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       Created Darkly, p.5

           Gena D. Lutz
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  Immediately, the invasive probing ended. I bent forward, hands on knees, to catch my breath. “That was some messed up crap. Let’s avoid ever doing that again.”

  After taking a few seconds to recover, I stood and observed Jude. He hadn’t said a word since we started our little experiment, and by the euphoric look painted across his face, he was in no hurry to, so I spoke first.

  “So? Was there a difference? Was the necromancer power like mine?”

  He stood still with a slight back tilt of his head, like he was basking in the moonlight. “It was the same,” Jude said in a hushed tone. He tipped his head forward and stared at me with eyes a shimmering mocha, lighter and bolder than their usual hue. It was like someone flipped a switch, turning on a light behind those shiny orbs. "It was the same, but different, because your power is much more potent. It made me feel something. I could almost taste the chilled air flooding into my lungs, and it burned so sweet going down. I felt alive again,” he explained, his face looking awestricken. “I didn’t want the rush to end.”

  My hand flew to my hip, and I jabbed a finger at him. "First, wipe that look off your face. It’s creepy. And second, I think you were draining my magic. Actually, I know you were." The words left my lips with no venom attached. I knew the attack against me wasn't intentional, so I was pissed off at the situation, not him. I mean, I did ask him to do it.

  "Shit, Kris, you taste like life itself, with a dash of chocolate and cinnamon. To be honest, it was extremely hard to pull away. You know how much I love chocolate.”

  He moved forward, closing the small gap between us, leaving our bodies only inches apart. I resisted the urge to flinch away. The last few minutes had left me gun shy, but I knew Jude, loved him, and trusted him as if he were my brother, so I kept still and watched as he lifted a hand to my face. The gesture was familiar; he had made it at least a hundred times before. His fingers inched closer, and when they met my cheek, I let out a startled yelp and jumped back.

  Jude tumbled to the ground, his knees catching the brunt of the fall. With wide, rounded eyes, he stared at his hands. "Did you feel that?"

  I lurched forward, landing in the dirt in front of him, our knees touching. “Look at me.”

  Jude’s smile fell, the awe and confusion once there, quickly turning to shock. “What does this mean?”

  “I have no idea,” I said, breathy.

  My hands rushed all over his body, skimming across the warmth of his skin. Brain stutter…skin? Yes! It was skin! I squeezed an elbow and poked his cheek. I stared at the indentation my finger made. When released, it bounced back. My hands had met resistance everywhere they’d touched. This phenomenon couldn’t be possible, but it was happening. The proof was staring me straight in the face. Somehow, Jude had become corporeal. He was no longer a ghost!

  Chapter Eight

  I eased up from my crouch on the ground and stood. Kristina and her ghost-boy had almost caught me. My body still felt the pulse Jude sent out to track and investigate me. He was one powerful ghost. I would have never guessed the spirit packed that much punch.

  After making sure they weren’t looking in my direction, I inched my way over to a tree a few yards in front of me. I hesitated before easing behind the next one, slowly but surely gaining headway. I had no real plan of action. I didn’t know what I would do next; I was winging it. All I knew for certain was that I wasn’t going to let Kristina face the danger alone. I didn’t give a crap if I had to slink around under the cover of darkness and trees to be there with her. To be honest, I had no choice.

  Ever since our first meeting a couple of years back, I’d been drawn to her like a moth to a flame. I ached to be near her, the closer, the better. And I wasn’t afraid of the possible ensuing burn of her…more than likely, rejection.

  She thought I kept calling to convince her to join the Center, but that wasn’t true. I remained in constant contact with Kristina because of one simple fact—the stubborn woman haunted me. She was never far from my thoughts, and if all I could have of her was a phone call every now and then, well, I accepted that.

  Contrary to the fact that I was indeed sneaking around behind her back, following her, I wasn’t a sicko stalker. Unless she gave me a sign, showing me that she felt anything even remotely close to the passion I had resonating in my soul for her, I would leave her alone. If it hadn’t been for the kidnapping of her sister, I would still be limiting my interaction with her to phone calls that I drew out, stalling for a chance to hear the decadence of her soft and enchanting voice for a few seconds longer.

  What the Hell? Rage thundered inside me as I witnessed both Jude and Kristina slam to the ground without warning. The beautiful enchantress—and her ghost—landing hard on their knees. Who the fuck is attacking my woman? I’ll murder them! But then, after realizing there wasn’t anyone around for miles, not a single evil being swarming in to finish them off while felled and vulnerable, making for easy targets, I was able to calm myself down.

  Kristina could be in trouble. I sprinted forward. It was time to put my carefully constructed disguise to the test.


  Jude and I stared at each other in silence. An expression of disbelief crossed Jude’s face.

  “Is this really happening?” He wrapped his arms around his shoulders and squeezed. He was all smiles. “I imagine this is how Pinocchio felt, if he were really real. I’m a real boy!” He coughed into his hand, embarrassed by his show of glee. “I mean man, of course.”

  “Oh, of course, you did.” I chuckled. His good humor was contagious. However, I was freaking out big time on the inside. I’d never seen anything like that before.

  My eyes traveled his body, noticing the rise and fall of his chest and the subtle flush of red to his cheeks. He shivered uncontrollably.

  “Are you cold?” That was a silly question. Of course, he was cold. As a ghost, he didn’t need a jacket, so all he was wearing was a t-shirt and jeans. Since he could feel things like temperature changes, he had to be feeling a lot like a popsicle.

  Jude looked at me, teeth chattering. “I’m almost frozen, but couldn’t care less. Being an ice cube beats not feeling anything.”

  “Come on,” I said, grabbing his arm and standing. I helped him to his feet, catching him when he stumbled. It took him a few seconds to get used to his new legs, but he caught on pretty quickly. “I think there’s something for you to wear in the car.”

  I was able to find an old college sweater in the trunk. It was from NYU, the college I was supposed to have attended before having to drop everything to take care of my little sister. I only had mild regrets about missing the chance to further my education. The fact that my sister would be attending the same college in the fall filled me with warmth and pride.

  Out of the shadows, a male voice asked, “Do you two need any help?”

  I stopped dead in my tracks, pulling Jude close to my side. I reached behind my back. My fingers met with nothing but skin and the waistband of my jeans. The gun wasn’t there. I looked down, searching the ground. There it was, a few feet away, where I had tumbled to the ground with Jude. I must have dropped it or absently set it down in the process. Shit. Shit. Shit. I’d always been a klutz and quite accident prone, but that was ridiculous.

  I tore my eyes from the gun. I had to keep it together. Maybe the guy was out for a late-night stroll, all by himself in the woods, while decked out in dark clothes. Not to mention, hiding is face behind a deep hood. Ah, who was I kidding? The guy was probably a serial killer, looking for a set of pretty white teeth to wear around his neck as a souvenir. My mouth slammed shut, just in case. He couldn’t covet what he couldn’t see, right?

  Jude flared his nostrils and frowned. “You’re the necromancer I sensed earlier. Is there a reason you’ve been keeping to the shadows, following us?”

  The guy was a necromancer? Not good. Could he be Torra’s kidnapper?

  “Show me your face.” I took a step back. I had to drag Jude with me. It took thr
ee hard tugs for him to budge. His stubbornness frustrated me; that wasn’t the time to play tough guy. I didn’t know whom we were dealing with, and until I did, I would play my hand cautiously, because at that moment, I didn’t even have a decent high card to wager on.

  “Your wish is my command,” the tall stranger said.

  I felt a blush splash my cheeks, and I had to look down to hide my reaction. My inconvenient response elicited an equally odd one from the stranger. I heard him groan low in his throat. The pitch sounded like longing.

  Frustrated, Jude said, “You heard her. Drop the hood, so we can see your face.”

  The mystery man chuckled. “Only because you asked so nicely, boy.”

  My mind shot straight to the name Pinocchio. I stifled a snicker. What was wrong with me?

  Jude cursed under his breath at being called ‘boy,’ while we both watched and waited for the man in front of us to make the next move. I, for one, was anxious to see the face behind the cover.

  His forearm muscles bulged as he pushed the thin grey fabric back, letting it fall and then bunch at the base of his neck. My God, the man was smoking hot. My stomach began a slow boil as I took inventory of his features. His expression was relaxed, calm. A dimple pinched his chin, striking a chord of familiarity in me.

  The stranger wore jeans, sneakers, and a black t-shirt underneath the dark grey hoodie. No matter the clothing, the evidence of his muscular build pressed hard against every scrap of material covering it. I had a hard time peeling my eyes from his body. His irises were a deep blue. But as nice as they were, I had a suspicious feeling about them. It was as if the color was somehow wrong, not fitting with the rest of him.

  “Do I know you?” My voice sounded softer than usual.

  His smile broadened. “It’s me, Kris…Rush.”

  The admission was spoken with confidence, the movement of his lips intentional and sure. Yeah, the man was Rush, all right. I kicked myself for not recognizing him sooner, even though he did look completely different. His hair was all but gone, making the dirty blond look darker, almost brown. Blue eyes that seemed off to me were not their original color. Rush was also dressed in a manner that was unbefitting his upper-class status. His face was freshly shaven, leaving it bare.

  I narrowed my eyes. “If that’s the truth, then you’ve just screwed me over.”

  His smile fell.

  “What? Not the reaction you were expecting?”

  “Well, no, I’ve come to help,” Rush shot back.

  The guy had some nerve. The last time we spoke, I’d made it crystal freakin’ clear that his help wasn’t wanted or needed. I didn’t trust him, and the fact that he decided to take it upon himself to show up there all sneaky-like weakened my belief in him even more.

  I stomped across the gravel, swiftly closing the distance between us. Stopping right in front of Rush, I craned my neck way up to make eye contact. After locking onto his savage gaze, my knees wobbled and heat shot through me, hitting me like a steaming locomotive. The pure, unadulterated lust between us almost knocked me to my knees.

  My body wanted him. That fact was obvious, but my mind knew better. He was the top dog, leader of the Council, and a practicing Creator. He had his finger smack dab on the power pulse of a system that I not only disagreed with and held no respect for, but also abhorred. The reminder of whom and what he was hit me like a cold shower. It effectively washed away most of the boiling heat inside me, turning it to steam to fuel my building anger.

  “If you had stopped for only a second to think this stupid plan of yours through, you’d have realized that your help is actually a crippling blow.” My words trickled from my lips in a low rumble. I clenched my jaws and scowled so hard, I probably looked like I was about to pop. “If the kidnapper is watching us now, what do you think will happen to Torra? Just because I couldn’t see through your stupid disguise doesn’t mean he won’t!”

  Rush looked down at his feet, his chiseled features falling into a regretful frown. He knew he’d screwed up. I had an urge to go to him, to soothe his sadness, but the thought was silly and misplaced. I barely knew Rush; we had nothing between us. But yet, I still felt a pull.

  “I’m sorry, Kris. I would never intentionally put Torra, or anyone else you cared for, in danger. I was only trying to help.” He was worried, his hands together, his fingers fumbling. He looked way out of his element. Not used to having to apologize to anyone, maybe? With a strained voice, he asked, “What can I do to fix things?”

  My shoulders relaxed, the aching tension that held my muscles hostage quickly following suit. “I don’t know why, but I believe your intentions were good, and I’m having a hell of a time staying mad at you, which, by the way, is confusing.”

  He flinched, shocked by my switch in attitude. I was surprised by it, too. “Would you like me to leave, then?” he asked.

  “It’s too late now. You might as well join us. If the kidnapper has upped his game because of this, we’ll need your help.”

  He grinned, but the worry didn’t leave his eyes. “I’ll carry my weight. Count on it.”

  We stared at each other, the same lustful undercurrent making itself known. The attraction, a nuisance I would make a point to ignore.

  “I will.”

  Jude interrupted, “If you two are done with whatever it is you’re doing, we have to go. The clock is ticking.”

  “By the way,” Rush said, pointing at Jude, “mind telling me why your ghost-boy isn’t a ghost anymore?”

  I looked down at my watch; it was nearing midnight. I twirled around and stomped over to the gun. I still couldn’t believe I’d dropped the thing. I had to be more careful in the future. Swiping it up, I stuffed the gun back inside my waistband. “We have twenty minutes to make it to the final location on the map, which means I’ll have to try and explain all that magical mumbo-jumbo to you later.”

  “Here, let me see that.”

  I walked back over to him and handed him the map.

  “I know exactly where this leads to,” he said.

  Jude said, “Good, then we’ll follow you.”

  “Sounds like a plan, but just so you know,” Rush said taking the lead, “this map takes us straight to the Necromancer Center.”

  I threw my hands up. “Of course, it does.”

  Chapter Nine

  Slowing our jog down to a fast-paced walk, Jude, Rush, and I crested a small hill which rolled alongside a backdrop of dark night, the wide expanse of darkness bursting with stars. It was tantalizing to my senses and easy to feel at home underneath.

  Rush flashed me an endearing grin, giving wind to the butterfly wings in my stomach. Whoa, girl.

  “We’re here. Where to next?” he asked.

  I tore my eyes from his smile and the dimple in his chin before looking over towards the trees. “We go there,” I said.

  Rush followed the direction of my gaze. His jaw clenched, that sexy smile of his vanished, and his brows drew together. “That’s a highly restricted area.”

  I pulled the map from my pocket and tapped the trees drawn at our location. “See, that’s where it says to go. So guess what. We’re going. You said you’d help, so now would be a great time to prove it.”

  Good girl, I thought. No matter how scrumptiously mouthwatering his ass was, I was intent on keeping to my new motto, “sister before mister.”

  I could tell Rush was struggling with it; his promise to me was at odds with the position he held as a Council member. The Council had a million secrets, and they would do anything to keep them. I’d imagine, even kill anyone who trespassed against them. I was asking a lot from Rush, no doubt.

  “You should turn around and pretend like you never saw us,” Jude suggested, sensing the war raging in Rush’s head.

  Rush looked at him with resolve. “It’s too late. I’m in this, whether I like it or not.”

  His fictitious blues—I missed his greys—swung my way. I recognized apprehension in his features, but also, strict de
termination in the proud, ramrod-straight set of his broad shoulders. And if I wasn’t mistaken, a glint of excitement twinkled in the depths of his eyes. Not even contacts could cover it. No, he wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

  “It would be really fucking awesome if we could get in and out undetected,” he added.

  “Wouldn’t it be, though? Let’s try our best to make sure that happens,” I said. I was in no mood to have a tête-à-tête with any of the Council members that night.

  Without another word, I lurched forward and raced across the dirt-patched field towards the next hill. I felt something dark and ominous about the twisting trees as I neared them. The shrubs surrounding the bottom of the trees were void of leaves; they were lifeless. The trunks’ bark was thick, grey, and grooved deep with cracks withered from old age.

  I walked past the trees and stopped in front of a door that was situated at the base of the hill. The entryway was partially hidden behind a large tree, and it was also camouflaged by more dead bushes. The foliage overlapped and draped like a canopy. It reminded me of a secret garden. But that hidden sanctuary wasn’t made of beautiful, carefully planted roses or lush, green topiaries, a setting that could induce dreams of fairies and unicorns. Instead, those surroundings created an ambiance of bleakness and death, reminding me of the way I felt every time I came across a vampire.

  I looked around, half-expecting some of those blood-suckers to jump out at me at any moment. I shivered and stepped forward, crossing the door’s threshold. Almost immediately, I saw a bag. It resembled the ones that the kidnapper had left on my doorstep. The cloth sack instantly jogged my memory, reminding me that the other note had told me I would find it there. I reached down and picked it up.

  “What it is?” Rush asked.

  “It’s another party favor from the prick hosting this scavenger hunt.”

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