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       Emblaze, p.4

           Jessica Shirvington
 

  „We need to agree on buildings," he said, his voice smooth and sure.

  I nodded. It was the last of the pre-trade arrangements. We"d left it that way on purpose.

  Too much could go wrong otherwise. At least I"d finally have some news to pass on to everyone.

  He pushed a little at me again, emotions caressing me from inside out. It was divine.

  I put up lazy walls and bit down hard. „I said stop it or I"ll leave."

  „But I could make this exchange much more pleasurable."

  He tried harder this time and like smoke seeping under a doorway, lust rose, my body craving more.

  Phoenix laughed lightly. „You have such an appetite. I don"t know why you deny it," he said, coercing me with his words.

  „Because it"s not me. I don"t want your emotions running through me. It"s like some kind of poison."

  He didn"t stop, but didn"t push any harder. Instead, he leaned in close, too close for comfort, and spoke with a low voice into my ear. „I would"ve given you everything."

  I held my defences where they were, caught in the moment. Half up, half down, unsure for a second which way to go. But then I came to my senses, and my walls shot up. I stepped back and turned to him, showing I wasn"t afraid.

  „No. You would"ve taken everything I am until I was nothing but your puppet. You might"ve have planned to - but you wouldn"t have been able to help yourself. And anyway

  …" I stopped. There was no way to discuss that, to about how I couldn"t love anyone truly, anyone other than Lincoln.

  Phoenix shrugged, but his expression remained intense. „Guess we"ll never know." He looked right into my eyes, making sure he had my full attention. „But then, neither will he."

  Like I was in Jordan again, I felt the tragedy of Rudy"s death, of Phoenix calling out to his exiles to leave a moment later. I"d wondered since, why he hadn"t just grabbed the Scripture earlier and taken off. He was losing exiles and we were too evenly matched - it wasn"t a smart fight. If he was any other exile I would have understood. In general, they don"t care and would be insane enough to take on any odds, but not Phoenix. He was an anomaly.

  He was still watching me and it was then that I realised why he"d waited so long to leave,

  „You wanted Rudyard to die," I accused, barely able to push the words from my mouth. It was too horrific, and even after everything he"d done, I really didn"t want this to be true.

  His eyes flickered, then narrowed. At first I thought my accusation surprised him but then he just let out a calculatedly bored yawn.

  „An acceptable casualty of war." He put his hands in his pockets, showing he wasn"t concerned.

  He"d planned it all. Made sure Lincoln and I would never be …

  My good arm went out so fast I hadn"t even realised I"d decided to do anything. My closed fist swept across his face hard. He hadn"t expected it and it him in the jaw, jerking his head to the side.

  He stood tall again, as if it hadn"t happened. He didn"t even put a hand to his face to rub the spot I knew would be hurting. In fact, he left his hands in his pockets.

  Bastard.

  I kept my own hands fisted, anticipating his retaliation. But, instead, he just growled,

  „Buildings."

  „Maddox," I said quickly, still in a bit of shock.

  „Fine. We"ll be on the Brighton. Tomorrow night. 11 p.m. No tricks."

  „No tricks," I agreed, suspecting I wasn"t the only one lying. „And you can stop sending your lackeys after me, too," I added. „We"ve returned them all, Phoenix. Surely you"re getting sick of losing fighters."

  He smiled without any kindness. „Just making sure you have no more hesitations."

  I glared at him. „No such luck," I sneered. My apprehension at drawing my dagger had ended the night I"d returned Jude. But I felt sure he knew that.

  „ And I thought you"d appreciate the extra training."

  A shiver ran down my spine. The way he said it and waited for my reaction - I was suddenly convinced he"d been watching me, following me on my additional sessions.

  He turned to walk away but stopped and looked back. "Violet …"

  „What?" I snapped.

  „Thank you," he said, now touching his face. And then he was gone with a more forceful than usual gust of wind that pushed me back a step before I caught my footing,

  „Shit," I mumbled nervously, taking a few calming breaths and trying to shake the quiver from my hands.

  CHAPTER FIVE

  „ People only see what they are prepared to see."

  Ralph Waldo Emerson

  Dad was picking at a plate of spring rolls when I made my late entrance.

  „You get lost?" he asked, but his smile paused mid-up-curl and dropped his entrée into the dipping sauce. „What happened?" he asked, looking worried as he stood up and carefully held out my arm.

  In my haste, I"d let the shawl drop and bunch into the crease of my elbow. Dad was surveying a pretty bid bruise in my bad arm.

  I had to take a few steadying breaths, still working hard to pull myself together after seeing Phoenix. „Oh, I … bashed into a tree," I eventually said.

  Technically … true.

  „Accident," I added.

  Technically … false.

  „It looks painful, must"ve been one angry tree," he said, something in his tone unsettling me.

  Suspicion?

  „It"ll teach me for not looking where I"m going, I suppose," I said, looking at my arm as if only now noticing how bad it was while trying to ease it out of Dad"s hold, pretending it didn"t hurt like hell. Once free, I adjusted my shawl and took my seat. „Have you ordered anything else?"

  He nodded, taking his seat, too, still looking at me strangely. „The usual."

  „Great," I said, pepping up convincingly. „I"m starving."

  A plate of spring rolls, a chicken pad thai, a green curry and two glasses of Coke later - I was looking for a way out. Fast.

  It was like Dad had undergo some kind of personality transplant. Not only was he conversational, but also I"d never been so closely scrutinised or asked so many questions by him in … my entire life. I was right, he was definitely suspicious.

  I"d dodged the questions about my after-school activities, fobbing off my busy schedule on preparing for the Fenton art course due to start after graduation and studying at the library with Steph. But Dad started asking questions about Lincoln, not just if we were still friends, but what Lincoln"s plans for the future were, if we were still training - since I was looking very fit - I knew I needed to get out of there.

  „Dad, I, umm … I"m feeling a bit exhausted, actually. Do you mind if we just grab an ice cream on the walk home?"

  Okay, so blow me down or something, because my father, the man who usually jumps at the opportunity to remove himself from any personal moment, put down his napkin and said, "To tell you the truth, honey, I"d really like it if we could chat for another few minutes."

  I sat there, dumbfounded. I considered asking him if he was feeling okay, if he had been struck down by some terminal illness and had only days to live. When I went to open my mouth … nothing.

  „It"s just that, well," he cleared his throat, oblivious to my stunned state. "I know I"m not around a lot. And recently it"s come to my attention that maybe I"m not … there enough in other ways, too." He sighed.

  My mind was reeling.

  Come to his attention? Who the hell managed to get his attention long enough to bring anything to it?

  „I"m not good at this, Vi. I know you probably think I"m a terrible father, and I … I wouldn"t blame you if you did. But I feel like I"ve been caught between worlds since … your mother. I never really took up the reins and you were always such a good girl. I guess I just let you carry the load."

  Good God, did my father just use the word „feel"?

  The front door to the restaurant swung open and a happy family left, calling out their thanks to the waiters as the boy swung between his parents" hands.
r />
  If I run, I could make it out that door before it closes.

  „I know something is going on in your life, Vi."

  Does he? Is it possible that all this time dad has actually known? Or figured it out?

  My hands went to my bracelets, rotating them around my wrists.

  „And I can see that it has changed you."

  He knows.

  He sat up straighter. I braced myself.

  „When we"re young, lots of happen that we think are the be all and end all, but really -

  they"re not. I can see you"re losing focus on school and I realise it"s wrapping up now, but you still have work left to do and I haven"t heard you talk about university options or seen any applications lying about. Violet, if there is something going on that I need to know about, it"s time to tell me," Dad said, sounding sterner than I"d ever heard him.

  He doesn"t know.

  I took a moment, recovering from the roller-coaster conversations, followed by a speedy shut-down.

  „I"m fine. Everything is fine."

  Dad watched me as I sat there with a smile frozen on my face. He seemed a little disappointer. I suppose he had just said quite a bit and I hadn"t offered much in return, but he"d obviously prepared for the conversation and I … Hell, I"d had no idea he was going to say anything beyond his usual, „How was your day?"

  „Okay. I"ll take your word for it." He stood up. „Let"s grab that ice cream on the way home."

  And, right there, was the first parental guilt-trip my father had ever, successfully, pulled on me.

  I pulled my shawl close, feeling lonely and my arm still aching. I should have taken some paracetamol before I"d left home. We weaved out way between the tables of the busy restaurant, the owner stopping us at the front to ask Dad - „John" - how everything was.

  When I stopped walking I felt a twinge in my chest and then a sharp throb at the base of my rubs. I jerked straight and concentrated on breathing deeply. I knew instantly. It wasn"t my pain I was feeling.

  It"s not a bad one, I told myself. Ribs, I think.

  I smiled when from behind the desk the restaurant owner gave me a cheesy grin. The same one he sued to give me when I was nine.

  Lincoln.

  Was fading. But it had been stronger than any of the others I"d felt. The feelings were getting more acute each time and though they passed quickly, I hate the aftermath even more. Everything in my being wanted to run to him. Every breath felt like an impossible delay as instinct and something more took over, trying to control me. I took hold of one of the chairs and cemented my feet to the floor while I waited for Dad to finish being John so I could walk with him to the ice cream shop before heading home.

  When we reached the front doors to our building, I spotted Spence resting against the wall.

  „Dad, I"ll meet you up there. I just want to say hi to a friend of mine," I said, motioning to Spence"s direction.

  Dad nodded to Spence - who he thought was just a school friend - briefly, but his smile was edged with something, sadness maybe.

  „Don"t be long," he said, walking inside.

  There had been a lot of times I"d talk to him and had gotten nowhere so I knew exactly how he felt and it made me want to go after him. But I had to speak to Spence first.

  I joined him against the wall after dropping my barely touched ice cream in the bin.

  „I would"ve eaten that," Spence said.

  I ignored him. „How bad?"

  „You know, he"ll find out I"ve been reporting to you on this stuff," he grumbled.

  Spence wasn"t a dobber. But even if he did live at Lincoln"s now, Spence was my friend and that gave me first dibs.

  „Spence," I warned.

  „One rib, maybe two. He"s fine. They"ll probably heal on their own in a day or two."

  „Where was he?" I asked, but part of me already knew. Phoenix had been sending exiles every few nights, but I"d suspected he was actually sending them more often than that - I just wasn"t seeing them. Plus, there was a reason why I"d felt his injuries so acutely tonight.

  „Ah … come on Eden, don"t push it," Spence said, wriggling against the wall.

  I stared at him.

  „I don"t know," he blurted out. „Around, in the city."

  „He was patrolling near the restaurant, wasn"t he? I felt it more - I know he was nearby."

  Spence didn"t answer, which I took as a yes.

  „How many were there?" I asked, now regretting hitting Phoenix even more. No doubt he would have seen this as fair recompense.

  „Three."

  My eyes widened. „Who was with him?"

  Spence didn"t answer.

  „Jesus! He was on his own?" I exclaimed, increasingly stressed that he might be in worse shape than Spence was letting on. Just today I"d glimpse into how impossible a confrontation with three exiles against one Grigori was. This was my fault. Phoenix had probably known Lincoln was nearby.

  „Yeah. The man"s a legend. Returned two of „em too," Spence said, bobbing his head up and down.

  Clearly Lincoln had found himself a fan.

  „So," I said, trying to gather my thoughts. „Where is he now?"

  Spence shrugged. „Resting, I expect. I only know „cause he called me after he couldn"t get through to Griffin and asked me to let me know one of them got away. You want me to check the area before I go?"

  „No," I said, then realised why he"d been so quick to come to me. „That"s why you"re here!

  Lincoln sent you to patrol in case that other one came back. Oh my God!" I was seething.

  Did Lincoln have such little faith in me to protect myself? I definitely didn"t need Spence guarding my front door.

  He slid off the wall. „Hey, you know I know you can kick butt. I have the bruises to prove it. I don"t reckon there"ll be any more action tonight, anyway, but you know - the guy can be persuasive."

  I really didn"t care what Spence did. I didn"t believe that Lincoln would stay home and rest. There was still plenty of witching left in the night and, broken ribs or not, Lincoln was just determined enough to come back out looking for the one that got away.

  Fine by me. I"d be waiting.

  -

  Dad was sitting up at the breakfast bar when I walked in. he was sipping on a coffee and there was another cup beside him.

  Oh, come on!

  He turned as I came into the kitchen and I opted for standing on the opposite side of the bar rather than sitting beside him. He slid the coffee over to me. I swept a tired hand across my face. It had been a long day.

  And it"s not over yet.

  „Thanks," I said, taking a grateful sip. Dad and I couldn"t cook to save ourselves but we both made a wicked coffee.

  „How"s your friend?" Dad asked.

  „Fine."

  He nodded, and an awkward silence settled. Normally at this point Dad would get up to do some work or go to bed. He shifted in his seat.

  „I … Vi … Actually, I"m going out tomorrow night. Ah, you know, an after-work drinks thing."

  I smiled, breathing out a little relief and breathing in the shift of power. „Caroline?" I asked slyly. I hoped it was Caroline. She"d been Dad"s PA for as long as I could remember and had always had a thing for him. I"d never though Dad had noticed, but maybe I was wrong.

  „Do you think it"s a bad idea?" he asked, suddenly sounding a lot younger than he was.

  I honestly didn"t think Dad had been on a date in seventeen years. And I wasn"t exactly the best qualified to be giving out relationship advice right now, but I bit back the All relationships end in heartbreak or mass murder comment on the tip of my tongue and settled for, „It"s a great idea, Dad." And then I thought of a way to help myself out with another problem. „ And I"m staying at Steph"s tomorrow night so you"ll have the place all to yourself."

  Dad stood up like a rocket. „Violet," he coughed. „It"s just an after-work drink." He took his cup to the sink and emptied it before reaching over to give me his signature kiss on the f
orehead. „I"m going to bed."

  „Sweet dreams," I teased as he walked into his room at double speed and I had to stifle a laugh.

  That worked out well.

  Not only had I slipped in that I wasn"t coming home tomorrow night, but he"d also closed himself in his room and I knew following that conversation that he would not resurface tonight.

  I took my coffee and went to my art studio. I considered doing some painting, but then I walked in there I was reminded I had jammed all my art stuff up against the wall - exercise mats now took up the majority of the space. I couldn"t get to anything without rearranging everything. There was no point doing a workout. I"d get on shortly anyway, so instead, I found myself sitting on the windowsill where my angel marker always hovered.

  I looked out, down over the city street as cars flew by, headlights blazing on one side of the road, red black lights flashing on the other. I looked towards the park at the end of the road and then pushed out my senses.

  The park it was.

  CHAPTER SIX

  „My love lies bleeding."

  Thomas Campbell

  I changed into leggings and a grey turtle-neck and slipped on a beanie. I was pretty sure Dad was asleep but if I left through the building"s front door the security guy might say something to him in the morning, so I headed for the balcony off the living room instead.

  Twelve storeys was a big drop. Fortunately for me, on this side of the building every floor had a balcony at the same spot. Quietly, I slid the door open, just enough so I could shimmy out. It had a squeaky spot, but I"d closed it enough times to know just when to lift it a little to avoid the tell-tale noise. Getting down was tricky, getting back up … just plain hard.

  I hoisted myself over the railing, sitting on it and letting my feet dangle down.

  Come on, Vi, you"ve got this.

  If Zoe could catapult herself up here from a tree and Spence could scale I could bounce down. I held out my bad arm and fisted my hand a few times, deciding it would hold up. I slid down so my feet balanced on the small ledge, turned so I was facing the wall and let myself fall.

  With a slap, I caught the railing of the balcony below as my feet scrambled until they found a grip. My heart was in my throat, but I"d done it.

 
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