Unraveled, p.22

Unraveled, page 22

 part  #2 of  Intertwined Series

 

Unraveled
 



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Page 22

 

  He shook his head. “I don’t understand. What’s settled?”

  “You’ll meet the rest of our females so that their fathers won’t rebel. ”

  Aden pinched the bridge of his nose. “No,” he insisted. “I won’t. ”

  The men muttered amongst themselves for several minutes before nodding and facing him. Their determination was palpable.

  “We will compromise,” the tallest among them said. “You’ll meet only five female vampires, not including Victoria, each chosen by a member of the council. You will rendezvous with each girl and on the day of your coronation, you will name your favorite. That favorite shall be your queen. ”

  Uh, what now? Rendezvous equaled date, he suspected, and he did not want to date. And five of them?

  “He agrees to your compromise,” Victoria said without revealing any hint of her emotions.

  Aden opened his mouth to deny her claim, but the men wandered off, slapping each other on the back in a job well done.

  “Aden,” she said.

  His narrowed gaze swung to her. “I don’t care what you told them. I’m not dating anyone else. ” She was the only girl he wanted. The only one he dreamed about, hungered for…

  Her expression was blank, just as it had been when she’d arrived at the ranch earlier. Only this time, he doubted she was “exaggerating” to be more humanlike. This was not a “ha-ha, let’s tease” subject.

  “They were right. ” She released his hand, severing all contact. “If you refuse to date anyone else, families will complain, and complaints will lead to unrest. Unrest to danger. You face enough of that already. ”

  Was she trying to protect him again? Or was she really okay with the thought of him seeing other girls? Because he might pound any guy who looked at her into dust. Then spit on that dust. Then flush that dust down the toilet.

  “I’d rather deal with the danger,” he said through gritted teeth.

  “Well, I wouldn’t. ” Her expression remained implacable, her tone dead.

  “Don’t care. ” She was mentally pushing him away, he realized. One second comforting him, the next seemingly done with him, and he didn’t like it. For his own good or not.

  “This must be done, Aden. ”

  “No. I—”

  “Wonderful. A lovers’ spat. Let’s mingle instead,” Riley said, giving him a push, “and spat later. ”

  Aden and Victoria glared at each other for a moment. Then she nodded stiffly, and he followed suit. But this wasn’t over. On any level. He was not dating other vampires. And she was going to apologize for acting like she didn’t care. Unless she hadn’t been acting. Perhaps vampires saw nothing wrong with dating more than one person.

  What did he know?

  She had kissed him while engaged to Dmitri, after all. But she’d hated Dmitri, and had wanted nothing to do with him. Still. If that was the case, she could be seeing someone else right now. And if that was the case, he didn’t know what he’d do. Besides involving himself in a knock-down-drag-out.

  “We’ll talk about this later,” he said quietly, fiercely, before turning away from her.

  She gave another stiff nod.

  Silent, they entered the masses. Multiple hands brushed against him. Someone thrust a goblet at him and he grabbed it before it could fall and shatter. Do not forget what’s inside and accidently drink.

  “Do I scent a…fairy?” someone suddenly growled.

  He froze, Victoria and Riley moving closer to flank him.

  Nostrils began flaring. Many vampires cringed. Once again, the room fell silent and all eyes landed on him. Only this time, those eyes were filled with horror and hate.

  Great. The cologne must be wearing off.

  The vamps backed away from him, until he and his friends were enclosed in a tight circle. Riley was rigid, ready to attack. Victoria finally exuded emotion—fear. Until the werewolf guards pushed their way through the crowd and joined Riley in the circle, facing the vamps, growling for them to stay back.

  Unwavering, unquestioning support. For me. How odd.

  One dark-haired vampire who looked to be Aden’s age finally stepped forward. He ignored the wolves, his cold gaze locked on Aden. “Are you already a traitor, cavorting with our enemy?”

  Aden laughed. He just couldn’t help himself. If escaping repeated death-attempts could be classified as cavorting, then yes, he was.

  “You dare laugh?” the boy gasped out.

  “You dare question your leader?” Riley snapped.

  The boy squared his shoulders and raised his chin. Though he spoke to Riley, his gaze never left Aden. “I will say what most of us are thinking. He’s too weak to lead us. Anyone in this room could enslave him in a matter of minutes. ”

  Finally. The threats he’d expected. “Anyone in this room could try. ” Brave words, foolish words, but he meant them. He would lose, no doubt, but he would fight ’til the end. That had always been his way.

  “Our enemies will assume we’re as weak as you are and attack,” his accuser continued. “You should never have accepted this position. ”

  Accepted? Ha! The position had been thrust at him, and he still didn’t want it, but now wasn’t the time to try to find someone new. They’d assume he’d done so because he was “weak. ” “From what I’m told, fairies protect humans. Perhaps those same fairies will wish to ally themselves with you, now that you’re being led by one of those weak humans they so love. ”

  Not that he was going to lead these vampires, he reminded himself. Again. God, he was digging himself in deeper just to leave with dignity.

  Still his opponent persisted. “And goblins? Do you know how to deal with them?”

  “Yes. As Vlad did. By sending the wolves into the forest at night to fight them. ”

  “And how can you send the wolves to fight them when you yourself have never fought one? That smacks of cowardice. ”

  “I might not have fought a goblin, but I have fought a vampire. Need I remind you the outcome of that?”

  Murmurs erupted. The circle was tightened. Saliva dripped from the wolves’ still-bared teeth.

  Finally the boy nodded curtly and rejoined the crowd. Once again, conversations resumed, and the circle expanded. Crisis averted, Aden thought, and yet, relief eluded him. Just how long was this unspoken truce going to last?

  TEN

  FOR ONCE, Riley didn’t pick up Mary Ann to take her to school.

  Had he heard about last night already? Was he angry with her?

  Or had he been hurt at the vampire mansion?

  Stomach churning…

  By the time Mary Ann realized he wasn’t coming, Penny had already left. Which gave her two options. Walk alone, miss most of first period and be considered absent, or let her dad drive her, and deal with the tardy slip. Either way promised absolute mental torture.

  She was a perpetual early bird. If she wasn’t ten minutes early, she considered herself late. But trying to converse with her dad…ugh. He’d ask how things were going with Riley; he wouldn’t be able to help himself. She wouldn’t have an answer. Not now. So he’d feel obligated to mention sex, condoms and STDs. Again. She would burn to ash with embarrassment, so of course she’d be late forever since she would be dead.

  In the end, she decided to walk. Her dad didn’t try to stop her, but he did thrust an apple into her hand as she flew out the door. She still wasn’t hungry, so she chucked the bright red fruit the moment she exited the neighborhood. A stray dog would appreciate it, rather than vomit at the very thought of taking a bite.

  If she didn’t develop an appetite soon, she’d have to talk to someone.

  Sighing, she picked up her pace. She stuck to the main roads, which would shave at least ten minutes from her walk time. Since Riley had pounced into her life, she’d stopped taking this path.

  Where are you, Riley? Are you okay? How had Aden handled t
he introductions? Had anyone attacked him? Mary Ann hated that she’d been left behind. Next time she’d… What? she thought dryly. Demand they take her or she’d give them the silent treatment? Cry alone in her room?

  The school parking lot was full when she arrived, but there was no one out front and the halls were empty. Which meant the tardy bell had rung a while ago. As she reached for the front door, she paused. Frowned. Something warm and powerful was wafting through her, filling her nose and mouth and sliding sweetly into her stomach.

  Delicious. For a moment, she closed her eyes, savoring. There really was no reason to eat when she experienced this. With every inhalation, she was stronger, better, happier. Then she recalled what had followed this same sensation last night, and dread overtook her.

  The witch was nearby.

  Mary Ann gulped and spun, hands fisting as Aden had taught her. Her gaze darted across her surroundings. Sunlight shone brightly, those stupid blackbirds singing overhead.

  The yellowing grass stretched before her, interrupted only by a large oak. Perhaps she’d been mistaken. Perhaps she was wrong and—

  The witch stepped from behind the trunk, and their gazes met, locked, clashed. Mary Ann’s heart thundered in her chest. This morning the witch wore a plain red T-shirt and jeans. Long blond hair curled over her shoulders, stopping at her waist. Sun-kissed skin soaked up the bright light haloing around her.

  “I’ve been waiting for you. ” A musical voice, yet it dripped with anger nonetheless.

  Every instinct she possessed demanded she run. Last time she’d spoken to this woman, she’d been cursed with death. Still, she held her ground. She’d wanted to question a witch. Now she could. Without resorting to kidnapping. “Why?”

  “Oh, no. You aren’t the one who will be given answers. I am. Why were you spying on me last night?”

  Mary Ann squared her shoulders and raised her chin. Time for a little bravery—whatever the price. “You placed a death curse on me. Why wouldn’t I spy on you?”

  A gleam of admiration brightened the witch’s eyes. “True. ”
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