Mortal Defiance (Dark Betrayal Trilogy #2)

Chapter 17

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“I’ll take you home,” Paden said. From the corner of Ree’s eye she saw Roland give a subtle nod, and she couldn’t help but wonder what had changed between the two guys.

“Let me grab my bag first.” Running inside, Ree snatched her discarded backpack off of the floor. Weylin and Roland were coming in the door as she left, talking about what had happened at the club.

“That is sick, man. A napkin holder?” Weylin was looking at Roland in awe, but the Dark One only had eyes for Ree as she squeezed past. Obviously sensing he was in the way, Weylin wandered on over to the fridge and began poking around inside.

“Ree, are you okay? You weren’t hurt tonight, were you?”

“No, I’m fine. My dad is super pissed and I’m pretty sure I’m grounded for the rest of my life, but I’m alive and well.” Ree smiled at him, not wanting to run out and leave him. There was something so sad and broken in his expression; she found it hard to move away from him. “Are you okay? You weren’t hurt were you?”

“Other than a bruised ego, I’m completely unscathed. I can’t believe the godling won.” Shaking his head, Roland made a pained expression. “It wounds me that I lost the chance to take you home tonight.”

“You guys bet about who got to take me home?” Chagrin and pleasure battled in her stomach. She didn’t know whether she should be flattered or ticked.

“Well, a wager isn’t a wager without a prize.” Stepping closer to her, his hand moved to her hair, and he ran his fingers through it. “And there isn’t a prize I want more than the chance to spend more time with you.” Her heartbeat sped up and she felt herself lean closer to Roland, needing to comfort him. Wanting something she wouldn’t admit.

“You better go, otherwise your father really will ground you for life.” Stepping back, Roland smiled wickedly. “Of course, that just means I’d get to spend more nights in your room.”

Shaking her head, Ree gave him a little smile and ran out to where Paden was waiting in his car. His eyes were dark, but he didn’t say anything about how long it had taken Ree to get her bag. Instead he pulled out of the parking lot and headed toward Ree’s house.

“Well, time to face the music. I wonder how I can get out of being grounded.” Ree strapped herself into the seat and tried to shake the confusion that lingered in her heart.

Chapter 25

“What are you wearing?” Ree’s father opened the door and stared at her clothes in confusion. Mentally slapping herself, Ree realized she had forgotten to change back into her school uniform.

“Uh, they were at Sophie’s house. She had some clothes she didn’t want anymore.” Ree was glad he couldn’t see her torn sleeve. That would really worry him.

“She gave you that jacket?”

“Yeah. It doesn’t fit her.”

Shaking his head, her father rubbed a hand over his face. “Let’s go see your mom. She wouldn’t come out of our room. You’re going to have to talk to her.”

“I’m sorry, Dad.”

“I know, Ree. I do. But you have to think about how things are affecting your mom. This was really rough on her.” He led the way to her parents’ bedroom. When he got there, he looked at Ree and lowered his voice. “See if you can get her to eat something. I don’t think she’s had anything at all today.” Ree nodded and motioned for him to open the door.

“Ree’s here.” He nodded his head toward the bed, and Ree sat down next to her mom. There were tissues covering the bed, and her mother’s eyes were puffy and red-rimmed.

“Mama, I’m so sorry I worried you and Dad. I was just picking up some extra hours at the shop. I thought I had told you, but I guess I forgot with everything else going on.”

Her mother’s voice was shaky as she turned to look at Ree.

Shuddering, Ree looked at her mother and frowned. “Mom, I am completely safe. Do you want to get something to eat? Dad said you haven’t eaten in a while.”

“Do you want something? I could make us some food.” Her mother sat up and looked around the room with glazed eyes. “Maybe I’ll make salmon patties. How does that sound?”

Ree couldn’t help but frown. It wasn’t that she didn’t like salmon patties, but those had been Tristan’s favorite before he died. Putting an arm around her mother, she helped her get out of bed and put some slippers on.

“Why don’t you let me make something? You can go watch that travel show you and Dad like so much.”

“No, dear. I’m good. Better to keep busy.” A moment of clarity washed over her mother’s face as she looked at Ree. “You know you’re grounded, right?”

“Yeah, I know.” Sighing, Ree followed her mother to the kitchen and helped get the stuff for salmon patties. Paden was supposed to be back later that night, so she had time to eat with her parents. Drake was outside her house right now, doing the rounds. She hoped no one saw him and thought he was a burglar. It would be easier to explain one of her friends sneaking into the house.

Taking a large mixing bowl down from a shelf, Ree walked to the pantry and grabbed some of the ingredients. Her mother was busy mixing eggs and milk with seasoning in another bowl.

“Honey, grab the leftover mashed potatoes from the fridge.” Her mother was quickly losing her shuffle and picking up her pace now that she was in her domain.

“Er, I think we ate all of them last night.” Her father put his hands on the counter and flashed his wife a guilty grin. “What about a salad and rolls?”

“You ate all of those mashed potatoes?” Turning around, Ree’s mom put a hand on her hip and shook her head in disbelief.

“I did have help.” Nodding in Ree’s direction, her father tried to share the guilt.

“It’s true. You know how I love me some mashed potatoes!” Ree smiled and rubbed her belly. “They were delicious, too.” She planted a kiss on her mother’s head as she grabbed the salt and pepper. “I’ll make the salad.”

Other than the sound of the food preparation, the kitchen was quiet as they worked. Ree sliced lettuce, tomatoes, and a cucumber for the salad, while her father shredded some cheese and put some rolls in the oven. Her mother deftly mixed ingredients for the main course and popped the patties into the skillet. The sizzle of the hot grease and the smell of the warming ingredients made Ree’s stomach rumble. I slept through lunch and skipped dinner. No wonder I’m so hungry! She popped a cucumber slice in her mouth.

Sitting at the kitchen island, they all chowed down on the delicious food. Ree’s father seemed extremely excited to see his wife eat something, and Ree felt a little relief at the lack of fog in her mother’s eyes.

“So, you were at the shop?” Her father popped a bite of salmon in his mouth and looked at her expectantly.

“Yeah, Sophie needed help. I just forgot to mention it.” Using her fork, Ree pushed the salad around on her plate. So far she had managed to stick to the truth. “I really don’t want to quit. I need to make money for my college fund.”

“Ree, I applaud you dedication, but there are more important things in life than working. In fact, I wanted to talk to you about that today. I’m planning on quitting my job.”

“What? But what will you do?” Mouth hanging open, Ree looked from parent to parent.

“There’s a local firm that has expressed interest in me. I wouldn’t have to travel as much, and I’d get to spend more time with you and your mother.”

“That would be nice.” Taking another bite of salad, Ree gave herself a little time to think. She already had to get out of being grounded, but with her father being home more, it was going to be difficult to hide things. “What do you think, Mom?”

“I like it. I get lonely in the house when you and your father are gone.” Sadness flashed through her mother, and Ree winced in understanding.

“I’m sorry I’ve been so wrapped up in what I’m doing.” Reaching out, she grabbed her mother’s free hand. “I love you guys so much.”

“It’s okay, Ree. You deserve to have a life, but after Tristan…” Fog clouded her mother’s eyes for a minute. “I don’t know if it was the medicine, but I swear I saw Tristan looking in my window.” Shaking her head, she took a sip of sweet tea. “Maybe I was dreaming.”

Fear clutched Ree’s heart, making it hard to breathe. “Yeah, probably just a dream. When did it happen?”

“Earlier this afternoon, I think. The sun had just gone down and your father had run to the store for some sugar.”

Before Teagan and Drake were in town, Ree thought. She needed to let the others know her brother had paid her mother a house call.

“You were probably just half-awake. Still dreaming, but not really asleep.” Ree got up and picked up her plate. “So, how long am I grounded for?”

“Two weeks.” Her father picked up his own plate and rinsed it in the sink. “And we’ll talk about the job tomorrow.”

“Okay.” Kissing each of them, she headed for her room. “I’m gonna call it a night.”

“Good night, sweet potato.”

“Good night, Ree.”

Her room was dark, and her extra sense told her that she was alone. She fell onto her bed and immediately texted everyone to let them know she thought Tristan had been to her house. Sophie immediately texted back that Teagan and Drake were both patrolling her house and that she would be over that night as well. Paden didn’t respond, which worried Ree. With nothing else to do, she took a shower and settled into bed. Picking up her book, she read a few sentences before setting it back down in her lap. She looked at the clock next to her bed and wondered why Paden hadn’t made it back. Unable to wait any longer for him to call, she sent him a quick text asking where he was.

It only took a few minutes before he replied, but his message was less than reassuring. “My parents are freaking out. I can’t leave. Roland is coming over.” Reading the message out loud, Ree couldn’t help but feel her heart deflate. Her phone beeped again and she read the new message with a smile. “Wish I could be with you.”

Setting the phone back on her nightstand, Ree tried to quell the disappointment searing her heart. After everything that had happened that night, she had wanted—no, needed—to really see that Paden wasn’t hurt.

She picked up her book again and settled in to wait for Roland to show up. Hopefully, the Dread Pirate Roberts would be able to distract her from everything that was worrying her. After a while, her eyes grew heavy and the words in the book became blurry.

Weeds pulled at the ends of her tunic and wrap. Tiny pebbles and dirt had made it into her sandals, making each step painful, but she couldn’t stop moving. Sophronia was behind her, carrying the sword she had taken from their father’s dead guard, constantly urging her forward. They were almost to the house now, and she could hardly think for the fear clutching her chest.

The moon was hidden behind clouds, making it difficult to see where she was walking, and she stumbled after catching her foot in a hole. Sophronia immediately grabbed her arm, helping her regain her feet before moving forward. Lights from torches surrounded the house, casting a soft glow into the field. Picking up her pace, she darted toward the garden where she could hear music drifting through doors.

“Wait.”

Seeing Sophronia hesitate made her stop in her tracks. This close to the house, she could see the dark stain of blood on her sister’s clothing. “Something is wrong.” Sophronia lifted her head and sniffed at the air.

Hearing the sound of a voice she would know anywhere had her feet moving of their own accord. He was in danger because of her, and she couldn’t let anything happen to him. Sophronia was hissing curses behind her, but she didn’t care. After everything they had seen, had experienced, that night, she had to know that he was safe.

Just as she was about to burst through the foliage surrounding the open garden, her sister grabbed her arm and pulled her to her knees.

“Wait, sister.”

Pulling at the fingers on her arm, she tried to free herself, but Sophronia was too strong. Fear made the blood pound in her ears. “Please, Sophronia.”

Shaking her head, Sophronia motioned for her to keep her voice down. That was when she heard the sound of her intended’s voice nearing them. As if the night could not get any worse, she heard the unmistakable sound of his deep laugh drifting to her ears. It was the sound he generally reserved for the few moments they had been alone and she hated the thought that he was sharing it with someone else.

The moment her sister’s fingers loosened on her arm, she was on her feet and through the bushes. Her intended was wrapped around a tall, dark-haired woman, his mouth on hers. Her heart dropped to her feet and tears welled in her eyes. That was when the woman looked up and met her stare. Black eyes mocked her hurt, and she smiled, revealing dagger-like teeth. The demon holding her future husband turned her head and struck his neck like a snake. In that moment, the unexplained energy she had used earlier that night flew from her body in a wave and she felt her feet leave the ground.

“DOSIETO!”

Chapter 26

Hands pulled Ree into a sitting position, shaking her gently. “Ree. Ree, it’s a dream. Wake up.”

When she came to her sense and realized someone was sitting on her bed, she shoved away and fell against the headboard. She raked the hair out of her face and tried to catch her breath.

“Why is it that I never get a good night’s rest when you’re around?” Ree squinted at Roland and frowned.

“I’m sure we could come up with a way to help you relax.” Raising an eyebrow, he smiled at Ree, making her pulse race.

Deciding to ignore his innuendo, she looked at her clock and noticed she had been out for a few hours. “Did you break in through my window again?”

“How else was I going to get into your room?” Roland leaned backward so that he was propped up on his elbows along the foot of her bed. “Besides, it wasn’t like you didn’t know that I was coming. Your godling said he sent you a message.”

“He’s not my godling.”

“Then what is he?” Something in Roland’s expression intensified. “Something is going on between you two.”

Ree looked away as heat seeped into her cheeks. This was not a conversation she wanted to have with Roland, so she decided to ask about something that was prominent on her mind.

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