Unraveled, p.68

Unraveled, page 68

 part  #2 of  Intertwined Series

 

Unraveled
 



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Page 68

 

  The school day passed with agonizing slowness, the classes sheer torture. Despite the fact that he was free. Free of the witches’ curse and its consequences. Victoria was absent, but then, so were Mary Ann and Riley. Aden wasn’t worried. They needed a break. Hell, he needed a break, but he kinda owed Dan.

  After school, he rushed through his chores. Or tried to. Finally, though, he finished shucking and bailing and showered. He changed into his best clothes, jeans and a black T-shirt, just as the moon made its appearance in the sky. He wanted to buy Victoria flowers, but didn’t have any money and didn’t want to destroy Meg’s roses.

  He would just have to give her his heart. Again.

  Because he didn’t have a car, and wasn’t allowed to date while living at the ranch—girls equaled trouble, Dan said, because they kept boys from working hard and studying—Victoria had to pick him up and convince everyone to think he was right there with them.

  And God, did she look beautiful. Some of her wounds were still in the process of healing, and there were scabs on her arm, but she wore a tight blue sweater and a barely there miniskirt in a lighter shade. The colors transformed her from Vampire Chick to Little Slice of Heaven. Her hair hung down her back in silky black waves, and all he wanted to do was find a dark corner and run his fingers through them.

  They climbed through his window and strolled away from the ranch hand in hand.

  “Do you like?” she asked. She even pulled from his hold to twirl in front of him. “I borrowed it from Stephanie, naturally. And speaking of my family, the girls have decided you’re, and I quote, not so bad. You tamed their beasts, outwitted the witches and sent the fairies to their knees. ”

  “I love,” he corrected. In the distance, an owl hooted. “And tell your sisters I think they’re not so bad themselves. ”

  They shared a smile. They were doing that a lot lately, he thought, proud. Bit by bit, she was losing her serious, somber edge.

  “So…what should we do?” she asked. “I can’t believe we don’t have a death curse hanging over us or goblins to fight. ”

  “I know what you mean. ” Tonight, they were just two people, hanging out and having fun. “Want to go into town? I mean, a town other than this one, where no one knows who we are. We can see a movie, maybe. ” What did girls like to do? He’d never been on a date before.

  “I would love to!” She reclaimed his hand, and a moment later, the world tilted, wind kicked up and his surroundings faded. He blinked, that was it, and his feet settled, buildings suddenly stretching at his sides.

  He laughed. “You’re getting good at that. ”

  “I know, right. ”

  How human she sounded. How sweet. He looked around. They were in a darkened alley, a busy street sidewalk a few feet away and an even busier road a few feet from there. “Where are we?”

  “Tulsa. Not too far from home, but not too close either. ”

  “Perfect. ”

  Aden, Elijah said. Go home. You have to go home.

  “I’ll be fine. ”

  “Of course you will, but instead of going to the movies, what do you think of going to a dance club?” Victoria asked, unaware he’d been talking to the souls. He didn’t correct her.

  “I think that’s…doable. ” He didn’t know how good a dancer he was, never having danced before, but for her, he would try. And he would get to hold her close, so that was even better.

  Aden, please.

  One night, Aden thought. That’s all he wanted. “Tomorrow,” he said.

  “The souls?” Victoria asked, getting it this time.

  “Yes. ”

  “They’ll be our next project. ” Victoria’s skin was hot against his as they strolled down the street, joining the crowd. “I can’t believe we’re doing this. I mean, I love you, you know that, but this feels so…frivolous. ”

  “Frivolous is what we desperately need right now. ” Do you hear that, Elijah? I need this.

  “So true. So guess what?” Too excited to wait, she answered before he could reply, releasing his hand to jump in front of him. “I know a human joke. ”

  “Oh, yeah?” He hooked several strands of hair behind her ear. “What is it?” From the corner of his eye, he saw a strange movement and frowned. Had that trash can just moved several inches on its own? Surely not. Surely he was simply paranoid now, looking for danger in every shadow.

  “There was once a boy who—” Victoria frowned, too, and followed the line of his vision. “What is it?”

  Aden. Aden, leave now.

  A second later, Tucker seemed to appear out of nowhere, suddenly right in front of Aden, tears streaming down his face. “What the—”

  The crowd and cars disappeared—Victoria, too—leaving Aden on a deserted street. A deserted street he’d seen in countless visions. One he’d dreaded finding. One he’d hoped to avoid.

  Aden backed up, gearing to fight. Tucker followed.

  “I’m sorry, so very, very sorry,” Tucker said. “He told me you would be here. Why did you have to be here?”

  Before the last word left his mouth, before Aden could go on the offensive, a sharp pain he recognized, hated, dreaded, expected, lanced through him, slicing through bone, through muscle, through…organ. Every beat of his heart sliced the wound deeper, wider.

  The very heartbeat that kept him alive was killing him.

  Tucker fled, footsteps pounding.

  The pain exploded, as sharp as the blade. Aden looked down, saw the hilt dripping crimson. A gasp of blood gurgled from him, and he heard Victoria scream his name. Where was she? He still couldn’t see her. He was alone. Was going to die all alone.

  Not even a day. He hadn’t even had a day of rest. Even God had had a day of rest. Strange thoughts, he mused. “Worth…it,” he said, hoping Victoria would hear him, wherever she was. She was worth anything, everything. He wouldn’t trade a moment of his time with her.

  The deserted street shimmered, faded, the busy street coming back into view.

  Oh, Aden, Elijah said.

  Caleb and Julian shouted denials.

  Not alone, then. He had the souls. Made sense. They’d started life together, and now they would end it together. Oh, God. End. End. This was the end. With the word echoing in his head, he realized he wasn’t ready. But the pain soon dragged him down…he was falling…a shroud of black was sweeping him under a burning tide…

  He knew nothing more.

  SOMEONE MUST HAVE USED electric shocks on his brain, because suddenly Aden’s entire body spasmed, and he felt the pain, so much pain. Too much pain. The shroud of black quickly wrapped back around him, thank God, thank God, thank God, but the electric shock pulled him back out. The process was repeated over and over again.

  “—save him,” Victoria was pleading to someone. “You have to save him. ”

  “He’s been injured too badly,” an unfamiliar voice said, “and you’ve given him all the blood you can stand to lose. Any more, and you’ll both die. ”

  “He’s not going to die,” she screeched. “We can’t let him die. He’s our king!”

  I’m here, he tried to tell her, but he couldn’t force his mouth to move. The souls were still with him, he thought, because he could hear them crying, but they couldn’t form a single word, either.

  Was this it? The end?

  The end. Familiar words.

  “Try and turn him,” Victoria said on a rush. “Drain him completely and fill him back up with what remains of my blood. ”

  A sigh, weary and sad. “We’ve tried that before, princess, with others. This you know. Not since Vlad’s time has a turning ever ended successfully. ”

  “I don’t care. ”

  “Sometimes the donor died, as well. ”

  “I know that, too! Just do it! There’s no other way, and I have to try. I have to try,” she repeated on a sob.

  No, Aden wanted to
shout. Don’t risk your life, Victoria. Anything but that.

  Another sigh left the stranger. “Very well. He’s all yours. But know this. When your people discover his weakened condition—and they will, we can’t keep this a secret for long—there will be a struggle for the crown. No matter how worthy a king Aden has proved himself to be, there will always be those who hunger for power. Contenders will want to strike him while they can. ”

  “They’ll have to find him first. And when he returns, and he will, I’m sure anyone who dared issue a challenge will be punished. Severely. ”

  A knock sounded, several hard thumps. Footsteps. A gasp.

  “Riley?” Victoria said.

  “What happened to him? What the hell happened?”

  “Stay back! Don’t touch him. I’m turning him. Just stay here and keep everyone calm. I’m taking him away. ”

  “Turning him? Away? Victoria, you can’t do that. ”

  “I can and I will. Stay back!”

  A pause. “Okay, okay. I’ll stay back. But there’s something I have to tell you. Several somethings, actually. And I can’t stay here for long. Mary Ann ran away, and I followed her to make sure she made it someplace safely, and I only came back to talk to you. I have to return to her before she decides to head somewhere else and I lose her trail. So listen up. You’ve been challenged by Draven for rights to Aden. Your father is alive and—”

  “A challenge? No! Not yet! Is Mary Ann okay? And…and what you do mean my father is alive? Riley, he can’t be alive. He can’t be alive. He’ll hurt Aden, he’ll… No! I won’t let him!”

  Silence, then. Floating. Darkness. Then, Aden felt as if his neck was being ripped open, and this time, he did make his mouth move. He screamed.

  He thrashed, he fought, he stilled. Nothing, he had nothing left.

  The shroud, that blessed shroud. It covered him, protected him. Slipping away…

  …cold, so cold…

  Stupid shroud…he tugged it back in place.

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