Storm Page 22

’’He wasn\ alone.’’

It took her a minute to piece it together. ’’They dumped you in the quarry, too?’’

Chris didn\ say anything for a moment, then turned to look at her. He banished the emotion from his voice, and now he gave her half a smile. ’’You don\ think you\ e the only person I\ve ever dragged out of the water, do you?’’

’’Did they know? About your ... powers?’’

He shook his head. ’’They learned real quick.’’ Some of them had still been in the water making sure he and Michael didn\ escape, probably. But Chris remembered drawing power from the water, dragging their attackers to the center of the quarry, begging his element to pull them under and steal their breath.

The power had been terrifying. Addictive.

Michael had stopped him.

Chris ran a hand through his hair, pushing the damp strands off his face. ’’Mom and Dad had been willing to deal. They\d put up with a lot. But after those guys threw us in the quarry, after they tried to kill us, Mom decided to go talk to the others. She brought us with her. Dad didn\ want her to go, but she got her way. I don\ think she meant to start a fight I think she wanted to remind them that we were just kids, you know? She just wanted to work it out. They didn\ .’’

It was getting tough to keep his voice level. He stopped talking, picking at the upholstery again.

Becca swallowed. ’’So what happ ’’

’’I\m cold.’’

His tone must have startled her. But he couldn\ help it and she nodded anyway. ’’Okay.’’

’’Let\s go inside.’’

With that, he didn\ glance at her, just threw open the door and stepped into the brisk night air.

CHAPTER 16

Becca followed Chris into the house, keeping her footsteps light. Michael was asleep on the living room sofa, the television throwing flashes of red and blue across his face and tee shirt. One arm hung off the side of the sofa, resting on that beat-up spiral notebook.

Becca hung close to Chris, afraid to breathe, worried about waking his brother.

Chris wasn\ . ’’Hey. Mike. Wake up. I\m home.’’

Michael stirred, running a hand across his face before sitting up to face the doorway. He rubbed at his eyes, then stopped short when he saw her. ’’And you brought a friend.’’

He said it in the same voice her mother had used when Becca was seven and took to ’’rescuing’’ stray cats in the neighborhood by luring them into the house and attempting to hide them in her closet.

’’Be nice,’’ said Chris.

Becca shoved her hands into the pockets of the pullover. ’’I\m not staying long.’’

’’Why are you staying at all?’’

Chris gave a disgusted sigh and turned away from the doorway. ’’Ignore him. Come on.’’

’’Why are you all wet?’’ Michael called.

Chris didn\ answer, just started up the steps. Becca followed him only hesitating for a moment. ’’Does he hate me or something?’’

The upstairs hallway was a well of silence, their footsteps muffled by carpeting. ’’It\s not personal. He\s a kon*** to every girl who comes around here.’’

Bizarre. ’’Just girls?’’

’’Yeah.’’ Chris reached out and turned the knob to his bedroom. He didn\ elaborate, just pointed at the half-made bed. ’’Sit down. I\ll give you some sweats so we can throw your clothes in the dryer.’’

She dropped onto the edge of the mattress. Chris pulled open some dresser drawers, rooting through them. A new bruise was forming on his jaw from where Seth had hit him. His tee shirt was still damp, clinging to the muscles across his back.

Becca realized she was staring and jerked her eyes away.

He\d jumped out of the front seat so quickly that she didn\ want to press for painful memories about his parents but she couldn\ sit silent, doing nothing but inhaling the September night air that poured through his window. ’’So ... why is your brother mean to girls?’’

’’Because,’’ said Michael from the doorway, ’’I have three younger brothers who think it\s hilarious to parade jailbait through here on a daily basis.’’

His tone was enough to make her glad she\d worn the pullover into the house. ’’No one told me there was a parade,’’ she said acidly. ’’And here I forgot my banner.’’

Michael leaned against the doorjamb to study his brother. ’’What happened to your face?’’

Chris busied himself with digging through the clothes again. ’’Nothing. Go back downstairs so she can change.’’

Michael stepped into the room and stopped beside the dresser. He reached out a hand to lift Chris\s chin.

Chris smacked his hand away. ’’Jesus. Stop.’’

’’You want some ice?’’

’’No.’’ The dresser drawer slammed, and Chris turned to her with a gray tee shirt and a pair of cutoff sweatpants. ’’Here.’’

She reached out to take them, feeling like an intruder. ’’Thanks.’’

Michael watched this exchange. ’’I thought you\d still be at that party.’’

Chris wasn\ looking at him. ’’We were. Nick and Gabriel might still be there.’’

’’Nick sent me a text. They wanted to make sure you got home before they came back with the car.’’

Becca definitely wanted to be changed before the twins got here and she didn\ want to sit through an argument between Chris and his big brother. She hugged the sweats to her chest and half rose from the bed. ’’I\ll just ah, go in the bathroom ’’

Michael swung his head around to look at her. ’’You involved with Tyler somehow?’’

The expression on his face made her mouth go dry, and she remembered Chris\s comments from the car, that Michael had a temper. She shook her head quickly.

’’She\s not,’’ said Chris.

’’Because,’’ Michael continued without looking at him, ’’when Chris comes home from two fights in one week, and you\ e with him both times, it starts to look ’’

’’Damn it, Michael.’’ Chris shoved him toward the door. The move was a little too aggressive to look brotherly. So was the glare. ’’Just go downstairs.’’

For an instant, she thought Michael would shove him back. That kind of tension hung between them, as if some pendulum would shift and they\d fight. But Michael drew back to hang by the door. He gave Becca another long look, and she fought not to squirm, but then he just turned and stepped into the hallway.

Chris was leaning against the dresser, his jaw set, his arms tight at his sides. He watched his brother leave.

Becca wet her lips. ’’Sorry,’’ she said softly.

’’It\s not your fault.’’

That wasn\ what she\d meant at all. ’’I just I\m sorry.’’

Chris glanced at her with eyes shadowed with anger and tension, making her wonder at his relationship with Michael.

But Chris gave her a dark smile and pushed the hair off his forehead. ’’Don\ sweat it. He likes being angry. Go change.’’

The bathroom smelled like boys, from spicy sticks of uncapped deodorant and a large bottle of body wash that looked like it could climb a mountain on its own. Nothing floral here. At least the towels looked clean.

Becca locked herself in and peeled the filthy clothes away from her body. Thank god her mother had seen her leave the house in a pullover, because the silk cropped shirt was nearly ruined. She rinsed out her jeans in the bathtub, but kept her underwear. Damp or not, she wasn\ handing over a bra to Chris Merrick. She held her hair under the bathtub faucet, squeezing it into a towel before finger combing it away from her face. One of them had a bottle of some guy-brand face lotion sitting on the counter, and she used a dab under her eyes to wipe away the running mascara.

Another look in the mirror convinced her that she\d made the right decision in coming here once her hair dried and she had her jeans back, her mom probably wouldn\ notice that her daughter had taken a swim. The borrowed clothes felt soft on her skin, worn and almost threadbare. She wondered if Chris wore them to sleep, and the thought felt too personal, so she blushed, even there in the privacy of the bathroom.

Becca pulled the fleece back on, balled her soaked clothes into the towel, and unlocked the door.

She heard the twins before she saw them, and she stopped short in the hallway, scowling. They were talking to Chris from the sound of it. She wanted to just walk down the steps and out the front door. Maybe she could hang her jeans out the car window and dry them that way.

But one of the twins Nick, if she remembered the clothes correctly was closest to the door, and he spotted her first. ’’Hey, Becca.’’

She put the ball of damp clothes under an arm and squared her shoulders. His dark hair was a little windblown, but he clearly hadn\ taken a swim. It seemed unfair he looked even better than he had at the party, while she knew from the mirror that she looked like a drowned cocker spaniel.

She looked right into his eyes, determined to show him she wouldn\ get all flustered like she had in Drew\s hallway. ’’Hey,’’ she said flatly. ’’Nick.’’

His smile warmed a little, as if she\d amused him. He stepped forward and held out his hands, gesturing to her bundle of clothes. ’’Here. I\ll throw those in the dryer.’’

She faltered, not expecting kindness from him. Uncertainty almost made her clutch the ball of fabric to her chest, as if this was some kind of trap.

Idiot. Just give him the clothes.

She thrust the bundle forward. ’’Thanks.’’

When he jogged down the stairs, she shoved her hands into the pullover pockets again and edged toward the doorway. Chris was sitting backwards on the desk chair, leaning his forearms on the back. He\d changed into a gray tee shirt and jeans that weren\ wet, and now his hair was drying with a slight wave to it.

’’Find everything you need?’’ he asked.

’’Yeah.’’ She paused. ’’Thanks.’’

Gabriel was sprawled on the bed, leaning up against the wall the way he had last night. He glanced up at her, a spark of humor in his eye. ’’Want to sit on the bed?’’

She gave him a dark look. ’’No.’’

Chris sighed and uncurled from the chair. ’’Here. Sit.’’ He stepped away to lean against the wall between the window and the aquarium.

She did, drawing her knees into the chair to sit cross-legged. She bit her tongue, unsure if Chris had told his brothers what he\d told her.

Chris shrugged, his gaze on the window. ’’The jig is up.’’ Then he glanced at the door, and she read the unease in his eyes. ’’Not with Michael, though. So keep your voice down.’’

Gabriel smiled, and there was an edge of challenge to it. ’’You want me to set something on fire or what?’’

’’Subtle,’’ said Chris.

’’Can you do that?’’ she said, pleased that her voice was even, almost skeptical. She wouldn\ let Gabriel intimidate her, either.

He glanced at his brother. ’’Chris. Give me your Trig book.’’

Chris did no such thing. ’’Michael will go ballistic if you start a fire up here again.’’

’’Michael needs to switch to decaf.’’ Gabriel dug in his pocket and fished out a lighter.

Becca straightened, feeling her eyes grow wide. Was he really going to start a fire right here in the bedroom?

Way to be nonchalant. She forced her voice to sound bored. ’’A lighter? Isn\ that cheating?’’

’’Fire needs something to burn, sugar.’’ Gabriel flipped the lighter between his fingers, somehow lighting it while it spun.

’’Frat boy tricks,’’ she said.

’’Don\ encourage him,’’ said Chris.

Gabriel grinned and did it again, faster, rolling the lighter through his knuckles until the silver was a blur, the red gold of the flame a near constant arc.

She stared despite herself, leaning forward, mesmerized by the motion.


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