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Under my skin, p.18

Under My Skin, page 18

 

Under My Skin
 


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  “Take this thing. I don’t need it. I’m used to yelling at recruits.” His gravelly voice carried easily to the back of the gym. “Listen up. I’m here to announce an official curfew for young people in our town, so that means life as you know it is about to change.”

  The gym rang with groans of disbelief.

  Officer Hiels held up a hand, and the crowd quieted. “This is for your own good, people. We have several leads we’re following on the pet situation here in town.” He glared again at Alec and Matt, and this time half the gym turned to gawk at us. “But until we build our case, we’re shutting you down. You all have to be inside your houses by 9:00 p.m. on weekdays and 9:30 p.m. on the weekends. That means no more movies, no night jobs, and most of all no one else is going to get hurt. Curfew starts tonight and is enforceable by law. And the law is me. This is zero tolerance, people. Get caught out after curfew, and you’ll be spending time in jail.”

  After a moment of shocked silence in the gym, Mr. Fallsick spoke into his mic. “On behalf of the students and staff of Redgrave High, we thank you, Officer Hiels, for taking the time out of your busy day to make this formal announcement. This won’t directly affect us at school, but it might have some benefits for our test scores. After all, if you can’t go out, you might as well study, right, kids?” He laughed at his joke. “Now let’s give Officer Hiels a big Redgrave High thank you.” He clapped, awkwardly, with the mic still in his hand.

  A smattering of applause accompanied him, mainly from teachers and kids in the Axis & Allies club.

  Officer Hiels gave Mr. Fallsick a nod and stalked off the stage. He patted Wade on the back as he exited the gym through the side door.

  As it closed behind him, pandemonium broke out. Kids leaped to their feet, shouting, and gathered in furious huddles with their cell phones. But most glared at Alec and Matt for bringing the wrath of the cops down on their heads and at Brit, presumably for being related to the officer who’d ruined their social lives.

  Mr. Fallsick gave up trying to get the students’ attention and shouted into the mic at the teachers, “Take them back to class. Go back to class.”

  A curfew. With werewolves afoot and Wade all schizo.

  Lovely.

  Chapter 11: Curfews Officially Sucked

  That night I paced around my room, listening to Paige pacing in hers. Nine thirty on a Friday night. No self-respecting teenager stayed home at this hour. It was humiliating. It did make it easier to keep an eye out for Paige, though, in case she did anything stupid like try to sneak out to stalk Wade. But what if a werewolf attacked my uncle’s house like they’d been doing the ranchers’ places? How could I track it down if I had to worry about getting snatched by cops for being under eighteen and outside at a fourth grader’s bedtime?

  Forget vampires, curfews officially sucked.

  Apparently Paige agreed with me. Earlier she’d pulled one of her diva fits and eaten supper in her room with her tunes blaring. If it had been anyone else, I would have pointed out that country music didn’t translate into I’m-full-of-teen-angst rebellion.

  To stay sane, I tuned out the torch-and-twang wailing from our communal wall and focused on the myriad layers of sound around me.

  Marcus chatted on the phone in his office on the first floor. At first I tried to keep up, but the legalese wore me down. Sammi holed up in the living room, reading bits of her kindergarten lesson plans aloud. I couldn’t believe she even did lesson plans. I thought kindergarten teachers were glorified babysitters. Apparently they also have to teach kids a lot of stuff their parents should have already filled them in on. Not killing the class goldfish seemed to be at the top of tomorrow’s agenda.

  A muscle clenched in my stomach, like a stitch in my side after a long run. I groaned and leaned back on my daisy print pillows. After a few slow, deep breaths, the pain subsided. I sat up, rubbing my ribs. One of these days Sammi’s experimental recipes would be the death of me.

  A bunch of soft thumps from Paige’s room caught my attention. My ears all but perked up and tilted toward the sound. My earlobes twitched. I touched the smooth skin to reassure myself I hadn’t sprouted wolfy appendages. One month without my father’s drugs, and my ears had lives of their own—how long before some other physical manifestation appeared? How long before I turned…

  I slid my fingers around my still smooth, still hairless ears again. Not the time to let my wolven half roam free. Too much at stake. Like saving Paige from becoming a werewolf.

  A scraping sound, like Paige dragging a chair across her laminate floor to her window, was followed by another loud thump and a muffled curse. I turned off my light, waited a second to let my eyes adjust, then bounded to my window. I eased the curtain aside to see Paige slink from her bedroom window and crouch on the roof.

  My roof.

  Paige was doing exactly what I planned to do in three hours to meet up with Brit. Sneaking out and busting curfew. I never knew my cousin had it in her.

  Maybe she didn’t. Maybe this wasn’t Paige. Maybe this was Paige on thrall. Under a compulsion to become a werewolf for Logan’s army. Like she needed an excuse to chew someone’s head off. At least wolven only turned into wolves and not into muttly man-eaters like werewolves. I had a fifty-fifty chance I wouldn’t crave human flesh. Not great odds, maybe, but better than my clueless cousin could expect.

  Paige shinnied down the trunk of a large poplar tree growing alongside the house and scampered for the back alley.

  “No no no,” I mumbled as I grabbed my cell phone off my dresser and put on my shoulder holster and athame. I plucked my jacket from the back of my desk chair and then cranked open my window.

  I phoned Brit as I swung my legs over the sill and checked the night sky. Backlit by the moon, a heavy cover of fast-moving clouds blocked the silvery orb from full view. The last thing I needed was a jolt of pure lunar action to excite my wolven side.

  “Brit.” I gave the area a quick look-see and then jumped. “Listen, things are moving faster than expected.” I hit the ground running, following Paige up the back alley. I suspected every vehicle parked along the empty street of being a ghost car lying in wait.

  “What do you mean?” Brit asked.

  “It’s Paige.” I sniffed the air for Paige’s distinctive, trendy scent.

  “Eryn, are you….snorting something?” Brit’s voice was sharp in my ear. “You sound funny. What’s going on?”

  “Paige snuck out. She’s on foot. I’m tracking her.” My near infrared vision zeroed in on Paige’s slight form. She stuck to the shadows and occasionally hid behind shrubbery. Mildly impressive. I kept well behind her. Not that I needed to be stealthy—she never once looked back.

  “Er-ryn,” Brit groaned. “What about the curfew? This is the first night. Cops’ll be all over the place.” She gave a frustrated sigh. “Don’t get caught.” She paused. “Don’t let Paige get caught either.”

  “I think that’s a given.” We wouldn’t get busted for breaking curfew. Bitten by a werewolf, maybe, but the curfew we could handle. I hurtled a mountain bike tipped over in the middle of the alley. Who rode a bike in this weather? “She’s headed for town. Maybe she decided she wants that tat after all. When does the parlor close?”

  Brit groaned. “Late, maybe around ten? I’m not sure, but I’ll call Kate and tell her to go over to Whip’s. She’ll see that he’s clearheaded and doesn’t give Paige that awful tattoo.”

  “Sounds like a plan. Gotta go,” I said as Paige bolted for a side street.

  Brit’s voice grew shrill. “Be careful.”

  I pocketed my cell. Another muscle cramp took me off guard. I folded over, breathing hard, willing the pain away. After a few seconds of rubbing my side, I straightened. Rotten experimental recipes.

  Paige was nowhere to be seen.

  A half hour later, my sniffer officially shot, I’d become heartily sick of Eden, the perfume that Paige and half the females in Redgrave bathed in. I’d tracked down a dozen false leads an
d nearly gotten spotted in the process.

  I’d swung by Whip’s parlor several times, but each time Kate had given me the Paige-didn’t-show shrug through the window. I didn’t want to get Kate or Whip in trouble for harboring a teen after curfew, so I gave them an I’m-heading-home wave and started down an alley toward my uncle’s house. Maybe Paige had given up and gone home. I pulled out my cell to check in with Brit.

  A scuffle at the entrance to the alley stopped me in my tracks. A low groan and a rasped call for help, so quiet I doubted a human would have heard it.

  A guy in a …correction…a vampire in a black leather coat crouched over a human male, feeding in the darkness. The human was struggling weakly, his heels scuffing against the coarse road. My stomach rebelled, but this time it wasn’t protesting Sammi’s cooking.

  My cell phone slipped from my slack grip and dropped softly onto a pile of overstuffed garbage bags by my feet. I grabbed it, shoved it back in my pocket, and tried not to scream. The leather coat, the hair. Ohmigod…

  Wade!

  No matter how badly he’d scared me back at the school. No matter how he’d hurt me with his taunts about the cutting habit I’d finally put behind me. No matter how much evil lingered inside him, every part of me cried out against what I was witnessing.

  I wanted to run from the alley and pretend I’d never seen a thing, but I was my father’s daughter—a hunter—so it was my duty to protect humankind. No matter who broke our laws. Muscles tense, I reached for my athame. Ready for action, I crept forward. Halfway down the alley, I tripped over busted pallets piled by the dumpster.

  The feeding vampire twisted its head to glare at me.

  I gasped.

  Despite the blood dripping from his face, his gleaming fangs, and cold black eyes, I recognized the human this vampire used to be. I’d stared at his picture a few hours ago. An out-of-focus picture on a cell phone. A boy showing off his tattoo. Travis. Olivia’s true love gone true evil.

  “Get away from the human.” My voice gravelly, shaky with relief. Not Wade, it wasn’t Wade.

  I gripped my athame. Not quite a wooden stake, but a single slice from the magic-infused knife would hurt Travis. A lot. And give me time to improvise a stake from one of the splintered pallets. It didn’t have to be fancy, just functional. Plus I had Alec’s cross for added protection, if things turned nasty.

  I inched forward. The vamp growled and tossed the human aside. The human’s heart still beat, but erratically. He didn’t have long. I had to get him to a hospital. I had to— I lost my train of thought as blood spurted over the concrete. The heat of it, his life force spilling out of him. The bursts, the pulses. My stomach knotted, doubling me over. The dagger slipped from my weakened fingers. I swayed on my feet. Drunk on the scent, the sounds.

  The pain I’d felt earlier. Not from Sammi’s cooking. From hunger. The beast under my skin called to me: Shift. Embrace the darkness. Feed your bloodlust.

  My jaw ached. My teeth shifted in my mouth. I ground them together as they wobbled alarmingly. My face swelled, knees buckled.

  I staggered.

  The vampire laughed. His eyes glowed. He advanced, cocky, swaggering.

  “Stay away from me,” I said, my tongue too large in my mouth. I stuck out a hand to hold him off. An old nursery rhyme echoed eerily in my mind. My mother’s voice breaking as she sang…Ashes, ashes, we all fall down. Was this it, my downfall? The wolf would take me over here in this alley? How much longer could I take the clawing at my insides?

  Run. Get the hell out of there.

  But I couldn’t. Mesmerized. Blood pooled by the human’s body. Maybe one lick, one nip. One tender bite. No one would see. Except the vamp.

  I’d kill him.

  After.

  No! I stumbled backward. Another pain racked my gut. My knees shook. I was losing the battle. My beast was ripping me in two.

  Air gusted behind me. Then strong arms grasped me. Dragged me upright. A tinge of mint, familiar, welcome, overtook the tempting scent of blood.

  Wade.

  I clung to his solid, cool length, too dazed to care where he came from, how he knew I needed him. I only knew that he was there.

  “Help me,” I pleaded. And I didn’t mean with the vampire.

  The glint of pain in Wade’s misty grey eyes told me he understood my internal battle. He’d fought it too.

  “With pleasure.” Wade extended a hand, his fingers splayed wide. A bolt of energy radiated from his palm. His vampire-witchy hold invisible, even to my wolven eyes. Power thrummed around us on a frequency I had felt before. The same electric charge Wade had used on me outside the school. And, like I had, Travis froze in place, his mouth twisted with rage, his fangs still bared. Immobile.

  Painful gasps left my throat. For a second, I panicked. Wade. So strong. What if he and Travis worked together? Toyed with me? What if Wade shoved me toward the human, prone and bleeding on the ground? Forced me to feed?

  What would I become?

  But Wade merely held me at arm’s length, so he could stare into my eyes. My vision blurred. His set features wavered in and out of focus.

  “Think of something that calms you, something to soothe the beast,” he said, his intense grey gaze holding mine.

  I did as I was bid. The image of Alec formed in my mind. His unfailing belief that we would save the town. How he’d tried to be so casual when he gave me the cross necklace. The way his lips felt on mine when we kissed. The ache in my jaw receded, as did the puffiness in my cheeks. I relived the gentle pressure of Alec’s lips.

  The hands gripping my arms squeezed like a vise. “Of course you would think of Alec.” Wade bit off a curse.

  A dull pain battered my head as Wade’s rage and jealousy—images dark and violent, poignant and heart wrenching—bombarded me. How could I know his thoughts, feelings? How did he know memories of Alec had been my lifeline?

  He’s in my mind. And—OMG—I’m in his.

  Wade thrust me away. A solid steel wall thundered into my mind from a vast distance. Wade had blocked me.

  I blinked, coming back to myself, empty. Lightheaded. Lost.

  “Play fair,” Wade said huskily. “You’re getting far too good at that. Sending a message when you’re angry is one thing, but reading my thoughts? A wolven twice your age wouldn’t have that much skill, and you’re only a half-breed.” He laughed. “I’m beginning to understand my father’s interest in you.”

  He shot a fierce glance over his shoulder at Travis’s still form. “I have to take care of him.” Wade turned back to me. “Close your eyes. Whatever you hear, don’t open them until I tell you it’s safe.”

  And the things I heard I will never forget. Terror kept my eyes squeezed shut. Terror at what Wade was doing. Terror at what might happen if I opened my eyes to watch. At last Wade’s cool fingers touched on my cheek.

  “It’s okay now.”

  I opened my eyes. The alley remained dank and filthy, but Travis and the human had disappeared. I inhaled, testing the air for that all-powerful scent of blood. Nothing.

  Wade stood a few feet away. His speed amazed me. One second touching my cheek, the next... He stood there, eyeing me with concern. Heavy snowflakes the size of dimes drifted to the ground between us. Some caught in my bangs. Not a single flake settled on him—not on his artfully mussed hair, nor on his black leather-clad shoulders as though he repelled their cheery, fat coldness.

  He swooped down and picked up my dagger. He took a step toward me. Then stopped. His attention focused on the cross around my neck. Shakily, I fingered the silver cross weighing on my chest, Alec’s gift.

  The silver burned. I gasped and let my hand drop to my side.

  Wade’s lips twisted. “That’s what caught my father’s attention.”

  I frowned. Did he intend to take it from me? I zipped up my jacket, hiding the cross. Protecting it.

  “At school,” Wade told me. “He felt its presence and came to investigate.” An unidentifiable e
motion flashed over his face. “There’s so much to explain, Eryn. I’m not what you think.” He snapped his teeth together. “That’s a lie. I am a vampire, of course. But today at the school”—his elegant features twisted—“that wasn’t me. My sire, Logan, uses me as his vessel. I am of his making. He can see through my eyes, take over my body whenever he wants.”

  Wade turned away from me as if ashamed to be in my presence. Logan could take over his body. When was Wade ever himself? How did he dare to open himself to another being when Logan pulled his strings? Wade had let me see him as no other would. Vulnerable. In pain. I wanted to comfort him. But how?

  “I knew what he was doing,” he bit out. “How he touched you. I saw the hatred on your face, but I couldn’t stop him.”

  “You changed so fast.” I stuttered over my words, sympathy and regret caught in my throat. “Evil poured out of you.” I swallowed hard. “But on some level, I knew it wasn’t you.”

  The sudden brilliant silver gleam in Wade’s gaze took my breath away. He approached, hesitant, cautious, as if scared I’d run away. “I can block him out for short periods of time. Like now. He’s overconfident. He thinks I’m his willing slave.” Wade’s chin lifted. “He thinks wrong. I have my mother’s talent as well as his. I can act independently of him. I can protect areas of my mind that he can never gain access to.”

  Closer to me now, Wade held out my athame, hilt first. He didn’t flinch as he held the blade. The silver blade would sting his flesh, not as much as a werewolf or wolven, but it wouldn’t be comfortable. Nice that he could handle the touch of the rosewood hilt. So could I. That had to mean we had some good in us. I met his gaze, then took the dagger, and lifted my jacket to slide it back in the holster, flushing as I did so, aware of the sexual implications. Wade had followed my every move with an avid gaze.

  Time for a mood killer.

  “What about all this?” I waved a hand to the cleanup job he’d done in the alley. “Logan won’t zap himself into your head and find out you kept me from going dark side?” How could Wade bear it when Logan took the helm? I’d come close to crying like a baby when the master vamp had confronted me using Wade’s body. But at least Logan hadn’t been in my mind.

 
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