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       Emblaze, p.18

           Jessica Shirvington
 

  „Linc," I said, keeping my gaze on the scene outside the window. „It"s okay." I didn"t need to look at Josephine to know she was smiling, but Griffin had given me clear instructions not to go up against her. „As long as Lincoln can come with me and I"m not expected to-"

  „Of course not," she cut me off. „Lincoln will be with you the entire time - I have already stipulated that in the arrangements."

  I nodded.

  „It"s already arranged?" Lincoln replied, his calm now wavering.

  „Yes, I put everything in place as soon as I knew our destination. I just didn"t know who we were going to send - until I saw how beautiful Violet is."

  So, why am I so sure she doesn"t think I"m beautiful at all and that she planned this whole thing before she ever laid eyes on me?

  The taxi pulled up outside a white building that looked like all the others we"d passed on the drive. We were much higher up now, though.

  Did someone say … cliffs? Joy.

  „Welcome to Fira," Josephine said, getting out of the taxi. Samuel and Kaitlin pulled up behind us and everyone else was already waiting at the foot of a winding staircase. Onyx was sitting on top of his bag and looked utterly wasted as he fanned himself.

  Samuel walked past us, pausing briefly to glance me meaningfully at Lincoln, who gave his own glances in return.

  „It is not a large hotel and since we expect more Grigori to join us shortly - we have booked it out. I will have the main suite, you can work the rest out among yourselves, though I require my staff to be in the rooms surrounding my own, for practicality"s sake."

  She gave a tight smile and then started for the stairs, leaving her bags for her ninjas.

  Steph came up to me, a spring in her step and a childish smile on her face. „Are we sharing?"

  „Sure, but maybe you should hang out with Sal and the others until I come and get you. I have to go out and I don"t want you on your own here."

  Steph"s smile vanished. I knew she would freak if I told her what Josephine had asked and that she wouldn"t refrain from giving the Vice a piece of her mind. I patted her on the shoulder and started walking up the stairs so I didn"t have to look at her while I lied. „Don"t worry, Steph. Just recon. I"ll be with Lincoln the whole time."

  „Really?" she responded, suspiciously.

  „Absolutely."

  „But Josephine said no on was allowed to leave the hotel."

  „Yeah, I know, but she asked us to make a delivery or something. No drama. It will probably only take an hour or so."

  „Okay then. I guess I"ll drop my bags in our room and catch up with the others. I wanted to get their take on the prophecies anyway. I think there"s more to those symbols than just the sacrifices."

  Steph had taken off already and I had an hour until Lincoln and I were due to meet downstairs. I stared at my mobile phone wondering if I should turn it on and call Dad, before putting it away in my bedside drawer. Then I collapsed on my bed with no intention of moving for the next fifty-five minutes.

  I had just kicked my shoes off when someone started knocking on my door.

  „Go away!" I called out, assuming it was Spence or one of the others.

  „Josephine sent me," a girl"s voice called back to me.

  I sighed and stared at the ceiling before rolling off the bed. I really needed sleep. I schlepped over to the door and when I opened it Morgan stood there with a large black box resting in her outstretched arms and the briefcase Josephine had shown us earlier.

  She smiled courteously then pushed past me, carefully placing the box on the bed and the briefcase beside it.

  She turned to look at me and screwed up her face. „You do realise you have less than an hour to get ready?"

  I looked down at my outfit. I looked pretty average in my jeans and singlet and I still had my sloppy joe tied around my waist. After however many hours it had been since my last shower, even I didn"t welcome the arm-pit test.

  Morgan shook her head, belying her blank expression, breaking into a quirky smile that made me wonder if the ninjas were really that bad.

  „Josephine sent a dress and shoes for you." She bit her lip. „You"d better get in the shower while I sort out your clothes and make-up. Where is everything?"

  She almost fell over in horror when I showed her what I"d brought cosmetics-wise. I don"t know why she was surprised. I hadn"t planned on getting dressed up. Luckily for Morgan, Steph"s bag contained a veritable „what"s what" of beauty essentials. I couldn"t help but laugh and relax. I"d had Morgan pegged as an emotionless go-fetcher, but this girl was more like Warrior Barbie.

  I did as I was told, too tired to argue, and had a quick shower, following instructions not to get my hair wet since we didn"t have enough time to start from scratch.

  When I emerged from the bathroom cocooned in the snugly white hotel robe, which only made me want to sleep even more, I found that Morgan had transformed my room into a beauty salon. All of Steph"s cosmetics were laid out in some kind of colour-and-type sequence, with brushes that she must have found in Steph"s bags, too, straightening irons, nail polish and, hanging from the open wardrobe, a dress that made me first gasp and second, lunge for my dagger.

  Morgan shot up in the air, hands out defensively. „What"s the mater with you? Haven"t you ever had your make-up done before?" she asked, sounding like I"d actually hurt her feelings.

  „Where did that come from?" I demanded, jabbing the point of my dagger towards the dress and then back to her. „Answer me, now!"

  „Okay, relax! It was loaded on the plane when you boarded; Josephine ordered it online.

  She said, I don"t know … she said it was perfect. And, can I just say, if you don"t like it, you don"t need to attack em over it! I"m not even armed!"

  I looked at Morgan, standing opposite me in a defensive position holding a tube of lip gloss. If she had done this on purpose there was no way she would have come in unarmed.

  She looked like she had been caught completely off-guard and I instantly felt bad for her.

  I threw my dagger onto the bed. „Were you really planning on fighting back with lip gloss?" I asked, letting a smile spread across my face.

  Morgan looked down, aware of her pose for the first time, then back at me, still unsure, but realising where I"d thrown my dagger - closer to her than me - she relaxed and smiled back.

  „Remind me never to go dress shopping with you," she said, walking towards the most divine gown I"d ever seen. „What"s wrong with it, anyway?"

  I stepped up beside her and ran my fingers down the black silk. „I … I"ve seen it before." I didn"t want to tell her I"d seen it with Phoenix - than he"d offered to buy it for me." I just … it caught me by surprise. I thought it might be someone playing a joke on me."

  Morgan moved behind me and started yanking at my hair with a brush. „I can promise you this much - there isn"t anything funny about tonight."

  I spun to face her. „What aren"t you telling me? Why am I getting so dressed up?"

  Morgan directed me to the designated make-up chair and started slapping foundation on my cheeks. „Josephine knows what she"s doing. I know she seems … unfriendly, but you"d be better off just doing what she says."

  She went to work on my eyes and I had to close them. After a while, accepting she wasn"t going to say any more, I decided to try and find out some more about the ninjas. „Are all the people at the Academy like you guys?" From what I"d seen of Spence, Zoe and Salvatore, Josephine"s uniformed Grigori were different.

  „In what way?"

  „All ninja-ish and guard-like."

  She raised her eyebrows. „I"ll take that as a compliment. Grigori are in high places all around the world - we have to be to access the exiles who get there, too."

  „So that"s what you"re going to do after you leave the Academy?"

  „Everyone takes a different major in final year. Max, my partner, chose Ghosting." She shrugged, grabbing the mascara wand and blotting it on some tissue. „It"s not reall
y my thing but Max wanted to do it. Ghosts always get to work closely with Josephine and he thought it would help us get good placements."

  „So you like Josephine?" I asked carefully.

  She smiled and I could see she really did resemble a Barbie doll with her long blonde hair and perfect white teeth. „No one likes Josephine. But then, that"s not her job." She turned my chair towards the mirror. I almost didn"t recognise myself. It seemed like ages since I"d actually felt girly … and well, this was even more. The way she"d done my eyes, made the corners so dark and smoky with the slightest glimmer of silver at the top was amazing. I looked like a woman. All of a sudden, I couldn"t wait to see what the dress looked like on.

  -

  I hadn"t been out in public without my bracelets since I first received my markings. I felt exposed and was fiddling so much that Morgan had resorted to slapping me on the hands.

  Which hurt.

  „Stay still," she said. „It"s hard enough doing this in the lift, let alone with you twitching like you"re having some kind of seizure."

  I tried to stop bouncing on the balls of my feet as she clipped the last piece of jewellery on, the necklace with four rows of teardrop diamonds, each one - Morgan told me about a hundred times - a perfect three carats. I placed a flat palm across my collarbone, which was now home to seventy-two carats" worth of diamonds.

  I"m a walking Tiffany"s.

  I looked down at the rest of my glistening ensemble in the elevator mirror. Three rings on each hand that miraculously fit perfectly, apart from the one with the ruby that was a little loose. Looping diamond-studded earrings, a glittering bracelet on one wrist and opposite - a platinum armband in the design of a snake curling its way around my upper arm, encrusted with smaller diamonds. Then there was the ankle bracelet, which was the most dainty of the pieces and held matching, though significantly smaller, teardrop diamonds to complement the necklace - and was my favourite.

  Finally, I pulled back my dress at the slit to reveal the web of delicate chains holding an arrangement of vibrant green emeralds in the pattern of a spider - its eight legs stretching around my thigh. Though it was bizarre it was also …

  But the jewellery paled in comparison to the dress.

  I remembered staring at it in the shop window, thinking it was the most stunning gown I had ever seen, but now - it was more than I could have imagined. It fit perfectly, as if it had been specifically designed for me.

  Black and strapless - the fitted bodice was finely detailed with black crystals, while the rest of the fabric floated down elegantly, and the high slit at the side showed flashes of skin when I walked.

  The lift doors opened while I was still staring at this unknown version of myself in the mirror.

  „ What are you doing with that?" Morgan asked, pointing to my hand, which held my sheathed dagger.

  „I didn"t know where to strap it."

  „You are not putting a dagger on that outfit," she said, extending her hand to stop the lift doors from closing.

  „Well, I"m not going anywhere without it." I"d made that mistake once before and experienced the full force of Onyx at his worst as a result. „Where I go, my weapon follows."

  I spun towards the open doors and froze, the force of his power hitting me first.

  Honey. Everywhere.

  Lincoln was standing on the opposite side of the tiny foyer, looking straight at me, his hand gripping the table he stood beside, wearing the hungriest expression I"d even seen on

  … anything - animal or human.

  Oh.

  It"s the dress.

  Breathe.

  It"s just the dress, maybe the jewellery.

  I closed the short distance between us, hoping I wouldn"t trip on the way and saw that he looked amazing. He wore a tailored suit, which sat on him, like my dress, as if it had been measured perfectly to his body, with a black shirt, open at the collar, sending me all the right - no wrong - messages.

  „You look great," I said, since he hadn"t said anything.

  His eyes glanced down before he could stop them and once he pulled them back up, they seemed to darg their own way back down again before he realised. I felt a wash of self-consciousness. Suddenly, I couldn"t tell if he approved or not.

  „Well, you"re clearly in capable hands." Morgan rolled her eyes like a prop. „I"ll have the car come around. Max is going to escort you there but he has to stay in the car. Okay?" she said, holding my eyes to be sure I"d heard and understood. She put out her hand. „Give me the dagger."

  I didn"t move. „No."

  She gave a frustrated sigh.

  „I"ll carry it," Lincoln said, opening his jacket a little to reveal his own dagger. I trustingly passed it to him. He took it carefully, ensuring he didn"t make contact with me at all.

  „Here"s the car," Morgan said from the entryway when she heard a horn beep. She pulled open the hotel door. „Josephine said to remind you, you have to remind you, you have to present the jewels and allow him to take possession of them - those are the terms."

  I nodded, my short-lived excitement fading fast. I turned to ask Lincoln what he thought that meant but he"d already disappeared outside.

  Way to make a girl feel pretty.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

  „ An angel can illume the thought and mind of man by strengthening the power of vision…"

  St Thomas Aquinas

  I made my way down the spiral staircase, hoping I wouldn"t trip and have some spectacular fall. I really didn"t care that much about being pretty. Not like Steph, anyway.

  But now that I was, I didn"t want to make an absolute fool of myself. I mean, how many chances was I really going to have to wear a dress like this?

  Halfway down the stairs, I felt the stairs. „Oh no," I moaned. „Not now." I put a hand on the railing to steady myself as gravity lightened its hold on the world and something else, something that shouldn"t be there, moved around me. Last time their realm had touched with ours we"d been in Jordan, so it didn"t seem so strange to see sands rolling in. But on Santorini, a volcanic island, seeing desert sands start blowing towards me was just plain unsettling.

  I tried to back up a step, but my legs were cemented, like last time. I took a deep breath and concentrated on resorting my barriers. I couldn"t be this defenceless when Nox, or Uri for that matter, arrived.

  Gradually, like waking a sleeping limb, I started to feel the prickle of nerves coming alive.

  Wiggling my toes was good, but not enough. I kept my focus, my grip moving along the railing again and then, willing more, I found myself taking that step back up the stairs.

  Okay. We have movement!

  The sands drifted in and then rained down on the steps, a few grains falling into my hand. I started trying to reach for Lincoln through our link but barely managed the thought before someone else was standing in front of me.

  „Uri?" I asked, fairly certain but still slightly confused each time I saw one of my identical guides. Uri was an Angel Elect. He looked dishevelled and dirty - not in the way someone who was all good could look poor but kind. No, he always looked like he was coming off the biggest bender ever. Sandy blonde hair, tangled, cupping his fair, a tailored white shirt, unbuttoned at the top and hanging loose at the bottom, black pants that looked like they were in need of a wash and … no shoes. All topped off with a three-day growth.

  I stared. There was something about him. I couldn"t decide what it was, but I found myself more unnerved around him in many ways than I was with Nox.

  Nox was simple. His motives were wrong, he wanted wrong, he was wrong. Uri … Uri was something else, but something altogether more frightening.

  He watched me as I watched him and I could see he was having thoughts of his won.

  The look of disgust was unmistakable, but I"d learned to expect that. Angels who have not chosen this life may be intrigued by humanity but they also see us as lower beings - it"s almost as if they don"t want to get too close in case it"s catching.

&n
bsp; „Good evening, Violet," Uri said, his voice dry.

  I stood tall and put my hand out to shake.

  His eyes went wide and I couldn"t help but smile. I"d just had a double score. First, I knew he didn"t particularly want to have to touch me - but hell, he"d made me shake his hand once before so it was fair - and second, I"d shown him I was strong enough to move.

  Go me.

  He moved forwards, taking the step up to me as I took the step down. This time he kept his expression neutral.

  Taking his hand was like holding something unnatural - my mind boggled. His grip was firm - all man - but his skin was so soft, like a newborn baby"s. these two sensation -

  strength and innocence - are not supposed to go together. And there was something else -

  a spark, crackling between us.

  I flinched at the sensation. Uri"s hand steadied me and his eyes lifted, amused. „First, you touch the human, then the spirit, then … the angel."

  I was about to ask what that meant but, like he had done once before, just as I"d seen my angel maker do, his face dropped what minimal expression it held and became vacant.

  Still holding my hand, still there, but … not.

  No crackle. Not even a snap or pop.

  And it felt strangely familiar.

  „You look … superficial," he said suddenly, moving back as soon as I released his hand in shock. It had only been five or six seconds, but he had definitely gone somewhere momentarily and returned just as quickly.

  I shrugged, trying to regain my voice. „Not by choice, though I"m not complaining."

  „Clearly," he said, judgement rolling off the word.

  Whatever.

  He looked at me as if he"d read my mind, one eyebrow twitching slightly. Of course, that was about the most I"d ever seen from Uri. Unlike Nox, he didn"t smile much.

  „You do not fear me as much as you should," he said, a question in the statement.

  Damn angels - whether exiled or not, light or dark, they were all creatures of pride.

  „If I spent all my time fearing the things I should, I"d never stop screaming."

  Uri tilted his head. "True."

  Oh, comforting.

 
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