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|The Beautiful Ashes(Broken Destiny #1) by Jeaniene Frost|
Adrian shrugged out of his coat, revealing a crew-neck black shirt that hugged his physique like it was paying homage. Of course he’d noticed the shiver. I wondered if anything escaped those piercing eyes.
I put it on. The hem had been midcalf on him; it pooled on the ground with me. I’d never felt dainty around a guy before. I was comfortable at a size eight because I didn’t have to starve to maintain it, and my five-six height meant I could usually wear heels without being taller than my dates. Next to Adrian, however, I seemed to drop twenty pounds while also shrinking a few inches. Of course, his bulk was all muscle. Feeling him on top of me had made that clear....
I nixed that line of thought before it led to other, more dangerous musings, and tightened his coat around me.
“If we’re not here so you can kill me and bury my body in an empty plot, what else is there to do at a cemetery?” I asked with admirable calm.
He laughed, the deep, masculine rumble teasing something inside me that was too stupid to realize kidnappers were off-limits. That’s why I refused to notice the chin dimple it revealed, or how his lower lip was fuller than the top one.
“Lots of things, but we’ll get to that later.”
“Sure there’s going to be a later?” I challenged him.
“Of course.” Another tantalizing smile. “Since you and I are from the same line, you’ll be seeing a lot more of me.”
Line? “You think we’re related?”
His gaze brushed me like a physical caress. “Not like that, thankfully. That would make our first date awkward.”
I stared at him in disbelief. “You’re hitting on me?” I finally managed. “Do you have any idea how twisted that is?”
He shrugged. “I don’t do subtle, it wastes time. Besides—” the silvery part of his eyes gleamed like liquid moonlight “—if you say you don’t find me attractive, I’ll know you’re lying.”
Under other circumstances, I might have blushed at being busted ogling someone I’d just met, but my kidnapper was hitting on me! Should that make me more afraid, or less? He’d already saved my life once and had had plenty of chances to harm me since, yet he hadn’t.
Plus, I wouldn’t be much fun as a date if I was dead.
“How about we hold the date talk until you give me the answers you promised?” I said, part of me wondering if tonight could get any stranger. The other part felt happy for the first time in over a week. Stupid ovaries. Down, girls, down!
Adrian’s expression turned serious. “I’m taking you to the person who can give you those answers.”
“Zach?” I asked, remembering Adrian mentioning the name.
“That’s him. This cemetery is almost five hundred acres, so if you don’t want to spend hours walking around in the cold—” he went over to the passenger side of the vintage-looking muscle car and opened the door “—get in.”
He was giving me a choice. Or at least, the illusion of one. If I ran, we both knew he could catch me.
The car’s interior light showed a hint of stubble trying to break through the smooth skin along his jaw, shadowing it in a way that was far too attractive. His exotic accent wasn’t helping, either. If I was ever kidnapped again, it had better be by an old, ugly guy. That would be less confusing to my emotions.
And less embarrassing. What idiot got caught lusting over her kidnapper? No wonder he’d asked me out. He must have thought I gave “easy” a whole new definition.
I walked over, thinking that even if I could run away from him, I wouldn’t. My sister was trapped in a place that shouldn’t be real, yet somehow was, and Adrian was my only ally because he could see the same crazy things that I did. More importantly, Adrian had proven that he was able to kill those things.
If he was able to help me save my sister, I’d not only take him up on his date offer. I’d pay for everything and seriously consider putting out.
I got in the passenger side, hearing the door lock as soon as he shut it. I tried to open it. Nothing. My sense of unease returned. What kind of person saved people just to kidnap them, and had a vehicle you could only exit from the driver’s side?
Then again, as Adrian slid into the seat next to me with an almost spooky fluidity, I realized what kind of person he was might be less important than what he was.
Whoever had designed Green-Wood cemetery must have done so while puking drunk since it lacked a single straight road. I felt like we were driving through a child’s maze game with all the twists and turns. Then again, maybe lots of cemeteries were laid out like this. I wouldn’t know. I’d never been in one before. My parents’ funeral wasn’t until the day after tomorrow, both sets of my grandparents had died before my birth, and neither of my parents had siblings or cousins. Until ten days ago, I hadn’t lost anyone close to me.
Now, I’d lost everyone, and while I buried my grief with the same determination I’d used to ignore seeing impossible things, it wasn’t enough. When Adrian drove by a large tomb engraved “Beloved Parents,” the ache that had burned in my throat since their deaths grew into an impassable boulder.
Adrian stopped the car at the same time that I suddenly found it difficult to breathe.
“What’s wrong?” he asked urgently. “You see something?”
I shook my head, managing to draw in a breath despite that awful squeezing in my throat.
“Ivy.” A large hand cupped my face, forcing me to look at him instead of the headstone. “What is it?”
Right then, I was glad that Adrian was so hot. Thank God for the deep hollows under his cheekbones, those sapphire eyes, and the blondish-brown hair that looked like it had been tousled from too much sex. If I hadn’t had his looks to distract me, I might’ve had to focus on how bad it hurt to lose two people who’d never let me down, even when I’d been a stranger to them.
“It’s just...my parents died five days ago.”
My voice was husky from the emotions I kept trying to shove back, but the strangling tightness had eased. Another few deep breaths, and all that was left was a familiar burn.
“I’m sorry,” Adrian said, taking my hand and squeezing it.
I’d heard those words from friends and fellow students a lot in the past week, often with an added cliché about all things happening for a reason. Adrian didn’t say any of that crap. He just kept holding my hand while looking at me with an understanding that transcended compassion, as if he knew what it was like to lose everything within a brutally short amount of time.
“Thanks.” I drew in another breath, blinking away the tears. Crying felt like giving up, and I wasn’t doing that because I needed to find a way to bring my sister back home. “That’s why I need answers, because I’m not about to lose my sister forever, too.”
He let go of my hand and looked away, his jaw tightening. “Answers don’t mean miracles. I heard what that cop said to you. If they have your sister, I’m sorry, but she’s as good as dead.”
“Bullshit,” I snapped, instantly angry. “I know where she is. I just need a...way in.”
Adrian sighed. “You see things no one else does, yet you’re still in denial, aren’t you? The creatures that have your sister are too strong, Ivy. Even if you got in, you’d never get out.”
Creatures? Before I could respond, something flashed ahead, as if a spotlight had briefly turned on. Adrian began driving toward it. A few minutes later, we pulled up to what looked like a tiny castle, with circular turrets on the four corners and a tall, windowed dome blooming out of the center.
Adrian parked, going around to my side to let me out. “Welcome to Green-Wood chapel.”
The door was ajar, soft light emanating from within. Adrian entered and I followed, hugging his coat around me as though it were a protective shield. I was so disturbed by what he said that the equally ornate interior was lost on me. He must’ve meant “creatures” in a metaphorical way, my logic argued.
A young African-American man stood at the end of the pews, his face partially concealed by the blue hoodie hanging over his bent head. I would’ve thought he was praying except that he faced us, not the altar, and his hands were at his sides instead of folded in the universal gesture for piety.
“Ivy, this is Zach,” Adrian said. “Zach, meet Ivy, the girl you sent me to rescue.”
Zach looked up, his hoodie fell back, and—
Light exploded around him like thousands of camera flashes. My eyes burned, unable to adjust to the blinding intensity, and yet I couldn’t close them. I stared, stunned, as the glow around him became even brighter, until I saw nothing except Zach. A multitude of voices roared through my mind, deafening me to everything except their beauteous, painful crescendo. My body vibrated, caught in the thunderous echo, until it felt like my flesh would be shaken right off my bones—
“Don’t be afraid.”
The church morphed back around me, Adrian standing a few feet away like he’d been before. Zach hadn’t moved, either. I had, though. Somehow, I was on my knees, hands raised, my face wet from tears I didn’t remember shedding.
“Don’t be afraid,” Zach repeated, coming toward me.
I staggered to my feet. The lights around him were gone, as was the terrible noise that had made my whole body ache. Right now, Zach looked like half the guys around my campus, but I knew, with every fiber of my being, that he wasn’t human. He was something else.
A creature, like Adrian had said.
I kept backing away, but then strong hands settled around my shoulders, gripping me with protective gentleness.
“Don’t worry. He’s not one of the bad ones,” Adrian said softly. “Zach plays for the other team.”
“The creatures have teams?” I choked out.
“Yes, they do,” Adrian said, a note of grimness coloring his tone. “And both sides play for keeps.”
I stared into Zach’s walnut-colored eyes, seeing the otherness beneath the facade of a twentysomething man with closely cropped hair, thick brows, and smooth, dark skin. I didn’t need Adrian to tell me he could rip me limb from limb if he wanted to. An instinctual, animalistic part of me knew that. In fact, I was painfully aware of how easily my bones could shatter, how little my skin protected the vulnerable parts beneath, and how useless my average strength was to defend myself. Fear made me want to edge farther into Adrian’s embrace, but I forced myself to stay where I was.
Zach might terrify me, but Adrian said he fought against the things that had Jasmine. That made him my new best friend.
“I think freaky shadow people kidnapped my sister,” I said, proud that my voice wasn’t shaking. “So I need to know how to get her back.”
“Did I mention she could see beneath demon glamour?” Adrian asked in a wry tone.
My stomach clenched at the word demon, but I didn’t do anything embarrassing, like puke. Okay, so demons had my sister. Not much different than saying that freaky shadow people had her, right?
I might puke after all.
“Of course she can see through it,” Zach replied, as casual as if he were noting that I liked chocolate more than vanilla. “It’s in her bloodline.”
I was standing so close to Adrian, I felt it when his whole body stiffened. “You knew what she was?”
A faint smile touched Zach’s mouth. “I’ve always known.”
“What do you mean, what I am?” I wondered.
Adrian ignored that and strode over to Zach, his height forcing the shorter man to look up in order to meet his eyes.
“You lied to me,” Adrian bit out, his finger stabbing Zach in the chest with each word. “You said that I was the last of my line, yet you knew all along about Ivy?”
I couldn’t believe Adrian kept jabbing Zach like he was a roast that needed tenderizing. Didn’t he sense the blasting power beneath Zach’s average-guy disguise?
“She’s not a descendent of your line,” Zach said, his hand closing over Adrian’s with enough strength to hold it immobile. “You are the last of that, but she sees past the disguises of this world because she is the last descendant of David’s.”
“Last of whose?” I began, then stopped, stunned into silence as Adrian turned toward me.
Horror didn’t begin to describe the look on his face. Adrian stared at me like I’d crushed his world, ground it up and then forced it down his throat until he died choking on its remains. If my skin had suddenly been replaced by scales oozing poison, I still wouldn’t have thought I deserved such a look.
“Last of a line of rulers dating back to ancient times, when King David sat on the throne of Jerusalem,” Zach replied.
History was my major in college, but I’d also been a fan of the arts since I was a little girl.
“King David as in the guy from Michelangelo’s famous marble statue?” The naked one? I mentally added.
“The same,” Zach agreed, a slight arch of his brow making me wonder if he’d guessed what I hadn’t said out loud.
“Nice story,” I said flippantly, “but all anyone knows about my biological parents is that my mother was an illegal immigrant who left me on the side of the road after the tractor trailer she was hiding in jackknifed.”
In some ways, I couldn’t blame her. All the illegals who’d survived the accident had run, and disappearing in a new country would have been harder with a newborn. The Jenkinses, who’d also been caught in the multicar pileup, had found me, and after a series of court battles, officially adopted me.
Zach shrugged. “Your disbelief doesn’t change the truth.”