Authors: Jayde Scott
Clare rol ed her eyes. "You're so bloody arrogant and annoying. Curb it down a little." She leaned in. "I'm stil a little confused though. Why didn't you stop her from entering the shed?"
"Because I didn't notice her since I was busy chaining the Shadows and what else not to a bloody tree." I took a deep breath to control the annoyance rising inside me. "By the time I finished, it was too late."
"Amber's weak." Clare hesitated. "It didn't bother me before, but now that she's carrying the prize it'l be a problem. What're you going to do with her? How did she figure out the riddle anyway?"
A good question. No one ever had. I should've kil ed the mortal right there in the clearing. It could've saved me a lot of trouble. But looking at the soft curve of her neck, I harboured other thoughts. Fate chose her as my mate. If she died, I'd choose to die with her. Like me, she could never love another.
"I say we kil her," Blake said.
Kieran glared at him. "You and your constant need for slaughter. We're not barbarians."
Clare lowered next to him and snuggled in his arm. "I'm surprised you know such a big word."
"I know more than one." Kieran tugged her close. "And I'm more than happy to show you."
"Hey, focus," I snapped. "This is important." Three pairs of eyes met my gaze, eagerly awaiting every word that came out of my mouth. They always let me make the decisions. I tired of it a long time ago. "You forget the Interracial Race rule: once a contestant carries the prize, he can't be stripped off it. Either they give it up within twelve hours, or they carry the skil for the next five hundred years. Let's just hope Amber's compliant and does what we tel her to do, otherwise it might get ugly for al of us."
"You should've seen her upstairs." Clare shook her head. "She's not strong enough. She'd never survive the journey. She'd be drained before she even entered the otherworld."
"She should've dropped the backpack," I said. "It was her choice not to."
"What are you implying? You know she won't survive on her own," Clare said.
"Remind me later." I stormed out of the library, leaving the house through the kitchen so the others wouldn't pick up on the turmoil inside me.
Since Rebecca's death I had barely touched a mortal, let alone kil them. Having Amber around was more than I could endure. As my mate, her blood's cal was too strong. I fought a constant battle not to feed from her.
Why did she have to be in the woods that night? How did she stumble across the jewels when no mortal knew about the Interracial Race? It must've been a lucky shot or, in Amber's case, a not so lucky one. So many questions when I knew I couldn't just barge into her room and force the answers out of her. Not when she had yet to fal in love with me. My mood deteriorated at the prospect of courting her with half the paranormal world hunting us.
The air smel ed of autumn leaves and imminent rain. I lowered myself onto the bench, staring at the empty space Amber had occupied less than an hour ago. Funny how Fate would always play tricks on me. I thought after Rebecca's betrayal, I'd never trust a girl again. Several hundred years later, I glimpsed Amber in a crowd in London during a work assignment, and I knew she was the one. I stalked her for weeks until I came up with a plan to lure her to Scotland. She needed the money, I could do with a housekeeper because I was sick of Greta roaming the mansion, pretending to clean while snooping around. So I made sure her brother found out about the job. I should've delayed flying Amber over from London until after the race, but I just couldn't bare being away from her now that I knew who she was.
Fate expected me to protect her, but how could I protect her from the most dangerous predator—myself? With her sweet blood beckoning to me more than any other mortal, it was only a matter of time until I turned into a kil er, unless I kil ed myself. But then someone else would go after her to get the prize. She'd turned from mere mortal into priceless commodity overnight. I groaned inwardly, only then noticing Clare standing behind me.
"I know what's going on." She sat down next to me so I couldn't pretend she didn't exist.
"What are you talking about?"
"Of course you wouldn't just admit it." The slightest hint of annoyance crossed her perfectly arched eyebrows. In my early years, I had thought—
hoped—she'd be the one, but my senses never sharpened when I was around her.
"What do you want, Clare? You're annoying the hel out of me today, and that's not a good thing."
She inhaled loudly, irritated. "It's not about what I want, but rather what you want. I've noticed the look in your eyes. You see her when she's not present. It's painful to watch."
"Then don't watch."
"I want to help you," Clare said.
"Why?" I turned to face her.
She placed her cold palms on my cheeks. A single silver tear glittered in her eye as she whispered, "Because I want to see you happy. It's something that I'l never be."
"Your mate's somewhere out there," I said.
Clare shook her head. "He's not because he died a long time ago, and I did nothing to save him." She smiled, bitterly. "I assume you have a plan."
"I'm stil considering my options."
"You don't have much time. Other people are interested in the book. You know, they won't hesitate to use her."
I hated when she was right. I lowered my head, inhaling the freezing air to shake off Amber's unmistakable scent. It didn't work. "I know that. I'l come up with a plan soon."
"There's someone who could help us." Something in her tone made me look up. She lifted a finger to my lips and lowered her voice. "If you lead Amber to the threshold of death, he can help her find the way back."
My anger flared up. The threshold meant certain death. No one had come back from that place. "Who said I'd ever let Amber do that?"
"You don't have a choice. Either she tries with you watching over her body, or she dies." Clare nodded, taking my silence as some sort of agreement. "I'l arrange a meeting then."
"What is he?"
"Better you don't know. You might not be so keen on a meeting." She smiled, her white teeth shimmering in the darkness. She was strikingly beautiful, and yet I felt nothing.
"Thanks," I said.
Amber's picture flashed before my eyes. Sweet Amber slipping into her dreadful flannel PJs that covered every inch of her soft skin. Clare rose to her feet and walked a few steps toward the house before she turned, her low whisper carrying through the eerie silence of the night. "There's something you should know."
The il usion of Amber disappeared. Sighing, I turned. "What?"
"She doesn't know you're her mate. Seems like you have competition. His name's Cameron. It's a beautiful name, isn't it?"
Cameron? I hated the guy's guts already.
I knew I was stil asleep when I opened my eyes in my dream, staring at Aidan's rigid shape up the hil . His gaze was fixed on something in the distance, his dark hair swaying in the cool Scottish breeze that turned my skin into goose bumps. He rubbed his fingers over his face and turned to face me, eyes shining as vivid as the stars on the dark horizon.
The damp air carried the faint mustiness of fal en leaves. Deep melancholy was palpable in the air. A whisper escaped Aidan's lips. I stopped breathing in the hope of grasping the meaning of his words. His voice grew louder, distorted, cutting through the silence like a knife, as he frowned, trying to explain something I stil couldn't understand. His eyes, dark and shiny in the dim moonlight, bore into mine. I felt something pierce my heart.
Knowledge and pain. Regret and hope. Love and something much, much deeper. Like a cord, wrapped around me, him, us. Then a thought stroke me: Aidan's going to kil me.
My limbs turned to jel y as he smiled, beautiful and terrible at the same time. My eyes fol owed the perfect shape of his teeth to his fangs, and I slipped into oblivion.
When I woke up, bright light seeped through the drapes. I stirred and winced at my reeling head, nausea building up inside my stomach.
Something happened to me in the woods, and I had a feeling it wasn't going to disappear al by itself. I got out of bed and walked to the bathroom.
The ceiling light bathed the room in glaring brightness that hurt my eyes. Turning on the cold-water tap, I dived my hands into the jet of water and moistened my face. A trickle ran down my feverish temple, cooling my skin.
I sat there until my racing heart calmed down, contemplating the strange dream. Talk about my subconscious sending me a clear signal. Aidan wasn't danger per se, but the undeniable attraction to him threatened my relationship with Cameron. I started recol ecting Cameron's good traits.
Good looks. Check. Amusing. Check. Honest. I wavered. Cameron was honest. He might not tel me things straight away, like that his parents were visiting when I so badly wanted to meet them after a year of dating. But better a commitment phobe than a guy who kept his ex's clothes.
With a grunt, I rose from the floor and went about preparing myself a cup of tea in the kitchen, then returned to my bed, sipping the hot liquid. I snuggled under the covers and fel asleep, clutching Cameron's picture to my chest.
I slept fitful y through the Sunday afternoon, voices echoing in my ears. Fragments of dialogues and pictures flashed through my mind: Aidan saying he'd never trusted Rebecca, Cameron spread-eagled on his back, his throat displaying a gaping wound, and then the woman from the pub holding the gemstones in her hands, laughing as she pulverised them to dust.
It's too late, dear. You're as good as dead. Just like me.
The woman's voice stil screeched in my head when I final y woke up. Realising I hadn't eaten al day, I took a quick shower and dressed in jeans and a tight top, paying attention to my make-up. It wasn't like I real y made an effort, was it? I just didn't want to look as crappy as I felt. Aidan wouldn't notice my efforts anyway. I headed down to the kitchen to heat up a ready-meal.
A strong wind rattled the windowpanes, the unnerving sound carrying through the silence of the house. I ate my lasagne, chewing each bite slowly, then washed up and dried the plate. The front door opened and closed. I put the plate and cutlery away, and stopped to listen. Footsteps passed the kitchen door before departing up the stairs. I figured people weren't keen on meeting me tonight.
I retreated to my room and switched on the TV when I heard the slightest knock on the door. I sat up and cal ed, "Come in."
The door opened and Aidan peered in, hesitation visible in his eyes. His dishevel ed hair stuck out in places, giving the impression he just got out of bed. But his eyes shone with awareness as he looked at me. "Hey."
Aidan in my room? I switched off the TV, my heart hammering in my chest as I jumped up, then paused in midstride, unsure what to do. "Hey."
He moistened his lips. His fingers grabbed the doorknob, knuckles turning white, like he was holding on for dear life. "Do you have any plans for tonight?" His voice was nonchalant, unfazed. My first impression was wrong. He wasn't nervous, he probably just needed me to iron his shirt or fix him a sandwich. When the boss comes knocking, it's never a good sign.
I shrugged. "Nope. No plans."
His gaze fel on the photo frame on the bedside table, and for a second a frown crossed his perfect features. "We're going out. I thought you might want to join us."
"Ah." I wavered. Didn't see that one coming, but it was definitely much better than a request to clean the bathrooms. My heart skipped a beat when realisation kicked in. An invitation to go out with him? "Like a date?"
Aidan stared at me. Why wasn't he answering the question? I figured he didn't want to hurt my feelings. He was just being friendly, nothing more.
No date, no need to feel guilty. Besides, Cameron wouldn't want me to spend my nights trapped in the confinements of my room, watching TV and staring at the wal s.
"Are you coming?" Aidan raised his eyebrow, a hesitant smile playing on his lips. My pulse started to race again, my reserve melting away.
I nodded. "I'd love to. Thanks."
A dimpled smile lit up his face. "I'l let you get ready, then. Take your time."
I watched him close the door, then turned to the cupboard, trying to slow down my racing heart. It wasn't a date, just a night out with a friend. Just friends. Nothing wrong with being friends with a hot guy. He wasn't my type anyway, too cool, too confident, too perfect. Cameron was confident too, but in a more look-at-me way, and who could blame him? His education was top-notch. Everyone knew he'd be a high-achiever one day. In contrast, Aidan seemed like he couldn't care less what others made of him. Faced with the choice, I'd take—
Don't go there. I shook my head and changed into a pair of skinny jeans and a tight, black top, then reapplied my make-up, paying attention to my best feature: my brown eyes. Eventual y, I threw a last look in the mirror, then grabbed my bag, squeezed into a pair of high-heels and hurried down the stairs.
The others were waiting in the hal , Kieran whispering something to a smiling crowd. But the moment Aidan's gaze fel on me, I saw no one else.
"You look fantastic." He held my coat. As I slipped into it, a whiff of his male scent hit my nostrils.
I nodded, unable to form a clear thought, when Clare said, "Ready, everyone? Let's rock this party then."
The moment broke and Aidan pul ed away from me, holding the door open for everyone. I kept my eyes on the ground as I walked past. Two silver SUVs were parked in the driveway. Aidan threw his brother a pair of keys. "You drive Blake and Clare. Amber's with me."
"You don't play fair, big brother," Kieran said. Clare pul ed his arm, grinning.
Aidan lowered to whisper in my ear, "He's a lunatic. Trust me, you don't want to be in his car when he drives."
Kieran cal ed over his shoulder, "I've seen grannies drive faster than you."
I smiled and hopped onto the passenger seat, peering around. This was one big car fitting al of us, and yet he decided to take only me. I had no idea what to make of it.