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|The Beautiful Ashes(Broken Destiny #1) by Jeaniene Frost|
I froze over a headline that had my name along with three words I’d never expected to see: Wanted For Murder. With trembling fingers, I clicked the article beneath.
“...Ivy Jenkins, daughter of recently deceased Beth and Thomas Jenkins, has still not been found. Jenkins fled the town of Bennington after murdering Lionel Kroger, the detective assigned to her sister’s case. Jenkins has a history of abnormal psychosis and should be considered armed and dangerous....”
I heard a car pull up, but I couldn’t stop reading. The article went on to detail how I was also a “person of interest” in Jasmine’s disappearance. Worse, it implied that the brakes on my parents’ car might have been tampered with, and noted that I was the only other person with access to their vehicle.
In short, it accused me of being a mass murderer.
“What are you doing?”
Under other circumstances, Adrian’s harsh tone would’ve made me flinch. Right now, I was too numb from shock.
“Finding out that I’m a wanted criminal,” I said with as much calmness as I could manage. Then I swung around to face him. “But you already knew that, didn’t you?”
Adrian set down the bag he’d been holding, and I ignored the delicious aromas coming from it. Costa shut the cabin door and went straight for the food. He couldn’t understand what I’d asked Adrian anyway. Thanks again, Hound disguise.
“I knew,” Adrian said, giving me a measuring look. “What did you think the police were going to say? That you went into hiding with the last descendant of Judas because the detective assigned to your sister’s case tried to deliver you to his demon master? They had to explain Kroger’s death somehow.”
I waved an impatient hand. “Fine, but why claim that I murdered him? Or make me a suspect in Jasmine’s disappearance, let alone my parents’ deaths? Aren’t the demons begging for unwanted attention with this?”
Adrian sighed. “Bennington isn’t the first police force they’ve infiltrated. They’re everywhere, and with their connections, they made sure your picture was plastered all over the news and internet, turning everyone who sees you into a potential informant for them.”
“But they know I’m disguised!” I protested.
“And now they’ve made sure you have to stay that way or they’ll catch you,” was his inexorable response. “Same as me.”
I opened my mouth—and nothing came out except a short, sharp sound, like a last gasp before dying. Adrian stared at me, his expression filled with a hard sort of empathy.
“I told you before, Ivy, we don’t win this war. Archons or demons do, but either way, there is no going back for us.”
I looked away, staring at the online article that had shattered the last of my hopeful illusions. This whole time, I’d kept telling myself that if I found the weapon and saved Jasmine, I could go back to some semblance of my old life. I might not have had the greatest one, what with pretending more than actually living, but it had been my life to screw up or improve. Sure, once I was back, I’d have to avoid mirrors and move Jasmine and me from the WMU dorms to hallowed ground, but I could handle that. Eventually, I’d make new friends, maybe finish college online, get a decent job, and—
And what? Go back to pretending that the dark, icy places I’d glimpsed were figments of my imagination? Hope that every new person I met wasn’t a minion in disguise? Even if demons hadn’t been behind the warrants for my arrest, what did I really think was going to happen if I saved Jasmine by decimating one of their realms? That the demons would call a truce and let my sister and me live in peace? No. We’d have to hide for the rest of our lives, and to do that, we’d have to leave everything and everyone we’d ever known behind.
My head dropped into my hands. Adrian was right. Even if I won, I didn’t really win. The Archons did, but Jasmine and I were still screwed.
“Is that what you really look like?”
I picked my head up to see Costa staring at my computer, a half-eaten burger still in his hand. I glanced back at the article. My Facebook user pic was next to the part that talked about my abnormal psychosis.
Was I still the smiling girl staring back at me? Right now, I felt decades older, but that wasn’t what Costa meant. I nodded, which needed no translation despite my Hound disguise.
Costa let out a wry snort as he glanced at Adrian. “No wonder you’ve been having such a hard time, bro.”
Was that a compliment? I looked at my picture again, trying to see it through the viewpoint of the handsome Greek. Okay, so I probably wasn’t as hot as I’d been with my blonde disguise, but my brown hair was thick enough not to need mousse, my eyes were a nice hazel shade and my mouth had a pouty kind of fullness. A guy I’d briefly dated had even called it lush.
Then I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the screen. My hair looked like it had been styled by drunk witches, raccoons would be jealous of the dark circles under my eyes, and if my skin was any oilier, the shine would light up the room. I needed a hairbrush, concealer and lots of pressed powder, stat!
Of course, that wasn’t possible. Even if it was, Costa would only laugh at the image of a Hound trying to primp. As for Adrian...the best makeover in the world couldn’t fix our issues. Only a broken destiny could, and while I still believed that was possible, Adrian didn’t. Not now and maybe not ever.
“I need to see my sister.”
Costa didn’t react to my statement, but Adrian froze in the middle of picking up a burger.
“Ivy,” he began.
“I so don’t want to hear it.” The words came out as a sigh despite my screaming on the inside. “You want me to embrace the suck? Fine, but I’m also finished with guessing if I’m weapon-hunting for Jasmine, or for you.”
He dropped the burger and stalked over. “What do you mean?”
I met his gaze without flinching. “You don’t want me entering the Bennington realm without the weapon, but is that because you’re worried about extra demon security? Or because you’re afraid that if I find out my sister’s already dead, I’ll stop looking for it and you’ll lose your chance at killing Demetrius?”
Anger suffused his face, flushing his cheeks and turning his eyes into burning gems. “Is that what you think?”
Costa glanced between us. “You two fighting?”
“What’s the only thing you told me I could trust about you, Adrian?” My voice was flat from the weight of my desolate future bearing down on me. “Your hatred of demons. So I’m supposed to believe you wouldn’t string me along about my sister’s survival to keep me looking for the one weapon that can kill them?”
Adrian’s hands closed into fists while he stared at me. The last time he’d done that, he’d grabbed me and kissed me, but something darker than passion seethed in him now.
“Get your stuff,” he said in a voice that vibrated from barely controlled rage. “We’re leaving for Bennington tonight.”
“This is a bad idea,” Costa said for the eleventh time.
Adrian and I responded the same way we had to his other ten warnings—with stony silence. We were too busy playing our high-stakes version of “chicken” to let Costa deter us. Adrian was counting on me changing my mind about entering the world’s most dangerous demon realm, and I was betting he’d refuse to pull me through the gateway when the time came.
We’d see who swerved first.
“Obsidiana’s seen your ride, so you can’t drive this into town without every minion knowing who you are,” Costa went on, not giving up his attempt to talk sense into us. “This is a mint-condition, ’68 Challenger, so it’s gonna draw some eyes.”
“We’ll leave it outside Bennington,” Adrian replied, the tightness in his tone saying he was still steaming mad.
“And do what with the hulking demon lizard in the backseat?” Costa shot back, adding, “Sorry, Ivy,” as an afterthought.
Adrian didn’t even glance my way. “We’ll hide her in something else.”
Costa cast a dubious look over his shoulder. “It’ll need to be something big.”
My lips tightened. “Enough with the fat-lizard cracks,” I snapped, hoping the hiss Costa heard sounded as pissy as I felt.
“This is a bad idea,” Costa muttered once again. Apparently he was going for an even dozen.
“The gateway’s inside the B and B, but your sister won’t be there anymore,” Adrian stated, not glancing away from the road even though he was now talking to me. “The spot where it’s located was swallowed recently, after Demetrius took over the realm. She’ll be in old Bennington. That and parts of New York got swallowed a long time ago, so that’s where his palace is.”
“I don’t remember glimpsing a palace when I went through Bennington.” Then again, I’d been focused on showing Jasmine’s picture to hotel and motel employees, not on paying attention to what I thought were hallucinations.
Adrian grunted. “It’s there.”
Every realm I’d entered had had a grand structure, and Adrian hadn’t been wrong about his realm blueprints yet, but something about his tone made his surety sound more...personal.
“You lived there before, didn’t you?” I guessed.
His eyes briefly met mine before he returned his militant attention to the road. “For a long time, I ruled it.”
Anger shot through me. Of course, he’d failed to mention that before.
“You’re only a few years older than me, so it couldn’t have been that long, Adrian. Unless you were a toddler king.”
“If I’m guessing right about where this conversation’s going, it’s time she knew anyway,” Costa muttered, giving Adrian a sympathetic look.
“Knew what?” I asked curtly.
Adrian’s hands tightened on the steering wheel. “I told you time moves differently in the realms. Once I was old enough to fight, Demetrius made sure I lived in realms where time almost froze to a stop so he’d have plenty of it to perfect my training. I might only look a few years older than you, Ivy, but I was born in 1873.”
My mind froze while doing the math. Adrian couldn’t—just could not!—be over a hundred and forty.
“No,” I croaked.
Costa reached around to pat my head. “I know it’s hard to take in. When Adrian got me out and I realized fifty years had passed over here, I had trouble adjusting—”
“How old are you?” I burst out before remembering he couldn’t understand me.
“Costa’s seventy-three, or seventy-four, I guess.” Adrian gave his friend a humorless smile. “Forgot your birthday.”
Denial still had me in a fierce grip. “But Tomas’s family is still alive! We sent Hoyt to them so he could recover!”
“Those were his grandkids, Ivy,” Adrian said, sparing another glance my way. “Didn’t you notice the old clothing his parents wore in the photographs in Tomas’s room?”
I had, but I’d thought his family had just liked to wear more, um, quaint apparel.
“You’re really a hundred and forty?” Call me slow, but I needed to hear him confirm it one more time.
I angled my head so I could see him more fully, as if he’d look different now that I knew his true age. He didn’t, of course. Same piercing sapphire eyes, curving brows, high cheekbones, sensually full mouth and strong jaw, all making up a face that left gorgeous behind in the dust. Considering that face was on top of a body so built that it could make a superhero jealous, Adrian’s looks were unforgettable.
So was this revelation. He hadn’t just spent his childhood and teen years living with demons. He’d spent nearly a century and a half with them. No wonder Demetrius had referred to Adrian’s working for Zach as a “little rebellion.” It barely registered next to the staggering length of time he’d lived in the realms as the demons’ prophesied savior.
I understood then, more than I ever had before, the absolute assurance that Demetrius, Zach and even Adrian had that he couldn’t avoid his destiny. How could a few weeks of being attracted to me compare with thirteen decades of being groomed to betray the last Davidian? It’s not like Adrian was trying to kick a recent bad habit—he’d literally spent a couple of lifetimes training so he could bring about my doom!
And I’d pretty much done everything I could to help him, I realized with a scald of self-recrimination. Even now, I was insisting that Adrian take me to a realm where his demonic foster father and a few hundred of his closest evil friends waited. A realm Adrian had admitted he’d once ruled over, and where he could now return as the conquering betrayer.
All I needed to do was slap a bow on my ass to make myself the perfect, too-stupid-to-live sacrifice.
“Having second thoughts, Ivy?”
Adrian’s voice broke through my crushing musings. His accent was as darkly alluring as ever, but it was a demon accent. When I met his gaze, those gemstone-colored eyes held their usual mixture of brooding danger, but who was his veiled violence aimed at? The girl he was destined to destroy, or the demons he’d told me he intended to take down?
After all, they wanted the weapon, too. I’d bet Demetrius and the rest of them would consider the minions Adrian had killed as acceptable losses if he delivered the slingshot—and me—to them in the end. What if all the times Adrian had saved me were just so I’d willingly lead him to the powerful weapon that his demonic brethren needed? What if all his claims to care about me were only so I’d run headlong into my own betrayal? In short—what if the only time Adrian had been telling me the truth was when he told me not to trust him?