Home > Winter (Evermore Academy #1)

Winter (Evermore Academy #1)
Author: Audrey Grey

1

The darkly beautiful beings that rule the western half of my world call themselves the Evermore, but we have other names for them.

Invaders.

Cruel folk.

Tricksters.

Sidhe.

Fae.

My favorite is pointy-eared dickwads, but that’s a mouthful so I usually stick with Fae.

They came eighteen years ago in a bright wave of magic that demolished half the North American continent. They claimed the explosion—now cleverly termed the Lightmare by the media—was an accident . . . as if wiping out half a country is a simple mistake.

No apologies, no real explanation beyond a Fae war that got out of hand.

Just oopsie, we effed up. But since we’re here and the space is unoccupied, mind if we move in?

Typical Fae logic.

My younger sister, Jane, claims she saw one once on the edge of the forest. Her depiction was only slightly terrifying. Daggerish, elongated ears. Sharp, angular faces. Huge, inhuman eyes. Craploads of magic oozing out of their pores.

Her words, not mine, and probably not true. She has a flair for the dramatic.

My brain refuses to believe the more creative tales. That the Fae have horns and wings and hooves and predatory fangs made for ripping our flesh to ribbons.

Either way, I honestly didn’t think about them much. It’s hard to focus on mythological boogiemen when we have very real, very human monsters to deal with.

And Cal Miller is the worst of the worst.

Which makes my close proximity to him unsettling, at best. Lucky me. Wiping a sweat-damp strand of pale blonde hair from my eyes, I peer at the man-child where he sits on a giant stash of baby products—formula, diapers, wipes—his reddish brown Cavender boots propped up on green barrels of drinking water.

As if he knows he’s being appraised, he tips back a Coors Light can, drains it, and crushes it inside his hand.

Here we have the redneck in his natural habitat, I think in a terrible British accent. But my running commentary on Cal and his disgusting habits is running dry.

I’ve been here way too long.

With a belch that could wake the dead, he chucks the can into a trash bin dangerously close to where I hide. As he laughs at his own amazingness, his man-belly jiggles.

Someone hasn’t missed a meal in a while.

Sweat beads down my forehead. The warehouse is hot as the Summer realm, and the tiny fan whirring in the corner barely keeps the flies away. I would have opened one of the doors to let in a breeze . . . but it isn’t my warehouse. It belongs to the Millers, aka worst humans on the planet, aka ass-hats.

Did I mention I’m not supposed to be here?

I peek my head from the two crates of potatoes I’m wedged between, barely breathing for fear Cal will hear me. My neck has a crick, the girls are smashed against my chest, and my butt has lost all feeling.

Who thought this was a good idea?

Oh, right. Me.

Cal leans over and grabs another beer from a red ice chest. Then he walks over to the garage door, lifts the heavy metal with a loud crank, and pisses into the bushes.

Disgusting.

Cal’s twenty-one, just three years older than me, but it’s hard to remember that sometimes. Especially when he’s guzzling beer like it’s orange Gatorade and overseeing his family's illegal smuggling operation.

The muscles inside Cal’s flannel shirt bulge as he returns, his wrangler jeans about two sizes too small, which doesn’t help the beer gut that’s formed since he graduated high school. A Glock pistol is tucked into his jeans just above his right hip.

I’m hoping he’s drunk enough that his aim is crap. Actually, I’m hoping he never sees me at all. I mean, who’s crazy enough to hide in the Millers’ warehouse with him in it?

This girl right here. I’m either smart or crazy-dead.

Not for the first time, I question my sanity. This is madness. Hiding in plain sight. All Cal has to do is squint real hard while looking to his left and he’ll see me.

What the hell am I doing?

In my defense, I thought there would be more places to hide . . .

Pushing strands of my hair from my eyes, I take a calming breath and busy myself cataloging the necessities—only the necessities—like this is a trip to Walmart. I can’t take much, a few armloads at most, so I’ll have to be picky.

Stacks and stacks of packaged food are everywhere. Cans of spaghettiOs, boxes of fruit loops, and sacks of flour. Bags of rice line the shelves to my left, canned yams and green beans to my right.

A knife edge of hope cuts through me, sharp and dangerous. This one score could feed everyone back at the farmhouse for days. My stomach clenches with need, but I somehow keep it from growling.

Voices draw my focus outside. It’s nearly dark, the sun a sliver of gold on the horizon. Three men in camo shorts and tight green T-shirts have stopped their Polaris ATV to chat with Cal. They’ve increased their patrols recently, and now a girl can’t break into a simple barn around here without taking desperate risks.

“C’mon, a-holes,” I whisper.

Usually about this time, Cal is tanked. Enough to leave the warehouse and ride with his patrol around the grounds blaring Willy Nelson and waving their rifles while shooting everything that moves.

Not that they’re using game for target practice. All the animals are long gone, either poisoned from the scourge seeping into our lands, killed by the darklings, or overhunted by the Millers and their hired thugs.

Cal’s solution to my string of thefts was to hire a mini army. An overreaction, if you ask me. But I suppose he’s trying to send a message.

Most of the new hires are former officers from the now defunct police force, although a few are Cal’s former teammates from the football team who graduated a couple months ago. Far as jobs go, this is the best they’ll find in the borderlands.

It’s hard to fault them for that.

But I do fault them for protecting merchandise stolen from the people, which is why I give zero fracks about stealing it back.

At least, what I can fit inside the wheelbarrow I have stashed behind the barn.

“All right, boys,” Cal calls, his voice sloppy and loud. “Time to hunt some Fae bastards!”

They throw up a cheer, and I rest my head against the cans of mandarin oranges with a thunk. Finally.

How such an idiot can lead the largest smuggling organization in the borderlands is beyond me.

As everyone piles into the Polaris, Cal slings a bolt action rifle over his shoulder and then lugs the ice chest over to the vehicle.

My gaze slides to his weapon. For a moment, I imagine Cal peering through his scope at me. Imagine what a bullet feels like as it rips through my flesh.

They have guns. Big ass freaking guns. This is stupid.

But I can’t turn back now. For better or worse, I’m stealing this food.

My motto: Better stupid and fed than smart and starving.

As they strap the big red freezer onto the back, they make more jokes about killing Fae.

A girl can hope. We could only be so lucky to have the a-holes of this world and the Fae cancel each other out.

One of the guards yanks the garage door down, flooding the warehouse in darkness. But the merciless West Texas sun, never one to admit defeat, slants through the dusty windows at the top, providing all the light I need.

Quieting my breathing, I pop to my feet and ready my mind for what must come next. My heart plays a steady tune against my sternum.

Thump.

Thump.

A mewling noise nearly knocks me out of my skin. I whip around, my boots slipping on the sawdust-covered concrete. A yellow tomcat slinks around the corner and then sits on his hindquarters, staring at me with suspicion. His ribs stick out beneath his mangy fur, and it’s obvious he hasn’t had a meal in a while either.

Bastards. The Millers probably have him just to keep the rats away. If he doesn’t hunt, he doesn’t eat.

“Do they not feed you, buddy?” I whisper, trying to ignore the tug on my heart.

Remember, you’re a badass thief. Now act like one.

The cat pauses, his lime-green eyes wide. Then he cocks his head and meows and oh my God he’s so friggin cute I want to take him home right now.

My heart puddles into a pile of goo. Animals for me are like Louboutins for most girls.

Dogs are better, of course. No debate there.

As if the cat can hear my thoughts, he suddenly hisses.

I didn’t mean it! I mentally think. You’re better than a dumb dog, probably smarter too.

The cat stops growling and licks its white paw, watching me intently. There’s judgement in his eyes.

“Technically this isn’t stealing,” I whisper to the cat.

Honest to God, the cat rolls its eyes.

What am I doing? I should be elbows-deep in fruit loops and spaghettiOs right now, not chatting it up with a friggin cat.

Summer, you are officially the worst thief ever.

“Okay,” I admit. “I’m about to steal from your dickwad master. But I have four hungry kids to feed. Man, kids eat a lot. And you look like you would sympathize with that . . . anyway. This food was supposed to go to them in the first place, so I’m just reclaiming it.”

The animal goes completely still, as if he understands me. Sometimes I trick myself into thinking they actually can.

“You might be wondering how I ended up responsible for four children,” I continue like the lunatic I am. Man, I should probably get out more.

The cat’s ears point in my direction, and it makes a tiny chirping noise I pretend is a response.

“Long story short, I was homeless on the streets of Dallas. You would not like it there. . . anyway, two wonderful women rescued me, and I’ve been doing the same ever since. Rescuing kids orphaned by the Fae. Only once they’re here, I have to find a way to feed them. That’s where this food comes in.”

The animal and I lock eyes and I swear something passes between us. An understanding.

Then the tomcat pads over to me and rubs against my leg. After stroking his back for a sec, I get to work.

Everything on my mental list gets hefted or lugged to a pile near the back door.

When I’m done, I’m breathing hard and sweat drenches the top of my tank top. I tick off the list to make sure I have the important things, because after this break-in—or break out, if we’re being technical—this place will turn into Fort Knox.

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