At last, Avery thought that she had made it back to a normal high school life-- except for the death threats on her head and the harpie in her backyard. Trouble never stays far away though, and Mikhail hatches a plan that endangers life as she knows it. Avery is drawn back into a vicious harpie war and is finally forced to confront her relationship with Mason whether she is ready to or not.
ISBN 13: 978-1461158028
Where to find Grounded:
Find the first three chapters below:
The warehouse burned hot, with thick billows of black smoke crawling along the ceilings and red sparks bursting from the corners. Breath held tight, she struggled forward. Her feet felt like lead but her painfully slow progress still brought her to a door. With no other exit in sight, she reached for the scolding metal knob but never got the chance to turn it.
A sound suddenly alerted her to someone approaching from behind. She whirled around to face the intruder. The person’s figure remained distinctive, even against the flickering shadows. Locks of dark hair hung over his black eyes, which fixated on her retreating figure. The man’s sturdy shoulders showed faded scars and bulky muscles, and his bare torso sufficiently revealed the sharp blade strapped to his side. Massive grey wings affixed to his back made his already tall stature barely fit within the crumpling hall.
He was calm, as if the building collapsing around him could topple everyone else but leave him unscathed.
“I trusted you,” he hissed, darkly intent on his focus. “I trusted you and you betrayed me.”
“It’s not like that. You don’t understand.” She held her hands up, but the platonic gesture did nothing but put her at a disadvantage.
“Don’t make me fight you,” she warned but he continued to advance towards her. The building let out a guttural moan, the red flames licked their way closer, and the berth between them rapidly disappeared. The knife freed from his belt, he came ready to attack. She had to make the choice. It was either him or her who got to live. And she was going to choose herself.
The shocking cold suddenly woke her from a dead sleep and Avery Zane shot up in her bed. The real world returned to her and she found herself in her dimly lit dorm room. The last fragments of her confusing dream rapidly slipped away before she could grasp them. It was then she noticed the figure standing in the shadows.
“Mason!” she gasped, eyes taking in his tall lanky form pressed into the dorm room corner.
She noticed the open window next—no doubt where he’d climbed through—that let the snow and cold wind blow in. She sprung free from her tightly wrapped sheets, fought with the blowing curtains, and slammed the window shut.
“Are you nuts?” She whirled on him next. “What if someone sees you?”
Mason came forward, eclipsed in the moonlight and looking as stunning as ever. He dropped his thick parka to the ground allowing his massive white angel wings to shake out freely, and strode up to her bedside.
“Your roommate is gone. I watched her leave,” he said, unconcerned.
Avery cast a quick glance across the room where the other twin bed sat empty. Usually her best friend and roommate Leela would have been there and long asleep by midnight. Recently though, Leela had been out most nights.
“No excuse. Someone could have seen you climb in!” Avery hushed her voice and scooted so he could sit on the foot of her bed.
Mason shrugged. “Don’t care.”
She was sure he didn’t either. Mason was a harpie, a race of creatures known for being prideful and vicious. Thinking he was above “being caught” wasn’t farfetched behavior on his part. Rather than complaining, she only huffed quietly. Mason, on account of being banned from his own society, had been staying with her the past few months at her boarding school. Avery knew it couldn’t be easy for him. Humans, like her, typically didn’t know about mythological creatures, like him, so he couldn’t exactly spend much time socializing or even risk being on seen campus. Even with his disguise, Mayweather Academy wasn’t big enough for him to exist inconspicuously. He was stuck hiding out in the forest and waiting around for available time just like this.
“Are you cold?” she asked but naturally Mason only shrugged, usually undaunted by the temperature.
She had grown chilly though, thanks to the window trick earlier, and pulled the rosy comforter up on her bed to crawl underneath it.
“So what’s up?” she prompted him after finding a comfortable spot.
Green eyes focused on the distance, he took a moment of silence before saying anything.
“Avery,” Mason suddenly said. Not looking at her, he then continued with, “We have to leave your school.”
She went still.
“We have to leave soon. This place isn’t safe,” he reiterated.
Avery let out a slow, practiced breath before she could overreact.
“It’s the last semester of my senior year. I can’t leave. I’m won’t.” It sounded too much like begging, and even though Avery knew he couldn’t control the danger, she wasn’t above pleading with the universe.
The first semester of her senior year—over four months ago now—Mason had shown up on her doorstep, outing his entire race. It had turned out that she’d picked up a magical harpie amulet and added herself to the hit list of every harpie thief in existence. The mere fact that they’d survived the escapades that followed was miraculous, but they didn’t exactly do it without making any enemies. Enemies that Avery and Mason both knew would come back one day, but five months later seemed a little early for it. Plus, if she was uprooted again, she might never graduate, and Avery wouldn’t give that up willingly.
Mason didn’t squash her protests immediately. He sat quietly while wringing his long fingers together. After a moment, he leaned back onto her bed, even though all six foot seven of him wouldn’t quite fit. She stretched out next to him and had to ask the necessary question.
“Why do you say that now? What’s changed?”
“This place has never been safe. It’s unpopulated and in the middle of nowhere. They could attack us and no one would know the difference. They’ve done it before.”
Mason referred to two harpies named Mikhail and Eva. Both of who had been in a group called the Band of Thieves and were notorious criminals. Mason didn’t use their names because Avery would shudder when she heard them. Just the thought of those two had been giving her nightmares lately, but she still argued with Mason’s logic.
“That’s not why you brought it up now,” she sighed, knowing that he was avoiding talking about it.
Mason had the habit of knowing something that Avery didn’t.
The conversation lulled and Avery’s mind slowly began to drift. She heard his steady breathing next to her and felt the heat radiating off of him. The hint of feathers tickled her cheek and the musk of his grassy scent wafted over her. She rolled onto her side. Propping herself on her elbow, she looked down at him.
The move was brazen on her part. Not only did it put their faces mere inches apart, it made her camisole nightgown cling to the outline of her body. She did it casually of course, knowing that she could feign innocence on this one. Mason wasn’t exactly “fair game” in the dating world, but she wasn’t above giving him an opening. A few months ago they had made out and the sexual tension still lingered. Lazily watching her, Mason didn’t seem bothered by the sudden closeness. Encouraged, she stayed put.
“How long can you stay?” she asked, really inquiring when Leela would be home.
He gave a sideways smile.
“Why, will you miss me?”
He reached out and touched her, the movement catching her momentarily off guard. It was only a friendly gesture, but she blushed anyway when he brushed her chin lightly.
“I’m not the one that crawled through the window and then into someone else’s bed,” Avery countered.
“Uh huh, tell me to get out then.” That shut her up quickly. She let out a frustrated groan, knowing he was just teasing her now. Maneuvering back some, she gave up on pushing the situation and changed the subject.
“What do you think Leela is up to?” she asked.
“Not my friend. Don’t know and don’t care.”
“Don’t be like that. I’m worried. She said they were going to a party but she’s been acting strange ever since she got back. When Mikhail bespelled her, did she...” Avery struggled to find a way to describe what exactly happened to Leela. She had been taken hostage by Mikhail a few months ago and the harpie had used magic to snare her mind.
“Did she forget everything?” Mason finished the question for her, obviously knowing where the comment was going.
She’d been concerned about it for a while. She’d never really been bespelled like Leela had and couldn’t understand how a week’s worth of memories could just fade away. It didn’t seem realistic. Mason had repeatedly assured her that Leela wouldn’t remember what a harpie was or anything that Mikhail might have done.
“Yea.” Avery nodded finally.
“I wouldn’t worry about it. Even if she remembered faintly, she’d write it off as a dream. People see what they want to see, after all.”
He leaned forward and brought them significantly closer. She could feel his breath on her cheeks. Avery’s mind threatened to go blank. The situation was tempting. She’d had a crush on Mason for quite some time now but only that once had the audacity to act on it. He added to the fiery confusion by giving her mixed signals, and she often wondered if he wanted her to act on it twice.
Avery finally decided to give it a shot, but before she leaned in to kiss him, Mason said something unexpected.
“Adalyn called me,” he abruptly said.
Moment shot, Avery sprang back with no regard.
Adalyn was technically Mason’s fiancé, even though the relationship was on a temporary hiatus. Avery had thought that the relationship between Adalyn and Mason had begun to dissipate, but apparently the harpie woman was still contacting him. Feeling gross now, Avery backed off completely.
“And what’d she have to say?”
His eyes were downcast, reminding Avery that he was still hurting about this.
“She wanted me to come home. She said they’d lift the charges.”
A wash of complex emotions swarmed through Avery when she heard that and unable to hide them from her face, she sprung off the bed and paced across the room. While this was good news and something she should be happy about, it also meant Mason would be leaving her. If he returned back to his kind, there was also a good chance she’d never see him again. Avery stalked up to the sink and splashed cold water on her face, hoping it’d help get control over her emotions.
“Is that why you wanted me to leave? If I go somewhere more populated then you wouldn’t have to worry about me?”
It sounded selfish, asking him to give up his life to be a bodyguard in hers, but she couldn’t help it.
“I should at least see...”
She sighed while dabbing her face dry with a fluffy red towel. If he really wanted to leave, he wouldn’t have been running the idea by her.
“You’re right. When are you talking about going?” she asked.
She whipped around to look at him.
“Mason, even if I could leave, I couldn’t leave by then. And flying out tonight isn’t an option.” She’d at least need time to form a cover story.
“I know.” He slid off the bed and crossed the room to stand beside her. “I’ve asked one of my friends to drop by while I’m gone and keep an eye on things.”
“You wouldn’t know him, but he’ll at least have the wherewithal to keep you out of trouble.”
“I’m not worried about the danger. I don’t need a babysitter. And another harpie no less? Didn’t the entire harpie government just try to kill me not too long ago?” It wasn’t a question since she already knew it was true, but Mason got the message.
“Not every harpie is out to kill you, Avery. And this is a personal friend of Adalyn’s so I know he’s cool.”
Avery’s mouth dropped and she struggled to find the appropriate response. She’d rather take her chances with Mikhail than one of Adalyn’s friends. Adalyn had not so subtly threatened her life if Avery continued speaking to Mason. During the time Adalyn made that threat, everyone was making blatant threats on her life so Adalyn’s bullying went mildly ignored. In fact, everything Adalyn did went completely ignored by Mason. It wasn’t fair.
Whether or not he had something to add, Avery didn’t get the chance to find out. The door lock jingled and Mason turned, opened the window, and slipped outside. Avery rushed to shut the window but Leela had already entered the room. The cold breeze slipped in and the room’s heat slipped out. Avery froze, unsure if she should move after being caught in the act.
“What are you doing?” Leela’s eyebrows shot up.
“Nothing. Just letting out some of the stuffiness, ya know?” Avery slammed the window shut and whirled to face her friend.
Leela was usually a mousy girl, petite with big brown eyes that spelled kindness. Lately though, she covered her eyes with thick black makeup and lost the kindness in them. It was probably just the thing to do in senior year. Leela was big at the campus parties and maybe it was expected of her. Avery just couldn’t help but see it as a red flag.
“I thought I heard someone talking,” Leela said.
“I was on the phone a minute ago. Just Chase checking up.”
Whether or not Leela believed it was unclear, but she nodded. The girl then crossed over to her bed and hopped on the mattress. It was well past midnight and if they both didn’t sleep soon, they’d regret it. Avery headed to fix her own covers, mildly annoyed to find that Mason had left a few feathers in her sheets. She swept them under the covers quickly.
“Hey, I have a question for you,” Leela said after awhile.
“Do you ever have strange dreams?”
Avery flinched more than she should have. Forcing herself to act casually, she grabbed her pillow and stuffed it under her chin. Crossing her legs like she was at a sleep over, she watched Leela.
“What about?” Avery asked lightly
“About a man and a book?”
Avery’s brow pinched. That didn’t sound like Mikhail. That sounded more like Jericho and his journal, but Leela wouldn’t know about that. It was yet another harpie-related incident that should have long since faded from her friend’s memory.
“No. Why do you ask?”
“Just wondering,” she said. “By the way, I’m going out with Nathan on Saturday for whatever movie they’re gonna play. You should come.”
Avery, dumbfounded, agreed absently.
“How about this?” Avery tilted her head while she examined her reflection in the bathroom mirror. Leela stood behind her and gave her a thorough examination as well.
The blush Avery applied made her cheeks rosy and the gloss made her lips shiny and pink. She’d spent all afternoon beating her curly hair into submission and with Leela’s help, weaving it into a high bun on her head. Bangs dangled to frame her face and her eyes looked huge from the combination of black mascara and liner.
She wasn’t dressing up for any reason in particular but for some well needed bonding time with Leela. Since class took up her days and Mason ate up her nights, she hadn’t gotten much of a chance to touch base with the girl. So far things had been running smoothly. After a little gossip and makeup drills, Avery’s fears about Leela began to fade away.
“Hmm. I like it.” Leela finally gave the thumbs up. “But you should lose the jacket. It’s ruining the outfit. It’s not even cold out!”
Avery rolled her eyes and pulled the black cotton snug around her arms. Inside, the warm temperature didn’t exactly warrant layers but that wasn’t the reason she’d taken to long sleeves. A while ago, when she’d picked up the harpie amulet, it left a tattoo-like decoration up from her palm, over her shoulder, and down to her waist. Though the mark had faded significantly, it still visibly marred her skin and would beg an explanation from anyone who saw it. Avery had taken pains to hide it.
“I don’t know why I’m dressing up. I’m not trying to impress anyone,” Avery pointed out after one more look at the mirror.
“Your boyfriend?” Leela suggested, still on the track that Mason—someone she’d never even met—and Avery were actually dating.
“He’s not my boyfriend,” Avery corrected quickly. “Besides, he’s not here.”
“Did he leave town or something? You should invite him. I don’t understand why you won’t let me meet him,” Leela whined.
She hovered next to the door, blocking the exit and jiggling from foot to foot.
“You can when you break up with Nathan,” Avery offered, knowing it would end the conversation quickly and it did.
Leela gave her a short look.
“Nate’s waiting for us so be nice.”
“I will,” Avery said reluctantly. Nathan may have been Avery’s least favorite person in the world— even compared to Adalyn and Mikhail— but she tolerated him for Leela’s sake. They’d just begun dating last semester and, despite Avery’s hopes, it seemed to be going well. Leela opened the bathroom door and they both walked out.
As a boarding school, Mayweather Academy came equipped with everything that six hundred students, sixty miles north of nowhere, would need to stay entertained. A decked out movie theater with stadium seating, surround sound, and free popcorn were some of those things. A recent blockbuster would be showing tonight and the theater was packed.
It took considerable weaving to maneuver through the jittery crowd. They slipped through the tiny lobby and snaked around a cream colored hallway to where the thick line began. Leaning against the wall was Nate. He wore his classic leather jacket, sported short and slicked back hair and sideways smirk. His brown eyes lit up immediately, but he didn’t let his facial expressions change.
“Leela.” He grinned to his girlfriend but only sent a passing glance Avery’s way. Walking up immediately, he wrapped his arms around her waist and drew her in for a sickeningly wet kiss. After a minute, they finally broke apart.
“I thought it was date night. Why’d you bring her? I never see you anymore,” he asked Leela while holding onto her. Leela rocked backwards, holding his hands but putting some distance between them to stop the overload of PDA.
“She sees you plenty,” Avery injected, though she’d asked her friend the same thing when Leela invited Nate.
“Bullcrap. I haven’t seen her all week and I don’t like being ignored,” Nate harshly snapped.
Avery opened her mouth but hesitated when unable to find a quick retort for that. While any other time she’d relish the idea that Nate and Leela failed to spend time together, she couldn’t understand where Leela’s time got burned up either. She never considered who Leela was going to all those parties with but apparently it wasn’t Nate. That was probably the problem with being so high on the social hierarchy. Leela didn’t explain. Rather, she squeezed Nate’s hands and gave him a careful, small smile.
“Tonight will be fun okay? Just chill out. Anyways, I think I’ll get us some popcorn. I can’t stop thinking about it with the smell in the air,” Leela said.
The atmosphere was thick with buttery popcorn and hot mozzarella sticks. A few breaths of it and Avery’s mind couldn’t think about anything else either. Stomach churning with emptiness, Avery added, “I’m down.”
“Okay. I can get it. Stay in line or we’ll get busted for cutting again.”
Leela didn’t give room to argue, turning and disappearing into the colorful crowd without a look backwards. Avery wrung her hands for a moment before inevitably having to face Nathan. He gave her a dark glare when she did.
“You know, I put up with you because you guys are roommates but stay out of my life. I don’t need you telling Leela to stay away from me anymore.” He stood at his full height, only five inches over Avery and not that intimidating, but the body language was clear. She heard a hush fall over the other people in line. Despite knowing the crowd could overhear, Avery didn’t forfeit the escalating argument.
“I can’t help it. You’re a jerk off, and she may not realize it now, but you’ll end up showing her your true colors.” Avery had once been with Nathan herself and knew it never ended well.
“No, I only treated you badly because you were a bitch.” His words cut deeply and Avery backed off for a second.
The crowd had fallen into silence, no doubt listening to their show down in the middle of the hallway. She didn’t pay attention to that. Memories triggered, she recalled when she’d been with Nathan. Granted it wasn’t as official as Leela and Nathan, they still had something. Avery fell for the pretty boy hard and he shoved it back in her face when he went out with somebody else. Eyes burning, she still remembered the heart twisting, heavy emotion. Avery honestly had moved on, but hearing him disregard her like that wasn’t easy.
“Drop dead, Nathan,” she said, unable to conjure a better retort to voice her rising frustration.
Nate opened his mouth but paused. Eyes darting behind her, he watched someone.
“Yea, I think the movie is going to blow too,” he said abruptly, his tone dropping into something polite but forced.
Avery only understood once she realized that Leela had returned.
“What are you guys talking about?” Leela asked lightly, offering the popcorn around with a circular motion.
“Nothing. Just about how pretty little Avery looks today,” Nathan said, sarcasm dripping so heavy in his voice, it was painful to hear.
“You know, I told her to lose the jacket,” Leela said. Then in a second, it happened. Leela yanked the jacket straight backwards and it slid off of Avery’s shoulders before she even had time to react. Shoulders and arms bare, Avery wrapped her arms around herself but the damage had been done. The graying magical mark stood out predominantly against her lily white skin.
“Ugh, that’s hideous,” Nathan spoke first and most harshly, his tone twisting with palpable disgust.
Cheeks reddening, Avery backed up, twirled to face Leela, and held out a hand to retrieve her jacket.
“Is that a tattoo?” Leela asked. Her brown eyes were glued on the mark and she dangled the black jacket absently in her arms. “Was the ink always that light?”
“No and no. I mean yes. It’s just stupid. Gimme please.” Avery finally nabbed the jacket and immediately covered up her arms before she could bumble more. That wasn’t a rumor she wanted getting around.
“You never told me about that! You’re supposed to tell me everything,” Leela insisted.
One look at Leela’s wide eyes and Avery knew her friend wouldn’t let it go.
“I’ll explain it later, okay?” Avery said. Well, she’d explain something.
The line finally began to move, a slow progression inside the dark theater. Avery backed up, about to walk, when a body smacked into her from behind. She whirled, ready to tell someone off when she froze. Before her stood a harpie. He was tall with wide shoulders—the biggest give away about the species—and he wore a heavy trench coat to hide his wings. He had gold skin that shone too much to be normal and dark black eyes. His hair was trim and short around his ears but it complimented his thin, angular face. He looked over her and then gave her a blindingly white smile.
“Hey, you are a sweetheart. And here I thought I was getting roped into a crappy favor. This could work.”
Dumbfounded, Avery struggled for words. Finally, she caught on. Mason had said someone was coming to protect her. During Avery’s momentary hesitation, Leela pushed around her and faced the stranger.
“Are you Mason?” Leela asked eagerly.
His dark eyes danced over Leela next, taking her in so blatantly that even Avery was embarrassed. Ready to end the situation, she didn’t let him speak.
“No, he’s not,” Avery said and pushed him backwards— no easy task when he didn’t want to move, but she managed to isolate him in a corner. The line had continued to file inside the theater leaving the hallway mercifully desolate.
“Rough and pretty,” he grumbled when she gave one last shove that sent him smoothly into the drywall.
Bright pink now, she shook her head. Avery had managed to put a hearty gap between Nathan, Leela, and themselves. Able to talk more freely, she spoke quietly.
“You’re the new— you’re Mason’s friend?”
The playfulness drained from his face and was replaced by a more serious and bored look. He folded his bulky arms over his chest and shrugged.
“Adalyn’s friend,” he pointed out. “But yes. I was sent here to be with you.”
Luckily, he didn’t use the word “babysit” but he didn’t need to since it amounted to the same thing. Avery cast a quick glance backwards. Nate, clearly uninterested, already began to walk for the movie’s red entrance doors. Leela hovered between the doors and the hallway, looking between the two. Surround sound booming, the vibrations of the movie reached into the hallway.
“Look, I appreciate it, but you can’t be here. People can’t know you are here,” Avery said.
He wasn’t a member of the high school— in fact, he looked much too old to be in high school. It wouldn’t take long for her classmates to put the pieces together and start asking questions. His eyes slid around like he was looking for a visual explanation.
“How am I supposed to watch you if I can’t be here?”
“Look, just give me a second and go stand outside. Just outside.” She pointed out the window where a few benches rested underneath a large pine tree. White snow piled on the concrete pavement but the weather had warmed, so sitting outside wouldn’t be a burden. His black eyes followed her index finger to where she’d indicated.
“I don’t want to. And you can’t make me,” he said shortly.
Avery let out a frustrated growl and the pressure behind her eyes grew.
He seemed to consider that. After a moment he smiled slyly.
“I’ll do it for the pretty girl then.”
Avery gratefully watched him go. Her headache had grown and her cheeks burned when he kept dropping the pretty girl statement. He wasn’t like Mason— that was for sure. Unable to mull on it, she turned and caught up with Leela.
The small girl vibrated with excitement and the dying need for a good bit of gossip. Brown eyes wide, she looked between Avery and the door outside. Avery could hear it open and shut with a firm clack, indicating that the harpie was officially out of earshot.
“Who was that? And what was up with him?” Leela demanded to know.
“He’s just a friend that’s visiting for awhile.”
“While Mason is out of town? Wow, what are you doing?” She pressed a hand against her painted lips but Avery could tell she was grinning.
“It’s not like that. Anyways, I’m going to have to skip out on the movie. Nathan will appreciate it.”
Leela shrugged, uncaring. She kept pressing for answers.
“Okay. But will you tell me more about the new guy? I’m in the need-to-know.”
Avery glanced behind her. Outside the doors, he hovered by the benches. His wings twitched, making his trench coat shake conspicuously, as he paced around the giant trees.
“I don’t know much about him myself. He’s just visiting while Mason’s out of town.”
Leela pouted but fell back a step.
“Okay, fine. Talk later?”
Avery nodded and then split off, hurrying outside to where the new harpie hovered. Luckily, the courtyard remained desolate. The air was chilly but not too cold. Avery drew her cotton jacket around her shoulders.
He’d finally settled in the corner of the courtyard, head tilted upward toward the sky. The Northern Lights, a collection of vibrant colors, danced and twisted in the dark sky. Usually too polluted by city lights to be visible, it was the first time they’d shown up in awhile and likely the first time the harpie had seen them.
“This place is strange. It’s strange to really be outside again after so long,” he admitted after finally dragging his eyes away.
“It’s different, but you’ll get used to it. Look, I didn’t mean to make our first meeting awkward but humans aren’t too keen on the whole harpie thing.” She stuck a hand out. “My name’s Avery.”
He eclipsed her hand in his own and squeezed.
“My name is Patrick. It is a pleasure to meet you.” He dragged out the word “pleasure” a bit too much. Swooping down, he shifted her hand and kissed her open palm. In romance books, that gesture was endearing but it played out a bit creepier in reality.
Avery finally took her hand away and quickly stuffed it into her pocket.
“I didn’t have high expectations for this job. But now it seems like a shame that I won’t be able to stay here longer,” Patrick said.
Avery tried to ignore the continuous undertones. Rather, she focused on the first part of his statement.
“How long are you going to be here for?”
“Two weeks tops.”
Relief washed through her body.
“Mason’s coming back in two weeks?”
A shadow flashed across his face but was gone before she could study it. His posture suddenly altered and he shifted foot to foot. The entire change was small and virtually unnoticeable, but something about it caught Avery’s attention. Concern mildly piqued, she waited for him to answer.
“I don’t like the snow,” he said, changing subjects. The white flurries falling from the sky had increased in number. Avery let the bad feeling go. Instead, she jerked her head towards the center of campus.
“Come on. We’ll go inside.”
Avery crossed the campus in a hurry with Patrick by her side. The wind picked up and the temperature had inevitably dropped. Students still lingered by the marble water fountain and the wrought iron gates of her dormitory, Crepuscule Hall. Patrick already stood out and she didn’t like attracting more eyes. Drawing the hood of her jacket up, she pointed him down the long staircase that led to the entrance of her home.
“Down there, to the left. The staff shouldn’t be around so we can warm up inside,” she said, though strongly suspected that Patrick didn’t care either way.
Since they’d left the theater, his eyes picked out every aspect of the campus. He particularly seemed to enjoy the massive mountains in the backdrop and the green ivy that crept up the walls, despite the frosty season. The place was extremely different from the harpie home base— a place that Avery had the pleasure of seeing a few months back. Where Mayweather Academy had bomb shelter worthy brick buildings, the harpie island had tropical huts and little roofing to block out the sky. Where the harpies valued openness, Mayweather Academy harvested gates and locked doors to keep them cut off from the world.
They made it down the steps in a hurry. Patrick’s long strides made Avery jog to keep up. They crossed over the lawn and reached the door. Inside, the halls remained silent and thankfully empty. Avery snuck in quietly but Patrick couldn’t manage to keep his mouth shut.
“What’s the deal with the gates? Are you guys locked in here at night?” his voice cut sharply through the silent halls.
“It’s not a prison,” Avery said while jimmying the knob. Patrick fidgeted oddly, despite what she’d said. Trying to force a reassuring smile, she finally opened the door to her room, ushered him inside, and hit the light. The room illuminated and the heat pumped through the vents. Avery gestured to the desk chair but Patrick sprung onto her bed. Folding his legs, he sat contently.
Avery knew Leela would be at the movie for at least a few hours so they had time to chill. Letting him have the bed, she sat by her desk.
Patrick suddenly spoke.
“So, what is Mason to you?”
Taken off guard, Avery did a double take.
“What?” she spit out as an instant reaction.
“Don’t stress. I’m not going to tell Adalyn.” He held his hand to his heart and gave her a sideways smile.
“I’m not worried about that. Mason and I aren’t anything,” she said immediately. She managed to keep her tone down but didn’t care to look at Patrick anymore. Eyes floating toward the right, she spotted some overdue homework. Grabbing a pen, she began to write out a few absent thoughts— honestly anything to keep busy. She could feel his dark eyes flutter over her form and see his broad shoulders draw into his body.
“So you’re telling me he stays here with a pretty girl like you and you guys are just friends. Really really?” His tone remained high with some hint of amusement and intrigue weaved into his voice.
Avery refused to look at him, hoping he’d stop if she continued to ignore him. She’d had people ask her a million times about her relationship with Mason. She hadn’t grown used to it, just sicker of it. Scrawling on the paper, she gave the weakest and most unconcerned shrug she could.
“Are you sure you’re not holding out to be something more?” He abruptly got off the bed and inched closer. So close, she couldn’t ignore him. Avery finally looked up at his towering form.
“Why won’t you get off this?”
“I’m sorry. I’m not trying to embarrass you, girl. I’m just trying to see if you’re available. I’ve been out of the game for a long time and now I’m testing my options. Interested?” He smiled again, more slyly. Lowering his eyelids and giving her a stare that cut all the way down to her bones, he posed his body forward until every one of his muscles became apparent against his tight shirt.
She didn’t need a psychology degree to do a quick evaluation of his character. Patrick didn’t know her but hit on her relentlessly. He even eyed Leela in the theater with the same appraising look he gave her now. Major playboy, Avery decided, and she wouldn’t go for that type.
“Look, I think you’re getting the wrong idea here. I’m not, this isn’t-” Avery forced herself to stop and take a breath before she could stutter more. “No, thanks.”
“So you just don’t date. Saving yourself or just crushing on another guy?” Patrick was quick to question her logic.
More flustered than she would have liked, Avery turned away and kept at her paper. The black pen she wrote with began to dry up. Knowing it wouldn’t last her another second, Avery stood and trashed the pen.
“Hey, I don’t know you well enough to have a moment here! Anyways, it’s neither!” she said to him, having to maneuver swiftly so she wouldn’t bump into him.
Reaching for her desk, she dug around for a pen. Her desk had been stacked high with paper, broken pencils, and empty soda cans. Hands shaking, she shifted chaotically through the mess. Cursing her luck, she backed up. Her eyes shifted toward Leela’s desk and she acted on it without thinking. Leela’s wooden desk remained spotless. Papers had been filed carefully with blue and purple paperclips to divide up the stack. Avery couldn’t spot pencils on top so she went for the drawer. Grabbing the handle, she yanked.
“If you can’t give me a good answer, then I don’t have to leave you alone about it,” Patrick said childishly.
Avery didn’t answer, frozen. Completely forgetting about Patrick, she stared before her. Inside Leela’s drawer, dead set in the middle of the organized paper, rested an amulet. It had an iridescent blue fog twisting just below the glass surface. Avery finally twitched. Reaching out, she gathered the warm amulet in her hands.
“This−”she said but stopped short, unable to finish that thought.
He peered around her shoulder, reached out, and fingered the angled glass.
“It’s a communication amulet. Why are you freaking out?”
Moving stiffly, Avery dropped the amulet back into the desk and shut the drawer with a firm click. She backed into Patrick, the impact helping her stir from the daze, and then twisted around to face her bed.
“You don’t understand,” she said, face white and body cold. “Leela shouldn’t have that.”
Patrick looked around the room for some clue. Finding none, he looked back toward Avery.
“Why not?” he asked carefully.
Avery let out a gasping breath. Pressing her hand to her heart, she forced herself to breathe. Blood still pounded in her ears and her shoulders trembled.
“Look, a few months ago harpies kidnapped Leela. She was compelled and she shouldn’t have any memory of it. She shouldn’t even know what harpies are! So why does she have a harpie amulet? Who could she be talking to?” Avery was trying to whisper but failed when hysteria crept into her voice.
Leela hadn’t mentioned anything to Avery and it seemed like harpies would be a big detail on her mind. Avery couldn’t grasp the idea. Patrick, on the other hand, didn’t look as surprised as he should have.
“Did you ever consider the chance that they left it with her but she doesn’t know what it is?”
Avery wrapped her arms around herself.
“Maybe,” she admitted after a moment. “Why would they want her to call them? Especially if she doesn’t know how to use it.”
“Then why are you whining? Confront her on it.”
Patrick’s tone dropped and he strolled to the corner of the room next to the half open window. His muscles tensed and his smile had long since faded. Avery knew she may have ruined the moment, but this was more important.
“I should call Mason. He’ll need to know,” Avery decided out loud.
Patrick suddenly turned and was on her in seconds. Towering above her, he snatched Avery’s phone from her fingers before she had a chance to react. He held the metal tightly until it squeaked in protest. Talons now visible and full height intimidating, he looked down on her.
“No.” He licked his lips. “No, no calling Mason. I don’t need trouble.”
Thrown by the abrupt change in events, Avery held her hands up as a sign of innocence.
“Hey, I’m not saying that it’s your fault or you failed. I just need to talk to him.” With quite a bit of effort, she kept her voice at bay. Harpies had notoriously bipolar tempers and she wouldn’t bait him.
“Have you ever considered that he doesn’t want you to call him? He’s a fugitive in our world and he doesn’t need any attention drawn to him while he’s over there. Consider that, girlie.”
“Okay,” Avery measured her words carefully, and her hazel eyes kept studying his ever changing posture intently. “I won’t. Please just let me have my phone back. You’re going to break it.”
His eyebrows lifted an inch.
“I’m not stupid. The second I leave, you’ll dial him.”
Avery stayed immobile. The atmosphere had already filled with thick tension and she was witnessing a short fuse. His hand still held her phone tightly, far above where she could reach it. Her hand twitched and she felt the familiar simmer of magic beneath her skin. A few months ago, after she accidently gained the magic of the Willow amulet into her body, she could actually use the magic as a powerful weapon. She’d taken out harpies twice Patrick’s size and with practice, survived an all out harpie massacre. Times had changed since then. The magic still pulsed beneath her skin but it hadn’t grown much inside of her body. Mason also harvested half of the magic— if not more. Avery knew using it was risky at best. Options raced through her mind, but none of them good, she didn’t fight.
“Okay,” she whispered.
Patrick smirked and twirled the metal device in his hands. In a quick motion, he dropped the phone into his pocket and the device disappeared. Avery watched it go. She knew Mason’s number by heart. But that wasn’t a detail she’d mention to Patrick.
“I’m trying to be nice to you,” he said after a moment. “I’m trying to be friends with you. Shoot doll, I wouldn’t mind being more than friends with you. But I cannot, I will not, fail at my job because of a human girl’s stupid actions.”
Avery nodded. Throat closing, she backed up a step. The tiny and slow motion didn’t make him react. Clenching her fist, she forced the magic simmering beneath her skin to calm and dissipate.
“Fine. Just... there’s always a possibility that I’m in danger, here and now. Leela having this amulet...it can’t be good news,” Avery bit out. There was one more possibility on how Leela had acquired that amulet— a darker and more horrifying one that Avery had yet to consider and one she didn’t want to face.
“You don’t trust me?” he asked the painfully rhetorical question.
Avery jumped when a sudden knock came at the door. She whirled to face it. They didn’t have peepholes so she couldn’t peer into the hall. Either way, any human meant Patrick had to go. She danced around him, slipped to the window, and lifted the heavy glass open. A cripplingly chilly gust met her face and froze her fingers. She backed up, dusted the powdered snow off of the sill, and looked toward him.
“Please go. I have to answer that.”
He frowned but didn’t argue. The loud knock came again, except this time more persistent.
“Fine,” he said shortly. “I’ll see you around.”
She maneuvered out of the way and watched him crawl through the gap. The harpie even had some height on Mason so the fit wasn’t an easy one. Once he cleared it, she happily slammed the window shut. The door came next and Avery composed herself before opening it.
She blinked when the bright hallway lights reached her. At first her guest resembled a blurry shadow before her eyes finally adjusted. She recognized Nathan.
“How was the movie?” Avery asked automatically.
Nate rocked back on his expensive boots and earned her attention again with a grunt.
“I didn’t watch it. Leela bailed early.” He made a face and changed the subject. “Look, we don’t need to do the chit-chat thing. Leela still has my jacket and I need it back.”
“She’s not here.” Avery opened the door wider to reveal the rest of the room. Leela’s bed, up against the wall closest to the door, remained made and empty. Nate took a half hearted glance.
“She said she was coming to see you half an hour ago.” He made a gesture to his silver wristwatch. “The campus isn’t that big.”
Avery agreed but that’s not what had her at a loss for words. She’d already been panicking about Leela. This wasn’t a good update.
“Did she call you?” he asked, prompting her to snap out of the trance.
Patrick had taken her phone but Avery doubted that there would have been a call anyways—especially if Nate and Leela left the theater over half an hour ago.
“No. I haven’t heard from her since we split in the theater.” Avery wrapped her fingers around the doorframe and squeezed. Nate bit his lip. Face red and eyes cast down to the garish carpet, he folded his arms and asked the inevitable question.
“Is she out with another guy?”
Avery sputtered out a quick answer.
“No, Nate, chill,” she said, but he interrupted her before she could finish.
“Don’t tell me to chill! She told me she’d be here with you. How many times has she told you she was hanging out with me but lied? She’s telling us both that! Get it dumb girl? That’s why neither of us see her at all.”
Avery shut her mouth. Digging her nails into the wood, she held herself up. Feeling light headed, she thought it over. Leela had a real racket going. Avery would never talk to Nathan to confirm her location. Nathan wouldn’t expect Avery to tell him anything either. The idea had been thought out and thought out well but it wasn’t fool proof.
“Say something,” he growled to finally stir a reaction from her.
“I’m not sure what’s going on with her. But let me talk to her first, okay? I don’t think she’s cheating on you.” Correction, Avery didn’t think it was as easy as that.
She mumbled a few more reassurances to Nathan and then sent him off. Closing the door and sealing the room in darkness, she let out a long breath. One thing was sure. Leela was lying. And it couldn’t have been over anything good.
© Copyright 2011 by Constance Sharper