miércoles, 16 de mayo de 2018

War Storm cap 1

Mare

We drown in silence for a long moment.
Corvium yawns around us, full of people, but it feels empty.
Divide and conquer.
The implications are clear, the lines sharply drawn. Farley and Davidson regard me with equal intensity, and I stare back at them.
I suppose Cal has no idea, no inkling, that the Scarlet Guard and Montfort have absolutely no intention of letting him keep whatever throne he wins. I suppose he cares more about the crown than about whatever any Red thinks. And I suppose I shouldn’t call him Cal anymore.
Tiberias Calore. King Tiberias. Tiberias the Seventh.
It’s the name he was born with, the name he wore when I met him.
Thief, he called me then. That was my name.
I wish I could forget the last hour. Fall backward just a little bit. Falter. Stumble. Enjoy one more second of that strangely blissful place where the only thing I felt was the ache of tired muscles and repaired bones. The emptiness after battle’s adrenaline. The certainty of his love and support. And even through the heartbreak, I can’t find it in myself to hate him for his choice. The rage will come later.
Concern crosses Farley’s face. It seems strange on her. I’m more accustomed to cold determination or red anger from Diana Farley. She notes my stare with a twitch of her scarred mouth.
“I’ll relay Cal’s decision to the rest of Command,” she says, breaking the silent tension. Her words are low and measured. “Just Command. Ada will carry the message.”
The Montfort premier ducks his chin in agreement. “Good. I think Generals Drummer and Swan may have an idea of these developments already. They’ve been keeping tabs on the Lerolan queen since she came into play.”
“Anabel Lerolan was in Maven’s court long enough, at least a few weeks,” I reply. Somehow, my voice doesn’t tremble. The words come out evenly, full of force. I have to look strong, even if I don’t feel it right now. It’s a lie, but a good lie. “She probably has more information than I ever gave you.”
“Probably,” Davidson says with a thoughtful bob of the head. He narrows his eyes on the ground. Not searching, but focusing. A plan spirals out in front of him. The road ahead won’t be easy. A child would know that. “Which is why I have to get back up there,” he adds, almost in apology. As if I could be angry with him for doing what he must. “Ears and eyes open, yeah?”
“Ears and eyes open,” Farley and I respond in unison, surprising each other.
He steps away from us, backing out of the alleyway. The sun flashes in his glossy gray hair. He was careful to clean up after the battle, washing away the sweat and ash, replacing his bloodstained uniform with a fresh one. All to present his usual calm, collected, and strangely ordinary demeanor. A wise decision. Silvers devote so much energy to their appearance, to the false pride of visible strength and power. And none so much as the Samos king and his family in the tower above us. Next to Volo, Evangeline, Ptolemus, and the hissing Viper queen, Davidson barely registers. He could blend into the walls if he wanted to. They won’t see him coming. They won’t see us coming.
I take a shaky breath and swallow, forcing the next thought. And Cal won’t either.
Tiberias, I snap at myself. One fist clenches, digging nails into flesh with a satisfying sting. Call him Tiberias.
The black walls of Corvium feel strangely silent and bare without the siege. I turn away from Davidson’s retreating form to eye the parapets ringing the inner ward of the fortress city. The shiver attacking snowstorm is long gone, the darkness lifted, and everything here seems smaller now. Less imposing. Red soldiers used to be herded through this city, most on the march to inevitable death in a trench. Now Reds patrol the walls, the streets, the gates. Reds sit alongside Silver kings and speak of war. A few soldiers with crimson scarves walk back and forth, their eyes darting, well-used guns ready in hand. The Scarlet Guard will not be caught unawares, though they have little reason to be so on edge. For now, anyway. Maven’s armies have retreated. And not even Volo Samos is bold enough to attempt an attack from the inside of Corvium. Not when he needs the Guard, needs Montfort, needs us. And especially not with Cal—Tiberias, you fool—and all his empty talk of equality. Like us, Volo needs him. Needs his name, needs his crown, and needs his damn hand in that damn marriage to his damn daughter.
My face burns hot. I feel embarrassed by the plume of jealousy rising up inside me. Losing him should be the least of my worries. Losing him shouldn’t hurt as much as the possibility of dying, of losing our war, of letting everything we’ve worked for be in vain. But it does. All I can do is try to bear it.
Why didn’t I say yes?
I walked away from his offer. From him. I was torn apart by another betrayal—Cal’s betrayal, but also mine. I love you is a promise we both made, and we both broke. It should mean I choose you above all else. I want you more. I need you always. I cannot live without you. I will do anything to keep our lives from parting.
But he wouldn’t. And I won’t.
I am less than his crown, and he is less than my cause.
And less, far less, than my fear of another cage. Consort, he said, offering me an impossible crown. He would make me a queen, if Evangeline could be pushed aside again. I already know what the world looks like from a king’s right hand. I don’t care to live that life again. Even though Cal is not Maven, the throne is still the same. It changes people, corrupts them.
What a strange fate that would have been. Cal with his crown and his Samos queen and me. In spite of myself, a small part of me wishes I’d said yes. It would have been easy. A chance to let go, step back, win—and enjoy a world I never could have dreamed of. Give my family the best life possible. Keep us all safe. And stay with him. Stand at Cal’s side, a Red girl with a Silver king on her arm. With the power to change the world. To kill Maven. To sleep without nightmares, and live without fear.
I bite my lip sharply to drive away the want. It seduces, and I almost understand his choice. Even ripped apart, we suit each other.
Farley shifts loudly, drawing my attention. She sighs as she puts her back to the alley wall, arms folded across her chest. Unlike Davidson, she hasn’t bothered to change out of her bloody uniform. Hers isn’t as disgusting as mine, free of mud and muck. There’s silver blood on her, of course, now dried black. It’s only been a few months since Clara was born, and she wears the lingering weight around her hips proudly. Whatever sympathy she had disappears, replaced by a rage sparking in her blue eyes. Not directed at me, though. She looks skyward, at the tower above us. Where the strange council of Silvers and Reds now tries to decide our fates.
“That was him in there.” She doesn’t wait for me to ask who. “Silver hair, thick neck, ridiculous armor. And somehow still breathing, even though he put a blade through Shade’s heart.”
My nails dig deeper at the thought of Ptolemus Samos. Prince of the Rift. My brother’s killer. Like Farley, I feel a sudden rage too. And an equal burst of shame.
“Yes.”
“Because you made a bargain with his sister. Your freedom for his life.”
“For my vengeance,” I mumble in admission. “And yes, I gave Evangeline my word.”
Farley bares her teeth, her disgust evident. “You gave a Silver your word. That promise is less than ash.”
“But a promise still.”
She makes a guttural sound deep in her throat, like a growl. Her broad shoulders square and she turns her body to face the tower fully. I wonder how much restraint it’s taking to stop her from marching back up there to rip Ptolemus’s eyes out of his skull. I wouldn’t stop her if she could. In fact, I’d pull up a chair and watch.
I let my fist open a bit, putting away the slice of pain. Quietly, I take a step forward, closing the space between us. After a split second of hesitation, I put a hand on her arm. “A promise I made. Not you. Not anyone else.”
Farley stills a bit, and her snarl becomes a smirk. She turns to look at me head-on, her eyes brightly blue as they catch a shaft of sunlight. “I think you might be better suited to politics than war, Mare Barrow.”
I offer a pained smile. “They’re the same thing.” A hard lesson I think I’ve finally learned. “Do you think you can do it? Kill him?”
Once, I would have expected her to scoff and boldly sneer at the implication she couldn’t. Farley is a hard woman with a harder shell. She’s what she needs to be. But something—Shade probably, Clara definitely, the bond we now share—affords me a glimpse past the general’s stony and sure exterior. She falters, her smirk fading a little.
“I don’t know,” she murmurs. “But I’ll never be able to look at myself, look at Clara, if I don’t try.”
“And neither will I, if I let you die in the attempt.” My grip tightens on her arm. “Please, don’t be stupid about this.”
Like the flip of a switch, her smirk returns in full force. She even winks. “Since when am I stupid, Mare Barrow?”
Looking up at her sends a twinge through the scars at the back of my neck, scars I almost forgot about. The pain of them seems small compared to everything else. “I just wonder where it will end,” I murmur, hoping to make her understand.
She shakes her head. “I can’t respond to a question with too many answers.”
“I mean . . . with Shade. Ptolemus. You kill him, and then what? Evangeline kills you? Kills Clara? I kill Evangeline? On and on, with no end?” I’m no stranger to death, but this feels oddly different. Calculated endings. It feels like something Maven would do, not us. Even though Farley marked Ptolemus for death long before, when I masqueraded as Mareena Titanos, that was for the Guard. For a cause, for something other than blind and bloody revenge.
Her eyes widen, vibrant and impossible. “You want me to let him live?”
“Of course not,” I almost snap. “I don’t know what I want. I don’t know what I’m talking about.” The words tumble over one another. “But I can still wonder, Farley. I know what vengeance and rage can do to a person, to the people around you. And of course I don’t want Clara to grow up without her mother.”
She turns away sharply, hiding her face. But not quickly enough to hide a sudden surge of tears. They never fall. With a jerk of her shoulder, she shrugs me away.
I push on. I have to. She needs to hear this. “She already lost Shade, and if given the choice between revenge for her father and a living mother—I know what she would choose.”
“Speaking of choices,” she grinds out, still not looking at me. “I’m proud of the one you made.”
“Farley, don’t change the subject—”
“Did you hear me, lightning girl?” She sniffs and forces a smile, turning back around to reveal a now very red and splotchy face. “I said I’m proud of you. Write that down. Commit it to memory. You probably won’t hear it again.”
In spite of myself, I chuckle darkly. “Fine. Proud of what exactly?”
“Well, besides your fashion sense”—she dusts off my shoulder, brushing away a bit of bloody dirt—“and of course your kind and calm disposition . . .”
Another chuckle.
“. . . I’m proud of you because I know what it’s like to lose the person you love.” This time she takes me by the arm, probably so I can’t run away from a conversation I don’t think I’m equipped to have.
Mare, choose me. The words are only an hour old. They haunt me so easily.
“It felt like a betrayal,” I whisper.
I focus on Farley’s chin so I don’t have to look into her eyes. The scar at the left corner of her mouth is deep, pulling her lips to the side a little. A clean drag. Knife work. She didn’t have it when I first met her, by the light of a blue candle in Will Whistle’s old wagon.
“From him? Of course—”
“No. Not from him.” A cloud crosses the sky overhead, sending shifting shadows across us both. The summer breeze blows oddly cold. I shiver against it. As if on instinct, I wish for Cal and his warm presence. He never let me get cold. My stomach lurches at the thought, sick to think of what we both walked away from. “He made promises to me,” I continue, “but I made promises to him too. I broke them. And he has other promises to keep. To himself, to his dead father. He loved the crown before he loved me, whether he knows it or not. And in the end, he thinks he’s doing the right thing for us, for everyone. How can I really fault him for that?”
With a will, I meet Farley’s eyes and search. She doesn’t have an answer for me, at least not one I would like. Her teeth worry at her lip, biting back whatever she wants to say. It doesn’t work.
She scoffs, trying to be her version of gentle. As prickly as ever. “Don’t apologize for him and what he is.”
“I’m not.”
“It certainly sounds like it,” she sighs, exasperated. “A different king is still a king. He might be a brick, but he knows that much.”
“Maybe it could have been the right thing for me too. For Reds. Who knows what a Red queen could have done?”
“Very little, Mare. If anything at all,” she says with cold surety. “Any change that might come from putting a crown on your head would be too slow, too small.” Her voice softens. “And too easily undone. It wouldn’t last. Whatever we accomplished would die with you. Don’t take this the wrong way, but the world we want to build has to outlive us.”
For the ones who come after.
Farley’s eyes bore into me, intense with her almost inhuman focus. Clara has Shade’s eyes, not Farley’s. Honey, not ocean. I wonder which pieces of her will one day belong to Farley or to Shade.
The breeze rustles Farley’s freshly shorn hair, dark gold in the shadow of the clouds. Beneath the scars, she’s still young, just another child of war and ruin. She’s seen worse than me, done more than I ever have. Sacrificed and suffered more too. Her mother, her sister, my brother and his love. Whoever she dreamed of being when she was a little girl. All gone. If she can keep pushing forward, still believing in what we’re doing, so can I. For as much as we butt heads, I trust Farley. And her words are an unfamiliar but needed comfort. I’ve already spent so much time in my own head, arguing with myself, that I’m beginning to get sick of it.
“You’re right.” Something inside me lets go, allowing the strange dream of Cal’s offer to spiral into darkness. Never to return.
I will not be a Red queen.
Farley gives my shoulder an almost painful squeeze. Despite the healers, I’m still sore, and she still has a wickedly strong grip. “Besides,” she adds, “it wouldn’t be you on the throne. The Lerolan queen and the king of the Rift were very clear. It would be her, the Samos girl.”
I snort at the notion. Evangeline Samos made her intentions obvious enough back in the council chamber. I’m surprised Farley didn’t notice. “Not if she can help it.”
“Hmm?” Her gaze sharpens and I shrug.
“You saw what she did in there, how she provoked you.” The fresh memory flashes. Evangeline calling upon a Red servant in front of everyone, smashing a goblet, forcing the poor maid to clean it up, simply for the sport of it. To anger every red-blooded person in the room. It’s not hard to understand why she did it, or what she hoped to accomplish. “She wants no part of this alliance, not when it means she has to marry . . . Tiberias.”
For once, Farley seems caught off guard. She blinks, perplexed. Albeit intrigued. “But she’s back where she started. I thought—I mean, I don’t pretend to understand Silver behavior at all, but still—”
“Evangeline is a princess in her own right now, with everything she ever wanted. I don’t think she wants to go back to being someone else’s. That’s all their betrothal ever was to her. And him,” I add, with a pang of heartache. “An arrangement for power. Power she already has now, or”—my words falter a little—“power she doesn’t want anymore.” I think back on Evangeline, on my time spent with her in Whitefire. She was relieved when Maven married Iris Cygnet instead of her. And not just because he was a monster. I think because . . . there was someone else she cared about more. More than herself or Maven’s crown.
Elane Haven. After her house rebelled against him, I remember Maven called her Evangeline’s whore. I didn’t notice Elane at the council, but much of House Haven stands behind House Samos, allied to them. Shadows all, able to disappear at will. I suppose Elane could have been there the whole time and I wouldn’t even know it.
“You think she would try to undo her father’s work? If she could?” Farley looks very much like a cat that just caught a particularly fat mouse for supper. “If someone . . . helped her?”
Cal didn’t deny the crown for love. But would Evangeline?
Something tells me she might. All her maneuvering, the quiet resistance, walking a razor’s edge.
“It’s possible.” The words take on new meaning to both of us. New weight. “She has motivations of her own. And I think that gives us a bit of an advantage.”
Farley’s lips curve, taking on the shadow of a true smile. In spite of all I’ve learned, I feel a sudden burst of hope. She thumps me on the arm, her grin spreading.
“Well, Barrow, write it down again. I’m damn proud of you.”
“I do prove useful from time to time.”
She barks a laugh and steps away, gesturing for me to follow. The avenue outside the alley beckons, its flagstones gleaming as the last of the snow melts beneath the summer sun. I hesitate, reluctant to leave this corner of dark safety. The world beyond this narrow space still seems too big. The inner ward of Corvium looms, and the core tower stands at the center of it all. With a shaky breath, I force myself to move. The first step aches. So does the second.
“You don’t have to go back up,” Farley mutters, falling in at my side. She glares at the tower. “I’ll let you know how it shakes out. Davidson and I can handle it.”
The thought of going back to the council chamber, sitting there in silence as Tiberias throws everything we’ve ever done in my face—I don’t know if I can bear it. But I have to. I notice things the others can’t. Know things others don’t. I have to go back. For the cause.
And for him.
I can’t deny how much I want to go back for him.
“I want to know everything you know,” I whisper to Farley. “Everything Davidson has planned. I’m not going into anything else blind.”
She agrees quickly. Almost too quickly. “Of course.”
“I’m yours to use. In any way. On one condition.”
“Name it.”
My steps slow, and she matches my pace. “He lives. At the end of all this.”
Like a confused dog, she tips her head.
“Break his crown, break his throne, rip his monarchy apart.” I stare up at her with as much strength as I can muster. The lightning in my blood responds with fervor, begging to crack loose. “But Tiberias lives.”
Farley sucks in a searing breath, drawing herself up to her full, formidable height. It feels like she can see right through me. To my imperfect heart. I hold my ground. I’ve earned the right.
Her voice wavers. “I can’t make that promise. But I’ll try. I’ll certainly try, Mare.”
At least she doesn’t lie to me.
I feel cut in two, torn in different directions. An obvious question hangs in my mind. Another choice that I might need to make. His life or our victory? I don’t know which side I might choose, if I ever have to. Which side I might betray. The knife of that knowledge cuts deep, and I bleed where no one else can see.
I suppose this is what the seer was talking about. Jon spoke very little, but everything he said had calculated meaning. As much as I don’t want to, I suppose I have to accept the fate he foretold.
To rise.
And rise alone.
The flagstones roll beneath me, passing with each step. The breeze kicks up again, blowing in from the west this time. It carries with it the unmistakable tang of blood. I fight the urge to retch as it all comes rushing back. The siege. The bodies. The blood in both colors. My wrist snapping clean in a stoneskin’s grasp. Necks broken, chests obliterated in bursts of flesh, glistening organs, and spiked bone. In the battle, it was easy to detach from such horror. Necessary, even. The fear would only get me killed. Not anymore. My heartbeat triples in speed and cold sweat breaks across my body. Even though we survived and won, the terror of loss ripped open canyons inside me.
I can still feel them. The nerves, the electric paths my lightning traced in every person I killed. Like thin, glowing branches, each one different but also the same. Too many to count. In red and blue uniforms, Nortan and Lakelander. All Silvers.
I hope.
The possibility hits me like a punch in the gut. Maven has used Reds for cannon fodder before, or as human shields. I didn’t even think about it. None of us did—or maybe the others didn’t care. Davidson, Cal, maybe even Farley, if she thought the outcome was worth the cost.
“Hey,” she murmurs, taking my wrist. Her skin on mine makes me jump, her fingers circling like a manacle. I break her grip forcefully, twisting away with what sounds like a snarl. I flush, embarrassed that I still react this way.
She pulls back, palms up, eyes wide. But no fear, no judgment. Not even pity. Is that understanding I see in her? “I’m sorry,” she says quickly. “I forgot about the wrists.”
I barely bob my head, shoving my hands into my pockets to hide the purple sparks at my fingertips. “It’s fine. That’s not even—”
“I know, Mare. It happens when we slow down. The body starts to process more again. Sometimes it’s too much, and there’s no shame in it.” Farley tips her head, gesturing away from the tower. “There’s no shame in getting some rack time either. The barracks are—”
“Were there Reds out there?” I gesture blankly, toward the battlefield and the now-broken walls of Corvium. “Did Maven and the Lakelanders send Red soldiers with the rest?”
Farley blinks, truly taken aback. “Not to my knowledge,” she finally replies, and I hear the unease in her. She doesn’t know either. She doesn’t want to know, and neither do I. I can’t bear it.
I spin on my heel, forcing her to keep up with my pace for once. Silence falls again, this one brimming with anger and shame in equal measure. I lean into it, torturing myself. To remember this disgust and pain. More battles will come. More people will die, no matter the color of blood. That’s war. That’s revolution. And others will be caught in the crossfire. To forget is to doom them again, and doom others to come.
As we ascend the steps of the tower, I keep my hands firmly fisted in my pockets. The prick of an earring stings my flesh, the red stone warm against my hand. I should throw it out a window. If there’s one thing I should forget, it’s him.
But the earring remains.
Side by side, we enter the council chamber again. The edges of my vision blur, and I try to fall into a familiar place. Observe. Memorize. Look for cracks in the words spoken, find secrets and lies in what they leave unsaid. It’s a goal as much as a distraction. And I realize why I was so keen on coming back here, even when I had every right to run away.
Not because this is important. Not because I can be of use.
But because I am selfish, weak, and afraid. I can’t be alone with myself, not now, not yet.
So I sit, and I listen, and I watch.

And through it all, I feel his eyes.

miércoles, 2 de mayo de 2018

The Lies 4+5

Four

THEY WERE BACK the next day, this time numbering only two: Bridges and Tristan. The maître d’ seated them in Indigo’s section, beneath the windows on the far wall. Tristan spread his napkin in his lap, and then his hands lingered there, like he’d forgotten his task. Pearl glanced away, keeping her hands busy counting change.
What had been on their itinerary this morning? Sleep until ten, maybe. Linger over coffee and girl-watching in one of the shops on Ocean, then hit the club pool with the rest of the members’ kids until it was fashionably late enough for lunch.
When Pearl circled back from the kitchen, Bridges sat alone at a booth in her section.
“Hi,” he said. “You didn’t call.”
“You should go back to your table.”
He really was the smilingest person she’d ever seen. “Let’s do this right.” He stuck his hand out. “Bridges Spencer. Nice to meet you.” She looked at his hand. “Your turn.”
She tapped her name tag. “The a is silent.”
He laughed. “Come on, don’t leave me hanging.” She gave him a quick, hard handshake. “So. I’ve seen you around a lot.” He sat back, getting comfortable. He had a slender build, blue eyes the color of faded denim, a nose with a slight upward tilt. “What do you do when you’re not working?”
From the corner of her eye, Pearl caught a flash of bright color. The Malhotras were crossing the dining room with their friends and business partners, the Fraziers; Akil trailed a few feet behind, earbuds in place. Akil’s mother wore a fuchsia sundress with a matching shrug, her husband more subdued in the preppy dad uniform of polo shirt and khaki shorts. When Akil saw Tristan, he split off from the adults without a word and joined him at the table. Akil’s father, an elegant, imposing man, didn’t so much as look his way, but his mother did, her brow wrinkled, lips compressed.
“You still with me?” Bridges touched her hand.
“I really can’t talk right now.”
“Okay. I get it, you’re busy. But listen. There’s a party tonight. Nothing crazy, just some people getting together. I figured, if we’re both going, you know . . . why not go together?”
She stared. “You don’t even know me.”
“I want to. That’s how people get to know each other, right? By hanging out?” He paused. “Isn’t it?” He surprised a soft snort of laughter out of her. “No pressure. Think about it. We’ll be here awhile.”
“Excuse me? Miss?” The Wootens signaled her from table five.
Pearl took a breath, released it in a rush. “I’ll let you know.”
At the register, Pearl printed the Wootens’ check, watching Tristan openly around the monitor. Her mouth was dry, fingers ticking off points on her thumbnail. A summer kids’ party. Nobody from town went to those. If she were somebody else, somebody like Indigo, maybe she could do it. Cross that invisible line to the place where people like Tristan existed, see him in his natural habitat. See what he knew. Because that was one thing everyone agreed on, from locals down to conspiracy theorists online: the son knew something.
A few moments later, Indigo came around the partition at the end of the room, Reese close on her heels. Pearl stepped back. The tension between those two was electric today; everyone had picked up on it. Indigo hadn’t spoken a word to Reese since the shift began, tossing her head and finding something else to look at whenever he passed by. Pearl kept thinking about the phone call he’d blown off in favor of hanging out with her last night. Triumph blossomed briefly, then died as she watched Reese catch Indigo’s elbow, turning her back, whispering something close to her face. Indigo said nothing, but she allowed him to steer her through the ballroom doorway, where they disappeared.
By the time they came back, Pearl had delivered checks to two more tables. From the corridor, she watched their brief exchange as they stood mostly concealed in the doorway, watched Indigo’s hand steal up and squeeze Reese’s ass before they went in opposite directions.
Pearl felt heat, then chill. She shut her eyes for a moment, then went into the kitchen to place another order.
She waited until the boys were done eating before going over to them, sensing more than seeing Tristan shift his attention her way. Bridges stopped stirring his straw in the ice at the bottom of his glass. “I’ll go,” she said abruptly. “Tonight.” Her heart was galloping.
“Really?” Bridges pushed his sun-bleached hair back, grinning. “Cool. Where can I pick you up?”
“I’ll meet you.”
“Okay. Whatever. Yacht club, slip D12. I drive a Talon. Can’t miss it.”
While Akil smirked openly at them, Tristan’s look was unfocused, as if she and Bridges were a reality show, one he’d soon turn off if they didn’t start doing something interesting. “What time?” Pearl asked.
“Nine-ish?”
She nodded and left, slowly sinking into the truth of what she’d done.
Pearl checked her phone one last time. No texts, no missed calls. Well, one from Mom, but she didn’t plan on returning that anytime soon. All Mom would want to do was quiz her about Dad—was he taking care of himself, eating well, staying away from the Tavern—and Pearl was in no mood.
It wasn’t like she’d made plans with Reese tonight. They never made plans. Things either fell together or they didn’t. The difference was, this time it was because she had something else to do. No doubt he was busy, too, or she would’ve received a summons by now. I’m bored. Come over. Help me feel safe enough to sleep. Apparently, that was one service Indigo didn’t provide.
She jammed her phone into her pocket so hard it hurt—nothing compared to the splintery heart-stab of being mad at Reese—and stepped out of her car into the night.
The yacht club landing was lit by old-fashioned lampposts that made her think of Narnia; Dad had read those books to her growing up. She walked through pools of light, passing rows of yachts and powerboats, reading the slip numbers, half expecting some official type to come up and demand proof of membership. She’d explored this place plenty in the off-season, but never during the summer. The public landing was for locals like her, where the water rippled with prisms of diesel fuel and the benches were sticky with ice-cream handprints.
“Pearl. Hey.”
Down the floating dock, Bridges stood aboard a huge, muscular-looking speedboat. Pearl walked down to meet him. “Holy shit,” he said. “You actually showed.”
She shifted. “I said I would.”
“I know, but . . .” He shrugged. “Climb aboard. Need a hand up?”
“I got it.” She didn’t, but he let her find her own footing on the ladder, ending up nose to nose with him. His eyelashes were light, sun-washed, like the rest of him.
There was a thump, and Akil came up from belowdecks, dropping into the passenger seat. “So, she’s here. Let’s go,” he said.
Pearl sidestepped Bridges and perched on the bench seat, watching him pull the lines free and coil them. No sign of Tristan, no movement from below. “Where’s this party?” Bridges cocked his hand, pistol-style, at the dark, rocky mass crouching in the harbor. “Little Nicatou? That’s private property. Nobody goes there.”
The boys traded a look, but whatever Bridges said next was lost in the roar of the motor.
Pearl twisted around to watch the dock grow distant, all her tension and mental preparation dissolving like sand underfoot. He wasn’t coming. She rested her chin on the back of the seat, squeezing her eyes shut, wondering how she was going to survive this night—then swore as Bridges opened the throttle and almost pitched her to the floor.
They shot across the harbor, both boys standing, facing into the wind. Akil looked back once and laughed at the sight of her sitting stark upright, belted in, gripping the seat as spray buffeted her from all sides.
The headlights of three other boats were visible ahead of them now, cutting their own paths to Little Nicatou. There was a dock on the island—Pearl had seen that much from the harbor—and tonight it was lit with electric lanterns. Firelight was visible on the beach. Bridges muffed the landing twice, finally dropped anchor, and tied off on a piling before he noticed Pearl brushing water from her arms and face. “Sorry. I’m a pretty crazy driver.”
She had an answer for that, but when she saw Akil’s look, she swallowed it. One bitchy remark and she’d fail the first test, be labeled a typical girl: whiny, temperamental, and weak. “No worries.” Wiping her face, she took Bridges’s offer of a hand-up onto the dock ladder, passing Akil without a glance.
The beach stretched out to their left, Adirondack chairs strategically placed here and there. Globe string lights illuminated a pathway up into the trees, where windows glowed through the branches and hip-hop pounded from unseen speakers. There must be one hell of a generator up there—and an Exxon tanker to fuel it.
Most of the summer kids sitting around the portable fire pits were at least somewhat familiar to her, faces she’d seen in the dining room, or coming and going from the fitness center or spa. Even money none of them recognized her without her club colors.
Bridges grabbed two beers from an ice-filled cooler in the sand, microbrews Pearl had never heard of. Not a Bud or a Coors Light to be seen, and nobody seemed the least bit concerned about drinking right out in the open. Local kids made campsites in the woods, holed up in abandoned houses just to get some privacy. She didn’t drink anyway, but tonight, it seemed safer to carry one as a prop.
He put his free hand in his pocket, taking in her running shorts, gray V-necked T-shirt, and flip-flops. “Wow. You look . . . really . . .”
“Butch?” Akil hooked three beers under his arm and set off across the sand.
“Dude, don’t be like that.” Bridges looked back at her. “Ignore him. He’s pissed at the world, not you.”
“What a relief.” Pearl watched him choke on his first sip, his shoulders shaking. “What?”
“Just—you’re always on defense, that’s all.” He put his hands up. “Not a bad thing. Don’t maul me.”
Smiling despite herself, she gestured to the others. “Sorry. I’m a little out of my tax bracket here.”
“Ah, who cares. None of that shit matters.”
“Says the guy who owns an island.” She nodded at his hesitation. “That’s what I thought.”
“It’s my grandpa’s island, okay?”
“Right. You just use it to entertain a few hundred of your closest friends.” He tipped his head back and laughed. Pearl laughed with him; it was impossible not to. “How come I’ve never heard anything about this place belonging to the Spencers?”
“Gramps kept the deal pretty quiet. The family who owned it for, like, sixty years decided to sell, and I guess the old guy figured, why not? He loves Tenney’s Harbor. Been coming here ever since he was a kid.” He shrugged. “So, we own a big chunk of rock now. Don’t hold it against me.”
“Okay. I won’t. How long are you in town for?”
“Until August fifteenth. It’s just me this year. My mom and sisters usually come, but the girls wanted to go to some horseback riding camp in Kentucky this summer, so Mom sent them and stayed home to take a vacation from the family. It’s cool. They don’t really get this place the way Gramps and I do, anyway, why it’s special. Your turn.” She glanced over. “I said I wanted to get to know you.”
“Why?”
“Because you have the coolest eyes I’ve ever seen.” At her withering look, he planted his feet. “I’m not moving until you tell me something about yourself. Think about it. I’m your ride. You’ll be stuck on Little Nicatou forever.”
“Foraging for beer and canapés. Rough life.” She sighed, ruminating. “I graduated a couple weeks ago. I’m starting at the College of the Atlantic in the fall, keeping my job at the club.”
“Nice. I’m going to UMass, rushing Sigma Phi Epsilon.”
“I thought all you guys went Ivy League.”
“You mean guys with money? Nah. I mean, I’ve got an uncle who went to Stanford, he could pull strings. But we both know I don’t have what it takes.”
“Not like Tristan.” The words spoke themselves.
He snorted quietly. “You have no idea.” He flipped a mussel shell over with the toe of his sandal. “Anyway, it’s cool that you’re staying in the area. It’s beautiful here.” He paused. “Used to be like paradise, you know? Feels different this summer.” He shrugged. “I guess it should.”
She watched him. It was the first remark, indirect or otherwise, that she’d heard any summer person make about the Garrisons since the season began.
A knot of girls moved up the beach toward them, and now they stopped, heads together in conference. A tall, lanky blond girl stepped out and called, “Really, Bridges? Really.”
His expression froze. “Hey, ladies.”
The blonde marched over, dragging along a petite brunette with long, side-swept hair who looked like she wished she was anywhere else. “So, this is like compulsive behavior with you,” the blonde said. “New summer, new girl.”
“Not really your business, Quinn.” Bridges glanced at the brunette and said, “Hey, Had.”
“Hi.” Her voice was soft.
“It’s absolutely my business. My friend got her heart stomped on. I know how she feels, remember?” Quinn folded her arms. Pearl recognized the brunette: Hadley Kurtzweil. Her parents had let Dad go in an email this spring, claiming they’d “made other arrangements” for the caretaking of their home on Millionaires’ Row. “And FYI, watching you slobber all over your trailer-trash date is only like the biggest turnoff ever. So, yeah. I’d lose that.”
“Christ, Quinn, do you even hear yourself? Look, if you’ve got a problem, there’s the door.” He jerked his thumb at the water and stepped around her. “Nobody made you come tonight.”
“I happen to be hanging out with Hadley, if that’s okay with you. Unless you want to kick her off, too?”
Akil came up then, finishing his last beer. “Hey, girls. We’ve got a game of quarters going. Winner gets to sit on my lap. You in?” Quinn held her middle finger in his laughing face and left, pulling Hadley along.
Hadley called “Bye” to Bridges, who nodded before taking a deep breath and turning to Pearl.
“Uh, about all that.”
“No explanation needed.”
“I’m not some letch. I swear. I dated Hadley last summer, but it didn’t work out. She lives in Colorado during the year—”
“Seriously. I don’t want to know.”
“You dumped Quinn.” Akil sat heavily, tipping his bottle back. “That’s the real problem. That’s going to come back to haunt your ass forever.”

“We were fourteen.”
“Doesn’t matter. You should’ve waited until she dumped you.”
Pearl faced Bridges. “Anyway. I need to pee. I’m assuming you’ve got a bathroom up there?”
“Oh, yeah. Composting toilet and everything. Spared no expense.”
When she was halfway up the path, she glanced back. Bridges stood below, watching her. Once she stepped past a spray of spruce branches, he said something sharply to Akil and kicked sand at him.
The little A-frame cottage sat on a rocky outcropping, clam and mussel shells scattered over the walk and pressed whole into the mortar of the stone steps. Inside, tables were spread with food that had barely been touched.
As Pearl crossed the room, a woman solidified at the edge of her vision: midforties, dressed in a white blouse and apron, standing with her hands folded in front of her. Clearly some member of the Spencer help. For Pearl, it was like seeing herself run through age-progression software. “Hi,” Pearl said. The woman gave a slight nod, avoiding eye contact.
Afterward, still rubbing in hand sanitizer, Pearl went back down the path, sidestepping a reeling, giggling couple. She checked her phone. One missed call. Reese. It felt like years since they’d talked, and now she had all this fodder for conversation: the Night Pearl Went to a Posh Party and Survived. She hadn’t intended to tell him about it, at least not right away. But he’d called. Maybe he’d never had any plans with Indigo. Maybe she’d had no right to get so angry in the first place. It wasn’t like she didn’t know what those two were all about.
Her thumb was still poised over the screen when a light went on by the base of the cliff. A flickering, unreliable light, like a bulb not fully screwed into a socket. It was far enough away from the party that she stared. A doorway was visible, seemingly in the middle of nothingness, the glow spilling onto the beach.
Pearl continued down the path, then took a fork in the direction of the light. It was a stone boathouse, big enough to accommodate a large sailboat, the floor stained with rust. Someone stood inside, casting a long shadow as he circled beneath the bulb.
Tristan Garrison. Exploring, reaching up to trace his fingers over an ancient, cracked buoy slung over a hook. He held that position, arm outstretched, then sank into a crouch, fanning his hand through the debris scattered across the floor, crushed shells and sand. Pearl stood motionless, not daring to draw breath. Nothing on the floor was of interest, so he folded his arms across his knees and lowered his chin onto them, rocking back on his heels. She’d never seen him look that way, pulled into himself. Backing away, she slipped off her flip-flops and escaped on bare, silent feet.
When she got back, she found Bridges and Akil sitting around a fire pit. Bridges got to his feet as she came up, brushing sand off his shorts. “Did you get lost?”
“No.” Sitting, she hugged her knees, willing her heartbeat to slow down.
Bridges sat beside her, holding her token beer. “Want me to open this for you?” She let him have his moment with the twist-off. As he handed her the bottle, his expression changed. She followed his gaze to Tristan emerging from the boathouse. Bridges said, “I thought he wasn’t coming.”
For once, Akil didn’t have an answer.
By the time Tristan reached them, many of the partyers had faded back, found other places to be, other people to turn to. His separateness was a physical force; even Pearl had to fight down the need to make room. He stood looking at the fire, his hands in the pockets of his shorts. In the charged silence, Akil leaned forward. “S’up, man. Want a beer?”
“How’d you get here?” Bridges said. “Where’s your boat?”
“On the other side of the cliff.” Same tone as in the dining room, low, distracted.
“You walked through the woods?”
Tristan sank down, removed the screen from the fire pit so he could use the poker to hook out a piece of flaming kindling. Pearl got the feeling he was in the habit of letting people believe he could see in the dark. “Do you have any Grey Goose?”
“I told you, my gramps won’t pony up for hard stuff.”
A slight lift of his brows as he turned the kindling over, then dropped it, wiping his hands and straightening. “I’m going for a ride.”
Bridges and Akil both rose. Pearl stood behind them, feeling as though she’d missed a cue. Tristan didn’t seem aware of her; he led the way down the beach, never glancing back to make sure they were keeping up. She watched Bridges, waiting for him to say something, like maybe explain why he was willing to desert his own party at the first word from Tristan.
They followed the path that led past the boathouse up into the trees. The blackness was total here, towering spruce and balsams blotting out the moonlight. A moment later, a glowing square appeared: Tristan’s phone, lighting the way.
They emerged on a steep ridge that switchbacked down to the water. The path was precarious, but not nearly as tricky as getting aboard Tristan’s boat was going to be. Pearl couldn’t see it, could only hear water lapping against the hull. No one spoke.
The ledge provided barely enough room for them to stand as Tristan unknotted a line tied around a tree trunk. He tugged, and finally the shape of the boat was discernible against the night, drifting closer. He made it all look easy, bracing his palms flat on the deck and boosting himself into the aft entry, going up the starboard walkway to the helm, where he started the motor, the running lights bursting on. The gauntlet had been thrown. Follow the leader, if you can.
Akil leaped first, then Bridges. His sandals slipped on the wet stern. Pearl’s shoulders jumped involuntarily, but he pulled himself into the walkway, safe.
Now the gap between the ledge and boat stretched out before her. No room for a running start, nothing to hold on to. Bridges held out his hands. “Come on. I’ll catch you.”
Another second of hesitation and all her credibility would be lost. Instead of looking at the gap, she focused on Bridges’s hands and lunged for them.
Her toes barely made the stern. Then he had her, pulling her into an embrace, rubbing her back. “Gotcha. You’re okay.” Akil was laughing.
Pearl extracted herself, cheeks burning. She wasn’t a hugger, except for Dad and Reese, and she sat down, jaw clenched, her skin tingling from the uninvited touch. Bridges sat beside her, stretching his arm across the top of the seat. She stayed clear of it, watching Tristan’s back, the wind tossing his hair around.
He was a better driver than Bridges, cutting across the water at a steady clip, his attention never wavering as he took them out into the blackness. The boat was a beauty, a StanCraft 290 Rivelle with a cream leather interior. His father’s boat, Pearl was almost certain. Dad had pointed it out in the harbor once, saying that in his next life, he’d own a wooden speedboat. Classiest things on the water.
After a couple of minutes, Bridges called, “Tristan.” No response. Bridges moved forward. “Dude.” He gestured to Pearl. “We have to take her back now. Right?”
Tristan glanced over his shoulder. “Oh.” He made a wide turn and took them into the harbor, returning to the yacht club dock. He leaned back, waiting.
Bridges stepped onto the dock with her. “Sorry about . . . well, everything, I guess. Tonight was pretty much a fail. I’d like to try again, if you want.”
Pearl opened her mouth, not entirely sure what was going to come out. From the corner of her eye, she saw Tristan tilt his head, roll his shoulders as if working out a cramp. “Sure. Why not?”
As Bridges entered her number into his phone, Pearl felt it for the first time. Tristan’s full attention, focused squarely on her.
She grew intensely aware of her body, the awkwardness of how she stood, slightly hunched, arms folded. She straightened her spine by degrees and lifted her chin, her skin thrumming.
She wasn’t the only one who felt the scrutiny. Bridges shifted, met her eyes, took an uncertain step closer. Of course they wouldn’t kiss; it would be ridiculous. It hadn’t been a real date. But it was as if the decision had been made for them, an invisible hand moving his knight to take her, the pawn.
Bridges’s lips touched hers. Her eyes remained open, her nostrils full of his cologne, spicy and fresh. When he pulled back, he said softly, “I’ll call you.”
She turned and left without a word, blood roaring in her ears, counting each plank she put between them, counting the seconds until she reached dry land. There, she gripped a lamppost and watched the boat’s taillights disappearing across the water, heading toward a destination they hadn’t wanted her to know.

Five

DAD WAS UP, making his hangover special: scrambled eggs, black coffee. He’d been asleep on the couch when she got home—not late, before the national news started—but this time, she hadn’t woken him. Hadn’t fixed him toast and asked him to watch the Tonight Show with her. Instead, she’d slipped into her room, where the light from her tablet crept beneath the door until the wee hours.
Now she rubbed her lips, trying to erase a memory as Dad moved between fridge and stove. She looked at the scars on his hands. The burns had healed well, but the cuts from where he’d punched out the parlor window to get inside the Garrisons’ house had required almost twenty stitches, the pinkish scar tissue twining up his wrist like young roots. “Missed you coming in last night,” he said, as if partially catching the flow of her thoughts. “Good party?”
“Not bad.”
“Any puking?”
“Not that I saw.”
“Sounds like a success to me.” He fixed her a plate, squirting on lots of ketchup, the way she liked it, and she felt such a rush of guilt and affection for him that her eyes burned. Always being a relatively easy, responsible kid had earned her his trust, especially now that she was eighteen and Dad had done away with her already lax curfew for good. If he knew where she’d really gone and who’d she’d been with last night, if he knew about Tristan—she blinked rapidly, stirring her fork in her plate. She’d told him she’d gone over to Katy Scanlon’s house for one last party with her graduating class; Katy was a sort-of friend who she hadn’t spoken to since the last day of homeroom.
Dad watched her as he swallowed two Excedrin with his coffee. “I’m headed to the club. Wysocki-Tillman wedding needs one hundred and fifty folding chairs set up before eleven.”
“You guys already put up the tents?”
“Fought with those things all day yesterday. Meriwether was hanging around bitching about ‘divots in the grass.’ Dickie told her if she can think of another way to hammer in stakes to let us know.”

Pearl laughed. “I’m working the reception, thank God.” It was infinitely better to arrive after the ceremony was over; you didn’t want to be within a mile of the tents with the wedding planner, Meriwether, and the mother of the bride all swarming around, sniping at one another about floral arrangements and seating plans. Meriwether was already in a snit over preparations for the upcoming formal ball and charity auction; club members were donating antiques and passes for all-day boat tours of Frenchman Bay faster than anyone could keep up with them. Seeing Dad and a couple of other groundskeepers lugging massive carved armoires or boxes of carnival glass past the dining room windows on their way to the storage building had become a regular occurrence.
Pearl studied Dad over her juice glass. His eyes were red from the six-pack he’d killed last night, but otherwise, he seemed okay, complaining about familiar things that had always been in their lives: the tight-ass club, management breathing down his neck. An outsider would never know he’d been called into a closed-door meeting this spring with General Manager Gene Charbonneau and the board to discuss the Garrison incident, and how exactly they were supposed to continue to put their trust in him. After fifteen years with the club, Dad had been made to beg for his job. Few people would blame them. Even after the state police chief came out to say that the killings had all the earmarks of being an isolated incident, and that the murderer had almost certainly left the area, people were scared. If there was no arrest, you just didn’t know. It could happen again.
“How about we hit North Beach after supper one of these nights?” Dad said suddenly, and Pearl glanced up. “We haven’t been out there yet this year. Might be some good glass.”
“Yeah, absolutely. Anytime.” Beachcombing on North was a summer tradition for them. The currents around the cove made for some unique finds. Pearl had done some research online about rare sea glass colors; she’d found both purple and aqua on North, not to mention a scalloped white that looked like it might have come from an antique serving dish.
Down the hall, her ring tone trilled. She went to her room and picked up the phone, reading Bridges Spencer on the caller ID. She stared, the scrambled eggs she’d eaten doing a lazy loop-de-loop in her stomach. Two more rings. Her voice mail would pick up in a second. She answered.
“I didn’t wake you up, did I?” He sounded casual. “What’re you doing this morning?”
“Not much. Breakfast.”
“Listen, I have to head back out to the island. Thought you might want to come along.” At her hesitation: “It’ll be just us. Akil doesn’t get out of bed until noon.”
It wasn’t Akil whose gaze had left her feeling harrowed and raw last night, who she’d proceeded to read online articles about until she could barely keep her eyes open. From the kitchen, Dad called good-bye, and the front door shut. She leaned across the mattress, parting the curtains to watch him go down the steps to his truck. To her right and left spanned her collection, mason jars of shells and sea glass lining her windowsill, beachcombing treasures she and Dad had collected over the years. More jars of glass—mostly common colors, green, brown, and clear—sat on her desk, catching sunlight. “I’ll bring coffee,” Pearl said. “Twenty minutes?”
After the disconnect, Pearl retrieved her tablet, looking at the article she’d left open last night. Curtain up on act two of the Garrison tragedy.
By Christmas Day, Tristan had been found. It took that long to locate his cell phone number, provided by some member of the Garrisons’ household staff back in Greenwich. State police took him into custody at the Sugarloaf Mountain Resort, a three-and-a-half-hour drive from MDI. On the evening of the twenty-third, while his family was dining at the club, he’d driven his BMW through the snowy dark to stay with a friend from Yale whose family owned a condo near Sugarloaf’s Burnt Mountain Road. According to Tristan, there’d been a disagreement at his house: he’d wanted to spend the holidays skiing, his parents wanted him to stay home. He’d left at the earliest opportunity.
Pearl exhaled steadily. Here was Tristan’s senior photo from the Brunswick School, unsmiling, yet not without a certain sardonic implication. Gold crest on his blazer, school tie of brown, white, and gold. Accelerant used. Autopsies revealed that Garrison, his wife, and two of their three children were each shot in their beds multiple times with a semiautomatic handgun before the fire was set. Tristan’s hands, folded one over the other on a polished mahogany rail, a photographer’s prop. Oldest son in custody. Person of interest. Under suspicion.
It was a blindingly sunny day, the brisk wind raising whitecaps across the surface of the harbor. A banner advertising the Centennial Celebration Regatta, cosponsored by the country club, flapped against the railing of the yacht club’s waterfront deck.
This time, Pearl saw Bridges first, bent shirtless over a tangled line on a small two-seater powerboat. She thought of last night, the taillights of Tristan’s boat fading into the darkness, leaving her behind. Where did you go after that? Where in hell did you three go?
She came up behind him and cleared her throat, watching him snap around. “Good thing I wasn’t a bear.” She held up a big Coleman thermos. “As promised.”
“Whoa. That’s old school.” He took it from her, sniffed under the lid. “Something tells me you brew it strong.”
“Might put hair on your chest.”

“Finally.” They both smiled, relieved; the kiss could go unmentioned. “Hop in.”
“Where’s your other boat?” As she stepped into the cockpit, his hands briefly found her hips, guiding her down, another unnecessary touch that she let slide.
“Still at the island.”
“Tristan didn’t bring you back for it last night?” She stared. “Somebody could’ve stolen it. Stuff like that happens all the time in the summer.”
“Tristan doesn’t think like that.” Looking uncomfortable, Bridges started the motor. “Buckle up.”
This morning, Little Nicatou was back in the hands of nature. There were a few stray beer bottles on the beach, but the coolers, chairs, and fire pits were gone, cleared away by somebody other than Bridges, obviously. Pearl thought of the servant in the cottage, then tried to remember how she’d disposed of her own bottle last night; she couldn’t.
The Talon was still moored at the dock where they’d left it, bobbing with the pull of the tide. Bridges was on his feet before the engine died, straining to see. “Looks okay.”
“Except for the metric ton of gull crap.” As they approached, Pearl took the wheel, which Bridges seemed to have forgotten. She brought them about, then made a soft sound. “Looks like your friend Quinn left you a love note.”
Manwhore was written in lipstick across the entire length of the starboard side. Cursing, Bridges tied off and clambered into the Talon.
Pearl went up the ladder and down the dock, giving him some privacy while he tried to clean up.
She walked along the beach toward the boathouse. It was more impressive in the daylight, with steps that led up to a sitting area on the battlemented roof. The year 1922 was carved into the cement over the doorway. She walked into the shadowy recesses, discerning shapes that turned out to be fragments of rope, dried seaweed pods. Who knew what Tristan had seen in the dust?
Pearl walked out of the boathouse and onto the sand, blinking as her eyes adjusted to the light. Her gaze landed on a crumpled foil square by her feet.
In the same instant that she realized it was a condom wrapper, she felt Bridges standing behind her. She jerked around.
He was looking at the wrapper, too. He shifted slightly, lifting his gaze to her. “It’s not true, you know.” When she stared, flushing, he gestured back to the boat, where manwhore had become a five-foot-long burgundy smear. “Quinn’s crazy.”

“Okay.” Her toes curled against her flip-flops.
“I brought the coffee. If you still want it.”
She nodded, grateful to move. She sat on the lip of the boathouse floor, swinging her feet, willing herself not to be the kind of girl who got flustered, whose whole body blushed.
They drank cups of Dad’s Folgers and watched the tide. Gulls had dropped mussels and clams on the rocks, shattering the shells to dig out the meat; iridescent fragments were everywhere. “I’m surprised Akil missed this.” She cleared her throat, took a sip. “I thought you guys were grafted.”
“I’m a morning person, he’s not. He’ll have to get his ass up next Saturday, though.” At Pearl’s look: “For the regatta. Race starts at ten a.m. Are you going?”
“Hadn’t planned on it.”
“You should come. Tristan’s racing his dad’s Islander. We’re his crew. We’ll just hang out, drink, whatever. It’s Tristan’s show. You know if it was anything like work, Akil wouldn’t be there.”
She ran her fingers over the step. “Tell me something. How did Akil’s family manage to keep their club membership after he stole that golf cart last year?” Bridges laughed, ducking his head. “Seriously. Last summer was the Malhotras’ first season here. I’ve heard about new members getting kicked out for wearing socks with sandals.”
“Hey, you know how it works. You abuse the club, they hit you in the wallet. His dad paid for a new cart and made a huge donation for pain and suffering or whatever. Plus, his dad’s business partners with Timothy Frazier. That carries a lot of weight. Fraziers have been summering here forever. They recommended the Malhotras for membership, even though some people think their color kind of clashes with the scenery, you know?” He shrugged. “Akil didn’t exactly steal it, anyway. He borrowed it. Took a joyride.”
“Too bad that telephone pole ran into him.”
“So he was wasted. Go easy. He was nursing a broken heart.”
“Anybody I know?”
“Cassidy Garrison.”
Pearl’s mouth fell open. “You’re kidding.”

“Weird couple, right? It only lasted a few months, but he was crazy about her. Really messed him up when she ended it. After what happened . . . he’s having a hard time.”
Beautiful, slender Cassidy, fingers on the keys, the deep blue luster of her dress under the lights. Not weird; unimaginable. “Why’d she dump him?”
“She said it was because of the long-distance thing, with summer ending and all. Akil blamed her dad. He thought David made her break it off.”
“Did he?”
“Probably. It was the kind of thing he’d do. Power play.”
“Was David one of those people who didn’t like Akil’s color?”
“Maybe.” Bridges paused. “But Cassidy . . . she was different. Smart and talented and everything, but kind of fragile, too, you know? I think she hung out with her little brother more than anybody else. Couldn’t really blame David for being overprotective when it came to her.” He flicked sand from the hem of his cargo shorts. “She needed somebody to look out for her.”
“Are you always this fair?” When he shrugged again, she said, “Sounds like you knew them pretty well. The Garrisons, I mean.”
“Some. We used to hang out at their house. Up in Tristan’s room.” Some of the color had left Bridges’s face beneath his tan. He set his cup down, giving himself a shake. “Holy caffeine rush. Okay, now you tell me something. Why are they like that?” He gestured to her eyes.
“Oh. It’s called heterochromia. It’s a genetic thing. I’ve got a cousin with one green, one blue.”
“But that’s not as cool. I mean, yours are totally different.” He considered her face so steadily, so frankly, that she was compelled to look back. “Almost like they belong to two different people.”
She reached up, touching the skin near her right eye. “Really?”
Bridges leaned in. This time, she closed her eyes, too, feeling his lips part against hers, moving deeper, her body responding without waiting for permission. She finally put her hand against his chest. “Bridges . . .”
“Too soon, right. Damn it.” He sat back, giving her a sidelong look. “Did you mind?”
Pearl bit her lip, then shook her head. No way was she getting into Reese with him, or the real reasons she’d said yes to the party last night, or why she was here right now; not with his body heat still on her. “You know, you’re not making a very good case for yourself.” She nodded toward the boat with its clouded slur. “Maybe Quinn and I should compare notes.”
For an instant, she was sure she’d gone too far. Then his face relaxed, and he leaned back on his elbows. “You seem like you can make your own decisions.”
“Ha. Nice technique. You’re all set for Psych 100 next semester.”
“Sweet Jesus. I think I just got frostbite.”
“Try wearing a shirt.” They held each other’s gaze for a long moment. Pearl let a hint of a smile show. Bridges did the same. She stood. “Come on. I have to be at work by one.”

They towed the smaller boat behind the Talon, leaving Bridges no choice but to take it slow. Pearl looked back once. The boathouse gazed inscrutably back, standing sentinel over the same view of the harbor it had watched for more than ninety years.