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Dead and beyond, p.11
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       Dead and Beyond, p.11

           Jayde Scott
 
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  “Are you hiding something?” I asked.

  “What makes you say that?” His surprise looked fake, planted on his beautiful face to fool me into thinking I had it all wrong. I wasn’t going to drop the topic.

  “You let the succubi touch you?”

  “It’s not a matter of choice, Amber. They just do that when they walk past or when you don’t move out of their way fast enough.” His superior tone enraged me.

  “I want to come with you. I need to see what’s going on in there since I’m a part of that world now.”

  He shook his head vehemently. Something sparkled in his blue gaze. “No. That’s out of the question.”

  A stray vision rolled before my eyes, making me stop my unspoken protest.

  A shed in the woods, surrounded by tall trees that filtered the sunlight. A squeaking door hanging off its hinges. Angel’s jet-black hair, now covered in mud and dry leaves; her eyes filled with fear and unshed tears; her lips quivering, as though she daren’t speak…or scream. And then I felt someone else’s presence.

  Someone was guarding her, watching her every step.

  That Aidan was dealing with succubi was bad enough, that he hid something else from me was far worse. I made a mental note to find out his secret, but now wasn’t the time. I had more pressing matters.

  “I need to speak to you about Angel,” I said slowly. Aidan barely looked up from the sheath he untied from his ankle.

  “Can it wait, babe? I’ve been busy all day, I just want to close my eyes and go to sleep.”

  A nap? That was his ‘polite’ excuse for not wanting to talk. Yeah, I was learning to read him quite well. You’ve been avoiding me for days, I wanted to yell at him. But being needy wasn’t my style. Besides, Cosmo always said a girl’s got to shape a guy into fitting into the relationship just like you make room for a new wallet in your handbag, not the other way around. I was going at it the wrong way.

  I grabbed his hand, forcing him to look at me. “I think something weird is happening. I can feel it.”

  “I’m pretty sure everything’s fine.” His expression remained cool and composed. If it weren’t for the tiny shadow clouding his eyes for a second, I’d never have thought he was lying.

  “The house is haunted, Aidan. I saw huge scratches on the floor. The window shut in my face.”

  “I thought we decided it was just an animal spirit.”

  “It wasn’t an animal!” My eyes threw daggers, warning him to tread carefully.

  “I believe you,” Aidan said. His gaze implored me to trust him. “You know I’d never doubt a word you say. I just wish I could’ve had a look at them.”

  “Well, next time I’ll make sure to snap a picture on my cell phone while I’m running for my life. Maybe I’ll throw in some factual comments, like in a documentary.” I moistened my lips as I considered my words. “Look, there’s more. I can feel someone’s presence.” My gaze bore into him, prodding his mind, which remained surprisingly blank.

  which remained surprisingly blank.

  “That’s part of the gift.”

  “No. This isn’t your average soul in need.” I lowered my voice. “Something sinister, unnatural, is watching me. I’m telling you, it’s pure evil.”

  His fingers stroked my hand. “We talked about this, Amber. It’s your gift kicking into first gear. I’m really trying to figure out how to keep the spirits at bay, but you need to give me more time. Trust me, you have nothing to fear.” His gorgeous lips curved into his usual breathtaking smile. It was a blatant lie. My heart filled with love but also something else. Fear. Dread. A premonition I couldn’t quite pinpoint.

  Aidan knew something was happening. And yet he chose not to share it with me. I should’ve told him about Brendan and Angel but I couldn’t. The Shadows were his enemies and he had been looking for a way to defeat them for centuries. Aidan would do anything to destroy them, especially after they tricked me into striking a deal with them behind Aidan’s back so I’d help them find the Book of the Dead Rebecca stole many centuries ago. My deal with them had been a bad move, which led to my physical death. However, Aidan didn’t understand that not every Shadow was to blame. Angel was innocent.

  I sat up and returned the smile, deliberately hiding my thoughts from him in case he focused on them. My mind began to unravel the puzzle. Aidan being all mysterious and secretive. The sudden disappearance of a friend around the time a ghost began to haunt me. Paranormal activity when Aidan wasn’t around.

  Seriously, what were the odds of no connection? I had been living in Aidan’s mansion for weeks and nothing particular happened until three days ago. Something or someone triggered the ghost activity, maybe even brought the entity into this house by accident.

  Who knew what Aidan was up to at the enigmatic Lore Court? I had a strong feeling that secretive place was responsible for this haunting and wished I could see the place for myself. Curiosity consumed me. Two things registered at the back of my mind: It was time to find out, both what happened to Angel and what the Lore court was like.

  But before I did, I had to find a way to increase my strength. Drinking blood wasn’t an option—it might just be a necessity in case I had to fight to rescue Angel and teleport our way out of there rather than walk.

  Chapter 13

  A rush of nail-biting anxiety flooded over me as I planned out my covert mission into the mysterious woods. I had to make sure nobody saw me. Naturally, official jungle green camouflage would be my first choice, but how fashionable was that? Besides, where would I find a shop selling that in the middle of nowhere?

  So I settled for black, not least because it made me look slimmer.

  Dawn was hours away when I rolled out of bed and rummaged through my wardrobe in search of a pair of jeans and a black shirt that wouldn’t reflect the moonlight. The house was quiet as a tomb. Aidan had long left with the promise of being back soon. For once, I hoped he wouldn’t keep true to his word because what I was about to do might just take longer than anticipated. Particularly with my crappy sense of direction—or lack thereof.

  The moon cast a silver glow on the backyard. Apart from the rustling of leaves, my heightened senses picked up no movement. Out of habit, I blew a hot breath into my cold hands and mentally prepared for the sprint ahead of me. Of course I could try to teleport but I knew I’d just be wasting my strength. My body felt too weak, in major need for blood. So I had to settle for running.

  My boots made no sound as my legs moved swiftly, minding the dry twigs and branches that might give away my presence to those invisible eyes constantly watching Aidan’s property. I cut through the garden and jumped over the fence in one swift movement. As I reached the woods, the house disappeared in the distance, swallowed by the impenetrable pitch black around me. The dense canopy of trees filtered the weak rays of moonlight, but I didn’t need to rely on any source of light to know the direction I had to take.

  About an hour from Aidan’s property there was a shed, hidden In the Scottish Highlands. I had been there before. In fact, one could say entering that little shed was the beginning of all my sorrows and doom. If it weren’t for my brother’s stupid plan to steal a bag of worthless jewels, I might’ve never entered Layla’s paranormal race and scooped up the first prize that granted me the ability to talk with the dead for the next five hundred years, or until Aidan’s enemies managed to cut off my head because I was a vampire now—whichever came first. Yeah, that’s what family does to you. I couldn’t even disown Dallas since, in the mortal world, I was basically dead and had no dime to my name.

  Under normal circumstances, my mortal brain combined with my lack of any sense of direction would’ve gotten me lost in no time. But being a vampire came with a few perks. I remembered the way to the shed as if the trek with my brother happened only yesterday. With the help of my unnatural speed, I sprinted down the valley and then up the hills again, dashing through the thicket as I let my legs carry me, barely breaking a sweat. I reached the narrow path win
ding up to the shed and stopped, leaning against a tree as I scanned the area, watching my surroundings for any sign that I wasn’t alone.

  During that fateful night when I stole the jewels, the hut had been deserted. But only because Aidan had tied the other paranormal beings to a tree so he could solve the riddle and pick up the right jewels in Layla’s race. I harbored no false hope that my crappy luck would be on my side and no one would be here to hinder me. Minding my movements, I crouched and inched through the bushes as fast as I could, all the while straining my ears to listen for any unusual sound.

  I circled the shed twice but saw no sign of life. If anyone was around, they either had left on their coffee break, or they knew how to blend in with the night so not even my vampire vision could spot them. I figured I had two options: keep wasting time by waiting until someone popped out of the shadows, or hope for the best and walk in in the hope whoever guarded this shed didn’t take their duties too seriously.

  Ah, toss it.

  Patience had never been one of my virtues. Besides, I didn’t have forever. Aidan might return to the mansion any minute and notice my disappearance. I couldn’t risk him finding out I had broken my promise to stay inside. I jumped up from my crouching position and reached the door in two long strides, my boots barely making any sound on the naked ground, then stopped to look around me one last time.

  The moon hid behind a curtain of thick clouds. The trees cast ominous shadows across the soft grass and fallen leaves. Apart from the strong breeze blowing through the thicket, I heard nothing.

  Time to walk in then.

  Taking a deep breath, I yanked the door open a few inches, cringing at the squeaky sound of old hinges, and squeezed inside the shed. In my previous life, I once needed a flashlight to find my way around, but now my eyes only took a few seconds to adjust to the pitch black.

  The room looked much larger than I remembered with whitewashed walls and a wooden floor covered in dust. To the far right was a chair, to my left a window. Last time I was here, there had been a hole in the floor under the window, filled with worthless gemstones concealed by a huge layer of mud. The altar with the scroll that contained the Riddle for Sight was gone now, but in its place I found something else.

  My stomach churning, I knelt down and pressed my nose against the floor to smell the familiar scent. Dust particles tickled the back of my throat as I inhaled deeply, gorging on the aroma that should’ve been forbidden to me but proved so irresistible.

  Blood.

  Just a few drops but enough to tell me someone had been hurt. Maybe Angel had put up a good fight and managed to escape her aggressor. Now I was getting carried away. There was no sign of a fight, not even of anyone’s recent visit. I rubbed my hand against the dried drops of blood and licked it clean. It still tasted fresh, then again I wasn’t exactly a connoisseur in that department. My stomach rumbled and a soft tremor rocked my body, demanding more of the delicious stuff.

  I wiped my hand over my jeans and inspected the naked floor and walls for a trapdoor or hidden entrance. Nothing. My frustration grew as I swept over my surroundings once again without much success. I knew this was the right shed because this place had been the stuff of my biggest nightmares. I’d recognize it in a heartbeat, and yet I had to be wrong because it seemed too quiet, too undisturbed. Ready to give up, I reached the door when the moon broke behind the clouds and a soft light fell through the window. The glowing ray fell on something on the floor—a tiny object that had also been in my nightmares for weeks.

  With shaky fingers I grabbed the shard of a mirror, as large as my palm, and held it up to inspect it closer, my heart beating frantically against my chest. It was just a mirror. Any mirror. Not the same as the one that caught my attention from under a bush prior to Rebecca’s attack in the Otherworld. Seriously, stumbling upon a mirror under a bush in the middle of nowhere might be odd but could still be attributed to coincidence. Finding one again just a few weeks later, and this time in a deserted shed—now, what were the odds?

  Ever since my attack, I hated mirrors, and I couldn’t help myself. My body shuddered. My legs threatened to buckle under me. Tiny rivulets of sweat ran down my spine, and my breathing came in ragged heaps. If I didn’t know any better, I might just be inclined to think I was having my first panic attack as a vampire. Or second, considering what I went through with that poltergeist less than twenty-four hours ago.

  “Come on, you idiot. Get a grip,” I whispered to myself. But it didn’t help.

  I closed my eyes and slowly counted to ten, then opened them again, forcing myself to look at the thing because I wasn’t going to develop a phobia of mirrors—if that was even a valid clinical condition. I rotated the tiny object in my hand to inspect it closer. The surface was clean and smooth; two of its edges were uneven, as though it had been chipped off a larger piece. It was too dark to see much else, so I pushed it inside my back pocket and headed out the door, making sure to close it behind me, when I felt someone’s presence a moment before a hand covered my mouth.

  Chapter 14

  “Why am I not surprised to see you?” Aidan hissed in my ear. His hot breath caressed my skin, making me shiver with pleasure even though I wasn’t exactly pleased to see him.

  “I could ask you the same thing,” I hissed back against his palm. He dropped his hand from my mouth and spun me around to face him. We were surrounded by darkness, but I could make out his shimmering eyes, pale skin and strong cheekbones. His hair—a tad too long now—brushed his cheeks and spilled over the collar of his leather coat. He looked so badass I could’ve tossed him against the nearest tree and snogged his face off. Then I realized it might be the succubus energy residue on him making me have lots of naughty thoughts.

  “I see you met your friends again.” I clicked my tongue and shot him a reproachful look.

  “Huh?” He shook his head, irritated. “Amber, what are you doing here?”

  I shrugged. “Going for a walk?”

  “You could’ve done that in our backyard. And please keep your voice down. We wouldn’t want to wake up London.” He grabbed my arm. I expected him to squeeze but his hand just lingered there, almost caressing my skin. “Seriously, what are you doing here? Robbing the neighborhood like last time?” He pointed at my black ensemble.

  “I was, uh, stargazing.”

  He laughed. “That excuse didn’t fly last time and it won’t now. So, what’s with this outfit?”

  “I knew I should have gone with the jungle camouflage,” I mumbled.

  “Apparently, black’s in for crooks this autumn. You should’ve gotten the ski mask and gun to match.” He smiled; his tone betrayed he was being sarcastic again.

  I pushed him away and started down the narrow path in the direction I had come from as I mumbled, “If you must know, I was getting a late night snack.

  Those fast food cravings are killing me.” He snorted so I rolled my eyes. “Honestly, Aidan, if you’re trying to be a comedian, don’t give up your day job. Now, care to elaborate why you followed me?”

  His hand clasped my waist, forcing me to stop in mid-stride. I turned slowly, my eyes throwing daggers. He might look irresistibly cute, but I didn’t appreciate his stalking. I opened my mouth to give him a piece of my mind when his laughter stopped me.

  “You think I’m stalking you?” He laughed again.

  “Why’s that funny? Am I not stalk-worthy?”

  “I didn’t say that.” His gaze scanned the impenetrable shadows around us.

  I elbowed him in the ribs. “Relax. I was just messing with you.”

  “I wasn’t following you. I didn’t even expect to find you here.”

  “But you were following something or someone.” I regarded him intently, waiting for a sign that would betray his intentions. His expression remained unreadable.

  “Can’t tell you. It’s part of the job,” Aidan said.

  Layla’s job. The woman who wanted him so badly she almost killed me. I couldn’t understand w
hy he trusted her. Or why he’d even want to take that job.

  It didn’t make sense. There was something in it for him. I just had to figure out what it was.

  “Did you have a nice walk?” Aidan asked. The sarcasm in his voice didn’t fail to register with me. I nodded enthusiastically.

  “Definitely. I’ve come to realize I should go for a walk more often. The stars are just gorgeous this time of night.”

  His muscles tensed, but he didn’t argue. “Let’s get you home.”

  “What about your job?”

  He hesitated for a moment before he replied. “I’ll come back later.” Meaning, he’d come back later when I wasn’t around. I pushed my hand inside my pocket to touch the mirror. A tiny jolt of electricity surged through my fingers, making me flinch.

  “You okay?” Aidan whispered.

  “Yeah, just a bit cold.”

  “Here.” He shrugged out of his coat and wrapped it around my shoulders.

  “Thanks,” I said, inhaling deeply. His scent made me shiver just like the electric jolt had, but it was with pleasure.

  “Ready to go?”

  Did I have a choice? I nodded and let him lead the way, wondering why we didn’t just teleport. He sprinted through the trees with me following a few inches behind. A few times he turned to make sure I hadn’t slowed down, and our eyes connected in that silent agreement that was part of our fated bond. Moving in the darkness, I felt the connection to him stronger than ever before, like a tiny thread that bound us together and drew us to one another no matter whether we were a few inches or hundreds of miles apart. The mere thought of being separated from him hurt me to the core.

  We reached the hill overlooking the mansion when Aidan stopped and I almost bumped into him, lost in thought.

  “What’s wrong?” I whispered, almost expecting someone to jump out of the bushes and attack us.

  Aidan wrapped his arms around me and pulled me close whispering in my ear, “I’ve missed you. I’ve been wanting to spend time with you for ages, even if it’s just going for a jog through the woods.”

 
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