Waving a hand in front of my face, I saw a trail of golden sparks. Cheerful sparks. Sparklers. I waved my hand again faster, to make the sparks fly and dance.
“Remy, cut it out. People are going to see.” My sister’s worried face appeared next to me where I lay on the ground, shivering for some reason. She grabbed my hand out of the air.
“Lucy!” I squealed and threw my arms around her, knocking her sideways. “Have I told you how much I love you? My sister. Little sister. Little, little sis.”
“Sh. Yes, I know how much you love me.”
It didn’t sound like she believed me. She had to know how I felt about her. “No, I mean, I didn’t love you at first, but that’s ’cause I didn’t know you. I swear I’ve loved you as long as I’ve known you. I would die for you! Cross my heart and . . .” I stopped, confused by the slur in my voice. “I don’t remember the rest.”
I tried to stand and tipped sideways. Glancing around, I recognized the patio at the Underground, but I couldn’t remember how we’d ended up out here. Or why Asher would block Brandon when he tried to step out of the club. They were definitely arguing. Something was wrong. “Luce, what’s the matter with me?”
“You are high, love.” An arm fell across around my shoulders, and I glanced up into both of Asher’s solemn gazes. One of him stole my breath, but two of him stole my willpower. I steadied myself with a hand at his waist. Thin cotton shifting between my skin and his. Golden skin and golden sparks.
“Uh-oh.” I giggled, popping like a cork in a loud hiccup. My head threatened to ditch my boneless neck and glide away.
Asher’s hand caught mine in a tight grasp, grounding me as Brandon slammed onto the patio without his interference.
“An ambulance is on the way. Rina, are you okay?” He knelt down, and I recognized the lead singer of his band lying on the ground. She looked as confused as I felt, her blue hair standing on end and black tears tracking down her hollow cheeks.
Brandon sounded scared, and I wanted to reassure him. But what about? Right. Blue hair. Cocaine. Shivering. I’d healed Marina, hadn’t I? “Brand, don’t worry. I made her all bet—”
The world spun like a brilliant, glittering carousel as Asher spun me toward him. My breath escaped in a loud
, and I found myself upside down, staring at a gorgeous backside. Asher had tossed me over his shoulder.
“Hey! Put me down. I lost Lucy, and I need to tell her something.” Pushing against Asher’s back, I spied my upside-down sister staring at me with horror. That seemed hysterical, and I giggled again. “There you are, Luce. Did you see me zap Rina? I totally rule. But don’t tell Brandon, okay?”
“Don’t tell me what? Is she okay?” Brandon’s deep voice sounded suspicious. I blamed Asher, though I wasn’t sure why.
Lucy choked. “Um, Asher. I think we should get home now. Remy doesn’t seem to feel well.”
“What?” I asked, outraged at her lie. “I feel great. I am the greatest Prote—”
“Time to go!”
Asher interrupted me, and I glared at his back. Lucy slapped a hand over my mouth when I opened it to argue with him. I grabbed hold of Asher’s shirt when he started to move. The world spun again, and this time it wasn’t funny. My stomach swished on spin cycle, and I closed my eyes to escape.
“Oh, just hell.”
My mouth had been invaded by fluffy bunnies. Awful, cottony bunnies with their stupid cotton tails. They’d robbed my mouth of any moisture and left a horrid taste behind. Like soured, rancid carrots. I resolved to hate bunnies.
Lucy’s voice came out of the darkness beside me. Sitting up, I could make out her pale face and the familiar shapes of my dresser and sitting chair. We were in my bedroom, and I had no memory of getting there.
Her soft whisper clanged in my head like a church bell, and I clasped my head to keep it attached to my ravaged body. “Oh, please, please don’t shout. For the love of all that’s holy, don’t shout.”
“I’ll take that to mean you’re not feeling so good.” She placed one cool hand on my forehead, and I moaned in relief. My head ached, my chest ached. Generally, everything ached.
“What the hell happened to me, Luce?”
“You don’t remember?” My sister sounded amazed. And amused. Oh, just hell.
I shook my head. “The last thing I remember is Asher picking me up after I nearly told the whole world what I could do. Is there more?”
“Well . . .”
I groaned. I could tell she was enjoying herself when she continued.
“You are a terrible drunk, Remy. Asher and I got you out of there before you could tell Brandon how much you rocked and how badass you are as a Healer. We stuffed you in my car, and then you slobbered all over Asher for a very long, very uncomfortable ride home.”
My next groan reverberated through my skull. “Did Mom and Dad see?”
“No. Lucky for you, they weren’t home yet, or you would’ve been grounded for the rest of your life. Asher had to carry you in.”
How stupid could I be? Take away my inhibitions, and I turned into a slobbering freak. Horrified, I closed my eyes. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to look Asher in the face in the morning. As gone as I’d been, there was no way I’d been controlling my thoughts around him. What had he heard? And why would anyone seek this out for fun? My stomach scooted a little further up my throat, intent on escape.
“What else?” I asked.
“That’s about it. Except for the singing.”
She took no pity on me and laughed when I smothered my face with a pillow. Tugging the pillow away, she lounged next to me and grinned. “I didn’t know Asher could blush until you started singing this really awful song you said you’d heard Dean sing when he was drunk. It was about a man from Nantucket and . . .” She hummed a few bars.
“You can stop. I know exactly which song you’re talking about.”
I hadn’t realized I’d memorized the words to that particular ditty. Dirtier than any song I’d ever heard, it did not bear repeating, especially from my sister’s mouth. I winced, imagining Asher’s face as he heard me belting it at the top of my lungs. Lucy snickered, obviously picturing the same thing, and I couldn’t help smiling. The humiliation was worth it a hundred times over to hear her laugh like that again. Since Dean had hurt her, she hadn’t smiled often and I’d hated him for stealing that from her.
“How did you persuade Asher to leave?” He would have wanted to care for me himself.
“It wasn’t easy. He was pretty upset. I don’t think he was too happy about you helping Marina.”
I sighed. “I know. He tried to stop me.”
Lucy sat up, leaning over me, and I could feel her stare in the dark. “He’s right, stupid. You have to be more careful. You can’t heal anyone, anywhere.”
The accusation set my teeth on edge, coming on top of Asher’s interference at the club. “I couldn’t sit there and do nothing. Should I have let her die?”
My sister tensed beside me. “She was dying?” she asked in a small voice.
I could have hit myself. Lucy didn’t know about the drugs. She hadn’t seen Asher giving me CPR. And he must have, given how sore my chest felt. If she’d seen him, she would have known how close things had been. She’d only been thinking of the questions my “drunken” actions might have caused.
“Are you kidding me?” she said. “After everything our family has been through, you were going to throw it all away for some girl who doesn’t care if she lives or dies?”
Lucy shook with anger. I put out a hand to touch her arm, but she shoved me away. Rising to her feet, she padded to the door to the bathroom that connected our rooms.
“You know, you can be really selfish sometimes. Don’t you ever think about what it will do to us if you can’t heal yourself one of these days?”
“Lucy, you don’t understand—”
“Understand what? That you choose strangers over the people who love you? I have no problem grasping the obvious. You really don’t get it.”
She closed the bathroom door with a
. I wanted to scream that she wasn’t being fair. My powers didn’t work like that. I didn’t shout, though, because I couldn’t erase the memory of the hurt I’d seen on her face before the door closed.
And I couldn’t deny that I’d put it there.
earing the darkest sunglasses I owned and a grimace, I hit Clover Café as soon as it opened. A ceiling fan swirled with lazy abandon, but the room stewed in a rare early summer heat. An iced café mocha with a double shot of espresso went a long way toward soothing my raw nerves, and I sucked on the straw with more desperation than relief. The view of the bay offered comfort.
When Ben had moved me here, I’d only thought of escaping. Somehow, though, the town had crept inside me. Bordered by forests, Blackwell Falls hugged the Atlantic Ocean. Out in the harbor, sailboats and working fishing boats dotted the waters. Above the town, houses dotted the cliffs with the Blackwell mansion being the most prominent.
Once upon a time, I’d thought Asher’s home with its rose gardens and fancy turrets a hotel. He’d laughed when I told him so. The house had been owned by him, his brother, and Lottie since they founded the town in the late 1800s and opened the paper mill that still puffed smoke in the distance. Everyone thought the town hall painting of Mayor Gabriel Blackwell was a long-dead Blackwell ancestor, which amused Asher’s family.
The Blackwells only stuck around in town for a decade or so at a time. When it would become obvious that they never aged, they moved on and willed their property to their distant “cousins.” Those “cousins” eventually returned with twenty-year-old Gabe acting as guardian to his younger siblings. The ploy worked, because who in their right mind would believe the family were immortals?
I sighed. Today, the view failed to soothe me.
Lucy hadn’t said two words to me this morning. She’d never given me the cold shoulder before, even when she’d disapproved of me dating Asher with his playboy reputation or when she’d discovered the secrets I’d been keeping from her. It killed me to hurt her.
And yet . . . The way everyone kept telling me when and where I could use my powers grated on my nerves. I hadn’t chosen to be a Healer, nor could I change my blood. Not to please any of them. Not to save myself. When my powers developed, I’d been terrified and so alone. My only solace had been the good I might be able to do with them. A legacy from my grandmother, though I hadn’t known that until recently.
If someone hurt, I healed them. It was the one solid thing I knew about myself. Help where I could. Heal who I could. No questions, no judgments. I didn’t understand why that concept was so hard to grasp. Lucy and Asher acted like I deliberately chose to hurt them when I used my powers.
Brandon stood beside my table, his brown spikes more mussed than usual and flattened on one side of his head as if he’d slept on them. Somehow he always reminded me of growing up in Brooklyn. His edgy appearance had linked me to him from the get-go, as if he were a string connecting me to the few good things I remembered about my old home. That didn’t mean I could share my secrets with him. For his sake or mine.
Shoving my oversized purse off the spare chair at my table, I made room for him to join me and resumed fanning myself with a plastic menu when he sat across from me. I tried to remember what I’d said and done in front of him. I had a hazy memory of Asher blocking him from me after I’d come to, so it was a safe bet that he didn’t know anything. “I’m fine now. I’m not sure what happened last night.”
Instead of coffee, he sipped on his usual herbal green tea and studied me with calm eyes. It amused me that he looked like a rebel and acted like a do-gooder.
“Really. I have a guess.”
My internal sirens blared. Brandon enjoyed teasing me. About my husky voice, my bad eating habits, and my music tastes. He’d made an art form of doing whatever it took to get a laugh out of me. Most of the time by hitting on me in some outrageous manner, despite my boyfriend sitting two feet away. This Brandon was different. This was Serious Brandon.
“What’s to guess? I had a bug. It passed.” I waved a hand in casual dismissal, but his direct gaze never left my face.
“You didn’t have a bug. I know the signs of someone who’s high. I’m not stupid, Remy.”
Did he know what I could do? Months ago, I’d healed Brandon when he’d nearly drowned at the community pool while giving me swimming lessons. He’d hit his head on the siding, knocking himself unconscious, and I’d healed his head injury with him none the wiser. It had been my fault he’d fallen in the pool in the first place. An accident, yes, but proof that everyone in my life lived in constant danger. Asher, Lucy, Asher’s family. They had all been harmed in some way by my secrets. I couldn’t do that to Brandon again.
“You know my history. You know I wouldn’t touch anything.” Dean’s drunken binges and cruel fists had seen to that.
His quiet tone scared me, and I wiped my sweaty hand on my skirt under the table. “What are you saying, Brand?”
He took another sip of his tea, his brown eyes solemn. “I’m saying, I know what I saw.”
“And what did you see?”
“Marina. Dying of a drug overdose. And then not. You—sober. And then not.”
“So, I got buzzed by osmosis? That’s insane.” I laughed, but it sounded forced even to my ears.
He sat forward in a rush, touching my arm with gentle fingers. My energy
and I scanned him out of habit. Healthy. “Remy, tell me what’s going on. Trust me.”
Asher had said the same thing once. I’d given in to the impulse, and he’d nearly died trying to protect me, despite being a Protector. Powerless, Brandon wouldn’t stand a chance.
Surging to my feet, I shoved his hand away and snapped, “Geez, Brand. I felt sick. I left. The end.” Avoiding his eyes, I reached for my bag.
“You know I care about you, right?”
His worried tone made me look up, and I softened my words.
“Of course, I know. But there’s nothing to tell. I swear.”
The lie came off my tongue easier than I cared to admit. One day I wouldn’t be able to keep the gnarled words from strangling me. With a smile meant to reassure, I dropped a light kiss on Brandon’s cheek and walked out of the café.
I didn’t want to go home.
Parked outside our house, I studied the white New England–style cottage. Hot sunlight set the bits of sea glass hanging in the windows aglow. My stepmother, Laura, loved to collect the glass when she walked on the beach that curved below at the edge of the marina. I loved our house. I loved the woods that cradled it, and the sea grass that bowed to the salty air when it blew through the sand. No concrete in sight, but this place felt more real to me than the city I’d grown up in.
Ben and Laura would be in the living room watching TV, or Laura would be in the back garden while Ben caught up on work he’d brought home from his shipbuilding office. If I walked in the house, they would drop whatever they were doing to hug me and ask me about my day. I soaked up their attention, my craving for it unending after so many years of starvation. Today, though, they would wonder why Lucy was mad at me, and I didn’t want to lie.
Clambering out of my red Mustang, I paced myself until I reached the entrance to Townsend Park’s labyrinth at the edge of our backyard. Standing still, I listened for a sign that the park sat empty of bird-watchers and kids who liked to play in its maze. I heard nothing but the tittering of birds and leaves bristling in the wind.
Excited now, I shook my hair out and dropped all pretense of human speed. I couldn’t stop the laugh that escaped when my feet raced over the uneven path, my body bending around curves a moment before I slammed into this tree or tripped over that fallen log. The lingering headache disappeared. Too soon, I stood in the circular clearing at the center of the labyrinth, my hair swirling at my waist as my body came to a sudden rest.
“It’s exhilarating, isn’t it?”
Asher sat on one of the stone benches, the sun splashing over his skin. He had a way of guessing my next move and had obviously been waiting for me. His ability to peek into my mind didn’t hurt. He smiled, and an answering smile curved my mouth.
“I never get tired of it,” I admitted. “The speed. It’s freeing somehow.”
Striding toward him, I planted myself on his lap, and his arms surrounded me.
“How are you feeling?”
“Better now that the bells have stopped ringing in my skull. My powers have been slow to kick in this morning.”
I traced the white scar slashing through one of his eyebrows to the top of his cheekbone in a light touch, and he turned his face into my palm. More rugged than his brother, the sharp angles and square, shadowed jaw were pure Asher.
“Mad at me?”
He grimaced. “Usually you think of how handsome Gabe is when you’re mad at me.”
I wrapped one hand behind his neck, letting his heat sink into me. His internal body temperature ran hotter than any human’s, as if it burned through energy faster to keep his heart beating at its abnormal pace. “That’s because he’s the one image sure to get you out of my head when I need a little privacy. If you’d been paying attention, though, you would have noticed that my thoughts today were not on Gabe at all.”
His voice sounded hoarse when I began trailing nibbles along his jaw. “Hmm . . .” I said between kisses. “Listen closely.”
I pulled away a few inches so I could meet his dark green gaze. We stared at each other, and I let my thoughts spin free and land on Asher. The way his skin felt against mine. The way his muscles shifted under the hand I rested at his back. How the whiskers on his chin rasped against my fingertips.
“We’re not on a crowded dance floor.”
I love you.
I expected him to pick up where we’d left off last night. A kiss that would take my breath away. He surprised me by dropping his head to the curve of my neck, his breath tickling my neck as he inhaled.
“Lemons,” he growled.
I pushed him away so I could see his face. The smug satisfaction in his grin told me what he hadn’t.
“You smell me?” I asked.
At his nod, I shrieked and threw my arms around his neck. He let himself tumble back into the grass, cushioning my landing with his body. His laugh rumbled under my ear, and I rested my chin on his chest to see how his face lit up. His ability to
my touch had never gone away, even when I’d made him an immortal again. His sense of smell and taste, though, had disappeared. We’d both wondered if they would ever return. Now, it seemed time and proximity to me had begun to work their magic for a second time.
Which meant he could become mortal once more.
I didn’t realize I frowned until Asher reached out to smooth the wrinkles on my forehead.
“Don’t worry about me. I’m okay.”
“For how long, though?” I asked.
An image of Asher dying from a bullet wound filled my mind. He’d been more mortal than Protector when Dean had shot him. An injury that should have had no lingering impact had nearly killed him.
He tugged on the end of my hair to get my attention. “We knew this might happen again if we stayed together. We made a choice.”
I sighed. “I know. I just can’t stand the idea that you might be hurt. Or worse.”
“Then you know how I feel watching you heal injuries that could kill you.”
A fight tangled in his words. The peaceful moment disappeared, and I shoved away from him to sit up, propping myself on one arm.
“Not you, too,” I said, irritated. “I’ve already had it out with Lucy and Brandon.”
He tensed, and a fire snapped in his eyes. “Brandon?”
“He doesn’t know anything for sure,” I rushed to reassure him. “But he saw and heard enough to be suspicious. We’ll have to be careful for a while.”
Asher swore in French before switching back to English. “Damn it, Remy! This is exactly what I was afraid of. It only takes one person knowing for the whole thing to come down on our heads.”
“Are you pissed because I healed Marina or because Brandon saw something?”
“Both,” Asher snapped.
He sounded so petulant, I couldn’t help it: I laughed. My reaction was all wrong, and I knew it. I understood his anger. My actions had put us in danger. There was nothing funny about any part of this situation. And yet . . . He glared at me, and any effort I’d made to sober up dissolved in flames. Between giggles, I said, “I’m sorry. Oh, Asher, I’m sorry.”
He watched me with a bemused expression. “I knew you would snap one day, but I thought it would take longer.”
“Hey, watch it! That’s just mean.”
Asher reached over and pulled on my supporting arm until I fell against him again. “Me? You’re the one with the whacked sense of humor. What is so funny?”
“Nothing, I guess. That’s the problem, isn’t it?” Actions and reactions. Consequences. “We’re always waiting for hell to come raining down on our heads.”
“If the other Protectors find out about you, hell will seem like a pleasant vacation.”
Torture and death awaited the Healer captured by Protectors. They would do anything to feel human again, and I could be their rechargeable battery. And if they found out about my unique ability to heal their immortality, death wouldn’t come fast enough. Most Protectors didn’t want to be mortal again.
Asher’s heart beat steady and fast under my palm. “You can’t ask me not to use my powers. It’s who I am.”
“Remy, look at me.” He shook me slightly until I looked up. “I don’t want to change you. I love you. But I want a lifetime with you. I’m asking you to be more careful. Think before you react. Please, promise me.”
I nodded. He shook me again, and I laughed. “Okay, okay. I promise. I’ll be more careful.”
We lay together again, his deep breaths lifting me, and I exhaled with him, pressing him into the ground. I wished we could stay like that forever with the sun warming my skin from above, and his fingers trailing liquid heat in lazy circles down my spine.