I staggered away from him as he stepped forward with a demonic grin, eyes and fangs bright. My katana was still on the floor beside the chair, and a part of me knew I should grab it, but I was in so much pain, and nothing seemed real.

My mind was screaming denials, my body was trying desperately to heal itself, and all I could do was back away as the thing that looked like Zeke came closer.

“Zeke, please.” I continued to back away. It still hurt to move, but my wound was smaller now, and I could walk without feeling like I might collapse. That pain was nothing, however, compared to the anguish clawing at my insides as I faced Zeke. The blank look in his eyes made me want to scream, but I swallowed my despair and tried to speak calmly. “I don’t…want to fight you. Not after everything. Not after…”

Pain shot through me as I stumbled on a loose plank and nearly fell. Gritting my teeth, I pressed a hand to my bleeding chest, keeping my gaze on the vampire slowly pressing me back. An evil smile crossed his face. I was weaker than him right now, in pain, and his vampire instincts were goading him to attack, to take advantage of a wounded opponent.

I remembered my Zeke: brave, determined, compassionate.

The boy who hadn’t let the fact that I was a vampire scare him away, who had offered his heart to a monster, because he could see the human inside. The only living being I would ever open myself up to, because I’d trusted him. Because I’d known he would never hurt me.

To see him like this crushed something deep inside. I felt broken, as if my soul had shattered like a mirror, and the pieces were cutting me from within. I stared into the face of the boy I’d once known, and for the first time, I wished he was dead. I wished he was dead, my memories of him intact and unbroken—so that I didn’t have to remember him like this. As the monster he’d vowed never to become.

“Zeke, please, don’t do this,” I whispered, feeling something hot slide down my cheek. “What about Caleb, and Bethany, and Jeb? What about Eden?”

Zeke shook his head. “It’s too late, Allison,” he whispered, trapping me in a corner. Broken metal frames pressed against my back, and the cold night wind tossed my hair through the opening. Zeke regarded me without emotion. “All I remember of that life is pain,” he said, almost in a daze. “I sang, I died, and Sarren brought me back.” He raised his machete, the blade and his fangs gleaming in the shadows. “And now, I’m going to destroy you, Allie, because he wanted it to be me.

He wanted you to see me tear the heart from your chest and crush it in my fist. It will be poetically ironic, he said, whatever that means. So, take a good look, vampire girl, before I kill you.” Zeke paused, and Sarren’s evil smile crossed his face again, his eyes going blank. “Or should I say…little bird?”

That jolted me out of my trance. I threw myself to the side as Zeke’s blade came whipping down to sink into the wall behind me. I hit the ground, rolled to my feet to face him, and barely dodged the next blow as Zeke lunged in with a snarl, slashing viciously. The machete blade passed inches from my head; as I jerked back, it sliced a shallow cut across my cheek.

He was much faster than I remembered, vampire speed and strength adding to his already lethal fighting skills. I had to stop him before he could use that blade. As his follow-up blow hammered down toward my neck, I threw up a hand, catching his wrist, and braced myself as he crashed into me.

“Zeke, stop—”

His free hand shot out and clamped around my throat. I snarled and grabbed his arm, trying to pry him off. Fangs bared, he turned and rammed me into the wall with the full strength of a vampire behind him. My head struck the concrete with a dizzying crack, making me see stars, and I desperately fought to keep my focus.

Dragging me off the wall, Zeke spun and pushed me into the counter, bending me backward, the machete suddenly at my throat. Panicked, I grabbed the hilt, trying to keep the blade from sliding forward to cut off my head. He grinned and leaned his weight into me, pushing the edge closer to my neck.

“Look at me, Allison,” Zeke whispered as the blade inched closer to my skin. And, despite myself, my gaze flicked up to meet those glassy blue eyes. Zeke smiled. “That’s right, vampire girl. Look at me as I kill you. I want my face to be the last thing you see before I send you to hell.”

The blade touched my neck and sank in, drawing blood.

With a desperate hiss, I brought my knee straight up, striking between his legs as hard as I could. Zeke snarled and convulsed; I grabbed the first thing my fingers closed around—a jagged chunk of ceiling—and bashed it against the side of his head.

The blade at my throat vanished as Zeke staggered away, blood smeared across his temple, and dropped to a knee, one hand pressed to his face. Coughing, I staggered across the room to the chair, snatched my katana from where it lay beside it, and whirled to face him again.

Zeke staggered to his feet, still holding the side of his head.

Blood trickled over his fingers as he stumbled across the floor and nearly fell, grabbing the shelf to keep himself upright.

Glass vials and instruments clattered to the floor, shattering on the tile as Zeke groped for something at the back of the ledge, his machete lying on the floor beside him.

Gripping my sword, I stared at him in anguish, feeling warm blood ooze from the cut in my throat. My center still throbbed, sending ripples of pain through me, though everything else felt numb. What did I do now? I didn’t want to fight him, but if he came at me again, I’d have little choice.

Zeke wasn’t playing around. Another few inches, and my head would’ve been lying on the floor at his feet.

My eyes burned with desperate tears. This couldn’t be happening. It didn’t seem real, but the throbbing pain in my chest said otherwise. Vaguely, I realized that this was what Sarren must’ve planned all along; a cruel, cruel trick to bring Zeke back, only he wasn’t the same.

Zeke was still leaning against the shelf with his back to me. His head was bowed, and blood covered one side of his face, though I could tell the wound had already healed. But he hadn’t moved or picked up his weapon, and I felt the tiniest thread of hope rise from the despair.

“Zeke…”

“Get away from me, Allison.” The hoarse sound made my stomach leap. It was his voice, Zeke’s voice, choked and raspy-sounding, but it was him. “Get out of here, vampire girl,”

Zeke muttered, hunching his shoulders. “Go. Find Kanin and Jackal and just go. Leave me here.”


Tags: Julie Kagawa Blood of Eden Book Series
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