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“He says he’s trying to keep me safe.”

“Yeah. And you know what…” She laughed and shook her head. “I actually believe that. In this one instance, I actually believe that. Somewhere, pigs have sprouted wings, and are taking to the skies. A Demigod is thinking of someone besides himself.”

I tapped on the arm rest, my other little secret on the tip of my tongue.

“Go ahead and spit it out,” she said, reading my mind.

I exhaled a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. “I’m not going to let him push me away from the fight. I could be wrong, but I think he has doubts, and I get the impression that he thinks this is an impossible battle—”

“He’d be stupid not to.”

“I could help,” I said. “I’m learning really fast—”

“Lightning fast.”

“—and I can clear a room already. Like you said, maybe I can turn the tide.” I leaned my forehead against the window as we parked in the farthest available spot in the corner parking lot of the magical government building. “He is trying to do the best thing for me by keeping me away. But…” I shook my head, rolling my forehead against the glass. I pulled back. I would draw attention if I had a big red spot in the middle of my forehead. “He needs the help, and I can’t in good conscience do nothing. I believe in his cause. Valens is a big dickhead. He needs his day of judgment, and I want to bring it to him. Not to mention that I want to help Kieran. This is my fight, too.”

“Amen, sister. Put ’er there.” She threw up her hand for a high-five. I frowned at her, but it would be unthinkable not to follow through with a high-five. “I hoped you’d say all that. Well, not about falling hard for Kieran, but about sticking with the fight. I’m excited to see what you unleash. It’ll be awesome.”

She got out of the SUV.

“Wait…” I nearly tumbled down after her. The SUV was a little higher than I remembered from getting in. “I didn’t say I’m falling hard for him, just that he’s gotten to me. It’s different.”

There were limits to my honesty.

“Sure.” She put a hand up, stilling me.

The parking lot gently sloped down to the large magical government building. The bay beyond it sparkled in the sun, all the fog cleared away from this area by Valens. Anxiety unfurled in my middle, knowing the might that awaited inside those walls. There was no reason for the top tier to notice me, not yet, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t. There was no telling what they’d gleaned of Kieran’s plans, and who was helping with those plans.

Hell, there might’ve been cameras overlooking the beach. They could have my face on wanted posters. Anything was possible, and I didn’t have a clue about any of it. I was walking in blind.

“Okay,” I said, expelling a breath and trying to calm my nerves. “All we need to do right now is go in there, talk to the ghost, and get out. We’re looking for information. We don’t need to cause a scene.”

Bria nodded, pointing at a little trail cutting across an undeveloped area and curving down the hill toward the building. “I’m pretty fluent about the positioning of all the cameras in this joint. There are quite a few outside, but not as many inside. Definitely not a lot in the common areas. Valens’s office will be dicey, but that’s what ski masks and fire alarms were made for.”

“What? No—” I followed her onto the trail. My foot slipped on loose rock and dirt. “Did you hear me? We’re just here to contact the ghost.”

“Yeah. And then we should check out Valens’s office. We found stuff in his house, so we’ll probably find stuff in his office, too.”

“No, Bria…” I put out my hands for balance as the trail ran down the hillside, much steeper than it looked. Only a few pieces of driftwood haphazardly cut into the dirt provided any sort of foothold. One slip and I’d be rolling ass-over-end. “If we want to break into his office, we need a better plan. We certainly can’t go in the middle of the day.”

“There is a lot more security at night. That’s when they’ve had all the break-ins in the past. Don’t worry, though. I got this. We won’t get caught.”

“That’s what you said about his house!”

“And look, we didn’t get caught. But seriously, it’s fine. I brought supplies to start a fire.”

“Wha—whoa.” I flailed my arms to keep my balance as my feet slid. My toe hit a rock, tipping me toward Bria. I jogged down and clutched her shoulders to stay upright.

Somehow, she wasn’t having a problem managing the path.

“No fires. No breaking in. That ghost seemed to know what our guy looks like. And while spirits aren’t good with the passing of time, I can probably work with her. I can figure out a way to pinpoint how often the spirit trapper comes around.”

“All of that sounds very logical,” she said, and though I couldn’t see or hear it, I got the distinct impression she was laughing at me.

“No fires,” I reiterated.

We finally reached the wall of the building, and she turned right toward the back corner. Once there, she glanced around the side. A black orb clung to the underside of the overhang, above a nondescript gray door. A small red light blazed from its backside.

“Okay,” she said quietly, watching that orb. “When that light goes off, we’re going to—”

The light clicked off and she sprinted forward, pulling her backpack from her shoulder at the same time. I jolted after her, my heart jumpstarting as adrenaline dumped into my bloodstream.

She came to an abrupt stop at the door and I barely kept from slamming into her back. With economic and lightning-fast movements, she pulled out a card with a cord attached and flashed it in front of a black pad stationed on the wall. After a metallic click, she yanked the door open and dashed inside. I jetted in after her, peeling off to the side and breathing heavily. The door swung shut behind us and another click announced it was locked again.

“Okay.” She stashed the card into her backpack, zipped it up, and swung it over her shoulder. “Sneak in through the back. Check.”

Without another word, she started off down what looked like an off-white service hallway, with a couple of large canvas bins on wheels and racks of cleaning supplies.

“Why does the camera turn on and off?” I whispered, checking behind us periodically to make sure the coast was clear.

“The feed rotates back and forth between two entrances, and the rotation moves pretty fast. Fast enough that the idiots in charge think it’s secure. Okay, where are we going?”

“Either the lobby area, or the hallway near the medical area at the top of the front stairs.”

“Got it. Upstairs is a little more sheltered than the lobby, so we’ll hit that up first.”

“No fire,” I reminded.

She navigated the hallways with ease, somehow dodging in and out of people without drawing their notice. I, on the other hand, drew eyes constantly. Some people smiled, some scowled, and one had the fiercest resting bitch face I’d ever seen. I was the one staring at her, that time. She looked like she was about to kill someone. If not for her bored eyes, I would’ve assumed she was on a murderous rampage.

“Do I have stuff on my face?” I asked as we climbed a set of stairs I didn’t recognize. The building was large and I’d only been there a couple times in my life. I had very little knowledge of it. It was a stroke of luck Bria had decided to countermand Kieran’s demands and bring me here anyway.

She glanced back. “Nope. Why?”

“I seem to get…” A round-faced man glanced my way. His gaze stuck. “People keep staring at me,” I whispered, trying not to look back and see if he was still staring.

He was.

“Yeah. You’re dressed nicely and your hair is combed.”

“So? You’re dressed…” I glanced at the side of her Motley Crue T-shirt, a name I didn’t recognize. Judging from the big-haired guys with guitars on the front, it was some sort of eighties band. A leather bracelet embedded with spikes wrapped around her wrist, and black cargo pants draped her legs. “Your hair is combed.”

“I’m merely good looking, made weird by the punk-rock edge. You are extremely pretty. And with those new clothes, you look polished but not too polished. Fly-aways, no makeup—you’re a natural beauty, and you show it off without intending to show it off. It’s a real good look. If I cared, like, at all, I might give it a go myself. As it is, I’m cursing myself for letting you go out like that. I was so afraid you’d wear pants only useful in a flood that I forgot about the bigger picture.”

It was hard to pretend the staring wasn’t making my skin crawl. I’d never been noticed this much in my life. In fact, usually I wasn’t noticed at all. That’s what was so great about the dual-society zone— you could skirt around people with your head down and usually get through a day without anyone glancing at you at all. This was…disconcerting.

“This is the hall, right?” Bria said with a hush, slowing.

I recognized the far end, with the fashionable metal tree climbing the wall and spreading across the ceiling. There was a little alcove over where I’d first seen the girl. She’d pointed out a skulking Jack…


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