24.2 | Wolf in Boy's Clothing

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Someone was calling her name.

Neekah

It was an echo in her mind, in her sleep. She reached for it, stretching her soul across a gaping chasm to find the source of that ethereal sound.

Neekah, it said, wake up. Open your eyes. Breathe.

Nika flung out an arm, grasping at darkness. Where was it? She threw herself toward the voice, answering its call. She could have sworn she was falling deep into an abyss. Or maybe she was rising toward the surface of an ancient sea. All she knew was that siren song, beckoning and tugging and—

With a gasp, she woke. Eyes flung open, limbs yanked on chains. Pain stabbed her temples and blurred her vision, but it became a secondary concern when she noticed the presence before her.

Someone was watching.

When the image came into focus, Nika was disappointed to find that it wasn't Lu.

Lu

The word sang through her blood, and she surged upright, remembering.

Remembering the way Lu had stumbled over the rugged cave floor with that hood over her head. Remembering how they'd hurt her, and how Nika had given them the information just to make it stop.

She'd failed. She'd broke. But the rest was darkness. Where had Tatiana gone? Had she killed Lu and thrown her into a ditch somewhere?

Terror sucked the air from Nika's lungs. She couldn't breathe. And when she tried to raise her hands to her throat, the chains locked her arms in place.

A hand on her shoulder. A calm voice: "Take it easy."

Nika blinked at the boy. Tan, attractive, slightly unkempt as if the woods were his home.

"You," she croaked.

And suddenly, breathing didn't matter.

The world's most infamous halfblood was not easily broken. But as she gazed at Dante Azzara, she felt the urge to weep. To release all of her pent-up emotion, curl into a tight ball and rock back and forth. Because he'd fooled her with lopsided smiles and unexpected compliments. The misery of the past few weeks started with him.

But Nika locked away her tears and hissed, "If you're gonna kill me, get it over with."

He shook his head as he pried off the chains. Her arms fell into her lap. Had they not been numb, she would've torn the flesh off his bones with her bare fingernails.

"I'm trying to help," was all Dante said.

Nika bit her lip with restraint. All she wanted to do was hurt, hurt, hurt. She wanted to make him suffer like she'd suffered. Like Lu had suffered.

Lu

"Where is she?" She didn't care how pathetic it was; she needed to know.

"She's safe. Alive."

Nika's lip started to bleed. And since she was so angry and terrified and miserable, she spat in his face. Her tainted blood...splattered all over Dante's beautiful skin.

He jolted, then wiped it off with his shirt and said, "I probably deserved that."

Before she blinked, he was gripping her chin, trapping her jaw so she couldn't lather up another mouthful. A guttural yelp of pain escaped her, and Dante's features twisted with anger.

"But you better not do it again."

His eyes flickered from brown to gold. There it was—the animal. The truth hiding beneath his smirking mask.

A brute and a bastard, battling in a cave. Nika almost laughed. At herself, the Oldbloods, the stars, the gods, or whatever was responsible for damning her to such misfortune.

Dante wasn't gentle when he swept her into his arms and carried her out of the cave. She didn't fight him. Because she couldn't move without her body screaming in agony, and because she didn't want to acknowledge him any more than she was forced to. But mostly because she was confused.

He walked out of the cave and into the forest beyond. A breeze that smelled of pine rippled through her hair.

"Where are you taking me?"

"Home."

Nika frowned at him, wondering if this was another ploy, but the soft wind and sighing trees were so soothing, so...

She slipped back into unconsciousness before she could protest. It might have been minutes, hours, or days later when she heard that voice again, calling her name, beckoning her back to reality. She followed it, and when she woke, cinnamon-colored eyes peered down at her.

Dante had set her down on a bed of grass beside a solid tree trunk. It was by no means comfortable, but it certainly beat the cave.

"Someone is coming," he said, a hint of urgency in his tone.

She was too exhausted to worry about it. Let them come. Let them see. Nika listened to the birdsongs and nothing else mattered.

"I had to do it," Dante was saying. "You'll probably never understand it, but I had to lie. I had to trick you, and I had to steal the journal. For my people...my pack."

Nika looked at him, crouching beside her, occasionally glancing toward the direction of those Someones.

Since she was feeling desperate—and wicked, too—she lifted a hand to his neck and drew him closer. So close that her cracked, blood-stained lips grazed his ear. It required the last scraps of her mortal energy.

Gooseflesh appeared under her hot breath. Dante tensed, his heartbeat racketing loud enough for her to hear.

"Someday," she whispered, "I'll find you again."

They were the honey-sweet words of a lover. Not a declaration of revenge. Not a threat. A promise.

"And when I do...you'd be wise to run."

Dante flinched, meeting her gaze. Whatever he found in it was enough to send him fleeing through the forest. And Nika knew at that moment, she was not a saint, not a hero. She was just a no-good halfblood. And for once, she didn't even mind.

Author's Note

Just an FYI that I will be returning to the daily update schedule. But please have some patience as I get back into the swing of things, as I'm behind and need to catch up. 

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