The Beautiful Ashes

Page 53

If I wanted to keep it that way, I had to get off the road. Sooner or later, some cop would finish a hysterical motorist’s sobriety test and decide to check out their story of a monster driving a vintage Challenger. Add in the fact that some of the Bennington cops were minions and I’d really be screwed.

Still, I had to get as close to Bennington as I could. Ditching the car to run around in the open raised my chances of being seen. Not driving also meant it would take longer to get where I needed to be. I’d left Adrian back at the motel over two hours ago, so at any minute, Costa would return to the room and find him.

Adrian. I forced back the guilt that made me feel like I’d swallowed a bellyful of acid. He’d told me he’d betray me if we continued to spend time together! Demetrius and Zach had thought so, too, and with Adrian’s admittedly bloody history, many people would agree he deserved what I’d done.

So why was I the one who felt like a betrayer?

To keep myself from brooding over that, I turned off at the next exit. According to the map on Adrian’s phone—yes, I’d swiped that, too—the Green Mountain National Forest bordered the part of Bennington where the B and B was located. I vaguely remembered the woods from my visit to the B and B, so if I kept to the trees, I’d be able to stay hidden until I reached it. The realm gateway was in there, Adrian had said. Too bad he hadn’t specified where in the B and B, but I had a plan for that, too.

I ditched the Challenger in the woods behind a gas station, but only after I wrapped some supplies in my blanket. Then I hoisted it over my shoulder like a sack, held Adrian’s phone out in front of me so I could see the map, and started running.

Once, I would have found the dark expanse of woods creepy, but not now. Maybe it was because no animal in its right mind would attack me with my Hound disguise. Same went for people, and though the air was distinctly chilly, the cold didn’t affect me like it once would have. Must be my growing abilities. After all, it couldn’t be coincidence that I barely needed the light from Adrian’s cell phone to see.

You can do everything I can do.... It’s in your blood. Adrian’s words stole through my mind, encouraging me and slamming me with guilt at the same time. Dammit, I needed to stop thinking about him! I’d made the only choice I could by not trusting him, same thing he’d urged me to do over and over again. Jasmine was the person I should feel guilty about. If Adrian had been lying and she was dead, then I’d failed my only remaining family. Worse, I’d lost my best friend.

Memories began to assail me. Jasmine screaming with excitement because she’d been accepted to the same college as me. Her countless pranks, like adding BENGAY to my suntan lotion or replacing my shampoo with bubble bath. How she’d hugged me after my disastrous prom night, and how she’d never told any of my friends—or hers—why I really went to the doctors so frequently. Jasmine as a little girl, sitting with me in a psychologist’s waiting room, her blue eyes somber as she whispered, “If you say you see stuff, Ivy, I believe you....”

The cell phone vibrated, startling me so much I almost dropped it. Incoming call, read the screen. Unknown.

I slowed, torn between curiosity and caution. If I answered and heard Demetrius’s voice on the other line, it would confirm all my suspicions. But what if it was Zach? I could really use the Archon’s help, and for all I knew, Zach contacted Adrian by phone; not to mention unknown would be a damn good description of where his calls were routed from.

I hit Accept but didn’t say anything, hoping whoever was on the other line would speak first.

My gamble paid off.

“Ivy.” Adrian’s voice was hoarse from anger or urgency. “Don’t go in there alone. Don’t—”

I hit the End button so hard, it cracked the screen. Then I threw the phone down, as if that would further sever the connection between us. Still, the forest seemed to fill with Adrian’s presence, until I could swear that the breeze ruffling through the trees was whispering his name.

“Leave me alone!” I yelled, sinking to the ground next to his phone. “You were going to betray me, so I had to do it.”

Saying it didn’t make me feel any better. Believing it hurt almost as much as hoping I was wrong. If I was, I’d ruined any chance between us by doing the one thing Adrian had managed not to do, despite heaven and hell telling him he had no choice. He wouldn’t forgive me for that. No one would, myself included.

With a hard swipe at the tears filling my eyes, I grabbed the phone, got up and started to run again. Right or wrong, I’d made my choice. Whether Adrian intended to stop me or betray me, he knew where I was headed, so I didn’t have much time.

* * *

Last time I’d seen the Paulson bed-and-breakfast, autumn leaves had been swirling around the lovely white house. Now, all the trees were bare and a dark, decrepit shell hung over the B and B, like the negative of a double-exposed photo. It didn’t vanish after a couple blinks, either. It stayed, mute testament to how much my abilities had grown.

That’s also why I could now see words carved into the side of the house, like “LEAVE!” “HELP!” and “DEMONS.” Of course, no one else could see the warnings from people trapped in the other realm. Tourists who pulled up would only see a sign that said “Welcome, Friends!” on the portico over the front door.

I lurked at the far end of the yard, concealed by the trees that butted up against the foothills of the green mountains. Lights were on inside, giving off a warm amber glow, and two cars were in the gravel section where I’d parked the first time I came here. The B and B had guests.

And I was going to crash the party.

I started taking off my clothes, not stopping until I was down to only boots and the itchy leather bikini that doubled as Hound straps. I put the clothes in the blanket with my other supplies and hefted it over my shoulder again. Then I ran toward the house. When I reached the front door, I tried the knob. Just like before, it was unlocked. Silently, I entered the house, trying to focus on the here instead of the dark, double image that showed a place far different than this one.

No one was in the parlor where I’d first encountered Mrs. Paulson, but laughter came from farther down the hallway. I followed it, ending at the dining room. Two youngish-looking couples sat at the table, and for a frozen second as their heads swung toward me, no one moved.

Then screams coincided with the sound of chairs and other items crashing as they knocked things over in their panic to leave. I bared my teeth, hissing and waving my arms, hoping to scare them right into their cars. They needed to get out of here for more reasons than what Mrs. Paulson had probably been planning for them.

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