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So instead of letting Lia know everything that’s happened over the last few days, I just kind of shrug and laugh. “You know how guys are.”

“Yeah, I do.” She rolls her eyes. “Which reminds me…I was thinking you might want to get away from all that machismo for a while. Want to do a girls’ night tonight? We can do facials, watch some rom-com, eat too much chocolate. Maybe even do those mani-pedis we were talking about the other day.”

“Oh.” I sneak another glance at my phone. Still no Jaxon. Maybe my uncle banished him to Prague—or Siberia—after all. “Yeah, I guess.”

“Wow.” She gives me a mock-offended look. “Don’t sound so enthusiastic.”

“Sorry. I was just hoping Jaxon would ask me to spend some time with him tonight. But—” I hold up my phone with a sigh. “Nothing so far.”

“Yeah, well. Don’t hold your breath. Making plans isn’t exactly Jaxon’s modus operandi.” There’s a sadness running underneath the bitterness in her voice when she talks about him. It makes me think that, despite what she says, she misses his friendship as much as he misses hers.

Which sucks, especially considering how much the two of them are hurting right now.

It’s not my place to get involved—I didn’t know Hudson and I wasn’t around when things went bad between Jaxon and Lia—but I know how fleeting life can be, even for vampires. How quickly things can just end, with no warning and no chance to put everything right.

I also know how much his problems with Lia weigh on Jaxon, reminding him daily of his role in what happened to Hudson. I can’t help wondering if those problems weigh just as heavily on Lia…and if maybe the two of them might finally begin to heal if they can forgive each other and themselves.

I mean, anything has to be better than this enmity between them. She’s destroyed, he’s devastated, and neither of them can move into the future because they’re so traumatized by the past.

Which is why, in the end, I can’t resist saying, “You know, he really misses you.”

Her eyes jump to mine. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” It’s a half whisper, half hiss.

“I do know. He told me what happened. And I can’t imagine how hurt you must be—”

“You’re right. You can’t imagine.” She starts walking faster as we head up the final incline. “So don’t.”

“Okay. Sorry.” I’m practically running in an effort to keep up with her. “It’s just, I think you would be better off if you could try to connect with Jaxon a little bit. Or anyone, really, Lia. I know you’re sad; I know you just want to be left alone because everything else is too agonizing to even think about. Believe me, I know that.” God, do I ever.

“But the thing is,” I continue, “you aren’t getting any better like that. You’re staying exactly where you were, drowning in grief, and until you decide to take the first step, you’re always going to be drowning.”

“What do you think I was doing when I invited you over for facials?” she asks, her voice smaller than I’ve ever heard it. “I’m tired of crying myself to sleep every night, Grace. I’m tired of hurting. That’s why I thought I could try to start over with you. You’re nice, and you didn’t know Hudson or the person I used to be. I thought we had a chance of being friends. Real friends.”

She turns her face away from mine, but I can still tell she’s biting her lip, obviously trying not to cry. I feel like a total jerk. “Of course we’re friends, Lia.” Impulsively, I wrap an arm around her shoulders and squeeze.

She stiffens up at first, but eventually she relaxes and leans into the hug. I used to be one of those people who never let go of the hug first—right up until my parents died. Then I got so many hugs I didn’t want from well-meaning people who didn’t know what else to do that backing away became self-preservation.

For Lia, I go back to the pre-accident time, hugging her until she decides it’s enough. It takes longer than I thought it would, which, in my mind, proves the theory that you hold on until the other person pulls away because you never know what they’re going through and if they need the comfort.

Of course, my phone chooses to finally vibrate right in the middle of the hug, and it takes every ounce of self-control I have not to make a grab for it. But real friends are important—not to mention few and far between—so I wait it out, not letting go until Lia finally steps back.

My phone vibrates three more times, stops, then vibrates again. Lia rolls her eyes, but in a friendly way that says the storm has passed. “Why don’t you answer that and put Jaxon out of his misery? He’s probably terrified the shifters decided to have barbecued Grace for lunch despite his warning.”

She must be right, because two more texts come in before I can pull my phone out. Lia just laughs and shakes her head. “How the mighty have fallen.”

Not going to lie, my heart skips a beat—or five—at hearing her say that, even if there’s a part of me that’s afraid it’s wishful thinking. Still, it’s hard not to smile when I look at the string of texts he’s sent me.

Jaxon: Told you not to worry

Jaxon: I have lived to fight another day

Jaxon: Or should that be I have lived to bite another day…

Jaxon: Anyway, come to my room tonight, whenever you’re available

Jaxon: I want to show you something

Partly because he contacted me as soon as he was done with Uncle Finn.

And (mostly) because he asked me out tonight. Or as close to out as we can get here in the middle of Alaska.

Me: Sorry, talking to Lia

Me: Definitely! What time?

Me: Glad things went okay

I hesitate for a second, then text what I’ve been thinking since he made the pun about living to bite another day. It’s the same thing I’ve been thinking about off and on since I left his room a couple of hours ago.

Me: I like it when you bite

I blush a little as I send it, but I don’t regret it. Because it’s the truth and because I’ve already thrown myself at the boy. What else is there but to see it through to the end?

When my phone vibrates immediately, I’m almost afraid to look at it.

Afraid I’ve gone too far.

Afraid I’m pushing too fast.

Jaxon: Good, because I like the way you taste

It’s corny and unoriginal and that doesn’t matter at all, because swoon. For a boy who tries to be so implacable, Jaxon’s got serious game. I mean, really. What girl is supposed to resist a text like that? Or the guy who texted it, when he’s also the guy willing to fight wolves and dragons and anyone else who comes for her?

Not me, that’s for sure.

Lia, on the other hand, makes a little gagging sound as she reads over my shoulder. “Wow, Jaxon. Sappy much?”

“I like it.” Still, I blank out my phone screen and shove it back into my pocket. No need for her to see anything else Jaxon might decide to write to me.

I tingle a little at the thought.

“So we raincheck tonight?” Lia says as she pushes open the door to the art studio. “And do facials tomorrow?”

It sounds like a plan to me. But after everything she just revealed, I can’t help asking, “Are you sure? I can go see Jaxon after we have our girls’ night.”

“And make me the one responsible for standing in the way of true love?” she snarks. “I don’t think so.”

“Oh, it’s not like that,” I tell her, even as a part of me melts at the description. “We’re just…hanging out.”

“Wanna bet?” Lia asks with a snort. “Because the Jaxon Vega I’ve known my whole life doesn’t almost start a war over a girl he just wants to ‘hang out’ with.”


If This Kiss

Is Going to Start a War,

it May as Well

Be Worth It

Lia’s words are still ringing in my ears several hours later as I’m trying to figure out what to wear to Jaxon’s room for our…date. Logically, I know he won’t care, but I care. I haven’t exactly been at my best since I got to Katmere, and just once I’d like to knock his socks off.

“You should go with the red dress,” Macy says from where she’s sitting cross-legged on my bed, watching me agonize over my clothes choice. “Guys love red. And that dress is killer, if I do say so myself.”

She’s right. The dress is amazing, but… “You don’t think it’s too obvious?”

“What’s wrong with obvious?” she demands. “You’re crazy about him. He obviously feels a whole lot of something for you or he wouldn’t have nearly ripped Cole’s throat out in the lounge today. There’s nothing wrong with letting him know you dressed up for him.”

“I know that. It’s just…” I hold up her red dress for the ten millionth time. “This is a lot of dressing up.”

“There’s not enough material for it to be a lot of anything,” Macy snickers.

“Yeah, that’s kind of my point.”

The red dress is amazing, no doubt about it. And I bet it looks gorgeous on Macy. But with all its geometric cuts and angles and the absolute lack of fabric near anything important, it’s about as far from my usual style as I can get. Which is fine, I guess, except whatever happens with Jaxon tonight (or doesn’t happen), I want it to happen when I look and feel like me.

“I think I’m going to go with the yellow one,” I decide, reaching for the dress in question. It still has spaghetti straps, but the neckline is a little higher than the red one, and it should actually hit below my knees when I put it on, versus the top half of my thighs, like the red one.

“Seriously? That’s my least favorite one of the bunch.” Macy makes grabby hands for it, but I move back so it’s out of her reach. “I mean, my dad picked it out for me.”