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       Voodoo Kiss, p.5

           Jayde Scott
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  I recognized Gael immediately by the light brown slacks and the white shirt he had worn half an hour ago when he brought up dinner. He had his back turned toward me. As he talked, his voice betrayed irritation. The other guy was a few inches taller than Gael with dark hair that brushed the black collar of his shirt. He was clad in blue jeans that showed off strong legs, but what caught my attention immediately were his striking blue eyes. I had never seen blue eyes like that, shining in the dark without any light source reflecting in them. My gaze moved to the pale skin of his face and neck. I, too, liked to shy the sun, but he was at least a shade paler and it made him look unnatural, not in a sick way but different.

  "How many times do I need to tell you I don't have much time?" Gael's voice cut through the silence of the night.

  "I heard you the first time," the blue-eyed guy said.

  "Obviously, you didn't otherwise you would have found what I'm looking for."

  "There's been a complication."

  "Really?" Gael snorted. "And why would I care? You're being paid to do your job. How you do it is your business. As long as I pay all I want to hear about or see is results."

  I scoffed inwardly, wondering why Gael was being such a jerk. That was no way to talk to a dog, let alone a human being. As though reading my thoughts, the blue-eyed guy's gaze shifted toward me and for a moment my breath caught in my throat. His sudden smile seemed out of place for someone who was being lectured by his boss, and yet I knew it wasn't addressed at Gael. It was for me. He knew I was there, hiding in the shadows.

  I straightened my back, ready to dash for the house before the blue eyed guy betrayed my presence, but Gael beat me to it.

  "You have twenty-four hours to get the job done. Better not waste my time," Gael called over his shoulder as he stomped past, unaware of my presence, his arrogance mirroring in his stride. Holding my breath, I waited until I heard the backdoor open and close behind him. Only then did I dare to turn around and my heart jumped in my throat.

  He was standing right next to me, peering down with the same unnerving smile.

  "Looking for something?" His voice was deep and low, barely more than a whisper. "I'm Kieran." He reached out his hand and I grabbed it, for some inexplicable reason trusting him.

  "Sofia," I said, pointing at the bag in my hand. "I was throwing out the garbage."

  "That's not the only thing you should be throwing out." Even in the darkness, I could see the twinkle in his eyes.

  Ignoring his remark, I moistened my lips. "What was that all about? What's Gael looking for?" I knew it was none of my business, and yet I couldn't keep my curiosity at bay. His loyalty or work ethic would keep him from answering anyway, or so I thought.

  "He's looking for a blade," Kieran said.

  "You mean like a knife?" I stared at him dumbfounded.

  Kieran shrugged. "Sort of an oversized one. Let's just say it could do more than prick your finger."

  He couldn't be serious. Yet, his expression remained earnest. No flicker of a smile that he was joking. What would Gael need a blade for, unless it was a collector's item and worth a lot? I didn't ask because in my head I already had my explanation.

  "Have I answered all your questions, Sofia?" The way he spoke my name almost made me giggle. His gaze regarded me up and down and then up again, settling somewhere below my chin. The telltale heat of a blush crossed my cheeks.

  "You have. Thank you," I said, my voice surprisingly calm.

  "Good. Then I hope you'll take my word of advice and go away from here as fast as you can. Far, far away. This is no place for a girl like you." He leaned in and planted a soft kiss on my cheek, then turned on his heel and…disappeared. Literally. I stared at the empty space where he had just stood a few seconds ago. My pulse gained in speed. Was something wrong with my head and I had just imagined things? First the man in the club, and now this one here. No one just dissolved into nothing. That was the stuff of action hero movies. It didn't happen in real life because it wasn't possible, not real. And yet I knew I had seen him and he had talked to me. Maybe he had a trick up his sleeve, like being pulled up in the air by invisible cords.

  The breeze whipped my hair against my cheeks, jolting me out of my thoughts. Even though I didn't want to, I returned to the safety of my room, still holding the bag with the rest of our dinner in my hands. Kieran's words rang through my mind over and over again. He had advised that I leave, but my vacation had just started. I wondered what he had meant by 'no place for a girl like you'. Was this part of Rio dangerous? That certainly made sense. But I figured Gael wouldn't risk our lives if he knew the place wasn't ideal for tourists.

  I entered my room and let out a shriek when I noticed the figure sitting on my bed. It took my brain a second to realize it was Gael. His face was contorted with rage, his brows were drawn together.

  "I told you to stay inside." His voice dripped with accusation.

  "Had to take out the garbage." I shrugged, forcing myself not to roll my eyes.

  "The garbage bins are behind the house." His gaze fell on the bag in my hands, and he cocked a brow.

  "That explains why I didn't find them."

  "When I say I want you to stay inside, that's exactly what I mean. You have no excuse for venturing out," Gael said.

  I turned to face him, my eyes throwing daggers. "I don't appreciate the way you're talking to me. In case you haven't noticed, I'm not your child."

  "I know that," Gael said, slowly. "But you have to understand I was worried about you. You're in a different country. I've been here before. Brazil can be dangerous, so it's for your own safety."

  "Fair enough." I felt myself soften. He had a point. It wasn't his fault he couldn't express his concern in a less controlling way. I smiled and slumped down on the bed, regretting it instantly. I could only hope he wasn't taking it as an invitation. He didn't.

  "Just stay inside," Gael said before leaving.

  I stared after him, seriously struggling to make sense of his attitude. One part of me tried hard to defend him while the other knew there was no excuse for it. Whether I liked it or not, he was being a jerk. I had seen it before, the tiny signs that indicated a controlling personality, but I figured having a boyfriend was better than being alone, particularly when I still missed my sister. Maybe it was time to call in a break until I knew whether this relationship was indeed what I wanted.

  Leaning against the pillows, I untied the shawl from around my waist and tossed it on the floor. When guilt nagged at me, I got up and stacked it inside one of the drawers. The noise of flapping wings started almost instantly. A few weeks ago, I would've turned the room upside down to find out where it came from, but now I just snuggled under the blanket and pressed the pillows against my ears to drown out the unnerving noise. It was past midnight when I finally managed to fall asleep with Kieran's mysterious eyes and warning still lingering at the periphery of my mind.

  Chapter 7 - Thrain

  When Cass and I arrived at the hotel, Amber and Aidan were already waiting. I could sense the tension between them. Ever since Amber had been turned into a vampire, she kept blaming it on him, which didn't surprise me. Most mortals glamourized our world and actively searched for us, but not Amber. Maybe because she had almost died at the hands of Aidan when he sucked her dry. As if that weren't enough, her brother, Dallas, had died after the Shadows helped a blood-crazed vampire, who happened to be Aidan's ex, break into Hell to retrieve the famous book of the Shadows. Cass had stolen it from the Shadows only a few weeks previously. Seeing it from this perspective, it was all her fault, which she kept saying over and over again. Several times I tried to tell her that it was fate and Dallas's death would've happened anyway, but she couldn't be consoled. And so I just gave up and listened instead, keeping my thoughts to myself.

  Our hotel accommodation was a whole penthouse suite, courtesy of Cass's father. Groaning, I dropped down on the couch in our living room, wishing I could just do this myself. A bunch of people would just
slow me down. As if on cue, Aidan started taking over.

  "I say we split up to comb through the city. Amber and I start on one side, and Cass and you on the other."

  I snorted. "You call that a plan? It makes no sense. For one, we're immortals. Why would we have to split into two groups when we could all work alone and be twice as fast? And second, I can pick up her scent in an instant."

  "Why haven't you already then?" Amber raised her thin brows. "You need us, whether you want it or not."

  "She's right," Cass said from her seat at the window.

  "Which part?" I mumbled. That I still hadn't picked up her scent, or that I needed them to get this mission done. I pressed my lips shut and bit the inside of my cheek to keep back a remark. I had never failed to find someone. In fact, I had been the one to find and break into Shadow land, something no one else had ever done before me. If I could find my way through magic, then I surely could pick up the scent of a mortal. I snorted as I slumped deeper into my seat, rubbing my temple in desperate need of a plan.

  "Okay, so the shape shifter's in charge here now?" Amber said, pointing at me. "'Cause if he is, he's just wasting time sitting on his backside while my brother's life is hanging by a thread."

  "Technically, he's already dead," I mumbled. Cass shot me a venomous look. I shrugged. "What? It's true."

  Well, thanks for telling her, moron. Cass's voice echoed in my mind.

  Amber pushed Aidan back, sending him tumbling against the wall. As a new vampire, she obviously still couldn't control her powers, which would keep coming and going for a few years. "You said he's still alive." She poked a finger into Cass's chest.

  "He is, somewhere on one of Heaven's dimensions," Cass said.

  Amber's eyes were ablaze with fury. "It's all your fault. If you didn't abduct him to Hell, he'd still live. I'll never forgive you."

  "It wasn't her fault," Aidan said, pulling Amber back. For a long moment, she just stared at him, locked in that battle they seemed to keep having. I had no idea how the guy could live with her constant blame. Praise the Fates my mate wasn't mortal. Though I had yet to meet her.

  Eventually Amber retreated to the back of the room, but her shoulders remained tense, her chin raised defiantly. Aidan breathed out, relieved, and joined her, wrapping his arm around her shoulders to draw her close. I could feel the comforting waves wafting from him as he tried to influence her emotions to calm her down.

  I sucked in a deep breath to gather my thoughts before I spoke. "I'm outta here."

  "Where are you going?" Cass asked.

  "Doing my job. And don't ask if you can come 'cause the answer's no. I'm better off on my own." I slammed the door shut, not waiting for an answer. Like her father, Cass could be quite persuasive, so I'd rather not give her a chance to demonstrate her authoritarian nature.

  The afternoon sun shined down relentlessly as I took the backdoor and jumped over the fence onto the beach promenade. The Big Boss hadn't skimped on hotel costs when he chose this location. Maybe he had hoped his only daughter would enjoy her last two weeks on earth before she'd turn into a reaper…unless I found Sofia. As I walked down the promenade to the beach, my shoes leaving a trail in the soft sand, I smiled at some girls in tiny bikinis, then broke into a steady jog. The air smelled of sweaty bodies and expensive perfume, of the cloud of smog hovering over the city and the imminent tropic storm gathering over the nearby island.

  I picked up in speed, jogging for at least an hour, before I stopped, irritated. Still no sign of Sofia, but I wouldn't give up, so I started moving and kept at it through the busy street, past imposing buildings and too much traffic. When I halted again, the sun had long set on the horizon in a million colors and the artificial light of the street lamps were casting a dim glow on the emptying streets. Running around like a stray cat had taken me nowhere. Maybe it was time to slow down and come up with a plan because my abilities didn't seem to be working here.

  Burying my hands deep in my pockets, I strolled past what looked like a bar when I stumbled into something hard. Instinctively, I raised my hands to protect myself from the hazard, but nothing crashed into me. My gaze swept the area. Apart from a few young people having fun a few feet away and a few cars parked next to the sidewalk, there was nothing that could have hit me. I blinked and took another step forward, and another. And then it hit me again, almost sending me toppling backward.

  "What the heck?" I murmured to myself. Was I running into an invisible shield? I had heard of them and knew they were created by magic, but I had never seen one strong enough to make me feel it. Maybe this would be my first encounter with something at least as strong as my demon blood.

  I moved forward slowly but nothing happened. Figuring the barrier might not have been as powerful as I previously assumed, I shrugged it all off and crossed the street to resume my search. As soon as I zigzagged my way through the parked cars, Sofia's scent hit my nostrils. I inhaled deeply, feeling that smell of hers touch me deep inside. It was intoxicating and it made my head spin. Literally. I pressed my back against a parked car and took another whiff. It was still there. I wasn't dreaming.

  I flipped my phone open and speed-dialed Cass's number. On the second ring, she picked up. "Found her. I'm going in," I whispered.

  "No, you're waiting for—"

  Cutting her off, I pushed my phone back inside my pocket and started down the street after Sofia's scent. A minute later I realized I wasn't alone.

  "Where do you think you're going without us?" Cass said.

  "How did you—" I peered at her, my irritation instantly evaporating. She was near her breaking point again. Soon the reaper in her would be forcing her to seek the nearest hospital.

  "You forgot this little number." She waved her high-tech phone in front of my face, the one she had built to help her travel between earth and the dimensions of Hell until she received her full powers at eighteen.

  I returned the grin. "Feel free to join the party. I'm glad you left the vampires at home."

  "Who said I did?"

  I followed her line of vision to the other side of the road where I had stood a few minutes ago. Of course, Aidan and Amber were there. They must have teleported, but they wouldn't have found me if Cass didn't reveal my exact whereabouts.

  "What happened? Did you finally decide to get a sniffer dog?" Amber asked as she reached us.

  "Don't mind her. She isn't always this insufferable," Aidan said. "Let's find the girl. Where is she?"

  I pointed vaguely down the street. "Follow me. I hope you're fast because I'm not slowing down for you."

  "You sound like my brother." Aidan laughed. Cass joined in, and I wondered whether she cracked up at his joke or the fact that she knew something he didn't. I sprinted through the dimly lit streets without paying attention whether the others followed behind. Sofia's scent grew stronger, enveloping my senses. My heartbeat sped up when it never did. No physical extortion ever bothered me—or provided much of a challenge—but this run did.

  "We're there," I whispered, stopping in front of an old building not far from the beach.

  "She's inside?" Amber's voice sounded hopeful.

  I nodded.

  "Well, what are we waiting for? Let's roll." Cass grabbed the large doorknob when Aidan held her back.

  "You can't just barge in there. She's a mortal. You're going to scare her to death."

  "I'll lure her out," I said.

  "How?" Amber eyed me carefully.

  "Just trust him," Cass whispered.

  For a moment, the vampires fell silent, weighing my words. And then Aidan nodded.

  I took a deep breath and pushed the door open. The entrance hall looked like no hotel I had ever seen with its faux-exotic theme in the form of carpets covering both the floor and the walls, and old lamps set up to illuminate the corners. Behind the counter, the night receptionist—a dark haired guy in his twenties—slept soundly. I inched closer and inspected his features, paying attention to the fine details because fine deta
ils were my specialty.

  My tongue flicked over my lips as I concentrated. I pictured myself, from the snake tattoo across my entire chest and abdomen to my green eyes and dark hair, and then the picture slowly started to shift. My body became thinner and lost a few inches in height. The jeans and shirt I had been wearing all day changed into black slacks and a blue blazer with barely visible grease stains covering the front.

  Even though I felt the same inside, I had shape shifted so many times before that I didn't need to look at myself in the mirror to know I looked exactly like the guy still sleeping in his chair. Time to make sure he'd stay that way. With my thumb and index finger, I touched his shoulder and pushed in the pressure point that would knock him out for a while, giving me enough time to persuade Sofia to leave her room. Without so much as a groan, his shape slumped into his chair and his head rolled back. I hid his thin body behind the desk.

  My shoes made a squishing sound as I started up the stairs, following Sofia's scent to her room. I stopped to listen in front of her door. My demon ears picked up her shallow breathing. She was alone and asleep though something told me she was afraid of the pictures inside her mind. There were two options: either knock and risk waking up the other guests, or take her by surprise and not give her a chance to think clearly. Option two made sense to me so I picked the lock and opened the door slowly, then closed it behind me.

  My eyes adjusted to the sudden darkness instantly and I looking around me. The room was small and tidy, the faintest scent of fried chicken hung in the air. Sofia lay on the bed to my right, pale legs peering from under the covers where her nightshirt had rode up her thighs. Her dark hair framed her face with high cheekbones and soft lips. I inched closer, my fingers reaching out to touch those lips, to see whether they were really as soft as I imagined them to be. My heart started to race as I pushed a thick strand of hair out of her face. She stirred with a soft moan, but didn't wake.

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