An Excerpt From

Alex froze just inside the doorway.

 

The hallway that stretched out before her was packed with bodies, filled to capacity with students milling beside lockers and meandering toward their classes.

 

She took a breath and held it.

 

Kenzie and Cassie quickly disappeared into the crowd, leaving her behind.

 

Why hadn’t she walked the long way around the building? Her homeroom was three hallways and a commons area away, and the entire path would be packed until the second bell.

 

The sounds of conversation and laughter grew louder, surpassed in volume only by the sudden thudding of her heart as it pounded frantically against her ribcage.

 

So many people… all it would take is one touch from the wrong one, she thought. One touch, and I could lose control.

 

Move. She needed to move.

 

Someone brushed past her, jostling Alex’s shoulder as they entered through the double doors behind her.

Alex swallowed a whimper, searching frantically for an empty space in the chaos.

 

Hugging her arms tightly around her middle, Alex found an opening in the crowd and made her way to a narrow wall between two classroom doors, pressing her back against it and aching for an escape.

 

Closing her eyes, Alex fought to steady her breathing, then sucked in another ragged breath after being startled by the sound of the first bell blasting from a loudspeaker mounted to the wall above her head.

 

“Never pegged you as the agoraphobic type.”

 

Alex opened her eyes.

 

A smiling face stared down at her, a few short inches from her own.

 

Her first instinct was to jerk away, but a warm hand on her shoulder had pinned her firmly in place.

 

“Hold still, Alex,” Declan ordered. With his left hand placed protectively on one shoulder and his right hand pressed against the wall on her other side, Alex was effectively boxed in.

 

“Declan, you can’t—” she began, shrugging her shoulder where he held it in place.

 

Declan inched his fingers farther away from her exposed collarbone and down her sleeve, but still didn’t pull away.

 

“You’re fine,” he said. “Just breathe.”

 

Students filed past on both sides. Alex eyed them nervously.

 

“Look at me,” Declan said quietly. “Not at them.”

 

Alex did as she was told. Declan just shook his head, smiling.

 

“You know, it’s probably a good thing you can’t jump right now,” he said in an undertone. “I would not have wanted to explain to Grayson why you teleported in the middle of a crowded hallway with dozens of witnesses.”

 

Ashes.

 

Cinnamon.

 

Declan.

 

Alex’s head swam with the sensory overload. Having Declan standing so close was only making it more difficult to pull herself together. She’d forgotten just how easily his nearness could knock her for a loop.

 

He was still smiling down at her as though they were just another normal couple stealing a quiet moment alone, instead of two Variants standing in the midst of a sea of humanity, while one of them tried to keep the other from falling apart entirely.

 

The passing students sent them a few curious glances as they walked into their classrooms, but otherwise gave them plenty of space.

 

Another few minutes and the crowds began to thin.

 

Declan removed his hand from her shoulder and took a step backward. “You okay to move?” 

 

“I… Yes,” she said, her face flushed with embarrassment. “I am.”

 

Slipping past him, Alex marched off down the empty hallway. Declan’s long legs matched her stride easily.

 

“You want to talk about it?” he asked as they entered the open expanse of the commons area.

 

“Not particularly.”

 

“You sure?”

 

“I’m fine.”

 

“Right.”

 

The second bell rang.

 

Alex was officially late.

 

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