Ember x, p.37
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       Ember X, p.37

         Part #1 of Death Collectors series by Jessica Sorensen
Page 37


  “It is possible, all you have to do is say yes. ” Keeping his body sealed to mine, he grabs my arms and pins them above my head, rendering me helpless. When he looks me in the eyes again, something’s different. I feel weightless, free, like I can finally breathe. “Give me permission. ” His lips touch my cheek, then the corner of my mouth as his free hand slips down the front of my shirt and his knee slides up between my legs. “Please, give me permission. ”

  My eyes shut and my lips part open as I feel my willpower crumble to dust. I realize it might be easier to give in. “You have permission to do what you—”

  “Ember, don’t. ” Asher’s voice jerks me back to earth—to life—and my eyelids shoot open. “Don’t promise him anything. ”

  I can’t see him, but the sound of his voice brings me comfort from the madness.

  A grin spans Cameron’s face. “Asher, my dear friend, you’re just in time for the feast. ”

  My eyes widen. “You guys know each other?”

  “Get away from her,” Asher demands and I can hear his footsteps nearing. “You have no right to be touching her like that. ”

  “And neither do you. ” Cameron looks like he’s enjoying himself, smoking as he watches my excited reaction to the sound of Asher’s voice.

  I need to see him—need to know he really exists. I force my gaze sideways and spot Asher storming across the cemetery ground with his hands clenched into fists. His face is bruised, his knuckles are scraped raw, and the scar beneath his eyebrow ring is more defined and dominant.

  “What’s… what’s. ” My lips hitch shut.

  “Get off of her. ” He’s so close, but still so far away. “Or I swear to God I’ll—”

  Bending his knees, Cameron leaps off me, leaving me paralyzed on the ground. He turns his back on me and marches across the cemetery lawn, meeting Asher in the middle of the tombstones. “Or you’ll what?”

  “You’ve broken rules,” Asher growls, balling his fists. “A lot of them. ”

  Wrath thunders in both their eyes as they charge for each other, their boots scrapping at the dirt. The sky rumbles and the ground quakes as they reach one another. Like mist rising from a lake, a black cloak forms around Cameron and swallows him up as he swishes it around his body. Asher lets out a derailing screech, springing on his toes, pushing into the air as wings trimmed with black feathers snap out from his back, shredding his shirt into pieces. They slam into one another and the collision of their bodies deafens the night.

  Suddenly, my legs and arms return to my control and I jump to my feet as a tornado of feathers and mist swarm the cemetery. Cameron and Asher move like lightning, moving so swiftly I can barely detect them.

  An Angel and a Grim Reaper? An Angel and a Grim Reaper?

  “Ember!” Raven’s voice draws me back to my other problem.

  She’s back in the shadows of the cemetery, curled up next to the Angel statue, clutching her head. I run across the grass toward her, waving for her to run the other way. “Raven, we have to get out of here—” I fall face-first into an open grave and land hard. Cold skin touches mine and my insides quiver as I push up and blink down at Mackenzie Baker. Her blonde hair is covered in dirt and red lines track her neck and wrists. It hits me like a shove off a cliff as my mind races back to Cameron’s house, the bands on her neck and wrists.

  “Oh my God,” I breathe. “You were dead the whole time… I can see the dead. ”

  Dirt sprinkles down on me and I flip over to my back. Raven leans over the shallow hole, with blood in her hair, blankness in her eyes, and a handful of dirt in her hand.

  “I love you, Em, I really do,” she says, sprinkling more dirt down on me. “But you can’t save me anymore. I have to give in. ”

  Shielding my eyes, I struggle to my feet and press my fingertips into the dirt.

  “Please don’t make this harder than it already is, Em. ” Raven disappears for a moment and when she returns, she has a shovel in her hand. “If you would have just given up back at the fire, I wouldn’t have to do this to you. You could have saved me from this burden. ” She scoops up another shovel full of dirt and drops it down on my head. “But now you’re going to be buried alive, and remain there until you break. ”

  “Raven. ” I hurdle onto the side of the grave, burrowing my boots into the moist dirt. “Think about what you’re doing for just a second. You don’t want to do this. ”

  She plucks out a twig from her hair and drops it down into the hole, watching it fall all the way to the bottom. “Of course I don’t. What I want is a happy life, with a mother who isn’t crazy and a friend who can be near people. What I want is to go back in time and never leave that party with Laden, so I could erase what it felt like when he had me pinned down to the ground… erase the feeling of his filthy hands on me…” she trails off, staring up at the sky.

  Extending my arm as far as it will go, I reach for the edge of the hole, but my feet slip out from under me and I collapse back onto Mackenzie’s body. Forcing myself not to lose it, I push off of her and stand back against the wall. I clumsily claw my way upward and finally, I heave myself over the lip and roll onto my back on the grass.

  Raven bounds on top of me, kneeing me in the gut, and she pins my arms down to the side. I bring up my knees and vault her off by shoving my feet into her stomach. She slams against the Angel statue, her head hitting the stone hard, and she lets out a groan. “What’s happening to me?”

  “Nothing. Just stay here, okay?” I race through the headstones toward the Reaper and the Angel of Death still battling each other in the middle of the grass.

  Cameron has Asher restrained on the grass, kneeling on him, and his fingers are wrapped around his throat. “Tell me, what’s it been like being alone all this time? Apparently, pretty bad for you to be breaking the rules. ” He presses his fingers tighter around Asher, who slides his hands up Cameron’s arms, desperate to escape.

  There are feathers all over the grass and pieces of black fabric, along with broken head stones and tipped over trees. Pain sets in at what these two can do and how much I need to stop it.

  I stop short of them, summon a deep breath, and squeeze my eyes shut. “I want you to go away, Cameron. ” It hurts to say it, like a vine of thorns entwining in my veins.

  Silence settles around me and I crack open my eyelids. Cameron is still on top of Asher, but his hand is hanging lifelessly at his side. “Don’t say things you don’t mean, Ember Rose,” he advises. “Think about the last time you wished me away. ”

  “I want you gone,” I demand in a steady voice, taking a step toward. “I don’t want death haunting me anymore. ”

  “You can’t get rid of death, princess,” he says sorrowfully, letting go of Asher completely. “Death is endless. ”

  It frightens me how much his words match mine. “Then I guess I will outrun it for as long as I can. ”

  Cameron climbs off Asher and dusts the dirt and grass off his hands, before lowering the hood of his cloak, so I’m looking directly at him, not the Reaper. “You know I only did it to bring you to me. I only push so you’ll give in to me, not to the others. ”

  My heart thumps in my chest as he stops in front of me and angles my chin up to look him in the eye. His blonde hair is pale in the moonlight and sadness haunts his eyes, like the first time I saw him.

  “Why were you really here that night?” I ask, with a shiver. “When I saw you digging up the grave?”

  His fingers twitch at his side, longing to touch me. “I already told you, looking for a family jewel. ” He touches the tip of his finger to the hollow of my neck. “Turns out you had it. ”

  “My grandma’s necklace…” I trail off, confused. “Why do you want it?”

  He smiles miserably. “And I’m sorry I took it, but I had to. Besides, it wasn’t yours to have in the first place. It belongs to my family. ”

  “Then why did my grandma have it?”

se she stole it from us. ”

  My eyes broaden. “Cameron, tell me—”

  He shushes me by putting his finger across my lips. “I don’t want to talk about that right now. I want to talk about you and me. ”

  “There is no you and. . . ” My eyes stray to Asher, lying in the grass, encompassed by black feathers. “Did you kill him?”

  “He can’t die, princess. ” Cameron’s mouth sinks to a sulking frown. “Unfortunately. ”

  “Why did you kill Mackenzie? And Laden. And I’m guessing Farrah is probably on the list, too. ” My legs beg me to run, but my desire to know the truth overpowers them.

  “I didn’t kill Laden. Asher did,” he says. “And Mackenzie and Farrah died from the same human’s hand, not mine. And if you listened closely to her story, you probably could figure out the culprit. ”

  “Her dad?”

  He shrugs. “That’s for you to figure out, if you want to. I just collect the souls. And I’ll admit, I didn’t try to stop Mackenzie’s death. I wanted her to suffer for all the times she was rude to you. ”

  His misconstrued logic is a puzzle to me. “That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. ”

  “I know you don’t understand. ” He cups my cheek, releasing both ecstasy and sheer terror through me. “But that day when I saw you in the cemetery, I knew I had to have you and that I’d hurt anyone that ever caused you pain. ”

  “Your little friends,” I point over my shoulder at the forest, “hurt me. Do you know about that?”

  “I can’t help that without breaking more rules. But it can all be over if you want it to be. All you have to do is agree to be with me—want to be with me. And then I’m allowed to help you. ”

  “And what? Become a Grim Reaper and start collecting souls and killing people?”

  “There’s more to it than that,” he says, his eyes smoldering. “More to you than what you realize and you’re in for a rough and painful life until you realize that. But it can all be over if you’ll just give in to your Reaper blood. ”

  I compress my hands into fists, and will myself to deny his request, even though a small part of me wants it. “I’m telling you to leave, just like I did when I was four. ”

  His face falls and his eyes flash with anger. Lightning zaps across the sky, but I refuse to look away. “Is that what you really want, Ember?”

  I swallow the refusal building in my throat and make myself want it. “That’s what I want. ”

  He bites down on his lip so hard blood drips down his chin, and then he cups the back of my head and pulls me in for a rough, almost violent kiss as he shoves me against his body. I taste the blood on his lips, the foul darkness of death, but a flicker of something substantial is hidden deep inside him, like a seed in the center of an apple.

  He releases me, breathing fervently, running his fingers down my hip and across my stomach, before pulling away. “I’ll pay for that one forever. ” He backs toward the gates, his eyes fastened on me. “They’ll come for you—the rest of the Reapers. They won’t stop until they get you to crack. ”