Under my skin, p.23
Under My Skin, page 23
“Time for what?” I glanced at the tree line. Why hadn’t Alec and Matt found us yet? And where was Wade? Would he risk his father’s wrath and join their attack, or had he found a way to keep Alec and Matt away until his father was finished with me? Were Wade and Logan working together after all?
“To acquire something for me. I’m prepared to spare the lives of your friends, as well as your interfering uncle and his family, as long as you do so.”
The master vamp had iced my friends. His hounds were crawling over Redgrave, and he was bargaining with me?
“What’s the something?” I gripped my athame as I observed his smug face.
“I’ve been tracking your father’s progress for years. His work could forever alter the paranormal world. This interests me.” His sculpted lips slanted. “Then he disappeared.” He jabbed his finger at me, his eyes darkening to black holes—his thrall, his power kicked in, but thanks to the wards I already had in place against Wade, he couldn’t touch me.
“Get me his notes, get me every last scrap of his work, and I’ll let your family live. Fail and I’ll make you watch as I turn them into my willing slaves.” He made a sweeping gesture with his arm. “Now, I have a meeting to finish.”
“Wait,” I called out, and Logan paused, raising a brow. “I get the notes, you never make another werewolf again. Not in this town. Not anywhere.”
Logan tsk-tsked. “You’re hardly in a position to make demands, my dear. Perhaps you need some clarification.” His eyes blackened. I shrank back, scrambling to fortify my mental wards. “Do as I have asked. Or you’ll all die slow, horrible, vile deaths.” His smile said he looked forward to them. “My specialty, ask around.”
As I sucked in a trembling breath, Logan released his men from the freeze hold with a wave of his hand. The officers stumbled for a moment, then righted themselves, apparently unconcerned that they’d been trapped, petrified. Too under his thrall to care. The trio, suspended in the air, glided back the same direction they had come, retreating into the woods as if on rewind. Logan’s hand waved once more before they disappeared in a puff of mist.
His suspended animation broke, and the world returned with a vengeance. I stood stunned. Life, brutal and cold, swirled around me. The smell of death seeped into the air.
Brit woke with a gasp. The energy she’d built before Logan zapped her whistled through the air, then poof... Gonzo.
“Where’d he go?” Her wings fanned, caught the wind, and lifted her upright.
“Vanished.” I tried not to look as freaked out as I felt. Rubber legs. My breath shallow.
“I hate it when vampires pull that crap.” Brit glared around the clearing. “Dad and Flutie too?”
Brit’s yellow eyes flickered with anger and pain. Seeing her father at Logan’s mercy could only have fueled her bitterness. She’d tasted defeat at her failed attempt to take Logan down. I understood because I was swallowing nasty emotions of my own. Sure, Logan had let me live, but the encounter had left me wanting a three-day-long shower under a sandblaster.
Behind us, a spine-tingling howl cut into the night, followed by a brilliant flash of light. Alec rushed into the clearing, his rifle at his shoulder. Wade followed with Matt at his side. Behind them, the stuff of nightmares. A league of werewolves snapped at their heels, their shadowy forms gaining on the guys, as relentless as a storm-blackened wave crashing toward shore.
With a shout, Brit charged into the air and crossed the clearing in a blink. Hovering over the molting, shifting mass, she swooped and dove at the beasts. The werewolves jumped and clawed at the air, too slow to catch her, but it distracted them enough for Alec to take aim and fire off rounds of silver bullets without fear of retaliation.
I had to follow my heart. No more obeying orders—things always ended badly when I followed orders. If I’d cut poor Cujo loose when I’d wanted to, the mutt might still be alive. If I’d told Sebastian to screw off and stayed in Vancouver, asked questions, tracked my parents down, I might have found them.
I tore across the clearing to intercept a werewolf eyeing Matt like a raw slab of meat in the middle of a veggie buffet. As I blindsided the werewolf, Logan’s words echoed in my head. They sent you to my town, knowing I’d finish you.
I’d been thrown to the wolves in Redgrave. Literally. By the very council who’d promised to uncover the truth about my parents’ disappearance even as they’d betrayed me. Put a bounty on my head. Told me lies.
The werewolf tumbled across the snow, righted itself, and came back for more. The sky exploded in a white cloud as it leapt for me. Pain radiated through my chest as the beast smashed into me, pinning me to the ground. Its fevered breath roasted my neck. I opened my eyes. The werewolf’s grill-like teeth and glowing red eyes were inches from my face, its claws sinking into my ribcage.
“Eryn, don’t move.” Matt jumped to his feet and scrambled for his rifle. Fear, for me, for all of us, vibrated in his voice.
My breath left me in a rush. The beast crushed me to the ground. My bones collapsed, about to perforate my lungs. Incisors tore through my coat, ripped at my flesh. Searing pain, immediate and cruel. Tears blurred my eyes. Shock fogged my mind. The hard, slick feel of teeth scraped my fingers as I clawed at the jaws snapping at my shoulder.
He has me. I’m dead.
My body went numb. My hands dropped to the ground. I stared past the frenzied body writhing on top of me and focused on a clear bit of night sky.
Mint, pungent and sweet, filled the air around me. The weight on my chest lifted. Above me, his head bowed, Wade staggered to his feet, his mouth dripping with black werewolf blood. Beside me, the ravaged beast morphed into a young man. Then his blank face dissolved into light.
Wade took a shuddering step closer and stumbled over the scorched earth and melted snow where the beast had disappeared. Long gashes in his coat left strips of shredded leather dancing in the wind and even the scent of werewolf couldn’t disguise the sour stench of evil surrounding him. Wade had been in Logan’s presence, and recently. Which meant one of two things: he’d been dragged to his sire, or he’d gone willingly.
Had Logan freeze-framed the world again? Had hours passed before Wade had joined us in the here and now? And Lord help me, could Wade resist the scent of my blood? Surely the master vampire knew Wade had helped us. What had he done to him as punishment?
I lifted the limestone wall, opening myself up to him, wanting to feel our connection again. I built another wall so huge it encompassed everything around us. Wade? You’re safe now. Tell me you’re okay.
With a low moan, Wade lifted his head. Eyes greyer than the sea, with no hint of Logan’s darkness. But they held no joy. Only sorrow.
You shouldn’t do that. His husky voice filled my mind. His words came in a rush. Don’t ever let me in like this again. If my father discovers our link, he’ll get inside your head. He’ll find your weaknesses, dig up things you’ve blocked out—things about your parents.
So what? I wouldn’t be in this mess if I knew what happened to my parents.
You know more than you think. Wade’s face set in hard lines. Once Logan gets in your mind, he can do things. He could be miles away and do this—
My chest ached. I couldn’t get enough air. Couldn’t take in a single breath.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING? I screamed into Wade’s mind.
Exactly what Logan will do. If he uses me to connect with you this way.
The pressure ebbed. While I sucked in gulps of air, the thoughts Wade sent to me became fractured, disjointed.
I can’t be trusted. There’s not much time. I can destroy my father. If you get the information he wants. I know your parents are alive, Eryn. They’re alive. My father’s been trying to track them. But you have to find them first. I won’t let…
He stopped using words. They didn’t come through fast enough. Wade projected a flood of images at me. Dark. Evil. Things I had to do to help him kill Logan. Ch
The images stopped. Only Wade’s voice remained. I’m sorry. I had to show you. You had to know.
Logan’s malicious laughter echoed in the dark depths of Wade’s mind.
He’s coming. Wade’s eyes filled with a black death that swallowed his soul. Darkness swirled in the whites of his eyes.
I edged away, fire burning in my shoulder as I twisted in the snow.
Fight back, I told Wade. Shut him out.
I will, Wade assured me. When you’re ready. When it’s time.
A gentle, cool touch on my lips. The kiss of a ghost.
With a tremendous roar, savage, with the force of a jet engine, Logan closed in on Wade. Then Wade’s voice raw, determined. I won’t let him touch you.
Wade severed the link between us. Nothing but silence. His absence hit me like a sucker punch to the heart.
I’d never felt so alone.
The battle went on around me. Screams from my friends rang in the distance. The singe of silver meeting werewolf. The brilliant flash of white light.
My legs twitched. I should try to get up, but I was so tired. Trees tilted wildly with the wind. Their bare branches superimposed over each other. Blurred. Dimmed. The cool comfort of the earth cradled me. I didn’t want to fight. Only sleep. Let go. Drift.
Warm air beat against my body in powerful gusts and then, as quickly as it had flared up, it faded into a whisper in the trees. A gentle touch on my hand made me open my eyes. Brit knelt beside me, her face wet with tears. A weird iridescent glow surrounded her. I squinted. Arcing from her back, the faint outline of wings.
“You’re so beautiful, a beautiful dark angel…” I breathed.
“What are you talking about?” Brit sniffled, her gaze focused on my shoulder. “I’m no angel. And you’re not going to die, so don’t even think you can leave me to look after Paige. She’s your problem.”
“Matt, can you heal her?” Raw and hoarse, Alec’s voice came from somewhere behind me.
Then Matt leaned over me, his expression bleak. “It will take more than I’ve got. We need Mom.”
In my mind, a distant voice. Like a whisper. Like a dream. Wade’s voice.
Hold on, Eryn. Remember what you need to do. I’ll help as much as I can.
With the words came the warmth of being cloaked, protected—made safe.
Brit’s concerned eyes morphed into stars, and I slipped into darkness.
The fire burning a hole in my shoulder flared up my neck and through to my back. Frightening tremors wracked my body. My muscles contracted, pulsing without pause. My teeth ground together so hard I feared they would shatter. What happened? Where the hell was I? Lightheaded, outside of myself. So much pain.
Images flashed through my mind like firecracker flares. Brilliant and shocking. Logan. A groan escaped my lips.
“Shhh. I’ve got you now.” Strong arms locked me against a solid, warm chest. “We’re almost home.” The words rumbled against my ear. Not the voice I’d heard in my mind telling me to hold on—that he would help.
So then…”Who?” I asked.
“Matt, hurry. She’s losing too much blood.” Brit’s shout answered my question.
I twisted in the arms holding me close, but my deadened limbs had little strength. My skin was clammy. Beads of sweat slid along my forehead into my eyes. I squeezed my lids shut. Alec gingerly supported my weight. I lay in the front seat of the truck, resting across Alec’s lap as Matt drove. Brit sat between the brothers, pressing on my wounds with cloths already saturated with my blood.
Where was Paige? Huddled in the back of the truck, staring at us through the glass.
The pain in my shoulder spread across my chest like black ink spilt on white satin, sinking deep. I panted, unable to take in a breath without feeling like my lungs might shatter. My eyes grew heavy. I gave in to the darkness.
Clouds gathered over the mountains. Sensing the storm, a large gray wolf called out to his mate. She ran to him, her jet-black coat in stark relief against the fading sun. Midway through the clearing, the first shot rang out.
The wound in her side forced her into an awkward lope. She fell. Heedless of the danger, the male raced to her. He stood above her, keening low in his throat. The second round took him down.
All was quiet.
A gentle mist descended from the heavens.
I woke on a sob. The wolf’s sorrow lingered, even as I tried to open my eyes. I fought the weakness. A desperate panic smothered me.
“You’re safe, Eryn,” a woman’s hushed voice said. “You’re safe.” A gentle hand touched my shoulder. Fingers smoothed my hair.
There was a pause.
Then she murmured words so beautiful, yet foreign, rhythmic. A spell? My eyelids grew heavy. Thoughts swirled as I tried to process what and where. Alec’s mom, not mine…
And I remembered my parents were gone, and I was alone.
I wept and fell into a dreamless sleep.
Chapter 15: Break It To Me Gently
Morning sunlight cast gold and ruby patterns on my closed eyelids. Birds trilled in the distance. The delicious scent of freshly baked cinnamon rolls drifted around me. My eyes flew open. An everything’s-right-with-the-world way to wake. Comforting. Soothing.
So freaking scary.
Above me a sharply peaked ceiling glowed with sunlight. I lay tucked under a heavy, multicolored quilt. To the left of my narrow brass bed the source of the bright sunlight, a dormer window framed by sheer lace curtains above a small writing desk. Lavender paisley wallpaper and a dried flower arrangement on the nightstand completed the picture.
I eased into a sitting position, gasping at the pain in my side. I glanced around the room. Tasteful furniture. No lime-green paint. No lava lamp.
Where the hell was I?
Footsteps, like someone tiptoeing across a hardwood floor, approached the bedroom door, then stopped. The door inched open.
Brit’s head peeked around the door. Her long black bangs obscured her face. She swiped them out of her eyes, watching me, tentative, cautious as she entered the room. Her skin glowed with health. You’d never know she’d spent the night fighting for her life.
“Hey, you’re awake.” She ran a finger along the dresser as she approached my bed, stopping a few feet away. “How you feeling?”
I sat up, letting out a year’s worth of curses as pain snagged my ribs in a death grip. “Need I say more?”
Brit dashed across the room, she wrapped an arm around me, supporting my weight.
“You are so ridiculous,” she snapped, though her touch was gentle. “I told them we should have put you in a drug-induced coma or something, but does anyone ever listen to…”
Brit’s concern washed over me. My fingers clawed into the quilt. I stared at my white knuckles, drawing in a long, slow breath. I called on my wolf. Strong. Powerful. A quickening in my veins brought her to me. The burning pressure squeezing me in half began to ease. I released my death grip on the quilt’s quaint little squares.
“I’m okay.” I shrugged Brit’s arm off. She reached for me again, and I knocked her hand aside with a flick of my wrist. At the hurt in her eyes, I let out a frustrated sigh. “Sorry. I’m not the greatest patient. But no coma required. Seriously, I’m fine.”
Brit’s frown should have turned me to salt, but she backed off and perched on the side of the bed, the air over her shoulder, calm and still. No more iridescent wings. No more golden eyes. Still…awkward. If I grilled Brit about the whole dark sprite thing, she might ask me about my own duality issues. What had I looked like out there in the woods? What had I turned into?
My legs shifted restlessly under the covers. “Where are we?” Was Paige okay? Alec? Wade? My ey
“Here, at the Delacroix ranch. You don’t remember?”
I shook my head. The stab in my shoulder forced me to suck in a breath. “The graveyard. Alec’s truck. The werewolves. But it’s all pretty hazy. Did everyone get out okay?”
“Sure, nothing to worry about.” Brit gave a vague nod, her gaze fixed on a neatly folded bundle of clothing at the end of the bed. I guessed I wasn’t the only one weirded out by our mutual…weirdness. “And Marie fixed things with Marcus and Sammi so don’t stress over them either.”
I groaned. “Oh crap, I didn’t even think. Marcus, Samm… They must be so worried.” My eyes widened. “They must be pissed.”
“No, you’re golden. Marie called them, said you and Paige were out cruising and ran into car trouble. She told them it was safer for you guys to crash here instead of getting busted for breaking curfew.” Brit snorted. “Ironic that the curfew actually worked in our favor.” She handed me the bundle of clothes. “We found some stuff for you to wear. Your clothes were pretty much trashed.”
“Thanks.” I threw back the quilt and swung my legs out in what should have been a lightning-fast movement. Instead, I wobbled to my feet. Damn, I hate being all feeble. Come on, wolf, heal faster. I teetered my way across the room in a dizzy haze and took the clothes. Every breath sent stabs through my side.
“The jeans might be too short for you and too big, but it’s better than going around in that,” Brit said, nodding toward me,
I tilted my head down carefully, wary of jarring my shoulder. An oversized T-shirt covered me to mid-thigh. I inhaled. Earthy, fresh. Alec’s T-shirt. A flush of warmth spread over my skin. I stepped into the jeans, hissing at the flash of pain in my chest as I bent over.
“Maybe you shouldn’t be moving,” Brit said.
I glared at her and eased the black sweater over my head, my shoulder stiff and resisting. Alec’s plain white T-shirt hung down about a foot lower than the sweater, but I didn’t care. I loved the feeling of him all around me. I didn’t, however, love the ache in every muscle of my body.
by Judith Graves have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes