By the time we reached them, the mother had pulled the boy from the water. He wasn’t breathing.
I almost touched his hand, but something stopped me. Just a pause while I considered what would happen if I revealed how different my abilities were, and these people saw me “drowning.” The moment passed when I saw the boy’s face. He was four or five, and his lips had turned blue. The mother had started CPR, but she was doing it all wrong. If she kept at it, she would break his ribs. I started forward again, but Delia beat me to them, kneeling at the boy’s side with her hand hovering over him.
She shared a quick glance with Alcais and Erin, and those two moved in unison. Alcais told the crying mother that Delia had trained as a lifeguard and knew CPR. He and Erin somehow managed to wrench the woman away from her son and placed themselves as a shield between prying eyes and Delia.
She placed both hands on the boy’s chest and closed her eyes. As if she really was attempting to do CPR, she pressed into his chest, but I could see it was all for show. The ruse would work for those approaching in the distance, but from where I stood, I saw how light her touch was.
I’d never seen another Healer in action. I guess I had imagined it as something remarkable, but in reality not much happened. No
buzzed through the air like when I healed someone. Nothing that I could sense, anyway.
Not more than ten seconds had passed, though, and I saw why Alcais and Erin had bothered to remove the mother. Hot pink sparks lit where Delia’s hands rested on the boy’s chest. A moment later, he gasped and began choking and spitting out the gallon of water he’d inhaled while in the ocean.
Delia had healed him, but she didn’t show any signs of having absorbed his injuries. Jealousy nipped at me. What would it be like to heal someone and not have to take on whatever had injured them or made them sick? These people didn’t know how lucky they were.
Alcais and Erin parted to let the mother at her son when Delia rose to her feet. The crying woman rolled him to his side as he coughed. Erin’s eyes widened when I glanced her way, and she gestured for us to go.
I noticed Alcais and Delia had already taken off, retreating back to the sidewalk above the beach.
“Shouldn’t we stay?” I asked Erin in confusion when we followed them. “Won’t it look suspicious that Delia saved that boy’s life and then disappeared?”
“It will look more suspicious when they find out that Delia was never a lifeguard,” Erin muttered.
I blinked. “Oh.”
Nobody paid any mind to us as we left. A few onlookers had already made their way over to the mother and her child in our wake. By the time it occurred to any of them to ask who had saved the boy, we would have disappeared from the beach.
As we walked back to Erin’s house, raw emotion played across the faces of the others. Delia gripped Alcais’s hand, and he clasped hers tightly in return. Erin’s mouth had turned down in a grimace. Fear, I realized. They were terrified they’d be discovered. These Healers weren’t so different from me, after all. They might band together, but they still hid their abilities from the world.
What would the world be like if we could openly use our powers? If every injury or illness wouldn’t debilitate these Healers like it could for me, we could help so many. Save so many.
But it would never happen. Someone would always try to control us.
“You okay?” Erin asked. And she touched my arm.
A surge of hunger swept through me, and a dark, starving thing inside me yearned to tear at her as if she were the last bit of food on earth. Erin’s lips moved, but I couldn’t hear her words. I locked on the energy flowing under her skin where her fingers rested on my forearm, and a rushing sound drowned out all noise. My
I guessed. It had grown in intensity, and I swayed as the electricity vibrated inside me. Electricity that craved Erin’s energy. I wanted to take it. I could take it, and I doubted she’d be able to stop me.
Mine, mine, mine
whispered through me. Erin turned to speak to someone in the distance. That dark thing unwound inside me and began to reach for her.
She dropped her hand, and I staggered. I had to lock my knees to stay standing. The electricity buzzing inside me didn’t disappear with her touch. The hair on my arms stood straight up. Caught between pushing and pulling energy, I felt like a live wire that could not be grounded. Sweat popped up over my forehead.
“Remy?” I turned at the sound of my name. Erin had walked ahead to join Alcais and Delia. Her brow wrinkled in concern. I must have looked awful because she asked, “You okay?”
“Yes,” I said, but it came out shaky. In a more steady voice, I said, “I’m fine. Be there in a minute, okay?”
She paused a moment, and then walked away, shrugging when Delia asked her something. They disappeared down the driveway. Alone, I bent forward, bracing my palms on my thighs. I inhaled deep, calming breaths. To my ears, I sounded like a woman in labor.
Two questions formed as I stood there, trying not to freak out. What the hell had just happened to me? And how could I stop it from ever happening again?
Because some instinct told me that I could have killed Erin if she’d touched me any longer.
y grandfather and I had said very little on the way back to the city.
I’d returned to the house in time to hear Delia and the others explaining what had happened on the beach. My grandfather had watched me the whole while, and I guessed maybe he wanted to see what my reaction had been to seeing another Healer in action. I’d kept my thoughts to myself while Delia’s mother berated her for healing the boy in the open.
If I hadn’t been so traumatized by what had happened with Erin, I would have smiled at hearing another—even the scowling Delia—get the same lecture I’d heard time and again from Asher and Lucy. Apparently, these Healers had some of the same struggles I did. As it was, I’d kept my mouth shut and hoped no one noticed how freaked out I must have looked.
Back at my grandfather’s house, he stopped me on the staircase when I would have headed straight to my room. I worried he might have guessed what had happened with Erin. Maybe she’d picked up on something and told him. What if—
“What Delia did . . . you know she took a great risk, right?” he asked.
I rolled my shoulders, forcing myself to relax. This was about the boy. Perhaps Erin or one of the others had mentioned that I’d been reaching for him. I’d been raised away from this community, away from their rules and guidelines. I could expose them if I wasn’t careful. Delia had taken a risk, and suddenly, I was grateful that she’d beat me to it. In a way, she had saved me from discovery.
I nodded at my grandfather.
He patted my hand where it rested on the banister. “We have to be careful, Remy. It’s not just one life at risk when a Healer uses her powers. Every life in our community is at stake.”
After saying good night, he left me on the stairs. Guilt pinched me like a pair of too tight shoes because I had every intention of sneaking out to meet my Protector boyfriend that night.
Sinking down on the bed, I scraped my hair away from my face. Then, I picked up my mobile phone.
Gabe answered on the third ring with an irritated, “What?”
I smiled despite myself. I could always count on Asher’s brother to be a jerk. “I’m sorry. Did I interrupt you with one of your Sororitoys?”
That was the name my friends and I had given the string of college girls he dated. Gabe had broken a lot of hearts in Blackwell Falls, and elsewhere in the world, considering how long he’d been alive.
“What do you want, Healer?” he asked, a scowl in his voice.
I hesitated. “Never mind,” I said. “I shouldn’t have called.” Why had I called Gabe? Maybe I should have waited and talked to Asher first. Except . . . sometimes Asher didn’t tell me everything. Gabe didn’t have Asher’s instinct to protect me; he had no problem telling me the ugly truth.
I started to hang up anyway, but Gabe’s voice stopped me. “Remy, what do you need?”
He used my name so rarely that I spoke without thinking. “Something happened today, Gabe. I’m seriously freaking out.”
“You don’t freak out,” he said. “It’s one of the few things I like about you.”
I opened my mouth to answer and then snapped it closed again. A compliment from Gabe?
“Spit it out.”
I almost made a snide comment, but I bit it back. Too much was at stake to let Gabe get to me. “A Healer touched me today, and I had this uncontrollable urge to attack her.”
That shut him up.
“You’re freaking out, aren’t you?” I asked.
He snorted, and I launched into a description of what had happened.
“Have you heard of anything like this before?” I asked, desperate for some kind of answer.
His sigh sounded loud. “You’re not going to like it. Have you talked to Asher about this?”
“Let him explain it to you then. And tell my brother to stay safe.”
“Damn it, Gabe. Please . . .”
Too late. The bastard had hung up on me.
Later, long after my grandfather had gone to his room, I put on a coat and tied my hair back into a ponytail. Then, I tiptoed down the stairs and out the back door. I’d texted Asher to meet me in the forest at the edge of the yard. I strolled toward the forest like I was taking a walk in case anyone watched the house.
As soon as I entered the tree line, an arm snagged my waist. I didn’t have to have Asher’s heightened senses, but I would know his touch blindfolded. His hands slid up my back to my shoulder blades, and he exerted enough pressure to tip me off balance and into him. I didn’t mind. For the first time since I’d gotten off the plane yesterday, I felt safe.
“I missed you,” he said.
Even that whisper sounded loud in the silence. I pulled away and held a finger to my lips. I gestured for us to go deeper into the forest. He kept up with me when I began to run at a breakneck pace. I stopped in a small clearing when the pine trees crowded together too closely to run safely and the house had disappeared behind us.
The clearing reminded me of the one in Townsend Park, except here the menthol scent of eucalyptus overpowered everything.
“I think we’re okay now,” I said, wrapping my arms around myself.
Asher had gone watchful, studying the area with sight and hearing far better than mine.
“Do you think someone is on to us?”
I shook my head, pacing nervously. “No, but we have to be careful. They’re more prepared than we thought. They had people watching me at the airport. They’re always on guard for Protectors.”
Asher leaned against a tree trunk, his hand tucked in his coat pockets. “Want to tell me what happened to freak you out?”
I’m sure I looked like a crazy person when I threw back my head and laughed. One side of his mouth tilted up in a small smile as he waited for me to sober up.
“Gabe said that I don’t freak out,” I said wryly.
Asher’s eyebrow shot up. “You spoke to Gabe?”
I nodded. For the second time that night I explained what had happened when Erin touched me. Asher dropped his relaxed pose and pushed away from the tree. His hands tightened into fists, and I thought maybe he was angry.
Like Gabe, he said nothing for a while after I finished. I could tell he wanted to speak, but couldn’t get the words out. The longer that went on, the more I worried.
“WHAT?” I finally blurted out. “What do you know that I don’t? Asher, I was terrified. I thought I was going to attack that girl. What’s happening to me?”
I covered my face with my hands. I didn’t hear Asher approach, but I fought him when he tried to pull my hands away. It did no good. He simply tugged them down. His thumbs brushed the inside of my wrists, and I doubted he was even aware he did it. Despite everything, my pulse jumped.
Asher bent at the knees, so he could look me in the eye. “Everything’s okay. What happened to you is perfectly normal. For a Protector.”
My mouth dropped open, and he tapped my chin with our joined hands.
“Remember how I told you that our parents train us from a young age to keep our guard up around Healers? There was a reason for that. One you know too well now.”
“That hunger . . . You mean you feel that all the time?”
“No. Just around Healers. And you.”
I groaned and pulled away from him. I paced away with my hands on my hips. He let me go, obviously concluding that I needed space to process this one. He’d warned me so many times that he was a danger to me, that he had to control himself around me. Having only felt the pull of my power around him, I’d had no idea what he meant. The way my body had craved Erin’s energy . . . Hurting her had been more than a possibility. How stupid and naïve I had been! How had he been fighting that hunger whenever we touched? Asher was far stronger than I’d guessed.
“Well . . .” I said.
“Well,” he repeated.
“Every time I think I know what we’re up against, I get a good slap across the face.”
“We can’t seem to get a break, huh?”
His hair fell across his forehead, and my fingers itched to touch it. Instead, I tucked my hands in my pockets.
Shifting my weight from foot to foot, I asked, “You really get that overload of hunger and energy whenever we touch?” He nodded. “How can you stand it?”
His eyes trailed over me, and I felt a blush start at my toes and work its way up, even though I never blushed.
“Totally worth it,” he said in a deep voice.
My mouth dried up, and I swallowed, pretty sure I could be running a fever.
“Are you ever going to kiss me? I missed you.”
If I had doubted that he would feel the same way about me, knowing this new challenge we faced, the need in his voice set me straight. I took two running steps and then launched myself at him. He caught me easily, holding me against him with my feet hanging in the air and our noses touching. This close, I could see the green of his eyes.
I put my guard up. Then I pressed my lips to Asher’s, and I forgot all about Healers and Protectors.
Much later, we came up for air long enough for me to tell him what had happened in the last two days. Asher had cleared the pine needles and leaves from a spot on the ground. I curled up between his outstretched legs, bracing myself against his chest while he leaned against a tree.
“I’m sorry you had to be the one to tell him about Anna,” Asher said, after I told him about hearing my grandfather cry while listening to my mother’s recordings.
I shrugged. “The last couple of days have been weird. He’s formed a community of Healers here, Asher. There are a lot of them.”
His arms tensed around me. “That’s not possible. We’d know. The Protectors would know if that were true.”
I twisted about to face him, sitting on my heels. “I’m telling you it is possible. I met some of them. Today I even watched a girl my age heal a child who nearly drowned.”
I described what had happened with Delia and the boy, and Asher listened thoughtfully.
“You said I was different from them, but I didn’t understand how much.” I shook my head. “Delia healed that little boy and walked away without a mark on her. I could never do that.”
I sounded jealous. I could hear it in my voice. Since that afternoon, when I wasn’t reliving the nightmare with Erin, I’d been replaying the moment Delia had used her powers. My mother had described a Protector as an absorber of energy and a Healer as a conduit for energy, controlling it and using it to heal people. Basically, Protectors absorbed energy while Healers pushed it.
As for me? I’d become some screwed-up mix of the two—pushing energy to heal, but absorbing the injuries and illnesses after. And now, like Protectors, apparently I could steal Healer energy. I would have to constantly be on my guard around them.
I thought about what had happened with my grandfather the day before at dinner and how I’d healed his cut finger.
“Already? That happened fast,” Asher said, reading my mind.
We’d known I’d be forced to use my ability sooner or later, if for no other reason than to prove that I had one. Now more than ever, I guessed my grandfather would not have shared all he had so quickly without some type of demonstration from me. As he’d said, they had too much at stake here.
“We kind of lucked out there,” I said in a solemn tone. “At least it was a small injury that I could hide.”
I’d been able to prove myself and not reveal the nasty side effect of my ability that other Healers didn’t share. The side effect that had left me bruised, scraped, sick, and with broken bones from things that had never happened to me.
Asher gave me a small, sad smile. “I wouldn’t exactly call it lucky that you were hurt,” he said.
He reached for the hand that had bled the night before and brushed his lips across my knuckles. I shivered as he placed my hand on his shoulder. Freed from mine, his fingers trailed down my bare forearm to the sensitive skin of my inner elbow. Goose bumps popped up wherever he touched me.
“You know what I mean.” My voice sounded breathy.
“I do,” he admitted.
Those magic fingers continued up my arm, brushed over my shoulders, and then skimmed my ribs on their way to my waist. I locked my gaze on Asher’s. They gleamed with a hint of desperation.
“Asher?” I asked, uncertain.
I’d had my guard lowered to share my thoughts. But kissing was something else. He should have his walls up, a fact he was choosing to ignore for some reason.
“Kiss me,” he said.
I started to raise my walls, all too happy to comply, but his fingers distracted me as they slipped under the hem of my T-shirt and flattened against the bare skin of my back. He pulled, knocking me off balance and into his arms. One hand left my back, and I immediately missed the warmth. But then his fingers were in my hair, working on the rubber band that held it back. Another tug and my hair fell across my shoulders. Asher leaned forward, burying his face in it.
“Kiss me,” he whispered again.
He wanted me to kiss him without our barriers up. I understood that, but I didn’t know why. I could hurt him. I had before. My body didn’t just cure his immortality. It stole it. He could end up dead. It wasn’t right to take chances with his life. Not like this.
I shook my head. “No.”
His eyebrows shot up in surprise, and my mouth quirked. I’m not sure it flattered me that my boyfriend thought I would say yes to his every request.
Asher’s sudden laugh sounded loud, and he didn’t loosen his grip when I moved my hands to his chest to push away.
“We’d still be back in Blackwell Falls if you always said yes to me,” he said, clear amusement lightening his mood a degree.
I pushed against him again, but to no avail. Damned super strength. “It’s completely unfair that you can read my mind, but I can’t read yours,” I grumbled. “Let me go.”