Spirit Page 45

“Why did you flip sides?” she demanded.

He looked back down at her. “Who says I flipped sides?”

“You’re living with the Merricks.”

“Yeah, and they hate me.”

“You should hate them.”

For an instant, Hunter wanted to lift the knife and use it on himself. Her question narrowed his entire internal debate down to one fine point.

“They stopped those fires last night,” he said quietly. “They saved my life after your boyfriend shot me.”

“He’s not my boyfriend.” Her face lost some of the righteous fury. “And I know they did.”

“Sounds like you care.”

“About all those people? Of course I care.”

That wasn’t what he’d meant, but he didn’t correct her. It shouldn’t have made a difference, but it loosened something inside him, to hear that she couldn’t disengage her conscience, either. “So what do you want, Kate? What?”

“I want your help.”

“You thought you’d get it with a knife at my neck?”

“When you showed up, you were so . . . so cagey. I knew you’d figured it out. What I am.” Her voice dropped. “I thought you really were on their side. I thought you’d kill me before I could explain myself.”

“Guess I’m not all that predictable.”

She wriggled her wrist under his hand. “Do you mind?”

He raised one eyebrow. “Just talk?”

She nodded. “Just talk.”

So they sat against opposing trees, but he kept her knife, spinning it between his hands. “Maybe you should tell me the whole story. Transferred from Saint Mary’s? I should have figured out that was a load of crap on the Ferris wheel.”

She didn’t blush, but her jaw was set. “I thought you’d be suspicious of someone from out of town.”

“Did you know what I was, that first day?”

“I knew John Garrity had died after taking an assignment to eliminate the Merricks. The name was too close to be a coincidence.”

He laughed, but not like anything was funny. “Is your mother even dead? Or was that just something to say to get close to me?”

Now she froze. “She’s dead. She died on an assignment to kill a Water Elemental.”

He told himself not to care. He’d fallen for this more than once already.

His father had once told him he needed to learn to cage his compassion, that others would use it against him, that it would cloud his judgment and hide what needed to be done.

But he couldn’t help it. He heard the pain in her voice. No, he recognized it.

“What happened?” he said quietly.

“She was stupid. She faced him on the water.”

Her eyes were hard when she said it. The derision in her voice was almost potent. “So you’re here on a vendetta,” he said without judgment. He couldn’t really criticize—he’d come here for the same thing, once.

“No, I’m here because it’s my job. I thought you’d understand that.”

Hunter didn’t have anything to say to that.

Her expression turned fierce. “I still don’t understand why you’d be living with them. I’ve heard just how badass your father was.”

Hunter went still. “You don’t know anything about my father.”

“I can imagine what he’d think about you living with a pack of Elementals he’d been sent to kill.”

Hunter’s hand tightened on the knife—but she was right. He had to look away.

“Did the Merricks kill him?” she asked. “Did they somehow convince you to—”

“No,” he snapped, feeling his throat tighten. “No. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“So tell me.”

It took him a minute to make sure his voice would remain steady. “When we came after them, the car was crushed in a rock slide. My father and uncle were killed.”

He felt her eyes, and he met them, holding her there, daring her to say . . . anything. He wasn’t sure what would push him over the edge.

Her voice dropped. “Michael Merrick is an Earth Elemental.”

Hunter glared at her, hard. “I know. That was my first thought, too. I came here to finish the job.”

“And you couldn’t follow through.”

It was so close to the truth that he flinched. He put a thumb against the edge of the blade, just a bit, letting the pain steady him. “They aren’t the only Elementals in town,” he said. “Their parents made a deal with the others, that they wouldn’t turn them in to the Guides if the Merricks kept out of trouble and didn’t use their abilities. Then the others spent years harassing the Merricks in an effort to make them reveal themselves.”

She snorted. “Some deal. They used their abilities last night.”

“The deal is over. When my dad couldn’t . . . when he couldn’t finish the job . . .” He had to swallow. “Another Guide came. He almost killed them. He caught Chris and Nick, but . . .”

Hunter stopped. She was going to misunderstand this, too.

“But what?”

He slid his thumb along the edge of her blade, harder now, feeling the sharpness, knowing it could draw blood with a little more pressure. “I helped them escape.”

“Did you help them kill him, too?”

“He’s not dead!” he snapped. “I still don’t understand why you want my help if you think I’m nothing but a traitor.”

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