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Dead and beyond, p.13
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       Dead and Beyond, p.13

           Jayde Scott
 
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  “The vampire—” I infused a sharp tone into my voice “—where is he?”

  She pouted as her appearance changed from male back to female. “Wembley High Street.”

  “What’s on Wembley High Street?” I asked, confused. That part of London wasn’t really known for much, unless Aidan was looking to buy fruit and vegetables from the countless Asian markets that sold fresh produce at a fragment of retail prices. Given that he was a vampire, I was pretty sure there had to be another purpose for his visit.

  “There’s an antiques shop that’s supposed to have something Aidan’s looking for,” Persephone said. I flicked through my memories of Wembley, mentally walking down the main street as I tried to remember each and every shop I used to frequent for bargains. Just as I thought there was no antiques shop, my mind conjured the image of a tiny door squeezed in between a cash automat and the huge shop window of a clothes retailer. Could it be it? My excitement grew as I focused on the picture in my head.

  “Cheers,” I said, slapping Persephone’s rounded shoulder absentmindedly. The touch sent a jolt through my body, making me lose my breath for a tiny moment, but other than that her presence did nothing for me. Her eyes widened with surprise, as though she, too, wondered why her succubus touch wasn’t sending me into pleasure heaven like Aidan predicted it would. Maybe I wasn’t as ordinary as I thought. Maybe I had some sort of inborn immunity.

  “Don’t worry about it,” I said. “I’m pretty sure the next person walking down that staircase will trip over themselves to get a date with you. You know the saying, you win some, you lose some.” I shot her a smile and closed my eyes, summoning the picture of the tiny door in my mind. An instant later, I felt tiny droplets splattering my skin, so I opened my eyes.

  Wembley High Street greeted me with the usual influx of mid-morning buyers hitting the busy shops. Rows of honking cars and double-decker buses crowded the narrow street as travellers, hurrying to and from the subway station, squeezed in between rather than walk the short distance to a crossing.

  In the last few weeks, I thought I missed the commotion of city life but, standing here at rush hour, I realized I couldn’t get this over and done with fast enough so I could finally return to the tranquility of my new home.

  ***

  With its scratched metal frame and scrubby fingerprints on the glass, the door to the antiques shop blended right in with the bleak, concrete building. A brass tag advertised the name, HORST & Co., which sounded as nondescript as the store looked, revealing nothing about what hid behind. For a whole three seconds I considered my options. Of course I could just march in there and use the surprise moment to demand that Aidan tell me what was going on. While that was the kind of strategy you could normally expect from me, I wasn’t so sure it’d work with a guy like Aidan. Keeping guard outside until Aidan walked out with his purchase sounded like the better plan. For all I knew Aidan might already be gone, but I figured it was a risk worth taking.

  I crossed the street and hid behind the clear wall that shielded customers from the British wind and rain as they waited for their bus. The traffic lights changed from green to red and then back to green a few times before I felt a slight tremor in the air. A moment later, the shop door opened and a tall guy walked out. Even though the collar of his black leather coat was pulled up to hide half of his face, I wouldn’t mistake him in million years. His hair was dark and shiny; his eyes were of an unnatural shade of blue. Clutched to his chest was a brown bundle, almost as large as a paperback book, tied together with brown strings. I cocked my head and focused to get a better glimpse when he turned his head, as though sensing my presence. I ducked back down. My heart hammered in my chest, drowning out the traffic noise. His glance remained focused in my direction. For a brief second, I was terrified he had seen me. But then he turned his back on me, and a moment later he disappeared before everyone’s eyes. If people noticed his teleporting, no one reacted in any way. No one fainted or screamed. I wondered how he did that.

  Breathing out relieved, I got up to head for the antiques shop when I bumped into someone’s strong chest.

  Chapter 16

  Shielding my eyes from the bright morning sun, I looked up slowly, my mind already working on emergency mode to come up with a good excuse as to why I was in Wembley, watching an antiques shop from across the street. As usual, the kind of excuses my brain came up with wouldn’t even convince a child.

  Luckily for me, the person staring at me wasn’t Aidan.

  “Hey. Trying to meet your five a day? You don’t look like a fresh-fruit kind of guy.” I shot Devon a hesitant smile. While I was thrilled that I wouldn’t need to try to lie to Aidan yet again, my heart still picked up in speed. Devon was my enemy, and now I was on my own with no magic-infused gate to keep me safe. I didn’t even know what this guy’s abilities were, which seemed to be a well-kept secret in the Shadow world. So I had to be careful.

  He heaved a big sigh. “What are you doing here, Amber?”

  Yeah, I got that question a lot lately. If I didn’t know any better, I might just start to think people didn’t want me around. My smile widened as I pointed at our surroundings. “Why, the same thing as you. I’m enjoying a bit of British culture and natural produce.”

  He smiled but it didn’t reach his eyes. “You shouldn’t be here. It’s dangerous.”

  “What could possibly be dangerous about Wembley during the week in broad daylight? Unless you’re talking about carrots. I’ve heard they’re not as good for you as everyone claims.”

  “Come on.” He held out his hand. I hesitated for a second before letting him help me up. “Wanna get a cup of coffee with me?”

  He was kidding, right? I regarded him from under my lashes. “Does blowing into it count?”

  “Sorry, I forgot.” He seemed genuinely upset now and I couldn’t help but feel I didn’t hold the same value for him I once had when my body could still be run over by a car or die of a heart attack. For some reason it bothered me even though it shouldn’t. I decided to change the subject. “I used to live about half an hour from here.”

  His expression lighted up instantly, as though he actually cared to find out more about me. “Really?”

  I nodded. “Yep. I moved out at sixteen, rented a room and got a part-time job after school. Every Saturday, I’d pop over to the market in Alperton and stock up for the week.”

  “Why didn’t you live with your parents?”

  “I just didn’t.” My eyes shifted to the dirty asphalt, avoiding his probing gaze. How could I tell him that I didn’t want to be a burden to my poor parents?

  After my father’s illness, all our money went to various doctors trying to cure him. When he finally beat the disease, they were up to their necks in debt. I figured they’d done so much for me already, they were in big financial trouble. So both Dallas and I grew up quickly and started our own lives.

  Devon’s hand wrapped around my fingers and gave them a gentle squeeze. “If you ever feel like talking, I’ve been told I’m a good listener.”

  I nodded, even though I was convinced I’d never tell him. Not even Aidan knew and I liked to keep it that way. “The café over there’s quite good.” I pointed across the street to a gray building with huge glass windows and a red banner advertising a midday deal. “Can you enter?”

  “You mean whether I can step over the threshold without an invitation?” A spark of amusement appeared in Devon’s black eyes.

  I shrugged. “You need an invite to enter Aidan’s property.”

  He tucked at my arm gently as we crossed the street. “That’s because your boyfriend knows what’s harmful to a Shadow. The invitation part applies to vampires only. Didn’t you watch Dracula?”

  I could tell he was joking by the way the corners of his lips twitched. “Might’ve missed that one.”

  “I have it on DVD. Maybe you could come over to my place and watch it with me some time.” His tone was friendly and nonchalant. Harmless. But I knew there
was nothing harmless about Devon, or the place where he resided.

  “You’re hitting on me.” I dared a small smile as Devon pushed the door open to the café and waited until I walked past him.

  “Are you surprised? You kissed me.”

  “It was just a peck on the cheek.” I moistened my lips, avoiding his gaze. He had tried to flirt with me before. At that time I figured he was only interested in my ability to talk with the dead. I retrieved the Book of the Shadows for his kind, so they had no more use for me. And particularly not now that I was his enemy—and that I had a boyfriend who, needless to say, was his century-old foe. I had no idea what to make of him.

  “Don’t worry,” Devon said. “I’m not going to be all over you in the hope of convincing you that you’re dating the wrong person. You’ll recognize that part soon enough. Why don’t you take a seat? I’ll be right back.”

  I sat down at a nearby table and regarded Devon’s back as he instructed the barista. From behind he looked so similar to Aidan: tall with broad shoulders and dark hair that brushed the collar of his jacket. I found him attractive, but I didn’t feel the chemistry. Or did I?

  A loud bang echoed in my ears, and for a moment everything blacked out like someone switched off the lights. It didn’t last long, anything between a few seconds and a minute or two. When my vision returned and I finally resurfaced, I was sitting in my chair propped against Devon’s chest. He was whispering something. It took me a while to realize it was a foreign language I didn’t recognize.

  Groaning, I shifted in my seat to bring a few inches between us, and rubbed my neck. My heartbeat was steady, but the fog inside my head didn’t seem to want to dissipate. “What did you say?”

  He looked taken aback, like he didn’t expect the question. “You were unresponsive.” He pushed a cup of coffee in front of me as though that’d answer my question.

  Thanks,” I said, wrapping my hands around the hot beverage, itching to take a sip.

  He inched forward until I could feel his warm breath on my lips. “Your eyes are flickering.”

  “That’s a horrible pickup line. You should’ve tried ‘sparkle like diamonds’.”

  He frowned. “No, Amber. Your eyes have changed color to red and purple.”

  “Oh.” I peered around me only now realizing I didn’t bother to bring my handbag with my compact mirror, so I picked up a knife to regard myself. My reflection was blurred but I noticed something blood red that seemed to shift as I moved my eyes. “Crap. Not again.”

  “It happened before?”

  He made it sound like I was at the doctor’s complaining about a rash or sore throat. Irritated, I dropped the knife on the table and turned to face him, ready to change the subject because I sure had no explanation up my sleeve. “How’s your coffee? Good? Care to describe what it tastes like because right now I’d kill for a single sip.”

  “I get it, you don’t wanna talk about it.” He nodded and gulped down half of his coffee, making me instantly jealous. “It’s delicious with a strong yet smooth aroma. Is that a hint of vanilla? I swear I ordered cinnamon but vanilla’s even better.”

  I slapped his hand lightly. “Shut up. You’re so not helping.”

  “So, you’re in big trouble, huh?” He put the cup down as his gaze met mine again. And this time I could see an intensity there that worried me. I felt like a tiny mouse watched by the big hawk. Should I deny it? Part of me knew that was the right thing to do. When the hawk’s waiting for the precise moment to attack, tiny mouse watched by the big hawk. Should I deny it? Part of me knew that was the right thing to do. When the hawk’s waiting for the precise moment to attack, you don’t share with him your weakness. I opened my mouth to tell him he had it all wrong when he interrupted me. “Is that why you called Brendan? You thought he could help you?”

  I hated how horribly weak and useless that made me sound. “It was the other way round, but we came to an understanding,” I blurted out before I could stop myself.

  “What did he want?” Something shimmered in Devon’s eyes. I stared at that blackness, allowing it to suck me in. Damn, me and my big mouth. My mind went blank an instant before a sense of peace and trust and tranquility washed over me.

  The guy was messing with my head.

  He was trying to use me again, just the way he did a few weeks ago.

  “Why don’t you ask him? Or better yet, see whether you can screw with his mind as well. He might appreciate it more than I do.” Getting up, I kicked my chair aside and headed for the door. He caught up with me outside the café as I was about to teleport in front of a huge crowd that was so typical of Wembley.

  Devon’s hand wrapped around my upper arm, and I stopped, but not because I wanted to. If I teleported now, I’d take him with me, and that was the last thing I needed.

  “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “Old habits die hard. But I swear I didn’t mean to. I just worry about you.”

  A very unlady-like snort escaped my throat. “Yeah, right. Like the giant hawk you are.”

  “Huh?”

  I waved my hand in his face. “Forget it. I was planning to tell you, but now I’m not going to.”

  “Amber, I’m really sorry.” He took a deep breath. I strained to read his expression. He wanted to know my secret badly; I could see it in the way his brows furrowed slightly yet he tried hard to relax, as though it didn’t matter. But it did. “Brendan’s still young,” Devon continued. “He doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

  So, it wasn’t about me but Brendan. “If you tell me what he wanted, I’ll tell you what Aidan was doing here. That’s why you went to the Lore court, isn’t it?”

  I shivered as images of Devon following me like a creep flashed before my eyes. “How do you know?”

  He shrugged. “Just because your boyfriend leaves you unsupervised to visit that place doesn’t mean I won’t take care of you. Do you have any idea what could’ve happened to you? That place is dangerous. A touch from that succubus, and you could’ve been lost forever.”

  I lifted my chin a notch, ready to jump to Aidan’s defense if need be, but Devon didn’t pursue the matter.

  “Do we have a deal?” he asked.

  “No deal. I don’t need you to reveal Aidan’s secret when I can just ask him myself.”

  He laughed softly. “Really? Is that why you need to spy on him? Because he’s so open and honest with you?” The guy sure knew how to make my relationship sound like a giant soap opera with everyone deceiving everyone else. But he did have a point. How many times did I ask Aidan and he refused to tell me? Here was my chance to find out what was going on. I pondered over my options. Go home and forget about it. Knowing my inability to keep my nose out of other people’s affairs, that wouldn’t work in a million years. Or I could just take Devon up on his offer. What was the harm in telling him what Brendan wanted?

  They had this weird bloodthing going on, so it was probably just a matter of Brendan not wanting to burden him. In a twisted kind of way, my logic actually made sense to me.

  “Okay—” I took a deep breath “—but you go first.” Devon shook his head. I rolled my eyes. “Oh, come on. What’s with the trust issues? I wasn’t the one who kidnapped you!”

  “We only tried to protect you.”

  If he kept saying that every time I brought up the issue, I might just end up slapping him. I didn’t need protection from a guy. Not in the past, present or future. “I’ll give in, but only because I want to get back home before Aidan realizes I’m gone. Brendan came to tell me about Angel’s disappearance.” It was half the truth, but Devon needn’t know. I was proud of myself that I didn’t stumble over my words. In fact, I was slowly getting really good at this telling-only-half-the-truth thing. And then I figured if I kept half the stuff to myself, he might just do the same to me.

  “Is that all? He said nothing else?” Devon’s tone raised my suspicion. There was more to the whole story, I knew that part straight away. This was my chance to find out what
that was.

  “Obviously not.” I scoffed. “There’s something fishy about the whole affair. It’s pretty obvious someone she trusted persuaded her to go with them. Maybe she was threatened. Obviously, Brendan is hell bent on finding out what happened and I think I can help.”

  Devon didn’t even blink. The way he just kept staring in silence with an unreadable expression on his face made me feel uncomfortable. “You think someone threatened her?”

  Whoa, was he asking me for my opinion? I shrugged. “Does it matter? A dear friend is gone and I won’t rest until the puzzle is solved.”

  “So, what have you found out so far?” His eyes glittered unnaturally bright. I could feel something in the air. Maybe apprehension. Was he nervous? Did he think I had discovered something I shouldn’t have? My heartbeat sped up. Granted, I never figured I might just be a natural-born Sherlock Holmes, but I couldn’t ignore the facts. I had a new lead, and this time it was Devon. He knew something that Brendan didn’t, that consequently I didn’t. I only had to find out what that something was.

  “Well—” I moistened my lips slowly “—let’s just say it’s big. I had no idea it was this huge and so many people are involved.”

  A frown appeared on his forehead. “A conspiracy?”

  “Yeah, you could say that.” I nodded, wide-eyed.

  “Did you know your boyfriend and the Lore Court are involved?”

  Devon’s question took me by surprise. Of course I kind of guessed something was going on and Aidan knew more than he let on, but having my suspicion confirmed didn’t make it any easier to swallow.

  “You didn’t,” Devon said, misinterpreting my silence. “But surely you wondered why he’s been gone so much lately.” He inched closer to whisper in my ear. His hot breath brushed my cheek, making me flinch just a little. It was strange but not unpleasant, almost like some part of me enjoyed it, which didn’t make any sense. I had absolutely no romantic interest in this guy, and yet…A craving awoke inside me, starting out as a tiny pang, no bigger than maybe a passing fancy that slowly turned into a longing sensation. It took my breath away. My knees began to shake beneath me as my vision blurred and strange pictures flashed through my mind.

 
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