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Short stories with spoilers–read at your own risk!

so, i lovelovelove christmastime. i love the music (yes, shut up, you know you do, too), the decorations, the trees, gift-giving, the excitement children feel, and the general sense of togetherness that binds us all together.

so it’s interesting that i never write about christmas in any of my stories. i guess i’ve just never felt the need to, even though i know, surely, some of my characters must celebrate it? and then this year, as i’m working through AMOF 2, i realized i actually DID have a christmas story to share. but it wasn’t for AMOF 2, it was a flashback that happened years before AMOF. and it wasn’t for chloe, or jonah, or kellan, but for karl. who, as some of you may know, happens to be one of my very favorite characters.

i always knew, going into his story, that karl was one of those guys who loved winter time. and i knew why–it was just, i never had room to tell any of this stuff. until now.

so, this is my christmas present to you. i hope you like discovering how karl finally found the girl of his dreams.

* * * * *

It was snowing again, light, small flakes that stuck rather than melted. Annar was pretty when it white—not that Karl would ever admit that out loud to anyone. He preferred winter to summer, always had, ever since he was little and fell in love with the literal girl of his dreams while building a lopsided snowman named Fred.

Fred made an annual reappearance for ten years straight every Christmas Eve, down to the exact row of crooked seashells used for buttons and weathered beach glass used for eyes. He’d been painstakingly reconstructed, not from a photo, but shared memory. It became a game of sorts, rebuilding Fred, especially as it was done amongst much laughter and teasing and eventual kissing, slow kissing that melted the snow under bodies—but in all honesty, it was probably Karl’s favorite holiday tradition.

Until, of course, he turned sixteen and there were no more snowmen to be made in his dreams or in reality.

For an entire year, he’d refused to go skiing with his parents or snowboarding with any of his friends. He was the lone holdout for a New Year’s trip to Aspen to stay in some fabulous cabin that was more like a chalet, which, for months, his friends ragged on him for. And whenever anybody challenged him to a snowball fight, which he used to live for, because damn, was he a good shot, he practically bit their heads off with his insistences that only babies play in the snow.

But then, shortly after his seventeenth birthday and a series of stern talking-tos from his father, grandfather, and friends, he drug his snow boots out of his closet and allowed himself to be drug to Switzerland for a ski weekend. He told himself that he was going to reclaim winter as his—that he wasn’t going to allow some fantasy girl that’d never been real in the first place take away something that meant so much to him.

And now, now he was set to head to Aspen after all, with a group of friends and his girlfriend of the last five months who, frankly, hated the snow but loved him enough to give snowboarding a try. “I’m Australian,” she teased him when he brought the trip up. “We surf, not ski.”

A deal was struck. He’d go surfing with her in Australia if she went skiing with him in Colorado.

But before they could go, he had to have the obligatory Christmas Eve dinner with his parents. It was the first time he’d be bringing a girlfriend, and his mother was beyond ecstatic. She had begged Karl to invite his girlfriend. As far as Karl could tell, his mom was already knitting baby hats. It made him nervous, and he’d been wishy-washy for weeks before deciding once and for all to actually invite Kiah to come.

He hadn’t even bought her a present yet, which definitely made him a crappy boyfriend. And it was going to make him late to dinner for sure, but he wasn’t going to show up at her door empty handed.

Annar’s streets were crowded—they always were—but he knew where he wanted to go. There was a Dwarven jewelry cart a block over, and he’d noticed the perfect necklace for Kiah just yesterday when he was rushing to class. It was a silver moon surrounded by dark blue stones, which made him think of nighttime and dreams, which was apt as she was a Dreamer.

Which was truly ironic, as he felt like it had been his dreams that had messed him up good for years and probably still explained why he was the kind of crappy boyfriend who forgot to get his girlfriend a present until Christmas Eve. Because, really—who falls in love with girls they meet in their dreams?

Lunatics, that’s who, he thought sourly.

Finally, the cart came into view; Karl checked his watch—he still had twenty whole minutes before Kiah expected him to knock on her door, thirty minutes before they were to meet his folks at the restaurant two blocks from her building. Maybe, just maybe, he thought to himself as he trudged toward the cart, he’d come out of this alive. Make it through Christmas Eve like a normal person rather than feeling like he’d lost a central piece of his soul.

A group of girls were hogging space at the cart, giggling over rings and bracelets. Normally, Karl would wait until they moved on—his dad would kick his ass if he ever presented himself to be anything other than a gentleman—but time was a’wasting. He gently shoved his big frame into a small space in between two of the six girls while murmuring apologies. They stepped aside, oohing and awing about how sweet it was that a guy was buying jewelry.

The necklace found, Karl stepped back, ready to head over to the cashier, but froze in his tracks. One of the girls who’d been at the end of the cart was now standing right in front of him, not a foot away. She was short and had corkscrew dark hair that always frizzed in the snow and a constellation of freckles across her nose. She was wearing a ratty yellow peacoat that was a hand-me-down from her grandmother with buttons that she’d found in thrift stores across America.

He knew these things about her. He knew her.

It was like someone had punched him in the gut. Impossible. Absolutely impossible. He felt his mouth fall open, like some thirteen-year-old asshole who was staring at the first hot girl he’d ever really noticed. Only, this wasn’t the first time he’d ever seen this particular girl—not so much hot, but more like incandescently beautiful, which made him sound like more of a pathetic asshole for even thinking such a corny thing.

Her dark eyes went wide, like she’d been punched, too. “Karl?”

This girl, who’d he’d dreamed about for most of his life, had fallen in love with while building a snowman on a snowy beach year after year, was somehow standing right in front of him while he was right about to buy his girlfriend a Christmas present.

He didn’t know what to say. What to do.

“You know that guy, Moira?” one of the other girls asked her. But Moira didn’t answer. She just kept on staring at Karl, like she expected him to say something.

You left me, he wanted to say. You made me love you and then you left me. Even more importantly, he wanted to kiss her until she couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. He wanted to lose himself in her. And then he wanted to kick himself, because hello. The whole fact that he wanted to do any of this with a slip of girl was just as crazy as he must be.

“You’re not real,” he finally told her.

The girl standing next to Moira laughed, like what he said was the funniest thing she’d ever heard.

It was enough to snap him out of his reverie. He took a step back and then side-skirted Moira, like she was contagious. An illness, or worse yet—a weakness, which she was, he couldn’t help but think. She’d broken him when all his life, he’d been invincible.

If she was even real. If he was even awake. If he wasn’t hallucinating.

He threw a wad of cash at the Dwarf—more than the necklace cost, that was for sure. And then he practically fled from the cart, wishing it was summer.

So my brother is gone, and now I feel like someone has cored me. I don’t like the distance, don’t like feeling so removed from him even when the urge to beat him senseless is so strong that it takes every last bit of willpower to resist. He is gone and I miss him.

I refused to go to school in the morning, even though Kellan did. I didn’t even offer to take him to the airport, which was stupid, because it meant Chloe would since Giules and Karl would be stuck in teleconference meetings all afternoon. Instead of staying in the house, surrounded by my brother’s smell and residual feelings which would haunt me all day, I escaped to the woods outside town. Giules and Karl fought me on it, saying it was dangerous, but I forced them into letting me go.

Being the masochist I am, I ended up by a river, only to be subjected to memory after memory of my times with Chloe over the years. They’ve beaten down on me like hail and yet I find it difficult to move from where I am, because it feels like maybe these memories are all I’m ever going to have from her from here on out. And that’s a shitty feeling, one that renders me to a helpless, pathetic state that kills me to be in.

I want to fight for her, I really do. I know I ought to be. I know I ought to force the issue, confront her and get the explanations I need. Anything is better than this horrible limbo I’ve found myself in, but now that my brother is in the equation, I find myself in a particularly debilitated state.

Besides. There’s this insecure part of me that keeps telling myself that if she really wanted me, if she really loved me, she’d be here with me, and not him. I still can’t get over that – I know she loves me. I know it. And yet, she loves him, too. And if I’m going to be honest, the love she feels for him rivals the one she has for me, which only further pisses off and crushes me, because dammit, I had years and years with her, and he’s had all of two fucking months. Two months, and she loves him. Hell, she’d loved him in the first week.

So, like being trapped on a fucked up merry-go-round, I circle back to being so insanely angry at my brother that I once more can’t see straight. The book I’ve brought is useless against the torrent of emotions crashing down over me. All I can do is hold on and hope to last out the ride.

I’ve probably reread the same page below me at least ten times before all of my senses go into overload. There’s a very distinctive pull, one like a rubberband stretched tight between me and something – somebody – else. And then there’s the overwhelming slam of emotions circling around me: fear, nervousness, sadness, anger, hope and most importantly, unconditional love. It’s all so strong that it takes me a good five seconds to even get my bearings.

She’s here.

Chloe is standing maybe twenty, thirty feet away. She’s alone, just standing there staring at me while crying silently. And because I’ve devolved into a cynic of the worst kind, I look around to see if Karl is lurking nearby. Because that’s the reason she’s here, right? Something to do with the Guard and not me?

But no one is here, or at least, no one I can see.

“They’re at my house,” she says softly, and my heart nearly stops because those are the first four words she’s said to me in over a year.

Suddenly, I’m nervous myself, and so fucking wary that I actually want to pull a Kellan and run. But I force myself to stand up and walk over to where she’s standing, because this is Chloe, and she’s here, and whether or not things go my way today, this is my chance to finally set everything to peace.

When I say her name, anger surges throughout her. She snaps at me, “Why didn’t you do anything?”


“All these months,” she says hotly, “you’ve done nothing! Not a word! Not one!

I’m so shocked that all I can do is say her name again. She starts shaking really hard, freaking me out so much that I can’t help but step forward. She nearly falls over backwards, so I reach out to grab her and…and…


It hits me. All the things I’d been told about Connections finally coming together make sense. Something in me changes, shifts and alters and electrifies and melts and suddenly the worlds make sense. All of the doubts I’d had evaporate as I pull her closer.

Home. I’m home. I am finally, mercifully, home with the person I’m meant to be with.

She’s crying in earnest now, but all of the fear and sadness dissolve away until all that’s left in her is happiness and relief. And I’m right there with her, because, damn – it feels so good to have her back in my arms again. Better than good. Right. Meant to be.

After crying for quite awhile, she says against me, “I’m so sorry about…uh…falling apart like that…”

I pull away, just a little, so I can look at her. As always, whenever I see her, I nearly lose my breath. Every little bit of her is so familiar – those beautiful green eyes with the tiniest streaks of gold at the center, those adorable freckles splattered across her nose, her mouth, so soft and perfect…

I’m mesmerized.

Slowly, I lift my hands up to her face and wipe away her tears. Oh, gods, it feels so good to touch her again.

And while I’d be more than content to just stand here and hold her in silence, I know how Chloe works. She likes words. Needs them. Words are just as important to her as actions, which has always been a bit of a struggle for me, as I’ve long learned words can be used as weapons against me. I prefer to shut up and observe, but I can’t do that with Chloe.

I never have been good with words, which is probably why she’s so good for me. She’s always pushing me to let myself go, to expose emotions everyone else expects me to hold in. Over the years I’ve told her more about how I really feel about anything and everything than any other person save, possibly, Kellan. And that’s only because he’s in my head all the time and probably gets more of his information from osmosis rather than me handing it over.

So, I force myself to speak. To give her what she needs – and right now, I know, without a doubt, she needs explanations just as much as I do. “I’m sorry if I’ve hurt you. That was never my intention. I thought I was doing you a favor by staying away.”

I never said I was good with words. I simply said that she gets me to say more than anybody else does.

“Favor?” she asks incredulously, tensing up once more.

That’s another thing. She never lets me get away with crap answers, either. “You seemed…well, I wasn’t sure how you were feeling. Maybe unready? Uninterested? Angry at my presence? That first day, you were so unwilling to even acknowledge me. I was terrified – I didn’t know to do. So in my constant state of uncertainty, I fell into a pattern of doing nothing. I thought it’d be better that way. I didn’t want to push you into anything you weren’t comfortable with or ready for.”

She relaxes, just a little bit. “I thought I was going crazy that first day.”

“I can see why. It’s not every day you actually see someone you’ve only ever dreamed about.”

“Why did you disappear last year?”

Gods. She would ask something difficult, something I’m not even sure about. “I don’t know the whys. It just became harder and harder to find you until one day, I wasn’t able to anymore.”

“Then, it wasn’t by choice?”

What? “No. Is that what you thought?”

She’s a flurry of confusion and excitement. “I didn’t know what to think. I still don’t know what to think. How is this possible? Why are you here? How are you real?”

I suck at words, but I give her the truth. “I’m here for you,” I tell her. “Chloe don’t you know, haven’t you always known? My heart belongs with you.”

I’m rewarded by a tidal wave of love, which makes me dizzy and so fucking happy that I can barely believe this is real. And then she ups the ante by running her fingers through my hair. It literally takes everything in me to not kiss her senseless and lose myself in her body.

“Did you miss me at all?”

And…there’s the Chloe I know. Did I miss her. Jesus. I just about ripped apart my family and existence so I could get to her. “You’d question that, after everything we’ve ever meant to one another? Of course. Every moment of every day.”

She grins like an idiot. It’s so adorable I can barely stand it. “How did you discover the truth?”

Okay, so it’s embarrassing, but I tell her the truth anyways. “A Seer told me. I sort of went into a downward spiral after losing you. The Old Man forced me to go to one to see if it’d get me back on track. She saw our Connection, told me you were real. I was shocked. All those years, I’d hoped and prayed you were, but I never really thought you could be. And then, when I learned you were out there, I couldn’t rest until I found you. I didn’t have much to go on, though. All the Seer could tell me was that you were a Magical, too. So it took me nearly four months to figure out your location.”

“Why didn’t you call me when you first figured out who I was?”

Yes, Jonah, why didn’t you? Because looking back on what’s gone down over the last two months, I really wish now that I’d just called. “I wanted to. I actually had your number. But I thought it’d be better in person, that you might not believe me on the phone. So I manipulated my father in moving here. When I first saw you—”

“There was a shift,” she says, grinning happily.

I correct her. “Three. Don’t think I didn’t count them.”

She laughs, embarrassed and pleased. “And where were yours?”

When I tell her, “The day I found out you were real,” she squeals like she’s gotten the best Christmas present ever. “And then the day I found where you were. I guess it was the same for both of us, occurring when the other’s existence was proved to be real.”

“So why three for me?” she asks. “Why not two?”

“Maybe because when I first discovered the truth, you weren’t in front of me. Maybe it would’ve different had you been there. Maybe I would have felt three, too. Or more. Who knows?”

“You were saying…? When you first saw me?”

“It was like I’d finally come home.” And then, despite the happiness of having her here, in my arms, I find I still need to let her know the hell I’ve been through. “It wasn’t easy, not by any means, staying away from you. Not after finding you. I have to admit, I nearly lost hope recently… I began to wonder if maybe I’d been the only one who’d ever felt the Connection.”

The possessiveness that radiates out of her nearly knocks me to my knees. “Jonah, I am so sorry. To think I could have lost you, due to—”

It’s one thing to open up to her about shit I haven’t talked to anybody else about, but I sure as hell am not even remotely close to being able to talk about her and Kel. No way. “Don’t,” I tell her. “Not right now. I don’t want to do that conversation right now. I don’t want to fight so soon after getting you back.”

I know she wants to push the issue, but she does as I’ve asked. Instead, she says quietly but assuredly, “I’ve missed you. Being here with you …well, I almost don’t know how to describe it. I mean, technically, we’ve only just met in the real world. But it doesn’t feel that way. It’s like it’s always been. You feel the same, you smell the same, you sound the same. Does that make any sense? How in the worlds will that ever be explained to anyone?”

“Why does it have to be explained?” I ask. And because I can’t resist her anymore, I let myself kiss her. Just a small one, on her neck, but it’s more than enough to ignite far too much lust on both of our behalves.

I have to forcefully remind myself that sex doesn’t solve anything. I learned that lesson from Callie. And while I want to make love to Chloe, right here and right now, I know that there’s a whole boatload of shit we need to work through first.

“Well,” she murmurs, leaning into me, “I mean…”

I allow myself one last kiss before pulling away. Man, do I want this girl right now. I pull out all the stops to trick myself into thinking about cold showers, dads with shotguns, and things like teenage pregnancies. I pray that she doesn’t hear the strain in my voice. “You and I know the truth. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.”

“Speaking of others,” she says sheepishly, “I should probably warn you that we’re being watched right now.”

Okay, that’ll work as my bucket of ice. “By whom?”

“Five Guard. All Faerie.”

What the fuck? I was pretty damn specific earlier about being left alone. Jesus. I guess I wasn’t as persuasive as I’d believed I’d been. I whip out my phone and call Karl, who answers in just a way that lets me know he knows why I’m calling. “Look, Jonah,” he says defensively, “If you think I’m going to just sit by and—”

I steamroll right over him. “Chloe and I are going to my house. Let your Guard know that no one is allowed in my house for the next several hours. If I find them in there, they’ll be asleep for the rest of the night.”

“How in the hell did you find out they’re there?” he barks in return. “They were ordered to stay out of sight!”

“I’m talking about you and Giules, too,” I continue, knowing how they work.

“Okay, I get that you’re pissed off about being babysat, J, because I would be too, but you don’t get to order me around yet! You’ve still got a few months to go before you’re on the Council, so when I say you’re going to be covered, you’re going to be covered, dammit! Deal with it!”

“Fine. You two or these Faeries or whomever else it is you expect to watch us can do it from outside. Preferably from the inside of a car.”

Karl starts yelling, which is stupid, because he knows it won’t fly with me, it never has, so I hang up on him. I give Chloe a smile and say, “Ready?”

She stares at me like I’m a rockstar and she’s my biggest fan. From anyone else, I’d be bugged by it, totally turned off. But from her? Yeah. I love it.

* * * * *

The fact is, my willpower is roughly the size of a gnat’s at the moment. Chloe is laying on my bed, semi-out-of-breath, and her chest is rising and falling. Me, being a guy, can’t help but be tempted by that.

She’s teasing me, too – good lords, is she hot when she does that. She always has been. I remember thinking once – maybe three, four years ago – that nobody could turn me on like she could. Which was crazy, because I was young and really shouldn’t have been thinking such thoughts, but the truth is, when you’re an Emotional, you unfortunately learn about all of these things at a way early age. And that is an uncomfortable thing, to be young and know exactly what lust is. But I felt it in spades for her, and – oh, this is going to make me sound like a jerk, I’m well aware of it – there were many times in the past when I’d been with Callie and had pretended it was Chloe.

Eyes closed, of course.

And here she is, on my bed, looking like the best dessert in all the worlds, and I’m weak and well aware of it. Not to be crude or anything, but I totally want to eat her up, right here and right now.

Which I won’t, of course, because small as it is, I do have some willpower left. But I do plan on doing something to cement our Connection even further, something that should give me a wide edge over my brother.

Several years ago, when Karl was still in school with us, some kid who lived in Annar fulltime came to visit him. All the Magicals in the area came over to his place for a sleep over, and really late in the night the guy – who might’ve been a year older than Karl, I think – told us about Connections.

This was the first time I’d really heard much about them. I’d known they existed, of course, thanks to my parents and my aunt and uncle. Uncle Joey had even told me once, after he and Aunt Hannah had gotten into a fight, “Don’t worry about us, J. She and I, we’re connected, and because of that, nothing can hurt us. Not even an argument.”

He’d been wrong, though. Death had hurt her more than anything else ever could have, even a normal death. Death combined with a Connection made it hellish, and I remember Kel and I thinking, when Uncle Joey’s body had been found, we should make a pact to die at the same time because there was no way in hell we ever wanted to go through that. But the point here was, I saw Connections as vague things – knowing I had one with my brother, but always thinking it didn’t count because it wasn’t with a girl. And then this kid from Annar comes around and tells us about a huge perk associated with Connections. “Everyone I know wants a Connection,” he’d said, and of course, all the girls were rapt and the guys rolling their eyes. “No, really,” he assured us. “See, there’s this thing you’re supposed to be able to do when you have a Connection. Some people refer to it as merging, but it’s not like the one you go through when you’re eighteen. It’s where you’re able to merge your minds and souls together. And from what I hear, it’s better than sex. Way better.”

This, of course, got every guy’s attention, even my brother’s, who’d already been having sex from a far too young age.

“You surge at the same time,” the kid continued.

“Impossible,” Kai had snorted. “Nobody can surge at the same time.”

“Nobody,” the kid corrected, “but people who have Connections to each other. And you can only do it with that one person, just your soul mate.” He’d paused for effect, but it was enough time for Karl to give me and Kellan a meaningful look.

“Forget it,” Kel had snapped. “Our Connection doesn’t work that way.”

Callie, of course, had given me the biggest pair of moon eyes ever.

“I have a friend who recently found their Connection,” the kid said. “And he said that when they did this, this merging of their essences, it blew his mind. Like having fifty orgasms at once.”

Most of the kids present were a little naïve about orgasms, so there was a lot of faked understanding going on. Me and Kel knew what they were, being Emotionals, and Karl knew because he’d bragged about it excessively after school one day.

“What’s the point of it?” Mags had asked. “Why not simply do it?”

The kid leaned forward and whispered, “It makes the Connection permanent. Unbreakable. And that’s why it’s better than just doing it.”

I’m remembering these things as I pull her close so I can kiss her – really kiss her, like the kind of kiss that I’d wanted to do earlier but didn’t feel comfortable about yet. But here we are, on my bed, and she’s in my arms and there is no way I can discredit her feelings for me, because they are wide open for me to feel, almost like they’re magnified. This girl is wildly in love with me. Just as much as I am with her.

Okay, so maybe kissing her wasn’t the best idea when my willpower is already at its lowest level in a long time.

She pulls me down and I let her. My brain sort of flatlines and I’m running on instinct, not thought. And then she goes and puts her hands up my sweater and then…then…

“Tell me what you are thinking, what you are feeling right now.”

Thoughts slam back in my head. Just as I’m about to think to myself, girls and their constant need to know irrelevant shit, I realize she’s given me the perfect opportunity to try out the whole essence merging bit. So I smile, watch her melt a bit, and say, “Look for yourself.”

The mere idea of her surging in my mind is exciting enough, because in all the years we’ve known each other, we’ve never been able to do this. Dreams never allowed this Magical aspect to occur. But now she can, and I’m more than happy to lay out for her exactly how I feel, what I’m thinking so she can be reassured about what she means to me. I know I’ve got the advantage over her of being an Emotional. I’m well aware right now of what I mean to her, how she feels about me. She only has my words and actions to go by – now she can have the proof.

Once she’s in my mind, the feelings emitting from her go into hyperdrive. They already were amplified, now they’re on a whole other level of strength. And this tsunami of emotions only weakens my willpower ever further so that it’s hovering very close to zero. I actually have to physically pinch myself to keep myself from doing something that we aren’t ready for.

Just as she’s about to pull out of my mind, I pull her a little closer and tell her to stay where she is. And then, mentally crossing my fingers, I surge into her mind.


There really aren’t words for what happens.

Let’s just say the kid was right and wrong at the same time. Sex has nothing on this – although, I have a sneaky feeling that sex with Chloe, while doing this, would probably make me shatter into a thousand very satisfied little pieces.

Okay. Focus, Jonah. Focus.

Which is pretty damn impossible as I stare down into her eyes.

“What was that?” she asks me breathlessly.

Oh, gods, how can I even explain that to her? I fumble for anything that will even come close to the truth. “Us. Us together.”

She starts tracing my face with a finger, scrambling my brain even further. “I remember my father telling me a long time ago, that it was impossible for Magicals to surge at the same time. He said that minds and souls can’t handle such an event.”

What? Oh. Oh. She’s talking about her dad? I try not to shudder. Dads with shotguns. Dads on the Council who might have shotguns and the ability to kick my ass in far too many ways. “Well, I kind of doubt your father would encourage such a thing. I mean, what kind of dad encourages their daughter with something along the lines of, Here’s something you can do that’ll literally blow your mind?

“Is that what I did?” she says. “Did I blow your mind?”

Did she blow my mind. I have to laugh because she honestly has no idea.

“Have you ever done this with anyone before?”

Okay, now I’ll say it: girls and their constant need to know irrelevant shit! Jesus! “And if I said yes?”

She suddenly looks like she’s about to die in a really horrible, choking way.

“Chloe. Please. No. Besides, from what I’ve been told, it’s only possible to do with one person, only the absolute right person for you. The one you’re connected to.”

“Is that how you see me?”

I try not to slam my head against the headboard.

To set the scene, this is after the infamous math class of Ch 1, on the twins’ first day at Chloe’s school–before they go outside to lunch, and before Kellan meets Chloe for the first time. A quick note–as italics normally indicate when the twins are talking in their heads and fb does not allow italics in status updates, I will mark these sections with _word_ to indicate such. Enjoy!

* * * * *

Then he looks me up and down. _You look like hell, by the way._

Well, I suppose it’s because that’s how I’m feeling. But I fix it, prompting him to say, _Better._

_Kel,_ I begin.

He’s taken out his wallet and is digging out some change. _Yeah?_

_Do you ever wish you were in love?_

He’s so startled by this he dropped his quarters. “What?”

“Love. You’ve never been in love. Why?”

“Why the hell would I want to be?” _Love is the messiest emotion of all. It’s pointless and irrelevant. Love makes people weak. People become sloppy when they’re in love. They overlook things. They don’t see the big picture. And if, gods forbid, you lose the person you love, life falls apart. Exhibit A: Dad. Exhibit B: Hannah._ “Yeah, J,” he says out loud, shaking his head. “That sounds like a great thing to have.”

_You love me,_ I point out.

“That’s different,” he says. _Brotherly love is different. Family love is not the same as romantic love._

_What about what Astrid said? How love can make a person stronger?_

He rolls his eyes, clearly disgusted with me. _You would believe that fairy tale crap._

“What’s that supposed to mean? Are you saying I’m weak?”

He grins. _Yep._

Maybe I am. I feel weak at the moment. I knew I’d fallen apart after losing Chloe a year before. It was completely pathetic. And now I feel like I’m on the verge of falling apart again from what just happened in that damn math class.

If you haven’t read A MATTER OF FATE, look away now, because THERE BE MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD!

* * * * * * * * * *

Callie has the audacity to say, “Surprise!”

I sort of choke as I look around, trying to determine if I’m on one of those prank shows like “Punked” or “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” despite this being, in absolutely no way, funny at all. Fucking surprise, all right. “What are you doing here?”

She stands up and stretches, her long arms pulling the hem of her shirt up so it flashes small slices of pale, smooth skin. Horny Jonah of two years ago might have found that tempting, like she’s probably assuming, but all I can think now is: oh hell no.

“I told you. I’m here so we can talk.”

Again. Is there somebody nearby filming this? This is a joke, right? “We have nothing to talk about, Cal. We’ve been over this a hundred times now.”

She’s pissed. “I disagree.”

I want to slam my head against something. Why do some people insist on doing shit like this? Relationships, no matter what, will never work if only one person has feelings. Cal definitely still has feelings for me, but mine are exactly where they ought to be: friendship, nothing more.

I realize this, standing there and watching her attempt to shift herself into some kind of sexy pose that she thinks will tempt me. I am no longer attracted to her at all. I am no longer confused at what level my love is for her. She is my friend, or at least, someone who was once my friend, and nothing more.

So I say, more gently than I probably should, “We’re over, Cal.”

Her lower lip trembles, but the stubborn streak in her doesn’t let her back down. “I disagree.”

“There is nothing to disagree with, Cal. I am in love with Chloe. She’s my Connection. There is nothing that could ever change that fact.”

Okay. Now the tears come, and my self-loathing kicks into overdrive. I am reminded of when that guy made fun of her, the one who thought she was worthless because she wasn’t Magical, and of how her tears, so rare, had always been able to break me. Because Callie, for all her bravado, has a very sensitive heart, and I hate thinking anything could wound it. Me included. It is nowhere nearly enough, but again, I apologize even though it’ll never change my mind on going back to her.

“You’re such an asshole,” she snarls. “You led me on for years!”

I did. And she’s right. I am an asshole.

“You always defended me, even to the Old Man. What was I supposed to think? You’d tell him that me being a non meant nothing to you. You’d tell anyone who would talk shit about me that.”

“It’s because it’s true,” I say, coming closer like an idiot, and she swats at me. “I’ve never cared that you’re a non.”

“We’ve had sex. You were my first.” She jabs a finger out at me. “You took my virginity.”

Finest moment? So not here.

“You told me you loved me!”

Fuuuuuck. “Callie—”


How do you rationalize these things, Jonah, I want to ask myself, but I know there’s nothing really valid to say at all. Because I was a dick? Because I was confused? Because I was young? Take your pick.

“I always thought you were different than Kel when it comes to this sort of stuff,” she seethes, “but you know what? YOU ARE JUST. LIKE. HIM.”

Hey now. “That’s not true—”

“How many other girls did you screw, huh, Jonah? How many other girls did you lie to when you said you loved them?”

Whoa. “None, Callie.” I try to capture her flailing arms, but she’s a strong one.


“Will you just lis—”

“I hate you. I really, truly hate you.”

She does. In this moment, she really does. And it makes me incredibly sad that one of my best, oldest friends feels this way towards me. I love Chloe, but I spent three years with this girl, and even more having her in my life.

“I’m sorry,” I say softly, and her arms still. Her dreams, the one of her and me together, are finally, finally dying.

And I’m sad about it, which is really messed up. I mean, I should be happy, right? That Cal is finally getting it through her thick skull that we’re over? But right now, I’m sad, and it’s complex and messy and a whole host of other feelings that are too hard to separate. Maybe if my brother was here, he could do it for me, but I’ve got him blocked out, and it’s just me and Callie.

No one else.

Not Kel. Not Chloe. Not Astrid. Not the Old Man. Not anyone.

This girl has been my friend for a long time. I think back to the first time I saw her, all scrawny and heartbroken and little, and I immediately felt protective of her. She was my friend. She was a kindred spirit. She’d lost her parents. I’d lost my mom. She could understand my pain, and I got hers. And over the years, despite the messy feelings that grew between us, there was always that core component, that foundation we shared. We were friends. We understood one another.

I never should have stepped over the line that separated friendship and love. She would’ve moved off of me, I’m sure of it, and we would probably, to this day, still be close, just like she and Kel are. And I mourn that relationship, because I do love Cal. I wishwishwish I could go back in time and fix all of this.

Everyone always remarks on how put together I am, but the joke’s on them. I’ve always had issues. I’ve just hidden them better than others. And in that fragile, needy state, I leaned on a girl I knew I’d end up hurting. Because I was selfish.

Callie is crying, her heart breaking over and over again, and I feel like crap, like a total heel, worse even. Like the asshole who played with his friend’s heart carelessly and is now seeing the outcome of such actions.

I am gutted.

I am a jerk.

“I miss you,” she whimpers, her sobs gutwrenching and broken, even as she holds them back. She hates looking weak in front of anyone. “Gods, I miss you so much.”

I am so sorry, so very, very sorry to have done this to her. Callie deserves love, lots of it, because she’s a good person. She’s smart, and sweet, and tenacious and so loyal and caring to her friends she’d do anything for them, no questions asked. And I’ve crushed this part of her, this fragile web of trust and first love, and I know it’s on me. She handed me her heart, trusted me with it, and I broke it without any hesitation.

I tell her I miss her too, because it’s true. I miss the Callie who I used to spend hours with, sometimes saying nothing at all with. I miss the Callie who I climbed trees with, baked cookies with, and surfed with. I miss the Callie who would listen when the grief over my mom’s loss was too much to bear, and the Callie who would simply hold my hand in silence when I needed it. I miss the Callie who shared her mother with me, the one who laughed with me and my brother, the one who stood by us when our family crumbled down around us.

I miss my friend. I miss the girl who has been there for me for most of my life.

“I hate what’s happened between us,” she says, still crying. “I hate being this girl, the one who’s standing in front of a guy who doesn’t want her anymore, and begging. I’m not that girl.”

“You’re not,” I tell her. Because she isn’t.

“I miss you, and I’m so angry that this all happened. I wake up most mornings, wishing it was a bad dream, but it’s not. I know that. And I feel so confused, so fucking blown away by all this, Jonah. Why is it I keep losing the people I love? It’s like I’m cursed or something.”

I step closer and she pulls towards me, like we’re magnets. I hold out my arms and she steps into them, like a million times in the past, and there she is, Callie, my friend, my ex-girlfriend, and it’s so familiar, like reliving a moment in the past. “You’re not cursed.”

“My parents . . . you . . .”

Oh, Jesus. The guilt is crushing now. “You still have Astrid. And Kel. And me. You haven’t lost me, not really. Just because we’re not together anymore doesn’t mean we can’t be here for one another as friends.”

Her silent sobs wrack her body; it shudders against me and I’d give anything at this moment to stop her pain.

“I love you, I love you, and it’s not the same, it’ll never be the same.” Her voice is barely a whisper. “Gods, why does it have to hurt so much? Why?”

But I don’t know any more than she does. I may be an Emotional, I may be able to instill these feelings in others, but I don’t get why hearts have to break so painfully. It’s like a sick joke on all of us. Love can inspire such wonderful, blissful feelings, and then, once it’s gone, the worst emotions possible. Depression, hopelessness, pain . . . two sides of a coin. And because love is so rare and precious, we risk this without question when any day the tides could turn.

I kiss my friend, in her hair, like I’ve done countless times before. And she relaxes against me and for just this moment, I let myself remember what it was like between us.

“I can’t believe I’ll never kiss you again,” she murmurs, and I feel her heart crack again, and it presses against me in such painful ways. “That you’ll never be mine again.”

She’s accepted that all of her dreams of what could’ve been are now no longer.

She moves in my arms, her breath shuddering hard. “Do you think, maybe . . . just one last time? One last kiss?”

I feel it, plain as day, that she understands it’s over.

One kiss . . .

Kisses can be such innocuous things. Mothers kiss their children every day. Friends kiss each other in greeting. Strangers can kiss hands during an introduction. Lovers kiss in both passionate and comforting ways. But they can also be extremely meaningful. Kisses are, in many ways, both greetings and farewells.

It’s time to say farewell to my friend.

One kiss, I think, is nothing if it helps give her the closure she wants.

So I give it to her, no questions asked, just as she’s given me her trust and love over the years in the same way.

When our lips touch, there is no spark, no addictive passion that once would have led to more. I do not think of how this kiss can lead to others, how it can lead to strings and complications and confusion. But there is something there—there is familiarity. I know these lips, I know how they feel against mine and I know what they once symbolized. What they once inspired. And my mind flashes back to kiss after kiss, and then memory after memory, of the times we’ve spent together, good and bad, happy and sad, and I come to some acceptance, too. I’ve loved this girl—not so much ever the sensation of being in love with her, but love, genuine, solid love, and it means something.

And, like Callie, I am ready to close the door to future possibilities. I’d thought I’d done that, but in my rush to Chloe, I hadn’t. Not really. Certainly I’d come to understand that Cal and I were over, and I would never second guess that, but in that haste, I didn’t actually put my feelings for Cal to rest.

Now, here, I have.

One kiss. That’s all it takes to let go of my friend.

I let it happen, let our lips move together, with the full knowledge that this is the last time.

And then . . .

The pull tugs at me.

Oh, fuck.

Callie is yelling something, but my mind is simply short circuiting. Chloe is here, holy fucking shit, did she just see all that? How long has she been here? OH MY FUCKING GODS, DID SHE JUST SEE ME KISS MY EX-GIRLFRIEND?

Chloe is bolting, and the feelings radiating out from her nearly bring me to my knees, but all I can think of it is that I have to get to her, have to explain, because she will understand if I tell her just what went down, she has to, right? RIGHT? But she’s moving away from me, and she yells at me to not say anything, and my terror goes sky high along with the tree she explodes, and then the fence, and I pause long enough to knock away something that’s about to hit my face, and then she’s gone, she’s gone, CHLOE IS GONE.

I find myself on the ground, pieces of fence all over me and Cal is kneeling down next to me, trying to dig me out, and she’s nearly hysterical, and then Giules is here, saying Chloe just nearly caused a wreck as she sped away, and it’s all just too much. I have to go after her.

“Lay still!” Giules barks. “You’re bleeding, caro mio!”

Who cares? But when I try to get up, she forcibly makes me stop.

“Get the fuck off me!” I yell at her, but then, there’s Cal, also forcing me down.

“Jonah, just listen to Giules—”

I blast them, as hard as I can with any emotion I can get at, but it’s like that’s short circuiting, too, because while they sway and loosen their grips for a second, they recover and once again begin ordering me around.

“You will hold still,” Giules continues ruthlessly. “I need to figure out—”

This time, I muster enough to stun them and then I run out into the front yard, but like Giules said, Chloe is long gone. I run back into the house to grab my keys and phone, but Giules and Cal catch me before I can leave.

Giules grabs my arms and shakes me, hard. “You aren’t going anywhere!”

“I need to go find Chloe!”

“Whatever just happened, whether you two had a fight or what, Chloe just lost control! I don’t care if she is your Connection, caro, but you are going to let her be until she gets herself under control! We do not need a wildcard Creator right now!”

Fighting her is useless, because my hand is starting to throb, and the various cuts and bruises are stinging so badly that it’s taking too much to focus and fight at the same time. But I call Chloe, because I have to, and it rings and rings and only goes to voicemail. I beg with her, plead, to call me back, to talk to me, to tell me where she is so I can go get her, but . . . but . . .

No answer.

The next thing I know, Cora is in the living room, and she’s saying something about broken bones, and who gives a fuck, but then she’s doing something to me, and no matter what I try, no matter how hard I fight, she wins.

To set the scene, this happens in Chapter 23 of A MATTER OF HEART. Jonah has just left to go on a mission in Africa, and Chloe is still reeling from her latest conversation with her mother. Her class has been unexpectedly cancelled, and she’s on her way home.

I suppose I ought to mark SPOILERS! SPOILERS! for those of you who have yet to read the book. And also? I reveal a little secret here that I wasn’t going to do until A MATTER OF TRUTH.


* * * * * * *

Did I black out again?

It seems like a valid question, because clearly I’m in a nightmare. Only, the thing is, whenever I typically black out—be it from the fucking Connection I have or from the vast quantities of alcohol it takes to try to forget said fucking Connection—it’s just that: black. To be honest, I like it, because blacking out equals peace.

This is clearly not peaceful. So that leaves a standard nightmare. Or, worse yet, reality.

Chloe is standing next to the table where I’m sitting with Sophie. Worse yet, she’s grinning with her, and I use this word with the full extent of sarcasm associated with it, cheerleader smile that I used to tease her mercilessly about. It’s super wide and utterly fake and the ultimate in red flags when I need a visual cue for how she’s feeling. This is not Chloe’s smile. Not by a long shot.

“Hi! Funny running into you here!” She’s talking fast. Too fast.

Wake up, wake up, WAKE UP, Kellan. I discreetly pinch myself under the table. Damn. I am awake, and this is real, and I am clearly in hell. I bite back the urge to vomit. “What are you doing here?”  Well, don’t I sound like a psychotic asshole. So I clarify, “I mean, over here?”

Chloe sits down and looks right at Sophie, who is staring at my girl like she’s the most fascinating thing she’s ever seen. Which, Chloe is—don’t get me wrong on that point—but I don’t like where this is going. Because not only is Sophie staring at Chloe in utter fascination, she’s also wildly curious about her. Like she’s somehow just gotten the best gift she’s ever received, perfectly gift wrapped and deposited with a flourish in front of her.

So far, I’ve kept them apart. Sophie has tried too many times to convince me to, and I quote, “double date” with Chloe and Jonah. To which I politely found a zillion excuses as to why we couldn’t, when all I really wanted to say was, “Fuck buddies don’t get to hang with the people I love the most.”

Me = bastard. I know this.

“My class was cancelled,” Chloe says, and it hits me that I can’t sense anything from her. Not one goddamn thing.

Sophie, though, is a wide-open book. So are the people near us. So is the waitress. The people across the street. Hell, the people inside the building across the street. But not Chloe . . .


Sophie kicks me from under the table. Jesus. What are we, twelve? I don’t care how fantastic this girl is in bed, or how long she facilitates my highs, I’m not going to put up with this kind of shit from anybody. I’m just about to say something when I notice the pointed look she’s throwing at me. What the hell does she want now? Oh. The nightmare intensifies. I clear my throat and mutter, “Sophie, this is Chloe Lilywhite.” I have to clear my throat again before I add the next part. “Jonah’s fiancée.” I can’t believe she just made me say the fucking F word. The urge to vomit intensifies. “Chloe, this is Sophie Greenfield.”

I ignore what Sophie is saying—why can’t I sense Chloe?—and instead ask my girl, “Class was cancelled?”

Which, yes, I realize has already been addressed.

She won’t even look at me. She’d rather pick at—what is that? Some spot on the tablecloth? Why won’t she look at me? “So says the note on the door.”

Sophie babbles some more before I cut her off again. “So, you were . . . heading home?” I ask Chloe.

Still nothing. WHAT IS GOING ON?


“You should eat with us!” Sophie’s narcissist tendencies roar to life. This girl just can’t deal without being the center of attention at any given moment, and right now, her curiosity toward Chloe is shifting to annoyance, too. She’s got the whole Alpha dog vibe going, which is completely unattractive. “We just ordered. I’m sure we could get the waiter back quickly.”

Finally, I get to see some kind of emotion on Chloe’s face other than that horrid cheerleader smile. I only wish I could feel it, instead. “Oh, no, really, I—”

“I won’t take no for an answer,” Sophie practically simpers. “I’m quite tenacious, you see. Here, let me go get someone.”

And then, thank the gods, she gets up and goes away. I wish she’d stay away.

“Chloe,” I say, and I’m amazed to hear my voice tremble, like I’m in grade school or something, “I . . . what are you . . .” Jesus. I’m stumbling over words. This is unreal. “I can’t sense any of your emotions right now.”

She picks at the tablecloth, refusing to meet my eyes. “Oh?”

What is she even thinking right now? Gods, she’s smart—too smart—she probably knows that I’ve been screwing Sophie. The only thing that could be worse for me in the moment is had she actually found us in bed. But this here . . . Well, let’s just say if there’d been a gun present, I wouldn’t have minded a bullet through my brain.

She gets up, saying she needs to leave, and panic fills me until my ears ring. “Wait,” I tell her. I can’t let her go yet, not like this. So I grab her, and all of the things I always feel when we touch, every little piece of forbidden ecstasy, crashes through me, making me the mess I always am with her.

For the briefest of flashes, I get my first feelings from her for the day: anger, shock and jealousy are at the top of the list.  And they cut me deeply, because they’re so close to what I feel every single time I see her with my goddamn brother. But then they’re gone, hidden behind some kind of wall I can’t get through the moment Sophie comes back.

I literally have to bite my tongue to not tell her to get the hell away from me. Because then Sophie’s talking about who the fuck knows, and Chloe’s face goes vacant, sort of like mine and Jonah’s do. She’s clearly been around us too long, because her face has always been so beautifully expressive. But this one here, it’s carefully neutral to the point that it’s like somebody stole her body. Or made a robot of her.

It’s scaring the crap out of me.

When she hides herself behind a menu, I allow myself to legitimately begin to freak the fuck out.

“Isn’t that so, Kellan?”

Thankfully Sophie didn’t kick me under the table this time. No, she jabbed me with one of her fingers ,which, until this particular moment, I would’ve conceded belonged to a pretty talented hand. And now the thought of that hand touching me makes my skin crawl.

I honestly have no idea what she’s talking about, so I sort of make a random noise to get her off my back. This goes on for a few more excruciating minutes—me focusing on Chloe, Chloe hiding behind her menu, and Sophie talking about whatever the hell she’s talking about—until a waiter appears and takes Chloe’s order. He has to physically wrench the menu out of her hand, which makes me want to break his hands.

She gets a salad, which only amps up the alerts in my body. This is not a salad girl. This is a hot dog and churro kind of girl.

Jesus. Wake up, Kellan. WAKE UP.

“So!” Sophie’s misplayed senses of possessiveness and superiority are off the charts, “you and Jonah, huh?”

I bend the fork in my hands, I’m gripping it so hard. Because in the next moment, Sophie goes and talks about the absolutely worst thing she ever could around me.

She asks Chloe about her upcoming wedding to my brother.

Over the last year, I’ve basically come see this hellish event between my brother and my Connection as the impending apocalypse. It will, in essence, be the end of life as I know it. I keep telling myself that there will be some way to prepare myself for it, some trick I can perform to make it through it and every day after, but the sad, plain truth is, I’ve yet to come up with anything.

I’ll tell you what, though, I’ll be shitfaced the day before, the day of—hell, probably the entire month of the fucking event. I will also be as far away as possible, preferably holed up on an entirely different plane. J was smart enough to not even contemplate asking me to stand up for him, because that would’ve only led to a resounding hell no, are you an idiot, let me beat the crap out of you response. I’ll probably end up sleeping with too many girls I’ll never learn the names of, jump off cliffs or sky-dive or do anything, ANYTHING at all that will give me a momentary high when all I’ll want to do is die.

It’s maudlin and ridiculously immature, and I’m aware of it. If I’m lucky, I’ll break a bunch of bones or get myself into another coma so I’ll just be able to surf past the entire event in limbo.

Afterwards, though . . .

She will never, ever, EVER be my sister.

There are days (who am I kidding—every single day) I wonder if I should’ve tried harder to hold onto her, if I gave up too quickly or easily to Jonah. And that’s, right there, a huge crux of this, because that’s what I tend to do. I’ve always taken care of Jonah, always. I’ve cleaned up after him, I’ve covered for him, I’ve bent myself over backwards and into pretzels to keep him safe and happy. All our lives, I’ve always been the fuck-up. He’s been the good boy. And I’ve liked it that way, because more often than not, it seemed like he’s got it way harder. Our family, the Council . . . everyone has huge expectations of him, ones he drowns in while putting on a brave face. And for all the ones I’ve suffered through, they’ve never come close to the shit he has to carry around with him. So, I’ve tried to take care of him the best way that I knew how.

I mean, I ripped my heart out of my chest for him and handed it over on a silver platter.

You’d think that would count for something, right? Yet, while I’ll admit he takes care of me, too, it’s not like J never would have let go of Chloe for me. He fucking punished me every single second I was together with her in high school. He STILL punishes me for perceived slights—like when he forced me to come over and stay with Chloe during one of his meetings, and she and I went to Hawaii. I suppose I was lucky she was in the house at the time of our argument, because he was willing to beat me into a bloody pulp. I was willing to give as good as I got, but . . .

But that’s just how it is. Jonah gets his way. I get to get out of his way.

So he’s going to marry my girl, and I don’t know how I’m going to be able to live with that.

“You must be so excited about this,” Sophie says to me, but what she’s really doing is sending out big time vibes that this is what she wants, too. Because in her delusional mind this means . . . what? That she thinks we’ll be one happy family together?!

If I’d thought I’d wanted to vomit earlier, it was nothing compared to this. Sophie’s time has officially expired.

Thankfully, Zthane calls and gets me the hell away from that table before I go and do something I’ll regret even more than what’s already happening. “Kellan, sorry to disturb your lunch—”

“If you were in front of me right now,” I say, scratching the back of my neck, “I just might kiss you.”

He roars in laughter. I’ve been getting such shit from the Guard over dating Sophie. Everyone knows she’s a black widow, and they’ve delighted in seeing how it all goes down. I think there are bets going on, over who is going to be the top dog when it comes to dumping the other. Fools. Don’t they know me well enough by now? “Well, nobody ever said I wasn’t useful at times. I wanted to let you know that Paavo scheduled a meeting tonight at HQ and expects everyone in Annar to come to it.”

“Seriously?” That’s like, what . . . twenty Guard?

“I know. He wants to do a roll call and go over procedures, like we’re some kind of bloody idiots who have been wandering aimlessly around for our entire careers. Pompous blowhard.”

Zthane and Paavo Battletracker get along as well as oil and water. I blame this mostly on Paavo, who is a supreme asshat who can’t see past all the shit on his face from brown-nosing Jens all these years.

“Expect paperwork.” Zthane sighs. “He’s had his secretary photocopying for the better part of two hours now. I am envying Karl for being off on mission right now.”

I look over at Chloe—Sophie is sitting so close. She’s practically gleeful. What in the fuck are they talking about?


“Sorry,” I mumble. “Obviously I’ll be there.”

“Is everything alright?”

No. But how can I tell him this?

“Afterwards, I’d like to go over the specs on the next two missions.”

“That’s fine,” I say at the same time Maccon Lightningriver crosses the street to where Chloe is.

What the hell is that shmarmy bastard doing here?

“There’ve been some changes,” Zthane is saying, “and I want to make sure that things go down perfectly. Paavo is riding my ass to get these things flawless. The Council is all over him lately, especially in light of his ties to Jens.”

“I won’t let you down.” I swear to all the gods, Maccon Lightningriver must have a larger death wish than normal because he is far too close to Chloe right now.

“I know you won’t.” Zthane pauses. “I know I don’t say it enough, but, I’m really proud of you, Kellan. You have exceeded everyone’s expectations. Someday, I can see us all working under you.”

What the FUCK. Did Mac just put his arm around Chloe?

“Don’t be ridiculous.” I force myself to sound calm, even though all I want to do is punch my fish through a wall. “The reverse is going to be true. The Council will wise up about how useless Paavo is and will put you in charge in time.”

My mentor takes compliments about as well as I do.

Just as he’s about to hang up, I say, guilty that I haven’t been listening more carefully (another thing I can hold against Mac), “Zthane, wait. Thank you. For . . . you know . . . believing in me. I couldn’t have asked for a better friend and mentor.”

“Now you sound like you’re the greeting card.” He sounds annoyed, but I know, even across the phone line, that what I’ve just said means a lot to him.

When I get back to the table, I can’t figure out if I should just straight out punch Mac or wait until Chloe leaves and then do it, because I’ve really had it with him. He knows this crush of his on Chloe bugs the shit out of me. I warned him before to back off her, because—even though he doesn’t know about me and her—he sure as hell knows about her relationship with my brother. What does he think is going to happen? That she’ll just wake up one day and think, “Oh, hey, I think I’ll have sex with Mac today?” Because that day is not coming, bro, so you better wipe that smug-as-fuck smile off your pretty boy face.

“Chloe says she has to go,” Sophie says. “I guess she and Mac have some sort of date?”

My fingers curl inward. Okay, hit him immediately it is.

Just as I’m about to swing, the asshole adds, “Dinner date,” practically winking at me. “A work dinner date.”

As they’ve hooked up in the past, Sophie has a bit of a soft spot for Mac, so the idea of him and Chloe hanging out is just about as attractive to her as it is to me. So she says, pretending to be super-cheery when she’s really just wanting to find a way to shut this down, “We should all go together! And then maybe we can all go to the party afterwards?”

Well, for the first time in the last half hour, I’m actually appreciative of the girl, even though there’s no way I will ever spend another evening watching Mac put his manwhore paws all over Chloe again.

“Work stuff. Boring!” Chloe’s got that stupid cheerleading smile on again. “You’d be bored. Right Mac?”

The fucker actually winks at me and lets me purposely feel, nice and loud, just how attracted he is to Chloe and much it’s turning him on to be holding her like he is.

I’m going to kill him. Just fucking rip his head right off and beat him down.

“Right,” he says, making sure his body presses just a little bit closer to Chloe’s. He knows he’s pissing me off. Knows it. “Boring.”

Before I can get to work on kicking his ass, Sophie goes and makes the situation ten thousand times worse, because she decides to mimic Mac and put her arm around me and snuggle in. And while I’ve found her body extremely tempting and enjoyable under other circumstances, right now? I need her to get the hell away from me. Like, forever get away.

Silverware rattles on the table.

Chloe is . . . is she upset? I zone in on her more, purposely ignoring every other emotion in the vicinity, but there is nothing. Not one single hint of what’s going on in her mind.

Why? Why can’t I sense her??

“You Muses don’t deal well with boring,” Mac practically purrs to Sophie. “Am I right or what, Kellan?”


Sophie laughs, though. For some reason, she thinks this dick is charming. “You Council members are so cruel towards us poor Muses. We’re like second-class citizens to you all, or worse yet, the butt of your jokes.”

Not gonna have Sophie slam Chloe, via the Council, right in front of me. So I say, feeling like a robot, “Lizzie Pinkston and Chloe are tight, Sophie.”

And then Sophie goes and basically lets Chloe know that I’ve been (shoot me for even saying it) double dating with one of her best friends.

Mac is loving this. Chloe’s eyes go wide and the motion takes that heart shaped shell leftover in my chest and rips it clean in two.

“Seriously, you two,” Sophie’s saying. “Let’s all go out tonight and—”

That shit-eating grin of his slides over Mac’s face. “Sorry, Soph. Like I said before, Chloe and I have business. See you two later?”

No, no, no. They are not leaving together. Not like this. “Wait,” I says to Chloe, but there is a gulf between us, one a million miles across, because she decides to set the pieces that were been ripped apart from my chest on fire until they’re nothing but ash.

She tells me she enjoyed meeting my girlfriend. And then she leaves with that bastard’s arm around her shoulders.


Jesus. Sophie is here. SOPHIE IS STILL HERE.

I can barely even look at her. I need to go. I need to get the hell out of here and get away from her, THIS, and I need to do it ASAP.

“I liked Chloe,” the person next to me is saying. “She’s really sweet. You must be so happy that your brother is marrying such a nice girl.”

It takes everything in me not to snap. Or destroy everything within the vicinity. The girls I hook up with and Chloe . . . they have nothing to do with one another. Nothing. I have never, ever let Chloe see any of these girls. They don’t know about her—why the fuck would they? She’s the most important thing in the worlds to me. They’re nothing. They’re distractions. I’m a total dick for thinking this, and am well aware of it, but they only serve the role of supplying a high to me.

Chloe has met Sophie.

And Sophie thinks I ought to be happy that Jonah and Chloe are getting married?

And Chloe left with Maccon Lightningriver?

  1. HELLS. NO. To all of it.

“I gotta go,” I say, and Sophie starts freaking out, wondering what just happened, but I don’t give two shits about this. I just need to leave.

So I do without another word. Things are going to change. And they’re going to change right now.

* * * * *

I sent out a very special Christmas present to my readers . . . a short story that has Alice and Finn from the Collectors’ Society collecting a catalyst from Chloe and Jonah from the Fate series! Go HERE to read the short story.