The Sweetest Burn

Page 9

Costa’s smile was wiped away. “Then you need to find something else to fight for, because there’s a good chance that some or all of us will die before this is over. So find that something else, Ivy, because one day, you’re going to need it.”

As if I needed any more pressure. If this was Costa’s version of a pep talk, he sucked at it. I looked at him, Jasmine, and then snuck a glance at Adrian, who drove without the aid of any mirrors because he’d smashed all the ones the bus came with. Breaking the mirrors negated a demon’s power to use them as mini-gateways or as spying tools, but they must make driving the bus a little more challenging. If so, Adrian didn’t show it. He stared fixedly at the road, but I knew he’d been listening.

Did he agree? Did Jasmine? She looked grimly resigned to what Costa had said, but she had admitted herself that she wasn’t a fount of objectivity at the moment. Didn’t matter, I decided, renewed determination filling me. I didn’t need to find something else to do what had to be done to win this war.

I had all the motivation I needed right here.

* * *

I ROLLED OVER and stuffed the pillow in a new position under my head. Useless. The bed was comfy, the trailer was quiet, and yet I’d lain here, wide-awake, for hours. I blamed Costa, of course. His little chat had been as encouraging as listening to demons debate my chances, and needless to say, they were pretty sure I wouldn’t succeed, either.

Costa meant well, but like Jasmine, I figured he’d been through too much to be optimistic. I couldn’t blame him. I’d only been dealing with minions and demons for the better part of five months, and I still felt like I’d aged decades inside. If I’d been imprisoned by them for as long as Costa had, or lost my best friend to them the way Costa had lost Tomas? Yeah, I’d be a bowlful of doom, too, with a side order of bitterness.


My gaze flew to the door, but it was still closed. A quick glance revealed that Jasmine was the only person in the room with me. I hadn’t imagined hearing Adrian say my name from just a few inches away, though, so I strained my ears and waited.

“Ivy, come outside.” Adrian’s voice was low but clear, and I realized that he was speaking to me through the exterior wall of the trailer. “I need to show you something.”

I got up, mostly because I couldn’t stand to toss and turn anymore. I doubted something was wrong or Adrian wouldn’t be whispering. Plus, we’d parked at the edge of an old cemetery. Hallowed ground meant no demons, even if they could roam around our world at night. It wasn’t a deterrent to minions, but there’d need to be a lot of them to pose a threat with Adrian, Brutus and Costa here, not to mention me.

The thought cheered me as I moved quietly through the room. I wasn’t the same helpless girl I’d been when this whole thing started. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? Well, I’d had lots of things try to kill me, so by extension, I had to be stronger by leaps and bounds.

Once out of the bedroom, I tiptoed past a snoring Costa, who was on the sofa bed. The lone pillow on the floor must have been where Adrian had slept. He rarely used blankets, having long ago become well acclimated to the cold. Like Costa and Jasmine, I piled on the blankets to offset my memories of the dark, icy realms, but Adrian’s time there had consisted of him being treated better than a king, so maybe he didn’t mind.

Adrian had left the door open a crack, so it made no noise when I opened it to go outside. He’d moved away from my side of the trailer and stood near one of the old tombstones. It took a second for me to realize that Brutus was perched on top of a crypt next to him. If I hadn’t spotted his red, iridescent eyes, I might’ve mistaken the gargoyle for an elaborate statue.

“What’s up?” I said, keeping my voice down although we were the only ones who seemed to have difficulty sleeping.

Adrian wore a jacket and jeans, and until he turned to face me, I didn’t realize that was all he had on. The jacket was open, and moonlight reflected off the muscles in his chest while shadows gave his abs more definition than they already had. As he walked toward me, every ripple of muscles reminded me of the power contained inside his stunningly sculpted body.

“Is this what you wanted to show me?” I asked, a tiny crack in my voice belying the quip. “If so, that’s playing dirty.”

A slow smile curled his mouth. “If I were playing dirty, I wouldn’t be wearing anything.”

Yeah, I thought, dragging my gaze away from his physique, that might do it. Since I’d never admit that out loud, I said, “Why did you want me to come out? Is it what I said to Jasmine?”

His smile faded. “No, but now that you mention it, that did piss me off. I don’t care what your sister thinks of me, but you shouldn’t lie about what you feel, and we both know our lineage has nothing to do with what’s between us.”

Feel, not felt. His deliberate use of the present tense told me that he wasn’t buying my being over him. The problem was, I was starting to doubt whether or not I was myself.

“Tell that to every Archon and demon alive,” I muttered, mentally kicking myself for bringing the subject up. I should just keep a piece of tape handy so I could slap it over my mouth every time I had the urge to say something reckless.

“I don’t care what they think, either,” Adrian said silkily, closing the distance between us.

I backed away, holding out my hands to ward him off. “Don’t. If this is why you called me out here, I’m leaving.”

Hard assessment filled his features, as if judging whether I meant that, but he stopped. “It’s not why, but it’s been so long since I’ve been near you that I can’t help it. Don’t say you haven’t missed me, too, or I’ll know that you’re lying.”

“Really? How will you know that?” I said, deciding that I’d much rather challenge him than admit to it.

He came close enough to brush my hair away from my neck, and I told myself it was the night air hitting my skin that made me shiver. His fingers trailed over my neck, lingering on the spot where it felt like my heart was trying to escape through my jugular.

“Because when you lie, your pulse pounds even harder.”

I moved away. Damn the memories that had come flooding back at his touch, taunting me with how his hands had felt when they’d explored other parts of my body.

“You’re wearing the necklace.” The masculine satisfaction in his voice scattered more shivers over me. I closed my hand over the pendant, as if concealing it made that any less true.

“With its history, I couldn’t risk Brutus losing it,” I said defensively.

Adrian laughed, but the knowing sound was nothing compared to the intensity in his gaze. “This time, I don’t even have to look at your pulse to know you’re lying.”

What was I going to say? That some crazed part of me had been so touched by Adrian giving me a priceless stone from his childhood that I’d put the necklace on right before I went to bed? I hadn’t thought that anyone would see my momentary act of weakness, yet since I’d forgotten to take it off before I went outside, now it was being used against me.

Brutus interrupted the moment by hopping off the crypt and stretching out his wings to their full extension. Then he chuffed at Adrian as if to say, Hey, pal, remember me?

Adrian threw a rueful look at the gargoyle. “You’re anxious to get started, I know, but your timing sucks.”

I actually loved the gargoyle’s timing. In fact, the next hunk of raw pot-roast meat I came across had Brutus’s name written all over it. Then I looked more closely at the gargoyle, noticing that he had something around his neck, too.

“What’s that?” I asked, pointing.

Adrian cast one more look at the diamond in my cleavage. Then he walked over to Brutus and fingered the straps.

“It’s why I called you out here. You’re about to have your first flying lesson.”


I KNEW MY ears weren’t malfunctioning, yet I still repeated his statement as if I’d misheard him. “Flying lesson?” Are you serious? my mind added in a screech.

He patted Brutus, murmuring to him in Demonish before he answered me. “I’ve had Brutus since right after he was born. He was so small, I could carry him around like a baby, and he broke every fragile object in my house when he was learning to fly.”

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