“The Acolytes must have figured out I planned to take the back roads through the small towns,” he said as the inconspicuous, older silver Corolla drove down a two-way paved street. “They’ve set up road blocks. My only advantage is that I can sense them. We’ll have to travel through the major cities. But, we’ll get there sooner.”

That wasn’t his only advantage. I continued to stare out the window in silence, still trying to forget the nightmare in the woods.

“I can read your mind, too. Remember?” His tone seemed annoyed.

I glanced over. “Sorry.”

I couldn’t silence the thoughts that floated through my head. I couldn’t stop thinking only a monster could be responsible for such a slaughter. I couldn’t stop seeing the electrocuted, frozen, and burned bodies over and over again.

“You should have listened to me.”

“Did you have to kill them?”

He looked at me and furrowed his brows. “Are you serious?” His eyes narrowed. “You are.”

“No.” I rubbed my temples. “I’m not sure why I asked that. Sorry. It’s just—did you have to be so cruel about it? A bullet would have worked just fine.”

“So you would prefer I shoot them because it’s less messy? Mercy doesn’t instill fear in the hearts of your enemies. Clean and painless doesn’t discourage others from rising up and replacing the ones you defeated. It’s their mess to clean up, and they’ll think twice before being so bold again.”

I looked up and stared at him. He faced the road as he drove, shoulders relaxed against the seat. His golden hair fell over his forehead and a hint of stubble freckled his golden-tanned skin. Even from the side, his piercing eyes were powerful, commanding attention without effort. I looked down at my wrists as more gruesome images flashed across my mind. Lucifer probably had similar features.

My eyes darted to his clenched jaw and my cheeks flushed. “I’m sorry—”

“No, you’re not.” His sharp tone made me flinch. “I know this is all hard for you to accept. You’ve lived a quiet life in a small town, never even considering having to make choices like this until recently. But, this is normal for me.”

“So you keep reminding me.” I closed my eyes. I couldn’t take it any more. I glared at him. “What are you trying to say? That if you’d had your way, you and Janz would have taken me in at two years old and taught me to ‘protect’ myself—which you still haven’t explained any of that. That I wouldn’t have learned the horrible lesson about the value of human life? That I wouldn’t bat an eye at watching you electrocute a dozen men? That the smell and sight wouldn’t turn my stomach? Wow. Janz really did screw me over by letting me grow up in a loving family away from you.”

“And, how was that working out for you?” He glared at me, his words cold and slow. “What’s your count, so far? Three? Four, if you count Janz. He still hasn’t made contact. Maybe you did kill him.”

I stared back at him. My chest burned more than when the Acolyte had punched me in the stomach. “Maybe I did,” I whispered.

–Fire and Ice, pg. 90

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