The bad feeling wasn't just right on the mark, it was an understatement. This wasn't just bad, it was really awful.

Kylie's gaze shot away from Perry's shocked expression to Miranda. The little witch stood rock-hard stiff. The only thing that moved on her was her eyes as she scanned the crowd, obviously looking for Nikki.

And when Miranda's eyes stop moving-meaning she'd found the culprit-her gaze filled with jealousy. And just like that, there was another body part on the witch moving: her pinky.

"No," Kylie blurted out, but it was too late. Nikki the cute blonde disappeared, and standing in her exact spot was a very shocked, very angry-looking kangaroo.

Oh, but Miranda wasn't finished yet. Her pinky continued to wiggle.

Kylie gasped as pimples started popping out of the poor five-foot marsupial. Kylie could hear Miranda's favorite threat ring in her mind. I'll give you the worst case of pimples you've ever seen.

Miranda was right. Kylie had never seen pimples so bad. Of course, she'd never seen a kangaroo with pimples, period.

Everyone in the crowd started howling with laughter. Even though Nikki had brought this on herself, Kylie felt sorry for her. And frankly, if Miranda wasn't green with jealousy, she wouldn't think it was so funny either.

Kylie grabbed Miranda by the arm, leaned in, and whispered, "She was wrong to do this, but ...

change her back. Change her back right now before you forget how to break the curse!"

Miranda frowned, but Kylie saw the logic whittle its way into the girl's brain. She bit her lip, pointed her pinky, muttered a few things, and poof, Nikki magically appeared-no longer a kangaroo, but now a very embarrassed and angry shape-shifter.

The laughter from the crowd must have upped the embarrassment quotient. Instead of turning into something fierce and ripping the little witch apart, tears filled Nikki's eyes and she took off running.

Perry shot around and faced Miranda. "Why did you do that?"

Crap! Kylie thought, knowing Perry had said the wrong thing.

Miranda, already wearing an expression of remorse, frowned up at him. "You're taking her side? She's trying to steal you away from me and now you're taking her side!"

"No, I'm not ... But that was stupid," he said.

Oh, shit! Kylie thought. Miranda didn't like the word stupid.

Miranda's face turned red and tears filled her eyes. "Stupid?" Miranda snapped. "Fine, if I'm so stupid, why don't you run after Nikki and console her. Because she can have you if that's how you feel!"

"What's going on?" Holiday came running out of the dining hall. While several people started to fill Holiday in, Miranda ran off.Kylie turned to Perry, who stood there staring at a departing and very hurt Miranda.

"Hey," Kylie said. When he didn't respond, she gave his T-shirt sleeve a good yank. "Don't just stand there. Go after her and tell her you're sorry."

"What did I do?" he asked.

"First you called her stupid. Being dyslexic, she really hates that word. Second, like it or not, it sounded like you were taking Nikki's side."

"No, I said what she did was stupid. And it was." Perry looked over at Holiday. "She's gonna get hell from Holiday. Why the heck did Miranda have to do something like that?"

"Probably for the same reason a certain shape-shifter turned into a big bear and then a giant lion and tried to rip apart another shape-shifter for kissing someone. Because she's jealous. Don't you remember how it felt?"

Perry frowned. "Yeah, I do remember." Guilt shadowed his eyes. "Shit. I did screw up, didn't I?" He raked a hand through his blond hair. "But I wasn't taking up for Nikki. I just didn't want Miranda to get in trouble."

"Then go tell Miranda that. Explain what you meant. And then do yourself and Nikki a favor and go tell her to give it up."

"I ... haven't encouraged her one bit."

"But have you come out and told her that you're with Miranda and it's just not happening between you two? Because obviously she still thinks you two have a shot. And it's not fair that Miranda has to put up with that crap, and it's not fair for Nikki to keep hoping when she shouldn't. Now go and fix this mess you're in before it's too late."

Right then Kylie's advice to Perry turned around and bit her in the ass. Because it was advice she needed to hear as well. Perry wasn't the only one who had some straightening out to do. She had to talk to Derek. She had to set him straight.

"I can't go," Perry said.

"Yes, you can, or you'll regret this."

"No, I can't. I'm shadowing you. Burnett will give me hell if I run out on you."

Kylie groaned. She turned around and Derek had made his way up to them. She grabbed him by the arm and yanked him in front of Perry. "You're not shadowing me anymore. Derek is."

"Great." Derek smiled and she knew he was reading something into this that wasn't there.

Perry shook his head. "But Burnett-"

"Burnett's not going to get mad. I'll explain it to him. Now go before it's too late and Miranda decides not to forgive you. Go!" She gave the little twerp a shove.

Perry transformed himself into his bird form and took off flying. Kylie knocked a few of the electric sparkles off her arm, and then confronted Derek.

"Come on," she said.

"Where?" The look he shot her came complete with a sexy smile.

"To talk," she said. "We have to talk."

"What about Campmate hour?" he asked.

She let go of a deep sigh. "Forget Campmate hour. You're coming with me!" She grabbed him by the arm and started dragging him.And, of course, that was when Lucas walked up.

His blue eyes met hers. She saw the way he looked at her. She had the oddest desire to stop and explain, but when she tried to think of exactly what she'd say, or why she felt he deserved an explanation, it just seemed too hard.

So she just met his eyes with a look of apology and went back to dragging Derek behind her. Later, she would deal with Lucas. How she would deal with him, she didn't have a clue.

"Do you want to go to the rock?" Derek asked, now walking beside her.

"No." The hurt look in Lucas's eyes kept echoing in her heart. He'd hurt her, but hurting him, even unintentionally, sent regret tightening her chest.

"Why not?" Derek asked.

"Because we have to talk, and I think you know what it's about, too."

For a second she wished it wasn't so. It would be so easy if she could just pick Derek. He didn't have a pack trying to keep them apart. He hadn't given up his quest and wouldn't someday blame her. But you couldn't make your heart take the easy way out, it felt what it felt, it wanted what it wanted.

Her heart obviously wanted Lucas. Whether or not she'd give it what it wanted was another matter. But she couldn't give Derek what he wanted either. It just wasn't right.

He exhaled a frustrated gulp of air. "Why do I have a feeling this isn't going to end well?"

She glanced at him. "It may not end the way you want it, but it's the right thing."

"I'm not so sure," he said.

She led him to her cabin and then remembering Miranda and Perry could be inside working out their own issues, she flopped down on the porch step and motioned him to do the same.

Giving the door a quick look, she hoped Perry had been able to calm Miranda down. Heck, maybe they were in there having a make-up make-out session.

Taking a deep breath, she faced Derek. "You know how I feel. Why are you trying to convince yourself that it's not true?"

"What's not true? Come on, Kylie. You love me, too," he said.

She pulled one leg up to her chest and hugged it. "Yes. I won't lie, but it's not the kind that I'm feeling for Lucas. And I know you know that, because you feel what I feel."

"But if you and I got back together, we could fix this."

She shook her head. "You don't deserve that."

"Don't deserve what?" he asked. "I want you back. You think I wouldn't be happy?"

"Not really," she said. "You shouldn't be. You deserve someone who's as crazy about you as you are about them. You don't deserve someone who ... cares about someone else."

She bit her lip and realized another reason she felt so strongly about this. "This is what happened to my dad and my mom. She loved my real dad. She cared about my stepdad, but he always knew she loved my dad more. Even my mom says it's probably part of the reason he ended up cheating on her. She can't forgive him, but she knows it's partly her own fault."

He sat there frowning. "So you're going to take Lucas back. You are going to forgive him for running off and getting engaged to someone else."She tightened her hold on her leg. "He didn't really get engaged. He stopped it before he got to that point."

Derek's frown increased. "Only because you showed up-because you discovered his dirty little secret."

"I know that. And I don't know what I'm going to do. I haven't forgiven him yet, but I haven't stopped loving him either."

"But if you gave us a chance, maybe you'd really fall back in love with me. I think you were really in love with me at one time. We could get back there where we feel that way again."

"We?" She sighed, realizing what he said. "See, you don't even feel the same way anymore, either."

"I didn't mean..." He shook his head.

"Yes, you did," she said. "Derek, I think we were in love with each other," she admitted. "And I don't want to hurt you, Derek. I really do care about you and I still love you, just not ... that way. And I think it's the same with you."

He stared off at a line of trees and she knew he needed a few seconds to get his feelings in order. She saw him swallow and she felt his pain.

He inhaled. "But what we had was so great."

"I know and I'm so sorry." She felt her voice shake with emotion. Hurting him was so hard.

He looked back at her and she saw the honesty, the genuine concern in his gaze. And wasn't that just like Derek. He was such a great guy. And for that reason alone, he deserved someone who adored him, who loved him more than anyone else.

"You didn't do anything to apologize for," he said. "You really didn't. If anyone can be blamed for this it was me when I got scared and did what I did. Or maybe this is just fate. The way it was supposed to have turned out."

She nodded.

"I want one thing from you," he said. "One promise."

"What?" she asked, knowing she'd give it to him if at all possible.

"Don't stop being my friend. Don't avoid me because you think it's awkward. When you need something, don't hesitate to come to me. I can accept that we can't be boyfriend and girlfriend, but I don't want to lose you as a friend and I'm not saying that just to say it. I mean it."

She nodded. "I promise." Tears filled her eyes.

"And when you do go back to Lucas, make him understand that I'd like to still be a part of your life."

"I told you, I don't know if we will-"

He reached out and brushed an escaping tear from her cheek. "Yes, you will. Because when you love someone, you forgive them."

Her breath shook. "Like you are forgiving me right now?" And another tear escaped.

"I told you, you didn't do anything to be forgiven for. But if you did do something, yeah, I would have forgiven you."

She inhaled and stared down at her shoe. "Even if it was because of me that you couldn't complete the one thing you always wanted to do."

"I'm lost," Derek said.

"I'm sorry. I'm just thinking out loud.""About Lucas?" Derek asked.

Kylie nodded and realized how insensitive she was being. "I'm sorry," she repeated.

"Don't be." He exhaled. "This is what I'm talking about you not doing. I want you to talk to me." He gripped his hands together. "Look, I don't like saying this, but Lucas does love you. I can feel it. And he's hurting like the devil right now. Whatever it is you think he can't forgive you for, well, you're wrong."

She ran her hand up and down her leg before talking. "Because of me he won't get on the were Council.

He won't be able to change all the things he wanted to change with his own people. His own pack will probably disown him. Sooner or later..."

"But he chose you, Kylie. He made that choice. You didn't force him to."

Kylie nodded, but looked him in the eyes. "Maybe it was the wrong choice."

He leaned in, and his shoulder brushed hers with warmth. "I'll bet he wouldn't think so."

She shook her head. "Being a were means everything to him."

Kylie's phone in her pocket chimed with an incoming text; a second later Derek's did the same. She pulled it out and saw Burnett's name on the screen as the sender. She glanced at Derek, who looked at her at the same time.

"A text from Burnett," Derek said.

"Oh, crap," Kylie said, hitting the button to read her text.

Get to the office now! his text read.

Holy hell, Kylie thought. What could be happening now?

Burnett's message to Derek had read almost the same: Get Kylie to the office now! So Kylie and Derek ran to the office. She could have moved quicker if she'd left Derek in the dust, but she held back. What was a couple of seconds?

Nevertheless, by the time she got in front of the office, her heart was thumping in her chest. From exertion or fear of what awaited her, Kylie wasn't sure.

She hadn't made it up the office steps when she heard the voices. Shit, Kylie thought, what was her stepfather doing here?

"It's my stepdad," Kylie said to Derek. "I'd better handle this alone."

She hurried inside and found Burnett, Holiday, her stepfather, and Jonathon in the office. What the heck was Jonathon doing in here? Tom Galen stood in the middle of the room, facing Holiday's desk. Holiday sat relaxed like the essence of calm, but her stepfather's posture wasn't picking up on Holiday's mood.

His shoulders were tight, his hands clenched.

And like her stepfather, Burnett appeared a little tight, but she could tell he was trying to contain himself. But Jonathon ... the vampire just looked guilty. And Kylie got a bad feeling.

Holiday's gaze shifted briefly to Kylie, as did Burnett's, but her stepdad didn't realize she was standing there.

"What kind of school are you running?" Tom Galen bit out.

"The same kind of school that the state is running," Holiday answered, her voice tranquil. "We have a security gate for a reason. You went through it and set off alarms. You were mistaken to be a threat."

"I'm not a goddamn threat. I'm a student's father.""Fathers don't usually try to break into a school," Burnett insisted.

"What happened?" Kylie asked.

Her father swung around and at least some of his tension subsided at seeing her. "I jumped the gate instead of pushing the button and you would think I'd just broken into Fort Knox. I was tackled by this wisecrack of a kid."

Holiday glanced up and Kylie could see from her expression she was trying to play nice. "Jonathon saw your father and made a bad judgment call. Instead of asking questions as he possibly should have, he detained-"

"Detained? He knocked my ass on the ground." Her stepdad rubbed his side. "And let me tell you, for a skinny kid, he has one hell of a tackle."

"We're sorry," Holiday said. "Aren't we, Jonathon?"

"Very much so, sir," Jonathon spoke up.

"Dad," Kylie said. "Jonathon's girlfriend was mugged last week. You could understand how he might now be a tad overprotective."

Jonathon nodded. Holiday glanced at Kylie as if to say, good move. Burnett seemed to agree.

Her father sighed. "I'm sorry to hear about your girlfriend. Is she going to be okay?" he asked Jonathon.

"Yeah," Jonathon said, then flinched as if remembering his manners. "Oh, I mean, yes, sir, and thank you."

With most of the tension lessening, Kylie looked at her dad. "What are you doing here, Dad?"

He frowned. "I came to see you. I e-mailed you late last night and called this morning. You would have known I was coming if you had taken my call or read my e-mail."

"I'm sorry," she said. "It's been a crazy morning."

"She is attending school," Burnett added.

Her stepfather looked apologetic. "My company sent me down here for a meeting with a sister company that's not happening until two this afternoon, and I thought maybe I could steal you away and we could grab brunch together."

Behind Tom Galen, Kylie spotted Burnett scowl. The vampire had made it clear she wasn't leaving the school without him until they knew Mario wasn't in the vicinity. Burnett looked directly at Kylie and shook his head with determination. He wasn't just saying no, he was saying hell no!

"Uh, I already had breakfast," Kylie said.

"Well, we'd just grab something to drink," her stepdad said.

Kylie shot Burnett another quick glance. The man was still shaking his head a firm hell no.

"I ... I have classes," Kylie said.

Disappointment filled her stepdad's eyes. She hated hurting him. Today she'd already hurt Lucas, then Derek, now her stepdad. This wasn't a good day.

"Now, Kylie," he said. "I'm positive you can spare a few minutes of your time to visit with me."

She felt the tension building inside her and inside the room. Her stepdad wasn't going to back down, and from the looks of things, neither was Burnett.

This was not going to end well. Copyright 2016 - 2023