He rested his forehead on mine and the edges of his hair teased my cheeks. “I’m going to make you late for school if I keep this up.”
That wasn’t going to be the only thing that happened if he kept moving his thumb back and forth or if he kept kissing me. We hadn’t gone beyond this, not even as far as removing clothes, since the night we’d gone to that house. I could tell by the way his body would shake that he wanted to go further. I was pretty sure I wanted to, but that step was as scary as it was exciting. All of this was something I’d truly never thought was possible with Zayne.
But school also meant back to reality and if anything was a giant mood killer, it was that. Back to being around humans other than Stacey and Sam. Back to facing the cold possibility that I could be the cause of the infection. Because even though I could kiss Zayne without sucking out his soul as if he was a Tootsie Pop, that didn’t mean it wasn’t me.
He sensed the moment I withdrew and he frowned. “Where’d you go?”
“Nowhere.” I forced a smile. I hadn’t talked to Zayne about my fears since that night because I knew he firmly believed that I was innocent and I...I wanted to keep it that way. With him, I didn’t feel as if I was a time bomb waiting to go off. I felt normal. “Maybe I can skip?”
“Hmm...” He brushed his lips over the tip of my nose. “While I love the sound of that, your cute little ass needs to get to class.”
He laughed softly and then the smile faded. Seriousness crept into his teal eyes. “You know you’re not infecting anyone, Layla-bug. It’s okay for you to go back to school. Deep down, you know that.”
Zayne kissed me again, and for a little while, I got lost in his lips and his intoxicating scent and taste. And for a little while, I stayed in our world, even if it seemed to be make-believe.
* * *
Stacey and Sam were waiting for me at my locker. She popped forward and gave me a quick hug, pulling back before I could push her away and look like a freak.
“Welcome back,” Sam said. He was still missing his glasses. “I bet you missed school.”
“I missed it a little.” I opened the locker door and pulled out my bio text. That was true. School was kind of like a sanctuary...when there weren’t zombies, Nightcrawlers and wraiths crawling out of the woodwork.
My high school was turning into the Hellmouth.
Stacey arched a brow. “What?”
“Nothing. I was just thinking of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” It was a relief to be honest with them now. Closing the locker door, I turned to them. “I was thinking that our school is kind of like Buffy’s Hellmouth.”
She grinned. “I’m totally Cordelia. And you’re Buffy.”
I laughed as we started walking down the hall. Sam was holding Stacey’s hands and that made me all kinds of warm and fuzzy. “I’m not Buffy. More like Willow. Sam, you’re totally Xander.”
“I’d say I’m more like Angel,” he commented, and I expected there to be some kind of factoid about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but there was none.
“By the way,” Stacey said, leaning toward me and lowering her voice. “I’m assuming you told Roth that we knew the...uh, the truth.”
My stomach did a cartwheel. They hadn’t seen him since we’d been suspended. “Yeah, he knows, but I wouldn’t make a big deal out of it. I’m going to the bathroom real quick.”
Stacey stopped. “I need to go, too.” Turning to Sam, she pressed a quick kiss to his cheek. “See you later?”
He nodded as he backed away and then turned, running a hand through his messy hair. I watched him for a few moments and then shook my head. “Do you really need to use the bathroom?”
“No,” she giggled. “I just wanted a few seconds alone with you to ask if you’ve had sex with Zayne yet.”
Heat bled across my cheeks. “What? No. Have you and Sam?”
Her grin spread and my eyes widened as I pushed open the door, greeted by the smell of disinfectant and the faint aroma of cigarettes. “Oh my God, you seriously had sex with...” I trailed off and then came to a complete stop inside the bathroom.
Stacey bumped into me from behind and she, too, stopped.
At one of the sinks, Eva was hunched over, hands pressed against her face, covering her eyes. Her slim shoulders trembled. Lying in the sink and on floor were tiny balls of brown rolled-up paper. A cell phone sat on the ledge above the sink.
She was crying—no, sobbing really.
“This is awkward,” Stacey murmured as the door closed behind her.
Yeah, it kind of was. Eva was evil and if I hadn’t known better, I’d categorize her as a demon from Hell, but she wasn’t. Just a typical mean girl who probably didn’t get enough love at home or whatever, but the girl code kicked in.
Sighing, I stepped forward, making a face as I tried to come up with something to say. “Uh, Eva, are you okay?”
Her shoulders stiffened and she lowered her hands. Wow. Eva did not cry pretty, which for some horrible reason made me feel better about myself. In the reflection, mascara streaked her cheeks and her face was puffy and red.
Then she crumpled—her face did. It screwed up as fresh tears ran down her cheek. “No. I’m not okay. I’m never going to be okay.”
The look on Stacey’s face said she was wondering if Eva was being a tad bit melodramatic, but unease blossomed in the pit of my stomach.
Eva turned to us, her hands closing into balls against her ruddy cheeks. “He’s dead. Gareth’s dead.”
Gareth had overdosed sometime during the night. His parents had found his body in the garage that morning, when his father was leaving for work. Rumor had it that he’d been huffing alcohol.
A heavy sadness clung to the school. Dean’s death had been bad enough, then Gerald’s, but Gareth had been popular. Everyone knew him and, while his steady descent into drugs had confounded a lot of people, he was still the guy half the girls wanted to be with and half the guys wanted to be.
Teachers talked about it in every class, citing it as a tragic accident and turning it into an after-school special about drugs and their dangers, but I knew differently.
So did Stacey and Sam.
So did Roth.
Not that drugs weren’t a huge problem, but this went beyond addiction and the stupid things we did. Gareth had been infected. His life and his soul had been stolen from him. Not only would there be another wraith, but Gareth would spend an eternity in Hell.
And that killed me, even if there turned out to be a Lilin somewhere.
Roth caught up with me as I headed toward lunch. Being alone with him had my nerves twisted into useless knots. I knew it had everything to do with Zayne and me...and everything to do with Roth.
“I haven’t sensed a wraith yet,” he said, hands shoved into the pockets of his ripped jeans. “Have you?”
I shook my head as Bambi started to climb up between my br**sts. I issued her a stern warning not to appear on my face. Whenever Roth was near, she liked to be seen. Kind of like one of those annoying yappy dogs that needed attention.
“I guess it will only be a matter of time before it shows up. We’re still on to see the coven this weekend?” I asked. When he nodded, I leaned against the wall. The hallway was virtually empty. As I peeked up at him, finding him watching me closely, I shifted my weight. “Is there anything we can do about their souls? Any way we can get them free?”
Roth turned, angling his body sideways. He shook his head. “Not unless you want to strike a deal with the Boss and that’s not something I’d suggest.”
I opened my mouth to protest, but he placed a finger against my lips, silencing me. Energy jolted between us and I pulled back.
One side of his lips tipped up. “I know you want to help them, shortie, but once the souls are down there, it’s a bitch to get them out. And I’m not talking about an inconvenience. Boss likes an eye for an eye. If you ask for a soul, the Boss will ask for one in return. You don’t want to make those kinds of deals, carrying that kind of weight around.”
He had a point, but I was already carrying a decent load on my shoulders.
“You haven’t returned any of my texts or calls,” he said after a few moments, propping his hip against the wall beside me. His chin was dipped down and his dark lashes shielded his eyes. “I was worried.”
My brows rose. “Were you?”
“Yeah.” The corners of his lips turned down. “Why would that surprise you?”
I shrugged a shoulder. He’d reached out to me a couple of additional times during our suspension and over break, but I hadn’t responded. It would’ve felt wrong if I had and not because being with Zayne meant I couldn’t talk to other guys. It was just that Roth wasn’t an “other guy”—he was a whole slew of something else.
“You’re with Zayne, aren’t you?” he said, as if he read my mind.
Was I? We hadn’t called each other boyfriend or girlfriend, but we treated each other as if we were. “I really don’t want to talk about him with you.”
His lips pursed. “Tell me you’re at least being careful.”
My eyes widened. “Okay. This sounds like an ‘are you using a condom’ conversation.”
“That’s not what I meant and you know it,” he said.
Our eyes met, and I totally got what he meant. “I am.” Which was such a lie.
He tipped his head against the wall and breathed in deeply. I watched him for a moment. His arms were folded loosely over his chest. Everything about him looked tense. I hadn’t even told him about the woman from the Palisades.
“Hungry?” he asked, his voice off. “We should probably head in there before Stacey and Sam start making babies on the lunchroom table.”
“We found another wraith,” I said in a low voice.
His eyes snapped open. “What?”
“Last week. Zayne and I did an exorcism,” I explained quietly.
He was standing straight now. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“It was the woman from the club in the Palisades, Roth.” My stomach dipped as his eyes flared. “The woman I fed off.”
He opened his mouth, then snapped it shut as he thrust a hand through his dark hair. Tight lines formed around his lips. “You’re sure?”
“Yeah, I’m sure. It was her.” I scrubbed my hands down my face. “She walked away, right?”
He nodded. “She did. I swear to you, Layla. She walked away.”
“But how did she end up dying? It was supposedly a heart attack, but she didn’t have any existing issues. I know that doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but the likelihood of that? What if it was me? What if I infected her? What if I’ve been the one infecting all of these people?”
“Whoa, where has this come from?” Roth got all up in my personal space. “Is this something new?”
I shook my head. “No. I’ve been wondering about it for a while and Zayne doesn’t think it’s me, but we haven’t found any evidence of a Lilin, nothing concrete, and everyone who’s been infected has been near me.”
“But how? Have you been wandering around kissing people? Because if so, I’m pretty pissed off that I wasn’t included in that.”
I shot him a look. Not like I hadn’t kissed him recently. “Uh, no, I haven’t, and I don’t know how. That’s the only part I can’t figure out.” I looked up at him and put it all out there, because I trusted him to not hold back. He hadn’t before on the sucky stuff I didn’t want to hear. “Do you think it’s me?”
He stared at me a moment, not moving. I wasn’t sure he was even breathing. Then he leaned in, placing his hands on my shoulders. His grip wasn’t heavy, but there was so much in the touch. It was a comforting pressure, and I closed my eyes.
“Stop,” he whispered against my hair, “asking questions that serve no purpose.”
Roth said nothing more as he pulled back, his arms falling to his sides and whatever comfort he’d offered turned to apprehension. His silence was unsettling. He never answered my question.
* * *
The night we left for the club in Bethesda, there was a hint of snow in the air. It was definitely cold enough and the crispness had that wintry feel to it.
Our drive to the club was quiet. Roth was waiting inside his Porsche in the parking lot across from a school. As soon as Zayne and I pulled up in the Impala, he opened the door and stepped out.
I glanced down at myself and wrinkled my nose.
Roth was dressed as if he was about to walk into a coven full of witches. His legs were encased in leather and he wore a dark shirt. The outfit bled menace and mayhem, while my blue jeans and blue turtleneck pretty much bled Susie Homemaker.
“I should’ve worn something better,” I commented.
“I think you look fine.”
I glanced over at Zayne and smiled. “Thank you, but I have a feeling I’m going to stand out.”
“You always stand out.” The grin on his face faded as Roth strolled up to his window. Grumbling under his breath, he rolled it down. “What?”
Roth looked unfazed. “About time. I think I grew about a week’s worth of facial hair waiting for you two.”
Zayne rolled his eyes as I glanced over to where the club was. At first I didn’t think we were at the right spot. It was inside a ritzy hotel. The kind of hotel that had all reflective glass walls and sculptures that looked like something a five-year-old had molded.