“You sure you’re feeling better?” Stacey asked as she paced back and forth while I dragged my textbooks out of my locker. “You look like you’re about to fall over.”
“Yeah, I feel great.” I forced a smile that probably came off creepy as I slung my bag over my shoulder. There was barely any pain from where the Warden had sliced me, which reminded me that, as of this morning, Tomas was still missing.
Bambi stretched around my stomach.
“So are you excited?” Stacey asked, looping her arm through mine.
My throat felt as if I’d swallowed a hairball. “Excited about what?”
“About Roth,” she said in a high-pitched squeal that made my ears ache. “About him being back.”
The deadly butterflies started chomping away. Between the prospect of returning to school and what had happened the past two nights, I’d barely gotten a wink of sleep. I’d secretly hoped Zayne would skip demon duties and stay with me, but he hadn’t and it would’ve been überwrong to ask.
“And please don’t get mad at me, because I don’t really know what went down between you two, but he looked hella hot yesterday.”
My heart spasmed. Great. I guess hoping for him to get a mad case of facial herpes was asking for too much. “Not that excited,” I said finally.
She was quiet as we made our way down the hall. The oddness of not seeing shimmery souls trailing after students distracted me from my impending face-off with Roth.
“Do you want me to take out a hit on him?” she asked finally. “I don’t know people, but I bet Sam would be able to find us hit men on the internet.”
I laughed loudly. “He probably would, but no. That’s okay.”
“Well, if you change your mind...” She slipped around me, opening the door to bio. I already knew, even before I walked in, that he wasn’t in the room yet. “Sisters before the misters and all that jazz.”
Smiling in spite of my nerves, I took my seat in the back of the class. Mrs. Cleo was still a no-show, and at the front of the class, Mr. Tucker was doing his best to ignore the adoring gazes of the girls sitting in the front row.
Stacey sat beside me as I pulled my textbook out and the class filled up. I busied myself picking out a pen from my horde, settling on a purple one that looked as though it had taken a bath in glitter...or with Ke$ha.
The scent was the first thing I noticed. That sinfully dark, slightly sweet aroma teased my senses. My fingers tightened around the pen as the entire atmosphere shifted in the class. Not with tension; I’d never noticed it before, but it was like the last day before break whenever Roth was near—that lackadaisical feeling of who cares followed him everywhere.
Tiny hairs on the back of my neck rose, and I knew he was near. Not just because Stacey had stiffened beside me. It was a sixth sense that was aware of him on a deep, intimate level.
I didn’t look up as I heard the chair legs drag across the floor in front of our desk, but he was so close and that damn poignant ache took hold again, seizing up my throat and chest. I didn’t want to hurt over him, and I wished I could fast-forward to the part when the piercing ache was just a minor annoyance.
“Good to see you didn’t join a cult.”
At the sound of his deep, velvety-rich voice, a series of shivers spread across my skin. I took a deep breath and immediately regretted it. His scent was everywhere, and I could practically taste him. Against my will, my head lifted and my brain jumped out the nearby window.
Roth stared down at me with those amber-colored eyes surrounded by thick, black lashes. His hair was an artful mess, caressing the arches of his brows. His full lips weren’t curved in the smirk I thought would’ve accompanied that statement.
I didn’t say anything and after a few seconds, his lips pursed and he turned, sitting down. A pang lit up my chest as I stared at his back. Under the faded blue shirt he wore, his shoulders were unnaturally stiff, and it should’ve given me an indecent amount of satisfaction to know he was uncomfortable. And who knew a Crown Prince of Hell could be uncomfortable in the first place? But realizing he was didn’t make me feel better.
Stacey stretched over and scribbled “hit man?” on my notebook.
I smiled and shook my head. She shrugged and turned her attention to the Hottie McHotters sub. I tried to focus on how good-looking he was with his brown hair and boyish grin as he fiddled with the overhead projector, but all I could think about was that Roth was sitting in front of me as if he hadn’t been sent to Hell two weeks ago or shared anything of any importance with me.
Thank God and the McDonald’s down the street from the high school that today was Friday. At least I wouldn’t be forced to endure two more days of seeing Roth and I’d have a break, because bio was the longest class of my life, even worse than history.
When the bell rang, I shot out of my seat like a mini rocket, shoving my books back into my bag as I walked out of class. Stacey was right behind me, and I liked to think that she wouldn’t hold my hasty departure against me. Spying Sam at the end of the hall, getting a drink of water from one of the fountains, I breathed a sigh of relief as he looked up, smiling as he waved at me. I was kind of surprised that he didn’t have tiny drops of water all over his hoodie like he normally would after attempting to drink from one of the fountains, but I made a beeline for him.
I only made it halfway.
The door to the chemistry classroom swung open, nearly smacking me in the face. I stumbled back a step, eyes welling up as the pungent odor of rotten eggs spilled out in the hallways.
“Not again!” another kid exclaimed, smacking his hands over his mouth.
I wasn’t sure if he was referencing the horrible stench of the zombie we’d had in the boiler room a month or so ago, or from what happened to the demon Raum after Roth had turned him to a cloud of stinky smoke that night in the gym, but it didn’t matter.
A teacher raced out into the hall, gagging as he waved his hands across his face. Seconds later, another teacher stormed out of the classroom. The ends of her blond hair were fried—literally scorched and blackened. Worse yet, her eyebrows were totally gone. Gray smudges covered half her ruddy face.
“Nice,” murmured Roth, who had somehow, and probably as a result of the laws of the universe, ended up next to me. Dammit. “That’s what we’d call a hot mess.”
I shot him a scathing glare and then stepped around him, willing to inhale whatever carcinogens could possibly be in the smoke wafting out of the room. But he snagged my sweater, hauling me back. I bounced off his rock-hard chest and started to turn, seconds from slamming my fist into his stomach because it would’ve felt really good to do so when the no-eyebrows teacher zipped through the smoke.
Roth’s hand slid up my back. “Careful, shortie, she’s on a mission.”
“Don’t touch me.” Yanking away from him, I ignored the flicker of emotion that tightened his lips. “And don’t call me that.” I turned just in time to see her take a flying leap at someone. “What the...?”
She tackled the other teacher.
Like jumped on his back and brought him down to his knees. Right there. In the middle of the hall, full of gaping students and faculty. Brought him down, cocked back an arm and punched the dude right between the legs.
“I’m beginning to think we’re attending the most cray-cray school in North America,” Stacey said at lunch, holding her chicken nugget between two black-painted nails. “I mean, we have teachers taking nut shots at each other in the hallways.”
Sam winced as he dropped his crinkle fry back onto his tray. “Yeah, that was pretty crazy.”
It was more than just crazy. Between the fight in our bio class and now this, in the span of less than a few days, something else had to be going on. And the couple I’d seen making out in the hallway without interruption? I nibbled on my nugget, hoping my suspicions weren’t true, but a Lilin had supposedly been born and one of the signs of a Lilin’s presence was strange behavior, right? But if it was a Lilin behind Dean’s anger, the couple in the hallway and the teacher today, then that was four people that were close to becoming wraiths. The weight of that possible disaster killed my appetite.
I glanced over my shoulder, wishing once again I could see the auras. Those affected by the Lilin would have to have appeared different, what was left of their souls tainted somehow. But I saw nothing and that meant I was virtually useless.
My stomach dipped as I placed the half-eaten nugget on my plate. Could my sudden loss of ability have anything to do with the Lilin? That would mean I’d been in its vicinity.
No. There was no way. I would know if I was around something that shared the blood of my mother and me. There had to be another reason, but as I poked the nugget around my plate, my stomach soured.
“What are you guys doing after school?” Sam asked, and when I looked up, he’d scarfed down everything on his plate. The boy and his appetite had to be legendary. “I was thinking we could grab something to eat. The three of us.”
Stacey glanced at me with hopeful eyes. “I’m not on baby-brother duty until tomorrow, so I know I can. Layla?”
Considering how Abbot had acted last night, he probably wanted me to come straight home. Which meant it was the last thing I wanted. “Yeah, just let me text Zayne and let him know.” I was so not texting Nicolai. “I don’t think it should be a problem.”
“You should invite him!” She clapped her hands like a seal on crack.
A brow rose above Sam’s glasses and I almost pooh-poohed the idea, but I grabbed my cell and decided what the Hell. The worst Zayne could say was no. Wouldn’t be the first time. “I’ll ask.”
Stacey shot Sam a look of surprise as I sent my text.
Stacey & Sam want to grab food after school. U want 2 join us?
I placed the cell on the table near my plate, not expecting a quick response. Zayne should be asleep now. Some days he wasn’t, but who knew?
“You think he’ll come?” Sam asked, fiddling with his fork.
I shrugged. “Probably not.”
“Well, if he does, you can’t ask him for an interview.” Stacey pointed her bottle of water at him. “Or act like a fan boy. It will scare him off and he’ll never come out and play with us again.”
Sam chuckled. “I won’t act like a fan boy.”
That was doubtful. The couple of times Sam had been around Zayne in the past, he’d gawked at him in open wonder. I couldn’t blame him. The Wardens didn’t mingle with humans a lot. Most didn’t even know that some of the very ordinary people they saw on the streets, in shops or restaurants were Wardens.
Stacey grinned. “Any idea of where—”
“I am?” came a deep voice that caused my heart to skip and my stomach to drop at the same time. “I’m right here.”
No way—no way in Hell was Roth at our table. A wicked sense of déjà vu smacked me upside the head. It was like the first time Roth had appeared in my life, and I couldn’t believe he’d had the audacity to seek us out at lunch. And here we were again.
My lips thinned as he sat down beside me without an invite or response. Instead of having one of the orange plastic trays in his hand, he carried a McDonald’s bag. His mouth curled up at the corner as he pulled out a small white bag. “Fry?”
I took a deep breath. “No.”
“I’ll take one.” Sam reached across the table and snatched up a couple of the offered fries. “Glad you’re back. Mono sucks. I had it when I— Ow!” His eyes widened as he faced Stacey.
She gave him a pointed glare.
Not bothered at all by the exchange, Roth placed the bag of fries between us, near my phone, and then pulled out a cheeseburger. “Yeah, mono was Hell. Like being chained to a bed.”
I almost choked.
My cell phone vibrated and Zayne’s response popped up on the screen. Before I could grab it, Roth had it in his nimble fingers. “I’ll pick you up and we’ll head over there.” He arched a brow. “Together?”
Stringing together a chorus of mental curses, I yanked the cell out of his hands. “It’s rude to read someone’s messages.”
“Yes,” Stacey replied. “But I’m glad to hear that Zayne is joining us for dinner.”
Roth’s lip curled and a second passed. “Me, too.”
Unable to help myself, I snorted.
His eyes narrowed on me.
“Dinner?” Sam frowned. “I thought we were going straight after school? And I was thinking of the Italian place down the street. Not really dinner—”
“Sam,” Stacey sighed.
Roth grinned then. “Anyway, back to me. I’m all better and I am back.” He slid me a sly look that made me want to punch him instead of cry into my pillow like a baby. “I’m sure I was missed.” He took a big bite of the hamburger and grinned around the mouthful. “A lot.”
I didn’t know what happened that switched my emotions so fast. The hurt his rejection had left behind exploded into rage—like the head-spinning, spraying-green-vomit kind of rage. My brain clicked off. I wasn’t thinking as I reached over and plucked the hamburger right out of his hand. Twisting at the waist, I threw the hamburger on the floor behind Roth as hard as I could. The satisfactory splat it made as ketchup and mayo splattered like a gruesome burger massacre brought a wide smile to my face.
Stacey let out a burst of shocked laughter.
Roth glanced down at the hamburger and then his gaze slowly tracked back to mine. His eyes were wide. “But I really wanted that hamburger.”