The cold air rushing around her felt nice, but her body was free-falling and that was scary as hell. She screamed in panic and her mind was running through scenarios of what her body would look like when it hit the ground. Then Vivienne caught her in mid-air, her arms wrapping protectively around her and her body taking the impact when they hit the ground.
“Deep breaths, Green,” Vivienne said, her tumbleweed brown hair blowing every which way in the wind. “Blue’s got something for you when we get back to the others.”
“If it’s that . . . d*** herbal tea, I don’t want it,” Shay said between breaths and gave a husky laugh.
“I’ll run us back there. Hold on.”
Shay squeezed her eyes shut as Vivienne took off through the forest. It always hurt her head to watch everything pass by in a blur and she already felt faint enough. The air felt nicer than when she had been falling because now it wasn’t accompanied with the dropping of her stomach.
Vivienne’s feet seemed to barely touch the ground and Shay hadn’t realized they’d stopped until she was being set down on the smooth, even wood of a tree stump on the side of a back road. Sienna hurried over with a look of worry and a burning stick of incense. She began to wave it in front of Shay.
Shay coughed on the strong, sickly sweet smoke and tried to move away.
“Stop,” Sienna commanded gently. “I’m trying to clear the smoke from your lungs.”
“With more smoke?"
Sienna paused, soundlessly repeating the words and extreme anxiety crossed her face as she momentarily doubted herself. Then she pursed her lips and said, “Yes.”
“Are the others back yet?”
“Ace and Red are in the Hummer. Spots and Gold should be heading back now.”
Shay glanced at the huge black Hummer parked on the shoulder of the road, but the windows were tinted and she couldn’t see inside. She looked back at Sienna, and, this close up, Shay could make out all of the light brown freckles dotted across her cheeks.
“Can’t I just lay down?” Shay moaned.
“Are you tired?” Sienna questioned, leaning in closer as her sky blue eyes searched Shay’s.
“Does your head hurt?”
“You used too much energy,” Sienna explained. “Again."
She lowered her head and looked up at Sienna from under her lashes while sticking out her lower lip. She batted her eyes and stared at her for the longest time, watching her control break.
Finally, with a sigh, Sienna held up her palms.
“Thank you,” Shay sung, and held up her own palms.
There was a tingling as their skin touched and then a jolt as Sienna channeled a spark of electricity to her hands. As the new energy rushed through her veins, Shay repressed the urge to shudder. It was like a jump start and a shot of caffeine mixed in one.
Shay closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “I needed that.”
Vivienne had her arms crossed over her chest. “You still haven’t been sleeping well?”
Shay shook her head. “No. Most of the nightmares are the same, but they’ve been getting worse. I just have this feeling—”
A sleek black and gold cheetah suddenly bounded through the trees, landing on all fours and pulling to a stop beside Shay.
“Hey, Spots,” Vivienne said, and the cheetah growled in reply. “Where’s Gold?”
The cheetah glanced back over its shoulder down the road and its ears perked up. A second later, a dark sports bike tore down the road past them and made a sharp U-turn before screeching to a stop.
The rider pulled off their helmet and blonde hair tumbled out. The gold eyes flashed angrily at the cheetah. “Spots! You are such a cheater!”
The cheetah stood up on its hind legs, shrinking and pulling in on itself. The swishing tail receded and the ears flattened against its head. The facial features sharpened and the pupils shrunk, the gray eyes focusing on Chalice and becoming more human.
Lacey tossed her head back, dark hair falling over her shoulders to her waist, and she laughed loudly.
“It’s not funny!” Chalice yelled.
“You’re out of your mind!”
“If y’all are done bickering,” Phoenix called as the side window on the Hummer rolled down, “I’d really like to go home sometime soon.”
“Alright, Green. I think you’re good to go,” Sienna said, but stood by warily as she stood up.
Shay climbed into the backseat of the Hummer with Vivienne, and Sienna and Lacey slid into the middle seats and pulled the door closed. Through the window, she saw Chalice pull the helmet back on and lean down over the handle bars. She revved the engine and then took off down the road.
“I beat her fair and square,” Lacey declared. “She lied. I don’t cheat.”
Shay laughed. “Alright, Lacey—”
Ace shot her a sharp look in the rearview mirror. Shay’s lips clamped shut and she ducked her head.
“Ace, cut her a break,” Vivienne said. “There’s no one around.”
Ace’s cold brown eyes turned on Vivienne and Vivienne returned the gaze, her own slanted caramel eyes steady. Tension flashed between them. As a former vampire hunter, Ace had never really taken to Vivienne and tried to avoid close contact with her whenever possible.
Ace finally broke away, looking back at the road as she put the Hummer in gear. “You’re going to blow someone’s cover, Green, and then they’re going to get hurt.”
“I’m sorry,” Shay repeated.
There was a long period of silence and then Phoenix declared, “It’s too quiet in here,” and reached forward to turn on the radio.
Loud country music blasted from the speakers and there was a collective moan from everyone else in the car.
“Aw, come on, y’all. Embrace your inner Texan.”
“I have no inner Texan,” Ace retorted. “I’m from Detroit.”
“Everybody’s got a little Texan in them.”
Ace reached forward to change the station ad Phoenix gently tapped her on the wrist.
“D***!” Ace pulled her hand back, examining the dark red spot on her wrist. “Really, Red?”
Shay gasped. Ace was the leader. No one touched her, and certainly no one burnt her.
“It’s not even first degree. Don’t be such a baby.”
Ace glared at her for a moment, and then her expression softened. Anyone else would have gotten a hard punch across the face, but Ace had known Phoenix the longest—almost six years—and tolerated her the most.
“You’re a good sport,” Phoenix said, ruffling Ace’s short raven-black hair while Ace’s upper lip curled up and she leaned away from her.
She slapped Phoenix’s hand away and then pulled from the main road onto a rough terrain path cutting through the forest. The path was ridiculously uneven, but the Hummer was built for army use and so the tires kept Shay from being bounced around.
Chalice was no where in sight, having split away from them a while back to drive around to the front entrance road that was much more suitable for her motorcycle.
Ace touched one of the controls above the rearview mirror that would send a signal to Grandmother Clarissa that it was them crossing over the wards now. They neared a tall stone wall with a metal gate that swung open as Ace pushed another control button.
They drove the long winding road that crept up a hall and a mansion appeared at the top. The double doors of the garage stood open, and Chalice’s motorcycle was parked back with the others. Ace eased the Hummer in and pulled into an empty spot next to a charcoal gray Porshe Carrera GT. The space two spots down was still vacant.
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