Authors: Jus Accardo
Tags: #Romance, #Juvenile Fiction, #Fantasy & Magic, #teen, #young adult, #denazen, #Speculative Fiction, #ya, #Paranormal, #touch, #toxic, #jus accardo, #tremble
He stepped away from the computer. “There was someone they wanted to take away from me. Someone important. Someone
.” Turning to me, he frowned. “I know that I would have died for this person. To keep her safe. To keep her happy—and I know that it was you.”
I reached for his hand, a swell of relief flooding through my veins, but he pulled away.
,” he continued, thumping the side of his head, then his chest directly over his heart. “But I can’t
. I know you now—and I have very strong feelings for you—but I don’t know you from then. That part of you is a ghost, Dez. A shadow that keeps moving just out of reach. And it’s driving me crazy.”
After seeing what was on the CD, Kale was agitated and moody. I understood his frustration and hoped maybe seeing his old room might help.
“This is your room.” I pushed open the door and stepped aside, a funny feeling fluttering in my chest as I realized we’d never been in here at the same time. When we moved in after the hotel burned to the ground, Kale hadn’t been around long enough to actually use the room. Everything had happened so fast.
Kale followed me in and closed the door. His eyes fell to the bed, the sheets still a tangled mess from the last time I’d slept here. It’d only been a few nights ago—the same night I saw him at the Nix party in town—but it felt like years. “When was the last time I slept in here?”
I moved to the bed and pulled the edge of the blanket off the floor, then straightened the pillows. “Honestly, I don’t know that you ever did. We moved in right before you—right before I got really sick. You spent most of your time next door with me.”
“Who’s been staying in here?”
I felt my cheeks flush. “Me.”
He sank onto the bed, eyes never leaving mine. “You were amazing tonight. Is it always like that? With us, I mean? This is going to sound insane, but it was
I sank down beside him and nodded once, trying not to laugh. “We’re a team. Our life is made of crazy, but we kinda like it that way.”
He was quiet for a minute. “This is hard for me, but I can’t imagine what it’s like for you. I feel…something for you, but I don’t really understand it. You remember me completely.”
I blinked back the tears threatening to spill over and took a deep breath. “It isn’t easy.”
A quick glance to my right and I saw him watching me. Under normal circumstances, that kind of scrutiny from Kale would have sent shivers of anticipation through my body. Now, all I had were my memories. He quickly turned away and sighed. “Your friends don’t seem too happy that I’m here.”
Mom and Dax had forced Kale to cover his eyes as we approached the cabin. It was all very Batcave of them, but I could understand their caution. They couldn’t take any chances. Too many innocent Sixes had taken up residence in Dax’s underground shelter.
“It’s not that, really. Things are tense. They’re just nervous, since you’ve been living with the enemy for the last few months.” I forced a smile. “And they’re your friends, too.”
He leaned closer. So close that I felt his breath against my cheek and the warmth of his skin radiating against mine. “And you?”
I swallowed. “Me?”
“Do you trust me?”
“I trust you.”
“Marshal brainwashed me.” He reached across and ran his index finger along the lines of my jaw. The touch brought a rush of heated memories that sent tremors through my body. But it wasn’t just the physical contact. It was the sound of his voice. Deep and rich like warm caramel coffee, each word a soothing sip that sent the endorphins in my brain jumping. He could have recited the alphabet and it would have affected me just the same. “I could’ve faked a recovery just to get inside.”
“I trust you,” I repeated.
Leaning close, lips brushing my right ear, he whispered, “Then can I kiss you again?”
Can I kiss you?
I remembered a dream I’d had not long before Kale went back to Denazen. Kale and me at the top of the crane. He’d asked me the same thing right before turning into Able. I closed my eyes to keep the tears from spilling over. This wasn’t me, this constantly bawling, blubbering mess of a girl. But the memory was like a shot to the heart, turning the air to sludge and making it impossible to breathe. “Please don’t ask me that.”
He pulled back a bit, genuinely surprised by my reaction. “I’m sorry. I—”
I leaned forward and pressed my lips to his. It was short, and bittersweet, and when I pulled away and stood, he stared at me with eyes full of wonder. It reminded me so much of that day at Curd’s. When he touched me for the first time. “It’s not your fault. I had this dream once. It— Know what? It doesn’t matter.”
I was almost to the door when he called out. “Wait.”
My feet stopped moving, but I didn’t turn around. I was afraid if I looked at him again, well…I didn’t know what I’d do. Cry, kiss him again, scream…
“Why don’t you stay?” he said.
The invitation pulled at so many different, warring emotions. I wanted to stay. More than anything, I wanted to be by his side and never let him out of my sight again. “I’m beat. I’d only fall asleep.”
The mattress creaked and I relented, turning around. He was standing now, looking between the bed and me. “So sleep here. I promise I won’t try anything.” He stepped around so he was in front of me. For a moment he simply stood there. Eyes on mine and lips pressed in a thin line. When he did speak, his voice was different. So much more the Kale I knew. “The truth is, no matter how much it scares me to admit it, I feel better when you’re close. I don’t understand it, and I can’t begin to explain it, but I’m more relaxed.”
How could I argue with that when I felt exactly the same way? Silly considering the situation, but still the truth.
He placed his hand over his heart, frowning. “I’m angry. I can feel it inside, eating away at me like poison. I—I don’t know who or what I’m angry about, but it’s easier to forget when I’m with you.”
Maybe Aubrey was right. In messing with the bits inside Kale’s head, they kicked a hornet’s nest. “You told me once that I was your lifeline. That I calmed the storm in your head.”
“I think it’s true.” There was so much emotion in his eyes right then. Fear and sadness. Anger. And something else. Something familiar. Kale had a way of looking at me. It was like I was the only person on earth. “Please stay?” he prodded. “I’d like it if you would talk to me. Ben is right. When I hear your voice, my head feels…lighter.”
“Okay.” I kicked off my sneakers as Kale did the same, and crawled into bed, burrowing under the covers. Behind me, the mattress dipped as Kale climbed in.
“Is it okay if I hold you?”
“Sure,” I said, throat thick. A moment later, the light went out and all I could hear was the soft sounds of our breath as Kale wrapped his arm around my waist and snuggled close. During the months he’d been gone, I’d lie in his bed and imagine him with me. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I’d wake and swear I could feel him lying there beside me. Now that he was, a part of me was terrified that any minute I’d wake up and the whole thing would be nothing more than a dream.
“Tell me something. About me. Tell me your favorite thing.”
I thought about it for a moment, but it didn’t take long. “You have the most amazing soul.” Rolling, I turned onto my other side so I faced him. Even though it was dark, there was a small red glow from the alarm clock on the dresser behind him. It gave off just enough light for me to see the outline of his face. “This anger you feel? I think it’s because of everything that happened to you. You went through hell. Denazen took you not long after you were born. They treated you like an animal. They used you as a weapon. And you know what? You still turned out to be the most amazing person I’ve ever met.”
I took a deep breath, struggling to keep my voice even. “You see yourself as a monster, Kale, but you’re not. You didn’t let what happened to you change who you were on the inside. You asked me once what it was about you that I loved. And I’ll say it again. It’s your soul, Kale. It’s unlike anyone else’s.”
“I don’t remember any of it,” he said softly after a few minutes went by. “The only memories I have of Denazen are hazy but don’t involve anything like that.”
“They’re fake. If you remembered what they did to you, you would have killed them all. That’s probably why you’re having such a hard time dealing with the way you feel. The anger is still there but you don’t know where to aim it.”
“Maybe it’s better that I don’t remember, then.”
I’d never thought about that. In all this mess, Kale not remembering his life at Denazen was sort of a blessing. I knew he’d still had nightmares. To be free from that was something I wanted for him. But if Ben Simmons was right and this would all fade, then those memories would return.
And deep down, I knew they should.
“I was at a party one night with some friends. We were tipsy and playing some oddball drinking game—Twenty-seven Questions, it’s called. You’re asked a question and you either answer or drink. One of the questions my friend asked me was if I could change one thing in my life—
—what would it be. I gave it some thought, and when I saw her at school the next day I told her there was nothing I would change.”
“Seems stupid, right? I mean, hell, we live in a world where there could very well be a Six that could turn back time or something. It wasn’t as crazy a question as my friend thought. I fell asleep that night thinking about it. I had a horrible relationship with my dad. I thought my mom was dead. Alex and I had just broken up… There were a million things I could have—should have—wanted to change.”
“I don’t understand why you gave the question this much thought. It was for a game, right?”
I smiled. “See, that’s the kind of thing you’d say. You’re getting better already.” I took a deep breath. “There was a point to this, though, and that point is, no. You
be better off not remembering. I won’t lie. The time you spent at Denazen was horrific.”
“You care for me, correct?”
I draped my arm across his waist, letting my index finger slip into the back loop of his jeans. “I do.”
“Then why would you want me to remember?”
“Because it made you who you are. It’s the same reason I gave my friend the answer I did the next day at school. I wouldn’t want to change anything because I was perfectly happy with the person I’d become. To change even the tiniest detail of my life would ruin the balance. I wouldn’t be me.”
“That is a very wise answer,” he said softly. “But I wonder if you would have the same response were you asked now. Is there still nothing you would change?”
“It’s funny. In those first few days after you left, it’s actually all I thought of. What would have happened if I hadn’t confessed that I was dying? If I’d just gone straight to Dad. You wouldn’t be sitting here looking at me like I was a stranger.”
“And you wouldn’t be sitting here,” he said sagely.
“Tell me how we met.”
I couldn’t help the smile that slipped across my lips. “I was on my way home from a party, and you had run from Denazen agents. You fell at my feet, then took my sneakers.”
“I took your sneakers?”
“In your defense, you were barefoot and leaving a trail of dead dirt through the forest. It made you easy to track.”
“Trail of dead dirt? I don’t understand.”
“Your ability used to be…different. Before they gave you Domination you had no control.” I shifted so I could lean on my elbow and ran my other hand from his shoulder to his wrist. “The only way it worked was through skin-to-skin contact—and there wasn’t any way to shut it off. Until we met, you’d never touched another living person.”
He, in turn, reached out to trace the line of my jaw. “But
I was thankful for the dark because I felt an involuntary flush rise in my cheeks as I remembered those first moments in Curd’s basement, and then many more after that. “Yeah. We could. I was the first.”
For a moment he didn’t say anything. Then the warmth from his hand disappeared, leaving an icy chill as a growl cut the silence. “When we’re together, it always feels like there’s something being held just out of my reach.” He sat up, facing me. “My insides tell me I know you. The way you set me at ease by simply being close. But my mind can’t
you. I can’t remember anything about our life together.”
“That’s not true,” I said, sitting up as well. “Back at the airport you said something to me—you probably didn’t even realize it at the time. When I said I would mimic the three of us so we could walk right out the front door.”
“And I knew you couldn’t. Not without…” He let out a frustrated hiss. “Not without something. I can’t see it. I can’t
“I know how you feel. It’s frustrating and painful.”
He raised my hand and held it tight against his face. I bit back a sigh as his warmth coursed through me. “Even if Simmons is wrong and the memories never come back, it doesn’t matter. I’m already falling for you, Dez.” He pulled me back down to the bed and wrapped his arms around me. “Whatever it was I did to steal your heart when we met, I’ll do it again. I swear.”
I didn’t bother correcting him. He never lost it.
“Where is he?” Alex asked as I settled on the couch with an oversize cup of coffee. Mom sat across from me next to Dax, and Vince had his nose buried in the business section on the other end while downing a colossal stack of pancakes doused with an unhealthy amount of maple syrup. I’d never seen anyone eat as much sweet stuff as him. My teeth hurt just being in the same room.
“In the gym. He’s dealing with a lot of…anger.” I sipped the coffee. There wasn’t nearly enough sugar, but I’d left the jar on the counter in the kitchen. I was too lazy to go back and grab it, so I sucked it up.
Kale and I had fallen asleep in his room and stayed that way clear until eight the next morning. We’d talked for a while—mainly about the way things had been before he went back to Denazen. He questioned me extensively about his early years there but was disappointed when I couldn’t give him any details. I suggested he talk to Mom, but he didn’t seem eager. I was pretty sure it had to do with the slightly cool reception he’d been given upon arrival.
I woke to find him watching me with an odd expression. When I asked if he remembered something, he simply replied
and excused himself to the gym.
“Where’s Ben?” But what I really wanted to know was,
Sane or raving nut job?
Mom rested her elbows on the table—something she only did when Ginger wasn’t around. For a cranky, jagged old woman, she took table manners seriously. “Ginger’s with him now. We also managed to find Andrea Marko and Kayla Dean.”
“Kayla Dean is showing signs of decline,” Dax said through a mouthful of bagel. Apparently everyone took advantage of Ginger’s absence. Last time someone talked with their mouth full, Ginger whipped out her cane. “Not as bad as Ben, but it seems to be increasing. We’re gonna have to do something soon.”
“What about the others? There were twelve on the list, right?”
“We have Henley Walker—Brandt—and Sarah Milburn has been confirmed dead by a contact in Kansas. The only ones we have no solid information on are Thom Morris and Mark Wells.”
“Wells is dead,” Kale said from the doorway. Everyone looked up as he stepped cautiously into the room. Turning to me, he said, “The night at the party. The guy outside. That was Wells.”
The couple. The first time I’d seen Kale’s newly improved ability at work.
“Then that rounds out the list,” Dax said. “Now we need to focus on finding Penny Mills.”
Crap. After the chaos at the airport and then coming back here to crash, I’d never gotten a chance to tell them about Penny. Or maybe I was trying to avoid it. If I didn’t say it out loud, then maybe I could pretend it never happened. “Yeah…about that.”
All eyes in the room swiveled to me. Even Vince looked up from the paper, stopping mid-chew on a particularly large mouthful of pancakes. A drop of syrup fell from his lips to the plate.
“Kale and I found Penny Mills.”
There was a collective gasp, followed by everyone speaking at once.
“She’s dead,” I finished, thankfully shocking them into stunned silence. The admission was like swallowing a mouthful of glass. I managed to get the words out with a straight face, calm and without breaking down, but inside the guilt was crushing me.
“And she was dead when you got there?” Mom asked.
“No. She was killed shortly after we arrived. When they used her blood to make the Domination serum, it connected her to everyone who got it. Before they messed with Kale’s head, she showed him where to find her. Kale, unfortunately, led them right to her. Denazen implanted a tracker—”
Dax jumped from his seat. “Shit!”
“It’s fine.” I waved my nearly empty cup. Really? Did he think I was that stupid? “We got the tracker out—
. He’s off the radar.”
Dax sat down and seemed to relax a little, but not Mom. If anything, she looked more worried. “That doesn’t make sense. They needed her. Why would they kill her?”
I took a deep breath. “They didn’t do it on purpose. They were aiming for me.” I glanced over at Kale, still standing by the door, and remembered what he’d said about asking questions. “They got paranoid, I think. Dad was probably worried that if I was with Kale, he’d start remembering—which he has. I guess they figured it was safer if I was just dead. But Kale pushed me out of the way and Penny was standing behind me. She’s dead because I’m alive.”
Dax frowned. “It’s not your fault, Dez. Denazen is to blame for this, not you.”
It was sweet of him to say, but the facts were the facts.
Mom let out a breath and tapped the table twice. “This means it’s going to be ten times harder.” She turned to me, and I had to look away. I couldn’t stand the fear in her eyes. She was worried I wouldn’t get the cure in time—if at all. “With Mills dead, our only chance is the blood Denazen has. Finding it in time is going to be—”
“Kale knows where it is.” Ginger appeared behind him in the doorway, expression grim. Brandt was with her, looking bleary-eyed and rundown. He’d slept a lot since arriving at the cabin and it worried me. I knew he technically couldn’t die, but I also knew he didn’t want to jump again. When he jumped, the person whose body he took over, was just…gone. “It’s in a lab under a facility called Zendean Industries. It’s a pharmaceutical company about an hour from here that Denazen is using as a front. Like the law firm.”
“Zendean is where the Henley suit came from,” Brandt said, pushing past her and into the room. I didn’t miss how he nudged Kale forward as he went, forcing him to step inside. Brandt took a seat on the couch next to Mom. “That’s where I was undercover, trying to find a cure. I’m still in contact with someone there. I found out that a week after I left, Cross and some of his Sixes took over the facility. It’s where Kiernan and Kale have been staying.”
“Since Brandt is on the outs with these guys, I suppose
can conveniently get us in, right?” Alex said. He leaned back in his chair, eyes affixed to Kale’s, and grinned. “Pick a side, Reaper. This back-and-forth shit is giving me a headache.”
Kale’s eyes darkened and he turned to me with a sneer. “Are he and I friends?”
“Not even close.”
“Good.” In one swift move, Kale shot forward and kicked the legs out from Alex’s chair, sending him to the ground with a loud
. “Don’t talk to me.”
Brandt snickered. “Huh. You’re right,” he said to me. “It
funny.” My cousin and Alex had been friends until he
on me. After that, things between them turned icy. Now, even though the truth behind what Alex had done was out, Brandt hadn’t really forgiven him.
Ginger sighed and pushed past them, settling in her armchair. Eyes trained on both boys, she said, “I didn’t miss the bickering.”
I did my best to stifle a giggle. She might not have, but I sure had.
Kale made his way around the coffee table and settled next to me on the couch. “We talked to Ben again this morning,” he said, glancing at Ginger. The expression on his face said it all. “He has sporadic moments of lucidity, but overall, he’s not coherent anymore.”
“From what we gather, it started the day he got to France. He flew out there to see a friend, but when things got bad she abandoned him. Somehow he managed to board his plane back to the U.S., and we all know what happened from there.” Ginger sighed.
“Did he say anything useful? He couldn’t help at all?”
Kale frowned. “No.”
I downed the rest of my coffee and thumped the cup on the table. “We need that blood.”
“Even if we find it, there’s still a problem,” Brandt said.
I let my head fall into my hands. “Isn’t there always?”
Brandt chuckled, but when I picked up my head to look at him, his expression was serious. “They’ve been working around the clock to produce Domination. My contact on the inside says they’ve used nearly all the blood.”
Kale glanced from me to Brandt. “If we’re lucky, there’ll be enough left to cure one person.”
“But the Domination serum has the blood in it, right?” Dax tapped the edge of the table and Mom grabbed his hand. They were so perfectly in sync with each other. “What if we got our hands on some of that?”
“It’s a possibility—and it might be a last resort—but there’s not much in it. If that Wentz guy can make it work, it might be enough for someone who hasn’t already entered the decay state but someone who’s already showing signs? I don’t know.” Brandt looked away. “Plus, there’s the risk. Only half the people given the drug survive. From what I’ve heard, it’s not pretty…”
“It’s better than nothing,” Mom said coolly.
“What about Reaper’s blood?” Alex piped up. “He’s been given the serum. Couldn’t we make a fix using him?”
Mom shook her head. “We don’t know how Domination affected him. Before he was given the drug, Kale’s blood used to keep Sixes compliant. I don’t think it’s worth the risk.”
Kale nodded, resolved. “Getting the drug will be slightly easier than getting the blood, but I think we can do both. Dez can take the blood and the others can get Domination.”
“No way,” I said, and for the second time that morning every eye swiveled in my direction. I was starting to feel like a neon spotlight followed me everywhere I went. At one point in my life I would have reveled in it. Now? It was getting annoying.
Alex jumped to his feet, snapping, “Why the hell not?” while Kale slammed a hand down on the arm of the couch and said, “Yes, you will.”
“Whoa.” Jade appeared in the doorway. She looked from Kale to Alex before her gaze fell on me with one of her usual sneers. “Looks like everything’s back to normal.”
“Who is this?” Kale asked, looking her up and down. He didn’t seem impressed, which gave me all sorts of warm fuzzies.
Jade’s lips split with a wicked grin as she crossed the room, wedging herself between Kale’s chair and mine. “It hurts that you don’t remember me. We shared something very special.”
He looked from her to me, then back again. “Incredibly hard to believe. I don’t find redheads the least bit attractive. Maybe if you looked more like Dez I could see it.” Unlike the old Kale, who would have simply spoken blunt and to the point, this version added the tiniest bit of a barb—and I loved him even more for it.
Jade opened her mouth, then closed it again, retreating to the coffee pot without another word.
Ginger slammed her cane against the table. The sound was like a shot through the room, ending the bickering in an instant. “While I suspect that falling into old patterns might help Kale feel more acclimated, this is not what I had in mind. Could we possibly focus, people? Or do I have to start swinging?”
I sucked in a deep breath. “I think Ben should get the blood.”
“Of course you do,” Alex hissed, flicking a hand in Kale’s direction. “But what good is Rain Man’s memory going to be if Domination kills you?”
“Ben can’t do anything to help Kale—try to keep up. This has nothing to do with that,” I snapped. “He’s the worst off. He should get it. If not him, then Brandt.”
“I’m not taking anything till I know you’re okay,” Brandt said. There was no argument in his tone. Only simple resolve. It was fine. He didn’t need to agree. I’d cram it down his throat while he slept if I had to. “Besides, I don’t need it. We went over this, remember? Technically I can’t die.”
“No, you can’t,” I shot back. “But who exactly are you going to jump into? Feel like picking someone from this room?”
Brandt’s eyes widened and he didn’t respond.
“You’re being stubborn,” Alex interjected.
? What gives me the right to take it? I’m no better than any of the rest of them.”
Alex looked like he wanted to argue, but he locked his jaw and turned away. He had to know I was right. I wasn’t any more important than the others. The guaranteed cure should go to the one furthest along. Right now, that was Ben Simmons.
“This isn’t the issue right now,” Mom said. “We need to get our hands on both the blood and the drug before a decision can be made. Not to mention Franklin Wentz will need to produce a working cure.”
“How is he, anyway? I still haven’t seen him.”
Brandt stretched. “He’s locked away in a lab Ginger had set up for him. I saw him this morning. He’s trying to come up with an alternative cure. Something that doesn’t need Penny Mills’s blood. Not having any luck, though.”
Mom turned and swiveled her gaze between Kale and Brandt. “How do we get in?”
Brandt hesitated. I didn’t like the look in his eyes. I was all too familiar with it. “I have an idea—but I don’t think Dez will like it.”
“Not a good way to start,” I mumbled.
“I’ve been gone a while now. I don’t know where they’re keeping it, and my contact is only on the outside edge of the inner circle. But…”
I narrowed my eyes, willing him to stop right there. I knew exactly where he was going with this, and he was right. I didn’t like it.
“Kale could go back,” he continued cautiously, watching me from the corner of his eye. “I’m betting he knows where the vial is. He can get it and get out.”
I expected everyone to jump on the objection train but no one said a word. I had to be the voice of sanity?
“Bad call. Kale has spent too much time with me. No way they’ll trust him. And what happens when they expect him to start up daily sessions with their Resident brain-basher? How will he keep her from going in and figuring out that he remembered? Not to mention the chance of her scrambling things up again.” I clapped my hand for dramatic effect. “Oh, and we removed his tracker. How do you propose we explain that?”
“Dez makes some good points,” Mom said. “If they start to play with his memories again, then we lose the last chance we’ve got to save the kids.” She glanced at me. “That’s not a risk I’m willing to take.”
“Agreed,” Ginger said with a
of her cane. I couldn’t help noticing how everyone relaxed when she set it down beside her chair. A room full of people with extraordinary abilities and we were all afraid of an old woman with a cane.
“It’s risky,” Brandt agreed. “But in theory, he wouldn’t be there long enough for it to matter. Get in. Get the blood. Get out.”