The Beautiful Ashes

Page 17

That was how I found myself looking fixedly at the dirty tile floor as I approached the mirror in the Gas-N-Go restroom. Adrian had also given me a rock and a pair of oversize work gloves, so I didn’t worry about cutting myself when I hit the glass with a hard bang, glancing at it only after I saw shards hit the floor. Take that, Demetrius, I thought, seeing only splinters of my reflection in its remains.

A flush sounded, and then the nearest stall door opened, revealing a fiftyish woman who looked back and forth between the ruined mirror and the rock in my hand.

“Why’d you do a thing like that?” she demanded.

Nothing I said would make it appear less crazy, so I might as well live up to her expectations.

“Ever have one of those days when you just hate your hair?” I asked, widening my eyes for maximum disturbed effect.

She didn’t even wash her hands before she left. I made sure to be quick about my business as well, not surprised to see her talking to the store clerk once I exited the bathroom.

“Hey, girlie,” the bald clerk said sharply. “Did you—?”

“This is for the damage,” Adrian interrupted, slapping a handful of blank papers in front of the clerk. My confusion increased when the man snatched them up, his scowl turning into a grin.

“No problem,” the clerk said, actually giving me a cheery wave. “Take care, girlie!”

I waited until we were outside before I said, “What was that?”

Adrian’s mouth curled into a sardonic smile. “Zach’s here.”

That’s when I paid attention to the hoodie-clad guy next to Adrian’s car. Zach turned around, thankfully not projecting a blinding array of light as he faced us.

“I understand you ran into some difficulty last night,” he stated, as if we’d only gotten a flat tire.

I blamed my response on being frustrated, under-caffeinated and hungry. “Yeah, and I hope you were too busy to show up because you were saving a bus full of nuns!”

A shrug. “I wasn’t sent to you until now.”

“Are you serious?” Incredulity sharpened my tone. “Is your boss in a bad mood, or does he suffer from time-delay up there?”

Zach’s face turned stony, but it didn’t escape me that Adrian’s smile widened.

“You don’t know how many times I’ve wondered that,” he murmured, nudging me in a sympathetic way.

Zach had a different response. “Why do you expect someone else to solve problems you are capable of handling yourselves?”

Adrian grunted. “Get used to hearing that. It’s his favorite line.”

Then you must want to punch him a lot, I thought before Zach’s pointedly arched brow reminded me that my musings weren’t private. That might not be all bad, though. I seized my chance.

Tell me what Adrian is, and why he’s so determined to get away from me once this is over, I thought, staring at Zach.

“No,” he said out loud. “I gave Adrian my word, and as I told you, Archons do not lie.”

“What am I missing?” Adrian said, casting a suspicious look between both of us.

Don’t you dare! I thought, but Zach was already replying. “Ivy sought the answers you are still refusing to give her.”

Adrian’s gaze swung to me. “Don’t do that again,” he said in an ominous tone.

“You bet your ass I will,” I flared. “My life and my sister’s life are on the line, so I have a right to know what’s going on. Besides, after the fallout from your mirror omission, you said you’d quit hiding things and that you’d apologize.”

Zach smirked at him. Actually smirked, and said, “I will enjoy witnessing this.” There went another note under my ever-growing list titled Things I Didn’t Expect From An Archon.

Adrian gave both of us such a cold glare that I was sure he’d refuse. Then he spoke.

“I’m sorry, Ivy, for not telling you about the mirrors. There’s your apology, and here’s information you didn’t know—because you can see through Archon glamour, you saw me hand blank pieces of paper to the clerk. He saw a stack of hundred dollar bills, and we’re using the same trick to fly to Mexico because we can’t use the Oregon vortex to enter multiple realms through the same gateway anymore.”

At my indrawn breath, Adrian went on. “Demetrius will guess that’s where we’re headed since we were in the Oregon desert when he caught up with us. Zach’s here to refill our manna supply, glamour your appearance and remind me that we’re on our own once we enter the demon realms. The two sides can’t cross into each other’s territories, so if we’re captured, Zach can’t help us even if he wants to.”

I was openmouthed by the time he finished, but I quickly recovered. “And you are what?” I asked, wanting to know that more than all the other details.

Adrian smiled. “I promised to share secrets and I did. I never specified which ones.”

Zach smirked again, and this time, it was directed at me.

“I’ll remember that,” I replied, giving Adrian a look that promised retribution.

If he thought I’d give up my quest to find out what he was, why he acted so hot and cold around me or what Demetrius had meant when he said that every moment “the bond” would strengthen between us, he was dead wrong. Now, the real trick would be to make sure that none of us ended up really dead before I got my answers.

I turned my back on Adrian, giving Zach my full attention. “You’re going to change how others see me? Fine. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be a blonde.”

Chapter eleven

The airport teller’s name was Kristin. I handed her two blank paper stubs and a stack of equally blank Post-it pages, hoping I didn’t look as guilty as I felt.

“One round-trip ticket to Durango, Mexico, please,” I said.

Kristin looked at the blank stubs and pages. I tried to smile, but my face froze. Adrian swore that she and everyone else would see a driver’s license, a passport and lots of cash in the Post-it note pile. All I saw was my imminent arrest, if the Archon glamour didn’t hold up.

After what might have been five seconds but felt like ten years, the teller snapped up the two stubs from the pile, starting to type with crazy quickness on her keyboard.

“Anything to declare?” she asked.

Yes. I’m a total criminal right now. “Uh, nope.”

The next flight to Durango had two stopovers, and only first-class seats available. I looked at the Post-it pages. Damned if I knew what monetary denominations they were supposed to be.

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