he next morning I dressed and went downstairs for breakfast like I had in the first days of my visit. My grandfather looked surprised and acted like I was a deer that could spook at any moment. He cautiously set a mug of coffee in front of me on the table, and I blew on the steaming liquid gratefully.
I waited for him to be seated before I announced, “My friend is coming for a visit today.” Franc’s eyebrows drew together in quick fury. “Calm down. I didn’t tell him where you or any of the Healers live. He already had plans to be in the area, and I mentioned I might be around.”
Franc pounded a fist on the table. “What the hell were you thinking inviting someone here?”
With outward calm, I took a gulp of my coffee that burned my throat on the way down. “I’m thinking that I want to see a familiar face and that I need a friend. After everything I’ve been through, I need someone who knows me.”
“How well could this boy know you if you’ve hidden who you are from him?” He started as a thought occurred to him. “You didn’t tell him you’re a Healer?”
I scowled. “Of course not.”
His brother did.
Franc settled down a bit, his expression evening out. “Good. I’m afraid I can’t allow this, Remy. I’m sorry, but you’ll have to tell this boy you won’t meet him.”
He rose and took his mug to the sink as if the subject were closed.
“I said I didn’t tell him I was a Healer. I didn’t say he didn’t know I was a Healer.” My grandfather spun around, and I shrugged. “I healed him once when we were in junior high. He kept my secret.”
“You’re just now telling me this?” Franc said slowly.
“When I got here, I didn’t know you or how far you would go to keep your secrets. My mother feared you enough to run away and never look back. So why would I immediately trust you with everything about me?”
The accusation hit its target the way Gabe had told me it would when he gave me the ammunition. My grandfather flinched, and his eyelids shuttered. I felt a twinge of shame, but I kept going. “I’m meeting Gabe at the BART station in an hour. I’ll see you later.”
“I forbid it, Remy.”
“Fine. I’ll pack my bags and clear out.”
I turned to go.
“You’re not going anywhere.”
I’d been bluffing about leaving, but the quiet rage in my grandfather’s voice raised the hair on the back of neck. My stepfather had used that tone, usually right before he hit my mother or me.
I shoved all hints of fear deep down into a corner of me, the way I had with Dean, before I faced Franc. “I understood that I was a guest here. Are you telling me that I’m now a prisoner?”
He’d made a mistake. His eyes had rounded with the realization that he’d crossed a line with me.
“Of course not,” he blustered. “You’re my granddaughter. I would never treat you like a prisoner.” He sighed. “Forgive me. You are impulsive in a way that reminds me of your mother. To be honest, it scares the shit out of me.”
Hearing my white-haired hulk of a grandfather curse shocked a smile out of me. “I’m sorry I sprang this on you. But Franc, please understand that I’ve lost my home and more these weeks. I haven’t asked for much, but I need this. One visit with Gabe. I’ll meet him away from here if that’s what worries you. And if I think I’ve been followed, I’ll stay away. Please know I would never do anything to put you or the others in danger.”
He considered me for a long time. Finally, he said, “I’ve got a better idea. Why don’t you invite him to come here? I’d like to meet the boy who kept your secret.”
He’d predicted my grandfather would suggest that very thing. He was going to gloat when I called him, and I would have to suck it up. I hated arrogant men.
Franc immediately loved Gabe Reynolds.
He’d shown up at Franc’s with a new last name and wearing a Yankees baseball cap and a backpack. All traces of his British accent had disappeared, and he spoke like a New Yorker through and through. He looked younger and more carefree than I’d ever seen him, joking around with Franc about who was a better team, the Yankees or the Giants. I knew it was an act put on for my grandfather, and still I had to make myself stop staring in confusion at this charming version of Asher’s brother.
My grandfather had decided to barbecue on the grill out back. I laid out plates and utensils on the patio table, while Gabe kicked back in a lawn chair, stretching his legs out and resting his joined hands on his belly. When Franc asked me to grab the potato salad and sodas out of the fridge, Gabe volunteered to help. He even threw a companionable arm around my shoulders, which I shrugged off as soon as we entered the kitchen.
“Seriously?” I asked him. “You’re capable of turning on that charming act and you choose to be an arrogant ass?”
He grabbed a lemon out of the bowl on the counter and tossed it from hand to hand. “Why else do you think the Sororitoys want me?”
I frowned. “I can’t imagine. I figured they were shallow and after your body.”
“You noticed my body?”
Gabe flexed the muscles of one arm as I passed, and I shoved him.
“Hey!” he protested. “Does Asher know you’re checking me out?”
The air hissed out of the room, and we both froze. Gabe looked stricken.
“God, Remy. I’m so sorry. I forgot for a second. I can’t believe I did that.”
The funny thing was, I understood. Asher’s name was never very far from my lips, either. “Don’t worry about it. I forget all the time.”
Gabe’s expression didn’t change, so I pushed him again as I headed outside. “Quit with the drama queen thing already, and grab those napkins, Gabriella.”
The insult snapped him out of it. Just before the kitchen door closed behind me, he taunted, “I’m not the drama queen. That would be you, Remington.”
A laugh bubbled out me, surprising my grandfather almost as much as it surprised me.
Over dinner, my grandfather’s gaze bounced between Gabe and me frequently. I’d trained with Asher’s brother for months, but I’d never seen this playful side of him. He teased me, obviously trying to make me smile. To my consternation, it worked. Somehow, it felt wrong to be laughing when Asher was dead. I felt like I’d betrayed him, sharing a joke with his brother.
When Franc turned the conversation to my abilities, Gabe nonchalantly steered the conversation back to more casual topics. By not admitting he knew what I could do, even to my family, Gabe earned a grudging respect from my grandfather. It was scary how well Gabe could read people.
After he left to go wherever he went when he wasn’t with me, I headed to my room. Franc rapped on my open door to get my attention as I readied for bed.
“I like your friend, Remy. I can see why you trust him. He mentioned he might be sticking around for a while?”
I nodded. “He’s thinking about applying to colleges around here.”
Liar, liar, pants on fire.
Franc lingered in the doorway and then suggested, “Why don’t you invite him to go to Pacifica with us tomorrow? He might like meeting your other friends, and I know Erin would like to see you.”
My mouth had dropped open, and I quickly snapped it shut. I hadn’t expected a gesture this big. I hesitated. “Aren’t you worried he’ll tell people about you?”
Franc shook his head slowly. “He’s kept your secret this long. If you trust him, that’s good enough for me.”
His gesture of faith touched me, and my lip trembled. “Thanks, Franc.”
He pushed off of the door frame. “I wouldn’t have raised such a fuss if I knew how you felt about him. And I can see he cares about you. You should have told me he was your boyfriend, Remy. ’Night, then.”
He disappeared down the hall and into his bedroom. I stumbled backward and collapsed on the bed.
Boyfriend? He thought Gabe was my boyfriend?
What a joke. Why, then, did it feel like I’d betrayed Asher in some way?
The longer I lay there, the more unbearable my thoughts became. I needed to move, to run, to exhaust myself until I couldn’t think anymore. Gabe had slipped me a new mobile phone that day and said I should text him when I wanted to get out. He’d promised to distract my guards. As much as it killed me to do it, I texted him and waited for his return text some twenty minutes later that signaled I could make a break for the trees.
He waited for me fifty feet into the forest. Leaning against a lumbering pine with his hands in the pockets of his jacket, Gabe appeared relaxed. He’d ditched the baseball cap at some point, but he looked like Asher. Most of the time I could handle that, but at that moment, I felt too raw. Was it too much to have an hour to myself without a constant reminder of what I’d lost?
“I’ve been thinking,” Gabe said. “We should start training again.”
No greeting. Just more orders. I’d become a puppet with my grandfather and Gabe taking turns pulling the strings.
“Not tonight,” I answered.
“What’s wrong?” he demanded, coming to attention.
“Nothing. I need some space. Can you do that?”
His eyes flashed when I walked past him without a word. He caught up with me easily and grabbed my arm to stop me.
Why won’t you go away, Gabe? I don’t want you here!
“Space? The walls are closing in around us and you want space?”
He sounded pissed off, but I’d been stewing for hours. I yanked my arm from his hold and lifted my chin.
“What walls are you talking about?” I turned a circle and gestured toward him. “From where I stand, you look free to go at any time. I’m the one locked away here. You want to go? Do it! I never asked you to come here.”
I stomped away, shoving a branch out of the way.
“You’re a spoiled child,” he said to my back.
I froze. “What did you say?”
“You heard me. The one thing you got right is that you didn’t ask me to come here. No, you asked
to come here. And you know what? The longer I’m around you, the more confused I am about what he ever saw in you.”
I didn’t think. I struck out, wanting to hurt Gabe as badly as I ached. I threw myself at him and landed a solid blow to his jaw before he managed to get both of his arms around my ribs. He lifted me off my feet, pinning my arms to my sides. I kicked out, and Gabe grunted when my boot connected with his shin.
“Stop fighting me! I don’t want to hurt you!”
I stilled, and Gabe’s breathing sounded loud in the air. He set me on my feet and let me go cautiously. Even as he began to back away, I pulled my arm back and slugged him in the stomach as hard as I could. I doubted I caused him any pain with his stupid Protector inability to feel anything.
“Damn it, Remy! That hurt!” Gabe doubled over, bracing his hands on his thighs.
Oops. Somebody is becoming mortal around me. Too bad!
He glared at me, and I reversed in the opposite direction at the anger darkening his expression. “You want to fight? Fine. Let’s get this over with,” he said.
Common sense suddenly returned when Gabe’s hands closed into fists and he rose to his full height. He looked dangerous.
“Gabe . . .” I said in a halting voice.
I stopped because I refused to beg him for anything. That left one option. I tucked tail and ran. I’d gone three feet before Gabe tackled my back and I sprawled on the ground. He rolled to his feet and dropped into a crouching position. I spit out the dirt I’d inhaled and rolled in the opposite direction. My hands came up in defense when I jumped to my feet and faced him.
“Leave me alone, Gabe.”
“Or what? How will you stop me?”
He launched forward in a shadowy blur. When he appeared at my side, he wrapped a hand around my wrist, and his energy struck me with a force that sent me to my knees.
My mental walls,
I realized. I hadn’t bothered with them around him lately, and I regretted it. The onslaught of his power didn’t feel like the times he or Asher had helped me heal myself. Fear sent a drop of sweat trickling down my back, and my galloping heart slowed to a dull, quiet thud as an icy wind blew through me. Frozen shards stabbed me from the inside out, and I gasped and he pulled me closer.
Gabe was stealing my energy. I could feel his power growing by the second.
His voice rumbled low in my ear. “This is what they’ll do to you. They’ll take everything. The pain will be so great, you’ll be begging them to kill you. This isn’t a game. You’re not like other Healers that they’ll toss away. You can cure them, and that makes you very valuable.”
Abruptly, his hold on me disappeared and Gabe’s energy receded as he fixed his walls into place again. The beat of my heart thundered loud in my ears once more, and the pain faded. I sucked in a breath and raised my mental walls, too.
Asher had used this tactic on me once. I hadn’t understood how dangerous he could be. I’d been too trusting and he’d done exactly this to warn me off. It had worked for a time, but I’d loved Asher too much to stay away. We’d fought to find a way around our abilities so we could be together.