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Authors: Alyson Noel

Fated (27 page)

BOOK: Fated
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I study him closely, seeking traces of recognition, remembrance—some small token of evidence to assure me that, as odd as it seems, that kiss in the cave was as real as it felt—but coming up empty.

“So, how long have you worked here?” I ask, returning to the topic at hand. My gaze drifting over the black V-necked T-shirt skimming the sinuous line of his body—telling myself it’s all part of my reconnaissance, my need to gather as much information as I can about him and his kin. But knowing that’s not really it. The truth is, I like looking at him, being near him.

“I guess you could say somewhere between too long and not long enough—depending on the state of my wallet.” His laugh is good-natured and easy—the kind that starts at the belly and trips all the way up. “It’s pretty much the only decent game in town.” He shrugs. “One way or another, you end up working for the Richters, and believe me, this is one of the better gigs.”

I peer at him closely, remembering what Cade said when I was here via the raven. How he referred to him by another name. “You’re not a Richter?” I ask, holding my breath in my cheeks. Despite what Paloma told me, I need to hear it from him, confirm that he doesn’t identify with their clan.

“I go by Whitefeather,” he says, gaze steady and serious. “I was raised by my mom, didn’t even know the Richters when I was a kid.”

Despite getting the answer I wanted, I frown in return. His being a Richter was a good reason to avoid him—without it, I’m out of excuses.

“Is that okay?” He dips his head toward mine, his mouth tugging at the side. “You seem a little upset by the news.”

I shake my head, break free of my reverie, and say, “No—not at all. Believe me, it’s more like a relief.” I meet his gaze, seeing the way it narrows in question. “Guess I’m not a big fan of your brother,” I add, watching as he throws his head back and laughs, the sight of that long, glorious column of neck forcing me to look away, it’s too much to take.

“If it makes you feel any better, most of the time I’d have to agree.” He returns to me, the warmth of his gaze solely responsible for the wave of comfort that flows through me.

The feeling lasting only a moment, before everything changes. His demeanor grows cautious, guarded, as he focuses on a distant point just beyond and says, “Speaking of…” He frowns, barely looking at me when he adds, “I should get back to work … see you around?”

I watch as he weaves through the crowd, only to be replaced a few seconds later by Cade.

“Hey, Santos.” His voice rises above the noise and chaos, as his eyes move over me, devouring me, but unlike his brother, his gaze leaves me cold.

“Hey, Coyote.” I smirk, seeing no use in pretending. We both know which team we play for.

He laughs in response—a real and genuine laugh I didn’t expect. “Of course I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he says, eyes twinkling, as though we’re just two friendly conspirators sharing a joke. “Though I have to admit, I could definitely learn to like you.”

He moves closer, too close for my comfort. But as much as I’d like to take one giant step back, I force myself to stay put. He will not intimidate me, no matter how hard he tries.

“You may not believe this, but I’m really glad to see you. You’re exactly what we need to shake things up around here.”

I quirk a brow, taking in smooth, poreless skin—a flash of white teeth—having no idea where he’s going with this.

“This is a great town, don’t get me wrong, and Leandro, my dad, is pretty much responsible for everything in it—you do know we run this town, right? My dad’s the mayor. My uncle’s the police chief, my cousin’s the judge…”

I roll my eyes, wanting him to know I’m not the least bit impressed by the Richters’ long list of bogus accomplishments.

“Anyway.” He dismisses my reaction with a wave of his hand. “As much as I love it here, lately things were starting to get a bit stale. I mean, you’re a world traveler…” He pauses, waiting for me to confirm that I have indeed seen a lot of the world, and when I don’t, he goes on to say, “All that globe-trotting and location hopping—with that kind of experience, your views are probably much broader than most. Something that, I’m sorry to say, my family places little value on. They’ve grown comfortable, complacent, and for a while there, I was feeling so stifled I threatened to leave. I wanted to expand my horizons, see more of the world. You probably don’t know this since you’re new here, but people don’t often leave Enchantment, and when they do … it rarely ends well.”

I narrow my gaze, knowing that was a reference to my dad but also sensing something far more sinister behind the words.

“Anyway,” he continues, “ever since you arrived, it’s like I’ve been given a new lease on life—got my second wind—and all that.” He tilts his head toward me, causing his hair to sweep into his eyes. It’s his signature move, meant to be alluring, but it’s totally wasted on me. “So, here’s the thing—I have a proposition to make, one that I think will surprise you…” He licks his lips, inching so close he pelts my left cheek with his breath. “I know we’re supposed to be sworn enemies. I know we were born to fight each other to the death. But honestly, I don’t see the point. You may find it strange, it may go against everything you’ve heard about me, but I see no reason why we can’t work together. I see no reason to fight when we could both benefit from waging peace instead of war.”

“You’re joking,” I blurt out, unable to keep the shock from my voice.

“I’m dead serious,” he says, eyes ablaze with his vision. “My goals far exceed those of my family, and you’re just what I need to help me achieve them. Of course, you’ll be well compensated—
very
well compensated, in fact.” He leers in a way that leaves me cringing. “We have far more in common than you think, Daire. And I’ve no doubt I could learn as much from you as you can from me. Just think—the two of us together—pooling our talents to bring all the otherworlds and their various dimensions under our rule. How’s that for broad thinking?”

I stand before him, having no idea what to say—other than:
No!
And:
You’re crazy!
But mostly I’m too stunned to speak.

“Anyway, it’s nothing you have to commit to just yet. I know it’ll take some getting used to, but I do hope you’ll give it serious consideration.”

I nod, unsure what to say, what to do. Paloma did not prepare me for this.

“So, tell me, was my brother bothering you?” He leans toward me again, his proximity setting me on edge. “He’s not really one of us, you know. He’s sort of the black sheep. Every family has one. Kind of like your dad, Django, I suppose.”

I swallow hard. Fight like hell not to react. He’s baiting me. Purposely pushing all of my buttons in search of the sweet spot—the one that’ll transform me from a totally in-control Seeker to an overemotional teenaged girl who loses her cool. But he can say what he will, I won’t fold.

“Anyway—” He shrugs, back to his fake-smiling-self once again. “It’s nice that Paloma let you out of the house long enough to have a little fun.” His gaze sweeps over me, and while he may look just like his brother, the resemblance stops exactly where it starts. To those who never manage to look deeper, he’s a god—to me, he just gives me the creeps. “So, can I show you around—get you anything? Something to drink, maybe? After all, I do own the place.”

I shoot him a dubious look, remembering the scene in the alleyway when his dad called him out in front of Dace for suggesting the same thing.

My expression prompting him to laugh when he says, “Okay, maybe it’s technically in my dad’s name, but I’m the first on the list to inherit. I’m considered quite a catch in this town—in case you hadn’t already guessed.”

“That sort of thing probably works better on Lita than me,” I say, watching in fascination as his face transforms from what I’ve come to know as his glib, self-satisfied look to something much harder and darker—though it’s a far cry from the demon I know him to be.

“Lita,” he scoffs. Dismissing the thought when he says, “Lita’s too easy. I’m in the mood for a challenge. Though, from what I hear, you have a thing for smooth Hollywood types.”

“You shouldn’t believe everything you hear,” I say, the words flung from over my shoulder. I’ve had enough of him for one night.

Not getting very far before I’m stopped by the feel of his fingers circling my wrist, as he pulls me close to his chest, saying, “Whatcha looking for, Daire?” His voice a mere whisper, as his hand squeezes tighter.

“I’m looking for
the ladies’ room,
” I tell him. “But I’m pretty sure I can find it on my own.” I try to yank free, but he’s incredibly strong and it’s not quite that easy. And while I’m sure I could do it if I really put some effort behind it, I’m not sure how much of a scene I’m willing to make.

His voice dropping all pretense at flirtation when he says, “And I’m sure you plan to take several detours first, don’t you?” He trails a finger down the length of my cheek, the feel of it causing me to suck in my breath and try to wrench free. “In order to spare ourselves that kind of embarrassment and preserve our budding new friendship, allow me to direct you to the other side of the room—just opposite the dance floor—you can’t miss it.”

I swallow hard, make another attempt to yank free, only to have him pull me even closer, his lips pushing into my hair when he says, “I meant everything I said—I want us to join forces. So don’t disappoint me by poking your pretty head where it doesn’t belong. The future is ours for the taking—so try not to blow it.”

I reach around, grab hold of his fingers, and peel them off my wrist, aware of his knuckles creaking in protest and not feeling the slightest bit bad about it.

“Don’t touch me,” I say, my gaze fixed on his. “Ever. Again. Do you hear me?”

“Oh, I hear you,” he says, voice steady and even. “And just so you know, I see you too. There are cameras everywhere, Santos. No place is safe. Except for maybe the bathroom. After all, we do have our standards.” He grins, a sickly sight of flashing teeth and cold, vacant eyes. “Try not to do anything stupid. Try not to do something you’ll live to regret.”

His words trailing behind me as I make my way across the dance floor, heading in the direction he sent me.

thirty-three

I slam my palm against the door and shove in. Shooting for the row of white sinks jutting out from the blue tiled wall, I thrust my hands under a surge of cold water in an attempt to cool myself, calm myself—the encounter with Cade left me more shaken than I first realized.

I meet my gaze in the mirror, seeing a flushed, harried face staring back. And just behind me, just to my right, I watch as the waitress from the first time I came here, the one Dace consoled in the alleyway, bursts out of a stall, straightens her apron, cuts a wide arc around me, and heads for the very next sink, where she washes her hands, dries them on a handful of crunchy brown paper towels, and leans toward the mirror, erasing a mascara smudge with the tip of her finger.

“Miss your bus?” She continues to peer at herself, assessing her appearance, though the question’s for me.

I turn. Surprised she remembers. But then again, Enchantment’s not exactly a destination town. It doesn’t get many tourists.

“Something like that.” I focus on the name tag teetering high on her chest:
MARLIZ!
That’s right. Only, the view from the mirror makes it read backward.

“They leave every few hours, maybe you should try again?” She pushes away from the sink, looks right at me.

“Why are you so anxious to be rid of me?” I ask, digging through my bag for my lip salve and swiping a thin coat across my mouth.

“Maybe I’m just trying to help you.” She shrugs.

“And why would you want to do that?” I counter, seeing her sigh, turn back toward the mirror, where she surveys her face once again. Combing a hand through her bangs, getting them settled across her forehead, her left ring finger bearing a large diamond solitaire on a slim gold band I’m pretty sure she wasn’t wearing the last time I saw her.

“I’m kindhearted, what can I say?” She smiles in a way that reminds me of Cade—unfeeling, unreal. “I commit one selfless act a day, and today it seems to be you. So, take my advice and get out while you can.”

I lean against the edge of the sink, careful to keep my face clean of emotion. “Ever consider following your own advice?”

She tugs on her black bra strap, secures it under her tank top. “Sure.” She fusses with the other strap too. “All the time.”

“And … so … how come
you
never left?”

“Who’s saying I didn’t?” She looks at me, her gaze hinting at something I can’t quite grasp.

“So why’d you come back then?”

She shoves a hand into her apron pocket, sighing as she fiddles with a pile of change, the coins’ jostling causing a dull clinking sound. “I was born and raised here. I guess the longer you stay, the easier it is to lose your perspective. Thought I was the only girl headed to L.A. with bleached roots and big dreams—turns out I was wrong. So I enrolled in beauty school—but it was too hard to make a go of it, and, after a while, it just seemed easier to return.” She heads for the door, presses her palm flat against it—her new diamond ring catching the light, winking at me. “I’ve seen the way they look at you,” she says.

“Who?” My eyes travel the length of her.

“All of them—but mostly Cade and Dace. The brothers hate each other—or at least Cade hates Dace. I don’t think Dace is capable of hating anyone.” Her gaze grows soft, far away, probably remembering when Dace stopped Cade from berating her just a few hours earlier. “Anyway—” She shakes her head. “Watch yourself.”

That last part spoken no louder than a whisper, prompting me to call, “Hey—what’s that supposed to mean?” My voice competing with the swoosh of the door closing behind her, leaving my question unanswered.

thirty-four

I claim an empty stall, check the lock twice, flip the toilet lid down, settle myself on the seat, and dig through my purse in search of the jar with the tiny holes in the lid and the inch-long cockroach inside. Equally repulsed and excited by what I’m about to do, I loosen the lid, set the jar on the floor, and stare at the roach as hard as I can.

BOOK: Fated
8.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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