Unmarked, p.9

Unmarked, page 9

 part  #2 of  The Legion Series

 

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On the lower shelves, my aunt had enough firearms and weapons to arm a small village. I couldn’t look at them without wondering how many of those guns were loaded with bullets instead of salt rounds. Bear slept beneath them, his bed wedged between cases of ammo and stacks of unfinished paintings.

  “Do you need something?” Faith asked.

  “I wanted to ask you a few things. If that’s okay.”

  Bear lifted his head from the dog bed, as if he was waiting to see if she would invite me in. She glanced over her shoulder, frowning.

  “My room is a little—”

  “My room is messy, too,” I blurted out. ‘At least, it used to be.”

  Faith stepped back and opened the door. “I was going to say private.”

  This is going well.

  “I can go.” I started to turn around.

  “It’s fine.” My aunt opened the door wider and gestured for me to come inside. “You must have a lot of questions. I never thought your mother would wait this long to tell you the truth.” She looked away.

  “I guess she never got the chance. Now you’re the only family I have left, except for my mom’s sister, and she and my mother weren’t close.”

  Faith crossed the room and leaned against one of the shelves. “I remember Diane. She was as bitchy as they come.”

  I laughed, and a smile tugged at the corner of Faith’s mouth, before disappearing just as quickly.

  “Diane isn’t your only family,” she said.

  “Don’t.” I raised my hand to stop her. She was talking about my father. “Please.”

  Faith busied herself at the shelves, checking the labels on the containers to make sure they were all facing the same direction.

  “I wanted to know when it happened. The kidnapping. You went into hiding after that, right?” I couldn’t ask her what I really wanted to know. If her kidnapping was the reason my dad left.

  She took a deep breath. “I went into hiding for other reasons.”

  And my dad left for other reasons.

  Faith stopped turning the jars and was silent for a long moment. “My life wasn’t always like this. Everything changed when I met Archer. He was handsome and charming, and I was young and stupid. Your parents had been married for about a year, and your mom disliked him right away. She told me you couldn’t trust a man who didn’t like dogs.”

  Bear’s ears perked up.

  “But I was already falling in love with him by then, and I didn’t listen.” She looked back at me. “I should have.”

  “So she was right about him?”

  “I met Archer at the farmer’s market, but we didn’t meet accidentally. He knew I’d be there, just like he knew I loved chocolate chip cookies and disaster movies—and that I was part of the Legion. He was a member of the Illuminati, a sleeper.” She paused, as if the subject was too painful to talk about. “His assignment was to earn my trust and find out everything he could about the Legion. And my dreams.”

  “Your dreams?”

  “I have what’s called prophetic dreams. I see things. Some of them end up happening.” She rubbed her eyes, the shadows beneath them even darker than mine.

  I remembered what she said when we saw her paintings.

  I hope your dreams are nothing like mine.

  “Your paintings.”

  She nodded. “After we learned the truth about Archer, Alex sent me into hiding. I didn’t want anything else to do with the Legion.”

  My chest tightened at the mention of my father’s name.

  “Unfortunately, the Illuminati caught up with me after that. But only once.”

  “What gave Archer away?” I asked.

  “Your mother was the one who finally put it all together. I should have realized then—” Faith stopped and blinked back tears.

  “Some bones should stay buried.”

  “Thanks for telling me what happened.” As much as I wanted to know more, it didn’t seem fair after I had dredged up such painful memories.

  “Goodnight, Kennedy Rose.”

  I stopped, my hand on the doorknob. Hearing her say my middle name—the one my father had chosen—made me wonder what else she knew.

  “Why did my dad leave?” I kept my hand on the knob and my back to her. Asking the question out loud was difficult enough.

  “It’s complicated, and it’s not really my story to tell. But if it makes you feel any better, he didn’t want to leave.”

  I pushed open the door. “It doesn’t.”

  11. PROMISES IN THE DARK

  As I climbed the rickety stairs to the attic, the railing swayed. Or maybe it was me. After my conversation with Faith, everything felt off-balance.

  The room didn’t help. Crossbows and rifles hung from metal hooks on the attic’s pegboard walls—along with knives, Tasers, chains, and a pickaxe. Another reminder of the war we were fighting.

  Jared sat on top of a sleeping bag in the midst of it all, with his elbows propped on his knees, staring out the window.

  Alara and Elle had claimed the remaining bedroom in the house, with a foldout sofa hidden behind a wall of bundled newspapers. When I saw it, I wondered if my father had ever slept there. Priest and Lukas ended up in my aunt’s great room, surrounding by her disturbing paintings. They seemed to sense Jared and I needed time alone, or they didn’t want to get stuck in the attic with the two of us.

  Seeing Jared sitting there with his hands clasped behind his neck, something he only seemed to do when he was worried or uncomfortable, reminded me how vulnerable he really was—and how well he hid it.

  Jared turned around as if he sensed me watching him, and his face broke into a smile. “Hey.”

  “Hey.” I smiled back and walked toward him.

  He pulled me down in front of him, and my legs slid into the empty space underneath his, leaving us barely a foot apart. “I can’t believe you’re really here.” His thumb ran down the side of my face, pausing to tuck a strand of hair behind my ear. He lifted my chin, never taking his eyes off me. When his lips grazed mine, I felt it everywhere.

  A soft sigh escaped my lips, as his hand slipped around the back of my neck. The next kiss was hungrier. Fingers trailing over my skin. Teeth tugging at my bottom lip. Hands tangled in my hair. I had forgotten the way the rest of the world melted away when he touched me.

  “God, I missed you,” he murmured against my lips.

  I nodded, unable to say the words. Because as much as I had missed Jared, I wanted to spare him. I felt damaged and broken in ways no one could fix.

  Jared held my shoulders gently and leaned away from me, studying my face. “You’re shaking. Did something happen?”

  “I’m just cold.” I tried to keep my expression unreadable.

  Jared wrapped his arms around me, heat radiating from his body and into mine. For a moment, I let myself feel it. The warmth and safety I only felt with him.

  “I still can’t believe you’re here, and I’m holding you.” He tugged me closer, burying his face in my neck. “I thought about you all the time, Kennedy.”

  “I tried not to think about you.” The words slipped out before I could catch them.

  His shoulders tensed.

  “Not because my feelings changed.” Tears pricked my eyes. “Because it hurt too much. I—”

  “What?” Hope edged its way into his voice.

  I shook my head and closed my eyes.

  Jared pulled me against his chest, and his heart was beating so fast. “Talk to me, Kennedy. You’re scaring me.”

  Tell him.

  “I was afraid I’d never see you again.”

  “You didn’t believe I’d come back for you.” Jared still thought he wasn’t good enough for me—that his mistakes eclipsed everything else about him. He didn’t realize I was the one who wasn’t good enough for him.

  Jared let his fingers slide down my arms. “You don’t know how hard—” He inhaled deeply. “It killed me to leave you behind that night. You were hurt, and I just walked away. I left you the
re bleeding.”

  “You didn’t have a choice.”

  “Yeah.” He sounded disgusted. “That’s what I told myself, for about five minutes. Then I circled back to the interstate and hitched a ride to the closest hospital.”

  I lifted my head off his chest and stared at him. “Are you kidding? What if you’d gotten caught?”

  “I didn’t care. I needed to know you were okay. But when I got there, you were already in the emergency room. I tried sneaking back to see you, but the cops were all over the place.”

  I remembered lying on the hospital bed, praying he was okay. If I had known he was so close.…

  “Eventually, they moved you. I watched them wheel you into the elevator. Your face was still muddy and you had this look in your eyes.” Jared bit his lip, his expression pained. “I don’t know how to describe it. You looked so alone, like you didn’t care what happened to you. It took everything I had in me not to go over there. Watching those elevator doors close with you inside—” He shook his head. “Felt like it broke me.”

  Every part of me ached for him. I rested my palm on his chest, above his heart.

  Jared laid both of his hands on top of mine and held them there. “All I thought about was you, Kennedy, I swear. I didn’t care about the demon or the dead crows or the end of the world. I know it was selfish, but all that mattered was finding you.”

  The back of my throat burned. “I thought about you, too. I wanted you to find me. I just—”

  He squeezed my hand. “What?”

  I struggled to find the words. “I know you said you were thinking about me, but after everything that happened, I didn’t think you’d want me anymore.”

  And I don’t deserve you.

  Jared looked stunned. He pulled me into his lap, and pressed his forehead against mine. “You’re the only thing I want. But it’s more than that. The way I feel about you…”

  “What?” I didn’t know what he was about to say, but I wanted to hear it.

  “I need you,” he whispers. “More than I’ve ever needed anything.”

  I tugged on the collar of his thermal and kissed him like I might never get the chance again. When we finally came up for air, Jared pulled the sleeping bag around us. “I’ve never said that to anyone before.”

  I wanted to tell him I felt the same way, but I stopped myself. “Are you sorry you said it?”

  “No.” He shook his head in the darkness. “I’m just not used to talking about the way I feel. I was the guy who never let anyone get too close, because I didn’t want to care. Not like this.”

  “And now?”

  He tightened his arms around me, the only answer he could give. I rested my head against his chest and listened to the sound of his heartbeat.

  As I drifted off to sleep, I heard Jared whisper something else. “I don’t even remember how to be that guy anymore.”

  12. BLACK-EYED GIRL

  I awoke with Jared’s body curled around mine, his chest rising and falling against my back in a gentle rhythm. His lips grazed my neck each time he took a breath, sending a shiver up my spine.

  I forgot about where we were and all the things that had led us here, until the sun sent a streak of light across the wall of weapons.

  I untangled my body from Jared’s and tiptoed down the attic staircase.

  We needed Faith, no matter how crazy she seemed. She knew more about Andras and the Legion than the rest of us, and if she was right about the Illuminati, we were in the dark on yet another front. As much as I hated the thought, if I promised to sit on the sidelines, maybe she would reconsider and help.

  I padded down the silent hallway. The bare, white walls and emergency lighting along the baseboards reminded me how different my aunt’s life was from mine—and how much lonelier.

  When I reached Faith’s door, I stood there with my fist poised in the air.

  You can do this.

  A strange sound came from inside. Was she crying? The sound intensified, and I recognized the insistent whimper.

  Bear.

  “Faith?” I called through the door, knocking over and over. “It’s Kennedy. Is everything okay?”

  A door opened down the hall, and Alara poked her head out. “What’s going on?”

  “Something’s wrong.” I kept pounding. “Her door is locked, and Bear’s in there whining. She’s not answering.”

  Alara jammed her feet into her black tactical boots, buckling her tool belt around her waist as she walked toward me.

  “Can we break down the door or something?” I asked.

  “It’s not as easy as it looks in the movies. You have to kick it in just the right spot.”

  Alara pushed me out of the way. “Back up. This is a one-woman job.”

  I stared at the layers of chipped white paint coating Faith’s door. It had been painted at least a half dozen times, each new shade slapped over the peeling layer below it.

  Something terrible is waiting on the other side.

  Alara kicked the middle of the door with the bottom of her boot. The wood cracked, littering the floor with splintered pine. Alara’s boot made contact a second time, and the lock snapped. Rusty screws rolled across the floor.

  The door swung open slowly, and I stumbled into the room.

  A sweet scent clung to the air. At least it wasn’t sulfur, the telltale sign of a demonic presence.

  Bear whimpered, and my eyes drifted to where he was sitting next to the four-poster bed. Tiny green pods the size of olives were scattered all over the floor.

  “Oh my god.” Alara clamped a hand over her mouth.

  Faith sat slumped against the headboard, with her arms outstretched at her sides. The ripped sleeves of her flannel shirt were knotted to the bedposts, binding her wrists, in a twisted re-creation of the Crucifixion.

  My mind flashed on the image of my mother’s empty stare, and her arm hanging off the bed, the night I found her body.

  I just wanted her to wake up.

  I inched closer to my aunt, unable to stop myself.

  Wake up, Faith.

  Faith’s eyes were closed, her face smeared in the same pink stain she’d been painting on the bear traps earlier. A metal bucket was tipped over next to my aunt’s bed, a pool of poisoned sap oozing across the floor.

  Wintersweet.

  Above the headboard, crushed green pods streaked the walls in the same intense shade of pink. They formed jagged letters exactly like the ones that had etched themselves into the mirror in my dorm room. But the message was different.

  HE IS HERE.

  Jared, Lukas, Priest, and Elle’s voices drifted down the hallway. They were talking about something—maybe breakfast and hot showers or crazy aunts who tape garbage bags over their windows. They didn’t know she was dead, yet—that I’d lost another family member, even if I barely knew her.

  “We’re in Faith’s room,” Alara called out, sounding strangely calm. She looked up at the Eye of Ever painted on the ceiling above my aunt’s body. “The Eye wasn’t strong enough to protect her.”

  Maybe nothing would’ve been.

  Lukas stopped just inside the doorway. “Hey, what are you guys—”

  Elle took one look at Faith’s body and the dripping wall, and screamed. “Is she dead? She’s dead, isn’t she?”

  Priest’s eyes darted from my aunt’s bound wrists to the green berries scattered across the floor. “What the hell happened?”

  Jared stared up at the message on the wall, transfixed.

  “A vengeance spirit… or something poisoned her.” Alara stepped away from the bed, trying to distance herself from the body or the message.

  “Something?” Elle backed into the doorjamb and jumped. “What kind of something?”

  For once, I was the one with the answer. “A demon.”

  Lukas, Jared, Alara, and Priest guided me out of Faith’s bedroom, with their weapons drawn.

  “We should bury her.” I couldn’t stand the thought of leaving her lying under th
e sinister message.

  “Not until we sweep the house.” Priest tossed Jared an EMF, taking command.

  “Stay here with Elle.” Jared kissed my forehead and handed me a semi-automatic, with silver duct tape wrapped around the barrel. He slid his hand down the side of my leg until he reached the pocket of my cargo pants. The metal clinked as he dropped salt rounds inside. “Just in case.”

  “In case of what?” Elle flattened herself against the wall.

  “I’ll stay with Kennedy and Elle.” Lukas’ eyes flickered over Elle’s face when he said her name, but she was too terrified to notice.

  Instead, she clamped her hand around his arm in a death-grip. “You won’t leave us, right?”

  He pushed a strand of red hair out of her eyes. “It’s gonna be okay.”

  She nodded over and over like a mechanical toy with a glitch.

  “I’m going to check the salt lines.” Alara headed for the stairs, with her nail gun drawn and a rifle leaning against the opposite shoulder.

  Bear followed, racing to get ahead of her.

  I stood next to Lukas and Elle, listening to the familiar chirping sounds of the EMFs.

  Elle stared at Faith’s door with a dazed expression, and scooted farther away from it. “I can’t believe she’s dead. And the way it happened… I never should’ve taken that bracelet from the museum.”

  “This had nothing to do with the bracelet.” My hand tightened around the grip of the gun. What happened in my aunt’s room was connected to the message scratched into my mirror at Winterhaven.

  “Kennedy’s right,” Lukas said. “When objects are haunted, the vengeance spirit is attached to the item itself. And the bracelet is buried out in the woods somewhere. Trust me, I’ve dealt with a lot of vicious spirits.”

  Elle looked up at Lukas, her chocolate brown eyes still dazed. “Why do you do it?”

  “What are we talking about exactly?” He shifted his gaze between Elle’s face and the spot on the floor between them, as if he suddenly realized how close together they were standing.

  Elle rubbed her face, smearing a trail of black eyeliner across her cheek. “I know you’re trying to keep a demon from opening the Gates of Hell and turning the world into his personal playground. And I get that. But Kennedy said you’ve been fighting these killer spirits since you were a kid, before the demon even escaped.” Her thoughts spilled out in a crazy stream of consciousness, Elle’s typical reaction when she felt overwhelmed. “Why would you risk your life like that?”

 
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