“We’ll keep an eye on him, Cherise, I’m sure he’ll be much more comfortable at home.”

Once she agreed with Ash, it seemed to take him forever to get out of the hospital and headed back home.

His mom ranted the whole way. Wow … too bad nagging wasn’t an Olympic sport. His mom would easily take the gold. “I can’t believe you were attacked again. He better be glad the police have him. If I ever lay eyes on him…”

“Mom, breathe. He only did what you’re threatening to. He thinks I raped his daughter. We’re both lucky he doesn’t have your temper or a gun, otherwise, I’d be dead.”

She reached over and squeezed the hand on his broken arm.

Nick yelped. “Now? Now you want to hold my hand? I swear, Ma, you’re twisted.”

She rolled her eyes at him, then parallel parked in a space in front of their apartment.

Nick got out and waited for her. “Are you going back to work?” Please, please go back to work.…

“I hadn’t planned on it.”

Of course not. That would make his life too easy. C’mon, please, go to work. I’ll be fine.

“But you know, Nicky, you’re looking fine to me. I think I’ll go on.”

Was that his powers? Could it be one of them was actually working?

She handed him her keys. “You can let yourself in, right?”

“Yeah. Are you walking to work?”

“I normally do.”

Then he decided to test his powers to see if it was him or just weird luck. Take the car. You might need it.

His mother paused mid-step, then turned around. “But you know, I might need it, and given what happened to you … Yeah, I better take it to work.”

Nick gaped at the fact that he finally had a working power. And it was a good one too!

“Let me let you in.”

He waited until she’d unlocked the door and left before he summoned Kody and Caleb. Luckily, after Kody had talked to Brynna about Nick’s plan, Kody had then explained everything to Caleb.

“And you’re sure you saw a Trexian?” Caleb asked. “You were in the middle of another near-death experience. The chemicals in the brain can kick up all kinds of weirdness with that type of stress.”

“I’m sure, Caleb. Since I’ve been on house arrest, I’ve taken your advice and have overcome my bibliophobia. I’ve been doing a ton of research.”

Caleb appeared shocked, then impressed. “Really?”

“Yeah, you know they have all kinds of information online.”

Caleb passed an irritated smirk at Kody. “He can find more ways to navigate out of something he doesn’t want to do than anyone I’ve ever met. Impressive. Irritating, but impressive.”

“So what’s the plan?” Kody asked.

“I’m going to pick up Brynna and then we’re going to pay the Trexian a visit.”

Or Nick was going to jail for a really, really long time.…

* * *

Brynna was still protesting as they stood outside of Dina Quattlebaum’s house. “Nick, I’ve known her most of my life. You’re absolutely wrong about her. She didn’t do this.”

He refused to listen to her. “Then we can apologize. But I don’t think I’m wrong. I know I’m right. Think about some of the things written on the site. The feelings of being invisible.”

Brynna scoffed. “Everyone feels invisible at times. Dina’s no different than anyone else. Believe me, she wouldn’t hurt a flea. Never mind me, or anyone else.”

“Bryn, if I’m wrong, we apologize and go home. But if I’m right…”

All of this would stop.

“Fine. Go on, then. Embarrass yourself. I’m right behind you.”

Kody stopped them. “That might not be a good idea, since we don’t know if she lied about her rape, or not. If she really was attacked, and she’s not lying about that part, seeing Nick might unhinge her.—For all we know, her attacker really looked like him.”

She had a point. A very good one.

“Nick, stay in the bushes and I’ll check it out.” Brynna went up the walkway.

Hoping for the best, Nick came in from the side of Dina’s yard. He’d just ducked into the hedges that surrounded the ornate front porch, when Brynna knocked on the door.

No one answered.

Brynna glanced at him. “Maybe she’s not home.”

Nick knew better. He could sense people inside the house. Most of all, he could feel the deep sadness and hatred that fed the demon part of him. “Try again.”

She did.

After a few seconds, the door opened slowly. Dina stood there in a pair of dingy sweats and an oversized gray sweatshirt. Her hair was in pigtails, and it was obvious she’d been crying. Her eyes were swollen and her nose red. Sniffing, she frowned at Brynna. “What are you doing here?” Could there be anymore hatred in that one single word?

“You haven’t been in school for the last few days and you haven’t returned my calls. I was worried about you.”

“I’m fine. Just leave me alone, okay?” She started to close the door.

Brynna stopped her. “Why have you been crying?”

“I haven’t been crying.”

Yeah, right.

“Then that’s one bad allergy you have. Have you been to a doctor about it?”

If looks could disintegrate people, Brynna would be porch dust. “Why don’t you just go back to your perfect little life and leave me alone. I’m not your pet project, you know?”

Brynna scowled. “What are you talking about?”

Dina sneered at her. “You’re such a bitch, Brynna. Go.”

Brynna refused. “I’m not going anywhere. We’re friends. And I don’t understand where all of this animosity is coming from. What has happened to you?”

“You want to know? You really want to know?”

Brynna was aghast. “Of course.”

Dina sniffed. “Who did you ask to be on your stupid committee? Huh?”

Brynna appeared stumped as she tried to remember.

“You’re so pathetic,” Dina snarled. “Okay, let me help you. Who did you not ask that you should have?”

Brynna’s scowl deepened. “Well … Casey had cheerleading practice so I didn’t ask her.”

Screwing her face up, Dina grimaced at her, then tried to slam the door in Brynna’s face.

Brynna caught it again. In that instant her eyes lit up as she finally understood what Dina was talking about. “You? You’re mad at me because I didn’t ask you?”

“Of course I’m mad at you. You slapped me in my face, in front of everyone.”

“How?”

“We’re supposed to be friends, remember? Everyone knows that except you. I waited and waited for you to ask me, but you didn’t, did you? No. I’m not good enough to be part of the Brynna Addams posse. You didn’t even bother to get the license plate number of the bus you threw me under, did you? No. Because you don’t care. It’s all about you, all the time. You couldn’t care less about anyone else.”

Brynna snapped her jaw shut and looked straight through Dina. “Have you lost every shred of sanity? Really? What are you thinking? I didn’t ask you because you hate dances with a passion. You’re always ranting and ranting about them and how lame you think they are. How you’d rather be set on fire than look like an idiot in public. No, wait, wait, wait, wait, your exact words … ‘It’s just an excuse for horny teenage boys to publicly grope girls and get away with it.’ The last thing I want is to feel one of those”—she made air quotes with her hands—“disgusting things rub up against me while I’m dressed nice. Nor do I want to bump and grind on a girl. If I want to pay homage to Sappho, I’ll write her a poem. Is that not verbatim your constant tirade?”

Now it was Dina’s turn to sputter.

But Brynna gave her no reprieve. Not while she was on a roll. “That is why I didn’t invite you. I didn’t think you’d enjoy it, and given your most voiced negative feelings about dances, I thought it would make you mad if I asked. I figured you’d think that was an insult. Excuse me for trying to save your feelings. But no, it’s not me, is it? You were looking for a reason to be angry at me, because I guarantee if I had asked, you would have been offended and you would have accused me of not paying attention to you or caring enough to really listen to your rants. Of not being a real friend because a real friend wouldn’t have asked, knowing how you felt about dances.”

As Dina became more flustered, her skin began to mottle. Her eyes turned glassy.

This wasn’t good.

Terrified for Brynna, Nick jumped up on the porch. Just as he reached her, Dina lunged for Brynna and slammed into his broken arm. The pain from it was staggering. He clenched his fist against the cast, but not even that helped. For ten seconds, he feared he might pass out from it.

But after that, something peculiar happened. He felt a charge in his powers similar to what he’d experienced in jail. It was like they went into overdrive.

Dina’s teeth elongated. Her eyes turned solid white as she snarled and hissed, trying to kill them.

From someplace deep inside, Nick tapped his inherited memories that came from his father and all the Malachai before him.

He caught Dina with his good arm and hauled her back from Brynna. When he spoke, it was in the Malachai’s voice and in his native tongue. “You have no right to possess this girl. Let her go.”

The demon protested its orders. “She invited me in. She wanted me.”

“And you have used her against me. Have you any idea what I do to demons who come against me?”

The demon sniveled obsequiously. “Forgive me, Master. But remember, I have helped you grow stronger. You have learned from me.”

Nick tightened his grip. “And there are much better ways to teach.” With his powers and the words Xenon had taught him when they’d gone up against his coach, Nick forced the beast out of Dina.

As soon as she was free of the demon, she passed out in his arms. Nick laid her down on the porch at Brynna’s feet.

“Watch her.”

Eyes wide, Brynna nodded.

Nick went after the Trexian to keep it from jumping into someone else’s body. But instead of fleeing, it went into attack mode. With a resounding cry, it spun on him.

Kody froze as she saw the Trexian tackle Nick. She took a step forward to help him, but Caleb caught her. “What are you doing? He has to learn to protect himself. We can’t keep jumping in and helping him.”

Kody didn’t want to hear that. “But—”

“No, buts, Kody. If you want him to live and to thrive, he has to do this himself.”

Easier said than done. “He’s hurt.”

“And it’s strengthening him. Look.”

She did, and he was right. Since the Malachai was born of the darkness, it was those negative emotions that fueled him.

Still, she cringed every time the demon got a punch in. It went low and swept Nick’s feet out from under him. But instead of falling to the porch, Nick twisted his body and even with his arm in a sling, flipped to land on his feet.

The Trexian tried to bite him. He caught it in one hand and drove it back.

Nick felt his grip weakening. While he’d had the demon under control, he was fast losing it and he wasn’t sure why.

“You are not the Malachai,” it sneered, mocking him. “You don’t have your full powers. You are nothing. Worthless spittle on the sidewalk. Trash.”

That last word, instead of kicking him in the gut and making him feel less than human as it had in the past, fortified and angered him. For the first time in his life, he realized it wasn’t true.

Nick Gautier was not trash. And he fully understood Grim’s warning about how silkspeech and influence could backfire.

He smiled at the Trexian. “Baby, I ain’t trash. Trash is something you throw away. My people keep me.”

And with that, he felt his powers rise up and shoot out.

The Trexian screamed as Nick finally banished it back to the darkness that had birthed it.

Unfortunately, as it went, so did Nick’s anger. And it left so fast that it zapped every bit of his strength. One moment, he was standing. The next …

Ow …

He hit the boards on the front porch face-first. Oh yeah, they definitely had to work on this. It was not dignified to kick butt and then hit dirt like a deflated balloon.

Kody came running to his side. “Nick? Nick?”

“I’m all right … well, all right is a stretch. I should say I’m breathing. Kind of.”’Cause breathing was really hurting right now. “And I’m really wishing I’d taken something for the pain.” But unfortunately, he could never do that again. Bad things happened to him whenever he lost control of himself, and the last thing he needed was a painkiller knocking him out.



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