“I have a pretty good idea,” I answer, tilting my face up so that our lips can meet.
“Look at us,” I whisper against his mouth a few seconds later. “Being normal.”
He scrapes a fang across my lower lip, gives me a sexy look that turns my insides to mush. “Almost normal.”
“I’ll take that.”
He grins. “Yeah, me too.”
He moves in for another kiss, one that makes my head swim and my knees tremble, and I can’t help but melt against him. I’ve never been big on PDA, but Jaxon has me breaking all the rules, and I’m pretty sure I’m doing the same for him. Especially if Lia’s right and we really are mated.
Not that I’ve told him that yet. I mean, the boy’s already terrified of this whole relationship thing. If I bring up a word like mate—something Macy spent a long time explaining to me a couple of days ago—I’m pretty sure the earthquake Jaxon generates will crumble the school.
It’s Mekhi’s turn to snark about how sick he is of being late to class because some people can’t keep their lips to themselves. Jaxon flips him off, but the words must sink in, because he pulls away from me and reaches for my backpack.
“Come on. I’ll walk you to class.”
“You don’t have to do that.” I glance at the clock. “You’ll be late to physics.”
He shoots me a give-me-a-break look. “Somehow I’m sure they’ll survive without me for five minutes.”
I’m not so sure about that, but I know enough about Jaxon—and the sudden, stubborn set of his jaw—to know when to argue and when to let it go. Besides, letting him walk me to class comes with an extra perk. With him next to me, no one is going to bump into my still aching shoulder or any of my other injuries.
It’s a win-win situation.
At least until we pass a small group of dragons on our way out of the cafeteria. Jaxon ignores them, and I try to, but Flint is right in the middle. And he’s trying to catch my eye.
I want to ignore him, I really do. But like I told Jaxon the other day, there’s a part of me that understands why he did what he did. I mean, I’m not ready to start roasting marshmallows with him again, but I can’t hate him, either.
And I can’t ignore him.
Instead, I let my gaze meet his for a couple of seconds. His eyes widen and he gives me the grin that’s been making me laugh since my first day at Katmere. I don’t laugh this time, but I do smile just a little as I walk on by. And for now, it’s enough.
I kind of expect Jaxon to say something about what just happened as we weave through the halls, but he doesn’t say a word. Guess I’m not the only one learning to compromise. I squeeze his hand just a little harder in a silent thank you, but he just kind of shakes his head in response.
It all feels very normal, and very right.
I know Jaxon still worries—and will continue to worry—that his being with me makes me a target. And there’s a part of me that knows he’s right. That I will never be safe if we’re together.
But no matter what he thinks, it’s not Jaxon’s job to protect me. I’ve known from the first day that he wasn’t meant to be the hero of my story. And I am more than okay with that.
Because he smiles now in a way he never did before. He laughs. And, on occasion, he even tells me a really bad joke or two. I’ll take that over safe any day, especially when safety can be snatched away at any moment.
Which reminds me… “Hey, you never did tell me the punch line of that joke from the other day.”
We stop a few feet away from my classroom, partly to take advantage of the now nearly empty hallway and partly in an effort not to freak my whole Brit Lit class out again.
“What joke?” he asks, puzzled.
“You know. The pirate one. Remember? What did the pirate say when he turned eighty?”
“Oh, right.” Jaxon laughs. “He says…”
I never do get to hear the punch line. A flash over Jaxon’s shoulder catches my attention. It’s followed immediately by a noxious and eerily familiar cloud of black smoke. I start to stumble backward, to drag Jaxon with me. But it’s too late. Because when the smoke clears, someone who can only be Hudson Vega is standing there, a giant broadsword in his hand—aimed straight at Jaxon’s head.
The horror on my face must register, because Jaxon starts to glance over his shoulder. But the sword is already swinging. There’s no time for him to even see the threat, let alone react to it.
Terrified, I grab his arms and yank him toward me. But even as he falls forward, I know it’s not going to work. He’s still in the blade’s path. For a moment, just a moment, I flash back to how he looked last night when we were stretched out on his bed. He was leaning over me, resting on his elbow. Sleepy smile, eyes hazy with want.
His hair had fallen forward into his face, and I reached up to push it back so I could see his eyes…and, for the first time, as my hand grazed his scarred cheek, he didn’t flinch. His smile didn’t falter and he didn’t duck his head. He didn’t turn away. Instead, he stayed right there with me. In the moment.
And that’s when it hits me. Jaxon was never meant to be the hero of my story…because I was always meant to be the hero of his.
So, in the end, I do the only thing I can do. I wrap myself around him and spin us around so that my back is to the sword. And then I close my eyes and wait for the blow I’ve always known would come.
“When the fuck is she going to turn back, Foster?”
“I don’t kn—”
“Don’t tell me that again. Don’t fucking tell me you don’t know.” I turn on the librarian and the Biology of Ancient Creatures teacher who are sitting in front of the headmaster’s desk and demand, “Aren’t you supposed to be able to figure out what the hell is going on around here? What the fuck is the point of putting you people in charge of this school if none of you can answer a simple fucking question?”
“It’s not a simple question, Jaxon.” The headmaster pinches the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger.
“Sure, it is. One minute, Grace was in my arms, blocking Hudson’s attack.” My throat closes up at the thought of those frantic, frenzied moments. Of the way she tried to drag me away, and when that didn’t work, how she threw herself between—
I cut off the thought before it can derail me and this entire conversation with it. Because if I think about it now, if I think about what she did… The ground beneath my feet starts to tremble and damn it, just damn it. The only thing keeping me from leveling the whole fucking school is the knowledge that I might hurt Grace in the process.
I take a deep breath before continuing. “One minute, she was there. And now Grace… Grace is…” I can’t say it. I can’t fucking say that she’s gone, because if I say it out loud I can’t take it back.
If I say it out loud, then it’s true.
“She was there, Foster,” I repeat. “Warm, alive, Grace. She was right there. And then she was—” The ground rumbles yet again, and this time I don’t even try to control it.
Instead, I walk over to the corner, where what’s left of Grace—my Grace—is standing. “Why can’t she just turn back?” I demand for what feels like the millionth time. “Why can’t you make her turn back?”
“I know it’s hard for you, Jaxon.” Dr. Veracruz speaks for the first time. “It’s hard for us, too. But we haven’t seen one for a thousand years. It’s going to take time to figure out what went wrong.”
“You’ve had four days! Four days. And you can’t tell me anything more than that! How am I supposed to get to her if you can’t even tell me what’s wrong?”
“I think you’re going to have to accept that you can’t get to her,” Foster says, and for the first time I realize that he looks and sounds nearly as bad as I do. “I think we’re going to have to accept that she’s not going to come back until she wants to.”
“I don’t believe that,” I tell him, voice hoarse and hands clenched into fists in an effort not to lose it completely. “Grace wouldn’t leave me like this voluntarily. She wouldn’t leave me.”
“Everything I’ve read in the last four days says she should be able to turn back on her own,” Amka tells me. “Which means only two things are possible.”
“Don’t say it,” I warn her.
“I mean it, Foster. Don’t fucking say it. Grace isn’t dead. She can’t be dead.”
Because there’s no way I can keep myself from breaking wide open if she is.
No way I can stop myself from razing this school to the fucking ground. And if Hudson somehow has her… If he’s hurting her…just the thought of what he’s capable of—and what she might be going through because of it—sends a bolt of terror skittering down my spine and twisting in my stomach. If he’s harmed her in any way, I’ll find him. And then I’ll set him on fire just to watch him burn.
“She’s not dead,” I tell them again as I stare into her beautiful face. Her eyes are closed just like they were in that last second in the hallway, but that doesn’t matter. I don’t need to see her eyes to know how she feels about me—it’s written all over her face. She loves me, almost as much as I love her.
“If she’s not dead—and I agree with you that she’s not,” Dr. Veracruz says, “then the only other option is she’s choosing not to come back.”
“You don’t know that. She could be trapped—”
“We do know that,” Amka reminds me firmly. “Gargoyles can’t get trapped in their stone forms. If they don’t change back to human, it’s because they don’t want to.”