Immortal Grave (The Dark Betrayal Trilogy), page 4
The truck had a cover over the bed, thankfully, but it was still a very uncomfortable ride to the boat dock. Weylin, Melanie and her grandmother rode up front. The rest of their group piled into the truck bed and tried to keep their heads down.
The roads in the historic district were swarming with cops and it didn’t feel safe to breathe until they had gotten into the more modern areas of the city. No one spoke for the entire ride. Roland looked like he was ready to explode at any moment, his hands opening and closing on his knees. His expression was calm and nonchalant, belying the short fuse that lay just beneath the surface. Weylin still hadn’t explained the details of his close call, and Melanie’s mother seemed to be lost in thought.
Paden squeezed Ree’s arm, but his eyes were scanning the windows as they drove past one of the malls. When they finally pulled into the neighborhood with the dilapidated Victorian house, the tension was almost unbearable. Part of Ree was so tired she wanted to find a place to crawl into and hide. It wasn’t a physical sense of exhaustion, but rather a mental and spiritual fatigue. So much had happened, with so little time to process anything, she felt as if she was constantly running. By the time the gravel of the driveway crunched under the tires, Ree was up and throwing open the tailgate.
Before the truck had even come to a stop, Ree had jumped out and was walking toward the dock. The sleek boat that had originally taken them to the island bobbed gently in the waves. Roland walked past Ree and hopped gracefully over the boat’s edge and started checking different switches. Her steps halted and she watched the Dark One. He was obviously ignoring Ree, and she didn’t really blame him. It was obvious he must’ve come to the same conclusion she had in the safe house. She was just glad he hadn’t started screaming at her. Knowing she had caused him pain made part of her soul wither. She might not love him the way Tria had, but she remembered it. And she could understand why Tria had loved him, which made it so much harder to ignore.
A warm hand squeezed her shoulder and she looked up into Paden’s green eyes. There was a question in them she didn’t know how to answer. Instead she covered his hand with hers and squeezed.
“I don’t like this, Paden. We’re running again; letting them dictate our actions. We have to stop allowing that happen.” Changing the subject let Ree push the guilt aside for a minute.
“Let’s regroup and go from there. You’re right, though, we need to start making the calls.” Paden frowned and looked out over the water.
Ellie walked past them with Bryce and Melanie. “Now, that is a nice boat. Much bigger than the last dingy I went fishing on. Do you remember, Mel?”
Melanie groaned. “No wants to hear that story, Gran.”
“Of course we do,” Weylin said from where he knelt next to the truck. With a firm yank, he pulled the license plate off of the truck and balled it up in his hands. Ree watched, amused, as the metal folded like paper. Standing up, he threw the metal into the water.
“Weylin! That’s littering!” Ree pointed a finger in his direction and glared at him.
“What was I supposed to do? Put it in the trash can?” Weylin shrugged. “At least I didn’t push the truck into the river. We really need to get rid of it, or they will track us here.”
“We could leave it at one of the other houses. Or maybe the abandoned lot we passed.” Juliette offered.
“That’s still pretty close to the house. There’s a share-ride lot near the highway. We could leave it there and run back.” Paden suggested. “That would also keep us from being tracked by the cameras on the stop lights.”
“I can go and be back pretty quickly.” Weylin stood up and headed for the truck cab.
“No one should go alone. I’ll ride with you.” Paden squeezed Ree’s shoulders. “I’ll be back soon.” Leaning down, he brushed his lips over her forehead. “Stay close to Roland.”
With that, he joined Weylin in the truck and they were gone. The breeze from the coast slid through Ree’s hair and she shivered. Turning to look at the boat, she caught Roland’s cold gaze on her. After a moment, he jumped back on to the dock and headed for the old house. He brushed past Ree and she felt his grief and anger like a cold knife between her ribs.
Her breath shuddered through her clenched teeth and she wrapped her arms around her middle. How had it ever come about that she could be the cause of so much pain? Her eyes followed his lithe form as he ducked through one of the rotten doorways. As if she couldn’t help herself, she began walking toward the door.
Stepping through the entrance to the house, Ree stopped and looked around. The interior was mostly gutted, but instead of everything being old and destroyed, it was clean and neat. Dark hardwood covered the floor and the walls were painted a light gray. There was a small kitchenette on the other side of the cavernous space and a small room that looked like a bathroom in one corner. Weapons of all kinds lined the walls and there were mats stacked up against one wall. But it was Roland, leaned against the wall with his arms crossed, that made her heart stop. Dangerous and sexy, he would make any girl’s heart flutter, but it was the pain in his expression that made her wince.
“I figured you’d follow me.” His voice rumbled deep in his chest, but he didn’t look up at her.
“You’re mad at me.” Ree wasn’t sure why she said that, because it wasn’t exactly what she felt radiating off him. It was what she feared.
His eyes cut up at her sharply and he grimaced. “I’m not mad at you, Ree.” Pushing off the wall, he ran a hand through his hair and looked away from her. “Not mad at you, but definitely mad.”
“I’m sorry, Roland.”
“Don’t you dare.” Turning to look at her, his eyes held a fire that made her want to take a step back. Instead, she straightened her spine and walked further into the house. “I don’t want your pity, Ree. Not yours, or anyone else’s.”
“Fine, then stop acting like you deserve it.” Ree winced as soon the words left her mouth, because he did deserve it. He deserved so much more than he had been dealt in life. And in death.
“I don’t want to talk to you.” Letting his hands hang at his sides, Roland’s features shifted into the blank expression that she hated.
“You know what? I don’t really care what you want. I think you need to talk to me.” Ree walked toward him and tilted her head back so that she could look up into his eyes.
His hands grabbed her waist and pulled her against him. “I don’t want to talk, Ree.”
“Why did you get so upset at the safe house?” Swallowing, she ignored his statement and tried to steer the conversation to a safer place.
“You know why I was so upset. They played me this whole time. Tell me Paden isn’t your soul mate. Tell me I haven’t spent hundreds of years waiting for someone that was never meant to be mine.” His voice cracked on the last word and his hands clenched at her sides.
“Better yet, show me.” Without waiting for a response, his head dipped down and deftly captured Ree’s mouth. She gasped in shock and he took advantage of the moment to plunder her mouth. When one of his hands slid under her hair to cup her neck, she closed her eyes and melted into the kiss.
A surge of memories pounded through her head, transporting her to another time: Tria as a tiny girl with a dark-haired boy in a field of tall wheat, laughing and giggling. It was replaced with a girl of twelve or thirteen standing in the corner at a party, watching a devilishly good-looking boy dancing with her friend. There was the image of Roland bringing her a flower, his face wreathed in a happy smile, while Tria’s heart beat rapidly in her chest.
Then, as if her memories were running parallel to the present, she saw their first kiss. His hands shook when they cupped her face and Tria laughed at his nerves. So many moments ran through her mind, filling her with a sadness that made tears run down her cheeks.
Something in her soul felt as if it was shriveling. One of the threads that held her tied to this body seemed to snap,
As if sensing where her thoughts were going, his kiss intensified, demanding her attention. Running her hands over his chest, she laid one against his neck before slowly pulling away. He pressed his forehead against hers, his breathing heavy, his eyes closed as if he was in pain.
A growl ripped through the room and Roland spun so Ree was behind him. Paden slammed into Roland with the force of a freight train, knocking Roland back into Ree. She stumbled, but it only took Roland a split second to regain his footing. Grabbing Paden by the shoulders, he flung him away from them both. Stepping away from Ree, Roland intercepted Paden’s next strike and blocked the punch aimed for his face.
“Paden!” Ree’s heart slammed into her chest and she moved to try to intervene. She was too slow though, and Paden managed to connect his fist with Roland’s jaw. The Dark One was knocked backward to slide along the floor. Paden stayed on him as if they were tied together. Jumping onto Roland’s chest, Paden raised his fist to hit him again. Instead of fighting back, Roland deflected the blow. Paden’s knuckles crashed through the hardwood floor with a loud crack and sent splinters flying. His first punch was followed by the second and third, leaving the floor around Roland’s head obliterated.
Bryce and Weylin flew into the room and tried to pull Paden off of Roland, but he shrugged them both off like flies. Ree stepped forward and grabbed his shoulders. Paden tensed, but didn’t stop his assault on Roland.
“Paden, stop!” Ree pulled at his shoulder, but he didn’t budge.
“No.” Paden’s voice growled the word and his attack grew in ferocity. His pain filled every crevice in Ree’s mind and she would do anything to make it better, but she couldn’t let him beat Roland. She had let Roland kiss her and she deserved Paden’s wrath more than anyone else. Grabbing the power, Ree threw it around Paden and Roland, using it to pull them apart. She lifted them both into the air a foot from the ground.
“Put me down, Ree. I’m not done.” Paden snarled in her direction and Roland brushed some of the blood away from his eyes.
“We had a deal, Paden.” Roland’s voice was tired, his movements weary. Ree couldn’t help but notice he didn’t refer to Paden as godling, and that made her nervous and sad.
“I don’t care. I’m going to rip you apart.”
“Don’t be a sore loser, godling.” Roland sneered at Paden with more of his normal attitude. “You took the bet, and I won.”
Paden growled again, but didn’t say anything else. Ree was surprised there was a trace of guilt sliding through his anger and hurt. What did he have to feel guilty about?
“I don’t know what you two are talking about, but if I put you down can you behave?” Ree looked at Paden, letting him know she was mainly concerned about his behavior.
“I don’t know. Can you keep your hands off of him?” Paden’s angry voice sliced at Ree’s heart, but it was no less than she deserved.
“Yes, I can.” Ree looked at Paden, knowing he could feel her guilt and shame. Yes, she let Roland kiss her, but she would never love someone the way she loved Paden. After a moment Paden jerked his head in agreement and Ree lowered the shield separating them. Ree looked around the room and realized the others had left them alone, obviously not wanting to be there for whatever was about to happen.
“We had a deal, Paden.” Roland wiped at his nose and grimaced. Paden merely growled and looked anywhere but at Ree.
“What are you talking about?” Ree looked between Roland and Paden.
“We made a bet at your parent’s house. I killed the most Dark Ones and he agreed to my terms.” Looking far more uncomfortable than Ree had ever seen Roland, he looked down at the floor.
Suspicion gnawed at Ree as she remembered their last bet; Paden had won and had taken her home with the intention of staying the night. Not that anything untoward would have happened, but he’d wanted to be the one to protect her.
“What were your terms, Roland?” Ree looked at him and put her hands on her hips.
“To kiss you.” Roland frowned and looked at Paden. “And I thought it was without recourse on his part, but apparently I should have been clearer.”
Ree sucked in a breath and tried to not lose her tenuous hold on calm. Turning her wide eyes to Paden, she caught his grimace. Paden had bet a kiss with Ree, like she was some type of object to trade, as if her kisses were a commodity. No wonder he was feeling guilty.
“You bet a kiss with me?” Ree felt her face fill with her hurt.
“I didn’t think you would really kiss him.” Paden looked away from her face. “I didn’t think he would win.”
“He did win! If my kisses meant something to you then you wouldn’t have taken the chance.” Shaking her head, Ree took a deep breath.
“No, Ree. That’s not it. It was stupid.” Paden took a step in her direction but stopped when she glared at him.
“Who else did you make that bet with? Weylin and Bryce? Melanie and Juliette?” Ree crossed her arms and cocked her hip. “Is there anyone else I owe a kiss?”
“It was wrong, Ree. But you did kiss him. How could you do that?” Paden looked at her with sad eyes. “I thought…” His voice trailed off, leaving her to decipher what he was thinking.
“Paden, I’m sorry.” Ree felt tears welling up in her eyes. No matter how angry she was about the bet, she had done something unforgivable.
“She was letting me say goodbye to Tria.” Roland cleared his throat, drawing both of their attention. “I needed to let go.” A staggering breath escaped him and Ree knew he had felt the same thing she had. There would always be something between them, the memory of what had been in one life, but it wasn’t what either of them deserved. And Ree had found that person in this life. The gods had sent him to protect her. She could only hope she hadn’t messed it up royally at this point.
Paden’s eyes snapped to Ree’s face and she could feel his emotions wavering between anger, hurt, guilt, and oddly enough, understanding. Not sure what to say or how to act, Ree turned on her heel and walked out of the house. She wanted to throw herself at Paden, to plead for him to forgive her. She wanted to hit him for treating her like a prize in a bet, and she wanted to comfort Roland.
Since she didn’t think any of those things would go over well, she left. For the first time in the last few weeks, she felt like a true coward. She needed to regroup and she couldn’t do that while she was around either of those guys.
Without slowing, Ree made her way down the dock and hopped onto the boat. She avoided eye contact with everyone and sat down next to Ellie. The older woman smiled and put her arm around Ree’s shoulders.
Roland and Paden were the last to embark. A tense silence blanketed the boat as Roland pulled away from the dock and headed for the island. In an odd way, Ree was grateful no one was talking. At this point, she didn’t feel like she could hold a conversation without completely losing it.
Everyone disembarked quietly. The trip had been uncomfortable at best, no one speaking unless they had to. Ree was the first to scramble out of the boat, her mind in a million places and an intense desire to be alone pushing her toward the large house.
She didn’t stop until she was closing the door to her room, where she leaned her forehead against the heavy wood. Her breathing became difficult, tears slipped out from under her closed eyelids and down her cheeks. In the span of hours, her life had gone from really bad to even worse.
Her parents were running for their lives, her protector and friend had died saving her, and she had cheated on Paden. To top it all off, her friends were on the lam . Snorting, she dragged her hand across her nose and turned around so the back of her head could lean against the door. It was too much for any person to handle, too much for anyone to real
Wanting nothing more than to take a hot shower and to go to sleep, Ree headed for her bathroom. Stopping midstride, she looked around. Something was off and she couldn’t put her finger on what it was that bothered her. Slowly, she ran her eyes across the room, hesitating on the chair next to the bed.
A velvety chuckle glided through the air and where the empty chair had caught Ree’s attention, a dark haired woman sat with her legs crossed.
“So, your senses really have heightened.” Smiling, the goddess leaned further back into the chair. “I was wondering if you’d be able to tell I was here.”
“Who are you?” Ree narrowed her eyes at the woman. She was not in the mood for company, and a god was the last person she would want to talk to even if she wasn’t in the mood for quiet.
“Aphrodite.” The woman pursed her lips. “Goddess of love. Yadda, yadda, yadda.” She waved her hand flippantly, looking bored with her introduction.
“Aphrodite.” Ree stated the name calmly, but the last thing in the world she wanted to talk about was love.
“Of course, dear. There are important things happening right now and I figured you might need a motherly figure to talk to.” Smiling wickedly, Aphrodite motioned at her body. Ree couldn’t help but snort. There was nothing motherly about Aphrodite. She looked like a runway model, complete with designer outfit and awkward-looking shoes.
“Actually, I’m not really in the mood to talk to anyone. But, thanks for the offer.” Ree thought about walking out of the room, but didn’t want to turn her back on the goddess. “Maybe another time.”
Aphrodite uncrossed her legs and tsked under her breath. Standing up, she walked toward Ree and gently wrapped her fingers around her wrist. Tugging carefully, the goddess pulled Ree over to the bed and sat on the edge.
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