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|The Beautiful Ashes(Broken Destiny #1) by Jeaniene Frost|
We were lucky, I almost said, and then I paused. We were never that lucky. I looked behind us, seeing nothing except trees and darkness, but that didn’t mean we were alone.
“What’s the plan?” I whispered.
“Get more guns,” he replied grimly. “Now.”
We ran past the now-closed Visitor’s Center to the parking lot. Adrian’s car was still in the back, and Costa stood next to it, an overhead streetlight revealing the automatic weapon he’d set on its roof. That wasn’t what made Adrian stop, yanking me to a halt with him. It was the woman next to Costa, her arm almost casually draped over his shoulder, head cocked in apparent curiosity as she looked us over.
I recognized her at once. Those long, ebony-copper locks were unforgettable, not to mention that dazzlingly perfect face and the pale skin she was showing off in her low-cut dress. Full red lips drew back into a chilling smile as topaz eyes flicked over me, Adrian and the boy he held.
“So,” the gorgeous demon from Mayhemium’s realm said, her voice as sensual as her appearance. “Which of you three is the Davidian in disguise?”
“I am,” Adrian stated.
My gaze swung to him in disbelief. Adrian flashed the demon a hard little grin as he let the boy slide from his grip, stepping away from him once he slumped on the ground.
“No, he’s not,” I snapped hoarsely. I was going to tear Adrian a new one later for choking me, but no way was he sacrificing himself now. “I’m the Davidian!”
The demon’s gaze gleamed as she looked between Adrian and me, seeing nothing except an old man and an unfamiliar young one due to our Archon glamour.
“Who’s a noble liar, and who’s the would-be savior?” she mused aloud.
“I’m not a liar,” Adrian ground out as if offended.
“You lie your ass off all the time!” I countered, words coming easier due to my anger. “Here’s a surefire ‘Who’s the girl?’ test—give him to the count of three to name a brand of tampons.”
Adrian shot me a furious, if disbelieving, look. The demon laughed throatily, her features softening into something that resembled affection when she looked at Adrian. Then they turned flinty as she looked at me.
“Ivy, isn’t it?”
Her accent held the harshly musical cadence that denoted her first language as Demonish. I hated hearing that accent from anyone except Adrian, and I put all my revulsion toward her kind into my gaze as I stared back at her.
“Ivy,” I repeated, wondering if I could shoot her before she hurt Costa. “So unpleasant to meet you.”
Bloodred nails dug into Costa’s shoulder. He let out a yelp, which only caused the demon to jab them in deeper.
“Don’t, Obsidiana,” Adrian said quietly.
I was wondering where I’d heard that name when the demon inclined her head. “Give me what I want, and I’ll release him.”
“You know I can’t,” Adrian said, still in that low, resonant voice.
Obsidiana managed to make an evil chuckle sound sexy. “Oh, but you can, my love.”
My love? I almost got whiplash from how fast I looked at Adrian. “You didn’t tap a demon,” I gasped out.
The way his expression closed off said that he had, and a lot. Now I remembered where I’d heard her name! Demetrius had said that Obsidiana missed him when he’d urged Adrian to come back home. From the way Adrian had stopped dead when we ran into her in Mayhemium’s realm, part of him had missed her, too.
I could guess which part, and it was all I could do not to kick it. “Me you keep pushing away, but a demoness is good enough for you?” My glare was withering. “Nice.”
“With how plain Demetrius said you were beneath that disguise, I’m not surprised” was Obsidiana’s smug response.
Hey, I’d been hot as a glamoured blonde! Besides... “Beauty fades, but Evil Bitch is forever,” I snapped.
Obsidiana flung Costa to the ground. Adrian grabbed her before she reached me, his arm like a vise around her neck.
She stilled at once, her topaz gaze sliding up to look at him. “You would harm me? Over her?”
She actually sounded surprised, and I’d heard people refer to feces with more respect than the way she said “her.” I told myself it wasn’t jealousy or spite that made me hope he ripped her head off. She was evil.
“I can’t let you hurt her,” Adrian said grimly.
Obsidiana seemed to sag in his arms. “When I heard someone had killed two of my people, I knew you’d come to my realm. That’s why I came alone to see you.” Her voice deepened with apparent distress. “It wasn’t even to capture the Davidian! I thought if you would finally speak to me, you’d let go of your anger. Does nothing matter to you except this fruitless quest for revenge? Don’t you love me at all anymore, benhoven?”
“Does this answer your question?” Adrian’s arm whipped back, snapping her neck with an audible sound. If she were a minion, she’d start turning into ashes, but all she did was go limp. I glanced away when he ripped something pulpy out of her throat. I hated Obsidiana, but my gross quota had already been exceeded today.
“Why do you do that?” I asked, busying myself by helping the boy up.
“Keeps them out longer,” he replied, dumping Obsidiana’s limp form in the grass. “Demon physiology is different. Their version of a heart is in their neck.”
The vindictive glow I felt was not because he’d metaphorically ripped Obsidiana’s heart out, I assured myself. It was because now we had more time to get away.
“Costa, are you okay?” Adrian asked, striding over to him.
A groan was his response. Adrian lifted him up, depositing Costa in the passenger seat. Then he cranked the driver’s seat forward so I could climb in behind it.
“Is he okay?” I asked, half lifting the boy to the car.
“Just a concussion. A little manna, and he’ll be fine,” Adrian said. It didn’t escape me that he sounded pissed, as if he had a right to be. When we were all loaded into the car and driving away, he started in on me.
“Why did you bait Obsidiana?” Adrian demanded. “Were you trying to give her more reasons to kill you?”
What was I going to say? That I’d been so insulted over the bitch’s comments and learning about their past relationship that I’d almost forgotten my life was in danger? Ah, noooo. That was too stupid. And humiliating.
“I did it to bait her,” I said, widening my eyes for increased innocent effect. “I was trying to get her to charge me so she’d let Costa go!”
Adrian’s stare said he wasn’t buying it. Time for another tactic. I tossed my hair, letting out a scornful laugh. “You really think I care that you used to get it on with her, or anything else I said? Please.”
Costa muttered something in Greek as he pressed a handful of manna to the gash on the back of his head. Whatever it was, Adrian let out a snort of agreement. When he looked at me, his expression was less stern, but no less intense.
“Unlike me, you’re a terrible liar, but since we didn’t have a better plan, I’m glad what you did worked.”
Did that mean he believed I’d been faking jealousy? Or did it mean he knew I was lying now? Asking would only show how much I cared, so I focused on the boy. He was slumped in his seat, most of his body tucked into the parka except his feet. He still wasn’t reacting to anything going on around him. Was it shock, or did he have something physically wrong that we couldn’t see?
“We should take him to a hospital,” I stated.
“That’ll do more harm than good,” Adrian said, with a sardonic glance back at me. “Remember being told you were crazy your whole life? What do you think they’ll tell him, once he starts talking about demons, minions and different worlds?”
I winced. “True, but he needs the kind of help we can’t give him while we’re looking for the weapon. Besides, he might have family that’s worried sick about him.”
“Next time we see Zach, I’ll ask him,” Adrian said, his tone roughening. “He always knows about kids’ families.”
I tried not to let that statement affect me, but it did. Your real mother didn’t leave you because she was running from the police, Zach’s voice whispered across my mind as if he were here. She did it to save you, just like your dream revealed....
I forced those thoughts back. One monumental crisis at a time, thank you. Until I found this weapon, it didn’t matter why my birth mother had left me beside that freeway. If I was the last Davidian, then whatever her reasons, she was dead. Gone forever, just like my adoptive parents I hadn’t even been able to say goodbye to because that detective tried to kill me before I could give them a proper burial....
“Ivy.” Adrian’s tone was urgent. “What’s wrong?”
I swiped under my eyes, only now realizing that I’d started to cry. “Nothing.”
“Bullshit,” he said emphatically.
“Just a little post-traumatic stress.” I forced a shaky laugh. “I’m still not used to narrowly escaping death, okay?”
His gaze repeated the same thing—bullshit. Okay, so maybe I was a terrible liar. I pretended not to notice him staring at me as much as he could without wrecking, and busied myself by tucking the boy’s feet under my legs so they’d be warm.
Then an idea struck me, exciting me so much that I reached over the seats to grab Adrian’s shoulder.
“Drive to Bennington! We snuck the boy out with our disguises, so we can use them to get Jasmine out, too!”
Costa gave me a pitying glance, and I felt as well as heard Adrian’s sigh.
“Remember I told you that your sister will be the best-treated human in all the realms? She’ll also be the most guarded. Bennington might not be Demetrius’s main realm, but he’ll expect you to try that. I guarantee he’s given an order that if anyone unfamiliar shows up, they’re to be detained.”
My brief hope crashed. Adrian was right. The demons had no intention of making this easy on me, so either I went in with the ability to kill them all, or I died.
Or both. No one had said that, but no one needed to. Having the weapon didn’t mean I’d suddenly be bulletproof, so finding it didn’t guarantee victory. It only gave me a chance at it.
“You’re going to be okay,” I told the boy, giving him the assurance I so badly wished someone could give to me.
A slow blink was his only response. Either he still wasn’t processing what was going on, or he didn’t believe me. I patted his leg, wishing I could tell him I knew how it felt to be surrounded by people and yet still be on your own.
I couldn’t fix that for myself, but I could fix it for him. Then I’d keep trying to save Jasmine while trying not to get killed by demons, and maybe somewhere along the lines, reclaim my own life, too.
Dreams were beautiful things to have, weren’t they?
We left North Carolina and drove to a Catholic seminary in Washington, D.C. Adrian knew two of the priests who met us around the back of the large church complex, which was Surprise One. Surprise Two was him telling them that the boy had been rescued from a demon realm. The priests didn’t accuse Adrian of being crazy, either. Instead, one of them hurried to take the boy back into what they called the “house” section.
“Are demon realms an open secret to priests?” I whispered to Costa while Adrian continued to talk to the other priest.
Costa grunted. “No. These two know about them because Adrian saved them from a demon kidnapping a few years ago.”
I don’t know why that surprised me. It was how we’d met, and Adrian had said he’d been “retrieving” people for Zach for a while. Guess I never expected to meet anyone he’d rescued, let alone find out that they were priests.
I was too tired to swap rescue experiences with the two Fathers, which was why I was relieved when Adrian came back to tell us that the seminary had rooms for us tonight, too. Even more wonderful than that, it had leftover pizza and a microwave. I devoured several pieces, then showered and flopped onto the narrow bed in a room that reminded me a lot of my college dorm. Just with a lot more crosses and pictures of saints and popes.
I was almost asleep when my door opened. No locks meant relying on the honor system, but since Adrian hadn’t knocked, he must not be in an honorable mood. Situation normal, then.
“What are you doing here?” I demanded wearily.
He’d showered, too, the dampness making his hair look darker than its usual honeyed shades of blond. I refused to notice how that same dampness caused his shirt to cling to him. I was still too mad.
He shut the door behind him. “I’m sorry for hurting you,” he said, actually managing to sound as though he meant it.
Which time? I thought, but touched my throat as if the bruises there were the only damage he’d inflicted on me today.
“Did you know choking me would work to activate my abilities?” I asked, my tone grating. “Or was it a lucky guess?”
His stare reminded me of ancient sailors’ legends of sea serpents. On the surface, all I saw was roiling blue, but every so often, glimpses of the monster appeared beneath.
“Demetrius wanted me to be the strongest Judian ever, so he did whatever was necessary to hone my abilities. Like throwing me into the gladiator rings at thirteen. Lesser demons fought there, too, and if a ruler wanted to show off, he or she jumped into the fight. Demetrius didn’t let anyone kill me, but he let them beat me within an inch of my life enough times that I learned what he wanted me to know—the fastest, most efficient way to use my abilities. So, no, I wasn’t guessing. I was counting on you being just like me in that regard. I hated hurting you, but it was the only way you could search the castle without getting caught with the boy.”