The Sweetest Burn

Page 8

“Jaz,” I said softly. “What’s going on?”

She let out a sound that was half scoff, half sob. “You mean, why do I hate him? Maybe it was seeing my boyfriend tortured to death in front of me in Adrian’s former realm, or seeing how demons treat people worse than cattle, or being their caged trophy for weeks. Maybe it was finding out that minions murdered our parents while I was away, or maybe it’s the fact that both demons and Archons believe that Adrian absolutely will fulfill his destiny by betraying you! You’re all I have left, Ivy.” Her voice broke. “I can’t stand to lose you, too.”

I felt so ashamed. Here I’d thought that Jasmine had been doing better over the past several weeks. She’d seemed like she’d been coping after her ordeal, but she hadn’t, and I’d been blind to it. Seeing Adrian again must’ve felt like salt in her wounds, and she had already suffered so much.

“You don’t have to worry,” I told her, my voice rough from holding back tears. “If Zach hadn’t made him come, Adrian wouldn’t be here. Anything I felt for him was just our supernatural tie because we’re the last of our lines. Adrian even warned me about that when we first met. It might have felt like real emotions, but it wasn’t, and I’m over that now.”

I managed not to choke on the lie. Oh, if only what I still felt for Adrian was the same emotions that had drawn Davidians and Judians together for over two thousand years! Those had been compassion, empathy and the need to save. What I felt was different—stronger and deeper—and as much as I might want to, I couldn’t blame any of it on my lineage.

“You don’t have to be afraid of Adrian betraying me again,” I went on. I won’t let him, I silently added, but Jasmine needed more reassurance than that. “The day I wiped out the Bennington demon realm, Zach told me that Adrian had a chance to beat his fate. So, the demons might believe that Adrian is their weapon, but when you take someone’s best weapon away from them, it just makes them easier to kill.”

I was paraphrasing Adrian’s words from this morning, not that Jasmine needed to know that. She just needed to believe it, and despite all my issues with Adrian, I still did believe that he could overcome his fate. I just wasn’t willing to bet my life on it anymore, let alone my heart.

I went over to Jasmine and took her hands. She couldn’t know that I still had doubts. She was too fragile. “I’m going to get Moses’s staff, use it to repair the realm walls and then laugh as the demons choke on their unmet expectations of Adrian,” I told her in a strong voice that belied my inner fears. “If you don’t trust that he has truly changed, at least trust that Adrian hates demons even more than you do.”

Tears welled in her eyes until one of them rolled down her cheek. “Then why do all the demons still believe in him?”

I kept my hands on hers, but my grip loosened. “They need to,” I said at last. “Aside from getting lucky and managing to kill me first, Adrian’s betrayal is their only hope.”

She smiled with more pain than anyone eighteen years old should ever have. “And your only hope is that they’re wrong. Someone’s going to lose this bet, and whoever does will die.”

The truth of that was like razors across my heart. I couldn’t show that, so I turned away, starting to unload the contents of our suitcases into the room’s drawers and cabinets.

“I know this is winner-take-all,” I said at last. “But only people who bet everything stand a chance to win it all. We’re going to win, Jasmine. I promise you that.”

We have to, I didn’t add. If not, and the realm walls eroded enough to fall, or Adrian did betray me to demons as his destiny predicted, then all the horrible things Jasmine had experienced would become everyday life for the rest of humanity.

I couldn’t let that happen. I wouldn’t.


ADRIAN TOOK THE first shift driving. He’d been tight-lipped ever since I came out of the bedroom, and it didn’t take my new, improved senses to figure out why. He’d overheard my conversation with Jasmine. Whether he was more upset at her low opinion of him or my assurance that I’d never felt anything real for him, I didn’t know and I wasn’t about to ask.

Costa seemed unusually subdued, too. Of course, that could be because of Brutus’s close proximity. Even though we’d shared a house, I’d kept the gargoyle away from Costa as much as I could these past two months. Costa might only see a seagull when he looked at Brutus because of the Archon glamour Zach used to disguise him, but Costa never forgot what Brutus was. Neither did Jasmine, although she seemed to have gotten past her initial trepidation over him. Maybe Costa had seen too much of what Brutus had done when the gargoyle had been the demons’ flying version of a guard dog to ever feel comfortable around him.

Because of Brutus’s fear of sunlight, we had him in the back bedroom with the windows and door shut. I only hoped he didn’t break the bed under his weight or get slime on the pillows; man, that gargoyle could drool when he slept! Costa, Jasmine and I were on the couch watching TV, although I don’t think any of us were paying attention to what was on the screen. We all appeared to be lost in our own thoughts.

“So, California, here we come,” I said, trying to break the new, pensive atmosphere. “Which part are we going to? The beaches, the mountains, Hollywood?”

The look Costa gave me said he knew what I was doing, and it wouldn’t work. “Death Valley. Shine that turd, Ivy.”

Okay, so I had my work cut out for me. Was it riding with Brutus that had Costa so grumpy, or was it knowing that our brief, demon-free interlude was over? “Sun and sand, what’s not to love?” I said, accepting his challenge. “Beats the hell out of a freezing, pitch-black demon realm.”

A smile ghosted across Costa’s lips. “You’re right—I would take scorpions, dehydration and heat stroke over the realms, but that doesn’t mean I like where we’re going.”

I remembered that Costa hadn’t volunteered to come with us. Zach had just stated that Costa was going without bothering to ask his opinion on the matter.

“Do you not want to be here? If so, we can drop you off somewhere, something else?”

Costa’s pointed look stopped my awkward attempt at letting him off the hook. “I’ve come this far, Ivy. I’m seeing it through to the end or I’ll die trying.”

I flinched. Costa had been through enough to know that death was a real possibility. As he continued to stare at me, his real age seemed to creep into his dark brown gaze. Costa was a good-looking Greek guy who appeared to be in his late twenties, but time moved differently in the realms. In the one Costa had been trapped in, it had slowed to a near standstill. He’d be seventy-five on his next birthday, and every moment of those years filled his stare as he spoke again.

“I’m okay with that, Ivy.” His voice was very soft. “The question is, are you ready to see this through, no matter what?”

I hoped so. I attempted a confident version of a smile. “Of course. It’s my destiny, right?”

He leaned back, flicking away wavy black hair that, along with his olive-toned skin and deep brown eyes, highlighted his Mediterranean heritage. “Destiny is only foreknowledge of choices you have yet to make.”

“You’ve been spending too much time with Zach,” I muttered, wishing I’d kept watching the movie instead of trying to lighten the mood. Boy, had that backfired.

“No,” Costa said, a harsh smile twisting his mouth. “I just know you want to get through this without hurting anyone except demons or minions, and that’s impossible. You’ve busted your ass training to fight them, but you haven’t accepted the fact that you might have to sacrifice everyone on this bus to win this war, and until you’re ready to do that, you’re not ready.”

I looked away, my jaw clenching. “I’m doing this for everyone on this bus. I already lost my parents, my friends and any hope at a normal life, so if I lost all of you,’d probably be easy for the demons to kill me, because I would have lost everything I’d been fighting for.”

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