marked for death by the very forces who killed his mother. The very darkness that stole everything he held most dear. Only this time, Julian is stronger, more in control of his powers than ever. But will it be enough to save Leira from those who would destroy her?
Emily slipped her phone into her pocket. He hadn’t been lying about leaving the hospital late. She’d watched him walk out the door. She’d spent a lot of time watching him and not enough doing anything. The times they were together they got as close as two people could, yet Julian had managed to keep the rest of his life completely apart from her. She was pretty sure that no one even knew they were dating.
She sat in her car without starting it. They weren’t really dating and she shouldn’t be feeling pissed that he’d blown her off. He was a
mark, not her lover.
He was her kill to get her full membership to the Guardians of Adam. She closed her eyes and leaned over the steering wheel. So why hadn’t she done it already? She should’ve done it months ago when they first met. She’d known that he was Albah from the curl of his ears. But he was also attractive, educated, and nothing like the egotistical magic-using maniacs her mother had told tales about. She should’ve questioned him and killed him two weeks ago while the undead horror was alive and killing. Now the Albanex had vanished and she knew a Guardian hadn’t killed it. The Albah were probably protecting it. Hiding and feeding it.
How could Julian, a well-respected doctor and burns specialist, participate in something like that? Yet it was in his blood to become an undead, blooddrinking Albanex. She needed to find out where his father lived—which was harder than it should have been. She’d tried.
There was a tap on her window. Her heart stopped and she almost died. What a Guardian she was, jumping at a security guard doing his rounds. She opened her window a crack. “Yes?”
“Just checking you’re all right, miss.” The security guard looked concerned. Emily softened her features as though she’d seen a dying relative and sniffed. “Yeah. Just gathering myself before I drive home.”
“Never wise to linger in the car park. Better safe than sorry.” He smiled. He looked as though he couldn’t run down a thief even if the thief was carrying a box full of donuts and a coffee to wash them down.
Emily nodded and obediently started her car. When he didn’t move away, she pulled out of the bay. She needed to get home. It was late, but no doubt her mother would want a status update.
No change. Nothing to report.
The only excuse she could give for why the Albah was still alive was that he could lead them to more…and hopefully the Albanex.
She paid for her parking and headed out of the city. She’d go to Julian’s place and wait to see if he came home tonight at all. That twinge in her chest was not jealousy.
He didn’t have another lover.
He barely had time for her.
She knew the real reason Julian was still alive was because she did fancy him just the tiniest bit. And he saved people. Maybe he wasn’t like the other Albah.
But all Albah could become Albanex. Albanex were the vampires that humans thought existed only in myth. Albah were more like the elves or witches, harmless until they did the magic that would make them drink blood and live forever. The Guardians should’ve wiped them all out 200 years ago instead of calling for a truce; then she wouldn’t be in this position. Doctor Julian Ryder, for all his good work, was still only one magic ritual away from becoming an undead monster.
Leira sat quietly on the bathroom floor—it was the safest place for her to practice, given the abundance of water and the lack of flammable items. She’d moved the towels well away as an extra precaution. The tiles were cold under her butt. She’d been sitting here for half an hour with the unlit candle. She was running out of time if she wanted to get this done before she had to get to university. While she could light a candle safely, if she saw something that shocked her… Well, she didn’t want a repeat of the crisps incident.
Saba would’ve happily done a reading for her if she’d asked, but Leira wanted to do this herself, and she didn’t want anyone else to know. She didn’t want Saba to know if everything had gone wrong. And if it had, how was she going to fix it?
She didn’t know that either.
Which was why she hadn’t lit the candle yet.
Sitting here wasn’t going to change anything. Maybe nothing had changed and it would all be okay, but she didn’t believe that for a heartbeat. Last night every time she’d looked at him she could feel the tracks changing direction, derailing the future she’d been expecting.
She shook out her hands. Maybe she was being overly dramatic, after all, if it was one of those meant to be things, why hadn’t she felt more than a tingle? All she’d gotten—once she’d gotten over the shock—was the same tingle she got when seeing any hot guy.
A smile formed. Julian was hot, and not just because his magic was fire. And they had agreed to get together to talk magic. And he’d offered to let her read his dead mother’s diaries, which was probably a great way to kill any mood.
There’d been no mood in the car, but there had been an undercurrent of something. She didn’t know what it was or how to deal with it, or him. She’d expected fireworks and…and something more. She wasn’t sure he’d felt anything for her except pity, because she couldn’t control her magic, and then embarrassment because it was pretty damn clear that everyone in the room thought they needed smooshing together. Saba had promised not to interfere, but that had been before, when the vision was still true. Now it wasn’t. They had met and she needed to find out what had changed. She drew in a breath and then exhaled.
In her mind she saw a circle form around her, in her next breath it became real. She waited another couple of heartbeats before visualizing the flame. If she was lighting a candle for the oil burner, she didn’t bother with the ritual, but this was about her future. She could’ve used a match and not worried about the magic, but she refused to use matches and lighters. She had to be able to do this.
Leira pictured the flame in her mind, then pushed it out of her. The candle lit with a spark and a crackle. She leaned forward and rested her hands on her chin so she could stare into its blue center. As she did, the flame expanded. The blue becoming a ball three inches in diameter. Her concentration remained steady. How many exercises had she done just on focusing without even using fire? She’d lost count. She could do this without burning off her eyebrows now.
The blue started swirling as though filled with currents.
Show me the path I am on.
She expected to see the train, Julian—he had a name now—and herself giving lectures. Her future still steady even if she didn’t know how to get there. She’d met him; all they had to do was fall in love. When she thought of him, that feeling was there even though when she was with him it wasn’t. Was she getting herself muddled by constantly checking and imagining? No, she knew the difference between the present and the future.
This time Julian didn’t appear in the flame. The currents grew darker as though made of thick oily smoke. No, it was smoke. And flames. Her future was nothing but smoke and flames.
She gasped and dropped the circle, batting the ball of fire away. It bounced off the wall and into the two inches of water she’d put in the bath in case of emergency, where it then fizzled and went out.
Her heart beat fast. That didn’t make sense. Just because her initial meeting with Julian had gone wrong didn’t mean her whole life was going to go up in smoke.
Fire was her element. What was she going to do, spontaneously combust?
A nervous laugh slipped past her lips.
She must have projected her own feelings about the situation. Saba was better at this than she was. Saba was better at everything, except school grades. That had been the one place she had bested Saba. Leira had worked hard to be good at something.
What if Saba saw exactly what she had seen? What did it mean?
It couldn’t be death. There were other paths. There were always other paths. She knew that. All that she had been shown was the path she
was currently on.
Right. She could fix this. She calmed herself. She just had to find a new path.
The trouble was, how would she know if she was on the same path or changing direction? She couldn’t check every decision that she made and sometimes it was the smallest thing that could create the needed ripple.
Last night had been more than a ripple.
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