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Devoted

An Elixir Novel
(Part of Elixir)
By Hilary Duff

Read an Excerpt

one

ACCEPTANCE.

I repeated that word over and over again in my mind, trying to clear my head.

I squeezed my knees into the horse’s flank, pushing him to race faster, then faster still. I crouched low in the stirrups, my legs screaming as I hovered over the saddle. The reins were sandpaper on my blistered palms, and each gasp of air burned my throat.

For two beautiful minutes, I was there, free from every thought beyond the fight to stay astride.

But the horse could run that fast for only so long. Already he had slowed to a trot. I had to relax, and the second I did, the world crashed down on me.

Was it really only two months ago that Rayna and I were in France? That felt like another lifetime, and in a way it was. I was a different person before Sage.

Not that there was a “before Sage.”

I pulled back on the reins and eased to a stop, then swung myself down. I pulled a small, hand-tied bouquet of wildflowers from a saddlebag. Resting my palms on the horse’s heaving flank, I took a deep breath. I’d been doing this for weeks, but I still needed that moment. Facing the grave of someone you love never gets easier. I turned and smiled.

“Hi, Dad,” I said. “I brought you flowers.”

I knelt and placed the flowers on the memorial I’d put together. The large rocks looked like they were in the form of a cross, but I meant them as a caduceus, the symbol of my father’s medical profession. I laid the bouquet by the largest stone, just under the silver iris necklace he’d given me when I was young. I’d worn that necklace every day, but now I preferred to keep it here.

The “real” grave for my father was in upstate New York, in the sweeping plot of land devoted to generations of Westons. Dad was a Weston by marriage, so when he was declared dead last year, he immediately earned a place of honor among the family’s power brokers and politicians. I could picture the tombstone, long enough to fit two names. Throughout the graveside service, I kept stealing glances at my mother. Did she realize she was staring at her own grave, just waiting for her?

The funeral made it onto CNN, or so I was told. Didn’t make a lot of sense to me at the time. It wasn’t a real funeral. There wasn’t even a body. My dad had disappeared from Brazil while on a humanitarian mission. He was a world-renowned heart surgeon, almost as famous as my mother, whom the media dubbed American royalty thanks to her political career and storied family. There was a worldwide manhunt when my dad disappeared. A United Nations of countries did their part to help, and the Westons were one of many wealthy families throwing money by the boatload into private investigations. Every single person involved eventually agreed: Grant Raymond was dead. His body was missing, and he was gone.

You’d think that would have been enough for me. It wasn’t. I couldn’t accept it.

Mom did. She threw herself into her career, which soared, and avoided the topic of Grant Raymond, even among her closest friends. Even with me. Tabloids called her the Ice Queen. They said her marriage had been a disaster, and the worst muckrakers wondered if Victoria Weston had planned her husband’s disappearance, so she could both get rid of him and also use the ensuing public sympathy to propel her career.

It wasn’t true. Mom loved Dad, so much that she couldn’t live with her grief. Instead, she dropped a steel wall between his death and the rest of her life.

I was different. I became obsessed with the idea that there was more to the story, and that my dad was alive.

I was partially right. There was more to the story . . . but was my father alive? I had no idea. He had disappeared the day he was supposed to meet Sage for a journey. When I first met Sage, he said he believed my father had been kidnapped by one of two groups, either of which would want to hold my father for what he knew.

Sage also told me his journey with Dad was a mission to retrieve the Elixir of Life. This was a lie. Sage and my father knew where the Elixir of Life was—it coursed through Sage’s veins. The two of them were on a mission, but it was a mission to end Sage’s centuries-long life . . . because they both wanted to protect me from an endless circle of tragedy.

Sage was my soulmate. Our hearts were tied together so securely that we found each other in every lifetime . . . and every lifetime ended early, in my own violent death.

Sage told me he believed my father was alive, but I’d had a lot of time to think over the past six weeks, and I understood now that Sage would have said anything to keep me around. Not because he loved me—he was fighting against that from the second we met—but because he was determined to destroy himself, and with my father missing, I was the only person who could get him the information he needed in order to do it.

So did my father’s disappearance really have anything to do with Sage or the Elixir? Or had Dad simply wandered into the wrong place at the wrong time? The investigators had found no shortage of possibilities. They proposed everything from Dad getting caught in the cross fire between rival gangs in the favelas of Rio to Dad being mauled to death by wild animals.

I didn’t know. What I did know was that Sage himself was alive. Gone, but alive. And I had to give him my full concentration if I ever wanted to get him back.

I fingered the iris charm hanging off my father’s memorial. “I miss you. . . . I love you . . . and I’m sorry.”

I had to apologize. Every time I came here, I felt like I was killing him all over again, but for me it was the only way. I had to let go of pipe dreams if I wanted to hold on to Sage. What-ifs only got in my way; I needed to close off everything but what I knew for certain.

Acceptance.

In one fluid motion, I rose, turned away from the memorial, pulled my camera from its shoulder case, and started shooting. Once, I’d have taken my time, lining up every snap for the perfect angle and layout, but now I didn’t care—I wanted quantity. This was my fact gathering; it was how I knew for sure Sage wasn’t dead. For weeks now I’d take pictures every day, and at night I’d download them and scour them for Sage. It always reminded me of the first time I’d discovered him, tucked impossibly into the backgrounds of Rayna’s and my vacation snapshots. It terrified me then, even more so when I learned Sage had been lurking in pictures from all parts of my life—the same ageless face, whether I was six or sixteen. Back then I’d thought I was going crazy, and I’d have given anything for the whole thing to go away.

Now I ached for his image. It was the sign of our soul connection, and it wouldn’t be there if his soul had been destroyed.

I clicked off countless pictures, turning in a slow circle to get every angle. Not that the view mattered—I could just as effectively have taken a hundred pictures of my shoe. But I felt like I was doing more if I changed the view. I needed to do things to try to find Sage, or I’d start to feel helpless, and I did not do helpless well.

I slipped my camera back into the saddlebag and swung onto the horse . . . which screamed and bucked under me.

“Whoa!” I yelled. “Roosevelt, stop!”

I pulled the reins as Roosevelt’s front, then back, legs kicked into the air. I had a feeling pulling was the exact opposite of what I was supposed to do, but the reins were the only thing keeping me attached to Roosevelt. I tried to squeeze his flank with my legs, but he was too strong—each buck flung me higher off the saddle.

“ROOSEVELT!” My screams were as frantic as the horse’s, which had grown louder and more shrill. With a final buck, he launched me off his back, then raced into the surrounding woods. My last thought before I thumped to the ground was about my camera. I hoped it wouldn’t break, bouncing around like that in the saddlebag.

I landed flat on my rear end. I screamed as the pain shot through me, and every horror story about horse-throwing injuries flashed through my head. I squeezed my eyes shut and took deep breaths, waiting for the worst to pass.

“I think we scared your horse,” a small voice said. “I’m sorry.”

My whole body whipped around to face the voice. Apparently I wasn’t damaged from the fall, but what I saw paralyzed me just as effectively: four people, standing just a few feet away. Three adults and a young girl. The adults held themselves upright and motionless, but the girl smiled and waved. All four of them had shockingly blue eyes.

They hadn’t been there a minute ago, when I was snapping pictures, and there was no way they could have raced to their current spots without me noticing.

You’re not scared of us though, Clea, are you?” the girl asked.

“No,” I said.

The crazy thing was, it was true. Once, I’d have been as terrified as Roosevelt by four people appearing out of nowhere, especially four people with glowing blue eyes, three of whom looked like living statues, and who somehow knew my name. Now I was a veteran of far eerier sights (A decimated mummy rising from the dead and chatting with me? Been there, done that.), and I knew better than to think just because something was impossible, it wasn’t real.

Acceptance.

“Oh, good,” the girl said. “My name’s Amelia. It’s nice to meet you.” She seemed about to say more, but the man next to her cleared his throat, and instead she closed her mouth and lowered her head. She kept her eyes on me though, and they danced with excitement.

“You’re so sad, Clea,” the man said. “Too sad. It weighs on you, I can feel it.”

His voice was so deep, I felt more than heard it. It was soothing, like sinking into a warm bath. His big voice matched his size. He was more than six feet tall. He looked young: His tan skin was smooth and glowed with health, and his thick, golden-blond hair fell just above his shoulders. There was a depth and knowledge in his eyes that gave him the gravity of someone older.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” he continued. “You can have so much more. You can have peace. True peace. Don’t you want that?”

His voice wrapped itself around me, cradling and supporting me. I’d never thought about wanting peace, but hearing him say it . . .

“Yes,” I said, “I do.”

“Of course you do,” he said. “And you can have it. Let Sage go.”

The name jolted me more than my fall. “Sage? Where is he? Do you know?”

“Sage is not your destiny,” another voice said. “It’s time to move on.” This man had white hair and deep wrinkles, but he stood tall and strong.

“Please,” I said, “if you know where Sage is, you have to tell me how to find him. He has the dagger; they could kill him. They could destroy his soul!”

It was more than I should have said. I didn’t know who these people were—if they were part of the Saviors of Eternal Life, who had taken Sage from me in Japan; or if they were with Cursed Vengeance, the other group out to destroy him. I only knew that for the first time in weeks I was on the verge of real information, and I’d do anything to get every bit of it I could.

“Men,” came a sigh. It was from the last member of the group, a chestnut-haired woman who stood on Amelia’s other side. She was short, maybe five feet tall, and she had a honey-sweet voice that seemed to smirk even though her mouth did not. “It’s all about the ones we can’t have, isn’t it?”

“Please,” I said. “You have to help me find him. Please!

The girl winced in sympathy, but it was the woman who spoke. “We won’t do that. Quite the opposite: We’re here to help you break your tie to Sage. For your own good. Think of us as your guardian angels. Do you believe in guardian angels, Clea?”

“I believe in Sage,” I said. “I believe in us together.”

My eyes flicked to Amelia, the girl. She’d furrowed her brow. She looked upset. Like she didn’t agree with the others? She was the only one who hadn’t told me to give up on Sage. Maybe she could help. I’d never spent much time around kids, but I put on a big smile and sweet voice and did my best to charm her.

“Amelia? Have you ever had a best friend?” I didn’t wait for her answer. “Because Sage is my best friend, and it’s really, really important that I find him. So if there’s anything you know about where he is, can you please tell me?”

“You heard Mommy. She said we won’t.” Amelia’s voice was small and meek, but her gaze was steady, and her eyes bore holes in me. She was trying to tell me something, but I didn’t know what. I pressed further.

“I know what your mommy said, but I don’t think she understands. I bet you will, though. See, Sage needs my help, and—”

“We said NO!” Amelia shouted. She gave a tantrummy stomp, but again her eyes were disconnected from her words and actions. I only got to look at them for a moment before she turned and looked plaintively to the woman next to her. “Mommy, she’s not listening.”

“She will,” the woman said. “Good-bye for now, Clea. We’ll talk soon.”

And then they were gone. They didn’t dissolve or fade away like a special effect in a movie; they were just gone. Blinked away in an instant.

“Wait!” I cried, but I was screaming to the air. I turned, looking everywhere, but I knew it was useless. It’s not like they’d ducked behind a rock; they’d vanished right in front of me. Instinctively I reached for my camera case. The people . . . or whatever they were . . . seemed to know a lot about me. Were we connected somehow? Was there a chance they’d show up in my pictures?

But of course my camera case was still in Roosevelt’s saddlebag. I called out his name and wandered through the woods until I found him, calm now and munching on brush.

“You didn’t have to run, you know,” I said, patting his neck. “They were perfectly harmless.”

Roosevelt blew air through his lips. Apparently he didn’t agree. I wasn’t sure I did either, so I couldn’t hold it against him. I rescued my camera and took a few test snaps. The bouncing hadn’t hurt it at all. I climbed back into the saddle and rode back to the clearing, pausing to click through several more shots I could pore over later, just in case.

On the ride back I tried to process what I’d seen. Four people. Amelia had called the woman “Mommy.” Were they a family? Was the younger man Amelia’s father, the older one her grandfather? Was there a reason the older ones didn’t move, while Amelia did? How exactly did they know about Sage and me, and why would they want to pull me away from him? Why did it matter to them? Why would they care?

One image kept flashing into my head—Amelia’s face at the end, when she yelled. Everything about her was typical frustrated kid . . . except her eyes. In my mind, I could see the look she gave me. It was kind and patient, the look of a loving parent trying to explain something her child doesn’t have the experience to understand. It was a strangely sophisticated expression for a girl who couldn’t have been more than eight years old, and even stranger for one who seemed like she was about to have a meltdown.

It was similar to what I noticed in her grand- father, who looked old but gave off a vibe of youth and energy.

Knowledge beyond one’s years . . . vitality beyond one’s age . . . I knew that. I had seen it in Sage. He’d been twenty when he drank the Elixir of Life. Now, five hundred years later, he was as strong and vibrant as ever. Stronger, even. And his mind was sharp from centuries of experience.

I didn’t even realize how tense I’d become until I heard the boom of Roosevelt’s galloping hooves. We were moving quickly, faster than I’d ever gone, but I couldn’t release my grip on Roosevelt’s flanks. If anything, I pushed harder as everything fell into place.

An old man more vital than his age; a child sophisticated beyond her years.

Did Amelia and her family drink the Elixir? It seemed to fit, but it didn’t explain everything. The Elixir kept people young, but it didn’t give them superpowers. Unlike this family, Sage couldn’t pop in and out of existence. If he could, I’d have seen it happen—it’s a power he’d have found helpful many times between when I found him in Brazil and lost him in Japan.

Yet there was no doubt these people were connected to Sage somehow. They knew all about him . . . or they wanted me to believe they did.

Amelia’s mother had said I should think of them as guardian angels. She wanted me to believe they were on my side. If they were, why would they want to keep me away from Sage? What did they know that I didn’t?

Roosevelt slowed to a walk. We were back at the stables. He took a slight stagger-step, and I put my hand on his neck, hot and coated in sweat. I felt terrible; I hadn’t meant to push him so hard.

“Wow,” Nico marveled as he and Rayna walked toward me, “you sure put Roosevelt through his paces.”

Nico was my mother’s latest hire, one of a battalion of staff members who had converged on our home in the past several weeks. I hated the extra scrutiny of so many fresh pairs of eyes, but I suppose I’d brought it on myself. Part of the deal with Mom and Dad letting me pursue a photojournalism career at a young age was that I’d let them know where I was at all times . . . something I neglected to do when I took off for Japan with Ben and Sage. Mom found out when she heard some of her young staffers gossiping about pictures of Ben and me that had been snapped by gawkers in Shibuya and posted on the web.

That was bad enough. It only got worse when she received a frantic call from Piri, our housekeeper, screaming that I’d come home with a gunshot wound to the leg. Mom raced home in a panic, and nearly lost her mind when neither Ben nor I could offer her a decent explanation for what happened.

Mom decided the whole incident was a direct result of my continuing struggle with Dad’s death. Though she’d thought therapy would help me, she was now positive that I was acting out because she hadn’t been available to me. I swore that wasn’t it, but she went ahead and relocated her entire office from Capitol Hill to our home. As the junior senator from the great state of Connecticut, she had to spend a certain amount of time in D.C., but the Weston family fortune made chartered flights a simple solution.

Once, I’d have been thrilled to have my mom change her life for me, but right now I wanted time alone to think. Instead I was surrounded by chaos. And even though Mom was in the same house, she was so busy, I barely got to see her . . . just her huge, constantly moving and buzzing staff, including Nico. He was brought in to help Rayna’s mom, Wanda, a.k.a. our “Equine Professional.” Wanda was unstoppable, but with Mom home and riding more, she needed the extra help.

Rayna couldn’t be happier. She was my best friend from birth, and I was used to her falling head over heels within seconds of meeting someone, but her instant obsession with buff, blond Nico might have set a record even for her. Despite her mom’s job, Rayna had never been particularly horse-oriented, but the day she saw Nico, she put together an entire wardrobe of jeans, button-down plaid shirts, cowboy boots, and hats so she could “blend in” at the stables.

It took Rayna no time to work her way into Nico’s confidence, and everything he told her, she then passed on to me. As a result, I knew far more about him than I was interested in knowing, including his age (twenty-one), home state (Montana), family structure (four younger siblings and a deceased father), economic status (poor—especially since he sent 90 percent of each paycheck home to his family), and plans for the future (continue his mom-mandated furlough to see the country and expand his horizons before going back home to the ranch).

As I dismounted from Roosevelt, Nico took the reins and led him into the stable. I felt like I owed him an explanation for returning the horse in such a state, so I followed. “Sorry,” I said. “I think he’s a little overheated.”

“He’s not the only one,” Rayna lilted in my ear. When I turned to her, she pointed to Nico and threw her head back, then fanned herself as she mouthed “OMG.”

I smiled and rolled my eyes. Rayna had been in near despair because after weeks of her most concentrated flirting, Nico hadn’t touched her except to help her up after she tripped and fell. A fall that, of course, was orchestrated for that very outcome.

“He’s okay,” Nico said. He had already untacked Roosevelt and was reaching for the hose. “He likes to go long and hard.”

From anyone else this would be a blatant—and pretty cheesy—double entendre, but Nico looked oblivious. That fit with what Rayna said about him, that he was “adorably innocent.” I didn’t buy it, but Rayna said I was letting recent events make me overly suspicious, and cloud my otherwise open nature. I reminded her I didn’t have an otherwise open nature, but she liked the theory and was sticking with it, so I let it go.

“Clea, did you get that Camila Dexter song I e-mailed you?” Rayna asked loudly enough to be heard over the running water. “It’s been going through my head like crazy.”

“The new one?” Nico asked. “I love that song.”

Of course he did. And of course Rayna knew it before she asked. Camila Dexter was a country singer, and neither Rayna nor I ever listened to country music, nor e-mailed songs to each other, but already she and Nico were in a deep discussion about the track, so this was my perfect exit.

Alone again, I was free to think about Amelia and her family.

Family.

Was there even a chance they could be Sage’s family?

I had never seen his family in my dreams of Olivia, the woman I was when Sage and I first met. I supposed it was possible they could be ghosts of family members. If so, it would explain the blinking in and out of existence. But then why did they claim to be looking out for me? Why would they tell me to give up on Sage?

I put my hand on the doorknob of my house and cringed as I prepared to enter. I couldn’t believe I was pining for the days when Piri’s bizarre Hungarian superstitions were the only things I dreaded. They used to make me crazy, but at least I could slip past her and have the house to myself. These days I barely had the space to breathe. I was lucky to even have this quiet moment outside—when dignitaries were in town, we had Secret Service members flanking the front door.

The wall of sound smacked me the second I walked in. As I made my way to the kitchen to grab a snack, I passed several aides walking with great purpose, carrying who-knew-what to whoknew-where as they talked a mile a minute into their earpiece phones.

One in particular stopped in her tracks when she saw me. Suzanne.

“Clea!” she cried, and wrapped me in a huge Chanel-scented hug. She was several inches taller than me to begin with—add in her five-inch heels, and the hug had the effect of pushing me face-first into her C-cups.

Just when I thought I might smother, she pulled away and held me at arm’s length, scrutinizing me with her makeup-counter, lacquered face. I’m a healthy person—I eat right, I exercise. . . . I’m in good shape. But Suzanne’s long frame, tucked into her button-front, silk fitted shirt and pencil skirt, made me feel three people wide.

“We’ve missed you this morning!” she said.

“We” meant Suzanne and my mother, and it made me crazy that this woman felt perfectly at ease speaking for the both of them. Like Nico, Suzanne was one of Mom’s recent hires—a right-hand aide here in the “Connecticut office.” Mom liked the idea of someone local taking the job, and Suzanne had been an aide for Hartford’s Mayor Josephson since graduating Yale with an honors degree in poli-sci the year before. Ed Josephson was in his eighties and an inveterate lecher. The buzz was she’d walked into the interview and “accidentally” spilled a sip of her bottled water down her cleavage. By the time she’d finished blotting it dry, the interview was over. She had the job.

In a strange way, I’d have been less disgusted by that story if Suzanne was unqualified, and using the mayor’s sleaziness to her advantage. But she was qualified. Mom raved about her, and when I watched her in action, I understood why. Suzanne was brilliant at handling people, and she could go toe-to-toe with anyone on any hot-button issue and leave them reeling. She didn’t need to act like a Playmate to win a job. The fact that she did it anyway turned my stomach.

Suzanne, however, felt no such shame about her former job. It had been a prime position for someone her age, and she worked both it and her Ivy League education (summa cum laude!) into conversations as often as possible.

“The senator thought you might be around after breakfast, but now she’s on a string of calls that’ll go all day. She’s hoping her one-thirty will end in time for her to have a proper lunch, but it’s with Mayor Josephson, so it won’t happen. Believe me, I would know—I was there when he spoke to the president, and even he couldn’t get the mayor to hang up.”

The senator. One more galling thing about Suzanne—she wouldn’t say “your mother.” It was always “the senator.” The title that tied my mom to her top aide, not to me.

I realized Suzanne was staring at me, expecting some kind of reaction to her close encounter with the leader of the free world.

“Wow. Well, I won’t count on her for lunch then. Thanks.”

I slipped past Suzanne and made my way into the kitchen, where Piri was struggling to stir a wooden spoon around a giant pot—one of several that steamed and bubbled over every burner on the stove. I peeked in.

“That smells amazing, Piri. What is it, oatmeal?”

“Horse food,” Piri groused.

“I read on the Internet that horses respond exceptionally well to homemade treats,” Suzanne said, following me into the kitchen, “and the senator adored the idea. This recipe has oats, apples, carrots, salt, sugar, molasses, and water: Easy as pie!”

“Easy for you,” Piri muttered.

“What?” Suzanne asked.

Piri smiled and nodded. “Easy.”

But when Suzanne turned away again, Piri made a face and did something with her hands. I couldn’t be positive, but I was almost certain she’d just flipped Suzanne the Hungarian bird.

I walked into the pantry and rummaged around for a snack I could easily take to my room. I was eager to get to my computer and scrutinize the pictures I’d taken.

“So,” Suzanne called inside, “do you have dinner plans?”

“Depends,” said a voice I recognized immediately. “What are you offering?”

From deep inside the pantry I couldn’t see Ben, but I knew it was him. For a moment I considered staying where I was. We used to be close, but Ben and I had been avoiding each other for a long time, and right now I didn’t have the patience to handle the awkward stares and stammers I knew I’d get if he had to deal with me.

“Ben!” Suzanne said. “Hi! I was just, um—well—”

Was she stammering? Suzanne didn’t stammer; she was far too on her game for that. I came out of the pantry to see. I took a deep breath first, rallying patience for the moment Ben saw me.

I needn’t have bothered. Ben was slouched in the doorway, gazing at Suzanne with a teasing smile on his face. I was in his field of vision, but he didn’t even glance my way. I might have expected that—that he’d make a point of trying to avoid my eyes, all the while sweating and stammering and making it clear that the whole thing was a world of effort—but this wasn’t like that at all. He wasn’t working at not looking at me; he just wasn’t. For a second I suspected it wasn’t even Ben. The sweater he wore was much more casual than his usual button-down oxford, and his hair . . . I swear it was tamed with product.

Stranger than anything superficial was his body language. Even leaning against the doorjamb he seemed to hold himself taller than he had before, and his smile radiated confidence. And was it possible he had gotten stronger and more filled out over the past several weeks?

I pushed farther out of the pantry for a better view.

“Ah, I misunderstood,” Ben said to Suzanne. He pushed off the door and glided to the kitchen island, where he grabbed an apple from a fruit bowl. He was close enough that I could stretch xout my arm and touch him if I wanted to, but I wasn’t even on his radar. “Tell you what,” he continued, “ I’ll offer then: Dinner tonight?”

Suzanne’s grin spread wider than her skinny face. “I’d love it. I don’t know how late I’m working, though. . . .”

“Call me when you’re done. I’ll pick you up.”

“Great!” Suzanne chirped. “Should I bring the cribbage board?”

Really? They were playing cribbage? Until that moment I thought I was Ben’s sole cribbage partner. He’d taught me the game, and the two of us played marathon sessions.

Of course, that was back when we were close. Before he realized he had feelings for me. Before I nearly felt the same way. Before I met Sage and the entire center of my world shifted. And before I learned that in our own way, Ben and I were just as connected as Sage and me. Our connection wasn’t based on love but on death. In lifetime after lifetime, Ben’s jealousy destroyed me. It happened in this lifetime too—it was Ben’s fault Sage had been captured.

Was Ben interested in Suzanne now? And if they fell for each other, would that be enough to break the crazy cycle of tragedy he, Sage, and I had been playing out again and again?

“He’s special, isn’t he?”

The honey-sweet voice whispered into my ear, but when I whipped around there was no one there.

“Is something different about him?”

The lilting voice was in my other ear now. It was familiar, I realized, as the blood drained from my face. It was the woman I’d seen at the memorial—Amelia’s mother.

“He’d be good to you. Not like Sage.” She gave a long sigh—a rush of sweet air I seemed to feel inside my head. “Poor Clea. If only you knew. . . .”

Was the chestnut-haired woman really there with me? Could I talk to her?

If I could, it wasn’t going to happen in a room full of people. I darted up to my room and shut the door behind me.

“It’s a terrible shame,” the voice continued, “but the sad truth is just because someone says he loves you, you can’t trust it’s the case. You don’t want to believe me, but you’ll see.”

“Tell me where he is,” I said to the empty room. “That’s all I want to know.”

“I’ll show you,” she said. “You’ll see. Good-bye for now, Clea.”

“Wait!”

But I could feel the difference in the room; the woman was gone.

What was she? Why was she just a voice in my head, when before I had seen her in front of me? Why had she come alone this time, and not with her family? And what kind of creature could both blink in and out of existence, and speak inside someone’s mind?

I smiled and paced as adrenaline surged through me. It was a strange reaction to my bizarre day—I supposed a saner response would be fear. But for the first time since Sage was ripped away from me, I had a lead, no matter how inexplicable.

Now I just had to follow it.

© 2011 Hilary Duff

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