Storm Page 18

’’We should have run for the cars,’’ she whispered, though there was no way Tyler or Seth could have picked up her voice from so far away.

’’We\ e safer here. They won\ come in the water.’’ Chris glanced at her. ’’And we had to get Seth away from the patio.’’

What did that have to do with anything? ’’I don\ see your brothers.’’

’’They\ e there.’’ His eyes were trained on the beach again.

Wind caught her hair and traced an icy finger along the inch of skin exposed by her shirt. She shivered again, bracing an arm against her stomach. The gust caught the flames in the drums, whipping them higher, making the girls on the beach giggle and scatter a bit.

Tyler and Seth flinched away from the drums, as if the fire reached for them.

Seth strode between the fires, spinning full circle to scan the beach. ’’Cut it out!’’

Something cracked and split in one of the drums, shooting sparks and flaming bits into the wind.

A piece must have caught Seth on the arm, because he swore and smacked at his bicep.

Chris smiled, his eyes bright in the distant firelight. ’’See?’’

She didn\ see anything. Another wave brought the water almost to her thighs. Had they moved? The water felt deeper suddenly, as if they\d drifted out another ten feet. She watched the wave roll up the shore, carrying foam and debris far higher than the last one had.

Seth began to pace the shoreline while Tyler hung back behind the drums, looking infinitely more frightening with the glow of the fires on his face.

Her teeth were starting to chatter, some mixture of cold and adrenaline. Chris\s hand was still wrapped around hers, strong and warm. She focused on that feeling. ’’How long do you think they\ e going to wait?’’

’’They want to kill us.’’ His voice was dry. ’’It might be a few minutes.’’

The wind kept up, pulling sand and debris into the air, tossing it into the fire to sizzle and spark. Girls fought to keep sand out of their clothes, tucking themselves against guys and gesturing toward the house.

’’They\ e clearing the beach,’’ said Chris.

Tyler and Seth? Or the twins? No one seemed to be doing anything except the people streaming toward the house.

Chris glanced down at her. He stood close, and his voice was rich in the night air. ’’Nick said you warned him. About Tyler being here.’’

’’It seemed like a good idea at the time.’’ Gusts were spraying water now, sending the flames sideways from the drums. Another wave soaked her jeans above the knees and she shivered violently. She\d never seen the tide roll in this quickly.

All of the party kids had abandoned the beach. Seth and Tyler were standing at the edge of the water now, staring out into the darkness. Tyler seemed to be staring straight at them, but the wind had to be stinging his eyes.

’’I know you\ e out there!’’ he called.

She shifted closer to Chris, as if that would help. She wanted to duck behind him, to hide, to bolt for the shore. She couldn\ stand immobile in the frigid water much longer. She started to pull free of Chris\s hand.

He held fast, and his voice came low and ironic. ’’So. You\ e here with the new guy.’’

Becca whipped her head around, feeling the choppy water swirl around her thighs. ’’You want to talk about this now?’’

’’Shh.’’ He gave a warning glance at the shoreline.

She froze, but Tyler didn\ seem to have heard.

’’As I was saying.’’ Chris gave a low whistle. ’’Dude works fast.’’

’’Shut up.’’

’’Would you rather talk about our History project?’’

He was so infuriating. She wanted to punch him but then she realized she wasn\ shivering. The water actually felt ... warm.

She trailed her fingers through the waves licking at her waist. ’’I think I\m getting hypothermia,’’ she said. ’’I\m not cold anymore.’’

’’Yeah, it takes me a while.’’

Infuriating and cryptic. She glared up at him. ’’Why don\ you tell me what\s really going on with you, Chris?’’

That derailed his amusement. His expression went dark.

She shoved him with the hand he was holding. ’’Come on!’’ she whisper-shouted. ’’I\m standing in water up to my ass because of you.’’

He looked away, out across the water, then inhaled to speak.

But a gunshot split the air.

Her body reacted before her brain could. She\d dropped to her knees in the water, her breath shaking in the wind. The water swelled around her neck now, but she didn\ care. Her fingers were crushing his and she couldn\ convince her body to stop shaking.

That shot was the loudest thing she\d ever heard.

Then she heard it again. A bullet hit the water three feet to her left. She\d never seen a gun fired;she\d never touched a bullet. But the sound of the lead round entering the water was unmistakable.

As was the sight of Tyler, his feet in the surf now, firing in their direction.

’’A gun. Tyler has a gun,’’ she babbled. ’’He has a gun. Chris. He he has he has ’’

The fire drums exploded.

It was nothing like the grill. This was a full burst of flame, as if someone had poured gasoline on the drums. Wind grabbed fistfuls of fire, sending it dancing down the beach. The entire stretch of sand burned. She lost sight of Tyler and Seth.

’’Hey.’’ Chris squeezed her hand so hard it hurt.

She was hyperventilating, choking on her own oxygen. Smoke, thick and sudden, clogged the air. She couldn\ look away from the flames. Had any kids been left on the beach?

’’Hey!’’ Chris jerked her around. She stared up into his eyes, seeing the reflection of the inferno behind her.

He still had a death grip on her hand. ’’Take a deep breath.’’

She inhaled and tasted fire. The water pulled back, sucking away from them the way it did on the beach at high tide, the kind of undertow that led to the big waves.

Wicked danger sparked in his eyes. ’’Now hold it.’’

Water crashed around them, pulling her under, dragging her body beneath the waves. Chris still had her hand, but she spun in the darkness, losing sense of time, of location, of which direction was up.

Her lungs weren\ burning, but it felt like they\d been underwater for hours. Chris was pulling at her hand, dragging her deeper, towing her through the murky water.

How long could she hold her breath?

Everything was so black.

Did he still have her hand?

Her body felt foreign, heavy, a dead weight in a weightless atmosphere. How long since that last breath? Hours. Days.

Her body took over and she fought him, struggling for the surface, for oxygen, for freedom. She struck wildly, her limbs moving slowly underwater. She made contact and dug with her nails, flailing at him until he finally let her go.

She inhaled. Her lungs filled with water.

And the world went flat.

Chris Merrick was kissing her. His hands were buried in her hair, his palms burning against her cheeks. Sand shifted below her body and the stars danced above, bright like his eyes when he drew back to look at her.

Then he was kissing her again, his face descending to press to hers.

But his mouth was rough, aggressive. She wanted to whimper, but his breath rushed across her tongue. She couldn\ move.

He drew back, and then his hands were on her chest, a heavy weight over her heart. ’’Goddamn it, Becca.’’ He pushed. ’’Breathe.’’

She did one better. She coughed and spit water all over herself.

He swore again and rolled her to her side, and she coughed up what felt like a gallon of the Chesapeake Bay. By the time she was done, she\d made it to her knees, her forearms pressed into the sand, hair pooled around her, her forehead braced on her knuckles.

Chris was kneeling beside her, the sand beneath his knees gray in the moonlight. He didn\ say anything, but she could hear his breathing, rough and almost shaking.

Inhaling hurt, but her lungs grabbed the oxygen and wouldn\ let her stop. Her voice came out as a croak. ’’So I should have just met Hunter at the car.’’

’’You were out for a long time.’’ Chris sounded frightened.

’’Feels like it.’’ Then she paused. ’’How long really?’’

’’Maybe five minutes.’’ He ran a hand through wet hair. ’’God. You let go of my hand and ’’

’’Oh. Okay. This is my fault. Got it.’’

He didn\ say anything for a long moment, and she listened to their breathing. The wind had gone, leaving the air soft against her skin. Her feet were still in the water.

’’I\m sorry,’’ he said softly.

She rolled over and sat in the sand. The closest light came from a streetlamp about twenty feet behind them. Thank god, since her shirt was completely sealed to her chest. ’’Where are we?’’

’’About half a mile south of the party.’’ He pointed. She could see the glow of fire on the beach. ’’Do you want to start walking?’’

Becca shivered. She wasn\ ready to go back to that house. Not yet. She shook her head, then had to hug her arms across her chest. ’’He had a gun.’’

’’He was firing blindly. He couldn\ see us.’’

’’He had a gun.’’

He nodded, looking at the water again. ’’I know.’’

She\d seen that bullet pierce the water, close enough to touch. Tyler hated Chris and his brothers enough to kill them. She shivered again.

The water rolled up the sand to drift over her bare feet. It felt warm again, tropical almost.

In September.

Her head snapped sideways, but she couldn\ see Chris clearly in the darkness. He was looking out at the water, his expression resigned.

I need a frigging rainstorm. A drizzle. Fog, even.

’’Do that again,’’ she said.

He didn\ look at her, but the water pulled higher along the sand, hanging for a moment to warm her, then receding with the tide.

She licked her lips, unsure how to proceed. Another swirl of warm water wrapped around her legs to drift down the beach again.

Chris scooped a handful of water out of the surf, letting it pool in his palm. He held it there for a moment, then spread his fingers to let the water trickle between them.

It never reached the wave below. The water dripped from his fingers to turn into steam in midair, where the wind caught it and pulled it into nothing.

She was just staring, when she really wanted to grab his hand and look for a hidden heater or something.

So she did that. His hand felt normal, warm and steady. Not even waterlogged, like hers felt.

’’Show me again.’’

He moved closer, scooping the water while her hand was attached to his. Water trickled between their joined fingers, turning to steam that wrapped around her wrist before drifting into the night.

She lifted her gaze and met his eyes. ’’So ... did you do the fire, too?’’

’’No.’’ He paused. ’’That was Gabriel.’’

Her breathing caught, just for a moment. ’’And the wind was Nick?’’

He didn\ volunteer anything further, just nodded and glanced over as if unsure what he\d find on her face.

’’How?’’ she said.

He had to think about that for a while. Then he rolled forward onto his knees and drew a circle in the sand with his finger.

’’Imagine everyone in the world lives inside this circle,’’ he said.

When she nodded, he drew a five-pointed star inside the circle. ’’Think of each of these points as one of the elements.’’

’’I\m assuming you\ e not talking about the periodic table?’’

He smiled, and there was a shred of relief to it. ’’No.’’

’’So fire, water, air, earth ’’ She thought of the landscaping business, the way she\d run from the house that first night and the grass had grabbed her sneakers. ’’Michael, right?’’

’’Yeah.’’

She pointed at the star he\d drawn. ’’But there are five points.’’


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