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Home > The Hunt (The Secret Circle #5)(14)

The Hunt (The Secret Circle #5)(14)
Author: L.J. Smith

On her front porch was Nick, carrying a duffel bag over his shoulder. He didn't look happy, for obvious reasons, but Cassie was glad to have a moment with him before the rest of the Circle arrived.

She led him inside and asked him to have a seat on the living room sofa. "I'll show you downstairs in just a minute," she said. "But first I was hoping we could talk."

Nick dropped his bag on the floor and sat down. "Okay."

Cassie sat beside him. "I'm so sorry," she said. "I feel like it's my fault you got marked."

"Scarlett was trying to kill you. You weren't exactly asking for it," Nick said.

"I know, I just ... you saved my life. And I can't bear to think what might happen to yours now."

Nick shook his head. "It's not your fault, Cassie. I knew the chance I was taking, and I chose to risk it. Besides, I can handle this."

Cassie reached for Nick's hand. It was a bold move, but she felt like under the circumstances it was worth the try.

For once he didn't pull away from her. Cassie opened her mouth to assure him that she would be there for him the way he was for her - but then a loud, pounding noise rattled the floor beneath them.

Nick jumped with alarm.

"It's okay," Cassie said. "It's only Faye and a broom handle. She finds the use of it ironic."

Nick tried to play it cool, but Cassie knew he was embarrassed about being so easily startled, that the cracks beneath his cool exterior were starting to show.

"It's Faye's special signal," she said casually. "When she bangs on the ceiling with the broom, it means she's in dire need of attention."

"When doesn't Faye need attention?" Nick ran his fingers through his hair and allowed himself to laugh. "So where is this secret room anyway?"

Cassie smiled. "Follow me."

She led Nick downstairs to the old bookshelves and cast the spell to reveal the hidden door. Faye and Laurel were waiting expectantly inside. They'd microwaved popcorn, baked cupcakes, and had music playing.

"I've been marked," Nick said, surveying the scene. "It's not my birthday." But he still reached for a pink-frosted cupcake and took a hearty bite.

The room had changed quite a bit since Cassie had last seen it. Faye and Laurel each infused it with their own character. Laurel's side of the room was draped with green plants, herbs, and flowers. Piles of thick books were stacked as high as the eye could see, many of them for the research she was doing on the hunters. Faye's side was adorned with red tapestries and velvety pillows. She'd also created a small altar that housed candles and incense and various concoctions.

"You'll have to carve out a space of your own," Cassie said to Nick. "At your own risk."

"I'll be just fine." Nick tossed his duffel bag down and shoved the last bite of cupcake into his mouth. "I don't need much."

"We've got an air mattress for you to sleep on," Faye said. "But if you get lonely, there's lots of extra room in my bed."

"Gross," Laurel shouted. "Not with me here there isn't."

"That's my cue to leave." Cassie let Nick get settled in and went upstairs to wait for the rest of the Circle to arrive for their meeting. As everyone trickled in, Cassie directed them downstairs. It was Adam she was really waiting for, but he was last to arrive, which was rare.

When he finally rambled up the walk, he appeared more disheveled than normal. His clothes were wrinkled and his hair was uncombed. There were dark circles beneath his eyes that made it look like he hadn't slept all night. Cassie hoped it wasn't yesterday's conversation about the cord weighing him down.

"Before we go downstairs," Adam said, "I want to show you something." He reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and retrieved a squeezable pink plastic tube.

"My lip gloss?" Cassie asked.

Adam nodded. "Not just any lip gloss. This fell out of your pocket the night of our first kiss. And this ..."

Adam pulled a tiny square of paper from the same pocket. "This is the movie ticket stub from our official first date."

Next Adam held up his cell phone. "Saved on here," he said, "is the first time you said I love you to me on my voice mail. And these are only the beginning, Cassie. Do you understand what I'm getting at?"

"You're in great danger of becoming a hoarder?" Cassie grinned.

Adam laughed. "Maybe, but it's because everything and anything that reminds me of you, I have to save forever. If that doesn't prove that I'm head-over-heels in love with you, I don't know what will."

All the tension and fear Cassie built up overnight about their relationship had just floated up and away. She wanted to jump into Adam's arms and lose the afternoon in his embrace. But there was no time for that now. Their friends were waiting. All Cassie could do at the moment was kiss Adam with her whole being, and hope her love for him shined through, that their connection was palpable, before leading him downstairs to join the others.

"The hunters and Scarlett are way too close for comfort," Melanie was saying when Adam and Cassie entered the secret room.

Everyone was gathered in a circle except for Chris and Doug, who were stirring around in the kitchen like hyperactive children. Deborah agreed with Melanie. "We need to get closer to the hunters, to have full surveillance on them, since they're obviously watching us."

"I can get us closer to Max," Diana said.

Faye snickered and whispered something under her breath to Deborah and Suzan.

Diana turned to her. "I'm the only one who can easily do it," she said. "We all know that."

"But you could be putting yourself in danger," Faye said mockingly. Then her face took on a spiteful weightiness. "If given the chance, Max will mark you just like he did me."

Diana shrugged. "I'm not going to do any magic around him. Besides if I can get into his bedroom, I might be able to find out where he keeps his relic."

"You're not going anywhere near his bedroom," Faye shot back.

Laurel cleared her throat. "I've made some progress digging up information about the relics," she said. With a nod from Cassie, she took the center of the floor and explained to the Circle that the relics originated around 1320, shortly after Pope John XVII authorized the Inquisition to persecute witchcraft as a type of heresy.

"An accused witch created and spelled the relics in return for her life," Laurel said. "She christened the owners of these magical stones and taught them the killing curse."

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