Cinder x, p.27
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       Cinder X, p.27

         Part #2 of Death Collectors series by Jessica Sorensen
 
Page 27

 

  A pucker forms at his brow as he reads the words on the screen again. “I think he sounds sketchy. ”

  I return my attention to the screen, hating that he might be right. “How do you figure?”

  Asher’s shoulders lift and fall as he shrugs. “Because it’s too formal. ‘Discuss my research about Angels of Death and the Grim Reapers who walk amongst us’. And he offers to meet you way too easily. ”

  “Yeah, I was expecting it to be a little harder, but at the same time, I want to know what he knows. ” I sigh and read the very short message over again, muttering, “I wonder where the hell he even lives. ”

  Asher points at the phone number down at the bottom of the screen. “Well, that’s a New York City area code,” he says.

  “So he’s in New York City?” Where Asher thinks his mother is? Is it a coincidence? I’m not sure, but for some reason I doubt it.

  Asher gives a one-shouldered shrug. “That’s at least where he registered the phone to, but it doesn’t mean he lives there. ” He pauses and then reaches for the computer on my lap. “Let me message him back and find out where he lives and we’ll go from there. ” I hand him my laptop. “Then we’ll talk to my uncle and see what he knows—maybe we won’t even have to talk to him. ”

  For some reason, I don’t think it’s going to be that easy, especially when Asher’s uncle took the book in the first place and erased it. He might have just been protecting it, but at the same time, if I’ve learned anything, it’s never trust anyone.

  And I know it’s a good thing to have August as backup, just in case all hell breaks loose.

  Chapter 14

  After Asher finishes the email to August, I shut the laptop and then give him my phone so he can call his uncle and see if he’s back from Jackson so we can go over there and talk. While he makes the call, I slip on my jacket, noting how sore my back has become. With each movement of my arms, my muscles ache in protest and I wonder just how bad the bruises are getting.

  Asher sits on my bed, watching me lean over to tie one of my boots up with the phone pressed to his ear. “You’re so beautiful,” he says with a strange look on his face, distracting me from the pain. “I’d love to paint you sometime. ”

  I stand up straight, and tuck my hair behind my ear, feeling a little awkward at his intimate words. “Maybe when I’m not being stalked by the dead. ” I head over to the trunk to get the book.

  That gets him to smile. “Just think about it. I promise it won’t be a big deal. ” His eyes devour me and make my skin flame hotter as I open the lid and get the book out. “You can even keep your clothes on. ”

  I open my mouth to say something witty back, but he holds up a finger, silencing me as he speaks into the phone. “Hey, Uncle Elliot. It’s Asher. ” He pauses, listening to his uncle on the other end, the amusement in his expression diminishing the more time goes by. I close up the trunk then lean against the wall, hugging the book against my chest as Asher says, “Yeah, I figured you’d heard by now. Sorry I didn’t tell you on the phone last night I was just a little embarrassed they… stripped my wings. ” He glances over his shoulders at his back. Oddly, my own shoulders lurch forward as a sharp pain shoots through my back, like I’m the one who just turned around and looked at it. His eyes settle on me the longer the conversation goes on. “Actually, I’m at Ember’s right now… why?” He grows quiet again as I reach around and rub my tender back muscles, my fingers nowhere as soothing as Asher’s touch. “Yeah, but why can’t we leave?”

  The longer the conversation goes on, the more uneasy he gets, and the more my back hurts. Finally, I can’t take it anymore and I slide my hand up the back of my shirt, feeling around for feathers, but there is just the smoothness of my flesh. And the pain, it’s becoming unbearable, like my skin is melting off my body like wax.

  I continue to keep my hand on my back while Asher chats on the phone, giving me random confused looks. Then the confusion erases as his gaze darts to the book in my arms with a concerned look on his face. “I’m not sure… I’ll have to ask Ember if she has it and she just left the house for a little bit to go look for her mother. ”

  I give him a funny look, which he returns with a warning glance, pressing for me to keep quiet. I recline against the dresser, watching him sink further into doubt. By the time he hangs up the phone, he looks like he’s about ready to flip out.

  He leaps to his feet and takes the book from my hands. “We have to go now,” he says, tucking my phone into the back pocket of his jeans before grabbing my hand.

  “What’s wrong?” I ask as he practically drags me into the hall as he takes swift, even strides. With every step my back muscles seem to be getting tighter. “Asher, what’s going on?”

  He keeps walking, grasping onto my hand. “That wasn’t my uncle on the phone,” he says as we reach the stairs.

  “Then who was it?” I ask as I trot down the stairs, working to stand up straight despite the overpowering urge to slant forward and fall to my knees.

  “Well, it was him,” he corrects. “But he’s possessed by the Anamotti and I could hear someone in the background that sounded an awful lot like Alton. ”

  “Alton’s there with him?” Caught off guard, I almost trip down the stairs, but brace myself by grabbing onto the banister for support. “How can that be possible? And how can he be possessed when he is… was an Angel? Or is that why he can?”

  Asher glances over his shoulder at me and I can see the worry he’s carrying and the distress. “Being banished makes us susceptible to possession. ”

  My guard suddenly goes up. Not only could Asher’s uncle be possessed but Asher could be as well.

  “I’m me,” he says like he reads my mind. “I promise. And if they try to get to me like that, I’ll end myself. ”

  My eyes widen. “Asher, don’t talk—”

  He covers my mouth with his hand. “I said I’ll do whatever it takes to protect you and I meant it. ”

  I want to argue with him, but I can tell by the look on his face that he’s made up his mind. “So now what do we do?

  He stops in the center of the stairway, staring up at the window just above the door where lightning snaps across the sky and thunder booms. “We keep the book from him, until we can figure out what’s going on and out what’s on these pages… ” he trails off. “God, I could hear it in my uncle’s voice the moment he started talking. He sounded so. . . ” He stops abruptly when we arrive at the bottom of the stairway and I bump into him. He whirls around and steadies me by the shoulders with a gracefulness that reminds me that, even though he isn’t an Angel of Death at the moment, he’s still not human. Letting go of my hand to hold up the book, he says, “He wanted this. In fact, he sounded like Gollum from Lord of the Rings, only instead of wanting the ring, he wants the book. ” Asher balances it in his arms, opens it up and then flips through the blank pages.

  We both stare at the pages for a moment as if the words will somehow miraculously appear on them. All the while, the clock in the background ticks while thunder booms.

  “Dammit, we need to get my uncle’s blood to see what the hell he was trying to hide. ” Sighing, Asher gives up and shuts the book while I start itching at my back, my skin is starting to coat with sweat, my nails scratching at the top layer of skin. “We need a place to hide out for a while until we can figure out a plan,” Asher says, putting the book under his arm. “Somewhere where the Anamotti will have a hard time finding us. ”

  “How about we hit the road and go to New York?” I ask, grabbing the car keys from the end table. “It would help keep the Anamotti away and we could talk to August. He might be able to tell us how to free the innocent souls that are possessed, and then we could put a stop to the madness in the town and the death waiting for everyone if Alton goes through with what I saw happen in the death omen. ”

  “Hitting the road isn’t a bad idea. ” His head tips down as he looks at the book again, strands o
f his dark hair falling into his eyes. “But I’m still not sure we can trust this August guy. ”

  “Well, it doesn’t hurt to at least look into it. ”

  He sighs, giving in. “All right, grab some stuff and we’ll hit the road if he gets back to us. Then we can head out there after I try to track down some more information on him. ”

  I nod, glad he’s giving in. Then I rush back to my room and pack my bags while Asher waits on the stairway, watching the front door like he’s afraid someone’s going to barge in. I make sure to pack my lap top and leave a vague note to my mom just in case she returns and cares that I’m gone.

  By the time I go back to Asher, he looks so worried that his skin has gotten noticeably paler. His eyes meet mine as I walk down the stairs with the bag slung over my shoulder and when I reach the bottom, he grabs my hand and we hurry to the door.

  Something occurs to me as Asher opens the front door. “Asher, how can you be helping me right now when you couldn’t in the past? Is it because you’re banished?”

  Wind gusts through my hair and a drizzle of rain escapes into the foyer as the door swings open. “No, even though I’m partially free from my Angel blood, I still could get in a lot of trouble for helping you right now,” he says, not upset, but sort of relieved.

  I tuck my hair behind my ear to keep it from blowing in my face. “Then why are you?”

  He doesn’t answer right away. Instead he leads me outside and into the rain bucketing down from the angry sky. Asher keeps walking while holding onto me, but then he stops just short of the grass to spin around to face me. “Because I’m saying fuck the rules,” he says with passion emitting with every syllable. “I don’t give a shit anymore. About any of this. ” He swings his arm around, gesturing at the land. “It’s not fair that you were created to bare our sins and I’m not going to let you suffer anymore, regardless of what happens to me. ” He cups my cheeks in his hand and I swear to god I can hear his heart hammering in his chest. “All I want is you safe. I should have been keeping you safe this entire time. ” Rain drenches his hair, beads his skin, soaks his clothes and makes them cling to his body.

  My stomach flutters at the sight of him and his powerful words. Emotions surface inside me that are potent, intoxicating. I’ve never felt anything like them before and it makes it too complex to control—difficult to keep inside— it’s hard not to just let them pour out of me like the rain. I don’t think it’s love, but I wonder where my emotions for Asher are going. If at the end of this, I will be in love with him, and if at the conclusion of all of this, I’ll have to kill him to save humanity and their souls.

  “All right, let’s hit the road then,” I call out over the thunder and my shaky voice reveals that I’m feeling something powerful. “At least until we can figure out how to save the town. ”