Raising Innocence Page 1


I hung from the ceiling of my bedroom, my arm muscles trembling under the strain of holding up me and the twenty-five pound sack of potatoes tied to my waist. The thick rope I’d wrapped around my right arm was frayed and rough, usually a good surface to grip, but not so much today. Sweat dripped from my body, making it hard to hang on. In nothing but a black tank top and stretchy jeans, I fought to keep up the pace I’d started with three hours before, my breathing harsh even to my own ears. I was desperate to stop my mind from going where it wanted to go. My workouts had always been an escape for me, but today even pushing my body to the edge of exhaustion wasn’t keeping the flutter of anxiety in my gut still.

O’Shea still hadn’t come back. It had been over a month since he’d been infected with the werewolf virus. A few months ago, I wouldn’t have cared what happened to the FBI agent, he’d been a thorn in my ass for years. Then things had changed between us; he’d saved my life and I’d saved his. I’d thought I’d found a man who could stand with me in my world, be a part of my life. But maybe not. The supernatural world was a hard place to live, the learning curve deadly for most, especially for humans coming into it.

I grit my teeth and looked up to see how much higher I had to go. Three feet, not too far.

There hadn’t even been any salvages to take my mind off Liam. Pretty bad when I was hoping for a child to go missing so I wouldn’t have to think about one tall, dark, and dangerous man.

“Son of a bitch,” I growled out, blinking away the sudden burst of nausea rolling up through my body. Oh, puking twenty-five feet up in the air was not going to happen.

With a pounding heart, and saliva filling my mouth as my gorge rose, I struggled to hold it together.

Visions of a fluffy bed and a darkened room where I could sleep for a week straight floated through my mind. If only my life were that easy to escape from. I wasn’t sick—at least not physically; it was more a sickness of the heart. And that pissed me off. Weakness was not an option.

I only needed to swing a little to the right to grab the second rope hanging from the ceiling; then I could shimmy my way down. Only I rocked my body to the left, getting my momentum going—like pumping my legs on a swing. It took a couple of jerks left and right before I was close enough to grab the second rope with my left hand. The sack of potatoes continued to swing even after I stopped, jerking me hard to the left, and I slipped a few inches, the rope burning my arm. I bit the inside of my cheek until I tasted blood, and I clenched my fingers around the rope harder still. There was no way I was going to let go. I’d survive the fall—there were a few mats below me—but twenty-five feet up was a hell of a lot of pain and bruising just because I got tired and couldn’t hang on.

As I let go of the first rope, a wave of fatigue hit me, and I slipped downward again, my overworked hands doing me no good in the way of grip. Desperation kicked in and I wrapped the rope around my legs—a cheat in my books for this particular exercise.

“Are you almost done?”

I glanced down at Milly, my former best friend and the best witch I knew. Even though I’d kicked her out of the house, chosen Alex over her, I could still say I was proud of her accomplishments. She could whip up a spell in no time, her natural talent needing very little help in the way of training. Of course, she had her flaws too. More than I cared to count. My eyes flicked over her; she was wearing a skin-tight black and green dress that hugged every inch of her curvy body, leaving nothing to the imagination. There was a bit more curve to her too, like she’d packed on some extra pounds. In the past, Milly’s behaviour hadn’t bothered me—the way she did things or, more accurately, who she did things with. It was just a part of who she was. Lately, though, it had gotten under my skin, to the point where I couldn’t bite my tongue. Then again, everything about Milly lately had me on edge.

”You’re chubbing up, Milly. Maybe you should try working out on your feet instead of your back.” I panted, frustrated by how much my routine was taking out of me.

Slipping and sliding, I let myself down the rope, the burn of the coarse material reminding me to grip a little more with my legs. Five feet up I yanked the sack of potatoes up into the air so that it was at my eye level and then jumped, catching the bag on my way down.

Milly clapped, her expression one of self-indulgence, as she ignored my barb. “You done showing off? I need a hand getting the last of my boxes into my car.”

Shrugging, I lowered the sack of potatoes to the ground and took a deep breath. “Yeah, sure.”

The air between us was more than a little cool. She was still pissed at me. But I knew I’d made the right choice.

When I’d told her she had to go, she’d left immediately—she was never short on places to sleep—and had only just come back for the last of her things. We hadn’t talked in the last few weeks and I felt the strain between us as if it were a living thing strangling what was left of our friendship to death. It hurt me to know how little she thought of me, of our history together. Apparently, O’Shea had been right—she’d meant more to me than I had to her.

With a frown, she tossed her long brown hair over one shoulder. “Hurry up, I have a date tonight. I don’t want to be late.”

I untied the rope from around my waist, jerking at it when it got stuck. “Then maybe you shouldn’t have shown up in four-inch heels and a dress you’re going to have to peel off. Shit, you’re moving boxes, not stripping for me!”

Milly pouted, a move that helped her get her way with the male species, but didn’t work on me. “It’s the least you could do after picking that werewolf over me,” she said, placing a hand on her hip, green eyes narrowing.

A black, contorted muzzle peeked around the edge of my bedroom door and one large amber eye blinked up at me. “Hiya witchy.” He waved one paw at Milly. “Done peeing.”

I held my hand out to him, and all two hundred pounds of werewolf came bounding into my room, banging against Milly’s legs, which sent her sprawling to the floor, her spiked heels doing nothing to help her keep her balance. She screeched, I laughed, and Alex cringed against my legs. A weak, submissive werewolf, he was trapped between man and wolf, his body hunched and covered in black fur with silver tips; not to mention he had the mind of a two-year-old child.

But I had to admit he was one of the few good parts in my life, and seeing Milly sprawled out on the floor spluttering, I was glad once more I’d chosen him over her.

“It’s okay, buddy.” I patted his head. “Milly isn’t mad; she’s leaving.”

That’s where I was wrong. Milly pushed herself to her hands and knees, then used the door frame for support to stand. Her hands moved in a spell I recognized, the blackness surrounding her fingers—a tell I knew all too well.

I leapt toward her, slamming my hand over her mouth and tackling her to the floor. Being Immune had its perks, and this was one of them. The spell diffused against my skin, negating the effect she’d been going for.

“Oh, f**k no. You are not killing Alex over him knocking you down!”

She wrestled against me, but she never worked out, never thought about what would happen if she couldn’t use her magic.

Shimmying up, I sat on her chest, pinning her arms to the floor with my knees. She bucked and writhed, and I finally lifted my hand from her mouth.

“Get the f**k off me!” Tears clung to her lashes and while I could understand her being angry, I didn’t understand the crying.

“Milly, I wish you’d tell me what’s going on,” I said, not letting her up.

She flicked a finger and my bedroom lamp whipped at my head, catching me off guard. The ceramic base shattered against my skull, unbalancing me and giving her the edge she needed.

She scrambled away from me, crying, her makeup running down her face in long black streaks. Shit, now I felt bad. But I still couldn’t let her kill Alex.

“I thought you were my friend, Rylee. But you aren’t, you’re no better than your parents, turning your back on the people who depend on you.”

Fuck, now that was a low blow. I had to stop myself from physically cringing. “The friend I knew,” I said, advancing toward her, “wouldn’t try and kill Alex. Not for knocking her over. The friend I knew would tell me what was wrong with her. The friend I knew.” I was yelling now, and Alex was howling from behind me, “wouldn’t try to use my past against me!”

Milly cringed, then wiped her face, sniffling. “We aren’t the same people anymore.”

“You might not be.” I turned my back on her to close my bedroom door and keep Alex out of her line of fire. “But I am. I still go looking for kids. That’s what we swore we’d do. We took an oath.”

Her head hung so that her chin nearly touched her chest. “I know.”

“And you walked away from it like it was nothing!”

“I have other oaths—” She gulped back a sob and whatever else she was going to say, then shook her head.

Other oaths? To the coven? It didn’t really matter, not now. She’d made her choice.

Stomping my way past her, I went into her room and grabbed a box, the blood from my battered up hands smeared across the cardboard. The scent of roses caught me unawares—Milly’s perfume.

A slight catch in my throat made me pause. I would not let her see me cry, not over this. Two strikes, she was out. The first time she had left me and Giselle it was for the Coven, and I saved her ass and brought her back. This time there would be no coming back; I could feel the difference.

Making my way back into the hallway, I was surprised to see her standing where I’d left her. “Come on, I’m not packing this all the way into Bismarck,” I said.

She half-stumbled her way out to her car, a brand new white BMW. Someone was getting some serious sugar daddy time.

I all but threw the boxes into the back seat, wanting to be as far from her as possible. She was not my Milly, not the friend I’d grown up with. No, the stunning brunette in front of me was a stranger. A dangerous, deceptive stranger.