I stared down at the thin Book of Fury gripped in my hands. Finally, I had the book containing all the answers I’d been seeking. However, the fact that it had been in my house all along stirred my rage. I wanted to throw it. I wanted to yell and scream. Instead, I stood shaking uncontrollably as I waited for Oanen.
Eliana said something behind me, but the sound of my heart pounding hard in my ears and my own thoughts drowned out her words. Her arms wrapped around me, and an immediate peaceful nothingness filled me.
“How are you going to survive out there without me?” Eliana asked, resting her head against my back. “Just because some dumb book says you need to kill your great-grandma, doesn’t mean you have to. You have a choice. We always have a choice.”
I exhaled heavily and set my hand on her forearm. She, better than anyone, knew the truth to those words.
“You’re right. I do have a choice. It’s just so infuriating, you know? All that time I was looking for answers, they were right in this house. Why didn’t my mom just leave the dumb book on the table? No. That would have been too easy for her to do. She probably stood in the kitchen, looking around and wondering where I would be least likely to find it.” Thanks to Eliana’s touch, any rage I wanted to feel slipped away from me so my words were a mellow rant.
The crunch of tires over the snow announced Oanen’s arrival, and Eliana released me with a final squeeze.
“It’ll be okay,” she said as Oanen got out of his car.
I opened the screen door and launched myself at him before he’d made it more than two steps toward the house. He caught me in his arms and held me tightly.
“You’re shaking. What’s wrong?”
Burying my face in the curve of his neck, I said nothing for a moment. The desperation to feel his arms around me faded as his fingers made little circles on my back.
“I hate my mom.”
His fingers stilled.
“That’s the first time I’ve heard you say that. Why now?”
I pulled back and showed him the book.
“Book of Fury?” His gaze met mine. “Where did you find it?”
“Here. In the library I never used. It has everything, Oanen. All the shit that I put up with these last few months…all the fear...none of it was necessary. She could have just handed me this damn book and told me to read it.”
Ignoring the book, he wrapped me in his arms again and pressed his lips to my temple.
“I’m sorry for everything you’ve gone through. What your mom did wasn’t right. But don’t hate her. If you’d had all the answers, would you have needed to come here? Would you have tried leaving your house the night I met you? Because of her, I have you, Megan.”
I pulled back and looked up into his beautiful blue eyes.
“You’re really good at melting my heart,” I said just before brushing my lips against his.
His hold on me tightened as he kissed me. When I pulled back, I was breathless and grinning like an idiot. His now golden eyes watched me closely.
“I love when they do that,” I said, reaching up to gently trace the skin near his eye.
“And I love when yours glow, which they’ve been doing since you walked out the door. It makes me wonder if finding the book is the only thing upsetting you.” His gaze briefly flicked to something behind me.
I turned to look at Eliana, who watched me with concern and a hint of black in her eyes.
“I know what she means to you,” he said. “We don’t have to leave today. You and Eliana can spend some more time together.”
Giving Oanen another quick hug, I threaded my fingers through his and shook my head.
“I’ll miss her, but I know I’ll be back.” I looked down at the book. “At least, I think I will be.”
“It’s the book that’s upsetting her, Oanen,” Eliana said from the back door. “The thing says she needs to kill her great-grandma. I told her it’s bull pucky. No book should dictate her life.”
“Bull pucky? Wow, Eliana. I didn’t know you felt so strongly about it.” I grinned widely as Oanen and I started toward the house.
“Shut up,” she said with an answering smile.
Eliana opened the door for us, and I shivered slightly as I stepped into the heat. Since releasing my power on the beach the night before, my internal thermometer felt out of whack. I was never too warm anymore. If anything, I felt any chill much faster now. Not that I cared since I could finally touch Oanen without burning him.
“Can I see the book?” Oanen asked, kicking off his shoes, a sure sign we were staying for a while.
“Of course.” I handed it over and took off my own shoes.
“I’m going to get going,” Eliana said before I could move toward the table.
“Being sad makes me hungry, and you two are way more than I’ll be able to resist.”
I didn’t bother trying to tell her I wouldn’t mind if she took a little of the energy Oanen and I put off. She’d already made her stance on that very clear.
“Call me. Every day,” she said, pulling me into a quick hug again. “I mean it. Or I’ll worry.”
“Yes, Mom,” I teased. “I’ll be back before you know it.”
“You better be. This place is going to suck without you guys around.”
“Suck? Like, what kind of suck are we talking here?”
Her mouth dropped open, and she blushed profusely.
“I changed my mind. I’m glad you’re leaving.”
“Whatever. You love me, and you know it. Besides, I’m helping. Every time you even get a little depressed, you’re going to think about sucking. That’ll motivate you to keep busy and happy so your mind doesn’t go where you don’t want it to.”
“You’re so twisted,” she said, shaking her head at me.
Despite my smile, I gloomily watched as Eliana walked out and quietly closed the door. I’d miss the hell out of her while we were gone.
Turning to Oanen, I found him frowning at the book.
“Most of the stuff in the middle is boring,” I said. “Go to the last page.”
He did, and I watched his eyes skim the words.
“Have you called her?” he asked, looking up.
“Call her?” My stomach churned at the thought. “What would I say? ‘Hi, Paxton. Remember me? The kid you ditched a few months back. What the hell is up with this note you left in the book you hid?’”
“Yeah. Say exactly that. She owes you answers, and this book and note don’t help.”
I thought about what he said for a moment then reached for my phone. My stomach continued to twist as I paced the kitchen and listened to the call dial through.
Mom picked up on the second ring.
It was hard to hear her over the heavy sound of traffic.
“Mom? It’s Megan. I can barely hear you. Where are you?”
“New York. Hold on. Let me find somewhere quieter.”
I waited a few moments, and the background noise became muffled.
“That’s better,” she said. “So, is it finally done?”
After over three months of not seeing me, no “Are you okay?” or anything else the least bit caring.
“Is what done?” I asked.
“Your great-grandmother, Irene. I left a note with the book. Didn’t you read it yet, Megan?”
Her impatient tone poked at my temper. “Since I didn’t know the book existed until twenty minutes ago, no, I haven’t rushed out to kill my great-grandmother yet.”
“Well, now you know. Hurry up and get it done. The longer you wait, the more you’ll suffer.”
“What do you mean? And why do you think she needs to die? And why do I have to do it?”
Silence greeted my questions. I looked at the phone and saw the call had ended. Scowling, I dialed again. It rang five times then just disconnected without the option to go to voicemail.
I tossed the phone on the table and sat across from Oanen. He reached out for my hand.
“You heard most of that?” I asked.
“All of it.”
“She’s in New York. What is that…maybe 8 hours away?”
“Don’t dwell on it,” Oanen said. “You can’t change what she did, only what we do from here. What do you think she meant by you suffering?”
“Who knows with her? She’s probably just making crap up, her way of making sure I’ll do what she wants.”
“I don’t know. I read the part about gaining your powers. The book made it sound like the only way to gain them was by taking them from the oldest living fury.”
“Bullshit. Look at what happened on the beach. I was in the air and on fire. I don’t burn you anymore when we kiss. I’ve already freed my powers.”
He considered me for a moment.
“I just don’t want anything to happen to you,” he said finally.
“I know. I don’t want anything to happen to me, either. Since the Council wants you to go to New York anyway, we’ll see if we can find mommy-dearest and get some clarification at the same time, okay?”
He nodded and stood.
“Everything packed up?” he asked.
“Yep. Eliana took all the crappy, healthy food with her so it wouldn’t rot and stink up the place. Everything else is like I found it.”
I grabbed my bag, which had some clothes and my wallet in it. Oanen took it from me and held the door. It felt weird to finally be leaving the place that kept me a prisoner for so long.
“I thought you’d be happier right now,” Oanen said.
“I was just thinking about that, too, and I’ve realized my only drive to leave this place was to get answers.” I held up the book. “I have them now. And I made friends here. There’s really nothing for me out there. Except maybe some pizza.” I grinned at the thought. “Oh, yeah. I’m totally going to pig out while we’re in New York.”
He chuckled and opened the door to his sporty red car. I looked at mine, parked near the shed.
“Don’t worry. It’ll be fine. Fenris promised to keep an eye on it,” Oanen said.
“You talked to Fenris?”
“Yeah. He called to apologize for his comment last night. He only meant to defuse the situation so you wouldn’t lose your temper with anyone else in the crowd.”
“Were you okay with his apology?”
“Of course. I knew what he was doing the moment he spoke. That didn’t make hearing his words any easier.”
I frowned slightly.
“I don’t get it.”
“I’m trying my hardest not to be jealous because you don’t like it. Although I trust you completely, I still don’t like other males even looking at you.” He leaned down so he could set my bag in the back, putting us face to face. “You’re mine, and I never could share well.”
His lips brushed mine in a soft kiss. I closed my eyes and threaded my fingers in his hair.
Too quickly, he pulled away and shut the door. I watched him walk around the hood and took those few moments to gather my thoughts. When he opened his door, I was ready.
“So, your possessiveness isn’t just a bonding thing?” I asked.
He started the car and gave me a look that started a fire smoldering in my stomach.
“Oh, it’s definitely a bonding thing. But, because you asked, I’ll keep it in check as best I can.”
He backed out of my driveway, and I gave the house one last look. Paint still peeled off the boards, making it look old, but the clean windows and white blanket of snow over the cut grass made it feel less derelict and more cared for.
“We’ll be back,” Oanen said. “And in the spring, we’re painting that thing.”
I grinned and turned to watch the road. The familiar, winding path to the barrier only took a few minutes to travel. And when we reached the straight stretch, no scent of burnt hair tickled my nose. However, a tingle ran through my body as we crossed from Uttira into the real world.
I turned my wrist over and looked at the mark of Mantirum.
“It’s weird how a little tattoo can make such a big difference.”
“That’s what I thought, too, the first time I flew outside.”
“So, what’s in New York? Other than pain in my ass Paxton?”
“A troll death. The Council wants me to ask around about it.”
“Why you? Why is a troll death a big deal? I mean, we die like humans, right? Well, at least species who don’t have books saying the fourth generation needs to knock off the first generation.”
“Yes. Most species have human equivalent lifespans. Trolls included. A troll showing up dead isn’t a problem. How he died is.”
“Well, don’t leave me in suspense. Was he eaten? Mutated? Turned inside out? What?”
“You need to stop watching so much TV. The troll died smiling.”
I stared at Oanen for a moment, confused. Oanen glanced at me and caught my look.
“You remember Epsid?” he asked.
“That’s as happy as trolls get. And that only happens when they’re young. As trolls age, they just get ornerier. The troll that died was old. They never smile. That he was still smiling in death is very off.”
“Okay. So what would make a troll die with a smile?”
“No idea. That’s why we need to check it out.”
“And why you?”
He glanced at me.
“Because Uttira has the closest Council, and I’m a cog in training.”
“Ugh. I have my mark now. Why not just tell them to shove it?”
“Honestly? I don’t mind doing this. It beats getting a job at one of the shops in town to contribute to Uttira.”
“Fair enough. What’s the plan?”
“See what we can learn from the inglorious patrons of The Goose and Gizzard. According to Adira, it’s the best place to gather information. If there is any to gather.”
I ignored his mention of Adira, still too annoyed with the woman to even think about her.
“What kind of place is The Goose and Gizzard?”
“Don’t know. This will be my first time there.”
We passed our first car on the road, and my internal fury gauge only stirred a little, quickly settling with more distance.
“You all right?” Oanen asked. “You got quiet.”
“Yeah. I’m okay. I could feel something from that car, but it went away already. Much better than the last time I was in a car in the outside world. The anger used to crawl under my skin and fester there until I wanted to beat someone.”
“Let me know if it starts bothering you again, okay?”
We talked for the next two hours about what Oanen suspected might have happened to the troll, how I planned to stuff the trunk with enough chocolate to keep Eliana supplied for the next year, and what color we wanted to paint the house.
“I’m still going with rainbow,” I said, sticking to the house color of my choice.
“That sounds awful.”
“Exactly. It’ll work better than a ‘keep away’ sign on our front lawn,” I said with a grin. A sign on the side of the road caught my attention.
“Can we stop at the next gas station? I’m craving some real potato chips.”
“Sure.” He glanced at me. “Just a snack break, or do you need a break from the traffic?”
The cars we passed so far were all right for the most part. A few made me clench my fists, but again, putting distance between us always brought it back down.
“Just the snack. We already left later than either of us wanted to. It’ll be close to midnight by the time we get there the way it is.”
“Later is better in this case. Too early, and no one will be at the Gizzard.”
He took the next exit and turned into a small gas station.
“What town is this?” I asked as he parked.
“We’re just outside of Brunswick, I think.”
We both got out of the car, and a tug of tension drew my eyes to a woman at the pump.
“On second thought, fury fire and gas pumps probably aren’t a good idea. I think I’m going to stay in the car. Pick something good for me.”
I quickly got back inside the car and closed the door. But, sitting there didn’t muffle the anger crawling under my skin in the least. So I distracted myself by ogling Oanen’s backside as he jogged toward the entrance. The play of muscle under his form fitting t-shirt made me smile.
As soon as he disappeared, though, there was no distraction. How was I going to handle New York if I couldn’t even get out of the car at a side-of-the-road gas station? I remembered the rage that consumed me the night Adira introduced me to Eugene in some back alley in the city. It hadn’t been pretty. I’d wanted to kill those men. But, that was before I came into my power. Things would be different now. They had to be.
A blast of anger hit me hard. Not the woman who was paying at the pump. Someone else.
I turned my head to look at the car parking two spaces over from me. The driver, a man in his mid-twenties, glanced my way and smiled. The fire inside of me burned hotter. The need to punish clawed at me.
“Don’t do it, Megan,” I mumbled. “Keep your ass in your seat.”
He opened his door.
My hand reached for the handle.
“Weak, Megan. Really weak.”
I got out at the same time the man did. His smile widened as I walked his way.
“Hi. Can I help you with something?”
“Don’t ‘hi’ me, asshole. What did you do to piss me off?”
His smile vanished, and he gave me a truly confused look.
People could say the right words and give the right look to make themselves appear good and innocent. But it didn’t fool my fury-side. Ever.
“Nice try. Just confess what you did so we can both move on.”
His eyes narrowed on me.
“Hot and crazy isn’t my type,” he said. “Beat it.”
He moved to the side as if to walk around me.
“Will Yajlin,” I said, stopping him with just my voice. “Confess.”
The word brought him to his knees before me. Trembling where he knelt, words tumbled from his mouth. I listened to how he’d just beaten the crap out of his girlfriend before running out for a bag of beef jerky that she didn’t want to get for him.
“I’m not even sure if she’s still breathing,” he admitted with a sob.
The fire inside of me roared with the truth behind his admission. I could see his girlfriend where she lay, her face bloody and pale. Her chest still.
“Elizabeth is not breathing. She died by your hands.”
He mewled pathetically as I grabbed him by his throat and lifted. Fire danced up my arm, slowly consuming my sleeve.
“Will Yajlin, you’ve earned your place in hell.”
With those words, I embraced my fury power. Fire exploded over my skin, and pain ripped through me from my stomach to the top of my head as if I were being split in half.
I opened my mouth and screamed, shattering the windows in Will’s car.
The sound of Oanen calling my name was the last thing I heard before the agony of being burned alive swallowed me whole.