CHAPTER 4

 

IT WAS DARK when we left the tent. Amaia was waiting for us. She led the way to the dining hall, strolling through the shadows like it was midday. I followed her, being careful not to trip over my feet. Alex walked beside me holding the flashlight.

       A cool breeze caressed my skin. I shivered and unfolded my jacket, but Alex took it from me. He handed the flashlight to Amaia and held the jacket up so I could slide my arms into the sleeves. I buttoned it and looked up when he reached out to straighten the collar. He brushed a stray strand of hair, which had fallen loose from my ponytail, back behind my ear.

       “Perfect,” he said, barely loud enough to hear. The touch of his hand sent warmth rushing across my cheek. I closed my eyes as I enjoyed the sensation. His hand drifted from my cheek and down my neck. The side of his hand came to rest on my shoulder, and his fingertips gently brushed my neck. A shiver raced through me. I was certain he could feel my pulse racing beneath his fingers. He stepped closer, and I breathed in, wondering again which cologne he used. It was a warm, rich chocolate scent with just a hint of soap and mint.

       “Perfect,” he repeated. His guttural, dangerous tone made my eyes snap open. His eyes glittered; I could not make out their color. He inhaled a deep, ragged breath, just as Amaia stepped between us. She said his name and pulled his hand away from me.

       “We’ll be late for dinner.” She sent a worried glance my way, before returning her stare to Alex. He stepped back like she had shoved him, before turning and stalking away.

       I watched him leave then looked at Amaia with a question on my lips

       “Don’t worry about him.” She giggled and rolled her eyes. “Males!” she added. She grabbed my arm and pulled me along with her.

       Alex waited outside the dining hall. He leaned against the shadowy wall, hands shoved into his pockets as he watched us approach. Looks unnerved, I thought, but Amaia ignored him and led me past him to the dining room. He soon caught up with us.

       “Hey, Cassie?” he said. “About before...”

       “Don’t worry about it,” I replied. Does he think he’s upset me? Far from it! How far would he go if he wasn’t interrupted? Maybe his feelings run deeper than I thought? My heart jumped at that.

       Over dinner, I wondered how his lips might feel against mine. Would they be warm? Cool? Soft? A poke at my arm shook me from my thoughts. I looked up into Gina’s questioning eyes. “Sorry?” I asked.

       “Hey, Einstein! Welcome back to Earth!” she teased.

       I blushed as my companions turned their eyes toward me—except for Alex; he stared out the window and left his plate untouched.

       “Anyway,” Gina continued, “I asked if you’re coming to the campfire after dinner?”

       “Oh! Sure.”

       Gina returned to her conversation with Tony and Izzy, while I focused on Alex again. He acted indifferent to his surroundings. I frowned. Doesn't he want to be here? The hard expression on his face concerned me. I longed for his warm smile. I was readying myself to speak up when Amaia said, “Hey, Cassie? Do you think they’ll tell ghost stories tonight?”

       I dragged my eyes away from Alex. Amaia grinned and her infectious smile made me happier. “I'm not sure. More likely to be Bigfoot stories around here,” I replied with a giggle.

       “Even better!”

 

***

 

After dinner, we headed to the campfire. There was plenty of room for our group, plus several tourists and the owner of the camp, John. He told stories about Mount St. Helens and gave a few interesting ‘eyewitness accounts’ of Bigfoot sightings.

       Suddenly Amaia, seated beside me, jolted and stared at the sky. I followed her gaze to find meteors flying well below the cloud cover and trailing fire behind them. My mouth dropped open. I’ve seen shooting stars before, but not a whole meteor shower, and never this close!

       Several large meteors flew straight at the volcano but overshot it to land just beyond the mountain. Heavy tremors followed, causing excitement among the other campers. I realized, after a minute, that Amaia and Alex had vanished. Nobody else noticed them leave, so I assumed they returned to their tents. We gathered our belongings then headed to our site. The Graysons were not there.

       My curiosity around the Graysons only grew stronger. Alex's silence at dinner was odd. He didn’t touch his food and spent most of the meal staring out the window. Is something wrong? Is his disappearance related to his earlier strange reactions? But Amaia has disappeared, too, which is more puzzling. Where are they?

       Gina and Izzy chatted with me while the boys planned a trip to the mountain for the following day. They wanted to find at least one meteorite. I wanted to find the Graysons. After a while, I excused myself and headed to my tent.

       I hid in my sleeping bag, reading, while the others headed to bed. I heard Gina and Izzy zip up their tents though they continued whispering to each other through the canvas walls. The boys grew quiet, too. The Graysons had not returned. Despite their often-unnatural silences, they could not hide the noise from their tent zippers. Their tents were right beside mine.

       I waited until nocturnal forest noises were the only sounds I could hear before leaving my sleeping bag. I inched open my tent zipper and left the site, keeping my flashlight beam aimed low.

       As I headed toward the office, I debated with myself. Should I raise the alarm? No, I’ll leave it for now. They’ve only been missing for around three hours, and I’ve got no idea where to search, anyway. As if confirming my thoughts, I found the office and dining hall closed for the night. I checked near the campfire, with no success. Having nowhere else to look, I started back to our site. I shone my flashlight, from time to time, into the trees. Just in case they're nearby—or that was my excuse. I hated thinking of what lurked in the darkness.

       I jumped when a deep, terrifying bark echoed through the night. The wildlife fell silent and hair rose on the back of my neck. I froze, terrified that a hellish beast watched me from the trees. I closed my eyes and held my breath. After several long moments in the heavy silence, my ears rang, and my heart raced. Count to ten and run. I sucked in a breath and prepared to dash to my tent. One, two, three, four, five...

       A hand clamped onto my shoulder. The hell-hounds are upon me! I shrieked, but another hand covered my mouth, muffling the noise.

       “It’s okay, Cassie! Don’t panic!” I recognized that voice. A flashlight came on and illuminated a pale face surrounded by a cloud of dark ringlets. Another familiar voice sounded beside my ear.

       “Promise you won’t scream?”

       I nodded, and Alex released me. I spun to face him. Then I did something I never imagined myself doing: I threw myself at his chest and burst into tears. “Where the hell have you been?” I squeaked, trying to sound angry despite my tears.

       “Whoa!” He disentangled himself from my grasp and held me at arm’s length.

       “I told you she’d worry. But you never listen!” Amaia whispered.

       “Why were you worried?” His eyes shone with the mirth he was only just containing. I turned my glare to Amaia, but my worry ebbed away.

       “You guys disappeared, and there was this horrible noise, and I thought the hell-hounds would grab me,” I babbled in confusion.

       “Hell-hounds?” Alex suppressed a snicker.

       “Well, I’m glad you find it funny!” I hissed.

       “Aww, hon!” Amaia replied. She, at least, sounded sympathetic. She glared at her brother and he looked less amused, as she continued, “I’m sorry. We should’ve said we were leaving.”

       I tried to stay angry, but relief flowed through me.

       “Thank goodness you’re both okay. I was gonna call the cops, but—”

       “We were only away for a couple of hours!” Alex exclaimed. Amaia shushed him. “Sorry!” he softly added. “You didn’t need to worry.”

       I glared at him again before storming to my tent. Without bothering to stay quiet, I stomped inside and threw my jacket on the floor. My flashlight went with it and plunged me into darkness.

       “Oh, freaking typical!” I growled. I felt around the floor and found the flashlight, then slid into my cold sleeping bag. Through the thin canvas walls, I was certain I heard the quiet sound of Alex laughing. He is so infuriating!

       I tossed and turned until exhaustion overwhelmed me.

 

***

 

I woke around nine-thirty, to the sound of my tent zipper. Izzy had interrupted my sleep earlier to ask if I was going with the others to help find meteorites. I murmured something in the negative and drifted back to sleep. Surprised that anyone was still around, I squeezed my eyes shut and snuggled deeper into my sleeping bag. Whoever it is can go away. My escapades the night before had left me with a headache.

       “I know you’re awake, Sleeping Beauty.” I could hear Alex’s smile in his voice. An image of his dimples flashed through my head.

       “Go away,” I growled.

       “Oh. I guess you don’t want to see what I discovered last night?”

       “You don’t care about what I want.”

       He fell silent, and I thought he had gone. I opened my eyes and looked around the tent.

       “Gotcha!” Alex’s grin met my eyes.

       “I’m still mad at you.” I bit back my smile and feigned a frown. “My mother,” I added, “would be surprised at me, having a young man in my tent.”

       “I’ll go if you want.”

       “No.” I yawned and stretched. “I thought you wanted to show me something.”

       His eyes lit up, and he laughed. It was a wonderful sound in the quiet morning. He retrieved something from his pocket but hid it in his hands.

       “Guess,” he said.

       “It’s too early for guessing games!” I rubbed my temple as it throbbed

       “C’mon! It’s easy.”

       I closed my eyes and within my mind’s eye appeared streaks of red and gold on black.

       “Meteorites,” I said. I knew I was miles off with that guess.

       Alex stayed silent, so I opened my eyes. He looked stunned. “Good guess!” he whispered. He opened his hands to reveal a large, scorched stone.

       “That’s a volcanic rock,” I said. He shook his head and moved closer. My headache worsened, but I ignored it as I reached out to touch the rock. “It’s still warm,” I added as I drew my hand away, “but it’s been in your hands.”

       He shook his head again. “See? It’s even warmer than you.” He released the rock into my hands. As the unexpectedly dense weight landed, I wrapped my hands around it.

       Suddenly, the rock cracked loudly. I jumped, startled, just as agonizing pain shot through my head. I realized I could not release my grip on the rock. I groaned as my eyes locked on my hands. Am I hallucinating? The rock glowed and flashed through several vivid and unearthly shades of color. It emitted smaller cracking sounds, before disintegrating and becoming more malleable in my hands, though it remained heavy and dense like its original form. I could not look away from the incredible colors escaping around my trapped fingers.

       “Amaia! Get in here!” Alex sounded startled. His face was paler than usual as he pressed me onto the bed. One of his hands moved to my forehead while the other grasped my overheated hands.

       “What’s happening?” My voice trembled as I spoke.

       Alex stared into my eyes. His eyes shone a deeper, richer green than I had ever seen them. “Everything will be okay. Just hang on for a few minutes. That’s all it usually takes.”

       “All what usually takes?”

       Amaia entered the tent. She took in what was happening, then moved to the head of my bed and sat, with her cool hands resting on my temples. She hummed a mysterious yet soothing song, and the pain ebbed away. A light surrounded her, rendering me speechless with astonishment. Is she glowing? No! That's ridiculous! I closed my eyes for a few seconds. When I opened them, everything looked normal.

       Alex’s eyes were on my face, but then he glanced at our joined hands.

       “Amaia, I never thought... If I’d known...”

       Amaia interrupted her song to reply. “You weren’t to know. No one ever does.”

       Their cryptic conversation confused me, but I focused on my hands. The rock had crystallized into thousands of minuscule, heated pieces. They burned against my palms but did not blister my skin—or worry me. Everything felt so natural. Then a change: the rock reformed into a smoother, lighter, but much denser mass. Like the rock has compressed itself into...

       “Crystal,” I said, seeing an image of a gemstone in my mind as I spoke.

       Alex released my hands, sat back with a sigh, and nodded at Amaia who released my head.

       “How on earth am I going to explain this?” he said, more to himself than anyone else.

       I sat up and unclenched my hands. A large, emerald green, teardrop crystal sat in my palm. The crystal’s facets glinted in the late morning light.

       “Wow!” I whispered.

       “Cassie,” Alex said. “We need to discuss this, but we can’t speak here. It’s not safe. Promise me you won’t tell the others what happened.”

       I considered his words before replying. “Okay. But you owe me an explanation.”

       “You’ll get your explanation soon. I promise.”

       I gazed at the captivating crystal but, as it was not mine, I offered it to Alex.

       “No!” He shook his head. “I can’t take it from you. You must keep it safe.”

       My confusion was palpable, but I understood the emphasis he placed on that last sentence. I nodded before reluctantly tucking the crystal into my pocket.

 

***

 

© 2018 - Evie Asterwyn

 

Thank you for reading the excerpt from my debut novel, The Celestial Kin. It is the first part of The Heart Stone Trilogy, and also Book 1 of The Star Kin Chronicles series.

 

I have several books in this series ready to take through publishing. I am working on editing The Heart Stone Trilogy at present, and am about to start editing Book 2, The Celestial Keeper

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