“Stop apologizing,” Zayne said, eyes flaring that deep teal blue again. “None of this is your fault.”
Abbot placed his hand on my shoulder and squeezed gently. He wasn’t a hugging type of guy, so it was the closest thing to an embrace I’d ever get. Emotion clogged my throat, a vile mixture of guilt, anger and betrayal. I was lying, but so was Abbot. Looking at him now, my gaze crawling over his weathered-but-handsome face, I had to wonder if he’d ever been honest with me.
And what he had to gain by keeping the child of Lilith alive.
“I’m sorry that we allowed Petr into this house,” Abbot said as I stood, his pale eyes sharp. “This home is a safe haven, and he breached that.”
“And his clan,” Zayne added, voice rough with anger. “It’s awfully convenient that they bolted the moment they realized Layla was alive.”
“It is.” Abbot stood, too. “We’ll get to the bottom of this.”
I nodded and turned to leave, doubting that Elijah would suffer any extreme consequences if he or any of his clan were in on the plan to snuff me out. I knew they had to be, because while Petr loathed my very existence, he wouldn’t have gone after me without his father’s support.
“Layla,” Abbot called out, and I stopped at the door. “Just one last thing.”
My stomach tumbled. “Okay.”
Abbot smiled tightly. “Where did you get the clothes you’re wearing?”
* * *
Hours later, my stomach still churned. Between the sickness that brewed after tasting a soul and the fact that I knew I was so busted, I didn’t venture far from the bathroom.
The clothing—holy crap—how could I have forgotten that? How could Roth not have caught that? The too-big sweatpants and the shirt with some ’80s hair band emblazed across the front were so obviously not mine.
And what had I told Abbot? That they were old gym clothes I had in my backpack? What kind of lame-o lie was that? Why would I have men’s clothing in my book bag, and why would I’ve changed into the clothes, but left my bag in the tree house?
I wanted to smack myself.
Hopefully, Abbot chalked it up to me being traumatized, but I doubted it. He wasn’t stupid. The way he’d smiled and the knowing gleam in his eyes told me he knew better. So why didn’t he call me out? Waiting for him to do so was worse.
Ten minutes later, I was gripping the sides of the toilet and emptying out what Jasmine had managed to get me to eat after checking me over. “Jesus,” I gasped as another cramp rolled through me. Dry heaves racked my body until my eyes watered.
Then the soul came up.
Slicing its way up my throat, it dug in with tiny hooks, refusing to let go. My stomach clenched, doubling me over. Finally, white smoke expelled from my mouth. As the last of Petr’s soul left my body, I shuddered, collapsing against the bathroom wall.
Petr’s soul floated in the air above me, a sad and twisted thing. Like a dark cloud before a violent storm, it swirled and churned. I could see neatly stacked yellow towels behind it, the little baskets I kept my makeup in. The soul’s mere presence tainted the walls.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered hoarsely, pulling my knees to my chest. As much as I hated Petr, I didn’t want this for him. What he had turned into after I’d taken his soul was something straight out of nightmares, and without his soul there was no chance for him to ever find peace in Heaven. Humans turned into wraiths. I had no idea what happened to Wardens who died without their souls.
Soaked with sweat, I flushed the toilet and stood on weak legs. Leaning over, I turned on the shower. Steam filled the bathroom, breaking the black mass up. It evaporated in the hot mist, like it had never been there. I stripped off my clothes and took my second shower of the day. Glancing down, I stared at the ring on my finger. Part of me still wanted to get rid of the thing—throw it away or hide it.
With wet fingers, I tried to slide the ring off. It wouldn’t budge. Wiggling it didn’t work, either. Holding it in the steady stream did nothing. Nothing I did would get the ring off my finger. It was strange, because it wasn’t like it was too tight. I could move it around, but just couldn’t get it off.
Great. I’d probably somehow set the incantation into motion by putting the damn ring on, and now my finger would have to be chopped off.
I stayed in the shower until my skin wrinkled, but the taint still lingered.
The chills would be next.
I’d just finished pulling on my pajamas when there was a knock on my bedroom door. Tugging my wet hair out from underneath my shirt, I sat on my bed. “Come in.”
Zayne stepped in, a blur of white at first. When his essence faded, I saw the strands of blond hair shielding his face as he shut the door behind him. A light blue sweater stretched over his chest, nearly matching the color of his eyes.
When he looked up and saw me, he stilled. “You look like crap.”
I laughed, the sound of it raspy. “Thanks.”
“Here’s your phone. It works fine and I...I cleaned it up,” he said, placing it on the nightstand. He sat beside me on the bed. I shied away, putting some distance between us. He caught my movement, his shoulders stiffening.
“Layla,” he pleaded.
“I’m just tired after everything.” I busied myself with getting my legs under the blanket. “Maybe I’m getting the flu or—”
Zayne grabbed my hand. “Layla, you didn’t. Please tell me you didn’t.”
I pulled my hand free. “No! No. I’m just coming down with something and I’m tired. It’s been a long night and day.”
He pressed forward, trapping me between his body and the headboard. “You need to tell me if you did, Layla. If you took someone’s soul last night, even Petr’s, I need to know.”
“No,” I whispered, curling my fingers into the blanket.
His eyes searched mine intently and then he lowered his head. A soft sigh escaped his tightly pressed lips. “You’d tell me the truth, wouldn’t you?”
I shivered. “Yes.”
Zayne lifted his head, his steady gaze meeting mine once more. “And you trust me? You know I’d never turn you over to the Alphas, that I’d never do that to you. So please don’t lie to me now. Please promise me you’re not lying to me.”
“I promise.” The lie felt sour in my mouth. I looked away, unable to hold his gaze. I recognized that there was a good chance that Zayne knew, just like he knew when I’d done it before.
He let out a breath as he stared at his hand, fisted around the comforter. “Do you need anything?”
Shaking my head, I shifted down on my back and shivered. “I’ll be okay.”
Zayne fell silent for several minutes. When he spoke I could feel his eyes on me. “I talked to Jasmine.”
He swallowed. “She said you were pretty bruised up.”
Jasmine had gasped and murmured something unintelligible after she’d helped me strip out of my clothes and seen the smorgasbord of bruises.
“She told me the claw marks shouldn’t scar, though.” His voice carried a tide of anger. “I’m glad Petr is dead. I just wish I had been the one to kill him.”
I looked at him sharply. “You don’t really mean that.”