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Under my skin, p.17

Under My Skin, page 17

 

Under My Skin
 


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  I headed behind the school. The effort to blend with the masses drained me. Increasingly the perfumes, hairsprays, and body lotions grated on my nerves. I was in nose-ory overload, so I bolted for the great outdoors whenever I could.

  A few picnic tables had been tucked behind a grove of spruce trees and out of sight of any windows. The perfect place to clear my head. Other students had abandoned the hideaway now that the weather was so cold.

  Like I’d been abandoned in Redgrave.

  I sat on a table, my feet resting on the bench, my chin in my hands.

  I had to face facts. I’d been ditched by the Hunter Council after they’d promised to protect me, promised to find answers, promised they were on my side. I was done with their rules. No one had contacted me, not once since I’d arrived in Redgrave. Time for me to stop wallowing in woe-is-me-ville and take action. I had to find out what happened to my parents, maybe even go so far as to find my mother’s pack and demand help.

  But I had to save Redgrave first. I couldn’t bail on my uncle’s family now that paranorms had descended on the town—no matter how much Paige pushed my buttons. I refused to act the villain in the B-grade horror flick called my life. The Council had that role.

  The bell rang for the last block of the day. It seemed like I’d been sitting there barely five minutes. I sighed, grabbed my backpack, and planned to slip back into the school via one of the teacher-only side entrances—a maneuver I’d performed often in my student career. But as I approached the darkened entrance, mint lit the air. I caught a flicker of movement in my peripheral vision.

  In the shadows, shaded from the bright afternoon sunshine by a metal awning, Wade stood waiting for me. His shoulders rested against the solid metal doors. He has his arms folded across his chest. Taking a deep breath that sent the tingle of menthol into my lungs, I reached for the door handle, but he didn’t move.

  “Where have you been hiding, Red?” He gestured toward my rust-colored hoodie.

  Why did it always come back to wolves and fairytales with Wade? Was he the one forcing the werewolf tattoo image down my mental throat? When he was in my head, had he learned what I was? Was he dishing out some cruel burn because I wasn’t just Little Red, I was the Big Bad Wolf as well? I scrambled for my limestone wall, keeping my wards up against him.

  “Hiding? Me?” I made an I-don’t-think-so face. “I was just getting some air. You know the stuff that humans need to survive?” Not great, but a lame burn still counted as a burn in my books.

  Wade ran a hand through his shaggy dark hair and flashed me a grin. My heart sped up a bit.

  “Don’t be like that, Eryn. We both know you’re not exactly human either, so let’s stop pretending, shall we?” He pushed off the wall. “After our last…chat, I dug around in my father’s office and found a file on you”—he held his hands about a foot apart—“this big.” He shook his head. “My father’s been watching you for months, even before you showed up in town.”

  I worried the inside of my cheek. Crap. Months? How was that possible? Before I moved to Redgrave I was under the protection of my father’s entire crew. It didn’t make sense.

  Unless…Sebastian…

  “I don’t know what he has planned for you, but it’s not good.”

  Wade’s intense gaze sent a familiar icy chill scorching along my skin. “I don’t need to be a mind reader to figure out what the Delacroix have been telling you about me.”

  He studied my face while I struggled to keep my expression one of mild curiosity. If he only knew that I was the one filling in the Delacroix on Redgrave’s resident hottie. Or should I say, resident evil?

  “But they’ve got me all wrong,” Wade continued. “I’ve been trying to get you alone, to explain a few things. But you’re hard to single out from the herd.” His lips slanted. “Is that because you and Alec are getting touchy-feely? Paige said he’s all you talk about at home.”

  “What?” I snorted, ticked at him for thinking he had the right to question my friends, or speculate on my relationship with Alec, and at the same time, I was livid with Paige and her lies. Okay, the Paige thing bugged me the most. Her, I had to live with. “I barely say two words in that house.” I wished my dear, darling cousin were within slapping distance.

  She would be—as soon as I sniffed her out. “She’s saying I’ve got the hots for Alec so you’ll think I’m out of commission. Then she can have you to herself.”

  Wade’s eyes glittered. “And are you?”

  Tingles. Cool tingles danced across the nape of my neck. A warning that danger neared and a sign I was a bit too into Wade. “Am I what?”

  “Out of commission?” His brows rose. “Or are you still in the race?”

  I gaped at him for a second. My face heated. “I only run when I have to,” I said carefully, shrugging off Wade’s bewitching charm, “and only if Alec’s at the finish line waiting for me.”

  He sighed and shoved his hands in his coat pockets. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.” He gave me a sad smile. “Doesn’t mean we can’t be friends though, right?”

  A vampire wanting to be friends with a wolven? “Okay,” I said, my voice doubtful. “Friends. Sure.”

  “Good.” Wade nodded. “Then as your friend, here’s a bit of advice. Stop seeing Alec. He’ll get you into a lot of trouble.

  I rolled my eyes. “I think that’s the cauldron calling the kettle black.”

  “I’m serious, Eryn. Hear me out. You’re messing with things you don’t understand.” Wade paused. “It’s going to get you hurt.”

  His gray eyes darkened. I couldn’t look away from his gaze. We were locked in a staring contest as he tried to access my mind, to influence me, and I struggled to keep him out. The energy he projected made me lightheaded. My barrier held, but it was shaky. I swayed on my feet. Wade’s power squeezed my brain like it was in a garlic press. The thought of grey matter streaming out my eyes turned out to be a motivator.

  I fortified the limestone wall, imagining steel beams driving up through the middle of the stones, locking them in place. The throb in my head eased. I stood to my full height, angry with myself for losing focus.

  “Messing with what things?” I held very still so the world would stop spinning. How bizarre that this mental gridlock took place while we were having this nicey-nice conversation.

  Wade blinked and the pressure in my head disappeared entirely. He dipped his chin, giving me this round.

  “Well, for one,” he said, “they think they can take on my father. You think you can take on my father.” His lips twisted. “You have no idea what he can make people do.”

  Actually, I did. I’d seen firsthand what Logan had made Wade do—to his own mother. No matter how I sympathized with Wade at that moment, he was still a killer. He’d made his choice. He could have chosen death. He didn’t have to be a monster.

  Did he?

  “Your father’s making a big mistake trying to pin this stuff on the Delacroix,” I bit out. “And threatening Marcus? Paige? These aren’t expendable crew members we’re talking about. This is my family. Besides, I’m stronger than you think.”

  “Really?” Wade stepped closer, inches from my body. “Convince me.”

  His breath cooled my heated face. His silver-gray eyes focused on my lips, then drifted lower to my throat.

  My instincts clamored at me to take charge, to become the predator, not the prey. Now that we’d put the mind games aside, other games were a possibility. It excited me to have Wade—danger—this close.

  “I’m waiting,” he said as he tilted in closer, whether for a kiss or a bite, I didn’t know. Blood rushed in my veins. He drew a finger along the open collar of my coat. Part of me wanted to know what it would feel like to have him drink at my neck. He pushed the canvas fabric aside, revealing Alec’s cross resting on my sweater.

  “Cross-s-s-s,” Wade hissed. Before I could blink, his body slipstreamed three feet away from me, but then returned to press even closer.

&
nbsp; His features shifted. His eyes sank back in his skull, their almond shape morphing in the sockets, growing rounder. Wider. A dank, crude odor waffed off his skin replacing the scent of menthol.

  “How beautiful,” he rasped, another voice filling his mouth, overlapping his words like some lounge lizard ventriloquist. He glared at the cross, then reached out and stroked the silver form as it rested on my sweater. A sizzle and the pungent scent of burning flesh wafted to my nose

  Energy hummed around us, resonating through my body from my feet to the top of my head. Lick-your-finger-and-jam-it-in-a-light-socket kind of energy.

  I couldn’t move.

  I trembled, willing my body to dive into action. This time it wasn’t a crazy yearning for Wade that kept me from my dagger. I was literally frozen in place. Unable to do more than growl. Tucked under my jacket, my athame snapped with power, prodding me to put it to use. Must reach. Got to try. But my arms wouldn’t move. Terror clawed up my throat. I ground my teeth together. No. He wouldn’t get the satisfaction of hearing me scream.

  “You’re half paranorm, Eryn.” When he met my gaze, Wade’s eyes had darkened strangely, his pupils an empty blackness. “You’re half wolven, so the file says. I read many things in that file. Enough to know you’ve learned that sometimes the pain is worth it.” He pressed the cross against my chest, making us both cry out. Wade, in agony, and me, in fear and rage. I’d take mental gymnastics any day, over the total depravity blasting from Wade now. Was this his beast? The monster inside him that killed to survive?

  He’d been taken over by the most base evil I’d ever faced. It oozed from his every pore. He had turned into someone else.

  Something else.

  His lips touched mine, then the pure essence of evil flowed from his breath as he spoke. “Don’t you miss it? The cool slide of the blade against your warm flesh? The rush of blood. Come on, you can tell me. Have you cut yourself lately, Eryn?”

  A torrent of memories flooded my mind, tugging me down in a forceful undertow. The abrupt slice of the blade. I drowned as the metallic tang of my blood flowed. The release. The freedom. The beast pushed me down, churned for the surface. Helpless against the dual onslaught from Wade and my wolf, a sob tore from my throat.

  The metal door behind us rattled.

  Wade shoved me away.

  I stumbled, my unfrozen limbs not quite stable. My heart slammed in my ribs like a battering ram. Wade’s gaze held mine as Mr. Riggs opened the door.

  “Were you kids locked out? Well, don’t stand there. Hustle up, you two, there’s an assembly in the gym. All teachers and students have to attend.” He held the door for us. “And if I have to go…well, misery loves company.”

  Wade staggered as if his legs couldn’t hold him upright. He held out his hand. “Eryn, please,” he said, his eyes icy grey once more. “I can explain.”

  I elbowed past him and dove into the school.

  “This isn’t over,” Wade breathed as I swept by.

  My gut clenched. I hurried toward the gym to put as much space between us as possible. He was right, whatever “this” was—it was just beginning.

  The squeaking gym doors earned us a few looks as we joined the assembly late. A mass of students sat on the impeccably polished wood floor. Teachers and other latecomers leaned against the gold-and-blue-striped cinderblock walls. I scanned the gym frantically for Brit but couldn’t find her. Mr. Riggs and Wade sidled into the gym behind me, keeping tight to the wall.

  Someone tugged on my hand. I whirled around to find Brit at my side. Had she noticed my spastic reaction?

  “Alec almost had a conniption when he saw you and Wade walk in together.” She dragged me toward the back of the gym. Alec and Matt stood by the lopsided, five-foot-high tower of blue gymnastic mats—removed, in so many ways, from the rest of the student body. “What were you doing with Wade?”

  “I wasn’t with Wade.” A flash of anger sharpened my voice. I’d gotten pawed against my will, thank you very much. “Wade was lurking at the east doors when I tried to get back into the building. The doors were locked. Riggs let us in.” I couldn’t tell Brit what really happened, I was still digesting it myself. “And anyway, Alec doesn’t look upset.”

  Alec had his gaze trained on the school stage, his face set in stoic lines. If only I could be that controlled. That focused. Maybe Wade wouldn’t have gotten to me so easily.

  Brit shot me a look. “Are you kidding me? Check out his hands, they never lie.”

  I scanned down Alec’s broad chest—getting a bit distracted along the way, oh, my wolf lingered too close for comfort—to his strong arms. Preoccupied, I almost stepped on a kid and then growled at him for getting in my way. I shook my head, forcing the wildness back under lock and key. “Sorry” I muttered as I stumbled around him. “Brit, I can’t see Alec’s hands. They’re in his pockets.”

  “Bingo.” Brit lowered her voice as we got close to the Delacroix brothers. “A telltale sign our Alec is ticked.”

  She sure knew her crew.

  When we reached the guys, Matt was all smiles. He shuffled over so Brit could join him and I could be near Alec. But Alec? Cold front. He kept his attention focused on the teachers setting up the podium and microphone on the stage.

  “What’s up?” I asked Matt, real chirpy like. “Somebody deface the principal’s parking stall again?” At the last emergency assembly the whole school got blasted because someone spray painted over the Reserved for Principal sign to read Reserved for Princess. Mr. Fallsick wasn’t pleased.

  “You mean you don’t know?” Alec asked, a bitterness to his tone I’d never heard before.

  Jealousy. Waves of it rippled off him.

  “No, I don’t know. Why would I?”

  Alec continued to stare at the stage. “I thought maybe Wade told you all about it, you being such good friends and all.”

  I shuddered. The empty blackness of Wade’s eyes. The way he’d frozen me in place. With friends like that… “Wade and I did have a tête-à-tête.” I paused. “More like a big bad threaten, if you must know. Not a pleasant experience, thanks for asking.”

  Alec examined my face. “You all right?” The hard lines of his expression softened.

  “Yeah.” I shrugged. “Nothing I couldn’t handle.” A boldfaced lie, but better than telling him that Wade not only waltzed in and out of my house but also my mind whenever he felt the urge to scramble my brains.

  Alec’s body relaxed slightly. “Check out who he’s with now.”

  I’d lost track of where Wade and Riggs had gone in the restless sea of students, who were getting crankier with every waiting moment, turning on each other like four-year-old twins fighting over the last birthday present. If the principal didn’t get this party started soon, things would get ugly.

  “There he is.” Loathing seeped through Brit’s voice as she pointed him out.

  Wade stood at the door by the stage stairs, occasionally opening it to talk to someone in the hallway. Almost as if he were a part of the faculty—very in the know. Mr. Fallsick gave him a wave from across the stage.

  Wade opened the door and escorted a beefy police officer up the stairs to center stage. A few other city official looking types followed, standing off to the side. Cameras flashed, and I spotted a tall, leggy blonde woman snapping pictures of the entourage. Nina Clark, the reporter from the local TV station who’d been gushing over Logan that morning.

  She really got around.

  “Oh, God,” Brit groaned as Mr. Fallsick greeted the officer and attached a wireless lapel microphone to his uniform. She ducked behind Matt. “Quick! Hide me.”

  Matt yanked me and Alec closer so Brit hid behind a wall of Delacroix and me.

  “What’s going on?” I tried to look over my shoulder, but Brit slapped my head.

  “Don’t look back here!” She poked me in the back. “That’s my dad onstage. If he sees me within forty feet of Matt and Alec, I’m dead. He’s not around much, but that doesn’t mean h
e’d agree to me dating one of the guys the whole police department thinks is killing everyone’s pets. Another thing we have to thank Wade’s dad for. If the chief of police says it’s true, who can argue?”

  Officer Hiels eyed the gym with a calculating gaze as if measuring each student’s criminal potential. In seconds he focused on Alec and Matt. Even a whole gym floor away, his suspicions were obvious.

  The guys suffered his attention with stoic expressions.

  Pretty soon Wade tracked his interest and stared at the back of the gym. At me, standing with Alec. Kids spun around to see what the cop and the chief of police’s son glared at.

  “Yikes,” I breathed. “Why do I feel like we’re in a police lineup?”

  Mr. Fallsick tapped his mic. Thud, thud, thud. The low beats hit my eardrums like bass drum kicks.

  “Is this thing on-n-n-n?” His voice bellowed through the gym and ended with an ear-splitting squeal. I cupped my hands over my ears. My head buzzed with pain, still raw from Wade’s forcible trip down memory lane. When the mic squealed again, Alec’s hands closed over mine. My teeth ached from the reverberations.

  Muffled screams rippled across the crowd, followed by relieved laughter when the feedback ended, but with Alec’s warm skin pressed to mine, his body close, I didn’t want to move. My eyes drifted shut.

  Eventually, Riggs adjusted the mic volume.

  Alec removed his hands as I lowered mine, but his dark eyes remained filled with concern. “I guess that was pretty loud.”

  I barely heard him through the ringing in my ears.

  Fallsick tapped the microphone a few more times before beginning. “Thank you, everyone, for joining us. I know classes have been disrupted, but we have some extremely important information to share with you. Officer Hiels, from the Redgrave Police Force, is here to make an announcement.” He gestured to Brit’s dad.

  Officer Hiels nodded and stepped forward. “Good afternoon.” He dipped his chin toward the lapel mic. Then he seemed to think better of it. He took the mic off and handed it to Mr. Fallsick.

 
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