The Beautiful Ashes Page 36

Three of the guys took my rebuff like men and went on their way. The fourth, however, was being a little bitch about it.

’’Come on, sugar, have one drink with me,’’ he urged.

’’Again, no,’’ I said, not adding ’’and I\m not your sugar’’ only because simple phrases already seemed too much for him.

He grinned, showing off nice teeth. He wasn\ bad-looking, either, with his short black hair and a leanly muscular build, but even if I was looking for a date, he wouldn\ be it. Years ago, I\d dated another guy who didn\ understand the word no, and I\d ended up breaking an empty beer bottle over his head on prom night. That, he\d understood.

Mr. Pushy grabbed my hand, tugging on it with that same smug grin. ’’Bar\s right up the street. You\ll love it ’’

Being snatched backward and flung to the sand ended his grabby sales pitch. Adrian stood over him, his foot grinding into the guy\s back. Somehow, I wasn\ a bit surprised.

’’You\ve been spying on me all day, haven\ you?’’ I said. ’’I told you I needed some time to myself, Adrian.’’

He glanced down at Mr. Pushy. ’’Good thing I didn\ listen.’’

I rolled my eyes. ’’Like I couldn\ handle him? If nothing else, you should\ve known that I\d be able to outrun him.’’

’’...\et me...up,’’ the guy said, his words garbled, trying to spit out enough sand to talk.

Adrian hauled him up, though a hard cuff almost sent Mr. Pushy sprawling again.

’’Get lost,’’ he said curtly.

The guy looked at Adrian with surly confidence, reminding me that he only saw the disguise. Not the hulking, six-six man who\d ripped the throat out of the last person who touched me without my consent.

’’I should kick your ass,’’ the guy muttered.

’’You should run while your legs still work,’’ I told Mr. Pushy. To Adrian I said, ’’He\s not worth the police report, so don\ do whatever you\ e thinking of.’’

Either the guy sensed the danger in Adrian\s glare, or he suddenly remembered another girl who wanted to go to the bar. Whatever it was, with another mutter, he left, still brushing sand off himself as he climbed up the pavilion staircase.

Once he was gone, Adrian and I stared at each other. Moments ago, he\d been poised to strike;now he looked almost hesitant, like he didn\ know what to say.

’’Costa\s making dinner,’’ he told me, as if that had anything to do with why he was here. ’’It\ll be ready in half an hour.’’

My annoyance began to evaporate. I\d seen Adrian look angry, vengeful, bitter, confident, lethal and seductive, but this was different. He almost seemed...shy. Was it because I\d busted him for spying on me? If so, he must not have been doing it only out of concern for my safety.

’’So what\s for dinner?’’ I asked, my voice soft.

He smiled. ’’Burnt moussaka, probably. Costa loves to cook, and I don\ have the heart to tell him that he sucks at it.’’

I laughed. ’’Thanks for the heads-up. I\ll play along and clean my plate, too.’’

Adrian chuckled before he looked away. The sea breeze blew his longer bangs back while the setting sun turned his blondish-brown hair into different shades of red. His shirt molded to him from the wind, and his shorts showed off those shapely, muscular legs.

’’You did really well in the realm,’’ he said, still not looking at me. ’’I meant to tell you that before, but...’’

’’Everyone died and Zach only brought a couple back,’’ I filled in, grief chasing away my other thoughts. ’’Thank you, by the way. I didn\ get to say that before, either. I wouldn\ have made it out of there alive without you.’’

Or out of the desert, the monastery, the other desert, Bennington... Because of Adrian, I was turning out to have more lives than a cat.

He looked at me then, sadness making his eyes appear a deeper shade of blue. ’’Did Tomas... Was it quick?’’

I drew in a shuddering breath, remembering that awful wound and Tomas\s last words. ’’It was quick.’’

He nodded, returning his attention to the water, but I glimpsed the grief he was trying to hold back. I moved closer, sliding my hand into his without even thinking about it. His fingers curled around mine, and the sense of rightness I felt hit me like a wrecking ball. Had I fallen so hard, so fast?

’’I\m glad you were with him,’’ he said, his tone faintly hoarse. ’’Dying\s hard enough. Doing it alone is worse.’’

I couldn\ imagine all the death Adrian had seen growing up in the demon realms. I\d suffered so little by comparison, and some days, I still felt like I couldn\ take it. Today had been one of those days. All the warmth and sunshine I\d tried to soak up hadn\ put a dent in the icy darkness rising inside me. But holding his hand did, and that scared me as much as I silently marveled at it.

’’Do you really think I\m strong enough to keep searching the realms until I find this weapon?’’ I asked, my voice barely audible as I spoke my greatest fear aloud.

His hand tightened on mine. ’’I know you are,’’ Adrian said, turning to look at me once more.

It wasn\ the words, though I\d needed to hear them. It wasn\ even his voice, though it vibrated with surety. It was his eyes. I\d never read so much from a person\s eyes before, but Adrian\s seemed to spill all the secrets he still refused to tell me. In those sapphire depths, I knew he meant what he\d said. I might not believe in me, but he did, and right now, it gave me hope that we would make it through. All of us.

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