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       Voodoo Kiss, p.4

           Jayde Scott
 
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  The left patient on the bed stirred in his sleep, drawing his breath several times before his heart stopped beating, and the little ECG machine next to him started beeping. Cass sucked in her breath, relishing the moment when the man's life force waned. She inched closer and pushed her hands inside his ribcage. Only then did I notice the razor sharp claws she had been hiding behind her back that now tore through the man's astral body as he rose to hover over his body.

  "Time to go." Cass's voice was surprisingly calm and composed. With a snap of her fingers she ripped the silver thread that held the man's astral body attached to his physical carcass. And then she disappeared with him, leaving me behind to look at the whirring machines and the deceased who had just passed away in his sleep. I sighed and walked out of the building, then sat down on a nearby bench as I prepared for the half hour wait. Cass would be back soon with a refreshed mind that would be free of the usual pain for a few hours. I grabbed a newspaper and let my mind switch off for a while, but my thoughts kept circling back to the girl with the dyed jet-black hair. For some reason, I couldn't forget the way she had looked at me, curious yet cool and composed. She was mortal, I wasn't, so getting up close and personal with her wasn't an option. And yet I wanted her.

  ***

  Half an hour later, Cass appeared behind me, her cheeks a glowing pink, eyes shining emerald green with renewed vigor and life force. I folded the newspaper and tossed it aside as I made room for her to sit down next to me, but she just shook her head, preferring to stand.

  "How is he?" I asked, meaning her mate, Dallas.

  "Still dead." She shrugged as though it didn't matter. It was her way to deal with her emotions. I nodded sympathetically as she asked, "Did you find Sofia's trail yet?"

  I shook my head. "Nope, but I found something else." She sat down, her flowing dress grazing my arm as she leaned in, interested. "One of your vampire friends is around. I caught his scent."

  "Who?"

  "The car racer."

  "Kieran?" she asked, raising her brows. I nodded. "What's he doing here?" From her expression and her sharp tone, I could tell she wasn't happy.

  "No idea." I lowered my voice. "Maybe he's trying to help."

  "Or mess things up. They wanted to come." She peered to the car park on the other side of the road, and I knew instantly any chance of doing this my way was slowly dissipating into thin air.

  "Who?" I asked even though I could smell them now. Dallas's sister, Amber, and her vampire boyfriend, Aidan, stood waiting somewhere in the distance, out of view.

  "You're good but you should've smelled them much earlier. What's wrong with you? Do you have a blocked nose?"

  I had been wondering about the same thing, minus the blocked nose. As an immortal, I didn't experience the usual health problems. Ignoring her question, I got up and waved, knowing the vampires were watching me. "A big family reunion then," I muttered under my breath.

  "Trust me, I'm about as excited as you are, but Amber wouldn't let me leave without her. And where Amber is, Aidan will follow," Cass whispered. "This family reunion blows."

  "Let's face the dragon then." I grabbed Cass's arm and pulled her after me.

  They were waiting in the shadows even though their skin wouldn't burn from the sun. Aidan was a foot taller than Amber, but I noticed her first. She had only recently been turned into a vampire, but her skin already showed that unnatural paleness.

  Even though Aidan was a foot taller than her, I noticed Amber first. I could see the glint in her eyes from a few feet. She had only recently been turned into a vampire, but her skin already showed an unnatural paleness, which she tried to cover with a black long sleeved top and jeans that only made her skin look paler, white as snow. Aidan didn't fare any better, and his unnaturally blue eyes didn't help his cause.

  "You're blending right in, dude." I held out my hand, grinning. Aidan reached out but Amber grabbed it first, her hazel gaze meeting mine. She squeezed tight.

  "Thrain, right?"

  I nodded. "We met before when you were the damsel in distress. Seems like things have changed."

  A smile lit up her face. "You could say that. I went from alive to dead to alive again."

  I smirked. "You have a broad definition of alive then."

  "We should get going," Aidan said, grabbing her elbow as though to protect her. The chick certainly didn't need protection, but she kept silent. "Meet us at the hotel?" Without waiting for my answer, they dissipated into thin air.

  "Still the same control freak, I see," I muttered to Cass as we neared our car, hating the fact that, between portals, we had to travel like mortals in the physical realm while the vampires got to teleport to places without being stuck in traffic. I didn't like that they had this advantage over the inhabitants of Hell. Cass had a phone that could open a portal anywhere, but with all the potential witnesses around us it was safer to just drive.

  "He'll get the job done," Cass said.

  I peered at the tight lines around her mouth, wondering what she was hiding. "What job? I thought it was mine."

  She nodded as she opened the car door and slumped down into the passenger seat. "It is. But you're a tracker and he's the bounty hunter."

  "What do you need a bounty hunter for?"

  "You said Kieran's around." She turned to face me as I started the engine, letting the car idle on the spot. "Kieran's a bounty hunter too. Aidan doesn't know his brother's here, which means he's looking for something." I raised my brows, still not getting where this was heading. Cass groaned and pointed at my forehead. "Yo, could you turn that thing up there on? Kieran was the one who turned Amber and the Lore court knows it, meaning until now he's been hiding. Why would he leave his hiding place, unless he made a deal with someone?"

  I nodded, even though I still had no idea what she was talking about. "What's he doing here from all the places in the world?"

  "Right. Okay, let's go." She slumped into her seat. I didn't move.

  "You knew Kieran was here." She didn't answer, which I took as a confirmation. Dammit, something was wrong with me, or why would she pick up a vampire's scent long before me? "Just say it."

  She shook her head. "Wouldn't be good for your ego, mate."

  I set my jaw. "When?"

  "At the airport. That's why I went to pick up Amber and Aidan. If Kieran's looking for something, we need to find it first. And who's better at picking clues than a bounty hunter?"

  "I'm a tracker."

  She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, I know that. But right now you can't even find Sofia. With me incapacitated because of this horrible curse and your blocked nose—" she waved her hand in my face "—let's just say, we might not be able to find Sofia, get her to do the job and keep an eye on Kieran if we stumble upon him. Besides, they're brothers, so the chance they'll screw each other over is very unlikely."

  And then I understood what she was saying. In the paranormal world, everyone was your enemy. What were the odds of someone employing Kieran to be in the same place at the same time as us? Whoever employed Kieran could only have harm in mind, and the moron probably didn't even know it.

  "Have you told Aidan?"

  "And miss all the drama?" She snorted. "Are you kidding me?" I could smell the excitement wafting from her, passing on to me. Grinning, I dodged the oncoming traffic as I changed lanes. My foot hit the accelerator hard. Time to let the chaos demon in me out and get this job done.

  Chapter 6

  For a long time all I could hear was yelling in a language I didn't understand. The words sounded accusatory and angry, but I wasn't sure whether they were aimed at me, or someone else. The entity was gone, but I felt cold, colder than I had ever been in my entire life, the freezing sensation competing with the pain in my chest. But that wasn't what worried me in my dream-like state. That scary darkness from my dreams was all around me, enveloping me and keeping me hostage in my own body and mind. No matter how hard I tried to push and pry my eyes open, I couldn't move. Slowly, I started to panic, w
ondering whether I'd ever wake up and be my old self again.

  I felt trapped, I felt bodiless. I felt panic rising inside me whether I'd ever wake up. I thought of my family, of what would happen to them if they heard I was gone. Gone, how final those words sounded. As if I was dead already. Was I dead?

  I didn't know how long I lingered in that empty yet painful state, drifting in and out of consciousness. When my eyes finally fluttered open, I realized I was in my hotel room, propped up on a pillow in the middle of my bed. The clock on my nightstand showed it was already after 10 p.m. Gael sat beside me. When I stirred, he smiled and grabbed my hand. Something flickered in his eyes. It was the same dark shadow I had seen before, like a black flame lapping at dried wood, only this time my mind was fully operational and I knew I wasn't imagining things. I pulled back from him, but only a little.

  "Hey, it's me," Gael said. "You were out of it for a while."

  I swallowed and moistened my dry lips. "What happened?" My voice came low and hoarse, as though I hadn't spoken in days.

  He held a glass of water to my lips and I took greedy gulps. The cool liquid soothed the scratchy sensation at the back of my throat. "You passed out from the heat."

  I shook my head. "Something else must've happened. I remember the fortune teller starting her chatter, and then there was blackness." I shivered as I let my memories invade my mind. That was one scary place I never wanted to visit again.

  "Trust me, it was the heat." Gael set his jaw, signaling the conversation was over. The black flame in his eyes flickered again. I finished my water and put the glass back on the bedside table.

  "What did the fortune teller say?" I asked.

  "What?"

  I turned to face him. "She spoke for hours. I want to know what she said."

  "Don't be ridiculous. When you passed out, we wrapped you in damp towels and I drove you home. You've been sleeping since the early afternoon." I peered at him. Somehow I knew he was lying, which didn't make sense. Why would he avoid telling the truth? Unless the woman had said something bad and he didn't want to upset me. I grabbed his hand and gave it a light squeeze, wondering why his skin felt cold as ice in spite of the smoldering heat outside.

  "What did she say?" I persisted.

  Ignoring my question, Gael got up and headed for the door, calling over his shoulder, "Why don't you take a shower while I get us dinner? I won't be long, and don't take off the scarf."

  I stared after him, perplexed. Something wasn't right. I could tell from the way he treated me. He had never been this brisk before. Gael wasn't the most open and talkative person, but he had never been this secretive, brushing me off for no apparent reason. Did I say or do anything wrong?

  Eventually I got up and stripped off my clothes, leaving the scarf wrapped around my wrist, then jumped under the shower. I slumped against the cold tiles, letting the hot water trickling down every part of my aching body before I went about checking my arms for any bruises where I thought fingers had pressed into my skin. There were none.

  I turned off the water tap and stepped out, wrapping a large towel around me. The mirror had misted over with steam. I swiped my hand across its smooth surface and regarded myself. My large blues eyes were hooded, as though I hadn't slept in ages. My hair hung in thick wet strands. And then, for a split second, I heard something: a scratching noise, like nails on a chalkboard, but so low I wasn't sure it had been there at all. I checked the door, which was closed, then went back to the mirror, figuring I was imagining things again. When I picked up my brush to comb my hair, I could see in the reflection of the mirror that the window had misted over as though someone had breathed on it from the outside. A tiny drawing appeared. I turned my head sharply, noticing small lines on the glass. Frowning, I inched closer to read the word: PLEH. Someone staying here before me must've been dissatisfied with his vacation and written it. I couldn't agree more. Ignoring it, I turned back to the mirror to pull my hair into a messy ponytail, when the writing caught my eye again. In the mirror, PLEH spelt backwards: HELP.

  My breathing accelerated, my heart racing in my chest a million miles an hour. The room was situated on the second floor with no balcony and no back garden. Someone must be playing a prank on me. Even though the voice at the back of my mind screamed to stay away, I removed the hatch and pushed the window wide open, leaning over the sill as much as I could. The space below was so tiny, one couldn't hide a flowerpot let alone an adult. Besides, a stonewall reached from the ground almost as high as the first floor. Unless someone had a pair of wings and could fly over it, I doubted they could climb over, breathe against the window and then dissipate into thin air a moment later.

  I closed the window again. The writing was still there and for the first time I noticed the lines looking messy, like those of a child. The letter P ended with a tiny swirl. My sister, Theo, used to do that. Something clicked into place inside me. I had a strong feeling that it all made sense and yet I couldn't explain it. A cawing echoed outside. A moment later, a black crow perched on the windowsill, its beady gaze meeting mine. For the first time I was relieved to see her so I nodded and I swear she nodded back. Behind me the door burst open, startling me. I turned to see Gael enter.

  "Ever heard of knocking?" I snapped.

  "I knocked, but you didn't reply." He raised an eyebrow as he peered from me to the window and then back at me. "What are you doing?"

  I followed his line of vision to see the crow was gone. "Taking a shower, like you said. Hope you brought dinner 'cause I'm starving." I walked past him, ignoring the hesitation on his face. I knew I should tell him everything, but something held me back. If he kept secrets from me then so would I. Besides, how could I explain what just happened without sounding like a lunatic who belonged into the nearest loony bin.

  "I did," Gael said.

  "Let me change first." Without waiting for an answer, I slammed the door behind me and grabbed clean clothes from the wardrobe, then slipped into my underwear, a pair of jeans and a baggy top, wrapping Gael's scarf around my waist because I figured just doing what he had instructed would save me a possible confrontation.

  On the bedspread were disposable plates and cutlery next to a brown bag I assumed contained our dinner. The strong aroma of fried chicken hung heavy in the air. I slumped down next to them and piled food onto the plates as Gael joined me. I could tell he was still preoccupied from the deep frown across his forehead and the vacant expression.

  "Not hungry?" I pointed at the untouched chicken wings in front of him. He managed a half-smile and took a bite. "Care to elaborate why you wouldn't tell me what really happened at the fortune teller's place?"

  He let out an exaggerated sigh and turned to face me. A strange glint played in his eyes. So I wasn't imagining things. I bit down on my lip but didn't comment. "I told you nothing happened, Sofia. Why won't you just drop it? You're being ridiculous."

  I nodded and met his gaze as he stared at me, cold and calculating. He was lying. Only then did I notice, after being out of it for an entire afternoon, he didn't even ask how I was. I had seen it before. My father had been that way. Not from early on, but after he had fallen out of love with my mother. But maybe he had never been in love with her. I moistened my lips and turned away.

  "What's wrong?" Gael asked as though sensing my emotional undercurrents. I shook my head and smiled, wondering what I was doing here. I had never been in love with him. To expect something I couldn't give was just wrong. He had been my rock when Sofia died. Gratitude was about all I felt for him right now. For some inexplicable reason, I actually felt bad for it.

  "Thanks for dinner," I said.

  "Sure. I have some business to attend to. Why don't you get some rest and I'll see you in the morning?"

  "Sounds good." I raised my cheek to him, more out of habit than of true need. He planted a sloppy kiss on my forehead, probably feeling just as disconnected as I did.

  "Stay inside," Gael said. His tone was nonchalant, but the order didn't fail
to register. I watched him walk across the tiny room and close the door behind him without so much as a good night. Maybe the guy had something on his mind, or he was indeed busy, but something didn't quite add up and I was eager to solve the mystery.

  Deep in thought, I stacked the remnants of our dinner inside its packaging, considering whether to throw it all into the waste bin. I had never been a fan of smelly rooms so I waited a few more minutes to make sure Gael wouldn't come back, then slipped my naked feet into my trainers and opened the door.

  The hall was empty, devoid of any signs of someone's presence. I closed the door behind me and tiptoed down the oriental carpet to the staircase all the while holding my breath as I listened for any sound. My heart hammered in my chest even though it was ridiculous since I had nothing to hide. Gael had instructed me to stay inside, but I was a grown up and no one had the right to tell me what to do. If he caught me and disapproved, he could just shove it where the sun don't shine.

  For a moment, I hesitated in the doorway. When nothing stirred, I walked down the stairs to the ground floor. The entrance hall was just as deserted, so no one there to ask. Figuring the garbage bins had to be outside, I took the backdoor that led into a tiny communal garden. The moon was partly behind by thick clouds but gave enough light to see clear shapes. I scanned the area as my eyes adjusted. To my right, large bushes obstructed my view of what was behind. To my left, a large wall protected the hotel from the outside world. I saw nothing that resembled garbage bins but I wasn't ready to give up yet, not least because I enjoyed the cool air and the solitude.

  The soft breeze left a cool sensation on my skin, turning it into goosebumps. I breathed in the crisp air and walked down the tiny path toward the bushes, then stopped in my tracks when I heard male voices. They were too low to understand, so I crept closer until I could make out one of them was Gael. I crouched next to one of the bushes and squeezed my hand through to part the leaves so I could catch a glimpse of what was happening on the other side.

 
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