MY FAITHFUL READERS: Thank you so much for your support. The first novel in this trilogy, Between Dawn and Dagger, is now published via Amazon as of 12/11/19. If you’d like to purchase a copy, please visit Amazon’s website or my own at www.StephaniDamato.com. Besides the prologue, all chapters (including this sequel, Between Iron and Ice) will be removed from Inkitt.
Come away, O human child! / To the waters and the wild / With a faery hand in hand, / For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.
-William Butler Yeats, “The Stolen Child”
CHAPTER ONE--THIS IS WHERE WE ARE NOW
Orion sits cross-legged in front of the television, his face aglow from the flickering of the screen. The TV is the only piece of furniture left in the living room, aside from the couch and the bookshelf I’m currently packing away. I drop a pile of books into a cardboard box and a plume of dust erupts from under it. I wave the particles away, coughing.
“I didn’t know we still had these books,” I say aloud to no one in particular. Pulling another title from the shelf, I examine its cover. To my astonishment, it’s a book my mom used to read to Jamie and I as a bedtime story. Even now, two days after I discovered my mother was actually alive, the thought of her sends a surge of loneliness throughout my body. I unintentionally grip the book so tightly it bends, and I set it at the top of the box, sealing it.
I step back from the shelf, attempting to determine how much longer this is going to take me. I’ll probably only need two more boxes for this. It feels as if I’ve been working on this for hours. Roland already offered his assistance once or twice, followed by my adamant refusal to accept his help. I don’t need to be in the debt of a vampire and add that to my list of current issues that need resolving.
Orion finally speaks up, reminding me that I haven’t been talking to a brick wall this whole time. “I’ve never had the privilege of watching the television,” he admits, eyes still glued to the sitcom that I flipped on for him.
“How do you like it?” I ask nonchalantly, hoisting the box I just filled onto one from earlier.
He makes an indecisive grumbling noise. “It isn’t very funny. I’m only fascinated with the science of it all.” I have to laugh at that. “You can wield magic and you’re impressed with simple electronics of the human world.”
“Technology is the magic that humans create,” he tells me simply.
Jamie walks in from the back door, bag slung over her shoulder—the opposite side of where the bite wound on her neck still seeps. “I’m going to change the bandage,” she tells me, gesturing to her neck. “I have no more room for this bag in the car; can you shove it into your trunk?”
I take it from her, although I’m uncertain that I can even fit myself into my car, let alone her massive luggage.
Dad found a comfortable apartment in the busiest area of the nearby metropolis. His friend was able to get it for him in a day; says he has deep connections to the landlord. We haven’t sold our house, and it’s still up in the air if we’re going to at all. Most of our belongings are going into storage, some things are still left upstairs, and the rest will be moved into the apartment. The most important aspect of the relocation is that we are far away from the woods that my mom just narrowly escaped with her life after all these years.
I have yet to decide if I’m going to return to the Academy. That conversation hasn’t been touched yet.
Mom’s in the hospital. The doctors ran numerous tests on her to try and figure out what was wrong. After she woke up to relay her coveted message of “run,” she promptly fell unconscious once more, her pulse dropping to a dangerously slow pace. Her eyes danced wildly behind her lids despite her lowering heart rate. For a good 24 hours, our family has been highly distressed, confused, and sleep-deprived. I can practically feel the dark circles bulging under my eyes.
Orion finally sits up, fiddles with the remote control for few seconds until he figures out what button turns the TV off, and approaches me. In a low voice, he urges, “You’re going to tell your dad when he gets back, right? The sooner the better.”
I sigh, skimming my fingers through unkempt hair. “He’s not going to like it.”
“You can’t just stop being a Hunter, Val. You’re only just starting.”
“Says the supernatural creature I’m supposed to be hunting.”
He gives me a look that says, That isn’t fair, but doesn’t object.
“I’ve made up my mind. I’ve just disappointed him so often recently that I can’t bear to see the pain in his eyes again, not after they’re finally filling with renewed hope since Mom’s rescue.”
Orion pauses and then continues slowly, as if not wanting to sound insensitive. “I understand that entirely. But just because your mom is safe now doesn’t mean your family will be forever. My mom holds grudges, if you couldn’t tell.”
I snort. “You think?”
We each grab a box and haul them out to the porch. My muscles have been so strained lately I can hardly feel the burn of them tearing when I participate in strenuous activities. It’s as if my entire body unanimously decided that it couldn’t handle processing any more pain and so, in turn, became numb instead.
When we plop ourselves onto the couch, finally able to relax for a moment, Orion turns to me. Gently, his thumb strokes my cheek and he smiles. “Thank you for letting me help you.”
I laugh. “Why are you thanking me for that? Trust me; I’m grateful for an extra set of hands.”
“That’s not what I mean,” he says, and I sort of already knew that. “Being here with you goes directly against how I was raised—the morals and values my family instilled in me.”
When he doesn’t continue, I prod, “So why are you here?” But it doesn’t sound spiteful—I’m genuinely curious.
“I’ve never felt like I belonged to the Unseelie. Being here, with you . . . feels right. More right than anything I’ve ever done in my Court. And the fact that my mother wanted me to kill you infuriates me . . . it’s as if lives are no more than a wave of her hand.” He pauses, inhaling deeply. “That isn’t me.”
Now it’s my turn to comfort him. I set my hand on the base of his neck and say very sternly, “You are not your mother. Or your brother. Don’t ever believe for a second that you belong to the Unseelie. Although I may not know much, I know a murderer when I see one.”
Right on cue, Roland suddenly plops down in between us. “So what’re we watching? Interview with a Vampire? Dracula?” His eyes narrow. ”Twilight?”
Orion looks at me curiously and I push up from the couch, making my way to the nearly vacant kitchen. “If you ignore him, he’ll go away.”
“And has that method ever worked out in your favor?”
“No, but I’ve got a couple other methods that I’m dying to try out.”
He smiles at that and I hear my dad make his way down the stairs. When he sees Roland splayed out on our couch, he slows his pace. Probably instincts kicking in. Although Roland and Ry played an integral role in rescuing Mom, Dad is still having a difficult time accepting a faerie and a vampire into his home, especially when their kind has provided our family with nothing but harm and heartbreak since he can remember.
When Mom was first taken to the hospital, Dad pulled me aside, away from the prying eyes and ears of the boys and Jamie. He expressed his concern for our safety, and I had to spill the beans about the time I had been spending with Orion. Dad has never been the best at trusting me, but it must have been the conviction in my voice, because all he did was nod and say, “I hope you’re right about him.”
When it came to Roland, it was hard for me to assure my father that he wouldn’t hurt anyone when I couldn’t even be certain of that. “If he wanted to kill any of us, he’s had many opportunities,” I told Dad.
“But he has tried to kill you,” Dad had countered and I could hear the pleading in his voice.
“But he can’t. Because of Grandma, and because I truly don’t think he wants to anymore.” It wasn’t a solid argument and I had no proof to back up my claims, but it didn’t seem like Roland was going anywhere anytime soon. If I was being honest, having a notorious vampire as an ally was semi-appealing and could be beneficial in the long run.
“Dad, can I talk to you outside for a second?” I say, taking a well-deserved break from the books. Ry picks up where I left off, carefully placing the paperbacks into an empty cardboard box. Our eyes meet momentarily and he gives me a wink for encouragement. Since when did having a conversation with my dad become so terrifying? I wipe my sweaty palms on the front of my jeans.
He nods, and I follow him to the porch, now barren of any furniture. I can’t help but catch the uneasy glance Dad casts towards the forest.
“There’s something I want to tell you, and I’m not sure how you’re going to react, so please don’t freak out.”
“Oh no!” I hear Roland yell from inside the house. “You’re pregnant, aren’t you? What did I tell you about using protection!”
Mortified, I scream back at him, “STOP LISTENING!”
I turn to meet my dad’s horrified expression. “No, Dad. Don’t listen to him. Actually, never listen to him. Ever.” I sigh, internally cursing Roland for making this even more awkward than it has to be.
So I just tell him, bluntly: “I don’t think I’m going to move into the apartment with you and Jamie.”
Dad’s expression softens a bit and he shoves his hands deep into his jean pockets. “What do you mean, Valarie?”
I clear my throat, wanting to sound as direct and confident as possible. “Orion and I decided that it would be a good idea for us to stay here in the house to, you know, keep an eye on his family and to help patrol the forest.”
He’s already shaking his head, confusion seeping across his face. “Why would you need to do that, though? The Hunters are working double-time to monitor Fae activity.”
“Dad,” I begin calmly “I’m still a Hunter. I want to go back to the Academy. Orion and I know more about this threat than anyone else. I think we would be more use here in Rosewood.” He doesn’t respond, and so I continue. “I can’t just abandon my friends.”
Maybe it’s just me, but I sense a sort of anger radiating from my father. “This is what you fail to understand, Valarie. You are not a superhero. You are not the head of the Hunters. You are an eighteen-year-old girl still attending classes. You can’t just go patrolling the forest like an experienced Hunter. No matter how capable you think you are, you are not qualified or experienced enough to take this on yourself.”
I’m attempting to not be offended but I hear the pitch in my voice rise. “I know I still have a lot to learn, how arrogant do you think I am?” I fold my arms across my chest. “Don’t you have any faith in me? Don’t you think I’ve weighed my options and have come to the most reasonable conclusion there is for me?
“I can’t just leave my home. We have Mom back. Our family is finally safe, and I want to make sure that it stays that way. I can’t just drop out of the Academy and work retail, Dad. That might be you, but it isn’t me.” My words sound harsher than intended, so I add: “I love you, Dad. And I love Mom and Jamie, and the Unseelie Queen needs to be stopped before she tears apart someone else’s family.”
Dad closes his eyes in defeat. When he opens them, they’re teary. He takes a step towards me and puts a hand on my cheek--the sort of affection I haven’t recieved from my father in at least a decade. The muscles in my face relax as I hear what he says next. “Revenge doesn’t make you strong. It makes you vulnerable.” His hand falls away and he moves to enter the house once again. “Keep only the essentials here. Buy all new equipment and security measures. Call me every day. And Val, whatever you do, do not go in search of danger.” He glances into the house where Roland still lounges on the couch and Ry is busy hauling boxes into a pile. “At least, not any more danger than you’ve already subjected yourself to.”
He leaves without waiting for my reply. Although I am sad, and although I’m an adult and don’t need my father’s permission to do anything, I am thankful that he isn’t going to try to stop me. I need to do this, not only for my family, but also for myself.
I wait a moment before entering the house. When I do, Dad isn’t there. He must’ve gone upstairs again. Orion looks at me from the pile of boxes, smiling. I’m not sure if he heard our conversation or not (is Faerie hearing as sharp as vampire hearing?) but I give him a thumbs up to indicate our success.
He approaches me and wraps his arms around my waist. I rest my head against his chest, reveling in quiet, serene moments like this one. They’re few and far between, but I’m grateful that Ry and I have each other while both of our families are dealing with their own shit-storm of problems.
The moment lasts only a few seconds when I realize that Roland is here but it’s too quiet, similarly to when you have a two-year-old and you realize you haven’t heard a peep from them in a good ten minutes. Although still on the couch, his undivided attention is directed towards a device in his hands, and I approach him cautiously, realizing that the device is my cell phone.
“Hey!” I reach over the couch, attempting to retrieve my phone. He holds it out of my reach, chuckling at my struggle.
“I’m just posting a couple updates to Twitter. It’s important to maintain a healthy social life online.”
“Roland, I swear to G--,”
“You don’t need to swear to anybody,” he interrupts irritably, tossing my phone to the other end of the couch. “Oh, I also put my number in there. If we’re going to be working together, it’s critical for us to keep in contact with each other at all times.”
I hurriedly scan through my phone, checking for whatever damage Roland undoubtedly made. “You have a cell phone?” I ask.
He rolls his eyes. “I’m undead, not Amish. Don’t act so surprised.”
“And when you say ‘working together,’ I hope you’re concocting some diabolical scheme to defeat the Unseelie Queen,” I tell him.
“I do have a plan, as a matter of fact. We show up, I rip her throat out, the end.”
“Without killing her,” Orion nearly growls. I’ve noticed Orion’s unwillingness to interact with Roland--with good reason--and he’s only spoken to him recently whenever absolutely necessary.
Roland throws his hands up in defense. “No promises.”
I give Ry a look that says He’s only trying to get to you, and I promptly pull up the Twitter app on my phone. There are three recent posts made by “me.”
@V_Jacobson: Good news, everyone! I’ll be returning to the Academy!
@V_Jacobson: In similar news: I’m dying my hair blonde and changing my name to Buffy!
@V_Jacobson: I’m not very good at my job. There’s a vampire on my couch and he sure isn’t an Angel, if you know what I mean!
I delete all three of them.
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