Storm Page 19

’’The fifth element represents the spirit.’’ He glanced up, wet hair drifting across his forehead. She must have been frowning, because he tapped his chest and said, ’’Spirit. Chi. Life.’’

She got it. ’’Feel the force, Luke.’’

’’Exactly. The Fifth is almost like a ... a jack-of-all-trades. There\s a connection to everything or so they say.’’

’’So they say?’’ she echoed.

’’We\ve never met one.’’ He grimaced. ’’Which is kind of a good thing.’’ Before she could question that, he looked down and moved his hand over the entire circle. ’’If everyone on earth falls somewhere in this circle, you can see that some people would fall close to the points, while some people would be way off. You might get someone between air and water who grows up to have some skill with sailboats. Or someone between fire and earth who might ... hell, I don\ know, study volcanoes or something.’’

She thought of Hunter\s story of his mom, of being drawn to his stones. Did that mean he fell close to Chris\s ’’earth’’ point?

’’Tyler and Seth are like you, too?’’ she said.

’’Yes. Not as strong, but yes.’’ He pointed. ’’Seth falls along the earth branch, close to a point, but not quite there. He can pull strength from the ground he\s standing on, which is why we needed to get him off the brick patio.’’

She remembered the damage Chris had taken that night behind the school.

When she\d found them fighting in the middle of a concrete parking lot.

’’And Tyler?’’

’’He falls somewhere near fire.’’ Chris gave a short laugh that didn\ have any humor to it. ’’Which is probably why he\s walking around with a gun.’’

’’Are there are there a lot of people like you?’’

’’Everyone\s like us, Becca. We\ e human. We\ e all inside the circle. My brothers and I we just fall on a point.’’

She scooped up a handful of water, letting it trail through her fingers. It dropped into the wave below, nothing supernatural at all. Then she gave him a wry glance. ’’Not everyone\s like you, Chris.’’

He sighed. ’’Yes. There are a lot of people like us. Communities in every town if you listen to Michael.’’

’’Every town? Whole communities of people who can control the elements? But that\s ’’

’’Not everyone can control the elements,’’ he said, and his voice sounded bitter, plus a little self-deprecating. ’’Like I said, some people are just born with an affinity. Only those of us with the strongest connection can actually control god, I\m boring myself.’’ He swiped the pattern out of the sand.

She caught his arm. ’’No! I knew ’’

He looked up, his face close. ’’You knew what?’’

’’Something,’’ she said. ’’I knew ... something.’’

He held there, unmoving, until she became aware of her heartbeat, of the scent of sand and fire on his skin.

Then a wet tongue was on her cheek, a cold nose in her ear, and a ruff of fur pressed into her hands. She recoiled, pushing the dog\s muzzle away from her cheek.

’’Casper!’’ she cried.

’’You know this dog?’’ said Chris.

Becca rubbed Casper behind the ears until he started his rawr-rawr-rawr. ’’Yeah, he\s ’’

’’Mine.’’

She whirled.

Hunter stood ten feet back, near where the wild grass met the sand.

CHAPTER 14

God, an hour ago she\d felt guilty for being at the party with Hunter. Now she felt guilty for sitting here with Chris.

You weren\ sitting on the beach, idiot. He just pulled you out of the water and performed mouth-to-mouth.

Becca brushed sand off her cheek and looked up at Hunter. She could hear his breathing from here just a little hard, like he\d been running or he was angry but she couldn\ make out the expression on his face.

She had no idea what to say. ’’Hey,’’ she offered.

’’Are you all right?’’

’’Ah ... mostly.’’ That was a loaded question. She pointed to the guy sitting next to her. ’’Found Chris.’’

Chris snorted, but if it made Hunter smile, she didn\ see. Casper was sniffing at her hands, and she petted him again, glad for an excuse to look down. After Chris\s revelations, this whole moment felt surreal.

No, this whole moment felt awkward.

’’How\d you find us?’’ said Chris.

His voice wasn\ friendly, and shadows cloaked his eyes. He still sat halfway in the water beside her, and she felt the tide crawl over her fingers again.

She snatched her hand out of the water. Chris smiled.

’’Oh, I\m sorry.’’ Hunter was glaring back at him. ’’Was I interrupting?’’

’’Yeah.’’ The water climbed farther up the shore this time, warmth seeping into the space behind her knees.

For god\s sake. ’’Don\ be a jerk,’’ she muttered, then struggled to find her footing in the wet sand. Her head swam a little, like her ears were full of seawater. Hunter stepped forward to help right when Chris found his feet to do the same thing.

They both held on to her for a long second, aggression flickering like lightning between them.

Then Chris let go and stepped back as if it was nothing.

Hunter\s hand remained on her forearm, steady and secure. His fingers were warm, and now that she wasn\ sitting in the water, she realized how cold the night air was.

But he was still staring at Chris.

She felt like she should send them to opposing corners or something. ’’How did you find us?’’ she said.

Hunter took a breath then shook his head. ’’You\ e soaked and it\s cold. Let\s walk.’’

She started to follow him toward the grass, but Chris hung back. ’’We should stick to the beach,’’ he said.

Did he think they were still in danger? Her eyes flashed to his.

Chris pointed to her feet. ’’You don\ have shoes.’’

Oh.

So they walked. Hunter hung near, his arm still supporting her, though she stayed close for warmth now rather than any need for assistance. Chris walked in the surf, splashing with every step. Casper bounded ahead of them, jumping in and out of the water, circling back every few feet.

’’You didn\ meet me at the car,’’ said Hunter. ’’Yours was still there, so I knew you weren\ blowing me off. I came inside to find you ’’

’’You didn\ come in his car?’’ said Chris, and there was no ignoring the sudden interest in his voice.

Hunter ignored him. ’’I found Quinn. She said you\d taken your keys. Someone else said they\d seen you go out back. By the time I got there, I saw the wind knock the fire drums over ’’ He stopped short and glared out at Chris, who was walking in deeper water, splashing hard with each step. ’’For god\s sake, what are you, six? Could you walk on the beach?’’

’’Suck it, punk. It\s cold.’’

It was cold. She hugged her elbows to her body and tried not to shiver.

Hunter just sighed, but he moved fractionally closer. ’’I saw that Tyler guy. I heard the gunfire. I saw him shooting into the water, and I knew it had to be you.’’

’’How?’’

The moonlight caught the rings in his eyebrow and made them shine. His voice was low, too low to carry past her ears. ’’Because I saw the way he went after you at the pet store.’’

She said nothing, chilled now by more than just the air.

’’So,’’ he said, facing forward again. ’’I followed the direction of the tide and told Casper to find you.’’ He paused, and she heard an odd note in his voice. She wondered if he\d been expecting to find a body. ’’We should probably call the cops.’’

’’Narc,’’ said Chris.

Hunter threw a glance his way. ’’Suck it, punk,’’ he mocked.

’’Whatever.’’ Chris bent and pulled a stick out of the surf. Becca had no idea how he\d even seen it in the dark. But he whistled, caught Casper\s attention, and threw it down the beach.

The dog galloped away, his paws making wet sounds in the sand.

’’You don\ think we should call the police?’’ she asked Chris.

’’And tell them what?’’ Darkness hid his expression, but the derision in his tone was clear.

She could see the fires on the beach behind Drew\s house now. The flames had fallen to small piles of burning debris, barely flickering in the breeze off the water. The stretch of sand was empty of the kids that had been there before.

She looked up at Hunter. ’’Do you think it\s safe to go back?’’

’’Tyler and his friends are gone. They headed north, the way they came.’’

When Casper brought the stick back, Chris flung it hard, sending it spinning into the darkness.

Hunter said, ’’Casper. Hier. Fuss.’’

The dog abandoned the pursuit and bolted to his side.

Chris gave Hunter a dark look. ’’Killjoy.’’

Hunter looked right back at him. His voice was level. ’’What do these guys want with you?’’

’’What the hell do you care?’’

’’They\ve clearly got an issue with you and they\ e taking it out on Becca. For god\s sake, he brought a loaded firearm to the party.’’

’’A loaded firearm?’’ said Chris, his tone incredulous. ’’Jesus. You\ e not really a narc, are you?’’

Hunter flinched a little bit. ’’No.’’

Becca thought of his dead uncle, the K-9 police officer. She wondered if his dad had been a cop, too. ’’Could we report Tyler for having a gun?’’ she said.

’’He\s over eighteen,’’ said Chris. ’’It\s probably legal.’’

’’It\s not legal for him to be shooting at me,’’ she snapped.

Chris shook his head, and now his voice sounded tired. ’’You don\ want them after you, Becca. You don\ want their attention. Just stay away from them and you\ll be fine.’’

’’Like you\ e fine?’’ said Hunter.

Chris rounded on him, splashing to a stop in the water. A hard wave rolled up the sand, reaching almost to where she walked. ’’What the hell is that supposed to mean?’’

’’Look in a mirror and I\m sure you\ll figure it out.’’

Chris started to slosh his way out of the surf.

She got between them and threw up a hand. ’’Stop.’’

They stopped. Becca could still taste the seawater on the back of her tongue. ’’Both of you. Just stop.’’ She looked up the stretch of sand. They were one house down from the party. Music still poured from Drew\s place, and she could just make out kids fooling around on the back patio.

No danger. No drama. It almost made the entire night feel as if she\d imagined it.

But her throat burned and felt raw, and seawater sealed her clothes to damp skin. That trip underwater was no fantasy. No way was she going back through Drew\s. They could cut between houses and make it to her car from here.

Or she could. She pulled her arm free from Hunter. ’’I\m going home.’’

He followed her. ’’Let me drive you.’’

The grass felt soft under her feet, but the gravel by the road was going to be a bitch. She shook her head. ’’So I can explain to my mother why I\m soaked and my car is gone?’’

’’You can clean up at my house,’’ Chris said from behind them.

’’Yeah, right,’’ scoffed Hunter. He was already leading her away.

’’I\m serious,’’ Chris called. ’’There\s no one home to give a crap if I bring her around. Can you say the same thing?’’

That made her stop and turn.

Hunter set his jaw and looked at Chris but said nothing. He lived with his mother and his grandparents. That felt like a double whammy. She turned back to Chris.

His eyes were dark and intent on hers. ’’You can. If you want.’’


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