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|The Beautiful Ashes(Broken Destiny #1) by Jeaniene Frost|
One tightly spoken word that warned me to drop the subject, if I didn’t want another round of the silent treatment. I stifled a frustrated sigh. I needed more information, and he was moodier than a tween girl with her first PMS attack.
“How did you know minions were trying to kidnap me the other night?” There. Total change of subject, and something I’d been wondering about, anyway.
Adrian didn’t look at me as he pulled out onto the road. “Zach told me. He’s the one who sent me to retrieve you.”
I’d have to drag everything out of him, wouldn’t I? “Okay, how did Zach know?”
He grunted. “Archons get information about future events. Every so often, they interfere to change the outcome.”
“Every so often?” I repeated with angry disbelief, thinking of Jasmine’s kidnapping and my parents’ deaths. “Why not every time? Or do Archons have days where they’re just not in the mood to save people from harm and death?”
Nothing changed in his expression, but his tone hardened with what I thought might be remembered pain. “That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? I don’t have an answer, and when I asked Zach the same thing, all he said was something about ‘orders.’”
“That’s such bullshit,” I muttered.
“I couldn’t agree more,” Adrian said dryly.
Neither of us spoke for a few minutes. Not strained silence like before, but silent, shared reflection while both of us thought of things that we wished had turned out different.
“So that’s what you do?” I finally said. “Rescue people for Zach after he tells you that minions are after them?”
He shrugged. “Gives me a chance to piss off demons.”
“Most people would avoid doing that,” I pointed out, suppressing a shudder. If not for Jasmine, you wouldn’t catch me near a demon, minion, realm or anything freakily supernatural. Why did Adrian run toward the danger instead?
“You and I aren’t most people, Ivy,” he said softly. “Because of what we see, we don’t get to pretend the world is a beautiful place where monsters don’t exist.”
I was the one who looked away that time, unable to handle the truth of his statement or the intensity in his stare. Until a few days ago, I had been doing that. Even as a child, as soon as I’d realized no one else saw the things I did, I’d wanted it to stop. I hated feeling like something was wrong with me, so after I’d jumped through almost a decade of medical hoops looking for a cure, I started pretending that I’d found one.
I told my parents, the doctors and even eventually Jasmine that I no longer saw the strange, dark worlds hanging like nightmares over regular places. I certainly never told Delia or my other friends about them. I said the pills I took were for a hormonal imbalance, and all my doctor appointments were for that, too.
Lies, lies, lies, all because I wanted to pretend I was normal. According to the gorgeous stranger across from me, I wasn’t then and never would be.
“What happened with you?” I asked, my voice low as if we were sharing secrets. “I hid from what I saw, but you started hunting down the things everyone told me couldn’t exist. You must’ve had proof that they were real, so what was it?”
He closed off so fast I was surprised I didn’t hear a sonic boom. I shut my eyes, letting out a sigh as I tried to settle myself more comfortably into my seat. Looked like the question-and-answer segment of our time was over.
Eventually, as afternoon slid into evening during the long drive, the late hour and boredom lulled me into drifting off.
A thunderous boom woke the black-haired woman. Her baby began to wail at the multiple crashing noises. She left the baby in the backseat, walking through the brush that hid her car.
On the nearby highway, a tractor-trailer was on its side, multiple cars piled up around it. Each passing second brought a new screech of tires and, more faintly, screams. Then the back of the trailer opened, and people stumbled out, some disappearing into the tall grass that lined the road, others limping a few feet before collapsing onto the road.
The black-haired woman hurried back to her car, but as she began to strap her baby in the car seat, she paused. Then she turned around and stared. Sunlight broke through the clouds, streaming down to the side of the road about fifty yards from the accident. The woman began to shake.
“No. No, I can’t leave her,” she whispered.
The light grew brighter, and another sunbeam appeared, illuminating the same spot. Tears streamed down her face, but after a minute, she picked up her child and walked toward it.
“Promise me she’ll be safe,” she choked out, setting the baby in the grass. Then she kissed the child, whispering, “Mommy loves you. Always,” before running to her car and driving away—
“What is that?”
Adrian’s voice startled me. For a second, I was disoriented, the dream clinging to me as it always did. Yes, I was in a car, but I wasn’t the unknown woman driving away from her baby. That wasn’t real. The glare Adrian leveled at my chest was, though.
“Is that a mirror?” He sounded horrified.
I looked down. My locket was open, the mirrored side facing me. At some point while I was sleeping, I must’ve opened it. Adrian’s hand shot out, but this time, I was too fast for him.
“Don’t you dare,” I snapped, holding it out of his reach. “It’s the only picture I have of my sister after you left everything I own back at that hotel in Bennington!”
He lunged again, actually letting go of the steering wheel to reach the side of the car where I held it. With a sharp yank, he wrested the locket from my hands. I tried to snatch it back, but he shoved me into my seat with one hand, finally grabbing the steering wheel with the other.
“Are you crazy?” I shrieked. “You could’ve gotten us killed!” If this hadn’t been a lonely stretch of desert road, our careening into the next lane might’ve had permanent consequences.
“You’re going to get yourself killed,” was his chilling response. Then, still pinning me to my chair with that single hand, he held my locket up.
I gasped. Something dark poked out of the small mirror, like a snake made of blackest smoke. It disappeared when Adrian smashed the mirror against the steering wheel, but an eerie wind whistled through the car, ruffling my hair and stinging my nostrils with its acrid scent.
Adrian muttered a word in that unknown language, and I didn’t need a translator to tell me it was a curse.
“What was that?” My voice was hoarse.
He threw me a pitying glance, which frightened me even more. If he wasn’t angry, we must really be screwed.
His next words proved that. “Brace yourself, Ivy. You’re about to meet a demon.”
I didn’t consider myself religious. My parents used to take Jasmine and me to church on Christmas, but it was more a social event than a pious one. Hearing we were about to be attacked by a demon, however, made me pray like I’d never done before. I just wished I knew if anyone was listening.
Adrian wasn’t praying. He was cursing up a storm, if I correctly translated the spate of words coming from his mouth. He’d also lost that pitying expression, because the looks he shot me now were distinctly grim. It wasn’t the right time, but I couldn’t stop myself from asking the obvious.
“How did it find us?”
Adrian stomped on the accelerator, and the muscle car shot forward like it had rockets in the engine.
“Through the mirror,” he said shortly. “For stronger demons, mirrors act as portals, and you’ve been number one on their Most Wanted list since you escaped them in Bennington.”
I gaped at him. “Maybe you should have told me that?”
“You think I smash every mirror near you because I don’t want you to get conceited?” Then his tone softened. “You’re barely holding it together with what you do know, Ivy. I’m not about to tell you what you can’t handle yet.”
Anger flared, which felt better than the fear that made my blood seem like it had been replaced by ice water.
“No, I wasn’t ready to know that demons used mirrors as portals. I also wasn’t ready to know demons existed, or had kidnapped my sister, or that my parents were dead, or any of the horrible things I’ve dealt with in the past two weeks. But that didn’t stop them from happening, so quit protecting me from the truth, Adrian! It doesn’t help a damn bit!”
Adrian glanced at me, a gauntlet of emotions flitting across his features.
“You’re right. If we survive, I’ll apologize.”
My laughter was bleak. “You? Say you’re sorry? Now I really want to live.”
To my surprise, he laughed as well, though it was colored with dark expectancy.
“Hold that thought. You’ll need it.”
Before I could respond, something filled the road in front of us. I would’ve said it was storm clouds, except clouds don’t sweep along the ground like a heavy fog rolling in.
“Shut your vents,” Adrian said, flipping the tiny levers on his side. I did the same, more apprehension filling me as he turned the entire air-conditioning system off. No, those weren’t low-hanging clouds. They were something far more ominous.
“Turn around,” I said, my voice suddenly breathy.
“It wouldn’t matter” was Adrian’s chilling reply. “He’d only follow us. I need you to find hallowed ground, Ivy.”
I couldn’t take my eyes away from the billowing clouds in front of us. They were so dark, they seemed to devour the beams that came from Adrian’s headlights.
“All right,” I mumbled. “Give me your phone, I’ll look up the nearest church or cemetery.”
“It’s too late for that,” he said, stunning me. “You need to find it yourself.”
“How?” I burst out. We were almost at the line of black clouds. The temperature in the car plummeted, making my skin feel like it had turned to ice.
“It’s in your bloodline,” Adrian said, swinging off the road so sharply that the back end began to fishtail. “You can sense hallowed ground, so find some, Ivy. Now.”
“I don’t know how!” I shouted.
The car shuddered over the uneven terrain, bouncing so much I almost hit my head on the roof, but I didn’t tell Adrian to slow down. That wall of darkness filled up the rear window of the Challenger until I couldn’t see the glow of our tail lights anymore.
“Yes, you do.” A growl that sounded comforting compared to the horrible hissing noises coming from outside the car.
“I don’t!” What was that flash of white on my side of the car? Or that new, ripping sound? Oh God, were those teeth scraping away at the metal on my door?
“It’s getting in, it’s getting in!”
“He can’t get in the car.”
Adrian’s strong voice broke through my panic. I stared at him, my eyes starting to burn from the acrid stench that crept in through parts of the car we hadn’t been able to seal.
“I warded it against demons a long time ago,” he went on.
I felt better about that for three seconds, which was how long it took before the car lifted up on one side like a gargantuan hand had swatted it. For a paralyzing moment, I wasn’t sure if we were going to flip completely over. Then we crashed down hard enough to make the windows shatter, and I tasted blood from my jaw snapping shut on my tongue.
“’Course, that doesn’t mean he can’t tear the car apart around us,” Adrian said, stomping on the gas as soon as all four wheels were on the ground. “We’re running out of time. Where’s the hallowed ground?”
“I. Don’t. Know,” I screamed. My heart was pounding out of my chest from terror. If I knew a way out of this, I’d take it.
“Yes, you do,” he insisted, those sapphire eyes searing me when he glanced over. “Tell me which direction you want to run. That’s the right way, I promise.”
Which way did I want to run? In whatever direction this living nightmare wasn’t! The car lifted again, and everything in me braced for another impact. That awful hissing noise grew into a roar, and Adrian’s gaze met mine. In those darkly beautiful depths, I realized these would be the last moments of our lives if I didn’t use an ability I’d never heard of before.
In the seconds before the car came crashing down, I closed my eyes. Concentrated on which direction I wanted to flee to, and tried to ignore the pain as flying glass pelted me from all sides. My instincts were screaming at me to run from the horrible thing outside these crumbling metal walls, and I let those instincts consume me, filling me until I couldn’t focus on anything else. I needed to get out of here. I needed to leave right now and go...there.
“That way,” I said hoarsely, opening my eyes and pointing.
Adrian’s hand closed over mine, his grip strong and sure. Then the car crashed down hard enough to make my vision go black and my whole body ache, but he didn’t hesitate. As soon as the worst of the impact was over, he grabbed his coat, yanked me into his arms, and then flung us out of the car.
His body took the brunt of the impact, but it still felt like I hit the ground with almost the same force as the car crashing down. My yelp was swallowed up by a tremendous boom! as Adrian threw something at the fog that rushed us. White flashed, more bright and brilliant than a lightning bolt. Those hideous clouds recoiled with a scream as though they were in pain.
Adrian leaped up, still holding me in his arms. Then he began to run in the direction I’d pointed, leaving that ugly, writhing darkness behind us.