Storm Page 32

’’I don\ care,’’ he said.

She grabbed Nick\s hand, too. ’’Please this will kill people ’’

’’He killed my brother.’’ Nick\s voice was strong, emotionless. But his hand didn\ let go of hers.

Maybe it was because she clutched both their hands, or maybe it was because she sat in water up to her waist. But Chris felt a sudden connection, a link to Nick\s power he\d never felt before. Like the moment he\d fed power into Becca, he felt every drop of water, every particle of his element. He felt the water and the wind, and fed strength into the space around them.

The wind howled, beating at their clothes. The Guide made it to the other side of the bridge, grabbing his end of the guardrail. Chris still couldn\ make out any features in this storm just focus and control.

Lightning struck five feet away.

Becca screamed.

Then lightning hit the other end of the bridge, almost directly hitting the Guide.

Chris froze.

Another bolt, five feet off. The man darted back, away from the bridge, fighting to keep his footing in the wind.

Another bolt. And another. Lightning rained from the sky, targeting their enemy.

The Guide ran.

’’Yeah,’’ growled a voice from behind them. ’’Watch that f**ker run now.’’

Chris whirled. Gabriel was on his hands and knees, holding on to the bumper of a Chevy Tahoe. His clothes were scorched and his face nearly blackened from smoke, and blood marked his skin, but he was alive.

Nick grabbed him before Chris even realized he was moving.

’’Easy, Nicky.’’ Gabriel coughed. ’’I mean me too but explosion hurt ’’

But Chris didn\ hear what else he said.

Because he was hugging him, too.

CHAPTER 25

Becca ended up in the ER.

The Merrick brothers didn\ .

She\d lost track of them somehow, when emergency personnel stormed onto the bridge and separated them all. Four different men had stood in the rain shouting questions at her, shining lights in her eyes, taking her pulse. Did she know her name? The date? Did she know she\d been in an accident?

She\d been freezing. A fireman had wrapped her in a Mylar blanket and carried her to the ambulance. She\d been so shaken that she let him. The rain refused to stop, streaking into her eyes and creeping under her clothes, as much a stranger to her as it had been before the accident.

Had she imagined that connection?

Was that what Chris felt, that link with the elements?

He\d held her so close had she been feeling his power?

Now, in the hospital, she huddled on her stretcher, pulling the thin hospital blanket more tightly around her shoulders.

Her mom stuck her head through the curtain. ’’You all right, Bex?’’

One of the best parts of her mom working the ER was that Becca didn\ have to wait long for anything.

One of the worst parts was that her mom was actually working the ER tonight. When Becca proved to be shaken but unharmed, her mom left her to sit alone in an eight-by-eight cubicle.

Someone moaned nearby. A baby screamed somewhere down the hall. The place was packed with victims from the storm. Becca kept hearing nurses speak in low voices about things like crushed femurs and compound fractures. Becca didn\ even have a concussion. She just wanted someone to hold her hand.

God, could she be more selfish? Becca sniffed back waiting tears and nodded. ’’I\m fine. Can we go home?’’

’’Your dad\s on his way, sweetie.’’ Her mom\s voice trailed after her as she rushed down the hall.

’’What?’’

’’I can\ leave,’’ her mom called back, ’’and Quinn\s mom wasn\ home.’’

Ugh. Her dad. Now Becca wished she did have a concussion.

Especially when he showed up in work clothes, his boots caked with mud. Dirt streaked across the khaki shirt he wore, and it looked like he\d been in a fight with a wild animal his pants were torn, and dried blood trailed out of his shirtsleeve and across the back of his hand.

He came rushing into her cubicle, flinging the curtain to the side. He seemed to draw up short when his daughter obviously wasn\ dying. Just wet.

’’Hi,’’ she said without enthusiasm. ’’What happened to you?’’

’’Becca.’’ He studied her, as if he must have missed some life-threatening injury. ’’Are you all right?’’

Just great. They got me out of the car before it blew up.

She wanted to say it, to roll her eyes and push past him. But his eyes were dark with concern, his hands hovering halfway between his body and her own, as if he wanted to hug her but he just wasn\ sure how she\d take it.

Becca swallowed. She wished he\d jingle his keys and act like this was a hassle. It was hard to keep walls up against someone who truly gave a crap.

But maybe it was just the shock. Had Mom made it sound bad so he\d rush?

’’I\m fine,’’ she said. Her voice sounded like she\d been swallowing gravel. ’’I just ... I want to go home.’’

’’We can go back to my place ’’

’’No!’’

He flinched, and she shut her eyes. ’’No just I don\ have any clothes there. I want to go home.’’

’’You have keys?’’

Her keys were in her car and probably melted into a ball of steel by now. She shook her head. ’’Mom will give me hers.’’

But her mom didn\ like that idea. ’’Becca, go home with your father. You\ve had a rough day, and you shouldn\ be alone ’’

’’I just want to get into some dry clothes and go to bed.’’ She shoved herself off the stretcher. A patient down the hallway started screaming, and Becca clamped her hands over her ears. ’’Please, just take me home. Please ’’

Arms wrapped around her, stroking the hair back from her face. For a bare instant she thought it was her mom but then she felt the strength in those arms, the solid wall of her dad\s chest.

’’Calm down,’’ he said, his voice a gentle rasp. ’’I\ll take you home.’’

His voice sparked another memory, of an eight-year-old Becca who\d found a half-dead bird in the backyard. She\d been near hysterical, sure her father was going to have to kill it so she hid with it in her bedroom, trying to feed it sliced Velveeta and bits of hot dog.

Her mom had been furious when she found out. A bird! In her house!

But her dad had talked Becca out of her closet, then taught her how to set the bird\s wing and nurse it back to health.

’’Becca?’’

His breath touched her hair. Becca realized she\d been leaning on him for what felt like a while.

’’Okay,’’ she whispered. ’’Let\s go.’’

Becca couldn\ make herself look out the windshield. Rain freckled the glass, stealing any visibility. Cars seemed to be moving too quickly, every oncoming pair of headlights a collision waiting to happen.

She stared down at her dad\s hand, resting on the center console.

’’What happened to your wrist?’’ she asked, just to make her brain focus on something other than the sound of tires on wet roadway.

He cleared his throat. ’’Tree came down in the storm. Trapped a buck up against one of those electric fences. I was the closest one, so I took the call. Poor thing was fighting like hell.’’

Now she regretted asking. ’’So you killed it.’’

He hesitated. ’’No.’’

Now she swung her eyes up. ’’Are you lying?’’

’’No. I\m not. We hit him with a tranquilizer, patched him up, and let him go.’’ He glanced away from the road. ’’Just what do you think I do, Becca?’’

She had no idea all she had were old memories and the patch on his sleeve. She hunched her shoulders and looked at the glove compartment.

’’Wild animals can be dangerous,’’ he said. ’’Sometimes they\ e too dangerous to treat and rehabilitate.’’ He paused. ’’And sometimes they\ e not a threat at all.’’

’’I bet you kill more than you save.’’

He stared out the windshield. ’’What do you want me to say, Becca?’’

’’Nothing.’’

Silence filled up the car until there wasn\ room for anything else. He\d gone to vet school, she knew.

’’I don\ always like what I have to do,’’ he said finally. ’’But that doesn\ mean it isn\ necessary.’’

’’For the greater good?’’ she mocked.

’’Exactly.’’

Becca leaned back against the door and gripped her elbows against her chest. This felt like being chastised. Not quite, but almost. Whatever, she didn\ like it.

’’Are you worried about your car situation?’’ he asked.

She was. Becca didn\ want to consider how many hours she was going to have to work to save up enough money to buy a new car. She had no idea how insurance worked. Didn\ a deductible come into play somewhere? That old Honda had barely cost more than a thousand dollars.

’’I\ll talk to your mom,’’ he said when she didn\ answer. ’’We\ll figure something out.’’

’’I don\ need your money.’’

’’I\m not quite sure that\s true.’’

She swung her head around to glare at him. ’’Look, you can\ come swooping in here with a MasterCard and pretend to know everything I need.’’

He sighed, loudly. The exasperation was clear. ’’All right, Becca.’’

She pressed her forehead against the window. ’’All right, Dad.’’

Irritation thickened the air in the cab of his truck, heavier than the silence had been. He flung the truck in park roughly when he pulled into her driveway and saw the pentagram on the door. ’’What the hell is with this kid?’’ he demanded.

For an instant, she entertained telling him.

So, Dad, about the accident. Really, there\s a guy who wants to kill me.

’’Who knows.’’ Her voice sounded tired.

’’I\ll have to come back to paint tomorrow,’’ he said. ’’It\s too wet now.’’

He trailed her onto the porch, and she shoved her mom\s key into the lock. ’’Leave it. They\ll just put it back up.’’

His attention shifted, focusing on her. She felt the change in his demeanor. ’’Becca.’’ He caught her wrist, keeping her from opening the door. ’’Do you know who\s doing this?’’

She wriggled her hand free. ’’No god, Dad, I\m tired.’’

He let her go, then stood in the foyer and watched her flick lights on. The house stood empty no Quinn. Becca felt a flash of guilt for their fight outside the school, but then caught a glimpse of herself in the hall mirror. She looked like well, like she\d been in a car accident and a flood. Her hair straggled over her shoulders, and her clothes were ruined. Her makeup formed dark circles around her eyes, making her look almost macabre.

Quinn was on her own tonight.

’’I\m going to take a shower,’’ she said.

He glanced around, like a wannabe police officer checking the place for criminals. ’’I can make a pot of coffee and stay for a while.’’

’’Or you could remember that I\m almost seventeen years old, and I stay by myself almost every night.’’

He stared down at her. She stared back.

’’I\m fine,’’ she said.

His eyes narrowed a bit but not in anger. More like assessment. ’’What\s going on with you, Becca?’’

’’My car was just totaled. Sorry I\m not at my best.’’

He kept studying her. She kept looking back at him.

Just when she thought this was going to end up being some immature staring match, he said, ’’You need a ride to school in the morning?’’

She shook her head. ’’I\ll ride with Quinn.’’

Thank god he didn\ know that Quinn had no car.

He nodded. ’’All right.’’ He started to take a step toward the living room. ’’Maybe I should stay for a ’’


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