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       Fated, p.11

           Sarah Alderson
 
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  She looked up, spotting Tom immediately He was staring at her from across the water and she knew he was thinking the same thing she was, remembering old times. But he didn't return the smile she offered him. She tried to make it placatory, an olive branch, but he just stared stonily at her and then turned back to the group of people he was with and threw his arm around someone. Kaitlin Rivers, to be precise.

  Of course. That's why Kaitlin had invited her tonight. To her and Tom's old hang-out spot. It was a Look, he's mine statement of where things stood now. Why didn't she just tattoo his name on her face? Evie really felt like turning around and walking back the way she'd come but she could sense Lucas behind her, waiting patiently for her to get it together, and there was no way she was giving Kaitlin the pleasure of seeing her upset. And besides, she needed to speak to Tom whether she wanted to or not. She owed him that much.

  She looked over her shoulder, found Lucas standing still as a rock, observing the little party, and said, 'Coming?'

  He nodded and started following. He didn't look any happier at the prospect of making new friends than she did at renewing old ones. They strolled around the pond and Evie suddenly became aware of the hush that had descended. The girls sitting at the edge of the pond, with their legs dangling in the water, were watching her. She was used to being stared at, so she just pressed on, trying to force a smile onto her lips. And then she stopped short, realising they weren't actually staring at her. They were staring at Lucas and every single one of them was open-mouthed. Then they pulled themselves together and she watched one toss her hair behind her shoulders, saw a second - Josey Grunsmith with the oversized chest - giggle and nudge the girl next to her and Vicki Handsworth clutch the hand of the girl sitting beside her.

  Evie felt her jaw set. She was drawing level with Tom and he was staring over her shoulder at Lucas, and she caught the scowl he gave him before he remembered he was supposed to be looking stony-faced.

  How dare he be annoyed at whatever conclusion he'd jumped to? Evie thought. He was the one standing here with his arm around Kaitlin Rivers. Though now she saw his arm had actually dropped away and Kaitlin was anxiously trying to press into him. Why didn't she just lift a leg and spray him? Evie wondered.

  'Tom, can we talk?' Evie finally managed to say.

  'What about?' Tom asked.

  Evie glanced at the silent group of listeners around them. 'Anna,' she said.

  That stilled them, made them glance hurriedly away. Two people took the hint and backed off. Evie looked pointedly at Kaitlin.

  'Kaitlin,' Evie said, when the girl showed no sign of peeling herself off Tom, 'this is Lucas. Lucas, this is Kaitlin.'

  Lucas hesitated a beat and then stepped forward, holding out his hand. Kaitlin looked like no one had ever offered her a hand to shake before and giggled before taking it.

  'Pleased to meet you,' Lucas said, his voice so low and sure and seductive Evie was certain she saw Kaitlin's whole body quiver in response.

  She took the opportunity while Kaitlin turned to putty to indicate to Tom a space just a few metres away. It was the start of a path that if you followed it for twenty seconds, opened into a little area between the trees where in the daytime the sunlight sloped through. You could dry off there in-between swims. Tom followed her, knowing exactly where they were going. She remembered the last time she had come here with him. How they'd walked through the long grass arm in arm.

  A screechy laugh broke through the trees behind them as they walked. She recognised it as Kaitlin's and froze, wanting to turn around and demand to know what was so funny - what Lucas had possibly said to make her laugh like that - but then she forced herself to keep walking. What Lucas was saying or doing was none of her concern. He could be skinny-dipping with every girl at the party for all she cared.

  More laughter. Followed by a splashing sound and a few screams.

  Evie turned her attention to Tom, who'd stopped on the path, as though unwilling to enter the old space of their shared memories. His arms were crossed stubbornly over his chest. 'What do you want?'

  She frowned at him. Why the sudden change? Their roles had switched and she didn't like it. Was this how it had felt for him the whole time he'd been trying to convince her it was an accident?

  'Tom,' she said, her voice faltering. 'I'm sorry.'

  He looked taken aback. She saw the flash of pain or hurt, or maybe just surprise, in his eyes before the cold expression descended once more.

  'I was too hasty blaming you for the accident,' she blurted.

  His eyes widened. 'Oh, so now you do think it was an accident?'

  'Yes.'

  'Why the sudden change of mind?'

  'Um, well, I . . .' She couldn't find the words, stammered to a standstill.

  'Well, when you figure it out, let me know,' Tom said, turning away.

  She grabbed for his arm, her voice breaking. 'Tom, don't be like this. Please. I've said I'm sorry and anyway it still doesn't excuse the fact she was in your car in the first place.'

  He turned to face her. 'Why? Would you rather it had been you?'

  Her hand dropped from his arm. He saw she wasn't going to answer and started walking away.

  'Yes, sometimes I do,' she whispered to the ground.

  He whipped around. 'Well, it wasn't. So stop acting like the victim in all this, Evie. It didn't happen to you. It happened to Anna and to me. You don't have to live with it.'

  He was shouting into her face and she was stunned. And then she had the weirdest sensation, like the world was shrinking around her and all the sounds in the universe had reduced to just the hush of her breathing and the noise of a leaf cracking in the undergrowth. The air around her seemed to be buzzing with static and she was back in the moment except she was sitting on the ground with her legs collapsed under her. And it wasn't Tom's face in front of her. It wasn't his hands wrapped around hers. It was Lucas who was crouching down in front of her, his eyes dark and fearful, his lips just inches from her own, asking her if she was OK.

  She stared vacantly into his eyes, which were now darting over her shoulder into the woods behind, wondering how he'd gotten there because a second ago she'd been alone here with Tom - hadn't she? And she could see the concern on his face and she thought it was a little odd. But what was she doing on the ground?

  'What the hell are you doing?' Tom was shouting.

  Lucas ignored him. 'Are you OK?' he asked again, his eyes back on her now, his voice so soothing she wanted to reach out a hand and stroke his lips and make him keep talking.

  'I'm fine,' she whispered. But was she? What had just happened? She stared to her left, into the wide circle of trees that marked the edge of the clearing, and couldn't shake the sense of something or somebody watching her.

  'Leave her alone. Who said you could touch her?'

  Her attention was drawn back to Tom. He had put a hand on Lucas's shoulder. Lucas looked up at him through his thick lashes. Then he stood slowly. Tom's hand dropped to his side. They were both tall, though Tom had a couple of inches on Lucas. But he was less muscled, and the way Lucas seemed to handle himself, with such confidence, the way he moved without almost seeming to be moving, was making Tom uncertain.

  'I think it would be better if you went back to the party,' Lucas said calmly.

  Tom raised his eyebrows. 'Oh you do, do you?'

  Lucas cast his eyes around the clearing then looked back at Tom. 'Yes.'

  Tom's eyes widened and he let out an incredulous laugh.

  Evie could see suddenly exactly where this was going and staggered dizzily to her feet.

  'Tom,' she said, putting a hand on his arm. 'Drop it. I'm going. Were going,' she said, nodding her head at Lucas.

  Tom frowned at her. Then with a final glare at Lucas he stomped off back down the path. She felt a warmth in the small of her back, heat flowing through her dress, and realised that it was Lucas's hand, pressing her forwards, down the path after Tom. They walked silently past the others. She
noticed Kaitlin and another girl glaring evils at her as they passed. The laughter had ceased and the woods were only punctuated with the sound of muttered whispers. Evie heard the words Lucas and boyfriend and fight and wished she'd never come.

  As they walked out of sight into the darkness offered by the trees, she could still feel the heat of all their eyes. Lucas kept on glancing backwards over his shoulder, no doubt checking to see if Tom was following them. She still didn't understand what had caused the dizzy spell. It had never happened before. Her hearing and her heart rate still felt amped up too. She wondered if she might be coming down with something. They kept walking. Lucas not saying a word.

  'Thanks,' she said finally, to break the silence. 'But I didn't need rescuing.'

  Lucas laughed under his breath.

  'I really didn't,' she said indignantly. If only he knew who she was. She wasn't a damsel in distress. She was a kickass Hunter they sent to rescue damsels.

  'Well, I did,' he finally said. 'You left me with a pack of crazed schoolgirls.'

  She smiled despite herself. 'Yeah, it really sounded like you were struggling.'

  He didn't reply, just kept ushering her forward and she kept moving because she didn't want the heat of his hand to fall away.

  They were back in the orchard. The lights of the house were glistening through the branches. His hand finally dropped from her back and she felt a light shiver travel up her legs.

  'Why do you wish you'd been in the car?' he finally said.

  She drew in a breath and stopped. She hadn't realised he'd heard that part of the conversation with Tom. What had he been doing in the clearing, listening in? She paused. Strangely, she didn't feel cross.

  'I - I just sometimes think it would have been a whole lot easier that way,' she said with a sigh.

  She was glad it was a new moon, barely a sliver, and it was so dark he couldn't see her face. She couldn't make out his expression either, though his eyes were shining silver in the light. But she did see him nod. And then she remembered what he'd told them the night before. About his mother.

  'Were you in the car with her?' she asked tentatively.

  13

  He was flung back there - to the scene in the woods. Back to the place where his mother had died while he watched. Holding her hand as the pool of red sunk into the ground around him. The blood-spattered leaves hanging off the tree dripping onto the back of his head, anointing him in red. When the paramedics finally arrived they'd strapped him to a gurney thinking he had a head injury. When they finally figured out he was fine, just paralysed by shock, they called it a miracle.

  Not a miracle. Fate. Or luck. If that's what you wanted to call it.

  He nodded in the darkness, felt Evie's fingers brush his own, accidentally or not he couldn't be sure.

  'I'm sorry,' she said.

  He couldn't see her properly, the moonlight was dim, barely penetrating through the branches of the trees around them. He could only see the translucent gleam of her skin. Her eyes looked even inkier than normal, her body narrower in the sheath of her dress.

  'I'm sorry about your father,' he said.

  He heard her breathing run more ragged, as though it was snagged in her chest.

  'What happened?'

  She took a breath. 'He was helping a neighbour fix a leak in their roof. And he slipped.'

  Life was so precariously balanced, he thought.

  'And just six months later Anna died.' She was whispering now. 'It's so weird. I thought I'd go numb like I did after Dad died. But I didn't. I just got angry.' She looked up at him. 'I'm still so damn angry. You know?'

  Did he know? He had to force his lips together, clench his jaw shut.

  'And I prefer the numbness. I want the numbness back,' she carried on in that slightly husky voice of hers.

  'Stick with the anger,' he finally said.

  'Why?' she asked, bewildered at his response.

  'Because it will keep you going. If you're numb you can't fight.'

  As soon as he spoke the words he wished he could take them back. Why was he giving her advice to stay angry and to fight? It would be a lot easier if she was broken and in pieces when it came time to kill her. What in this world was he doing?

  A footstep through long grass. His attention snapped to the present.

  Someone was out there. The same person he'd sensed stalking Evie in the wood by the river. Definitely Unhuman. But it was too dark and Evie's scent was blocking the smell of whatever was out there so he couldn't tell who or what it was.

  He tried to focus. He could hear the sound of dry leaves rubbing together and a tread - heavy, a boy's tread. And a swish, like the wind cutting through leaves. Except it was a windless night.

  It was a tail, not the wind. His eyes flew to the trees.

  Damn Caleb, what was he doing here? He narrowed his hearing to one segment, fifteen metres or so behind them. There it was again. The swishing noise, the sound a blade makes when it falls.

  He turned to Evie with a smile. 'Let's get inside, it's cool out here.'

  Once inside he waited until Evie was upstairs and out of the way before he headed back downstairs to hunt Caleb. Lobo was pacing the back porch anxiously, pausing now and then to howl at the moon. Lucas stopped to stroke him and whisper in his ear that he could relax now, he would see to it. The dog whined just once and then stopped pacing, taking up sentry duty in front of the door instead. Their last line of defence - and a pretty useless one against a Scorpio.

  Lucas darted into the shadows of the trees and circuited the house, but there was no sign of Caleb.

  What had he been doing here? Why had he followed them to the river and what had he been planning to do? If he hadn't scented him and disturbed him, would he have attacked Evie in the clearing? Was that his plan? Was it sanctioned by Tristan? Surely not. If it had been the others would have come too. And Tristan would have warned him.

  Lucas slipped back into the house, one thing still puzzling him. How had the Hunters let Caleb through the net? There were three of them patrolling the perimeter of the town. Lucas had to go the long way around to the Del Rey ranch every day just to avoid the one with the red hair. Even though he doubted any of them could pick him up, he wasn't going to go rubbing their noses in him. He couldn't believe that Victor and three other Hunters wouldn't notice an Unhuman as easy to sense as Caleb.

  He took the stairs noiselessly and hovered outside Evie's room. No light shone from under the door. He turned the handle and the door opened freely. No more chair in the way.

  She was sleeping, wrapped tight in her covers like they could cocoon her from the outside world and all she feared in it.

  Yet what she feared most was right here in the room with her.

  The baseball bat was lying across the sheets. He walked over to the bed and looked down. Her hair was half covering her face, her arms locked around her knees which were drawn up to her chest. She looked like she was desperately trying to hide from something. It was so different to how she appeared normally - yes, she was always a little defensive and on guard, but she never seemed to be hiding. In fact, she always seemed the opposite, to be standing so tall, facing everything head on.

  He frowned. He wasn't here to look at her and wonder at her fears. He scanned the room. There was no sign of the book she'd been reading the other night - the one he'd heard her turning the pages of. God only knew where she kept it in this riot of a room. This would be a handy time for Grace to appear and help him out, but he was on his own. As he'd wanted it, he reminded himself.

  The blue dress she'd worn earlier, the one that had matched her eyes so exactly, had been discarded on the floor. He picked it up and felt the featherweight of it run through his fingers - and felt the same panicked sense of something slipping away inside him. A moaning sound made him turn back to the bed. Evie was crying. In her sleep. The tears were rolling down her cheeks, but she stayed locked in the foetal position even as she cried. He reached a hand out and stroked back a str
and of damp hair, wiping away a tear. A small sigh escaped her lips and he drew back his hand, staring at the teardrop on the end of his thumb.

  Then, with a rush that caused Evie to pull the sheets even tighter around her, he left the room.

  14

  He took a blindfold out of his pocket and Evie backed away from him.

  'No, don't use the blindfold, Victor,' the woman with red hair said. 'Let her try without it first.'

  Evie glanced between them. Victor was looking cross. Earl, the short and squat and mostly silent one, just looked bored. He kept staring around at the cornfield they were standing in as though expecting the Brotherhood to arrive any second. He was armed to take them though, she thought, what with the two swords crossed on his back. He looked like some crazy-eyed Viking. By comparison she felt quite naked and defenceless in her jeans and T-shirt. Victor had told her to quit the jeans but she'd had a feeling training was going to involve running and sweat and possibly blood so she'd stuck with denim.

  She did another double take at Mrs Lovell, still not believing she was a Hunter. That the woman in the plaid skirt who'd come into the store and told her not to quit her diner job, the woman who'd babysat her as a child, ran the knitting circle, and who could rival her own mother for nosiness, was a Hunter who'd been placed in the town to protect her.

  Evie couldn't get her head around the fact that she was that important. She felt incredibly guilty that she'd sentenced someone to fifteen years of tweed and small-town politics for the thankless task of keeping an eye on her. But Jocelyn, as she was asking Evie to call her now, hadn't seemed in any way resentful, rather she'd walked right up to her and given her a huge hug. She seemed relieved that the charade was over, had even swapped the sensible shoes and plaid skirts for tight leggings and running shoes. She looked fifteen years younger. And had very good legs too, Evie noted.

 
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