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|The Beautiful Ashes(Broken Destiny #1) by Jeaniene Frost|
I called shotgun on the bathroom as soon as we entered the hotel room. Adrian obliged after smashing the mirror—he had to have ten thousand years of bad luck by now—then finally, I was able to take a shower. Thank God the motel had complimentary bottles of shampoo and conditioner because I wasn’t about to ask Adrian for any. For all I knew, the bulky duffel bag he’d brought in was filled with severed minion heads.
After I showered, I washed my clothes, making a mental note to insist that we shop before hitting the road tomorrow. With everything I owned now hanging to dry, I donned Adrian’s coat over my towel before leaving the bathroom.
He stood in front of the motel door, flicking something from a glass vial onto it. He did the same with the window, all while muttering in that strange, harshly lyrical language.
He probably wouldn’t tell me, but I asked anyway. “What are you doing?”
“Setting supernatural locks,” he replied, with a jaded glance at me. “This motel isn’t on hallowed ground, so we have to demon-proof this room. I don’t think we were followed, but I’d rather you weren’t murdered in your sleep.”
I swallowed. I’d rather that not happen, too. “So, that stuff you’re sprinkling around is like demon-mace?”
His mouth twitched, making me wonder if he fought back a smile. “Close. Know how a priest blesses water and then it’s considered holy? This is the Archon version of blessed oil, which briefly renders any place it touches as hallowed.”
“How brief is ‘briefly’?” I wondered.
A shrug. “Long enough for us to sleep.”
“If it hallows out any place, then why did we spend last night in a spider-infested crypt?” I asked at once.
Now I was sure he was fighting back a smile. “You looked like you slept there just fine to me.” At my instant glower, he added, “I can only get this stuff from Zach, and he’s stingy with handing it out. This is the last I’ve got, so after tonight, we’ll need to sleep on real hallowed ground until he decides to show up and give me more.”
A stingy angel. Now I’d heard of everything. Guess I’d better enjoy the real bed tonight. Who knew what I’d be cuddling up next to tomorrow. Speaking of that, I needed to handle some things before I went off the grid any longer.
“You have a phone I can use? I need to call my roommate, Delia. Tell her I’ll be gone for...a while.”
Adrian’s expression changed from suppressed amusement to stern refusal. “Not a chance. No calls, texts or emails.”
Who did he think he was, my new father? “Let me rephrase—I’m calling my roommate, either with your phone or with someone else’s.”
I couldn’t just disappear on Delia. I, of all people, knew how awful it was to wonder if someone you cared about was alive or dead, and she wasn’t just my roommate. After Jasmine, Delia was my best friend.
“You call her or anyone else you know, you’re making them a target,” Adrian replied coolly. “Not many people escape a demonic kidnapping attempt. The ones that do are usually helped by me, so that makes the demons extra mad. By now, minions have combed through every aspect of your life, and they’re waiting for you to connect to someone so they can use that person against you.”
Nothing changed in the room, but it suddenly felt smaller, as if the walls were edging toward each other.
“What’s the point? They already have my sister,” I said, anger and despair sharpening my tone.
Adrian leveled that gemstone stare at me. “Right, so don’t give them anyone else.”
I sat down on what I guessed was my bed, since Adrian’s duffel bag was on the other. The zipper was open, revealing nothing more sinister than clothes and toiletries. And here I’d been so sure about the severed minion heads. I did give the toothbrush a longing look. This motel didn’t have those as freebies, and my breath could probably slay a dragon.
“Help yourself,” Adrian stated, nodding at the bag. “Zach packed supplies for both of us.”
He didn’t need to tell me twice. I went to his bed and began to rummage through the bag. Thanks to his large build, it wasn’t hard to distinguish what was meant for Adrian and what was intended for me. The only surprise was that Zach had guessed my size, even on the intimate items.
“What kind of angel notices cup size?” I muttered under my breath as I added a bra to my pile.
Adrian’s bark of laughter let me know that I’d said it too loud. “Zach is nothing if not detail-oriented.”
“You sound like you’ve known him a long time,” I observed.
His face closed off in a now familiar way. I could let it go, like I had most of the drive here, but I was getting tired of his frequent bouts of silent treatment.
“I get that you don’t want to be here and you really don’t want to talk about whatever it is that you are, but if we’re going to be fighting demons together, I should at least know more about you.”
Adrian walked toward me, a hard little smile twisting his features. Then he bent down until his face was level with mine. His eyes looked even more vivid in the overhead light, and he was so close, I could see that his lashes were dark brown instead of black.
“Here’s the most important thing you need to know. I hate demons more than you do, so you can trust that I’ll help you kill them. But, Ivy—” harsh laughter brushed my skin in its own caress “—whatever you do, don’t trust me with anything else.”
The last time we’d been this close, he’d had me pinned to his car. He wasn’t touching me now, but somehow, his gaze made the moment equally intense. The scary part was, I liked it. Without thinking, I moistened my lips.
His gaze dropped there, and I sucked in a breath at the hunger that flashed across his face. So finding out about my supposed lineage hadn’t killed his attraction to me! With that knowledge, things lower down began to tighten. Adrian was maddening, confusing, dangerous...and what would I do if he tried to kiss me?
Suddenly, I saw a blur of motion and then he was gone, the door vibrating from his exit.
* * *
I awoke to the wonderful smell of hot, greasy food, and the even more tantalizing aroma of coffee. When I opened my eyes, a bag of McDonald’s was on my nightstand. I hadn’t heard Adrian leave to get it, but then again, I hadn’t heard him come back last night, either. He must have since his bed was mussed, and from the sounds of it, he was now in the shower.
I fell on the food like a starving animal. A candy bar and a small bag of peanuts had been all I’d eaten over the past two days. Getting yelled at by multiple gas station attendants after Adrian broke their mirrors hadn’t made me want to browse for more substantial fare. After I finished, I quickly put on new clothes, not wanting Adrian to come out while I was half-naked. Things were strange enough between us already.
My necklace snagged on my sweater as I yanked it over my head, reminding me there was one mirror Adrian hadn’t smashed yet. Since the shower was still running, I opened the locket, a pang hitting me when I saw my sister’s picture on one side and a small mirror on the other.
This way, we’ll always be together, Jasmine had said when she’d given it to me the night before I left for college. She’d cried a little then, and I never admitted it, but when I was alone in my room that night, I did, too. Sure, we fought like mad sometimes, but no one was closer to me than Jasmine. With everyone else, I had to keep faking so they’d believe everything was fine. For my parents, it was so they wouldn’t worry about me. For my psychologist, it was to avoid more tests or inpatient stays. For my friends and the occasional boyfriend, it was so I wouldn’t have to explain things they probably didn’t want to understand. With Jaz, I could be myself because whoever that was, she was okay with it.
“Nuts, normal, doesn’t matter,” she’d said years ago when I was upset after my psychologist told me I might never be cured. “You’re my sister, Ives, so no matter what, we’re stuck with each other.”
As I stared at her picture next to my own reflection, her loss hit me all over again. It took everything I had to hold the tears back. After several hard blinks, her image became less blurry. As I looked at her, I silently made her a promise. No matter what, I will find you. She’d never given up on me. I sure as hell wouldn’t give up on her.
Vow made, I could look at her picture without tearing up again. We didn’t resemble each other, of course. Jasmine was a blue-eyed blonde like my adoptive parents, and I had hazel eyes and brown hair. My greenish-brown eyes, light skin tone and other markers had caused my pediatrician to speculate that one of my parents had been Caucasian. We guessed the other was Hispanic because that was the nationality of the immigrants who’d been unable to flee the tractor-trailer accident, but who knew?
Thinking about my biological parents made Zach’s words steal through my mind, though I’d done my best to forget them. Your real mother didn’t leave you because she was running from the police...she did it to save you, just as your dreams revealed...
“Good, you’re up.”
Adrian’s curt voice made me jump. I snapped the locket shut, glad my back was to him so he couldn’t see what I tucked under my sweater. He was not smashing the last gift my sister gave to me, mirror phobia or not. With the locket safely hidden, I turned around.
I couldn’t help my pause. Some things should come with a warning label, and seeing Adrian stalk through the room wearing only a towel was definitely one of them. I hadn’t known ab definition like that existed without airbrushing, and the network of muscles on his arms, back and chest rippled as though dancing to a song that reverberated beneath his flesh.
Michelangelo had it wrong, I thought, tearing my gaze away. With that body, Adrian was the one who needed a marble statue made in his image. Good thing he was so fixated on shoving his things into his duffel bag, he didn’t notice my admiration.
“We’re leaving in ten minutes,” he stated, still in that brusque tone.
After he’d stormed out last night, I told myself it didn’t matter if Adrian was still attracted to me. I needed to rescue my sister, not start something with a guy who’d warned me he wasn’t trustworthy, let alone all the other reasons why Adrian was off-limits. No matter the dazzling packaging, he was six feet six inches of undetermined supernatural bad news, so his coldness now suited my purposes.
His barked orders, however, didn’t. We needed to get a few things straight before we went any further.
“Just because you’re pissed about our little road trip doesn’t mean you get to keep taking it out on me,” I said. “For whatever reason, you chose to come, and we don’t need to be friends, but you do need to quit acting like my boss. So we’re not leaving in ten minutes, Adrian. We’re leaving in twenty because I’m taking a shower, too.”
He swung around, arms crossing over that muscled chest in obvious annoyance. I continued on as if I didn’t notice.
“It’s not my fault if you’ve never had a serious girlfriend, but believe me when I tell you that it’s impossible for a girl to get ready in less than twenty minutes.”
“Fine,” he said, his tone only slightly less rude.
“You may want to wait until I’m in the bathroom to get dressed, too,” I said airily. “If you drop that towel now, I’ll think it’s your way of telling me you still want that date.”
I didn’t wait for his response before disappearing into the bathroom. All jokes aside, if he did drop that towel, I might forget all the many reasons why I should stay away from him.
Twenty minutes later—okay, twenty-five, but close enough—we climbed into his car. I wasn’t much for old muscle cars, but I had to admit that his Challenger was in great shape. Still, I’d kill for a satellite radio. This only had AM and FM.
“You don’t need to drive the whole way. We can take turns,” I offered.
“No,” he replied at once.
“So you’re one of those,” I muttered.
His brow went up. “One of what?”
“Guys who think a girl can’t handle their precious metal babies,” I said, rolling my eyes.
At that, he laughed. “I rebuilt this car from the axle up, so yeah, you can call it my baby. But no one, male or female, drives it except me.”
“So you’re an equal-opportunity control freak?” I replied without missing a beat.
“You have no idea,” he said, voice lowering while his blue eyes slid over me in a phantom caress.
My breath caught. Until that moment, I hadn’t realized he’d avoided looking at me since he stormed out last night. Now, his gaze moved over me as if he already knew which parts to touch first and which parts to leave until I was breathless and begging. My heart began to beat faster. How could he affect me so much when we barely knew each other?
Then, like a switch had been flipped, he looked away as though the sight of me had burned his eyes. His whole demeanor changed, too, as if he were angry for revealing something that was supposed to remain hidden.
“When should we arrive in Oregon?” I asked, needing something, anything, to break up the tense moment.
He revved up the car and glanced at the clock. “Three a.m., if we don’t get caught in traffic.”
Nineteen hours until I crossed into one of the places that countless doctors had sworn were merely figments of my imbalanced mind. Once again, I had so many questions, I hardly knew where to begin.
“Have you been to this particular ‘realm door’ before?”