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Under my skin, p.4

Under My Skin, page 4

 

Under My Skin
 


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  Alec was the first to move, breaking the hush that had fallen over us. He scooped up my athame and approached me, casually flipping the dagger from hand to hand. His full lips formed an impressed whistle, making his high cheekbones flash into prominence.

  My gaze skimmed over his broad shoulders. I hoped my mental drooling wasn’t obvious.

  “Some heavy-duty sigils carved here.” His thumb traced the magical symbols. “This is old magic. German?” He handed it to me, blade first.

  My fingers brushed his as I grasped the dagger by the hilt. The touch was electric and had nothing to do with the athame’s infused power.

  Alec raised an eyebrow. Had he noticed my reluctance to grasp the silver blade? I pointed to one of the more identifiable hex signs. “Dutch.”

  Alec nodded slowly. “Nice.” He folded his arms across his chest. “How did you get your hands on something that powerful?”

  I shrugged. “My dad collected magical things.”

  “Magical things can come in handy,” Alec said, his expression thoughtful. “So your dad was a hunter?”

  “Yup,” I said shortly. “Yours?”

  Alec observed me, quiet for a long moment, before answering in the same let’s-drop-the-subject, shall-we? tone, “Yup.”

  I turned away, my lips twisting in a quick grin. So we both had daddy issues. How lovely. I walked around the smoldering black outline on the floor, pretending to be fascinated with how deep the burn had etched into the linoleum.

  Brit returned, looking clammy and pale—breakable. She picked her way around the blood puddles, careful not to stare at the marked floor. Matt scooped up her coat, shook it out, and tried to drape it over her shoulders, but she pushed it back at him.

  “Sorry.” Matt grimaced. “We’ll toss it later.” He put his arm around her instead.

  “Give it here,” Alec said. He looped the coat through the rifle strap over his shoulder so it hung at his waist. Seeing Alec and Matt side by side, their resemblance struck me anew. “Are you brothers?”

  “You think?” Matt rolled his eyes.

  Guess he was sick of hearing the you-look-like-your-brother thing. Or maybe he thought it was lame that I’d stated the obvious. Either way, he really didn’t seem to like me much.

  “Mathieu’s the youngest. He’s got attitude enough for the both of us.” Alec shot Matt a glare and adjusted the rifle higher on his shoulder.

  I glanced at the weapon. “Thanks for the silver-bullet rescue.”

  Alec shrugged. “Like I said, magical things come in handy.”

  “Nothing magical about the hours you spend at the shooting range we set up on the ranch.” Matt snorted. “Alec’s a crack shot.”

  “You guys train, you hunt. I get that.” I frowned at the motley crew. “But how come the whole town knows about your little were-chasing hobby, but the Hunter Council has no idea your crew exists?”

  “We don’t function under Council jurisdiction,” Alec said flatly. “We haven’t for a long time. Not since our father died and they did nothing to help us track his paranorm killer.”

  His pain hit me like a blow, mirrored my own. We had more than daddy issues in common. We both had reason to hate the Hunter Council. Except in my case, Sebastian was helping me find information about my parents. At least, I hoped he was. The possibility that my laying low in Redgrave was a huge mistake haunted my days as much as wolven nightmares haunted my sleep.

  Alec shot me a dark look. “And don’t bother quoting hunter regulations to us.” He studied my face. “You’re not exactly following protocol either.”

  “No, I’m not.” I wasn’t supposed to be within striking distance of a paranorm, and here I was standing over a scorch mark. But I didn’t need him to remind me of that. I blew a strand of hair off my face. “I kind of stumbled onto this one. If you have the town covered,” I said with a shrug, “then you’ve got it covered, right? You don’t need me getting in your way.” Plus I couldn’t afford to get tangled up in their crazy, lawless hunts—I had a nose to keep clean and a head to keep low.

  “Look, I’m sorry about your friend,” I said, my glance taking in all of them. “But like you said, I’m not acting in a hunter capacity.”

  “He wasn’t a friend,” Brit said. “He was a hockey jock from school. A goon.” Her lips trembled. “But no one deserves to go out like that. No one.”

  Matt shot Alec a look, then jerked his head toward the shattered store window.

  Alec nodded. “We’d better take off. Redgrave cops are slow to respond, but they will show up…eventually.” He held out a hand to me. “Let’s go.”

  I almost reached out and put my hand in his.

  But I hesitated.

  I took a step back. My mind, clearer now that I was on my feet and the danger was over, raced full speed ahead. Brit had warned me about Alec, said his whole family was crazy, and yet here she was—hunting with them.

  It didn’t make sense. Knowing she lied hurt. This was why I didn’t get close to humans. They always let you down. At least with paranorms, you knew where you stood.

  I brushed past Alec’s outstretched hand and bolted through the window.

  I ran.

  All the way home.

  I wasn’t crying.

  The wind was in my eyes.

  *****

  Second period the next morning, Brit sat a few desks away from me, trying to make eye contact—which I ignored. I wasn’t quite ready to talk with her yet, but physics was killing me. I almost caved and asked her to translate.

  My brain could handle the big-picture concepts all right, but they fixed in my mind with all the gumption of a sticky note. At exam time everything came unglued.

  Brit was really into it though. My dad would have loved her. She waved her hand in the air at every question, even the rhetorical ones.

  After forty solid minutes of physics hell, Mr. Phillips gave up with a sigh. “Read chapter ten for the last few minutes of class,” he said. He shuffled behind his desk and sat at his computer looking very Mr. Potato-Head-Goes-to-School, complete with bow tie. He soon lost interest in pretending to monitor us from his spudly throne, and, courtesy of the reflection in the window behind his chair, everyone could see that he was absorbed in reading his e-mail.

  The class broke into conversation. Well, except for Brit. She actually opened her textbook. So bookish, but I knew she was a hunter too. Toiling around in the human and paranormal worlds, keeping the town safe from all things ghoulish, ever wearing one of the smiling skull T-shirts she’d silkscreened in art class.

  Pretty impressive.

  Now I understood why she’d warned me away from Alec—she thought I was just another new girl, unaware of the paranormal world. She was trying to keep me safe from all the doom and gloom hanging around in Redgrave. But her lying to me about Alec still rankled.

  I gave up on my physics textbook and started sketching in the margins of my notebook. The last thing I needed was to get involved with whatever hunter activities Brit and the Delacroix boys had going. I couldn’t afford to mess up my chances with the Council. If they found out I’d been involved in a takedown, they might renege on their promise.

  I couldn’t risk that. I had to know what happened to Mom and Dad. I needed the truth. How ironic. The last thing my father ever said to me was on that very topic. He’d been trying to dig into the truth about my cutting.

  Poor Dad. He’d been beyond confused when the counselor at my old school told him I was cutting myself. (I hadn’t always been so cautious in school locker rooms.) Why would I do such a thing? He never once thought his experimenting on me might have failed, that I might be developing some latent wolven traits. That I might be torn, battling the two sides of myself, human and beaten-down wolven, on my own. That I wasn’t sure which was stronger.

  If I’d told her the truth, Mom would have understood. Admitting you had a fascination with blood was the first step to accepting your wolven nature. She would have nodded and agreed to a just-
between-us-girls talk, and then ratted me out to Dad the moment I walked away. Eventually, she would have made him see things were happening to me. Wolven things. I couldn’t have handled another round of blood tests, or any more doses of my father’s own special blend of drugs and their unknown side-effects.

  No, it was better they believed the lies I told them. How I didn’t fit in, couldn’t make friends, and took my sadness out on my flesh. And they believed me, because they wanted to believe.

  They didn’t know I had discovered red. The most beautiful color. Alive. Warm.

  Each line I’d etched into my skin, each bloodletting, had been a release, setting a bit of the beast free. I savored the faint tang in the air as my blood flowed. After a while, I could smell it on others—from the teeny tiniest wounds. I hadn’t picked up a blade in months, but if I focused, kind of like cupping your ear to catch a sound out of reach, I could tap into my heightened awareness. In this room alone, the boy in the third row near Brit had an almost healed scrape and a torn hangnail.

  A rush of saliva filled my mouth. I drank it down.

  A deadish feeling settled in my stomach like I’d swallowed a femur. I gave a shocked snort. Well, that was a common enough hazard for my brethren. Wolven were known for choking on their food.

  I shifted in my chair. Who knew what I was turning into thanks to my father’s drugs? I could end up like that werewolf last night, scarfing down bunnies.

  I dry-heaved.

  No, I couldn’t help the young, but keen, hunters of Redgrave.

  I’d only put them in more danger.

  Eyes burning, I scratched through the smiley face I’d drawn with thick angry strokes. Two-inch long fangs protruded obscenely through its grin. Underneath I’d written the name Delacroix in gothic swirly letters. My pen sliced deep, rending a few pages from my notebook. The sound brought me back to the classroom. Had anyone noticed my near wig-out? My head bowed when I met curious gazes. Especially Brit’s. Her eyes widened with suppressed laughter.

  “Don’t worry. They won’t bite. But I might.” The husky voice caused my muscles to tighten in shock. The snap of teeth and a cool rush of air against my neck had me frozen in my seat.

  What? Those were fighting words—wolven words—spoken on a honeyed tongue. Lovely. Werewolf, hunter, and perhaps wolven all in the same week. And they’d said Redgrave was a dull town.

  Although I’d proven my nose for the red stuff was still keen, I didn’t have my mother’s ability to scent her brethren. I fell back on the quick and dirty identification methods dad taught me before I even started on solid foods. First off, direct eye contact made wolven nervous, sparked their fight-or-flight response.

  I gave it a shot. A sharp glance over my shoulder established the guy lived up to his smooth voice. Dark shaggy hair, silver-gray eyes. A chiseled jaw. He was a bit on the lean side but, as he shifted forward, the greedy material of his shirt clung to his muscular shoulders like a jealous ex-girlfriend. This guy was Greek god material. An instant mental montage of all things sexual gyrated through my brain complete with bow-chicka-wah-wah mood music. The warm glow in his eyes said the experience might be mutual.

  For a girl previously known as the ice queen, I was sparking my share of attention in this town.

  “Ummm. You smell delicious.” He met my gaze, held it, and inhaled deeply.

  Grey—his eyes were grey mist, clouds rolling in over the mountain. Wonderful, now all I needed was a truck analogy, and I’d be writing a country song. I forced myself to relax, to control the fluttering of my heart. I’d been around eye candy before. Looks and wolven were a given—all wild things had a natural beauty—but this guy was too refined, his features too perfect. Wolven were catastrophically sexy in a rugged sort of way.

  More like Alec.

  Rats.

  And I’d been doing so well at not thinking about him. Why did I always go for the road less traveled? Why get stupid over a guy who could only complicate my life and possibly want to kill me once he found out I was half paranorm? Did I need any more stress?

  My new friend’s glance flicked to my sketch. “Delacroix?” He read aloud, his brow furrowed. “Have those guys been sniffing around you?”

  My fingers squeezed my mechanical pencil, popping off the little white eraser. It pinged against the desk next to mine, earning me a glare from the girl sitting there. “Have they been what?”

  He made a face. “I’m just saying, if I were you, new to town, not up on the gossip, I’d watch my back around the Delacroix. That family is dangerous.”

  How ironic, first Brit and now Redgrave High’s resident hottie warning me against Alec, but for entirely different reasons. Brit had wanted to save me from heartache. This guy seemed to want to save me. Period.

  Forget Alec.

  Forget everything.

  I took a slow breath and surrendered to the soothing balm of harmless flirtation.

  “So what are you? The Big Bad Wolf of Redgrave High? Protecting the innocent new girls in town from the Delacroix?” I spun around. My desk creaked, drawing more interest from the class than a fire alarm.

  “Exactly.” He shook his head to toss his dark bangs out of his eyes.

  “My, what big teeth you have.” I smirked, aware we had an audience. Play-by-play whispers snaked across the room.

  “All the better to bite you with, my dear,” he said. “Sadly, we know how that story ended. Not so good from the wolf’s perspective.” He leaned over his desk. “I’m Wade, and you are…?”

  A twitching mass of hormones at your feet. “Eryn,” I said over the bell’s harsh peal. For once, students didn’t bolt for the hall. Instead they wavered, watching us.

  Wade angled his chin. “What’s with the paparazzi?”

  I shrugged, then eyed the students shooting us furtive looks. “I’ve got New-Girl-itis. The doctors say it should pass any day. No lasting effects. I guess you don’t get a lot of newbies around here.”

  “Well, there was one new kid a few years ago. I think they ran him out of town. Angry mob. Torches. The usual. After that….” Wade stroked his chin, pretending to be stumped.

  I chuckled.

  “Ah, I made you laugh. And you, diseased and near death, an almost impossible feat. You must really like me.”

  I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from grinning like an idiot. He was over the top, but I liked his easy-going attitude, the way he lightened my mood. Plus, he was definitely not a hunter.

  “Have I been in a coma? Why haven’t I seen you in this class before?” I blurted.

  “And just like that, I’m busted,” Wade said, charmingly shamefaced. “I don’t have physics until next semester. The guys said there was a real hottie in this class.” He glanced at the girls hovering near the door, and his gaze lingered over a few pretty faces. “I thought I’d drop by and see for myself. Phillips has no idea who’s in his class.” His attention shifted to Mr. Phillips, still sitting at his computer. “His online girlfriend sucks up a lot of his time, as you can see.”

  While the scoop on Mr. Phillips and his cyber girlfriend was entertaining, I couldn’t help but feel let down. Wade wasn’t interested in me? The flirting killed time while he trolled for girls? Disappointment made me crabby.

  “Don’t be a sexist pig or anything,” I said. “Last time I checked, this wasn’t a harem. You might have more luck in chemistry. It’s down the hall.”

  I gathered my books and untangled my long legs from under the desk. The class, as if released from a spell, shuffled toward the door. Brit-the-Brainiac, like a store greeter, smiled at kids passing her desk, but waved them by while she glared bullets at me and Wade. The others didn’t even notice her as they filed out of the room sideways, crablike, to keep me and Wade in their view.

  Wade jumped to his feet, blocking my attempt to pass him. “I don’t think chemistry will be a problem,” he said, a teasing light in his grey eyes.

  “Nice line.” I murmured. “Use it often?”

 
Never. You’re the one and only. Maybe my one and only.”

  “Wow.” I snorted. “The soul mate card. You really think you have girls figured out, don’t you?”

  “Girls, yes,” he deadpanned. “You? Now that could take a lifetime. I’m game if you are.”

  At eye level, I stared directly at his sculpted lips as they formed the flirtatious words and then slanted into a sexy grin. We stood pressed together for a few glorious seconds. My insides quivered. And tingled. And yeah, he certainly did have big, I-give-good-love-bites teeth.

  At least Wade stood a few inches taller than me. A minimum requirement for potential love interests in my book. His presence crowded, demanded a response. We were as close as we could get in public, yet he was too far away. I wanted us to sink into each other. Wade inhaled and his chest rose, pushing against mine. I shivered at the curl of sensations winding around me, binding me, making me lean against him.

  “Eryn, a moment, please.” Mr. Philips came out of nowhere, shattering the moment.

  Wade and I flinched as if firecrackers had exploded between us. My heart thumped erratically in my chest. I let my breath out slowly. I hadn’t realized I’d been holding it.

  Mr. Phillips nodded a dismissal at Wade and, taking my arm, led me to the front of the room. “There’s someone I’d like you to meet.”

  And it has to be now?

  Brit stood there, clutching her books like a shield, her eyes following Wade. Something flickered in their depths. Suspicion? Hatred? When her gaze turned to me, she flatlined her lips as if I were a child she was about to scold.

  “Ah, we’ve already…” I began, still a bit dazed.

  Brit shushed me with a shake of her head. Explanations must be wasted on Mr. Phillips, because if he’d paid attention to his students, he’d have noticed Brit and I hung out by each other’s desks every day. Well, until today.

  I spotted a large manila envelope, emblazoned with my name and practically glowing, on his solid oak desk. My cumulative file. The educational equivalent of a criminal record. I’d become all too familiar with my file’s bulk when I’d made the shrink rounds at my old school.

 
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