Bound by duty, p.5
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       Bound by Duty, p.5

           Stormy Smith
 

  Chapter 4

  “So, how do mom and dad factor into this then, Cole?” I finally asked. “Mom was an Elder. They got away. How did they manage to survive?”

  Cole kept his gaze fixed on the water. “I don’t know, Ame. But, I heard stories; stories of an Elder who got away. Of one who could see the future and had the power to make a difference. Any time I asked if people knew of Elders still out there, she was who they talked about. I think it was Mom. And, if what they tell me is right, she was it. She was the last Elder left alive.”

  “Until me.” It wasn’t a question.

  “Until you,” he responded quietly.

  “That means there isn’t a group of Elders for me to find. No one who understands. You and I are it. Dad isn’t an Elder, it’s just us.” I dropped back into the sand as the thoughts kept coming. “There aren’t any more answers… I’ll never know what this power is, what it can do, what it shouldn’t do. The queen will come for me. I’m bound, Cole. I’m bound to this betrothal, for better or for worse.” My breathing was labored as I recovered from the hurried rush of words that had tumbled from my mouth. Questions rose in my mind, popping like bubbles only to give way to more.

  What does Julia want with me?

  What can she do with me?

  What can I do to stop her?

  I am the only one.

  From what Cole had said tonight, the entire Immortal community was terrified of Julia and her Hunters. How was I going to be any kind of match for her? I didn’t even know what I could do, let alone what she could make me do. The fear overtook me so quickly it was like a punch to the gut. My power rose in tandem with the onslaught of emotion and the two fed off of each other. My hands started to shake as violet threads of smoke swirled and grew around them.

  “Cole,” I whispered, pled. I could feel what this was about to become and we were out in the open. No one could see the violet ball of crackling light building around my palms, but they would see the damage it did and I didn’t have the presence of mind to stop it.

  Cole took a few deep breaths, quickly trying to calm himself, and then swept me up into a fireman’s carry. As quickly as my power had grown, it scaled back down. I could feel how angry it was, knowing it was so close to being let off its leash. Thankfully Cole was here for me this time. I was wrapped in his green blanket of calm energy and it seemed to smother the bright purple veil pulsing around me. These times were happening more frequently, and I was afraid of what would happen if I lost control when Cole wasn’t around to stop it.

  It was awkward being eighteen and held like this by your brother, but it was literally the only thing we knew to do. And, the worse the episode was, the more contact we needed to calm it down quickly. I’d been able to keep a fairly decent hold on it for a while now but, in the last few weeks, it seemed like all of my signals were scrambled and I never knew what might happen. Not to mention, I just kept learning more about my past and my future, and not much of it was feeling too positive. Well, except maybe Aidan. Thinking of him helped me even out my frantic breaths and added another layer of calm. As soon as Cole felt me return to normal, he set me beside him, and we scooted apart.

  “You know we can’t do this forever, right?” I asked the question, but knew neither of us had the answer. He nodded. “Yeah, I know. I’m going to start reaching out again. There are a few people I haven’t been able to find who could help. You might be the only female Elder, but you're not the only Elder, I won’t let you face this alone.”

   

   

  As I pulled into the parking spot reserved for my afternoon classes, Aidan was on my mind again. I didn’t want him to be… but I couldn’t help that he was. It was the same internal struggle that I had been experiencing daily. I was drawn to him. By what exactly, I didn’t know. I wanted to know more about him and the way he affected me, yet, when he tried to engage me, I bristled and tried to push him away, hearing Cole’s words in my mind about who Queen Julia was and the realization of what being an Elder truly meant. What being the only Elders could mean. And then there was the betrothal, which was ridiculous, but still a factor. I didn’t know what my destiny was, but it didn’t seem right to drag him into it. However, the fact that I couldn’t get him off my mind had to mean something. I was still pondering the oddity of the situation as I entered the building and found him sitting outside my seminar.

  “You’ve got to be joking,” I said with a hand on my hip, trying to sound irritated when I was truly thrilled to see him again. Every time I was near him my heart raced and giddiness spread through my veins. All of my concern over the queen and my future just dropped away in those few moments I was with Aidan. I stood over him as he reclined on the bench outside the door to my class, looking far too calm for how worked up I was. His hair was disheveled and just the front of his red polo was tucked into his dark jeans. The black ink of his tattoo drew my eyes away from his, to his impressive bicep, and I had to force them back. I waited for a reaction as he quirked an eyebrow and shoved his phone down into his front pocket.

  “You know, Amelia, you really need to relax. Everything isn’t just about you.” Aidan’s face reflected the humor in his tone, his eyes laughing.

  “Really? Somehow you’ve managed to just appear in not one, but two of my classes?”

  “Actually,” he said slowly, giving me a look of mild annoyance, “we have three classes together. And have for the last month. So glad to know I’m so easy to miss.”

  He pushed himself off the bench and tossed his backpack over his shoulder, meeting me eye-to-eye. I couldn’t help but take a step back. I was afraid he’d hear the thunderous pounding of my heart, yet I couldn’t hide the red flush creeping across my face.

  “Do I make you uncomfortable, Amelia?” His voice was low as he matched my backward step with a forward one. The look in his eyes made it clear that if I were running, he’d be giving chase.

  I swallowed and tried to project a confidence I didn’t feel. “You wish, Montgomery. You just seem to irritate the crap out of me.”

  I turned on my heel, felt his eyes on my back, and struggled not to react to his deep chuckle as I rushed away and into the room. Trying to calm my frantic heartbeat and the electricity that came with every one of our interactions, I took a seat in the back corner, as I usually did. I was comforted by the fact that I could see him, but he had to make it obvious he was watching me. Unfortunately, he didn’t seem concerned over making his interest obvious and turned in his seat multiple times throughout the lecture to catch my eye. I wanted to look away, but I found myself holding his stare every time, memorizing the dimple that came along with his smirk of self-confidence.

  As we were dismissed, I tried to get out quickly, to avoid Aidan completely and get myself together, but just as I pushed through the double doors outside, he caught up to me. “Hey, doll, you’re running off again. You can’t avoid me forever, you know?”

  I kept walking. “Can’t I? You don’t quite seem to be getting the hint. Or haven’t you noticed that I just keep walking away?”

  I slipped my sunglasses on, feeling smug as I turned to do just that — and ran straight into a wall. Of muscle. Of Aidan. He had cut off my escape. As I not-so-gracefully tried to keep myself from falling over and then attempted a glare up at him, I found Aidan smiling down at me. “Well, that stopped you, now didn’t it?”

  We both looked down and I realized I still had both hands pressed against his chest. In that same instant I both heard and felt a familiar crackle and pop and we recoiled from each other.

  “What the hell?” he yelped. Aidan stood rubbing his chest as I stumbled for words. “That was some… uh, static shock. What did I tell you? You should just leave me alone.” I tried to sound nonchalant and failed miserably.

  “I don’t know why you seem so offended that I’m interested in you, Amelia.” He stepped forward again, thankfully not noticing the small burn hole in his T-shirt. I struggled to maintain my position, not wanting to give
him an inch but afraid of my potential reaction doing more than burning his shirt if I touched him again.

  “I can read you, doll. I can see that you aren’t as offended as you want me to think.” I stuck my chin out defiantly but got caught in Aidan’s stare. The gray in his eyes deepened from smoke to ash and I was sure he could see right through me. “Again, Montgomery, you’re out of your league. You don’t know a thing about me or what I want. You’re going to need more than a wink and pretty smile to make this happen.”

  I stepped around him as he clutched his chest, saying, “Ow, now that one hurt. Insulting a man’s pride is just too far.”

  “This is what I’m saying. You don’t want to take me on.” I tossed him a smile that was more confident than I felt as I strode away, fervently trying to maintain a normal pace and not sprint to my car, all the while wishing I had a reason to look back and see if he was watching me go.

   

   

  This continued with Aidan; him popping up before and after my classes. He was never intimidating or creepy, but made it obvious that he was interested and thoroughly enjoyed rattling me. I’d never really done this dance with a guy and my reactions were varied. I generally ended up berating myself as I walked away from him for the latest dumb thing I said, or reminding myself for the billionth time that this game was a terrible idea and that I should just walk away. We both could get hurt and I had a commitment that included both a crazy queen who wanted to abuse my power and an unknown prince who was likely just as deranged. But, with each interaction, I found myself smiling more, laughing with him, and hoping these encounters wouldn’t end. We were slowly building the base of a friendship, learning more about each other — our interests and our pasts.

  Given all of that, I wasn’t too surprised to find him sitting underneath a tree near where my car was parked after classes one day.

  “You understand this is bordering on stalking, right? I could probably convince someone a restraining order is necessary.” I couldn’t help but smile as I said it. Over the last week, I had actually found myself looking forward to our sarcasm-laced interactions.

  He didn’t miss a beat. “Well, if you’d stick around for more than two minutes at a time, you’d figure out that I’m not a bad guy. And, you could just face the fact that you’ve been waiting for me to ask you out.”

  His cocky grin did me in and I couldn’t stop the laugh that erupted. “Oh, really, is that all I need to do? Give in to your manly prowess? Just accept my fate as your next conquest? You really haven’t learned anything about me, Montgomery, have you? Try again.”

  I flipped my sunglasses down from on top of my head, but not before I sent him a saucy wink of my own. I was finally getting used to this game, but I wasn’t ready to give in just yet. I should stop, but it was just too much fun.

  I turned to toss my backpack into my car and heard my name from across the parking lot. Looking up, Bethany was waving her arms and beckoning me over. I tossed a, “Later, Montgomery,” over my shoulder as I strode back toward the main building. “There will definitely be a later, Amelia.” He hadn’t said the words loudly, but they echoed through my system and I couldn’t stop the little shiver that went up my spine. The electric fire that shot through me every time he was around put an extra pep in my step and I almost skipped across the parking lot.

  As I approach Bethany, she immediately looped her arm through mine. “What’s up, buttercup?” I joked as she pulled me toward the campus coffee shop.

  “Oh no you don’t, Amelia Bradbury. You’re not changing the subject on me. I want to know who that lovely hunk of tall, dark, and steamy was you were talking to. That’s Aidan, right? From Humanities?”

  It had taken me a month to realize he was in the same class as me. How exactly is it that everyone seemed to notice this guy but me? Was I that socially awkward in our first month of classes?

  Without Rynna and then Bethany, I would have hit rock bottom in my downward spiral of social awkwardness. Growing up, Rynna always pushed me to try to make friends, while my father strictly forbade it. In my high school years, I went full rebel and signed up for public school. In that experience, I found a few girls willing to take pity on me and let me sit at their lunch table. In those uncomfortable years, I learned quickly that if I found a way to make things funny, people would pay attention to me in a positive way. When I met Bethany, I was the person I had grown to be — the sarcastic version of my former self — and we instantly clicked. She also took over where Rynna left off, forcing me to constantly interact with people. That first month of class was rough, though. I basically hid in the back of every class and tried to stay under the radar, but Bethany made me branch out of my comfort zone once more.

  I shook my head to clear my thoughts, but confirmed her question. “Yep, that’s Aidan. He’s been… uh, hanging around lately.” I hadn’t explained any of my interactions with Aidan to Bethany yet. She was caught up in her budding romance with Micah, and I was still trying to figure out exactly what Aidan and I were doing.

  “Sweetie, you’ve got to get with the program.” Bethany gave me an exasperated look and an exaggerated sigh. “I know this is new to you, but besties tell each other everything. You’re holding back and I can feel it, so give it up.” Bethany pulled me to a stop and crossed her arms, making it clear we weren’t going to get that caramel latte I really wanted until I started the story.

  “Okay, okay!” I laughed as I put both hands up in surrender. “Coffee first, story second.”

  “HA! I knew it!” She clapped her hands together as if she’d actually won a prize. “I knew you’d been too quiet lately. You do that, you know? You clam up when things are brewing. I can always tell.” I had to laugh at her self-assured tone and serious look. She was right, she knew me better than most and I didn’t know how to not be an open book. It had caused problems between my dad and I for years because I couldn’t hide the fact that I couldn’t control my powers, and sometimes I didn’t want to.

  I was able to order my latte in peace, but as soon as we were tucked into our favorite overstuffed chairs in the back corner of the coffee shop, Bethany demanded the full story. It was hard to figure out which words to use with her. I wanted so desperately to explain the strange feelings Aidan stirred in me, but that would take explaining my powers. Some of dear old dad’s lessons stuck with me and I wouldn’t expose Bethany to a world that could hurt her. But, I seriously wanted to tell her that every time Aidan got within fifty feet of me, I felt this buzzing in my blood, as if my body were just waiting dormant for him and once I could see him, I came alive. That Pop Rocks feeling would bloom and spread, his touch like fire on my skin. Not the burning kind, but the kind you wanted to lean toward and soak in. If this was lust, I wasn’t complaining.

  So, I sat there for a few seconds, sipping my latte and trying to determine where to start. I had just opened my mouth when I saw Bethany’s eyes go wide and light up. “Well, hiya, Micah! Fancy meeting you here!” Micah came around the back of my chair and sat on the arm of hers.

  “Well, hello, ladies. How are you both today?” Micah was oddly formal. From what I had learned about him from class and Bethany, he was born in Europe somewhere, raised in boarding schools, and had pulled a typical rich-kid rebellion by moving to California and going to a community college instead of the prestigious Ivy League schools I’m sure he was accepted into. I’m certain his parents were thrilled.

  While Micah and Bethany engaged in small talk, I picked up a magazine from the table next to us and began absently flipping through. My mind actually on Aidan and not seeing a single word, I missed it entirely when Micah addressed me directly.

  “Amelia? Hello?” I quickly raised my gaze to his, trying to figure out what I had just missed, but something was off. I quickly stood and looked around. I could feel it. A strange pulling in the back of my mind. I’d never had that sensation before, but it was like I could feel someone trying to communicate with me, trying to tell me something.
It’s that same feeling you have when you’re sure someone called your name but you don’t see anyone you know. I don’t know exactly what I was searching for, but I kept scanning the coffee shop.

  “Ame, honey, what the heck are you doing? You look a little crazy right now.” Bethany’s quiet concern brought me out of my trance and I noticed a quick look of surprise flash in Micah’s eyes before he stood as well.

  “Um. Sorry, guys. I swear I heard someone looking for me or something,” I said as I took one last look around. Bethany laughed and said, “Your ears are burning, huh? That’s what my mama would say.”

  Micah gave me the strangest look that disappeared as he turned to Bethany with a smile. “It seems as if I’ve interrupted something. I’ll let you two get back to it. Bethany, I’ll be in touch later to set up dinner this weekend, if you’d like.”

  She was glowing. “I’d love that, Micah.” A few bats of her eyelashes and I actually watched him soften a little as he took her hand and kissed it. I thought it was over the top. She, on the other hand, melted. “Until then,” he said, and walked away stiffly without another word to me. Bethany actually sighed.

  “Oh, B. Really?” I teased. She tossed her balled up napkin at me in protest.

  “You just shush, Amelia. Just because I enjoy a little romance to go along with my Viking hottie, doesn’t make me any less of a woman.” I couldn’t stop it this time, I doubled over as the laughter overtook me. Then, Bethany was laughing too. We were like five-year-olds, both red-faced with tears leaking from the corners of our eyes. I was struggling to catch my breath as we calmed down, but I couldn’t help taking one last dig. “Watch out B, he might call your daddy for permission to take you out to dinner.” That got me a good kick in the shin as we both laughed some more.

  She did end up getting the Aidan story out of me, just a very short and condensed version. She was pissed that I hadn’t told her about our night on the beach before now, but got over it as she went into match-making mode after I told her about his continued quest to take me out.

  “Amelia,” she gushed as she leaned in toward me, almost whispering, “You need to do this. You need to let this thing with Aidan happen. You told me you came to Brighton because you wanted to really experience life outside of where you’re from, away from your crazy dad. I know your brother is here and it’s awesome you guys are catching up, but you deserve a little romance. College is when you figure out who you are. Maybe Aidan can help!” She made a suggestive face and gesture that had me muttering about her southern propriety, or lack thereof, as we tossed our coffee cups and went to go our separate ways.

  “I’ll think about it, B. I just don’t know yet.”

  She gave me a quick hug and said, “Honey, maybe that’s what you really need. A little bit of ‘don’t know’ to liven things up.”

  If she only knew how much my life was a constant stream of “don’t know”, she might have suggested otherwise.

 
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