Who are you?
Kennedy stared at her brother for a fair amount of time. She didn’t know how, didn’t know why, but he wasn’t the same man. Beneath the laughter, a shadow of his former self reigned. A total stranger sat across from her. It’d been a while since they’d met up, maybe a good six months, but he couldn’t have changed that much.
He scanned the small café where they were having lunch for the umpteenth time. Over and over she wanted to let it go as her imagination. Surely she was seeing things. Over and over, he expected monsters to pop out of the shadows. It was as if he was lost in his own horror movie. A subtle shiver shook through him every few minutes or so when a random leaf hit the ground, or when the waiter inside the café brought an order to a customer.
That look in his eye. He did something. He did something bad. Dillon Jenkins acted interested in what she said. He played the part well. But whenever her father or she spoke, he looked over their shoulder, through them, past them.
Beneath his laughter, he was waiting, anticipating trouble.
“I don’t know, dad,” Dillon said. “You’re really old. Not sure you could beat me at a game of basketball anymore.” His focus flicked to the side and back. Then he checked the sky as if it was about to fall on top of him.
“Oh, really?” Her father glanced at Kennedy for backup. She rolled her eyes, taking her father’s side. “Then I guess we need to take a trip to that basketball park you love. It’ll be a shame to embarrass my son,” he quipped. Kennedy smirked.
The café wasn’t as crowded now as when the three of them arrived from their separate routes. Across the street a man and woman walked hand in hand at a brisk pace to get back home before the rain fell; they hunched together as the wind picked up. The warm sunshine of the morning gave way to the clouds the weather predictors forecast for late afternoon, and the majority of people decided they’d best get home.
Inside the café came the soft hum from two women having coffee, and an older couple enjoying what appeared to be a scone together. The gursh of milk being steamed came, then a gentle waft of espresso.
Dillon hadn’t seen his father and Kennedy in six months, Kennedy hadn’t seen her father in a few weeks. None of them had plans to rush the day. The three of them dared the weather to intrude on their gathering. They wouldn’t leave a second before. It’d take much more than a drizzle to get them to break their party up. Metal utensils struck a plate as a worker cleaned up a nearby abandoned table.
The delicious aroma of that espresso tickled her senses. Kennedy planned to grab another cup of coffee soon. She plucked a small piece of crust from the plate in front of her with the tip of her index finger and popped it in her mouth. It had been an apple pie. Saying she was addicted to fruit pies was putting it lightly. All her life she’d loved them. Apple or berry. Those could never fail in her eyes.
After sucking on her finger, Kennedy couldn’t help but laugh. “He’s too confident. Dillon couldn’t win if he tried.”
“Nice,” Dillon snorted, shooting her a look of betrayal.
She tipped her head. “And yet it’s true.”
Sure, he liked to act like he could do anything, but they all knew Dillon had become too lazy to play as often as he liked to make them think he did. His stomach had become pouchier as of late. He was more wind than skill at this point. Dillon appeared ready to throttle her, but before he responded, his concentration moved behind her. As it did, he slowly straightened, growing edgier as each millisecond passed.
Kennedy stiffened as well because she’d been seeing those small ticks for the past few hours they’d been at the café. The hair along the back of her neck prickled. She had a strong feeling the reason for his nervousness was about to reveal itself. As if the nerves helped her hear better, her senses heightened and picked up on the specific footsteps of the men approaching. There was no pause, no hesitation whatsoever.
They knew who they were looking for.
Because they came for Dillon.
Her heart skipped a beat, causing her breath to hitch.
Dillon’s attention rose as the group of men approached. His pupils dilated, and the muscle in his throat throbbed with the dread skipping through him. As he attempted to compose himself, his Adam’s apple went up and down.
Sitting to her right, her father turned to greet the newcomers, unaware of them being anything but friends of Dillon’s. A shadow fell across the table. The atmosphere thickened uncomfortably. Kennedy tried not to look. For a reason she couldn’t explain, she felt she shouldn’t. In their presence, something stirred deep inside she’d never felt.
“Dillon, so unexpected to see you here.” The creepy male voice sounded anything but surprised. “Having lunch with the family?”
“Some friends of yours, Dillon?” Stephen, her father, asked with a smile.
Dillon turned visibly pale. “Uh . . . no, yes. Not exactly.”
For a grown man who’d been saying he’d beat his father at basketball a few seconds ago, Dillon had done an about-face and turned into what amounted to nothing more than a scared five-year-old child. He shifted in his chair.
Her father reached out to greet the new man and shake his hand. A spicy scent filled her nose. The male on her left shoved his arm in front of her face to grab her father’s hand. Kennedy noticed what appeared to be etchings along his arm. They were oddly familiar, though she was certain she’d never seen anything like it. Let alone the man. The patterns glowed silver, almost white when the skin moved as he went to shake hands with her father.
Does anyone else see that? No. It doesn’t seem like they do. I’m the only one staring at his arm.
The world blurred in and out of Kennedy’s vision.
Her ears rang—
Dillon abruptly knocked his father’s arm out of the way, which snapped Kennedy out of her trance. With a shake of her head, her golden waves drifted over her face. The movement caused the new male to focus on her. Intently. Maybe even a little too intently. Kennedy kept her focus on the table, her gut telling her don’t raise her head. A gut instinct she listened to from having powerful and accurate ones in the past.
The hard stare of the man failed to ease her comfort. The other newcomers focused on her too when the leader of the group—as he had to be—watched her. Mister Leader pointed her out with nothing more than a look, and the longer their attention remained on her, the worse it became for her. Her heart thudded a rhythm of fear heavy in her chest, in her throat. Breathing was a struggle. Panic began to rise.
When Dillon knocked his father’s arm out of the way, he stood, redirecting the man’s focus from her. In his attempts to be casual, he failed to realize he was anything but. He made it all too clear he was uninterested in having this newcomer touching his father, or focusing on his baby sister.
“Why don’t we go somewhere private to talk,” Dillon said in a much stronger tone. More like his regular self.
Kennedy’s gut clenched. No. If they get him alone, they’ll kill him. Her father seemed oblivious to everything. As though this was nothing more than another ordinary day, an ordinary lunch. That didn’t explain why she experienced such a strong reaction. Why did she know without question that if these men took her brother out of the public eye, they would kill him?
And what the hell could she do about it?
Shift and lead them away. Her ears rang once more. A voice deep within came to life. An intuition about something she could do. But what? Lead them away? How? She searched deep within for an answer, but the man’s voice cut through her like a hammer.
“I was attempting to introduce myself to your sister.”
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Sylphline Realm – Crown of Ice is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, stories, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2017 Kim Iverson
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