Bound by duty, p.13
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       Bound by Duty, p.13

           Stormy Smith
 
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  Chapter 12

  Aidan left the office and it took a moment for Cole to turn around to face me. I could tell from his stance that he was trying to control his temper. Finally, he turned and simply said, “Sit.”

  His tone had said enough. I sat.

  “Would you like to tell me what in the hell is going on?” Cole’s tone was patronizing as he leaned against his desk, his arms crossed.

  “Well. The funny part about all of this is that I don’t actually know.” I wanted to play it off, but thoughts were bouncing around inside my head like someone had let every pinball loose in the machine. Every day just brought more information. More to think about. More questions. I had done an okay job of compartmentalizing everything up until now, but it all came crashing into me at once. Being the last Elder. Making friends with a Mage. Lying to my best friend and the guy I liked. Being attacked. Being attacked.

  I looked up at Cole, my eyes filled with barely restrained hysteria, expecting to see anger. Instead, I saw empathy, frustration… sadness.

  He sighed and sat down next to me. “Talk to me, Ame. We both know you’ve been avoiding me for weeks. Did I dump too much on you too fast? You know we can’t just wait around for you to get comfortable, right? You’re too far behind.”

  Anger replaced fear as he once again resorted to big brother behaviors. I stood, this time looking down at him. The emotion filling my chest choked my words, making them feel thick and hard to push out.

  “Comfortable? You think I’ve just been hiding out in my room waiting until I can handle all of this, do you? You don’t get it, Cole. You’ve been running around the country for last ten years. Granted, it was for me, but for you, too. Don’t deny it. And, all the while, I’ve been dealing with Dad. With this.”

  I intentionally allowed my power to flood my system in a huge tidal wave that dropped my head back and sent crackling fever to my fingertips. I looked back down at him knowing my eyes were glowing, the iridescent purple likely giving me my own demonic quality. I held my hands up, watching the energy pulsing around them and losing myself for just a moment in the heady feeling of it all. I wanted to blow something up. Now.

  I felt Cole coming toward me and before I could pull away he locked each of his hands around my wrists. “Calm down, Amelia. Don’t do this.” He stood nose to nose with me, looking more controlled than he probably should have. I’m sure I looked like a wild woman — wide-eyed and crazy. But, his energy immediately sapped away the hard edge of my power, placing layer after layer of smothering tranquility on top of the feral fire I had started.

  The longer he held my wrists, the more I came back to myself. Instead of a powerful being, I was a scared girl who had just been attacked. All of the facade I had showed Aidan and the calm my power presented to Cole dropped away and I collapsed into him, sobbing into his chest as he hugged me and told me it would be okay. I pulled away, realizing we hadn’t even had the worst part of the conversation yet.

  Sniffling, I pushed back and sat back in my own chair. “I look like this because Micah and I were attacked. We were working on the beach and suddenly someone just started throwing bolts at us. Blue ones. None of our people have blue power! Mages have shades of green and red, and we talk about violet but few actually realize that’s only Elders. What does that mean, Cole? Who are they?”

  Cole was pale and quiet. He should have been ranting and raving at me for how stupid it was of us to be out in the open, or questioning the how’s and why’s of what had happened, but he just sat there with a glazed look, taking short, quick breaths.

  “What aren’t you telling me, Cole?” More secrets. More information I deserved to know but didn’t.

  He finally looked at me, saying, “I don’t know yet. There were rumors but no one ever believed them. It’s probably nothing. What about Micah? Does he know what happened? I think we need to get him in here. We need to talk about what happened and see if he saw something different from what you did.”

  “You’re serious? You want me to just let that whole reaction go and then you want to bring Micah in so you can verify that I’m not just making all of this up? You’re amazing.” I stood up, shaking my head. “I need to go home.”

  He vaulted out of his chair. “No! I’m taking you home. You go nowhere alone. You are always with someone. We don’t know what happened tonight or why it happened. Don’t you get it, Amelia? They could be after you. Someone could know what you are. They could want you for all the same reasons the queen does.”

  I dropped back into the chair feeling like a bigger idiot than I had when Aidan caught Micah and me. “What should I do?” It came out much wimpier than I would have liked, but all of my bravado had been used up for the day.

  Cole and I talked for a long time. We argued about whether or not we should talk to Rynna about everything. We talked about who those people could have possibly been and what they may have wanted with me. We talked and we argued until I was exhausted. It had been hours before either of us realized that we hadn’t eaten and it was getting very late. Cole finally agreed it was safe enough to leave and he brought his car up to the front door so I could just run and dive right in. We went through a drive-thru and I demolished a giant burrito in record time.

  As Cole dropped me at my apartment, he made me promise that I would set up a meeting between him, Micah, and me for the next evening to determine what Micah had seen and what he might know that we didn’t. He hugged me tightly before letting me out of the car. “I love you, Amelia. Keep your phone on at all times and call me if anything weird happens.”

  I laughed. “I know, Cole, I’m on high alert. I won’t go anywhere alone and I’ll keep my eyes open. I don’t think they would try anything in broad daylight and in public. At least, I hope not.” He gave me a look that made it obvious he wasn’t amused at my line of thinking. I gave his arm another squeeze and got out of the car. With one last wave, I went through the outer door and into my building.

  My smile faded as I turned to find Aidan sitting on the steps leading up to my floor. His eyes were cold steel, none of the warmth and comfort I normally found in them, and I couldn’t read his expression.

  “Aidan. Um… hi.” I had no idea what to say. Exhaustion was beating on my door, especially after that burrito. All I wanted to do was curl into bed and sleep for a week. Unfortunately, I had one very unhappy…boy? Friend? God, I don’t even know what to call him, let alone how to handle his reaction today. There’s no way I could be as honest with him as I was with Cole and I wasn’t sure I could keep any more lies straight.

  Aidan slowly rose from the steps and came toward me, his eyes never leaving mine. Just as I thought he was going to reach out, he spoke instead, “Come walk with me.” Each word was enunciated, his tone making it obvious that it wasn’t a choice.

  He turned down the hall on the first floor without waiting for a response. I sighed and rolled my eyes at his back, sick of being told what to do. He led me out the back door of the complex toward the small park facing our building. There were a few little trails with some picnic tables and benches scattered throughout. He continued toward the first table and sat on the tabletop. It reminded me of that first night; his outline in the shadows, how dangerous but alluring I found him then.

  Now, I was tired and mostly irritated. As I stood facing him, my irritation only grew as he glared at me, as if he were warning me. It was just too much and I found myself pacing in front of him. Nervous energy had me wringing my hands and I refused to look his direction as my voice dropped, the words strangled as I searched for ways to tell the truth without telling the whole truth.

  “Aidan, I can’t do this. I can’t do this right now. I know you want answers and you don’t understand what happened earlier today, but as much as I wish I could explain it, I just can’t. It’s complicated, it really has nothing to do with us and…I just can’t. So, don’t sit there, giving me your ‘death stare’, thinking that you’re going to intimidate me into doing whatever you want.
I finally pivoted on my heel and faced him as my frustration from the day poured out and onto the last person it should have. “You know what, on that note, I’m so sick and tired of the men around me thinking that they can just muscle me into doing whatever they want. Just screw you. All of you. I need a break. I need to breathe. There’s a lot going on with me right now and it sucks! I just need…”

  I didn’t have a chance to finish my tirade before he grabbed me by both arms and crashed his lips to mine. Just like that, the entire world exploded. My power leapt, erupting through and around me with ferocity that rivaled my night on the cliffs, but it was all happening internally. I was so full of electricity and energy that I thought I might burst, but I didn’t have time to analyze it because all I could feel were his lips. His passion crushing me while his lips melted against mine.

  It wasn’t even a thought as I opened my mouth to his and his tongue swirled and danced with my own. He let go of my arms to wrap his around me, pulling me between his legs and pressing me as close to him as he could get. I wrapped my arms around his neck, my fingers twisting in his thick hair. I was trapped between walls of muscle — between his legs, inside his arms — and for the first time in days, I felt absolutely safe. I gave myself wholly to a kiss that I knew would change everything. That was changing everything.

  My power reached outside me and enveloped us both, wrapping around him. A second later, he shoved me away. Shoved me so hard that I found myself looking up at him from the ground where I had landed. “What the hell, Aidan?” I stuttered, still reeling and confused about the literal pain in my butt as well as the fog in my brain.

  He actually looked a little panicked. “Did you feel that? What happened?”

  He was looking around, staring into the trees as if he expected someone to come rushing out.

  “What are you talking about? The only thing I felt was the most amazing kiss of my life turn into me landing on my butt in a pile of sticks. What is your deal?” I asked as I tried to brush myself off and pick twigs from my hair. I wanted to throw something at his head I was so annoyed. He finally stood up, still looking around.

  “Are you sure? I mean, it felt like…well, it was as if something was…never mind.” He shook his head as he gave up trying and I suddenly realized it could have been me. I still didn’t really know how to completely control my telepathy and I could have gotten inside his head. My anger turned to concern.

  “Aidan, I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m sorry. And… uh, I’m sorry if the kiss wasn’t as good for you as it was for me.” I ducked my head a little, embarrassed that I was so inexperienced that he could be distracted — even if it was my Immortal voodoo freaking him out.

  He stopped looking around and stared down at me. He didn’t speak, just tilted my chin up to force our eyes to meet. He continued to hold my eyes, his gaze melting my insides. His lips met mine once more, and only then did he close them.

  These kisses were slow and sweet, not near the heat of the first. He tilted and transitioned back and forth, from left to right, stopping to press kisses to my jawline and down my neck. I leaned back, hands in his hair once more as I sighed his name. Finally, he lingered one last time, slowly scrapping his teeth over my bottom lip as he pulled away.

  He touched his forehead to mine and said, “Amelia, I don’t think I ever want a kiss from anyone else again. I’m sorry for before. I don’t really know what’s happening, but I feel it, too. I can’t explain it, but I feel like something is happening. And, I know you weren’t doing anything wrong with Micah. I don’t know why I know or why I can’t stay mad about it, but some part of me knows that it’s okay. I just hope that you decide that you can tell me the truth. But, I know all about secrets and I’m not going to push. For now.”

  He pulled me into his chest, pressing a kiss to the top of my head. I was confused. I was exhausted. I had just had the best kiss of my life. I could think about the rest tomorrow.

   

   

  I woke up and laid staring at the wall for quite some time. There were dreams swirling in my head that I couldn’t quite remember. The last tiny piece I could grasp before it floated away was running through the trees. That had been a theme lately — dreams in the forest. It was weird, but I had bigger issues than a random haunting dream. Those were the status quo.

  My mind didn’t know how to process everything that had happened yesterday. Micah, the attack, Aidan, telling Cole everything, kissing Aidan. Kissing Aidan.

  Oh, I could have reminisced on that one forever. Touching my fingertips to my lips, I closed my eyes and lost myself in the feelings once again. Finally, I forced myself up. My clothes from yesterday were in a pile by the bed, my purse at the bottom of the pile. Oh, crap! Though I had promised Cole to stay close to my phone, I realized that I hadn’t actually looked at it since he dropped me off yesterday. I dug into my purse, pulled it out, and unlocked the screen.

  Twelve text messages

  Three voicemails

  Double crap!

  I went through the text messages first, those were easier. A few from Bethany, but I could hear her out in the kitchen and would deal with that directly. Well, maybe after breakfast. And coffee. Lots of coffee.

  A string of them were from Micah, asking if I was okay, asking to meet up last night to talk, getting a little more frantic to hear from me. I responded to him, letting him know that I was fine and asking to meet tonight at the gym.

  He immediately responded.

  Where have you been? Why do you have a phone you don’t use? Do you know what I’ve been thinking the last twelve hours?! Why the gym?

  I’ll explain tonight. The gym is safe. Just meet me, OK?

  Fine. The gym. 7. See you then.

  There were quite a few from Aidan from before I saw him. Some were questioning. Some were angry. But, the only one that mattered was the one he must have sent after he walked me to my door.

  I’m so glad I waited for you. It was the most amazing kiss of my life, too.

  I smiled. I hadn’t thought he was really listening to me at that point, but I guess he was.

  Finally, there was one from Cole this morning asking about the meet. I confirmed with him that Micah would be there.

  Now came the hard part. How to explain to my human best friend that my magic was out of control, her boyfriend was a Mage, but mine was human, my brother was also a Mage, someone had attacked Micah and me, we had no idea why, and…oh, yeah, not tell her any of that because she can’t know Immortals even exist. Determined to fix my relationship with my best friend, I left the voicemails for later and opened my door to face the music.

  I knew Bethany wasn’t her normal self as soon as I walked into the kitchen and heard an acoustic ballad coming from the IPod dock. Typically, she always listened to something upbeat, whether it be Pop or Country. To hear this music meant she was accessing my play lists. The songs weren’t necessarily sad, but their voices were haunting and the songs typically a little less happy and shiny. She was humming as she stirred her coffee, clearly lost in her own thoughts.

  I stopped a few feet short of her, just outside the kitchen. “Hey.” It was lame.

  I had no idea where to start. She looked up at me, her face still clean of makeup and her hair pulled back in a low ponytail. Her over-sized sweatshirt dwarfed her tiny frame, making her look like a little girl, and her eyes were sad.

  “Look, B, I know I owe you a huge apology for avoiding you lately. I’ve just had some stuff that I needed to work out for myself and I needed some space to think. I’m really sorry if I hurt your feelings.” I stood in the doorway, fidgeting, waiting for her response.

  “Amelia, honey, I love you, but not everything is about you.” Bethany’s words were just as sad as her eyes. She placed her spoon on the bright purple spoon rest on the counter, picked up her over-sized mug, and walked around me.

  I had no idea what to do. For the past week, I had just assumed the looks she had been giving were because of
me. It was clear I really didn’t get how this whole best friend thing worked. I quickly pulled my act together and followed her to the living room. While I was gathering my thoughts, she had settled into the couch, pulling a worn quilt her Grandma had made over her lap.

  Though Bethany never had any idea of what I was handling, from the first day we met I never questioned whether she would always have my back. She pushed me to not allow other people to define me and inspired me to not just be myself, but the best damn version of myself possible. “The world deserves it, Ame! You deserve it!” She would say. She also taught me that the best relationships were built on truth. And sometimes the truth was hard.

  I sat down on the love seat across from her. “I have been a pretty crappy friend lately, haven’t I?”

  She didn’t hesitate with, “Yeah, you pretty much have.”

  One of our rules was that we didn’t sugarcoat, but it still hurt to be called on your crap.

  “Talk to me, B. I know I’m late to the party, and it’s no excuse that I was hiding from my own life, but I’m here and I want to listen. I really am sorry.” I looked her in the eyes and tried to convey how sorry I truly was.

  One of the things I really loved about Bethany was that once she forgave you, it was over. You knew she wasn’t holding a grudge; it was truly over and she was moving on. I saw it cross her face, when she had officially decided to forgive me, and the slow inhale she took signaled that this was worse than I had imagined.

  “I think Micah is seeing someone else,” she said, her eyes brimming with tears. I couldn’t hide my shock, my mouth falling open. “He’s been really unavailable the last few weeks, not answering my messages or emails until much later and canceling our dates. I didn’t realize that I liked him this much, but it’s just been killing me.”

  I was stunned. I should have seen this coming; that his spending time teaching me meant he wouldn’t be spending time with her, but it hadn’t even occurred to me. Crappy Friend Sign #12!

  “Oh, honey, no,” I reassured her. “There’s just no way he’s seeing someone else. There has to be an explanation. Do you want me to see if Aidan can talk to him? Maybe we can set up a double? I know he’s way into you, I’m just sure of it.”

  I had no clue how to get around the fact that I would see Micah tonight, but obviously I couldn’t explain how or why to Bethany. It was breaking my heart to see her so upset.

  “I’m sure this is just a misunderstanding,” I continued when she didn’t respond. “He probably just has a lot going on. And, you know guys are clueless — he probably just doesn’t understand that this isn’t acceptable.”

  “Are you sure, Amelia? I mean, really sure? Truth, remember?” Her words were like a knife — I was not built to be a liar. I could do it, but I hated every second.

  “I don’t want to get my hopes up and then get hurt. I hate how much this hurts already. I don’t do this. I don’t let boys do this,” she said with a sniffle, swallowing back the break in her voice and blinking away the building tears. I hated myself just a little more watching her steel herself against what I knew she was feeling.

  I stood strong in the truth that he wasn’t seeing someone else and continued to reassure her, actually moving across the room and giving her a big hug.

  “It’s all going to work out, B, you’ll see. Let’s just give him a chance to explain. I’ll talk to Aidan, we’ll get this sorted out.” She looked at me with relief and then I saw the change come over her.

  “Okay, then. Enough wallowing. I’m going to pull myself together. The last thing he’s going to see is that this has been bothering me.”

  With that, she threw the quilt aside and strode off with purpose. “Go get’em, B! Show him what he’s been missing!” I hollered after her.

  I jumped from the couch myself and changed the iPod back to pop. When I heard Bethany’s low alto singing merrily along with the track, I knew it was going to be okay. Maybe Micah wasn’t cheating, but I had no doubt she’d make him regret the last few weeks. I laughed a little to myself, realizing maybe I wasn’t the only one with the issue of balancing two worlds.

   

   

  Bethany headed out for class and I collapsed on the couch, exhausted though it was only eight in the morning. My phone dug into me from my back pocket and remembered that I still had voice mails to check.

  Entering the appropriate passwords in, the string started. I deleted messages from Micah and Cole from last night, rolling my eyes at how similar both messages sounded. I was trying to befriend Micah so he could help me, I wasn’t signing up for a second big brother.

  Then, Rynna’s soft voice came on and I couldn’t stop the gasp that followed her words.

  “Hi Amelia, honey. I’m sorry I had to cut you off the other night. There are just things I can’t really talk about. I did want to let you know that your father came home and he seems just fine outside of being hungry. He has actually had a few really great days and even spoke to me a few times. Unfortunately, I’ve spent the last few hours trying to convince him that he shouldn’t, but he’s determined to visit an old friend. He believes this man has answers. He’s going to go whether I want him to or not and there’s not a lot I can do to stop him. I’m afraid that he might drop back into his normal state at any time, so I’m going to go along with him. We’re leaving in the morning and heading up into the mountains, so I don’t know what cell reception will be like. I’ll try to call or text when I can, just know that I’ll take care of him just like I took care of you. We’ll talk soon.”

  Immediately, panic set in. Every alarm bell in my system went off at once. My hands shook and I dropped the phone. Swearing, I leaned down to pick it up to find both of my hands enveloped in violet pulsing light. I raised them in front of me, turning them front to back, shocked at how quickly my power had taken over, that I hadn’t done anything or felt anything and yet, there it was, at my disposal.

  Mentally berated myself for being so easily distracted, I sent an internal command to shut things down and my hands slowly faded back to normal. I dove for my phone and punched Rynna’s speed dial in. It went straight to voicemail. Dammit. I tried again. Voicemail.

  “Ryn, I just got your message. You need to call me.” I tried to contain the fear, but no matter what, my Dad was the only parent I had left and it was literally impossible to guess how he might react in any given situation. “He shouldn’t be doing this. Dad hasn’t left town in years. I don’t know that he can do this. Who is this guy? What answers does he have? Does this have to do with me? Ryn, I’m learning more about myself. I’m getting better at handling it all. He doesn’t need to do this. Just call me.”

  I dropped back on the couch and dropped my arm over my eyes. Too much. The last twenty-four hours had just been too much. Taking a few deep breaths, I tried to calm the growing ache in the pit of my stomach that was telling me this was just the beginning.

 
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