30.1 | Fouler Shades

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Nika was on high alert as Dante guided her through the patch of woods surrounding the cemetery. Almost a month ago, Miles's funeral had brought her to this very site. Evidence of her vomit might have even remained in the bushes near the parking lot.

She thought she might be sick again, but this time, it wasn't caused by the murder of a friend. It was her lack of weapons and company, that the sky was growing darker with an eclipse, and a good-looking boy with uncertain intentions was leading her into a dense grove.

"This is the part of the horror film when I get chopped up into pieces and buried in multiple graves," she thought aloud.

Dante huffed a laugh, glancing over his shoulder. "You're too pretty to die so young."

And you are too good at lying.

With that in mind, Nika assessed her surroundings, noting which was the fastest route back to the graveyard, and whether any rocks or sticks could be used as weapons. Her hand instinctively hovered over the mobile phone in her pocket, and she sent a silent prayer to the Oldbloods that Ren would be ready to retrieve her at a moment's notice.

There was little she wouldn't give to be with him instead of Dante right now, to see surly scowls instead of honey-coated grins.

Within minutes, they emerged into a grassy clearing, where the tree canopy opened like a smile to the sky. Nika wondered why he'd brought her here, and when she would reunite with Lu—until she spotted a figure in a long cloak with a hood.

A few seconds of examination led Nika to a belly-churning realization. An old-fashioned gown, coils of vibrant red hair, and if not for the sunglasses concealing half of the woman's face, eyes gleaming as blue as sapphires.

"What took so long?" the demon-witch hissed. "This sunlight is burning my eyes."

Suddenly, the mission didn't matter. Getting information was a trivial endeavor.

It came crashing down—pain, screams that echoed through a cave, the scent of blood on stone.

Nika darted across the clearing and lunged, fangs bared. She was too busy drowning in hate to register the rough clink from behind. And when her jaws were an inch away from Tatiana's throat, something stopped her.

Metal, cold and rusty, bite into her wrists. Then fire, ripping through her shoulders and down her arms. She glanced down to find iron manacles and chains that dangled from sturdy bolts into a tree on either side of her.

Nika twisted, snarling, and Dante slowly circled around her, holding out his hands as though she were a rabid dog.

"What is this?" she hissed, panic bombarding her. "Let me out!"

She yanked at the chains, but the slightest graze sent tongues of invisible fire across her skin. Belabane.

"Son of a—" She threw herself at the wolfblood. "I'm gonna kill you!"

Dante leapt back, leaving her grasping at air and grunting at the scrape of metal.

"Put your fangs away and I'll explain."

Each breath came in difficult huffs as Nika closed her eyes. After much concentration, the fangs retracted with a click.

"You can't hurt her," was all Dante said. "We're breaking the curse today, and Tatiana needs to be there during the ritual. That's why I brought you to this place."

Her mouth went dry as she glanced between him and Tatiana. Damn your curse! she wanted to scream. But she managed to focused her rage on what mattered most: "You better release me and take me to Lu, or I swear to the Oldbloods, Dante, I'll hunt you down and make you wish you'd never been born."

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