Storm Page 27

But a slim hand caught her arm not hard, but firmly enough that she had to stop.

Becca threw her head up. ’’Lilah.’’

Lilah didn\ look like the kind of girl you\d want to screw with. She had a few inches on Becca, and her smoking habit had drawn premature lines around her mouth, leaving her cheeks drawn and her eyes hard. Her hair was curly, and long, but the edges frizzed along her shoulders. Combined with the tight black tank top and low-slung jeans she wore, it made her look like a biker chick.

Maybe she was.

Becca drew back. ’’Leave me alone. I\ll call the manager.’’

’’And tell him what? That I\m standing here?’’

Flustered, Becca glanced around. She wasn\ afraid of Lilah yet but Tyler could be here. Or Seth. She didn\ see anyone, but that didn\ mean anything. ’’Look. I don\ know why you guys keep hassling me ’’

’’Hassling you.’’ Lilah\s eyes narrowed.

’’Just what do you think you\ e doing right now?’’ Becca hissed.

Lilah leaned against one of the shelving units, her expression almost incredulous. ’’Look, chick, I just came here to warn you.’’

Becca pushed past her. ’’I think I got enough warning on my front door. Thanks.’’

’’Tyler told me about you,’’ Lilah called. ’’That you said you weren\ one of them.’’

Becca stopped and turned. ’’I\m not.’’

’’He doesn\ believe you,’’ Lilah continued. ’’But I think I do.’’

Becca studied her. Had she misinterpreted this whole interaction? Was Lilah truly offering a warning, instead of threats? ’’This thing between you guys and the Merrick brothers I don\ want to be a part of it. I\m not what ... what you are.’’

Lilah shrugged. ’’If you\ e not, then you\ll be fine.’’ She stepped closer, and her voice dropped. ’’If you are, you\ll be killed, too.’’

Oh, so they were back to threats. Becca shrugged her bag onto her shoulder and turned away. ’’Fine. Then leave me alone, and let the Guides do their job.’’

’’See,’’ said Lilah, ’’that\s what makes me believe you. You honestly don\ have any idea what you\ e talking about.’’

Becca spun, hearing the disdain in the other girl\s voice. ’’I know that you guys all keep talking about Chris and his brothers like they\ e dangerous. But I saw what Tyler and Seth did to Chris. Then they came after me here, at my job, and they would have hurt me if another customer hadn\ come along. Tyler was shooting at me Friday night. With a gun. That\s attempted murder. What\s the worst thing Chris and his brothers have ever done to you?’’

’’You know they killed Tyler\s sister?’’

Hearing it from Lilah gave it a distinctly different spin from the way Chris had said it. But still, despite Michael\s temper, she couldn\ imagine him killing someone. ’’I know she drowned, in the quarry.’’

Lilah stepped close again, and now her eyes were angry. It made her look fierce. ’’She was my friend. You know she drowned right after that oldest one started hassling her at her summer job? Who do you think chased her into the quarry in the first place?’’

Enough pain crept into her voice that Becca had to swallow. ’’It was an accident,’’ she said.

’’You sure?’’

No. She wasn\ . And Becca couldn\ lie to Lilah, especially in the face of such honest pain.

She remembered holding Chris\s hand, feeling the water pull her down, turning her world into nothing but darkness and suffocation.

Lilah moved even closer. ’’Let\s give them the benefit of the doubt on that one even though they don\ deserve it. Did you know their parents killed Seth\s parents?’’

Becca shook her head.

’’Yeah,’’ said Lilah. ’’After Michael killed Emily. We just wanted them to leave.’’ She kept going. ’’Did they tell you this isn\ the first time we\ve called the Guides to take care of them?’’

Becca had to clear her throat. ’’Chris said you threatened to. Back then. That his parents made a deal ’’

’’No.’’ Lilah shook her head. ’’A few months ago.’’

Becca was having a hard time figuring out how to play this. Tyler and Seth were cruel, true bullies. But was she in a position to defend Chris and his brothers? ’’And?’’

’’They sent two. The Merricks killed them.’’

’’I don\ believe you.’’

With what we are, it\s easy to commit a crime without evidence. Very easy.

Too easy.

Dismay must have been written on her face. Lilah nodded. ’’You believe me.’’

Becca couldn\ think over the rush of her heartbeat.

’’You need more?’’ said Lilah. ’’Chris and Gabriel tried to blow up Tyler\s truck Wednesday night. Sure, the cops caught them before they could do anything but who knows what more would have happened?’’

That had been the same night she\d driven Chris home. She remembered the way Chris had slouched into school Thursday. He\d looked like crap, but she\d attributed that to the fight she\d rescued him from. Had he gone out and picked another? ’’They tried to blow up ’’

’’His truck. By lighting bags of fertilizer on fire. Do you know how big those things explode? Do you know they could have killed people? Innocent people.’’

Becca stared at her.

’’Look it up,’’ said Lilah. ’’There\s a police blotter in the Sunday paper.’’

She would. When she got home, she would.

He\d fed her that song and dance about how they were being persecuted, when two nights earlier he\d been bombing Tyler\s truck?

’’Tyler and Seth they\ e cruel,’’ Lilah said. ’’But it\s not because they want to be. It\s because we have to be.’’

She took a step back. Becca just stared at her.

’’Yeah,’’ said Lilah, ’’I don\ think you have to worry about the Guides. I don\ think you have to worry about them at all.’’ She turned and started to walk away.

Then she paused and called over her shoulder. ’’I just think you need to worry about the Merricks.’’

Becca tried to get it together before leaving the store. Her feelings kept jerking her around. She was afraid of these mysterious Guides but pissed at Chris for feeding her a line of crap. She hated Tyler and Seth but if they were just defending themselves, were they really the bullies?

It reminded her of Quinn\s question, about the night she\d saved Chris. Had she helped the right guy? Or had she just followed the natural instinct to help the victim?

When the electronic doors opened, she stepped into the blinding sunlight. She wanted to call Quinn, to tell her everything.

But Quinn was such a drama queen, she\d probably drive straight to the Merricks\ house to start rolling heads.

Anger is not our friend right now.

Had that been a warning? Or a threat?

Not like there was really a difference.

’’Becca.’’

Her name hit her like a gunshot. She almost stumbled.

Hunter sat on the long iron bench in front of the store. He wore a green long-sleeved shirt with a pattern of thorns over the heart and down one arm, paired with worn jeans and Doc Martens. Casper lay on the concrete in front of him, ears at half-mast, his tongue hanging out.

Hunter looked good. Normal. Safe.

’’Hey,’’ she said.

’’Sorry I scared you. I just wanted to make sure you were okay.’’

It took her a second to realize he was still talking about the party. It felt like a month ago.

Hunter stood, looking a bit uncertain. ’’I don\ want to seem like a stalker or anything, but you said your phone was broken. I stopped by yesterday, and the manager said you got off at four today.’’

’’Oh.’’ She nodded. Get it together, genius. ’’Yeah.’’

An awkward moment passed between them.

’’Wait. I\m a jackass.’’ His expression changed, and he took a step back. He looked away. ’’When you said it was broken, you were just being ’’

’’No! It is. My phone. Broken.’’ Now she sounded like Yoda on crack. ’’I mean, it was. I got a new one. Yesterday.’’

He still seemed unsure. ’’All right.’’ He hesitated. ’’Well, I guess I\ll see you at school then.’’

’’Wait!’’ She surged forward and put a hand on his arm. ’’You just came by to check on me?’’

Hunter glanced down at her hand, and half a smile found its way onto his face. ’’It seemed like the right thing to do.’’

He\d just come by to check on her. Not to drop nasty comments about her se*ual prowess like Tommy Dunleavy or Drew McKay. Not to threaten her life like Tyler and Seth.

Not to mislead her like Chris.

The sunlight caught the white streak in his hair and made it shine silver. His eyes were bright, open, no hint of cunning or guile.

’’You\ e still wearing the stones,’’ he said softly.

Becca pulled her hand back, self-conscious now. She\d only taken them off to shower. She tucked a piece of hair behind her ear and felt heat creep up her cheeks. ’’Yeah, well, I didn\ want to lose them... .’’

Lame.

’’I\m glad.’’

And now she was replaying the feel of his fingers along her wrist, the night he\d tied them on. She had to look away from his eyes, studying the pattern of thorns across his chest and shoulder.

Mistake. The shirt was thin and didn\ leave a lot to the imagination. She wondered if Hunter played any sports.

She jerked her eyes away. ’’I\m sorry you probably want them back ’’

’’Not yet.’’ Now his voice was amused.

Oh. She looked back up at him, very aware of his closeness, of the way the sun skimmed his cheekbones, of the warmth of his body.

Casper pushed up from the concrete and started sniffing at her hands. She patted him absently, rubbing behind his ears. He pressed his body against her legs, and she wondered if the dog knew she needed a distraction.

Hunter lost the smile, and she felt him studying her face. ’’You hungry?’’

Her head was nodding before her brain could get into gear.

’’I mean no.’’ She glanced down at her old jeans, the ones that had a tear in the knee. The tee shirt from eighth-grade graduation that had everyone\s signature on the back, and a small rip near the hem from an overaggressive Airedale. God only knew what her hair looked like. ’’I\m filthy.’’

’’So we\ll have to go somewhere dirt won\ matter. Come on.’’

And then he had her hand.

Becca had never ridden in an open-top jeep, but she loved the feel of the wind through her hair and the sun on her face. Hunter took her through the drive-thru at KFC, where he bought a bucket of chicken and potato wedges, then proceeded to drive while blindly tossing french fries to Casper in the back.

Becca giggled as the dog snatched another out of the air. ’’Don\ you worry that one will go over the side?’’

’’I like to think Casper has some sense of self-preservation.’’

’’Where are you taking me?’’

He glanced over, and his voice was low. ’’Somewhere dirt won\ matter.’’

She had to look down in the bag, blushing, as if it were hard to find another fry to toss into the back.

’’I just thought we\d head over to Quiet Waters,’’ he said. ’’I heard it was nice.’’

Quiet Waters was a beautiful park, probably one of the best in the county. She used to love the gardens, how there were dozens of gazebos where you could hide for hours with a book.

Or a boy.

Drew had taken her there. Once.

She must have been quiet too long. Hunter glanced over. ’’Lame?’’

She heard the smile in his voice and the self-deprecating tone beneath it. Some of the tension slipped from her shoulders, but she still felt off balance and uncertain. At times like this, she wanted to kill Drew. ’’No, no it\s a beautiful place.’’


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