What's That Sound
This Isn't The 1800s
Your Average Girl
Don't Make Me Go
Dress-Up Game
Alone With the Enemy
Some Strange Magic
You Only Live Once
What Are You?
A Wrong Turn
A Deal's a Deal
The Secret Inside
Helicopter, Helicopter
Mind Your Manners
A Maze and Delight
The Lost Seed
A Secret Escape
Getting Hot Inside
Seriously, What The
Got a Bad Feeling
Let's Try Something
Breathing is Overrated
In the Meantime
Nice Day for a Drive
Can't Turn Back
Alone With the Enemy
"So," I said to break the silence over the engine, "Where are we going?"

But all Mercurius did was make a huffing sound. He seemed... angry. Was he maybe as put-off as I was to have been forced into this date?

Even if he was, I still didn't feel any sort of camaraderie with him. Not with the way he was driving. We were going much too fast for the road, so all I could imagine was that the cops were either paid-off by his family or he just didn't care if he got a ticket.

Finally, he said, "Sporting event."

"You wanna slow down a little?" I asked, "I don't want to die tonight, thanks."

"If you die tonight, it won't be from my driving."

Oh, great. That was reassuring. I found myself remembering the strange black-haired boy from my balcony and thinking, at least if Mercurius's stupidity got us killed, I'd got to experience a kiss like that. Any kiss, really. But how many girls can say their first kiss was with a random hot guy that fell off their roof... or out of the sky? I still hadn't figured that one out.

But the benefit of fast driving, I suppose, was that we didn't have to spend much time in the car together. We arrived at our destination in only a few minutes, a domed concrete building up into the winding backroads beyond the edge of town. I might have thought he had weird, sinister plans for our date, except that the parking lot was filled with cars. Fancy cars, I might add, all glinting in the orange glow of evening sun, as glossy and new as if they'd just been driven off the production line that morning.

Again, Mercurius didn't bother waiting for me or even looking back. I hurried out of the car after him, hopping to regain my balance when one of my heels came loose and then sprinting to catch up.

The entrance was a simple metal door, guarded by a petite woman with bright lipstick. She nodded at Mercurius and let us through without question, but when I glanced back, I saw her eyes were still locked on me. There was something strange about her expression that I couldn't quite place. It was a sharp look, one that made me feel suddenly exposed, like I was somehow trespassing.

Like I wasn't supposed to be there.

"This way," said Mercurius, and I swore for a second he was about to lead me by the arm. But then he pulled his hand back and turned away, walking ahead. Once again, I had to hurry to follow.

By the time we found our seats, I'd gathered that the place he'd taken me was some sort of indoor sporting arena. The center stage looked like a wrestling ring, but bigger, and with a wide berth of empty space around it before the stands began.

As the lights came up in the ring and the crowd began to cheer, I saw to my surprise the black-haired guy was standing at one corner of the ring.

Even from this distance, there was no mistake. I touched my lips, thinking of the strange tingle at the end of our kiss... I found myself both relieved to see that he was real and apprehensive about what kind of fight was about to happen. The knot in my stomach was tight with with worry.

Beside me, Mercurius was smirking.

"Welcome, welcome, ladies and monsters!" Cried the announcer, stepping up onto a narrow walk around the stage ring. He was a broad man, but nowhere near as large as the opponent standing in the other side of the fence--the opponent that surely the black-haired boy was about to have to face. Suddenly I had a bad feeling about why he had been hurt the other day. But that still didn't explain the whole falling-out-of-the-sky thing...

"And now for the long-awaited match! The fan-favorite," continued the announcer, gesturing towards the giant of a man who was now posing for the cheers of the crowd, pounding one fist into his other palm while flexing his burly arms. "And for our persistent little halfie," he added, sneering the last word like it was a dirty thing to say.

It had to be some slang I wasn't familiar with, but either way, it didn't sound like a nice thing to call someone. Weirdly enough, the crowd jeered right along with the announcer. When I glanced over at Mercurius, I found that his face was stoic aside from a small downward turn of his lips.

I wanted to ask him why he'd brought me here, what made him think a fighting match was something I'd want to see, but all I could assume was that he'd wanted to shock and scare me away. I was determined not to let him think he'd won, and sat forward to watch without complaint.

All I wanted was for the black-haired guy to be okay.

The obvious size and age difference between opponents was ridiculous, and there was no way this was going to be a standard wrestling or boxing match. Besides, I realized--they weren't wearing the right gear. In fact, the black-haired guy was just wearing regular street clothes and neither had gloves.

The only thing either of them had were their hands, both holding them at the ready as they assumed their stances from each corner, but not in the way a person would prepare to punch. No, instead of balling their hands into fists, they held them open as if clutching an invisible ball between them.

What in the world...

Then the lights went down in the audience and two spotlights illuminated each contestant as a sharp buzzer cut through the noise of the crowd, jarring me in my seat. For a fraction of a moment after, the air was still.

Then the the noise really began.

There was a searing hiss from somewhere within the large man's hands, an orb of light erupting from his palms and--I kid you not--a huge, serpent-like creature erupting out.

When a similar orb cracked like an egg from between the black-haired guy's palms, I should have been expecting it, but somehow the fact that I knew him at least in part made it all the more unbelievable. Especially when another creature formed from the mist, a creature like none I'd seen before. If I had to describe it, I'd say it was midway between a wolf and a tiger, with dark fur that billowed off into smoke under the swiveling stage lights.

The serpent, now the size of a car, lunged for it. The wolfcat bristled, swiping with one paw while letting out a low snarl.

Turning to Mercurius, I stared, eyes wide, saying, "This is a... magic show, yes?"

He only gave his trademark smirk in return


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книга «Just a Kiss».
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