The intense cold faded with the spirit. Kylie stood, feet apart, body tense, her sword poised to fight. She looked from Della, all fangs and fury, to the front entrance.
Confusion had Kylie holding her stance. Burnett stood atop the downed door, his eyes brighter than Della's. Behind him was an army of Shadow Falls campers: Lucas, Derek, Chris, and Jonathon. All of them stood mesmerized by the glowing weapon.
"Holy shit." The words came from Chris and Jonathon. While Jonathon had seen the sword, he hadn't seen it glowing.
"You don't repeat what you've seen here!" Burnett snapped.
Kylie lowered her sword and breathed, hoping air would lessen her adrenaline.
What the hell was happening now?
She met Burnett's gaze. "What's wrong?"
He looked around. "Who's here?"
"Just the spirit," she said.
Chris and Jonathon stepped back.
Derek, accustomed to the whole ghost issue, stayed where he was. So did Lucas. She noticed the were's bright orange eyes, as if he was prepared to fight. His gaze stayed trained on her.
Burnett's posture lost some of its fierceness. But not nearly enough to put Kylie at ease.
Another set of footsteps sounded from the porch. Hayden entered, giving the door a quick glance.
"What's going on?" Kylie asked.
"Can I second that question?" Della bit out, and brushed a curtain of straight black hair from her face.
Her eyes no longer glowed, but their green hue remained, made even more noticeable by the solid black nightshirt that hung just above her knees.
"Someone jumped the fence. Broke into the camp." Burnett took another step inside.
"Who?" Miranda walked out of her bedroom, holding on to her teddy bear, wearing Smurf pajamas, and yawning.
Kylie's grasp on the sword tightened as only one person came to mind. Was she ready to stand up to Mario?
Probably not, the answer came back. But nothing would stop her from trying. Not when so many people she loved were standing around as possible victims for the rogue.
Burnett said, "I heard the alarm. Then I heard you fighting and assumed you were being attacked."
"Told you practicing in the middle of the night wasn't good," Della muttered.
"Where's Perry?" Miranda asked as if she suspected he would be involved in this.
"Circling the property to see if he sees anyone." Burnett turned to Hayden and nodded as if giving him a silent order. The chameleon moved back out on the porch. At first Kylie was confused, then sheunderstood. Burnett had instructed Hayden to turn invisible to see if he heard any other chameleons. She considered checking herself, but with everyone's eyes on her, she didn't want to freak everyone out.
In a few minutes, Hayden reappeared behind the others. "It seems clear," he said.
But Kylie knew that if an invisible intruder remained completely still, he might not be detected.
Burnett shifted his gaze to Della. "Stay and guard Kylie. We'll go look around."
"If you don't mind, I'd like to stay here as well," Lucas spoke up.
His words caused an emotional flinch in Kylie's gut. Letting go was hard. Letting go, with him always around, felt impossible.
Burnett nodded. Then footsteps thundered down the porch steps as everyone left.
Kylie looked from Lucas to Della, and then Miranda.
The witch still clung to her teddy bear. "Who do they think is here?" Miranda asked.
No one answered. Then Miranda's gaze shot to Kylie. "Oh, him."
Della sighed. "Looks like it's gonna be a long, bat-shit crazy night."
Lucas planted himself in the living room chair. Kylie, trying to ignore him, placed her sword down on the coffee table. She watched it lose its glow and then she glanced at Miranda. "Do you feel anything?"
The witch closed her eyes. After a long second, she opened them and looked at Kylie. "Yeah."
Kylie's heart tightened. Oh, shit. Was Mario here? She almost reached for her sword.
"But it's not evil this time." Miranda glanced at the weapon on the coffee table. "Maybe that's what I'm feeling."
"You didn't feel it the other night, did you?"
"No. But it has an aura, so it makes sense I might feel it."
Kylie let out a deep breath. She hoped Miranda was right-that whoever was here wasn't evil.
The sudden sound of footsteps on the front porch had everyone on alert again. Lucas shot up from the chair. Della shot across the room. Kylie however, moved fastest and was closer to the door. If it was Mario, no way in hell was he going to hurt them before getting through her.
Steve walked inside. His gaze shot past Kylie, to Della.
Della frowned. "What are you doing here?"
"Making sure you're okay."
Della frowned. "I don't need you to protect me."
He stomped out at the same time Kylie heard a roar. Not a human roar. She'd bet anything that the shape-shifter had just turned himself into a big pissed-off feline. Kylie considered going after him to help soothe his ego, but since she'd nearly become supper for one angry lion when she first got here at Shadow Falls, she decided to let Steve handle his own ego.
Miranda made a disapproving noise. "That's no way to treat the guy who gave you a hickey."
Della growled. "What? You saw how quickly he left. If he'd really been concerned, he'd have stayed."
Kylie rolled her eyes at Della's logic.
Lucas raised his brows-probably at the hickey comment. Then his gaze shifted to Kylie with a look of protection. But in less than a second, something softer flashed in his eyes, something tender. Love you, those blue eyes seemed to say.
The lion somewhere out front roared again and then a huge prehistoric bird came down with a loud thud in the open threshold.Miranda squealed, lost her teddy, and went to hug the bird.
Kylie plopped down on the arm of the sofa. The vamp had hit the nail on the head when she said it was going to be a very long and bat-shit crazy night.
"What's the tape for?" Kylie asked Lucas the next day as he unloaded his bag again and prepared for practice. Kylie had slept in and missed classes, and Lucas had called a little after eleven and asked if she wanted to cancel practice since they'd been up most of the night. She'd wanted to say hell yes, but heeding her heart, as well as the ghost's warning that she needed to learn to fight, she agreed to practice.
"For protection. We wrap the ends of the blade." He looked up the line of trees as if he'd heard something. Or someone.
Kylie's thoughts went from fighting with real swords to Lucas's cautious surveillance. "Who's out there?"
"Chris and Will," he answered.
Since the intruder hadn't been found last night, and they hadn't gotten another security alarm saying anyone had left, the entire camp was on Red Alert. For now she didn't just have one shadow, she had three.
As she watched Lucas pull out the swords, a breath of cold moved across the back of her neck. Make that four shadows.
He's such a pansy. Tell him not to the tape the blades. You need to learn to fight for real! Time is running out.
Looking over her shoulder, Kylie saw the spirit had donned her blood-soaked gown again.
What happened to you? Who killed you? Kylie asked.
The spirit looked down at her gown and frowned. I'm not important. You are.
Suddenly feeling desperate for answers, Kylie continued, How do you know me? How are we connected? I need answers.
You need to learn to fight. Or you will be as dead as I am.
The warning sent dread stabbing at Kylie's heart. She watched Lucas crouch down and start to wrap the end of the blades. "Do we really need the tape?"
He looked up, surprise in his eyes. "Are you serious?"
She nodded. "You need to teach me how to fight for real."
He stood up, concern in his face. "Why? What is it that you know?"
"Just a feeling," she lied.
"I don't like that feeling," he said.
"Join the crowd." She blinked. "Just teach me to fight, Lucas."
Appearing resigned, he picked up the two swords. Her weapon started glowing the instant she wrapped her hand around it. Perhaps it was her imagination, but it seemed to be glowing brighter. What did that mean? Did the sword, like the ghost, know the time for battle drew near?
Lucas stood beside her and commenced doing warm-up stances. She immediately followed suit.Kylie's phone, tucked in her pocket, beeped with an incoming text. She waited for the next break before she pulled it out. It was from Derek.
Was he back to trying to convince her to rekindle their relationship? She recalled seeing him frown last night when Lucas had insisted on staying at the cabin to protect her.
"Who is it?" Lucas asked.
She hesitated, then just spit it out. "Derek."
He frowned but remained silent. They went back to the basic form exercises.
"When are we going to spar?" she asked as she copied his moves.
"When are you going to tell that fairy that it's really over between you two?"
"I already did," she answered before she realized the wisdom against it.
He stopped moving. His sword, pointing upward, came down in a whoosh. He faced her. "You did?"
It was too late to take it back. "Yes."
He smiled. "Thank you."
She frowned. "I didn't do it for you. I did it for him."
His smile remained strong and one eyebrow arched up. "But I'm the reason you did it."
It wasn't a question, but she could deny it. Then too much time had passed for her to do it. It would've sounded false. It would've been false.
An even bigger smile appeared in his eyes. A smile of confidence. Of hope.
"I love you," he said, his voice almost musical with happiness.
She shot him a scowl. "Isn't saying that a bit dangerous considering these aren't wooden swords and the ends aren't even taped?"
He laughed. A real laugh, and the sound of it washed over her like a soft summer rain on an extra-hot day. Then flashing in her mind was the look on his face when the weres had left him alone on parents' day. Then she recalled that Will and Chris were out there, probably listening to every word they said.
Will was supposed to be a friend, but would he, too, turn his back on Lucas?
She cut her eyes to the woods and whispered, "We're not alone, remember?"
"I don't care who hears it. I love you!" His voice rose louder this time.
She frowned. "Nothing's changed."
"Everything has changed," he said.
No it hadn't. He might think he could walk away from everything that had mattered to him, but she wasn't about to let him do that. She loved him too much.
"Are we going to practice? If not, I'm leaving."
"Then let's practice," he said.
They continued with the exercises for another ten minutes. Finally, he faced her. "We'll start, but remember, this isn't wood. We start slow."
He wasn't joking about slow. They moved at a snail's pace and continued for the next fifteen minutes.
"Who were you fighting with last night?" His question broke the long tense silence as they finally started picking up speed.
"Is she good?" he asked.The fact that he asked about a ghost surprised her.
"She claims she's better than you."
"I knew I didn't like her," he said, and half smiled. After a pause, he asked, "Who is this ghost?" His gaze stayed on the swords.
"I don't know," she answered truthfully. And just like that, Kylie sensed it was imperative that she find out.
Kylie didn't remember to call Derek. She and Lucas had a good practice. They didn't really let loose and spar like they would have with wooden swords, but almost.
When she checked her phone at almost midnight that night and found another text from Derek, she felt guilty. Call me now!
She'd seen him at dinner-that had been after his text-and he hadn't said anything. He hadn't even sat with her; instead he'd grabbed his dinner and left.
Still a bit worried, but not knowing if he'd still be awake, she texted him back. What's up?
She waited up for a good forty-five minutes to see if he would text her back. Nothing.
Frustrated, she flopped back on her pillow. The ghostly chill waved through the room for about the third time since she'd come to bed, but the spirit didn't stay.
Kylie's conversation with Holiday this afternoon added merit to her feelings. If she could just figure out the spirit's identity, it might help to answer a lot of questions.
While the spirit hadn't confirmed it, Kylie was almost certain the ghost was connected to Mario.
"Who are you?" Kylie asked the wisp of cold moving like a quick shadow in the room. "Tell me. Or at least show me something."
No answer came. Accepting that no spirit spoke before they were ready, Kylie rolled over and tried to sleep. Tried to think about something other than the ghost.
Anything other than killing someone.
Anything other than dying.
Anything other than Lucas and the hope she'd seen in his eyes.
Sleep had just about lured her in when she heard a slight noise. Footsteps on the wood floor. She opened her eyes and reached under her pillow for the sword.
Under her pillow? She didn't sleep with the sword.
Instinctively, she knew they were coming after her.
Who was coming for her?
Something wasn't right. Yet Kylie pulled out the weapon and lunged out of bed. Her feet landed on carpet. She looked down at the Oriental rug. Plush. Expensive.
Where was she?
Or a better question was: Who was she?
Heart pounding at the sound of the approaching footsteps, she looked around the room. A bedroom. Not Kylie's bedroom.
Heavy, expensive-looking wood furniture glistened from the little moonlight filtering through a large bay window that looked out at palm trees.The taste of fear and fury lingered on her tongue. She raised her sword. Only to realize it wasn't the sword that had been delivered to her, but the sword of ...
Everything made sense now. She was the spirit and she was in a vision. She spotted a heavy framed mirror over a dresser. For a flicker of a second, she stared at the image. Her dark hair hung loose, uncombed.
But causing Kylie's first stirring of panic was the gown. The one the spirit had obviously been wearing when she'd been murdered.
And Kylie was going to live it. Her first impulse was to scream out "Hell, no." Her second was to be aware, to find the answers she needed.
The thundering of footsteps drew closer, thudding as if climbing old wooden steps. Instinctually, Kylie knew that the spirit had expected her attackers. She had known that the night would bring her death. She'd chosen to wear white, yet had questioned if the sign of purity would do her any good.
Now as she waited for the end to draw near, a surge of regret, remorse for the life she had lived, crossed her mind. But deep down she accepted it was too late. Too late to change how she'd lived. But she could and would change how she died.
Who are you? The question whispered through Kylie's mind. She prayed the answer would make itself clear so she could leave this vision before she had to live this woman's death.
The spirit looked to the window almost as if considering escape. Get out, Kylie told her. You don't have to die.
Even before the thought was complete, Kylie knew the actions of the spirit on this eve of her death had already been written. Kylie had not been brought inside the body, or the memory, to change what was.
She'd been brought here to live it.
To learn the truth.
What truth? Why hadn't the spirit left? Kylie sensed that leaving had been an option. The spirit had chosen to die. For what cause?
"Mama." The young boy ran through the door.
"He found us." His eyes rounded with fear and tears. "He found us. Now what do we do?"
She grabbed the boy by his shoulders. The spirit wanted to embrace him, to bury her face in his hair so she could die with the smell of her only son still filling her senses. But time had run out. She pushed him into the closet. "Use the trapdoor like I showed you. Run and don't look back." She shut the closet door at the same time the bedroom door crashed open.