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"The way Daniel kisses me is none of your business." She bit her lip, furious. He was mocking her.

Cam chuckled. "Oh? I can do just as good as Grigori," he said, picking up her hand and kissing the back of it before abruptly letting it drop back at her side.

"It was nothing like that," Luce said, turning away.

"How about this, then?" His lips grazed her cheek before she could shrug him off.


Cam licked his lips. "You're saying Daniel Grigori actually kissed you the way you deserve to be kissed?" Something in his charcoal eyes was beginning to look baleful.

"Yes," she said, "the best kiss I've ever had." And even though it had been her only real kiss, Luce knew that if you asked her again in sixty years, a hundred years, she would say the same thing.

"And yet here you are," Cam said, shaking his head in disbelief.

Luce didn't like what he was insinuating. "I'm only here to tell you the truth about me and Daniel. To let you know that you and I - "

Cam burst out laughing, a loud, hollow cackle that echoed across the empty cemetery. He laughed so long and hard, he gripped his sides and wiped a tear away from his eyes.

"What's so funny?" Luce said.

"You have no idea," he said, still laughing.

Cam's you-wouldn't-get-it tone wasn't far off from the one Daniel had used last night when, almost inconsolable, he kept repeating, "It's impossible." But Luce's reaction to Cam was entirely different, When Daniel walled her out, she felt even more of a pull toward him. Even when they argued, she yearned to be with Daniel more than she ever wanted to be with Cam. But when Cam made her feel like an outsider, she was relieved. She didn't want to be any closer to him.

In fact, right now she felt too close.

She'd had enough. Gritting her teeth, she rose and stalked toward the gates, angry at herself for wasting even this much time.

But Cam caught up to her, swinging around in front of her and blocking her exit. He was still laughing at her, biting his lip, trying not to. "Don't go," he chuckled.

"Leave me alone."

"Not yet."

Before she could stop him, Cam caught her up in his arms and bent her backward into a sweeping dip so that her feet came off the ground. Luce cried out, struggling for a moment, but he smiled.

"Let go of me!"

"Grigori and I have fought a pretty fair fight so far, don't you think?"

She glared at him, her hands pushing against his chest. "Go to Hell."

"You're misunderstanding," he said, drawing her face closer to his. His green eyes bored down at her and she hated that a part of her still felt swept away in his gaze. "Look, I know things have gotten crazy the past couple of days," he said in a hushed voice, "but I care for you, Luce.

Deeply. Don't pick him before you let me have one kiss." She felt his arms tighten around her, and suddenly, she was scared. They were out of sight of the school, and no one knew where she was.

"It won't change anything," she told him, trying to sound calm.

"Humor me? Pretend I'm a soldier and you're granting my dying wish. I promise, just one kiss."

Luce's mind went to Daniel. She pictured him waiting at the lake, keeping his hands busy skipping stones over the water, when he should have had her in his arms. She didn't want to kiss Cam, but what if he really wouldn't let her go? The kiss could be the smallest, most insignificant thing. The easiest way to break loose. And then she'd be free to get back to Daniel. Cam had promised.

"Just one kiss - " she started, but then his lips were on hers.

Her second kiss in as many days. Where Daniel's kiss had been hungry and almost desperate, Cam's kiss was gentle and too perfect, as if he had been practicing on a hundred girls before her.

And yet she felt something in her rise up, wanting her to respond, taking hold of the anger she'd felt only seconds before and blowing it away into nothing. Cam still had her tilted back in his arms, balancing all her weight on his knee. She felt safe in his strong, capable hands. And she needed to feel safe. It was such a change from, well, every moment when she wasn't kissing Cam. She knew that she was forgetting something, someone - who? She couldn't remember.

There was only the kiss, and his lips, and -  Suddenly, she felt herself falling. She slammed into the ground so hard the wind was knocked out of her. Raising herself up on her arms, she watched as, a few inches away,

Cam's face came into contact with the ground. She winced despite herself.

The early-evening sun cast a dusty light on two figures in the graveyard.

"How many times must you ruin this girl?" Luce heard the sad southern drawl.

Gabbe? She looked up, blinking into the setting sun.

Gabbe and Daniel.

Gabbe rushed over to help her to her feet, but Daniel wouldn't even look her in the eye.

Luce cursed herself under her breath. She couldn't figure out what was worse - that Daniel had just seen her kissing Cam, or that - she was sure - Daniel was going to fight Cam again.

Cam stood up and faced them, ignoring Luce completely. "All right, which one of you is it going to be this time?" he snarled.

This time?

"Me," Gabbe said, stepping forward with her hands on her hips. "That first little love tap was all me, Cam honey. What you going to do about it?"

Luce shook her head. Gabbe had to be joking. Surely this was some kind of game. But Cam didn't seem to think anything was funny. He bared his teeth and rolled up his sleeves, raising his fists and moving forward.

"Again, Cam?" Luce scolded him. "You haven't gotten in enough fights already this week?" As if that weren't enough, he was actually going to hit a girl.

He shot her a sideways smile. "Third time's the charm," he said, his voice dripping malice. He turned back just as Gabbe came at him with a high kick to the jaw.

Luce scurried backward as Cam fell. His eyes were pinched shut and he was clutching his face. Standing over him, Gabbe looked as unfazed as if she'd just pulled a perfectly baked peach cobbler from the oven.

She glanced down at her nails and sighed.

"Gonna be a shame to have to beat up on you just when I touched up my manicure. Oh well," she said, proceeding to kick Cam repeatedly in the stomach, relishing each kick like a kid winning at an arcade game.

He staggered up into a crouch. Luce couldn't see his face anymore - it was buried between his knees -

but he was moaning in pain and choking on his own breath.

Luce stood and looked from Gabbe to Cam and back again, unable to make sense of what she was seeing.

Cam was twice the size of her, but Gabbe seemed to have the upper hand. Just yesterday, Luce had seen Cam beat up that huge guy at the bar. And the other night, outside the library, Daniel and Cam had seemed evenly matched. Luce marveled at Gabbe, with her rainbow ribbon holding her hair back in a high ponytail. Now she had Cam pinned to the ground and was twisting his arm back. "Uncle?" she taunted. "Just say the magic word, sugar. I'll let you go."

"Never," Cam spat into the ground.

"I was hoping you'd say that," she said, and shoved his head down into the dirt, hard.

Daniel put his hand on Luce's neck. She relaxed against him and looked back, terrified to see his expression. He must hate her right now.

"I'm so sorry," she whispered. "Cam, he - "

"Why would you come here to meet him?" Daniel sounded hurt and incensed at the same time. He grabbed her chin to make her look at him. His fingers were freezing against her skin. His eyes were all violet, no gray.

Luce's lip quivered. "I thought I could take care of it. Be up-front with Cam so that you and I could just be together and not have to worry about anything else." Daniel snorted, and Luce realized how stupid she sounded.

"That kiss ...," she said, wringing her hands. She wanted to spit it from her mouth. "It was such a huge mistake."

Daniel closed his eyes and turned away. Twice he opened his mouth to say something, then thought better of it. He gripped his hair in his hands and swayed. Watching him, Luce feared he might cry. Finally, he took her in his arms.

"Are you mad at me?" She buried her face in his chest and breathed in the sweet smell of his skin.

"I'm just glad we got here in time."

The sound of Cam's whimpers made both of them glance over. Then grimace. Daniel took Luce's hand and tried to pull her away, but she couldn't take her eyes off Gabbe, who had Cam in a headlock and wasn't even winded. Cam looked battered and pathetic. It just didn't make any sense.

"What's going on, Daniel?" Luce whispered. "How can Gabbe kick the crap out of Cam? Why is he letting her?"

Daniel half sighed, half chuckled. "He's not letting her. What you're seeing is only a sample of what that girl can do."

She shook her head. "I don't understand. How - "

Daniel stroked her cheek. "Will you take a walk with me?" he asked. "I'm going to try to explain things, but I think you should probably sit down."

Luce had a few things of her own to come clean about to Daniel. Or, if not to come clean about, at least to throw out into the conversation, to see if he showed signs of thinking she was completely, verifiably deranged. That violet light, for one thing. And the dreams she couldn't - didn't want to - stop.

Daniel led her toward a part of the cemetery Luce had never seen before, a clear, flat space where two peach trees had grown together. Their trunks bowed toward each other, forming the outline of a heart in the air below them.

He led her under the strange, gnarled coupling of the branches and took her hands, tracing her fingers with his.

The evening was quiet except for the song of crickets. Luce imagined all the other students in the dining hall. Spooning mashed potatoes onto their trays, slurping thick room-temperature milk through a straw. It was as if, all of a sudden, she and Daniel were on a different plane of being from the rest of the school.

Everything but his hand around hers, his hair shining in the light of the setting sun, his warm gray eyes -

everything else felt so far away.

"I don't know where to start," he said, pressing harder as he massaged her fingers, like he could rub the answer out. "There's so much to tell you, and I have to get it right."

As much as she wanted Daniel's words to be a simple confession of love, Luce knew better. Daniel had something difficult to say, something that might explain a lot about him, but might also be hard for Luce to hear.

"Maybe do one of those I-have-good-news-and-bad-news kind of things?" she suggested.

"Good idea. Which do you want first?"

"Most people want the good news first."

"Maybe so," he said. "But you are worlds away from most people."

"Okay, I'll take the bad news first."

He bit his lip. "Then promise me you won't leave before I get to the good news?"

She had no plans to leave. Not now, now that he was no longer pushing her away. Not when he might be about to offer up some answers to the long list of questions she'd been obsessing over for the past few weeks.

He brought her hands to his chest and held them against his heart. "I'm going to tell you the truth," he said. "You won't believe me, but you deserve to know, Even if it kills you."


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