There is a killer after me and my friends, only a few of which know they are at risk of having their lives sucked completely out of them. I am three months away from becoming a killer myself, the days moving by slower than the last one.
Lillian has spoken to her friend in Texas many times but is nowhere closer to getting the name or location of the Reaper living over the border. It seems as if he has gone off the grid, disappearing right around the time her friend start poking around.
Does he know about me? Is he hiding to protect his secrets? Or did my Reaper stalker take him out before coming to find me?
What am I doing about all of this, you might be wondering?
Am I learning to defend myself for when this guy returns either alone or with some company to try and take my back with him or kill me? Am I planning a trip across the border to try and locate this guy myself, hoping the same skills I used to track down the Reaper in the woods will help me find him there? Am I in Axel’s garden with him trying to create a hybrid plant strong enough to stop my killer impulses for good?
No, I am not doing any of these things.
So what am I doing? Oh nothing much, just watch Alyssa try on her sixth dress at her fourth store in Boise while Katrena assures her that she will look perfect no matter what she wears because they are, in fact, the most nauseating couple in the best of ways.
I am watching Alyssa put each dress back, frowning because the ‘color makes her skin look pale’, the fabric is weird’, or ‘the cut is all wrong’.
I am trying not to rip my own skin off because I want to be doing anything but the ‘normal’ stuff I am being forced to do today but, since she has been nothing but accommodating, I didn’t have the heart to tell Lillian no when she asked me to join them because she was worried about how little I’ve left the house lately.
Watching Alyssa and Katrena go back and forth about dresses is cute, in a vomit-inducing kind of way. Or maybe it’s not their cuteness making me sick but rather the new strange concoction of Verbena and Skull Cap that Axel forced down my throat this morning, the honey he mixed in doing nothing to cut the horrid taste.
Since I ingested the drink my stomach has done nothing but churn, but it was worth the try. Anything is worth a try because, at this point, I can barely pass as human most days. At this point, I am pretty much operating on auto-pilot.
“Any word on your mom?” Katrena asks, letting out a huff as she tosses herself into the empty seat next to me.
She watches with saint-like patience as Alyssa tosses yet another gown into her ‘no’ pile before bringing another one into the dressing room with her. I swear, I could have been her because I would have given up come the second store when Alyssa turned down a dress because ‘the light reflected off the dress weirdly and made her look washed out’, but she hadn’t. Instead, Katrena had suggested we leave that store and its horrible lighting, making our way over to this one.
“I wish. The doctors have done everything they can to wake her up but she just won’t do it. They have run over a dozen tests but they have all come back normal. They have checked every inch of her for hidden damage and there is none. Her brain scans have come back all normal. It just doesn’t make sense. She should be awake. Her vitals are stable, her injuries are healing, but she just won’t wake up. They have to be missing something,” I complain.
The fact is the doctors are missing something, how to get her body to bounce back from the amount of energy that the Reaper took when he drained her.
Well, at least that is what Lillian believes. Her parents were killed by Reapers, drained slowly because they refused to give up the whereabouts of their daughter and her new husband. Her father was killed instantly but her mother, her mother had suffered. Her mother had spent a month in the hospital before it was too much for her and her body gave out.
I am afraid my mother is going to end up like that. I am afraid she will never wake up and I will have to make the decision of whether to allow machines to keep her alive or not.
However, because Katrena is human, I can’t tell her this.
So I continue to play dumb, acting like I have no idea why my mother won’t wake up.
“So, when was the last time you went and saw her?”
“Since the night I was attacked.” I can feel the couch move as Katrena turns to stare at me in shock; it has been a little over a month since it happened. “Look, it’s not that I don’t want to go. I just can’t see her like that, I can’t. Besides, between catching up with school work, not letting my grades drop, and running track, I can never get there before visiting hours end. When she wakes up she is going to want to know what she missed and, if she finds out that she missed the part where her attack led to my screwing up any chances at a decent future, she will never let me live it down.”
I want nothing more than to see my mother but, with the fact that we can’t be sure that Reaper isn’t lingering around, going back to the hospital poses too much risk.
Thankfully, before Katrena can get another word out about my mother, Alyssa steps out of the dressing room and catches her attention. She spins in slow circles, flaunting the perfect silver dress she is wearing. “What do you think of this?”
“That is one hundred percent the dress,” Katrena squeals, leaping off the couch so that she can plant a kiss on her girlfriend’s cheek. “No more trying on dresses, this is the one you are getting. Either you get this one or I am going to take someone who will.”
Alyssa giggles, turning a few different shades of pink before bounding back off into the dressing room.
As much as cheesy displays of affection make my skin crawl, not that I have any room to talk after the way I acted the past few months, it is nice to see the two of them happy. Also, it makes wasting a whole day that could have been spent on more productive seem worth it.
“Find something for yourself?” a husky voice whispers in my ear, a pair of lips brushing over my skin lightly but still with enough pressure to send my heart rate skyrocketing.
I don’t bother to look over my shoulders, his smell enough to let me know who is there. “Well, that would be pointless. You know, what with me having zero intention of going and all.”
There is a chuckle and then Axel jumps over the back of the viewing couch, taking the spot where Katrena was seated and invading the hell out of my personal space. “But if you don’t go then who will be my date?”
“Might I suggest asking one of the girls from the horde of them that follows you around the school on a daily basis? I am sure that one of them is just dying to have you pay the slightest bit of attention to them instead of mumbling angrily under your breath and then storming off whenever they arrive.”
Axel and I haven’t had one conversation about the very intense thing that went down between us right before the Reaper showed up, but that isn’t for a lack of trying on his point. He has tried to broach the subject a few times but I always veer it away, changing the subject to my mother’s current health condition or the strange feelings I get when we drive through town.
Much to my dismay, slight twinges aside, the Reaper hasn’t resurfaced since the day in the woods. I was hoping that he might show himself again and give me more hints as to where it is he is trying to take me or at least his name, but the only thing he has given me are small hints that he hasn’t completely left the area.
I wonder where he is hiding and why I haven’t been able to track him down yet. If he was able to hunt me down based off his father simply telling him that I exist then that means we can feel each other somehow and I need to know how to make that happen.
If I can activate that part of my Reaper side then I can track down the one hiding in Mexico.
Axel throws an arm over my shoulder. “I’m sure they would, but they just aren’t my type. They’re too easy, don’t pose much of a challenge. You though, you are just the kind of challenge I need in my life.”
“By challenge are you referring to the fact that I might literally snap and kill you?”
“Pretty much,” he laughs. “But I would die a happy man.”
“You’d die an idiot.”
He leans in, his thumb brushing over my bottom lip. “Didn’t I tell you a while ago that I was an idiot? I’ve accepted it by now and maybe so should you.”
Even though I have been avoiding talks on anything that doesn’t lead back to my Reaper problems or potentially shitty future, the tension has done nothing but double between us. It is thick now, present at every waking moment and it seems that both of us now struggle to go a few minutes without finding a way to touch the other.
He seems to be enjoying it, however, always finding ways to be around me when no one else is. I know he is waiting for me to crack and, with the way things are going, it isn’t going to take much.
It’s not that I don’t care about him because, good lord, do I. I spent most of my nights trying to think of ways to track down the hidden Reaper in Mexico just because it might mean getting to spend more time with Axel, but the longer we go without answers the more it is looking like anything involving us will be doomed.
I can’t do it. I can’t start something with him knowing it will either end in heartache or death.
I swat his hand away. “Still not going to happen.”
“What are you two whispering about?” Katrena questions, wedging herself between us.
I flash her an appreciative smile.
Axel moves away, finally giving us some room. “We were just talking about why Eveline keeps refusing to go to Fall Formal with me. This is the eighth time this week that I have asked her, not including the previous times I have asked during previous weeks, but she has once again turned me down. Care to talk some sense into your friend? Maybe throw in a positive word or two about how I am a good guy who pretty much worships the ground she walks on?”
My cheeks heat up.
“Maybe she keeps saying ‘no’ because she has feelings for someone else? Did you ever think of that?” she teases. “Maybe she has better taste in men.”
Axel shakes his head. “Couldn’t be. No, I am the only one brave enough to take on someone as mouthy as her. Hmm, maybe it is because she is secretly in love with you and is plotting on a way to break up you and my sister so that she can finally confess her feelings for you.”
“Is that it, Evs?” She places her hand over her heart, feigning hopelessness. “Have you been in love with me this whole time but just not figured it out?”
“Who’s in love with you?” Alyssa joins in, her dress neatly draped over her shoulder.
Axel takes the dress from his sister, examining the fabric with far more scrutiny than I expected. “Oh, Eveline is in love with your girlfriend. Did you not know this?”
“No, but it definitely makes sense. Is that way she keeps turning you down every time you ask her to go to Formal with you? Kat is far more attractive than you and less of a jerk, so I can’t say that I blame her.” She gently snatches the dress away from her brother, smoothing down the fabric he runched during his rough inspection. “Stop it, you’re going to tear the lace. This is the dress I am getting and I don’t need you ruining it.”
“Looks a little thin to me,” he mumbles.
She cuts her eyes at him, linking her fingers through Katrena’s. “No, it doesn’t. This dress is perfect and if you don’t quit being a jerk I will call mom and suggest he make you wear a tux. You know she’ll do it too, just because you made things hard on me. Kat, did you find a dress?”
“Yeah, I am going to go with the red one you pointed out when we got here.”
“Just like that? You didn’t even try it on.”
“Didn’t have to. I checked the tag and it is within my budget and it is in my size. The bottom looks a little long but, if it is, I’ll just have my mom send it out to get altered. Besides, you said you loved it and that is all I needed to hear. I don’t see any better reason to get it, do you?”
“You guys make me want to vomit,” I comment jokingly.
“Don’t worry, you can have her once I’m finished,” Alyssa jokes back, her and Katrena headed off towards the register to pay.
Axel his hand against the dressing room wall, blocking me from following after the couple. Go with me.”
“Because there are over a dozen things I could be doing with my time, like learning how to take down a Reaper without draining him. Especially since we both know the only time I managed to drain someone was a complete accident and hasn’t happened again. Like learning how to defend myself so that, if and when he does come back, I do more this time than stand around and make snappy comments. This time I want to be able to help out and defend myself, not end up dead or a distraction. That is only two things out of a very long list of things but, trust me this, waltzing around the gym in a poofy dress is one hundred and fifty percent not on that list.”
“Fine.” He shrugs. side-stepping quickly to the left to block me as I try to duck around him. “No waltzing and no poofy dresses. It will be just you and me, in the same place at the same time, standing around making snappy comments at everyone while they have fun and we talk about how much we loathe them. Come on, I’ll wear that amazing suit you helped me pick out and you can wear whatever you want, like those torn jeans of yours that drive me insane.”
He sighs, taking a step towards me. His hand slides around my waist, his fingers soft against the exposed skin between my shirt and the top of my jeans.
I make the horrible mistake of glancing up at him, those dark colored eyes of his trapping me in them like they always do.
“Eveline, please go with me. I can’t think of one person in the world I would rather spend a miserable four hours at that dance with. In fact, I’ll make you a deal. If you go with me then I will teach you how to fight and how to defend yourself. It won’t be more than a few moves, but it will beat the hell out of those horrible self-defense videos you’ve been watching online and it will keep you from completely getting your ass kicked. Plus, instead of beating up on defenseless trees, you will get to practice with a live person.”
I mull over the idea, which is hard to do at the moment because he is still running his fingers over me. “You know going to that dance is a terrible idea, right? I mean, it’s practically begging that Reaper to come and get me.”
“I know, but Alyssa and I will be there if you need us. Three on one is much better odds than one on one. Do it, say you’ll go with me.”
“Fine, I’ll go with you, but you have to start teaching me tonight.”
“Deal. Oh, and Eveline.” He leans in, pressing a quick kiss to my neck. “Don’t think I will go easy on you just because I adore you.”
Fire heats in my veins, the challenging look in his eyes promising more than just a lesson in fighting.