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|The Beautiful Ashes(Broken Destiny #1) by Jeaniene Frost|
Adrian was suddenly at the back of the church, his silhouette a dark outline against the stained glass panels.
“If you knew she was the last Davidian, how could you send me to get her?” His voice lashed the air like a whip. “How could you let me anywhere near her, Zacchaeus?”
Now I knew what Zach was short for, but that wasn’t why my mouth dropped. “What is your problem?” I sputtered.
Adrian turned away as if he couldn’t stand the sight of me. Amidst my disbelief, I felt a sliver of hurt. Why was he acting like I was viler than the cop he’d killed with his bare hands?
“You have to be near her,” Zach replied in an implacable voice. “You cannot escape your fate.”
At that, Adrian whirled, fists clenched, shoulders rigid and anger roiling from him in palpable waves.
“Fuck my fate,” he snarled.
I didn’t see him pass me. He moved too fast again. I only knew that he’d left when the chapel door slammed behind me.
The sun was up by the time Zach returned. He’d gone after Adrian, but since he came back without him, that must not have gone well. My mood was pretty foul, too. I’d only waited in the church because I still didn’t have the answers I needed. All I knew was that Adrian now hated me, demons existed, and Zach was...well, with the light show he’d given off, I could guess what sort of creature Zach was, but it was too unbelievable to say out loud.
“We’re also known as Archons,” Zach said, throwing me a sardonic look. “Is that word easier for you to handle?”
Once again, he’d guessed my thoughts, and I was starting to believe it was more than luck. No, I was in the presence of a creature with untold supernatural abilities, and unless I wanted to spend more time crying on my knees, I had to deal with that.
I’d start with the challenge he’d just thrown down.
“It’s not my fault that you don’t match up with the brochure,” I replied flippantly. “You could’ve paired that hoodie with a harp and a halo, at least.”
He smiled, reminding me that every species except humans showed their teeth to convey a threat.
“This mortal shell conceals my true nature. Because you and Adrian are the last of your lines, you see beneath it, but the rest of humanity does not.”
I shrugged as though my already-careening world hadn’t been turned upside down within the past several hours.
“Or I’m hallucinating again. I missed taking a couple doses of my meds—”
“Makes no difference, they’re placebos,” Zach informed me.
I stared at him, my lips parted, but my brain processing too many thoughts to speak.
“That’s why your adoptive parents always filled your prescriptions for you,” Zach went on, as if each word wasn’t blasting apart what was left of my life. “Your psychologist provided the placebos as part of your therapy, but there is nothing medically wrong with you. Your adoptive parents were going to tell you the truth when you turned twenty-one—”
“Liar,” I whispered.
A thick brow arched. “Demons lie. My kind does not. If you require proof, take one of your pills to a pharmacist for analysis.”
My knees wobbled, but I didn’t sit down. If I did, I might not be able to get back up. Zach might be a mind reader, but he couldn’t have known that my parents always filled my prescriptions because I hadn’t been thinking of that. He also couldn’t know something that I didn’t—if the pills were really placebos instead of actual meds.
Adrian was right. Despite everything I’d seen, I still hadn’t accepted that it could actually be real. Now Zach was destroying my denial one revelation at a time.
“Your real mother didn’t leave you because she was running from the police,” Zach went on pitilessly. “She did it to save you, just as your dream revealed—”
“Stop!” I shouted, my breath now coming in pants. No one knew about that dream. I hadn’t told my parents, Jasmine or the countless therapists I’d been to. How could Zach know, unless he was exactly who—what—he claimed to be?
Adrian’s voice cracked through the chapel, startling me. I hadn’t seen him come back in. I turned toward him, glad for anything that kept me from hearing revelations that were too incredible to be real.
“Don’t mind Zach,” Adrian said, an edge coloring his tone. “Archons have no tact when it comes to delivering big news.”
Zach shrugged. “She asked for the truth. I gave it to her.”
Adrian came nearer, his gaze glittering with anger. “Yeah, well, you want me to play this fate thing through? Then from now on, I tell Ivy what’s what, not you.”
My mind still felt like it had been thrown into a blender, but at that, I stiffened.
“Don’t talk about me like I’m not even here.”
Adrian turned that darkly jeweled gaze my way. “Believe me, Ivy, I know you’re here.”
The flat way he spoke somehow gave his words more weight, but this time, Adrian no longer looked at me with horror. Instead, he stared at me like I was the most dangerous person he’d ever met, which, all things considered, was ridiculous.
“You want to save your sister?” he asked evenly. “You’ll need something strong enough to kill demons.”
This was too much, too fast. “Like holy water? Or crosses?” I asked numbly.
His look became pointed. “Those are for vampires, and they don’t exist. To take down demons, you need one of three weapons, and the second and third ones will probably kill you.”
“Okay, so we skip those,” I muttered, part of me wondering if I was really having a conversation about how to kill demons. Placebos or not, right now, I missed my meds.
“Right,” Adrian said, a glint appearing in his eyes. “Problem is, the first weapon is lost somewhere in one of the demon realms.”
“Of course it is. Shopping for it on eBay would be too easy.”
His lips curled, as if he knew my glibness masked a rising sense of disbelief. “You’ve already seen one demon realm. They appear as creepy, dark duplicates of the same place, just like that bed-and-breakfast you described.”
If that was true, I’d seen others over the years, but they all had the same problem.
“How do we enter one long enough to save Jasmine? After a few seconds, they seem to disappear.”
At that, Adrian shot Zach a frustrated look. “If her abilities are so weak that she only sees the other realms for a few seconds, she’s nowhere near ready to do this.”
I’d be offended if I didn’t agree. My athletic skills were limited to occasionally dancing all night, as if that was any advantage in a demon fight. Still, ready or not, I didn’t have a choice. Jasmine had no one else to come for her.
“I’ll do whatever it takes,” I said firmly.
The hardness in Adrian’s stare made me wonder if I’d regret those words. Then he smiled, wolfish and challenging.
“All right, Ivy. To answer your question, you get into a demon realm the same way you get in anywhere. Through a door.”
* * *
I wanted to start looking for the demon-killing weapon at once, but Zach insisted that we sleep. Due to my exhaustion, I didn’t argue until Adrian showed me my “bed.” Being in an underground mausoleum was bad enough, but sleeping in one of the tiny rooms that contained a body?
“Hell no,” I said.
Adrian rolled his eyes. “What’s dead can’t hurt you. Living demons can, and they can go anywhere except hallowed ground.”
“Then I’ll sleep in the church” was my instant response.
“Tourists visit the church,” he replied inexorably. “They don’t visit the catacombs, so we’re sleeping here.”
As he spoke, he gestured to another crypt that also had a sleeping bag in it. I looked back at my crypt. A small spider descended from the ceiling and landed right on my sleeping bag.
“I’ll just sit in the hallway,” I said grimly.
Adrian sighed. “Zach?”
I felt a tap on my shoulder. When I turned around, Zach was behind me. Before I could say anything, he touched my forehead, and like a switch had been flipped, everything went dark.
When I opened my eyes, I was in Adrian’s car, my head resting against the cool glass of the passenger window. Lights blurred by, and with mild shock, I saw that it was evening.
“W-what happened?” I mumbled, sitting up.
Adrian didn’t look away from the road, but his mouth twitched. “Zach compelled you to sleep.”
Memory returned with a vengeance. “In a spider-infested crypt?” I began slapping at my clothes. If I saw anything with eight legs, I was launching myself out of this car.
A stronger twitch of his mouth. “Nothing beats an Archon sedative.”
“You think this is funny?” I unlocked my seat belt, took off his coat, and threw it into the backseat. With luck, now I wouldn’t have things crawling all over me.
That earned me a slanted look. “You want to fight demons, and you’re freaking out over spiders. That’s damn funny.”
Put like that, he had a point. “Speaking of, uh, them—” would I ever say demons without feeling like I should be in a straitjacket? “—why do we need this special weapon to save my sister? You killed Detective Kroger just fine without it.”
“Kroger wasn’t a demon, he was a minion. Demons can’t tolerate our realm for long, so they take willing humans, mark them, and send them out to do their dirty work. They have their own signature marks, too. The shadows you saw on Kroger meant he belonged to Demetrius. Marks make minions a lot tougher than humans, but compared to their masters, they’re easy to kill.”
I hardly knew where to begin with my questions. “Our realm? You mean...this?” I asked, waving at the scenery we drove past.
“Yeah, this,” he said, the words heavy with emotion. Regret? Resolve? I didn’t know him well enough to be sure.
“And we can see demon marks and demon realms because we’re the last of King David’s line,” I said, trying to piece the impossible facts together.
Adrian stiffened, his mouth tightening until white edged his lips. “You are. I’m not.”
That’s right, Zach had said he was the last of another line. “What are you, then?” I asked softly.
The look Adrian pinned me with seemed to compress me, until every breath I drew felt like a hard-fought victory.
“I’m something else,” he bit out.
I was glad when he glanced back at the road. My heart was thumping as if I’d been jogging. Whatever Adrian was, he didn’t like it, and if a man who wasn’t afraid of demons didn’t like what he was, then I should be scared shitless of him.
So why did I have a strong urge to smooth away the hardness in his expression? I swear, my reactions to him made no sense. I never went for the tortured bad boy because I had enough issues of my own. On top of that, Adrian had made it clear that, given his choice, he’d be nowhere near me. Whatever strange pull I felt toward him, I had to get rid of it. Fast.
“Where are we headed?” I asked in a neutral tone.
“Gold Hill, Oregon,” he replied, his voice equally emotionless.
All the way across the country? “What’s in Oregon that makes it so special?”
His grunt sounded grimly amused. “A door to multiple demon realms.”
I learned a few things over the next twenty hours. Not about demons or the mysterious weapon—Adrian refused to talk about those—but about him. Like, for example, his pathological hatred of mirrors.
Every time we stopped to refuel, Adrian would smash the mirror in the ladies’ room before he let me inside to pee. I was convinced he’d be arrested, but I soon found out another fact: no one but me could see what Adrian really looked like.
“He’s five-eight, skinny, with black hair,” the gas station attendant snapped into his phone, his Spanish accent thickening as he yelled, “Pendajo!” at Adrian for destroying his bathroom mirror. “And he’s driving...a mi Dios!”
That last part was screamed when Adrian moved with his incredible speed, yanking away the shotgun the attendant had pulled out. Then he broke it over his knee and handed the two pieces back with a growled, “Have a nice day.”
“Diablo,” the attendant moaned, sinking behind his counter.
I didn’t think Adrian was a devil, but I still didn’t know what he was. The fastest way to get the silent treatment from him was to ask again what “line” he was from. He did explain that Archon glamour masked his appearance, so he wouldn’t be recognized by minions. Now I knew why Detective Kroger’s first punch had hit Adrian in the shoulder. He thought he’d been striking a much shorter opponent. That was also why Adrian had demanded that I describe him soon after we met.
“You could see through demon glamour,” he’d explained, throwing me one of those hooded looks. “Minions can do that, too, but only humans from one of our lines can see through Archon glamour, so I needed to find out what you were.”
“What if I’d failed to describe you accurately?” I’d asked.
A shrug. “Then you’d have been a minion, and I’d have killed you.”
Between that admission, the compulsive mirror smashing and his impenetrable secretiveness, I was well on my way to getting over my attraction. Adrian wasn’t just damaged goods, he was deranged goods, and coming from someone with a history of psychosis, that was saying something. By the time we pulled into a motel at the halfway point of Kearney, Nebraska, I would’ve been happy never to see him again.