My Soul to Keep Page 46

She hesitated. “Is this bean sidhe business?” We’d used that phrase to refer to anything involving the Netherworld that I couldn’t fully explain to her. Considering that Nash and I had brought her back from the dead, she was usually pretty willing to let it go at that. For which I was unspeakably grateful.

I nodded and she frowned, but settled back into her seat. I dug in my pocket, then held out the key to the rental. “Here. Start the engine and turn on the heat. I’ll be back in ten minutes, then we’ll get some ice cream and a DVD.”

“Fine. But I get to pick the movie. And the ice cream.”

I forced a grin. “Deal.”

She leaned over the seat and started the engine as I headed back to Nash, tossing my head toward the small winter garden to the left of Doug’s house. I’d seen several thickly bundled couples on lawn chairs around the covered pool out back, but the enclosed side yard was deserted. And thanks to the music still thumping from the house, the chances of us being overheard were minimal.

Nash followed me through the gate and latched it behind us. “You want to sit?” He gestured toward one of the ornate stone benches in front of a line of tall evergreen shrubs.

I sat, and the cold seeped instantly through my jeans and into my skin. “The gum?” I eyed him frankly and was pleased to see him flinch.

“Covers the scent,” he admitted, squinting in the harsh glow from a ground level floodlight.

My heart ached in disappointment, though I’d guessed as much, and I shifted on the cold, hard bench. “The chilly hands?” He nodded again, swallowing thickly, and I sucked in a painfully frigid breath before continuing. “And you didn’t want to tell our parents…”

“I messed up—”

“You kept Scott’s balloon, didn’t you?” I demanded, vaguely frightened by the flat, hopeless quality of my own voice.

“You weren’t trying to help him. You were getting your fix for free.”

Nash looked miserable. “Kaylee—”

“Weren’t you?” I stood, anger pulsing through my veins, scorching my soul with each excruciating beat.

“Yes. But it was a weaker concentration than what I’m—” he shook his head and corrected his phrasing “—what I was getting. Mine comes in red balloons, and the black one wasn’t really enough to…”

“Enough to do the job?” I could hear disgust in my voice.

“How long?” I asked, but he only frowned, confused. “How long have you been lying to me?”

His eyes closed, and the stark shadow cast behind him slumped as his shoulders fell. “A month.” He opened his eyes and stepped out of the light to watch me closely, like he was looking for something specific in my expression. “It happened when we crossed over, Kaylee. In a way, you started it.”

“What?” We’d actually crossed intothe Netherworld several times, but I had no memory of exposing either of us to Demon’s Breath. “You’re blaming me for this?”

“No.” He sighed. “I’m just frustrated by the irony. The balloons were originally your idea. Remember?”

I did remember. I sank onto the bench again and barely felt the cold this time as shock roared through me like a roll of thunder.

I remembered thinking the balloon idea was a stroke of genius—a simple, innocent storage solution for a toxic, hard-to-transport substance. I remembered feeling like an enabler when we’d brought three balloons full of the Demon’s Breath stored in Addy’s lungs as payment for information from a desperate fiend. We’d taunted him with them, denying his need until he gave us what we wanted. I’d never felt so slimy in my life.

And then one of the balloons had popped, and…

Oh, no. One of the balloons had popped in Nash’s face. He’d coughed and choked—because he’d accidentally inhaled.

And I hadn’t even noticed.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I heard the sob in my voice, and it seemed to warble in time with the unsteady rhythm of my heart.

Nash sank onto the bench next to me and stared at his hands in his lap. “I didn’t realize what had happened at first, and by the time I started feeling it, you were dying from Crimson Creeper venom. What was my stupid contact buzz compared to your life and Addy’s soul?” He shrugged again, as if choosing my problem over his was no big deal. “But I couldn’t fight it, and by the time you got better, I was hooked. It just snowballed from there.”

Stunned, I let my head fall into my hands, my mind now as numb from shock as my nose was from the cold. How could I not have known? How could I have seen him nearly every day, and not noticed what was going on?

But that was just it. I’d barely seen Nash in the month after he was exposed, other than a few minutes between classes and half an hour at lunch. I’d been grounded on a massive scale, unavailable to him when he’d needed me most. When it was my fault he was exposed in the first place. I’d dragged him to the Netherworld, and I’d made Addy blow up those balloons.

Focus, Kaylee. There would be time to feel guilty later.

“You should have told me,” I groaned, staring up at him again. “I could have helped you.”

He shrugged, shoving chapped, clenched fists into his jeans pockets. “I thought I could quit on my own, and you’d never have to know.”

“I had a right to know!” I swiped the back of one frozen hand across my dripping nose. “I told you every secret I have—even the ones I wish I could forget—because I thought I could trust you.” My hands clenched around nothing, as if I could wring the composure I needed from the air. “But you were lying the whole time. Why, Nash?”

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