Bound by duty, p.24
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       Bound by Duty, p.24

           Stormy Smith
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  Chapter 23

  I hadn’t remembered a hair tie and my hair was blowing everywhere in the strong wind coming off of the water. The waves were intense, leaping over each other and capped in white foam. The surfers were out in droves, hovering in packs in the distance. I would never grow tired of seeing them against the never-ending water with the sun at their backs.

  Charlie and I had been walking for about an hour. I needed to go back, but I could finally breathe. The only sounds were Charlie’s small snorts and the crash of the waves. The beach was pretty empty since most people were at work or school. As we kept walking, I realized I had made my way to the stretch of beach where Aidan and I had been on our date. I was standing fairly close to where we’d been when I told him I was in. That I wanted whatever we were becoming.

  I stood in the sand, my face tilted up into the sun and my eyes closed, as I relived those few moments in my mind. How his eyes lit up. The way he picked me up and made me feel like I weighed nothing at all. How his arms locked around me and his hand fisted my hair. The stormy look in his smoky eyes before he kissed me. That kiss would be burned into the back of my brain for the rest of eternity.

  I wanted to live in that moment just a little longer. Total calm spread throughout my system. Not only could I breathe, but I was genuinely happy. The anxiety that was a constant pit in my stomach had all but disappeared and all of my power sat back, a peaceful murmur in my mind. It was a welcome change from the constant buzzing and swirling I typically endured.

  As I went to open my eyes, I had that niggling in the back of my mind that someone was there while Charlie let out a low growl. As I slowly turned around, I unclipped Charlie from his leash while pushing the message to him to stay unless I said otherwise. I was hyperaware of everything in those few seconds.

  The sand under my feet was coarser. The humidity in the air settled on my skin and I tasted the salt in my mouth. As I lifted my eyes to gauge the latest threat, I also brought my power to the surface. Something was off though, she wasn’t listening. In fact, she seemed happy, not angry. Then I saw him. Standing just fifty feet away, his body rigid and his mouth hanging open, was Aidan.

  Well, just damn it all.

  “Hi,” I breathed out. It was utterly lame and literally the only thing I could come up with. Aidan just stood there. He was wearing sunglasses, so I couldn’t see his expression. A muscle ticked in his jaw and he pressed his lips together in a tight line. He looked as if he couldn’t decide if he should run toward me or from me.

  Charlie continued to growl and I quietly commanded him to stop. He gave me a look that made it obvious he wasn’t pleased with not being able to do anything but stand there. It seemed like an eternity that Aidan and I stood there staring at each other. Finally, I couldn’t do it anymore. “Okay, well, it was…uh…nice to see you. So, I gotta go.” I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to move. But, I needed to go.

  “Please don’t.” I didn’t so much hear his whisper as I felt it. Those two words reverberated through my soul. My head dropped to my chest. That’s what I wanted to hear him say, but I also knew it was the worst thing he could’ve said. There was no way I could walk away from Aidan right now. Not when I craved the safety of him, though I knew how foolish it was to indulge in it. I walked slowly toward him. Charlie stayed in step with me as Aidan met us halfway.

  “What are you doing here, Amelia? Where have you been? Why?” He just stopped after that last word. We both knew what he wanted to ask. Why did I say those things? Why didn’t I answer the door? Any of his messages? I couldn’t answer any of these questions, so I just silently shook my head without looking up at him.

  “I’m just walking Cole’s dog. This is Charlie.” I absently stroked Charlie’s head as I spoke, trying to keep my hands steady as she reached out for Aidan. Traitor, I internally reprimanded.

  Just because he made me feel alive didn’t mean I was going to be able to love him. But, every part of me wanted to do the same. I wanted to wrap my arms around his neck and find myself buried in that small crook of space between his chin and his chest. I wanted to feel his hands in my hair and his arms around me. I wanted to hide inside of him until this all went away. Instead, I continued to pet Charlie and avoided looking directly at him.

  “You’re not going to tell me, are you?” I heard the plea in his voice. He wanted me to trust him. Needed me to. But, I had already endangered one human I cared about, I wasn’t going to do it again.

  “I can’t, Aidan. I just can’t. You don’t understand. You can’t.” His frustration permeated the air around us.

  “Can you just come with me for a few minutes?” He was gritting out the words as if it pained him to say them. Something was wrong.

  “Are you okay?” I took a step forward as he took one back. I paused, confused.

  “Amelia. Please. Just follow me.” He looked tired as he turned and walked away.

  I had a hard time keeping up and Charlie kept assaulting me with his version of a warning. I mentally hushed him as I half-ran to catch up with Aidan as he left the beach. I found myself between two buildings in a deserted alley.

  “Aidan, what’s going on? Why are we here?” He walked back toward the edge of the buildings and the street, looking around before coming back to me. Charlie started growling again.

  “Dammit, Charlie. Just stop it. Aidan isn’t going to hurt us,” I scolded. Aidan stood directly in front of me. Sweat was building on his forehead and he was pale.

  “Aidan—” He held up his hand. I assumed it was to get me to stop talking, so I did. What I didn’t expect was an iridescent ball of bright blue magic to form and shoot past me, blasting the trash can fifty feet back into smithereens.

  I looked from him to the trash can and back. And back again. “But? How did you? Where did you? How? You’re human!” I was sputtering nonsense.

  I turned to fully face Aidan and for the first time, he gave me a tentative smile. I saw that adorable dimple appear and the little gap between his front teeth that I loved. “I thought so, too. But, I guess not.” As he finished his sentence, he took off his sunglasses. I was staring at eyes the same brilliant blue as his magic.

  I couldn’t breathe. No wonder Charlie had been having a panic attack. It wasn’t that he thought Aidan was a threat, he recognized his power. But, why couldn’t I? And his eyes, they were blue. His power was blue. Was he an AniMage?

  I had been keeping my own power on such a tight leash. In a spur-of-the-moment response, I let it loose. My traitorous power leapt out and dove straight for Aidan’s. We were standing just feet apart but as soon as our magic found each other, I felt it in every fiber of my body. It was one giant exhale. Small, happy tremors went through me and I was alive. His love, pain, and anger filled every part of me. I found myself smiling, an uncontrollable grin taking up my face.

  “Is that you,” he asked, looking around, obviously confused. I laughed. “It’s us. It must be our powers getting acquainted. Apparently they like each other.”

  He smiled and even through the endless blue of his eyes, I could see the smoldering change. “They aren’t the only ones who like each other. Amelia, this changes things, right? You don’t have to run from me. I can help. Whatever is happening, I can help. I’m…uh, still figuring this out, but I won’t let you leave me again.” Those last words weren’t just a statement, they were a promise. I felt his conviction in the depths of my heart and it only made it ache.

  “Let’s not do this. Not yet. Let’s talk, okay? For just a few minutes, can we talk and not get into the rest of it?” I was almost begging.

  I couldn’t even process what I had just learned because it did change everything, but at the same time, it changed nothing. He gave me a sideways look that questioned, gave permission, and promised we weren’t done yet. I nodded for both of us and led the way back to the beach. Neither of us spoke as we walked down a little ways and then sat. Charlie stood sentry next to me, his huge body sitting tall and his head constantly
scanning the rest of the beach, as if telling me that I could do what I needed to and he would keep watch.

  Aidan sat down on the other side of me. He sat so close that our bodies were almost touching. It was a fight to stay still. Part of me wanted to scoot away and create more space, and the other wanted to leap into his lap and spill my guts. So, instead, I stood, turned, and sat down in the same position just facing him instead of next to him. This way, we could see each other and were still close — our feet and legs just inches apart. He smirked knowingly. I couldn’t stop myself from laughing a little and shaking my head. He knew me too well.

  “So,” I started, “are you going to tell me what this is all about? Last time I checked, you were human. Unless we’ve both been hiding things?” I quirked an eyebrow and gave him a joking look. It felt better than I’d imagined to actually speak openly to him.

  In typical Aidan fashion, he started with a shrug. “I thought I was just a human. I’d been noticing some weird stuff happening, but it wasn’t until after that night at the theater that it really got weird.”

  “Define ‘weird stuff’,” I requested, my anxiety spiking.

  “I would feel this pressure inside of my head. It would get stronger and stronger until, finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and then the release would be one of those blue balls that decimated anything it came in contact with.”

  “Has there been anything else, Aidan? Have you noticed any other weird stuff?” There wasn’t an easy way to ask if he’d ever randomly turned into an animal.

  He shook head. “No, not really. I mean, I’ve been having some really weird dreams. But, until I saw you that night at the theater, I didn’t know what was happening. I thought I was losing my mind. That’s what I was trying to tell you that night at your apartment, Amelia. I was trying to tell you that I understood. And, that I needed help.”

  I had to look away when he brought up that night. It still hurt in a way nothing ever had. He stayed silent and waited for me to bring my gaze back to his. I saw the same pain reflected in his eyes and I heard those whispered words in the deepest parts of my soul. I love you. My own set of pressure started building in my chest — this was panic, not power. Lately, the distinction was becoming clearer.

  What was I thinking? None of this mattered. So what if Aidan had magic? I was still betrothed to Micah. There still wasn’t a choice.

  Was there?

  I felt guilty for not hearing him out that night, not helping him to learn about his own power and this world. Damn it, I knew what it was like to be kept out of the loop on your own life. The worst was knowing that I broke his heart, as well as my own, by walking away. There was so much working against us, but him not being human did change the game at least a little, right? He wasn’t human. He could learn to protect himself. We could take care of each other. Hope was a bright light bursting from my heart into my head as an idea suddenly formed.

  I had no idea if it would work, but I could try. If it didn’t work, I was no worse off than I was now, staring at the boy I wanted to love but kept running from. I smiled my first genuine smile in days.

  The words gushed from my mouth. I couldn’t say them fast enough. “Aidan, we have so much to talk about. I have so many things to tell you, but things are just really complicated. I need you to trust me. I need you to try to keep a low profile and wait for me to contact you, okay? There’s something I have to do and it could change things.”

  I started to stand but Aidan grabbed my hand, sending all-too-familiar sensations pinging through my system. “Amelia, don’t go yet. You can’t go already.”

  Against my better judgment, I leaned down and pressed a quick kiss to his lips. I wanted to linger and savor it, but if I fell into Aidan, I wouldn’t be able to climb back out. “I have to go, Aidan. I’ll be able to explain it all soon. Just give me some time. I’ll find you. Don’t worry.”

  Charlie and I started to walk away, but I had to look back. He sat there, in the same position I’d left him, staring at me. I tried to give him a reassuring smile but I had no idea if what I was about to do was going to be a new beginning or a disastrous end. I just knew I had to try.

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