Unraveled, p.27

Unraveled, page 27

 part  #2 of  Intertwined Series

 

Unraveled
 



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Page 27

 

  “I know,” Aden said on a laugh. “No worries. ”

  Thomas the eavesdropper stilled and quieted.

  “I’m g-glad I caught you. ” Shannon closed the door, shutting them inside, and leaned against the wood, head back, eyes closed. He sighed, the sound weary.

  “Something wrong?” Aden asked.

  Slowly Shannon’s eyelids opened. His green eyes were bright with apprehension. “I—I need to tell you s-something. You need to k-know, and keeping it i-inside…”

  “Yeah, I know. ” Secrets ate at you. Proof: Aden was currently riddled with holes. “You can tell me, whatever it is. I won’t judge you. Like I can, you know. ” He leaned his hip against the side of the desk and crossed his arms over his chest. He glanced at Thomas, who was still listening, and decided to forge ahead anyway. “I’m Crazy Aden, remember?”

  “You aren’t c-crazy. ”

  “Thanks. ”

  Shannon pushed out a breath. “W-we’re roommates, and if y-you find out later, y-you’ll be pissed, and t-then you’ll want t-to kill me. ”

  Sounds serious. Do you think— Caleb growled. Do you think he laid a move on our girl Victoria?

  Nah. I bet he murdered his last roommate, Julian said.

  “Tell me!” Aden didn’t mean to shout, but the thought of Shannon and Victoria together was enough to make him—

  “I-I’m g-gay,” Shannon said, and the words were uttered with shame and remorse and all kinds of guilt.

  Gay. Aden blinked. That was all? Seriously? “Okay. ”

  Those green eyes widened. “O-okay?”

  “Yeah. ”

  “But, w-were you not l-listening? I’m queer. ”

  Aden rolled his eyes. “I don’t know about that. You’re a pain in the ass sometimes, but I wouldn’t say you’re weird. ”

  “You know w-what I meant,” was the snapped reply.

  “So, too soon to joke about?”

  That earned him a scowl.

  “Shannon. Seriously. You’re gay, not diseased. It’s fine. I’m not worried. ”

  The scowl vanished, replaced by astonishment. “But we’re s-sharing a room. ”

  “So? Are you afraid I’ll get handsie?”

  A smile twitched at the corner of his friend’s lips, and he seemed to shed ten pounds of tension. “You’re really all r-right with it?”

  “Yes, I’m really all right. ”

  “Thank you. ”

  “Am I the only one who knows?” Aden asked. “Do you want me to keep quiet?”

  “R-Ryder knows. ”

  Today in the forest, that blush, Ryder’s inability to look at Shannon… Ah. Everything made sense now.

  Shannon peered down at his feet, pushed out another breath, then banged his head against the door once, twice. “I t-thought he was, too, but no. He d-doesn’t swing that way. ”

  He’d clearly been hopeful, though. “Is your being gay the reason your parents kicked you out?” Aden asked.

  A nod. “Part of it. T-they had heard about Dan’s ranch and called h-him. I’d started to get into t-trouble, shop-lifting, drinking, t-that sort of thing, and it was e-either come here or hit the s-streets. I came here. ”

  “Good choice. ”

  Another smile began to break its way free. “I think so, too. ”

  A tentative knock sounded at the window, and Thomas hissed in a breath. Shannon straightened and Aden turned. There, beyond the glass, stood a blonde vampire. Victoria’s gum-chewing sister.

  Frowning, concerned, Aden stalked to the window and opened it as quickly as he could. Cool evening air blustered inside. “Stephanie?”

  She popped a bubble. Moonlight bathed her, illuminating the paleness of her skin. “The one and only. ”

  “Another vampire princess who belongs to Vlad. She. Must. Die. ” Thomas raced forward with every intention of attacking. Only, he smacked into the same invisible wall Aden had encountered in his world with a thud. When he realized he was blocked, he pounded at the wall with his fists.

  Aden forced himself to concentrate on the vampire. “What are you doing here? Is something wrong with Victoria?”

  “Physically, no, but I was one of the girls chosen to date you. So yeah, there’s something wrong with her mentally. ” He did not like hearing that. “Take me to her. I need to—”

  “Slow down, cowboy. She’ll be fine. ”

  Fine. That wasn’t good enough. “You’re still taking me to her. And FYI, I won’t be dating you. ”

  “’Cause you only want Vic. Yeah, yeah, I know. ” Stephanie rolled her eyes, flattened her hands on the pane and leaned toward him, saying quietly, “I also know she likes you and didn’t want strangers laying the moves on you, especially when she can’t trust them not to bite and enslave you. So here I am. Chosen, and not fighting it. ” Now she splayed her arms and turned, giving him a full view of her bright red tank and microscopic miniskirt. “Me, in all my glory. Do you know how lucky you are? Lauren and I were promised to others, but with Vlad’s death all bets are off and you get a chance with me. And you might want to rescind your command, oh, mighty king, because if I take you to her now, I’ll be taken off the list, and it’s better for everyone if I’m on it. ”

  His stomach churned into hundreds of little knots. “All five girls have been chosen, then?”

  “Yep. And let me tell you, the council didn’t want you dating another of Vlad’s daughters, but most of the girls basically had to be forced to agree to see you—sorry, but it’s true, you being human and all—even though their fathers want to make that royal connection, and as I was volunteering… By the way, I’ve met every single girl on the list. So, I change my vote. You aren’t a lucky boy. ”

  “I hadn’t realized,” he replied dryly.

  She laughed, and it was a musical sound.

  That was the kind of laugh he wanted to elicit from Victoria, at least once a day. Soon, he thought wistfully—and then felt all kinds of guilty. Victoria was perfect, just the way she was. She was smart and dedicated and understood him and his past. Without judging. With acceptance. And he didn’t mind working for one of her beautiful smiles. Liked having to do so, even. Was proud and excited when he won one. Except, she deserved to be happy all the time and now he was probably making her miserable.

  At least, he kind of hoped he was.

  More guilt bombarded him. He shouldn’t want her to be jealous, but he far preferred jealousy to the indifference she’d shown him at the vampire mansion.

  “Aren’t you going to invite me in?” Stephanie asked.

  He glanced over his shoulder. Shannon still stood against the doorway, expression curious. Thomas was still beating at that invisible wall. “Actually,” he said, turning back to her, “I’ll join you out there. ” He was due to meet Riley, Victoria and Mary Ann in the forest, anyway. In…two hours, he realized with a glance at the clock. Not soon enough. Not that he didn’t like Stephanie, but he was uncomfortable with this situation. “Shannon,” he began, only to be cut off.

  “Yeah, I k-know the drill. Go. I’ll cover for you. ”

  “Thank you. ”

  As Aden sheathed his blades in their ankle holsters, Stephanie said, “Don’t forget your ring. ”

  Vlad’s ring. Oh, yeah. He removed the opal from the drawer where he’d stuffed it after returning from the vampire mansion, slid the metal in place and climbed outside. God, it was cold. So cold mist formed in front of his face every time he exhaled.

  They walked side by side toward the forest, but just before they reached the line of trees, Stephanie grabbed his arm and stopped him.

  “Goblins and wolves are out there. ” Even as she spoke, a howl rent the air. The howl was quickly followed by a high-pitched screech—a sound no human could have made. He cringed.

  “Where should we go?” he asked.

  “We’re going to be all romantic and crap and sit out he
re, under the stars. I have to report back, you know, so we have to make this seem real. ” Grinning, she waved her arm, motioning to his feet. “Behold. ”

  Looking down, he found a black blanket, spread out and velvet soft. So. They really were going to be “romantic and crap. ” With a sigh, Aden plopped down and stretched out, staring up at the sky, stars twinkling from their perches like diamonds.

  Stephanie lay down beside him. “So what do you want to talk about?”

  I bet she’s soft, Caleb said.

  You’re gonna get us in trouble, Elijah snapped.

  “I want to talk about Victoria. ”

  She snorted. “I’m shocked. Really. Well, what do you want to know?”

  “Are you okay with my dating her?”

  “Why not? You’re cute. ”

  A compliment. Surprising. “Yeah, but your other sister hates me. ”

  “She does indeed. Like a rash. ”

  He smiled; he just couldn’t help himself. “Thank you for sparing my feelings. ”

  “Welcome. ”

  “You’re…different,” he said. He hooked his hands under his head, hoping that would warm them. “Not like the others. ”

  “I know. Isn’t it wonderful?” she asked, nudging him with her shoulder. Heat wafted from her, enveloping him.

  His smile widened. “Victoria says you used to sneak out. ”

  “Yep. Every chance I got. ”

  “You weren’t afraid of your father?”

  “Of course I was. We all were. He believed punishment was the only way to train someone, and that man was all about training us to be the undefeatable army he’d always craved as a human. But Lauren was his favorite, his main concern. She is a warrior through and through, after all, so most of his attention was directed at her. Me, I was too…uninterested, I guess is the word, but he wanted my mother happy. Females were his weakness, not that he would ever admit that aloud. He admitted to no weaknesses. Anyway, he washed his hands of me, didn’t even give me a wolf guard, and left me in my mother’s loving care. ”
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