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       Voodoo Kiss, p.7

           Jayde Scott
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  "She's one of the good guys." He reached out for my hand, then withdrew again as though he didn't know whether he had permission to touch me. I wished he hadn't stopped.

  "I know that," I said softly. "I can feel it." And it was the truth. In my culture, there was a name for what Cass was—a Giltinė. A mixture of angel and demon, and a reaper of souls that could mean only one thing: death. Babushka had told me stories about a woman in white clothes with a never-fading green sprout in her hand. The touch of the sprout would put a human to an everlasting sleep. Granted, Cass's clothes couldn't be more colorful, but I figured even reapers might develop a sense for fashion. Babushka's stories made me believe I was truly seeing a being of Slavic mythology. I also knew I had nothing to fear, not before my time had come.

  "Why don't you get some sleep while she's gone?" Aidan said. "She might take a while."

  Thrain shook his head. "We can't stay here."

  "Why not?" Aidan asked.

  "Because this place is fishy. There's a reason why I didn't find her straight away."


  Thrain regarded me. "Magic."

  "You think someone's trying to stop us?" Amber inched closer and snuggled into Aidan's arms. For some reason I felt jealous of how natural she behaved. I wished I had someone I could feel so comfortable with.

  "Maybe," Thrain said, hesitating. "Or maybe not. Either way, I'd rather not stay here. We might outnumber whoever's involved, but we don't know what we're dealing with. I say we wait for Cass at that forsaken place in Scotland. What was it called?"

  "Inverness?" Aidan prompted. "The Lore Council's still looking for us. My house's the first place they'll suspect."

  Thrain hesitated, thinking. "You're probably right. But the property's protected by magic, and you both can teleport. By the time someone gets in, you're already gone. What do you say?"

  Aidan shifted to face Amber. I held my breath as I turned from them to Thrain and then back to them. Seriously, the way they stared at each other freaked me out. Their faces remained blank but something seemed to cross their pale features every now and then, and I wondered whether they could actually communicate with one another telepathically.

  Amber nodded and jumped up. "Goody. I take her, you take him. Whoever's last is a lame duck." Grabbing my hand, I felt that push again and the weird sensation in the pit of my stomach returned. A groan escaped my throat as I closed my eyes and leaned into the comforting hand holding me tight. I heard what sounded like a light switch. A moment later, when I dared to look again, I was standing in the middle of a large room with modern furniture and a huge fireplace. The nausea forgotten, I turned to the window to look at the low moon casting a soft glow over the huge patch of greenery stretching behind the large bay windows. In Rio it had been night. Here, morning was about to break. We had just travelled thousands of miles, from South America to Europe, in just a few seconds.

  "Is that—" My voice trailed off.

  "Woods?" Amber laughed. "Uh-huh. I remember the first time I came here I couldn't stop staring."

  I returned the smile. "Where I come from we have lots of green but it's usually covered by a huge layer of snow. This is magical. May I?" I pointed at the window. She nodded, so I inched closer and opened it wide to draw in a huge breath of air. It smelled delicious of earth and rain and damp wood. Mystical. With the time difference, I guessed it was about five a.m. Even tough I was tired from all the lack of sleep, the sun was about to rise, and I had no intention to miss my first sunrise in the Scottish Highlands.

  The groan behind me told me Aidan and Thrain had just arrived. Judging from Thrain's pained expression and body language—him bowled over as if he was about to empty his stomach all over the floor, rasping for breath—I guessed he didn't enjoy it.

  Thrain let out a string of curses. Talk about travel sickness. I smiled under my breath. Gael would never have let his guard down like that. Gael. In all the drama and excitement I had completely forgotten about my boyfriend. How could I possibly? What would he think when he found out I was gone?

  "I need to make a phone call," I said.

  Amber eyed me carefully. "To whom?

  Her attitude didn't deter me. She was anxious that no one discovered our whereabouts. Though I had no idea what was going on, I somehow understood the magnitude of the situation and was okay with her brusque way. "My boyfriend." For some reason my gaze wandered instantly to Thrain as though to catch his reaction. He didn't say a word but a thin line formed on his forehead. It could be the result of his dizziness, which was obvious from the way he leaned against the couch, his hands clutching the chocolate brown material for dear life. Did I want him to be jealous? I pondered the thought for a moment, coming to the conclusion that I very much did.

  Amber winked at Thrain. "Can't be the real deal if you're mentioning him only now."

  I could feel the telltale heat of a blush scorching my cheeks. "It's sort of—"

  The door burst open, interrupting my halfhearted attempt at providing a believable explanation. In the doorway stood a stunning blonde with glossy hair that framed her face with skin like porcelain and elfin features.

  "Aidan?" She inched closer and grabbed him in a tight hug, laughing. "Oh, my gosh. I thought I'd never see you again."

  "You mean you hoped you'd never see me again." He laughed as she punched his arm playfully.

  "You're such an idiot. How could you even say that?" She pushed him away and turned to Amber, regarding her for a long moment, before she wrapped her long arms around her. She was so tall, she looked like she just stepped out of a fashion magazine. Even though I had no idea who she was, the blonde had such an infectious smile I felt myself laughing with her and savoring what seemed to be a surprise reunion.

  "Sofia, this is Clare. Clare, meet Sofia," Aidan said. I opened my mouth to speak, but he cut me off. "Where's Kieran?"

  Clare let out an exaggerated sigh. "Don't even ask. Your dear brother's been gone for two weeks now and he wouldn't tell me where. But apparently it's a job that could solve all of our problems."

  "That sounds like trouble," Amber said.

  "Right?" The blonde laughed. "That's what I told him but he wouldn't listen. Anyway—"

  "We're the odd ones out," Thrain whispered in my ear. I felt something wafting from him, making me wonder what it was. Maybe pure sex appeal. The guy oozed sensuality. Strange words echoed in my ear in a language I didn't understand. The room started to spin slowly, then faster and faster. The others became a blur that merged into one shapeless heap. Through the huge cloud enveloping me, I felt Thrain's hand tighten around my wrist. His voice came from far away. "Are you okay? Sofia? Something's wrong with her." I opened my mouth to tell him that I was all right, but he needed to remove his hand from my arm because his fingers were singeing my skin. Literally. I peered in horror at what looked like huge blisters bubbling like boiling water right under my skin. A shriek escaped my throat. I pulled my hand back but his grip didn't loosen. The room continued to spin so fast, it reminded me of the carousel I rode as a child. The spinning sensation had been the most painful and frightening experience I ever had. Then the flattering of hundreds of wings began again, drumming against my skull. I winced.

  "Shush." Thrain pulled me against his chest.

  "What's wrong?" a female voice asked.

  "No idea," he whispered.

  Something cold touched my temple. I leaned into it, welcoming the cooling sensation against my feverish skin. Thrain let me go to hold a glass of water to my lips, begging me to take slow sips. And then the spinning and strange noises stopped. The others had gathered around me and stared at me like I was a freak, which I probably was. I peered at them, probably just as surprised as they were.

  "What happened?" Amber asked.

  I shook my head, signaling that I didn't know. But I had a theory, even if it was an implausible one. My powers were claiming me, urging me to take the plunge before it was too late. The sudden onset of fear threatened to choke me a
s I looked out the window at the crow perched on the low branch of a thick tree. It cawed three times before it took off again.

  Chapter 9

  In the end I decided not to call Gael but my mother in Siberia. It was late afternoon there, meaning I disrupted her work, so the conversation was brief to the point of painful. She didn't buy into my explanation of meeting some friends from college and eloping to Europe. Her interpretation of my disappearance was that things between Gael and me were moving too fast, and while she didn't express disapproval of my actions, she did remind me of Gael's wealth at least twice. Money rules the world—how could I argue with that? And yet I could feel the change inside and all around me. Where I was heading, money had no value.

  But that I kept to myself.

  The sun had risen over Scotland in thick streaks of yellow and gold. White, fluffy clouds hovered in the sparkly blue horizon, promising a sunny day. Yet I could feel the rain in my bones. Another an hour or two and Mother Nature would be opening the floodgates. Somehow I looked forward to the downpour that would replenish the ground with moisture.

  "Are you cold?" Thrain asked behind me. Smiling, I turned to see him in the backdoor of the kitchen, holding a jacket. He inched closer and draped it around my shoulders, then gave them a quick rub as though to warm me up. "May I?" When I nodded, he sat down on the cold stairs. His naked arm almost brushed my sleeve. Even though I couldn't feel his skin, my whole body began to tingle. His green gaze made me nervous, so I looked away as I inhaled the clean scent of nature and—sandalwood, myrrh, crushed minerals. I knew that particular smell wafted from him.

  Thrain spoke first. "You never told us why you accepted this so easily. I mean, every other woman would have called us crazy and run for a mile."

  I moistened my lips as I considered my words. How much could I tell him? He was a pretty face, all right, but a pretty face didn't exactly equal trustworthy. "Let's just say I've heard a few stories about this world."

  "Fair enough. You don't know me. Why would you tell me anything?" He bobbed his head, but I could hear the disappointment in his voice.

  "I'm ready to fulfill my life's purpose, Thrain," I whispered.

  "Aren't you a bit too young to have figured out your life's purpose already?"

  "You're never too young, only too blind to see it." I stared at my jeans and the soda stains now faded from all the washing. My gaze searched his. "What are you? I mean all of you. The blonde girl, Clare, she said she had to rest because the sun was rising soon. Amber and Aidan can move to places in the blink of an eye. And you—" I stopped to catch my breath, wondering why I was blurting out all those questions to this guy. He mustn't think me naïve. I had knowledge but just needed to cast the characters into the right play.

  A soft breeze rustled the leaves in the trees. The woods stretched as far as the eye could see, beyond the tall fence hidden behind rosebushes, up to the mountains in the distance. The grass stirred softly beneath our feet. Thrain hesitated for a long moment, as if unsure whether to answer my unspoken question. Eventually, his gaze connected with mine. A deep furrow had formed between his brows, but even with this imperfection, he didn't look human. His skin was too evenly tanned and too smooth, the shape of his jaw too perfect. I smiled and rubbed a hand over the stains on my jeans. What was I doing here with this guy in a world I didn't belong? And yet a voice inside my head told me my old life was over. As if to give credence to my belief, a black crow swooned past our heads and perched down on a nearby tree. I glanced at the bird just to see whether it was the same one as before, then turned back to Thrain. The soft breeze blew a stray stand of hair into my face. He leaned in and flicked it behind my ear. His fingers felt soft where he touched my skin, leaving behind a tingling sensation. It was almost the same burn as before when I had lost any sense of reality, but not as strong and far more pleasant.

  "Someone I know made a huge mistake of not telling someone she loved the truth about her," Thrain whispered. "I don't see a reason why there should be secrets between us. Do you?" I shook my head. He took a deep breath, then continued, "Clare, Aidan and Amber are vampires, though Aidan and Amber don't feed on blood. Cass is a fallen angel turned reaper due to a curse. And I was created in Hell as a high-ranked demon. My abilities involve tracking and shape shifting."

  I gulped, considering his words. My gaze searched his eyes for an sign that he was lying. There was none. He seemed as earnest as one could be. Russian folklore is full of demons and shape shifters. They're usually said to lure one into anything from temptation to death, from signing away one's soul to sacrificing one's first born. Babushka had taught me to be the superstitious kind. However, she also taught me not to fear every creature of the night. Even if I wanted to be scared of him I knew I had no reason to be. He didn't mean me any harm.

  "You seem pretty cool about it." Thrain raised his brows.

  "Where I come from meeting a demon isn't the worst thing that could happen to you." I smiled. His brows furrowed. "I'm originally from Siberia. A majestic yet scary place." I gestured around me as though that might send the picture inside my mind straight into his brain so he'd know what I meant. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. I laughed at his confused expression. "Where I grew up, everyone's superstitious. But what we feared the most were the harsh winters and lack of food and losing a loved one to the fever."

  "I'm sorry." He squeezed my hand gently.

  "No, don't be." I smiled, lost in my memories. "It's a beautiful place, probably the most beautiful place in the whole world, but also one of the most dangerous. In late spring, when the snow recedes, we often found missing animals and sometimes even people thawing in the warm sun. It's a gruesome sight."

  "I can only imagine."

  "There's so much snow up there, everything's of a perfect white. As a child I often thought I was in Heaven walking on fluffy clouds," I said. He looked at me the whole time while I recalled key moments of my childhood. He was a good listener, giving his inputs at the right time, making me feel relaxed. He was so different from Gael, who was never really interested in my past. "You should visit one day." I added. "Just make sure to put on a few layers of clothes."

  He laughed and touched my hand. "Awesome advice. It might come in handy sometime. Since I've always had issues with popularity, what with infusing fear coming with the job description of a demon, I might just consider moving there."

  I opened my mouth to ask whether he was serious, but Thrain cocked his head and pointed to the inside of the house. My ears strained to listen. An instant later, Cass stood in the doorway. Her skin was flushed with a glow to it, as was her red hair. She was wearing a summer dress now, white with tiny blue flowers, and a thick, orange sweater on top of it. What looked like combat boots perfected her outfit. The entire assemble looked good on her. In fact, after realizing what she was I couldn't imagine her in strappy sandals or high heels.

  "Took you longer than before," Thrain said. Even if it weren't for the tight lines around his mouth, I could feel him stiffen beside me. My curiosity awakened instantly.

  "Relax," Cass said, slumping down beside me. "There's plenty of time."

  "How is he?"

  Cass shrugged. "Obviously, still dead. Why do you keep asking?" She leaned forward to peer at him. He turned away.

  "Maybe I was hoping for a miracle," Thrain whispered.

  "Here's our miracle." Cass pointed at me. A few awkward seconds passed. For the umpteenth time, I wondered what was going on between them and whether they had some sort of mind-thing keeping their real conversation hidden from prying ears.

  Cass raised her brows, grinning. "Scotland, the land of mystery? I thought we agreed on the Swiss Alps."

  "It was a spur of the moment decision," Thrain said. Was Cass the one having the last word and he expected a confrontation now? If he did, it never came. Cass got up and wiped a hand over her dress as though to remove any dust.

  "Whatever. We're leaving now. Patricia will need time to teach her. The vampires wil
l stay here for…research purposes." She gazed at me, and I knew research purposes involved finding out whatever they could about being a voodoo priestess. It seemed they knew even less than I did. It might just be the right time to reveal that I wasn't the complete beginner they believed me to be. With every breath I took, something seemed to fall into place, like a puzzle, and memories kept flooding my mind. Even though they seemed like distant dreams, I knew they spoke of a past that had once been my life. I needed more time to make sense of those memories, to study them, to find clues that would help me trigger everything there was to know, so I kept my secret to myself.

  I touched Cass's elbow and pointed a few feet away. She nodded and let me draw her aside. Harboring any hope that Thrain didn't have the ability or heightened sense of hearing to tune into our conversation was stupid. And yet I wanted to believe it because I had been meaning to talk to her in private ever since I remembered having seen her before.

  She raised her brows. "What's wrong?"

  "I need to talk to you about something."

  "Can it wait?"

  I shook my head, slightly hesitating. The truth was it could wait. It had for six months now.

  Cass squeezed my hand. "Once we're at Patricia's, okay? This place isn't safe, what with Aidan's exes trying to kill the new missus and the Lore court standing in their way." She rolled her eyes, then smiled. "I promise I'll answer all your questions about your sister later."

  Sensing that was more than I could even dream of only recently, I nodded and mouthed a thank you.

  "Wait here," Cass continued. "I'll be right back. Just need to give a few instructions before your big adventure begins, otherwise this lot is lost without me."

  I stared after her as she returned to the house, her pace bouncing, her hair swaying as though she had more energy than she could ever utilize. It was strange seeing her on such a high when only a few hours ago she looked pale and fatigued.

  "It's weird, isn't it?" Thrain asked.

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