With power comes enemies. Lots of them. Hunter Garrity just wants to be left alone. He's learned the hard way that his unusual abilities come at a price. And he can't seem to afford any allies. He's up to his neck in hostiles-his grandfather who's spoiling for a fight, the Merrick brothers who think he ratted them out, and scheming psycho Calla who wants to use him as bait.
Then there's Kate Sullivan. She's the new girl at school. She's not hostile. She's bold. Funny. Hot. But she's got an agenda, too. With supposedly secret powers rippling to the surface everywhere around him, Hunter knows something ugly is about to go down. But finding out what means he'll have to find someone he can trust.
Release date: July 11, 2012
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 368
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His grandparents kept a night-light in the utility room, but either it wasn’t working or someone had killed it—his basement bedroom was pitch-black. His breathing was a shallow whisper in the darkness. For an instant, he wondered if he’d dreamed the sound.
Then steel touched his jaw.
He stopped breathing.
A voice: soft, female, vaguely mocking. “I think you dropped this.”
He recognized her voice, and it wasn’t a relief. His arms were partially trapped by the sheet and the comforter; he couldn’t even consider disarming her from this angle.
“Calla,” he murmured, keeping his voice low so as not to spook her. He had no idea how much experience she had with guns, and this didn’t seem like the right time for trial and error.
“Hunter.” The barrel pressed harder into the soft flesh under his chin.
He needed her to move, to shift her weight. Right now, she was just a voice and a weapon in the darkness.
He let out a long breath. “How did you get in here?”
“I drugged your dog and picked the lock.”
It took great effort to keep still. He had a knife under his pillow, but going for it would take about three hours in comparison to the amount of time it would take her to pull the trigger. “You drugged my dog?”
“Benadryl in a New York strip.” Her voice turned disdainful. “You don’t even walk your dog on a leash.”
He never walked Casper on a leash. His grandparents lived on an old farm. Like he should have considered that psycho teenage girls might be leaving tainted steaks for his dog to find. “If you hurt him, I’ll kill you.”
“You know,” she said, ignoring him, “I thought about just burning this place down. Kerosene, match, whoosh.”
“What stopped you?” He slid his hand beneath the blanket, just a few inches to see if she would notice.
She didn’t. “Nothing. There’s still time.”
“I don’t believe you,” he said. “If you wanted to start a fire, you wouldn’t be here right now.”
“We want you to get a message to the other Guides.”
“I don’t know any other Guides,” he hissed.
Well, he knew one, but Becca’s father was just as far off the grid as Hunter was.
His hand slid another few inches, clearing the blanket.
“Come on, Hunter,” she said sweetly. “Aren’t you your father’s son?”
Her voice had grown closer. She was leaning in. The gun moved a fraction of an inch.
All he needed was a fraction.
He swung for her wrist, going for deflection, ducking under the movement. His other hand was free, flinging the blankets at her while he slid to the ground. He threw a punch where her knee should be, but she was gone already, somewhere back in the darkness.
He tried to slow his breathing, his heart, trying to convince his body that he needed to hear.
“Nice try,” she said.
He focused on the air in the room, asking the element to reveal her location more precisely, but it was never something he could force. He had to wait.
And the air wasn’t talking.
At least the darkness was working to his advantage. If he couldn’t see her, she sure couldn’t see him.
He slid a hand under his pillow, and the knife found his fingers, the hilt a reassuring feel in his palm. He’d never cut anyone with it, but he knew how to throw.
Then he heard her breath—or maybe he felt it. Close, too close. He lifted a hand to throw.
Something hard cracked him across the side of the head—a board, a book, something. He went sprawling, and for a painful moment, he didn’t even know if he was lying faceup. Now the room was full of light: stars danced in his field of vision.
She kicked him, rolling him onto his back. “Idiot,” she said. “You think I’d come alone?”
Rolling sent the back of his head into the carpet. It hurt. A lot.
His knife was gone.
“I should shoot you right now,” she said. “But we need you.”
“Go to hell.” He could taste blood when he talked. He slid his hand against the carpet, looking for his knife, but a booted foot stomped down on his fingers.
God, how could they see him?
The gun went against his forehead. “A message,” said Calla. “Are you listening?”
“Yeah,” he ground out. He still had a free hand, but he had no idea whether her “helper” had an extra weapon.
“We’re going to keep burning houses,” she said. “Until the Guides come.”
She was nuts. “They’ll destroy you,” he said.
“I don’t think so,” she said. “Tell them to come and see.”
“You’ll kill ordinary people—”
“No. Until they come, that’s on you.” She shifted the gun. “You like piercings, right?” The hard steel pressed into his bare shoulder. “How about a little bullet hole to convince you?”
Hunter whipped his free hand out to deflect again, this time rolling into the motion and trying to break her wrist.
She shrieked and dropped the gun.
He didn’t let it distract him—he kept moving and drove his fist into the leg of whoever pinned his other hand.
This time, he connected. He heard a male grunt of pain. His other hand was free. Movement filled the darkness around him, and he knew they were getting ready to retaliate.
And then Hunter found the gun.
He didn’t wait.
He pointed at motion, then pulled the trigger.
Kate Sullivan awoke to the click of a gun.
Irritated, she rolled over. She should have closed the door before going to bed. Silver was checking his weapons again. He did this several times a day.
She’d known him for seventy-two hours, and it was already making her nuts.
She glanced at the clock and called out. “You know it’s not even five in the morning.”
“I have the capacity to tell time, my dear.”
She slid out of bed and went to the doorway. He had a British accent completely at odds with his olive complexion, slightly slanted blue eyes, and sun-streaked blond hair. She’d asked him about his heritage, and he’d told her he was poured straight from the melting pot.
Apparently that pot poured into one hell of a mold, because Silver was hotter than the day was long.
The name almost didn’t fit him. His skin and hair were sun-kissed, as if he spent an insane amount of time outside. He’d be right at home on a beach, with a surfboard staked in the sand beside him. His hair was short, but just this side of too long to be called military style. She’d been tempted to call him Iceman, after the bad-boy hottie in Top Gun—eighties’ movies were kind of her thing. But then she’d gotten a good look in his eyes, which were a cold blue that made her shiver.
She glanced through the opposite doorway, which led to the bedroom he’d claimed—though claimed might have been an overstatement. They’d walked into the furnished apartment yesterday, and he’d said, “Sleep wherever.” Just now, his blankets were flat and perfect, almost military style. Either he hadn’t slept or he’d made the bed like he was in boot camp.
“You should be sleeping,” she said.
He clicked the magazine into a semi-automatic handgun and slid it into a holster. “But we must play the proverbial early bird today.”
She leaned her forehead against the doorjamb. “I don’t want to go to high school.”
“You are, in fact, a teenager. Isn’t this some kind of rite of passage? Couldn’t you find some time to rah with the cheer girls while killing rogue Elementals?”
“I think you’ve been watching too many shows on the CW.”
He didn’t answer, and she peeked through the spill of blond hair that fell across her cheek. He’d moved on to other weapons, knives this time. He slid each out of its sheath and checked the edge of the blade.
Kate sighed. He practically had an arsenal in the truck, more deadly toys than she would know what to do with. More guns, of course. Knives of varying length. An honest-to-god bow with a quiver of arrows.
She’d mocked him about those. “Oh, good! Are those for when we fight the elves?”
An arrow had just appeared in his hand, the point pressed into her throat hard enough to draw blood. “No, they’re for when my trainee gets mouthy.”
The accent, the danger, the weapon in his hand—it all combined to make him immeasurably sexy and terrifying at the same time. Kate had no idea how old he was, but he couldn’t be much older. His features were smooth and unlined, his body lithe and muscled. She wouldn’t put him past the age of an average college student, but he probably couldn’t pass for high school.
That’s why she was here. To infiltrate the local high school, to determine who the true Elementals were, and whether they were as powerful as rumor said.
Silver was here to kill them.
Kate hadn’t expected an assignment at her age—she’d only been in training to be a Guide for about six months before the call came.
It was an honor to be picked, even if her ancillary role had been emphasized to the point of irritation. Silver was in charge of this mission. She was the apprentice. The student.
Her mother would be so proud.
Kate dropped into a chair at the table with him. A gun sat there, a Glock 9mm, and she ran a finger across the barrel.
He watched her but didn’t say anything.
“Have you ever killed any of them?” she asked.
Silver nodded. “Of course.” He didn’t have to ask whom she meant. There was only one them. The pure Elementals. The ones with enough power to level cities.
Everyone on earth had some connection to an element—but only a select few were pure Elementals. Kate imagined it like a circle with a five-pointed star inside. Four points of the star represented each of the classical elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. If everyone alive was put inside the circle, some would fall between branches and some would fall on a point.
The closer you fell to a point, the greater your affinity to that element.
If you fell directly on a point, you could harness that element’s power and bend it to your will.
Kate was a pure Elemental, too, but she fell on the fifth point, which represented the Spirit. Once she fully grew into her abilities as a Fifth, she’d be able to control all four elements. Beyond that, her connection to the human spirit meant she had a greater connection to the people around her.
Years ago, the pure Elementals used to wreak havoc: mass destruction spanning centuries. The great Chicago fire. Earthquakes. Tsunamis. The Fifths, connected to human suffering by their very abilities, banded together to destroy pure Elementals and stop the destruction.
Now Fifths were selected to become Guides, and trained to kill pure Elementals before they could come into their full power.
Kate’s connection to her element should have made it hard for her to kill anyone.
But when it came right down to pulling a trigger, it wasn’t hard at all.
Her mother always used to say it was for the greater good. Kate wondered what she’d say about that now, after everything that had happened.
She watched Silver’s fidgeting for another moment. “Do you expect them to be hard to kill?”
His eyes left the gun to flick up and meet hers. “Nervous?” She matched his tone. “Of course not.”
He smiled, but there wasn’t anything amiable about it. “You have some familiarity with weapons, yes?”
Kate picked up the Glock and took it apart in four seconds. The bullets plinked out of the magazine onto the table. “A little.”
“A bullet to the head is one of the few sure ways to kill them.”
“I have some familiarity with killing, too.”
“So I’ve heard.” He ignored her attitude and started putting the stripped gun back together. “I’ve seen an Air Elemental take four shots to the chest and still come up fighting.”
“An adult, right? I thought we were killing teenagers.”
“We are.” He paused. “And how does that make you feel, Kathryn?”
She looked up in surprise. “Fine. Why?”
“Honestly, when they told me you were my ‘trainee,’ I was surprised.”
“Why?” she asked.
“Because I don’t know what you’re doing here.”
It shouldn’t have hurt—but it did, like getting a pinch in the arm from a vicious child. She’d earned her spot here. “I was assigned to help you.”
“You seem eager.”
“I’ve proven myself. I’m ready to do something.” She needed to succeed here. If she couldn’t, it meant her mother’s death was for nothing.
His hands stilled on the firearm, and he looked over. “You must have done something already, to be assigned with me.”
“Why, you think you’re such a badass?”
“I don’t need to think that, Kathryn.”
“Stop calling me that. Only my mother called me Kathryn.”
He looked back at the gun, checking the sight this time. “I heard a rumor about your mother.”
“She was very good at what she did.” Kate kept any thread of emotion out of her voice. “I’m better.”
“I should hope so. Obviously your mother wasn’t good enough.”
Kate wanted to punch him, but it probably wouldn’t end well. “I took care of it.”
“I heard a rumor about that, too.”
“What did you hear?”
“That your mother was assigned to destroy a Water Elemental but failed.” He paused. “That you went after the Water Elemental yourself and succeeded.”
“My mother made a mistake.”
“A mistake the size of the Gulf of Mexico, I heard. Stupid, to go after one of them in the middle of the water.”
Silver was baiting her. Kate knew it.
It was almost working.
“My mother knew what she was doing. She used to say, no matter how good you are, there’s always someone better.”
“And clearly she learned that lesson the hard way.”
“I think it’s time to stop talking about my mother.”
He smiled. “Can you get close to these Merrick boys?”
“Without them knowing what you are?”
“And if they display the traits of a full Elemental, what will you do?”
She licked her lips. “Kill them.”
His hands went still. “Wrong answer.”
She flung herself back in her chair and rolled her eyes. “Report back to you.”
“Good girl.” He snapped the magazine into the gun and slid it across the table to her. “Now get dressed. We have work to do.”
The gun clicked empty, and Hunter swore.
A laugh in the darkness, somewhere ahead of him. “You thought I’d take a chance with it loaded?”
Then his bedroom door slammed and footsteps were pounding up the steps to the main level.
His mother was upstairs. His grandparents.
Kerosene. Match. Whoosh.
Hunter didn’t have the power to stop a fire by himself—and he’d done a pretty good job killing any sort of friendship with the one guy he knew who could.
He flung the door wide and sprinted up the stairs.
And there was Casper, his German shepherd, flopped out in the front hall, snoring loudly.
Hunter couldn’t really blame him. He’d been fooled by Calla once, too.
Glass was breaking in the kitchen, then something heavy crashed to the floor. Hunter darted through the foyer as more glass broke. What were they doing? Flinging dishes at the floor?
Yes, that’s exactly what they were doing. Calla was sweeping her hand along the counter as she headed for the door, sending ceramic canisters and the glass cutting board onto the floor. A guy Hunter didn’t recognize shoved the baker’s rack away from the wall, sending pots crashing to the ground. The table was overturned already, and shattered glasses and plates littered the floor.
Hunter wasn’t sure what to do. The gun was still downstairs—not like it mattered. It was empty, and besides, he couldn’t exactly shoot them for breaking dishes.
At least she wasn’t starting a fire.
Calla pulled a knife from the wooden block on the counter—then flung the block at the floor. Half the steak knives skittered free and landed among the rest of the mess. She dragged the blade along the wallpaper by the door. “Need more convincing?”
God, his head hurt, and the whack to his skull downstairs was only part of it. “Get out of here, Calla.”
“Or what? You can’t do anything to me, Hunter. I’m not working alone, you know. I’m not the only one who can start fires.”
Hunter glanced at her friend by the door. Dark hair, pale skin, a little on the skinny side. Close to their age, if not a little younger. Totally not familiar, but Hunter had only been in school here for a few weeks, so that didn’t mean anything.
The guy noticed Hunter’s scrutiny and grinned, though it looked a little crazed. He flipped hair out of his eyes. “Maybe we should start a little one, let you know we’re serious.” Then he shoved the microwave off the counter. It hung from its cord for a long moment, then jerked free and crashed to the floor.
Hunter heard a muffled curse from upstairs, then the floorboards creaked.
Hunter felt pretty sure an adult wouldn’t help this situation.
He so didn’t want to deal with this. He sighed and picked up the cordless phone from the holder on the wall.
“Who you calling?” said Calla. “You think the Merricks can help you?”
The Merricks were probably the last people who would offer to help him, but Calla didn’t need to know that. “No,” Hunter said. “I’m doing what you’re supposed to do when people break into your house.” When she raised her eyebrows, he added, “I’m calling nine-one-one.”
Her smile wilted around the edges. “Liar.”
He spoke into the phone. “I’d like to report a break-in at one-eleven North Shore Road—”
“Calla!” said the guy by the door.
“Hang up that phone!” she hissed.
“They’re still here,” Hunter said into the receiver. “They’re armed.”
Calla dropped the knife. “I’ll kill you, Hunter,” she seethed. “You know I can—”
“Please hurry,” said Hunter. “They’re threatening to kill me.”
A siren started wailing somewhere in the distance. The dark-haired guy grabbed Calla’s wrist and yanked. They bolted through the door.
Hunter set the phone back on the receiver. He’d never dialed at all.
That siren had been sheer luck.
What a mess. Hunter ran his hands through his hair. The length of it still shocked him every time. He hadn’t cut it in months.
The floorboards in the hallway creaked, and Hunter swore under his breath. He had no idea how to explain this. If he said someone had broken in, his grandfather really would call the cops.
After he’d been arrested for his involvement in the fire in the school library last week—a fire Calla had started—Hunter didn’t need any more interaction with cops.
Thank god the gun was still downstairs.
His grandfather stopped short when he saw the mess. It was too dark to make out his expression—not that Hunter wanted to try. The man was tall but lean and muscled from years of farm labor, with short gray hair and a permanent look of displeasure. He hit the switch on the wall, and the light made things look a hundred times worse. His eyes narrowed at his grandson. “You’d better have a good explanation.”
Like Hunter had woken up in the middle of the night and started trashing the kitchen.
But really, this was exactly how every conversation with his grandfather went.
“I didn’t do this,” he said. His father had never had much tolerance for attitude, so Hunter was well practiced in keeping it out of his tone. It had just never been this much of a challenge with his dad.
“Kids from school. A prank.” He paused. “I’ll clean it up.”
“And you’ll pay for it.”
Hunter set his jaw, but didn’t say anything.
When he and his mother had first pulled up the driveway six weeks ago, his grandfather had watched Hunter climb out of the car, then said, “We’re not going to have any of your nonsense here, you understand me, boy?”
Hunter had turned to his mother, looking for . . . something. Direction, maybe. A cue for how to respond.
But his mother had already been crying on his grandmother’s shoulder. If she’d heard the comment, she didn’t acknowledge it. And then she’d allowed herself to be hustled into the house, to be comforted over tea.
While Hunter had been left to unload the car under his grandfather’s glaring eyes.
He’d learned pretty quickly to make himself scarce.
Even now, he probably had about three minutes before he’d hear a lecture about his piercings, about how he needed a haircut, about how if he was his grandfather’s son, he’d clean up his act or he’d be sleeping on the porch.
At first, Hunter had tried being perfect. He’d done chores without being asked. Taking out the trash, mowing the lawn, doing all his own laundry. He’d fixed the two loose boards on the porch, then repaired a shutter that was hanging crooked on the front of the house—things his father would have expected him to do. No backtalk, just respect for his elders.
His mom was no help. She was so lost in her own sorrow that even talking to her about his grandfather seemed petty and insignificant.
So he’d tried to get along. He’d tried hard.
“It’s drugs, isn’t it?” said his grandfather.
Hunter sighed and carefully stepped around broken glass to right the baker’s rack. “No. I don’t do drugs.” He barely ate processed food, and this guy thought he’d put drugs in his body?
Sometimes this whole arrangement just felt like a big cosmic joke. Where was the grandfather who’d take him fishing and put an arm around his shoulders and ask if he was sweet on anyone at school? Why did he get saddled with the guy who didn’t seem to give a shit that Hunter had lost the two people he felt closest to, less than six months ago? That he was starting at a new high school in his junior year? That he’d spent his life training for something he’d never get to do, because his father’s and uncle’s deaths had left him with no path to follow?
Hunter began stacking pots on the shelves of the baker’s rack. For an instant, he envied Calla.
He wished he could throw a few things himself. But he was a Fifth—his father had drilled endless lessons of self-control into Hunter’s head. He’d been trained well, and he wouldn’t let that training fail him now. Not over this.
His grandfather was still standing there, watching him.
Hunter wanted to punch him. Instead, he gently eased the Crock-Pot back onto the lowest shelf.
“Let me know how much everything costs,” he said. “I’ll figure out a way to pay you back.” He wasn’t entirely sure how. He didn’t have a job here, and while he had some money in an envelope in his dresser, it was slowly creeping toward zero each time he had to fill his jeep with gas.
Definitely not enough to replace everything that was lying in a shattered mess on the floor.
Maybe in between trying to stop a psychotic pyromaniac, he could find a job flipping burgers at McDonald’s.
It would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad.
Sometimes he wished he could just tell his grandfather about what he was, what he could do. How his military training would put Navy SEALs to shame. How he could sense the electricity in the walls, or the humidity in the air, or the anger in his grandfather’s head.
Then again, that talk would probably lend credence to this new drug theory.
“I’m done with this attitude, boy.”
Hunter looked up. “I’m not giving you any attitude. I said I would pay for everything.”
“It’s no wonder your mother can’t get it together, with all the trouble you give her.”
Hunter stiffened, but he didn’t say anything. He had no idea why his mother couldn’t get it together. He didn’t think it had anything to do with him, but maybe it did. The last time he’d gone up to her bedroom, her eyes had filled with tears. She’d put a hand against his cheek and said, “I wish you’d cut your hair again, Hunter. You used to l. . .
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