I lounged on the bed, hands behind my head, and glanced around Abby’s room, which was almost identical to mine. Despite being ridiculously overpriced, the Pendragon Palace earned a solid ten for its décor.
I still couldn’t believe I was back in New Orleans after all these years, especially with Abby Benson of all people. If not for my brother’s wife—and my former infatuation—Chloe begging me to tag along with her cousin to ensure her safety, I probably wouldn’t be here, but I never could say no to Chloe. She was my weakness.
Originally, I’d thought this trip was an utter waste of time, because no way would Abby ever go through with resurrecting Isach Zoya, her dead fiancé. The cost for any sort of magic was always high, but for voodoo? The price tag was sure to be astronomical.
The shower shut off, and several minutes later, Abby emerged from the bathroom. Dressed in jean shorts and a T-shirt, her normally frizzy red hair hung in damp strands around her shoulders. Her eyes were dull, even as she smiled in my direction, and everything in me simultaneously seized and broke. This poor girl had been through way too much, and she didn’t deserve the heartache she was currently suffering, and I had an awful feeling she hadn’t even hit the worst of it yet. How would Abby react when she finally came face to face with Isach? Could she handle it? Could Chloe? All I wanted was for them to be happy, but would dragging Isach back from the dead accomplish that? I was beginning to have a lot of doubts.
“So, did you tell Chloe?” Abby asked.
During our quest to resurrect Isach, we’d learned that he wasn’t actually dead. I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not, but his state of well-being didn’t really matter much when we had no idea where he was—and no one was willing to tell us, either. That only made me want to find him more, find out why he let everyone believe he was dead and why he was hiding from his friends.
“No.” I swung my legs over the side of the bed. “Figured we should find Isach first, get some answers. Then we can tell her.” I stood. “Of course, if you don’t want to find him, then we’ll go home and let everyone think he’s dead and we couldn’t resurrect him.”
“You’d really lie to Chloe about something like this? You know her and Isach were close.” Abby searched for her shoes.
“If it meant protecting her feelings, then yes. Absolutely.” No way was I telling Chloe anything until I had concrete answers. I wouldn’t be responsible for giving her false hope.
Abby snatched her sneakers from under the bed, flopped down on the mattress, and tugged them onto her feet. “I’m not sure there’s anything he can say that will make me be okay with what he did, but I have a lot I want to say to him.” She stood and crossed her arms. “So, let’s go find him.”
I grinned. “I can’t wait to see this.”
She rolled her eyes and shoved me toward the door. “C’mon.” She gathered her stuff on the way out of the room. “I hope you know more witches.”
“I know a few but getting them to help us will be a long shot.”
If only I’d known how true those words would turn out to be. After visiting four different witches—all of whom literally slammed the door in my face—we weren’t any closer to finding Isach. And for every “no” and dead end we ran into, Abby’s hope diminished a little more. Her aura, which had been a vibrant pulsing yellow this morning, was now fading to gray. When we found Isach—because it was no longer a question of if—I was going to throat punch him a few times, and then I was going to kill him for the pain he’d caused Abby and everyone else. Witch boy had better pray to whatever God he believed in that he had a hell of a good reason for still being alive when we all thought him dead.
After striking out with the last witch I knew, Abby’s hope was gone, and she was shrouded in a gray cloud. I flexed my hands on the steering wheel, fighting the urge to hit something. I promised Chloe I’d take care of Abby, that I’d make sure nothing happened to her, and I never broke a promise to Chloe. But now, I might have to, because how could I bring Abby home unscathed when I knew this trip had only intensified her grief? I’d have no choice but to bring back a more broken version of Abby, and I feared there’d be no healing her after all this.
“Maybe we should just go home and beg Ivy to help us.” Abby rested her head on the car window and sighed. “Isach swore a blood oath to her, so if he’s alive, she’ll want to know. She’ll hold him to that oath, which means she’ll want to find him as much as I do.”
“Or she’ll just kill him for betraying her.”
She whipped her head around to glare at me. Well, clearly that wasn’t the right thing to say. But Abby wasn’t stupid, and she knew Ivy couldn’t be trusted. I didn’t care if Ivy Rose—now the leader of the most powerful coven in the world—had been our ally for a short while. I’d never fully trust her, and making any sort of deal with Ivy was sure to backfire.
“Sorry.” I gave an apologetic shrug. “Let’s try Sophie one more time. Maybe I can find a way to negotiate with her. There’s gotta be something she wants.”
Sophie was the absolute last person I wanted to see again, especially after how she’d reacted to us last night, but I had to do something to help Abby, and this was my last ditch effort. If this didn’t work, I had no idea what I’d do.
“How do you know her anyway?” Abby asked.
“When Sean was searching for a way to break the curse, he spoke to a lot of witches. She was one of them.” I scrunched up my face. “She wasn’t much help back then, either.”
Thanks to my father losing his control of his heightened emotions, he killed the woman he loved, the same woman that powerful witch Rector Zoya had loved, too, and as a result, Rector cursed my family—no Halstead vampire would ever know true love, and should we attempt to take a mate and change them, they’d go mad with bloodlust. A harsh reality that my brother and I had learned the hard way.
As soon as we arrived, I knocked and announced myself. I fully expected to hear Sophie scream at us to leave, or to be struck by a lightning bolt simply for having the gall to show my face here again—witches were dramatic like that—but I did not expect the door to swing open. And I really didn’t expect someone other than Sophie to be standing there.
While this girl looked eerily similar to Sophie, there were some slight differences. This girl was a tad shorter and fuller in the face, though it was more heart-shaped than round, and her hair wasn’t quite as red. She also had fewer freckles, but the all-knowing green eyes were the same. Except hers flickered from green to yellow and back, her gaze shrewd and assessing.
“Who’re you? And where’s Sophie?” I asked. My body tensed, and behind me, Abby sucked in a breath.
The girl narrowed her eyes. Unease slithered through me, and my gaze darted above her head. Her aura danced with colors—reds, oranges, yellows, and blinding greens—much like flames from a too-hot fire. I’d never seen anything like it before, and I had no idea what to make of it. Abby moved closer to me, and my muscles tensed even more. Did she sense something was off about this girl, too?
“Doesn’t matter who I am. You’re the vampire and the human hunting for Isach,” she said.
Abby’s heart started to race, the sound echoing in my ears. I was already on edge, and hearing the blood rush through her body wasn’t helping. Another second and I’d plunge over the cliff into full blown bloodlust, and that wouldn’t be good for any of us. I curled my hands into fists, my gaze hard and unwavering on whoever this girl was.
“He wanted me to give you a message.” Her cold gaze landed on Abby. “Stop looking for him.”
“Why?” Abby demanded.
“Because he doesn’t want to be found.”
Abby shoved herself in front of me so she was facing off with this girl. I started to reach for her, to move her out of harm’s way, but I hesitated. Abby was so much like Chloe in that she didn’t back down from a fight, and she sure as hell knew how to stand up for herself. I stood perfectly still, my curiosity getting the best of me, and waited to see what Abby would say.
“Is that so? Well, you give him a message from me.” Abby thrummed with rage, and I raised a brow, impressed. “Tell him he’s a coward, and that he’s going to wish he died during that war, because I am going to find him, and when I do, I’m going to kill him myself.”
Damn. Abby was a force to be reckoned with, that was for sure. The look on the girl’s face was a mix between surprise, awe, and a healthy dose of fear. I bit back a smile.
Spinning around, Abby shouldered past me, then turned back. “You’re not the only witch in this city, and you’re definitely not the only witch I know. You might want to remind Isach of that fact, too.”
“Is she seriously talking about Ivy Rose?” the girl asked.
And just like that, Abby had managed to throw this girl off her game. I owed Abby one for that. I laughed. “She’s dead serious.”
“I can’t let her do that.” The girl raised her hands.
Oh, hell no! In a flash, I was now behind the girl, my arm around her neck in a hold that would make it easy for me to snap her neck with very little effort. She wasn’t going to hurt Abby, or me, for that matter. I’d kill her first, then deal with Sophie’s wrath. Wouldn’t be the first witch I’d pissed off, and she certainly wouldn’t be the last.
“You really think you can stop us?” I asked.
“No, but I can.”
My ears rang at the sound of his voice, and my hold on the witch loosened a fraction.
Abby whirled around. “Isach,” she whispered.
“Abby,” he said, his gaze steady on her.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Isach was really alive. That voodoo priestess we’d consulted hadn’t lied to us. How the hell was this possible? Abby hurled herself at him, and he caught her in his arms. Slowly, I released my hold on the girl and held my hands up in surrender as I took a step back. Hopefully, she wasn’t one of those spiteful witches that would curse me because I’d been prepared to kill her. I’d just gotten rid of one curse—thanks to Chloe—and I really didn’t want to go home with a new one.
Thankfully, the witch didn’t seem too angry with me, and I eased around her. Abby and Isach were still locked in a hug, and I smiled. Even though I had no idea what happened or what led us to this moment, I was happy for Abby, and based on the way she was back to bright yellow, I knew she was thrilled, too.
Then, in the blink of an eye, she switched to a fiery red. I braced myself for the inevitable explosion.
Abby shoved him away. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
And there it was.
Isach glanced at me. I stared back, refusing to give him any help. He’d brought this on himself, and he was going to pay the price.
“How are you alive? I saw your dead body.” Abby wiped her tears with a trembling hand. “I said goodbye to you. I buried you, and I’ve spent every single day since then mourning you, and you’ve been alive this entire time?” Her voice rose with each word.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
I cringed. Even I knew that was the wrong answer. After what he’d done, what he put Abby through, “I’m sorry” was a cop out. If Abby didn’t start demanding an explanation soon, I would. And I’d make Isach answer whether he wanted to or not. “You’re sorry?” She laughed bitterly. “Do you have any idea what I’ve been through? I got fired from my job.” She shoved him again, and he barely budged. “I dropped out of college.” Another shove. “I gave up our apartment.” This time, she pounded her fists against his chest, and he stood there like an unmoving wall. Had to give him a little credit for taking what she was dishing out. “I haven’t been able to function, and you’ve been… what? Moving on? Hanging out with some girl.”
This was escalating fast. “Okay, Abby. Easy.” I reached for her arm.
She jerked away before I could touch her.
“Stay out of this, Jax,” Isach warned.
I tilted my head with momentary shock. All right, fine. He didn’t want my help. I took a step back and crossed my arms. Give him hell, Abby.
“You faked your death!” She shoved him again and again and again, and each time he’d move back a small step. “You. Left. Me.”
I had to admit, I was enjoying the show. Though, in my opinion, Abby was being too easy on him. He deserved a lot more than she was giving him… like a few well-placed punches to his face. Her hands shook with rage, and her heart beat rapidly. Her aura was a steady glow of fury, and I shifted on my feet, prepared to intervene.
“We had plans. A future.” She gave him one more hard shove, but this time, he didn’t move an inch. Abby’s shoulders sagged. “You promised to love me forever, and then you left me.”
The asshole had broken her. I clenched my jaw, my fangs aching to tear into him for hurting her. My fingers curled against my biceps, and I locked up every muscle in my body so I wouldn’t lunge at him.
“Why? Why did you leave me?” She took a deep breath. “Why didn’t you love me enough to stay?” She buried her face in her hands and sobbed.
Everything in me wanted to go to her, to wrap her in my arms and comfort her, but it wasn’t my place to do so. But so help me God, if Isach didn’t step up and be the man she needed… I flexed my fingers against my arms.
A moment later, Isach’s arms were around her. “I am so sorry, Abby,” he whispered and pressed a kiss to the top of her head. “I didn’t want to leave you.” He released his hold on her, took her face into his hands, and wiped her tears with his thumbs.
Part of me wanted to look away because I felt like I was intruding on a private moment, but I was too afraid of what would happen if I did. Not that I thought Isach would ever physically hurt Abby, but she might very well go nuclear on him, and while that would be fun to watch, I couldn’t let her do anything she’d regret.
“Every single thing I’ve done, every choice I’ve made that led us to this moment has been for you,” Isach said.
Abby turned away from him, and his hands fell to his sides. “Are you seriously going to stand there and tell me that you left me for my own good?” She crossed her arms.
Okay, time to get some real answers. “You’ve got some explaining to do, Zoya,” I said.
Abby gave me a sad but grateful smile, and I moved to stand beside her. Isach’s gaze darted from me to Abby, and he narrowed his eyes. Let him have something to say about me being here with Abby. I was already itching for a fight, and one more wrong word from him was all I needed.
“I know I do.” Isach dragged his hand through his hair.
“Then explain,” Abby said.
“We should take this inside,” said the girl.
“Who is she, Isach?” Abby pinned him with an accusatory glare. “Are you and her…?”
“No.” He gave a hard shake of his head. “She’s just a friend. They all are.”
Abby tilted her head in confusion, then, slowly, she turned around, and I did the same. The one girl from earlier was still standing near the front door, but now three other girls stood on either side of her. All of them were eerily similar in appearance—not quite identical, but close with the same pale, freckled complexions, green snake-like eyes, and bright red hair. My gaze lingered on Sophie, and she very subtly inclined her head in my direction. I narrowed my eyes, my attention sliding to the girl standing next to her.
Her gaze lifted to meet mine, and the corner of her mouth lifted in the faintest of smiles. Her cheeks turned pink, making her freckles stand out even more against her otherwise pale skin. I froze for the span of a single heartbeat, and then everything inside of me shifted and clicked back into place as if I’d been living my entire existence in a state of broken disrepair, and now I was fixed, made whole again.
My chest constricted, and my limbs tingled. Could vampires have heart attacks? Because I swore that’s what was happening, and it took every ounce of control I had not to clutch my chest like some dramatic, cartoon caricature of a drama queen. I held my breath, knowing I wouldn’t be able to breathe right now no matter how hard I tried, and I was not going to attempt it and end up choking right here in front of everyone. Slowly, I inhaled a small amount of air through my nose, and the scent of earth, rainwater, and magnolia wafted toward me.
I knew that as certain as I knew my name, and now the smell of her was branded on me. What the ever-loving hell is happening right now? She averted her gaze, and my breath rushed out in a woosh, like she’d released me from some sort of magical hold. Was that what happened? Had she used a spell to hold me captive? I ground my teeth.
“Abby, Jax…” Isach stepped around us so he was now in between us and the girls. “You’ve already met Sophie. These are her sisters. Sabella, Piper, and Peyton. They’re witches.”
“So, you’ve been staying here with them this whole time?” Abby asked, an edge to her tone. Her aura pulsed with jealousy. Uh-oh.
“Yes, but it’s not what you think.” Isach gave her a pleading look.
“It’s time for you to start talking,” I said, because he might not have died when we all thought he did, but if he didn’t explain, he’d certainly be dead when Abby was finished with him.
“C’mon inside and I’ll tell you everything.” Isach sounded weary.
Abby refused to move.
“Come. It’s not safe out here for much longer.” Sophie spun on her heel and disappeared inside. Her sisters followed her lead.
I turned to Abby. “Your choice, Abby. Are we going in there or are we going home?” Please say we’re going home. I wasn’t sure I could handle being near these witches a second longer, especially when one of them was playing tricks on me.
She shifted on her feet, seeming to weigh her options. “We’re going inside.”
Of course we were. No way was she going to walk away now when she finally found Isach. Still, I needed to be positive. “Are you sure?” I asked.
She nodded, then settled her gaze on Isach. “You’re going to tell me everything, and you’re going to answer every single question I have, because if you don’t, I will leave, and I won’t come back.”
“Okay,” Isach said. That settled it. I headed inside, fully expecting Abby to follow, but when I glanced behind me, she wasn’t there. I hesitated, debating going back out there with her, but I figured she needed a few moments alone with Isach. With a heavy breath, I continued into the house.