Cursed - Page 28

Listen Audio

“It’s late,” Hayden announced after dragging his gaze from me. “Do you want to leave?”

I thought about it. “No. I’m not tired yet.”

“You wanted to leave earlier.”

“I also wanted to punch you earlier,” I pointed out. “You don’t want to do either of them now?”


“Good. I have an idea,” he said. “You game?”

A strange, intense feeling coiled in my stomach. “Sure,” I breathed.

“Don’t move.” He sat up. “Don’t punch me, either.”

“No promises.” Punching him wasn’t what I had in mind.

“Just don’t freak out, all right?” Hayden shifted down, and then I felt his hand slide through my hair. “Come over here.”

At first I didn’t get where “here” was, but it quickly became obvious. Somehow Hayden got me to put my head on his chest. Not that I needed a lot of urging.

On my side, my cheek lay against the soft material of his sweater and when he rested his hand against my lower back, I thought I’d die. This was almost as good as what’d happened earlier. Maybe it was even better, just lying there, concentrating on the steady thrumming of his heart and the wild fluttering of mine.

“Are you comfortable?” he murmured.

“Yeah,” I whispered, closing my eyes. Truth was I enjoyed this way too much, but I refused to let myself dwell on it. Thinking was overrated. So was reality. In the dark, anything seemed possible. This was possible.

“Good idea, huh?”

I smiled sleepily against his sweater. “Yeah, it was.”

He chuckled softly. The sound rumbled through me, curling my toes. Silence enveloped us and I started to drift off, content to just be this close to someone, to him.

Something jolted me straight up in bed. In the dark, I could make out the steady rise and fall of Hayden’s chest. For a moment, I didn’t know what bothered me.

Then it struck me.

Something in the memory of the accident Parker had resurfaced was really, super important. I couldn’t believe I’d missed it.

My parents had known about Olivia’s gift.

I turned to Hayden, needing to tell him. For a few seconds, I simply stared at him. Thick, sooty lashes fell against his cheeks, his lips parted with each deep breath he took. Asleep, the natural beauty of his face seemed even more alluring, more vulnerable. It was a shame to wake him up, to disturb him, but I figured this was pretty important. He’d want to know.

“Hayden?” I inched closer, resting on my knees beside his waist. “Wake up.”

He didn’t move; not even a lash stirred.

“Hayden, wake up. Come on, wake up.”


I placed my hands on his shoulders and shook him. “Come on. I have to tell you—”

He shot up like a rocket, knocking me flat on my back. Then he was on me, sliding down my hips, straddling them, pinning my legs down. All of it happened so fast, was so unexpected, that I simply froze.

Holding himself up with his hands planted on either side of my head, Hayden lowered his. In that heartbeat, I didn’t recognize him, didn’t know the look in his eyes or the tense pull to his lips. He’d become a virtual stranger.

And I knew beyond a doubt he had no idea who I was.

“Hayden?” I whispered, putting one shaking hand on his chest. “It’s me.”

He blinked and inhaled sharply. “Don’t ever do that again, Ember.”

I stared up at him, my heart thundering in my chest. His eyes were darker than I’d ever seen.

“I could’ve hurt you.”

Him hurt me? In any other situation, that might’ve been funny. It wasn’t now. I swallowed. “Okay.”

His chest rose and fell unsteadily above mine. His body threw off an amazing amount of heat. “I’m… sorry I scared you. There were too many nights in foster homes being woken up like that. It was never good.”

I let out the breath I was holding, unsure of what to say. I could only imagine what he meant by that, and each idea grew more horrible than the last.

He closed his eyes, his voice ragged. “I’m sorry. This was a—”

“No. It’s okay. You just startled me. I’m okay. You’re okay.”

Hayden opened his eyes. “Em…?”

His stare held so much intensity that I found it difficult to breathe. A look of yearning, of desperation, and he was studying me. Studying my face, the way my top had slipped down. And his stare was spreading a hot flush over my body.

Slowly, he dipped down, placing his weight on one arm. He brought his hand to the side of my face, his fingers hovering over my cheek. My own fingers curled into the sweater. God, I wanted him to touch me so badly. The need consumed me—burned like fire.

Hayden closed his eyes and let out a harsh sound before he pushed himself up on his knees. His hands fell harmlessly to his sides.

Disappointment crashed over me. I’d wanted him to pull me into his body like he’d done before, mimicking things we really couldn’t do.

“So… what did you wake me up for?” he asked, his voice thick.

It took me a minute to remember what had been so important. “My parents—they knew about Olivia’s gift.”

He rolled off my legs and stood. I had a feeling he purposely put distance between us as he struggled to pay attention to what I’d said. “What do you mean?”

I sat up, forcing the thick cobwebs of half-sleep and something far more distracting from my thoughts. I fixed my top, flushing like crazy. “When Parker was in my head, I saw the accident again. I don’t know how I missed it, but I guess I’d been so freaked out after everything, I just didn’t think.”

“Understandable.” He ran a hand through his hair. “What did you remember?”

I told Hayden what my mom had said and how Dad had answered. While I talked, he shifted further into the shadows, where the dimming light of the candles couldn’t reach.

“Olivia must have used her gift before she brought you back,” Hayden said.

“Yeah, but who are ‘they?’ The ones who my mom said he shouldn’t have told? Do you think he told the people who caused the accident?”

A full minute passed before he answered. “I don’t know, Ember. That doesn’t make sense. Maybe your memory is wrong.”

“It’s not wrong, Hayden. I know what I heard.”

“Your parents wouldn’t have known who to go to even if Olivia raised an army of the dead,” he said. “We don’t advertise what we are—neither does the Facility. We find the gifted; they don’t find us. How would your parents have known who to go to?”

“I don’t know,” I said tightly. “They had to’ve known. Or maybe someone came to them first.” An a-ha moment hit me. “You said before that Liz can sense the gifted—when they are born, right? And she sensed me when I came back?”


“And she knew about Olivia, right? You said so yourself.”

“So what? Just because Liz knew about Olivia doesn’t mean anything. Wait. Do you really think my father—Aunt Liz, who doesn’t even like to kill a mouse—would’ve orchestrated a car accident to get to Olivia?”

I scowled into the general vicinity of where I thought Hayden stood. “Yeah, I do. Or maybe Liz and Kurt did. They seem awful chummy with one another, and Liz treats Olivia like she’s her damn daughter.”

“That’s because she cares for her.” Hayden shook his head. “Look, none of this makes sense.”

“Exactly,” I said.

“It’s almost like you want it to be my father or Kurt.”

“I don’t want it to be them, but who else could it be? My parents wouldn’t have known who to go to, but they told someone! Then Liz magically senses me coming back from the dead and look! Look. Olivia is here, isn’t she?”

Silence greeted me, and I felt like doing a happy dance, because I knew I’d gotten Hayden thinking. But when he did speak again, it was a total letdown.

“We should head back, Ember. In the morning, we’ll try to figure it. My brain is too fried right now.”

My head jerked up. Hayden sounded different, off. I climbed off the bed and waited while he extinguished the candles. He kept his back to me the entire time, not speaking. My nerves were like a tight bundle in the pit of my stomach, unraveling with each passing second we didn’t talk.

I pulled the hood up and hunkered down in the hoodie once we stepped out into the near-freezing night air. Overhead, the moon peeked through the naked branches while we headed back to the house in silence. Each glimpse of Hayden I snuck, my stomach rolled. His face was set in hard lines, closed-off and distant. He stared straight ahead, and never once did I feel his gaze on me. It was like those precious moments in the cabin, when he’d admitted how much he wanted to kiss me, hadn’t even happened.

We stopped at the stairs, and I wasn’t ready to let this go. “I want to talk about—”

“I know,” he said, “but I don’t want to. Not tonight. I’m beat. It’s late.”


He stepped forward, tipping his head down as he did so. “We can’t talk about this now. We’ll wake someone up. Go to bed, Ember. We’ll talk in the morning.”

I stepped back, my heart twisting. “Okay. Tomorrow morning, right?”

He nodded, and before I could say anything else, he disappeared down the hall.

Chapter 19

I didn’t see Hayden in the morning or even that afternoon. Actually, I didn’t get a chance to see him at all Saturday—not for more than five seconds. I was damn sure he was avoiding me.

By Sunday afternoon, the momentary satisfaction of casting doubt on Cromwell and crew soured. Hayden had always believed his adopted father’s involvement with the gifted was to do something good, but whoever had wanted Olivia had killed to try and get her. And whether Hayden liked it or not, the evidence pointed to one of his family members—one of the people he trusted.

When I saw him climb the stairs to the front porch, I’d just finished braiding the hair on Olivia’s doll. Racing out of the room without a word, I threw the front door open, almost plowing it to him. He stood, one hand outstretched and eyes wide.

Phoebe was behind him, a carryout box in her manicured hand.

“Hey,” I gasped out, ignoring Phoebe’s curious stare.

Hayden took a step back. “Hey.”

“Can we talk?”

His lips pursed. “I have some things I—”

“Please.” I knew how I sounded and I didn’t care.

Phoebe glanced between us, and then she slinked past Hayden. “I’ll put this in the fridge for you.”

“Thanks,” Hayden answered, staring down at me. He inhaled and let it out slowly. “Okay, but I don’t have long. Walk?”

I nodded, following him down the steps and toward the tree line. I couldn’t believe it’d only been two days since I’d talked to him. It felt like years. Spending time with Olivia had been okay, but I missed Hayden. The moment we cleared the house, I opened my mouth.

Tags: Jennifer L. Armentrout Fantasy