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The doorbell rings, crashing me back to the present. Dad’s garage-door opener has been on the fritz. It has to be him.
I stand. Stuffing covers the floor. Cottony fluff oozes out from the holes in the chair’s upholstery. It looks like one of those toys that squeezes Play-Doh through strategically placed orifices.
The doorbell rings again.
I drag stuffing out of my hair. How will I ever explain what I’ve done to the recliner?
Mind racing, I hide my findings inside my backpack, making a spontaneous decision to take it all to London. Then, considering the violent nether-realm creatures I saw online and the black-eyed, winged boy who is somehow a part of my past, I drop Dad’s army knife in, too.
After setting the bag aside, I stumble to the door and unlatch the lock, glancing over my shoulder at the mess.
As I open the door, Jeb steps up onto the porch, shoving his phone into his tux’s jacket pocket. I struggle to maintain a calm appearance. “Hey.”
“Hey,” he says back. Lightning slashes the clouds behind him. The flash casts shadows of his long lashes across his cheeks. A gust of wind carries his cologne to me.
Maybe he’s here to apologize. I hope so, because I could use his help right now.
“We need to talk,” he says. The sharpness in his voice pulls my defenses up instantly. He towers over me at the threshold. Despite the tuxedo, he’s still grunge, all the way from his unshaved chin to the bandana cinched around his left biceps. His ribbed white tank and weathered black combat boots in lieu of a dress shirt and shoes help complete the look. Paris Hilton of Pleasance High is going to have a hissy when she sees his wardrobe enhancements.
“Shouldn’t you be on your way to the powder-puff ball?” I ask, cautious, trying to feel him out.
“I’m not driving.”
Translation: Taelor’s picking him up in the family limo and is running fashionably late.
He grinds a knuckle into the door’s scrollwork, his jaw working back and forth. He’s ticked about something, all right. What could it be? I’m the one who deserves an apology. A groveling, in fact.
“Can I come in?” Red sparkles under his lip where a brand-new garnet labret catches the light. The mystery of the bag from the jewelry store is officially solved.
“How adorable,” I mock. “Taelor gave you lip jewelry . . . and it’s sparkly.”
He nudges the piercing with his tongue. “She’s trying to be diplomatic.”
Anger rises in a white-hot surge as I remember London and all the things Taelor said to me. “Of course she is. Because she’s eight kinds of wonderful, and that’s just her legs.”
Jeb furrows his brow. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Taelor has all the diplomacy of a black widow spider. Garnet’s her birthstone. You’re wearing her birthday on your lip. Talk about spinning you up in her web.”
He looks down at me, frowning. “Cut her a break. She’s had a bad enough day. She lost her purse with some money in it.” Pausing, he traces a finger along the door’s frame. “The last place she remembered having it was at your store. But she figured you would’ve contacted her if you’d found it. You didn’t see it, right?”
I push down the guilt nudging me. “No. And I’m not her royal majesty’s purse keeper, FYI.”
“Seriously, Al. A little compassion, okay? Didn’t you hurt her enough already?”
“I hurt her?”
“Rubbing it in her face that her dad doesn’t care like yours does. You don’t understand what it’s like. Your dad. You’re so lucky to have that. Neither of us ever did. You know she’s sensitive about it. That was cold.”
Speaking of cold, my blood turns to ice. I’m dying to tell him what she said to prod me into being so vicious, but I shouldn’t have to. There was a time when he trusted me enough to take my side over anyone’s without question. Now he’s always trying to make Taelor and me play nice. But I’m not the one with the problem . . . other than being a liar and a theif.
Everything presses down on me: the weird discoveries, my busted-up friendship with Jeb, and my damaged family. I feel like I’m smothering. I try to slam the door. Jeb’s foot intercepts it. I jerk clear as the hinges swing open.
His palm rests on the knob so I can’t try to shut him out again. Rain droplets glisten along his sleek hair, which no doubt took gallons of glaze and hours to perfect. It’s the one part of his appearance Taelor will actually approve of. As for me, I favor the messy look— hair out of sorts, body slicked in sweat with motor oil or watercolors splashed across his olive skin. That’s the Jeb I grew up with. The one I could count on. The one I’ve lost.
I harden my glare and my heart. “If that’s why you came by, to bite my head off about hurting your perfect girlfriend, consider it done.”
“Oh, no. I’m not even warmed up. Jen texted me. She heard from Hitch. I guess he’s not as bad a guy as we thought, because he was wondering what kind of trouble you’d gotten yourself into. Why you need a fake passport tonight.”
My throat shrinks. I want to slip beneath the cracks in the linoleum. “I can’t do this now,” I mutter.
“When else would be a good time? Maybe you can text me when you’re on the plane.”
I turn around, but he follows me into the entryway. Rounding on him before he can cross into the living room, I fold my arms over my bustier, trying to subdue the urge to punch him. “You can’t come in without an invitation.”
He leans a shoulder against Alison’s framed photo of a wheat field at harvest. “That so?” His boot heel nudges the door behind him, shutting out the storm and the scent of rain. “Last I checked, I wasn’t a vampire,” he says, his voice low.
My fists clench tighter, and I step backward onto the line of carpet that borders the edge of the living room. “You sure have a lot in common with one.”
“Because I suck?”
“More proof. You just read my mind.” I ease one hand up to grip the key hidden beneath my T-shirt.