Clea is back and is still searching for the answers about her missing father and her connection with the elusive and dangerous Sage. But will her discoveries put her in even greater danger?
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Hilary Duff rose to fame when she stared in the Disney channel series Lizzie Maguire in 2001. Since then she has released several solo music albums, all of which have gone platinum and appeared in several films. The Hilary Duff "brand" now includes clothing and perfume, and she has recently returned to the small screen with a guest role in the hugely successful Gossip Girl series.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
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.
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.
“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.
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Descripción Simon & Schuster Children's 2011-09-01, 2011. Hardcover. Estado de conservación: New. 0857071513 We guarantee all of our items - customer service and satisfaction are our top priorities. Please allow 4 - 14 business days for Standard shipping, within the US. Nº de ref. de la librería TM-0857071513
Descripción Simon & Schuster Children's, 2011. Hardcover. Estado de conservación: New. book. Nº de ref. de la librería 0857071513
Descripción Simon & Schuster Children's, 2011. Hardcover. Estado de conservación: New. book. Nº de ref. de la librería 857071513