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       Severed, p.20

           Sarah Alderson
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  It was the wrong thing to say. His expression instantly darkened, the fire that had been burning in his eyes extinguished at once. His hands fell away from her waist but before he could pull away completely she darted forward and kissed him full on the lips. She felt him resist for half a second, before his hands circled her waist once again. He kissed her back, more insistently this time, forcing all other thoughts out of her mind as the sensations in her body took over. Her skin was fire, pulsing with current, but her mind was empty. She felt light and free as air. It was Lucas who pulled back this time, just an inch, one arm still wrapped tight around her waist, his other hand coming to rest just over her heart.

  ‘I love you,’ he said looking her in the eye. ‘I will always love you.’

  ‘I know,’ Evie answered, looping her arm gently around his neck and pulling him towards her.

  Chapter 35

  She wasn’t sleeping. She was lying across him and he was slowly stroking a hand up her spine feeling the trail of goosebumps he was leaving in his wake. Her own fingers were tracing the line of the scar that Caleb’s tail had given him across his collarbone and chest. Then with lighter fingertips she started stroking the finer, almost invisible scars across his upper body – old wounds from knives, that he’d sustained as a kid, and later, training with Tristan and the others. Evie paused after a time and moved her hand until it was resting just over his heart.

  She couldn’t know what she was doing to him by just lying here.

  But then she was gone, wriggling out of his arms and leaping out of the bed. He tried to stop her, rolling on his side and reaching a hand out to catch her, but she had already run to the window. She stood there, gleaming in the amber glow of the streetlight, her long dark hair trailing in tangled knots down her back.

  ‘What are you doing?’ he asked, sitting bolt upright, his attention on the surroundings, on the outside, focusing his hearing right down and scanning his senses for anything he’d missed. He hadn’t picked anything up. Was it possible that Evie was out-sensing him now?

  But she turned to him and smiled. ‘The sun’s about to come up,’ she said. ‘I want to see it.’

  He shook his head and smiled. ‘What about sleeping?’

  She gave him a rueful, slightly bashful smile, letting her hair fall over her face as she turned to the window once more.

  He stood up and pulled on his jeans, noticing Evie swivel away from the window to watch him. He grinned at her and crossed over to where she was standing, pulling on his T-shirt as he went, and then he bent to kiss her bare shoulder. ‘I’m just going to make some coffee,’ he said. ‘Get dressed.’

  Out in the hallway he leant against the wall and took a deep breath. Flic wasn’t back. She’d left over an hour ago. If Issa wanted to be found Flic would have found her by now. And if she didn’t want to be found then there was no way in all the realms that Flic would be able to find her. A Sybll was always ten steps ahead. He shouldn’t have let Evie and Flic waylay him. That excuse about needing to sleep had been just that – an excuse. They hadn’t exactly slept. Though, thinking about it, given the choice between sleep and doing what they’d just done, he’d happily forgo sleep for the rest of his life.

  The panic that had subsided for the last hour while he’d been otherwise distracted was back now, in full force. Stronger even than before. Every time he took a breath he could feel it catching in his chest, causing another shot of adrenaline to flood his system. He was fighting every instinct in his body as well as the voice in his head, which was currently screaming at him to get Evie, get the hell out of the apartment and run. To where, though, he still didn’t know. He knew he should be standing and fighting. He was the one who was causing all this to happen. He was the one challenging fate. Instead of fleeing he should be trying to figure out another way of closing the way through and of stopping this army. But first he needed to get Evie some place safe. Some place far away. He drew in a sharp breath, an idea forming in his mind – a house in the middle of nowhere. The house he grew up in. His grandmother’s house – a million miles from anywhere, nowheresville, Iowa. No one would find her there.

  Chapter 36

  ‘What are you doing?’ Evie asked, watching Lucas tear through the apartment. She dragged her feet, following him into the kitchen, and stood there, watching him pull out the drawers and start rifling through them.

  ‘I’m looking for a pen,’ he said without looking up. ‘I need to write Flic a note.’


  Lucas was now bent over the counter, a pen in one hand, a scrap of paper in the other. ‘Because we’re leaving right now,’ he said, ‘before it’s too late.’

  ‘I’m hungry. I want sushi,’ Evie announced.

  Lucas looked up, pen poised. ‘You want sushi. Right now? At six in the morning?’

  She nodded. ‘Yes. Then I want to go back to bed.’ She took a nervous step forward, hoping he couldn’t hear the way her heart was pounding. ‘With you.’

  Lucas put the pen down slowly and turned towards her. His grey eyes were ablaze, the tiny yellow strikes at the centre even more noticeable than usual. ‘Evie,’ he said, ‘those sound like the wishes of someone who’s only got a day to live.’

  ‘Why?’ she asked, smiling. ‘Does everyone with just one day to live choose to go to bed with you and eat some raw fish?’

  His expression darkened, his scowl becoming more pronounced. ‘Evie, why are you talking like this?’

  She gave him a weak smile and a half shrug in response. ‘What else is there to do?’

  He stared at her, uncomprehending. ‘I should never have let you convince me to bring you here in the first place,’ he finally said, swearing under his breath. He returned his attention to the piece of paper in front of him.

  She watched him. She was shaking, she realised. Her whole body was shaking. It wasn’t enough time. Her eyes skipped to the clock on the wall before darting jealously back to Lucas. It wasn’t anywhere near enough time. And she didn’t know where to start, which part of him to focus on first.

  More than anything she wanted to cross the arm’s-length distance between them and fold herself against his chest. But she knew if she touched him she would have second thoughts about what she was about to do. She was having to clamp her lips shut to stop all the words that were just there on the tip of her tongue from tumbling out. All she could do was stand there in silence, staring at the curve of his back as he bent over his note, the hilt of the shadow blade that she’d returned to him visible at his waist. She studied his profile, trying to imprint it onto her memory so she could take it with her.

  His head was bowed, shadows falling over the paper as his hand moved furiously across it scrawling the note for Flic. She felt her stomach tighten at the memory of those same hands moving with a similar urgency across her body just a few minutes ago. His forehead was creased into a frown, his dark hair, unkempt as usual, was falling almost into his eyes. His mouth was unsmiling. She wanted to trace her fingers over the curve of his lips and watch a smile break there one more time.

  She drew in a massive gulp of air, a shiver running up her spine and around her shoulder blades, spreading to the tips of her fingers. Her head flew up as her hearing funnelled. They were back. She could hear Flic’s footsteps tripping lightly, jogging along the hallway outside.

  Evie turned back to Lucas, who didn’t seem to have picked up on Flic’s imminent arrival. Before she could stop herself she had taken a step towards him. She put a hand on his shoulder, feeling the ripple of muscles as he turned. He dropped the pen and took hold of her instantly, his arms circling her waist and drawing her closer. She reached up on tiptoes and kissed him, a sob rising in her chest, sticking in her throat.

  With a monumental effort she drew back. ‘Thank you,’ she murmured, staring into the darkening grey of his eyes, ‘for everything you’ve done.’

  Lucas cocked his head to one side, frowning. ‘We’re still in this together,’ he said. ‘I’m not leaving y

  ‘I know. But thank you. I know what you’re giving up for me.’

  ‘Evie …’ he began, her name a sigh falling from his lips.

  She swallowed. ‘I’ll never forget it. I love you.’

  ‘It’s going to be OK,’ Lucas said.

  She smiled at him, as brightly as she could, hoping to reassure him. How many times he’d said that. Did he think if he kept saying it he could lull her into believing it? It didn’t matter. She loved him anyway for saying it.

  The door opened just then and Evie skittered backwards out of Lucas’s arms as Flic strode into the kitchen. Lucas’s hand went straight to the counter, flattening over the note he’d written.

  ‘That was pointless,’ Flic announced as she planted herself in the centre of the room.

  ‘Of course it was,’ Lucas said quietly, scrunching the note up in his hand. ‘If Issa wanted to be found she’d be found already. She’d be here.’

  ‘What were you doing?’ Flic asked, her eyes darting suspiciously to the crumpled note on the counter.

  ‘Nothing,’ Lucas lied. ‘Listen, we have to go.’

  Flic shot a nervous glance in Evie’s direction.

  Evie gave a start, adrenaline kicking in sluggishly, ‘Um, I just need a few minutes first.’

  ‘What?’ Lucas asked, rounding on her, clearly frustrated.

  ‘I want to write a letter to my mum,’ Evie stammered, her cheeks burning.

  He raised his eyebrows in disbelief. ‘You can call her later,’ he said.

  Evie shook her head, backing away, ‘No, it’s important, Lucas. What if something happens to us? What if I never get the chance?’

  ‘You will,’ he said, but for the first time she saw a shade of doubt momentarily darken his eyes.

  ‘What if I don’t?’ she said, trying to keep her voice steady. ‘I need to do this. I only need a minute.’ She caught Flic’s grim-faced stare. ‘Maybe two,’ she added quickly. ‘Then we can go. We’ll get out of LA. Get somewhere safe.’

  Lucas frowned, pushing his hair out of his eyes, ‘OK, hurry though,’ he said. He turned to the clock on the wall, his foot already tapping. Evie took a step backwards. She knew she was supposed to leave at this point but she simply couldn’t tear her eyes off him. She just wanted one more second. And then just one more, each extra second being spent trading with herself for just one more. And then Flic stepped in front of her, blocking her view and Evie stumbled backwards towards the door, half-blinded by tears.

  She fumbled for the door handle to the bedroom and in a haze of blurry vision crossed straight to the window, throwing up the sash and letting in a blast of wind. The tiny, feathered bird that had been sitting patiently on the windowsill looking in flew straight past her head, its wings beating against her ear.

  In front of her face the bird stopped and started shimmering wildly – a prism caught in a blast of sunlight – and in the next second Jamieson was standing in front of her just as she had asked Flic to arrange.

  ‘Hey,’ Jamieson said, forcing a smile.

  ‘Hey,’ Evie answered automatically.

  ‘You ready?’ he asked.

  She felt a moment of panic, as if she was about to drop through the trapdoor of a gallows. The rope felt tight around her neck, was already burning her skin. ‘Wait,’ she said, turning in a dazed circle, trying to think straight. She was clutching at thoughts as though they were being carried away on a fast-moving current, and no matter how she tried to grasp for them they kept spinning just out of reach. She spied Lucas’s car keys lying on the desk. She picked them up, weighing them in her hand. Then she looked up at Jamieson. ‘OK, I’m ready. No.’ She stopped, hearing Lucas’s voice and freezing with the heart-stopping realisation that that was the last time she would ever hear it again.

  ‘Evie …’ Jamieson’s hand was a gentle pressure on her arm.

  She looked down. And then nodded to herself. ‘OK,’ she said, taking another deep breath and crossing quickly to the window. She swung a leg up onto the ledge and pulled herself onto the sill. Then she suddenly remembered something. She dug quickly into the pocket of her jeans. ‘Here, take this,’ she said, pulling out her mother’s wedding ring and thrusting it at Jamieson. ‘When he figures it out, give him this. Please. Tell him I wanted him to have it. And tell him …’ She broke off, closing her eyes. She wanted to finish her sentence but she couldn’t. There was too much to say and not enough time. She looked down at the ground, two storeys beneath her. Never enough time.

  ‘It’s OK,’ Jamieson said softly. ‘He knows.’

  She glanced back at him and nodded. His hand closed over her own.

  ‘Evie?’ he said.


  He gave her a smile that faded almost instantly to nothing. ‘Good luck.’

  Chapter 37

  Something wasn’t right. Something had changed – in the atmosphere, in him. Something had shifted, almost imperceptibly, but shifted nonetheless. Where he always felt her heartbeat like a murmur in his own chest, there was stillness. Yet he could still feel her, smell her faintly, her scent hanging in the air of the kitchen, on his skin.

  He pushed past Flic and headed for the bedroom, his hearing tuned acutely. Flic was shouting something after him, trying to grab for him. Lucas shook her off, moving faster now, sensing something was definitely wrong.

  He threw open the door to the bedroom. But Evie was there, sitting at the desk, facing away from him. She didn’t turn when he came in, though her hand stopped moving across the paper.

  He walked towards her feeling the rush of relief speed through his body. The window was open and a stiff breeze was stirring the papers on the desk and making the loose photographs on the wall flap. Evie was still wearing his dark-grey V-neck sweater. It was too big and had fallen down over one shoulder revealing a narrow slat of pale collarbone, which he felt an overwhelming urge to slide his fingers along. He reached out his hand and felt her tense. Her skin felt warm to the touch.

  ‘You ready?’ he asked.

  ‘Um, give me another minute,’ Evie mumbled, still not looking up at him, her hand moving to cover the paper she was writing on.

  Her heart was beating strangely, faster than normal. Lucas stepped back and looked around the room. Flic was hovering nervously in the door, clearly wanting them to leave. After half a minute he turned to Evie, anxiety getting the better of him. ‘Are you ready to go? I promise we’ll stop for sushi.’

  Evie glanced up at him, looking confused. ‘Sushi?’

  He frowned. ‘Did you finish your letter?’ he asked, moving in a flash to her side. He cast a glance down and caught a glimpse of the paper before Evie quickly flipped it over. It was covered in doodles.

  ‘Hey, you didn’t write anything,’ he said, reaching for the sheet of paper.

  Evie leapt up from her seat. ‘I changed my mind,’ she said, brushing past him. ‘Let’s go.’ She took his hand and started pulling him towards the door. Her hand felt warmer than normal, but her touch was empty. There was no familiar jolt of heat jumping between them.

  Lucas let her pull him into the hallway.

  ‘Wait,’ he said.

  Evie hesitated, her eyes darting over her shoulder to Flic who was now standing in the kitchen doorway. ‘What?’ she asked nervously, avoiding his gaze.

  ‘Come here,’ he said with a soft smile. She let him pull her towards him, though he noted the reticence. He looked into her eyes, the familiar dark blue of them. She was far more wary than she normally was around him, skittish almost. He lifted his hand slowly and stroked back a strand of hair, pushing it behind her right ear and smiling. He felt Evie tense at his touch, a small and totally strange frown line forming between her eyes. He took hold of her wrists and squeezed tight.

  ‘Where’s Evie?’ he asked.

  Evie pulled back, the look of surprise on her face quickly replaced by nervous indignation as her eyes flashed to Flic. ‘What are you talking about?’ she stuttered.

; ‘Wrong ear,’ he murmured. Shapeshifters were mirror images. Evie’s bad ear was her left one, not her right.

  In the next instant he’d let go of one of her wrists and had brought his father’s blade to rest against the pale of her throat. A pale blue vein pulsed beneath the metal.

  Evie’s skin suddenly exploded into a wall of shimmer. He heard Flic shouting, felt her hands beating uselessly against his arm trying to get him to release his hold. Evie’s wrist thickened in his grip and Jamieson appeared in her place. The blade pressed against his neck.

  ‘I’m sorry,’ Jamieson said through gritted teeth, his eyes nervously eyeing the thin blade.

  ‘Where is she?’ Lucas demanded, dropping the knife, but not letting Jamieson go.

  ‘It was her idea,’ Flic shouted, ‘not ours. Don’t blame him.’ She pulled Jamieson out of Lucas’s way, planting herself between them. Her arms were outstretched, one hand resting on Lucas’s chest, as if that could hold him back.

  ‘Where has she gone?’ Lucas asked, staring from one to another.

  Flic and Jamieson glanced at each other. Neither of them spoke.

  Lucas seized hold of Flic by the arm. ‘Has she gone to the way through?’ he demanded, shaking her. ‘Does she even know where it is? Tell me!’

  Flic shook her head. ‘I don’t know.’

  He squeezed her arm.

  ‘Yes, I think so,’ Flic yelled. ‘She asked me to give her two hours alone with you and that …’ Flic stopped, biting her lip, shooting a look in Jamieson’s direction.

  ‘That what?’ Lucas shouted, shaking her harder.

  ‘Just said to tell you that she’s sorry,’ Flic sobbed. ‘And that this was the way it had to be. And she’s right!’ She lowered her voice, ‘This is the right thing to do. Don’t you see that? Lucas – she’s trying to save you.’

  His hand fell to his side. ‘Flic, what have you done?’ he asked, his hand pressed to his side.

  ‘I haven’t done anything,’ she answered.

  ‘If anything happens to her because of this …’

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