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|The Beautiful Ashes(Broken Destiny #1) by Jeaniene Frost|
“Don’t worry, you’ll be better soon,” he said, carrying me toward the door.
We need to get Jasmine! I wanted to insist, but my tongue seemed to have gone on strike. The tingling in my limbs and buzzing in my ears probably wasn’t a good sign, either.
“What’s your name, anyway?” I heard Adrian ask, his voice now sounding very far away.
I managed one word before everything went dark.
A familiar song was playing, but I couldn’t remember the name. That bugged me enough to open my eyes. A wall of black met my gaze, slick and smooth like glass. I reached up to see what it was, and that’s when I realized my hands were tied.
“Silent Lucidity” by Queensryche, my mind supplied, followed immediately by, I’m in the backseat of a car. One that was well taken care of, going by that flawless, shiny roof. With those details filled in, I also remembered what had happened right before I’d passed out. And who I was with.
“Why are my hands tied?” I said, heaving myself into an upright position.
For some reason Adrian didn’t have a rearview mirror, which was why he had to glance over his shoulder to look at me.
“Does anything make you panic?” he asked, sounding amused. “You’re tied up in the backseat of a cop-killer’s car, but I’ve seen people get more upset when Starbucks runs out of Pumpkin Spice flavor.”
Anyone normal would panic, not that it would do any good. Besides, I ran out of “normal” a long time ago, when I realized I saw things no one else did.
Speaking of which, why wasn’t I in pain? The lump where Mrs. Paulson had whacked me was gone, and my shirt was red from blood, but aside from a mild kink in my neck, I felt fine. When I pushed my shirt up, somehow I wasn’t surprised to see smooth, unbroken skin on my abdomen. Well, that and a bunch of crumbs, like I’d eaten a dessert too messily.
“Why does it look like I have angel food cake on my stomach?” I wondered aloud.
Adrian snorted. “Close. It’s medicine. You were injured.”
“You can tell me how I’m not anymore,” I said, holding out my bound hands, “after you untie me.”
Another backward glance, this one challenging.
“You may be the calmest person I’ve ever been sent to retrieve, but if I tell you now what you want to know, that will change. So pick—the truth, or being untied?”
“Truth,” I said instantly.
He let out a laugh. “Another first. You’re full of surprises.”
So was he. He’d just admitted that he regularly kidnapped people—which was how I translated “retrieve”—so I should be trying my damnedest to get free. But more than anything, I needed answers. Besides, I still wasn’t afraid of him, and somehow, that had nothing to do with him magically healing me.
“Truth, Adrian,” I repeated.
He turned once again and his gaze locked with mine, those odd blue eyes startling me with their intensity. For a moment, I could only stare, all thought frozen in my mind. I don’t know why I reached out, awkwardly touching his arm to feel the hard muscles beneath that bulky jacket. If I’d thought about it, I wouldn’t have done it. Yet I couldn’t make myself pull away.
Then I gasped when his hand covered mine. At some point, he’d taken off his gloves, and the feel of his warm, bare skin sent a shock wave through me. The touch seemed to affect Adrian, too. His lips parted and he edged over the back of the seats—
He yanked on the steering wheel, narrowly avoiding another car. A horn blared, and when the driver passed us, an extended middle finger shook angrily in our direction. I leaned back, my heart pounding from the near collision. At least, that’s what I told myself it was from.
“Dyate,” Adrian muttered.
I didn’t recognize the word, and I was at a loss to place his accent. It had a musical cadence like Italian, but beneath that was a harsher, darker edge.
“What’s that language?” I asked, trying to mask the sudden shakiness in my voice.
This time, he didn’t take his eyes off the road. “Nothing you’ve heard of.”
“I picked truth, remember?” I said, holding up my bound hands for emphasis.
That earned me a quick glance. “That is the truth, but you don’t get more until you meet Zach. Then we can skip all the ‘this isn’t possible’ arguments.”
I let out a short laugh. “After what I saw on Detective Kroger’s face, my definition of ‘impossible’ has changed.”
Adrian swerved again, but this time, no other car was near.
“What did you see?”
I tensed. How did I explain without sounding insane? No way to, so I chose to go on the attack instead.
“Why were you in my hotel room? And how did you heal me? There isn’t even a mark—”
“What did you see on his face, Ivy?”
Despite his hard tone, when my name crossed his lips, something thrummed inside me, like he’d yanked on a tie I hadn’t known was there. Feeling it was as disturbing as my inexplicable reaction to his clasping my hands.
“Shadows,” I said quickly, to distract from that. “He had snakelike shadows all over his face.”
I expected Adrian to tell me I’d imagined it, a response I was used to hearing. Instead, he pulled over, putting the car in park but keeping the engine running. Then he turned to stare at me.
“Was that the only strange thing you saw?”
I swallowed. I knew better than to talk about these things. Still, I’d demanded the truth from Adrian. It didn’t seem fair to lie in return.
“I saw two versions of the same B and B earlier. One was pretty, but the other was old and rotted, and my sister was trapped inside it.”
Adrian said nothing, though he continued to pin me with that hard stare. When he finally spoke, his question was so bizarre I thought I’d misheard him.
“What do I look like to you?”
“My appearance.” He drew out the words like I was slow. “Describe me.”
All of a sudden, he wanted compliments? I might have finally met someone crazier than me.
“This is ridiculous,” I muttered, but started with the obvious. “Six-six, early twenties, built like Thor, golden brown hair with blond highlights, silvery blue eyes...you want me to go on?”
He began to laugh, a deep, rich baritone that would’ve been sensual except for how angry it made me.
“Now I know why they came after you,” he said, still chuckling. “They must’ve realized you were different, but if they’d known what you could see, you never would’ve made it out of that B and B.”
“You can stop laughing,” I said sharply. “I get that it’s crazy to see the things I do.”
Lots of kids had imaginary friends growing up. I had imaginary places, though at first, I hadn’t known I was the only one who could see them. Once my parents had realized that what I kept describing went far beyond childhood fancy, the endless doctor visits and tests began. One by one, diseases and psychoses had been crossed off until I was diagnosed with a non-monoamine-cholinergic imbalance in my temporal cortex.
In other words, I saw shit that wasn’t there for reasons no one could figure out. The pills I took helped a little, though I lied and said they got rid of all my hallucinations. I was sick of doctors poking at me. So whenever I saw something that no one else did, I forced myself to ignore it—until Mrs. Paulson and Detective Kroger had tried to kill me, of course.
Adrian did stop laughing, and that unblinking intensity was back in his gaze.
“Well, Ivy, I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is, you’re not crazy. The bad news is, everything you’ve seen is real, and now, it’ll be coming for you.”
Even on a good day, I hated when guys were cryptic. Those of the Testosterone Persuasion already came with a mountain of senseless tendencies—did they really think they needed to add purposefully vague statements on top of that?
The fact that Adrian refused to elaborate on his enigmatic warning while I was tied up in his backseat made it unbearable. As the time ticked on, I consoled myself by imagining hitting him in the head with something heavy. Or leaning over the seat and choking him with the band of duct tape around my wrists. If the back of this vehicle had had a cigarette lighter, I might’ve gotten creative with fantasies about that, too.
Guess being kidnapped turned me into a violent person.
“Are you a sex slaver?” I asked abruptly.
“Someone’s watched Taken too many times,” Adrian said, and the amusement in his tone grated on my last nerve.
“Why wouldn’t I think that?” I shot back. “You saved my life, but you’re taking me somewhere against my will, and you refuse to untie me.”
“You picked truth, remember?” was his infuriating response.
I swear, the first heavy object I got a hold of...! “You didn’t give me that, either.”
“Yes, I did.” He said it with a heavy-lidded, backward glance that would’ve made me straighten up and smile if he’d done it while we were sitting at a bar. “Just not all of it, but don’t worry. We’re here.”
With that statement, Adrian turned down a long road that led to a set of soaring, elaborately carved gates.
“Wait a sec while I open the gates,” he said, turning the car off and taking the keys with him.
I waited...until he was far enough away for me to make my move. Then I leaped over the seats. When I yanked on the driver’s side door, however, a large hand on the window prevented it from opening.
“Why am I not surprised?” Adrian said with irony dripping from his tone.
I stared at his hand, as if that could explain how the rest of him was attached to it. A second ago, he’d been in front of those barbarically ornate gates, doing something that caused them to swing open with a mechanical moan.
No one could move that fast. Or, more accurately, no one should be able to move that fast.
“What are you?” I breathed.
His teeth flashed in a smile that was predatory and sexy at the same time.
“A couple hours ago, I wondered the same thing about you.”
Me? Before I could ask what he meant, he opened the door and let me out. Ice raced through my veins when I saw the knife in his other hand. That was also the moment when I noticed the sign on the gates: Green-Wood Cemetery.
“Don’t,” I gasped.
He raised a brow, cutting through the duct tape around my wrists. “You’re the one who wanted to be untied.”
My arms fell to my sides while relief roared over me, replacing the surge of fear-fueled adrenaline. Just as quickly, something snapped inside me. All the grief, anger, fear and frustration of the past ten days hurtled through my defenses, turning me into someone I didn’t recognize.
A rage monster.
My hand cracked across Adrian’s face with enough force to make it tingle and burn, and still, it wasn’t enough. I began beating on his chest, part of me horrified by my actions, but the rest urging me to hit him harder.
“What is the matter with you?” I yelled. “You pull out a knife with no explanation? I thought you were going to kill me!”
Adrian grabbed my hands. Any sane person would have recognized how overmatched I was and calmed the hell down, but I was way past sanity. With my hands out of commission, I kicked his shin hard enough to send pain shooting up my leg. He grunted, backing me up until I was pressed against the car hood. Now I had a wall of steel behind me and a wall of muscled flesh on top of me.
“Stop it,” Adrian ordered, his strange accent thicker with his vehemence. “I promise, I’m not going to hurt you!”
My breath came in pants. Adrian countered my attempt to drop down and wiggle free by pressing his thigh between my legs. I stopped that course of action at once, which was the same as admitting defeat. I couldn’t use my arms to push him away. He felt more solid and heavy than a stone gargoyle.
“Get off me,” I said between ragged breaths.
“Not until you calm down,” he replied sternly. Then the barest grin tugged at his mouth. “Feel free to take your time.”
I glanced down, only now registering that my breasts were pressed against his chest just as tightly as his thigh was wedged between my legs. Any movement on my part caused an embarrassingly personal friction, as if inhaling each other’s breaths while we panted wasn’t intimate enough.
I tried to slow my breathing, not to mention my galloping heartbeat. If not for his grin, I wouldn’t have known he thought anything of the compromising position he had me in.
If nothing else, he didn’t seem angry that I’d slapped, kicked and pummeled him. Now that my reckless rage had passed, I realized how stupid I’d been. One punch from his massive fist would’ve meant lights out, but he hadn’t hit back. Instead, he’d promised that he wouldn’t hurt me. Despite his kidnapping me and his refusal to give me answers about what was going on, I decided to believe him.
“Sorry I attacked you,” I said, my voice no longer shrill.
He shrugged like he was used to it. “Don’t worry. You were overdue for a breakdown, anyway.”
Just how many people have you kidnapped? I almost asked. Since I didn’t really want to know, all I said was, “Can you get off me? You’re heavy.”
He slowly uncurled his body from mine, but that silvery blue gaze stayed glued to me. I shivered, suddenly aware of how cold it was, now that I wasn’t covered by over two hundred pounds of warm-blooded male.