Read Brush of Shade Online

Authors: Jan Harman

Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Coming of Age, #New Adult & College, #Paranormal & Urban, #Teen & Young Adult, #Romance, #Paranormal & Fantasy

Brush of Shade (6 page)

BOOK: Brush of Shade
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“Now that wasn’t
so hard,” he said, grinning at me from the sink.

“At the wake,
why did you just take off?” I blurted out. His expression turned guarded. The
light in the room faded with the downturn of his lips. What I wouldn’t have
given for a backspace button for my mouth.

He rinsed my
glass under the faucet and set it with a clink upside down in the sink.

“Sorry, I didn’t
mean to pry.” He turned and leveled a disapproving look upon me that made my
voice falter. I fought back the urge to squirm as his gaze lengthened.

“Privacy is
respected in the valley. In your case, latitude is given for curiosity. I came
to share your pain. I don’t think your aunt will appreciate finding me here, so
I’ll be on my way.”

A touch of
sadness had crept into his voice. Questions hovered on the tip of my tongue.
His admonishment kept them there.

“You should
probably splash some water on your face or maybe pinch your cheeks or do
something to put color in them,” he suggested.

“Aren’t you full
of complements? I can’t look that bad.”

 Creases formed
across his forehead and he looked as though he meant to argue. Instead, he dug
out his keys. “I’ll give you a ride home from work tomorrow.”

“Are you sure
you want to do that?” I asked, trailing behind him to the front door.

“Why not?
It’s not out of my way.”

“Crazy girl,
remember?”

“There’s a big
difference between being terrified and being crazy.”

Halfway out the
door he paused, and looked back over his shoulder. In the dusky light, the
white glints in his eyes were more pronounced, resembling ice patches on a
glacial lake. His fingers drummed on the door frame, and his shoulders drew
back as he straightened to his full height, filling the door. The tension about
his jaw had flattened his lips to harsh, white lines. He let out his breath
with a loud whoosh.

“I’m already
yours to command. I gift you my undying loyalty,” he said with such solemnity
that it left me speechless.

Perspiration
dampened my back from the sudden wave of heat traveling up from my chest to my
face, like I was having a hot flash. My eyes watered. Shade spun his key ring
around his finger; its jangling and clinking grated on my nerves. I wanted to
reach out and snatch it out of his hand. A trace of burning leaves wafted into
the house through the open door. I stood straighter and had the strangest urge
to run straight into the next cold gust of wind to strip the excess heat from
my body.

 
“Shade?”
I said unsteadily, thinking maybe I should’ve
stayed in the kitchen. My nightmares had never triggered such bizarre reactions
in my body.

“It’s nothing.
Just a local way of offering support in times of difficulty,” he replied,
explaining his unusual statement that I’d all but forgotten in the confusion.
The expression on his face was peculiar as though he wasn’t sure what to make
of me. “Olivia,” he began in that incredibly deep voice, “anytime you need a
shoulder I’m available.
Anytime.”

I stared out the
door for some time after his truck pulled away, replaying his strange offer. He
didn’t know enough about me to know whether I was terrified or crazy. For the
most part, the incident in his truck had an explanation, not the one he
thought, and certainly not one I’d risk revealing. I’d been traumatized. I’d
had a concussion. It was only natural that I would’ve imagined . . . But then
how did I explain the voice in my yard or the one in my head that not even my
music could keep drowned out? I hugged my arms across my chest. Crazy was the
only explanation that fit. No way would I ever reveal any of this to him. His
offer would amount to empty words once my truth came out. I’d be booked on a
one-way ride to a mental institution.

Chapter
3

 

My stomach dived
to the vicinity of the floorboards. I swore I could reach a hand out the window
and touch the guardrail. Trent’s Mustang gained speed and swerved suddenly into
the other lane. “This is insane.” I shrieked as we shot past two cars. He laid
on the horn, running a third car off onto the narrow shoulder. “Trent,” I
shouted, peeling my hand off the arm rest.

“Relax. I’m an
excellent driver,” he said, shooting me a wide, confident grin that looked
crazed by the glow of the dashboards lights. “My friends and I do this all the
time.”

My heart
palpitated out of my chest. If I didn’t get out of this car before I came
unglued, Trent would have a nearly catatonic date. The Mustang whipped back
into our original lane. Tires spun, skidding on gravel. No matter how much I
sucked in air, it wasn’t enough.

“Pull over,” I
demanded my voice weak and quivering.

“What are you
getting so worked up about? We’re just having fun.”

“Now!”
 

“Alright already.”

He beeped his
horn and peeled off onto a narrow side road that dipped sharply. We picked up
speed. Headlights illuminated the steep canyon and the hairpin turn moments
before Trent jerked the wheel. The Mustang swung wide until it straddled the
center line. Oncoming lights bathed the road. A dark shape barreled down on us
just as we came out of the turn.

Both vehicles
swerved. Tires spun kicking up dirt as the Mustang dropped down partway into the
ditch. I screamed and clenched my eyes, tensing so hard that muscles ached. My
fingernails gouged into my palms as I waited, bracing for the explosive boom
that would resonate right through me, for the piercing ripping of metal, for
the tinkling of shattering glass, and for the cries that ended too abruptly.

The passenger
door was wrenched open and my seat belt undone. “Olivia, open your eyes. You’re
safe. Everything is alright,” Shade said, his velvety voice cutting a swatch
through the chaos and silencing shrill screams.

Crumbs tumbled
out of shredded memories. I tried to snatch them up. A whiff of butterscotch
curled my shoulders. Branches tapped the car, knocking loose more glass shards.
Dad’s lips moved. Danger! Shattered images dissolved in the confusion of
enraged male voices, stealing my answers.

“Of all the irresponsible moves.
When are you going to grow
up, Cassidy?”

“Mind your own
business. She’s not hurt. I was in control the entire time.”

 “You went
too far. You can’t worm out of this one,” a steely voice threatened.

My eyes popped
opened when Trent jumped out and charged around the front of the car. It took
my battered brain a second to digest the balled fist and angry glare that
included me. I shrank against my seat, wondering why he was mad at me when he
was the one who drove like a maniac. Shade stood, angling his body in front of
my opened door, hands braced against the frame, forming a barrier against
Trent.

 “Get lost.
She’s my date.” Trent shoved the car door against Shade’s back.
“Move.”

The situation
was dangerously close to crossing some line between them. I wet my lips,
determined to put a stop to this. Older, and with better control over his
temper than a high school guy, I focused my attention upon Shade. Streaks of
white dissected his irises, forming raised ice like wedges. My mouth clamped
shut, cutting off the strangled cry. After all these hard weeks, a display of
male stupidity had finally sent me plunging into the abyss.

Don’t be
this. Look away. Find normal
.

“Back off,” Shade
warned in a chilling tone that echoed ominously within the car’s tight
interior. “Do you think scaring your date to death is a turn on? The two of you
could’ve been killed. How dare you risk Olivia’s life,” he yelled, silencing
the younger male’s adrenaline hyped string of repercussions. Shade’s fisted
hands clenched and unclenched as though he was fighting to regain control of
his temper.

Trent’s feet
shuffled near the door that banged once more into Shade. “I said get lost.”

“With pleasure.
I’ll drive Olivia home,” Shade replied, his
voice, like his stance, far from calm.

“No, way.
I’ll take her home. When we’re ready,” Trent
retorted.

“Not a chance.
You brought her out here knowing she spent months recovering from a car crash
that killed her parents. Either you’re a cruel bastard or you’re just an
insensitive jerk. Either way, she doesn’t need you.”

“Like she needs your sort.”

“Stop arguing.”
I’d tried to shout over their voices, but it seemed I’d left my voice back on
one of the curves. At least I had their attention. “I’ve got to go home with
Trent. If I don’t, Aunt Claire will hound me until she finds out what happened.
Please, she’ll go back into smothering mode.” I ducked my head, sending strands
of hair falling across my face and sticking to my damp brow. The real reason,
my crazed reactions, would have me back on heavy medications. I clutched my
purse to my chest. I’d been doing so well finding normal.

Gentle fingers
tucked my hair behind my ears. Like touching metal in the dry indoors,
multiplied by ten, the charge tingled through my body. I sucked in a startled
gasp. Ice crystals sparkled and Shade’s mouth dropped open. Towering icebergs
melted.

Don’t make
this a thing. It was just a reflection caused by the interior light.

Trent elbowed
Shade to the side. “We weren’t in any danger. I know every curve of these
roads.”

Shade snorted.
“One of these days, Cassidy, you’re going to go too far. Only because I don’t
want to frighten her aunt, will I allow Olivia to ride home with you. Don’t
think of making any detours. I’ll be swinging by the Pepperdine Manor on my way
home just to be sure.”

Trent’s nostrils
flared. “Who are you to tell me what to do?”

“Cross me,”
Shade said very quietly in a way that raised goose bumps on my arms.

Surely I’d imagined
the implied threat. I stared from Shade’s determined, angry expression to
Trent’s belligerent stance. It was clear the gauntlet had been dropped, and
somehow I was caught in the middle. “Trent, just get in the car,” I pleaded,
tugging on his arm.

“Are you sure
about this?” Shade asked, holding my door open. “I’ll take it real slow.”

I rubbed the
back of my neck, my index finger tracing across the scar. “I can handle it.”
His dark expression said otherwise. I was inclined to agree, but he stepped to
the side, allowing us to leave.

“Can you believe
that guy?” Trent fumed, his tirade getting louder now that we were on the main
road.

“That guy helped
push your car out of the ditch.” I took a long slurp on my slushy, noisily
sucking up the last of the sugary grape drink Trent had bought me on the way
out of town. “So that was your idea of hanging out with friends?”

“I just wanted
you to see . . . Forget it.”

“See what?” I
asked snippily. The fright had left me exhausted and nagged by questions. This
one didn’t seem to be all that hard.

“It depends.”

“On?”

“On what date
your father set down to release some or all of your trust.”

“Not that,
you’ve
got money
thing again.” I rolled my eyes and shook my head. “Have you seen
the state of our house? The list of repairs grows daily.”

“I’ve got to say
your aunt puts on a good show. I’m not talking just about money. Spring Valley
is full of surprises. Your aunt is probably afraid of shocking you after what
you’ve been through.”

“At least
someone is,” I replied, staring out into the dark with my arms folded across my
chest.

“I get that
you’re upset. So it was a bone-head move taking you out there. But honestly, it
never occurred to me that you’d freak out. Out there it’s all about the car and
the driver. It helps even the playing field in this skewed place.”

“I’ve no idea
what you’re talking about. You’ve got a muscle car. You’re not deprived.”

“Come on, don’t
be mad. I won’t do it again.” He covered my hand with his and moved them onto
his right thigh. “At least say you’ll come to tomorrow’s game and cheer me on.”

He chatted as
though it was a done deal, going on at length about the team’s chances of
winning tomorrow until we pulled into my drive. He pressed a button. Ambient
lighting bathed the floor and cup holders, giving off just enough light so I
could see anxious, hazel-brown eyes searching my face.

“You’re still so
pale. Sorry. Please don’t tell your aunt.” He stared past me towards the dark
yard. “About Shade, according to my older cousin, who went through high school
with him, he was quite the player. Talk about laying on the whole romantic
mystique. The girls, hell the women of this valley, salivate if he so much as
looks at them.”

“Sounds like a
great piece of gossip for the town, based on what proportion of fact?”

“Don’t be naïve.
Be careful around him. Better yet, keep your distance.”

“We work in the
same shop.”

He tugged his
jacket zipper down and turned to face me. “I wish you’d believe me when I say
you don’t need to work, ever. Don’t glare,” he said, his hands raised in
surrender. “Not another word about money. Just play it cool with Shade. A guy
like him will get bored and find another girl.”

“Shade’s not
into me. I’m still in high school. You’re just sore because he’s coming by here
to make sure I got home in one piece.”

Trent shook his
head and scowled. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you when you get your heart stomped
on.”

“Are you
listening to yourself?”

“You’ve lost
your parents and been uprooted to a town that clings to tradition. Right now
you’re feeling lost and lonely. See, I do get it. You’re vulnerable. I can’t
compete with the brooding Prince Charming.”

That description
hit close to the mark. I forced a light tone to go with my weak smile. “Now
that’s a line, Mr. Football Jock, I’ve got half the girls in school mooning
after me.”

“More than half.”
He grinned and slid a hand behind my head.
“I’ve got charisma, and I feel a powerful need to practice some of my charms
right now.”

His lips pressed
against mine, molding ours together. A hand drifted down my back, stopping to
tease the sensitive skin at the curve of my back where my top had ridden up.
The tip of his tongue traced my bottom lip as he eased me back against my seat,
leaning over me, deepening the kiss. My head whirled. It was too much too soon.
I wasn’t even sure how much I liked him. He’d been attentive, but he’d also
been a show off and inconsiderate of my feelings. Alright, so he was a typical
high school guy, an incredibly good-looking guy who happened to be an excellent
kisser, I thought, melting into the seat.

Kisses trailed
down my neck while his fingers slid fabric off my shoulder. I pressed my hands
against his chest. “It’s getting late and this is new for my aunt.”
And for me.

“It’s early. You
don’t really want me to stop.” Twin beams of light shone into the car. Trent’s
head jerked up.
“Ass.”
He flipped Shade off, and then
lowered his head for another kiss.

Headlights
flicked to high beams.

Trent punched
the headrest. “Just who does he think he is?”

“Let it go.”

“Tomorrow, after
the game, there’s a celebration party at my place,” he said by way of asking me
on a second date. “I’ll pick you up at the gym’s street entrance.”

The moment he
opened my door, I tried to slip past, anxious to be out of the middle of
whatever drove him to aggravate Shade. Trent caught me about the waist and
maneuvered me against the car, cradling my neck, drawing me in tight for a last
kiss.

“That’ll give
him something to think about,” he announced after several last kisses.

I pushed his
hands down. “Is that what this was all about, Shade’s response?”

“Just telling him to stay away.”

“And me?”

“I think I’ve
shown you how close we’re going to be,” he answered very low in my ear.

“Your ego is
working overtime.”

“I’ve got to
stake my claim before someone else does.”

“I’m not a gold
mine,” I said, my tone as hard as the stone that came out of the ground.

 “Now don’t
get testy. This is just a thing guys do.”

“Until you can
prove yourself, this mine is closed. I’ll let you know tomorrow about the
party,” I said, determined not to feed his ego. When he opened his mouth to try
another line, I lied. “My aunt is at the window. I’ve got to go.”

I waited outside
until both vehicles had backed out of the drive. Lights were still on in the
living room. I groaned. Facing Aunt Claire while my cheeks were flushed would
raise more parenting conversations and quite possibly new rules. Dry leaves
crunched as I paced along the edge of the drive, making sure to stay in the
shadows.

“Before you go
in, you might want to do something with your hair,” a voice said unexpectedly
at my side.

I whirled on
Shade with a hand pressed to my chest. “Are you trying to give me a heart
attack? It would serve you right if my aunt came charging out here with her
shotgun.”

“Your aunt has a
shotgun?” he asked, sounding amused by the concept.

“What are you
doing here?”

“A tone like
that after what I did for you?
How ungrateful.”

“Sneak up on me
again, and you’ll get more than tone.”

“I’m intrigued.
Shall I call your bluff?”

I got the
impression that beneath his light teasing that he was hurt. Did he honestly
come here expecting to be thanked for stepping in? It had all been harmless
fun. Sure, delude yourself, I told myself. Not one moment of hyperventilating
and paralyzing fear had been fun. I set the crutch in a chipmunk hole. Strong
hands caught me about my waist and pulled me tight against his side. A tingling
sensation danced up my arms. Tension drained from my body as though he gave off
a soothing vibe. Maybe I should cut out the chick flicks.

BOOK: Brush of Shade
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