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|The Reckoning(Darkest Powers #3) by Kelley Armstrong|
“Backbone?” I blurted, then felt my cheeks heat. “I-I don’t mean-”
“See, there’s your version of ‘too nice.’ You don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, even behind his back. Backbone is exactly right.” She reclined on her bed. “Anyway, enough of that. Simon’s looking for you, as usual. Go play, Chloe. I’ll keep your brooding spot warm.”
Sure enough, Simon was looking for me. Apparently, the guys had been unable to try getting into the basement that morning-Andrew had insisted on hanging out with them, kicking a ball around outside.
Now Andrew was locked up with his laptop in the study, so Derek had slipped into the basement. Simon was keeping watch, which was easier to do unobtrusively if he had someone to hang out with. We were in one of the unused rooms, checking out a wall of photos, when Andrew passed by. He saw us looking at the pictures.
“They’re from the previous owner,” he said, coming in. “None of us, as you see.”
“Gotta fly under the radar,” Simon said.
Andrew nodded. “Supernaturals always need to be thinking of that, Chloe-all the ways we can accidentally expose ourselves or call attention to ourselves. Even publicly associating with other supernaturals can be a danger. That’s not to say you won’t have supernaturals as friends. You will, and that helps. But we’re always careful.”
I said I understood.
“Now these are family photos of the man who owned the house. Todd Banks. The founder of the Genesis project. Dr. Lyle had the original idea, but he died before genetic modification was a possibility. It was Todd-Dr. Banks-who took his ideas and began the experiment. He was also the first to sound the alarm about the potential pitfalls. He warned the Edison Group, but they were too enamored with the possibilities to admit they’d made mistakes. Dr. Banks left and founded our group of concerned ex-employees. He bequeathed the house to us on his death a few years ago.”
As Andrew talked, I noticed a photo of Dr. Banks…with a dark-haired boy off to the side. He looked about thirteen in the shot, but I still recognized his face. It was the Volo half-demon ghost.
“Is that Dr. Banks’s son?” I asked as casually as I could.
“His nephew. That would be…” Andrew’s brow wrinkled. “I can’t remember his name. I never met him. I know he lived here for a while, with his cousin and his uncle. That’s the older boy, which I only know because the younger one was blond.”
I remembered the body in the bed. The horribly beaten body…of a light-haired boy a few years younger than the half-demon I’d met.
“You said Dr. Banks left this house to your group. What happened to the kids?”
“They went to live with another relative. A grandparent, I think.”
Both boys were dead, and I knew it. The question was, did Andrew? Or was this a story he’d been told?
Were the boys part of the Genesis project? It seemed like it. Yet the kid I’d seen had been older than me. Even if he’d survived his uncle, he had to have died a couple of years ago, given his age in the photo. That meant if he was alive today, he’d be a few years older than Derek, who was supposed to be one of the first subjects.
“Was there a woman living here with them?” Simon asked.
“Hmm?” Andrew said as he waved us from the room.
“Chloe heard a woman’s voice last night, and we thought it might be a ghost. Was there a woman living with them?”
“Not as far as I know. I could be mistaken, though. Now, I should get dinner going. I know you’re supposed to eat at regular times, Simon. And I know you two have something special planned afterward.” He winked at me and I’m sure I blushed.
As Andrew headed for the kitchen, Derek snuck up from the basement. The three of us went upstairs, ducked into the guys’ bedroom, and closed the door.
“It’s storage,” Derek said. “Two big rooms full of stuff and one locked room.”
“Locked?” Simon perked up.
“I busted it open. It’s a workshop. Nothing but tools.”
“So why would it be locked?” I asked.
“I’d love to say it’s suspicious,” Simon said. “But if this Banks guy had kids around, then I’m not surprised. My dad isn’t exactly Mr. Handyman, but he kept a lock on his tool-box. You know parents. Paranoid.”
“Yeah,” Derek said. “Especially after their son flattens his finger trying to nail a drawing to the wall.”
“Hey, I’m not the genius who suggested it.” Simon glanced at me. “Tape wouldn’t hold it, and Science Guy explained that the paper was too heavy for the adhesive. So I got some nails.”
Derek rolled his eyes.
“So that’s it?” I said. “Storage and a tool room? No clues at all?”
“Didn’t say that. There are labeled boxes of clothes and stuff. Three names: Todd, Austin, and Royce. Todd’s stuff is adult.”
“Dr. Banks,” Simon said. “The guy who owned this place. And let me guess, the other boxes were for teenage boys.”
When I explained what Andrew said, Derek nodded. “Royce is your half-demon’s name, then. His clothes are bigger. So Andrew said he moved away after Banks died? Maybe he was killed later and came back.”
“I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure it was Austin ’s body I saw last night.”
A family, dead. Including two teenagers. All with connections to the Edison Group, maybe to the Genesis project. And we were taking refuge in the same house.
“We can’t go anywhere,” Derek said.
That’s what we were all thinking, of course. Run. But where? None of us thought Andrew was secretly aligned with the Edison Group, holding us here while going through this elaborate ruse of plotting an attack on them. But what had happened to Dr. Banks and Royce and Austin? Did it have anything to do with us?
“I’ll keep looking,” Derek said. “Maybe ask Andrew a few things. You guys-”
“We’ll be gone for a while after dinner,” Simon said.
“Oh. Yeah. That’s right.” Derek’s gaze flicked my way, but before I could meet it, he’d turned to Simon. “So, uh, Andrew was good with that?”
“Yep. You lose that bet, bro. Sure, he gave me a whole bunch of warnings-gotta walk through the woods, not on the road, Chloe can’t go into the store, blah-blah. But we can go.”
“Huh.” Derek looked over his shoulder, like he’d been hoping Andrew would say it wasn’t safe. After a moment, he nodded and said, “Okay, then.”
“We’ve got some time to kill before dinner,” Simon said. “How about picking up those self-defense lessons?”
“Sure,” I said. “I’ll get Tori…and don’t make that face. I’m getting her. Derek, you joining us?”
“Nah.” He turned and headed down the hall. “You guys go on.”
Simon gave us a self-defense lesson in the backyard, teaching some basic holds, which Tori, with her binding spell, thought was kind of useless. But she only whispered that to me and didn’t rub it in with Simon.
There was a moment during that lesson, when Simon was trying to show Tori a hold and they were standing side by side, me sitting on a patio chair watching them, and…For a second, I thought Maybe they could be related. I don’t know what it was, the angle of their faces, I think, something about the cheekbones, the mouth. Dark eyes, same height, same slender build.
Then Simon stepped away and whatever I’d seen disappeared. I decided I was taking a few superficial similarities and letting my imagination fill in the rest.
Dinner came. Dinner went. I headed upstairs to get ready.
I always thought I wasn’t the kind of girl who gave a lot of thought to stuff like this-first date, first kiss. Don’t get me wrong. I wanted those things. But I didn’t fantasize about the big day and what I’d wear and how I’d act. Or so I thought.
But I guess I still always had this image of my first date. I’d buy a new outfit and maybe get a haircut. I’d definitely wear makeup and I’d probably paint my nails. In short, I’d look better than I ever had, and when I opened my door to that first guy, I’d see it in his eyes, in his smile.
When Simon knocked at my bedroom door, I’d brushed my hair and found Vaseline for lip gloss. I couldn’t even shower because Tori was running the washing machine. As for clothes, I wore the same jeans and shirt I had been in since escaping the laboratory, though I had managed to get the pizza sauce stain off the shirtsleeve…most of it, anyway.
Still, when I did open the door and he smiled at me, it was just like I’d always imagined, and I knew everything was going to be okay.
ABOUT FIFTY FEET INTO the forest, Simon stopped dead and swore.
“What?” I said.
He waved at the woods. “I should have checked with you. Is it okay? Being out here?”
I assured him it was fine.
“Derek warned me the woods made you nervous, that you were worried about raising dead animals.” He glanced at me. “And you weren’t even thinking about that until I brought it up, were you?” He cursed again, more imaginatively now.
“It’s okay,” I said. “As long as I don’t summon or fall asleep, I’ll be fine.”
“And if you do fall asleep, I need some serious work on my conversation skills.”
We walked a little farther.
“Speaking of conversation, how, umm…” He made a face. “Sorry, I’m a bit nervous.”
“Did you have a lesson with Andrew today?”
A dramatic whoosh of relief. “Thank you. Yes, I did. Boring, boring, boring. No sudden surge of power for me. I’m just a regular-” He paused. “Okay, that was incredibly insensitive. Did I mention I’m nervous? I should be happy to have normal powers. And I am.”
“But still, it must be annoying, seeing Tori casting new spells right away when you’ve been training for years.”
“Yeah. It wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t Tori.”
“So what spells can you do?”
“Nothing useful. You need to master the basics first. I get that, but right now, all I care about are spells that will help us, and perfecting my fog spell isn’t going to do that.”
“That knock-back one is good.”
“Maybe Andrew can teach you the binding spell Tori casts.”
He shook his head. “It’s witch magic.”
“Do you want the quick answer or a lesson on the spell-caster races?”
“Option two please.”
He smiled, hand tightening around mine. “There are two major spell-casting races. Sorcerers are male and have sons, all of them sorcerers. Witches are female-same deal, but with daughters. Sorcerer magic uses hand gestures along with incantations, mostly in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. And, no, I don’t speak Greek, Latin, or Hebrew-I can just recite the spells. Knowing the languages would help, but memorizing spells is tough enough right now. Sorcerer magic is offensive-used to attack. Witches use the same languages for incantations, but they get to skip the hand gestures. Their magic is defensive.”
“Used to stop an attack.”
“Or escape one, which would be useful these days.”
“You can’t learn witch magic?”
“We can, with a whole lotta effort, because it’s not our natural kind. Right now, I need to stick to my own, though I’d like to learn a few witch spells someday. Just not from Tori.”
When we reached the service station, Simon bought the ice cream, then we went back out to a log and sat down.
“I would have been fine with a single scoop,” I said.
“I’ve been diabetic as long as I can remember, Chloe. I’ve never had double scoop ice creams so I don’t miss them. If it bothered me, I’d never eat with Derek, would I? And since I’ll be done first, I can give you a spell demonstration as snack-time entertainment.”
He did that, goofing around and making me laugh. Then we walked back, holding hands and talking some more. It was getting dark. When we could see the lights of the house through the trees, he stopped and tugged me in front of him. My heart hammered in what I told myself was anticipation, but felt more like terror.
“Was it okay?” he asked.
I smiled. “Better than okay.”
“So I won my pass to date two?”
His face lowered toward mine and I knew what was coming. I knew it. But when his lips touched mine, I still jumped.
“Skittish as a cat,” he murmured. His hand slid to the back of my neck and he tilted my face up. “If I’m moving too fast-”
This time, I didn’t jump. I didn’t flinch. I didn’t gasp. I didn’t do anything. Simon kissed me and I just stood there, like someone had cut the cord between my brain and my muscles.
Finally, the connection caught and I did kiss him, but awkwardly, some part of me still holding back, my gut twisting, like I was doing something wrong, making a huge mistake, and-
Simon stopped. For a moment, he hovered there, face above mine, until I had to look away.
“Wrong guy, huh?” he said, his voice so soft I barely caught it.
He eased back, and his eyes went blank, unreadable.