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Under my skin, p.8

Under My Skin, page 8

 

Under My Skin
 


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  Oh, a low blow, and it struck with pinpoint accuracy. How did he know I hated people telling me what to do?

  “Unh…” I stammered. I wanted to rush down the steps and hop into his hot little car. Equally as gripping came the urge to give him the brush off, but good. Scenes played through my mind. Most ended with Wade’s fangs tearing a hole in my throat. But wouldn’t going with him serve two purposes? I’d be making my own decisions, and I’d have the perfect opportunity to pick Wade’s brain to find out what he and his father were up to in Redgrave. I could handle a vamp, even a witchy one…couldn’t I?

  While I hedged the question, ignoring Brit’s you’re-not-seriously-considering-getting-into-that-car expression, a rusted Ford pickup barreled around the corner. A flash of dark eyes pierced through the truck’s mud-splattered windshield.

  Alec.

  He glanced from Brit and me to Wade’s suave little car below our perch on the steps. The truck lurched forward at full speed, back tires squealing and smoking.

  So much for not doing anything drastic.

  “Look out!” I hollered, taking a frantic step toward the impending wreckage, holding my hands out as if I could stop it.

  Wade ducked back inside, his gaze fixed on his rearview mirror. He tried to move, gears grinding, but it was too late. Crunch. The pickup’s massive grill devoured the trunk of Wade’s car. Wade’s head cracked against the steering wheel, then ricocheted back against the headrest.

  A microsecond of frozen silence, then pandemonium as screaming students converged on the mangled vehicles from all directions.

  I started down the steps, looking for signs of life from either vehicle. “Brit, get help!”

  “I can’t run,” Brit said, near tears.

  It took me a second to process her words, then I stopped, remembering her get-out-of-gym-free doctor’s note. “Are you serious?”

  She bobble-headed her agreement.

  “What kind of hunter are you?” I ground out in her ear.

  “It’s complicated.” Brit’s voice wavered.

  I sighed harshly and started toward the scene.

  “Don’t!” Brit grabbed my arm. “Wait for Alec.”

  “Wait for Alec?” I rasped. “Did you see what he did? What if I’m wrong about Wade? What if Alec attacked an innocent human?” I pulled from her grip. “Get help. Call 9-1-1!” I bolted down the steps and ran around the hood of Wade’s car. I yanked on the driver’s door handle, but it refused to open. Wolven strength built in my hands. Too many witnesses. I couldn’t rip the door from its metal frame. I gasped with relief when I spotted a large silver button on the handle. I pushed on it with both thumbs and pulled for all I was worth. The door swung open. I stumbled backwards.

  Damn relic.

  I hesitated. What if the crash had propelled Wade into full vamp mode? I bent over and peeked inside, half expecting the hideous slack jawed, fanged vamp from my dream to fly out at me. But Wade, fragile, human Wade, still gripped the wheel, his head lolling back at a dangerous angle.

  “Wade? Answer me.” I waved my hand in front of his dazed eyes. “How many fingers?” The vision test seemed appropriate. Wasn’t that what movie doctors did?

  Wade groaned and knocked my hand away. With slow, cautious movements, he arched his back and rolled his head from side to side. Blood oozed from his hairline and streaked down his face.

  A crimson line to his lips that I wanted to lick off his face.

  I shifted closer, entranced by the minty scent rising from his blood. Hunger pangs twisted my stomach as if I hadn’t eaten for weeks. I pressed myself against his body. My lips parted. I sighed against his warm skin. Wade turned his face up for me, like he wanted me to take his lifeblood, feed on his flesh.

  I almost fell for it.

  Vamp thrall.

  I gasped, fighting his seductive glamour. His grey eyes stared into mine. Mesmerizing. Inviting…

  Don’t forget devilish. The voice of reason brought me back from the brink.

  And evil.

  Wade had killed and feasted on his own mother. He’d invaded my room, haunted my dreams. I’d seen his very creation, his downfall.

  I cringed away from the car like Superman cowering from kryptonite. Propelled backward, I stumbled on the concrete. The beast in me writhed in protest, outraged, my gut in knots. I doubled over with shock. Risked a glance at the crowd. Where the hell was Brit? I hoped she’d made it into the school for help. Maybe Redgrave police came equipped with nets and tranquilizer darts for random cases of students going Canis lupus.

  I breathed hard through my nose to expel the pennies-in-a-jar scent of blood from my greedy nasal cavities. Once the scent of blood faded, the pains in my stomach ebbed. I straightened, my stomach muscles tight, but at least I could move again.

  Wade swung his legs out of the vehicle.

  “Don’t. You’re hurt.” I bolted forward, held out a hand to stop him.

  He stood in a fluid motion. “It’s nothing, a scratch.”

  “Oh really?” A dry laugh forced its way out of my throat. A scratch hadn’t set my wolven hunger into overdrive. I frowned, staring up at Wade. Not a smidge of red stuff visible on his attractive face.

  Wade swiped a hand across his forehead, lifting his hair to reveal a small cut, already clotting over.

  What the—?

  “You all right, Wade?” The deep voice at my back distracted me from Wade’s one-second-it-looked-life-threatening-the-next-it-wasn’t wound. The desire to chow down at the Wade Deli had ebbed, but it left me drained. Bile flooded my mouth. I swallowed it back.

  “I didn’t see your antique parked there.” Alec smirked. “Does your grandmother know you’re driving her car?”

  The crowd tittered. Wade glared over my shoulder, teeth bared.

  “Alec,” he said with a sneer. “I should have known. You’re lucky my father hasn’t thrown your whole family in jail.”

  Ooh, nasty. I whirled around into a wall of chest. The rush I’d felt when Alec and I raced through the woods was back. His proximity made my heart stutter, my insides quiver. I forgot about Wade and the crowd of students—forgot my first name and date of birth. Alec in full rage was potent, elemental. My wolven hormones surged into overdrive.

  “You all right?” Alec grabbed my arms. “Did he touch you?” He stared down at my face. His gaze settled on my lips.

  Wade grabbed Alec by the arm, jerked him away, and then thrust himself between us.

  “Eryn’s fine. And I intend to keep her that way,” Wade said with a snarl.

  “You?” Alec laughed. He pressed close to Wade, his voice low. “Is that before or after you suck all the blood from her body?”

  Wade’s eyes flickered. He leaned closer to Alec. Nose to nose. Bodies as rigid as elevator cables, ready to snap.

  Since when did I become the bitch in heat, stirring up the boys? The air was thick with their rage, their passion. It settled over me like a dangerous mood. Bones in my back shifted, grinding painfully. Skin stretched taunt, heat built under the surface like I’d been chucked in a microwave and roasted from the inside out.

  Kids chanted, “Fight, fight, fight,” as they encircled the scene. I’d seen fights before, but never when my wolf was this close to the surface and the moon almost full in the sky. Its pale outline blended with the clouds, but it called to me. A fine tremor weakened my legs.

  Queasy, I squinched my eyes shut.

  Chapter 5: If I Wanted Something Dead Around My Neck, I’d Get a Fur Coat

  The chanting faded into a charged silence, broken by the periodic scuffle of shoes on pebbled cement and the sickeningly exciting sound of fists hitting flesh. Alec and Wade were duking it out, but I was fighting a battle of my own.

  My system had flooded with wolven adrenaline at the first blow. My breath left me in little gasps, my pulse galloped in my chest. Hunter training told me to back Alec up—he was hopelessly overmatched against a vampire, especially one of Wade’s witchy persuasion. I shouldn
t be frozen on the concrete as if I were pinned, but my she-wolf was thrilled at being the focus of all that male aggression, and I was afraid to move. Afraid to give in. Crazily, presiding over a battle for my attentions was only fitting. My right.

  Barbaric.

  Yet breathless excitement coursed through my body. The tingling low in my stomach warned me of danger. I tried not to think about what would happen if I stepped closer and surrounded myself with the jolting scent of rage thick in the air. I focused on less arousing sounds, engines revving in the parking lot, the school secretary’s Charlie Brown wah-wah-wah voice making an announcement on the intercom.

  Open your eyes. A male voice whispered, curling around me—an invisible embrace.

  You know you want to watch.

  Wade’s voice.

  Too close.

  In my head.

  Vamping around in my thoughts. Damn.

  I should be freaking about now. So why did I have the urge to strut right up to Wade, press myself against him and… Talk about wrongness.

  I squeezed my eyelids together so hard squiggly golden dots appeared. I fought against the seductive invasion. Vampires had influence over the weak, working their specialized, hot and heavy mojo.

  Taking a shuddering breath, I forced myself beyond the sultry heat washing over me, through me—to find a way to stop him.

  Hmm…yes, stop him from ever looking at another girl. Everything he desired rested here in me. Fierce possessiveness, wanton, aching need. I gasped at the churning emotions.

  Not mine.

  Not real.

  No wonder Paige obsessed over Wade. I’m sorry, I wasn’t going to fall for his smoke and mirrors. My eyes flew open as Wade’s right fist connected squarely with Alec’s nose. A spray of blood sprinkled the concrete as Alec staggered.

  Blood. Fresh. Tantalizing. Purely human. Damn, I’d gone from the frying pan directly to the source of the flame. My pulse drummed in my neck. The bad news? That wonderful aroma meant Alec was hurt.

  I looked away from the bloody concrete and tried to remember my hunter training, tried to focus on Alec’s injuries. No broken bones, just swelling where a clawlike scratch marked his cheek. He swiped a hand under his nose to clear the blood.

  A smile hovered on Wade’s lips. His eyes glowed. He was taunting Alec, flaunting his strength. With me too, because I couldn’t fight his influence and tune out the heady scent of blood at the same time.

  I told you the Delacroix were dangerous. Wade’s voice again, bold and confident. Only his lips weren’t moving. He didn’t even look in my direction as he and Alec stalked each other in a wary circle. Smashing my car, attacking me this way was stupid, Eryn. See how careless they are?

  My breath caught in my throat. Why was he mind-talking as if he knew every doubt I had about the Delacroix? Wade laughed aloud, and a ripple of fear crawled up my spine. And then it hit me.

  Lovely.

  Wade could not only enter my bedroom, he could tap into my thoughts. My body tensed as if to run. Pointless. No escape. Wade prowled in my mind like he owned me. My wolf roared in outrage. I couldn’t manage them both. Desperate to shut Wade out, my vamp-thrall, beast-wracked brain began regurgitating hunter-vampire rules of engagement. Christian symbols had power. The cross. The rose. Both red with blood. No. There was something else. Something my father told me. That’s it! I imagined a solid limestone wall and slammed it to the ground between us.

  An unbearable quiet settled over me. How singular and strange. I tamped down the surge of loneliness that begged me to stop fighting and let Wade in. To let him know the wolf, to understand me.

  Hadn’t I already learned my lesson? Though I wouldn’t rest until I saw my parents’ bodies with my own eyes—whether they were alive…or dead—even they had never understood me.

  So why did I expect it from a vamp witch? Or a small town hunter for that matter?

  Bitterness strengthened the mental wall between me and Wade as he and Alec circled each other. I’d broken his link, beaten the affect. Barely. I shivered. Why hadn’t I paid more attention when my father had bored me with a lecture on visualization techniques and how to use them?

  A shove from behind caught me off guard. I stumbled. Brit, and she was panting. The effort to get assistance quickly, without breaking into a run, had obviously tired her out. She was lucky she hadn’t gone all seizure-y and collapsed on the concrete. How in the world did she function as a hunter? Why would Alec let someone with such a disability join his crew? Sure, Brit was smart and a great cheerleader, but she’d mess up a hunt. It didn’t make sense.

  I held out a hand to steady her.

  “I brought reinforcements,” she yelled, although she was right beside me.

  I flinched and covered my ears as her words screamed through my head. What Brit lacked in speed, she made up for in volume. I’d been concentrating so hard on blocking Wade, I’d forgotten to regulate my hearing to human levels.

  Mr. Riggs and Matt shouldered past us and rushed into the middle of the fight. Mr. Riggs wedged himself in front of Wade as Matt grabbed Alec and whispered harshly into his ear as he pulled him away from Wade. I held my breath. Would Alec out Wade? Would Wade say screw you to the norm world and out himself? Right there in the Redgrave High parking lot?

  A sea of curious faces surrounded the fight. Elbows and shoulders collided as students jostled each other for a better view. They hummed like fallen power lines, ready to do some damage. How blind my mom had been to human failings. One schoolyard squabble revealed their potential for violence. The kids shoving to get a better view proved wolven weren’t the only beasts who enjoyed a good brawl.

  My breath whooshed out on a relieved sigh as Alec and Wade were forced apart. Chests heaving, each turned away to inspect his vehicle for damage.

  Matt ran his hands over the truck’s smashed-in hood, then shot Alec a dark look. Clearly, the brothers would have their own battle over Alec’s stunt.

  “We were right.” Brit’s mouth twisted in an ugly grimace. “Wade’s paranorm through and through. If he were human, we’d be scraping pieces of his cabbage brain off the dashboard.”

  I scrunched my face. “Lovely image. And what a way to prove it. I hope Alec has severe whiplash or something.” I linked my hands to hide their trembling. “He deserves it for pulling a lame stunt like this. Now’s probably not the time to say this, but didn’t Matt accuse me of being a hothead liability?”

  Brit heaved a sigh. “Yeah, how’s that for irony? A week ago this wouldn’t have happened. But in the last few days Alec has started acting a bit…”

  “Out of his mind?” I supplied.

  “Unpredictable.”

  “Hmm,” I mumbled, watching Alec run a frustrated hand through his black hair. “In the last few days?”

  “Right.” Brit cocked an eyebrow at me.

  “You mean since I moved to town?”

  Brit sighed like my dimness was too much to bear and nodded. Once.

  “Ohhhh....” I stared at Alec with renewed curiosity. So I had Alec all twitterpated, did I? I pulled my gaze away from his broad shoulders. All the more reason I should steer clear of the crew. Hunting and flirting went together like a land mine and a clown on a pogo stick.

  Mr. Riggs brushed between me and Brit. “Show’s over folks. Move along.”

  Everyone groaned in disappointment at his words. “Pick up the pace, or you’ll be running suicides after school all next week. Hustle, hustle, hustle.” His threat scattered the stragglers.

  “Girls,” he yelled in our direction. “Wade says you saw the accident. The police will be here soon to take your statements. Don’t go running off.”

  The weight of Wade’s and Alec’s gazes both pulled me in different ways. A speedy escape would be so good right now. Being held for questioning because I’d witnessed the school’s hottest guys smash up their rides and brawl in public wasn’t exactly keeping a low profile. Wait till the Hunter Council got a whiff of this.

  Bu
t I wanted to take off for reasons other than keeping my nose clean. I had issues with uniforms. Doctors, nurses, shrinks in suits. And I wasn’t too comfortable with the whole stop-or-I’ll-shoot thing cops had going either. After my parents disappeared, the police interviewed me, looking for clues, anything to help them figure out where my parents might have gone or who might have wanted them dead. I told the officers nothing. They were out of their league. No way were they ready for the monsters of my world.

  I couldn’t believe the way the cops treated me, though. Like I was on their list of suspects, me—the kid with the missing parents. The victim. I’d woken that morning to find my parents gone. That was all I could tell them. They’d wanted more. They’d asked questions, the same ones over and over. Phrased a hundred different ways. But my story never changed, because paranormal or not, that was what happened. My parents vanished.

  The finer details of those few weeks were a blur, lost in a haze of pain and fear, but I no longer had any illusions. Chivalrous cops didn’t exist. Today’s breed of law enforcement was jaded and suspicious, and generally not so nice. And who knew? In Redgrave, they might also be vampires.

  I had bitten my fingernails down to ravaged stumps by the time two officers arrived in a police car. It appeared the cops were on a first name basis with Wade. One even patted him on the back as if they were old buddies.

  Nepotism, anyone?

  Brit wrapped her arms around her waist, her face bleak. “No one messes with the chief’s son. He’s untouchable. My dad tried to give Wade a speeding ticket once and almost got fired.”

  I grimaced. “I forgot your dad was a taser toter.” Life with a cop would be the ultimate freak out. You would either get away with murder, or you’d have no life of your own. “So Wade’s dad is your dad’s boss?” I was getting lost in the incestuous nature of Redgrave and its police force.

  “Our families used to be real close. Until Blake died.” Brit shook her head. “My dad hasn’t been the same since.”

  I frowned, about to ask her for more details, when a cop about my height, overweight and barrel-chested, approached us. He gave Brit a brief glance of acknowledgement before settling his probing gaze on me.

 
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