Spirit Page 27

“Remember that day we went running? Remember how you sat on the side of the trail and cried about your father? Was that real? Or just one more act? Something to get me to talk, so you could report back to Bill?” His voice turned into a breathy lisping mockery of Hunter’s. “ ‘Guess what I learned today. Gabriel Merrick misses his mommy.’ ”

“Fuck you.”

“No, f**k you, Hunter.” Gabriel got in his face and shoved him, true anger behind the motion. “You know why you slept alone in your jeep last night? Because you’ve screwed over anyone who might help you.”

Hunter shoved past him and kept walking. He remembered that day, jogging on the trail, racing Gabriel for fun until they ran out of energy and adrenaline and collapsed in the grass. The air had been crisp and clean with the sun beating down—and memories of his father had clouded Hunter’s brain until he couldn’t help but talk about it. Emotion was tightening his chest again, just thinking about it.

A car rolled down the road, swirling dead leaves from the roadside in its wake. Night wind snuck into the space between Hunter’s collar and his neck. He begged the air for warmth, but it was merely content to nip at his skin and make him shiver.

“What I don’t get,” said Gabriel from behind him, “is how you could trust that ass**le.”

Hunter didn’t say anything.

“I mean,” Gabriel continued, “you know he abandoned his own daughter. You know he trapped Chris and Nick and used them as bait. Hell, you saw the news footage of the bridge when he tried to blow up Becca’s car. Some f**king father.”

Hunter just kept walking.

“And if you want to pick Bill’s side, then why did you help Michael tonight?”

“I needed money.”

Gabriel caught his arm and spun him around. “Bullshit.”

“It’s not bullshit. I did need money.” Hunter jerked free.

Gabriel shoved him in the chest. “Lying to yourself, too?”

Hunter gritted his teeth. “Go away.”

“Why can’t you even answer a straight question?” Another shove. “I’ve seen you drop Mike on his ass one-handed, so I don’t buy this crap about him forcing you into the truck.”

Gabriel shoved him again, a fierce motion that drove Hunter back a step. He didn’t want to fight. He didn’t want to be here.

“Are you messing with my family again, Hunter?”

“Stop it.”

“If you wanted to finish what your father started, then you should have shot us on the soccer field.” Another push, another step. “Quit screwing around so I can decide whether to help you or kick your ass.”

Hunter moved to shove him—and when Gabriel shifted to brace and strike back, Hunter stepped into the motion, hooked an ankle, and spun. The back of his fist caught Gabriel in the face, and the other boy went down. Hard.

Hunter glared down at him, fists clenched and ready for retaliation. “You could not kick my ass.”

Gabriel winced and touched the back of his head. “Dude, this is concrete.”


“Jesus.” He winced again and sat up on the curb. “One of these days you’ll have to show me how you do that.”

Hunter stared down at him, feeling his breathing settle and his hands loosen. He sighed and dropped to sit on the curb. Casper came and pressed against his knees, and Hunter buried his fingers in the scruff of fur at the dog’s neck.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I should have told you. About Bill.”

Gabriel didn’t say anything, so Hunter kept his eyes on his dog. “When I followed you to the first fire—I wasn’t even going to let you know I was there. But then I could tell someone was trapped, and I couldn’t not—well, you know.”

“I remember.”

“I never told Bill anything. He asked, but I didn’t tell him any of it. Not about the fires, or about the—the other stuff. About my dad, and your mom—”

“I get it.”

“Sometimes . . .” Hunter hesitated. “Sometimes I don’t know what’s right, you know?”

“Yeah, man. You do.”

Did he? It made Hunter think about Michael’s comments in the car, about turning off his conscience. Who decided what was right?

Gabriel stood and held out a hand. “Come on. You can crash in Nick’s room.”

Hunter peered up at him. “What? Why?”

“Because he’s got more floor space for an air mattress.”

“What about all this crap about not trusting me?” Hunter took the hand and pulled himself to his feet.

“Keep your enemies closer, right?” said Gabriel.

But the tension, the challenge and aggression, was gone from his voice.

“Thanks,” Hunter said. “Maybe just one night.”

“Stay as long as you need to.”

Hunter was surprised by the sudden lump of emotion in his throat. He couldn’t say anything.

But then Gabriel smiled. “Besides. If you f**k with me or my brothers again, I’ll just let Nicky suffocate you in your sleep.”


Hunter stared at the ceiling and waited for sleep to find him, but it didn’t seem to be looking too hard. Casper was a heavy weight at his side, his muzzle tucked under a paw. Nick’s breathing was slow and even, a solid indicator of sleep.

Hunter pulled the phone out of his pocket and scrolled through the menu until he found Kate’s last text.

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