ere in my bedroom. “See?” I w as half t ransfixed by him as he placed me on t he bed, moving t he covers back w it hout t ouching t hem. Such a handy abilit y w hen t he hands w ere full. Daemon t ugged t he comfort er up, hesit at ing as he st ared dow n at me. “Do you feel bet t er?” “Yeah,” I w hispered, unable t o look aw ay. W it h him st anding over me, his eyes such a st ark cont rast w it h t he darkness, he looked like somet hing st raight out of my dreams…or t he books I read.

His t hroat w orked slow ly. “Can I…?” T here w as a pause and my heart st ut t ered. “Can I just hold you? T hat ’s all …t hat ’s all I w ant .” A knot formed in my t hroat and my chest t ight ened, cut t ing off my voice. I didn’t w ant him t o leave, so I nodded. Relief flickered across his st oic face, soft ening t he hard lines, and t hen he w alked around t o his side, kicked off his shoes, and slid int o bed beside me. He moved closer, ext ending an arm, and I w ent , curling against his body, my head nest led in t he space bet w een his shoulder and chest . “I kind of like being your body pillow ,” he admit t ed, a smile in his voice. “Even if you drool on me.” “I do not drool.” I smiled, placing my hand over his heart . “W hat about t ailing Vaughn?” “T hat can w ait unt ill t omorrow .” He t ilt ed his head t o t he side, his lips moving against my hair as he spoke. “Get some rest , Kit t en. I’ll be gone before morning.” Under my hand, t he st eady beat of his heart mat ched my ow n, slight ly accelerat ed. Was it t he healing or just being t his close? I didn’t know . But before I knew it , I’d drift ed int o t he deepest , calmest sleep I’d had in w eeks.

Chapter 26
T he irat e sound of “KAT Y ANN SW ART Z!” being yelled, follow ed by a husky male laugh w as w hat roused me from t he sat isfying haze of deep sleep. My eyes flut t ered open, and I t ried t o remember t he last t ime Mom had used my full name. Oh yeah, it had been years ago, w hen I’d t ried t o pet a baby opossum t hat had got t en on our balcony somehow . Mom st ood in my bedroom doorw ay, dressed in her robe, her mout h hanging open. W ill st ood behind her, one a st range, sat isfied smile on his face. “W hat ?” I mumbled. My hard pillow moved. Glancing dow n, I felt my cheeks burn hot . Daemon w as st ill in my bed. And I w as half lying on him. One of his hands w as w rapped around mine, pinning it against his chest . OhmyGodno… Mort ified on an epic level, I pulled my hand free. “T his isn’t w hat it looks like.” “It ’s not ?” Mom folded her arms. “T hey’re just kids,” W ill said, grinning. “At least t hey’re fully clot hed.” “Not helping,” she shot back.

I st art ed t o sit up, but Daemon’s arm t ight ened around my w aist as he rolled int o me, nuzzling my neck. Want ing t o die a t housand deat hs, I pushed at him. He didn’t budge. His eyes opened int o t hin slit s. “Mmm, w hat ’s your problem?” I st ared meaningfully at t he doorw ay. Frow ning, he t urned his head and froze. “Oh, w ow , aw kw ard.” He cleared his t hroat as he removed his arm from my w aist . “Good morning, Ms. Sw art z.” Mom smiled t ight ly. “Good morning, Daemon. I t hink it ’s t ime for you t o go home.” Daemon left as fast as humanly possible aft er t hat . Mom w ent dow nst airs w it hout saying a w ord. Know ing I w as in t rouble, I passed W ill in t he hall w ay. He w as barefoot . Apparent ly, I w asn’t t he only female in t he house t o have had a guy in my bed. I found her shoving t he coffee pot int o t he maker. “Mom, it ’s not w hat you t hink. I promise.” She t urned around, plant ing her hands on her hips. “Y ou had a boy in your bedroom, in your bed. W hat am I supposed t o t hink?” “Looks like you had a sleepover, t oo.” I fixed t he pot so it w asn’t half out of t he maker. “I’m t he adult here. I can have w homever I w ant in my bed, young lady.” W ill laughed form t he doorw ay. “I have t o disagree w it h t hat . I’m hoping I’m t he only one in your bed.” “Ew ,” I groaned, going t o t he fridge t o get juice. Mom’s eyes narrow ed on her boyfriend. “Is t his w hat you’re doing w hen I’m w orking night s, Kat y?” I sighed. “No, Mom, I sw ear it ’s not . W e w ere…st udying, and w e fell asleep.” “You w ere st udying in your bedroom?” She smoot hed some of t he mussed hair back from her face. “I’ve never had t o set rules w it h you before, but I see t here need t o be some est ablished.” “Mom,” I groaned, glancing at W ill. “Come on…” “T here w ill be no boys in your bedroom. Ever.” She pulled t he creamer out . “T here w ill be no boys st aying t he night in any part of t his house.” Sit t ing dow n, I sipped my OJ. “Can you st op referring t o boys in t he plural? Geez.” She poured herself a cup of coffee. “Blake is here all t he t ime. And t hen t here is Daemon. So, yes, it ’s boys in t he plural sense.” I brist led. “Neit her of t hem is my boyfriend.” “Is t hat supposed t o make me feel bet t er about one of t hem being in your bed?” She t ook a drink of her coffee and t hen scrunched up her nose in dist ast e. “Honey, I’ve never had t o w orry about you doing anyt hing st upid.”

I st ood and handed her t he sugar she forgot . “I’m not doing anyt hing st upid. Not hing is happening w it h eit her of t hem. W e’re just friends.” She ignored t he last st at ement . “I can’t be here a lot , and I have t o t rust you. Please t ell me t hat you’re being…safe.” “Oh my God, Mom, I’m not having sex.” Her look t old me she w asn’t ent irely convinced. “Just make sure you’ll be careful. Y ou don’t w ant t o be a young mot her.” “Oh, dear God,” I w hispered, hiding my face behind my hands. “And I am concerned,” she cont inued. “First it w as Daemon, t hen you seemed t o have st art ed seeing Blake, but now …” “I’m not seeing eit her of t hem,” I said for w hat felt like t he hundredt h t ime. “Y ou t w o did look very close.” W ill propped a hip against t he sink, w at ching us. “Y ou and Daemon.” “T his really isn’t any of your business,” I said, angry t hat he w as here for such a privat e and excruciat ingly embarrassing conversat ion. “Kat y,” Mom snapped. W ill laughed it off. “No. It ’s okay, Kell. She’s right . T his isn’t my business. But t here does seem t o be some hist ory bet w een you t w o.” For a moment , his smile reminded me of someone. Fake. Plast ic. Nancy Husher. I shuddered. God, I w as paranoid. “W e’re just friends.” “Friends w ho hold hands w hile sleeping?” I glanced at my mom, but she w as busy st udying t he inside of her chipped cup. Feeling overly exposed, I folded my arms around me. “I’m sorry, Mom, for upset t ing you. It w on’t happen again.” “I hope not .” She w ashed out her coffee cup, w earing a slight frow n. “T he last t hing I w ant right now is a grandchild.” Done w it h t his conversat ion, I squeezed past W ill and w ent int o t he living room. Gah, my mom t hought I w as making babies. Even I w as dist urbed by t hat t hought . Grabbing my backpack off t he floor, I dragged it t o t he couch. W hen I looked up, I saw Mom and W ill in t he hall w ay. He w as w hispering somet hing t o her, and she laughed soft ly. Before I could look aw ay, he kissed her…but our eyes locked. …

Hours later, Will was still in the house—my house. Not his. Was this how my Saturdays would be when Mom was off? Watching the two of them w orking on crossw ord puzzles in bet w een making out ? I w ant ed t o claw my eyes out . T he w ay he st ared at me made my skin feel like a t housand dirt y roaches w ere craw ling under it . It had t o be my paranoia, but I couldn’t shake t he ugh fact or. I checked my blog real quickly and found t hat I had over t w ent y comment s on my IMM. Curious for t he sudden comment love, I scrolled t hrough t hem. Some of t hem gushed over t he books I had. Ot hers gushed over t he boy w ho’d been sit t ing beside me. Dammit . He’d hijacked my blog. Put t ing in earbuds, I list ened t o some t unes w hile reading my English assignment . Mom appeared somet ime lat er, and I t ugged out t he buds, hoping w e w eren’t going t o have anot her sex conversat ion. Especially w hen I knew W ill w as right in t he kit chen, making himself at home. “Honey, Dee is here t o see you.” T hen she w alked over and flipped my t ext book shut . “And before you say you’re busy or have plans w it h a boy, you need t o get up and go t alk t o her.” I t ook t he last bit e of my cold Pop-T art and frow ned. “Oookay…” She pushed back her side-sw ept bangs. “Y ou can’t spend every w aking second st udying and hanging out w it h Blake or w homever.” Or w homever? Like I had this long list of boys. I sighed as I stood. Before I left the room, I caught her staring at the Christmas tree, and I w ondered w hat she w as t hinking. Dee w as w ait ing out side, a vision in w hit e. It t ook me a few seconds t o realize t he w hit e sw eat er she w ore had blended int o t he background. It w as snow ing heavily, so much so I could barely see t he t ree line a few yards aw ay. “Hey,” I said lamely. She blinked and her eyes immediat ely dart ed from my face. “Hey,” she responded w it h forced ent husiasm. “I hope I’m not bot hering you.” I leaned against t he door. “W ell, I just st art ed my English paper. W ant ed t o kind of get t hat out of t he w ay.” “Oh.” Her pink lips t urned dow n. “W ell, it ’s going t o have t o w ait . W e’re going t o w at ch a movie.” I st epped back. W it h everyt hing t hat w as going on and all t he lies, being around Dee w as hard. “Maybe some ot her t ime, because I’m really busy. How about next w eekend?” I didn’t w ait for an answ er. I st art ed t o shut t he door.

Dee did t he super-speed crap and pushed t he door back open. She looked like an angry lit t le pixie. “T hat w as ext remely rude, Kat y.” I flushed. I couldn’t deny t hat and st ill, it obviously hadn’t driven her aw ay. “I’m sorry. I’m just so sw amped w it h schoolw ork.” “I underst and t hat .” She pushed t he door fart her open. “But you’re going t o t he movies w it h Adam and me.” “Dee—” “You’re not backing out of it .” Her eyes met mine, and I saw t he hurt in t hem. I sw allow ed, looking aw ay. “I know you and Daemon are…w ell, w hat ever’s going on bet w een you t w o, and you’re doing w hat ever w it h Blake and I’ve been spending a lot of t ime w it h Adam, but t hat doesn’t mean w e can’t be friends.” She rocked back on her heels, clasping her hands under her chin. “Just put your shoes on, Kat y, and go t o t he movies w it h me. Please. I miss you. Please.” How could I say no? I t urned slight ly, spying my mom st anding in t he doorw ay t o t he kit chen. T he look on her face pleaded w it h me, t oo. I w as caught bet w een t he t w o, and neit her knew t hat I w as t rying t o st ay aw ay from Dee for her ow n good. “Please,” Dee w hispered. I remembered Daemon t elling me I w as being a shit t y friend. I w asn’t t rying t o be, and Dee didn’t deserve t hat . I nodded. “Let me grab my hoodie and shoes.” She jumped forw ard and gave me a quick, t ight hug. “I’ll be w ait ing right here.” Just in case I t ried t o sneak out of it , I supposed. Passing my mom a look, I grabbed my hoodie off t he back of t he recliner and slipped int o a pair of knee-high, fake-sheepskin boot s. Pocket ing money in my jeans, I headed out int o t he brisk December aft ernoon. Snow covered t he ground, making it slick under my boot s. Dee skipped beside me and t hen t ook off, t hrow ing herself int o Adam’s arms. Giggling, she kissed t he t op of his blond head and t hen w iggled free. I hung back, my hands shoved int o my hoodie. “Hey, Adam.” He looked surprised t o see me. “Hey, you’re act ually coming w it h us?” I nodded. “Aw esome.” He glanced at Dee. “W hat about …?”

Dee dashed around t he front of Adam’s SUV, shoot ing her boyfriend a look. I slid int o t he backseat . “Did you invit e…someone else?” Buckling herself in, she t w ist ed around t o face me. “Ah, yeah, but it ’s cool. Y ou’ll see.” Adam t urned around in t he drivew ay, and I felt t he w armt h t ingling along my neck. Unable t o st op myself, I t w ist ed in t he seat , eager t o see him. Daemon st ood on t he porch, dressed in only jeans, even t hough it w as t oo cold for t hat . A t ow ell w as flung over his shoulder. Impossible, but I’d sw ear our gazes sought t he ot her’s out . I w at ched unt ill t he house disappeared from view , posit ive t hat he’d w ait ed unt ill he could no longer see t he car. … Color me annoyed when I realized who Dee had invited. Ash Thompson was waiting at the movie theater. She gave me her typical bitch look and w alked in ahead of us, somehow managing t o sw ay her hips in skint ight jeans and four-inch heels across t he ice-covered pavement . I w ould’ve broken my neck. Lucky me, I ended up sit t ing bet w een Ash and Dee. I sunk in my seat , ignoring Ash as w e w ait ed for t he light s t o go dow n and t he movie t o st art . “W hose idea w as it t o pick a zombie flick?” Ash demanded, cradling a bucket of popcorn bigger t han her head. “Was it Kat y? T hey kind of share t he same appearance.” “Ha ha,” I mut t ered, eyeing her popcorn. Bet t here w asn’t much bet w een her ears for a zombie t o survive on. On my ot her side, Dee and Adam had cleaned out t he candy count er. She dipped a chocolat e bar in her cheese sauce, and I gagged behind my hand. “T hat is so gross.” “Don’t knock it ,” she said, t aking a huge bit . “It ’s t he best of bot h w orlds. Chocolat e and cheese, w hich is w hy t he let t er C is my favorit e in t he alphabet .” “Y ou know ,” Ash said, w rinkling her nose, “I’m act ually going t o have t o agree w it h living dead girl here. T hat is disgust ing.” I frow ned. “Do I look t hat bad or somet hing?” Ash said, “Y es,” at t he same t ime Dee said, “No.” I folded my arms and kicked my feet ont o t he empt y seat in front of me. “W hat ever,” I mut t ered. “So,” Adam said, draw ing t he w ord out , “t hings going w ell bet w een you and Blake?” Sinking dow n fart her in my seat , I bit back a st ring of curses. “Y eah, t hings are dandy.” Ash snort ed.

“W ell, you’ve been spending a lot of t ime w it h him.” Dee w at ched me as she dipped anot her bar of chocolat e. “T hings must be going great .” “Look, I’m just going t o be honest here.” Ash flicked a but t ery kernel in her mout h. “You had Daemon— Daemon. And I know how good t hat is. T rust me.” A surge of jealousy rose so quickly, I w ant ed t o slam t he popcorn dow n her t hroat . “I’m sure he is.” She snickered. “Anyw ay, I have no idea w hy you’d give him up for Blake. He’s cut e and all, but he can’t be as good as—” “Ew !” Dee’s face scrunched up. “Can w e not t alk about how good he is at anyt hing t hat w ill force me int o t herapy lat er? T hank you.” Ash chuckled as she shook her bucket of popcorn. “I’m just saying—” “I don’t care w hat you’re saying.” I grabbed a handful of her popcorn part ly t o see her eyes narrow . “I don’t w ant t o t alk about Daemon. And Blake and I aren’t dat ing.” “Friends w it h benefit s?” Adam asked. I groaned. How did t oday end up being all about my non-exist ent sex life? “T here are no benefit s at all.” T hey st opped quest ioning me about Daemon and Blake aft er t hat . Halfw ay t hrough t he movie, t he t hree aliens got up and came back w it h more food. I did t ry t he chocolat e dipped in cheese, and it w as as gross as expect ed. And even t hough I w as st uck next t o Ash, I w as having fun. T he t ime I spent w at ching zombie aft er zombie eat various part s of humans, I forgot about everyt hing t hat w as going on. T hings felt normal. I w as smiling, joking w it h Dee as w e left t he movie t heat er. T he sun had already set , and t he parking lot w as aw ash in t he soft glow of st reet lamps and Christ mas light s. W e hung back from Ash and Adam, arm and arm. “I’m glad you came,” she said in a hushed voice. “I had fun.” “I did, t oo. I’m…I’m sorry I haven’t been around a lot .” T he breeze played w it h her curls, t ossing t hem across her face. “Is everyt hing…okay w it h you? I mean, I know a lot has happened since you moved here. And I’m so afraid t hat you’ve decided you don’t w ant t o be friends w it h me anymore because of w hat I am and everyt hing t hat ent ails.” “No. No w ay.” I rushed t o reassure her. “I w ouldn’t care if you w ere a w ere-ll ama. Y ou’re st ill my best friend, Dee.” “It hasn’t felt like t hat in so long.” She smiled w eakly. “W hat ’s a w ere-ll ama, by t he w ay?” I laughed. “It ’s like a ll ama and a human, like a w erew olf.”

Her nose w rinkled. “T hat is bizarre.” “Y eah, it is.” We’d st opped at Adam’s car. Ash w as fiddling w it h her keys as she inspect ed her nails. Snow w as already beginning t o fall again, each flake fat t er t han t he one before. I closed my eyes for a second, and w hen I reopened t hem, t he snow had st alled. Over just like t hat , in t he blink of an eye.

Chapter 27
I loved Christ mas w hen Dad w as alive. Bot h of us w ere t hose people w ho digressed several years on Christ mas morning. I’d scamper dow n t he st airs at t he crack of daw n t o sit alone in front of t he Christ mas t ree, spending t he early hours of Christ mas morning w ait ing for my parent s t o w ake. A rit uall only broken w hen Dad died. T he last t hree years, I’d made cinnamon buns alone, filling t he air w it h t heir sw eet scent , and w hen Mom came home from w ork, w e’d exchange gift s. T his year w as different . W hen I w oke up, t he scent of cinnamon already permeat ed t he air and W ill w as dow nst airs, w earing a checkered robe and sharing a cup of coffee w it h Mom. He’d st ayed t he night . Again. Upon seeing me st anding in t he doorw ay, he got up and hugged me. I froze, my arms hanging aw kw ardly at my sides. “Merry Christ mas,” he said, pat t ing me on t he back. I mumbled t he same back t o him, aw are of my mom beaming from t he couch. We opened gift s, like w e used t o w it h Dad. Maybe t hat ’s w hat put me in a w eird mood t hat lingered all morning, dogging every st ep I t ook, det ermined t o ruin t he holiday. Mom had gone upst airs t o show er aft er put t ing W ill and me t o w ork on dinner. He pulled a glazed ham out of t he oven. His at t empt s at small t alk had been vast ly ignored unt ill he w ent t here. “Any more overnight visit s?” he asked w it h a sly, conspirat orial smile. I beat t he mashed pot at oes harder, w ondering if he w ere t rying t o be t he good guy in t he pict ure so I w ouldn’t give Mom crap about him. “No.”

“Not like you’d t ell me, right ?” He dropped t he oven mit t s on t he count er, facing me. Honest ly, I hadn’t seen Daemon since Sat urday morning. T w o days had gone by w it hout a w ord from him. “T hat boy does seem like a nice kid,” W ill w ent on, pulling out one of t he knives Blake had t hrow n at my head. “He’s a lit t le int ense, t hough.” He paused, brow s draw ing in a slant as he held t he knife up. “W ell, so w as his brot her.” I almost dropped t he spat ula. “Y ou’re t alking about Daw son?” W ill nodded. “He w as t he more out going of t he t w o, but just as int ense. Act ed like t he w hole w orld could end any minut e and each second had t o be lived t o t he fullest . I never got t hat impression from Daemon. He’s a bit more reserved, eh?” Reserved? At first I w ant ed t o deny t hat , but Daemon had alw ays been…rest rained. As if he w ere holding back t he most import ant part of himself. Cut t ing int o t he st eaming ham, W ill chuckled. “All of t hem w ere really t ight . I guess t hat comes w it h being t riplet s. Like t he T hompson kids.” My pulse w as jumping all over t he place for no reason. I w ent t o w ork on t he pot at oes again. “Y ou sound like you know t hem pret t y w ell.” He shrugged, moving several t hick slices ont o one of Mom’s fancy porcelain plat t ers t hat hadn’t seen t he light of day in years. “It ’s a small t ow n. Pret t y much know everyone around here.” “None of t hem has ever ment ioned you.” I sat t he bow ll on t he count er and grabbed for t he milk. “Don’t know w hy t hey w ould.” He angled t ow ard me, smiling. “I don’t t hink t hey even realize t hat Bet hany w as my niece.” T he cart on of milk slipped from my fingers, knocking off t he count er and hit t ing t he floor. Frot hy w hit e liquid pulsed across t he t ile. Yet I st ood frozen. Bet hany w as his niece? W ill set t he knife dow n and grabbed several paper t ow els. “Slippery bugger, isn’t it ?” Snapping out of it , I bent dow n and grabbed t he cart on. “Bet hany w as your niece?” “Y eah, such a sad st ory, and I’m sure you’ve heard it .” “I have.” I placed t he milk back on t he count er and helped him mop up my mess. “I’m sorry about …w hat happened.” “So am I.” He t ossed t he t ow els in t he t rash. “It dest royed my sist er and her husband. T hey moved aw ay just a mont h or so ago. I guess t hey couldn’t st and living here, being reminded of her. T hen t hat Cut t ers boy disappears, just like w it h Bet hany and Daw son. It ’s a damn shame so many young people disappeared.”

Never once had Daemon or Dee said a w ord about W ill being relat ed t o Bet hany, but t hey also didn’t t alk about her oft en. Troubled by t he relat ion W ill had and t he ment ion of Simon, I finished making my pot at oes in silence. He liked t hem count ry st yle—skin on. Y uck. “T here’s somet hing I w ant ed t o make sure you underst ood, Kat y.” W ill laced his fingers in front of him. “I’m not t rying t o t ake t he place of your fat her.” Surprised by t he t urn in t he conversat ion, I st ared at him. He st ared back, pale eyes st eady and fixed on mine. “I know it ’s hard w hen one parent moves on, but I’m not here t o replace him.” Before I could respond, he pat t ed me on t he shoulder and left t he kit chen. T he ham had cooled on t he count er. T he mashed pot at oes w ere finished and so w as t he macaroni casserole. Up t o t hat moment , I’d been st arving, but w it h t he ment ion of my fat her, all my appet it e vanished. Deep dow n I knew W ill w asn’t t rying t o t ake his place. No man could ever t ake my fat her’s place, but t w o fat t ears rolled dow n my cheeks. I’d cried t he first Christ mas w it hout him, but t he last t w o I hadn’t . Maybe I w as crying now because t his w as t he first real holiday I’d had w it h my mom t hat involved someone ot her t han my dad. My elbow caught t he edge of t he bow ll as I t urned, and it spun t ow ard off t he count er. W it hout t hinking, I froze t he bow ll so all my hard w ork w ouldn’t end up on t he floor. I grabbed it out of t he air, placing it back on t he count er. Turning around, I caught sight of a shadow in t he hall w ay, right out side t he kit chen door. My breat h froze in my t hroat as t w o foot st eps heavier t han my mom’s crossed t he hall and st art ed up t he st eps. W ill. Had he seen me? And if he had, w hy hadn’t he bust ed in here demanding how I froze a bow ll in midair? … When I woke up the day after Christmas, Will had already taken down the tree. That alone earned him serious negative points. That wasn’t his tree to t ake dow n. And I’d w ant ed t o keep t hat green bulb, and now it w as packed aw ay in an at t ic I w ouldn’t dare vent ure int o. Add t hat t o my grow ing dislike of t he man, and I foresaw some serious problems in t he fut ure. Had he seen me st op t he bow ll? I didn’t know . Could it be a coincidence t hat t he uncle of t he girl w ho had mut at ed just like me w as now put t ing t he moves on my mom? Seemed unlikely. But I had no evidence and w ho could I really go t o? W ell, t here w as one person. It w as hours aft er Mom had left for w ork and moment s before I headed upst airs t hat I felt w armt h prickle my neck. St opping in t he hall w ay, I w ait ed w it h my breat h in my t hroat . T here w as a knock on my door.

Daemon w ait ed on t he porch, hands in his pocket s and a black baseball cap pulled low , hiding t he upper part of his face. T he look accent uat ed his sensual lips t hat w ere t ipped in a crooked grin. “Y ou busy?” I shook my head. “W anna go for a ride?” “Sure. Let me grab somet hing w armer t o put on.” I hurried t o find my boot s and hoodie, t hen joined him out side. “Are w e going t o check on Vaughn?” “Not really. T here’s somet hing I’ve discovered.” He led me t o his SUV and w ait ed unt ill w e bot h climbed in before he cont inued. “But first , did you have a good Christ mas? I w as going t o st op over, but I saw your mom w as home.” “It w as good. W ill spent t he day w it h us. T hat w as w eird. W hat about you?” “It w as okay. Dee nearly burned t he house dow n t rying t o make a t urkey. Ot her t han t hat , not very ent ert aining.” He pulled out of t he drivew ay. “So, how much t rouble w ere you in aft er Sat urday?” I flushed, t hankful for t he darkness. “I got a lect ure about not making my mom a grandmot her.” Daemon laughed, and I sighed. “Now I have rules t o follow , but not hing serious.” “Sorry about t hat .” He grinned as he slid me a sidew ays look. “I didn’t mean t o fall asleep.” “It ’s okay. So w here are w e going? W hat have you found out ?” “Vaughn came home Sunday night for about t en minut es. I follow ed him t o just out side of Pet ersburg t o t his w arehouse in an indust rial park t hat hasn’t been used in years. He st ayed t here for a few hours and t hen left , but t here w ere t w o officers w ho remained.” He slow ed dow n as a deer dashed across t he highw ay. “T hey’re keeping somet hing t here.” Excit ement hummed t hrough me. “Y ou t hink t hey’re keeping Bet hany…or Daw son?” He glanced at me, lips pressed int o a t ight line. “I don’t know , but I need t o get in t here and someone needs t o keep an eye on t he out side w hile I go.” Feeling useful, I nodded. “W hat if t he guards are st ill keeping w at ch?” “T hey w eren’t doing anyt hing unt ill Vaughn show ed up. He’s home right now . W it h Nancy.” His lip curled. “I t hink t he t w o really have somet hing going on.” It w as like W ill and my mom. Gross. T hinking of t hat reminded me of somet hing I needed t o ask. “Did you know my mom’s boyfriend is Bet hany’s uncle?”

“No.” His brow s pinched as he focused on t he road. “I didn’t really t ry t o get t o know her. Hell, I didn’t really t ry t o get t o know any human girl.” T here w as a w eird flut t er in my belly. “So you’ve never…dat ed a human girl before?” “Dat ed? No.” He glanced at me quickly, seeming t o decide w hat t o say next . “Hang out w it h? Y es.” T he flut t er t urned int o a red-hot snake coiling around my insides. Hung out —hung out in t he w ay everyone t hought Blake and I w ere? I w ant ed t o hit somet hing. “Anyw ay, I didn’t know t hey w ere relat ed.” I pushed aw ay t he jealousy. Now w asn’t t he t ime. “Do you t hink t hat ’s w eird? I mean, he’s relat ed t o Bet hany, w ho’s sort of like me now , and he’s messing around w it h my mom. W e know t hat someone had t o have bet rayed Daw son and Bet hany.” “It ’s w eird, but how w ould he know w hat had happened? He w ould’ve needed t o have some inside know ledge of t he w hole healing process t o know w hat t o look for.” “Maybe he’s an implant .” Daemon looked at me sharply but didn’t say anyt hing. T he possibilit y w as dist urbing. W ill could be using my mom t o keep an eye on me. Gaining her t rust , sleeping in her bed… I’d kill him. Aft er a few moment s, Daemon cleared his t hroat . “I’ve been t hinking about w hat Mat t hew t old us—t he w hole marrying DNA t hing.” Every muscle in my body t ensed, and I st ared st raight ahead. “Y eah…?” “I t alked t o him lat er and I asked him about t he connect ion, if it could make someone feel anyt hing. He said no. But I already knew t hat . T hought you should know .” Closing my eyes, I nodded. Of course, I already knew t hat . I squeezed my hands int o t ight balls. I almost t old him I knew , but bringing up Blake w ould really mar t he moment . “W hat about t he w hole you die, I die t hing?” “W hat about it ?” he responded, eyes on t he road. “T here isn’t anyt hing w e can do about t hat ot her t han not get t ing ourselves killed.” “T here’s more t o it t han t hat ,” I said, w at ching t he rolling w hit e-t ipped hills go by. “W e’re really joined t oget her, you know . Like, forever…” “I know ,” he said quiet ly. T here really w asn’t anyt hing I could add t o t hat . We arrived at t he abandoned indust rial park near midnight , driving past it first t o make sure t here w ere no cars around. T here w ere t hree buildings clust ered t oget her near a field covered

in w hit e. One w as a squat , one-st ory brick building and one in t he middle w as several st ories high, large enough t o st ore a jumbo jet . Daemon pulled behind one of t he buildings, parking t he SUV bet w een t w o large sheds w it h t he front facing t he only ent rance. He t urned t o me, killing t he engine. “I need t o get in t hat building.” He gest ured at t he t all one. “But you need t o st ay in t he car w hile I do t his. I need eyes on t he road and I don’t know w hat ’s w ait ing in t here.” Fear pinched my st omach. “W hat if someone is in t here? I w ant t o go w it h you.” “I can t ake care of myself. Y ou need t o st ay in here, w here it ’s safe.” “But —” “No, Kat , st ay here. T ext me if anyone comes in.” He reached for t he door. “Please.” Given no ot her choice, I did not hing as Daemon slid out of t he car. Tw ist ing in my seat , I w at ched him disappear around t he side of t he building. I let out a breat h I didn’t know I’d been holding and faced t he front , keeping my eyes t rained on t he main road. W hat if Bet hany w as in t here? Hell, w hat if Daw son w as in t here? I couldn’t even w rap my brain around t hat and w hat it w ould mean. Everyt hing w ould change. Rubbing my hands t oget her, I leaned forw ard and w at ched t he road. My t hought s kept going back t o W ill. If he w as t he implant , t hen I w as so screw ed. He’d most likely seen me use my abilit ies, but if he w as t he implant , t hen w hy hadn’t he cont act ed t he DOD immediat ely? Somet hing didn’t add up w it h t hat t heory. My breat h st art ed t o make lit t le puffs of clouds in t he rapidly cooling int erior. Only t en minut es had passed, but it felt like forever. W hat w as Daemon doing in t here? Sight seeing? I shift ed, t rying t o keep w arm. Off in t he dist ance, I saw t w o headlight s piercing t he dark. My breat h held. Please go by. Please go by. T he vehicle slow ed as it neared t he ent rance t o t he indust rial park. My heart raced as I realized it w as a black Expedit ion. “Crap.” I pulled my phone out of my pocket and sent Daemon a quick t ext . Company. W hen he didn’t respond and I didn’t see him heading out of t he w arehouse, I st art ed t o get anxious. T he Expedit ion had disappeared from view , most likely parking in t he front . I t urned in t he seat , gripping t he leat her unt ill my fingers ached. No Daemon.

I w asn’t about t o let fear or his misguided at t empt t o keep me safe st op me from helping Daemon. Dragging in a cold breat h of air, I opened t he door and quiet ly shut it behind me. Keeping t o t he shadow s, I crept t o t he corner of t he building, passing padlocked bay doors. T here w ere no w indow s, just a st eell door I had no hope of get t ing open aft er I t ried t he lock. Above t he door, t here w as somet hing embedded in t he brick, round and glossy in t he moonlight , but t oo dark t o make out t he color. Glancing back at t he bay doors, w hich w ere perfect for unloading cargo, it also had a round object embedded over t he doors. I crouched at t he edge of t he building, craning my neck t o see around t he side. T he pat h w as clear. Not quit e relieved, I cont inued around t he corner, keeping close t o t he side. Up ahead, I saw anot her door. W as t hat w here Daemon had gone? Bit ing my lip, I crept closer t o t he ent rance. Out of t he corner of my eye, I saw movement . Holding my breat h, I flat t ened myself against t he building as t w o men dressed in all black came around t he front , t alking soft ly. T he orange glow of a cigaret t e flared and t hen it flickered t hrough t he air, fading out w hen it hit t he ground. I w as t rapped. St ark t error forced t he air out of my lungs so quickly it left me dizzy. My muscles locked as I t urned my head t o t he side. T he t aller man—t he smoker —looked up. I knew t he second he saw me. “Hey!” Smoker yelled. “St op right t here!” Like hell. Pushing off t he w all, I sprint ed aw ay. I made it a couple of feet before he yelled out again. “St op! Or I’ll shoot !” I st opped, t hrow ing my hands up. Each breat h I t ook saw ed painfully in and out of my lungs. Crap. Crap. Crap. “Keep your hands up and t urn around,” Smoker ordered. “Now .” Doing as inst ruct ed, I pivot ed in place. T hey w ere a few st eps aw ay, sleek black guns draw n and point ed direct ly at me. T hey w ere dressed like paramilit ary or somet hing, in full combat gear. Jesus, w hat had Daemon st umbled upon? “Just st ay right t here,” t he short er one said, approaching me caut iously. “W hat are you doing here?” I clamped my mout h shut and felt t he heady rush of Source pooling in my veins, provoked by fear. St at ic built under my clot hing, raising t he t iny hairs on my body. It demanded t o be called upon, used. But t apping int o it w ould seriously expose w hat I w as. “W hat are you doing here?” t he short er one demanded again, now just a foot aw ay. “I’m…lost . I w as looking for t he int erst at e.”

Smoker glanced at t he short er officer. “bullshit .” My heart w as pounding so hard I felt like it w as going t o jump out of my chest , but I kept t he Source locked inside. “I’m serious. I w as hoping t his w as, like, a visit or’s cent er or somet hing. I got off at t he w rong exit .” T he closest one low ered t he gun by a fract ion of an inch. “T he highw ay is several miles from here. You must ’ve t aken t he w rong exit by a long shot .” I nodded eagerly. “I’m not from around here. And all t he roads and signs look t he same. Like t he t ow ns all sound t he same,” I rambled on, playing t he dumb girl. “I’m t rying t o get t o Moorefield.” “She’s lying,” Smoker spat . Any hope t hat had sparked in me died in a fiery crash. Smoker came closer, keeping t he gun t rained on me. W it h one hand, he reached out and placed his palm against my cheek. His hand smelled of cigaret t es and disinfect ant . “See,” t he short er one said, st art ing t o put his gun back int o t he holst er at t ached t o his t high. “She’s just lost . You’re get t ing paranoid. Go ahead, honey, get out of here.” Smoker grunt ed and grasped my ot her cheek, ignoring his part ner. Somet hing w arm and sharp w as in his palm. Fear spiked my heart rat e. Was it a knife? “I’m lost . I sw ear—” Red-hot , needle-sharp pain st reaked across my cheek, slicing dow n my neck and over my shoulder. I opened my mout h t o scream, but no sound came out . T he pain rushed at me in w aves. Blackness inched across my vision, and I doubled over, breaking cont act w it h w hat ever he held in his hand. “Christ ,” t he short er one said. “Y ou’re right . She’s one of t hem.” I dropped t o my knees as t he pain ebbed, leaving a dull ache t hrobbing deep in my skin. Gulping in air, I placed my hand against my cheek, expect ing t o find my skin split open, but it w as only w arm. “Told you.” Smoker grasped my arm, yanking me forw ard. W hen I lift ed my head, he had a gun pressed bet w een my eyes. “W hat ’s in t his barrel w ill do far w orse. So you bet t er t hink carefully before you answ er t he next quest ion. W ho are you?” Speechless, fear held me paralyzed. He shook me. “Answ er me.”

“I…I…” “W hat ’s going on out here?” a new voice asked, coming up from behind t he t w o men. Smoker st epped t o t he side, and my heart dropped. It w as Vaughn. “W e found her sneaking around back here,” Smoker said, sounding like he’d just caught t he biggest cat fish t o dat e. “She’s one of t hem.” Vaughn frow ned as he moved closer, his bushy must ache blow ing as he breat hed heavily. “Good job. I’ll t ake t his one.” I couldn’t breat he. Vaughn had been inside, w here Daemon w as. Had he caught Daemon, done somet hing t o him? If so, it w as ent irely my fault . I’d st art ed t his by t elling him I’d seen Bet hany. I may not have cont rolled w here t he rock w ent , but I’d pushed it dow n t he hill. “Are you sure?” asked t he short er officer. Vaughn nodded, reaching dow n and grasping my ot her arm, hauling me t o my feet . “I’ve had my eye on t his one for a w hile.” “T he cages should be prepped,” Smoker said, let t ing go of my ot her arm reluct ant ly. “It t ook a w hile for it t o w ork on her. You might w ant t o double it up.” Cages? My mout h dried up. T he short er officer looked me over, eyes narrow ing. “Since w e caught t his one, shouldn’t w e get a rew ard?” “Rew ard?” asked Vaughn, voice low . Smoker laughed. “Y eah, like w it h t he ot her one. T hat w as one hell of a rew ard. Husher w on’t know any different as long as w e don’t mess her up.” Before my brain could come t o t erms w it h w hat he meant , Vaughn pushed me t o t he side hard enough I lost my balance and hit t he ground. He t hrew up his hand. Light ning crackled around his arm, flaring red-w hit e as it enveloped his body unt ill he w as not hing more t han light . I gasped, realizing Vaughn w as…Daemon. “Dammit !” yelled Smoker, reaching for his gun. “It ’s a t rick!” Pulsing w it h light and pow er, he released t he energy. It st ruck Smoker first , sending him several feet back. T he light arched, smacking int o t he short er officer. He t oo w ent flying int o t he side of t he building. T here w as a sickening crunch, and he fell t o t he ground, skin and clot hing smoking. T he man shuddered once, and t hen his face t urned t o…ash. “Oh my God,” I w hispered.

A slight breeze moved dow n t he building, st irring t he fall en man. Pieces of him flicked up int o t he air, float ing aw ay unt ill not hing remained. It w as t he same w here Smoker had fall en. T here w as not hing left of t hem. Daemon’s light dimmed, and w hen I looked at him, he w as in his human form. I expect ed him t o flip out about my not st aying in t he car, but all he did w as reach dow n and t ake my hand, gent ly pulling me t o my feet . T he baseball cap hid his eyes, but his lips w ere pressed in t hat hard, unyielding line. “W e need t o get out of here,” he said. I agreed.

Chapter 28
Back at my house, w e sat on t he couch, facing each ot her w it h our legs crossed. I held a st eaming cup of hot cocoa t hat he’d placed bet w een my hands, but I couldn’t get w arm enough. I kept running dow n everyt hing t hat had happened, ending w it h t he men t urning int o ash. It reminded me of t he videos of t he at omic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima. T he blast of heat had been so int ense it had t urned people t o ash and permanent ly implant ed t heir shadow s int o buildings. We’d driven t heir car int o t he w oods, and Daemon had t hen fried it , burning it unt ill t here w asn’t much of anyt hing left . Any evidence of us being t here had been removed, but event ually people w ould miss t he t w o men and quest ions w ould st art get t ing t ossed around, especially from t heir families. Because t hey had families… T he baseball cap had been t ossed ont o t he coffee t able, but I couldn’t read anyt hing in Daemon’s eyes. He’d been quiet t he w hole w ay back. I squeezed t he w arm mug. “Daemon…are you okay?” He nodded. “Y eah.” T aking a sip, I w at ched him from under my lashes. “W hat w as inside t he building?” He rubbed t he back of his neck as he closed his eyes briefly. “T here w asn’t anyt hing in t he first couple of rooms. Just empt y office space, but it ’s obvious t he place is used a lot . T here w ere empt y coffee cups, filled asht rays everyw here. T he fart her I got in, t here w ere…cages. About t en of t hem; one looked like it w as used recent ly.” Nausea rolled inside me. “Do you really t hink t hey w ere keeping people in t here?”

“Luxen? Yes. And maybe ot hers like you.” He dropped his hands on his legs. “One of t he cages had dried blood in it . All of t hem had chains and manacles encased in t his dark red st one I’ve never seen before.” “I saw somet hing out side t he building, above t he doors. It w as shiny, looked black t o me because it w as dark.” I set my cup aside. “And he put somet hing against my cheek, and God, t hat hurt like hell. I w onder if it w as t he same t hing you saw .” His poet ic lips t ipped dow n at t he corners. “How are you feeling now ?” “Perfect ly fine.” I w aved it off. “Did you see anyt hing else?” “I didn’t have t ime t o go upst airs, but I had t his feeling t hat somet hing…somet hing w as up t here.” He st ood w it h fluid grace, clasping his arms behind his head. “I need t o get back in t here.” My eyes follow ed him. “Daemon, it ’s t oo dangerous. People are going t o realize t hat t he officers are missing. Y ou can’t go back t here.” He w hirled around, facing me. “My brot her could be in t here or somet hing t hat w ill t ell me w here my brot her is. I can’t just w alk aw ay because it ’s t oo dangerous.” “I underst and t hat .” I st ood, clenching my hands. “But w hat good are you t o Daw son—or t o Dee—if you get caught ?” Daemon st ared at me for several long moment s. “I have t o do somet hing.” “I know , but it needs t o be more t hought out t han any of your plans have been so far.” I ignored t he flash of t emper in his bright gaze. “Because you could’ve been capt ured t onight .” “I’m not w orried about myself, Kat .” “T hen t hat ’s a problem!” His eyes narrow ed. “I w ouldn’t have involved you in t his if I knew you w ere going t o w imp out .” “W imp out ?” T he event s of t he night height ened everyt hing I w as feeling and I w as on overload, seconds from breaking dow n, sit t ing in t he corner somew here. Maybe rocking in t hat corner, t oo. “I’m t he one w ho involved you. I saw Bet hany.” “And I agreed t o let you come w it h me t he first t ime.” He ran his hand t hrough his messy hair, exhaling roughly. “If you’d st ayed in t hat car, I could’ve had t ime t o check t he floors above.” My mout h dropped open. “You w ould’ve been caught inside. I got out of t he car because you didn’t respond t o my t ext ! If I st ayed in t here, w e’d bot h be in t hose cages.”

T he t ips of his cheeks flushed as he looked aw ay. “Okay. Bot h of us are aggravat ed right now . We should just let it drop for t onight . Get some rest . W hat ever.” I didn’t w ant t o let it drop, but he had a point . I crossed my arms. “Fine.” W it h one last look, he grabbed his cap from t he t able and t urned t o leave, st opping at t he end of t he couch. His shoulders shuddered and his voice came out a w hisper. “I’ve never killed a human before.” Suddenly, his aggravat ion made more sense. It w asn’t just t he helpless feeling of not being able t o do anyt hing. T he need t o comfort him, t o t ouch him, t urned physical. I reached out , placing my hand on his arm. “It ’s okay.” Daemon shrugged off my hand, scow ling. “It ’s not okay, Kat y. I killed t w o humans. And don’t —just don’t do anyt hing.” I flinched, more from t he use of my real name t han his act ion. Daemon blinked out , and t he front door slammed shut . Running bot h my hands over my head, I bit dow n on my lip hard enough for a met all ic t ast e t o spring int o my mout h. Daemon w ouldn’t go back t o t hat w arehouse. Never in a million years. Even I couldn’t convince myself of t hat . … Sleep didn’t come easily that night, and I spent the better part of the next day strung tight as a bow puled too hard. I kept checking the driveway next door, making sure Daemon’s car w as t here. He could just zip his w ay back t o t he w arehouse w it hout his SUV, but seeing t he car gave me some relief. T he next couple days of w int er break crept by. Most of t he t ime I expect ed SW AT t o bust up in my house, demanding t o know w hat happened t o t he officers. But not hing happened. T he day before New Y ear’s Eve, Dee st opped by. “Like my new boot s?” She st uck out one slender leg. Black leat her boot s ended just below her knees. T he heel w as killer. “Daemon got t hem for me.” “T hey’re aw esome. W hat size are you?” She giggled, t hen popped a loll ipop back in her mout h. “Okay, before you t ell me no, I already cleared it w it h Ash.” I frow ned. “Cleared w hat ?” “Ash is t hrow ing a lit t le New Y ear’s Eve part y at her house. It ’s just going t o be a few of us. Daemon is going.”

“Uh, I doubt Ash is okay w it h me going t o her part y.” “No, she is.” Dee pinged around t he living room like a capt ured but t erfly. “She promised she’d be cool w it h it . I t hink you’re grow ing on her.” “Like mold,” I mut t ered. W at ching Dee made me dizzy. “I don’t know .” “Oh, come on, Kat y. Y ou can even invit e Blake if you w ant t o.” I made a face. “I’m not invit ing him.” She came t o a sudden halt , t he loll ipop dangling from her fingers. “Are you guys having problems?” she asked hopefully. “Y ou know , if I w ere act ually dat ing him, I’d have a problem w it h how happy you sounded t here, but since I’m not dat ing him, I’m okay.” Her eyes narrow ed suspiciously. “W hat ’s going on w it h you t w o, t hen?” “Not hing.” I sighed. She sucked on her loll ipop for a few moment s as she w at ched me. “And not hing is going on w it h my brot her. Right ? He’s just slinking around t he house for no reason.” My lips pursed. “Dee…” “He’s my brot her, Kat y. I love him. And you’re my best friend, even t hough you haven’t really act ed like it recent ly.” She flashed a quick grin before cont inuing. “So I feel like I’m st uck in t he middle of you t w o. And I know neit her of you is put t ing me t here, but I w ant …bot h of you happy.” W ondering how w e ended up on t his conversat ion, I sat dow n w it h a sigh. “Dee, it ’s really complicat ed.” “It can’t be t hat complicat ed,” she replied, sounding like Lesa. “You guys like each ot her, and I know Daemon w ould be risking a lot by pursuing a relat ionship w it h you, but t hat ’s his risk t o t ake.” Dee sat beside me, her body humming w it h energy. “Anyw ay, I t hink you guys need t o t alk or…I don’t know . Cave t o your passions.” I bust ed out laughing. “Oh my God, are you serious?” She grinned. “So are you going t o go w it h us t omorrow night ?” As much as I w ant ed t o see t he T hompsons’ house, because I bet it w as super posh and cool, I w as st ill undecided. “I’ll t hink about it .” “Y ou promise?” She nudged me w it h her elbow . “It w ould make me really happy if you did.” Part ying w it h t hem did sound bet t er t han w hat I had planned, w hich w as not hing. Dee st ayed for a lit t le w hile, borrow ing a couple of books, and t hen left . T hen, around suppert ime,

W ill show ed up w it h Chinese t akeout . I didn’t t urn t he food dow n, but I w asn’t much for conversat ion. Mom pract ically float ed around t he kit chen, buzzing on a good-boyfriend high. W hen t hey left , I spent t he rest of t he evening reading, finishing a book for a blog t our, and st art ing a new one I w asn’t scheduled t o read. Having t ime t o read w as nice and relaxing. I could feel a lit t le bit of my old self creeping back. Not t he t imid Kat y, but t he one w ho did w hat she w ant ed because she enjoyed it . W hen it got close t o t en, I put t he book dow n and considered checking in w it h Daemon. Was he going back t o t hat w arehouse w it hout me? T here w as a good chance he w as. Trying t o dist ract myself, I logged int o one of t he local new s w ebsit es and searched for any ment ion of t he t w o officers going missing. I’d checked each night w it h no result s. But t onight w as different . T he headline on t he Charlest on Gazet t e read: t w o depart ment of defense officers missing aft er last seen near pet ersburg. My breath caught as I scanned the article. Officer Robert McConnel and Officer James Richardson were last seen near Petersburg on December 26th and have not been heard from since. Authorities are not saying the nature of their dealings in Grant County but are asking anyone w ho may have seen the officers or may know anything to please contact their tip line. Below t he art icle w ere t w o pict ures. I recognized t hem immediat ely. Clicking off t he w ebpage, I immediat ely brought up a new w eb search screen. First , I Googled Nancy Husher and came up w it h not hing. Smoker had ment ioned her by last name, saying she w ouldn’t be mad if I w asn’t …messed up. I shuddered. I’d t hought t here’d at least be somet hing in relat ion t o t he DOD, but it w asn’t like t he w oman exist ed on t he Int ernet . My next search vict im w as my mom’s boyfriend. T here w ere quit e a few sit es linking t o numerous aw ards w on in t he medical communit y, but not hing show ing a connect ion t o Bet hany. But t here w as somet hing t hat left a bad t ast e in my mout h about him. One art icle’s headline read: local doct or overcomes leukemia, backs funding for new cancer t reat ment cent er in grant count y.

My eyes scanned the article. It was Wil. There was a picture of him, most likely taken during rounds of treatment, because I recognized that bone-haggard look. I couldn’t believe it . Did Mom know t his? I mean, cancer w asn’t a reason not t o dat e someone, but aft er everyt hing she w ent t hrough w it h Dad? Could she go t hrough somet hing like t hat again if t he cancer came back? And if I act ually grew t o like t he dude, if he w asn’t an implant , could I deal w it h t hat again? I w ent back t o t he search page, unable t o w rap my brain around t his new fact . St opping t o grab a cup of cocoa, I ret urned t o my amat eurish invest igat ion. My fingers hovered over t he keyboard w hile a sense of guilt flushed my cheeks. T hen, w it h a cringe, I Googled Blake Saunders, t elling myself I only w ant ed t o see his old blog, since he never did t ell me it s name. T he first searches linked t o some college at hlet e, but dow n t ow ard t he bot t om of t he first page, I saw a new s report about his parent s’ murders. Clicking on t he link, I read t he sad, sad w rit e-up on t he deat hs of his parent s and sist er. It w as called a brut all break-in. T here w ere a couple more art icles st at ing t he same, and t hen I found t he obit uary for his parent s, w hich t ook me t o a funeral home sit e in Sant a Monica. Sunny Acres. W ho in t he hell named a funeral home Sunny Acres? Shaking my head, I t ook a sip of my cocoa and clicked t he pict ures t he w ebsit e had of t he family. T he younger Blake w as cut e, and so w as his sist er. My gut clenched w hen I looked at t he pict ures of him and his lit t le sist er playing on a sw ing set . T he kid w as w ay t oo young, and her deat h w as probably horrific. I blinked back hot t ears, moved by someone I’d never even met . It just w asn’t fair or right . Deat h usually w as never t hose t w o t hings but t his…t his w as w rong. I kept going t hrough t he pict ures, st opping on an older one of Blake’s fat her. I could see t he resemblance in t he easy smile and hazel eyes. T he man next t o his fat her looked oddly familiar. He shared some of t he same feat ures as Blake’s dad, but his face w as rounder. Some of t he pict ures had capt ions below , but t his one didn’t . I w ent t hrough t he next couple of pict ures greedily, and t hen I st opped on one t hat looked like a family reunion t aken around t he holidays. Leaning closer, I set t he cup dow n before I dropped it . A sharp pang sliced my breat h as I got a real good look at t he guy w ho’d been in t he pict ure w it h Blake’s fat her. T he man had his hand clamped on t he younger Blake’s shoulder and w as smiling at t he camera from beneat h a w iry, light brow n must ache. T he capt ion below list ed him as Brian Vaughn.

T hought s w arred in my head as I quickly clicked on t he obit uary again, skimming for surviving family members. Brian Vaughn w as list ed as a st epbrot her of t he deceased—of Blake’s dad. My surprised laugh came out st rangled, and I st ood, looking around t he room expect ant ly, alt hough I w asn’t sure w hat I w as looking for. Shock beat at me, st ruggling t o keep t he rising t ide of anger at bay. Blake w as relat ed t o a DOD officer. How …coincident al. I st art ed t o pace t he lengt h of t he living room, my breat h coming out harsh and fast . T he illogical part of my brain w as t rying t o convince myself t hat it w as just a coincidence, t hat it w as anot her Brian Vaughn w ho looked like t he DOD officer. But t he harsh realit y of being fooled…of allow ing myself t o be played right int o t he DOD’s hands beat at me. His relat ion t o t he DOD explained how Blake knew so much about t he Luxen and mut at ed humans. W hy he’d asked so many t imes about w ho had healed me. How reckless and dangerous he’d grow n in his t raining sessions. I didn’t even know w here Blake lived. But I knew w here Vaughn lived. I st opped myself before I reached for my car keys. T here w as no w ay I w as going t o Vaughn’s house. W hat w ould I do? Bust up in t here? T hat w as w orse t han Daemon’s t ypical plans. Torn bet w een w ant ing t o t alk t o Daemon and let t ing t he issue drop unt ill I knew w hat I w as dealing w it h, I sat back and pulled my knees t o my chest . Could I have been fooled t his badly? T his ent ire t ime w orking w it h someone w ho w as t ied t o t he DOD? Anger and fear kept alt ernat ing, gripping me for several minut es, t hen let t ing go and allow ing t he ot her emot ion t o t ake hold. My eyes found my car keys. Vaughn hadn’t been home, and Blake claimed he’d be out of t ow n unt ill school picked up, visit ing family w it h his…uncle. And t his w ould be t he perfect opport unit y t o see if I could find any undisput able evidence t hat w ould point t o Blake w orking w it h t he DOD. “Dammit !” I exploded, jumping t o my feet . Fury became a living, breat hing ent it y inside me, coloring everyt hing in a reddish-w hit e light . Some of it w as direct ed at me, but most of it had a t arget . Blake had been in my house, t alked t o my mom, earned my t rust , and kissed me. T hat kind of bet rayal ran so deep it left a permanent mark on my soul.

Daemon w as t he last person I needed t o go t o right now . If Blake w as w orking for t he DOD, I needed t o keep Daemon far aw ay from t his. At least unt ill I knew he w ouldn’t fly off and do somet hing even dumber t han w hat I w as about t o do. Done t hinking, I snat ched my hoodie and t ugged it on over my head. Grabbing my keys and my cell phone, I left t he house. I’d done an incredible amount of st upid t hings in my life. Pet t ing t he baby opossum w as one of t hem, w alking out in front of t he MAC t ruck w as anot her. I’d even got t en pissy once about t he pirat ing of books and had post ed t his manifest o on my blog t hat hardly made any sense. T his, t hough, probably t opped t he list . But as I hit t he highw ay, hands clenching t he st eering w heel, I w as a much different person now . I could kick major ass if need be, and I w ouldn’t let Blake get aw ay w it h t his. I parked my car t w o roads dow n from w here Vaughn lived and st epped out int o t he frigid air t hat smelled of snow . Tugging t he hood up over my head, I shoved my hands int o t he middle pocket and hoofed it back t ow ard Vaughn’s house. T he irony of bit ching out Daemon due t o his lack of plans didn’t pass me by, but now I underst ood t hat somet imes cert ain sit uat ions called for w ell-t hought -out st upidit y. T his w as one of t hem. Vaughn’s house looked empt y as I approached from t he rear. Luckily, t he t w o houses closest t o his w ere spaced out . One had a foreclosure sign, and t he ot her w as just as dark. Lit t le flakes of snow st art ed t o fall as I crept around t o t he front . My breat h came out in puffs, hanging in t he air like clouds. T he drivew ay w as empt y. Know ing t hat didn’t mean t he house w as complet ely devoid of people, I debat ed w hat t o do. I didn’t come all t he w ay here t o st are at t he out side of t he house. I w ant ed in t here. I w ant ed t o find evidence linking Blake t o Vaughn, and I w ant ed t o see if t here w as anyt hing on t he locat ion of Daw son and Bet hany. I w ent t o t he back of t he house and t ried t he door. It w as locked as expect ed, but I remembered bot h Daemon and Blake ment ioning how easy locks w ere t o manipulat e. It should be a piece of cake. An alarm syst em w ould be a w hole different st ory. Pressing against t he door, I closed my eyes and pict ured t he lock. T he rush of st at ic crept dow n my arms, jumping from t he t ips of my fingers t hrough t he w ood. T he click of t he lock t urning sounded like a nuclear bomb going off in my head.

I t ook a moment t o prepare myself for w hat could be w ait ing on t he ot her side of t he door. If someone w ere in t here, I’d have t o defend myself. T he idea of hurt ing someone, possibly killing him or her, sickened me, but I knew w hoever it w as w ouldn’t st op t w ice from locking me up in a cage. Telling myself I could do t his, I opened t he door and slow ly st epped int o t he kit chen. A light w as on above t he st ove, cast ing t he room in soft light . I shut t he door behind me and drew in a deep breat h. T his is insane. I crept forw ard, grat eful for t he t hin soles on my boot s. T imid Kat y no more…I’d moved ont o good old B&E. Balling my hands up under t he sleeves of my hoodie, I moved dow n t he hall w ay. T he dining room w as empt y w it h t he except ion of a rolled-up sleeping bag on t he floor. Tw o couches w ere pressed against t he w all in t he living room. T here w asn’t a T V. It reminded me of a model home w here everyt hing w as fake. It gave me t he creeps. Holding a breat h, I w ent upst airs slow ly. Not hing about t his house seemed real. It had no homey smells like left over food or perfume. It smelled vacant . At t he t op of t he st airs, t here w as a bat hroom t hat had clearly been in use. T here w ere hair product s on t he sink—gell and t w o t oot hbrushes. My st omach t ight ened as I left t he bat hroom. All t he bedroom doors w ere open. Each of t hem just had a bed and a dresser. All w ere empt y. T he last room at t he end of t he hall w as an office of sort s. A large desk sat in t he middle of t he ot herw ise empt y room. T here w as a monit or on t he t op, but no hard drive. Moving around t he desk, I pulled out t he cent er draw er. Not hing. I checked t he side draw ers, becoming frust rat ed w hen t hey w ere all empt y. I yanked open t he last one. “Jackpot ,” I w hispered. I pulled out a file folder t hat w as t hick and heavy at t he bot t om. Lift ing t he file out carefully, I laid it on t he desk and flipped it opened. T here w ere pict ures, hundreds of pict ures. My hands shook as I w ent t hrough t hem. A buzzing filled my ears as I t urned over pict ure aft er pict ure. One of me w alking from my car t o t he front of school in short sleeves. T here w ere several from out side t he Smoke Hole Diner, and I could just make out Dee and me sit t ing in front of t he w indow , t hen one of us w alking out t he door, my arm in a splint and Dee laughing. Several

more phot os show ed us t oget her, at school, on my front porch, and in her car. T here w as one of us hugging in front of t he FOOLAND, t he first day I’d met her. T hen t here w ere pict ures of Daemon, eyes narrow ed and face draw n t ight as he w as snapped w alking around his SUV, keys clenched in his hand. Anot her w as him st anding on his porch, shirt less and in jeans, w it h me on his st eps, glaring at him. I picked up one, holding it in t he light t hat came t hrough t he w indow . I w as in my red t w opiece bat hing suit , st anding on t he bank of t he lake. I’d been looking off t o t he side, and Daemon had been w at ching me, smiling—really smiling—unbeknow nst t o me. I hadn’t know n he ever smiled around me at t hat t ime. I dropped t he pict ure as if it burned my skin. And it did on a surreal level. T here w ere more. Phot os chronicling from t he t ime I arrived in t his place up unt ill a few days ago. T here w ere pict ures of my mom heading t o w ork, some w it h her and W ill. T here w ere no pict ures of Blake and me t oget her. But t he w orst pict ure, t he one t hat almost dropped me t o my knees w as one of Daemon carrying me back from t he lake t he night I’d been sick. T he phot o w as dark and grainy, but I could make out t he w hit e sleep shirt , t he w ay my arm hung limp, t he look of pure concent rat ion on Daemon’s face as he had one foot on t he porch st ep. Hell, could t hey be w at ching me now ? I couldn’t let myself t hink about it . T he sense of violat ion sliced t hrough skin and bone. T hey’d been w at ching us from t he beginning. I w ant ed t o t ake all t hese pict ures. I w ant ed t o burn t hem. W here t here should’ve been fear, t here w as only anger. W ho gave t hem t he right t o do t his? W it h an anger so pot ent I could t ast e it , I gat hered up t he phot os and placed t hem back in t he file. I knew I couldn’t t ake t hem. Shoving t hem back int o t he draw er, I st ood w it h hands t rembling. T he bot t om of t he draw er poked up at t he corner. Shoving t he file back, I reached dow n and felt around unt ill I got a grip on t he edge. Peeling t he cont act paper back, I saw several sheet s of paper. Most of t hem w ere receipt s, w hich seemed odd t o hide, considering everyt hing. T here w ere bank slips, t oo, show ing money t ransfers. My eyes bugged at t he amount s. Anot her slip of paper had an address w it h t he let t ers DB w rit t en under it . Daw son Black? Dee Black? Daemon Black? Shoving t he slip of paper int o my pocket , I pressed t he cont act paper back dow n and put t he file aw ay. I closed t he door, feeling numb as I st art ed t o st and.

“W hat are you doing in here?” a voice demanded.

Chapter 29
My heart leaped in my t hroat at t he quest ion. I jerked up, let t ing t he rush of energy move along my skin, but t he moment I locked eyes w it h t he person st anding in t he doorw ay, I gasped. Moonlight coming in from t he w indow w ashed over Bet hany’s pale face as she st epped int o t he room. Jeans and a T-shirt hung off her slender body. Her dirt y hair fell in clumps. “W hat are you doing in here?” “Bet hany?” I croaked. She cocked her head t o t he side. “Kat y?” Her voice mimicked mine. T aken aback by t he fact she knew my name, I st ared at her. “How do you know w ho I am?” An eerie, faint smile t ugged at her lips. “Everyone know s w ho you are,” she said in a singsong voice t hat reminded me of a child. “And so do I.” I sw allow ed. “Y ou mean t he DOD?” “I mean w hoever is w at ching know s. T hey alw ays know . T hey alw ays hope, t oo. W henever w e get close.” She paused, closing her eyes, sighing. “T hey hope w e get close.” Oh, boy, t his chick w as cracked like Humpt y Dumpt y. “Bet h, is t he DOD keeping you?” “Keeping me?” She giggled. “I can no longer be kept . He know s t hat . He keeps cat ching me, t hough. It ’s almost like a game. A never-ending game w here no one really w ins. I come here…my family. My family is no longer here.” She sighed. “Y ou really shouldn’t be here. T hey w ill see you. T hey w ill t ake you.” “I know .” I w iped my sw eat y palms on my jeans. “Bet h, w e can—” “Don’t t rust him,” she w hispered, glancing around t he room. “I did. I t rust ed him w it h my life, and look w hat happened.” “W ho? Blake?” Not like she needed t o t ell me t hat . “Look, you can come w it h me. W e can keep you safe.” She st raight ened, shaking her head. “Y ou can’t do anyt hing for me now .”

“But w e can.” I t ook a st ep forw ard, reaching out t o her. “W e can help you, prot ect you. W e can get Daw son back.” “Daw son?” she said, eyes going w ide. I nodded, hoping I’d found t he key t o make her list en t o me. “Y es, Daw son! W e know he’s alive—” Bet hany t hrew up her hand, and a burst of hurricane-st rengt h w inds slammed int o my chest , lift ing me off my feet . I hit t he w all w it h enough force I sw ore I heard plast er crack. And I st ayed t here, pinned several feet off t he ground, my hands and legs plant ed against t he w all. Apparent ly bringing up Daw son’s name w as not t he right t hing t o do. She moved so fast I didn’t see her unt ill she w as st anding below me. Long, st ringy st rands of hair lift ed off her shoulders, spreading out around her like a modern-day Medusa. Her feet came off t he ground as t he out line of her body blurred, sw at hed in a bluish light . W it hin seconds, she w as eye level w it h me. Holy crap…I’d never seen Blake do anyt hing like t hat . “T here is no hope for me,” she said, dropping t he kid voice. “I’m not even sure t here is any hope for you. So you should leave here, t ake your chances w it h t he Arum, or you’ll end up like me.” Icy fear t rickled dow n my spine. “Bet hany…” “List en t o me and list en closely.” She w as now above me, looking dow n as her head nearly t ouched t he vault ed ceilings. “ Everyone is a liar. T he DOD?” She laughed, a high-pit ched giggle. “T hey don’t even know w hat t hey plan. T hey are coming.” “W hat are you t alking about ?” I t ried t o peel my head off t he w all, but she w ouldn’t let me budge. “Bet h, w ho is coming!” T he blue light enveloped her complet ely. “Y ou need t o go NOW !” I suddenly dropped from t he w all, hit t ing t he floor in front of t he door w it h a loud grunt . Scrambling t o my feet , I w hipped around. Bet hany looked just like a Luxen, except her light w as blue and less int ense. She float ed over t he ceiling, her voice picking up in my head. Go. Go before it’s too late. GO! A pulse of energy nudged me out t he door and dow n t he hall. She w asn’t giving me much of a choice. At t he t op of t he st airs, I spun around and t ried one more t ime. “Bet hany, w e can—” She slid dow n t he w all and lift ed bot h hands. Before I could scream, I t ipped over t he t op st ep and fell backw ard dow n t he st eep st airs. I st opped a foot above t he landing, bouncing in air as if I w ere hooked t o a bungee cord.

My feet sw ung dow n ont o t he landing, and I w as suddenly st anding. Go, her voice urged. Get far aw ay from here. I w ent . … My hands were cold and shaking by the time I turned the ignition in my sedan. Snow was faling steadily, coating the streets. I needed to get home before I got st uck. I had bad t ires, no mat ch for more t han an inch of snow . And I really didn’t w ant t o break dow n out here. T hese w ere t he t hings I w as busy t hinking about . I had t o keep everyt hing else at bay unt ill I could get home and successfully freak out . Now I just needed t o get t here w it hout running off t he road and smacking int o a t ree. Halfw ay t o my house, t w o approaching headlight s sped up in t he ot her lane, going in t he direct ion I’d just come from. As t he car neared me, t he back of my neck t ingled. T he SUV’s t ires squealed as it spun around, rushing up behind me. “Dammit ,” I w hispered, glancing at t he dashboard. It w as close t o midnight . Daemon t ailed me t he w hole w ay home, repeat edly calling me. I ignored t he calls, focusing on t he ever-increasing lack of visibilit y due t o t he snow . T he moment I parked in my drivew ay, he w as at t he side of my car, t hrow ing open t he door. “W here in t he hell w ere you coming back from?” he demanded. I climbed out of t he car. “W here w ere you going?” He glared dow n at me. “I have a feeling it w as t he same place you w ere coming back from, but I’m t elling myself t hat you can’t be t hat st upid.” My look mat ched his as I st omped up my st eps. “W ell, since t hat ’s w here you w ere going, I guess t hat means you’re st upid, t oo.” “You seriously w ent t here, didn’t you?” He sounded incredulous as he follow ed me inside. “Please t ell me t hat ’s not w here you w ere. T hat you w ere just out for a midnight drive.” I shot him a bland look over my shoulder. “I w ent t o Vaughn’s.” Several moment s w ent by as he st ared at me. Flakes of snow melt ed, dampening t he locks of hair clinging t o his cheeks. “Y ou’re insane.” I t ugged off my w et hoodie and t ossed it aside. W it h only a t ank t op underneat h, t iny bumps spread over my skin. “So are you.” His full lips t w ist ed int o a grimace. “I can t ake care of myself, Kit t en.” “And I can, t oo.” I t ugged my hair back. “I’m not helpless, Daemon.”

He st ood st ill for a moment , and t hen a shudder rolled t hrough his body. Next second he w as in front of me, grasping my chilled cheeks. “I know you aren’t helpless, but t here are t hings I w ould do t hat you w on’t . T hings I know you could never live w it h, but I can. W hat w ould you have done if someone saw you? W hat w ould I have done if you w ere capt ured or…” Daemon didn’t finish, but I knew w hat he w as get t ing at . I could’ve been capt ured t onight or w orse, and he w asn’t w orried about how t he connect ion w ould have caused his ow n deat h. He w as w orried about me. I don’t know w hy I did w hat I did next . Maybe it w as everyt hing t hat had happened t onight . Or maybe it w as t he t one of his voice—t he fear behind his w ords. T oo many emot ions w ere building in me. I felt slippery inside, t ipping in one direct ion and t hen t he next . I clasped his cheeks. T hey w ere w arm, like alw ays—a t ouch of sunlight . His skin w as smoot h and hummed under my hands. I leaned in, and he didn’t move…or breat he. Like, at all. Know ing t hat I could do t hat t o him filled me w it h a heady rush of pow er. Closing my eyes, I brushed my lips over his. “Kit t en,” he grow led roughly. I kissed him soft ly, sliding my hands int o his silky locks, let t ing t he pieces slide t hrough my fingers. I t ast ed in him my ow n rising desire, my ow n need and heart ache. T hrilling. Fright ening. I pulled back. “Kit t en,” he said again, voice st rained. “Y ou don’t get t o do t hat and t hen st op. T hat ’s not how it w orks.” I st ared at him, my breat h st alling in my lungs. “Not w hen you’re mine.” Daemon backed us up and slid dow n t he w all, pulling me ont o his lap so I w as st raddling him. “And you’re mine.” I placed my hands on his shoulders as he brought my mout h t o his. T his kiss w as lazy, explorat ory…and sensual. For once, I w asn’t fight ing t he dept h of my response. I w elcomed it , t hrived in t he w armt h rippling t hrough me. I deepened t he kiss. He made a sound in t he back of his t hroat , and his arms w rapped around me, pinning me t o him. My fingers found t he st rands of hair curling at t he back of his neck and dug in. I couldn’t get enough of him—never could. I couldn’t remember feeling t his w ay about anyone else. I couldn’t remember being kissed like t his by anyone else. I’m not sure how long w e kissed, but it seemed like forever, and at t he same t ime, it w asn’t long enough. “W ait . W ait ,” I breat hed, pulling back slight ly. I closed my eyes, dragging in a deep breat h. “Import ant st uff.” His hands dropped on my hips, pulling me dow n and against him. “T his is import ant .” “I know .” I gasped as his hands slid under t he hem of my t ank t op, t easing t he edges of my rib cage. “But t his is really import ant . I found somet hing in Vaughn’s house.”

Daemon st illed, opening his eyes. T hey w ere luminous. Beaut iful. Mine. “Y ou w ent inside Vaughn’s house?” I nodded. “Y eah, I w ent int o his house.” “Are you a career criminal?” he asked quiet ly. W hen I shook my head, his lips t urned dow n at t he corners. “I’m curious how you got int o his house, Kit t en.” Bit ing my lip, I prepared myself. “I unlocked t he door.” “W it h w hat …?” “T he same w ay you w ould.” A muscle popped in his jaw . “Y ou shouldn’t be doing t hings like t hat .” Grow ing uncomfort able, I w iggled around. His hold t ight ened. If w e st art ed arguing about w hat I w as and w asn’t supposed t o be doing, w e’d never get t hrough t his. “I found st uff. And I also met someone.” I t ried t o get up, but his arms clamped around me. “Are you going t o let me go?” He gave me a t ight smile. “Nope.” I sighed, folding my hands primly in t he small space bet w een us. “T hey’ve been w at ching us, Daemon. From t he moment I moved here.” T he w ay his eyes flared, I could t ell all of t his w as going t o go over real w ell. I t old him about t he pict ures, t he receipt s, and t he money t ransfers. “But t hat ’s not all. Bet hany show ed up.” “W hat ?” Suddenly w e bot h w ere st anding. He backed off, needing space. “Did she t alk t o you about Daw son?” “Ah, see, she’s not …w ell, she didn’t respond w ell t o his name.” He gave me a cool, measured look. “Explain.” “She kind of w ent alien ninja on my but t .” Feeling t oo w arm, I grabbed a hair t ie and t w ist ed my hair up. “She t hrew me against t he w all.” His eyebrow s shot up in int erest . I rolled my eyes. “Not in t hat w ay, you perv. She’s like a suped-up freakin’ mut ant . She even did t he w hole glow w orm t hing, t oo.” Daemon rubbed his chin. “Did she t ell you anyt hing useful?” I t old him w hat she’d said, elaborat ing on t he fact t hat most of it didn’t make sense. “I t hink she’s cracked. And she flipped out w hen I ment ioned Daw son. She didn’t give me much of a choice t o push t he quest ioning. She removed me from t he house.” “Dammit ,” he said under his breat h, t urning aw ay. “Besides get t ing ahold of one of t he DOD officers, she w as my last hope t o find out w here Daw son could be.”

“I did find somet hing else.” I dug int o my pocket , pulling out t he scrap of paper. “I found t his.” Daemon t ook it , his eyes w idening. “Do you t hink DB st ands for Daw son Black?” “It could.” He clenched t he paper t ight . “Can I use your lapt op? I w ant t o see w here t his address goes.” “Sure.” I moved over t o t he coffee t able, opening up t he comput er and quickly shut t ing dow n t he w ebsit e I’d been looking at . I didn’t w ant t o t ell him about Blake’s pot ent iall involvement in all of t his. Not w hen Daemon w as looking incredibly scary and I had no idea how deep Blake w as involved. Daemon sat beside me and quickly t yped t he address in Google Maps. Modern t echnology w as fright ening. Not only did it give us direct ions right t o t he doorst ep, but he w as able t o pull it up on t he sat ell it e and see t hat it w as an office building in Moorefield. I chew ed on my fingernail as he scribbled dow n t he direct ions. “Are you going?” “I w ant t o, right now , but I need t o scope out t he place first . Tomorrow I’ll check it out , t hen go back lat er.” He shoved t he piece of not ebook paper in his pocket and faced me. Hope sparked in his eyes. “T hank you, Kat .” “I kind of ow ed you somet hing, right ?” I rubbed my arms, shivering. “Y ou’ve saved my but t a lot .” “And w hat a lovely but t it is, but you risked t oo much by doing t his.” He reached behind me, t ugging t he quilt off, draping it over my shoulders. He held t he edges t oget her, searching my face int ent ly. “W hy did you do t his?” I low ered my eyes. “I just w as t hinking about everyt hing, and I w ant ed t o see w hat w as in t here.” “It w as crazy dangerous, Kit t en. Y ou can’t do anyt hing like t hat again. Promise me.” “Okay.” He caught t he edge of my chin, t ilt ing my face up t o him. “Promise me.” My shoulders slumped. “I w on’t . Okay. I promise. But you’ve got t o promise me t he same t hing. I know you can’t drop t his. I underst and t hat , but you have t o be careful, and you can’t sneak off w it hout me, eit her.” Daemon scow led. “T his shouldn’t involve you.” “But it does,” I insist ed. “And I’m not a fragile human, Daemon. W e’re in t his t oget her.”

“T oget her?” He mulled over t he w ord, t hen a slow smile played on his lips. “Okay.” I gave him a t ent at ive smile. “So, t hat means I go w hen you check out t he address.” He nodded w it h a resigned smile. We t alked about t he phot os, and how much t he DOD had t o know . He w as t aking t he violat ion of privacy a lot bet t er t han I had, but I discovered he w as accust omed t o t hem being all up in his business. “W hat do you t hink Bet hany meant by ’ T hey are coming’?” I asked. He w as spraw led against t he back of t he couch, t he pict ure of ease and lazy arrogance, but I knew he w as coiled t ight . “I don’t know .” “I guess it might not mean anyt hing. I mean, she w as kind of w hacked out .” Daemon nodded, st aring st raight ahead. Many seconds passed before he spoke again. “I can’t help but w onder w hat my brot her is like right now . Is he like t hat ? W hacked out ? I don’t t hink I could…deal w it h t hat .” My chest ached from t he desperat ion in his voice. Tomorrow could bring anyt hing, and t hings w ere really up in t he air bet w een us, but he…he needed me. I inched t ow ard him. My confidence w avered w it h t he near-feral look he shot my w ay. Pushing forw ard, I craw led up against him, w iggling dow n so t hat my head w as against his shoulder. He inhaled sharply, and I squeezed my eyes shut . “Even if he is…w hacked out , you can deal w it h it . You can deal w it h anyt hing. I don’t doubt t hat at all.” “Y ou don’t ?” “No.” Very slow ly, he draped his arm around my shoulders. I felt his chin rest on t op of my head. “W hat are w e going t o do, Kit t en?” My t oes curled at t he deep oct ave of his voice. “I don’t know .” “I have a few ideas.” I cracked a grin. “I’m sure you do.” “W anna hear about t hem? Alt hough, I’m much bet t er at t he show part rat her t han t he t ell.” “Somehow , I believe you.” “If you didn’t , I could alw ays give you a t easer.” He paused, and I could hear t he smile in his voice. “Y ou bookish people love t easers, don’t you?” I laughed. “Y ou’ve been doing your research on my blog.” “Maybe,” he replied. “Like I said, I’ve got t o keep an eye on you, Kit t en.”

Chapter 30
Daemon and I checked out t he office building in Moorefield t he follow ing morning. We’d t hought it w ould be empt y, considering it w as sort of a holiday, but t he w hole plaza of offices w as packed w it h cars. Pulling t he cap over his face, he jumped from t he car and checked out t he office on t he st reet . W hen he ret urned, he grinned at me and quickly pulled out of t he plaza. “It appears t o be a law yer’s office. Has at least t w o floors above t he main one. T hey’re closed for New Year’s and obviously on Sunday. Bad new s is t hey are out fit t ed w it h an alarm syst em.” “Crap. Know a w ay around t hat ?’ “Fry t heir syst ems. If I do it quickly enough, I shouldn’t t rigger an alarm. But t hat ’s not all. Above t he ent rances and w indow s is t hat same damn blackish-red gemst one.” His lips t ipped up higher. “T his is good, t hough. W hat ever t hose st ones are, t hey have t o mean somet hing.” It did. Daw son could be in t here right now . “W hat if it ’s guarded?” He didn’t answ er. I knew w hat t hat meant . He’d do anyt hing t o get his brot her. Some people might t hink t hat ’s w rong, but I underst ood. If t hat w ere my mom or somet hing, no one w ould be safe. “W hen are you going back?” Again, he w as silent . And I knew t hat meant he didn’t w ant t o t ell me because he w as planning t o do t his on his ow n. I pushed t he issue t he ent ire w ay home, but he didn’t cave. “So are you going t o Ash’s part y?” he asked, changing t he subject event ually. “I don’t know .” I fiddled w it h t he but t on on my sw eat er. “I can’t imagine her w ant ing me t here, but back t o—” “I w ant you t here.” I glanced at him, my chest sw elling t o t he point of burst ing. W ay t o knock me off t rack in such a deliciously t ender w ay. Daemon’s eyes slid t ow ard me. “Kit t en?” “Okay. I’ll go.” At least I’d be able t o keep an eye on him t here, because I knew he w ouldn’t w ait past t onight t o check out t he offices. Or at least t hat ’s w hat I w as t elling myself. T he fact he w ant ed me t here didn’t out w eigh t he import ance of my keeping an eye on him. T he part y w asn’t st art ing unt ill nine, and he w as heading over early t o help Adam w it h a few t hings. I w as supposed t o drive over w it h Dee, and w it h a sly w ink, he said he w as t aking me home.

W hen I got back, I chat t ed w it h Mom before she left for w ork. She appeared happy t o hear t hat I w as spending New Year’s Eve w it h Dee. Of course, I left t he part out about Daemon t aking me home. Grabbing a book off t he count er, I headed upst airs t o unw ind. Surprisingly, I passed out about t w ent y-five pages int o t he urban fant asy novel. Some t ime lat er, t he sound of my bedroom door closing w oke me up. I rolled ont o my side, frow ning as my eyes drift ed from my door, t hen across my dresser, past t he closet door, and over t he silent , st iff form of Blake. Blake? I jerked up, but in a burst of alarming speed, he shot forw ard and clamped his hand over my arm. Fear dug in w it h razor-sharp barbs. Rearing up, I knocked his hand aw ay and t w ist ed, scrambling across t he bed. “W hoa! W hoa, calm dow n, Kat y.” Blake dart ed around t he bed, hands raised in a harmless gest ure. “I didn’t mean t o scare you.” My pulse w as all over t he place as I backed up against my desk, heart pounding. Seeing him in my bedroom w as unexpect ed, t errifying. “How …how did you get in here?” He w inced as he ran a hand t hrough his spiky hair. “I knocked for a couple of minut es, but you didn’t answ er. I…sort of let myself in.” T he same w ay I’d let myself int o Vaughn’s house. My eyes dart ed t o t he door behind him, and all I could t hink about w as w ho his uncle w as, how deeply involved he must be w it h t he DOD…and how dangerous he could be. “Kat y, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean t o scare you.” He crept closer, and I felt t he rush of st at ic moving up my arms in response t o t he perceived t hreat . Somehow , he sensed it and blanched. “Okay. W hat is your deal? I’m not going t o hurt you.” “Y ou already have,” I said, sw allow ing. He looked w ounded as he low ered his hands. “T hat ’s w hy I came here as soon as I got back int o t ow n. I’ve had t his w hole w eek t o t hink about w hat happened w it h t he Arum, and I’m sorry. I underst and w hy you’re upset .” He paused, looking cont rit e. “T hat ’s w hy I’m here. I just w ant ed t o t alk t hings out w it h you.” W as he t elling t he t rut h? My hands opened and closed at my sides. I felt like a caged animal w it h no w ay out . “Obviously coming int o your house like t his w asn’t a good idea.” Blake smiled. “I just w ant ed t o t alk t o you.” I forced myself t o calm dow n. “Okay. Um, can you give me a few seconds?”

Blake nodded as he backed out of t he room, and I slumped against my desk, dizzy w it h adrenaline. He didn’t know t hat I’d discovered his relat ionship w it h Vaughn, and t hat meant I had t he upper hand. And if he really w as w orking w it h t he DOD, I needed t o calm t he hell dow n. He w asn’t nearly as dangerous believing I didn’t have a clue about anyt hing t han if he did know . I quickly changed int o a pair of skinny jeans and a t urt leneck. T he w hole w ay dow nst airs, I t ook deep, even breat hs. Blake w ait ed in t he living room, sit t ing on t he couch. I gave him a smile I didn’t feel. “Sorry. You just caught me off guard. I don’t like w hen people…just show up in my bedroom like t hat .” “Underst andable.” He rose slow ly, and I not iced t hen a pall or clung t o his skin, height ening t he shadow s under his eyes. “I w on’t do it again.” My eyes w ent t o my lapt op, and I suddenly w ished I’d cleared t he search hist ory. I moved int o t he room, feeling like I w as st epping int o quicksand. I didn’t know how t o t alk t o him, t o even look at him. He w as a st ranger t o me now . Someone t hat , no mat t er how harmless he looked right t his second, I couldn’t t rust . Part of me w ant ed t o rage at him and t he ot her w ant ed t o run. “W e need t o t alk,” he said aw kw ardly. “Maybe it w ould be bet t er if w e w ent t o get somet hing t o eat ?” My dist rust spiked. He laughed grimly. “I w as t hinking t he Smoke Hole Diner.” I hesit at ed, not w ant ing t o go anyw here w it h him, but I also didn’t w ant t o be in t he house alone w it h him, and being out in public had t o be a bet t er choice. I glanced at t he clock on t he w all. It w as near seven. “I have t o be back here in an hour.” “Doable.” He grinned. I slid on my boot s and snat ched my phone. It w as st ill snow ing, so w e opt ed for his t ruck. I glanced next door as I climbed in. Daemon’s SUV w as gone and so w as Dee’s car. She’d ment ioned somet hing about get t ing part y favors. “Did you have a good Christ mas?” he asked, sliding t he key int o t he ignit ion. “Y eah, you?” My seat belt w as st uck, as usual, and I t ugged on it . “Do anyt hing excit ing?” Like go on a covert mission for t he DOD? “I spent some t ime w it h my uncle. Really boring.” I froze at t he ment ion of Vaughn, and t he st rap slipped aw ay from my fingers, snapping back int o t he holder. “Are you okay, Kat y?”

“Yeah,” I said, t aking a deep breat h. “T his damn seat belt is st uck. I don’t know w hy I have so many problems w it h seat belt s, but t hey are alw ays giving me crap.” I t ugged on it , cursing under my breat h. Finally I got it unst uck and t w ist ed around. My gaze drift ed over t he dashboard and dipped t o t he floor. Somet hing gleamed under t he ext erior light , peeking out from t he corner of t he mat . I let go of t he st rap and bent , grabbing t he cool met all off t he floor w hile he fiddled w it h t he w ipers, brushing a t hin coat ing of snow from t he w indshield. I st ared dow n at t he st rip of goldish blue met al, st ruck by t he familiarit y of it . I’d seen it before on someone. Turning it over, I saw t he engraved shape of t he st at e. A flakey reddish subst ance, kind of like rust , covered half of t he st at e and t he let t ering. I smoot hed my finger over it , revealing t he name engraved on t he band. Comprehension crept in slow ly, mainly out of disbelief, because I knew w ho half t his w at ch belonged t o. Simon…Simon Cutters… I’d seen him w ear t his before. And…and t he st uff on t he band w asn’t rust . My st omach t ilt ed and a violent shudder rolled t hrough me. It w as blood. Simon’s blood, most likely. My heart leaped int o my t hroat , and I squeezed my hand over t he band, hoping Blake hadn’t seen me pick it up. My breat h halt ed in my chest as I glanced at him. Blake w as st aring back at me. His gaze dropped t o my hand and t hen flicked up, meet ing my eyes again. Our gazes locked. Pure, raw fear dug at me. “Shit ,” I w hispered. A small, w eak smile craw led across his lips. “Dammit , Kat y…” I spun around in my seat , reaching for t he door handle w it h my free hand. I t hrew it open and got half of my body out of t he t ruck before his hand clamped dow n on my arm. “Kat y! W ait ! I can explain.” T here w as not hing t o explain. T he bloodied w at ch belonged t o Simon—Simon w ho’d been missing. Add t hat ont o everyt hing else, and I w as so out of t here. I t hrew my w eight forw ard, breaking his hold. Scrambling t o my feet , I dart ed around t he front of t he t ruck. Blake w as fast , on me before I even reached t he first st ep of t he porch. He grabbed my shoulders and w hirled me around. I w ent , sw inging at him. He dodged t he blow s, cat ching my arms, pinning t hem t o my sides in a brut all bear hug.

“Let me go!” I screamed, know ing t here w as no one w ho w ould hear me. I only had myself t o get out of t his mess. “Let me go, Blake!” “I can explain.” He grunt ed as I managed t o jab an elbow int o his st omach, but he held on. “I didn’t kill Simon!” I st ruggled, t hrow ing my w eight from one side t o t he next . Of course he’d lie. “Let go!” “Y ou don’t underst and.” St at ic rushed over my skin in response t o t he t hreat . Red-w hit e light clouded t he corners of my vision. Blake’s eyes w idened slight ly. “Don’t do it , Kat y.” “Let me go,” I grow led, feeling t he explosion of heat ed light ning zinging t hrough my veins. “I don’t w ant t o hurt you, but I w ill,” he w arned. “So w ill I.” And I w ould—I could. Blake let go, pushing me back. My boot s slipped over t he ice and snow , and my arms flailed w ildly. T hen he charged me. A flash of int ense blue light blinded me. Pain reverberat ed off my skull, t earing t hrough me, splint ering my grasp on t he Source. I screamed out , feeling my legs go out from underneat h me. He sw ooped in, cat ching me before I fell, half dragging me up t he st airs. “I t old you not t o do it . Y ou didn’t list en t o me.” Somet hing w as w rong w it h my mot or funct ion skills. I opened my mout h, but not hing came out except soft moans. My legs w ouldn’t w ork. I couldn’t feel my feet . A met all ic t ast e w as in t he back of my mout h; blood leaked out of my nose and, I t hink, my ears, t oo. T he door sw ung open in front of us, and he dragged me in. It slammed shut , shaking t he pict ures on t he w alls. I kept t rying t o t alk, but only garbled w ords came out . W hat did he do t o me? “It ’ll w ear off,” he said, as if reading my mind. “Hurt s, doesn’t it ? One of t he first t hings t hey t each us is t o cont roll a concent rat ed blast of Source so it ’s like get t ing hit w it h a super-charged T aser. W e all have t o t ake a hit , just t o know how bad it feels.” He dropped me on t he couch, and my head lolled t o t he side as I blinked slow ly. His face blurred in and out , and t hen st eadied. He looked grim as he leaned over me, brushing t he st rands of hair off my face. I t ried t o knock his hand aw ay, but my arm w ouldn’t cooperat e. “I know you can hear me. Just give it a couple more minut es, and it w ill w ear off.” He sat back, one hand moving up my leg t hat w as off t he couch. He posit ioned it beside t he ot her. My heart pounded, and I w himpered.

Shaking his head, he slipped his hand int o my front pocket and slid out my cell phone. Holding it up bet w een us, t he Source flared in his hand, oblit erat ing t he fragile piece of elect ronics. He t ossed t he remains t o t he floor. “Now , list en t o me, Kat y.” I squeezed my eyes shut against t he rush of t ears. T hat quickly, he had subdued me. And I’d been planning on t raining and fight ing Arum—plus t he DOD? I w as so foolish. “I didn’t kill Simon. I don’t know w hat happened t o him, but you—you left me no ot her choice,” he said, voice grave. “I had t o clean up aft er you, make sure you didn’t expose yourself before t hey knew w hat t o do w it h you. If you hadn’t bust ed t hose w indow s in front of him, he’d st ill be hanging around here and dreaming about college. Y ou didn’t leave me a choice.” “No,” I croaked out , horrified at w hat he w as saying. “Y es! He w ould’ve t old t he w orld.” “Y ou’re…you’re insane. Y ou…didn’t need t o kill him.” “List en t o me!” he yelled, dragging his fingers t hrough his hair, eyes bugging. “Aft er I left t he part y, I st ayed and I saw him leave once you broke t he w indow s. I follow ed him home, and he w as so drunk he pulled over on t he side of t he road. He w as going crazy about it and I had t o t urn him over. I don’t know w hat t hey did w it h him.” “T here…t here w as blood on his w at ch.” “Simon fought back, but he w as alive w hen I last saw him.” But t hose w ho discovered t he t rut h about t he Luxen disappeared. Simon…Simon w asn’t coming back. And t here w asn’t enough air in t he house. My chest w as rising and falling, but I felt like I couldn’t breat he. T ears built in my eyes as I st ared up at him. “List en t o me, Kat y. T his is bigger t han you t hink.” He grasped my cheeks, forcing me t o look at him. “You have no idea w ho t his involves, t he lies, and w hat people w ill do for pow er. I didn’t have a choice.” I could feel my st rengt h sliding back int o me. A few more moment s… “Y ou’ve lied t o me.” “Not everyt hing is a lie!” His grip dug in painfully, bruising my skin unt ill a st rangled cry escaped. He drew in a ragged breat h. “You know , t his w asn’t how it w as supposed t o go dow n. I w as supposed t o get you ready, t o make sure you are a viable subject . And t hen I t urn you in. If I don’t , t hey’ll kill Chris. I can’t —I w on’t let t hat happen.” Chris? Brain cells must ’ve been damaged because it t ook a few seconds t o remember w ho Chris w as. “Y our friend—t he one w ho healed you?” Blake closed his eyes, nodding. “T hey have Chris. And if I don’t perform, t hey’ll hurt him. T hey’ll kill him. And I can’t let t hat

happen. Not because of w hat it means for me, because I know —I know if t hey kill him I die, but t here are t hings t hey do…” T hey knew … One couldn’t survive w it hout t he ot her. Oh my God, t hey knew . T he kind of pow er t hat know ledge w ielded w as horrific. “I know you underst and how st rong t hat bond is.” Blake opened his eyes. “You w on’t t ell me w ho healed you, but you’d do anyt hing t o prot ect t hat Luxen, w ouldn’t you? Anyt hing. Chris… He’s t he only real family I have left . And I don’t care about w hat t hey do t o me, but him?” As I st ared int o Blake’s eyes, a t hin t endril of sympat hy w iggled free. If t he DOD w as holding Chris, using him t o force Blake t o do t hings for t hem, t hen he w as t rapped. T here w as a moment of st ark clarit y. W ere Daw son and Bet hany in t he same posit ion? But t here w as somet hing else. Blake and I did have somet hing in common. He’d do anyt hing for Chris. And I’d do anyt hing for Daemon. W it h a burst of energy, I buckled under him, t rying t o t hrow him off. He capt ured my hands and yanked me off t he couch. I hit t he floor on my side, knocking t he air out of me. Rolling me over, he st raddled my hips, lift ing my joined w rist s so t hey w ere above my head. He pressed his w eight dow n. “I didn’t w ant t o do t his. I never w ant ed anyt hing t o do w it h t his.” I clung t o t he anger boiling inside me, know ing if I caved t o t he fear—or w orse yet , t he compassion—I’d be useless. “Do w hat , exact ly? Lie t o me? W ork for t he DOD—for your uncle?” Blake blinked. “Y ou know about Brian? Since w hen?” I didn’t give him t he benefit of my answ er. His grip on my w rist s t ight ened unt ill I could feel t he bones rubbing t oget her. “T ell me!” “I saw t he obit uary for your parent s! I put t w o and t w o t oget her.” “W hen?” He shook me, snapping my head back. “How long have you know n? W ho have you t old?” “No one!” I screamed, dizzy and faint . “I haven’t t old anyone.” For several seconds, he st ared at me, and t hen his grip loosened. “I hope so, for t heir sake. T hings are bigger t han you realize. Not everyt hing I t old you is a lie. T he DOD does w ant humans like us. T hat ’s t heir ult imat e plan.” He eased up a lit t le, but I st ill felt like I w as being smot hered by his w eight . “I know w hat you’re doing, Kat y. Don’t call upon t he Source. I’m st ronger t han you. Next t ime you w on’t recover so quickly. I w ill hurt you.” “I already know t hat ,” I spat .

“I like you. I really do. And I w ish t hings w ere different . You have no idea how badly I w ish t hings w ere different , Kat y.” He closed his eyes briefly, and w hen he opened t hem, t hey glist ened w it h t ears. “Everyt hing I t old you about my friend w as t rue, but I grew up know ing about t he Luxen. My dad w orked as liaison t o t he DOD, on genet ic engineering. And, w ell, you know w ho my uncle is. I’m not even sure if t he w hole accident t hat changed me w asn’t st aged.” He laughed grimly. “T hey knew how close Chris and I w ere, so maybe t hey expect ed him t o heal me. And t he Arum did find my family. None of t hat is a lie.” “But aft er t hat ? Everyt hing else is a lie.” “My family w as gone, Kat y. All I had w as my uncle. T hey t rained me and since I’m young, t hey sent me t o areas w here t hey suspect ed a human around my age had been mut at ed.” “Oh my God…” I felt sick, and I w ant ed him off me. I w ant ed him t o be gone. “So t his is w hat you do? Go around, pret ending t o be someone’s friend? Set t ing up ot hers?” “My job is t o discover if t hey are salvageable.” “Salvageable?” I w hispered, know ing w hat he meant . “And if t hey’re not , t hey get put dow n.” He nodded. “Or w orse, Kat y… T here are w orse t hings t han deat h.” I shuddered. It made sense, his obsession w it h me being able t o cont roll t he Source, his escalat ing recklessness. “I came here t o see if you could cont roll t he Source. If you w ould be an asset t o t he DOD or a w ast e, but t hey already checked you out before I arrived, w at ching you, follow ing how close you are w it h t he Blacks. I heard t hey even engineered t he Arum at t acks on you, hoping one of t he Blacks w ould st ep in and save you, heal you.” I gasped. Everyt hing t hat happened t o me had been some sort of experiment ? W hat if I’d died? “W hat if no one had survived t he Arum at t ack t o heal me?” Blake laughed. “W hat ’s one more dead Luxen t o t hese people? But w hen t hey suspect ed t hat you’d been healed, t hey made t he necessary calls, and I w as brought in.” He low ered his head, voice dropping. “T hey also w ant t o know w hich one healed you. No guesses. No assumpt ions. You’re going t o have t o t ell t hem.” My heart t umbled over. “I’ll never t ell.” A sad smile appeared on his lips. “Oh, you w ill. T hey have w ays of making you t alk. T hey already have t heir suspicions. My guess is Daemon. It ’s so obvious, but t hey w ant proof. And if you don’t play t heir games, t hey’ll find w ays t o make you play.” T he smile faded from his lips, eyes grow ing dark and haunt ed. “Just like t hey found a w ay t o make me play.” I sw allow ed, unnerved by t he pain in his eyes. “Like w it h Bet hany and Daw son?”

Blake’s lashes low ered, and he nodded. “T here are more, Kat y. You…you have no idea…but it doesn’t mat t er. You’ll probably be seeing him soon enough. All I need t o do is make one call, and Uncle Brian and Nancy w ill come. Nancy w ill be ecst at ic.” He grunt ed out an ugly laugh. “Uncle Brian has kept her out of t he loop. She has no idea how w ell you’re doing. And t hey’re going t o t ake you aw ay. T hey t ake care of you…as long as you behave. Y ou just have t o behave.” For a moment , my brain empt ied and panic replaced any calm I’d gained. I st ruggled w ildly under him, but he held me dow n easily. “I’m sorry,” he w hispered hoarsely, and God, I believed t hat he w as. “But if I don’t do t his, t hey w ill hurt Chris and I can’t …” He sw allow ed t hickly. My fear knew no limit s at t hat point . Blake really had no choice. It w as his life and his friend’s or mine. No. No, t hat w asn’t right . He did have a choice, because I w ould never give up someone else for my survival. But w ould I for Daemon? My heart t urned over heavily, and I knew t he answ er t o t hat . Shades of gray…one big, giant gray area I couldn’t t hink about right now . “No. Y ou do have a choice,” I insist ed. “Y ou can go against t hem. Escape! W e can find a w ay t o free—” “We?” He laughed again. “W ho is w e, Kat y? Daemon? Dee? You and me? Hell, every one of us could t ry t o go against t he DOD and w e’d fail. And t he Blacks are going t o w ant t o help me? Know ing t hat I w ork for t he people w ho t ook t heir brot her?” My st omach t w ist ed. “Y ou st ill have a choice. Y ou don’t have t o do t his. Please, Blake, you don’t have t o do t his.” He looked aw ay, jaw clenching. “But I do. And one day, you’ll be in t he same posit ion as I am. Y ou’ll underst and t hen.” “No.” I shook my head. “I’d never do t his t o someone. I’d find a w ay out .” His eyes met mine. T hey w ere empt y, vast . “Y ou’ll see.” “Blake—” A knock on t he front door cut off my w ords. My heart t ripled in beat , and Blake froze above me, eyes narrow ed, breat hing heavy. He pressed his hand over my mout h. “Kat y?” Dee called out . “It ’s t ime t o par-t ay. Hurry up! Adam is w ait ing for us in t he car.” “W hat is she doing here?” he asked in a hushed voice.

I t rembled, st aring up at him w it h w ide eyes. How w as I supposed t o answ er w it h his hand over my mout h? Dee banged on t he front door again. “Kat y, I know you’re in t here. Answ er t he door.” “Tell her you’ve changed your mind.” His hand pressed harder against my mout h. “Tell her or I sw ear t o God, I’ll blow her int o t he Milky Way. I don’t w ant t o do it , but I w ill.” I nodded and very slow ly, Blake lift ed his fingers and hauled me t o my feet . He pushed me out of t he living room and t ow ard t he door. “Come on,” Dee w hined. “You’re not even answ ering your phone. Tell Blake you’ve got t o go. I know he’s in t here. His t ruck’s out front .” She giggled t hen. “So, yeah, hi, Blake!” I squeezed my eyes against t he t ears. “I’ve changed my mind.” “W hat?” “I’ve changed my mind,” I repeat ed t hrough t he door. “I don’t w ant t o go out t onight . I just w ant t o st ay home.” Please, I begged silently. Please just go. I don’t w ant to drag you into this. Please. T here w as a heavy pause, and t hen Dee banged on t he door harder. “Don’t be a douche, Kat y; you’re coming t onight . So open t his goddamn door!” Blake glared at me, and I knew she’d come t hrough t hat door. I t ook a deep breat h and I choked on a dry, hoarse sob. “I don’t w ant t o go w it h you! I don’t w ant t o even hang out w it h you, Dee. Go and leave me t he hell alone.” “Damn,” w hispered Blake. “Kat y…?” Dee said, voice rough. “W hat ’s going on? T his…t his doesn’t sound like you.” I pressed my forehead against t he door. Tears rolled dow n my cheeks. “It is me. It ’s w hy I haven’t been hanging out w it h you. Okay? I don’t w ant t o be friends w it h you anymore. So please leave me alone. Go bot her someone else. I don’t have t ime for t his.” T he only sound w as her heels rapping off t he porch. Blake moved t o t he w indow , w at ching t hem climb int o Adam’s SUV. W hen he heard t he sound of t ires peeling, he marched over and gripped my arm. He pulled me back int o t he living room, forcing me t o sit on t he couch. “She’ll get over it ,” he said, pulling his cell out of his pocket . “No,” I w hispered, w at ching him t ype aw ay on his phone. “She w on’t .” Since Blake w as dist ract ed by his phone, I saw my only chance. As I t apped int o t he Source, t here w asn’t a single part of me t hat doubt ed my next act ions, not even for a second. Rage

clouded my sense of moral code. Everyt hing w as t w ist ed now . T here w as no right , no w rong. A fierce w ind how led t hroughout t he house. Pict ures from t he hall w ay shook and fell t o t he floor, shat t ering. T he cupboards rat t led, doors sw ung open, and books t oppled over. Blake w hirled on me, low ering t he phone, eyes filled w it h aw e. “Y ou really are sort of amazing.” St rands of hair w hipped around me, my fingers ached w it h energy t hat crackled all t hrough me. I felt t he t ips of my feet leave t he floor. He snapped t he phone shut and t hrew out his hand. T he w ind I w as st irring kicked back on me, sending me int o t he w all. St unned, I fought t he force holding me back, but like w it h Bet h, I couldn’t break it . “Y ou haven’t been fully t rained.” Blake advanced on me, smiling w ryly. “T here’s a lot of pot ent ial, don’t get me w rong, but you can’t fight me.” “Screw you,” I spat . “I w ould’ve been game for t hat .” He brought his hand back t ow ard him, and it w as like an invisible st ring had been at t ached t o me. Against my w ill, my body w ent right t o him, and I w as suspended t here, kicking and t hrashing at not hing but air. “T ire yourself out . It doesn’t mat t er.” “I’m going t o kill you,” I promised, w elcoming t he rising t ide of fury building in me. “Y ou don’t have it in you.” He paused, cocking his head t o t he side. “Not yet , at least .” His phone dinged, and he flipped it open, smiling. “Uncle Brian’s on his w ay. It ’s almost over.” I screamed, feeling t he energy pulse around me. My vision clouded once again, and I felt each one of my cells w arming. Anger fueled t he alien part of me, giving it st rengt h. I zeroed in on Blake. He backed up, brow s raised. “Give it your best shot . I’ll just t hrow it back on you.” A w indow shat t ered upst airs, t he sound explosive and jarring. I lift ed my head as Blake spun around. Tw o st reaks of light shot dow n t he st airs, breaking apart and heading st raight for Blake. One smaller and less pow erful form drew up short . T he light flickered out , and Dee t ook shape, her mout h hanging open as she st ared at me. “Y ou’re…you’re glow ing.” T he ot her light crashed int o Blake, sending him several feet back. I t urned, feeling myself low er t o t he floor. Blake roared as he pushed t he light off him, and he, t oo, st art ed t o glow , much like Bet hany had. An int ense blue light surrounded him as he reared back and released a pulse of light . Dee shot forw ard, flickering out as she grabbed for Adam. T he pulse hit t hem and t hey froze. Bot h t ook on t heir human forms for a brief second.

An iridescent st ream of light leaked from Dee’s nose and spilled from her mout h. I st aggered forw ard, screaming her name. Blake grabbed me from behind, t hrust ing me dow n ont o t he floor. She w as t he first t o collapse. Blinking in and out , she crumpled, eyes closed. I st ruggled under Blake, managing t o rise up on my elbow s. I screamed again, but it didn’t even sound like me. Adam…Adam w as much w orse. A river of light came from his mout h, his eyes, and his ears. His human body shuddered. Liquid radiance dripped ont o t he floor. He w as sw at hed in light , but it flickered errat ically. He t ook a st ep forw ard, raising his hand. “No!” I screamed. Blake reared off me, hit t ing Adam w it h anot her blast . Adam w ent dow n. Pushing on t he back of my head, he forced my face int o t he w ooden floor, pressing his knee int o t he cent er of my back. “Dammit ,” he said hoarsely. “Dammit !” I couldn’t breat he. “I didn’t … I didn’t w ant t hat t o happen,” he said, bending over me. His head pressed int o my shoulder and his body shuddered. “Oh God, I didn’t w ant t o hurt anyone.” He t rembled, lift ing his head. He croaked out a broken laugh. “Well, at least I know it w asn’t eit her of t hem w ho healed you. I’m pret t y sure t hey’re bot h dead.”

Chapter 31
T he last t ime I’d cried t his hard w as w hen t he hospice w orker forced me aw ay from my dad’s bed during his final moment s. T hey w eren’t pret t y as he st ruggled t o t ake his last breat h. “She’s not dead,” Blake said, sounding relieved. “She’s st ill alive.” Blood and t ears mixed on my face. Sobs clogged my t hroat , rendering me speechless. Dee w as alive. Barely. Her light cont inued t o flicker soft ly, but Adam… Oh, God. Adam’s light had dulled, no st ronger t han a w eak and faded light bulb. I could see t he shape of his hands and legs. His face w asn’t shapeless, and neit her w as t he rest of his body. It w as like a pale, t

ranslucent shell of a human. A net w ork of silvery veins exist ed under t he semi-t ransparent shell. It reminded me of a jell yfish. Adam w as dead. Quiet sobs raked my t hroat unt ill it w as so hoarse and raw I could hardly breat he. T his w as my fault . I’d t rust ed Blake w hen Daemon pract ically begged me not t o. I’d befriended Dee, and she’d know n somet hing w as w rong because she knew me. I hadn’t killed Adam, but I’d led him right int o t his. He’d died t rying t o prot ect me. “Shh,” Blake crooned, lift ing me off t he floor, t urning me over. “You’ve got t o calm dow n.” He w iped a hand along my cheek. “You’re going t o make yourself sick.” “Don’t t ouch me,” I croaked, scrambling aw ay from him. “Don’t …come. Near. Me.” He crouched, w at ching as I craw led t o Dee’s side. I w ant ed t o help her, but I didn’t know how . My gaze flickered over t o Adam, and I choked on my breat h. Not know ing w hat else t o do, I blocked Adam from her view . It w as all I could do. No more t han five minut es lat er, a car door shut out side. Blake st ood fluidly, st alking t ow ard me. He placed his hand on my shoulder, and t hen his phone beeped. I shuddered, know ing w hat w ait ed beyond t he door. But w hat I w asn’t expect ing w as t he flare of heat t hat radiat ed off my obsidian. I lift ed my head. “Arum…” His fingers dug in. “Just sit st ill.” Oh, God… I glanced dow n at Dee. She w as vulnerable, easy pickings. My front door opened. Heavy feet filled t he hall w ay, and t he obsidian scalded my skin. I reached up, hands t rembling, and dug t he rock out . Vaughn w as t he first t o ent er. His eyebrow s rose as his gaze landed beside me. “Blake, w hat happened here?” I felt Blake st iffen, but I kept my eyes on t he t w o Arum behind Brian. One w as Residon and t he ot her male looked a lot like him. T heir greedy eyes w ere bare and w ent st raight t o Dee. I t urned, feeling t he hair on t he back of my neck raise. “T hey surprised me. I had t o fight back or t hey w ould’ve t aken me out . I didn’t have a choice.” Blake cleared his t hroat , sounding confused w hen he spoke again. “W here’s Nancy?” “T his has not hing t o do w it h Nancy.” Vaughn rubbed a long finger over his brow . “And you say t hat a lot , Blake. T here are alw ays choices. How ever, you’re not really good at making t hem.” He t urned t o t he Arum. “T ake t he dead one. See if you can get anyt hing off him.” “T he dead one?” Residon scuffed. “W e w ant t he one w ho is st ill alive.”

“No.” My voice came out harsh and ragged. “No! T hey can’t have eit her of t hem. T hey can’t t ouch t hem.” Residon laughed. Vaughn knelt dow n in front of me, and as close as w e w ere, I could see t he resemblance now . “T his can go one of t w o w ays. You come w it h us of your ow n free w ill or I w ill hand over bot h of t hem t o t hese guys. Do you underst and?” My eyes dart ed t o t he Arum. “I w ant t hem gone first .” “Y ou’re negot iat ing?” Vaughn laughed as he glanced up at his nephew . “See, t hat ’s w hat you do w hen you’re present ed w it h t he unexpect ed.” Blake looked aw ay, jaw clenching. “W hat do you mean t his isn’t about Nancy?” “Just w hat it sounds like.” A shudder racked Blake’s t aut body. “If w e don’t t urn her over, t hey’ll kill —” “Do I look like I care? Really?” Vaughn laughed, st anding as he t urned his at t ent ion t o me. He pushed back his jacket , flashing his gun. “Residon, t ake t he dead one. Dispose of him.” Take his body, so Ash and Andrew w ould face w hat Dee and Daemon had? No body. No closure. My brain clicked off. W hat rose in me, replacing t he sorrow and helplessness, w as primal and ancient . Not just alien in origin, but a combinat ion of bot h foreign and organic. I sucked in air, but t here w as somet hing…more. Part icles all around us—t iny at oms, but pow erful, t oo small t o see w it h t he naked eye—lit up as t hey danced in t he air and t hen froze. Like a t housand t w inkling st ars, t hey gleamed a dazzling w hit e. I sucked in and t hey came t ow ard me, rushing, falling like shoot ing st ars. T hey built and sw irled, surrounding my body and t hose on t he floor. I st ood as t hey pieced t oget her, set t ling on my skin, soaking t hrough unt ill t hey bonded w it h my cells. My ent ire body w armed, mixing w it h t he roaring t ide of emot ions gat hering in me. I w as no longer just Kat y. Somet hing—someone else—moved inside me. Anot her part of me t hat had been split mont hs ago, on Hall ow een, had ret urned. T he Arum sensed it first . T hey shift ed int o t heir t rue forms, t all, imposing shadow s t hick and muddled like midnight oil. T hey w ould die. “Don’t kill her,” Vaughn yelled, pulling out his gun, leveling it at me. “Now , lit t le girl, you don’t w ant t o do anyt hing rash. T hink t his t hrough.” He w ould die, t oo. Backing up, Blake glanced bet w een his uncle and me. “Christ …” In t he back of my mind, I knew t here w as somet hing else fueling t his pow er—someone else from t he out side. It w as like t he night in t he clearing.

W hat w as in me w as fully joining w it h my ot her half. I lift ed int o t he air, no longer seeing t hem in color, but only in w hit e, t inged w it h red. “Shit ,” Vaughn mut t ered. His finger t w it ched. “Don’t make me do t his, Kat y. Y ou’re w ort h a lot of money.” Money? W hat did t his have t o do w it h money? But I w as beyond caring. I w elcomed t he feeling encroaching upon me. My vision shift ed, blurred, and t ingled. My head cocked t o t he side. St at ic filled t he air, devouring oxygen. Blake gagged, dropping t o his knees. T he Arum rose up, spinning around and rushing t he door. T heir black t endrils reached out , knocking off furnit ure and sending pict ure frames t o t he floor. T hey drew up short . “Leaving so soon?” a deep, furious voice said from t he doorw ay. “I’m offended.” Daemon shift ed int o his t rue form and t ook out t he first Arum w it h one blast follow ed by anot her…and t hen anot her. Pieces of it broke aw ay and float ed up and up, disappearing int o t hin w isps before t hey reached t he ceiling. I drew Residon, t he one w ho’d w ant ed Dee, back t o me. He w as caught bet w een Daemon and me, like a ping-pong ball. My light pulsed. Daemon’s flared. Residon roared. T ell me w hat has happened, Daemon’s voice w hispered among my thoughts. I t old him everyt hing about Blake and Vaughn w hile w e w orked on Residon, t earing him dow n. But movement caught my at t ent ion. Vaughn w as t rying t o w ork t he w indow open. W hen he got now here w it h t hat , he grabbed t he floor lamp and sw ung it t ow ard t he glass. I froze t he lamp and t hen w hipped it out of his hands. Vaughn spun around, dashing behind Daemon. In t he chaos, Blake had made it out side somehow . So had Daemon and Residon. T hree forms st reaked int o my house. I heard a w ailing sound, and it drove deep inside me, darkening a part of me. T here w as a crack and one of t he large oaks came dow n, landing near t he drivew ay. Ash w as in her human form, t ugging on her brot her’s lifeless body, pulling him int o her lap. Her head w as t ipped back, her mout h open as she keened and w ept . Dee w as moving beside her, grow ing st ronger and st ronger. And I knew her w aill w ould soon join Ash’s. Vaughn? Blake? T hey w ouldn’t escape this. I glided out of the living room, my feet on the ground, but I didn’t feel the steps. I passed Matthew as he rushed int o t he living room; t he st art led cry he let out splint ered my heart . Daemon burned bright er t han I’d ever seen. A pure, concent rat ed w hit e light t inged in red as he dart ed dow n t he drivew ay t ow ard t he mass of shadow s gat hering. His light flared int

ensely, and I t hrew up my arm, shielding my eyes. I t hought of t he DOD officers he’d t urned t o ash…and again I t hought of an at omic bomb. T he light had t urned t hat bright . A bolt of light ning shot from Daemon and slammed int o Residon, spinning him int o t he air. Suspended, t he Arum flickered from shadow s t o human form and t hen froze, his upper body human and his low er body not hing more t han smoke. And he broke int o a t housand shards w it h a loud crack t hat sounded like t hunder. T he snow fell heavier. Out of t he corner of my eye, I saw Vaughn leaping from behind my car—t he spot he had been cow ering in. Gun in hand, he rushed t ow ard his Expedit ion at t he same moment Blake spun t ow ard t he w oods. Before I could even move, Daemon t hrew out a light -encased arm and t he Expedit ion lurched int o t he air, flipping over Vaughn, exposing him. T he roof gave w it h a crunch. Glass exploded in every w hich direct ion as met all snapped. In aw e of such pow er, I froze. Daemon w hipped t ow ard Blake, cat ching him by t he t hroat . A heart beat lat er, he had t he boy against t he hood of my car, and in his human form, he w as no less fright ening or pow erful. “You have no idea how painful I’m going t o make t his for you,” Daemon said, eyes like orbs of w hit e light . “For every bruise you gave Kat , I’m going t o ret urn t o you t enfold.” He lift ed Blake off my hood. T he boy’s feet dangled in t he air. “And I’m going t o seriously enjoy t his.” Vaughn made his move t hen. Rushing forw ard, he raised t he gun. “Daemon!” I shot t ow ard t hem. Vaughn pulled t he t rigger. Once. T w ice. T hree t imes. Daemon’s head jerked around and he smiled—he act ually smiled. And t he bullet s…t hey st opped inches from Daemon’s face. T hey just hovered t here, as if someone had pressed pause. “Y ou really shouldn’t have done t hat ,” Daemon grow led. Comprehension show ed in Vaughn’s pale face. “No—no!” T he bullet s flipped over and ret urned t o t he sender w it h an alarming speed. T hey hit Vaughn in t he chest and t hat w as t hat . T here w as no chance for any more react ions. T he

man’s legs crumpled and he w as not hing but a lifeless heap beside t he t w ist ed met all of t he Expedit ion. Red spread across t he snow in a st ream of scarlet . Blake t ore free, hit t ing t he side of my bumper, and t hen he w as up, running t ow ard t he w oods. He w as fast . Not as fast as Daemon, and not as fast as me. W ind and snow blew back at me as I gave chase. Blood didn’t pump. Light did. I caught up t o Blake by a pine t ree. He spun around, sending a blast of light at me. It st ruck my chest , knocking me back a few st eps. Pain shimmied dow n my body, but I st raight ened…and I t racked forw ard. He t hrew anot her pulse of light . It ricochet ed off my shoulder. Liquid w armt h cascaded dow n my arm, but I pressed on, st alking him, t aunt ing him. Anot her t ook my leg out from underneat h me, but I picked myself back up. His hands w ere shaking. “I’m sorry…” he said. “Kat y, I’m sorry. I didn’t have a choice.” T here w ere alw ays choices. I’d made a st ring of bad ones myself. At least I could admit t hat . Part of me felt bad for him. He w as a product of his family, but he had choices. He just made t he w rong ones. Like me. Like me…? Beaut iful light approached from behind, moving out t o my right . He had gone back t o his t rue form. W hat do you w ant t o do w it h him? Daemon asked calmly. He…he killed Adam. My pow er flickered w ith that, and I could see skin beneath my hands. T hey w ere covered in red. A sw itch had been throw n inside me. Everyt hing left me, and I sw ayed on t he ground, my boot s sinking t hrough snow . I couldn’t do t his anymore. “He killed him. And hurt Dee.” Daemon’s form burned as bright as t he sun, and for a moment , I t hought t hat it w as for Blake, but he dimmed out , t aking human shape. Mut at ed or not , Daemon w ould have a problem w it h killing anot her human, especially aft er Vaughn. I knew t his. T he w ound left over from t he t w o officers he’d t aken out st ill fest ered. Add Blake t o t he list , and he might never heal. T he w ound w ould gape forever. T aking a breat h, I said, “So many have died t onight .”

Blake’s eyes dart ed t o me. “I’m sorry… I’m so sorry. I never w ant ed any of t his happen. I only w ant ed t o prot ect Chris.” He drew in a ragged breat h, w iping at t he blood under his nose. “I’m—” “Shut up,” Daemon grow led. “Go. Go now before I don’t give you a choice.” Shock rippled over Blake’s face. “Y ou’re let t ing me go?” Daemon glanced at me, and I low ered my head, exhaust ed and shamed. If I’d only list ened t o Daemon in t he beginning, t rust ed t hat his inst inct regarding Blake had not been off. But I hadn’t . “Go and never, ever come back here,” Daemon said, his w ords carrying on t he w ind. “If I ever see you again, I w ill kill you.” Blake hesit at ed for only a moment , and t hen he spun and ran. I doubt ed he w ould make it very far, because once Nancy—w hoever she really w as— and t he DOD realized he’d failed, t hey’d kill Chris like Blake feared. And t hat w ould be t he end of Blake. Maybe t hat w as w hy Daemon w as let t ing him go. Blake w as as good as dead anyw ay. Or neit her of us could kill anymore. I w as done. Daemon w as done. Too many had died t onight . My legs folded under me, and I knelt in t he snow . Using t he Source had w eakened me and fight ing Blake, t he injuries inflict ed, caused my t hought s t o run t oget her in an endless st ream of confusion and regret . I doubt ed I’d ever feel st rong enough again. Slipping in and out of consciousness, I w as vaguely aw are of someone holding me. T here w as t his incredible w armt h cascading t hrough my veins. W hen I opened my eyes again, I w as bat hed in light . Daemon? T here w as a buzzing t hrough t he connect ion and t hen… I t old you w e couldn’t t rust him. T he pain I felt couldn’t be healed by his t ouch, couldn’t be erased in his light . I squeezed my eyes shut , but t he t ears leaked out . I’m sorry. I thought…I thought if I learned how to fight, I could keep you safe, all of you safe. His light pulled back and t hen it w as Daemon st aring dow n at me, eyes a brilliant shade of w hit e. His body shook w it h t he force of his anger, w hich w as so at odds compared t o t he gent leness of his embrace. “Daemon, I—”

“Don’t apologize. Just don’t apologize.” Daemon lift ed me out of his lap and sat me on t he cold ground. Climbing t o his feet , he drew in a ragged breat h. “Did you know he w as w orking w it h t he DOD t his ent ire t ime?” “No.” I climbed t o my feet , sw aying t o t he side as my legs got used t o w orking again. He reached out , cupping my elbow unt ill I st opped moving, t hen he let go. “I didn’t know unt ill a few night s ago. And even t hen I w asn’t sure.” “Dammit ,” he spat , t aking a st ep back. “W as t hat t he night you w ent t o Vaughn’s on your ow n?” “Yes, but I w asn’t sure.” I lift ed my hands, surprised t o see t hem covered in blood. Mine? Someone else’s? “I should’ve t old you t hen, but I didn’t know for sure, and I didn’t w ant t o add anyt hing for you t o w orry about .” My voice cracked. “I didn’t know .” He looked aw ay, jaw clenching. “Adam is dead. My sist er almost lost her life.” I sucked in a painful breat h. “I’m so—” “Don’t ! Don’t you dare apologize!” he yelled, eyes glow ing t hrough t he darkness, t hrough me. “Adam’s deat h w ill dest roy my sist er. I t old you w e couldn’t t rust Blake, t hat if you w ant ed t o learn how t o fight , I w ould’ve show n you! But you didn’t list en. And you’ve brought t he DOD int o your life, Kat ! W ho know s w hat t hey know now .” “I didn’t t ell him anyt hing!” My chest w as rising rapidly. My breat h came out short . “I never t old him you healed me.” Daemon’s eyes narrow ed. “Do you t hink he didn’t guess?” I w inced, at a loss w hat t o say. “I’m sorry,” I w hispered. He flinched. “And t hose t imes you w ere covered in bruises? T hat w as him, w asn’t it ? He w as hurt ing you during t raining, w asn’t he? And never once did you t hink t here may be somet hing w rong w it h him? God dammit , Kat ! Y ou’ve lied t o me. Y ou didn’t t rust me!” “I do t rust —” “bullshit !” Daemon w as in my face. “Don’t say you t rust me w hen it ’s apparent you never did!” T here w as not hing I could say. A burst of energy left him, slamming int o an ancient oak. It cracked w it h a loud snapping sound and t hen folded int o a t ree beside it . I jumped, gasping for air. “All of t his could’ve been prevent ed. W hy couldn’t you t rust me?” His voice cracked, and t he sound reverberat ed t hrough me like a barb-t ailed w hip. I w ished I had. My t rust should’ve been placed in t he one person I’d alw ays t rust ed. I’d been fooled. Worse yet , I’d let myself be fooled. Tears st reamed dow n my cheeks, a never-ending river of remorse.

Daemon drew in anot her harsh breat h as he st art ed t ow ard me, but he came up short . “I w ould’ve kept you safe.” T hen in a flash of red-w hit e light , he w as gone. And I w as alone in t he freezing night , left w it h my choices, my mist akes…my guilt .

Chapter 32
W hen I ret urned t o my house, everyone w as gone except Mat t hew , w ho st ayed t o help…clean up aft er everyt hing. Someone had removed Vaughn’s body, plus his car and Blake’s t ruck. T here w ere broken pict ure frames everyw here. T he coffee t able w as scrat ched all t o hell. I had no idea how I w as going t o explain t he broken w indow in t he hall w ay upst airs. But t he spot w here Adam had fall en w as w orse. Glist ening liquid pooled in t w o spot s. Mat t hew w as t rying t o clean it up, but his hands w ere shaking, his jaw w orking. I grabbed some t ow els from t he linen closet and knelt beside him. “I have t his,” I w hispered. Mat t hew sat back, lift ing his head and closing his eyes. He let out a st aggered breat h. “T his should’ve never happened.” T ears built in my eyes as I sopped up w hat w as left of Adam. “I know .” “T hey are all like my children. Now I’ve lost anot her, and for w hat ? It doesn’t make sense.” His shoulders shook. “It never makes sense.” “I’m sorry.” W et ness gat hered on my cheeks, and I w iped at my face w it h my shoulder. “T his is my fault . He w as t rying t o prot ect me.” Mat t hew didn’t say anyt hing for several minut es. I w orked at t he spot , drenching t w o t ow els before he placed his hand on mine. “It ’s not just your fault , Kat y. T his w as a w orld you st umbled int o, one filled w it h t reachery and greed. Y ou w eren’t prepared for it . Neit her are any of t hem.” I lift ed my head, blinking back t ears. “I t rust ed Blake w hen I should’ve t rust ed Daemon. I let t his happen.” Mat t hew t w ist ed t ow ard me, grasping my cheeks. “You cannot t ake on t he full responsibilit y for t his. You didn’t make t he choices Blake did. You didn’t force his hand.” I choked on a broken sob as grief t ore t hrough me. His w ords didn’t ease t he guilt , and he knew it . T hen t he st rangest t hing happened. He pulled me int o his arms, and I broke. Sobs racked my ent ire body. I pressed my head against his shoulder, my body shaking his, or maybe he w as crying for his loss, t oo. T ime passed, and it became a New Year. I w elcomed it w it h t ears st reaming dow n my face and a heart ripped apart . W hen my t ears dried, my eyes w ere nearly sw oll en shut .

He pulled back, pushing my hair aside. “T his isn’t t he end of anyt hing for you…for Daemon. T his is just t he beginning, and now you know w hat you’re t ruly up against . Don’t end up like Daw son and Bet hany. Bot h of you are st ronger t han t hat .” … I spent the rest of the night trying to hide what had gone down from my mom. Eventualy, I needed to tell her. No doubt the satelites had picked up on w hat had happened t he night before. And t here w as t he issue t hat some of w hat Vaughn had said hadn’t made sense, a lingering feeling t hat t he w orst had yet t o pass. I figured in t he coming days or w eeks, it w ould. T here’d also be quest ions about Adam. But she didn’t need t o know right now . I convinced her t hat t he w ind had t hrow n a branch int o t he w indow upst airs. Believable, since Daemon had knocked dow n several out side. T he pict ures w ere harder t o explain. T hen I slept t hrough New Year’s Day, w aking t he follow ing Sunday morning only t o eat sugary Pop-Tart s, and t hen I w ent back t o sleep t o avoid t he sw amping darkness w ait ing for me. Guilt at e aw ay at me, even in my sleep. I dreamed of Blake and Adam, even Vaughn. T hey surrounded me w hile I sw am in t he lake, slipping under and pulling me below t he surface. So it w as st range t hat w hen I did w ake t hat evening, I t ook a show er, piled on some clot hes, and left t o go t o t he place haunt ing my dreams. Mom w as already gone, and I had a vague recol ect ion of hearing W ill in t he house earlier. Snow cont inued t o fall, but w it h t he moon out , reflect ing off t he prist ine surface, I found my w ay t o t he lake easily. I st ood by t he frozen, flaw less w at er, huddled dow n in my sw eat er and t he scarf my mom had bought me for Christ mas. I’d even donned t he mat ching gloves. T hings w ere clearer here. Not less int ense, but manageable. Adam w as dead, and event ually t he DOD w ould come looking for Vaughn. And w hen t hey did, it w ould come back t o me…and t o Daemon. And I’d killed. Not by my ow n hand, but I had led everyone dow n t his road. People have died—innocent and t hose not so innocent . Daemon had been right —a life w as a life. Enemy or not , t here w as blood on my hands I couldn’t w ash aw ay, soaking t hrough my skin and leaving a dark st ain. And every t ime I closed my eyes, I saw Adam’s body. T here w as a t ight ness in my chest t hat w ould probably never go aw ay. I w asn’t sure about going t o school t omorrow . It seemed point less aft er everyt hing. I st ill had no clue w ho had bet rayed Daw son and Bet hany, and t here w ere more implant s out t here, w at ching me—w at ching all of us. An invisible clock had appeared, t icking aw ay t o my very ow n personal doomsday, and I had no one t o blame but myself.

About a minut e lat er, I felt a w arm t ingle dancing across my neck. My breat h st alled in my chest , and I couldn’t w ill my body t o t urn around. W hy w as he here? He had t o hat e me. So did Dee. T he snow crunched under his foot st eps, w hich I found st range. He could move so quiet ly w hen he w ant ed. His body heat blanket ed me as he st opped direct ly behind me. I couldn’t ignore him forever, and I also knew he’d st and t here forever if he chose t o. Surprised and w ary, I faced him. “I knew you’d be here.” He looked aw ay, a muscle popping in his jaw . “It ’s w here I come w hen I need t o t hink.” I said t he first t hing t hat came t o mind. “How ’s Dee?” “She’ll survive,” he said, eyes shadow ed. “We need t o t alk.” Daemon leaned forw ard before I could respond. “Are you busy right now ? Not sure if I’m int errupt ing. St aring at t he lake can t ake a lot of concent rat ion.” I couldn’t figure out anyt hing from his w ords or expression. “I’m not busy.” His ult ra-bright gaze set t led on me. “T hen come back w it h me?” Anxious energy built inside me. Was he going t o kill me and st ash my body? Drast ic but probable aft er everyt hing I’d caused. My t hroat dried as w e st art ed back t o his house in silence. I follow ed him inside, hands clammy and t rembling. “Hungry?” he asked. “I haven’t eat en all day.” “Y eah, a lit t le.” He moved int o t he kit chen and pulled out a package of lunch meat . I sat at t he t able w hile he made t w o ham and cheese sandw iches. He doubled up on t he must ard on mine, know ing t hat w as how I liked it , and I almost st art ed baw ling again right t hen. W e at e in st rained silence. Finally, aft er he’d cleaned up, I st ood. “Daemon, I—” “Not yet ,” he said. Drying his hands, he t hen w alked out of t he kit chen w it hout answ ering me. Draw ing in a deep breat h, I t railed aft er him. W hen he st art ed up t he st eps, my pulse skyrocket ed. “W hy are w e going upst airs?” Daemon glanced over his shoulder, hand on t he mahogany-colored rail. “W hy not ?” “I don’t know . It ’s just seems…” He w ent up t he st airs, leaving me no ot her choice. We passed Dee’s empt y bedroom. It looked like Pept o-Bismol t hrew up in t here. T here w as anot her bedroom w it h t he door

closed. I figured it had been Daw son’s, probably unt ouched since he’d disappeared. Mont hs had passed before Mom and I had moved any of Dad’s st uff. “W here’s Dee?” I asked. “She’s w it h Ash and Andrew . I t hink being w it h t hem is helping her…” I nodded. More t han anyt hing, I w ant ed t o go back in t ime, t o ask more quest ions, t o not be so damn st upid. Daemon opened a door, and my heart flip-flopped. St epping aside, he let me brush past him. “Y our room?” “Y ep. T he best spot in t he w hole house.” His room w as large, surprisingly clean and organized. A few band post ers hung on t he w alls, w hich w ere paint ed a deep blue. All t he blinds w ere dow n, curt ains draw n. W it h a w ave of his hand, a bedside lamp clicked on. T here w ere a lot of expensive elect ronics: a flat -screen T V, a Mac t hat sent a dose of envy t hrough me, a st ereo syst em, and even a deskt op. My gaze w ent t o his bed. It w as big. And t he blue dow n comfort er looked comfy and invit ing. Lot s of room t o roll around…or just t o sleep. Not hing like my lit t le-girl bed. I forced my gaze aw ay from his bed and w alked over t o his Mac. “Nice comput er.” “It is.” Daemon kicked off his shoes. I could barely breat he. “Daemon—” T he bed springs creaked under his w eight as I ran my fingers over t he lid of t he Mac. “I am so sorry about everyt hing. I shouldn’t have t rust ed him—I should’ve list ened t o you. I didn’t w ant anyone t o get hurt .” “Adam didn’t get hurt . He died, Kat .” A lump formed in my t hroat as I t urned t o him. His eyes glit t ered. “I… If I could go back, I’d change everyt hing.” Daemon shook his head as his gaze dropped t o his open hands. He curled t hem int o fist s. “I know w e don’t alw ays get along, and I know t he w hole connect ion t hing freaked you out , but you knew you could alw ays t rust me. T he moment you suspect ed Blake w as w it h t he DOD, you should’ve come t o me.” Helplessness cracked his voice. “I could’ve prevent ed t his.” “I do t rust you. W it h my life,” I said, inching closer. “But once I t hought he could possibly be involved w it h t hem, I didn’t w ant you involved. Blake knew and suspect ed t oo much already.”

He shook his head, as if he didn’t hear me. “I should’ve done more. W hen he t hrew t hat damn knife at you, I should’ve st epped in t hen and not backed dow n, but I w as just so damn angry.” Tears built in my eyes. How could I st ill cry or t hink it w ould make any of t his bet t er? Some papers on his desk st irred rest lessly behind me. “I w as t rying t o prot ect you.” He lift ed his eyes, and t hey pierced st raight t hrough me. “Y ou w ant ed t o keep me safe?” “Yes.” I sw allow ed past t he lump in my t hroat . “Not t hat it t urned out t hat w ay in t he end, but w hen I found out Blake and Vaughn w ere relat ed, all I could t hink w as t hat he played me—I let myself be played. And he knew how close w e w ere. T hey’d do t o you w hat t hey did t o Daw son. T here is no w ay I could have lived w it h t hat .” Closing his eyes, he t urned his head. “W hen did you know definit ely t hat Blake w as w orking w it h t he DOD?” It w as t he second t ime he’d ever said his name. T hat ’s how serious t hings w ere. “On New Year’s Eve—Friday. Blake show ed up w hile I w as sleeping, and I saw Simon’s w at ch in his car. He says Simon’s st ill alive, t hat t he DOD t ook him, but t here…t here w as blood on his w at ch.” Daemon cursed and t hen asked, “W hile you w ere sleeping? Did he do t his oft en?” I shook my head. “Not t hat I know of.” “You should’ve never been w orried about me get t ing hurt .” He st ood, running bot h hands t hrough his hair. “You know I can t ake care of myself. Y ou know I can handle my ow n.” “I know ,” I said. “But I w asn’t going t o know ingly put you at risk. Y ou mean t oo much t o me.” His head sw ung t ow ard me, eyes suddenly sharp. “And w hat does t hat mean, exact ly?” “I…” I shook my head. “It doesn’t mat t er now .” “T he hell it doesn’t !” he said. “You nearly dest royed my family, Kat . You almost got bot h of us killed, and none of t his is over. W ho know s how much t ime any of us have before t he DOD comes? I let t hat dickhead go. He’s st ill out t here, and as t errible as t his sounds, I hope he get s w hat ’s coming t o him before he can report back t o anyone.” Daemon sw ore. “Y ou lied t o me! Are you t elling me all of t his is because I mean somet hing t o you?” Heat ed blood crept across my face. W hy w as he making me do t his? How I felt didn’t mat t er now . “Daemon…” “Answ er me!” “Fine!” I t hrew my hands up in t he air. “Yes, you mean somet hing t o me. W hat you did for me on T hanksgiving—t hat made me…” My voice cracked. “T hat made me happy. Y ou made me happy. And I st ill care about you. Okay? You mean somet hing t o me—somet hing I can’t

really even put int o w ords because everyt hing seems t oo lame in comparison. I’ve alw ays w ant ed you, even w hen I hat ed you. I w ant you even t hough you drive me freaking insane. And I know I screw ed everyt hing up. Not just for you and me, but for Dee.” My breat h caught on a sob. T he w ords rushed from me, one aft er anot her. “And I never felt t his w ay w it h anyone else. Like I’m falling every t ime I’m around you, like I can’t cat ch my breat h, and I feel alive—not just st anding around and let t ing my life w alk past me. T here’s been not hing like t hat w it h anyone else.” Tears pricked my eyes as I st epped back. My chest w as sw elling so fast it hurt . “But none of t his mat t ers, because I know you really hat e me now . I underst and t hat . I just w ish I could go back and change everyt hing! I—” Daemon w as suddenly in front of me, clasping my cheeks in his w arm hands. “I never hat ed you.” I blinked back t he w et ness gat hering in my eyes. “But —” “I don’t hat e you now , Kat .” He st ared int ent ly int o my eyes. “I’m mad at you—at myself. I’m so angry, I can t ast e it . I w ant t o find Blake and rearrange part s of his body. But do you know w hat I t hought about all day yest erday? All night ? T he one single t hought I couldn’t escape, no mat t er how pissed off I am at you?” “No,” I w hispered. “T hat I’m lucky, because t he person I can’t get out of my head, t he person w ho means more t o me t han I can st and, is st ill alive. She’s st ill t here. And t hat ’s you.” A t ear t railed dow n my cheek. Hope spread t hrough me so fast it left me dizzy and breat hless. T he feeling w as like t aking a st ep off t he edge of a cliff w it hout seeing how far t he fall w ould be. Dangerous. Exhilarat ing. “W hat …w hat does t hat mean?” “I really don’t know .” His t humb chased aft er a t ear on my cheek as he smiled slight ly. “I don’t know w hat t omorrow is going t o bring, w hat a year from now is going t o be like. Hell, w e may end up killing each ot her over somet hing st upid next w eek. It ’s a possibilit y. But all I do know is w hat I feel for you isn’t going anyw here.” Hearing t hat only made me cry harder. He bent his head, kissing t he t ears aw ay unt ill he caught each of t hem w it h his breat h. T hen his lips found mine and t he room fell aw ay. T he w hole w orld disappeared for t hose precious moment s. I w ant ed t o t hrow myself int o t he kiss, but I couldn’t . I pulled aw ay, dragging in air. “How can you st ill w ant me?” I said. Daemon pressed his forehead against mine. “Oh, I st ill w ant t o st rangle you. But I’m insane. You’re crazy. Maybe t hat ’s w hy. We just make crazy t oget her.” “T hat makes no sense.”

“It kind of does, t o me at least .” He kissed me again. “It might have t o do w it h t he fact you finally admit t ed you’re deeply and irrevocably in love w it h me.” I let out a w eak, shaky laugh. “I so did not admit t hat .” “Not in so many w ords, but w e bot h know it ’s t rue. And I’m okay w it h it .” “Y ou are?” I closed my eyes, breat hing in w hat felt like t he first real breat h in mont hs. Maybe years. “It ’s t he same for you?” His answ er w as t o kiss me…and t o kiss me again. W hen he finally lift ed his head, w e w ere on his bed and I w as in his arms. I had no recol ect ion of moving. T hat w as how good his kisses w ere. I had t o w ait unt ill my heart slow ed dow n. “T his doesn’t change anyt hing I’ve done. All of t his is st ill my fault .” Daemon w as on his side beside me, his hand on t he mat erial covering my st omach. “It ’s not all your fault . It ’s all of ours. And w e’re in t his t oget her. W e’ll face w hat ever is w ait ing for us t oget her.” My heart did a w ild dance at t hose w ords. “Us?” He nodded, w orking on t he but t ons of my sw eat er, laughing soft ly w hen he came t o w here t hey w ere but t oned incorrect ly. “If t here is anyt hing, t here is us.” I lift ed my shoulders, and he helped me shrug out of t he sw eat er. “And w hat does ’us’ really mean?” “Y ou and me.” Daemon moved dow n, t ugging off my boot s. “No one else.” Blood pounded as I yanked off my socks and lay back dow n. “I…I kind of like t he sound of t hat .” “Kind of?” His hand w as on my st omach, slipping dow n, moving under t he hem of my shirt . “Kind of isn’t good enough.” “Okay.” I jerked w hen his fingers splayed across my skin. “I do like t hat .” “So do I.” He low ered his head, kissing me soft ly. “I bet you love t hat .” My lips curved int o a smile against his. “I do.” Making a deep sound in t he back of his t hroat , Daemon t railed kisses over my st ill-damp cheek t hat scalded my skin and lit a fire. We w hispered t o each ot her, t he w ords slow ly st it ching t oget her t he aching hole in my chest . I t hink t hey w ere doing t he same for him. I t old him everyt hing Blake had said and done. He t old me how angry he’d been just seeing me around Blake, confused and even hurt . T he t rut hs he admit t ed, I kept t hem close t o my heart .

T he fear he’d felt w hen he saw t he Arum and Blake t his w eekend w as in every slight , delicat e t ouch of his fingers. T hose precious w ords may not have been spoken up unt ill t hen, but love w as in every t ouch, every soft moan. I didn’t need him t o say it , because I w as surrounded in his love for me. T ime st opped for us. T he w orld and everyt hing I’d been part of only exist ed out side t he closed bedroom door, but in here, it w as only us. And for t he first t ime, t here w as not hing bet w een us. We w ere open, vulnerable t o each ot her. Pieces of our clot hing disappeared. His shirt . Mine. A but t on came undone on his jeans…and on mine, t oo. “You have no idea how badly I w ant t his.” His voice w as rough against my cheek. Raw . “I t hink I’ve act ually dreamed about it .” T he t ips of his fingers drift ed over my chest , dow n my st omach. “Crazy, huh?” Everyt hing felt crazy. Being in his arms like t his w hen I’d t ruly believed he’d never forgive me. I lift ed my hand, running my fingers dow n his cheek. He t urned t o t he t ouch, pressing his lips against t he palm of my hand. And w hen his head low ered t o mine again, I sparked alive under him, only for him. As our kisses deepened and our explorat ions grew , w e got lost in how our bodies moved against each ot her, how w e couldn’t get close enough. T he clot hes t hat w e st ill w ore w ere a hindrance I w ant ed t o be rid of, because I w as ready t o t ake t hat next st ep and I could feel t hat Daemon w as, t oo. Tomorrow or next w eek w asn’t guarant eed. Not t hat it ever w as, but for us, t hings really w eren’t looking in our favor. T here really w as only now , and I w ant ed t o seize t he moment and live in it . I w ant ed t o share t he moment w it h Daemon—t o share everyt hing w it h him. His hands…his kisses w ere complet ely undoing me. And w hen his hand moved dow n my st omach, slipping even fart her dow n, I opened my eyes, his name barely a w hisper. A faint w hit ish-red glow out lined his body, t hrow ing shadow s along t he w alls of his bedroom. T here w as somet hing soul-burningly beaut iful about being on t he brink of losing cont rol, t umbling over int o t he unknow n, and I w ant ed t o fall and never resurface. But Daemon st opped. I st ared up at him, running my hands over t he hard planes of his st omach. “W hat ?” “Y ou…you’re not going t o believe me.” He pressed anot her sw eet and t ender kiss against my lips. “But I w ant t o do t his right .” I st art ed t o smile. “I doubt you could do t his w rong.” Daemon’s lips st ret ched int o a smug half grin. “Yeah, I’m not t alking about t hat . T hat I w ill do perfect ly, but I w ant t o… I w ant us t o have w hat normal couples have.”

St upid, damnable t ears rushed t o my eyes, and I blinked t hem back. Oh dear God, I w as going t o baw ll like a baby. Cupping my cheek, he let out a st rangled sound. “And t he last t hing I w ant t o do is st op, but I w ant t o t ake you out —go on a dat e or somet hing. I don’t w ant w hat w e’re about t o do t o be overshadow ed by everyt hing else.” W it h w hat looked like a great amount of effort , Daemon lift ed off me and eased dow n on his side. He w rapped an arm around my w aist and pulled me back against him. His lips grazed my t emple. “Okay?” T ipping my head back, I looked int o his bot t le-green eyes. T his…t his w as more t han okay. And it t ook me several t ries t o speak, because my t hroat w as burning w it h emot ion. “I t hink I might love you.” Daemon’s arm t ight ened around me as he kissed my flushed cheek. “T old you.” Not w hat I expect ed as a response. He chuckled, rolling ont o his side—ont o me, really. “My bet —I w on. I t old you t hat you’d t ell me you loved me on New Y ear’s Day.” Looping my arms around his neck, I shook my head. “No. Y ou lost .” Daemon frow ned. “How do you figure?” “Look at t he t ime.” I t ipped my chin t ow ard t he clock. “It ’s past midnight . It ’s January second. Y ou lost .” For several moment s he st ared at t he clock like it w as an Arum he w as about t o blast int o t he next count y, and t hen his eyes found mine. Daemon smiled. “No. I didn’t lose. I st ill w on.”

Chapter 33
I crept back int o my house right before six in t he morning, feeling airy and…happy. I needed t o show er and get ready for school. T here w as a part of me t hat felt w rong for t he smile on my face. Should I be cont ent aft er everyt hing? I w asn’t sure. It didn’t seem fair. And I needed t o see Dee. Aft er I st epped out of t he st eamy bat hroom w rapped in my robe, I w asn’t st art led w hen I saw Daemon lounging on my bed, freshly show ered and changed. At some point , I’d felt him. I made my w ay over t o t he bed. “W hat are you doing?”

He pat t ed t he spot beside him, and I craw led ont o my knees. “We need t o st ick close t oget her over t he next couple of w eeks. I w ouldn’t be surprised if t he DOD show s. W e’re safer t oget her.” “Is t hat t he only reason?” A lazy, indulgent grin played across his lips as he t ugged on t he belt of my robe. “Not t he only reason. Probably t he smart est , but definit ely not t he most pressing.” T hings had changed bet w een us in a mat t er of hours. We t alked more last night …and kissed some more before falling asleep in each ot her’s arms. Now , t here w as an openness, a part nership in t hings. He w as st ill a t ot all smart ass. And yeah, t hat smug grin st ill irked me. But I loved him. And t he jerk loved me, t oo. Daemon sat up and pulled me int o his lap. He kissed my forehead. “W hat are you t hinking?” I burrow ed my head int o t he space bet w een his shoulder and neck. “A lot of t hings. Do…do you t hink it ’s w rong t o be happy right now ?” His arms t ight ened. “W ell, I w ouldn’t send out a mass t ext message or anyt hing.” I rolled my eyes. “And I’m not ent irely happy. I don’t t hink I’ve really come t o t erms w it h everyt hing. Adam w as…” He t railed off, his t hroat w orking. “I liked him,” I w hispered. “I don’t expect Dee t o ever forgive me, but I w ant t o see her. I need t o make sure she’s okay.” “She’ll forgive you. She needs t ime.” His lips moved against my t emple, and my heart squeezed. “Dee knew you t ried t o w arn her off. She called me w hen you t old her t o leave, and I t old her and Adam t o st ay out of t here, but t hey parked t he car dow n t he st reet and came back. T hey made t hat choice, and I know she’d do it again.” My t hroat t ight ened. “T here are so many t hings I w ouldn’t do again.” “I know .” He placed t w o fingers under my chin, t ipping my head back. “W e can’t focus on t hat now . It ’s not going t o do any good.” I st ret ched up, kissing his lips. “I w ant t o see Dee aft er school.” “W hat are you doing for lunch?” “Ot her t han eat ing? Not hing.” “Good. W e’re skipping.”

“Going t o see Dee, right ?” His smile t urned w icked. “Y eah, but first , t here are t hings I w ant t o do, and w e don’t have nearly enough t ime for t hat now .” I arched a brow . “Are you going t o t ry t o squeeze in dinner and a movie t hen?” “Kit t en, your mind is a t errible and dirt y place. I w as t hinking w e could go for a st roll or somet hing.” “T ease,” I murmured and st art ed t o st and, but he held me t here. “Say it .” “Say w hat ?” I asked. “T ell me w hat you t old me earlier.” My heart leaped int o my t hroat . I’d t old him a lot of t hings, but I knew w hat he w ant ed t o hear. “I love you.” His eyes darkened a second before he kissed me unt ill I w as ready t o say screw t he w hole doing-right -by-me t hing. “T hat ’s all I ever need t o hear.” “T hose t hree w ords?” “Alw ays t hose t hree w ords.” … News of Adam’s passing hadn’t hit the school yet, and I wasn’t teling anyone other than Lesa and Carissa. The story was he had died in a car accident. Police w ould back it up if quest ions w ere asked. My friends t ook it like expect ed. T here w ere a lot of t ears, and again I w as surprised t hat my eyes could st ill fill w it h t hem. Daemon poked me once in class t o remind me of our lunch plans, and t hen one more t ime because he felt like it . Layers of guilt follow ed me t hrough most of morning classes, alt ernat ing w it h brief moment s of exhilarat ion. I knew t hat even if Dee forgave me, it w ouldn’t change anyt hing. I needed t o come t o t erms w it h t he role I’d played. But I also knew I couldn’t st op living. W hen I ent ered bio, I met Mat t hew ’s eyes. T here w as a t w it ch t o his lips before he opened up his grade book. Lesa w as abnormally subdued due t o w hat I’d t old her. Halfw ay t hrough class, t he int ercom kicked on. T he school secret ary’s voice rang out . “Kat y Sw art z is needed in t he principal’s office, Mr. Garrison.” A jolt of unease pierced my st omach as I grabbed my bag. Shrugging at Lesa’s look,

I passed Mat t hew a near-panicked one as I headed out . I sent Daemon a quick t ext from my mom’s cell t hat she’d given me t hat morning, let t ing him know I w as being called t o t he office. I didn’t expect him t o respond back. I w asn’t even sure he had his cell w it h him. T he gray-haired secret ary w as rocking a Brigit t e Bardot hairst yle and a bright pink sw eat er. I leaned against t he count er, w ait ing for her t o look up. W hen she did, she squint ed t hrough her spect acles. “Can I help you?” “I’m Kat y. I w as called t o t he office?” “Oh! Oh, yes, come on, dear.” T here w as compassion in her t one as she st ood. She hobbled t ow ard Principal Plummer’s office. “Right t his w ay.” I couldn’t see t hrough t he glass w indow s, so I had no idea w hat w as w ait ing for me w hen she t hrew all her w eight behind opening t he door. I marked off any job in t he school syst em in my fut ure if she hadn’t been able t o ret ire at her age. Principal Plummer sat behind his desk, smiling at w hoever w as seat ed on t he ot her side. My gaze follow ed his, and I w as shocked t o see W ill. “W hat ’s going on?” I asked, t w ist ing my backpack’s st rap against my shoulder. W ill came t o his feet quickly and rushed t o my side. He clasped my free hand. “Kell ie’s been in an accident .” “No,” I t hink I gasped. Alarm pounded at my sides as I st ared at him. “W hat do you mean? Is she okay?” His expression w as pained and haggard as he avoided meet ing my eyes. “She left w ork t his morning, and t hey t hink she hit a pat ch of ice.” “How bad is it ?” My voice w obbled. All I could see w as Dad—Dad in a hospit all bed, pale and frail, t he smell of deat h t hat clung t o t he w alls and t he hushed voices of t he nurses…and t hen t he mannequin in t he coffin t hat sort of resembled Dad but couldn’t have been him. Now all t hose memories w ere replaced w it h Mom. T his can’t be happening. W ill curved a hand over my shoulders, gent ly t urning me around. We w ere w alking out of t he office, but I w asn’t conscious of any of it . “She’s in t he ER. T hat ’s all I know .” “Y ou have t o know more t han t hat .” I didn’t recognize my ow n voice. “Is she aw ake? T alking? Does she need t o have surgery?” He shook his head, opening t he door. Out side t he snow had st opped, and plow s w ere clearing t he parking lot . T he air w as frigid, but I didn’t feel it . I w as numb. W ill led me t o a t an Yukon I didn’t recognize. Unease t rickled in, and a horrible t hought st ruck me. I halt ed a few feet from t he passenger side. “Did you get a new car?” I asked.

He frow ned as he opened t he car door. “No. I use t his during t he w int er. Perfect for snow y roads. I t ried t o t ell your mot her t o get somet hing like t his ot her t han t hat damn mat chbox she drives.” Feeling st upid and paranoid, I nodded. It made sense. A lot of people had t heir “w int er” vehicle around here. And w it h everyt hing t hat had happened, I’d forgot t en about w hat I’d discovered about W ill —his sickness. I climbed in, clut ching my bag t o my chest aft er I buckled my seat belt . T hen I remembered Daemon. I checked t he phone and saw t here w asn’t a reply yet . I sent him anot her quick t ext , t elling him t hat Mom w as in an accident . I’d call him and leave a more det ailed message once I knew how … how bad t hings w ere. I choked on a breat h w hen I t hought about losing her. W ill rubbed his hands t oget her before he t urned t he key. T he radio came on immediat ely. It w as a w eat her broadcast . T he man’s voice coming from t he speakers w as cheery. I hat ed him. Met eorologist s w ere w at ching a Nor’east er forming in t he Sout h, slat ed t o slam int o West Virginia early next w eek. “W hat hospit all is she at ?” I asked. “W inchest er,” he said, t w ist ing around as he reached for somet hing in t he backseat . I st ared st raight ahead, t rying t o keep t he panic at bay. She’s going t o be okay. She has t o be. She’ll be okay. My lips t rembled. W hy w eren’t w e already on t he damn road? “Kat y?” I faced him. “W hat ?” “I’m really sorry about t his,” he said, his face expressionless. “She’s going t o be okay, right ?” My breat h caught again. Maybe he w asn’t t elling me t he w orse of it . Maybe she w as… “Y our mom is going t o be fine.” T here w asn’t t ime for me t o feel relief or t o quest ion w hat he said. He leaned forw ard, and I saw a long, scary-looking needle. I jerked back in t he seat , but I w asn’t fast enough. W ill pushed t he needle int o t he side of my neck. T here w as a pinch, and t hen coolness rushed t hrough my veins, follow ed by a faint burning sensat ion.

I knocked his hand aw ay, or I t hought I did. Eit her w ay, t he needle w as gone from his hand, and he w as w at ching me curiously. My hand flut t ered t o my neck. I couldn’t feel my pulse, but it beat t hrough me w ildly. “W hat …w hat did you do?” Hands on t he st eering w heel, he pulled out of t he school parking lot w it hout answ ering. I asked him again. At least I t hink I did, but I w asn’t sure. T he road up ahead blurred in a kaleidoscope of w hit e and gray. My fingers slipped over t he door handle. I couldn’t w ill t hem t o w ork, and t hen I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Calling upon t he Source w as out of t he quest ion. Darkness crept int o t he corners of my eyes, and I fought it w it h every ounce of t he st rengt h I had left . If I lost consciousness I knew it w as all over, but I couldn’t keep my head from list ing t o t he side. My last t hought w as, Implant s are everyw here.

Chapter 34
W hen I came t o, it felt like a drummer had t aken up residency in my head and my mout h w as dry. I’d felt like t his once before, w hen a friend and I had drunk an ent ire bot t le of cheap w ine during a sleepover. Except t hen I’d been hot and sw eat y, and now I w as freezing. I lift ed my head off t he coarse blanket my cheek rest ed on, prying my eyes open. Shapes w ere blurry and indist inguishable for several minut es. Flat t ening out my hands, I pushed up, and a w ave of dizziness assault ed me. My arms and feet w ere bare. Someone had t aken off my sw eat er, shoes, and socks, leaving me in my t ank t op and jeans. Goose bumps pimpled my skin in response t o t he near-freezing t emperat ure of w herever I w as. I knew I w as inside somew here. T he st eady hum of light s and dist ant voices t old me t hat much. Event ually my eyes cleared, and I almost w ished t hey’d st ayed out of focus. I w as in a cage t hat resembled a large kennel used for dogs. T he t hick black met all w as spaced enough t hat I could fit a hand t hrough it . Maybe. I looked up, realizing t here w as no w ay I could st and or even lie dow n complet ely st raight w it hout t ouching t he bars. Manacles and chains hung from t he t op. T w o of t hem w ere hooked t o my numb, chilled ankles. Panic claw ed t hrough me, forcing my breat h in and out as my gaze dart ed around at a frant ic pace. Cages surrounded me. A gleaming reddish-black subst ance coat ed t he insides of t he bars closest t o me and on t op of t he manacles around my ankles.

I kept t elling myself t o keep it t oget her, but it w asn’t w orking. I scoot ed ont o my backside, sit t ing up as far as I could and reaching dow n, w ant ing t o pull t he t hings off my ankles. T he moment my fingers t ouched t he t op of t he met al, red-hot pain sw ept up my arms, st raight t o my head. I yelped, jerking my hands back. Terror consumed me, sw allow ing me like a rising t ide. I reached for t he bars, and t he same barbed pain sliced t hrough me, t hrow ing me back. A scream t ore from my t hroat as I shuddered, bringing my hands close t o my chest . I recognized t he pain now . It w as w hat I’d felt w hen Smoker had placed t hat object against my cheek. I t ried t o call on t he pow er t hat w as in me. I could blow t hese cages apart w it hout t ouching t hem. But t here w as not hing inside me. It w as like I w as empt y or det ached from t he Source. Helpless. T rapped. A lump of mat erial st irred in t he cage nearest t o me, rising up. It w asn’t a lump, but a person—a girl. My heart pounded against my ribs as she sat up, pushing greasy st rands of long blond hair off her pale face. She t urned t o me. T he girl w as my age, give or t ake a year. A w icked red-blue bruise spread out from her hairline, across her left cheek. She w ould’ve been pret t y if she w eren’t so t hin and unkempt . She sighed, low ering her face. “I w as really pret t y once.” Had she read my t hought s? “I…” “Yes, I read your t hought s.” Her voice w as hoarse, t hick. She glanced aw ay, scanning t he empt y cages and t hen set t ling on t he double doors. “You’re like me, I guess—ow ned by t he Daedalus. Know any aliens?” She laughed t hen, low ering her point y chin t o her bent knees. “You have no idea w hy you’re here.” Daedalus? W hat t he hell w as t hat ? “No. I don’t even know w here I am.” She st art ed t o rock a lit t le. “You’re in a w arehouse. It ’s like a t ransport at ion pod. I don’t know w hat st at e. I w as out of it w hen t hey brought me in.” She gest ured at t he bruise w it h a flick of t iny fingers. “I w asn’t assimilat ing.” I sw allow ed. “Y ou’re human, right ?” Anot her choked, grim laugh sounded. “I’m not really sure anymore.” “T he DOD is involved in t his?” I asked. Keep t alking. I w ouldn’t flip out complet ely if I could keep t alking. She nodded. “Yes and no. T he Daedalus is, but t hey are a part of t he DOD. And t hey are involved in me, but you…” Her eyes narrow ed. T hey w ere a dark brow n, almost black. “I

could only pick up fragment ed t hought s from t he guys w hen t hey brought you in. You’re here for a different purpose.” T hat w as reassuring. “W hat ’s your name?” “Mo,” she croaked, t ouching her dry lips. “Everyone calls me Mo…or used t o. Y ours?” “Kat y.” I craw led closer t o her, careful not t o t ouch t he cage. “W hat w ere you not assimilat ing t o?” “I w asn’t cooperat ing.” Mo low ered her head, hiding her face behind st ringy hair. “I don’t even t hink t hey believe w hat t hey’re doing is w rong. It ’s like one big gray area w it h t hem.” She lift ed her chin. “T hey had anot her one here. A boy, but he’s not like us. T hey moved him out right aft er t hey brought you in.” “W hat did he look like?” I asked, t hinking of Daw son. Before she could answ er, a door shut somew here out side of t he large, cold room. Mo scrambled back, w rapping her t hin arms around her bent knees. “Pret end t o be asleep w hen t hey come up here. T he one w ho brought you in isn’t as bad as t he rest . Y ou don’t w ant t o provoke t hem.” I t hought of Smoker and his part ner. My st omach roiled. “W h—” “Shh,” she hissed. “T hey’re coming. Pret end t o be asleep!” Not know ing w hat else t o do, I moved t o t he back of t he pen and laid dow n, t hrow ing my arm over my face so I could peek under it w it hout being seen. T he door opened and I saw t w o set s of legs encased in black pant s ent er t he room. T hey w ere silent as t hey moved t ow ard our t w o cages. My heart w as racing again, increasing t he ache in my head. T hey st opped in front of Mo’s cage. “Are you going t o behave t oday?” one of t he men asked. T here w as laught er in his voice. “Or are w e going t o have t o make t his hard?” “W hat do you t hink?” Mo spat back. T he man laughed and bent dow n. Black handcuffs dangled from his hands. “W e don’t w ant t o mess up t he ot her side of your face, sw eet ie.” “Speak for yourself,” t he second man groused. “Bit ch nearly ended any chances of me having kids.” “T ouch me again,” Mo said, “and you w on’t .” He opened t he cage, and she immediat ely w ent aft er t hem. But she w as no mat ch for t hem. T hey grabbed her legs, pulling her out of t he cage unt ill she w as lying on t he cold cement

floor. T he one w ho called her a name rolled her over roughly, slamming her face int o t he floor. She grunt ed as he put his knee int o her back, pulling her arms behind her. She let out anot her soft cry as he w renched her arms. I couldn’t sit st ill and w at ch t his. I pushed up, ignoring t he nausea. “St op it ! Y ou’re hurt ing her!” T he one on her back looked over, frow ning as he saw me. “Look at t his, Ramirez. T his one’s aw ake.” “And t hat one needs t o be left alone,” Ramirez replied. “W e’re get t ing paid enough money t o pret end she ain’t here, W ill iams. Get t he st uff on her, and let ’s get out of here.” W ill iams climbed off Mo and approached my cage, kneeling dow n so he w as eye-level w it h me. He w asn’t very old—maybe mid-t w ent ies. T he look in his dissipat ed blue eyes scared me more t han t he cages. Put w hat on me? “She’s a pret t y one.” I scoot ed back, w ant ing t o cross my hands over t he t hin mat erial of my t ank t op. “W hy am I here?” My voice w avered even t hough I met his gaze. W ill iams laughed as he glanced over his shoulder. “List en t o t his one, asking quest ions.” “Leave her alone.” Ramirez hauled t he silent girl t o her feet . Her head hung low , face shielded by hair. “We’ve got t o get t his one back t o t he cent er. Come on.” “W e could alw ays W index her brain. Have a lit t le fun.” I shrank back from t he suggest ion. Could t hey do t hat ? W ipe aw ay my memories? All I had w ere my memories. My eyes dart ed bet w een t he t w o men. Ramirez sw ore under his breat h. “Just do it , W ill iams.” W hen W ill iams st art ed t o st and, I scrambled backw ard. “W ait . W ait ! W hy am I here?” W ill iams opened t he cage door w it h a small key and grabbed t he chains. He yanked hard, and I fell backw ard. “I really don’t know w hat he w ant s w it h you, and I really don’t care.” He pulled on t he chain again. “Now be a good girl.” Show ing how much I appreciat ed his suggest ion, I kicked. If I could just get past him… My foot caught him under t he chin, snapping his head back. W ill iams ret aliat ed w it h a punch in my st omach, doubling me in half. I w heezed as he grabbed my w rist s w hile he ret rieved t he handcuffs from t he t op of t he cage, pulling so t he chain at t ached t o t hem reached t he floor. “No!” screamed Mo. “No!” T he fear in her voice increased my ow n, and my st ruggles renew ed. It w as no use. W ill iams clamped t he handcuffs around my w rist s, and t he w orld exploded in pain. I st art ed screaming.

And I didn’t st op. … My screams only died off when I could no longer make anything louder than a raspy whisper. My throat felt scraped raw. Only uncontrolable whimpers or moans escaped me now . It had been hours since t he men left w it h Mo. Hours of not hing but scalding, blist ering pain t hat shot dow n my arms, bounced off my skull. It felt like my skin w as cont inuously being flayed, t orn apart t o get t o somet hing underneat h. I faded in and out . T hose moment s of not hing w ere pure bliss, a short reprieve t hat ended t oo soon. I’d w ake, t hrust int o a w orld w here pain t hreat ened t o fray my sanit y. Many t imes over I t hought I’d die from it . T hat t here had t o be an end somew here in sight , but t he w aves of hurt just kept coming, rolling over me, suffocat ing me. My t ears had also ended w hen my screams st opped. I t ried t o not move or jerk w hen t he pain spiked. It only made it w orse. I w as no longer cold. Maybe it w as because I couldn’t feel anyt hing ot her t han t he hurt ing t hat w as inflict ed by w hat ever w as encased on t hose handcuffs. But t hrough it all, I didn’t w ant t o die. I w ant ed t o live t hrough t his. At some point , t he doors opened. Too exhaust ed t o lift my head, I st ared blindly at t he met all beams t hrough t he bars. Would t hey t ake t he handcuffs off? I w asn’t holding my breat h. “Kat y…” My gaze low ered, t aking in t he salt and pepper hair, t he handsome face, and t he smile t hat had charmed his w ay int o my life and right int o my mom’s bed. My mom’s boyfriend—t he first man she’d even paid at t ent ion t o aft er my dad’s deat h. I t hink she loved him. T hat w as w hat made all of t his so much w orse. I didn’t care about w hat it meant for me. I had my suspicions before, and t here w as t he general dislike of t he fact he had been t aking Dad’s place, but Mom… T his w ould kill her. “How you hanging in t here?” he asked, as if he t ruly cared. “I hear it ’s painful—t he coat ing— t o t hose like you and t he Luxen. It ’s pret t y much t he only t hing t hat can complet ely incapacit at e bot h t he Luxen and t hose t hey mut at e. Onyx mixed w it h a few ot her st ones, like rubies, inflect s such a st range react ion. It ’s like t w o phot ons bouncing off each ot her, looking for a w ay out . T hat ’s w hat it ’s doing t o your mut at ed cells.” He adjust ed his t ie, loosening it around his neck. “I’m w hat t he DOD calls an implant , but I’m sure you’ve figured t hat out by now . You’re a smart cookie, but you’re probably w ondering how I knew ? T he night you w ere brought int o t he ER aft er you w ere at t acked, you w ere recovering w ay t oo fast . And t he DOD w as already keeping an eye on you because of your proximit y t o t he Blacks.” And being a doct or—w ow , he’d know right off t he bat if someone healed abnormally

fast . Disgust seeped t hrough me like a disease. It t ook me several t ries t o get t he next raspy w ords out . “You st art ed…t o dat e my…mom, just t o keep…an eye on me?” W hen he w inked, I w ant ed t o vomit . “Y ou son…of a bit ch.” “W ell, dat ing your mom did have it s benefit s. Don’t get me w rong. I do care about her. She’s a lovely w oman, but …” I w ant ed t o hurt him. Badly. “Y ou…t old t hem about …Daw son and Bet hany?” He flashed a smile, show ing off perfect w hit e t eet h. “T he DOD w as already monit oring t hem. Any t ime a Luxen get s close t o a human, t hey do, hoping t he Luxen w ill mut at e t he human. I w as st aying w it h her parent s w hen she ret urned from hiking. I had my suspicions, and I w as right .” “Y ou…you w ere sick.” Somet hing dark flashed in his eyes. “Hmm, haven’t you been doing your research?” W hen I said not hing, he smirked. “And I w on’t ever be sick again.” I blinked. He’d sold out his only family. “I brought t hem in first …and, w ell, w e know w hat happened from t here.” He knelt dow n, head t ilt ed t o t he side. “But you’re different . Your fever ran higher, you responded t o t he serum miraculously, and you’re st ronger t han Bet hany.” “Serum?” “Yes. It ’s called Daedalus, named aft er t he division w it hin t he DOD t hat oversees mut at ed humans. T hey’ve been w orking on it for years—a mixt ure of human and alien DNA. I inject ed you w it h it w hen you first became ill.” W ill laughed. “Come on, did you t hink you’d survive a mut at ion of t hat kind of magnit ude w it hout help?” Oh my God… “You see, not all mut at ed humans survive t he change or t he boost er shot developed t o enhance your abilit ies. T hat ’s w hat t he Daedalus is t rying t o find out . W hy only some— some like you, Bet hany, and Blake—react approvingly t o t he mut at ion and ot hers do not . And you, you I hear are quit e amazing in t hat depart ment .” He’d shot me up w it h somet hing? I felt violat ed on a w hole new level. Anger cont inued t o build inside me, overshadow ing t he pain. “W hy?” I croaked.

W ill looked pleased. Excit ed. “It ’s rat her simple. Daemon has somet hing I w ant , and you w ill ensure he behaves long enough so t his meet ing ends beneficially for all part ies involved. And I do have somet hing, besides you, t hat he w ill do anyt hing for.” “He’ll …kill you,” I rasped, w incing. “Doubt ful. And you really shouldn’t t alk,” he said conversat ionally. “I t hink you’ve done some permanent damage t o your vocal chords. I’ve been dow nst airs for a w hile, w ait ing for you t o st op screaming.” Dow nst airs? I realized t hen t hat w e w ere most likely in t he w arehouse t hat Daemon had at t empt ed t o invest igat e t he night w e ran int o t he officers. Moving rest lessly, I moaned as he brought t he handcuffs more int o cont act w it h my skin. I may’ve faded out for a few seconds, because w hen I opened my eyes, W ill w as leaning closer. “Did you know t he Luxen healing pow er is at it s st rongest w hen a person is w ounded and t he effect s w eaken t he longer t he gap is bet w een t he injury and t he healing? So I’m t hinking he w on’t be able t o fix t he voice t hing.” I drew in a ragged, painful breat h t hat scorched my t hroat . “Fuck…you.” W ill laughed. “Don’t be angry, Kat y. I don’t mean him any harm. You, eit her. I just need you compliant w hile Daemon and I negot iat e. And if he plays along, bot h of you w ill w alk out of t his building alive.” An unexpect ed jolt of pain rocked me, and my body w ent st iff as I gasped. It felt like my cells really w ere bouncing off one anot her, t rying t o escape. He st ood, hands clenching at his sides. “I almost t hought I lost it all t his w eekend. You can imagine how pissed I w as w hen I learned t hat Vaughn w as dead. He w as supposed t o bring you t o me t hen. T hat poor boy had no idea t hat his ow n uncle w as w orking t o undermine w hat Nancy had him doing.” He laughed, t railing his fingers over t he bars. “Kind of messed up, if you t hink about it . Vaughn knew t hat Nancy w ould be pissed, most likely w ould t ake it out on Blake’s lit t le alien friend. Alt hough I shouldn’t t alk, since I t urned over Bet hany and Daw son. I should’ve t ried it w it h t hem, but I w asn’t t hinking. Daw son is very much like his brot her. He’d have done anyt hing for Bet hany.” Anger broke t hrough t he pain, burning just as bright . “Y ou…” He st opped at t he front of t he cage. “As far as I know , it hasn’t w orked yet .” I really had no idea w hat he w as t alking about , but pieces clicked t oget her. W ill had bet rayed his ow n niece. T he bank t ransfer slips made sense. W ill had been paying Vaughn off, but for w hat ? I didn’t know . W hat ever it w as, it w as enough for Vaughn t o go against t he DOD, and it also explained w hy he’d st opped Blake from t elling Nancy any of my progress.

“Don’t w orry. Daemon is a smart one.” W ill t urned my old cell over, smiling. “He responded event ually. And let ’s just say my response w ill lead him t o us.” I focused t hrough t he pain, concent rat ing on w hat he w as saying. “W hat do you...w ant from him?” W ill t ossed t he phone aside and grasped t he t ort urous bars. His eyes met mine, and t here w as t hat excit ement again, t he childlike aw e. “I w ant him t o mut at e me.”

Chapter 35
I’d been expect ing a lot of t hings. Like maybe he w ant ed Daemon t o annihilat e an ent ire t ow n or rob a bank for him, but t o mut at e him? If pain w eren’t racking my body, I w ould’ve laughed at t he absurdit y. W ill must ’ve sensed my t hought s, because he scow led. “Y ou have no idea w hat you’re t ruly capable of. W hat is money and prest ige w hen you have t he kind of pow er t o force people t o your w ill? W hen you never get sick? W hen no human and no alien life-form can st op you?” His knuckles bleached. “You don’t underst and, lit t le girl. Sure, you w at ched your fat her succumb t o cancer, and I’m sure t hat w as t errible for you, but you st ill have no idea w hat it ’s like w hen your body t urns against you, w hen every day is a bat t le t o just survive.” He pushed off t he bars. “Being sick and close t o deat h changes a person, Kat y. I w ill do anyt hing t o never be t hat w eak, t hat helpless again. And I t hink your fat her, if he’d been given t he chance, w ould have felt t he same w ay.” I shuddered. “My fat her w ould never…hurt anot her person…” W ill smiled. “Y our naivet é is endearing.” It w asn’t naivet é. I knew my dad, w hat he’d do. Anot her w ave of raw hurt forced my eyes closed. As it ebbed off, a different sensat ion appeared. Daemon w as here. My eyes dart ed t o t he doorw ay, and W ill t urned expect ant ly, even t hough t here hadn’t been a sound. “He’s here, isn’t he? You can sense him.” Relief colored his t one. “All of us suspect ed him, but w e could’ve been w rong. It w asn’t unt ill Blake t ook out Adam and nearly Dee t hat w e could confirm it w as Daemon.” He glanced back at me. “Be grat eful t hat t he chain of evidence ends w it h me. W hen t his is done, w e all w alk aw ay from t his okay. If Nancy knew w hat w e did, neit her of you w ould be leaving here t onight .” He glanced over his shoulder. “T here’s an address you need t o

remember. 1452 St reet of Hopes in Moorefield. T here, he’ll find w hat he’s looking for. He has unt ill midnight , t hen he’s lost his w indow of t ime.” I remembered t he address from t he slip of paper I’d found, but it w as a moot point . I w as sure t hat Daemon w as going t o blast W ill int o his next life. Just t hen, t he double doors opened, slamming off t he w hit e cement w alls. Daemon came t hrough t he ent rance, head low ered and eyes like glow ing orbs. Even in my st at e, I could feel t he pow er radiat ing off him. Not a Luxen pow er, but a human one—one born of desperat ion and pain. He looked at W ill and quickly dismissed him. His gaze found me and st ayed. A mult it ude of emot ions flickered across his face. I w ant ed t o say somet hing, but my body had w ant ed t o move closer t o him. It w as an unconscious movement , and it caused t he onyx on t he handcuffs t o come int o more cont act w it h my skin. W it hering on t he floor of t he pen, my mout h opened in a silent scream. Daemon shot forw ard. Not as fast as he normally w ould. He gripped t he bars and t hen jerked back w it h a hiss. “W hat is t his?” His gaze dropped t o his hands and t hen back t o me. Pain fract ured t he light in his eyes. “Onyx mixed w it h ruby and hemat it e,” W ill answ ered. “A nice combinat ion t hat doesn’t sit w ell w it h t he Luxen or hybrids.” Daemon looked at W ill. “I w ill kill you.” “No, I don’t t hink you w ill.” W ill had moved back, t hough, show ing t hat he w asn’t ent irely confident in his plans. “Onyx covers every ent rance t o t his building, so I know you can’t pull in any pow er or use t he light . I also have t he keys t o t hat cage and t hose handcuffs. And only I can t ouch any part of t hat .” Daemon grow led low in his t hroat . “Maybe not now , but I w ill. Y ou can believe t hat .” “And you can believe t hat I’ll be ready for t hat day.” W ill glanced at me, cocking an eyebrow . “She’s been in t here for a w hile. I t hink you underst and w hat t hat means. Shal w e move t his along?” Ignoring him, Daemon approached t he ot her side of t he pen and knelt . I t urned my head t ow ard him, and his eyes searched every inch of me int ensely. “I’m going t o get you out of t here, Kit t en. I sw ear t o you.” “As sw eet as your declarat ion is, t he only w ay you’ll get her out of t here is t o do as I say, and w e only have…” He checked his Rolex. “About t hirt y minut es before t he next round of officers arrive, and w hile I have every int ent ion of let t ing you bot h go, t hey w on’t .” Daemon lift ed his head, jaw w orking. “W hat do you w ant ?” “I w ant you t o mut at e me.” He st ared at W ill a moment , t hen laughed grimly. “Are you insane?”

W ill ’s eyes narrow ed. “I don’t need t o explain everyt hing t o you. She know s. She can fill you in. I w ant you t o change me.” He reached over t he cage, w rapping his fingers around t he bundle of chains. “I w ant t o become w hat she is.” “I can’t just t w it ch my nose and make it happen.” “I know how it w orks.” He sneered. “I have t o be w ounded. Y ou have t o heal me, and t he rest I can t ake care of.” Daemon shook his head. “W hat is t he rest ?” Once again, W ill looked at me and smiled. “Kat y can fill you in on t hat .” “Y ou’ll fill me in right now ,” he snarled. “Or not .” W ill yanked on t he chains, and I buckled. My scream w as just a w himper, but Daemon shot up. “St op it !” he roared. “Let t he chains go.” “But you haven’t even heard w hat I’m offering.” He held t he damn chains up, and I sw am in pain. I faded out for several seconds, ret urning t o see Daemon at t he front of t he cage, his eyes w ide and frant ic. “Let t he chains go,” he said. “Please.” My heart cracked. Daemon never begged. W ill released t he chains, and I slumped against t he pen. T he pain w as st ill t here, but it w as not hing like it had been seconds ago. “T hat ’s much bet t er.” W ill st epped closer t o t he cage Mo had been in. “T his is my deal. Mut at e me, and I’ll give you t he key t o t he cage, but I’m not st upid, Daemon.” “Y ou’re not ?” Daemon snickered. T he older man’s lip t w it ched. “I need t o make sure you don’t come aft er me as soon as I leave here, w hich I know you w ill once she’s removed from t hat cage.” “Am I t hat predict able?” He smiled smugly, and his st ance changed, t aking on t he arrogant sw agger he w as famous for, but I knew he w as coiled t ight . “I may have t o change up my game.” W ill let out an exasperat ed breat h. “W hen I leave here, you w ill not follow me. We have less t han t w ent y minut es t o do t his, and t hen you’ll have only t hirt y minut es, give or t ake a few , t o go t o t he address I’ve given t o Kat y.” Daemon glanced at me quickly. “Is t his a scavenger hunt ? I so do love t hem.”

Alw ays a smartass, I thought, even in the w orst situations. I think I kind of loved him just for that. “Possibly.” W ill slow ly approached him, pulling out a gun from his back. Daemon just arched a brow w hile my heart t umbled over. “You’ll have a choice t o make aft er you let her out of t he cage. Y ou can come aft er me or you can get t he one t hing you’ve alw ays w ant ed.” “W hat ? A t at t oo of your face on my ass?” W ill ’s cheeks flushed w it h anger. “Y our brot her.” All of Daemon’s arrogance vanished. He t ook a st ep back. “W hat ?” “I’ve paid a lot of money t o get him in a posit ion w here he could’ve ’escaped.’ Besides, I doubt t hey’ll really be searching for him.” W ill smiled coldly. “He’s proven t o be quit e useless. But you—you, on t he ot her hand, are st ronger. Y ou’ll succeed w here he’s failed t ime and t ime again.” I w et my dry lips. “Failed…at w hat ?” Daemon’s head jerked t ow ard me, his eyes narrow ing at t he sound of my voice, but W ill spoke up. “T hey’ve been forcing him t o mut at e humans for years. It hasn’t been w orking. He’s not as st rong as you, Daemon. Y ou are different .” Daemon drew in a breat h. W ill w as offering Daemon everyt hing he’d w ant ed—his brot her. T here w as no w ay he’d t urn t hat dow n. And he w as fight ing not t o show any emot ion. To W ill, he w as expressionless, but I recognized t he minut e t icking in his jaw , t he w ay his eyes flickered, and t he t ight line of his mout h. He w as caught bet w een excit ement and t he know ledge t hat he w as creat ing someone w ho could ult imat ely dest roy t he ones he loved. And someone w ho w ould be t ied t o him irrevocably—and t o me. If Daemon healed W ill, t heir lives w ould be joined. “I’d prefer t o hunt you dow n and break every bone in your body for w hat you’ve done,” Daemon said finally. “Rip your flesh off your body slow ly and t hen feed it t o you for hurt ing Kat . But my brot her means more t han vengeance.” Visibly shaken by his w ords, W ill paled. “I w as hoping t hat w ould be your decision.” “Y ou know , you have t o be hurt for t his t o w ork.” W ill nodded, aiming t he gun at his leg. “I know .” Daemon looked disappoint ed. “I w as so hoping I w as going t o get t o inflict t he damage.” “Y eah, I don’t t hink so.” W hat happened next w as t ruly macabre. Part of me w ant ed t o look aw ay or cave t o t he pain, but I didn’t . I w at ched W ill cock his arm back and t hen aft er a minut e, he shot himself in t he leg. T he man didn’t make a sound. Somet hing didn’t seem right about t hat ot her t han t he obvious, but t hen Daemon placed his hand on W ill ’s arm. T he onyx didn’t block his

healing pow ers. Daemon could’ve let him bleed out , but he w ould never get passed t he onyx t o get me out . I blacked out again, unable t o really fight t hrough t he pain anymore. Coming t o, I saw W ill unlat ching t he cage door. He moved over me, healt hy and w hole, unlocking t he chains above me. T he manacles slipped off my w rist s, and I almost cried just for t hat . W ill ’s eyes met mine. “I suggest you don’t t ell your mot her about t his. Aft er all, it w ould kill her.” He smiled, having got t en w hat he w ant ed. “Behave, Kat y.” T hen he w as out of t he cage, and out of t he room. I didn’t know how much t ime w e had left . Couldn’t be more t han t en minut es. I t ried t o sit up, but my arms gave out . “Daemon…” “I’m here.” And he w as. Carefully ent ering t he cage and helping me out . “I’ve got you, Kit t en. It ’s over.” T he healing w armt h w as in his hands, fueling w hat st rengt h I had left . By t he t ime he placed me on my feet out side of t he cage, I could st and alone, and I gent ly brushed his hands off me. Aft er healing W ill, I knew he w asn’t at full st rengt h. And t here w ere officers on t heir w ay, limit ed t ime t o reach Daw son. “I’m all right ,” I w hispered in a t hroat y voice. Making a deep sound in t he back of his t hroat , he clut ched my cheeks and placed his lips on mine. I closed my eyes, sinking int o his t ouch. W hen he pulled aw ay, bot h of us w ere gasping for air. “W hat did you do?” I asked, w incing at t he sound of my voice. Daemon pressed his forehead against mine, and I felt his half grin against my lips. “For t he mut at ion t o w ork, bot h part ies have t o be w illing, Kit t en. Remember w hat Mat t hew said? I w asn’t ent irely int o it , if you get my drift . And not t o ment ion, he needed t o be dying or close t o it . T he mut at ion probably w on’t w ork. At least not t o t he ext ent he t hinks.” I laughed in spit e of everyt hing, t he sound rasping. “Evil genius.” “Y ou bet cha,” he replied, his eyes moving over me, his fingers t hreading t hrough mine. “Y ou sure you’re okay? Y our voice…” “Y eah,” I w hispered. “I’ll be okay.” He kissed me again, soft and deep, and he t ook aw ay most of t he hours spent t here, even t hough I w as sure t hey’d linger for some t ime, creeping up like most dark t hings do. But for a moment , w e w eren’t in such a t errible place, t here w asn’t t his giant clock t icking over our

heads, and I w as safe in his arms. T reasured. Loved. W e w ere t oget her. T w o halves of t he same at om brought back t o make one t hat w as infinit ely st ronger. Daemon sighed against my mout h, and t hen I felt his lips curve int o a real smile. “Now let ’s go get my brot her.”

Chapter 36
My boot s and sw eat er w ere MIA, so Daemon t ugged his sw eat er on over my head, leaving him in a t hin cot t on shirt and jeans. T here w as not hing w e could do about t he shoes. I’d survive, t hough. Chilled feet w ere act ually pleasant in comparison t o w hat I’d just experienced. W it h no t ime t o w ast e, Daemon scooped me up and rushed from t he w arehouse. Once out side and no longer affect ed by t he onyx, I felt t he bit ing w ind st ing my cheeks as he picked up speed. Seconds lat er, he w as buckling me int o his passenger seat . “I can do it ,” I mumbled, w illing my fingers around t he met al. He hesit at ed as he saw my hands t remble and t hen nodded. In a heart beat , he w as behind t he st eering w heel, t urning t he key. “Ready?” W hen t he belt clicked int o place, I leaned back against t he seat , out of breat h. T he onyx had done more t han block t he Source. I felt like I’d climbed Mount Everest w hile carrying a hundred-pound w eight st rapped t o my back. I couldn’t imagine how Daemon w as st ill going full t hrot t le, especially aft er t he admit t edly half-assed healing job on W ill. “Y ou could leave me,” I realized t hen. “Y ou’d be fast er…w it hout me.” Daemon’s brow s shot up as he eased t he SUV around t he Dumpst ers. “I’m not leaving you.” I knew how badly he needed t o get t o t he office building—t o Daw son. “I’ll be fine. I can st ay in t he car and…you can just do your zippy speed st uff.” He shook his head. “Not going t o happen. W e have t ime.” “But —” “Not going t o happen, Kat .” He gunned it out of t he parking lot . “I’m not leaving you alone. Not for a freaking second, okay? We have t ime.” He brushed t he dark w aves off his forehead w it h one hand, his jaw clenching t ight ly. “W hen I got your message about your mom and w hen you didn’t respond back t o me, I t hought maybe you w ere already at t he hospit all in W inchest er, so I called and w hen t hey t old me your mom hadn’t been admit t ed…”

Relief coursed t hrough me. Mom w as okay. Daemon shook his head. “I t hought t he w orst —I t hought t hey’d got t en you. And I w as ready t o t ear t his w hole damn t ow n apart . And t hen I got t he t ext from W ill …so, yeah, I’m not let t ing you out of my sight .” My chest ached. W hile I’d been panicking in t hat cage, I hadn’t had a chance t o really consider Daemon w as aw are of w hat w as happening, but now I knew t hose hours must ’ve been pure hell for him, a flashback t o t he days aft er Daw son’s supposed deat h. My heart w ept for him. “I’m okay,” I w hispered. He glanced at me sidew ays as w e sped ont o t he highw ay heading east . If w e didn’t get pulled over for speeding, it w ould be a miracle. “Are you really okay, t hough?” I nodded inst ead of speaking because I had a feeling hearing my damaged voice w ould probably get t o him. “Onyx,” he said, gripping t he st eering w heel. “It ’s been years since I saw it .” “Did you know it w ould do t hat ?” Keeping my voice low t ook aw ay most of t he raspy sound. “Back w hen w e w ere being assimilat ed, I’d seen it used on t hose w ho w ere causing problems, but I w as young. I should’ve recognized it , t hough, w hen I first saw it . I just never saw it in t hat capacit y—on bars and chains. And I didn’t know it w ould affect you t he same w ay.” “It …” I t railed off, t aking a deep breat h. It had been t he w orst pain I’d ever experienced. I imagined it w as like childbirt h plus surgery w it hout anest hesia. Like t he mut at ed cells under my skin w ere t rying t o break free, bouncing off one anot her. Like being ripped apart from t he inside—at least t hat w as how it felt . And t he t hought of anyone else suffering like t hat caused my st omach t o t w ist . T hey cont rolled Luxen like t hat , t he ones w ho caused problems? It w as inhumane and t ort urous. No leap of t he imaginat ion t o t hink t hat w as how t hey’d be cont rolling Daw son…and Blake’s friend. And t hey’d had Daw son for over a year and Chris for how many? Hours—I only had hours in t hat cage w it h t he onyx. Hours t hat w ould linger w it h me unt ill I t ook my last breat h, but it w as only hours, w hile ot hers had years, most likely. In t hose hours, part s of my soul had darkened…hardened. T here’d been moment s w hen I w ould’ve done anyt hing t o make it st op. Know ing t hat , I couldn’t even fat hom w hat it had done t o ot hers—t o Daw son. Anxiet y t hrummed t hrough me. I couldn’t bear Daemon being in somet hing like t hat . Caged and in pain w it h no end in sight —t he hopelessness t hat w ould event ually creep int o him, t he pain t hat w ould shape him int o a different person. I couldn’t live w it h t hat .

“Kat ?” Concern clouded his t one. T hose hours, t he know ledge I’d gained from t hem, had changed me. No. I had been changing before t hen—going from someone w ho hat ed confront at ion t o someone w ho w ant ed t o t rain and gain t he pow er t o fight …and t o kill. Lying t o t hose I cared about had become second nat ure w hen I’d been a pret t y honest person before. Sure, it w as t o prot ect t hem, but lying w as lying. I w as bolder now , braver. Part s of me had changed for t he bet t er, t oo. And I knew w it hout a doubt I’d kill t o prot ect Daemon and t hose I loved w it hout a moment of hesit at ion. Old Kat y couldn’t fat hom t hat . Now I w as not hing but a shade of gray—my moral compass ambiguous. T here w as somet hing I needed him t o know . “Blake and I aren’t very different .” “W hat ?” Daemon looked at me sharply. “Y ou’re not hing like t hat son—” “No. I am.” I t w ist ed t ow ard him. “He did everyt hing t o prot ect Chris. He bet rayed people. He lied. He killed. And I get t hat now . Doesn’t make anyt hing he did okay, but I get t hat now . I…I w ould do anyt hing t o prot ect you.” He st ared at me as w hat I didn’t say hung in t he air bet w een us and t hen sunk in. I w asn’t sure if w hat I’d become w as a bet t er version of me or not . And I also w asn’t sure if t hat w as going t o change how Daemon looked at me, but he had t o know . Daemon reached over w it h one hand, t hreading his fingers t hrough mine. He remained focused on t he dark road as he pressed our hands t o his t high, keeping t hem t here. “You’re st ill not hing like him, because in t he end, you w ouldn’t hurt someone w ho w as innocent . You’d make t he right call.” I w asn’t so sure about t hat , but his fait h in me brought t ears t o my w eary eyes. I blinked t hem back and squeezed his hand. Daemon didn’t say it , but I knew he w ouldn’t make t he “right call ” if someone he loved w as in danger. He hadn’t made t he “right call ” w hen t he t w o DOD officers caught us at t he w arehouse. “About W ill? W hat …w hat do you t hink w ill happen w it h him?” Daemon grow led. “God, I do w ant t o hunt him dow n, but here’s t he deal. Worst -case scenario, he’s pissed w hen t he mut at ion fades, and he comes back aft er us. If so, I’ll t ake care of him.” My brow s arched. Worst -case scenario t o me w as if he came back in any form—normal, mut at ed, or w hat ever—and got anyw here near my mom again. “And you t hink t here w as no w ay t he mut at ion st uck?” “Not if Mat t hew is right . I mean, I w ant ed t o do it t o get you out of t here, but it w asn’t t his t rue and deep w ant . He nicked an art ery, but he w asn’t dying.” He cast me a look. “I know w

hat you’re t hinking. T hat if it did, w e’re connect ed t o him.” Healing W ill w it hout really know ing w hat t he out come w ould be w as a huge risk and sacrifice for Daemon. “Y eah,” I admit t ed. “T here’s not hing w e can do about t hat now but w ait and see.” “T hank you.” I cleared my t hroat , but it didn’t help. “T hank you for get t ing me out of t here.” Daemon didn’t respond, but his fingers t ight ening around mine grounded me in realit y. I t old him about t he Daedalus, but as expect ed, he hadn’t heard of t hem. T he lit t le t alking w e did on t he w ay t o t he office building w eakened my voice furt her, and each t ime my w ords ended on a raspy not e, Daemon flinched. I pressed my head against t he backseat , forcing my eyes t o st ay open. “Are you okay?” Daemon asked as w e neared St reet of Hopes. My smile felt w obbly. “Y eah, I’m okay. Don’t w orry about me right now . Everyt hing…” “Everyt hing is about t o change.” He pulled along t he back of t he plaza, hit t ing t he brakes. Pulling his hand free, he cut t he engine. He t ook a deep breat h as he glanced at t he clock in t he dashboard. W e had five minut es. Five minut es t o get Daw son out of t here if w hat W ill had said w as t rue. Five minut es w asn’t nearly enough t ime t o prepare for t his. I t ook off t he seat belt , ignoring t he w eariness sinking int o my bones. “Let ’s do t his.” Daemon blinked. “Y ou don’t have t o come in w it h me. I know …you’re t ired.” No w ay in hell w as I let t ing Daemon face t his alone. Neit her of us had any clue w hat w ait ed inside, w hat kind of condit ion Daw son w as in. I opened t he door, w incing as pins and needles shot across my feet . Daemon w as beside me in a second, t aking my hand as he looked dow n, meet ing my eyes. “T hank you.” I smiled even t hough my insides w ere t w ist ing and t urning. As w e w alked up t o t he front doors, I st art ed a mini prayer in my head for w hoever w as list ening. Please don’t let t his end badly. Please don’t let t his end badly. Because in realit y, t his could go w rong on so many different levels it w as fright ening. Daemon reached for t he handle on t he double glass doors and surprise, surprise, t he door w as unlocked. Suspicion blossomed. Too easy, but w e’d come t his far. Looking up, I saw a circular piece of onyx embedded in t he brick. Once inside, w e’d be pow erless, w it h t he except ion of healing. If t his w ere a t rap, w e w ere so screw ed. We w ent inside. To t he right , t he alarm syst em shone green, meaning it w asn’t set . How much money did W ill invest in t his? T he guards at t he w arehouse, Vaughn, and all t he people he had t o pay off t o just leave t he office building…unlocked?

Money w ould’ve been of no real hindrance t o him. Hell, he’d t urned over his ow n niece. T he lobby looked like any office-building lobby. Half-circle desk, fake plant s, and cheap t ile floors. T here w as a door leading t o a st airw ell t hat had been convenient ly left open. Glancing at Daemon, I squeezed his hand. I’d never see him so pale, his face so hard it could’ve been made of marble. His dest iny w ait ed upst airs, in a w ay. His fut ure. Squaring his shoulders, he st art ed t ow ard t he door and w e w ent , climbing t he st airs as fast as w e could. W hen w e reached t he t op, my legs w ere shaking from exhaust ion, but fear and excit ement spiked my blood w it h adrenaline. At t he t op landing, t here w as a closed door. Above it , t here w as more onyx—a sure sign. Daemon let go of my hand and w rapped his fingers around t he handle, a slight t remor running up his arm. My breat h caught in my t hroat as he opened t he door. Images of t he impending reunion flit t ed t hrough my t hought s. Would t here be t ears and shout s of joy? W ould Daw son be in any shape t o recognize his brot her? Or w as t here a t rap w ait ing t o be sprung on us? T he room w as dark, lit only by t he moonlight st reaming in t hrough one w indow . T here w ere a couple of folding chairs propped against t he w all, a T V in t he corner, and a large kennellike cage in t he middle of t he room, out fit t ed w it h t he same kind of manacles t hat had hung from mine. Daemon st epped int o t he room slow ly, his hands falling t o his sides. Heat blast ed off his body as his spine st iffened. T he cage…t he cage w as empt y. Part of me didn’t w ant t o process w hat t hat meant , couldn’t let t he t hought sink in and t ake root . My st omach cramped, and t ears burned t he back of my sore t hroat . “Daemon,” I croaked. He st alked t o t he cage, st ood t here a moment , and t hen knelt , pressing his forehead against his hand. A shudder racked his body. I hurried t o his side and placed my hand on his rigid back. Muscles bunched under my t ouch. “He…he lied t o me,” Daemon said, voice ragged. “He lied t o us.” To come t his close, t o come seconds from seeing his brot her again, w as heart breaking. T he kind of shat t ering t here w as no coming back from.

T here w as not hing I could say. No w ords could make t his bet t er. T he empt iness t earing open inside me w as not hing compared w it h w hat I knew Daemon w as feeling. Choking back a sob, I knelt behind him and rest ed my cheek on his back. Had Daw son ever been here? T here w as a good chance he’d been at t he w arehouse because of w hat Mo had said, but if he’d been here, he w as gone now . Gone again. Daemon jerked up. Caught off guard, I st art ed t o t ip over, but he w hipped around, cat ching me before I hit t he floor and pulling me t o my feet . My heart st ut t ered and t hen accelerat ed. “Daemon…” “Sorry.” His voice w as rough. “W e…w e need t o get out of here.” I nodded, st epping back. “I…I’m so sorry.” He pressed his lips int o a t hin line. “It ’s not your fault . Y ou had not hing t o do w it h t his. He t ricked us. He lied.” I honest ly w ant ed t o sit dow n and cry. T his w as so w rong. Daemon t ook my hand, and w e headed back t o t he car. I climbed in, buckling t he seat belt w it h numb fingers and a heavy heart . We pulled out of t he plaza, hit t ing t he road in silence. Several miles lat er t w o Ford Expedit ions sped past us. I t w ist ed in my seat , expect ing t he vehicles t o do a one-eight y in t he middle of t he road, but t hey kept going. Turning around, I glanced at Daemon. His jaw w as carved out of ice right now . His eyes glow ing like diamonds from t he moment w e st epped out of t he office building. I w ant ed t o say somet hing, but t here really w eren’t w ords t hat could do t he loss any just ice. Daemon had lost Daw son all over again. T he injust ice of it at e aw ay at me. I reached bet w een us, placing my hand on his arm. He glanced at me briefly but said not hing. Set t ling back against t he seat , I w at ched t he scenery blur by in a mesh of shadow s. I kept my hand on his arm, t hough, hoping it brought him comfort like he’d given me earlier. By t he t ime w e reached t he main rout e leading t o our road, I could barely keep my eyes open. It w as lat e, past midnight , and t he only good t hing I had going w as my mom w as in fact at w ork and not w ondering w here in t he hell I’d been all day. T here had probably been t ext s from her, and she w asn’t going t o be happy w hen I responded w it h some lame excuse. Mom and I w ere going t o have t o t alk. Not now , but soon. We pulled int o Daemon’s drivew ay and t he SUV idled t o a st op. Dee’s Jet t a w as in t he drivew ay, along w it h Mat t hew ’s car. “Did you call t hem, t ell t hem w hat happened t o…me?”

He t ook a breat h and I realized he hadn’t been breat hing t his w hole t ime. “T hey w ant ed t o help find you, but I had t hem st ay here in case…” In case t hings had gone badly. A very smart move. At least Dee hadn’t experienced t he piercing hope t hat t urned int o bot t omless despair like Daemon had. “If t he mut at ion doesn’t hold, I w ill find W ill,” he said, “and I’m going t o kill him.” I w as probably going t o help, but before I could respond, Daemon leaned over t he cent er console and kissed me. T he t ender t ouch w as so at odds w it h w hat he’d just said. Deadly and sw eet —t hat w as w hat Daemon w as; t w o very different kinds of souls rest ed in him, fused t oget her. Daemon pulled back w it h a shudder. “I can’t …I can’t face Dee right now .” “But w on’t she w orry?” “I’ll t ext her as soon as you’re set t led.” “Okay. Y ou can st ay w it h me.” Alw ays, I w ant ed t o add. A w ry grin appeared on his lips. “I’ll get out before your mom comes home. Sw ear.” T hat w ould be a good idea. He asked me t o w ait w hile he got out and came around t he front of t he SUV, slow er t han he normally moved. Tonight had t aken it s t oll. He opened t he door and reached in for me. “W hat are you doing?” He arched a brow . “Y ou haven’t had shoes on t his ent ire t ime, so no more w alking.” I w ant ed t o t ell him t hat I could w alk, but some inherent inst inct t old me not t o push it . Daemon needed t his, needed t o t ake care of someone right now . I relent ed and scoot ed t o t he edge of t he seat . T he front door t o his house sw ung open, slamming against t he clapboard like a gunshot . I froze, but Daemon spun around, his hands closing int o fist s, preparing t o face anyt hing and expect ing t he w orst . Dee rushed out . St rands of dark curly hair st reamed behind her. Even from w here I w as, I could see t he t ears glist ening on her pale cheeks, under her sw oll en eyes. But she w as laughing. She w as smiling, babbling nonsense, but she w as smiling. I slipped out of t he seat , w incing as coldness bit deep int o my flesh. Daemon t ook a st ep forw ard as t he front door st art ed t o sw ing shut but st opped. A t all and t hin form filled t he doorw ay, sw aying like a reed. As t he form drift ed forw ard, Daemon st umbled. Oh God, Daemon never st umbled.

T he w hy sunk in slow ly, and I blinked—t oo scared t o believe w hat I w as seeing. It all seemed surreal. Like maybe I’d fall en asleep on t he w ay back, and I w as dreaming somet hing t oo perfect . Because under t he glow of t he porch light w as a boy w it h dark w avy hair curling around broad cheekbones, lips t hat w ere w ide and expressive, and eyes t hat w ere dull but st ill such a st riking shade of green. An exact replica of Daemon st ood on t he porch. Gaunt and pale, but it w as like seeing Daemon in t w o spot s. “Daw son,” Daemon croaked out. T hen he broke int o a dead run, feet pounding over frozen ground and up t he st eps. Wet ness gat hered in my eyes, spilling dow n my cheeks as Daemon t hrew his arms out , his broader body blocking his brot her’s. Somehow , somew ay, Daw son w as home. Daemon pulled his brot her t o him, but Daw son… He w as just st anding t here, arms limp against his sides, his face as beaut iful as his brot her’s but painfully empt y. “Daw son…?” Uncert aint y carried in Daemon’s voice as he pulled back, t w ist ing my insides int o raw , nervous lit t le knot s t hat t raveled up my t hroat , get t ing st uck and st ealing my breat h. As t he t w o brot hers st ared at each ot her, w it h t he w ind blow ing loose flakes of snow on t he ground, sending t hem sw irling int o t he night sky, I remembered w hat Daemon had said earlier. He had been right . In t hat moment , everyt hing did change…for t he bet t er and for t he w orse. Acknowledgments W rit ing acknow ledgment s is probably t he hardest part of t he book-making business. Every t ime, I feel like I forgot someone t erribly import ant , and like Kat y w ould say, t hat w ould make me a douche canoe. I w ant t o t hank my family and friends for not hat ing me w hen I ignore t hem for days t o finish a book. A huge shout -out and a big t hank-you t o t he book lovers and bloggers out t here. Y our love for t he Lux series…and Daemon aw es me. A big t hank-you t o Liz Pell et ier, t he edit or behind t he Lux Series and t he one w ho demanded t hat I put more Daemon int o Onyx. Yeah, t hank her. T hank you t o my aw esome publicist , Misa, and t he rest of t he crew at Ent angled. And, of course, I can’t forget my aw esome agent , Kevan Lyon, and foreign right s agent , Rebecca Mancini, and all t he hard w ork t hey do.

Also, t hank you W endy Higgins! T hanks t o Cindy, Carissa, Lesa, and Angela for act ually reading t his before t he red pen got a hold of it . Bonus Material Read one of your favorite ONYX scenes from Daemon’s point of view, and then catch a sneak peek of one of Entangled Teen’s hottest new YA releases... Do This the Right Way Daemon T he ent ire w orld w as crashing dow n on us. T hat son of a bit ch Blake—I should’ve killed him t he moment I first saw him. I should’ve killed him now . Kat had lied t o me. Adam w as dead. Dee w as dest royed. T he DOD w ould be knocking on our doors any damn second, I st ill had no idea w here Daw son w as, and t he only t hing I could t hink about —cared about —w as w hat Kat w as t elling me. T hat she had never felt t his w ay about anyone before. T hat she couldn’t cat ch her breat h and t hat she felt alive. And she w as t alking about how she felt about me. “But none of t his mat t ers,” she cont inued, “because I know you really hat e me now . I underst and t hat . I just w ish I could go back and change everyt hing! I—” I moved t oo fast for her t o t rack and clasped her cheeks. “I never hat ed you.” She blinked, and God, I couldn’t st and it if she cried. “But —” “I don’t hat e you now , Kat .” My gaze locked w it h her w at ery one. “I’m mad at you—at myself. I’m so angry, I can t ast e it . I w ant t o find Blake and rearrange part s of his body. But do you know w hat I t hought about all day yest erday? All night ? T he one single t hought I couldn’t escape, no mat t er how pissed off I am at you?” “No,” she w hispered. My chest const rict ed. “T hat I’m lucky, because t he person I can’t get out of my head, t he person w ho means more t o me t han I can st and, is st ill alive. She’s st ill t here. And t hat ’s you.” A t ear t railed dow n her cheek. “W hat …w hat does t hat mean?” “I really don’t know .” I chased aft er t he t ear w it h my t humb. “I don’t know w hat t omorrow is going t o bring, w hat a year from now is going t o be like. Hell, w e may end up killing each

ot her over somet hing st upid next w eek. It ’s a possibilit y. But all I do know is w hat I feel for you isn’t going anyw here.” She st art ed t o cry harder, and it made me w eak in t he knees. I bent my head, kissing t he t ears aw ay unt ill t hat w asn’t enough and I needed a t ast e of her. I kissed her, grow ling at t he w ay her lips felt against mine. But Kat pulled back. “How can you st ill w ant me?” I pressed my forehead against hers. “Oh, I st ill w ant t o st rangle you. But I’m insane. You’re crazy. Maybe t hat ’s w hy. Maybe w e’re meant t o be t oget her.” “T hat makes no sense.” “It kind of does, t o me at least .” I kissed her again. I had t o. “It might have t o do w it h t he fact you finally admit t ed you’re deeply and irrevocably in love w it h me.” She let out a w eak, shaky laugh. “I so did not admit t hat .” “Not in so many w ords, but w e bot h know it ’s t rue. And I’m okay w it h it .” “Y ou are?” She closed t hose beaut iful, heat her-gray eyes, and all I could t hink w as how grat eful I w as she w as st ill breat hing. Man, I w as t urning int o a pansy. But I didn’t care. Not w hen it came t o her. “It ’s t he same for you?” she asked. My answ er w as t o bring our mout hs t oget her again…and again. T he t ouch w as like t apping int o t he Source, sending light ning st raight t o t he soul. T he kiss deepened unt ill t here w as no me, no her. It w as just us, and it w asn’t enough—could never be enough. I w as moving w it hout realizing it , and t he next t hing I knew w e w ere on t he bed and she w as right w here I w ant ed her—in my lap. And t hen she w as beside me on t he bed, and my heart w as doing crazy crap in my chest . Such a human t hing, but it w as happening. Kat breat hed heavily. “T his doesn’t change anyt hing I’ve done. All of t his is st ill my fault .” Placing my hand on her st omach, I moved so close I w as pract ically at t ached t o her. And I w ant ed t o be in so many different w ays. “It ’s not all your fault . It ’s all of ours. And w e’re in t his t oget her. W e’ll face w hat ever is w ait ing for us t oget her.” “Us?”

I nodded, w orking on t he but t ons of her sw eat er. Some of t hem w ere but t oned incorrect ly, and I laughed. Only Kat could have t rouble put t ing clot hes on correct ly and somehow make it sexy. “If t here is anyt hing, t here is us.” Kat lift ed her shoulders, and helped me get her out of t he damn t hing. Good. She w as on board w it h w here t his w as heading. “And w hat does ’us’ really mean?” “Y ou and me.” I moved dow n, t ugging off her boot s. “No one else.” Her cheeks flushed as she pulled off her socks and lay back dow n. Jesus, she st ill had on w ay t oo many clot hes. “I…I kind of like t he sound of t hat .” “Kind of ?” Bull. Shit . I slipped my hand dow n her st omach, t o t he hem of her shirt and underneat h. I bit dow n on t he inside of my cheek. T he minor burn of pain did not hing. I loved t he w ay her skin felt like sat in. “Kind of isn’t good enough.” “Okay. I do like t hat .” “So do I.” I low ered my head, kissing her slow ly. “I bet you love t hat .” Her lips curved int o a smile against mine. “I do.” T here w as t hat damn const rict ion again, like I’d been punched in t he chest , but in a good w ay. How you could be punched in a chest in a good w ay w as beyond me, but damn, I sort of loved t hat feeling. T he sound t hat came from deep in my t hroat w as more animal t han Luxen or human. I kissed her st ill damp cheeks as she t old me everyt hing Blake had said and done, and I w ant ed t o kill him all over again, but right now , I w as w it h her and Kat w as t he only t hing t hat mat t ered. In bet w een t he kisses t hat unraveled me and t hen pieced me back t oget her, I spoke t hings I never t old anyone. How crazy I had felt aft er hearing Daw son w as dead, and t he hope I felt learning he had t o be alive. I t old her how badly I w ished my parent s w ere here, how somet imes I hat ed being t he one w ho had t o t ake care of t hings, and I admit t ed how jealous I had been w hen I saw her around Blake. Everyt hing I felt w as in every t ouch and even w hat I didn’t see w as in t he w ay my fingers brushed over t he fragile bones of her ribcage. And w it h every breat hy, soft moan t hat escaped her lips, I w as snared in her w eb a lit t le more. My hands shook as t hey moved up, and I hoped she didn’t not ice. I w as blow n aw ay, shat t ered by w hat she allow ed me t o do. Pieces of our clot hing disappeared. My shirt . Hers. Kat ’s hand drift ed dow n my st omach, and I clenched my jaw so hard I w as sure I w as going t o be paying a visit t o a dent ist soon.

W hen her fingers found t he but t on on my jeans, I w as complet ely lost t o her, but in a w ay I never, ever expect ed. “You have no idea how badly I w ant t his,” I t old her, bringing t he t ips of my fingers dow n her chest and over her st omach. So beaut iful. “I t hink I’ve act ually dreamed about it . Crazy, huh?” She lift ed a small hand, running t he pads of her fingers dow n my cheek. I t urned int o t he t ouch, pressing a kiss against t he palm of her hand, and t hen I found her mout h again. T his kiss w as different , more int ense, and Kat —aw , God—Kat came alive. Hips rocking t oget her, our bodies fit t ed so t ight ly t here w as a good chance I w ould slip int o my t rue form and knock out t he pow er in t he ent ire st at e. Our explorat ions grew . Her hands w ere everyw here, and I urged her w it h w ords and t ouches t o go furt her. Her leg curled around my hips—sw eet , baby Jesus—I w as nearly undone. W it h my name on her lips and w it h barely anyt hing separat ing us, I felt t he last of my cont roll slipping. W hit ish-red light radiat ed off of me, bat hing Kat in t he w arm glow . T here w as now here t hat my hands didn’t explore, and t he w ay her body arched int o t he slight est t ouch, I w as aw ed and consumed. Kissing her and draw ing her deep inside me, I never w ant ed t his t o end. She w as perfect t o me. She w as mine, and I w ant ed her more t han I w ant ed anyt hing in my life. But I st opped. Everyt hing t hat had happened flipped t hrough my head like a phot o album I w ant ed t o burn. Bot h our emot ions w ere all over t he place. T here had been deat h, discovery, and so much more. And w e w ere rushing headfirst int o not t urning back. I didn’t w ant our first t ime t o be like t his—t o be because of w hat happened. My God, I w as a mushy pansy ass, but I st opped. Kat st ared up at me, running her hands over my st omach and making it really hard t o slam on t he brakes. “W hat ?” she asked. “Y ou…you’re not going t o believe me.” Hell, I didn’t believe it . In a couple of seconds, I w as really going t o regret t his. “But I w ant t o do t his right .” She st art ed t o smile. “I doubt you could do t his w rong.” Ha. “Yeah, I’m not t alking about t hat . T hat I w ill do perfect ly, but I w ant t o…” Break out t he subscript ion t o t he Hall mark Channel and Lifet ime Movie Net w ork. “I w ant us t o have w hat normal couples have.” Kat looked like she w as going t o cry again. I’d probably be crying soon, but for a t ot ally different reason.

I cupped her cheek, exhaling roughly. “And t he last t hing I w ant t o do is st op, but I w ant t o t ake you out —go on a dat e or somet hing.” I sounded like an idiot . “I don’t w ant w hat w e’re about t o do t o be overshadow ed by everyt hing else.” I t hink I might have blushed. Damn me. Calling on every ounce of self-cont roll I had, I did t he unt hinkable and lift ed off her, easing dow n on my side. I w rapped an arm around her w aist and t ugged her close. I brushed my lips across her t emple. “Okay?” Kat t ipped her head back, meet ing my st are. Her t hroat w orked on her next w ords. “I t hink I might love you.” Air punched out of my lungs. I held her t ight , and I knew right t hen I w ould burn dow n t he w hole universe for her if I had t o. I w ould do anyt hing t o keep her safe. Kill. Heal. Die. Anyt hing. Because she w as my everyt hing. And I w ant ed t o t ell her so, but I didn’t w ant t o t empt t he universe. Bad t hings happened t o t he people I loved. I kissed her cheek. “T old you.” Kat st ared at me. I chuckled, and alt hough it didn’t seem possible, I moved closer. “My bet —I w on. I t old you t hat you’d t ell me you love me on New Y ear’s Day.” Looping her arms around my neck, she shook my head. “No. Y ou lost .” I frow ned. “How do you figure?” “Look at t he t ime.” She t ipped her chin t ow ard t he clock on t he w all. “It ’s past midnight . It ’s January second. Y ou lost .” For several moment s I st ared at t he clock, w ishing it int o a black hole, but t hen my gaze found hers and I smiled—really smiled. “No. I didn’t lose. I st ill w on.” Keep reading for a sneak peek of Tara Fuller’s Inbetween “A captivating whirlwind of death, revenge, and true love. I want a reaper of my own!!” - Jena from Shortie Says Since the car crash that took her father’s life two years ago, Emma’s life has been a freaky—and unending—lesson in caution. Surviving “accidents” has taken priority over being a normal seventeen-year-old, so Emma spends her days taking pictures of life instead of living it. Faling in love with a boy was never part of the plan. Faling for a reaper who makes her chest ache and her head spin? Not an option.

It ’s not easy being dead, especially for a reaper in love w it h a girl fat e has put on his list not once, but t w ice. Finn’s fell ow reapers give him hell about spending t ime w it h Emma, but Finn couldn’t let her die before, and he’s not about t o let her die now . He w ill prot ect t he girl he loves from t he evil he accident ally unleashed, even if it means sacrificing t he only t hing he has left . His soul.

Prologue
Finn
Two Years Earlier “Tell me again. How did you miss t he mark?” I shoved my hands in my pocket s and pressed my lips t oget her t o keep from grinning. “I sw ear, Anaya, t his is t he last t ime I follow one of you Heaven reapers anyw here.” Anaya and I w alked dow n a t w o-lane st rip of asphalt t hat glist ened w it h puddles of left over rain. Somew here in t he dist ance, a second round of clouds let out a hungry rumble. Anaya silent ly kept pace beside me, t he gold band around her biceps glint ing w it h each feat her-soft foot st ep. She t urned her nose up int o t he air. “I never miss a mark.” “T hen w ould you mind explaining w hy I’m w alking up a mount ain t o get t o our reap? W e could’ve just flashed t here.” She squint ed at her surroundings, hesit at ing. I knew w e w ere close, but it w as w ay t oo fun messing w it h her t o let t his one go. “It ’s okay t o admit you’re losing your t ouch,” I said. “I’d be happy t o t ake t he lead on t his one.” Anaya held up her hand, ignoring me. “Do you hear t hat ?” I st opped, list ening t o t he mangled w aill of a horn in t he dist ance. As if pulled in by t he sound, a black blur, like a cloud of ink, w hipped past us before disappearing around t he bend. Shadow s. Scavengers from t he out skirt s of Hell. Souls t hat w eren’t chosen t o st art again, had escaped t heir reaper, or hadn’t earned t heir w ay int o Heaven, so t hey’d been left t o decay and rot . T hey w ere soul ess beings t hat craved t he scent of deat h. T he t ast e of a soul. I hat ed t hem. But I hat ed t he memories t hey brought back even more. Every shadow t hat blurred across my vision w as a cold reminder of All ison, t he love of my aft erlife. W hat I’d done t o her. W hat I’d almost let her become. Her name t umbling around in my skull made my chest ache.

But I couldn’t change it . I’d never be able t o change it . I’d pushed her int o a w orld w here w e’d never be t oget her again and nearly got t en myself banished t o Hell in t he process. T he shadow s w ould never let me forget it . Aft er fift een years of penance, Balt hazar w asn’t likely t o let me forget it eit her. A sick feeling st art ed t o brew in my gut , so I shook it off and w at ched anot her black blur zip past us. At least t hey alw ays led us t o our t arget s. “See.” Anaya smiled and skipped ahead. “W e’re here.” Sure enough, around t he last bend, a candy-apple-red Camaro lay upside dow n, crumpled like a discarded Coke can at t he t ree line. T he horn blared, t he sound careering off t he rock w all and slamming back int o t he cliffside forest w here it splint ered int o a t housand echoes bet w een t he branches. If I had t o guess, t he car had t aken a similar journey. A ringlet of w hit e smoke seeped from under t he ruined hood and t w irled up int o t he air. “Looks like w e have a w inner.” Anaya pulled her pearl-handled scyt he from t he leat her belt she w ore around her w hit e dress, and t w irled it in her hand. T he t w elve-inch blade, w it h it s efficient , palm-sized handle, gleamed like it had never been used. I glanced dow n at my sad excuse for a scyt he w it h it s plain iron handle and dingy blade. Heaven’s reapers got all t he perks. I may have been a slave t o t he Inbet w een, but I w as st ill a reaper, for God’s sake. We w ere supposed t o be t he st uff of night mare and legend. You’d t hink t hey’d at least give me a decent scyt he. “Hey, w hat do you t hink t he chances are of me scoring one of t hose?” “Keep dreaming, Finn.” I st opped, leaving a few feet of dist ance bet w een t he car and me. W hoever w as in t here w asn’t ready for me. Not yet . A slow w armt h, an ache, spread t hrough my chest , and drove sparks t hrough my veins. Not t he impat ient icy burn I w ould have expect ed from a reap at all. T hat …w as different . Anaya st rolled past me, t he shimmery brow n plait s t hat hung dow n t o her w aist sw aying behind her. “Look at t he bright side,” she said. “At least t hey did aw ay w it h t hose aw full cloaks.” She gripped t he scyt he and looked t o t he heavens. Her lips moved around t he w ords t o a prayer, one she’d never let me hear. T hen, w it h a graceful sw eeping mot ion, t he blade of her scyt he sliced t hrough t he car. She t ugged once, t w ice, and yanked her glit t ery prize from t he w reckage. Anaya shoved her scyt he back int o t he leat her belt at her hip and pulled t he man t o his feet . T he shadow s w ere on him in an inst ant , hissing and sw irling like smoke around his legs and w aist , just w ait ing for us t o make a mist ake. T hey w ere desperat e. Hungry. Of course, t heir react ion w asn’t really a surprise. Balt hazar had loaded t he t errit ories w it h reapers, cut t ing off t heir food supply—souls rarely slipped t hrough t he cracks anymore.

Anaya t urned around, t ucking t he soul behind her, and sw ung out her scyt he. T he shadow s shrank back before dissolving int o an oily spot on t he pavement . She scow led and shoved her scyt he back in it s holst er. “Vermin.” Vermin. I’d almost doomed All ison to be vermin. I couldn’t look aw ay from the dark spot on the pavement. “Emma?” T he soul babbled, rubbing his head. His eyes sw am dizzily in his skull as he t ried t o regain his bearings. “Emma. You have t o help Emma. Have you called an ambulance?” I closed my eyes, t rying t o block him out . I didn’t w ant t o know her name. “It ’s going t o be fine, sir. She’s going t o a very…nice place. Don’t w orry.” Anaya looked up at me, her odd golden eyes begging me t o back up her lie. I couldn’t give him w hat he needed. W hat he needed w as t o hear t hat his daught er w as going t o live a long, happy life. All I offered w as deat h. I w ouldn’t lie t o him. T he fact t hat I w as about t o t ake his lit t le girl t o t he Inbet w een w as bad enough. If she ever decided she w as ready, t hat is. I glanced back at t he car, w ait ing for t he icy pull t o kick in. Somet hing st ill didn’t feel right about t his. “Dad!” a girl’s broken voice cried from t he inside t he crumpled car. “Help her!” t he man cried, t rying t o scrabble t ow ard t he car. Anaya easily held his shimmering form back. “For t he love of God, she’s only fift een years old. Y ou should have helped her first .” Now t he pull kicked in. Except , t his pull w as dizzying and familiar in an unfamiliar w ay. And get t ing st ronger by t he second. My head spun w it h t he force of it . Somet hing w as w rong here. Not hing about t his felt like a st andard reap. But I’d sw ear I felt t his before. Once… Memories pulsed t hrough my mind in blinding flashes as I inched t ow ard t he vehicle. Soft -assat in lips, w arm w hispers against my neck, smiles like t he sun… T he pull int ensified, like a pounding in my chest , and my knees buckled. I knelt dow n t o t he broken w indow . Somet hing like hope surged t hrough me, follow ed by a cold rush of fear. I could only t hink of one ot her t ime t hat it had felt like t his. Back w hen I’d peeled t he soul from a frail, bloody body, packed in snow . T he day t hat had changed me forever. No. It couldn’t be her. Not again, and not like t his. Blond hair lay mat t ed w it h blood against t he girl’s cheek. I reached t hrough t he w indow and t raced t he pat h of a t ear t hat had fall en from her closed eyelids, my fingers scat t ering like mist . Her skin w as pet al-soft , deadly cold. A w arm spot pooled in my hand w here w e t ouched, t hen t raveled up my arm, dow n my neck

w here t he heat exploded in my chest . Connect ion t hrobbed beneat h my ribs. Cert aint y pounded in my t emples. All ison… I jerked my hand back and scrambled aw ay from t he car. It w as her. Aft er all t hese years…it w as her. “W hat ’s w rong w it h you?” Anaya sounded annoyed. “Dad?” t he girl w himpered again, w eaker t his t ime. Or maybe t hat w as t he gray, gauzy feeling t hat w as suffocat ing me. Fift een years. Fift een years of w ondering if I’d done t he right t hing, and t his is w hat I find? A girl halfw ay t o deat h, clut ching a bloody backpack? No. No. No! I shut my eyes and focused, t ouching my scyt he t o be cert ain. It w asn’t t here. No burning pull. No claw ing need t o t ake her soul. She could st ill be okay. Unless— “Finn?” Anaya crouched dow n in front of me. “I don’t know w hat is going on w it h you, but if you are incapable of handling t his, I w ill.” I blinked unt ill Anaya’s blurry face slow ly came int o focus. I bolt ed upright . “Is she yours? Are you here for bot h of t hem? Because it ’s not me.” A cold, t hrobbing panic t ook up residency in my chest . W hen she just st ared at me, confused, I snapped. “Answ er t he damn quest ion, Anaya!” Realizat ion slow ly replaced t he confusion in her eyes. Anaya shook her head and st ared up t hrough t he spiky t reet ops w here a crow sw am across t he t urbulent lavender sky. “It ’s her.” It w asn’t even a quest ion. I couldn’t hide t his. Couldn’t shove t he secret int o t he dark safet y of my pocket and w alk aw ay. Anaya knew . She glanced back at t he car, and t hen her gaze set t led on me. “Walk aw ay,” she said, her voice just a w hisper of breat h. “If you have any sense left in you, you’ll w alk aw ay from t his and forget it happened, Finn. Don’t screw t his up. Y ou’ve w orked t oo hard t o go back now .” I st ill had some sense. I must have, because part of me knew she w as right . T hat I should w alk aw ay right now before t his w ent any furt her. I blinked at t he car, t rying so hard t o ignore t he pull t ugging me t o her, w arm and urgent like t he need t o breat he. T he pull t elling me I w as here for a reason, even if t hat reason w asn’t t o t ake her soul. I didn’t admit t hat t o Anaya, t hough. Inst ead, I nodded, not t rust ing t he w ords t umbling around in my mout h. Anaya w rapped her fingers around her charge’s hand and smiled at him. T he air behind her rippled like a silk curt ain, t hen erupt ed w it h light . His eyes w ent w ide as he glanced at Anaya, t hen t o me. “I’m…I’m…” He st opped w hen Anaya pat t ed t he back of his hand, t he w ord dead hanging among us. “Y es,” she said.

“And my daught er?” His shimmer dimmed as he w at ched t he car t eet er inept ly on t he cliff’s sharp drop-off. “I’ll t ake care of her,” I said. “I sw ear.” I sw allow ed, realizing I meant it . W hat w ere t he odds t hat I’d find her again like t his? W hat w ere t he odds t hat out of all of t he places in t he w orld she could have been reborn, she’d end up in California? I’d reaped t his t errit ory for years, and she’d been right under my nose. T here had t o be a reason. Anaya shot me a sharp look, but didn’t get a chance t o follow t hrough w it h her usual rant . Glit t ery t endrils of light reached out and w rapped around her and t he soul in t ow . A gust of balmy air exploded from t he port hole, blow ing Anaya’s braids in every direct ion. It fluffed her w hit e skirt unt ill she looked like she w as float ing on a cot t on mushroom t op, t hen spun t hem around unt ill t hey w ere just a sw irll of blinding color. W hen t hey w ere gone, t he w ind died, and t he light dimmed and dissolved int o t he murky blue t w ilight . Somet hing cracked. T he t ree t hat held t he w reckage in place sw ayed. I looked up. A brilliant flash of red bounced on a branch, as if begging it t o snap. Maeve. T he soul w hose second chance I’d st olen fift een years ago w hen I pushed All ison t hrough t he port all in her place. And all at once, I realized w hat fat e w ant ed me t o do. “Don’t !” I scrambled for t he car. It w obbled on t he one t ire t hat hadn’t gone flat , t hreat ening t o go over any second and t ake t he girl inside w it h it . “I knew follow ing you around w ould event ually pay off.” Her voice echoed t hrough t he t reet ops, follow ed by a mocking laugh. “I realize t his is bit t ersw eet , so I’ll let you say a quick good-bye before I kill her and ruin your sad excuse for an exist ence.” I w riggled t hrough t he w indow , closed my eyes, and gave int o gravit y. Cells connect ed. T he air sizzled. I flexed my fingers, only a breat h aw ay from being fully corporeal. No. I st opped myself, fight ing t he urge t o slip my arms around All ison’s limp frame, and pict ured Balt hazar, t he second in command t o t he Almight y, ruler of reapers. He’d feel me go corporeal and w ould know I’d found her again. I punched t he ceiling and let my skin scat t er like sparks against t he gray felt .

I couldn’t afford t hat kind of hell right now . She groaned and somet hing like relief flooded me. Yes, definit ely st ill alive. But not for long. T he t ree sw ayed again, t his t ime allow ing a lit t le of t he car t o slip t hrough it s hold. I glanced out t he w indow and w at ched a few rocks spring loose from t he cliff and roll t o t he bot t om. “Finn, come out of t here,” Maeve sang. She bounced again, rocking t he car. “Just give in t o t his and w e’ll call it a day. She w as going t o die anyw ay. Y ou’d just be doing your job.” She w as not going t o die. I w ouldn’t let her. “Come on, All ison.” I leaned in close and w at ched her eyelids t w it ch, t hen crack open one at a t ime. T hank God. “I know you’re scared, but I need you t o t rust me.” Her eyes dart ed back and fort h, w ide and afraid, before set t ling on me. “W ho are you? W here’s my dad?” W hen she leaned up t o t ry t o see in t he front seat I moved in front of her t o block her view . “He’s fine. Don’t w orry about him right now ,” I said, soft ly. “I need you t o get up. See t hat w indow ?” I point ed t o t he upside-dow n broken w indow and she nodded. T he car lurched again. “Y ou need t o craw ll t hrough t here. And you need t o do it fast .” She t ried t o sit up, t hen w inced and fell back. “I can’t . It hurt s.” I plast ered a smile on my face and had t o force myself not t o t ouch her, t o brush t he hair out of her face, t o grab her arm and pull her t he hell out of t here. “Y es, you can. Y ou’re t ough. I can t ell.” She shook her head. “No, I’m not . Really. I didn’t even make it t hrough one w eek of soft ball before I sprained my ankle.” I laughed in spit e of myself. “I have a feeling you’re a lot t ougher t han you give yourself credit for. Now come on.” T he car rocked and I t ensed. “Get out of t he car.” She looked int o my eyes for a long moment , t hen pushed herself up and inched t ow ard t he w indow . I craw led out first , coaxing her t o follow . T he car shift ed. Groaned. I heard more rocks break loose from t he cliff t o t umble over t he edge. “You’re making t his unbearably complicat ed, Finn. Really, w hy not just pull her out of t he car and get it over w it h?” Maeve t aunt ed, a smile behind her w ords. “Y ou’re already dead—w hat else could Balt hazar possibly do? Oh…w ell I guess t here is Hell. But ot her t han t hat ?”

Pushing Maeve’s laught er out of my head, I focused on All ison. “Come on, pret t y girl,” I said, fear t hrumming in my chest . “You can do t his. You have to do this.” T he gash bleeding t hrough her blue jeans snagged on t he broken w indow and she sobbed. “Don’t st op. I know it hurt s. But you can’t st op.” We w ere so close. Anot her few feet and she’d be free. I kept my eyes on her, t rying t o figure out a w ay t o dist ract her from t he pain. “Y ou know , one t ime I broke my leg,” I blurt ed out . She sniffled and looked up at me. “I’d climbed t his big t ree on my dad’s farm. I didn’t t ell anyone w here I w as going, so w hen t he branch broke, I knew I w as in t rouble. I had t o w alk all t he w ay home on t hat leg just t o get t here before it got dark.” “W hy didn’t you w ait for somebody t o look for you?” “Coyot es. All I could t hink about w as how I used t o hear t hem how ling at night . Our neighbor used t o find his cat t le t orn t o shreds.” She scoot ed a lit t le fart her out . “Didn’t it hurt ?” T he car groaned and t ilt ed underneat h us. All ison gripped t he seat , her eyes w ide. “It hurt like hell, but it w as a lot bet t er t han ending up like t he cat t le.” She squeezed her eyes shut and w iggled t he rest of t he w ay t hrough t he w indow , int o t he pine needles and dirt on t he side of t he road. She craw led forw ard a few more feet and collapsed. Her cheek pressed against t he w et pavement as she fought t o cat ch her breat h. A loud crack split t he silence, and t he car lurched forw ard, it s w eight breaking t he t all bone of a t ree. W it hin seconds, it rolled off t he side and int o t he chasm below , a chew ed-up red spot sw allow ed by t he dark. Maeve’s scream ripped t hrough t he mist t hat had st art ed t o fall, and in it , I heard her cry for revenge. I’d w orry about t hat lat er. For now , I looked dow n at All ison. I w at ched her breat hs make foggy shapes as t hey puffed errat ically int o t he night . Her lashes blinked aw ay t he t ears t hat w ere running across her cheeks. No. T his w asn’t All ison anymore. “Emma,” I w hispered as a beam of headlight s curled around t he bend in t he road. “You need t o flag dow n t he car t hat ’s coming around t he corner. Y ou’re going t o have t o get up.”

“My leg…” She looked up, t ears in her eyes. “W hy can’t you do it ? W hy aren’t you helping me?” Guilt t ied my insides int o knot s, making it hard t o look at t he girl reaching up for my help. I couldn’t give it t o her no mat t er how badly I w ant ed t o. Balt hazar and his damned rules! “I can’t . I’m so sorry.” I t ook a few st eps back unt ill she low ered her hand. “But you can do t his. Y ou’re t ough. Remember?” Her gaze sw ung t o t he light s glist ening on t he pavement and she pushed herself t o her knees. I t ook my chance. I let myself fade. Dissolve int o t he mist around me t hat w as calling me home. I w at ched Emma w ave her arms at t he slow ing car. She w as safe. Alive. I closed my eyes, laughing w it h relief. I’d done it . I’d saved her. Except … I looked up at t he broken t ree w here Maeve had balanced only minut es ago. T here w as no w ay I could w alk aw ay now . Not w hen I’d led Maeve t o her. Damn it . T his w as bad on so many levels. I w at ched Emma collapse against t he man from t he car as he w rapped a jacket around her shivering shoulders. W armt h spread t hrough my chest . Y eah…bad w asn’t a st rong enough w ord. Disast er w as more like it . And I didn’t care. She w as w ort h it . “I’ll keep you safe. I sw ear it .” I repeat ed t he promise I’d made t o her fat her, t hen closed my eyes and let t he w ind cat ch me and t oss me int o t he night .

Chapter 1
Finn
Somet imes Emma made me feel so alive, I almost forgot I w as dead. Almost . I sat on t he floor across from her bed list ening t o her slow , st eady breat hs. I should have been more alert . I w as supposed t o be on w at ch. But it w as so hard t o concent rat e on anyt hing but her w hen I knew she w as remembering. Emma rolled over, pressing her face int o t he pillow . “Finn…” I shut my eyes, t rying t o hold on t o it . I w asn’t st upid enough t o t hink she’d remember t his w hen she w oke up, but damn it if hearing my name slip t hrough her lips didn’t sw eep t hrough

me like w ildfire. Scorching t he places w here blood used t o run. Melt ing t he hollow space w here my heart used t o beat . I t ook a deep, unneeded breat h and let t he back of my head t hump against her overst uffed bookcase. T his w as never going t o get easier. Tw o years of w at ching her t hrough t he invisible barrier of Balt hazar’s rules w as really st art ing t o suck. Especially w hen every t ime I blinked, anot her piece of All ison w as breaking t hrough t he surface. In t he pale light of her lamp, I could see t he neat row of cookbooks, nest led t oget her like a family, holding all of t he secret s Emma creat ed in t he kit chen. T hey smelled like flour and sugar and home. T he next orderly row w as packed w it h t he w orn-out novels she loved, and a new phot ography book her mom bought her last year. T he last shelf belonged t o t he books her fat her had w rit t en, held in place by gold-framed pict ures of him smiling and alive. Emma had so many w ords inside her. I w as surprised t hey didn’t fall out w hile she w as sleeping. T housands of w ords about myst eries and romance and life. T hings I didn’t know anyt hing about . T hings t hat All ison had know n everyt hing about . She w himpered from under t he covers and I looked up. W hat w as she remembering t his t ime? W hat piece of t he Inbet w een and her t ime w it h me w as she fight ing? T here w as so much I didn’t w ant her t o remember. So much I needed her t o remember. But t hat didn’t mat t er. I w as here t o prot ect her. T hat ’s w here it had t o end. I closed my eyes, t rying t o sw allow my ow n crap lie. She mumbled somet hing in her sleep and began t o t hrash under t he sheet s. I groaned and pushed myself up from my safe spot on t he carpet , unable t o sit t here list ening t o her suffer anymore. I st opped a foot from t he bed and knelt dow n. “Shh…” I t ouched t he edge of t he mat t ress, forcing myself not t o go any closer. “It ’s going t o be okay.” She w as only a few inches aw ay, but it felt like miles. Miles t hat left me w ant ing in so many w ays t hat I ached. Hopefully my presence w ould be enough. T here w ere t imes I sw ore she could feel me. “W hat do you t hink you’re doing?” a gravelly voice chided. I looked up from t he edge of Emma’s bed just as East on melt ed up from t he polished hardw ood floor beneat h t he w indow . Like an oill slick coming t o life, he unfolded his long, shadow y legs unt ill he w as just an inkblot in front of t he splash of lamplight on her w all. His violet eyes pinned me like a kid caught w it h his hand in t he cookie jar. W hich I kind of w as. “Not hing,” I lied.

“Y eah, looked like not hing.” He st rolled across t he room accompanied by a w ave of sulfur and smoke, t he black serpent t at t oo on his neck glint ing. “Jesus, East on.” I scrunched up my nose and climbed t o my feet . “Don’t t hey have a show er somew here bet w een here and t he aft erlife?” “Screw you. You didn’t just have t o t ow somebody’s grandpa t o Hell.” He brushed somet hing chalky and gray off his long coat , and a shudder w orked it s w ay dow n my spine. God only know s w hat —or w ho—it had belonged t o. “Besides, I w asn’t t he one about t o feel up a sleeping human.” “I w asn’t —” “Save it .” He w aved his hand dismissively. “W e have w ork t o do. I don’t have t ime for your useless obsession w it h t he human t oday.” “W ill you please st op calling her t hat ?” “W hat ?” East on glanced up from Emma’s vanit y, w here he’d been inspect ing t he various lot ions, t ubes, and bot t les like he w as on some alien planet . T hen again, East on had been dead for somet hing like four hundred years and spent most of his life in Hell, so her st uff probably w as sort of alien t o him. “’ T he human.’ You make her sound like a freak. It ’s not like w e’re a different species, for God’s sake. We w ere humans t oo, or don’t you remember t hat far back?” “W ere,” he said, scow ling at me over his shoulder. “Past t ense.” East on’s clumsy fingers knocked over t he bobblehead zombie on t he vanit y t op and w e bot h froze. Emma shot up from beneat h t he covers, gasping. “Mom?” She shoved t he t angled blond hair out of her face, her eyes t rained on her rumpled reflect ion in t he vanit y mirror. “W as t hat you?” “Not Mom. Just one of Hell ’s reapers, at your service.” East on leaned against t he bookcase and grinned. “Y ou’re right , Finn. T his is fun.” “Are you freaking insane?” I hissed. He rolled his eyes. “Oh calm dow n, drama queen. It ’s not like she can hear us.” “Y ou scared her.” “Are you kidding? She’s scared of her ow n reflect ion. And t hat has not hing t o do w it h me.” No. But t he fact t hat Emma’s life had been a horror movie w ait ing t o happen t hese last t w o

years had everyt hing t o do w it h me. I’d led a soul t hat hat ed my gut s and w as hell-bent on revenge right t o her doorst ep. I t urned my at t ent ion back t o Emma. Aft er she collect ed herself, she t w ist ed her hair up int o a messy ponyt aill and dug in her night st and draw er for her journal. “Dear diary…” East on nodded at t he journal. “W hat do you t hink she’s going t o w rit e?” I folded my arms across my chest . “Not my business.” He w alked over t o her bed and plopped dow n beside her. T he mat t ress didn’t creak or groan under his w eight . T he blanket s didn’t shift . He peeked over her shoulder at t he book. A long t endril of honey-colored hair came loose from Emma’s ponyt aill and fell across her eye. She t ucked it behind her ear, but East on blew on it so t hat it fell right back dow n. She sw ept it out of her face, looking frust rat ed, and East on chuckled. “W ill you st op?” I said, feeling uncomfort able w it h how close he w as t o her. “T his is so screw ed up it ’s not even funny.” He raised a dark brow . “Oh? And w hat you’re doing isn’t ?” We could have gone back and fort h like t hat for hours, but t he call came. It alw ays did. It st art ed in my bones—a cold so cut t ing t hat it sliced t hrough me like a machet e. East on’s jaw clenched, his muscles t aut and ready. He slow ly closed his hand around t he handle of his scyt he, w hich burned black and soft ly smoked at his side. I flexed my fingers as t he icy ribbons of deat h w orked t heir w ay t hrough each one of my limbs. “Can you t ake t his one for me?” I asked. “Y ou’re already going t o be t here, and I just got back—” “No,” East on said. “Hell no. I have my ow n job t o do. I can’t keep covering for your sorry ass. Besides, do you have any idea how close you are t o being caught ? Don’t push your luck, Finn. Just keep your nose dow n, collect your souls, and t hank t he Almight y t hat you don’t have my job.” “I’m t aking a risk every t ime I leave her. Y ou know t hat .” “For t he love of God. She’ll be fine, Finn. It ’s just one reap.” “How do you know she’ll be fine?” He shrugged. “I don’t . But t hat ’s t he difference bet w een you and me. I don’t care.” W it h t hat , he vanished, consumed in a flash by t he keening w ails of t he damned. T he screams beckoned. Claw ed at me from t he inside out . Rule One as a reaper: Deat h doesn’t w ait for anyone. And it sure as hell w asn’t w ait ing for me now .

Like what you’ve read so far? Pick up inbetween online and in stores everywhere August 2012! Ot her books by Jennifer ll. Arment rout : The Lux Series: Obsidian: A Lux Novel, Book One Onyx: A Lux Novel, Book Two Opal: A Lux Novel, Book Three The Covenant Series: Daimon Half-Blood Pure Deit y Apollyon Single Tit les: Cursed

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