Storm Page 17

She wove through the dancers crowding the living room floor, replaying the exchange with Quinn. Her friend seemed pissed had Becca missed something? Or had Quinn just been lost in a lustful moment, resenting interruption?

Becca was so wrapped up in her thoughts, she nearly missed one of the twins standing in the archway to the foyer, leaning against the molding with a bottle of water hanging from his hand. He looked almost bored, so she felt certain he didn\ know Tyler and his buddies were around.

’’Hey.’’ She hesitated. ’’Gabriel?’’

He offered half a smile and straightened, then leaned close to speak over the music without yelling. ’’Nicholas.’’ He smelled good, warm, like a lazy breeze in summertime. His breath traced the line of her jaw. ’’Having a good time?’’

’’Is Chris around?’’ she asked.

He nodded. ’’He and Gabriel are hunting down some food.’’

Did that mean they\d gone out back? ’’That guy Tyler is here. With friends.’’

Nick lost the easy smile. ’’Where?’’

’’Playing ball now, I think.’’

He swore and set the bottle of water on the hall table, then turned for the hallway that led to the back door.

She watched him take a few steps, curiosity telling her to follow him, common sense telling her to get the hell out of the house.

’’Shouldn\ you take that with you?’’ she called.

He stopped short. His head whipped around.

She picked up the bottle of water. ’’For Chris.’’

Nick\s eyes narrowed, and he smiled a little, but it was a calculating look. ’’I\m going to pretend you didn\ say that.’’ His eyes flicked to the foyer. ’’You should, too. Go home.’’

Then he turned on his heel and walked away.

Oh, she was so following him.

But she wasn\ an idiot about it. She held back for a minute so he wouldn\ see, peeking into the nearby rooms to see if she could spot Hunter. Guilt flickered in her mind he was probably heading back to his car now.

Unless he was out back, too. He\d also gone to look for Chris.

She slid past some couples who were making out in the hallway, then eased through the sliding glass door onto the darkened patio. It was easy to hide someone had killed the light over the door, and the only illumination came from the tiki torches and the slight glow from the grill.

The wind had kicked up, pulling at her hair and stinging her eyes with charcoal smoke. It battered the bamboo wind chimes hanging by the door, sending them spinning and knocking against the siding.

She spotted the brothers right off, standing in a tense cluster by the grill, flanked by two torches. She couldn\ hear a word of their conversation. No sign of Hunter or his dog.

Some guys from her class shoved through the door, jostling each other onto the patio. She flinched and shuffled to the side, retreating more deeply into the shadows.

Tyler wasn\ on the basketball court, and she couldn\ see him anywhere else, either.

A few more guys came through the door, trailing some giggling girls. It was too dark for her to make out any of them clearly, but one of the girls saw her and stopped. She was pretty, but in a rough, used way. Becca didn\ recognize her, but she looked older than the others. Maybe another college student.

Alcohol hung on her breath, and a cigarette rested between two fingers. ’’Hey. You got a light?’’

Becca shook her head quickly. ’’No, I don\ .’’

One of the guys doubled back. ’’Damn, Lilah. Can\ you wait a frigging second? Just light it on the drums.’’

Lilah rolled her eyes at Becca and muttered, ’’He\s such an ass**le.’’ She tossed a look over her shoulder. ’’Shut it, Seth. I\m not putting my face up to one of those things.’’

Seth came up beside her. Becca froze.

But he was still looking at Lilah. He gestured. ’’Light it on the grill, then.’’

Becca wanted to run but where? Seth was blocking her path to the door. It wasn\ like she could take off across the sand and hope for any speed.

Maybe it was too dark for him to recognize her. She ducked her head and let her hair fall across the side of her face.

Lilah shoved him lightly, then leaned in toward Becca again. ’’Thanks, anyway.’’

Becca studied the darkened bricks of the patio. ’’Sure.’’

Lilah turned away.

Seth didn\ .

Becca didn\ want to breathe. He smelled like cigarettes and beer, and she could feel the weight of his gaze. The moment hung on the air like that eternal instant before a car crash, when you know it\s coming but there\s no time to stop the collision.

He was going to recognize her.

Becca shoved him and ran.

It was stupid. She knew it was stupid as she was doing it. But panic tightened her throat and made it hard to breathe, and all she wanted to do was get the hell off that patio.

No chance. He caught her before she made it ten feet. His hand was tight and hard on her arm, and he swung her around. Becca balled her hand into a fist, but then she got a look at his face, and her determination wilted.

He\d hurt her if he could. Like in the store, when Tyler had been ready to punch her with a can of dog food. No pranks, no taunts. Genuine harm.

She remembered what Chris had looked like when she\d found him.

Becca forced herself to stare up at Seth. Flinching now would be a mistake. ’’Let me go.’’

Lilah was yelling, smacking at his arm. ’’What the hell, Seth!’’

But he was staring down at Becca. ’’I remember you now,’’ he said. ’’You\ e that little tease from Drew\s party last month. I didn\ know you were one of them. We could have had a lot more fun.’’

One of them. What did that mean?

’’Get your hands off me,’’ she said, hating how her voice turned breathy at the end.

He tightened his grip and gave her a little shake. ’’Lilah. Get Tyler.’’

’’Get him yourself, you idiot! You can\ just ’’

’’Lilah.’’ He silenced her with a look. ’’She\s one of them. Get him.’’

The girl took a staggering step back, then fled through the door into the house. There were a few kids at the edge of the patio, staring now, drawn by the commotion. No one made a move to help her.

Then Chris appeared out of the darkness. ’’She\s not one of us, Seth. Let her go.’’

Seth glanced at him. ’’No way, man.’’ He looked down at Becca, his eyes pools of darkness. ’’We\ e sick of playing around maybe you just need a little more convincing.’’

Chris started forward like he wanted to take a swing at him, but Seth\s grip tightened on her arm, pinching into the ligaments beside her elbow.

Holy crap, it hurt. She cried out and struck at him wildly.

Seth jerked her close. The pain was making her see stars. ’’I\ll break her arm.’’

The words made her freeze. Chris, too, his hands in fists at his sides. One of the twins stepped up beside him. Different clothes from before it had to be Gabriel. ’’Jesus, Seth. Just let her go. She\s got nothing to do with this.’’

Becca stood on her toes to take some of the pressure off her arm, whimpers creeping out under her breath. Seth glanced between Gabriel and Chris. ’’Tyler can decide.’’

The torches along the patio blazed brighter for an instant, whipped into a frenzy by the wind coming in off the water.

Seth flinched, and Gabriel smiled. ’’Scared you the other night, didn\ I?’’

Seth took a step toward him. His fingers loosened fractionally. ’’F*k you, Merrick.’’

Becca held her breath. Sand beat at her legs.

’’Nah.’’ Gabriel\s eyes glittered in the firelight. He grinned, baring his teeth. ’’Nothing personal. I just don\ take Tyler\s leftovers.’’

Chris\s foot shifted on the patio, and Gabriel grabbed his arm. He stepped forward, almost pushing his younger brother out of the way. He moved closer, into Seth\s space.

Becca could feel the ready aggression in Seth\s grip. His voice came as a lethal hiss but Gabriel was right. Fear hid behind his words. ’’We\ e not even going to wait for the Guides, ass**le. We\ e just going to take care of you ourselves.’’

The guides?

The torches cracked and spit flame, fighting the wind.

’’Yeah, I heard the deal was off.’’ Gabriel shoved Seth. Not hard, but enough that the other boy fell back half a step. ’’Works for me.’’

Seth glared at him, but he didn\ react. ’’I\m not screwing with you, man. When Tyler gets here ’’

’’Yeah, yeah, you\ll cry to Mommy.’’ Gabriel shoved him again. Harder.

Every time Gabriel provoked him, that grip on her arm got a bit looser. Could she help this along? Becca did her best to make her voice nonchalant. ’’Aw. You\ e afraid to fight him. That\s really ... sweet.’’

Mistake. His grip tightened right up, and he glared down at her. ’’Shut up, you stupid ’’

Chris stepped up and punched him square in the face.

Seth rocked back and almost fell. She almost went with him. Her knees hit the brick walkway.

Then her arm slid out of his hand, and she was free.

Seth recovered quickly, and she scrambled to get away from him. He was going after Chris, renewed fury in his face. He moved like a bull facing a flag, his shoulders down, his fists clenched.

Chris dodged one swing, and narrowly missed another.

’’Damn it, Chris!’’ Gabriel had drawn back, away from Seth, moving closer to the grill. ’’Are you an idiot?’’

Chris drove a fist into Seth\s midsection.

Seth recovered and clipped him on the jaw. It didn\ look hard, but Chris went down.

Then the grill seemed to burst, spraying flaming charcoal into the air, and for a terrifying moment, fire rained from the night sky. The wind caught the fiery debris and sent it spinning across the patio.

She was frozen by the surreal beauty of it, nightmarish fireflies that stung her skin and sizzled on the bricks. Fire was suddenly everywhere, more fire than the grill could have possibly produced. The torches grew, shooting sparks into the sky.

Bigger pieces of flaming debris started to fall. Clothing caught fire. Kids were screaming, running, bolting from the narrow area.

A hand grabbed hers and gave a fierce tug. ’’Run.’’


Becca dug her feet into the sand, scrambling after Chris, abandoning her sandals when they made it impossible to keep up. She\d had no sense of direction when he seized her hand, and it wasn\ until the glow from the fire drums hung in the air above them that she realized he hadn\ dragged her to the cars and the parking lot.

He\d dragged her to the water.

All the way to the water, too. He towed her past the fire drums until a frigid wave crept over her toes, and she squealed and pulled away from him.

’’Wait,’’ Chris said, his voice low and rough. His eyes were focused forward, on the house.

She wanted to jerk her hand out of his, to run for the road. But then she spotted Tyler cresting the slight hill that led down to the beach, Seth hot on his heels.

She held her breath.

Chris pulled at her hand and she followed, moving more deeply into the water until it swelled over her ankles and then to her knees. It was low tide, and this far from the fires the darkness over the water seemed to work as a cloak. Seth and Tyler were scanning the groups of kids clustered around the drums, most of whom were talking excitedly. Girls who\d bolted from the patio were displaying their wounds to people who had no idea what was going on;guys were talking about the grill\s badass explosion.

Becca thought of Quinn, safe in the house, clueless. She thought of Hunter, who was probably leaning on his car, looking at his watch. Worrying? Or getting irritated?

His rocks hung cool and comforting against her wrist.

Wind whipped across the water, covering the sound of her shaking breath. Another wave pulled up the shore to sweep over her knees. Her jeans clung to her skin. She shivered and tried not to think what was in this water.

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