He was out there somewhere. She could feel him, just like this morning.
Lara skimmed along the tree-lined walk, her flat shoes crunching the pea gravel. She imagined Justin blundering in the dark, dazed and bleeding, hurt and resentful, a danger to himself . . . or to others.
She needed to find him. For his sake. For hers.
She had to tell somebody. Tell Simon.
Her stomach churned. The thought of facing the governors, of Zayin’s scorn and Simon’s disappointment, made her sick inside.
But she had no choice. A trickle of sweat rolled down her spine. Hurry, hurry, hurry.
The distinctive pitched roof line of the headmaster’s residence poked over the trees—six chimneys and a weathervane shaped like an eagle.
Simon Axton lived alone in the original Colonial farmhouse, set apart from the other school buildings behind the main hall. Lara had been invited inside exactly eight times. To the sunroom to take tea with her cohort on graduation day. To the book-lined library for cocktails with the schoolmasters and other proctors over the holidays. Once or twice to bring Simon a file he’d left at the office.
Lara approached the front porch, her steps slowing, anticipation burning a hole in her gut. Too late, she realized she should have called. But what would she say?
What could she say? She was supposed to be in her room.
Simon’s cool dismissal pounded in her head. “If you’re quite satisfied, I believe we’re done here.”
The thought of his displeasure dried her mouth. She stared up at the darkened windows, listening to the whisperings and rustlings and cracklings of the overgrown garden. A soft thump sounded from the back of the house, some small, nocturnal animal hunting in the night.
Her heart thudded.
Suck it up, she ordered herself. Get it over with.
Straightening her shoulders, she marched toward the steps.
That noise again, like a prowling cat or a raccoon testing the garbage cans or . . .
She caught her breath. Or like an escaped patient, skulking in the bushes.
Goose bumps rose along her arms. She stood frozen, her mind racing, her breath whooshing in and out of her lungs. He couldn’t be . . .
Maybe. Why not? How far could he get, with a skull fracture and the heth around his throat?
She thrust her hand into her skirt pocket, wrapping her fingers around the knife—his knife, Justin’s—and was instantly electrified as if she’d grabbed a live plug. Her nerves sizzled. Like a bug flying into a bug zapper.
She strained her senses.
There? Almost. Almost . . . There.
A whisper of warmth, male, animal, alive. A swirl of wild energy, around the corner, behind the house. Intangible. Unmistakable.
Justin was here, somewhere nearby.
Clutching the knife like a divining rod, she plunged into the darkness at the side of the house, stepping over beds of hostas and lilies of the valley, creeping under the black and staring windows. It was like her Seeking—was it only this morning?—or the game she’d played as a child. Warm. Cold. Warmer. Hot.
She shivered. A dangerous game, with high stakes and an unpredictable playmate.
Warm, warmer . . .
A thick oak raised its arms over the backyard, obscuring the star-strewn sky. She stepped into the mottled light, her gaze scanning the dappled ground, the silvered plants, the velvet shadows. Against the foundation, the door to the storm cellar yawned open, a gaping black hole.
The knife burned in her pocket. The air left her lungs.
There. Sprawled across the stone threshold, one arm reaching for the wooden door as if to shut it behind him. His hair was bleached, his skin pale in the moonlight. The bandage on his forehead was dark with blood.
Justin lifted his head and met her gaze, his eyes nearly black in the shadows, burning with intensity. “Help . . . me.”