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       Emblaze, p.10

           Jessica Shirvington
 

  I moved my sentience inside the café through the ceiling. Phoenix was at the back. He didn"t glow as red as the other exiles, he was something else - soft orange, almost golden.

  A presence was beside him, but I couldn"t see what it was. An illusion, maybe.

  Phoenix"s attention turned to the ceiling, as if he could see me watching from above. His gaze seemed to zero in on me.

  Startled, I pulled back into myself and stumbled on the pavement.

  Lincoln held my arm as I bent over and fought back the feeling that was somewhere between a killer flu and car sickness. I wanted to get down on the ground and rest, catch my breath. But I didn"t. I forced myself upright and swallowed back the bile rising in my throat."

  Get a grip! If I fall apart now, Linc will probably start yelling, „Cherry, cherry!" for Christ"s sake!

  „Are you okay?" he asked, his worry showing.

  I nodded, somehow remaining upright. „Just dizzy."

  He felt my forehead. „More than dizzy. Where"d you go?"

  He was watching me closely. Looking for lies. Or maybe to see if I would self-combust.

  „I … It"s hard to explain." I concentrated on slowing my breathing, each breath grounding me further.

  „Try."

  I swallowed and wiped at the sweat on the back of my neck. „It"s like I can … I don"t know - use the senses to see things far away. Go places, sort of …"

  Lincoln"s eyes went wide. „How long have you been able to do this?"

  „Since the attack at Hades, but I didn"t know how I did it then. It"s happened a few more times since. It"s how I knew exiles were at the airport, how I found you with Nahilius. This is the first time I"ve controlled it so much, though, pushed it out so far."

  And now I"m paying the price.

  He grabbed my shoulders, shaking me. „Listen to me. Don"t do it again. Not for any reason. Not until … until we know what it is." Fear was rolling off him.

  I nodded, alarmed by his fierceness.

  He dropped one of his hands, running it through his hair. "We should get you back to Hades," he said, starting to look around and digging into his pocket.

  „Don"t you dare pull out your phone. I"m going in there, whether you like it or not," I said, pulling arm out of his hold, almost losing my footing as I did.

  We stared at each other. He knew I wasn"t about to walk away from our one chance to get Steph back. Eventually, he sighed and I knew it was the only concession I"d get. But then he shook his head.

  „You should"ve told me." He pulled his hand out of his pocket. Empty.

  „I know. I"m sorry. But there has been so much, too much, that has happened, and I just didn"t want to admit there was another thing about me that I couldn"t explain." And that was the truth.

  „Does anyone else know?"

  Kill me.

  I considered making something up, denying it, but I couldn"t so continued with my stupid honesty streak.

  „I think Phoenix figured it out. He called it a “Sight”. And when I was using it just now, I went into the café. I think he sensed me there."

  Lincoln clenched his jaw and gave a nod. He put his earpiece in and clipped the mic pin to me. I followed suit and checked my watch. 9 p.m.

  „I"d better go."

  He nodded, which translated to We"ll talk about it later.

  I hitched my backpack, which didn"t actually hold the Scripture but was a good decoy.

  The real Scripture was tucked inside my jacket.

  „When you get across the road, talk into the mic, just so I know I have reception. Then wait to hear me respond."

  „Okay."

  I waited for a few cars and jogged across the road.

  „Got me?" I asked.

  „Got you." Lincoln"s voice came through loud and clear as if he was right beside me.

  These things were good.

  „I"m sorry," he blurted, catching me by surprise. „The things I said back at Dapper"s. I was lying. You are strong enough to face Phoenix."

  I bit down on my lip. He was regrouping, wanting me to believe in myself now in case it all when belly up.

  I half smiled, not knowing if he could save me.

  „You weren"t lying Linc, you were trying and … I can live with that,"

  He didn"t say anything else so I made for the entrance to Dough to Bread after a quick brush of my fingertips over my dagger.

  „Be careful," he whispered, just as I stepped inside.

  CHAPTER TWELVE

  „ Temptation is like a knife, that may either cut the meat or the throat of a man; it may be his food or his poison, his exercise or his destruction."

  John Owen

  Phoenix appeared relaxed; leaning back, legs extended and crossed at the ankle as if he didn"t have a worry in the world. It looked as if he was the only person at the table, but I knew there was something else there from when I"d scanned the café earlier.

  I walked slowly but confidently, scoping out the other customers, getting a good look at the staff. Tonight, I didn"t want any surprises.

  Phoenix watched me draw closer, an amused look on his face that had me clenching my fists. I squeezed between a few chairs and finally reached his table at the very back. He"d already taken the seat with the best vantage point. I didn"t sit.

  „Good evening, lover," he said, smirking. His hair seemed almost alive, like black and purple flames with embers of silver. I wondered if normal people saw it the way I did and if they were as distracted by it.

  „It"s nice to see you," his smile widened. "In the flesh."

  So he had sensed me earlier.

  Well, good.

  At least he"d know I was learning how to control it, whatever it was.

  „Where is she?" I asked, keeping my emotions in check, only letting a little of my disdain for him creep out.

  „Right here," he said, looking to his side. He patted the chair to his left. „How about you take a seat and I will reveal her to you." His eyes wandered, pretending to give a damn.

  „People are looking."

  I sat down, not because he wanted m to, but because I was desperate to see Steph.

  „Show her to me!" I demanded and quickly regretted it.

  He relished having power over me and it was enough that he"d already proved he could keep her hidden from my view.

  „Please, Phoenix," I added, softening my voice significantly.

  My change in tone must have caught him off-guard. He waved a hand through the air, as if disappointed things hadn"t gone differently, and revealed Steph.

  I gasped.

  She was unconscious and had a large blue-green bruise on her cheek, while the blood in her veins showed prominently down the side of her face. I shot a look of hate back at Phoenix and was halfway to my feet with every intention of slamming my fist into him, when he raised one hand, looked me right in the eyes and said, „It wasn"t me."

  It stalled me long enough for him to add, „They did it before I got to her. I gave you my word I wouldn"t hurt her and from the moment she"s been with me, she has not been touched or harmed in any way."

  „Why is she unconscious, then?" I snapped. But I sat back down.

  „Not unconscious - asleep. Just until we"ve made the trade. I thought it might be better for everyone that way." His eyebrows lifted. „She doesn"t always know when to shut up."

  „How? Have you drugged her?"

  „Didn"t need to," he leaned in a little and lowered his voice. „I"m much more powerful than you give me credit for."

  The guy was comfortable with lying as with telling the truth and history showed a bad track record, yet I found myself believing him.

  But I can"t trust my instincts around him.

  He raised his eyebrows, reading my confusion.

  „Is she going to be okay?" I asked, my strong exterior wavering a little even as I tried to shut my emotions down. Steph looked so fragile, her small frame - usually held up with a whole lot of sass - was folded over in the chair. I fou
ght the urge to go to her. I knew that wasn"t on the cards yet.

  „Other than the bruise on her face, she is untouched. She"ll be fine."

  Again, I wanted to believe him. Then I noticed something strange. He wasn"t influencing me, pushing his powers into me. I looked at him suspiciously.

  „I just want this done," he said, again reading my emotions.

  I nodded. But this time, I didn"t have the same faith in his words. „Promise me you"ll get her out safely."

  He looked around the café, clearly uninterested in the conversation. „I have no use for her after this."

  It was as good as I was going to get.

  Without him pushing and pulling at my emotions, I saw an opening, something that reminded me of who he used to be.

  „Why won"t you just give me the Grigori Scripture? You know it"s not meant for exiles."

  He laughed, genuinely amused, and shook his head. „I don"t care about your stupid Grigori Scripture. I haven"t even looked at it."

  I scoffed in disbelief.

  He shrugged like he didn"t give a damn what I thought. "It"s true. Nor had any other exile.

  It is hidden well and I already know the names and faces of the Grigori I intend to destroy.

  I"m not interest in tracking down half breeds for the rest of my life, but …" he seemed to relax and tense as the same time as he glared at me, like he wanted me to understand the importance of what he was saying. "I had to pay a price to get to where I am today. Those who follow me believe chasing Grigori is very important. I can"t successfully go against them for no good reason. It is the way it is."

  „So you don"t plan on using it?" I asked, confused.

  „Not if I can avoid it. Perhaps down the track you might find something worth trading for."

  His eyes roamed over me in an intimate way. „I can think of one thing I would be willing to trade it for …"

  „Son of a bitch! I"m coming in," I heard Lincoln say in my ear.

  „That"s not happening," I said quickly, to both of them.

  Phoenix smiled. „But until then, if it should become in my best interests to utilise it …"

  He didn"t need to finish. I knew the ending. Phoenix was self-serving first and foremost.

  I waited with bated breath but Lincoln didn"t burst through the doors.

  „What do you expect to happen if you bring her back?" I continued. I"d seen the timeline from the exile records Griffin had managed to access. Phoenix had spent hundreds of years in human form before Lilith was returned and he"d barely crossed paths with her. For all intents and purposed it seemed likely one or both had disowned the other.

  „Sometimes you don"t know what you"ve got until you"ve lost it."

  I had to look away. I felt a trickle of intense emotion I was sure he hadn"t intended to leak.

  „And anyway," he said, snapping out of wherever he had been, shutting whatever door had drifted open. „I was a different exile then. Confused. I no longer question my place."

  „A little late in late to be seeking Mummy"s approval, isn"t it?"

  „Careful …" I heard Lincoln whisper in my ear.

  Phoenix"s face hardened - a frightening determination that left me with no doubt. He would stop at nothing to bring Lilith back.

  My eyes darted to Steph, who was starting to drool. I wondered if the sleeping state Phoenix had imposed on her was hurting her the longer she remained in it.

  „Let"s get this done," I said.

  He jerked his head towards my backpack. „Is it in there?" He was anxious now.

  I shook my head. „It"s inside my jacket."

  I started to undo the zip, but he grabbed my wrists.

  „Ow!" I said, before I could stop myself, then recovered quickly, twisting my hands to escape his hold, but only managed to get one free. He kept a grip on my right wrist, the one that has bled into the chalice in Jordan, pushing my bracelets up and running his thumb firmly over the faint scar that remained there. I didn"t know why that one hadn"t healed fully -

  maybe because I didn"t truly want it to. It was a reminder. I pulled my arm away from him again and this time he released me so I could stand.

  „Violet? Are you okay?" Lincoln spoke urgently in my ear.

  „What the hell are you doing?" I snapped at Phoenix, keeping my voice down. People were looking.

  „Sit down," he said, voice distant.

  I did, but pushed my chair back, increasing the space between us.

  „I"m not an idiot, Violet. I"m not letting you reach into your coat to pull out something I cannot see. I have exiles stationed around the café. One on the roof looking in and one watching through the back window."

  Both not lies.

  He sighed, but I could see he wasn"t altogether upset. „If you pull something from your jacket they will come in. if you want to do this trade, I will open your jacket and take the Scripture."

  Jesus.

  „Violet, listen to me, he"s playing you. Once he has his hands on you, he will have all the power. Don"t let him do this," came Lincoln"s hurried words.

  „Promise me as soon as you have it you"ll release her and leave," I said, through gritted teeth. „In that order, and through the back door," I added, wanting to give Lincoln a clue as to which area we needed to cover. With any luck they"d take him down when he left.

  „As you wish."

  „Glad to see you"re listening to me," Lincoln said, sounding pissed.

  Oh well, I"d deal with him later.

  Phoenix leaned in, „You"re going to have to come a little closer, lover."

  I could almost hear Lincoln fuming on the other end.

  Note to self: next time, have Griffin on comm. unit.

  I moved my chair closer.

  „Hands on the table," Phoenix said, enjoying himself now.

  „Just hurry up," I said, reminding myself I could do this because it was for Steph. I cleared my mind and focused on keeping my guard up.

  Phoenix unzipped my jacket, slowly. „From memory, you don"t like things too fast."

  I didn"t respond. I didn"t even look at him. One thing he didn"t know was that this kind of behaviour only inspired memories that fed my hatred towards him. Until, that is, his hands slid inside my jacket and I felt the familiar conflicting urges that always came when he was close - the urgent need at the same time as repulsion and hatred causing an intense hunger. The Scripture was rolled tightly in a slim canister that sat diagonally across my chest.

  He found it immediately, but didn"t remove his hand, instead sliding it down the canister to my hip, skimming my top and the band of exposed skin just beneath. The second his skin made contact with mine a stampede of emotion, of intoxicating and alluring lust, rushed over me, impossible to escape and igniting the desire that I was trying so hard to ignore. A wave rippled through my body as sparks flew from his fingertips.

  I didn"t care what Griffin said about it having to be me wanting to stop - nothing could have stopped this freight train.

  I groaned before I could stop myself. All my worries, all the pain, lifted to be replaced by something simple and blissful. It was both passionate and selfish.

  Sensing he had the control, Phoenix inched his chair closer, his fingers moving around my back while his other hand cupped my face. His dark brown eyes swirled with a hunger that I could not describe but also … understood.

  „Violet," Lincoln whispered in my ear. I couldn"t answer.

  „Violet," he said again, but no one was home. I was somewhere else. Somewhere easy.

  „Violet, look across the table. Steph is there," his words melted into me.

  Honey, he"s like honey.

  „Steph needs you, Violet," the honey voice whispered again.

  I could taste it in the back of my throat like swallowing paradise. He was saying something important, but his words slipped away too quickly, sinking into the pot.

  Phoenix was so close, his hair sparkling like a tiny fireworks display.

  „You could still c
ome with me," he said, as he bled more and more emotion into me.

  Cancelling out all the hurt, replacing it with a desire - his desire.

  „Violet!" Lincoln said, then sighed. „You don"t love him. This isn"t real. You know what"s real and it"s hard and it hurts and we can"t … Damn it, Vi - we"re real! Now snap the hell out of it and get your best friend out of there!"

  Flashes of another type of desire burned through the lust. An awful, gut-wrenching soul-deep need that would never be fulfilled, that was painful instead of delightful and much more difficult than Phoenix offered me. I felt a tear slip from the corner of my eye.

  Phoenix was so close. I could see the bead of sweat trickling down his forehead. He was working hard to hold me. But my feelings for Lincoln were too strong and they kept burning through Phoenix"s seduction, disintegrating everything he sent to me.

  I bit hard on my lip and tasted blood. That helped, too.

  „Move back in your seat now or I swear to God - power or not I will ram my dagger into your heart because I would rather die than be your prisoner."

  Phoenix"s eyes went wide and he moved back, taking the Scripture with him.

  „That"s my girl," Lincoln said in my ear.

  Phoenix was evidently surprised by my reaction, but seemed equally shocked by his own behaviour. „I"d never force you to do anything," he said, as much to himself as to me.

  „Every time you pull that stuff on me it just makes me hate you more."

  Phoenix regained his composure and slouched back in his chair, but he was out of breath and clearly caught-off guard by my ability to push him away.

  „Easier for both of us that way, don"t you think?"

  I glared at him. „You"ve got the Scripture. Now waker her up and get out."

  He stood up. Steph stirred, groggy, her eyes starting to open.

  Phoenix tilted the Scripture towards me. „I"m sure I don"t need to check this one though I"m sure you"ve made a copy. I"ll see you soon, lover." He left through the back door.

  I scrambled out of my chair and over to Steph. I knelt beside her, pushing her hair back from her face.

  „Exiles are on the move out here. Have you got her?" Lincoln whispered in my ear.

  „Yes, yes - help me. Steph sweetie, can you hear me? It"s Vi," I said, trying not to cry.

 
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