The Hunt (The Hunt #1) Sins of the Demon (Kara Gillian #4)

With Ezra so close to me, I had the strangest urge to kiss him. That was just the blood talking, so I lowered my head before I could act on it.

His brow raises hopefully. Cake? I smile and slide off the bed. You’ve already done too much, he protests, though it’s clear he’s okay with it. The crème brûlée. The gifts. I laugh. Only one of those gifts counted. But I like them equally. After lunch, I gave him a – poorly made, by myself – papier-mâché fox with purple crayons glued into its butt. And then I gave him his real present, original artwork by one of his favourite cartoonists. I had it shipped overseas the week we started dating, right after he offhandedly mentioned his October 24th birthday. I’ve been worried that it’s too much too soon, but he seemed genuinely delighted by both. My birthday is in late June. I won’t be able to vote until the next election. I’m heading towards the mini-fridge for his cake, when…something stops me. The quiet. I peer into the hall. For once, it’s empty. Nate’s door is closed. There’s not a single person in sight. A wave of recklessness washes over me. Or maybe it’s desperation, the impending separation pounding throughout my body. My hand hovers above my door handle. And then I take action. I shut my door. Josh swallows. We’ve been so careful to follow the rules. Are you sure? Positive. My birthday is looking much better. I flick off the overhead light. Also much darker, he says. I fumble towards my desk, turn on a lamp, and remove something small and round from the fridge – a glossy chocolate mousse and hazelnut cake. I light a perfect ring of candles around the edge and softly sing Joyeux anniversaire. It has the same tune as its English counterpart. Josh grins at my singing voice, which he’s never heard before. Sultry, he says. I can tell he approves. It’s embarrassing, but pleasing. Josh closes his eyes and all eighteen candles are extinguished in a single blow. You got your wish! Josh nods at my door. I did. I swat him with our forks. He grabs them and uses them to pull me down beside him. We’re laughing as we dig into the cake, but it doesn’t take long before I’m dizzy with sugar. I fall backwards into the bed. Josh makes it a few more minutes before shoving away the platter and collapsing beside me. He groans a happy groan. I lace my fingers through his right hand, and he winces in the lamplight. I immediately let go. Tendinitis? It’s fine. I give him a look. Okay, he admits. It’s kind of bad right now. We stare at his hand. It twitches. Oh-oh, I say sadly. Mon petit chou. Josh’s head shoots up in surprise. It’s the first time I’ve called him by a term of endearment. My little cabbage. It’s like calling someone sweet pea. His expression melts, but he looks down and away. You still make me nervous, you know. I do? I feel like this…awkward giant around you. You’re like this perfect porcelain doll. Delicate and sweet and pretty. I smile. I won’t break. Josh returns the smile. No? No. And neither will you. I take his hand back into mine and massage his fingers gently. The tendons are so tight that they feel like cords of rope beneath his skin. He grimaces. I pause, but his expression turns weak. Pleading. I press harder, and he closes his eyes. Harder still. He moans. I rub each finger slowly, up and down, one after the other. The muscles loosen, but they never relax. They’re too overworked. I should do this more often. Your poor hand needs help. Josh cracks one eye. I’m all right. Are you kidding? At this rate, you’ll be crippled by twenty. I continue massaging. Have you been to a doctor? He takes his hand back from me. It feels better now. I’m sorry. The rebuke stings. But Josh gives me a teasing smile. That’s not what I meant. He bends over, reaches into his bag on my floor, and removes…his brush pen. Oh. My shoulders sag. You want to draw. Yes. You. That perks me up. I try to hand him a sketchbook, but he refuses it. No, he says. I want to draw on you. The air is charged. I swallow. Josh notices the movement and kisses my throat. My eyes close. He trails faint kisses around my neck, over my jawline. Onto my lips. I respond with a deeper kiss, harder, starved for his taste. A hand slides across my bare legs, touching the line where my skirt meets my thighs. The other hand tugs on the bottom of my sweater. A question. Our eyes open. His pupils are dark and dilated. I don’t drop his gaze as I pull off the sweater. Underneath, I’m wearing a silk camisole. I reach down to take it off, too, but he places a hand on my arm to stop me. I want to start here, he says. Josh pulls me to my feet. His head tilts as he studies his canvas – my milky white skin. I don’t blush. He moves in. The tip of his brush touches my shoulder first. His strokes are long and careful, delicate and swift. My eyes close. The ink sweeps smoothly across my skin. The brush tickles the top of my chest, my neck, my arms, my hands. My feet, my calves, and the back of my knees. My thighs. My breath catches. There, he whispers. I open my eyes before a full-length mirror. I’m covered in garden roses, spinning compasses, falling leaves, desert islands, Joshua trees, and intricate geometric patterns. It’s beautiful. I’m beautiful. I turn to him in wonder, and he holds out the pen. Your turn, he says. My stomach clenches. You know I can’t draw. That’s not true. Everyone can draw. I shake my head, gesturing down my body. Not like this. Josh removes his shirt. Heavenly gods. He’s so gorgeous I could weep. I don’t know where to begin, I say. He clasps my hand around his pen, and he kisses one side of my mouth. And then the other. I’ll get you started. Together, we draw a simple heart over his real heart. I laugh, which makes him laugh. See? he says. It’s easy. So…I draw. My lines are not as confident, and my illustrations are not as recognizable. I decide to stick with circles and swirls. Josh watches me work. I cover his chest, his neck, his back, his arms, his fingers. His abdomen.There, I say. I’m out of skin. He stares into the mirror for a long time. I sit on the edge of the bed. At last, he turns to me. Thank you. For some reason, now is the moment I blush. You like? I love. His words hang in the air. The atmosphere begins to shake. Does he mean…? Josh sits beside me. He touches his forehead to mine. He closes his eyes and says, Isla Martin. I’m in love with you. My universe explodes. I love you, too. Josh. I love you so much. Our bodies press against each other, and the ink on his chest stamps a reverse image onto my camisole. His heart over mine. I fall backwards and pull him down with me. His h*ps arch away as he tries to hide what this is doing to him, but that only makes me press against him harder. We kiss with abandon. Together, we remove my camisole. The ink smears. It spreads from his chest onto mine. It spreads across our bodies in handprints, across my blankets in smeared limbs. I undo his belt buckle and unzip his jeans, and we roll into the cake, and there’s hazelnut glaze and chocolate mousse and black ink— The fluorescent light is blinding. You really should fix— Jesus, Kurt! I say. Josh blocks my body with his. Shut the f**king door! But Kurt is frozen. Shut the door! we shout. He does. The stairwell beside my door clangs open, and his feet race upward. My heart slams against my chest. I throw Josh’s shirt at him. Nate will have heard that. Josh yanks it on. Shit. Shit, shit, shit. I’m sorry. He didn’t mean it. Kurt. My boyfriend kisses me, quick as a dart, and he’s gone. Another clang and Nate’s door fwoomps open as the stairwell door clangs shut again. Maybe Nate didn’t see Josh. Maybe he doesn’t know the shouting came from my room. Maybe. There’s a sharp rap on my door. Hnngh? I say in my best I-was-asleep voice. That was the second time, Nate says from the hall. If it happens again, I have to report you to the head of school, and she will suspend you both. He waits. Just say ‘okay’, Isla. Okay. It barely leaves my throat. I’m dying. The junior in the room beside mine shifts around in her bed. I pray that she’s still asleep. What was that? Nate calls out. OKAY. Thank you. Goodnight. Nate pads away, his door fwoomps, and the world is silent. I exhale. I’m shaking. And then I’m crying, but it’s not because I’m scared or humiliated. It’s because the most amazing moment of my entire life has just happened. Josh loves me. I trace the ink on my body. His beautiful illustrations are smeared with streaks of gooey chocolate. Reluctantly, I turn on my shower. The steam is already billowing when I climb in. The hot water hits me, and purple-black ink floods down my body. It touches everything. He is everywhere. Chapter fifteen Josh appears over my shoulder. I thought we’d agreed you’re going to Dartmouth. His detention must have just ended. I’m working on an essay for Columbia University, so I finish my sentence, look up at him, and smile from my desk chair. Remind me again where that’s located? Four-point-nine miles from the Center for Cartoon Studies. Maybe. I’m not sure. I’d have to check. She’s already filled out the application, Kurt says, spoiling my surprise. Josh freezes. And then he drops to his knees. Is he serious? Are you serious? I slide out the hidden paperwork from Dartmouth. We’re serious. He rips away the Columbia papers and throws them to my floor. You don’t need those, you really don’t need those. I laugh as I pick them back up. I do. You don’t. These are tough schools. My smile fades as I gesture to the folders on my desk labelled LA SORBONNE, COLUMBIA, and DARTMOUTH. You know I have to apply to them all. And you’ll get into them all. But you’ll accept Dartmouth. And we’ll get a studio on the river – which will still be bigger than this – and a cat that looks like Jacque, but we’ll call him Jack. And we’ll get a crappy car, something that doesn’t even have AC, but it’ll have a great radio, and we’ll drive someplace new every weekend. I want that, I say. Me too. Kurt shakes his head in disgust. He’s sitting on my bed. I still don’t understand why you’d alter your plans after all these years. I swivel around in my chair to stare him down. My plans were never that planned. But it’s too late. Josh’s face has already fallen. I’m sorry, he says. I’d never ask you to do this if it’s not what you wanted. That makes me laugh again. Yes, you would. His frown deepens. No. I wouldn’t. I do want it. You know I don’t know what I want to do with my life. So I might as well do whatever it is I’m going to do…there. Kurt groans as if in physical pain. Your parents will be furious. If I get accepted – my gaze is still locked upon Josh – they’ll be fine with it. No, they won’t. Kurt clenches his entire body in frustration. They’ll be worried that you’re throwing your life away for some guy. Now he has my attention. Hey. Don’t say that. You’ve been dating him for less than a month. We wouldn’t even be attending the same college. And neither of us has gotten in yet, so just stop it, okay? Kurt glares at me. I’m the one trying to finish my homework. You’re the one bringing him in here. Actually, I brought myself in here. And I’m still here. Josh points at himself. Hi. This is my room, I say to Kurt. So I don’t have a say in it any more? he asks. No! I say. I’m gonna go, Josh says. Don’t, I say as Kurt says, Good. I get up to follow Josh, but he stops me. You should stay, he says quietly. I start to protest, and he cuts me off. I refuse to be the person who messes things up between the two of you. Work it out. He kisses my cheek. And then he’s gone.

The Pairing (The Proposition #3)

I scowl at Kurt. Well? Do you wanna talk about it? Talk about what? he says testily. I lower my voice, because my door is still open. Last night? When you screamed at me? When you came in here and found something you weren’t expecting. Kurt slams shut his textbook so hard that it makes me jump. You’re the one person who’s never supposed to talk to me like that, he says. Like I don’t understand. You’ve wanted to screw him for three years. Why wouldn’t you now that you’re dating? I’m not the idiot that you think I am. I’m stung. I don’t think that. You know I don’t think that. You do. There’s truth to what he’s saying. It shames me. Listen. I don’t want to tag along on your dates, and I don’t want you to stop going out, but it’d be nice to know if you still gave a shit about me. I crumple down beside him onto the bed. I’m sorry. Don’t say you’re sorry. Say you’re still my friend. I’m still your best friend. I lean against his shoulder and sigh. What can I do to make it up to you? For starters, you can fix your lock. I never want to see your br**sts again. Ohmygod, Kurt. He snorts with laughter. They’re bigger than the last time I saw them. I shove him away. Do you want me to leave? Because I’m seriously about to vomit. No. His expression becomes solemn again. I don’t ever want you to leave. Come with me this weekend, Josh says. Out of the country. It’s Friday, and we’re making out in a custodial closet between second and third period. It’s been a long, tension-filled week. Today is Josh’s last day of detention, and this will be our final weekend before he has to fly to New York for the election. I think he’s kidding until I see his expression. Josh. We can’t just go. Why not? I went to Germany last month. Yeah, but. A broom falls against my back, and I shove it aside. That’s different. The only difference is that it’d be better, because you’d be with me. I want to go. I want to go with him so badly. The broom falls on me again, and Josh throws it into the corner. Stay, he tells it. I hate this closet. Come on. Let’s go someplace where we won’t have to prop open our doors and hide between mops. I want to, I really do. But it’s too risky. I pause. Isn’t it? No, you see. Because here’s what we’d do: we’d catch a train early tomorrow morning, spend the afternoon and evening wherever, crash in a hotel, and then catch the train back on Sunday morning. We’d only be gone for one night. And…how many times have you done this? He shrugs. A few times last year. Just the once this year. And you’ve never been caught. Never. Josh squeezes my hands. Nate practically expects us to be out all night on the weekends. He doesn’t freak out if we aren’t in our rooms. This stratagem has only two rules: one, we limit ourselves to a single night away. Anything can happen in a night, and excuses are easy to make. And, two, we tell our plan to the people we’re in regular contact with so that they won’t go asking around for us. So…Kurt. This bothers me. He’d keep our secret, but he’d also be disappointed in my rash behaviour. He’s the only person who’d notice our absence. I bite my lower lip. Where would you go? he asks. Name a place that you’ve never been before. Barcelona. I’m surprised at how fast I answer. Josh is less surprised. Why? Gaudí. The architect? Of course my boyfriend knows about Antoni Gaudí. He was a Modernista revered by artists of all kinds. I saw his work in an old National Geographic. It looked almost magical. I’ve never seen anything like it, not in real life. But maybe that’s stupid, maybe it’s too touristy— No. It’s perfect. It’d be my first time, too. Josh stops. His words have accidentally triggered the real subject beneath the surface of this conversation. He swallows a lump in his throat. It’d be our first time together. And now we’re discussing something else. Something we both ache for. The thought of Josh returning to America is unbearable. It’s only a week – I know this – but whenever I imagine his plane touching down at JFK, I feel…not just ill, but wrong. As if our impending separation were something so much worse. I want to be alone with him. No detention, no election. No Kurt, no Nate. Just the two of us, together, in all of the ways that two people in love can be together. The bell rings. Our time in the closet is over. Let’s do it, I say. Let’s go. Our train is already speeding through the countryside when dawn breaks across France. The car is nearly empty, and we’ve selected a pair of seats with a table. Josh sits beside the window, because he needs the light to draw. He pencils thumbnails into a new sketchbook while I read about a cannibalistic plane crash in the Andes. One of his shoes rubs gently against mine. I rub it back. I’ve always thought the best relationships are those that are as happy and content in silence as they are in action, but until Josh, I’d only ever experienced it with Kurt. My eyes grow heavy as the sun grows brighter. I lean against Josh’s shoulder only to feel his hand stop moving. Oh. Sorry. I sit up so that he can resume drawing. But Josh removes his dark blue hoodie, places it on his lap, and guides me onto the makeshift pillow. I breathe deeply, inhaling his comforting scent. I’m lucky. I am so, so lucky. I feel his arm moving again as I drift into a half-awake slumber. A dreamlet. An image of one bed and two bodies, his curled protectively around my own. At some point, I fall into a real sleep, because soon he’s brushing my hair away from my face. This is our change, he whispers. We’re in Figueres, Spain. Catalonia. It’s the birthplace of Salvador Dalí and just across the border from France. I clamber into a sitting position as our train approaches the station. Josh grabs his sketchbook and flips back the tabletop. He groans as he stands. His limbs are crunched and stiff.You should have woken me up. You were in that position for hours. He slips back into his hoodie. But you needed the rest. We’ve packed light – a backpack each – and we shove our books into them. The train comes to a stop, we hop out, and I shiver at an unexpectedly strong wind. The brilliant dawn has turned into a dusky morning. The sky continues to darken as our connecting train rattles towards Barcelona. The French countryside was green and grey, and the Spanish countryside is green and golden. But the threatening clouds deaden its warmth. I don’t suppose you brought an umbrella? I ask. I don’t even own an umbrella. Ah, that’s right. I forgot that your skin is water-repellent. Josh laughs in amusement. I like you. I smile at my lap. An entire month of making out, and he can still do that to me. Who cares if it might rain? Two hours later, we exit the Barcelona Sants railway station. The neighbourhood is urban and sort of…grubby. We pass a group of skaters, and the clack of a board hitting the cement is echoed by a much louder clack from the sky. The downpour erupts. The skaters shoot off across the street, and – on instinct – we chase after them into the closest café. Ohthankgod. Josh weakens at the sight of lunch. That worked out well. Our wet shoes squeak against an orangey-red tiled floor. Behind the glass counter, slender baguettes are stuffed with spicy pork, buttery cheeses and thick slices of potato. I order three different bocadillos – chorizo, un jamón serrano y queso manchego, y una tortilla de patatas – and we split them at a counter overlooking the congested cars. Josh rips off an enormous hunk of the chorizo sandwich. You know what’s great? We’ve never had to discuss it, but we share the same philosophy when it comes to food. Variety? And lots of it. He points an accusing finger. So, hey. You speak Spanish. Spanish, sí. Catalan, no. Catalan is the native language of Barcelona, though both are spoken here. Taking a French class would’ve been cheating. Any other languages I should know about? Only Mandarin. Oh, and a little Russian. Josh freezes, mid-bite. I smile. Kidding. Maybe that’s what you could do someday. You could be an interpreter. My nose wrinkles. Sandwich artist? Professional skateboarder? Train conductor? I laugh. Keep trying. Our spontaneous lunch is delicious, because Spanish pork is beyond belief. It’s like fish in Japan or beef in Argentina. Or anything in France. Though admittedly, I’m biased. I study the custom map that Kurt drew for us last night. He stopped being disappointed in me when he realized I’d given him the perfect excuse to play cartographer. Should we take a cab to La Pedrera? I ask. It’s the first landmark that Kurt has marked. Or should we check into our hotel first? Josh lifts away a lock of my wet hair. This reminds me of last June. I raise my head and find him absorbed in memories. He wraps the lock around an ink-stained index finger. He uses it to gently pull me closer into a deep, open-mouthed kiss. The hotel. Definitely the hotel. Chapter sixteen The hotel that Josh reserved online is gorgeous. It has mosaicked columns and a babbling courtyard fountain and dozens of succulents dangling from planters on the walls. Unfortunately, it was too early to check in. The tension inside our cab is heavy. Tangible. I don’t know how we’re supposed to wait, but we’ve been left with no choice but to explore the city first. We’re splashing towards the heart of Barcelona. Red-and-yellow-striped flags – some with the blue triangle and star of independence, some without – hang everywhere from apartment balconies, soaked with storm. The city’s appearance is distinctly Western European, but it’s also filled with colourful architecture and steep hills. Palm trees and leafy trees. Purple vines and red flowers. It’s almost like a Parisian San Francisco, Josh says. Either he’s trying to change the subject from the obvious one, or he’s thinking about his friends in California. Probably best to change the subject. Speaking of, how are St. Clair and Anna doing these days? I ask. Good. He sits up straighter. They’re pretty much living together now. Wow. Already? Do you think they’ll last? Josh frowns. Yeah, of course. And then he sees my expression. Sorry. Sometimes I forget that you don’t really know them. I don’t forget. They watch me, stare back at me, every time I’m in his room. The wall-to-wall drawings make his friends a constant, unspoken presence. I wish I knew them better. I want them to know that I exist, that I’m a part of Josh’s life now, too. St. Clair and Anna are one of those couples that seem like they were made for each other, he says. Instant friendship, instant chemistry. He was obsessed with her from the moment they met. She was the only thing he ever wanted to talk about. Still is, actually. I like Anna. I mean, I like St. Clair, too – he was always friendly to me – but I don’t know him as well. Not that Anna and I ever hung out. I don’t know why I’m babbling. Maybe so I won’t feel untethered from this part of his life. But she did live on my floor. And the first week of school, she told off Amanda Spitterton-Watts on my behalf. Josh grins. She punched her, too. Last spring. I know. That was weird. I laugh. But also awesome. Amanda was the Emily Middlestone of last year – the school’s most popular mean girl. I saw Anna throw the unexpected punch, and it was my testimony that kept her from being suspended. I felt like I owed her. And not just for sticking up for me in the past, but…she knew about my crush on Josh. She once caught me absent-mindedly doodling his tattoo. I thought for sure she’d tell him, but she never did. He never side-eyed me with that particular brand of I-know-you-like-me weirdness. Anyway. I was grateful. Our cabbie pulls over on Passeig de Gràcia, a large thoroughfare where every shop is emblazoned with an expensive name. Dolce & Gabbana. Salvatore Ferragamo. Yves Saint Laurent. But amid this luxury shines an actual jewel: Casa Milà, aka La Pedrera.We dash below an awning and squint through the rain, across an intersection, at its curious stone facade. Over a century ago, a wealthy man named Milà commissioned Gaudí to design the building. Its grandiose structure is made entirely of waves and curves. There’s not a single straight line of construction. It was the home of Milà’s family, as well as several renters, but most of the locals despised it as an eyesore – exactly how the same generation of Parisians felt about their own recently built Eiffel Tower. I wonder how I would have felt about it back then. I’d like to think I would have been one of the people who understood that it was special. That being singular is the exact thing that makes something – or someone – amazing. Nice roof, Josh says. But your Treehouse is better. I nudge him, my own singular and amazing someone, and he nudges me back. La Pedrera’s rooftop terrace is famous. It’s covered in strange, bulky chimneys. Some of them look like giant soft-serve ice-cream cones, others like soldiers in medieval helmets. Tourists march up and down Escher-esque staircases, around and around the chimneys, bumping umbrellas. They’re like boats adrift at sea. It’s like an ocean. Josh’s voice is filled with admiration. The wavy limestone, the iron railings. And the balconies look like twists of tentacles and seaweed. Though it’s possible that the weather is adding to our overall perception. Our eyes travel towards the unsheltered line of people waiting to get inside. That’s, uh, some crowd, I say. And some rain. I glance at him and give a tentative shrug. Next? He grins with relief. I don’t want to waste a single minute of this day. I feel the same way, I think, staring at his dimples. Kurt’s map walks us down the street towards a second Gaudí-designed house. We affix ourselves to the sides of buildings for protection from the rain, but it doesn’t matter. It soaks us anyway. It’s your turn, Josh says. Tell me about your friends. Sanjita. What happened there? So…you remember. I remember that you were friends with her our freshman year. Did you split because she wanted to be popular? I asked Rashmi once, but she said her sister refused to talk about you. The stab to my heart is sharp and unexpected. You asked your ex-girlfriend about my friendship with her sister? Whoa. No. Not recently. While we were dating. Oh. Though I’m still confused. Josh guides me below a neon-green cross, the sheltered entrance of a farmàcia. Isla. I would never do that to you. I’ve had exactly one exchange with her since school began. About three weeks ago, she texted me to ask how I was doing. I told her I’m great, because I’m seeing you. She wished us well. She’s dating some dude at Brown. I wish this knowledge wasn’t as welcome as it is. I try not to think about Rashmi. I try not to think about her and Josh in my room last year. I try not to think about how they probably had sex in my bed. And maybe my shower. And maybe my floor, too. I try. Josh interprets my silence as a need for further explanation. I spent some time with her family one summer. Sanjita was acting out, and I could tell she was depressed. That’s why I asked Rashmi about you guys. So what happened? I’ve never told anyone this story before. It takes me a minute to gather my courage. She’s the only female friend that I’ve ever had, apart from my sisters. When I showed up at our school…I didn’t even know how to make friends. Josh removes my hands from my coat pockets. He pulls me closer. I mean, Kurt and I were friends before we even knew what the word meant. So it felt like a miracle when Sanjita wanted to hang out with me. And we had fun. And we could talk about boys, and she was interested in fashion, and she was emotional. She was the anti-Kurt. So I should’ve known what would happen when he joined us the following year, but I didn’t. I thought my friends would automatically become friends with each other through…I don’t know. The divine egotistical magic of me. Josh winces. I’m sorry. So he comes to Paris, and she’s embarrassed by him. And I can tell that she wants me to ditch him, and he keeps asking me why she doesn’t like him, and…I’m just stuck between the two of them. Like you were with Sébastien. Worse, because this came first. I wasn’t expecting it. My voice catches. Sh— She made me choose. She actually said it. She said Kurt was holding us back. He squeezes my hands. Kurt would never ask you to choose. I know. Tears spill over my eyes. And that’s why I chose him. Josh looks for something to dry my tears, but we’re already so wet that it’s pointless. We laugh as he tries to dry them with the inner sleeve of his hoodie. I’m sorry that happened, he says. I’m sorry she hurt you. I shrug at my boots. If it makes you feel any better? Sanjita was miserable for, like, a full year after you guys stopped hanging out. Even after her social-climbing aspirations had been met, and she’d become friends with Emily. I think she still has regrets about what she did. I know she does. When I look at her, I see them, too. Do you have any regrets? Only that I stopped trying to make new friends. Between her and Sébastien? Ugh. I give our connected hands a single swing. But someone recently taught me that not everyone is so judgemental. Josh shakes his head. I don’t know. I can be pretty judgemental. Yeah, but…it’s like you’re on the right side of the law. He smiles. I poke his chest. You wanna see something cool? I’m looking at it. Shut up. I laugh. Turn around. We’re standing across the street from Casa Batlló, another Gaudí masterpiece. The surface is covered in ceramic-shard mosaics – aqua and cobalt, rust and gold – in rough, skinlike patterns. And it has another spectacular rooftop, an animalistic arch of metallic tiles that’s curved like the back of a mighty dragon. I like this building even more. Josh’s eyes widen with speechlessness.

Lies in Blood (Dark Secrets #4)

See that turret with the cross? I point to the roof. Some people think it’s supposed to be the lance of Saint George who’s just slayed the dragon. Architecture. Maybe this is your future. It’s more art than architecture. Same thing, he says. I ponder this, but if my interest was that strong, I’d want to rummage around through its insides. I’d want to inspect every angle from as close a vantage point as possible. Nah, I finally say. I just like the story. And the way it looks. Josh places an arm around me. Every art needs its connoisseurs. I happily burrow into his wet side. What’s next? he asks, glancing at the clock on his phone. I look at him in question. He shakes his head, and we try not to be disappointed. It’s still too early to check in. Sagrada Família is next. The map easily leads us to the closest transit station. The métro is an unaccented metro, but apart from that, it’s identical to its brother in Paris. When we exit the station, the rain has slowed to a drizzle. And then we see it. Casa Batlló may be a dragon, but Sagrada Família? It’s a monster. It wants me to cower. It wants me to weep. It wants to save my soul from hell. Gaudí started work on this church in the late nineteenth century, but it won’t be finished for at least another decade. It stretches twice as high as the tallest cathedrals of France. It looks like a fantasyland castle – wet sand dripped through fingers, both sharp and soft. Bright construction lights are everywhere, and workers are tinkering around its massive spires in dangerously tall cranes. We circle the entire structure, shading our eyes from the rain, as we look skyward towards the figures that are carved into every inch of its facade. So much is happening, everywhere, that the overall style defies categorization. Some of the spires are topped with mounds of rainbow-coloured grapes, while the west side is austere and tormented, drawing the eyes to an emaciated Jesus on an iron cross. Stone women wail beside a pile of skulls at his feet. But then the east side is an abundance of life – humans and angels and animals and wheat – and topped by a green tree covered in white doves. It’s beautiful, Josh says. Fuck, that’s beautiful. Something occurs to me. I’m off running. Hold that thought! Where are you going? he shouts. I’ll be right back! Don’t move! I dart across the street and down two blocks until I find a convenience store with a display of umbrellas beside their entrance. I grab the first one, pay for it, and race back with a cheap clear kiddie umbrella. Josh is confused and upset. Don’t you think it’s too late for that? I hold it above his head as I dig into his backpack. I toss him tomorrow’s T-shirt. Dry your hands. He obeys, and then I replace the shirt with his sketchbook and pen. You have to draw it. When will you get another chance? Isla, I… I zip up his bag, step aside, and hold the tiny shelter above his body. He watches the rain roll down my face. Thank you, he says quietly. I beam back at him. He kisses my cheek and then bends over his pages, further protecting them, as he uncaps his pen with his teeth. He draws quickly, and I have to urge him to slow down. I don’t mind the rain. He focuses on the dove-covered tree. We have maybe two hours until sundown, he says, after nearly twenty minutes of silence. How are you doing? Are you cold? A bit, but I’m okay. There’s only one more destination marked on our map. Do we win a prize if we check off every box? The grand prize. He raises an eyebrow as he caps his pen. Then we’d better do it. We admire his drawing together. I like it even better than the real thing. I only see the beauty, not the accompanying fear. Everything Josh touches is beautiful to me. He puts his sketchbook away as I search for our map. Oh, no! I glance in the direction of the convenience store. I must have dropped it while I was running. Do you remember its name? He takes the umbrella and holds it over my head. Not the convenience store. The name of our final destination? Yeah, of course. Josh smiles. He unbuttons my coat, places his fingers against my collarbone, and fishes out my necklace from below my dress. It’s incredibly sexy. He holds up the compass. Then we’ll find the Right Way. Chapter seventeen We take the metro north and emerge into a neighbourhood that’s emptier and dirtier. No one exits the station with us, and there are no street signs for our last destination. Is this the right place? I ask. Josh scratches his head. I think so. Let’s try up there. He points towards an area that looks less barren. We hike up the street, sharing the umbrella as best we can. The drizzle has turned into a fine mist. Weeds spill out through ruptures in the sidewalk. Everything feels abandoned. We finally chance upon a long hill with several grouped sets of stairs and escalators. Escalators. I’ve never seen them outside like this, sandwiched between residential apartments and souvenir shops. But despite these promising signs…the street is still deserted. As we ride the rickety escalators, the mist gets lighter and lighter. And as we reach the top of the hill, it evaporates into a clear sky. Sunshine. We tilt our heads backwards and marvel at the heavens. There’s another, smaller hill across the street. Looks like it’s right up there, I say. With a burst of energy, Josh scoops me over his shoulder and runs towards it. I scream with laughter. He shouts with mad glee. I pound on his back with my fists, but he doesn’t set me down until we’re through the gates and on the summit. He throws up his arms in triumph. I win! And then he buckles like a weak hinge. I’m dying. I grin. Serves you right. Josh lifts his head. Oh, yeah? And then he sees my expression change as I notice what lies behind him. He turns to look. His entire body straightens in astonishment. We’re not just at the top of the final hill. We’re at the top of Barcelona. The jumble of the city stretches to every corner of the horizon, sharp rectangles of brown and grey and yellow and red. Towering above it all are the spires and construction cranes of Sagrada Família, but directly below us, there’s a seemingly endless path winding its way down through a landscape of Mediterranean greens.Parc Güell. In the far distance, we can see the turrets and sculptures that Gaudí designed for this park – and its accompanying crowds – but, up here, everything is trees and serenity. The air is so fresh and clean that my lungs are surprised. For the first time in months, the world stills. Since before Paris, since before New York…actually, I can’t remember the last time I felt such an overwhelming sense of calm. We must’ve come up the back way, I say. We should lose the map more often. We wander down the main path in silence, our hands clasped together. I’m in awe. Several minutes pass before we see anyone else. It’s a young vendor with a blanket on the ground, attempting to sell feathery earrings to two Japanese women. Josh nods towards a narrow side-path through the trees. We take it. I squeeze the water from my hair as we stroll, and he rubs a hand briskly through his scalp. Droplets fly everywhere. Hey, now, I say. Watch where you aim that thing. Josh points his head in my direction and rubs harder. You are such a boy. You love me. I smile. I do. The air smells of mountains and pines. There are so many trees here. Cypress trees and olive trees and palm trees and mystery trees with plump red berries. Josh holds out a hand to stop me. And then I hear it. Behind a covering of bushes, a couple is having sex. My mouth opens in delighted shock. Josh laughs silently. We move ahead so as not to disturb them. There’s a good chance that they’re our age. Most European teenagers don’t have cars, and they often live with their parents through the end of college. Parks are somewhat notorious for amorous pursuits. Josh gestures towards a secluded area, off path. He’s suddenly nervous. But I was about to point it out, too. It didn’t take long for the thought of the other couple to transfer onto us. We sneak through the foliage. I lean up on my tiptoes, our lips meet, and our bodies sink to the ground. Our hearts pound like crazy against each other. He unbuttons my coat, and his hands are around my back and under my dress. I wish I wasn’t wearing tights. But as quickly as our making out begins, he pulls away, gasping. Never mind. Can’t do this. If we go any further, the stopping part will be excruciating. It already is. I’m sorry. I reach out to touch him, but he rolls away. No, it’s fine. Just…give me a minute. The other couple appears between the leaves on the nearby path. They sense our presence and giggle, exactly the reason why we’re waiting until our hotel room. I drape my coat over a thick branch to dry. I unzip my boots and strip off my wet tights. Josh covers his face. You’re killing me. I smile at him as I wring out the bottom of my dress. He moans. Unfair. Girls are so mean. I laugh. Give me your hoodie. I’ll hang it up. Obediently, he takes it off. His T-shirt rises with it, and my eyes lock on the lowest portion of his abdomen until he readjusts it. My boyfriend doesn’t realize that he’s killing me, too. I hang up his hoodie and lie down beside him. We stare at the sky. His head rests against his backpack, and my head rests against his chest. The wind rustles, swirling the scent of pine around our temporary campsite. Your eyes remind me of pine trees, Josh says. I always wished they were a brighter green. They’re so dull. Don’t say that. He kisses the top of my head. Have I ever told you about the cabin? Uh-uh. I’m listening to his heartbeat. There was this cabin upstate that my family used to rent in the autumn – rough walls, stone fireplace, beds with patchwork quilts. The works. And when we were there, my dad would forget to be worried about politics, and my mom would forget to be worried about my dad. And we’d go hiking, and we’d pick apples from this abandoned orchard. And there’d be so many that we’d throw them into the creek just to watch them float downstream. And we’d play board games at night— What games? My favourite was Pictionary. I snuggle into him. Of course. My mom’s favourite was Cluedo, and my dad’s was Risk. And my parents would cook these home-style dinners like pot roast with mashed potatoes and baked apples— From the orchard? Yeah. And while they’d cook, I’d be spread out on the rug in front of the fireplace with these giant stacks of paper, and I’d draw. And…I’d look up, and my parents would be in the kitchen with this perfectly round window behind them. And all I could see outside of that window – from my position on the floor – were those pine trees. So I like pine trees, he finishes. A lot. I curl my hand around his thumb and squeeze it. What about you? Where were you the happiest? I have to think about it for a while. Well, there was this one trip to Disney World— Did you have mouse ears? Please tell me you had those mouse ears with your name stitched on underneath. I poke him. No. I’m gonna picture you with the mouse ears anyway. Continue. I poke him harder. So Gen was ten, I was seven, and Hattie was four. Gen was adorable. She has those perfect corkscrew curls, you know? Plus, she was always in charge of everything. And Hattie was…Hattie. So they were getting all of the attention, like always, but then my parents surprised me with this Disney Princess breakfast. Just for me. And Belle and Snow White and Cinderella were there, and Jasmine told me that my dress was pretty, and that I was pretty, and it was amazing. My parents…they knew. They knew I was the one who needed it. This, Josh says, is my new favourite story. Of course, the whole thing was supposed to be a secret. But the second I saw my sisters, I was like, ‘Princess Jasmine thinks I’m prettier than you!’ Which wasn’t even true, but it felt true. Mom wanted to kill me, and Hattie threw this massive tantrum that lasted the rest of the trip, but it was worth it. Best day ever. You are prettier than your sisters. You’re way prettier than your sisters. That is…the most romantic thing that you’ve ever said to me. He laughs again. It’s true.

An unseen bird warbles, and another unseen bird answers its call. You know, I say, I can’t remember the last time I was in a place where I couldn’t hear any traffic. Ah, you’re a nature girl at heart. You’ve just never been given the opportunity. And you’re a nature boy? Definitely. See, if you come with me to New England, we can learn how to do all of those outdoorsy things you read about in your books. Exploring, camping, rock-climbing, rafting, stargazing, building fires— Building fires? I smile. That’s right. Fires. Plural. The sun dips below the treeline, and suddenly, Josh is backlit by a stunning golden light. He looks perfect even when he’s damp and sweaty and dirty. I wiggle upward until I reach his lips. We kiss, heavily, until I can’t handle it any more. Let’s go, I say. It comes out ragged. Josh freezes. And then he’s lunging for his hoodie and backpack, tripping over himself to get moving. I grab my things, and he takes my hand as we sprint onto the narrow path. We’re laughing, completely blissed out. We run down, down, down, and the further we go, the more crowded the park gets. We race through an area that looks like a cave – perfect for making out, complete with a classical Spanish guitarist – but making out is no longer enough. We pass Gaudí sculptures, Gaudí buildings, Gaudí’s famous lizard fountain, but they barely earn a glance as we whiz by. We only have eyes for each other. We grab the first cab outside of the park. We’re breathless. Josh hands the driver our hotel’s address, and our tongues and limbs and hands are touching, searching, groping as the streets of Barcelona whiz past our windows. We pay our distressed cabbie way too much, mainly out of guilt, and tumble back out. Josh kisses my neck as we check in. Our surroundings are a blur. The clerk, the stairs, the hallway. We slam our room door shut and toss our backpacks to the floor. We have the entire night, but we can’t wait another minute. We kiss fiercely. Urgently. I throw off my coat as Josh scrambles out of his hoodie. I remove his T-shirt as we collapse onto the bed. His chest drums against mine. I roll over, climb on top of him, and find that he’s as ready as I am. He lifts my dress up and around my h*ps and then over my head. I pull back, breathless. Do you have? Backpack. I bend over backwards, stretching for his bag on the floor. I reach it and yank it closer. I find them in the front pouch. I grab one, and he helps me sit back up. He stares openly at my matching pale pink underwear. Josh has seen all of me, but never all at once. I unhook my bra. He takes it off. He kisses my br**sts, my stomach, the line above my underwear. And then the line below it as my last remaining clothing slides from my hips. I unbuckle his belt, unzip his jeans, and tug them down at the same time as his boxers. His breathing is shallow. Rapid. I lower myself onto him. We gasp. Our arms wrap around each other, and we move together, watching each other, checking in with each other with our eyes. Is this okay? What about this? This? It builds. Faster. I want him closer. I want him deeper. I want him, want him, want him. His eyes close and so do mine, and we finish as we started. Together. Chapter eighteen Josh’s stomach rumbles against my ear. The room is black. I unfurl from his body and lean towards the hotel’s digital clock. It’s nearly two in the morning. Josh feels me stir. Tapas, he mumbles. We haven’t had tapas. I think we missed dinner. ’s okay. He hugs me against his chest. Too tired to get up anyway. We’ll just have to come back. Tapas and cerveza. And then we’ll make love on the altar of the Sagrada Família. I pull away, he tugs me close, I pull away. Be right back, I say. Bathroom. After I pee, I return for my toothbrush and toothpaste. He follows me in, and we brush our teeth. We can’t stop smiling at each other. I can’t believe that adults get to do this every day. And I don’t even mean sex, though it’s wonderful, but things like this. Brushing our teeth at the same sink. Do adults realize how lucky they are? Or do they forget that these small moments are actually small miracles? I don’t want to ever forget. We climb back in bed and make sleepy, happy, minty-fresh love. He’s careful to make sure that I’m taken care of first before he collapses against me. Moonlight shines in through the windows, and I trace the outline of his tattoo with an index finger. You’ve never told me about this, I say. You’ve never asked. I love it. I didn’t mean for that to slip out in such a gushy way. Josh laughs, but it’s the tired laughter of relief. Thank goodness. Tell me the story. He shifts into a more comfortable position while carefully keeping me nestled against his body. When I was sixteen, St. Clair convinced an artist in Pigalle that I was eighteen. Except he didn’t really convince him. He was just so pushy and persuasive that the guy gave up. It was definitely illegal. I laugh as he continues. St. Clair can persuade anyone to do anything. He’s, like, drowning in charisma. It’s so unfair to the rest of us. Eh, I say. He’s okay. Josh pauses. And then I hear a smile in his voice. This must be how you felt when I told you that you’re hotter than your sisters. I laugh louder this time. I suppose it is. Anyway, it was just the two of us, and I was the only person who got one. It was a few days after my birthday— Like now! Like now. I’d decided on my birthday that I’d get a tattoo, so I designed this one for the incredibly inspired reason that…it seemed cool at the time. It is cool. I consider myself unbelievably lucky that I still like it. Oh, come on. You have taste. You’d never put something lame on your body. I pause, a new thought occurring to me. Do you want any more tattoos? I don’t know. Maybe someday I’ll get a big garden rose on my other arm. Ha-ha. I would. And he sounds hurt that I don’t believe him. I want a lot more of these nights with you, Isla. I want all of my nights with you.

When the sunlight streams in through the windows, it’s the happiest morning of my life. We’ve shifted in the early hours, but our legs are still hooked together. I stare at his adorable, sleep-rumpled hair and his long, lovely spine. I touch the skin of his back with the tip of one finger. He rolls over. He smiles at me languorously. With contentment, I scoot in closer for a kiss. Mm, he says. Is next weekend too soon to do this again? Switzerland. Let’s go to Switzerland. You’ll be in New York next weekend. His smile falls. Next-next weekend, I say. Deal. He brushes my hair away from my shoulder, leaving it bare. So. Tell me. Who’s the better bedmate? Me or Kurt? Kurt, obviously. I knew it. He kisses my nose and hops from bed. I’ll be right back. Hand me my phone? I wanna double-check our departure time. Josh digs it out from my bag, tosses it to me, and goes into the bathroom. The door shuts. I flip the volume switch from silent to on. The screen illuminates. My heart stops. No, I whisper. Twenty-nine new messages. Kurt. Nate. Hattie. The school. My parents. Josh? Josh! The bathroom door bursts open. What happened? Are you okay? And then he sees the way I’m clutching my phone. The blood drains from his face. No, he whispers. I start crying. He tears apart his own backpack, yanks out his phone, and swears at its screen. Kurt. Nate. My mom, like, a hundred times. My dad. I’m sobbing now. He paces the room. He rakes his scalp with both hands. It’s okay. It’ll be fine. I’ve messed up before. It’ll be fine. How will it be fine? This’ll go on my record! My entire college future vanishes. I feel faint. My stomach churns, threatening upheaval. No. I’ll take full credit for this. You won’t get in trouble. How won’t I get in trouble? I’m just as here as you are. In Spain. I scroll through the texts, trying to piece together a timeline of events. But I can’t focus. I listen to Kurt’s voicemail, and he’s completely freaked out. Hattie was asking around for you, and Nate overheard, and then they noticed that Josh was missing, too, and they came to me, and I had to tell them where you were. I’m sorry, Isla. I had to tell them. I’m an idiot. I am such an idiot. How could I have forgotten about Hattie? She’s the one person that I can always count on to say or do the wrong thing. Of course she’s behind this. And of course Kurt was the one who couldn’t keep his mouth shut. Josh sinks beside me onto the bed. He places one hand on each side of my face and touches his forehead to mine. Breathe, he says. Breathe. Breathe. I don’t wanna breathe! It’s okay, he says. I’ll call the school. You call your parents. Everyone is furious with us. Maman screams so loudly that I have to hold the phone away from my head. Josh gets an earful from Nate, and then I force him to call his mom. She won’t pick up, so he leaves a message. He refuses to call his dad, but I insist, so he calls his dad’s security aide instead. And then he makes me text Kurt and Hattie. They aren’t furious – they just want to know that we’re okay – but I’m not feeling so charitable towards them. I tell them we’re fine, we’re coming back, the end. The train ride to Paris is the opposite of the one we took to Barcelona. The sky is sunny, but our car is dark. We hold hands, we don’t let go, but our grasp still feels like that. Like grasping. Like we’re trying to hold on to something that’s slipping away. Neither of us speaks of the thing that we fear is about to happen. I cry, and Josh holds me. It was selfish to think about my problems first. What he’s facing is much, much worse. Our dread and terror grow. We’re almost back to the dormitory when Josh can’t take it any longer. He pulls me into someone’s private garden. There’s a pair of French students on lounge chairs, smoking clove cigarettes and soaking in the last warm rays of the year. They hardly even blink at us. I want you to know that I love you, Josh says. And I want to be with you. No matter what happens. My eyes fill back with tears. Don’t say that. It might happen. Don’t say that! His shell is cracking. I love you. Do you still love me? How could you ask me that? The change in Josh’s demeanour is frightening. It’s as if he could shatter at any moment. Of course I love you. This hasn’t changed anything. But it was my fault. This whole weekend was my idea. He’s breathing too fast, and his eyes aren’t focusing. He’s having a panic attack. Hey. Hey. I wrap my arms around him and place my head against his chest. I wanted to go. It was my decision, too. But he can only cling to me. His fingers grip my shoulders so hard that it hurts. I love you, I say quietly. I have always loved you. His heart rate slows. And then again. What do you mean? Always? I pull back to meet his gaze. I hold it, steady. I mean that you never have to worry about me leaving you, because I’ve been in love with you since our freshman year. My confession leaves him stunned. There’s no story, I say. I saw you one day, and I just knew. Josh stares at me. He looks inside of me. And then he kisses me with more passion than he’s ever kissed me with before. It gives us the strength to face our future. It gives us the strength to return to our dorm. And it gives us the strength to knock on Nate’s door. Unfortunately, Nate doesn’t open it. Mrs. Wasserstein does. Chapter nineteen I had to catch a flight, and I still beat you here. Outstanding. Mrs. Wasserstein throws up her hands in anger. Nate stands behind her, tense, a prisoner of his own apartment. Josh is in shock. Do you realize what an inconvenience this is? she continues. Being called overseas one week before the election? Do you even care? Mrs. Wasserstein is petite, much shorter than I’d realized, though you’d never dwell on it. Her presence is huge. She looks as strong as she does on camera, but – in this moment – far more frightening. She sizes me up with hazel eyes that are startlingly familiar. And you must be Isla.It took us ten minutes to find the energy to stand and another ten to untangle the ropes and flop onto our sides to face each other on the bed.

Our breathing remained out of control, and our touches wracked and shook as we stroked and petted, turning violence into tenderness.Finally, once our jagged, scattered pieces were glued firmly back into order, I murmured, As much as I want to, I don’t think I can tattoo you tonight unless you want words as jittery and unreadable as a baby’s.

A Hathaway Wedding (The Hathaways #2.5)

Q chuckled, gathering me close and spreading me on his naked front. We stuck together with sex-sweat, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. You’re excused until tomorrow.My eyes fell on the champagne bottle on the nightstand. You brought dessert?

His smile was wickedly sinful. Oh, that’s for breakfast, esclave. We haven’t had dessert yet. Spanking my sore ass, he ordered, On your back, I haven’t nearly had my birthday fill of you yet.My eyes narrowed at Frederick as Tess and I entered the breakfast hall. Screw him and his eternal optimism. I didn’t care to be reminded another year had gone by. The life I treasured with my wife and business ventures close to my heart was rapidly running out.

I didn’t reply, glowering at the freshly cooked pastries and berry preserves with toast sitting pretty in a silver rack. Staff milled around, placing plates of scrambled eggs and bacon in the centre of the table.Frederick laughed at my cold shoulder. What? Did you wake up deaf as well as a year older, you sullen bastard?

That will be the only reference to the date if you value staying in one piece. I pointed a finger at my friend. Got it?Angelique giggled, glancing at Tess and the gingerly way she sat down. I take it you guys had a good night celebrating?

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