Five: A Maor Novel (Maor series) (33 page)

BOOK: Five: A Maor Novel (Maor series)
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Chapter
56

 

Disappointment

Tastes like: A creamy,
brown cake that should be chocolate – but isn’t.

Smells like: Fish and chips
when you’re expecting home-cooked stew.

Sounds like: ‘Oh’

Feels like: Sinking.

Looks
like: An excited smile, fading slowly.

 

When the doctor finally discharges me at noon the following
day, I’m still incredibly weak and shaky - understandable since I’ve just spent
close on two weeks in a hospital bed. The only exercise I’ve had, has been
confined to an hourly session daily with the physiotherapist.
 

The doctor orders me to ‘take it easy’, immobilizes my
injured arm in a sling and gives me an appointment card for my next physiotherapy
session. He also orders me to stay off my bicycle for at least another six
weeks, advice I find confusing until Kael explains that he’d told the hospital
staff my injuries had been the result of a freak cycling accident.

‘I couldn’t very well tell them you were a fairy
princess and you’d had a run in with a vampire, could I?’ he reasons as we walk
toward the truck.

I grimace and lean heavily on him, frustrated by my
body’s weakness. Kael bends to lift me into his arms but I stop him.

‘No. Much as I relish the idea, I can’t have you
carrying me everywhere,’ I say. ‘There’s only one way to get my strength back.’

He doesn’t seem particularly pleased at having to watch
me struggle but he allows me to walk the rest of the way, staying close beside
to lend his support and letting me set the pace.

When we arrive home, however, I don’t argue with Kael when
he lifts me into his arms for the trip up the stairs. In all likelihood, I
could not even make it on my own to the second step, exhausted as I am by the
mere steps from the hospital to the car.

‘I’d like to sit by the window for a while, please?’ I
ask when Kael enters my bedroom. He complies, tucking me into the window seat
and flinging both of the windows open wide.

‘You could do with some fresh air,’ he says. ‘You’re still
very pale.’

‘Where’s Nan?’ I ask.

‘She’s gone to the airport with Gramps,’ Kael says.

‘The airport?’ I ask, surprised. ‘What’s she doing there?’

‘Collecting a visitor, hey, speaking of visitors…’ he
directs my attention to the silver Beamer that is pulling into the drive below.
‘He’s been calling non-stop the whole time.’

I sigh, lay my head against the window-sill and close my
eyes.

‘I can’t…. Could you please just tell him I’m asleep?’

I feel Kael brush a lock of hair back from my forehead
but my eyes are too heavy to open.

‘Sure.’

His footsteps recede and the door clicks open. Somewhere
in the hazy state between sleep and wakefulness, I hear voices arguing, the
slam of a door and the rev of an engine, but I’m too tired to really take
notice and within minutes, I’m asleep again.

 

A familiar, refined voice and an equally familiar touch
on my forehead interrupt my sleep.
 
I
open my eyes and nearly fall off the window seat.

Mom?’ I squeak.

‘Oh, my baby-girl!’ She responds, pulling me into her firm
embrace. She rocks me gently back and forth for a while, like she did when I
was much younger, squeezes tightly, then leans back to take stock of me.

I take the opportunity to do a little stock-take of my
own, noting the dark circles beneath her eyes, the linen-suite that seems to sag
on her frame and the stiffness with which she leans toward me.
 

‘You’re here…’ I say, unnecessarily.

She gives me an amused smile.

‘Well, of course I am, baby. I came as quickly as I
could.’

‘But – they said - it was
iron
, mom.’

Her smile fades and her gaze drops to the bandage at my
shoulder.

‘Guess we’re both just lucky that we’re a little more
human than we are
Maor
.’

She reaches out and gently strokes the bandage. ‘I can’t
believe we almost lost you again.’

‘Again?’ I frown and mom’s eyes lift to mine. ‘What do
you mean,
again
?’

She mirrors my frown with one of her own.

‘Kael said you had remembered. The night of the fire -’

‘It’s been coming back, slowly. There are still some
holes.’

‘That’s strange,’ mom says, almost to herself. ‘It
shouldn’t be wearing off like…’ She pauses, and shakes her head. ‘We’ll talk
about it later, you need to rest.’

I snake my hand around her wrist before she can stand.

‘No, I want to know. Now.’

‘Shaylee…you’re not -’

‘I’m not strong enough to stomach anymore
secrets
, mom,’ I whisper. ‘Just tell
me.’

She lets her gaze travel over my face and lowers herself
back to the window-seat beside me.

‘The night of the attack, you were -’

‘- Upstairs, asleep while Kael’s parents were murdered.
Yes, I know all that. What aren’t you telling me?’

Mom sighs and takes my hand in hers.

‘You woke up and came downstairs -’

‘- Looking for you, yes, I know -’

‘- and you saw Kael though the window. You saw him out
there and you just lost it. You ran outside, into the middle of the fighting. I
tried to pull you inside but you were screaming and then -’ Mom’s voice sounds
thick and she pauses for a minute to regain composure before she continues. ‘Warren
tried to pull you back, but you refused to go to safety. You broke through the
circle of fire and one of the Weres attacked you. Warren jumped in front of you
but the iron pierced right through him, into your stomach. ’

My hand goes involuntarily to my midriff as mom continues:

‘You nearly died, Shaylee. That’s why we left. I
couldn’t stand to risk losing you again and now -’

‘It’s okay, Mom,’ I whisper. ‘I’m okay.’

I’m okay, but Kael’s parents aren’t. There’s no more
uncertainty. I am responsible for the deaths of Kael’s parents.

Mom blinks back tears and squeezes my hand in hers.

‘Why can’t I remember it?’ I say. ‘I mean, I can’t remember
much about those first few years…’

Mom glances down at our hands and then back up at me,
but she doesn’t look me in the eyes.

‘You were so young, baby -’

‘No more secrets, remember?’ I say.

She glances up, searches my face and sighs.

‘It’s a memory spell.’

‘A what?’

‘The Circle thought it best if you didn’t remember. It
was such a traumatic time and they wanted to help you -’

‘Help me?’ I whisper, feeling the blood drain from my
face. ‘You mean they erased my memories?’

‘No!’ Mom says quickly, ‘they’re not erased baby, just…blocked.
Not a strong enough block, it seems…’ She says the last part under her breath,
but I hear it and glance sharply at her.

‘Don’t look at me like that, baby,’ she says. ‘You have
no idea what it was like.’

‘Um, yeah – because you blocked my memories!’

‘Trust me, it’s better that way.’ She ignores the hurt
and disgust in my expression and shakes her head. ‘I have to live with those
memories and they haunt me every day.’ Her expression darkens with a hint of
desperation. ‘I can’t go through that again, baby. I can’t lose you. No more
risks. We need to get you and Tristan married quickly.’

‘What?’ I sputter, stunned at her chain of thought.

‘I know you would have preferred a spring wedding, but a
fall one can be just as exquisite, think of all the colours and -’

‘Stop, mom!’ I say, pulling my hands away.

She pauses and stares at me.

‘What’s wrong, baby?’

‘Are you serious?’ I shake my head, slowly. ‘I nearly died
a few days ago and all you can think about is getting together a shotgun
wedding for me with a stranger?’

‘He’s not -’

‘I’ve barely known him a few weeks, mom.’ I shake my
head and glance away in disgust. ‘I don’t know why I thought you’d be on my
side.’

My mother grasps my chin and bears her emerald eyes into
mine.

‘I
am
on your
side, Shaylee,’ she says. ‘The side that’s keeping you alive.’

I stare back at her, into the grim determination reflected
in her eyes. I feel strangely deflated, like I do when she gives me one of her
speeches about dancing not being a
real
career
and making sure I have some
real
studies to fall back on. Only, this is worse…

‘Nan said she wouldn’t force me. She gave me a year to
decide,’ I say softly, feeling suddenly exhausted.

‘That was before -’

‘You’re not on the Circle, mom,’ I say. I see hurt flash
in her eyes at my words, my I continue: ‘It’s not your decision. Actually, it’s
not their decision either. It’s mine. Only mine.’

‘Shaylee -’

I turn my face toward the window and shrug away from her
hand.

‘I’m kinda tired, can we talk later?’

She doesn’t reply and I don’t turn to watch her leave,
but when I hear the door click softly shut behind her, a single tear escapes
down the curve of my cheek.

 
 

Chapter
57

 

Wretched

Tastes like: Dry grass.

Smells like: Rotting fish.

Sounds like: Soft crying.

Feels like: An overdose of
medicine that leaves you nauseous, dizzy and dry-mouthed.

Looks
like: A girl, in a tattered dress, standing alone, in a wind-whipped desert.

 

 
‘Oh Shaylee, you
look exquisite!’ Mom exclaims, examining my reflection in the full length
mirror of the bedroom suite she now occupies down the hall from me at Nan’s.

The woman in the mirror stares back at me with a wan
smile. Her long, shiny black hair is piled elaborately atop her head with a
silver diamante pin and deep emerald eyes reflect the shimmering deep green of
her dress, a stunning creation of silk and chiffon that clings to every curve
and ends scandalously high above the knee in a full, skirt that leaves her long
legs exposed.

Pair of diamante sandals, a Swarovski crystal choker and
matching earrings completes the outfit. There is no denying that the creature who
stares back at me from the mirror is breathtaking.

But she’s a stranger. The Shaylee I know would be
wearing jeans and a cute crochet shirt with sneakers, not this bold, revealing
dress my mother has chosen.

I frown and my gaze goes to the white scar on my bare
shoulder, a silent reminder of my brush with death. The halter neckline does
nothing to conceal it. Not that I’m concerned about the aesthetics, but the
sight brings back unpleasant memories.

My mother’s eyes also go to the scar and she shakes her head
almost imperceptibly. We haven’t spoken much about my ordeal, which isn’t
really surprising, in fact we haven’t really spoken much at all since the first
day, but I’ve often caught her staring at me with a strange mixture of guilt,
curiosity and terror in her eyes.

‘Kael’s waiting downstairs,’ Mom says as she kisses me
on the cheek and gives me a bright, albeit strained smile. I leave the room and
pause at the top of the stairs. Although I still have some ways to go toward a
full recovery, an intensive two weeks of physiotherapy has ensured that I’m
able to walk down the stairs this evening, unassisted and without a sling on my
shoulder - quite a feat even in full health, considering the heels on my
sandals. But it isn’t the pair of heels that keeps me paused at the top of the
stairs, stomach in knots.

At the bottom of the stairs, Kael waits, ready to take
me to my engagement party. There, the man I love will hand me over to the man I
will marry. There’s something very wrong about this whole arrangement, but I’ve
resigned myself to my future.

For a while there, in the hospital, I was sure Kael had
felt something more for me. Sometimes, when we were alone, his skin would brush
against mine, a tender endearment would slip from his lips and my heart would
soar with the certainty that it was something stronger than duty or friendship
that bound him to me. But now I realize that all it was is guilt. He feels
guilty at not being able to protect me or heal me, and guilt isn’t enough.

Perhaps it’s better this way. If he’d loved me back even
half as much as I love him, it would just be that much harder to walk away. And
I must walk away. This isn’t just about me anymore, it never really has been. My
people and my family; they’re all depending on me. Less than a year ago, that
knowledge would have scared, even angered me, but now that I know them, have
spent time with them and have come to love them; I can’t imagine putting their
lives in danger.
 

So the wheels are in motion for my wedding to Tristan,
starting with tonight’s engagement party. I take a deep breath and walk
carefully down the narrow stairs.

Kael is standing in the front living room, staring out
the window with his back toward me. His broad shoulders sport a tailored black
jacket with a hint of a white shirt peeping over the back of the collar. A pair
of black pants completes the look and even from behind, I catch my breath at
the all male beauty of his profile.

The click of my heels draws his attention and he spins toward
me. His eyes widen and his mouth moves, speechless, and he lets his gaze wonder
over me. By the time he returns his gaze to mine, I’m burning with the same
heat I see in his eyes.

Then I see the shutters drop in his eyes, creating a
thick, impenetrable wall between us. It reminds me of the way Kael looks when
Tristan takes my hand in his, or kisses my cheek, something he’s been doing
more frequently during his recent visits, most noticeably when my
seastnan
is in sight.

Kael leads me to the truck, his gaze lingering a second
too long on the bare length of my legs as he buckles me into the passenger
seat. His hand brushes against my arm in the process and he glances quickly at
me, bringing his face within inches of mine. I inhale sharply and stop
breathing, but he drops his eyes from mine and moves away.

Kael is silent as we drive, eyes straight ahead as usual
and jaw clenched. For a while, I stare at him, waiting for him to say
something, but then I give a frustrated sigh and drop my eyes to my hands,
clasped in my lap.

When we drive through the gates of Tristan’s palatial
home, the entire tree-lined drive is sprinkled with fairy lights and dozens of
cars are parked in neat rows on the green lawns in front of the house.

Kael pulls the car right up to the marble staircase and
gets out to assist me. I put my hand on his arm and want to tell him to stop. I
want to beg him put me back in the car and run away with me, but I’m
interrupted by the shrill voice of Tristan’s mother.
 

‘Shaylee, darling!’

Kael guides me up the stairs, into the brightness of the
hallway. He steps back as Mrs. Westwood kisses the air beside each of my cheeks.
She leans back and assesses me with a critical eye, the way I’ve seen Tristan
examine horses at Abbey Manor.

‘Tristan does have exquisite taste, doesn’t he?’ she
trills.

I stare at her, speechless, feeling every bit like one
of her mares on display.

‘Shaylee,’ Tristan saunters across the entrance toward
me, dressed in a black tuxedo, swath and handsome. He pauses at arm’s length
and surveys me from head to toe.

‘I knew you would be breathtaking in that dress.’

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘The dress – it suits you. That’s why I chose it. The
colour matches your eyes perfectly.’

‘You chose this dress?’

‘Yes. Come, our guests are waiting.’

I take a step back toward Kael. My mother had said she’d
chosen the dress and the idea of Tristan deciding on my outfit makes me want to
run away. It’s silly, considering that I’m about to promise to marry him in
front of hundreds of people, but it’s just one more decision that’s been taken
for me.

Kael reaches out one hand to steady me, but Tristan
moves between us and wraps his arm about my waist. He shoots Kael a dark look,
before steering me toward the garden.

As we step through the doors onto the balcony, an
overwhelming number of guests scattered on the balcony and in the garden below
erupt into applause. Tables laden with decadent snacks and delicacies cover the
balcony and thousands of fairy lights sparkle on every tree and hedge, while
red and white candles float on the pond. Hundreds of red roses are arranged in artful
displays on the tables, filling the air with their sweet, fragile fragrance.

The string quartet performing on the grass below stops
playing, the applause dissipates and every person looks to Tristan’s mother,
who raises her champagne flute for attention. Nan stands beside her and I feel
a spark of anger. My mother should be here, standing beside Mrs. Westwood on this
important occasion. I know why she can’t be here, but what gives these people
the right to treat her this way?

‘Friends, may I have your attention?’ Mrs. Westwood says
unnecessarily in her shrill, superficial tone. ‘As you know, we are here to
celebrate Tristan’s engagement to Shaylee tonight.’ My heart drops into my
stomach.
 

‘Tristan, why don’t you make it official?’

A hard lump forms at the back of my throat as Tristan
goes down on one knee before me. I know what I need to say, but my heart wants
me to turn tail and run.

‘Shaylee, will you marry me?’ Tristan looks up at me
with expectant eyes and holds open a small red velvet box from which glints an exquisite
diamond ring. I look up, searching the crowd and my eyes collide with Kael’s.

Stop this
, I will him,
jump up,
grab me and run away into the sunset with
me. Just tell me you love me
.
 

But Kael doesn’t move; he just stands there, half-hidden
in the shadows at the edge of the balcony, watching. I taste bile at the back
of my throat as my mind flashes back to the Circle meeting the night of the
attack. Just as he had that night, he drops his head, turns and walks away.

Somehow, his actions are like another betrayal. I
swallow back the bitterness and will myself to hold back the tears that
threaten.

I drop my gaze to Tristan’s and whisper:

‘Yes.’

BOOK: Five: A Maor Novel (Maor series)
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