“You guys doing a movie date?” he asked, undeterred by my silence.
I crouched down near where my arms would’ve been tied. Burnt, frayed rope remained, lying forgotten. “I’m not talking to you about Zayne.”
Compressing my lips, I lifted my gaze and met his. He arched a brow, and I shook my head. Returning my attention to the floor, I surveyed it intensely.
“You and Stony have been getting close, I imagine,” he continued, straightening. “Getting food together. Maybe going to the movies...”
“We live together, Roth. Going out and grabbing food isn’t that unusual.”
He made a clicking sound with his tongue bolt against his teeth. “Ah, but it’s more than that, isn’t it? Especially from the way Stony warned me off you—twice now.”
“Twice?” I ran my fingers over the floor.
“Once at the restaurant, which you were there for,” he said, his voice close. When I looked over my shoulder, he was standing behind me. I hadn’t even heard him move. “And then Saturday night. We ran into each other.”
“I know.” I turned back to the floor, ignoring the shiver of awareness that came from how close he was.
“Oh, so he told you?” Roth scooped up a handful of my hair, gently tugging my head back. I narrowed my gaze as I snatched my hair free. He grinned at me. “Did he tell you what he said to me?”
“I really don’t want to know.”
Roth knelt beside me, so close his thigh pressed into mine. “He said that I needed to stay away from you.”
“Really,” I murmured.
“Yes.” His breath danced over my cheek, and I stiffened. “And he also told me that you don’t belong to me.”
My chin jerked toward him, and I found that we were face-to-face. “Well, the last time I checked, I don’t.”
The smile kicked up a notch. “And do you know what else he said?”
“If you tell me, will you drop the subject?”
He dipped his chin. “Sure.”
I didn’t believe it for one second. Leaning back, I forced myself to hold his gaze. “What, Roth?”
“He said that you—” he tapped the edge of my nose “—belong to him.”
My mouth dropped open as I stared at him. “I don’t believe you.”
He shrugged his shoulders.
“Something like that would never come out of his mouth.” Frustration spread across me like a heat rash. “Ever.”
Roth’s lips pursed. “You can believe me or not, but I notice you’re not denying it.”
My first inclination had been to deny it, but as we continued to stare at each other, anger took hold. “Why are we even talking about this?”
“Just curious.” He rose fluidly, rubbing a hand across his Pink Floyd shirt. “I just think it’s...great how quickly you’ve moved on.”
I blinked once and then twice, thinking I hadn’t heard him right, and when I realized I had, I wanted to slam my fist between his legs. “Are you serious?”
Roth’s brows knitted. “Do I look like I’m not serious?”
“You think it’s great that I moved on so fast. Right? From what?” I came to my feet. “What exactly am I moving on from? According to you, whatever we had didn’t matter and never would. All I was good for was easing your boredom, remember?”
“I apologized for saying that,” he countered, eyes flashing a bright yellow. “Do you want me to apologize again?”
“No!” I stepped forward, breathing heavily. “Let me ask you a question. Do you want to be with me, Roth?”
His pupils dilated as he took a step back. “What?”
“Answer the question.”
He backed up again, away from me, his chest rising deeply. “It’s not about what I want.”
“Whatever, Roth.” Stalking forward, I shoved my finger into his chest. “I liked you—really liked you and when you were gone and I thought you were being tortured in a fiery pit, it hurt me.”
“I know we were never really together, but I hardly ate or slept after you left, and the only person who kept me from going crazy was Zayne and you knew that! You even said that was why you took his place. Then you come back and you tell me that everything between us never meant a damn thing to you. You even threw Zayne in my face, basically telling me to get with him and now you’re saying it’s great I moved on so fast. Well, you can go fu—”
“What?” I shrieked.
His eyes brightened into golden pools. “You’re sexy when you’re pissed off.”
I gaped and reacted without thinking. Making a shrill sound, I slammed my hands into his hard chest. Caught off guard, he stumbled back. “You are so freaking annoying.”
Roth tipped his head back, laughing loudly. When he finally settled down, the grin was slow to slip off his face. “But on a serious note, if I did want you...” He was suddenly right in front of me and his fingers spanned the sides of my face. The slight touch rooted me to where I stood. So much pent- up frustration exploded like a cannon blast, rocking me. “If I did want you, would you still want him?”
I stared at him for a moment and then jerked away, breaking the contact between us. That question...well, it pissed me off and it also floored me, because how could I answer that? I couldn’t. It wasn’t a fair question, because I never really got to have Roth and I’d known Zayne practically my whole life. When it came to the two of them, everything was tangled up.
“That’s so wrong to ask,” I whispered, my voice shaking. “Cruel, even.”
A fierce and stormy emotion flickered across his face and then was gone as quickly as it appeared.
Disgusted with him and myself, I refocused, returning my attention to the floor, and found what I was searching for. The quarter-size hole. The edges were jagged, as if acid had burned straight through the floor. Kind of disturbing considering it was my blood that had done that.
“There’s nothing up here.” Roth looked around, brows raised. “Except for the stink of lost dreams and wasted potential.”
I frowned at that. “But what about down below?”
His gaze dropped to me. “Good girl. That’s where we need to head.”
“I’m not a dog,” I grumbled, standing as I wiped my hands on my jeans. “Why didn’t you just suggest that in the beginning?”
Roth didn’t reply as he strode off, walking toward one of the side doors. I fantasized about drop-kicking him in his head as I followed behind him. Neither of us spoke as we entered another old, forgotten stairwell that led into an ancient, outdated locker room.
The scent of mold and something...crusty assaulted me. I didn’t even want to breathe the combination in. Though different from the rank stench of a zombie, this smell was every bit as nauseating.
He found another light switch and only a handful of fluorescent lights kicked on. Row after row of gray, lonely looking lockers greeted us. Half the benches were broken or rotted out and odd shadows were cast upon the lockers, but as Roth neared them, he groaned.
“Slime,” he said, lip curling in distaste.
I neared one of the benches. A gunky white substance ran down the metal legs. Across the board, the matter dripped onto the floor, thick and slow like honey or syrup. I swallowed. “Is this ectoplasm?”
“Yeah, and a whole lot of it.” Roth sidestepped quickly, almost planting his boots in the puddle of grossness. “I think we’re onto something.”
“Really?” I murmured drily.
He snorted. “It’s amazing that no one at the school has seen this.” Scanning the slime-covered walls, he laughed without humor. “It would be kind of hard to explain.”
“No one has any reason to come down here.” I moved forward, careful not to step on anything that might be considered sticky. “What does all of this mean?”
Roth blew out a low breath. “Really don’t know. There are a few critters that leave behind ectoplasm. Nothing that should be in a high school.”
Walking forward, I tried to get an idea of where the blood dripping down from the ritual would have landed on this floor of the building. After a few seconds, I realized it would have landed somewhere in the vicinity of the showers.
I eyed the doorway that led to them. The light in there flickered sporadically. Steeling my shoulders, I forced my feet to move and cautiously entered the open showers. Most of the faucets and showerheads had been torn from the wall, leaving behind gaping holes. More gunk dripped out, sliding down the wall.
This...this was really gross.
“The smell is definitely worse in here...oh, and there’s your reason.” Roth placed a hand on my back, and I turned toward what he was staring at.
“Holy moly,” I said, eyes bugging.
At the back of the shower stalls, a mess of...something hung from the ceiling by thick whitish-gray tendrils that reminded me of a spiderweb. Except it would have to be a spider on steroids to spin something that massive. From the strings was a wrecked cocoon, its white carcass split open down the middle. The pod was hollowed out, the color of faded newspaper with a dark, oily substance splattered throughout.
It looked like something straight out of a science-fiction movie.
Lifting my gaze, I realized the web would be approximately where the hole in the floor above was—where I’d been tied down and that drop of blood had hit the floor.
“That’s what my blood is capable of?” I asked.
“I’m guessing it is under certain circumstances.” Roth walked forward. “Pretty cool if you think about it.”
I wrinkled my nose. “There is nothing cool about my blood creating a pod that looks like something straight out of Alien.”
“Great movie, by the way. Not the sequels, though.” When I groaned, he sent me a wicked grin over his shoulder that, in spite of everything, made my tummy flop. “Obviously, this is where our whittle baby Lilin grew.”
“From a pod?”
He nodded. “No one knows a lot about the Lilin. How it matures, what it looks like or anything like that. But what else could this be?”
“There has to be something out there that can tell us.” I didn’t walk closer because being in the room with this thing was bad enough. “What about the Seer?” I asked, thinking of the kid we’d met before who communed with Xbox and angels...or something.
Roth chortled. “This time, I think it’ll take more than a Perdue chicken before he gives us that kind of information.”
“Then what does he want?” Frustrated, I shifted my weight. “We don’t know anything. Again. And all this little field trip proves is that my blood had the ability to create a gross-ass pod.”
He turned, head cocked to the side. “What it does prove is that the Lilin came from here—that the Lilin was here, shortie.”
I raised my hands. “Didn’t we already know that?”
There wasn’t a response as he turned back to the cocoon. “This has to be proof of the Lilin, because I don’t know—”
“Who’s in here?” A voice boomed throughout the shower, whipping me around. “Who’s down here?”
My eyes widened as I whirled back toward Roth, who shrugged. Real helpful there. Before I could even decide what to do, a shadow fell across the wide doorway and my breath caught as a man stepped into the room.
He was middle-aged with coppery hair and a smattering of freckles. I didn’t recognize him, but the dark blue uniform and ring of keys around his belt gave him away. He was a janitor.
As his gaze flicked behind me, I felt Roth move close. Without looking, I knew when he’d walked to my side it was with pure, predatory grace that would make any human or nonhuman wary.
The janitor folded his arms across his chest.
Roth dropped his arm over my shoulders and hauled me up against his side. I stiffened as he slid his hand up my back, balling his fist in my hair. “We were looking for a private place...you know, so we could be alone.” He dipped his head to mine, sending raven-colored locks across his forehead. “Then we saw all of this and kind of got distracted by the weirdness. Isn’t that right, baby?”
My jaw ached from how hard I was squeezing it. What Roth was doing was totally unnecessary. I’d seen him get in people’s heads and send them scurrying in the other direction with a few well-placed words. Hadn’t he just done exactly that with Mrs. McDaniel? Touching me wasn’t needed.
But since he’d started this game...
I slipped my arm around his waist, digging my fingers into his side. When a low rumble of warning radiated from his chest, I smiled brightly. “Yes. So right, honey.”
The janitor snorted. “Yeah. Okay.”
Not exactly the response I expected. I started to pull away, but Roth’s hold tightened. As the janitor unfolded his arms, I finally saw a name stitched onto the front flap of a wide pocket. Gerald Young.
“No need to make up stories.” Rolling up his sleeve, he revealed a tattoo in black ink—four loops joined by a small circle. It reminded me of a pinwheel, and something about it was vaguely familiar. When he looked back up at us, his eyes were the color of warm cherries. “It’s about time someone checked out the mess down here.”
Roth sucked in a breath and muttered, “Witch.”
I gaped at the janitor. If my ability hadn’t gone all wonky, I might’ve known that something was different about him because the auras of witches—real, honest-to-goodness witches—had to be different. Because a real witch was capable of some really rad things—spells, healing charms, creating fire from air and general badassery that made me envious of, well, all that badassery. But I’d never seen a witch before. The likelihood of seeing one in this day and age had to be equal to winning the mega-jackpot lottery or actually spotting the Loch Ness monster.