Storm Page 49

Hunter raised his eyebrows.

Then he sighed, turned the gun sideways, and released the hammer. She swallowed and held her hand out, but he only gave her half a smile.

Then he lifted the edge of his shirt and slid it into a holster at the small of his back.

Now that the gun wasn\ pointed at him, Michael climbed to his feet slowly. He was watching Casper, who was still growling at him.

’’So now you\ll help,’’ Michael said.

’’I\ll help Becca,’’ Hunter said. He paused and looked out at the field. ’’Though I don\ know what I can do. I haven\ seen another Guide in town. I\m assuming you\ve tried to track ’’

’’Yeah,’’ said Michael.

’’Maybe we could create a diversion,’’ said Gabriel.

They all looked at him.

’’You know,’’ he said. ’’Make something explode, or call up a storm ’’ He stopped short, as if remembering his brothers weren\ with them. ’’Or an earthquake, or something to draw out the Guide.’’

’’If we go to the center of town,’’ said Michael, ’’an earthquake would definitely get his attention ’’

’’Or,’’ said Becca, ’’maybe we could try something completely mundane.’’

Now they all looked at her.

She pointed at Casper. ’’He\s a police dog, isn\ he? Can he track a scent?’’

’’Sure.’’ Hunter frowned. ’’But we\d need something of the Guide\s to track.’’

’’Maybe not.’’ She fished the second cell phone from her pocket and held it out. ’’How about something of Chris\s?’’

Becca trudged beside Hunter, following the plume of Casper\s tail as he bounded ahead of them through the underbrush.

’’We\ve already come this way,’’ she said, just to break the silence.

’’Looks like an army came through here,’’ Hunter answered, though she had no idea how he could tell the difference. Just looked like a bunch of brush and branches to her. ’’Maybe Casper can pick up a second trail.’’

She didn\ understand how he could be acting so normally, as if he dealt with things like guns and violence and missing Elementals on a daily basis.

Then again, maybe he did.

’’So are you going to tell me?’’ she said.

’’Tell you what?’’

Was he deliberately being infuriating? ’’You said you\ e not an Earth,’’ she said. ’’So which one are you?’’

He laughed and gave her a sidelong glance. ’’Come on, Becca.’’

’’Come on what?’’ she said. ’’Just no more games. No more lies. Just tell me.’’

Hunter stopped and turned to look down at her. A line appeared between his eyebrows. ’’You\ e serious.’’

’’Yeah.’’

’’But ’’ He frowned. ’’The way people hassle you at school. You work with dogs. I mean your mom\s a nurse, for god\s sake. And then, you said Drew tried on the field last night.’’ He ran a hand through his hair. ’’I never thought what it would be like for a girl, but ’’

God, she wanted to punch him! ’’What the hell are you talking about?’’

’’He\s a Fifth,’’ said Michael, stepping up beside her.

’’Yeah.’’ Hunter glanced at him, then back at her. That line still hung between his brows. ’’Like you.’’

She shook her head, wishing people would stop assuming she was with the Merricks. ’’I\m not one of them. Tyler only thought that because I saved Chris that night.’’

’’You are, Becca,’’ he said. ’’You have to be. I can tell ’’

’’Hunter, I\m not.’’

’’You are.’’

She glanced at Michael and Gabriel, hoping they\d look as skeptical as she felt, but they didn\ .

They looked intrigued.

This was ridiculous. They were wasting time. She looked back at Hunter. ’’Fine. Prove it.’’

’’People hassle you, right? Too much.’’ He tapped his chest. ’’It\s because our element is all about the spirit. Life. People are drawn to that ’’

She scoffed and turned away. ’’People aren\ drawn to me, Hunter.’’

’’Hey.’’ His voice sharpened. ’’Just because they aren\ nice doesn\ mean they aren\ drawn to you.’’

She froze and looked over her shoulder at him, remembering how he said he\d been hassled to the point that his father had to teach him to physically defend himself.

’’Lots of people are bullied,’’ she said. ’’Every day. It doesn\ mean they have superpowers.’’

He walked back to her. ’’Not superpowers,’’ he said softly. ’’Maybe maybe just a stronger connection to this element.’’

’’You felt the power in the sunlight,’’ said Michael.

Gabriel was nodding, too. ’’That night in Chris\s bedroom. The fire reached for you ’’

’’That doesn\ mean anything,’’ she said. ’’Nick was making the fire flicker.’’

But her conviction was wavering. She kept thinking about the way she\d felt the connection to Nick\s power, that morning in her driveway.

’’I knew it right away,’’ said Hunter. ’’That night at the party, the way you wanted to help that stupid girl puking in the bushes, or how you wanted to warn Chris about Tyler, or ’’

’’Maybe I\m just a nice person!’’ she cried.

Hunter looked startled. ’’You can\ be both?’’

She faltered. This was too much. She couldn\ debate it now. They needed to be looking for Chris and Nick not arguing over something impossible.

’’You saved Chris,’’ said Michael. ’’You fought Tyler and Seth for him.’’

’’But ’’ She hesitated, unsure whether to give his theory any credence. ’’I never had some weird event when I hit puberty. I never started setting fires or causing earthquakes or ’’

’’How about something humanitarian?’’ said Hunter. ’’Think back to middle school. Did you volunteer at your mom\s hospital, or in a nursing home, or anything like that?’’

’’I\m not that nice a person,’’ she said, making a face. But then she paused, remembering how she used to walk the woods, looking for hurt animals to save.

’’You\ve thought of something,’’ said Hunter.

’’It\s nothing. I used to rescue animals. It made my mother crazy. It was just a phase.’’

’’Aha.’’ Hunter stepped closer, then spoke low, just for her. ’’Remember when you kissed me on the dance floor?’’

She flushed, then nodded.

’’Remember,’’ he said quietly, ’’how you felt the power in the room? The connection to the crowd?’’

She did. The fire on her lips, the sweat on her body she remembered it all.

Becca stared up at him.

He must have seen something like acceptance in her eyes. ’’You believe me. You might not want to admit it yet, but you do.’’

’’But my parents aren\ like you,’’ she sputtered. ’’They\ e not ’’

’’Your mom\s a nurse,’’ said Michael. ’’What\s your dad do?’’

She bit at her lip, remembering Chris\s comment about Fifths hitting the genetic lottery. ’’He works with wildlife ’’

Casper barked, somewhere in the woods up ahead.

’’Come on,’’ said Hunter. He took off at a run. They followed.

The dog had stopped at the edge of the woods, just before a long stretch of grass that ran beside the creek. Charred branches littered the ground and burns scored the grass.

’’Lightning,’’ said Gabriel, his voice grave. He looked up at the cloudless sky, then back at the ground. ’’A lot of it.’’

’’Chris was running for the water,’’ said Michael.

Casper barked again, spinning in circles.

’’He didn\ make it,’’ said Hunter. ’’Come on. I think Casper\s found a new scent to follow.’’

The dog led them to the road, to the far side of the bridge that had been destroyed. The county had put up concrete barriers and those ROAD CLOSED signs, and some random construction equipment was parked along the side of the road.

’’This is where we saw the Guide last Tuesday,’’ she said. She was starting to get a little breathless from trailing Casper, though the guys weren\ having any trouble. ’’How far have we gone? Like three miles?’’

Gabriel gave her a look. ’’Like one.’’

So she needed more cardio.

’’That night of the bridge collapse,’’ said Hunter. ’’That\s the first time you saw him? Was he on foot?’’

’’Yes,’’ said Gabriel.

’’No car?’’

Gabriel shook his head. ’’We chased him off, but he ran for the woods.’’ He pointed east, toward the tree line on the other side of the road. ’’We were able to pull a hell of a lot of power from the storm. I thought it was the adrenaline, but I couldn\ generate anywhere near as much last night.’’

’’No kidding,’’ said Hunter. He gave her a grim smile. ’’Becca wasn\ with you.’’

Her breath caught, and she wanted to protest.

But she remembered feeling the power that night, too. The strength in the storm, the way the wind and rain had kissed her skin and called for vengeance. ’’Holy crap,’’ she whispered.

Hunter nodded, but he looked out at the trees. ’’What\s beyond those woods? More residential properties?’’

’’No,’’ said Michael. ’’Commercial. A couple strip malls, fast food, a car dealership, that kind of stuff.’’

Hunter frowned. ’’Maybe it\s a dead end, then. Maybe he kept a car there.’’

But Casper found a trail right away, leading out of the woods. They stopped behind a McDonald\s, hidden in the shade of the trees. A hundred feet ahead sat a four-lane road, busy with late morning traffic. The drive-thru was packed.

Hunter had a tight grip on Casper\s collar, though the dog was obviously onto a scent. ’’You guys should wait here.’’

’’Why?’’ said Michael. ’’So you can warn him?’’

’’No.’’ Hunter glanced at him, and it wasn\ a friendly look. ’’Because Casper\s found a trail. A strong one. The Guide might be nearby.’’

’’Good,’’ said Gabriel, and now Becca heard the fury in his voice. ’’Let\s go.’’

’’Yeah,’’ said Hunter. ’’But he\s looking for you. I can check it out, see what we find, then ’’

’’I don\ care,’’ said Michael. ’’I don\ trust you.’’

Hunter narrowed his eyes. ’’Look, man, I don\ have to help you.’’

Becca put a hand on Hunter\s arm and looked at Michael. No way she was letting stupid male posturing screw this up. ’’Do you trust me?’’

Michael\s expression hardened, just for a moment. Then she watched something soften in his eyes. He nodded. ’’Yeah. I do.’’

’’Come on,’’ she said to Hunter. ’’Let\s check it out.’’ Without waiting for him to agree, she started forward, half sliding down the grassy hill into the McDonald\s parking lot.

Casper bounded past her, then Hunter appeared at her side. ’’Take it slow,’’ he said. His voice turned wry. ’’You had a pentagram on your door, too.’’

She swung her head around, unsure what emotions were rattling around in her head. ’’You knew. All that time, you knew.’’

He shrugged, and she didn\ know if that was indifference or embarrassment. ’’Not all that time. At first I was only sure about you. It wasn\ until that morning in your driveway that I really started to suspect the Merricks.’’ He paused. ’’I also thought you were with them.’’

’’So all that when you wouldn\ kiss me in the parking lot.’’ She swallowed. ’’You thought I was in on some plot to kill your father?’’


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