Authors: Melissa Giorgio
,” Evan muttered. “It’s Sherlock bloody Holmes.”
“Hey, Kain,” Rafe said, with a wave and a bright smile, like Kain was his favorite person ever.
Evan’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. “What, you’re
with him now?”
Rafe shrugged. “People change. Which you should know better than all of us,” he added under his breath.
Kain’s grin widened. “I think the better question is, Underwood, who invited you?”
“Gabi, it was Gabi!” Evan pointed frantically at me, as if he wanted to pin the blame on me.
I scowled. “Yeah, I did. I invited you over to my house, where I expect you to
, Evan. No flaming blue fireballs, got it?” I squinted at Kain. “That goes for you too, Kain.”
“I would never set your house ablaze,” Kain said as he took off his coat. “Underwood’s face, yes. Your house, no.”
,” Philip said before I could. “Remember what we talked about earlier?”
“What is with those two?” Evan asked me.
Evan’s eyes widened with disbelief. “You have
to be kidding me. What the hell is wrong with Phil?”
“Nothing, because I am quite the catch,” Kain answered before I could. He made a show of looking around. “Where is Dad?”
Philip winced. “Will you stop calling him that? It sounds super creepy.”
“He’s at the office. It’s almost tax time, so he has to get ready and do all that fun accounting stuff that I don’t understand,” I explained.
“Do tell him I said hello?” Kain asked, crestfallen.
I reassured him yes, I would tell Dad that, and then exchanged a look with Philip once Kain’s back was turned.
“Don’t even say it, because I already know,” Philip said.
“Again,” Evan said, “
is wrong with you?”
Before Philip could answer, the doorbell rang, and Evan went through a complete transformation. He’d finally started to relax, but now he paled noticeably, and his hands began to shake. When he swallowed hard, his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down.
“You bolt,” I hissed as I rose from the couch, “and I will kill you. You hear me, Evan?”
“I can’t do this. I can’t, I can’t—”
“Holy shit, Evan,” Rafe said, surprising us all. “Since when are you such a coward?”
“I can answer that!” Kain raised his hand gleefully and Philip elbowed him in the side.
Beads of sweat coated Evan’s forehead as he rose and began backing away toward the kitchen. “You don’t understand, Rafe—”
Rafe folded his arms over his chest. “I understand perfectly. You’re afraid of Alex.”
The doorbell rang again, followed by the sound of hard knocks on the door. “Don’t let him run,” I told Rafe before rushing to answer the door.
Alexandra Chen stood on the porch, peering through the glass. She relaxed when she saw me approach. “I thought you were going to leave me out here to freeze.”
“Sorry about that.” I opened the door, gesturing for her to come in. We stared at one another, her with a curious gleam in her dark-brown eyes. She was short, only coming up to my chin, with long, stick-straight midnight black hair that nearly reached her waist. It was currently loose, but she had one section done up in a small braid, reminding me with a painful pang of Nina. All of her clothes, from her gray pea coat to her thigh-high boots, screamed money, but she flashed me a friendly smile when our eyes met. She held out her hand. “Hi. I’m Alex.”
“Gabi,” I said, taking her hand. It was so weird, finally meeting her after hearing so much about her.
“Am I the only one who thinks this is strange?”
I laughed. “You just read my mind!”
“It’s not every day you meet the person responsible for bringing you back from the dead, right? Or, nearly dead, I should say.” Alexandra laughed as well, her nose scrunching up adorably. She reminded me of a doll, and I could totally see why Evan had fallen so hard for her. “Would it be lame if I said thanks?”
I shrugged. “Thanks is okay with me.”
“Cool. Oh, and thanks for inviting me over. I really missed everyone…” Alexandra trailed off as she turned around to see the four guys staring at her. Yep, four. Evan had stuck around, although he looked like he was going to puke at any moment. Alexandra let out a low whistle. “Oh, boy. This is going to be a fun day. I can tell already.”
Without waiting for me to answer, she marched straight up to Rafe, her boots stomping loudly against the wood floor. Even though she didn’t even reach Rafe’s shoulders, he still looked…afraid? That wasn’t an expression I normally saw on Rafe’s face, and it puzzled me. “You stupid, stubborn idiot. For two months, you couldn’t even bother to pick up your phone?” Before anyone could react, Alexandra slapped him across the face.
While Rafe stood there, looking mildly stunned, Kain began laughing. “Still a little spitfire, I see. Alexandra, let me give you my number. If you are
“Not interested,” Alexandra said without looking away from Rafe.
Kain deflated visibly while Philip shook his head in exasperation.
I took a deep breath, wringing my hands together as a red mark began blooming on Rafe’s cheek. “Um,” I said. “It’s great that you’re here and everything, Alexandra—”
“Alex,” she interrupted.
“Okay, Alex. I called you here to
Rafe and not, you know, beat the crap out of him.”
Alexandra shook her head, her black hair fanning back and forth like an obsidian wave. “As long as he stops acting like a moron, I promise I won’t hit him again.” She stepped closer to Rafe and he flinched. “Got it, Fitz?”
I thought. Was that her nickname for him? I felt a stab of jealously and instantly hated myself for it.
Wrong thing to be feeling right now, Gabi!
Something told me I needed to stop being stupid before Alexandra realized what I was feeling
efore Alexandra figured me out and hit me next.d glowered. ? "udly against the wood floor. Even though
“I got it, Alex,” Rafe mumbled.
“What was that?” She cupped a hand to her ear, glaring at my boyfriend.
“I said I got it!”
“Good.” Alexandra nodded brightly. “My work here is done. Is there anything to eat?”
“I figured we could just get some takeout,” I said. “There are menus in the kitchen; Rafe, can you show her?” He nodded and led Alexandra to the back of the house, while I remained in the front room with the other three.
Kain was busy chuckling to himself. “She completely ignored you two.”
“Sadly, I’m used to it,” Philip said. “She hates my guts, remember?”
“Yours and Underwood’s, apparently.”
Evan made a face. “Why are you even talking to him, Phil? He just tried to pick
up!” I wondered if I was the only one who noticed Evan’s deliberate avoidance of saying Alexandra’s name. “Aren’t you two dating?”
“If by dating,” Kain said, “you mean going out for a meal and a movie, then no, we are not dating. But if you mean skipping all of that and going straight to the bedroom, then yes, we are dating. Very much so and every night—”
“Kain.” Philip was speaking through clenched teeth, his entire face flushed red. “Shut the hell up right now.”
“Ugh,” Evan said. “Again, Phil, I ask: What the hell is wrong with you?”
Kain brushed some invisible dust off of his shoulder. “I have many redeeming qualities, Underwood. If you ever manage to get your giant head out of your arse, you’d understand why I caught Philip’s eye.”
“And what, fall in love with you?” Evan shuddered. “I think I just threw up a little in my mouth. No offense, Phil.”
“You guys,” I said, making a “time-out” sign with my hands. “Enough. Do I need to remind you again that we’re here for
“Hey, Rafe and I are okay now,” Evan said.
“I don’t know if ‘okay’ is the right word, but yeah, I guess I’ll take what I can get.” I took a quick peek at the doorway to make sure Rafe wasn’t coming back before lowering my voice and adding, “I’m talking about the stuff with his parents.”
Instantly, all three hunters turned serious. I felt a rush of gratitude that they could put aside their differences to help Rafe. “You mean the shit about Silver Moon killing them,” Evan said. “Is that true?” He directed his question to Philip.
Philip looked highly uncomfortable as he pulled at the collar of his shirt. “That’s what my dad thinks. He’s been digging for information since the day of the attack at HQ, but he has to be very careful. If the ones who ordered this find out Dad is snooping around…” He trailed off, but we all knew what he meant.
Despite everything Charles had done to me, I was still worried about him. When I’d voiced those fears, he’d laughed and told me he knew how to take care of himself. His voice had been warm, though, as if he was grateful for my concern. Our little truce was so weird, and I barely understood it myself half the time. I wasn’t used to changing my opinions about people, and going from hating someone to being concerned for their well-being. I told myself it was because I didn’t want Philip to lose his dad and become an orphan like Rafe, but I was kidding myself.
I just can’t stand the thought of Silver Moon killing someone else and getting away with it,
I told myself, squeezing my hands into fists. No, not Silver Moon. Collins. I opened my mouth to share with them what Rafe had told me, but Evan spoke first.
“You know, normally I’d be surprised Rafe hasn’t murdered everyone inside HQ,” Evan said, “but after seeing him still hurting from the spell, I can’t blame him. How can he go after Silver Moon if he’s not at full strength?”
“No.” Philip shook his head. “That’s not why he’s holding back. It’s because of Gabi.”
Everyone stared at me, and my stomach twisted painfully when I realized Philip was right. I was the reason Rafe hadn’t done anything. I know I’d said I was with him no matter what he chose to do, but I hated the idea of being in the way of him finally finding some closure. When my eyes started stinging, I rubbed them with the palms of my hands. “I keep screwing everything up, don’t I?”
“What are you talking about?” Philip asked. “Gabi, you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to him.” Kain and Evan nodded their agreement. “You—” He broke off at the sound of approaching footsteps.
Rafe paused in the doorway. Seeing my red eyes, he frowned. “What’s wrong?”
“Hey, who wants Chinese?” Alexandra asked, following Rafe into the room. “And don’t you dare make a joke about the Chinese girl wanting Chinese food or I will kick your ass.” When no one said anything, her smile faded. “What’s going on?”
“I guess they’re having the meeting about me without me,” Rafe said. He looked away when he said that, so I couldn’t tell if he was angry with me or not.
“No, Rafe—” I started, desperate to keep things right between us.
“Food first!” Alexandra declared. “Tell me what you want so I can go order it. And then we can sit around and eat before we kill one another, okay?”
“She’s almost as bad as you are with dessert,” Philip muttered, wincing when I jabbed him in the side with my elbow.
While everyone told Alexandra what they wanted, I mumbled under my breath that I wasn’t hungry and drifted away to the kitchen. Standing in front of the window, I stared out at my snow-covered garden, deeply wishing my mom was here. But why? It wasn’t like I could tell her my problems—my
But it still would have been nice to have her around.
Philip stepped into the kitchen and came over to stand next to me. Our reflections in the window stared back at us, and I leaned my head against his shoulder, sighing deeply.
“The thing I said about Rafe—I shouldn’t have been so blunt,” Philip said. “I’m sorry.”
“But it was the truth. Do you think…” I broke off, hesitating. “Do you think Rafe would be better off without me around?”
“What? No!” Philip shook his head. “Didn’t you hear me? You really are the best thing that’s ever happened to him. Maybe you don’t notice it, because you’ve only known him for a short time, but there’s such a…warmth in his gaze when he looks at you. He’s hurting, yes, because of his injury and what he found out about his parents, but when you’re around, he forgets all of that. I can tell by the look in his eyes.”
“But don’t I remind him of the bad things?” I insisted despite myself. Even after all this time, I still expected to wake up one morning and find out this wonderful thing I had with Rafe was all a dream. “Doesn’t he look at me and see all the things that have caused him pain in his life? If it wasn’t for me, he wouldn’t have that injury. He wouldn’t know the truth about his parents. He’d have a nice, quiet life.”
“Without you,” Philip gently reminded me. “He’d have that life, but you wouldn’t be a part of it. And how do you know he wouldn’t have found out the truth about his parents on his own? Maybe it’s not right for me to speak for him, to assume what he’s thinking and feeling, but I’m pretty sure he would trade that quietness for a life with you in a heartbeat.”
I wiped at my eyes and gave him a weak smile. “When did you get so wise?”
“I think Kain has something to do with it.” Philip’s eyes lit up, and I wondered if he realized he displayed that same warmth toward Kain that he said Rafe had for me. “He’s a giant pain, but he’s good for me. Just like you’re good for Rafe.” Slinging an arm around my shoulder, he pulled me in for a hug. “Besides, if you’d never met Rafe, then we wouldn’t have met, either. And think of how boring your life would be without me in it.”
I think I surprised both of us by throwing my arms around Philip and hugging him as hard as I could. “Thank you,” I said as his arms encircled me. “Thank you for always knowing what to say.”
“Hey, that’s what best friends are for, right?”
“So cheer up! We’re going to eat Chinese food—hey, we should take bets on who’s going to get stabbed by a pair of chopsticks first!”
“Oh, man, that’s a hard bet,” I said. “It’s either your boyfriend or Evan.”
“I don’t know; Alex has been looking for a way to off me for a few years now.”
“It was nice knowing you,” I cracked.
“Thanks a lot, best friend.”
“You’re welcome, best friend.”
Everyone joined us in the kitchen and I looked up, instantly meeting Rafe’s eyes. I was scared he would be angry with me for talking about him behind his back, but when he opened his arms, I flew across the kitchen and snuggled against his chest.
“Sorry—” I started.
“Don’t be. You didn’t do anything wrong.” Raising his voice to address the others, he said, “So you’re all here for me, right?”
“Gee, when did your ego get so big?” Evan cracked, taking a seat at the kitchen table.
“Shut up, Evan,” Rafe and I said in unison. The blond smirked and turned to Alexandra, who sent him a vile look in return. His smile vanished and he jerked away, as if burned.
“Anyway,” Rafe continued, “I’m fine. I’m sorry I’ve been distant, but there’s been a lot of stuff to work through.” As everyone continued to gaze at him expectantly, he spread his hands. “But I’m fine. Sorry you all rushed over here, thinking something was wrong—”
“You are so full of shit,” Evan cut in, his joking manner gone. “How is any of this
? You’re still in pain from something that should have healed by now,
Silver Moon probably broke the edict by sending a demon to kill your parents. Fine? Are you kidding me right now, Rafe?”
Alexandra had gone pale at Evan’s words. “Excuse me, what the hell is he talking about?” She directed her question to Rafe so she wouldn’t have to acknowledge Evan. I could see the hurt reflected on Evan’s face. “You’re in pain? Silver Moon killed your parents!” Alexandra marched over, pointing a finger in Rafe’s face. He stood his ground, but his eyes had widened in fear. “Someone needs to tell me what’s going on right now!”
I filled her in. I could see Rafe scowling as I told Alexandra he was having trouble playing baseball and hadn’t gone hunting since before he was hurt, but I didn’t care. Maybe Alexandra knew how to help him. Why would we hide this from her?
Except she sank down in a chair at the table (totally ignoring Evan at the same time) and said, “Damn, Fitz. I’m sorry. And the thing about your parents?
sent the demon to kill them?”
Rafe and I exchanged a long look.
“What?” Philip asked, instantly picking up on that. “Did you two figure something out?”
Sighing, Rafe said quietly, “I think it was Collins who sent the demon after us.”
“Are you kidding me?” Evan said at the same time Philip and Kain cursed. They were all staring at Rafe in shock, letting me know that this Collins guy was just as bad as Rafe had said.
Maybe even worse.
“Whoa, wait a second,” Alexandra ordered. “Back up. Collins.” She snapped her fingers. “He’s that traveling hunter guy, right? He goes from HQ to HQ looking for students or something? The magically talented ones?”
“He’s a total asshole.” Evan started to put his feet on the table and I glared at him. Looking guilty, he swung his legs back down to the floor. “One of those pompous jerks that thinks he’s better than everyone else—oh hey, Kain, he sounds just like you!”
The stare Kain gave him was bitterly cold.
“No, not like Kain,” Philip said, shaking his head. “He’s cruel, spiteful, ruthless—”
“Still sounds like Kain.” Evan smirked.
“He’s old school,” Philip continued, talking over Evan.
“What’s that mean?” I asked.
“He’s more like the hunters from a thousand years ago. The ones who set up Silver Moon and wrote the edict.”
I frowned. “But if he follows the edict, then he’d never summon a demon. Wait— What if he lured it to the apartment like Nina lured Charlotte to HQ?” That would explain the lack of a mark on Collins.
“I can totally see him being above the edict,” Evan said, making a face. “Everyone else has to follow it, except him, since he’s so strong and
“He tried to recruit you, right?” I asked Evan. “You too, Phil?”
Philip nodded. “My dad told him no. I didn’t even get to meet with Collins; my dad wouldn’t allow it. He hated Collins because of how he treated Rafe. And there were rumors, bad ones, of what he’d done with other kids.”
“Collins has quite the reputation,” Kain said. “We heard about him, even in London, which is why Dad told him to sod off when he came for me. It was brilliant. Collins turned bright red and stormed out of HQ, and we never heard from him again.” His smile faded as his expression turned grim. “He
powerful, however. Untrained as I was, I could sense his power from across the room. And my dad... We’d faced some of the nastiest demons together, but this was the first time I ever saw him afraid.”
“What do you mean by rumors?” I was almost afraid to hear their answers.
“Collins didn’t like to hear the word ‘no’.” Evan’s voice lowered, his hands clenched into fists as he leaned forward in his chair. “When he tested me, he forced me to cast magic even though I didn’t know what I was doing. Even though I told him I was tired and scared and I wanted to go home. I was only eight and hadn’t been taught anything yet. I thought he was going to show me how to cast magic, but instead, he kept forcing me…”
The room had gone silent as we listened to Evan speak. Even Alexandra was staring at him, the horror visible on her face.
She never heard this story before
, I realized. Was this something Evan had kept bottled up inside of him for ten long years?
“Eventually he let me go, but with the promise that I would become his student,” Evan continued. “I didn’t have a choice—Collins had already made up his mind. He was going to take me out of New York, away from my parents and Rafe, and we’d travel the world, training and finding other potential students for him. Again I tried to tell him no, but he didn’t listen. I didn’t know what to do, but Rafe’s parents figured out what was going on pretty fast, and Liam and my dad went to HQ to speak with Collins.
“Collins left the next day, and I never saw him again. But Rafe did, didn’t you?” Evan looked up suddenly. “When Liam and Charles were running against each other for the director’s position. You said you saw Collins and Liam arguing.”
“About what?” Alexandra asked.
Rafe shook his head and told her what he’d told me.
She whistled softly. “It definitely sounds like Collins is our guy, Fitz.”
“Have you told my dad yet?” Philip asked.
“No, because I don’t want to bring Collins to New York.” Rafe rubbed at his side absently. “If he finds out Charles is snooping around, he’ll come to stop him.”
“Dad is snooping around already,” Philip reminded him. “But you’d be doing him a favor if you told him your suspicions. He could focus his attention on Collins, see if he was in the area when your parents were killed. It might not even be him, you know.”
“I bet it is,” Evan said darkly.
I found myself agreeing with him.
“It doesn’t change anything,” Rafe said softly.
But he was wrong. This changed
“Now what?” Philip asked. Before I could answer, the doorbell rang, startling me.
“Oh,” I said. “The food must be here.” I slipped out of the kitchen, Rafe following closely behind. He pulled out his wallet before I could grab my money, paying the deliveryman despite my protests and accepting the bag bulging with containers of greasy Chinese food. Already the smell was filling up the room, and my stomach, the evil traitor, let out a low rumble. Rafe gave me an amused glance before asking, “Wait here for a second?”
I nodded, confused, and watched him walk back into the kitchen. The tense silence was broken by the appearance of food as my friends started talking loudly. The sounds of dishes and glasses being taken down from the cabinets filled the air and I smiled to myself, glad that some sort of normality had returned.
Rafe walked back into the front room, his eyes searching my face. “Are you okay?” I asked.
He nodded. “Is it weird that I am? This stuff about Collins is crazy, and he might not even be involved with what happened to my parents, but for some reason just knowing it makes me feel relieved.”
“I don’t think that’s weird. I can’t even imagine what you’ve been living with these five years.” I sat down on the couch, and Rafe joined me, sitting close enough that our thighs pressed together. “What’s his official position with Silver Moon? Is he one of the higher-ups?”
“He was pretty unique,” Rafe said. “I think it’s because no one liked him. He didn’t manage to recruit Evan, but the kids that he did teach almost always ended up quitting Silver Moon completely. But for some reason no one ever stepped in to stop him.”