Nightshade Page 91

He was silent for a moment and I felt him continue to unbutton the dress. He began to laugh.

“What is it now?” I snapped.

“That’s not exactly the way I imagined you asking me to take your clothes off,” he said softly.

“The way you imagined what?” I gasped, trying to step away from him, but he held the now-open back of my dress firmly in his grasp.

One of his hands released my dress and slipped around my waist while the other touched the bare skin between my shoulder blades and slowly moved along my spine toward my lower back. I shivered, closing my eyes. His lips pressed against the curve between my neck and shoulder. Soothing warmth pooled at the site of his gentle kiss, poured over my shoulders, and cascaded through my limbs. The world fell away, as it always did when he touched me.

His hand slid beneath the loosened bodice from my back to my bare stomach, pulling me against him. I could feel every inch of his body touching the length of mine, the strength of his wanting matching my own, breath for breath. His fingers slid down and I gasped. My eyes wandered to his bed. It was so close. He could easily carry me there.

We can’t. Not like this, not with everything that’s happening.

“Don’t,” I murmured, head and body battling each other. “Please don’t.”

I twisted away from his lips, fighting the flood of emotions his soft touch provoked, needing to quell the ache his hands had left lingering deep within me. The faces of my packmates passed before my tightly closed eyes. Faces I feared I might never see again. Ren’s face. I swallowed the thickness in my throat, pulling the bodice tight across my chest.

“Right. I remember. No kissing without loss of limbs. My limbs, that is,” he said. “Sorry, I was caught up in the moment.”

Shay resumed his task of unbuttoning in a more-chaste manner.

I cleared my throat, wanting to sound more confident than I felt. “It’s okay. We just need to hurry. No distractions.”

His hands dropped from the fabric. “You should be able to wiggle out of that now. I’ll wait in the hall.”

“That’s probably a good idea.”

I shimmied out of the dress. With considerable relief I pulled on Shay’s jeans and sweater and then braided my hair, ripping a ribbon from my dress to tie it.

A faint cracking sound reached my ears, sharp and brittle like too much weight on thin ice. My breath came more quickly.

“Calla,” Shay called from the hall. “Without your nakedness to distract me, I’m remembering that we’re in serious trouble. Hurry, please.”

“All set.” I grabbed the Keeper’s text from Shay’s nightstand and left the room, throwing it on top of his hastily packed clothes. “Haldis?”

“Already in here.” He patted the bag. “It was hidden in the back of my closet.”

“Let’s get out of here.” I grabbed his hand and we ran back down the hallway. When we turned into the main corridor, I froze. He paused beside me.

“What’s wrong?”

I pivoted, staring at the thin flakes of marble that littered the floor.

“Where is the statue?” I murmured. “The incubus?”

“What?” His voice was hoarse.

A soft rustle like the wind lifting a pile of dead leaves came from above us. I glanced up.

The incubus grinned at me, spreading its wings and unhooking its talon-like nails from the ceiling.

“Run!” I shoved Shay forward and shifted into wolf form. In the next moment a golden brown wolf ran beside me.

Our toenails scraped the marble floor as we tore down the hallway. Something whistled past my shoulder and the incubus’s spear clattered on the stones a few feet in front of me. The sound of beating wings filled my ears. Shay glanced over his shoulder.

There’s more than one chasing us.

How many?

Another spear sailed past us.

I’m not sure.

We reached the top of the staircase and I yelped. The chimera crouched halfway down the steps, its serpent tail hissing and weaving hypnotically while a forked tongue darted from its mouth and its lion head roared, its mane of snakes striking at the air, hundreds of needle-sharp teeth flashing. Two succubi hovered in the air above the chimera. They shrieked at the sight of us. One drew its bow taut and loosed an arrow at me. I threw my body to the side as the arrow buzzed past, scrambled to my feet, and ran along the balcony with Shay at my heels.

I bolted toward the corridor that led to the west wing. A rush of sighs like the collective release of breath wafted through the hall, making me skid to an abrupt halt. A long moan echoed around us; it became louder and louder, rising to the ceiling in a dense fog of wretched sound.

What was that? The terror in Shay’s question was as shrill as nails on a chalkboard.

Oh God. I scuttled backward as two grasping arms and then a flailing body dropped out of one of the tall portraits that hung on the walls.

The figure jerked to its feet and ambled toward us, its moans constant, growing more and more desperate. All along the halls bodies lurched and rolled from the paintings until the corridor was filled by the scrape of slow-moving feet on the stone floor. Dozens of the moaning creatures came forward at an awkward, jerking gait.

The first of them emerged from the dark corridor and was suddenly bathed in moonlight. I whined, swaying on my feet. Despite the sunken features and vacant expression, I would have recognized him anywhere. It was the Searcher whom I’d turned over to Efron and Lumine for questioning. My muscles quaked and I thought my legs might give out.

Calla! Shay’s alarm brought me back to my senses. What the hell is happening? What are those things?

I don’t know, but there are too many. I couldn’t hide my own panic. We can’t fight them.

Shay darted past me, shifting forms. “Come on!” He hurled himself against the library door, flinging it open, and I rushed after him into the dark room. The moment I was through the door, he slammed it shut and locked it. He banged his forehead on the wood, drawing a ragged breath. I could hear the screams of the succubi on the other side of the door.

“Damn,” Shay whispered.

I shifted forms. “I know. We have to find a way out of here.”

“That’s not it.” He was shaking his head.

“What are you talking about, Shay?”

“The door, Calla,” he murmured. “The library door. It wasn’t locked.”

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