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Copyright © 2001 17th Street Productions, an Alloy company, and Gabrielle Charbonnet
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For my mùirn beatha dàn
Snowflakes mixed with sleet whipped at my cheeks. I stumbled through the snow, supporting my boyfriend Cal’s weight against me, my feet growing leaden and icy in my clogs. Cal stumbled, and I braced myself. In the moonlight I peered up at his face, alarmed by how white he looked, how beaten, how ill. I trudged through the dark woods, feeling like every step away from the cliff took an hour.
The cliff. In my mind, I saw Hunter Niall falling backward, his arms windmilling as he went over the edge. Bile rose in my throat, and I swallowed convulsively. Yes, Cal was a mess, but Hunter was probably dead. Dead! And Cal and I had killed him. I drew in a shuddering breath as Cal swayed against me.
Together we stumbled through the woods, accompanied only by the malevolent hiss of the sleet in the black branches around us.Where was Cal’s house?
“Are we headed the right way?” I asked Cal. The freezing wind snatched the words from my throat.
Cal blinked. One eye was swollen shut and already purple. His beautiful mouth was bloody, and his lower lip was split.
“Never mind,” I said, looking ahead. “I think this is it.”
By the time Cal’s house was in view, we were both soaked through and frozen. Anxiously I scanned the circular driveway for Selene Belltower’s car, but Cal’s mother was still out. Not good. I needed help.
“Tired,” Cal said fuzzily as I helped him up the steps. Somehow we made it through the front door, but once inside, there was no way I could get him up to his attic room.
“There.” Cal gestured with a hand swollen from punching Hunter. Feeling unbearably weary, I lurched through the parlor doors and helped Cal collapse on the blue sofa. He toppled over, curling to fit on the cushions. He was shaking with cold, his face shocked and pale.
“Cal,” I said, “we need to call 911. About Hunter. Maybe they can find him. It might not be too late.”
Cal’s face crinkled in a grotesque approximation of a laugh. His split lip oozed blood, and his cheek was mottled with angry bruises. “It’s too late,” he croaked, his teeth chattering. “I’m positive.” He nodded toward the fireplace, his eyes shut. “Fire.”
Was it too late for Hunter? A tiny part of me almost hoped it was—if Hunter was dead, then we couldn’t help him, and I didn’t even have to try.
But was he? A sob rose in my throat.Was he?
Okay, I thought, trying to calm down. Okay. Break down the situation. Make a plan. I knelt and clumsily piled newspaper and kindling on the grate. I chose three large logs and arranged them on top.
I didn’t see any matches, so, closing my eyes, I tried to summon fire with my mind. But my magickal powers felt almost nonexistent. In fact, just trying to call on them made my head ache sharply. After nearly seventeen years of living without magick, to find myself bereft of it now was terrifying. I opened my eyes and looked wildly around. Finally I saw an Aim ’n’ Flame on the mantel, and I grabbed it and popped its trigger.
The paper and kindling caught. I swayed toward the flames, feeling their healing warmth, then I glanced at Cal again. He looked wretched.
“Cal?” I helped him sit up enough to tug him out of his leather jacket, taking care not to scrape his wrists, which were raw and blistered where Hunter had tried to bind them with a strange magickal chain. I pulled off Cal’s wet boots. Then I covered him up with a patchwork velvet throw that was draped artistically over one end of the couch. He squeezed my fingers and tried to smile at me.
“Be right back,” I said, and hurried to the kitchen. I felt horribly alone as I waited for water to boil. I ran upstairs and rummaged through the first bathroom I found for bandages, then went back down and fixed a pot of herb tea. A pale face with accusing green eyes seemed to form in the steam that rose from the top of the teapot. Hunter, oh, God, Hunter.
Hunter had tried to kill Cal, I reminded myself. He might have tried to kill me, too. Still, it was Hunter who had gone over the edge of the cliff into the Hudson River, the river filled with ice chunks as big as his head. It was Hunter who had probably been swept away by the current and Hunter whose body would be found tomorrow. Or not. I clamped my lips together to keep from sobbing as I hurried back to Cal.
Slowly I got Cal to drink a whole mug of goldenseal-and-ginger tea. His color looked better when he had finished it. I gently swabbed his wrists with a damp cloth, then wrapped them with a roll of gauze I had found, but the skin was blistered, and I knew it must hurt incredibly.
After the tea Cal lay down again and slept, his breathing uneven. Should I have given him Tylenol? Should I hunt around for witch-type medicine? In the short while I had known Cal, he had been the strong one in our relationship. I had counted on him. Now he was counting on me, and I did-n’t know if I was ready.
The mantel clock above my head struck three slow chimes. I stared at it. Three o’clock in the morning! I set my mug down on the coffee table. I was supposed to be home by one. And I didn’t even have my car—Cal had picked me up. He was clearly in no shape to drive. Selene wasn’t back yet. Dammit! I said to myself.Think, think.
I could call my dad and have him come get me.Very unappealing option.
It was too late to call the only taxi service in Widow’s Vale, which was in essence Ed Jinkins in his old Cutlass Supreme hanging out at the commuter station.
I could take Cal’s car.
Five minutes later I let myself out of the house carefully. Cal was still asleep. I had taken the keys from his jacket, then written a note of explanation and tucked it in his jeans pocket, hoping he would understand. I stopped dead when I saw Hunter’s gray sedan sitting in the driveway like an accusation. Crap! What to do about his car?
There was nothing I could do. Hunter had the keys. And he was gone. I couldn’t push the car anywhere by myself and anyway, that seemed so—methodical somehow. So planned.
My head spun. What should I do? Waves of exhaustion flowed over me, almost making me weep. But I had to accept the fact that I couldn’t do anything about this. Cal or Selene would have to deal with Hunter’s car. Trembling, I climbed into Cal’s gold Explorer, turned on the brights, and headed for home.
Cal had used spells on me tonight, spells of binding so I couldn’t move. Why? So I wouldn’t interfere in his battle with Hunter? So I wouldn’t be hurt? Or because he didn’t trust me? Well, if he hadn’t trusted me before, he knew better now. I clamped my teeth together on a semihysterical giggle. It wasn’t every girl who would throw a Wiccan ceremonial dagger into the neck of her boyfriend’s enemy.
Hunter had tried to kill Cal, had bound his hands with spelled silver chain that had started to sizzle against Cal’s flesh as soon as it touched him.That was when I’d hurled the athame at him and sent him over the cliff’s edge. And probably killed him. Killed him.
I shuddered as I turned onto my street.
we actually killed him? Did Hunter have a chance? Maybe the wound in his neck wasn’t as horrific as it had seemed. Maybe, when he went over the cliff, he had landed on a ledge. Maybe he was found by a park ranger or someone like that.