Aftermath Page 1

ADNE HAD LEARNED to live with nightmares years ago. Since the day her mother suffered and died, tangled in the shadow grip of a wraith, Adne often woke trembling, covered in sweat, with a throat raw from screams. Wanting to show a brave face, she hadn’t told anyone—not her father, not even Connor—how frequently the night terrors shook her from sleep, sudden and violent. But life had changed and she couldn’t continue to keep that secret, because she rarely spent a night without Connor.

When Adne jerked up with a cry that evening, Connor was awake immediately. He cradled her trembling body in his arms.

“It was a dream,” he whispered before she said anything. “Easy now.”

He stroked her mahogany hair, his fingers pausing briefly when they found the sweat on the back of her neck.

“Your mother?” Connor asked quietly when Adne’s limbs had stopped shaking.

Adne shook her head. She wasn’t ready to talk yet.

Connor pulled Adne against his chest and she tucked her head beneath his chin. The nightmares she’d told Connor about had been those of her mother and the wraith. But since the war’s end, something had changed. The shadows that visited her now were different, yet unsettlingly familiar.

“Do you want to tell me about it?” Connor asked.

Shaking her head again, Adne lifted her face to press her lips against Connor’s cheek. He took her chin in his hand, turning her further until her mouth met his. Adne waited for the warmth of Connor’s skin and the gentle strength of his touch to chase the nightmare away, as she knew it would. Guilt caused a slight twinge in her chest as she hurried to lose herself in sensation. In the joy and ceaseless thrill of having this man in her arms each night, holding her, kissing her. When they were twined together in the dark, Connor made it clear how long he’d wanted her too.

After the nightmare, Adne’s desire for intimacy wasn’t only about loving Connor; it was about using him to chase away her fears. And she didn’t want to use him. But Adne couldn’t think of anything else to do. She was frightened by her dreams, but she was more afraid of what Connor would think if she shared the visions with him.

Telling Connor the truth was out of the question. Telling anyone was out of the question.

Connor’s lips were on Adne’s neck and she closed her eyes. The cold sweat that covered her body gave way to the heat spreading over her skin. Adne twisted her fingers through Connor’s silky chestnut hair before wrapping her arms around his neck. She clung to him, willing away the shadows still creeping into the edges of her consciousness, her body electric with tremors of fear and desire. Connor had always been light to her. Pure light and hope in the face of sorrow and despair. Whatever darkness threatened her now, Connor would keep it at bay.

He had to.

* * *

The library at Rowan Estate looked like a tornado had torn through it. As Sabine turned in a slow circle, observing the damage, she thought it bore a strong resemblance to its state just after Shay had closed the Rift. Considering all the cleanup work and restoration she’d done to get the place back in shape since then, she was not amused by this new development.

“Over here!” Adne called.

Sabine picked her way through the rubble until she reached Adne’s side.

Adne crouched among what had been dozens of bookshelves, riffling through splintered wood and torn pages. “Things have been taken.”

Sabine leaned over her. “How can you possibly know that?”

“You’re not the only one who spent hours getting this place organized,” Adne said. “I gave up days of my life cataloging this section—and I swear it’s not all here. There are several books—important books—that are missing.”

“Are you sure this isn’t what’s happened to them?” Sabine asked, picking up a pile of debris that looked like it had gone through a shredder.

Adne laughed, but Sabine recognized the determined set of her jaw. “No. I’m sure that’s what whoever did this wanted us to think,” Adne said. She swept her arm toward the rest of the library . . . or what was left of it. “They wanted us to think it was an attack, when it was actually a theft.”

“So, case closed?” Connor kicked aside pieces of a shattered marble bust. “Good work, Adne. Can we go home now?”

“Hardly.” Adne was bent over the remnants of books at her feet.

“I didn’t sign on to play detective,” Sabine said. “Can I go beat up the thieves for information instead?”

“Sounds like fun.” Connor laughed. “But it’s thief, not thieves. The second one managed to get away.”

“How’d that happen?” Sabine asked. The Searchers weren’t sloppy and the thieves were human; catching them should have been easy.

“He displayed his immensely noble character by tripping his associate, so we were busy catching that guy while the first one made it to the getaway car,” Connor said. “He drove into a populated area where we couldn’t pursue him without drawing unwanted attention.”

“So we’re interrogating the guy we did catch?” Sabine asked.

“That’s a no go.” Ethan walked up, apparently having overheard the last bit of their conversation.

“How’s that?” Sabine asked.

“He’s been hexed.” Ethan sat down next to Sabine. “He can’t answer questions about who employed him or why.”

Sabine’s gaze swept over the ransacked shelves. “What do you mean hexed?”

“Hexed, cursed,” Adne said. “Whatever you want to call it.”

“Black magic?” Sabine’s frown deepened. “How is that possible?”

“Why wouldn’t it be possible?” Connor twirled a lock of Adne’s hair in his fingers. She batted his hand away, but not without throwing a teasing smile his way.

“Because the Rift is closed and the Harbinger is gone,” Sabine said. “I thought that meant the Keepers’ magic was cut off.”

“The magic from the Harbinger, yeah,” Connor said. “So no wraiths, but magic—basic magic—is still around. That won’t ever go away.”

“Don’t sweat it.” Ethan put his arm around Sabine’s shoulders. “Black magic keeps us employed. We have to make sure it doesn’t get out of hand.”

“So you think Logan is behind this hex?” Sabine asked, pulling Ethan’s arm further around her so she could nestle against him. “And the theft?”

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