“Will she die?” Ethan asked, and I glanced at him sharply. Though his eyes were huge and round, and tears brimmed in the corners, he sounded more curious than anything.

I wrenched my gaze away from my half brother. I had to get help. Luke was gone, so the only thing left would be to call for an ambulance. But, just as I stood to get the phone, Mom groaned, stirred, and opened her eyes.

My heart leaped. “Mom,” I said as she struggled into a sitting position, a dazed look on her face. “Don’t move. I’ll call 911.”

“Meghan?” Mom looked around, blinking. A hand came up to touch her cheek, and she stared at the blood on her fingers. “What happened? I…I must’ve fallen…”

“You hit your head,” I replied, standing up and looking around for the phone. “You might have a concussion. Hold on, I’m calling the ambulance.”

“The ambulance? No, no.” Mom sat up, looking a little clearer. “Don’t do that, honey. I’m fine. I’ll just clean up and put on a Band-Aid. There’s no need to go to that trouble.”

“But, Mom—”

“I’m fine, Meg.” Mom snatched the forgotten washrag and began wiping the blood off her face. “I’m sorry if I frightened you, but I’ll be fine. It’s only blood, nothing serious. Besides, we can’t afford a big doctor’s bill.” She abruptly straightened and looked around the room. “Where’s your brother?”

Startled, I looked back to the doorway, but Ethan was gone.

MOM’S PROTESTS WERE WASTED when Luke got home. He took one look at her pale, bandaged face, threw a fit, and insisted they go to the hospital. Luke can be stubbornly persistent when he needs to be, and Mom eventually buckled under the pressure. She was still calling out instructions to me—take care of Ethan, don’t let him stay up too late, there’s frozen pizza in the fridge—as Luke bundled her into his battered Ford and roared off down the driveway.

As the truck turned a corner and vanished from sight, the chilly silence descended on the house once more. I shivered, rubbing my arms, feeling it creep into the room and breathe down my neck. The house where I’d lived most of my life seemed unfamiliar and frightening, as if things lurked in the cupboards and around corners, waiting to grab me as I walked past. My gaze lingered on the crumpled remains of Floppy, strewn across the floor, and for some reason, it made me very sad and scared. No one in this house would rip up Ethan’s favorite stuffed animal. Something was very wrong.

Footsteps padded over the floor. I turned to find Ethan in the doorway, staring at me. He looked strange without the rabbit in his arms, and I wondered why he wasn’t upset about it.

“I’m hungry,” he announced, making me blink. “Cook me something, Meggie.”

I scowled at the demanding tone.

“It’s not dinnertime yet, squirt,” I told him, crossing my arms. “You can wait a couple hours.”

His eyes narrowed, and his lips curled back from his teeth. For just a moment, I imagined they were jagged and sharp. “I’m hungry now,” he growled, taking a step forward. Dread shot through me and I recoiled.

Almost immediately, his face smoothed out again, his eyes enormous and pleading. “Please, Meggie?” he whined. “Please? I’m so hungry.” He pouted, and his voice turned menacing. “Mommy didn’t make me food, either.”

“All right, fine! If it’ll shut you up, fine.” The angry words erupted from fear, and from a hot embarrassment because I was afraid. Of Ethan. Of my stupid, four-year-old half brother. I didn’t know where these demonic mood swings of his were coming from, but I hoped they weren’t the start of a trend. Maybe he was just upset because of Mom’s accident. Maybe if I fed the brat, he’d fall asleep and leave me alone for the night. I stalked to the freezer, grabbed the pizza, and shoved it in the oven.

While the pizza cooked, I tried to clean up the puddle of vegetable oil in front of the refrigerator. I wondered how the stuff had ended up on the floor, especially when I found the empty bottle stuffed in the trash. I smelled like Crisco when I was done, and the floor still had a slick spot, but it was the best I could do.

The creak of the oven door startled me. I turned to see Ethan pulling it open and reaching inside.

“Ethan!” Grabbing his wrist, I yanked him back, ignoring his scream of protest. “What are you doing, you idiot? You want to burn yourself?”

“Hungry!”

“Sit down!” I snapped, plunking him into a dining chair.

He actually tried to hit me, the little ingrate. I resisted the urge to smack him. “God, you’re being snotty today. Sit there and be quiet. I’ll get your food in a second.”

When the pizza came out, he fell on it like a wild thing, not waiting for it to cool. Astonished, I could only stare as he tore through the slices like a starved dog, barely stopping to chew as he gulped it down. Soon, his face and hands were smeared with sauce and cheese, and the pizza was rapidly diminished. In less than two minutes, he had consumed it all, down to the last crumb.

Ethan licked his hands, then raised his eyes to me and frowned. “Still hungry.”

“You are not,” I told him, snapping out of my daze. “If you eat anything else you’ll get sick. Go play in your room or something.”

He stared at me with a baleful expression, and it seemed that his skin grew darker, wrinkled, and shriveled beneath his baby fat. Without warning, he leaped off the chair, rushed me, and sank his teeth into my leg.

“Ow!” Pain lanced through my calf like an electrical shock. Grabbing his hair, I tried prying his teeth from my skin, but he clung to me like a leech and bit down harder. It felt like glass shards stabbing into my leg. Tears blurred my vision, and my knees almost buckled from the pain.

“Meghan!”

Robbie stood inside the front door, a backpack flung over his shoulder, his green eyes wide with shock.

Ethan released me, jerking his head toward the shout. Blood smeared his lips. Seeing Robbie, he hissed and—there’s no other way to put it—scuttled away from us and up the stairs, vanishing from sight.

I shook so hard I had to sit down on the couch. My leg throbbed, and my breath came in short, uneven gasps. Blood, bright and vivid, seeped through my jeans like an unfurling blossom. Dazed, I stared at it, numbness deadening my limbs, freezing them in shock.

Robbie crossed the room in three strides and knelt beside me. Briskly, as if he’d done this kind of thing before, he began rolling up the cuff of one pant leg.

“Robbie,” I whispered as he bent over his task, his long fingers surprisingly gentle. “What’s happening? Everything’s going crazy. Ethan just attacked me…like a wild dog.”

“That wasn’t your brother,” Robbie muttered as he pushed back the material, revealing a bloody mess below my knee. An oval of jagged puncture wounds marred my leg, seeping blood, and the skin around them was already purpling. Rob whistled softly. “Nasty. Wait here. I’ll be right back.”

“Like I’m going anywhere,” I replied automatically, and then his previous statement sank in. “Wait a minute. What do you mean, that wasn’t Ethan? Who the hell else could it be?”

Rob ignored me. Walking to his backpack, he opened it and pulled out a long, green-tinted bottle and a tiny crystal cup. I frowned. Why was he going for champagne now? I was hurt, in pain, and my kid brother had turned into a monster. I was certainly not in the mood for celebrating.

With the utmost care, Robbie poured the champagne into the cup and walked back, being careful not to spill a single drop.

“Here,” he said, giving it to me. The cup sparkled in his hand. “Drink this. Where do you keep the towels?”

I took it suspiciously. “In the bathroom. Just don’t use Mom’s good white ones.” As Rob walked off, I peered into the tiny cup. There was barely enough for a swallow. It didn’t look like champagne to me. I was expecting something fizzy white or pink, sparkling in the glass. The liquid in the cup was a deep, dark red, the color of blood. A fine mist writhed and danced on the surface.

“What is this?”

Robbie, returning from the bathroom with a white towel, rolled his eyes. “Do you have to question everything? It will help you forget the pain. Just drink it already.”

I sniffed experimentally, expecting hints of roses or berries or some type of sweet scent mixed in with the alcohol.

It smelled of nothing. Nothing at all.

Oh, well. I raised the glass in a silent toast. “Happy birthday to me.”

The wine filled my mouth, flooding my senses. It tasted of nothing, and everything. It tasted of twilight and mist, moonlight and frost, emptiness and longing. The room swayed, and I fell back against the couch, it was so strong. Reality blurred at the edges, wrapping me in a fuzzy haze. I felt sick and sleepy all at once.

By the time my senses cleared, Robbie was tying a bandage around my leg. I didn’t remember him cleaning or dressing the wound. I felt numb and dazed, like a blanket had dropped over my thoughts, making it hard to concentrate.

“There,” Robbie said, straightening up. “That’s done. At least your leg won’t fall off.” His eyes swept up to mine, anxious and assessing. “How’re you feeling, princess?”

“Un,” I said intelligently, and tried to sweep the cobwebs from my brain. There was something I wasn’t remembering, something important. Why was Robbie binding my leg? Had I hurt myself somehow?

I bolted upright.

“Ethan bit me!” I exclaimed, indignant and furious all over again. I turned on Robbie. “And you…you said that wasn’t Ethan at all! What were you talking about? What’s going on?”

“Relax, princess.” Robbie tossed the bloody towel onto the floor and plopped onto a footstool. He sighed. “I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this. My fault, I suppose. I shouldn’t have left you alone today.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You weren’t supposed to see this, any of this,” Robbie went on, to my utter confusion. He seemed to be talking more to himself than me. “Your Sight has always been strong, that was a given. Still, I didn’t expect them to go after your family, too. This changes things.”

“Rob, if you don’t tell me what’s going on—”

Robbie looked at me. His eyes gleamed, impish and feral. “Tell you? Are you sure?” His voice went soft and dangerous, and goose bumps crawled up my arms. “Once you start seeing things, you won’t be able to stop. People have gone mad with too much knowledge.” He sighed, and the menace dropped from his eyes. “I don’t want that to happen to you, princess. It doesn’t have to be this way, you know. I can make you forget all of this.”

“Forget?”

He nodded and held up the wine bottle. “This is mistwine. You just had a swallow. A cup will make everything go back to normal.” He balanced the bottle on two fingers, watching it sway back and forth. “One cup, and you’ll be normal again. Your brother’s behavior will not seem strange, and you won’t remember anything weird or scary. You know what they say—ignorance is bliss, right?”


Tags: Julie Kagawa The Iron Fey Book Series
Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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