Alice in zombieland, p.20

Alice in Zombieland, page 20

 part  #1 of  White Rabbit Chronicles Series

 

Alice in Zombieland



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Page 20

 

  “Still waiting,” he prompted.

  I rattled off the numbers.

  “Thank you,” he said, and if I wasn’t mistaken, there was a note of relief in his voice.

  I had to be mistaken. Either that, or those violet eyes had reduced the points in my IQ.

  “Stay put,” he said, and got out of the car. He walked around, and…helped me out. Wow. I never would have guessed he would exhibit the classic signs of etiquette. “Tell me you aren’t going to be this difficult for the rest of the day. ”

  “I guess we’ll find out together,” I said. His skin was warm against mine, his palm calloused and rough. I liked that, even shivered.

  “Cold?” He pressed me up against the side of the Jeep, his arms caging me in.

  “No. I mean yes. I mean maybe. I don’t know!” Was he going to kiss me? For real? Here, now, in front of strangers? I’d stop him. Right? (Before and not after. )

  “I don’t think you’re cold,” he rasped, “I think you’re scared. You’re right to be scared. ”

  I gulped. “I’m not scared. ”

  “Let’s see what I can do to change that, shall we? We’re going on a little adventure, you and I. When I give an order, you’ll obey it. There will be no asking politely, no matter how much you bat your lashes at me. ”

  I opened my mouth to protest. I’d never batted my lashes at anyone!

  He shook his head, silencing me. “It’s for your safety. ”

  Again I opened my mouth to protest.

  Again he shook his head. “That’s the deal. Agree or I’ll take you back to school right now, and none of your questions will be answered. ”

  Peeved all over again, I ran my tongue over my teeth. He was underhanded, sneaky and manipulative, that was for sure. Too bad I still liked him. “What questions do you think I have?”

  “Probably the same ones I have. ”

  No way. Not possible. “Fine, I’ll follow your orders. ” Anything for answers. “Just as long as you realize that every time you issue one, I’m beating you up in my mind. ”

  “Realized,” he said, thrums of amusement suddenly evident. “But please refrain from mind-punching my pretty face. I like it just how it is. ”

  Now I was the one fighting amusement. Someone so egotistical shouldn’t have been so charming. But then, I loved Kat, so there you go.

  His gaze zeroed in on my twitching lips. He leaned closer to me…so close I could feel the heat of his breath trekking over my skin.

  “What’s going through your mind right now?” he asked, his lips hovering over mine.

  Don’t you dare tell him! I scrambled for a winning reply. “Will Mackenzie be upset that you’re with me? Not that you’re with me. I’m just saying—” Shut up, idiot! That’s enough.

  He straightened with a snap, the maybe-kiss moment completely lost. “She shouldn’t be. We’re not dating anymore. ” I wasn’t given a chance to reply. “Come on. It’s time for our adventure. I want to show you something. ”

  At the back of the building was the thick, thriving forest that wound all the way to my grandparents’ neighborhood. I frowned. The drive to the store had taken longer than it should have, then. I replayed the route and realized Cole had doubled back a few times, taken turns he hadn’t needed to take. There was no reason to do that—unless he was as paranoid as I was and had thought we were being followed.

  “Are you walking me home?” I asked, not sure how I felt about that.

  Displaying even better etiquette than before, he moved limbs out of my way. “Yes and no. Now, not another word out of you until I say it’s okay. You’ll distract me, and I have to make sure we don’t stumble on any trip wires. ”

  A lovely nonanswer sprinkled with supposed courtesy. Wait. “Did you say trip wires?”

  “Distracting me,” he said in a singsong voice.

  “Annoying me,” I sang back. But I bit my tongue and stayed quiet as we hiked the rest of the way through bushes, over thick tree roots and boulders, and up and down hills.

  By the time we reached the fence to my backyard, my thighs burned and my heart galloped in my chest.

  Note to self: start working out today. At least the air I was so heavily breathing in carried hints of pine and wildflowers, the rot all gone.

  “See these tracks?” he asked, pointing to the ground.

  Dread washed through me as I took in the very tracks I’d noticed two nights ago. I could even make out the indention of my own tennis shoes…but not Emma’s slippers. “Yes. I see. ”

  His gaze snapped to mine, slitted. “Do you know what caused them? Besides the ones belonging to you, of course. ”

  “No. ” Maybe. I licked my lips. “Do you? And how do you know I’ve been out here?”

  “Give me some credit. You’re an eight and a half, on the narrow side, and your shoes have a distinct zigzag pattern. ”

  That was not something a normal kid would notice. How—and why—had he?

  He crossed his arms over his chest. “So you haven’t seen anything out here?”

  “Besides you?” I asked, trying to figure out exactly where he was going with this.

  “Yes, besides me. ”

  I couldn’t admit it. I just couldn’t. “First I want you to answer me. Do you know what caused those tracks?”

  “Yes. ” No hesitation from him.

  Unbidden, I took a step closer to him. “What?”

  “You tell me. ”

  I rooted my feet into the ground, too afraid I’d try to press myself against him and shake him. “I never said I knew. ”

  “You paled. That was answer enough. ”

  “I…I…”

  “But I have to hear you say the words. ”

  Stubborn, nervous, I shook my head. “No. I won’t. ”

  Cole stared at me, frowning, a slash of menace in the shadows. “You’re really handicapping me here, Ali. I shouldn’t be talking to you about this. And I cannot—absolutely will not—mention anything outright. You have to tell me what I’m trying to say. ”

  Dang it! Was he implying what I thought he was implying? That he saw monsters, too, but couldn’t admit it until I admitted it? But if I admitted it, and that wasn’t what he’d meant…

  “Let’s try this another way,” he suggested. “Your dad is dead, isn’t he? Killed this summer. ”

  Immediately I spun, giving him my back. “I won’t talk about that, either,” I said. I figured Cole had done a search on me the same way I’d done one on him.

  “He died in a car crash at night, in a cemetery,” Cole persisted. “You were with him. Did you see anything…weird?”

  “I won’t talk about that,” I repeated, stomping away from him. If I did, I would cry in front of him, and I absolutely refused to cry in front of him.

  A scream burst from my lips as my feet were jerked out from under me.

  Something tight and inexorable banded around my ankle, lifting me up…up…until I dangled from a tree branch, no part of me touching the ground. Blood rushed into my head, making me dizzy.

  “What the heck!” I shouted. As I swung back and forth, I looked up. Thick rope encased my ankle—a rope that had been painted to resemble tree bark.

  Someone had booby-trapped the land behind my backyard. Or was this one of the trip wires Cole had mentioned?

  He closed the distance between us and crouched down just in front of me. Suddenly we were eye to upside-down eye.

  “Let me down!” I demanded.

  His smile was anything but pleasant. “You and your commands. Ask nicely. ”

  How dare he throw my words back at me! “Will you please…let me…down?” I ruined the saccharine-sweet request by trying to punch him.

  Laughing, and baffling me with the sincere amusement I detected, he jumped out of striking distance. “Now, now. No need for that. I’d be happy to help you. After,” he added. <
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  “After? What do you mean after? Do it now!”

  “After we finish talking. ”

  Oh, really? I arched back, then curled in, repeated the actions again and again, until I had a nice swing going. He was stretched to full height, the best kind of target.

  “What are you— Oomph!” He crouched over, wheezing.

  I’d just head butted him in the gut. Satisfaction filled me as I said, “How about now?”

  When he no longer sounded like an old man hooked to an oxygen tank, he moved directly in front of me, placing my forehead directly in front of his navel. Brave boy. To keep me still, he settled his hands on my waist. My bare waist, I realized with a flare of panic. My shirt had risen up, catching on the underwire of my bra.

  “Stupid gravity!” Motions rushed, I reached up, clasped the hem and tugged.

  “Settle down before you hurt my favorite body part. I’m really fond of my…gut. ” He shooed my hands away, my shirt falling and once again catching on my bra. “Here. Let me. ” He tucked the material in the waistband of my jeans. “Better?”

  “Yes, now get me down from here! Who would do something like this, anyway?”

  “I would,” he stated simply.

  I tried to meet his gaze, but he was simply too high up. “You did this?”

  “That’s what I just said, isn’t it?”

  “But why?”

  “You tell me. ”

  Not that crap again. “Cole. Please. Act like you’ve never been to juvie and let me down. ”

  He sighed, and it was not a patient sound. “Ali has a mean streak. Good to know. And I told you. I’ll let you down—after we chat. So let’s chat. Did your dad ever talk to you about something weird?”

  Dread slithered through me, wrapped around my heart and squeezed painfully. “Like what?”

  “You. Tell. Me. ”

  Argh! “I do not know you. I do not trust you. Therefore, I will not talk to you about this. ”
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