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       Fated, p.13

           Sarah Alderson
 
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  'I got off early,' he murmured, turning away. 'Where d'you keep the Tylenol?'

  'In that drawer over there,' she said, pointing.

  He filled a glass and brought her a pill, which she took and swallowed, all the time looking into his grey eyes. He was really quite amazingly hot - with such incredible cheekbones and wide-set eyes. And his lips - his lips . . . She fell forwards off the stool towards them and he caught her by the top of the arms.

  'Are you OK?' he said, setting her to rights on the stool again.

  'Yeah, sorry, light-headed. Blood loss,' she said, avoiding looking at him. But she was feeling dizzy all of a sudden, her head had pins and needles, her ear was throbbing.

  'Maybe you should go and lie down,' he said, sounding concerned.

  'Yeah, maybe I should,' she answered. But really she didn't want to lie down, upstairs in her bed alone. She wanted to fall forwards into his arms and have him hold her for a while. That would be nice. Maybe it would stop the infernal buzzing in her head.

  She pulled it together enough to stand up shakily. Lucas's hands hovered around her waist, ready to catch her. She had to have some dignity in the situation, she realised, as she pushed his hands away. She didn't need his help. She could make it to her bedroom. It was only a bit of blood and as a Hunter she was going to have to get used to getting hurt and she was going to have to get used to picking herself up and fighting back. She wasn't going to let a girl with too much attitude and a lame-ass throw get the better of her. It was just an ear. Not a leg. Still, she would definitely be finding a way to pay Risper back - an ear for an ear, so to speak. Or maybe an arm for an ear.

  She made it to the bottom of the stairs before she felt the walls crushing in on her. She fell against the banister, gripping it tight. Maybe she did need help after all.

  'Lucas?' she said, turning to him.

  'Yes?' he answered and she saw the flash of irritation on his face. Registered he was standing with one hand on the handle of the back door as though he'd been just about to leave.

  She hesitated. 'Nothing,' she said.

  17

  By the time he reached the Mission, the last rays of sun were hitting the road. The building had a deserted air. There was only one telltale sign that anyone was even living there. On the second floor Lucas saw a dim, flickering light.

  Joshua would still be asleep. But the others would be awake. He drove in through the gate, past the Trespassers will be shot sign, and parked in front of the main entrance.

  There was no point going about this subtly and trying to sneak in. They would all sense him. Grace had probably seen him coming.

  The hallway was empty, and his footsteps echoed across the marble floor. Straight ahead was the chapel but he took the staircase to the second floor and strode down past the weapons room, to the room at the very end, the one designated as a recreation space. Inside, in the heavily curtained gloom, watching television with his feet kicked up onto a leather stool and his tail resting along the back of the couch, sat Caleb. He looked up when Lucas entered. The light from the television was casting an eerie glow onto his face.

  'The warrior returns,' he muttered, before turning his attention back to the football game playing on mute.

  Lucas stepped in front of the screen, blocking his view. 'What were you doing there?'

  Caleb looked up, a smile curling his lip. 'Where?' he asked in an innocently mocking tone.

  Lucas heard the roar in his voice. 'Don't.' He took a step forwards, became aware of Caleb's tail pricked up and lowered his voice. 'You were in the woods the other night. You were following Evie and me. Why?'

  Caleb didn't answer, just kept smiling.

  Lucas ignored the swishing tail and bent down so his face was just an inch away from Caleb's. 'You come near her again,' he said, feeling the fury burning in him, '- us again - and I swear I'll kill you.'

  Caleb arched an eyebrow. 'And break your oath?'

  Lucas straightened up. To kill another member of the Brotherhood would lead to instant exile from all the realms and a death sentence on his head.

  'What's going on?'

  Lucas looked over. Shula was leaning in the doorway and it didn't look like she'd bothered to change since he'd been here the last time. Apart from to accessorise her silk nightgown with a fuchsia-pink feather boa.

  'What's going on?' she asked again, her eyes narrowing at the sight of Lucas standing over Caleb. 'What are you doing back here? I thought you were out playing undercover Shadow Warrior.'

  'Caleb almost blew my cover.'

  Shula stepped into the room. 'Ooh, naughty, naughty Caleb,' she laughed. But her eyes were as venomous as her skin. Probably at the thought that Caleb had done what she hadn't thought to do.

  'You went without us,' she said, circling around Lucas, her fingers trailing up his shirtsleeve, not quite touching him. Like a snake, he thought. It was like having a cobra wind its way around his limbs.

  He stood his ground, though his natural reaction was to remove himself from strike range.

  'You'd all have gone back there without me if you'd had the chance,' Caleb said, referring to Shula's original plan to ditch him and go back with the others to kill Evie.

  Shula wasn't going to be diverted. She acted like Caleb wasn't even in the room. 'And anyway, how did you manage to swing that one, Lucas? How'd you get Tristan to agree when he flat out refused the rest of us?'

  Lucas shrugged. 'Because I'm half human, Shula. They don't sense me in the same way they sense you. I'm the only one who can get close.'

  Caleb snorted from the couch. 'Yeah, he's getting close all right.'

  Lucas felt the anger rising in him. He spun around and found Caleb grinning at him, his eyes glinting. He knew from Shula's silence and the fact that her hand had fallen to her side that she was studying him for signs that what Caleb was saying was true. Damn them both.

  'Where's Tristan?' he asked, before Shula could get a word in.

  She paused before speaking and he met her eye directly and unflinchingly because he had nothing to hide. He was getting close to the girl because that was his job.

  'He's with the Elders,' Shula finally said. 'Explaining to them about you.'

  So Tristan was back in the Shadowlands. Lucas felt a huge sense of relief. Right now he didn't think he could face the older man. He'd needed to come back to see Caleb - to warn him off - but he hadn't wanted Tristan to know. He'd done what he'd come here for and now he wanted to get back to Riverview. He nodded at Shula and left the room, heading back down the corridor.

  Suddenly Shula appeared at his side. 'What are you hoping to pull off?' she asked.

  Lucas didn't look at her. He kept walking towards the stairs. 'The end of the Hunters. For good.'

  Shula jumped in front of him, blocking his path. 'Is that it?' she demanded. 'Is it really about your little revenge? Or is it about something else?'

  Lucas stopped walking and turned to face her. 'What are you talking about?'

  He saw Shula's expression shift, the hardness drop away for a second, exposing something raw and sad underneath the venom. Was that even possible? That she felt anything other than pleasure at exploiting other people's misery?

  'She's human, Lucas,' Shula said softly, the sadness in her voice now, as well as her eyes, 'and she's a Hunter.'

  'What are you getting at?' he replied through gritted teeth.

  She looked at him for a moment longer, then shook her head and turned away, the familiar hardness descending. 'Nothing.'

  They kept walking. At the top of the stairs Shula spoke again - the old Shula returned, her voice spiky, her smile mocking. 'So you're not going to ask how we all are, then?'

  'How are you all?' he asked without a smile.

  'We're great, thanks for asking. Joshua's such a degenerate I'm thinking of locking him in his cell permanently and painting the walls with garlic. Nothing changes there. Grace keeps going off into tranceland but says she can't see anything so who knows what she's do
ing. I think she's a dud, personally, and is making it all up. We should ask the Sybll for a refund or something.' She was ticking them each off on her fingers as she went. 'Neena's spending more time as a bird than as a person.'

  Neena - about the only person in the Brotherhood Lucas actually liked.

  'You know, I think she could try being more attractive, don't you?' Shula asked in a hush, leaning in conspiratorially.

  He made a non-committal sound. Neena was fine the way she was.

  'At least less feathered. If I were a Shapeshifter and could look like anyone,' Shula said, throwing her boa over her shoulder, 'well, I'd look like me, but maybe she could try Angelina Jolie or something.'

  Lucas studied her, the way her green skin gleamed under the reddish light in the hall, the head thrown back as she hooted with laughter.

  'Why'd you always have to be like this, Shula?' he asked.

  Her head snapped back. 'Oh you think anyone will ever look at her? You know,' she said, lowering her voice, 'I think she has a thing for the fangs. I've seen the way she checks out Joshua. I think she's letting him taste her, on the sly.'

  Lucas gave her a look. It wasn't even worth contesting. Neena would sooner spend her life shifted into a cockroach than let Joshua touch her.

  'Someone should tell her it's impossible,' Shula said, ignoring his look. 'She's a Shapeshifter. He's a Thirster. It's about as tragic as a Hunter and an Unhuman hooking up. It can only ever end in tears.'

  He moved fast, backing her into the banister. 'What are you getting at?' he asked, keeping his voice low.

  Shula held his gaze. 'Don't forget what you are, Lucas.'

  'What am I?' he demanded under his breath.

  'You're one of us. One of the Brotherhood. As your father was before you.' She reached a hand out and laid it against his chest where his amulet lay under his shirt. Her touch burned even through the cotton of his shirt. 'Don't forget this,' she said.

  Then she was gone, half dancing, half skipping down the hallway, her feather boa floating behind her. He stared after her blankly for a second. Why had she felt she had to remind him of what he was? He knew exactly what he was and exactly who he was. The oath was stronger for him than for all the others. He carried his vengeance with him, for him it was personal - for the others a game, an honour, an allegiance with fools, a cross to bear. For none of them was it a fight for justice. Just for him.

  So how dare Shula and Caleb question his loyalty to the Brotherhood? Imply he was - what? Falling for a Hunter? Was that really what they meant? What they believed? Damn Caleb for seeding that in Shula's head. If it got back to Tristan he'd be hauled back here and have to explain. Maybe lose his chance once and for all. But his chance for what, exactly?

  To discover the secrets of the Hunters? What massive secrets had he uncovered? There was the identity of that new Hunter, Risper, with her homicidal agenda. He'd seen something of the way they trained - but that could have been guessed at. He'd learnt that Evie was strong with natural instincts when she bothered to listen to them. But when it had come down to it, when he could have sat back and let Risper kill her, he hadn't. And he didn't know why. And he also didn't know why he was so angry at himself for distracting Evie in the cornfield. She'd been hurt because of him, and when he pictured her with blood pouring down the side of her face he felt himself wince. But why for all the realms did he even care?

  He was so bursting with fury as he jumped down the steps that he didn't see her until he was right in front of her. It was like she'd been waiting for him, expecting him at just this point, in just this place.

  Well, of course she had.

  'Hello, Grace,' he said.

  Grace stared at him blankly. Her blonde hair was tied back and her big eyes were dull and glassy, as though she'd OD'd on tranquillisers.

  She reached out a hand and took his wrist. Her eyes suddenly became luminously clear. And very, very afraid.

  He tore his arm out of her grip. 'What is it, Grace? What do you keep seeing?'

  'Nothing, Lucas,' she said, shaking her head.

  'Yes, you do. You're seeing something.'

  She sighed. 'It's nothing you can change, Lucas.'

  He put his hands on her shoulders gently and saw the confusion and then the pain in her eyes. She shut them, as though trying to block whatever she was seeing. 'Tell me,' he asked again.

  She slowly opened them. 'I see you dying.'

  His hands dropped from her shoulders. He took a step back, tried to laugh it off, even though it was what he'd been expecting. 'We're all going to die, Grace.'

  'Yes,' she said sadly, 'but you die soon, and you die because of the choice you make.'

  'When I chose to join the Brotherhood, Grace, I knew dying was par for the course. It's the only way out of this.' It was true. When he joined he knew he was signing away his life, but it seemed a small price to pay - even the right price to pay.

  'It's what you choose to die for that changes, Lucas,' Grace said, walking away.

  She left him gazing at the floor, at the patterns of the marble tiles, trying to figure it out. He thought about going after her and asking her to explain. What choice?

  And surely if he knew the particular choice he was going to make, couldn't he unmake it? Choose differently? But she had said it was nothing he could change. Why not? Was fate so set in stone?

  He stumbled out to his car, revved the engine and tore through the gates back onto the freeway, back to Riverview. Back to the Hunter.

  18

  Somehow Evie managed to drag herself out of bed and to the diner for her shift. Mainly because she didn't want to have to answer any questions from her mum and because she didn't want Victor to come by, not find her working and assume she couldn't handle a few hours of running around a cornfield blindfolded with a bunch of trained assassins trying to kill her.

  Her ear was still stinging and her head and back ached from all the falls. She had a bruise the size of a DM boot on her chest and a general sense of unease. The training had gone OK but she now had to watch her back not just for psychotic Unhumans about to take her out but also for Risper. She suddenly understood what was meant by the saying, Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

  When she set foot in the diner she was surprised to see Mrs Lovell, back in her sensible plaid skirt and lace-up shoes, sitting at one of the booths at the back. She hurried around the counter towards Joe and took her apron.

  'How've you been, Evie?' Joe asked.

  'Yeah, um, good thanks,' she replied. It was the first time they'd talked since the night of the parking lot attack, her first shift back at the diner since then.

  'How's the new job working out for you?' he asked with a cheeky smile.

  Evie tried to smile back but she just couldn't. 'It's OK,' she said, taking her order pad and heading over to Mrs Lovell's table.

  'Hi, Mrs Lovell, what can I get you?'

  'How's your ear?' Mrs Lovell's face was a picture of worry.

  'Missing in action,' Evie answered, surreptitiously flicking her hair over to hide it. 'This feels weird,' she whispered, ducking her head. 'I still can't get over the fact that you're not actually Mrs Lovell.'

  Mrs Lovell smiled faintly.

  'Do you actually knit?' Evie asked.

  Mrs Lovell let out a small laugh. 'I do now. I've been in town almost fifteen years. It's my home, Evie. As it is yours.'

  Evie wrinkled her nose. 'Did they make you come here?'

  Mrs Lovell's eyes dashed to the counter. She held her menu up to look like she was ordering. 'They didn't need to make me, Evie. I wanted to come. I wanted to make sure you were safe.'

  Evie's mouth fell open. Why would anyone do that for her? Before she could ask another question, Mrs Lovell took her hand and squeezed it.

  'Evie, I knew your real mother. She was my best friend. More - she was like a sister. You look like your dad but you have your mother's smile and her eyes,' she said sadly. 'You're like her,' she said, suppressing a smile
. 'She was just as brave as you.'

  Evie felt her knees shaking. She had to swallow repeatedly before she could open her mouth without fear of choking on a sob. 'You knew them?' She shook her head. 'How did they die? Victor won't tell me.'

  Mrs Lovell pulled her hand away. 'Can you come over to my house later?' she said quietly. She looked up suddenly. Was that a flash of fear Evie saw in her eyes? 'Don't let anyone see you,' she said.

  Evie nodded, wondering who she was so scared of. Why the secrecy? Maybe she just didn't want her cover blown.

  'Just a coffee, thanks, Evie,' she said in a louder voice for Joe's benefit, putting the menu down.

  Mrs Lovell's house was a small clapboard one not far from Evie's own, on the road north out of town. Evie parked further up the street down a dirt track and backtracked on foot, coming around to the rear porch and tapping quietly on the door.

  Mrs Lovell let her in, ushering her through into her front room and down onto a couch laden with throws and cushions. Then she sat down next to her. 'Here,' she said, handing something to Evie.

  Evie took it. It was a photograph of two girls. The girl on the left had big earrings and red hair in a ponytail springing from the top of her head. The girl on the right was grinning widely, and had brown hair swept over one shoulder and blue eyes. Evie recognised the smile because once upon a time she used to grin like that. There were photos to prove it.

  'Excuse the fashion,' Mrs Lovell said, 'early Eighties. We were going through a punk phase. That's when we met your father. You should have seen him.'

  'How old were you?'

  'Sixteen,' Mrs Lovell answered, 'a year younger than you are now. We'd just started training together. Alongside your father. He was rather gorgeous. We all had our eye on him it must be said.'

  'How did they die?'

  Mrs Lovell took a deep breath. 'They died protecting you. They were trying to save you from something very bad.' Her eyes flashed to the door as though the bad thing was just outside, lurking in the shadows. 'And we placed you with the Tremains to keep you safe.'

  'Why did the Hunters come back for me?'

 
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