Oh, hell, Kylie thought, and prepared herself to intervene.

"I'm not going!" Della snipped, and put her hands on her hips.

"We'll see about that." Steve shrugged and looked as if he was going to walk away, but then he swung around and grabbed Della by her lower legs and tossed her over his shoulder and started walking.

Everyone started hooting and hollering with laughter.

Kylie didn't laugh. She saw a very pissed-off vampire brace her hands on Steve's butt and look up.

Her eyes were green with fury, but there was something else there, too. Something that told Kylie that Steve's ass wasn't about to get chewed up.

With every fraction of a second that passed, Kylie felt more confident that Della wasn't going to go ape-shit on Steve, she was actually going to go with him.

Damn, Kylie thought. Maybe she really was good at the whole matchmaking thing.

"Can I vanish?" Jenny asked Kylie as they stood in the door of the lunch room with Holiday.

"I wouldn't recommend it," Kylie said. "Just smile. Believe it or not, you sort of get used to it."

The meeting with Jenny and Kylie's friends had gone off without a hitch. Everyone genuinely seemed to like her. Derek, of course, showed the most interest.

Lucas had come up behind her and said, "Another secret."

Kylie offered a quick "Sorry," and nothing else. She had the feeling keeping him at bay until he met with the Council was going to be tough. For both of them. But she was determined.

"Don't they know it's rude to stare?" Jenny asked.

"Yeah, but they just can't seem to help themselves," Kylie said.

Hayden stood up from his seat and moved to Jenny's side.

He wasn't smiling and she saw the big brother protective attitude in the way he looked at all the students. "Eat your lunch and stop gawking," he ordered.

Holiday spoke up next. "Mr. Yates is right. This is no way to welcome a new student."

Kylie and Jenny both looked at Holiday with questions in their eyes, and Holiday smiled and nodded.

Then she turned back to the crowd. "Everyone, I'd like for you to meet Jenny Yates. She's Hayden's little sister. So mistreat her and you might be getting extra homework assignments."

"Is she the same as Kylie?" someone asked.

Hayden took a step forward. "And the same as me."

Everyone's eyes tightened and gasps filled the dining hall. Kylie went to sit with Hayden and Jenny at what she realized was the chameleon table. A feeling of rightness filled Kylie's chest. This was part ofher quest and she'd accomplished it.

Of course, all Kylie's friends quickly joined them. Lucas included. And that was just fine-because while it was nice to have someone like you around, a person's pattern shouldn't dictate who you welcomed into your life, or at your lunch table.

Later that evening, they went down to the lake to swim because with fall upon them, the water would be too cold soon. Kylie had almost declined but when she saw Della wanted to go, she gave in. She put on her bathing suit and slipped a black coverall dress over it. As everyone swam, Kylie moved to sit on the pier and call her mom.

She hadn't shaken the feeling that John was up to no good. The conversation was short. Her mom and John were out to eat at one of the nicest restaurants in Houston.

Hanging up, Kylie stood there and tried to soak up the sunset. Just when the sun slipped away, nightfall came and turned the sky an array of colors. The birds flew from one tree to another, feasting on insects.

Kylie was about to rejoin the others by the water's edge when the spirit's cold washed down on her.

Kylie looked around and the spirit sat on the edge of the pier as if in a stupor, looking lost, looking so damn sad.

"I know who you are, Lucinda," Kylie said. "You were Mario's daughter-in-law."

I know. I've figured that part out. But things came to me one piece at a time, like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. I could almost see what my whole life was like, but when those last dozen pieces fell into place, I saw the whole picture. Her voice sounded tight, ready to break. I didn't like it.

After a long pause, she looked at Kylie. I lived a terrible life. Did terrible things. Hurt so many people. And my own son paid the price. I should have lived to be a good example for him.

Kylie looked up at the beaconing sky. The hues of gold and oranges had faded and it was now ten different shades of pink. She noted the birds were now flocking around the pier. Could they, like her, see the dead?

Looking back at the sadness in the spirit's eyes, Kylie said, "He's in heaven."

The spirit shook her head. I don't think so. I'm sure his grandfather taught him all his evil ways. He was so young and impressionable. Then his own grandfather killed him.

The mood surrounding the spirit-devastation, doom-pressed on Kylie's heart. "You were an example for him. He died saving someone else, just the way you did to save him. You taught him that. And that's what saved his soul."

The ghost's eyes grew wet with emotion. Are you sure? How do you know this?

Kylie hesitated, worried the spirit might blame her. "He died saving me."

The spirit sat as if lost in thought for a second. Then that's why they sent me here?

"Who sent you here?" Kylie asked, pretty sure she knew, but she wanted to hear it.

The death angels.

"Is that whose voice I hear every now and then?"

That would be them.

"But why do I hear them more than ... Holiday and other ghost whisperers?"

They watch over protectors closer. They have to because you can only fight to protect others."Do they want me to kill Mario, or is that just you?" Kylie hoped she was wrong about her assumptions.

At first I thought it was just me, but then I realized it was their plan, too.

Kylie's heart clutched.

He has to be stopped. You are the chosen one. No one else has been able to stop him.

"But if I can't protect myself, then ... who will I be protecting when I fight him?"

I cannot see that future.

"But what if I can't do it? I'm not that good with a sword."

Then you die trying. Sometimes that's all we can do.

Kylie knew the spirit referred to herself, too. She'd died trying to save her son. Yet as much as she felt for the ghost, fear bit down on Kylie.

"I'm not ready to die."

Then you have to practice. That's another reason I'm here. To help teach you to fight-because if you fail, bad things will happen to so many people. People you care about. People who trust you to protect them.

She felt the sting in her blood at being a protector. "Then I'll have to win," Kylie said. Because damn it, she wouldn't let Mario hurt anyone else that she loved.


Kylie looked over her shoulder at the sound of Lucas's voice. His lack of a shirt had her staring. His hair was still wet. A few droplets of water still clung to his chest. He'd been in the water just a few minutes ago. He must have slipped his jeans over his swim trunks. She could see the edge of suit sticking out over the waist of his jeans.

Her gaze moved across that spot on his belly button where she'd run her hands to heal him, and then just to touch him.

"You okay?" he asked.

She nodded, but it was a lie. Her heart was caught on the possibility of dying, of others suffering because she couldn't rise to the challenge. And just like that, seeing him made her realize how much she wanted to live.

She looked back at the water and heard his almost-silent steps on the pier as he moved closer.

"You got company?" he asked, now standing beside her.

She looked around. "No, she's gone now."

His phone rang and he grabbed it out of his pocket as if he'd been waiting for a call. He frowned at the little screen, and then turned it off.

"Is something wrong?" Kylie asked.

"No, it's just Will."

"He still calls you?"

Lucas nodded. "He's not persuaded by the old rules."

"He's a good friend," she said.

"Yeah." Lucas slipped it back into his pocket. "I was hoping it might be my grandmother."

She saw the concern in his eyes. "About meeting with the elder?"

"That and she told me she wasn't feeling well this morning. I called a bit ago and she didn't answer.She probably went out to play bingo. She's like this bingo fanatic. Bingo and gardening, that's her life."

"You really love her, don't you?" Kylie asked, hearing the devotion in his voice when he talked about her.

He inhaled the way a guy does when he's worried something he's about to say is going to make him sound weak. "She was there for me when my parents decided I was too much trouble. She was the best thing that ever happened to me, but I didn't know it then. I felt abandoned by them. I made her life hell for a while. Then when my parents split up and my dad came to get me, my grandmother threw all kinds of hell to keep me. I wouldn't be who I am today if she hadn't done what she did."

"You are lucky to have her." Kylie felt a little guilty for disliking the woman and for avoiding her last Sunday.

"Yeah, I am," he said. They grew quiet. "I've been practicing what I'm going to say."

She looked at him. "Say to who?"

"The elder I'm hoping to get the meeting with."

She smiled. "That's good."

"I'm going to be accepted. Because if that's what it takes to get you back, then that's what I'm going to do."

She swallowed. "No, you do it because that's your quest."

"That, too," he said. He reached out and brushed a strand of hair from her cheek. "But lately, I think you're my quest."

He moved in and slipped his hands around her waist.

She put her hand on his chest, felt his were heat, felt the thumping of his heart.

He leaned down and kissed her. She knew she shouldn't let it happen, but she wanted it, needed it. His taste and the wet slip of his tongue moving across her lips was heaven, but the kind of heaven one found in life and not in death.

And she wanted to choose life. Hoped it would be so.

She heard the humming coming from him instantly, and it would be so easy to let it lure her in.

He ended the kiss, smiled down at her, and exhaled. "I'd better go before I can't leave."

She watched him go and then looked up at the dark pink sky, and hoped with everything she had that she wasn't taken from this world until she had experienced life. And she truly hoped that Lucas was part of that life.

That night, after listening to Della and Miranda bicker for the last two hours, Kylie darted out of the bathroom, wearing a towel, and headed to her bedroom. She barely got two steps when Della shot in front of her.

"No. Solve it yourself!" Kylie snapped, certain that was what Della wanted. "I'm tired of being the referee!"

Della paused, smiled in an evil little way, and then said, "Never mind."

Skirting around Della, Kylie shut her bedroom door with just a touch of attitude. She tossed her towel on her dresser and turned to the bed where she'd left her PJs. Only it wasn't just her PJs on the bed anymore.Lucas, eyes wide, sat on the foot of her bed, about four feet from where she stood completely naked.

She squealed.

He laughed.

She dashed for the towel.

Once she had it around her, she glared from a still grinning Lucas to the door. "I'm killing Della!"

He laughed again. "I'm afraid I might have to protect her for this one."

"I tried to tell you," Della called out, laughing, and Miranda laughed with her.

Kylie's fury faded to embarrassment, then when she saw the sexy way Lucas looked at her, her emotions changed into something else.

He stood up and started walking toward her. "You are so damn beautiful."

She tightened her hold on the towel.

He stopped about a foot from her. "I just came to tell you that I got a call from my grandmother. The elder has agreed to meet with me."

Kylie smiled. "That's great."

His gaze traveled up and down her towel-clad body. "I don't suppose I could get another peek of what's under that piece of cotton, could I?"

She cut her eyes at him.

"I don't want to be too presumptuous, but you do know that sooner or later I'm probably going to get to see it all anyway."

"I know," she said, and she was actually looking forward to it. Just not with her two roommates listening in.

His smile widened. "Okay, so just a kiss good-bye."

She nodded. He moved in. In less than two minutes he'd left. The kiss was hot, wet, and toe curling.

He'd run his hand inside her towel and touched her bare back.

Fifteen minutes later, she was still only wearing the towel, staring up at the ceiling in a happy haze, when her phone rang.

She snatched it up, thinking it would be Lucas. "I don't know why you left in such a hurry," she teased.

But she had known, he'd wanted her.

"Uh, I didn't leave. This is Sara?"

"Oh. I thought you were..."

"You thought I was who? Or should I say which one."

Kylie blushed and decided to just come clean. "I thought you were Lucas."

There was silence for a second and then Sara asked, "Can I ask you something?"

What was it with Sara wanting her to lose her virginity? "Sure, ask away." At least this time, Kylie could tell her that it would probably be happening soon.

"Do you consider you and Trey completely done with? Like ... last year's news? Or is there a chance you two might-"

"It's so over." Kylie gripped the phone tighter. "Look, if he's trying to get you to talk to me, it's not going to work."

"No. It's not ... that. It's ... Where do you stand on friends dating another friend's old boyfriend?"

Kylie stared at the ceiling and tried to wrap her head around this. "Wow. Uh. Well, I would tell thisfriend to be careful because Trey has a few flaws."

Sara sighed. "I know, but ... he's sort of been there for me during the whole cancer thing, and you know ... some people deserve a second chance. I got one. Maybe Trey deserves one."

Kylie heard something in Sara's voice she liked. She heard the old Sara. Kylie smiled. "You're right.

Everybody deserves a second chance. And when I think about it, until he got all sex crazed, he was a pretty good guy."

"So you really wouldn't object?" Sara asked, sounding unsure.

"No, I give you my blessing. I'll sing at your wedding."

"Please." Sara chuckled. "I'm probably one of the few people who knows you can't sing worth a damn.

Remember in the sixth grade when our moms made us try out for the play? And you had to sing. You got out a couple of words and then you puked on the stage."

They both laughed. And Kylie accepted that while she and Sara would probably never be as close as they once were, Sara was a part of her life that Kylie would forever cherish.

When the laughter stopped, Sara cleared her throat. "So, when are you going to come clean about healing me?"

Kylie tried to think how to say it. "You know what, Sara? If you want to believe I healed you, then believe it. But I wouldn't tell a lot of people. They'll think you're crazy."

Thursday night Kylie practiced with Lucinda. The last three days had passed without major chaos. Steve and Della were actually speaking. Kylie couldn't swear on it, but she'd bet the vamp and Steve were seeing each other on the side.

Jenny was adapting, though she still had issues with everyone staring. While Hayden didn't like it, she and Derek were hanging out a lot. Derek had even come to see Kylie and basically told her he had feelings for the chameleon.

At first, Kylie thought he was there to make sure Kylie didn't want a second chance with him before he moved on, but then she realized what he'd really come for. He wanted relationship advice. She gave it to him, too. "Just be yourself, Derek. You're a hell of a catch and she's gonna love you."

Holiday had gone to the doctor and found out she was farther along than she'd thought. For that reason, she decided to move the wedding up to this weekend. It wasn't going to be a big event. Just Holiday's immediate family, the students, and a few of Burnett's FRU coworkers.

Della, Kylie, and Miranda all helped Holiday pick out her wedding dress from the Internet. They had laughed, stayed up way too late talking, munching on junk food, and trying to come up with names for Holiday's baby. She really didn't want to name it Burnett Bankhead James Jr., and nobody could blame her.

Kylie and Lucas met every morning before he took off to spend his time with the elder. The man had not only listened to Lucas, but had agreed to help him polish his case to the Council that he was supposed to present next week. So far, the old man kept Lucas busy every day debating and listening to all of Lucas's arguments and helping him with his points he needed to make. Which was great, but other than those short practices, she hadn't seen Lucas and she missed him something terribly.

What made it worse was that he hadn't touched or kissed her since the night he'd seen her naked. Sheknew why. The closer it came to the full moon, the less willpower he had. She noticed the change in him, too, body and mind. His body had grown buffer, the muscles in his arms more pronounced. She sensed his lack of patience. Not that he once got abrupt with her; she just sensed it, how he held himself, how he walked and talked.

Their sparring matches had grown more intense. Not that those scared her anymore. Her nightly practices with the spirit prepared her. The red marks where the spirit's sword touched her gown had lessened tremendously. The open wounds the spirit wore from Kylie's sword had increased.

"I think I'm done," Kylie said, looking away from the wound she'd just caused Lucinda.

You're getting better.

"I'd practice more if I didn't have to see you bleed."

It needs to feel real, Lucinda said.

"It already does," Kylie answered. She watched Lucinda check her wounds. "Do you think I have what it takes to fight Mario, to win?"

With the death angels' help, maybe. Without them, you don't stand a chance.

"Gosh, you know how to boost someone's confidence," she said.

I've only seen one person able to take him. His own son.

Kylie remembered the story Derek had told about him disappearing. "Whatever happened to him?"

I don't know. I hope he's rotting in hell. But chances are he is still alive. Her gaze met Kylie's. It's always the good that die young.

"Then maybe I should run out and do something bad," Kylie said, half teasing.

You couldn't. Good is bred into you. Sort of the way my husband's evilness was bred into him. Only because of you was my son saved.

"No, it's because of him that I was saved."

You see, that's part of your goodness. You won't even take credit.

Kylie pushed that thought away. "Was he behind your murder? Your husband?"

No, but he allowed it. And he allowed his father to take our son. To raise him to be evil. Crazy thing was, my husband hated his father, but envied everything he had. She looked over her shoulder as if she heard something or someone. Then she disappeared.

Kylie went to her room and grabbed her nightshirt, then headed for the shower. Sweat ran from the back of her neck down her back. Even with the spirit's cold, she always worked up a sweat.

Turing the water on to lukewarm, she dropped her clothes on the floor and stepped into the shower.

Closing her eyes, the warm rush of water hit her skin and she waited for it to soothe the muscles she'd overworked during practice.

The sudden change of temperature had her eyes popping open. Her breath hitched. She stared at the shower wall. The cold sent goose bumps racing across her naked body. A thick steam billowed up around her.

She wasn't alone. Someone was in the shower with her. And it was a different cold. One she hadn't felt before.

Can't avoid me this time, can you? The voice, a voice she didn't recognize, came behind her.

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