Every Last Breath (The Dark Elements 3) - Page 75

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I cut through the benches and tables, focusing on taking deep and even breaths as the bag holding Mr. Snotty swung gently at my side. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I spotted a familiar dark face. Stopping midstep, I turned to my right.

Morris sat at one of the wooden tables, his bushy brows furrowed in concentration. One fingerless gloved hand was balled under his chin and the other hovered over black and white chess pieces that were strategically placed on the game board.

I don’t know what shocked me more—the fact I was seeing Morris out and about when I hadn’t seen him at all since the night Abbot died, not even when I’d returned from the...well, from the dead, or the fact that he wasn’t alone. Across from him sat a raven-haired woman. Dark, oversize glasses covered most of her face, but from what I could tell from her seated position, she was tall and slender, the tawny skin of her hand as it moved over the chess pieces was flawless.

Morris had friends? Lady friends? Lady friends who appeared much, much younger than him? Go, Morris...

The woman moved one of her knights, taking what I guessed was a pawn of her opponent’s. As she scooped the dark piece, a thick cloud crept over the sun, blocking it out suddenly. Startled, I glanced up and frowned. It was so dark it was almost dusk.

An odd shiver curled its way down my spine as I lowered my gaze to them. The shiver spread its chilly fingers across my shoulders. Robin grew restless, sliding off my back and crawling to rest just below my ribs.

Morris glanced up, his soulful gaze finding mine. The skin around his eyes crinkled as he smiled widely. I raised my hand as the sun broke free from the inky cloud and I wiggled my fingers at him.

This was weird.

He shifted his attention back to the chess game, and I had a feeling that I was dismissed, which I was oddly okay with. I didn’t know what was going on there, but I’d started to walk past them, to the sidewalk when a soft, lilting hum caught my attention.

Every muscle in my body locked up as my skin tingled. The hum—I recognized it, would always recognize it. “Paradise City.” The same song Roth constantly hummed, but this time, it was coming from a woman.

It had to be a coincidence, I told myself as I slowly turned back around. The amazingly on pitch tone was coming from the woman sitting across from Morris.

She stopped humming and her red lips curled into a half smile as she reached up, removing the shades. Then she turned her chin toward me, and I saw her face. The woman was shockingly beautiful. Every single feature perfectly pieced together. High, defined cheekbones, tiny nose and impossibly full lips, but it was her eyes that knocked the air right out of my lungs.

They were the color of two amber jewels...identical to Roth’s.

“You know,” she said, speaking in a voice that was thick like smoke, “he’s always been my favorite Crown Prince.”

My jaw unhinged, and I gaped at her like a fish out of water. My favorite Crown Prince? My? Was she...? Oh my God.

Oh my God! The Boss was a woman!

The woman tilted her head to the side and her black hair slipped over her shoulder. “Ah, I can see the wheels turning in your little head. It warms my bitter heart to know that my Prince is with someone who is at least marginally intelligent.”

There was a good chance my eyes were going to pop out, so that insult pretty much went right over my head. “You’re...”

“I bet you can guess my name. Like that one song says, I do go by many.” The sunglasses dangled from her fingers as she studied me. “Have you wondered why you’re here, Layla?” When I started to glance around, she laughed darkly. “Not here, in this park, you little fool, but standing there with blood coursing through your body and your heart beating in your chest?”

Morris raised his brows again—whether at her latest insult or at the reminder of my near-demise, I wasn’t sure—but he remained silent, as always.

“It was you?” I said after a moment. “You brought me back?”

She didn’t answer immediately. “As I said, Astaroth is my favorite Crown Prince, but I will not raise the dead even for him. At least not without gaining something from it.”

I shook my head. “I don’t understand. If it wasn’t you...?”

“Oh, it was me. And you’re welcome.” She slipped the sunglasses back on, but it still felt like she could see right into me. “But it was because of your mother.”

If the wind had blown that second, I would’ve fallen right over. “Lilith saved me?”

“Lilith promised to never attempt an escape again if I saved you, and that was an offer that even I could not pass up. So I made her a deal, and here you are.”

A thousand emotions swamped me, and my knees felt weak. Lilith saved me? Disbelief swirled, mingling with hope, elation and just more shock. Had she finally recognized me as her daughter and had done something redeeming? The bag started to slip from my fingers and I tightened my grasp.

And then it struck me.

If I had died, then Lilith would’ve died, too. There was no point for the Boss to make this deal unless...unless she had partly done it for Roth.

Holy cracker jacks, was the Boss capable of compassion? Oh man, the world had just turned upside down.

“Now, don’t get all ooey and gooey inside, my dear. If you died, then she would’ve died. So did she feel a motherly bond for you or was she in the end, just saving herself? Perhaps she hopes that one day you will change your mind and free her. After all, then she wouldn’t be escaping, now would she? Who knows? I really don’t care,” she said, raising one shoulder in a delicate shrug. “Neither should you, because you know what you should care about? The fact that besides the Alphas, I’m the only being that can undo Astaroth’s existence with just a snap...of my two little, bitty fingers.”

Both Lilith as my possible savior and the Boss being awesome forgotten, I felt my back stiffen and my eyes narrow as her threat smacked into me. Fury took hold and I had to use every ounce of restraint not to shift right there and freak some people out.

I didn’t even recognize the voice that came out of me in a low growl that caused those walking nearby to give me a wide berth. “I may not be able to defeat you, but I know I can go toe-to-toe with you. So if you harm one hair on Roth’s head, I will bathe in your blood and make a necklace out of your entrails.”

Then I braced myself for some major whoop ass that was probably going to bring the Alphas screaming down on us, and maybe I should’ve had Roth come with me today after all, because my little trip had suddenly taken a really bad turn.

But then Morris smiled and his shoulders shook silently while she tossed her head back and laughed loudly. Nothing about what I said was funny. Or at least I didn’t think so. I glanced around, unsure of what was happening.

“I like you,” she said once she stopped laughing. “I really do. You are deserving of the Crown Prince.”

“Um...”

“And I can see that you and I... Well, I think we’ll get along famously.” She turned back to the game. “Visit whenever you like, but one last thing.”

“Uh...”

She picked up a knight as she licked her lips. “Threaten me again, and I don’t care what your mother has promised, what friends you have in high places, or what it will do to Astaroth—you will be wearing entrails as a necklace, but they won’t be mine.”


Tags: Jennifer L. Armentrout The Dark Elements Fantasy
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