Bound by duty, p.14
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       Bound by Duty, p.14

           Stormy Smith
 
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  Chapter 13

  The day passed relatively slowly, my classes dragging and my lack of sleep making me even less attentive. My mind was lost between thoughts of my dad and Rynna, the attack, and how I was possibly going to keep up training in the midst of all of this chaos. I was in line for my second caramel latte of the day when I felt someone coming up behind me. Before I could decide to react to the feeling, hands slid over my eyes, a low voice whispered in my ear, and I breathed in the welcoming scent of citrus and woods.

  “Well, there you are. I’ve been looking for you all day.”

  Warmth spread through me as Aidan’s voice sent shivers across my skin. Immediately, some of my tension lessened and it was as if I could breathe again. His skin was warm as I pulled his hands from my eyes and turned around.

  “Is that so?” I asked as I gave him my best flirty smile. “Well, a girl has to keep you guessing. I can’t show you all of my tricks just yet.”

  Aidan wrapped his arms around me, pulling me to him, keeping his voice low and flirtatious. “Tricks, huh? I think I’d like to see more of your tricks.”

  His dark curls were falling across his forehead and it was obvious by the look in his eyes the kind of tricks he was talking about.

  “Down, boy!” I said with a smack to his chest. I shimmied back into my spot in line and ordered my drink. I was thankful I’d spent a little more time on today’s outfit, pairing an A-line summer dress with my favorite wedges. It had been in an attempt to convince myself I felt better than I did after yesterday’s events, but the look on Aidan’s face as he took me in was a definite side benefit. The half-smile that played at his lips and the look of obvious appreciation in his eyes as they traveled from my face to my bright pink toe nails made each extra minute worth it.

  As we moved to the side to wait for my drink, I found his mouth next to my ear again.

  “I’m going to kiss you again, Amelia. Soon. Very soon.” I closed my eyes and smiled, reveling in his whispered promise. I could feel my power humming happily, reacting to the potential of it already. I turned around to throw another line his way only to find he had disappeared. I shook my head and laughed. Bethany was right…I was in some serious trouble.

   

   

  I got to the gym a little early, wanting to talk to Cole without Micah. But, my being early meant I also ran into Aidan on his way out from his workout. Aidan didn’t ask why I was there and I didn’t offer. We chatted for a few moments, but his expression changed and a millisecond later I found myself being pulled into a training room.

  The walls were red, covered in training mats in case the guys were tossing each other around a little too hard. Aidan held me captive against one of those mats, his forearms on each side of my head, his fingertips playing in the hair that splayed around me. It was dark in the room, just the light from a small window allowing the sun to peak in.

  The only sound was our breathing. Mine a little more frantic than his. This proximity to Aidan narrowed my focus to only him — to the warm puffs of air he exhaled into my neck as he nuzzled that sensitive space — and I lost all coherent thought. After a nip to my earlobe, Aidan finally pulled back slightly. Though I needed that sliver of space, looking into his eyes made it perfectly clear what his intentions were. He silently dared me to object as his mouth got closer and closer to mine. I tilted my chin toward him a fraction of an inch before the reality of why I was at the gym sent an involuntary shiver up my spin. The attack. My power. My damn duty.

  I sighed and that was enough to stop Aidan. He was hovering just a breath away.

  “What is it?” he asked gruffly. His voice changed when we were in these situations. It was low and rough and so very sexy. I hated breaking up this perfect moment but the guilt weighing on me couldn’t be stopped. I had started this. I told him I wanted to try. But, the attack changed things. At least until we understood what it was. What it meant. The last thing I could take was Aidan being hurt because of me.

  “Aidan, I can’t do this.”

  He yanked backward, all of the sweet softness of the last few minutes replaced with stiffness and a wary look.

  “No, wait, that’s not what I meant!” I rushed to try to salvage my choice of words, his reaction making me cringe.

  “This is just so intense. It’s just so…much. I just need to slow down.” I had a hard time looking at him, knowing full well that I wanted to run full sprint into this. Even now, I wanted to jump into his arms, wrap my legs around his waist, and kiss him from here to moon, never even coming up for air. But, I couldn’t. I couldn’t keep making rash decisions and I couldn’t put him in harm’s way. If another attack came before Micah, Cole, and I could figure this out, and Aidan was hurt, I would never forgive myself.

  He was suddenly wrapping me in his arms again. “Okay. Okay, doll. I’m sorry, I just can’t help myself when I’m around you. It’s like I can’t stop; you’re a magnet and I just want to be near you. To touch you. And, after the other night,” he pulled back to show me that mischievous grin I loved, “kiss you. Again and again.”

  He pressed a kiss to the top of my head — it was starting to be one of my favorite things. A heartfelt reassurance that we were good and I hadn’t completely messed this up. His grip was firm on the back of my neck as he pulled me in close for a long, hard hug. “I don’t want you to be afraid of this, Amelia. Afraid of me. So, we’ll go slow. I know I can be intense. I guess that’s the foster kid in me. When I find someone worth it, I give it everything I’ve got.”

  I pulled back, words I couldn’t say stuck on my tongue, not even sure how to make him understand what this meant to me. Simultaneously, I realized that even amid my lies, Aidan was being an amazing man. I didn’t deserve him. I dove back into his chest, giving him my own hug, muttering a thank you, wishing I could stay there forever and just forget the rest of it. He and I both had so much baggage, I was worried we couldn’t shoulder the load.

  Aidan gave me a squeeze and then pulled away, looking down at me. “As much as I’d like to believe you were here for me, doll, I expect that your brother is waiting for you and I’d prefer to not end up being his punching bag during tomorrow’s training. So, I’ll see you later, ‘kay? And don’t think I’m going to let this go on much longer. The world is going to know we’re together, including your brother.”

  He led me out of the room and gave me a little push toward Cole’s office, trying to fake a brooding stare that completely failed.

  “Is that right?” I asked, turning back toward him with my hands on my hips. “You’ve just decided for both of us, huh?” It was hard to keep the smile from pulling at my lips and he clearly didn’t buy a word of my fake ire.

  In a heartbeat, he had me pinned up against the wall and was lightly brushing my lips with his. I could feel his restraint thickening the air around me, intoxicating me into wanting to push us farther so he didn’t have to. “I absolutely have decided for both of us, Amelia,” he almost growled, his voice a low rumble that echoed throughout every part of me.

  “Well then,” I said, breathless. “I suppose I shouldn’t argue.”

  With that, he pulled away, chucking me under the chin and throwing over his shoulder as he walked away, “That’s right, woman. Know your place!” I laughed out loud. “Oh just get out of here, Montgomery!”

  I watched him and Micah exchange a few words as they crossed paths and he gave me another smile and a wink as he left. I couldn’t help but smile and shake my head, wondering what the heck I was going to do with him — or worse, without him.

   

   

  I waited for Micah in the hallway and we went into Cole’s office together. He wasn’t there yet, he was finishing a training session with some of the younger boys before sending them home for supper. I don’t envy the moms who have to feed boys who want to train in MMA — I can’t even imagine the grocery bill. But, I suppose they’d rather buy groceries than pay court costs, and most of these kids would have been o
ut running the streets if it weren’t for Cole.

  So, Amelia, what are you thinking? Do you have any ideas on who did this?

  Ugh. None. I’ve been wracking my brain and I just don’t understand why anyone would want to hurt us.

  My eyes flew up to connect with Micah’s. He was sitting in the opposite chair, smiling smugly, as he saw the realization of our unspoken conversation across my face.

  Fun, huh?

  Also weird, Micah. Wait, you can’t just hear things, right? We have to connect each time?

  He read my mind, though not literally. No, Amelia, I have no interest in your X-rated thoughts about Aidan. We do have to connect each time, and truly, you should pay more attention to your surroundings and your power. You should have felt the connection. Just because you don’t use your magic constantly doesn’t mean you should ignore it.

  I rolled my eyes and sent him a glare across the room. Oh, well, thank you, oh wise one. With everything else I’m dealing with right now, I’ll make sure I’m on high alert for when you’re sneaking into my head!

  You don’t get it, Amelia. The fact that you aren’t paying attention to your magic could be how they are finding us. You’re not tuned into it. You aren’t hearing it, feeling it, reacting to what it’s telling you. You need to LISTEN.

  “What exactly are you two doing?” Cole was standing in the doorway, arms crossed and leaning on the door jam. “Wait, were you talking?” He stood between us, looking back and forth. “Can we do that? Can you teach me how to do that?”

  I put my hands up, trying to stave him off. “Cole, just chill out. We have bigger issues than you letting Micah all up in your head. Believe me, he’s a bigger pain than he’s worth sometimes.”

  Ungrateful little viper. Micah’s pompous demeanor didn’t change even when he didn’t actually speak out loud. I laughed and shot Micah a look to shut up. Then, I realized I could also control our exchange. I went inside and slammed the door to our connection shut. Micah jerked back in his seat, but gave me an approving smile.

  “Well done, Amelia. I was waiting for you to figure that one out,” he said.

  Cole was still staring. “Sorry, Cole. We’re done with that. Micah was just making a point. All conversation will be out loud from here on out. And, eventually, you and I can do some work on our own connection, but we have more pressing issues right now.”

  He looked back and forth between us again, as if he wasn’t sure if we were truly done with our unspoken conversation, but finally walked around his desk to sit down.

  “Okay,” Cole started, clearing his throat and immediately taking on the controlling role. “Micah, thanks for coming down. I want to start with hearing how this happened from your perspective. Ame has already filled me in on a lot of what you guys have been up to, and I appreciate that you offered to help her, but I need to understand who these people were and what they were after.”

  Micah raised an eyebrow. “Oh, so you’re leading this discussion? I assumed since it actually happened to us, Amelia and I were just doing you the brotherly favor of filling you in on the details.”

  I could feel the testosterone in the room building. “Oh, for goodness sakes, you two. Cut out the macho B.S. None of us have a clue what these people, or person, were after and we need each other right now. Micah, get over yourself and just tell Cole what happened. And, Cole, don’t turn into Dad here.” They turned to glower at me in tandem. I rolled my eyes blatantly at both of them and gestured at Micah to get to it.

  “Well, since you asked so nicely, Amelia, I don’t know how I could resist.” Micah shot me one last look of irritation and turned to Cole to start relaying our story. His version didn’t differ much from mine and the whole incident took place over maybe five minutes, so there wasn’t that much to say. I kept waiting for Micah to bring up the color of our attacker’s power…but he didn’t. And Cole didn’t call him on it. As I sat back and thought about it, I realized I was likely being played by them both. Each one had independently decided what they would and wouldn’t share with the other and neither had bothered to loop me in. Men. Sheesh.

  I had brought up the blue power to Cole, but hadn’t mentioned the blue eyes I’d seen. It was common for an Immortal’s eyes to match their power, so seeing blue eyes wasn’t the weird part. It was the eyes themselves. I had only a split second to see them but I could have sworn they weren’t human eyes — which didn’t make any sense at all. I decided that I was just going to keep that to myself for now. If they wanted to play a game of secrets then fine, I could keep them, too.

  “Alright. Let’s just get to the heart of it.” Cole took back control of the conversation, his tone authoritative as he stared Micah down. “Micah, do these people have any reason to want you? Do you have enemies?”

  Micah paled just a fraction before his expression turned hostile and he laughed dismissively. “Me? You’re concerned about me? What about her?” he questioned as he threw an arm out toward me, obviously frustrated with Cole’s interrogation. “She’s the one running around town completely inept at controlling her magic. Her aura is stronger than anyone I’ve ever come in contact with, and you’re looking at me?”

  I sat straight up in my chair. “My aura is what? ARGH! What is it with you two and the secrets?”

  Micah looked at me, exasperated. “Amelia, I tried. I explained to you over and over again that you needed to control yourself — that you stood out. But you were so wrapped up in—”

  “Work and school,” I quickly interrupted, giving him a pointed stare and stopping him from mentioning Aidan in front of Cole. “But, really, Micah, you should try being more direct. Something like, ‘Hey Amelia, you stand out like a lighthouse on a new moon’ might have done the trick!” I wanted to stay annoyed, but I wanted answers more. So, as embarrassment sent red flushing through my cheeks, I asked the question burning in my mind. “So, what does it mean that my aura is that strong?”

  “You have got to be joking,” Micah muttered as Cole finally injected himself in the conversation again, at my defense, of course.

  “Look, kid, my sister has had a rough road and I don’t appreciate all of your ‘I’m better than you’ crap. She’s obviously trying and there’s something a heck of lot bigger than the three of us out there. We need to know what it is. How about you actually provide something helpful in the conversation?”

  I could see Micah seething in the chair next to me. He responded slowly, his anger barely controlled. His eyes flashed red as he turned on Cole.

  “Do not call me kid, Bradbury. It is quite unfortunate that I seem to be the only one here who understands the gravity of the situation we’re in, and the fact that your ‘little sister’ is the flame to every other magical moth out there right now because she doesn’t know how to tone it down.” He turned to me. “Amelia, that is what I mean. The aura you exude is like magical candy. Anyone within a certain radius of you is drawn to it. I don’t actually understand why, because it surely isn’t your sparkling personality, but your power just feels different to us.”

  No one said anything as we all mulled this over. Cole finally spoke, although much more respectfully, “And you’re sure this attack has nothing to do with you?”

  Micah sighed. “While I cannot absolutely guarantee it — I do come from means — it doesn’t make sense. I’ve been here since before Amelia came. If someone were coming for me, wouldn’t they have done it already?”

  “Fine. Fine. So, Amelia, it’s your power. You have got to lock it down. You’ve got to go back to the way it was when you first came.” Cole spoke with such authority, like I could just snap my fingers and it would be that easy. I sat there, first feeling guilty because I knew I couldn’t, then I got angry. It was happening again. The men in my life were just throwing out orders and I was expected to follow them without a word.

  I vaulted myself out of the chair. “Oh, that is it!” I slammed my hands down on Cole’s desk, causing both him and Micah to jump backwards in their chairs as a v
iolet shower of sparks erupted in the room.

  “I have had it with you guys! I’ve had it with being told where to go and what to do and what to think and how to feel and how to spend every damn minute of my life. I’ve just HAD IT. Cole, I hear what you’re saying. I hear what Micah is saying. But, it isn’t that easy. My power is bigger and stronger than it’s ever been, since someone finally decided to help me do something with it,” I said as I tossed my head toward Micah and simultaneously glared at my brother.

  “It won’t be pushed down and huddled up in some corner of my mind. It won’t let me do that anymore.” I could feel my power alternately raging and jumping with joy at my outburst. Lately, it felt even more like it was its own person, just trapped inside of me, and right now was definitely one of those moments. “It wants out, Cole. It wants to be used. If you want to protect me then you had better be okay with someone teaching me. The only way this is going to work is if I can figure out how to work with it, not against it.”

  As I finished my rant, I realized that both boys were staring open-mouthed at me.

  “WHAT?” I half-yelled, completely agitated. As I followed Cole’s wide eyes, I finally realized the issue. Everything in his office was floating. He hadn’t had much furniture in the sparse room to start with, but as I stopped to really look around, I realized that it wasn’t just his knick-knacks that were hovering. Everything was. Me. The desk with Cole in his chair. Micah in his chair. The whole room was suspended just a few inches in the air. I looked down at my own flip flops, still feeling the ground beneath my feet even though it wasn’t there. I dropped my head back and groaned in frustration.

  “Just…just…dammit!” I slapped my hands down on the desk again and with another eruption of sparks, everything came down in a crash. The furniture stayed upright, but the items from Cole’s shelves toppled and scattered. “This has GOT to stop happening to me!” I exclaimed as I fell back into a chair, throwing my arm over my face.

  Cole came rushing around the desk. “Ame, how did you do that? Have you always been able to do that?”

  “Don’t you get it, Cole?” Micah said, scowling. “She has no idea how she just did that. That’s the problem. How are we supposed to teach her to control something she doesn’t even understand? That we don’t even understand?”

  Unable to take any more of their constant bickering — or the continuous insults Micah didn’t even realize he was hurting me with — I stood up and walked out of the room. I could hear them both yelling after me, but I just kept walking.

  I walked out the front door, got into my car, and purposefully ignored their calls and messages all the way home. I completely disregarded everything Cole and I had discussed about never being alone because I needed to be alone right now. And, if someone came, so be it, I had enough power whizzing through my system I was sure I could take care of myself. I walked into the building but didn’t go up to the apartment. Instead, I took the same path I had with Aidan and went to the picnic table.

  I sat on the top, drawing my legs into my chest, pulling my dress skirt close, and laying my head on my knees. As I sat there, I tried everything I could to connect to my magic, but it seemed to only come out in reaction to someone else. I spoke to it — a lengthy inner monologue where I begged it to calm down and cooperate. I pleaded and even argued. Nothing. It just swirled around me and inside me, always reaching out as if it were looking for something. I had no idea how I was supposed to stay incognito while wearing a homing beacon I couldn’t control or shut down, so I finally just gave up and went inside.

  Thankfully, Bethany was working. Oh, no! I’d done it again. I’d been so wrapped up in my own drama that I’d forgotten to talk to Micah about the double date. I dug out my phone and swept my finger across the screen, realizing I had been outside for over two hours. It seemed like only minutes. It was still only 10:00 p.m., so I went ahead and called Micah anyway.

  He wasn’t exactly pleasant on the phone, but I suppose that’s what I got for walking out on him and Cole, and then ignoring their constant calls and messages for the past two hours. But, he calmed down and shut up when I told him what was happening with Bethany. I really had come around about those two and he seemed like he did really like her. I made him promise to leave her a message asking to see her tomorrow and to set a real date if he didn’t want to double with Aidan and me. We all needed a little normalcy for a night.

  I heard Bethany come flying in the door about eleven, which was her normal time on the nights she closed the restaurant. She had to stay late to close out all of the other server’s tabs, count down the drawers, and reconcile the night. I had left my door open and was sitting in my papasan, allowing my mind to wander as music played softly in the background.

  I heard the thud of her purse hitting the counter and moments later she almost skipped into the room and dropped onto my bed. She bounced up and down, chanting, “He calllled, we’re going on a daaaate! On Frrrriday! And we’re having breaaaakfast tomorrrrow!”

  “Alright, B! See, I told you! I mean, you have to make sure to give him hell for what he’s put you through, but letting a boy pamper you isn’t the worst thing in the world!” I was genuinely excited for her and seeing the spark back in her personality was exactly what I needed. I had at least done one thing right this week.

  I needed to be focused on Bethany and her good news, but Aidan’s face was the only thing I could see. I could hear him in my head, telling me he’d go slow, that he didn’t want me to be afraid. But, right now, that’s all I could do — be afraid. I was spiraling out of control and all I wanted was to hold on to him, but I was so afraid I would just hurt us both. The attack made everything so real. It wasn’t just Queen Julia out there, wanting me for her evil ways. Someone else was out there who knew what and who I was and they could just as easily go after Aidan.

  “Amelia, honey, where’d you go? Girl, I know there’s something going on that you aren’t telling me about and I’m about at my wits end trying to sort it out myself. Just be out with it already. You were there for me; let me be there for you.” Bethany’s voice brought me out of my own head, but as the tears I held back for so long spilled down my cheeks, I had no idea what to say. It took all of my willpower to once again stop the truth from tumbling out of my mouth.

  “Oh, B. It’s all just a mess,” I finally sputtered out. “Aidan is amazing, but I’m slowing things down one minute and jumping ahead of myself the next. I think I know what I want, but then I don’t, and I keep changing my mind. I think I’m going to ruin this because I’m scared.” It was the closest I could come to the truth.

  “Argh. These boys will be the death of us, Ame.” Bethany shook her head as she quickly exhaled a puff of air that pushed her bangs out of her eyes. “I know what you’re saying about being scared, but Aidan isn’t going to run away and I don’t think he’ll let you either. You’ve got to decide what’s more important, lady — following your fear or following your heart. If you pick heart, you’re gonna have to accept being scared to death, but what you get in the end could be better than you ever imagined.”

  I don’t know why I was shocked to hear Bethany throw out such sage advice as simply as if she were telling me which shoes went best with my outfit. It was what she always did at the exact moment I needed it. Every single time I broke down, that girl showed up with a smile and a mop to clean up the mess.

  “Now,” she said, smacking her hands on her knees and standing up, “I do believe Fro-Yo is in order. There will be no more crying tonight. We are eating our weight in pineapple yogurt covered in sour gummy worms and strawberries, so move it, sister.”

  She walked out of my room, leaving me no choice but to wipe my eyes, shake my head, and follow her. As we got into her Jeep, she also added, “And, no more sad music. For goodness sakes, Amelia, let’s at least convince ourselves we’re the ones in charge of these crazy relationships.” Her exaggerated sigh and eye roll had us both giggling, which was exactly what I needed.

 
We both knew the boys held the upper hand whether we wanted to admit it or not, but we still sang along to the radio, belting out lyrics about being “Stronger”. I couldn’t have been more thankful to have someone who could read me like a book and knew exactly how to pull me out of my own head. Well, that and a Fro-Yo spot that was open until midnight on campus.

 
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