Tina sat on a windowsill on the first floor of the house, on the side that looked over the inner yard. A few moments ago Damon’s calls had woken her up from her two-hour nap in the Sarniikzi and now she wasn’t sleepy anymore. And there was nothing to do besides watch Damon stretch his legs.
Well, she could go and bug Haniel, but he seemed too absorbed in his shield making, and Muriel... She didn’t know where Muriel was.
She touched the glass with her finger and followed the outline of Damon’s stretched wings visible in the darkness. He didn’t have to wake her up. Now that he had lost most of his beast characteristics, and the long fangs that left him unable to talk had all but disappeared, they had removed the chains and given him a cell phone. The Sarniikzi still couldn’t be opened from the inside, but Damon could now call Tristian directly.
At the sound of the door opening, she turned. “Don’t turn up the light,” she said to Uriel, visible between the rows of boxes that occupied the small space.
“You are using my room.” Uriel strode into the room.
“Which you only use for storage,” Tina said. “So what are you doing here?”
He raised his brows.
“Picking something up?”
“What else?” Uriel’s stopped before her. “What’s your excuse?”
She turned toward the window.
He followed her gaze. “Ah.”
“He’s almost himself again. Just a few more days.” She drew up her knee and leaned her chin on it.
He laid a hand on her shoulder. “Are you certain?”
“Yes, I still want to go through with it. I won’t change my mind.”
“I didn’t say that you would,” Uriel said. “But you can. This is an important decision and I won’t hold it against you if you need more time, or if you decide against it.”
“You were the one who proposed the whole thing to me.” Tina narrowed her eyes at him. “Why are you acting like you want me to change my mind?”
“It’s not that.”
He sighed, looking like he couldn’t decide whether to tell her or not.
“What?” she repeated.
“Yesterday Prva left the estate.”
“She’s coming here and then she’s going on to Africa.”
“Yes, I know that. You told me, remember, when you warned me that she is going to examine my memories to verify that I have really seen Angelica.”
“Yes, but I haven’t told you that I’m joining her pilgrimage. Muriel and Haniel, too.”
“I suspected that you would.” That just meant that they would leave this place sooner than she had thought. “But why? It’s not because you have to?”
“I do owe her a great deal,” he said. “And this is my way of repayment, I guess.”
“Well, there’s also a small detail that you might not like.”
“Yeah?” What could that be?
“You are not going with us. You are staying with Damon.”
Her face hardened. “Like hell I am!”
“Tina!” He squeezed her shoulder.
“No.” She slapped his hand away and she wanted to stand up, but Uriel stopped her.
“I don’t care.” She tried to stand up again.
“But I do.” He pushed her down. “Listen to me. Prva’s estate has been under constant attack. If not for the seal, they might have suffered the same fate as her houses. Somebody all but destroyed them.”
Tina hadn’t known that. She glared up at Uriel. But that was only because nobody had told her. “What am I supposed to do, hide in the corner while you go and save the world?”
“Don’t pout.” Uriel squatted before her.
He took her hands. “We are not going to save the world. We are going to accompany Prva to the Resting Circle.”
“But I don’t get it. There’s so much going on around her. You said that her estate is in danger, that means her people too, and she’s going on a road trip?”
“Everything is complicated with you.” Tina wanted to pull her hands out of Uriel’s but he wouldn’t let her. “Explain it to me, please.”
“Do you remember our suspicions about Inan?”
“Oh, him. Yes, I remember him, you thought he was the one who messed with the estate’s shields.”
“Yes, and he is the one. And we can connect him to Petsha --”
“You mean Angelica?”
“I saw her!”
“Until we confirm it, it’s just speculation.”
“A product of my disturbed mind.”
“I didn’t say that. But you are the only one who saw her --”
“Muriel saw something too.” Tina dug her nails into his palms.
“Stop that.” He tightened his hold before he released her. “For now it’s just speculation. But it would explain Inan and Petsha’s alliance. An Elder would never form an alliance with a Deadeater, but he wouldn’t think twice about forming one with Angelica.”
“It doesn’t change anything for Prva. She’s determined to end her reign.”
“But why? I just don’t get it, why is it so urgent to go the Circle’s now?”
“She said she’s tired, of this world, of this life. That her purpose ended with Abbas’s death.”
“But what about her people and the Numuns?”
“I’m trying to get to that part, but you keep interrupting me.”
“Sorry. I’ll be quiet.” Tina gestured for him to continue.
“The Elders have already chosen a new leader, and in the Resting Circle Prva will hand him the Eye of the New Dawn, which the Damned use as a symbol of leadership. Now, if Inan gets it before that, he can proclaim himself the new leader and the rest of the Elders have to accept it.”
“So...” Tina frowned. “All those attempts to get into the estate are because Inan wants the Eye of the New Dawn?”
“Yes, most likely.”
“And the sooner Prva leaves, the sooner the attacks on the estate will stop?”
“They have already ceased,” Uriel said. “Their main target is Prva, not her estate or her people.”
That’s why it didn’t matter to Prva who Inan’s associate was, Petsha or Angelica. That made sense. “It doesn’t matter to her who gets that Eye, does it?”
“You are correct, after Prva locates the Resting Circle, she won’t need the Eye anymore and she won’t be concerned with which Elder rules.”
“But what about her people? Is she just going to leave them?”
“They are going to be relocated.”
“Yes, relocated. The estate in Scotland was Prva’s main estate, not the only one. She promised to gift it to the new leader, but she didn’t promise anything about the estate’s residents or those of the other estates.”
But were those estates going to be safe? Tina shouldn’t concern herself with that. This was the Numuns’ problem, not hers. “But then why is she coming to see me?”
“Because she is the only one who can penetrate your mind, and she might not be interested in whether Angelica is still alive, but we are.”
Tina stood before the wooden box in the truck, arms akimbo, her eyes on Haniel’s back. “He tricked me.”
“You already said that.” Haniel lifted his gaze from the small boxes connected to his laptops and swung his chair around. “Repeatedly.”
“But it’s so unfair.” She just couldn’t get over it. “He only explained those things to distract me.” And, of course, he had succeeded, because only an hour after her conversation with Uriel, Tina remembered that Uriel intended to leave her behind. She flew into the freight-hauler expecting to see him beside his work counter, but his side of the truck was empty and the words of protest died in her mouth. “And now he's nowhere to be found.”
“He's probably with Nat, in Nat's room,” Haniel said.
Like she would dare interrupt those two when they were plotting together. “And what am I supposed to do, just barge in there?”
“Stop your whining.” Anael, who fumbled with the one of two motorbikes beside Haniel, gave Tina a glare.
Tina rolled her eyes at her before she faced Haniel again. “It’s not fair.”
“What do you expect me to do?” Haniel asked.
“He will never defy Uriel, not even for you,” Anael said.
“Did I ask you?” Tina said to Anael before she focused on Haniel. “And I know that.” She pouted.
Haniel stood up and wrapped his arms around her. “He’s a jerk.” He patted her back. “Is that what you wanted to hear?”
“Yes. Because he really is.” She propped her chin on Haniel’s shoulder. “And when you have time, can we go play video games?” she asked and then whispered, “But without her?”
“Sure. I have just the thing. Some fantasy stuff. You are going to love it.” He patted her back again before he stepped away. “Okay, now?”
“Not really. Not until I talk with Uriel.” She gave him a smile. “But thank you.”
“Anytime.” He grinned back before he sat in his chair and leaned over the boxes.
She squatted beside him and leaned her elbows on the counter. “What are you doing?”
“Trying to alter the shield’s focus points.”
“You know how we use the boxes to mark the parameters of the shields?” Haniel used small tweezers on the inside of the box.
“You mean when you set the four boxes at the corners of the area you want protected?”
“Yes.” With tweezers still inside the box, Haniel pressed a few keys on his laptop. “I’m trying to reduce the number of base points from four to two and get it to work from a straight line outwards.”
Tina peeked at the laptop’s display. She could see a 3D cube on it, moving, expanding and contracting with every shift of Haniel’s tweezers.
“We need shields, but for travelling we can’t exactly use the four-base one. So I’m trying to make something for a row of vehicles.”
“What is Prva using now?”
“The normal shields and the Numuns,” Haniel said. “And she travels by day, or so I heard.”
“From who --”
“Here you are,” a voice said from the truck’s entrance. Damon’s voice.
What was he doing here? Tina frowned at the man peeking inside.
“Yes, here she is, bothering us,” Anael said.
“May I?” Damon asked.
“Yes, of course,” Haniel said.
Damon stepped inside and glanced at Anael. “I remember you, you are one of Prva’s --”
“Accessories,” Anael interrupted him.
“I wanted to say ‘personal guards,’ but ‘accessories’ works too.”
“That’s what you called us.”
“Yes, I did.” Damon gave her a charming smile. “No offence.”
“None taken,” Anael grumbled.
“Why are you here?” Tina glared at Damon over her shoulder as he came near.
“Looking for you, what else?” Damon’s fingers slid over Tina’s shoulder and neck before he bent over her. “You have been avoiding me.”
She could feel his breath against her ear. A shiver ran up her spine and her jaw tensed. “So?”
“I don’t like it.” He buried his fingers in her brown hair.
“There’s a lot of things that I don’t like,” Tina mumbled.
“Up you go.” He took hold of her hand and pulled her up.
“What are you doing?” Tina pushed him away.
“We are going to have some quality time.” He pressed her against his side. “We can do this the easy way or the hard way.” He whispered, “The hard way would include my beast and some pheromones.”
A blush dusted the bridge of Tina's nose. He couldn’t do that, could he? He got aroused at her smell, not on his own. But she wasn’t ready to test him. “Fine.”
“Good girl.” Damon hooked her arm around his.
She hated it when he called her that. She growled under her breath and her eyes burned holes in Damon, but she let him lead her out of the truck and into the house anyway. “What do you want?” She hauled her arm from his hold as soon as the door of Damon’s room closed. She darted to the farthest corner of the room.
"Don’t look so scared.” Damon crossed his arms and arched his brow. “I don’t bite.” He flashed his fangs, which were still slightly longer than normal. “Not too hard anyway.”
Tina’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t appreciate your jokes.”
“Who said it was a joke?” Damon smirked.
“Just tell me what you want.”
“I’m almost human now.” Damon closed the distance between them with one step.
“Yes, I’ve noticed.” She raised her eyes to his face; to the full lips, narrow nose and almond-shaped green eyes. She was used to the intensity of his eyes, but they seemed to be more pronounced, more alive when they were not framed by black fur. It was just a face, just an image and no matter how gorgeous she thought he was, it shouldn’t influence the speed of her heartbeat or cause calamity in her hands.
He cupped her cheeks and gave her a gentle smile.
A smile that she usually saw when he addressed Trinity. She frowned. She was not Trinity. “What are you doing?”
His thumbs caressed her jaw. “Looking at you.”
“Well, don’t.” She slapped away his hands.
“What do you want from me?”
“To get to know you better.”
“You get to know people better by talking with them, not staring at them,” Tina said. “And you know me well enough already.”
His fingers outlined her temple and tucked a strand of brown hair behind her ear. “I don’t know you well. You keep a distance between us, using my beast as your excuse. It’s gone now and I want you to stop looking at me like I’m some sort of domestic animal.”
“That’s how you saw yourself, not me.” Tina stepped backwards, away from his touch.
“Then how did you see me?”
Like a spoiled brat, but also so very charming. He could probably charm a fish out of the water. She believed that Muriel had inherited the same trait, but he didn’t possess the manipulative streak that would allow him to use it. “Like a manipulative jerk.”
“You are trying to quarrel with me.” He smirked as he closed the distance between them. “Even though I can kill you with a swing of my arm.”
“You won’t kill me.”
“You are right, I won’t kill you.” His fingers touched her neck.
“Stop touching me, please.” Tina put some distance between them. She needed to get away from him before her body took over and she did something she would regret.
“Why?” He moved closer and towered over her, his fingers resting on her shoulder. “Don’t tell me you are afraid of me.”
“Yes.” She was terrified of him and of what he could do to her. If she set her feelings for him free and allowed them to grow, he could hurt her so deeply. The intensity of their kiss was proof of that. Wisps of her feelings for him boiled in the darkest corner of her heart, where they would stay buried for eternity. Because he could break her into thousands of pieces, so small that she would never be able to glue them back together. She knew it, she just knew it.
“I would never hurt you.” Damon’s fingers tiptoed up her neck.
“Oh, yes you would.”
“I haven’t hurt you, even when I was a beast and out of my mind.”
From the moment Trinity woke in her soul, she had never been afraid that Damon would physically hurt her, not even after he learned that Trinity was gone. But the threat of emotional pain... “You already did.” When he had pushed her away when she wanted to ease the grief of his loss. It was as if he had said, “You are not worthy to come near me, you are not Trinity,” but here he was now trying to trick her into taking Trinity’s place.
“When? When have I ever inflicted pain on you?” His thumbs brushed the outline of her jaw.
“I wanted to help you, to be your friend, and you shoved me out of your mind.”
“I was... occupied.”
“Yes, and you probably still are.” She rubbed her temple. They all had problems they needed to solve, some issues that influenced their actions. She looked at the floor, at her feet like they were the most interesting thing in the room. Like her problem, that coward that she was, she was afraid to let him closer, since he would throw her away as soon as he didn’t need her anymore. Because that was just the way he was: manipulative and used to taking advantage of people to fulfil his needs. “That’s why this...” She waved with her hand. “This flirting thing... I don’t know why you are doing it. There’s no need for it. You don’t have to sweet talk me or charm me.”
“I never do anything that I don’t want to.” He slid his thumb over her lower lip.
She swallowed and shifted her head away from his touch. Yes, she had gathered that much, but why would he -- well, she knew that he was trying to replace her. “Just because I’m your Beloved doesn’t mean --”
“You are being difficult.”
Difficult? The thought of digging her teeth into his fingers crossed her mind, but he would probably have found it amusing. “I’m just trying to tell you that you don’t have to bother with me.”
“And I told you that I never do anything that I don’t want to.” He leaned over her.
He was going to kiss her. Her heartbeat sped up. Just the remembrance of his kiss hitched her breath and for a long second she stared at his lips as they slowly neared. She wanted it, the kiss, so much.
She was about to offer him her lips, then caught herself. Her body demanded that she yield to him, and she wanted to. To feel more of his touch, more of his kisses, more of the exquisite delight only he could give before she cut him out of her heart and her life. But that wouldn’t be fair to either of them. She wiggled out the clasp of his hand.
He reached out for her and his mouth formed words she couldn’t comprehend because of her time bubble.She evaded him and then did the only thing she could, she rushed out of the room. She hadn’t expected Damon to become his normal self so soon. She thought she still had a few days. And she didn’t. If she intended to drink Uriel’s potion, she would have to do it soon.