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Chapter One

Tuesday, October 18, after midnight

    Why couldn’t tonight have just been a normal night? I had homework to do; so did Cass. We might’ve been able to swing giving a wayward vamp a slap on the wrist for getting a little too friendly with a homeless person or something. But we really didn’t have time for anything weird.

    Even with six years experience tracking scent trails, I still hadn’t known what to expect at the end of this path. But even my best guess sure as hell wasn’t to find Diego Martinez walking into the automatic doors at Sears. Especially since they’d been locked for hours.

    Cass and I watched from the parking lot as Diego rebounded off the glass and stumbled back a few steps before striding up to the door again. “What do you think, Elle? Sleepwalking?” Cass tilted her head from one side to the other.

    I pulled my lip between my teeth—thinking once more how I should really stop chewing on it—as Diego bounced against the glass again. “It’d seem like running into the door over and over would kind of disrupt his REM cycle.”

    Cass shrugged, the movement shifting her black duster so the wind caught the hem and fanned it out behind her. “Well, why don’t we go see if we can wake him up? Unless that’ll make you get all tongue-tied.”

    The breeze worked so much better for her than me. She got the avenging angel billowing coat. I looked like the victim of a tragic wind tunnel accident. I yanked loose strands of hair from my face with a grimace and snapped, “I’ll be fine.” It didn’t help my demeanor at all that when I tugged my hair away, several pieces of fur flew right back into my face. Whoever concocted the whole werewolf thing really should have done away with shedding.

       “You sure, Sis? Don’t plan on drooling and falling all over yourself?” Cass moved toward Diego without waiting for a reply. What Cassidy wants and all that.

    “Yeah. Completely over my Diego issues,” I said to the night air as I jogged to catch up to her.

    She reached Diego, grabbed his arm, and whipped him around. “Hey, Diego, old buddy, you have football practice tomorrow. Shouldn’t you be in bed?” With his momentum toward the mall interrupted, Diego tried to walk forward in the new direction. Until he ran into the five-foot high, platinum blonde brick wall. Cass’s body didn’t repel him the way the door had, but she wasn’t letting him leave either.

    “Damn it, Diego, just stand still.” I expected him to ignore me, too, but he stopped pushing against Cassidy and did the best impression of a statue I’d ever seen. A really hot statue with deep brown eyes, gently curling chestnut hair, bulging muscles, and....

    Cass snapped her fingers in front of my face. “Yep, you’re doing great.” She rolled her eyes and turned back to him.

    I snarled and squared my shoulders; my crush on Diego was a thing of the past. Not my fault he was still nice to look at. “His breathing isn’t steady,” I said, after listening for a few seconds. “How’s his heart rate?”

    “Too fast for sleeping.” She parked her hands on her hips. “Drugs?”

    A thin line of saliva formed at the corner of Diego’s mouth and dripped toward his collar, building a shiny bridge of liquid. He also started bleeding. The impacts with the door had left a small gash on his forehead. My eyes darted to Cass, who glared at him, then back to the blood pooling in the cut.

    “No way. Diego wouldn’t do drugs; he’s smarter than that.” There was absolutely no reason at all to worry about the blood. It was just a little. Everything would be fine. I held my breath and watched as it dripped from the cut and ran down his face, mingling with the drool. “He actually looks kind of like a zombie.”

    “Hello? Heartbeat and breathing. Definitely not a zombie.” Cass stood on tiptoe and waved her hand in front of his face. Without warning, she stilled and her nostrils flared. “Besides, his pupils are dilated. I vote for drugs.” She dropped to her heels and backed away.

    “But I don’t smell anything...off about him.” If he was high, it should have left some sort of scent—in his sweat, his blood, something.”

    “Yeah, well your nose isn’t exactly in tiptop shape like this, is it? I told you not to shift back so soon. But no—you see Diego and poof.” She made jazz hands. “Elle is human again.”

    “It wasn’t like that.” Actually it was, but not for the reason she thought. We’d reached the end of the trail. There was no reason for me not to shift back.

    “Sure it wasn’t.”

    I closed my eyes and counted to five—she didn’t deserve the whole ten. “Whatever. I still don’t buy drugs.”

    Cass turned on me and got right in my face. Not good, not good at all. “Use a little logic, Elle. Ockham’s Razor says drugs.”

    “Who-ha’s what?”

    She shook her head. “Ockham’s Razor. It’s a scientific principle that basically says that all things being equal, the simplest answer is usually right. Drug abuser trumps living zombie.” She turned and took a step away.

    “Based on that theory, we shouldn’t be what we are either.”

    Cass stopped and her shoulders tightened, stretching the coat across her back. When she finally spoke, it was through tightly clenched teeth. “No, we are the simplest explanation for us. We’re just the ones no one wants to believe.” She strode toward the edge of the parking lot.

    “Drugs or not, we can’t just leave him here!” She spun around and glared at me with eyes that had grown much darker than their normal cornflower blue. “Fine, then let’s take the stupid, stoner jock home. Maybe in this state you can convince him you’re the love of his life.”

    My teeth clamped down on my tongue. She’d avoided showing teeth when she spoke. If I’d had any doubts, that simple act confirmed my suspicions. We were in trouble. “Come on, Diego, let’s get you home.” I tugged on his arm and made sure to keep him downwind from Cassidy as much as I could.


    Cass didn’t attack Diego on the way to his house, but she never dropped back to walk with us either. I hoped she was just irritated that we didn’t find anything more interesting. Hoped, but doubted it.   

    We slunk through the shadows behind the Martinez’s house until we had a clear view of their deck—and the sliding door with a bar across it. “Crap.” I dug through Diego’s pockets, searching for keys. Nothing. They probably had an alarm with coded doors.

    “We could always break in.” Cass stepped out of the shelter of a towering pine tree and moved toward the door.

    I yanked her to a stop. “Are you nuts? I don’t want to have to explain any of this when their security alarm goes off.” I didn’t want Diego’s problems, whatever they were, to get any undue attention either. I might have been over my crush, but I wasn’t a bitch.

    “Fine. Then let’s just dump him on the deck and be done with it. He can sleep it off with the mosquitoes until the sprinklers wake him up in the morning.” Cass crossed her arms against her tiny frame and tapped her foot. Streetlights reflected off her eyes, making them look as black as oil.

    I didn’t have a better plan and unless there was something else waiting for him, Cass posed the biggest threat to Diego. I looked around the yard with its enormous flowerbeds and lush green lawn. A deep inhale told me that a family of deer lurked in the trees nearby, and they were more of a threat to the chrysanthemums and asters than to Diego. My sense of smell wasn’t top notch in my present state, but it would have to do.

    “Fine. The deck it is.” Cass tried to grab Diego’s other arm, but I brushed her fingers from his leather jacket and pulled rank with a look. “Stay here.”

    I tried to lead him quietly up the wooden steps, but in his lumbering state, he tripped and made far more noise than I liked. And then the security lights went on. I swear this house is out to get me.

    Luck must have decided to cut me a break though, since his parents didn’t come running outside.

    “That doesn’t look very comfortable.” I glanced around at the metal furniture. Very weather-resistant, but not great to sleep on. A storage box next to the door held some thick, flowered cushions that I spread on the glider. Diego sat without resistance when I pushed him. “Look, your parents are probably going to be pissed if these get wet in the morning, but I can’t just—” I bit my lip to stop the babbling nonsense about to spew out of my mouth.

    Diego stared at me blankly, and I willed him to say something. Anything. His silence hung heavy in the air.   

    Heaving a sigh, I started talking again. “Please just stay here. Your parents’ll help you in the morning.” Still no response, not even a blink. “Try to get some rest.” With a gentle nudge from me, he lay down and closed his eyes.

    I gave him one last concerned glance before joining Cassidy under the pine tree.

    She didn’t even bother trying to hide her toothy grin. “Is he all tucked in now? Snug as a bug in a—”   

    While she was busy mouthing off, I lunged for one of the fearless rabbits that live in our town. It must have decided we weren’t a threat. It was wrong. With the bunny gripped in my left hand, I drove my right against Cass’s throat, slamming her back against the tree trunk. Pine needles drifted around us as I glared at her and snarled, “Are you a freaking idiot?”

    “What the hell? I was just kidding.”

    I wished I could believe her, but since she talked with her mouth mostly closed, I couldn’t. Besides, she couldn’t hide her eyes. Stark, inhuman blackness coated her irises. I hated those eyes. Covering the shudder that ran along my spine, I pulled her forward a few inches then slammed her back against the trunk. For a moment, as more pine needles drifted to the ground, the rabbit ceased struggling in my grip. The lack of scratching was an improvement, but I hoped I hadn’t killed it by squeezing too hard.

    “I’ll ask you one more time. Are you a freaking idiot?” My voice hissed from between clenched teeth. When Cass didn’t answer that time, I took a different approach. “When was the last time you ate?”

    Her lips curved into a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes, and she spoke with deliberate slowness. “I ate dinner earlier tonight, Elle. You know that. You were there. Jen made tacos, and Eric told us all about his boring day at work.”

    My body trembled, but not with fear. Cass was so far gone she had the nerve to try to play with me. I supposed I had to count myself lucky that was all she was doing. I gritted my teeth and shoved the rabbit at her face. The movement must have made its shock wear off because it began thrashing around again, claws scraping at my forearm. “Eat it.”

    Her ebony eyes shifted to the rabbit then back to my face. “I’m not in the mood for rabbit tonight, Elle.” Her fake grin slipped to something more condescending.

    The expression came close to making my blood run cold. Not close enough though. I was furious enough to beat her senseless. “Too bad, because I’m beyond caring what you want. You were stupid enough to come out hungry. Patrolling without feeding? I can’t trust you like this, and we aren’t leaving until you eat the rabbit.”

    Cass crossed her arms and, leaning her body against the tree like she didn’t have a care in the world, blinked at me. Long and slow.

    I tried not to let my human instincts take over, but I felt my heartbeat speed up. The fear almost suffocated me, but I choked it down and shoved every inch of anger into my voice. “And really, I don’t care if I have to force you.”

    Cassidy gave a tiny harrumph and raised her arm. “Fine. Whatever. Hand over poor, little, innocent Thumper.” My hand still gripping her throat, I slapped the wriggling mass of bunny into her open palm. Her eyes narrowed to slits when I didn’t let her go. “Don’t you trust me, Sis?”

    Exhausted with her stupid games, I sighed. “Just eat the damn rabbit so we can go home.”

    At long last she raised the animal to her face and opened her mouth, revealing canines that had extended to nearly an inch long. Without another word, she plunged her fangs into the bunny’s quivering flesh. I held onto Cass until the sucking noises reached a nice steady rhythm, and the muscles that had locked into place finally loosened. Even though I let her go, her lips stayed glued to the small animal, whose struggles had long since ceased.

    The drained body of the rabbit hit the ground with a quiet thump, and Cass raised an embarrassed blue gaze to me. “I’m sorry.”

    I simply shook my head—too tired to do anything else. “Don’t you ever do that to me again. Neither of us may be happy with the hand life has dealt us, but whether you like it or not, you have to feed.” I spun around, stalked into the woods, and headed toward home. “And I don’t plan on ever being dinner.”

    Cass could follow me, or she could sulk until dawn. I didn’t care. I still didn’t think Diego’s problem was drugs, and I just didn’t have the energy to coddle a moping bloodsucker.