Under my skin, p.19
Under My Skin, page 19
“Did I help?” Wade nudged a chunk of crumbled concrete with his foot. His eyes fixed to the ground. “Or did Alec?” He held up a hand. “Please don’t answer that.” He scooped up the manmade rock and threw it into the dark alley. Clang. It struck the side of a dumpster. “My father caught me off guard today. Don’t worry. He won’t get that chance again. My protection wards are strong. There are parts of myself, thoughts, feelings, I won’t let him…”
Wade fell silent.
I hoped he knew what he was talking about. I didn’t want to see him get hurt. He’d risked everything, telling me this stuff, knowing I could use it against him.
But I wouldn’t. Wade and I were too much alike. Fighting the same battles with our inner demons. Speaking of which…
“The human, was he…” I let my words trail off, seeing the answer in Wade’s grim face. “What did you do with the body?”
“What I had to.” He ran a hand through his hair, his fingers clear of bloodstains, his clothing too.
Sterile. As if nothing had happened.
Oh, I really didn’t want to know how he’d disposed of the body.
“I have his wallet.” Wade told me. “I’ll make sure his people are taken care of. This isn’t the first time I’ve had to clean up another paranorm’s leavings.”
While I cringed at the comparison between a mess to be cleaned up and the loss of an innocent human life, I admired his efficiency. Every last drop of blood had disappeared from the concrete. The sudden image of Wade on all fours, lapping up the human’s blood, flashed into my mind. Was I speculating, or did I still have a thread of my mental connection with Wade? Either way, my stomach heaved.
“What about Travis?” I had to focus on the other vampire before I gave into the urge to puke up Sammi’s dinner after all. “Did you stake him or something?”
“I let him go. Eventually he’ll lead me to his sire. Then I’ll take care of them both, and any others.”
I frowned. “Wouldn’t that be your sire? Logan?”
“No, Travis is not of Logan’s making,” Wade responded as if struggling to get the words out or scared to admit the truth. “My father has only ever sired one vampire. Me.”
“Why do you—” I stopped. So weird that Wade kept calling the master vamp his father when he was really his unholy lord and master, but then Logan had fathered Wade into his vampire existence. Plus, Wade had been lying to humans about him for so long, he must have gotten used to doing it. Like he’d gotten used to feeding off humans and disposing of their bodies. I pushed the thought aside.
Wade ran a hand through his hair. “Logan Gervais is my father, my sire. He’s old, wise, and evil.” Wade glanced over his shoulder as if saying these things aloud would bring his father to us. “He knows the more underlings a vampire creates, the weaker their strength. He chose well when he selected me, a witch’s son, to be his only progeny.”
Grief flitted over his features. Did he remember the night he’d become a vampire and inherited his mother’s power? He nodded to where Travis had dragged his prey.
“Travis had little strength. Enough to kill, to feed, but no mind-control skills, no glamour. Which tells me his sire has produced many. Too many. Even a human could take Travis down.”
“I guess you need to find his sire pretty fast then?”
Wade lifted a brow.
“Well, someone might stake him before you get the information you want,” I said. “But Travis got marked with the wolf-and-skull emblem. Alec and his hunters—” I paused. I was one of those hunters. “We know how Logan is turning kids into werewolves. He compels them to get the tattoo, doesn’t he?”
Wade’s face twisted again. “It’s his roundabout way of following the paranorm rule that all who are turned require the mark. They turn at the full moon.”
“But Olivia told me that Travis had one of those tattoos. So why is he a vampire?”
“His sire must have gotten to him before the full moon,” Wade said, scanning the dark, cloud-covered sky. “Travis was marked, sure, but my father’s not the only vampire in Redgrave. He’s the strongest.” Wade’s stormy gaze traveled over my face. “All kinds of paranorms lurk in these dark alleys, in the woods, even in our school. And more are coming. Redgrave is popular with the paranorms. It’s the last human outpost before miles of wilderness.” Wade’s smile was bitter. “Think about it, Eryn. With my father running the town, Redgrave is the ideal paranorm…vacation destination. If you want to be above the law, then you must be the law.”
The law. I snorted. Logan wielded his power for personal gain. Sebastian and the Hunter Council were as guilty. Wade had it right. The town crawled with paranorms. Which meant the Council had sent me here to fail. They’d known Logan’s power. Known that his witch child, Wade, increased his strength. They never meant for me to find out what had happened to my parents.
I’d been set up to die.
I never should have trusted Sebastian. Or let myself get close to the humans. My only choice was to help Redgrave get back to its bland, cookie-cutter-housing self and then get the hell out of town. The longer I stayed, the more people I put at risk. Especially clueless ones like Marcus, Sammi…Paige.
If she didn’t turn into a werewolf first. In my wolven meltdown I’d forgotten the reason I’d rushed out here in the first place.
“As much as I love to hate her, Paige is in danger,” I told Wade. “We think Logan is after her too.”
He groaned. “She haunts me, your persistent cousin. All I took was one little sip”—he held out his hands at my shocked expression—“forever ago. Last year. If I’d known she’d be so susceptible to my glamour I wouldn’t have touched her.” His eyes widened comically. “We can’t let her be turned. She’d be a monster.”
“That’d be a new look for her.” My head thrummed as Wade found a hairline crack in my mental shield. I held up my hand. “Would you stop already?” How much more did he want to know? “I thought I told you to stay out of my head.” I squinted at him as I sent out a mental feeler of my own to test our two-way connection.
“I will if you will.” Wade let out a dry laugh. Then his expression hardened at the hum of a familiar engine.
A battered truck barreled down Main Street and passed the entrance to our alley at high speed.
“Alec’s looking for you.” Wade spun me gently in the direction of the street. A shiver went up my back as he pressed his hands on my shoulders and gave me a slight push. “Go now, before my father sees what I’m up to. Keep your mental wards high and strong. If my father ever discovered we’ve shared a link…” His voice lowered. “Go home now, Eryn. I’ll find Paige and bring her to you. My father and his company have some kind of heavy-hitting meeting tonight. I can’t watch over you both.”
“I can take care of my—” I jerked around. The empty alley held the subtle scent of mint.
Miffed, I shuffled from the alley and almost slid flat on my butt more than once on the icy sidewalk in my rush to locate Alec’s truck. Getting busted by some curfew-happy cop because the cheap shop owners on Main Street refused to put out a little road salt was the last thing I needed.
As I reached the corner, the streetlights died on a sad sigh and left me standing there in the dark. My eyes, adjusting to the darkness, did a weird blurry/focus/blurry thing. A growl sounded behind me.
I froze. The hair on my neck did the something’s-gonna-getcha-cha-cha, so I slapped a hand over them. Down guys. You’re weirded out because of the alley with the blood and Wade, and me nearly losing my mind, that’s all. But another growl rumbled, and this one sounded like my name. I whirled to face the threat. Dark forms in the distance moved closer.
I shifted on my feet, ready for action. I groped for my athame, prepared to fight for my life. The streetlights flickered back on with a series of snaps to reveal my pursuers—a parka-clad elderly couple, arm in arm, walking a small dog. They paused, frowned at my immobile form, and cautiously crossed the street, moving protectively between
“We’ve been looking all over for you.”
I jumped again.
Alec—looking very dapper in a fleece hoodie, fitted jeans, and boots—stood not four feet away. “You didn’t call Brit back. We were worried.”
“I’m fine. Must have had the volume down.” I flipped my cell open. Six missed messages. I navigated the slick sidewalk to his side. “So…did Brit tell you about Paige? Did you find her?”
“No. Kate and Whip are staying on the lookout, but my guess is Paige changed her mind about the tat and decided to find Wade.” He shook his head. “Why girls are so attracted to vampires? I know they can influence people with weak minds and dark souls, but that doesn’t explain all the vampire movies and books out there. Women are so into vamps. I don’t get it.”
What could I say? I didn’t have a weak mind, but I did kind of fall into the dark soul category. I certainly didn’t want him to know how into one specific vampire I was, so I shrugged.
“Vamps are vile,” I said, thinking of Travis attacking and killing that man in the alley. I shuddered. “Trust me, if women could see them without the glamour, they’d run the other way. Fast.” Which made me a living, breathing contradiction to the average human female. A hunter and half wolven who could see through any glamour Wade radiated, and so far, I hadn’t run anywhere.
“Girls are into the bad boy thing, I guess.” Alec curled his lip.
My throat dried. What would Alec say if he knew that I hid my wolven half, delving into dark emotions with Wade? When Wade wasn’t around, I wanted nothing more than to fight at Alec’s side, to be his partner—his everything. I was safe with Alec and wild with Wade. The light and the shadow. Each side of myself reflected in two very different guys.
An odd shift inside my gut wrenched a gasp from my lips. Did wanting Wade mean I’d turn evil? My two halves were snarling at each other. I had to prove to them, to myself, that I had a choice. That I had goodness in me and it reached out for Alec.
“Not every girl has a bad guy fixation.” I coyly nipped at the top of my finger and then teased the glove off with my teeth. I felt really dumb with it dangling from my lips. After a panicked second or two, I opened my mouth and let it fall to the snow-covered ground.
Damn. That was so not sexy.
The wind danced in my hair as I embraced a seductress mode I didn’t know I had on tap. My heart thumping in my chest, I reached out with my bare hand and tugged on one of the cords dangling from Alec’s hoodie to bring him closer.
“Can you guess the kind of guy I like?” I asked.
“I have an idea,” Alec said quietly, his eyes watchful, his lids half-closed. “But now’s not the time. Matt and Brit are waiting in the truck around the corner. We can’t be seen out after curfew.”
“You’re so good, aren’t you? Such a dedicated hunter. So into this crazy job…” I sighed the words and leaned into him.
He gathered me in his arms and lifted me off my feet. I clutched his arm and angled my face so I didn’t bump his cold nose with mine. We kissed like our lives depended on it. And maybe they did. Alec made me feel human, like I could walk in the light at his side instead of skulk in the shadows…with Wade.
And maybe I did the same for Alec. Pushed aside the duty, brought out the desire, the rebellion, the urge to break rules.
A horn blared in the distance. Once. Then twice fast. Alec reluctantly pulled his lips out of kissing range.
“We have to go.” He picked up my glove and handed it to me, straight-faced, but with laughter in his eyes.
We headed for the truck. My shoes slipped on patches of ice so that I almost skated down the sidewalk. My balance off. My head spinning. First Wade, then Alec. Both hot, both dangerous.
I so had a thing for tall, dark, and dead wrong for me.
And it might get us all killed.
Chapter 12: Hero, Heroette, Whatever.
We’d been driving around for hours looking for Paige when I finally picked up her sickly sweet scent. She’d headed down the creepy, and usually avoided, dead-end road (pun intended), Blithe Way, that ended at Crimson Cemetery. Lovely. A graveyard, a full moon, and closing in on midnight.
I made up a story about Paige rambling in her sleep about Wade and the graveyard. With my cousin’s obnoxiously loud and whiny voice, it could have happened. And telling yet another lie was better than having Alec figure out I had the tracking skills of a bloodhound.
Alec parked the truck outside the locked gates. “Eryn, you’re sure she’s in there?” he asked, his voice neutral.
My nostrils flared. Sweet-smelling Paige was here all right. “Positive.”
“Then I guess we better figure out how to get through that gate.” Alec killed the motor.
Matt snorted. “We should wait in the truck. Girls like Paige don’t do dead people.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Did you just say what I think you said?”
Matt shot me a look and flushed. “You know what I mean. Can you picture Paige in a graveyard? Ten bucks says she comes bursting through the gate, screaming her head off.”
Up until then Brit’s only contribution to the conversation had been precise clicks as she bit her fingernails. But she slammed us with, “Aren’t we going through the motions? If Paige is marked, she’s done for.”
Brit had issues with the graveyard excursion because they’d buried her brother there. But we could save Paige if we got to her in time. Frustration itched along my spine.
“There’s always a loophole with lore if you act fast enough,” I snapped. “A chance we can save Paige. Prime example? Travis was marked, but he didn’t turn into a werewolf.”
Everyone stared at me. I lifted my chin. “I saw him in one of the alleys tonight. He’s definitely not one of the hairy backed and slobbery.”
Brit gasped. “He’s not?”
I hated myself for bringing that thread of hope to Brit’s voice—hope that if Travis hadn’t turned, maybe Blake hadn’t either. Me and my big mouth.
“No,” I clarified. “He’s a vamp.”
“What?” Brit slapped the back of my seat. “How is that possible? He had the mark. Olivia said so.”
I shrugged. “A vampire must have gotten to him first.”
Matt sneered. “A vampire? Don’t you mean Wade got to him? I knew I should have staked that guy in English class.”
“Not every horrible thing that happens in this town is Wade’s fault.” I shoved my door open and leaped out of the truck.
“And how would you know?” Matt yelled after me.
“I just know.” I shot an uneasy look at Alec’s tense form behind the steering wheel. “Kate said it herself this afternoon. We’ve got a crapload of paranorms stalking this town. Bound to be more vamps than Logan and Wade.”
I slammed the door on Matt’s protests. Doors creaked as the others followed my lead and climbed out of the truck. We stood at the gate, pondering the six-foot-high fence. I was tired of waiting, tired of pretending I couldn’t jump this fence faster than Paige could outline her practiced, come-hither smile with lip liner.
“Maybe there’s another way in,” Brit suggested.
Alec shook his head. “Matt and I have checked out this place before. Hearses, funeral processions, visitors all go in through these gates.”
“This is stupid.” My fingers had a stranglehold on the rusting chain. Sharp splinters of metal jabbed my palm, but I gripped harder, driving them home. I deserved the pain. What was I thinking? I’d come close to saying screw what the others thought and scaling the fence anyway. My wolf didn’t take kindly to waiting for those who couldn’t keep up.
“We should have a bolt cutter that can slice through that chain,” Matt told Alec, who studied the empty road leading to the c
Matt gave Brit a hanging-out-in-a-graveyard-won’t-be-so-bad-you’ll-see grin. “We’ll be in there in a jiffy.” He pulled a duffel bag from the back of the truck and handed it to Alec. Then he rummaged through the jumble of tools in the truck bed until he found a rusty tool.
A few quick snips later, we were inside. Huge trees, a quaint gravel road. Except for the sense of doom in the air, the graveyard had a peaceful Zen vibe.
We veered off the road and started our search. Respectfully walking a coffin’s length distance from any headstone, we peered around markers and memorials with the flashlights Alec had taken from the gear bag.
“Way to show you care,” Matt said as he shined his flashlight on a particularly fake-looking bouquet draped over a headstone. “Drop off some fake flowers and make it look like you’re always visiting. Flowers shouldn’t be eternally cheerful like that. Not in a graveyard.”
“At least they chose the right ones.” Though a sugaring of frost covered the red roses, their vibrant color, their petals in full plasticky bloom, showed through. “Roses have power. You know, red for blood. Eternal life. My father used to stake them into the ground over a suspected vamp grave. To fix the vamps in place. If they couldn’t dig their way out to make their first kill, they’d die. For good.”
Matt blinked at the bouquet. “Huh, good thing there are plastic roses for the plastic vamps.” Then he continued ahead.
I rolled my eyes. So much for bonding over a bit of lore.
Brit and Matt pulled into the lead as we searched the area for signs of life in this resting place for the good, the bad, and the rotting. Alec trailed behind me, glaring at every shrub as if it might attack. I spotted movement from the corner of my eye, whirled around, and crouched low.
by Judith Graves have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes