TABLE OF CONTENTS!
- Chapter One
- Chapter Two
- Chapter Three
- Chapter Four
- Chapter Five
- Chapter Six
- Chapter Seven
- Chapter Eight
- Chapter Nine
- Chapter Ten
Eli sat in the quiet. So still, she was hardly breathing. It felt like lifetimes ago that she had watched Aria walk down the street, hugging herself to keep the autumnal chill at bay.
Salena was nowhere to be found. Eli hadn’t heard a peep since Aria had left. Not for lack of trying, either. She had all but braced herself against the door and strained to hear anything happening in the apartment beyond.
She supposed Salena might have left with Aria. She could have gone in the opposite direction, and Eli would have been none the wiser. But wouldn’t she have heard two sets of footsteps going down the stairs?
Once more, for good measure, she walked to the door and pressed her ear against its surface. She closed her eyes and focused hard. There was no low warble of a television screen or tinny shriek from a cell phone. There was no rustling beyond the mice that crawled their way through the walls, emboldened by the moon’s steady rise. She felt it too. The siren’s call to shed her skin and become the monster her captors believed her to be.
Eli bit her lip hard to silence the monster within her. They would get out of this place. And soon. Even better, they would return to Yui, and no one would need to get hurt.
Why should you care?
The creature’s melodic voice crooned. A lover’s caress licking its way up her spine. She wanted to submit to the craving. To cut loose and let the animal within win.
But she wouldn’t.
Because I care about her.
The monster withdrew, leaving her to marinate in her own stupidity. It seemed that her taste in romantic partners was excruciatingly abysmal. At least, Landyn was more blatantly a villain. Aria was a murderer, wearing a snaggle-toothed smile and the most adorable freckles on her cheeks. Had she always been like this? Damaged? Too broken to find someone who could love her without wanting to destroy her?
There would be time yet to wonder about the many ways she had screwed up her life. What she should have been focusing on was how to get out.
Yui must have paced holes in the floorboards by this point. Eli hoped that the Siren hadn’t gone looking for her. The last thing she wanted was for her to stick her nose somewhere it didn’t belong. The longer Eli was gone, the less likely Yui was to sit on her hands.
A night, her friend might believe. Eli was known to disappear, especially when alcohol was involved.
Two days was pushing it, but they had been under a lot of stress to get to Sanctuary Hills.
Three days? Four days? If Yui wasn’t already worried, she most certainly would be now.
Her greatest priority was getting word to her. Don’t come looking.
But her cell phone was still in the white-knuckled custody of Aria. Or Salena. Or, it was somewhere loose in the apartment.
Eli had the foresight to memorize Yui’s number, at least. If she could get her hands on a phone, she could send a quick message to let her know what was happening. Though, ideally, she’d find her own phone. Her belongings.
Her fingers closed around the door handle and gently twisted it. Somehow, the old, creaky door didn’t make so much as a peep as she stepped out into the hallway. If she didn’t know any better, she would have thought that the gods were, for once, on her side.
The carpet runner that carved the length of the hallway had seen better days. It was old, likely left over by the apartment’s former inhabitants. Knowing Aria, it could very well be one of the things she loved most. When they had been together, they had often gone antiquing. Aria loved anything old—anything musty and damaged. She insisted that it all had a story. The memory alone was enough to make Eli’s lips twist in a smile, even though the fabric runner smelled like mildew and dirt. There were a few unnaturally bright spots. They were white-pink—pinpricks of bleach.
The walls themselves were peeling plaster. Big chunks of hideous terracotta had fallen off. The floor itself was meticulously cleaned, alluding to tenants who cared more about the building than the person who owned it. However, a cursory look overhead revealed big, ugly, round stains from seemingly ongoing plumbing issues.
She could see a living room down the hallway. She remembered the general layout, but if she were asked if the couch was black leather, she wouldn’t have been able to recall. She could see a colorful stool to the right, alluding to a kitchen next to the living room. Beyond the two rooms, the hallway extended. To what, Eli didn’t know. She did know that the exit was through the living room and to the left.
If she could find her phone and her things, she could get out before either got home.
She reached the mouth of the hallway and froze, her eyes glued to an unnaturally still Salena poised at the edge of the couch. She had her hands folded in front of her, looking more like the statue of a disappointed parent waiting for their teenager to climb back through their bedroom window.
“I didn’t know you were home,” Eli announced, forcing nonchalance.
Eli managed to keep herself from wincing. “I was just going to get a glass of water.”
Unfettered, Salena asked, “is the bathroom sink not working in your room?”
“It’s working just fine,” she smiled, the lies coming too naturally. “The glass is just a little scuzzy after being used for the last four days.”
Salena didn’t have a response until her eyes darted to Eli’s decidedly empty hands. “Did you want me to wash it?”
“How silly. It looks like you forgot it.” Salena’s tone seemed anything but amused, though. Her words were flat. Measured. Her eyes were hard.
“I guess,” Eli shuffled uncomfortably, hating that her body was betraying her by moving of its own volition.
“If you want, I can get you a new glass,” Salena said, sliding off the couch with a predator’s grace. Like recognized like. They both moved the same. Animalistic. They were both killers. But by the scent of her, Salena wasn’t like her. Not a monster of claw and teeth, but of gunpowder and iron blades.
“Thanks. I don’t want to put you out.”
“I insist,” Salena hissed. “You’re injured.”
Judging by her lingering look at her abdomen, she wasn’t convinced.
“I don’t want to be a bother.”
“Not at all. I insist that you go back to your room. Take it easy.” Salena’s smile was acerbic. It twisted her insides, turning her stomach to water.
Eli nodded, her lips twitching in a fragile attempt at a smile. “Thank you,” she said, her eyes tracing the living room, taking particular note of the door.
Salena noticed. Of course, she did. Her smile became more serene as if the simple look had answered the universe’s most pressing questions.
She could hear footsteps coming up the steps, but she daren’t indicate that she did. Then, finally, the door clicked open just as Eli turned to go back to “her room.”
“Eli?” Aria squeaked, her voice laced with sincere worry. Eli didn’t have to turn to know she was shucking her boots and coat. “What are you doing out of bed? You should be resting.”
“I was going to get a glass of water,” she replied numbly.
She could scent it on her: dirt, fallen leaves, and gunpowder.
“Why didn’t you call for Salena?”
Eli grimaced, her eyes tracking disjointedly across the wooden floorboards until they settled on the woman standing in the kitchen, occupying herself with the false task Eli had sent her on. “I didn’t even know she was home.”
Aria balked. “You haven’t eaten?” She shot a scathing look over her shoulder at her girlfriend and draped her arm over Eli’s shoulders. “Are you feeling up to eating at the counter? I can make us something.” Her eyes darted to Salena’s. “Spaghetti okay?”
“Sure,” Salena replied, making it seem like it was anything but.
“Sure,” came Eli’s twin response.
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