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"Can you hear me?" Alex's voice floats through my dream of death.
My eyes roll into the back of my head as my eyelashes flutter open. My head is resting on Alex's lap and the streetlights outside highlight the concern on his face. He has a bite mark just below his lip and long red marks on his neck.
"Where am I?" My voice is hoa.r.s.e.
He lets out a sigh of relief. "Thank G.o.d."
"Is she going to be okay?" Aislin asks.
I realize we're in the backseat of the GTO and that she is in the pa.s.senger seat. There's a scratch on her forehead, two holes in her neck and her hair has fallen out of the pins.
"Why do you have bite marks on your neck? And why does Alex have those red lines on his?" I begin to sit up and my brain throbs against my skull. I press the heel of my hand to my forehead and wince. "Ow."
"Lie back down," Alex insists and guides me back down onto his lap. "Don't try to sit up until we know you're okay."
"What happened?" I ask, situating my head into his lap. "And where's Laylen?"
"Laylen went into the Wicca shop to check things out before we all go in." He brushes my hair away from my forehead. "And what happened is someone slipped you a sensualis augendae."
"What the h.e.l.l is that?" My voice cracks. "A date rape drug?"
He shakes his head and then hesitates. "Not a drug, but a spell."
"So someone put a date rape spell on me? I bet it was the bartender."
"It could have been a lot of people. There was too much attention on you and... well, like I said, you radiate innocence. I should have never brought you in there."
"How did you get me out?"
"Carried you... Can't you remember? You put up quite a fight."
My eyes enlarge as my mind sifts through the cloudy images of what happened. I'd been all over him, practically attacked him. "I scratched your neck, didn't I?"
He covers the lines with his hand. "Yeah, but don't worry about it."
"I'm so sorry." I reach out to touch his neck.
He lowers his hand and lets my fingers graze the lines. "I said, don't worry about it. Trust me. It wasn't bad." The look in his eyes and the huskiness of his voice makes me wonder if he thinks it was good.
I fix my attention to Aislin and the holes in her neck. There's dried blood around each one and the skin has a ring of red around it. "Did you get bitten?'
She sighs deeply. "Yeah, we ended up running into Draven. Luckily, it was after I made the sword invisible with a charm, but, still, there are consequences for me being up there."
"Because you're human?"
"Because I'm a Keeper."
"Oh... So he bit you as a punishment?" I summon my energy and drag my body upright, sliding my feet off the seat and onto the floor. I feel like it's partially my fault for not being able to play a good Black Angel and getting poisoned. "Aislin, I'm so sorry."
She covers her mouth and clears her throat, squirming uncomfortably. "It's okay. It wasn't that bad."
I glance back and forth between Alex and Aislin; finally Alex explains, "Vampire bites are intoxicating to mortals. The only punishment from a bite is that you'll want more."
My mouth forms an 'o.' Aislin nods, then faces the front of the cab and stares at the small, brick building with a crescent moon outlined by a black star painted on the window. I notice that there is the same mark on the back of Aislin's shoulder.
"What is that on your shoulder?" I ask. "A tattoo, or a mark, like Laylen's?"
"It's doesn't represent the same thing as Laylen's." She sketches the outline of the tattoo with her finger. "But it is a mark-the witch's mark. After I became a witch, it appeared there." She lifts her foot onto the console and flips the ceiling light on. On her ankle there is a ring of golden flames that trims a black circle. "And this one appeared because I have Keeper blood inside me."
"And they just all of a sudden show up?" I ask, gripping my head. "Out of the blue?"
"My Keeper's mark appeared when I was about twelve, which was also about the same time I really started learning about what it means to be a Keeper." Aislin returns her foot to the floor. "And my witch's mark showed up when I was about fifteen, which was when I first found out I possess Wicca magic."
"So everyone has their own mark?"
"Oh yeah, there are a ton of them. One for vampires, pixies, fey, Foreseers..." She trails off as she takes in the shocked look on my face. "Oh, yeah, I guess I should have started out by explaining that, yes, those things do exist."
I nod as I lower my hand from my head. "I just didn't realize how true it all is."
Alex leans forward to capture my gaze. "How true what is?"
I turn to face him. "Everything I've read. I thought all of the creatures were just made up."
His lips tug up into a small smile. "Books are like a gateway to real life."
"I guess so." I bend my neck and rest my head on the back of the seat. "So how many marks do you have?"
He eyes me perceptively. "I just have the Keepers' mark."
I tuck my hair behind my ear, remembering how I saw it when he answered the door shirtless back at his apartment. "Oh yeah, the one on the side of your ribs."
He brings his leg up on the seat as he turns his body toward me. A sly grin spreads across his face. "If you need a refresher, I can show you it again."
"Okay." I blame the eager response on the remains of the Rufi magic spell inside my body.
"Alex," Aislin hisses. "What are you doing?"
"Get out of the car if you don't want to see," he says without taking his eyes off me.
"No way," she refuses. "If I get out, you two will probably screw each other on the backseat."
In the snap of a finger, Alex goes from hot to cold. He slumps back into the seat and his Adam's apple bobs up and down as he swallows hard. I come to the conclusion right then that maybe Alex suffers from a bipolar disorder. He's so emotionally erratic. First, he hates me. Then, he kisses me, touches me, and makes me moan. Sometimes, I irritate him. Sometimes, he's teasing me.
Aislin heaves a huge sigh of relief. "Oh good, we can go in."
I track her gaze to the front of the store and Laylen is beneath the entry waving us in. None of us speak as we climb out and enter the store, which fortunately doesn't have any costumers but us.
The air smells like sage, as well as oregano, and the black and white checkerboard floor has the witch's mark painted in the middle. Gla.s.s counters border the walls that display jewelry, candles, and incense. On the shelves, behind the counter, there are creepy, almost disturbing objects. The worst is a statue of a naked man and woman kneeling down in front of each other. Extending out of the woman's back is a large spider with a set of fangs aimed at the man's head.
Aislin browses the room, trailing her fingers along the gla.s.s. "Where's Adessa?"
"She'll be down in just a minute." Laylen relaxes against a display case and his eyes wander to me. "You doing okay?"
I nod, feeling embarra.s.sed because he knows-everyone knows-that I basically tried to rape Alex in the middle of the club. But Alex didn't seem too eager to stop me either.
I walk around the room, wondering what it means. Had he been under a spell or did he really just want me? I come across a small gla.s.s ball filled with violet ribbons positioned in a stand. I peer down inside it, curious if I'll see my future. Maybe I'm a Foreseer, although that can't be true. I don't have a mark.
"If you're not careful, you might get stuck inside that." Alex suddenly appears by my side and I jump, startled. "It's a Foreseer's crystal ball."
I throw my hand over my accelerating heart. "Jesus! You scared the s.h.i.t out of me." I catch my breath and glance back at the ball. "So, this is what they look into to see the future."
He nods and flicks his fingers against the crystal ball. "But they have to go inside to see the future. So please be careful. We don't want you getting stuck in one."
I lower my hand from my chest. "But I'm not a Foreseer."
"Yeah, but you're... different. I'm afraid the power inside you might set it off." He raps his fingers on the crystal ball again. "In fact, you probably shouldn't touch anything in here at all."
"Including the floor," I say with acerbity. "Because that seems like it would be very tricky."
"That does sound pretty tricky." He leans in toward me and drops his voice. "I think you know that's not what I meant, so quit being a smarta.s.s."
"Why? You're being an a.s.s." I inch forward and invade his personal s.p.a.ce and am rewarded with gratification when he jolts from the sparks that overwhelms us. "I don't understand. One minute you're being nice to me and the next you're being a jerk."
"That's because I'm conflicted," he states, touching the scratches on his neck.
"About doing what I want and what's right."
I'm about to ask him what he wants to do, but a woman stoops through the beaded entryway and steps into the room. She's around thirty-years-old or so with cat-shaped eyes and her black hair flows to her waist and curls up at the ends. She wears a blue velvet dress, large hooped earrings, an array of metal bracelets, and her skin is the color of honey.
"It's so nice to meet you all. I'm Adessa, the owner of this store and a second generation witch." Her voice is smooth like silk. "Laylen told me that one of you is a witch yourself and is looking for a Vectum Crystal." Her eyes land on me. "And I'm guessing it's you?"
I shake my head and point at Aislin. "No, not me... her."
"Hmm... that's interesting." She a.s.sesses me for a split second longer, and then turns to Aislin. "So, what particular one are you looking for, my dear?"
"Well, I've been using the purple amethyst." Aislin rearranges her golden-brown hair so it will cover up the bite marks on her neck. "But since we have to travel a long distance, I think maybe the gold-leafed one would work better."
Adessa twists the chain of her necklace around her finger. "How long of a distance is it?"
"I think about 500 miles," Aislin says. "Give or take a few."
Adessa unravels the necklace from her finger and walks behind the counter. "I think I have something that will work even better than the gold one." She tips her chin up and draws an invisible rectangle in the air with her finger. One of the shelves flattens into the wall and disappears. My mouth drops agape as a door appears in its place. Adessa flicks her hand and the door swings open.
"After you," Adessa says to Aislin with a motion of her hand.
Aislin bites down on her lip and tentatively steps inside. Adessa follows her, then a red light beams throughout the room and the door slams shut.
I'm teetering somewhere between fascination and terror. "Magic blows my mind."
"If you think that's fascinating, then wait until you start traveling to other cities and worlds." Laylen strolls up beside me and rests his arm on the countertop.
I hop up onto the counter and cross my legs. "Other cities and worlds?"
He unfastens the clip on his leather watch and resizes the band. "Yeah, like the City of Crystal. The Underworld."
"The Afterlife." Alex strolls up on the other side of me with a look of possessiveness in his eyes.
"The Afterlife?" I ask, tugging the bottom of my dress down. "Like, The Land of the Dead."
"Kind of." He slides his arm along the counter until it touches my hip. I guess he's conflicted again, but I wonder if he's doing what's right, or what he wants. Maybe the Keepers are making him get close to me. The thought nearly strangles me. I want him to want me, just like the song says.
"There are a lot of worlds for the dead," Laylen says and hops up onto the counter beside me. He lets his long legs dangle to the floor as he nudges me playfully with his elbow. "One day, I'll have to explain them all to you."
Alex unexpectedly places a hand on my thigh and he draws me closer to him. "If she has questions, she can ask me."
Laylen gives him an innocent look. "What's the matter, Alex? Afraid she'll hear the truth?"
Alex grinds his teeth and grips onto my leg harder. Laylen looks amused as he hops off the counter and then walks toward the other side of the room. "That's what I thought," he calls out.
Alex keeps hold of my leg, but stays quiet. I try to pretend that it isn't making me think dirty thoughts, but there are so many sensations running between my legs that I'm pretty sure I could have an o.r.g.a.s.m at any moment.
I need a distraction. "Why did Adessa think I was the witch?" My voice sounds raspy.
Alex gives me no relief as he slips his hand higher onto my thigh. "Probably because of your eyes."
I absentmindedly touch the corner of my eye. "Are they that weird?"
"They're weird," he says as his hand brushes the hem of my dress. "But in a good way." His fingers slip underneath the leather. "They're mesmerizing."
Sparks kiss my entire body, from my toes to my legs to my neck, and my back begins to curve forward. I think it will stop him, but instead he glances over at Laylen who is distracted by a box on one of the shelves. Then he delves higher until his fingers touch the edge of my panties.
"I can't stop with you." There's a plea in his voice, like he's begging me to make him stop. Like I have that kind of control of the situation. I'm helpless as my legs uncross and my body begins to recline back on the counter. It's disturbing because Laylen is right there and I don't care. All I want is for his fingers to search a little bit higher.
Alex makes this funny noise in the back of his throat and then my back brushes gla.s.s. The crystal ball rolls underneath me and I feel a current rush up my spine and slam into the nape of my neck.
Alex's eyes bulge as his nails plunge into me. "Noooo!"
I feel my body being pulled into pieces, each limb disconnecting from my center, as I'm sucked away into a blanket of darkness.