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“Exactly,” I answer with a glare. “Not to paraphrase Sylvia Plath or anything.”

“Not to paraphrase her badly, don’t you mean?”

“Keep it up and I’m going to get pissed off at you, too,” I add. He smiles, but before he can say something that makes me want to punch him in his ridiculously pretty face, I demand, “Where’s Jaxon? And why is he hiding from me? Or showing you my texts?”

“He’s not hiding from you.”

“Oh, really?” I walk over and ceremoniously knock on his door. Once again, there’s no answer. “Pretty sure he is.”

“Really? And why would he be hiding from you exactly?” Mekhi crosses his arms over his chest and grins at me, brows raised and head tilted.

“Because of this.” I reach up and rip the bandage off my throat, turning my head so Mekhi can see what I saw.

I take a perverse kind of satisfaction in watching the grin drop from his face. In watching his eyes widen and his face go slack with shock. “What the hell! Who bit you?”

Oh God. My stomach revolts, and for a second, I think I’m going to throw up as nausea washes through me. He didn’t deny someone bit me. He just asked who bit me, like it’s perfectly normal that I have two puncture wounds on my neck.

Like it’s perfectly normal that there might be someone or, judging by his question, a lot of someones at this school who walk around biting people.

Fear skitters up my spine at the implication, has the hair on my arms and the back of my neck standing straight up.

“Grace?” Mekhi prompts when I’m too busy trying not to hyperventilate to answer him. “Who bit you?”

“What do you mean, who?” I nearly choke on the words. “Jaxon bit me. Obviously.”

“Jaxon?” He shakes his head, a little wild-eyed. “No, I’m pretty sure that’s not how that went down.”

“What do you mean? Of course it is. I was up here, got cut by glass, and Jaxon bit me. I’m sure of it.”

“You remember that happening? Just like that? You remember him biting you?”

“Well, no.” I’m pretty sure I’m as wild-eyed as he is at this point. “But if it wasn’t him, then who the hell was it?”

“I have no idea.” He pulls out his phone and fires off a series of texts.

My head is swimming. Because of everything he’s said and everything he hasn’t. The only things that bite people are animals and— No. I’m not ready to go there yet. Not ready to actually think the word. My brain might explode.

“I swear to God, if you’re messing with me, Mekhi… If this is all just some great, big practical joke you guys cooked up, I’m going to murder you all. Like, disembowel you while you’re still alive and feed your entrails to whatever poor, starving polar bear I can find. We’re clear about that, right?”

“Crystal.” His phone vibrates with several return texts, and his face gets even more grim as he reads them. “It definitely wasn’t Jaxon.”

The shiver along my spine turns into a violent chill, one that makes it hard for me to think. Hard for me to breathe. “How do you know he’s not just saying that?”

“Because Jaxon doesn’t lie to me. And because he is currently freaking the fuck out.” His phone buzzes again, and he reads the newest messages before continuing. “He wants you to sit tight. He’s on his way back. He’ll be here in a few hours.”

“On his way back?” My head is actually threatening to blow up. Like, it seriously might just explode right here, right now, and then it won’t matter who made these marks on me or why. “Where exactly did he go?”

“The mountains.”

“The mountains? You mean Denali?”

Mekhi doesn’t look at me when he answers. “Farther than that.”

“Farther than… How much farther are we talking about here?”

He shakes his head. “Don’t worry about it.”

“Don’t you tell me not to worry about it.” I poke him in the shoulder. “I’m the one with fang marks in my neck from some asshole’s practical joke, and Jaxon is the last one who saw me besides the medical professional. So I’m going to worry until he gets back here and explains this to me. Okay?”

“Okay, okay!” He pretends to rub the spot I poked. “Jeez, woman. You definitely know how to make your point.”

“Yeah, well, you might want to pass that along to your mountain-traversing friend. And by the way, why aren’t you freaking out that I have fang marks in my neck?”

“I am freaking out! Jaxon’s freaking out. We’re all freaking out.”

“Yeah, but you’re freaking out because you don’t know who bit me. You’re not freaking out because—oh, I don’t know—someone bit me!”

“Oh yeah.” He shoves his hands in his pockets, looks anywhere but at me. “I think I’m going to leave that for Jaxon to explain.”

“Because he’s just so talkative.”

I’m completely fed up with both of them at this point, not to mention the entire situation, so screw it. Just screw it. I push off the chair and head for the door.

Except Mekhi gets there before me—the boy sure can move fast when he wants to—and blocks my path. “Hey. Where are you going?”

“Back to my room to get my stuff. I have class.” And a cousin who I am totally prepared to torture the truth out of if I have to. I move to go around him, but he shifts to block my path.

“I told you Jaxon wants you to stay put. Just…I don’t know, grab a book and a blanket and curl up by the fire.” He gestures to the empty fireplace.

“There’s no fire.”

“I’ll build one. It’ll take me five minutes, I promise.”

“Mekhi.” I speak slowly and in the most reasonable tone I can manage, but I can see that just makes him warier. Smart boy.

“Yes, Grace?”

“If Jaxon wants me to stay put, maybe he should have done the same. As it is, he’s on some mountain God only knows where doing God only knows what, and I’m here with inexplicable fang marks in my neck that happened when I was unconscious.” The terror is back, so I focus on the anger. It’s so much easier to deal with. “I assume you can see why I don’t actually give a damn what Jaxon wants right now.”

“Um, yeah. I absolutely can see that.” He gives me the grin that I’m sure normally gets him everything he wants in life and more, but I refuse to cave. Not now and not over this. “How about we compromise? You go back to your room and chill until Jaxon gets here. That way you’ll be safe, and then you two can figure this out together.”

“You really think I need to hide from some moron with a staple remover or a pet snake?”

“A staple remover didn’t make those marks, Grace. And neither did a snake. I think you know that, or you wouldn’t have been up here pounding on Jaxon’s door at six in the morning.”

His acknowledgment of the elephant in the room—or should I say the monster—has a kind of calmness washing over me from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. Maybe it’s the medicine, maybe I’m going into shock, or maybe I’m just relieved to have someone finally being real with me.

Whatever it is, I take a deep breath and hold on to it with both hands as my very first conversation with Jaxon plays through my head. There are more things in heaven and hell, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. And then I ask him—because I have to hear it out loud: “So what did make these marks?”

For long seconds, he doesn’t answer. And then, just when I’ve given up on him speaking at all, he says, “The truth is, Grace, sometimes the most obvious answer really is the right one.”


There’s Never a

Hallucinogen Around

When You Need One

Mekhi and I don’t have a lot to say after that charming revelation—except for him insisting on escorting me back to my room. I mean, there really isn’t much to say, considering I can’t decide if I should trust him or not. I don’t know this guy. I mean, yeah, Jaxon trusts him, but Jaxon is currently MIA, so that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.

The fact that Jaxon’s been blowing up my phone with text messages for the last fifteen minutes doesn’t matter much to me, either. I texted him earlier, and the only response I got was him sending Mekhi. So now he can ask Mekhi what he wants to know about me, because I am not answering.

Childish? Maybe. Prudent? Absolutely. Because in the mood I’m in, I’m afraid I’m going to say something I’ll regret. Better to calm down and talk to him in person when he gets back. And also, if he tries to lie to me right now, I’ll burn whatever is growing between us straight to the freaking ground.

Mekhi tries to start conversations several times on the way back to my room, but I’m too shell-shocked to participate much. It’s not that I’m ignoring him; it’s just that my head is spinning. This has to be a nightmare. It’s the only reasonable explanation.

Eventually, Mekhi gives up on the small talk. It should be a relief, but that just leaves silence to stretch between us.

Still, it might just be the most awkward silence of my life, so I expect him to cut and run the second he delivers me to my door. Instead, he waits until I get the door unlocked.

“I’m not inviting you in,” I tell him without so much as bothering to turn my head to look at him.

“I don’t expect you to.” But the moment I get the door open, he slaps his palm flat against it to keep me from closing it. He doesn’t step inside, though, just stands as close to the threshold as he can get without actually crossing over it. Which seems strange, considering the beads are probably shocking the hell out of him—at least until I remember one of the first rules of vampire lore.

That they can’t come inside unless they’re invited in.