Cursed - Page 12

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“Father?” Hayden had a catch in his voice. “You can’t—”

Cromwell’s face hardened. “This is not your call.”

“Wait! What are you doing?” I struggled, but Hayden’s grip was unbreakable. I couldn’t get my hands up. Touching him was out of the question.

Adam stayed rooted to where he stood, eyes wide with fear. “Em? What’s going—?”

Kurt touched him on the forehead. Just a thumb—that was all it took. Adam’s eyes fell shut. He stood motionless, like a sculpture.

“What are you doing?” I screamed. “Stop touching him! Stop it! He doesn’t know anything! I haven’t told him anything.”

Letting out a little sigh, Kurt stepped back. A small, sated smile played across his lips. I thought I heard Hayden apologize, but I couldn’t be sure. Rushing filled my ears as ice touched my blood.

Hayden let go.

I staggered forward. “Adam? Are you okay? Adam, look at me. Open your eyes.”

Adam blinked slowly, as if he was just waking up. First he looked at Kurt, then Cromwell. “Where am I?”

“Nowhere,” Cromwell answered quietly. “You need to go home, Adam Lewis. Go now, before your mother worries.”

“I don’t want Mom to worry.” He rubbed a hand over his forehead.

I pushed down the dread building bitterly in the back of my throat. Adam was fine. He just looked tired and confused, but okay. “Adam?”

Adam blinked again. “Who… who are you?”

My laugh sounded strange. “You know who I am, you idiot.”

He fiddled with his glasses, pushing them up the bridge of his noise. “I have no idea who you are, but I’ve got to get home. Mom is gonna kill me.” He walked past me, shaking his head. “Man, I’m in so much trouble.”

I stared. He got back in the car, muttering the whole time. He slammed the door and turned the ignition. The engine roaring to life snapped me into action. I rushed to his car. “Adam, look at me. Please! You know who I am.”

He jerked back from the window, frowning. “I’m sorry, but I don’t know you. I don’t even know why I’m here.”

“Please, don’t do this, Adam. We’ve been friends since I ate your lunch in kindergarten. You fell off your bike when you were ten and you broke your leg. Remember?” He continued looking at me blankly. Panic caused my voice to rise. “You have to sit next to Sheila Cummings in bio. You hate that, because she thinks osmosis is bad breath. Last week, she asked you if she was Jewish. Come on, don’t do this to me. Please!”

“Ember,” Hayden called out, his voice sounding ragged. “Just stop. Stop now. Please.”

I ignored him. “Adam, come on. You are my friend—my best friend. You’re the only one who was my friend after the accident. We… we…” We had sandbox love; didn’t he remember that?

Adam started rolling up the window, brows raised. “I’m sorry. I don’t know you.”

Pain cut through me so sharply that it knocked the air right out of me. “No. No.” I hit the window with my palm. It shook, but did not give. “Adam, please. Say my name. You know who I am. You have to!”

He shook his head, lips pulled back in a sneer—a look I’d never seen Adam give me. “I don’t know you. Jesus. So stop being a freak.”

My hand stilled against the window. I blinked, willing myself to wake up. Because this—this had to be a nightmare. Surely, this couldn’t be real—the pain in my chest, the numb way my body felt.

Adam threw the car in reverse, shaking his head. Someone pulled me back before he ran over my foot. He left—really left. I wanted to run after him, but it’d be pointless. His face showed the same blankness Mom had whenever she looked at me.

I was dead to him, just like I was dead to Mom.

I could’ve stood there for hours. It didn’t matter. My heart seized, then shattered, and with everything I’d learned to deal with, I didn’t know how to deal with this.

Cromwell sighed wearily. “I’m sorry for your pain, but you left me no other choice.”

My cheeks felt damp. My fingers came back wet. When I looked toward the house, I saw Cromwell go back inside. Mom thought I was dead. My sister chose toys and a pseudo-mom over me. Our house was gone. And now, my only link to anything had been wiped away.

Adam was gone.

Chapter 8

“Desolation” wasn’t even an adequate word. “Fury” didn’t describe what I was feeling. Blindly, I turned around. Rage and sorrow swelled, wanting to swallow me whole.

“I knew this was going to be a mistake,” Kurt said. “I told Jonathan we shouldn’t have brought her here. The little one—whatever, but I knew this one was going to be a problem. Just look at her, she’s getting ready to blow.”

“Kurt, can you just shut up?” Hayden started toward me.

“You can’t tell me you aren’t worried about her being here. She’s unstable right now. She’s capable of anything. Are you seriously comfortable with her running around in your house?”

“She’s not dangerous,” Hayden said in a low voice.

“That’s right. I forgot. You’re blinded by your obsession with her.” Kurt took a step forward. “Everyone knows. All those times you went back there. There was no reason.”

“Are you finished?” Hayden asked calmly.

“No,” he said. “She should’ve been wiped—”

I acted at the basest of instincts, the cruelest of desires. I dove at him, aiming for any part of exposed flesh. All I could see was him touching Adam, removing all traces of me. So that was his gift. For some reason, I felt like that should have been a more powerful realization.

But all I could think was that I kind of wanted Kurt to die.

Kurt’s hand caught me in the side before I could even touch him. An explosive string of curses sounded, and then he pushed hard. Unable to catch myself, I fell backward and landed in the gravel at an awkward, hip-first angle. Pain flared, unexpected and intense.

Since I was on the ground, I didn’t see how Hayden got to Kurt so fast. All I knew was that he did, and I could feel his rage in the form of a blast of red-hot energy. There was a smell in the air—almost like rubber burning. A snapping sound jerked my head up. A huge tree branch swayed and then broke free from the tree, landing between the two. Ignoring the pain in my hip, I scooted back.

“Don’t ever touch her again,” Hayden growled.

Kurt looked up, eyes wide. “Are you threatening me—over her? I’m like your brother, Hayden!”

“Not anymore.”

Kurt blinked, a stunned look crept across his face. “She was going to touch me. I defended myself.”

“I don’t care. Stay away from her.”

For a tense moment, they locked eyes—Hayden’s the color of the darkest hour of night. The air thickened and snapped. I glanced up at the trees, half-afraid the whole forest would come down on us. Neither of them moved for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, Kurt spun on his heel and stalked toward the house.

“Are you okay?”

I stared at the branch. It was thick enough to crack a skull if it’d hit someone. “Yeah,” I whispered.

Hayden unexpectedly reached out, grabbing my hand and hauling me to my feet. Stunned by the contact, I didn’t pull away. He held on for seconds, but it equaled a lifetime to me. Without thinking, my fingers curled around his, reveling in the smoothness of his hand, the way his fingers seemed to bend around mine almost eagerly.

But then he dropped my hand as if it burned him. From what I’d learned from him before, a few seconds couldn’t have done anything to him. Silence stretched out between us. I tried focusing on anything other than Adam, but Hayden just had to go there.

“Why did you lie to me yesterday?” he asked. “You told me you didn’t tell him where you were. If you hadn’t lied to me, I could’ve stopped this from happening.”

“I didn’t know he was going to come here. Adam didn’t know anything. He never knew.” I stopped, sucking air unsteadily. “Why am I even telling you this? It doesn’t matter now. So I lied to you. You all have won, okay? I’m not going anywhere, because I don’t have anywhere left to go. Olivia loves it here, and isn’t that what you all wanted? To make sure she loved it here?”

“Ember, no one—”

“And now I have nothing.” My voice broke. “So you’ve won. Aren’t you happy?”

He reached for me again. This time his hand caught my arm. “This doesn’t make me happy.”

I looked down at his hand. His fingers, long and elegant, circled my covered arm completely. I glanced up; our eyes locked for one, two, three counts. Something intense flowed across his face, and he took a step forward—so close I had to crane my neck back.

“You hurting would never make me happy,” Hayden said.

“You don’t get it. He was all I had. Adam was it. That was it. And you all took it away.”

He flinched and dropped my arm. “That’s not true. I’m here for you.”

Shaking my head, I backed up. “I don’t know you, so that means nothing to me.”

* * *

“Emmie? You sleeping?”

I opened my eyes, staring at the vaulted ceiling. “No.”

Olivia was quiet. Seconds later, I felt her hoist herself over the edge of the bed. She crawled across and sat so her face was directly above mine. I closed and opened my eyes, but her face was still planted in front of mine.

“Why didn’t you eat dinner?”

“I wasn’t hungry.”

She reached out and grabbed a handful of my hair. I braced myself, but she managed to not leave me bald this time. “Ms. Liz said you had a bad day.”

That was the understatement of the millennium.

Humming softly, she separated the curls in her hands. I stayed impossibly still so her little fingers didn’t brush my scalp.

“You mad at me?”

“I’m not mad at you.”

“You sad?” She tugged a thick curl across her fingers.

I had no idea how she jumped from me being mad at her to me being sad. It hurt my head to even try to figure it out. “I’m just tired.”

Straightening out several curls, she pulled my hair in front of my face. Her fingers smelled like Play-Doh. I loved that smell. The sudden rush of tears was unexpected. I squeezed my eyes shut.

She let go of my hair, giggling as the curl sprang back. “Emmie?”

“Yeah?” Even with my eyes closed, I felt her face in mine again.

“I love you lots.”

Something was wrong with my eyelids. They weren’t blocking the tears. I slid my hands between us and smacked them over my face. I bit down on my lip to keep the horrible sound from escaping.

Olivia tugged on my sleeves. “Emmie?”

“I love you too,” I said thickly.

Eventually, she gave up on the tug of war. The bed dipped as Olivia shifted down and wrapped her arms around my waist. I didn’t dare move until I heard Olivia’s soft snore. I lowered my hands carefully to chest level.


Tags: Jennifer L. Armentrout Fantasy
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