|Home > Jeaniene Frost > Broken Destiny > The Beautiful Ashes (Page 8)|
|The Beautiful Ashes(Broken Destiny #1) by Jeaniene Frost|
I repeated that like a litany while he smeared the agony-inducing substance on all my deeper gashes. He worked with quiet efficiency, thankfully not commenting on the sweat that beaded my forehead or how my breath came in pants.
“Almost over,” he murmured in sympathy.
Something strange began to happen. The pain changed, turning into a tingling that reminded me of what it felt like when my foot fell asleep. Adrian finished with the final gouge and leaned back, watching my legs with an expectant expression.
The wounds began to close, expelling the now red-smeared medicine as smooth flesh filled in what had been gaping tears. Within minutes, the only marks left were shallower grazes that I could’ve made while shaving. I could hardly believe it.
“What is that stuff?”
His mouth curled. “Manna.”
Where had I heard that word...? “The mythical bread that fed the Israelites when they wandered in the desert?”
His half smile remained. “As you see, it has a lot of uses. Now, turn over so I can get the other gouges.”
I did, thinking it was a good thing that Zach had done my recent shopping. I normally wore thongs, but now, my ass was more modestly covered by bikini briefs.
Once I was on my stomach, Adrian’s large hand covered a wound high up on my hip. Though the initial pain was just as sharp, something else flared through me. Maybe it was because I knew the harsh sting would soon fade. Maybe the bellyful of superpotent liquor contributed to the urge I had to see his expression as he dragged his hand over my skin, or perhaps it was the way his touch seemed to linger longer than medicinally necessary.
I could’ve told him to stop. Insisted on dressing the wounds myself; I could reach them, after all. But I didn’t. He didn’t speak, either, and as his hands continued their path down my body, treating and then smoothing over newly healed skin, the pain was a price I willingly paid to keep feeling him touch me.
It was wrong, of course. I kept telling that to my rapidly beating heart and the shivers that followed every stroke of his hands. He was danger wrapped in secrets tied with a bow of bad intentions, and it was totally unfair that no one had made me feel this way before.
“Almost over?” I asked, hating how much he affected me.
He sounded angry, which made me flip over before he’d finished smoothing manna over a shallower cut. My quick movement must’ve surprised him, because it took a second for his expression to close off into that familiar, jaded mask.
In that brief, unguarded moment, I learned I wasn’t the only one who’d been affected by his touching me. Suddenly, it seemed like a very good idea to put my pants back on.
Adrian made a fire out of plants, scrub and other things I wouldn’t have thought to use, starting it by rubbing twigs together fast enough to get a spark. I huddled as close as I could to the fire without catching myself ablaze. Even so, my breath made tiny white clouds with every exhalation. Who knew a desert could be so chilly at night?
“How long do we have to stay out here?”
Adrian glanced back at me. He didn’t appear bothered by the cold temperatures, or his pacing was keeping him warm. He hadn’t stopped since he quit treating my injuries.
“Until morning. We can’t risk another demon ambushing us if we leave the hallowed ground before sunrise.”
“They can’t enter our realm in daylight?” Interesting.
“Didn’t I tell you that?”
“No, you didn’t,” I replied, adding, “along with a lot of other things,” in case my tone hadn’t been pointed enough.
He snorted, the slight breath pluming in the frigid air, too. “I’m not keeping secrets to make things worse for you, Ivy. I’m doing it to help you. One thing I can say is that Demetrius is full of shit about your sister.”
“How?” I asked instantly.
He came closer, until the firelight revealed every nuance of his intensely beautiful face.
“Right now, she’s the safest, most well-treated human in all the realms. Your sister is the only leverage the demons have over you, and they might be evil, but they’re not stupid enough to kill, maim or emotionally break their only advantage.”
My sigh whooshed out, as if the part of me that had been holding its breath for days finally relaxed enough to release it. Even as relief seemed to blend with the liquor in me, creating a lethargic sort of high, a new question arose.
“Thanks for telling me, but...why did you?” He’d made it clear that he’d rather not be here, and keeping me scared about my sister’s treatment was motivation for me to find the weapon as quickly as possible.
Adrian looked away, his jaw tightening. “Demetrius said it to hurt you, and I don’t like to see you hurt.”
The simple statement made me wonder all the more about him. Who was the real Adrian? The oddly charming man who’d asked me for a date right after he kidnapped me? The heroic one who’d saved my life two times in four days? Or the surly one who acted like I was a venereal disease he couldn’t wait to be cured of? I didn’t think the night was long enough to find out, but it might be too long for other things.
“What if Demetrius sends his minions after us?” I shivered as I looked around. “It’s so dark, we wouldn’t even see them coming.”
Two quiet, steely words that reminded me how different Adrian was from a normal person. To prevent myself from wondering for the umpteenth time what he was, I kept talking.
“What kind of hallowed ground do you suppose this is?” The ethereal shimmers coming up from the sand marked an area roughly the size of a football field.
Adrian shrugged. “This part of the Oregon desert? Indian burial ground maybe.”
“That would explain the chanting,” I said, cocking my head and listening. “I don’t hear it anymore. Do you?”
His features tightened, but his tone was light. “I never heard it, Ivy.”
I stared at him, understanding slowly dawning. “You don’t see the shimmers coming up from the ground, either, do you?”
“No. Only you can sense hallowed objects.” The smile he flashed held an edge of darkness. “My talents lie elsewhere.”
I let out a short laugh as more pieces fell into place. “That’s why you came with me even though you didn’t want to. The demon-killing weapon is hallowed, isn’t it? So you can’t sense it, but with my abilities, I can, if you get me near enough.”
That hint of menace didn’t leave his smile. “I’ve wanted to kill Demetrius for years, but I’ve never had the means to. With you and that weapon, I finally will. Like I said, Ivy, when it comes to my hatred of demons, you can trust me completely.”
“But once you kill Demetrius, all bets are off?” I filled in, a touch of anger coloring my tone. Adrian wasn’t just some guy I was way too attracted to. He was also the only person who knew what it was like to see things that made everyone else believe you were crazy, until you believed it yourself.
Adrian stared at me, his smile wiping away. “I said I don’t want to hurt you, and I meant it. So if we live through this, Ivy, I’m getting away from you as fast as I can.”
I tried not to show how much that stung. What had I done that he relished the thought of never seeing me again? I’d think it was my hiding a mirror that almost got us killed, but Adrian had acted that way since Zach told him I was the last descendant of King David’s line. I’d never forget the look he gave me when he found that out.
I paused. Maybe it wasn’t what I’d done, but what someone else had done. After all, I hadn’t misread some of the other looks Adrian had given me. Not every part of him wanted to run away from me as fast as he could.
“Did my ancestor do something terrible to your ancestor?” I guessed.
He looked shocked. Then he let out a laugh that was so bitter, I thought I’d finally stumbled on the truth. That was why his reply stunned me.
“No, Ivy. It was the other way around.”
Despite my many attempts to get him to elaborate, he refused to say anything else.
* * *
Once dawn broke, I found out that manna could heal more than human injuries. Adrian spread a thin layer over his busted-up Challenger, and the vintage vehicle knit itself back together like I was watching an episode of Counting Cars on fast-forward. After that, we just had to brush the shattered glass out of the interior, and we were on our way.
When we made our first pit stop, I insisted on going into the ladies’ room alone. Adrian kept getting caught destroying mirrors because it drew attention when a man entered a women-only area. He made me swear not to even peek at the mirror until after I’d shattered it. Demetrius might not be able to enter our realm during the day, but we didn’t want him spying on us so he could ambush us once night fell.
That was how I found myself looking fixedly at the dirty tile floor as I approached the mirror in the Gas-N-Go restroom. Adrian had also given me a rock and a pair of oversize work gloves, so I didn’t worry about cutting myself when I hit the glass with a hard bang, glancing at it only after I saw shards hit the floor. Take that, Demetrius, I thought, seeing only splinters of my reflection in its remains.
A flush sounded, and then the nearest stall door opened, revealing a fiftyish woman who looked back and forth between the ruined mirror and the rock in my hand.
“Why’d you do a thing like that?” she demanded.
Nothing I said would make it appear less crazy, so I might as well live up to her expectations.
“Ever have one of those days when you just hate your hair?” I asked, widening my eyes for maximum disturbed effect.
She didn’t even wash her hands before she left. I made sure to be quick about my business as well, not surprised to see her talking to the store clerk once I exited the bathroom.
“Hey, girlie,” the bald clerk said sharply. “Did you—?”
“This is for the damage,” Adrian interrupted, slapping a handful of blank papers in front of the clerk. My confusion increased when the man snatched them up, his scowl turning into a grin.
“No problem,” the clerk said, actually giving me a cheery wave. “Take care, girlie!”
I waited until we were outside before I said, “What was that?”
Adrian’s mouth curled into a sardonic smile. “Zach’s here.”
That’s when I paid attention to the hoodie-clad guy next to Adrian’s car. Zach turned around, thankfully not projecting a blinding array of light as he faced us.
“I understand you ran into some difficulty last night,” he stated, as if we’d only gotten a flat tire.
I blamed my response on being frustrated, under-caffeinated and hungry. “Yeah, and I hope you were too busy to show up because you were saving a bus full of nuns!”
A shrug. “I wasn’t sent to you until now.”
“Are you serious?” Incredulity sharpened my tone. “Is your boss in a bad mood, or does he suffer from time-delay up there?”
Zach’s face turned stony, but it didn’t escape me that Adrian’s smile widened.
“You don’t know how many times I’ve wondered that,” he murmured, nudging me in a sympathetic way.
Zach had a different response. “Why do you expect someone else to solve problems you are capable of handling yourselves?”
Adrian grunted. “Get used to hearing that. It’s his favorite line.”
Then you must want to punch him a lot, I thought before Zach’s pointedly arched brow reminded me that my musings weren’t private. That might not be all bad, though. I seized my chance.
Tell me what Adrian is, and why he’s so determined to get away from me once this is over, I thought, staring at Zach.
“No,” he said out loud. “I gave Adrian my word, and as I told you, Archons do not lie.”
“What am I missing?” Adrian said, casting a suspicious look between both of us.
Don’t you dare! I thought, but Zach was already replying. “Ivy sought the answers you are still refusing to give her.”
Adrian’s gaze swung to me. “Don’t do that again,” he said in an ominous tone.
“You bet your ass I will,” I flared. “My life and my sister’s life are on the line, so I have a right to know what’s going on. Besides, after the fallout from your mirror omission, you said you’d quit hiding things and that you’d apologize.”
Zach smirked at him. Actually smirked, and said, “I will enjoy witnessing this.” There went another note under my ever-growing list titled Things I Didn’t Expect From An Archon.
Adrian gave both of us such a cold glare that I was sure he’d refuse. Then he spoke.
“I’m sorry, Ivy, for not telling you about the mirrors. There’s your apology, and here’s information you didn’t know—because you can see through Archon glamour, you saw me hand blank pieces of paper to the clerk. He saw a stack of hundred dollar bills, and we’re using the same trick to fly to Mexico because we can’t use the Oregon vortex to enter multiple realms through the same gateway anymore.”
At my indrawn breath, Adrian went on. “Demetrius will guess that’s where we’re headed since we were in the Oregon desert when he caught up with us. Zach’s here to refill our manna supply, glamour your appearance and remind me that we’re on our own once we enter the demon realms. The two sides can’t cross into each other’s territories, so if we’re captured, Zach can’t help us even if he wants to.”
I was openmouthed by the time he finished, but I quickly recovered. “And you are what?” I asked, wanting to know that more than all the other details.