Nightshade Page 9

Dax and Neville began an arm-wrestling match. Though Dax—clad in a Broncos jersey and baggy jeans—clearly outweighed the lean junior, beads of sweat began to appear on Dax’s forehead. Neville, head-to-toe in beatnik black, slowly began to push Dax’s arm toward the tabletop. Ren perched on the edge of the table, laughing at his friends’ antics, but his eyes darted frequently toward us.

I swallowed a mouthful of turkey and wheat bread. “Okay, listen up.”

In a single movement the Nightshades leaned forward. Except Mason, who tipped his chair away to balance on its back legs and crossed his arms behind his head. He glanced at the Banes and then winked at me. I laughed.

“Ren’s watching. Be cool. Be Mason.”

The rest of the pack mumbled embarrassed excuses, trying to assume more casual poses with varying levels of success.

“The Bane alpha made an interesting suggestion.” I chewed on my sandwich, ignoring my lurching stomach.

Bryn twirled her spaghetti around the tines of her fork. “And what was that?”

“He wants us to start hanging out.” I tried not to cringe as my pack struggled to hold their composure.

Ansel sent corn chips scattering across the table. Fey’s lips curled up in disgust and she threw an incredulous look at Bryn, who had drawn in a hissing breath. Only Mason remained unruffled. He stretched his arms languidly, looking pleased. My low growl made the pack settle.

Bryn spoke first, in a hushed voice. “Do you mean he wants to date you?” I winced at her incredulous tone.

“No, us.” I swept my hand around the circle of the table. “Our packs. He thinks the Banes and Nightshades should start to merge now. Before the union.”

“Oh, come on.” Fey was livid. “Why would we want to do that any sooner than we have to?” She shredded a napkin that had the misfortune of resting on her lunch tray.

Mason rocked back and forth in his chair. “Could be interesting.”

“Bryn?” I turned to face her.

“What’s his motivation?” Her eyes darted to the Bane table.

I followed her gaze. Dax looked crestfallen, while Neville pulled his tweed cap over his eyes, dropping his head back against his chair to nap. Ren had taken a seat near Sabine, who leaned into him, her lips moving rapidly as she spoke. Cosette’s head bobbed in affirmation as she listened.

“The same as mine,” I murmured. “Efron’s riding him. And Lumine’s doing the same with me. She had wraiths in my house last night.”

My pack bristled at the mention of the shadow guards.

“Ren thinks that if we show our compliance to the union early,” I continued, “you know—follow orders before they are orders—that the Keepers will give us a break.”

“What do you think?” Ansel had gathered the scattered Fritos back into a pile in front of him.

“I think we should try it. One step at a time,” I said. “If it sucks, we’ll separate and wait until the order is given in October.”

Mason dropped his chair back to the floor. “What do you mean one step at a time?”

“We’re invited to a party at Eden on Friday night.”

“Whoa.” Mason elbowed Ansel, who grinned.

“But . . .” All their eyes were on me. “I don’t want the Banes to call the shots. Eden is Efron’s turf. Their turf.”

Bryn leaned closer to me but looked at the other Nightshades, baring her teeth. “She’s right. Ren can’t control the merge.”

“He won’t,” I said. “I’m going to keep him guessing. He’s always been too sure of himself.”

My packmates laughed, nodding.

“I need you guys to follow my lead and play nice,” I said. “Even if what I do is somewhat . . . shocking.”

Mason drummed his fingers on the table. Ansel cocked his head. Bryn just nodded. I stared at Fey, who chomped at her apple before speaking.

“You’re the alpha, Cal,” she said, mouth full of fruit flesh. “But for the record, I hate Sabine. She’s a heinous bitch.”

“Maybe she’s nice when you get to know her,” Ansel said. He shrank away from Fey’s withering glare.

“So we’re agreed, then?” I straightened in my chair, waiting. They all nodded, Mason eagerly, Fey last.

“Okay, guys. Here comes the cannonball.” I turned to face the Banes.

“Hey, Ren!” I called.

He broke off his conversation with Sabine, whose face contorted with outrage. His eyebrows shot up, but he quickly composed his face into a picture of disinterested but respectful regard.


“Push our tables together?”

I heard Fey swear under her breath. My smile broadened when Ren couldn’t suppress the startled twitch of his limbs.

“Of course.” He shot a quick look at Dax and jerked his head toward us.

The bulky senior walked over and gripped our table with one hand. He pulled it along the ground, which caused a horrible screeching of metal on tile, until it bumped up against the Banes’ table. Heads all over the cafeteria lifted and turned toward the teeth-grating sound. The Keepers’ faces registered shock and murmurs of interest drifted toward us.

Good. Let Lumine and Efron hear about this as soon as possible.

Mason was already on his feet; he dragged his chair over to Neville, who looked surprised but smiled and pushed his own seat back to make room. Mason waved Ansel over. My brother trotted happily to his friend’s side, and Neville extended a welcoming hand.

Huh. I hadn’t expected such an easy melding of our packs.

Sabine scooted backward when Fey carried her chair to the united tables. Fey stared back at the Bane girl, positioning her own seat as far from Sabine as possible.

Maybe not so easy.

“Calla?” Bryn waited beside me.

“Fey needs some moral support. And maybe restraints. Sit with her.”

I kept my gaze on Ren. He leaned over to Dax. I saw his lips move though I couldn’t hear the words. Dax stiffened. Ren put a hand on his shoulder, which Dax shrugged off as he stood.

The broad-shouldered wolf sauntered past me, picked up the chair I had been sitting in, and carried it over to Bryn and Fey. I nodded and they adjusted their chairs with some reluctance to make room for the imposing Bane. Ren gestured to the chair next to him and raised his eyebrows at me.

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