The Secret Circle: The Hunt Chapter 26
“You can’t hide it from us any longer, Diana,” Melanie said. “It was pretty obvious when he risked his life to protect you.”
The group was gathered around the coffee table in the secret room trying to figure out what had gone wrong in the woods, when the conversation turned to Diana and Max. But the star-crossed lovers didn’t stop some Circle members from nervously eyeing Scarlett, on edge now that she was present for these private conversations.
“He did prove himself out there,” Laurel said with a romantic breeziness. “In the moment of truth he chose love.”
“Have you two totally lost your minds?” Faye had been seething quietly on the tufted sofa while Melanie and Laurel waxed poetic about Max’s turnaround, but she made up for it now by raising the volume of her voice well above theirs. “Max is the enemy. Remember? That’s what you all told me. But now that Diana’s fallen for him, he’s suddenly the second coming?”
“Quit your complaining,” Melanie barked back from the opposite side of the coffee table. “You’re just jealous. Did you not see what he did for her out there?”
“He did it for all of us,” Diana said. “Faye, I know you had feelings for him once. But you have to understand, we really are in love. Can you find it in your heart to be happy for us?”
Faye turned up her nose. “You’re going to make me puke,” she said, and retreated to her foldout bed.
“Max is dangerous,” Chris called out. “You girls need to get the hearts and stars out of your eyes.”
“That’s right,” Doug said. “Love has nothing to do with this. This is war.”
Cassie noticed Adam staring down at the wooden floor. Then he glanced at Scarlett, and Cassie caught a brief moment pass between them. Cassie couldn’t be sure what it was, but she could tell that regardless of what Adam thought of Max’s intentions, he did believe Scarlett had proven herself out in the woods. It was obvious in the humble way he was looking at her. And she returned his gaze with a sly smile.
Cassie’s jealousies flared and an image flashed in her mind. This time she saw Scarlett and Adam in bed together – in Cassie’s bed – and they were kissing like hungry lovers. The scene was so vivid and graphic it was like Cassie had burst through the door and caught them in real life. Her rage seeped into the vision itself and she willed Scarlett off Adam, then doused her in a blaze of fire. She stepped closer to watch Scarlett’s face blacken and melt hauntingly into the flames, and the sight of it brought a wriggling satisfaction to her stomach. She wanted to watch Scarlett perish until there was nothing left of her but ash.
It isn’t real. Cassie had to shake herself awake, repeating those words to herself until the image disappeared.
Deborah stood up and stepped to the center of the room. “I think I speak for all, or at least most of us, Diana, when I say we want you to be happy. But apart from that, we’re in a bad situation here. Every single one of us is in the crosshairs right now. That’s what we need to be focusing on.” She paused and Nick picked up where she had left off.
“And, no offense,” he said. “But if we get the slightest hint that Max is working against us, we’ll take him down. Whether he’s your boyfriend or not.”
“How do you plan to do that, tough guy?” Scarlett said, finally chiming in. “Since it’s clear that the only thing that works against the hunters is dark magic.”
She’d been sitting on an ottoman off to the side, alone. The only Circle member willing to be within arm’s length of her was Sean, and that was only because she was pretty. But now all eyes turned to her, and she looked to Cassie. “Isn’t that right?”
Cassie solemnly nodded. “Yes, that’s right. Dark magic is how I forced the hunters to retreat on the roof of the school, and it’s what Scarlett used back in the woods.”
“But neither of you were able to strip the hunters’ relics of their powers,” Deborah said. “What we need is a spell that will accomplish that. To remove the threat of the hunters forever. Otherwise they’ll just keep coming after us until we’re all dead and buried.”
Diana winced at Deborah’s coldheartedness, but the rest of the group agreed.
“Cassie,” Adam said. “Now might be a good time to go get your father’s book. Maybe Scarlett can help us with the spell we’ve been working on.”
Cassie’s stomach dropped in a freefall.
Scarlett said in a throaty, mocking voice, “That’s a great idea, Adam. Why don’t you do that, Cassie?”
Cassie looked desperately at Diana, who remained tight-lipped and unmoving. Then she turned back to Adam. “I can’t,” she said. “I don’t have it.”
Scarlett rose from her seat. “What do you mean you don’t have it?”
“Cassie asked me to keep it safe for her.” Diana migrated protectively to Cassie’s side. “It’s hidden someplace no one will find it.”
Faye shot up from where she’d thrown herself down onto her mattress. “Are you kidding me, Cassie? You gave it to Diana and not me?”
“We all have a right to see it.” Melanie spoke over Faye. “And not just a few pages at a time that Cassie copies for us, but as a whole book. Diana, you should go get it and bring it back here.”
“I agree,” Laurel said to Cassie. “We’re all in this together, we should all know what resources we have.”
“None of you understand. It’s controlling me!” Cassie screamed.
Everyone fell silent. They all averted their eyes except for Faye, who watched Cassie carefully, and Scarlett, who seemed to be enjoying the show.
“None of you can possibly understand,” Cassie repeated. “It’s not just the burns. I haven’t been myself since I got the book. And if I start using magic from it, I don’t know what I’m capable of doing to the rest of the Circle. Or what using the book could do to all of you.”
For a few seconds nobody said anything, and then Diana made an effort to break the quiet. “I’ll bring the book back here when Cassie feels she’s ready. Not a moment before.” She threw an angry glance at Scarlett. “But feel free to whine and moan about it all you want.”
There was a sudden whoosh at the room’s entrance that startled everyone at once. It was the sound of the secret door opening.
Cassie’s mom stepped forward and immediately locked eyes with the new face in the room, but her expression wasn’t one of unfamiliarity, it was cautious recognition.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt,” she faltered.
“That’s okay, Mom,” Cassie said. “This is Scarlett Forsythe, our newest Circle member.”
Her mother’s eyes flared. Cassie could tell she had nearly gasped but managed to restrain herself. “Really,” she said in a noncommittal tone and forced a smile.
Scarlett grinned at her. “You knew my mother.”
Cassie’s mom inclined her head slightly and an odd expression crossed her face, like she was trying to determine if this was a nightmare. “Yes. A long time ago. Your resemblance is striking.”
“So I’ve been told.” Scarlett spoke loudly, aggressively, as if she were angry with Cassie’s mom simply for being alive when her own mother wasn’t.
Cassie positioned herself between them, feeling protective of her mother. “We’re okay down here,” she said. “Scarlett is one of us now and we’re just finishing up some business. You can go up to bed.”
Her mother’s eyes were still fixed on Scarlett, as if she couldn’t bear to look away from her.
Cassie guided her out the door and across the basement, back to the stairs.
“What is she doing here?” her mother hissed.
“We had no choice but to initiate her after Suzan’s death. It all happened so fast. We need her and she needs us – at least for now.”
“Be careful,” her mother whispered, hugging her tight. “You cannot trust her.”
“Tell me about it,” was all Cassie could bring herself to say.
The Circle decided to crash at Cassie’s that night for safety, “to watch over one another,” they’d said, but Cassie knew what they’d meant was to watch over Scarlett. Scarlett may have earned her spot in the Circle when she forced the hunters away in the woods, but she was a long way from securing the Circle’s confidence. Tonight they would all sleep with one eye open.
Adam had crept into Cassie’s bedroom to say good night, and he was taking his time leaving, in no rush to separate from her. He was softly running his fingers up and down the inside of her arm, the way she loved. Cassie didn’t want him to leave her either. She wanted him to hold her tight until she drifted to sleep.
Adam leaned in and began kissing her neck, tenderly and quietly. He was being gentle with her, but she could hear the heaviness of his breathing. She understood how much he’d been missing having her this way. But then a knock on the door disturbed them.
“It’s Scarlett,” the voice on the other side of the door said. “Can we talk?”
Adam held Cassie tighter and shook his head, but Cassie told him it was okay. Reluctantly, he got up and let Scarlett in.
“I’d like to speak to Cassie privately,” Scarlett said, dismissing Adam with a flick of her wrist.
“Now?” Adam asked, with a tinge of frustration to his voice.
Scarlett stepped past him and climbed onto Cassie’s bed. “Yes, now.”
Only after a nod from Cassie did Adam comply. “I’ll be right out here on the couch,” he said. “If you need anything.”
Scarlett smiled at Adam’s overprotectiveness and waited for him to close the door before she turned to Cassie and said, “I thought we could tell secrets.”
Cassie thought back to their first sleepover, how excited she was to have a sister to share things with. How naive she’d been back then. She wouldn’t be fooled again. “Okay,” she said icily. “You first.”
“I knew you’d say that.” Scarlett nudged her on the arm. “I have a secret about … dark magic.”
Cassie suddenly felt wary, but she reminded herself that her whole Circle was only one scream for help away. “Go on.” She braced herself for the worst.
“I can read Black John’s book,” Scarlett said. “My mom helped teach me before she died.”
Scarlett’s face was open and serious, and Cassie understood this was no trick. She was telling the truth.
“It’s in our blood,” Scarlett continued. “The language. You’ll have to work to unlock it, but you know how to read the book, too, Cassie.”
Cassie called to mind the few words in the book she could comprehend, and it all started to make sense to her. Instinctively, she’d known this all along.
“I understand you’re worried about the dark magic taking over,” Scarlett said. “But we were built to control it. And with time, you will be able to.”
“Why are you telling me all this?” Cassie asked.
Scarlett laughed. “You love to keep those guards up, don’t you? I’m telling you all this because we’re on the same side now. And I want to defeat the hunters just as much as you do. They’ve killed people I loved, too.”
Cassie thought back to Scarlett explaining how she first came to New Salem on the run from the hunters who had killed her mother – but Cassie doubted that was all there was to it. Then she remembered her daydream from a little while earlier, and how she was able to shake out of her evil thoughts. Maybe Scarlett was right about being able to control the darkness.
“Do you trust me?” Scarlett asked.
Trusting in Scarlett would never come easy. But for right now, Cassie didn’t have much of a choice. “No, I don’t trust you,” she said. “But I do believe you.”
“Well, I guess that’s a start.” Scarlett got up and went to the door. “Get some rest,” she said. “We have a big day ahead of us.”
She wrapped her hand around the doorknob and then released it again. “One more thing.” She swiveled back around on her heels. “I think it’s adorable that you and Adam are trying so hard to stick together through all this. I am so impressed by how accepting you’ve been.” She paused to draw the moment out, relishing it. “About the cord between him and me, I mean. You must have taken lessons from your friend Diana.”
Cassie felt something inside her tighten and then unhinge. A caustic taste like battery acid filled her mouth, tainting her voice with venom. “You stay away from Adam.”
“I just complimented you, Cassie. Don’t go spoiling it with your awful temper.” Scarlett lifted her eyebrows and pursed her full lips. And with that, she was gone.