Kylie, practically holding her breath, suffered through Burnett's introduction of all three teachers. First was Hayden Yates, aka Mr. Yates to the students, who gave her a nod and a more than uncomfortable stare. The new half vampire, half fae science teacher shook her hand and held on for a second longer than she'd liked.
Considering his fae half was dominant, she was surprised she didn't feel any emotion-altering warmth from him. And although he didn't strike her as a pervert, something about him gave her just a bit of the creeps. She wasn't sure what it was, but she didn't like it, or him. Odd, because Kylie normally didn't make rash assumptions about people-with the exception of her mom's new boyfriend, of course. But that was a special case. That guy wanted to dirty up the sheets with her mom and that just wasn't okay.
Ava Kane, aka Ms. Kane, wore the title of English teacher. She was half-witch and half-shape-shifter, with shape-shifter being her dominant species. She seemed nice enough, but the way she kept twitching her brows, trying to see something different in Kylie's brain pattern, made Kylie uncomfortable. Exactly what did she think she'd find?
Collin Warren, a half-fae, half-human, was the history teacher and a geologist who came off as the quiet type. Odd, for someone with fae blood, because they usually seemed to have a certain amount of natural charm, but then again, perhaps not all half-fae inherited that talent. Kylie had heard that, on rare occasions, some human supernatural blends tended to be more human than supernatural, so perhaps that was the case with Mr. Warren.
Nevertheless, he smiled, said the proper things-"Nice to meet you"-but Kylie got the feeling he was as uncomfortable being put on the spot as she was. Which made her wonder why he'd want to be a teacher.
After everyone knew everyone's name, Kylie stood there, her smile still spreading her lips tight, and waited for something to end the awkward moment. Burnett finally intervened. "Well, I'm glad you all met."
Kylie spun around, thinking only of escaping. But one step forward, and she found herself surrounded by six or seven teens she'd never met. Obviously the new students. The blunt stares and open curiosity in their expressions made her catch her breath again. It was one thing to be gawked at by the regular campers, but newbies ... Her heart raced and her palms began to itch. Hives were only a few minutes away.
Her swallowed-a-mosquito smile fell flat. And that mosquito she'd supposedly inhaled buzzed in her stomach. She didn't know if she could handle more brain gaping and uncomfortable introductions.
"Is it true that you didn't even have a pattern at first?" one of the girls, a witch, asked.
Suddenly, an arm fell across her shoulders. Before she looked at the owner of that appendage, she recognized Derek's warm touch. "I'm sorry, but you guys are going to have to meet Kylie later. I need to steal her away."
"Lucky guy," one of the new vampires said.
"Yeah, I am," Derek said, sounding possessive.
He guided her through the circle of new students. Moved her with confidence and with purpose-the purpose being to get her the hell away from the gawkers. But damn, she appreciated Derek being there so much. She leaned against his shoulder and heard him sigh.
"Hang in there," he whispered. "I'll get you out of here."
He glanced over his shoulder and she followed his gaze to see him looking toward Burnett. The vampire nodded as if giving permission for him to take her out.
She didn't breathe again until they walked out the dining hall door.
Derek's arm tightened as they left the building, as if telling her he didn't want to let her go. While she hated admitting it, there was a small part of her that didn't want him to let go either. But knowing what was right, she stepped away from his side. And then she met his soft green eyes.
"I'm sorry," she said.
"For what?" he asked.
For everything. For feeling things I shouldn't. "For needing to be rescued. It's crazy. I should be able to handle it. It's just that people stare at me like I'm..."
"Special?" He grinned.
"No, like I'm a freak."
He shook his head. "They don't think you're a freak. They're curious. And that one vamp was totally into you, but I'm sure it's still hard."
"Maybe when I know for sure what I am, then it won't be so hard." But she did know, didn't she? She was a chameleon. Was she starting to doubt her heritage like everyone else?
Derek's eyebrow rose. "You still don't believe you're a witch?"
"Not completely," Kylie said.
He nodded. "Well, that should all be cleared up tomorrow, right? When your grandfather comes."
That's when she remembered she hadn't told Derek about her grandfather cutting off his phone or about him and her great-aunt turning into fog. She started to spill her guts to him when she felt the sudden splash of cold.
The smear of condensation started to materialize next to Derek. The familiar feminine form taking shape told Kylie it was Hannah. But Kylie's breath caught when she saw the spirit had gone back to her zombie look. The beige dress she wore was in shreds and stained with mud. Her hair hung lifelessly around her shoulders. Part of her cheekbone was exposed where the skin had decayed and hung loose. And worms moved in and out of her ears.
Gross. Instinctually, Kylie took a step back.
"Not again." Panic filled Hannah's dead-looking eyes.
"What?" Kylie forced herself not to keep backing up. But the worms were falling off her at a rapid rate.
"Huh?" Derek took a step closer and one of the worms fell onto his chest.
Kylie brushed it off and then shook her head.
"Oh." His eyes widened with understanding. He took a small step back, not so much out of fear, but as if giving her space.
Kylie refocused on Hannah. But the spirit's gaze stay glued over Kylie's shoulder. She heard the dining hall door open behind them, and the sound of the crowd followed the door. Hannah continued to stare over Kylie's shoulder. Then, suddenly, her expression grew more panicked.
"No," Hannah muttered and her hands, more bone than flesh, grabbed Kylie by the shoulders. Worms went everywhere.
"Not again! Not again!" The spirit's touch sent wave after wave of icy tremors coursing through Kylie, who forgot about the worms. Pain shot from every nerve ending and her body stiffened from what felt like a brain freeze to her entire body.
"Is everything okay?" Derek moved in.
The throbbing through Kylie's body locked the air in her lungs. She wanted to scream. But she felt as if someone had her by the throat. Black spots started forming in her vision. She felt her knees start to fold. Derek touched her and just like that, the pain and the dizziness vanished. Blinking, she saw Hannah was still there, standing beside Derek.
Kylie breathed, then forced the words out. "Not again, what?"
Hannah didn't answer, didn't even look at her. Derek did, and he appeared concerned.
"Look, I need to know what it is you need me to do. Please, answer me." But the spirit, her frightened dead gaze locked over Kylie's shoulder, faded into thin air.
Derek brushed his hand down Kylie's arm. "You okay?"
Kylie nodded, savoring the warmth of his touch, and then she turned around to see who'd walked out of the dining hall, wondering if that was what had sent Hannah running. Burnett, the new teachers, and a couple of the new students stood by the door.
"Was that Hannah?" Derek whispered.
"Yeah," Kylie said, still trying to wrap her head around what Holiday's sister had meant by not again.
"You really okay?" he asked.
She touched her throat. "Yeah. I just don't know what it is that she needs me to do."
"I don't know if this helps, but I think I know where Cara M. worked."
"Where?" Kylie asked.
"When you told me that she could possibly be from around here, I Googled all the diners and cafes in the area. I found some photos and this old newspaper article about some place called Cookie's Cafe, right outside of Fallen. Have you ever been there?"
"No, I don't ... Wait. Yes, my mom took me to this restaurant that was really just an old house. That must have been how I recognized the uniform."
"That's it. The house was built in the eighteen hundreds." He smiled as if proud he'd found the answer to at least part of the puzzle.
Kylie almost smiled herself, but then it hit her. What now? Even if all Kylie needed to do was find the bodies, how was knowing where one of the dead girls worked going to help her? Ordinarily, she could talk to Holiday about this but ... she couldn't do that until she knew exactly what was going on. It would be unbearably cruel to tell Holiday her sister was dead when there was a chance Kylie was misinterpreting the visions.
Then another realization washed over her. She should probably go to the police. But she didn't have a freaking clue how to explain any of this. Which meant it might be up to her to try to solve the murders.
Not again. Not again. Hannah's words rang in her head. What was Hannah trying to say?
Oh, holy hell, Kylie didn't have a clue how to move forward. She wasn't an investigator. She didn't even enjoy watching TV shows about detectives. She glanced back up at Derek. "What should I do now?"
"I called the diner, just to ask if there had been a Cara M. working there, but it's a tourist place and they're only open on the weekends."
Kylie's mind continued to whirl with what she needed to do. "Oh, hell, I'm so out of my league on this."
"Don't worry," Derek said. "I'll help you. And besides, we have until Saturday to decide what to do next."
She looked up at him with complete appreciation. "How can I thank you?"
He grinned with pure sex appeal, the gold flecks in his eyes brightening. "I could think of a few ways."
He held up a hand. "Fine. Just smile a little more. That'll be payment enough."
Thursday morning, Kylie woke up when Socks bumped her chin with his nose. As she blinked away the fogginess of sleep, she stroked Socks's soft feline fur. The sun spilled through the window and she watched as the day's brightness and shadows flickered on the ceiling, fighting for space-a war of sorts between light and darkness.
As the battle took place, she felt her mood host a similar conflict. Her life seemed to be a melee of so many problems and yet so many possibilities. She'd lost Derek, but gained Lucas. She'd lost the bond with her stepdad but found Daniel. She'd lost being human, but was now supernatural.
And today was the day she was supposed to meet her grandfather and discover just what it all meant, but she doubted that would happen. A frown pulled at her lips and the darker side of her mood tried to take over.
Not that she'd let it win. She closed her eyes and tried to think positive thoughts. But her mind went to Hannah and the fact that Kylie shouldn't postpone telling Holiday any longer that her sister was dead. Just thinking about how that conversation would go took another bite out of Kylie's disposition.
Then her heart reminded her that Lucas hadn't shown up last night, despite the fact he'd told her he would. That pretty much made it official. The dark side, the bad mood, had won. Glancing back up at the ceiling, she couldn't help but notice there were indeed more shadows than sunlight.
For some crazy reason, she remembered Nana telling her to enjoy her childhood because soon enough she'd be an adult. Was this adulthood? To wake up every day and know it would bring both good and bad? To do things you had to do, even if you wished you didn't have to do them?
Then she recalled another piece of Nana's advice. Just remember, sweetie, sometimes we can't change what happens, but we can change how we let those things affect us.
"Easier said than done, Nana." Kylie inhaled a big gulp of frustration and the sweet smell of roses tickled her senses. Turning her head, she saw the single pink rose on her nightstand. The memory of Lucas having robbed his grandmother's rose garden and filling Kylie's room with roses sent her bad mood on time-out. Then, seeing the note beside the rose, she sat up and reached for the slip of paper.
Sorry I was late. Something came up and I had to go visit my dad. You were out like a light when I got here. But damn, you are so beautiful when you sleep. If Della hadn't heard me opening your window and poked her head in and shot me the bird for waking her up-she's impossible-I would have climbed in bed with you just to feel you next to me.
You have no idea how much I'd like that. To feel you against me. All of you.
Kylie reached for the rose and placed it to her nose. The sweet scent made her smile. Maybe the bad mood wasn't going to win after all.
Kylie reconsidered her positive attitude when a couple of hours later, she batted at the bugs swarming around her as she moved into the woods with Holiday and Burnett. But it wasn't the bugs causing the deterioration of her good mood. It was one certain dark-haired, blue-eyed werewolf.
Kylie should have been excited about going to the falls. She always felt better after a visit. But right now, she didn't want to feel better. She wanted to feel ... mad.
Wait. She didn't want to feel it, she did feel mad.
Mad at the rose-leaving, note-writing were.
She'd completely let go of her aggravation about Lucas not showing up last night. She'd tried to set aside the fact that he'd practically told her he had to keep secrets from her. While she didn't like it, she'd even accepted that Fredericka, his one-time sex buddy, would always be within touching distance of him, when Kylie wasn't anywhere close enough to touch him herself. She had worked at overcoming the fact that his grandmother, his father, and even his entire pack, were against their being together.
She'd done a lot of setting aside, overcoming, and accepting. And after this morning, she realized that it might have been too much-because after not showing up last night, after hardly seeing her yesterday, he'd barely acknowledged her this morning in the cafeteria.
Another mosquito buzzed past and she swiped at the air, sending the pest headfirst into a tree. Bzzz ... splat!
Couldn't Lucas have come over and had breakfast with her? She wouldn't have even blamed him if he'd brought Clara with him. But no, all she'd gotten was a smile, and even that smile had seemed somehow purposefully short. Then he'd joined the were table with all his other friends, his pack-people who clearly came before her now and probably always would.
Last night, he'd climbed into her bedroom way after midnight while she'd been asleep. He'd left her a rose and a sweet note, and this morning all she'd gotten from him was a half-assed smile. What was up with that?
She sure as hell didn't know. Who was she kidding? She knew exactly what was up. She wasn't good enough for him, because she wasn't a were.
That stung. Really stung. Then, to make matters worse, when Derek sat beside her, Lucas had the audacity to text her and say he didn't like it.
Right. He didn't like the fact that Derek had sat beside her, but he'd chosen not to sit with her. Instead, his sexy little butt was sandwiched between Fredericka and one of the new female weres, who was all over Lucas to the point that even Fredericka was unhappy about it.
Yeah, Kylie could hear Lucas telling her that he no longer cared about Fredericka. She could hear him saying that he hadn't asked the new girl to sit beside him, and she could hear him saying he had to be loyal to his pack. And maybe Kylie was wrong to feel angry, or maybe she wasn't so much angry as she was just tired of playing second fiddle.
Second fiddle sucked.
Another mosquito bit the dust when she swiped it off her cheek.
"You might want to slow down," Burnett said, moving up beside her with his long-legged strides.
Kylie glanced at him. He studied her briefly, then shifted his gaze back to the terrain as if expecting something to jump out at them. He'd been acting antsy since they walked into the woods, not that Kylie paid too much attention; her heart had been too busy fiddling with her second fiddle matters to care if Burnett had drunk too much caffeine.
"Seriously, slow down," Burnett said.
"Why?" Kylie asked.
He briefly glanced over his shoulder again. "As wonderful as faes are, they're slow."
Kylie sighed. She hadn't realized that she was moving at a fast sprint. A non-human sprint. A non-witch sprint, too. Which meant she wasn't really a witch, right? Glancing back, she saw Holiday power walking to keep up.
"Sorry." Kylie slowed down and noticed how Burnett kept looking around as if he expected something to jump out at them. Had something happened? And if so, did it have anything to do with her?
Holiday's footfalls sounded beside Kylie. She glanced from the nervous vampire to Holiday.
"Thanks for slowing down," Holiday said, sounding a bit breathless. In less than a minute, Burnett lagged behind them, just out of vampire hearing range. Probably at Holiday's insistence. No doubt she wanted to talk with Kylie, and Holiday didn't like knowing he'd listen in.
The verdant smells of the forest filled Kylie's senses. For the first time since she entered the woods she recalled her grandfather and the fog. She immediately tried to listen with her heart to see if she felt the calling sensation from before; it wasn't there. Then she wondered if somehow the whole fog episode was behind Burnett's edginess. Or even worse, had they tried to return and set off the alarms? Would Burnett even tell her about it if they had?
She looked back at Burnett. What did the vamp know?
Moving closer to Holiday, Kylie asked, "Can you tell me something and be honest about it?"
Holiday's footsteps on moist earth made squishy sounds, as if Kylie's question had added a weight to her step. "I don't lie to you."
"By omission you do. Not being up-front about something is as bad as lying." And then there was the issue of how little Holiday shared about herself. As much as Kylie confided in Holiday, it hurt to realize it wasn't a two-way street.
"I don't purposefully keep things from you." The truth in her tone hung in the damp air. They walked without talking for a few moments.
"What is it you want to know?" Holiday asked.
Kylie fought back her frustration with Holiday, knowing her anger with Lucas was affecting her attitude. "What's with Burnett? He seems extra alert. Has he ... learned something that concerns me? Does he have news about my grandfather? Today was supposed to be the day he showed and yet ... I don't think there's a chance in hell that he's coming. And no one is even saying anything about it, as if it never happened."
Holiday frowned. "Because we didn't think it would happen, we decided to downplay it. But Burnett and I talked earlier about it and he hasn't heard anything about your grandfather. But ... I agree about him being ... let's call it on the defensive. I asked about it. He says he's feeling jittery." Her tone seemed to say that Holiday didn't buy it.
And neither did Kylie. Something was up. But what?
As they continued over the rocky path, an unnatural cold seemed to sweep in with every other breeze. Someone, someone dead, was close by. She gave Burnett another glance over her shoulder and remembered their talk about ghosts.
Was that the issue bothering him?
Holiday slowed down and peered back with concern. A slight huff of air leaked from her lips and her expression shifted from concern to annoyance. Not just any kind of annoyance, but the kind that stemmed from the opposite sex.
The mood must have been contagious because Kylie's own thoughts ventured to her opposite-sex issues and she wondered if men weren't just created to drive women crazy.
A few more minutes down the path, Holiday spoke up. "Now it's your turn. What's up with you? And don't tell me nothing, because you have anger dripping from you like a leaky faucet."
Kylie frowned, too angry to deny her feelings. "Lucas is what's up."
"Boy trouble, huh?"
"Boy catastrophe is more like it. I'm not sure I can do this."
"Do what?" Concern sounded in Holiday's voice.
"Do Lucas," Kylie said.
Holiday made a funny face and raised one eyebrow.
"Not do him as in ... get naked," Kylie blurted out, realizing what she'd said and thinking this was the cause of Holiday's odd expression.
"I mean, dealing with being the last thing on his to-do list. I mean him treating me as if I'm an afterthought in his life. I mean me feeling as if everyone he knows and cares about thinks I'm not good enough for him because I'm not a were."
Sympathy filled Holiday's eyes. "If it helps, I don't think Lucas shares the old beliefs of the weres. Most of the young weres don't agree with them, but there's pressure from the elders in their society to follow them anyway."
"I know," Kylie said. "And I also know that the only reason he's abiding by the stupid rules is because he needs his father's approval to make the Council so he can change things. But when he won't even smile at me for longer than a second, it hurts!" she seethed. "I guess that makes me a selfish twit for feeling this way." Her words resonated deep inside her and the guilt, like flies on a bad banana, started buzzing around her chest.
"No." Holiday cut her green eyes toward Kylie as they took the bend in the trail. "It doesn't make you selfish. It makes you normal. No one wants to be made to feel as if they aren't good enough."
"But I still feel like a selfish twit," Kylie said. The sound of the falls started playing in her ears, and even from this distance she felt the calming in her mood. "Or I feel selfish when I'm not feeling furious."
Holiday leaned in and brushed shoulders with her. "Your feelings are valid. Don't feel guilty. Sure, Lucas is making these choices for a reason. It's part of his quest, and we all must pay a price for following our own paths. But..." She paused in thought. "It's not always fair to ask others to pay that price." She glanced back at Burnett again.
Kylie sensed Holiday's words held a personal significance. In the last few days, Kylie suspected the relationship between Burnett and Holiday had gone backward. And she didn't think it was Burnett doing the backtracking.
"I think he'd be willing to pay it," Kylie said.
Holiday frowned. "I was talking about you and Lucas."
"Right," Kylie said. But you were thinking about you and Burnett.
They moved off the path and into the alcove of thick trees as they completed the journey to the falls. The moist smell of wet earth perfumed the air, the sound of rushing water played in the symphony of the woodsy sounds, and the serene ambience grew stronger.
Kylie's anger, her frustrations, all seemed lighter with each step. And when they arrived, it was ... surreal. Each time, she seemed to forget how good it felt. They stood on the bank of the creek and stared through the misty air at the spray of water cascading downward.
Kylie heard Holiday draw in a deep, calm breath that matched her own.
"What is it about this place?" Kylie asked.
"Magic. Power." Holiday reached down to remove her shoes and Kylie did the same. "Back in the 1960s, there was actually a supernatural doctor in botany science who came here to prove that all this could be explained by some chemical compounds in some plant life. A natural drug of sorts."
"But how could that be when not everyone experiences it?" Kylie unlaced her shoes.
"Ahh, but those not welcome here generally feel the opposite, an uncomfortable sensation that urges them to flee. Which is why this scientist believed it was a chemical reaction. Meaning, the few supernaturals who experience positive emotions were just genetically inclined to react differently to the plant's compounds. Like how some groups of people react differently to drugs."
"And what did he find?" Kylie asked, intrigued by the subject, but no more believing it was a drug than she believed in Santa Claus.
Holiday pulled off her shoes and set them beside a rock and stood up, glancing down at Kylie with a slight smile on her lips. "Not a damn thing. After only a few weeks of working in the area, he and his teams suddenly gave up the grant that was going to pay for the project. Rumor was the Death Angels scared them away."
Kylie moved her gaze around the verdant and beautiful landscape. The mingling of mist and sprays of sunshine beaming down from above the trees spoke of the power and magic that Holiday had mentioned. The ambience that existed here was too reverent to be considered a drug, and the natural splendor too spiritual to be dissected and studied under the microscope.
"I can see how the Death Angels wouldn't like unbelievers digging around. I'm glad they chased them away."
"Ditto," Holiday said.
Standing up, Kylie's bare feet sank into the moss-covered bank. Wiggling her toes, she bent down and rolled up her jeans.
Right then something swooped down in front of her. She swallowed her scream when she saw it was the blue jay. The bird she'd brought back to life that had somehow imprinted on Kylie and kept stopping in for visits. Hovering right in front of her, it sang as if personally performing a ballad just for her.
"I'm not your mama," Kylie said. "Go, find your own way. Do what all birds do. Leave the nest, so to speak. Find a hunky blue jay to flutter after."
"That's sweet." Holiday chuckled.
"Maybe, but it's also weird," Kylie muttered.
With her jeans rolled up, she took a step into the creek. The cool water lapping around her ankles felt heavenly. Her heart that had moments earlier ached with raw emotion now felt lighter. Things, at least for right now, felt right. Her world felt manageable; her problems solvable. She eagerly embraced the feeling.
Yet if she'd learned anything from her visits to this special place, it was that even a manageable life didn't mean things would be perfect. A trip to the falls didn't fix anything. It simply offered one the strength to face the hurdles.
Life could still hurt like a paper cut right across the heart.
And she had a few paper-cut scars to prove it. A vision of Ellie filled her heart. Yet as a breeze carrying the misty coolness brushed Kylie's face, the ache faded into acceptance. Every new day was about opportunities. You couldn't always control life, just your response to it.
Stopping halfway across the creek, she turned to look at Holiday. The camp leader stood gazing back at Burnett, who stood in the trees. The expression on her face held concern, fascination, and something else.
Love. Burnett and Holiday were meant to be together. The feeling came on so strong and with such certainty that there seemed to be a message with it-a message Kylie couldn't quite read. Did it mean she was supposed to help make that happen? Or could she trust that if left alone, love would find a way?
And could she feel the same about her and Lucas?
Not that she was prepared to call it love. Nor had he called it that.
But Derek had. I'm in love with you, Kylie.
Kylie closed her eyes and tried not to think about anything other than the calm feeling that the falls provided.