The Beautiful Ashes

Page 6

I shook my head, managing to draw in a breath despite that awful squeezing in my throat.

“Ivy.” A large hand cupped my face, forcing me to look at him instead of the headstone. “What is it?”

Right then, I was glad that Adrian was so hot. Thank God for the deep hollows under his cheekbones, those sapphire eyes, and the blondish-brown hair that looked like it had been tousled from too much sex. If I hadn’t had his looks to distract me, I might’ve had to focus on how bad it hurt to lose two people who’d never let me down, even when I’d been a stranger to them.

“It’s parents died five days ago.”

My voice was husky from the emotions I kept trying to shove back, but the strangling tightness had eased. Another few deep breaths, and all that was left was a familiar burn.

“I’m sorry,” Adrian said, taking my hand and squeezing it.

I’d heard those words from friends and fellow students a lot in the past week, often with an added cliché about all things happening for a reason. Adrian didn’t say any of that crap. He just kept holding my hand while looking at me with an understanding that transcended compassion, as if he knew what it was like to lose everything within a brutally short amount of time.

“Thanks.” I drew in another breath, blinking away the tears. Crying felt like giving up, and I wasn’t doing that because I needed to find a way to bring my sister back home. “That’s why I need answers, because I’m not about to lose my sister forever, too.”

He let go of my hand and looked away, his jaw tightening. “Answers don’t mean miracles. I heard what that cop said to you. If they have your sister, I’m sorry, but she’s as good as dead.”

“Bullshit,” I snapped, instantly angry. “I know where she is. I just need a...way in.”

Adrian sighed. “You see things no one else does, yet you’re still in denial, aren’t you? The creatures that have your sister are too strong, Ivy. Even if you got in, you’d never get out.”

Creatures? Before I could respond, something flashed ahead, as if a spotlight had briefly turned on. Adrian began driving toward it. A few minutes later, we pulled up to what looked like a tiny castle, with circular turrets on the four corners and a tall, windowed dome blooming out of the center.

Adrian parked, going around to my side to let me out. “Welcome to Green-Wood chapel.”

The door was ajar, soft light emanating from within. Adrian entered and I followed, hugging his coat around me as though it were a protective shield. I was so disturbed by what he said that the equally ornate interior was lost on me. He must’ve meant “creatures” in a metaphorical way, my logic argued.

A young African-American man stood at the end of the pews, his face partially concealed by the blue hoodie hanging over his bent head. I would’ve thought he was praying except that he faced us, not the altar, and his hands were at his sides instead of folded in the universal gesture for piety.

“Ivy, this is Zach,” Adrian said. “Zach, meet Ivy, the girl you sent me to rescue.”

Zach looked up, his hoodie fell back, and—

Light exploded around him like thousands of camera flashes. My eyes burned, unable to adjust to the blinding intensity, and yet I couldn’t close them. I stared, stunned, as the glow around him became even brighter, until I saw nothing except Zach. A multitude of voices roared through my mind, deafening me to everything except their beauteous, painful crescendo. My body vibrated, caught in the thunderous echo, until it felt like my flesh would be shaken right off my bones—

“Don’t be afraid.”

The church morphed back around me, Adrian standing a few feet away like he’d been before. Zach hadn’t moved, either. I had, though. Somehow, I was on my knees, hands raised, my face wet from tears I didn’t remember shedding.

“Don’t be afraid,” Zach repeated, coming toward me.

I staggered to my feet. The lights around him were gone, as was the terrible noise that had made my whole body ache. Right now, Zach looked like half the guys around my campus, but I knew, with every fiber of my being, that he wasn’t human. He was something else.

A creature, like Adrian had said.

I kept backing away, but then strong hands settled around my shoulders, gripping me with protective gentleness.

“Don’t worry. He’s not one of the bad ones,” Adrian said softly. “Zach plays for the other team.”

“The creatures have teams?” I choked out.

“Yes, they do,” Adrian said, a note of grimness coloring his tone. “And both sides play for keeps.”

I stared into Zach’s walnut-colored eyes, seeing the otherness beneath the facade of a twentysomething man with closely cropped hair, thick brows, and smooth, dark skin. I didn’t need Adrian to tell me he could rip me limb from limb if he wanted to. An instinctual, animalistic part of me knew that. In fact, I was painfully aware of how easily my bones could shatter, how little my skin protected the vulnerable parts beneath, and how useless my average strength was to defend myself. Fear made me want to edge farther into Adrian’s embrace, but I forced myself to stay where I was.

Zach might terrify me, but Adrian said he fought against the things that had Jasmine. That made him my new best friend.

“I think freaky shadow people kidnapped my sister,” I said, proud that my voice wasn’t shaking. “So I need to know how to get her back.”

“Did I mention she could see beneath demon glamour?” Adrian asked in a wry tone.

My stomach clenched at the word demon, but I didn’t do anything embarrassing, like puke. Okay, so demons had my sister. Not much different than saying that freaky shadow people had her, right?

I might puke after all.

“Of course she can see through it,” Zach replied, as casual as if he were noting that I liked chocolate more than vanilla. “It’s in her bloodline.”

I was standing so close to Adrian, I felt it when his whole body stiffened. “You knew what she was?”

A faint smile touched Zach’s mouth. “I’ve always known.”

“What do you mean, what I am?” I wondered.

Adrian ignored that and strode over to Zach, his height forcing the shorter man to look up in order to meet his eyes.

“You lied to me,” Adrian bit out, his finger stabbing Zach in the chest with each word. “You said that I was the last of my line, yet you knew all along about Ivy?”

I couldn’t believe Adrian kept jabbing Zach like he was a roast that needed tenderizing. Didn’t he sense the blasting power beneath Zach’s average-guy disguise?

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