Title: The Beautiful Ashes
Author: Jeaniene Frost
Expected Publication: August 26th, 2014About The Beautiful Ashes In a world of shadows, anything is possible. Except escaping your fate. Ever since she was a child, Ivy has been gripped by visions of strange realms just beyond her own. But when her sister goes missing, Ivy discovers the truth is far worse—her hallucinations are real, and her sister is trapped in a parallel realm. And the one person who believes her is the dangerously attractive guy who's bound by an ancient legacy to betray her. Adrian might have turned his back on those who raised him, but that doesn't mean he can change his fate…no matter how strong a pull he feels toward Ivy. Together they search for the powerful relic that can save her sister, but Adrian knows what Ivy doesn't: that every step brings Ivy closer to the truth about her own destiny, and a war that could doom the world. Sooner or later, it will be Ivy on one side and Adrian on the other. And nothing but ashes in between…
Even on a good day, I hated when guys were cryptic. Those of the Testosterone Persuasion already came with a mountain of senseless tendencies—did they really think they needed to add purposefully vague statements on top of that?
The fact that Adrian refused to elaborate on his enigmatic warning while I was tied up in his backseatmade it unbearable. As the time ticked on, I consoled myself by imagining hitting him in the head with something heavy. Or leaning over the seat and choking him with the band of duct tape around my wrists. If the back of this vehicle had had a cigarette lighter, I might’ve gotten creative with fantasies about that, too.
Guess being kidnapped turned me into a violent person.
“Are you a sex slaver?” I asked abruptly.
“Someone’s watched Taken too many times,” Adrian said, and the amusement in his tone grated on my last nerve.
“Why wouldn’t I think that?” I shot back. “You saved my life, but you’re taking me somewhere against my will, and you refuse to untie me.”
“You picked truth, remember?” was his infuriating response.
I swear, the first heavy object I got a hold of…! “You didn’t give me that, either.”
“Yes, I did.” He said it with a heavy-lidded, backward glance that would’ve made me straighten up and smile if he’d done it while we were sitting at a bar. “Just not all of it, but don’t worry. We’re here.”
With that statement, Adrian turned down a long road that led to a set of soaring, elaborately carved gates.
“Wait a sec while I open the gates,” he said, turning the car off and taking the keys with him.
I waited…until he was far enough away for me to make my move. Then I leaped over the seats. When I yanked on the driver’s side door, however, a large hand on the window prevented it from opening.
“Why am I not surprised?” Adrian said with irony dripping from his tone
I stared at his hand, as if that could explain how the rest of him was attached to it. A second ago, he’d been in front of those barbarically ornate gates, doing something that caused them to swing open with a mechanical moan.
No one could move that fast. Or, more accurately, no one should be able to move that fast.
“What are you?” I breathed.
His teeth flashed in a smile that was predatory and sexy at the same time.
“A couple hours ago, I wondered the same thing about you.”
Me? Before I could ask what he meant, he opened the door and let me out. Ice raced through my veins when I saw the knife in his other hand. That was also the moment when I noticed the sign on the gates: Green-Wood Cemetery.
“Don’t,” I gasped.
He raised a brow, cutting through the duct tape around my wrists. “You’re the one who wanted to be untied.”
My arms fell to my sides while relief roared over me, replacing the surge of fear-fueled adrenaline. Just as quickly, something snapped inside me. All the grief, anger, fear and frustration of the past ten days hurtled through my defenses, turning me into someone I didn’t recognize.
A rage monster.
My hand cracked across Adrian’s face with enough force to make it tingle and burn, and still, it wasn’t enough. I began beating on his chest, part of me horrified by my actions, but the rest urging me to hit him harder.
“What is the matter with you?” I yelled. “You pull out a knife with no explanation? I thought you were going to kill me!”
Adrian grabbed my hands. Any sane person would have recognized how overmatched I was and calmed the hell down, but I was way past sanity. With my hands out of commission, I kicked his shin hard enough to send pain shooting up my leg. He grunted, backing me up until I was pressed against the car hood. Now I had a wall of steel behind me and a wall of muscled flesh on top of me.
“Stop it,” Adrian ordered, his strange accent thicker with his vehemence. “I promise, I’m not going to hurt you!”
My breath came in pants. Adrian countered my attempt to drop down and wiggle free by pressing his thigh between my legs. I stopped that course of action at once, which was the same as admitting defeat. I couldn’t use my arms to push him away. He felt more solid and heavy than a stone gargoyle.
“Get off me,” I said between ragged breaths.
“Not until you calm down,” he replied sternly. Then the barest grin tugged at his mouth. “Feel free to take your time.”
I glanced down, only now registering that my breasts were pressed against his chest just as tightly as his thigh was wedged between my legs. Any movement on my part caused an embarrassingly personal friction, as if inhaling each other’s breaths while we panted wasn’t intimate enough.
I tried to slow my breathing, not to mention my galloping heartbeat. If not for his grin, I wouldn’t have known he thought anything of the compromising position he had me in.
If nothing else, he didn’t seem angry that I’d slapped, kicked and pummeled him. Now that my reckless rage had passed, I realized how stupid I’d been. One punch from his massive fist would’ve meant lights out, but he hadn’t hit back. Instead, he’d promised that he wouldn’t hurt me. Despite his kidnapping me and his refusal to give me answers about what was going on, I decided to believe him.
“Sorry I attacked you,” I said, my voice no longer shrill.
He shrugged like he was used to it. “Don’t worry. You were overdue for a breakdown, anyway.”
Just how many people have you kidnapped? I almost asked. Since I didn’t really want to know, all I said was, “Can you get off me? You’re heavy.”
He slowly uncurled his body from mine, but that silvery blue gaze stayed glued to me. I shivered, suddenly aware of how cold it was, now that I wasn’t covered by over two hundred pounds of warm-blooded male.
Adrian shrugged out of his coat, revealing a crew-neck black shirt that hugged his physique like it was paying homage. Of course he’d noticed the shiver. I wondered if anything escaped those piercing eyes.
I put it on. The hem had been mid-calf on him; it pooled on the ground with me. I’d never felt dainty around a guy before. I was comfortable at a size eight because I didn’t have to starve to maintain it, and my five-six height meant I could usually wear heels without being taller than my dates. Next to Adrian, however, I seemed to drop twenty pounds while also shrinking a few inches. Of course, his bulk was all muscle. Feeling him on top of me had made that clear….
I nixed that line of thought before it led to other, more dangerous musings, and tightened his coat around me.
“If we’re not here so you can kill me and bury my body in an empty plot, what else is there to do at a cemetery?” I asked with admirable calm.
He laughed, the deep, masculine rumble teasing something inside me that was too stupid to realize kidnappers were off-limits. That’s why I refused to notice the chin dimple it revealed, or how his lower lip was fuller than the top one.
“Lots of things, but we’ll get to that later.”
“Sure there’s going to be a later?” I challenged him.
“Of course.” Another tantalizing smile. “Since you and I are from the same line, you’ll be seeing a lot more of me.”
Line? “You think we’re related?”
His gaze brushed me like a physical caress. “Not like that, thankfully. That would make our first date awkward.”
I stared at him in disbelief. “You’re hitting on me?” I finally managed. “Do you have any idea how twisted that is?”
He shrugged. “I don’t do subtle, it wastes time. Besides—” the silvery part of his eyes gleamed like liquid moonlight “—if you say you don’t find me attractive, I’ll know you’re lying.”
Under other circumstances, I might have blushed at being busted ogling someone I’d just met, but my kidnapper was hitting on me! Should that make me more afraid, or less? He’d already saved my life once and had had plenty of chances to harm me since, yet he hadn’t.
Plus, I wouldn’t be much fun as a date if I was dead.
“How about we hold the date talk until you give me the answers you promised?” I said, part of me wondering if tonight could get any stranger. The other part felt happy for the first time in over a week. Stupid ovaries. Down, girls, down!
Adrian’s expression turned serious. “I’m taking you to the person who can give you those answers.”
“Zach?” I asked, remembering Adrian mentioning the name.
“That’s him. This cemetery is almost five hundred acres, so if you don’t want to spend hours walking around in the cold—” he went over to the passenger side of the vintage-looking muscle car and opened the door “—get in.”
He was giving me a choice. Or at least, the illusion of one. If I ran, we both knew he could catch me.
The car’s interior light showed a hint of stubble trying to break through the smooth skin along his jaw, shadowing it in a way that was far too attractive. His exotic accent wasn’t helping, either. If I was ever kidnapped again, it had better be by an old, ugly guy. That would be less confusing to my emotions.
And less embarrassing. What idiot got caught lusting over her kidnapper? No wonder he’d asked me out. He must have thought I gave “easy” a whole new definition.
I walked over, thinking that even if I could run away from him, I wouldn’t. My sister was trapped in a place that shouldn’t be real, yet somehow was, and Adrian was my only ally because he could see the same crazy things that I did. More importantly, Adrian had proven that he was able to kill those things.
If he was able to help me save my sister, I’d not only take him up on his date offer. I’d pay for everything and seriously consider putting out.
I got in the passenger side, hearing the door lock as soon as he shut it. I tried to open it.
Nothing. My sense of unease returned. What kind of person saved people just to kidnap them, and had a vehicle you could only exit from the driver’s side?
Then again, as Adrian slid into the seat next to me with an almost spooky fluidity, I realized what kind of person he was might be less important than what he was.
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