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|The Beautiful Ashes(Broken Destiny #1) by Jeaniene Frost|
The Hounds jumped into a large, steaming pool cut into the rock, immersing themselves up to their eyes. The water smelled atrocious, but I jumped in, too, telling myself I was just doing it to avoid suspicion.
It was a lie. That steam sold me. It could’ve been hot mud, and I would’ve still dived right in. After a few painful minutes where my feet and hands felt like they were on fire as circulation returned, I stopped shaking and my teeth quit chattering. Another few minutes, and I felt focused enough to concentrate. Here was as good a place as any to search the castle with my hallowed-radar.
I’d just begun to do that when rolling noises echoed through the nearby hallway. I tensed, but the Hounds next to me began to wiggle in what could only be called joyous expectation.
Moments later, two minions bearing lightning-like marks in their skin pushed wheelbarrows into the room. The Hounds leaped from the water, jostling each other for position as the contents were dumped into a corner. Then they fell on the pile like hungry pigs at feeding time, and what they’d been given to eat was as revolting as it was expected in a demon realm.
I looked away, rage scalding me with such intensity that it flared my abilities. They pulsed outward, covering the castle with the same sonar-like efficiency as before, and my supernatural ping returned with nothing at the end of it.
The weapon wasn’t here.
I got out of the water, still looking away from the Hounds. My anger made my near nudity irrelevant as a minion looked my way, not that he’d see a girl in a belt bikini anyway. He seemed surprised that I wasn’t joining the feeding frenzy, but then came toward me while holding out a large blanket.
I stood still as he dried me, speaking in Demonish the whole time. He even used exaggerated vowels and the singsong voice people affected when talking to babies or favored pets. When he was done, he scratched my head and patted my ass as if I’d been a good little Hound.
“I wish I was one of them right now,” I told him, knowing all he heard were hissing noises. “I’d bite your head off.”
He replied with the Demonish version of what was probably “Whoooo’s a grumpy guuurl?” and patted me again. This time, I bared my teeth at him.
“Touch my ass one more time and I’m clubbing you with the nearest femur from that pile.”
Not that I could, because using a bone like a club was un-Houndlike enough to get the other minion’s attention. Also, I needed to seize my chance. With my search complete and the other Hounds occupied, now was the perfect time to return to Adrian.
I ran out of the Hound-spa, glad there weren’t many turns to remember to get out of the castle. Once again, no one attempted to stop me, and when I was dashing down the hill on my way to where I last left Adrian, something else occurred to me.
I could see where I was going. Not great, as the several times I tripped proved, but I wasn’t blinded by the darkness, and I was far enough away from the lights of the mountain castle that I should’ve been. My abilities were growing at an incredible rate. Was it because I was finally using them, or was it the virulent seesaw of emotions that kept kicking them into hyperdrive? Between my feelings for Adrian, my guilt over Jasmine, and the rage that demon realm atrocities brought out in me, I wouldn’t know a moment of calm if it bit me in the ass.
“Ivy, over here!”
I adjusted my course at Adrian’s directive, now noticing him next to the cluster of dead trees. He’d remained so still that he’d blended in at first glance. Once I reached him, I almost hurtled myself into the ankle-length parka he held out and yanked my boots on fast enough to leave skid marks.
“It’s not here, let’s go,” I panted.
We ran the short distance to the gateway, but before he dropped us through it, he paused.
“Are you up for doing another realm now?”
My body felt like a Popsicle and I never wanted to see another Hound feeding trough again, but I didn’t hesitate.
I’d find this weapon, and not only would I save my sister, I’d kill every damn demon and minion in the realm she’d been trapped in.
I made it through seven realms the first day, and finished the other five two days later. A stint with hypothermia was responsible for the delay, but it wasn’t just manna combined with Adrian and Costa treating it that got me past it so quickly. I was changing. I could feel it in the muscles I’d never had before, and in the hallowed-hunting sensor that was easier and easier to utilize. I’d searched the last realm without even entering the main building, and despite keeping that to myself, Adrian had sensed the changes, too.
That’s why he said it was time for me to learn how to use a slingshot.
Because of my hideous disguise, we went into the Pisgah National Forest to practice. Costa came with us in case we needed an extra trigger finger, if minions happened upon us, though I doubted it. We were out in the middle of beautiful nowhere, with tall trees, waterfalls and bubbling creeks as far as the eye could see. Compared to demon realms, the forties temperature was also downright balmy, but it seemed to keep park visitors at bay. Good thing, too. Forget innocent hikers—if Bigfoot were real, he’d crap himself at the sight of me.
After Adrian set up a target, Costa sat on a fallen tree stump to watch. I stood next to Adrian, frowning when I saw the long, braided rope he pulled out of his duffel bag. Was that a duplicate of the infamous weapon? In my head, David’s slingshot looked like a Y-shaped branch with stretchy material wound around the opposing ends. Not what resembled a skinnier version of a child’s jump rope.
“What am I supposed to do with that? Hang the demons with it?” I wondered.
Adrian grinned, taking a stone from the bag and placing it in the small section of rope that split into two pieces. Then he began to spin the rope in a lasso-like circle, increasing the speed until it made a low, whirring sound. That turned into a crack as he snapped it forward. I didn’t see the stone release, but one of the glass bottles he’d set up thirty feet away suddenly exploded, spewing beer over the branch he’d set it on.
“Wow,” I said, impressed. “You nailed that like you were using a sniper rifle. How long have you been practicing?”
His grin vanished. “When I met Zach and learned about my mother’s death, I researched the slingshot David would’ve used, then made sure I knew how to use it. Zach didn’t bother telling me until recently that only a Davidian or a demon from Goliath’s line can utilize the slingshot’s true power.”
Somehow, I wasn’t surprised. It could be that Zach hadn’t cared enough to relay the information before, but I thought the Archon might’ve had another motivation.
If Adrian had known he couldn’t use David’s slingshot to kill demons, he wouldn’t have learned how to use the ancient weapon. Because he had, now he was teaching me. Was that Zach’s plan? To keep Adrian near me at every opportunity so he’d be unable to avoid his fate?
If so, I intended that plan to backfire, and I knew how to do it because Adrian had told me himself that touching me was his weakness. So I deliberately brushed against him when he showed me which finger the loop went on and how to hold the rope. His lips tightened, but he acted as if he didn’t notice. Then he took my wrist, moving it to mimic the far faster manner I’d need to perfect to get the stone to fly out.
“First you spin the rope to build up momentum,” Adrian said. “Then you aim and snap it when you let go. Try it.”
I did, and the stone dropped near my feet instead of slinging toward the target. Legendary bloodline or not, clearly I wasn’t a natural.
“That happens to everyone the first time,” Adrian said evenly. “Try again.”
I did three more times, and got the same results. My spirits sank. No wonder Demetrius had said he wasn’t afraid of me. I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, let alone him or any other demons guarding Jasmine.
“Here.” Adrian pulled me to him, his body so close that I could feel his heart beating. Then his hand covered mine, though he spread his fingers so he didn’t impede the rope. “We’ll do it together. Move when I do, Ivy.”
We began to spin the rope, first in slower circles, then fast enough to hear that whirring noise. My sense of despair diminished because it was easy to move with Adrian. So easy. His arm shadowed mine while his chest was a muscled wall that teased my back. Every time I adjusted my stance, his thighs brushed the backs of mine, making my breath catch. He was so big, so powerful, yet his breathing roughened when I leaned into him, and brought my body tighter against his. I’d started the taunting touches to chip away at his self-control, but I might end up being the one who came undone.
“On the count of three,” Adrian ordered, voice much hoarser than before. “One...”
I leaned forward and aimed. His body curved, following the movement, and feeling his hips line up with mine almost made me drop the rope.
His breath seared the back of my neck, making gooseflesh spring up. When his jaw brushed my cheek as he adjusted to look at the target, I almost rubbed against him like a cat. The feel of him was more than exciting. It was the stuff obsessions were made of.
I let go when I felt his fingers lift, and the slingshot snapped forward with a crack. The rock didn’t hit the beer bottle, but it hit the branch it was on, bouncing off after leaving a gash in the wood.
“Yes!” I shouted, so happy I spun around and hugged Adrian.
His arms tightened until it was hard to breathe, but all at once, I didn’t care about breathing. I hadn’t hugged him with ulterior motives, yet my whole body seemed to come alive in his embrace. I reared back, suddenly desperate to see him. The ridges and hollows that made up his high cheekbones, full mouth, dark gold brows and straight nose were arresting enough, but it was his eyes that had me transfixed. Molten silver gripped sapphire in the same unbreakable hold Adrian had me in, and the blatant need displayed there made things low in my body clench.
“You can’t keep teasing me this way.” His voice was so guttural, it was almost animalistic. “I’m not the good guy, Ivy. I’m the bad one who’ll take everything and then leave.”
My mouth felt dry, but that wasn’t why I licked my lips.
“You’re wrong,” I breathed. “Maybe you were once, but you’re not anymore. Otherwise, you’d have already done it.”
“Do you two mind?” a disgusted voice muttered behind us. “I know that’s Ivy, but I’m still going to have nightmares about you dry-humping a Hound, Adrian.”
The mental image caught me off guard, and I burst out laughing. We’d hardly been doing that, though the mere sight of Adrian hugging a Hound would be highly disturbing.
Adrian released me, but his smoldering gaze promised that this wasn’t over. I couldn’t agree more, though for different reasons. Now wasn’t the time, however. We had an audience, and we’d already traumatized Costa enough.
Adrian must’ve thought so, too. He strode over to Costa, twisting the top off one of the beer bottles he’d brought for target practice.
“This’ll help wash away the memory.”
Costa took it, muttering something in Greek that had Adrian snorting as if in agreement. I turned my attention back to the target, taking out another stone from the duffel bag.
Now that I knew I could operate the slingshot, I just had to learn how to do it better.
Several hours later, I flopped back against the couch, letting the remote control slide from my fingers. The cabin we’d been staying in boasted a wood-burning fireplace, but the cable channel lineup sucked.
For the fifth time in the past thirty minutes, I glanced at Costa’s suitcase. Tonight was our last night in this cozy, remote hideout, and Costa, ever prepared, had already packed. He even had his suitcase by the door, leaving out just the items he’d need to get ready in the morning.
I hadn’t meant to spy on him while he packed. I’d been flipping through channels, and his room happened to be to the left of the TV set. His door also happened to be cracked, and it just so happened that I saw what he slipped into his suitcase before he hauled it to the door and left with Adrian to get dinner. See? Total accident.
Besides, I reminded myself as I gave into temptation and slinked over to Costa’s suitcase, he hadn’t told me I wasn’t allowed to use his laptop. He just hadn’t mentioned it, much like I intended not to mention taking advantage of the cabin’s Wi-Fi connection. Okay, if I got caught, the guys wouldn’t be happy, but yesterday, Costa had eaten my bag of Fritos without asking permission and I didn’t flip out. Why? Because friends shared. Everyone knew that.
I unzipped his suitcase and felt around through the pile of clothes until I came across something hard and flat. Then I slid the laptop out as gingerly as if it were booby-trapped with alarms. Once it was free, I almost ran to the desk where the cabin owners had the Wi-Fi information. As I turned the computer on, I found myself holding my breath. When the screen lit up and I saw that I didn’t need a password, I let out a whoop. No security? It was like Costa wanted me to use it!
I did follow Adrian’s warning not to log in to any of my accounts or contact any of my friends. I desperately wished I could message my roommate to tell her I was okay, but minions could still be scoping out Delia or my other friends. Instead, I Googled “Beth and Thomas Jenkins” to see if my parents’ funeral had still taken place, even though I hadn’t been there to attend. Not being able to officially say goodbye to them had been tearing at my heart for weeks, but I hoped they’d had a proper burial, at least—