The crows murder, p.22
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       The Crow’s Murder, p.22
 

         Part #5 of Kit Davenport series by Tate James
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  His mouth opened to say something, but no sound came out. Only a bubble of blood that caused him to choke and convulse, while tears streamed hard and fast down my face.

  “Alpha, you can’t. I can’t do this without you,” I cried, holding his face between my hands and desperately trying to pretend my knees weren’t wet with his warm life blood. “What do I do? You need to tell me how to save you!”

  Bridget’s mocking laughter bounced through the room, and as much as I tried to block her out, I couldn’t.

  “You do nothing, Christina,” she sneered at me. “Soon enough you’ll be reunited, though. Don’t you worry about that. Oh look. The pattern is complete.”

  As I watched in horror, the last lines of the blood-filled runes linked up, and the whole thing pulsed with power. My lightning strike had done nothing to disrupt the spell. Worse than nothing, it had gotten River killed.

  All my fault. Always my fault.

  Grinning with glee, Bridget looked up to the sky to check the progress of the moon.

  “Only a minute or so left, I would guess,” she informed me with delight. “Any last words, child? After I take your magic, I will need to strike you down. I hope you understand.”

  “Fuck you,” I spat at her, my face wet with tears and my voice husky.

  “No, sweets, that’s what my new guardians will be doing, just as soon as you’re gone. Trust me, darling girl, I’ll make it so they never even remember meeting you. Now, isn’t that kind of me?” Her grin split her face, and her sharp teeth showed through. “Oh, but I almost forgot. I have one last parting gift for you.”

  She circled around behind the bleeding chest and unbolted the lid of it. I wanted nothing more than to run screaming from that room, but I was frozen to the spot, crouched over River’s dying body and unable to look away from whatever my evil, sadistic mother had inside that chest.

  “Do thank this one for me,” Bridget implored me. “She was such a big help.”

  With one high-heeled foot, she kicked the heavy chest over so that it landed with its lid open, allowing me an unobstructed view of the contents. Not that I needed to see inside. The force of the chest falling caused the person inside to tumble out and roll to a lifeless stop in the middle of the runed floor.

  There was no mistaking those delicate limbs or that short, bright purple hair.

  “Lucy,” I moaned. “No, this can’t be happening!”

  The inside of the box she had been contained in was lined with sharp spikes. Each and every one of them was coated in her blood, while her body was riddled with corresponding puncture wounds. She was pale, almost blue, and based on the amount of blood filling the floor... well and truly dead.

  “Oh don’t worry, she’s been dead for days,” Bridget informed me, “I just kept her blood flowing with my magic for this very purpose. Little scamp had the audacity to try and escape me, and I accidentally hit her a little too hard. You know how it is with our sort of strength.”

  Rage was building in me like a tsunami, and every word that bitch spoke pushed it higher. My heart and soul had just been ripped to shreds; my best friend—my sister—had been dead in that fucking box this whole time and I’d never known.

  Now my lover lay dying in my lap, and this psychopath was making jokes?

  “Ding!” Bridget exclaimed, like a deranged game show host. “Full moon is up. Now, come to Mama, you delicious magical essence.”

  The gold band on my wrist began glowing under the bright moonlight, and hers echoed the glow with its own dimmer version. Judging by the laughter peeling out of her, this was exactly what was supposed to happen.

  I didn’t give a shit about the magic, though. I didn’t care about her plans for world domination or her intentions of enslaving the human race. All I could focus on was Lucy’s pale, bloodless corpse in the middle of the room and River’s slowly diminishing heart rate under my fingers.

  Most of all, was the pain. The sheer heartbreak at losing these two people who I loved so damn hard.

  All of that manifested in me like a geyser, and I screamed my frustration and fury. All of my agony and despair, my heartbreak and hopelessness poured out of me with that scream, and to my abject shock and fascination, the band around my wrist clicked off and hit the floor with a delicate sounding ping.

  My magic all came snapping back into me like a rubber band that had just been released, knocking me flat on my back and leaving me gasping.

  “What?” Bridget’s scream bellowed through the room, and I pushed myself back up to look at her. But then I remembered I had my magic back. I could heal River!

  Frantically, my hands found his wound, and my magic rushed into him with the speed of a bullet train. There was no stopping it or holding it back this time. The second I gave the okay to heal my lover, the magic took over with a life of its own.

  Numb and still wracked with agony over losing Lucy, I willingly relinquished control, taking a backseat and letting the almost sentient magic do what needed to be done to try and save River. He would be changed, there was no avoiding that now, but at least he would be alive. That was all that mattered.

  Bridget’s screams and protestations reached my ears as the magic finished all it needed to do inside River’s broken form and began retreating back up my arms, leaving the feeling behind that my fingers were sinking into dense, silken fur.

  “This isn’t possible!” my biological mother howled, holding her own bracelet in her hands and shaking it, like that would make it suddenly work again. “It’s not possible! You can’t... No!” As she screamed and ranted, I withdrew my red-slicked hands from River’s chest and turned my gaze on her.

  Whatever she saw in my face in that second scared her.

  Her skin blanched almost pure white, and she took a shaking step back before recovering her wits and casting a hasty rune portal before I could cast anything to keep her in place. In seconds, she was gone, leaving nothing behind but a glowing circle of runes and a trail of destruction.

  Almost instantly, I dismissed her from my mind. I’d find her sooner or later, and she’d pay for what she had done.

  Under my fingertips, River stirred. Shoving all thoughts of revenge and punishment aside, I crouched back over him, checking and finding a steady pulse in his throat. The relief that washed through me when his golden eyes opened was almost enough to choke me.

  But it was short-lived.

  “What have you done, Kitten?” he whispered in a hoarse, pain-filled voice. “I can’t hold him back. You need to kill me, please.”

  “Wh-what? No, River, I just brought you back.” Confusion clouded my brain, and I shook my head at him. “I’m not fucking killing you. What the shit, River?”

  “Then...” He trailed off, grinding his teeth together and grunting in pain. “Then wake Vali. He made me a promise.”

  I sat back on my heels in shock. Vali had promised River he would kill him if he ever changed? What the hell could be that damn bad? And if he was so afraid, why didn’t he just fucking leave me?

  “River,” I started, but it was too late. His body was already shifting, despite his clear efforts to hold it at bay. “Jesus fucking Christ, River. Just give in to it. This is insanity!”

  He looked like he was going to disagree with me, but he was losing the fight.

  Trying to get out of his way, I went to shuffle backward but slipped in his blood and smacked my elbow painfully on the floor. Hissing with pain, I took my eyes off River for the briefest second to regain my balance, but that was all it took.

  When I looked back, the River I knew was gone. In his place stood an enormous, snow-white wolf with River’s beautiful, golden eyes.

  “Holy shit,” I breathed, pushing myself unsteadily to my feet so I felt a little less like food. I could hardly be blamed for that reaction with a wolf the size of a donkey staring me down. “River? Are you okay? See, that wasn’t so bad, was it? You’re just a wolf. A really massive, white wolf.”

  Unlike when Cole and Vali chan
ged into dragon form, though, there was no trace of the River I knew in this beast’s eyes, and I sucked in a sharp breath of fear.

  The wolf lowered his head, his lips pulled back in a growl and his eyes locked on me. Like I was the enemy...

  “River—” I started once more, but cut off when his form began to ripple again, like he was about to shift back. Or that would have been the best-case scenario.

  Instead, he shifted again into something else. His snow-white coat shuddered once and turned completely ink black. His form increased in size until he stood towering over me, and fangs extended throughout his mouth until it was like staring into the mouth of a shark.

  Most frightening though, were his eyes. No longer were they the familiar liquid gold of my British lover. They were molten, rolling, fiery pits that made me feel like I was staring straight into the mouth of Hell itself.

  This.

  This was what he had been so afraid of.

  “River?” I whimpered, feeling desperate. Not because I feared for my life; I couldn’t care less for that. I was desperate to see that there was some small flicker of him left inside that beast. To know that I hadn’t just condemned him to a fate so much worse than the death he’d been so close to just minutes ago.

  His huge head lowered, saliva dripping from his rows of razor fangs and hitting the ground with a hiss like acid. Actually, based on the holes in the stone, it seemed like his saliva really was acid.

  A low, menacing growl rumbled from deep within his chest, and I braced myself. For what, I wasn’t totally sure. To get my head ripped off, probably.

  I squeezed my eyes tight shut out of reflex as his jaws extended and came close enough that I could feel his scalding breath on my face. But then... nothing.

  Peeling one eye open again, I found myself standing alone in the room of horrors.

  Scattered around the edges were the motionless forms of my guardians, at my feet was a sickeningly large puddle of River’s blood, but there in the middle of the room, like a broken doll, lay Lucy.

  “Lucy,” I moaned, taking three stumbling steps across the room to where she was, then I collapsed to my knees like my strings had just been cut. With a shaking hand, I reached out and rolled her over to face me, trying not to cringe at her ice-cold, waxy skin.

  “Lucifer? You can’t be...” I trailed off as a sob ripped through my body. For a long moment, I just clutched her to me. The raw ache inside made an unsealable wound where Lucy belonged—my best friend, my partner-in-crime—my sister. The tears wouldn’t fall, even though the primal scream inside me didn’t seem to have an end. I pressed my face against her purple hair. I needed Lucy to be alive. I’d fought to keep her that way, pushed, pulled—dammit. She would never give up on me; I would be damned if I’d give up on her.

  Sniffing back tears and trying to calm my breathing, I sat back on my heels and laid trembling hands on Lucy’s chest. Surely if Bridget could keep her blood pumping for several days after death, I could restart her heart. Couldn’t I?

  “Come on, come on, come on,” I begged my magic to do it’s thing, mentally grabbing it with both hands and trying to force it down into Lucy’s body. At first it seemed to be working, transferring through my hands and into my best friend, but all it did was circulate her body uselessly and then return to me feeling confused.

  Over and over I tried the same thing, despite already having seen it wasn’t working. Sometimes, it just wasn’t that easy to admit defeat.

  How long I knelt there, trying to force my magic to heal the girl who had been there for me my entire life—my oldest friend and closest companion since as long as I could remember—I had no idea. At some stage, I exhausted myself and just lay there on the cold stone floor beside her, sobbing and cursing that poisonous bitch that had birthed me.

  I didn’t hear Caleb arrive, and when he smoothed the hair away from my face with frozen fingers, his words weren’t reaching my ears. His blue, frostbitten lips were moving, sure, but all I could hear was a dull whooshing noise.

  Maybe I was dying too? Maybe Bridget’s spell had worked after all and this was just how a Ban Dia died. That would certainly explain why I couldn’t heal Lucy...

  My limbs were numb, and I couldn’t have moved even if I’d tried to as Caleb collected me up in his arms and carried me out of that horrific place. My eyes drifted closed somewhere along the tunnel we had come in through, and I put no effort into opening them again.

  What was the point?

  Jonathan was dead. Lucy was dead. And River... probably wished he was dead right now.

  Everything I touched turned to shit.

  27

  For the next few days, my five remaining guardians took turns staying with me. My body was so severely depleted of magic that I needed the skin-to-skin recharge, but I was only just on this side of catatonic.

  So for however long it took, they rotated time with me, just lying there in my giant purple bed and hugging me. I wished I could say it made everything better, that it made me feel safe and loved and that I realized there was more left to live for.

  I wished I could say that. But I couldn’t. Instead, all their presence did was remind me how many other people stood to lose their lives because of me. Had we not already come close with Wes? We still had no idea who had blown up Seamus’s house. Hell, we hadn’t even tried to find out; we’d been so focused on Bridget.

  Every time one of the guys slipped into the bed with me, enclosing me in strong arms and whispering words of love in my ear, it made me even more certain that I would eventually be their downfall.

  “Vixen?” Cole crouched in front of me, stroking my hair back behind my ear. Someone was still wrapped around me from behind, maybe Vali? I’d lost track. “Lucy’s funeral is today. We thought you might want to go.”

  I blinked my gritty eyes back at him a couple of times, letting his words sink in to my foggy brain. I’d run out of tears days ago and had just been staring at the wall when I wasn’t sleeping.

  “Regina?” Vali murmured in my ear, confirming my guess. “Do you want to shower and dress? I think it would be good for you to go.”

  Cole cleared his throat and shot his brother a sharp look over my head. “If you want to. You don’t have to go if you’re not feeling up to it.”

  Do I want to go? Am I really ready to face the sight of Lucy in a fucking coffin?

  Then again, what good did denial do me? She was dead. Hiding in my bedroom and refusing to pay my respects wasn’t going to bring her back.

  No, the least I could do was take a fucking shower and put on a black dress. Lucy was my best friend, my sister. To not attend her final send off would be just a fucking slap after I had let her be killed.

  With a small nod, I tried to push myself up, only to be immediately lifted into Cole’s strong arms and carried into my adjoining bathroom.

  “Cole, I’m not disabled,” I grumbled, my voice husky from disuse. “I can handle showering alone.”

  The big man paused, having just turned on my shower to warm up the water.

  “Huh, I never realized how much I missed your voice, Vixen. Even when you are being a grump.” His lips pulled up on one side in a half smile that didn’t reach his eyes. Not even close.

  I glared at him, not totally sure why I was being such a bitch when all he was doing was helping me. “I have this handled, Cole. Just tell me how much time I have to get ready, and I’ll meet you downstairs.”

  His jaw clenched, but he gave me a tight nod and opened the bathroom door to leave. “You’ve got about forty-five minutes. Yell if you need anything, and we will hear you, okay?”

  “I’ll be fine,” I assured him, but I really needed to reassure myself. Because I was far from fine. The least I could do, for Lucy’s sake, was to fake it. She deserved that much from me.

  Then maybe I could find my backbone and do what I should have done a long, long time ago... walk away.

  I showered as quick as my stiff muscles would allow, then roughly blas
ted my hair dry with the swanky hairdryer one of the boys had equipped my bathroom with. After it was dry enough, I took my time to carefully apply some make up. Lucy would be horrified if I turned up to her funeral looking like a sack of shit, even if that was how I felt.

  No, for her I made sure to take my time, winging my eyeliner and applying a soft pink lipstick. She’d have given me a high five for the finished product if she were still here.

  Back out in my bedroom, a new black dress lay out on the bed with its tags still attached. Nice of someone to have thought of that, considering none of the black dresses I currently owned would have been anywhere near appropriate for a funeral.

  Biting my lip to keep my emotions in check, I slipped into some fresh underwear and then stepped into the dress, tugging the zipper up myself and not bothering to look in the mirror. Chances were, Vali had bought it for me, and he had a real knack for getting my sizes spot on.

  The garment was comfortable, a soft fabric that clung to my upper arms and chest, then flared out from the waist into a full skirt that fell to my knees. Reaching behind me, I yanked the tags off, then sat on the edge of the bed to roll stockings onto my legs and stuff my feet into the pair of simple, black patent leather Louboutin pumps that had been left out.

  Placing my hand on the door handle, I took a moment to gather what little strength I had left inside me. Lucy’s adoptive parents would be there, and they didn’t need to see me in a blubbering mess. Neither did Elena or Finn, Lucy’s lovers.

  At some point after getting back from the fight with my mother, Wesley had told me that they’d found Elena. Apparently Bridget had been holding her too, but when Bridget didn’t return and her guards disappeared, Elena’d been able to escape.

  Vali and Cole had to be relieved to know that Elena was okay. No one had seen Finn for a while, but from what I knew of his relationship with the girls, that wasn’t unusual for him. I did hope he would make it to Lucy’s funeral, though.

 
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