Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

The Soul Seekers: Horizon, Page 2

Alyson Noel

  She pulls away ever so slightly and gazes at me with eyes that betray the depths of her anxiety. “But I have.” She nods fervently. “I’m absolutely sure of it. No way can things truly be as peaceful as they might seem on the surface.”

  “Don’t we deserve a little peace?” I pull her back to me, deluding myself into thinking that if I can just hug her enough, love her enough, I can vanquish her fears.

  “This is Enchantment.” The sound that follows is the closest thing to a laugh that I’ve heard from her in a while. “Since when does anyone get what they deserve?” She mumbles that last part into my chest, peering up at me to see how I react.

  I crack a smile, hoping she’ll crack one too. But the moment is lost, and in the span of a breath she’s off and running again.

  “I’ve gone over it countless times.” She pushes into a sitting position. “And I’ve absolutely no doubt Cade killed Paloma via that cursed tourmaline I unwittingly gave her. I’ve researched it a good bit, and it’s not nearly as whacked as it seems. Crystals and gems emit energy. Everything, at its very essence, is comprised of energy. And, while energy never dies, it can be altered, transformed, and in the wrong hands a gem can be cursed with a hook that connects the recipient to the giver. Allowing them to either control the receiver’s soul, claim the receiver’s soul, or end the receiver’s soul—depending on the intention.”

  The words leave me as cold as they did the first time I heard them. Though I’m not sure why she sees fit to repeat them, unless she’s in search of reassurance, which I’m more than happy to provide. “I don’t doubt you, Daire. Heck, Leftfoot, Chepi, and Chay have already confirmed it.”

  She lowers her gaze to her legs and flexes her calves, causing the long, taut muscles lining the front of her thighs, the result of daily six-mile runs, to lift and swell in a way so enticing I’m forced to steer my gaze elsewhere.

  “Thing is—if the elders are right, then how come everyone who attended the Rabbit Hole New Year’s Eve party left with a swag bag containing a tourmaline, and yet, not one of them is showing even the slightest sign of any ill effects?” She lifts her gaze to me, draws the sheet to her waist. “People are living like they’ve always lived. If anything, they’re living a little better. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Enchantment doesn’t seem quite as depressed and gray as it once did. The citizens aren’t as downcast. They step lighter, laugh more often and easily—”

  “Maybe they’re just happy to live in a Richter-free town? Maybe they’re thrilled that for the last six months, there hasn’t been a single sighting of Cade, Leandro, or Gabe? Don’t forget, you and I both watched Cade run into that smoldering building—maybe El Coyote is finally dead? Maybe Phyre and her crazy, snake-wrangling, doomsayer dad, Suriel, did us a favor?”

  Though I wasn’t entirely convinced of what I just said, Daire is even quicker to dismiss it. “They’re not dead. Not even close.” She gives a firm shake of her head. “Don’t forget, Cade was in human form when he ran into that burning building. He was unable to shift into his demon self. Which means if he went, you’d be gone too.”

  “But I’m still here, and I cut my hair, and now you’re suspicious.” I drop my chin to my chest, hardly able to believe I brought it full circle again. Still, now that it’s out there, we may as well clear this thing up so we’ll never have to revisit.

  It never once occurred to me that a haircut could cause such a fuss. Had I known, had I even the slightest inkling of the kind of upset it would cause, I would’ve left it alone. Truth is, I’m not even sure what compelled me. I guess, ever since last New Year’s Eve, when I found myself overcome by a strange, all-consuming force that never quite made itself known (but that’s definitely responsible for saving my life), I’ve felt changed.

  Altered at the deepest part of my core.

  Like I was on my way to becoming someone else.

  Something else.

  And ever since, the old me no longer rests quite as easily in my skin.

  Since most transformations begin with the physical, I decided to start with my hair.

  Hoping to surprise Daire, I went to Lita for help. And by the way she reacted, jumping up and down while squealing and clapping her hands, you would’ve thought I’d given her the winning lottery ticket. Turns out, the girl loves a makeover.

  I’d barely broached the idea before she was dragging me into her car and racing toward her salon.

  “We’re gonna lop off this crazy mop!” she announced, dragging me inside by the shirtsleeve and pushing me in front of her stylist, but not before adding, “Finally!”

  Soon after they threw a robe on me, plunked me down in a chair for a wash and condition, and then into another chair for the cut. With Lita hovering nearby the whole time, shouting a list of detailed directions, as though she’d been planning this moment since the first day we met.

  “You’ll need to cut at least five inches off the back,” she told the stylist. “Maybe even six.” She scrunched her nose at my offending looks, clucking her tongue against the inside of her cheek, and shaking her head in disgust. “Then add some layers around the face. And make sure you keep them long and soft and kind of messy-looking, so it appears like it’s meant to look tousled and natural since we both know he probably won’t ever brush it.” She chased that last part with a little laugh to soften the blow, leaving me to wonder once again what my former spirit guide, Axel, could possibly see in this girl.

  “Oh—but not too short!” Lita squealed the second the stylist lifted her shears. “Whatever you do—do not make him look like his twin!”

  I’m guessing the stylist was used to Lita’s demands, because she just smiled and nodded and went about the business of cutting my hair. And by the time she set down her scissors and I looked in the mirror, I couldn’t do anything but stare, as the stylist smiled, and Lita clapped her hands and cried, “Well, congratulations, Dace Whitefeather—you just took your first step toward cool.”

  Though, unfortunately, Daire’s reaction wasn’t quite as appreciative. And while she didn’t quite mistake me for Cade (or at least not back then anyway), it took her some time to come around. Though from the way this is going, I guess she’s still not entirely on board.

  “Dace—” Daire squirms toward me again and cups her palm to either side of my face. “I’m sorry. Truly. I didn’t mean it like that. Or, maybe I did—I don’t know. I just—I feel so off kilter. I can’t shake this sense of foreboding. This deep certainty that things aren’t quite what they seem. I’m convinced El Coyote is still out there, and Leandro and Cade are just biding their time, licking a few minor wounds, and laying low in an attempt to lure me into a state of complacency . . .”

  “Only they’ll never succeed.” I place my hands over hers, and fold them between us. “Because you’re way ahead of them, Santos. Your guard is up, you’re alert to the signs, and if it turns out you’re right, when they come out swinging, you’ll be ready.”

  “Will I?” She tilts her head, studying me with eyes gone red and glittery, while her bottom lip displays the tiniest hint of a quiver.

  “Of course you will.” I pull her into my arms. Holding her tightly until her body begins to slacken and yield, and my breath rises and falls in tandem with hers.

  With her daily runs and punishing workouts, her strict healthy diet that allows no room for even the smallest indulgence—with her incessant focus on learning Paloma’s craft and becoming the very best Seeker she can—I sometimes forget just how vulnerable she really is. But here, in my arms, with her skin so soft, and her heart beating gently next to mine, I’m awash in shame over what a fool I’ve just been.

  None of this was ever about me. This entire discussion may have been triggered by the dream, and the certainly hideous memory of my brother forcing a ring onto her finger, but it was never about my hair.

  Never about her mistaking me for Cade.

  That was all just a smoke screen for what’s really bothering her.

e misses her grandmother.

  She’s wracked with a mountain of grief she insists on keeping tightly in check.

  And until she’s able to confront it head-on—it’s my job to provide comfort, along with a safe place to land in the middle of chaos.

  I pull her closer until the matching gold keys we wear at our necks as a symbol of our love clink lightly together, as I whisper soft words in her ear. Reminding her that she’s not alone—we’re in this together. I will never, ever leave her.

  “If Paloma was here she could help me see what I’m missing. She was tuned in to everything, never missed a sign. If my abuela was here, she would . . .” Daire chokes back a sob, shuts her eyes tightly against the deluge of tears she refuses to shed.

  I bring my palms to her face and press my lips against hers. Whispering, “Hey there, green eyes, it’s going to be okay. Really, I’m here. I’ll always be here. We’ll get through this together. I promise . . .” Hushing her fears with my kiss, I go about distracting her the best way I can.



  This time when I wake it’s in the nest of Dace’s arms cradled snugly around me. His soft, even breath pushing at the side of my cheek.

  I turn my head slowly and fill my eyes with the beautiful slumbering sight of him. My gaze trailing over the taught muscles of his chest, the valley of his abdomen, to the soft trail of hair that leads from the edge of his navel to parts now obscured by the sheet.

  He’s so loving, so loyal, so decent and good, Ican hardly conceive how I could ever, even in one dream-dazed, delusional moment, mistake him for Cade.

  They may be identical on the surface, Dace may have a piece of Cade’s dark soul lodged inside, but that’s where the resemblance ends.

  They are nothing alike.

  He stirs. Awakened by the weight of my look, he curls his arm tighter and pulls me so close there’s no denying his need is once again matched by my own.

  No matter how many times we’re together, no matter how many mornings we wake up like this, it always seems there’s more to discover.

  Sometimes I feel like I’ll never uncover the full extent of his mysteries.

  The thought makes me smile.

  I allow my mind to project into a faraway future. Imagining how we might look with wizened faces and graying hair. Still loving, still laughing, still adoring, still discovering . . .

  Though no sooner have the pictures begun to unfold, when I force myself to shake free of the thought.

  Dreaming of the future is a frivolous indulgence I cannot afford. Paloma warned me from the start that Seekers are not known for their longevity—and their romantic relationships always end tragically.

  The memory of her words causing an involuntary flinch that prompts Dace to say, “What is it?” He lifts his lids slowly, displaying icy-blue eyes glazed with sleep and desire.

  I shake my head and press my lips to his, trailing my fingertips along the column of his throat where I pause on his pulse. Shirking all thoughts of the past along with all wishes for the future, I settle into the present—the only moment I can ever truly claim for my own.

  Dace meets my kiss with warm urgent lips, as my hands grip his shoulders and pull him so close our bodies become a tangle of tongues and limbs pushed urgently together in a desperate bid to be joined. Until he maneuvers me beneath him in one seamless move and eases himself inside.

  We mold and cling, separating for a few excruciatingly delicious moments, only to rejoin so completely there’s no boundary between us. No way to tell where Dace leaves off and I begin.

  Our hearts as bound as our flesh, we soar in tandem—pausing for one deliriously heady moment, before falling into a sated, spent heap.

  When I open my eyes, Dace is propped on his elbow, his gaze freely roaming my face. “I never get tired of looking at you.”

  I bite my lip and grin. Trying not to think about the mascara smudges under my eyes, the sheet creases marking my cheek, my hair lying limp against my forehead. I just smile like I believe it, and return his adoring look with one of my own. “You know, I think I’m actually beginning to like your new look.” I bring my fingers to his brow, brush the tips against his long sweep of bangs. “Who knew Lita had such vision?”

  He catches my hand in his and looks at me as though he’s about to reply, but instead clamps his lips shut as though he thought better.

  “I know what you’re thinking.” I rise onto my elbow, fluff my pillow a bit, and lean back against it. “It took me a while to come around, but I truly do mean it. This new look really highlights your face. And you know how I feel about your face . . .”

  He shakes his head. Shoots me a look that invites further elaboration.

  So I drop a few kisses onto his forehead, his chin, his lips to better illustrate. And just like that, I’m lured right back into the magick of him.

  But with a full day of training and appointments ahead, I force myself to push away from the bed and follow the haphazard trail of clothes I left on the floor late last night in my rush to be with him.

  “That’s it?” Dace inches his way up the headboard to watch me get dressed. “You just love me and leave me? Is that how this is?”

  “Yep.” I retrieve my shorts from the crumpled heap on the floor and sneak a leg in, followed by the other. Performing an exaggerated shimmy as I ease them up over my hips in a move that is admittedly performed purely for his own viewing pleasure.

  “Tease.” He retrieves my bra from under his pillow and flings it at me, chasing the word with a grin.

  “You’re the tease.” I catch the bra in my fist and struggle to get the clasp and straps properly situated.

  “How do you figure?” He rubs his chin, shoots me a playful look.

  “You’re the one who won’t move in with me.”

  “Oh. That.” In one fluid move, he’s off the bed and searching for a clean pair of jeans from the folded-up pile in the plastic laundry basket that stands in for a closet. An attempt to evade a conversation I’m determined to have.

  “I really don’t get your resistance,” I say, and not for the first time. “I mean, we’re together pretty much all the time anyway. And if we lived together, I wouldn’t have to leave here every morning, and you wouldn’t have to work so hard to keep this place going. You know, two birds, one stone.”

  His fingers freeze on his zipper as his gaze lifts to meet mine. “How can you say stuff like that?”

  “Like what?”

  “Two birds, one stone. Sheesh, Daire, you’re guided by Raven. How do you think he’d feel to hear you say that?”

  “You changing the subject?”

  “Did it work?” He cracks a mischievous grin.

  “Not even close.” I frown and pull on my tank top, then sit on the old wooden trunk shoved in one corner and slide my feet into my sneakers.

  “Okay, I admit, I’m old fashioned. There are worse crimes, you know.”

  “Old fashioned?” I make a sound between a snort and a laugh. “Please.” I roll my eyes, scrape my long, tangled hair back into a ponytail. “Nothing old fashioned about what we just did.” I nod toward the bed, hoping to glimpse a blush at his cheeks. It’s not often I get to see such a thing.

  “I’m old fashioned when it counts. Which means we’re not going to live together because it’s convenient, or saves money, or whatever other reason you want to drum up. When we do live together, and I fully intend that we will, it’ll be because we’re properly wed.”

  “Properly wed?” I shake my head. Make a face of distaste. Go about adjusting the soft buckskin pouch Paloma gave me, the one that holds the collection of magickal talismans I earned during my Seeker training, along with the beautiful turquoise heart Dace gave me. “Don’t you think we should maybe graduate from high school first? And then, oh, I don’t know, go to college, then on to grad school. Rack up a whole slew of impressive degrees, score the job of our dreams, win a ton of promotions, and then, when there are no more summits to scale,
we settle into the fiction that is the happily ever after of holy matrimony?”

  Dace shoots me an appraising look, whistles softly under his breath. “Wow, someone has marriage issues.”

  “I grew up on movie sets.” I shrug at the memory. “Surrounded by celebrities who were either falling in and out of marriages every ten seconds, or cheating on the spouses they had with anyone who was willing to bed them. All of which may have left me a tiny bit jaded.”

  “A tiny bit?” Dace quirks a brow, pulls a worn, gray V-neck T-shirt over his head. The one that molds to his chest, clings to his abs, and accentuates his biceps, leaving me no choice but to force my eyes away if I’ve any hope of getting on with my day. “It’s not like I plan on proposing tomorrow, or even next year. Just . . . someday.”

  “Fine,” I say. “We’ll deal with your someday when we get there. If we get there. But I’m warning you—no public displays. No stadium jumbotron half-time proposal. No hiding the ring at the bottom of my champagne glass. Nothing you’d ever see in a movie or some cheesy reality TV show.”

  “So, these are the rules for the proposal you don’t actually want?”

  “That’s the starter list. There’s more. Believe me, much more. But until then, I’m afraid you’ll just have to put up with Love ’Em and Leave ’Em Santos, all because you won’t accept my proposal to come live with me, rent free.” I keep my tone light, jokey. Refusing to betray the deeply rooted fear that our future is so uncertain, we probably shouldn’t tempt it with conversations like this.

  Before Paloma died, she gave me a lineage transmission that allowed me to see the kind of things it would’ve taken her many years to teach. Including the tragic story of her past—how her husband, my grandfather, Alejandro (a Brazilian Jaguar shaman of the highest order), was killed at the hands of the Richters—along with her only child, my dad, Django, when he was still just a teen. Bestowing me with the breadth of her knowledge and insights in no more than a flash.