She knew someone was there. She could feel it in her bones – a cold, chilling foreboding that pressed in around her like ice. Her options were either to get out and call the police, or the stupid option – go on in and confront them herself. The first one seemed smarter, by a long shot, but the second intrigued her – this had never happened before, and she wanted to see what it would be like. The only downside was that maybe the intruder, or intruders, had a weapon and a maniacal mind.
Liesel's footsteps were loud in the silence of the bookstore. It weighed down in Iris's ears like waves crashing to the shore. Goosebumps erupted along her arms and neck, and her shoulders instinctively rose like a cat's. Something brushed her neck, like the breath of a lover, but when she whirled around, nothing was there. Her fear, despite her decision to stay, rose. She leaned breathlessly against the bookcase, her heart threatening to release itself from her chest, and it was all she could do not to slide down to the floor and huddle together like a child afraid of the night.
“Iris?” Liesel's voice flowed above her head, silencing the rushing in her ears. Her voice was trembling slightly, needing an answer among the darkness to calm her. “Are you still there?”
Iris had to swallow twice before she called out, “Still here. You okay?”
“Yeah.” Liesel seemed farther away, or maybe she was trying to keep the sound to a minimum. Whichever it was, Iris finally found the strength to stand again, albeit with trembling legs and a few deep breaths. She couldn't understand why they were calling each other, but it gave her comfort to know that at least they were still together. Iris moved forward again, treading carefully – there were steps that led up to books on higher shelves, and she didn't want to act like an idiot and trip on them. Soon, though, her foot hit a solid object – the steps – and she stepped up onto them, forcing herself to go slow and easy. The bookstore was a pretty old place, and the wood flooring was beginning to creak and moan like an old woman.
Despite her emotions running through her mind like a beehive and her heart pounding so fast it was impossible, she could feel the rustling pages around her, the constant pull and seduction of the books that promised her new worlds and exciting adventure. She wanted to caress their pages, like she so often did when she was at work, and breathe in the smells of newborn books and old, brown-sugar coated ones. She reached a hand forward, so she didn't collapse into a bookcase, and felt the spines of them like they were human, soft and worn paperbacks and bristly and bent hardcovers. She smiled secretly to herself – only she could find solace just by touching the paper, by touching front covers of bestsellers and debut novels –
“Iris! Iris, there's someone – ” Liesel's frantic, panicky voice was suddenly caught off. Iris shook her head, swiveling around the find the source, and bounded off the steps, ignoring the sharp clomp of her shoes on wood, using the fading moonlight to guide her way through the gloom. Liesel's voice had originated from Iris's left side, so she turned towards that way, her eyes suddenly adjusting to the darkness like a camera zooming in on an object. Her heart was suddenly in her mouth, her breath coming out in quick puffs, the only thought in her mind – I'm coming, Liesel, I'm coming to get you. Just hold on a few seconds – and just as soon as she thought she was going to find Liesel around the corner, she heard the rustle of fabric, and a hand clamped around her mouth, an arm sliding around her waist to tug her behind a bookcase. She instantly began to struggle, but her arms were pinned to her sides and the person behind her had arms made of steel – she felt like a worm wiggling helplessly on a hook. She tried connecting her foot with someone's kneecap or groin, but whoever held her had done this before – he kept his legs at a reasonably fair distance. She tried biting the hand covering her mouth, screaming into it, but it sounded muffled.
The person's hand tightened over her mouth, making her gasp, and hair that wasn't hers tickled her cheek. Cool, mint-smelling breath wafted to her nose, warm air caressing her neck. Goosebumps exploded along her skin, widening her eyes. “Well, well, my dear flower, we meet again.” The voice was familiar, tickling the back of her mind like a forgotten idea, but she froze the moment she heard it. “You are so hard to find, even for me. One of the only places was your scent here, and I knew that I found you. But I couldn't find where you were living. So I decided to use your workplace as bait to... lure you in. At first I didn't think you were coming – I saw that girl with the blond hair wandering around here, but she wasn't the one we wanted. And then your scent and hers came and it was all just so – ” he paused, shuddering against her back, his breath hissing between his teeth, “breath-taking.”
She breathed through her nose, closing her eyes. The terror rising within her chest was becoming nearly impossible to bear, something she couldn't get air around, like a tight ball stuck in her throat. The only time she'd ever experienced something quite like this was when she had been locked in a dark room at a party she'd went to back in high school. A guy, not quite handsome but leaning more toward pretty, had led her there with soft, seducing words and a firm hand on her waist. She knew what had been waiting in that room when he started walking towards there with her, and she knew that she was still a virgin, but she hadn't wanted to make a fool of herself. When they were in the room, him whispering sweet words, she had felt that same terror rising in the pit of her stomach, making her unable to breathe, unable to speak, unable to do anything but stare helplessly. She knew that there was no light in the dark – everything happened in the dark, everything bad, and nothing could break through a darkness as impenetrable, as intense, as the fear that clouded her vision now.
“You're afraid; I can taste your fear like perfume on the back of my tongue.” As she opened her eyes slowly, the man behind her bent her neck with his hand on her mouth, her hair falling back to reveal her pale, long throat. She felt his movement as his head dipped to her neck, his lips brushing the pulse thumping wildly there. “Your blood calls to me, like the pull of the moon to wolves. So much sweet blood, for such a small little person.”
“What are you talking about - ” But then her voice was cut off.
The air suddenly seemed to fizz, cracking with unseen electricity. The hairs on Maryse's arms stood up like soldiers standing at attention, and her gaze suddenly seemed sharper and clearer. Everybody had stopped talking, their conversations halted in mid-sentence. They were looking around curiously, some almost considered afraid, while others were frozen and werewolves had their muscles bunched and corded with strain. Then the lights began to flicker, on and off, and fear began to crawl its way into the air, touching everybody except Maryse with tendril-like fingers. She didn't understand – people around her began to murmur in frightened whispers, saying things like, “It can't be him, not him,” and, “But then who would have the power to do that? Especially with the lights? He's the only one who has that power.” She couldn't figure out who could possibly figure out who they were talking about, who could make people go from happy and chatting to suddenly low and isolated, secretive and afraid. His power must be great, Maryse thought wonderingly. Wonder who it is...?
The door chimed ominously. She squinted through the darkness, trying to decipher who the newcomer was, even though gasps of surprise and fright echoed around the room like a ripple in water. She felt a sudden chill, then warmth, filled with the scents of springtime and rain, and then the sound of crackling fire and the thump of waves. She closed her eyes for a moment, shocked, breathing in all the sensations that abruptly spread through her. The lights flickered again, casting an unearthly glow to the tabletops and revealing menacing shadows that rippled and shuddered in corners. She saw a tall, dark, handsome person amid the dimness, standing in the doorway with the rain pounding relentlessly outside. Instinctively she cringed, her breath hissing through her teeth.
“Maryse, are you okay?”
She didn't answer. She couldn't quite explain how, but she knew that the person standing in that doorway was an elemental – a really powerful one. His power radiated through the air like invisible gas, settling along her skin like a layering of dew. She tasted that sharp metallic tang in her mouth when she was near them, but this time it seemed magnified. She closed her eyes, her head throbbing, her heart pounding, and wished that she could feel the wave of his elements slide over her again, feel the earth and smell the sea and hear the wind and touch the fire. It was strangely addictive, like a drug made just for her.
Aline touched Maryse's shoulder with an expression of concern, her face ghostly pale in the flickering light. “Maryse, is there something wrong?”
“Yeah,” she heard herself say, vaguely. “I mean no – I'm fine, it's just – who is he?”
“Him. The one right there – doing all this.” Maryse gestured to the light bulbs and the sudden breeze flowing through the room.
“Oh.” Her voice took on a dream-like quality. “Well, him... he's a fine piece of – ”
“Oh, shut up,” Sabine hissed. She bent her face towards the table, an action of secrecy. Maryse and Aline leaned in, their faces frowning in confusion but their eyes shining in excitement – when Sabine tells you to shut up, she has something good and juicy to announce. “His name is Elias Bane. He's, like, one of the most powerful elementals in the entire country. Nearly everyone knows his name, and some even think he's just a legend, a fantasy. If you're even twenty meters away from him, you can feel his power. It's like some kind of monster. A lot of people hate him for the power he wields, and some vampires are after him for his blood. He's – amazing. There's no other word for it.”
“You're missing something,” Aline sang softly under her breath, glancing furtively at Elias. “He is absolutely, irrevocably, amazingly – hot.”
Sabine hissed, “Would you stop thinking about what's in their pants already, Aline? It's disgusting. Besides, he's too – I don't know how to explain it, but thinking about him like that won't get you anywhere. Girls say that even though his body is the stuff of the Angels and he's endowed heavily, he refuses to take their 'innocence.' Please, as if the girls of today don't go slutting themselves around school and in faery bars.” She leaned back, rubbing beneath her eyes as if she were tired. “Besides, he never dates.”
“He never dates? How could someone like that not date?”
Sabine rolled her eyes dramatically, and leaned forward again to answer Aline's ridiculous questions, but Maryse had already tuned out. Her gaze had found its way to the new elemental in the room. The lights had stopped flickering, but the uneasy air flowing through the room was still legible, almost as if you could taste it on your tongue. Nearly all eyes were on Elias Bane. He was handsome, in a dark, mysterious way. Now that all the lights in the room were finally maintaining their illumination, his sharp features were in check. He was tall, maybe six five, with defined muscles rippling through his black T-shirt. He still stood in the doorway, but he barely fit. His face was delicate, yet masculine. High cheekbones dominated his face, with a strong jawline, but his lips were full and delectable, like those of the statues seen in Greek mythology. They looked soft and yielding, made for kissing, but suggested they weren't used much, more for keeping silence. His hair was thick and black, dark as raven wings, tousled yet silky soft. It was smooth, curling at his ears and forehead. Dark, well-sculpted eyebrows were set above dark, dark eyes. They were hard, mean-looking and haphazard. She was puzzled – elementals had multi-colored eyes, not solid color.
“Hey,” Maryse whispered inconspicuously to her friends. They looked at her, pausing in their conversation, and she said, “Why are his eyes just black?”
“They are?” Aline asked, looking at Elias with puzzlement.
“Oh, yes, of course,” Sabine said, closing her pale violet eyes. Her long dark lashes cast shadows on her cheekbones, faery-like. “No one's ever gotten close enough to him to see if they're really like that. Some say that he was tortured to the point of death, and that he was injected with all this stuff that messed with his elemental powers, but then again = it's just a supposed rumor. Maybe he just wears contacts?”
“No, it looks natural on him,” Maryse interjected. Aline glanced at her, and Sabine opened her eyes. Their gazes rested on her with a look she couldn't quite figure out. She frowned. “What?”
“You like him, don't you?” Aline said with a sly smile. “Don't deny it.”
“Well... I mean, he is pretty cute.” Maryse blushed deeply, swinging her hair forward to hide some of the pink in her cheeks.
“My God,” Sabine gasped theatrically. She put her hand over her heart in mock shock. “Did I – did I just hear the righteous Maryse Long just say that someone was – cute?”
“By the Angels, you have a thing for him!” Aline exclaimed. A few eyes wandered over to their table in curiosity. She acted as though she didn't notice, but her voice lowered. “Hon, are you lusting after him? I mean, he is one nice piece of meat, but even among like werewolves and vampires, you never expressed any kind of interest.”
“We should try to hook them up,” Sabine said.
“What? No!” Maryse didn't know where to look – certainly not at Elias, they'd take it as a look of diversion or of lust after him. She looked at her Converse, finding a sudden attraction to look at them rather than anywhere else.
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