Nightshade Page 54

“Nothing besides the usual stuff,” he said. “Spirit world, veil thins, blah, blah, blah.” I ignored his wink. “But my father did say it’s a dangerous night, that spirits are unpredictable when they have so much power.”

I shuddered, wondering what sort of spirits might be present at the union.

He reached for the calcium carbonate.

“It was the day my mother died,” he said quietly.

I froze in the midst of my attempt to light the Bunsen burner. Ren remained focused on the lab. Other than the tightening of his jaw, he gave no indication of distress.

“Your mother was killed on Samhain?” I breathed the question, thunderstruck. I had no idea that our union had been arranged to take place on the anniversary of Corinne Laroche’s murder.

He kept his eyes on the scales. “It was a Searcher ambush . . . You know the story. An attack that successful hasn’t occurred since.”

I did know the story; all the young wolves did. It was the stuff of legends. The Searchers had attacked the Bane compound on the west side of the mountain. The ambush had occurred before dawn, while Corinne was home alone with her infant son. Several Bane Guardians, including Ren’s mother, had been killed before the Keepers realized what was happening. The counter-assault against the Searchers had been brutal: the Keepers waged a six-month campaign to seek out and destroy the insurgents, who they’d discovered in various camps near Boulder. Before the incident outside Eden had occurred, the Searchers’ blow against the Banes had been the last major attack in the region.

I felt goose bumps rising on my arms.

Ren glanced at me and smiled when he saw I was shivering. “It’s all right, Calla. I barely remember her. And my job is to kill the people who took her away. Not a bad deal. That’s justice, in a way.”

I bit my lip, waiting for him to continue.

“Why are you trying to ruin the big surprise?” His lighthearted tone surprised me. “I thought you were a fan of the Keepers’ rules.”

“It would be nice to know something about what we’re supposed to do,” I muttered.

He pointed at the Bunsen burner. “Are you going to light that? We have to heat this for twenty minutes”—he looked down at his workbook—“while stirring.”

“Yeah. Sorry.” I grabbed the lighter, hurrying to start the flame.

“Do you want to stir?” He placed the beaker over the wire gauze.

“Sure,” I said. He handed me a glass rod.

Stirring proved rather dull. I sighed, leaning against the lab station. Ren reached out to catch one of the many pleats of my skirt between his fingertips.

“This skirt kind of looks like an accordion.” He laughed. “Not that it isn’t lovely on you.”

“Thanks,” I replied drily. “I believe they are actually called ‘accordion pleats.’ At least that’s what my mother tells me.”

“So I’ve been thinking about how we’re supposed to be officially dating now.”

“What about it?”

“Would you like to have dinner with me?”

“You mean go on a date?” I focused on stirring instead of my suddenly racing heart. “When?”

“Before the union. Have dinner with me and I’ll take you to Blood Moon for a couple of hours until it’s time for the ceremony.” His fingers moved from the pleats to the hem of my sweater, his hand slipping under the pale blue cashmere to stroke the skin of my lower back.

I gasped, caught his wrist in my fingers, and pulled his hand away from its provocative exploration.

“We are in class,” I hissed at him through clenched teeth.

I glanced around and noticed several pairs of eyes quickly averted. Ashley Rice kept her glare on me. I couldn’t bring myself to look in Shay’s direction.

Grinning, Ren tried to free his hand from my fierce grip. “You’re supposed to be stirring.”

“Behave yourself.” I released his wrist, giving him a final warning pinch before I returned to my task.

“Not likely,” he answered, but contented himself with clasping my free hand. A warm glow spread from my fingers to the crown of my head.

“So would you like to have dinner and go to the ball? I thought it would be nice to have some time alone.” His thumb stroked the back of my hand and my knees buckled.

I cleared my throat. “Alone?”

“Yes,” he said. “I had to live with Dax as a hunting partner after you shot me down. Though I can’t claim the hunt itself was disappointing—he took down a twelve-point buck on his own.”

I raised an eyebrow. “That’s impressive.”

“Definitely,” he said. “All the same, Dax wasn’t the partner I was hoping for. You’ve been so busy taking care of Logan’s boy that I haven’t had any time with you at all.”

“Be nice.”

“I just think we deserve a real date, don’t you?”

“I suppose we do.” I could hear the strain in my own voice; I was already anticipating Shay’s reaction to this development.

“You wouldn’t like that?” The playful note in his voice began to fade.

I fumbled for a response. “No. I mean—yes, I would like to have dinner with you. I’m just surprised. I thought the whole pack would go to the ceremony as a group.”

He leaned toward me, murmuring, “I think one-on-one sounds better, don’t you?”

His teeth gently caught my earlobe. All my muscles turned to liquid. I dropped the stirring rod and grabbed the edge of the table so I wouldn’t collapse.

Ren straightened in alarm. “Are you okay?”

I just nodded, not trusting myself to speak. He smiled, turning back to the workbook. “Okay, what’s next? We’re supposed to have a cheesecloth. Where’s our cheesecloth?”

He searched the table while I tried to remember how to breathe.

I kept a safe distance from the alpha for the remainder of the lab. He was in a dangerously playful mood, and my reactions to his attention were erratic enough that I worried he’d startle me into spilling flammable liquid and igniting our entire station.

When I was walking from class to collect my lunch from my locker, Shay fell into step beside me.

I glanced at him. “Are you walking with me to the cafeteria?”

He kicked a discarded Coke can, sending it clattering down the hallway. “Ren was friendly today, wasn’t he?”

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