Chapter 3

I’m taken to my old house like a prisoner. Elders lead the way and follow at my back. It doesn’t seem to matter that I returned voluntarily. Cassian made a point to tell them this. He said it more than once. But it only matters that I left, that I had the nerve to slip away — a precious commodity who dared to flee when the pride has specific plans for me.

Stepping inside my childhood home — it feels strange. The space seems smaller, more confining, and I become angry at myself. This house had been enough before. I inhale the stale air. No one has probably been here since we snuck away in the dead of night.

I stare at the couch, at the center cushion with its permanent indentation. It’s Tamra’s spot, her sanctuary. Shunned by the pride as a defunct draki, she’d lose herself for hours in front of the television. It feels wrong without her here, but I understand that it has to be this way for now. Severin commanded Tamra to remain with Nidia. Mom didn’t argue, and I know it’s because she thought another shader would know best how to care for Tamra during her adjustment to her talent.

“Are you going to tuck us in, too?” Mom snaps at the elders lingering inside our house. The faces that had been so familiar and harmless to me growing up watch me with condemnation.

Slowly, they turn and exit.

“Did you see Cassian walk off with Severin?” Mom asks, hurrying to the window. I nod as she parts the curtain. “Hopefully, he’ll persuade him not to… punish us too harshly for leaving.”

“Yeah.” Recalling Severin’s delight over Tamra, I think it’s a distinct possibility he’ll be lenient with us.

With a grunt, Mom lets the curtain drop back in place. “Two of them are still out there.”

I look out the window and spy the two elders standing on our front porch. “They don’t look like they’re leaving any time soon. Guess they want to make sure we don’t sneak away again.”

“Tamra’s with Nidia.” Mom says this as if it’s reason enough for us to stay put. And it is. Even if I wanted to leave the pride, I would never go without my sister. Especially now. My chest feels suddenly tight at the thought of what she must be going through. She must be so confused, so… lost.

“I’d never leave here without Tamra,” Mom says, echoing my thoughts. Her heated gaze shoots to me like I implied we should.

I look away, down at my hands, back out the window, anywhere but at her. I don’t want her to see that I hear that other thing she’s not saying. That I understand what her angry gaze tells me. But I would leave without you.

Maybe I’m not being fair. Maybe it’s my guilt and she doesn’t think that way at all.

Mom sighs, and I look back at her, watch as she tugs her hands through her hair. There are some gray strands in the curly mass. A first. “I can’t believe we’re back here,” she mutters. “Right where we started. Worse off than before.”

I cringe, feel this is a strike against me. Because it’s my fault we’re home again. All of this is my fault. I know that. And so does she.

“I’m tired,” I say. Not a lie. I don’t think I’ve slept since leaving Chaparral, my thoughts too twisted up in everything that’s happened. In all my colossal mistakes. In Will — wondering where he is, what he’s doing, thinking, remembering. Or rather, failing to remember.

I move toward my room, feeling older than I’ve ever felt.


I stop and look over my shoulder at the sound of my name. Mom’s face is indecipherable, cast in shadow. “Are you…” I hear her take a breath before she continues. “That boy. Will—”

“What about him?” Even if Will is the last thing I want to talk about right now, I owe her answers. Even if it means prodding a fresh wound.

“Are you going to be able to forget him?” The ring of hope in her voice is unmistakable.

My thoughts drift back to Big Rock. To the sight of Will sliding down the rocky slope, straight into the grasping, waiting night. There had been no choice. I had to manifest. Had to save him. Even if hunters witnessed me doing it.

I had no choice then. And I have no choice now. “I have to forget,” I reply.

Mom’s amber gaze glows with knowing. “But can you?”

This time I don’t answer. Because words mean nothing. I’ll have to show her, prove to her that she can trust me again. Prove to everyone.

Turning, I head toward my room, passing framed photos of the family we once were. Complete with a handsome father and smiling mother and two happy sisters who never knew how different they would be. How could we have known the reality that awaited us?

Kicking off my shoes, I change into an old T-shirt and shorts from my dresser drawer. My eyes barely glimpse the glowing stars dotting the ceiling before my lids drift shut.

It seems only minutes later that someone is shaking me, ripping me from the comforting embrace of sleep.

“Jacinda! Wake up!”

I shove a pillow off my head and peek blearily up at Az. Thrilled as I am to see her, I would rather pull the pillow back over my head and sink back into sleep, where guilt and heartache can’t touch me.

“Az.” I rub a sleep-crusted corner of my eye. “How’d you get in here?”

“My uncle Kel is on duty on your front porch. He let me in.”

That’s right. Az’s uncle was one of the elders staring at me like I was some sort of criminal. And I guess I am. In effect. I am under house arrest, after all.

“Good to see you,” I mumble tiredly.

“Good to see you?” She whacks me with a pillow. “Is that all you can say after bailing and leaving me here alone while you run off to who knows where?”

“Mom was kind of insistent.” Now wasn’t the time to explain why we left — what the pride had intended for me. Maybe still did.

Then I remember Az was with me that morning I nearly got captured by Will and his family. We both broke sacred rules sneaking off grounds to fly in the daylight. I sit up, stare at her with concern, looking her over. “You didn’t get in trouble, did you? For sneaking off grounds with me?”

Az rolls her eyes. “They hardly spared me a thought after waking up to find you gone. Other than grilling me, that is.”

I exhale and drop back on the bed, relieved. At least I don’t have that on my conscience, too.

Az shoves a long hank of blue-streaked black hair over her shoulder and leans above me, her eyes bright with emotion. “You have no idea what it’s been like since you left. Because you left!”

I roll over and hug a pillow. “I’m sorry, Az.” Apparently, my conscience wasn’t to be totally spared. Admittedly, I’d thought little of Az while I was away. I’d had enough to worry about trying to get through every day in Chaparral.

A tired sigh wells up inside me. Apologizing seems to be all I do lately.

Az sniffs. “Well, at least you’re home. Maybe things can go back to normal now.”

I think of Will and how I betrayed my own kind for him, of my sister and how lost she must feel, of the elders standing guard on my porch. I doubt if anything will ever be normal again. And yet, for all of that, I am relieved to be where my draki can thrive.

“It’s been really suckish around here. Severin imposed a curfew. And he’s tightened the leash on our rec time! Can you believe it? We’re permitted to play airball once a week. Once! It’s just school and work, school and work. He’s a dictator!”

All this because of me? Because Mom took us and ran? Were they worried that others would do the same?

“At least we still get to fly,” she mutters. “Don’t know what I’d do without that. Scheduled group flight of course, though. That hasn’t changed. But he’s limited our air time.”

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