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Shadow blood, p.3
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       Shadow Blood, p.3

           Jayde Scott
 
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  “Kieran told me,” Aidan said. “Blake will get back to us with an answer about that one. I have yet to tell him about the witch’s wound.” His tone made me realize he still didn’t trust Blake completely. He kissed my lips ever so gently. “Well done.”

  There was something in his gaze, a tiny flicker that made my heart almost stop. I tuned into our bond, only now realizing he was trying to hide something.

  “What’s wrong?” I asked, searching through the hot waves of distress wafting from him. The moment he realized what I was doing, the usual wall kicked me out of his mind, but not fast enough.

  “You’re in pain.” My hand brushed his cheek and trailed down his neck as my gaze scanned his body. His shirt was slashed across his chest, but underneath it his bronze skin was as smooth and perfect as ever.

  “It was just a scratch,” Aidan said, pushing my hands away.

  “What?”

  “I didn’t plan on telling you because I knew you’d worry.” Hesitating, he took a deep breath. “When we arrived, the door stood wide open. I thought the burglar would be gone because I didn’t sense anyone. He came out of nowhere, attacked me, and disappeared before we could catch him. It was just a blade and the wound’s healed already, see?” He unbuttoned his shirt and pulled it over his strong shoulders. I peered at his ripped torso and the faded battle scars, many of which came before Rebecca turned him into a vampire. They never disappeared after his turning.

  I swallowed hard and buried by face against his skin. “I’m glad you’re okay. Did you get a good look at him?”

  He shook his head grimly. “He took me by surprise. In an open battle he would’ve stood no chance.” His ego was rattled. I had no doubt in his past as a bounty hunter he had battled some rough, dangerous villains and always came out victorious in the end.

  “This wasn’t an open battle, so it doesn’t count,” I whispered. For a moment, he just held me in silence, his presence soothing me as we rocked slightly back and forth. “You know what’s really funny?” he said. “He didn’t take anything.”

  “Are you sure?” I looked up to regard him. “Have you checked whether the mirror’s still here?”

  His expression changed instantly, signaling he hadn’t thought of that. “I shouldn’t have to. The box is infused with witch’s blood. A vampire could never open it.”

  “I don’t think it was a vampire who broke in tonight,” I said, as my brain began to glue together the missing pieces.

  Aidan’s sharp gaze sliced into me. “What makes you say that?”

  “The shift in eye color, the monosyllabic word exchanges, the ploy to get me out of the house so she could return to seize the object of her desire—it all points to one perpetrator.”

  Surprise crossed his features as sudden realization dawned on him. “Maya’s possessed by Rebecca?”

  I nodded.

  “Crap,” Aidan said. It was the first time I heard him swear. In a few long strides, he reached the wardrobe and unlocked the hidden compared where he had stacked the black box upon our arrival. The box was still there but the lid had been pried open. The shard was gone. Dread washed over me as I realized Rebecca had found the last piece.

  “Now all she needs are the four powerful supernaturals whose abilities could turn Flavius into an undefeatable ruler,” I whispered.

  “I don’t believe this,” Aidan said, his forehead creasing. “This is a turn for the worse. What a mess.”

  “Where’s Maya?” I harbored the foolish thought that if we could only get our hands on her we might just be able to retrieve the mirror before it was too late.

  “We could use the ring to find her,” Aidan said.

  “It’s probably too late for that,” Blake said from the doorway. My attention snapped in his direction. Dark shadows had formed beneath his eyes. His black clothes matched his grim expression.

  “What are you saying?” Aidan asked, regarding him with no contempt for a change—maybe because a bigger mess than their own battle made them ignore their issues.

  “Maya’s been found dead,” Blake said. “But there’s more.” I groaned. Of course. There always was. “She’s been completely drained. Some of the Council members think a vampire did it—” his dark eyes narrowed with anger “—probably you, Amber. They haven’t decided yet.” His gaze settled on Aidan. “If things escalate I’ll take the blame. I owe you that much. Just promise me one thing.”

  “I won’t let you take the blame for a crime neither you nor Amber have committed,” Aidan said.

  “You’ll have no choice. Take care of Clare,” Blake whispered, determined.

  “There’s got to be another way. We’ll prove it wasn’t any of us.” I moistened my lips as I tried to sort through my thoughts. “Did you find out who was supposed to guard the north side of the wall?”

  “Not yet,” Blake said, “but Logan’s on it.”

  Aidan nodded. “Until then, don’t do anything stupid or reckless. We’ll find a way out of this one.”

  “Be careful.” Blake shot me an encouraging look. I swallowed past the lump in my throat.

  “Thank you. You too.” My words were barely more than a whisper.

  Blake gave me a brief hug and then disappeared, leaving a sense of foreboding in the pit of my stomach.

  Chapter 6

  After Blake, Aidan returned to Scotland to bury the witch from Elyssa’s basement—the seer girl, as I called her—while Seth left to tune in to Morganefaire, meaning spying on people’s conversations to pick up any rumors. One tiny mistake and the mirror was gone. I rubbed my open palms against my face, wondering how I could’ve been so stupid and follow Maya into the night, leaving the house unguarded. In less than an hour, pandemonium broke loose and we lost the one object that stood between Rebecca and freeing the most dangerous vampire the world had ever seen. I don’t know how long I just sat on the sofa, lost in thought, blaming myself. When I finally looked up from the colorful Oriental rug, Kieran and Aidan were standing in the doorway, exchanging worried glances.

  “It’s not your fault,” Kieran said, inching closer. “It’s mine. I should’ve stayed here instead of—” His voice trailed off and Julie’s words popped back into my mind. He disappeared every night when Aidan and I were asleep. I didn’t have to ask to know Kieran probably visited his girlfriend Patricia. If he didn’t want us to know about it, then his secret was safe with me.

  “It’s no one’s fault,” Aidan said. “There’s something strange about it though. She could’ve stolen the mirror any time when we visited the Council, and yet she decided to do it tonight.” He shook his head. “It’s like she wanted Amber to find the seer girl’s body. I wonder why.”

  Aidan had a point. My gaze wandered to the rising sun outside the tall windows, bathing the living room in a golden hue. The whole burglary thing didn’t make any sense. Maya knew her way around this place. She had access to our bedroom, and that’s where any normal person would start looking for a personal object instead of smashing the house to smithereens.

  “You claimed Maya broke in, stole the mirror, and attacked you,” I whispered. Aidan nodded so I continued, “What if she stole the mirror earlier and someone else broke in, someone who’s not familiar with the house? It’d make more sense because Maya looked way too weak to stab a vampire—” or knock me to the ground, which I didn’t add. “It must’ve been someone much stronger; maybe someone male.” Kieran’s eyes widened. He opened his mouth to speak when I raised my index finger to stop him. “And this someone must’ve been after something else.”

  Aidan’s gaze locked with mine. “It never crossed my mind. I still can’t believe he got away.”

  I groaned inwardly. Think bruised ego and all that. “He caught you off guard, remember?” My hand moved up his muscular biceps, rubbing gently to calm him.

  “Yeah, either that or you’re getting old,” Kieran said. Was he really that insensitive? I could’ve kicked him. “What are you, about 500 years old now?” he continued, ignor
ing my irritated look.

  “Oh, shut it,” I hissed.

  He raised his hands in mock defense. “What? I was just trying to lighten up the mood. The tension’s so thick you could slice it with a knife.” When no one laughed at his bad joke, he cleared his throat and turned to address me. “Anyway, we made a thorough sweep of the house. I personally checked your things and can assure you nothing’s missing.”

  “You two went through my personal belongings without my permission?” The last thing I wanted Kieran to see was my panties and bras not meant for his pervert eyes.

  “Someone had to,” he said defiantly. “And since Aidan was—”

  “I’m sure she understands,” Aidan cut him off.

  “Whatever,” I said, annoyed. “I’ll go through everything one more time. Just in case. I wouldn’t know what else to do until Seth and Blake are back.”

  Aidan stood and drew me close to press his lips against mine in a sloppy kiss. “We’ll be here. If you need any help, call me.” I stroked his cheek gently, only now noticing the sheath of sweat covering his forehead.

  “Promise me you’ll get some rest,” I said softly.

  He nodded and slumped down on the sofa. I shot him a last smile and headed upstairs. The burglar didn’t break in for nothing. As much as Aidan claimed otherwise, I knew he had taken something. Who would go to all the trouble of sifting through things and leaving a mess behind without stealing at least some cash or my IPod? Even though I didn’t expect Kieran to have overlooked any important clues, I figured as a woman I had a keener eye for detail. Besides, I knew exactly what I had packed.

  Chapter 7

  Keeping the lights off, I crept through the hall and decided to start with our bedroom. Kieran had already cleared the entire floor, but I didn’t think an extra pair of eyes would hurt. The bedroom was lit by a single night lamp he must’ve left switched on. I stepped inside and closed the door behind me, thankful for having a few moments of solitude.

  “I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation with Aidan,” Julie said, startling me. I turned to face her. She leaned against my dresser. For the first time she wasn’t dressed in something extravagant; just jeans and a cotton shirt, both a size or two too large, as though she didn’t even have the energy to pick the right size.

  Slumping down on the bed, I pulled one of the fluffy pillows and wrapped my arms around it. “Then you know someone broke in and stole something very important, a shard of a mirror. It was a really stupid move of me to follow Maya. Our enemies hit the jackpot because I left the house unguarded, and now we’re lost. And the worst thing is Blake warned Aidan I’d be to blame for starting the prophecy before their fallout. And you know what? He was right. I’m a walking disaster.” For the first time in years I felt really crushed. I never conceded defeat in my life. It rankled that I would now. In spite of Aidan’s words, the guilt sat deep. My anger tugged at me, making me choke on my breath and the unshed tears in my eyes. When I finally raised my gaze to Julie I had managed to get a grip on my emotions but the guilt continued to sting.

  “You can’t change fate,” Julie said. “No matter how hard you try. Just look at me. One moment I was living and breathing, and the next dead.” I nodded sympathetically. Fate had its way of messing with lives. No matter what I did, I couldn’t undo what happened, but I might still be able to change the future.

  “I think you were right when you said something else must be missing,” Julie continued. “Let’s get to work.” She straightened, her face a mask of determination and eagerness. I regarded her for long moments, marveling at her ability to just bottle up like that. Or maybe she wasn’t bottling up so much as accepting her circumstances. I realized at some point I had started to admire her for that. She might be irritating at times, but it was nice to have someone to share the burden with.

  “Kieran’s gone through everything. Apparently, nothing’s missing.” In spite of my words, I started rummaging through my things nonetheless, tossing this and that aside as I scratched them from my mental list. My personal belongings were all here, but we weren’t ready to give up yet. In silence, I moved to Aidan’s wardrobe and began combing through the few belongings he had thought of packing with Julie watching my every step. I folded his clothes carefully on the bed, and reached for the tiny box hid in the crevice of the floorboards, then opened the lid to check if Aidan’s tracker ring—the original, not the fake one—was still there.

  “It’s here.” I heaved a sigh and closed the lid, relieved.

  “Isn’t that the same ring from Elyssa’s store?” Julie said, inching closer.

  I shook my head and opened the lid to show it to her. “This one’s the real deal, blood infused and all. It can track any person or object, living or dead, so long it’s not protected by magic. Maybe we could use it to get the mirror back.”

  “I knew the other ring was a fake when you threw it into the bushes.” She stared at the gem as if inspecting every single detail. “I swear they look completely identical.”

  “Yeah, Elyssa’s trinket ring had me fooled big time.” I wished she didn’t mention that tiny incident when I gave Aidan the fake ring I bought from Bells, Books & Candles, thinking it was the missing tracker ring—the one Aidan had been searching for centuries. Not my proudest moments. Aidan had said he’d treasure it forever because it came from me. I peered at the things spread around me, my gaze searching for what wasn’t here. “Where’s the fake one?” I asked Julie. “Have you seen it anywhere?”

  She shook her head, wide-eyed. “Nope. I thought you threw it away.”

  I nodded slowly. “Yeah, but Aidan retrieved it. He said he’d treasure it forever.” I stared at the symbols etched into the gold, unable to remember whether those were the same ones I had seen before.

  “It’s Latin,” Julie said. “Yeah, I read a lot.”

  I held up the ring to her. “Put your knowledge to good use then. What does it say?”

  She peered at the piece of jewelry, her eyes squinting. “Made in China. China leads the market in electronics, toys, and what else not...but not magical rings.”

  My heart jumped in my throat. “This isn’t the real ring! It’s the fake one from Elyssa’s dime store.”

  “Looks like somebody did a bait and switch,” Julie said.

  I pressed my hand against my thudding heart. “Elyssa got me to take the fake ring. But how did she know I’d enter her store and find it?”

  “She didn’t,” Julie said. “She knew Aidan was in town. Everyone knows because, from what I’ve heard, he’s a legend. When you showed up and wanted to buy the ring for your boyfriend, she put two and two together and came up with the idea of swapping the real one with a fake one so you wouldn’t notice.”

  “Once the ring was inside the house, she did a switch-a-roo right under our noses while Maya kept us occupied,” I said.

  Julie shook her head, unconvinced. “But why would Elyssa want the real tracker ring so badly?”

  “Because there’s a war going on and it’s worth gold. She could use it for her own benefits or sell it to the highest bidder. Either way, it’s worth more than winning the lottery.” I jumped up from the bed and dashed downstairs, yanking the door open as soon as I reached the door to the living room. “The ring.” My whole body burned so badly, I could barely get the words out. I tossed the box to Aidan who caught it in mid-air. His gaze locked on the ring and for a moment his expression remained blank. And then it changed ever so slowly. A growl formed somewhere at the back of my throat. My heart pumped so hard I thought I might just die on the spot—if I weren’t sort of dead already. We hadn’t just lost one of the most precious possessions in the paranormal world, but two. Basically, everything we had. I couldn’t believe it. Was it my crappy luck or my big mouth that got us in this mess? I had a strong hunch it was the latter.

  “The tiny symbols around the setting don’t shimmer in the light. It’s a fake,” Kieran said needlessly. “Someone must’ve found out that you have the r
eal one.”

  “I specifically didn’t wear it so no one would see it.” Aidan ran a hand through his disheveled mop of hair. “Maya must’ve spied it while searching through our stuff. Or she could’ve overheard our conversation in the backyard when you gave me the present.”

  “I don’t think it was Maya,” I said quietly, and then recalled my visit to Bells, Books & Candles. By the time I finished, I could see the sympathy in Aidan’s eyes, as though he just couldn’t bring himself to blame me. But what hurt me the most was the disappointment alongside his pity, no matter how much he tried to hide it. I was a walking disaster. My mistake had managed to thwart the one person I loved the most in the world—and the knowledge broke my heart.

  “I’m truly sorry,” I whispered even though no words could ever convey the way I felt. Broken. Hopeless. Raging mad at Elyssa, Maya, the Council, but mostly at myself.

  “We’ll get it back.” Aidan drew me to his chest and began to caress my cheek, whispering soothing words in my ear. They didn’t console me. I pried myself out of Aidan’s embrace when I caught his pained expression. My worried gaze swept over him and settled on his feverish face.

  Sweat had gathered at his temples. The tiny rivulet running down the side of his face soon turned into a sheen layer that covered his entire forehead and cheeks. I didn’t dare move to wipe it away so I wouldn’t upset him. His hands were shaking as he pulled his shirt over his head mumbling something about being too hot. I stared at him for a second, confused. Slowly awareness of what must be going on struck me.

  “You’re sick,” I said softly, my pulse picking up in speed. Maybe the stress was too much and he needed to rest. Oh, who was I kidding? Vampires didn’t fall ill.

  “I knew I should’ve gotten that flu shot a few months back.” Aidan smiled. “I’m fine.” As though to prove his point, his hands lifted and brushed my back. But his action was clumsy and his shiny blue gaze told a different story.

 
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