Mortal Obligation (Dark Betrayal Trilogy #1) - Page 11

“Holy crap, Ree. Why didn't you tell me that?” Paden was looking at her, aghast.

“Probably because I didn't want anyone to look at me like I was crazy. I figured it could all be chalked up to Tristan, and I'd end up in a psych ward somewhere.” She looked down at her feet. “In some ways, I wish that’s all it was. I mean, being in the psych ward for a week would be a lot better than having to fight vampires.”

Juliette tightened her arm around Rees’ shoulder. “Don't think that way, Ree. We’re going to kick some vampire butt and then live it up.”

“Yeah, I'm sorry, Ree. We can handle this. I'm just being the complainer that I am.” Weylin smiled at her. “I don't know. I mean, being immortal has to have some great perks.”

“Ree.” Paden’s voice was soft.

She looked over at him, suddenly shy. She still wasn't sure what was going on with him.

“If something like that happens again, something new or something you think we should know, you have to tell us. You aren't in this by yourself. We’re all in this together,” Paden said.

“Well, you will be when Melanie gets here, anyway.” Sophie walked back through the door, closing her cell phone. “Her grandmother has already spoken to her mother. Kay isn't happy, but she is giving in to them.”

Paden asked, “So, some people do know about this stuff?”

“Yes, there are many people that have been brought into our community for one reason or another. Melanie's grandmother has provided help for some of our group before. Just like Ree started to experience symptoms of her magic, other people have a touch of the gift, as well. Elizabeth has helped those people learn their gifts.”

“Is there a directory? A secret handshake or code word?” Everyone turned to look at Weylin. “What? Shouldn't we know in case of an emergency?”

“Weylin? Be quiet.” Ree shook her head. He really was not handling this very well. His sarcastic gauge was set on high, and she would say he looked angry if she didn't know him any better. She was pretty sure that what she was witnessing was fear and frustration with no clear outlet. “No one is really excited about any of this.”

“Sorry, I'm just freaking out a little bit, you know?” He looked down guiltily. Ree loved Weylin to death, and seeing him so upset made her heart hurt. Everyone seemed to be trying to find their footing. But maybe things didn't have to change for everyone. Maybe Weylin could avoid all of this and not be turned. She tucked that away in her mind for later. She would ask him what he wanted to do; let him make the decision.

“Don't worry. It may not seem like it now, but things will make sense eventually. And immortality really does have its advantages. Not only are you gifted with strength, speed, and eternal youth, but you're taken care of by the gods. You will never want for anything.” Sophie laid out the benefits as if she were selling a car.

“Okay, we get paid to live forever and kick vampire ass. But there’s gotta be drawbacks. What’s the downside?” Bryce had a good point.

Sophie was quiet for a minute, thinking. Ree tried to stay focused on the topic and not dwell on the fact that she wasn't immortal. That she was going to be the most likely to die during all of this. Her friends would outlive her and have lives she would never know about.

“You will live forever, if you can manage to not be injured to point that you cannot heal.” Sophie stopped and looked at each of them. “But your friends and family will not. They will all die and you will be left with nothing but memories of them.”

Everyone was incredibly quiet as that fact weighed on their shoulders. Ree stared at the ground, and was glad to know she wouldn't have to watch her friends die. When she looked up, her gaze met Paden’s. His expression was dark and full of pain. Her mouth opened just a little bit in shock and her heart skipped a beat. He didn't look away from her for a very long time. It was like he was trying to memorize everything about her. When he finally looked down at the floor, she breathed in through her nose and looked around the room.

“What about Ree?” Weylin asked. He looked like he was feeling sick. “She won't live forever. Are the gods going to take care of her as well?”

Sophie smiled at Ree. “She and her family are fully under their protection. They will never want for a thing. And if we all survive this, then she will get to lead a happy, charmed life. I've seen it happen.”

Ree smiled at them and tried to put on a brave face.

“Will we be allowed to see Ree once this is all over?” Paden asked quietly.

Sophie looked away from him but Ree saw there was something haunting her eyes. “Yes. You will have to be careful, because it is best not to arouse suspicion. Since you will not age, her family will most likely notice.”

Everyone was looking at Ree, and she felt herself blushing. She wasn't really sure what any of them were thinking, but she didn't want them dwelling on the fact that she would eventually die. After all, it could be much sooner than later, anyway.

“When is Mel going to be here?” She looked out the window and saw that the sun was getting lower in the sky. Only another couple of hours until sunset.

“I'm going to go total up the cash register and hang the closed sign. Melanie should be here soon, and I want us on the island before dusk.”

Chapter 15

Melanie arrived in a flurry of excitement. She was dragging a huge bag behind her and talking on the phone to her grandmother. When she hung up the phone she smiled at everyone. “Sorry I'm late!”

Paden went and grabbed the bag from the floor and raised his eyebrow at her. “What did you pack in here? Bricks?” He shook the bag and it made some odd noises.

Melanie laughed and unzipped the bag. “Gram sent some things with me.” She pulled out some pots and bottles. “It's stuff for potions and spells. You know how she is, but I figured why not? I mean, she knew more than I ever did. And look where we are now. Oh, Ree. This is for you!” She pulled a necklace out of the bag that had a round, dark silver ball dangling from the chain.

“It's hematite. She said it’ll help protect you from negativity.” Ree looked at the stone and smiled. It was beautiful, and felt wonderful in her hand. Like a little ball of happy sunshine.

“Thanks. I love it. Tell her for me?”

“Yep. Will do. She said to wear it all the time.” Mel zipped up the bag and sat down on a chaise lounge. She coughed and waved her hand in front of her face when all of the dust rushed up to circle her head.

“Good, you're here! Let’s head back to the island. You guys follow me in the SUV. The other cars will be fine here.” As they left, Ree watched Sophie wave her hand in front of the door; a faint green light shimmered there for a moment before sinking back into the wood.

“What was that?”

“Protection. Just in case.” Sophie smiled and hopped into her Land Rover. It was silver with leather interior, and it gave Ree a serious bout of car jealousy.

Maybe when this was all over she would get a cool car, too. Yep, she would focus on the positive. A cool car would be awesome, and maybe she would even get college paid for by the gods. Heck, maybe she wouldn't even need to go to college. Sophie made it sound like she would be taken care of, maybe not even need to work. She could travel and then settle in a beautiful little town in the south of France. She snorted. Okay, think positive, but keep it realistic. She had to make it through this alive first. France was a long way away.

Melanie’s' enthusiasm was contagious. Talking to her grandmother had really put a bounce in her step.

“She had all sorts of advice and stories. But, boy was my mom ticked! I didn't think anything would calm her down. She was hollering about my father and how I couldn't just stay out to all hours. She was mere moments away from having spittle fly out of her mouth. Then I called Gram. I knew that if anyone could get through to Mom, it would be her.” Melanie seemed so relaxed and happy; the tension in the group just seemed to melt away.

“So, none of this bothers you?” Weylin asked from the back of the SUV. He and Paden had claimed the very back seats, letting Mel and Ree have the middle. Juliette was in her customary spot up front, next to Bryce.

“Well, I guess some of it does. I haven't sprouted fangs yet, but I figure it’s my destiny, you know? I can't fight it. I might as well look for the good points. Besides, I think it will be kind of cool to be a kick-butt Dark One stalker. I mean, someone has to keep the people of Savannah safe!” Everyone chuckled, and Weylin even looked relaxed thinking about what the future held.

Ree smiled with the others, but thought about the word destiny. She supposed she did have a destiny. And she really hoped it would end well.

The crossing back to the island was cold and wet. She wished she had brought some warmer clothes, but really didn't own a lot of cold-weather gear. You just don't need heavy-duty jackets in southern Georgia. There were usually only a few really cold days every winter, and the rest of the time you could get away with light jackets or hoodies. When Sophie motored up to the dock, Ree could barely feel her fingers, and everyone else looked just as miserable. The sky was starting to darken, and it wasn't hard to read the relief on Sophie's face. She was glad they had all made it to the island before it had gotten dark. Could it really be that dangerous for her to be in Savannah at night? Surely her whole life couldn't change in just one night, right? But she knew better; she had learned the hard way that life could change in an instant the night Tristan died.

The house wasn't empty like last night. There were a few people working here and there, removing holiday decorations. Eric was at the dock and helped tie the boat up. There were also a couple of ladies working around the house; one was cleaning and the other woman was cooking in the kitchen.

“So, these people, do they know what’s going on?” Ree asked quietly.

“Oh, yes. They are all connected to the fight in one way or another. Pam, the cook – her father was killed by a Dark One thirty years ago. She had already lost her mother to illness, and we were able to save Pam before the Dark Ones found her hiding place.”

“And what? Now she’s your house servant?” Weylin looked disgusted.

Sophie threw her head back and laughed. “Oh, gods. Don't let her hear you say that. No, she went to the Cordon Bleu cooking school in France when she finished high school. She could have worked anywhere in the world, but she wanted to come to the island. It doesn't hurt that she is paid very well by the gods.”

“Everyone on this island works for the gods?” Melanie asked, interested.

“Yes. If they didn't know about the forces at work, they couldn't come on the island. And a lot of people affected by the Dark Ones find it hard to go back to normal life.”

Ree could certainly understand. Could she just pretend that all of this had never happened? Probably not.

“You guys go put your stuff in your rooms, and meet me outside in the back. We're going to get started training tonight.” She started to walk down the hallway and said over her shoulder, “And I would suggest wearing something comfortable.”

Weylin sighed. “I hope we don't have to run anywhere. I really hate running.”

“I think we’re going to be doing all sorts of things.” Bryce said.

“Awesome!” Everyone stopped and looked at Melanie. “What? I'm just trying to embrace my new life. What’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing at all, Mel. We should all try to be open to it, I guess.” Ree shrugged. “I'm gonna go change and meet you guys out back.”

She went to the room that had been hers the night before and threw her bag on the bed. A quick glance out the window showed the birds flying over the dock in the distance. It was getting dark fast, and she knew it was going to be cold outside. Going back to her bed, she grabbed some yoga pants and a sweatshirt. She stuck with her tennis shoes and pulled her hair into a sloppy bun on the top of her head. When she walked out of her room, she saw Paden looking at some books on the mantel in the main living space.

“Ready to learn how to kick Dark One butt?” Ree asked, hoping to get back to friendly terms with him.

He smiled and turned to look at her. He was wearing sweat pants and a sweatshirt, which still managed to look good on him.

“I guess we're about to find out,” he said. “The others are outside, except for Jules. You know she doesn't change in a hurry.”

Ree snickered. Juliette was probably picking out earrings to match her sports attire. That girl could have the flu and would still look better than most people did on a great day.

Ree turned and looked through the French doors to the patio. Her friends were outside sitting on stone benches in the middle of a beautiful garden. It was too bad it was so cold or there would be a ton of flowers. As it was, the fountain in the center, tall shrubs, and well-pruned bushes made for a magical landscape. She wished she wasn't so scared to go out there. Sophie seemed to be laughing with the others; she seemed so relaxed and at ease with this world of war. For some reason, Ree was surprised to see Roland sitting on the edge of the fountain. He looked relaxed and confident in his dark jeans and black hoodie.

“You ready?” Paden smiled at her and held his hand out. She gave him a tentative smile and let him take her hand for the second time that day. When he linked his fingers with hers, she shivered slightly, and her pulse picked up. Once again she wondered if he could tell she was nervous, hear her heartbeat quicken.

He squeezed her hand and led her outside to the waiting people. Sophie turned and smiled at them when the doors opened. Before anyone could say anything, Juliette ran out from behind them and struck a pose.

“The party can start – I'm ready!”

Ree rolled her eyes and tried to not be jealous of Jules’s perfection. She was wearing a matching velour track suit, tennis shoes the same color, and diamond stud earrings. Even her ponytail holder matched the suit.

“Jules, are you really wearing diamond earrings?” Weylin leaned closer to peek at her ears. Bryce laughed and shook his head, and motioned for Jules to sit next to him on the bench. All of the seats were taken, so Paden and Ree stood near the fountain. He had let go of her hand when Juliette barreled out of the doors behind them, but he stayed close to her, almost like he was worried about letting her get too far away from him. Roland glanced briefly her way and winked, causing heat to tint her cheeks.

“What? A girl should always look her best.”

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