The moment her palm wrapped around the grip of the blade it started to glow again. Warmth from the weapon soaked into her hand and started climbing up her arm.
"You okay?" Holiday asked as if sensing Kylie's unease.
Kylie fought the urge to drop the weapon and took a breath. Instead, she gripped the handle tighter, trying not to let the weight of it make the sword wobble. It wasn't so heavy, probably only weighed three pounds, yet it felt awkward. She felt awkward holding it.
"Yeah, I'm okay," she said. "It's just warm."
"Don't let it burn you," Holiday said.
"It's not hot. Just warm," Kylie said. The sword continued to grow brighter, not so bright it hurt to look at. It was like filtered light. She took her second breath since holding the weapon and suddenly she wasn't afraid anymore. It was ... not even the least bit frightening. It felt ... like picking up something familiar. A worry stone, or a picture frame she'd held and stared at for a long time. And yet she'd never touched this sword until a few days ago. How could it feel so comfortable in her hand?
As if her sense of calm spread, Burnett and Hayden took a step closer. Derek followed them and then Holiday.
"I don't see any new markings on it," Hayden said.
"Me neither," Burnett said.
Kylie looked at the sword and realized it didn't even feel cumbersome anymore. The awkwardness had vanished. Her grip on the sword felt solid, the object in her hand became almost a part of her. She turned her wrist and saw an inscription on the knob at the top of the handle.
"Here. There's an inscription." Kylie nodded, then pointed with her left hand.
All four of them moved closer.
"It's in Latin," Holiday said. "It says holy warrior."
"You know, I can check the Internet and see what I can find, but..." Derek looked at her as if with an apology, as if he knew what he was about to say was going to upset her. "But there is someone here who knows a lot about swords."
Burnett nodded. "I just now remembered that." The vamp looked at Kylie with the same apologetic look as Derek.
Oh, shit! She knew without them saying who it was.
Burnett pulled out his phone. "I'm calling Lucas."
Kylie shook her head. "How? What does a werewolf know about swords?"
Burnett arched a brow. "His ancestry goes back to the Scandinavians."
History wasn't her forte. "And what does that mean?"
"Fighting with swords had been in his family a thousand years. He was trained when he was a kid."A moan slipped out of her mouth. She'd hoped to keep as much distance as she could from Lucas.
"Fine, call him. Show him the sword. But can I go now?" Kylie started to set the sword down.
Burnett frowned. "Actually, I'd like him to see it glowing."
"Lucas," Burnett said into his phone. "Can you come to the office? I have something I want you to see."
Burnett looked at Kylie. "Yes." Pause. "Yes. No, she's fine." Pause. "You'll see when you get here."
Pause. "Great." Burnett hung up.
"He's actually just at the dining hall," Burnett said.
Kylie knew then that he'd probably followed them to the office and was waiting to see if something was wrong. The fact that he cared did another number on her heartstrings. She closed her eyes for just a second and prepared herself for seeing him.
The sound of rushed footsteps on the office's porch filled the silence. The office's front door banged open.
A knock sounded on Holiday's door. "Come in," Burnett and Holiday said at once.
Lucas rushed in, his gaze shooting to her. His eyes, filled with worry, met hers with a touch of panic.
She felt that look of concern brush against her nerve endings. Nerve endings that felt raw, exposed. Real physical pain stirred in her chest.
"What's ... wrong?" His gaze shifted to the glowing sword, which she now held by her side, and his breath caught. "Damn!"
"Do you know anything about this type of sword?" Burnett asked.
Lucas moved in. He reached for her wrist, gently, but his touch shot tiny pinpoints of pain inside her.
Her focus shifted off the sword and on his touch.
He raised her hand and the sword. She heard him breathing, soft easy breaths that somehow seemed emotional. She sensed his mind wasn't only on the sword either. She bit her lip to keep the sigh from leaving her lips.
"And?" Burnett asked.
Lucas inhaled. "It's from the twelfth century." He turned her hand a bit to get a good look at both sides.
"More than likely a crusader sword."
"I pretty much knew that," Burnett said. "Any knowledge of why it would be glowing?"
Lucas looked up at her. "It has to be Kylie."
His thumb brushed over the bottom of her wrist. His touch was sweet and bitter at the same time. She wanted to cry. She swallowed again, praying to keep the tears at bay. But damn it! Even angry at him, even feeling certain their relationship was doomed, she loved him so damn much. The desire to lean against him, to beg him to hold her, was strong, but she forced herself not to give in.
"Yeah, we know that, too," Burnett said. "But why?"
Lucas's gaze continued to caress her. "That I don't know. I mean, I could guess."
"Then guess," Burnett said, lacking patience.
Lucas glanced at Burnett. "She's a holy warrior."
"No, I'm just a protector." Kylie pushed her Lucas issues aside to focus on the issue of the sword again. "I'm not a warrior. I don't even like war."
"But that is exactly what the sword says," Burnett said. "Holy warrior."
Lucas looked back at her. "Where?" He glanced down at the sword again.Kylie turned her wrist and showed him the inscription.
"Holy shit. You really are a holy warrior." He looked awed. Impressed.
There was a time she'd been thrilled to see that look in his eyes for her. But not right now. And oh yeah, she wasn't so impressed either. She didn't want to think of herself as Joan of Arc, or any kind of warrior. "You can't believe everything you read," she said.
Lucas looked puzzled by her reaction. "It's almost the same thing as a protector, but to me, it's even more amazing. There are legends written on it. I don't remember them all, but my grandmother has a book on them."
"But you've never actually met a holy warrior, right?" Kylie asked.
"You," he said again with a sense of pride.
"Before me!" she snapped.
"No," Lucas admitted.
Kylie turned to the others in the room. "Have any of you met a holy warrior?"
They all shook their heads no.
"Then there's my proof," she said adamantly. "They are just legends. They really don't exist." Face it, she didn't want to think of herself as a warrior. She was still trying to come to grips with being a protector.
Holiday moved in and rested a hand on Kylie's arm. "We didn't know chameleons existed until a few weeks ago."
"She's right," Derek said to Kylie.
Well, hell, there went that argument, Kylie thought, and tried not to panic.
Lucas, who still held her wrist, gave her hand a slight squeeze. "It's not ... a bad thing. Being a protector is practically the same thing. You have to fight to protect someone."
She looked down at the glowing sword and realized that Lucas's touch was warmer than the sword.
"Okay, so we're guessing she's a holy warrior, but what does this really mean?" Burnett asked. "Why has the sword just now appeared? Is it a rite-of-passage thing? Just timing? Or ... is it something else?"
The way he said something else made it sound bad.
And Kylie could guess what it was, too. And she didn't like it. Nope, not even a little bit.
Lucas glanced at her with sympathy. "I think she's being presented a weapon for a purpose. Yes, it could just be that she hasn't been ready to receive it yet. But I think it's more that..." A look of protectiveness crossed his face. She knew they were all thinking the same thing.
"More what?" Burnett and Holiday asked at the same time.
"It could be she's going to need it. The sword appears when it's time to prepare for battle."
"This is exactly what the elders said," Hayden spoke out. "If she's given a sword, it's because she'd going to need it."
"Is there a way we can find out for sure?" Burnett asked.
Lucas shook his head. "I wouldn't know. But..." He inhaled and met Kylie's gaze. "Do you know how to use one of these?"
"Why would I know how to use this? I don't even know how to use a potato peeler. And that's why this whole thing doesn't make sense. I am not a warrior."
"I've seen you fight," Derek said. "You're pretty amazing.""He's right," Lucas said. "You've got a holy warrior's heart, too." He looked back at Burnett. "But she needs to learn to use a sword."
And obviously she wasn't going to have a say in the matter. She frowned.
"Can you teach her?" Burnett asked.
Lucas's gaze met hers again.
No, Kylie thought, and she finally pulled her hand away from his. This was not a good idea.
"If she'll let me," Lucas said.
"Kylie?" Burnett asked.
Did she have a choice? Could she say hell no and the sword would disappear?
She didn't think so. She couldn't run from this.
She knew that. Knew it with certainty-if for no other reason than how the sword felt in her hand-as if it belonged there.
She nodded, knowing it was the right thing to do, but hating it all the same.
"Good," Burnett said. "First I want you to get me those books of legends from your grandmother and then your job is to teach Kylie how to use that sword."
Lucas turned and looked at Kylie. "I look forward to it."
And I don't, she thought, but kept those words to herself.
Ten minutes later, Kylie walked back to her cabin with Derek, her official shadow until Della returned from her meeting with her vampire sisters. Lucas was gathering supplies, and lessons would start tomorrow.
"I know you're not happy about this," Derek said.
"You're my shadow, I'm not upset."
"Not about that. I mean the lessons with Lucas."
Kylie sighed. "I don't see where I have a choice."
"You could have insisted Burnett find you another teacher."
"I didn't think about that." But why hadn't I? Am I wanting to be with him?
Derek glanced at her. "It's probably best this way, though."
"Why?" Kylie asked, sensing there was something he wasn't saying.
He smiled, but it came with a small touch of sadness. "You love him. I felt it so strongly in there. I also felt your anger."
"I have a right to be angry," she muttered, even when she knew her anger wasn't the biggest issue. Not that it was exactly a small issue either.
"Yes, you do," Derek said, and he stopped walking and just looked at her. "But what you were feeling was bigger than that."
She thought he meant her knowing that Lucas would eventually resent her, but then Derek continued.
He made a sheepish face. "I felt it. The same anguish you used to feel when we first met. When you were hurt over that ol' boyfriend of yours. Then it was the pain you feel toward your stepdad-you know, for cheating on your mom. Then there was the feeling of being betrayed by me."
She wanted to deny it, but couldn't. "So I guess this just means all guys are pieces of shit!" Her heartknotted and she swallowed to keep the tears from rising to her eyes.
He sighed and reached out and touched her shoulder as if wanting to console her. "What Lucas did was wrong, Kylie. Hell, what we all did was wrong. And I'm not saying Lucas doesn't deserve your anger, but he doesn't deserve to pay for everyone else's mistakes."
In spite of her efforts tears blurred her eyes. Damn Derek for being right! Her anger at being betrayed by others was all wrapped up in her anger at Lucas.
Derek's warm touch soothed her emotions, but it didn't fix things. Because this wasn't fixable. "Even if I could get over being mad, our relationship wouldn't work."
"Why not?" he asked.
She shook her head. "I already told you. He'll lose everything. His family. His pack. And even more importantly, his dreams. I refuse to be the reason he loses all that." She took off walking again. Fast.
Wishing she could run, run away from everything she felt. From everything she'd lost.
He caught up with her, and she slowed down as they cut to the path back to her cabin. The sun seemed to come at a different angle than a few weeks before. There was a fall feel in the air and it seemed to say that life was changing.
Change was hard.
He cleared his throat and spoke into the fragile silence. "Then you just find a way around that."
She looked at him, unsure exactly what he meant. "Around what?"
"Around him losing everything."
"I don't think that's possible," she said.
"Anything is possible. You're Kylie Galen." He offered her a sincere smile.
She shook her head. "You know, people give me way more credit than I deserve."
He grinned. "You just don't see yourself like we do."
She let go of a frustrated puff of air and the earlier issues rose in her chest. "I'm not cut out to be a warrior, Derek."
"You are going to do fine," he said. "Besides, remember what you told me about accepting my gifts when we first got here?"
"It was probably bad advice," she said.
"No it wasn't. You told me I needed to embrace the gifts. You were right. I can't imagine not using my powers now. They are a part of me. And this whole sword thing and being a warrior is part of who you are."
She shook her head. "I have so much on my plate, I don't need something else."
"What's on your plate?" he asked.
"My resident ghost. I need to get her crossed over before she makes me crazy. And my quests," she said.
"But don't you think the whole sword thing is part of your quests? I'd think it glowing when you touch it is a sign that it has to do with you."
"Well, it's not the part of my quest I would choose to work on right now," she snapped.
After a second, he asked, "Can I help you in any way?"
She actually considered it. "I don't think so."
"Tell me about your ghost," he said.
She told him about the spirit. About the head and the sword."Shit, that would be freaky," Derek said. "They have to be connected somehow. She's got a sword and then a sword shows up." He paused. "I know that Lucas is going to bring those books from his grandmother's but I'm still going to do some research on the Internet. Maybe I'll find something."
"Thanks," she said, and then glanced at him. "For everything, too."
"Everything?" he asked.
"I don't deserve your friendship."
"Oh yes you do." They walked a few minutes in silence. The sound of their footfalls on the rocky path joined in the melody of nature. A few bird calls, insects buzzing.
"You want to know something?" he said.
"What?" she asked.
"You did the right thing ... with us. I needed you to tell me that. As crazy as it sounds, I actually feel better."
"Are you just trying to make sure I don't feel guilty?" she asked.
"No. I'm serious. This is right."
She looked at him and sensed he was being completely honest. "We'll be okay, won't we?" she asked.
"Yeah, I think we will. But I'm also serious about being your friend."
"Me too," she said.
They walked a little way in silence again.
"What are your other quests?" he asked.
She didn't want to explain everything about coming out of the closet to Derek, so she explained the other half. "I want to help the other chameleon teens. The elders keep them secluded from everything. It's no way to grow up."
"Like that girl Jenny?" he asked. "She seemed ... pretty normal."
"Yeah, like her, and she's normal, she's just ... very secluded from the world." She told him about them not having cell phones or friends outside the compound.
"That's sad. Jenny seemed ... nice."
"Yeah, she is," Kylie said, and remembered seeing Jenny clinging to Derek's back as he ran around in circles trying to buck her off. Kylie almost smiled.
"I know what you're thinking about," he said.
"It was funny," she admitted.
"It was not. I could have hurt her."
"You wouldn't have," Kylie said.
"Not on purpose, but she lunged at me from nowhere. I had no idea it was a hot chick latched on to me."
"So." Kylie pointed a finger at him. "You thought she was hot. I knew you did. I saw the way you two looked at each other there."
He shrugged. "I didn't look at her any way."
"Yes, you did. You were checking her out. And she was checking you out."
He arched a brow. "Was she really?"
Kylie laughed. "Yes, she was."
"Then I'll have to look her up, I seem to have a thing for chameleon chicks.""Good luck with that," Kylie said. "I hear her kind can be difficult."
"That's true," he said, and chuckled. They walked a few feet in silence.
"How bad is it really for them, for the teen chameleons?" Derek asked.
"They basically aren't allowed to go in public until they can change their patterns. And that doesn't happen until like their late teens or twenties."
"You can change yours."
"Yeah, I'm different for some reason." She frowned. "It seems to be the story of my life."
"That does suck for them," Derek said. "Why don't you see about bringing them here? I'll bet Holiday would allow it."
"Believe it or not, I've given it some thought, but it's not going to be that easy." First Kylie had to figure out how to get the chameleons to come out of the closet.
"Well, if I can help, you know I will."
"I'll remember that."
When they got to the cabin Della was already there. So was Miranda. They sat at the kitchen table, sodas in their hands and troubled expressions on their faces.
"Good, you're here," Miranda said as if they'd been waiting for her to hold some important roundtable, Diet Coke discussion. Then both her roommates looked at Derek as if it was a party and he wasn't invited.
Derek looked at Kylie and half chuckled. "The last time I saw that look from girls, there was a handwritten note on my neighbor's tree house that read 'No boys allowed.' I'll see you. And if I get anything from my computer research, I'll let you know."
Kylie watched him leave. Then she turned to Miranda and Della and tossed out her own roundtable, Diet Coke issue to discuss. "Why couldn't my heart have picked him? Life would have been so much easier."
"Because hearts are ornery, sneaky little bastards, designed to cause misery. They want what they want, and they don't give a damn about what would make life easier or harder for the heart's owner,"
Della snapped. "It sucks big toads!" she screeched, and hit the table so hard, Kylie wouldn't be surprised if it had cracked. "I say we get drunk on chocolate again. Do you think you could score another bottle of chocolate syrup from Holiday?"
Kylie looked at Miranda with the unspoken question: What the hell is going on?
Miranda shrugged and obviously read Kylie's silent inquiry, because she answered it. "Steve's been calling her about twice an hour and she won't even answer the phone."