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       Emblaze, p.21

           Jessica Shirvington
 

  I tried to sing nursery rhymes in my head, to chant the alphabet, but when his mouth closed around the final ring … I had to onto the skirt of my dress with my free hand to stop myself from grabbing him.

  Irin wheezed a chuckle like he was reading my mind.

  I"m going to kill you. If not today, one day I swear I"m going to come back and kill you.

  Read that, you creep!

  Thinking it might be best to direct Lincoln to the necklace and earrings next, I stood up but almost fell back down my legs were shaking so much. Maybe it was the champagne finally hitting me - I"d been subconsciously sipping from the ever-filling glass.

  I tried to keep my defences up, but I wasn"t doing a great job and was becoming increasingly unstable on my feet. I felt every minute movement as Lincoln unclasped the heavy necklace, releasing me of its weight. He followed with the earrings.

  „Is that everything?" he asked, his eyes downcast and his voice so rough it barely sounded the words.

  I stepped back, the slit in my dress parting to reveal the emerald spider web on my thigh.

  I saw his eyes widen and caught the sound he couldn"t contain.

  It sent a shockwave through me.

  Wordlessly, he dropped to his knees and started with the clasps at the back, but he struggled to work around the fabric of the dress. I pulled it back for him, leaving my whole leg exposed, hoping to hell that it meant he would get it done faster because I was burning up.

  Don"t think about how every time he takes his hand away from you, you want to scream.

  Finally, Lincoln stood and turned to Irin, placing the emerald masterpiece on the table in front of him.

  „I want your word that once this is done we will have no opposition to our stay on the island and in addition I want your assurance that you will not assist any other exiles coming here - for any purpose."

  Jesus Christ. He is seriously some kind of warrior god to have been so quick-thinking. I was still on the „champagne is magic and your fingers feel sooo nice" part.

  Irin laughed, heartily. „Oh, my boy, I would do almost for the finale. I give you my word on both, though I will not refrain from imposing a similar arrangement to grant these exiles abode."

  Lincoln seemed to realise this was as much as he was going to get and nodded, before walking back to me. But it got me thinking.

  „Wait!" I said, louder than I"d intended. Everyone stopped. „I want something else."

  Damn it. These angels are going to owe me.

  Lincoln looked at me. „Don"t" written in his eyes.

  But I did anyway.

  „I want the necklace. You said yourself, you have plenty that are more special and more valuable. If you want me to do this then I want the necklace." Right at that moment, I was sure it was important.

  Irin"s easy expression changed and he slammed his fist down on the table with such force that the whole piece jumped up, before thumping back down. But I saw the look in his eyes - the greed, the hunger - and knew any promises he"d made to his freak-oid children came second to his own needs.

  His smile returned. „I suggest you hide it well until you are clear of the island. I will not be held responsible if my sons discover its whereabouts."

  I shrugged in casual agreement even though my heart was pounding. Lincoln started towards me again, looking relieved I hadn"t just blown everything. And maybe a little impressed. Definitely curious.

  „But," Irin added, sheepishly, „you will both need to lower your defences for the kiss."

  My heart stopped thudding and skipped a beat instead. We though we"d one-upped him but really he"d walked us right into his trap. Lincoln lifted his luminous green eyes to meet mine and we stared at each other.

  The worst thing, as awful as it was, was that part of me was dancing inside.

  My entire being wanted this and while I knew we"d made the decision, for all the right reasons, never to let this happen - I wanted him to kiss me, desperately. Before I knew what was happening, eagerness overruled and I"d dropped my defences. A wave of pure need crashed into me. I took the closing step towards him.

  „Violet," Lincoln said straining against his emotions, but that was all we had time for before I felt the honey of his power melt away, replaced by only him. For the time in ages it was just us. His hand went to the side of my face and then to the back of my neck as he drew my so willing body towards him.

  As we kissed I felt him pull me closer, tighter, but not tight enough. Never close enough.

  His mouth moulded to mine and I felt his soul reach out to me as mine did to him. Almost touching - desperate.

  Mine, mine, mine.

  I was surprised my hands didn"t go wild, trying to get to all of him - but they didn"t. I just held onto him for dear life. In that moment, I was quite willing to take down anything that ever tried to take him from me again. Lincoln held me in the same way, his arms gripping me so firmly that my back arched in perfect agony as we kissed. I could feel it now, Irin feeding from us, the tiny tendrils of my feelings for Lincoln being pulled from me, but there was so much more, he barely touched the surface. When Lincoln"s lips broke from mine momentarily I cried out to him frantically, "I love you! As if this might be my one and only chance to say it again.

  The words snapped something between us. Lincoln stiffened and pulled away, stumbling back, even though I"d held him with all my strength.

  I was breathless.

  And broken.

  My arms wrapped around my waist as I tried to hold myself together.

  Lincoln kept moving back, a stunned expression on his face. I felt his power start to swirl as he leaned over, bracing his hands on his knees, and put the barriers between us back up. I attempted to follow suit.

  „More than I could"ve ever dreamed. soul mates, „Irin slurred, drunk on our emotion.

  I wanted to stab him in the eye, which helped bring me back to myself a bit. He stood up, crooked, and walked lazily to one of the cabinets.

  He threw me the necklace and, without thinking, I stuffed it down the front of the dress.

  And if Uri thinks he"s getting it, he"s got another thing coming.

  „We"re leaving," Lincoln said.

  „Feel free, payment has been more than sufficient. I have only a parting question," Irin said, following us dreamily.

  We headed for the double doors. Lincoln pushed them with staggering force and held them open for me. We charged through the hall and started up the stairs with no intention of stopped until we reached the ground level where the faceless exiles still stood as if they"d not moved the entire time. In front of the door was the one who"d shown us in, blocking our way to freedom.

  I spun around, my whole body shaking. Irin was right behind me.

  „What?" I roared, finding my voice.

  „How did my haunting reveal themselves to you?" he asked calmly, gesturing a hand to the Nephlim. “What do you see when you look at my sons?"

  „Nothing," I said, earning a flash of the eyes from Lincoln. Irin smiled knowingly. „They"re empty, hollow, except for the sound."

  „Yes, they accumulate those. The screams of all who have laid eyes on them before. Put a few together and it"s quite the symphony." He walked a few steps closer to the doors and nodded to the Nephlim, who moved away at his command. „And Lincoln, what about you? I should warn you, I can see every form my children take."

  Lincoln served up death-in-a-stare. „Then why ask?" he growled.

  I knew he would take Irin down if he felt he had a good shot. But after the feed Irin had just gorged himself on, it would probably be suicide. And we had our orders.

  Irin closed his eyes in some kind of delight. „Dessert."

  Lincoln"s nostrils flared and his clenched. „I saw Violet."

  When Irin"s eyes opened his face flooded with pleasure. „Each one, exactly as she is tonight. Quite a beautiful sight - though," he winked at me, „for your partner, more torment than he could imagine."

  „Torment?" I repeate
d, starting to feel sick. „That"s what they show us?"

  „They show us exactly what we most dread to see in ourselves." Irin opened the door and held out his hand for us to leave. „Please, do stop by again."

  CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

  „ If you"re losing your soul and you know it, then you"ve still got a soul left to lose."

  Charles Bukowski

  Lincoln sat in the front on the way back to Fira. I was in the back, next to Max, trying not to suffocate in the overwhelming amount of power Lincoln was pulling on. No one spoke.

  The chauffeur dropped us back at the hotel and Lincoln was out in at instant, bounding up the steps three at a time.

  I followed, less enthusiastic.

  By the time I reached the foyer, I could hear him yelling. I followed the sound into the hotel bar where Josephine sat comfortably, surrounded by four of her ninjas.

  When Morgan saw me standing in the doorway her expression dropped a little. She shifted in her seat like she wanted to come to me but I shook my head. It wouldn"t help her to leave her post.

  „You had no right! An incubus!" Lincoln bellowed. It was the third time he"d yelled those words since I walked in. "Do you have any idea how much you are risking?"

  Josephine smoothed down her skirt and looked uninterested. "Lincoln, calm down. I sent you in there to do your job. The Keeper called after you left him to tell me are welcome to stay on Santorini. You have both returned unharmed, I don"t understand the problem." But the way her look had morphed from on of boredom to one of challenge said she understood exactly.

  „You played us! This had nothing to do with Violet"s power and everything to do with our

  … connection," Lincoln, still furious, yelled but without as much volume. Since when had he downgraded our relationship to a connection?

  Josephine stood up. „Yes. It was the easiest way. I knew once the Keeper laid eyes on the pair of you it would guarantee our stay. I have a job to do and nursing you and your partner"s feelings is not part of it." She brushed past him towards the way out. „Really Lincoln, all this soul mate business is tiresome. It"s no different from a forced chemical reaction and has nothing to do with your real feelings for the girl. You need to learn how to control the effects at some point unless you aspire to an end like Nyla"s. I still have high hopes for you. Consider this your first practice session. „ Josephine went out the door, but not before floating a look in my direction. She knew I"d heard everything.

  Lincoln stood still, hands fisted by his sides. As soon as she was gone he dropped his head and let out a ragged breath.

  „Is it so terrible to be close to me?" I asked softly.

  His head flew up and he spun around. He hadn"t I was there, which in itself was a sign of how distracted he was.

  „Violet, you … should go to bed," his shoulders tensed and he moved to the bar, pouring himself a glass of wine from the bottle that must have been Josephine"s.

  I leaned against a stool and took off my shoes, which had cut into the backs of my heels.

  „You could"ve at least said I looked pretty. Or … I don"t know, something. " Because for some reason, out of everything that had happened tonight, that seemed to grate on me the most.

  He took a gulp of wine and shook his head. „You don"t want me to start saying something. Trust me."

  I felt a sting in my eyes and blinked back the tears. „Am I really the thing that you dread to see in yourself most?"

  He collapsed onto a stool. „Is nothingness really the thing you dread to see in yourself?"

  He looked so pained that I decided to give him an honest answer.

  „Yes. Since I embraced and killed that image of myself … I"ve always feared that a part of what I"d done was true, that I really did kill a part of myself. It felt real. At first I thought it was my soul, but then you and I … well, things wouldn"t be like this if I didn"t have a soul, right?"

  He held his glass up as if in agreement.

  „But I"m still frightened by what I"ve become, am becoming, and about …" I looked at the blue carpet, avoiding his eyes, „the things I"ve given up." I still couldn"t look at him, but when I heard the stool creak, I quickly added. „Now you answer me. Am I the thing you dread the most?"

  He started to move, finishing his drink and taking a few steps towards me. But I needed to know. „Answer me," I insisted.

  He stopped and sighed. „Yes. That"s what I dread."

  I closed my eyes and nodded, my jaw and neck aching with the awful truth.

  I"m such a fool. Leave. Now!

  „No wonder tonight was so horrific for you. Goodnight, then," I said, barely getting the words out before rushing for the stairs.

  „Violet!" Lincoln called after me.

  But I didn"t want to stick around for an encore. Was Josephine right? Were Lincoln"s feelings for me only there because our souls were somehow chemically drawn to one another? Did he believe that if it weren"t for that, he wouldn"t care for me?

  I ran up the stairs, suddenly feeling ridiculous in my outfit. Instead of going to my room, I kept running, not able to stop until I stumbled out onto the rooftop, gasping for fresh air.

  The view over Santorini was breathtaking and even through my blurred vision, once again, I was awestruck by its beauty. But now it just made me cry more.

  Everything beautiful is tainted.

  To prove my point, I looked out to the ocean and the volcano"s silhouette.

  How can I do this? How can I be this person who fights these battles?

  All I wanted was to get into my flannelette PJs and eat a tub of ice cream while bawling my eyes out. Everyone wanted to be someone I wasn"t. Even Lincoln.

  „Me and my big mouth," I muttered to myself. „Stupid, stupid, stupid." There he was, in the middle of his dreaded nightmare, and I was telling him I loved him.

  Leaning my back against one of the small barrier walls, I slid to the ground. Once there, I realised just how tired I was. I cried and cried even though I knew I should go to my room.

  We were expected up early in the morning to start our investigations. But all of my strength had faded and now my anger, too.

  As I drifted off to sleep on the hard concrete of the rooftop, a cool breeze carrying musk and jasmine swept my hair across my face. Something was telling me to do something, ringing some muted alarm bell, but I felt numb and ignored it, soon deep in slumber.

  -

  The ground was uneven and something was digging into my back. I started to open my eyes, then I felt him. He had obviously been here for some time. The senses were wall-established within me, not like when first sparking.

  How did I sleep through that?

  I tried to stop my body from tensing and suppressed my instinct to leap up, on the offensive. If he had come to kill me he could"ve done the job by now, easily.

  My hair was covering my face so I took the chance to open my eyes. He was sitting on the barrier, feet up, back against one of the higher pillars. The sun was in its first soft moments of rising and providing the perfect lighting backdrop.

  He was looking out at the horizon but I could see his eyes. Tired, lonely … lost.

  „I know you"re awake," Phoenix said.

  I wasn"t surprised. He didn"t move or say anything else so I sat up, stretching out the kinks in my body as I did.

  I stood and found myself moving towards him, marvelling at how comfortable I felt around him at times, despite knowing how much he hated me and that eventually he would kill me. Perhaps there was some kind of peace in that. Maybe he felt it, too, knowing that I would take him with me, if I could.

  „I told you that dress would look ravishing."

  Then he did the strangest thing. He reached behind his back and revealed a takeaway cup, passing it to me. The coffee aroma wafted over me.

  I took it, staring at the cup, completely dumbfounded.

  „Drink it, I don"t need poison to kill you," he said plainly.

  Sadly true.

  It was hot and
yet I knew he"d been here for a while. Had he come and gone? Known I was stirring and left to get it? I took a sip and almost choked.

  „Our definition of poison is a little different," I said, holding it back out to him.

  „Drink it."

  I resisted the urge to spit. „What is this and how much sugar is in there?"

  „Coffee and ginseng, and a lot. Drink. You need it."

  I eyed him suspiciously. „Why?"

  „Because the Keeper fed off you last night." He glanced at me briefly. „And, he fed well."

  „How do you know?" I asked, wrapping an arm around myself, remembering the uncomfortable feeling of Irin"s eyes on me.

  „Just the look of you tells me enough, but … I also can"t feel you the way I normally can."

  That was interesting. „And you care, why?"

  He didn"t answer.

  I half laughed. „Just like Jordan," I said, as much to myself as to him. „You need me.

  Jesus, you"re just fattening me up for the slaughter!" But I took another sip anyway. If it was going to help bring back my strength, I wasn"t about to refuse.

  He smiled, but the smile disappeared quickly.

  „So you figured out the Scriptures."

  Our hopes of a few days" lead on him were now over.

  „Naturally."

  I looked around, wondering how he"d managed to get through a hotel full of Grigori. „Did you fly here?" I asked, sure I would have heard the distinctive shriek if that stairwell door had opened.

  „No. I was travelling across rooftops. It was a leap to this one - but when I"m moving that fast, momentum carries me."

  „Huh. Makes sense." Nothing could stop Phoenix when he became the wind. A thought that made me shiver.

  We stood and looked out towards the horizon and the volcano. I knew he must be there for a reason, which couldn"t be good. But he was with me, where I could see him, not attacking my friends or sneaking up from behind, and in a way that made it easier.

 
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