A preview of Shrouded Soul (Hidden: Book 3)
I got the thumbs up on Facebook and Twitter, so I thought I'd share the first part of the opening chapter of Shrouded Soul (Hidden: Book 3) with you. I'm so excited that it's going to be available for you to buy tomorrow. I hope you are too!
I frame AJ’s face in my phone’s camera and use my thumb to take the shot. He laughs and turns away as the electronic shutter clicks, leaving me with an image of his profile. His cheeky lopsided smile is hidden from view.
“Spoilsport,” I say. “I’ll hold your hat for ransom until you let me take a proper photo.”
I tap the black fedora, which is currently sitting on my head, and ready the phone for another shot.
This time he holds still, allowing me to capture his smile and the cute dimple that forms between the corner of his mouth and his cheek—two of the many reasons I fell for him. I put my phone away and twist around so I can flop against his chest. A blanket of musty copper leaves rustles beneath us. Twisting, bare branches stretch into the pale grey sky above our heads. I snuggle against him, glad when he wraps his arms around me as it helps to stave off the chill.
“Did you ask your mum about Christmas?” I say.
It’s hard to believe it’s only a couple of weeks away. I’m not ready to spend a second Christmas without my sister, Charley. I hope having AJ there will help to ease the pain.
My hope dissipates into a frown as his chest rises but doesn’t fall.
“You haven’t, have you?”
“There hasn’t been a good time,” he says.
I twist out of his arms and onto my knees. “It’s only an invite to Christmas dinner,” I say. “Why would she be offended by that?”
His jaw stiffens into a rigid line. “Mum’s really tense, Kim. I don’t think she can believe it’s okay for us to stay. I’ll ask her when she’s calmed down a bit.”
I arch an eyebrow. “Just make sure you ask her before Christmas Day.” I prod him in the chest, prompting him to smile again.
I love his smile. I grin at him, feeling my eyes widening like a doe’s as I lean in for a kiss, keeping my lips light against his. A giggle tickles the back of my throat, bursting out in a puff of air over his face. I begin to tickle him, playfully fluttering my fingertips across his throat and underneath the collar of his coat, then slipping my hand inside the slit between his coat buttons so I can tickle his armpits. Laughing, he returns the favour. Although his hands remain outside my coat, he applies enough pressure to make me squirm and giggle. We tumble into the leaves in an explosion of laughter, AJ’s chest almost resting against mine. His hat rolls off my head and tumbles onto the ground, rustling the old leaves.
My laughter is cut short when AJ kisses me firmly. I smile into it, allowing my eyes to drift shut. I brush my fingertips across his shoulders and twine them together at the back of his neck, feeling the tightly woven texture of his coat. My thumbs stroke the tips of his coarse hair, and I apply a little pressure through my palms, encouraging his body to sink closer so there’s no longer a gap between our chests.
AJ freezes and presses his palms into the leaves on either side of my head. Our stares lock, his chestnut eyes dancing with worry. He lifts his body so we’re no longer touching and scrambles away, sitting with his back pressed rigidly against the tree.
“What?” I say, trying hard not to scowl.
He shakes his head. “We shouldn’t get carried away.”
I let the scowl crumple my forehead. “We were having fun.” And now we’re not. “What’s the matter, AJ?” I try to hold his hand, but he snatches it away. I sigh. “This isn’t about me and what happened with Gage anymore, is it?” My tone is flat.
At first I thought AJ was being careful not to push me into anything I wasn’t ready to do. Gage had used magic to seduce me. He’d been the first boy I’d kissed and been even remotely intimate with, but the entire encounter had been a lie. It hurt and almost broke me emotionally. Being with AJ has helped me heal, and yet he still pulls away.
There are so many things he won’t talk about—things that drive a wedge between us. I’ve tried hard to wait for him to tell me, but I’m pretty sure he never will. He’s been keeping secrets his entire life. It’s a habit for him.
I fold my arms, as much to warm my hands as to prevent myself from reaching out to him again and risk being rejected. I wish I understood why he keeps pushing me away at the first hint of things progressing beyond a kiss and a hug.
“AJ, you know how much I care about you, don’t you?”
I’m afraid he doesn’t. I know the depth of his feelings for me. He almost died saving my life. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to repay him. I blow out a miniature sigh when he nods.
“So why won’t you talk to me? What are you afraid of?”
I already know what I think is his deepest secret: His father was a Baneem, part of a magical race of people who hate humans. Gage is also a Baneem.
AJ tips his head back against the tree’s rough bark. “It’s not just Mum who’s afraid this is all too good to be true.”
“So that’s why you’ve been pulling away from me? Because you’re still in flight mode?”
His brow twitches into an apologetic frown. “I wish I felt differently. I wish I could stop being scared, but the truth is I can’t.”
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