“He was known for communicating with the dead and helping the police find bodies. I printed out a few stories.” She dug through a nylon bag Riley had fetched earlier and handed Aden a thick stack of papers. “Should have given these to you before. Sorry.”
“I’ve been thinking,” she said. “For you to absorb his soul into your mind, he would have had to die near the hospital. Which makes sense. His brother worked there, so Robert was probably visiting Daniel. What if he visited, raised one of the corpses in the morgue, and that corpse killed them both?”
“From what you told me before, only Daniel was found dead in the hospital that night,” Riley said. “And he’d been mauled to death.”
Riley raised his arms as if she’d just made his point for him. “So where was Robert’s body?”
“Well, he had to have died that night, too. And nearby, just as you said, or Aden wouldn’t have absorbed him,” Victoria said.
Julian grabbed onto that rationale like a lifeline. The one with the hair? I’m liking Riley’s theory.
“But Daniel had worked at the hospital for years,” Mary Ann replied. “Why hadn’t he raised the dead before then? Someone would have noticed.”
Riley arched a brow, looking her up and down with a darkness Aden had never before seen from him. “Maybe he had latent abilities. It happens.”
So, they all knew he was referring to her draining.
“Please don’t make me referee,” Aden told them. “Anyway, I think we can all agree Julian was one of the Smart brothers.”
If by one of you mean the handsome one, then yes, I agree, Julian said.
Junior made a mewling sound in the back of Aden’s mind. The ever-growing monster was hungry. Again. And he was getting harder and harder to appease, craving more and at shorter intervals.
“I’ll read the stories,” Aden said, “and see if anything jumps out at Julian.”
“Going back in time helped Eve remember,” Mary Ann reminded him. “Maybe you should let Julian take over and take you back and relive one of the stories through his eyes.”
Time travel. Nearly everyone in this room had suggested he go back at some point, and he couldn’t seem to make them understand the consequences. “Change something in the past, and you change something in the future—a something that could leave you snot-crying for what used to be.”
“Look at us, Aden,” Mary Ann said. “Can things get any worse than this?”
Okay, how about this? “I could wake up and never have come to Crossroads. Never have met you.”
Dark hope turned her eyes into fathomless pools. “Maybe that would be a good thing.”
Victoria’s chin trembled, as if she was fighting tears. “She’s right. If you had not come to Crossroads, my father would not be after you.”
“Think about it, Aden,” Riley said.
What was this? Gang up on Aden hour? “There’s another way to help Julian,” he said. “And we’re all going to be fine. Aren’t we, Elijah?”
“Talk to me, please.” He hunched forward, resting his face in his upraised hands. “At the very least, argue the pros and cons of what they’re wanting.” Not that Aden would ever consider going back. “Don’t just leave me hanging.”
A sigh, familiar, adored, necessary. I’m not going to tell you what I’ve seen, Aden.
Finally, a response, and Aden was as relieved as he was irritated. After all this time, that’s what Elijah had to say? “So you’ve seen…what? What happens if I go back? What happens if I don’t? The end of this entire mess?” He was used to hiding his conversations with the souls, yet here he was, talking as if the souls were in the room, too, and he wasn’t embarrassed.
He knew why. He was going to lose them and was savoring every moment he had with them. Another sigh. Yes. I’ve seen the end.
Stuttering heart, sweating palms, blood going cold in his veins. “What is it? What happens?”
Another dose of the silent treatment. Maybe they’d time-traveled back to five minutes ago, he thought bitterly. “Help me, Elijah. Please.” Otherwise I’ll have to try and force a vision, he thought.
My refusal is helping you. I’ve been getting things wrong, Aden. Leading you in the wrong direction, making things worse.
Even once is too many.
All kinds of sweetness suddenly filled Aden’s nose. He lifted his head. Victoria had scooted closer to him, was tracing her fingertips up and down his arm. As they were, he had a direct view of her thrashing pulse, the scabbed-over punctures in her neck. His mouth was a waterfall, but he would not let himself go corncob on her vein.
“We’ll revisit the time-travel thing later.” Riley lumbered from his bed. “Right now, I want to see the wards on your head.”
If by “later” he meant “never,” then yeah, Aden was on board with that plan. Elijah hadn’t told him anything useful. And until Aden attempted a vision on his own, well, there was no reason good enough to give himself a second chance to screw everything up.
The scent of Victoria’s sweetness was replaced by the earthiness of Riley’s as the shifter—ex-shifter—loomed over him. Hard fingers combed through his hair, tugging at the strands.
Riley said, “They’ve faded quite a bit and worked longer than they should have, but I know what they are. Joe wasn’t lying. These stopped you from being mobbed by creatures.”
“Until I met Mary Ann.” Joe had expected Aden to be grateful about that. As if that were enough. Why couldn’t he have loved me?
“The explosion of energy, or whatever it was,” Mary Ann said, nodding her head. “That’s what stopped the wards from working, guaranteed.”
Riley let Aden go and plopped beside Victoria.
She rested her head on the wide berth of his shoulder. “The magic you guys created together must have overpowered the one Aden’s dad, a mere human, created,” she said.
“Don’t call him that,” he snapped. “His name is Joe.” Seeing Victoria and Riley together always roused his jealousy. But just then, he experienced something more. Their ease with each other, their taking comfort from each other…disturbed him.
Great. Now he was taking his bad mood out on her. “No need to be sorry. I shouldn’t have reacted like that.” As he spoke, he watched as Riley rubbed her arm up and down. Again he was struck by their ease with each other.
That should be me. Instead, they relied on each other. Had for years. Decades. Another thought hit him, a subject that had been bothering him since it had first come up, a subject he’d buried as more important issues arose. A subject he couldn’t dismiss at the moment.
When Victoria had wanted to rid herself of her virginity, so that her first time would not be with the guy her father had picked out for her, she would have gone to…
Aden jackknifed to his feet, his hands fisting, Junior’s growling more pronounced. And that’s when Aden knew beyond a doubt. Junior wasn’t just hungry. He truly was reacting to Aden’s emotions.
“Get your hands off her,” he said, shocked by his voice. Layered, one his own, one raspy with smoke. Both enraged. “Now.”
Riley’s eyes narrowed. At first, that was his only reaction. Then, he dropped his arm at his side and stood. “Yes, my king. Whatever you wish, my king. Anything else, my king?”
“Riley,” Victoria said, her gaze never leaving Aden. “Leave the room. Please. Mary Ann, make him leave the room.”
Riley just stood there. Mary Ann jumped into action, at least. She grabbed Riley’s hand and tugged him out the door. He didn’t resist, and a second later, there was an ominous click.
“Don’t want to hear it.” Aden swiped up the box of papers and books, stalked to the bathroom, slammed the door behind him. On top of everything he was already dealing with, his girlfriend had slept with one of his friends. A long time ago, sure. But he’d always comforted himself with the fact that Riley and Victoria were friends, only friends. Now he couldn’t do that.
He wanted to beat Riley’s face into pulp. Instead, he closed the lid on the toilet, sat down, and dropped the box between his feet.
“See that one coming, Elijah?” he sneered.
No reply. Of course.
“I don’t want to hear from you, either. Let’s just go over this crap and figure out who you were. Okay? All right?”
Silence he was suddenly grateful for. At least he hadn’t actually seen Victoria in bed with Riley, at least Edina had taken center stage in each of those visions. Visions. The perfect distraction. Maybe now was the time to try and force one.
Or not, he thought half an hour later as sweat poured down his chest. His turbulent emotions had interfered, preventing him from making any headway. Whatever. He’d try again later. As for now, he picked up one of the books and started reading.
OUTSIDE, COLD AIR BITING at her with teeth she couldn’t see, Mary Ann whirled to face Riley. “What was that about?”