"Are you ... okay?"
The voice. Not Mario. Derek's voice.
His familiar tone had her initial panic fading, but only for a second. I'm in love with you, Kylie. The words he'd spoken less than fifteen minutes ago flowed through her head, bringing with them another emotional storm that made her mind and heart spin. Derek loved her. But what did she feel?
She shifted slightly, and the heel from her right shoe fell off, making her off balance. That's how her life felt-as if it had lost a heel, and her only choice was to limp along.
"What's wrong?" His voice rang with concern.
I'm fine. The words perched on the tip of her tongue, but she swallowed them. Derek, half-fae, could read her. To lie to him about her emotional state was futile. So she turned around and faced him.
"What are you doing here without a shadow?" Derek asked. "You know you're not supposed to be without a shadow in case that freakish rogue returns."
Meeting Derek's gaze, she spotted the panic brightening his eyes. She knew the panic she saw was her own as well. When she hurt emotionally, he hurt. When she experienced joy, he lived it, too. When she feared something, he feared it for her. Considering her emotional state these last few minutes, he must be in hell.
His chest expanded behind the fitted dusty green t-shirt. He held a hand over his hard stomach as he sucked air into his lungs. His dark brown hair appeared windblown, and his bangs clung to his forehead. A drip of sweat rolled down his brow. For a second, all she could think about was falling into him, letting his calming touch chase away the apprehension inside her.
"Is it ... what I said?" he asked. "If it is, I'll ... take it back. I didn't tell you that to tear you apart inside."
One couldn't take back an admission of love, she thought. Not if he really meant it. But she didn't say that. "It's not what you said." Then she realized that, too, was a lie. His confession played havoc with her emotions. "Well, it's other stuff, too."
"What stuff?" His words came out breathlessly. His eyes searched hers and she saw the gold flecks in his irises brighten. "I sense you're terrified and confused, and-"
"But I'm okay." She noticed again his winded state, as if he'd just run a mile to get to her. Had he? "Where were you?"
He took in another deep gulp of oxygen. "My cabin."
Over a mile. "You felt my emotions that far away?"
"Yeah." He frowned as if he hoped she didn't blame him. She didn't like that her emotions were an open book for him to read, but she didn't blame him. He'd told her once that if he could stop reading her, he would. She believed him.
"I thought you said it was lessening," she said. "Does it still make you crazy?"
His left shoulder shifted upward a couple of inches. "It's still strong, but it's not overwhelming like before. I can handle it, now that I..."
Now that he'd accepted he loved her. That's what he'd told her. That's why their link had grown so strong. Her chest grew heavy with indecision again. It was a good thing that one of them could handle it. Because she wasn't sure she could deal with this. Not with him loving her. Not with any of the revelations she'd been given. At least right now.
"What's wrong?" He stepped closer. So close she could smell his skin-earthy, honest, real.
The temptation to walk into his arms washed over her. She longed to feel the up and down motion of his chest as he breathed, to let what was in the past be what was in the future. Closing her hands into tight fists, she limped past him with her one broken heel, went to a tree, and lowered herself down to the ground. The earth felt cooler than the heat in the air. The blades of grass tickled the back of her legs, but she ignored it.
He didn't wait for an invitation; he lowered himself beside her. Not close enough that they touched, but close enough that she thought about touching.
"So it's more than one thing?" he asked.
She nodded and the decision to confide in him seemed already made. "My dad appeared to me." She bit down on her lip. "He told me what I am."
Derek looked puzzled. "I thought you wanted to know."
"Yeah, but ... He said I'm a chameleon. As in, a lizard."
His brows pinched and then he chuckled.
She didn't appreciate his candor. Her panic came back threefold. She'd wanted to know what she was so the others would accept her, so she would fit in, but what if she ended up being something that honestly made her a freak?
"I hate lizards," she blurted out. "They're right up there with snakes-evil little bug-eyed creatures scurrying around in the dirt and eating creepy-crawly things." She stared out at the woods again, imagining a brigade of lizards staring back at her. "I saw a program once that showed a long-tongued lizard eating a spider in slow motion. It was gross!"
Derek shook his head, all shades of humor fading from his eyes. "I've never heard of supernatural lizards. Are you sure?"
"I'm not sure of anything. That's what's so scary. Not knowing." She shivered. "Seriously, devouring blood is preferable to having one of those long tongues and dining on insects."
"Maybe he got it wrong. You said ghosts have a hard time communicating."
"At first, yes, but now my dad makes perfect sense."
Derek didn't look convinced. "But what do you think a chameleon supernatural is, or does? All I think they could do is change colors."
Kylie let his words run around her brain for a second. "Maybe that's it?"
"You can change colors?" Doubt showed on his face.
"No. But maybe I can change my pattern. Like how my grandfather and aunt appeared human. And like how I appear human now."
"Or ... maybe your father's having a relapse and he's just confused. Because I've never heard of any supernaturals who could change their brain patterns."
"What about me?" she asked. "What about my grandfather and aunt?"
He shrugged. "Holiday said it was probably a wizard who cast a spell for your grandfather and aunt."
"Did he cast it on me, too?" Kylie asked.
"No, but ... Okay, I don't have the answer." He frowned. "And I know that frustrates you. But didn't you tell me that your real grandfather was coming to visit? I'm sure he'll clear it up."
"Yeah." She bit down on her lower lip.
Derek studied her. "There's something else wrong, too?"
She sighed. "When I asked my dad what it meant about being a chameleon, he said we'd figure it out together."
"And that's bad because...?"
Kylie stated the obvious. "He's dead, and he's limited to earthly visits, so does that mean that I'm going to die soon?"
"No, he didn't mean that." Derek's tone deepened with conviction.
She started to argue that he couldn't say that with certainty, but because she wanted to believe him, she bit back the words. Taking a breath, she stared down at the grass and tried to find peace in knowing that her grandfather was going to come in a couple of days. Tried to find peace in having spilled her troubles. And she did feel slightly better.
"Have you asked Holiday?" He leaned in and his shoulder bumped into hers, his warmth, his soothing touch chasing away some of her angst.
She shook her head. "Not yet. She's still in the office with Burnett." And Kylie still hadn't mulled over the whole ghost issue. If someone's ghost appeared to you when they weren't dead, what did it mean? The possible answers started her heart shaking.
"I think this is kind of important," he said.
"I know, but..."
"There's something else, isn't there?"
She glanced up. Was he reading her emotions or her mind? "Ghost problems," she said.
"What kind of problems?"
Of all the campers, Derek was the only one who didn't run away at the mention of ghosts. "This person isn't dead."
"So it's not a ghost." Derek looked confused.
Kylie bit down on her lip. "Yes ... I mean, at first the spirit had the whole zombie thing going on-hanging flesh, and worms-but then it changed. And when it did, the face turned into someone I know."
"How could that be?" he asked.
She paused. "I don't know. Maybe it's a trick."
"Or not," Derek said. "You don't think someone's going to die?"
Not anyone else, she wanted to scream. "I don't know." She yanked a few blades of grass from the ground.
"Who is it?" he asked. "Not someone here, is it?"
Kylie's chest tightened. She didn't want to say it-afraid that if she said it aloud, it would make it so. "I just need to think it through."
Derek paled. "Oh, crap! Is it me?"
"No." She tossed the blades of grass and watched them whirl in the wind on their descent.
When she looked back at him, she could feel him reading her emotions, deciphering their meaning. "You care a lot about this person." His brows pinched. "Lucas?" She heard the pain in his voice from just saying the name.
"No," she said. "Can we drop it? I don't want to talk about it. Please."
"So it is Lucas?" Derek asked.
"What's Lucas?" A deep, irate voice suddenly spoke up.
Kylie looked up and saw Lucas step out of the trees. His eyes were an angry orange color. She flinched with guilt for a just a second, then fought it back. She hadn't been doing anything wrong.
"Nothing," Derek bit out when Kylie didn't speak. He stood up and took one step toward the office. Pausing, he looked back at her, and then glanced at Lucas. "We were just talking. Don't go all were on her."
Lucas growled. Derek walked away, appearing unaffected by Lucas's anger. Kylie grabbed another handful of grass and yanked it from the ground.
"I don't like this." Lucas stared down at her.
"We were just talking," she said.
"I was telling him about a spirit and that ... it looked like someone I care about, and he asked if it was you. You should feel good that he knows I care about you."
Lucas's scowl deepened. Was it because of Derek or because she'd mentioned ghosts? Lucas's inability to accept her working with the spirits hurt.
"He has feelings for you," Lucas countered.
I know. "We were just talking."
"It makes me crazy." His eyes glowed a deep, burnt orange color.
"What makes you crazy? Me talking to Derek, or me talking about ghosts?"
"Both." His voice rang with such honesty that she found it hard to condemn him for it. "But mostly it's the thought of you spending time with that fairy."
She flinched at his insult toward Derek. Then, unsure what to say, she stood up. Forgetting about her missing heel, she almost tripped. He caught her by the elbow.
She met his gaze, still marked by his were anger. But his touch was tender and caring, with no hint of the fury she saw in his eyes. She remembered that some of his reactions were instinctual, which meant he shouldn't be held accountable. Another part of her knew that instinctual or not, it didn't make it right.
She sighed. "We've already talked about this."
"Talked about what?" he asked.
"Both things. I help spirits, Lucas. That's probably never going to change."
"Yeah, but they scare the shit out of you. They scare the shit out of me."
Kylie tensed. "You think your shifting into a wolf doesn't scare me?"
"That's not the same. They are ghosts, Kylie. That's not ... not natural."
"But turning into a wolf is completely natural," she said with sarcasm.
He exhaled. "Okay, coming from someone who's lived their life as a human, I can see your point. And while I'm sure I'm never going to love the ghost whispering part of you, I'm working on accepting it." His tone told her how hard that was for him. "But accepting that you're spending time with Derek isn't easy when I know if he were given the chance, he'd steal you away in a snap."
She swallowed raw emotion and touched his chest. His warmth soaked through his shirt and into her hand. "I know how it feels. Because I feel the same way when I see you with Fredericka. And that's the reason I know I can't tell you to push Fredericka away."
He placed his palm over her hand and a soft pleading filled his gaze. "That's different. Fredericka is part of my pack."
She shook her head. "And Derek's a friend."
"Exactly. That's what makes it different. A friend isn't the same as a pack member."
"It is for me." She shook her head. "Think about it. You're loyal to pack members. You would defend them. You care about them. That's the same way I feel about my friends."
"That's because you're not a were. Or at least not yet." He snaked his free hand around her waist and tugged her a little closer. "Hopefully, soon, it will all make sense to you."
I'll never be a were. She stared up at him. The evidence of his anger had faded from his eyes and she saw affection in their deep blue depths. He cared about her. She knew that with certainty. And maybe for that reason, she wavered about telling what she knew. Instantly, it hit her that she hadn't hesitated to tell Derek. Why could she confide in Derek and not Lucas? Bothered by the thought, she forced herself to say, "I'm not a were."
"You don't know that," he said. "The fact that you developed more before a full moon and had mood swings has to mean something."
She shook her head. "I'm not. I know what I am."
His eyes tightened in confusion. "You ... How do you know?"
"My father appeared to me again. He said I was a chameleon."
Puzzlement filled his gaze.
She frowned. "I don't know exactly what it means."
"That doesn't make sense." He released her. "There's no such thing. Just because some ghost said-"
"It wasn't just 'some ghost.' It was my father."
"And your father is a ghost." Whether he meant it to or not, it sounded like an insult.
His words and his attitude stung. She pulled her hand from his warm chest. All the emotional havoc from earlier whirled inside her.
"I know he's a ghost," Kylie said. "And I wish he wasn't dead. I wish I knew what he meant. I wish that you could accept me for what I am. But I can't change the fact that my dad died before I was born. I can't help that I don't understand what he meant. For that matter, I don't understand a tenth of what's happening in my life right now. And I have a feeling you will never be able to accept me for what I am."
"That's not true." His expression hardened with denial.
"Yes, it is." She turned and limped away.
She heard him ask her not to go. She ignored his plea. Then, stopping, she reached down to remove her shoes. As she straightened, her gaze caught on the row of trees-on how their leaves stirred even when no wind blew. She felt again the unexplainable sense that she was being lured to enter. As tempting as it was, she walked away. Walked away from the forest. Walked away from Lucas.
And both somehow felt wrong.