Under my skin, p.24
Under My Skin, page 24
“Marie thought you’d sleep all day. You should take it easy for a while longer.” Concern tinged Brit’s voice. “You know, have a morning, noon, and night snooze-fest.”
“Not necessary.” I scowled into the dresser mirror, my ponytails slanted weirdly, the ends of my hair kinked up. I straightened what I could, my muscles already more fluid. My wolf kicking in. I ran a finger down the smooth skin at my neck. Not a sign of the scratch that werewolf had given me. I slipped the T-shirt collar down over my shoulder. No gaping wound where the other had fed, just deep bruising. My skin an ode to every shade of black and blue.
Silver glinted in the glass. Alec’s cross dangled above me, looped around the top of the mirror’s ornate moldings. Someone must have taken it off me when they were patching me up. I grabbed it and quickly put it on. The weight of it resting safely on the cotton T-shirt…
There. That makes me feel human again.
“You might as well come downstairs, Miss Vanity-in-the-Aftermath-of-Battle.” Brit rolled her eyes. “Marie and Matt will be amazed at your recovery. They’re healers, shamans, they did their best, but weren’t sure how much they could help because you’re…anyway, your ribs were bruised, you had a hole in your shoulder so deep we could see bone.” Her laugh was hollow. “I thought you were a goner.”
I made a face in the mirror. “I did too.” I lifted my arms, stretching my torso. “Whatever they did probably saved my life, but I heal pretty fast.”
Brit snorted. “Yeah, I can tell.” Since she’d entered the room I’d gone from barely able to sit up in bed, to strolling around the room and conducting personal appearance damage control.
She yanked the bedroom door open, and a tremor of unease snagged up my back as I followed her down the stairs. About to meet Marie, Alec’s mother, who even Kate deferred to as the woman who’d predicted I would destroy her son. If she really believed that, why had she bothered to patch me up? Because she loves her son, and her son loves… Whoa...maybe my noggin took more of a beating than I thought.
At the bottom of the stairs, we followed a narrow hallway to the back of the house where a tabby lay curled peacefully in a doorway. As we approached it lifted its head, fully alert. Its eyes tapered into slits. Fur puffed up and out three times its normal size.
“Nice kitty, kitty,” Brit cooed, but the cat yowled and darted away. She watched it go, her lips in a pout.
“Well, we definitely won’t be crazy cat ladies when we’re old and haggard,” I told Brit as we entered the sunlit kitchen.
“If we live that long.” Brit snorted.
In the kitchen, Alec, Matt, and Paige looked up from a long farmhouse table. The freshly baked cinnamon buns I’d smelled earlier sat on a tray, cooling in the center of the table. My heart lurched. The scene could have been right out of a family sitcom, if it weren’t for the scratches and bruises on the guys faces, arms, and hands. Obviously, they hadn’t healed as fast as me and Brit, the paranorms. The outsiders. I cringed at the shell-shocked look in Paige’s eyes.
And the arsenal of paranormal battle gear spread over every available bit of counter space. Shotguns, disassembled for cleaning. Silver bullets packed in sandwich bags. Knives. An ax with the handle modified into a sharp pointed stake. The scent of garlic and sweetgrass hovered in the air.
It was too much. They’d all faced too much.
“You’re awake.” Alec crossed the kitchen in two strides. “You’re more than awake. You’re up and walking and talking.” He ran his hands down my arms, patting me like he expected to feel broken bones.
I reached out and traced a purplish bruise on his high cheekbone.
“Yup, just like a real girl.” My breath came fast when his touch slid to my lower back, the warmth from his hand spread to my whole body.
He twisted to face his brother. “Matt, you and Mom…this is amazing.”
“Oh, that wasn’t all us.” Matt took a bite from a cinnamon bun.
“Oh, right.” Alec’s gaze shot to my hand suspended between us, still reaching for him.
It fell to my side. Damn, he remembered my claws, the fur. How did you make small talk after something like that?
I flushed at the intensity of his stare. Like he tried to see inside, to how I ticked.
“I feel fabulous, considering.” I made a point of catching Matt’s eye. “I guess I owe you, big time.”
Matt nodded. A bit anticlimactic, but at least he didn’t snort or roll his eyes or glare at me like I just skinned the cat on the stairs. Nice. We were beyond outright animosity.
A door latch clicked, and a woman wearing a salmon-colored zip-up hoodie and jeans stepped into the kitchen. She carried a handful of dried herbs and a ball of string. I could see where Alec and his brothers got their good looks. Mrs. Delacroix had an exotic, ageless beauty. Her sable hair was cut into a sleek bob, and she wore a fashionable pair of glasses perched on her nose
At her side stood the large, grey wolf-dog that had been running in the woods the first time I encountered Alec. The dog’s head tilted, ears cocked in my direction.
“Welcome to our home,” she said. Her eyes, a deeper brown than Alec’s, were soft as she clasped my hands in hers. “We’re so happy to have you with us, Eryn.” Her gaze traveled over my torso like a practiced physician. “Now that you’re feeling better perhaps we should discuss why the Hunter Council wants you dead, and how we’re going to save this town?”
I blinked at her. Shocked by her sudden commanding tone.
The room erupted as Matt surged to his feet, and everyone began to talk at once. The wolf-dog began whining and padding in a circle by the kitchen door
Alec frowned at his mother. “I thought we agreed to break it to Eryn gently?”
“The time for gentle has passed.” Marie eyed her son calmly. “I spoke with Kate. The high priestess of the Littan coven warned her that paranorm bounty hunters are sniffing around, looking for Eryn.”
Bounty hunters closing in. Just what I didn’t want to hear. Hadn’t we been through enough? The werewolf attack. His fierce bite. His stench. God, he’d been chewing on me. My bottom lip trembled, and I bit down hard. I couldn’t freak out now.
It was over. And everyone accounted for. I looked over the room again…almost.
A fist squeezed my heart.
“Where’s Wade?” I asked Alec, who suddenly found the back of a nearby chair absorbing.
The room fell silent.
From the open window, frigid morning air blew through the kitchen. I shivered. A feeling of doom settled over me. The happy, sunshiny, birds-are-chirping morning had been a sham. Hadn’t seemed right from the start.
“Okay,” I said into the silence. “I get it. Something went wrong.” I crossed my arms. “Did Wade take off? Go all evildoer again?”
Matt and Brit exchanged a look. “Someone tell me.” I turned to the only other person in the room who might care if Wade lived or died, even if he had her hyped up on his thrall. “Paige, come on. Spill.”
“We don’t know where he is,” Paige said, her tone bitter. “But it’s not like you think. He didn’t do anything wrong.” She lifted her chin and glared at each member of the crew. “We wouldn’t have gotten out alive if he hadn’t helped us, and they all know it.” She pressed her lips together and stared out the window. “He could be injured, or dying…”
My pulse raced. Putting my fingers to my temples, I closed my eyes, concentrating. I reached out with my thoughts, searching for Wade’s frequency, but came up blank. Tiny comet-like squiggles darted willy-nilly behind my eyelids, but no matter how hard I squeezed my eyes and concentrated. Wade wasn’t there. Not like when he’d blocked me out. This was worse. A black hole. A void of nothingness.
I swayed and fell into Alec’s arms.
He touched his forehead to mine, his concern washed over me. Soothing the lingering pain in my body and the ache in my heart. He lowered me into a chair. I was in another world. Separate from them. Different. Tainted.
And then he’d left me.
“Don’t leave,” I cried, my voice loud in my ears.
“We’re right here,” Brit said. “We’re all in this together, Eryn. You’re not alone.”
I blinked, coming back to the world and looking around. Alec’s face pale and strained as he knelt beside me.
My muscles tensed, urging me to run from the weight settling on my shoulders. The burden of friendship. Of love. But the time for running was over. I had to tell them the truth about Wade—how Logan could take over his body, his mind, and how Wade could never really be trusted. But I also had to tell them the truth about myself. Human and wolven—and thanks to my father—something much more.
But maybe that’s what they needed. What this town needed. Because nice wasn’t going to get the job done, and it certainly wouldn’t bring down the Hunter Council. Wade had shown me the way to win this war.
I only had to give up my mortal soul—
Give in to my wolf.
Find out what lies under my skin.
So far, I’d only scratched the surface.
Chapter 1: A snarl. A lunge. A bite.
We stood in the clearing. A fine mist of fog hovered a foot off the ground, snaking through the tall grasses. The damp earth smelled fresh and inviting. A gentle breeze carried the savory aroma of the forest to us. Pine. Wild strawberry. Sage. One scent stood out above the others. As one, we turned our heads. A deer pranced at the edge of the woods.
Mom shot me a mischievous glance. “It’s time.”
Her elegant form shimmered before me, her dark hair whipping around in a wind of paranorm making. Energy crackled in the air. A sleek black wolf stood in my mother’s place.
The change reinvented me.
We charged through the grass. Two black wolves. Wolven.
The deer bolted.
We separated, flanking the panicked creature. The complications of human life slipped away. No more questions, just the thrill of the hunt. I was strong. Invincible.
A different scent lit the air. I darted after the more intense lure, ignoring the black wolf’s sharp cry.
A snarl. A lunge. A bite.
I feasted as if I’d never had a fresh kill.
A surge of energy rippled the air. Mom stood at my side in her human form. “Eryn, what have you done?” Her beautiful porcelain skin paled to a chalky white, delicate features twisting into a grimace. Her eyes gutted me as if she’d swiped a claw across my belly.
I glanced down at the earth. At the remains of a bloodstained shoe.
A human. I had attacked a human.
My stomach recoiled.
“Help me...” I tried to scream, but my wolf had no words.
Mom backed away, shaking her head.
I ran to her, never fast enough to reach her side.
She slipped into the mist and vanished.
I was alone. Just me and the beast that had slipped over me like a second skin.
I woke on a strangled sob, teeth throbbing in my mouth. The coppery taste of blood lingered. I bolted upright. Pushing my comforter aside, I swung my legs from the warmth of the bed, willing my heart to resume its steady rhythm. I swiped a hand down my face. No use trying to go back to sleep, I’d be up now for hours. That nightmare wasn’t the worst of them—more like the appetizer.
The red glow from my alarm clock confirmed it was midnight. Witching hour. I snorted. Witches were the least of my worries. I padded to my bedroom window, bare feet chilled from the cold hardwood. Witches could control their abilities, weren’t hounded night after night with horrific visions of what might happen if they gave in to their power.
Perhaps a midnight run would distract me. I shoved the curtains back to see my friend, Brit, in full dark sprite form, soaring past my second-story window. The whoosh of her wings loud even through the double-paned glass. My bleary eyes widened. What the…? I bit my lip, canines jabbing into sensitive flesh. I cried out, running my tongue over the sore spots. That hurt. A lot. No dream, this was real. Sad that I had to revert to the pain test to ensure I wasn’t still dreaming. Lately it had become difficult to tell, the product of far too many sleepless nights.
Outside Brit glided under branches and over power lines as she flew through the night. Damn, she knew better than this. To risk being seen by one of Redgrave’s clueless townspeople, inviting the torches and angry mobs Wade had once joked about.
My heart skipped a beat. Wade. I couldn’t think about him.
I scooped my jeans from the floor, pulled them up and over my hips. Yanked a rust-colored hoodie over my head while my stomach rumbled in a desperate hunger sparked by the dream. The thrill of the hunt. Bloodlust bit at my veins even as bile collected at the back of my throat.
Yeah, witches were the least of my worries.
About the Author
Judith reads as much as she writes, devouring at least two books a week. She loves heated debates over character motives...she's been kicked out of several book clubs for just this reason. With her faithful sidekick at her feet--that'd be, Willow, a yellow lab--Judith remains unfazed by book club drama and is furiously writing more paranormal stories. Which hopefully, you'll read.
Working in a school library, Judith is surrounded by children's and young adult literature (there's no escape!). She fosters the joy of reading in students and staff at her school. She helps out with the school choir and drama club. If it has to do with words or music, Judith is around. A singer/songwriter for more than ten years, Judith often writes songs about her characters--since they are beasties of the night, this makes for interesting listening.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1: A Little Van Hexing
Chapter 2: Har-de-freaking har
Chapter 3: Gothic Pixie on a Mission
Chapter 4: I Was Born This Way. What’s Your Excuse?
Chapter 5: If I Wanted Something Dead Around My Neck, I’d Get a Fur Coat
Chapter 6: A Little Knowledge Is a Dangerous Thing
Chapter 7: A Peeping Paige
Chapter 8: Bathroom Confessional
Chapter 9: Stereotype Much?
Chapter 10: Convince Me
Chapter 11: Curfews Officially Sucked
Chapter 12: Hero, Heroette, Whatever.
Chapter 13: Oops, I Did It Again
Chapter 14: There’s a Plague in This Town
Chapter 15: Break It To Me Gently
Judith Graves, Under My Skin
by Judith Graves have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes