I squeezed my eyes shut and took several deep breaths, trying not to smell Jace in front of me, not to taste him on my lips. But it was useless. In that moment, Jace was everywhere. He was in my mind, he was in my heart, and he was in my memory. He smelled good. He tasted good. And the blissful aftershock still throbbing in my most sensitive places felt wonderful, when everything else in my life was an obstacle to be overcome.
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His name's Nash." Aunt Val took a butter knife from the silverware drawer. "What year is he?" I groaned inwardly. "Senior." ...here we go ... Her smile was a little too enthusiastic. "Well that's wonderful!" Of course, what she really meant was "Rise from the shadows, social leper, and walk in the bright light of acceptance!
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Alec licked his spoon, then set it on the table and popped his drink open. "Okay, I may be breaking some kind of girl bonding rule or something, but can I offer you a guy's perspective on this?" I frowned, my spoon halfway to my mouth. "Is this gonna make me want to hit you?" He shrugged. "Maybe. But it's the truth. Here goes: kissing back is an instinct. Unless the girl smells like a sewer or has tentacles feeling you up independently, a guy's first instinct is to kiss back. That's how it works. What's important is how long that kissing back lasted. So...how long?
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He sank into that kiss, and fed from me like a starving man holding off famine. I drank from his soul in preparation for the drought to come. And when he finally pulled away, my throat was thick with unspoken words, my heart heavy with every apology I'd ever denied him. But it was too late for promises. The time had come for goodbye.
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There's a good kind of crazy, Kaylee," he insisted softly, reaching out to wrap his warm hand around mine. "It's the kind that makes you think about things that make your head hurt, because not thinking about them is the coward's way out. The kind that makes you touch people who bruise your soul, just because they need to be touched. This is the kind of crazy that lets you stare out into the darkness and rage at eternity, while it stares back at you, ready to swallow you whole.
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And you still love Marc?" "More than I can even explain. He's my rock""strong and steady, and ready for anything. He knows what I need before I know it, and he pushes me to work harder, and look deeper, and be better. He challenges me, and infuriates me, and he lights me on fire, deep in my soul. And he has never, ever let me down. Sometimes it feels like he's the only thing keeping my heart beating. I love him so much that it feels like I'm dying a little bit every day that he won't smile at me. Or touch me.
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I nodded, chewing my own syrup-soaked bite. "But surely that's not all there is to it. I mean, really? A big picnic? That's Avari's master plan? That makes him sound about as dangerous as Yogi Bear." Tod shrugged. "Yeah. If Yogi were a soul-sucking, body-stealing, boyfriend-snatching, damned-soul-torturing evil demon from another world. Besides, what else could he be planning?
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I don't want to love him""this would be so much simpler if I didn't. But I do. He's funny, and passionate, and strong, and he believes in me more than I even believe in myself. When he looks at me, I feel like I could take on the whole world and come out standing tall. I like myself better when I'm with him, because of how he sees me. He makes me feel beautiful and powerful, like I'm the most important thing in the world, and I don't know how to walk away from that. I don't know how to walk away from him.
Did he show himself?' Nash asked, and I glanced to my right to see him staring at my father, as fascinated as I was. My dad nodded. 'He was an arrogant little demon.' 'So what happened?' I asked. 'I punched him.' For a moment, we stared at him in silence. 'You punched the reaper?' I asked, and my hand fell from the strainer onto the edge of the sink. 'Yeah.' He chuckled at the memory, and his grin brought out one of my own. I couldn't remember the last time I'd seen my father smile. 'Broke his nose.
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I want to kiss you.' Jace's whisper pulled me from my thoughts and I glanced up to find his eyes blazing with raw need. 'Just because Marc won't touch you doesn't mean I shouldn't. Right? I don't have that kind of self-control, and honestly, I don't see the point in it. Are you supposed to be impressed by how long we can go without touching you? 'Cause if that's the game we're playing, I think I'd rather lose.
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When I was a child, all problems had ended with a single word from my father. A smile from him was sunshine, his scowl a bolt of thunder. He was smart, and generous, and honorable without fail. He could exile a trespasser, check my math homework, and fix the leaky bathroom sink, all before dinner. For the longest time, I thought he was invincible. Above the petty problems that plagued normal people. And now he was gone.
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Or has your dad changed his mind about that?" Alex sneered. "My father never changes his mind." "Oh, that's right. Your dad's the sort who'll bang his head into a brick wall over and over, convinced the wall will eventually collapse. But it isn't the bricks that are going to cave in, Alex. Fortunately you seem to have avoided that particular character flaw - you're messed up in an entirely different way.
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We're days away from going full scale against Malone, and in the meantime, we're under fire from above. And I'm about as useful as a three-legged dog.' 'You're much more useful than any kind of dog, mi vida.' Marc purred and pressed me into the counter, his hands on my hips. I couldn't resist a smile. I was a real sucker for Spanish.
There's a good kind of crazy, Kaylee, ' he insisted softly, reaching out to wrap his warm hand around mine. 'It's the kind that makes you think about things that make your head hurt, because not thinking about them is the coward's way out. The kind that makes you touch people who bruise your soul, just because they need to be touched. This is the kind of crazy that lets you stare out into the darkness and rage at eternity, while it stares back at you, ready to swallow you whole.
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Sorry doesn't mean anything! Not when you're still with him. It's not just that you cheated-it's that he's still here, and you're still with him. It just goes on and on, and it hurts every single time I see you with him. I hate it that he makes you smile, and that there's nothing I can do to stop this. I can't think straight, and everything hurts, and nothing makes sense anymore. You're shredding my heart with one hand and stroking his ego with the other. And it's killing me, Faythe. You're killing me. And it's only going to get worse, now that everyone knows.
I don't want to love him-this would be so much simpler if I didn't. But I do. He's funny, and passionate, and strong, and he believes in me more than I even believe in myself. When he looks at me, I feel like I could take on the whole world and come out standing tall. I like myself better when I'm with him, because of how he sees me. He makes me feel beautiful and powerful, like I'm the most important thing in the world, and I don't know how to walk away from that. I don't know how to walk away from him.
You don't want me to stand against the council. You want a magic wand, so you can walk around smacking people with it until everything's just the way you like it. But guess what, Faythe? Life doesn't work like that. Life bites, and the harder you fight it, the more leverage it has to tear your heart right out of your chest. And if you really want to wake this particular sleeping dog, the truth is that if you'd just taken that "damn ring" five years ago, none of this shit would ever have happened!
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I laughed. It was just like Owen to make excuses for someone else's shortcomings. Even fictional characters. Owen found my tendency to speak my mind 'refreshingly honest, ' and hailed Marc's temper as 'a deep protective instinct.' He said Ethan 'thoroughly enjoyed life, ' and that Parker 'really knew how to have a good time.' According to Owen, we were all doing just fine, and all was right with the world.
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Marc's hand tightened visibly around Kevin's fingers, his digits going white. Again. Both men clenched their jaws, Kevin in pain, and Marc in an obvious effort to control his temper and keep from breaking Kevin's hand. Off. Why couldn't guys find a more original way to test each other's manly prowess? Arm wrestling might have been more subtle. Or maybe comparing the length of their... canines.
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She's fifteen!" Nash shrugged. "That's just a number. It doesn't say anything about her." "It says something pretty damn funny about your IQ!" I said, and he opened his mouth to retort, but I spoke over him. "Fifteen is too young to drive, too young to get a legal job, too young to sign a lease, and obviously too young to pick a boyfriend with half a brain.
You're Nash's brother. And a grim reaper?" She blinked again, and I readied myself for hysterics, or fear, or laughter. But knowing emma, I should have known better. "So you, what? Kill people? Did you kill me that day in the gym?" She clenched the headrest, her expression an odd mix of anger, awe, and confusion. But there was no disbelief. She'd seen and heard enough of the bizarre following her own temporary death that Tod's admission obviously didn't come as that much of a surprise. Or maybe Nash's Influence was still affecting her a little. "No, " Tod shook his head firmly, but the corners of his mouth turned up in amusement. "I had nothing to do with that. I do kill people, then I reap their souls and take them to be recycled. But only people who are on my list." "So, you're not... dangerous?" His pouty grin deepened into something almost predatory, like the Tod I'd first met two months earlier. "Oh, I'm dangerous... " "Tod... " I warned, as Nash punched his brother in the arm, hard enough to actually hurt. "Just not to you, " the reaper finished, shrugging at Emma. "I see you all the time, but you've never seen me, because Kaylee said if I got too close to you, I'd suffer eternity without my balls." "Jeez, Tod!" I shouted, my anger threatening to boil over and scald us all. The reaper leaned closer to Emma and spoke in a stage whisper. "She's not as scary as she thinks she is, but I respect her intent.
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How did you do it?" I brought the teacup to my mouth for another sip. "How did you guide Sophie's soul? I thought you were a reaper." "He's both, " Nash said from behind me, and I turned just as he followed my father through the front door, pulling his long sleeves down one at a time. He and my dad had just loaded Aunt Val's white silk couch into the back of my uncle's truck, so he wouldn't have to deal with the bloodstains when he and Sohie got back from the hospital. "Tod is very talented." Tod brushed the curl back from his face and scowled. Harmony spoke up from the kitchen as the oven door squealed open. "Both my boys are talented." "Both?" I repeated, sure I'd heard her wrong. Nash sighed and slid onto the chair his mother had vacated, then gestured toward the reaper with one hand. "Kaylee, meet my brother, Tod.
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Alec licked his spoon, then set it on the table and popped his drink open. "Okay, I may be breaking some kind of girl bonding rule or something, but can I offer you a guy's perspective on this?" I frowned, my spoon halfway to my mouth. "Is this gonna make me want to hit you?" He shrugged. "Maybe. But it's the truth. Here goes: kissing back is an instinct. Unless the girl smells like a sewer or has tentacles feeling you up independently, a guy's first instinct is to kiss back. That's how it works. What's important is how long that kissing back lasted. So... how long?
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Shoving aside fear and self-doubt, I met his eyes, aiming for absolute confidence in both my stance and my voice. 'My father taught me to disarm my opponent at all costs-regardless of his choice of weapon, ' I said, glancing pointedly at his groin. 'Are you threatening me?' 'Damn right. Lay one hand on me and you'll never stand to pee again.' His eyes darkened, and his laugh sounded forced. 'You're very funny, gatita.' 'I'm glad you think so. I've always considered my sense of humor to be largely under-appreciated, so it's nice to finally meet a fan.
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Okay, time to get serious. I let my smile fade slowly and lowered my pitch, as no human woman could have. 'I'm not joking this time. If I see it, it's mine, and you won't get it back at the end of the school year.' I growled, deep and long, savoring the feel of the vibrations in my throat, as if the sound alone could save me. It wasn't quite a cat's growl but it was damn close. And it was his last warning. Miguel dismissed my threat with an easy smile, and my stomach clenched. Oh, yeah, Faythe. You have Puss shaking in his boots, all right.
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So instead of ignoring the pain, I called out to it, reaching for more. Pain is part of who I am. It's the defining characteristic of a Shifter's transformation. Pain is what I suffer from my enemies. It is what I deal out to those who break our laws. It is what I protect my charges from. Pain is what I inherited from fate, that fickle bitch who gave me a mouth and fists, then put me in a world that wanted only my womb and my cradled arms.
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Vanity, right?" Nash reappeared in the living room with an open bag of potato chips. "I nominate my venerable brother. He likes to play hero, and one look at him should establish the vanity angle." "Nash!" I really shouldn't have been surprised by the dig. But I was. "What?" He raised one brow at me in challenge. "It's okay to call me jealous, but not to call him vain?" "Awareness of one's obvious advantages doesn't imply vanity, " Tod insisted calmly. Nash turned on him. "Does it imply narcissism?" Tod huffed. "This coming from the guy who owns more hair products than his girlfriend.
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You're the brightest thing I've ever seen, Kaylee. You're this beautiful ball of fire spitting sparks out at the world, burning fiercely, holding back the dark by sheer will. And I always knew that if I reached out - if i tried to touch you - I'd get burned. Because you're not mine. I'm not supposed to feel the fire. I'm not supposed to want it. But I do. I want you, Kaylee, like I've never wanted anything. Ever. I want the fire. I want the heat, and the light, and I want the burn.
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We would not have hurt the child, even if she is our natural enemy. Nor would we have hurt you, if it could be helped. Finn was killed by a male cat, and in exchange for that information, we also agreed to try to remove the female cats from your encampment before the true melee begins." Melee?! Were these ninja birds? Green Berets with feathers?
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