Stone Cold Touch (The Dark Elements 2) - Page 40

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“Oh, Layla, she’s not going to hate you.” He lowered his head and pressed his lips against my forehead. “She’s not going to be afraid of you and she’s not going to think of you differently.”

What felt like ropes circled my chest. “How c-can they not?”

“Because they know you like I know you, that’s why.” The intensity to his words was compelling. “What you are doesn’t change who you are.”

I nodded.

His eyes searched mine and then he slid his arms around me, letting the towel he held fall to the floor. I folded into his tight embrace, soaking up his warmth and his acceptance. It seemed faulty, his belief in me, when I wasn’t sure it was warranted.

But I needed to pull it together, because Stacey and Sam were waiting for us, and I couldn’t hide in the bathroom half-naked with Zayne forever.

“I’m ready,” I said, and my heart dipped a little as I pulled free and stood.

Zayne retrieved the clothes Stacey had left outside the bathroom. I changed into the sweats and sweater and then forced myself out of the room. He’d been leaning against the wall, waiting for me, eyes focused wearily on the ceiling. When he pushed off the wall and stepped in front of me, I wanted to push a rewind button on today.

“Everything is going to be okay,” he assured me.

I wasn’t that hopeful.

Stacey and Sam were in the living room downstairs. She stood as we entered the room, her normally dark complexion pale. Sam turned to us, his expression expectant.

“Okay,” she said, clasping her hands together. “Before we talk about anything, are you okay?”

I nodded. My skin was a deeper pink than normal and a bit raw to the touch, but by tomorrow morning it would be fine. “I’m okay.”

She closed her eyes and breathed out a deep sigh. “You really scared us—scared me. I thought he’d thrown acid on you or something, but I know...that’s not it. First off, you didn’t go to the hospital and your skin hasn’t peeled off your face.”

My brows rose.

“And the water hit Stacey,” Sam pointed out, head cocked to the side as he studied me. Not like he would if he was afraid, but more like he was genuinely curious. “Nothing happened to her.”

“But something happened to you,” she said, drawing in another deep breath. “Something really strange happened. I saw smoke coming off your skin.”

Well, that would definitely tell someone something was up. I glanced at Zayne and he nodded as he sat on the arm of a chair. “I don’t know where to even start.”

“How about with the truth?” Sam said.

That statement stung and rightfully so. “I’m sorry that I haven’t been completely honest with you two, but there are things—rules—that have prevented me from doing so.”

“Are you like Zayne?” Stacey asked, looking at him. “Because if so, I don’t see what the big deal is.”

“I am kind of like Zayne. I’m part Warden.” Hearing myself say these words to my friends was strange. I sat in the chair Zayne was perched on. “But I’m not like him. Not really. I...I’m also part demon. That’s why the water did what it did. It was seriously holy water.”

Stacey opened her mouth and she blinked once, then twice. Then she laughed as she dropped in the seat next to Sam. “Okay, Layla, don’t bullshit me.”

“I’m not.”

“Demons don’t exist,” she said, rolling her eyes. “That guy at the theater was crazy.”

“Gargoyles don’t exist either,” Zayne said gently. “Right?”

Stacey shook her head. “But that’s different. You guys are just another species, right? Kind of like Big Foot. You’re not this biblical mythical creature.”

“But our kind was considered mythical at one time.” Zayne leaned forward, resting his hands on his knees. “Layla is telling you the truth. She’s part demon.”

“Demons can’t be real. They just can’t be.”

“Do you believe in angels?” Sam asked, watching me. “Because if you do, how can you not believe in demons? After all, weren’t most of them angels at one time?”

Part of me wasn’t surprised Sam was handling this so well, but I was shocked that he wasn’t up and poking me like a science experiment.

“No.” Stacey shook her head again, sending her bangs flying across her face as she stared at me. “There’s no way.”

“Okay.” I stood up. “I am part demon. And here’s the proof. Bambi?” I willed her off my body, hoping she’d listen to me and not make me look like a fool. “Off.”

Bambi stirred along my back and then I felt her lift off my skin. A shadow of tiny dots formed beside me. Stacey jumped to her feet, her mouth working as if she was trying to say something as the dots shot together. A second later, Bambi formed and lifted her diamond shaped head, eyeing Sam and Stacey as if it was potential feeding time.

“Don’t eat them,” I warned under my breath.

There was a breath of silence and then Stacey screamed like a banshee, jumping up on the couch as if she was going to crawl behind Sam. “Oh my God! Oh my God! A snake! That’s a big-ass snake!” she screeched, going as white as a Warden’s soul. “Where in the Hell did that come from?”

“Me,” I said. “She mostly stays on my skin, like a tattoo. She’s a familiar.”

Stacey looked as if she was a second from passing out, so I called Bambi back. The snake hissed its forked tongue at me in annoyance but returned to my arm and then to my stomach.

“Holy shit-ball storm,” Stacey whispered, slinking down the couch. “I did not just see that.”

“Yes. Yes you did.” I sat back down.

“How did you hide that thing all this time? It’s huge!”

“Actually, she’s only been a recent development. Bambi is a demon familiar, but she’s not mine. Not really.”

A look of understanding dawned on her face. “Wait—wait a sec. Roth has a snake tattoo.”

I nodded. “Had.”

Her eyes widened to the point I feared she’d burst a blood vessel. “Are you saying that Roth is also a demon?”

“Full-blooded,” Zayne answered. “He’s really known as Astaroth, the Crown Prince of Hell.”

Stacey looked at Sam, who just stared at us, and then back to me. “I...I don’t know what to even say at this moment.”

“Whatever you think about demons, and despite what that bastard at the theater said, you should know that Layla isn’t evil. She’s good to her core,” Zayne said, and I smiled a little at the sincerity in his words. “She’s more Warden, more human, than anyone I know.”

Stacey made a face. “Well, f**king duh. I know she’s not evil. I’ve known her for years. She’s like the equivalent of an evil baby panda or some shit like that.”

I gaped at her while Zayne grinned at me.

“What about Roth?” she asked. “I mean, you just said Crown Prince of...of Hell?”

“Totally evil,” Zayne threw out.

I sighed. “He’s not totally evil. He’s here doing something really important.”

“Which is?” Sam asked, his gaze darting between us. “You have to tell us now.”

Zayne nodded slowly and then I told them everything about me—what I could do and who my mother was. Zayne took over halfway, giving them the lowdown on the whole situation with the Lilin and what we suspected was going down at school. Saying both of them looked floored would be the understatement of the century.

“But neither of you can breathe a word of this,” Zayne said, wrapping up the most epic info dump in the history of humanity and Wardenkind. “I’m serious. Our job is to keep the public from knowing that demons do exist. If you start telling people...”

“Kind of like if I tell you this, I’m going to have to kill you?” Stacey swallowed when neither of us responded. “Holy mind blown...”

When Stacey finally found the ability to speak again, she focused on probably the least important thing of everything we’d just told her. “So that’s why you’ve never gone out with boys before? Because if you kiss them, you take their souls?”

“I’d like to think that’s not the only reason,” Zayne muttered.

I nodded. “I’m kind of a succubus—just a very rare kind.”

“And this Lilin thing is like you? Except it can take souls by touching? Wow.” Stacey looked at Sam. “We seriously do need to change schools.”

“Yeah,” he said, nodding his agreement. “Maybe even cities. Possibly countries.”

It was late by the time we finished talking and her parents were due back any moment. Neither Stacey nor Sam were staring at me as if I was a dangerous freak, but I suspected that it hadn’t really settled in yet. I kept expecting Sam to make some kind of random statement about demons, but he didn’t and that alone told me he was knocked off his game.

“We probably should be leaving,” Zayne said, standing slowly. “But you guys—”

“We’re not going to breathe a word of this. Besides, no one would believe us.” She glanced at me, and I knew the friendship between us had changed. Maybe it wasn’t as big a change as I’d feared, but there was a shift. “How can we help?”

Zayne stared at her.

A wide smile broke out across my face. “You’re crazy.” She frowned at me, and I immediately apologized. “I don’t mean that in a bad way. Just that I’ve been petrified that you guys would hate me once you knew the truth and instead you’re asking to help.” Tears burned the back of my throat. “I really don’t know what to say.”

“Well, if I followed this crazy-pants conversation correctly, if the Lilin continues to um...take souls, the Alphas will get involved and that’s bad news bears for all of you, right? So, why wouldn’t we want to help?”

“We appreciate the offer, but it’s too dangerous for us to take you up on it.” Zayne held up his hand as she started to protest. “If you really want to help, then be extra vigilant. Be aware of your surroundings, watch for anyone acting strangely. Stay away from them and let us know.”

“He’s right.” I said. “I couldn’t deal with it if something happened to either of you two.”

“Nothing will.” Sam shot Stacey a look. “We’ll stay out of it, but if you need our help, we’ll be there for you.”

“Like the Scooby-Doo gang,” Stacey said with a smile. “But cooler and without the dog.” She paused, wrinkling her nose. “We have a giant demon snake instead.”

I coughed out a laugh, totally shell-shocked by how well both of them were dealing with this. I just hoped it didn’t change once they had time to really think about everything. When I finally rose to leave, I was exhausted from the drama of today.

Stacey stopped me at the door and I held my breath as Zayne paused on the stoop, watching us warily. “I wish you would’ve been honest with me a long time ago, but I get why you weren’t. It’s not something you can easily tell someone and not expect them to flip out.”

“It’s not,” I whispered.

She took a deep breath, glanced over her shoulder at the dark hallway behind her to where Sam waited for her inside the house. “You’re still my best friend. You’re just not human. And, well, I feel kind of cool that my best friend is part Warden, part demon in denial.”

I stared at her a moment and felt a laugh burst free. The ropes around my chest snapped and the pressure eased up.

“Just don’t keep me in the dark again, okay? Promise me.”

I met her eyes. “I promise.”

Then she hugged me, and in that moment I knew that the whole world could be on a verge of catastrophe, but Stacey and I would be okay.

We would be fine.

* * *

Abbot was waiting for us as soon as we returned to the compound.

The moment our feet hit the floor inside the foyer, he appeared before us, as tall and formidable as a great lion about to whip up on a gazelle. He took one look at me, didn’t bother to ask if I’d been sunbathing recently or if I was okay, and then turned to his son.

“We need to talk,” he said, jaw locked. “In private.”

Zayne glanced at me and I shrugged, figuring he wanted to talk about the mess at the theater. Giving him a little wave, I darted around Abbot and headed up the stairs. Only a tiny part of me was disappointed that Abbot hadn’t asked about me. I guessed I was getting used to the way he acted now.

Once inside my bedroom, I quickly changed out of the borrowed clothes and into my own pajamas. It was early in the evening, but I was whipped. After pulling my still damp hair back in a bun, I crawled under the covers and stared at my cell phone, wondering if I should alert Roth to the fact that Stacey and Sam now knew his true identity.

My fingers hovered over the screen. I needed to tell him. It was only fair and it was also the only reason I was going to contact him. My message was short and to the point.

Stacey and Sam know what we are.

Maybe a minute passed and then his message popped up. Do tell.

Church of God’s Children. Holy Water. Me. Not a good combination. All is cool, tho.

This time his response was immediate. R u ok?

I nodded and then realized, like an idiot, he couldn’t see me. Yes. I paused and then typed, So is Bambi.

Minutes passed after my last text and I realized that Roth wasn’t going to respond. If he was mad that we’d exposed him, I didn’t know, but I had a feeling he probably really didn’t care. Just as I rolled over to put my cell phone on the nightstand, he responded.

Tags: Jennifer L. Armentrout The Dark Elements Fantasy