The Beautiful Ashes Page 18

’’Shock and adrenaline, plus your bloodline. You\ e stronger, faster and tougher than you realize. You just didn\ know it before because you never needed to be.’’

With that, he pulled a sealed plastic bag out of his coat. No wonder he\d made sure to grab it when we fled the car;liquor and medicine were necessities in any survivalist\s book, not to mention the Archon grenade that had made cloud-Demetrius scream.

If I\d known then what I knew now, I\d have savored that scream. His taunts about Jasmine tormented me, as he\d intended them to. If I had any confidence that a demon would keep his word, I\d be tempted to trade my life for hers. Finding the weapon and taking on Demetrius might get me killed anyway, and then my sister would really be doomed.

Adrian scooped out some of the bag\s contents, interrupting that bleak line of thought. The medicine looked like mashed-up macaroon cookies, and I tensed as he held that sticky mixture over the deepest gouge on my thigh. His eyes met mine, their silvery perimeter gleaming.

’’Take a deep breath, Ivy.’’

I did, and still almost screamed when he brought his hand down. The medicine hurt more than when Demetrius had made the wounds, but I bit my lip and didn\ cry out. Adrian was trying to help. The less I distracted him, the faster this would end.

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\ . He didn\ 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.

’’Yeah.’’

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\ 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.

Chapter ten

Adrian made a fire out of plants, scrub and other things I wouldn\ 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\ appear bothered by the cold temperatures, or his pacing was keeping him warm. He hadn\ stopped since he quit treating my injuries.

’’Until morning. We can\ risk another demon ambushing us if we leave the hallowed ground before sunrise.’’

’’They can\ enter our realm in daylight?’’ Interesting.

’’Didn\ I tell you that?’’

’’No, you didn\ ,’’ I replied, adding, ’’along with a lot of other things,’’ in case my tone hadn\ 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\ e not stupid enough to kill, maim or emotionally break their only advantage.’’


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