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Eric stared at me. “And how did it break? A soul bond is much stronger than any blood bond, and I’m not entirely convinced that I have no effect on you any longer.” His eyes moved over my lingering on my lips as he did so. A smile snaked across his mouth, “Which means that he still must have a hold of you, too.”

My hands clenched in my lap as eyes narrowed to slits. I glared at him. “You do not have a hold on me. Your blood doesn’t tempt me at all.”

He slid off the altar and walked slowly towards me. With each step he spoke, “And why would that be? What did your demon possibly tell you to do to break your lust for me?” My gaze was on the floor. His arrogant tone made me want to punch him in the face. “Or was it intentional at all?”

Shit. He knows. He knows that he has no effect on me because I can’t feel the lust. It is still there, whispering in the back of my mind, but I no longer care because I don’t feel the compulsion to act on my feelings. He stopped. Eric’s sneaker clad foot rested on the floor in front of me.

Through gritted teeth, I muttered, “What’s your point?”

He knelt down. Eric’s face was directly in front of mine. His eyes drifted over my face, landing on my lips, “Taylor, my point is,” his gaze raised to my eyes, “that your bond with him isn’t broken. It’s subdued. It’s been muffled. Muted. But, it still exists.” He rose and turned away from me. His feet tracked back to the altar where he jumped up, and slid back, dangling his legs off the side. Eric folded his fingers in his lap. “You can deny your lust for my blood the same way you can deny his bond with you. It’s still within you, but you no longer feel the need to respond.” He waited for me to answer, to affirm his declarations, but I didn’t. He already knew he was right. He was always right.

Swallowing hard, I asked, “So?” Patches of light formed shards of colors that scattered across the floor. There was no pattern.

Air rushed out of his lungs in a harsh laugh. “You are… ” he turned his head to the side, “completely naive.” My neck snapped up. A smile had twisted across his face. Two eyes sparkled in place of his normal glare. He leaned forward, watching me. Waiting for me to deny the words that fell from his lips. My jaw twitched. I scowled at him, waiting for him to speak. His voice was smooth, and completely confident, “He’s using you. Collin could find you whenever he wanted. But he doesn’t. He didn’t come last night, and he’s not coming now.” Eric watched me from under his brow. He lowered his voice, as if Collin might be near, listening to us. “He’s waiting. Waiting for you.”

My jaw hung open. Eric sounded insane. “He is not using me,” I snapped jumping to my feet. My body was lined with tension. Anger boiled somewhere in the recesses of my mind. Like a string tickling my arm, I swatted at the burning emotion and caught it. The rage coursed through me, violently beating in my heart. Before I knew it I was snarling in front of him, and looking up into his smug face. “Collin left me. That’s why he’s not here. He’s not waiting for a damn thing.”

Eric’s smile widened, “Hmm. Indeed. He’s not using you. He cares about you, but he left you with some deranged demon to slice off your skin down to your bones, and then he allowed your worst enemy to watch over you while you healed. That would be me, in case you missed it.” His brow pinched together as he hissed in my face. “I am the one who wanted to do that to you. I am the one who wanted to see you suffer in so much agony that you died. Me,” he breathed. Leaning back, the anger unpinched his face. Eric’s eyes flicked over my body, then back to some distant spot to the left. “Sure,” he muttered, “That makes sense. That’s what’d I do if I wanted to protect someone I loved, too.”

“The bond broke,” I snapped. The muscles in my neck constricted as I spoke, “He couldn’t feel it. And he didn’t know who I was with or what she was doing. He doesn’t know I’m with you or that he could have lost me last night. He doesn’t know!”

The smile melted off his face. He leaned forward slightly, resting his elbows on his knees. “But I can still feel you—and our bloodbond isn’t very strong. I sense you, like I sense myself. You were able to sneak up on me the other day, because you were hidden from me. You masked your blood.” His eyes connected with mine and wouldn’t let go. His voice resonated with reason that I couldn’t accept. “Soul bonds do not work like that. There is no hiding. You know it’s true. Ivy. He still feels you, and yet… He. Did. Not. Come.” His lips formed around each word, slowly enunciating the facts.

Shaking my head, I stepped back. “He would have come. He would have. Collin wouldn’t have done that. No.” The pitch of my voice rose the longer I spoke. “He couldn’t feel my pain. He didn’t know… ” The words felt like barbs of wire being pulled out my throat.

The certainty on Eric’s face was plain. “Say what you want, but I think he’s manipulating you. His side of the bond is still there. He still knows where you are and what you’re doing. He chose not to come. He chose to let you die.”

“You’re wrong,” I growled, and turned on my foot to storm out the front door.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

Before I realized where I was going, I found myself standing outside the high school. It was after the last bell had rung. The parking lots were nearly empty, except for a few stragglers. I stood in the snow looking at the building, wondering if Eric’s words were true when a familiar voice spoke from behind me.

“He isn’t here,” she said, her voice lacking its normal perkiness. Jenna Marie stepped next to me in a pink parka and fuzzy white boots. The faux fur lining her hood encircled her face, with each individual strand of synthetic hair moving in the wind. “He’s not been here for a while now.” Golden hair cascaded from under a pink woolen cap to her shoulders, and down her back.

I nodded, staring at her somber face. She was a Martis. One of Al’s oldest friends. The perky pink girl was Al’s mentor. But everything about her was wrong. The angle of her shoulders, the smoothness of her steps, the line of her lips. She seemed sad. There was only one reason for that. I turned to her and asked, “You know? About Al?”

She nodded, her glassy eyes looking to the side, away from me. “Yes, I know.” She swallowed while looking at a snowdrift that lined the end of the circle drive in front of the school. When she spoke again, her voice was clear and strong. “Al knew Eric would be her death when she found him. She saw it in a vision. So did I. Al raised him anyway. She played her part,” Jenna Marie turned her face back towards me, “and it’s time you played yours.” I opened my mouth to speak, but she shushed me. I bristled, but was quiet. “Collin Smith is one of them. His power rivals most demons, yet he is a Valefar. He has a soul—partly his own, partly yours.” Her blue eyes held sympathy, but also courage and conviction that I didn’t know she had. “You and he are fighting for different sides, and yet here you stand, looking for him.” She paused, looking at me with a slight tilt to her head. “Why?”

I started to walk away. “I don’t have to explain myself to you, Martis. There are no sides in this battle. Only living and dying.”

She reached out and wrapped her slender fingers around my arm, stopping me. “That’s where you’re wrong.” She laughed. Her voice was deep, her blue eyes like ice, “You are so incredibly wrong. This is more than life or death. It’s utter annihilation. Don’t stand there and think you know more than me.”

Twisting out of her grip, I shook her off, “I don’t have to listen to you. Martis are all the same self-serving corrupt immortals who are high on power. Go play with Julia and leave me alone.” I spit the words at her, not expecting her to react. Martis pride was one thing. The way Jenna Marie reacted was another.

She laughed one short laugh that made her body lurch forward. Her blonde hair fell over her shoulders. Snow clung to her cute hat making her look like a Barbie doll. She was always perfect. Rosy cheeks, golden hair, and a perfect smile. “So, we’ll do this the hard way, then.” She reached out and grabbed me. And I realized, a second too late, that I completely underestimated her.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

A blinding light faded and when my eyes refocused we were standing in the same place, but everything was muted—the color, the sounds, the falling snow. And nothing moved. It was as if time had stopped. Nearly snapping my neck off, I twisted toward Jenna Marie—the girl I didn’t know. The girl who held more power than I thought possible. My stomach felt as if I’d eaten a bucket of nails. With my mouth hanging open, I slipped my foot backwards, away from her. Uncertain of everything now.

As my head swiveled around, I took in the gray snow that had been brilliant white, and the light gray building that had been red brick. Snowflakes hung suspended in the air in front of us. My breath had frozen and hung in the air where I’d been standing. It was no longer cold, but it wasn’t warm. The biting winter wind was frozen with the snowflakes, neither moving or howling. It no longer caught our hair and thrust it with its unseen fingers.

Jeanna Marie repeated herself, “You do not know more than me.” Her voice was tense. Her delicate arms were folded over her fluffy coat.

Finally finding my voice, I said, “You’re not one of them, are you? You’re not a Martis at all.”

She shook her head. Jenna Marie’s eyes were strange. It was as if they were made of water and gemstones—smooth and so clear that I should have been able to look into her skull. But her eyes had become gray and the only thing I saw was my own reflection. “You think that we’d leave you here to destroy everything in one act of complete stupidity. Angels wouldn’t do that! I could kill that boy! He shouldn’t have saved you. But then, Kreturus shouldn’t have been out. It made using the stone pointless.” She shook her head, as if she was dislodging an unwanted memory.

There were so many things that I wanted to latch onto. But I bit my tongue, and when she stopped speaking I asked, “The stone? You used the Satan’s Stone?” My eyebrows rose as I stepped towards her.

A rushed breath of air released from her lungs. “I can’t pull off this Stasis for much longer. I can only hold time still for a short while. It’s incredibly draining, but you are about to make another mistake. Listen, Ivy. I’m an angel. I was there from the beginning. Before you, before Al, and before Kreturus. I’m one of the ancient ones, the oldest of our kind. I have more power in my pinky than you have in your whole body. You need to know—you’re a pawn in this whole thing.” As her pink shimmering lips moved she spoke at a hurried pace. “You were in the wrong place at the wrong time, but it’s too late to free you from this. Too many things were set into motion that can’t be undone. I did not use the stone. Another angel did. He paid the price and died because of it. Satan’s Stone destroys as it grants power.” Her lashes lowered as she looked to the gray snow-covered earth, “Lorren gave his life to use it during the first war. And everything stopped. The war ended. Demons and angels alike, dropped their weapons, and left. There was peace for a long time—until Kreturus. Until that demon raised his head and started the war over again. But this time, it was more violent than the last. This time, he wouldn’t be stopped. Another angel sacrificed himself. He aided the Martis in trapping Kreturus in that hole in Hell. We lost two of our best warriors trying to defeat the demons. The price of the stone is death, Ivy. You cannot use it.” She glared at me with her bewitched eyes. Her pale skin had taken on a slight shimmer as she spoke. Passion laced her voice as she tried to convince me to stop looking for something that couldn’t save me. But it only made me more interested in the Satan’s Stone.

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