Nightshade Page 86

Ren kept his distance.

“The band is white gold,” he murmured. “It reminds me of your hair.”

I pulled my gaze from the ring and looked at him. His eyes returned to mine, questioning. I parted my lips, but a lump in my throat obstructed any words I willed to surface. The quivering in my hand spread through the rest of my body.

His charcoal irises flickered with disappointment. “If you don’t like it, you don’t have to wear it. I just thought you should have something before the union. My father said rings aren’t usually a part of this, but I want you to know that I . . .”

He shook his head; a low growl rumbled in his chest. “Never mind,” he said, reaching for the ring as if to snatch it from my still-open palm. I snapped my fingers shut and pulled my hand against my chest. He blinked at me, startled by the sudden, protective movement. I finally managed to clear my throat, though I didn’t recognize the voice that escaped me, quaking, husky.

“It’s beautiful. Thank you.” He does care about me. About us. I wondered if I could get through this night after all.

Unwelcome stinging assailed my eyes and I dropped my gaze. I slowly unfurled my tightly clenched fist and slipped the ring onto my finger.

“I’m sorry I don’t have anything for you.”

He moved close to me and took my hand, running his fingertip over the ring. “You do.”

Bryn reappeared on the terrace, this time with Dax at her side.

“It’s time,” Dax said. Ren nodded; he brushed his lips over my forehead before following Dax down the stairs.

“You ready for this?” Bryn asked. She offered me a bright smile, but I could hear an edge of fear in her voice.

“I’m not sure that’s the right question,” I said. I glanced at the ring again. This is where I belong. I’ve always known my path. Now I have to walk it.

“Just know that I’ll be right behind you.” Bryn took my arm. “None of the pack will let anything bad happen.”

“You’re not allowed to participate,” I said, letting her lead me out, down the steps and into the forest.

“You think they’ll be able to stop us if you’re in trouble?” She elbowed me, making a smile pull at my lips.


“And you look beautiful,” she added.

“I look like a cake.”

“But a beautiful cake.”

Our giggles transformed into miniature clouds in the cold night air. We walked into the darkness, Bryn taking me along a path I didn’t know, deeper and deeper into the forest, a thin layer of fresh snow glittering like a carpet of diamonds. The sounds of the ball faded and disappeared. I took in the serenity of the unblemished snowfall, knowing I’d soon mar it with some creature’s blood. I glanced up at the moon, wondering again about the kill, what our prey would be.

Blood moon. The hunter’s moon. Tonight is a night for killing. I let the moonlight pour into me, hoping it would summon my hunger for prey, but those instincts lay buried deep beneath my fear.

“How much farther?” I asked, but saw the torchlight before she could answer. Flames pulsed in the gaps between the tall pines, which circled the opening in the woods like the bars of a cage.

“I have to go in first.” She hugged me, leaving me outside the ring. “Naomi said you’ll know when to come. It’s going to be fine. You’re badass, remember?”

“Of course.” My twisting gut didn’t feel badass at all; it felt like pudding.

“And I hear brides get to go all diva at these sorts of things,” she said, grinning. “So if you want, you can make Ren wait a little longer; it’ll be good for him.”

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll see you soon.”

“I love you, Cal.” She kissed my cheek and headed for the ring of torches.

I watched her go, fighting to steady my heartbeat, desperate to slow my breath. I didn’t trust my limbs; my body felt strange and unbalanced, like a foal trying to learn how to walk.

Calla, you know you have to do this. This is what you were made for. This is who you are.

Then why did I want to run? Shouldn’t I feel drawn to my own destiny?

I put my hands over my face, struggling for calm. A steady drumbeat rose from the circle ahead, summoning spirits to the ritual. Gathering my heavy skirts in my fists, I started toward the clearing, wanting to catch a peek of what I’d be walking into.

The scent stopped me in my tracks. I glanced around, alarmed. It couldn’t be. But it was unmistakable—that smell of rainfall and plants straining for the sun. Shay.

For a minute my mind flashed to the ceremony. Efron speaking, “Whosoever objects to this union, speak now or forever hold your peace,” Shay leaping from the shadows and tearing me out of Ren’s arms.

I’m totally losing it. I tried to shake away the scent, the treacherous vision. It couldn’t be real. Not only was I sure there was no place in the ritual at which anyone would ask if there were objections to the union, but Shay wouldn’t be here to rescue me. There was no way.

But when I took another breath, the scent was still there, pulling me away from the grove toward the forest shadows. I hesitated, torn by the compulsion to go to the ceremony and the need to know where the scent was coming from, if it was even real. I didn’t know how much longer I could put off my entrance.

A new sound wove between the trees. Sabine’s voice, sweet and sorrowful, pierced the air. Another voice joined hers, Neville. Their harmonies entwined, singing of battle and sacrifice, one more reminder that the union wasn’t about romance, but duty.

The warrior’s song. I had a little more time. Turning from the torchlight, I stole into the darkness, following the scent. It grew stronger as I moved through the trees farther into shadow and away from the flames.

I came upon a massive oak, its presence striking amid the galley of pines, and I was no longer alone. Someone was at its base.

Shay was blindfolded, his head bowed, hands tied behind his back, and he’d been left in a kneeling position beneath the gigantic tree. My throat closed up.

He lifted his chin, breathing deeply. “Calla? Calla, is that you?”

Air rushed back into my lungs. He knows my scent too.

I hurried forward, almost tripping over my skirts, and dropped to the ground beside him.

“Shay, what are you doing here?” I tore the blindfold from his eyes, cupping his face in my hands. “What happened?”

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