He saw the suit as it would be—coated in blood.
Nix moved to squeeze, picturing the bullet entering her chest, the heart underneath her sun-kissed skin stilling.
The trigger pressed back against his finger.
And then she opened her eyes. And instead of staring past him or around him or through him, Nix’s target stared directly at him. She saw him. And she screamed.
Claire felt, rather than heard, herself screaming. Now that her eyes were open, she couldn’t close them. She couldn’t look away—not from the gun pointed directly at her heart and not from the boy holding it.
His eyes were blue, so light that she wondered if they glowed in the dark. His hair was jet-black and long, and all up and down one arm, there were tattoos—black lines that slashed across his arm, each crossing the one before it in an uneven X.
There was a thin white line across his neck, and even from a distance, she could see a crescent scar on the left side of his jaw.
His cheekbones were sharp, his mouth soft.
He was the most beautiful boy she’d ever seen, and he was going to kill her.
I’m still screaming, Claire realized. I’m not moving. I’m just screaming.
None of this made sense—not the way she’d known he was there, not the gun he had trained on her chest, not the fact that he hadn’t pulled the trigger, and not the disconcerting truth that she still hadn’t jumped out of the way.
How can someone want me dead if no one knows I’m alive?
As far as questions went, it was a good one, though perhaps not the very most relevant at that exact moment.
I’m still screaming. I’m screaming, and there’s no one to hear me. No Mom. No Dad. No Mrs. Milligan and her three little Yorkies. This boy is going to kill me, and she just walked right by.
Claire could almost understand her neighbor’s not hearing her screams. She was inside, Mrs. Milligan was not. And she didn’t expect the woman to turn back and look at the house, or to see her distress, or to even realize that a girl named Claire lived at number 116. But how could Mrs. Milligan not see her killer?
He was standing there, in broad daylight, with a gun. Danger rolled off his body in waves. Each muscle, each mark, each scar screamed for attention.
Claire couldn’t take her eyes off him.
Her fascination couldn’t have lasted longer than a second, or two at most, but to Claire, it felt like an eternity. A single unit of forever spent screaming and staring, staring and screaming.
And then, his finger bearing down on the trigger, the boy lifted his eyes from her chest to her chin. From her chin to her mouth. From her mouth to her nose, and then, finally, to her eyes.
If she’d felt his stare on her skin before, she felt it inside now. There was no metaphor to describe it, no natural disaster big enough to do justice to the unbearable pressure and tumultuous power crashing into and through and around her insides. This wasn’t an earthquake. This wasn’t a tsunami.
This was no hurricane.
It was everything—every single thing that had ever existed, every feeling she’d ever felt, every Situation, every wallow, every dream.
His gaze bathed her in warmth until she thought she would be sick from exposure, and—convinced it was the last thing she would ever do—she looked back at him. His eyes on hers. Hers on his.
The world exploded. And for a moment, a single moment, as that deafening, all-encompassing roar filled her ears, Claire Ryan thought she’d been shot.
Situation: What if the only boy who’d ever really looked at you was dead set on seeing you … dead?
No blood. There’s no blood. He shot me … I heard it. I heard something, and God knows I felt it.
With a start, Claire realized that there was no wound, no small, round hole through which everything she’d once been could leak out and onto the floor. Not believing what her body was telling her, Claire worked to pull her eyes away from his, and the moment she did, the spell was broken.
She fell to the floor and rolled as far away from the window as she could get. Her breath caught in her throat, and her hands—skeptical of what her brain was telling them—began to search her chest frantically for a wound that did not exist, from a bullet that had never been fired.
I felt it. I heard it. I …
“I have to call the police.” Claire was not—contrary to what the past forty-five seconds might have led someone to believe—entirely without common sense. She had to get out of the room. Away from the windows. She had to call the police.
Even if she didn’t want to.
Even if they never caught him. Even if her would-be killer was already gone and never planned to come back. Even if the dumbest, most instinctual part of her wanted nothing more than to climb back to the window and look out.
To see if he was still there.
To look at him.
And to feel him, looking at her.
I’m sick in the head. I’m sick, I need help, and I am calling the police.
As she followed through with her promise, crawling toward the phone and dialing 911, Claire felt the last of the pinpricks, the fireworks, the everything leaving her body. For the first time since she’d walked to the window, she felt the safety of anonymity, the calm of being utterly and entirely alone. Of being Claire.
It made no sense, but she was certain. She knew what she’d felt when the boy was there, and she knew that it was utterly, entirely, unarguably gone.
She missed it.
Oh, God, Claire thought, as she stuttered out her name and address and emergency to the operator. Someone just tried to kill me, and I’m sad that he left. He wants me dead, and I want to see him again.
Need to see him again.
Okay, that’s it. I’m officially crazy.
It was, without question, a new low—even for Claire.
It was an aberration. It was an error. It won’t happen again.
That was what Nix told himself, over and over again, as he bided his time in the days after his failed attempt on the Null’s life. He couldn’t risk going back to the girl’s house to finish the job—not immediately. Not with the police crawling all over the place that first day.
Not with the girl’s parents at her beck and call, flanking her every move for the three days since. Why the Null had decided to use her unnatural charisma to lure her mother and father home, Nix wasn’t entirely sure.
Maybe the threat of her own death was worth suffering the presence of the people who loved her.
Maybe she was planning on using them as human shields: living, breathing bulletproof vests that meant no more to her than the furniture.