The Initiation (Chapter Sixteen)

Cassie should have pushed him away, should have run from him. Instead, with a gasp, she buried her head in his shoulder, in the comfort of his thick Irish sweater. She could feel his warmth all around her now, anchoring her, keeping her safe. Protecting her. He smelled so good – like autumn leaves and wood fires and ocean wind. Her heart was pounding.

It was then that Cassie knew what forbidden love meant. It meant this, wanting this much, and feeling this wonderful, and knowing it was wrong. She felt Adam pull away from her slightly. She looked up at him and knew that he was as overwhelmed as she was.

"We can't," he said in a thick voice. "We can't …"

Gazing up at him, seeing only his eyes, the color of the ocean that night when it had whispered to her to drown in it, Cassie's lips moved to form a soundless "No." That was when he kissed her.

And in that instant all coherent thought was lost. She was swept away by a salty wave of sheer feeling. It was like being caught in a riptide, sucked under, tumbling helplessly head over heels with no way to stop. She was dying, but so sweetly.

She was trembling, boneless. If he hadn't been holding her, she would have fallen. No boy had ever made her feel this way. In the wild and raging confusion there was nothing to do but surrender, to give herself up to it entirely.

Each shock of sweetness was greater than the last. She was almost senseless with delight, and she no longer even wanted to resist. Despite the wildness, the abandon of it, she wasn't afraid. Because she could trust him. He was leading her, wide-eyed and wondering, into a world she'd never known existed.

And still he was kissing her and kissing her – they were both intoxicated, dizzy with the madness of this. She knew her cheeks and throat were wildly flushed; she could feel the heat they made together.

She never knew how long they stood that way, locked in an embrace that should have melted the rock around them. She only knew sometime later that without letting go of her, he was guiding her to sit on a granite outcrop. Her breath slowing, she buried her face again in his shoulder.

And found peace there. The uncontrollable passion had given way at last to a warm and languorous drowsiness. She was safe, she belonged. And it was so simple, so beautiful.

"Cassie," he said, in a voice she'd never heard him use before, and at the sound of it her heart dissolved and went out of her body, evaporating through the soles of her feet and her palms and her fingertips. She would never be the same again.

"I love you," he said.

She shut her eyes without speaking. She could feel him rest his parted lips against her hair.

The silver cord had wrapped them in a shining cocoon, like still, moonlit water all around them. The wildness was over. Everything was so peaceful, so hushed. Cassie felt that she could float here forever.

My destiny, she thought. She'd found it at last. Every moment of her life had been leading to this. Why had she been so afraid of it, why had she ever wanted to escape it? There was nothing here but joy. She would never have to feel afraid again…

And then she remembered.

A shock of pure horror lashed through her. Oh, God, what have we done ? she thought.

She pulled away so sharply that he had to catch her to keep her from falling backward. "Oh, God," she said, feeling the horror sweep away everything else inside her. "Oh, God, Adam, how could we?" she whispered.

For a moment his eyes were unfocused, open but unseeing, as if he didn't understand why she had broken into their beautiful trance. But then she saw realization come, and his silver-blue gaze shattered. Raw anguish shone out of his eyes.

Still in his arms, still looking up at him, Cassie began to cry.

How could they have let this happen? How could she have done this to Diana? Diana, who had rescued her, who had befriended her, who trusted her. Diana, whom she loved.

Adam belonged to Diana. Cassie knew that Diana had never thought of life without Adam, that all Diana's plans and hopes and dreams involved him. Diana and Adam were meant to be together…

She thought suddenly of the way Diana's haunting green eyes brightened when she saw

Adam, of the tender, radiant look Diana got even talking about him.

And Adam loved Diana too. Cassie knew that as surely as she knew her own feelings. Adam idolized Diana; he adored her with a love as pure and strong and indestructible as Diana's for him.

But Cassie knew now that Adam loved her as well. How could you love two people? How could you be in love with two at the same time? Still, there was no way to deny it. The chemistry between herself and Adam; the empathy, the bond that drew them together, couldn't be ignored. Clearly, it was possible to love two different people at once.

And Diana had the first claim.

"You still love her," Cassie whispered, needing to confirm it. An ache was beginning deep inside her.

He shut his eyes. "Yes." His voice was ragged. "God, Cassie – I'm sorry…"

"No, that's good," she said. She knew the ache now. It was the pain of loss, of emptiness, and it was growing. "Because I do, too. And I don't want to hurt her. I never wanted to hurt her. That's why I promised myself I'd never let either of you know…"

"It's my fault," he said, and she could hear the self-condemnation in his voice. "I should have realized sooner. I should have recognized how I felt and dealt with it. Instead, I forced you into exactly what you were trying to prevent."

"You didn't force me," Cassie said softly, honestly. Her voice was quiet and steady; everything was simple and clear again, and she knew what she had to do. "It was both our faults. But that doesn't matter, the only thing that matters is that it can never happen again. We have to make sure of that, somehow."

"But how?" he said bleakly. "We can be sorry all we want – I can hate myself – but if we're ever alone again… I don't know what will happen."

"Then we can't be alone. Ever. And we can't sit near each other, or touch, or even let ourselves think about it." She was telling him what to do, but she wasn't afraid. She felt only the certainty of what she was saying.

His eyes were dark. "I admire your self-control," he said, even more bleakly.

"Adam," she said, and she felt the melting inside her just at saying his name. "We have to. When you came back Tuesday night after my initiation, when I realized that you and Diana… Well, that night I swore I would never let Diana be hurt because of how I felt about you. I swore I'd never betray her. Do you want to betray her?"

There was a silence, and she felt the involuntary heave of his lungs. And with her inner senses she felt his agony. Then he let his breath out and shut his eyes again. When he opened them, she saw his answer before he spoke it, and felt it as his arms released her and he sat back, the cold air rushing in between their bodies, separating them at last.

"No," he said, and there was new strength in his voice. And in his face a new resolution.

They looked at each other then, not like lovers, but like soldiers. Like comrades-in-arms utterly determined to reach some common goal. Their passion held down and locked away, so deep that no one else would ever see it. It was a new closeness, maybe even more intimate than the trust of boyfriend and girlfriend. Whatever happened, whatever it cost them, they would not betray the girl they both loved.

Looking right into her eyes, he said, "What oath was it you swore that night? Was it one you got from somebody's Book of Shadows?"

"No," Cassie said, and then she stopped. "I don't know," she qualified. "I thought I was making it up, but now it seems like it might have come from something longer. It just went, 'Not by word or look or deed…' "

He was nodding. "I've read one with those lines. It's old – and it's powerful. You call on the four Powers to witness you, and if you ever break the oath, they're free to rise against you. Do you want to swear it again now? With me?"

The abruptness of his question took her breath away. But she was eternally proud of herself that with scarcely any hesitation she spoke clearly. "Yes."

"We need blood." He stood and took a knife out of his back pocket. Cassie thought she was surprised, then decided she wasn't. However nice a guy Adam might be, he was used to taking care of himself.

Without any particular flourish, he cut his palm. The blood showed black in the dim silvery light. Then he handed the knife to her.

Cassie sucked in her breath. She wasn't brave, she hated pain… But she gritted her teeth and put the knife against her palm. Just think of the pain you could have caused Diana, she thought, and with a quick motion she brought the knife downward. It hurt, but she didn't make any noise.

She looked up at Adam.

"Now, say after me," he said. He held his palm up to the star-filled sky. "Fire, Air, Earth, Water."

"Fire, Air, Earth, Water…"

"Listen and witness."

"Listen and witness." Despite the simple words, Cassie felt that the elements had indeed been evoked and were listening. The night had a sudden feeling of electricity, and the stars overhead seemed to burn colder and brighter. Goose-flesh broke out on her skin.

Adam turned his hand sideways so that the black drops fell onto the scraggly beach grass and the sandy earth. Cassie watched, mesmerized. "I, Adam, swear not to betray my trust – not to betray Diana," he said.

"I, Cassie, swear not to betray my trust…" she whispered, and watched her own blood trickle off the side of her hand.

"Not by word, or look, or deed, waking or sleeping, by speech or by silence…"

She repeated it in a whisper.

"… in this land or any other. If I do, may fire burn me, air smother me, earth swallow me, and water cover my grave."

She repeated it. As she spoke the last words, "and water cover my grave," she felt a snapping, as if something had been set in motion. As if the fabric of space and time right here had been plucked,. once, and was resonating back into place. Breath held, she listened to it a moment.

Then she looked at Adam. "It's over," she whispered, and she didn't just mean the oath.

His eyes were like silver-edged darkness. "It's over," he said, and reached his bloodstained palm out to her. She hesitated, then took his hand with her own. She felt, or imagined she felt, their blood mingling, falling to the ground together. A symbol of what could never be.

Then, slowly, he released her.

"You'll give the rose back to Diana?" she asked steadily.

He took the chalcedony piece out of his pocket, held it in the palm that was still wet. "I'll give it to her."

Cassie nodded. She couldn't say what she meant, which was that where the stone belonged, Adam belonged.

"Good night, Adam," she said softly instead, looking at him standing there on the bluff with the night sky behind him. Then she turned and walked toward the lighted windows of her grandmother's house. And this time he didn't call her back.

"Oh, yes," Cassie's grandmother said. "This was in the front hall this morning. Someone must have put it through the letter slot." She handed Cassie an envelope.

They were sitting at the breakfast table, the Sunday morning sun shining through the windows. Cassie was astonished at how normal everything was.

But one look at the envelope and her heart plummeted. Her name was written on the front in a large, careless hand. The ink was red.

She tore it open and stared at the note inside while her Raisin Bran got soggy. It read:

Cassie – You see I'm using my own name this time. Come over to my house (Number Six) sometime today. I have something special I want to talk to you about. Believe me, you don't want to miss this.

Love and kisses, Faye

P.S. Don't tell anyone in the Club you're coming to see me. You'll understand when you get here.

Cassie was tingling with alarm. Her first impulse was to call Diana, but if Diana had been up all night purifying the skull, she was probably exhausted. Faye was the last thing she needed to deal with.

All right, I won't disturb her, Cassie thought grimly. I'll go and see what Faye's up to first. Something about the ceremony, I'll bet. Or maybe she's going to call for a leadership vote.

Faye's house was one of the nicest on the street. A housekeeper let Cassie in, and she remembered Diana saying that Faye's mother was dead. There were a lot of single-parent families on Crowhaven Road.

Faye's room was a rich girl's room. Cordless phone, PC, TV and VCR, tons of CDs. Huge, lush sprawling flowers patterned everything, including a bed heaped with soft cushions and embroidered pillows. Cassie sat down on the window seat, waiting for Faye to appear. There were red candles, not lit, on the nightstand.

Suddenly the dust ruffle on the bed stirred, and out poked the face of a little orange kitten. It was followed almost immediately by a little gray one.

"Oh, you darling," Cassie said, enchanted in spite of herself. She would never have guessed Faye was the type to keep kittens. She sat very still, and to her delight the two little creatures came all the way out. They jumped up on the window seat and ranged over her, purring like motorboats.

Cassie giggled and squirmed as one climbed her sweater and perched, precariously, on her shoulder. They were adorable kittens, the orange fluffy and spiky with baby fur, the gray sleek and tidy. Their tiny needle claws pricked her as they climbed all over her. The orange one got in her hair and poked bluntly behind her ear, and she laughed again.

He was trying to nurse, kneading his little paws against her neck. She could feel his cold little nose. The gray one was doing the same thing from the other side. Oh, what darling, darling little…

"Ouch!" she cried. "Ow – oh, don't! Get off, you! Get off!"

She pulled at the tiny bodies, trying to detach them. They were tangled in her hair and they hung on with claws – and teeth. When Cassie finally managed to pry them away, she almost threw them to the ground. Then her hands flew to her neck.

Her fingers came away wet. She stared in shock at the redness.

They'd bitten her, the little monsters. And now they were sitting on the floor and composedly licking the blood off their chops. A surge of violent revulsion passed through Cassie.

From the doorway, Faye chuckled.

"Maybe they're not getting all their vitamins and minerals from the kitten chow," she said.

She was looking stunning this morning. Her tangled pitch-black hair was still wet and cascaded down in yards of natural curls. Her skin was damp and glowing against her burgundy robe.

I shouldn't have come, Cassie thought, feeling a wave of irrational fear. But Faye wouldn't dare to hurt her now. Diana would find out, the Circle would find out. Faye must know she couldn't get away with it.

Faye seated herself on the bed. "So how did you like the ceremony last night?" she asked casually.

I knew it. "It was fine until something went wrong," said Cassie. Then she just looked at Faye again.

Faye laughed her rich, slow laugh. "Oh, Cassie. I like you. I really do. I saw that there was something special about you from the beginning. I know we didn't exactly get the best start, but I think that's going to change now. I think we're going to be good friends."

Cassie was speechless a moment. Then she managed to say, "I don't think so, Faye."

"But I think so, Cassie. And that's what counts."

"Faye…" Somehow, after last night Cassie found she had the courage to say things she wouldn't even have dreamed of saying before. "Faye, I don't think you and I have much in common. And I don't think I even want to be good friends with you."

Faye only smiled.

"That's too bad," she said. "Because, you see, I know something, Cassie. And I think it's the sort of thing you'd want only a very good friend to know."

The world rocked under Cassie's feet.

Faye couldn't be saying – oh, she couldn't be saying what Cassie thought she was. Cassie stared at the older girl, feeling something like ice congeal in her stomach.

"You see," Faye went on, "I happen to have a lot of other friends. And they tell me things, interesting things they see and hear around the neighborhood. And you know what? Last night one of those friends saw something very, very interesting on the bluff."

Cassie sat, her vision blurring.

"They saw two people on the bluff out near Number Twelve. And those two people were… well, shall we say they were getting very friendly themselves? Very friendly. It was pretty hot, the way I heard it."

Cassie tried to speak, but nothing came out.

"And you'll never believe who those two people were! I wouldn't have believed it myself, except that it reminded me of a poem I'd read somewhere. Now, how did it go? Each night I lie and dream about the one – "

"Faye!" Cassie was on her feet.

Faye smiled. "I think you get the point. Diana hasn't read that particular little poem, has she? I didn't think so. Well, Cassie, if you don't want her to hear it, or to know about what happened on the bluff last night, I'd say you'd better start being my friend and fast, don't you think?"

"It wasn't like that," Cassie said. She was hot and shaking with fury, with fear. "You don't understand at all – "

"Of course I understand. Adam is very attractive. And I always suspected that 'eternal fidelity' routine of theirs was just an act. I don't blame you, Cassie. It's very natural…"

"That isn't what happened. There's nothing between us – "

Faye smirked. "From what I hear, there was very little between you last night – sorry. No, really, I'd like to believe you, Cassie, but I wonder if Diana will see it the same way. Especially after she learns how you conveniently forgot to mention that you'd met her boyfriend over the summer – when he awakened you, I believe. How did that poem go again?"

"No…" Cassie whispered.

"And then the way you looked at him when he appeared after the initiation ceremony – well, Diana didn't see that, but I must admit that my suspicions were aroused. The little scene on the bluff only clinched it. When I tell Diana – "

"You can't," Cassie said desperately. "You can't tell her. Please, Faye. She won't understand. It's not that way at all, but she won't understand."

Faye clucked her tongue. "But Cassie, Diana is my cousin. My blood relation. I have to tell her."

Cassie felt like a rat running frantically in a maze, searching for a way out that didn't exist. Panic was pounding in her ears. Faye couldn't tell Diana. It couldn't happen. The thought of how Diana would look – of how she would look at Cassie…

And at Adam. That was almost worse. She would think they had betrayed her, that Cassie and Adam had truly betrayed her. And how she would look then… how Adam would look…

Cassie could stand anything but that.

"You can't," she whispered. "You can't."

"Well, Cassie, I told you before. If we were friends, really good friends, I might be able to keep your secret. Diana and I may be cousins, but I'd do anything for my friends. And," Faye said deliberately, her honey-colored eyes never leaving Cassie's face, "I expect them to do anything for me."

It was then, at last, that Cassie realized what this was all about. Everything went still around her, too still. Her heart gave one great thump and seemed to sink like lead. Down and down and down.

From the bottom of a pit, she asked Faye emptily, "What kind of thing?"

Faye smiled. She leaned back against the bed, relaxed, the robe parting to reveal one bare shapely leg.

"Well, let me see," she said slowly, drawing the moment out, relishing it. "I know there was something… oh, yes. I'd really like to have that crystal skull Adam found. I'm sure you know where Diana's keeping it. And if not, I'm sure you could find out."

"No," Cassie said, horrified.

"Yes," Faye said, and smiled again. "That's what I want, Cassie. To show what a good friend you are. Nothing else will do."

"Faye, you saw what happened last night. That skull is evil. There's already something aw-ful on the loose because of it – if you use it again, who knows what might happen?" And, Cassie's numbed mind suddenly suggested, who knew what Faye might be planning to use it for? "Why do you want it?" she blurted out.

Faye shook her head tolerantly. "That's my little secret. Maybe, if we become good enough friends, I'll show you later."

"I won't do it. I can't. I can't, Faye."

"Well, that's too bad." Faye's eyebrows lifted, and she pursed her full lips. "Because that means I'm going to have to call Diana. I think my cousin has a right to know what her boyfriend is doing."

She reached for the phone and pushed buttons with an elegant, scarlet-tipped finger.

"Hello, Diana? Is that you?"

"No!" Cassie cried, and grabbed Faye's arm. Faye pushed the mute button.

"Does this mean," she said to Cassie, "that we have a deal?"

Cassie couldn't form a yes or no.

Faye reached out and caught Cassie's chin in her hand, as she had that first day on the school steps. Cassie could feel the hardness of long nails, the coolness and strength of Faye's fingers. Faye was staring at her with those eyes, those strange honey-colored eyes. Falcons have yellow eyes, Cassie thought suddenly, wildly. And Faye's fingers gripped her like talons. There was no escape. She was trapped… caught… like a white mouse caught by a bird of prey.

The golden eyes were still staring at her… into her. She was so lightheaded, so afraid. And this time there was no rock beneath her feet to steady her. She was in Faye's second-floor bedroom, trapped away from any help.

"Do we have a deal?" Faye said again.

No escape. No hope. Cassie's vision was blurring, going dim; she could barely hear Faye over the rushing in her ears.

She felt the last drops of resistance, of will, drain out of her.

"Well?" said Faye in her throaty, mocking voice.

Blindly, scarcely knowing what she was doing, Cassie nodded.

Faye released her.

Then she pushed the mute button again. "Sorry, Diana, I got the wrong number. I meant to call the Maytag repairman. 'Bye now!" And with that she hung up.

She stretched like a giant cat, replacing the phone on the nightstand as she lay back. Then she put her arms behind her head and looked at Cassie, smiling.

"All right," she said. "The first thing is, you get me that skull. And after that… well, after that I'll think of what else I want. You realize that from now on I own you, Cassie."

"I thought," Cassie whispered, still unable to see for the gray mist, "that we were friends."

"That was just a euphemism. The truth is that you're my captive from now on. I own you now, Cassie Blake. I own you body and soul."