“Well that’s . . . weird. I mean cool, but weird.”


She shrugged. “Unusual, but handy. Architecture speaks to him. Literally.”

“And for all that, you two still aren’t dating.”

She narrowed her gaze. “I’m not sure I should let you two talk to each other anymore. Now, are you done procrastinating? Can we get on with this?”

“I’m not procrastinating,” I said, procrastinating. “What about Jason?” I already suspected, of course, what Jason’s magic was. But he hadn’t exactly confirmed it, and my own suspicions—that he had some kind of animal-related power—were strange enough that I wasn’t ready to put them out there. On the other hand, how many teenage boys growled when they were attacked?

Okay, when you put it that way, it actually didn’t sound that rare.

Scout dropped her gaze and fiddled with her messenger bag. “Jason’s power isn’t for me to tell. If he’s ready for that, he’ll tell you.”

“I—I have an idea.”

She went quiet and slowly lifted her gaze to mine. “An idea?”

We looked at each other for a minute, silently, each assessing the other: Do you know what I know? How can I confirm it without giving it away?

“I’ll let you talk to him about that,” she finally said, raising her hand to the door. “Are you ready now?”

“Are they gonna wig out that you’re bringing me?”

“It’s a good possibility,” she said, then rapped her fist in a rhythmic pattern. Knock. Knock, knock. Bang. Knock.

“Secret code?” I asked.

“Warning,” she said. “Jamie and Paul are dating. In case we’re early, I don’t want to walk in on that.”

The joke helped ease my nerves, but only a little. As soon as she touched the door handle, my stomach began rolling again.

“Welcome to the jungle,” she said, and opened the door.

The jungle was a big, vaulted room, of a quality I wouldn’t have expected to see in an abandoned railway tunnel far beneath Chicago. It looked like a meeting hall, the walls covered in paintings made up of tiny, mosaic tiles, the ceilings girded with thick, wooden beams. It had the same kind of look as the convent—big scale, careful work, earthy materials. The room was empty of furniture—completely empty except for the seven kids who’d turned to stare at the door when it opened. There were three girls and four guys, including Michael and Jason.

Jason of the deadly blue eyes and currently frigid stare.

The room went completely silent, all fourteen of those eyes on us as we stepped into the room. Scout squeezed my hand supportively.

Silently, they moved around and formed a semicircle facing us, as if containing a threat. I shuffled a little closer to Scout and surveyed the judges.

Jamie and Jill were the obvious twins, both tallish and lanky, with long auburn hair and blue eyes. Paul was tall, lean, coffee-skinned and very cute, his hair a short mop of tiny, spiral curls.

The guy and girl in the middle, who looked older than the rest of them—early college, maybe—stepped forward, fury on their faces. I guessed these were Katie and Smith. Katie was cheerleader cute, with a bob of shoulder-length brown hair, green eyes, a long T-shirt, and ballet flats paired with jeans. Smith—shaggy brown hair pasted to his forehead emo-style—wore a dingy, plaid shirt. He was the rebel type, I assumed.

“Green,” he bit out, “you’d better have a damn good reason for calling us in and, more important, for bringing a regular in here.”

Okay, so pasty hair was clearly not impressed with me.

Scout crossed her arms, preparing for battle. “A,” she said, “this is Lily Parker, the girl who took a hit of firespell to save us and wound up in a paper nightgown in the LaSalle Street Clinic because of it. Ring any bells?”

I actually took a hit because I’d tripped, but since the Adepts’ expressions softened after she passed along that little factoid, I kept the truth to myself.

“B,” Scout continued, “I have a damn good reason. We need to show you something.”

Katie spoke up. “You could have showed us something without her being here.”

“I can’t show you what I need to show you without her being here.” Her explanation was met with silence, but she kept going. “You have to know that I wouldn’t have brought her here if it wasn’t absolutely necessary. Trust me—it’s necessary. The Reapers have already seen her, and they already think she’s associated with us. They get ambitious and come knocking on our door tonight, and she’s in even more trouble. She’s here as a favor to us.”

Katie and Smith glanced at each other, and then she whispered something to him.

“Five minutes,” Smith finally said. “You have five minutes.”

Scout didn’t need it; it took two seconds for her to drop the bomb. “I think she might be one of us.”

Silence, until Katie made a snorty, skeptical sound. “One of us? Why in God’s name would you think she’s one of us? She’s a regular, and getting hit with a blast isn’t going to change that.”

“Really?” Scout asked. “You don’t think getting hit with a dose of firespell is going to have an effect? Given that we’re all bouncing around Chicago with magical gifts, that’s kind of a narrow- minded perspective, isn’t it, Katie?”

Katie arched an arrogant brow at Scout. “You need to watch your step, Green.”

Michael stepped forward, hands raised in peace. “Hey, if there’s something we need to figure out here, the fewer preconceptions, the better. Scout, if you have something you need us to see, you’d better show it now.”

Scout glanced over at me, nodded her head decidedly, then spun her finger in the air.

“Turn around,” she said. I glanced around the room, not entirely eager to pull up my shirt before an assemblage of people I didn’t know—and a boy I potentially wanted to know better. But it needed to be done, so I twisted around, pulled my shirt from the waist of my skirt, and lifted it just enough to show the mark across my lower back.

Their faces pinched in concentration and thought, the group of them moved around me to stare at my back.

“It’s a darkening,” Jason said, then lifted his killer blue eyes to mine. “Is it okay if I touch it?”

I swallowed, then nodded and gripped the hem of the shirt, still between my fingers, a little tighter. He stretched out his hand. His fingers just grazed my back, my skin tingling beneath his fingers. I stifled a shudder, but goose bumps arose on my arms. This wasn’t the time or the place for me to get giggly about Jason’s attentions, but that didn’t make the effect any less powerful. It felt like a tingle of electricity moving across my skin, like that first dip into a hot bath on a cold night—spine tingling.

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