Chapter Thirteen

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The house was dark and the shutters were drawn, even though the sun had barely set by the time we arrived.

"Shit," I hissed under my breath. Justin looked at me, startled. "Hecate was here recently."

"How can you tell?"

I paused, wondering at my certainty. "I'm not sure. But I guess she's been around so much lately that I can sense her," I finished lamely. Why on earth would an untrained Witch like me be able to tune in to the presence of the Queen of Witches? Unless, of course, she wanted me to know she was there. That thought made my heart race, but I tried to smile reassuringly at Justin. "I can handle this, if you want to go home."

He shook his head wordlessly, and I sighed. I was glad that he wanted to help, but I didn't want to have to protect him if things went badly with Hecate. Still, it was nice to have him there.

I put my key in the lock and looked over my shoulder at Justin. "Fine, but don't say I didn't try to warn you."

"I can handle whatever is coming."

I doubted that. I wasn't even sure I was ready to face Hecate's wrath, but I had no choice. I needed to make sure she hadn't done anything to my parents.

I pushed the door open and stepped across the threshold, Justin close behind me. The air smelled crisp, like burnt plants. Everything was still except for my wildly pounding heart.

"Hello?" I called, feeling foolish. "Mom? Dad? I, uh, brought Justin over for dinner."

My dad emerged from the hallway, looking dazed. "Justin." He flicked his eyes toward me. "Tonight's not really a good night for company." He paused. "We have a family matter to discuss."

Justin was too well-mannered to argue with my dad, and even though I had just been pleading with him to stay out of this, I felt desperately empty when he squeezed my hand and said, "Okay, Mr. Agara. I just wanted to walk Lena home." As he turned to leave, he whispered to me, "Text me later, so I know, okay?" I nodded, and he closed the door behind him.

Dad waited a beat before he lit into me. "Darlena, how could you defy a goddess? What is wrong with you? I told your mother you were out of control with this Red stuff, but she wouldn't listen to me."

His words struck me a mile a minute, and I couldn't even form a response before he was onto the next painful statement.

"You can't stay here anymore."

My heart turned to ice. "What do you mean?"

Dad rubbed his eyes tiredly, and all at once his shoulders slumped. "She was here. Again. I can't handle any more visits from her."

"So, what, you're just sending me away? How is that fair?"

He shook his head. "We aren't sending you away. Hecate is taking you."

"Excuse me?" My mouth hung open.

"She wants to supervise your training personally. There's not much your mother and I can do for you, really." He shrugged. "Maybe it will be better for everybody."

I couldn't believe what he was saying. "Dad, do you honestly think that I'll be safe with Hecate? She wants me to cause chaos, and when she finds out that I don't want to—"

"Lena, you can't ignore what you are. You're a Red, and your mother and I can't help you. Hecate might be your only choice."

I didn't answer, but I knew my expression told him I thought it was all ridiculous.

He sighed. "She said she'd be back to collect you in an hour." Was it my imagination, or did Dad glance meaningfully at the front door? "I suggest that you be ready to leave in case she gets here early." He emphasized the words leave and early, and I narrowed my eyes at him, trying to understand.

"Do you mean—"

"Make sure you say goodbye to your mother." He turned on his heel, but not before nodding at the door again. Unless I was going crazy, Dad was telling me to run.

I didn't need to be told twice.

I was out of the house in fifteen minutes. I climbed down the tree outside my bedroom window; I figured that I shouldn't use the door, in case Hecate blamed my parents for helping me. I didn't want them to have to lie to her, so I didn't leave a note, but I did loosen the ward on my closet to allow Mom to enter. I had to hope she'd think to look there, and that she would understand why I'd left my copy of the Greek myths open to the story of Atlanta's footrace. That was the only clue I could leave, but Mom was smart. She'd be able to figure out where I was headed, and she might even realize which goddess I hoped to meet along the way.

I carried my worn nylon backpack. The only food I'd packed was the pomegranate seeds from Persephone, and I didn't plan on having to eat those. If my years at Trinity had taught me anything, it was never to eat or drink something that came from an immortal source unless there was no other choice. I wasn't that desperate, yet. The seeds bounced along beside Mom's athame, wrapped up in my favorite sweater.

Other than that, I had a small wad of cash and my emergency credit card. Our house was just a few blocks away from the highway, and it wasn't long before I was standing under a bright streetlight with my thumb out.

I got picked up by the third car that passed me on the on ramp.

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