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|The Reckoning(Darkest Powers #3) by Kelley Armstrong|
I looked up into the bearded face of Todd Banks, contorted with fury, eyes wild and red rimmed.
“I-it’s Dr. Banks.”
“Do you think this is a game?” Dr. Banks shouted. “Who told you about Royce? Did you think it would be amusing? Call him forth and see if he’s as crazy as they said?”
Derek leaned down to my ear.
“Release him. Whatever he can tell us, it’s not worth it.”
I shook my head. Derek didn’t like that, but settled for scowling and keeping his grip on my arm, like he’d yank me out of the room by force if things went bad.
Some of the anger seeped from Dr. Banks’s eyes as he studied me.
“Chloe Saunders,” he whispered. “You must be Chloe Saunders.” He looked at Derek. “The werewolf boy.”
“Yes,” I said. “Derek. That’s Derek.”
The rage surged again, his eyes going crazy wild. “You must not summon here, girl. Leave my nephew in peace. Remember him, though, because that is your destiny. The power will grow until it consumes you and leaves a monster in your place. It will make you do things you could never imagine, things so horrible that-”
He teetered, as if fighting the memories. Hands closed around both of my arms, and I realized Derek had moved behind me. I could feel him there, strong and solid, his warm hands rubbing the goose bumps on my arms.
“Let him go, Chloe,” Derek murmured. “Whatever he’s saying, you don’t need to listen to it.”
“Yes,” Dr. Banks said. “Yes, you do. You don’t understand. Everything went wrong. We made mistakes. An error in the calculations-”
“With the genetic modification?”
“Yes, yes.” He waved aside my interruption. “I told them. I told them. But they ran the tests and everything seemed fine. Only it wasn’t. They manipulated the data.”
“Manipulated the data?” I said.
That got Derek’s attention. “What data?”
“For the modifications,” I said. “What does that mean?”
“They changed the data so it gave the proper results,” Derek said.
“Yes,” Dr. Banks said. “Correct. See? Even a child can understand. But they couldn’t.”
“So Dr. Davidoff manipulated the data-” I began.
“Davidoff?” Dr. Banks snorted. “A fawning puppy who does whatever he’s told.”
“So who manipulated the data?”
Dr. Banks continued like he hadn’t heard. “The experiments. Oh God, the experiments. Testing this and testing that, pushing the boundaries to discover what he could create and what he could sell. Such dreams. Mad and grandiose dreams of knowledge, power, and the fantasy of a better life for our kind. Fools that we were, we believed, and gave him free rein. He didn’t care about us. And he doesn’t care about you. That’s why it’s critically important that you-” He started to fade. “The magic in this place. You need to pull me back.”
I did, gently at first, but he kept disappearing.
“Harder. Chloe. I need to tell you-”
He faded before I could catch the rest. I summoned again. He flickered in and out, and I caught only words, none meaning anything out of context.
“He’s being pulled away,” I said.
“Let him go,” Derek said. “We’ve got enough.”
“He was trying to tell me something.”
Derek snorted. “Aren’t they all? Must be a rule in the ghost handbook-if in danger of evaporating, make sure you’re in the middle of a dire pronouncement.”
I tugged off my necklace. I handed it to Derek, but he tucked it into my pocket.
“Keep it on you, okay?”
Dr. Banks came through easier now, but he wouldn’t stay. When I ramped up the power, he said, “No, Chloe. You’ll bring Royce.” He faded, his voice pulsing in and out. “…else…try…Clear your mind…focus on me…don’t pull…just focus.”
I did. He kept talking, telling me to relax, focus not on yanking him through, but welcoming him.
The back of my skull began to throb. I kept going until a sharp, sudden pain made me gasp. I waited for Derek to ask what was wrong, but he just sat there, watching me.
Another stab through the back of my skull. Then a flood of ice-cold water rushed through my veins and I tried to scream, but I couldn’t. Couldn’t move. Couldn’t make a sound.
I heard Derek, but couldn’t even move my eyes his way.
“Do you want my help?” Dr. Banks whispered. “You need to welcome me in.”
Welcome him in? In where? I’d barely thought the question when I realized the answer.
He was trying to get inside me.
I fought, mentally trying to shove him out, shut my brain down, block him, but that ice kept spreading through me. Derek’s hand closed on my shoulder as he reached to grab the necklace from my pocket. I toppled over backward like a statue.
I caught a blur of motion, like Derek had lunged for me, but everything was fuzzy. Even his voice was distant and muffled. The only words I could hear were Dr. Banks’s, crooning inside my head.
“Just relax,” he whispered. “I won’t hurt you. I’m only going to borrow your body. I need to fix this. I took the easy way out, killing myself before I’d put an end to the horrors I began.”
My mother had been warning me about Dr. Banks, that he’d been driven mad by what Royce had done, by his role in it. And now he was inside me.
I felt the floor scrape my back, saw the ceiling whoosh past, like Derek was dragging me by my ankles. The room flickered and went dark. When it popped back, I was staring at the ceiling.
I felt my lips move and heard my voice, but no one answered. I got to my feet.
“Chloe, come on,” Derek said behind me. “Say something.”
I turned. He was crouched across the room. A pair of legs stretched out, sneakers pointing to the ceiling. My sneakers. My legs.
I raced over. There I was, lying on the floor as Derek fumbled to get the necklace over my head. I lifted my hand. It was my hand-still covered in scratches from the forest last night.
He didn’t answer. I reached for his shoulder.
My fingers passed right through it.
I was a ghost.
My eyes opened then-the eyes on my body, lying on the floor. The lips curving in a small smile that wasn’t like mine at all.
“Hey, there.” The voice coming from those lips was mine, but the tone, the inflection, were wrong.
Derek frowned, and tried getting the necklace on me again.
The other me batted his hand away. “I don’t need that.”
“Yes, you do.”
“No, I don’t.”
Derek smacked my hand away and yanked the necklace over my head. The pendant hit my skin and I felt the slap of it, hot as a burning brand, and I gasped-me and my body, gasping in unison. A flash of darkness. Then I was staring at the ceiling again.
Derek’s face appeared, green eyes dark with worry.
I breathed. That was all I could do. Inhale. Exhale. I felt Derek’s hands around mine, and I focused on that.
“What happened?” he asked.
A voice behind Derek laughed. “Do you think I can’t get back inside you? I will. Then I’ll help your friends stop the Edison Group.” Dr. Banks loomed over me, face in mine, eyes flashing with madness. “We’ll hunt down the other subjects and I’ll end their suffering, and then I’ll end your friends’. Once they’re gone, you’ll follow, and you can all be together…in the afterlife. I will finish this.”
“No, you won’t,” I said, getting up.
He smiled. “You might have the power, Chloe, but you have no idea how to use it.”
“Oh, yes, I do.”
I reached out and shoved him-with my mind and with my hands, pouring all my rage into it, and for a second, I swore I actually felt him. Then he flew off his feet, sailing backward, screaming as he disappeared.
Derek touched my shoulder and I wanted to turn around, collapse against him, and tell him everything. I steeled myself against the urge and took a deep breath.
“We need to get out of here,” I said. “As soon as we can.”
As it turned out, we’d be leaving sooner than any of us dared hope. Andrew had returned, alone. Russell was gone. He’d packed and left his apartment before Andrew had got there.
We could hear Margaret and Andrew on the speakerphone with other group members. It was clear, Margaret said, that we were indeed more than they could handle, and the best way to relieve themselves of the burden was to hand us over to someone else-namely Aunt Lauren and, if they could find him, Simon’s dad.
I didn’t care that Margaret’s motivation was purely selfish-I could have run in there and hugged her.
We were leaving tomorrow, heading to Buffalo. That meant it was time to start planning in earnest. Andrew asked me to provide details of the laboratory. I tried-this was the moment I’d dreamed of-but every word was a struggle. It was like someone cut my energy cord. I was completely drained and numb.
The guys helped. Simon drew the lab floorplan as I explained. Derek got me a glass of ice water. Even Tori murmured “Are you okay?” at a break in the conversation. Only Margaret seemed oblivious, grilling me until she finally had enough and dismissed us. I made it into the parlor, walking only until I found an armchair, then curling up in it. I was asleep the second my eyes closed.
When I woke up, I was still in the chair, a blanket tucked in around me, my glass of water waiting on the table. Derek sat a few feet away on the sofa, lost in thought as he stood watch. Stood watch for what, I didn’t know. It didn’t matter. Threat or no threat, it felt good to wake up and see him there.
And as I watched him, I realized how good it felt. All my denials were just that-denials-because it would be easier if we were just friends. But it wasn’t like that, not for me.
I wanted to walk over there. I wanted to curl up beside him, lean against him, talk to him. I wanted to know what he was thinking. I wanted to tell him everything would be okay. And I wanted him to tell me the same thing. I didn’t care if it was true or not-I just wanted to say it, to hear it, to feel his arms around me, hear the rumble of his words, that deep chuckle that made my pulse race.
He turned my way, and I was so engrossed in my thoughts that I didn’t notice for a second. Then I realized I was staring at him, and looked away fast, cheeks flaming. I could feel him looking at me. Frowning slightly, like he was trying to figure something out. Before he could, I gulped my warm water and said, “Must be almost lunchtime,” which was a stupid thing to say, but all I could think of. It took him a moment before he answered, shrugging and saying, “Maybe.” Then, “You okay?”
“You want to talk about what happened downstairs? With Banks?”
I nodded again.
“I should get Simon,” he said. “He’ll want to know.”
Another nod, but he didn’t move, just watched me as I kept sipping the warm water.
I took my time looking up, certain he’d figured out what I’d been thinking and was about to let me down gently. He wouldn’t say “Sorry, I’m not interested,” because that wouldn’t be Derek-too presumptuous-but he’d find some way to convey the same message, as I had with Simon. I like you. I just don’t like you that way.
I looked up then, and what I saw in his eyes-My hands fumbled the glass, and I dropped it, water splashing over me, soaking my jeans. I scrambled to catch the glass before it hit the floor, barely making it, on one knee, prize gripped firmly in my hand. And I was still there when I felt the glass being tugged from my fingers. I looked up to see Derek crouching in front of me, his face inches from mine. He leaned forward and-
“What’d you lose?”
Simon’s voice came from the doorway, and we shot to our feet so fast we collided.
“What were you looking for?” Simon said, walking in. “Not your necklace, I hope.”
“N-no. I-I just dropped my glass.” I gestured at my wet jeans. Then I glanced at Derek, who stood there, hands stuffed in his pockets.
“I was just about to…” I was going to say I’d been about to explain what happened with Dr. Banks. Only I didn’t want to. Not now. I wanted to rewind the tape, go back to that moment on the floor, pray Simon didn’t show up for another minute, just long enough to find out if what I thought was going to happen would happen. But it wouldn’t. Not now. The moment had passed.
“I-I should change my pants.”
“Sure.” Simon thumped onto the sofa.
I made it to the door, then Derek said, “Chloe?” and I turned, and it looked like he was trying to think of something to say, maybe find some excuse to come with me, and I wanted to help, to offer him one, and I think if I could have, he’d have taken it, but I couldn’t. God knows, I tried, but I couldn’t, and he couldn’t either, so he just mumbled, “You want an apple or something? I’ll grab it while you’re getting changed,” and I said sure, and that was that.
HOW LAME DOES IT sound if I admit I stayed upstairs longer than necessary, combing my hair, washing my face, using a blow dryer on my jeans when I realized my new ones didn’t fit well, then brushing my teeth.
Considering Derek had seen me in ugly pink pajamas, dirt on my face, my hair full of twigs, having minty-fresh breath wasn’t going to make him go “Wow, she’s really cute.” But it made me feel better.