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Authors: Jennifer Quintenz

Sacrifice (3 page)

BOOK: Sacrifice
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Karayan leaned against my doorjamb, grinning. “Should I be worried?”

“Only that you’re going to be ruined when it comes to other breakfast foods.”

“That good, huh?”

I shrugged in answer, as if to say,
don’t take my word for it… you’ll find out soon enough.

Karayan shook her head. “Okay, whatever. He’s setting three places. I’ll see you downstairs.”

Karayan slipped back down the hall. I turned away from the mirror, feeling a pang. I set my brush down and picked up the cameo Dad had given me for my sixteenth birthday; a beautiful carved angel, suspended from a velvet chord. It was his way of telling me that no matter my ancestry, he knew which side I was on. Sure, I might have been born a Lilitu, but I had a family who loved me. Friends who trusted me. I had a place to belong.

Karayan—well, she was still getting used to her return to the Guard. And the Guard was still getting used to her.

I fastened the cameo around my neck. It rested comfortably against my collarbone, peeking out from the top of my shirt. Time to get the second half of junior year started.

I walked down the hallway, passing Dad’s room on the left. I could smell the spicy scent of his soap wafting along the hall. He must have gotten up and showered before I’d even woken up. So maybe I wasn’t the only one having trouble sleeping.

Downstairs, I spotted Karayan hovering in the doorway to her room—formerly our guest room. Though, honestly, she hadn’t done much to make it hers yet. Aside from a few scattered clothes, the room had all the personality of a motel. I hesitated, then bypassed the entrance to the kitchen, heading instead for Karayan.

“Is something wrong?”

She looked at me, feigning nonchalance. “Nope.”

“Okay. Well, I’m going to grab something to eat.” I started to turn away, but Karayan cleared her throat.

I stopped. Karayan caught her bottom lip in her teeth. She looked
unsure
. The gesture was so uncharacteristic that I stared. “Karayan, you’re not thinking of leaving us again?”

“‘Leaving us?’ That implies there’s an ‘us’ to leave.” Karayan shrugged. “The Guard hasn’t exactly rolled out the welcome mat.”

“You know you’re welcome here,” I started.

“Sure. Murphy’s great. But he’s not exactly a typical Guardsman. Most of them treat me like a time bomb.”

“What about Thane? Have you two had a chance to—?”

“Thane?” Karayan snorted derisively. “He’s the worst of them all.”

“He’ll come around. It’s just going to take time.”

“I get that this optimistic thing is one of your endearing qualities, but Thane is never going to come around. Trust me. We’ve got the kind of history that—” Karayan spread her hands. “Some mistakes can’t be forgiven. And when those mistakes are made by Lilitu? Let’s just say, the Guard has a long memory.”

Her words burned in my ears. I dropped my eyes, at a loss for words. It hadn’t been a month since Senoy, one of the three Guardian Angels tasked with fighting the Lilitu, had died in my arms. Because of a mistake I had made. Because I’d trusted the wrong person. Because I hadn’t listened to the Guard.

Karayan must have realized she’d struck a nerve. “But what the hell do I know? Come on. Let’s eat.” Karayan looped an arm over my shoulders and guided me toward the kitchen.

Dad had set three plates on the kitchen island. He was transferring a nice stack of golden pancakes to the last plate as we entered.

“Morning, sunshine.” Dad gave me a warm smile and gestured to the fridge with his chin. “Mind grabbing the maple syrup?”

“Sure.” I headed to the kitchen, breathing in the rich aroma of pancakes fresh off the griddle. The buttery scent had my mouth watering in two seconds flat. I grabbed the syrup out of the fridge and set it on the island, taking a seat on the middle stool.

Karayan took the seat to my left. Dad set the last plate of steaming pancakes in front of her.

“What do you like on your pancakes? We’ve got it all.”

Karayan looked at my dad, her eyebrow arched. “All? You intrigue me.”

I groaned happily, drowning my pancakes in maple syrup.

Dad rubbed his hands together, ready for the challenge. “Butter, peanut butter, syrup, chocolate chips, blueberries, strawberries, bananas, whipped cream, cream cheese—”

“Easy, tiger.” Karayan grinned. “Hook me up with some blueberries and whipped cream.”

“Coming right up.” Dad strode to the fridge.

I took a bite of my pancakes and glanced at Karayan, catching her in an unguarded moment. She watched my dad with a vulnerable gratitude I’d never have expected to see from the snarky and self-confident Lilitu. For the second time that morning, I felt a pang in my chest. No matter how coolly she played it off, I knew Karayan had longed to be part of a family like this since she was a little girl. But while I’d grown up with Murphy, Karayan hadn’t been so lucky. Thane had raised Karayan as a soldier, a weapon. And when she’d finally exploded in retaliation, he’d used her desertion as justification that no Lilitu could be trusted, ever. Murphy, on the other hand, had raised me as his daughter. And while it had taken me time to forgive him for hiding the truth of my lineage for so long, the truth was—I was incredibly grateful to have Murphy as my dad.

Dad returned with a bowl of blueberries and a canister of whipped cream. He waited for Karayan to scoop out all the berries she wanted, then shook the canister with flourish.

“Say when.” He sprayed piles of gorgeous whipped cream over Karayan’s pancakes.

Her eyes widened at the bounty. “When.”

Dad stepped back, folding his arms over his chest and waiting.

Karayan took a bite of her pancakes. A half a second later, her eyes closed and she smiled blissfully. “Braedyn, you do not exaggerate.”

“Told you.” I gave my dad a thumbs-up. He beamed.

“Okay, scoot over, kiddo. All this cooking’s fired up my appetite.” Dad took the stool to my right. For a few heavenly minutes, we ate together in companionable silence.

When the front door opened, Karayan stiffened next to me. We both knew the only people who’d just walk into our home unannounced were Guardsmen. I glanced at Karayan, but she was keeping her eyes fixed on her plate, her expression neutral.

Hale walked into the kitchen with his usual focus.

“Murphy. Girls.” Hale offered his hand to Dad, who stood to meet him. The men shook hands briskly.

“What is it?” All levity had left Dad’s voice.

Hale hesitated, eying Karayan uncomfortably. He glanced back at Dad. Dad’s eyes flicked over to Karayan with just the tiniest flash of worry.

“We’re almost done here,” he started.

Karayan, who’d caught all the unspoken wariness of the Guardsmen, stood. “Thanks for the pancakes, Murph.” She daubed at the corners of her mouth with a napkin and gave Hale a pointed glance. “I’m going for a walk. It’s a little stuffy in here.” Karayan abandoned her half-eaten pancakes and walked out of the kitchen. She headed straight for the front door, closing it behind her a bit harder than necessary.

I glared at Hale, torn between giving him a piece of my mind and going after Karayan.

“How’s it working out?” Hale asked, before I had a chance to speak. He studied Dad’s face carefully, clearly concerned.

Dad sighed. “You should give her some tasks. I think she’s feeling a little… adrift. She needs to know her place in the organization. Until she feels like part of the team, I don’t think she’s going to fully trust us.”

“Trust is a two-way street.” Hale frowned. “As for giving her some tasks… I’ll work on finding something for her to do.”

“So, what brought you here?” Dad gestured to the empty stool Karayan had just vacated. Hale took it.

“Thane and Ian are concerned.”

Dad shook his head ruefully. “When are they not concerned?”

“They’re worried about the timing of this attack.” Hale’s eyes flicked to my face briefly. He gave me a small smile. “And as happy as we are that you weren’t seriously injured, it brings up all sorts of uncomfortable questions.”

“Tell me about it.” I pushed the last of my pancakes away. Suddenly they didn’t seem as appealing.

“What questions, specifically?” Dad leaned closer, giving Hale his full attention.

“Why now? The Seal’s been open for weeks, why haven’t they tried to breech it before? Are they testing us?” Hale’s eyes shifted to mine again. “Or was it because Braedyn was there? Are they targeting her?”

I heard Dad shift behind me, and it didn’t take much imagination to picture the expression on his face. I kept my eyes riveted on Hale, though, hoping for more.

“Uh-oh.” Dad pushed back from the island and stood. “Look at the time, kiddo. You’re going to be late.”

“What?” I stared at Dad. It took a moment for what he was saying to register.

“For school. Not the way you want to start the last semester of your second-to-last year at Coronado Prep, is it?”

I stared at Dad. He gave me a neutral smile, and clapped a hand on my shoulder. I sighed, recognizing the look. No use arguing. He wasn’t going to budge.

 

 

Lucas slid into the passenger side of my car, looking as harried as I felt. He ran a hand through his dark hair, sweeping glossy, dark bangs back from his face.

“Another exercise in pointlessness,” he grumbled.

“That’s the winning attitude I love to see on the first day of school.” Gretchen reached through the window and tousled his hair affectionately.

Lucas grimaced. “Gretchen, seriously? I’m almost eighteen years old.”

Gretchen ignored him and gave me a smile. “Drive safe.”

“If you insist.” I tried to catch a glimpse of something in Gretchen’s face, but if she knew anything more than I’d managed to glean before Dad shooed me out of the kitchen, she wasn’t giving it away.

“Cute.” Gretchen stepped back from the car and waved. “Have fun at school, kids.”

I pulled into the street. In my rear view mirror, I saw Gretchen heading into my house, presumably to join the conversation with Hale and Murphy. Whatever they were keeping secret, I vowed not to pry. The last time I’d tried to work behind the Guard’s back, I’d ended up helping the incubus Seth open the Seal between our worlds. I couldn’t afford to make another mistake of that magnitude, not ever again.

Lucas was watching me closely from the passenger side. “Did Hale tell you what’s got Ian and Thane in such a tizzy?”

“Not really. Just that they’re wondering if I’m somehow connected to why the Lilitu finally decided to try crossing through the Seal.”

Lucas stared at me, unsettled. “Connected, like, how?”

“Well, that would be the question, wouldn’t it?”

We drove the rest of the way to school in contemplative silence. I knew it was a new semester, but we’d only been off for three weeks and it didn’t feel that much different.

At least, it didn’t feel any different until I parked and got out of my car.

As I straightened with my book bag, the first person I caught sight of was Cassie. Her eyes met mine and she froze. She and I hadn’t spoken since the night Seth had tricked me into helping him open the Seal. The night Royal had been attacked. The night we’d witnessed the angel Senoy’s death. A sick sense of dread balled heavy in my stomach as the images played through my mind again. I’d made many mistakes that day, but this was one I could fix. I wasn’t ready to lose Cassie as a friend.

While she stood there, frozen in place, Parker approached her. I felt my blood start to boil. I’d ordered him to stay away from Cassie before. I’d used
the call
on him, utilizing my Lilitu power in an effort to make him back off. Somehow, he’d resisted my powers. And now, he was bugging her again, in the very first moments of the semester. Cassie said something that made Parker step back. He looked devastated, but Cassie—turning away from him—didn’t see the expression on his face. Her eyes had flicked back toward me once more.

Feeling a surge of hope—maybe this meant she was finally ready to talk with me?—I took a step toward Cassie. She turned on her heel and practically dashed into the nearest building.

“She’s not talking about it.” Royal joined us at my car. I glanced at him. He was looking in the direction Cassie had just fled. “Whatever happened in the mission that night? She’s not talking about it.”

I stared at Royal. His usually twinkling eyes seemed somehow flat and tired. His skin was a strangely pale hue. He looked sick. He was sick, I suppose. But not in any way a doctor could help. Seth had attacked Royal, playing on Royal’s feelings for him. And when they’d shared their intimate encounter, Seth had pulled on Royal’s life energy, draining him as only a Lilitu could. Royal’s injuries ran deeper than skin and bone, blood and tissue. His were injuries of the spirit—injuries of the soul.

Given time, Royal could recover—provided he was never attacked by a Lilitu again. But in the meantime, while he healed, he was just a shadow of his former self.

I felt Lucas squeezing my hand and turned. He was watching me, worried. I gave him a half-smile, and turned back to Royal.

“But she’s talking to you?”

Royal shrugged with a wry smile. “If you can call it that. We have conversations, but neither of us says anything real.” Royal stopped talking then. He shoved his hands deep into his pockets and looked away at the mountains, purple and soaring in the distance.

BOOK: Sacrifice
7.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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