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"Enough!" Luce shouted, but neither one of them heard her or cared. Luce felt sick. She wanted to tear her eyes away from the bloody nose and gums of the guy pinned against the wall, from Cam's almost superhuman strength. She wanted to tell him to forget it, that she'd find her own way back to school. She wanted, most of all, to get away from the gruesome shadow now coating the ceiling and dripping down the walls. She grabbed her bag and ran out into the night -

And right into someone's arms.

"Are you okay?"

It was Daniel.

"How did you find me here?" she asked, unabashedly burying her face in his shoulder. Tears she didn't want to deal with were welling up inside her. "Come on," he said. "Let's get you out of here."

Without looking back, she slipped her hand into his. Warmth spread up her arm and through her body.

And then the tears began to flow. It wasn't fair to feel so safe when the shadows were still so close.

Even Daniel seemed on edge. He was dragging her across the lot so quickly, she nearly had to sprint to keep up.

She didn't want to glance back when she sensed the shadows spilling out of the door of the bar and brewing in the air. But then, she didn't have to. They flowed in a steady stream over her head, sucking up all light in their path. It was as if the whole world were being torn to pieces right before her eyes. A rotting sulfur stench stuck in her nose, worse than anything she knew.

Daniel glanced up, too, and scowled, only he looked like he was merely trying to remember where he'd parked. But then the strangest thing happened. The shadows flinched backward, boiled away in black splatters that pooled and scattered.

Luce narrowed her eyes in disbelief. How had Daniel done that? He hadn't done that, had he?

"What?" Daniel asked, distracted. He unlocked the passenger-side door of a white Taurus station wagon.

"Something wrong?"

"We do not have time for me to list all of the many, many things that are wrong," Luce said, sinking into the car seat. "Look." She pointed toward the entrance to the bar. The screen door had just swung open on Cam. He must have knocked out the other guy, but he didn't look like he was done fighting. His fists were clenched.

Daniel smirked and shook his head. Luce was fruitlessly stabbing her seat belt again and again at the buckle until he reached over and pushed her hands away. She held her breath as his fingers grazed her stomach. "There's a trick," he whispered, fitting the clasp into the base.

He started the car, then backed out slowly, taking his time as they drove past the door to the bar. Luce couldn't think of a single thing to say to Cam, but it felt perfect when Daniel rolled down the window and simply said, "Good night, Cam."

"Luce," Cam said, walking toward the car. "Don't do this. Don't leave with him. It will end badly." She couldn't look at his eyes, which she knew were pleading for her to come back. "I'm sorry."

Daniel ignored Cam entirely and just drove. The swamp looked cloudy in the twilight, and the woods in front of them looked even cloudier.

"You still haven't told me how you found me here," Luce said. "Or how you knew I went to meet Cam.

Or where you got this car."

"It's Miss Sophia's," Daniel explained, turning on the brights as the trees grew together overhead and threw the road into dense shadow.

"Miss Sophia let you borrow her car?"

"After years living on skid row in L.A.," he said, shrugging, "you might say I've got a magic touch when it comes to 'borrowing' cars."

"You stole Miss Sophia's car?" Luce scoffed, wondering how the librarian would note this development in her files.

"Well bring it back," Daniel said. "Besides, she was pretty preoccupied by tonight's Civil War reenactment. Something tells me she won't even notice it's gone."

It was only then that Luce realized what Daniel was wearing. She took in the blue Union soldier's uniform with its ridiculous brown leather strap slung diagonally over his chest. She'd been so terrified of the shadows, of Cam, of the whole creepy scene, that she hadn't even paused to fully take Daniel in.

"Don't you laugh," Daniel said, trying not to laugh himself. "You got out of possibly the worst Social of the year tonight."

Luce couldn't help herself: She reached forward and flicked one of Daniel's buttons. "Shame," she said, putting on a southern drawl. "I just had my belle-of-the-ball gown pressed."

Daniel's lips crept up in a smile, but then he sighed. "Luce. What you did tonight - things could have gotten really bad. Do you know that?"

Luce stared out at the road, annoyed that the mood had shifted so suddenly back to grim. A hoot owl stared back from a tree.

"I didn't mean to come here/' she said, which felt true. It was almost like Cam had tricked her. "I wish I hadn't," she added quietly, wondering where the shadow was now. Daniel banged his fist on the steering wheel, making her jump. He was gritting his teeth, and Luce hated that she was the one who'd made him look so angry.

"I just can't believe you're involved with him," he said.

"I'm not," she insisted. "The only reason I showed up was to tell him ..." It was pointless. Involved with Cam! If Daniel only knew that she and Penn spent most of their free time researching his family ... well, he would probably be equally annoyed.

"You don't have to explain," Daniel said, waving her off. "It's my fault, anyway."

"Your fault?"

By then Daniel had turned off the road and brought the car to a stop at the end of a sandy path. He switched the headlights off and they stared out at the ocean. The dusky sky was a deep plum shade, and the crests of the waves looked almost silver, sparkling. The beach grass whipped in the wind, making a high, desolate whistling sound. A flock of ragged seagulls sat in a line along the boardwalk railing, grooming their feathers.

"Are we lost?" she asked.

Daniel ignored her. He got out of the car and shut the door, started walking toward the water, Luce waited ten agonizing seconds, watching his silhouette grow smaller in the purple twilight, before she hopped out of the car to follow him.

The wind whipped her hair against her face. Waves beat the shore, tugging lines of shells and seaweed back in their undertow. The air was cooler by the water. Everything had a fiercely briny scent.

"What's going on, Daniel?" she said, jogging along the dune. She felt heavier walking in the sand.

"Where are we? And what do you mean, it's your fault?" He turned to her. He looked so defeated, his costume uniform all bunched up, his gray eyes drooping. The roar of the waves almost overpowered his voice. "I just need some time to think."

Luce felt a lump rising in her throat all over again, She'd finally stopped crying, but Daniel was making this all so hard. "Why rescue me, then? Why come all the way out here to pick me up, then yell at me, then ignore me?" She wiped her eyes on the hem of her black T-shirt, and the sea salt on her fingers made them sting. "Not that that's very different from the way you treat me most of the time, but - "

Daniel spun and smacked both his hands to his forehead. "You don't get it, Luce." He shook his head.

"That's the thing - you never do."

There was nothing mean about his voice. In fact, it was almost too nice. Like she was too dim to grasp whatever was so obvious to him. Which made her absolutely furious.

"I don't get it?" she asked. "I don't get it? Let me tell you something about what I get. You think you're so smart? I spent three years on a full academic scholarship at the best college-prep school in the country.

And when they kicked me out, I had to petition - petition! - to keep them from wiping out my four-point-oh transcript."

Daniel moved away, but Luce pursued him, taking a step forward for every wide-eyed step he took back.

Probably freaking him out, but so what? He'd been asking for it every time he condescended to her.

"I know Latin and French, and in middle school, I won the science fair three years in a row."

She had backed him up against the railing of the boardwalk and was trying to restrain herself from poking him in the chest with her finger. She wasn't finished. "I also do the Sunday crossword puzzle, sometimes in under an hour. I have an unerringly good sense of direction ... though not always when it comes to guys."

She swallowed and took a moment to catch her breath.

"And someday, I'm going to be a psychiatrist who actually listens to her patients and helps people. Okay?

So don't keep talking to me like I'm stupid and don't tell me I don't understand just because I can't decode your erratic, flaky, hot-one-minute-cold-the-next, frankly" - she looked up at him, letting out her breath - "really hurtful behavior." She brushed a tear away, angry with herself for getting so worked up.

"Shut up," Daniel said, but he said it softly and so tenderly that Luce surprised both of them by obeying.

"I don't think you're stupid." He closed his eyes. "I think you're the smartest person I know. And the kindest. And" - he swallowed, opening his eyes to look directly at her -  "the most beautiful."

"Excuse me?"

He looked out at the ocean. "I'm just ... so tired of this," he said. He did sound exhausted.

"Of what?"

He looked over at her, with the saddest expression on his face, as if he had lost something precious. This was the Daniel she knew, though she couldn't explain how or from where. This was the Daniel she ...loved.

"You can show me," she whispered.

He shook his head. But his lips were still so close to hers. And the look in his eyes was so alluring. It was almost as if he wanted her to how him first.

Her body quaked with nerves as she stood on her tiptoes and leaned toward him. She put her hand on his cheek and he blinked, but he didn't move. She moved slowly, so slowly, as if she were scared to startle him, every second feeling petrified herself. And then, when they were close enough that her eyes were almost crossing, she closed them and pressed her lips against his.

The softest, featherlight touch of their lips was all that connected them, but a fire Luce had never felt before coursed through her, and she knew she needed more of - all of - Daniel. It would be too much to ask of him to need her the same way, to fold her in his arms like he'd done so many times in her dreams, to return her wishful kiss with one more powerful.

But he did.

His muscled arms circled her waist. He drew her to him, and she could feel the clean line of their two bodies connecting - legs tangled up in legs, hips pressed into hips, chests heaving in time with each other.

Daniel backed her up against the boardwalk's railing, pinning her closer to him until she couldn't move, until he had her exactly where she wanted to be. All of this without once breaking the passionate lock of their lips.

Then he started to really kiss her, softly at first, making subtle, lovely pecking noises in her ear. Then long and sweet and tenderly, along her jawline and down her neck, making her moan and tilt back her head. He tugged lightly on her hair and she opened her eyes to glimpse, for a second, the first stars coming out in the night sky. She felt closer to Heaven than she ever had before.


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