“You belong to yourself, Hal. More than anyone I’ve ever known.”

“But I—I need you.”


“You don’t think I need you?” he asked.

I turned around to face him.

“I didn’t come to New Orleans looking for this. I was trying to do a job, to carry my weight for the Hourglass. But now I’ve come to believe that my place is with you.”


“I’m going to be with you until we fix this. And I want to be with you after that.” His shoulders raised and lowered. “All I need to know is what you want, and you don’t have to tell me now, okay?”

“I already know,” I said, crossing the room to him. “It’s you.”


Decorative pillows littered Hallie’s bedroom floor the way confetti littered the city at Mardi Gras. At least the Mardi Gras I’d seen.

“How long do you think we can hold Mom off once she gets out of the rip?” Hallie tucked her head in the crook of my shoulder.

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Her hair was a mess again, and I realized how much I loved her like that. Breathless and ravished. Thanks to me.

“Since I’m assuming that at least half your determination comes from your mom, I don’t expect her to take too long.” I kissed her soundly and started picking up the cushions, tossing them to her one by one. “Hopefully, she thinks it’s just you and me without backup. We need an advantage.”

“I’m not sure she’s anticipating a team of X-Men, but who knows?” She caught a pillow right in front of her face, and then peeked out from behind it, grinning. “Is Liam Ballard bald?”

“No, actually, but he’s still more Professor X than Magneto.”

“Speaking of hair,” she said, “yours is a mess.”

I looked in the mirror. I had enough hair for it to be a mess. “What day is it?”

“December tenth.”

Christmas was a couple of weeks away. I felt like I’d known Hallie for years, but it wasn’t enough. She stepped up beside me, and we looked at our side-by-side reflection. My skin was tan, hers was pale. We both had light eyes and dark hair, but her features were delicate. Mine were big and broad.

“I like the way we look,” she said, meeting my eyes.

“I concur.”

“I’ve been waiting to give you my Christmas wish list, and I think this is the perfect time.”

“Because we have the opportunity to shop right now?” I faced her, smoothed her messy hair. “Kidding. Spring it on me.”

“Spend Christmas here. With me. That’s all. That’s the only thing I want.”

The statement was reminiscent of what she’d said to me on the stairs the day she’d threatened to get me fired. Forever ago. “I thought the only thing you wanted was to know my name.”

The kiss she gave me was sweet. “I knew you’d catch that.”

A knock interrupted the moment. Hallie opened the door to Michael and Em. They both looked serious.

“Any word on Teague?” Michael asked. His eyes widened, like he was trying to communicate something silently.

“Not yet,” Hallie said, looking back and forth between us, pulling her hair into a knot on top of her head.

“Hallie, can I borrow you for a second?” Emerson asked. “I wanted … I needed you to …”

“Talk to me alone so that Michael will stop doing the eyebrow-raise thing, and he and Dune can have a private conversation?” Hallie asked.

Em let out a sigh. “Thank you.”

Grinning, Hallie stood on her tiptoes to kiss me. I gave her one last squeeze. Michael followed me downstairs to the living room.

“Sit.” I gestured toward the couch.

He rubbed his hand over his face. “I’ve been reading through the Infinityglass research, the part you told me to focus on. I talked to Liam, too. This isn’t a sit-down conversation.”

I disagreed. Michael was pacing, and it made my stomach threaten an out-of-body experience. I sat.

“If you follow it to its logical conclusion, transmutation is about cell regeneration. Regeneration, making things new. Renewal. Fixing what’s broken.”

“I understand the definition. Hallie does, too.”

Being a smart-ass wasn’t in my wheelhouse, so Michael let the comment go. “Regeneration, especially if it happens that fast, could heal the continuum.”

“What are you saying?” I asked.

“I believe Hallie could heal the continuum.”

“You think she has enough power to do that?” I heard the strain in my own voice, felt the kick in my gut.

“If the rips continue to possess her and she continues to fight them, she’ll eventually burn out.” He shoved his hands in his back pockets. “The Skroll info proves the Infinityglass was never meant to bear a load like this. Healing individual rips could’ve been manageable, possibly her purpose. Crowds of them, no. Entire rip worlds, no.”

His words echoed in my head.

“I agree with your theory. They possess her because they want to live through her,” he continued. “But they want more than that. They want her to fix them.”

I stared at him as things from the Skroll shuffled into place. Information I hadn’t understood in the context of an object. “The amount of regenerated cells she produces could heal the rifts in the continuum.”

“Only if she’s inside it.” Michael’s eyes clouded with concern. “The rips are multiplying; their worlds are taking over. Time is ripping apart around us, Dune, and Hallie might be the only one who can repair it.”

She could repair it.

But could she survive it?

Chapter 21


“I am super awkward at social situations in general, and there’s some major stuff going down, so I’m not going to hold to any sort of societal standard, and I’m just going to pretend like we’ve known each other long enough to say what’s on our mind, and I hope that’s okay.” Emerson blurted all of this out in the ten seconds after the door shut behind her.

“You are intense.” Maybe she was overcompensating for height, like Napoleon and his complex.

“I am.”

“And you aren’t apologizing for it. I really, really admire that.” My phone buzzed an alert. I was supposed to have called Dad, but got distracted by Dune. “Crap.”

“Everything okay?” Emerson asked, and then she covered her mouth with one hand. “I mean, obviously, everything isn’t okay. I was referring to the ‘crap.’ That you said. When you said, ‘crap.’ ”

I laughed, deep and long, and realized I hadn’t in a while. “I’m kind of wondering where you’ve been all my life.”

“Um, committed. At least for part of it.” Emerson frowned. “That sounds scary, out of context.”

This girl was so authentic she probably had a trademark stamped on her ass.

“So explain it. And do you mind if I stretch? I get antsy after the possessions.” Talk about things that sounded scary out of context.

“Go for it.” She sat down on the edge of my bed, and I sat down on the floor and started with my hamstrings. I moved through two sets of stretches, but she wasn’t talking.

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