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Finale, Page 3

Becca Fitzpatrick

Page 3

  “Nice to know. But I still need you to do something for me. ”

  “Like what?”

  “Date a Nephil. Date Scott Parnell. ”

  Scott was the first Nephil I’d ever befriended, at the tender age of five. I hadn’t known about his true heritage back then, but in recent months he’d taken on the roles of first my tormentor, then my partner in crime, and eventually my friend. There were no secrets between us. Likewise, there was no romantic chemistry.

  I laughed. “You’re killing me, Dante. ”

  “It would be for show. For the sake of appearances,” he explained. “Just until our race warms to you. You’ve only been a Nephil one day. Nobody knows you. People need a reason to like you. We have to make them feel comfortable trusting you. Dating a Nephil is a good step in the right direction. ”

  “I can’t date Scott,” I told Dante. “Vee likes him. ”

  To say Vee had been unlucky in love was putting it optimistically. In the past six months she’d fallen for a narcissistic predator and a backstabbing slimeball. Not surprisingly, both relationships made her seriously doubt her instincts in love. Lately, she had unequivocally refused to so much as smile at the opposite sex . . . until Scott came along. Early last night, just hours before my biological father had compelled me to transform myself into a purebred Nephil, Vee and I had come to the Devil’s Handbag to watch Scott play bass for his new band, Serpentine, and she hadn’t stopped talking about him since. To sweep in and steal Scott now, even if it was a ruse, would be the ultimate low blow.

  “It wouldn’t be real,” Dante repeated, as if that made everything just peachy.

  “Would Vee know that?”

  “Not exactly. You and Scott would have to be convincing together. A leak would be disastrous, so I’d want to limit the truth to the two of us. ”

  Meaning Scott would also be a casualty of the ruse. I did the hands-on-hips thing, going for firm and immovable. “Then you’re going to have to come up with someone else. ” I wasn’t enamored with the idea of fake-dating a Nephil to boost my popularity. In fact, it seemed like a disaster in the making, but I wanted this mess behind me. If Dante thought a Nephilim boyfriend would give me more street cred, so be it. It wouldn’t be real. Obviously Patch wouldn’t be thrilled, but tackle one problem at a time, right?

  Dante’s mouth compressed into a line, and he shut his eyes briefly. Summoning patience. It was an expression I’d grown quite accustomed to over the course of the day.

  “He’d need to be revered in the Nephilim community,” Dante said thoughtfully at last. “Someone Nephilim would admire and approve of. ”

  I made an impatient gesture. “Fine. Just throw someone other than Scott at me. ”

  “Me. ”

  I flinched. “Sorry. What? You?” I was too stunned to burst into laughter.

  “Why not?” Dante asked.

  “Do you really want me to start listing reasons? Because I’ll keep you here all night. You’ve got to be at least five years oldce=ve yearer than me in human years—total scandal fodder—you don’t have a sense of humor, and—oh yeah. We can’t stand each other. ”

  “It’s a natural connection. I’m your first lieutenant—”

  “Because Hank gave you the position. I had no say in that. ”

  Dante didn’t seem to hear me, charging ahead with his make-believe version of events. “We met and felt an instant and mutual attraction. I comforted you after your father’s death. It’s a believable story. ” He smiled. “Lots of good publicity. ”

  “If you say the P word one more time, I’m going to . . . do something drastic. ” Like smack him. And then smack myself for even considering this plan.

  “Sleep on it,” Dante said. “Mull it over. ”

  “Mulling it over. ” I counted to three on my fingers. “Okay, done. Bad idea. Really bad idea. My answer is no. ”

  “You have a better idea?”

  “Yes, but I’ll need time to think it up. ”

  “Sure. No problem, Nora. ” He counted to three on his fingers. “Okay, time’s up. I needed a name first thing this morning. In case it isn’t painfully obvious, your image is headed down the tubes. Word of your father’s death, and subsequently your new leadership position, is spreading like wildfire. People are talking, and the talk isn’t good. We need the Nephilim to believe in you. We need them to trust that you have their best interests in mind, and that you can finish your father’s work and bring us out of bondage from fallen angels. We need them to rally behind you, and we’re going to give them one good reason after another. Starting with a respected Nephilim boyfriend. ”

  “Hey, babe, everything okay back here?”

  Dante and I swung around. Vee stood in the doorway, eyeing us with equal parts wariness and curiosity.

  “Hey! Everything’s fine,” I said a little too enthusiastically.

  “You never came back with our drinks, and I started to worry,” Vee said. Her gaze shifted from me to Dante. Recognition sparked in her eyes, and I knew she remembered him from the bar. “Who are you?” she asked him.

  “Him?” I cut in. “Oh. Uh. Well, he’s just some random guy—”

  Dante stepped forward, hand extended. “Dante Matterazzi. I’m a new friend of Nora’s. We met earlier today when our mutual acquaintance, Scott Parnell, introduced us. ”

  Just like that, Vee’s face lit up. “You know Scott?”

  “Good friend of mine, actually. ”

  “Any friend of Scott’s is a friend of mine. ”

  Inwardly, I gouged my eyes out.

  “So what are you two doing back here?” Vee asked us.

  “Dante just picked out a new car,” I said, stepping aside to give her a, ao give n unobstructed view of the Porsche. “He couldn’t resist showing it off. Don’t look too closely, though. I think the VIN number is missing. Poor Dante had to resort to theft, since he used up all his money getting his chest waxed, and boy, does it gleam. ”

  “Funny,” Dante said. I thought maybe he’d self-consciously fasten at least one more shirt button, but he didn’t.

  “If I had a car like that, I’d show it off too,” Vee said.

  Dante said, “I tried talking Nora into a ride, but she keeps blowing me off. ”

  “That’s because she has a hard-A boyfriend. He must have been homeschooled, because he missed all those valuable lessons we learned in kindergarten, like sharing. He finds out you took Nora for a ride, he’ll wrap this shiny new Porsche around the nearest tree. ”

  “Gee,” I said, “look at the time. Don’t you have somewhere to be, Dante?”

  “Turns out my night’s open. ” He smiled, slow and easy, and I knew he was relishing every moment of intruding on my private life. I’d made it clear right off the bat this morning that any contact between us had to be done in private, and he was showing me what he thought of my “rules. ” In a lame attempt at evening the score, I glared my meanest, coldest look at him.

  “You’re in luck,” Vee said. “We know just the thing to fill up your night. You’re gonna hang with two of the coolest girls in all of Coldwater, Mr. Dante Matterazzi. ”

  “Dante doesn’t dance,” I quickly interjected.

  “I’ll make an exception, just this once,” he answered, opening the door for us.

  Vee clapped her hands, jumping up and down. “I just knew this night was gonna rock!” she squealed, ducking under Dante’s arm.

  “After you,” Dante said, placing his palm on the small of my back and guiding me inside. I batted his hand away, but to my aggravation, he leaned close and murmured, “Glad we had this little chat. ”

  We haven’t resolved anything, I spoke to his mind. This whole boyfriend-girlfriend thing? Nothing is settled. Just a little something to bear in mind. And for the record, my best friend isn’t supposed to know you exist.

  Your best friend thinks I should give your boyfriend a run for his money, he said, sounding amused.

  She thinks any
thing with a beating heart should replace Patch. They have unresolved issues.

  Sounds promising.

  He followed me down the short hall leading to the dance floor, and I felt his haughty, goading smile the whole way.

  The loud monotone beat of the music drove into my skull like a hammer. I pinched the bridge of my nose, cringing against a swelling headache. I had one elbow perched on the bar, and I used my free hand to press a glass of ice water against my forehead.

  “Tired already?” Dante asked, leaving Vee on the dance floor to slide onto a bar stool beside me.

  “Any idea how much longer she’s going to last?” I asked wearily. “Looks to me like she’s caught her second wind. ”

  “Next time I’m in the market for a best friend, remind me to shy away from the Energizer Bunny. She keeps going and going. . . . ”

  “You look like you could use a ride home. ”

  I shook my head. “I drove, but I can’t leave Vee here. Seriously, how much longer can she possibly last?” Of course, I’d been asking myself the same question for the past hour.

  “Tell you what. Go home. I’ll stay with Vee. When she finally drops, I’ll give her a ride. ”

  “I thought you weren’t supposed to get mixed up in my personal life. ” I tried to sound surly, but I was exhausted, and the conviction just wasn’t there.

  “Your rule, not mine. ”

  I chewed my lip. “Maybe just this once. After all, Vee likes you. And you actually have the stamina to keep dancing with her. I mean, this is a good thing, right?”

  He nudged my leg. “Quit rationalizing and get out of here already. ”

  To my surprise, I sighed with relief. “Thanks, Dante. I owe you. ”

  “You can pay me back tomorrow. We need to finish our earlier conversation. ”

  And just like that, any benevolent feelings washed away. Once again, Dante was the thorn in my foot, relentless in his pestering. “If anything happens to Vee, I’m holding you personally responsible. ”

  “She’ll be fine, and you know it. ”

  I might not like Dante, but I did trust he’d do what he said. After all, he reported to me now. He’d sworn allegiance to me. Maybe my role as leader of all Nephilim would have a few perks after all. On that note, I left.

  It was a cloudless night, the moon a haunting blue against the black of night. As I walked to my car, the music from the Devil’s Handbag echoed like a distant rumble. I inhaled the chilly October air. Already my headache ebbed.

  The untraceable cell phone Patch had given me rang in my handbag.

  “How was girls’ night out?” Patch asked.

  “If Vee had her way, we’d be here all night. ” I stepped out of my shoes and slung them on my finger. “All I can think about is bed. ”

  “We’re sharing the same thought. ”

  “You’re thinking about bed too?” But Patch had told me that he rarely slept.