They’d kill Roth, and even though I had no idea how I felt about him, I didn’t want him to die.
Roth wanted to take me as close to home as he could get me, but I wasn’t ready to go there. I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go, but I needed to be alone. He’d followed me outside his loft and I discovered we were in one of the new skyrises outside the Palisades. Along the Potomac River, it was one of the wealthiest sections in D.C.
I guessed being a demon paid well.
I started walking and I didn’t stop or look behind me to see if Roth followed. I knew I wouldn’t see him, but I also knew he was there. And as I walked, my brain replayed everything over until my stomach churned relentlessly. Coffee may not have been a great idea.
Two hours later, I sat down on one of the benches outside the Smithsonian Institution. Even in the early-morning hours, the great lawn was full of runners and tourists. The first few people to pass me by cast worried looks in my direction. With my busted face and borrowed clothing, I probably looked like a poster child for what happens when kids run away.
I kept my chin down, letting my hair shield most of my face, and no one approached me. Perfect. It was a cold morning and I hunkered down in Roth’s shirt, weary to the soul. In a matter of hours, everything had changed. My thoughts were scattered; my entire world felt broken. Roth had probably been amazed that I hadn’t freaked out after he’d told me everything, but now I was knee-deep in freak-out mode.
How were we supposed to find an ancient book when no one knew where it was? How could I stay safe from a demon when no one knew who that demon was? And better yet, how could I ever go home?
Going home was the plan. That was why I’d left Roth’s loft. Well, it wasn’t the only reason. I needed space from him, too, because things were different between us. Like a bargain had been struck—a deal. But it was more than that. Whatever had sprung up between us this morning still made me feel like I was coming out of my skin, and Roth had been right. I had wanted him to kiss me.
God, I couldn’t think about that right now.
What I wanted to do was rage. I wanted to throw something—kick someone, namely Abbot—and break something valuable. Lots of valuable things. I wanted to stand on the bench and scream until my voice gave out. Anger roared through me like a rabid dog and I wanted to unleash it, but under that fury, something bitter and dank stirred. There was more to the twisting in my stomach than just the bundle of nerves. I knew what would be coming in a matter of hours. I needed something sweet, like juice, but that would require money.
Within a couple of hours, a deep ache would settle in my bones. My skin would feel icy, but my insides would catch fire. As twisted as it sounded, I welcomed the sickness that came after tasting a soul. It was a rough form of punishment, but one I deserved.
I inhaled the brisk morning air and closed my eyes. I couldn’t afford to break down. What could happen was bigger than my feelings of betrayal or anger. If this demon succeeded, the apocalypse would seem like a sweet-sixteen party in comparison. I needed to be strong—stronger than what could be gained from rigorous workouts.
The low rumble of a finely tuned engine forced my eyes open. Strange that in a bustling city with the low hum of chatter, drone of passing cars and blaring horns, I’d recognize the sound of Zayne’s 1969 Chevy Impala anywhere.
I peeked through a sheet of whitish-blond hair just as Zayne climbed out of the driver’s seat. The aura around him was so pure it looked like a halo. He slammed the door shut and turned, his gaze immediately finding the bench I sat on.
My breath whooshed out like I’d been sucker punched. A thousand thoughts ran through my mind as Zayne rounded the Impala. He came to a complete stop when he saw me, his body going rigid, and then he started forward again, his pace picking up until he broke out in a dead run.
Zayne was beside the bench in an instant, uncaring of all the eyes on us, and then his arms were around me, squeezing so tight that I bit down on my lip to keep the squeak of pain from coming out.
“Oh, my God,” he said, his voice hoarse in my ear. “I can’t...” A fine tremor coursed through his large body, and his hand pressed against my back, then slid up, burying deep in my hair.
Over Zayne’s shoulder, I finally saw Roth. He was near one of the bare cherry-blossom trees, just standing there. Our eyes met for a brief moment, and then he turned around, crossing the lawn and heading east on the sidewalk, hands shoved into the pockets of his jeans. For Zayne not to have sensed the demon’s presence was a testament to his state, and I hated that he’d been that worried.
A strange urge hit me then. I wanted to go after Roth, but that didn’t make any sense. I knew he’d been watching me and that was all he was doing, but...
Zayne tugged me closer, tucking me into the crook of his neck, and he held on. Slowly, I lifted my arms, placed my hands on his back and fisted his shirt. Another shudder rocked his body. I don’t know how long we stayed like that. It could’ve been seconds or minutes, but his warmth eased some of the chill, and for a moment, I could pretend that this was a week ago and this was Zayne—my Zayne—and everything was going to be okay.
But then he pulled back, his hands trailing to my shoulders. “Where have you been? What happened?”
Having no idea where to start, I kept my chin down.
“Layla,” he said, placing his hands on either side of my face. I winced when his fingers pressed against my temple, but I didn’t pull away. Zayne lifted my head and his eyes widened in shock. A rush of wild emotion cut across his face. Anger was the most apparent, turning his eyes an electric blue. Tension formed around his mouth. A muscle popped as his jaw worked. He slid his hands off my face, keeping my hair back. “Petr did this?”
My chest tightened with fear and dismay. “How...how did you know?”
His chest rose harshly. “He hasn’t been seen since last night. Not since Morris said he saw him heading into the woods. I found your bag in the tree house and your phone was lying on the ground. There was...there was blood on it—your blood. We’ve been tearing this city apart looking for you. God, I thought the worst. I thought...” He swallowed thickly. “Jesus Christ, Layla...”
I opened my mouth, but nothing came out. The look in Zayne’s eyes was frightening. “Are you okay?” he asked, and then he cursed. “That’s a stupid question. Obviously, you’re not okay. How badly are you hurt? Do you need to go to the hospital? Have you been out all night? Should I—”
“I’m okay.” My voice cracked as I wrapped my fingers around his wrists. I’d never seen him like this before. “I’m okay.”
He stared at me, and I suddenly recognized the emotion churning in his eyes. Horror. “God, Layla, he...he hurt you.”
There was no denying that when my face still looked like I’d run into a wall. “I’m all right.”
“It’s not all right. He hit you.” And then his gaze dropped, and I knew he saw the tips of the three angry slashes. He sucked in a ragged breath and a violent spasm shot through him. A low growl rumbled from his chest. “What form was he in?”
“Zayne.” I put my hand on his trembling arm. “You’re starting to phase.”
“Answer me!’” he shouted, making me jump. A few people cast glances our way. He swore and lowered his voice. “I’m sorry. Did he—”