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I look from him to the phone and back again. “That’s not my phone. Mine is in a beach case, and it…” I stop talking as the truth hits me. “Wait a minute. Are you saying you bought me a new phone?”

He gives me an “obviously” kind of look.

“When? I’ve been trying to figure out how to find one when we live in the middle of nowhere, and you not only managed to get me one in an hour, you did it while you were taking a midterm? How is that even possible?”

He shrugs. “I don’t know. I’ve been here longer? I know all the tricks?”

“Obviously. But you could have just taught me your trick. Then I could have gotten my own phone.”

“I don’t mind buying you a phone, Grace. Consider it a welcome-home present.”

“You already got me a welcome-home present. You.” I rest my head on his shoulder, bury my nose against his strong, warm throat as I try to figure out what I want to say. He still smells like oranges and fresh water, and as I breathe him in, it calms the anxiety in my stomach that I didn’t even know was there.

“I guess I don’t want you to feel like you’ve got to buy me things. Because you don’t.” I pull away just enough to look into his eyes. “You know that, right?”

He shakes his head, gives me a confused look. “O-kay.”

Flint is still within earshot—and probably watching us walk away—so Jaxon pulls me into an alcove a few feet ahead. “What brought this on?”

I search for the right words as it strikes me again how little we actually know each other. “I wasn’t raised to spend money like you. The pendant and now—” I glance down at the phone still in his hand. “A brand-new, latest-edition iPhone. It’s a lot, and I just don’t want you to think I’m with you because of what you can buy me.”

“There’s a lot to unpack in that sentence, so I’m going to need a couple of minutes to unravel it all. But first—” He slips the new phone into my jacket pocket, then takes Flint’s out of my unresisting hand and leans out of the alcove into the hallway again.

“Hey, Montgomery!” He waits until Flint turns to look at Jaxon with an expectant expression on his face and yells, “Think fast,” as he tosses the phone to him in a perfect, curving arc. Flint flips him off even as he catches it, which makes Jaxon laugh.

I swear, I’m never going to understand these two.

He’s still laughing when he turns back to me, and for a moment, I can’t help thinking about the boy I met four months ago. He never laughed, he never smiled, and he definitely didn’t joke around. He hid his heart behind a scowl and his scar behind his too-long hair, and now look at him.

I’m not vain enough to think I’m responsible for all of it, but I’m grateful that I got to play a part in pulling him out of the darkness. In saving Jaxon as much as he’s saved me.

“Okay, now, back to what you were saying,” Jaxon tells me as we continue walking and make the turn that will take us to the entryway. “First of all, this probably sounds incredibly douchey, but it is what it is. Money isn’t something I spend a lot of time thinking about. I’ve lived a long time and I’ve got a lot of it and that’s just the way it is. And honestly, you may not think so, but I’ve been really restrained so far.”

I reach into my pocket and pull out the thousand-dollar-plus phone he just gave me. “This is restrained?”

“You have no idea.” The little half shrug he gives me is all kinds of sexy. “I’d buy you the world if you’d let me.”

I start to make a joke that he already has, but the look on his face is too serious for that. As is the way he reaches down and clutches my hand like it’s a lifeline. Then again, I hold on to him the exact same way, this boy who makes me feel all the things, all the time.



“Nothing.” I shake my head. “Just Jaxon.”

He smiles, and as our eyes meet, I swear I forget how to breathe. I don’t actually pull it together until he says, “Come on, let’s finish taking some of those pictures before the bell rings.”

“Oh, right. The pictures.”

“You sound so enthusiastic.” He shoots me the side-eye as we walk around a corner, and both his brows are raised. “They are important, right? I mean, you weren’t going to ride Flint for some other reason, were you?”

“What?” I whip my head around, ready to tell him off, only to find him silently laughing at me. “Ugh. You did that on purpose.”

“Did what?” he asks, all innocent except for the wicked glint in his eyes that he doesn’t even try to hide.

“You’re a—” I try to pull away, but he wraps an arm around my shoulder and holds me tight against him. Which leaves me with only one course of action: I elbow him right in the stomach.

Of course, he doesn’t even flinch. He just laughs harder and answers, “I’m a…?”

“I don’t even know anymore. I just…” I shake my head, throw up my hands. “I don’t even know what I’m supposed to do with you.”

“Sure you do.”

He leans in for a kiss, and it should feel like the most natural thing in the world. I’m in love with this boy, he’s in love with me, and I positively adore kissing him. But the second his mouth gets within range, my entire body stiffens of its own accord. My heart starts beating fast—but not in a good way—and my stomach starts to churn.

I try to hide it, but this is Jaxon, and he’s always seen more than I want him to. So instead of kissing me the way I know he wants to, he shifts a little and presses a soft, sweet kiss to my cheek.

“I’m sorry,” I tell him. I hate what’s going on inside me, hate that we can’t just pick up where we left off four months ago.

I hate even more that I’m the one driving this wedge between us when Jaxon has been nothing but wonderful.

“Don’t be. You’ve been through a lot. I can wait.”

“That’s the thing. You shouldn’t have to.”

“Grace.” He brings a hand up to cup my cheek. “You spent one hundred and twenty-one days frozen in stone to keep all of us safe. If you think I can’t wait as long as it takes for you to feel comfortable being back with me again, then you really don’t have a clue how much I love you.”

My breath catches in my throat, along with my heart and, quite possibly, my soul. “Jaxon.” I can barely get his name past the huge lump right above my vocal cords.

But he just shakes his head. “I’ve waited an eternity for you, Grace. I can wait a little longer.”

I lean in to kiss him, and just like that, the sweetness between us turns to something else. Something that has my palms sweating and fear coating my throat.



My stomach bottoms out, tears well up in my eyes, and I forget how to breathe.

Because it’s not how long Jaxon will wait that I’m worried about. It’s whether or not I’ll ever be ready for him again. Whether I’ll ever find my way back to this beautiful boy who stole my heart so easily. So completely.

And I can’t help but wonder exactly what it is inside me that’s making me feel this way. Sure, there’ve been times before when I heard a voice, warning me of danger, telling me what to do in situations where I was completely out of my depth. Situations that I’d never before imagined being in.

Back then, I’d been so sure that the voice was just random thoughts, things picked up on subconsciously that my conscious mind hadn’t quite registered until that moment. But now I wonder, could it be my gargoyle voice? Flint mentioned once that his dragon was sentient, that it had thoughts separate from his human form. Is it the same with gargoyles?

Out of nowhere, an irrational anger wells up inside me. At the gargoyle inside me. At Lia and Hudson. At fate itself for orchestrating everything that’s brought us to this point.

I open my mouth to say I don’t know what—something, anything that might explain to him the weird feelings rioting inside me—but he shakes his head before I can get so much as a word out.

“It’s okay.”

“It’s not—”

“It is,” he answers firmly. “You’ve been back all of four hours. Why don’t you cut yourself some slack?”

Before I can say anything else, the chimes go off again.

Seconds later, students in purple-and-black uniforms flood the common areas. They give us a wide berth—Jaxon’s with me, so of course they do—but that doesn’t mean they aren’t staring at us. Aren’t whispering behind their hands as they pass by, gawking at the two of us like we’re mannequins on display.

Jaxon reluctantly pulls away. “What’s your next class?” he asks as he drops my hand.

“Art. I was going to run up to my room and change so I could take the trail outside.”

“Good.” He steps back, his dark eyes filled with understanding. “Let me know when you do plan on taking the shortcut. You shouldn’t have to do that alone. At least not the first time.”

I start to tell him it’s no big deal but stop myself. Because it is a big deal.

And because I don’t want to go down there alone right now, don’t want to walk by the doorway that leads to the place where I almost became an actual human sacrifice, courtesy of the murderous Lia and her even more murderous boyfriend, Hudson.

So instead of protesting, I just say, “Thank you,” and stretch up on my tippy-toes to give Jaxon a kiss on the cheek.

A huge screech sounds from several feet away that startles us apart.


Because I’d know that screech anywhere, I shoot Jaxon a rueful smile and take a couple of steps back, right before my cousin, Macy, slams straight into my side.

She wraps her arms around me like a limpet and practically jumps up and down as she squeals, “You’re really here! I wouldn’t let myself believe it until I saw you! I’ve been looking for you everywhere!”