Storm Page 6

’’Nah.’’ His brother seemed to reconsider. ’’Okay, once, but we ran.’’

’’Where do you do it?’’

’’Down the beach by Fort Armistead Park.’’

Chris wondered if Michael had any idea. He couldn\ possibly.

Gabriel reached out and grabbed his arm, hard. ’’You\ll keep your mouth shut, right?’’

’’Yeah.’’ Chris kept his voice even, like it was no big deal. ’’Whatever.’’

Gabriel let him go. ’’Hey, is that Tyler\s car?’’

Ahead, parked on the street, sat a sleek black SUV, almost invisible in the darkness. Set back from the road was Tyler\s house, a wide brick split-level with lazy landscaping.

Chris took a breath. He\d only been here once, but he wouldn\ forget. ’’Yeah.’’

’’Make it pour,’’ said Gabriel. ’’Think you can do hail?’’

Now that they were here, so close to the house, Chris wanted to cling to the truck, as if the cab was his only lifeline to safety. ’’Are you just going to put the bags in the front yard or something?’’

’’We, brother. We.’’ Gabriel clicked his tongue against his teeth. ’’And I think I have a better idea.’’

You want to turn around and go home? Maybe they could go blow the bags up on the beach. No one would get pissed, no one would know.

No one would come out of the house and beat the shit out of them.

God, he was being such a wuss. ’’Yeah? What?’’

’’Help me put the bags around his car.’’

The rain welcomed him into the night air, soaking his clothes and feeding him strength. It felt better than adrenaline. Chris shook wet hair out of his eyes and grabbed a bag, heaving it onto his shoulder. He moved to throw it up against one of Tyler\s tires, but Gabriel waved to him to stop.

His brother leaned close and spoke over the rain. ’’He might have an alarm. Don\ touch it.’’

’’Just how big do these explode?’’

Gabriel had already moved away. ’’What?’’

Chris sighed. ’’Forget it.’’ He grabbed another bag from the pickup, setting it in front of the SUV.

Gabriel caught his arm. ’’Do you hear something?’’

Chris only heard rain and his pulse. The darkness revealed nothing. He sought answers from the water in the air, but the rain was too focused on vengeance and danger.

’’Come on,’’ said Gabriel. ’’Hurry.’’

They stood in the middle of a paved road, surrounded by explosives the worst place for a showdown with Tyler and his friends. But the only visible movement in the darkness was caused by the rain and the wind through the trees.

Chris swallowed his fear and grabbed another bag. This one went by the front quarter panel of the SUV. Gabriel placed one by the back tire, then straightened and rubbed his hands on the front of his jeans. He gave Chris a smile. ’’See?’’ he called. ’’Worried for nothing.’’

A car door slammed.

Gabriel whirled. The sound came from behind the truck, but there were no lights. They couldn\ see anyone yet. Chris felt his hands curl into fists, ready to fight. When they\d attacked behind the school, he\d had nothing. Now, he had the power of the rain and a brother by his side.

Another car door slammed.

Gabriel glanced at him, and Chris could read the question in his expression. Fight or run?

A voice spoke from the darkness. ’’Aw. Look. The Merrick truck is sitting in front of my house.’’

Tyler. Fear grabbed Chris by the throat. The rain turned cold, biting his skin and urging him to fight.

He heard a rough scraping sound, thin and keening through the rain. Metal on metal. Then Tyler\s face appeared from the darkness.

He was dragging his keys along the side of Michael\s truck.

’’Keys?’’ said Gabriel, stepping forward to shove Tyler away. His voice was easy, but the motion was full of threat. ’’What is this, middle school?’’

Tyler glanced past him, clearly taking in the bags of fertilizer lined up alongside his truck. ’’Late night yard work?’’

Thunder rolled through the sky. ’’Something like that,’’ said Gabriel.

It was taking all of Chris\s control to keep from choking Tyler with water, to keep it from freezing in the other boy\s eyes, to keep himself from breaking the promise his parents had made.

Tyler cocked his head to the side, gave a twisted grin that looked maniacal in the moonlight. ’’You wouldn\ be calling elements, would you?’’

’’Who needs elements?’’ said Gabriel.

Then he punched him.

Tyler staggered back into the truck, and Gabriel went after him, slamming the other boy against the quarter panel. ’’Don\ you ever f**king touch my brother again.’’

Chris felt a surge of pride.

Then someone grabbed him from behind and shoved him into the front grille of the truck.

’’What\s wrong?’’ said Seth. ’’Don\ have your girlfriend to protect you?’’

God, he\d been stupid. This was Tyler\s SUV. They\d heard the other car. Of course Tyler wouldn\ have been alone.

Chris tried to round on Seth, but the other boy was standing on concrete, and that meant his grip was practically unbreakable.

The rain hardened into hail. With an edge.

Seth slammed him against the grille again. ’’Cut that shit out.’’

’’What?’’ said Chris innocently, hating that his voice carried a wheeze. The rain had fixed his ribs before, but they still ached. ’’Don\ like rainstorms?’’

Seth spun him around and slammed him in the face.

Chris didn\ know he was falling until the pavement whacked him in the back of the head. Jesus Christ, that guy could throw a punch. Chris had to remind his lungs to breathe.

The rain turned to sleet, whipping sideways, striking the truck and making a racket. Seth was going after Gabriel now, dragging him away from Tyler.

Then Seth had Gabriel up against the truck, choking him.

Chris flew off the ground. The rain fed him his brother\s panic. He poured power into the sleet, trying to loosen Seth\s grip.

It was like trying to fight a statue.

Tyler grabbed his arm to wrench him away. They grappled in the darkness. Lightning flared in the sky bolts of power driving into the grass.

Tyler\s eyes widened, then his grip turned hot, searing into Chris\s forearm. Chris struck at him, but Tyler didn\ let go.

Lightning hit the street, sizzling on the pavement, two feet from a fertilizer bag.

Freeze. Chris just thought it, and Tyler was screaming, his hands on his face.

But Seth still had hold of Gabriel. He made a sharp motion with his hands, like in the movies when someone wants to break a guy\s neck.

Lightning shot through the sky.

Fertilizer exploded. The sound the heat was intense. Chris hit the pavement again, and lost sense of all direction. His eyes burned from the explosion, and he couldn\ see yet. Seth couldn\ have held on through that. Gabriel had to be around here somewhere.

His rain worked fast. The fire was already turning to nothing more threatening than billowing smoke.

A hand caught his arm, rolled him over. Chris fought, striking out before he knew who had hold of him.

’’Hey! Kid!’’ A light was shining in his eyes. One guy, no, two, stood over him. ’’Take it easy.’’

Chris stared up, blinking stars out of his vision.

Not Tyler, not Seth.

Cops.

CHAPTER 5

The little green lines on the clock on the dash announced it was almost three in the morning. Chris was glad he sat in the back of the truck\s cab, somewhat hidden in the shadowed corner behind his oldest brother.

’’I don\ get what you\ e so upset about.’’ Gabriel was up front, slouched against the door, looking coiled and feral in the dim light.

Michael\s fingers gripped the wheel. Headlights filtered through the back window of the pickup, and Chris could see the muscles of Michael\s forearms stand out from the strain. Nick was following them in the SUV;he\d driven Michael to pick them up.

Chris had wanted to ride home with him, but Michael had practically dragged him to the truck by his ear.

’’You don\ get what I\m upset about?’’ Michael\s voice was low and dangerous.

’’It\s not like they charged us with anything.’’

Chris looked out the tiny backseat window. The cops had threatened to but thank god they\d bought some stupid story about a prank gone wrong. They\d searched them and handcuffed them, then made them sit on the wet pavement to wait while rain threaded through his hair and dripped into his eyes.

They\d done the same to Seth and Tyler.

Chris didn\ regret a minute of it.

’’You don\ get,’’ Michael said, his voice a bit louder, ’’what I\m upset about?’’

Thunder cracked in the sky overhead. A bolt of lightning struck beyond the trees ahead of them, lighting Gabriel\s eyes. ’’You mean, besides the fact that you\ e a big pu**y?’’

’’Don\ start with me.’’

Gabriel made a disgusted sound and looked out the window. ’’What are you going to do, ground me? Send me to my room without my frozen dinner?’’

’’You don\ like it? Leave.’’

’’Fine. Pull over.’’

Michael didn\ .

Gabriel snorted. ’’See.’’

’’Cut the crap. If I let you out, you\ll just get in with Nick.’’

Chris almost wished they\d left him with the policemen. When his brothers got going, it was usually better to be somewhere else.

Michael glanced in the rearview mirror. ’’Care to weigh in?’’

Chris kept his mouth shut and shook his head.

Michael turned his head to look at Gabriel. ’’The worst part is that you dragged Chris into this. It\s bad enough the crap you pull with Nick ’’

’’He didn\ drag me,’’ Chris snapped. ’’I wanted to go.’’ He hated the way Michael said that, as if Chris came along like a stray dog, coaxed by a piece of meat and a pat on the head.

Didn\ you?

He shoved the thought away. Maybe Gabriel\s plan had been over the top Chris knew he should have been more suspicious that Nick wasn\ in on it. But Chris didn\ blame Gabriel. He was grateful. Christ, for the first time, he felt like one of his brothers understood him.

’’It wasn\ his fault,’’ Chris said.

Gabriel glanced into the backseat, caught Chris\s eye, and smiled.

Solidarity. Chris smiled back.

’’You know I can lose custody, right?’’ Michael said. ’’You all start acting like a bunch of delinquents, and they\ll yank the court order so quick ’’

’’Boo hoo,’’ said Gabriel. That smile was gone.

Michael glanced over at him. ’’What were you thinking?’’ When he didn\ get an answer, he reached over and smacked Gabriel on the back of the head. ’’Seriously. What the hell were you thinking?’’

Gabriel drew back and practically snarled at him. ’’They beat the crap out of Chris. It\s time for them to remember we can strike back.’’

’’So wait.’’ Michael raised his eyebrows, the sarcasm thick. ’’Getting arrested that wasn\ part of the plan?’’

’’F*k you.’’

’’Typical.’’

Gabriel leaned forward, those headlights catching his eyes and making them gleam. ’’I shouldn\ have been the one taking him out anyway. Maybe if you gave a shit ’’

’’Maybe if I gave a shit?’’ Michael grabbed his arm. ’’Look, you little ’’

Then Gabriel took a swing at him, and the car swerved.

’’Hey!’’ Chris grabbed the handle over the door. They were grappling in the front seat, all barely contained rage.

He unclicked his seat belt and grabbed Gabriel\s arm while Michael grasped the steering wheel again. Chris got an arm around Gabriel\s neck and pinned him to the headrest.


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