Authors: J.L. Weil
Biting my lip, I thought about it, before leaning back. “Does everyone on this dreadful island have a bird fetish?” Ravens. Crows. Hawks. What was the deal?
A lethal smile rose on his lips as he hopped into the driver seat. “Do you have a fetish?”
I rolled my eyes. “What is wrong with this place?”
He adjusted his seat belt and held out his hand. “You don’t want to know.”
I knew what he wanted, but I didn’t remember agreeing to let him drive Josie. “So you’re admitting things are weird here?”
“I plead the fifth. Keys?”
“Fine,” I huffed, dropping my keychain into his palm.
He eyed the anime charm on the ring, a girl with aqua hair and big, black, twinkling eyes. “Cute.” Then he turned over the engine, and my jeep groaned before kicking over.
“She’s finicky,” I stated, feeling my cheeks turn pink.
Reversing the car effortlessly, he raised a brow. “She? Let me guess.
has a name as well.”
“Of course, but that is not the point.” I was seconds away from ripping the keys out of the ignition. “God, getting answers from you is worse than an elephant trying to squeeze through a mouse hole. I’m going to find out one way or the other.”
He stopped fast, and I wasn’t prepared for the sudden jerk. “You listen to me, Piper. Don’t go sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong. I won’t always be there to keep you out of trouble.”
I blew the hair out of my face. “What trouble?” I demanded.
Glaring, I craned my neck, positive I was going to suffer from whiplash. “Wow. You think of yourself as some kind of hero.”
The car started rolling again. “Damn right,” he replied smugly. “Crash is not someone you toy with. Fact.”
“I kind of figured that out, genius.” I angled myself toward him in the seat. “To set the record straight, I am not a damsel in distress. Got it?”
“Whatever you say, Princess.”
My jaw tightened. “Call me that again and you won’t be able to have kids.”
The wind teased the hair at his neck. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a girl threaten me as many times as you have.”
I smiled. “You haven’t been hanging out with the right girls.”
His blue eyes snapped with a pristine coldness, darkening. “And you think
the right kind of girl?”
I squinted, not in the least put off by his frigid change. “Eh, your eyes are doing that thing you say they don’t do. Should I take a picture?” My hand went to my pocket, pulling out my phone.
Knuckles tightened on the steering wheel, his chest heaved in one long exhale, and I watched in awe as the charcoal lines around his eyes faded. “Have you ever seen a shrink?” he asked, envious lashes blinking.
“Of course not,” I lied. “What kind of question is that?”
“I’m just trying to rationalize your foolish behavior.” Strained lines wrinkled his forehead.
behavior?” I shrieked. He was joking, right?
Afraid not. “Done anything illegal?” he rattled off.
I thought about it, hanging my hand out the window to surf the wind. “Define illegal.”
His lips twitched as we stopped outside the gate to Raven Manor. Zane put the car in park, and I hopped out, walking around the front of the car. He was still smirking as he stepped out of the jeep.
Finally. An amused emotion. He was capable of having them. I leaned against the side of the car. What I didn’t expect was for him to box me in with his body, his arms placed on either side of me. “Do you have any tattoos?” He continued the most random game of twenty questions.
“Do you?” I countered way calmer than the sparks going off inside me. If he kept looking at me like that, I couldn’t be held accountable for what my body or lips might do.
“Liar.” My gaze wavered from the exquisite planes of his face, down his arm, stopping just short of his hand.
He lifted a brow. “So you can see it?” Turning his arm over, he exposed the tattoo on the inside of his wrist. It was in the exact same spot as Crash’s, but Zane’s was a black crow.
My fingers reached out, hypnotized by the shimmering ink. “Why wouldn’t I?” I wanted to trace the lines of the widespread wings. The tattoo seemed to almost move under my gaze, like a shadow.
He swiftly dropped his hand, eyes meeting mine. “Do you sleep naked?”
I swallowed back my disappointment and choked. “I fail to see how that is relevant.”
“It isn’t.” He shot a dark grin. “I just wanted to know.”
Why did he have to mention being naked, because now I couldn’t get rid of the image my mind conjured of him naked. It only got worse and steamier when I joined that image. I tried to pretend my cheeks weren’t beginning to flush, and used my best defense. Sarcasm. “I guess that is one of life’s mysteries you will never know.”
One of his full lips tipped. “Is that doubt I hear in your voice?”
My chin jutted, refusing to let him rattle me. “I warned you.” Then I put my fist into his gut.
His shoulders moved in a silent laugh, not in the least bit shaken by my little outburst. “I shouldn’t be surprised by your spunk.”
Peeved, I pretended my hand wasn’t throbbing from the impact of his abs of steal. “Are you going to tell me what is going on yet?”
Sighing, he brushed a strand of hair from my face, tucking it behind my ear. “It’s not my place.”
My heart skittered through several beats at his touch. Holy hellfire. “That sounds like such a cop-out.”
He flicked the end of the nose, just brushing my stud, and I felt the zing all the way to my toes. “Hand me your phone.”
I didn’t just hand my phone over to anyone. It was my life.
His fingers tapped on the screen before returning it. “In case you get into any more trouble. I put my number in your favorites.”
“Wonderful,” I said tartly.
He closed the space between us and whispered, “So do you?”
“Do I what?”
I stood nailed to the spot, digesting what just happened. Was he flirting with me? “You’re a dicknose.”
He shot me a smile that would melt the heart of the Ice Queen as he started walking backward down the driveway. “Do you make up insults in your sleep?”
There was only one answer worthy of such a comment. I let my middle finger do the talking. He laughed. As I watched him saunter away, I was left thirsty for more, my mind burning with questions. So frustrating, like Zane himself.
Did he think one flashy grin would redeem him?
Not a chance.
In my room, I strolled over to the desk, half in a daze. The last hour’s events didn’t seem real. How could they? None of it made sense. Confused didn’t come close to what I was feeling. I’d managed to keep calm and collective in front of Zane, but alone, my hands were shaking. Steadying them on the back of the chair, my fingers brushed something soft.
There it was, a piece of Zane. Lying on the back of the chair was his hoodie, the one he had so graciously lent me the night of the bonfire. It hadn’t been washed. Gross, but washing it would have been a sin. I picked it up. Unable to resist, I pressed the cotton material to my face and inhaled. Instant nirvana.
I was in trouble.
Boy trouble. I was falling for a jerk.
A jerk with an unexplainable…I didn’t even know what to call it. An ability? A curse? A mutation? But he wasn’t the only one. Crash. There must be a reasonable explanation for what I’d seen. I was a reasonable person. Well, most days, so I did what anyone in this day in age did when they needed answers. I Googled Zane Hunter.
Wiggling my butt into the plush chair, I booted up the computer, biting my nails as I waited. The Internet speed was surprisingly quick for being so far off the mainland. Typing in his name, I frowned at the search results. Ziltch. No Facebook. No Twitter. No Instagram. No criminal records. In cyber world, he didn’t exist, which meant he wasn’t human.
“Who the heck are you, Zane—or
?” I muttered. Determined to uncover his story, I couldn’t help thinking he knew things, and not just about what I’d seen, but my family as well. Nothing about Raven Hallow added up.
Zane and Crash were
. Their eyes…I’d only seen something similar on TV. Vampires. What I’d learned from Dean and Sam Winchester was about the extent of my supernatural knowledge, except neither Zane nor Crash had pointy fangs or an extra set of razor sharp teeth, which ruled out vampires. Not ready to give up so quickly, I started a new search on paranormal abilities, and then narrowed it down by freakish eyes. Maybe I would find an article, a legend, or a myth that would shed light on what I’d seen. It was a stretch, but what else did I have to go on?
A half-hour later, I’d read several websites to no avail. My eyes were glazing over, and the words blurred on the screen as I scrolled through an online newspaper. Most of what I’d found was completely useless crap.
On a whim, I typed
. A few seconds passed before a name popped out at me. Rose Morain. I scooted my chair closer, tucking my legs underneath me, lured by the possibility of uncovering dirt on Grams. The mouse clicked on the link, and a moment later I was scanning the headline.
RAVEN MANOR UNDER FIRE
“Rose Morain, of Raven Hallow’s founding family, was interrogated by police in the recent deaths of three teenagers who were found on her beachfront property. The names of the eighteen-year-olds are being held at their family’s request. No charges have been filed against the highly respected pillar of Raven Hallow’s community.”
Rose was questioned as part of a murder investigation? It seemed preposterous. She might have been an absent grandmother, but it only took one look to see she didn’t have a murderous bone in her body.
“Are you looking a porn sites again?”
I jumped and whirled around in my seat at the sound of TJ’s voice. He was leaning against the doorjamb. “Hilarious,” I barked. “You’re the horny teenage boy, not me. Sex isn’t on everyone’s mind twenty-four seven, ya know.” I tried to cover the monitor with my body.
TJ pushed off the door, walking into the room. “And that, sis, is your problem.
need to get laid.”
I coughed, fumbling blindly behind me with the mouse. If I could just switch the webpages… “Excuse me. Just what do you know about getting laid?”
“More than you apparently if you’re searching…”
My fingers rapidly tapped over the mouse button.
Click. Click. Click.
He laid a hand on the back of the chair, looking over my shoulder. “Mythical creature responsible for killing spree?” TJ read. “Pipe, you need help.”
In a kneejerk reaction, I elbowed him in the gut.
He gave a
. “How did I get stuck with such a lame sister?”
“Funny. I was thinking the same thing. Why are you here again?”
He rocked back on his heels, averting his eyes. “No reason. I was exploring and ended up here.”
Guilt settled in the pit of my belly. Since we had arrived at this plush establishment, I’d been so caught up in my own worries, determined to dislike Rose and recently dissecting Zane, that I’d forgotten TJ was only fifteen. He was still my little brother who missed our mom as much as I did. We had essentially lost both our parents in less than a year. I manufactured a smile. “Have you made any friends yet?”
TJ belly flopped on my disheveled bed. “I haven’t really left the castle.”
The corners of my lips curved as I swiveled the chair to face him. “This place is crazy, isn’t it? I find it hard to believe that you’re already bored of all those video games.”
He gave a one-shoulder shrug. “Nah. Not really. Marco had to go eat dinner with his family. We’re getting back online in a hour for a one-v-one of CoD.”
“Huh? You know I hate it when you speak that gamer geek.”
A small snicker came from his lips. “Never mind. I don’t have time to educate you.”
Marco was TJ’s best friend back in Chicago. “You should try to get out and meet people. Who knows, you might find another dork like you.”
“What about you?” he pointed out, turning the tables. “You’ve been moping around in your room all week.”
“I have not been moping,” I denied.
His brows lifted.
“Fine. But it’s been a weird week, okay.”
“Weirder than usual? I find that hard to believe.”
Twerp was asking for it. I grabbed the nearest pillow from the floor where I had kicked it many nights ago, and heaved it at his head.
He ducked, laughing as the fluffy missile zoomed right past him, and I realized it was the first time I’d heard TJ’s laugh since we got here. “Your aim still sucks.”
I couldn’t stop the smile. TJ might be a pain in my tush, but we were family. The only family we had really. “You want to raid the kitchen and watch a movie?” I asked, another family tradition that had vanished with Mom.
Lines of consideration ceased his brow. “Sure. Why not?” That was his way of saying he missed me. “Just as long as it is not porn.”
“Hardy, har, har.”
My cell phone buzzed on my dresser, scaring me half to death. Not that I was doing anything important, just laying on my bed, counting ceiling tiles. I lost count after seventy-six and had to start over. Thank God for technology.
Eyes narrowing, I read the number that flashed across the screen. It was a local area code, but one I didn’t recognize. For a painstakingly, heart-stopping moment, I thought it might have been Zane. Then I remembered that he had programmed his number under Dicknose. It made me smile.
I debated whether to let it go to voice mail. It was after nine and like the last few nights, I had just brushed my teeth with the very lame idea of going to bed early. Yep. That was the kind of Saturday night I was having.
I didn’t recognize myself.
“Hello,” I answered.
“Hey, girl. Get dressed. I’m coming to break you out.”
My mind was slow to place the voice. “Zoe?”
“Duh. Who else do you know on this dreadful island?” Zoe replied.
She had me there. Zoe had a spark for life that was contagious. Enough so, that I was actually contemplating getting out of bed. The more I thought about it, the more appealing it became. Maybe I could get her to give me some dirt. I was getting squat from her brother, and I had so many questions: Zane. Crash. Rose. “Where are we going?”
“You’ll see,” she sung in that pretty lilt of hers. “Be ready in fifteen.”
“Better make it twenty,” I answered, staring at my reflection in the mirror. It was going to take an act of God to make myself look presentable. Lazy day equaled no shower. I needed an entire team of professionals to pull me together. Hmm, I wondered if Rose staffed her own stylist. It wouldn’t surprise me.
Rolling off the bed, I snuck a quick sniff under my arms. “Ew.” I rushed into the bathroom, cranking on the shower to hot. Ten minutes later I was in a towel, staring at a closet three times the size of mine at home.
I pushed aside all the clothes Rose had stuffed the closet with. Lace, pink, and floral were not my style. If there wasn’t black in it somewhere, it wouldn’t touch my body. Tugging on a pair of self-ripped jeans I’d found shoved in the back, I paired it with a peek-a-boo tank. The outfit definitely accentuated the important parts, butt and boobs.
Highlighting my eyes with a quick coat of mascara and a thick line of black eyeliner, I ran a brush through my blonde hair, adding a little bit of hairspray to tame the flyaways. After a sheen application of my favorite lip-gloss, I was ready to paint the night red. I smacked my lips, shoved my ID and cell phone into my back pocket, and checked the clock.
Two minutes to spare.
I took a breath, surveying myself in the full-length mirror. Not bad under short notice. It would have to do, because my phone buzzed. It was a text from Zoe.
I’m outside the gate. Hurry ;)
On my way.
I quickly sent back as I opened the terrace doors.
For a brief moment, I felt guilty about sneaking out, but as soon as I saw Zane leaning on the side of a sleek car, I was feeling nothing but the hum of excitement and annoyance.
He wore a dark scowl.
I scuffed the sole of my shoe on the gravel. “Zoe failed to mention you would be with her.”
“Zoe is full of surprises,” he mumbled.
I rolled my eyes. “And you are full of piss and vinegar.”
A lock of wavy hair fell into his eyes as he shot me a crooked smile. “At least you are starting to get me.”
I leaned my weight to one side. “I take it she didn’t tell you I was tagging along.”
“Nope. She knew I never would have agreed.”
“And why is that?”
“As long as you stay out of my way, we won’t have a problem,” he warned through a gritted smile.
“Ditto.” I reached for the door handle, but he beat me to it, and I slipped into the seat, trying to disregard my racing heart. “Are you going to tell me where we’re going?” I asked Zoe, meeting her smiling aqua eyes as she twisted in the driver’s seat.
“I like you,” Zach said. “Direct and to the point.” He was sitting shotgun, which meant that…
Zane climbed into the backseat with me, frowning. I scooted over to the other side, securing my seat belt. Oh goodie. Confined in a small space with Zaney. Why was Zoe subjecting me to such torturous treatment?
She shifted the car into drive and hit the gas. Let’s just say Zoe was the definition of a “girl driver.” If my seat belt hadn’t been strapped on, I would have ended up in Zane’s lap. Her long midnight hair was swept up into a ponytail at the crown of her head. “We’re going to Raven Hallow’s best kept secret. Only locals know about it. You are going to love it.”
It was unlikely that I would be having any kind of fun if grouchy didn’t get an attitude adjustment. “I’m not going to be shunned, being the outsider, am I?”
“Hardly,” Zach snorted. “You are Morain’s granddaughter. That makes you freaking royalty, and one of us.”
That’s what I was afraid of. “Good to know.” They might not have considered me a summer girl, but that didn’t mean everyone else didn’t. And honestly, I was a summer girl. This wasn’t my home, would never be. At the end of summer, Raven Hallow would be dust in the wind.
I slid my gaze to the guy across from me, who clearly had his boxers in a wad. I wondered if he wore boxers. He struck me as a boxer brief sort of guy. Why was I thinking about his underwear type? At least it kept my mind off other parts of his body.
Eyes of steel pinned his sister in the rearview mirror. “Zoe, this is a bad idea and you know it.”
“Do you ever quit?” I snapped, cutting him a death look.
Zane tipped forward, the leather groaning under his weight as he closed the space between us. “Not when I know I’m right, Princess.”
I sent him a look of pure hatred.
“Don’t make me stop this car,” Zoe threatened like a soccer mom. “The two of you need to learn to play nice.”
Zoe glanced over her shoulder at Zane when she should have kept her eyes on the road. “What harm could it do to show her? I think it’s brilliant.”
“You would,” he grumbled. “Do I need to remind you that all your ideas backfire?”
This was going to be a long ride. Zoe and Zach struck me as double trouble. Must be a twin thing.
Zach hung an arm out the window. “That’s because you’re way too serious.”
Stretching out all six-foot plus frame, Zane settled back into the seat. “You should really reconsider who you hang out with.”
My hands itched to smack those icy eyeballs out of his head. “Buzz off.”
“If the two of you stopped bickering and just admitted there’s something between you, we would all have more fun tonight,” Zach said.
Zane’s lips thinned.
I clamped my mouth shut, staring straight ahead. Not happening. Tonight, I wasn’t going to give him the time of day. I was going to…
Dammit. I still had no idea what we were doing or where we were going for that matter.
The car stopped. Just in time, too. I couldn’t be in the car with Zane another second, not without doing something idiotic. It was a toss-up. Slap him or kiss him.
The minute I was free and breathing easily again, Zoe looped her arm through mine, leading me down the sidewalk. A sparkle of excitement and anticipation glimmered in her eyes. “You’re in for a night you won’t forget. I promise.”
Zane expelled a menacing sigh.
A small, evil part of me reveled in his exasperation, but there was something about the way Zoe spoke that gave me goose bumps. I smiled. “Great. Just what I’m looking for.”
We turned the corner, Zane and Zach trailing behind us, and approached a flight of concrete stairs going down. My hand trailed on the railing until we came to a set of metal doors. Etched on the entrance of each was what looked like two birds, a raven and a crow, but it wasn’t the symbols that captured my eye. It was the glistening prism of color that appeared 3D.
I blinked, positive my eyes were playing tricks on me.
And they were. The raven and the crow were nothing but two stunning marks on shitty metal doors. They weren’t moving, flapping their wings, or flying toward me as they had a moment ago.
Wow. It was definitely not a good sign that I was already seeing shit. I hadn’t even had a drink yet, and it was hardly late enough to be loopy.
“You okay?” Zoe asked, tugging on my arm.
“Yeah,” I said, forcing a smile. I stepped through the revolving metal doors, Zoe on one side and Zach on the other, a twin sandwich.