Bound by duty, p.2
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       Bound by Duty, p.2

           Stormy Smith
 

  Chapter 1

  Last night’s dream had been different. More vivid than normal. Even now, as I sat on the picnic table bench on campus, I couldn’t stop seeing my father’s eyes. My dreams had always been constant and the emotions I awoke with varied from anger, to sobbing, to complete fear. Waking up peaceful was a rarity for me. It was only recently that I could actually recall my dreams hours later. Before, they’d disappear as soon as I woke up. Now, they haunt me.

  My hands still ached from clutching the pillow to my chest as I tossed and turned throughout the night. I didn’t have to close my eyes to see the scene replay for the hundredth time today. There I was, standing in my living room, nine years old again, wondering which of my father’s personalities would take the five steps from his study and turn the corner to stand before me. As soon as I saw his wide eyes, his twisted scowl, and his tense, rigid posture, I knew this night wouldn’t end with bedtime stories. So few nights actually did.

  I wanted to back away but had learned it only made things worse when I showed my fear. I had to keep myself from searching the room for Rynna. I knew my nanny was gone. It was just me and my father, and he knew. He always knew when I had lost control, as I had just minutes before. Before I could react, he hoisted me off the ground, his palms cupping under my arms. He held me at eye level, his frantic stare making it hard for me to keep eye contact. I was afraid of my father in these moments; in the times where he didn’t feel at all like himself and I was nothing but a failure to him. For a split second, I thought I saw his eyes soften and an apology flit across his features, then all I saw was the flash of orange in his eyes before he dropped me to the ground and ran out the back door.

  That was the part that made no sense. My father’s power source was green. One of the many colors associated with Witch power. Orange was the power of Hunters — of killers — and I’d seen my father release his power enough times to know that he was no Hunter. I was in mid-thought, wondering why my dreams never made any sense, when Bethany plopped down beside me with a, “Hiya!”

  Her peppy, southern drawl interrupted my latest round of introspection and I was thankful for it. Bethany was one of those people you couldn’t resist talking to. Nice in the most sincere way, even though no one could imagine where all that positivity came from. In her short sundress covered in multi-colored bird silhouettes and her cardigan that she somehow managed to make look fresh and trendy, I wasn’t sure how I managed to win the lottery of college roommates. My messy top-knot, ripped Capri, and basic tee weren’t winning any fashion awards today, but she probably slept last night. I didn’t.

  “Hey B. What’s up?” I asked as I popped my ear buds out of my ears. I could tell by the look in her eyes that she was dragging me out tonight. Some guy, somewhere, was having a party that we, “Just had to go to!” College was supposed to be a non-stop party, but I didn’t drink for fear of losing control, so I generally ended up being the DD. My father had managed to make the words “lose control” into the most terrible, gut-wrenching eleven letters the alphabet could string together, and, so far, I hadn’t dared stepping out of line. Even though he was hundreds of miles away, some things just stuck.

  “Soooooo,” she started off slowly, her accent making it sound more country song and less you’re going to hate this. “There’s a party outside of town. A bunch of guys have a beach house they rented and it’s invite only,” she said. Her face was flushing, she was talking fast, and I knew what was coming next. “And… Micah’s going to be there!” She almost squealed as she smacked her palms together and looked at me with ecstatic, begging eyes.

  Bethany has had a thing for Micah Clair since classes started. I keep telling her that I don’t think he’s the best news. I get the weirdest vibe every time he’s around, but I’ve continued to listen to her go on and on about his European accent and male model looks.

  I was done for. Somehow, some way, this southern belle had become my first real friend and I couldn’t bring myself to say no even though it was the last place I wanted to be.

  I guess this means I’m going to a party.

  Great.

   

   

  The music was shaking the walls. The green, yellow, and pink neon lights that probably once graced the walls of a bar somewhere in Brighton looked like they were going to come crashing down at any minute. Maroon 5 was going on about having moves like Jagger as people who might have been able to dance hours ago were now just falling all over each other.

  Bethany grabbed my hand, dragging me through the crowd. Her head whipped back and forth, surveying the scene. The moment she spotted Micah, she stopped and I almost tripped over her. All of a sudden she turned and shoved me in the opposite direction, away from him.

  “Does my hair look okay? Are you sure these shoes go with this dress? Is my eyeliner smudged?” She was smoothing her skirt and fluffing her hair, talking rapid fire.

  With her olive skin and bright blond hair, Bethany looked like she had grown up on the California beaches. She adored dresses, her hair was always flat-ironed to perfection, and you wouldn’t catch her outside of our apartment without makeup. She firmly believed girls had no business going without eyeliner and mascara, at the very least. Though, oddly enough, she was anything but a girly-girl. She grew up on a farm raising chickens, riding horses, and doing whatever else it is people do in the middle of nowhere Mississippi. I knew she could get dirty, she just wasn’t really interested.

  “Seriously, B, you’re fine. You look amazing,” I reassured her.

  I glanced over her shoulder to see Micah looking our way. He stood in the corner of the room with a few other guys. I couldn’t help but acknowledge he was attractive, even if he wasn’t my type. His hair was a sandy blond and he wore it longer than most guys would dare. He had it tied at the back of his neck with some kind of leather strap. His polo and dark wash jeans seemed out of place with his Viking looks — shockingly blue eyes and long hair — but you couldn’t deny it was working.

  Micah continued looking her up and down appreciatively, not realizing she was bordering a panic attack in his name.

  “Besides,” I reassured her, “he obviously likes you from the back. Just get over there.” I turned her around with the intention of giving her a small shove but Micah was already parting the crowds coming our way. His eyes were locked on Bethany’s, a slow smile appearing as he got closer. I took this as my opportunity to get away and pushed my way through the throngs of people still bumping and grinding. Right before I stepped through the patio door, I turned back one last time to make sure Bethany was still comfortable. She had her back to me, so I couldn’t get a good look at her face. Instead, I found myself locking eyes with Micah. An internal warning bell went off and I recoiled, quickly turning away from them. I’d learned long ago that my instincts knew far more than my brain. I just wish I could pinpoint what it was about that guy that was setting me off.

  As soon as I stepped out on the giant deck, the sea air hit my face. It tangled in my hair, whipping it around my shoulders as if playing hide and seek in the dark strands. I exhaled, not realizing I had been holding my breath.

  I stood there a moment, just listening to the waves beat against the sand as the tide came in. The full moon came out from behind the clouds, brightening my path and leading me to the stairs that would take me down to the beach. I didn’t hesitate. Almost leaping to the bottom, I kicked my gladiator sandals off as soon as I hit the sand and ran toward the water. Just as the tide touched my toes, the hair on the back of my neck stood up.

  Someone was there.

  Instantly, a jolt of power raced through my veins. I tried frantically to calm it back down, to maintain control. But, against all effort, I’m sure my eyes went from their normal hazel to bright violet, as they always do when my power takes over. I stood there, staring out at the sea, trying to decide how to react. I couldn’t draw attention to myself, but I could protect myself if I had to — I had learned that much. I felt my power buil
d; like small pinpricks of electricity racing through my veins, filling my blood inch by inch. I forced myself to soften my stiff posture, but kept my right hand open and out in front of me in case I needed to use it.

  Since moving to Brighton, I’d been working to actually use my magic, but it still felt like a second person trapped inside me that I couldn’t force into compliance. Sometimes it worked with me, sometimes not. We’ve been fighting this battle for as long as I can remember and in times like these, when I didn’t know what I was dealing with, I trusted it more than myself. I stood there, my body still as my power rippled beneath the surface and cautiously probed around me, just waiting to be unleashed.

  I slowly started to turn around when he said, “Oh, so you’re hiding from them too, huh?”

  His voice was smooth and almost melodic, with just a little fire behind it. I somehow knew he was smirking even though I couldn’t see him. The moonlight hadn’t breached the shadow from the deck where I could see his outline sitting on a picnic table. He was sitting on the top with his feet on the bench and elbows on his knees. I heard the old, weather-beaten table creak and groan as he set his feet on the ground. A shiver ran through me; he looked dangerous.

  “Do I know you?” Something told me I’d seen him before. The fear that had ignited my magic instantly turned to curiosity, the danger melting to intrigue. I could actually see the thready, purple wisps spreading out, poking around, trying to get a read on him. It’s a good thing humans don’t actually see our power unless we let them. Abruptly, I turned back toward the ocean, kicking myself as I mentally drew it back in.

  What am I doing?! I don’t even KNOW this guy. What if he’s…?

  “You don’t have anything to worry about,” he interrupted, as if reading my thoughts. I could hear his voice coming closer, a little tentative, feeling me out.

  I’m sure he thinks I’m nutcakes. Well done, Amelia. You are here to blend in, not prompt people to think you’re a freak a month into the semester.

  I sighed, took a breath, and turned to face him, not realizing how close to me he now was. The full moon cast light and shadow across his body as he stood just feet from me, silent, sizing me up as I did the same to him. I drew in a quick breath as all my thoughts came together in just two words. He’s gorgeous.

  I couldn’t stop my eyes from roaming. There was something tortured about him, I could feel it as easily as I felt my own curiosity building. He stood just a few feet from me, clearly trying not to be intimidating. But, between the hints of a tattoo peeking out from under his black T-shirt and the leather cuffs on his wrists, there was an intensity he couldn’t hide. He had big eyes with long lashes a girl would kill for. As my gaze followed the strong, angular features of his face, I realized he had a dimple, just on the one side that must only come out when that corner of his mouth lifted into the smirk I had heard in his voice earlier. The one he was wearing now as he watched me watching him. For some reason, that dimple changed everything; transformed him in my mind to just being a boy on a beach.

  “Hello?” I watched his lips move, turning into a full-fledged laugh as he waved his hand in front of my face, bringing me back to the present.

  Oh, crap. And just like that, I reverted to the outcast kid that knew she didn’t belong.

  “Um. Hi. So, yeah, do I know you? I don’t think I know you. I mean, I’ve only lived here a few months and classes just started. B — I mean Bethany Jackson — dragged me to this thing. She really just wants to see Micah and I couldn’t deal with all the people and the dancing and the booze and…” I was floundering, looking in every direction but at him. I was doing the motor-mouth thing I do when I don’t know what else to do. I hate meeting new people, especially people that feel way too familiar to be strangers.

  “So, I’m just gonna go. Um…have a nice night,” I stuttered as I tried to move around him. Mentally, I couldn’t figure out why he was even still standing there after all of my rambling. Then, he grabbed my arm. Not hard, but enough to stop my sloshing through the rising surf. Just the contact of his fingers flared my power in a way I’d never experienced. It was like Pop Rocks under my skin, fizzing and bursting in small explosions beneath his fingertips. I quickly balled my hand into a fist and willed the rising power down. I could already feel the pressure and my energy level intensifying. I had to get control. I had to get out of here.

  “Wait. Just, wait.” His voice was quiet and I could feel his curiosity. His emotions were so clear to me. I stopped and met his eyes. It was dark and I still couldn’t tell what color they were. For some reason, I was dying to know.

  “I’ve seen you before. You’re Amelia, right?” He looked me straight in the eyes, still holding onto my arm, making it hard to think.

  I nodded, “Yeah.” Brilliant response, Ame. Just brilliant.

  “We have a couple classes together, but you always sit in the back and never say anything.”

  My eyes squeezed shut. I was ashamed of my inability to make new friends and blend in. My deep-seated need to stay under the radar. This is fabulous. I went to move away from him again as he stuttered, “Oh. That was dumb. I’m sorry. Anyway, I’m Aidan. Aidan Montgomery.”

  That’s when he finally let go of my arm, only to trail his fingers down my forearm and grasp my hand in his, leaving pinpricks of heat everywhere he touched as he attempted to shake my hand. He gave me his first full-on smile and the corners of his eyes crinkled. I saw the adorable gap between his teeth, and ran.

  I had to restrain the energy pumping through me, keeping myself at normal speed as I scooped up my sandals and bounded up the stairs. I pushed back through the crowd, shoving and elbowing the drunken partiers out of my way as I went out the front door and to my car. I would text Bethany to let her know I was leaving and could come back for her later. I sincerely doubted she’d even notice my absence since I saw her laughing with Micah as I ran through the house. I jumped in to the old Buick, locked the doors, and finally exhaled. I could still feel the exact indents his fingertips had made on my arm, the electricity still bubbling and some part of me already missing him.

  Holy crap. Who was that guy?

 
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