|Home > Kelley Armstrong > Darkest Powers > The Reckoning (Page 12)|
|The Reckoning(Darkest Powers #3) by Kelley Armstrong|
“There’s someone else,” he said. Not a question. A statement.
“S-someone…? A boyfriend, you mean? From before? No. Never. I wouldn’t-”
“Go out with me if there was. I know.” He took another step back, the heat of his body fading, the chill of night air moving in. “I don’t mean a guy from before, Chloe. I mean one from now.”
I stared at him. Now? Who else…? There was only one other guy-
“D-Derek? Y-you think-”
I couldn’t finish. I wanted to laugh. You think I like Derek? Are you kidding? But the laugh wouldn’t come, just this thundering in my ears, breath catching like I’d been smacked in the chest.
“Derek and I aren’t-”
“No, not yet. I know.”
Just say it. Please let me say it. “I don’t like Derek.”
But I didn’t. Couldn’t.
Simon jammed his hands into his pockets and we stood there in that awful silence until I managed to say, “It isn’t like that.”
“It wasn’t. Not at first.” He stared out at the woods. “It started to change after the crawl space. You guys hanging out together, the…vibe changing. I told myself I was just imagining it. When you and Tori escaped from the lab, it seemed like I was right. But then, after the truck stop, when you guys came back…” He went quiet, then looked over at me. “I’m right, aren’t I?”
There was a note of pleading in his voice. Tell me I’m wrong, Chloe. Please. And everything in me wanted to say it. This was Simon. Everything I’d ever dreamed of in a boyfriend and here he was, mine for the taking. I only had to say the words, and I tried. I tried. But all I could manage was another weak, “It’s not like that.”
“Yeah, it is.”
He started to walk away, back in the direction we’d come. Then he stopped and, without turning, he reached into his jacket and held out a rolled-up paper, murmuring, “This is for you.”
I took it, and he continued walking.
Fingers shaking, I unrolled the paper. It was the picture he’d drawn of me, now colored. It looked even better than it had in the sketch. I looked better. Confident and strong and beautiful.
The picture blurred as my eyes filled with tears. I quickly rerolled it before I ruined it. I took a few steps after him and called out. I could see his figure in the distance, still walking, and I knew he heard me, but he didn’t stop.
I WATCHED SIMON WALK away, then wiped my eyes with my sleeve and headed for the lights of the house. I’d just passed the edge of the woods when the rear door opened, light spilling into the nearly dark yard. Then a hulking figure blocked the light.
“No,” I whispered. “Not now. Just go back inside-”
The door slapped shut, sound echoing as Derek marched across the yard, dead on target.
I looked around, desperate for an escape route, but there was none. Go forward and deal with Derek, or run back toward Simon and have to deal with both of them. I kept walking.
“Where’s Simon?” he snapped.
Relief washed through me. I didn’t trust myself to speak, so I just pointed back to the woods.
“He left you? Out here? At night?”
“He dropped something,” I mumbled, trying to get past him. “He isn’t far.”
Without a sound, he was right in front of me, blocking my path.
“You’re crying?” he said.
“No, I-” I tore my gaze away. “Just dust. From the path. Simon’s that way.”
I tried to pass him, but he stooped, trying to get a look at my face. When I wouldn’t let him, he caught my chin. I jerked back, flinching at his touch, heart thudding at it, too.
I told myself Simon was wrong. I’d never be dumb enough to fall for Derek. But I had. With him so close, my stomach kept doing weird little flips. It wasn’t fear. It hadn’t been fear for a while.
“You have been crying,” he said, voice softer. Then his breath caught, the growl coming back as he snapped, “What did Simon-?” He bit off the words, cheeks reddening like he was embarrassed even to think Simon might be responsible.
“What happened?” he said.
“Nothing. It just didn’t work out.”
“Didn’t work out?” He spoke slowly, like he was processing a foreign language. “Why?”
“Talk to Simon.”
“I’m talking to you. What’d you do to him?”
I stiffened. Only he was right. I had done something to Simon. I’d hurt him. And for what? Some stupid crush on a guy who barely tolerated me most of the time? Was that the kind of girl I was? Pick the jerk over the nice guy?
“I screwed up. Again. You’re shocked, I’m sure. Now, let me go inside-”
He blocked me. “What’d you do, Chloe?”
I sidestepped. He sidestepped.
“You like him, don’t you?” he said.
“Yes, I like him. Just not…”
“Talk to Simon. He’s the one who thinks…”
“That there’s someone else,” I blurted before I could stop myself. I took a deep, shuddering breath. “He thinks there’s someone else.”
I was going to say “I don’t know. Some guy from school, I guess.” But Derek’s expression said he already knew the answer. The look on his face…It’d been humiliating before, having Simon accuse me of liking Derek, but that was nothing compared to how I felt when I saw Derek’s look. Not just surprise, but shock. Shock and horror.
“Me?” he said. “Simon said he thinks you and I are-”
“No, not that. He knows we aren’t-”
“Good. So what does he think?”
“That I like you.” Again, the words flew out before I could stop them. This time, I didn’t care. I’d completely humiliated myself, and now I was just empty and ashamed. All I wanted was to get him out of my way, and if telling him that made him run in terror, then good.
But he didn’t run. He just stared at me, and that was worse. I felt like the biggest loser at school, admitting to the coolest guy that she liked him. He stood there gaping like he must have heard me wrong.
“I don’t,” I said quickly. Those words came easily now, because at that moment, they were true. “I don’t,” I said again, when he just kept staring.
“You’d better not.” His voice was a low rumble, the scowl settling into place as he finally eased back. “You’d better not, Chloe, because Simon likes you.”
“Simon’s had girls calling him every day since he was twelve. They follow him at school. They even talk to me, trying to get to him. Cute girls. Popular girls.”
“So I should be thrilled that a guy like him even looked my way, right?”
“Course not. I didn’t mean-”
“Oh, I know what you meant. I should count my blessings that I happened to be around when his choices were, well, none, really, because otherwise I’d never have stood a chance.”
“That’s not-I never said-”
I wheeled and headed the other way. He cut me off.
“Simon likes you, Chloe. Yeah, he’s dated a lot of girls. But he really likes you, and I thought you liked him back.”
“I do. Just not…not like that, I guess.”
“Then you shouldn’t have let him think it was like that.”
“You think I led him on? For what? Kicks? I don’t have enough excitement in my life, so maybe I’ll tease a nice guy, get his hopes up, then laugh and skip away? How could I know how I felt until we went out and-?” I stopped. I couldn’t win this fight. No matter what I said, I’d still be the evil bitch who’d hurt his brother.
I turned and started walking along the edge of the woods.
“Where are you going?” he called.
“You won’t let me go into the house. I’m sure Simon doesn’t want me around him either. So it seems like I’m going to take a moonlight stroll in the forest.”
“Oh, no, you’re not.” He jumped in front of me. “You can’t go wandering around alone at night. It’s not safe.”
I looked up at him. His green eyes glittered in the dark, reflecting the moonlight like a cat’s. His scowl had vanished. The defiance was gone, too, replaced by a tightness around the mouth, a worry that clouded his eyes; and seeing that quicksilver change, I wanted to…
I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Kick him in the shins seemed like a good option. Unfortunately, bursting into tears seemed more likely, because here lay the root of the problem, the contradiction in Derek that I couldn’t seem to work out, no matter how hard I tried.
One second he was in my face, making me feel stupid and useless. The next he was like this: hovering, concerned, worried. I told myself it was just his wolf instinct, that he had to protect me whether he wanted to or not, but when he looked like this, like he’d pushed me too far and regretted it…That look said he genuinely cared.
I turned toward the woods and resumed walking. “I’ll be careful. No dead will rise tonight. Go back inside, Derek.”
“You think that’s all I’m worried about? The Edison Group-”
“Could be camped out there right now, waiting for us to venture into the deep, dark woods. If you believed that, you’d never have let Simon go out.”
“I didn’t like it. But he promised you’d be back before dark, which is why I was at the door, getting ready to come find you two.” He caught my arm, quickly releasing it and grabbing my sleeve instead. “Just-”
He stopped. I turned to see him staring into the forest, chin lifted, nostrils flared, face tense.
“Don’t pull that,” I said.
“Pretending you smell something out there. Someone.”
“No, I thought-” He inhaled again, then shook his head sharply. “Nothing, I guess. Just-” He rubbed the back of his neck, wincing slightly, and I noticed the sheen of sweat on his face, shimmering in the moonlight. His eyes glowed brighter than usual. Fever bright. The Change was coming.
Not now. Please not now. That’s the last thing I need to deal with.
He released my sleeve. “Fine, take a walk.”
I set out, staying in the yard. I wasn’t foolish enough to march into the woods to spite him. I’d gone about twenty feet when I glanced around to see where he’d gone. He was five paces behind, following soundlessly.
“Derek…” I sighed.
“I need some fresh air. Go on.”
Another twenty feet. He kept following me. I turned and glowered up at him. He stopped and stood there, face impassive.
“Fine,” I said. “I’ll go in the house. You can track down Simon before the Edison Group snatches him.”
He followed me to the door, then waited as I went in before heading out to round up his brother.
TORI WAS IN OUR room, reading an old leather-bound book from the library downstairs.
“So, how was the big ice cream date?” she asked, without looking up.
She lowered the book. I quickly looked away and opened a bag that was sitting on my bed.
“Oh, that’s your new clothes,” she said. “Margaret bought them. Apparently Gwen wanted to, but the old bat insisted. Payback for this morning, I think.”
It was bargain store stuff. From the children’s department. At least it was for girls, unlike the ugly boys’ sweatshirts Derek had bought me. Still…I unwrapped the pajamas. Pink flannel covered in rainbows and unicorns.
“Hey, you think that’s bad?” Tori said. “She shopped in ladies wear for me, and got a granny nightgown with lace. Lace. I’d trade you if those would fit me.” A thump, as she tossed the book onto the floor. “So how’d the date go?”
She hesitated. “Well, love to say I’m surprised, but don’t forget, I’m the girl who was crazy about Simon until she was forced to spend twenty-four hours alone with him. That cured me, fast.”
“Sure, he is. Or he will be when he grows up a little.”
“He’s fine. It was me. I screwed up. I-”
I didn’t continue. I could only imagine Tori’s reaction if I said I might have a crush on Derek. I’d lose every ounce of her respect I’d earned.
I wished I could talk to someone, though. A girl with more dating experience, preferably one who wouldn’t think I was a complete loser for liking Derek. Rae would be good. She didn’t care for either of the guys, but she’d listen and give advice. Liz would be even better-always helpful, never judging. As for my school friends, it was like they belonged to another life, friends of another Chloe.
“Were you crying?” Tori peered at my face. “You were.”
“I-it’s nothing. I-”
“Simon pulled something, didn’t he? Got you out on that walk, and the next thing you know, it’s not your hand he’s holding.” Her eyes blazed. “Guys. They can be such-”
“It wasn’t like that.”
“If he pulled that crap, you can tell me. I’ve had a few surprise first dates myself. Wish I’d had my spells then. Especially the binding one.”