Storm Page 15

’’Thanks for the magic rocks,’’ she called over her shoulder.

As she turned the corner, she banged into something hard. Her eyes saw the blue shirt first, then the spread of water across a male chest. He swore.

She recognized the voice and jerked her eyes up.

She\d just soaked Chris Merrick.


Chris looked pissed.

’’Holy crap,’’ Becca whispered. The entire front of his shirt was wet.

’’Pretty much.’’ He pulled the fabric away from his chest and sighed. ’’At least it\s water.’’

She felt a little light-headed. She wrapped her hands around the cup, like it could somehow keep her upright. ’’What\s wrong you can\ freeze it in midair?’’

His eyes snapped to hers, suddenly fierce and intimidating. ’’What did you just say?’’

She sucked in a breath. Her voice wouldn\ work.

Then she started giggling. It was somehow hilarious in the way things only are when you\ e drunk. She thought of Taylor out front. At least she wasn\ rolling in the grass. ’’You\ e lucky I\m not shorter,’’ she said. ’’It could have been a whole different look for you.’’

He backed off a little. ’’Glad to amuse you.’’

She couldn\ stop laughing. She had to put a hand on the wall. ’’You should thank me for my aim.’’

He looked at her like she was crazy. ’’Are you drunk?’’

’’I\m not supposed to be. I have magic rocks.’’ She held up her hand, still giggling.

’’What are you even talking about?’’

The tone of his voice threw her again, and she stopped laughing. She fought for true mental clarity, finding herself focusing on the cool dark stone on her wrist.

’’Becca.’’ Hunter appeared at her side. ’’You all right?’’

Chris glanced at him, and his expression wasn\ friendly. ’’Does this look like it\s any of your business?’’

’’Since she\s here with me, yeah, it does.’’

Chris looked startled, then glanced at her. His blue eyes turned hard and flat like slate.

Why the hell was she standing here feeling guilty about it?

Becca shook off the weight of his eyes, and touched Hunter\s arm. ’’Look. It\s my fault. I ran into him with the water.’’

Chris didn\ say anything, but she saw him glance at her hand.

She pulled it back and stood there helplessly for a moment, feeling tension thicken the air.

Hunter\s eyes narrowed just a bit. ’’I\m sure he\ll get over it.’’

Chris set his jaw. His shoulders tightened.

She couldn\ move. The whole moment had a surreal quality to it, Chris and Hunter glowering at each other over her head. Over her.

A voice called from down the hallway. ’’Hey. Chris.’’

One of the twins. She didn\ know which. Of course they\d all be here Gabriel played on the soccer team.

Chris didn\ turn his head. ’’Yeah?’’

’’We\ e going out back to shoot hoops with Mark and Drew. You coming?’’

Her breath caught, just for a second, as if the mere mention of Drew\s name held power over her.

For a long moment, Chris didn\ move. But then he glanced over his shoulder at his brother. ’’Yeah. Sure.’’ He took a step back and started to turn.

She let out a breath she didn\ remember holding. ’’I\m really sorry about your shirt,’’ she called.

He didn\ even look back. His voice was mild. ’’Already over it, Becky.’’

The way he said it was like a pinch in the arm.

Bastard. She scowled.

Hunter was watching Chris walk away. She touched his arm. ’’Come on. Let\s find Quinn.’’

Her friend was dancing in the living room, her eyes closed, her arms over her head, moving as though the music were making love to her.

Apparently, Becca wasn\ the only one who thought so, because two guys were dancing alongside her. Becca didn\ recognize either one of them.

The trio wasn\ lacking for an audience, either.

’’Quinn seems lonely,’’ said Hunter. He\d grabbed some sodas from somewhere and was holding out a sweating can. She took it.

Quinn thrust her h*ps with the beat, then smacked the insides of her thighs.

Becca winced. ’’I\ve never seen her do that before ’’

’’You sure?’’ Hunter\s voice at her shoulder was dry. ’’That looks kind of practiced.’’

’’Hey.’’ She glared at him.

He shrugged and took a draw from his can. ’’Just saying.’’

The guy behind Quinn moved closer. He stood a head taller than she did, with dark skin, maybe Middle Eastern or Hispanic it was too dark for Becca to tell for sure. He put strong hands on Quinn\s h*ps and pulled her back.

Becca stiffened. She\d punch a guy for grabbing her like that. But her friend smacked his hands playfully and spun away from him, giving him a pouty look and shaking her head.

Becca caught her eye. You okay? she mouthed.

Quinn nodded, making it work with the beat. He\s hot, she mouthed, fanning herself while her back was to the guy.

The song changed. Quinn held out a hand, a clear invitation.

Hunter leaned in to speak over the bass line. ’’You want to dance?’’

Becca drew back and rubbed her neck, his closeness making her flush. ’’Not now. It\s kind of hot in here.’’

’’Let\s go for a walk then.’’

The outside air felt ten degrees colder than it really was. Wind blew across the water to ruffle her hair and whisper across her skin. The entire back patio was surrounded by white holiday lights, opening to a path illuminated by tiki torches, just like she remembered it. Some guys were grilling burgers, though they seemed more interested in turning the tongs into a branding iron then chasing each other with it. At the far end of the patio, there was a short break of grass before the landscaping revealed the end of the driveway where eight or nine guys were doing more roughhousing than playing basketball.

It was too dark to make out Drew, and she didn\ look too hard.

Becca gestured in the opposite direction. ’’Let\s walk down by the water.’’

’’Sure.’’ He hung close. ’’You won\ be too cold?’’

She\d probably be freezing, but she didn\ want to stand here in the patio lights, waiting for Drew to notice her. ’’I\m good.’’

They walked toward the water. The sand was tight and hard beneath her feet, reluctantly giving way to her heels. She wrapped her arms across her stomach, regretting the inch of flesh that the cropped top revealed.

Hunter steered her to the far side of one of the fire drums where some folding chairs sat empty. There were other kids there, too, mostly seniors, no one she knew. Voices were hushed, beer bottles pushed into the sand haphazardly. At the fire drum a bit farther down, some kid had a guitar.

Hunter pulled two chairs together, and she sat, grateful for the fire licking heat across her cheeks. ’’Thanks,’’ she said.

Water lapped at the sand ten feet away. She fingered the rocks strung along her wrist, running her thumb over the sharp edge of one, the rough side of another. She couldn\ tell which was which from the feel, except the hematite, which was smooth and round. Her fingers kept seeking that one, rolling the slick stone between her knuckles.

Becca fixed her eyes on the fire, suddenly aware he was looking at her. ’’So are you into a lot of ... ah, new age stuff?’’

’’Not really.’’ He sounded amused.

’’How do you know so much about the rocks?’’

’’I grew up with it.’’ He paused, as if he planned to say more, then thought better of it.

She glanced over at him, studying his profile. His lips were parted slightly, and the fire had turned his green eyes almost golden, sparking light from the rings in his brow.

’’You don\ have to tell me,’’ she said.

’’No, I don\ mind. I just want to explain it the right way.’’ He fingered one of the rocks on his own arm, the way she\d been doing with hers. She wondered if he sought a particular one.

When he spoke again, his voice was quiet. ’’You have a favorite color, right?’’

’’Blue,’’ she said without thinking.

’’Always, right?’’ he said. ’’You just like it. No one ever made you like blue.’’

’’Sure.’’ She thought about it for a moment. ’’A favorite color is a hard thing to screw with.’’

’’All right then.’’ He glanced over. ’’You ever walk through a jewelry store and find you\ e really drawn to something? Like maybe you\ e into platinum, where someone else likes gold, or you like emeralds, while someone else might prefer sapphires?’’

Becca nodded. She was personally drawn to amethyst, but since it was one of the stones he\d strung on her wrist, she didn\ want to volunteer that.

’’My mother believes everything in existence has a consciousness,’’ he said. ’’An awareness. As in, maybe it\s not what you like.’’ He reached out and touched her finger, which was still resting on the hematite. ’’Maybe it\s what favors you.’’

His touch stole her voice. She watched the fire flicker across his cheeks.

A smile found his lips, and he drew back. ’’When I was little,’’ he said, ’’my mother had a box of stones like these. All different kinds. She\d let me play with them.’’

He was playing with them now, absently lining the remaining stones up along his wrist.

’’When I turned six,’’ he said, ’’she told me to pick the ones I needed, because she was putting the rest away forever. I told her I wanted them all, but she told me that would make me sick.’’ He laughed a little and looked away, almost sheepishly. ’’Like too much candy, right?’’

’’Sure.’’ She had no idea what he was talking about.

Hunter smiled and leaned close, over the arm of his chair. ’’Don\ patronize me.’’

She blushed and fumbled for words. ’’So these are the ones you chose?’’

’’Nah.’’ He rolled back in the chair and held his arm up to the light. ’’These, I picked up at Hot Topic when I got the piercings done ’’ He noticed her look and grinned. ’’I\m screwing with you. Yeah. I picked these.’’ He sobered. ’’Or Mom likes to say they picked me.’’

It should have sounded ridiculous. It didn\ .

’’What do the other stones mean?’’

Firelight caught his eyes and made them flash gold. ’’You\ll have to do more than down a few shots to find out.’’

Her heart kicked against her ribs until she was sure it wanted her to jump into his lap. Wind peeled off the water to bite across her skin. She felt herself leaning, resting her weight on the arm of the chair.

He was drifting, too, and she found her eyes tracing his lips, the line of his jaw, the odd markings along his neck.

A dog jumped in between them. And barked.

She almost came out of her skin. Her foot sent the can of soda shooting across the sand. Gooseflesh sprang to life on her arms.

Casper. He barked again. Then spun in a circle.

’’What?’’ she said. ’’What\s wrong with him?’’

’’Platz, Casper,’’ said Hunter. The dog just barked and backed up.

’’What\s wrong?’’ She couldn\ tell her body to turn off the adrenaline, and she gave a nervous giggle. ’’Is Timmy down the well again?’’

’’I don\ know.’’ Hunter stood and put a hand on the dog\s head, but Casper just backed away and turned to face down the darkened part of the beach. Then growled.

She stood to look, but couldn\ see anything in the darkness.

She edged closer to Hunter. ’’Do you think ’’

’’Shh.’’ He was staring, too. Casper kept growling.

Then she saw it, tall figures walking down the beach, coming their way, still well beyond the next fire drum. Men. She saw the glow of a cigarette.

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