Authors: Heather Hildenbrand
An Accendo Press Title
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“I can’t believe this. You punched her in the face? Twice?!” My mother’s voice rose to a shriek.
“Um.” There wasn’t anything I could say to make this one go down easier, so I stayed wisely silent and stared down at my hands propped on the faux marble of the island countertop. We were facing off in the kitchen. Two days had passed since… well, since I’d almost died. And mom, too.
Grandma was rummaging around upstairs, probably rearranging my mother’s furniture in the guest room. Again. Which I knew added to my mother’s stress level and left me taking the heat.
In the aftermath of that day, I'd forgotten all about the incident at school. Only now did I realize how little the office had told my mother during that initial phone call before she’d gone and tried to sacrifice herself to Leo, my evil uncle.
I’d somehow dodged it again when she’d called to withdraw me from my high school, giving them the address at Wood Point to send my transcripts. Whichever clueless old lady she’d talked to at reception hadn’t even mentioned the suspension. But then today, she’d received the letter, and the explanation it contained from Principal Sellers that cleared it all up. In detail.
My mother blew out a breath and a stray piece of hair flew off her forehead and then back down again. I think she would’ve paced, but then she wouldn’t have been able to hold the icy glare she was using on me. I shifted my weight, wondering if it would be a mistake to make a break for the stairs. Probably.
My mother waved the letter from Principal Sellers in my face, as if I might not remember whatever it said happened.
I can’t believe this,” she repeated. “Suspended. For fighting. This goes on your permanent record, you know. Colleges will see it. If you make it that far. And at this rate, you might not. We’re lucky Grandma secured your spot at Wood Point already.”
Wood Point. Yeah, lucky.
I hung onto my silence, but it was getting harder. I wanted to say that if I’d known it would get me out of boarding school, I’d happily punch Cindy Adams all over again. I had a feeling that was not something I should say out loud.
The oven timer dinged, signaling the self-cleaning was done. My mother broke her gaze and glanced at the appliance like it was calling to her. “We’ll talk about this later."
I scurried out before she’d finished pulling on her yellow cleaning gloves.
I thought about going back to my room to hide out, while my mother worked her frustrations out on the oven, but it was depressing in there. All of my clothes were packed and ready to go for the trip to Wood Point tomorrow. So were most of my books, bedding, and anything else remotely important to me. Everything except Wes.
I hovered outside my room, leaning against the wall, and trying to ignore the dull pang that arose from thinking his name. He’d been by every day, under the watchful and disapproving eyes of my mother. He was slow to convince that I really was recovering. At least, that’s why he claimed to be checking on me. He hadn’t said much about anything else, including us, or school, or how we were supposed to be ‘
’ with me
school. I was afraid to ask because I wasn’t sure what his answer would be.
I was still hung up on the whole magnetic pull between us. The more time that passed, the more it bothered me. What if that was the only reason I was attracted to him? Or him, to me? What if we only wanted to be together because of some strange chemical reaction in our blood? It was hard to believe, because just thinking about him made me ache and yearn in ways I’d never thought possible. But, I couldn’t shake the doubts and wondering…
And then there was his completely annoying over protectiveness that fell somewhere between macho extreme and unnecessary. I was trying to be understanding and let it go. I was the first to jump on the protective bandwagon when it came to someone I loved, but every time he made a decision about what was best for me, without actually consulting me, it grated.
“There you are.” Grandma poked her head out of the guest room next to mine. She glanced behind me, probably making sure my mother hadn’t followed me up. When she saw I was alone, her gaze darted back to me and she relaxed. “Come in here, will you?”
I pushed off from the wall and followed her through her open door. Sure enough, the furniture was set up totally different than before. The bed was pushed against the far right wall, instead of centered between the windows, and the dresser was pushed up against the window, so that the mirror and frame blocked the view outside.
“Love what you’ve done with the place,” I said, crossing to a blue cushioned chair, next to the narrow bookshelf she was using to block the opposite window.
“Your mother is naïve and careless." She took a seat on the edge of her bed, looking so normal in her elastic waist jeans and ‘Number One Grandma’ sweatshirt. But I could still picture her back in the warehouse, cutting a path of dead Werewolves with the speed of someone a third her age. I no longer let her unassuming air fool me. “She forgets we’re fighting a war and need to operate accordingly. This house is a painted target after what happened with Leo, and she leaves it wide open. Like ‘Come and get me.'”
She clucked her tongue and pulled open her nightstand drawer. I waited; I knew better than to get in the middle of anything to do with her and my mother. She reached in and pulled out a thick, leather-bound volume and held it out to me.
“What’s this?” I asked. I took the book, staring at the cover. The symbols on the front looked familiar, and I remembered where I’d seen it. The book Fee had let me borrow. The one that had eventually led to my mother discovering what I knew. But this one looked a little different, and it felt older, more used somehow. “The Draven?”
Draven. The one you had was borrowed. I gave it back to Fee. This one is yours. And the rest of the family's. Traditionally, it should go to your mother next, but I don’t think she’ll accept it. Besides, what with school and all, I think you should have it.”
“Thanks, Grandma.” I paged through it and eyed the familiar drawings depicting battles and weapons. “I already read a lot of this, though.”
She shook her head. “Turn to the back.”
I flipped to somewhere near the end. The last few pages, which should’ve been blank, had some sort of chart drawn in with handwritten names on each connecting line. All of it was interconnected with lines joining certain branches together. I spotted Grandma’s name on the last page, along with my grandfather and the dates of his life span underneath. My name was somewhere near the bottom, underneath my mother and father.
It’s our family tree,” I said.
Hunters take pride in their lineage and knowing where they came from. So should you. You come from the best Hunter stock there is. You’ll learn all about it at Wood Point. Lineage is very important there.” She shifted her attention back to me. “Now, tell me about this girl you punched.”
I made a face and let the book fall closed. “It was a bad idea. I didn’t mean to, but that girl’s been pushing my buttons for way too long. She went too far, and I realized how much stronger than her I was and…” I broke off, my shoulders slumping when I saw that Grandma was frowning at me. “Yeah, I shouldn’t have done it.”
I expected more, Tara.”
No, I mean, literally, I expected her to have provoked you, thrown the first punch, something. I didn’t think you’d attack an innocent human without provocation.”
It’s been a long time coming. And I wouldn’t have done it if I’d known I’d hurt her that bad,” I said, which was a total lie. I’d been hoping to damage Cindy at the time; I just hated disappointing Grandma. It was worse than my mother being angry, because Grandma had a way of piling on the guilt through disappointment. I sighed.
“You have a responsibility to protect those weaker than you, not use your strength against them,” Grandma said. “You need to remember that.”
I know. I guess I…lost control.”
Grandma didn’t answer. When I looked up, she was studying me with a more serious expression than I’d seen her wear in a long time. It made me feel even worse.
Sorry,” I said. “Go ahead and lecture me.”
I’m not going to lecture you. You already know it was wrong and that you need to work on keeping a hold of your temper. You’re just new and haven’t had time to learn. If anything, I blame your mother.”
Blame me for what?” My mother stood in the doorway, yellow-gloved hands on her hips. “Everything’s my fault, right?”
Crap. I really didn’t want to get caught in the crossfire when this one blew up.
Before Grandma could answer, my mother looked at me and said, “Angela and Sam are here to say goodbye. They’re downstairs waiting for you.”
Thanks.” I got up and hurried out, ducking past my mother and heading for the stairs.
Angela and Sam were in the den. The room had been put back together since Leo’s intrusion, minus several pieces of furniture that were too broken to salvage. The couch was saved, along with the coffee table. A spare TV from the garage had been set up on a bookshelf and a brand new marbled glass globe covered the light fixture on the ceiling. Other than that, the room was pretty empty. It was the room that had seen the most destruction from Leo’s goons. Grandma said it was because the den was the first room I would’ve seen when I came home that day, and Leo knew that. He’d trashed the house even after my mother had agreed to go with him, all to get a reaction out of me and send me running after him. It had worked.
Sam was watching E! News and twirling a lock of silky hair between her fingers. Angela flipped through one of my mother’s gardening magazines. They both looked up when I came in.
Hey, stranger,” Sam said, raising the remote to click the TV off.
You should leave it on.” I sent a pointed look at the ceiling where muffled voices could be heard rising with each comment. “It’ll drown out the static.” I sank onto the couch, next to Angela. She gave me a sorrowful look.
How are you?” she asked. “I mean, really?”
Miserable,” I admitted. Though they only knew half of it, or maybe less than half. As far as they knew, I’d punched Cindy, my mother flipped out, and now I was being shipped off to boarding school. That, in itself, was enough to make a girl miserable, so I figured it was fine to admit.
Yeah, I’d be miserable, too. But I mean, at least its co-ed,” Sam said. Angela shot Sam a look. “What? I’m trying to help her look at the bright side.”
She’s with Wes, remember?” Angela whispered. They also both knew that my mother was not a fan of Wes.
A girl can window shop,” Sam hissed back.
Angela turned to me, rolling her eyes. “You have to email us every day, okay? And call whenever you can. They will let you call, right?”
I don’t really know. I’ll call as much as I can.”
Oh, and we’re supposed to give you this.” Angela reached into her pocket and handed me a folded up piece of notebook paper, flattened out from all the handling. “It’s from George. You can read it later."
Oh, no way, she reads it now. I’ve got to hear this.” Sam shifted like she was getting comfortable and waited expectantly.
I unfolded the paper and silently scanned the words. Oh geez. I looked up. Sam – and even Angela – was still waiting. Sam had the ghost of a grin on her lips. Judging by her smile, there was a good chance she already knew what it said. Making me read it out loud was icing on the cake. I cleared my throat and read in a low voice:
This Romeo is bleeding
But you can't see his blood.
It's nothing but some feelings
That this old dog kicked up
It's been raining since you left me
Now I'm drowning in the flood.
You see I've always been a fighter
But without you I give up.
Now I can't sing a love song
Like the way it's meant to be
Well, I guess I'm not that good anymore
But baby, that's just me
And I will love you, baby. Always
And I'll be there forever and a day. Always
I'll be there till the stars don't shine
Till the heavens burst and
The words don't rhyme
And I know when I die, you'll be on my mind
And I'll love you–Always
When I was done–and completely red faced–I lowered the paper and looked at the girls.
Wow. That was…” Angela began.
Hot,” Sam finished. “Who knew the boy had it in him? Do you think he got it off the internet?”
No, he didn’t get it off the internet,” Angela argued.
Sam shrugged. “He could’ve. We should google it.”
"You guys? It's Bon Jovi." I folded the letter and shoved it into my jeans pocket. "It was our song. It doesn’t matter, anyway. I’m leaving, remember?”
And you have Wes,” Angela put in.
Who is way hotter than George,” Sam added.
I grinned; I couldn’t help it. “I’m going to miss you guys.”
Sam and I threw our arms around Angela and brought it in for a group hug that had us giggling until the doorbell rang. All three of us eyed each other with raised brows.