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Lastly there was the firefighter. He was hot, no pun intended. But when my mom found out he was in a firefighter calendar called Hold the Hose, she stopped taking his calls. I, on the other hand, purchased the calendar immediately. Mr. October is still hiding under my mattress. Yum, yum.
Sometimes I miss my dad and I know my mom does too. Some nights I sit on one of the Adirondack chairs on the wraparound porch with my coffee and look at the stars. When she joins me, I know we’re both thinking the same thing, where is he?
My dad disappeared when I was six. Chad was just a toddler at the time so he doesn’t remember anything. To be honest, I don’t remember much either, just my dad not coming home from work one summer night. I remember it was summer because I had been swimming all day, without floaties, and Mom said I could wait up to tell Dad about it. That’s the night I started talking to ghosts and I have ever since.
I knew I was being evasive, but what could I tell her? I had no access to whatever part of me knew whatever there was to know. I could feel things going on behind the scenes—Like knees and elbows poking through a stage sheet as the company changed set—but it was all vague, unreachable…
Until the rock. I’d felt…like someone else. Something else, because I wasn’t anyone. Somewhere else, but not any place I could understand.
And whoever or whatever I had been, I knew Milo. Not only did I know her… I had some kind of weird… thing for her.
Even now standing in the grass by her house, I could feel the power of the memory. And I could almost remember something else. A cold purpose, lurking somewhere behind it.
The nerves returned once more, and I shifted in my shoes, uncomfortable. “You do know what you’re doing, right?”
“Of course,” he said, sounding assured. “Why wouldn’t I?”
“I’ve never seen anything like this. What if we accidentally open up a portal to Hell, or summon a demon, or curse me with boils for life?”
Chase laughed. “Relax. I read about this in a book I picked up from a little Wiccan shop outside the city. You won’t come out with boils on your face.” He came to a stop near the end of the circle, leaving a small patch free of salt. He set the bag down and stepped into the circle with me. Gently he took one of my hands, and I watched as he pressed a kiss to the palm. “You’re going to be just fine.”
“We’re going to be just fine,” I corrected him, smiling nervously. “After all, this is happening to both of us, right?”
He nodded, rubbing my palm with his thumb in slow, lazy circles. “More or less, yes.”
I started to ask what he meant when I felt the pain pulse in my palm. Immediately I yanked my hand back from his and cried out. “What the hell, Chase?” I looked at my hand, stunned to see a bubble of blood that began to run along my wrist like a ribbon. It was then I noticed the small, silver dagger in Chase’s hand, the blade tip coated in blood. My blood.
My head began to spin, and I swayed in my spot. Chase backed away with remarkable speed, and by the time I found focus, the circle had been closed in completely.
“Chase,” I said, hearing the weakness in my voice. “You’re scaring me.”
His eyes had turned to the small bowl of water in front of the circle, where he dipped the blade tip into until the water turned a light shade of pink. “Sorry, love. I should have said it might hurt a little bit.” He glanced up at me as he crouched before the water dish, and in the candlelight he looked possessed. “You know what they say. The best things in life come with a little pain.”
“Who the hell said that?” I challenged back, shaking. I started to move toward the edge of the circle, keeping pressure on my hand. The blood had started to run over my fingers, the sticky liquid nauseating. “This is sick, you know that? I’m not doing this, I take it back. I don’t want to bond with you.”
A figure stepped out from the shadow, all glitter and beauty. Her voice was charming, even when she was cruel. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
“Cassie?” I practically cried. “Oh my gosh, Cassie, go get the hotel staff, call for the police! Chase is out of his mind over here—” I paused, repeating her words in my head. “Wait, wouldn’t do what?”
Her eyes flickered to Chase, and she crossed the room to him, cupping his face lovingly. “I’m sorry it took me so long. You really hurt me, you know.”
“I always hurt you,” he said, practically sneering. “You get too sensitive when we linger around mortals. I like you better when you take my heat and fire it back at my heart like you used to.”
“Funny. Last time I did that, you whined that you’d find another Necromancer to keep your sagging excuse for a body alive.” She pinched his cheek, tsking. “How’s that working out for you, darling?”
Chase pushed her aside and muttered something under his breath, and Cassie cracked a dark grin. Her eyes turned back to me as she folded her arms across her chest. “Don’t take this personally, Essallie. We’ve been sacrificing people for decades. It comes with the deal we made forever ago.” She stepped closer to the edge of the circle, and I inched closer. “I’d chalk it up to bad luck. Normally, we’d just pluck some drunken idiot off the street or from a homeless shelter. But once Chase found out what you were—”
“Cassandra,” he said warningly. “You are forbidden from telling her.”
She sneered back at him. “I know, I know. Always the party-pooper.” Cassie flicked her eyes back to me, smug. “Let’s just say, your blood is worth all the riches in the world.”
They continued to bicker back and forth, lighting candles and pulling out various small bags from different corners of the room. I didn’t know what to think at this point. My ex-boyfriend and best friend had to be insane. They thought magic was real? That they had to sacrifice someone? I thought back to Cassie’s words about picking up drunks from bars, and started to wonder if the men she had taken to her place after our nights out ever made it back home. They were mad, absolutely out of their minds. And I wasn’t going to stick around for them to kill me in their insanity.
I spotted the dagger at the edge of the circle and moved for it, reaching out to grab the hilt. As soon as my skin hit the edge of the circle, the salt lining it erupted into a wall of fire, striking my skin. I screamed and fell back onto the ground, cradling my burnt arm against my chest. What the hell was going on?
Lorsan stood and began to pace. “We need to move things forward. If Tamsin is dealing with your human,”
“—Chosen,” Trik growled. “My Chosen.”
Lorsan waved him off. “Yes, yes, your Chosen, then. If he is dealing with that little issue, then he won’t have had to time to move forward with the land purchase, which means that we should have time to contact Leon and tell him to get it done.”
Leon was the human realtor that the dark elves had hired to help them find the land. Trik didn’t care for the sleazy little man, but it wasn’t up to him who Lorsan employed.
“I’ll go see him.” Trik stood to go.
“What are you going to do about your Chosen?” Lorsan asked.
“You aren’t going to tell me what to do?” Trik raised his eyebrows at his King.
“Would you obey me?”
Trik’s face spread into a callous smile. “Not when it comes to her.”
Lorsan rolled his eyes. “Not when it comes to anything is what you really mean. Do what you must, but at some point you will have to tell her who and what you are. Will she be able to handle it, I wonder?”
Trik shook his head with a low chuckle, “I’m the assassin and spy for the Dark Elf King. I kill without remorse. I live for myself and my own pleasure. I come from a dark people with dark hearts.
What do you think?”
I felt the air in the car begin to change as I stared back at him. It felt warm and thick, like a humid, post-rain summer day. And even though we were already touching, palm to palm, I suddenly had an intense desire to be closer to him, pressed to him. My muscles ached with it and I had to restrain myself from scooting across the seat, and wrapping my arms around his shoulders, and burying my face in his neck.
The image wouldn’t remove itself from my mind and I finally had to wrench my gaze from his to keep from acting on the impulse. I was breathing heavier, partly because of the thickness in the air and partly from wanting to touch him. I wondered if he was affected, too, but I couldn’t look at him again or I wouldn’t be able to stop myself.
His hand slid free from mine, and he started the car and busied himself with checking the rearview and easing us out of the lot. I pressed the button for the window, letting in a gust of cold air. For once, I didn’t curse the cold, and was relieved when I felt the tension melt away. When we were on the road, Wes cleared his throat. “Well, that was …”
I lifted my head from where I’d been leaning closer to the open window and looked over at him. He was running a hand through his hair, still searching for a word to describe what had happened. He’d noticed it, too. “Different,” I finished.
He sent me a half smile. “Yeah. Definitely that.”
Tommy folded the canvas bag and placed it on a chair at the table. “So, how have you been? I’ve been counting the days ‘til I’d see you again.”
“You have?” Anna asked, surprised. “You could have called or texted you know,” she blurted, and then regretted it the moment the words flew out of her mouth. Didn’t she learn anything from the movie How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days?
“I was such an idiot; I lost my phone and wasn’t able to get my contacts back.” He smiled sheepishly.
He lost his phone? That sounded like something that would happen to her. “Well, I’m glad you remembered how to get here.”
“Actually, Rourk remembered. I think he has some kind of freaky photographic memory. I swear he never forgets anything.” Tommy opened the lettuce and washed it in the sink, and then turned to grab the chopping board that was hanging on the wall. “I’ll have to remember to thank him.” Anna felt heat rise to her cheeks. “I wasn’t sure I would ever see you again.”
Tommy glanced over his shoulder, and his clear blue eyes met hers. His gaze was serious. “Anna, I would have found you if I had to knock on every door in Seattle.”
“Prince Jatred!” The Winter Goddess’s voice sounded angry. She marched fast toward him. A deep frown settled between her brows.
Watching her, the wolf lowered his head between his shoulder blades, his tail between his hind legs. A quiet growl rumbled in the back of his throat. Freezing gusts whipped at her hair and clothes. The Goddess’s long black dress trailed behind her, loose sleeves flapping in the wind. Her nails were painted black and matched the series of complex black tattoos covering her face. She appeared as the Celtic goddess Morrigan.
“You know why you’re here.” Crystal’s voice reverberated in the wolf’s head. Her lips were pressed together.
He didn’t answer but kept his eyes on her. The Goddess stood in front of him, glowering, her hands on her hips. Her body stretched and grew until she was over ten feet tall, muscular and commanding. The wolf crouched down, baring his teeth.
“You are going to leave her today!” The Goddess’s voice boomed in the air. It echoed several times, bouncing off the mountains. Her face contorted in anger. She waved her hand, and a wave of freezing air hit him like a tornado. He tumbled uncontrollably, clawing at the snow. Crystal moved her hand again, and Jatred stopped rolling. He tried to stand up but he felt too dizzy. His body ached as if it was bruised all over.
“Prince Jatred,” the Goddess hissed. Her eyes were furious. Jatred got up and stood, panting, his legs wobbly. He took an unsure step forward, testing the ground. A low snarl escaped him, his ears flat.
“No,” he said with his mind, growling louder.
Crystal flicked her wrist once more, and the wolf flew back several feet, as if hit by a truck going at full-speed. He yelped and fell, sliding in the snow on his side. Gasping, Jatred snapped his eyes open and bared his teeth. He growled and wrinkled his muzzle. The Goddess walked up to him. She stopped and folded her arms over her chest. “Stop resisting. I don’t really want to hurt you.”
“We have a different understanding of the word ‘hurt’,” he wheezed with his mind.
“You will obey me this time, my Prince. Don’t make me summon you here again to remind you of your duty. Or it will be more than physical pain that I will inflict on you. Think of those you love that are my Shifters.” The Goddess’s voice was calm, barely above a whisper. “Now go back to the Human World.”
Crystal stretched her arms, palms flat over Jatred. Shimmering dust rained from her hands down to his fur. The pain in his body subsided, and calmness enveloped him. He squeezed his eyes shut and forced himself to shift into his human form, before she let him return to the Human World.
Harrison is running from some school bullies and crashes straight into Gemma. They decide to hide out in a clothing store change room.
Gemma’s eyes rose to meet his.
He kept his smile in place. “I’ve always wondered what it’d be like to talk to you.” “Is that a line?”
“No,” he chuckled and ran a hand through his hair.
Her eyes went stormy and she bit her lip. Flustered, she pushed him away and jumped down. She collected her bag and reached for the lock. “I gotta go.”
“No wait.” He grabbed her hand and froze. His skin was on fire. Looking down at his fingers, he felt the warm licks of flame curl up each digit and spread over his hand. Gemma’s eyes were huge as she jerked away and rubbed her thumb over her fingertips. “What was that?”
She shook her head with a frown and backed away from him, crashing into the door. With fumbling fingers she undid the lock and burst out, weaving around the clothing racks and shooting out the door.
Harrison leaned against the frame to watch her. He curled his fingers into a fist then flexed them straight. The warm lick of flame was rapidly cooling. His disappointment surprised him.
Noel pressed me against the wall and covered my mouth with his hand to silence me. He leaned closer and, for one panicked moment, I thought he might kiss me. But his mouth whispered past my lips, scenting the air with evergreen and peppermint, past my cheek until it rested just above my ear.
"Don't." His breath tickled my ear, sending shivers to the tips of my toes. "I'm telling you the truth. I can't tell you anything yet." He straightened slightly and uncovered my mouth. "I'm scared." I hated myself for admitting it. Especially to him.
Noel leaned in once again but this time his hands cradled my face, his blue eyes troubled. He studied me for a long time. "I know you are." Regret flavored his voice. "But don't be." His lips did brush my ear this time before moving softly to my cheek, leaving a trail of soft, stinging kisses. "I'll protect you. I'll keep you safe. I promise."