“Wow, Coach, you’re kind of…pale,” said Stuart with a wince.
Reuben grimaced. “Seriously pale.”
“I’m a vampire. I’m hardly going to have a bloody tan, am I?”
Butch snickered. “I think Jared might have gone outside.”
“Thanks.” I went to walk away, but then I noticed that Salem’s heated look had morphed into a scowl. Tracking his gaze, I saw that Damien was flirting with Ava. “You know, you could just go over there and talk to her.”
Salem frowned down at me. “I talk to her.”
“But you also blow hot and cold with her.”
He sighed. “She’s…”
“Good…and I’m not.”
He flinched when I slapped his arm. “Hey, what was that for?”
“None of us are particularly ‘good’, Salem, or we’d be crap at our job. But we’re not ‘bad’.”
He sighed again. “She’s leaving with her brother tonight anyway.”
“Don’t be too sure of that.” I didn’t respond to his arched brow. Instead, I turned away and headed outside. My vampire night vision enabled me to easily spot Antonio, Lucy, Sebastian, and Luther at the other side of the pool…but no Jared. I was starting to wonder if he was deliberately avoiding me, if maybe he was having second thoughts about the Coronation. I could pick up through our link that he was slightly nervous, but he was also excited. If he was having doubts, he was doing an extremely good job of hiding them from me.
Confused and frustrated, I went to Antonio and the others. He gave me a beaming smile. “Sam, you look…” – his smile faltered – “annoyed.”
“My mate seems to be avoiding me.”
Lucy shook her head. “He said he was going to find you, but then Evan came and took him aside.” She pointed to where the brothers were standing on the fringe of the beach. Finally.
Sebastian studied my face. “Aside from annoyed, how are you feeling?”
I shrugged nonchalantly. “Fine.”
Luther twisted his mouth. “You’re rather…pale.”
I was getting sick of people commenting on that, even though it was true. I gave him a sardonic smile. “You’re good for the ego, Gandalf.” He just grinned.
Antonio curved an arm around my shoulders. “It is okay to be nervous. It does not make you weak.”
Lucy nodded. “It happens to us all.” Currently, it was happening to her. She had every right to be nervous. The plan was for Antonio to Turn her later tonight. She had actually confessed her worries about being a Keja to him. Antonio had offered to have a Sventé Turn her – he really was too sweet. But she had changed her mind, not wanting to be linked to anyone other than him. I knew that had relieved Antonio.
If Jared and I had been in that situation, he wouldn’t have given me the option of being Turned by another, he would have hounded me until I changed my mind. Jared wasn’t the ‘sweet’ type, but that was fine with me. If I had a ‘sweet’ person, I’d make them cry sooner or later.
“You should go and get Jared,” Antonio told me. “It is almost time for the Coronation.”
Nodding, I moved out of his hold and made my way to the brothers. When they sensed my approach, they both turned. I halted. “Am I interrupting anything?”
“No,” Evan assured me, gesturing for me to come closer.
Jared held out his hand. “Get over here, baby.”
Walking to him, I slipped my hand in his, allowing him to tug me to his side. When he frowned at my expression, I pointed hard at him. “Tell me I look pale and I’ll?”
His mouth landed on mine, giving me a hard but sensual kiss. The second the stiffness left my body, he broke the kiss and briefly sucked on my bottom lip. “Better?”
Yes, actually. Weirdly, his kisses had a way of calming my nerves. Relaxing against Jared, I looked at Evan. “Where’s Alora?”
“Chatting to a bird,” he replied dryly.
Not what I’d expected to hear.
“I was just telling Jared that I asked her to Bind with me in a few months’ time.”
“She said no.” Strangely, he didn’t sound guttered. In fact, he’d used the same tone that one might use when referring to a confused toddler...like it was kind of cute that she thought she had a choice. Yeah, well, Evan’s determined streak wouldn’t allow him to ever accept a ‘no’ from Alora. He’d been waiting too long to find her.
“You can hardly blame her,” I said gently. “I mean, she’s only just got out of one Binding. It makes sense for her not to want to throw herself into another one straight away. Give her some time.”
Evan smiled. “They were almost her exact words. I’m just happy that she’s no longer joined to that prick. It means we can have that one day, when she’s ready – thanks to Imani. I owe that girl more than she can ever realise.” Imani had used her gift to sever the bond between Alora and Gregory. I was guessing that the bloke hadn’t taken it very well, but f**k him. Alora belonged with Evan – anyone could see it.
Jared cocked his head at Evan. “Ironic how much I panicked about bringing Paige here. If she hadn’t come, I’d have lost Sam and you for sure. And if Paige had never requested refuge for her and Imani, we would never have realised that Imani is your only chance to be able to Bind with Alora one day.”
Evan nodded. “It seems like sometimes we have to go the long way round before getting to the place we need to be – if that even makes any sense.” Seeing Alora approaching, he raised his arm invitingly. She melted against him, smiling. “Did the bird have anything interesting to say?”
She gave him a playfully impatient look. “So, what have I missed?”
“We were just talking about Imani and Paige.” Evan looked at me then. “I heard that Paige was having second thoughts about staying here, worried that people would be told how she’d healed me, you, Max, and Stuart. She didn’t want to become someone’s tool that was put away until the next time The Call surfaced.” Which was totally understandable.
“Antonio doesn’t need to tell anyone anything. The only people who knew that some of the people here had been tainted were Bran, Covington, Langley, Collins, Eloise, and Quentin. The first five are dead, and because Quentin was so grateful for all Antonio’s help and for us rescuing his brother from the humans, he agreed to let Ryder wipe what had happened to us from his memory.” The Pagori had a psychic hand that could search a person’s mind and even steal specific memories, though he couldn’t wipe away years of memory.