BOOK 1 // SEVENTEEN: Fireworks

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            On Wednesday morning, I was caught.

Well – at least that was what I thought was about to happen when the sleek black car slowed down beside me near the college entrance, engine prowling behind my footsteps. I was early as usual, cutting through empty parking spaces on my way into the building, when I noticed it. The noise behind me that had the hairs on the back of my neck standing up.

I tried to backtrack, but there was no competition: even my fastest pace couldn't outrun the car. As long as it wanted to, it was going to catch up.

I glanced over my shoulder, frantically scanning for a pedestrian-only exit – but then the driver's tinted window rolled down.

And I exhaled in relief.

From Jace, there was no polite greeting – just an order. "Get in."

"Nice to see you, too," I snapped. "Was the shady approach really necessary? I thought I was about to be abducted."

"I was trying not to draw attention," he said, "which I'm pretty sure we're doing right now. So hurry up and get in."

For a moment, I hesitated. I couldn't see the backseat, and there was no guarantee he hadn't come accompanied by two government officials, ready to pounce. But when I glanced back at the street behind me, I noticed more students coming into view, and I figured I had more to lose by staying put.

"Fine," I said, heading for the passenger seat.

The air was on full blast inside his car, despite the cold weather, and a shiver ran the full length of my spine as I sunk into the leather seat. He rolled the window up, closing the two of us in. Only then did it occur to me how clean the car was – there was no clutter in sight, and I could see an eerily clear reflection in the windscreen. Somehow, it seemed to have Jace written all over it.

I couldn't quite hold in my surprise. "This is yours?"

"Yeah." He glanced over at me. "Any particular reason you sound so shocked?"

"Nobody our age has a car."

It was true: even back at the academy, car parks on campus had been disproportionately small, and the few vehicles sitting in them belonged to older staff. We were sometimes dubbed the environmentally friendly generation, but cars had long since turned carbon neutral. The simple truth of the matter was that the roads of New London were not built to cope with the new city, and adding more cars would just bring traffic to a standstill. It was easier to take a train, or catch a lift where possible.

"Well, I do," he said. "And be thankful for it, because it's one of the safest places we can talk."

"Alright," I muttered, slightly stung by his tone. "What's put you in such a mood this morning?"

"I'm not in a mood."

"You're not exactly a ray of sunshine, either."

"I'm just a little stressed out, okay?" he said, gripping the steering wheel a little tighter. We'd sped up past the entrance of the college, now moving up the street as it disappeared behind us. Traffic was getting thicker, but this at least meant he wasn't about to make a high-speed getaway towards BioNeutral headquarters, so I had to appreciate the small things. "That's all."

"Stressed?" I repeated, unable to keep the sarcasm out of my tone. "You mean all's not well in the glamorous life of Jace Snowdon?"

"Sneer all you want, but I'd like to see you in my shoes for a day." He hit the indicator, glancing toward the mirror before we turned onto a quieter street to the right. "You're not the one living under the same roof as my dad when he's got nothing but BioNeutral on his mind."

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