Authors: Jayde Scott
"Maybe you aren't in the mood for company tonight?" Blake asked.
"We stil have business to discuss," Aidan said, "and Amber wil probably want to relax after a long working week."
Working week? Huh? I blinked. Right. I had been working. Sort of. I had also been enjoying the last rays of sun in the garden, but it was part of my household duties to check the exterior of the house remained in pristine condition, or so I told myself. Aidan was stil staring at me. I realised this was my hint to leave. My leg brushed against Kieran's as I stood, placing my ful glass next to the other untouched ones. "I should get going. Thanks for the invite."
Kieran jumped to his feet and offered his arm with an amused glint in his pale eyes. Aidan crossed the room in two long strides and placed a hand on the smal of my back, barely touching the material.
"Can I talk to you for a minute?" Aidan said. I nodded.
"That's so like Aidan. Dying to sink his teeth into my dates," Kieran said. "Just kidding, bro."
I offered Kieran a tentative smile, deciding I wouldn't take him seriously, as Aidan guided me out of the library through the kitchen and out the back door into the garden.
It was so dark I could barely make out his features. The moon—a half crescent on the black sky—moved from behind the clouds, throwing glowing shadows across his skin. His eyes shimmered as he pul ed me down on a bench and sat beside me. I shivered but not from the cold. My heartbeat sped up. What could he possibly have to say that he needed time in private? Maybe he was about to fire me.
He moistened his lips and stared at the lawn as he spoke, "Last night we were worried about you."
"Why?" I spun to face him, surprised. He certainly was hard to read. One moment, he seemed irritated by my presence, avoiding me at al costs.
The next, he seemed concerned about my wel being. Why would he care anyway?
Aidan shrugged. "You're used to city life and may overlook the possibility of threat. There's danger everywhere, not just on the busy streets of London."
"I'm aware of that. Thanks for your concern." I knew I sounded tetchy, but I couldn't help it. For a moment, I had thought he cared because he liked me. He was just my boss. We barely knew each other, and he dated Clare. I wished I could be angry with his stunning girlfriend, but to my chagrin I realised she was as nice as she was beautiful.
"No problem," Aidan said. "We're one big family here, and I want you to consider yourself part of it. It must be hard to be away from everyone you know, al alone here with no one around. If there's anything I can do, just say it."
As he grinned, a dimple formed on his right cheek. My heart quivered. Men like him should come with a warning: date at your own risk. I smiled at my thoughts, then felt instantly guilty. Cameron and I weren't real y over. He just needed space for a few months to sort out his plans for the future.
It wasn't right to sit here with a gorgeous guy, engaging in al sorts of naughty thoughts.
"I real y appreciate your concern." I moved away from him. It was only a few inches, but I noticed his smile disappear.
"Would you like to go back inside?" Aidan asked.
"Sure. I know you have important business to discuss." I forced a bit of cheerfulness into my voice, but didn't quite manage to sound nonchalant.
Without another word, Aidan led me down the path to the kitchen and held the door open. When we reached the hal , he halted. I almost bumped into him. He touched my shoulder to steady me and breathed in as if to speak, but stopped. Clare appeared from the library, holding two glasses of wine in her hands. "There you are. I've been looking for you." Her questioning gaze wandered from Aidan to me.
"We were outside," Aidan said.
"Ah. Blake's waiting." Clare raised her eyebrows and turned to me. Aidan hesitated, then walked away. "Come on, let's finish our wine," Clare said. "I'm glad for the company. Aidan's business talk always puts me to sleep."
She seemed her usual pleasant self. If she found it strange that her boyfriend had just spent alone time with me, she didn't show it. We retreated to the massive living room. She put the glasses down, switched on a lamp on the wal and lit several candles on a nearby table. Sinking into the soft cushions on the sofa, she patted the space next to her. "I assume you've heard theories about what's going on in the woods," Clare started.
"People claim to have seen strange lights—"
"You mean like UFOs and aliens?" I interrupted, smiling. There it was, the woods topic again. I couldn't quite shake off the feeling they kept something from me.
"No." Clare shook her head, playing with the hem of her sleeve. "More like stories of legends and supernatural stuff. Anyway, people have been disappearing for a while. Mostly visitors, because the locals know to stay away after dark."
I'd known something was going on. The weird blue light, the strange sounds, the man fol owing me, his threat. People went hiking al the time and nothing happened. Trust my brother to find the one forest that came with a deadly warning sign. Suppressing a shudder, I forced my attention back to the conversation. "I'l keep that in mind, thanks."
"It's not just that," Clare said. "Other things have happened, people coming back and suddenly seeing things."
She certainly had my attention now. "I don't understand. What things?"
Clare inched closer and dropped her voice to a whisper. "Ghosts, souls, or whatever you want to cal them."
I nodded, a cold shiver running down my back. Like the woman with the buggy crossing the street. Harry never saw her, but I knew she was there. Everything snapped into place. Back in London I'd have laughed at such superstition, but I was in Scotland, the land of mystery. Here anything seemed possible.
"Did anything strange happen in the woods?" Clare regarded me intently, her long fingers with black-painted nails curling around my wrist.
"Because we can help you. You can trust me. It's not too late."
Hadn't Aidan said something similar last night? I thought of the blue, flashing light, and then of the man, too dark to see, his deep voice too low to distinguish. Nothing had happened, but it could have. I shook my head. "Nope."
Clare peered at me, doubtful, but didn't persevere for which I was thankful. I didn't want to keep lying. "How do you like your new job?" Clare asked.
"It's different, but I like it." I said. Another lie.
Clare smiled. "I remember your application. You were Aidan's choice straight away. Wil you be staying in Scotland after summer?"
My heartbeat sped up. He wanted me straight away when I didn't even have any experience. Whatever Dal as put on that application helped me beat the competition. Or Aidan liked me, even if only on a subconscious level. Somehow, I wanted him to like me. "I'l be going back to London, I think. My boyfriend, wel , sort of has plans to move in together once I start col ege."
"The one in the picture on your dresser?"
"That'd be Cameron." I narrowed my gaze. Was she spying on me?
Laughing, Clare raised her hands. "It's not what you think. I smel ed smoke and had to investigate. Wouldn't want to burn the house down, would we? Anyway, I cal ed Harry and he said it was the heating system. You know these old houses."
"It's okay." I smiled, realising I was overreacting again.
Clare brushed an imagined stray hair out of her face. "So, it's serious between Cameron and you?"
"I think so." I blushed, wondering why Clare seemed so interested in my private life. But then I remembered I was in Scotland. If I were to live in a house in the middle of the Highlands, where nothing ever happened, I'd probably be pursuing any piece of gossip I could get my hands on.
"Lucky you." Clare sighed. "That makes one of us."
"I thought you and Aidan—" I trailed off, embarrassed.
"What?" Clare laughed, eyes glinting with something I couldn't place. "Aidan's like family to me."
"You're not dating?" I felt stupid for asking and even more so for feeling relieved. With beautiful Clare no longer my competition, a sudden weight lifted off my chest. Not that I stood a chance with Aidan. Besides, I didn't want to be with anyone because I stil loved Cameron.
"I don't think Aidan's ever thought of me as dating material. Not even after Rebecca—" she hesitated "—left. Kieran and I, ah, never mind. You're probably bored already."
Clare jumped to her feet, knocking over her wine. She caught the glass in mid-air before the red liquid could spil onto the carpet. "There's something I want to show you upstairs," she said. I hesitated when she pul ed me to my feet. "Come on. It'l be our little secret. Aidan wil never know."
She wanted me to break the off-limits rule? "I don't want to lose my job," I whispered.
Clare winked. "You won't, I promise."
Oh, what the heck. Since my arrival, I'd been dying to know what Aidan kept hidden up there. She assured me Aidan would never know, and I trusted her. Was I naïve? Maybe. But I needed a friend.
We sneaked to the second floor and walked past several rooms, then stopped in front of one. Clare pushed a massive mahogany door, and entered first.
I hesitated in the doorway. Questions about Rebecca burned on my tongue even though I didn't dare ask them. Why get involved in something that didn't concern me?
"This used to be Rebecca's room." Clare flicked on a switch and motioned me to fol ow.
The large room smel ed of dust as though no one had aired in months. To the far left was a huge, carved four-poster. A large walk-in closet covered the entire wal to the right.
Clare walked over and yanked the door open. Her fingertips touched silky gowns and velvet dresses in countless colours. "I thought you might like to see these. Thank God, you're here. I have no one else around to talk about girl stuff. They're beautiful, aren't they?"
I nodded, my gaze moving over the tailored clothes when I noticed an expensive silk evening gown in burgundy red. A chil crept over me. "Are these Rebecca's clothes? May I?"
"Sure." Clare stepped to the side, watching me.
I leaned forward to inspect the gown closer. It was about my size but made for someone tal er. There was nothing special about it, and yet it cal ed to me. I felt compel ed to touch it, to try it on, to feel the exquisite softness of the cool silk on my bare skin. I lifted my fingers, then pul ed back.
"Why don't you touch it?" Clare whispered.
"No." I swal owed hard and turned away. Aidan stil kept Rebecca's clothes. A memory was even worse than an actual girlfriend. Their love must've been the real deal since he stil harboured the hope she'd come back one day.
Clare nudged me softly. "I felt the same way when I first saw it. Don't worry, I won't tel anyone if you try it on."
I peered at the dress again. Dizziness washed over me. Something pul ed me forward, like an invisible hand, urging me to give it a go. With shaking fingers, I touched the gown. The sudden jolt of electricity took me by surprise, and I stumbled backwards, but my hand remained clenched around the material. My eyelids fluttered. I whimpered as my vision blurred. I felt Clare's cold breath on my neck, whispering in my ear, "Amber, are you okay?"
A pang of pain surged through my body. I opened my eyes wide. Clare was gone. Something icy, soft as the flutter of a butterfly, caressed my neck. I turned to scan my surroundings, noticing a girl dressed in the same red gown sleeping on the bed, her pale body sprawled across crimson sheets, her long, red hair spread around her like a halo. She seemed so serene, too quiet. Holding my breath, I walked closer, careful not to wake her, when my gaze fel on the gaping wound on the girl's neck. Half of it looked ripped out, but the gash bore no signs of blood.
My breath caught in my throat. I took a step back, whimpering. "She's dead." My voice came low, scared. I let go of the dress. The girl disappeared; the artificial light of bulbs replaced the semi-darkness.
"Yes, she is." Clare touched my shoulder, making me jump. "Are you okay? You're white as a ghost. Maybe you're not into fashion after al ."
"I need to rest if you don't mind. The wine's made me a little dizzy." It wasn't the wine, I knew it. I had felt the same way after watching the woman crossing the street with her buggy. The woods made people see strange things, Clare had claimed. Was it true? Could there be a connection?
"I'l accompany you," Clare said.
"No need." I shook my head. Holding on to the cupboard door for support, I avoided touching the red gown again. "I'l find my way. Thank you though." Clare's gaze burned on my back as I hurried out. Several times I stumbled on the way to the first floor, but I managed to prevent a fal . As soon as I reached my room, I dropped on the bed and closed my eyes, nausea building up inside me. I jumped up and dashed for the bathroom, reaching the toilet just in time to throw up the contents of my stomach.
I paced up and down the carpet, boiling inside, though I couldn't let the others see how much Amber's strol in the woods had maddened me. If she hadn't been there, I'd have won the prize instead of her. Now I had to fathom a way to save her from the dangers her new ability brought upon the winner.
Kieran draped his legs over the sofa and grinned. "Amber's gone. To hel with the wine. Break out something a little more refreshing."
"Not with a mortal around," I said, irritated. I couldn't risk Amber knowing what we were; not before she recognised the bond we shared and fel in love with me.
"Shouldn't you take better care of your employees, Aidan?" Kieran said with a smirk. "Amber's a sweet little thing, and so very mortal. Letting her walk in the woods at night with half the Lore out there, hunting—" he shook his head in mock concern "—let's just say the job benefits you offer suck."
I spun, jaw set. Why couldn't my brother just shut up for a change? "Bro, I swear one of these days I'm going to—"
Clare burst through the door, interrupting my words of promised torture and murder. "She's carrying the prize."
"Wow, you just broke the case wide open, Sherlock Holmes." I cocked a brow. "And you found out how, apart from me tel ing you?"