The Reckoning / Page 26

Page 26


“Liz, it’s-”

She hit him again, a home-run swing between the shoulders, and he went down with an oomph and an oath. She recognized the voice-or the curse-and leaned over, getting a look at him.


“I’d say he deserved that, always sneaking up on people.” Simon appeared from the direction Derek had come. He glanced around. “Hi, Liz…” I pointed and he turned her way.

“Hey, Simon.”

I relayed her greeting as Derek got up, muttering.

“Did someone say Liz is here?” Tori stumbled out of the forest.

When I pointed at Liz, Tori smiled the brightest smile I’d seen from her since…well, I don’t know when. Liz had been Tori’s friend at Lyle House, and they said hello, me playing go-between.

“What are you guys doing out here?” I asked.

“We’re your official search party,” Tori said. “Complete with bloodhound.”

She waved at Derek, who was brushing off his jeans.

“I left you a note,” I said to Derek. “I told you where I was going and what I was doing.”

“He got it,” Simon said. “Didn’t matter.”

Derek glowered. “You think leaving a note makes it okay to do something-”

“Don’t say stupid,” I warned.

“Why not? It was stupid.”

Simon winced and murmured, “Ease off, bro.”

“That’s okay,” I said. “I’m used to it.”

I looked up at Derek. He wavered for a second, then crossed his arms, jaw setting.

“It was stupid,” he said. “Risky and dangerous. Those guys could be out here with guns-”

“They are.” I turned to Simon and Tori. “Liz saw them. Andrew was telling the truth. We need to get back inside before they hear us fighting.”

It was a silent walk back. At the rear door, Liz stopped. She reached, palm out, and it was like pressing against a pane of glass.

“I think there’s a spell to keep ghosts out, like at Lyle House,” I said. “You might be able to get in the basement or the attic, like you did there. Other ghosts have. I’ll go-”

“I’m fine out here, Chloe. You go do your thing.”

I hesitated.

She smiled. “Seriously. I’m not going anywhere. When you need me, I’ll be here, okay?”

I barely got through the door before I was wishing I’d stayed outside with Liz.

“You were mad at me for staying on the roof,” Derek said, bearing down on me.

“So I took off to spite you?”

“Course not. But you were mad at me for taking a risk. So you did the same, to prove your point.”

“No fight with you is ever worth risking my life, Derek. And I wasn’t mad at you. Upset, yes. Worried, definitely. But if I thought my opinion counted more with you now, it’s a good thing you straightened me out fast.”

He blanched at that. “I-”

“I went out there for the very reason I said in my note. Because we had to know and I was the best suited to get the answer.”

“How? Do you have night vision? Superhuman strength? Superhuman senses?”

“No, but the guy who did wouldn’t come off the roof, so the next best choice was the person without all that. The one they know isn’t a threat.”

“She’s right,” Simon murmured, coming up behind us. “You don’t like what she did, but you know it needed to be done.”

“Then we should have decided that together.”

“Would you have listened?” I asked.

He didn’t answer.

I continued. “I couldn’t talk to you, because you’d have stopped me. I couldn’t talk to Tori because you’d blame her for letting me leave. I couldn’t talk to Simon because he’d know you’d blame him, so he’d stop me, too. I don’t like sneaking around, but you didn’t leave me a choice. It’s black-and-white to you. If Simon or I take a risk, we’re stupid and reckless. If you do, we’re stupid for worrying.”

“I never said that.”

“Did you listen to me up on the roof?”

“I said I was coming in.”

“When? I left twenty minutes later, and Simon was still up there, trying to talk you down.” I shook my head. “Enough. We don’t have time to bicker. We need to make plans.”


WE CONSIDERED HAVING LIZ scout for safe passage, but we were dealing with spells and high-tech alarms-things a ghost wouldn’t trigger. We had to presume the perimeter was locked tight.

We also had to presume it wouldn’t be locked as tight during the day, when they had Andrew and Margaret and the two new people to keep an eye on us. That’s when we had to escape.

Until then, we needed to play along with their plan. Andrew had used us; now we’d use him. That meant setting him free, though. We racked our brains to come up with another solution, but there wasn’t one. To escape, we had to convince them everything was okay. To do that, Andrew had to be right where they expected him to be.

We weren’t letting him in on our scheme, of course. We’d leave him in the basement until morning, then announce that we’d decided the only way to take down the Edison Group was to follow his plan.

Come morning, when Margaret and any others arrived, they’d find us eager to get going. So, we hoped, they’d let their guard down and that’s when I’d send Liz out to make sure the exit route was clear.

If that failed, we’d fight our way out. Then we’d call Mr. Bae.

It was almost six when we finished our plans, meaning we still had at least a couple of hours before Margaret showed up. Tori kept working on Andrew’s computer. By this time, we didn’t expect to get anything more from it, but it gave her a purpose. The guys watched Andrew. That gave them a purpose. And me? I was lost. Scared and lost and frustrated. And hurt. As much as I tried not to think about Derek, I couldn’t help it.

I found a pad of paper and a pen, and went into the parlor to turn tonight’s walk through the woods into a movie scene. I hadn’t written a single line since first arriving at Lyle House. Right now I desperately needed that escape.

I was sketching out the scene when the door opened. I looked up to see Derek standing there.

I kept my expression neutral. “Hmm?”

“Got something for you.” He held out an old eight millimeter video camera. “I found it downstairs. It’s not working, but I think I can fix it.”

A video camera? What would I use it for? Recording our great escape? I didn’t say that, because I knew it wasn’t the point. This was a gift, a way to say “I know I screwed up and I’m sorry.”

His eyes begged me to take it. Just take it. Forgive him. Forget what happened. Start over. And that’s what I wanted to do-accept his gift and smile and see that spark in his eyes and-

I took the camera and set it on the table.

“It’s cold in here,” Derek said. “Is the radiator working?” He walked over and put his hands on it. “Not very well. I’ll grab a blanket.”

“I don’t need-”

“Just a sec.”

He took off. A minute later, he came back and handed me a folded blanket. I laid it on my lap. He looked around, then crossed the room and sat on the couch.

After a few moments of silence, he said, “Why don’t you come over here? More comfortable than that chair. Warmer, too, closer to the radiator.”

“I’m fine.”

“Hard to talk to you over there, across the room.”

He moved down to the end of the couch, though there’d already been plenty of room. He put his arm along the back. He tried for a smile and didn’t really manage it, but my heart still did a little flip.

He’s sorry, Chloe. He really is a sweet guy. Don’t be a bitch about this. And don’t screw it up. Just go over there. Give him a chance and, in no time, you’ll forget everything else.

And that’s exactly why I stayed in my chair. I didn’t want to forget everything else or the next thing I knew, he’d be back on that roof, putting his life in danger.

“You don’t get to do this,” I said finally.

“Do what?” He asked the question innocently enough, but his gaze dipped slightly. “I’m sorry. That’s what I’m trying to say, Chloe. That I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

He looked up, confused. “Making you mad.”

I didn’t answer, just got up to leave. I made it as far as the door. Then he was there, behind me, hand on my elbow. I didn’t look back at him. I didn’t dare. But I stopped and I listened.

“When I got mad about you leaving,” he said, “it wasn’t because I thought it was stupid or I didn’t think you’d be careful.”

“You were just worried about me.”

An exhale, relieved that I understood. “Yeah.”

I turned. “Because you think I’m worth it.”

He put his fingers under my chin. “I absolutely think you’re worth it.”

“But you don’t think you are.”

His mouth opened. Shut.

“That’s what this is about, Derek. You won’t let us worry about you because you don’t think you’re worth it. But I do. I absolutely do.”

I lifted onto my toes, put my hands around his neck, and pulled him down. When our lips met, that first jolt…It was everything I hadn’t felt with Simon, everything I’d wanted to feel.

His hands went around my waist, pulling me closer-

Simon’s footsteps thudded through the hall. We jumped apart.

“And he says I have lousy timing,” Derek grumbled. Then he called, “What’s up?”

“Andrew says he needs to go to the bathroom,” Simon said, walking in. “I’m all for saying too bad, but…”

“Fine. I’ll handle it,” Derek said. “Chloe? Wanna come-”

“I need to talk to Simon.”

He gave me a weird look at that, but only for a second, like he wasn’t jealous, just maybe a little hurt that I wasn’t jumping to come with him.

“It’s important,” I said. “Grab Tori, though. She can help with Andrew.”

He nodded and left.


“SO,” SIMON SAID. “LOOKS like you and Derek are getting along again. What happened? Did he give you the look?”


“You know. The one that makes him look like a whipped puppy, and makes you feel like a jerk for doing the whipping.”

“Ah, that one. So it works on you, too?”

He snorted. “It even works on Dad. We give in, we tell him it’s okay, and the next thing you know, he’s chewing up slippers again.”

I laughed.

Simon slumped into a chair. “The problem is, you know he’s trying to do the right thing. So what if he doesn’t think about himself enough? Would we rather he was a self-centered “jerk?” He shook his head, then said, “You wanted to talk?”

“There’s something I need to suggest, but…Derek’s not going to like it.”


I told him what I had in mind. When I finished, he swore.

“Bad idea?” I said.

“No, good idea. But you’re right-he’ll never go for it. If you even suggest it, he’ll think it’s a test and either get mad or do it to humor you, which won’t help, because if he’s just humoring us, he won’t stay there.”

“Stay where?” a voice asked.

We looked over as Tori walked in.

“I thought I heard Derek calling me,” she said. “What’s up?”

I told her my idea.

“We should have done that the minute we knew they were gunning for him,” she said. “Why would he complain? It’s not like you’re telling him to get lost-just hide out for a few hours, make them think he’s gone.” She sat on the sofa. “You’ve got my vote, not that it counts for anything.”

“It does,” I said. “You’re part of this. We need to start acting like you are.”

I looked at Simon.

He shrugged. “I guess so.”

“Gosh, I’ve never felt so wanted,” Tori said.

“I trust you not to stab me in the back for fun,” he said. “But if it’s in your best interests? I’m not turning around. Just in case.”

“So I’ve gone from evil incarnate to ordinary bitch. I can live with that.” She stretched out her legs. “So who’s telling Derek?”

“No one,” I said. “That’s the problem. He won’t do it and even by suggesting-”

“You want me to lie low?” The deep rumble from the doorway had us all look up. Derek stepped in. “Pretend I took off?” He turned to Simon. “Is that what you want?”

“It is,” Simon said.


“It’s not about what we want,” I said. “Who was the one Andrew knocked out last night? Who’s the one they’re all watching? They want you gone, Derek, and I honestly don’t think they’ll make a move until you are.”

He met my gaze, searching it, like he was looking for something there. He must have seen it, because he nodded. “Okay. You’re right. We need them to relax, and they won’t do that with me around.”

Not exactly the rationale I hoped for, but I took it.

We decided the best place for Derek was the attic. There were windows that Derek could jump out of easily, so it was safer than the basement. Dirtier, but safer.

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