Storm Page 29

Sweat collected under the spill of her hair. At first she\d thought Hunter was going easy, but then she saw the sheen of sweat on his forehead as they moved faster. This was nothing like the self-defense class she felt sharper, fierce in a way she\d never anticipated.

For the first time in a long while, she felt powerful.

Darkness crept up on them, sneaking over the hill to throw Hunter\s features into shadow. She couldn\ hear children on the playground anymore. Casper had long since fallen asleep on the blanket.

’’It\s late,’’ said Hunter.

’’What, did you run out of things to show me?’’

He grimaced and bent to shake out the blanket. ’’I might have to show you how to walk back to the pet store. Do they gate the entrances to parks around here?’’

Becca gathered their trash. ’’I think we\ll be okay. It\s not full dark yet. They usually drive around and warn people.’’

She was right. The gates were still open, but they got a stern glare and a warning from the gate attendant. ’’Sundown means sundown, kids.’’

’’It\s her fault,’’ said Hunter, pointing at the passenger seat. ’’She had me in a choke hold.’’

Becca laughed as he drove off, loving the feel of the wind in her hair, the sudden chill in the air cooling her cheeks. Loving the easy company by her side.

This is what it\s supposed to be like.

She turned her head to look at Hunter. ’’Thanks.’’

He glanced away from the road long enough to meet her eyes. ’’You\ e welcome.’’

’’You know more than just \a little,\ ’’ she said. ’’Are you, like ... a black belt in karate or ’’

He snorted, and it sounded like he was trying not to laugh. ’’No.’’

’’Then how do you know all that stuff?’’

He was silent for a moment, air whistling through the open cab of his jeep.

’’People used to screw with me,’’ he finally said. ’’When I was younger, I got a lot of crap. My father he told me there were two options: I could learn to defend myself, or I could suck it up.’’

Harsh, she thought.

Hunter must have seen the look on her face. ’’No, Dad was right.’’ He hesitated. ’’He taught me.’’

Becca held her breath, unsure how to proceed. His words didn\ seem broken as they had a few hours ago. Maybe doing something physical had loosened something in him, too.

’’Is it martial arts?’’ she said.

’’Not really.’’ He glanced over. ’’It\s called Krav Maga. Heard of it?’’

She shook her head and whispered the phrase. Krav Maga. It sounded exotic and violent and lethal.

’’It\s for self-defense,’’ Hunter said. ’’With the purpose of taking your enemy down instead of running away.’’

’’I love it.’’

He looked over. ’’Me too.’’

The pet store wasn\ far enough away. He was pulling beside her car well before she was ready to get out of his jeep.

Hunter didn\ turn off his engine, but he unclicked his seat belt to turn and face her. He brushed some hair off her cheek and tucked it behind her ear. ’’Thanks for going with me.’’

She flushed and looked down, wishing time would slow so she could memorize the passage of his fingers along her jaw. They\d grappled in a field for hours, but this tiny stroke of his hand on her face felt like the most intimate thing she\d ever done.

The thought made her freeze.

Would he kiss her now? Would that change everything, turn this ... this courtship into a chase? She\d always hated how guys measured goals with a girl like bases in baseball. First base, second base but when you hit a home run, you go back to the dugout and wait for your next chance. She liked this, when there was no game, no ball in play.

’’I\ve kept you out too late,’’ he murmured, and she could tell he\d moved closer. His breath brushed her temple.

Her lips parted. She wondered what his mouth would feel like, what he would taste like.

She wondered if she\d let it get that far. Her hands were sweating again.

Keep me close so you can hurt me.

Hunter stroked her hair back again. She leaned in to his touch.

’’Do you have your keys?’’ he said.

Her keys? She nodded.

His thumb brushed along her cheekbone, but he didn\ move closer. His voice was rich and warm and gentle. ’’It\s late.’’

She nodded again, feeling her heartbeat, her breathing. She held still, her face against his palm. He didn\ move.

Then she figured it out.

Do you have your keys? It\s late.

She drew back, unable to look at him now. She thrust her hand into her purse, praying the keys would find her shaking fingers. ’’Thanks for dinner, Hunter.’’

’’Hey. Easy.’’ He caught her wrist and pulled her back. This time when his fingers found her chin, they lifted her face so she could meet his eyes. ’’Look at me.’’

What was this going to be, some ease-his-conscience letdown?

’’Becca,’’ he said. She loved the sound of her name on his lips and she hated herself for it.

His eyes were wide. She looked right back at him and willed her voice to be steady and quiet. ’’What?’’

He moved closer, until a breath would bring their lips together. ’’You deserve better than a first kiss in a deserted parking lot.’’

She couldn\ breathe. She almost kissed him anyway.

But then he was shifting away, making sure she found her keys, waiting to be sure her car started and she got out of the lot safely.

She wasn\ sure how she drove. Maybe the car propelled itself, fueled by her euphoria. This was how it could be: no games, just simple chivalry and kindness. Gentle strength, the way a man should come to a woman.

Giddiness got her home. She hadn\ forgotten Chris and his brothers, but their troubles had drifted to some distant part of her brain.

But they snapped to the forefront when she pulled into her driveway.

There on the door, shining in the beams of her headlights, was a shiny brand-new pentagram.

CHAPTER 22

Chris slouched in the back of the classroom, drawing a pattern along the margin in his notebook.

He\d forgotten she was supposed to be his History partner.

Maybe he should ditch. He still had time before the bell. He\d seen her in English Lit, the way she sat across the room and avoided his eyes. Her shoulders had been hunched, her torso twisted deliberately away from him.

Good.

The thought made him wince. She\d looked exposed, moving like someone had a sniper rifle trained on the center of her back. His fault all of it. It made him want to take her by the hand, lead her into a corner, and offer reassurance. But keeping his distance was better. She\d be safer. The last thing she needed was to be seen whispering with him.

But maybe he could talk to her now. She\d be close, a captive audience for an hour. He remembered the way she\d smelled on Friday, like almonds and vanilla, from lotion or shampoo or something.

Yeah, on second thought, he should definitely ditch.

But she appeared in the doorway of the classroom, dark hair pouring across one shoulder. Her movements were still tight and controlled, but some of the tension had leaked away.

That Hunter guy was walking behind her.

No, wait. With her.

Whatever. Chris dropped his head and sighed, sketching a cube on the lined paper. He\d just started a pyramid when he felt someone watching him.

He looked up. Becca was headed his way, her jaw tight, looking anywhere but at him. Chris shifted his gaze. Hunter was glaring at him, his eyes dark.

Chris could read that look like a book. The guy\s posture had a whole monologue going. Don\ screw with her. Don\ talk to her. Don\ even breathe in her direction. Get me?

Chris gave him the finger.

’’Mature.’’ Becca dropped into the seat next to him and flung her backpack to the ground.

A lot of force hid behind that movement. It made him pause. ’’You all right?’’

’’I\m great.’’ She yanked a notebook out of her backpack. Then a pen. All this aggression was throwing spots of pink on her cheeks.

She didn\ turn her head. ’’Stop looking at me.’’

He jerked his eyes away. Now his cheeks felt hot.

Beamis swept into the room. ’’Good afternoon, class. Thank you for your patience. Today we\ll be comparing the Treaty of Versailles with the Treaty of Paris, and how they immortalized the fall of two of the greatest powers in Europe\s ...’’

Chris felt his attention drift. He couldn\ look right, because Becca was sitting there.

To his left, Tommy Dunleavy was sneaking glances at Becca, a smirk on his lips. A piece of paper was folded between his fingers. He glanced furtively at Beamis, clearly waiting for his chance.

Chris gave him a wordy glare of his own. Try it, kon***head.

Tommy glared back but he backed down and crumpled the piece of paper when Chris didn\ look away.

Typical.

A pen knocked against his knuckles, and Chris swung his head around. Becca was staring straight ahead, at the board, but she tapped her pen on her notebook.

He looked down.

There\s another pentagram on my door.

He didn\ doubt it. She could paint over it twenty times and they\d put another one up there. He wrote the only thing he could think of.

Sorry.

She stared at that word for a long time. What was she thinking about?

Then she put her pen to the paper again.

Lilah came to the pet store.

Chris froze. He\d thought for sure that Tyler and the others would leave everything to the Guides. That\s how these things worked.

Are you OK?

She very deliberately rolled her eyes.

What do you care? You lied to me.

Then she went back and underlined lied again.

He studied the words on the page, feeling his chest tighten. He almost spoke out loud, but then took a quick glance at Beamis, who was scrawling all over the board.

Chris drew a question mark, then circled the word lied.

Becca turned her head to look at him. Her eyes always reminded him of the ocean after a storm, a gray so dark you just knew there were secrets in there. Just now they hid some kind of pain that he didn\ understand.

She dropped her gaze, letting her hair fall across her face while she wrote. The scent of almonds and vanilla was making him crazy.

Then he saw the words across her notebook.

You killed Seth\s parents?

Chris stopped breathing, staring as if just looking at them would rearrange the letters into another sentence.

Her breathing was quickening, and he knew she was assuming the worst since he hadn\ denied it.

Chris lifted his pen and forced himself to write.

Not what you think.

She practically knocked his hand out of the way to write more.

Did you try to kill Tyler last week?

After I saved you?

What? He started shaking his head. She wrote furiously.

Arrested?

Then she underlined that three times.

Damn.

Chris drew a long breath. How could he explain that he\d needed to feel powerful for a night, for an hour, for a minute? How could she understand what it felt like to have this strength inside you, but to always have others knock you down?

He tapped his pen on the words he\d already written. Not what you think.

She picked up the notebook and flipped to a clean piece of paper.

I\m going to ask for a new partner.

Chris looked at those words for a long moment. It felt like she\d stabbed him with the pen. He leaned over and wrote the only thing he could.

OK.

Becca waited after class to talk to Beamis. ’’I don\ think I can work with him.’’

Something softened and hardened simultaneously in Mr. Beamis\s expression. ’’He\s threatened you?’’

Becca thought of the way Chris had yelled at Tommy last Friday. Beamis had thrown him out of class. Did he think Chris would hurt her?


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