Rocked by Love (Gargoyles Series)(2)

By: Christine Warren

A year after Bran Powe had gone missing, Kylie had thought she’d come to terms with loss. She wasn’t stupid; she knew that when people disappeared for so many months at a stretch, they weren’t just out for a breath of fresh air. Something bad must have happened to keep him away from his friends and family. But even so, getting the call from his sister, Wynn, and hearing his death confirmed had hit Kylie like a physical blow.

Bran had been her closest pal since her freshman year of college. While the second of two spectacularly failed dates had made it clear that romance would never work for them, friendship came as easily as breathing. She honestly thought of him as the brother she’d never had, no matter how tired that cliché was. Losing him had felt like losing a tiny little piece of herself, and Kylie hated to lose even more than she hated being ignored.

For that reason (and because sitting still for a seven-minute yoga meditation was beyond her, let alone sitting the seven days of a shiva) she had spent the last six months obsessed with finding out the truth. She couldn’t care less if she sounded melodramatic or halfway to crazytown; she knew there was more to Bran’s story than anyone was willing to tell her. She knew darn well that nothing she did could bring her friend back, but she could at least find out what had really happened to him. As much as she loved his family, his sister Wynn’s telephoned explanation that “they think he had a heart problem we didn’t know about” was not cutting it with her.

Sure, Kylie knew that kind of thing happened all the time, but not this time. She didn’t believe a word of it. Why, she couldn’t quite say. Maybe she had heard something in Wynn’s voice, or maybe the intuition she had learned not to ignore had sounded the alarm. She couldn’t be certain, but either way, she knew there had to be more to the story.

She had dedicated the last six months to trying to find that “more.” She’d pushed aside her work, her hobbies, her family and friends in pursuit of the truth, immersing herself in the world she knew better than anyone—the data.

Despite her legitimate professional accomplishments and the applications she had developed that left her financially set for life at the tender age of twenty-three, Kylie still considered herself a hacker at heart. If a fact existed in bits and bytes anywhere in the world, she could uncover it. Between the skills she’d learned and the talent that had always lurked inside her, she knew she could find anything, so she had begun by breaking into Bran’s personal computer and online accounts and setting herself on the trail of the truth.

Tonight was supposed to have been a big leap forward. It would have been, if DrkMsgr had bothered to show up. She was convinced that he knew something about her friend, no matter how coyly he had danced around the subject. His knowledge of some deeper meaning behind the strange terms in Bran’s files—words like “Guardian,” “Warden,” “nocturni,” and “the Seven”—had to be more than coincidence.

Kylie certainly didn’t understand the references in Bran’s journal entries and encrypted files. And why did an archaeology grad student need to encrypt his computer files, anyway? Especially when they made almost less sense to an outsider once the code was broken.

She had read through every word she could find, and all she’d gotten from his ramblings had been a massive headache and the vague impression that she’d just sorted through the background notes of an author’s proposed series of horror novels. It had looked to her like Bran had been collecting information on demons. It was meshuga.

Part of her wanted to laugh at the crazy idea, but most of her couldn’t manage the sound. Kylie didn’t believe in demons, any more than she believed in heaven or hell or little cherubs with diapers and medieval weaponry being responsible for people falling in love. And it wasn’t just because of her Jewish heritage. Heck, she only had that on one side of the family, but she still had trouble believing in anything she couldn’t see and analyze and code into ones and zeros.

The little voice inside her head got a slap upside its own when it tried to remind her of all the things about herself that she couldn’t explain so easily. About the way she didn’t just read code, she felt it, as if it ran through her bloodstream in microscopic green digits alongside the red and white cells. About the way she occasionally caught sight of her reflection in a monitor and her eyes looked more green than brown, glowing with the light of an obsolete DOS system command screen. She wasn’t the issue here; this was all about Bran.

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