Gabriel Merrick plays with fire. Literally.
Sometimes he can even control it. And sometimes he can't. Gabriel has always had his brothers to rely on, especially his twin, Nick. But when an arsonist starts wreaking havoc on their town, all the signs point to Gabriel. Only he's not doing it. And no one seems to believe him. Except a shy sophomore named Layne, a brainiac who dresses in turtlenecks and jeans and keeps him totally off balance. Layne understands family problems, and she understands secrets. She has a few of her own. Gabriel can't let her guess about his brothers, about his abilities, about the danger that's right at his heels. But there are some risks he can't help taking.
The fuse is lit. . .
Praise for Brigid Kemmerer and The Elemental Series""Five hot guys, one tough heroine, plenty of romance and non-stop action. . . Elemental is the new series to watch."" --Inara Scott, author of The Marked""Overflowing with action, snappy dialog, and hot guys--The Elemental Series will take your breath away."" --Kim Harrington, author of Clarity
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SparkThe Elemental Series
By BRIGID KEMMERER
K TEEN BOOKSCopyright © 2012 Brigid Kemmerer
All right reserved.
Chapter OneGabriel Merrick stared at the dead leaf in his palm and willed it to burn.
He had a lighter in his pocket, but that always felt like cheating. He should be able to call flame to something this dry. The damn thing had been stuck in the corner of his window screen since last winter. But the leaf only seemed interested in flaking onto his trigonometry textbook.
He was seriously ready to take the lighter to that.
A knock sounded on his bedroom wall.
"Black," he called. Nicky always slept late, always knocked on his wall to ask what color he was wearing. If he didn't, they ended up dressing alike.
Gabriel looked back at the leaf—and it was just that, a dead leaf. No hint of power. Behind the drywall, electricity sang to him. In the lamp on his desk, he could sense the burning filament. Even the weak threads of sunlight that managed to burn through the clouds left some trace of his element. If the power was there, Gabriel could speak to it, ask it to bend to his will.
If the power wasn't, he had nothing.
His door swung open. Nick stood there in a green hoodie and a pair of khaki cargo shorts. A girl on the cheer squad had once asked Gabriel if having a twin was like looking in a mirror all the time. He'd asked her if being a cheerleader was like being an idiot all the time—but really, it was a good question. He and Nick shared the same dark hair, the same blue eyes, the same few freckles across their cheekbones.
Right now, Nick leaned on a crutch, a knee brace strapped around his left leg, evidence of the only thing they didn't share: a formerly broken leg.
Gabriel glanced away from that. "Hey."
"What are you doing?"
Gabriel flicked the leaf into the wastebasket beneath his desk. "Nothing. You ready for school?"
"Is that your trig book?"
"Yeah. Just making sure I told you the right assignment."
Gabriel always attempted his math homework—and then handed it over for Nick to do it right. Math had turned into a foreign language somewhere around fifth grade. Then, Gabriel had struggled through, managing Cs when his twin brought home As. But in seventh grade, when their parents died, he'd come close to failing. Nick started covering for him, and he'd been doing it ever since.
Not like it was a big challenge. Math came to Nick like breathing. He was in second-year calculus, earning college credit. Gabriel was stuck in trigonometry with juniors.
He was pretty frigging sick of it.
Gabriel flipped the book closed and shoved it into his backpack. His eyes fell on that knee brace again. Two days ago, his twin's leg had been broken in three places.
"You're not going to make me carry your crap all day, are you?" His voice came out sharp, nowhere near the light ribbing he'd intended.
Nick took it in stride, as usual. "Not if you're going to cry about it." He turned toward the stairs, his voice rising to a mocking falsetto. "I'm the school sports hero, but I can't possibly carry a few extra books—"
"Keep it up," Gabriel called, slinging the backpack over his shoulder to follow his brother. "I'll push you down the stairs."
But he hesitated in the doorway, listening to Nick's hitching steps as he descended the staircase, the creak of the banister as it supported his weight.
Gabriel knew he should help. He should probably be taking the place of that crutch. That's what Nick would do for him.
But he couldn't force himself through the doorway.
That broken leg had been his fault. Thank god Nick could pull power from the air, an element in abundance. He probably wouldn't even need the brace by the end of the week.
And then Gabriel wouldn't need to stare at the evidence of his own poor judgment.
He and his brothers had always been targeted for their Elemental abilities. Being pure Elementals, they should have been put to death as soon as they came into their powers. Luckily, their parents had struck a deal with the weaker Elementals in town.
A deal that had led to their parents' deaths.
Their oldest brother, Michael, had been able to keep the deal in place—until a few weeks ago, when Tyler and Seth, two of the other Elemental kids in town, had attacked Chris. It started a snowball of events that led to an Elemental Guide coming to town to do away with the Merrick brothers for good.
He'd almost succeeded, too. After the Homecoming dance, they'd been attacked.
They'd fought back the only way they knew how. But Gabriel had let Nick call storms that were too strong. He'd begged his twin for more power. When Nick fell, the accident had practically shattered his leg—if they weren't full Elementals, he probably would have needed surgery.
That night, Gabriel couldn't keep him safe. The Guide had kidnapped Nick and Chris, had held them prisoner.
Becca and Hunter had found them. But Gabriel couldn't do anything. Ineffective and out of control, just like always.
But now they were safe, and things were back to normal. Nick was his usual self. Life's good. Move on. No use complaining. He hadn't even said a word about what had happened on the field.
As far as Gabriel was concerned, he didn't need to.
Just like with math, Nick was used to his twin being a failure.
Gabriel pulled onto Becca Chandler's street and glanced in the rearview mirror at his younger brother. Chris was chewing on his thumbnail, leaning against the window.
"Nervous?" said Gabriel.
Chris looked away from the window and glared at him. "No."
Nick turned in his seat. "Make sure you open the door for her. Girls eat that crap up."
"Nah," said Gabriel. "Play it cool. Make her work for it—"
"For god's sake," Chris snapped. "She just broke up with Hunter, like, yesterday, so it's not like that. Okay?"
Jesus. Someone was worked up. Gabriel glanced back again. "But she asked you for a ride."
Chris looked back out the window. "I offered."
Nick turned his head to look at his twin. "Very nervous," he whispered.
Gabriel smiled and turned into Becca's driveway. "Very."
"Would you two shut up?"
Becca was waiting on the front step, her arms around her knees and her hands drawn up into the sleeves of a fleece pullover, dark hair hanging down her back.
"She looks upset," said Nick.
She did, her eyes dark and shadowed, her shoulders hunched. Or maybe she was just cold. Gabriel wasn't one for figuring out emotion.
Her face brightened when she saw them, and she sprinted for the car almost before Chris had time to jump out and hold the door for her.
She stopped short in front of him, spots of pink on her cheeks. "Hey," she said, tucking her hair behind her ear.
"Hey," Chris said back, his voice soft and low.
Then they just stood there breathing at each other.
Gabriel hit the horn.
They jumped apart—but Chris punched him in the shoulder when he climbed back into the car.
Becca buckled her seat belt. "I'm glad you're all here."
Her voice was full of anxiety. So Nick had been right.
Chris shifted to look at her. "You all right?"
She shook her head. "My dad just called. He wants to meet with me. Tonight."
No one said anything for a moment, leaving her words floating in the warm confines of the car.
Her dad was the Elemental Guide who'd been sent to kill them all.
When they escaped and didn't hear anything for two days, they'd all started to think he'd run off again, the way he had when Becca was eleven.
Chris took a breath, and his voice was careful. "Do you want to meet with him?"
Gabriel glanced at her in the rearview mirror. She was practically hunched against the door, staring out the window. "I want him to get the hell out of here."
Chris was still watching her. "He is your father." He paused. "You sure?"
"He might have made a 'contribution,' but that man is not my father."
"I want to see him," said Gabriel. His shoulders already felt tight.
She hesitated. "Wait. You'd ... go with me?"
"Yeah. I owe him a little payback."
"We," said Nick. There was heat in his voice, too.
"Did he say why he wanted to meet?" asked Chris.
"He said he wants to help us. That they'll send another Guide if he doesn't report back that you were ... um ..."
"Killed." Gabriel hit the turn signal at the end of her road.
She swallowed. "Yeah. Hey, make a left. We need to pick up Quinn."
Gabriel glanced at her again. He wasn't a big fan of Becca's best friend, so the last thing he wanted to do was pick her up— especially when there was so much left to talk about. "Anyone else?" he said. "Should I pick up Hunter, too?"
Becca faltered and glanced at Chris. "I'm sorry ... I should have asked—"
"It's fine," he said, and Gabriel could feel his youngest brother's eyes in the rearview mirror. "I'm sure he's not intentionally being a dick."
Gabriel ignored him. "What time tonight? Did he say where?"
"Annapolis Mall. Eight o'clock. Make a right at the stop sign. She's down at the end of the block."
"He wants to meet at the mall?" said Nick.
"Food court," said Becca. "I told him it had to be somewhere public."
"Great," said Gabriel. "More people in the line of fire."
"Do you think the mall was a mistake?" said Becca.
Gabriel shrugged. Her father hadn't hesitated to put normal people in danger last week.
But really, what difference did it make?
They were pulling alongside the curb, and Quinn threw open the door and launched herself inside. Blond hair was caught inside her jacket, and her backpack was barely zipped. Notebooks spilled onto the floorboards before she could get the door shut.
"Jesus, drive," Quinn said, hitting the back of his seat. "God, I hate my mother."
She was just so frigging overdramatic. Gabriel pulled the car away from the curb, deliberately moving as slowly as possible.
But Nick turned his head to look at her over his shoulder. "Everything all right?"
Quinn shoved the notebooks back into her bag and yanked the zipper. "I'm stuck living with Satan. When's the car situation going to improve, Bex? I can't keep doing this."
Nick was still looking into the backseat. "We can keep driving you to school, if you need a ride."
Quinn stopped fighting with her things and looked up at him. "Really?"
"We'd love it," said Gabriel, making sure his sarcasm carried an edge. "Maybe we can pick up half the junior class."
"What is with you?" said Chris.
"Don't worry," said Quinn. "I already know he's an ass."
"Love you, too," said Gabriel.
But Nick grinned. "You can tell us apart?"
"Please. When you're talking, there's no challenge." She punched the back of Gabriel's seat again.
He glared at her in the rearview mirror. "What are you, six years old?"
"Oh, you don't like that? What about this?" She licked her finger and stuck it in his ear.
He smacked her hand away. He'd never punched a girl, but she might be the first.
Becca laughed. "Quinn has two brothers."
"I know all the ways to irritate a boy," Quinn said.
Gabriel snorted. "I don't doubt that one bit."
Chapter TwoThe day started with U.S. History and English, two classes Gabriel couldn't give a crap about. He kept thinking about Becca's father, how they were going to sit in the food court and have a conversation with the guy.
Now her father wanted to help. Yeah, right.
The Homecoming dance wasn't the first time the Guide had nearly killed them. Gabriel could still remember the explosion that had taken out the bridge two blocks from school—and almost killed Gabriel. The fire hadn't hurt him, but concrete didn't make for a soft landing.
And then there was the way the Guide had attacked them on the soccer field. The way he'd taken Nick, broken leg and all.
The way Gabriel hadn't been able to stop him.
His pencil snapped in his hand.
The fluorescent lights flickered and buzzed, making the teacher pause in her lecture and glance up.
Gabriel took a deep breath. He needed to get a handle on his temper before he set the whole school on fire.
Chris and Nick were lucky. Chris could carry a bottle of water with him and be close to his element. And Nick—hell, air was everywhere. He'd have a harder time getting away from it. Even Michael spent his days playing in the dirt, perfect for an Earth Elemental.
Natural energy was all around. But it was weak. Controlled. Filtered sunlight, electrical wiring contained behind layers of rubber and plastic. All it did was make him crave more—and Gabriel couldn't exactly walk around with a candle.
Third period: Trigonometry. Gabriel felt his shoulders tighten as he walked through the doorway. Mr. Riley, their wiry teacher, wasn't at his desk yet, but Gabriel dropped his homework in the basket and made his way to the third seat in his row. He usually spent this hour riding a line of tension to make sure he didn't get called on. This was a junior-level class, but luckily he sat next to that advanced sophomore chick who raised her hand for just about every question. Gabriel pulled his notebook out of his backpack, but he'd snapped his only pencil in English.
Not like it mattered. What was he going to do, doodle?
Taylor Morrissey, another senior stuck in here, sat on the desk in front of him, her feet on the chair. Blond hair swung over her shoulder and perfectly accented her chest. Her skirt was so short it flared around her on the desk and put Gabriel at eye level with just about everything.
He knew she'd be giving the same show to any guy around, but it was tough to look up from that. "Hey, Taylor."
"You going out for basketball this week?"
"Don't I always?" Sports were his one saving grace, the only reason he bothered to keep his grades up. Being active took the edge off, let him run down energy that looked for things to burn in other ways.
Taylor leaned forward, resting her hands on her knees and giving him a clear view down her shirt, too. "Me and the other girls are going to think up something special for the seniors this year." She looked at him from under her lashes. "Any ideas?"
Usually, he could do this banter stuff all day. But he was already exhausted from plotting to destroy Becca's father, and he didn't feel like playing. "I'm sure you'll think of something."
She frowned a little, then flipped her hair. "Heather's parents are going away this weekend, and we're thinking of having a little party after the tryouts. They've got that hot tub, and it's just getting cold enough to use the fire pit...."
Fire. The thought was more alluring than anything she was showing off. "Count me in," he said.
Now she smiled, but it looked a little feral, the way a cat might smile at a trapped mouse. "Maybe you could—" She broke off and glanced sideways, her voice sharpening to a point. "Do you mind?"
Gabriel glanced right. That sophomore jerked her eyes back to her paper, her cheeks flushed. "Sorry."
"Ohmigod," Taylor whispered, leaning in conspiratorially. "She was totally staring at me. What a freaking lesbo."
Sharp heels clicked into the classroom, a tall woman in a business suit bustling through the door to drop a briefcase on the desk. Dark hair was pulled into an honest-to-god bun, and it wasn't doing her face any favors.
"Sorry, class," she said. "I'm Ms. Anderson, and I'll be filling in for Mr. Riley. This school is a maze—" Her eyes fell on Taylor, who was practically straddling the desk. "Maybe we could all take our seats?"
Taylor heaved a sigh and climbed off the desk, making a show of sliding into her chair.
Gabriel slouched in his own. At least they'd watch a movie or get a free period or something.
"Since Mr. Riley's mother is ill," Ms. Anderson said, "this might be a long-term solution, so if you're looking forward to a free period ..."
Now Gabriel heaved a sigh.
"I think we'll start with a pop quiz," said Ms. Anderson. "So
I can get a feel for where you all are—"
"We just had a test last week," whined Andy Cunningham, rocking back in his chair.
They had. Gabriel hadn't taken it. He'd traded places with Nick.
"Ms. Anderson?" Taylor raised her hand, her voice dripping with sugar. "I know you're new here and all, but Mr. Riley doesn't give pop quizzes."
"That may be the case, but it's a nice way for me to see where you all stand. These quizzes won't go against you," she said. "It's just for my purposes, so I can see what your strengths are."
Gabriel wiped his palms on his jeans.
He should go to the bathroom and not come back.
Yeah, that would be subtle.
Ms. Anderson stood at the front of each row and started passing out sheets of Xeroxed paper. Two pages, double sided.
Gabriel took a deep breath. He could do this.
He didn't even have a pencil. He shoved his hand into his backpack. Gum. Car keys. A yellow highlighter. His spare lighter— he was tempted to take that to the quiz sitting on his desk.
Excerpted from Spark by BRIGID KEMMERER Copyright © 2012 by Brigid Kemmerer. Excerpted by permission of K TEEN BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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