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Under my skin, p.22

Under My Skin, page 22


Under My Skin

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  With a single long howl, the werewolf slung Paige over his shoulder and slipped into the woods.

  “Don’t.” Wade made a grab for my arm as I leaped forward. “They want you to follow. It’s a trap.”

  But I was already running a zigzag slalom around tombstones and crypts, my nose high, trailing the horrid perfume and rotting werewolf blend into the forest. When I had Paige safe, I’d kill her myself.

  “Eryn, wait for me-e-e…” Brit’s voice echoed around me.

  “No, Brit, wait for the guys,” I shouted over my shoulder. Brit broke into a run. I slid to a stop as her legs gave out and she stumbled. Magical energy sizzled in the air. Her body shimmered and trembled, her face shifted, her skin darkened.

  “Brit!” Frantic, I reached for her, but grabbed only a fistful of air.

  Gossamer wings, iridescent yet glossy, like black licorice, arced behind her as Brit jettisoned over my head into the night sky. Ohmigod. A dark sprite. No wonder she never ran in front of humans. The urge to break into flight would have been maddening.

  “Where did they go?” Brit screeched, hovering in the air above me. “I don’t see them. I don’t see them.”

  I stifled my own panic and opened the door to my wolven side.

  I inhaled deeply. Beyond the beast’s gloating stench I picked up Paige’s lingering fear. Fear was easier to track. It called to me. My skin stretched taut over my bones, barely kept me from splitting in two.

  The whooshing thrum of Brit’s wings above me kept time with the pounding of my feet as I ran. Branches flew at my face, but I barely felt the stings. Deadwood, thickening brush—nothing slowed me down. I moved, fluid, without conscious effort, at an incredible speed. Outside of myself. This Eryn wanted blood, wanted to wage war.

  I couldn’t help but like her.

  My lungs—cavernous. My ribcage popping and then expanding as I took in both air and the scent of my prey. And the saltiness of fresh blood on the air, Paige’s blood.

  Paige was pack…I couldn’t let Logan have her.

  “I see them,” Brit yelled above me. Then she tucked her wings into her body and dove into the treetops.

  Ignoring the pain twisting my guts, I sped up and followed Brit into a small clearing. In the middle of the snow-covered field, the werewolf stood a few feet away from my cousin, snorting and gnashing its teeth. Why wasn’t it ripping into her already? Paige held out her mittenless hand. A torn gel nail dangled from her finger. Blood dripped from her hand in slow motion, staining the snow crimson like a cherry snow cone.

  The coppery scent of her blood traveled fast across the clearing, brought to me by the wind. My jaw ached, my face swelled from the pressure.

  “Look what it did,” Paige raged. “I’m bleeding!”

  The werewolf, having morphed back to its walking-on-all-fours state, stared at Paige, its jaws hanging open.

  In the throes of full-on bloodlust, hardly in the position to appreciate the humor of the situation, I couldn’t get any closer to Paige. In my semi-morphed state, I might be more of a threat to her than the werewolf.

  Brit knocked Paige into a thick shrub, then swooped at the beast. She glommed onto his back, immobilizing him with her arms and the four-inch long talons at the tip of each wing. What I’d give to have those babies. She yanked his forelegs back, snapping his spine, leaving his ribcage exposed.

  At his roars of pain, I ran forward, gripping my athame, then hesitated. Brit looked so foreign in her dark sprite form. Her eyes flickered strangely, glowing gold like a cat’s.

  “Do it,” she snarled, thrusting the werewolf’s exposed belly toward me.

  I hauled my arm back and fired my athame straight into the werewolf’s heart.

  Bulls eye.

  Brit let him go as he morphed to human form. The boy who slid from her grip was the rancher’s son. His parents had been on the news that morning, pleading for information on his disappearance. How long ago that seemed.

  We shielded our eyes when his body shimmered. The light faded, leaving a melted snow imprint of his body on the ground, like a crime-scene chalk outline, with Paige’s other mitten resting in the center. Paige dove for it as evil’s sour stench drifted across the moonlit clearing.

  My nose wrinkled. My lips twisted into a snarl. Logan stalked into view, flanked by two of his wannabe-vamp rent-a-cops, who hissed at us like poorly costumed actors in a B-grade horror flick.

  Well, Wade had tried to warn me.

  Chapter 14: There’s a Plague in This Town

  I stroked the thin leather string around my neck that held Alec’s cross, promising myself that next time, if there was a next time, I’d count to ten and recall this exact moment of sheer panic before chasing after weres, or vamps, or anything else. The silver cross flashed in the moonlight as if taunting Logan to come and do his worst.

  I grabbed Paige’s arm and yanked her behind us. The cool night vibrated with the paranormal energy fogging the air. Brit’s dark wings twitched behind her, fanning back and forth like an angry cat’s tail.

  “Hey…” Paige batted at the iridescent wing blocking her view. “Get a grip on that Halloween costume, you freaking ghoul.”

  Logan glided forward, a fine mist of snow drifting in his wake. He exuded evil in a black suit and scarlet tie, his hair slicked back with product, probably some formaldehyde-like preservative. I couldn’t look into his refined, gaunt features. Knowing death came for you was one thing, watching the smirk on its face as it swaggered your way—quite another.

  Logan’s police officer henchmen kept pace with him. I identified the ever-ready minion, Officer Flutie. And the other…

  “Is that…?” My words trailed off.

  Brit’s features fell into shocked lines. “Not him, not now,” she said, her breath catching.

  Officer Heils, Brit’s father, moved swiftly alongside Logan as the trio stalked toward us. First her brother had been turned into God-knew-what kind of monster by the very thing moving toward us, and now her suspicions about her father’s role in Blake’s death had been confirmed. Officer Heils must be high up in the ranks to be Logan’s escort. Either that, or Logan relished dolling out as much misery as possible.

  Wade had said Logan hadn’t created any other vampires, but his sire had certainly created a police force of enthralled humans. Mindless. Mere husks to do Logan’s bidding. Their eyes, empty. Savage.

  I searched the clearing, looking for an escape route. What was keeping Alec and Matt? Were they hurt? And had Wade abandoned us now that his father was here? I couldn’t project any questions his way and risk Logan overhearing me tap into our mental line. Besides, no matter how convincing Wade’s performance, how sincere he seemed, I knew better than to trust the bad guys. Didn’t I?

  Paige hopped up and down, trying to see over me and around Brit’s wings. “Over here.” She shouldered between us with surprising strength. “Chief Gervais.” Her voice had the reverence of a cult member toward her leader.

  “You’ve come to save us!” Paige stumbled forward, holding her injured finger aloft as if asking him to kiss it better. “Like they said on the news, you’re Redgrave’s only hope.”

  Brit grabbed Paige’s arm and dragged her back. “Reality bites, Paige. Do those look like the teeth of Redgrave’s only hope?” She gestured to the inch-long fangs that had sprouted from Logan’s incisors at the sight of my cousin’s blood.

  “Get your freakage off of me.” From out of nowhere, Paige whipped out a silver fork that she must have pillaged from Matt’s gear bag and jabbed it in Brit’s arm once, twice…like she was prepping a potato for the barbeque.

  Brit shoved her away, and Paige ran straight for Logan. Seriously, you’d think the daughter of a teacher and a lawyer could take one look at the fangs, the hollow cheeks, and bible-paper-thin skin and do the math. Her almighty Chief Gervais = evil.

  Logan actually did kiss Paige’s finger when she threw herself into his arms. He licked at the semi-dried blood and grinned at my audible gag
. Thankfully Logan’s surprise appearance had jolted me from bloodlust to survival-lust, and I no longer wanted to make a snack out of Paige. Oh, the ick factor. A few minutes ago, however, Logan’s provocative actions might have sent me over the edge.

  Paige pressed herself against Logan and sighed, “There’s more where that came from.”

  I wanted to hit something. Brit would have to do. I slapped at her shoulder. “Are you seeing this?” I demanded, ignoring her pointed glance from her shoulder to my hand. “She’s under his thrall like that news hound yesterday. First Wade, now Logan. She must really have some nasty evils in her.”

  But then, I’d always known that, so why was I surprised?

  The officers circled us slowly while Logan wrapped his arm around Paige and gave her a comforting, creepy hug.

  “Tell me you’ve got a hidden power that’s going to come in really handy about now,” I said out of the corner of my mouth, trying to recall what other talents dark sprites had. Sprites usually kept to themselves. Most of what my father had told me about them—pure speculation. “You can spit fire, right?”

  Brit shook her head, never taking her golden eyes off her father’s hard features.

  So much for hoping he’d snap out of it at the last second and help us take Logan down. His half-hooded gaze skimmed over Brit like she was part of the scenery. He didn’t recognize his own daughter, even though she looked the same except for the freaky eyes and the wings.

  “You can turn invisible and attack them from behind?” I guessed.

  “You’ve seen it all. There’s nothing more,” Brit ground out. “My father,” she spat the word, shooting him a dark look, “is human. I’m like you, half-blooded.” Her eyes sliced over my human form. “What about your wolf? Why hasn’t your wolf appeared?”

  What could I say? I don’t know how to control her? I wish my father had never tampered with my natural state? Otherwise right about now some heads would be rolling.

  As if finished with her, Logan shoved Paige backward into Officer Flutie, who made an inhuman sound low in his throat. He staggered, then gripped Paige’s arms. She struggled against his hold. Fear flashed across her pale face.

  A snarl ripped from my throat, but Brit’s roar drowned it out. Energy zapped through the air like static as her fury built. Grief and rage emanated from her like waves of heat, and her golden gaze never left Logan as she lunged forward.

  Logan must have felt her power too.

  “Another time, my dear,” the master vampire said with a grin. With a sweeping wave of his hand, my dark sprite BFF became an instant ice sculpture, immobilized by the same freeze magic Wade had used on Travis. A fine mist of fog rose off her skin as the scent of mint struck the air. Wade’s scent. Wade’s magic.

  My breath came in shallow, panicked gasps. Whoa. We’d known Logan must feed off Wade to gain his immunity to sunlight, but apparently Wade’s blood contained all kinds of magical goodness.

  Logan’s freeze outperformed Wade’s. Brit’s eyes remained open and unblinking, her wings, so still they looked computer generated, too fantastical to be real.

  Paige screamed, high and shrill. Logan cut the sound short as, with another wave of his hand, her pretty face became trapped mid-cry, her upper lip stuck on one tooth. The officer holding her solidified mid-cringe. His partner, covering his ears, stood frozen also.

  Even snowflakes hung suspended in the air.

  I swallowed hard. So why was I still able to move?

  The master vampire glanced around at our strange group, Paige and Flutie, Brit and her father, then back at me. “I told my son curfews were a bitch to enforce.” He adjusted his suit coat. “Makes the already-borderline types, like you and your friends, rebellious.”

  He glided over the snow to Brit’s immobile form, sending the white stuff into whirligigs under his black boots. He stroked a finger down the frozen, dark line of Brit’s cheek, but she stayed as stiff as a store mannequin. “There’s a plague in this town. A resistance to my will being spread by the Delacroix family and the half-breed paranorms like yourself that they recruit. But their mutiny is only busy work. A waste of their time.” He gestured to his minions. “If my friends weren’t otherwise occupied, they would reassure you that I’m a fair man. A just master.”

  I so doubted that. “Did Ethan consider you a fair master? Or Blake?”

  “Ah, Blake.” Holding up a hand, Logan pointed a finger to my neck. His nail lengthened, looking seriously gross and deadly sharp. “Now, he was a special case.”

  I willed my heart rate to slow, struggled to pace my frantic breaths. Anything to pull Logan’s dark gaze away from the pulse hammering in my throat. Was he going to execute me vamp-style, with a single swipe across the neck and then let me bleed out? Vamps considered that the ultimate insult, to drain enemies and refuse to drink their blood, to waste their life force.

  But he simply crooked his finger. Alec’s cross levitated off my coat as if magnetized and strained toward that long-nailed finger.

  “Such a lovely piece, my dear,” he said drifting to me.

  I took an involuntary step back. No, I can’t run. I have to see what the bastard wants, strike him down if I can. I lifted my chin and planted my feet in the snow to stop my knees from trembling.

  In front of me now, Logan eyed the cross with something akin to fascination. “I hope you don’t mind my taking a closer look.”

  “I’m sorry. I have a no-ogle policy.” I shoved his freakish finger aside. He might be about to drain me dry, but I’d be damned if I’d simper and coo at him like Paige had.

  Logan yanked his hand back, held it up as if to strike me down, then laughed dryly, and relaxed his stance. “Good to know. Now for the other McCain who’s been causing me trouble.” He slipstreamed away.

  Paige and Flutie, frozen together, rocked like wooden statues as Logan tugged Paige’s canvas coat down to reveal her upper arm, decorated with the temporary wolf-and-skull tattoo.

  “Ah, your cousin set me on a merry chase. Resisted the call for quite some time.” His black eyes met mine. “But then, you also resisted my efforts. Must be something in the McCain blood, wolven influence or no.”

  Oh, hating him was in our blood all right.

  He examined Paige’s tattoo with a deep frown. He licked his finger and rubbed at the marking, then hissed in annoyance. “So that’s why the beast didn’t turn her. It’s not real.” He cocked his finger, his nail poised over her flesh. “The rules of engagement say that blood must be drawn for the mark to work. Then any of my pets can curse the victim with a single bite.”

  I inched forward, grabbed my athame from its holster, and held it behind my back. I didn’t have a wooden stake handy, but beheading…

  “I’m not much of an artist,” Logan said, tilting his head, “but this shouldn’t be too difficult. All I have to do is carve along the lines. Unless you’d rather do the honors?” He shot me a questioning glance. “Now don’t look like that. I know it’s not the same as tracking her down and letting her wriggle a bit before you dig in–” He paused. “But I also know how you like to cut.”

  Someday I’m going to banish his ass. I promised myself. Someday real soon.

  “The only thing I want to carve into right now is you.” I surged at him, jammed my athame, stained black with werewolf blood, under his throat. The dagger hummed with infused magic, glowing in the night.

  Logan hesitated. For a second.

  Then he disintegrated in front of my eyes. Black mist, cold and suffocating, surrounded me, blinding me. I stabbed at it, but Logan had disappeared. When the mist cleared, I twisted to find him watching me, his arms folded across his black suit coat, his elegant features set in a smug smirk.

  “We don’t always get what we want, now do we?” he said. “But you get an A for effort.” He eyed me approvingly. “I think the Hunter Council is right in casting you out of the way. You’re quite something when your back’s up. Strong, aggressive. I see your potential.” His smirk sli
d into a sneer. “But then I’ve always said a little backyard breeding improves the stock. My son is living proof. As are you, my dear.”

  My head reared back. How dare he compare my parents and their love to a clinical breeding program? I growled against the pain as a rush of memories flooded my mind. My father teaching me to always be on guard; my mother telling me to open my heart. They’d wanted the best for me. They hadn’t wanted my life to end like this.

  “Feeling a bit…wolven?” He raised a brow. “You might want to hear me out before you show your claws.”

  I fought to contain the beast under my skin. My mind fogged over. The clarity I’d had minutes ago faded under a haze of wolven rage. My eyes burned with the effort to focus on his face and not see him as a delectable raw steak sandwich. The wolf brought such craving, I struggled to make sense of his words. “Talk now. Die later.”

  “See, you’re already down to two-word sentences.” Logan laughed. “But you’re right, I should get to the point of tonight’s appearance.” His dark eyes gleamed. “I’m here for you, of course. The Hunter Council has placed a substantial bounty on your head.”

  “A what? On my what?” Dumbfounded, I squeezed my eyes shut. Logan was right. I could barely think straight.

  “Your perky wolven ears heard me.” Logan sounded bored. “The prize is too big to ignore, and I intend to collect. Of course, the Council couldn’t kill you outright. Against their code.” He laughed. “So they sent you to my town, knowing I’d finish you.”

  My eyes flew open. I expected to find him at my throat again, but he hadn’t moved. He’d totally underestimated me—thought he was safe here in this clearing. But I might surprise him.

  He gave me a terrible grin. “The Council gave you a fighting chance. Their first mistake. Look how long you’ve lasted. You’ve even surprised me. Then they got tired of waiting and sent their demons to do their dirty work. Lesser vampires invaded my territory, turned my chosen pets before my beasts could get to them.” He looked unimpressed. “I can hold them off, of course. I can give you the time you’ll need.”

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