SOUL READER SERIES - BOOK 2
There were three acceptable reactions to finding a creepy note in your bed from the man who killed your parents.
One: scream your head off and hope someone runs to come save you—not my favorite option by far.
Two: smash shit. On-brand, and really, who can blame me?
Or three: turn into the ice-cold she-beast that devoured the souls of hundreds of damned arcaners. I like this one. It has panache.
I had a solid leaning toward door number two—with the option for three—once I got my shit together. And by shit being together, I meant I needed pants on to deal with this. And maybe a strong cup of coffee and a bag of blood to slake those pesky cravings.
Digging through the ridiculous closet Dahlia had set up for me, I found pajama pants and a top and tossed them on. After that, I began to lose steam as the loss started to creep in.
Man, I knew I should have just started smashing shit.
Anger kept my head above water.
Anger kept me alive.
Anger had hauled my ass through a whole year of being a homeless, soul-sucking monster.
Anger was my friend.
Swallowing hard, I reached for the note. The elegant scrawl blurred a little bit as the emotions started hitting in a one-two punch of bullshit I in no way had the mental capacity to deal with.
What had Mom always told me? One foot in front of the other, Sloane. Keep moving.
I couldn’t remember my parents’ deaths. I couldn’t remember how I survived the fire that took them from me, or why I’d woken up days later at the foot of my own grave. All I knew was that they were gone, and somehow, I’d remained. Of course I’d always had an inkling that something had been amiss. I mean, how the fuck else had I ended up in a granny nightgown taking a snooze on my own grave? It wasn’t like I put myself there. But until I read that letter, I didn’t know.
And the knowledge was a hot poker of loss and grief and rage in my gut.
Add in the fact that the man who killed them left me a note inside the first home I’d had in a year. In my bed. In this house, a place where I was supposed to be safe.
The burn in my gut only scorched brighter.
A part of me wanted to do the smart thing, which meant taking this note and giving it to Emrys. She’d know what to do, right? Someone who’d been around since time was a baby probably knew more than I did.
Too bad the other part of me screamed to sniff that letter, to take the scent from it and hunt down the man who’d written his lazy scrawl on the cardstock.
But I knew.
I knew if I opened that door, if I pulled that pin, I would lose the tenuous hold I had on my soul. I would lose everything, and I didn’t have that much left to lose.
So instead of taking the scent for my own, instead of letting vengeance take root in my belly, and instead of doing the smart thing, I stalked out of my room and down the hall, following Thomas’ scent pattern to a nook of the corridor I hadn’t been down before.
I couldn’t say for sure why I picked Thomas instead of Emrys or Bastian. No, that wasn’t right. I could totally say why I picked Thomas over my potential romantic whatever and a woman that essentially amounted to my boss.
Thomas knew rage.
He knew vengeance.
And he owed me one.
I didn’t even get a chance to knock before Thomas had the door open, his eyes flashing red for a moment before fading back to green. Clad in nothing but a pair of black silk pajama pants, I should have swooned or started drooling or something, but all I could do was hand him the note. And if my hand just so happened to be trembling a little, well, then, that was allowed.
Thomas took the note but didn’t look at it. No, he stared at my face. I had no idea what he saw there, but I didn’t think it was good.
“You smell of death himself. Why are you handing me a note written in blood, Sloane?”
His whispered words sounded like a bomb going off. Rage ignited in my chest, and it was all I could do to not shriek in his face.
“Read it,” I growled through my teeth, knowing full well that if I opened my mouth, I would start screaming and never stop.
With a fair amount of reluctance in his expression, Thomas’ gaze dropped to the card in his hand. It took him less than a second to read the note, and even less than that to vamp all the way out. His sclera went from white to blood-red in an instant, his needle-like fangs peeking out from under his lips. He dropped the card as if it burned him, latching onto my shoulders as if I was a bomb that he was trying to keep from exploding.
At his instant rage, mine ignited as if he’d given me permission to lose it. But whatever he saw next made him move.
In less time than I thought possible, I was up and over Thomas’ shoulder, and we were in Emrys’ office. I barely got a glimpse of the room before I was bumped off his shoulder and dumped in the leather wingback I’d destroyed with my nails just a few days ago. Then, Thomas, in his ancient wisdom, decided to sit on me.
Cool skin smushed my cheek as Thomas effectively locked me down.
“Thomas, I don’t often say this to you, but what the fuck?” Emrys muttered, her tone a mix of baffled and exasperated.
“We have a problem,” he replied, the sound of his voice radiating through my whole head from his chest.
“I gathered,” Emrys said drolly, the exhaustion in her tone plain as day, even with an ancient vampire using me as a recliner. “Care to share before I have Axel dose you with a tranquilizer?”
“Yes, I fully plan on that, but I’m going to need you to brace yourself, and then I’ll get up.”
“Bloody fucking hell, Thomas, out with it. I haven’t slept in two da—”
Thomas peeled himself from the chair, revealing Emrys in all her tired glory. “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” Emrys whispered, her odd red irises glowing brightly as she slowly stood from her seat, bracing herself. “Sloane, darling, what’s wrong?”
How could I answer her? I’d known something had happened to my parents, but until I’d read that note, I hadn’t known it was on purpose. I’d always suspected, sure, but the truth was poison running in my veins, spoiling everything it touched.
“It’s this, I think,” Thomas replied, handing her the note I’d thought he’d dropped.
The one written in blood.
Whose blood, I had no idea, but everything in me told me I wouldn’t enjoy the answer. Everything in me said that the blood on that note would bring me pain and anguish and leave me adrift.
Leave me with nothing.
Emrys didn’t break our gaze even as she took the card from his hand.
“Do you know what you look like right now?” she asked, her expression locked down tight.
Typically unreadable, the druidess held an innumerable amount of secrets under that mask, and none of it was comforting. All I could do was grit my teeth as I shook my head. Why in the blue bloody fuck did it matter what I looked like? Why did it matter when she had proof in her hands that my parents were indeed murdered? When she could look at that note and see everything I couldn’t bring myself to say?
Nodding to herself, Emrys skirted her giant mahogany desk and held her hand out. When I didn’t take it, she latched her fingers on my wrist and gently drew me up from my chair. Leading me to an odd bookcase, she pulled on the spine of a book, and the whole thing moved, pushing back and turning in to reveal an opulent—if a little sparse—room. All that was there was a bed, a lamp on a lone nightstand, and a full-length mirror.
Emrys pulled me by the hand directly to the mirror, turning me to face it, her fingers digging into the skin of my shoulders as if she was trying to hold me in place.
But as soon as I caught sight of my reflection, I understood why Thomas had said I smelled like the dead.
The impossibly white hair and purple eyes were the standard. The fact that my fangs were showing and said purple eyes were glowing like lanterns, also standard—especially since I was a teensy step from losing it.
What was not standard was the… I didn’t even know how to describe it.
My skin and eyes were radiant, shining with this odd white light that seemed to come from within. But more than that, every few seconds, the figure in the mirror would waver just a little, like a ripple on a pond, and in its place was what I could only describe as death.
One second my face appeared exactly as I knew it to be. The next, it was as if a skeleton had been superimposed over my features. The creamy-white of the bones winked out every few moments as if it had never been there at all, only to return like a nightmare.
I stared at myself for a solid minute, just trying to get my brain to process what I saw. I was pretty sure my brain broke, remade itself, and broke again in that minute.
I wasn’t stupid—contrary to popular belief. It wasn’t exactly a leap to suggest that I’d somehow been spelled or hexed or cursed or whatever the fuck the magic-wielding populace called it. This X, this person who’d taken the time to let me know of his presence, had done this to me somehow. I was sure of it. He killed my parents. He smelled their flesh burn. He…
“Can you fix it?” I croaked, still staring at the mirror and not meeting Emrys’ gaze. Both she and Thomas appeared as if they’d seen a ghost. I didn’t need another glance at them to see it again.
“I can try, lass.”
Emrys left me then, and a few moments later, she bellowed out a curse which had me racing back to the office. She stared at the note as if it had bitten her. Then her gaze slowly drifted back to me.
“That slip of paper should have killed you,” she whispered, her face paler than my Skelator one. “It is dark magic, forbidden magic. A blood curse.” She said it with a frightened sort of reverence that I didn’t think would ever come from her mouth. Emrys was resolute. Steadfast. Indomitable. The fear in her voice made bile crawl up my throat.
“Maybe it doesn’t work on people like me?” I offered, the feeble suggestion posed as a question. I didn’t know the first thing about people such as myself, and the only person I could think to ask wasn’t someone I wanted anywhere near me.
“None of this makes any sense. This”—She pointed at the cardstock—“is foul magic. Made from a member of your line. Spells like this were outlawed in the dark ages. With a working like what I see here, a person could wipe out an entire family with just one spell if they had a mind. I can’t think of a single reason in the world you should still be standing here breathing.” She swallowed audibly, her face draining of all remaining color. Gently, she sat herself down in her leather chair, a trembling hand covering her mouth.
But there wasn’t anyone left in my family—no one that I knew. Mom had told me ages ago that she was an orphan, that she’d lost her siblings early on. Then again, Mom had also implied I was human. That she was, too.
Did this mean that this X had to be someone in my family? That thought had a cold pit of dread opening wide in my belly.
“Can you fix it?” Thomas asked, echoing my earlier question and breaking me out of my thoughts.
By the expression on Emrys’ face, I didn’t think she could. That single expression told me volumes. She had no idea what was wrong with me, she had no idea why I looked like I did, and she didn’t have one single clue as to how to fix it.
She steeled herself then, seeming to shove all her emotions down as she erected a wall of assumed calm.
“I can try,” she said again, this time with a resolute power that she hadn’t possessed earlier.
But I didn’t believe her.
Not at all.
A prison break. A secret admirer. And a boatload of lies.
Just about everything Sloane Cabot knows about her past is a big old pile of malarkey. Couple that with the blank spot of how her family died, and she needs answers, like, yesterday.
But when a man shows up dead on her family’s grave, she knows it somehow has to be tied to that fateful night a year ago.
Too bad you can’t question the dead… or can you?