The Secret Life of a Witch 3, Page 4Jessica Sorensen
My lips form an O, but no words come out. He knew Ryleigh could dream travel? He knew her better than me.
“Eva, I’m so sorry we lied to you and hurt you,” he says, as if reading my mind. “But I’m just so fucking glad you’re okay. When the demon took you … I thought … Well …” Shaking his head, he leans forward and kisses me again.
Warmth and coldness simultaneously flow through my veins, scorching hot yet chillingly cold, which makes it impossible to pull away or kiss him back. Instead, I end up standing there with my heart pounding in my chest and my legs trembling.
“Hunter, stop that,” Opal’s voice slices through the moment. “You know you’re not supposed to do that while you’re on the job.”
Hunter gradually pulls back, wetting his lips with his tongue. “This is different,” he tells her without taking his eyes off me.
I feel like he’s searching for something inside me, but I don’t have a crazy, confused clue what. And adding to that confusion is the fact that he’s kissed me twice in the last minute. How can that be possible after all these years of me being in love with him, yet figuring he’d never reciprocate my feelings? Has he really wanted to kiss me all this time, but was just afraid? Or is this part of the lie, of staying close to me?
I instinctively start to decide on the latter, but then Max’s words echo through my mind.
He said I am naive about guys, like I am more desirable than I thought. He made it sound like it had more to do with my power than anything else …
Then it dawns on me.
Holy freak! I am a succubus!
Okay, so here’s a couple of things I know about succubi. They have the power to seduce men, and they have a lot of sex. None of that makes sense to me since I’ve never seduced anyone in my life. And up until when Max kissed me in the cage at Evan’s, virgin lips graced my face.
“What’s wrong?” Hunter asks worriedly. “You look flushed?”
“It’s nothing.” I shake my head, feeling my cheeks warm even more. “I’m just exhausted and overwhelmed.”
I hate lying, but what else am I supposed to say? I’m flushed because I might be a succubus. Yeah, that’s pretty much a walking contradiction.
By the look on his face, he doesn’t buy my bullshit. It’s irritating that he knows me so much better than I know him.
Opal approaches us with her wings still out, the corners fluttering against the draft blowing out from the portal. “Hunter, we need to get her out of here before the demon wakes up.”
“His name is Max,” I automatically say, then shrug when they both give me a strange look. “What? He told me it was.”
Puzzlement etches into Hunter’s features. “Eva, you know he was probably lying to you, right? Demon’s rarely tell you their real names.”
He has a point, but still …
“Is Hunter your real name?” I bite down on my tongue, regretting the words the instant I say them. I sound like a bitter Betty.
Hunter sighs sadly. “Yes, my name is really Hunter.” He leans forward, lowering his voice. “I know you don’t trust me right now, and I totally get it, but I promise you that not everything was a lie. The basic stuff I told you, and some of the more personal stuff, is completely true.”
My brain sets into a mental tug-of-war over my feelings for him. Do I hate him? Love him? Am I angry with him? Sad? Hurt? What do I feel!
When he notes my expression, he brushes the back of his hand across my cheekbone. “We’ll talk more about this later, okay? Right now, we need to get you home.” He offers me his hand.
Home. Do I even have a home?
I glance around the demon lair, remembering the story Max told me about the hybrid child. Then I think about how Hunter said that the society found me in a demon lair when I was a baby. The stories match up almost perfectly, which means that, at one point, I lived in a place like this. That also means I’m a freak of nature with a clusterfuck of creatures’ blood sloshing around in my body.
I grimace at the thought, but I do take Hunter’s hand and let him lead me toward the portal.
“I’ve never traveled through a portal before,” I admit as we near the swirling tunnel in the middle of the room.
He gives my hand a squeeze. “I know. I’ll get you through it. Just hold my hand, okay?”
I nod as Opal steps up beside me.
“What happens if my hand slips from yours?”
“Don’t let that happen,” Opal says worriedly. “You could get lost inside and never find your way out.”
I turn my head to look at her, but she won’t meet my eyes, her gaze trained on the portal. I wonder why. Does it have anything to do with feeling guilty about lying to me? Or is she just concentrating?
Hunter softly tugs on my hand, redirecting my attention to him. “Ready?”
I give an unsteady nod. “I guess so.”
Truthfully, I’m nervous. If anyone were to end up getting lost in a portal, it’d be me. Having no other choice, though, I clutch Hunter’s hand and step forward into the swirling colors and warm air, hoping upon hope that I’ll make it out.
Traveling through a portal is awful. And I mean, awful. Not only do I get motion sickness, but my limbs feel like they’re going to be ripped from my body. And don’t even get me started on the hand sweat. But that’s mostly from the fact that I’m clutching Hunter’s hand for dear life.
Please let me get out of here. Please, please, please …
My feet touch solid surface, and the wind rushing and pulling at my body suddenly stops. I don’t release Hunter’s hand right away, though, gripping it as I crack open an eyelid. Then I sigh in relief as I take in the four walls and the furniture that make up the living room of the house I’m renting.
“I’m home. Thank God.”
Hunter brushes his finger along the back of my hand. “You’re all right, right? No motion sickness or anything like that?”
“Not anymore.” I drape my free hand across my stomach. “While we were in there, though, I thought I was going to yack all over you.”
He chuckles, shaking his head as he stares at me in … well, shock.
“What?” I ask, feeling self-conscious. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Like what?” His lips twitch in amusement.
“Like I’ve surprised you. And that I’m amusing.”
“You’re always amusing,” he jokes, tugging on a strand of my hair. Then the humor in his eyes fizzles into seriousness. “It’s just nice to hear you sound like … well, you.”
“What else would I sound like? A crazy hybrid demon?” I ask, slightly offended.
He promptly shakes his head. “That’s not what I meant at all. I meant that you still sound like you even after I …” He pauses with confliction in his eyes.
“Admitted that you lied to me,” I finish for him.
Guilt flickers across his face, but he hastily erases it as Opal dives out of the portal and into the living room. She lands gracefully on her feet near the leather sofa, then dusts off her hands, folds up her wings, and shuts down the portal with a flick of her wrist.
“Mission accomplished.” She beams, but her smile falters as she glances at me. “Hey.” She offers me a tentative, unsure smile.
“Hey.” My tone conveys the buttload of hurt I’m feeling inside.
She must hear it, because she says, “Eva, I’m so sorry. There were so many times I wanted to tell you, but it went against protocol.”
“I understand.” Honestly, I don’t. Maybe I’m being crazy, but I’d like to think, if I were in their shoes, I’d have broken down a long time ago and confessed everything to them. Perhaps that’s because I care more about them.
“No, you don’t.” She reads straight through my lies. “But that’s okay. You have every right to be hurt. Just so you know, our friendship was never a lie. I’ve always thought of you as my real friend.”
/> “That’s what Hunter said, too.” My deflated tone causes them both to frown. “Sorry, but I can’t help it. You guys lied to me for years, and now I’m wondering if anything about our friendship is true. And it sort of makes sense. No one ever liked me, except you two, and I always wondered why that was.” I gesture at Hunter. “I mean, you were so popular, yet you acted like we were best friends.” His lips part, but I talk over him. “And Opal, you were so normal and sweet and powerful. It never made sense why you hung around me.”
“Eva …” Opal starts, tears pooling in her eyes.
“It’s fine,” I cut her off, backing away as I become emotionally overwhelmed. “I just need a minute, okay?”
Hunter winds around the sofa, following after me. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to wander off by yourself.”
Frustration crawls through me. “So, I’m never supposed to be alone now?”
Opal’s gaze flits to me then to Hunter. “Give her a minute, okay? The house has more charms and protection spells on it than the fey realm. Nothing’s getting in.”
“I’m not worried about something getting in.” Hunter stuffs his hands into his pockets, seeming fidgety. “I’m worried about her getting out.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” I promise. “I just need a breather. And I want to see Ryleigh … Is she in the basement?”
Hunter nods uneasily. “She is.”
“Okay, I’ll just go down there then.” I move to leave.
“Eva, wait,” Hunter calls out.
I pause in the doorway, glancing over my shoulder at him. “Yeah?”
He walks toward me, taking slow, measured steps, as if approaching a skittish cat. “Did the demon say why he took you? Or anything to you at all?”
I hesitate, not because I don’t plan on telling him, but because I’m afraid of what he think of me—and maybe do to me—when he finds out what I am. “He may have said a few things.”
“About what I am.”
“Can I ask?” He inches closer to me with uncertainty. “Will you tell me what he said?”
I swallow the lump crammed in my throat. I don’t want to tell him. I don’t want to tell anyone. I want to keep the truth locked inside me where it can never escape. That way, I don’t have to see the disgust in their eyes when they realize just how foul of a creature I am. Fake friends or not, I don’t think I can handle that right now.
“I’ll tell you later, after I make sure Ryleigh is still lingering around,” I say. Then I hurry out of the room before either of them can try to wriggle the truth out of me.
By the time I make it to the basement door, I’m on the verge of tears. Nothing makes sense anymore. Not myself. Not my family. Not Opal. Not Hunter.
What was with all the kisses he gave me? He’s never kissed me like that before, except for right before I was kidnapped. But that was more because we shared magic. Perhaps that’s why he’s kissed me twice since he rescued me. Perhaps the connection spell is still in place.
I continue to obsess over it, more than I probably should, as I trot down the stairway. Then, all thoughts leave my mind when I see Ryleigh’s body lying on the metal table, lifeless, her eyes open, her skin deathly pale.
Worry blasts through me as I rush up to the table. “Ryleigh, can you hear me?” I touch her cheek to find her skin is blistering cold. “Ryleigh, wake up and talk to me.”
Silence is my only answer.
“Ryleigh, please, you can’t go yet,” I beg. “I know I was angry at you, but I’m not ready to lose you.” Tears fall from my eyes and cascade down my cheeks as she remains motionless. “Please,” I whisper. “Please wake up.”
Again, I get nothing but silence. And the longer it goes on, the more I realize I may have to accept the truth.
I’m too late.
Ryleigh has completely died forever.
I don’t know how long I stand there, sobbing my eyes out, before Hunter eventually comes down to check on me. He takes one look at my hot mess of a face and wraps his arms around me.
“I’m so sorry, baby.” He hugs me, smoothing his hand up and down my back.
Tears stream from my eyes as I press my cheek against his chest. Everything hurts. My brain. My body. My soul. Ryleigh may have been my fake sister, but I still cared about her—still do. I don’t want to deal with the pain right now. Can’t. I’ve felt too much pain in the last few days, and I feel like I will fall apart at any moment.
“Baby?” I ask in an attempt to distract myself from the pain. “Since when do you call me baby?”
“Did I?” His tone is a mixture of perplexity and intrigue.
I bob my head up and down, clutching the bottom of his shirt, and he runs his fingers up and down my spine.
“I didn’t realize I did.”
“It’s weird you did.” I suck an uneven breath, fighting back the tears that want to pour out. “That’s what Ryleigh’s boyfriend used to call her all the time.”
Ryleigh. I choke on the name.
My heart is breaking in half.
“Hmmm …” is all Hunter says, pressing me closer to him.
“You’re acting weird,” I whisper. “Is it …? Is it because we shared magic?”
“Maybe.” He sounds completely doubtful.
“What else could it be?”
Instead of answering, he hugs me closer until our chest are pressed so tightly together I can feel his heart hammering. I wonder why. I wonder a lot of things. Instead of asking questions, though, I end up sobbing my heart out, and Hunter holds me tightly against his chest the entire time, rocking me back and forth while he traces a path up and down my spine with his fingers. It almost makes me forget he isn’t my real friend.
“How about we get you upstairs to bed?” Hunter says after I’ve cried for what feels like forever, yet somehow not long enough. “I’m sure you’re exhausted.”
“Yeah, I am.” I dry my eyes with the back of my hand then step out of his arms. “Just give me a second, okay?”
I turn toward Ryleigh’s body. “I’m so sorry I couldn’t save you. I wanted to so badly, but I … I failed you.” Tears fall from my eyes and land on her cheeks as I whisper, “I’ll miss you.” I give myself one last moment before I take a deep breath and turn away.
I meant what I said, too. Ryleigh may not have been my real sister, and I may have been angry at her for lying to me, but I’ll miss her with all my heart and will always feel guilty for not saving her.
“You know it’s not your fault, right?” Hunter says to me as we enter my bedroom. “Ryleigh’s death, I mean.”
I don’t say anything as I cross my room and open the top drawer of my dresser to get some pajamas out. It feels so strange, looking for pajamas. So ordinary. So normal.
“Eva, talk to me.”
When I remain quiet, Hunter sighs.
The floorboards creak beneath his weight as he makes his way toward me. I don’t turn around, busying myself with finding clothes. Finding clothes is easy, and easy is what I need right now. However, I can’t find any damn pajamas! Anywhere! So, I just start tossing clothes on the floor.
“Take a deep breath.” Hunter sets his hands on my shoulders.
“I can’t.” I’m afraid if I do, I’ll start gasping for air. And if I start gasping for air, I may never breathe again.
After giving my shoulders a brief massage, he steers me away from the dresser. When we reach the foot of my unmade bed, he twists me around to face him then gently pushes me down on the bed. Then, without saying a word, he returns to my dresser, opens the middle drawer, and digs out a pair of plaid pajama shorts and a tank top.
“You made that look so easy,” I tell him as he hands me my pajamas.
“You’re upset.” He crouches down in front of me. “And that’s okay. You’ve been through a lot.” He sweeps my hair off my shoulder. “But you need to know that w
hat happened to Ryleigh isn’t your fault.”
“I know.” And I kind of do. Still, I feel like I failed her. “I think I might know whose fault it is.”
His brows scrunch. “You mean, you know who hit her with the petrifying curse?”
“I’m not positive, but I think it could’ve been Max.”
“The demon who kidnapped you?”
I nod. “Petrifying curses are used so rarely, yet he used it once on me and tried to use it on you. Apparently, it’s his go-to curse.”
He’s quiet for a lengthy amount of time. “I don’t want to upset you more, but I think that assumption might be a long shot.”
“I know that. But I want to look into it. And if he did, he needs to pay.”
He places his hands on my thighs. “I don’t want you going near that demon, or any demon, for that matter. Not when almost every demon out there is hunting you.”
“They’ve always been hunting me, haven’t they?” I ask. “What’s so different now?”
“They were never hunting you before. They were just trying to find a way to get close to you and feed off your powers without killing themselves. Now they’re literally coming after you. They’ve been looming around the house since that demon tried to feed off you. The only reason they haven’t come inside is because we had the most powerful faeries and witches basically drown the house in charms and protection spells.”
A cold chill runs down my spine. “What’s changed?”
“I’m not sure. My bet is that they’ve figured out a way to feed off you without dying.” He cups my cheek, looking me dead in the eye. “You can’t leave this house, okay? Promise me you won’t.”
My expression plummets. “You want me to stay in here forever?”
He swiftly shakes his head, sending wisps of his blond hair into his eyes. “Just until we can find another place for you to stay—a safe place.”