Authors: Brigid Kemmerer
Tags: #General, #Fiction
He could feel flames coming through the floor, looking for him. The sound of wood giving way was deafening. Sparks and ash rained down.
He wasn’t going to make it. He was going to fail. Again.
Then a hand closed over his wrist and pulled, hard.
Gabriel followed what else could he do?
He burst into fresh air that felt arctic on his cheeks. That hand kept pulling, dragging him.
He stumbled and almost fell, but he caught himself before he dropped the girl.
He felt grass under his feet and slowed.
Someone was jerking the girl out of his arms. “Is she breathing?”
Had Hunter gone into . . . into that to drag him the rest of the way out of the darkness?
Also by Brigid Kemmerer
ELEMENTAL (an e-book)
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
TEEN BOOKS are published by
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Copyright © 2012 by Brigid Kemmerer
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Printed in the United States of America
For Jonathan, Nicholas, and Baby Sam: I thank my lucky stars every day for each of you.
As always, I have to start with my mother. She’s an amazing woman, and if not for her incredible support, you wouldn’t be holding this book in your hands. I’m grateful for her presence in my life every single day.
My husband, Michael, makes writing possible. He’s my best friend, my support system, the love of my life. And for some reason, he insists on waiting to read a finished book. So here you go, honey. I hope you like it. Thank you for everything.
Alicia Condon and the entire team at Kensington are all incredible. I can’t thank you all enough. I’m so glad I’ve gotten the chance to work with you all.
I have many close friends on this writing journey, but I would be remiss in not thanking Bobbie Goettler, Alison Kemper Beard, and Sarah Fine. You all keep me grounded, you keep me sane, and you keep me writing. You’re all amazing women, amazing mothers, and amazing writers, and I’m so lucky to know you.
This book took a tremendous amount of research. It absolutely would not have gotten written without support and as-sistance from Ed Kiser, Assistant Fire Chief for Riviera Beach Volunteer Fire Department. He already works tirelessly at a thankless job, and he was able to spare a considerable amount of time for me (including immediate response to e-mails at one o’clock in the morning). Ed, I cannot thank you enough.
Additionally, I owe special thanks to Officer James Kali-nosky, of the Baltimore County Police Department, and Officer Todd Schwenke, of the Anne Arundel County Police Department, for their information on police investigations, arson, arrest procedures, and anything else I could think to ask. I took all this research and delightfully twisted it to fit my needs. Any in-accuracies are on my part, not theirs.
Special thanks to Thomas Berry for providing every math question included in this book, as well as advice on how to handle teaching situations. If you’re his student, say thanks from me.
Special thanks to Layne Berry for letting me use her first name.
I hope I did you proud.
Finally, extra special thanks to the Kemmerer boys, Jonathan, Nick, and Sam, for your love and support, especially understanding when I need to just plug in my headphones and write.
Gabriel Merrick stared at the dead leaf in his palm and willed it to burn.
He had a lighter in his pocket, but that always felt like cheating. He should be able to call flame to something this dry. The damn thing had been stuck in the corner of his window screen since last winter. But the leaf only seemed interested in flaking onto his trigonometry textbook.
He was seriously ready to take the lighter to that.
A knock sounded on his bedroom wall.
“Black,” he called. Nicky always slept late, always knocked on his wall to ask what color he was wearing. If he didn’t, they ended up dressing alike.
Gabriel looked back at the leaf and it was just that, a dead leaf. No hint of power. Behind the drywall, electricity sang to him. In the lamp on his desk, he could sense the burning fila-ment. Even the weak threads of sunlight that managed to burn through the clouds left some trace of his element. If the power was there, Gabriel could speak to it, ask it to bend to his will.
If the power wasn’t, he had nothing.
His door swung open. Nick stood there in a green hoodie and a pair of khaki cargo shorts. A girl on the cheer squad had once asked Gabriel if having a twin was like looking in a mirror all the time. He’d asked her if being a cheerleader was like being an idiot all the time but really, it was a good question. He and Nick shared the same dark hair, the same blue eyes, the same few freckles across their cheekbones.
Right now, Nick leaned on a crutch, a knee brace strapped around his left leg, evidence of the only thing they didn’t share: a formerly broken leg.
Gabriel glanced away from that. “Hey.”
“What are you doing?”
Gabriel flicked the leaf in the wastebasket beneath his desk.
“Nothing. You ready for school?”
“Is that your trig book?”
“Yeah. Just making sure I told you the right assignment.”
Gabriel always attempted his math homework and then handed it over for Nick to do it right. Math had turned into a foreign language somewhere around fifth grade. Then, Gabriel had struggled through, managing Cs when his twin brought home As. But in seventh grade, when their parents died, he’d come close to failing. Nick started covering for him, and he’d been doing it ever since.
Not like it was a big challenge. Math came to Nick like breathing. He was in second-year calculus, earning college credit.
Gabriel was stuck in trigonometry with juniors.
He was pretty frigging sick of it.
Gabriel flipped the book closed and shoved it into his backpack. His eyes fell on that knee brace again. Two days ago, his twin’s leg had been broken in three places.
“You’re not going to make me carry your crap all day, are you?” His voice came out sharp, nowhere near the light ribbing he’d intended.
Nick took it in stride, as usual. “Not if you’re going to cry about it.” He turned toward the stairs, his voice rising to a mocking falsetto. “I’m the school sports hero, but I can’t possibly carry a few extra books”
“Keep it up,” Gabriel called, slinging the backpack over his shoulder to follow his brother. “I’ll push you down the stairs.”
But he hesitated in the doorway, listening to Nick’s hitching steps as he descended the staircase, the creak of the banister as it supported his weight.
Gabriel knew he should help. He should probably be taking the place of that crutch. That’s what Nick would do for him.
But he couldn’t force himself through the doorway.
That broken leg had been his fault. Thank god Nick could pull power from the air, an element in abundance. He probably wouldn’t even need the brace by the end of the week.
And then Gabriel wouldn’t need to stare at the evidence of his own poor judgment.
He and his brothers had always been targeted for their Elemental abilities. Being pure Elementals, they should have been put to death as soon as they came into their powers. Luckily, their parents had struck a deal with the weaker Elementals in town.
A deal that had led to their parents’ deaths.
Their oldest brother, Michael, had been able to keep the deal in place until a few weeks ago, when Tyler and Seth, two of the other Elemental kids in town, had attacked Chris. It started a snowball of events that led to an Elemental Guide coming to town to do away with the Merrick brothers for good.
He’d almost succeeded, too. After the Homecoming dance, they’d been attacked.
They’d fought back the only way they knew how. But Gabriel had let Nick call storms that were too strong. He’d begged his twin for more power. When Nick fell, the accident had practically shattered his leg if they weren’t full Elementals, he probably would have needed surgery.
That night, Gabriel couldn’t keep him safe. The Guide had kidnapped Nick and Chris, had held them prisoner.
Becca and Hunter had found them. But Gabriel couldn’t do anything. Ineffective and out of control, just like always.
But now they were safe, and things were back to normal.
Nick was his usual self. Life’s good. Move on. No use complaining. He hadn’t even said a word about what had happened on the field.
As far as Gabriel was concerned, he didn’t need to.
Just like with math, Nick was used to his twin being a failure.
Gabriel pulled onto Becca Chandler’s street and glanced in the rearview mirror at his younger brother. Chris was chewing on his thumbnail, leaning against the window.
“Nervous?” said Gabriel.
Chris looked away from the window and glared at him.
Nick turned in his seat. “Make sure you open the door for her. Girls eat that crap up.”
“Nah,” said Gabriel. “Play it cool. Make her work for it”
“For god’s sake,” Chris snapped. “She just broke up with Hunter, like, yesterday, so it’s not like that. Okay?”
Jesus. Someone was worked up. Gabriel glanced back again.
“But she asked you for a ride.”
Chris looked back out the window. “I offered.”
Nick turned his head to look at his twin. “Very nervous,” he whispered.
Gabriel smiled and turned into Becca’s driveway. “Very.”
“Would you two shut up? ”
Becca was waiting on the front step, her arms around her knees and her hands drawn up into the sleeves of a fleece pull-over, dark hair hanging down her back.
“She looks upset,” said Nick.
She did, her eyes dark and shadowed, her shoulders hunched.
Or maybe she was just cold. Gabriel wasn’t one for figuring out emotion.
Her face brightened when she saw them, and she sprinted for the car almost before Chris had time to jump out and hold the door for her.
She stopped short in front of him, spots of pink on her cheeks.
“Hey,” she said, tucking her hair behind her ear.
“Hey,” Chris said back, his voice soft and low.
Then they just stood there breathing at each other.
Gabriel hit the horn.
They jumped apart but Chris punched him in the shoulder when he climbed back into the car.
Becca buckled her seat belt. “I’m glad you’re all here.”
Her voice was full of anxiety. So Nick had been right.
Chris shifted to look at her. “You all right?”
She shook her head. “My dad just called. He wants to meet with me. Tonight.”
No one said anything for a moment, leaving her words floating in the warm confines of the car.
Her dad was the Elemental Guide who’d been sent to kill them all.
When they escaped and didn’t hear anything for two days, they’d all started to think he’d run off again, the way he had when Becca was eleven.
Chris took a breath, and his voice was careful. “Do you want to meet with him? ”
Gabriel glanced at her in the rearview mirror. She was practically hunched against the door, staring out the window. “I want him to get the hell out of here.”
Chris was still watching her. “He is your father.” He paused.
“He might have made a ‘contribution,’ but that man is not my father.”
“I want to see him,” said Gabriel. His shoulders already felt tight.
She hesitated. “Wait. You’d . . . go with me?”
“Yeah. I owe him a little payback.”
“We,” said Nick. There was heat in his voice, too.
“Did he say why he wanted to meet?” asked Chris.
“He said he wants to help us. That they’ll send another Guide if he doesn’t report back that you were . . . um . . .”
“Killed.” Gabriel hit the turn signal at the end of her road.
She swallowed. “Yeah. Hey, make a left. We need to pick up Quinn.”
Gabriel glanced at her again. He wasn’t a big fan of Becca’s best friend, so the last thing he wanted to do was pick her up especially when there was so much left to talk about. “Anyone else?” he said. “Should I pick up Hunter, too?”
Becca faltered and glanced at Chris. “I’m sorry . . . I should have asked ”
“It’s fine,” he said, and Gabriel could feel his youngest brother’s eyes in the rearview mirror. “I’m sure he’s not inten-tionally being a dick.”
Gabriel ignored him. “What time tonight? Did he say where?”
“Annapolis Mall. Eight o’clock. Make a right at the stop sign. She’s down at the end of the block.”
“He wants to meet at the mall? ” said Nick.
“Food court,” said Becca. “I told him it had to be somewhere public.”
“Great,” said Gabriel. “More people in the line of fire.”
“Do you think the mall was a mistake?” said Becca.
Gabriel shrugged. Her father hadn’t hesitated to put normal people in danger last week.
But really, what difference did it make?
They were pulling alongside the curb, and Quinn threw open the door and launched herself inside. Blond hair was caught inside her jacket, and her backpack was barely zipped. Notebooks spilled onto the floorboards before she could get the door shut.
“Jesus, drive, ” Quinn said, hitting the back of his seat. “God, I hate my mother.”
She was just so frigging overdramatic. Gabriel pulled the car away from the curb, deliberately moving as slowly as possible.
But Nick turned his head to look at her over his shoulder.
“Everything all right?”
Quinn shoved the notebooks back into her bag and yanked the zipper. “I’m stuck living with Satan. When’s the car situation going to improve, Bex? I can’t keep doing this.”
Nick was still looking into the backseat. “We can keep driving you to school, if you need a ride.”
Quinn stopped fighting with her things and looked up at him.
“We’d love it,” said Gabriel, making sure his sarcasm carried an edge. “Maybe we can pick up half the junior class.”
“What is with you?” said Chris.
“Don’t worry,” said Quinn. “I already know he’s an ass.”
“Love you, too,” said Gabriel.
But Nick grinned. “You can tell us apart?”
“Please. When you’re talking, there’s no challenge.” She punched the back of Gabriel’s seat again.
He glared at her in the rearview mirror. “What are you, six years old?”
“Oh, you don’t like that? What about this?” She licked her finger and stuck it in his ear.
He smacked her hand away. He’d never punched a girl, but she might be the first.
Becca laughed. “Quinn has two brothers.”
“I know all the ways to irritate a boy,” Quinn said.
Gabriel snorted. “I don’t doubt that one bit.”