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       Fated, p.6

           Sarah Alderson
 
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  She turned back to Victor. He was handing her a small china jug of milk now, his fingers too large to fit through the handle.

  'You need to learn to trust me, Evie,' he said. 'That's your first lesson.' He paused. 'The second lesson is that you need to learn you can't trust anybody else.'

  She thought about that. She didn't trust anybody any more, anyway. So that wasn't exactly going to be a problem. And Lobo was a dog so she assumed he didn't count in Victor's reckoning.

  'So, are you ready?'

  Evie looked up. 'For what?' she asked.

  'To become a Hunter,' Victor answered with a small smile.

  Evie set the coffee cup on the low table. 'Do I have a choice?' she asked.

  'We always have choices, Evie.'

  She shook her head at him. 'No we don't.' Her voice was angry. It took her by surprise how angry she was. 'That's a lie. This is not a choice. I either choose not to become a Hunter and get killed in some hideous manner or I choose to become a Hunter and get killed in some hideous manner.' She saw Victor trying to suppress a smile. 'What is the life expectancy of a Hunter anyway?' she demanded. 'How old are you?'

  Victor held up a hand. 'Listen,' he said, 'it wasn't my choice either, Evie, but you are a Hunter and you can fight it all you like but you'll find in the end you can't deny who you are.'

  She tipped her chin up so she could glare at him. 'Who am I?' she demanded.

  Now he really did smile, a slow smile that warmed his face and made her soften towards him and which deflected her anger, even though he'd avoided the question as to her life expectancy. 'You're Evie Hunter,' he said, her name coming out sounding all French and mysterious. 'You come from a long line of Hunters. We're all descendants of the original Hunter family but you're a direct descendant. The blood runs strong in you, that's why you're on the most wanted list.'

  She could feel herself frowning as she brought her legs up onto the seat and started hugging them.

  'The rest of us are alley cats,' Victor continued, 'bastards, distant cousins - the genes turn up all over the place, sometimes,' he winced a little, 'in the most unlikely places - but the important thing to remember, and I wish someone had told me this when I was first discovered . . .'

  Discovered? What was he? The New World?

  He held her gaze intently. 'You are still the same person you were yesterday.'

  Evie considered this for a few seconds then stood quickly. 'The same person I was yesterday?' she demanded, her voice more shrill than she'd been aiming for. 'Except I'm not, am I? I'm not some seventeen-year-old girl living in a small town dreaming of getting the hell out of it. I'm some kind of demon hunter.'

  'You're not a demon hunter, Evie. You're a Hunter of Unhumans - or you will be when you're trained. At the moment you only have half the power you will eventually have, if that.'

  'Oh great.' Evie threw her hands up in the air. 'I'm an untrained demon hunter with only crap half-powers, suddenly expected to go all Buffy and save the world.'

  She could see him biting the inside of his cheek to stop from laughing at her and it made her stomach muscles clench.

  'Evie,' he said quietly, his voice a shush in itself, 'relax. It's not as terrifying as it seems.'

  Was he joking? Had he forgotten that she'd been there last night? That she'd come face to face with terrifying and his best friend horrifyingly deadly?

  'You get help,' Victor reassured. 'There are quite a few of us. There are three Hunters patrolling the borders of the town as we speak. You'll meet them soon enough. You're well protected and you will continue to be until you're trained.'

  Something pulled in her, a certainty, a thrill even, when he said the word trained. She frowned at herself. She wasn't even sure she wanted to train. She wasn't about to get excited about a career path that could lead her to an early grave. Yet, there was a yet. Something was pulling her towards that path - something undeniable. She had a feeling in her gut that she couldn't ignore, even though her head was still trying to find excuses.

  'If there are so many of you, then why do you need me?' she asked, feeling the lift of her chin as she said it, knowing at the same time that it was futile. There was no going back from this. There was no choice. The memory of her parents' faces leapt into her mind.

  Victor put a hand on her shoulder. 'I'll tell you all you need to know but first things first.' He swivelled her easily towards the empty railings. 'Start unpacking that box over there.'

  Evie glanced at him then back at the six or seven sealed boxes in front of her. On the side of one Marc Jacobs was stamped. Her eyes flew to the others. Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen, Valentino, Chanel, Philip Lim. She stared at Victor. 'We're actually opening a store?'

  Victor looked at her in bemusement. 'Yes, what did you think we were doing?'

  'Er, I thought you were here to maybe teach me how to kick some demon butt or something. Because forgive me if I got this wrong but I don't think Chanel garments are going to do it - unless I'm missing something. Are demons allergic to fashion? Am I supposed to blind them with sequins? Give them a cardiac arrest by showing them the price tags?'

  'Unhumans, Evie, not demons. We're not living in Biblical times, let's update our language please.'

  She shook her head. 'Well, whatever, do you want me to unpack dresses or do you want me to be a Hunter - because a second ago you were all about the Hunter and now you're all about the fashion, so please choose. And, by the way - you are still paying me, right?'

  'Yes. Thirty-five an hour. And right now I want you to unpack those boxes over there and start filling these rails with New York's finest designer offerings.'

  Evie took a step forward and dropped to her knees in front of the first box. 'Is this like Karate Kid where I learn how to do martial arts moves by hanging clothes up?'

  She heard Victor sigh. 'No. This is our cover, Evie,' he said. 'You don't think people would start asking questions if you started hanging out with the only black man in town?'

  'Hey,' she replied indignantly, 'I know it's Smallville but we're not racist.'

  He looked at her with heavy lids. 'I'm also twenty years older than you and I know how people can talk.'

  She shut her mouth. He was right about that much, especially in this town.

  'Besides, I don't want my reputation destroyed,' he added.

  'Your reputation?' she blurted.

  He winked at her and she pulled a face at him. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a silver glint, something dancing through the air, and instinctively threw up her hand to catch it.

  'Ow,' she said, as the scissors caught her palm. 'Did nobody ever teach you not to throw scissors? You could have blinded me. I could have lost a finger. Does this job have benefits?' she asked as an afterthought, rubbing the palm of her hand.

  Victor arched an eyebrow. 'You caught them, didn't you? And yes, working with me. That's benefit enough.'

  Evie grunted in reply and started slicing into the first box.

  'You have natural instincts, Evie. We'll improve them, yes, but you're a natural. Let me hazard a guess - state athletics champion? Dropped out of cheerleading at fourteen?'

  He was hazarding a guess? She narrowed her eyes at him. How did he know all this?

  'Too bitchy?' he continued. 'Too competitive? Or just too easy? You excelled in track but also ball games. Your reflexes are top of the range, your hand/eye co-ordination unparalleled. My guess is you found it all pointless but that you're not naturally competitive when it comes to games anyway. In things that you don't think are important.'

  She could feel her face flaming but Victor seemed to be enjoying his little game of psychoanalysis. He tipped his head to one side, studying her with interest. 'You weren't interested in the medals or the glory because it was no competition for you. Other things interested you more.'

  She glared at him. How did he know this? Even she wouldn't have been able to put this into words. She'd cheerleaded until the point had come where she'd wanted to shove th
e pompoms up the cheerleading coach's butt. And she had always been fast. She had been state running champion until last summer when her dad had died. Then she'd decided the only running that mattered was the running away kind. There was irony in that, she saw now.

  Victor carried on, oblivious to her stare and dropped jaw. 'You're bright - brighter than your classmates - but you hide it because you don't want to appear different but you are and you've always felt that way, haven't you? An outsider? Like you didn't quite belong. And now,' he said as an aside, 'now you know why. But before, before you didn't want to appear ungrateful to your parents or those around you by acting like you wanted to leave. You didn't want to disappoint your parents by making them think this life - this town - wasn't good enough. After everything they've done for you. You didn't even go looking for your birth parents. I found that surprising.'

  Evie felt the pinprick of tears behind her eyes and swallowed the lump in her throat. There was no way she was crying in front of him. She kept her head down, her fingers gripping the scissors, stopping herself from hurling them at him to stop him from talking. The last six months she'd suffered an intrusion into her privacy, but this was an intrusion into her soul. This was all her most private, unspoken secrets and fears laid out on a mortuary slab and dissected with clinical detachment.

  'How do you know all this?' she asked under her breath.

  'We've been watching you, Evie. You didn't think we'd leave you here as a baby and forget all about you, did you?' He looked at her in wide-eyed bemusement. 'We were waiting until we felt you were old enough - ready - before we broke it to you.'

  She chewed her lip. It was too much to comprehend that her whole life had been a science study. Strangers had been watching her. It made her feel a little unreal, as though she had just discovered she was a character in a film, that everyone in her life was just an actor, all in on a joke she was the butt of.

  'So,' she smarted, finally looking up and trying to act like his words had meant nothing, even though her head was a spinning teacup ride, 'you've been spying on me and now you think you know me because you once read a book on pop psychology. Great. Shall I get on with opening the boxes?'

  Victor seemed merely amused with her little outburst. He nodded at her to go ahead. He was observing her every reaction, she thought, as she bent down, feeling his eyes burning into the back of her head. He was weighing her up. But so far he didn't seem disappointed and she realised with a pang that a part of her was glad. Then she got angry with herself. Why did she care about pleasing him?

  She ripped open the first box and tissue paper cascaded over the sides. Evie rummaged through it, her hands sinking into watery silks. She drew out a long, pale grey evening dress, with a full tulle underskirt, and held it up.

  'Oh, just the thing for all the balls we've got happening around here,' she commented with a sarcastic glance in Victor's direction. Then she flicked over the price tag. 'This has got a three-thousand-dollar price tag!'

  She looked up at Victor in astonishment. That was almost twice as much money as she had earned the entire summer working two jobs. She dropped the dress and rifled through the box, pulling out another one - this time a knee-length, blue silk cocktail number. The price tag had just as many zeros as the first one. 'No one in this town can afford to buy this stuff,' she said, looking up at Victor.

  Victor was watching her from his vantage point on the red velvet chair, one leg resting on the other knee. 'Exactly,' he said. 'That's the point.' When she continued to look at him dumb-founded, he explained. 'No one will come in to bother us while we're training.'

  'Except Mrs Lovell,' Evie said, her attention drawn to the mirror at the back of the shop and its reflection of the street.

  'Mrs Lovell?' Victor asked, confused.

  The doorbell dinged. Evie leapt up from her tissue paper mound and greeted her mother's oldest friend. 'Mrs Lovell! Good morning.'

  She gestured with her hand at Victor who was still reclining on the chair, eyeing Mrs Lovell's polyester jumper and shin-length skirt. 'This is Victor Lassonde.' She enunciated the Lassonde, making it sound as French as she could.

  Victor raised himself, putting down his copy of Vogue and reaching out his hand. Mrs Lovell stared at it like it was a wild animal, one she wasn't sure she should pet, before taking it briefly and giving it a meagre shake. She stared at her surroundings, her mouth falling open and her eyes widening at the red and black velvet decor and at Victor's beaming white smile amid it all.

  'Feel free to browse,' Victor said, spreading his arms wide. 'We're still unpacking, I'm afraid. If you need any help, just give Evie a shout.'

  Mrs Lovell murmured her thanks and started flicking through the three yellow dresses hanging up. She glanced over her shoulder at Evie and beckoned her with a motion of her head.

  'Is this a size 00?' she asked in a stage whisper.

  Evie looked at the tag she was holding up. 'That's the price tag not the size,' she said. 'But it's a 2 if you're interested.'

  Mrs Lovell looked at her over the top of her spectacles. 'Do I look like a size 2, Evie Tremain? And do I look like I am going to spend thousands of dollars on a scrap of material no bigger than a tea towel?'

  Evie bit her tongue, wondering what she was supposed to say that wouldn't get her fired. 'It's Marc Jacobs,' she offered with a small shrug, 'and that colour would really complement your hair,' she added as an afterthought, looking in Victor's direction. He glanced up at her over the top of his magazine and gave her a look she couldn't read.

  'Nice try, Evie. I may not know much about fashion but I do know that custard yellow is not that flattering to red hair,' Mrs Lovell answered. 'You just wait until I tell the knitting circle about this.' She lowered her voice once more. 'You'd best not give notice on your other jobs.' A pause. 'Does Joe know you're working here?'

  'Not yet,' Evie answered.

  Mrs Lovell drew closer. 'Well, you hold on to that job; this one isn't about to last.'

  She left, muttering as she went about people with too much money and not enough sense, and Evie went back to unpacking and hanging clothes, getting more and more irritated as she did so. Victor steadfastly refused to answer any questions about anything other than what dresses went on which rack so eventually she gave up trying to find out about her parents and the other Hunters and when she'd learn how to fight as opposed to how to hang strapless dresses. She focused instead on trying to clothe the two mannequins which, after thirty seconds, she estimated was probably more challenging than fighting a demon with a tail. All the while she was thinking back to what Victor had said about her not wanting to disappoint her parents and feeling like she didn't fit in around here.

  Even if the Hunters had been watching her, it didn't make sense that Victor could know things that she'd never been able to voice herself, stuff that had just been unformed, foggy thoughts in her head. She hadn't wanted to tell her parents that she dreamt of leaving this small farming town and moving somewhere busy and frantic and completely the opposite of here. She couldn't tell them she wanted to move to the other side of the country and maybe become a journalist, because her father had spent her whole life teaching her how to ride horses and shoot rabbits and run a farm, and how could she repay him by telling him that she didn't care about horses and cows' udders and the price of peaches?

  Halfway through trying to pull a navy jumpsuit onto one rigid mannequin, still puzzling angrily over what Victor had said, Evie felt the heat of someone's eyes on her. She spun around. The street outside was empty, yet she could have sworn someone had just passed by the window. She had seen the shadow cross her and caught the dark reflection of something in the shiny plastic shoulder of one of the mannequins. The hairs on the back of her neck were raised. She stood there, holding the mannequin's hand for balance, scanning the street.

  Maybe she was just paranoid. Maybe that was par for the course. She saw a couple of kids she recognised from her class walking into Joe's Diner opposite but nothing else was out
of place on the street.

  'Are you OK?'

  Evie turned from the window and manoeuvred around the mannequin. Victor had come to stand by her, his face concerned.

  'Yeah, I'm fine,' she said. 'I just thought I saw something.' She paused, glancing back over her shoulder at the street. 'You're sure no one is coming back?'

  'Well, I don't think there's anything in Mrs Lovell's size.'

  'No, I mean the others, the Unhumans.'

  Victor sighed loudly. 'They aren't coming back.' His tone said Stop doubting me. 'They can't get into town. The Brotherhood is small right now and weak. They won't risk it again. And besides, we'd know as soon as they tried to get near.'

  'How?' Evie asked, hoping that he'd finally start telling her some of the stuff she needed to know in order to, say, stay alive.

  'We can detect Unhumans. We sense them.'

  Evie arched an eyebrow.

  Victor's voice took on a softer tone. 'Have you ever walked into a room and felt something - a change in the atmosphere - as if it's charged with something? A movement that's out of place? Something that makes your ears prick up or your gut tighten?'

  Evie nodded slowly.

  Victor's eyes held hers, a dark caramel colour that was hard to look away from. 'That's your instinct. It's the voice in your head that warns you to run if it senses danger.'

  She thought back to the night before, when the crazy one with the tail had approached her in the lot. The voice in her head had been loud and clear then.

  'Humans do this automatically,' Victor went on, 'subconsciously. We're programmed from childhood to read body language all the time. True, some people are better at it than others. Your instinct, your ability to read a situation is strong, Evie, but with training we'll make it stronger still. Eventually you'll be able to sense an Unhuman within a two-mile radius.'

  'How? Do they smell or something?'

  'No. Some of them look unusual - Mixen, for example - which helps. But some - Shapeshifters, in particular - can blend and look as normal as you or me. A normal human being wouldn't be able to tell them apart. As a Hunter, your instinct will flare immediately. You'll learn to read the atmosphere around you, to sense the shifts and the changes in energy. It's the same instinct that allows me to read you. I know right now that you're wondering how I know so much about what's going on inside your head - things you probably didn't even know you were feeling.'

 
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