Unraveled, p.2

Unraveled, page 2

 part  #2 of  Intertwined Series

 

Unraveled
 



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  Several rings decorated his fingers, and a black velvet cloth draped his chest and legs.

  His dead body still lay where Dmitri had dropped it. Was there some kind of protocol about moving a royal corpse? Or were his people still too shocked to touch him?

  They’d lost him the very night they were to be reunited with him. Dmitri had burned the guy to death just before the ceremony and claimed the vampire throne as his own. Then Aden had killed him, which meant Aden was now supposed to lead the bloodsuckers. Aden, of all people, of all humans, which was honest to God craziness. He’d make a terrible king. Not that he wanted even to try.

  He wanted Victoria. No more, no less.

  “Despite our feelings, he’ll have a place of honor, even in death,” Victoria said. Her gaze swept past her sisters to the vampires still looming around them. “His funeral must be—”

  “In a few months,” the second sister interrupted.

  Victoria blinked once, twice, as if trying to jumpstart her thoughts. “Why?”

  “He’s our king. He’s always been our king. More than that, he’s the strongest among us. What if he’s still alive under all that soot? We need to wait, watch him. Make sure. ”

  “No. ” Aden felt the glide of Victoria’s hair on her shoulders as she shook her head violently. “That will merely offer everyone false hope. ”

  “A few months is too long a wait, yeah,” the green-eyed gum chewer said. Her name was Stephanie, if he was reading Victoria’s thoughts correctly. “But I do agree waiting a little while before burning him is smart. We’ll let everyone get used to the idea of a human king. So why don’t we compromise, huh? Let’s wait, oh, I don’t know, a month. We can keep him in the crypt below us. ”

  “First, the crypt is for our deceased humans. Second, even a month is too long,” Victoria gritted out. “If we must wait—” she paused until they nodded “—then let’s wait…half a month. ” She’d wanted to say a day, maybe two, but had known the suggestion would be met with resistance. And this way, Aden would have time to acclimate to the idea of being king.

  The other sister ran her tongue over her very sharp, very white teeth. “Very well. Agreed. We’ll wait fourteen days. And we will keep him in the crypt. He’ll be sealed inside, preventing any lingering rebels from hurting him further. ”

  Victoria sighed. “Yes. All right. You agreed to my stipulation, so I’ll agree to yours. ”

  “Wow. No one had to throw a punch to win the argument. The changing of the guard is working in our favor already. ” Stephanie popped another bubble. “So, anyway, back to Daddy Dearest. He’s lucky, you know. He died here, so he gets to stay here. Had he kicked it in Romania, the rest of the family would have spit on his crypt. ”

  There was a beat of stunned silence before gasps of outrage flooded the congregation.

  “What?” Stephanie splayed her arms, all innocence. “You know you’re thinking the same thing. ”

  Thank God Victoria wouldn’t be heading off to her homeland for the funeral. Aden wouldn’t have been able to travel with her since he lived at the D and M Ranch, a halfway house for “wayward” teens, aka unwanted delinquents, where his every action was monitored.

  Everyone assumed he had schizophrenia because he talked to the souls trapped inside him, which had earned him a lifetime of institutions and medications. The ranch was the system’s final effort to save him, and if he blew that chance, he’d be carted away. Boom, done, goodbye. Hello, lifetime of confinement in a padded room.

  He’d lose Victoria forever.

  “Shut your mouth, Stephanie, before I do it for you. Vlad taught us to survive, and kept the humans unaware of us—for the most part. He made us a legend, a myth. He also taught our enemies to fear us. For that alone, he has my respect. ” The blue-eyed sister—Lauren; her name was Lauren—tilted her head to the side, suddenly pensive. “Now. What are we going to do about the mortal while our fourteen-day reprieve is ticking away?”

  “Victoria’s…Aden?” Stephanie’s brow wrinkled. “That’s his name, right?”

  “Haden Stone, known by his people as Aden, yes,” Victoria replied. “But I—”

  “We’ll follow his rule,” a male voice said, cutting her off. “Because, and stop me if you’ve heard this one, he’s our ruler. ” This came from Riley, a werewolf shape-shifter and Victoria’s most trusted guard, as he approached the half-circle the girls formed. He glared at Lauren. “If you don’t understand that, let me know and I’ll break out the hand puppets. He killed Dmitri, he calls the shots. End of story. ”

  Lauren scowled at him, her fangs sharper than before. “Watch how you speak to me, puppy. I’m a princess. You’re just the hired help. ”

  More gasps reverberated.

  Aden kept losing sight of the crowd, but they suddenly filled his line of vision as Victoria studied them, ready to leap into action if someone attacked her sister. Clearly they didn’t like that the wolf had been insulted. But then, neither did she. Wolves deserved respect—far more than what had been demanded even for Vlad. Wolves could—

  Aden cursed as Victoria blanked her mind, forcing herself to concentrate on what was happening around her. Wolves were more important than vampires? he wondered. More important than vampire royalty? Why?

  Riley laughed with genuine humor. “Your jealousy is showing, Lore. I’d be careful if I were you. ”

  Lauren ignored him this time, swinging her crystal eyes back to Victoria and snapping, “Bring Aden here tomorrow night. Everyone will meet him. Officially. ”

  And kill him before the fourteen days “ticked away?”

  “Yes. ” Victoria nodded, but not by word or deed did she reveal her sudden trepidation. “All right. Tomorrow, you shall meet your new king. In the meantime, we shall mourn. ”

  The conversation ended, everyone properly chastised.

  Victoria sighed and peered over at the body of her father. Which meant Aden peered over at her father. He considered the charred remains, speculating about what the king had looked like before. Tall and strong, surely. Had he possessed blue eyes like Victoria? Or green like Stephanie?

  Vlad’s fingers curled into a fist.

  Aden stilled, sure he’d just hallucinated. And he must have, he rationalized, because Victoria had not seemed to notice the earth-shattering event and he’d watched through her eyes.

  Vlad’s fingers uncurled.

  Once again, Aden stilled, waiting, gauging, heart thumping against his ribs. He hadn’t imagined that. He couldn’t have imagined that because even as the thought formed, those fingers twitched as if trying to make another fist. Movement, true movement, and movement equaled life. Right?

  Why hadn’t Victoria noticed? Why hadn’t anyone? Maybe they were too lost to their grief. Or maybe Vlad’s once-immortal body was simply expelling the last hints of his existence. Either way, Victoria needed to be told what he’d seen.

  Victoria, Aden projected, desperate to gain her attention.

  Nothing. No response.

  Victoria!

  She petted Vlad’s arm before rising, intending to instruct the biggest of the vampires to carry him inside for burial preparation. Obviously, she didn’t hear him.

  And then it was too late. His world shifted, realigned, darkness closing in around him. No, not darkness. Light. So much light. Blue-white flames covered Dmitri’s entire body, and therefore Aden’s body. Scorching him, blistering what was left of him.

  This time, Aden did scream.

  He did thrash.

  He also died.

  ONE

  MARY ANN GRAY STUDIED HERSELF in the full-length mirror in her bedroom. Makeup—light and unsmeared. Dark hair—not a tangle. Perhaps even, dare she think it? Silky. Clothes—an unwrinkled lacy T-shirt and clean skinny jeans. Shoes—hiking boots. She’d replaced the plain white laces with thick pink ones, giving them a feminine flair.

  Okay, then. She wa
s officially ready.

  Breathing deeply, shaking a little, she gathered her books, stuffed them into her backpack, swung that pack over her shoulder and headed downstairs toward the kitchen. Where her dad was waiting. With breakfast she would be required to eat.

  Her stomach churned in protest. She’d have to fake-eat because she doubted she would be able to keep a single bite down. She was simply too knotted with nerves.

  From the living room, she heard pans clattering, water pounding into the sink and a man sighing in…defeat?

  She stopped just before snaking the final corner and leaned her shoulder against the wall, losing herself to her thoughts. A few weeks ago, she and her dad had entered new territory. Ugly, deceitful territory. We’ll always be honest with each other, he used to tell her. All. The. Time. Of course, at the same time, he’d been feeding her lies about her birth mother. The woman who had raised her had not given birth to her, but had in fact been her aunt.

  In truth, her real mother had possessed the ability to time-travel into younger versions of herself, yet he’d refused to believe her, had considered her unstable. She couldn’t prove otherwise, either, because she was dead and her spirit had moved on. Lost to Mary Ann forever.

  God, the loss still hurt.

  Mary Ann had gotten to spend one day with her. One amazing, wonderful day because Eve, her mother, had been one of the souls trapped inside her friend Aden’s head. Then, boom. Eve was gone.

  Tears burned Mary Ann’s eyes as she remembered their parting, but she blinked them back. She couldn’t allow herself to cry. Her mascara would run, and then she’d look like a domestic abuse victim when Riley arrived to pick her up.

  Riley.

  My boyfriend. Yes, she’d think about him instead, looking forward to the future rather than wallowing in the past. Her lips even curled into a small smile as her heart raced uncontrollably. She hadn’t seen him since they’d attended the Vampire Ball together, when his king had been murdered and Aden had been named the new vampire sovereign. Not that Aden wanted the title—or the responsibilities that would surely come with it.

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