The steam curled around him, fogging the frosted glass shower enclosure. The hot water poured over Mitchell, soothing his taut muscles and washing away the tension and stress from earlier that evening. He let out a deep sigh before he turned the taps again, letting the water run even hotter. He knew Amelia liked it to be blistering, and he wanted to make sure it was perfect. She needed perfect. Deserved it.
Amelia. Just the sound of her name floating through his head made him smile and his skin buzz with anticipation. He couldn’t believe how amazing she had been tonight. How strong. The way she had fought. The way she had confronted that skeleton freak hunter. It was a little mind-blowing. Wasn’t it just yesterday that she had found out he was a vampire and accidently locked herself in her bedroom?
Mitchell let his mind wander; counting the days since she had arrived. Eight months? No, that couldn’t be right. He counted again, and then again, just to be sure.
Mitchell reached for the bottle of shampoo. He had already shampooed his hair three times while he waited for Amelia, but he figured that if he stalled long enough, she would come in. He lathered up, rinsed, and waited. And waited. And waited.
His stomach was in knots, his nerves shot. And as he waited, all the what ifs began to eat away at him. What if she had a change of heart? What if she didn’t find him appealing anymore? What if she wanted to move on?
Mitchell was just about to search through the bond when he heard the bathroom door squeak open. His heart jumped around in his chest like a rabbit running a marathon, and he flung the glass door open so quickly he was close to ripping it off the hinges.
“Dude,” Eric yelled. “Cover up, would you?” He shielded his eyes and turned his head away.
“Get out, Eric,” Mitchell said. He tried to sound annoyed, but he failed miserably, as an awkward laugh fell out. He flushed, and grabbed the shower stall door, pulling it closed.
Through the frosted glass, Mitchell saw Eric’s shuffling form, facing the bathroom door, his hands still shielding his eyes. “I’m just looking for Meg,” he said, his voice squeaking over the words.
Mitchell glanced at the waterfall that sprang from the showerhead, and sighed before turning it off. He reached out for a towel, and wrapped it snuggly around his waist. “In my bathroom?” he asked.
“Are you decent yet?” Eric asked, shuffling back and forth uncomfortably.
Mitchell laughed, and he felt his skin flush again, red with embarrassment. “Yeah,” he replied, his voice a little strained.
Eric turned around slowly, his hands still covering his eyes. He spread his fingers to peek, as if he wasn’t entirely sure if he should look or not, and then sighed in relief when he saw the towel and dropped his hands. “I thought maybe she was in here with Millie.”
Mitchell wanted to point out how ridiculous that sounded but held back. Instead, he said, “Did you try looking for her?”
“Isn’t that obvious?” Eric said. He waved his arms around him and rolled his eyes. He fiddled anxiously, wringing his hands together and shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
“I meant through the bond.” Mitchell eyed Eric, taking in his gray jogging pants and hoodie, which was on backwards, the hood pushing against his chin. There was a pinprick of red flaring in the center of his panicked green eyes, and his hair wasn’t in the usual perfect mess—it was just plain messy. Mitchell’s stomach sank.
The pinprick of red grew to the size of a darning needle. “Oh, uh, yeah,” Eric said, and scrubbed at his face. He couldn’t seem to stand still, shifting his weight from one foot to the other and the dot of red in his eyes kept spreading, washing the normal vibrate green with crimson. “It’s like she’s sleeping. I can’t pinpoint a location.” He looked Mitchell full in the face. “Where’s Millie?”
“She’s supposed to be here,” Mitchell replied, his voice cracking on the words. He searched the bond frantically, and his stomach sank further. The hum of an unconscious brain was the only trace of Amelia he could find. His chest tightened, caving in, and all the air rushed from his lungs.
“You don’t think that they left us, do you?” Eric asked. The panic he had been trying to cover showed itself with a slight tremor in his voice, and he rang his hands together again.
All the what ifs came back with a vengeance, and suddenly Mitchell couldn’t breathe. He felt cold; a chill rushed over his skin, and his heart felt as if it had exploded within his chest. “Go get Luke,” he whispered, gripping at the pain in his chest.
“Dad.” Eric took a step towards him. He looked so lost, so scared. His blazing eyes were wide as saucers and glistening with tears. Mitchell wanted to comfort him, tell him everything was okay—the girls were okay—but he couldn’t. The words were there, he could taste them in his mouth, and they tasted like dirty lies. Mitchell knew Amelia might leave, but Megan, not a chance. He was certain of it. She was love struck, totally smitten for Eric. And knowing that made his stomach twist into painfully tight knots, because if Megan was gone, he was certain that it was not by choice.
Heat rushed over his body and his muscles tensed. “Go!” Mitchell bellowed, and just like that, Eric was gone.
Mitchell ran to the closet, and quickly began searching for his clothes, which was no easy task. Where did she put my stuff? he thought as he spun around inside the huge walk-in closet. With every beat of his heart, it shattered again, like shards of glass pulsing under his skin. Tears snaked down his cheeks and burned at his eyes. He dug through the racks upon racks of dresses, blouses, skirts, women’s jeans… before finally stumbling upon a shelf of his clothes at the back of the closet. He grabbed the first things that touched his fingers, shed his towel, and began pulling on a t-shirt.
“What’s going on?” Luke asked groggily from behind him, just as Mitchell buttoned up his jeans. He wore a pair of red and green checkered pajama pants, no shirt, and he looked dazed, as if Eric had woken him from a deep sleep.
“We can’t find the girls,” Mitchell said. He spun around and emerged from the closet.
Luke narrowed his hazel eyes, looking him over, and the color slowly drained from his face. “Did you check the media room?” he asked after a moment, looking towards the ceiling. “The television’s on.”
“That was me,” Eric said. “Meg and I were going to watch a movie. She said she needed Advil and went to the kitchen but never came back.”
“Amelia needed Advil,” Mitchell murmured. His chest squeezed. He tried to tell himself it was just a coincidence. The girls probably got a few bruises during the fight. But his subconscious wouldn’t have it. She left, he thought. And somehow she had convinced Megan to go with her. He knew it was only a matter of time before she would. He had never believed for a second that she would stay with him, but he’d be lying if he said he hadn’t hoped she would.
“They wouldn’t leave, so stop thinking it,” Luke said firmly, but Mitchell didn’t miss the doubt in his voice. Luke had never believed that Amelia would stick around and he had never kept his thoughts a secret, at least, not from Mitchell.
Mitchell closed his eyes. Amelia? he called, desperately through the bond. Amelia, love, please talk to me. Tell me you’re okay.
The only response was the buzz of a sleeping brain. But that didn’t make an ounce of sense. It was in that moment that a new, gut wrenching, fear rushed through him and for a split second, his brain actually started to work. If Amelia had left, she wouldn’t have stopped to sleep. Not this soon. She’d be running, putting as much distance between them as possible.
Mitchell’s eyes snapped open and he stretched his senses to their outer limits, listening for anything out of the ordinary. He took in a lungful of air and caught a scent. His fangs extended, sharp as knifes. “Do you smell that?”
Luke cleared his throat, and Mitchell cut him a look. Luke paled under his gaze. “Um, Lola and I…” Luke said, wiping at his mouth and looking uncomfortable, “Err…We had um…company.”
“You what?” Mitchell growled, and then physically shook himself, trying to get of rid the disgust that was flooding over him. He scrubbed at his burning eyes, and wiped his dampened cheeks and focused on the scent again. Floral with an underlying sweetness. “It’s Amelia’s.”
Mitchell was already running before the words completely left his mouth. He couldn’t think. The only thing that ran through his mind was the scent of blood—her blood—and if he thought about it… He pushed the idea out of his mind as quickly as he could, but it wasn’t fast enough. Before he could banish it away, an image of Amelia lying motionless on the ground flooded his vision.
He ran through the house, trying to find the source of the scent. It became stronger as he reached the foyer. He stopped, spun around in circles, and breathed it in.
His heart was racing. A cold sweat beaded along his forehead, and his back became damper by the second.
“Out here,” Eric called. The motion light flicked on, and Mitchell bolted for the door.
The blood drop was the size of a penny, just a tiny drop. The three of them hovered over it, staring down at the glistening scarlet droplet as if they were hypnotized, not able to look away.
Luke was the first to speak, asking the question that shouldn’t have needed to be asked. “Did the girls put the protection shield back up?”
Mitchell and Eric locked crimson eyes and in unison replied, “No.”
The first thing that Amelia saw when she opened her eyes was her body lying in a crumpled heap below her. “Crap,” she breathed, as she scrutinized herself. “No, no, no,” she whispered, shaking her head violently from side to side. “I can’t be dead. I just can’t be.” And if I’m dead then Mitchell… she couldn’t finish that thought, just couldn’t.
Her body rolled, seemingly on its own, smacking against a metal wall with a thud that reverberated around her.
“Cole!” Josh’s voice growled from somewhere nearby, but Amelia couldn’t pull her eyes away from her lifeless looking form on the ground. “Secure them!”
“Amelia, what’s happening?” Megan’s small, scared voice smothered Amelia, suffocating her, and it felt as if she was drowning in the sound. “Are we dead? Did they kill us?”
Amelia couldn’t make her mouth work. She wanted to reassure Megan. She wanted so much to tell her that they were okay, but she just couldn’t. There were no words, no thoughts, nothing that could make this okay.
Cole materialized in Amelia’s line of vision, and he began straightening her legs, and moving her body around until she was lying flat on her back. For a fleeting moment, he was gone, but then there he was again, lying Megan down beside her. He rolled what appeared to be an old wool blanket up and lifted their heads, placing the bundle underneath them as a makeshift pillow. He wrapped them snuggly together in another itchy looking blanket before whispering, “I’m so sorry, Megs.” He bent and brushed his lips against her cheek and then vanished again.
Why would Josh care if we rolled around? Amelia wondered. If we’re dead…
Megan stepped beside her, threading her arm through Amelia’s, which to her utter surprise felt strong and stable and solid. She narrowed her eyes further, studying their bodies closely. She fixed her eyes on their chests, waiting forever (or at least that’s how it felt) for them to rise and fill with air, but it didn’t come.
“You’ll both be fine,” a lilting voice reassured from behind Amelia. “Sorry about the dramatics, but this is the safest way to talk to you.”
The sound of a familiar voice filled her with an agonizing mix of fear and delight all at once. “Madame Crystal?” Amelia spun around to see the clairvoyant witch, who had helped her—and came close to ruining her life—not so long ago, floating a short distance away from her face. Her knee-length jet-black hair swayed around her as if there was a breeze that only reached her. Tiny laugh lines littered the corners of her almost completely black eyes that held just a touch of violet around the pupils.
“Hi, Amelia,” she said with a big white smile. “It’s nice to see you again.”
Amelia gaped at her for a moment before she lunged forwards and threw her arms around the psychic, crushing Madame Crystal in a fierce hug. Madame Crystal laughed, a singsong kind of sound, and squeezed her back just as fiercely.
Megan cleared her throat loudly. “Sorry to break up this little reunion, but seriously, I think the whole us being dead thing is a bit more important here.” Her voice squeaked, a high-pitched squeal, on the last word that sounded like nails on a chalkboard.
Amelia’s eyes flitted over her lifeless body again and then she buried her face in Madame Crystal’s shoulder. This can’t be happening, she thought over and over. We can’t be dead. Because if they were dead then that meant Madame Crystal was dead, and most likely her entire family was dead, and that was something that Amelia couldn’t believe—wouldn’t consider.
“You’re not dead, dear,” Madame Crystal said. She gave Amelia another squeeze and then stepped back, grinning widely. “As I said, this was the safest way to talk to you guys.”
Amelia’s jaw dropped and her forehead scrunched. Not dead? She opened her mouth to demand an explanation, because seriously, their spirits were floating over their bodies and they looked…dead. Megan made a frustrated sound somewhere between a grunt and a growl, stopping Amelia’s before she couldn’t blurt out her questions. Megan’s lips were a thin line of annoyance, and she glared daggers at Madame Crystal. She drummed her fingers on her hips, and her eyes narrowed to little slits.
“Meg, stop it,” Amelia said, watching her cousin’s reaction. “She’s a psychic and a witch, and she is my friend.” Amelia held the glare until Megan backed down, and then she turned back to Madame Crystal. The psychic was grinning widely. It seemed so out of place and wrong. But the grin sparked Amelia’s curiosity. “How are you doing this?” she asked.
“Magic,” she replied with a twinkle in her eyes. “And with a little help from your mother.” The twinkle fizzled away as if a candle had suddenly been put out, and her face darkened. “There’s someone working with the hunters. He’s manipulating them, working them like puppets.” She raised her hands, her fingers dancing through the air as if she was working the strings of a marionette.
“Who?” Amelia asked. Or maybe the better question was what. The hunters, Cole and Josh specifically, were strong. They had easily squashed her attempts at using magic against them and the thought that someone, or something, was actually controlling them sent shivers rushing over her skin.
“I don’t know,” Madame Crystal said with a small shake of her head. “My visions only stretch so far, and he is masking my attempts. It’s like he knows someone is watching.” A small shiver visibly ran through her, and her eyes hardened. “I’ve almost reached Mitchell. I’m going to lead him to you, so be ready. That is, if I can tell him where you are before he kills me for helping you the last time.”
“What do you mean ‘the last time?’” Megan asked, but it came out as more of a challenge than a question. And with a sideways glance, Amelia quickly noticed Megan’s tense and freaked out stance.
“It’s kind of a long story, Meg, but she helped me block Mitchell’s connection to me when I first met him,” Amelia said, dismissively hoping Megan would relax a bit as she tried to work through what was going on. A thought dawned on her then. “Wait a minute,” Amelia said, as her eyes widened and her heart tightened. “My mother is helping you? You know my mother?”
“Amelia, focus,” Madame Crystal said, clasping her face in her hands, forcing her to pay attention and listen. “The one that is behind all of this is waiting for you. You need to be prepared. Whatever you do, do not harm the hybrids. You need their alliance to save the ones you love.”
Amelia knew Madame Crystal was talking. She could see her lips moving, she could even hear the soft lilting notes of her voice, but the only thing her brain registered was ‘a little help from your mother.’It wasn’t often that Amelia was left speechless, but right now she was. It wasn’t that she didn’t have words she wanted to say. She did. The problem was they were all fighting to get out at once, getting all jumbled up together and lodged in her mouth.
“They want to kill the ones we love!” Megan shouted, snapping Amelia out of her stupor.
Madame Crystal let her hands fall from Amelia’s cheeks. She smiled and shrugged, just a small lift of the shoulders. “True, but in time they will see that you all share a common enemy.”
“I see you still like to talk in stupid riddles,” Amelia said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. She crossed her arms over her chest, trying to look annoyed, but she was pretty sure she wasn’t fooling anyone.
“I have a message from your mother,” Madame Crystal said, choosing to ignore Amelia’s saucy tone. Her smile vanished, replaced by a look that Amelia thought was far too serious and for a second, her heart stopped beating. “Your choices from your past lifetimes are coming to a head. It is now time to pick which path of destiny you will follow. Choose wisely because your choice in this lifetime can end the cycle.”
“What are you talking about?” Amelia scoffed and began nervously twisting a long curl of her hair around her finger. “What cycle? What choices?” And why can’t you just speak like a normal person?
“You already know,” Madame Crystal said, her voice floating through the air as her body began to flicker.
“Wait! Why does Josh think my destiny is to be with him?” Amelia asked frantically, but the psychic was already gone.
Megan’s jaw dropped, literally, and Amelia was sure her own expression looked just as stunned. What was all of that supposed to mean? her nagging brain questioned. And what does my mother have to do with this?
“Was that supposed to be helpful?” Megan asked. “And how are we supposed to get back into…” Megan’s words fell short, and were replaced by a gasping screech.
Suddenly, Amelia felt as if she was being sucked up by a vacuum. It started slow, a small pull at her toes, and she watched her floating frame stretch towards her body. As soon as her virtual toes touched her real ones, the suction increased, pulling at her from all sides as it tried to make her one with herself.
The twisting and distortion seemed to last for hours, and when the last pull came, it was jarring enough to snap her spirit back in place. Megan groaned beside her and whispered, “That was so not cool.”
“Really?” Amelia whispered, shifting slightly so she could see Megan beside her, because honestly, she thought it was awesome, and whatever Madame Crystal had done was now close to the top of her list of witchy things she wanted to learn. Megan rolled her eyes.
Amelia had been right. The blanket was horribly itchy, and Cole had tucked them together so tightly that she could hardly move. She began squirming around, trying to loosen the blanket and wiggled her way out of the cocoon of skin-crawling, itchy wool.
Once she was out, she ripped the blanket off Megan while surveying their situation under the dim fluorescent lighting. They were in some kind of commercial van. There was a small closed door at the front that led to the cab, and she could hear the muted voices of Cole and Josh from behind it.
Amelia turned around; looking for anything they could use to get out. It was empty, aside from them, a few blankets, and a small stack of weaponry. She went straight for the weapons, and was sadly disappointed. Arrows with no bows, guns with no bullets.
“Maybe we could use the arrows like knives?” Megan asked in a hushed tone.
“Maybe,” Amelia agreed, and then her voice quivered as she noticed the silence in her mind. There was no hum, no thoughts, no vibrations. Just deafening silence. “Meg, I can’t feel Mitchell.”
“He’s fine, Millie,” Megan said in a reassuring tone. She ran her fingers along the metallic wall of the van. Sparks ignited everywhere she touched. “They’ve spelled the vehicle. They’re trying to block the connection. He’s fine.” The conviction in her voice didn’t help as much as Amelia would have liked.
Tears pricked at her eyelids and Amelia squeezed her eyes shut. Every breath she took hurt. It was as if the air had sprouted knives as it entered her throat and they sliced gashes all the way down to her lungs. Megan touched her shoulder, just a soft, tentative hand, but it was enough, and Amelia shook off all the questions and fears that were flooding through her body and trying to drown her.
“Let’s try to blast off the door,” Amelia said. She didn’t miss the uncertainty in her own voice but she tried to ignore it, rolling to her feet and inspecting the back doors of the van. There were no levers to open it from the inside and no windows. She was trapped in a box, and it felt as if the walls were closing in, the air was getting thicker and thicker, and her chest began to squeeze tight.
“Wait. Who was that women? And how did she do all that?” Megan looked scared, confused, and small, and Amelia didn’t really know what to say. She didn’t have the answers. She didn’t know, and right now, the only things she could think about were the closing walls and the tight air and…
“It’s a long story, Meg,” Amelia said, her voice raspy, and she tried to picture herself in a wide-open field with lots of air and no walls. It wasn’t working. The claustrophobia threatened to consume her. “Just help me,” she blurted, ready to start clawing at the walls. “I’ll explain later. We have to get back before she gets there.”
“Why?” Megan snapped, frustrated. As soon as the question was out of her mouth, her cheeks flared and she quickly rushed on. “Not that I don’t want to go home but…”
“She won’t be welcome,” Amelia said between gasps of the horribly thick and suffocating air.
Thankfully, Megan nodded and bit her tongue, but Amelia could clearly see the questions burning in her eyes—questions that she knew she didn’t have answers to. She forced those questions out of her mind, and she called upon her magic. It sparked up, licking at her fingertips like a happy little puppy overjoyed to get attention.
Megan stepped beside her, releasing a sigh. Amelia grinned. She knew exactly what Megan was feeling—ecstasy. The magic heated their veins, warmed their flesh, and swirled around them in a delirious heart-racing kind of sensation.
“I’m ready when you are,” Megan breathed, her voice raspy.
“Be ready to jump as soon as it’s open,” Amelia said. She gathered up every ounce of power she had into the palm of her hand. She pulled her arm back, readying herself to throw the bolt like a baseball. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched Megan mimic her motion. “On three,” she said, and Megan nodded her understanding. “One, two, three.”
They launched their spheres on three, and for a second, it was mind-blowing. The magic raced through the air like fireworks, lighting the dimly lit van in a glorious burst of lights and colors.
Amelia was tossed back. She smashed her head against the small door at the front of the van with breath-taking force. White light shot at her from all directions—blinding and scolding. Megan crashed into her with a shriek.
The van lurched to a tire squealing stop, and the back doors screeched as they were ripped open. Shadows emerged from the blinding light and steam that was clouding the van, and then suddenly, a strong set of arms was lifting Amelia, cradling her against a muscled chest.
She tried to struggle and kick, but it was useless. She glared up into the laughing gray eyes that gazed down at her. “Put me down, Josh.”
Josh’s grin widened to a cocky looking smile. He hopped down to the ground and set her on her feet outside the smoking van. She stumbled, and dizziness rushed over her in waves of hot and cold. She grabbed onto Josh’s arm out of instinct, trying to keep herself standing. He took a firm hold on her arm, keeping her upright, and then he winked and said, “Look who’s getting all grabby this time.”
Amelia couldn’t come up with a clever comeback, so instead she just glared at him, and he laughed. Cole emerged from the cloud of smoky steam with Megan in tow, who was growling something unintelligible while struggling to get out of his grip.
“Megs, you blew up my van,” Cole yelled as he swung her around to face him. “Do you really hate me this much? I’m not going to hurt you.”
Megan spat in his face. “No, you’ll just kill my soulmate.”
In a lightning fast motion, Cole raised his hand as if he was going to strike Megan. Amelia didn’t think, she just reacted, conjuring her energy, and launching everything she had at him. It hit him square on, and he stumbled back; unfortunately, he held Megan so firmly that she stumbled with him.
Josh spun on Amelia, grabbed her by the shoulders, and pinned her against a tree at the side of the road. “Do that again, and I’ll keep you subdued. Is that what you want?” he asked with a lethal undertone that made her bones quiver.
“He was going to hit her,” Amelia said meekly, averting her eyes to the ground. His skin was beginning to shudder and change and her body trembled even more. This close to him, it was hard to hide the nerves that were jumping all over her skin, and her knees began to shake.
Josh took a long and loud breath. He dropped a hand from her shoulder and tipped her chin up to meet his eyes. “I can’t keep you safe if you’re going to freak out and attack him.”
“You keep me safe?” Amelia asked, stunned. The idea was ludicrous. It broke through her fear, and she couldn’t hold in the snarky tone that coated her next words. “News flash, you’re the one that’s putting me in danger.”
“I’m trying to save you!” he shouted, shaking her as if he thought it would knock some sense into her.
The motion only fueled Amelia’s anger. “You kidnapped me!”
He narrowed his eyes, and another shudder rushed over his skin. His voice was barely audible when he spoke, and it held a nerve-racking intensity. “I have orders to bring you in. Not her. You. So if you want her to make it, you’d better not do anything like that again.”
Amelia opened her mouth to blurt out a bunch of questions, but he quickly clamped his hand over it, silencing her. He called over his shoulder for Cole to follow. Cole nodded and scooped Megan, who was clawing frantically at his feet, up from the ground, and placed a hand on her forehead. Then, just like that, she went out cold. Cole slung her over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry. Josh gave Amelia a long warning look and then began dragging her through the trees.
Josh was the leader. Amelia was dragged along behind him for a good twenty minutes, and the whole way she hoped that Mitchell was watching and tracking her movements, because, well, her brain had turned to mush, and she couldn’t figure out how she was going to get out of this mess. Somehow, Cole managed to keep Megan out as he carried her, keeping up with Josh.
As soon as they had stepped out of the van, the hum of Mitchell’s thoughts had surfaced in her mind, and with every moment that passed, they got stronger. She continued to call to him, but so far, she had received no response. It felt as if she was trying to call through a force field that deteriorated the sound of her voice before it could reach him.
When they stepped into a well-lit backyard, Amelia blinked against the light. As her eyes adjusted from the dark forest, her blood ran cold. She dug her feet into the ground and yanked on Josh’s wrists with all her might until he stopped. She was sure her eyes were wide with panic when Josh turned to her. “I can’t go in there,” Amelia said with a tremor in her voice.
Josh’s hard expression softened and he loosened up on her arm by a small fraction. “I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”
“Who gave you orders?” Amelia asked. She didn’t need to, she already knew, but something in her needed to hear that her suspicion was correct. All of a sudden things were starting to make sense.Someone’s manipulating them, Madame Crystal had said, and right at that moment, Amelia knew exactly who that someone was.
“He’s a friend of yours,” Josh answered, his eyes clouding in confusion, and a small v-shaped frown began to form between his eyes.
“Who, Josh,” Amelia pleaded, and tried to pry his fingers from her arm, but he wouldn’t let go.
“Have you forgotten me already?” Amelia froze at the sound of his voice. She tried to puff out her chest and glare at him, but she must have looked as small and scared as she felt, because he just laughed.