Spirit Page 18

Hunter put his head down against the duffel bag, closed his eyes, and smiled.


Kate sat in the cafeteria and sucked on the end of a Twizzler. She should have been looking for the Merrick brothers.

Instead, she was waiting for Hunter. Her heart was buzzing, and she told it to knock it off. She was here on assignment. She had a task.

And she remembered the way he had gone from total control to utter disaster with the flip of a switch, like watching an intricate glass sculpture shatter into a thousand pieces—only to pull together again until you could barely see the seams. Something about that was intriguing, like the guileless way he responded to her text messages.

Silver didn’t know anything about that.

She had no intention of telling him.

Her cell phone chimed.

I can’t come sit with you.

She didn’t bother looking around. She just texted back.

Why not?


Kate shoved the bag of Twizzlers into the front of her backpack.

I’ll come to you. Where are you?

He didn’t respond, so she sent another text.

Don’t tell me. You’re sitting by the pool on the roof.

That got a response.

Please tell me you didn’t fall for that one.

Kate smiled. Like she’d fall for a freshman prank.

I almost fell for the one about the bomb shelter under the school. Then I realized it was probably just a euphemism. Where are you really?

I’m headed back to my car. You’re sitting near someone I’m not allowed to be around.

She frowned and looked up. She didn’t see the Merricks, so this wasn’t about the one he’d fought with yesterday. But there, at the next table, was the girl with punk hair and flame tattoos along her wrists. The one he’d shoved.

It seemed so incongruous with the way he’d defended her in the office.

Kate gathered her things and started for the parking lot. She had no idea what kind of car he drove, and it wouldn’t be easy to find him—the lot was packed with arriving students. Wind whistled across the pavement to sneak under the lapels of her leather jacket and make her shiver. She wanted to beg the sunlight for warmth, to ask the air to ratchet back a few degrees, but there were too many Elementals at play in this town, and she kept her guard up.

Her phone chimed.

You didn’t have to come looking for me.

She held the Twizzler between her teeth and wrote back.

I thought we had a staring date. Vehicle?

A long pause. She shivered again and wished she’d worn something heavier under her coat.

Finally, her phone chimed again.

White jeep. 20 yards to your right.

She spotted his car at the end of the row, under an oak tree with sagging branches. The engine wasn’t running, but at least she’d be out of this wind. She didn’t even hesitate; just climbed right in and flung her bag on the floorboards.

Hunter glanced over, but it was quick. “Hey.”

She opened her mouth to respond, but a German shepherd stuck his head between the seats and gave a low woof of greeting.

Kate grinned and rubbed the dog’s ears. “You have a dog!”

Hunter nodded, his eyes on the windshield. “His name is Casper.”

His voice was easy enough but carried an undercurrent of strain, which made Kate stop playing with the dog and really look at him. The ends of his hair hung across his face, still damp, from a shower probably, and he hadn’t bothered to use a razor this morning. His eyes looked vaguely shadowed, as if he’d been up half the night.

This was a very different boy from the one she’d met yesterday.

She wondered what had happened. The fight with Gabriel Merrick? The girl with the tats? The family issues he’d mentioned last night?

She should drop her guard and touch him, to let the elements feed her information, so she could report back to Silver.

Kate immediately called bullshit on her subconscious.

She wanted to touch him because Hunter looked like he needed someone to be gentle with him for five minutes.

She softened her voice. “You want to talk about it?”

“I’m just tired.”

“This looks like more than just tired.”

He laughed briefly, without much humor to it. “You don’t know me at all.”

She pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and whipped her thumb across the keys.

You want to text about it?

His phone chimed almost instantly. Hunter glanced at it and gave a ghost of a smile.

Then his fingers slid across the face of his phone quickly. He didn’t look at her.

Her phone buzzed in her hand after a moment.

My grandfather threw me out of the house last night. The school counselor called and told him I was hitting Calla, the girl you saw in the caf. So he punched me and told me to get out.

She snapped her head up. Her mouth opened, but he held up a hand, his eyes still on the windshield.

“Don’t,” he said.

No wonder he was barely holding it together.

In a flash, she remembered the first time her mother had brought her to that tiny farm somewhere in southern Virginia, saying they were going to the “training compound,” which turned out to be a dark barn that reeked of alfalfa hay and blood. She hadn’t wanted to go inside, and then a massive man had walked out of the darkness.

When his hand came out, she’d thought he was going to introduce himself.

She’d never been hit in the face before that moment.

She remembered rolling in the dust and scattered straw, wondering when the world would right itself, hoping her mother would intercede.

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