—La Luna. She’s the Moon Card. The Archer.—
So if every Arcana had supernatural powers, hers was archery? The Olympics frowns on performance enhancers, Selena. Or it’d used to. “Meeting her was wild,” I told Matthew. “I heard her call so clearly, then poof, her voice in my head went silent. And when we first met, I saw something flash over her, like a picture.”
—Tableau. A card. How we recognize each other. But Evie . . .—
“I knew it. I’ve been hearing her voice for months, and now I’m in her house? This is too weird.” I stretched my arms over my head, surprised my migraine wasn’t worse. The pain was manageable—even though he sounded much louder than normal. Had I cut some of the distance between us?
“So is the Moon good? Or evil, like Ogen?” I wished Matthew would say she was just like El Diablo, or worse than! I’d be forced to get Jackson away from her.
—Good or evil?— Matthew sounded confused by my question. —She’s the Moon. But Empress, we need to talk . . .—
“What’s up?” Rubbing my eyes, I swung my legs over the side of the bed and eased to my feet.
The bed disappeared behind me.
I was no longer in Selena’s guest room. I found myself standing with Matthew in his basement playroom, but water was rising around our calves. His khaki pants and long-sleeved button-down were soaking wet. He was shivering.
A flashlight burned from a peg on a nearby wall, allowing me to see him clearly. His face and hair were dripping, his brows drawn together.
I’d known he had even features and deep brown eyes. But now I could see lighter flecks in his eyes, could gauge the strength of his lean physique. He was almost as tall as Jackson.
“Why are we down here and where’s all this water coming from?” Obviously, there were still big reserves of water out in the world—we just had to find one.
Then secure it.
“Tremors,” he said. “Pipe burst. Water tower.”
“Then the whole place could flood?” When he nodded, I said, “Matthew, you have to leave this room immediately!”
He remained motionless, like a dog that had been commanded to sit in the middle of a busy freeway. “Can’t.” He looked so pitiful, so lost, his big brown eyes darting.
“Yes, you can! Get out now,” I ordered him, wishing I could shake his shoulders. The protectiveness I felt for him staggered me.
Beanbags floated past our legs as the water steadily rose. “Can’t,” he repeated. “Mother locked me in.”
“Why would she do that to you? Does she know your basement is flooding?”
He nodded. How could she condemn him to drown?
“Mother knows what’s b-best for Matthew.” He rubbed his palms over his upper arms. “Mother knows I won’t stay in the car. Shouldn’t have fixed engine. Bad, Matthew, BAD!”
“I don’t understand what you’re saying! Kid, just listen to me. Is there a window? There has to be a way out! You’re strong—go break down the door!”
“Clock stops. Don’t have to see the future to know that.”
“What does that mean? Like, you’ll die?” The idea rocked me. I had this friend out in the world waiting for me. Now I was going to lose him?
“Mother’s dead. I follow.”
No, he can’t die! “I’m coming for you! Where are you?” Please be close enough for me to reach in time. . . .
He gave me a sad smile. “I’ve always been on your way.” The vision wavered, then changed to a time before the Flash.
He was in a backyard, at a barbecue with other kids, but they wouldn’t talk to him. So he wandered off, standing all alone as a rocket blasted off in the distance.
“Rocket? Oh, dear God, you’re in Houston! Or . . . or Florida!” Just as I started to despair, I saw a hilly dirt road scored with washboard ruts. Hilly?
Then I clearly saw the T-shirt he’d worn. HUNTSVILLE SPACE CAMP. “Huntsville! In Alabama?” Only one state over.
But all the way north.
“Matthew, how long ago did it start flooding?”
“Couple of hours.” So roughly one foot every two hours. Maybe?
I could make it to Huntsville in time—if I could talk Jackson into driving me and the winds cooperated. “I’m coming for you, kid. Just hang on!”
Once the vision faded, I hurried to dress in another borrowed outfit—jeans too tight over my ass and too long and a T-shirt. I yanked on my damp boots over a pair of spotlessly white socks.
Minutes later, I was jogging down the stairs with my packed bug-out bag.
I found Jackson in the kitchen, shirtless, wearing only his new jeans. He sat with his head in his hand at the breakfast counter, while Selena—clad in a short silk robe—happily scrambled powdered eggs for them.
She poured him a tall glass of some orange drink, then doused it with a healthy splash from a vodka bottle. He took the drink without a word, blearily downing half of it in one gulp.
When she rubbed a knuckle in his hair, I realized that I was probably witnessing their morning after. And I wanted to vomit.
This domestic scene dashed any lingering hope that Jackson wouldn’t sleep with her. He’d found a girl who would “put out.” And I knew he would never leave this Shangri-la of hunting and gourmet food and sex.
Not for the irritating former cheerleader who couldn’t heat soup. The one who always made things so difficult for him. The miserable tease.
But for Matthew’s sake, I would still try to get Jackson’s help. Even if he didn’t pick me.
Hoping to ward off my tears, I assumed a cheery air. “Good morning, guys.”
He swiped his forearm over his mouth. In a murderous tone, he said, “Where you goan, Evangeline?”
“Same place I’ve always been going, Jackson.” Just need to make a quick stop on the way to save a boy’s life.
Selena sat at the counter and crossed her long legs, unconcerned when her robe split all the way to her upper thighs. But hey, Jackson had already seen the goods, right? “Evie, I talked it over with J.D. last night—and you’re more than welcome to stay here as long as you want. Like, even permanently.”
They had talked it over, and they were extending the invitation. My claws tingled—as if they were waking up. “Thank you for the offer, but I have to get going.”
“You’d really leave all this food and water behind?” she asked. “The electricity and security?”
Yes, her estate was perfect. Too perfect. A place like this could tempt a girl from her mission if she wasn’t careful.
“North Carolina is cannibal and plague territory,” she continued. “What’s the rush?” She seemed very serious about getting to the bottom of this.
Jackson hadn’t told her the details? Not during their beer binge last night, or their—what was it called—their pillow talk?
I had to admit I was surprised. “Like I said last night, I’m going to join my grandmother there. I belong with her.”
Selena took a sip of Jackson’s drink. “Why would you believe she’s still alive? I hate to say this, but she’s probably not, you know?”
Jackson threw his hands up. “Just what I told her!”
“There’s got to be more to this than a long-lost granny,” Selena said. “She’d never want you to sacrifice the safety you could find here just to try to locate her. All that’s out there is death and more death.”
—The water’s rising!— Matthew called, making my head throb.
Fighting for focus, I muttered, “She is alive.”
Jackson’s scowl deepened. “You’re not even goan to consider staying here? Not even for a few days?”
Days? My temper flared. I didn’t have hours! “You know I have obligations. I keep my promises.” I bit my tongue as soon as I said that.
“Ohhh,” Selena said, “this is because you two had a spat last night? No offense, honey, but it seems totally rash for you to go running off like this.”
She made it sound like I was flouncing away in a huff. As I commanded myself to rein in my temper, the strangest thought arose: She’s needling me so I’ll justify my leaving, so I’ll spill why it’s so important.
But why would she care? And if she was deceitful, did that automatically mean she was dangerous?
Even if I’d been tempted to level with Jackson about what was at stake, I feared he’d tell her.
“Thanks for your concern, Selena, but I’m going.” I faced Jackson. “Are you going with me?”
He narrowed his eyes. “She said you’re welcome to stay.”
Calm. Breathe, Evie. “Then this is where we . . . split up?”
“I’m good here.”
Don’t cry, don’t cry. Swallowing my pride, I said, “Okay, but would you please just drive me as far as half a tank will take us, and then you can come right back?”
He crossed his arms over his chest. “Non,” he answered, studying my expression.
Somehow I forced myself to turn to Selena and utter the words: “Can I please borrow your motorcycle, if I swear to bring it back?” As if I can drive one.
“Sweetie, take anything else you like, anything. But that’s my only transportation.”
With a sinking feeling, it dawned on me that these two weren’t going to assist me whatsoever. They were happy to let me walk out that door, to face the road alone.
Which meant they were just wasting my time. Matthew’s precious time.
“Okay, then, I have to go.” Yesterday Jackson had found a motorcycle out on the road. Maybe I could find a car? A freaking ten-speed? “Oh, I almost forgot.” Yanking open my bag, I snatched out that copy of Robinson Crusoe and tossed it across the counter. “Bonne chance, Jackson.”
Just before I turned toward the door, his brows drew together and that muscle ticked in his jaw.
Selena called, “Evie, at least let us set you up with some supplies or camping gear.”
My shoulders stiffened, but I kept going. Outside, I muttered, “Let us set you up?” I already cleaned you out of PowerBars, bitch.
I jogged to the end of the drive, telling myself that I didn’t have time to cry over Jackson. Matthew’s fear was palpable, his voice growing louder and louder until all the others were dim. Maybe that was because he was so close to me?
Or was it because I was learning to focus on just one at a time?
As I triggered the entrance gates to open, I imagined Jackson running after me, begging forgiveness. But I made it off the property and onto the street, alone.
He hadn’t even said good-bye.
I needed to get to a gas station, grab an Alabama map, then hope for a miracle in the form of a working car.
Shit. I probably should’ve asked for my shotgun back. But I’d gotten used to Jackson handling the weapons, and I’d never learned to shoot anyway.
Would my claws be enough to protect me? If I could ever get them to flare on command?
By the time I’d reached the first crossroads, I felt a slight breeze. Dreading the coming winds, I stood in the middle of the intersection, trying to guess which direction I should take.
I rubbed my pounding temples. I needed to go north. Which was where exactly?
Four possible choices. I was totally turned around, not surprising considering my sense of direction—as well as the fact that I’d been asleep when we’d arrived here last night.
I gazed up at the sun, as if I could determine my way from its position. I bet Selena could.
Hey, Matthew, I’m going to need some help here.
Again I got that flash of the rocket, accompanied by a new wave of pain.
No, no—I need help getting out of this subdivision!
I was starting to panic, ordering myself to choose a damn direction, any direction. I’d just taken a turn to the right when Jackson came striding around the corner with that menacing gait.
He’d pulled on a white T-shirt, inside out; his boots were unlaced. The shotgun was strapped haphazardly over his shoulder. He wasted no time insulting me. “You’re a fool, Evangeline Greene!”
So much for begging for my forgiveness. Between gritted teeth, I asked, “Jackson, I don’t suppose you came out here because you’ve changed your mind? About driving me for half a tank?” It was a long shot, but . . .
“Came out here to see if you were coo-yôn enough to go off alone. You doan even know where North Carolina is!”
I didn’t have time for this! “I figure I’ll head north.” I kept walking.
“Then why are you heading west ?”
I jogged back to the intersection and adjusted my bearings, but he just laughed. “Now you’re marching south, peekôn.”
I did an about-face.
“There you go,” he called, following me as I picked up speed. “North! Guess that saying’s true: Even a blind pig can find a truffle every now and again.”
Ooh! I glared over my shoulder, but continued on. Great. The winds were increasing.
“Why are you so set on leaving?”
“It’s not like I just sprang a trip on you,” I tossed back at him. “I’ve told you from the beginning that I had to do this. And now you’ve made it clear that you want to stay here indefinitely.”
—Water! Rising!— Matthew’s urgency was like a banged gong reverberating through my mind.
I barely resisted the urge to clasp my forehead. “What do you want, Jackson? What more is there to say? I asked you for help, and you wouldn’t give it to me!”
“So you just took off.” In a low voice, he said, “I’m that easy to leave behind?”
“Seriously?” I snapped. “After last night?” At once, I regretted it. What he and Selena did was none of my business.
“Damn it, Evie!” He caught up to me with a scowl. “What is so all-fired wrong with me trying to sleep with you? You act like I’m stupid for even considering it!”