Cursed - Page 22

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“Look, I’m drunk. I don’t even know what I’m talking about.” She started down the dark path. Then she darted into the bushes, disappearing from view.

There was no way I was letting this drop. She obviously knew something. I rushed after her, hoping I picked the right bushes to squeeze past. Anger clawed through me. How could she say something like that, and then say she didn’t know what she was talking about?

The further I went, the more the thin branches snapped at my hair and my clothing, but I caught sight of her slender figure rounding a tree.

“Phoebe!” I yelled, knocking a branch out of my face.

Thick underbrush made it hard to follow, and I wondered how Phoebe had gotten so far ahead in heels. I tripped more than once.

And then I was lost.

I stopped, hugging my elbows as I scanned the darkness. I couldn’t even hear any of the kids anymore or see the bonfire. All that surrounded me were shadows. A shiver tip-toed over my skin. “Phoebe!” My voice cracked as my stomach hollowed.

Picking up my pace, I pushed through prickly bushes that grabbed at my tights. One of the branches snagged my hair again. I yanked to the side, losing a few strands of hair in the process. My heart tumbled over itself as I sucked in air.

“Crap,” I whispered.

The shadows seemed to laugh at me.

Shivering, I started walking again. All around me, twigs snapped as things scurried along in the darkness. Pretty sure I was about to be eaten by a bear, I started running. The ground suddenly sloped upward in front of me. Stumbling, I fell on my knees. Pain shot down my shins, causing me to cry out.

The noise startled whatever was in the trees. Branches shook and leaves fell around me as birds—bats?—took to the sky, wings flapping.

Heart racing, I climbed to my feet and trudged up the slight hill. I let out a sigh of relief when I saw the highway Hayden and I had come down. Now I just needed to figure out if I should go left or right. I scoured the road for a sign, finally spotting a small green one I recognized.

Wheeling around, I headed right. When I got back to the party, I was going to find Phoebe, whip off my gloves and choke her. But right now I hugged myself and barreled down the side of the road. Cold air whipped against me, and I found myself wanting to be near Hayden. He always put off such wondrous heat, warming more than just my skin. Surrounded by the night and all alone, I could admit to myself that I was attracted to Hayden—like really, ridiculously attracted to him. A pointless attraction, but it didn’t change how I felt.

Had Hayden even realized I was missing?

I forged ahead, relieved to see the shapes of cars parked at the entrance of the cornfield a ways up the road. A brutal gust of wind cut through my clothes, and once again, I pictured my hands wrapping around Phoebe’s throat.

One of the cars parked on the side of the road flipped on their high beams, momentarily blinding me. I stumbled back a step, shielding my eyes against the intense light. Over the rushing wind, I heard the engine kick on, purring to life. It sounded nothing like the hunk of metal I used to drive.

I lowered my arm as the car pulled onto the road. A sliver of moonlight snuck out from the clouds, glittering off the car’s black, glossy surface. Something about the vehicle triggered a memory, but it was too dark to really make out anything other than it was a coupe of some sort.

The car slowed down as I started walking faster. Watching it out of the corner of my eye, I realized the windows must’ve been tinted, like the Porsches in the Cromwell’s garage. Black, two-door cars…

Without warning, the car sped up and veered to the right—toward me. Panic rooted me to the spot. I couldn’t move—couldn’t breathe as the car bore down on me.

Chapter 15

Instinct propelled me into action. I sprang to the side, narrowly avoiding the bumper as the car flew past me, kicking up loose gravel. My footing felt off. I toppled backward, sliding down the incline. There was a screech as the car swerved back onto the road and roared down the highway.

I lay there, sprawled in the itchy grass, my heart pounding as I stared up at the cloudy, dark sky. It took several deep breaths to drag air into my lungs.

Numbly, I sat up and checked myself over. My legs curled inward, still working. I climbed to my knees and stood. The car was long gone, but my heart still thundered against my ribs.

I started walking toward the parked cars, reeling from what’d just happened. It could’ve been accident. Kids were drinking. It was dark and they probably hadn’t expected anyone to be walking along the highway.

It couldn’t be that someone had intentionally tried to run me over.

Every part of my body was shaking by the time I rounded the cars and spotted the glow of the bonfire. I hugged my arms close, but shudders racked my body.

Small clusters of kids hung out around the cars, laughing and having a good time. They were completely oblivious to me stumbling past them, didn’t know what’d happened on the highway.


I turned at the sound of Hayden’s voice. He came out of the thick shadows surrounding the cornfield, the baseball hat sitting low on his forehead. I stared, unable to respond.

He grasped my arms. “Ember, where’ve you been? I saw you leave with Phoebe, but then she came back without you. Are you okay?”

“She left me in the woods.” My voice was hoarse, shaky. “I got lost.”

His grip tightened. “She did what?”

Suddenly, the whole incident with the car on the road wasn’t important anymore. I remembered what Phoebe had said before she disappeared. I pulled out of Hayden’s grasp. “Where is she? I need to talk to her.”

Hayden grabbed my arm again, stopping me. “What’s going on?”

“She said the car accident wasn’t an accident.” I wish I could read his expression. “I have to talk to her. Hayden, you don’t understand. I have to talk to her!”

He leaned in, the hat casting deep shadows across his cheeks and eyes. “No. We need to talk.”

Dread inched its way down my spine. “You know, don’t you?” My voice had dropped to a whisper. “Oh, God… you already know.”

Hayden studied me a moment, then his hand slid from my arm. Instead of letting me go, he threaded his fingers through mine. Even through the gloves, I could feel their warmth. “I don’t know how Phoebe knew or why she said it like that.”

I tried to pull my hand free, but his grip tightened. “Hayden…?”

Approaching footsteps and high-pitched laughter cut through the night. Without saying a word, Hayden pulled me toward the spot where we’d parked. “What are we doing?”

“We’re going where we can talk in private.”

I dug in my feet. “I want to talk now.”

Hayden stopped, his hand squeezed my gently. “I know this is important to you, but I don’t want to stand out here in the open and talk about it.” He lowered his voice. “We need to go somewhere private. Just trust me, Ember. You’re not going to want to be around people… after this.”

“All right,” I whispered, “but I don’t want to go back to the house.”

“Why? It’s the safest place to talk about this.”

I thought about the car. It had been too dark to tell, but it could’ve been one of the Porsches. “I don’t think so.”

Hayden made an exasperated sound. “Okay. There’s another place. We can go to the cabin.”

“How are we going to get there in the middle of the night and still hit curfew?”

“You just need to trust me, Ember.”

I did trust him. And I was probably stupid for doing so, especially when he’d followed me for years and I really didn’t know a lot about him. But it didn’t change that I felt safe around him. We didn’t speak until we got in the car. He took off his hat and tossed it into the backseat.

Hayden ran a hand through his hair, glancing at me and frowning. “What is all over you?” He reached over, picking a crushed leaf off my arm and shoulder. His gaze met mine. “Were you rolling around in the woods? Something you want to tell me?”

“I was lost.” I bit my lip, looking away. It seemed foolish to claim that it’d been on purpose. “I found the road and it was really dark. A car… almost hit me. I dove out of the way.”

He went incredibly still in the seat beside me. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, it just scared me,” I swallowed hard. “I’m fine, though.”

“I’m going to kill Phoebe.”

My lips twitched. “Not before I do. Please?”

Hayden didn’t respond. We drove in silence, his hands clenching the steering wheel until his knuckles turned a ghostly white. I stared out the window, unable to quell the storm building inside me. I knew, beyond a doubt, that tonight would change everything.

* * *

We made it back to the house with time to spare. Cromwell had been waiting up, and I thought he looked seriously disappointed when he realized he couldn’t bust us for being late. It took everything in my power not to rush him and demand answers, but I’d promised Hayden that I’d let him explain before I went to Cromwell.

Like Hayden had instructed in the car, I went straight to my bedroom and changed into heavy sweats and a hoodie. I put the boots back on even though I looked like a hot mess, but I figured the walk would be a cold one.

My stomach twisted and churned the entire time I waited for him. That wasn’t an accident. Those words cut through me. I couldn’t sit still and when I stood, dizziness and nausea swamped me. In the midst of all of this, Kurt’s words came back to haunt me, as if he’d known something would happen that would irrevocably change everything. Don’t do anything you’ll regret.

Had he been the one driving the car?

As soon as that thought surfaced, I felt cold. There was no way to know whether it had been an accident or if someone had tried to run me down. And right now, I couldn’t focus on that—not when I was about to find out if the accident that’d killed my father and me hadn’t been an accident.

About an hour later, Hayden knocked softly on my door and I slipped the gloves back on. We snuck out of the silent house. Walking to the cabin in the dead of night wasn’t my idea of fun. Every snapping twig or moving shadow caused my heart to race.

“This is so creepy.” I scanned the surrounding dark for danger.

He grabbed my hand with his free one, giving it a little squeeze as the beam from his flashlight bounced over the terrain ahead. “Come on.”

I did feel better with his hand wrapped around mine. About halfway there, something crashed through the bushes behind us, and my hand clenched his. “What was that?”

“Just a deer.” By the time we arrived at the cabin, I’d about had five heart attacks and was already dreading the walk back. I waited by the table while Hayden drew the blinds closed and lit a few candles. Soft color glowed through the room.

Hayden slid past me, the scent of soap and fresh air momentarily enveloping me. I watched as he sat down on the edge of the bed. The cabin idea had been great back at the bonfire, but now I seriously wanted to kick myself.

Tags: Jennifer L. Armentrout Fantasy