The last thing Jade Edwards wanted was for one more person to find out about her empathic ability. That included the therapist who sat watching her. Waiting for a response. Dr. Dehaven’s dark, probing eyes were unnervingly gentle. Something inside Jade tightened and locked itself away.
“I just want to help you. But I need you to work with me.”
Jade clamped her jaw as if by keeping her mouth shut she could avoid the woman’s questions. But she still had the scrutiny.
All her surroundings—the plush, beige carpet, the soft gray walls, the knick-knacks displayed on dark wood shelves—they were all so innocuous, yet invasive. Every piece of decor was a tool to chisel away her facade, to force her to open up to some stranger. Even the sense of calm exuding from Dr. Dehaven made Jade feel uncomfortable, rather than the typical freedom she felt when someone was emotionally neutral. This woman’s calm was intentional, controlled. It was much like Logan’s normal state, but it had the opposite effect. Jade scratched at the leg of her jeans, feeling her anxiety rev up a notch.
“It’s been two weeks since you started coming here,” the doctor said. “But I feel we’ve hit a bit of a wall during our sessions. You’ve just closed off and refused to talk.”
“Maybe I don’t have anything else to say,” Jade said.
“You’ve been through a lot,” the doctor continued. “Two kidnappings in the past year and a third incident involving one of your friends. It’s not good to keep experiences like these inside.”
Jade blinked in surprise. The doctor had been mostly non-confrontational until now, but this blunt reminder of Jade’s history caught her off guard, and she felt a retort rise. “Is this a new technique? Throw it in my face so I’ll spill everything?”
The psychologist’s face didn’t so much as twitch, but her lips tightened almost imperceptibly. Jade felt a rush of triumph as if she’d poked a hole through the woman’s strategy. She straightened in her chair and didn’t look away from Dr. Dehaven’s gaze. A game of emotional chicken? Jade could do this—she’d done it with far more threatening characters. She stared down the doctor.
After a count of five, Dr. Dehaven’s eyes went to the notebook in her lap.
Another surge of pride rushed through Jade, strengthening her resolve. No matter what her parents thought, she wouldn’t open up to a stranger.
The psychologist looked up after a beat. Her eyes had softened, and her head tilted to the side with feigned empathy. Feigned because Jade could feel what the woman felt, and Dr. Dehaven was blank as a slate—as if she were trying a new angle. “You and I both know there’s only one reason you’re here.”
Jade arched a brow.
“Your family loves you. Your friends love you. They all want the best for you. And none of them thinks having a violent public outburst is a sign of a healthy emotional state.”
Jade bit her lip, stabbed with this dagger of truth.
“I don’t think it’s what’s best for you, either. Do you?”
Numb from this reminder of her loved ones, Jade shook her head.
Dr. Dehaven set the notebook and pen down, removed her glasses, and rested her elbows on the desk. Her hands folded as she continued to scrutinize Jade. “We’re here because the people in your life care about you—and I do too, Jade. But we can’t help if you won’t let us.”
Tiny darts of compassion pricked Jade’s chest and threatened her composure. Her resolve leaked away at this authenticity in the doctor’s feelings. A shaky breath slipped between Jade’s lips. The attempt at transparency unnerved her even more than the doctor’s mask of calm professionalism.
“I just don’t think I’m ready yet,” Jade said.
The doctor nodded. “Okay. I just want to make sure you know that we’re all here for you.”
Jade nodded and swallowed.
“And,” Dr. Dehaven continued, “that the longer you wait, the more dangerous this can be. PTSD isn’t something to brush off. You’ve been through traumatic events, and the reaction you’ve had—the outburst at the coffee shop—it’s all completely normal. Your emotions are heightened, and they may continue to escalate.”
That explained what Jade had been facing lately. But it didn’t make her feel any better about throwing those coffee mugs against the wall or flipping over that table.
“You need to find a place of calm,” Dr. Dehaven said. “I can help you. You should talk through what you’re feeling with someone. It’s best if that person is someone with a bit of distance.”
Jade frowned. “You mean you don’t care if it’s you?”
“That’s not what I’m saying. A qualified professional is the safest person for you to open up to. There are already so many emotions surrounding your loved ones, and they can convolute your own needs and desires. It’s best to talk to a neutral party, someone who isn’t a stranger but who’s a step removed from the situation.”
“Uh, okay.” If only Jade had someone else like that in her life, maybe she wouldn’t have to see a therapist. Qualified professional or not, Jade couldn’t share her secrets with a someone she didn’t know. “Are we done now?”
Dr. Dehaven gave Jade a soft smile. “We’re done for today. I’d like to see you back in a week to see how you’re doing. Schedule with the receptionist on your way out.”
Jade nodded and thanked the doctor. But on her way out she told the receptionist she’d just call back later to schedule. She wasn’t sure she even wanted to come in again.
When she drove back to her apartment, her boyfriend, Logan Henry, was waiting for her in his truck. He stepped out to greet her, all roguish locks and roughly stubbled face. He exuded strength and compassion simultaneously. Seeing him merged with feeling him, softening her into a pliable lump. All the tension from Dr. Dehaven’s office melted away, and Jade sank into his arms, conforming to the shape of his body.
“Hey.” His deep voice was just a rumble against her ear, the low vibrations of the sound soothing her core.
“Let’s go to the courtyard for a bit,” Jade said. “I’ve been inside all day, and I need a dose of fresh air before Chloe gets here.”
Holding hands, they walked under the awning and stopped near a patch of tall pines in the courtyard. Jade leaned back against one of the trees and blew out a long sigh.
“Rough session?” he asked when she stayed in his arms longer than normal.
“Yeah.” She sighed and pulled away so she could see his face.
“You want to talk about it?”
“Not really. I’ve had enough talk about uncomfortable subjects for one day.”
“Okay, then. Maybe I can make things a little better.”
She cocked her head.
He tried to suppress a grin, but traces of it slipped out, quirking his lips in a cute way. Jade felt his anticipation bubble inside her, subtle but there just the same.
He handed her an envelope. “Open it.”
She tore it open and pulled out two tickets. “Les Miserables?” She scanned them, and her jaw dropped. “On Broadway?”
Logan smiled. “It’s in two weeks. I thought it would be a fun way to celebrate—since your birthday’s coming up. Consider it an early present.”
Jade blinked. “New York? Seriously? But that has to be really expensive. I don’t—”
“Don’t worry. I bought the plane tickets too.”
Logan’s feelings evened out, and Jade’s own enthusiasm bubbled up in its place. “Oh, Logan. It’s too much.”
“I have it covered,” he said. “So, are you free in two weeks?”
Jade thought for a minute. “Chloe has the fashion show coming up that I promised I’d help her with…” She checked the calendar on her phone. “But that’s in three weeks, so we’re good. Oh my gosh, this is so exciting! We’re going to New York!” Jade bounced on her toes. She propelled herself forward to hug Logan. A giddy laugh trickled out of her. “I’ve been dying to see Les Mis.”
Logan chuckled. “I would’ve checked with you first, but I wanted to surprise yo—”
Jade interrupted him with her lips, kissing him exuberantly. Her fingers clawed into his arms as she scrambled to get him closer. All her tension melted away, and she let herself revel in that freedom. No holding back. Her mouth called to him, seeking and asking. Passion flamed inside her like a white-hot flare.
Logan came alive. In one flash his even, controlled kisses grew into a frenzy of heat and moisture and skin. His arms scooped down to lift her, and he shoved her into the tree. Its rough bark bit into her back as he pressed against her, but Jade didn’t care. He was an intense deluge of emotion, unrestrained desire, and deep, aching need. His open mouth went to her neck, dusting kisses up and down her throat and making her utter a soft groan. The ache grew—his or hers, or both, Jade didn’t know—but his grip on her tightened.
The tree pressed into her spine, and she felt as if the force of him might crush her lungs. She gasped. “Ow!”
Logan pulled back, eyes wide. “Are you okay?” His face was white.
The emotions inside Jade had flipped like a switch—from crazed desire to guilt-laden terror in less than a heartbeat. Momentarily stunned by the change, she frowned at Logan.
“Oh no! Your arm!” He touched her bare skin, delicately lifting it to examine her upper arm closer. Five bright pink splotches bloomed around her biceps. A tiny gash lined the edge of each one. Pinpricks of red beaded from each. Logan’s mouth dropped open. “Is that from my—” He held up his hand and stared at it. The tips of his nails were red with her blood. When his eyes trailed back to Jade, he took two steps back.
“Jade, I’m so sorry. I don’t know what happened. I just— I got carried away and— Oh, God.”
Jade examined the bruises forming on her arm. “It’s no big deal. Don’t worry—”
But Logan’s face still wore the mask of terror, and his emotions were in tumult. His war of self-loathing and anxiety made her mind swim. She rested a hand against the tree for support. She took a deep breath to steady herself. “It’s okay. You’re just a bit strong is all.” She managed a weak smile. “It’s not your fault.”
“My damn strength!” He ran his hands through his hair, then grabbed the ends and tugged in frustration. “I don’t know why I keep letting my hair grow out.”
“No, don’t.” Jade stepped forward, attempting to close the gap between them, but Logan backed farther away and shook his head.
“I know you like the way it looks, but it’s not a good idea. It’s not safe—I’m not safe.”
“But you always have such great self-control,” Jade said.
“Just then I didn’t.” Logan averted his eyes. He clamped off his emotions, and the calm facade returned. It chilled Jade like an icy rain.
Jade was about to argue when a thought crystallized. “It wasn’t you. It was me. This is my fault.”
Logan’s head tipped up to her, a frown creasing his brow.
“Remember what happened in Pueblo when we found out that my emotions were…leaking out or whatever?”
Logan nodded, but his forehead didn’t smooth.
“It’s happening now. And it’s getting worse. That’s what happened at the coffee shop, too. Something’s changed about my…my glitch.”
Logan’s jaw tensed, and Jade didn’t know if it was because she’d used Cameron Schuyler’s term for their flaws or because they were both finally understanding the depth of the problem.
“My empathic ability is going the other way now,” she said. “Instead of me just getting invaded by external emotions, now I’m affecting other people. It’s like sometimes my emotions just explode, and they control everyone around me.” She needed him to understand the full weight of her words. “You’re not the one who’s dangerous. I am.”
“I agree your power’s changing—you aren’t the same person you were a year ago—but you’re not dangerous. I’m the one who hurt you.”
“Your strength only got the better of you because my emotions were in play. Take me out of the equation, and you’re harmless as a teddy bear. You know how to control your super strength, but I can’t turn this off.” Jade bit her lip, thinking about what the therapist had said about her heightened emotional state. If the woman was right, Jade was not only changing, she was more volatile now than ever. She reminded herself that her emotions had been responsible for a murder a few months back. What if that had been one of her friends? Until she could figure out the extent of her ability and learn to stop it, she would be a danger to everyone around her. It was her turn to take a step back.
Logan’s frown looked like he was processing.
“I…I need to call Chloe.” Jade couldn’t be around anyone. Not now, maybe not ever. She had to figure this out. She hurried out of the courtyard without looking back.
“Jade, wait.” Logan’s shuffling steps crunched on the gravel path, following her.
Rounding the side of the building, Jade collided with Chloe Schuyler coming down the steps.
“There you are,” Chloe said. “I was just going to call—” She frowned. “What’s wrong?” Her eyes traveled to Jade’s arm. “Whoa—you’re bleeding. What happened?”
Jade tried to speak, but her throat was rough, and words didn’t come.
Logan emerged. “Jade, are you okay?”
She was trapped—not by her friends’ feelings of confusion and concern, but by the knowledge that her very presence might be harmful to them. “I—”
Chloe’s mothering instincts seemed to kick in. Before Jade could resist, her friend draped an arm around Jade’s shoulders. A soothing calm encased Jade like a protective barrier, warm and comforting. Her shoulders relaxed, and her concerns turned to a bulleted list—facts to be analyzed but without emotional significance. She relinquished her fears.
“Let’s go inside,” Chloe said.
“Jade, can we talk first?” Logan asked.
Jade bit her lip.
Chloe’s eyes narrowed, a discerning rather than judgmental expression. “Maybe later would be better,” she suggested. “We have some work to get started on.”
“I think I just need some time,” Jade said, not meeting Logan’s eyes.
“But I….” His words trailed off, and Jade knew he didn’t want to say much more in front of Chloe.
“I’ve got it from here,” Chloe said, nodding at Logan.
Jade finally managed to glance at him.
He searched Jade’s eyes, the spot between his brows still puckered. He seemed to be having an internal debate, but eventually his shoulders dropped with resignation, and he nodded at Chloe.
“Will you call me later?” he asked Jade.
She nodded. Her body wavered, still a little faint from the emotional boomerang.
“Let’s get inside and get you cleaned up,” Chloe said, leading Jade to her front door. “You need some Band-Aids, first thing. And maybe a cold drink. You look pale.”
Inside the apartment, Chloe didn’t pressure her to talk. Jade was thankful that even though things with Chloe’s brother Cam had ended poorly, she could still be friends with his sister. And that right now Chloe understood. Jade needed time to process.
“I always have a stash of Band-Aids with me,” Chloe said, digging through her bag. “With my no-pain glitch, I’m always sticking pins in my fingers by mistake. It gets annoying.”
After Jade was bandaged and when the two of them were sipping iced teas, Chloe gave her the look. It was the expectant expression that belied Chloe’s curiosity. Jade knew her friend was attracted to drama like a moth to a flame, but she wasn’t sure how much she was ready to divulge.
“Are you and Logan okay?” Chloe asked.
Chloe squinted at her, unconvinced.
Jade fiddled with her fingernails. “It’s a little complicated.”
“I get that. Can I just ask—you’re not breaking up are you?”
“No. Nothing like that. I just…have to figure some things out.”
“Got it. Well, I won’t make you spill the details. I just want to make sure you’re peachy-keen.”
“Yeah,” Jade said. For the moment.
“Let me know if that changes?”
“Yeah. I will.”
Chloe smiled. “Okay. Then I’ll leave your personal life alone for now.”
The soothing elixir of Chloe’s typical buoyant happiness rushed over Jade. She smiled back at her friend. “You’re getting pretty good at that, you know.”
“I can tell when you restrain your emotions.”
“You can?” Chloe gave an apologetic shrug. “I’ve been trying.”
“And it’s been helping. But your natural feelings sometimes help me, too. Like when I need to escape a bad vibe or something.”
“Oh. Well, that’s good, I guess.”
“I appreciate all your efforts to make things easier for me, but today I just want you to be you.”
Chloe grinned. “I’m great at the me thing.”
“It’s your strongest suit.”
“Hey!” Chloe feigned a scowl.
“You know what I’m saying.”
“Whatevs.” Chloe flipped a hand through the air. “You ready to get with it, girl? We got work to do.”
Jade smiled. “Just tell me what to do.”
Chloe pointed to the center of the kitchen and grabbed a large, floral-printed handbag. “Stand there and suck in the gut.”
“You think I have a gut? Gee, thanks.”
“You know what I mean. Shoulders back and all that.”
“Is that where you keep the instruments for my torture?” Jade nodded at the bag where Chloe extracted a long measuring tape.
“This is where the magic happens. I’ll get your measurements first. Then I’ll show you my sketches. I have a few ideas, but you can help me refine them.”
“Remind me again why I agreed to be your model?”
“Because every fashion designer needs a beautiful canvas on which to display her art. And because you want your best friend to win the Posing for Poverty competition.”
“Oh, right.” Jade stood and held out her arms as Chloe took measurements and jotted on a small pad.
For now Jade hoped her feelings would stay buried. The last thing she wanted was to harm any of her friends. And she really hoped they could all get through the summer without anyone getting murdered, abducted, or brainwashed. She’d had enough of that to last a long time.
Graham Vega pulled into the coffee shop lot, already tasting the freedom of his first weekend since school had let out. He slammed the old Volvo’s bent front door, and not even the sight of the rust flecking off his ride could dampen his spirits today. At least he had a car to pick up his girlfriend and take her out.
His pocket buzzed, and Graham paused to put his phone to his ear.
“Oh. Hi, Dad. What’s up?” Graham asked. Bruce Rousseau rarely called him for just a chat, despite their deepening relationship over the past four years. Graham had never lived with Bruce and had grown up being more of a family friend than feeling like a son. The man was more the take-you-on-vacation-and-buy-you-something-expensive type of dad. Graham was okay with that, though. Growing up fatherless for fifteen years had taught him that having a dad was more of a luxury than a necessity anyway. He treasured what time they did get together.
“I’m in Dubai,” Bruce said.
“Dubai? Wow.” Graham frowned. “Isn’t it the middle of the night there?”
“Yes. Unfortunately, my body hasn’t adjusted to the time difference yet. I finally gave up and decided to get some work done in my hotel room.”
“Been gone since Monday. I’d hoped I would get to stay home a little longer, what with Violet’s accident. But I can’t put off work anymore.” Graham’s half-sister had been hit by a car a month ago. She’d been found lying unconscious on the freeway and had been in a coma ever since.
Bruce continued. “Roxy is scheduled to leave town tonight for her DAR convention.” He sighed. “With Violet doing so much better, it’s all bad timing.”
“Wait. Violet’s doing better?”
There was a pause on the other end. “You didn’t hear about her recovery?”
“No. She’s awake?”
“She came out of the coma a couple weeks back. I can’t believe no one called you. I’m sorry, Graham, that’s my fault. I’ve just been so distracted, what with trying to work from home the past few weeks and with all the out of town relatives coming in to see her….”
Graham stiffened. “It’s okay.”
“It’s not okay,” Bruce said. “Violet’s your sister.”
Half-sister, actually, but Graham didn’t correct him. He also didn’t point out the fact that things between Violet and him had been turbulent at best for the last four years. Part of Graham still felt inexplicably caught in that withered friendship.
“Anyway,” Bruce said. “I was calling to see if you could keep an eye on her for the next few weeks while we’re away.”
“Keep an eye on her? Doesn’t that take medical professionals?”
“Oh, sure, as far as physical care. They’re moving Violet back into her condo, and she’ll continue her regular PT sessions, along with a nurse coming regularly to check her vitals.”
“No one’s going to stay with her while she recovers?” Graham asked.
“She’s been progressing well, especially over the last week, so the hospital decided she was ready for discharge. I think she’ll be fine. I’m not worried about her safety now so much as her…uh…emotional needs.”
“Emotional?” Graham swallowed, not liking where this was headed.
“Er, not emotional. Just…I think she could use a friend to help make her recovery easier.”
“But we’re not really….”
“I know you two have been a little out of touch lately,” Bruce said.
“Yeah….” ‘Out of touch’ didn’t scratch the surface. But not wanting to jeopardize his relationship with his dad, Graham hadn’t told Bruce about the unrest she’d created in his head.
“You two used to be close, though,” Bruce said. “Violet needs someone like you in her life—especially now. She’s not exactly herself, since the coma.”
“Then why is Roxy leaving? Is the DAR more important than her daughter?”
There was a pause on the other line, and Bruce gave a quiet sigh. “Roxy’s…been difficult lately.”
“Difficult?” Graham knew it was none of his business, but he was curious.
“Things between the two of us were already strained. Then, when all this happened with Violet, it just got worse. Roxy sat beside Violet’s bed for days waiting for her to wake up. By the time Violet finally came out of the coma, Roxy was worn to a thread. She said she needed a break. I know that’s no excuse for her leaving town the day before her daughter goes home.” Bruce sighed again. “But I’ve learned to pick my battles with my wife, and this was one thing I chose not to question. As it is, I’m on the other side of the globe, so there’s not much I can do about it.”
Graham wished he hadn’t asked. There was only so much he wanted to know about his dad’s relationship drama.
“Could you just stop by to check on her every few days or so?” Bruce asked. “To make sure she has everything she needs, and maybe keep her company? It would really mean a lot to me.”
“Okay,” Graham said.
“Great. Would you be able to be there tomorrow morning when they discharge her? Can you drive her home?”
Graham thought of his plans with his girlfriend. They were supposed to get up early and go hiking at Cheyenne Mountain State Park. But Violet had nearly died. The least he could do for her was take her home. “Sure. I can do that.”
“Thank you, Graham. I’ll also mail you a key to her condo.”
“Doesn’t she have one?” Graham asked.
“Yeah, but I’d like someone else local to have a copy—just in case of emergency.”
“Okay,” Graham said.
His mind went to Violet and to the friendship they’d had growing up. Playing in the sandbox at the park as kids. Hanging out at her pool during lazy summer afternoons. Spending Christmas break together at the beach.
He was still thinking of her as he entered the coffee shop. A gust of summer wind followed him in. Olivia sat poring over a magazine, one hand unconsciously fiddling with the short hairs at the nape of her neck. When he approached, her head turned up, and she swept her long, blonde bangs to one side. Her eyes crinkled into a smile.
“Hey,” Graham said, trying to tame his short, wind-tossed curls. “It’s Thursday night, and I’m ready to live in the gaps between stories.” He waited, but she didn’t respond. “Ya know, ’cause I’m a writer. And I’m taking a night out….”
She rolled her eyes. “Despite what you might think, I can get enough of the bookish jokes.”
“Sorry. I’ll try to dial it down. Ready to get some dinner?”
She sipped the few remaining drops of her iced coffee and stood. “Where are we going?”
“I thought we could grab some subs and go to the park.” In other words, he was broke.
“Still haven’t heard back from any of the places you applied?”
“Actually, I have. One said I wasn’t a good fit—whatever that means. The other two said they wanted someone with managing experience.”
“Oh. That’s too bad.”
Graham shrugged. “So I’m still broke, but at least I can afford sandwiches. Oh, by the way…”
Her brow lifted.
“I’m going to have to cancel on hiking tomorrow.”
“My half-sister’s going home from the hospital. I have to go pick her up.”
“The one who was in a coma?”
Olivia frowned. “I thought you weren’t talking to each other anymore.”
“We weren’t, but it’s been a long time. I feel like I should give it a shot again.”
Olivia’s eyes narrowed. “You had a huge crush on her.”
Heat streaked up the back of Graham’s neck. “No, I didn’t. Besides, she’s my sister.”
“But you didn’t know that for the longest time. You totally had a thing for her.”
“How do you know? You didn’t go to our high school.”
“Because of the way you talk about her.”
“What? I don’t talk about Violet.” Graham stood straighter. He wished he had even an inch on Olivia, but they were the same height. He’d never been able to make himself feel taller.
Olivia rolled her eyes. “When we’re out, you point out things that she would like. And every redhead who walks by catches your eye.”
“Zounds, one time!” Graham said. “Once I thought I saw her. That was it!”
“Why do you have to be the one to pick her up?”
“Because my dad and my step-mom are both out of town. There’s no other family here.”
“Don’t they have maids and stuff? Can’t one of their employees go get her?”
“She just woke up from a coma!” Graham said. “Can you imagine how she’s feeling? And you think she deserves to be picked up by some employee?”
Olivia didn’t respond, but her face didn’t soften.
“I won’t desert her,” Graham said.
“But she deserted you.”
“Keep telling yourself that, because I think you need a reminder.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I know you like fantasy, but geez. Game of Thrones much?”
Graham stared at her.
“In other words, you can’t date your sister.”
“I don’t want to date her. If anything, I just want to be friends again.”
Olivia crossed her arms. “Why? Why not just let it go? She’s in your past. She can’t control you anymore.”
“Control me? What the hell, Olivia? Violet and I were buddies.”
“Really. So that’s why you wrote poems about her?”
The heat shot up to Graham’s face. “It was practice. I’m a writer. I write about stuff. And sometimes people.”
“You’ve never written a sonnet about me.”
“Last month you mentioned it was Violet’s birthday. Twice.”
Graham couldn’t remember mentioning it, but Violet’s birthday was in May.
“Do you even know when my birthday is?” Olivia asked.
“I’ve only known you a year,” Graham said. “I’ve known her my whole life!”
“Exactly.” Olivia’s face turned smug.
“What do you want from me?”
“I want you to show me that you’ve moved past her. That you’re not hoping to recreate some childish fantasy. I want you to say you won’t pick her up tomorrow.”
Graham’s jaw tightened. “That sounds like an ultimatum.”
“Maybe it is.” Her eyes challenged him.
“Well, I can’t,” Graham said. “Violet needs me, and I’m going to be there for her. I know she deserted me years ago, but I won’t treat her the same way.”
“Fine. Then you can find yourself another girlfriend.” Olivia turned and headed for the door.
“Great!” Graham called after her.
She stopped with her hand on the door. Her voice rose so loud that everyone in the coffee shop turned to look at her. “Or you can hook up with your sister and have a million babies that have three eyes and crazy octopus arms!” Her final statement was the slam of the door.
Graham shrunk as everyone turned to stare at him. He nudged his square-rimmed glasses with a knuckle and cleared his throat, wishing he could disappear as he made his way to the opposite door.