I grin. “Surprise me.”
His eyes darken, and for a second, something flashes in them. But before I can figure it out, it’s gone, and the lightness is back. And so is the teasing as he says, “Believe me, I intend to.”
Then he grabs both my shoulders and turns me around. “I’m sitting over there.” He points toward the end of the center table. “There’re a few extra seats. Why don’t you head that way, and I’ll be over as soon as I get our plates?”
“Sounds good.” I do as he says, stopping just long enough to let Macy know where we’ll be sitting.
Flint watches me the whole time, but I figure that’s because he doesn’t trust me to actually sit down. What he doesn’t realize is that when the alternative is standing around awkwardly waiting for him while everyone looks on, it takes all my self-control not to run to a seat. Preferably in the back corner of the room.
Especially when I see Mekhi and Luca heading my way, dark frowns on their usually relaxed faces. I think about waiting for them, but I don’t really want to hear what they have to say. And I don’t want to explain to them why Macy and I decided it would be okay to come to the dining hall—at least not in front of most of the student body.
So instead of waiting for them to catch up, I do what any girl who doesn’t want to deal with a boy would do—I take off toward another boy’s territory. In this case, the table where Flint and his friends are sitting.
It may not be the bravest or brightest move, but it’s definitely the path of least resistance. I’m not ashamed to admit that I could do with a little less resistance and a little more easy in my life. Especially today.
I’m pretty sure it would have worked, too—the Order and Flint dislike each other that much—except for the terrible wrenching sound that splits the air directly above me just as I get close to Flint’s part of the table.
Pancakes Aren’t on
It’s a horrific noise, and I glance up, trying to figure out what could possibly be making it, just in time to see the biggest crystal chandelier in the place pull free of the plate holding it to the ceiling. I have about half a second to think, Oh shit, and then someone is there, slamming their body into mine.
The hit knocks the breath out of me—or maybe it’s the subsequent slam, face-first, into the nearest wall that does it. Either way, it’s a struggle to get my breath back, especially since there’s a long, lean male body pressed against my back, his arms caging me in on either side.
I realize that at the same time there’s a gigantic crash. For a second, all I can hear is the tinkle of glass as it shatters and flies, hitting everything in its path. The boy behind me grunts and wraps himself more tightly around me, and that’s when I know. I may not be able to draw a full breath yet, but there’s enough oxygen in my body for my brain to function again. And my newly functioning brain registers one thing above all else—that the guy currently wrapped around me is Jaxon.
“Are you okay?” he demands as soon as the glass stops flying.
I don’t answer him—I can’t. My lungs still aren’t working at full capacity yet and neither is my voice.
I try to nod, but that’s obviously not good enough for him because he’s whirling me around, his hands skimming over my body as he orders, “Answer me, Grace! Are you all right?”
“I’m okay,” I finally manage to gasp out. But that’s when I get my first good look at him and realize that while I may be okay, he very definitely isn’t. “You’re bleeding.”
“I’m fine.” He shrugs it off. “Does anything hurt?”
“I’m not the one who’s injured.” I run a light finger over the right side of his face, pausing at the bloody parts. “What are you even doing here? I thought it would take a couple more hours for you to get back.”
His dark eyes smolder at me—and not in a good way. “Obviously.”
I don’t know what to say to that, and he doesn’t look like he’s in the mood to listen anyway, so I reach into my purse (score one for vanity) and pull out the tiny first aid kit I keep inside it. It’s a habit I picked up after my parents died in the car accident—ridiculous, since it would have taken more than a first aid kit to save them, with their injuries. Still, Heather’s mom suggested it when I was freaking out right after they died, and for whatever reason, it calmed me down. Today’s the first day it’s actually going to come in handy, though.
“Sit down,” I tell him, and when he doesn’t move, I put my hands on his chest and gently push.
He doesn’t budge.
“Please,” I ask, moving a hand up to cup his uninjured but scarred cheek. “You’re hurt. Let me take care of you.”
For long seconds, he still doesn’t move, just stares at me, unblinking. It sends chills down my spine—I don’t think I’ve ever seen Jaxon this furious. Which…fine. He can be as angry as he wants as long as he lets me treat his wounds. “Please,” I say again, and this time I accompany it with a little shove to his chest.
He still doesn’t say anything but slowly, grudgingly, he allows me to guide him to the nearest chair.
Macy makes it to me right around the time I get Jaxon settled. Tears are pouring down her face as she throws her arms around my neck. “Oh my God, Grace! Are you all right?”
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” I tell her even as I try to disengage from her hug. What is wrong with her and Jaxon? Can’t they tell that he’s the one who’s hurt? Maybe it’s not a big deal when vampires bleed; I don’t know. But it’s a big deal to me.
I pull an antibacterial wipe out of the pack and press it gently to his cheek. He doesn’t wince. In fact, he doesn’t move at all—just stares stonily ahead. Still, I clean the wound carefully, making sure there’s no glass in it, before squeezing ointment onto his cheek and following it with a Band-Aid. I have a moment of wondering if he needs the ointment—can vampires even get infections? But he doesn’t stop me, and neither does Macy, so I figure even if it’s not necessary, at least it won’t hurt anything.
By now, adults are swarming the dining hall, teachers checking for injuries and trying to clear students out of the room as quickly as possible. It’s a surprisingly quiet affair, one I don’t pay much attention to as I move on to the jagged cut on Jaxon’s arm.
I’m pretty sure it looks worse than it is, considering he hasn’t bled much and it’s already clotting. I wonder if maybe their venom isn’t the only thing with a quick coagulant in it. Still, I clean it as thoroughly as I did his cheek. I have to admit I’m a little surprised no teacher has come by and tried to bundle him off to the nurse, but maybe there are people with worse injuries and I just don’t realize it.
It’s not until I finish bandaging his arm and step back that I realize there’s a very good reason no one has tried to take Jaxon for medical attention. It’s the same reason that the room is so quiet despite everything that’s happened.
The five other members of the Order have surrounded us.
They’re several yards away, but they have definitely formed a perimeter around Jaxon and me, one that no one but Macy has been able to get through. Not that many people are exactly trying. Flint’s getting into it with Byron, who isn’t budging, but other than that, everyone else is standing back. Watching and obviously waiting, though I’m not sure for what.
It’s an eerie feeling to know that they’re expecting something that I don’t understand, and it has my stomach dropping and nerves skittering along my spine. I assume it’s because I’ve done something wrong, but what was I supposed to do? Just leave him bleeding?
“I’m…sorry.” I say it haltingly as I’m packing up my first aid kit. “I guess I shouldn’t have done that.”
“Don’t apologize,” Jaxon growls as he stands up. “And don’t duck your head like that. No one in here has the right to say a damn thing to you.”
“I just wanted to help. And to thank you for saving me.”
“I wouldn’t have had to save you if you’d been in your room, where you were supposed to be. Where I told you to be.” He grinds the last sentence out between clenched teeth.
I take offense at the where I told you to be part of his statement, but considering he’s still shaking a little bit, I decide not to make an issue of it. Yet. Instead, I explain, “Macy and I were hungry. Plus, once we figured out the mystery of the bite, we figured it would be fine for us to come down to breakfast. It turns out the nurse—”
“Chandeliers don’t fall on their own,” he tells me. “And neither do tree branches.”
“The tree branch didn’t just fall. The wind was out of control.”
“There are at least two hundred people in this room alone capable of making that kind of wind. And almost that many capable of dropping that chandelier.” He’s speaking softly now, so softly that I have to strain to hear him, even though he’s right in front of me. “I keep trying to tell you, but you won’t listen. Someone is trying to kill you, Grace.”
Still Scares the
Hell Out of You
At first, his words don’t register. And when they finally do, it takes a few more beats for me to remember how to form my own words.
“Kill me?” I finally whisper back to him as my stomach plummets and a chill works its way down my spine. Or I should say, I try to whisper because it’s pretty hard to keep my voice super low now that the squeak is back.
I would be embarrassed, but to be honest, I feel like I’ve got a lot to squeak about. It’s been one hell of a morning, and the hits just keep on coming. “That’s ridiculous,” I tell him even as I wipe my suddenly damp palms against my skirt. “Why?”