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       Fated, p.20

           Sarah Alderson
 
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  She paused, her hand wrapping around his upper arm. 'Please, don't go out there.' Her voice was a hoarse whisper.

  The palm of his hand covered her own. 'I'll be fine,' he said.

  She watched him pick up the carving knife she'd left on the side. 'No,' she begged again, stepping in front of the door to bar his way. 'You can't go out there. You don't know what it is. It's not . . .' She trailed off, unsure how to finish the sentence.

  Lucas's expression softened, warmth running into his eyes, a sad smile breaking on his lips. With his free hand he reached up and brushed a strand of hair back from her face, tucking it behind her bad ear. His fingers lingered there, pressing against the back of her neck, sending waves of heat down her body.

  And then blackness descended.

  29

  Absolute darkness. He was nothing more than a shadow passing across the leaves, a whisper of wind, mistaken for the wing of a bird or the breeze through the grass. And in that darkness, he hunted.

  He followed Caleb's scent, mingling dankly, like mould, amid the sweetness of the fallen peaches and the smoky air of a recent bonfire.

  It had come to this. He had known that it would eventually come to this - to breaking his oath, to protecting her from the others - but he hadn't expected it to be so soon. He thought he had time. That Evie had time.

  And all he was grateful for was that he'd made it back here before Caleb had actually killed her. Because it had been close. The whole way back doing one hundred and fifty down the freeway, cursing Shula for her lies, cursing himself for falling for them. All he could think about was Evie, half-drowned, bedraggled, barelegged and having to face Caleb alone.

  Why had he left with Shula? He gripped the knife tighter - wishing it was his father's paper-light Shadow blade instead - and he upped his pace, weaving after Caleb. The scent was getting stronger now, metallic-tasting, slightly acidic. The smell of Scorpio blood.

  As soon as he'd stepped out of the car he'd known something wasn't right. He should have realised then but he hadn't. Instead he'd let Shula lead him to Tristan's study and had stood before his desk staring at the older man for a full thirty seconds, listening to him talk about the Elders and his trip to the Shadowlands, before he realised the symmetry was off. Tristan's voice was pitched too high, his eyes kept flicking over Lucas's shoulder towards Shula. Just as he realised it was Neena and not Tristan at all, she blurred and shimmered before his eyes. Shula yelled, but it was already too late, Lucas was sprinting down the wide hallway and back to the car.

  His feet had barely touched the ground as he ran across the driveway, spitting up gravel with his heels. He'd jumped into the car and spun it out of the driveway before Shula and Neena had even appeared at the front door. He'd glanced at them once in the rear-view mirror. Grace had appeared on the bottom step as pale as ash, Shula was scowling, and Neena was still shimmering wildly in the doorway.

  He'd kept his foot to the floor the whole way back, thoughts only on what he might do if Caleb had hurt Evie in any way whatsoever, fear feeding on fear, his hands practically tearing off the steering wheel, the engine protesting at every bend. And then he'd found Evie bleeding, hurt, trapped and alone. Whatever fear he'd been feeling faded away, replaced by a fury he'd never experienced before. A fury that filled his veins with ice. Caleb was about to pay.

  He jumped the fence at the back boundary and found Caleb crouched on the ground, nursing his tail, trying to wrap something around it to stop the bleeding. Lucas couldn't help smiling. At least Evie had given as good as she got.

  He stepped into the moonlight.

  Caleb looked up. 'Lucas,' he said.

  'Surprised to see me?' Lucas asked.

  Caleb looked over Lucas's shoulder. 'Why aren't you at the Mission?' he answered.

  'Why aren't you?' Lucas shot back.

  Caleb stood up, his tail stretching out slowly behind him. 'I came here to kill a Hunter.'

  Lucas took a breath, nodded. 'I think you might have to revise your plan.'

  'Why?' Caleb sneered. 'You going to stop me?'

  Lucas eyed him carefully - seeing himself reflected in Caleb's sunglasses: nonchalant, shoulders dropped, eyelids half-lowered. He shrugged.

  Caleb shook his head in disbelief. 'Shula said it was true but I didn't believe her.'

  Lucas felt his stomach tighten.

  'She's a Hunter,' Caleb spat. 'We kill Hunters or have you forgotten? We don't try and bang them. Though she is kinda cute - I give you that - especially when she's pinned to the ground.'

  Lucas drew in a breath, felt the adrenaline start to soar.

  'And her flesh slices easy as a ripe peach.'

  Lucas took a step forward, watching Caleb's tail flick off to the side.

  'You couldn't just bang her and then kill her?' Caleb asked, sucking through his teeth.

  Lucas took another step. 'You shouldn't have hurt her,' he said quietly. 'You really shouldn't have done that.'

  Caleb frowned at him. 'Are you threatening me? Do you know what's going to happen to you when the others find out - when Tristan finds out?'

  Lucas ignored him.

  Caleb's eyes dropped to the knife, his tail arching simultaneously over his head, like a scorpion about to sting. 'What are you going to do with the knife?'

  'I told you if you came near her again I'd kill you.'

  Caleb stepped forward, his coat flapping to one side revealing the full length of his tail.

  'Is that so? You'd kill me to protect her?' he shouted. 'You lay a finger on me, you'll be breaking your oath. Every Unhuman across the realms will be after you. There'll be a blood price on your head.'

  Lucas exhaled slowly. His face stayed blank.

  'You'll be banished from the realms,' Caleb said in disbelief, but his voice was already taking on a panicked tone.

  Lucas shrugged. He'd never been to the realms, so that made no difference to him.

  Caleb finally seemed to grasp the reality and his jaw went slack. His voice pitched up a notch. 'She's gonna get killed anyway. That's what we do to Hunters. So what's the point? You can't stop it from happening. Even if you stop me you can't stop the others who'll follow. Because they'll keep coming for her.'

  Lucas waited a beat. 'I can try,' he said.

  There was a second of silence, broken only by the swish of Caleb's tail.

  Lucas's fingers tightened around the hilt of the knife but his arm stayed frozen. He couldn't do it. He couldn't make the first move. What was stopping him?

  Lucas was so caught in his moment of hesitation that he didn't see the tail that had been snaking towards him at knee height. Just as he noticed it, Caleb flicked the end upwards and sliced it into Lucas's chest, slashing him clean across the shoulder. He felt the sting even as he felt himself merge into the darkness, becoming it. Blood started to flow, the heat of it washing across his stomach. He ground his teeth, sidestepping silently around Caleb, who was spinning frantically left to right, trying to hear him.

  'Play fair, Half-and-half,' Caleb screamed into the trees.

  Lucas paused, knife drawn, and then materialised behind him. 'How fair?' he asked.

  Caleb jumped at the sound of his voice, spinning around, his tail scything the air in front of Lucas. Lucas raised his arm to deflect it, catching the tip with the carving knife.

  Caleb let out a blood-freezing yell and Lucas stepped backwards another two steps, well out of range.

  'I'm going to slice you apart like lunch meat and then I'm going to feed you to your girlfriend. But not before I have a little taste of her myself,' Caleb screamed.

  Lucas sprang forward, fast as an arrow, throwing his full weight onto Caleb, felling him to the ground. He pinned him there with his tail beneath him.

  'Do it then!' Caleb yelled, spit spraying Lucas's face. 'Do it!'

  Lucas was breathing hard, his shoulders heaving, blood from his chest dripping onto Caleb's T-shirt, marking out a target-shaped circle above his heart, several inches lower than a human on
e. Lucas had the knife raised over it. He hesitated.

  'What's stopping you?' Caleb spat a gob of saliva out the side of his mouth and it trickled down his cheek. 'You think you can protect her and you can't. You can't hurt one of your own.' Caleb tried to laugh, though the weight of Lucas crushing his chest made him cough instead. 'What's that telling you, Half-and-half?' he choked out.

  Lucas bared his teeth at him. Fury and bile rose up in his throat. He raised the knife higher, readying himself.

  With a final heave, Caleb twisted, freeing his tail. It lashed upwards, slicing Lucas once more across the chest, just above his heart. He flew backwards, vanishing on impact.

  Caleb staggered to standing before him, wiping his leather sleeve over his face.

  'You owe me a T-shirt,' he snarled, his head swiftly moving from left to right.

  Lucas stared up at him, feeling the heat of the blood pooling under him.

  The tail swung upwards and slashed downwards randomly yet straight towards him. Lucas watched it in slow motion, before his instincts took over. He rolled forwards, the knife leaving his hands in one fluid movement, embedding itself silently between Caleb's ribs.

  Caleb's mouth fell open. Then he staggered backwards, his hands tentatively tracing the hilt poking out of his chest. He tried to tug at it, frantic all of a sudden, then his head jerked up, his face filled with disbelief.

  He fell to his knees, hands still on the knife hilt, watching Lucas appear in front of him.

  'See you on the other side,' he said, before collapsing face forwards, his sunglasses smashing against a rock. He vanished on impact.

  Lucas stared at the spot where he'd fallen. All that remained was a mound of clothing covered by Caleb's black leather coat and the glasses, broken in two. He kicked the clothes aside. The knife lay buried underneath, tarred with blood.

  Lucas bent slowly and picked it up.

  30

  Evie rolled onto her side with a groan, her fingers reaching to the back of her neck where the faintest pressure of Lucas's fingers still burned. She sat up in the next instant. Where was he? How long had she been passed out for?

  Damn it. She couldn't believe he'd knocked her out. Because that was what had happened, right? The last thing she remembered was Lucas pulling her close, his fingers tightening on her neck and then - darkness.

  She could kill him. But she might not have a chance, she realised as she hauled herself to standing, because for all she knew he could be lying out there dead already. She swore as she climbed onto a toolbox to reach for her father's rusting hunting rifle. She unhooked the gun desperately, coughing in the layer of dust that settled over her, and then with trembling fingers started ransacking the drawers for bullets. At the back of one she found a grimy old box with two cartridges inside.

  She propped the gun up to load it, noticing the smattering of rust speckling the barrel, and started praying that the trigger part still worked.

  Blood had started to trickle down the inside of her arm, the T-shirt - Lucas's T-shirt - already soaked through. The blood was dripping onto the butt of the rifle, making it slippery. She ignored it. She had to hurry. Her arm felt leaden and she wasn't sure how she was going to heft the gun with only one arm but it didn't matter, she had to try. She couldn't leave him out there alone. Damn it. Why did he go? She swore loudly - it came out as a sob. If anything happened to him . . .

  The door suddenly flew open and she spun around with the gun in her hands, her finger fumbling desperately for the trigger. It took several seconds to register that it was him - that it was Lucas - because at first all she saw was blood, but then she threw the rifle to the floor and stumbled forwards towards him. He stood there, head bent, shoulders rigid, hands raining crimson drops onto the floor, and didn't look up. She reeled backwards as she got close, taking in the lashes across his chest and shoulder. Blood was coursing down over the flat of his stomach, soaking into the waistband of his jeans.

  She paused, her eyes flitting over his shoulder to the darkness outside beyond the door, then took his hand, hot and sticky with red, and unclasped the knife he was holding, and threw it into the sink. Then she drew in a deep breath and pulled him inside the basement, bolting the door shut behind him.

  'What happened?' she asked, her voice faltering.

  'He's gone,' Lucas said flatly, his head still bowed.

  Evie felt her heart stutter. Gone? Gone away or gone dead? She was too scared to ask.

  She turned around and started raking through the cupboards, her fingers shaking, trying to find something to stem the flow of blood. In the last drawer she found one of her dad's old work shirts. It was clean. She shook it out and tore it in half, passing half to Lucas to wipe his hands with and pressing the other half against the worst wound on his chest.

  'Why did you go?' she asked, angry with him suddenly. For doing something to make her pass out - though had he? For getting hurt. 'I warned you.' She pressed harder against his shoulder.

  Had he seen that the person he'd fought wasn't human? That he had a tail? Of course he had. He was covered in slash marks. How couldn't he have seen?

  She was suddenly blinded by tears. Why wasn't Lucas saying anything? She couldn't look up. What would she say? Yeah, sorry about that, I should have warned you about the tail.

  But then, it dawned on her. How had Lucas fought an Unhuman? And won? She was the Hunter around here. And she had failed miserably.

  She nudged him backwards gently, her hands on his forearms, leaning him carefully against a workbench. He said nothing - did nothing - as she wiped the trail of blood up his abdomen, across his chest, noticing the faint scars latticing his upper body, as though he'd been in fights before. But his skin was perfect otherwise, satin smooth, running in shallow dips over the flowing lines of muscle and rib.

  She mopped the worst of the blood up until the two lash marks made by Caleb's tail stood out. She winced but he did nothing as she pressed the clean edge of the shirt against them to stem the bleeding.

  After a few seconds she pulled the shirt away. The bleeding seemed to have eased off. Her fingers traced around the edges of the wound, scared to touch him for fear he might move. But he was still as a statue.

  Without thinking, she dipped her head and pressed her lips to his shoulder, just above where the first cut started. His skin was burning hot to the touch. She pulled back, suddenly aware of what she'd just done. Her heart stopped beating, her lungs refusing point blank to expand and draw in air. Lucas stayed frozen. She was terrified to lift her eyes to meet his. For a full ten seconds they stood like two statues before each other. Then she caught a slight movement, a shift in Lucas's body, the ripple of muscle across his stomach as he stood.

  Her head flew up.

  Lucas was looking straight at her, his eyes burning coals, his breathing rapid. And suddenly his hands were on her shoulders and he was pushing her backwards. She bumped against the wall behind, gasped at the shock and his lips cut it off.

  His mouth was hard against hers, but his lips were soft, his taste familiar and new at the same time. She felt her whole body jolt and come alive, her bloodied, bandaged arm wrapping around his neck, her fingers knotting in his hair, pulling him closer, until his hip bone was pressing against hers and his chest was crushing her ribcage and there was no air left inside her. Her head was spinning and she felt like she was going to pass out. His hands were stroking up her neck, tracing her spine, his lips finding the hollow of her throat, making her tilt her head back. She opened her eyes to stop the room from spinning, unhooked her hands from around his neck, running them down his chest, stopping just below his collarbone . . . when she felt the silver of his amulet digging into her palm. She heard him take a breath, pause for a moment, but then his arms wound around her waist and her lips found his again, wanting more, her fingers tugging at his waistband.

  They stumbled backwards together, slamming into the workbench opposite. He hadn't let her go. The tools on the side went crashing to the floor, the wo
rkbench groaned against their weight and something dislodged from the wall behind Lucas and smashed to the ground at Evie's feet. She ignored it all. He kept kissing her until she felt her legs give way but she didn't fall to the ground amid the tools because he was holding her up, his hands around her waist now, binding her to him.

  She pulled backwards in his arms and found him staring right at her. She let her fingers stroke along his jawline, trace the curve of his bottom lip - the line of his cheekbone. She stroked his eyelashes and ran a hand through his hair, pushing it back off his face, and all the while he held her in his arms and didn't take his eyes off her. Those deep grey, haunted eyes, so full of darkness and secrets and pain.

  And she felt safe. She realised it with a start that made her draw in a breath, which made him frown and move his hand to her cheek, his thumb pressing against her lower lip. This was the only place she would ever feel truly safe ever again - right here, locked into him, with his arms tight about her and the world falling apart around them. And everything Jocelyn had said to her about not getting close to anyone suddenly seemed inconceivable, impossible. Because her whole body and her entire heart were telling her that this was right - there was no way it couldn't be.

  When Tom had kissed her she'd sensed his vulnerability, had felt the burden of having to protect him and shield him from what was outside in the darkness waiting to attack her. But when Lucas kissed her she felt nothing but him. Nothing but heat. He made her forget the outside. And he shielded her from the darkness. She smiled up at him, laughing under her breath.

  A flash of something crossed his face then - of longing or hurt, she couldn't tell which. And she couldn't decipher the meaning of the smile he was giving her because it was a sad smile and the sadness was reflected in his eyes. He finally opened his mouth as if he was about to say something and her stomach tightened. But then his eyes flew over her shoulder to the stairs and his hands dropped from her waist. She felt the fear rushing back in at the same instant that she heard her name being called.

 
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