The Better to Bite(10)

By: Cynthia Eden



“You feel it, don’t you?” She asked me as she closed her eyes.

“Um, no.” I only felt her increasingly claw-like grip.

“The dark is all around you, always has been, and it’s closing in.”

Was this her sales pitch? Seriously? Scare tactics to make folks do what? Buy some candles for protection? I tried to yank my arm back, but she wasn’t budging.

I inhaled a deep breath and pulled more incense into my lungs. “I’m not afraid of the dark.” Even though I knew just what could wait in the shadows. Monsters.

Not vampires or demons like you saw in horror movies.

Humans were the real monsters. My dad had taught me that. My mom had learned that lesson, too.

It had been the last lesson she’d ever learned.

Her eyes opened and they seemed, if possible, even blacker than before. “Soon enough, you will be afraid of the darkness, child. You will fear what waits for you.”

Okay. She was more than a little creepy.

The bell jingled again, and she glanced over my shoulder. I snatched my arm free—hard—and jumped back a step as I whirled to see who’d come to my rescue.

A girl stood there. My age. Light cocoa skin, bright green eyes, and with hair that tangled around her shoulders in loose curls. That green stare widened when she saw me, then it narrowed when she focused on the woman behind me.

“Gran…” She began and there was no whisper of the South in her voice. None at all. “Are you trying to scare another customer out the door?”

I’d seen the girl at school. She’d been in my English Lit class. Not the real talkative sort. But then, I wasn’t either.

Footsteps shuffled behind me. I looked back. “Gran” was heading toward the long curtains that waited just beyond the cash register.

“Sorry,” the girl muttered as she came to my side. “She didn’t mean to…” A long sigh. “Whatever she did, she didn’t mean it.”

“Forget it.” I was more than ready to get out of that place. The incense didn’t smell so good anymore. “I’ve got to—”

“I’m Cassidy Adams.”

“I’m—”

“I know who you are.”

Right.

“You—you helped my cousin today.” Her jaw shifted a bit, then she muttered, “Thank you.”

I didn’t remember being a helper. I remembered just minding my own business, trying not to do anything too weird and—

“James Colter?” she prompted. “A beanstalk with no sense?” She rubbed her neck. “He said you helped him find his class today.”

Oh, right. “No big deal.” I brushed by her. I needed to get out of there. Gran had me creeped out. It’s closing in.

But Cassidy moved and blocked my path. “You helped him, so now I’m gonna help you.”

Wasn’t that sweet. Not really. Because her words had sounded more like a threat.

Her tongue swiped over her bottom lip. “I saw you talking to Rafe today.”

Apparently everyone who’d been outside at lunch had seen that little chat. What had been up with that? An all-eyes-on-me game?

“You need to stay away from him,” Cassidy told me. “He’s dangerous.”

I laughed. I couldn’t help it. “Seriously?” I shook my head. “Thanks, but I think I’m alright without the warning.” First Jenny, now her. It was almost embarrassing. I was the sheriff’s daughter. I could handle a guy with a bit of a bad boy reputation.

“No, you’re not.” Then she moved back. “Just remember, whatever happens, I did try to help you.”

And I thought I was the weird one. “Right. I’ll remember that tip.”

I pushed open the door, ignored the jingle, and hurried toward the Sherriff’s office.

Two blocks later, I was there. I shoved open the front door and hurried inside. A lady waited behind the counter, a sweet-little-old lady type who smiled at me. I’d met her once before. Her name was Shirley Sims. Sweet Shirley. “Hon,” she said, and South Carolina rolled hard in that word, “your dad’s on a call. Give him just a minute.”

Right. I dropped my bag in the nearest chair and let my gaze sweep around the office. Shirley had come out to meet us at our house, a welcome wagon with some home-cooked fried chicken. This was actually my first time in the sheriff’s station and—

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