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Except I make the mistake of glancing down at my hands for the second time today, and it finally registers just how bruised and bloody they are.

“You look a little worse for wear,” my uncle says in a deliberately soothing voice as we enter his office and he closes the door behind us. “I just want to get you checked out, make sure everything’s all right.”

I have a million questions, and I’m determined to get answers to them all. But once I’m seated at one of the chairs in front of Uncle Finn’s heavy cherrywood desk, and he’s perched on the corner of that same desk, he starts asking questions of his own.

“I know this probably sounds strange, but can you tell me what month it is, Grace?”

“The month?” My stomach sinks like a stone. I barely get the next word out as my throat closes up. “November.”

When Jaxon’s and Uncle Finn’s gazes collide, I know there’s something really wrong with my answer.

Anxiety skitters down my spine and I try to take a deep breath, but it feels like there’s a weight pressing on my chest, making that impossible. The pounding in my temples makes the feeling worse, but I refuse to give in to the beginnings of what I recognize could easily turn into a full-blown panic attack.

Instead, I wrap my hands around the edges of my seat to ground myself. Then I take a minute to list several things in the room in my head, just like Heather’s mom taught me after my parents died.

Desk. Clock. Plant. Wand. Laptop. Book. Pen. Folders. Another book. Ruler.

By the time I get to the end of the list, my heart rate is almost back to normal and so is my breathing. As well as the absolute certainty something very wrong has happened.

“What month is it?” I ask quietly, turning to Jaxon. He’s given it to me as straight as he could from the very first day I got to Katmere Academy, and that’s what I need right now. “I can handle whatever’s going on. I just need to know the truth.” I reach for his hand, hold it in both of mine. “Please, Jaxon, just tell me what I’m missing.”

Jaxon nods reluctantly. Then whispers, “You’ve been gone for almost four months.”

“Four months?” Shock ricochets through me all over again. “Four months? That’s impossible!”

“I know it feels that way,” Uncle Finn tries to soothe. “But it’s March, Grace.”

“March,” I repeat, because apparently repetition is pretty much all I’m capable of right now. “March what?”

“March fifth.” Jaxon’s voice is grim.

“March fifth.” Forget panic, full-blown terror whips through me now, flaying my insides. Making me feel raw and exposed and empty in a way I can’t describe. Four months of my life—of my senior year—have disappeared, and I can’t remember any of them. “I don’t understand. How could I—”

“It’s okay, Grace.” Jaxon’s gaze is steady on mine, his grip on my hands as firm and supportive as I could ever ask for. “We’ll figure this out.”

“How can it be okay? I lost four months, Jaxon!” My voice cracks on his name, and I take a shuddering breath and try again. “What happened?”

My uncle reaches over and squeezes my shoulder. “Take another deep breath, Grace. Good.” He smiles encouragingly. “Okay, now take one more and let it out slowly.”

I do as he says, noticing that his lips move the whole time I’m exhaling. A calming spell? I wonder as, once more, I inhale and exhale to the count of ten.

If so, doesn’t feel like it’s working all that well.

“Now, when you’re ready, tell me the last thing you remember.” His warm eyes hold mine.

The last thing I remember.

The last thing I remember.

It should be an easy question, but it’s not. Partly because of the yawning blackness in my mind and partly because so much of what I remember feels murky, untouchable. Like my memories are floating deep underwater and I can see only the shadow of what’s there. The shadow of what used to be.

“I remember everything that happened with Lia,” I finally say, because it’s true. “I remember being in the infirmary. I remember…building a snowman.”

The memory warms me, and I smile at Jaxon, who smiles back—at least with his mouth. His eyes look as gravely concerned as ever.

“I remember Flint apologizing to me about trying to kill me. I remember—” I break off, press a hand to my suddenly hot cheek as I recall the sensation of fangs skating along the sensitive skin of my neck and shoulder before sinking home. “Jaxon. I remember Jaxon.”

My uncle clears his throat, looking more than a little embarrassed himself. But all he says is, “Anything else?”

“I don’t know. It’s so—” I break off as one crystal-clear memory sweeps through my brain. I turn to Jaxon for confirmation. “We were walking down the hall. You were telling me a joke. The one about…” The clarity is fading, being replaced by the fuzziness that envelops so many of my memories right now. I fight through it, determined to hold on to this one clear thought. “No, that’s not right. I was asking you the punch line. To the pirate joke.”

I freeze as another, much more chilling part of the memory becomes clear.

“Oh my God. Hudson! Lia did it. She brought him back. He was here. He was right here.”

I look between Jaxon and Uncle Finn, searching for confirmation even as the memory swamps me. Drags me under. “Is he alive?” I ask, voice shaking under the weight of everything Jaxon has told me about his brother. “Is he at Katmere?”

Uncle Finn looks grim as he answers, “That’s exactly what we wanted to ask you.”


Turns out the Sixth

Sense Is Actually

Human Sacrifice

“Me? Why would I be able to answer that?” Except, even as I ask the question, another memory hits me. I look at Jaxon, who is full-on horror-struck by this point. “I got between you.”

“You did.” His throat works convulsively and his eyes, usually the color of a starless night, are somehow even blacker and more shadowed than I have ever seen them.

“He had a knife.”

“A sword, actually,” my uncle interjects.

“That’s right.” I close my eyes, and it all comes back to me.

Walking down the crowded hallway.

Catching sight of Hudson, sword raised, out of the corner of my eye.

Stepping between him and Jaxon because Jaxon is mine—mine to love and mine to protect.

The sword coming down.

And then…nothing. That’s it. That’s all I remember.

“Oh my God.” Horror swamps me as something new, and terrible, occurs to me. “Oh my God. ”

“It’s okay, Grace.” My uncle moves to pat my shoulder again, but I’m already moving.

“Oh my GOD!” I shove the chair back, jump to my feet. “Am I dead? Is that why I can’t remember anything else? Is that why everyone was staring at me in the hallway? That’s it, isn’t it? I’m dead.”

I start to pace as my brain wigs out in about twenty different directions. “But I’m still here with you. And people can see me. Does that mean I’m a ghost?”

I’m struggling to get my mind around that idea when something else—something worse—occurs to me.

I whirl on Jaxon. “Tell me I’m a ghost. Tell me you didn’t do what Lia did. Tell me you didn’t trap some poor person down in that awful, disgusting dungeon and use them to bring me back. Tell me you didn’t do that, Jaxon. Tell me I’m not walking around because of some human-sacrifice ritual that—”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Jaxon bounds around my chair and takes hold of my shoulders. “Grace—”

“I’m serious. You better not have pulled any Dr. Frankenstein stuff to bring me back.” I’m spiraling and I know it, but I can’t seem to stop as terror and horror and disgust roil around inside me, combining into a dark and noxious mess I have no control over. “There better not have been blood. Or chanting. Or—”

He shakes his head, his longish hair brushing the tops of his shoulders. “I didn’t do anything!”

“So I am a ghost, then?” I hold up my hands, stare at the fresh blood on my fingertips. “But how can I be bleeding if I’m dead? How can I—”

Jaxon grabs my shoulders gently, turns me to face him.

He takes a deep breath. “You’re not a ghost, Grace. You weren’t dead. And I definitely didn’t perform a sacrifice—human or otherwise—to bring you back.”

It takes a second, but his words, and the earnest tone he says them in, finally get through. “You didn’t?”

“No, I didn’t.” He chuckles a little. “I’m not saying I wouldn’t. These last four months have given me a shit ton more sympathy for Lia. But I didn’t have to.”

I weigh his words carefully, looking for loopholes as I hold them up against the suddenly crystal-clear memory of that sword connecting with my neck. “Didn’t have to because there’s another way to bring someone back from the dead? Or didn’t have to because…?”

“Because you weren’t dead, Grace. You didn’t die when Hudson hit you with that sword.”

“Oh.” Out of everything I’d braced myself to hear, that one didn’t even make the top ten. Maybe not even the top twenty. But now that I’m faced with that very logical although unlikely answer, I have no idea what to say next. Except: “So…coma?”

“No, Grace.” My uncle answers this time. “No coma.”

“Then what is going on? Because I may have giant holes in my memory, but the last thing I remember is your psychopathic brother trying to kill you and—”

“You stepping in to take the blow.” Jaxon growls, and not for the first time I realize how close his emotions are to the surface. I just hadn’t figured out, until right now, that one of those emotions is anger. Which I get, but…