"The humor in this story is always top notch, the tears are also heartfelt.
There is adventure, frustration, love, laughter, and everything that I always thoroughly enjoy in the writing of Lindsey Pogue." - Goodreads Reviewer
Kat and Ross's adventure is available now!
➔ Witty banter ➔ enemies-to-lovers ➔ new superhuman abilities ➔ new characters and adventures ➔ second chances and happily ever afters ➔ action and survival ➔ grizzly bears and so much more!
Ross and Kat have butted heads since the day they first met—he’s gruff, grumpy, and always glaring at her; and she’s sarcastic, sassy, and exasperates the hell out of him. But a lot can change in three years, and with a thriving settlement in Whitehorse, Ross and Kat have had to put their differences aside in order to protect their close-knit community. In fact, they’ve come to need one another more than they realize, until now. Crazed survivors and Ability-hungry madmen aren’t the only repercussions of the Virus, and when a new, unforeseen danger threatens the townspeople, Kat must embrace her unharnessed Ability she’s been trying for years to avoid, and just as Ross realizes his feelings for his smart-mouthed partner, it might be too late. Together, Ross and Kat will be tested, and in the grips of fear, they must fight to save those they love and themselves . . . with a few dozen grumbles and eye rolls along the way. Fading Shadows is an adventure novella in the Savage North Chronicles, part of the bestselling, post-apocalyptic Ending World.
Read the first two chapters below!!
“Once we get this loaded, I’ll be good to go,” Jackson said as he and I each slid a ten-gallon jug of biodiesel into the back of the Tacoma. His dark hair was pulled back behind his head, and his beard was trimmed, like he’d taken a few more moments to groom than usual this morning.
“You’re stopping by the hydro plant to grab Bert and Phil on your way to the helipad, then? Or are they meeting you here?”
“Nah.” Jackson distractedly combed his mustache with his bottom teeth and walked over to a stack of duffel bags. He tossed me one. “They’re meeting me there. Bert wants to make sure Cory has everything he needs to run things before he leaves. And Phil went with him to make sure Bert is supervised and doesn’t scare the kid away from his first lead assignment.”
I grinned. “Shit, that’s right. It’s Cory’s first time running the plant while you’re all gone.”
Jackson grunted as he loaded in another two diesel jugs. “Let’s just say Bert’s a bit unsettled about it.”
“I bet he is,” I muttered. “Cory’s a good kid, but he’s clumsy.” Not to mention, Bert worried something would go wrong with the hydro plant while he was away, no matter what crew we had on deck, or how powerful their Abilities were. It was admirable that he took his work seriously, but he’d been known to scare the piss out of a few recruits with the embellished horror stories that accompanied each one of his rules. It wasn’t as if we would all die if the plant stopped working, but you wouldn’t know that with Bert in charge.
“Then, I’m glad Phil is going to mediate. Maybe Cory will last longer than Hector did.”
Jackson laughed. “Poor Hector.”
“It’s good for the young ones to know the responsibility of this place,” I mused. It was a team effort to keep it going, now that Whitehorse housed over two hundred people. Bert was an old man who’d made it his life to keep the town running, but he wouldn’t be around forever. “At any rate, the water is rushing with all the spring ice melt, so he won’t have to do much. I’ll be sure to check in on him from time to time though.”
The clouds moved in front of the sun, which was expected on a brisk April afternoon, and a chill swept over my skin. I heaved in an ammo bin from the loading dock, curious if I shouldn’t fill a smaller duffel with extra magazines and bullets, just in case. Jackson’s last scavenging trip with his team, to the East, hadn’t gone as smoothly as it usually did, so we’d packed weapons and provisions more generously this time.
“After hearing about that other gang altercation outside Edmonton, I’m going to get you another pack of ammo to take. Maybe some extra pistols—”
“Already thought of it,” he said, nodding to the cab of the truck. “Elle wouldn’t let me leave the house without extra reinforcements.” The corner of his mouth lifted with amusement. It was the same contentment I saw on his face after he’d married my sister, Hannah. I’d been seeing that smirk of his more and more over the past couple of years; it looked good on him. After Hannah and Molly died, I wasn’t sure he would ever be happy again. But he was, and I was glad for it.
I thought about Kelsey’s plummet into insanity and her dying in my arms, then I pushed the memory away and forced myself to think about the living instead of the dead. Death was a cesspool that tended to suck me in every now and again, and it was all I could do every damn day to keep thinking about life instead.
“Beau’s angry with me,” Jackson said.
“Uh-oh.” I chuckled and scratched the side of my face. It was always something with Beau. “What’d you do now?”
Jackson shook his head with a sigh and took a swig from his water jug. “I won’t take him with me.” He wiped his mustache with the back of his hand. “He hates me because of it, of course.”
“Well, I don’t blame you for leaving him behind.” I leaned against the wheel well, feeling the cool metal through my shirt. “Whatever those gangs of kids are up to, it’s nothing good. I mean, I get it—the world ends, you’re ten years old, and you can move a tree with your mind, or lure a meal right toward you. But at some point, you need direction. You and I saw that all the time with the gangs back in Anchorage, and they had parents and normal problems. You’ve got people like Nora out there, leading some of these kids around. It’s crazy, scary shit. And now they’re getting bored—they want more.” I shook my head and thought about the fire outbreaks in the cities, caused by some of them. It was only a matter of time before the renegade youth became a bigger issue, even way out here. “I know some of them just want to be part of a pack to call family, but they’re getting ballsy. They just came up on you last time, like they were fearless.”
Jackson lifted his chin, eyeing me like he knew exactly what I was thinking. “So, what’s your plan?”
He knew me well, and I leveled my gaze on him. Of course I had a plan. “Wall off the bridge, to start with.”
“A wall?” He tilted his head back and forth as he considered it.
“We’d have to man it in order to allow those of us going between Riverdale and the prison, your place, and anywhere else outside the border, through,” I admitted. “But it would give us even more control, and make us less alluring to troublemakers looking to sneak in for winter supplies, or anything else they might think we have worth stealing.”
“It could work,” Jackson mused, and he crossed his hands over his chest.
I shoved off the truck to head toward the few bags left to load. “It has to.”
“Well, count me in. I promised to help Alex and Sophie finish their place when I get back, but it won’t take long.”
A month was a long time to wait to build the wall, and I wasn’t sure we had that kind of time. Plus, Jackson had enough on his plate—patrolling Whitehorse with me, working on his farm, raising Beau and Thea, going on bimonthly scavenging trips—I couldn’t rely on him to be a part of every project that needed doing, but I nodded all the same. “We’ll talk about it when you get back.”
We were far beyond the days when we could all hole up in the prison for safety, and with half of my team gone most of the time, our security measures were laughable. “As for Beau, don’t worry about him,” I told Jackson. “He’ll get over it. I’ll take him on rounds with me a few times while you’re gone.” I handed him one of the duffels, and we made our way back to the truck. “How long do you think you’ll be gone this time, anyway? A couple weeks?” The biodiesel-powered helicopter would shave off a week’s worth of driving, if not more.
“Yeah. We haven’t hit up the Yellowknife area yet, and I expect we’ll find plenty of supplies there.”
“Yellowknife, huh?” The further out Jackson and the team went each trip, the more I wondered how long it would be before we created an installation somewhere out there.
“I left our route in Woody’s office.” Jackson looked at me as we nestled in the last of the bags. “Make sure he sees it when he gets back from Prince Rupert.”
“Will do. They should be back soon.” Kat and Woody had been gone almost a week for their quarterly check-in with Huck and his team, and it had been strangely silent without them. Despite Kat and I not getting along when she’d first arrived with JJ a few years back, we’d fallen into a groove of working together and putting up with one another.
“Aren’t you glad Kat’s coming home today?” Jackson slammed the tailgate shut.
My eyes narrowed on him. He and Elle had a way of asking Beau and Thea loaded questions—a parental move I usually found entertaining—and I got the feeling Jackson was using his parental voice with me now, so I hesitated to answer. “Why would I be glad?”
“Because,” he drawled, “Phil and I are taking off, and she’ll be coming back. You won’t be alone on the safety crew.” With a raised eyebrow, Jackson tried not to smile. “It wasn’t supposed to be a difficult question.”
“Hmm.” I wasn’t sure I bought that, but I let it go. “I don’t know if glad is the word I’d use. She’ll start an argument with me the moment she gets back, and then—”
“If I could get you as riled up as she does, I’d push your buttons too.” He chuckled and walked over to me, shaking his head. “Just don’t kill each other before I get back. We need her to help with the wall.” He clamped his hand on my shoulder. “And check in on Elle for me while I’m gone, would you?”
“Of course, I will. Just get back in one piece.”
“Ha, same goes for you. I noticed Meghann’s had a few more concerned citizen inquiries and neighborly drop-ins than usual over the past few months. Don’t let her run you ragged.” Jackson winked.
I blew out an exasperated breath. “Yeah, she’s uh—”
“Interested, Ross. It’s called dating, you should try it sometime.”
I frowned. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
He laughed and climbed into the truck. “Just returning the favor, brother. Don’t forget how gung ho you were about me and Elle three years ago.”
“Yeah, well, that’s different.”
Jackson stared at me, an annoyingly perceptive gleam in his eyes. “No, it’s not.”
“Yes, it is. You liked Elle. Meghann’s nice, but . . .” I wasn’t sure what she was, other than not my type. “Just get out of here, would you?” I tapped the top of the truck.
“I can see why Kat likes screwing with you so much.” Jackson pulled the door shut. “It’s fun.”
“That’s all I need—two of you on my case.”
“That’s what friends are for.” He nodded a farewell. “I’ll radio in when we get to Yellowknife.”
“Sounds good. Be careful out there, brother.”
Jackson waved through the open window, and with a rumble, the Tacoma started up. “See you in a few weeks!” he called, and pulled away from the loading dock, past the prison, and out the gate.
Jackson wasn’t a soldier, and he couldn’t burn people alive if he needed to protect himself, like Elle could, but he was a survivor and a trained trooper; he was strong and capable—you had to be, living out here. But none of it made it easier to watch him drive away. Not when so much about our lives could go wrong each day.
Even with nightly patrols around the five square miles we were using in Riverdale, the only Whitehorse neighborhood protectively nestled between the Yukon River and Gray Mountain, we were still more accessible than I was comfortable with. There were two bridges in and out that needed some sort of monitoring and defense, and the places people could hide in Whitehorse made me anxious when I allowed myself to think about it too much. No matter how much time passed, there was still so much to do.
When I realized I was still standing in the gravel drive like a sulking child, I turned for the prison—a big hulking three-story building covered in metal sheeting. I was itching to get some safety planning underway.
Bunching my long sleeves up to my elbows, I pulled the side entrance door open and heard another rumble and crunching gravel. I glanced at the open gate. Either Jackson had forgotten something, or Woody, Kat, and the others were back from Prince Rupert.
Our constant communication and trade with them were essential for keeping our growing town stocked with what few creature comforts we had, and the food and weapons we needed to sustain fifty-two adults and over 120 youth under the age of eighteen.
I recognized the sound of the Tahoe’s exhaust before Woody drove through the gate. He waved and pulled up to the loading dock, bringing the Tahoe to a jolting halt. I was surprised to see that only Kat was with him.
“You just missed Jackson,” I said, walking back over to greet them.
Woody pushed the driver side door open, and his rumpled, blonde-gray hair caught in the breeze. His eyes were glassy with exhaustion from nearly twenty hours on the road.
“We saw him headed into town,” Woody said through a stretch.
I glanced at Kat as she flung her seatbelt off in the passenger seat. “She let you drive this time, huh? How did you manage that?” Woody wasn’t the best driver in the world. He tended to steer wherever he looked, and Kat generally refused to be in the car with him at the wheel.
“She can’t drive if she can’t find the keys,” he said with a big smile.
“True.” I reached out to give Woody’s hand a quick shake. “I’m actually surprised you made it back so early.”
“We barely made it back at all,” Kat muttered, and climbed out of the car.
I tried not to smile at her displeasure, and opened the back hatch to help unload. “It’s a relief to see you’re in a good mood today, Kat.”
She lifted a delicate eyebrow as she pulled her hair from her bun, something she rarely did. It fell in blonde waves over her shoulders, and she massaged her head with a groan. “Either my hair tie was too tight, or I have a headache from too much whiplash.” She sighed and glared at Woody.
He threw his hands up. “You shouldn’t have left the keys unattended.”
“They were in my bag, my bag, and I had to piss,” she told him.
“Well, I don’t know what to tell you—”
“Where are Sam and Christine?” I interjected before Kat could get too riled up. I pulled a box from the back of the Tahoe, marked Honey, and carried it to the storage container on the loading dock, empty after having loaded Jackson’s truck.
“I dropped them off at their house on the way in,” Woody said as he started stacking crates on the dock.
“Don’t tell me all of this honey is for Thea,” I joked. “Elle will kill you both.”
Kat grinned as she twisted her hair back up on top of her head. “No,” she said, “It’s for the store. We also got some beef, some grain, and oranges shipped up from California.”
“Taylor will love that,” I told her. She always did nice things for Taylor, and I assumed it was because, like Kat, he’d lost his partner since surviving the Virus. Maybe they were kindred spirits or something. “He appreciates it when you get him new products for the shop.”
Kat shrugged like she was indifferent to Taylor, but I wondered if that was true. She smiled a lot around him, which was unlike her. And I noticed the way he looked at her, even if I hadn’t realized it until now.
As she walked over to help us unload, the side door of the prison opened with a hydraulic squeak. Stanley and Aria stepped outside.
“Ah, good ears. He is back,” Stanley said with a smile. He looked as smart as always with his black-rimmed glasses, yellow-and-white striped bowtie, and his navy, argyle sweater.
“I told ya,” Aria drawled. She sounded more like a teenager than ever. Her long brown hair hung loose around her face and bounced with each of her steps. Her freckles made her look a bit younger than she was, but her brown eyes held a lifetime of lessons and hurt already lived.
Woody’s blue eyes widened with surprise and glittered with merriment when he saw them. “What the hell,” he said. He tsked at Aria. “You’re supposed to be in school, Smudge.” Aria was tall for thirteen and came up to Woody’s armpit as she gave him a side hug. Smudge was his nickname for her because Aria was such a tomboy and was always dirty. A lot had changed in a few years, though, and like Thea, she was getting older. Both of them would be causing boy trouble soon enough, and I didn’t envy any of the pseudo-dads in the slightest.
“Aria went to school this morning,” Stanley explained, “but Sophie sent her home at lunch, since she knew there would be family matters to attend to.” He clasped Woody on the shoulder with a warm smile.
“We’ve got the rest of this, Woody,” I told him, and waved him away. “Go on, I’ll finish up out here.”
“I think I’ll take you up on that,” he said, and with his arm around Aria, the three of them walked back toward the prison. I watched with a strange mixture of relief, happiness, and sadness. They’d found their niche again. All of them had been lost at the beginning, but now they had their people, a family—two crazy uncles and their ward.
“When are they going to get a place of their own?” Kat asked as she lifted the crate of oranges out of the back with a huff.
“I don’t know. They’ve mentioned it a couple times, but I guess they like it here.”
“When we actually start using the prison how it’s meant, they won’t be able to raise her here.”
I reached further into the back of the Tahoe and pulled out two metal crates. “It’s not my business.” Glancing down at the bottled homebrew, I grinned. “Let me guess, these are for you.” I knew how much she liked Huck’s ale.
“No, actually. I didn’t get any for myself this time. Huck didn’t have a lot, so I just brought some for Taylor’s store. I figured I can wait until we go back again to get more.”
“Aw, how thoughtful.”
“Shut up, Ross,” she grumbled.
With a smirk, I stepped past her.
“Oh, wait,” Kat said, turning for the back seat. “I almost forgot the meds.” She hauled out a decent-sized box and set it inside the storage container. “We’ll need to decide what goes to the store and what we should keep for the hospital,” she thought aloud.
“That reminds me.” I leaned against the car. “What did Huck say about the serum?”
Some of the Hope Valley folks had been working on a remedy that reverted the effects of the Virus in survivors’ genetic code, helping people whose Abilities were too much of a burden in their everyday lives feel a bit more normal and in control. It actually started out as a possible “repair” for the Crazies and their Ability-broken minds. Then, the focus shifted to older people who had a hard time controlling their Abilities, probably because of their age, and were an endangerment to themselves and others by no fault of their own. And it was an intriguing option to people like me, who didn’t want their Abilities at all.
Kat’s steely blue eyes met mine. “They’re looking for volunteers to try it out,” she said, hesitating. “I’m thinking about doing it.”
“What? Why?” My tone was harsher than I meant it to be, but I couldn’t help my shock. “Kat, you don’t even know if it will work—what if you die?”
“Careful, Ross. You almost sound like you care.” She smiled, but I wasn’t amused.
“I’m serious. It’s not like I want to be tethered to death, but even if my Ability was magically gone one day, I wouldn’t be able to forget the past—not every life that’s passed through me and what it’s felt like; not the memories. That’s assuming I survived the effects of it at all. Why would you risk being a guinea pig?”
She shook her head. “Why not?”
“I can think of a hundred reasons.” No one wanted to feel people die, like I could, but manipulating electrical energy—the ability to bend it to her will if she ever cared enough to use it—didn’t seem that bad; not enough to be so reckless. Especially not when she had people who cared about her, who she might risk leaving behind if her decision to experiment with something so unknown went horribly wrong.
“Well, it’s not your call,” she said flatly.
I crossed my arms over my chest and stared at her. Her Ability was a topic she often avoided, and I never pressed her because I didn’t think it was my business, even if I was curious as hell, but how nonchalant she seemed about it felt too hasty, even for her. “Why won’t you tell me why you hate your Ability so much?”
“Because it doesn’t matter, Ross. Drop it, okay?”
I hated that I didn’t have a card to play that would force her to tell me. She would laugh in my face if I pulled rank as her boss and demanded an answer. She would make some snide remark if I told her I wanted to know why it affected her so much because I cared. So, biting my tongue, I turned back for the Tahoe. Kat didn’t open up about much, so I wasn’t surprised she was shutting me down, but I didn’t like it.
When we were finished unloading, Kat grabbed her pack from the back, her slender, muscle-hewn arms straining, then she dropped it to the side with a thud.
“What do you have in there, bricks?” I joked, trying to lighten the mood a little. The last thing I wanted was us ignoring one another so soon after she got home.
“Weapons. My radio—” She shrugged. “Stuff.” Kat wasn’t a delicate flower, I’d give her that. “Also, I need a ride to the farm before you go on patrol this afternoon, so I can check on Puck and help Elle with dinner.”
“I’m not going to dinner tonight,” I told her, handing her the last of the bags before closing the back. “Just take the Tahoe. I have my truck.”
“I’m riding Puck home. The Tahoe will be a wasted vehicle.” She dropped her hands from her hips. “Besides, why aren’t you coming to family dinner?”
“Phil and Jackson are gone, and you’re going to the farm—there’s no one to make the rounds.”
“Um—you’re the boss, Ross. You can do whatever the hell you want. Change the damn schedule, no one will care—hell, no one will even notice.”
“Wow,” I said, shaking my head. “I feel so validated right now.”
“Sometimes the truth hurts.” She hit my shoulder. “But seriously, no one will care.”
With a sigh, I nodded to my truck, under the carport at the end of the loading dock. “Fine. Grab your shit.”
“Perfect. I knew you were sensible.”
I glared at her. “Were you this wonderful in your past life? Or am I just lucky to have you as my only deputy for the next few weeks?”
Hauling her large pack over her shoulder, Kat looked back at me with a sassy smile and winked. “You’re just that lucky.”
“Here we are,” Elle said as she stepped outside with two glasses of red wine. She handed me a glass, half full, and then clinked hers against it. “To an impromptu happy hour.”
With a dip of my chin, I smiled. “Why, thank you.”
Elle grinned, slid the screen shut, and took a sip from her glass before she sat on the lounge chair beside mine. I wasn’t much of a wine drinker; at least, I didn’t use to be. I’d always liked to hang out with the guys from my squad, drink beer, spit sunflower seeds at baseball games—and don’t get me started about my competitive streak. I assumed those were real memories, but I sometimes still questioned which parts of my mind were original and which had been tampered with. My time with JJ was all I knew for certain had been me, and I figured that’s why I’d clung to her so much. It was why I loved her, even when she hadn’t loved me back.
Slowly, wine was becoming more enjoyable, though. Very slowly. Elle liked it, and I enjoyed Elle’s company, so I tried to find things I liked about it—it was alcoholic and gave me a good buzz when I needed one; drinking it made me feel different from who I was before, like I was truly starting over and becoming a person I was choosing, not who I was told or programmed to be. I took a sip.
Finding what I liked about wine wasn’t always easy. It made my lips pucker, my tongue twitch, and felt dry going down the back of my throat.
“You don’t like it,” Elle observed with far too much amusement.
I swished it around in my mouth, trying to get a real taste of it, the way we’d read a person is supposed to do in a book she’d found. Then, I shook my head. “It tastes like sour jam, same as the one last time.”
Elle reached for my glass, still held between my fingers, like she was going to take it away. “Excuse you,” I quipped.
“I don’t want you to be miserable,” she said with a laugh. “I’ll get some of Alex’s brew from the fridge. He won’t mind, and I know that’s your preference anyway.”
“Elle,” I said, sheltering my wine glass against my chest. “In the three years you’ve known me, have I ever turned an alcoholic beverage away?”
Her green eyes brightened again, and she shook her head. Her dark hair brushed against her shoulders. “No, actually.” She leaned back in her lounge chair.
“Well, other than my partiality to moose jerky, and my increasing fondness of children, nothing’s changed. I’ll drink it.”
With a contented grin, Elle closed her eyes and lifted her face to the afternoon sun as it peeked through the clouds. “Suit yourself.”
I settled back into the cushion and took another sip. “There are subtle hints of cherry, which I like.”
“There you go, getting my hopes up again,” she murmured. “I commend you for trying, though. I don’t drink when Jackson is around. He says he doesn’t mind my drinking, but I don’t like to.”
I knew Jackson wasn’t much of a drinker, at least not these days. Although I never heard the story, I got the feeling it was his vice, just like working was mine. I had no life, outside of working with Ross, to prove it.
“Is that why we’re drinking at three in the afternoon, because you have the house to yourself?” I set my glass on the side table between us. “I never pegged you as much of a day drinker.”
Elle’s lips parted into a small, knowing smile. “Only on special occasions. And an impromptu happy hour with my best friend, after her being away, is definitely one of them.” Her eyes flitted open, and she peered out at the property that stretched around us. It was much the same as it had been when they’d built it, maybe with a few more animals and an additional pasture. The greenhouse was brimming with greenery, and I wasn’t sure how Elle and Jackson kept up with all of it.
“Let me guess, it’s rough business without Jackson being home, huh?” Elle didn’t have to answer, I knew her well enough now to know she was never whole without him. Not that she wasn’t capable of being alone, because she definitely was—she could protect the homestead, run it, and mediate Beau and Thea without him just fine—but she was anxious when he was away, especially knowing how increasingly dangerous it had become during the past couple of outings. We all tended to be anxious for everyone’s sake when they left: for Ross, Woody, Phil, and even old man Bert. Things in our lives felt a bit more settled, but they would never be predictable. Everything always carried a certain amount of risk.
Briefly, I wondered how much Ross still thought about his fiancé. Obviously he’d loved her, since he was going to marry her, but did he still think about her every day? Did seeing Elle and Jackson together remind him of his old life and what he’d lost?
I loved JJ with every ounce of who I was, but I felt my memory of her fading. I felt the anguish subsiding with it, and though I wanted her to be alive, I’d come to terms with her wanting to die a long time ago. But for Ross, the woman he loved was taken from him; she hadn’t chosen to leave. My situation was very, very different.
That I was pondering Ross’s love life at all was bizarre, but I chalked it up to the fact that, while I was gone, I’d kinda missed him glaring at me every chance he got. And his laugh too, when he forgot he was supposed to be a serious hard-ass all the time.
I cleared my throat. “Where are the kids, anyway?” If I had a watch, I would’ve checked it, but out here we gauged time on the ascent and descent of the sun. Batteries—save for what we needed to run machines or heavy equipment that Bert and one other citizen, Kev, could manhandle with their Abilities—were officially out-of-date.
“Sophie is bringing them home with her, but she had a couple things to do.”
It was a vague answer, but I didn’t pry. “Stanley took Aria out of school today, to welcome Woody home,” I told her. “He was surprised, it was sort of sweet.”
“Aw, that’s so thoughtful of Stanley.”
I leaned my head back and tried to remember my own family. I couldn’t, not even in the slightest. College in Anchorage was as far back as my memories went, then I’d enlisted in the Army. I knew Herodson’s programs focused on homeless and sick populations of people to use or experiment on, people who had little to lose or were already weak and pliable. I assumed I had been one of the two, and I tried to decide whether knowing that made me sad, or if I should be grateful that I didn’t remember.
Whatever Aria’s life with Nora was before the guys had taken her in, she had people who loved her and cared about her now. “They’re a funny family, aren’t they? Cute, but funny.”
Elle chuckled softly. “For the first few months Aria lived with them, I waited for Woody or Stanley to tell me they couldn’t handle a little girl, but they never did.”
“I saw Woody mending her scraped knee the other day,” I told her. “It was pretty damn cute.”
With an amused sigh, Elle took another sip from her glass, then licked her lips. “That’s one thing Stanley still struggles with, and I can’t help but laugh.”
“Blood, tears, snot—he’s too OCD for it. But Woody doesn’t mind taking the lead on things like that, he’s got the protective thing down. And Stanley . . . he’s the nurturer. Aria is very lucky to have them.”
We sat in easy silence for only a second before hammering echoed through the cool afternoon. I peered into the trees. “Is that Alex?”
Elle nodded. “He’s been working on that cabin for weeks. Jackson and some of the guys from town have been helping. He’s trying to get it finished before summer since he hates working in the heat.” Her demeanor changed slightly as she stared into the woods, and her openness faded. “It will be a good place for them, I think.”
“I see, and how do you feel about them moving out?” Alex and Sophie had been a constant part of her life for the past five years. Their household of six would soon only be four.
With a small shrug, Elle shook her head. “I want them to be happy and have a life away from us. It’s the whole point of being here—to start over. I’m happy for them. I hope they get everything they want.”
There was a strange longing in Elle’s voice that was a bit more saddened than I’d expected. “But?”
“Oh, nothing.” She forced a smile. “I’ll miss them, that’s all. And”—she held up her hand—“before you say it, yes, I know they will be just across the river. . . but still.”
“I wasn’t going to say anything,” I promised affably, and I took another sip of my wine. The taste of it grew on me with each swallow.
Elle sat up and turned to face me. “Okay, so I have a question, which you’re not going to like, but I’m going to ask it anyway.”
I groaned and set my wine glass down. “Great. So, that’s why you’re getting me drunk.”
“No—well, sort of,” she admitted.
“Are you saying I’m not approachable, Elle?”
She stared silently at me in answer. At first, it was difficult to look at Elle after JJ died, but I’d since realized that they were different in so many ways, despite being twins, and being around Elle wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would’ve been. Or maybe enough time had gone by, so that everything was just . . . easier. “Well, spit it out,” I said, heaving out a breath in preparation. “Lay it on me.” I took another hearty sip from my glass.
“Ross told me about the serum . . .”
Rolling my eyes, I threw one of my hands up. “Wow. When the hell did he have time to tell you that?”
“You were in the bathroom.”
I growled and looked at her. “First Woody, now you and Ross. Why is everyone always conspiring against me when I’m in the bathroom?”
“First of all,” Elle said, holding up her hand. “We weren’t conspiring. Secondly, he’s worried about you.”
“Right, well,” I said, turning to face her fully. “Did Ross tell you he was considering taking it too?”
“Yeah, but Kat, a lot of things sound better in theory. Do you really want to be experimented on again?”
I let my head fall back, and stared up at the cloudy sky as she continued.
“I mean, what’s so bad about what you can do? Controlling electricity could be so helpful—it could even protect you one day. Why do you hate it so much?”
Squeezing my eyes shut, I tried not to imagine my handprints charred into JJ’s chest.
“I know we don’t talk about Jenny all that much, but had her choice been different—if she’d wanted to live—you could’ve saved her. That’s a good thing. Think about what else you might be able to—”
“That’s the point, Elle, isn’t it? She didn’t want to live anymore—from the moment I saved her life. I brought her back, and she didn’t even want me to.” It wasn’t that I was completely decided on taking the serum, but the idea of not feeling the electrical charge in the air when the weather was turning—knowing I’d never have to smell burnt flesh again at my own hands—would be a reprieve. Even if it was JJ’s face that flashed in my mind when I thought about it, despising my Ability wasn’t about her and what I’d inadvertently done to her anymore, but more the desperation and fear I never wanted to feel again. I hated being reminded of it, and I hated feeling weak; and, if I was honest, I hated feeling the lingering sting of JJ’s rejection that always accompanied it, like somehow, I would never be enough—for anyone.
I forced myself to look at Elle. Her green eyes glittered with sympathy, and I hated that too.
“I don’t want to talk about this,” I told her. “And I can’t believe Ross told you.”
“Why not? He’s clearly worried about you.”
“I’m not sure why,” I grumbled.
Elle barked a laugh—a full, hearty sound I hadn’t expected—and my wine nearly sloshed over the rim as I jumped. “What the hell is so funny?”
“You. And Ross,” she said, more under her breath than to me.
Elle took another drink from her wine glass, peering at me over the rim.
“Stop looking at me like that. It’s creeping me out.”
Licking her lips with a familiar, knowing glint in her eye, Elle lay back against the cushion. “The two of you are just so funny.”
I glanced at her nearly empty wine glass, rolled my eyes, and settled back into my chair. I’m not sure where Elle’s mind was wandering off to, but it made me uncomfortable. “God, you’re such a lightweight.”
She flashed me a sideways glance. “Whatever makes you feel better.”
A low chuff met my ears, and Elle and I both glanced toward the edge of the woods, down by the river. Honey Bear, otherwise known as Bear, named by Thea, poked his head out from the trees in all of his grizzly bear glory. His black, wet nose shimmered in the sunlight, no doubt looking for Beau or food as he ventured closer. He sniffed the air, chuffing again, then took a step closer.
“He’s not here, Bear,” Elle called without lifting her head from the lounge chair cushion. It was as if she was telling one of the neighbor kids that Beau couldn’t come out to play.
Bear’s furry brown head turned in our direction, and slobber dripped from his mouth. He made what sounded like a whimper before he turned back into the woods.
Elle took another sip of her wine and closed her eyes with a sigh. “It’s like I live with Dr. Dolittle,” she muttered, and as soon as the words rolled from her tongue, we both laughed.
I held up my wine glass. “It could be worse. You could be living with the Pied Piper or something.”
She grimaced and clicked her glass to mine. “I’ll drink to that.”
"Another epic read from a very talented author! This book brings the story of Ross and Kat and the struggle and joy of life moving on." - Goodreads Reviewer