Rage and Ruin – Jennifer L. Armentrout

I blinked open achy, swollen eyes and stared straight at the pale, translucent face of a ghost. Gasping, I jerked upright. Strands of dark hair fell across my face. “Peanut!” I pressed the heel of one palm against my chest, where my poor heart pounded like a steel drum. “What in the Hell, dude?” The ghost, who’d been sort of a roommate of mine for the past decade, grinned at me from where he floated midair, several inches above the bed. He was stretched out on his side, cheek resting on his palm. “Just making sure you’re still alive.” “Oh my God.” Exhaling raggedly, I lowered my hand to the soft dove-gray comforter. “I’ve told you a million times to stop doing that.” “I’m kind of surprised you still think I listen to you half the time.” Peanut had a point. He had an aversion to following my rules, which were only, like, two rules. Knock before entering the room. Don’t watch me while I sleep.

I thought they were quite reasonable rules. Peanut looked like he had the night he died, way back in the ’80s. His Whitesnake concert T-shirt was legit, as were his dark jeans and red Chuck Taylors. On his seventeenth birthday, for some idiotic reason, he’d climbed one of those massive speaker towers and subsequently fallen to his death, proving natural selection was a thing. Peanut hadn’t crossed over into that shiny bright white light, and a few years ago, I stopped trying to convince him when he said to me, quite clearly, it was not his time. It was far past his time, but whatever. I liked having him around…except when he did creepy crap like this. Pushing the hair out of my face, I looked around my bedroom—no, not my bedroom. This wasn’t even my bed. All of this belonged to Zayne.

My gaze flicked from the heavy sunlight-blocking curtains to the bedroom door—the closed bedroom door that I’d left unlocked the night before, just in case… I shook my head. “What time is it?” I leaned back against the headboard, keeping the blanket close to my chin. Since Wardens’ body temps ran higher than humans’ and it was July, so it was most likely hot and sticky as a circle of Hell outside, Zayne’s apartment was like an icebox. “It’s almost three in the afternoon,” Peanut answered. “And that’s why I thought you were dead.” Damn, I thought, scrubbing my hand across my face. “We got back pretty late last night.” “I know. I was here. You didn’t see me, but I saw you.

Both of you. I was watching.” I frowned. That didn’t sound creepy at all. “You looked like you’d been through a wind tunnel.” Peanut’s gaze flickered over my head. “You still do.” I’d felt like I’d been in a wind tunnel. A mental, emotional and physical wind tunnel. Last night, after I’d had a complete and utter breakdown by the old treehouse at the Warden compound, Zayne had taken me flying.

It had been magical, up there with the cool night wind, where the stars that always looked so faint to me became bright. I hadn’t wanted it to end, even when my face went numb and my lungs began to strain with the effort to breathe. I’d wanted to stay up there, because nothing could touch me in the wind and the night sky, but Zayne had brought me back down to Earth and to reality. That was only a handful of hours ago, but it felt like a lifetime. I barely remembered coming back to Zayne’s apartment. We hadn’t talked about what had happened with…Misha, or about what had happened to Zayne. We hadn’t talked at all, really, other than Zayne asking if I needed anything and me mumbling no. I’d gotten undressed and climbed into bed, and Zayne had stayed in the living room, sleeping on the couch. “You know,” Peanut said, drawing me from my thoughts, “I might be dead and all, but you look way worse than me.” “I do?” I murmured, even though I wasn’t surprised to hear that.

Based on the way my face felt, I probably looked like I’d face-planted a brick wall. He nodded. “You’ve been crying.” I had been. “A lot,” he added. That was true. “And when you didn’t come back yesterday, I was worried.” Peanut floated upright and sat on the edge of the bed. His legs and hips disappeared a few inches into the mattress. “I thought something happened to you.

I was panicking. I couldn’t even finish watching Stranger Things I was so worried. Who’s going to take care of me if you die?” “You’re dead, Peanut. No one needs to take care of you.” “I still need to be loved and cherished and thought of. I’m like Santa Claus. If no one alive is here to want and believe in me, then I’ll cease to exist.” Ghosts and spirits didn’t work that way. At all. But he was so wonderfully overdramatic.

A grin tugged at the corners of my lips until I remembered I wasn’t the only one who could see Peanut. A girl who lived in this apartment complex could also see him. She must have watered-down angelic blood kicking around in her veins, like all humans who were able to see ghosts or displayed other psychic abilities. Enough to make her…different from everyone else. There weren’t many humans in existence with traces of angelic blood, so it was a shock to learn that there was one so close to where I was staying. “Thought you made a new friend?” I reminded him. “Gena? She’s cool, but it wouldn’t be the same if you ended up as dead as a doornail, and her parents aren’t choice, you know?” Before I could confirm that choice meant good in ’80s speak, he asked, “Where were you last night?” My gaze shifted to that closed, unlocked door. “I was at the compound with Zayne.” Peanut inched closer and lifted a wispy hand. He patted my knee, but I felt nothing through the blanket, not even the cold air that usually accompanied Peanut’s touch.

“What happened, Trinnie?” Trinnie. Only Peanut called me that, while everyone else called me Trin or Trinity. I closed my sore eyes as realization sank in. Peanut didn’t know, and I wasn’t sure how to tell him when the wounds left by Misha’s actions hadn’t scabbed over yet. If anything, I’d just slapped a weak-as-Hell bandage over them. I was holding it together. Barely. So, the last thing I wanted to do was talk about it with anyone, but Peanut deserved to know. He knew Misha. He liked him, even though Misha could never see or communicate with Peanut, and he’d come to DC with me to find Misha instead of staying behind in the Potomac Highlands Warden community.

Granted, I was the only one who could see and communicate with Peanut, but he’d felt comfortable in the community. It was a big deal for him to travel with me. Keeping my eyes closed, I drew in a long shuddering breath. “So, yeah, we…we found Misha, and it wasn’t…it wasn’t good, Peanut. He’s gone.” “No,” he whispered. And then louder, he repeated, “No.” I nodded. “God. I’m sorry, Trinnie.

I’m so damn sorry.” Swallowing around the hard lump in my throat, I met his gaze. “The demons—” “It wasn’t the demons,” I interrupted. “I mean, they didn’t kill him. They didn’t want him dead. He was actually working with them.” “What?” The shock in his voice, the way the one word pitched to near glass-breaking levels, would’ve been funny in any other situation. “He was your Protector.” “He set it up—his abduction and everything.” I pulled my knees up under the blanket, pressing them to my chest.

“Even made it so Ryker saw me that day using my grace.” “But Ryker killed…” My mom. I shut my eyes again and felt them burn, as if there could possibly be more tears left inside me. “I don’t know what was wrong with Misha. If he’s always…hated me, or if it was the Protector bond. I found out that he was never supposed to be bonded to me. It was always supposed to be Zayne, but there was a mistake.” A mistake that my father had known about, and not only had he done nothing to fix it, he hadn’t seemed to care about it at all. When I’d asked why he hadn’t done anything, he’d said he wanted to see what would happen. How freaking messed up was that? “The bond could’ve twisted him.

Made him turn…bad,” I continued, voice thick. “I don’t know. I won’t ever know, but the why doesn’t change the fact that he was working with Bael and this other demon. He even said that the Harbinger had chosen him.” I flinched as Misha’s face formed in my thoughts. “That the Harbinger told him he was special, too.” “Isn’t that who’s been killing Wardens and demons?” “Yeah.” I opened my eyes once I was sure I wasn’t going to cry. “I had to…” “Oh, no.” Peanut seemed to know without me even saying it.

But I had to say it, because it was the reality. It was the truth I would live with for the rest of my days. “I had to kill him.” Each word felt like a kick to the chest. I kept seeing Misha. Not the Misha in the clearing outside the senator’s house, but the one who’d waited for me while I talked to ghosts. Who’d napped in his Warden form while I sat beside him. The Misha who had been my best friend. “I did it. I killed him.

” Peanut shook his head, his dark brown hair fading in and out as he became more corporeal for a moment and then lost his hold. “I don’t know what to say. I really don’t.” “There’s nothing to be said. It is what it is.” Exhaling, I stretched out my legs. “Zayne is now my Protector, and I’m going to be staying here. We need to find the Harbinger.” “Well, that part is good, right?” Peanut rose from the bed, still in a sitting position. “Zayne being your Protector?” It was.

And it wasn’t. Becoming my Protector had saved Zayne’s life, so that was a good thing—a great thing. Zayne hadn’t hesitated to take the bond, and that was before he’d found out it was always supposed to have been him. But it also meant Zayne and I… Well, we could never be more than what we were now, and it didn’t matter how badly I wanted to be more or how much I liked him. It didn’t matter that he was the first guy I was ever seriously into. I tipped my head back instead of suffocating myself with the pillow. Peanut became a blur as he drifted toward the curtain, though that had nothing to do with his ghostly form. “Is Zayne up?” “He is, but he’s not here. He left you a note in the kitchen. I read it while he wrote it.

” Peanut sounded rather proud. “It says he went to see someone named Nic. I think that was one of the guys who came with him to the community? Anyway, he left maybe a half hour ago.” Nic was short for Nicolai, the Washington, DC, clan leader. Zayne probably had unfinished business with him since he’d left whatever meeting they’d been having last night to come find me. Zayne had felt my emotions through the bond. That strange new connection had led him right to the treehouse. I wasn’t sure if I was amazed by that, annoyed or really weirded out. Probably a mixture of all three. “Wonder why he didn’t wake me.

” Pushing the cover aside, I scooted to the edge of the bed. “He actually came in here and checked on you.” I froze, praying I hadn’t been drooling on myself or doing anything weird. “He did?” “Yep. I thought he was going to wake you. Looked like he was debating it, but all he did was pull the blanket over your shoulders. I thought it was totally bodacious of him.” I wasn’t sure what bodacious meant, but I thought it was… God, it was sweet of him. It was so like Zayne. I might have known him for only a few weeks, but I knew enough to be able to picture him carefully pulling the comforter over me, and doing it so gently that he didn’t wake me.

My chest squeezed as if my heart had fallen into a meat grinder. “I need to shower.” I stood on legs I expected to be shaky but that were surprisingly strong and stable. “Yeah, you do.” Ignoring the comment, I checked my phone. I’d missed a call from Jada. My stomach tumbled. I placed the phone down and padded on bare feet to the bathroom, flipped on the light and winced at the sudden brightness. My eyes did not care for bright light of any kind. Or dark or shadowy areas, either.

Actually, my eyes pretty much just sucked 95.7 percent of the time. “Trinnie?” Fingers lingering on the light switch, I looked over my shoulder at Peanut, who’d moved closer to the bathroom. “Yeah?” He cocked his head, and when he looked at me, I felt stripped bare. “I know how much Misha meant to you. I know it has to hurt something bad.” Ending Misha’s life hadn’t hurt me. It quite possibly had killed a part of me, replacing it with a seemingly bottomless pit of sour bitterness and raw anger. But Peanut didn’t need to know that. No one did.

“Thank you,” I whispered, turning away and closing the door as the burn hit the back of my throat. I will not cry. I will not cry. In the shower, with its multiple jets and stall large enough to fit two fully grown Wardens, I used the minutes under the hot, stinging spray to get my head straight. Or, in other words, compartmentalize. I’d had my much-needed breakdown last night. I had given myself time to cry it all out, and now was the time to put it away, because I had a job to do. After years of waiting, it had finally happened. My father had called on me to fulfill my duty. Find the Harbinger and stop it.

So, there was a lot to sift through and file away in my mental cabinet so that I could do what I was born for. I started with the most critical. Misha. I shoved what he’d done and what I’d had to do all the way to the bottom of the cabinet, tucked under my mother’s death and my failure to stop that. That drawer was labeled EPIC FAIL. The next drawer was where I sent the cause of the blackish-blue bruises covering my left hip and the length of my thigh. Another bruise colored the right side of my ribs, where Misha had delivered a nasty kick. He’d kicked my butt and then some, but I’d still beaten him. The usual feeling of smugness or pride over having bested someone who was well trained didn’t surge through me. There was nothing good to feel about any of that.

The bruises, the aches and all the pain went into the drawer I called BUCKET FULL OF NIGHTMARES, because the reason Misha had managed to land so many brutal hits was because he knew I had limited peripheral vision. He’d used it against me. That was my one weakness when fighting, something I needed to improve on, like, yesterday, because if this Harbinger discovered just how poor my vision was, it would exploit it. Just like I would if the shoes were on other feet. And yeah, that would be a nightmare, because not only would I die, so would Zayne. A tremor coursed through me as I slowly turned under the spray of water. I couldn’t cave to that fear—couldn’t dwell on it for one second. Fear made you do reckless, stupid things, and I already did enough of those for no good reason. The top drawer had been empty and unlabeled until now, but I knew what I was filing there. That was where I was putting everything that had happened with Zayne.

The kiss I’d stolen when we’d been back in the Potomac Highlands, the growing attraction and all the want, and that night, before we were bonded, when Zayne had kissed me and it had been everything I’d read about in the romance novels my mom had loved. When Zayne kissed me, when we’d gone as far as we could go without going all the way, the world had truly ceased to exist outside us. I took all of that, along with the raw need for his touch, his attention and his heart—which most likely still belonged to someone else—and closed the file. Relationships between Protectors and Trueborns were strictly forbidden. Why? I had no idea, and I guessed the reason the explanation was unknown was that I was the only Trueborn left. I closed that drawer, which I simply labeled ZAYNE, and stepped out of the shower into the steam-filled bathroom. After wrapping a towel around myself, I leaned forward and wiped a palm over the mist-covered mirror. My reflection came into view. As close as I was, my features were only a little fuzzy. My normally olive skin, courtesy of my mom’s Sicilian roots, was paler than usual, which made my brown eyes seem darker and larger.

The skin around them was puffy and shadowed. My nose still tilted to the side, and my mouth still seemed almost too large for my face. I looked exactly as I had the evening Zayne and I left this apartment to go to Senator Fisher’s house in hopes we’d find Misha or evidence of where he was being held. I didn’t feel the same. How could there not be a more noticeable physical manifestation of everything that had changed? My reflection didn’t have an answer, but as I turned away from it, I said the only thing that mattered. “I got this,” I whispered, and then repeated louder, “I got this.”

.

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