Book 1, A Flare of Hope
My cigarette glowed in the darkness, and I watched the apartment through the haze of smoke. All the lights were off. Congratulations Dylan, you haven’t considered the possibility of her already being asleep. Worst cloak-and-dagger mission ever.
What now? Break in and sneak up on her in her bedroom? She might die of a heart attack. Not that I’d care, but this wasn’t my style. Damn, what was I even doing here?
There was a dimly lit courtyard leading to the backside which could help me getting a closer look. Maybe I could catch something through the windows.
Just as I approached the porch, the tip-tap of quiet footsteps resounded and something like keys jingling. Quickly hiding in the shadows, I saw a female figure coming up the steps.
Where did she suddenly come from? I should have spotted her on the sidewalk, but the streets had been clear. No human soul in sight. I remembered what Jimmy had said about the girl having a knack for moving on top of the buildings. Her hair was hidden behind a hood, but I could see some windblown strands sticking out in front of her face. She was panting, her chest heaving as if she’d just run ten miles.
So, this was the Natural. Damn, she didn’t have an ounce of imagination what burden lay on her shoulders.
She was tall, I guessed about five feet nine. Her clothes were plain black. It was obvious she wanted to blend in with the darkness. She moved with caution, her steps hesitant and her head whipping from side to side as if she feared for a creature to jump out of the shadows any second. Well, she wasn’t completely off base, considering I intended to do exactly that.
She turned the keys inside the lock, and the door clicked open. This was my opportunity.
Leaving my hideout, I rocked up to her. “Are you Haylie Bryceland?” I asked flat out.
Of course, the girl let out a shriek of surprise. She dropped the keys in her panic but reacted fast and snatched a baseball bat from behind the door. Huh, not a bad move. Her reflexes were astounding. Guess she had every right to be paranoid. Not that the baseball bat would help her driving off someone like me, but how was she supposed know?
The girl didn’t answer but just stood there with her wooden weapon, bracing herself for a fight she couldn’t possibly win. The way she held the handle—the knuckle of her bottom hand not pointing up the barrel, and her index finger not separated from the others—would make any baseball player do a face-palm.
I forced my thoughts back on track. She still owed me her name. And her confession.
In any case, I needed to handle the matter discreetly and avoid making a scene out here, so I repeated my question, trying to sound as calm as Jimmy. “I’m not here to hurt you.” Aren’t you? “Are you Haylie Bryceland?”
I took the steps up to the porch, and her grip tightened around the handle as if she was fighting the urge to recoil. Her lips quivered, but from the cold or from fear, I couldn’t tell. Her hood hid most of her face, but I should have been able to catch the Flare by now. And yet, her eyes hadn’t shown their natural reflection. Did I catch the wrong one?
“Why do you want to know my name?” Her voice was calmer than she felt. Demanding, even. She was walking on thin ice because tonight, I was her most formidable predator.
“I have every right to know. You are the reason he died, after all,” I growled in a deep timbre, not bothering to mention Ricky’s name. I wanted to know if she remembered it. See what it triggered in her.
Her first reaction was to backpedal with a gasp. Wrong move on her part because now I knew for a certainty that she was Haylie Bryceland—the third Natural I met in my life, right after Jenna and the sister, Shawna. All dead. Great track record, eh? And at last, the girl who was the reason Ricky was no more. To say I was stark raving mad would have been an understatement.
What she did next made me lose my cool for a moment, though. As if letting all her walls down, the bat slipped from her fingers and crashed onto the wooden panels with a loud clunk.
“Ricky,” she whispered, her tone so wistful it cracked its way right into my soul. Her hand moved to her trembling lips as if she was trying to hold in her sobs.
With a murderous glare and a wide step forward, I clutched her throat and slammed her into the nearest wall—too fast for her to react in time. Her hands flew up to mine, nails digging in in panic. I cut off her air supply with enough pressure to keep her from screaming, although I admit I was close to giving in to the need to squeeze just a little bit tighter. The world was better off without her. No… I was better off without her.
With my other hand, I yanked off the hood only to see short, piss-blonde hair. A fucking wig. Why was she wearing one?
Grabbing her chin, I bore my eyes into hers, but they were not the color I expected to see. No, it was something between gray and brown and looked completely off. On a closer look, I could make out the rim of contact lenses. A camouflage tactic. Certainly helpful to avoid attracting the Hunters’ attention. Unfortunately, not enough to avoid mine.
“I know what eye color you’re hiding behind those,” I spat, careful not to use the word ‘jaylior’. You never knew where Catchers were crawling around. Now it made sense why I couldn’t see the Flare—the lenses disrupted the natural light reflection.
My reproach made her shut her eyes and yank her head to the side—at least she tried, but my grip restrained her movements. Grabbing her wig, I yanked it off, and she cried out when it got stuck in her hair clip. Lush, glossy, dark brown hair lay underneath.
“Look at me!” I hissed at her, and she opened her eyes reluctantly. Damn, I couldn’t remove her contact lenses, but maybe it was better if I didn’t get to see myself reflected in those eyes. It would only remind me of all my failures.