The Beautiful Ashes Page 3

The room went dark as the lamp broke. My heart pounded at the instant blindness. I hadn\ been afraid before, but I was now, trapped in a room with two men who clearly wanted to kill each other. I began to feel my way around the bed again, and this time, stumbled on something big. That something grabbed me, and I freaked out, kicking, punching and clawing to get free.

Then I was yanked away and shoved viciously into the wall. Pain exploded over me, and when I swallowed, I tasted blood. I started to fall, dazed, when a rough grip hauled me up.

A beam of moonlight landed on my attacker\s face, and I recoiled. Shadows flickered like snake tongues across Kroger\s skin, turning his features into a sickening mask of evil. Worse, I knew I wasn\ hallucinating. The pain I felt was too real.

’’You want to know what happened to your sister?’’ Kroger\s voice was harsh. Guttural. ’’You\ e about to find out.’’

Without thinking, I punched him as hard as I could. He looked surprised, but the blow didn\ even make him flinch.

Suddenly, he was snatched backward and then flung straight up. As Kroger fell back down, Adrian kicked him hard enough to send him crashing through the bedroom window. Before I could even scream, Adrian leaped after him. Then all I heard were thumping noises and groans before a distinct snapping sound made something primal tense inside me.

One of them had just died, I knew it. But which one?

A dark form rose in the gaping hole where the window had been. I began to back away, every movement painful, when I saw something silvery gleam in the moonlight.

Adrian\s eyes.

’’Looks like you\ e coming with me after all,’’ he said while vaulting through the window.

I wasn\ bothered by his casual tone or the fact that he\d just killed someone. I was too busy trying to absorb what I\d seen on Detective Kroger\s face, let alone what he\d said.

You want to know what happened to your sister? You\ e about to find out.

Hope clawed through my reeling emotions. If the snakelike shadows on Kroger\s face were real, then maybe so was my vision of Jasmine at the bed-and-breakfast!

’’We need to...get Jasmine,’’ I managed to gasp, feeling something wet where I clutched my abdomen.

Adrian pried my hands away and sighed.

’’You\ e hurt. Sorry, he was one of Demetrius\s dogs, so he was harder to kill.’’

He picked me up. Despite Adrian\s touch being far gentler than Kroger\s, I couldn\ stop my pained moan.

’’Don\ worry, you\ll be better soon,’’ he said, carrying me toward the door.

We need to get Jasmine! I wanted to insist, but my tongue seemed to have gone on strike. The tingling in my limbs and buzzing in my ears probably wasn\ a good sign, either.

’’What\s your name, anyway?’’ I heard Adrian ask, his voice now sounding very far away.

I managed one word before everything went dark.


Chapter two

A familiar song was playing, but I couldn\ remember the name. That bugged me enough to open my eyes. A wall of black met my gaze, slick and smooth like glass. I reached up to see what it was, and that\s when I realized my hands were tied.

’’Silent Lucidity’’ by Queensryche, my mind supplied, followed immediately by, I\m in the backseat of a car. One that was well taken care of, going by that flawless, shiny roof. With those details filled in, I also remembered what had happened right before I\d passed out. And who I was with.

’’Why are my hands tied?’’ I said, heaving myself into an upright position.

For some reason Adrian didn\ have a rearview mirror, which was why he had to glance over his shoulder to look at me.

’’Does anything make you panic?’’ he asked, sounding amused. ’’You\ e tied up in the backseat of a cop-killer\s car, but I\ve seen people get more upset when Starbucks runs out of Pumpkin Spice flavor.’’

Anyone normal would panic, not that it would do any good. Besides, I ran out of ’’normal’’ a long time ago, when I realized I saw things no one else did.

Speaking of which, why wasn\ I in pain? The lump where Mrs. Paulson had whacked me was gone, and my shirt was red from blood, but aside from a mild kink in my neck, I felt fine. When I pushed my shirt up, somehow I wasn\ surprised to see smooth, unbroken skin on my abdomen. Well, that and a bunch of crumbs, like I\d eaten a dessert too messily.

’’Why does it look like I have angel food cake on my stomach?’’ I wondered aloud.

Adrian snorted. ’’Close. It\s medicine. You were injured.’’

’’You can tell me how I\m not anymore,’’ I said, holding out my bound hands, ’’after you untie me.’’

Another backward glance, this one challenging.

’’You may be the calmest person I\ve ever been sent to retrieve, but if I tell you now what you want to know, that will change. So pick the truth, or being untied?’’

’’Truth,’’ I said instantly.

He let out a laugh. ’’Another first. You\ e full of surprises.’’

So was he. He\d just admitted that he regularly kidnapped people which was how I translated ’’retrieve’’ so I should be trying my damnedest to get free. But more than anything, I needed answers. Besides, I still wasn\ afraid of him, and somehow, that had nothing to do with him magically healing me.

’’Truth, Adrian,’’ I repeated.

He turned once again and his gaze locked with mine, those odd blue eyes startling me with their intensity. For a moment, I could only stare, all thought frozen in my mind. I don\ know why I reached out, awkwardly touching his arm to feel the hard muscles beneath that bulky jacket. If I\d thought about it, I wouldn\ have done it. Yet I couldn\ make myself pull away.

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