The bedroom door swung open, slamming into the wall with a force that rattled the room like a clap of thunder. Zayne sprung off me and onto the floor in seconds. He whirled around and I sat up, tugging up my shirt with my heart in my throat. We were so busted, and we were going to be in so much trouble.
But when I lifted my gaze, there was no one in the doorway, nothing behind the door except the long, dark hall and all the shadows of the night.
Zayne crossed the room, grasping the edge of the door as he peered out into the hallway. As he straightened and closed the door, he shook his head. “Nothing’s here.”
I shivered as a cold, almost icy breeze wafted over my skin. I glanced around the room, seeing nothing abnormal. “That’s...” I cleared my throat. “That’s weird.”
He thrust his fingers through his hair—fingers that had just been touching me. He turned back to me, his chest rising and falling heavily. He started to take a step toward me, but halted. The way he looked at me...my entire body flushed. “I...I should probably leave.”
I didn’t want him to. I wanted him to come back to me, but it wouldn’t be smart and the most intelligent thing would be to let him walk away from this room. Tugging the blanket up, I force myself to nod.
Zayne stared at me a moment longer and then swallowed hard before he turned and quietly slipped out of the room. I stayed where I was as the cold reality of the situation came back. No matter how I felt for him or him for me, pursuing anything with Zayne was dangerous.
And it could never be.
“I knew it!”
I stared at Stacey as she peered into the tiny mirror attached to her locker door and combed her fingers through her bangs. The need to talk to someone about what went down with Zayne had led me to practically tackle Stacey first thing Monday morning. I’d told her everything as quietly and as quickly as possible, starting with Danika and ending with all the bared-chested goodness. Minus the tattoo part.
“How did you know it?”
She passed me a knowing look. “Well, the way he treated Roth, it was pretty obvious that the guy isn’t into you being with anyone else.”
I stepped out of the way of a girl hurrying down the hall. “He just doesn’t like Roth.”
Stacey rolled her eyes. “And it makes sense why he’d finally make a move. He’s got competition.”
My lips formed an O. I hadn’t really thought of it that way. Could it be that Zayne was finally seeing me as something other than the little girl hiding in the closet because of Roth? Or had he always seen me differently and was acting upon it now that he thought someone else was in the picture?
I told myself it didn’t matter because we couldn’t be together. Abbot would stroke out and we couldn’t even kiss, but still, it occupied my thoughts as we started toward biology.
“It shouldn’t be so hard for you to believe that Zayne is attracted to you. You’re a really pretty girl, Layla. The kind that guys—”
“Don’t say the kind that guys want to be in their pockets, because that’s just weird.”
Stacey laughed as she bumped me with her hip. “Okay. I’m just saying that this thing with Zayne isn’t rocket science. It’s not as if Danika is setting you up or something and Zayne—” she lowered her voice “—he touched you in a totally nonplatonic manner. It’s simple. Go for it.”
Go for it.
I shook my head even as my heart started pounding. “It’s complicated.”
“No, it’s not.” Stopping in front of the bio door, her eyes widened. “I have the most perfect idea ever in the history of ideas.”
I arched a brow. Coming from Stacey, that was kind of scary and probably involved the potential for jail time. “What?”
“You know how you totally set up Sam and me for the movies over Thanksgiving break?” Her eyes glimmered with excitement. “You should invite Zayne and make it clear—a movie date.”
“Movie date?” drawled a deep voice. We turned to see Roth smirking down at us. “How cute. Who’s going to be paying for popcorn?”
Irritation pricked at my skin as I stared into his mocking amber eyes. The fact that I hadn’t noticed that he was near was testament to how discombobulated I was. Heck, I was so out of it that I was using words like discombobulated. “Eavesdropping is rude.”
He shrugged a shoulder. “Blocking the door to class is also rude.”
“Whatever.” I turned, ready to usher Stacey inside, when he stopped me.
“Actually, I want to borrow you for a second,” he said, glancing at Stacey, who was in the process of giving him a very scary evil eye. “If that’s okay with you?”
Stacey folded her arms. “I doubt she wants to be borrowed by you.”
“Truest thing ever spoken,” I said, smiling tightly.
“I think she’ll change her mind.” Roth stared at me meaningfully. “It’s important.”
Which meant Lilin or demon or Warden or something else I really didn’t want to deal with. I sighed as I stepped to the side. Stacey gaped at me, and I winced. “It’s okay.”
She narrowed her eyes at Roth. “Don’t make me hate you more.”
Roth’s brows rose as she stalked into bio class. “What did you tell her about me?”
I shrugged. “Actually, I didn’t tell her much of anything. She must’ve put two and two together all on her own and come up with you being a jerk face.”
His gaze slid back to me and he grinned. “Ouch, shortie.”
“Yeah, like that really bothered you.” I glanced back through the small window in the door that led to bio. Mr. Tucker was already at his desk—was Mrs. Cleo ever coming back?—and we only had a minute, tops, before the tardy bell rang. “What did you want?”
Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a thin slip of yellow paper, waving it in my face. “Guess what I found?”
“Obviously not a better personality,” I remarked.
“Ha. Funny.” He brushed the edge of the paper across my nose and smiled when I smacked it away. “I got Dean’s home address.”
“Oh. Wow. That was quick.”
I didn’t want to ask how he’d gotten it. I was sure it involved him waltzing into the main office and doing something unsavory. I reached for the address, but he snatched his hand away. I frowned. “I need the address so Zayne and I can go check it out.”
“You and Stony?” Roth laughed as he slipped the paper back in his pocket.
My eyes narrowed. “Yes.”
“You think you’re going to have fun without me? Think again. We’re going to have a threesome.” He grinned wickedly when I rolled my eyes. “Today. After school. You and your gargoyle boy toy can meet me outside.”
I wanted to say no, but he winked at me and patted his pocket as he turned and headed into bio.
This should be real fun.
* * *
From the moment Roth climbed into the back of the Impala, I knew that this little impromptu trip would end badly. Even if the two of them could agree that we all needed to work together, no one was going to make it easy.
It wasn’t as if they were expected to join hands and sing “Kumbaya” together.
It was already awkward between Zayne and me. Adding Roth into the mix just made it about ten times more painful. If Zayne thought I’d been ignoring him on Saturday, there was no doubt that I had been Sunday. I didn’t know how to even look at him without every square inch of my body blushing.
“We have about three more blocks to go. He lives in one of those old brownstones,” Roth said, an arm resting on the back of each of our seats. “But that is if you could, I don’t know, drive at a speed that doesn’t take us the rest of the year to get there.”
“Shut up,” Zayne replied.
“Just saying,” he went on. “I’m pretty sure the kid Dean pile-drived into the floor with a punch can walk faster than we’re driving.”
“Shut up,” I said.
I caught his narrowed gaze in the rearview mirror and smiled widely at him. He sat back, a petulant pinch taking over his features. Roth remained quiet the rest of the trip. Zayne found the brownstone and we were able to squeeze into a parking space a few doors down.
Brown and golden leaves swayed softly in the breeze as we made our way down the sidewalk. The steps leading up to the stoop were weathered and cracked, as was the facade of the brownstone.
Zayne stepped around Roth and picked up the iron knocker, ignoring the disgruntled look the prince sent his way.
“Knock it off,” I murmured to Roth as the door opened.
An older woman appeared. Her thick red hair was pulled back, but several shorter curls were sticking up all around the crown of her head. Fine lines surrounded her brown eyes and pale pink lips. She looked tired, haggard really, and as her gaze moved between Zayne to Roth and then back again, she smoothed a hand over her gray cable-knit sweater.
“Can...can I help you?” she asked, finally settling weary eyes on me.
“Yes. We’re...um, friends of Dean’s and we wanted to see if we could talk to him for a few moments,” I told her.
She folded her hands over the edges of the sweater, tugging them close to her body. “Dean is not able to see anyone right now. I’m sorry, but you’ll have to come back when he’s not grounded for life.”
“See, that’s problematic for us,” Roth replied smoothly as he edged Zayne out of the way. The moment Mrs. McDaniel locked eyes with Roth, the strained lines of her face relaxed. When he spoke again, his voice was as smooth as chocolate syrup. “We need to talk to Dean. Now.”
Zayne stiffened as he glanced at Roth, but he didn’t say anything, because unless we were planning on bum-rushing the house, a little demonic persuasion was needed.
And it worked.
Nodding slowly, she stepped aside and when she spoke, her voice was soft and reedy. “He’s upstairs. The second bedroom to the left. Would you like something to drink? Cookies?”
Roth opened his mouth, but I stepped forward. “No. That won’t be necessary.”
His face fell.
Mrs. McDaniel nodded once more and then turned, drifting off through a doorway, humming “Paradise City” under her breath.
My stomach landed somewhere near my knees at the familiar tune. I hadn’t heard Roth humming since he’d been back, and for a moment, all I could do was stare at him.
“I really would’ve liked a cookie,” Roth muttered, taking the stairs two at a time.
Zayne rolled his eyes. “Too bad.”
Snapping out of it, I followed the boys up the stairs. The hall was narrow and dimly lit. Old beige wallpaper peeled along the white molding. As we neared the second door on the left, a feeling of unease curled along my spine and an odd pressure circled my neck, choking. There was a heaviness to the air, like a suffocating wool blanket on a steamy summer day. I glanced over at Zayne and saw that by his tense shoulders, he was feeling it, too.
The feeling was that of evil, pure evil. There was no other way to describe it.
When Roth opened the door without even bothering to knock, the feeling increased. The Warden part of me was itchy to get away from this stink or to eliminate it, but the demon part? It was curious.
Both guys stopped in front of me, blocking my view of the room. I had to peer around Zayne to see anything. The room was one giant contradiction. Half of it was tidy. Books stacked neatly, papers tucked away in binders that looked as though someone had gone a little crazy with a label maker. A small stool sat before a telescope pointed toward the window. The other side of the room looked as if a hurricane had whipped through. Clothing was strewn across the floor. Half-eaten cartons of Chinese were thrown haphazardly in a moon chair. A pile of Mountain Dew bottles nearly reached the edges of the bed.
And on the bed was Dean McDaniel.
He was lying on his back, wearing only his plain socks and blue boxers. Headphones covered his ears and his feet moved to a beat we couldn’t hear.
Dean was aware of us. His heavy-lidded gaze slid toward us and then back to the ceiling, outright dismissing our presence. I followed his stare and I gasped.
There were...holy crap, drawings in marker—circles with stars through them. Lines joining to form shapes I’d seen in the Lesser Key of Solomon.
Roth eyed the ceiling for a moment and then strolled over to the bed. He whipped the headphones right off Dean’s head. “Ignoring us is rude.”
The boy on the bed—the boy who’d always been quiet and had held doors open for other students—smirked as he folded his arms behind his head. “Do I look like I care?”
“Do I look like I won’t rip your head off your shoulders?” replied Roth.
“Whoa,” I said, shooting him a look. “That’s not helping.”
Dean looked over at me and sat up. He reached down between his legs and did something that made my ears burn. “You’re more than welcome to stay in here, honey. These two tools can hit the road, though.”
My mouth dropped open. “Okay. Commence with ripping the head off.”
“We’ve never met before.” Zayne stepped toward the edge of the bed, apparently trying to be the voice of reason. “My name is—”
“I know what you are.” Dean flopped on his back. “Magnam de cælo, et tu super despectus.”
“And now he speaks Latin?” This was going nowhere fast. “What did he say?”
Roth chuckled. “Something that won’t make Stony happy.”