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Infamous (Chronicles of Nick #3)(9)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

Shaking his head at Dev, he went inside. It took a minute for his eyes to adjust to the dark interior.

Dev’s sister Aimee was at the bar, picking up drinks.

“Now where were you, mister?”

He jumped at his mom’s angry tone in his ear. How had she snuck up on him? Dang, he could rent her out as a ninja.

“At school. I had detention.” Go ahead, Nick. Throw gas on that fire.…

“For what?” she growled.

“Being late.”

She narrowed her blue eyes at him. “And why were you late?”

“Stone slammed me—”

She flung out her hand to signal him to shut-up. “Don’t even start that. You take responsibility for your own actions. You hear me? Now why were you late?”

He ground his teeth as he forced himself not to show any kind of anger toward her. But he was really getting tired of being treated like an idiot who couldn’t tie his own shoes. “I didn’t get to class until after the bell rang.” There, that was the truth.

“Nicholas Ambrosius … do not test me. Not today. I am not in the mood for your crap.”

You hear me, he mocked silently in his head. ‘Cause he wasn’t quite stupid enough to do that out loud.

He forced himself to speak in a calm tone. “I don’t know what to tell you, Mom. I screwed up by not calling and I’m sorry. It was a bad day at school and two of my friends are under fire. I was just trying to help them, and I wasn’t thinking about myself.”

She frowned. “What do you mean ‘under fire’?”

“Someone started attacking them publicly and posting awful pictures of them and insults for everyone to see.”

Anger darkened her gaze as he struck the nerves in her that Grim had mentioned. The one thing his mother couldn’t stand was for anyone to gossip or speculate about someone else. She’d had too much of that done to her when she’d ended up pregnant with him. “Who?”

“You don’t know Spencer, but Brynna was the other one they attacked.”

“Addams?” she asked incredulously.

He nodded.

Now his mother looked as sick as he’d felt. “Why would anyone attack Brynna?”

“I don’t know. That’s what I was trying to find out. She ran out of school crying earlier, and I just wanted to help her, you know?”

Finally his mother hugged him. “All right, Boo. You’re forgiven, but still grounded.”

Of course he was.

She gently pushed him toward the small booth where he normally did his homework. “I’ll bring you some food. You get your homework started.”

Not happy about this at all, Nick obeyed before he got into more trouble. He sat down and started rummaging through his backpack. As he pulled out his math book, he saw that shadow flit across the wall again.

Turning his head, he tried to pinpoint it. But it was gone so fast, he wasn’t sure he could trust his eyesight in the dim room.

Suddenly, his grimoire heated up beneath his hand. With a hiss, he snatched his hand back. He blew cool air across his palm to help with the stinging while he opened the book with his other hand.

“All right, what are you trying to tell me?” He pulled out his pendulum and pricked his fingertip. Reciting the spell to activate it, he squeezed three drops of blood onto the page. For a second, it didn’t react. Then the blood rolled across the page until it formed words.

Horror. Terror. Nightmares. Dreams.

Some things are never what they seem.

Discord. Strife. Shame and Pain.

Into all lives, they will rain.

But none of them will cut so deep …

As the enemy you did not see.

He was still trying to decipher it when his gaze was drawn to the napkin holder. There in the shiny metal, he glimpsed the future to come.

It was Brynna, and she was hanging by her neck in her bedroom.

CHAPTER 4

Nick jumped up and fumbled for his phone. He had to get ahold of Brynna before she let her hurt feelings overtake her common sense. Life was hard for everyone, but pain was transitory and it would eventually leave. He knew that better than most since he’d been spoon-fed a steady diet of shame, humiliation and agony since the moment of his birth.

Death was forever. There was no undo button on it. Not unless you knew how to summon Artemis, and even then, there was no guarantee she’d take you.

His hand shaking from his panic, he dialed Brynna’s number and waited.

She didn’t answer.

As he was hanging up, his mom returned with a hamburger and fries. Her brows drew together in a worried frown. “What’s wrong?”

“Ma-m-mom, I got to go.”

The fury returned to make her eyes snap blue fire at him. “Sit your butt down, boy. You’re on restriction.”

“I know. But—”

“No buts,” she snapped. “Sit down and do your homework. Now!”

He shook his head. “You’re going to have to ground me again. I’ve got to go check on Brynna. I got a really bad feeling, and she’s not answering her phone. I have to make sure she’s okay.”

She took a step back and eyed him suspiciously. “Is that really what you’re doing?”

“Cross my heart, Mom.” He made a small cross in the center of his chest. Something he only did when he meant it.

“All right. Go on and check on her, then. I won’t hold that against you. You want to take the burger with you?”

Nick grabbed it from her tray, then kissed her cheek. “Can I leave my books here? I’ll be back as soon as I make sure she’s not doing something stupid.”

“Sure.”

Taking a bite of his burger, he headed for the door.

“Hey, Nick?”

He paused to look back at his mother and swallowed his food. “Yes, ma’am?”

“You’re a great kid. Much better than I deserve. I just wanted you to know that while I’m hard on you, I do see how wonderful you are. You do me real proud and I mean that.”

Her words warmed him. “Thanks, Ma. I love you, too.” Smiling at her, he rushed out to get to the streetcar so that he could bust tail to make it to Brynna’s house as fast as possible. This would be so much easier if I had a car.…

Or if Ambrose or Death would teach him how to teleport. Now there was a power he’d love to have. Of course with his luck, he’d teleport someplace bad like the Arctic Circle while in his underwear.

Or buck nak*d into his school’s gym during a pep rally. Yeah, that’d be a lot worse than freezing his nether regions on an iceberg. He’d much rather have penguins point and laugh at him than the girls in his class.

He came around the corner of the French Market at a dead run. For once luck was with him. The streetcar came in right as he reached the platform.

And he made the best time ever getting to Brynna’s house. A huge, dark gray antebellum mansion, it dwarfed his entire apartment building. Even though it made him uncomfortable to be around a place this nice and elegant, he’d always liked coming here. Whenever Brynna’s mom was in town, she usually had fresh cookies or cupcakes sitting in a glass case on their kitchen island. And her dad had never once looked at him as if he was trash or made a comment over the fact that Nick didn’t belong around his daughter. All of the Addamses were as nice as they could be. Something he deeply appreciated.

Nick opened the wrought-iron gate and sprinted across the small front yard and up the steps to the front door. He rang the bell.

A few seconds later, Brynna’s little brother, Jack, opened the door and stared up at him. “Yeah?”

“Is Brynna home?”

Jack shrugged. “Don’t know. Don’t care.”

I am so glad I’m an only child.… Nick sighed and tried again. “Is your dad around?”

“He’s running errands. Be back later.”

“Can I come in and see if Brynna’s in her room?”

Jack narrowed his gaze on Nick. “Ain’t no boy not related to us supposed to be up in her room. Ever.”

“I won’t go in it. You can come with me and make sure I stay in the hallway. Please? I won’t be here long. I just want to make sure she’s all right.”

“Yeah, okay. I heard her crying earlier. Figured it was something stupid. She cries all the time, anyway. When she’s happy. When she’s mad. When she’s sad. Whenever she breaks a nail or has to take medicine. Girls are so weird. I try not to pay attention to them.” Jack stepped back so that Nick could enter the house.

Nick headed for the stairs. “Where’s her room?”

“First one on the left.” But Jack didn’t follow him up. Instead, he drifted past the stairs, toward their kitchen.

Taking the stairs two at a time, Nick didn’t pause until he got to her door. Please be okay. Please … Terrified of what he might find, he knocked. “Hey, Bryn? It’s me, Nick. You in there?”

“Go away.” There was no missing the tears in her voice.

“I can’t. Not until I know you’re all right.” Nick leaned his head against the white wood and wished he could make it better for her. He hated for anyone to be this torn up, and for what? Meanness? Jealousy? Really? Why would anyone with a soul do this to someone else? Could they truly feel satisfaction or derive happiness from stabbing someone else so ferociously?

“I know you’re hurting, Bryn. Believe me, I know how it feels to get your emotional teeth kicked down your throat so far that it makes you choke on the last shred of your dignity. I do. Just when you think you can hold your head up and everything will be okay, in walks your mom with this tacky, awful bright orange fish shirt that she makes you wear to school so that everyone can poke fun at it and call you names. That sick feeling in your gut that tells you, you can’t take it anymore. That life sucks hard and it won’t ever get better. That you’re walking on the tightrope, trying to hang on with your toes ’cause you got no safety net, and you’re barely one sneeze away from being a stain on the floor. But you’re not alone, Brynna. You’re not. You’ve got a lot of people who care about you. People who love you and who would be devastated if something ever happened to you.”

She opened the door. Her dark hair was rumpled and her eyes bloodshot and swollen. With her mascara smeared around her eyes and down her cheeks, she looked so miserable that it wrung his heart. “I’m not as strong as you are, Nick.”

“No. You’re stronger than me.”

Shaking her head, she hiccupped.

Nick wiped at the tears on her face. “You know, I was having this really crappy day a couple of years ago. It was so bad that I honestly thought about throwing myself off the Pontchartrain bridge. I was so sick of being kicked and mocked for things I couldn’t help or change. Told how worthless and disgusting I was. How stupid and trashy. And as I sat in the cafeteria at a table by myself because I was a social outcast and didn’t have enough money for lunch, this beautiful girl came over and sat down beside me. She split her turkey sandwich and homemade cookies with me and bought me a bag of chips and a milk. Do you remember what she said to me?”

Tears flowed down her face. “No.”

“‘No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.’”

“Eleanor Roosevelt.”

Nick nodded. “You said to me, ‘Don’t let them hurt you, Nick. One of you is worth ten of them. And one day, we’re going to be grown and everything will be different. They’ll matter even less to you then than they do now. So don’t even waste a single thought on them and their cruelty. Besides, they wouldn’t be attacking you if they didn’t think of you as a threat to them. People only go after the ones they’re jealous of or scared of.’ And I asked you that day why anyone would ever be jealous of something like me.”

Brynna sniffed. “Because there’s a light inside you that shines so bright it’s hard to look at. You are kind and funny, and you’re the smartest boy I’ve ever met. Most of all, you see potential and opportunity where others see obstacles.”

“Yeah,” Nick said, his throat tight as he remembered all the times when all he’d needed was a kind smile from someone. Anyone. And Brynna had been that one person that day when he’d felt battered beyond his endurance. “Those words etched themselves into my soul, and I think about them a lot when Stone and them get started on me. While other people have kicked me, coming and going, you never did. You are an angel, Brynna. Don’t let the haters win. They wouldn’t have attacked you had they not felt inferior to you. So you hold your head up and you dare them to come after you. And know that when you do, you’re not facing them alone. You’ve got me, LaShonda, Kody, and dozens of other people who will take on the devil himself for you.”

She threw herself into his arms and sobbed against his neck. “I love you, Nick. You’ve always been such a good friend to me.”

 

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