Home > The Hunt (The Secret Circle #5)(7)

The Hunt (The Secret Circle #5)(7)
Author: L.J. Smith

Cassie replaced the floorboards and the rug, then stood up to make her way to the stairs. She held the book close to her chest, trying to decide if she could sneak it past her mother by hiding it beneath her shirt. And then out of nowhere a foreign and mysterious feeling passed over her. She looked down at the book in her hands and had the overwhelming urge to open it, right then and there. She couldn't say why. She was sure it would burn her again, but her desire for even that brutal punishment was so strong, it was like a craving. The need came from somewhere deep inside her.

She looked around the room and listened for her mother's footsteps upstairs. No one would know. Not her mother, not the Circle. It would be her own secret - all her own.

The book seemed to be calling her, beckoning her.

But Cassie thought back to her mother's warnings, and shook her head to resist the urge. She quickly shoved the book under her shirt and ran upstairs to her bedroom before she had the chance to change her mind.

She would wait until Adam was with her to open it - that was the smart thing to do. Until then she would conceal the book out of sight. She knew just the place: Beneath her bed was a gunmetal chest that locked with a key. Cassie kneeled down, pulled it out into the light, and stuffed the book inside. It pained her to let go of the book when she so badly wanted it near her, but she forced herself to slam the chest closed, lock it, and shove it back underneath her bed.

The golden key to the chest felt warm in the palm of Cassie's hand. She squeezed it tightly in her fist, realizing she would have to hide it in a separate place. She decided on her old wooden jewelry box, which had a hidden pullout bottom nobody knew about. Cassie gently placed the key inside, just beside the chalcedony rose Adam had given her. The two of them can keep an eye on each other, she thought, and then realized how ridiculous that was. Inanimate objects didn't live and breathe. Right?

Chapter 5

It was the middle of the night, dark and quiet, when Cassie unlocked the gunmetal chest and reached inside for her father's Book of Shadows. She held the book close to her face, and took a deep breath in. It smelled musty and old. She ran her palm over its soft, faded cover and traced its inscription with her finger. She wanted to absorb every detail. Finally, she pressed her thumb onto the worn oval on its corner - Black John's fingerprint - and found it was a perfect fit.

Cassie knew what she was doing was wrong. She'd promised herself she wouldn't open the book without Adam. But she couldn't control her own hands. They shook with excitement as she flipped through the book's yellowed pages. The words printed there still appeared as wavy lines and ancient symbols, but they were somehow more familiar to her. She could sense their meaning; she could almost taste it. And as she continued scanning each page, from top to bottom, left to right, she could feel herself getting sucked into the book itself, like she was becoming a part of it and it a part of her. That dark feeling she was beginning to know so well filled her stomach, and then her heart. Soon it was shivering provocatively through her whole body.

With a final shudder, Cassie startled awake. All was still and silent in her room. It was just a bad dream, she thought, but a painful throbbing ran from the tips of her fingers up the length of her wrists.

Cassie reached over to her lamp on the nightstand and found she could barely grip the switch to turn it on. But when she did, the light revealed an alarming sight: The marks on her hands had deepened to a shocking crimson. And, Cassie noticed, there was a dark red, cruel-looking welt on the inside of her left palm. It was a new mark.

But the book was locked away - there was no way Cassie could have actually touched it. Could she?

She ducked under her bed to check for the gunmetal chest. She'd positioned it just so, perfectly aligned with a faint line on the floorboard, so she could easily tell if someone discovered and tampered with it.

The chest was in place with its lock still fastened. Next, Cassie checked her jewelry box. The key was there, lying innocently beside the chalcedony rose, just as she'd left it.

But Cassie was sure she'd had the book in her hands - how else could these new marks be explained? And she was positive she'd actually been reading the book. She felt different. A strange energy surged through her veins. It felt like strength, like capability. Like power.

Cassie woke up the next morning to find her mother pulling open the curtains in her room, filling it with bright sunlight. "You were really in a deep sleep," her mother said. "You snored right through your alarm."

Cassie glanced down at her burned hands and hid them beneath the bedspread.

"Your friends came by about an hour ago," her mother continued. "But I sent them home."

Cassie sat up and tried to get her bearings. "You sent them home? We were supposed to have a Circle meeting."

"You seemed to need your rest more." Her mother patted Cassie aside and sat next to her. "I went ahead and told your friends about the secret room in the basement. And I already spoke to Faye's mother and Laurel's guardians about letting them spend their nights here. Everything's all set. That's one less thing for you to worry about."

Cassie's mouth was dry and her mind was still groggy, but she was awake enough to understand that her mother was supporting her in a whole new way. She had basically sat in on Cassie's Circle meeting for her and single-handedly accomplished everything on the agenda. Her mother, the same woman who had refused to even utter the word witchcraft one year earlier. "And another thing," her mom said. "You and your friends are going to the spring dance. It's been decided."

For a second Cassie thought she might be dreaming again, but then she noticed her mother's sly smile. "Really," Cassie said. "The Circle decided that. And I'm sure you played no part in convincing them."

"Guilty as charged." Her mother raised up her hands, defenseless. "I think you all deserve a break. And it'll be a good reminder that you're in high school - these are supposed to be the best years of your life."

True, Cassie thought. She was in high school, but she also had people's lives in her hands. Not to mention her own.

"Are you hungry?" her mother asked, changing the subject before Cassie could protest the dance. "You must be, it's already lunchtime. I'll fix us something to eat."

She was already through the door headed for the kitchen when Cassie called out to her. "Mom - thank you." Cassie knew just how lucky she was, not only to have a mother - unlike most of her friends - but to have her mother.

"Mmhmm," her mother replied modestly, like it was nothing at all.

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