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Under my skin, p.20

Under My Skin, page 20

 

Under My Skin
 


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  With a slow flap of wings, an owl perched on a spruce tree behind us. The bird’s talons circled a branch as it scrutinized the glistening snow. Narrowing on an infinitesimal shift under the surface, it swooped and, talons digging deep, swept up a mouse. The victim’s thin jolt of fear pierced the night. The poor thing hadn’t stood a chance.

  My pulse raced with the owl’s rush of victory. A smile tugged at my lips.

  A touch on my arm startled me. Alec stood at my side and watched the owl soar off into the distance with its prey.

  “They call it a Hunter’s Moon for a reason.” He pointed to the huge moon, no longer obscured by clouds that dominated the night sky. “The extra light gives the hunter an unfair advantage, don’t you think?”

  “I guess,” I said, blinking slowly.

  His sharp-nosed profile looked a bit raptor-like in the moonlight. His black hair brushed his shoulders. Strong hands drew me close. His kiss was light and sweet, his lips cold. His breath heated my skin, warming me down to my frozen toes.

  It was over way too fast.

  “Guys,” Matt called out. “Over here.”

  My lips tingled. I wanted more. But Alec had already started toward Brit and Matt, tugging me with him. I caught up and strode at his side, matching him step for step.

  A series of howls rose in the night, echoing through the graveyard.

  “Werewolves?” Brit’s voice quavered. Matt pulled her close.

  “I can double back and come up behind them,” I told Alec as more howls ripped through the silence, seemingly all around us.

  “No, we stay together and get these dogs.” Alec grabbed the gear bag and pulled out two rifles. “Take this.” He tossed Matt a gun.

  Matt caught it with a ready grin.

  I whipped out my athame, flipped it high so the silver blade glinted in the moonlight, and seized the hilt with a deft grip.

  I laughed at Matt’s disgruntled expression.

  A twig snapped behind Alec. In a lightning-fast move, he cocked his rifle, whipped around, and pointed it toward the sound.

  Adrenaline pumped through my system. My teeth snapped together. A low growl worked its way up my throat.

  “Did you just growl?” Brit shot me a sideways glance.

  I tried to reply, but couldn’t get my lips to form anything but a snarl. The muscles in my face twitched.

  Alec stalked silently to a tall, gothic headstone, lowered the rifle, and reached behind the stone.

  I caught a familiar scent. “Wait.” I struggled to form the word.

  “Come to Daddy,” Alec called, then yanked a dark form from behind the stone.

  “Come to Daddy?” Caught in Alec’s grip, the collar of his black leather jacket bunched up at his throat, Wade managed a smile. “Do all self-proclaimed hunters sound that cheesy?”

  Alec shoved Wade into the center of the circle we’d automatically formed.

  Redgrave High’s resident hottie—and the paranormal world’s only vampire-witch—eyed Alec’s taller, broader form and plaid fleece hoodie. “Your lumberjack bedside manner could use some work.” He smoothed his black leather coat back into place as if he were stroking a cat. Or the thick pelt of a she-wolf.

  My breath hitched. I shifted my weight, uncomfortable with the flood of heat that settled low in my stomach. The weight of my athame in my hands reminded me that Wade had given it back to me, had saved me from myself. I shoved the dagger back in the holster.

  Alec flushed. “What are you doing here, Gervais? Aren’t graveyards a bit low rent for you?”

  What was Wade doing here? Didn’t he tell me he had some paranorm world-domination meeting to go to? Or had he shown up here to help us? Good luck trying to convince the crew of that. Deliberately goading Alec wasn’t going to endear him to anyone. Especially keeping up this act. And an act it was. I’d seen the real Wade in that dark, dank alley, and he was nothing like the guy standing before us now. The real Wade had prevented me from giving in to the beast in the alley. Tormented, he wanted only to be redeemed.

  Didn’t he?

  “I thought vampires liked their blood fresh?” Matt’s innocent expression didn’t fool anyone. “Hmm…unless Wade’s experimenting with a freeze-dried diet?”

  “Hardly,” Wade said with feeling, glancing at a nearby headstone. “I was visiting an old friend.”

  Though we’d agreed to stay out of each other’s minds, I concentrated on penetrating his ward. The steel wall he’d fashioned to block me out held firm. Dead-end central. I settled for physical signs that Logan might be using Wade’s body again, acting through him via the blood vision he’d told me about. But Wade stood his ground, his grey eyes clear, none of Logan’s darkness stewing in their depths.

  A high-pitched howl pierced the night. A moment of quiet, and then a chorus of mournful bays echoed through the trees.

  “Oh, God. I can’t take this anymore. Where’s my brother, Wade?” Brit spun in a circle, staring over the gloomy headstones to the woods beyond. “Is he out there with them?”

  I stared at her, shocked. I had no idea she’d been that close to snapping, but the strain of not knowing about her brother must have driven Brit to the edge.

  I’d been there a few times myself.

  Wade lifted his hands, let them drop. “Brit, you must understand, Blake is no longer your brother—”

  “Shut up,” Alec cut him off.

  “Blake?” Brit yelled, tears welling in her eyes.

  “He won’t recognize you,” Wade said. “Don’t do this. It’s like you’re calling him in to his supper.” He paused, his gaze sweeping the group. “Which would be all of you, by the way.”

  “My brother told you to shut up.” Matt turned in a circle, scanning the trees, watching for movement.

  “Blake turned like the others. But because of the blood running through his veins”—Wade stared meaningfully at Brit—”the blood running through your veins, he fought my father’s direct commands. And survived. He’s rogue, Brit. He has no master.”

  Brit took a step closer to Wade. “Then what is he? Where is he?”

  “I don’t know.” Wade addressed us all. “He can shapeshift like no other. He assumed the guise of one of my father’s police officers and escaped from the cage holding the werewolves. Blake is like nothing we’ve seen before. But don’t think that means you can save him. He’s lawless.”

  “That’s it,” Matt ground out. He lowered his duffel bag and rifled through its contents. “I’m going to shut his hole. Permanently.”

  My pulse hammered in my throat. What the hell was Wade talking about? What ran through Brit’s veins? I studied her short, slightly rounded form. She couldn’t run. Why? What was wrong with her? Her brother couldn’t have had the same disability—he was a hockey player, for god’s sake. They ran, didn’t they? Kind of?

  Matt withdrew a very long, very woody stake from the bag, his eyes trained on Wade.

  “Matt, seriously, stop it,” I said. “It’s not funny anymore.”

  “I’m not laughing.” Matt drew his arm back and fired the deadly missile at Wade like a quarterback throwing a perfect spiral pass.

  “No!” The stake whirled toward Wade, who stood unmoving and watched it fly at him as if mesmerized. My body hurtling an impossible distance at an impossible speed, I dove into its path. Rolling in the snow, I snagged the stake moments before it plunged deep into Wade’s…thigh.

  The crudely sharpened poplar branch trembled in my grip, inches from his jean-clad leg.

  “I appreciate the effort, Eryn.” Wade’s voice held a note of contrition. “But I think you sealed your fate by saving me from a minor flesh wound.”

  Oh, crap. What had I done? No human could have traveled that distance, or managed to pluck the stake out of the air before it struck home.

  I jumped to my feet. The astonished expressions on Brit’s, Alec’s, and Matt’s faces were exactly why I hadn’t told them I was half-wolven. I waited for the disbelief on Alec’s face to cha
nge to horror and for the horror to build to hating my guts and eventually chasing me out of town.

  “I can explain…” I started.

  Wade ran a hand through his hair. “I already tried that line on you, Eryn. Outside the school. If you recall, it didn’t do much good then, and I don’t think it’s going to help you now.”

  Brit slapped her forehead and rounded on Alec.

  “I told you she wasn’t like other hunters.” She groaned. “I could sense it. Why don’t you guys ever believe me when I tell you I can sense other paranorms? Didn’t I peg Wade months ago?” She rounded on Matt. “And you, always with the ‘We can’t trust her.’ Think of the time we’ve wasted doing everything the hard way.”

  “You weren’t there when my mother had her vision about Eryn,” Matt said hotly. “You didn’t see how it affected her.”

  The swirling snow and drone of the wind faded into the night. Visions? Meaning Alec’s mother didn’t have connections to the paranormal world, she was one? Humans could have intuition, that was true, but even that meant somewhere along the line they had paranormal blood mingled in their bloodline, but it had weakened over time. If Alec’s mother had visions, she’d have to be first or second generation paranorm. Alec’s mixed blood comparable to mine. The question was—exactly what kind of paranorm lineage did the Delacroix have?

  I tamped down my sudden excitement. So we had paranorm blood in common. Alec didn’t seem too thrilled at my sub-par humanity. In fact, he seemed resigned, disappointed. Sad. Not the emotions I hoped for.

  “If Eryn is the girl we think she is…” Matt’s gaze slid over my stricken form, then he pursed his lips and refused to complete his thought.

  “Then she can save this town,” Alec said, his voice devoid of all emotion.

  Matt sighed impatiently. “And destroy you.”

  My fingers sought Alec’s cross. I stroked its outline under my jacket. Even through the cloth the silver made my fingertips buzz. Had Alec’s mother had premonitions that I was going to save the town, but would cause Alec untold harm? Destruction even? Because of my beast being set free?

  “The only thing Eryn’s going to help us destroy is Harbinger Properties,” Brit championed. “Right, Eryn?”

  I wished I could agree. I stepped away from the crew and pretended to scan the tree line for movement, my thoughts scattered. Under my high school girl sheep’s clothing—I was wolven. A predator. And my father’s tampering might have made me something much worse. Wade and I couldn’t have communicated telepathically unless darkness burrowed in me. How could I reassure Brit of my harmlessness when the beast shifted restlessly under my skin?

  “So, you didn’t know about the Delacroix’s talents?” Wade murmured at my side. “I thought Alec would have told you.” He shrugged. “But then, you haven’t been exactly forthcoming with him either, have you?” His eyes watchful. “What else have you neglected to tell him? Does he know I share a link with you that he can never hope to equal?”

  Does he know about us, Eryn? Wade’s voice a velvet whisper in my mind.

  I stepped away from him. There was no us. A flare of mint lit off his skin, and I inhaled slowly, shivering in guilty pleasure. Or was there?

  When I refused to speak, he sighed and grabbed the stake from my hand. “If you don’t mind, I’ll dispose of—”

  Matt, misinterpreting, charged forward and tackled Wade in a spectacular, if unnecessary, move. Brit was impressed. Her eyes went all dewy.

  “Get the duct tape from my bag,” Matt ordered as he knelt on Wade’s snow-planted form and twisted his wrists together behind his back. Wade held so still. Deliberately showing his good faith by not retaliating, although it was costing him dearly. He ground his teeth together hard enough for me to hear.

  From behind a large cross headstone came a banshee-like wail.

  “Leave…him…alone…”

  Paige careened through the snow, her blonde curls snaking out from under a wool hat. She pounced on Matt, grabbing him by the throat, riding his back like a horse, and choking the life out of him as he hunched over Wade. Matt garbled out a few curse words as he clawed at Paige’s hands.

  Fortunately for Matt, Paige’s pink foofy mittens didn’t allow her manicured fingers to do much damage. Besides, she didn’t hold him for long before Brit leapt on her. Brit ripped off Paige’s hat and pulled on those curls like she was unmasking the big bad at the end of a murder mystery show.

  “I don’t believe this,” Alec said, then sighed as I yanked the girls apart. Paige stalked away from me, snatched her hat, and dusted off the snow. Brit helped Matt to his feet. He rubbed his neck and glared at Paige.

  Wade stood in a blur of movement. His incisors extended slightly from the excitement of the scuffle. He eyed Paige with dread. Hmm, so she inspired fear even in the undead.

  Paige, her eyes trained on Wade’s fangs, stood trembling from her stalker-turned-avenging-angel line drive across the graveyard. Her lips parted as she tugged at the pink scarf around her neck and pulled it away from her flesh in invitation.

  Wade’s eyes darkened. Then he gave a low groan and twisted his body away from her as if repulsed by the easy conquest and appalled at his vampire body’s instinctive response to the sight of her pale neck.

  The rest of us shifted uncomfortably as if we’d stumbled upon a lovers’ tryst. A bitter, hollow feeling settled in my stomach. Looked like a lot more between Wade and Paige than a bad case of vamp thrall. More than a one-time feed.

  “Ewww…awkward.” Brit’s face twisted in a grimace.

  Matt and Alec stood tense, ready to bring Wade down if necessary.

  Paige’s expression hardened. She wrapped the scarf around her neck in angry jerks. Despite my inner turmoil, I sympathized with my cousin. Humiliated like that in front of us—the very people she’d never want to lose face in front of. But on the other hand, Paige obviously had a relationship with a vampire and had snuck out of the house despite the curfew—not to mention had almost gotten a tattoo that would have marked her as a future Werewolf Academy grad.

  “Are…you…crazy?” I grabbed her shoulders and spun Paige around. “Graveyard stalking after curfew? Real smart, Paige. I can’t wait to hear what Marcus says about this.”

  “Oh, that’s rich.” Paige laughed. She shoved her toque back on her head. “You’ll be in as much trouble as me if my parents find out. Worse, because I’ll say I followed you to make sure you didn’t get attacked by the town cat killer. I’ll come out sounding like the freaking hero.”

  “Um, Paige,” Brit said with a smirk, “aren’t you lacking certain physical attributes to be the hero?”

  Paige rolled her eyes. “Hero, heroette, whatever.”

  Brit shot me an are-you-sure-you’re-related glance.

  “Doesn’t look like your father’s curfew had much impact, Gervais.” Alec smiled. “All the people he wanted to confine are right here.”

  “Actually, the curfew was my idea.” Wade grinned. Happily, his incisors had shrunk to their normal length. “At the very least I thought it would keep her out of the picture.” Wade glared at Paige. “But I guess that was too much to hope for. I’d also hoped to keep you and your crew”—his gaze flitted briefly to me—“out of harm’s way.”

  “So you’ve had a change of heart, is that it?” Matt jeered. He gathered up the duct tape as well as the makeshift stake and shoved them into the gear bag. “We’re supposed to believe there’s nothing to fear from you, a master vampire’s minion, the only vampire-witch we’ve ever heard of?” The look he gave me was nothing less than withering. “Just because she’s bought what you’re selling, doesn’t mean the rest of us believe your door-to-door sales pitch.”

  Paige sighed dramatically. “Good Lord, what’s with all this I’m going to kill you, no, I’m going to kill you? And, I’m sorry, Wade may be a vampire, but he’s one of the good guys. He and his father are trying to change. They don’t kill, their desire is a gift,” she intoned. Apparently the bond th
at had Paige stalking Wade also had her spouting off rhetoric like a good little vamp cult member. “They grace us with their need.”

  “Someone make it stop before I hurl.” Brit poked a finger in her mouth.

  Paige examined Alec and Matt. “You’re not telling me those rumors are true? You actually hide in the woods and try to trap Sasquatch and stuff?” She laughed. “Vampires, okay. I get vampires—humans with a few extra teeth and a liquid diet. But werewolves? Why don’t you post your hunts on YouTube?”

  She hoisted herself onto a thick marble headstone. Her swinging boots tapped on the epitaph’s engraved letters. She obviously had no qualms about waking the dead. “Go ahead. Catch something quickly.” She waved her hands at Matt and Alec. “Let’s see some action already. We’re already busting curfew. We might as well have a little entertainment.”

  Alec rubbed at his head like Paige had given him a migraine. He did a slow scan of the graveyard’s perimeter. “It looks clear. We’d better get back to the truck.”

  “Oh, goody. Movement.” Paige hopped from her headstone perch. Brushing past me, she smirked. “I told you Wade was mine.”

  I sucked in a breath. “Are you insane? He’s a VAMPIRE, Paige. How long has he been using you, feeding off you like a leech?” Hurt and anger had me spewing out the words, not caring that Wade could hear me. “He’s the walking dead. Unholy. Evil. He’ll kill you.”

  “Maybe I want to die,” Paige spat back at me. “Did you ever think of that?” She bolted after the guys.

  I let out a harsh breath and elbowed Brit. “Can we get Kate to whip up some kind of anti-remembering spell for her when this is all over? Make her forget all about Wade?”

  “Yup.” Brit pursed her lips. “Kate could make her forget a lot of things.” She glared after Paige. “Like the ability to speak.”

  We trudged through the snow, weaving around headstones. What had I been thinking, letting Wade get close to me? Trusting him? Wanting to help him? All lies. He’d been feeding off my cousin. Maybe he could read her mind too. She definitely had inner darkness.

  I thought of Alec’s expression after I’d saved Wade from Matt’s stake. He’d looked….disillusioned. Like I’d disappointed him, not by being a paranorm, but because I’d risked my life to save someone as evil as Wade.

 
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