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Under my skin, p.21

Under My Skin, page 21

 

Under My Skin
 


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  “I know I seem to be repeating myself, but me and Paige…” Wade said, catching up to me. “It’s not what you think. She was willing to help me through some dark times, and I’ll always be grateful. But this thing between you and me—” He grasped my arm, pulled me to a stop, and then brushed his knuckles across my temple. “Eryn, I’ve never felt anything like this before.”

  He tested my mental wards, trying to get inside my head. For a second I almost caved, but then I knocked his hand away and dashed ahead to Alec’s side.

  “Alec, we have to talk,” I said and reached for his hand, only to have him pull away.

  “We’ve both been hiding things, Eryn. I get it.” He shoved his hands deep into his pockets. “Can the details wait until we get Paige out of here? Now isn’t the time.” His voice was harsh. His body moved stiffly, his shoulders rigid with tension. His cutting tone grated on my raw nerves.

  “When is it the right time with you?” I softened my voice. “Whatever your mother said, I’d never cause you pain. And a word like destroy, that’s pretty harsh—”

  “Eryn, back off,” he ground out and grabbed my shoulders.

  “What?” I planted my feet. “I will not. If you’d let me expla—”

  “Get out of here. Now!” Alec shoved me aside. He took the full impact of the werewolf slamming into us.

  Chapter 13: Oops, I Did It Again

  Alec absorbed the creature’s impact with a grunt. He locked his arms around its chest, wrestling it to the ground.

  Ohmigod. Alec. My wolf slashed to the surface. Alec was pack. Mine. Fight for him. But I could only sway on my feet. Muscles clamored as my human side baulked at the urge to shift.

  If I let it happen, would I find myself again?

  The hairs on my neck arched over like claws. The flesh on my back heaved and spiked, the hackles of a very ticked-off wolf.

  Alec yanked out handfuls of fur, yelling bloody murder. The stench of rotting, snow-dampened werewolf overpowered me as he and the enormous beast tumbled across the snow.

  Nostrils flaring with my harsh breaths, I growled low in my throat.

  Hearing me, the beast wheeled and graced us all with a ferocious snarl, yellowed teeth bared, jaw morphing from vaguely human to wolfish, before it pounced on Alec again.

  Have to fight. Have to do something. I struggled to command my fractured mind, to regroup. I was losing a tug-of-war between the beast under my skin and my soul. I was battling in quicksand, slipping down, soon to be submerged.

  Paige let out a crazy girly scream at the molting mass of werewolf. The shrill sound brought my world into focus. A fusion of senses, of power. A firebomb went off inside me and melted all the flesh together.

  She needed me. They all did.

  And Lord, Paige had some pipes.

  I reached under my jacket and grabbed my athame from its leather holster. Beside me, Matt let out a string of curses. In my peripheral vision, he dropped to his knees and rooted through the gear bag.

  The werewolf straddled Alec, crouching low over his squirming body. It snarled as if to say, This kill is mine.

  My heart rocketed in my chest. We were beast to beast. Both out to win.

  No way, Jose. Looks like you’ll have to brown bag it.

  “Don’t settle for a measly human, Fido.” I tucked my athame close to my side, out of view as Alec scrambled in the snow. I gripped the rosewood hilt, eyeing the werewolf’s ribcage. I couldn’t throw my athame without risking Alec. I’d have to get close and stab with a direct thrust. “Now there’s something meatier. And you’re looking right at it.”

  The werewolf shifted its weight, uncertain. Snuffling and snorting, it tested my scent on the breeze.

  That’s it big guy, what am I? Food? Squeaky toy?

  Or a bitch with a knife?

  I sprang forward, launched into the air.

  The beast howled with rage, leapt for me. Alec rolled out from under its morphing limbs. Over his body, the beast and I collided in a mass of fur and flesh. I stabbed my blade again and again.

  The creature reared back, snarling in pain. It knocked me to the ground with a brutal hit to my neck and shoulder. I tumbled to the snow. In a flash of movement, I tried to right myself. A small crimson dot marred the pristine snow. I ran my fingers along my neck. They came away wet. That mutt scratched me. My athame slipped from my bloody fingers.

  A gunshot pierced the night. Matt? Was he protecting Brit? Grunts and shouts of battle erupted all around us. Was Logan back? The stench of werewolf increased. More had arrived. Where was Wade? Was Alec okay, or had I done too little, too late?

  Paige screamed nonstop, spurring me into action.

  The weight of the werewolf on me, my fingers plowed into the snow, searching for my athame. Finally, I grasped the rosewood hilt. Thrust the dagger into the beast’s jugular. Wereblood, dark as oil, gushed from the wound. Freaked, I shoved the creature off me. With another forceful stab, I struck the beast’s black heart.

  The silver worked fast. A dead boy stared up at me with soulless eyes. What a waste. Logan would pay for each and every death. A flare of white light, and he was gone.

  I spun to see Alec and another werewolf crash into the base of a marble headstone. Good. He was still fighting. Still alive. Huge chunks of polished stone exploded into the air, glittering in the moonlight like shards of glass. The werewolf recovered and lurched to all fours.

  “Alec…” I stumbled forward, my heart galloping in my throat.

  A metallic burst of silver permeated the air as a shot rang out. My long layered bangs danced as the silver bullet rocketed over my shoulder. Too close. But I’d take that up with Matt later. If there was a later.

  The bullet scorched a trail along the beast’s back, ricocheted off the demolished headstone, and embedded itself into a tree twenty feet away.

  Rumbling its displeasure, the beast dug two claws into Alec’s hood and dragged him through the snow, caveman style. They disappeared behind a large crypt.

  Matt shouldered me out of the way. “Stay with Brit,” he ordered, reloading his rifle. “And keep your eye on Wade. I don’t trust him.”

  I made a grab for his arm, about to shove him out of my way. Silly human, you’re more breakable than I am. He bolted after his brother, roaring bloody murder as he rounded the crypt.

  A shot. A muffled curse. Another shot. Silence.

  I sucked in a breath.

  Then Matt’s voice. “I got it.”

  A blinding white light flashed from behind the crypt.

  “Alec’s fine,” he yelled. “We’re going to scout around. Stay put. We’ll be right back.”

  I scoured the tree line, the tombstones, for signs of activity. The area was clear of weres, for now. How many had we killed? How many more innocent kids had Logan forced us to slaughter? Pulse erratic, I whirled to face the others.

  Wade was struggling to unclasp Paige’s hands from around his neck. When he did, Brit shoved Paige behind her, following basic Hunter field strategy—keep humans safe at all costs. Nice, but what was Brit’s real value to the crew? Staying behind to protect a human was one thing, but in battle, not being able to run was deadly. Possibly the death of any human she tried to protect. How could I use her to our advantage?

  And Wade’s enigmatic expression, his lack of emotion, the way he straightened his leather coat and avoided my gaze—not what I wanted to see.

  “Why didn’t you do something? Alec could have been ripped apart!” I charged toward him. “You could have put your Mr. Freeze on the werewolves. That might have been an idea.”

  Wade crossed his arms. “You’re talking suicide. If I use my magic on creatures my father made, forged from my own power… That could backfire in very painful, deadly ways.” He met my gaze. “At the very least, I’d be weakened. You need me fighting fit.”

  I snorted. “That’s convenient.” I shot a glare at Brit. “And you could have warned me Matt was about to blow my head off! That last shot trimmed an inch
off my bangs.”

  Brit’s eyes were red-rimmed, her concern for Matt clearly overriding everything else.

  Wade pursed his lips. “Frankly, I’m surprised it took all of us to put those dogs down. With odds like that, I don’t see how the infamous Delacroix brothers have lived this long.”

  “We aren’t all immortal, Wade,” I shot back. My mother’s kind were vulnerable to silver poisoning, plus all the regular human illnesses. They had increased healing powers, true, but they didn’t live forever. I rubbed at my nose with the back of my hand. The stench of werewolf lingered. “We don’t have the benefit of unlimited do-overs.”

  “Er…yn….” Paige singsonged.

  I wrinkled my nose at the increasing stench. “I can’t be the only one who smells that.”

  “ERYN!”

  “What?” I whirled around. Paige stood frozen, her trembling finger pointed toward the edge of the cemetery. Fine snowflakes billowed around the graveyard’s tombstones and crosses, glistened in the moonlight, giving the graveyard an ethereal vibe. The light diffused in the mist and drifted over the tributes to the dead, illuminating the pack of werewolves storming our way. Some launched over the terrain on all fours, others on two grotesque versions of human legs.

  The rest of Logan’s fleabag, foaming-at-the-mouth army had arrived. Bloodlust emanated from their hulking forms in bitter waves.

  Paige’s mouth opened and closed like a goldfish’s, but no sound emerged.

  “Alec, Matt,” I yelled, even as I realized we could never fight them all off, even with the Delacroix’s stash of silver bullets. “Um…help.”

  Shots rang out from the far side of the crypt. The brothers were fighting their own battle. We were on our own. Without the aid of silver bullets.

  Brit, Wade, and I formed a circle with Paige in the middle. All that stood between her and certain death. I tried to gauge our odds, but lost count after twenty beasts. Their unpredictable shifts and leaps too hard to track.

  “Wade, are you sure about that freeze of yours?” I asked. Logan must have ventured far and wide to amass such a pack.

  “I’m sure. An attack would fire back at me threefold, but I can put a ward around us,” Wade said. “It might hold them back—or they may slip through unharmed.” His hands moved quickly, sketching fiery symbols in the air. “These creatures share my father’s essence. That can contaminate my magic.” A whoosh of energy blasted over our heads, shimmering in the air like heat waves over sunbaked asphalt. The werewolves closest to us backed away, hissing, from the surge of power.

  “It’s working.” Relief tinged Brit’s voice.

  Paige inched behind Brit, then me, to wrap her arms around Wade.

  “I’m scared, Wade,” she said in a little girl voice. “Hold me.”

  Oh for the love of— I grasped the back of her coat and hauled, but she held firm.

  Cursing, Wade lowered his hands to shove her away, and the ward he’d built weakened. He resumed his work, more symbols kindled to life but his concentration had weakened. His shoulders strained, his arms trembled. The air above us lost its pulsing energy. Three werewolves snapped and snarled. The ward smoked and sizzled, then dissipated into the snowy air. The creatures paused as if puzzled they weren’t injured.

  Wade, Brit, and I glared at Paige, who retreated a few steps.

  “Well, sor-rry,” she drawled, then blanched as the beasts neared. “Aren’t you going to do something about them? They don’t look very friendly.”

  “Ya think?” Brit snorted. She drew in her leg like a slingshot and released a powerful sidekick. Smash. She leapt in the air, linked her fingers together and crashed down, whomping the beast on the head. Foam spewed from its jowls.

  Brit stunned me as she pummeled the werewolf into submission. She might not be able to run, but, by all that was holy, she could kick paranormal butt. The beast slumped to the ground.

  “Use silver to kill them,” Brit yelled. She held up the medallion I’d returned to her. “Or they’ll keep coming back for more.” She plunged it deep into the werewolf’s chest, ripping through muscle and sinew. How was such strength possible from a human?

  The other werewolves howled in rage as their fallen brother morphed to human form, then disappeared in a flash of light.

  I gripped my athame and assumed a battle stance as a werewolf thrashed toward me.

  Wade nodded his approval.

  I scanned his hands. Empty. He could fight, but had no way to vanquish the weres.

  “We need more silver,” I yelled.

  “Sorry, Red, don’t have time to knock over an antique store,” Wade sniped.

  I stumbled over Matt’s gear bag, open on the ground, and kicked it toward Paige. Her eyes glazed and panic stricken as she stared at the circling beasts, Paige didn’t move.

  “Find some silver,” I shouted as I stabbed my athame into a werewolf’s throat, then struck again directly in its heart, settling into the rhythm of battle as my father had trained me. “Wade needs silver to kill them. Throw him something.”

  Wade was the magic word. Paige shot a concerned glance at her vampire love, who was wrestling a werewolf. His face twisted with rage as a claw tore a foot-long gash in his leather coat. Paige ducked and rooted through the gear bag. She tossed items randomly at Wade’s back.

  A wooden cross glanced off his leather coat.

  He hissed.

  “Sorry,” Paige called.

  She tossed porcelain relics, a vial of holy water.

  Wade roared.

  “Oops, I did it again,” she sobbed apologetically, then yelled at us, “I don’t work well…under…pressure. I’m strictly an indoor girl.”

  Two more beasts charged. I had no time to supervise Paige’s antics. The air filled with evil. The stench of carrion caused my throat to tighten. I gagged. My thighs twitched. My legs dug into the earth, claiming this ground as my own.

  The beast in me awoke. Ravenous. Frenzied. Let them come. My pulse thundered in my ears, drumming out the grisly, yet thrilling, grunts and snarls of the werewolves all around us.

  Wade leapt in the air, landed on a molting back, and sank his two-inch fangs deep into its neck.

  I roared my approval into the night. The cry that left my throat wasn’t human. A few werewolves halted mid-step. Their heads swung toward me.

  Behind me, Paige squealed her success. An antique silver serving spoon whizzed through the air at Wade. He snatched it and with one hand ripped the molting flesh from the beast and with the other plunged the silver spoon into its heart.

  I’d heard of silver spoons in people’s mouths but…whatever worked.

  A werewolf leaped at me with a drawn-out snarl, incisors dripping with stinking saliva. My nose scrunched up at the smell of recent kill—canine. How these creatures defiled themselves. Slaying such weak prey. I dodged his charge, then waved my hand to get rid of the fumes.

  “Whew, someone’s been eating their dogs raw again.”

  The creature froze as if stunned I hadn’t cowered in fear. But I was no longer plain old Eryn—I was Eryn with some serious wolven attitude. The hands gripping my athame now had claws and tufts of silver fur. My jaw extended, bones cracking and shifting to make way for a wicked mouthful of teeth. This should hurt like hell. But only my teeth ached, elongating—scraping against my bottom lip. I swiped my tongue out to collect the blood.

  “How ’bout a snack with a little more kick?” I said thickly, through a mouthful of fangs. I shot out a sidekick and struck the beast with such savage force its head lollygagged on its shoulders. I laughed. Before he could recover, I launched myself at him. With my strange wolfish hands, I grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and the snout. Purely on instinct, I snapped his neck with an awesome wrench.

  Black blood spattered my chin. Breathing hard, I wiped it off on my sleeve and met Wade’s openmouthed stare.

  I bared my teeth, riding the rush of adrenaline and wolven strength. But it was new, untried, and all too quickly ebbed. I
gulped in air as the pressure in my face faded and my teeth resumed their normal size. I stared down at the boy I’d killed. His face etched into my mind, his pale skin dotted with freckles. Another lost soul. Then he burst into a ball of white light.

  I had no time to feel anything more than a twinge of regret.

  Wade, Brit, and I worked as a team, slaying and cataloguing the dead, committing their faces to memory even as they disintegrated. We killed many, shielding our eyes as werewolves imploded around us, leaving us vulnerable, blinking away spots in the night.

  The werewolves began to retreat, slinking back through the graves and into the woods.

  My athame trembled in my hand. Gotta rest a bit. I slumped against a granite angel, using the stone as a prop to stay upright.

  “Father must have called them back.” Wade met my gaze, his expression bleak. “They’ll tell him I helped you protect Paige. That I killed their brothers. There’s no good way to spin this.”

  Sucking in gulps of air, I stared at Wade. My wolf worked overtime, revving through my veins, healing me from the inside out. Helped protect Paige? Was that what all this was about? If Paige hadn’t been with me, would he have stayed to help? Or had he jeopardized his standing with his father to protect her? I shoved the sharp stab of jealousy aside and pushed myself from the tombstone. The core of my body rejuvenated, my muscles aching, but steadfast.

  I turned to see how my cousin was holding up.

  Nothing but a pink foofy mitten rested on the snow.

  “Oh no—“ I lurched forward, clutched the mitten to my chest.

  “Where’d she go?” Brit cried. “We need to put that girl on a leash.”

  Wade pointed, his face grim. “There.”

  Twenty feet away, near the woods that edged the cemetery, a werewolf reared onto its hind legs with a roar. Paige knelt in the snow, her arms shielding her head as the beast towered over her. In the after-battle quiet, sound carried to my sensitive ears. Cartilage snapped as the werewolf changed from walking on four legs to standing on two. Its torso shifted to normal proportions. The more human it started to look, the more evil it seemed.

 
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