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“Nick! I just heard!”
Before he could identify who was speaking, Casey threw herself into his arm and slammed him against the lockers.
“You’re on the football team again! I’m so happy for you. Now you can be my escort at homecoming. Won’t that be great?”
He felt like a mouse caught between two cats as he saw the look of anger on Nekoda’s face.
Casey paid her no attention. “When do you get your jersey? You’ll be so hot in it.”
Help me. His voice sounded like a fly in his head.
Without a word, Nekoda spun around and headed down the hallway.
“Kody!” He tried to follow after her, but Casey cut him off.
“You don’t want to talk to her, Nick. She’s a loser.”
Yeah, right. She was also the only person from his school who’d visited him when he’d been in the hospital. Yeah, okay, so she volunteered there, but she had made it a point to come to his room every day and cheer him up. That she hadn’t had to do.
He tried to get around Casey. She was like a Velcro spider. Everywhere he moved, she was there, clinging to him. He didn’t know how to escape her without hurting her.
Frustrated, he gave her a vicious glare. “What is up with you?”
“Nothing. I only want to spend time with you, Nick.”
“You’re working for Kyrian Hunter now. You’re one of us.”
He wasn’t so sure he wanted to be one of them. Because of the way they’d treated him, he’d learned a long time ago not to want to be part of the in-crowd. He didn’t like the way they operated. If being one of them meant being cruel to someone else, he’d rather be a social outcast.
“Look, I’m not some teen movie. I’m not going to get so caught up with being popular that I forget my friends. You can’t undo years of ignoring me with one act of kindness. Now, excuse me.” He finally pushed past her to go after Kody.
But it was too late. There was no sign of her anywhere.
Fantastic. He felt like an even bigger heel. Gah, I’m such an idiot.…
“Nick?” Casey took his hand, shocking him completely that she’d dare touch him, the unwashed. “I’m sorry if I treated you wrong in the past or hurt your feelings. Like anyone else, I can be self-absorbed at times and not see what’s in front of my face. Maybe my mom’s right, and I need to look up from my phone once in a while.” She peered at him from underneath her lashes in what had to be the hottest expression he’d ever seen on a living girl’s face. “You’re right. I didn’t see you then. My bad. But I see you now. Can you not forgive me for being stupid?”
Those unexpected words touched a part of him that was foreign and strange. Then he remembered what Ambrose had said. Casey would be a good girlfriend to him while he was in high school.
And yet he wanted Kody for that role. She was the one who’d been kind when he needed it. She was the one he really enjoyed talking to.
Fourteen years, and I can’t get the time of day from a single female. Now I’m torn between two of them.…
The most popular girl he’d been pining for since he was a kid and another one who’d only just entered his world and sent it reeling.
Life wasn’t right. And he had no idea what he should do. Listen to Ambrose, or listen to his gut.…
“C’mon,” Casey said, tugging at his arm. “I’ll walk you to class.”
* * *
Grim paused as he felt a slight breeze kiss his cold skin. It was a presence he’d known since before the dawn of time. Vicious and callous, she was his best friend.
And his worst enemy.
Together they’d wreaked more destruction than an F5 tornado on a week-long bender.
That was just on their good days. On their bad ones … Well, scientists claimed an F6 was impossible. With their combined powers, it was not only possible, but even that category was petulant compared to the damage he and Wynter Laguerre could do.
“Laguerre … what brings you here?”
Lithe, sexy, and vibrant, she came into his private domain like she owned it. With an abundance of dark brown curls that fell to her waist, she was exquisitely formed. As always, her lips were a bright blood red that was matched by her pants and blazer. The moment she flashed herself to his side, the fire in his black marble hearth flared, shooting embers across the ebony wood floor.
She had that effect on most things.
“I wanted you to know that I’m facilitating things.”
Those words laced him with foreboding. Whenever Laguerre facilitated something, it was never good. Not for him and especially not for her target. “How do you mean?”
She screwed her face up. “There’s too much good in Nick Gautier. No matter how much abuse we heap on him, he won’t turn. Therefore we need to do something to purge it from him.”
“You can’t kill his mother.” They all knew that was the only surefire way to unleash the darkest parts of Gautier’s powers and soul. If Cherise Gautier died, he’d be beyond redemption and easy to turn. But …
“She’s off-limits to us.” Whoever killed her was guaranteed a brutal demise, and not even he, Death itself, was immune.
Wynter ran her long red fingernail down his jawbone. “Yes, but there are other ways to turn him and make sure he sides with us in this battle.”
Not one that he’d been able to identify. Nick’s fortitude was duly impressive. The more he was around the kid, the more he doubted their ability to corrupt him, even with the help of the primal source. “He has to finish his training before he’s any good to us.”
“Perhaps, but if he has a reason to turn, he might embrace those powers even more and use them where we tell him to.”
Grim wasn’t so sure. “He’s still naïve. He actually believes in happy endings.”
She shrugged nonchalantly. “Then we’ll have to kick those delusions right out of him.”
If anyone could do that, War was the one. Killing people’s aspirations was her specialty.
“What do you have in mind?”
With an evil smile, she moved away from him to warm her hands by the fire. “I already have my person in place. Someone Nick trusts who isn’t who he thinks.”
“How do you mean?”
She laughed. “I conjured an old accomplice of ours who has agreed to help us with our quest. One who is now corporeal in the human realm.”
That explained the dead teenagers who’d been uncovered by the police. Sacrifices made to get their man into the thick of things.
“And our friend has promised that Nick’s life will be turned inside out. Before everything is said and done, his true friends will be killed and he will be ours.” She turned to face him with another evil smile. “Then we will control the world once more, and not even the old powers will be able to control us.”
Grim returned her smile. That was definitely something he could sink his teeth into.
Nick sat in English, bored out of his mind. Why was this even a subject? Really? He spoke English, rather fluently most days, first thing in the morning or really late at night notwithstanding. It, like everything else they forced him to suffer through in school, was such an epic waste of his time. Completely irrelevant. Would it honestly matter in a hundred years whether or not he’d read Moby Dick?
Was he ever going to have a job application where they made him diagram a sentence or pick out a gerund?
Stop your bitching, Nick. You should try being an immortal demon who’s lived since the dawn of time having to sit through this crap when English is not my native tongue, and if you think you’re fluent in it, buddy, I actually know what a gerund is.
Nick looked askance at Caleb, who sat beside him on the other row, doing the wiggy mind meld with him. Yeah, but these handful of years are just a blip in your massively long life. They’re a significant percentage of mine.
Caleb scoffed in his head. Look, there you go using some of the stuff you’ve learned. Math. What a concept? Maybe it’s not a waste after all.
“Look who’s come out of his coma. Did you have something to say to the class?”
Blinking, Nick focused on his teacher.
Which tactic to use? Better go with dumb. If nothing else, that one usually kept him out of detention. “Um, what?”
Mrs. Richardson came forward to eye him like the bitter troll she was. She hated teaching, and everyone knew it. Her favorite part of her job was embarrassing or belittling her students every time she forced them to open their mouths. “Are we boring you, Mr. Gautier?”
Man, it was impressive how she made his name sound like an insult. He’d like to master those evil human tricks.
But first, he had to get out of the frying pan and hopefully bypass the fire. “Not bored. I sneezed. Sorry.”
“That was a pathetic excuse for a sneeze.”
I swear she should argue before the Supreme Court. “I was trying not to disturb the class with it.”
She narrowed her gaze even more, as if she knew he was lying, but not so positive that she called him on it. “Then perhaps you’d like to give us your view of Ahab’s need for vengeance?”
I’d really rather not. But he knew he had to, since the chances of her letting him off the hook now ranked up there with him spontaneously combusting into flames in his seat, so he answered honestly. “It was stupid.”
She arched a brow at him. “Stupid how? Like the way you and your friends spend all your time playing video games and feeding into a useless consumer-driven society? Or stupid like those of you who think you can doze off and text in my class and still pass?”
Stupid like you were when you believed the saleswoman who told you that dress looked good on you? It was hard to bite that comment back, but he knew better than to let it spew out. Only she was allowed to be venomous in the classroom. Anyone else would be suspended.
Clearing his throat, Nick scratched his neck, uncomfortable at the fact that everyone was now staring at him. A handful were snickering. Two more sneering and one girl rolled her eyes as if he were mentally defective. He hated being the center of attention. Why did teachers have to do this? It was like they purposefully singled out the kids who least wanted to participate or they waited until they knew it was the wrong time to send a guy to the board. Couldn’t they let him fly under the radar? At least for a day or two?
No, let’s humiliate Nick even more. ’Cause face it, life just didn’t suck enough.
Nick braced himself for her ridicule before he defended his position. “Well … he lets it ruin his life. He gets so obsessed with going after the one thing that hurt him that he loses sight of everything else. He becomes isolated from everyone and everything. Paranoid. He feels like he can’t trust anyone around him ever. In the end, he loses everything, even his life. And for what? Total stupidity, if you ask me.”
“So you’re saying that if you were Ahab, you’d let it go and move on with your life? Even if it was the person you loved most on this earth who was killed and you were left with a lingering deformity from it?”
“Absolutely. Crap happens to everyone. Put on your big-boy pants and deal. You got to let it go and move on.”
She tapped her cheek with her pencil as if considering his take on the book. “Interesting idea. Naïve and immature, but interesting.” She looked to Caleb. “What about you, Mr. Malphas? Do you have anything to add to Mr. Gautier’s ill-conceived opinion? What did you take out of the book, provided you actually read it instead of watching the movie like Ms. Harris did?”
Tina slinked down low in her desk. Richardson was never going to let the poor girl live that one down.
Caleb leaned back and folded his arms over his chest, cocky in a way only someone who’d probably read every book ever written could be. “I see it as a parallel for Oedipus Rex.”
“Intriguing. Do continue.”
Caleb yawned before he answered. “Even though someone can see the course they’re on and know their fate, they can’t change or stop it. Prophecy is prophecy. Things happen that we can’t control. It’s when you try to prevent it that life really gets screwed up.”
“Well, Ahab is told repeatedly by a variety of people that if he doesn’t stop his obsessive quest, he’ll die. Like Starbuck says, ‘ ’Tis an ill voyage! ill begun, ill continued; let me square the yards, while we may, old man, and make a fair wind of it homewards, to go on a better voyage than this.’” Caleb looked at Nick. “Ahab doesn’t listen and dies because he’s stupid.”
Until his teacher glared at him.