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Raising Innocence(Rylee Adamson #3)(6) by Shannon Mayer

“You know what will happen. It is time. I am more a burden than I am a help.”

“I can’t let you do this,” I said, my heart thumping painfully, as if it wanted to beat its way out of my chest. She couldn’t mean to do this, not now.

Giselle turned to face me, her eyes softening. “You have no say. I am your mentor still, and you will listen to me this one last time. It is my wish, and you will honor it.” She clapped her hands together, ending that line of conversation as she had so many times when I was still a teenager.

Uncertainty flared within me, but I did as she said, climbed in my Jeep, and started the engine.

If this was how I was to honor her, then so be it.

5

“Now, Rylee, what does Milly know about you?” Giselle asked as I drove into Bismarck. I was Tracking Milly and could feel the threads of her life humming on the far side of the city.

“Everything,” I said, eyes focused on the road.

“Be specific.”

I grunted and my lips curled upward. This felt like the beginning, when Giselle would school me on everything and anything she could. Always the same. Be specific.

“She knows I’m a Tracker, that I can trace her wherever she is. She knows I’m an Immune and that her magic won’t touch me unless presented in an indirect manner.” I thought for a minute, a niggling idea worming its way to the front of my brain. “Why do you think this is your responsibility? And don’t tell me because you helped train us both. Because it’s more than that, isn’t it?”

Giselle shifted in her seat. “Milly has tasted of darkness each time I’ve read her. Even in the beginning it was there, but then only a seed. Always, I hoped that she would purge the darkness.”

I caught her shake her head out the corner of my eye.

“But I believe now that she was placed with us for a purpose. Perhaps for the very thing you are going to do now. This could be a trap.”

Frowning, I forced myself to think of Milly no longer as Milly, but as one of those supernaturals who had to be put down for the betterment of the world. I swallowed the burning lump in my throat, fought the emotions that would be the death of me.

“You mean,” I said, “that she was placed with us to gain my trust so she could kill me?”

“You are going after her, aren’t you?”

“Yes.”

“And she is the most powerful witch the world has known in centuries.”

Gooseflesh rose up over my body. “I didn’t know that. I knew she was strong, but . . .”

The steady tap of Giselle’s fingernails on the middle console drummed in rhythm with some beat I couldn’t hear. “How could you not?”

I shrugged, intensely embarrassed. “I knew she was good, knew that the Coven wanted her at all costs. But she never talked about the level of her skills. Neither did you, for that matter.”

My mentor let out a sharp barking laugh. “Truly, I was blinded by my love for her, as were you. She was the perfect undercover agent.”

“I guess the only question is, who is she working for?” My mind went to Faris, the vampire who’d sought my favors in his own perverted way. First, he tried to kiss me, then kill me, and then he, in a roundabout way, saved my life. But how would Milly fit in with him?

Or was it someone else? Fuck, the last thing I needed was someone else gunning for me.

We drove in silence for a few minutes before I blurted out what I was thinking. “Why did you use your abilities so much, if you knew that you would lose your mind?”

Giselle turned to me, placing a hand over mine. “Pull off at the next Exit.”

The off-ramp seemed to appear at her command, and I flicked on my blinker and took it without hesitation. With a few minor directions, Giselle guided us to a dirt road covered with a thin dusting of snow that led out to the badlands where we’d be able to talk uninterrupted.

“Stop here.”

I put the Jeep in park, but left it and the heat running, and then turned to face my mentor, the only person who’d had enough faith in me to believe I hadn’t killed my little sister. Giselle was the one who’d taught me to trust again, that it was okay to hold tight to those closest to you. She’d also taught me to fight, kill, and do what was right, no matter the cost. And a part of me felt betrayed by the fact that she would willingly give up her mind, she would willingly leave me behind. I was once more feeling abandoned by someone who should have stood by me.

She turned to me, her hazel eyes so clear and free of the madness that for a moment, I forgot it had ever happened.

“We are each called to this world, Rylee, for a purpose. Some of us find it, like you. Others are not so lucky. Not until I met you and Milly did I find my purpose, and it was shortly after that when the madness began.”

I sucked in a sharp breath. “I didn’t know that it started that long ago.”

She clasped her hands in her lap. “Yes, I hid it well, but I knew it was only a matter of time before I lost control. So I chose to give you two girls all I had, and every ounce of my abilities I could share with you, I did. You were my purpose in this world. My job was to protect, train, and love you. All three of which I did without hesitation.”

My jaw hurt from clenching it tight and I thought she was done, but she went on, and finally the tears slipped out of my control down my face.

“You have the best of me in you, as if you were my daughter in truth.” She smiled somewhat ruefully as she reached out and swiped a tear off my cheek. “You also have some of my bad traits, but those I will let you discover on your own.”

Her eyes softened even further. “But for me, I know I have done the world a great service by loving you, by teaching you what I could, and by setting you on the path of being a Tracker in truth; one that lets her heart lead her, and the world be damned.”

“Giselle, I don’t want to be alone. Not again,” I whispered, ashamed at admitting the old deep-seated fear, even to her.

“You aren’t alone, though, are you? The strength of your character, the drive in you—it draws those to you that will fight for you, with you, and perhaps sometimes even smack you upside the head when you get mouthy.”

A teary laugh escaped me, and she laughed along with me. Scrubbing my face, I sniffed back my grief. I would lose her before this day was done, I could feel it in my bones, and it scared the shit out of me.

“Now, we must go. Because if I’m right, Milly will be waiting for us,” Giselle said, her eyes darkening with anger.

I put the Jeep into drive, the engine rumbling smoothly as I headed back to the Interstate. Knowing Milly was going to try and kill us was one thing, just like knowing that the night would come after the setting sun. And just like the night, I knew it would only be a matter of time before she succeeded.

That was, unless I beat her to it.

We spent the rest of the drive reminiscing, talking about old times, good times and bad, that we’d had—our final goodbye, and we both knew it. Without meaning to, my foot eased off the gas pedal, extending our time together, even if only for a few additional minutes. It would never be enough, though, not for me.

Tracking Milly was easy, something I did without even thinking, really. She was the first person I’d ever Tracked on purpose, the first person’s whose life threads had hummed inside my skull, a vibration all their own.

I followed her threads through Bismarck to the northeast side of town. There wasn’t much here, at least nothing that should have drawn her. She’d always loved the glitz and glamour of the city life.

“Stop thinking about her as your friend, Rylee.”

A long slow breath in helped to calm me, then I let it out and, with it, let go of Milly once and for all.

Milly’s threads drew me to a beautiful office building, newer, but with architectural touches that showed a modern design with a nod to the past. Squinting my eyes and using my second sight, I could just see the faint outlines of what had to be the Coven’s symbol, a full moon with the faint image of a wolf inside it, on the front door. What the hell, why not storm the Coven’s main building? One last hurrah for Giselle and me. The witch was inside, resting, by the feel of things. Not sleeping, but relaxing. I had no way of knowing how many other Coven members there were.

“Maybe you should wait here,” I said, thinking about how to get to the top of the three-story building and past any number of Coven members with Giselle, who was frail on a good day.

“I can bloody well walk. I’m not dead yet,” she snapped at me.

Oh, there was one of those bad traits she mentioned. A smile flitted across my lips, but disappeared as I stepped out of the Jeep.

The ever-blowing wind of North Dakota seared my eyeballs, making them tear up. Bugger.

Blindly, I groped in the back seat, grabbed the two bottles of salt water, and then shut the door with my hip. I wasn’t worried about being heard or detected. I was an Immune, unable to be detected or affected directly with magic; it was a perk that went with the territory.

“Do you have a plan?” Giselle asked.

“The usual.”

“So you mean no plan.”

“Exactly.”

Plans went awry and people fell apart. In my mind, it was better to always go in hot, and adjust yourself as the shit hit the fan.

We walked to the front door and I hesitated. I might not set off any alarm system, but Giselle would. I glanced over at her and she lifted a single eyebrow at me. We’d done this many times before she’d lost her sanity and we needed very few actual words to communicate. I handed her the two bottles of salt water first.

Then I crouched down so I could carry her on my back. My crossed sword sheath dug into me, but it was a minor irritant. Did my Immunity flow over Giselle like a cloak?

Fucked if I know, but it was the best we could do with what we had.

Giselle’s ability lay in reading people, seeing the future, seeing the past. But she had once been a wicked ass fighter. She’d learned to fight because, like me, her abilities didn’t provide the sort of power that someone like Milly had. We were both fighters in the physical sense and could kick Milly’s ass around town in that arena; our one major advantage over her. Of course, the chances were good that the bitch witch wasn’t alone. Nor did it help that Giselle was so out of shape, and wasted from the madness.