Page 19


Luce was in here for.

"Heads up!" a voice called out. That had always been Luce's least favorite thing to hear. Sporting equipment of all sorts had a funny way of careening right at her. She winced, looking up directly into the sun. She couldn't see anything and didn't even have time to cover her face before she felt a smack against the side of her head and heard a loud

thwunk ringing in her ears. Ouch.

Roland's soccer ball.

"Nice one!" Roland called out as the ball sailed directly back to him. Like she'd intended to do that. She rubbed her forehead and took a few wobbly steps. A hand around her wrist. A spark of heat that made her gasp. She looked down to see tan fingers around her arm, then up into Daniel's deep gray eyes. "You okay?" he asked.

When she nodded, he raised an eyebrow. "If you wanted to play soccer, you could have said so," he said.

"I'd have been happy to explain some of the finer points of the game, like how most people use less delicate body parts of their body to return a kick."

He let go of her wrist, and Luce thought he was reaching toward her, to stroke the stinging side of her face. For a second, she hung there, holding her breath. Then her chest collapsed when Daniel's hand swept back to brush his own hair from his eyes.

That was when Luce realized Daniel was making fun of her.

And why shouldn't he? There was probably an imprint of a soccer ball on the side of her face.

Molly and Gabbe were still staring - and now Daniel - with their arms crossed over their chests.

"I think your girlfriend's getting jealous," Luce said, gesturing at the pair.

"Which one?" he asked.

"I didn't realize they were both your girlfriends."

"Neither one is my girlfriend," he said simply. "I don't have a girlfriend. I meant, which one did you think was my girlfriend?"

Luce was stunned. What about that whole whispered conversation with Gabbe? What about the way the girls were looking at them right now? Was Daniel lying? He was looking at her funny. "Maybe you hit your head harder than I thought," he said. "Come on, let's take a walk, get you some air."

Luce tried to locate the snide joke in Daniel's latest suggestion. Was he saying she was an airhead who needed more air? No, that didn't even make sense. She glanced at him. How could he look so simply sincere? And just when she was getting so used to the Grigori brush-off.

"Where?" Luce asked cautiously. Because it would be too easy to feel gleeful right now about the fact that Daniel didn't have a girlfriend, about him wanting to go somewhere with her. There had to be a catch.

Daniel merely squinted at the girls across the field. "Someplace where we won't be watched."

Luce had told Penn she'd meet her at the bleachers, but there'd be time to explain later, and of course Penn would understand. Luce let Daniel lead her past the scrutinizing gaze of the girls and the little grove of half-rotted peach trees, around the back of the old church-gym. They were coming up on a forest of gorgeously twisted live oak trees, which Luce never would have guessed were tucked away there. Daniel looked back to make sure she was keeping up. She smiled as though following him were no big deal, but as she picked her way among the gnarled old roots, she couldn't help thinking about the shadows.

Now she was going into the bosky woods, the dark under the thick foliage pierced every so often by a small shaft of sunlight from above. The stench of rich, dank mud filled the air, and Luce suddenly knew there was water nearby.

If she were the kind of person who prayed, this would be when she would pray for the shadows to stay away, just for this sliver of time she had with Daniel, so he wouldn't have to see how crazy she sometimes got. But Luce had never prayed. Didn't know how. Instead, she just crossed her fingers.

"The forest opens right up here," Daniel said. They'd reached a clearing, and Luce gasped in wonder.

Something had changed while she and Daniel had been walking through the forest, something more than just the mere distance from phlegm-colored Sword & Cross. Because when they came out of the trees and stood on this high red rock, it was like they were standing in the middle of a postcard, the kind that spun around a metal rack in a small-town drugstore, a dreamy image of an idyllic South that didn't exist anymore. Every color Luce's eyes fell on was brilliant, brighter than it had seemed just a moment before.

From the crystal blue lake just below them to the dense emerald forest surrounding it. Two seagulls banked in the clear sky overhead. When she stood on her toes, she could see the beginnings of a tawny-colored salt marsh, one she knew gave way to the white foam of the ocean somewhere on the invisible horizon.

She glanced up at Daniel. He looked brilliant, too. His skin was golden in this light, his eyes almost like rain. The feel of them on her face was a heavy, remarkable thing.

"What do you think?" he asked. He seemed so much more relaxed now that they were away from everyone else.

"I've never seen anything so wonderful," she said, scanning the pristine surface of the lake, feeling the urge to pe in. About fifty feet out on the water was a large, flat, moss-covered rock. "What's that?"

"I'll show you," Daniel said, kicking off his shoes. Luce tried unsuccessfully not to stare when he tugged his T-shirt over his head, exposing his muscled torso. "Come on," he said, making her realize how rooted to the spot she must have looked. "You can swim in that," he added, pointing at her gray tank top and cutoffs. "I'll even let you win this time."

She laughed. "Versus what? All those times I let you win?"

Daniel started to nod, then stopped himself abruptly. "No. Since you lost at the pool the other day."

For a second, Luce had the urge to tell him why she'd lost. Maybe they could laugh about the whole Gabbe-being-his-girlfriend misunderstanding. But by then, Daniel's arms were over his head and he was in the air, arcing and then falling, ping into the lake with a perfect little splash.

It was one of the most beautiful things Luce had ever seen. He had a grace like none she'd ever witnessed before. Even the splash he'd made left a lovely ring in her ears.

She wanted to be down there with him.

She tugged off her shoes and left them under the magnolia tree next to Daniel's, then stood at the edge of the rock. The drop was about twenty feet, the kind of high pe that had always made Luce's heart skip a beat. In a good way.

A second later, his head popped up above the surface. He was grinning, treading water. "Don't make me change my mind about letting you win," he called.

Taking a deep breath, she aimed her fingers over Daniel's head and pushed off and up into a high swan pe, The fall lasted only a split second, but it was the most delicious feeling, sailing through the sunny air, down, down, down.

Splash. The water was shockingly cold at first, then ideal a second later. Luce surfaced to catch her breath, took one look at Daniel, and started in on her butterfly stroke.

She pushed herself so hard that she lost track of him. She knew she was showing off and hoped he was watching. She drew closer and closer until she slammed her hand down on the rock - an instant before Daniel.

Both of them were panting as they hauled themselves up on the flat, sun-warmed surface. Its edges were slippery because of the moss, and Luce had a hard time finding her grip. Daniel had no problem scaling the rock, though. He reached back and gave her a hand, then pulled her up to where she could kick a leg over the side.

By the time she'd hoisted herself fully out of the water, he was lying on his back, almost dry. Only his shorts gave away any hint that he'd just been in the lake. On the other hand, Luce's wet clothes clung to her body, and her hair was dripping everywhere. Most guys would have seized the opportunity to ogle a dripping-wet girl, but Daniel lay back on the rock and closed his eyes, like he was giving her a moment to wring herself out - either out of kindness or a lack of interest.

Kindness, she decided, knowing she was being hopelessly romantic. But Daniel seemed so perceptive, he must have felt at least a little bit of what Luce felt. Not just the attraction, the need to be near him when everyone around her was telling her to stay away, but that very real sense that they knew - really knew -

each other from somewhere.

Daniel snapped open his eyes and smiled - the same smile as in the picture in his file. A rush of dйjа vu engulfed her so completely that Luce had to lie down herself.

"What?" he asked, sounding nervous.

"Nothing."

"Luce."

"I can't get it out of my head," she said, rolling over on her side to face him. She didn't feel steady enough to sit up yet. "This feeling that I know you. That I've known you for a while."

The water lapped against the rock, splashing on Luce's toes where they dangled over the edge. It was cold and spread goose bumps up her calves, Finally, Daniel spoke.

"Haven't we been through this already?" His tone had changed, like he was trying to laugh her off. He sounded like a Dover guy: self-satisfied, eternally bored, smug. "I'm flattered you feel like we have this connection, really. But you don't have to invent some forgotten history to get a guy to pay attention to you."

No. He thought she was lying about this weird feeling she couldn't shake as a way of coming on to him?

She gritted her teeth, mortified.

"Why would I make this up?" she asked, squinting in the sunlight.

"You tell me," Daniel said. "No, actually, don't. It won't do any good." He sighed. "Look, I should have said this earlier when I started to see the signs." Luce sat up. Her heart was racing. Daniel saw the signs, too.

"I know I brushed you off in the gym before," he said slowly, causing Luce to lean forward, as if she could draw out the words more quickly. "I should have just told you the truth."

Luce waited.

"I got burned by a girl." He swung a hand into the water, plucked out a lily pad, and crumbled it in his hands. "Someone I really loved, not too long ago. It's nothing personal, and I don't want to ignore you."

He looked up at her and the sun filtered through a drop of water in his hair, making it gleam. "But I also don't want you to get your hopes up. I'm just not looking to get involved with anyone, not anytime soon."

Oh.

She looked away, out at the still, midnight-blue water where only minutes ago they'd been laughing and splashing around. The lake showed no signs of that fun anymore. Neither did Daniel's face.

Well, Luce had been burned, too. Maybe if she told him about Trevor and how horrible everything had been, Daniel would open up about his past. But then again, she already knew she couldn't stand hearing about his past with someone else. The thought of him with another girl - she pictured Gabbe, Molly, a montage of smiling faces, big eyes, long hair -  was enough to make her feel nauseated.

His bad-breakup story should have justified everything. But it didn't. Daniel had been so strange to her from the start. Flipping her off one day, before they'd even been introduced, then protecting her from the statue in the cemetery the next. Now he'd brought her out here to the lake - alone. He was all over the place.

Daniel's head was lowered but his eyes were staring up at her. "Not a good enough answer?" he asked, almost like he knew what she was thinking.

***

***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com

***