Past Lives: Purity teaser

They marched down the dank tunnel in silence. The earth around them seemed to groan and curse in protest of their intrusion; with each step they took, the wooden beams let out unhappy creaks. Or was she imagining it?

Five minutes into the hike, Caitlyn was desperate to end the deafening silence. But the only thing she could think of was the song.

She coughed to break the silence and remarked, “You, um, play the piano very well.”

“I have had a very long time to practice.”

She scoffed and glared ahead. He could just accept the compliment, rather than be an a—

“I would prefer you did not finish that thought, if you please,” he said, sounding irritated. “There is a root in your path.”

Despite the warning, Caitlyn’s toe caught on the root and she stumbled. A hand grabbed her wrist and hauled her upright before she could fall flat on her face.

She straightened out, gasping. “Thanks for that,” she said, breathless. “I’ve, uh, never heard a song like that before. Did you write it yourself?”

“A friend of mine wrote it.”

“Oh. It sounded very sad.”

“It is not meant to be.”

“Oh.” Caitlyn breathed a sigh of relief when they reached the barricade at the end of the tunnel. Whoever had used it last hadn’t fully closed it, and they squeezed through before continuing into the forest.

The night was warm, and crickets sang all around them. Feeling a long-awaited sense of calm wash over her, Caitlyn looked up at the sky, at the moon smiling wanly at them and the smudges of navy and violet across the dark sky. It was peaceful, beautiful.

With this new sense of ease and the joy of the upcoming opportunity to clean herself up, she quickened her pace to keep up with Fane, almost skipping alongside him. “Who wrote it?” she asked.

“Verity Romano.”

As enlightening as it was, these short answers weren’t at all helpful. She would just have to keep pestering him. “Word around the block is that you loved her. Is it true?”

This time, his expression was carefully composed. It was a blank facade, well-practiced. “Would it change your opinion of me if I said yes?”

“No. Well, maybe. Right now it seems like you don’t have a heart. If you loved her, then maybe you have a heart. And maybe if you’d loved and lost her, it’d explain why you’re so…” She trailed off when she saw the dangerous glint in his eyes. “Um, the lovely person you are,” she recovered lamely.

“You do not know when to keep quiet, do you?”

Caitlyn smiled and felt her cheeks head up. “Not really.”

Maybe it was the shadows playing tricks on her, but she thought she saw him smile and murmur, “Neither did she. Come,” he said, louder now. “The stream is not far from here.”

“You loved her, then?” She peered up at him through the darkness, picturing him standing next to Verity Romano. The ghost was a knockout; she must have been beautiful in life. And if he wasn’t so gaunt, he would be a handsome fellow himself; though he couldn’t really help his weight, as he only had blood to keep him going. “I’d understand if you loved her. She seems like a really nice person, and—”

“If I told you I loved her,” he interrupted, voice calm, “would you stop talking about her?”

“No guarantees.”

He pressed his fingertips to his forehead as if easing a headache. “Yes, I loved her. More than life itself.”

“And you’re miserable because she died?”

“Perhaps I have always been this way. Have you ever considered that as a possibility?”

She hopped over a fallen log, using his arm as support. “Maybe, if you’re anything like your father it’s a definite possibility.”

He suddenly stopped walking, and she turned to see him scowling at her as a muscle in his jaw jumped. “Must we continue to discuss my personality faults? This is not therapy.”

“I never said—”

He waved his hand to the trees ahead of her. “The stream is just through there. Be swift.”

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