As a human, she wasn’t so ineffective, after all.
ADEN HAD FILES STUFFED under his shirt, inside his pants and clutched under his arms. So did Seth. They’d busted into the small, dusty room Julian had led them to, and as promised, no one had been inside. No one had been inside for a really long time, he suspected. The lock had been rusted, the hinges on the door squeaking and practically falling off with the pressure he’d applied.
They’d hurried from one box to another, rifling through the papers—realizing everything related to the unexplainable. Unexplainable deaths, unexplainable injuries, unexplainable healings. They’d grabbed everything they could hold. Later, they’d come back for the rest. As for today, Mary Ann and Riley were priority one.
Now they were on their way back to the SUV, and he couldn’t shake a sense of nervousness.
Seth cast him a strange glance but didn’t say anything.
The apology couldn’t wait for a little private time. “I’m sorry.” The soul wasn’t usually vindictive, but then, maybe Elijah couldn’t talk. Maybe something was wrong. “I was frustrated.” The words left him in a rush. “I didn’t mean to take it out on you.”
Finally. Blessedly. “Talk to me. Tell me what’s going on with you.”
I’ve just been thinking. What if all your problems stem from me? From my guidance? What if these bad things happen to you because I tell you they’re going to happen? Like a self-fulfilling prophesy?
“Uh, that would be a ‘hell, no.’ I need you. Now more than ever.”
What if none of this would have happened if I’d kept my mouth shut?
Aden didn’t have to be a psychic to know where this was leading. “Don’t do this to me, Elijah. Not now.” Yeah, several times over the years, he’d asked the souls to keep their pie holes closed. A few times they’d tried. A few less, they’d succeeded. For the most part, they’d failed. Talking to each other and Aden was their only outlet, their only connection to a world they’d lost.
I have to. I’m going to.
This time, there was finality in Elijah’s voice. He meant what he said. “No.”
We’re going to try this. We’re going to try silence.
“I’m serious. Don’t do this to me.”
I really am sorry, Aden. For the past. For…the future. So sorry. I just…I really think this is for the best. So this is it, my last words to you for a while.
“Define a while.” The clouds had done a disappearing act. The sun was high, stroking his skin, making him itch and burn.
As long as it takes. Be careful, and know that I love you.
Seth grabbed hold of his arm and jerked him to a stop. “What the crap is this?”
Elijah was momentarily forgotten as Aden’s brain tried to make sense of what he was seeing. The once bustling parking lot was completely empty. Of people, of cars. Except for Maxwell and Nathan, who were a few yards away and bumping into air.
No doubt about it, Tucker was here, casting an illusion. Aden dropped the papers he was holding and ran. Five steps in, and he, too, slammed into something solid, though there was nothing in front of him.
A human he couldn’t see huffed out an angry, “Watch where you’re going!”
Aden did his best to dodge the invisible person. And maybe he succeeded, but a few more steps, and he was slamming into something else. Most likely a car, since another protest wasn’t forthcoming. He lost his breath the moment he hit the concrete. More papers made their way into the breeze, catching on indiscernible cars and staying put.
To be able to manipulate Aden’s mind like this, without tampering with the humans around him, was insane.
Seth ran up behind him, fisting his shirt and yanking him to his feet. “You’re the expert on all things whacked out. Tell me what’s going on.”
“Danger, everyone’s in danger. Victoria!” he shouted, already running forward again. “Victoria!” If she’d just call out, he could find her.
He slammed into something else.
“Aden,” Maxwell called. A good distance still separated them. “Can you see me?”
“I can see you but nothing else.”
Maxwell nodded grimly. “We found Riley. He’s alive. Guards at his door. Mary Ann was harder to find, we couldn’t get her scent, but the guards at her door gave her away. What the hell happened out here? We smell blood, right—” he pointed to a spot about a yard away “—there.”
Aden sniffed and realized he could smell the blood, too. Not Victoria’s, but…Shannon’s?
Like an engine had just been keyed, Junior roared to life, the scent whipping him into a frenzy.
“Calm down,” Aden said, but that didn’t help. “You ate just before we got here.”
Though urgency rode him, Aden gingerly made his way through the lot, feeling his way, winding around cars he still couldn’t see, until he reached the place where Maxwell had pointed. He reached out and felt—
The SUV. He knew it. The motor was still running, the metal warm.
He frisked the thing until he found the door handle. Just as he was pulling, the lock caught and the car came back into view.
He was peering through the back window, with a clear view of Shannon. Shannon, at an odd angle. Shannon, blood all over him. Shannon, eyes open and staring out at nothing. Shannon, immobile. Shannon, throat ripped open. Shannon. Dead.
Look away, please look away. Caleb gagged. Aden could barely hear him over the roaring. That can’t be…that isn’t…
No. No, no, no, Julian babbled.
This was not an illusion. The smell of the blood couldn’t be faked, he didn’t think. And right now, Junior was more ravenous than ever, clawing and biting at his skull, desperate to escape, to have a go at all that crimson nectar.
Shock numbed Aden against the headache he should have experienced. But even numb, he wanted to vomit when he saw Victoria tearing into Ryder’s neck. Blood, gore, other things, spraying, dripping, flinging in every direction as she shook her head, a ravenous shark.
Why would she…how could she…
To Aden’s everlasting mortification, his mouth watered. Part of him, a part that had nothing to do with Junior, wanted to slit the car in half just to get inside and go to town on that wound.
Ryder wasn’t dead. His mouth was open, releasing a silent scream, and his struggles were weakening.
Body heat at Aden’s side. A horrified gasp in his ear. Banging on the glass. “Stop! What the hell are you doing? Stop!” Seth hammered at the window, shaking the entire vehicle. When that failed to elicit results, he shoved Aden’s immobile hand aside and jerked at the locked trunk.
The commotion jolted Victoria out of her craze. She stilled, head turning slowly, as if she feared what she’d find. Their eyes met. She was panting, blood dripping down her face. But…he didn’t see a glaze of bloodlust, something that would explain why she’d gone after his friends. He saw sadness, remorse…fury. Frustration. Tears.
Her gaze darted to the passenger seat before turning to Aden, beseeching. He sniffed—and at last caught Tucker’s dark scent.
Tucker hadn’t appeared, but Aden knew he was inside that vehicle. Knew Victoria was in grave danger.
He swept around the vehicle and clawed at the metal as he’d imagined doing, ripping the door from its hinges. Instantly the odor of blood intensified, but now it was mixed with the pungent scent of death.
He swooped in and gathered Victoria in his arms. She was trembling violently. As he straightened, she buried her face in the hollow of his neck, arms winding around him and holding tightly. She released a gut-wrenching sob.
Maxwell and Nathan bounded to his side. Maxwell tried to check Victoria for injuries, an impossible task since Aden refused to release her, and she refused to release him. Nathan snarled into the car, poison dripping from his canines.
“Call off your dog,” Tucker’s voice said, even though he was still nowhere to be seen.
“Eat him, and make sure there’s nothing for anyone to find,” Aden commanded, then had to catch Nathan by the nape to stop him from obeying as Tucker added, “You want to save your remaining friends, right? Because I’m the only person who can help you.”
Victoria wiggled until she got her legs on the ground, but she still didn’t release Aden’s neck. “He’s…he’s…right. Don’t hurt him. We need him.”
Need him? When had that happened? And what the hell had happened in there? “Tucker, don’t you dare move.”
A laugh, and Tucker appeared, no longer trying to shield himself. He sat in the passenger seat, as calm as you please. His blond hair was plastered to his scalp, and his face was splattered with blood. “Like you could stop me if I did.”
Seth was shaking his head in time to his body’s shaking.
“Victoria,” Aden said, gentling his tone. “I’m going to move away from you now. Okay?”
Her sobs took on a frantic edge. “No! Please!”
“Just for a minute or two,” he said, already easing away from her. He made sure she could balance on her own before lowering his arms. “I’m going to help Ryder. Okay?”
“Don’t.” She wiped at her tears with the back of a wobbly wrist. “Ryder killed Shannon. He started the fire at the ranch, and he would have killed me, but I…I… Vlad possessed him, worked through him.”
“Vlad possessed him?” Maxwell echoed hollowly. “But…but…something like that is impossible.”