by Heather Hildenbrand
Series: Dirty Blood (#2)
Available as of November 22, 2011
Wood Point Academy is not at all what I expected. For one thing, it looks like a cross between military school and Buckingham Palace. Everyone stares, the floors shine so bright you can see your reflection in them from a mile away, and no one smiles. Unless they're kicking your butt in the process.
At least I've got plenty to take my mind off the fact that my psycho cousin, Miles De'Luca, keeps calling and declaring his love and promising to come for me just as soon as he's destroyed anyone standing in our way. Wes isn't going to like that idea. So between Miles, Wood Point's evil welcoming committee, and the drill sergeant hottie trainer from hell, I just keep asking myself, how did I end up here?
Chapter Twenty-Five: Alex
The radio crackled out some country song that was nothing more than a tenor voice whining for more whiskey. I didn’t pay it any attention but I didn’t turn it off, either. The background noise helped numb the fear that had settled so deeply into my chest, it left an ache similar to what I imagined a heart attack to feel like.
Tara had almost died.
I couldn’t shake the image of her lying on her back with that … thing hovering over her, about to take a bite. Each time I allowed myself to remember, the memory swept me up and threatened to overwhelm me. I took a steadying breath and gripped the wheel tighter. I had to think of something else—anything else—to distract myself.
Unwittingly, another image floated in my mind. Tara in the hotel room we’d shared for a few hours. So much of her skin bared. Bruised. Swollen. It had been both beautiful and horrific seeing her that way. And then lying next to her, sleeping, and the kiss … it had been more than I’d hoped for, her kissing me back.
She certainly hadn’t kissed me back that day in the woods. Then again, I was pretty sure she’d been in shock. I hadn’t exactly planned it, but the way her face looked in that moment … fear of Miles, complete trust in me. And then she’d been angry. There was nothing more beautiful than an angry Tara. Or so I’d thought until she’d kissed me the way she had in the hotel room. The memory of that feeling would warm me for many, many nights to come.
“How bad is this going to be for me, exactly?” Tara asked.
I kept my gaze trained on the road but her question jolted me back to harsh reality. The kiss was over. Our time together, blocking out the world and pretending it didn’t exist, was over. We were almost back to school.
“That depends,” I answered her.
“On our method of entry. Do you want to announce your return?”
“Um, do I have a choice?”
I knew what she was asking and I’d already worked out the answer. The shoulder widened just ahead. Perfect. “Yes.” I pulled over and got out.
We left the truck and began our hike through the darkened woods. It took my eyes a moment to adjust and then shapes of trees and the familiar, yet narrow, path came into focus. I kept my steps small so she could keep up and led the way.
She asked me about the logistics of returning this way: the truck, the wards (as if they worked anymore). I could hear the irritation in my voice as I answered her but I couldn’t help it. We were almost back to reality. There was so much to say. And she’d rather talk about the damned truck.
She must’ve caught on because I heard, “Alex, wait.”
I kept walking.
Her hand closed over my arm, my skin heating automatically where her fingers touched me. Right now, I hated my body.
“What’s your problem?” she demanded.
“Nothing. We’re almost back to school. I assume you’ll want to forget about anything that happened between us once we’re there. I’m simply switching gears to accommodate.” I felt petulant and immature saying it, but I didn’t care.
“Switching gears to accommodate?” she echoed. I could hear her temper rising in her voice. Something in my gut warmed in anticipation of a good fight. “What are you, a robot?” I kept my mouth shut, willing her to go on, to say something that mattered. “I didn’t say anything because … well, it’s complicated. You know that.” She paused. The fire had gone out of her voice. “You haven’t said anything, either.”
“You’re right. I guess I figured I made things clear.” I let sarcasm drip from my words. Baiting her.
She laughed and my nerves pricked. “Have you ever actually had a girlfriend? Because you really suck at this.” I opened my mouth to snap back a retort, but she went on, “Don’t answer that. Seriously, though, you can’t kiss a girl and expect her to automatically know your feelings through osmosis or something. Besides, when I met you, you hated me. And now you’re kissing me. So, pardon me if that leavese me a little confused.”
“I didn’t hate you.”
“Pot-ay-toes, pot-ah-toes. You were disgusted, at least.”
I shook my head and the words were out before I could stop them. “You don’t disgust me, Tara. You amaze me, impress me, surprise me, entertain me. You definitely don’t disgust me.”
I clamped my mouth shut, horrified and elated that I’d finally said it. I couldn’t take it back, no matter her response, but I didn’t really want to, now that it was out there.
She didn’t answer and my heart plummeted to somewhere around my knees. “Do I do any of those things for you?” I asked, hating how desperate I sounded. And felt.
She stared at me, the whites of her eyes barely visible in the darkness. “Yes,” she whispered.
My heart soared. I wondered if he could hear us from where I knew he waited in the trees up ahead. I hoped so. Something twisted inside me really, really hoped so. I allowed myself three seconds to enjoy my triumph and then reality came crashing in around me. “And does Wes do any of those things for you?” I asked, trying not to choke on the name.
“Yes,” she repeated, her eyes darting away.
I changed my mind. Hopefully he couldn’t hear us.
The ache in my chest returned—for different reasons. It was my own fault. I’d known the answer the moment I’d asked.
“I think it’s best that we leave it there then. For now.” She didn’t speak and I knew the moment was done. “Let’s get you back to school and focus on getting Miles.”
“Okay.” She sounded defeated.
Exactly how I felt.