And yet she’d known the whole time that her mission here at St. Richard’s was to end his life.

Ain’t this the crap heap? I swear my undying loyalty and she swears to take my head.

Why was he even surprised?

Because, in spite of the fact that he was half demon, he wanted to believe in the goodness of others. That deep down people were decent. Even nonpeople people.

And as her gaze held his, he no longer saw his chemistry classroom or any of his classmates. Everything faded from his sight, except Nekoda. She looked so sweet and innocent. Just like any beautiful teenage girl. No one would ever guess she was anything except normal.

Same with Caleb. With his dark hair and eyes, and perfect build and features, Caleb was the quintessential Mr. All-American Rich Kid. He bore no resemblance to the winged demon Nick knew him to be.

For that matter, Nick looked normal on the outside, too. Well, except for the hideously foul Hawaiian shirt his mother had guilted him into donning. The only bright side to wearing it was that it’d been known to blind a few enemies sent to end his existence. Or crack them up so badly that he was able to get in a cheap shot before they killed him.

And it served as a great female demon repellant. Human, too, for that matter.

But Nick was anything but normal.

I know what I am. That wasn’t the question. He, like Caleb, was demonkyn, born and bred.

Nekoda’s species was the one up for grabs.

Who are you?

No. What are you?

He’d asked her that question repeatedly. And every time, she’d refused to answer, and now he knew why.

Which meant she could be human, god, demon, soul-sucker, shapeshifter, Fringe Guard … there were so many creatures he’d learned about over the last year that he couldn’t even begin to guess her origins.

For all he knew, she was some heart-eating ice cannibal. That at least explained the cold, bitter ache in the center of his chest.

“Are you planning to take your seat any time in the near future, Mr. Gautier? Or should I start class while you gape blankly in the center of the room?”

His classmates laughed.

Nick turned to glare at Grim over his shoulder. The famed reaper stood before the whiteboard, where he’d written the name “Mr. Graves.”

Yeah, you are whacked, Grim. Totally.

But only Nick saw Grim’s true form—that of a handsome blond man in his mid-twenties. Heck, he even saw Grim’s scythe that was secured with a strap across the creature’s back. To the rest of the room’s occupants, including Nekoda and Caleb, Grim appeared as an average, chubby, middle-aged man in a cheap brown suit.

Yeah …

Nick would laugh, but Grim might take that as a personal challenge and decide to help Kody kill him. Yet what Nick couldn’t get over was Grim’s presence in this room.

It was a sad day when Death had nothing better to do than pretend to be a substitute chemistry teacher.…

No, it wasn’t that simple. Someone in this room was going to die soon and Grim was here to toy with his victim. Nick could feel it with every inhuman part of himself.

But who?

Knowing he wouldn’t have an answer today, he smirked at Grim, which probably wasn’t the brightest idea. But far be it from him to ever let his common sense stop his stupidity. “By all means, commence … Mr. Graves. The last thing I’d ever want to do is keep you from your business.”

Death gave him a lopsided grin. “Wise, boy. I knew you could be taught.”

Nick didn’t miss the sinister undertone and reference to the fact that Grim had been his tutor over this last year. The specter had taught him a lot of interesting things, but those powers had a bad habit, through no fault of Nick’s, of backfiring. Because of that, Grim thought him to be dense and stupid. But he was neither. He caught on quick and saw things other people missed.

Including the fact that Grim had his own agenda where Nick was concerned. He definitely wasn’t tutoring Nick out of the goodness of his black heart.

Nick had yet to uncover the truth of Grim’s motivation, but in time, he would.

Still, this latest information about Nekoda rattled him. Did he dare believe it? Especially since he knew what a troublemaker Grim was. For that matter, Grim could easily be lying just to stir it up.

Trust her over Death. Kody had fought by his side countless times and saved his life. And yet … he heard Ambrose’s voice in his head, warning him that he had yet to experience the betrayals that would one day kill him.

And his mother.

Sick to his stomach with that thought, Nick sat down between Nekoda and Caleb.

Nekoda reached out to touch his hand. “Are you all right?”

Nick slid his hand out from under hers. “Yeah, sure. Why wouldn’t I be?” He pulled his backpack open so that he could grab the books he needed for class, but paused as he saw her frowning from the corner of his eye.

Are you really going to launch at my throat one day, Kody? After we’ve been through so much? That was the question he wanted to ask her. But there was no need to get into this while they were in class. His school rep was already so low he’d have to use a tractor full of dynamite just to blast it up to gutter level. The last thing he needed was to publicly accuse his girlfriend of being some evil demon sent to end his life.

Bad enough they think I’m a criminal and trash. No need to make them think I’m crazy, too.

He opened his book and tried to focus on words that had lost all meaning. You should just drop out and forget this crap. Not like school taught him anything he needed in real life. It definitely didn’t teach him how to survive the predators who kept coming after him. How to avoid all the preternatural traps waiting …

Nick clenched his fist as an overwhelming urge to go tell his principal where to shove this useless curriculum went through him.

I can’t do that.

It would break his mother’s heart. And he’d be labeled a real loser by everyone else … even himself.

If Caleb could suffer through all the indignities, hassles, and boredom of high school with only an hourly complaint or two, he could, too. And unlike Caleb, he hadn’t lived through the history and lessons that were being taught. To Nick, most of this was new.

What’s going on, Nick? Why are you suddenly mad at me?

He glanced over to Nekoda, who’d pushed her thoughts into his mind. He started not to respond, but she was the only one who could hear his telepathy.

Who are you, Kody. This time it wasn’t a question, he demanded an answer.

She glanced away. You know I can’t tell you.

Yes, you can. You won’t and that’s the problem.

She sighed wearily. Why are you on this again?

Because I learned the truth a few minutes ago. You’re here to kill me.

Her features blanched, confirming Grim’s dire prediction where she was concerned.

Anger tore through him so fast and furiously that he could taste it. Are you not going to deny it?

She hesitated before she answered. What do you want me to say?

I want the truth, Kody.

Tears filled her eyes as she looked away from him. For a moment he felt like a heel for upsetting her, then he felt stupid for that emotion. What kind of chump worried about upsetting someone who’d been sent to end his life?

Nick Gautier.

Moron. Fool.

Bad dresser.

Major loser dork.

Kody touched his hand again. The only truth that should concern you is that I care for you. Deeply.

Deeply. Yeah, right. What kind of hackneyed crap was that? It ranked right up there with “He has a great personality” or better yet, “Why don’t we just be friends.”

Nick narrowed his gaze on her, trying to see the truth of her emotions. Did she really care about him or was she just that good an actress?

You are here to kill me.… Yes or no?

She pulled her hand back. It’s not that simple.

He gaped at her. Was she serious? “What could be simpler than that?”

Every head in class turned to look at him. Nick felt his entire face heat up. Oh yeah, like puberty wasn’t embarrassing enough. Now he had to shout out in the middle of class for no apparent reason.

“Channeling spirits again, Gautier?” Stone Blakemore—head jock moron—asked.

“Nah,” Stone’s best friend, Mason, said. “It’s probably some mental disorder, like Backwoods Tourette’s.”

The entire room erupted into laughter.

Embarrassed and ticked off, Nick glared at the aptly named Stone, who was about as intelligent as the average rock … not to insult rocks.

Grim arched a brow. “Are you in the midst of some personal problem? Should I write you a pass for the counselor?”

Nick had to bite back the urge to insult his mentor, but only a fool taunted Death. And the one thing Nick had learned over the last year was that Death didn’t have a sense of humor, and especially not when he was the brunt of the joke.

“No. It was a momentary jaw spasm.”

“Then I suggest you try to control your bodily functions in the future.” Death turned back to the board.

Nick ground his teeth. This wasn’t the time and place for this and he knew it. He’d never been big into drama anyway. Let’s talk about this later.

Kody stiffened. Fine. I don’t want to talk about it at all.

Of course she didn’t. Leave it to him to find the only woman in the universe who didn’t want to talk about her feelings or their relationship. The only one who wanted to keep things status quo and undiscussed.

You all right?

Sighing, Nick nodded at Caleb. If they didn’t stop silently talking to him, he was going to look seriously mental soon.

Worse, Caleb leaned forward and glanced meaningfully to Kody.

Great. Now the two of them were talking to each other and he couldn’t hear it.

Nick raked his hand through his hair as his anger mounted. It was so fierce, it made his ears hum. Over the last few weeks, he’d noticed that his quick-draw temper getting worse. But then he’d always had anger management issues. Way too quick to ignite and even harder to calm. It was why he tried to be easygoing and to let things slide. Why he tried not to care about much of anything.

Yet lately, every little thing annoyed him.

Was this the demon in him gaining power? His future self, Ambrose, had warned him repeatedly about allowing his temper to rule him. Normally, it was Kody who calmed him down when he got into these moods.

Yeah … not today. Today, the mere mention of her name ignited his fury. He felt on edge and closer to losing it than he ever had before—except for those times when he had actually lost it.

C’mon, class. End already. I definitely need a time-out.

Why couldn’t he have the power of time manipulation? According to Ambrose that was the only power he’d never possess. Not unless he stole it from others.

Of course, he did have the power of suggestive persuasion. That one actually worked most of the time … but not with Death. Dang you for teaching this class.

It felt like torture, and not the usual my-class-is-too-long torture he was used to.

“Am I boring you, Gautier?”

Nick blinked as he realized Grim was talking to him. He chose to ignore the snickers and snide comments from the peanut gallery who were so easily amused, as most mindless creatures were, by his lack of attention. “Excuse me?”

“We’re going over the periodic table. I’ve asked you, four times now, what is R-U, and what’s its element category and atomic weight.”

Like he knew that? Who in their right …

His thought trailed off as the answer popped into his head. “Ruthenium. It’s a rare transition metal. The atomic number is forty-four and its weight is 101.07. It has a melting point of 2334 degrees Celsius and 4233 degrees Fahrenheit and a boiling point of 7502 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything else you want to know about it?”

Wait … Did he understand any of that?

Yeah, weirdly he did.

But how? Was this another power that would come and go, and that would never work properly?

Grim nodded with a grudging light of respect in his eyes. “So you can learn by osmosis.”

That was one theory. ’Cause he had no other way to explain how he knew something he couldn’t remember ever seeing. It had to have seeped into his skin while he slept on top of his chem book. That made sense to him. “Apparently.”

“I always knew you were a freak, Gautier,” Stone muttered.

Nick’s temper exploded.

And so did Stone. One second he was mocking Nick and the next, his shirt caught fire. Nick jumped up with Caleb and half the class. Some of the girls screamed and ran for the door while Grim stood back with an evil gleam of hope in his dead eyes.

Brynna Addams grabbed the fire extinguisher from the wall and tried to work it.

Nick ran to her and held his hand out for her to surrender the red canister. Given the propensity of their old stove to spontaneously burst into flames whenever they used it, Nick had a ton of experience using these.



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