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       Fated, p.17

           Sarah Alderson
 
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  'They want her because she's the White Light,' Jocelyn said.

  Lucas's eyes flew to hers. 'The prophecy? Do you mean that prophecy in the book?'

  She looked up at him, startled. 'Yes. You didn't know?'

  He shook his head. 'No.'

  'She'll end this,' Jocelyn said.

  He was now the one struggling to comprehend, frantically trying to recall what the prophecy had said - something about a pure-blood child being the White Light and breaking the realms apart. He couldn't remember the exact words.

  'That's why the Brotherhood wants her so badly,' Jocelyn continued. 'To stop the prophecy from coming true.'

  'But how does anyone know it's her for sure?'

  'Her parents were among the only Hunters remaining, the only ones to have a child. She's the only pure-bred Hunter - warrior - to have been born. It can only be her. We've been waiting for her for a long time. It's why we went to such lengths to protect her. You should know this if you're in the Brotherhood.'

  Lucas shrugged off her last comment. He didn't know why Tristan hadn't said anything. He raised his eyes to meet Jocelyn's. 'The only way to keep Evie safe is to get her to fulfil the prophecy,' he said. 'If the war ends, if the realms are severed, she can't be hurt.'

  Jocelyn was nodding.

  'But how? How is she supposed to break the realms apart? How's that even possible?'

  Jocelyn shook her head slowly. 'I'm not sure. None of us are. The prophecy in its entirety was lost to us. We only have a piece. But we'll find the rest of it. We have to - we absolutely need to.'

  'It won't matter at this rate whether we find it or not.'

  'What do you mean?'

  'Evie - she'll need to be able to fight. If she doesn't learn how to fight then she'll be dead way before you figure out how she's meant to fulfill this,' Lucas said with a shrug.

  'What do you mean?' Jocelyn asked. 'She is able to fight. You saw her in the cornfield. She's fast and intuitive. With a bit more time - with practice - she'll be--'

  Lucas shook his head, interrupting her. 'No. She's given up. I don't know what happened but last night it was like she'd lost something. That defiance I saw in her - that anger - it was gone. I don't know why.'

  Jocelyn paled again. She bit her lip but said nothing.

  'If you want her to be this White Light, if we want her to fulfill the prophecy,' Lucas said, 'we need to give her another reason to fight, because whatever reason you gave her before isn't enough. Right now, if any of the Brotherhood came for her she'd be picked off with no more effort than brushing away a cobweb. She thinks being a Hunter is a death sentence,' he said, remembering Evie's exact words and the way she'd looked close to collapse when she'd uttered them. 'But if we can show her it isn't, if we show her that she can fight us and win, if I can help her gain her full power, it will make her truly believe that she is this White Light, that there's a way to end this, and maybe she'll see the point in fighting. She needs to be angry.'

  'What are you thinking?' Jocelyn asked.

  He told her. Watched her eyes widen.

  'Why?' she said, when he had finished talking. 'Why would you die for her?'

  He frowned at the question. 'Isn't that what it means to love someone? And besides,' he said, smiling slightly to himself as he remembered Grace's words, 'I'm dead anyway. It's only a matter of time. So I may as well choose to die for something, or someone, I believe in.'

  'Yes.' Jocelyn's voice was cracking. 'I watched her parents do the same, you know. They were trying to protect her too. And I would do the same in a heartbeat - not just because she's the White Light but because she's . . .' She couldn't finish the sentence.

  Lucas smiled wanly. 'She's something special. Maybe we all see something in her that she doesn't see herself yet.'

  Jocelyn nodded, her lips drawn into a white line.

  'Jocelyn, I ask only one thing. If the plan works . . .' He swallowed. 'If it works and she does it, if I haven't had a chance to kill Victor before, swear to me that you will do it. And promise me that you'll find the rest of that prophecy. That you'll help keep her safe when I'm gone?'

  Jocelyn stared at him wide-eyed before nodding.

  He wondered at her lack of hesitation, how easily she'd said yes. But before he could ask why, they both snapped to attention at the sound of a footstep on the porch.

  They sensed her at the same time, for Lucas it was like an extra heart beating in his chest, he could feel her that closely, the sound of her breathing. He could imagine her on the porch a metre away, hesitating before knocking. With a glance at Jocelyn, Lucas merged into the shadows and vanished. Jocelyn stepped silently backwards and into the living room. And then the knock came.

  There was a pause before they heard Evie call out. 'Mrs Lovell? Jocelyn?'

  Neither of them moved. Lucas waited a full minute, until he heard Evie sigh impatiently and stomp back down the porch steps.

  By the time Jocelyn crept back into the hallway he had gone.

  23

  Evie got out the shower and stood in front of the mirror staring through the fogged-up glass at her beaten-up reflection. She did a quick calculation. She was missing a part of one ear, she had purple bruises stamped across her rib cage and back, a livid pink, hand-shaped burn mark on her forearm, deathly hollows under her eyes and a heart that was still beating, albeit somewhat jaggedly, despite everything that had been thrown at it.

  She tried to prod the rawness of the wounds inside her - starting off by thinking about Tom. There was a pang but it was a dull one, as though she was on deep medication. She wished she was - she'd thought about going through her mother's cabinet for the sleeping pills the doctor was prescribing for her after her dad had died, but what was the point? When she slept she had nightmares that she was locked in a room with the green-skinned one and that one with the tail while everyone yelled Half-and-half at someone she couldn't see in the room. Sleep was even less fun than being awake. At least when she was awake she could watch for Risper and she could try to work out what she was going to do next.

  She had thought too about running. Last night, after she'd thrown the knife to the floor and walked out of training she'd gone to find Jocelyn to demand to know whatever secrets the Hunters were keeping from her. Jocelyn hadn't been home and for a moment she'd wavered on the path in front of the house, wondering whether if she just got in the car and kept driving she could outrun this - hide from it. But if the Brotherhood had found her once they would find her again and she wouldn't be protected, wouldn't even be trained.

  'You are Evie Hunter,' she said out loud to the shaky-looking girl in the mirror, the one who was trying to look a whole lot braver than she felt. It felt strange calling herself a Hunter. Hunters were killers - was that then bound to be their fate for always? Her fate? All because of a name? Because of who her parents were?

  She took a deep breath and thought of Lucas, whom she hadn't seen since the night before last. She hadn't actually stopped thinking about him since then, he'd been lurking in the back of her mind - the memory of his hand so feather-light against her cheek, storm-laden eyes, the way he'd looked away as soon as her own eyes flashed open. A sudden pang hit her and she had to lean forward against the sink and gulp down big breaths of air to try to ease the pressure in her ribcage.

  Once she could stand she got dressed carefully, trying to focus on the detail of every moment to distract her from any other thoughts that might cause another attack like that. She threw on a silk top that she'd taken from the store and a summery Marc Jacobs skirt. She figured she was owed. Plus her mother kept going on at her about wearing dresses and she might only have a few months or days left to make her mum happy.

  Finally she brushed her hair and let it fall over her shoulders, covering her still tender ear.

  Her mum looked up when she walked in and did a double take. 'You look nice, darling, but dear me, are you not getting any sleep at the minute?'

  'I'm fine, Mum,' Evie said, turning her back and
heading to the fridge before her mum could see the tears stinging her eyes.

  'Are you working this evening?' her mum suddenly asked.

  Evie steeled herself and looked over. Her mum was busy rooting for something in her handbag.

  'I quit my job.'

  Her mum stopped rummaging. 'At the diner?' she said. 'Oh, no, why? Are you sure that's a good idea? I mean that boutique's not going to last another month, is it - surely not? I went past the other day when you weren't there and it wasn't even open - but the prices in the window! Oh my good Lord.'

  'Mum, it's fine,' Evie said, sitting down at the table with a glass of milk. 'School's back in soon enough. Joe's fine with it.'

  Truth be told she'd had the same lecture from Joe, but he'd also promised her he'd hold her shifts for her in case she changed her mind.

  Not that she was going to change her mind. She wouldn't be needing any waitressing jobs from now on. What was the point in working every hour, saving money for an escape that was no longer an option, for a future that was definitely not going to happen? New York? Yeah, she'd be lucky if she even made it to New Year. And now they had Lucas lodging - she put the glass down on the table - well, her mum didn't need to worry about money.

  Her mum had obviously decided to drop it, though no doubt she'd be straight in to see Joe on her way through town and would demand to know why he'd let her quit.

  'Mrs Lewington called,' her mum said. 'Her sister isn't ill at all. Isn't that the funniest thing? So she's coming back next week. I think I might have to ask Lucas if he doesn't mind moving out.'

  Evie's head flew up.

  'Though between you and me, dear, I think I'd rather have Lucas's face to look at in the morning over my toast than Mrs Lewington's,? her mother continued.'I feel terrible. I think Lucas will want to stay in town. Janet Del Rey says he's an absolute godsend when it comes to the horses - he's like that Horse Whisperer, you know, Robert Redford - and every bit as gorgeous - though Janet did mention he's not the most punctual. I do hope he stays in town though, don't you?' Her mum rattled on as Evie sat there speechless, clutching her glass of milk.

  She made a non-committal grunting noise because her mother seemed to be expecting some kind of reaction. Maybe it would be better, she thought, if he did just leave, then he might not take up so much mental space either. Maybe this was a good thing. Maybe.

  She realised her mum was asking her something and with an effort focused back in on her.

  'Would you mind doing me a big favour?' she was saying. 'Seeing how you're not working today, would you mind trying to fill up a few boxes of peaches? We haven't done it this year - it's the first year we haven't . . .' Her mother's voice faltered for a second before she steadied herself. 'I just thought it might be nice. You know, before they all go bad. I can make some cobblers, maybe some jam . . .'

  Evie smiled up at her. 'Sure, Mum.'

  It was only once she got outside in her boots that she discovered why her mum was so keen on her gathering in the peaches. Lucas was there already, straddling the lowest branch of the nearest tree. She hesitated on the edge of the porch with a box in her hand, thinking about turning and going back inside, but he looked up just as she was about to and grinned at her and she suddenly couldn't move. She was pinned like a couture-wearing scarecrow to the spot.

  'You coming to help or you just going to stand there and watch me?' he called.

  She felt the burn score her face, forced her feet to unstick, and walked over to him holding the box across her chest. Her bruised heart was battering so hard she felt it might cause irreparable internal damage. She stood beside the tree looking up at him. He swung himself up easily so he was in the branch above her and then leant down and offered her his hand.

  She stared at it for several seconds before she could bring herself to take it. He lifted her as if she weighed less than nothing, pulling her onto the branch where he was standing, and for a moment, with her hand locked in his, standing there, with her other hand thrown around his neck for balance, she felt the world fall away around them - felt completely and utterly safe for the first time in days, even though she was balanced precariously two metres up on some gnarled old tree branch.

  Lucas's face was just inches from her own. He had light olive skin she noticed, he wasn't as pale as he had been a few days ago. There was the very finest trace of dark stubble along his jaw and his eyelashes were unfeasibly straight and long. His eyes were lighter today, less hard and metallic, more the colour of a winter dawn, and they were studying her as if she was the most unusual or breakable of objects. He wasn't sullen anymore. In fact, he was beautiful - striking - he reminded her of someone suddenly but she couldn't think who. Maybe a painting she'd seen once, she thought absently before his hand distracted her.

  She could feel the heat of it pressed against the small of her back, between that and the hard, straight lines of muscle beneath his T-shirt she was struggling to breathe. Her heart was hammering away as though she was sprinting through a cornfield trying to avoid three knife-wielding maniacs.

  He let her go suddenly without warning, reaching above him for a branch, and she felt the tree sway, the ground become the sky for an instant before levelling out and righting itself, and she found herself in his arms, pressed tight against his chest, her hands gripping around his waist.

  'You OK?' he said quietly, his lips pressed to the top of her head.

  'Yeah,' she whispered into the hollow of his neck, 'just lost my balance.'

  'You got it now?' he asked. 'I don't want you breaking your neck.'

  'I got it,' Evie said, dragging her hands off his waist and clutching onto the tree trunk.

  What was with her? Normally she was far more balanced than this. And how had he managed to keep his balance with both arms locked around her? She slid away from him and watched as he hoisted himself deftly up into the branch overhead. He started handing her down peaches. She watched his arms, lean and flat-muscled, as he worked. Another dizzy spell hit. She clutched the tree and focused on the box and on wedging it in the fork of the tree.

  'How are you feeling today?'

  She frowned up at him.

  'The other night you looked a little worse for wear.'

  She looked away and started lining up the peaches he was handing her in the box.

  'Yeah, sorry,' she murmured. 'I had a bad night - a bad week, actually.'

  'And are things improving at all?' he asked.

  She glanced up at him. He'd stopped what he was doing and was looking at her through the branches, the leaves throwing patterns across his face.

  What could she say to that? If she didn't think about the past or imagine anything about the future, if she stayed right here in this second staring up at him gathering peaches then, yes, she was better. She would even go so far as to say she was happy and that was more than she'd ever expected to feel again.

  'Yeah,' she said, offering him the shadow of a smile, 'things are better right now.'

  He answered with a smile of his own. 'And Tom?' he asked, turning his back to her.

  She paused, watching his shoulders tensing, the tendons rippling down his forearms, and felt a dip in her stomach.

  'I don't know. I haven't seen him. I'm sorry about the other night,' she added, hearing the tremble in her voice and wanting to kick herself but knowing she'd probably fall out the tree if she tried to. She didn't know if Lucas had seen Tom kiss her. Had it looked like she'd kissed him back?

  'Nothing to apologise for,' Lucas answered quickly.

  They worked in silence for a few minutes, Evie's thoughts back on the night before last and on Tom and on kisses she might never feel again - either from him or someone else. Her attention wrapped itself around Lucas and his lips, in profile now, and she allowed herself a minute's fantasy of what they might feel like pressed against her throat, against her own lips, before she turned abruptly away, swearing at herself under her breath. What was with the self-flagellation? It wasn't enough that she got to
rtured by Victor and Risper and a display of medieval weapons, she had to go torturing herself with fantasies of what she couldn't have as well?

  'How's the job going?' Lucas asked, interrupting her internal tirade.

  'Oh, I quit it,' she said.

  He turned around to face her, his arms resting over the branch in front, his brow darkening. 'Why'd you quit?' he asked.

  'I got tired of working in the diner.'

  His face visibly relaxed. 'But you're still working at that boutique in town?'

  'Oh that, yeah,' Evie said. She didn't think of that as a job any more. A chore certainly, but not exactly employment. 'No, I'm still there.'

  'How is it?' Lucas asked, studying the peach in his hand before handing it over to her.

  'Well,' Evie said, 'it's not exactly what I expected.'

  'Any more coat hanger incidents?'

  'No, no more incidents with hangers,' she replied, thinking of Risper and the knives.

  'Good. Well, there are perks, I see,' Lucas said, nodding at her clothes. His smile returned, lighting up his face.

  'Yeah, guess so,' Evie answered, thinking how they weren't so much a perk as danger money.

  'You're not working today, though?' Lucas asked, handing her more peaches.

  She reached up for them, their fingers brushed and she almost overbalanced. 'Later, this evening. Some kind of stocktake or . . .' She trailed off. Actually she had no idea what Victor had planned but she knew that the only thing being taken stock of was her inability to throw a knife at a person. Her body heaved a sigh.

  'What about you?' she asked Lucas, wanting to change the subject. 'Not working?'

  'Later,' he said. 'Giving the horses a break,' he added with an amused smile.

  She looked up at him curiously. There was so much she'd like to know about him. 'Janet Del Rey says you're some kind of horse whisperer,' she said.

  He threw his head back and laughed and she realised how light it made her feel to hear him laugh, how it helped keep the fear at bay.

  'No, not a horse whisperer,' he said. 'I guess I just know what scares people and animals and I know how to take away the fear. That's all.'

 
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