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“Ooo, the Simi’s favorite person is always the one who brings her food. Thank you, Tracy.”
“You’re welcome, Simi.”
Simi pulled out a handful of cash and handed it over. “You keep the change and have fun with it.”
By Tracy’s expression, it was obvious Simi had seriously overtipped her. “You sure about that?”
“Absolutely.” Simi drenched the beignets with her hot sauce.
“Thank you.” Tracy went to wait on another table.
Nekoda cringed as Simi took a bite. And on that note … “It was nice seeing you again, Simi. But I think I need to be going.”
Simi wiped at the powder on her face. “Okay, but Nekoda-Akra needs to know something important.”
“They something evil done come to town and set up shot … no, shop. That’s the word the Simi needs.”
“What kind of evil?”
Simi licked her lips before she answered. “Akri not sure. Can you not feel it?”
Nekoda snorted. “In this town? There’s all kinds of spirits here, and quite a few of them are hostile.”
“True, which is why the Simi likes to come here. I eat the evil, and akri all happy. There’s no ‘no, Simi’ if it’s something that preys on people. The Simi can eat all that she wants to.”
Yeah, the Simi was a unique being.
“Do you think this evil is Nick?”
Simi shook her head. “No. The evil is stalking him.”
Nick paused outside the Mediterranean Greek Café on Decatur to catch his breath. At least the images had finally stopped shifting through his head and he had some clarity of thought.
Not much, but better than it’d been when he’d left the Café Du Monde. At least now the people around him looked normal.
Man, how had the hippies in the sixties ever survived drug binges? What idiot would do this to himself intentionally? It was bad enough when it happened by accident. Who would want to live like this if they could stop it?
Nick rubbed his eyes and took a deep, fortifying breath.
All of a sudden, he heard a bell sound as the door to the restaurant opened and out came a beautiful dream.
For a second, he thought he was still hallucinating as Casey Woods, one of the cheerleaders from his school, stopped in front of him. Up until Nekoda had joined their class, Casey had been the only woman for him. Her long dark hair was always brushed until it shone, and her curves were killer in street clothes, but in her cheerleader uniform they were the stuff of legends. He’d spent more days than he could count trying to imagine how great life would be with her as a girlfriend. Unlike the Neanderthals she went with, he’d actually treat her right and dote on her.
Unfortunately, she hadn’t even noticed he was alive. An impressive feat, since he’d sat right beside and in front of her in several classes over the years. But hey, Casey was Casey, and a girl that popular couldn’t be bothered to notice the poor, awkward scholarship student who’d invaded their ranks. For that matter, almost no one in his school really saw him as anything other than a target to be kicked and bullied. He was used to that.
Dressed in a lacy blue top and a pair of jeans, she smiled as she caught sight of him. “Hey, Nick. You okay?”
Oh yeah, he had to be a coma or something. The last time Casey had been this close to him, she’d argued with her best friend that she had no idea who he was.
“Uh, all good.”
She frowned at him. “You don’t look good. You look kind of green. Are you going to hurl?”
“I hope not.” ’Cause that was all he’d need for this day to be even better. Barf all over their homecoming queen. Yeah, that’d just make it for him and get him relegated to loser status until the day they graduated.
To his complete shock, she reached out and touched his forehead. “You don’t have a fever.” She held her bottle of water out toward him. “Here, sip some of this, and see if it helps.”
Stunned, he straightened. “Are you all right?”
“Of course. Why would you ask that?”
’Cause she had never been this nice to him, ever. Honestly, it was scary. Was the apocalypse coming?
Was this Death in disguise screwing with him? Now that would make sense. There had to be some horrifyingly foul reason why Ms. Hottie-Snotty was talking to him like he mattered.
“You and I don’t normally hang out.”
She smiled. “I know. My bad. But now that you’re hanging with Tad, it’s okay.”
Ah, that explained it. Tad Addams was one of the cool, rich kids. The older brother of Nick’s friend, Brynna, he’d taken him to school with Casey the other day.
Man, she was shallow. Most people didn’t admit that about themselves. He had to give her credit that at least she was honest.
He shrugged the water away. “I’m fine.” He indicated his arm in the sling. “Pain got to me for a minute. But I’m all good now.”
“Oh, okay.” She pulled the water back and cradled it against her breasts—second thought, he should have taken it. “By the way, have you heard the latest gossip?”
“That we have a new coach?”
She blinked at him with a vacuous expression. “We have a new coach?”
Obviously not the gossip she’d heard. “Uh, yeah. Caleb told me about him.”
“Oh, I hadn’t heard that. Good. I know Stone and Rick were worried about us making it to State this year with the team down and the coach arrested.”
It took all Nick’s willpower not to curl his lip at the mention of that pig. No, dog. He’d just learned last night that Stone was a shape-shifting werewolf who was a pig in both incarnations.
Not wanting to think about Stone and his running crew of imbeciles, Nick turned Casey back to their original discussion. “What did you hear?”
“Oh, there’s been a rash of thefts at school. Tanya went in to get her homework this morning from the office, and she overheard the secretaries talking about it. A bunch of lockers were broken into, and some things were taken out of classrooms.”
“She said it was a bad scene. Hope you had nothing in your locker worth stealing.”
He snorted. Yeah, right. He didn’t own anything of value. “Just books. They’re free to take as many of those as they want.”
“I hear you. Oh, and she said we have a new principal they’re bringing in from Baton Rouge. His name is—get this—Richard Head.” She burst out laughing.
Nick winced as he saw the detention train a-coming. Dick Head. Ah man, that was so wrong to have a name like that and to go into education on a high school level. Twisted, twisted, twisted. “And I’ll bet he has no sense of humor about it.”
“You know it. But then again, you can call him Dick Head all you want and say you were only using his name.”
“True. Man, his parents must have hated his guts.”
“Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?”
It did, indeed. “Well, I guess I better get going. I need to check in with my mom at work.”
Casey frowned. “Can’t you call her?”
“It’s her first day on this job, and I don’t want to get her into trouble.” If he got her fired again in less than twenty-four hours of losing her last job, she would absolutely kill him. Better to go poke his head in the door to see what she was up to, then head over to Kyrian’s to work. “I’ll catch you later.” He started toward Ursuline.
“You mind if I walk with you?”
Nick’s eyes widened as a total state of befuddled huh possessed him. Was he in the Twilight Zone? “You want to walk with me?”
She smiled a smile that warmed him completely. “Do you mind?”
“Cool.” Then she did the most peculiar and amazing thing of all—she stepped forward and wrapped her arm around his good one so that they could walk arm in arm. “So, Brynna told me you have a job. Aren’t you young to be working?”
Am I in some alternative universe? Was his evil doppelgänger going to shoot out of the alley and attack them like some character in a video game?
All right, Grim. What’s going on?
Grim didn’t answer. No one did.
Casey stared up at him expectantly with a pair of goo-goo eyes that made his insides quiver.
C’mon, Nick. Answer her question. “I’ve had a job since I was twelve.”
“Really?” Her eyes brightened. “That’s so impressive.”
For the first time in his life, he actually felt proud. “Well, I’m the man of the house and I have to take care of my mom. I like buying her nice things, and I don’t want to spend her money on her—that just seems wrong to me.”
“You know, it’s so rare to find a boy who thinks that way. Last Christmas, Stone gave me his sister’s earrings their mother had given her that she didn’t want. I was so angry when I found out, I didn’t speak to him for two whole hours.”
“Wow, two whole hours. You really punished him.”
She screwed her face up at him. “Are you mocking me?”
“I would never mock the homecoming queen, especially not when she’s holding on to me. Why are you doing that, by the way?”
She rubbed her hand up and down his biceps in a way that made him really uncomfortable. “You have nice arms. Manly.”
Yeah, right. He had arms like the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Hardly manly. More like thin and stringy.
She started stroking his biceps.
Nick jumped away from her. “Um, Casey. I’m kind of seeing someone.” Though they weren’t technically going together, he had feelings for Nekoda, and he didn’t want her to think he was two-timing her even though he wasn’t single-timing her either. Okay, that didn’t make sense.
Casey put her hands on her hips. “Since when do you have a girlfriend?”
“Don’t you have a boyfriend?”
“Not at the moment.” There was no missing the invitation in her tone or the one in her eyes.
It was so tempting.… But the one thing he knew about her and Stone was that they were constantly breaking up and getting back together. Last thing he needed was to give Stone another reason to harass him.
“Look, I really need to go.”
Before he could break clear, Casey pulled his phone out of his pocket with something that suspiciously felt like a grope. That and the hot look on her face sent a shiver over him. She put her phone number in and then added it to his speed dial.
“Call me sometime.” This time when she slid the phone back in, there was no missing her grope. Rising up on her tiptoes, she nipped his chin with her teeth and tongue. “But don’t wait too long, Nick.” Her breath went straight into his ear, making his entire body burn.
Stunned, scared, and intrigued, he couldn’t move as she sashayed down the street. She cast a look at him over her shoulder and bit her lip in the most provocative way he’d ever seen.
Oh yeah, the world was definitely going to end. There had to be a countdown clock somewhere. ’Cause stuff like this didn’t happen to Nick Gautier. It was more believable that his classmates were turning into zombies out to kill him than it was for Casey Woods to come on to him.
Yesterday he’d been completely invisible to her. Today it was like someone had decloaked him in the middle of enemy territory.
Unsure of what to make of it all, Nick headed to Sanctuary. Home of the weirdest of weird.
“Is there no normality left anywhere?”
Nick let out a relieved breath as he heard that familiar voice in his head. “Ambrose, bro. Where have you been?”
Busy. Why? Have you missed me?
Not really. “I just had one of the hottest girls in school come on to me.”
“Yeah. How’d you know?”
Relax. You’ll end up taking her to your junior prom.
Nick arched a brow at that land mine Ambrose had shoved him into. “How do you know that?” he asked again.
I know a lot of things about you, Nick. Past, present, and future. Casey isn’t one of the people you need to fear. She’ll be a good girlfriend in high school and an even better friend later on.
And that, too, made him drop his jaw. “She’s going to be my girlfriend?”
Ambrose laughed in his head. Getting women won’t be your problem. Keeping them is another. And whatever you do, make sure you don’t ever touch Simi. Don’t even hold her hand. Think of her and Tabitha Devereaux like sisters.