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       Severed, p.11

           Sarah Alderson
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  Evie crossed her arms over her chest and smiled sweetly. ‘You mean that overwhelming desire I have – to punch you?’

  Cyrus grinned. ‘Feisty. I like that in a girl.’

  She rolled her eyes. ‘Just finish what you were saying.’

  He paused to lick his lips, a small smile of amusement still on his face, ‘You can feel it. When someone’s the same as us. Like I can feel you, Evie. Something pulsing off you. It’s strong.’

  ‘That would be the waves of irritation,’ she answered.

  He was obviously deaf because he leant in even closer towards her so he was almost brushing her chest. ‘We’re like magnets. We’re naturally drawn to each other.’ His gaze, if she wasn’t mistaken, was very much on her lips.

  ‘Aha. Is that so?’ she answered. ‘Some magnets are repelled by each other you know.’ And before he could make another move she marched straight past him towards the kitchen.

  ‘Don’t fight it,’ he called to her back as she walked off.

  She spun around, blazing, ‘Oh, believe me, I’m not.’

  He shrugged and she felt the low growl build in her throat.

  ‘So you and him then?’ Cyrus suddenly asked. ‘What’s that like?’

  It took her a second to register the question. She shook her head in total disbelief. ‘None of your goddamn business.’

  ‘Does he disappear every time you get down to it?’ The smug smile was back.

  ‘Wouldn’t you like to know?’ She turned clumsily away hoping he couldn’t see the blush spreading across her cheeks. Why in hell was everyone so interested in her and Lucas’s business? First her mother and now Cyrus. She could feel another wave of blood rushing to her cheeks as she remembered the last night at Flic’s. Lucas hadn’t disappeared, but he had pulled away, disentangling himself from the rumpled bed sheets and her wayward limbs and getting up and crossing to the window as if there was something of vital interest hanging outside in the dawn light. She’d eventually gone to stand by him and he’d wrapped an arm around her and pulled her close. Then, after a few moments, he’d taken her hands in his and told her something along the lines of no.

  But how was it supposed to be then? Cyrus had a point. There was no more normal. There was going to be no prom night, no series of dates and movies and desperate kisses on the veranda while her mother hovered just inside the screen door. This was it. Time was running out. But more than that, there was this feeling she had that was beyond reason. She wanted him. She wanted Lucas more than she’d ever wanted anyone or anything in her life. It wasn’t even want she realised. It was need. Want was for ice cream or a chance at living a normal life. This was need. As in oxygen and red blood cells and a pumping heart. When she was in his arms she felt nothing of the fear that was slowly encroaching on them. All of that fell away, became a dream she could barely recall. But she could just imagine Cyrus choking on laughter and vomit if she told him any of this.

  As if he’d read her mind Cyrus suddenly spoke. ‘You think this relationship has longevity?’

  ‘Did you have to use a dictionary for that?’ she snapped back.

  ‘You’re planning marriage and babies then? Long-term commitment?’

  She took a deep breath and tried not to let the irritation come out in her voice. ‘I’m seventeen. I’m not planning anything.’

  ‘Except ending a war that’s been going on for centuries.’

  She turned around and stared at him. He was leaning nonchalantly against the kitchen counter. ‘Why do you think it involves closing the way through?’ he asked.

  ‘Well, it’s not going to involve a UN delegation to the shadow world, a friendly powwow and then a signing of a treaty outside Versailles, is it?’

  He grinned. ‘Did anyone ever tell you you’re incredibly sexy when you’re being sarcastic?’

  ‘All the time.’

  His eyes darted over her shoulder towards the hallway. ‘By the pricking of my thumbs something wicked this way comes,’ he whispered under his breath, giving Evie a last lingering look and then strolling back towards the living-room space.

  Evie frowned after him and then whipped around.

  Lucas had appeared in the doorway looking tousled and disorientated by sleep. He paused to pull his T-shirt on over his head, and for a brief moment his stomach was on view. Her eyes fell to the two shallow dips either side of his hips, her breath caught, and then the T-shirt covered them.

  ‘Issa’s here. I can feel her,’ Lucas murmured.

  Evie’s head flew up, her senses sharpening instantly as if someone had pushed the mute button off. She cursed herself. She’d failed to pick up on the fact there was an unhuman in the vicinity. She glanced guiltily at Lucas – other than him, that was. But now he had mentioned it, it was obvious. Her adrenaline had cranked up, her hands were sweaty, her breath was coming in short bursts. The problem was that she had the same reaction whenever Lucas was around too.

  ‘How did she even find us?’ Evie asked. ‘Why would she come here?’

  ‘To pour her spirit in your ear.’

  Evie spun around at the same time as Lucas. They stared at Cyrus. He was standing at the window, glancing down at the street, glowering.

  ‘What did you say?’ Lucas asked.

  Cyrus glanced around, smiling innocently. ‘Nothing.’

  Lucas turned back to Evie. ‘I don’t know why she’s here, but I’ll go and find out. You stay here,’ he said, throwing a dark look Cyrus’s way before vanishing.

  Chapter 21

  It was the same every time he saw Issa, a gnawing in the pit of his stomach – an unshakeable sensation that something bad was about to happen. Maybe it was just the unease of knowing that she knew things about himself that he didn’t. Or maybe it was guilt making him hug his arms around his body as he walked towards her. As if covering his heart could somehow stop her seeing inside him – seeing everything he was or was ever going to be.

  She was standing in a broad patch of sunlight in the alley running in front of Cyrus’s building. He wasn’t going to bother asking her how she’d known where to find them. As he walked, his eyes scanned the alley, adjusting to the light, calibrating distances and depth of shadows. In daylight it was harder to hide. He needed the cover of shadows to fade completely and so automatically he assessed his environment, to check where the shadows lay – just in case. But for now he and Issa were alone. There were no other unhumans around. Or humans for that matter.

  Issa was wearing large sunglasses, the kind that covered most of the face and made the wearer look like an alien. Her skin was gleaming like wet stone, and, combined with the paleness of her hair and the sky-blue dress she had on, it made him squint against the brightness.

  ‘Why are you here, Issa?’ he asked before he’d even reached her. His tone was more aggressive than he’d been aiming for, but less aggressive than he realised he was feeling.

  ‘I needed to talk to you,’ Issa answered calmly.

  ‘What about?’

  She sighed. ‘Lucas, she needed to make her first kill.’

  Her words brought him up short. He hadn’t been going to mention that – had he? Now she’d said it though he realised that was exactly what was fuelling his anger. And he saw that inevitably the conversation would have swung to this. Issa had known that and had pre-empted him.

  ‘Did she?’ he shot back, gathering himself.

  ‘I thought I was doing you a favour – keeping you alive – even though you seem hell bent on suicide.’ Issa’s voice had taken on a different tone. She was angry now too.

  ‘What are you talking about?’

  Issa ripped off her sunglasses and looked him dead in the eye. He struggled, as always, to hold her gaze. ‘Without her power she was too vulnerable, Lucas, too weak. It made you weak. Now you don’t need to protect her anymore – she can take care of herself.’

  ‘It wasn’t your call to make, Issa. You had no right to do what you did.’

  Issa shook her head in defiance. ‘
Lucas, I didn’t force her. She had it in her. She’s a Hunter. I just tipped her towards her fate. Do you think I would have done it if I hadn’t been sure of what she’d do – of how she’d react?’

  He shook his head hard. ‘You created her fate. You didn’t give her a choice.’

  She glared at him, one blonde eyebrow arched. Then she took a deep, measured breath. ‘Well, you were going to get yourself killed doing what you were doing – protecting her. I saw it. So I did what I needed to do.’ She shrugged as though that was the end of the discussion.

  ‘And now?’ Lucas shouted, not ready to let it go. ‘Do I get to live happily ever after? Did it change anything?’

  He didn’t know why he was asking or why he was shouting. He didn’t want to know. Did he? He wanted to turn away, vanish and head back inside to find Evie. Just trying to stay in the present was hard enough. But he couldn’t move. His eyes were locked on Issa as he waited for her to respond.

  She nodded almost imperceptibly. ‘Something changed, yes,’ she said. ‘Everything’s different now.’

  He froze, the air sucked out of him.

  ‘Before,’ Issa said, her voice barely a whisper, ‘I saw you dying.’ Her blue eyes were turning milky opaque, as if she was sorting through visions, stirring them up trying to find lost images. She looked up at him suddenly, her eyes clearing back to blue. ‘You were trying to protect her and there were too many of them and she didn’t have her power. She was helpless and you died because of it.’

  He swallowed, feeling his blood starting to hammer in his ears. ‘And now?’

  She chewed her lip. ‘It’s blurry.’

  He took a deep breath and tried to keep his voice even. ‘Blurry?’

  ‘Yes. But I don’t see you dying any more,’ she added.

  ‘Though that could be because you can’t see anything at all? Right? On account of it being blurry?”

  Her nostrils quivered.

  ‘And Evie?’ Lucas asked. ‘Do you know what happens to her? Or is that all blurry too?’

  Issa’s gaze fell to the floor. ‘I don’t know.’

  Lucas narrowed his eyes. Funny that her precognition should fail her now. He ran his hands through his hair, his fingers digging into his scalp, suppressing the howl of rage he wanted to let out. ‘So you came here to tell me that I’m not necessarily going to die any more but you’re not totally sure, and that you’ve no idea what might happen to Evie? You know, you’re not going to be winning any Sybll awards for your predictions, Issa.’

  ‘Usually,’ Issa said, ignoring his sarcasm, ‘when things are blurry it’s because there are still choices to be made that could change the outcome.’ She hesitated. ‘You walking away, for example, leaving right now with me, could change things, make things clearer.’

  ‘Or not, as the case may be,’ he answered back.

  A hurt look crossed her face. ‘It would change things. I know it would. Don’t do this, Lucas,’ she said, her voice breaking as she spoke his name. ‘It’s futile, you know that, you said it yourself. That’s why the Sybll hid the prophecies, to stop people from trying. From trying and failing to change what will be. Enough people have died, Lucas, because of you interfering.’

  She seemed to realise she had gone too far as she stopped abruptly, biting her lip.

  It felt like a thorn was stuck in Lucas’s throat when he tried to swallow. ‘Every single second of my life,’ he said, ‘I will have to live with remembering what happened to the others. With the knowledge that I could have stopped it. I see Neena and Tristan’s faces every minute of the day. I hear Grace’s warnings. I see Risper dying. And I know it’s all on me. Because of the choices I’ve made, people have died. And people are paying for my crimes. And don’t think for a second that I don’t hate myself for that. That I don’t wish I could change it. But I can’t. Whatever fate is pulling Evie in this direction is also pulling me. I’m as marked as she is. This feeling I have for her isn’t something I can fight. I’ve tried that. It’s pointless. As futile as trying to change the prophecy.’ He drew a breath, and let it out slowly, holding Issa’s gaze. ‘So the only thing I can do is keep moving forwards, make sure it does happen, sooner rather than later, and make sure that no one else gets hurt.’

  A tear tracked a lonely path down Issa’s cheek.

  Lucas let the ache inside him subside and took a breath. Then he smiled at her. It’s OK, he wanted to say to her, it’s OK. But a noise made him turn his head, his ears pricking at the sound of footsteps across the concrete floor of the warehouse. He could feel Evie. She was coming towards them, getting closer. He turned quickly back to Issa. ‘You should leave,’ he said.

  She opened her mouth to say something, then shut it and nodded once. ‘Here, take this,’ she said, pushing a bag quickly towards him.

  He glanced down but before he could ask what it was Evie had walked up behind him and slipped her hands around his waist.

  She pressed her cheek against his shoulder. ‘Hi,’ she said.

  Lucas breathed out, feeling the heat of her body seeping into his, feeling his sense of certainty returning. ‘Issa just came by to see we were OK,’ he said, inclining his head towards Evie.

  ‘I’m just leaving,’ Issa added.

  ‘Wait,’ Evie called, as Issa made to leave.

  Issa turned slowly back to face them, her shoulders stiff, her eyes flickering to Lucas.

  ‘Did you see something?’ Evie asked, her voice shaking. ‘Is that why you’re here? Is something going to happen to Lucas?’

  Issa shook her head. ‘No,’ she said, ‘I didn’t see anything. I just came to bring you that.’ She pointed to the bag by Lucas’s feet. Then, without another word or a backwards glance at either of them, she walked off.

  They watched her go and when she rounded the corner Evie turned to him. ‘Did she see something? Is there anything you’re not telling me?’ she asked.

  ‘No. She didn’t see anything,’ Lucas lied.

  Evie studied him, her eyes blazing dark blue in the sunlight.

  He held her gaze for as long as he could, then grabbed her around the waist and spun her towards the door. ‘Come on, let’s get inside.’

  She hesitated for a moment as though she wanted to ask him another question but then she took his hand without a word and let him lead her back inside.

  It was only in the elevator that he noticed she didn’t have any shoes on. And that she was looking hot. In both senses of the word. Tendrils of hair were slicked against the white of her throat. Her thin camisole was sticking to her body, her cheeks were flushed. She looked like she’d looked last night – unbelievably desirable.

  It had taken every ounce of control he possessed to back off yesterday, at just the point he thought chivalry might have completely deserted him. But he didn’t want to mess things up or rush anything. He wanted her to be sure. Which reminded him, he still needed to offer Cyrus some polite warnings about what he’d do if he ever heard him call Evie sexy again.

  Evie noticed him looking at her and ran a hand self-consciously through her hair. ‘I need a shower,’ she said. She pulled the damp top away from her body. ‘And a change of clothes.’

  The elevator cranked to a halt and Lucas drew back the grille, sighing under his breath as he saw Cyrus standing there in front of them. A towel was slung loosely around his waist and he was dripping wet from the shower. He looked as if he had poured half a litre of baby oil over himself and then taken up position by the elevator, waiting for them to come back.

  ‘I don’t have anything else to wear though,’ Evie murmured, not appearing to have noticed Cyrus standing there half-naked and glistening in front of them. ‘We didn’t think of that.’

  ‘You can borrow a shirt of mine if you want,’ Cyrus grinned.

  Definitely a warning was on the cards. Maybe not such a polite one either, Lucas thought to himself. He gritted his teeth and looked down, trying to stay calm, and then he noticed the bag that he was holding. He looked up, smiling
. Issa’s visions weren’t all that faulty after all. ‘No, it’s OK,’ he said, offering the bag to Evie. ‘Issa brought us a change of clothes.’

  Chapter 22

  She thought Cyrus was stopping for coffee, so she leapt out of the car and stood on the sidewalk, hands on hips, and blocked the entrance to the café and bookshop he’d pulled up in front of.

  ‘We’ve had breakfast. We’ve had lunch. We’ve had coffee. I don’t need to buy any books today and, sorry to disappoint you, but it doesn’t look like they sell comics or porn in here, so can we just get going and see your mum already?’

  She had never known a man take so long in the bathroom. It was nearly five o’clock and it had taken Cyrus until then to prettify himself, arrange his hair, select his outfit, drink two cups of coffee, play a game of air hockey, rile Lucas with a dozen jokes about unhumans, and then finally locate his keys and drive them across town in his top-of-the-range Prius. Evie had sat in the front feeling the pressure coming at her from all sides like over-inflated air bags. She wasn’t even sure how Cyrus had managed to drive straight seeing how he’d been permanently looking in the rear-view mirror as he engaged in some sort of one-way blinking contest with Lucas.

  Cyrus tipped his head to one side, cool, sea-coloured eyes appraising her. He checked his watch. ‘That’s where I’m heading now. You’re making us late.’ He nodded at the door.

  Evie turned around. ‘Oh,’ she said. ‘She works here?’

  ‘No. She owns here.’


  Cyrus gave her a condescending smile and then breezed on past. Evie turned to Lucas. He gave her a small shrug and then they followed Cyrus who was holding the door open for them, one foot tapping impatiently. Cyrus waited until she’d passed, then let go of the door so it caught Lucas on the shoulder.

  She heard Lucas make a sound in response, which could have been a curse, could have been him just clearing his throat. She didn’t need to guess which.

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