The four Merrick brothers are different. Way different: each of them can control one of the elements—water, fire, wind, or earth. They're powerful. Dangerous. Alone—except for each other and a few trusted friends. They're all trying to fly under the radar. But someone's watching them; someone who wants them out of the way. Before they know it, their enemies have gathered, and they're armed for war.
They're not interested in surrender. But the Merricks aren't the white flag type anyway. There will be blood on the ground tonight . . .
Praise for Brigid Kemmerer and The Elemental Series
“Magic, suspense, and enough twists to keep you reading until sunrise.!”
—Award winning author Erica O'Rourke
“A refreshingly human paranormal romance . . . Read fast and keep that heart rate up.”
—Kirkus Reviews on Storm
Release date: April 27, 2021
Print pages: 1736
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
The Complete Elemental Series Bundle
It wasn’t even a sports complex, not really. Mini-golf that no one wanted to play when it was a hundred degrees outside. Batting cages that no one would use until school started up in the fall. She probably wouldn’t see another soul until after five, when the white-collar dads showed up to use the driving range in a last-ditch effort to avoid going home to screaming kids.
Even then, in this heat, she’d be lucky if there were many.
Ugh, her hair was already plastered to her neck. Days like these, she wished she had enough power to do more than stir up a gentle breeze.
Then she choked off that thought.
She knew what happened to kids with power.
Besides, sitting here wasn’t so bad. She worked the shop alone, so she could blast the entire sound tracks to Rent and Les Mis and sing along, and no one would give a crap. She didn’t have to watch her brother Tyler light insects on fire with a magnifying glass and a sunbeam, like he’d done last summer. She didn’t have to listen to her parents argue.
She could count the days until she turned eighteen.
Until she could get away from her family.
The shop door creaked and rattled, sticking in the humidity. Emily straightened, excited for a customer, for someone—anyone —to break up this cruel monotony.
Anyone but Michael Merrick.
For a second, she entertained the thought of diving behind the counter.
Real mature, Em.
But her hands were slick against the glass casing.
It wasn’t that he looked all that intimidating. He’d be starting his senior year this fall, just like she would, but sometime over the last six months he’d grown to the tall side of average. He worked for his parents’ landscaping company, she knew, and it couldn’t have been light work—his arms showed some clear definition, his shoulders stretching the green tee shirt he wore.
He was filthy, too. Dirt streaked across his chest and clung to the sweat on his neck. His jeans had seen better days, and his work boots would probably track dirt across the floor. Even his hair, dark and wild and a length somewhere between sexy and I-don’t-give-a-crap, was more unkempt than usual.
Emily didn’t care about any of that.
She had her eyes on the baseball bat in his hands.
He’d gotten into it with Tyler last weekend, had sent her brother home with a black eye and a bloody nose, leaving their parents to argue for an hour about how they were going to handle the Merrick problem.
Emily slid her hand along the counter, toward where they kept the putt-putt clubs for little kids.
“I don’t want any trouble,” she said, her voice solid but too quick. Her fingers wrapped around the handle of a club.
Michael’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t either.”
Then she realized he hadn’t moved from the doorway, that he was still standing there staring at her, his hand on the knob.
He glanced past her, at the corners of the shop, as if reassuring himself that they were alone. She had no idea what that meant. She watched him take in her stance, the way she’d half pulled the putt-putt club free.
He followed her gaze to the bat resting against his shoulder.
His expression hardened, and he shoved the door closed. He was halfway across the floor before she realized he’d moved, and she yanked the club free, ready to swing if he gave her an excuse.
Then he was within reach, and she registered the bat leaving his shoulder, and, god, her parents were right—
He was going to swing—
He was going to kill her—
His hand shot out and caught the steel bar.
Emily stood there gasping. She’d done it—she’d swung for his head. The end of the putter hung about five inches from his face.
And his bat was leaning against the counter.
She couldn’t move. He didn’t let go of the club, either, using his free hand to dig into the pocket of his jeans. A five-dollar bill dropped onto the glass counter between them.
“So can I get five tokens or what?”
Tokens. For the batting cages.
Emily couldn’t catch her breath—and that never happened. Her panic had kicked the air into a flurry of little whirlwinds in the space between them, teasing her cheeks and lifting his hair.
She could catch his scent, though, sweet and summery, mulch and potting soil, honeysuckle and cut grass. A warm fragrance, not something that belonged on someone she was supposed to hate.
He was staring at her, and he had a death grip on the club. She could feel his strength through the slim bar. “Well?”
“Yeah.” She coughed and cleared her throat, using her own free hand to punch at the cash register. “Sure.”
It took effort to look away from the dark brown of his eyes. Wasn’t there some kind of rule about not looking away from an enemy? She fished the tokens out of the drawer, almost dropping them all over the floor. Somehow, she got them onto the glass counter and slid them toward him.
Then they stood there comically, connected by the slim rod of the club.
She wanted to let go—but she didn’t.
Especially now that she’d tried to hit him, when he’d never made a move to lay a hand on her.
She swallowed, thinking of Tyler’s bruised face after he’d gone a few rounds with Michael Merrick.
He leaned in. “I come here every Wednesday and Friday.”
“You going to try to kill me every time?”
She shook her head quickly.
He let go of the club. She sheepishly lowered it, but didn’t put it back in the bucket with the others.
Michael swiped the tokens from the counter and jammed them into his pocket. He swung the bat onto his shoulder again.
Emily opened her mouth—for what, she wasn’t sure.
But then he was through the door, pulling it shut behind him without a glance back.
The ball came flying out of the machine, and Michael swung the bat hard, feeling it all the way through his shoulders.
Crack. The ball went sailing into the net.
One place. That’s all he wanted—one place where he wouldn’t get hassled.
And now he was screwed.
What the hell was Tyler’s sister doing here, anyway? She wasn’t a jock chick. From what he knew of her, she should probably be flirting over the counter at Starbucks or something, not babysitting a half-dead sports center.
Summer should have meant a break from this crap. Ever since they’d moved here in sixth grade, school had been a prison he got to escape at three o’clock every day.
Only to be hauled back in the next morning.
Just like a real prison, not everyone sucked. There were the people who didn’t know he existed. The people who knew but didn’t care. The latter made up the bulk of the student body.
But then there was the group that knew everything about him. The group that wanted him dead.
Like he’d picked this. Like he’d woken up one morning and said, I’d love to be tied to an element. I’d love to have so much power it scares me.
I’d love to be marked for death because of something I can’t control.
This wasn’t the only place with batting cages, but it was the cheapest. One sat closer to home, with fake turf in the cages and everything, but here his feet were in the dirt, pulling strength from the ground below.
If he took his shoes off and swung barefoot, he could draw enough power from the earth to blow the ball straight through the net.
Oh, who was he kidding? He could practically do that now, steel-toed work boots and all.
That was part of the problem. He was a pure Elemental. Power spoke to him straight from the earth. The others in town had power, sure, but nothing like his. He could theoretically level half the town if he lost his temper.
Which was why they wanted him dead.
At least his parents had worked out a deal: He’d stay out of trouble, and the other families wouldn’t report his existence.
There’d been money involved, sure. He had no idea how much. But sometimes he couldn’t believe his entire being rested on a signed check and a frigging handshake.
It didn’t help that the other kids in town—the kids who knew—seemed determined to make him reveal himself.
The hair on the back of his neck pricked, and Michael punched the button to stop the pitches, whirling with bat in hand.
He wouldn’t put it past Emily to call her brother and his friends.
No one stood in the dust between the batting cages and the office. Dad’s work truck was still the only vehicle in the parking lot.
Michael swiped the sweat off his forehead and turned to slap the button again. Another ball came flying.
He’d have to think twice before bringing Chris or the twins here again. It was one thing to walk into enemy territory alone, and entirely another to drag his little brothers.
And, damn it, this shouldn’t have been enemy territory!
God, it felt good to hit something.
Well, he wasn’t giving it up. This was his thing. If Emily wanted to take a swing at his head with a putter twice a week, she could give it her best shot. What did she think he was going to do, instigate an earthquake from the batting cages? Make too much grass grow on the driving range?
That prickle crawled along his neck again. Michael spun.
Emily stood there, ten feet behind the chain link, her arms folded tight against her chest. Tendrils of white-blond hair had escaped her ponytail to cling to her neck in the humidity.
Michael could practically hear his father’s daily warning in his head: Don’t start something. Just leave them alone.
How was he supposed to leave them alone if they kept coming after him?
He automatically checked behind her. Still no cars in the parking lot.
“Back to take another swing?” he said.
She scowled, but didn’t look away. “No.” She hesitated. “I just ... I wanted to—”
A ball rammed the fence beside his shoulder, rattling the entire structure. Michael swore, and Emily jumped. He turned to slap the button again.
When he turned back, she’d come closer, until only three feet of dirt and a chain-link cage separated them.
“I need this job,” she said, her voice full of false bravado. Like she’d had to dare herself to walk out here.
“Maybe you shouldn’t try to kill your customers, then.”
She licked her lips and fidgeted. “I didn’t ... I thought you were going to—”
“Yeah, I know what you thought I was going to do.” He adjusted the grip on his bat and turned back to face the machine. No matter how careful he was, all they could see was his potential for damage.
Like he would have needed a bat. Didn’t she understand that?
He hit the button. A ball came flying. He swung.
“Well,” she said from behind him, “I saw what you did to Tyler last week.”
What he’d done. That was rich. “Yeah, poor Tyler.”
“He said you jumped him after school.”
Michael couldn’t even turn around. Fury kept him rooted until the next ball shot out of the machine. He swung hard. This one hit the nets and strained the ropes.
Of course Tyler would make him out to be the bad guy.
He tossed a glance over his shoulder. “I’m sure you got the whole story.”
She hesitated. “If you’re just coming here to hassle me, I’ll tell my parents.”
From any other girl, it would have been an empty threat. The kind of threat you stopped hearing in third grade.
From her, it meant something. Emily Morgan’s parents could cause serious problems for his family.
Michael gritted his teeth and made his voice even. “I’m not doing anything to hassle you.”
Ball. Crack. He brushed the sweat out of his eyes.
She was still standing there. He could feel it.
“Here,” she said.
He didn’t turn. “What?”
She was close enough now that the earth whispered to him about her presence. “I’ll get today,” she said. “For trying to kill you and all.” Then the fence jingled, as if she was fiddling with it.
Another ball was coming, so he couldn’t look. He swung and sent it flying.
She’d get today? What did that mean?
He turned to ask her, but she was already slipping through the tinted door into the office.
But strung through the fence was his crumpled five-dollar bill.
Emily pushed rice and chicken around her plate and wished she hadn’t mentioned Michael Merrick to her parents. Because now they had a new topic to argue about.
As if they needed one.
“You’re going to quit that job,” said her father.
“I need my job,” she said.
“Oh, you do not,” said her mother. “What could you possibly need a job for? We give you everything you need.”
In a way, they did. She had her car, a hand-me-down sedan she’d gotten when she turned sixteen and her father decided he wanted something new. Her parents covered insurance. She always said she’d pay for her own gas—but they’d given her a gas card for her seventeenth birthday.
But she doubted they’d pay for a security deposit on a new apartment in New York City after senior year. Having a stash of cash meant freedom to do what she wanted to do.
“He didn’t bother me,” she said. “I think he was just as surprised to see me—”
“The last thing the Merricks need is leverage,” said her father, gesturing with his fork. “This deal was a bad idea from the beginning, before we knew how powerful that boy would get.”
Emily sighed. “I’m not leverage.”
“You could be,” said her mother. “I’m not having you come home looking like Tyler.”
Emily peeked through her bangs across the table at her brother. He wasn’t eating, either—his fingers were too busy flying across the face of his phone, his own mode of ignoring their parents. He was two years younger, but already stood about four inches taller than she did. He’d spent freshman year growing into his features, and now, for the first time, he looked older. The bruising on his cheek had turned yellow and purple, sharp and striking against his pale skin and white-blond hair. She studied the injury, remembering Michael’s sarcasm from the batting cage.
Poor Tyler. I’m sure you got the whole story.
“Take a picture,” Tyler muttered without looking up. “It’ll last longer.”
“Original.” Along with the height, he’d grown into a crappy attitude, too. “Who are you texting?”
“None of your business.”
She didn’t really care, but it was easier to bicker with Tyler than to fight with her parents. “Sounds like a girl.”
He shot her a glare over the phone. “Well, you sound like a—”
“Tyler.” Their mother’s voice sliced through his coming insult. “No electronics during dinner.”
He made a disgusted sound and put the phone in his lap.
But Emily knew he’d be back at it as soon as their folks were distracted again.
“What did he say to you?” said her father.
“Nothing.” She pushed the food around her plate again. She hadn’t mentioned her own actions with the putter—and didn’t plan on telling them now. “He just came in to use the batting cages. It was fine.”
“Convenient,” snapped her father. “Your first day of work, you’re alone, he comes in there—”
“He said he goes there all the time!”
Her parents went still. It was the wrong thing to say.
“I don’t want you going back there,” said her mother, her voice hushed.
“The hell it is,” said her father. “I’ve been talking to Josh Drake. He thinks we should just take care of the problem ourselves.”
Tyler rolled his eyes. “Seth’s dad says that every time he cracks open a beer.”
Though he was a few years younger, Seth Drake was Tyler’s best friend. He was an Earth Elemental like his dad—and like Michael Merrick—but the Drake abilities stopped at pulling strength from the ground they stood on. Emily had no idea where Michael’s abilities stopped.
And that was part of the problem.
“I think we might all be overreacting,” said Emily. “He didn’t start anything—”
“Overreacting?” Tyler threw his fork down against his plate. “You saw what that asshole did to me.”
“Tyler!” said their mother. “I won’t have that language at the table.”
Emily stared at him. “And what exactly happened again?”
He stared back at her for a beat. “I told you,” he said evenly. “He jumped me and Seth.”
“That’s it,” said her father. “I’m calling over there.”
“To Seth’s?” said Tyler.
“No. To the Merricks.”
Michael heard the garage phone ring while he was out back, playing catch with his youngest brother. He was tired from work and the batting cages, but he’d found the twins pinning Chris in the hallway, trying to spit into his mouth.
Michael never cared if Gabriel and Nick beat the crap out of each other, but he hated when they ganged up on Chris.
So now they were killing time out back until the twins found some other trouble to get into.
Someone else must have grabbed the phone, because the ringer cut off quickly. Michael hadn’t even bothered moving. He couldn’t remember the last time someone had called the house to talk to him.
“You’re so lucky,” said Chris, pelting the ball back to him.
It went wide. Michael stretched to reach it, and the ball smacked into his mitt. “Lucky?”
“Yeah. You get to go to work with Dad all day. I’m stuck here.”
Michael threw the ball back. This was the first summer Chris and the twins had been deemed old enough to stay home alone while their parents worked. “Do they pull that crap all day long?”
“Nah.” Chris caught the ball and shrugged. “It’s just boring.”
Boring. A code word for lonely. Michael remembered being too young to drive, before he knew about his abilities, when summertime seemed to stretch out with infinite possibilities—and ended up basically being three months of house arrest. He regretted not stopping at home to bring Chris along to the batting cages—but then he considered Emily and the putter and thanked god he hadn’t bothered. That was a story he didn’t need Chris dragging home to their parents.
“I’ll talk to Dad,” he said. “Maybe you can come along for some of the smaller jobs.”
“Really?” Chris flung the ball back. “That would be awesome! I’ll go every day! We could—”
“Easy.” Michael smiled. Chris had to be lonely if he was willing to spend his summer pushing a mower and laying mulch. “I said I’d ask.”
Then he wondered if something more than boredom was motivating his little brother. He remembered himself at Chris’s age, how his element had begun calling to him, how he’d wanted to be outside all the time. Neither Chris nor the twins had shown any inclinations yet—but maybe it was right around the corner.
The thought was both exciting and terrifying.
And the worst part was that a selfish little piece of Michael wished one of his brothers would turn out to be as powerful as he was—just so he didn’t have to carry this burden alone.
As soon as he had the thought, he squashed it.
The back door slid open and their mother stuck her head out. “Michael?”
Chris had flung the ball hard, so Michael didn’t look over. “Yeah?”
“Can you come in here for a moment?”
She was using her Serious Voice, and since she was pretty laid-back, it made Michael look over. “What’s up?”
“Your father and I want to talk to you.”
Five minutes later, Michael was fuming at the kitchen table. He wanted to put a fist right through the wood surface. “But I didn’t do anything. I didn’t even know she worked there.”
His father sat across the table, his expression implacable. “It doesn’t matter. You should have left. You know we’re in a precarious position here—”
“That’s not my fault!” Michael shoved his chair back from the table and half stood. “I didn’t want this stupid deal to begin with—”
“Keep your voice down.” Dad looked ready to come across the table himself. “I’m not having this argument with you again. This deal sets a precedent for your brothers. We have a family to consider—”
“You think I don’t know that?” God, didn’t his parents have any idea what his life was like? Couldn’t they see just how much he gave up, just because of their agreement?
His mother reached out and put a hand over his. Her voice was gentle, her eyes compassionate—a direct contradiction to his father’s. “We’re not angry with you.”
Michael jerked his hand away. His breathing felt too quick. Had Emily said he’d done something? Knowing that family, she’d probably said he stole her five dollars.
One place. That’s all he wanted. One place to call his own, to do something that had nothing to do with elements or deals. One place where he could forget all this.
And now it was gone.
His throat felt tight. “I hate this.”
“I don’t care if you hate it.” His father waited until Michael looked back at him. “You’re not to go near that family again. Do you understand me?”
“Me! What about them?” He was almost shouting now, and he didn’t care. “You know what Tyler did to—”
“Not again. If you see them, you go somewhere else.”
Michael gritted his teeth and looked at the back door just so he wouldn’t have to look at his parents. “I want to leave.”
His father made a disgusted noise. “We’re not talking about this again. If we move to a new community, there’s no guarantee we could keep your abilities hidden—”
“Not all of us,” Michael snapped. He pointed to his chest. “Just me.”
“Go ahead,” said his father, his tone equally sharp. “They’d report you before dark. Rogue Elemental on the run? You’d be lucky to make it ’til sunrise.”
“John,” said his mother. “That’s enough.”
Michael leaned down and put his hands against the table. “Try me.”
His father stared back. “This isn’t a game.”
“Trust me. I’m not having any fun.”
His father’s voice lowered and lost some of the anger. “I’m not kidding, Michael. Running away from this won’t work. It’s a death wish.”
Michael flung his chair in against the table. “Maybe I should just take my chances.”
He stormed across the kitchen, sure his father was going to call him back, to lecture more, to issue ultimatums and threats until Michael caved and promised to try harder.
How do you try harder at something that consumes every waking thought?
But his father didn’t say anything. Michael kept going.
Only to find his three brothers waiting, wide-eyed, just outside the kitchen doorway, their expressions some mix of betrayal and anger and confusion.
“You’re leaving?” said Nick.
“Look. Guys ...” Michael sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “I didn’t mean right this second—”
“So you are,” said Chris. “You’re leaving.”
Gabriel had backed up against the wall, and his arms were folded across his chest. “What’s going to happen to the rest of us?”
“Are they going to kill you?” said Chris, his voice hollow.
“Tyler won’t stop,” said Nick. “Just because you’re gone, the rest of them will still—”
Michael felt their mother come up behind him, felt her slim hand on his shoulder. “No one is leaving,” she said. “People say things in anger all the time. Michael didn’t mean it.”
Three sets of eyes locked on his.
“Tell them,” she said.
Michael looked at his three brothers. He could read the new emotion there: desperation. They wanted him to deny it.
He wanted to.
He just didn’t want to lie.
So he shrugged off his mother’s hand and went for his bedroom.
And he didn’t come out all night.
Emily stared at the door to the shop. Sweat was trickling down her back despite the blasting air-conditioning.
I come on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Maybe he wouldn’t show. Her father sure hadn’t been subtle when he’d called the Merricks. But maybe that would work against her. Just like the other day. Michael had seemed just as surprised to see her—and then she’d gone and provoked him. Sure, her parents had a deal with his, but it felt flimsy. Kind of like those treaties with countries who kept nuclear warheads.
We promise not to use them unless you piss us off.
Maybe she should keep a putter on the counter.
Maybe she shouldn’t have told her parents.
But at least they hadn’t made her quit.
The clock struck four, the time he’d shown up on Wednesday. No Michael.
At four-thirty, the door swung open, but it was only a young mother with children coming to use the putt-putt course.
She had to do something to settle her nerves. She plugged her iPod into the sound system and scrolled through for her favorite musical.
The hands of the clock were creeping toward five, when her shift ended. Maybe her father’s phone call had worked. Besides, this wasn’t the only place around town with batting cages.
But then the doorknob creaked.
Her hand closed around the handle of a putter. If she screamed, would the woman with the preschoolers hear her?
The door swung open. Michael stood there.
But he didn’t come through the doorway. Just like the other day, she watched him sweep the corners with his eyes.
What was he looking for?
His gaze settled on the putter on the glass counter, then lifted to meet hers. “I was kind of kidding about you trying to kill me every time.”
She flushed and slid it into the holder.
He came all the way into the shop and put a five-dollar bill on the counter. “Can I get five tokens, or do you need to check with Daddy first?”
Her blush deepened. For some insane reason, she felt like she should apologize—when he was the one who should be avoiding her.
She fished the tokens from the drawer and slapped them onto the glass counter. She mustered the courage to meet his eyes, to let him know she wouldn’t let him screw with her. She tried to make her voice hard—and it ended up making her sound like a bitch. “Is that all?”
His eyes flashed with derision. “So brave.”
What a jerk. Her eyes narrowed. “I’m not the one tempting fate by coming here.”
He shoved the tokens into his pocket, and for the first time, he sounded resigned instead of antagonistic. “Aren’t you?”
Then he was through the door, and she was left there with the music in the air.
Emily almost went after him.
Are you crazy?
She didn’t understand how, with everything he was, he could stand there and make her feel like the bad guy. Of course she’d told her parents—he should be counting his lucky stars that her father hadn’t driven over there.
But even that thought made her blush. She was damn near eighteen years old.
He was right—she had gone crying to her parents.
She glanced at the clock. Her shift ended in four minutes.
At the stroke of five, she shoved through the back door of the office, stepping into the dense humidity. The air slid against her skin and welcomed her into the sunshine.
The batting cages were down the hill and beyond the putt-putt course. She could hear the crack of the bat from here, and once she passed the mini-golf windmill, she saw Michael in the fastball cage.
She stopped before he could notice her. A red tee shirt clung to his shoulders, reminding her of those matadors who swung a red cape to taunt a bull to fight to the death.
Reckless. That’s what this was.
Michael swung the bat, sending the ball into the nets. Even from here, Emily felt the speed of the ball flying through the air, knew exactly how much force it would take to make it change course.
She remembered the strength in his grip when he’d caught the golf club.
Just when she’d convinced herself to turn back, he glanced over his shoulder and saw her.
She wondered if the earth had told him she was standing there—and wondered if that counted as using his powers. Was it really any different from her sensing the trajectory of the ball ten seconds ago?
He turned around long enough to hit the next ball, then glanced back again. “What, do I get a running start?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Didn’t you call out the cavalry?” He turned back without waiting for an answer.
“No.” Her cheeks felt hot. “I didn’t.”
Another ball came flying, and Michael swung hard. The impact resonated like a gunshot.
She’d never been into sports, but hitting something with that much force—it looked amazingly cathartic.
“Look,” she said. “I need this job. It’s important.”
He didn’t turn. “So?”
“My father is going to make me quit if he finds out you came back.”
Another ball, but this one glanced off his bat and went wide. Michael swore and swiped a forearm across his forehead. “I don’t see why that’s my problem.”
A threat sat on the tip of her tongue, but she couldn’t say it. She moved closer, glad for the chain link between them. “Please. I’m just trying to talk to you.”
He didn’t say anything, just waited for the next ball and swung.
This was a mistake. She shouldn’t be out here anyway. What did she expect, that he’d leave after she asked nicely? What if someone drove by and saw her talking to him?
“Forget it.” Her feet slammed the packed earth as she walked away.
Another ball. The air moved with his swing. Crack.
But then she heard his voice from behind her. “Wait.”
Emily stopped halfway to the office, but she didn’t turn around.
“My father,” Michael called, “said he?
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