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       Emblaze, p.17

           Jessica Shirvington
 

  „Got it."

  His smile widened and I had to look away before it hurt too much.

  I twisted my hands in my lap and played with my bracelets. „Dad saw my markings."

  Lincoln"s eyebrows shot up. He knew how major this was. „Are you okay?"

  I tucked loose strands of hair behind my ear. „I hate her, Linc."

  „No you don"t," he said, quietly, knowing who I was talking about.

  „I do. And now Dad will never forgive me. Even if I make it through this alive, I … I saw the look on his face when he saw my wrists - it was like he was scared of me. I don"t know if I"ll have a home to go back to."

  We were both silent for a while. I had started to close my eyes when I felt him, so tentatively, reach over and brush a strand of hair away from my face. His touch left a searing trail in its wake.

  „You"ll make it through this and … you"ll always have a home to come back to."

  I closed my eyes tight to hold back the tears. I wished he hadn"t said it. It felt like my heart might explode. If possible, in that moment, I loved him more than ever.

  CHAPTER NINETEEN

  „ To die and part is a less evil; but to part and live, there, there is the torment."

  George Lansdowne

  I drifted off, letting the motion of the plane lull me to sleep. Lincoln stayed beside me.

  Eventually, I woke up to the sound of voices.

  „Oh, get over yourself, you"ve been guarding her for hours. If she knew you weren"t letting us talk to her she"d hit you in the face," Steph said, sounding pissed.

  I kept my eyes closed, listening to Lincoln"s laughter, and fought the urge to open my eyes.

  My own personal sentinel.

  „Probably," he said.

  „She"s my best friend, you know. I could just yell at her to wake up."

  „You could try," Lincoln said, and from his tone I could imagine the challenging look plastered over his face.

  Steph made a huffing sound. „We"re landing soon enough anyway." I actually heard the flick of her hair. „And don"t think I can"t see you gawking at her all doe-eyed."

  Lincoln didn"t say anything but he must have done something because I heard Steph quickly shuffling away and a high-pitched, „I"m going, I"m going."

  I waited until I heard her chatting with the others.

  „That was mean," I said, opening my eyes.

  He glanced at me, but looked away quickly. „You needed rest."

  „Are we landing?" I could feel the plane descending.

  „Gotta refuel."

  I sat up urgently, looking out the window. „In the ocean?"

  Lincoln laughed and leaned over me, his arm going around my body, his chest pressing into my back. He pointed out the window to a massive ship. It looked like a navy boat, all flat on top and as we got closer I could see helicopters and other small aircraft lined up. I couldn"t speak and neither did Lincoln, as if he"d acted before thinking and now we were so close, touching that neither one of us knew what to do.

  The burning that always came when we were near each other reached fever pitch and I fought for breath. My heart beat so rapidly I considered the chances of heart attack. It wasn"t me, it wasn"t some stupid crush, it wasn"t even love. It was more - much, much more. It transcended anything he and I could ever be individually and was all about what we were together. My soul was screaming for him, demanding that it have his.

  And I want to give it. Oh, so much,

  Lincoln moved closer, his body shaking, and I couldn"t stop from leaning back, letting myself melt into his arms.

  I have to turn around. I have to kiss him. I have to …

  I shifted, starting to turn, but his hands, now firm, held me still. He spoke right into my ear.

  I can smell him. Sunshine and honey.

  „Put up you guards."

  I knew what he meant, but I just inhaled again.

  Mmm … more honey.

  „Do I taste or smell of anything to you?" I murmured.

  „What do you mean?" he asked, but I knew he knew what I meant.

  „You smell like hot days at the beach, the sun - like you"re the sun. And you smell sweet, like honey when you use your power, creamy honey when it"s melted into toast - I can taste it."

  He faltered, the pads of his fingers kneading my arms, sending shivers through my body.

  But he recovered, clearing his throat. „Violet, put up your defences."

  „You"re not going to tell me, are you?"

  „That"s not what you need from me right now. Put up your barriers, trust me."

  I wanted to argue, to fight against his hold so I could face him, but when that man asked me to trust him - what else could I do? I started to put up my defences.

  It was like what I did to keep Phoenix at bay, but different. Phoenix"s power seeped into me, like poison. Using my power to block Lincoln was like bricking up the windows and boarding the doors. It was hard work and it felt … wrong.

  I"m blocking out the sun.

  Every fibre in my being, my soul, begged me, told me this was wrong, that there had to be another way. But I didn"t know it, and neither did he, so I forced my defences up and pushed the sun away.

  After a few minutes, I started to become aware of my surroundings again, heard the air conditioning whirring and voices chatting behind us. Lincoln"s hold on me softened and when I didn"t move, he release me slowly and moved back to his seat.

  „I"m sorry, Vi," he said, so softly I almost missed it.

  „Me too." I wrapped my arms around myself, rubbing them, trying to adjust to the lonely chill that was now creeping over me.

  He nodded. „I"ll sit with Spence on the next flight."

  I took a steadying breath and tried to speak without my voice shaking. „How long have you been using your power against me?"

  „Since the night in the park with that exile you hunted. I … When we healed each other I didn"t think I"d be able to make my legs move away. I pulled into my power, not really knowing what I was doing until I"d put a wall between us."

  I nodded. „It"s good."

  And terrible.

  -

  Griffin, Nathan and Becca were the only ones to get off the plane on the stopover. They had another jet waiting that was going to take them directly to Athens.

  Before he left, Griffin called Lincoln and me back to him and Josephine. Lincoln stayed close to me but not too close and we tried our best to keep everything as normal as possible.

  Josephine watched us with a glint in her eye, as if she knew just how difficult it was for us to be close to one another, as if she got some kind of satisfaction out of it.

  „Josephine, I have explained to everyone that you will be leading the operation while I am in Athens."

  „And after you join us in Santorini," she said sweetly.

  Griffin gave a nod. „Of course."

  Yeah, right. Once Griffin"s back there is only one person any of us will be taking orders from.

  „We should only be a couple of days behind, but hopefully I will gain the support of the Greek Grigori and find some soldiers for our cause."

  „I have every confidence you will deliver in spades, my friend," Josephine said.

  Griffin smiled. „Thank you - and in my absence I would ask that Lincoln speak on my behalf both to my Grigori and before the Assembly." But he spoke as much to me as Josephine. Was he asking me to let Lincoln lead me?

  „Well, well, Lincoln - how far you"ve come," Josephine said, snidely, like she was talking about something else altogether, but then quickly added, „I"ll look forward to receiving your counsel."

  „Thank you," Lincoln said.

  Griffin kissed Josephine on the cheek, shook Lincoln"s hand and hugged me, positioning himself to whisper, „Be careful."

  I took my seat again and after Lincoln walked Griffin off the plane - I assumed for some final instructions - he stayed away, sitting with Samuel and Kaitlin. Once back in the air after the refuel, I squeezed i
n next to Spence and for the next few hours we played „Bullshit", our favourite card game. Zoe banned Salvatore from playing after the firs game. Unfair advantage.

  Eventually Spence figured out how Steph kept winning and took her hand, too - counting cards. She wasn"t fussed, she was happy to move to the other seat and cuddle with Salvatore.

  „So how did you guys manage to get away from the Academy?" I asked Zoe, after looking around and making sure we had some privacy.

  Zoe hitched a foot onto the seat in front and popped a few M&Ms - her candy of choice.

  „Turns out it"s handy to have a lie detector on a mission. The things that boy can find out when he put his mind to it. Let"s just say, it was a mistake telling him the review of our case had been indefinitely. Romeo found a wicked sense of determination.

  „Mr Carven?" Spence asked.

  Zoe smiled. „My lips are sealed. But … if it did have something to do with Carven it probably also involved Ms Trindle."

  „Oh!" Spence laughed while scrunching his face. „I"m going to have nightmares for weeks." He lowered his voice and turned to me. „Trust me, you don"t want me to paint this picture."

  „It"s okay - I think I have enough. Bottom line, how long can you stay?"

  Zoe slumped down in her seat and played her thighs like drums. „With Sal on the case?

  I"d say we have an open-ended ticket."

  I smiled, looking over at Steph and Sal. They were both beaming. She was showing him the translations now, speaking animatedly but in hushed tones, bringing him up to speed.

  „So you guys are …?"

  Zoe shrugged. „Since Jordan … You know." She started flicking her fingernails. „We"re partners. I"ll understand him one day and till then we"ve got the important things, like each other"s backs, covered."

  Nyla had been right.

  She"d always said they"d figure it out. I remembered the last time I saw her. Vacant - as if her soul really wasn"t with her at all, as if it was completely lost to her.

  „Have you seen Nyla?"

  Spence went dead still beside me. I knew it had been the hardest thing about not going back. He loved Nyla. She and Rudy had been the closest thing to a family he"d had.

  „The same," Zoe said.

  We left it there and went back to some more „Bullshit". That is, until we figured out Spence was pulling a glamour over half of his cards.

  CHAPTER TWENTY

  „A fool"s paradise is a wise man"s hell."

  Thomas Fuller

  Santorini glowed like a crescent moon floating in the sea. We circled the island before landing on the small airstrip and I wasn"t the only one glued to the window. The view was breathtaking. It was the most beautiful place I"d ever laid eyes on. The low-level buildings on the cliff scaled the heights, practically on top of each other and all sparkling while - like snowcaps. In the dusk lights shone from the houses, illuminating the island with gold.

  Then I saw a small dark circle of land in the ocean near the island and I felt something else, not as magical, but definitely powerful.

  Josephine stood up and walked to the front of the cabin, stopping right in front of me, to address us all.

  „Look out the window. The peak you can see emerging from the ocean is the caldera, volcano. It has two main parts, each with its own name. Palea Kameni and Nea Kameni -

  the old and the new burnt islands. The latter of the two will be our focus. Nea Kameni has a number of craters but only one we believe has the potential to erupt. Once we get to the hotel, everyone is to stay inside until we head out in the morning. This is not a request.

  Anything you need until then will be provided within the walls of the hotel. Santorini must be viewed as hostile territory until we have secured favour with the Athenian Grigori and … the Keeper of the island."

  „That should be interesting," Onyx said. Even from halfway down the plane I could smell the alcohol on his breath.

  No one else said anything or asked who this keeper was, so I kept my mouth shut.

  Santorini looked so beautiful from the air, but I was quite sure, thanks to Josephine"s speech, that once the plane touched down we would not be welcome to this particular paradise.

  Paradise built on top of a volcano!

  Whether it was Josephine"s words or just the dark, we all worked quickly to collect our luggage, move through passport control and find taxis.

  Lincoln stayed close to me, though far enough away. I didn"t tell him to leave me alone or to come closer, despite wanting both. Griffin had given me an order on that plane: he wanted me to follow Lincoln"s lead and I was going to respect that. As much as I could, anyway.

  I bee-lined for a taxi for a taxi. Salvatore and Steph, along with Spence and Zoe, were slipping into the one in front, while a pair of Josephine"s bodyguards were travelling with Onyx and Dapper in the one behind.

  I"d just pulled the door open when I heard the click of high heels behind me.

  „Violet, be a dear and ride with me. I have a matter I"d like to discuss with you."

  „Oh," I said, still holding the taxi door. „I … umm …"

  „I"m sure Violet would love to travel with you, Josephine," Lincoln said, putting a hand on my shoulder and easing me away from the taxi I was already halfway into. „You won"t mind if I escort her, though? She gets quite sick in the back of cars, we"ve found it safest if I"m nearby to send her some healing if needed."

  He moved between Josephine and me so it was clear it was not a request. Lincoln rarely challenged other Grigori so forcefully, usually he preferred to bide his time and let things go.

  I liked this side of him. A lot.

  Because I really need another side of the guy to adore!

  Josephine studied him for a minute and then broke into a soft laugh. „Of course. I was going to ask you to join us anyway. This matter concerns you, too, I imagine."

  „We"ll grab the next car," Kaitlin said, quickly removing her and Samuel"s luggage from the boot as one of Josephine"s black-clad ninja"s loaded heavy bags on top of ours. When the ninja girl started to get in the front seat, Josephine put up a hand.

  „We will see you at the hotel, Morgan."

  Morgan looked at Josephine like she didn"t know if that was code for something or not. I imagined it was a pretty tough job keeping up with all of her games. Josephine flicked her hand out. „Away."

  Once we were moving, Josephine rolled down her window, letting some night air into the car. I did the same on my side for equilibrium. Lincoln had strategically placed himself in the awkward middle seat. A gesture I was sure wasn"t lost on Josephine.

  „How so?" Lincoln asked flatly.

  Josephine seemed to deliberate for a moment before smiling secretively, making it clear she was not going to say any more.

  Lincoln remained calm as if nothing she had - or hadn"t - said upset him. "We can"t be on the island," he concluded.

  „Correct. That is also why Griffin has gone to Athens. The Grigori there will be upset we are breaking the terms of the truce. But I intend to settle this problem tonight." She peered around Lincoln"s broad shoulders at me. "With a little help."

  „You want us to return him?" I asked, but Lincoln wasn"t nodding or chatting now. He was dead still.

  „No. That, I"m afraid, is not an option. But the Keeper has particular weaknesses and very particular … tastes." She opened her briefcase and turned it so its contents faced Lincoln and me.

  „Jewellery?" I asked.

  The case held a number of stunning pieces, mostly diamonds. In the centre lay a necklace so big it looked like any normal person would collapse under its weight, then a number of bracelets, all dripping with pea-sized diamonds but also the occasional coloured stone. Finally, there were the rings: six of them, all made of silver inlaid with solitary gems -

  three diamonds and the others red, yellow and emerald. Seeing the stones made me nervous.

  „Are these some kind of payment?"

  „Yes," Josephine said, admiri
ng the bounty.

  „Is there …" my mouth had gone dry and I licked my lips. „I can"t see any sapphires in there."

  Josephine laughed. „I can tell Magda"s antics have left a mark on you all. No, there are certainly no sapphires or any other stones that could potentially cause Grigori any trouble.

  That, you can be certain, is not on my agenda."

  Great to know you have an agenda at all, lady!

  „What do you want us to do, Josephine?" Lincoln asked, taking back the conversation.

  She sighed and closed the briefcase. „I would do it myself, or ask another if I believed it could work, but unfortunately the Keeper has very specific prerequisites. If we are to present him with this payment it will have to be by someone to his liking and his liking is young with long dark hair, substantial …" she looked at my bust then changed her tack.

  „And with a power that intrigues him and, believe me, he has seen a lot."

  „No," Lincoln said.

  I had clammed up completely and couldn"t speak. The only thing going through my mind was, Please don"t make me do this.

  „We will find another way," he carried on, emphasising his point without raising his voice and was all the more forceful for it.

  „And yet, there is not other option. Since Phoenix has the Scripture …" she said, tilting her head so we both understood her meaning - Since Violet gave Phoenix the Scripture -

  „We must expect that he will be on his way to the island by tomorrow, if not already. This is our chance to gain the upper hand." She pouted, a show of false pity. „I"m sure Violet understands that Lincoln, and while I appreciate you"re protective of your partner for …

  various reasons, we must put the cause first tonight. Naturally, I do not expect Violet to be unescorted. You will be with her the entire time and she will only be expected to deliver the jewels and allow the Keeper to take possession of them."

  I watched Lincoln"s jaw clench so hard it looked like his temples would explode. I turned my attention to the window and focused on the night outside.

  „No," he said again.

  I closed my eyes momentarily and tried to push everything else aside. I had to be strong, not give in. Not run.

 
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