Taste of Torment Page 22

“Ugly?” I echoed. “Someone get me a mirror. I want to know what all the fuss is about.” Truthfully, I wasn’t as calm as I sounded. But if I was to express my panic, it would feed Jared’s fear and make him ten times worse. When no one moved, I pressed, “A mirror!”

Cursing, Jared disappeared into the bedroom. He was back at my side in a blink with my handheld mirror. At the same time, there was a knock at the door.

“That will be my guards. I lost them in my haste to get to Sam.” It turned out that Antonio was right. The guards entered with Luther and the pit-bulls in tow.

Jared arched a brow at Luther. “You didn’t foresee this happening?” The Advisor had been known to keep things to himself for fear of altering a person’s path too much.

Grim, Luther shook his head. “Believe me, this is not something that I would have kept from you. In fact, I would have locked her away myself to keep her safe.”

Any other time, I might have scowled at him for that comment. But I was too busy panicking about the bite mark on my throat. Dear God, it looked disgusting. Just as Antonio had said, the mark was in fact seriously ugly. Although the skin had healed, it was in a weird zigzag fashion, like someone had done a really bad stitching job. Furthermore, the patch of skin around it was blotchy and a blazing red. “All right,” I said shakily, placing the mirror on the coffee table. “What does this mean?”

“I can only speculate, because I have never seen this happen before.” Antonio sighed. “But it seems to me that although the skin has strangely closed, your system is tainted.”

That was my guess as well. I swallowed hard. “You know what needs to be done.”

“We’re not locking her up,” Jared quickly and vehemently stated.

Luther laid a supportive hand on Jared’s shoulder. “I hate to agree with her, Jared, I truly hate it. I do not like the idea of her caged any more than you do. But it is important that she is isolated.”

He shook off Luther’s hand and stepped away. Denial was pasted all over his face. “She can’t pass it on unless she bites someone.”

“She might lose rationality quicker than the others did,” Antonio cautioned in a sensitive tone. “She’s a hybrid, Jared. We have no idea how she will react to The Call. But we do know that she will not survive it,” he added in a low voice that was loaded with anguish. The resolve in Jared’s expression didn’t even slightly lessen.

“Can you give us a few minutes alone?” I asked Antonio and Luther.

Antonio nodded. “Certainly. I will make the appropriate preparations.” In other words, he’d ready me a cell.

Once Jared and I were alone, I sat up and appealed to him with a look. “I know it’s hard for you to do this. But I don’t want to hurt someone. I don’t want to taint someone. Please don’t put me in a position where I might do that. It’s bad enough that I know you’re going to die because of me.”

He snickered, but his anger was gone now. There was only a sense of defeat. “You think I’d want to live without you? You think I even could, whether we were Bound or not?”

A lump of emotion suddenly clogged my throat and my eyes filled. “I’m so sorry.”

He crouched down in front of me and tucked my hair behind my ear. “We knew when we Bound in that ceremony that it would mean we depended on each other to live. I don’t regret it, and I’d make that commitment all over again.”

“Then you’re a dumb prat.”

He swiped my tears away with the pads of his thumbs. “And you’re a crazy bitch.”

I gently curled my hands around his wrists. “You have to let them confine me, Jared.”

“Sam, don’t”

“I need to be sure that I can’t hurt anyone. I’d have to go in it sooner or later anyway. It might as well be sooner.” Shuddering at the prickly itch tormenting me, I released his wrist and went to rake my nails over the skin. Jared snatched my hand and kissed my palm.

“Don’t scratch it. I can feel how much it’s driving you crazy.”

My guess was that it would get worse the longer I was tainted. “Take me to the cell. Please.”

Squeezing his eyes shut, he rested his forehead against mine. “Baby…” His panic, fear, and devastation were zooming through me, swarming me, stealing my breath. There was even an element of guilt there – typical.

“You’re not at fault,” I insisted. It didn’t seem to make any difference.

After a series of deep breaths, he rose to his feet and stared down at me through tormented eyes. I thought he’d scoop me up and take me to the cells. Instead, he retrieved his cell phone from the table and punched in some keys. Seconds later, he was speaking in a defeated yet resigned voice. “Call Sebastian. Tell him to bring Paige West here.”

Oh.

Chapter Eleven

(Jared)

Standing outside the glass cell, having that impenetrable barrier between Sam and I that even my gift of teleporting couldn’t breach, felt so damn wrong that my stomach was twisting painfully. The idea that I couldn’t reach her if I wanted to was like a lead weight in my gut, because I already knew that feeling. It brought back all the fear and panic from the time the Trent brothers had taken her from me – as if I wasn’t panicking enough right now.

She just sat on the mattress with her head resting against the glass and her legs pulled up to her chest with one arm wrapped around them. Her aquamarine eyes were holding mine and pleading with me. Not to help her, but to stop feeling guilty. Maybe she was right and it was dumb to blame myself for this. But if I had just ignored her stupid insistence on waiting for the squad to be out of there before leaving, she’d be fine right now. Of course I knew deep down that putting the squad’s safety before her own was what any commander would have done. Hell, I’d have done it. But I was still angry at both of us.

I had agreed to isolate Sam from everyone while I dealt with Paige West – whenever the hell she arrived – because I knew that Sam needed the peace of mind that she couldn’t harm anyone. Midway through the process of becoming a hybrid, there had been an incident when she had lost all sense of rationality and dived on me, latching onto my throat – much like a newborn vampire would. That loss of control, that knowledge that she had hurt me, had never sat well with her. If she did it again now, she wouldn’t just hurt someone, she would taint them. So, yeah, I definitely understood why she didn’t want to take any chances here. Still, if I hadn’t known that confining her like this was only a temporary measure, I probably wouldn’t have agreed to it.

Movement in the cell beside hers caught my attention: Evan was staggering across the room with the most agonising look on his face. How must it feel to literally starve, to feel as your body withered away? How must it feel to sense you were beginning to lose reason and rationality? Max and Stuart looked in much the same agony. There was nothing left of them there. They were all just shells now. Droning, skeletal, starving shells. It was f**king…Shit, there were no words to describe what it felt like to see the two people that I loved most in the world dying.

I wanted to hit something, smash something, wanted to rage at fate – it truly was a bitch. Instead, I placed the palm of my hand against the glass of Sam’s cell. Reaching over, she splayed her hand over mine. I hated that I couldn’t touch her when it was the one thing I needed right then, hated that I couldn’t comfort her. Whether Sam would admit it aloud or not, she was scared. “You’ll be out of there soon,” I promised her. “Paige’s gift will heal you.”

Her smile was sad. “I hope you’re right.”

I had to be right, otherwise I’d agreed for that female to be brought to The Hollow – thus chancing Luther’s vision coming true – for no damn good reason at all. But Paige coming here didn’t have to mean that the vision would become reality, I mused. The things Luther foresaw didn’t always happen, as I knew perfectly well. If we took precautions by getting the female out of here as quickly as possible, we could prevent anything more from happening. It was hardly likely that she would want to stick around here for long anyway, not if she was so set on being away from the rest of her kind.

Hearing voices, I glanced at the door. Not only was Antonio, Luther, and the guards here, but also the squad, Jude, Ava, Cristiano, and – oh shit – Alora. Evan was going to have my balls for this if – no, when – Paige healed him. As Alora caught sight of Evan, her now horrified eyes instantly watered and she slapped a hand over her mouth. How much she cared for him was flashing on her face like a neon sign. Evan briefly glanced at the crowd, but there was no sign of recognition in his eyes.

Antonio gave me a sympathetic smile. “Sebastian has arrived with Miss West and who seems to be a friend of hers. Apparently Miss West refused to leave without her. They are waiting for you in the piano room. You should know that she has no idea why she has been brought here. Sebastian worried that if he told her what we wanted from her, she would put up a huge fight. He merely told her that she had been sent for by you and he assured her that she would come to no harm whatsoever.”

Dropping my hand from the glass, I told Sam, “I’ll be back soon.”

She nodded, giving me a half-smile.

Leaving her felt wrong, but I forced myself to step away from the cell. I was just about to teleport out of there when I noticed that Cristiano had separated himself from the crowd and was leaning against the back wall; the expression on his face stopped me short. He wasn’t looking at me, but at Sam. Like the others, he was clearly distressed and angered by what had happened to her. But there was so much more to be seen on his face: pain, anguish, yearning, and utter despair. Slowly, I walked over to him. “That’s why you never went to the Binding ceremony. You love her, don’t you?”

My voice seemed to snap him out of whatever zone he had been in. His gaze met mine. As my words filtered through, he sighed and returned his eyes to Sam. “I accepted a long time ago that I’d never have her. Victor hadn’t allowed me or anyone else to touch her. But even if he had, she’d never looked at me that way. Not once. Not even the night I kissed her when she was human. But just because I accepted that I’d never have her didn’t mean I could watch her Bind with someone else.”

Oddly, I felt a twinge of sympathy for him. I wasn’t a particularly sympathetic person, but I knew that if I’d had to see Sam with someone else, it would have destroyed me.

“Do you know what’s strange? The fact that I’ve drank from her actually makes it worse. I know exactly what I’m missing.” His eyes returned to me. “So as much as you think I’m smug that I’ve tasted her, you couldn’t be more wrong. It would be a hell of a lot easier if I didn’t know what I could have had if things had been different.” He swallowed hard. “You make sure you save her. I’d rather watch her with someone else than watch her die.”

“So would I.” And that proved just how important she was to me, because I wasn’t the self-sacrificing type. Without another word to anyone, I teleported to the ground floor of the mansion and appeared outside the piano room. Opening the double doors wide, I strode inside. In addition to Sebastian and three guards were too dark-haired females, but that was where the similarities ended for the two women. One was tall and lithe with blazing green eyes while the other was short and curvy with brown doe eyes.

The tall brunette stood slightly in front of the other female – a protective move. I recalled what Antonio had said about Paige refusing to leave her friend behind, which suggested that the protective vampire was Paige West. I thought the ‘keep the f**k back’ body language was kind of odd. Did she think I wanted her friend for some reason?

“You’re the Heir,” Paige realised. Her protective stance didn’t ease. In fact, it turned aggressive, but she made no move toward me.

“I am.”

“Well if you’re going to hurt me, let’s go,” she dared tauntingly.

“So you can give your injury to me? No thanks. In any case, I have no intention of harming you…or your friend, if that’s your worry.”

Her eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Then why did you have someone track us down?”

“Not both of you, just you. I need your healing skills.”

She blinked in surprise. “I’m not a healer.”

“But your gift does heal, in a sense, doesn’t it?”

“Yes,” she eventually allowed.

“That’s why you’ve been brought here.”

She was silent for a moment. “You just want me to heal someone for you? That’s it?” Her tone was sceptical.

“Not just one, there are four.”

She snickered. “And then you’ll hand me over to my Sire or, worse, execute me for whatever it is that he’s accused me of doing so that people will hunt me down.”

“I have no interest in anything that has happened between you or your Sire.”

“You’re the Heir. It’s part of your job to ensure that justice is found.”

“Right now, I’m not talking to you as the Heir. I’m talking to you as someone whose mate is so badly hurt, she’s dying.” Her friend gasped. “If you can heal her injury and that of the others, your crimes – whatever they are – will be instantly pardoned.”

Paige cocked her head, assessing me carefully. “If I heal them, you’ll let us leave? Both of us?”

“Yes. You have my word that.”

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