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       Voodoo Kiss, p.2

           Jayde Scott
 
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  "Nervous?" he asked with a grin. I nodded even though I knew better than to wear my feelings on my sleeve. He might be able to catch a glimpse of my fear, but he had no idea of the hurricane wracking havoc inside my stomach. Boarding a plane had always been one of my many phobias ever since I took my first ten-hour flight from Moscow to NY, which I spent bowled over the matchbox toilet. I could only hope I had grown out of that habit.

  Gael grabbed my arm and pulled me against his chest whispering, "There's nothing to be nervous about, Soph." His warm breath, smelling of fresh coffee with the slightest hint of mint, caressed my cheek. I sighed and leaned against his broad chest, inhaling his aftershave I had grown to love during the six months we had been dating.

  Six months. That's a long time for a nineteen-year-old. A lot can happen in six months. One can finally graduate from school, move out of the motherly abode and seek to get a job to support one's music career. Or make friends, go partying, enjoy youth. My cheeks started to burn. Really, I was such a moron to have the thoughts I had when my boyfriend couldn't be more caring and supportive. But it wasn't my fault I saw him more as a friend than a lover.

  "You never told me how the gig was," Gael said, as though reading my mind. I raised my gaze to meet his dark eyes.

  "Great. But I might as well have mimed naked on stage."

  He smiled. "Now that would've definitely grabbed everyone’s attention."

  "Everyone was so drunk I doubt they'd have noticed the difference."

  "You have to start somewhere. You'll be a star soon enough." He always said that which is why I had learned to keep my mouth shut and never tell him about my gigs.

  "Why Rio?" I asked, changing the subject.

  "What?"

  I moistened my lips. "You never told me why you're taking me to Brazil."

  Gael averted his gaze. His eyes glazing over for a moment told me he was considering his answer. Maybe he was even hiding something from me. Even though we had only been dating for months, I had known him and his family for way longer, even before my sister died and his brother was killed around the same time. While I was still having nightmares, Gael seemed to barely remember Derrick's name.

  "It's a beautiful city…for lovers," he said eventually.

  "Been there before?" I marveled at how I wasn't even jealous that he had invited other girls to join him on his vacations.

  He shrugged. "A few times."

  I laughed, feeling the uneasiness in the pit of my stomach again. "Care to elaborate?"

  "There isn't much to say."

  His lips curled into a grin. I nudged him playfully. "Ah, I like your style. So you take a chick down there, and then get her all drunk on samba and the Brazilian flair so you can hook up with her. Not bad. If I were a guy with money I might just do the same. Not."

  He laughed as he pulled me closer. "No other girls, Soph. Just me and my family on a boring, private beach. I didn’t really have a good time." He pointed behind me. "Let's board."

  I nodded and followed him through the usual boarding motions. A flight attendant accompanied us to the aircraft.

  "Take a seat. I'll be right back," Gael said.

  Shrugging, I did as he instructed, surprised to find Gael had booked us first class seats with all the extra perks. Then again, what did I expect? That he fly economy like every other normal human being? As I slumped into my window seat with the extra legroom, I watched him talking to the flight attendant, his voice too low to hear, his hand hovering in mid-air mere inches away from her arm. I turned away, slightly irritated with myself that I still wasn't feeling the jealousy I thought I should feel.

  Gael returned to his seat with a glass of water, which I drank hastily. "Ready for the trip of your life?" he asked, grabbing my hand.

  "Looking forward to it." I smiled and leaned back. My eyes felt heavy after the lack of sleep from last night. I let myself drift into an uneasy nap accompanied by the sound of fluttering wings inside my head.

  Chapter 2

  I slept through most of the flight. By the time we were ready to land in Rio de Janeiro, I felt excited to visit one of the most remarkable cities in the world. Granted, it did have a reputation for mugging and kidnapping, but with Gael by my side I was ready to capture the world.

  "Sorry about this morning," I said as we squeezed our way through the huge crowd gathered at customs.

  "No worries," Gael whispered. "Make sure you clutch your handbag tight."

  My handbag wasn't the only thing I'd clutch tight. I peered at the tall, tanned girls with their generous cleavages ready on display for anyone who wanted a second look. My hand moved to Gael's, and he shot me an amused look. I smiled back out of habit.

  "What?" Gael asked.

  I shrugged. "Nothing. I'm just glad we get to do this before college starts and we're both thrown into—"

  "Sold out gigs and frat parties?" He raised a brow.

  "No. Think more in the line of brooding over library books about coordinated vocal cords and lots of voice training until my throat's sore."

  "Sounds like fun." He pulled me behind him. "Come on."

  In spite of my fear and insecurities at what lay before me, I couldn't wait to jump right in and put in the necessary work to become a rock star. It wasn't about the fame; all I wanted was to make my family proud and help my mother financially. The family had battled poverty their whole life and deserved a break from it.

  The customs officer asked something in Portuguese and Gael answered back for me. For a moment, the dark-haired woman regarded me intently, mouth pressed into a tight line, and then she nodded and motioned me to move along. I whispered a thank you and followed Gael to the hired limousine waiting for us.

  As soon as we stepped out of the arrivals hall, a hot gust of air hit me in the face, making it hard to breathe until my lungs adjusted. I raised my hand to shield my eyes from the glaring brightness, and I'm not talking about the sun alone. There were so many people around us, dressed in all possible rainbow colors. I couldn't help but stare, hoping I didn't make a complete fool of myself—or worse, break a few country customs in the process. That's when a dark-haired guy caught my eyes.

  He was tall, at least a few inches taller than the rest, with shaggy bed hair framing high cheekbones. His unbuttoned shirt revealed toned chest muscles and a dragon tattoo slithering south. My attention snapped from his cute face to his sculpted body you usually only see in magazines. The guy was just hot. I rose on my toes to get a better look, but a redhead, about a head shorter than the guy, partly obstructed my view. Like on cue, both the guy and the girl turned to face me a moment before Gael opened the door to the limousine and I jumped on the backseat, losing sight of them.

  "To the hotel?" the driver asked in broken English.

  Gael nodded as I craned my neck, but the car sped off, leaving a trail of whirled up dust and torn newspaper pages in its wake. I sighed and sank into the plush leather seat, wondering what was wrong with me. My cheeks flushed with guilt. A wandering eye had never been my style. In fact, I prided myself on my loyalty toward my boyfriends. On the other hand, I hadn't really been looking that long. In fact, it was more of a glimpse from the corner of my eye. Sort of.

  "You look flushed. Here, let me get you something to drink. I can't have you fainting on me now, can I?"

  "I'm fine, thanks. Let's just get to the hotel." Maybe it was the heat that made me lethargic. I turned away, avoiding his probing gaze, guilt nagging at the back of my mind because he was a nice guy, and I really didn't deserve him.

  Gael reached over and grabbed a bottle of water together with what looked like a scarf. "No. I insist. And I also insist on you wearing this."

  I grabbed the bottle from his outstretched hand and took tiny sips because pleasing him was easier than arguing right now, then peered at the tiny scarf in his hands. The material, thin and twisted to form a rope, was colored dark brown and gold. I rubbed it between my fingers, marveling at how smooth and cold it felt.

  "What
is it?"

  "A gift." He leaned in to tie it around my waist. "You can wear it as a belt."

  I smiled. "Thanks. It's beautiful."

  "It's a sad reality but tourists are kidnapped every day. I have connections down here. This scarf is given for protection. If you wear it, you'll be safe because people will know you belong to me. No one will dare touch you."

  A belt to protect me from kidnappers? Sounded a bit ridiculous to me. Then again I knew almost nothing about this country. My smile widened. "So I won't be abducted for ransom?"

  "Come on, Soph." His eyes hardened as he lifted my chin with his finger, forcing me to face him. His expression was dead serious. "I mean it. Don't take it off. Not even when you sleep."

  “Sure.” I found his attitude strange, but I shrugged it off. I was used to him being bossy every now and then.

  Gael pulled me against him and planted a kiss on my cheek, then started recalling his plans for the week. I tried hard to listen and to nod at the right moments, but my mind kept wandering back to the guy with the tattoo. He had been so handsome and yet I felt as though it wasn’t just his looks that drew me to him and kept me spellbound. There was something else, something that had been buried deep inside me for a long time was now calling for me. Like—something I couldn't quite pinpoint. Shaking my head slightly, I forced myself to tune into Gael's enthusiastic speech even though, for some unexplainable reason, my enthusiasm and excitement from before was gone. Maybe all the sleepless nights got to me eventually because my brain wasn't making much sense. I was in Rio. I should be over the moon. And yet all I could suddenly think about was boarding the next plane home.

  Half an hour later, the limousine stopped. To my surprise I found Gael hadn't booked a five-star hotel. With its big, hanging wires, scattered debris, and what reminded me of mildew in the crevices, this place had 'fell on hard times' written all over it. It didn't even look like a hotel, more like a neglected three-story building that hadn't seen a good scrub in the last ten years. I peered at the gaunt, yellow grass that was supposed to be the front lawn and wondered why the owner didn't invest in a sprinkler system. It sure might help raise the room prices.

  "Are we staying here?" I asked as the limousine driver carried our suitcases into the lobby.

  "Everything else was sold out," Gael said apologetically. "I forgot about the Brazilian Carnival. Do you mind?"

  I wasn't aware the Brazilian Carnival took place at this time of the year, but I didn't comment. I shook my head. "No. Of course not. It's just that—" That what? That I had expected something much better? It wasn't like I lived in luxury back home. Was I slowly turning into a snob because I was dating a rich guy? Gael raised his brows so I continued, "We flew first class, not to mention you picked me up in a fancy limousine. This took me by surprise, that's all. I never expected you to be comfortable in such a place."

  "I guess you don't know everything about me," he said and turned away so I didn't catch his expression.

  "Actually, it's nice." Through squinted eyes it really didn't look that bad, though I wouldn't have been surprised to find I had to share my bathroom with a few cockroaches.

  The reception area was small but pretty and tidy, with colorful pictures and strange symbols covering the walls. On the left, a dark-haired woman greeted us from behind a counter. I peered at the bellboy dressed in shorts and a flowery top as he disappeared up the stairs. A moment later, Gael and I followed behind, a set of keys dangling from Gael's fingers. The room was located on the first floor. The bright rays of sun seeping through the thin curtains cast an orange glow on the thick bedspread. Opposite from the four-poster bed was a dressing table and a TV set. The bed looked plain but cozy enough to sleep. A narrow door led into what I assumed was a walk-in cupboard. Above it, something strange caught my eye—three interlocking circles with a dot in its center, like something you might see on an Ouija board. I didn't know what to make of it. Obviously these people were into the occult or something. I wasn't exactly comfortable with it, but I figured everyone has the right to choose the religion they want to follow.

  I pointed to a snake with red eyes painted on the left side of the wall murmuring, "I wonder what that means."

  "In the voodoo culture the serpent is a symbol of fertility," the bellboy said, grinning. "This place is magical. I bet you two will have lots of babies together."

  The thought almost made me choke on my breath. "That is if we ever get married. Not that I'm even anywhere near ready. I mean I want a career first and—"

  "Gosh, don't even think about it. I'm not ready for kids either." Gael shook his head. “Even the thought makes me shiver.”

  I let out a sigh of relief and pointed to a Celtic cross. "What does that one mean?"

  "It's a crucifix within a circle," the bellboy went on to explain. "This ancient symbol is thought to protect one from spiritual dangers of all kinds. Anyone in this place is shielded from demonic forces so they won't see you."

  I smirked. "So I'm protected from demons, and I'm going to have lots of babies. Gotta love this place."

  "I don't believe in this kind of stuff," Gael whispered in my ear. "Do you?" I shook my head even though I actually did, but joking about it was way better than letting it freak me out.

  Smiling, Gael tipped the bellboy and then locked the door. I regarded him, unsure how to put my concerns into words. In spite of dating him for a few months, we hadn't actually gotten as far as sleeping in the same bed. I knew he wasn't happy about it, but I didn't care.

  "I thought it'd be worse," Gael said, meaning the room.

  "How so?" I asked.

  "I didn't see mouse poop in the shower."

  "Gross! I'm so glad I don't have to share my bed with anything that lives in crevices and feeds on cheese." My laughter sounded forced.

  He winked. "Yeah, it wouldn't be fair. They'd get to snuggle up to you while I was across the hall. The thought of you being all alone at night in a foreign county makes me unhappy." His face suddenly became serious. The lines around his mouth hardened.

  "I love the people here,” I said, changing the subject. “They’re a little weird, what with their beliefs and all, but nonetheless sweet."

  "You mustn't trust anyone. If someone tries to talk to you, don't say a word."

  I nodded, not really taking him and his paranoia seriously. He didn't seem like he'd leave any time soon. I took a deep breath to steady my racing heart and decided to be upfront. "Are we both sleeping in the same room?"

  "Only if you want to." A glint appeared in Gael's eyes. When I didn't react, he cleared his throat and pointed at the door. "There's an adjacent bedroom. We'll have to share the bathroom though." I breathed out, relieved. I could definitely live with that.

  "Sure. Just don't leave your clothes or bath towels all over the floor 'cause your maid isn't here to clean up after you."

  "As long as you don't leave your blow dryer, make up, and lipsticks all over the counter.” Gael inched closer. “You look beautiful today, even after a long flight.” I smiled at his obvious attempt to make a move.

  "I bet you're just saying that so you get to sleep here. Forget it, Mister." I punched his arm playfully. "You know I don't share my bed with anyone."

  He tickled me. "Not even with me?"

  Being the ticklish kind, I squealed and tried to push him away. "Not even with you. You know I need space."

  "It really fits you." He touched my belt and leaned in to place a kiss on my lips. It wasn't unpleasant, but I didn't enjoy it the way I should have. Slightly embarrassed at my own thoughts, I changed the topic.

  "I wish you would've told me you had a gift so I could’ve bought something for you too."

  "Don't worry about it. You do enough for me already." His eyes shined. His thumb started to caress my cheek. I knew it was an invitation, but I didn't reply. For a moment, he regarded me as though he wanted to say something else, then turned around, calling over his shoulder, "Meet you for lunch in twenty."

  Hol
ding my breath, I waited until he disappeared through the door I had thought would lead into the closet. When I was finally alone, I took my time unpacking, stacking my clothes inside the drawers and arranging my toiletries on top, then dropped on the bed to rest and gather my thoughts. A week alone with Gael, away from his busy schedule, from our families and my money worries, and yet all I could think about was the tattooed guy at the airport and the moment our eyes connected. There had been something in his green gaze, something deep and twisted and unnatural.

  I groaned at myself and closed my eyes, willing sleep to free my surprisingly vivid imagination from visualizing a guy I had seen for all of a few seconds.

  "Soph." A hesitant voice broke through my bubble. Someone touched my arm gently. I opened my eyes groggily to stare at Gael's shape leaning over me. For a moment, I thought his eyes had turned black as coal, soaking up the light seeping in through the curtains. Whimpering, I pulled back from him. When I blinked, the vision was gone.

  "Hey, it's just me," Gael whispered. "You had a bad dream."

  I nodded and rubbed my head even though I couldn't remember having any dream. Just the pitch black I had been seeing for months now.

  "Ready to get some food?" He held his hand out and I grabbed it, noticing how cold his skin felt in spite of the hot weather. He had changed into a pair of khaki slacks and a white shirt that made his tanned skin look darker.

  "Yeah, great." I smiled and let him accompany me downstairs to the waiting limousine.

  "You've been a bit strange lately," Gael resumed the conversation as soon as the driver sped off.

  "How so?" My gaze met his. I hoped he couldn't see the turmoil inside me. Yes, I had been strange, but it wasn't because of anything he had done or said. I just didn't feel like myself. It was as if someone else dwelled inside my body, controlling my mind and emotions. I couldn't remember the last time I hadn't been jumpy and harried, just like my songs, but I guessed that's what the death of someone you were close to does to you. It makes you numb, dead inside.

  Gael shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe distant?"

 
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