Page 32

The apartment’s tiny U-shaped kitchen looked out on the living-room-turned-dance floor, and after squeezing through the packed-in bodies blocking the kitchen’s entrance, I opened and closed cabinets, hunting for a glass. I found a stack of white plastic cups above the sink, flipped on the tap, and held a cup under the faucet. As I was turning to carry the water back to Scott, my heart jumped. Patch stood several feet away, leaning against the cupboards opposite the refrigerator. He’d separated himself from the crowd, and his ball cap was pulled low, signaling he wasn’t interested in soliciting conversation.

His stance was impatient. He glanced at his watch.

Seeing no way to avoid him, aside from climbing over the counter directly into the living room, and feeling I owed him civility—plus, weren’t we both old enough to handle this maturely?—I moistened my lips, which suddenly felt dry as sand, and walked over. “Having fun?”

The hard lines of his face softened into a smile. “I can think of at least one thing I’d rather be doing.”

If that was an innuendo, I was going to ignore it. I boosted myself onto the kitchen counter, legs dangling over the edge.

“Staying the whole night?”

“If I have to stay the whole night, shoot me now.” I spread my hands. “No gun, sorry.”

His smile was bad-boy perfection. “That’s all that’s stopping you?”

“Shooting you wouldn’t kill you,” I pointed out. “One of the downsides of being immortal.”

He nodded, a fierce smile creeping out beneath the shadow of his ball cap. “But you would if you could?” I hesitated before answering. “I don’t hate you, Patch. Yet.”

“Hate’s not strong enough?” he guessed. “Something deeper?”

I smiled, but not enough to show teeth.

We both seemed to sense that nothing good would come of We both seemed to sense that nothing good would come of this conversation, especially not here, and Patch rescued both of us by tipping his head toward the crowd behind us. “And you? Staying long?”

I hopped down off the counter. “Nope. I’m delivering water to Scott, and mouthwash if I can find it, then I’m out of here.” He caught my elbow. “You’d shoot me, but you’re on your way to nurse Scott’s hangover?”

“Scott didn’t break my heart.”

A couple of beats of silence fell between us, then Patch said in a low voice, “Let’s go.” The way he looked at me told me exactly what he meant. He wanted me to run away with him. To defy the archangels. To ignore that they’d eventually find Patch.

I couldn’t think about what they’d do to him without feeling trapped in ice, cold with fear, and frozen by the sheer horror of it. Patch had never told me what hell would be like. But he knew.

And the fact that he wasn’t telling me painted a very vivid, very bleak picture.

I kept my eyes nailed to the living room. “I promised Scott a glass of water.”

“You’re spending a lot of time with a guy I’d call dark, and given my standard, that’s a hard-won title.”

“Takes a dark prince to know one?”

“Glad you’ve hung on to your sense of humor, but I’m serious.

Be careful.”

I nodded. “I appreciate your concern, but I know what I’m doing.” I sidestepped Patch and edged through the gyrating bodies in the living room. I had to get away. It was too much standing close to him, feeling that wall of ice so thick and impenetrable. Knowing we both wanted something we couldn’t have, even though what we wanted stood an arm’s reach away.

I’d made it about halfway through the crowd when someone snagged the strap of my cami from behind. I turned back, expecting to find Patch ready to give me more of his opinion, or maybe, more terrifying, throwing caution to the wind to kiss me, but it was Scott, grinning lazily down at me. He brushed my hair off my face and leaned in, sealing my mouth with his. He tasted like mint mouthwash and freshly scrubbed teeth. I started to draw back, then realized, what did I care if Patch saw? I wasn’t doing anything he hadn’t already. I had just as much right to move on as he did. He was using Marcie to fill the void in his heart, and now it was my turn, with Scott.

I slid my hands up Scott’s chest and laced them behind his neck. He took the cue and pulled me in tighter, tracing his hands down the contour of my spine. So this was what it felt like to kiss someone else. While Patch was slow and practiced and took his time, Scott was playfully eager and a little sloppy. It was completely different and new … and not altogether bad.

“My room,” Scott whispered in my ear, lacing his fingers between mine and pulling me toward the hall.

I flicked my gaze to where I’d last seen Patch. Our eyes met.

His hand was stiff, cupped at the back of his neck, as if he’d been lost in deep thought and had frozen at the sight of me kissing Scott.

This is what it feels like, I thought at him.

Only, I didn’t feel any better after thinking it. I felt sad and low and dissatisfied. I wasn’t the kind of person who played games or relied on dirty tricks to console myself or boost my self-esteem. But there was still a certain raw pain burning inside me, and because of it, I let Scott guide me down the hall.

Using his foot, Scott nudged open the bedroom door. He killed the lights, and soft shadows settled around us. I glanced at the small twin mattress on the bottom bunk, then at the window. The window was cracked. In a panic-induced moment, I actually imagined myself slipping through the crack and disappearing into the night. Probably a sign that what I was about to do was a huge mistake. Was I really going through with this just to make a point? Was this how I wanted to show Patch the magnitude of my anger and hurt? What did it say about me?

Scott took me by the shoulders and kissed me harder. I mentally flipped through my options. I could tell Scott I was feeling sick. I could tell him I’d changed my mind. I could simply tell him no….

Scott shucked off his shirt and tossed it aside.

“Uh—,” I began. I looked around once more for an escape, noting that the bedroom door must have opened, because a shadow blotted out the light spilling in from the hall. The shadow stepped inside and closed the door, and I felt my jaw go slack.

Patch tossed Scott’s shirt at him, catching him in the face.

“What the—,” Scott demanded, yanking the shirt over his head and rolling it down to cover himself.

“Fly’s down,” Patch told him.

Scott yanked on his zipper. “What are you doing? You can’t Scott yanked on his zipper. “What are you doing? You can’t come in here. I’m busy. And this is my room!”

“Are you insane?” I told Patch, blood rising in my cheeks.

Patch sliced his eyes toward me. “You don’t want to be here.

Not with him.”

“You don’t get to make that call!”

Scott brushed past me. “Let me take care of him.” He made it another two feet before Patch shoved his fist into Scott’s jaw with a sickening crunch.

“What are you doing?” I yelled at Patch. “Did you break his jaw?”

“Unnuh!” Scott moaned, clutching the lower half of his face.

“I didn’t break his jaw, but if he lays a hand on you, it will be the first of many things to break,” Patch said.

“Out!” I ordered Patch, thrusting a finger at the door.

“I’m going to kill you,” Scott growled at Patch, opening and closing his jaw, making sure it still worked.

But instead of taking the cue to leave, Patch crossed to Scott in three steps. He flung him around to face the wall. Scott tried to get his bearings, but Patch slammed him against the wall again, disorienting him further. “Touch her,” he said in Scott’s ear, his voice low and threatening, “and it’ll be the biggest regret of your life.”

Before leaving, Patch flicked his eyes once in my direction.

“He’s not worth it.” He paused. “And neither am I.” I opened my mouth but didn’t have an argument. I wasn’t here because I wanted to be. I was here to shove it in Patch’s face. I knew it, and he knew it.

Scott rolled around, slouching against the wall. “I could’ve taken him if I wasn’t wasted,” he said, massaging the lower half of his face. “Who the hell does he think he is? I don’t even know him. You know him?”

Scott obviously didn’t recognize Patch from the Z, but there had been a lot of people there that night. I couldn’t expect Scott to remember every face. “I’m sorry about that,” I said, gesturing at the door Patch had just exited through. “Are you okay?” He smiled slowly. “Never been better.” That said with a welt-like bruise blooming across his jaw.

“He was out of control.”

“Best way to be,” he drawled, using the back of his hand to wipe a ribbon of blood from the crack of his mouth.

“I should go,” I said. “I’ll bring the Mustang back after school tomorrow.” I wondered how I was supposed to walk out of here, past Patch, and maintain any level of self-dignity. I might as well stroll up to him and admit he was right: I’d only followed Scott back here to hurt him.

Scott crooked his finger under my shirt, holding me in place.

“Don’t go, Nora. Not yet.”

I unhooked his finger. “Scott—”

“Tell me if I’m going too far,” he said, tugging his shirt up over his head for the second time. His pale skin glowed in the dark.

He’d clearly been spending a lot of time in the weight room, and it showed in the lines of muscle branching down his arms.

“You’re going too far,” I said.

“That didn’t sound convincing.” He swept my hair off my neck and nuzzled his face in the curve.

“I’m not interested in you this way,” I said, putting my hands between us. I was tired, and a headache was buzzing between my ears. I was ashamed of myself and wanted to go home and sleep and sleep until I forgot this night.

“How do you know? You’ve never tried me this way.” I flipped on the light switch, flooding the room with light. Scott threw a hand over his eyes and staggered back a step.

“I’m leaving—,” I began, then broke off as my eyes fixed on a patch of skin high on Scott’s chest, halfway between his nipple and collarbone. The skin was warped and shiny. Somewhere deep in my brain, I made the connection that this must be the branding mark Scott had been given when he swore all egiance to the Nephilim blood society, but it felt like a hazy afterthought, dull in comparison to what had really arrested my attention. The brand was in the shape of a clenched fist. It was identical, down to the exact shape and size, to the raised stamp on the iron ring from the envelope.

With a hand still flung over his eyes, Scott groaned and reached for the bedpost to steady himself.

“What’s that mark on your skin?” I asked, my mouth gone dry.

Scott looked momentarily startled, then slid his hand down to cover the mark. “Some friends and I were horsing around one night. It’s nothing serious. It’s only a scar.” He had the audacity to lie about it? “You gave me the envelope.” When he didn’t answer, I added more fiercely, “The boardwalk. The bakery. The envelope with the iron ring.” The room felt eerily isolated, detached from the throbbing bass out in the living room. In an instant, I no longer felt safe trapped back here with Scott.