Frost Fire (Tortured Elements) (4 page)

BOOK: Frost Fire (Tortured Elements)
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“Drake,” Allai whispered. She didn’t know what else to say. But letting him know that she knew his name, and that she knew who he was… It somehow felt right.

He glanced over his shoulder at her. For a moment, they just stared at each other. His eyes brimmed with a mixture of guilt and horror. She was sure hers looked nothing like that. They’d be blank with shock.

Then Drake collapsed. He just fell, crumpling to the ground. His body struck the ground with a thud, and his body shook with tremors as Silas’s venom started to take effect. But his eyes remained looking up at hers, staring at her with that guilt and horror. And, now, helplessness.

Chapter Three

Drake gasped, the air singeing his raw throat and lungs. A muscle spasm raced up his spine, quivering his flesh and only stopping when it twisted under his shoulder blades. His back arched in agony, and he squeezed his eyes shut.

That didn’t help much. It just forced him to concentrate on the incessant flames that licked and burned at his wounded neck. He knew they weren’t actual flames; it was worse than that. Persequor venom. When Silas had lunged, he’d had enough time to throw the girl out of the way. But not enough time to do the same with himself and escape those silver fangs.

He opened his eyes. The girl just stared down at him, a slender hand covering her mouth, like she thought it’d be impolite to let him see that her jaw had dropped with shock. He wanted to tell her to forget the politeness, because he’d just be worried about her if she wasn’t shocked. But he didn’t. Because he needed to keep his jaw clenched to keep from screaming. He didn’t want to scream in front of her.

“Holy shit.”

He eyed her, unsure which one of them had said it. Yeah, his jaw was clenched, and he shouldn’t be able to talk. But that really sounded like the kind of language he had always gotten punched for, and it certainly didn’t sound like something she should be saying, being all elegant, and graceful, and… hot.

Damn, when had she gotten hot? Last he’d seen her, she’d still been in that awkward, gangly teenage stage. Now she’d filled out in all the right places, and her face was sharper and more feminine, and her hair had gotten wavy. She’d even grown an inch or two, so she was now cute-short and not midget-short.

Allai.

Her name came to him, crashing into him with a familiar, comforting warmth that nearly made him forget the venom. He still remembered the first time he’d heard her name. It’d been three years ago, when he’d overheard a conversation at the Keepers’ headquarters that offhandedly mentioned it. The rest of that day he’d spent in his room, staring at the ceiling in a daze and rolling the name around on his tongue. But he’d never get to say her name to her, not with the way things had turned out after that night.

Allai’s silver eyes locked with his. He wanted to blurt out her name, just so he could actually say it out-loud. But he didn’t. Because she looked terrified, her eyes wide and her entire body tensed. Terrified of him.

He opened his mouth to tell her it was okay, that he wasn’t going to hurt her. That he would
never
hurt her. But his jaw muscles only twitched.

He groaned between gritted teeth. The Persequor must have given him a full dose of venom. He’d be paralyzed for a day, maybe two? It was impossible to know for certain. But he did know that every day would just be twenty-four hours of tortuous, fiery pain.

Then the girl crept toward him, one hesitant step after another bringing her closer. She stared down at him like he was some kind of mine, ready to explode in her face at any moment.

“Is it really you?” she blurted out.

Hearing her speak… It was bizarre. He’d nearly fallen flat on his face when she’d spoken to him as he’d dragged her off the path. And now it was just as weird. Words just didn’t
fit
her. Silence had always been her thing.

And, now, it was also his. He couldn’t respond, not with the venom paralyzing him. And that made a surge of rage course through him, because he couldn’t say what he’d already planned out:
I didn’t do it. I swear I’m not the monster you think I am.

She reached out and touched his cheek. Her hand shook, but her touch was still gentle. Then she pulled back and stepped away.

Numbness crept into Drake’s hands. But only into the flesh, and not the veins that were on fire. Tendrils of black crept into his vision, overtaking the trees, the sky. The girl. He’d be unable to see anything within a few seconds, if this time proved to be anything like the past.

He could feel Allai’s presence beside him. She hadn’t left. What was she thinking? Probably the quickest way to kill him.

Blackness overtook his vision. And pain was all that was left.

Chapter Four

She hadn’t wanted to leave him. Not when Drake was paralyzed and helpless, and not when she was still shaking in terror. But she’d had to leave and come back to the Manor. Hadn’t she? Wasn’t that the rational thing to do? People didn’t stick around to comfort Demons who had tried to take their life. It didn’t matter if that Demon had just
saved
their life. …Right?

Those questions swirled around her mind as Allai trudged up the steps toward her room. She tried to swallow to ease the dryness in her mouth, but it just turned into a cough. Her mind felt the same way as her tongue: Dry and thick, like something was restricting it from working properly.

Drake Rhaize.
That
was the something.

Seeing him was like reliving a perfect daydream and her worst nightmare at the same time. She didn’t know how to react. She didn’t know how to even
think
.

She knew Drake was the guy who’d tried to take her life. But somehow she couldn’t feel the right kind of fear toward him. She didn’t have that gut-wrenching, instinctual terror she’d felt toward Silas. Her fear for Drake was way more confusing, but she was slowly starting to decipher it:

She was afraid of learning the truth. Of finding out whether all those memories of him—of his comforting golden eyes and soft words—were real or not.

The thought threw off her footsteps, and she nearly missed the next step of the staircase. She slammed her foot down to regain balance. Her bad foot, of course. Because wasn’t that just her luck?

Pain ricocheted through her ankle, almost tearing a scream from her. But she held it back, biting her lip and only letting out a tiny whimper. Luke was going to have to look at her ankle and make sure it was only sprained, and not broken.

As if on cue, he appeared at the top of the stairs, his arms crossed and his expression turned down in a scowl. Allai read his expression and swallowed hard to keep her pounding heart in place. How could he have found out about Drake so quickly?

Allai gripped the banister, her nails digging into the smooth varnish. She had to tell him. She had to just blurt everything out and pretend she’d had no intention of keeping Drake’s predicament a secret.

“Allai,” Luke said quietly.

She hobbled up a few more steps and didn’t reply. She just focused on the plush carpet covering the steps, trying to dig her good foot into it to keep from slipping. All she had to do was open her mouth and say some simple words:
Drake Rhaize is out by the border. Go catch him.
It should have been easy.

But it wasn’t.

“I know you’re there,” Luke muttered. “I’m blind, not deaf.”

She glanced up and said, “Yeah, I know, you can hear me.”

“So then you’re ignoring me?” He rolled his shoulders in a gesture that was almost a threat, but not quite. A little growl slipped from him.

Allai froze and snapped, “What? Did you wake up on the wrong side of the bed or something?”

That wasn’t what she wanted to say, was it? She just wanted to admit everything that had happened to her in the past hour, to just tell him and get it over with. Her dad would send a Sentinel Warrior out, and the Warrior would finish off Drake. It’d all be over.

Luke’s scowl deepened, but it was the only evidence he’d heard her challenging words. He dug into his right pocket and pulled out an envelope, the top already ripped open. He wagged it at her. “Your high school exam results. Shieldak passed them along to me.”

Allai almost laughed. She managed to stifle it, throwing a hand to her mouth and looking to the ceiling so she didn’t have to see Luke’s stormy eyes. She couldn’t look at them, because they were so entirely pissed off, and she knew her eyes would be dancing with relief. She managed to get herself together and mutter in a dejected voice, “Oh. I… didn’t pass?”

“No.” Luke paced back and forth along the top of the stairs, like a prowling lion ready to pounce. “No, you didn’t pass. You got a fourteen percent.” His blind eyes bored into her. “Did you even
try
?”

“Yes. I wanted to pass.”

He scoffed. “Bullshit. This is state testing! For high school, not for bloody university. A third grader could pass it!”

She crossed her arms. But that only threw off her balance and forced her to put pressure on her ankle. She winced, trying not to let her pain show through as she growled, “I did my best.”

“Really? So your best is now randomly picking a, b, or c? You’re smart, Allai. Too smart for this crap. And your dad might not give a shit about your grades, or care if you—”

“He cares!” Allai snapped.

Luke waved a scarred hand, like he was flicking her protest right out of the air. But then he froze. “Is that what this is all about? Are you failing just to see if you can get your dad to care about something you do?”

Allai blushed and looked away. She didn’t really know why, since he couldn’t even see her flushed cheeks. But she didn’t want to look straight at him. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

Luke laughed, the sound harsh and cynical. “Allai, darling, why in the bloody hell do you think I take care of you? It’s because your ‘dad’ doesn’t. Shieldak has never bothered to try to raise you properly.”

Something dripped onto her hand. She looked down at it, and it took her a moment to realize what it was. A tear. She squeezed her eyes shut, wishing she could also just shut out Luke’s words.

“My dad loves me,” she whispered.

“Maybe he does,” Luke said. “Just not enough to act like a father to you.”

Allai gulped back more tears and opened her eyes. She glanced down, finding her hand gripping at the banister like it was clinging to life. And maybe it was. She’d heard the whisperings all her life, the ones her dad didn’t bother to stop. She was just a Nox, not a Demon or a Hunter. She didn’t belong in the Sentinel. Most people wanted her expelled. She’d have to cling to her home here in the Manor with everything she had.

“I hurt my ankle,” she whispered, desperately trying to change the subject. “While I was running, I tripped, and…” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Drake Rhaize. I got attacked, and he was there. He’s still out there, I think. He has a Persequor bite.”

There. She’d said it. She opened her eyes and waited for Luke’s reaction. His jaw tightened and his shoulders straightened, like he was preparing for an attack right then and there. “I’ll tell Shieldak,” he said. “We’ll take care of him, Allai. Don’t worry. You’re safe.”

Her stomach twisted. Of course she was safe, with a mansion full of Demon Warriors on her side. Drake, on the other hand…

“You hurt your ankle?” Luke asked gently, pulling her from her thoughts.

She nodded. “Yeah. I stumbled.”

Luke sighed and stepped down to her. His delicate hand grasped hers, while his other arm moved to support her shoulders. After years of using his fingertips to recognize his surroundings, Luke’s touch had grown gentle and almost tender. It was something Allai knew she’d only ever feel from him, if she continued to live in the warrior-culture of the Manor.

Luke allowed Allai to lean her weight on him, and then gave her a comforting little hug. She accepted it, leaning into him more than she probably had to.

She was doing the right thing. She just had to keep telling herself that, because it was true. Wasn’t it? Drake was better off dead. He had to be. He wasn’t old enough to have developed a Demon’s natural immunity to Persequor venom. If the Sentinel didn’t kill him, then the venom would take full effect. Drake would wake up in a few days to find himself changed into one of Silas’s species; he’d be turned into an emotionless killer. Not that he’d care.

“Come on, Allai-bird,” Luke said quietly. “Let’s take a look at this ankle of yours.”

Chapter Five

Pearly. It was the prettiest word she’d ever been able to find for the scar.

Allai used her bathroom mirror to stare at the scar on her neck. It looked the same as it always did: pale, thin, smooth. Like a whisper of spider’s silk across her skin. But the scar had been throbbing ever since she’d encountered Drake the previous day, as if her wound was fresh and not years old.

She sighed and threw her pajama top at the mirror. It blocked the image for a second, giving her enough time to rip her gaze away from the glass and focus. She needed to get dressed, because it was already six o’clock and nearly the end of breakfast. There probably wouldn’t be much food remaining by the time she got down to the Hall, but there might be a muffin or two left over. That was enough motivation to get her moving.

Allai walked into her adjoining bedroom, doing her best to keep her steps light. Her ankle had stopped hurting last night, and now felt good as new. Which was weird. More like bizarre, because Luke had been sure she’d completely sprained it. So she was going to follow his directions and keep it rested for a few days, just in case the pain came back.

She fished around her dresser drawers for clothes, not really paying attention to what she pulled out. Not that she ever did. Skinny jeans and a t-shirt was her usual attire, and there was no reason it should change for today.

A little breath of relief escaped her when she pulled her hoodie on. The hood sat snug around her neck and hid every sign of the scar.

For a while after the event, she’d constantly looked around at the Demon Warriors she lived with. Their bodies were covered in scars from fights and scuffles, and it somehow made her feel good knowing she wasn’t the only one with an ugly mark. But the good feelings were always short term. Because Sentinel Warriors weren’t human, and after a decade or so, their scars regenerated with seamless, fresh skin.

BOOK: Frost Fire (Tortured Elements)
10.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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