My Soul to Keep Page 52

What we had was life or death. Literally.

He closed the door and I twisted the key in the engine with my free hand. Then I grabbed the wheel and hit the gas. The last thing I saw in the mirror before I turned the corner was Nash kneeling on the ground next to one of his best friends, already pulling his phone from his pocket. No one had come out yet—the whole thing couldn’t have taken two minutes, and the music from the party had helped cover my screaming—but it wouldn’t be long before someone wandered outside, and the second party in a week would end in disaster.

When I turned the corner—swerving too sharply in haste—the panic began to ebb, and my throat started to relax. The pincushion feeling faded slowly, and two blocks later, I opened my mouth and sucked in a deep breath, grateful when the only sound that escaped was the rasp of air through my throat.

And that’s when I realized Emma was still crying.

She sat huddled in one corner of the passenger’s seat, knees to her chest, seat belt unbuckled, right temple pressed against the cold window. Her shoulders shook with each soft sob, and as I watched, she raised one arm to wipe her face with her jacket sleeve.

“Are you okay?” I flicked on my blinker for the next turn, then slowed to a stop at the red light.

“No. Is he dead?”

“I don’t know.” I wished I wasn’t driving so I could really look at her. So I’d know how she was handling this. “But if he isn’t yet, he will be soon.”

Emma twisted toward me, her brown eyes wide. Imploring. “Can’t you save him? Like you saved me?” Her voice cracked on the last word, and she reached up to wipe more tears.

I shook my head slowly, sadly, then glanced at her as passing streetlights lit the car, one after another. Would this explanation ever get any easier? “Em, if we’d saved him, someone else would have to die in his place.” Because even though we hadn’t seen him or her, there was a reaper somewhere nearby waiting to claim Doug’s soul, and if we snatched it back, the reaper would simply take another.

At least, that’s how it usually worked. I wasn’t sure about unscripted cases, but I wasn’t gonna risk it. “You, Nash, and I were the only ones there to choose from, and I’m not willing to sacrifice any of us to save someone else.” Not even your boyfriend. Though I couldn’t say that aloud.

“What if it’s not really his time to die? It wasn’t my time when I died.”

Okay, she had a good point. And a very hard question.

I closed my eyes and exhaled softly, then forced my gaze back to the road. I’d wondered the same thing. But ultimately… “It wouldn’t really matter.” I slowed for the next turn and flicked my blinker on. “You, and those other girls, and Sophie—none of you were supposed to die. But saving youstill meant killing someone else. I can’t risk that again.”

“Wait…Sophie?” Emma said, and for a moment, surprise eclipsed the hurt and confusion she wore like a funeral veil.

“Sophie died, too?”

Crap. “Yeah. But she doesn’t know, so please don’t tell her.”

“Like I’m gonna go looking for a reason to talk to Sophie.” Emma paused, and curiosity shined through her tears. “What happened?”

I stepped on the gas to make it through a yellow light, then dropped back to the speed limit. Getting pulled over while Emma still had beer on her breath would not be a good way to end the most horrible week in the history of…weeks.

“Aunt Val took her place.” Making the very same sacrifice for her daughter that my mother had made for me. Except that it was Aunt Val’s fault Sophie died in the first place. Which kind of mitigated her sacrifice, in my eyes.

“That’s how your aunt died?” Em wiped tear-damp mascara onto her sleeve.

I shrugged. “Sophie thinks she passed out from shock, and when she woke up, her mother was dead. She has no idea why or how it happened, but she knows I was involved and she’s decided I’m somehow responsible.” Which couldn’t have been further from the truth, but no one—including me—wanted to tell my cousin that her mother had tried to trade five innocent souls for her own everlasting youth and beauty.

“No wonder she hates you…”

“Yeah.” But the truth was that Sophie had never exactly been warm and fuzzy.

For several minutes, Emma stared out the window, though I had a feeling she wasn’t really seeing the dark houses we passed. Then she turned to look at me, and the weight behind her gaze was devastating. “Kaylee, what was in the balloon?”

I blinked at the road and exhaled slowly. “Nothing you want to know much about.”

“I saw how Nash pulled you away.” Leather creaked as she shifted in her seat. “He didn’t even want you to get a whiff of it, so whatever it is, it must be pretty damn scary.”

“It is.” Yet he hadn’t hesitated to kiss me and breathe all over me while he was taking it. How much could I possibly mean to him if he’d risk exposing me?

“I should have done something.” Emma groaned. “I knew he was taking too much, and I just let him!” She stomped the floorboard hard enough to rock the whole car, and my heart broke for her.

“Em, you couldn’t have stopped him.” I was sure of that, yet I was equally sure that Nash and I could have. I’d failed Scott and Doug, but it wasn’t too late to help Nash. No matter what he’d done, I couldn’t live with myself if I let him turn out like his friends.

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