The Light Key Trilogy: Book Two
By Tracy Clark, Karen Grove, Kate Fall
Entangled Publishing, LLC Copyright © 2015 Tracy Clark
All rights reserved.
Ireland is a lovely, heartless thief.
Reckless and stubborn, I'd charged into its green and mist and history seeking answers. After a life of being too sheltered, I'd wanted to be brave. My bravery looked like stupidity now. People I loved were stolen from me. Ireland was magical and chillingly mythical, the freaking Bermuda Triangle disguised as heaven.
There, I did discover a piece of me I thought was gone forever. I'd found my mother, saved her from years of torturous captivity, but the unjust trade was my dad, who, because of my rash actions, lay dead on the floor of a dusty tack shed, his body brutally drained of his essence by Clancy Mulcarr. My father's life force, his beautiful pulsing aura, was extinguished forever. I'd lost him.
And I'd lost Finn. My cousin Mari was right when she said love was like lightning. I'd been struck fast and hot. The ruffled edges of my naïveté burned and smoked to cinders.
Ireland robbed me of myself, as well. Everything I had believed to be true about who I was had suddenly been supplanted with one word — Scintilla.
The combined force of grief and anger punched a gasp from my chest. I bent forward in the passenger seat of the car and tried to catch my breath. Giovanni clenched the wheel with one hand and squeezed my arm with the other. His gaze passed quickly over me before looking in the rearview mirror. "You okay?" he asked.
I nodded, but doubted that I'd ever breathe normally again. That I'd ever feel safe again. You don't feel safe when you're prey. When you're prey, you duck and swerve, hide and run. You never let your guard down. You fight, even if fighting isn't a normal thing for you. Thank heavens you're a fighter, my dad had said to me when I was racked by fever in the hospital.
True or not, if I wanted to live, I'd damn well better fight.
I leaned my head back on the passenger seat but kept my eyes fixed to the landscape outside of the car, wary of being followed. We weren't off Finn's property yet and Clancy could be anywhere. Despite my vigil through the window, images of my father battered me. For so many years, it had just been him and me. Even when our team of two became three after he married Janelle, even when our closeness had been tested by my desire to pull free as I got older, he was always strong and steady. Now he was ... gone.
I'd been flung into orbit, spinning and kicking, watching the safety of my ship float farther away, forever out of reach.
Along with Dad, images of Finn intruded on my thoughts. His jaw, shadowed by a shaft of sun filtering through the California redwoods. The angular slope of his shoulders when his hands were stuffed shyly in his pockets. The mischief in his smile. The spice of his kisses. His eyes had their own energy that could laser into me with one look. He'd been my rock-star poet. He'd been my first and only love.
Finn had a way of cracking my shell and exposing the facets of strength and beauty within. And like that moment of wonder and discovery when you break open a geode, for the first time in my life I'd marveled at myself. Now, without my father, and without Finn, I wasn't sure how I would ever scrape the broken pieces together and be whole again.
Was that what life was about? Seeing yourself through the eyes of others until you finally grow up and learn to be your own mirror?
I was sure a mirror would reveal the emptiness I felt. Emptiness wasn't nothing. It was a noxious vapor filling the holes they'd left behind.
I opened my eyes and peered through the car window, looking for pursuers. Besides my grandmother in Chile, we were the last three Scintilla I knew of. My mother, Giovanni, and I were running for our lives. The Irish mist we'd waded through when we'd escaped Clancy's underground prison had expanded, rising steadily so that the trees looked as though they sprouted from fragile clouds and we ourselves were floating on a stream of white spray. Giovanni slammed on the brakes as the gate to Finn's family manor materialized too abruptly. It rose high in front of the car, black, imposing, and barred shut.
"It's not automatic?" Giovanni asked, revving the engine. His Italian accent was laced with the panic I felt. We had to get away from this place, this den of Arrazi who lived to kill. Or killed to live.
They were murderers.
I yanked the car door handle and kicked it open. Fog invaded the floorboards like a trespassing ghost intent on grabbing our ankles and pulling us out. Giovanni clutched my hand. "Stay inside. I'll open it."
"No. You stay behind the wheel. We can get away faster if I do it. Be right back." I left the car door open, ran to the enormous iron gate, and pulled on the slick bars. It wouldn't budge. I looked back over my shoulder. The headlights blinded me to Giovanni and my mother, who cowered in the backseat, but I held up one finger to indicate I'd be just another moment. Peering into the mist, I saw an electronic gate box to the side of the gravel drive, right behind the car. I ran to it, bent forward, and with shaking hands, blindly pressed buttons in the darkness. The gate stayed intractably motionless.
"This can't be happening!" I kicked the keypad repeatedly, fear and frustration scraping my skin from the inside. I'd narrowly escaped the Arrazi; no way was this crap piece of technology going to keep me trapped within their reach.
My already aching heart squeezed so hard, I cried out. I didn't have to turn to know it was Finn walking toward me. When he reached my side, he leaned down and entered a code. The chains of the gate growled to life. I sighed with relief but admonished myself for not feeling him approach. Terror and grief had numbed my instincts. If I wanted to stay alive, I'd have to be more alert, always.
Looking at Finn broke another piece of me, and I bit down on my quivering lip.
The mist blanketed him, flecking his hair and long lashes with dew that mimicked tears. He was beautiful, but terrifying, too. Because of me, his aura wasn't the sunset of love and desire and strength I'd come to know back in California when our love was a new, sweet flower. All color was gone, and in its place pure white radiated around his body like crystalline snow that was suspended in the air surrounding him and fell upon the curves of his shoulders.
An Arrazi's white aura was deceptively angelic.
"Your da?" Finn asked, motioning to the car. I glanced over my shoulder at the outline of two heads in the car. My mother sat slumped in the backseat while Giovanni manned the driver's seat, peering through the rainy windows, trying to see me.
I attempted to answer Finn's question but couldn't say the word that sounded like a slamming door: dead.
He understood though. I could tell by the way he held his hands up helplessly and let them drop back to his side and then held them up again. "Ta sé in ait na fhirinne anois."
I didn't know what Finn uttered in his native Irish tongue, but his outstretched hands jolted me, reminding me of his kiss that had almost killed me. He'd held his hands out like that the night he showed himself as an Arrazi. His greedy white aura had expanded from his body and his fingertips, taking up all the space in the room as it had pulled my soul from me.
Instinctively, my feet backed away, toward the car.
"I'll never stop —"
"Don't!" I interrupted, holding up my hand. Finn's beginning hardened me to stone as I grasped the door to the car. I heard only Clancy Mulcarr's deep voice in my head.
I will never stop until I find you. And when I do, you three will die.
My salty tears burned my throat as I choked them off. "That sounds too much like something your uncle Clancy said to me."
Seeing Cora back away from me like that damn near killed me.
I was half dead already.
Not dead enough.
There was a time when those soulful emerald eyes of hers looked at me with trust and curious adoration. All I saw in them now was dark agony and fear. She was right to be afraid of me. I'd nearly killed the girl I loved.
Now she was driving away from me forever. My fists clenched into painful knots as I watched the taillights disappear into the fog. That Italian bastard in the car with her would get to be Cora's knight. I hated Giovanni for what he'd said to her — that what I felt wasn't love. He'd told her not to confuse need with love. That I was only attracted to her because of what she was rather than for whom she was. How would he know what was in my heart? I'd wanted to be with her from the first moment I met her. She was genuine and beautiful, and the closer I got to her, the more a part of me she became.
Love or need? Christ, it was both.
What knife can flay one feeling of desire from another?
But what if the guy was right? Doubt rode the mist and crept over my shoulders, seeping into my skin. That cloud of doubt was enough to condemn myself with, and while I despised Giovanni Teso for his barbed words, I was glad that Cora wouldn't be alone. He would try to protect her. He would take care of her. He would do what I couldn't.
After the fog swallowed up the car, I turned toward the house. Two glowing yellow lights shone down on me from either side of the front door, watching my lonely trek up the gravel drive. Each step drilled more anger into me, each crunch under my foot ground the loathing deeper into my chest. I was set on one thing. My uncle Clancy was drugged and passed out in our basement. I sure as hell wanted to be there when he woke.
My mother intercepted me at the door, her face drawn with apprehension. She reached her hand out to me as I passed. "Not now," I said through gritted teeth, slipping past her and heading toward the stairs that would take me down to the man who had locked Cora away, intent on feeding off her aura for who knows how long, like he'd done to her poor mother for over a dozen years. What kind of man does that?
An Arrazi man, my mind whipped at me.
Maybe, but not this Arrazi. I'd never do that. I wouldn't be the thing they said I was. And if Clancy's betrayal sliced at my core, my parents' betrayal was worse. To not tell me sooner the full truth about what I was, to let it go so long that I jeopardized the only person I'd ever given my heart to, to let me stroll through my whole life without telling me that I was born just to kill — that was something I'd never forgive.
Halfway down the basement steps, my father spun me around. "It's no use, Finn. Your uncle's gone."
I sagged against the limestone wall. "Gone? Where?" His grip on the front of my shirt relaxed and he sighed. The lines on his face drew downward into slack bows around his eyes and mouth. "First, he went to the tack shed where I hid Cora and the others. From there, I've no earthly idea."
"He killed her da," I said, putting the pieces together. I could feel the walls of my strength crumbling as I thought of Cora, who must have watched her father die. Damn horrific was what it was. "How'd they manage to escape?" I asked. More to the point, where was Clancy now? Would he catch them again?
"I don't know," my father answered. "There was a fight, though. Clancy's smarmy friend, Griffin, was stabbed to death. Clancy was gone before I returned. The rest of them are lucky to be alive."
"You helped them," I said, churning with mixed-up feelings. "You helped when you could have killed ..."
My father's eyes turned soft, sympathetic. "You love her. To kill her would have killed you. I'd not do that to my own son."
"No. You almost let me kill her instead!" I shoved my father away from me, causing him to slip awkwardly to the stair below. He braced himself on each side of the stairwell. My mother's shadow stretched down, reaching for us. I shot her a withering glance. "Both of you risked Cora by not telling me what I was capable of. You didn't tell me what she was." I didn't realize I was crying until the tears trickled down my neck, meeting the firing pulse at my collarbone.
"We should have told you sooner," my mother said, her tone as cool and impassive as always. Had years of killing made her dead inside?
Nausea stirred my stomach. "Why did you have a child? Why would you purposely bring another killer into this world? It's unforgivable."
My mother fingered the cross around her neck. "Are we not God's creatures, brought into this world for a reason? We don't kill for sport. We don't kill for lines drawn on maps. We don't kill to support our own brand of righteous dogma. We kill to survive. In this world, we are not alone in that."
I took each step, my eyes never leaving hers, until I stood at her feet. "I know for certain, this world would be a better place without us."
"Home," Gráinne moaned again from the backseat, this time more emphatically.
Giovanni and I glanced at each other. My mother had been like this from the minute we escaped the shack, mumbling about home and repeating my father's name over and over again. Benito. Benito.
Every utterance of his name drove a spike into my chest.
I had to find a way to stop the Arrazi. I had to find a way to keep us safe.
"I like to think a part of your father lives on," Giovanni said softly. He didn't look at me when he said it, just stared ahead into the headlights piercing the mist.
"In Clancy?" I spat, sickened by the thought.
We were forced to drive frustratingly slow due to the heavy haze and curved roads. Consumed with the need to go faster, I realized my foot was pressing hard against the floorboard. Clancy could be following us in a car. Using his sortilege of astral projection, he could be hovering in the car with us like a ghost. Where could we possibly hide from his power?
"Go to Trim, Cora," my mother said, sounding surer than I'd ever heard her.
"What's there?" Giovanni asked.
"The house we lived in when I was little." I turned back toward my mother and reached over the seat to touch her leg. "Why? There's nothing for us there. It's not our home anymore."
Gráinne's wild eyes hardened into stubborn glass beads. "It will always be our home."
"It can't be safe to stay anywhere they'd associate with her." Giovanni spoke my thoughts exactly.
"I know. I'm trying to find out —"
Suddenly she leaned forward and clasped the antique silver key dangling from my neck. Her fingers spun the red pyramid-shaped crystals, which met at their tips like an hourglass within the top of the key. "This," she said. "You found this. You weren't supposed to. Not you. Everything went wrong after I was given this key. That's when I knew ..."
"Someone out there would do anything to keep the truth buried." She smiled like a madwoman. "Well, I have something of theirs. I can bury truths, too. We have to go home and go digging." Gráinne's words flowed out in a torrent of intense anxiety.
I pulled the key from her grasp and tucked it back inside my shirt. "What does this key open?" I asked. It had obviously meant something to Clancy. It was important enough that my father buried it under the albino redwood tree in Santa Cruz at my mother's request so that no one would ever find it.
But I found it.
Gráinne's flecked green eyes turned skyward and then snapped back to mine. The barest hint of a wry smile curved her thin lips. "Heaven?"
Just when I thought she was thinking more clearly, she lapsed into nonsense. I turned away from her and stared out the window at the lace of fog and fences. My entire body was taut with anxiety.
Giovanni startled me when he reached over and shuffled through the glove compartment. "Cristo," he said. "Nobody carries maps anymore. We'll have to stop for one." Soon, he pulled over at a gas station.
"You go in. What if someone recognizes me?" I said, thinking of the airport video of two innocent people falling dead at my feet. My father spoke passionately about the mysterious deaths around the world and his theory about dark energy before he died. I remembered his impassioned words: The increase in natural disasters is a sign that there is a serious crisis or imbalance in our world ...but the more critical sign now is the people who are mysteriously dying. My father thought the Scintilla were somehow a key to solving the imbalance. But Giovanni and I knew what we saw that day the deaths occurred — the back of an Arrazi, walking away. The Arrazi's aura was white from a fresh kill.
I shielded my face from passersby and practically held my breath until Giovanni returned, map in hand. Danger stalked us from all directions. Hunted by Arrazi, valued more than gold on the black market, and, according to Clancy Mulcarr, we had enemies who wanted us dead more than he wanted to possess us. This mysterious Society he was involved with?
I glanced around, watchful. The whole world was full of enemies whose faces we didn't know. We needed to fade into the fog until we could figure out what to do.
Once we were on the right highway to Trim, my mother's whole demeanor shifted from a shaking rabbit cornered by a cat to a child with her nose and hands pressed to the cold window. What must it be like for her after all that time, to be free?
She was a fool if she felt free.
"Turn right," she instructed Giovanni, who had the map spread open on his lap as he drove. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Deviate by Tracy Clark, Karen Grove, Kate Fall. Copyright © 2015 Tracy Clark. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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