It was a blue and yellow summer day when I got my lover killed.
It started well enough. It started wonderfully. Jace rolled out of his twin bed but I caught his wrist and tugged him back to mine. “Not yet. Five more minutes.”
He chuckled. “No time for canoodling. We have a flight to catch. And we have to meet your dad.”
I tugged harder. “All the more reason we should stay in bed.” I pulled him down to me, kissed him, let my fingers trace the muscular sweep of his back. “We might not get another chance.”
He disentangled himself. “I’ll definitely get another chance to kiss you, Callie. Now get up.”
“That’s not what I meant and you know it.” I pouted. Childish but appealing. Maybe?
He paused, his shirt pulled partway over his chest. “Callie… We’ve been over this. We need to take this slow.” He tugged his shirt down, and hesitated, ruffling a hand through his hair. My fingers itched with the urge to do it for him.
“Look. You’re… wonderful.” He stroked my cheek. “You’re my shield, remember?” His one good thing. He sat on the bed heavily, his weight crushing the mattress. “But we should get to know each other. Properly. The last three weeks were full of trauma and danger, and that’s not the best start to a relationship. I want you to be sure. About me.”
I couldn’t argue with the first part. I had performed a reading from an ancient book to avert international catastrophe, pulling on magics powerful enough to kill me —and a whole mess of white-eyed demons, assassins and Gods knows who else had crawled out of the woodwork to stop me. It had been worth it – the risk of world war had subsided, and my friends and I might not now be drafted into the forces. But the whole horrible adventure had left me half-dead and bleeding, hence the past two weeks hiding out and recuperating in this little B&B in a Surrey backwoods even the postman had forgotten.
But that was done. The reading was over, we’d survived. I’d done my bit for the Order of Sumer and the book was lost. My stitches had healed, so my stab wound barely hurt unless I stood up too quickly. And Jace — my gorgeous, brave bodyguard and boyfriend — and I were heading to a beach in the Dominican Republic.
With my dad.
“I am sure about you.” I loved him. God, but how I loved him. “But when you told me we were leaving the country you didn’t mention my father was coming.”
“We can’t leave him behind. If anyone is still looking for you, he’s the first person they’ll lean on. Do you want to put him in danger?”
“No,” I replied sulkily. “Of course not.” I threw back the duvet and climbed out of bed. Not fair, I reflected, as I trudged into the shower. Hot holiday, hot man… and I would be a canoodle-free zone.
“What we doing here, man?” Alec slurred. The outline of Callie’s North Yorkshire cottage swam in and out of focus, like it was under water. “I thought we were going after Callie.”
“We are,” replied his companion. “Here. Drink some more.”
Alec pushed the top of the bottle away and cradled his Winchester rifle in his arms. “I don’t want to. Feel sick.” The sun burned down into his head like a laser, leaving it dry and hollow.
“Just a sip. It takes the edge off.”
The bottle knocked against his chin, the brown paper around it rasping against his stubble. Who keeps whiskey in a brown paper bag anyway, he wondered. He shoved it aside.
“I’m already pissed. Don’t want any more.”
“It’s not for you. It’s for me. I can’t help you if I can’t concentrate.” The bottle disappeared.
He’s like my mum, thought Alec. I scare him. The thought gave him a soft flush of pride, but then he remembered his mother’s face the last time he went home for food. Splotched and pink, like blancmange, her eyes all red from crying. The way her eyes and jaw tightened when she saw him, her posture rigid and alert. Like an abuse victim. Like prey.
Would Callie be scared of me now? he asked himself. She should be. This was her fault. She’d ruined his life and then cursed him with that reading. The music had filled his head with images of his future. Dead in the sand under a searing sun. All torn up and blood-blackened. He jabbed his white eye with a finger to make it stop seeing.
A taxi honked loudly as it pulled up outside the cottage and Alec watched through the foliage, left eye watering, as old man McKenna heaved a bag into the boot and climbed in the back. The car glided away with barely a purr.
“Come on. We’re up.” The man grabbed him by the arm.
“I don’t understand. Where are we going?”
“You want to see Callie, don’t you? Her dad’s going to meet her now at Manchester airport. All we have to do is follow.”
The man disappeared for a minute and then returned, bearing car keys. He opened the door on McKenna’s old Renault and started the engine. Alec lurched into the passenger seat, banging his head on the A-frame. Maybe his mum had never loved him. Never wanted him. Maybe she’d pretended all along. The knowledge gouged, like an apple corer in his soul.
The man pushed at the barrel of the rifle. “Put that thing down low,” he said. “Will he take a taxi all the way? Or get a train?”
Alec frowned. Why was he here? He’d waited for Callie for so long but she’d never come back. He wanted to tell her, wanted to show her. Sometimes, when the burning started, he wanted to hurt her.
What would he say?
He started to cry.
“Oh for the love of God. Pull yourself together. Would he get a train?”
Alec strained to focus. The sun had crawled inside his head and was fire-writing its name on the inside of his skull. Outside the window colours blended like food in vomit. A regurgitated world.
The man made a disgusted sound as Alec grabbed the whiskey bottle and took a long pull. The last thing he heard before he passed out was: “Forget it. I’ll track his phone.”
Jace drove fast and smooth all the way to Manchester Airport, skimming by the main building and pulling into a car park which read Terminal 1: Rental Returns.
“It sounds like a bad movie title,” I commented, and he grinned.
“Your dad’s meeting us here.” He nodded over to the glass lobby at the front of the car park. “I just need to post the keys in one of those boxes.”
I pulled him to me for a kiss, a soft shivering promise. “Mmm,” I murmured. “Don’t ever leave me.”
I felt him smile against my mouth as he kissed me again. “I’ll never leave you,” he echoed.
He tossed me my bag and beeped the doors shut behind us. I reached my hand to him, smiling, the sun toasting my face and the holiday already tingling in my toes. Jace caught my grin, tossed it back to me, took a graceful step sideways with his arm outstretched, reaching for my shoulders. And then his eyes flicked to the left and he hit me, a forearm smash across the chest. I smacked into the bonnet of the car, the metal burning. Thunder split the air, and I saw Jace spin like a dancer. A fountain of blood sprayed from his chest.
The world broke under rolls of thunder. Alec whimpered awake and slid from his seat into the footwell.
“Alec!” The man shouted at him. He rubbed his gloved hands over Alec’s palms like they were dirty. “For Christ’s sake, you shot them. Move! You’ve got to move!”
The man slammed the car door and disappeared. The keys dangled from the ignition. Alec’s Winchester was propped against the window. He touched the barrel and seared his fingers. Screams crashed against the side of the car like waves against a ship.
He peeped outside, trying to pull his fractured thoughts into something coherent. A concrete field filled by rectangles of colour, like playing cards stood on their longest edges. He squinted. Cars. They were cars. Car park. The sun lanced down through windscreens and threw fresh spears of light back up to the sky.
The girl’s screams grew louder and shriller until they cut into his head. Callie was screaming. He’d known her voice was a blade. He’d said it.
She sliced at him, again and again. Why? If it was because he’d shot her, he should go.
He shuffled over, turned the key in the old Renault and put his foot down.
I heard a little girl somewhere screaming for her daddy.
My world split, like it was playing on two different screens or I was watching through a cracked lens. In one, Jace’s blood spurted hot and wet through my fingers. His breathing sounded like a partly blocked drain, gurgling and sludgy. The screaming scored my ears, raucous and sharp like a murder of startled crows.
And the other world was silent and filled only with colour. Everything vanished but stains of light. Scarlet bloomed across white and there was the deepest crystalline green, like agate or malachite, a winter green, a moss-covered forest. Thin strips of blue beneath me.
Jace’s lips. His lips were turning blue. I pressed my hands into the sticky mess of blood and cloth, feeling his chest give beneath me with a sickening lurch.
The girl’s screams soared, a high note that froze my skin and sent blades of pain through my skull — but I ignored her. I pressed on my lover’s heart and poured my breath between his cool lips. “You can’t die. I’m your shield,” I said. But I don’t think he could hear me anymore.
Wulf slumped against the stone wall, arms wrapped tight around himself. The zip had ripped on his jacket, but his locked arms weren’t protecting him from cold. The June sun beat down on him, but he couldn’t stop shivering deep inside, like a refrigerator was running at his core. It made him sick.
“We have to try again.” Cyrus gazed out at the North Yorkshire moors, but Wulf didn’t think he was seeing any of it.
“I can’t do it again,” he whispered. “How did you keep that thing on you for so long, Cyrus?” Wulf unconsciously stroked the old tattoo on his forearm, taking comfort from the familiar lines of the stylised heart, its ribbon faded. It’d had a name inscribed across it once, but he could no longer remember either the name or the girl it belonged to.
“With the same strength I used to crawl up those steps and stab the Reader, despite her singing in my ears,” Cyrus replied. The little book lay innocuously on the ground a few yards from them, half wrapped in some blackened rags. Neither one made any attempt to pick it up. “We have to be strong.”
“Strong? It’s suicidal. I’m serious, Cyrus.” Wulf massaged his temples. “I thought it was going to kill me. Not even the Reading was that bad. And frankly, there are easier ways to die.”
The old Cadaveri grunted. “Once more.” He threw more kindling onto the glowing logs, and blew on it until it blazed orange and golden. “Pass me more wood. We want it hot and fast.”
Wulf reluctantly snapped branches and threw them on the fire. The flames surged and twisted for a moment and then shrank back down. It knows what’s coming, thought Wulf. Even the fire wants no part of this.
Cyrus grabbed the book at arm’s length as though it were a snake. “Ready?” he asked.
“Never,” said Wulf.
And Cyrus threw the book into the heart of the blaze.
For the space of a breath, nothing happened. And then it took them. The sound scythed through the air, too high for a scream, too sharp for a blade, too vicious to live through. Wulf felt his ears start to bleed, the single note blinding him, the book’s death-cry a laser-thin incision scored across the heavens. He found himself launching forwards without thought, his body thudding to the floor by the fire, sparks raining down on his scalp and the flames licking his arms, but he didn’t care. He grabbed the book with his bare hands and rolled out of the fire, sobbing.
“Be quiet, be quiet, no more,” he wept. He vaguely felt Cyrus’s arms battering at him, whether to stop him or stop the book, he didn’t know.
“Enough,” he croaked. “We can’t do this.”
Cyrus didn’t look up from the dust. He lay there, panting. “So now what?”
Wulf fumbled in his pocket, hissing at his blistered fingers, drew out a scrap of paper. “Now we make it someone else’s problem,” he said.
The brain reacts strangely to trauma. I look back and it seems hours or days passed leaving no mark on my memory at all and yet there are some things burned into my mind’s eye, every technicoloured detail suspended in time.
I remember legs thundering across concrete.
I remember my dad’s arms closing around me from behind, and thrashing to get free.
I remember the paramedic’s wedding ring glinting in the sun and wondering how he kept it so shiny when my own arms were red to the elbow.
The screaming started again as they were leaning on Jace’s chest to stop the bleeding and sticking a bag in his mouth to force air into his lungs. Suddenly I knew he would die, and I couldn’t bear it. A keening so high it could score glass hurt my ears and it seemed familiar, a harsh, terrifying grief that blended and harmonised with my own. It was my voice yet it came from somewhere outside of me. He can’t die, I cried in my own head and the sound echoed back to me, more powerful and painful than when it left: Can’t die, can’t die.
“Got to shut her up, sir,” snapped the paramedic and my dad’s arms closed around me again. The screaming subsided and I fell against him exhausted. I didn’t know what was happening, exactly. But Jace needed me. I struggled after the stretcher.
“She can’t come in the ambulance if she’s going to lose it like that. She’ll endanger the patient.” The guy pulled the doors inwards.
“I would never put him at risk,” I yelled. You already have, a small voice replied. You’ve killed him.
Alec made it almost two miles. The road swayed and rippled beneath him like an uncoiling serpent, and the other vehicles careered around him, shouting and screeching. They left burning marks on the tarmac like comet trails.
Alec tried to make sense of what had happened, but the thoughts were greasy, slipping and twining like eels. He fumbled for his phone, pressing 1. The phone sang at him, an off-key electronic tune.
Blue lights flashed around his head and he tried to bat them off, letting go of the steering wheel. A girl started screaming, her voice raw and powerful with grief and anger.
He took his feet off the pedals and curled into a foetal position across the seats. There was a bang and the car slid sideways and stopped.
“Alec?” The voice from the phone was tiny. He curled his fingers around it and pulled it to his mouth. Static crackled out and a smell of burned plastic filled the car.
“Step out of the vehicle with your hands in the air.” Big. Booming. The words hit him like little sonic blasts. Alec couldn’t see anyone and he daren’t raise his head to look.
He pressed his mouth to the broken phone. “Mum?” he said.
The doctor peeled off latex gloves, snapping them off his wrists and into a bin as he approached us in A&E reception at Manchester Royal Infirmary. Despite the heat outside, a blast of cold air shivered past us every time the automatic doors whooshed open. He was young and confident; younger than I expected at least. He told us Jace was in surgery, that he was critical. “The bullet punctured his right lung and nicked an artery. Among other things. We’re doing all we can.”
He sighed and glanced at my father before speaking. “Bullets mess people up. They may leave a neat little hole on the outside but they do a lot of internal damage as they rip through. I’m sorry I don’t have better news for you.”
The doctor clicked his pen and slid it into his top pocket. “I’m sorry, I can’t tell you anything more. You’re not actually Mr Portman’s next of kin, are you?”
“No, but -” He couldn’t walk away.
“He doesn’t have anyone here. In the UK, I mean.”
“Callie-” My dad’s hand squeezed tighter on my arm. “Sweetheart, we should go. The police need to talk to us.” He turned me gently away from the doctor’s retreating back. “Come on. There’s nothing we can do for Jace here. We need to tell the police what we know.”
“We’ll come back, though. As soon as we’re done.” I had to be here when he came out of surgery. I had to be here when he woke up.
“I’ll check in with the hospital every hour,” he said, holding the door. “I promise.”
Dad and I collected a rental car and then spent the next two hours at the police station. Filling in forms and answering questions. Detective Bryson was a mild, stout man with a comb-over and a gentle voice. Gentle like soft waves at the beach, wearing you down over an eternity of questions.
How did I know Jace? I said he was a student. I didn’t know if Jace’s cover as a teaching assistant at my school would start them down a whole other line of ‘inappropriate relationship’ stuff and we had enough problems already.
Where were we going? The Dominican Republic via Florida.
“He’s your boyfriend?”
“I’d like him to be.” Careful half-truths.
I said nothing about Jace’s real occupation as my bodyguard, nothing about the Book or the reading which I had performed, the spell designed to stop world war spilling across us all like burning oil. No one knew who had done the reading, despite the press speculating wildly for a few days.
“There was an attempt on your life recently too, wasn’t there, Callie? We have a hospital report that says you were stabbed?”
“I was injured in the London riots. Some drunk, I guess. I can’t see a connection to this.” Which was technically true, I told myself. I didn’t know who shot Jace or why.
“And there were widespread injuries – and two fatalities – in an incident at your school. An incident for which, it says here, you never provided a statement.”
I hesitated. If I said I hadn’t been at the school, he might know different. I obfuscated. “No one ever asked me for a statement.”
Detective Bryson pursed his lips. “Not having much luck recently, are you?”
“Only the bad kind,” I replied.
“What exactly did you see before Mr Portman was shot?”
“Jace threw me backwards. There was a loud crack or bang. That might have happened the other way around. Jace falling. His blood.”
The green of his eyes. I was back there for a moment, my knees pressing into the concrete of the path, my hands wet with his blood.
“Did you notice anyone?”
Not really. I guess there were people around. Maybe.
All I could remember was a kaleidoscope of colour, of clouds and patterns. Thin blue strips and red flowers.
“Do you have any idea who might have wanted to harm, Jace? Or you?” How long have you got? Hordes of strange mood-altering white-eyed guys called Cadaveri who want to destroy the world. The mysterious Order of Sumer, which Jace had disobeyed more than once to protect me.
Who knew who else? The sniper who had tried to shoot me before. He had killed Miles’s and Jace’s friend, Richie, and numerous people in Trafalgar Square when I first tried to read. We never did discover who the sniper worked for, but surely he was the prime suspect here.
Yet I had no idea how to introduce the idea to Bryson without also telling him the whole wild story – and that, I knew, would end nowhere good. I shook my head, mute.
He slid a photograph across to me. “Do you know this man?”
Tousled blond hair and a mischievous grin seemed to shimmer off the table top. Oh God, Alec. The no-good, beautiful Alec, who had left me to die at the hands of the Cadaveri. Alec whose plan to dodge the national service which was pulling our generation into war had been ruined by me and Amber.
Alec had access to guns. Lots of the kids at my rural school went shooting.
“Yes. It’s Alec Carstair. We’re at school together.”
“Do you know of any reason Alec would try to hurt yourself or Mr Portman?”
It couldn’t be him. They couldn’t think it was him. Alec was messed up and narcissistic; OK, frankly a bit of a creep. But one I had liked at one time. Liked a lot. And I couldn’t believe he’d shoot someone. An image flashed of two boys grunting as they kicked the flopping body of my friend Gavin, their boots thudding in subdued tandem. But Jason and Marcus had been affected by Cadaveri, they were out of their minds, literally… could that have happened to Alec? Had Cadaveri twisted him to a murderous rage too?
Words died in my throat, their little bodies clogging my airway until I could barely breathe.
“Callie.” Bryson’s voice dropped to a rough caress. “I know this is hard. But if you know of any reason Alec would want to do this, you need to tell me. We’ll find out anyway. And sooner is always better than later.”
I took a deep breath. “Alec was using his girlfriend to get essential worker status and avoid the draft. It was my fault she found out. I’m guessing she didn’t react well.”
“Were you and he involved?”
I shook my head. “Almost, once. I think he liked me.”
“And was he jealous of Mr Portman? That you were now close with… someone else?”
I started to say “Jace and I are just friends,” but that too died on my lips. I shrugged. “Possibly.” I ran my finger over the picture. “But why would you think it was Alec?”
“He was caught leaving the scene with a weapon that seems to fit the crime. He was extremely drunk and somewhat unstable.” He paused. “He was driving a car registered to your father.”
“He stole my dad’s car? Why?”
The detective spread his hands. “If I had to guess I’d say he’d been waiting for you and when your father left, with bags packed, he took the first vehicle he could find and followed him.” He put his hand on mine. “Callie, this was a premeditated attempt at murder. A second bullet was embedded in the grill of the rental car, above where Jace lay.”
A chilling realisation crept over me. “How far above?”
The detective’s face softened. “Probably about the height your head was when you knelt next to him.”
“Oh.” Icy hands pressed on my skin. “I didn’t even notice a second shot.” The concrete was a wall of grey beneath me. Jace a collage of nature, his eyes mossy woodland bark, his chest blooming, his skin snow cold. “I didn’t notice.”
They let me go then, ushered back into my father’s arms. I didn’t need to look at him to know that he hadn’t told them anything either. All the way home the car was thick with the things we hadn’t said. They burned on our lips.
Senator Victor Pierce took the call in the car, as it rolled through the Washington DC traffic. He wearily rubbed two fingers against the bridge of his nose as he listened to his Order operative, Miles Kingston, explain about Jace Portman. Nothing was ever straightforward in this life. But then, he reflected, it wouldn’t be as much fun if it was. There would be no challenge.
Still, with Portman out of the picture his Order resources were desperately thin on the ground. Pierce prided himself on treading his fine line between Order business — which after all had funded his political career — and his access to public resources with all the skill of a master tightrope walker. But there was always a limit to how many favours he could call in, how much he could rely on his network of co-operative generals who benefited from having a friend on the appropriations committee and intelligence specialists who could be persuaded to occasionally classify a personal problem as a national security threat.
But some problems he’d have to deal with himself.
Like you, little girl, he thought. How the hell did you survive? And what am I supposed to do with you now?
“Do they have a suspect?” he asked Miles.
“Yes sir. A student from Callie’s school.”
“What a sad waste of a young life.” Pierce gazed impassively out of the window, where Constitution Avenue swept down past the Haupt Fountains and the Ellipse. Through the traffic lights and the sparse trees he could see the White House in the distance. It never looked as impressive from this angle, he thought. Still he touched his fingers to the window in a small salute. One day, he promised himself, as he did every day. When he achieved that goal not even the Order would be able to dictate to him.
“There is something strange about the boy, sir.”
Pierce listened as Miles explained Alec Carstair’s condition, careful to give a minimal response.
“I can continue tracking the girl’s movements through McKenna’s credit cards and email, sir,” said Miles. “How should I proceed?”
“Jace may have run out on us, but he’s one of our own, Miles. We bring him home. Then you just have the girl and the Book to collect and we’re done.”
“He’s critical, sir. He may not survive being moved.”
Pierce bit back on his anger. “Your point?” he said.
“You need to rest, Callie,” said my father gently. “You’ve barely slept. You should sit down.” He followed me around the small hotel suite, touching my elbow occasionally like an incompetent sheepdog.
“It’s been twenty-four hours, Dad. When are they going to let us see him?”
“He’s still in recovery. I’ll ring again later. Would you like some tea?” Two months ago my father would barely have noticed if I was in the room. Now he fussed over me like a mother hen. Weird analogy. Why are all our most caring terms to do with farmyard animals? Lamb, duck, mother hen, women are birds or chicks. We eat all those things.
My mind spun, freewheeling. Before I spoke to Bryson I had been convinced the gunman had been the same anonymous sniper who had stalked me before, yet the evidence against Alec was overwhelming.
“I need to see him,” I said.
“And we will. As soon as he’s in a ward.”
“No.” I shook my head as though fighting off sleep. “I need to see Alec. I need to know why he would do this.”
My dad carefully put the teapot down on a tourist information brochure and dropped his hands to his sides. “Callie, the detective I spoke to suggested Alec has some… mental health difficulties. That he’s largely incoherent and very confused.”
“Is that why he did this?” Maybe he’d had a breakdown. I felt bad for the sweet, funny, self-deprecating man I’d spent a summer with — but the son of a bitch he’d become had shot Jace. I hoped he rotted in hell.
Yet some instinct, some small voice at the back of my head saying none of this fit, niggled away at me.
“Do you think they’d let me see him?”
My dad shrugged helplessly. “I can ask,” he said at last.
Aadil Hanaan flicked on his monitor and started to scroll through the daily wires and briefings. Much of his work as an intelligence officer for the Saudi Arabian government seemed to consist of skimming and aggregating endless random comments buried in no-name websites these days. He thought wistfully of the glamour of the Graham Greene novels he had read at Cambridge, full of dead drops and midnight stalking. Instead he sat at his desk in the Washington DC office, reading blogs and online news snippets.
As he scrolled through a long list of web hits, a story in the Manchester Evening News made him freeze. Love triangle shooting at Manchester Airport. His Google alert had captured it for one reason only – one of the participants was a girl named Callie McKenna.
She’s dead, he told himself. It’s someone with the same name. She must be dead. The Council of Churches had despatched a sniper to prevent her from reading and he’d been told the contract had been fulfilled in full, if not in time to stop the event itself.
He shuffled screens and hunted for two images. One of Callie McKenna, English school girl. And one of a young woman with blood streaked across her newsprint-white face in a Manchester car park.
“Farid,” he snapped.
His young assistant swung his wheeled office chair in a tight pirouette. “Sir?”
“These two images? Would you say this was the same girl?”
Farid leaned close to the screen. “Well, I’ll have someone run it through a face match to be sure but yeah. Why, what is it?”
Aadil gave a slow, broad smile. “It’s the best chance we’ve had in years,” he replied.
The cell in the Manchester police station stank of disinfectant. A hard plastic floor wrapped up the sides of the walls, where pale green paint blistered and peeled. A single dark grey blanket covered a tight ball of a man. Two bare feet, covered in grit and dirt, suck out the bottom.
I stepped inside and nodded to Detective Bryson who stood in the open doorway.
“I’m all right.”
“He’s pretty much out of it. His blood alcohol levels were sky high. He’s still sleeping it off.”
“Has he seen a doctor?”
The detective nodded briefly and looked at his watch. “This is against regulations, Callie. You’ve seen him. Now are we done?”
The body on the bunk shifted. “Callie?” it croaked.
My stomach twisted. I didn’t know why I was here. He’d shot Jace. Why the hell would I care how he was?
Because I’d known him once. Because I’d liked him once. Because none of this made sense.
“Are you OK? Alec?”
“Callie?” My name became a hollow, cavernous sound, muffled by the blanket. My pulse picked up, thrumming like a little bird under my skin. Wrists, ankles, neck, I could feel tiny wings thrashing to escape.
He sat up, slowly, face still to the wall.
Everything became slow motion. Alec braced himself against the wall, arms clawing the air out of the way, like a swimmer in the deep end.
I heard the detective shout and lunge forwards, and on some instinct I caught his arm. Wrong-footed, he pivoted and stumbled back through the doorway. I slammed it shut.
Alec’s white eyes glared at me, mouth twisted in hatred.
I pressed back against the wall, shrinking. It couldn’t be true. It couldn’t be true.
“Alec. What happened to you?” Blood covered his face, his nose was a broken mess, dark bruises spread across his swollen cheekbones. But all I could see were the milky eyes, which had once been cornflower blue.
He gave a mirthless smile, chipped teeth making his open mouth cliff-top craggy.
“Don’t you know?” he slurred. “You happened to me, Callie. You.”