“She was unpredictable, but she was beautiful. She was wild, in search of peace. Unforgettable, the type of woman you fall for.”
I took a seat in the crowded coffee shop in downtown Estes; Hunter sat across from me. We pulled out our laptops to pretend we were working in case anyone unwanted decided to spy on us. To be fair, Hunter really was. I wasn’t. I pulled open a word document for work but intended to write notes in it utterly unrelated to the hotel. It looked less suspicious to outsiders to be typing weird notes about kidnappings and ‘Shadows’ on an already filled document than an empty page. At least, in my opinion, it did. Maybe I was just paranoid. Or stupid. However, I gave myself slack for the paranoia part. Anyone would be paranoid if they had Shadow assassins and magical Controllers wanting them dead.
In the opposite corner of the room, I noticed a familiar girl wearing a lowered baseball cap and a coffee cup lifted in front of her mouth, preventing anyone from reading her lips. Her eyes met mine, and she nodded ever so slightly.
Pulling out my spare phone, I dialed the number I’d now memorized by heart after staring at it for so long. Hunter joined the call.
“I was wondering when you were going to stop staring at me and actually call,” Lily said, smirking from behind her coffee cup. “What was so important we needed to be in such close proximity?”
“How are Tommy and Gigi doing?” I asked, ignoring her snarky remarks.
She stared at me quizzically. “How’d you know about them? Did you do it to them?”
“No,” I said, somewhat affronted. “The same thing happened to two of our pack mates: Riley and Akira. They’re doing better, but they have no idea where they were other than it was forested and a little hilly, if at all, which indicates the Midwest. We were hoping you might have some other clues we could relay to Dom.”
“Why does Dom need them?”
“Because the Shadows have Elsa, and they’re going after her.”
Lily hesitated before saying sincerely, “I’m sorry, Caleb. I know you were close to her.”
Lily sighed. “Well, you’d be correct about it being the Midwest. I found a small Petoskey stone wedged into Tommy’s shoe. They’re most commonly found along Lake Michigan in Michigan but have also been found in Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, New York, and Canada. However, my best guess is Michigan. There was even some dirt in his shoe, so I’m already having it analyzed by a specialist. I should have the results in a couple of days to see if it can narrow down the area where they were. My parents are on the warpath to figure out who kidnapped them. I’m sorry I don’t have it now because I know time is of the essence, but the moment I do, I’ll let you know. We can meet here and discuss it, and I’ll leave any information for you at the counter with the baristas.”
“You’re a gem, Lily. You always were good at forensics and science,” I praised, giving her a smile.
“Are you giving a compliment?”
“I suppose I am.”
“I like it, and thank you. You were good at science too. It’s why we were top of the class in chemistry.”
“Yeah, but that’s not what I remember about the class,” I said. “The thing sticking out to me most is our obvious chemistry in chemistry.”
“Dude, I am right here,” Hunter chimed in, finally speaking. “If you two want to flirt, at least allow me to hang up and leave.”
I rolled my eyes. “I have to put up with you and Josie making love-dovey statements to each other all the time, so spare me the sob story because I have no sympathy for you.”
“Please, Caleb isn’t flirting with me, nor has he ever,” Lily assured. “He only flirts with girls that fall for him. Sometimes literally. I’m neither, so relax.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I demanded, irked.
“You’re the smart one. Figure it out.”
I had a flashback to a girl tripping over her backpack in chemistry and me catching her. I made a flirtatious, meaningless comment about her ‘falling for me.’ Is that why Lily stopped being friendly to me? Come to think of it, that’s when her cold-shoulder treatment started…
“Let’s not waste precious minutes on our phones for this,” Lily said. “I have work to do, people to charm, and a pack to run. I’ll talk to you boys when I have information. I’ll get it to you as soon as I can. I hope Elsa is found safe and sound.”
I smiled gratefully at her. “Us too. Thanks, Lily. We owe you.”
I watched her hang up and leave the building, wondering if we had a chance to regain our previous friendship. I missed her banter, her wit, her intelligence, and merely being around her. Lily Stark was the only girl I’d ever been genuinely attracted to, and she had no idea.
“All right, what the hell was that about?” Hunter asked. “Tell me you don’t have a crush on a Stark too. I swear to God, they’re infiltrating our family by seducing our members with their ridiculously good looks.”
“Ah, so youthink they’re attractive too?”
“I- shit…” Hunter looked annoyed. “Okay, you know what? Yes. I do. However, I would never go after any of them. I am happily engaged to Josie.”
“Yes, yes, I know. It’s sickening.”
“Hey, I warned you I was working out before you came into my room.”
“You should’ve told me Josie was in there! I would’ve gotten the idea!”
“You’re the smart one!”
“And the better-looking one.”
“I beg to differ.”
“I’m the taller one. Can’t beg to differ on that one.”
“Shut up.” Hunter closed his laptop. “Let’s go before anyone gets suspicious.”
Smirking because I’d won the ‘argument,’ I followed my brother in packing up. We had just gotten into Hunter’s car when a message popped up on my spare phone. Assuming it was from Dom, I whipped it out. Hunter noticed and peered over my shoulder.
From Lily: Neutral territory. Midnight.
Hunter whistled. “Someone has a secret rendezvous tonight.”
I punched him in the arm before responding.
To Lily: You’re not going to murder me are you? I feel like you want to.
From Lily: No. If I wanted to murder you, I would’ve done it in high school when you deserved it.
To Lily: Why do you want to meet?
From Lily: To answer your question from earlier. Privately. Don’t be late.
“I think I had it the wrong way round. I should’ve asked: what is it with the Starks being attracted to us?” Hunter asked, sighing. “I know we’re all stunning, but this is ludicrous!”
“Shut up and drive, would you?” I snapped.
“Wait, you’re not actually thinking about going to see her alone, are you?”
“I’m considering it, yes.”
“You just asked if she wanted to murder you! You obviously don’t trust her.”
“Ever hear the saying ‘curiosity killed the cat?’ You’re the cat!”
“Yeah, but satisfaction brought it back. Now, seriously, shut up and drive. You’re going to be late for your date with Josie.”
Hunter drove out of the parking lot and said, “Caleb, before you go tonight, maybe you should think with your upstairs brain rather than your downstairs brain?”
“I’m the one who thinks with his upstairs brain. You’re the one who only thinks with the downstairs one.”
“Who’s engaged? Who isn’t?”
“What does that have to do with anything?!”
“Dude, every time Josie asked you to help her with homework in high school, you had to put a pillow in front of your-”
“Yeah, yeah, don’t remind me.”
“I won’t if you don’t accuse me of thinking with my downstairs brain.”
“Fine. I’ll stop.” Hunter sent me a skewering sideways glance and muttered, “Asshole.”
Grinning, I turned my attention to the scenery passing by outside of my window, wondering what tonight would bring and if I’d still be alive by the end of it.