Pure, p.16
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       Pure, p.16

         Part #2 of Covenant series by Jennifer L. Armentrout
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Page 16

 

  “I’m sure they think you’re wonderful, too. ” I flushed after saying that, because it sounded stupid. “Anyway, screw what anyone thinks. Who cares, right?”

  Grinning, he glanced over at me, and I felt my heart skip a beat. “Yeah, who cares? We’re at the zoo. Screw them. ”

  “Yeah, screw them. ”

  Aiden tilted his head back, letting out a relieved sigh. “Does the place have funnel cakes?”

  “I think so. I want a hamburger and a hot dog. ” I paused. “And ice cream in one of those waffle cones. And—and I want to see the big kitties. ”

  “So demanding,” he murmured, grinning. “Well, we better get started, then. ”

  First stop honors went to a portly, balding man who had more grease on his shirt than he did in his pan. He made funnel cakes. Aiden liked him a lot. While I waited in line beside him, I spotted a vendor flipping burgers. I darted in that direction, after which Aiden commented that he’d never seen me run that fast before.

  When we finally made it past the food and into the actual park, I was overflowing with giddiness. The slight breeze carried the oddly alluring scent of animals and people. Sunlight broke through the park’s dense canopy of trees, casting slivers of warmth as we made our way deeper into the attractions.

  I probably looked goofy with the extra bounce in my step and the way I kept grinning at everyone we passed. I was just so happy to be out in the world again—and with Aiden of all people. And watching how the mortals responded to him was highly entertaining. It could have been his alarming height or godly looks that stopped women and men in their tracks. Or it could be the way he laughed, tipping his head back and letting loose that rich, deep sound. Either way, I got a thrill seeing him do his best to ignore them.

  “You don’t mingle with the natives a lot, do you?” I asked as we stepped into the Forest Glade and watched a gorilla sitting on a rock, picking fleas. Stimulating stuff here.

  Aiden chuckled. “Is it that obvious?”

  “A little bit. ”

  He shifted closer, lowering his voice. “Mortals scare me. ”

  “What?” I laughed in disbelief.

  Smiling at my expression, he nudged me with his hip. “They do. They’re unpredictable creatures. You don’t know if they’re going to hug you or stab you. They’re ruled by emotions. ”

  “And we’re not?”

  Aiden appeared to consider that. “No. They—I mean, we’re taught to control our emotions. To not let them be what guides our decisions. Everything in our world—both of our worlds—is about logic and continuing our races. You know that. ”

  I glanced over at him, noticing the way the proud lines of his face were relaxed. In these moments, he did look younger and carefree. I liked him this way—with his eyes full of light and laughter, his expressive mouth curved upward. Seeing him now, it was almost hard to believe he was far more deadly than any animal in the park.

  “But you seem to be at ease around all of them. ” He nodded at a group at the other end of the pen. A mother and a father stood with two young kids. The little girl handed her brother a half-eaten ice cream cone. “You have more experience dealing with them than I do. ”

  I nodded, turning back to the cage. Another hairy beast made its way to the one on the rock. Maybe something interesting would happen. “I blended in, but I never fit in. They can sense something off about us. That’s why no one will get too close to us. ”

  “I cannot possibly imagine you blending in. ”

  “Why? I think I did a damn good job of going unnoticed for three years. ”

  “I just can’t. No one is like you, Alex. ”

  I grinned. “I’ll take that as a compliment. ”

  “It is. ” He nudged me again, and my grin grew into another ludicrous smile—the kind Caleb gave Olivia when they weren’t tearing each other’s heads off. “You’re incredibly intelligent, Alex. Funny and…”

  “Pretty?” I supplied, only half-serious.

  “No, not pretty. ”

  “Cute?”

  “No. ”

  I frowned. “Well, then. ”

  Aiden’s laugh sent shivers through me. “I was going to say ‘stunning. ’ You’re stunningly beautiful. ”

  I sucked in air sharply, cheeks flushing. I tipped my head back and our gazes locked. Somehow I hadn’t known we stood so close. And Aiden was close. Close enough that I could feel his warm breath against my cheek, speeding up my pulse.

  “Oh,” I whispered. Not the most eloquent of responses, but it was the best I had.

  “Anyway, what is it with you and zoos?” Aiden stretched his arms above his head.

  A shaky sigh escaped me, my gaze drifting over the family, settling on the little girl. She had the cutest pigtails ever, and she was smiling at me. I smiled back.

  “I like animals,” I said finally.

  Aiden glanced down at me, eyes full of… well, full of yearning. “That’s why you practically choked yourself in the car?”

  I cringed. “You noticed that, huh? My mom loved animals, too. She said once that we were a lot like the ones in the cages. Well fed and taken care of, but caged nonetheless. I never agreed with that. ”

  “You don’t?”

  “Nope. Here the animals are safe. Out in the wild, they’d be killing one another or being poached. I know they’ve lost their freedom, but sometimes things have to be sacrificed. ”

  “That’s a strange perspective for you to have. ”

  “You mean it’s a strange perspective for a half-blood to have. I know. But we all have to sacrifice something to gain something else. ”

  Aiden reached out and grabbed my hand, pulling me out of the path of a woman on a mission of pushing a stroller. I’d been so caught up in watching him I hadn’t seen the woman—or heard her screaming baby. I glanced down between us. His hand was still wrapped around mine. The simple, unexpected gesture sent a crazy amount of heat through me.

  Aiden guided me through the ever-increasing throng of visitors. He parted the crowd like the Red Sea. People just got out of the way for him as we left the Kitera Forest and entered the Forest Edge.

  “Can I ask you a question?” I asked.

  “Sure. ”

  “If you weren’t a pure, what would you be doing right now? Like, what would you want to do with your life?”

  Aiden glanced down at our hands and then his gaze flicked to mine. “Right this instant? I’d be doing a hell of a lot more than what I’m allowed to do. ”

  Heat infused my entire body, swirling my thoughts into a heady mess. I almost convinced myself I totally made up that response and that lack of sleep had finally driven me crazy. Auditory hallucinations were a bitch.

  His fingers tightened around mine. “But I’m sure you were wondering more than that. What would I be doing if I was just a mortal? I don’t really know. It’s not something I’ve really thought about. ”

  I had to mentally kick myself to find my voice again. “You’ve never thought about it? For real?”

  Aiden sidestepped a couple taking pictures, shrugging. “I never had to. When I was younger, I knew I would follow in my parents’ footsteps. The Covenant groomed me to do so. I took all the right classes: politics, customs, and negotiations. Basically, the most boring classes you could imagine. Then after the daimon attack, everything changed. I went from wanting to follow my parents to wanting to do something to ensure another family didn’t go through what Deacon had to. ”

  “And what you had to,” I added quietly.

  He nodded. “I don’t know what I would do if I woke up tomorrow and had a choice. Well, I can think of a few things, but a career?”

  “You do have a choice. Pures have all the choices. ”

  He glanced down at me, frowning. “No, we don’t. That’s the biggest misconception between our races. Halfs think we have all the choices, but we are just as limited as your kind is, but in different ways. ”

  I re
ally didn’t believe that, but I didn’t want to argue and ruin the moment. “So… you really don’t know what you’d do?” He shook his head, so I offered my suggestion. “A police officer. ”

  Aiden brows rose up. “You think I’d be a police officer?”

  I nodded. “You want to help people. I don’t think you’re corruptible. Being a Sentinel and a police officer are kind of the same thing. Fighting the bad guys, keeping the peace, and all that good stuff. ”

  “I guess you’re right. ” He smiled then. A mortal girl about my age stumbled as she passed us on the trail. Aiden seemed oblivious to her. “Hey, I’d get a badge. I don’t have one of those now. ”

  “I want a badge, too. ”

  Aiden cocked his to the side, laughing. “Of course, you’d want a badge. Hey—look what I see. ” He pointed around the bend.

  “Cats!”

  His hand curved around mine more fully, almost like some unconscious part of him was responding to me.

  Several yards of empty space and fencing separated the lion pen from the visitors. At first, I didn’t see him, and then he prowled up from behind a rock, tossing his mane from side to side. His orange-yellow coat reminded me of Seth’s eyes. Actually, the way the lion stopped in front of the gathering crowd and yawned—flashing a row of razor sharp teeth—also reminded me of Seth.

  “He’s beautiful,” I whispered, wishing I could somehow get closer. I wasn’t one of those lunatics who climbed into a lion’s den, but I also wanted to touch one—a people-raised, totally tame one not likely to rip off my hand.

  “He looks bored out of his mind. ”

  We stayed there a while, watching the feline stroll around the grassy knoll before climbing atop a large rock and lying down, tail swishing back and forth. Finally, some of the female lions decided to show up. I told Aiden they were the real deal, recalling something I heard on Animal Planet about the females actually being more badass than the males. Within a couple of minutes, two of them joined the male on the rock.

  I groaned as they lay down beside the male. “Ah, come on. Knock him off the rock. ”

  Aiden chuckled. “I think he’s got two girlfriends. ”

  “Dog,” I muttered.

  We left the Bushlands, wandering into the North American section. This part seemed virtually empty compared to the other. I guess the mortals were bored by the bears and other familiar critters. Aiden seemed fascinated with them, and I spotted a bobcat. I let go of Aiden’s hand and went up to the outer fence. A slight breeze rolled in. We were much closer than any of the other exhibits. Close enough that the bobcat appeared to catch our scent.

  It’d been stalking some unseen prey up until that moment. She stopped, though, inclining her head in our direction. A second or two passed, and I swear our eyes met. Long, thin whiskers twitched as she smelled the air.

  “Do you think she knows what we are?” I asked.

  Aiden propped himself against the guardrail. “I don’t know. ”

 
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