I forced my eyes closed and focused on tomorrow. After school, Daemon and I were heading to Martinsburg in an attempt to find Luc. The group thought we were just getting away for the night. Hopefully after our visit, we’d know a little more about what happened to Carissa.

I slept fitfully that night. It had to be late when I felt Daemon settle in beside me, his arm firmly around my waist. Half asleep, I decided he needed to be more careful. If my mom caught him in my bed again, things would get ugly. But I was content in his arms and settled back against him, lulled to sleep by his warm breath along the back of my neck.

“I love you,” I think I said. It may have been a dream, but his arm tightened and his leg slid around mine. Maybe this was just a dream, because there was a surreal quality to it. Even if it was, it was enough.

Chapter 27

Lesa practically tackled me the moment I stepped into school the following day. I hadn’t even made it to my locker. Grabbing my arm, she tugged me into the alcove near the trophy case.

I knew from the moment I saw her that somehow she knew something bad had happened. Her face was pale, eyes shadowed, and her lower lip trembled. I’d never seen her so upset.

“What’s wrong?” I forced my voice even.

Her fingers bit into my arm. “Carissa’s missing.”

I felt the blood drain from my face and croaked out a, “What?”

Eyes shiny, she nodded. “She had the flu, right? And apparently she got really sick in the last couple of days, running a high temperature. Her mom and dad took her to the hospital. They thought she had meningitis or something.”

She let out a shuddering breath. “I didn’t know anything until her parents called me this morning asking if I’d seen or talked to her. And I was like, ‘No. Why? She’s been too sick to get on the phone and all.’ And they told me she disappeared a couple of nights ago from the hospital room. Her parents have been looking for her and the police wouldn’t file a missing person’s report until she was gone for forty-eight hours.”

The horror that whiplashed through me wasn’t faked. I said a few things and I really didn’t know what. Lesa wasn’t processing anything anyway.

“They think she walked out of the hospital—that she was that sick and she’s probably out there somewhere, lost and confused.” Her voice trembled. “How could no one see and stop her?”

“I don’t know,” I whispered.

Lesa circled her arms around herself. “This isn’t happening, is it? It can’t be. Not Carissa.”

My heart felt like it was cracking. Most times I wanted to tell the truth and confide in Lesa, but this was one of those moments when nothing in this world could have made me want to be the bearer of this news.

There wasn’t anything I could say, but I wrapped my arms around her and held on until the first bell rang. We headed straight to class without our textbooks. It didn’t matter. News of Carissa’s disappearance had begun to spread, and no one was paying attention in class.

Kimmy announced at the end of class that the police were organizing a search party after school. She and Carissa hadn’t been friends, but that wasn’t important, I realized. Too many kids had disappeared, and it was touching everyone’s lives. I glanced over my shoulder at Daemon and he gave me a reassuring smile. It did little to soothe me. I was a bundle of nerves. When class ended, Lesa waited for me.

“I think I’m going home,” she said, blinking rapidly. “I don’t… I just can’t be here right now.”

“Do you want me to go with you?” I asked, not wanting to leave her alone if she felt she needed someone.

Lesa shook her head. “No. But thank you.”

I gave her a quick hug and then watched her hurry from class, my heart heavy.

Daemon said nothing as he pressed a kiss to my temple. He knew there wasn’t anything to say. “Do you think we have time to join the search party before we leave?” I asked.

Both of us knew it was pointless, but it seemed a dishonor to her memory to not give her this respect. Or was it wrong to do it knowing what really happened? I didn’t know.

Daemon didn’t seem to know, either, but he agreed. “Of course.”

I wanted to leave the school, too. Especially since everyone was talking about Carissa and finding her. People were in high hopes that she would be found, because it seemed impossible that she’d end up like Simon.

Guilt and anger warred inside me, and throughout the day, I tipped into each side. Sitting in class seemed pointless when so many things hung in the balance. These people—these kids—had no idea what was going on around them. They lived in this blissful bubble of ignorance and not even the disappearances burst it. Only tiny holes were pricked by each disappearance and I was waiting for everyone to finally pop.

At lunch, for the first time, we all sat together. Even Blake joined us. My lack of appetite had nothing to do with the mystery food occupying my plate.

“Are you guys going to the search party?” Andrew asked.

I nodded. “But we’re still doing our own thing afterward.”

Blake scowled. “I really think you guys should wait.”

“Why?” I asked before Daemon could snap his head off his shoulders.

“You need to be working on building up a tolerance, not date night.” Across from him, Ash nodded in agreement. “That’s not what’s important right now.”

Daemon looked at him. “Shut up.”

Cheeks flushing, Blake leaned on the table. “We need every day that we can get if we have any hopes of doing this soon.”

A muscle flexed in Daemon’s jaw. “One day isn’t going to change anything. You guys can still practice or not. I don’t care.”

Blake started to protest, but Dawson stepped in. “Let them go. They need this. We’ll be fine.”

I picked up my fork, feeling my cheeks flame. Everyone thought I needed to get away, take some downtime, and I didn’t want them feeling sorry for or worrying about me. But tonight wasn’t date night. What Daemon and I had to do was going to be as tricky as playing with onyx.

As if he sensed my dark thoughts, he twisted beside me and his hand found mine under the table. He squeezed and for some reason I felt like crying. I was turning into such a wuss and it was all his fault.

I might have dreamed him up last night, because in the light of morning, he’d been gone and the pillow beside me didn’t carry that scent I could place anywhere. But I liked to think it was real. That I hadn’t dreamt him holding me close, his warm hands on my hips or his lips trailing down my neck.

If I had imagined that… Oh boy, my dreams were realistic. I couldn’t ask him, because that would be way too embarrassing, not to mention Daemon’s ego did not need to be stroked by the knowledge I was dreaming about him.

Thinking about his reaction to that, which would bring a whole lot of smugness to the table, I grinned a little. Daemon caught sight of it and my heart skipped a beat, because his heart had jumped first.

Sometimes the whole bizarro alien connection thing had its perks. Like it told me that I affected Daemon just as much as he affected me, and on days like this, I needed whatever pick-me-upper there was.

Chapter 28

The search party was just like the ones I’d seen on TV and in movies. People milled through fields in a direct, horizontal line behind the policemen and their search dogs. Everything was a clue to the inexperienced—a disturbed pile of leaves; a torn, old piece of clothing; faded footprints.

It was a sad affair.

Mainly because there was so much hope—hope that Carissa would be found, that she would be okay if not a little worse for wear, and everything would go back to normal. She wouldn’t be the latest missing person’s case, because her situation was different. She seemingly walked out of a hospital.

However, I had a hard time believing that.

Will had been an implant in the local medical center, and I didn’t have to be an investigator to figure out that he wasn’t the only one. My guess was Carissa had help leaving that hospital.

Daemon and I left after five, heading back to our houses. I went inside to get changed for our “date night.” I wasn’t going all out like I did last time. I settled on a pair of skinny jeans, heels, and an Lesa-approved skintight sweater that flashed a little bit of stomach.

Mom was in the kitchen making an omelet. My eyes bugged as I tugged the hem of my sweater down. She glanced over her shoulder, tossing the eggs and missing most of the frying pan.

She took Hell’s Kitchen to a new extreme.

“Are you going out tonight with Daemon?”

“Yeah,” I said, grabbing a paper towel. I scooped up the eggs before the burnt smell could reach my gag reflex. “We’re going to do dinner and then a movie.”

“Remember your curfew. It’s a school night.”

“I know.” I threw the towel away and held onto my sweater with one hand. “Did you hear about Carissa?”

Mom nodded. “I wasn’t working at Grant when she was admitted or for the last two days, but the hospital is crawling with police and the heads are doing their own investigations.”

She’d been pulling her shifts in Winchester. “So, they think she really just walked out of there?”

“From what I hear, she was being treated for meningitis and that can come along with a high fever. People do strange things when they are that sick. It’s why I was so worried about you when you got sick in November.” She turned off the stove. “But there is no excuse for what happened. Someone should’ve stopped the poor girl. Those night-shift nurses will have a lot of explaining to do. Without meds, Carissa…” She clamped up, focusing on dumping the eggs onto her plate. A few pieces splattered across the floor. I sighed. “Honey, they’ll find Carissa.”

No, they won’t, I wanted to rage.

“She couldn’t have gone far,” Mom continued as I picked up the yellow clumps stuffed with peppers and onions. “And those nurses won’t allow something as careless as this to happen again.”

I doubted it was an act of carelessness. They probably turned their cheek or helped. The desire to get even or at least walk into that hospital and smack a bunch of people in their faces was almost too hard to ignore.

Saying good-bye to Mom and promising not to stay out past curfew, I kissed her cheek and then grabbed my sweater jacket and purse. Daemon was alone next door. Everyone was down by the lake, either putting themselves through untold pain or watching it.

He swaggered up to me, his eyes dropping right to the tiny flash of skin…and something moved over his face. “I like this better than the other outfit.”

“Really?” I felt exposed when he looked at me like he was staring at a piece of art commissioned just for him. “I thought you liked the skirt.”

“I do, but this…?” He tugged on my belt loop and made a deep sound in the back of his throat. “I really like this.”

A dizzying warmth swept through me, making my knees weak.

Shaking his head, he dropped his hand and pulled his keys out of his pocket. “We need to get going. You hungry? You didn’t eat any lunch.”