BOOK 1 // FIFTEEN: Vanishing Girls

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            For a moment, I froze. "What?"

Jace's expression was unwavering, like he'd expected this kind of disbelief. "Nova," he repeated. "That's your sister. Right?"

My mouth had gone dry, which didn't make it any easier to get the words out. "Yeah," I said eventually, wondering if even giving this answer was a mistake. Any information he could draw out of me was a potential danger. But if Jace knew this much, he'd obviously done his homework, and there was no telling how much deeper he could dig. "How do you know that?"

"You really didn't think I'd do my research?" he asked. It didn't sound patronising – just genuinely surprised. "After the first time we met, at the launch party? Of course I did."

I didn't know why it irritated me so much: maybe it was the thought of him cooped up in his dad's office, flicking through files in search of my name, when everything about our meeting had been a mistake in the first place. "Is that a habit of yours?" I asked scathingly. "Running a full background check on everybody you meet, just in case you might need to rat them out?"

"No," he said. "Just with you."

I folded my arms. "And am I supposed to find that flattering?"

"Come, on Astrid. You can't expect me to have gone away from that party and done nothing. The whole conversation... I couldn't stop thinking about it. About you."

I kept my eyes trained on him, hoping it came across at least slightly intimidating. "Once again," I said, "am I supposed to be flattered?"

Visibly frustrated, he ran a hand through his hair, and for the second time I noticed the scar on his wrist. Part of me wanted to reach out and grab his arm for a better look, but I knew that was the worst way to go about it. There was no need to add another problem to the list I was already facing. "I don't care about whether you're flattered or not," he said exasperatedly. "You want to know about Eden. I want to know about Nova. Now, in my opinion, that's a pretty fair trade."

"So your little homework project didn't give you the answers you wanted?"

This seemed to irritate him – which at least put us on the same page. "Are you always this difficult?"

"No," I said, purposely echoing his earlier words. "Just with you."

Silence fell between us, though we couldn't quite seem to drag our eyes away from each other. Jace probably wasn't about to make a bolt for the door, but letting him out of my sight for a split second still seemed a risk too far.

We were both stubborn, but apparently me more so – because Jace was the one who gave in first. "I looked you up on the system," he said quietly. "There wasn't a lot to find. No criminal convictions. No gaps in the timeline. I was about to give up... but then I found Nova."

I didn't dare to say anything, like any words on my part might throw him off his train of thought. So I just kept my eyes on him, my heart pounding beneath my shirt.

"There was something odd about the records," he said. "It started off normally. School records, public exam scores, a license application – nothing out of the ordinary. But then it just... stopped."

Frozen in position, I could hardly dare to breathe. It was like everything in the office had come to a grinding halt in anticipation of what Jace was going to say next.

"I couldn't find a record of anything happening. No relocation. No legal name change." He paused, as if considering whether to voice his next thought aloud. But then he did anyway. "No death certificate."

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