Authors: Skye Malone
“Well, look who’s here,” Wyatt commented. “Not hiding or anything.” He chuckled. “Sloppy, cuz.”
My heart raced. Of course I hadn’t been hiding – why would I? We were just watching television.
And my psychotic relatives were supposed to be on the coast over sixteen hundred miles away.
I started toward them. Wyatt moved to block me.
“Uh-uh,” he cautioned.
“We just want to know where the girl is,” Richard said. “No one needs to get hurt here.”
Disappointment flashed over Wyatt’s face at the words, as though he’d really prefer someone did.
“What girl?” I asked.
His grip tightened on Baylie. Behind his hand, I could hear her give a stifled shriek, her terrified gaze locked on me.
“You know which,” Richard said. “Chloe. Where does she live?”
I stared at him. “Chloe? You know she can’t be here. She’s not–”
“Tell me where she lives, Noah,” Richard snapped, the threat in his voice more than clear. “Now.”
I shivered, looking from him to Baylie. I couldn’t stop all of them. Not before they did something terrible to her.
And I couldn’t tell them that Chloe had lived right next door. Even if there was no way she could come back here, not now that she’d become one of the dehaian, there was still her family to worry about.
I didn’t want to know how her parents fit into the next step of my relatives’ plan.
Swallowing hard, I shook my head. “Just let Baylie go,” I said, holding up my hands. Cautiously, I moved down the hallway, watching them all. “You don’t need to do this. She–”
“Who was it?” Mom called, coming up the basement stairs.
Richard stepped back, releasing Baylie. She scrambled away from him and around Wyatt, racing to me.
I caught her. Pushing her behind me, I retreated into the front room, not taking my eyes from them.
“Baylie?” Mom continued. “Did you hear what I– Richard?”
I heard her set something down sharply and then come toward us. Taking one hand from Baylie, I reached out quickly, stopping her.
Mom looked furious. “What the
are you doing here?”
“We just had a question for Baylie and your son, Sandra,” Richard replied carefully.
“Ed!” Mom shouted to Baylie’s dad upstairs. “I’m calling the police,” she continued to Richard, moving away from me toward the phone on the wall. “And you’re going to be hearing from our lawyers after what your boys did to Baylie in California, so you–”
“Wyatt!” Richard snapped as the guy started toward her.
I moved fast, getting between them.
Wyatt stopped. The snarl on his face turned to a disgusted sneer when he glanced at me.
Ed’s footsteps pounded on the stairs. “What?”
“Peter’s brother,” Mom snapped. “Came here to ‘talk’ to Noah and Baylie.”
Ed’s face went dark. “Get out. You get the hell out of my house right now, you bastard.”
He started down the stairs.
“Brock!” Richard barked as his son blocked Ed’s path. He looked between Mom and Ed. “Nothing’s happened here. Nobody needs to call any cops. We just had a question, and now we’re leaving.”
His sons looked back at him, incredulity damn near blatant on their faces.
“Go,” Richard ordered them, still watching Mom and Ed.
Wyatt and Brock didn’t move.
“I said go!”
Brock shuddered and then retreated toward the door.
Wyatt growled. Ed’s eyes went wide at the sound.
“Now!” Richard snapped.
Wyatt paused. “This isn’t over, cuz,” he promised, his voice so low, only Baylie or I stood a chance of hearing. “We’re gonna get that bitch. Just you wait.”
His gaze slid to Baylie. He winked, a smirk on his face, and then sauntered after his family out the door.
Ed hurried down the steps and slammed the door behind them, throwing the lock the moment it closed. Baylie came back over to me and I put my arms around her, holding her while she trembled.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
“You all okay?” Ed asked.
Baylie let out a breath and nodded. Behind me, I heard Mom talking to the local police on the phone.
I didn’t take my eyes from the window. Richard and my cousins were climbing into their maroon SUV. Starting the engine fast, Richard cast a look around the neighborhood and then took off down the road.
with that boy?” Ed continued. “Did you hear him?”
I glanced to Mom warily as she hung up the phone, wondering how she wanted to handle that.
“Richard’s boys have always had problems,” she answered neutrally.
Ed’s eyebrows rose and fell. “I’ll say.”
“That was Chief Reynolds,” Mom continued. “He’s sending an officer over.”
Ed nodded. “You sure you’re okay, honey?” he asked Baylie.
“Yeah,” she said, trying for a smile. “Yeah, I’m alright.”
“You kids just head back to what you were doing,” he continued. “We’ll keep an eye out here and let you know if the cops need to talk to you, okay?”
Baylie glanced to me and I could read the hesitation in her eyes. “Yeah,” she agreed. “Okay.”
Letting me go, she started back to the den, her gaze still twitching toward the front window.
I looked to Mom, questioning.
She gave a tiny nod.
Taking a breath, I followed Baylie.
She was waiting for me.
I paused at the door, suddenly wishing I could have stayed out in the living room to help Mom.
Though she probably would’ve just had questions too.
Cautiously, I took the two steps down into the den and then pulled the door shut behind me.
“What the hell?” Baylie whispered, her quiet voice breaking. “What the
, Noah? They’re here? They followed us back
? What in the–”
She cut off when I looked away. A breath left her.
“What is going on?” she demanded.
A scoff escaped her, the sound harsh. “No kidding.”
I grimaced as she waited. I couldn’t figure it out either. They were insane. Certifiably, utterly, and completely insane. And coming to
looking for a
? That was a whole new level of madness. No one in their right mind would–
My breathing stopped. No one would. Not unless they knew something I didn’t. Not unless they’d seen her, or heard something about her…
She’d lived like a landwalker before she became dehaian. She’d survived when everyone else had sworn her heritage would kill her.
And maybe… maybe I could explain…
I turned to Baylie. “Look, my family is nuts, okay? They… they’re fixated on Chloe. But if what they’re saying is true,” I released a shaky breath, “she might be on her way back here.”
Baylie stared at me.
I glanced toward Chloe’s house, focusing briefly on suppressing the burning, furious energy inside me that let other greliarans tell where I was. “You stay here,” I continued. “Watch for her. I’m going to keep an eye on my cousins, just in case… you know.”
Without another word, I headed for the hall.
are they fixated on her, Noah?” Baylie cried, struggling to keep her voice down as she followed me. “You said she wasn’t like you, but what’s this about then? Why do they want to hurt her so much?”
I paused by the den doorway. I didn’t have time for this. I needed to get out there. Make sure they didn’t find her first. “They just do.”
Baylie made an angry noise.
“Please,” I insisted. “It’s important. Just keep an eye out for her. I’ll explain, or, you know, maybe she will once she’s safe. But Baylie, these guys…” I exhaled. “They’re dangerous. You know that. And the cops… they’ll just tell my relatives to stay away or something else useless. There’s nothing to arrest them for yet. Not where Chloe’s concerned. So please just watch the neighborhood, watch her house, and if there’s anywhere else you can think of that she’d go, watch that too. We have to help her.”
Baylie stared at me for a heartbeat. “O-okay. I will, but… Sandra and Dad aren’t going to let you just stay out there. And what about the cops? What do I tell them?”
I could feel the seconds ticking away. “Tell them… tell them I needed some air.” I scowled. That’d only work for a bit. “Or that I’m exploring the area. I’ll try to stop back in when I can, just to keep them from getting too weird on you, but otherwise, I’m exploring, eh?”
Despite her worry, she looked skeptical. “Exploring.” She drew a breath. “Fine. But the minute Chloe’s safe, you’re telling me what’s going on, understand? I’m done with this secrecy crap.”
“And Noah?” she called when I started down the hall.
I glanced back.
I hesitated. “Yeah.”
I headed for the front door. Reidsburg wasn’t huge by any stretch of the imagination, and their SUV wouldn’t be too hard to find.
And with any luck, Chloe wouldn’t be either. For me, at least.
I drew a breath, trying to calm the hope that choked me at the thought of actually seeing her again.
Several hours later found us walking back toward the gas station. We’d finally located a fast food place across town and the handful of change in Chloe’s pocket had been enough for us to split a small meal. We hadn’t spoken much – just watched the town through the windows – and the same was proving true for our trip back to the station. Biting her lip and jumping every time a car drove by, Chloe appeared utterly distracted.
And nervous as hell.
I slipped a hand around her side, grateful for the freedom to finally hold her and hoping to help her calm down at the same time. She flinched at the slight contact, and then a blush colored her cheeks as her startled expression faded to chagrin.
I made a dismissive noise.
Her head leaned on my shoulder briefly as she put an arm around me.
“What is it?” I asked.
She shook her head.
I watched her from the corner of my eye, uncertain if I should press her.
“They’re crazy,” she said, almost as if answering something inside herself. “They’ve always been crazy.”
I hesitated. “Okay.”
“I mean, my whole life, it was ‘ocean water is diseased’, ‘rapists live on the beach’, all kinds of stuff like that. Even if they
trying to keep me from going in the water, that’s still an insane way to do it.”
She paused, her brow furrowing. Looking up at me, she continued in a smaller voice. “You don’t think they thought I was dead or something, right?”
I weighed responses and settled for the most neutral. And honest. “I don’t know.”
“But Noah… he couldn’t have just…” She shook her head, anger filtering across her face, and she sped up, moving away from me. “They
to know I was fine. That I’d changed and left with you and all that. He
to have told them
at least, so she must’ve just…”
Chloe trailed off.
“Maybe they were worried you wouldn’t come back,” I offered quietly.
She stopped, looking back at me, and I couldn't hope to read her expression. “I…”
Her brow furrowed. She turned away again.
Tires rumbled behind us. A breath left her, the sound almost panicked. I glanced over my shoulder.
A green sedan with darkened windows raced around the turn.
“That them?” I asked.
I looked back. Her face was answer enough. Not taking her eyes from the car, she came up beside me.
The sedan veered to the side of the highway and then skidded to a stop in a cloud of gravel dust. A woman climbed out before the man at the wheel had even succeeded in shutting off the engine. Leaving the door open, she hurried across the gravel toward us, her red-rimmed eyes locked on Chloe with a look somewhere close to stifled terror. Behind her, the man got out too, moving awkwardly as if to keep from jostling the white sling holding one of his arms. As brown-haired and brown-eyed as his wife, he seemed only scarcely less worried, and he never took his gaze from his daughter while he closed the door.
I tried to keep my face expressionless, but it was difficult. I’d said perhaps they were afraid Chloe wouldn’t come home.
It looked more like they were afraid their daughter would fall dead where she stood.
“Chloe,” the man called as he headed for us. “Are you alright?”
“Yeah,” she answered, her voice choked. “Thanks for coming.”
“H-how did you make it this far?” her mom asked, clenching her hands together as though to stop them from shaking. “And who did that to your neck? Are you–”
The woman swallowed hard, her gaze darting from Chloe to me as she seemed to reconsider whatever she’d been about to say.
Chloe hesitated. “I’m fine.”
I glanced to her when she left the response at that.
Her mother’s brow twitched down, the desire to press for more written all over her.
“Who’s your friend?” her dad asked.
Chloe drew a breath. “This is Zeke.”
I tensed at the sudden alarm in their eyes.
“The boy who…” Her dad looked between us. “But he…”
“Is dehaian, yeah,” Chloe filled in. “Like me.”
Their faces were a picture, though of confusion, shock or horror, it was hard to decide. In the time it took her to speak the words, they raced through the expressions, coming at last to a rabid sort of denial that varied only in its intensity.
“Chloe, you are
–” her mother began.
“Linda,” the man interrupted.
With a choked noise, she turned to him.
“Perhaps we should continue this elsewhere,” he suggested, his eyes on me.
Linda nodded. She stepped forward even as her husband did the same, like they were closing ranks around their daughter with the full intent of forcing us apart.
Chloe stiffened. “Zeke’s coming too.”
They stopped. I saw the arguments forming.
Chloe moved closer to my side, almost putting me between herself and them. Without looking away from them, I reached down, taking her hand.
I could feel her shaking.