Nightshade Page 25

I shouldn’t have. The words stuck in my throat. I looked at the soft curls of his hair, the sweet smile that played on his lips. How could I let him die? He’s done nothing wrong.

He took my silence as a need for more explanation. “You saved my life. In my book that earns you a lot of trust.”

“Fair enough.” I managed a nod. “Still, you shouldn’t be up here.”

“It’s a free country.”

“It’s a capitalist country and this is private property.”

He stared at the small flower for a moment and then crushed it in his fist. “Your property?”

“Not exactly,” I said. “But I’m responsible for it.”

“Just you?”

“No,” I said. “And that’s why—among other reasons—after today you cannot come up here again. I’m not usually alone.”

“Who would be with you?” he asked.

“Bryn.” I stretched out on the ground. The early-morning sun brightened, throwing streams of light along the frosty ground. “Short, bronze ringlets, sharp tongue. You’ve seen her at school.”

“Yeah.” He nodded. “She sits behind you in first period.”

“Yes.” I hooked my finger at him and he handed me the cup. I tried to ignore my disappointment when our fingers didn’t meet.

“And she’s a werewolf too?”

My mouth paused on the rim of the cup.

“Sorry, sorry.” He ducked his head. “I mean . . . uh . . . Guardian?”

“Yeah.” I sipped the espresso, looking away.

“But you can turn into a wolf? Whenever you want . . . I mean. No moon necessary?” He held up a hand as if to ward off an anticipated blow. “I don’t mean to insult you. I’m going completely on pop culture references here.”

“Yeah. That’s fine,” I said. “And the answer is yes. We can change whenever we want. The moon has nothing to do with it.”

He looked impressed. “And you just kind of shimmer when you change, which is interesting. I mean, your clothes don’t go flying off in shreds.” The moment the words were out of his mouth, he flushed.

I nearly spilled the rest of the coffee. “I’m sorry to disappoint you,” I murmured, feeling my own cheeks redden.

“I just meant . . .” He flailed, grasping for his question.

“It’s complex magic,” I said, hurrying past the awkward exchange. “Technically I’m both the wolf and human all the time. I choose what form my soul inhabits and I can move freely between the two. Whatever form I’m not in is still there, just invisible—in something like another dimension—until I occupy it again. My clothes, supplies, whatever was with the human form the last time I was in it doesn’t alter. And I can pull on components of either form if I need them. Like the way I can make my teeth sharp even when I’m in human form.”

I paused and thought for a moment. “I probably could make it so I had clothes on when I was a wolf if I really wanted. But there would be no utility in something like that. It would just be silly.”

“Hmmm.” He stretched his hand toward me. “I need more coffee before I can process that.”

I gave him the cup, letting my fingers brush over his before I let go.

“Do you know where you come from?” His eyes stayed on my hand even as I let it fall into my lap. My pulse skipped. I thought about my father’s words, wrapping my arms around my knees.

What am I doing up here? I’m risking too much.

Shay watched me, calm, but curious. I met his eyes and knew I didn’t want to leave.

“Legend has it that the first Guardian was created by a Keeper who had fallen in battle. The wounded Keeper hid in the forest, terribly weak, close to death. But a wolf appeared and brought the Keeper food, kept the other predators of the forest away. The Keeper was able to bind his wounds while the wolf continued to provide sustenance. When the Keeper healed, he offered to transform the wolf into a Guardian. Part human, part beast, full of Old Magic. In exchange for the wolf’s loyalty and eternal service, the Keeper would always provide for the Guardians and their kin. That was the first Guardian; we’ve been the Keepers’ warriors ever since.”

He stared at me, face blank. “What’s a Keeper?”

I groaned, realizing just how dangerous this conversation could be. It was much too easy to be comfortable around Shay. I was giving things away without intending to.

He leaned forward. “What’s wrong? Are some questions still off-limits?”

“I’m not sure.” I liked it when he was closer to me. I could smell the excitement jumping from his skin, a wild scent of approaching storm clouds.

Delicious warmth swirled in my body. I dug my nails into my jeans. It’s the coffee. It’s just the coffee. My body curled in on itself.

He watched my taut limbs retreat from him. “Take your time. I want you to trust me.”

You aren’t the problem. I can’t seem to trust myself.

I didn’t want to leave, but I was starting to feel afraid. Maybe if I could control the conversation, I could keep us both safe. “For now let’s just say the Keepers are who I have to answer to. Now can I ask you questions?”

“Of course.” He looked delighted that I’d want to know anything about him.

I laughed. “Can I have some more coffee first? We’ve already finished this off.”

“Sure.” He refilled the cup I extended toward him.

“Where are you from?” I started with what I thought was an easy question.

“Everywhere,” he grumbled.

“Everywhere?” I stared into the blackness of the espresso. “I don’t think I’ve been there.”

“Sorry. I was born in Ireland. Some tiny island off the west coast.” His voice softened. “My parents died when I was an infant and Bosque took me as his own.”

“And he’s your uncle?” I watched him carefully.

Shay nodded. “My mother’s brother.”

That’s a lie, but I wonder if he knows it. I just smiled, gesturing for him to continue.

“Bosque has some investment job. Government consulting, I don’t know exactly what. He has lots of money but has to travel all the time. I haven’t been at the same school for more than two years my entire life. We’ve lived in Europe, Asia, Mexico, and several cities in the U.S. I was in Portland for the last two years and then Bosque brought me to Colorado.”

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