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|The Beautiful Ashes(Broken Destiny #1) by Jeaniene Frost|
I sucked in a breath, realization shattering me. “It’s the weapon, isn’t it? Adrian said if the demons knew where it was, they’d have already used it for their own purposes. I didn’t think it through at the time, but that means it must do a lot more than just kill demons.”
Tomas’s mouth thinned into a straight line. Costa got up, dropping a hand briefly on his friend’s shoulder.
“You’ve heard of David and Goliath?” Costa asked evenly. “Thousands of years ago, a shepherd boy killed a giant with nothing more than a slingshot and blind faith, thus David’s fame was born. You are the last Davidian, so in your hands, that ancient slingshot has the one-time power to overcome any and all odds. In short, whatever you point it at, it will defeat.”
That sounded too good to be true, so there had to be more. “What can the demons do with it?”
Costa’s smile was grim. “Goliath was no ordinary giant. He descended from demons, and some of his originating bloodline lives on. If one of those demons gets the slingshot, they get a one-time ability to overcome unbeatable odds, too. So with it, demons think they can win the war against Archons in a day.”
My head was starting to pound, probably from trying to process information that was too incredible—and horrible—to believe. If I hadn’t crossed through to a different realm today or seen multiple examples of supernatural phenomena all my life, I would have called Tomas and Costa crazy.
Unfortunately, I knew they weren’t.
“Is Adrian descended from Goliath’s line?” was what I asked. “Is that why the demons think he’s their savior? Because if he gets the weapon, he can use it against Archons?”
Tomas and Costa exchanged another look, then Tomas let out a deep sigh.
“No, Ivy. Adrian’s the last of another line.”
“Whose?” I asked in a steely voice, my glare daring them not to tell me.
“Get out, both of you.”
Adrian’s voice cut through the silence. Like before, he’d come in without anyone noticing. Tomas and Costa rose at once, leaving without another word. When I saw the expression on Adrian’s face, part of me wanted to follow them, but the rest wanted the truth so much, I didn’t care about the consequences.
“Whose line are you the last of?” I said, refusing to back down. “Tell me now, or I leave that weapon lost, and after what I just heard, ‘lost’ is probably where it should stay.”
He smiled, the seductive curve of his lips not taking away from the lethal hardness in his jeweled gaze. His jaw was shadowed from not having shaved recently, and that hint of darkness only made his high cheekbones look more pronounced, giving an edge to his already unforgettable features. Even in his bloody, torn clothes, I’d never seen him look more gorgeous, and for the first time, I was also afraid of him.
“Haven’t you guessed?” he asked, his voice caressing the words like silk draping across daggers. “Who in history committed such a heinous act that it made his name forever synonymous with betrayal?”
“I don’t know,” I said, backing up as he came toward me with slow, stalking steps.
“Yes, you do.”
A rough, throaty whisper, and then he was in front of me, his arms a cage that blocked me in while the wall behind me made retreat impossible. Despite my fear, I shivered as he leaned down, his mouth only inches from mine and his hands sliding to rest on my shoulders. The last time we’d been this close, he’d almost kissed me, and God help me, I still wanted him to. My feelings for him defied logic, sanity or safety, and judging from the intensity in his gaze as he wound one hand through my hair, it was possible he felt the same way.
Then his mouth lowered, but not to my lips, though they parted in reckless anticipation. Instead, he kissed my cheek, whispering his darkest secret at the same time.
“I’m the last descendant of Judas, and like my infamous forefather, my fate has been, and always will be, to betray the children of David.”
I felt like I couldn’t breathe. His mouth was still pressed to my skin, caramel-colored hair like rough silk against my forehead, breaths teasing my ear with soft heat. Add that to his revelation, and the wall was the only thing holding me up.
“Adrian,” I began.
“Don’t.” His hand tightened in my hair. “Everything that’s happened since we met only proves how entangled in our fates we already are. Judians and Davidians have always been drawn to one another, but then Judians betray and destroy Davidians. Thousands of years and countless betrayals later, we’re the only ones left.”
His hand stroked from my shoulder to my face, moving over it in a caress that made my skin burn.
“Maybe being the last of our lines made what we feel for each other so much stronger. I’m not just drawn to you, Ivy. I’ve wanted you since the first time you touched me. It was as if you reached inside and claimed something that had always been yours.” He drew back to stare at me as if he was trying to memorize my features. “That’s why I thought you had to be a minion. Nothing but dark magic had ever felt so powerful, and when I touch you, it’s a thousand times worse. You’re the light I can never have...and I’m the darkness you’ll never succumb to.”
His hand dropped, leaving my skin feeling cold. “That’s why it would never work between us, so now you understand why I need to get away from you, Ivy. Before I betray you like everyone else in my line has betrayed Davidians. I refuse that part of my fate, and it’s not just to spite Demetrius anymore. It’s because I can’t stand the thought of hurting you.”
Before my next breath, he was standing in the sanctuary entrance, the night surrounding him like a cloak.
“So do what your ancestors weren’t able to,” he rasped. “Save yourself by never believing you can save me.”
Then he was gone, leaving me with questions I had no answers to and emotions I couldn’t seem to control.
* * *
Tomas sat in the sanctuary with me, his cell phone screen providing a small circle of light. Adrian and Costa were on the roof, watching out for any unwelcome visitors. Even if Adrian wasn’t the only one who could see in the dark, he still wouldn’t have stayed down here. His decision to avoid me didn’t take into consideration my wishes on the subject.
For now, I’d let him get away with that. My emotions got in the way when Adrian was near, so this gave me a chance to separate fact from feeling. Unfortunately, that hadn’t helped.
Fact: Adrian had lived like a demon for many years. Feeling: with how he’d been brought up, he wouldn’t have known it was wrong. Fact: he felt doomed to repeat the mistakes of his ancestors. Feeling: to hell with them, everyone was responsible for their own choices. Fact: I didn’t want to be betrayed. Feeling: Adrian wouldn’t do it. Fact: I shouldn’t fall for a borderline psychopath with demonic daddy issues. Feeling: something special was brewing between me and Adrian, and it had nothing to do with Adrian being the last Judian or me being the last Davidian.
The sound of a car interrupted my thoughts. I ran over to the window, but Tomas said, “Don’t worry, it’s my friends.”
“How do you know?” I couldn’t see anything except headlights.
“Because they just texted me, ‘Don’t shoot, we’re here.’”
Okay, then. Tomas went to tell Adrian and Costa, and I stayed in the sanctuary, watching through windows that hadn’t seen a pane of glass in decades. A worn Chevy pulled into the monastery, two people in front and one in the back. They got out, speaking Spanish so rapidly I only caught the names Tucco, Danny and Jorge. They’d brought a bunch of weapons, though, and that made them a welcome sight.
Adrian was in the middle of checking the scope on a rifle when he paused, staring into the distance. “Are there more of you coming, Tucco?”
“No, por qué?” the shorter man replied.
Adrian cocked the rifle. “Take positions on top of the church,” he said curtly. “We’ve got company.”
I didn’t see anything, but I believed him. So did the others. They scrambled to unload the rest of the guns, then at Adrian’s command, parked the truck in front of the sanctuary. Now the vehicle blocked the largest entrance to where I was, although the windows were big enough for someone to get through.
Adrian proved that when he vaulted through one, angling his big body sideways to fit.
“Here,” he said, pressing a small caliber gun into my hand. “This’ll be easier for you to use. It’s cocked and ready. All you have to do is pull the trigger.”
“And not get it yanked away,” I said grimly.
Adrian flashed me a smile. “Second time’s the charm.”
I hoped so. “Adrian, before you go—”
“No matter what happens, stay here,” he said, cutting me off. “They can’t cross hallowed ground. The gun’s for emergencies, but Tomas’ll be with you. Stay down so the minions don’t see you. We’ll be on the roof, keeping them from getting too close.”
“No,” I protested, but he was already gone. Tomas jumped through the window Adrian had just vacated, his dark gaze flicking to me as he accepted a bundle of automatic weapons from Costa.
“You want to help, sí?” At my vigorous nod, Tomas gestured to the weapons. “I’ll show you how to change the magazines. When I run out, you replace them.”
In the short time it took me to learn, three cars began bouncing across the desert terrain toward the monastery, their headlights the only illumination for miles.
“Any chance they’re lost tourists?” I asked with a fake chuckle.
Tomas shrugged. “Could be members of a local drug cartel.”
“Oh, let’s hope.”
When they were close enough to notice the truck blocking the entrance, the vehicles screeched to a stop. A barrage of gunfire from the roof cut off the instant chatter of Demonish, dashing any chance that these were drug runners looking to hide their stash.
As instructed, I stayed low while the minions returned fire. Then again, these ocher-colored walls were already in bad shape; I doubted they’d stop bullets for long. Maybe we should’ve tried to hide. As soon as I thought it, I rejected the idea. Would minions sent on a murder mission by demons really be content to shine a flashlight around and then call it a night?
“This one’s out,” Tomas said, dropping one rifle and snatching up another. Quickly, I replaced the magazine, trying not to flash back to the last firefight when I’d been almost killed. Easier said than done with the rat-a-tat-tat-tat! of gunfire going off. If I lived through this, I’d never be able to watch a war movie without risking a PTSD attack.
Right now, I channeled my anxiety into replacing Tomas’s ammunition as fast as he needed it. The pile of magazines seemed to be shrinking at an alarming rate, and the sanctuary walls were beginning to look like Swiss cheese from the hits they were taking. Every time a bullet penetrated, a small cloud of stone dust puffed out. There had been so many, the air was starting to get chalky.
Worse, it sounded like fewer guns were firing back from the roof. I tried not to think about what that meant, or drive myself crazy wondering if Adrian was okay. Every so often, a shout would rise above the other noises, but I couldn’t tell who made it. The roof had stone arches, carvings and a bell tower to hide behind, but if they were sustaining as much damage as the sanctuary walls, things were getting dire.
And we were down to only two clips of ammo.
“How many minions are still out there?” I asked Tomas, needing to shout to be heard above the gunfire.
“Four more carfuls just pulled up,” he yelled back.
Four! An irrational urge to start screaming built, but I choked it back with forced optimism. We’d survived a minion attack before. If we hung in there, we’d survive again—
Tomas spun around, clutching his chest. Horrified, I saw a new hole in the wall right where he’d been standing. I barely managed to catch him before he crumpled, crimson leaking out between his fingers.
I set him down and rushed across the room to retrieve the manna Adrian had left. Something burned in my leg, but I ignored it, zigzagging to avoid more bullets on my way back.
“No,” Tomas groaned, coughing up blood with the word.
I tore open the bag and, pulling his hands away, clapped a large glob of manna onto his chest. He coughed up more blood, then his lips stretched into a grisly imitation of a smile.
“Doesn’t work...mortal wounds.”
My eyes welled, causing his features to blur. “You’re not dying,” I insisted, pressing another handful to his chest.
“Can’t save...me.” His breathing became labored, and blood continued to stream through my fingers, soaking the manna.
“Don’t talk,” I said, desperately trying to stem the flow. “You need to save your strength.”
Tomas stared at me, and for a second, the agonized haze left his vision and his eyes became clear.
“You need to save Adrian,” he said distinctly. Then his eyes rolled back, and his body convulsed before he went limp.
“Tomas!” I screamed.
No response. His chest didn’t rise for another breath, and the gush of blood between my fingers slowed to a trickle. I didn’t need to check for a pulse to know he was gone. Slowly, I lifted my hands from his chest and sent a single glare upward that wasn’t directed at the men on the roof.
Why? I thought furiously. He was fighting for Your side! Don’t You even care?
No response again, not that I expected any. Maybe Adrian was right and we were nothing more than collateral damage to both sides. Fine. If the Archon’s boss wouldn’t do anything to help, I would.