Rogan leaned over and murmured, "It helps if you breathe."
Nevada had to bite the inside of her bottom lip to keep from smiling.
"I know how to breathe," Catalina said, her voice wobbling only a little. Earlier that week Nevada had caught her practicing squaring her shoulders in the mirror.
Ahead of them was a ballroom. Despite all the houses she'd seen in the past few months, it was still a little ridiculous to consider someone's home having a ballroom in it. But there was no other word for the room before them: pale golden walls surrounding a marble floor shot through with some sort of glittering veins. According to the paper she'd read this morning, two hundred and eighty-four of Houston's magical elite had RSVP'd to tonight's gala.
Including Rogan, Nevada, Catalina, and Arabella.
The members of the Baylor family who had not recently registered with the Office of House Records had not received an invitation. Bern had bowed out, citing an exam in the morning he needed to study for. Until they'd actually gotten out of the limo, Nevada hadn't been sure Catalina was going to make it inside, either. The five of them had yet to enter the party and her sister was already nearly as pale as the marble floor.
"There are nearly three hundred people here. You're new, and unknown. Primes don't like new and unknown. Some might accuse them of being afraid of it." Rogan gave a small smile, and Nevada gently squeezed his hand. "What are you afraid of?"
"Not measuring up," Catalina blurted. She started to cover her mouth, remembered how much time she'd spent applying lipstick and lip liner, and stopped with her hand halfway to her face. Arabella gently looped an arm around her shoulders, and Catalina leaned into her.
"Do you know what you want?" Rogan asked.
Catalina blinked, slowly, and looked up at him.
"Are you here to win the approval of every person in that room?"
Rogan shrugged. "Then it doesn't matter. Know what you want before you step in, and go for it. Anything else that happens doesn't matter."
Nevada held him back and let the kids enter the room ahead of them. There was no one announcing new arrivals, because this was not a party with a two hundred thousand dollar entry fee, but their invitations were checked. At the same moment more people glanced toward them than was warranted just by the movement of new people in the room. In a moment the two of them had blended with the crowd. Nevada had to look for the color of their dresses to pick them out. They'd been practicing, and they looked like they fit here.
She turned to Rogan. "Thank you."
"She needs to work on her confidence," he said, shrugging with one shoulder. "It helps to start narrow."
"I'll keep that in mind."
"Stop looking for him." Arabella pinched her wrist, painfully, and Catalina had to stop herself from whacking her sister in return. Arabella smiled like she knew that, and swiped a shrimp-and-cracker thing from a passing waiter. She popped into her mouth, swallowed in a few chews, and said, "It's going to be really obvious if you're looking for him. We have to blend."
"I'm pretty sure blending should include taking more than one bite of the food," Catalina said.
"What? They were tiny."
"Also," Catalina said, "I wasn't looking for him. I wasn't looking for anybody. I was … being aware of our surroundings."
Their surroundings consisted of people she could only think of as fancy. Sure, Rogan was a billionaire ('or whatever', Arabella would say), but he also didn't usually wear clothes that cost more than a car, or serve his guests what looked like gold-flaked ice cream puffs. Catalina wasn't sure about that last thing, because Arabella ate it in one bite again, and she was too nauseous to do more than shake her head at the waiter. Rogan was almost like a normal person. The people around them looked like the phrase 'normal people' would make their faces wrinkle.
She didn't know anyone here but her family, and Nevada and Rogan were out of earshot talking to people she didn't recognize.
"Come on," Arabella said. "Why'd we come if you're just gonna pout the whole time?"
"I'm not pouting."
"Am-" Catalina clamped her mouth shut. Arabella grinned at her.
All around them, people glittered. Where they weren't wearing gowns that caught the light and spun it, they had watches, or earrings, or in one case what looked like a tiara, except who wore a tiara to a random house party?
Everyone in their family who'd gone through a trial had gotten an invite. Nevada said that she wanted to go to say hello to people and to show that even though they hadn't been born into money, they had been born into magic, and they could make it with the best of them even when they weren't battling crazed Primes or creatures summoned from another dimension.
Arabella had asked why'd she'd come, and Rogan had asked what she'd wanted.
Catalina had come to prove she could come. She didn't know exactly what she wanted besides that, but...
"Okay," Catalina said, taking a long, slow breath. "I don't want shrimp, or anything metallic, but I will eat at least one weird fancy thing before we get out of here."
"Think they'll give us champagne?"
"They won't give my underage sisters alcohol, will they?" Nevada was staring into a half-finished drink with a sinking feeling. She hadn't seen either of them in the crowd for a good quarter hour, and her phone hadn't gone off with them begging her to meet them in the bathroom. That was either a good thing or a very bad thing. She'd told them they didn't have to stick to her all night, but for everybody's sake they were supposed to spot each other at least twice an hour.
Rogan gave her a blank look.
Nevada sighed. If she was lucky, they wouldn't like champagne, anyway. "Did you go to these when you were their age?" she asked. She was scanning the room for her sisters, but it was hard to make out anyone through the crowd.
"Do we do something at them besides stand around and only talk to the people we came with?"
That did make Rogan smile. "I pushed Augustine into a fountain once when we were fifteen."
Truth. "Did he deserve it?"
"Probably not," Rogan admitted, and Nevada had to laugh despite herself. It didn't make her feel much better about how Arabella was going to handle the first person who insulted her tonight, but it was funny. Rogan nudged her with his shoulder and they drifted over to the edge of the room, near a set of glass doors that let out onto a garden. "Your sisters will be fine."
"It helps to always know when someone is lying to you about your dress, or your prospects, or whether they're actually interested in helping you." Nevada sighed. She had promised them she wouldn't hover. If she hovered, she'd spend the next two years and change hovering. Every one of them had to learn how to operate in this new world on their own two feet, and that meant she couldn't tell her family how to react to things forever.
"In a place like this, they should just assume everyone is lying," Rogan said.
Nevada would have protested if she had been able to have a single conversation that night without her magic pinging. "I feel like we've gone into a case with no research," she complained. "I don't even know what to worry about, because what should a teenage Prime be worrying about?"
Nevada elbowed him.
He just blinked instead of smirking, and she realized he wasn't joking. She turned her head to follow his line of sight and frowned: there was Arabella, as tall as Catalina with the addition of some outrageously expensive heels, there was Catalina in her pale dress, and there was Alessandro Sagredo, who the last Nevada had heard was supposed to be back in Italy.
"How are you enjoying the evening so far?" Alessandro asked.
Catalina felt like her heart was in her throat. At some point, when they'd been trying to find something more substantial than shrimp to eat, she'd ended up looping her arm through her sister's. Arabella had been wearing her new heels around the house non-stop for the past two weeks and could probably run a marathon in them at this point. Catalina was still wobbly. Even more so now.
"Do people act like your plans for college are secret spy moves?" Arabella asked.
Alessandro smiled, and Catalina tightened her grip on Arabella's arm. His smile was even more terrifying in person than on Instagram (which she absolutely did not plan on rejoining, no matter how much Arabella bugged her about it). "Just wait until you're actually in college," he said. "Then they start up about internships."
"I haven't even taken the SATs yet."
"Which just means there's even more time to sway your choice. Everyone will be very curious about how much influence other Houses may have on your decisions."
Alessandro paused to pick up a glass of champagne from a passing waiter. Arabella grabbed both of them sparkling cider, which meant that Catalina had to let go of her. At some point, Catalina was probably going to need to say something out loud, too.
What Alessandro hadn't said was what everyone else they had spoken to that night hadn't said either. Will you go to Harvard, like Rogan? Is Rogan paying for you to go to college? You both look lovely (did he buy your clothes?). Your sister looks lovely too (why is she not wearing a ring yet?). If it was hard for Catalina to speak, it was because half of what everyone else wanted to say was silent. How could she pick her words when she was struggling to keep up with all the ones no one else was using?
"They're all very curious about everything we're doing." Arabella glanced sideways at her and seemed to make a decision before Catalina could open her mouth. "You know, since our trials, people have been following us."
Oh, no. Oh. No. They'd agreed. They'd agreed not to talk about this.
The pleasant smile fell from Alessandro's face. "How do you mean?"
Arabella sipped her cider. "We're not allowed to go home from school on the bus anymore. A few times people were waiting to talk to us when we got out. Is that normal, too?"
Catalina's heart was pounding. "It's not that bad," she blurted, which drew Alessandro's suddenly sharp gaze to her. "Some - some kids from other local Houses wanted to talk to us, a few times."
"Kids who don't go to our school. Who go to private schools way across the city," Arabella countered. She was almost gleeful: she still thought this was fun.
Arabella was the reason they couldn't take the bus anymore, she'd actually talked Catalina into going with Gerald Mercer, once, because Catalina had problems saying no, and it turned out that House Mercer was not on friendly terms with House Rogan. Nevada had flipped, Mom had flipped, Grandma Frida had flipped, and this was the first time they'd been allowed to walk around on their own in weeks. She was pretty sure it was just because Rogan had come with them that Nevada wasn't insisting they stick together.
"And we seem to pick the most popular malls in the city to shop at," Arabella added.
"No one is following us. We always go to the same mall," Catalina said. Her mouth was dry, but she didn't want to stop to take a drink. Alessandro was still staring at her. "Nevada just worries."
After a moment, Alessandro said, "It isn't unusual that people want to know more about you. We always mix by generation. Other Houses would ask their younger ones to speak to you."
"See? Nothing to worry about," Catalina said, glaring at her sister. Arabella made a face at her and Catalina sipped her drink as quickly as she could without gulping. She should've stayed home with Bern and Leo.
"Hmm." Alessandro tilted his head to one side. "Do not turn around, but your sister appears to be worrying just now."
Arabella grinned. "Is she staring?"
"That would be a gentle term for it," Alessandro said. The sharpness was fading from his face. He looked like he was trying not to smile. "I worry about my sister too."
"Don't," Rogan said, catching her elbow when she tried to take a step forward. Nevada looked up at him. He shook his head slightly and let go of her arm to slide his hand over her hip.
"You're the one who called him dangerous," she said, trying not to openly scowl. Judging from the startled look a waiter gave her, she wasn't succeeding.
Rogan gently steered her in a wide arc so they were further from the doors, but still had a good viewing angle of her sisters. At this point Nevada was pretty sure they'd been made. Alessandro was studiously avoiding making eye contact, but Catalina had started fidgeting with the glass in her hands. A moment later, Arabella caught her eye and winked. Okay. Yeah. They'd been made.
Rogan raised his eyebrows and Arabella immediately looked back at her sister like nothing had happened. "I just find it coincidental that he would be here," he said, mildly. "I don't think Alessandro himself poses a threat while Arabella is with her."
"Am I that transparent?"
"Catalina will get better with practice. This is practice," he told her. "We keep an eye on them. We move once we think she needs us."
He was probably right. But while he'd grown up a Prime, he hadn't been a Prime teenage girl. Nevada had already had to start navigating a world much more distinctly focused on her genes than she'd thought possible. She'd tried talking to her sisters about it a few times, but it had gone about as well as the first time her mom had hinted that maybe The Talk would go over better coming from Nevada than from her. This time, like last time, Catalina had turned bright red and buried her face in her pillow. And for a fun twist, Arabella had asked about eugenics.
Nevada had decided to try again later. Now she regretted it. Maybe she'd ask Rogan's mom for advice. "Arabella has been reading out Alessandro's Instagram posts at dinner. I'm surprised that she didn't tell us he was going to be here."
Rogan turned to her and blinked. "What?"
"Catalina deleted her account, so she can't see them, so Arabella..." The look on Rogan's face stayed confused. Nevada sighed. "Just, trust me. It's a sister thing."
"Okay." Rogan shrugged. "What are the odds she would skip him posting about being here, if he had?"
Nevada glanced at her sisters. Catalina was staring steadfastly at her drink. A slight man the same age as Alessandro had joined them and looked like he was struggling not to laugh at whatever it was Arabella was saying. And as soon as she looked at Alessandro, he was looking back at her.
They stared at each other for a moment. Alessandro inclined his head.
"Vanishingly slim," Nevada said. "Unless she didn't want me to know."
"Is that another sister thing?"
"Unfortunately." She paused. "Does that look off to you?"
Since they had moved to the back of the room, to get out of the main crush of the crowd, they were in a perfect position to see two people in black suits moving through the room. Of course, a lot of people here were in black suits. Rogan was in a black suit. But the man and woman walking in had on black shirts underneath, and people in the crowd stepped away from them so they didn't have to walk around anyone. The in-house security had been dressed in reassuring neutral tones. None of them were moving. This was something else.
Rogan tightened his hand on her hip slightly. "Now it's time to charge in," he murmured. He started scanning the room as they began walking toward her sisters. Nevada didn't see anyone in distress, or even anyone avoiding anyone else. It looked like an entirely normal party except for the obvious security personnel.
The woman stopped next to her sisters, and the man kept moving. Only Rogan's arm around her kept Nevada from breaking into a run. They met the man a few yards away from her sisters, and he looked between them. "My name is Hector Fournier. I work for Scroll, Inc. Ms. Baylor, I need you to come with me."
"Do you have ID?" Rogan asked.
Hector pulled a small, black leather square from inside his suit. Nevada was pretty sure she recognized tailoring meant to disguise the bulk of a weapon - which she thought were completely banned inside the party. "Yes, sir. You're welcome to come with us, but we need to move as soon as possible. My associate is collecting your sisters."
Rogan took the square in his hand. As soon as he opened it, a plastic card with Hector's picture on it turned matte gray. The words Scroll, Inc. wrote themselves across the page in black lettering, then faded. Rogan handed the square back to Hector and looked at Nevada. "We need to go."
"I can discuss the situation once we're in a secure environment. Will you come with us?"
"Yes," Rogan answered, pulling her along behind Hector as he turned around. Nevada opened her mouth and Rogan shook his head. "Three minutes to get into a car," he promised.
The woman with her sisters nodded as they approached. "Carole Hunley, Scroll, Inc."
"We're on our way. Mr. Rogan is accompanying us."
"Understood. Mses. Baylor, Mr. Rogan, this way." Carole stepped to their side and gestured to a door that definitely did not lead to the front of the house. She let the girls walk past her and Nevada watched Hector move behind them.
Instead of letting them go, though, Alessandro made a gesture toward his friend and began to follow them. "Catalina," he started.
"I'll be fine," Catalina said, not sounding fine.
Nevada reached forward to take Catalina's hand in hers. "We'll be fine." She turned to Alessandro, who straightened his shoulders. "Thank you for your concern, but this is a family matter." Probably. And if it wasn't, she was going to make it one.
"Of course." Alessandro came to a halt. "I'm in Houston for another week. Please let me know if I can be of assistance."
"Thank you," Nevada said, again.
Outside, directly next to the house, a large SUV was waiting for them. Arabella got in first, then Catalina, and Rogan shut the door behind Nevada. Hector stayed outside the car watching the driveway until Carole started the engine. Then they were off.
"Approximately thirty minutes ago, an unauthorized attempt was made to access your family's records." Hector turned around to face them. "It was neutralized before any data was compromised and we have been able to identify the source of the attempt. However, we have a team currently en route and until they report back we will consider the threat ongoing, providing a full security detail until the situation is resolved."
"Your home and the rest of your family have already been secured," Carole said. She moved through traffic like she knew what the other drivers would do before they did. It meant they managed to miss what looked like the beginning of a slow down, and squeeze onto the highway without losing speed.
"How did you get here so fast?" Arabella asked. She was poking at the seam where the window met the car door. All three of them recognized quality cars, and bullet-resistant glass, from working with Grandma Frida.
"They were already there," Rogan answered.
Hector gave him a small smile. "At an event that large the company believes it's wise to maintain a nearby presence."
Catalina clenched her hands in her lap. Some of her hair had come loose from the braid their mom had plaited for her. "What does 'access our records' mean?"
"Someone wanted to view your genetic profiles without permission, likely in an attempt to either trace your ancestry for themselves or to assess your genetic compatibility." Hector paused briefly as the car eased from the far left lane to the next over, but kept talking even while Carole navigated further and further to the right. "Similar attempts have been made in the past against other Houses with the intent to blackmail or to make a strategic offer to another House without risking anything. Scroll, Inc. is more than prepared for this."
"Do you have a name yet?"
Hector glanced at Rogan. The car made it into the far right lane, but didn't turn at the next exit. From where she sat, Nevada could tell that Carole was gripping the steering wheel too tightly. "We suspect the attack came from a third party. The dummy files they downloaded are currently broadcasting their location as well as sending their recent emails, browsing history, and downloads to our servers. We expect to receive the final target soon."
Nevada wasn't sure how someone would pull that off but bet that Bern could. In fact, Bern would probably want to know exactly how Scroll, Inc.'s security was set up, and in the extremely likely circumstance that it was proprietary, he'd probably pester Bug about it until Bug told him what Hector wouldn't.
Leo would want to know what Hector meant by 'target,' and by 'elimination,' too. (But then again, so would Mom. And Grandma Frida.)
Hector tilted his head slightly and pressed a hand to his ear. "Here," he said. His eyes went slightly unfocused as he listened.
Nevada looked at Rogan, who stretched his arm out along the seat behind her. There were several things she wanted to ask him - preferably not while Catalina was shaking in the seat behind her, though. Arabella mostly seemed to be interested in watching the traffic to their left. She had one hand up against the glass, still tapping a finger on the casing around the window.
"Is this common?" she finally asked, deciding that was a safe question.
"No." Rogan touched her shoulder. His eyes were also tracking the traffic on the rest of the highway. More cars had joined them. "People don't try because the consequences are as near-immediate as possible."
"So why," Nevada started, slamming into Rogan's side as the car made a hard, last-second slam up an exit ramp.
Hector whipped back around in his seat. Carole swung the car onto the shoulder as soon as there was a shoulder to swing onto. Nevada saw her close her eyes and still manage to swerve away from oncoming traffic in the intersection.
A split second later there was a flash of light so bright that Catalina yelled, and Nevada furiously rubbed at her eyes until she could see that neither of her sisters had come to actual physical harm. There was a plume of dark smoke and licks of orange fire on the asphalt behind them.
"We are currently moving toward an industrial area where traffic is lighter," Hector said, his hand still on his ear.
At least Carole had her eyes open again. "Mile and a half," she said.
Rogan unbuckled his seat belt, and Hector held up a hand. "Sir," he said. "I have to ask you to refrain from acting unless the integrity of the car is compromised."
The look on Rogan's face was amazing. Nevada wanted to take a photo, but she was too busy leaning over the seat to stroke Catalina's hair and trying to figure out how many cars were following them. There were two black SUVs. Drivers who weren't scared off by Carole were struggling to get out of the SUVs' way. There was also a single headlight further back that had Nevada worried. It weaved in and out of traffic the way Carole was driving.
"We are not alone and there are other drivers bringing us up from behind. We also have a driver ahead of us who will meet us on the corner of Emerald and St. Johnston. It would help if you asked your own drivers to give us some extra space."
Rogan half-smiled. "I'm not wearing an earpiece," he said, one hand on the back of the driver's seat as they abruptly U-turned and swerved right onto a side street.
Nevada bounced when they blew across a parking lot to get to the next road. This time, because she was facing backward, she saw a flare of light before it got too bad. "Close your eyes," she ordered, at the same time Carole yelled "Brace!" and the car slammed through a chain link fence.
This time the fire spread from the grass up the side of a billboard.
The fence stayed with them for three blocks before Carole managed to wiggle it off. Catalina was full on hyperventilating and when Arabella looked up, her pupils were wide.
"Are we about to hit something else?" Nevada asked.
Carole muttered something that sounded a lot like fucking passengers, and said, "You have eight steady seconds."
Rogan said something like fucking hell as Nevada undid her seat belt and scrambled over the back of her seat. She wedged herself between her sisters and Catalina, gasping, fumbled with her for the seat belt. Nevada still had to bring her knees up to brace herself against the back of the seat, although the next move Carole pulled was just to swing the wrong way down a one-way street and come out the other side with that single headlight pulling up alongside them.
The motorcycle driver had on a white helmet, a white leather suit, and was on a white bike with Scroll, Inc. written on the side. Whoever it was gave them a lazy salute.
"Please do not move around the car," Hector said, his face pale.
Nevada mimicked the salute and wrapped an arm around Arabella and Catalina both. Catalina started trying to count her inhales and Arabella buried her entire face in Nevada's shawl. "No promises," she said.
Rogan's jaw was clenched. "Could you warn me next time you do something like that?"
"If there's time," Nevada conceded.
Carole started to slow the car down. "We're here."
Hector exhaled. He was still pale, and he ran his hand through his hair so it slicked back from his forehead. "Thank you," he said. "I suppose it would be too much to ask you all to hold still for one minute?"
None of them said anything.
Hector shut his eyes briefly. The car came to a complete halt, and the motorcycle driver made a loop around them, then settled directly between them and the two SUVs pulling to a halt twenty yards away. The SUVs sat there for a moment before their headlights shut off and one person each got out of them.
Hector hit a button on the dashboard, and a previously unnoticed moonroof slid open.
Nevada blinked. "Uh."
Hector was suddenly standing as straight as he could, both his arms and most of his torso outside the car. "Excuse me!" he called. Nevada looked at Rogan, who only shook his head. "Are you quite done?" Hector asked.
Both of the people who'd stepped out of the car raised a gun.
"Well," Hector said, sounding as offended as Grandma Frida ever managed. "I am duly obligated to remind you that you are attacking a Scroll, Inc. convoy and that we are authorized to use deadly force under Phelps vs.-"
One of the people fired.
A green wall shimmered between them and the car. The bullet bounced back and hit the shooter directly in the chest. He fell, and another green wall flexed against the next bullet, which brought the other shooter to the ground.
The SUVs drove half a mile backward before two vans cut them off, swarming them with people in black uniforms and guns.
Hector dropped back down into his seat. His hair had flopped forward again. "Carole, please bring us back to the Baylor homestead."
Catalina wanted to lay down and die. No, she wanted to throw up, and then she wanted to die. No, she wanted to throw up, and then die, and then come back to life so she could throw up again. Her hands were shaking and Nevada kept stroking her hair, and while it felt nice, it also made her feel like a baby. She needed to stay calm so Arabella wouldn't flip out and bust the car open at the seams.
She did feel better by the time they got back to the house. They pulled straight into the garage, and didn't so much get out of the car as they were dragged out by Mom and Grandma Frida. Catalina wriggled out of their death grips just in time to see the motorcycle driver take off her helmet. Her hair was tied back tight, and she looked exactly like the scary woman who'd driven them over here. Carole got out of the car, walked over to her double, and gave her a fist-bump.
"Twins," Hector said. He was better now that they weren't being chased. Catalina had thought he was going to have a heart attack back there. (Takes one to know one.) "Carole and Elena are our best drivers."
"Best?" Catalina had a bruise where the seat belt had cut across her chest.
Rogan was suddenly in front of her, frowning, and she felt herself jump. "Are you okay?"
He nodded, then asked, "What did Sagredo say to you tonight?"
Catalina definitely wanted to die.
Nevada walked up to them, Mom trailing behind her. Mom was frowning, and Grandma Frida's eyebrows had both gone up, which was defcon 3 at least. "Connor, don't pester her."
"I'm just curious," Rogan said, mildly. "I wasn't aware Sagredo was in the country."
Arabella opened her mouth, and Catalina stomped on her foot hard enough to make her yelp. "He knows people who go to school in Houston," she said, jaw clenched, color high in her cheeks. "They were also at the party tonight. They invited him." Grandma Frida clucked, which made Rogan look at her, and Catalina would have bolted for the door into the rest of the house if Bern and Leo hadn't been walking through it right then.
"He asked for her number, " Arabella said, punching her in the shoulder.
Nevada's hand shot out to grab Catalina's wrist before she could punch back. "Stop," she snapped. "We had two firebombs launched at us tonight and I am not in the mood."
Bern made a beeline for Hector and immediately started asking something so technical that Catalina felt her eyes glaze over. Leo was just shifting from foot to foot. He had definitely been woken up by this, because he was in his pajama bottoms and a random baseball shirt from their high school, which Catalina hadn't even known he'd owned.
"We need to stop fighting and decide what we're going to do when we find out why someone wanted dirt on us," Nevada said. She hadn't let go of Catalina's wrist. "Are we going to file a public legal complaint? Are we going to need to set up extra security? Do we need to do reconnaissance? All of you are going to need to cut out your after-school activities, too, until we-"
"That's not fair!"
Nevada sighed, let Catalina's wrist go, and turned to Leo and Arabella. "We were bombed, " she said, flatly. Catalina suddenly noticed that Mom was subtly leaning against Grandma Frida, to get her weight off her bad leg. "We're going to have to pull in until we can fix this."
Carole, Elena, and Hector all suddenly stopped what they were doing to stare off into space. Hector held a hand up to stop Bern from talking, and touched his other hand to his ear. A second later he turned to them and smiled. "The hackers have been taken care of. They were employed by a member of House Lindell, who was formally excised from his family three minutes before Scroll, Inc. entered the premises."
Rogan looked unhappy.
Nevada elbowed him. "Talk."
"House Lindell is in genetics," he said, slowly. He looked at Hector, who stopped smiling. "Lindell is in fertility. "
"Scroll, Inc. is in currently in discussions with the heads of the House," Hector assured him. Catalina was going to guess that meant something other than tea and cookies at the kitchen table. "Bartleby Lindell," he said, ignoring Leo's strangled snort of laughter, "was officially declared dead when we were notified of the situation. Houston paramedics are on site to bring him to the city."
"Why would they care about our profiles?" Nevada asked.
"No one knew about Victoria Tremaine's long lost son," Rogan said. "Everyone knew she was the last of a House. Now she's not."
"Bartleby Lindell was likely attempting to procure data in an effort to find out how Ms. Tremaine was able to … extend her family line, without traditional medical support," Hector said. "It remains to be seen how involved the rest of House Lindell was in this pursuit."
"We'll know tomorrow," Rogan said.
Hector sighed. "Yes, we expect to know tomorrow."
"What are we supposed to do tonight?" Catalina asked.
Rogan was really bad at video games.
Nevada was having a hard time keeping a straight face. Okay, he wasn't actively terrible, but the fantasy game Bern had loaded up for everyone had a phase-through-walls mechanic that Rogan could not seem to get the hang of. All of the kids were an entire level ahead of him while his avatar was climbing the stairs in the bottom left corner of the screen.
"You have to press both buttons at once," Arabella said, for the third time in three minutes. She looked physically pained. She'd lost the rock-paper-scissors bout for the fourth controller.
Nevada leaned against her mother's side. They were on the couch, and Grandma Frida had made everyone hot chocolate. It didn't taste like anything, but Nevada was drinking it for the warmth. It was hard to stay warm. She'd seen two people die tonight - and probably more, in the SUVs that had backed away from them, except those hadn't been close enough for her to see anyone's faces. Someone she had never even heard of had died miles from her and all because he had been after information on her grandmother.
"This is the kind of thing I was worried about," Penelope said, softly.
Grandma Frida nudged her. "At least it wasn't Alessandro."
Rogan turned his head, his avatar falling off the stairs on the screen. "At least?"
"He asked for her number," Grandma Frida said, slowly. Like she was talking to a child.
"I am going to bed!" Catalina announced, jumping up. She stomped out of the room and made a move like she was going to slam the door behind her, except there wasn't actually a door to the living room, just an empty frame.
Arabella grabbed her controller and unpaused the game.
"Y'all," Nevada said, closing her eyes. "Could we not?"
"Her loss," Arabella said.
"I meant prying about her - about." Nevada stopped, forced herself to drink the last gulp of her hot chocolate, and bowed her head. She really didn't want to say 'love life.' This called for the big guns. "Mom. "
"Don't tease your sister," Penelope said, reflexively. "Although, I would like to know more about this Alessandro person."
"I can send you a file," Rogan said, because of course he could.
Nevada could, too, if she wanted to make dossiers on her family's love lives. "Are these the kind of boundaries we don't get to have anymore?" she asked, not intending to get an answer. "I knew what I was signing this up for, but to be honest, I didn't expect there to be bombs."
"To be fair, they were trying to kill Fournier and Hunley," Rogan said. His avatar had died its last death, the corner of his screen faded to red and disappeared as Arabella's avatar got to take over the entire bottom half of the TV. "We were in the way. The people Lindell would have hired would be trying to take out Scroll before Scroll could get too much information on them."
"But that wouldn't have worked," Bern said, not looking away from the screen. "They would have had to destroy the company's headquarters or whatever office had the relevant equipment on it. Hector said they were scooping the hacker's files. But they weren't doing it from the car."
"I didn't say it was a good plan. They did think they could get away with hacking into the biggest genetic archive on the continent."
On screen, Leo died, and Bern got the top half of the TV. Leo stood, stretched, and declared that he was going to bed too. He looked like he was about to fall asleep on his feet. His pajama pants were on inside out, but Nevada wasn't going to mention it. He slumped off to his room. A few minutes later, Grandma Frida decided she was done for the night, and Penelope sighed. If they weren't going to get any more information in the next thirty minutes, she said, it wasn't worth staying up.
Arabella and Bern were still playing when Nevada finally put her mug down. "I'm going to see if Catalina is still awake."
Catalina's door was shut, but there was a light on. She let Nevada come in and sit down on the edge of the bed, but she didn't raise her head from her pillow. She was still in her dress. The jewelry she'd borrowed from Penelope was on her nightstand. "I hate everything," she said.
"Are you going to ask me about Alessandro?"
"No. But you can talk about him if you want to."
"I don't." Catalina took a deep breath. "Those people died. Hector killed them. And he didn't even seem bothered. He was more bothered when you unbuckled your seat belt."
"He was doing his job. Anyone who attacks the archive knows the risks. That doesn't make it better that they died. But they were trying to kill him, and maybe us, too," Nevada said. She understood Rogan's reasoning - if Bartleby Lindell had been after information for his family's genetic research, and their medical company, then it wasn't personal. He had wanted his House to have an advantage in their work and he hadn't wanted Scroll, Inc. to find out about it.
What bothered her the most was that he'd thought to send people after them in the first place. If his hacker hadn't been on Lindell property, that meant that Scroll, Inc. hadn't been the only ones waiting outside the party. Lindell's people would have been, too. Except they'd been waiting to spot the archive employees.
They could have died - they could have been bombed - because Lindell knew his plan might fail, and that he'd need to kill everyone Scroll, Inc. sent out if he wanted to buy himself enough time to escape.
Nevada had some of her own research to do in the morning. For the moment, she settled for pulling the clip out of Catalina's hair and gently shaking her braid loose. "We knew some weird stuff was going to happen when we registered."
"I don't have to be happy about it."
"It doesn't have to derail you, though. Tomorrow will be better than today." Nevada sighed. "I'm sorry you didn't get to enjoy the party."
Catalina was quiet for a long minute. Then she said, almost too soft to hear, "Me too."
Catalina could feel the rest of the house shutting down. She heard Bern's footsteps, and then Arabella's, and then the hallway light went out. She'd turned her own table lamp off earlier, so her room was suddenly inky black. It took a long stretch of moments and blinking for her eyes to finally adjust. Moonlight filtered in through her curtains, and light from Rogan's complex across the street.
When her phone lit up it was like getting slapped in the face.
She rubbed at her eyes and heard her phone beep again. Quickly swiping the brightness down, she squinted until she could read the blurry notifications. Are you okay? Is your family okay? followed by This is Alessandro. followed by Arabella gave me your number, before you had to leave.
Catalina unlocked her phone, sent I KNOW WHERE YOU SLEEP to her sister, and stared at Alessandro's texts without actually opening them for eight minutes.
What could she say to him? Was he really worried about her - was it weird that he'd waited until midnight, or did the car chase make it into the news? Were they in the news, should she check Herald? Why did she have read receipts turned on? What if she turned them off? Would that be weird? Did he have read receipts turned on? What if he didn't have an iPhone, what if it didn't even matter-
i'd hope so lol from Arabella startled her into dropping her phone. She pressed her palms to her face: her skin was hot and damp. She inhaled, wiped her hands on her cover, and opened the new thread. (Read receipts were on, he had an iPhone too, goddamnit.)
I'm okay. My family is okay. We had people trying to follow us home but Scroll took care of it. Then, before she could regret it, before delivered switched to read at 12:14 am, she added: It's ok. I'm glad she did.
She was going to die. She'd die, and she wouldn't even get to kill Arabella first. Life wasn't fair.
Good, Alessandro finally said.
Catalina let out a very indignant screech. Arabella opened her door a few seconds later. "What the hell was that?" she asked, stomping over. Light from her room next door spilled into the hallway. She yanked the phone from Catalina's hand and stared at it.
"Good? Good? What the fuck kind of response is that!" Arabella scowled. The phone beeped in her hand, and her eyes went wide. "Oh."
"What? What did he say? No, wait, don't show it to me. I don't want to know!"
Arabella stared at her. "Uh, but he thinks you've seen it."
"But I haven't!"
"But the screen was open!" Arabella turned the phone around and forced it into Catalina's face.
I was worried I wouldn't get to talk to you again.
Catalina folded her hands over her mouth.
"You know, you're like, basically an adult now. You shouldn't need your little sister to write texts for you," Arabella said, even as she typed. She turned the phone back around and waited until Catalina nodded to send it. Then she dropped the phone on the bed. "You're own your own from here."
"Thank you," Catalina mumbled, through her hands.
Arabella had put in a smiling cat face and We can talk now.
Catalina turned her bedside lamp back on. Apparently, she wasn't going to sleep for a while.