Nightshade Page 37

His hand followed the curve of a tall fern. “I’m having a hard time believing that. But if it really was your first, I’m glad it wasn’t a disappointment.”

“No.” I could still feel heat pouring off my limbs. “No disappointment.”

He started toward me, but I held up my hand. “But not something we can do again.”

“Excuse me?” His eyebrow shot up.

“That was my first kiss,” I said, “because I have to follow different rules than other girls.”

“Kissing rules?” He looked ready to laugh, but when I nodded, he swore, kicking the ground with the heel of his hiking boot.

“I’m not telling you to go to hell.” I came back to his side but didn’t touch him. “But I’m not like other girls, Shay. I can’t be selfish.”

“And kissing me is selfish?” He stroked my cheek.

“Very.” I turned my face, brushing my lips against the inside of his palm, reveling in his warmth, his scent.

“What if I want to kiss you again?” he murmured.

“Don’t.” I pushed his hand away from my face, wishing I didn’t have to. “If you really want to help me, don’t.”

“I do have something that I think you might be interested in seeing.” He reached for his backpack, unzipped it, and pulled out a book. “Something I found.”

“You want to tutor me?” I glanced up at the darkening sky. “Remember that whole lack of night vision issue?”

“This will only take a sec.” The book he held was thick and very old; its spine looked on the verge of crumbling. “I wanted you to see this.”

“A book?”

“My excuse for trespassing on your mountain.” He turned the front cover toward me.

The moment I caught sight of the title, black letters that looked as if they had been branded onto the front cover, I shifted into wolf form without thinking and backed away from him, wary, hackles raised. Shay stumbled backward, gaping at me. The book lay on the ground where he’d dropped it.

“Calla, Calla.” He spoke my name like a chant, low and resonant. “What is it? What did I do?”

I kept my eyes locked on him, canines bared.

“Please turn back.” His voice began to shake. “Whatever it is, I’m sorry.”

I sniffed the air for the presence of others, signs of a trap. But there was nothing; we were alone. I scrutinized him, finding no hint of treachery in his fearful expression. With some reluctance I shifted forms. He let out an explosive breath, stepping toward me. I jumped back.

“Stay where you are.”

He froze.

“Calla, what’s going on?”

I shook my head. “My questions now.”

He nodded quickly. I let my gaze fall on the book, pointing at the thick volume with a shaking finger.

“Who are you, Shay? Who are you really? And where did you get that?”

“You know who I am; I’m just me. I haven’t lied to you about anything.” A guilty flush crept up his cheeks. “And I got the book from my uncle’s library.”

I kept my hands outstretched, ready to hit him if I had to. “Your uncle doesn’t mind you borrowing his books?”

He toyed with the zipper of his coat. “Not exactly.”

I looked at him and saw how much he hated that he’d frightened me. I lowered my hands and crouched near the ground, my fingers moving over the soil in the hopes that the touch of the earth might calm me.

“What do you mean ‘not exactly’?”

“Bosque gave me the run of his house but asked me not to go into the library. He’s a rare book collector. He implied that a teenager might not take proper care of them.”

“Like that?” I glanced back at the abandoned tome that lay on the soil. He grunted and snatched the book, brushing away dirt.

“That wasn’t my fault. You scared me.” He pulled the book close to his chest. “I usually take very good care of books. I wouldn’t have taken it out of Bosque’s house, but I wanted to show you. And I thought his ban on my use of the library was unfair.” He rolled his eyes. “He even keeps the door locked.”

“If the door is always locked, how did you get the book?” I traced my fingertip over the bark of a nearby tree.

An impish smile darted over his lips. “I don’t read just philosophy. I went through a rebellious phase when I was pretty young and decided I wanted to be a professional thief. I was reading a lot of Thieves and Kings at the time.”

He watched my eyebrows lift and he laughed. “It’s a comics series. But anyway, I taught myself how to pick locks. I’m still pretty good at it. It was great to sneak in and out of my boarding school dormitories whenever I wanted to.”

Despite my roiling nerves, I giggled at the image of Shay slipping out late at night from the sleepy halls of an elite prep school.

“But why would you move?” I asked. “If you were already at a boarding school . . .”

“That’s what you’d think, right?” He began to pace through the clearing. “My uncle said familiarity breeds sloth, claimed I needed to see more than one part of the world. I think I’ve seen more than my share.”

“Sounds like,” I agreed.

“But moving is tough. I have no roots. No real friends. So I think he kind of owes me,” Shay mused. “I also hold very strong personal convictions against censorship. I don’t believe in forbidden knowledge.” His words were so self-assured I felt queasy. He had no idea what thin ice he stood on.

“So you’re a big fan of Eve?” I asked.

“She gets a bad rap. I’d take the Tree of Knowledge over Eden any day.” He grinned. “I’ve been to Eden. I thought it was overrated.”

“I have a feeling the original was better than Efron’s version,” I muttered, half shielding my body behind the tree trunk.

“But even with the temptation of breaking and entering aside,” Shay continued, “I thought my uncle’s request was ridiculous and kind of insulting. We’d been moving all over the world, I was always stuck in some lame dorm, and this was the first time we’d been in his family’s original house—and then he set up this rule. I love books, especially old books. I wouldn’t mistreat any of them. This one caught my eye. I think it’s early modern, maybe late medieval, but I can’t quite put a date on it; it doesn’t have a publisher’s imprint or anything.”

Prev Next