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Tangled web venin assass.., p.5
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       Tangled Web (Venin Assassin Book 2), p.5

           Gena D. Lutz
 
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  “God woman, I’ve missed those lips.”

  I stared through the windshield where the headlights shined bright and made out a tall figure behind the steering wheel and two more average-sized people in the backseat. The driver pulled the car in next to Jake’s truck and killed the engine.

  With my stomach in knots, I turned to face Jake. “It won’t be that easy.”

  A long pause followed my statement until the slamming of a car door sliced through the silence.

  The driver exited the car and walked by the witch with a curious pull to his features. She hissed at him and raked him with a sneer.

  “Well, shit, Jake. What happened here?” he asked as he approached.

  Jake leaned over and whispered in my ear. “Stay after and talk to me.”

  At that moment, after that kiss, I must’ve felt pretty weak because I found myself betraying my own good sense and saying, “I’ll stay for a little while.”

  I watched his face light up before he turned to greet his friend, and I couldn’t help but notice that he’d never looked more handsome.

  “Hi, Rhys,” Jake said. “I see you’ve met our wicked witch.”

  Rhys looked like a greaser from the sixties. His undeterminable color of hair was slicked back with a slight wave in the front. His warm gray eyes set evenly on either side of a perky but strong nose. He had a handsome, clean-shaven face, almost too handsome, and could easily be considered a pretty boy.

  Rhys smiled at Jake, then swung his gaze over to the witch.

  “Is she the one who kidnapped the little girl?”

  Jake nodded.

  “Is the kid safe?”

  “She’s asleep in the trailer.”

  Rhys breathed a sigh of relief. “If you can bring me to her, that’d be great.”

  “Not so fast,” I interrupted.

  Rhys’s smile faded as his eyes shifted to me. “Have we met?”

  “No, we haven’t. I’m Cassis. And if it’s all the same to you, I think it would be best if Unicorn’s parents were the first thing she sees when she wakes up.”

  Jake frowned. “Unicorn?”

  I huffed loudly and narrowed my eyes on him. “I’m talking about the kid.” My attitude was fully intentional.

  Rhys eyed me curiously. “Are you the one who found her?”

  I nodded.

  Rhys pulled out a wad of cash from his pocket and handed me several hundred-dollar bills.

  “Well, then this reward money belongs to you.”

  I was never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, so I took it and stuffed it in my cleavage.

  “I’ll go get the kid if you wanna go over there and tell her parents she’s safe.”

  He smiled at me. “I can do that. I’ll clean up this mess, too.” Then he asked Jake, “Want to lend a hand?”

  “This is my first time dealing with a witch,” Jake began. “I’ll go ahead and let you take the reins on this one.”

  “Can do.”

  Rhys slipped a black glove off his left hand and strolled over to the witch. When he stopped in front of her, he stuffed the single glove inside the pocket of his leather jacket.

  The witch sniffed the air and instantly recoiled. “Get away from me!”

  He didn’t move away. Instead, he grabbed her forearm, and light instantly blasted from his grip. The witch threw her head back in a silent scream.

  Then the wind veered in my direction, and I could smell what she smelled: the organic tang of saffron—faeblood specific.

  Gooseflesh crawled up my back until it reached my newly-minted mark where it twinged sharply.

  “Is he a null?” My voice shook.

  Jake paused as though he were choosing his words carefully.

  “Sort of.”

  I started over to Rhys, but a strong hand on my shoulder stopped me short.

  “Let him do his thing.”

  My heart lodged in my throat. I cleared it and muttered, “But he’ll kill her.”

  He took my hand in his and turned me around so that we were face to face. Our eyes met, and he smiled as he explained gently. “Rhys doesn’t kill when he syphons. He stops just short of it.”

  I frowned. “I’ve never heard of a null with enough control over his power to do that.”

  He nodded in the direction of his buddy. “I assure you, he does.”

  “What about the humans? They’ll see everything.”

  “He’ll take care of that, too.”

  I pulled my hands free and folded my arms.

  “How?”

  “Do you trust me?”

  “No.”

  I didn’t trust him one bit, not after the way he treated me. He had to earn that back, and it wasn’t going to be easy.

  Pain flashed across his features, then quickly vanished.

  “I suppose I deserve that.”

  I nodded. “That and more…”

  Boot falls crunched the gravel next to us.

  “What’s got you two all worked up?”

  My eyes closed, and I bit back a sigh. While I’d been busy arguing with Jake, Rhys had already finished up with the witch. I looked over at her. She seemed a little worse for the wear, but she was alive.

  “It’s just a little lover’s quarrel,” Jake said with a wink at Rhys.

  I wanted to argue, but what would that accomplish? Instead, I left to grab Unicorn and felt Jake’s hot, heavy stare on me the entire walk over to the trailer.

  Chapter Eight

  It took a second for me to gain my bearings as I watched Rhys’s car pull away with Unicorn and her parents inside of it. I’d given the reward money back. It hadn’t seemed right to profit off saving the kid. Maybe if it had been an adult or another brat, I’d have kept it. But it was Unicorn, and that made it feel different somehow. She was something special.

  It was almost midnight by the time we made it back to Jake’s trailer. The place was the same as before our break up: sparsely furnished and bursting with his masculine scent. The smell of coffee was the only other competing aroma. I gazed to the right as I entered and saw that his guitar case was still leaning against the coat closet. For some reason, it never seemed to make its way inside.

  Unlike his personal space and belongings, I wasn’t the same. My heart was still soft to Jake, and Lord knew, so was my libido; however, everything logical about me had hardened like stone.

  Jake looked at me with nervous anticipation. “Should we stand or sit?”

  My eyes swung to the table, the last conversation we had there still fresh in mind. To him it may have been three days since the incident, but it had only been hours for me. My heart constricted.

  “I’ll stand.”

  Jake lingered by the kitchen counter, watching me with a sadness I almost regretted being a part of. And maybe because of that, I decided to loosen the screws on the vice grip squeezing his balls.

  “On second thought, I’ll sit.” And I did sit in the same spot at the table, in the same exact chair—the one with the rip in the red vinyl seat cushion—that I was in when he broke my heart, and the screws tightened back up a fraction.

  He stepped forward into a spill of moonlight, his almond eyes shone almost amber in the beam, and in his hand, he held an empty glass pot. “Coffee?”

  I nodded and settled myself into the chair.

  Opening the cabinet, he pulled down two mugs, set them next to the machine, then walked over to the table and sat down across from me. “I guess I should bite the bullet and jump right in with an apology.”

  I felt the weight of his gaze as he waited for me to say something.

  “That’s a good place to start.”

  “I’m sorry, Cassis, I really am. The moment you ran out of here the other day, all I wanted to do was chase after you.”

  “So, why didn’t you?” I snapped, my chin jutting up.

  “I didn’t trust my instincts or my feelings for you.”

  “What’s that supposed to mean?”

  His finger pl
ayed across the table’s chipped Formica.

  “I never told you this…”

  I laced my fingers together on the table and leaned in. “Go on.”

  Jake looked at me, his eyes mournful but still stern. “It would seem that sometime during our ordeal in finding Finley, my beast bonded with you as his mate.”

  I shot out of my seat. “You’re a goddamn jackass!”

  My blood flowed hot in my veins. My desperately romantic heart beat like a jackhammer against the inside of my chest. A part of me wanted to jump over the table and beat the living crap out of Jake for adding yet another lightning bolt to the current shit storm my life had become. Then there was the part of me that was naïve, tender, and always hoped to hear a man say those words—or at least something close to them. Wait a minute. It wasn’t as though he was acting happy about the bonding. That realization had me snapping again.

  “You jerk!”

  “Excuse me?” he said, standing. “I apologize to you, tell you that we’re practically soulmates, and I get bitched out?”

  I cocked my head slowly and gave him a cutting glare. “You expect me to take that half-assed excuse for an apology seriously? So far, I’ll I’ve heard are excuses, buddy!”

  “I’m an alpha; apologies don’t come easy for me.”

  “Hah! Another excuse!”

  This was getting ridiculous. So what if his smile melted my panties clean off? I’d had enough! I turned away from his baffled stare and stormed toward the door. But before I could leave, there came a pounding from the other side.

  I knew who it was instantly, and I must say… Edge had perfect timing.

  “My ride is here. Maybe I’ll see you around town, big-macho-alpha man.”

  Bristling, he walked toward me, just as I grabbed the door knob to leave. I jabbed a finger in his direction. Any chance of me sticking around to hear him out was gone.

  “Just. No,” I whispered.

  He stopped walking and nodded slowly. “Okay.”

  Five minutes later, I was sitting in the passenger seat of Edge’s Jeep Cherokee. I had my arms folded across my chest tight, my gut lodged in my throat. It was humiliating to admit it, especially to myself, that Jake still had a crazy effect over me.

  “Will you stop worrying about that mutt?” Edge said, interrupting my self-loathing. “There’s something I need to tell you.”

  “Let me guess. Your inner beast has bonded with me.”

  He gave me an amused look.

  And then I realized how true a statement that was.

  I dropped my arms and let my head fall against the headrest. “Oh yeah, that kind of did happen, didn’t it?”

  I stared out the window and then let my eyes rest on him. He looked stressed out, tired. Not at all like the supernatural powerhouse that he was. That fact made me nervous. What in the world could scare Edge?

  “So, what’s wrong?”

  “It’s Rider. He’s not doing too good.”

  My brows pulled together. “What do you mean?”

  Edge met my gaze, and the agony there stabbed me. “He’s fading fast. He won’t last through the night.”

  “Because I haven’t accepted the bond?”

  He nodded.

  I couldn’t breathe as his words echoed in my mind. Rider was going to die because I’d refused to make up my mind. And to make things even more deplorable, I still had my doubts. Man, what kind of person did that make me? My money was on the selfish sort.

  “I’m sorry.”

  We drove in silence for a minute, then Edge stared over at me.

  “Given the fact that you’re not totally on board with accepting us, I’d like to propose a proposition. If you come home with me now and save Rider, the Fang and Claw will do our best to leave you be.”

  I stared up at him. “You mean I won’t find myself running into one of you every time I turn around anymore?”

  He nodded.

  Did I trust him? Well, at this point, did it matter? I wasn’t about to let Rider fade, even if it came at the cost of not being able to enter Fairy to find out the truth about my father.

  I nodded once. “You have yourself a deal.”

  “Thank you,” he said, sounding relieved. “You won’t regret this.”

  We turned onto the street that would eventually lead us straight to the queen’s mansion. I watched with tensed shoulders the foreboding and familiar landmarks and street signs that rolled by outside my window. It wasn’t just the commitment I was about to make that had me nervous. It was returning to a place where only nightmares had ever greeted me.

  As a way to take my mind off things, I asked, “Do you have a cell phone I can use? I lost mine in Fairy.”

  He smiled, and his eyes flashed alive. Like sparkling champagne freshly poured over rich caramel. “It’s in the console.”

  I reached over and grabbed the phone, quickly dialing one of two phone numbers I knew by heart.

  “Oh man, Sis! You better start talking. It’s been three days. Three days? Why the hell has it taken you so long to contact me?”

  I cringed. How was I supposed to know that there was a time-warp effect when visiting Fairyland? And now that I thought about it, Keri probably wasn’t the only person freaking out about my disappearing act. Charlie and Rue had to be half out of their minds.

  “A lot has happened.”

  I felt the speed of the car increase. Looking up, I caught a glimpse of the mansion up ahead.

  “No shit, a lot has happened! Jake told me you made a pack of hellhounds your bitch.”

  Edge must’ve heard what Keri said because he grumbled low, but deep, while giving me the side-eye. I shrugged it off and continued.

  “You talked to Jake?”

  “Damn it, Sis, who fuckin cares if I talked to that asshole? You need to come home.”

  I shook my head and let out a long breath. I wasn’t exactly in a position to do anything right now, other than save Rider.

  “I can’t. There’s something important I need to do.”

  “Screw that,” Keri spat. “Nothing is more important than making sure you’re safe.” Her tone softened. “We have each other’s back.”

  I had too many secrets, and all of them were tying my gut into knots. It was about time I came clean to Keri about everything. My fingers drummed the back of the phone, and I plucked at a loose thread in my skirt.

  “I’m about to take a sacred oath that will irrevocably bond me to a pack of hellhounds for, pretty much, ever… and, Jake’s wolf thinks I’m his mate.”

  There, I let out a hard breath. Info-dump initiated.

  Edge’s unblinking eyes focused on me. He looked as though he were saying thank you without having to utter a word.

  I couldn’t stop the little shiver that ran through my body at that look.

  “Where are you?” Keri asked. Her voice was low. Serious. I’d be lying if I said the dead tone didn’t scare me a little.

  “Okay, this is the part that’s probably going to piss you off.”

  “Spill it.”

  “I’m about to pull up to Sterling’s mansion.”

  There was a low growl, then, “Are you insane?”

  I nodded even though she couldn’t see it. “The jury’s still out on that one.”

  “There’s no stopping you from going there, huh?”

  “I’m sorry, Keri, but no. This is something I have to do.”

  “Fine,” she said with resolve. “I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

  My spine stiffened. “Wait!”

  Before I could finish my protest, the line went dead.

  “So much for honesty,” I muttered.

  Edge raised an eyebrow. “You did the right thing by telling her.”

  “Oh, yeah?” I shifted in my seat until I was facing him. “Just wait until she’s sees that you’re one of the hounds I’m bonding with. Or have you forgotten how sharp her fangs are when she’s pissed?”

  His hand absently moved from the wheel, and
his fingers did a quick rub across his neck. “No, I haven’t forgotten.”

  I threw myself back kind of hard against the seat. “Good.”

  Chapter Nine

  The mansion was just as I remembered it. A majestic topiary of pillars, vines, and marble. One thing had changed, however. It was covered in dead things.

  I took it all in from my window overlooking the long, winding driveway that led to the mansion.

  Where once flowers tumbled from everywhere—violets, roses, snapdragons, you name it—only dried-up twigs remained.

  “What happened here?”

  My question had Edge looking from the house ahead to me.

  “Once Sterling died, so did the magic sustaining her court.”

  No more words were spoken as we pulled up to the front door. I stepped from the car and let my arms intertwine.

  “Are you okay?”

  I nodded, even though I wasn’t okay. I was far from it, actually.

  I strode to the door and stopped as a warm flush traveled down my spine. To my left, I watched a dried-up bud that hung limp on a rose bush shake, crumble, then, as if by miracle, a new bud shimmered into its place. Bud by bud, red petals sprung to blanket the entire bush.

  There was an amused glint in Edge’s eyes as he reached past me to open the door. “See, my queen, the house is already coming alive for you.” He stepped to the side then and held open the door.

  A myriad of emotions overtook me as I stood at the threshold of what was once my own personal hell. Swallowing hard, my nerve moved me to untangle those emotions, allowing me to step inside the mansion.

  Don’t look to the right. Don’t look to the right. I wouldn’t move my gaze past the stairs and to the far right because that’s where the entrance to Sterling’s underground chambers was.

  Son of a bitch… what had I been thinking? “I can’t do this.” I abruptly turned and left.

 
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