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       Fated, p.9

           Sarah Alderson
 
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  'A fright?' Evie screeched. 'Mum! You could have warned me. I almost smashed in his head with a baseball bat.'

  Evie's mum pressed her hand against her mouth. 'Oh no! No, don't do that. Sorry. I just had a call at the store from Janet Del Rey, she said she had someone there working for them who was looking for a place in town to stay for a while.' She shrugged. 'Well, it was just perfect timing.'

  Evie had her back to him but he could see she had her hands on her hips and it was easy to imagine the expression on her face, the same furious frown she'd had in the car. The one where her eyes turned deep ocean blue and she pressed her lips together in a firm line.

  'Perfect timing,' he heard her say. 'Exactly. Did you check his references or anything?'

  Her mum turned back to her bags and started rifling around for something. 'Well, um no, but he's working at the Del Rey ranch, I'm sure they have.'

  Evie took a step closer to her and he could see her in profile now. He was right about the expression.

  'How do you know he is who he says he is?' she hissed at her mum, lowering her voice as though scared he might hear her. 'He might murder us in our sleep.'

  Evie's mother let out a laugh and put a hand on her daughter's arm. 'Oh, don't be so silly, Evie. Did you get a good look at him? He's rather gorgeous, isn't he?'

  Lucas slunk further back into the shadows.

  'I think you might get to like him, Evie, if you gave him a chance,' she said, squeezing her daughter's arm and walking through into the kitchen, leaving Evie standing open-mouthed, barefoot in her robe, staring after her.

  Then her head suddenly whipped around and she was staring right at him. Or, rather, she was staring right through him, unable to see him, even though he was standing right there and if she'd been properly trained she might have been able to notice the outline of him, feel him standing there, his eyes burning into her, but she couldn't and so her gaze flitted over him and past him and then back to the kitchen before she huffed loudly and stomped up the stairs.

  She brushed his shadow as she passed and, for an instant, seemed to feel him, pulling her robe closer around her, before hurrying into her bedroom and slamming the door.

  A half-hour later he heard his name called from downstairs and wandered out of his room.

  'Oh, Lucas,' Mrs Tremain said from the hallway beneath. 'Would you like to join us for some dinner?'

  He heard the sound of a door opening behind him, Evie's footsteps stopping just at his shoulder. He could sense her pulling a face at her mother, could smell her skin - she'd just come out the shower - but he didn't turn around.

  'That would be lovely, Mrs Tremain,' he answered. 'If you're sure.'

  'Oh yes, yes. Please, do join us.'

  Evie rocked past him at that point, her shoulder bumping his. He stepped aside and watched her as she walked down the stairs. She was now dressed in jeans and a faded black T-shirt that was rucked up at the back, exposing a pale strip of skin at the base of her spine.

  He sat opposite her at dinner, aware of her glowering at him, though he refused to look at her directly. Maybe she was picking something up after all. Or maybe she was just like this with everyone. He didn't know why but he found it mildly amusing.

  'I think you've met Evie,' Mrs Tremain said, with a smile at the two of them.

  'Yes, we met.' He shot her an upward glance through his lashes and received only a stony glare in response. She was still suspicious, then, despite her conversation with Victor. He realised he would have been disappointed if she wasn't.

  'So, Lucas,' Mrs Tremain said, once she'd laid their plates in front of them. 'How are you finding things? Do you have everything you need?'

  Lucas turned to her and gave her his most charming smile. 'Yes,' he said. 'Yes, everything's great, Mrs Tremain. And this,' he said, indicating the meat loaf and carrots she'd placed in front of him, 'looks amazing.'

  She flustered under his smile, blushing pink and muttering something about him being silly and old recipes which he only half heard because he was tuned to the groan he heard from opposite. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Evie rolling her eyes. Maybe he needed to try his smile on her. But he couldn't bring himself to. He suspected it would have the opposite effect on her anyway.

  'So where are your folks from, Lucas?' Mrs Tremain asked, shooting a sharp glance at Evie, who was stalking the food around her plate.

  'My parents are both dead,' Lucas said quietly, reaching for a glass.

  There was a clatter of silverware against plate. He heard Mrs Tremain gasp and felt Evie's eyes on him. A stillness descended.

  'Oh no, I'm so sorry. Evie's father passed away just a year ago,' Mrs Tremain said, reaching a hand over and squeezing his arm.

  He winced at her touch. She must be talking about Evie's adopted father because he knew her real parents had been killed fifteen-odd years ago.

  He cleared his throat. 'I'm sorry to hear that.'

  'When did your parents die?'

  It was Evie asking. Her mother shot her another look. 'Evie!' she said in a warning tone but then she turned and looked at him expectantly.

  He cleared his throat. 'My father died recently, my mother ten years ago.' There was a pause, so he filled it. 'It was a car accident.'

  Evie put her knife and fork down on the side of her plate and he heard the intake of air.

  'Anyone like more potatoes?' Mrs Tremain asked, her voice unnaturally strained.

  He nodded and let her pile his plate high.

  'So, Lucas, you come from Iowa, then? Originally, I mean. Were your family from around there?'

  'Er, around and about.'

  'What's it like there?' Evie piped up.

  He looked across at her. Her blue eyes were fixed on his. 'It's cold and dark,' he answered. 'In the winter, that is.'

  'And in the summer?'

  He held her gaze. 'I don't spend much time there any more. It's not home.'

  'Oh,' said Mrs Tremain, shooting Evie another warning glance. 'So where is home?

  'I don't know,' he said quietly. 'Guess I'm trying to find that out.'

  'Oh, you sound just like Evie,' Mrs Tremain said. 'She can't wait to leave here. She says this doesn't feel like home, either, don't you, dear?'

  'Mum,' Evie growled, widening her eyes at her mother.

  Her mum ignored her. 'She wants to go to New York as soon as she's through with school.'

  Evie's eyes had dropped to her plate. She seemed suddenly introverted, defensive. She was sitting down, otherwise he imagined she'd be standing with one hip jutted forward, her hands fisted at her sides, as though ready to do combat with anyone who came too close.

  He observed the way Mrs Tremain looked at Evie, saw the pride tinged with sadness in her eyes, and felt a rush of affection for the old woman. Because she was an old woman - almost old enough to be Evie's grandmother. In fact, she reminded him of his own grandmother, the human one that is, the one he'd spent a few years living with in Iowa. White-haired and broad-faced, serving up steak and potatoes for dinner, along with a generous helping of town gossip. He smiled to himself at the memory. His grandmother hadn't wanted him to leave home either. Mind you, she knew of a lot more reasons than Evie's mother did why staying home would be a good thing.

  'In a year's time you'll be gone,' she sighed at Evie. 'Living in New York. And it's such a long way away. I honestly don't know why you want to go there when there are perfectly good state universities in California. And I'm sure you'd get a good scholarship too - if you would just take up sport again.' Mrs Tremain looked at him. 'Evie used to be state running champion, you know,' she said proudly.

  Across the table Evie was looking at her mother pleadingly.

  The running made sense, Lucas thought. She looked like a runner. Had she stopped because of her father's death? Or maybe because of her friend's death - the girl who'd died in the car crash? He tried to imagine Evie in New York, pictured her on a crowded sidewalk in the shadow of enormous skyscrapers under a fall sky
, and couldn't. And then he remembered with a slight start that she would never set foot in New York. She would be dead in a year. In a month, in fact.

  He glanced quickly away, aware that he'd jolted the table with his foot. He looked at Mrs Tremain, who was watching him with her transparent concerned face, smiling at him, oblivious to the future. First a husband, then a daughter. He couldn't meet her eyes for long.

  'How long will you be staying, do you think?'

  He realised she was talking to him, was waiting for him to answer, and he cleared his throat. 'I don't know, maybe just a month,' he answered. 'If that's OK?'

  'Yes, yes, of course,' she said, smiling so warmly at him that his stomach tightened. 'I'm not sure Mrs Lewington will be back for a while,' she added.

  He continued to stare at his plate, at the now cold and congealing meatloaf

  'Are you OK?' he heard Mrs Tremain asking. 'You look like you're not well. It's not the food, is it?'

  'No. It's great,' he replied. 'I - I just . . .' He just couldn't sit there any longer having a conversation with a woman whose daughter he was going to have to kill eventually. 'I have a headache,' he said, standing up so fast he upset his glass of water. His hand reached out to catch it but Evie got there first, righting it before even a drop spilled onto the tablecloth. Their fingers touched and she pulled away as if she'd been burnt. He pretended not to notice.

  'I might go and lie down,' he said, stepping away from the table. 'Have an early night.'

  'Oh, OK then,' Mrs Tremain said, looking at the sad pile of untouched meatloaf on his plate. 'Goodnight.'

  'Goodnight,' he said.

  He looked quickly over at Evie and saw she was staring at him, suspicion clouding her eyes.

  'Goodnight,' he said, trying to overcome the indifference in his voice.

  She gave him the slightest nod and then started eating again.

  As he walked up the stairs he heard her mother lean over and say, 'He's such a lovely boy, I think you could try a bit harder to be polite. I've no idea what's got into you. It's not like I'm encouraging you to marry him. I just think you might have a bit of fun.'

  He found himself clutching the banister harder than he needed to and felt himself scowling. The shadows on the landing stretched like the bruises on Evie's skin and he melted into them.

  11

  Evie stormed into the diner and marched straight over to where Victor was sitting, Danish pastry half raised to his mouth.

  'I could have died! I want you to know that,' she announced.

  He glanced up at her and, sighing, put the pastry down, looking around to see if anyone else in the diner had heard her. Joe was staring at them, obviously curious to know why she had stormed in as if the end of the world was nigh, but he didn't seem to have heard.

  'You're alive, aren't you?' he said quietly, taking a sip of his coffee. 'I told you, if your new lodger was Unhuman we'd know about it.' He raised an eyebrow sceptically. 'And hopefully so would you.'

  'Listen, we need to talk about this whole instinct thing,' Evie said, sliding into the seat opposite him. Her instinct was flinging itself around like a compass at the north pole. She had no idea which way was true north any more.

  'Why aren't you at work?' Victor suddenly asked, looking at his watch. It was a Wednesday, she'd said she worked at her parents' hardware store on a Wednesday.

  'My mum fired me. She said I was working too many jobs and needed some time off.'

  Victor smiled. 'Well, that's handy.'

  'I'm not going to get time off, am I?'

  'Do you want it?'

  'No,' Evie said, sitting back in her chair. 'I want to get going. I want to start today. I read that book. I have questions and I want answers.'

  Victor didn't respond. He merely raised his hand and Evie wondered what on earth he was doing but then Joe appeared at the table.

  'Can I get this to go?' Victor asked, indicating the coffee and Danish in front of him.

  Joe grunted and took the cup and plate away with him, muttering hello to Evie as he went. She kicked herself. She still hadn't spoken to him since starting her new job.

  The door clanged open and the sound of laughter poured in. Evie looked up absently. It was Tom and her chest immediately constricted, pain shooting up her arm. Who would have thought that guilt felt so similar to a heart attack?

  But who was that with him? She twisted to get a closer look, having to blink several times to convince herself that she wasn't seeing things.

  That was Kaitlin Rivers from the class below. What on earth was he doing with Kaitlin Rivers?

  The two of them hadn't yet noticed her. Evie watched in dawning horror as Kaitlin mock-punched Tom in the shoulder and then ducked out the way, giggling, as he nudged her back. She felt sick all of a sudden and dipped her head, letting her hair fall over her shoulder, shielding her face from view. She could feel Victor staring at her, though, and when she looked up saw he was watching her with a curious smile on his face, his eyebrows flashing upwards questioningly

  'So, ready then?' she said, getting up before he could ask anything.

  Victor took his time sorting through his pockets for change and she waited impatiently, keeping her back to the rest of the diner, tapping her foot, acutely aware of Kaitlin's infuriatingly screechy put-on laughter coming from behind her. But then she heard a sound so familiar it made her gut clench. And it shocked her so much it made her foot stop tapping. Tom was laughing. It was a sound she hadn't heard in such a long time.

  She supposed Tom hadn't had much cause to laugh these last six months.

  The laughter cut off and she heard footsteps approaching cautiously.

  She whipped around, expecting Tom, but found Kaitlin in front of her, all bouncy and shiny-faced.

  'Hey, Ev,' she said.

  Evie felt her jaw tighten. She hated people she didn't know or didn't like calling her Ev. She hadn't even answered before Kaitlin swept on to her next conversational gambit.

  'How are you?' she said, tipping her head to one side as though the muscles down the right side of her neck had given way. Her slushy brown eyes stretched wide with faux sincerity. She reminded Evie of a poodle.

  'I'm good, thanks,' Evie said, looking over at Tom who pointedly turned away, ignoring her.

  Great, Evie thought. She so needed to talk to him and explain that she now believed him about the accident but her stomach revolted at the very concept. She had no idea how to approach him or what to say, especially now this sophomore wannabe Prom Queen was standing in the way.

  'So, there's like a party tonight,' Kaitlin prattled, 'and we're like all going and were wondering whether you wanted to come. It's down at the swimming spot on the river.'

  Evie wondered why Kaitlin was asking her. Tom clearly wasn't happy about it, judging from the sulky face he was pulling, and it wasn't as if she was friends with Kaitlin. Actually, it wasn't like she was friends with anyone in town these days. She kept as low a profile as her role of cheated girlfriend, best friend of dead girl and poor old Ed Tremain's daughter allowed her to keep. She worked three jobs - two now, she reminded herself, thanks to her mother firing her - and in-between studied hard so she could get the hell out of town when the time came. Not that she now needed to study so hard. But the long and the short of it was that she had become known for her solitary ways - a polite term for moodiness - which is why she became immediately suspicious at Kaitlin's request that she come to this party.

  She was about to say thanks but I'm busy, when Victor opened his mouth and spoke for her. 'Yes, she'd love to come.'

  Evie spun around, open-mouthed, but he totally ignored her.

  'What time does she need to be there?' he asked Kaitlin

  'Um, eightish, I guess,' Kaitlin stuttered, staring up at the enormous bulk of Victor and wondering in her wide-eyed poodle way who he was and whether she'd accidentally invited him too.

  Evie suppressed a laugh at Kaitlin's horrified expression. 'Yes, I'll come,' she said, looking a
t Tom, hoping he'd heard, praying he'd react in some way. But he didn't. He just glared at her coldly and she found herself longing to see him smile again.

  Maybe tonight would give her chance to get close to him, speak to him.

  She turned and smiled tightly at Victor. 'Shall we get to work, then?' she asked lightly, as though she was suggesting tea and cake and not a lesson on demon-killing techniques.

  He flashed a smile at her in return as though he'd read her mind and took her arm. 'Let's,' he said.

  Once they were inside the store over the road, Evie immediately sat down in one of the red chairs and pulled the book from her bag. She looked up, ready to start firing questions but Victor was standing over by one of the rails, flicking through the clothes. She watched him with frustration, what was he doing? They had work to do. She had history to learn and questions burning holes in her brain.

  'Here!' Victor announced, pulling a navy blue dress off the rack and holding it up.

  'What?' Evie asked, thinking maybe she'd put it in the wrong place and like it mattered anyway.

  'I thought you might like something new to wear tonight. You can't possibly wear jeans or a variation on jeans every day of your life,' he said, nodding at her cut-off jeans.

  Evie glared at him. Then stood up and took the dress. 'What is this? Your version of danger money? Are you trying to sweeten the Hunter deal by throwing in some designer clothes?' She glanced at the tag. It would be the most expensive thing she'd ever worn by a very long margin. She would accept the sweetening.

  Victor took the dress from her hands and held it up in front of her. She looked at herself in the mirror. 'Guess I'll be dressed to kill,' she muttered under her breath to her reflection. Her reflection didn't look amused. Though the colour was flattering - it made her eyes bluer.

  'Right, now that's sorted,' Victor said, draping the dress over the back of the chair, 'let's get to work.' He took a seat. 'What have you read?'

  'Everything, like I said. But it doesn't say how it all began. You said before that this war has been going on for hundreds of years.'

 
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