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Under my skin, p.14

Under My Skin, page 14

 

Under My Skin
 


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  Wade’s eyes flickered. “I’ve felt that before.” He frowned. “You shouldn’t be able to…”

  And just like that he was in my mind, testing the boundary I’d created. Weird sensations zinged through me, like biting on tinfoil, and I had no way to stop it. I clutched at my sweater, my fingers locked in a spasm unable to reach my athame. Pressure built under my skull. My eyes pushed against my eyelids as if they were going to burst from their sockets. I mustered my strength and projected a single thought: STAY OUT OF MY HEAD!

  The connection severed.

  Wade jerked back. His jaw dropped in astonishment.

  “I heard you,” he breathed. His already pale skin blanched. “Impossible.” He turned his head away, cursing. When he faced me again he was different, his teasing manner gone, his expression drawn. “That’s why my father wants you,” he said. “You’re not human.”

  Before I could speak, he loomed over me. His grey eyes dared me to do something about it. “Human or not, you better be on your guard. When my father shows an interest…” He hesitated, then gave a grim smile. “Well, let’s say he’s not careful with his toys.” His lowered his voice, a quiet, but ominous warning. “Speaking of games that might get you killed. Tell your friends thanks for the town tour, but they really shouldn’t waste their magical resources on me.” His breath iced along my cheek. “I won’t enter your house again. Not without a very personal invitation.”

  I should have knocked him to the ground and pressed the point of my dagger to his throat. Yes, I should have. But I was fixed in place by my traitorous emotions, my body humming at the thought of inviting Wade into my bedroom. I bowed my head, afraid that if I made a move it would be closer to him, not away.

  When the tension between us grew to astronomical levels, I looked up. Our lips almost touched. If I leaned a smidge forward… Wade’s approving smile and watchful gaze sent a wave tingling in my stomach. Damn. My eyes fluttered shut. I shoved the desperate hunger Wade drew from me back into its Pandora’s box. When I opened my eyes again, he was gone.

  I choked back a frustrated groan.

  Someone tapped me on the shoulder. I yelped and slapped a hand to my pounding heart.

  “Easy does it, stressball.” Brit laughed. “What happened in there?” The thick fringe of her black bangs half-covered her disgruntled expression.

  “In where?” I asked, my brain not fully functional. My body wanted to take advantage of that fact and bolt after Wade.

  Brit made a face. “The test. Did you give up or what?”

  “Oh,” I said. Right. The test I’d inadvertently cheated on. That was the proud cherry on top of the crap cupcake I’d been chewing on all day. “I did alright.” I shrugged, then made a face and admitted, “Better than that, I think I aced it.”

  “You aced it?” Brit’s expression cleared. “That’s amazing! Really?” Happiness rose off her as if she’d bathed in it.

  I winced. How could I ever tell Brit the truth? Once I told her Wade could shimmy into my thoughts whenever my guard was down, she’d know I walked the fine line between dark and light. Vamps could influence the weak-minded, but to completely read someone’s thoughts—well, that became a matter of dark calling to dark.

  Brit wrapped her arms around me in a crushing hug. “This is fabulous. You must have a photographic memory or something. Nice.” She released me and skip-walked toward her locker. “One exam down, one to go.”

  Thankfully, I didn’t have another test. Brit was off to a chemistry exam, while I had a comparatively brain friendly art history class.

  “Let’s meet by the stoner doors at lunch,” Brit said. “And then we’ll head to Conundrum Café. Kate‘s not only a powerful witch, she can sling java that will take you to new worlds. I gotta say she has the best ginger cookies you’ll ever have in your entire life.” Brit twisted a strand of her poker straight black hair around her fingers. “Besides, Kate wants to ask you a few questions.”

  Questions. From a witch. Great. Things kept getting better and better. “I don’t—”

  Brit cut me off. “Kate’s super nice.” Her voice rose as her words rushed together. “So don’t think she’s got some grand inquisition planned, like she’s working for the Hunter Council. She wants to know more about your dream and Wade’s mother.” She shrugged. “I guess a dream like that, back in time and so detailed, is kind of a big deal. Kate thinks you were magically transported through your subconscious or something.”

  Whoa. I’d have to keep my poker face on around Kate. She seemed to know more about my time travel experience than I did.

  “Every witch in town will be jealous you got to experience magic at that level,” Brit said. “You’re like a witch’s dream come true.”

  A wolven as a witch’s dream come true? With my soul in flux and Wade meandering in my head anytime he pleased? The fact that he was a hybrid like me made it that much more difficult to ignore him.

  “Plus Kate thinks if she sees you in person, she can amp up the anti-Wade spell. How cool is that?”

  I didn’t have the heart to tell Brit that Wade had sensed Kate’s magic and only played along last night. Brit had a serious case of Kate hero/witch worship.

  “Cool is overrated,” I said, my skin still tingling from Wade’s mentholy presence.

  But Brit was already hurrying down the hall and didn’t hear me.

  *****

  In art history class I struggled to stay focused on Mrs. Stantial, who stood all of five feet tall and looked more like a student than a high school art teacher. A dynamo with a trendy fashion sense, she radiated intensity. Impossible to sit in her room without some of it rubbing off—unless you were a bit preoccupied with your life and death struggle against otherworldly forces.

  I couldn’t jot another note about Hellenistic and Roman statues. Why had I ever thought taking art history would be a brain holiday? Hello…comparative essays to write, dates, locations, and mythologies to memorize. Goodbye…paint-by-numbers trip down art history lane. Next time I’d read the fine print when registering. The class seemed entirely too…ancient history after what had gone down between me and Wade.

  My first attempt at a mental ward, and I’d blocked him, a vampire-witch, from scanning my thoughts. He’d discovered my paranorm abilities. Wade was far more powerful than the crew realized. More powerful than anything they—or I—had ever faced. And what had he meant when he said his father wanted me? Wanted me for what?

  And how could I stop him? Or Wade?

  Other than building a garlic moat around my uncle’s house, how could I keep Wade out? Who knew if the usual vamp techniques would work against him? He could walk around in daylight and had witchy ways. He’d said he wouldn’t enter the house unless I invited him. Could I trust him to keep his word? He was a vamp, for God’s sake—one who was more than likely feeling up and feeding off my cousin.

  Even more alarming—could I trust myself not to invite him in? Again, I relived that pull, that electricity surging between us. His darkness called to me in ways I couldn’t explain. Ways that wouldn’t be at all moral high ground or justifiable if I put the feelings into words.

  And I had Alec to consider. We had kissed last night. We’d shared a moment. A hungry, raw, desperate moment. I couldn’t deny it. Neither could he. But Alec was human. Worse than that—a hunter of creatures like me—he was ruled by duty and honor. Out to save his hometown from the paranorms.

  We didn’t stand a chance.

  And what about Brit? She’d asked me to help the group find out what happened to her brother. I understood what drove her. The not knowing was the most excruciating part. Exactly why I had made my bargain with the devil and followed Sebastian’s go-hide-in-Redgrave order. He’d offered me a chance to discover what had happened to my parents.

  For Alec’s sake, for Brit’s, and for the sake of my parents—on the slim chance that the Hunter Council might actually come through and dig up some information on them—I had to hold it together. Totally bad
timing to be curious about my wild, dark, wolven side. Or to let it take me over, to give into Wade, no matter how strong the pull became.

  My human will was stronger. I hoped.

  Stantial flicked off the classroom lights and illuminated a PowerPoint presentation on the screen at the front of the room. I slid down in my desk and slipped into spectator mode as she described her one and only trip to Rome, giving us the nitty-gritty on each image. Most of the photos were blurry or underexposed. She blamed her camera.

  The next slide came up, and I groaned. Wolves. Everything came back to wolves. They’d even taken over art class. About to biff my pencil at the screen, I forced myself to take the less dramatic route and slunk lower in my seat.

  “Throughout the ages, animals have been worshipped as intermediaries between man and his gods.” She used a laser pointer to highlight certain features of the bronze sculpture of a female wolf with two human boys reaching hungrily for her engorged…

  The class gave a collective Ewwww, which Stantial ignored.

  “As depicted in this sculpture, the Romans believed a she-wolf raised twin orphan boys, Romulus and Remus, who founded the city of Rome. Consequently, the wolf became a sacred animal within Roman culture. Here we see,” she said, clicking to the next slide, “where I veered from the tour group and crossed into a restricted area.” She held up her hand. “Not that I’m encouraging any of you to break the rules, but I had to see what they were working on.” She gave a dreamy sigh. “And that’s when I took this picture. Isn’t it stunning?”

  I’d practically fallen asleep when Stantial’s coup de grace image flashed across the screen. The photo depicted a faded emblem painted on a crumbling limestone wall. Both the wall and the emblem were eerily familiar. My heart rocked in my chest. Up there on the screen, larger than life, stood the very same limestone wall and emblem I’d visualized to block Wade from my thoughts. I hadn’t realized that my shield bore any distinct markings until I saw the wolf, snarling as it bit through a human skull.

  I sat upright in my seat. My knees banged the underside of my desk. What had triggered the image in my head in the first place—or who had planted it there?

  At the same moment, a deep gasp came from the next row of desks.

  I twisted my head and met the tear-filled eyes of Olivia, the girl I’d seen crying in the locker room my first day of school. The one whose boyfriend, Travis—one of the missing guys from Wade’s hockey team—had left her behind. Or so she thought. Alec had already written him off as a werewolf we’d eventually hunt down. The fact that Olivia suffered from yet another public meltdown wasn’t surprising. However, that she, too, had reacted violently to the image on the screen—the same instant I had—couldn’t be a coincidence.

  Unfortunately, our mutual wiggins woke up half of the class. Faces turned to gape at us, like ghosts caught on film.

  Mrs. Stantial squinted at us through the darkness. “Is there a problem?”

  Olivia’s eyes overflowed with tears. She shook her head and shot me a panicked look.

  “Ah, no,” I stammered. “It’s just that picture is…well, it’s really….nice.”

  Stantial raised a perfectly shaped brow. “I hope nice isn’t a reflection of the writing you’ll submit for your final paper. True art is a lot of things, but it’s never as tragically dull as nice.” She looked back at the screen. “Although your instincts are good. This wall painting is an extremely rare find, salvaged from a late first-century house in Rome. The restoration work took years to complete. I can’t believe I stumbled upon it before its official unveiling sometime next year. The scene is quite brutal, a complete contrast to the usual opulent landscapes found at such dig sites.”

  I swallowed hard as a knot formed in my stomach. Rare and brutal. Great.

  “Despite the weathered stone,” Stantial said, using her laser pointer to highlight areas of the image, “we can clearly see the human skull being savagely penetrated by the wolf’s fangs.”

  “Savagely penetrated,” a guy up front echoed. “That’s cool.”

  No.

  It wasn’t.

  Beside me Olivia scooped up her backpack and swung it over her shoulder, ready to bolt.

  “So…ah, does it have any special significance?” I asked, earning another intent look from Stantial.

  “Yes,” she said slowly. “Scholars speculate that the residence may have been a meeting place for a fringe cult, a band of warriors who thought they could shapeshift into wolves.”

  “Nice,” the same guy up front said. “Now this is art, man.”

  Stantial rolled her eyes and clicked to the next image. “In the next slide, we have…”

  Olivia slid from her desk. “Washroom,” she breathed as she passed me.

  As Stantial lectured on, unaware of Olivia’s exit, I sat at my desk, my pulse triple timing. What was going on here? Why had Olivia freaked out even more than I had at seeing the emblem?

  I shoved my textbook into my backpack and snuck out of the room, heading for the girl’s washroom down the hall from Stantial’s class.

  I’d expected the tears. I didn’t think I’d ever seen Olivia without them. But nothing had prepared me for her pain, her sorrow. The salty scent of those bitter emotions fused into the bathroom walls like rock salt stuck in tire treads. Olivia was leaning over the last sink, her auburn hair hanging in a harsh, limp line as she stared at the cell phone in her hand.

  “Olivia?” I crept closer. Despite being all blotchy and having T-zone shine, Olivia’s beautiful face inspired a twinge of envy. Even at a major low point in her life she still looked better than I would after an extreme makeover. Wow. That was petty. I focused on the issue at hand. Olivia crying. Again. “Are you okay?”

  “No, I’m not sure if I’ll ever be okay again.” She lowered the phone, her eyes bleak. “You’ve seen it before too. Haven’t you?”

  I raised a brow, but said nothing. Olivia was bursting to get something off her chest, and if it was paranormal in nature I needed to look cool and noncommittal. Hunter training rule 7,876 or something like that.

  “The wolf and skull,” she said, frowning now.

  I raised both brows. Noncommittal, noncommittal. “The what?”

  “The picture Stantial showed.” Olivia shoved away from the sink. “Travis had one like it on his arm.” She thrust her cell toward my face, showing a closeup of a guy’s muscular arm. The skull-and-fangs image had obviously been recently etched into his skin leaving his arm red and raw looking.

  Olivia stared at her own waiflike arm as she traced the spot where Travis had his tattoo done. The girl was wasting away. All jutting bones and sharp angles. “He got it right before he disappeared.”

  I shifted my backpack. The art history text I’d stuffed inside jabbed into my shoulder. How did an ancient piece of art end up on the arm of some kid from a small town like Redgrave?

  “Are you saying Travis had that thing carved into his skin?” I cringed. “Lovely.”

  Olivia’s brilliant blue eyes flashed with anger. “He wasn’t himself. He hated tattoos, never saw the point of jabbing yourself with ink. Then one day he said he dreamt about this awesome design and had to get one done.”

  I held my breath. Dreamed about it? Or had it flashed into his mind the way it had for me?

  Her expression softened, and her eyes filled with tears again. “That was the last time I saw him.” She sniffled. “You know, we were going to leave town together after graduation.” She gave a sad laugh as she scrolled through the images saved on the cell. She held up one of her and Travis laughing in front of a locker. “Well, that was the plan.” She showed me another, a closeup of Travis. “Wasn’t he beautiful?”

  “Uh, sure.” I shrugged, then plunked my backpack on the counter, and fished inside for my makeup bag. I made a big show of putting on my lip gloss, covering up the odd blemish, and powdering my nose. This part of being a hunter bothered me the most. The evasions, the lies. But what could I tell her? That Travi
s might not be so pretty as a werewolf—with the molting human skin and matted fur? I’m sorry, Beauty and the Beast was hopelessly romantic...on paper.

  “He wouldn’t have left me here. We were getting out. Together.” Olivia pushed the phone back into her backpack with trembling fingers. “So you can either tell me now, or I’ll find out myself. That tattoo—you recognized it too. What does it mean?”

  I stared blankly at Olivia, my thoughts like a pinball gone mad, ricocheting around in my head.

  Stantial had no idea the true value of the artwork she’d photographed. A tangible connection between the human and paranormal world. Lucky she worked in such an isolated community. I’d heard of humans stumbling onto proof of paranorm existence, but those unfortunate souls didn’t live long enough to show anyone their finds, especially not a classroom of impressionable high school kids.

  At my continued silence, Olivia sighed. “Fine. Don’t tell me where you’ve seen it.” She grabbed her backpack and made for the door. “But I know something’s not right in this town.”

  Humph. She wasn’t kidding.

  Chapter 9: Stereotype Much?

  Brit and I walked to the café only a few blocks from the school. Although it hadn’t snowed, the grey sky and crisp air threatened the white stuff at any time. My wolf compensated for the chill as soon as we hit the outdoors, my internal temperature spiked. I started to take off my jacket, but with Brit shivering in her black canvas coat, wearing more layers than I was, I decided not to draw attention to my sudden tolerance for the cold.

  Talk about premature hot flashes. Yikes. I lowered my zipper to catch some of the cool breeze. Uncomfortable and sweaty in sweater weather. How the hell was I going to survive a scorching hot summer day?

  “There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you,” Brit said, hesitancy in her voice. “You might get mad, so I’ll say it fast.”

  “Fire away.” I shrugged. Whatever Brit had to say couldn’t be as bad as the thought of me hiding in my room all summer because I’d started shedding all my hair. Now that thought made me mad—as in one-way ticket to bedlam mad. I squeezed the bridge of my nose, a de-stresser technique I’d learned from a school counselor. Damn. I rubbed away the dart of pain I’d self-inflicted.

 
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