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I snorted. “Not enough. If we were enough, we would have been able to make sure Neferet couldn’t come back from when we kicked her butt last time.” Then my shoulders slumped and I shrugged. “It’s probably not her at all. It could be bank robbers.”

“At the Mayo? Uh, Z, that’s a hotel, not a bank.”

“Well, it could be—”

The door to our hallway opened, banging metallically against the wall, and Detective Marx hurried toward us. He looked crappy. I mean, really crappy. His suit was smudged with dirt and one knee of his pants was torn. I could smell blood, which I totally made myself ignore. Actually, it wasn’t that hard to do because the look on his face was so disturbing.

He looked scared.

“What happened at Woodward Park?” he demanded as he came up beside Stark.

“I already told you.”

“Tell him again,” Stark said.

“Why, what’s going on?”

“Answer my question first.”

“Okay, like I said before, the two men made me mad and I threw my anger at them.”

“What did they do that made you so mad?” he asked.

“Not enough to make killing them okay,” I said.

“Just answer my question!” Marx snapped.

Surprised at his tone, I heard myself saying, “They were hanging out in the park looking for girls to scare into giving them money. They didn’t see my tattoos until after they’d already started messing with me. Then when they realized I wasn’t just some helpless little teenager, they changed their minds about trying to scare me. They basically said they were just gonna look for some other girl to victimize. It really pissed me off.” I paused and added, “But there’s more to it than that. I was already pissed when I got to the park. That was why I was there. I was trying to cool off. I—I couldn’t get a handle on my temper.”

“Tell him the rest. Tell him why you gave Aphrodite the Seer Stone when you gave yourself up to him,” Stark insisted.

“I didn’t realize it then, but now I can see that the Seer Stone, a kind of talisman I’d been given on the Isle of Skye, had been doing something to my emotions—amplifying them, or causing them, or maybe just feeding off my stress. It gets hot when it works, and at the park it was super hot. That had to have been how I lifted those guys off their feet and smacked them against the wall by the grotto.”

“You can’t do that, say, right now, can you?” Marx asked, watching me closely.

“I don’t think so. At least, not by myself, no. I’d have to call one or all of the elements, and they’re most powerful if my circle is with me and all five of us are channeling them.”

Marx nodded thoughtfully. “Did you know that the two men were dead when you left the park?”

“No. I mean, I knew I’d smacked them against the wall, but it was like a crazy explosion from me. It, well, it surprised me,” I said. Absently, I rubbed the palm of my right hand on my jeans and then glanced down at it. In the center of the latticework tattoos a perfect circle had been branded there. I held my palm out so the detective could see it. “That mark in the center—the circle—that’s from the Seer Stone. It happened when I threw my anger at those men. It was like power came from it through me. When I realized what I’d done, I walked over to look at them.” I swallowed hard, remembering.

“And exactly what did you see?” Marx prompted impatiently.

“They were laying there, at the base of the wall that makes the stone ridge over on the Twenty-first Street side of the park. I—I remember that I heard one of them moan, and I saw the other one twitch. It was obvious that I’d hurt them—maybe even badly—so I got scared, and I ran away. They must have been dying when I took off. I’m so sorry. I really am. I know that doesn’t make any difference. And I know it also doesn’t make any difference about the fact that they were in the park messing with girls, or that the Seer Stone gave me the power to do what I did. My anger is what killed those guys. I’m responsible.” I bit my lip hard. I was not going to start crying.

“No, Zoey. The truth is that you didn’t do it, and no, you’re not responsible for their deaths.” He swiped a key card over the pad on my cell door, and the steel lock sprung open with a click.

“Huh?” I blinked at him, feeling like I must be dreaming. I looked at Stark, who was staring at the detective.

“This has something to do with Neferet,” Stark said.

“This has everything to do with Neferet,” Marx agreed. “She confessed to killing those two men. No, that’s not totally accurate. Neferet gloated about killing those two men.”

Stark whooped and scooped me up into his arms. “Z, you didn’t kill anyone!”

“I didn’t kill anyone!” I echoed Stark’s shout as he held me, laughing. I was feeling light-headed, almost dizzy. I hadn’t killed anybody! Holy crap—I’d almost rejected the Change. I’d almost died. Because of Neferet.

It always came back to Neferet.

I thumped Stark’s shoulder, and he put me down (but I did keep hold of his hand).

I faced Detective Marx. “What else has she done?”

“You and your friends were right. Neferet did kill the mayor. He and the two men at the park were her warm-ups. She slaughtered a church full of people, and right now she’s declared that she’s a goddess. She’s made the Mayo her Temple, and she’s barricaded in there with a bunch of people who are under her spell.”

“Shit!” Stark said.

“Ohmygoddess!” Neferet had finally done it. She’d finally outed herself and shown everyone what she really was.

“You’re free, Zoey. You’ve been cleared of all charges. But before you go, I do have a favor to ask.”

I met his gaze. “You don’t have to ask. I’ll help you. I’ll do everything I can to stop her.”

Marx’s shoulders slumped in relief. “Thank you. I’m not going to lie to you, Zoey. What’s going on at the Mayo is bad, really bad. Neferet is powerful and dangerous.”

“And absolutely batshit crazy,” I finished for him. “I know. I’ve known for months.”

“Then you know what you’re up against.”

“We all do,” Stark said. “Because we’ve been the only ones fighting the crazy bitch.”

“All right, then. Do you need to get that Seer Stone thing before I take you to the Mayo and—”

“Wait, no, you don’t understand, Detective Marx. When I said I’ll do everything I can to stop Neferet, that doesn’t mean me alone.” I squeezed Stark’s hand. “One thing I’ve learned for sure is that I’m stronger with my friends.”

“Just tell me what you need, and I’ll make it so,” Marx said.

“Everything I need is at the House of Night,” I said.

“Then come with me, Zoey. I’ll take you home.”

CHAPTER SEVEN

Zoey

I’d barely gotten out of Detective Marx’s shot-up town car when Grandma rushed out of the front of the school building and wrapped me in her arms.

“U-we-tsi-a-ge-ya! It is you! I knew it—I knew you were coming home.”

I hugged her quickly, then linked my arms with hers and guided her back into the House of Night, with Detective Marx and Stark close behind me. The sun was in the process of setting, but I was hyperaware that it could still cause Stark pain. As we hurried into the building, I smiled at Grandma and said, “I didn’t kill anybody!” Then I remembered who had—and what else she’d done—and my smile slipped from my face. “Neferet killed them.”

“Neferet?” I looked up from Grandma’s happy face to see Thanatos, Aphrodite, and Darius coming out of the High Priestess’s office.

“Zoey, Detective Marx, please explain what has happened.” Thanatos said.

“Neferet has confessed to killing the two men in the park—” Detective Marx began to explain, but I interrupted him. “Wait, there’s way more to it than that, and I need my circle to hear all of it.” I looked at Thanatos. “Neferet’s revealed herself. We have to hurry.”

“Darius, Stark, gather Zoey’s circle. Bring them to the school Council Chamber. Get Lenobia as well. She is the oldest Priestess at this house—we can use her wisdom. Go, now!” Thanatos said.

Stark and Darius took off.

“Detective, let me show you the way to our Council Chamber. Sylvia, I would appreciate it if you lent your wisdom to whatever it is we’re now facing with Neferet. Would you join us?”

“Of course,” Grandma said wryly. “I know more than a little about Neferet and her unique brand of evil.” Grandma kissed me softly on the cheek and began walking with Thanatos and Detective Marx toward the stairwell that led upstairs to the Council Chamber.

That left me alone with Aphrodite.

“I’m not asking whether you want me to or not. I am coming to this meeting,” she said before she started to follow the three adults.

I touched her arm and her head jerked around so that she could look at me. I couldn’t tell if I saw more fear or anger in her eyes—both made me feel terrible.

“I’m sorry,” I said simply. “I was wrong. You were right all along. You were right to go to Shaylin. You were right to have her watch me. You were right to keep your vision from me. I should have listened to you, but I didn’t, and I wouldn’t have, even if you’d told me about your vision. I was out of control. I was selfish. I was stupid. I’m sorry,” I repeated. “Please forgive me.”

While I’d been talking, Aphrodite had gone very still. She didn’t put her hand on her hip, sneer, or flip her hair. She listened to me and watched me with intent, bright eyes. She didn’t say anything for what felt like a really long time, and when she finally spoke, her voice wasn’t snide or bitchy or sarcastic. She was serious. Her manner was calm. She looked and sounded like the Prophetess of a Goddess.

“I thought you were my friend,” she said.

“I am.”

“You hurt my feelings.”

“I know. I wish I could tell you that I didn’t mean to, but I’m not going to lie to you. At the time, I did mean to hurt you because I was hurting so bad. Aphrodite, the Seer Stone did something to me. I’m not using that as an excuse for what I said or did. It was still me. I was still wrong. I’m just trying to explain to you that I realize what happened—or at least how it happened. And I give you my oath that I won’t let it happen again.”

She kept studying me silently.

“I’m going to apologize to Shaylin, too,” I added.

Aphrodite nodded. “You should. You totally freaked her out.”

“It won’t happen again,” I repeated solemnly. “I swear it.”

“Do you want the stone back?”

“Hell no!” I said, taking a little step from her. “I want you to keep it away from me.”

“That’s my plan,” she said. “I just wondered what yours was.”

“I haven’t really got one past saying I’m sorry and asking you and Shaylin and, well, everyone else, to forgive me.”

“Well, that figures,” Aphrodite said, sounding more like herself. “You tend to be underprepared. And underdressed. Do they have no flat irons in jail?” She gave my bedhead hair an appraising look.

“No. Good hair isn’t a priority in jail.”

“Well, up until now I’d only heard that Oklahoma’s prison system sucked. Now I’m sure of it.”

That made me grin. “So, do you forgive me?”

“I suppose I have to. You look like crap. I’d hate to add insult to the fashion injury your short incarceration has already committed against you.”

I laughed and linked my arm with hers. “Is there anything you can’t simplify down to fashion?”

“No, and you are welcome.”

I laughed again and we headed to the stairway. I felt light and happy, and for a few moments I let Neferet slip from my mind. I focused my thoughts on a single, silent prayer to Nyx: Thank you, Goddess, for giving me such a good friend!

“Hey, don’t think that you can start hugging me and shit. I am not the hugging type. Let’s still consider this”—she waved her free hand in front of herself—“a no-touch zone. Darius, of course, has a zone waiver.”

“Got it,” I said, but I kept my arm linked with hers as we climbed the stairs in tandem. “I wouldn’t think of crossing the no-touch zone.”

“Good,” she said, but she didn’t pull her arm from mine until we were just outside the conference room. Then she paused and turned to face me. Serious again, she said, “I forgive you, Zoey.”

“Thank you.” I blinked fast, surprised by the sudden tears in my eyes.

“Well, shit,” she said and, after glancing around to be sure we were alone, opened up her arms and hugged me, whispering, “I love you, Z.”

I sniffed and hugged her back. “I love you, too.”

The sound of the stairwell door opening had her springing away from me. “Don’t cry,” she said sternly. “Snot will not help the fashion disaster you have going on.”

“’Kay.” I sniffed some more.

“Zo! I heard they unjailed you! Whoohoo!” Aurox yelled jubilantly, sounding weirdly and wonderfully like Heath. He jogged toward me, clearly intending on crossing my no-touch zone. I took a few skittering steps backward and then froze when he flinched and staggered to a halt. I didn’t know what the hell to do. I mean, we’d decided to be friends. Friends hugged. But then again, we’d decided to just be friends. Well, actually, I’d decided we’d just be friends and—

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