Authors: Jus Accardo
Tags: #Romance, #Juvenile Fiction, #Fantasy & Magic, #teen, #young adult, #denazen, #Speculative Fiction, #ya, #Paranormal, #touch, #toxic, #jus accardo, #tremble
Right. He was right. I shoved Alex from the room and threw on a pair of jeans and the first sweater I put my hands on. Ashley was terrified and alone and it was only a matter of time before the bad guys closed in.
This was all my fault.
I was sure we were going to get our asses handed to us for going alone—but we could deal with the verbal fallout later. I didn’t think I’d be able to forgive myself if something happened to Ashley. Alex had been 100 percent right to rib me for the way I’d acted. If I’d been less bitchy and more understanding, she might have come back to the cabin with us in the first place or, at the very least, been a little more careful.
We were on the way to the elevator and were up and out the top front door no more than five minutes after Alex woke me up. It was going on two-thirty in the morning, and thankfully, the roads were empty. Unfortunately, a new, thin layer of snow had fallen in the last few hours, making travel a little slower than expected. The salt trucks hadn’t been through yet, and the car kept slipping and skipping all over the road. Alex refused to drive, so I took the wheel as he sat in the passenger’s seat looking pale. I was so focused on keeping the car steady on the road that I almost missed the exit.
A half block away, I tucked Alex’s recently refurbished Chevy behind an old rusting Volkswagen van and we hoofed it the rest of the way. I’d rushed, not bothering with socks, and the snow had started to seep through my sneakers, numbing my toes. By the time we got to Ashley’s, I was convinced I had frostbite.
Alex handed me the keys, then rubbed his hands together. “Keep the car running. I’ll be right back.”
He turned toward Ashley’s and I grabbed his arm. “Um, excuse me?”
“Dez, we have no idea what we’re walking into. And think about it. You were kind of a bitch yesterday. If Ashley’s scared, do you really think your face is the one she needs to see right now?”
Wow. Ouch times ten. I took the keys from him and nodded like a good little girl. Not that I had any intention of letting him walk in there on his own, but if he needed to think himself the big bad savior, I could give him that.
I counted to twenty once he’d disappeared around the bushes, then approached the front of the house with caution, keeping my eyes peeled for any signs of Denazen. The neighborhood was quiet, the soft sounds of light snow falling like miniature footsteps all around. I moved forward, alert and ready for danger. The front door was ajar, making me wonder if Alex had walked right in and left it that way or someone else had.
A little voice inside my head told me to turn around. Run to the car and don’t look back. I couldn’t do it, of course, but I was human, and despite what Mom might think, I did have some small sense of self-preservation. But Alex was in here somewhere, and Ashley needed help. There was a good chance none of us would be in this position had I just approached things differently the first time we’d been here.
I pushed through the open door, cringing when it creaked, and froze. The living room looked the same as it had earlier, shadows of the couch and lounge chair casting oddly shaped figures on the wall. With each step I took, the feeling of dread in my chest grew heavier and heavier.
“Ashley?” I dared to whisper, but I got no response. “Alex?”
Through the living room and into the hall, I stopped at the base of the stairs and held my breath to listen for movement. Other than the falling snow—now pounding against the tin awning outside—everything was still.
I took the stairs, hesitantly stepping down on each one. If there was a creaky board within a thousand miles, inevitably my foot would find it. Sure enough, halfway to the top, I hit one that let out a squeal and caused my heart to skip several beats. I waited, but no one came rushing, so I continued.
At the top of the stairs, there was a long hall with three rooms to the right and one to the left. Left first. Process of elimination. That would be Kale’s logic. Start with the smaller side and rule it out. I opened the door to find a bathroom—empty—and began moving carefully in the other direction.
The first was the master bedroom. The lamp on the nightstand was on, casting a soft glow through the empty room. The bed was still neatly made with a light blue bathrobe folded at the foot. Next looked like a computer room. There was a large flat-screen monitor mounted to the wall above a cherry wood desk, with the keyboard on the surface below. Plush carpet. Uncomfortable-looking desk chair. Half-full bookshelves. No Ashley. No Alex.
The next room was hers. I had no doubt. Other than the multiple easels and painting supplies strewn about, the fact that it looked like a tornado hit the room was a dead giveaway.
The mattress was turned over and leaning on its side up against the wall, the sheets in a tangled pile at its base. I stepped up and picked the pillow off the floor. Tossing it on the dresser—the only thing still upright—I started to turn, but froze when I noticed a shadow fall across the floor.
“I told them you wouldn’t come alone. Yet here you are,” Kale’s dark voice said from the doorway. “You’re an odd one.”
“You don’t realize it, but coming from you, that’s kinda funny,” I said, swallowing hard and turning to face him. The light from the hall lit the entire right side of his face, leaving the left cloaked in darkness. Two sides of the same dangerous coin. I wanted to back away but resisted, meeting his gaze straight on. My Kale was in there somewhere—and he could sense weakness. “And who says I came alone?”
“You’re alone now,” he said, taking another step closer. At his side, the fingers of his right hand tapped against his leg. One. Two. Three. One. Two. Three.
“Did you kill her?”
“I figured as much,” I said, jaw tense. Another step closer. “But I’m asking if
He cocked his head to the left and I could see his expression. Confusion. “You asked the same thing about the other girl. Why does it matter?”
“Because it does. It matters to you, too. You just don’t remember.”
He took another step. Inches. He was inches from me now, the warmth from his body radiating like the sun. Every one of my muscles plunged into an all-out war with my heart. Common sense screamed for me to match his steps forward with ones away.
Keep your distance—he’s dangerous!
My heart wanted to move closer.
“Why did you do it?”
“Because she needed help,” I said, inhaling. He still smelled like Kale.
“No. Not come here.” He tilted his head a bit farther, a lock of midnight hair falling into his eyes. He studied me with clinical interest. “I’m asking why you attacked me.”
“You attacked me first.” My fingers itched to touch his temple where a small bruise fanning from the thin gash had formed. I wanted to trail tiny kisses and apologize for hitting him.
I wanted this to all be nothing more than a bad dream.
“Does it hurt?”
He touched his temple and leaned closer—the movement taking him out of the thin beam of light from the hall and into the shadows of Ashley’s room. When he spoke again, his voice was different. Unlike anything I’d ever heard from him before. It made my legs itch to run, kicking my survival instinct into high gear.
It scared me.
“I feel like…when I look at you—” He shook his head and placed a hand on either side of me, up against the mattress, and brought his face close to mine. For the longest moment all he did was stare. When he did speak, there was so much rage in his voice. “You stabbed me. When that didn’t do the trick, you pushed me from the bridge. I’m asking you
“I never did that, Kale. No one’s ever pushed you from a bridge as far as I know. I promise. As for the scar, yeah. You were stabbed. Alex did it.”
“You’re lying, Kiernan.”
“I’m not. And my name is Dez,” I said, voice cracking under the weight of his words.
Through my jacket, the sharp jut of an out-of-place spring dug into my skin. Right hand remaining flat to keep me in place, he brought his left up and ran it down the side of my face. A surge of pain ignited in its wake, stealing my breath and nearly bringing me to the ground, a mass of blubbering goo. It was like being pulled apart on the most basic of levels. Cell by cell and vein by vein, the sting worked its way along my skin and in seconds, it encompassed my entire body.
“All it would take is a single touch. I could kill you and it would all be over. No discomfort. But that’s too easy after what you’ve done.” He withdrew his hand and pulled away a few inches. “If you think that hurts, you should consider what it’s like for me not to remember my life. My friends.
I could tell him that most of the life he had wasn’t worth remembering or that
was his friends and his family, but the look in his eyes told me that at the moment, he was beyond words that might bring reason.
Still, I wasn’t ready to give up, so I went with what had always worked for me. Something insane.
Pushing forward, I crushed my lips to his, wrapping both arms around his neck to lock him in place. He didn’t resist and, to my surprise, didn’t shove me away. Instead, after a moment, he responded, his lips moving fervently with mine.
The kiss only lasted a few moments. I was the one who broke it, pulling away as the clouds passed, allowing the moonlight to shine through the bedroom window once again. For a second, neither of us said a word. His cheeks glistened with my tears, making it look like he’d been crying, too, as he stared—eyes wide and mouth agape—like he’d never seen me before.
For a crazy, insane moment, time froze. I thought maybe the kiss had done the trick. That this time the princess had woken the prince. He looked at me with a mix of shock and awe, the tiniest hint of my Kale gleamed through. My heart pounded so loudly I could barely hear anything else. It was there. I could see the spark in his eyes. “Kale?”
But it didn’t last. Or maybe it hadn’t been there at all. Maybe I wanted to see it so badly that I imagined the whole thing.
His lips parted and the corners tilted upward just a hair. “Roz is right. You
I pushed him hard and ran.
Down the stairs, through the living room, and out the still-open front door. I tripped down the icy steps, catching myself just before planting face-first into the edge of the decorative wrought iron railing. My knee skimmed the slush-covered concrete, the fabric ripping—along with a nice chunk of skin—as I dragged myself up and bolted for the car. But that was a no-go. In the moonlight I saw the silhouette of a tall, broad-shouldered figure waiting by the front bumper, so I changed directions.
I slipped into the woods through the neighbors’ yard, following the rock wall as a guide. I was many things—and directionally challenged was one of them. Without some sort of guide and in the dark, there was a good chance I’d get myself lost in the woods—but at least I had some small amount of cover.
“This is more like it,” Kale called from somewhere behind me. The noise his footsteps made in the snow announced he wasn’t far, motivating me to run faster.
I quickened my pace, lungs reaching combustible levels as I struggled to keep up the speed. Before going back to Denazen, Kale had run three miles every day. I’d gone with him once and five minutes in was convinced he was trying to kill me. I hadn’t run since, and at this particular moment, regretted giving it up.
A fresh coat of freezing rain had fallen, making the entire forest one big, uneven ice rink. I was running blind, at the mercy of the constantly moving clouds and intermittent moonlight, while doing my best not to fall on my ass. Add a tornado or some other type of natural disaster and my night would be utterly complete. Sometimes I was sure my existence was simply entertainment for some higher power who got off on seeing people suffer.
I stopped beside a thick pine tree for a second and scanned the area to get my bearings, but in the confusion lost my sense of direction. The rock wall was nowhere in sight and I had no clue which way Ashley’s house—or Alex’s car—was. And where was Alex? Please, God, let him be okay.
Something behind me snapped—a tree branch or something—and I started moving again. I dug the cell from my pocket but fumbled when I slipped on an icy root. Going down hard, the phone flew from my grasp.
“Shit!” I hissed, dragging myself off the ground. I thrust my hands through the layer of ice and into the slushy snow to find the cell. After a few seconds, my hands closed around the familiar plastic and I pushed off the ground and kept going.
“You’re fast,” Kale called, voice bouncing off the trees. “But you won’t get far.” There was no mocking in his tone. Only a painfully familiar, matter-of-fact pitch.
Ahead I caught sight of a large clump of rocks. Hoping it would lead me back to the house or at the very least give me a place to hide, I banked hard and turned the corner into total darkness. I got two steps, maybe three, before someone grabbed me, hand clamping down hard over my mouth, and spun me away from the path.
“Shh!” the voice hissed in my ear.
I stopped struggling, my attacker maneuvering us behind the side of the rock as someone else—assumedly Kale—raced by. Then he let go and stepped away. At first a rush of relief flooded me, thinking it was Alex, but then the person spoke. “Are you crazy?”
“I’m getting really tired of people asking me that,” I fired back, slightly surprised. The moon moved behind the clouds so I could barely make him out, but it didn’t matter. I knew that voice. “Is it just you? Or is your creepy other half lurking somewhere?”
“It’s just me and Kale,” Aubrey whispered. “And keep your damn voice down.”
“Ashley Conner. Is she—”
“She’s gone. The parents got her.” He leaned back and crooked his finger at something. Alex stepped out from behind the rock.
Relieved to see him in one piece, I threw myself forward and hugged him. He returned the embrace with a low chuckle. “Jeez, Dez, if I knew this was what it would take to get you to put your hands all over me again, I would have done it sooner.”
“Jackass,” I said, pulling away and turning to our unlikely savior.
The last time I’d seen him, Aubrey had
saved me from a violent and excruciatingly painful death at the hands of his brother, Able, but that didn’t mean he was now batting for the home team. They were twins, and their ability—a freaky joint thing—allowed one to poison you while the other could heal. Kale had sacrificed himself by making a deal with Dad. Aubrey would be allowed to heal me if Kale went back to Denazen, but Dad never planned on keeping his end of the deal. Aubrey’s orders had been to heal the poison and bring me back—or let me die. Instead, he chose to cure the poison and let me go, leaving with the promise that he would look after Kale.