Life is almost back to normal for Harper Price. The Ephors have been silent after their deadly attack at Cotillion months ago, and best friend Bee has returned after a mysterious disappearance. Now Harper can return her focus to the important things in life: school, canoodling with David, her nemesis-turned-ward-slash-boyfie, and even competing in the Miss Pine Grove pageant.
Unfortunately, supernatural chores are never done. The Ephors have decided they’d rather train David than kill him. The catch: Harper has to come along for the ride, but she can’t stay David’s Paladin unless she undergoes an an ancient trial that will either kill her . . . or make her more powerful than ever.
"Everything you could want from the genre and more: heart, smarts, scares, swoons and best of all, LAUGHS." —Kirkus Reviews
"Harper's signature wit punctuates the action, balancing snappy satire of the Pine Grove community and its beauty pageant with the edgy suspense of the Ephors' everlooming next attack."Booklist
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“THIS IS going to be a total disaster. You know that, right?”
There are times when having a boyfriend who can tell the future is great. And then there are times like this.
Rolling my eyes, I flipped down the visor to check my makeup in the little mirror.
“Is that your Oracle self talking, or your concerned boyfie self?”
David laughed at that, twisting in the driver’s seat to look at me. His sandy blond hair was its usual wreck, his blue eyes bright behind his glasses. “Seriously, you have got to stop calling me that.”
The visor smacked back into place with a snap as I smiled at him. “But you are an Oracle,” I said with mock innocence, and now it was his turn to roll his eyes.
“You know which term I was objecting to.”
The windows in David’s car were down, letting in the breeze as well as the faint smell of beer and the pounding bass coming from inside the Sigma Kappa Nu fraternity house across the street. It was getting late, and there were a million places I would rather have been, but I had a job to do tonight.
Still, I could mix a little business with pleasure. Leaning over the seat, I tipped my face up so he could kiss me. “It’ll only take a sec,” I promised once we parted. “And besides, this is what we’re supposed to be doing.”
David’s lips were a thin line, and there was a little wrinkle between his brows. “If you’re sure,” he said, and I paused, hand on the latch.
“What do you mean?”
David pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “This whole changing-the-future thing. Sometimes I wonder . . . like, what if you can’t change the future, Pres? What if you’re only delaying it a little while?”
My hand fell away from the door as I thought about that, but before I could answer, a loud bang from the front of the car had us both jumping.
Two dark-haired guys in polo shirts and pastel shorts chortled as they walked past, their faces washed out in the glow of the headlights. “Nice car, asshat!” one of them shouted before they did some kind of fist-bumping move that made me want to bump my fist, too.
Right into their faces.
At my side, David heaved a huge sigh. “Well, if we’re supposed to be fighting evil, I’m not sure guys like that qualify.” He turned to look at me, one corner of his mouth lifting and making a dimple appear in his cheek. “Although I am a little more excited about watching you pound them into a pulp now.”
I settled back into my seat, fussing with my hair. “Hopefully there won’t be any need for that. I’m going to get in there, get the twins, and get out. And you won’t be watching anything, since you need to stay in the car.”
David scowled. “Pres—”
“No.” I turned back to him, the streetlight overhead outlining him in orange. “There’s no way those guys will let you in. Because you’re . . .”
Wearing an argyle sweater and lime-green shoes, I thought to myself. “A guy.”
He was going to argue again, I could tell. That V between his eyes was getting deeper and his knee was jiggling, so I hurried. “You’ve already done the Oracle thing, so let me do the Paladin thing, and then we can get the heck out of here as quickly as possible, okay?”
Not even David Stark could argue with that, so he gave a terse nod and leaned back in his seat. “Okay. But please make it fast. This place is already starting to have a bad influence on me. I feel the need to buy polo shirts and shorts. Maybe some Man Sandals.”
Grinning, I unbuckled my seat belt. “Anything but Man Sandals! Although, not gonna lie, a polo shirt wouldn’t be a bad addition to your wardrobe.”
David made a face at me and tugged at the hem of his sweater. “This is a classic,” he informed me, and I leaned over to give him one more quick kiss.
“Sure it is.”
Across the street, a group of boys came stumbling out the front door of the redbrick Sigma Kappa Nu house, one of them breaking away to puke in the azalea bushes.
“Abigail and Amanda, the things I do for you,” I muttered as I got out of the car, shutting the door behind me.
Pushing my shoulders back, I did the best I could to saunter across the lawn, projecting confidence while also trying not to draw too much attention to myself. That’s why I’d picked this dress. Should things get . . . out of hand, “girl in a black dress” wasn’t all that memorable of a description.
The door to the frat house was hanging open as I approached, thanks to the puking guy and his friends, so I was able to slip inside unnoticed.
If the bass had been pounding from outside, it was like a physical presence in the house, rattling my teeth and starting an immediate headache behind my eyes.
And the smell . . .
Beer, boy, old pizza, and carpet that probably hadn’t been cleaned since they’d built this place back in the sixties.
Ugh. Frats were the worst.
But I was here on a mission, and I switched my purse from one shoulder to the other as I scanned the crowd, looking for Abigail and Amanda’s twin blond heads.
A few months ago, I wouldn’t have been caught dead here. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there are some fraternities worth hanging out with, but Sigma Kappa Nu was not one of them. These were, on the whole, big dumb party boys, and I was not into that. At all.
But back in October, I’d killed my history teacher with a shoe, and everything had changed.
It turned out I was a Paladin, a kind of superpowered warrior, charged with protecting the Oracle, aka David Stark, aka my new boyfriend. Being an Oracle meant that David could see the future, which obviously made him a pretty valuable commodity to a lot of people. And not good people, either. The Ephors were a group of men who had owned Oracles for years, using their visions to get ahead in the world. To predict the outcome of everything from wars to financial investments. Because David was a male Oracle, the Ephors had wanted to kill him—the only other male Oracle had been nowhere near as powerful as the traditional female ones, plus he’d become super unstable. But David had been rescued by his first Paladin, a guy named Christopher Hall, and by his Mage, Saylor Stark.
I hadn’t exactly done a bang-up job of protecting David at first—people had died, including Saylor, and David had undergone a spell that gave him stronger powers than ever. Not only did he have much clearer visions, but also, he’d been able to make Paladins, giving the same powers I had to a group of girls at Cotillion. Oh, and did I mention my ex, Ryan, was our new Mage? So, yeah, complicated, but we were all trying to make the best of things.
That’s part of why I was here, walking carefully among plastic cups and Ping-Pong balls, dodging puddles of beer. Before she’d died, Saylor had told me there was a possibility of David becoming a danger to himself, that the world-changing, super-intense visions would “burn him up.”
Ryan and I had only helped him have two of those big types of visions. The first one, in the newspaper room at our school, had started a fire in a trash can, and short-circuited every computer in there. The second had resulted in David staying home for nearly a week, his eyes glowing brightly, his head aching. After that, I decided we should start small. Besides, it’s like my mom always says: Charity begins at home.
What better way to use David’s powers than to check on the futures of friends and family, and see if there was anything I could do to help them should those futures turn out not so great?
So far, we’d kept my Aunt May from accidentally using salt instead of sugar in a batch of brownies for the Junior League bake sale (an act that would have gotten her kicked out of Junior League), and we’d saved David’s friend Chie from forgetting to save the final copy of The Grove News to her hard drive.
And now Abigail. Her future would take a hard left turn tonight when she met some douche-y frat brother named Spencer. They’d date for the rest of Abi’s high school career, then she’d marry him instead of going to college. From there, David hadn’t been able to see much more, only that Abi’s future with Spencer felt “sad,” and would lead to her and her twin, Amanda, becoming estranged.
Saving people from future earthquakes or volcanoes seemed daunting—not to mention almost impossible to get people to believe—but keeping a friend from falling for the wrong guy? Oh, that I could handle.
Provided I could find Abigail, of course. A set of French doors opened into a big backyard, and I headed in that direction, hoping to see the twins. As I kicked a crumpled Bud Light can out of my path, my phone vibrated. Pulling it out of my purse, I saw it was a text from David. “This is how I feel about fraternities right now.” Underneath was a picture of him pulling the worst face—nose wrinkled, mouth turned down in a huge frown, eyes narrowed. I smiled, unsure of what was funnier: the picture itself or the idea of David Stark taking a selfie.
“Goofball,” I texted back before sliding my phone into my purse and stepping outside.
A giant keg had become a sort of fountain in the middle of the yard. Two boys were holding another guy up by his legs so he could attempt the dreaded keg stand, and I sighed, wondering what the appeal of these dudes even was.
And then, thank God, I saw two identical blond heads close together by a cluster of coolers.
“Abigail! Amanda!” I called, making my way over to them. That involved stepping over more beer cans, and at least two unconscious dudes, and I frowned. Ew.
The twins both raised their eyebrows at me, surprised. “Harper? What are you doing here?” Abi asked. She wore her signature fishtail braid loose and over one shoulder, while Amanda’s hair was pulled back from her face with two little clips. They were both wearing red dresses, so I was glad the hair made it easy to tell them apart.
I gave them my sternest look, propping my hands on my hips. “I should ask the two of you that. Now come on. We’re leaving.”
This is a secret I learned from cheerleading and SGA. If you act like you’re in the right, people will fall in line without really questioning. I’d never bothered to come up with an excuse as to why I was looking for the two of them at Sigma Kappa Nu, and it wasn’t like I could say, “My boyfriend has psychic powers, so tonight I’m saving one of you from a terrible future.” Instead, I relied on two years of being their head cheerleader to make Abi and Amanda follow me.
And it worked.
They both studied me for a minute. Abi screwed up her mouth like she might argue, but Amanda shrugged and took her twin’s arm with a muttered “I’m over this place anyway.”
I made my way toward the French doors, pleased. That had gone so much easier than I’d—
A figure suddenly reared up in front of me. “Whoa, whoa, little lady, what’s the rush?”
The guy who blocked the doorway looked a lot like my ex-boyfriend, Ryan. Tall, nicely built, reddish hair that was just a little too long. But while Ryan’s smile was charming, this guy’s was smarmy, and I was not in the mood to deal with him right now.
“We’re leaving,” I said, smiling but saying the words firmly enough for him to know I meant business. “My friends are ready to go.”
“No, I’m not,” Abi said, one strap of her red dress sliding off her shoulder. Amanda kind of shook her head, too.
Man, what I wouldn’t have given for Ryan and his mind-control powers right about now. But all I had were my powers of persuasion, which I thought were still pretty great.
“This place is super gross, Abi,” I told her, gesturing around at the crushed cups on the lawn, the stained couches inside, the random depressions knocked into the walls by heads or fists, “and if your parents knew you were here, they’d die. Heck, you’re not even related to me, and I kind of want to die. Now let’s go.”
But Frat-enstein over here was still looming in the doorway, arms braced on either side of the frame, a red plastic cup in one hand. “‘Super gross’?” he repeated. He pressed a meaty paw over the Greek letters on his shirt, and his blurry eyes tried to focus on me. His cheeks were red, and his nose was kind of shiny. Honestly, what did Abi even see in a guy like this? “Sigma Kappa Nu is the best frat on campus.”
I snorted. “Please. Alpha Epsilon is the best frat on campus. You guys are the biggest frat on campus, and that’s because there’s so many of you without the grades to get into decent fraternities. Now get out of our way.”
He was blinking down at me, like my words were taking a while to penetrate the haze of beer and dumb that clearly clouded his mind. Then, finally, he slurred, “You’re super gross.”
“Zing,” I muttered, turning back to Abigail and Amanda with eyebrows raised. “Can we please go now?”
Amanda nodded this time, thank God, but Abi was still chewing her lower lip and looking at the guy. “It’s not even eleven,” she said, fiddling with the end of her braid. Now the guy was looking back at her, blinking, and, ugh, this was going to be harder than I thought. “I mean, we could stay for a little while.”
Biting back a sigh, I made myself smile at Abi. “No, we can’t. Now kindly get out of our way . . .”
“Spencer,” the guy offered with a flick of his hair. “And I think your pretty friend is right—she could stay for a while.”
There was no real danger here, but everything in me ached to go super Paladin on Spencer’s fratty butt. And then, thankfully, he gave me the chance.
His hand came down on my shoulder, hard enough that I actually winced. “Hey, there—” was as much as he got out before my fingers curled around his hand, holding him in place while my other hand shot out, heel of my palm smacking him solidly in the solar plexus.
He let out a whoosh of air that smelled like stale beer and sour apple Jolly Ranchers, making me wrinkle my nose even as I hooked my foot around his ankle and sent him crashing to the ground. The dude was built like a tree, so he went down hard, and I didn’t give him the chance to get up again. Still clutching his hand, I pressed my shoe to his chest and slid my fingers down to circle his wrist. I only had to pull the littlest bit before he whimpered. And, I mean, I didn’t want to break his wrist or anything.
I just wanted to scare him a little bit. It occurred to me that once upon a time I could do that with a mere icy smile or an eye roll. These days, things were a lot more . . . physical.
“When a lady says she’s ready to leave,” I told him, applying pressure, “she is ready to leave. And you do not get in her way. Is that clear?”
When he didn’t answer, I gave another little tug that had him nodding frantically. “Right, yes. I’m sorry, I—I won’t do it again.”
I tossed his hand down, dusting my palms on the back of my skirt. “I would hope not.”
Lifting my head to the twins, I saw them watching me with mouths agape. Luckily, most of the party was still outside, so only a couple of guys—also dressed in the maroon and blue of Sigma Kappa Nu—saw me with Spencer, and they were so drunk that they barely noticed me.
I glanced back at the twins. “Self-defense class,” I told them with a little shrug. “Now can we please go?”
Spencer was sitting up now, holding his wrist and watching me with wary eyes, but I saw Abi hesitate before following me out of the room, and I wasn’t sure if I’d done my job here tonight or not.
“You’re not the boss of us, Harper,” Abi said once we were out of the frat house and marching down the front steps toward the street. She’d grabbed her cardigan off the back of a chair on the way out, and was shoving her arms into it, scowling.
Then why are you following me? I thought.
What I said was, “I’m just looking out for you. That’s what friends do.”
“Abi’s right,” Amanda said, and they both stopped there at the edge of the yard. “We’ve all known you were a control freak, but this is kind of nuts.”
I stopped then, turning to glance between them, wishing their words didn’t . . . bug.
It was too close to what David had said when I’d first come up with this idea. “People have to live their lives, Harper,” he’d said.
But, as I’d reminded him, what was the point of having superpowers, superpowers he could actually use now—safely—if we didn’t, you know, use them?
“Ladies,” David said with a little wave, and they both scowled at him.
“What is he doing here?” Abi asked, and I rolled my eyes.
“He’s my boyfriend. He drove me here, obvs.”
The twins were looking at David’s car like it might give them a disease, and while I was irritated, I couldn’t really blame them. David’s Dodge was a total clunker, full of dents and dings and scratched paint, and . . . the truth was, I might have done some of that damage myself during a car chase last fall, but the point was that it barely looked drivable. I didn’t know why David insisted on hanging on to that thing. He still had his aunt’s car, and while Saylor’s Cadillac was of the old-lady variety, it certainly wasn’t in danger of having its engine drop out.
Abi opened the back door, delicately kicking a stack of books off the backseat and onto the floor. David winced as the books fell, and the corners of his mouth jerked down as he cut his eyes at me.
However, when Amanda tossed his ratty messenger bag out of the way, he twisted to look into the backseat. “Hey,” he started, and then he winced.
I wondered if Amanda had pushed his bag onto something and broken it—there was no end to the random stuff in David’s backseat—but then I felt my own chest seize up in pain, and knew we were in for something way worse.
But those didn’t just pop up the way they used to. David’s powers were under control now. Thing was, David didn’t know that me and Ryan were using the wards to keep his powers under control. But it was for his own good. The smaller visions didn’t leave him sick and shaking.
Or looking so scary.
“What the hell?” one of the twins squawked from the backseat, and David fumbled with his door handle, shaking his head.
“David,” I said, reaching across the car to grab his arm.
Fingers closing around the handle, David shoved the door open, spilling out into the street.
I WAS ALREADY out of my seat and moving around to him, barely paying attention to the twins, who were climbing out of the backseat.
David fell to his knees, hands pressed to his head. Golden light poured out of his eyes, so bright it hurt to look at, and from behind me, I heard one of the twins make a sound somewhere between a gasp and a breathy scream.
“What is wrong with him?”
There was a part of my mind already on the phone with Ryan, asking him to work his mind-wipe mojo on the twins ASAP, but for right now, David was the only thing that mattered. I didn’t know if it was my Paladin powers or the way I felt about him that made my chest hurt, but I knelt down next to him, taking his hand.
His skin was clammy, but he grabbed my hand tight, fingers curling around my palm. “It’s all right,” I heard myself say, even though the power coming from him was making my teeth ache. I’d only seen him like this once, the night of Cotillion. Right now, light in his eyes, body vibrating, he looked a lot less like my boyfriend, and a lot more like a powerful supernatural creature.
Which, I had to remind myself, was exactly what he was.
But still, he shouldn’t have been having visions like this, not anymore.
“We have to go,” he said, his voice sounding deeper and echoing slightly, like there were two people talking. “Now. We need to go to them.”
I’d never known cold sweat was a thing people could actually feel, but that’s exactly what popped out on my forehead.
I held his hand tighter. “Where?” I asked. “Is Bee there?”
David’s head swung toward me, and I flinched at the glare.
My best friend had gone missing the night of Cotillion, kidnapped by Blythe and taken who knew where. Of everything that had happened that night, even Saylor’s death, losing Bee had been the worst. I couldn’t stop feeling like I’d failed her.
“Bee’s at cheerleading camp.”
Glancing over my shoulder, I saw that the twins were still frowning at us. Well, Amanda was. Abi was just staring at David, shocked.
“Seriously, what is wrong with him?” Abi asked, and I winced.
“It’s nothing,” I said, lifting my and David’s joined hands to look at his wrist. I never wore a watch, but David always did, so I checked it now. It was nearly eleven, and I’d promised my parents I’d be home by midnight.
David’s vision was already fading. I could feel the power draining out of him, and his breathing was starting to slow, the light in his eyes going dim. “Pres?” he croaked, and while there was still a little echo, he sounded more like himself than like the Oracle.
Sucking in a deep breath through my nose, I forced myself to think. First things first, I needed to get the twins home and dealt with. I could worry about my parents and where David was meant to be taking me once Abi and Amanda were handled.
“Okay,” I said, overly bright, as I clapped my hands together and rose to my feet. “Everybody back in the car.”
David stood, too, lurching for the driver’s side, but I caught his arm and steered him back toward the passenger seat. The twins stood there, arms folded over their chests.
“What the hell was that, Harper?” Amanda asked, and Abi echoed, “The. Hell.”
It had been a long night already, and I had a feeling it was about to get a lot longer. I shook my head, shooing the twins back toward the car. “I’ll explain later,” I promised, even though I had no intention of doing anything of the sort. What I did plan on doing was calling Ryan.
Even though last year I spearheaded the Campaign Against Texting and Driving—I signed a pledge and everything—I was already starting the car when I pulled up Ryan’s number and texted, “Meet me at the twins’ house. 911.”
“Harper,” David said, his voice low and rough. “We don’t have time. We have to go now.” I didn’t take my eyes off the road to look at him, but I did drop my phone in the change tray under the radio, reaching out to put my hand on his knee.
“It’s okay,” I said, even though my heart and mind were racing at a million miles an hour.
I had no idea what was going on, but I did know that to handle it, we had to ditch the Not-So-Wonder Twins and hope to God that Ryan had gotten my text, since he didn’t seem in any hurry to reply.
But when we pulled up in the driveway, Ryan was leaning against his car outside the twins’ house. “What’s he doing here?” Abi said from the backseat.
“Don’t know!” I chirped, throwing the car into park. “Stay here,” I told David firmly, pointing at him in case he wasn’t clear how serious I was.
He gave a weak nod and waved his hand, still slumped against the door panel. Maybe this will make me sound like a terrible person, but seeing him like that, much as it worried me, also made me feel kind of . . . relieved. Vindicated, even. This was what Ryan and I were protecting him from, this kind of pain. I knew it had bummed David out that his visions weren’t as big as he’d hoped, but surely he could understand that a little disappointment was better than this.
I started to open the car door, but before I could, Ryan was suddenly there in the open window, folding his arms on the door, chin resting on his forearms. As always, he looked like he’d just stepped out of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog, auburn hair curling over his brow, hazel eyes kind of sleepy and lazy, his T-shirt showing off the results of plenty of time in the gym. I could practically feel the twins swoon in the backseat. Ryan used to make me swoon once, too, but now I frowned and waved him back from the door so I could get out of the car.
“What’s the emergency?” he asked once we were on the lawn, and I glanced over my shoulder at the car.
“David had a vision, and the twins saw,” I said in a whispered rush. “So now I need you to do your Mage thing and wipe their memories, okay?”
By now, the twins were getting out of the backseat, muttering to each other. I heard David’s name, and also mine, along with a few words that, were I not so concerned with other things right now, I would have lit into them for. Honestly.
“What kind of vision?” Ryan asked, his brow wrinkling. “About what?”
“It doesn’t matter right now,” I told him, already making to move back to the car. “Do the mind wipe, and—”
Ryan caught my elbow before I could rush back to David. “It seems like it matters. It’s Oracle stuff, which means I’m involved, too. Harper, if he’s having visions without us, after all that we did, that’s . . . that’s kind of an issue.”
That was true, but right now, I needed him to erase the twins’ memories of tonight so I could get back to David. Luckily, at that minute, the twins wandered up, and I saw Ryan’s eyes flick to them.
“We’ll talk later!” I called, both to Ryan and to Amanda and Abigail, before hurrying back across the lawn.
David was out of the car, moving to the driver’s seat, and I stopped him with a “Whoa whoa whoa. What do you think you’re doing?”
Under the street lamps, he was looking a little bit better, but not much. There were still shadows underneath his eyes, and he was moving gingerly, like something inside him was broken. But his jaw was set when he looked at me, fingers on the door handle. “I’m driving.”
I put my hands on my hips, shifting my weight to one foot. “Um, okay, except you’re not?”
Now was not exactly the time to be arguing over who had control of the car, but I was not about to let a guy who looked like his brain might actually start leaking out of his ears get behind the wheel.
But David wasn’t budging. “You heard what it—what I—said. I’ll lead the way.”
Behind me, I could hear the low murmur of voices as Ryan talked to the twins, but I ignored that, focusing on David with my arms crossed tightly.
The twins’ street was quiet, the lawns almost identical green squares, glowing in the security lights. Azalea bushes lined the brick walls, and every yard had either dogwood trees or magnolias planted smack-dab in the middle of the grass. “Right, but you could, like, lead the way by telling me where we’re going. Like a GPS.”
David’s eyes blinked behind his glasses, and he shook his head slightly. “Pres, for once, can’t I be in charge of some aspect of this whole thing? I’m telling you, I need to drive us there. I’m fine now”—the slight trembling of his hand seemed to make that a lie, but whatever—“so please get in the car.”
I thought about arguing with him again, but David was right; I did tend to put myself in charge of all of these things, but how could I not? Wasn’t that my responsibility now that Saylor was gone?
But then I thought again of his visions, and the lies I’d told.
Couldn’t I give him this one thing?
Dropping my head, I pinched the bridge of my nose between my fingers. “David—” I started, and he dropped his head, trying to meet my eyes.
“Trust me, Pres,” he said. “Please.”
The twins were walking toward their house, and Ryan gave me a thumbs-up, so I figured that was settled, thank goodness.
But then Ryan walked over to us and grinned.
“So,” he said, opening the door to the backseat. “Where are we headed?”
“IT’S NOT that I don’t want you to come,” I explained for what had to be the third time in five miles. “But David and I have this.”
From the backseat, Ryan snorted, and when I glanced over my shoulder, he was sitting back, his arms folded, legs spread wide. I’d always hated when he sat like that, taking up too much space, but there wasn’t anything I could say to him. That was a Boyfriend Complaint, and Ryan wasn’t my boyfriend anymore. Of course, what he was now, I couldn’t even explain. We’d never been friends, exactly, so saying we were didn’t feel true. Maybe we were coworkers.
Which was part of why I didn’t want Ryan on this little expedition. He’d never liked the idea of not telling David about how we were limiting his visions, and I was worried that all of the weirdness of tonight was going to make him feel worse, maybe even give him the urge to confess.
“The other day you were bitching—sorry, complaining,” Ryan amended, catching my look, “that I wasn’t doing enough Mage stuff.” He spread his big hands wide. “Isn’t this Mage stuff?”
I looked back over at David. His hands were clenched tightly around the steering wheel, eyes on the dark road in front of us. We were driving out of town, in the opposite direction from the college where we’d been earlier, and the houses were starting to be few and far between.
I caught Ryan’s eyes in the rearview mirror. “When I said I wanted you to do more Mage stuff, I meant I wanted you to check on the wards Saylor made.” David’s “aunt” had put up all kinds of magical protection charms over Pine Grove to keep the Ephors from finding him, and we’d told David that they needed to be charged up from time to time.
“And,” I added, twisting in my seat, “I think you may want to add wards farther out.”
“Sure thing. Should I go ahead and cover the whole state?” Ryan asked, and I rolled my eyes.
“No,” David said. “No more wards.”
Surprised, I twisted in my seat, the seat belt digging into my hip. “What do you mean ‘no more wards’?”
David shook his head, but didn’t look at me. “I think the wards are screwing up my visions.”
I could hear Ryan shift in the backseat, and willed him not to say anything. Luckily, he didn’t, and David continued. “I mean, I had those two big ones, right? The thing about the earthquake in Peru, and then the one about that senator lady Harper likes becoming president. But then . . . nothing. For months now.” He was talking faster now, fingers drumming on the steering wheel. “So maybe all the wards Saylor put up to protect me are, like, getting in the way of that.”
I tried not to squirm in my seat since it wasn’t Saylor’s wards getting in his way.
“And now,” David added, “the most important thing I’ve been able to see is that your friend will marry a douche someday. Not earth-shattering stuff.”
“Which friend and which douche?” Ryan asked, leaning forward, but I ignored him.
“I happen to think that kind of thing is important, David.” And I did. Sort of.
He did look over then, eyebrows drawing close together over the rims of his glasses. We’d started to move out of the city now, fields to either side of the road, and only the occasional streetlight. The green glow from the dashboard lights played over David’s high cheekbones, making his eyes look slightly sunken in. “I mean, your friends are important,” David said, even though I was pretty sure he didn’t actually think that. There was something weird in his voice. “But bigger-picture stuff? Stuff that might actually help . . . I don’t know, the world? At least more people than a handful of your friends. Tonight, for the first time in months, I had a strong vision, a clear one that I didn’t need any help with. And it was a big one.” He glanced over at me. “I saw the Ephors, Pres.”
My heart thudded heavily in my chest. “What?”
He nodded and reached over to squeeze my hand. “The Ephors,” he repeated, eyes still on the road. It was probably just the reflection of streetlights, but it looked like his eyes were glowing again, and I swallowed hard.
“Although why they’ve decided to set up shop all the way out here, I don’t know,” he said, and I jerked my hand back.
“Wait, we’re going to see them? That’s where you’re taking us?”
“That seems like information we should’ve had from the start,” Ryan commented, and when I caught his eye in the rearview mirror, he was frowning, auburn hair hanging low on his forehead.
“If I’d told you, would you have come?” David asked, turning to glance at me. Now I could tell his eyes weren’t glowing after all, but I didn’t feel much better.
“Yes,” I told him quickly. “But, you know, with . . . weapons. Grenades, maybe.”
David shook his head and turned down a dirt road, the car thumping over bumps and ruts.
“There’s nothing out here,” Ryan offered, leaning up between us. He had his elbows propped on his spread knees, his hazel eyes scanning the road in front of us, the fields of tall grass on either side. “Me and some of the guys used to come out here to drink beer.”
“When was that?” I asked, but now it was his turn to ignore me apparently.
“There used to be a house,” he told David. “Big ol’ Gone with the Wind–type place. My grandmother had a painting of it over her mantel. Apparently it was kinda famous or something, but it burned down back in the seventies. All that was left was a chimney. And we threw enough cans at it that I’m not sure much of that was left either.”
“What a fabulous use of time,” I muttered, and I think Ryan would have had a comment for that had the car not taken a curve in the road right then.
David brought the car to a shuddering halt.
“A house like that?” he asked, and Ryan gave a slow nod.
The house in front of us looked a lot like Magnolia House back in town, but while that was just a reproduction of a fancy antebellum home, this seemed to be the real thing. White columns rose from the front porch to a wraparound balcony above, and tall windows, bracketed by dark shutters, stood on either side of the massive front door. Lights glowed in those windows, throwing out long rectangles of gold on the neatly manicured lawn.
“Maybe someone built a new place,” Ryan suggested, but his voice was faint. “In the . . . three weeks since I was out here.”
“This is the place,” David said, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. “I feel it, don’t you?”
I did. I wasn’t sure how exactly, but I definitely did. I don’t know what I was expecting the Ephor headquarters—if that’s what this place was—to look like. I mean, they were an ancient society that started in Greece, made up of people who wanted to control the world, so I don’t think I was too far off in imagining that they’d do business in something like a temple, or at least an old building made of stone. It looked like they’d decided to restore some of the local architecture instead.
So I thought I could be forgiven for doubting David. “Are you sure?”
David was still staring at the house, his wrists draped over the steering wheel. “Yeah,” he said at last. “That’s the place.”
As the three of us got out of the car, it was all I could do not to shiver. The house might not have looked magical, but it sure as heck felt like it. I couldn’t see any obvious markings, like the wards Saylor had put up around town, but power pulsed off the building in a steady beat that I could almost feel coming up through the soles of my feet. It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up and my teeth ache.
“That’s intense,” David said, and I glanced at him. Reaching over, I threaded my fingers with his, squeezing.
“Do you have any kind of plan here? Are we just marching in, or . . .”
David squeezed my hand back. “No plan,” he said. “I have to be here. That’s all I know. It’s like . . . remember when you told me that if I’m in danger, you can’t do anything except save me?”
I nodded. That was part of the Oracle/Paladin bond. Even if an orphanage staffed by kittens was on fire right next to him, I couldn’t do anything but save David. So, yeah, I understood how mystical compulsions could make you do things that weren’t good for you, but I still didn’t like it.
I made myself smile at David. “We got this,” I said, even though I had no idea what “this” was. But David and I had handled The Weird before and gotten through it. We could do it again.
Turning his head, he smiled down at me. Well, his lips lifted in something that I think was supposed to be a smile, but he was either too tired or too freaked out to give it his best shot.
I’d take it.
From behind me, I thought I heard Ryan blow out a long breath, but I kept my eyes on the house, waiting for . . . I didn’t even know what.
Excerpted from "Miss Mayhem"
Copyright © 2016 Rachel Hawkins.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Young Readers Group.
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