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Raising Innocence(Rylee Adamson #3)(5) by Shannon Mayer

It had come from Doran.

I held it for a long time before handing it over to Giselle, unsure of what it would do, if anything. She’d just let it fall from her fingers, not even watching when it hit the ground. So that was that.

Alex, his new bone, and Giselle were curled up in several blankets on the back porch, watching us. Alex gave Eve a double thumbs up while Giselle continued to mutter about blue socks.

“Rylee, it isn’t that I don’t want to help you,” Eve said, as she continued to stride about, her clawed feet turning the snow and ice into a slurry of pale brown mud. “But the idea of being spelled is . . . .” She turned large golden eyes to me. She’d been held captive by a Coven of black witches when I’d first met her. Things hadn’t gone so well for the witches, but they hadn’t gone so well for Eve and her sisters, either. Only Eve was left, courtesy of me and my blades.

“I understand,” I said, laying the clasp in front of her. “I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t think it was necessary. You know Europe and the supernaturals there better than I do. ”

That was the truth. She’d lived there in her early years before coming to America with her sisters. Or, more accurately, until they took off from Europe because their Clutch evicted them.

Eve fluttered her wings. She’d been training with Eagle, a tribal Guardian in New Mexico, for over a month. Already I could see the changes in her, maturity that hadn’t been there before, not just jumping into things, overall a better control of her emotions—something essential to a Harpy, at least as far as I was concerned. Whatever training she was getting, it was doing her a world of good. Perhaps I should have let her stay with Eagle, should have done this salvage on my own.

No, I couldn’t trust the FBI to actually help me, and the gods only knew what I’d be facing over there. Without Milly or O’Shea at my side, I knew enough to know that I couldn’t do this run alone. Call it a gut feeling, intuition, or whatever the hell you want, everything about this run screamed at me to take all the ammunition I could. Not a good sign, but one I would deal with.

With a heavy sigh, Eve bobbed her head once. “Yes, I will wear the anklet. Perhaps we could try it now, before the moment comes that I must wear it? Then I will be ready for whatever changes it puts on me.”

I smiled up at her. “You have grown up a lot, Eve.”

She blushed and clacked her beak. “Eagle is a good mentor, a good flyer. I like him.” The flush deepened and warning bells went off in my head. Shit, if she had a crush on the tribal Guardian, that would not end well. He would only be around long enough to make sure his Shaman gained enough strength to take care of herself. What was I going to do with a broken-hearted Harpy? I shook off those thoughts. No point in going there just yet. Besides, she was young; she would grow out of a silly crush on Eagle. I hoped.

“As long as I’m holding the anklet, the spell won’t kick in,” I explained to Eve. I bent down to put the diamond and ruby studded clasp around her leg, just above her claws.

“Since it’s not just an illusion, I have no idea if it will hurt or not. It shouldn’t, though,” I said, fingers slipping off the clasp. I stood up, and took a step back. “You feel anything?”

Eve shook her head. “It’s cold against my skin, but I feel—wait, it’s starting to heat up.”

That was a good sign.

It didn’t last.

Eve screamed. Wings outstretched, she let out a screech and fell to the ground, her body convulsing as her eyes nearly bugged out of her head, her voice sounding as if she were being strangled.

“Rylee!”

Alex barked, high-pitched, full of fear, and even Giselle let out a moan that added to the energy swirling around us.

Fuck, what was going on? I ran to Eve’s side and a sharp talon whipped over my head. I dropped to the ground, rolling across the crunchy snow to get close to her.

“Hold still!”

“I can’t!” She screeched, wings thumping the ground hard enough that I anticipated the crunch of bones, or at the very least the sickening snap of her pinion feathers.

Her talons swept by me again, brushed along my back and sliced open my jacket. Razor sharp was a freaking understatement. I lunged forward, now well within the danger zone of her claws, and wrapped myself around her leg. Riding her leg, I reached down and grasped the anklet, stopping the flow of magic with a simple touch of my hand.

Her wings stilled and she let out a low moan, her body going limp in the snow. We both lay there, still as could be; I was unwilling to move and chance losing contact with the anklet. I suspected she was hurt, but I wasn’t ready to ask that just yet.

Panting, she shifted her weight and stared down at me. “I have never felt so much pain; it was as if a thousand flaming hot knives were burrowing under my skin to flay me alive.”

There was no question as to what was going to happen now.

“I’m taking this off,” I said, my hands moving to unclasp the anklet.

“No, perhaps it is just the normal discomfort of shifting into a smaller form. Now that I’m ready for it, I can take it. The pain just caught me off guard,” she said, blinking back tears. Shit, this was too much to ask.

“No, I’m taking it off. None of Milly’s spells cause pain, not unless—”

Giselle’s voice curled around me. “Unless she wanted to cause pain. Or death. Or a theft of powers.”

A quick snap and I’d unlatched the anklet. Giselle was right. I took a close look at the anklet. There was something different about it. I counted the diamonds and the rubies. The number was the same, but they were in a different pattern, so subtle I didn’t notice it. Milly must have switched out the anklet she had originally given me at some point for this one, maybe while I’d been in New Mexico. She did this on purpose. A part of my brain was stunned, absolutely f**king gobsmacked at the lengths Milly was going to in order to get her way. When had she resorted to death spells as the answer to her so-called problems? More importantly, why? It didn’t make sense, at least not with the girl I knew, the girl I’d thought of as my sister. Another part of my brain wasn’t so forgiving. The Tracker in me saw only a threat to my charges, and I was leaning heavily to agreeing with that portion.

I was going to kill her.

And I didn’t mean in I’m-going-to-beat-your-ass-until-you’re-black-and-blue kind of way. More like I’m-going-to-run-you-through-with-my-sword-you-fucking-piece-of-white-trash-slut.

“Eve, are you okay?” I asked softly, shame nipping at my heels and smothering my anger for a brief moment. She’d trusted me and I’d let her down. But I would make it right.

“I’m okay, Rylee. You couldn’t have known.”

With a tight grip on the anklet, I shook my head. “I didn’t know, but now I do.”

I strode around the side of the house, the snow slippery under my feet. With a sharp jerk I yanked the door to my weapons stash open and stepped down into the converted cool storage-turned armory.

Could I really do this? Could I really hunt down my best friend? Yes, I decided. She hadn’t left me any choice.

There was only one thing I needed. No, make that two. I slipped on my back sheath, which would hold my two swords under my jacket, and settled the weapons. There wasn’t much time, less than twenty-four hours before my flight left for London. But it was enough to find Milly and end this.

She wanted those closest to me dead for some reason, and the only way to protect them was to kill her. Maybe she thought I couldn’t do it. My heart clenched and I fought a sudden wave of grief, tears working their way to the edge of my eyes.

I would not cry, damn it!

Dashing a hand across my face, I sucked in a sharp breath, smelling the still lingering scent of musty old vegetables mixed with leather soap and dust. Pull yourself together. She’ll kill you if you go in weak.

What had happened to her? Was she possessed? But even if that was the case, I had to end this. Possession, unlike the movies show you, is not reversible. Once you have a demon truly possess you, there’s no going back.

Letting my breath out, I silenced the side of me that wanted to believe Milly could be reasoned with, the child in me that wanted her best friend to always be her best friend. That was not my life. I had to protect those who looked to me for safety.

Grabbing a couple of bottles of salt water, I headed back up the stairs, kicked the sloped door shut behind me, and strode to my Jeep.

Stashing the salt water behind my seat the sound of the passenger door opening brought my head up. I looked up expecting Alex, surprised to see Giselle opening the passenger door.

“What are you doing?” I made a move as if to stop her.

“Milly is as much my responsibility as yours.”

Gods, how I wished that Giselle wouldn’t have become lucid right then. If there was any moment when I prayed for her mind to lose its connection with the real world, that was it. The moment that one of her ‘daughters’ would kill the other.

“Giselle, you can’t come with me. Your powers have drained you, and I can’t keep us both safe.”

She smiled over at me, a wry twist to her lips. “For once, you will listen to me, stubborn Tracker.”

My eyebrows went up. I always listened to her. Really.

Giselle slid into the passenger seat, her body moving with a stiffness that made her look older than she truly was.

“There are a few last lessons I would give you. And now your friend Doran has given me the chance to hold the madness at bay long enough to do so.” She held up the rainbow opal now hanging around her neck.

Only a month had gone by since I’d worn a similar opal, one of the fire variety, to keep some nasty demon venom from freezing my ass off. It’s a long story, but the crux of it is this: the longer I wore the fire opal, the more powerful the kickback if it came off.

I licked my lips. “Giselle, what happens when you take the opal off?”

With one swift move, she buckled herself into my Jeep, her eyes staring straight ahead.