"Kylie? Are you okay?" Her grandfather's voice sounded at the bedroom door at the same time she was able to make out the face at the window. Jenny. The young chameleon who had spoken with Kylie earlier and acted so nervous. The one Kylie thought might have been Monique. What was she doing at the window? What could she want this late?
Jenny's gaze shot to the bedroom door and she shook her head. Panic filled her face, making her eyes widen, and her expression pleaded for Kylie not to tell her grandfather that she was there.
"Yeah, I'm fine. I must have been dreaming," she lied, and then hoped her grandfather wasn't in vampire mode and could read her heartbeat. Glancing back at the window, she saw relief flash in the girl's green eyes.
"Sleep well, then," her grandfather said from behind the door.
"I will," Kylie said. She waited until she heard the footsteps moving down the hall and then inched to the window and opened it.
Jenny pressed a finger to her lips and motioned for Kylie to come outside.
Before she did as Jenny requested, Kylie poked her head out and glanced around. She wasn't sure what she was looking for, but she just didn't want any surprises. Jenny's presence already surprised Kylie enough.
Just as she started to crawl out, Jenny stopped her and leaned in. "Is that your packed bag?"
Kylie looked back at her suitcase sitting on a side chair. "Yes."
"Get it," Jenny whispered back.
Kylie's breath caught. "Why?"
"I have to get you out of here."
Say what? "No." Kylie shook her head. "I'm leaving tomorrow."
"No you're not. Or at least you're not going where you think you're going."
"What are you saying?" Kylie asked, and part of her wanted to slam the window shut, because instinctively she knew whatever news Jenny had to share, it wasn't going to be good.
Ten minutes later, traipsing through the very back of her grandfather's property, her old brown suitcase in hand, Kylie still couldn't come to grips with what Jenny had told her.
"I can't believe my grandfather would do this."
"I told you, it's probably not really him doing it. It's the other elders. To be honest, your grandfather is the most tolerant of all of them."
Kylie stopped. "But he wouldn't go along with it. He would not let them just kidnap me and keep meagainst my will."
"Look, to be honest, I don't even know if he knows. They could be doing this behind his back. But you and I both saw the other elders there talking to him."
Anger and doubt rose inside Kylie so strong that tears stung her eyes. "But leaving like this is ... It feels so wrong. I should go back and talk to him."
"No! If you go back, there's a good chance they'll find us. I know the schedule of the guards, and if we don't hurry they'll catch you leaving."
Kylie inhaled. The smell of the forest filled her lungs and she tried to rationalize. The night seemed to crawl between the trees and the air felt thick. "Why? Why would they do this?"
"Isn't it obvious? You're a protector and you belong to the chameleons."
"I don't belong to anyone!"
"I didn't mean ... I know you don't really belong to anyone. But that's the way they feel." Jenny stepped closer. "They're wrong, they're all wrong about so many things. Why do you think I'm doing this?"
She looked at Jenny and the girl's question vibrated in Kylie's head. "Why are you doing this? And don't say it's just because you think they are wrong, or because you like me or something, because you haven't said more than a few words to me. My gut tells me it's more and my gut is usually right."
She glanced away but not before Kylie saw the guilt in her eyes.
"Is this some kind of a trap?" Kylie started looking around.
"No, it's not a trap," Jenny said.
Kylie heard conviction in Jenny's tone, but she wasn't vampire and couldn't be sure if the girl lied or not. She peered harder at Jenny. "Either you explain yourself right now, or I'm turning around and going back."
"Explain what?" Jenny asked, sounding frustrated.
"Explain why you would help me when you don't even like me."
She huffed. "Look, I didn't like you because Brandon did. I'm supposed to be matched with him, and while it makes me furious that they think they can tell me who I should fall in love with, it still pissed me off when he started falling all over you."
"Matched with him? You mean the elders try to arrange marriages?"
"They try to do everything. They are all crazy. Well, not your grandfather, completely, but..." Jenny rubbed her hand on her jeans as if nervous at telling her true feelings. "They keep us sheltered away from everything. They say it's because they don't want people to see us until we have the ability to hide our patterns. But look at you. You lived in the regular world; you weren't killed or thrown into slavery."
"Slavery?" Kylie asked.
"Yeah, they use fear to keep us compliant. To convince us to stay here and not go out into the world."
Kylie shook her head. "I haven't heard anything about this." But she suddenly realized how isolated she'd been since she'd come. She'd been so overwhelmed, she hadn't realized.
"They've been careful what they say in front of you. But you have to believe me. They want to keep us here. To protect us, they say, but ... sometimes I think what we should fear the most is being suffocated by this way of life. And if they find out you don't agree with them, there's hell to pay."
"Which brings me back to my original question," Kylie said. "If you're so afraid, why are you doing this?"She averted her eyes away again.
"What are you not telling me?" Kylie insisted.
Jenny exhaled. "It's Hayden."
"Hayden Yates?" Kylie asked.
"We talk sometimes. My parents don't know. The elders don't know. And you can't tell anyone."
Kylie did the math in her head, comparing Hayden's possible age and then Jenny's. "He's too old for you."
Jenny's green eyes widened. She shook her head. "He's not my boyfriend. He's my older brother."
Kylie tried to compute this new information. "Then why would your parents not want you to talk to him?"
"Because he left. When a chameleon leaves they're supposed to cut all ties to the family so they won't expose us."
"But my grandfather contacted Hayden," Kylie said.
"Like I said, your grandfather is the lesser of the evils here. Your grandfather actually lets me talk to him sometimes." Jenny frowned. "But we don't have time to stand around and talk. I'm serious, if we don't go now, the guards will catch us." The sound of footfalls coming, coming fast, punctuated Jenny's warning.
"Damn," she said. "Run. Just keep going south and you should come to the edge of the property. You should make it before the guards do if you hurry."
"Go! I promised my brother I'd get you out of here!"
The urgency in Jenny's tone had Kylie bolting, but she only got a hundred yards when her chest constricted with a bad feeling. A bad feeling about leaving Jenny. Kylie felt the subtle change in her body at even the slightest thought that someone might be in danger. She wasn't leaving the girl, not until she made sure whoever hurdled toward her wasn't a threat. Swinging around, she started back.
"Damn it!" a gravelly sounding voice exploded in the dark of the forest. A voice that sounded familiar.
"Get off of me."
"Leave her alone," Jenny screamed. "She's going back where she belongs."
Kylie's feet pounded harder against the ground as she hurried to the edge of the trees. She hadn't come to a complete stop when she recognized the voice. She saw Derek with a very angry Jenny clinging to his back, her hands over his eyes and her legs wrapped around his waist.
Derek yanked her hands from his eyes, but Jenny just shifted her hold around his throat.
"Where is Kylie?" he growled, and whirled around, as if half attempting to find her and half trying to throw off his assailant.
Kylie almost smiled at the sight of Jenny clinging to Derek's back. The smile faded when she saw him become still and close his eyes as if concentrating. She knew he was about to do that thing in his mind that would leave Jenny unconscious. "Stop. I'm here," Kylie belted out.
"You know him?" Jenny asked, her legs still clinging to Derek's back.
"Yes. I know him. Get off of him," Kylie suggested, not completely sure Derek understood Jenny wasn't a threat.
Jenny slipped down and then quickly stepped back, as if now the moment of panic was over, she felt asense of fear. Derek turned, no doubt scowling at the girl, if Jenny's expression was any indication. After only a second, his angry posture weakened. The two of them clashed gazes, neither of them looking happy, but assessing each other.
"Then ... then go, both of you." Jenny waved her arms and quickly diverted her gaze away from Derek.
"Go before the guards find you."
"What's going on?" Derek asked, and finally looked away from Jenny to Kylie. She saw his gaze cut to the suitcase in her hand.
"She says the elders are going to try to stop me from leaving." Kylie felt the pinch of betrayal as she said it. Was her grandfather in on this or not?
"But Burnett said-"
"You do not have time to talk about this!" Jenny snapped.
Derek looked at Kylie as if waiting for her to make the call.
"We should go," she said, and sadness fluttered inside her about leaving this way. About not knowing if her grandfather had betrayed her or not.
She cast Jenny one more look. "Thank you," she said.
Jenny offered Kylie a shy smile and nodded right before she and Derek took off.
She kept her pace even with Derek's, knowing he couldn't keep up. The suitcase in her hand felt light in her firm grip, but the bouncing back and forth felt cumbersome.
"I could've knocked her off. You know I just didn't want to hurt that girl."
"I know." Kylie bit back a grin. What was it with guys and their egos?
Their footfalls seemed to bounce off the trees and fill the darkness. But the mood suddenly felt different. While she couldn't explain it, her skin felt ultra sensitive and her blood seemed to pulse a bit fast. Fear. Danger. It built inside her, like a slow fire, and the scent of it seemed to fill the air, stinging her flesh.
And from the quick glance Derek shot her, Kylie knew she wasn't the only one feeling it. Their pace suddenly increased.
They got within a hundred yards of the gate in less than five minutes. Kylie could have made it in half that time, but Derek couldn't. As they drew closer, Kylie spotted the gate. They could easily jump over. Kylie was about to tell Derek the plan, when suddenly she remembered. Just because she couldn't see the guards didn't mean they weren't there.
She grabbed Derek's arm and pulled him behind a tree. "Wait," she whispered under her breath.
"It's clear," he said, and looked back around the oak's trunk.
"We don't know for sure," she said. "They're chameleons."
His gaze shot back to the fence, his brow wrinkled with puzzlement. She saw the exact second he realized what she meant.
"How could we know if ... they're invisible?" he asked.
Kylie suddenly recalled that while she couldn't see anyone when she was invisible, she could hear them. "Let me check on something." She closed her eyes and concentrated on disappearing. For a second she feared it wouldn't work, but then the odd kind of tingling started with her feet and went to her knees.Derek's eyes grew round as she faded. The second she couldn't see herself, she concentrated on listening. Her gaze moved between the trees, trying to see anything in the dark. Beside her, she could hear Derek breathing. She glanced at him, saw him still staring as if finding her disappearing act a bit too much. Then she heard it. Footfalls.
Someone was coming upon them. It had to be the guards.
Panicked, she searched for the right thing to do. They could hear her whether she was invisible or not.
But at least she couldn't be seen. But what about Derek?
Remembering something she had learned, she yearned to be visible again, and when she appeared, Derek just eyed her in a bit of amazement. She leaned in and whispered in his ear. "They're close by."
She took his hand and laced her fingers through his. Normally, Kylie wouldn't worry so much about facing the guards. Chameleons weren't known as fighters, but the feeling of fear that still pricked her skin said she shouldn't take chances. Not now, not when they were so close to escaping.
She leaned closer to his ear. "I'm going to make you invisible with me. You have to be very quiet, because while they can't see us, they will be able to hear us. You understand?"
"Wait? You're going to make me-"
She cut off his words by pressing a finger to his lips. Then, not really knowing if she could do it, she closed her eyes tight and thought of nothing but disappearing-and taking Derek with her.
Slowly, her legs started to fade, and then she saw Derek's hand start to shimmer. She heard his light gasp when he saw it, too. It didn't occur to her until right then that the whole invisible thing might not work the same for non-chameleons. What if this hurt him? She almost let go of his hand, but instead she listened to her gut and her gut said it was okay.
Dear God, she hoped her gut didn't let her down now.
As the vanishing slowly climbed up her body, she saw his arm completely disappear. She held tight to his wrist and felt him brush his thumb on the back of her arm. When she looked up into his eyes, she saw his gaze was directed at her mouth. He leaned in just a bit. Oh, crap! Thankfully, before his lips pressed against her, he was visually gone. And so was she. As she felt his breath on her lips, she shifted back just a bit.
"Can you hear me?" She breathed the words, her mind still on the kiss that almost happened. Why did it feel so wrong? She didn't need to be loyal to Lucas now. But she did need to be loyal to what felt right, and that almost kiss hadn't felt right. Maybe not all wrong, but not right, either.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
She heard his quiet reply. "Yeah. This is so cool."
Odd, how different people interpreted situations. The first time this happened to her, she'd freaked. Of course, she hadn't had anyone with her, or even known it was possible.
"Don't pull away from me or you'll become visible," she whispered. At least that's how she thought it worked. Oh, great. What if it wasn't that simple?
"Holding on to you is easy," he whispered, and he brushed his thumb over her wrist again. "I never wanted to let go of you."
"Now's not the time..."
"I know." A bit of guilt sounded in his tone.Kylie tried to calm her racing mind that darted between the almost kiss to the fear that turning him invisible could have done some damage. Thankfully, he appeared to be fine. Now she just prayed undoing this was as easy as making him vanish. God, she hoped this hadn't been a mistake.
"Now what?" he asked in a voice barely audible, and she felt his breath against her cheek. She shifted back.
"If I understand what Jenny meant, the guards walk the property. I can hear footsteps, and I'm assuming it's them now. They aren't too close, but it sounds like there are two of them. I'm hoping they will walk on by."
"Sounds like a plan."
It sounded like a shot in the dark, Kylie thought.
They stood completely silent and invisible. The footsteps drew nearer. Close.
Then closer. But they remained invisible. The sound of their breathing echoed too loud in the night air.
Kylie tried to listen to see if their own breaths sounded.
Derek must have shifted because the sound of a twig snapping filled the air.
Kylie stiffened and prayed it didn't give them away.
"Did you hear that?" one voice asked.
Kylie recognized it as one of the chameleons' voices. She didn't know him well enough to call him by name. Not that knowing his name would help right now. If he discovered them, they would probably call the elders. And just what the elders would do was beyond her.
"Who's here?" a different voice called out, and the footsteps drew closer. So there were definitely two of them.
"Speak now if you are one of us!" the second voice said, and moved so close to Kylie she could swear she could feel the warmth of his invisible body.
And that warmth left Kylie cold with fear.
Especially when the body materialized and stood within an inch of her. Derek's grip on her fingers tightened, telling her he was sensing her fear.
The redheaded chameleon guard glanced around and called out. "Hello? Is someone here?"