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       Fated, p.8

           Sarah Alderson
 
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  She turned back to him. 'So, this war - it will never end, will it? Because even though you destroy them they keep coming back.'

  Victor said nothing, only continued to hold her gaze.

  'All you're doing is stemming the tide,' she said, almost to herself.

  'For the moment,' Victor said.

  'Well, you're wrong about one thing,' Evie said finally. 'The score isn't settled.'

  9

  He didn't lie. He didn't lie. He didn't lie.

  The words played in an endless loop in her head. She was mired in guilt, sinking in it fast, barely able to keep from veering off the road every time she thought about yet another incident when she'd told Tom to go to hell. God, just remembering the look in his eyes when he'd left the store this afternoon forced the guilt deep into her lungs, making her choke. She hit the steering wheel with the flat of her hand and tried to tell herself that he'd still been cheating on her, with her best friend too, but somehow that didn't matter any more.

  By the time she had driven the two miles out of town to her house she felt exhausted, her body aching all of a sudden from yesterday's fight. She'd been ignoring it all day but the burn on her arm was stinging and her shoulder, where she'd been pushed or pulled - she couldn't remember which - felt like it had been dislocated and slammed back into its socket with a sledgehammer.

  Evie pulled up into the driveway and killed the ignition. The house was dark, the white clapboards glowing like bones in the purple dusk. Her mother would still be at the store. The house was on its own plot, the nearest neighbour half a mile down the road. The river bordered the back of the house, just beyond the orchard her grandfather had planted. It had been a hot summer and the peaches were dropping to the ground and rotting, unpicked for the first time in years.

  A tyre swung from the oak tree out front and every time Evie looked at it she was reminded of her dad swinging her, her hair trailing the ground, her screams echoing all the way to the river, scaring the birds better than a scarecrow.

  She noticed she was crying and swiped at her eyes. No more tears. That was the vow she'd made. Damn memories and damn Victor and damn her dad for dying and damn Tom for not lying and damn the whole goddamn world for not being the world any more. She looked up at the house standing quietly, the first leaves of fall starting to chase each other around the driveway. The grass was scorched a golden brown. She sighed loudly and then opened the car door, but made no move to get out. She was trying to test her instincts, to see if she could sense anything in the vicinity. She couldn't hear anything except the wind in the oak tree and the rattling of the whirligig she'd made in third grade, which still lived in the pot by the front door. She jumped out the car and made a dash for it.

  She tried telling herself that she was safe, that the Hunters - whoever they were - had her back, but her heart was pounding in her ears louder than the sound of her feet on the gravel and only when she was inside the house, with the door locked behind her, did she let out the breath she'd been holding. Lobo was scratching against the kitchen door so she let him out, flipping on all the lights as she went.

  She dropped to her knees and let the husky nuzzle her for a minute. He kept knocking his head into her jaw until she scratched him under his chin. 'What's up, boy?' she asked.

  He uttered a howl in response.

  'OK, I'll feed you in a minute, I just need to shower,' Evie said, getting up and heading up the stairs.

  Lobo sat at the bottom watching her, a low whine settling in his throat. Evie paused halfway, her senses suddenly alert, her gut tightening. Was this the instinct thing Victor kept going on about? She put her finger to her lips and Lobo stopped howling and began pacing instead. Evie took the next few steps soundlessly, creeping down the corridor to her room.

  The door was slightly ajar and she felt the first shiver of fear run up her spine. She nudged it with her foot. It fell open. The room was empty. Of course it was. She was under protection. There were Hunters all over town making sure she was safe. There was nothing to worry about. Nothing at all. She turned on the light and threw her bag on the bed, shaking her head. She needed to work on her instincts - they were about as accurate as the weather channel.

  First she was going to take a shower to ease some of the aching in her body, then she was going to finish reading that book. She reached across the bed for her bag and took it out, feeling the weight of it in her hands.

  She pushed the book under her pillow and pulled off her T-shirt, loosening her denim shorts and stepping out of them so she was standing in her underwear.

  As she bent to pick them up, a sudden rush of warm air ran over her, leaving a trail of goosebumps. She shivered and crossed to the window, ramming it down and drawing the curtains.

  A creak.

  Her head spun towards the door, her breath catching in her throat. There it was again. Another creak. Someone was in the house. Evie's senses seemed to magnify in that same instant, her hearing pinpointing the sound and her head clearing instantly. A low energy started buzzing at the base of her spine, travelling in rushes up and down her limbs. She noticed her legs and arms were tingling, the aching completely gone. She glanced around her room for a robe or something to throw on over her underwear. She wasn't about to tackle a demon in her bra. She didn't want her mother finding her unclothed body and figuring the worst.

  She unhooked her robe from the back of her door, slipped it on and picked up the baseball bat, then tiptoed barefoot down the hall.

  The creaking stopped instantly, it sounded just like footsteps hesitating. Evie thought she could hear breathing but that surely wasn't possible. She stopped outside Mrs Lewington's room. There was a light shining under the door. Maybe their lodger hadn't left after all. Maybe her sister was fine and she'd decided to stay on in Riverview.

  Evie weighed it up for one second. She was certainly going to look crazed and was risking giving the old lady a heart attack by bursting in half-naked and brandishing a baseball bat, but what the hell, Evie thought, smashing back the door and rushing into the room with a yell.

  She wasn't sure what she'd been expecting but he definitely wasn't it.

  Evie froze, almost dropping the bat, coming to her senses just in time to make a grab for it. She swung it up high behind her head, ignoring her gaping robe because she needed both hands to hold the bat.

  'Who are you?' she yelled at the boy standing in front of her.

  His graphite eyes were focused on the baseball bat. When he shifted them to look at her she felt the adrenaline score through her body. He had a thick shock of dark hair falling over his forehead, straight black eyebrows and cheekbones so sharp they cast shadows over the rest of his face. Her eyes flashed to his butt checking for a tail, then to his mouth for any sign of fangs. No tail. No pointy teeth.

  'Who are you?' she yelled again, waving the bat at him.

  'Whoa,' the boy answered, his voice soft and commanding at the same time. 'Do you want to put the bat down?'

  'Don't tell me what to do,' Evie hissed. 'Who are you and what are you doing in my house?'

  He took a step towards her, his hands held up defensively. 'I'm Lucas, Lucas Gray,' he said with a half-smile that almost made her drop the bat again. 'I'm your new lodger.' His eyes had settled on her and she felt them like a butterfly dancing on her skin.

  'You're what?' Evie asked, shifting her body slightly to the side so that he wasn't getting quite such a full frontal. She daren't take a hand off the bat to close her robe but he didn't seem to have noticed anyway, his eyes hadn't once left her face.

  'I'm your new lodger. I just moved to town and someone told me your mum was looking to rent this room so I called her and here I am. You're Evie, right?'

  Evie's mouth fell open. She narrowed her eyes at him. Could he be a Shapeshifter? Or, what was it? A Shadow Warrior? God, she wished she'd finished the book. What had Victor said about trusting her instincts because that's what would keep her alive?

  She paused, trying to get a readi
ng. No. She couldn't trust them. She hadn't a clue what they were telling her.

  'Where did you come from?' she asked, hefting the bat again.

  'Iowa,' he answered slowly.

  It wasn't another realm, true, but that wasn't enough to convince her.

  'What are you doing in Riverview?' she demanded.

  He glanced at the baseball bat nervously, then she was sure she felt him glancing down at her body, could feel the heat of his gaze across her legs, sweeping up the length of her, but his eyes didn't seem to have left her face. She used her left hand to close her robe together across her chest, holding the bat out in front of her with her other hand.

  'I'm working at the Del Rey ranch,' Lucas said, with a hint of a smile.

  'You're a farmhand?' Evie asked with suspicion, ignoring the smile.

  'I'm working with the horses,' he shrugged. 'Whatever you want to call it.'

  Evie's eyes flew to the bed behind him. There was an open suitcase on top of it, clothes piled neatly inside. On the rug was a pair of dirt-splattered boots. She glanced at his hands. There were calluses on the thumbs. He was wearing well-fitting, worn jeans and a black-and-grey checked and rumpled shirt over a white T-shirt. He could pass for a farmhand, but then again so could most boys in this town.

  'Sorry to have scared you,' Lucas said. And there was that smile again. Disarming her, making her pulse speed up and her head fog over like a summer day in the bay.

  'It's OK,' Evie said, slowly dropping the bat. She edged backwards towards the door, keeping her eyes on the boy in front of her in case he made a move. She didn't know if he was telling the truth but she couldn't take the risk that he wasn't and smash him over the head in case he was just the lodger. Her mother wouldn't be pleased.

  Lucas followed her to the door, watching her as she walked backwards down the corridor. Then he turned back into the room. She took a deep breath and ran the last few steps to her room, slamming the door behind her and shoving a chair in front of it.

  10

  Lucas stood outside Evie's door, listening to her hefting what sounded like a chair in front of it as a barricade, and smiled despite himself. A chair? He shook his head. It would be so ridiculously easy to finish her right now. She had no idea.

  But it would have been just as easy the other night, in the parking lot, to finish her. Shula had been just about to. But for some reason he'd acted before he could think and had pushed her out of the way. And he still wasn't sure why he had, except at the time he'd just known that he hadn't wanted Evie to die. At least, not yet.

  And before he knew it, he was making up a plan to come back to Riverview on his own. And that's why, he told himself, that's why he'd pushed Evie out the way and saved her. It was because Evie's death wasn't enough. It was because, as he'd told Tristan later that night, he wanted to find a way of bringing the Hunters to their knees, just as they'd done to the Brotherhood.

  He thought he heard Evie pausing, her breath sounding shallow, and he imagined her inky blue eyes fixed on the back of the door, wondering what or who stood on the other side, wondering if she was paranoid or going mad. Maybe she'd even picked up the baseball bat again.

  He knew his shadow wouldn't give him away, and she wouldn't be able to hear him - he was far too quiet for that, and her senses weren't that developed - they couldn't be or she wouldn't have set foot in the house in the first place. Even the dog had been more wary than she had been, refusing to come near him until he knelt down and murmured to him that he wasn't going to hurt him. It was the same with horses - they picked up on him immediately, sensing he wasn't quite human, but once he got close, and reassured them, they stopped stamping their feet and snorting hot air, and became putty in his hands. He frowned at the door, hoping he could do the same to Evie, get that close to her, convince her to trust him, open up to him. He sensed, however, that somehow it was going to take more than a few tickles behind the ears and a quiet whisper to get her to trust him.

  He'd been in her room, searching for any information she might have lying around about the Hunters, when he'd heard her pulling up in the driveway in that old Ford pickup of hers. The engine was so grizzled that a deaf person two counties away could hear her coming. From the window he'd watched her as she sat in the car with her head in her hands. When she'd finally looked up there had been a fierce frown on her face. It had made him curious. It was only when she finally flung open the car door and raced up the porch steps that he'd understood she was afraid.

  After she'd slammed the front door behind her, he'd wondered how long it would take her to pick up on his presence. When it had seemed like she never would he'd chucked her a clue, opening the window in her room, thinking that she'd pick up something on the breeze - a scent or a change in temperature. But no, she'd come rushing into her room oblivious as a Mixen was to anyone else's feelings.

  He'd been hiding in the shadow behind her door when she came in and tossed her bag on the bed. His first good look at her had surprised him. She was taller than he remembered, only a few inches shorter than him, and the blue of her eyes was more intense than the washed-out colours of the photo had suggested. In the back lot of the diner he hadn't got a decent look at her. And he hadn't managed to get much more of a look at her in her bedroom before she had stripped to her underwear, at which point he had slipped silently from behind the door and out of the room.

  He hadn't been expecting the baseball bat. She had surprised him with that and he was angry at himself for being distracted enough not to hear her coming. She could be stealthy when she wanted to be. He'd gotten a much better look at her when she'd come bursting into his room though. He had seen straight away that once she was fully trained she'd be strong. She had the Hunter genes, no doubt. There was speed and grace in her movements, even when she'd almost dropped the bat and had to make a lunge for it. She had hair a shade darker than his, skin much paler and a wide mouth, and her dark blue eyes, which flashed furiously at him, had been as haunted as the shadow realm.

  It had taken him a tenth of a second to take in the rest of her body, to notice the mark the colour of bruised fruit on her right hip bone and the graze on her left knee, but the injuries looked week-old rather than day-old, which meant she was healing quickly. She was athletic, too, he could see that from the shape of her legs and the flat of her stomach. She wouldn't need much in the way of strength-training.

  He heard Evie's voice on the other side of the door and edged closer. It sounded like she was arguing with herself.

  'You don't think that's weird? Or slightly suspicious?' he heard her shout in a loud whisper.

  A pause of a few seconds.

  'Well, have you checked with them? Maybe one got through. Maybe there's some kind of error system with your instincts . . . Mine? I don't know. I'm not trained. How should I know if he's Unhuman or not? That's your job, not mine.'

  Lucas smiled faintly to himself as he heard her groan. She must be on the phone to Victor. The others hadn't picked up on him then. He had been right. Being half human was playing in his favour for once. The Hunters couldn't sense him. That was a relief because his story was hanging by a thread as it was. All he needed was Mrs Lewington to come traipsing back from Michigan with talk of a hoax call. He had a few days' grace while her bus made it across the country before he had to deal with that loose end though.

  'No, OK, OK.' Her voice came through louder now. 'Tomorrow then, at Joe's. If I'm still alive I'll see you there.'

  He heard her flop onto the bed and, after a few seconds, the sound of stiff pages turning. Later, when she was sleeping perhaps, he'd take another look around and try to find whatever it was she was reading. If she didn't barricade the door again, that was. Though there was always the window.

  From up the road he heard the sound of another car engine. He turned his head to listen. It was Evie's mother - he could tell by the sound of the tyres and the country music she had playing. He glanced back at Evie's door, wishing he could see through to the other side, and
then disappeared.

  He sat down on his bed and glanced at the dresser where he'd placed a photograph in a silver-coloured frame. His mum and his dad. One human, one Shadow Warrior. Both dead. His mum, fully human, incapable of defending herself, killed by Hunters as though she'd been nothing more than a dog that needed to be put down.

  His father, from the Shadowlands, a warrior and member of the Brotherhood, had died six months ago, killed by Hunters in the reprisals following the death of the girl they'd believed was Evie.

  The sum of his parts. Half human, half Unhuman.

  Lucas suddenly stood up. He tore his shirt off over his head. Then he stood in front of the mirror staring at the amulet lying against his chest. He lifted it up and traced the twisted silver, six strands twined into the shape of one dagger. This was his promise to the Brotherhood, his oath to fight with his brothers from the other realms until either the war was won or he was dead. But more than that, much more than that, it stood for his promise to his father and his mother that he would make the Hunters pay.

  He let the amulet drop.

  'Evie!'

  It was her mother calling her. He heard Evie open her door and bound down the stairs and he walked silently along the corridor to watch from the shadows in the landing.

  'Did you get a new lodger?' Evie demanded as soon as her feet hit the bottom step.

  Evie's mother, who was dropping her bags onto a chair by the door, looked up, eyes aghast. 'Yes, oh dear, sorry, I totally forgot to call you, didn't I? Did you get a fright?'

 
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