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I cannot tell the future. I have no visions of events to come. I am not special in any way.

O o O o O o O o O o O

I've been locked in this luxurious, plush cell for the better part of a day with one assignment: a successful prediction.

Huddled in the corner of the padded window seat, I shiver — not from cold, but from fear and confusion. The seat is spacious; I could easily sleep here if it were possible, but the windows are blacked out by heavy, external shutters. My only views are the brocade wallpaper and decadent furnishings of the room.

A successful prediction, my child, he'd said. That is all I require of you. If you have this gift of foresight as your father has promised me, you will live another day, as will your father.

Etched forever into my nightmares, that face is. Gaunt and hollow-cheeked, the man called Aro had stroked my cheek with a long, skeletal finger, leaving the chill of death in its wake.

I tremble again, the dread almost overwhelming, wishing for something of comfort. I glance around the room again, revisiting the ornate red settee, the king-sized, four-poster bed, piled high with ornamental pillows and a thick golden-colored duvet. Oil lamps on the side tables had been lit, casting an eerily romantic glow about the room. I want to crawl out of my skin.

Hatred for my father and his weak constitution, a drunken gambler with little to offer up as collateral but his daughter — his curse of a daughter, was all I had to focus on. When my mother was killed in a freak car accident, not only was he left a widower, but also a tiny three-year-old girl to raise — a girl who had "predicted" her mother's demise with a crayon drawing. And what kind of consolation is that? None at all, I discovered.

I became used to watching him sway with his bourbon, stumble on whiskey, collapse under vodka. I was never a joy to him, only a burden, a reminder. I tried to cheer him, to make him happy, but all he wanted was ...

Quiet. Stay quiet, child, he always told me. I think he feared I would foretell something else, another tragedy. So, I rarely spoke.

When his bevvy of liquid friends brought him low enough, he began to gamble away our savings, little by little. Still, I never argued.

Days from my eighteenth birthday, my freedom, two men arrived on our door to collect a debt. As we had nothing — my wages from a miserable catering job barely covering our utilities, my father cracked, offering anything he could, save his life.

"My daughter!" he'd shouted desperately. "She can tell the future! Surely, Aro could use her!"

Staring at him, horrified, frozen in shock, I heard no other words exchanged. The liquid detachment my father displayed, his lips and fingers twitching, should not have been surprising; I'd seen that nightly since I could remember. This, however, was a new low. I would never have believed, despite my years of invisibility, that he would surrender me so willingly.

Thick, cold hands had clasped around my arms and taken me — or rather, my false ability — as payment.

Trying to stop my mind from cycling through the hours before, I swipe blindly at my face and the tears spidering down my cheeks. Unfolding from my perch, I walk to each of the lamps and extinguish its flame with a harsh puff of air. I crawl into the bed, shoving half the mound of pillows away, vaguely registering the soft avalanche of those hitting the floor. My body curls into itself as I allow myself to cry, no idea what I will do when Aro or his men come calling, asking for prophecy.

"I beg you, don't cry, ma'am," a smooth voice unfurls somewhere in the darkness.

I sit up with a start, blindly searching the seeming abyss before me. I hadn't heard anything after the pillows dropped, so how anyone could have gotten in without my notice is unnerving.

"Who ...? Who are you?" I stammered, hoping the opaque black would dissolve at least to shadows. My body, however, begins to relax, and my tears are easily forgotten.

To my left, the lamp was re-lit, its soft light seeping slowly into the room, but my visitor has not yet been revealed.

"Hello?" I call out again, my eyes painfully trying to adjust.

Finally, a figure is carved from the darkness before me, cast in the lamp's orange glow. The man is tall and slim, leaning casually against the wall behind him, but directly in front of me. I twist quickly to light the other lamp, my shaking hands nearly knocking it over in my haste.

Once I have a second source to light my way, I ask again, this time with a sure voice, "Who are you? How did you get in here?"

The man pushes off the wall, stalking forward with purpose. I see for the first time his face, his beautiful face. Haphazard, shaggy blonde curls frame an impish smile that hangs crooked from his lips, drawing my eyes like bees to honey. As I examine the features of his face, I note that his alabaster skin appears flawless, yet I doubt that would change under the harsh scrutiny of the midday sun — perhaps only magnify its perfection.

When I reach his eyes, I gasp. They are crimson, the eyes of a devil — sinful, wicked, beguiling, seductive ... jaded. The lack of fear I feel in response, coupled with the diminishing distance between us, only serves to confuse me further. My curiosity, however, is left untouched.

"I'm here to comfort you," he tells me, his face barely feet away now. I look down to see I have crawled forward toward the end of the bed. He sits on the trunk placed flush at the foot of it. "I can help you."

My brow furrows, stitching together in the center, and tears begin to pool in my lower lids. "I don't know how you could," I sigh, shaking my head. "I haven't the slightest hope."

"Aro wants a prophecy," he says simply. "You'll give him one."

"But I'm not—" I begin to argue, but his hand touches my cheek, his cool thumb sweeping gently across my lips. My eyes instinctively close, and I am, at once, calm.

"You don't have to be, sweet girl." His voice dips, its tenor soothing and low. He's grinning; I can hear it. Something tugs at the corners of my mouth, though I don't understand how it is that I should smile. "A vision foretold to me, I can pass to you ..."

The cadence of his voice rolls over my skin and I lean into his hand like a cat, unable to stop myself. "Tell me."

His hand disappears, leaving my skin wanting and bereft, though not for heat. My eyes snap open as though waking from a dream; the unease returns.

"There is a price for my assistance, Miss Alice," he informs me.

"You know my name?"

His yes stretches his lips into a lopsided curve, but he offers no explanation. I can't find it in myself to argue. "What could I give you? I have nothing."

Brilliant white teeth split his mouth. "A kiss."


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