A Shadow of Light

       part  #4 of  A Shade of Vampire Series  by  Bella Forrest / Young Adult / Fantasy

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A Shadow of Light

“I am going to kill him!”

Never before had I been so frustrated than when I met Aiden Claremont during a month-long dig we had deep in the jungles of Cuba. From the first day we arrived, he had proven to be the most annoying, arrogant, conceited man that ever walked the planet and the fact that he was after the Red Orb—my artifact to unearth and discover—was just one of the many things that made him a complete and absolute jackass in my book.

“How dare he?!” I screamed as I threw a fist in the air.

“What’s got your panties all up in a twist, Camilla?” my assistant and best friend, Amelia Hudson, asked me as she lifted her black-rimmed glasses over the bridge of her nose.

“That pompous, irritating, waste of perfectly good space, self-absorbed…” I searched my mind for a word bad enough to describe Aiden Claremont and, failing miserably to find one, I ended up with “…doorknob. ”

“Doorknob?” Amelia chuckled. “That’s the best you can come up with? Doorknob?” She rolled her eyes at me. “Aiden Claremont may be a lot of things, but he is too fine and too exciting a man to deserve being called a doorknob. ” She stood to her feet and walked to one end of our tent to make herself a cup of coffee before staring at me knowingly. “What happened this time?”

I stomped my foot on the ground and crossed my arms over my chest, hating the idea of having to recount to my best friend the reason behind my ire.

Amelia finished making her coffee and had plopped herself over one of the bean bags we brought with us. She then took a sip from her coffee and raised a brow at me. “Well?”

“I don’t want to answer your question. ” I pouted.

“You’re acting like a child, Cam. What’s going on?”

“I hate him!”

“Yes. You’ve made that perfectly clear from the very first moment you laid eyes on him, and yet, he’s all you seem to talk about!”

“That’s because if I don’t vent, I really might end up snapping his neck in two!”

Amelia rolled her eyes again. “Right. Don’t forget the last time you…”

“Shut up, Amelia. ” I glared at her, knowing fully well what episode she was going to point out. It was one of those cold nights at our camp and for some reason Aiden decided to pay us a visit. We were in front of the campfire and he was actually being as pleasant as a pompous jerk like him was capable of. The conversation was good and we ended up alone, with everyone else retiring to their tents to rest. He offered me his jacket when he noticed I was shivering. I declined, but he insisted. I couldn’t even remember our conversation that night, but it somehow ended up with him kissing me. When our lips parted, I motioned to slap him in the face, but he caught my arm, so I tried to slap him with my other hand, which he once again caught. With him gripping both my hands, he once again kissed me. I resisted until I just somehow found myself giving in. It was perhaps why I hated him so much—I knew that when I was around him, no matter how I tried to keep them up, all my defenses kept crumbling around me. Aiden Claremont made me feel vulnerable and yet, protected at the same time. I wasn’t used to feeling that way. That scared me.

Amelia couldn’t keep the grin off of her face. “When are you going to admit it, Camilla? You’re into him. ”

“That is not true. ”

“Keep telling yourself that until you actually believe it. ”

I frowned, finally spouting out the reason behind my outburst. “He found the orb. They’re packing up camp as we speak. ”

“What?!” Amelia spat her coffee out. “When?! How?!”

I shrugged before letting my shoulders sag in defeat. “I don’t know. ”

I could still remember the glint of amusement in his eyes as he winked and said, “Guess I won, Camilla. Don’t worry… I’m sure you’ll make for better competition next time. ”

I found myself groaning at the memory. “Ugh! The nerve of him. ”

Truth be told, I wasn’t sure what was frustrating me more: the fact that he found the artifact first or the fact that I would perhaps never see him again.

“What do you mean someone else found it?”

I couldn’t look Mr. Banks in the eye. He was a private collector and he was the one who recruited me and paid for my services in order to find the Red Orb. He was so excited about the artifact, recounting to me how there were rumors about it having dark, mysterious powers. Being an archaeologist and having a deep love for adventure, I couldn’t resist the idea of an all-expense paid expedition that would lead me to some random ancient trinket—probably worth less than what the adventure cost. The trinket was rumored to have magical abilities.

I didn’t really believe in magic or vampires or even superstition at that time. I just wanted to get away from the museums and laboratories and actually get on the field. This particular artifact was one I hadn’t yet heard of, so the idea of discovering something new was something I couldn’t resist.

However, initially, I was also skeptical about going on the expedition. Mr. Banks was said to be a hard man to work with. He wanted returns for his investments and was known to have a bad temper when he didn’t get what he wanted.

Thus, as I sat across from him on one of the couches in the lounge area of his office, I was desperately trying to figure out how I was going to explain that someone got to the orb before I did.

“There was another crew digging at the site. They were also after the orb. ”

“And who might I ask is behind this other crew?”

His name tasted bitter in my mouth. “Aiden Claremont,” I hissed.

Mr. Banks’ wrinkled old face contorted in surprise. “Aiden Claremont? What would a guy like him want with an artifact like that?”

I frowned at Mr. Banks, raising my eyes to meet his for the first time. “You know him?”

“Of course I know him. ” The man was looking at me like I’d been living under a rock all my life. “He’s one of the youngest multi-millionaires in the world. He owns one of the largest security conglomerates in the United States. You’d never heard of him?”

I shook my head. “Hard to know about people like that when you spend all your time inside libraries and museums. ”

Mr. Banks narrowed his eyes on me. “Well, we had a deal, Miss Saunders. I paid for your dig, you get me the orb. Unless you get the Red Orb in my hands, then I’ll ask you to pay me back everything I spent on your expedition. ”

My hands gripped the armrests of my seat, knowing full well that there was no way I could afford to part with that kind of money. “But…how… Where would I get that much money?”

“Figure it out. I’ll give you a month, Miss Saunders. ”

Mr. Banks’ ultimatum was still circling my mind when I returned to the apartment I was sharing with Amelia. The moment I arrived, she threw a pillow at me.

“You will never guess who just called,” she exclaimed.

“Not in the mood for your guessing games…” I went straight for the refrigerator to get a cold drink of the pink lemonade I’d made earlier that day. “I have a headache. ”

“What happened?”

“Don’t want to talk about it. ”

“All right. Well, you’ll be happy to find out that the love of your life, Aiden Claremont, just called. He’s hoping to meet you for dinner tonight. ”

I choked on the lemonade and coughed violently—something Amelia found hilarious—especially after she had taken a quick shot of the scene with her Polaroid camera. “I knew your reaction to the news would be precious!”

“Why would he want to meet for dinner?” I asked, suddenly feeling my cheeks grow red at the prospect of seeing him again. I was inwardly slapping myself for acting like a foolish teenager.

“How am I supposed to know?” Amelia shrugged. “Oh my gosh, Cam! Are you blushing?!”

“I’m not!” I screeched in horror. But I was. He was the only guy who’d ever been able to do that—make me blush.

I checked my appearance in the living room’s full-length mirror for about the hundredth time. I didn’t understand why I cared what he thought about me. I tried to remind myself that I hated him, that he was an arrogant, pompous and conceited “doorknob,” but I was fooling myself and I knew it. Aiden Claremont was every bit my match and that made him attractive to me.

Plus he has the Red Orb. Of course I find him attractive, I told myself as I smoothed my palms over the contours of my waist. I wasn’t exactly the kind of girl one would find in magazines, with the tall, skinny, hourglass figure. I had more of an athletic build—mostly because of the kind of work I did. Still, I knew I was beautiful. Staring at myself in the mirror, taking in what others often called my assets, a familiar sickening sensation came over me.

For all the glory it got from the world, beauty was a commodity that I had to pay dearly for. Long buried memories of my past began to haunt me and I had to hold on to a nearby chair for support to prevent myself from falling off balance.

“Wow, Cam. ” Amelia stepped out of her bedroom and looked at me. Concern sparked in her eyes. “Are you alright?”

I nodded. “I’m fine. ”

“Nervous about your date?”

“It’s not a date. ”

“Uh-huh…for all I know, you’ll be making a bunch of little Aidens and Camillas in no time. ”

I was stunned by how revolting the idea seemed to me. “No. Never. Mark my words, Amelia. I will never have children—his or anyone else’s. ”

I could never forget the way Aiden looked that night. Crisp, white shirt, straight cut jeans, shiny black shoes… That smile… That look in his eyes when he first laid eyes on me—like I was the most beautiful woman in the room.

“Hello, gorgeous,” he greeted with a wide smile.

I frowned at him, desperately trying to keep my walls up, afraid of what would happen once they all completely crumbled—something that seemed to be inevitable considering how charming he was being. “Could we just cut to the chase and get to business, Claremont? Why did you ask to meet with me?”
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