Invidious (The Marked #2)


by Bianca Scardoni

PREFACE

Truth fluttered in and out of my life like a butterfly, taunting me with its beauty—with its endless possibilities of change and triumph. No matter how hard I tried to catch it, to trap it inside my heart and own it, it evaded me at every turn.

Like my destiny, my truth had been written in my blood long before I was born, guided and misguided by those who sought to destroy me. I thought knowing the truth would give me power over it—over my destiny—allow me to shape it and bend it to my will. I thought I would be safe there inside the light.

I was wrong.

There was no light to be found.

Only darkness rising.

1. THIS MEANS WAR

Thick, heady coils of fog moved with intention, slithering methodically around my legs as I stared up at the starless sky from my bedroom balcony. The events of last night were on constant replay in my mind, racing through it like some death wish I couldn’t remember making. Some ritual sacrifice I never signed up for. One minute I was at Spring Fling, dancing with the boy from my dreams, and the next I was fighting for my life in a burnt down church. My own personal hell where everything was a lie and everyone was in on it.

Everyone but me.

The betrayal clawed languidly at my insides, burrowing itself inside my soul as it fought to find a home in the agony. I wanted so bad to let the darkness take me in. To let it consume my shattered being and devour whatever was left of me. To erase everything that happened and make it inconsequential.

It was easier that way. Easier to give up. Easier to walk away and never look back. But easier wasn’t always that simple.

My best friend, Taylor, was still out there—powerless in the hands of an omnipotent Revenant who was hell-bent on winning the grand prize. Her life was sitting in the palm of my hands, and walking away from this meant walking away from her; leaving her to the wolf the way I was left to mine. I couldn’t do that to her, no matter how bad I wanted this all to disappear.

An awful heaviness pressed in over me like a gavel, cementing my sentence in stone. I had less than two weeks to fix this mess—to get the Amulet back and make everything right again. Unfortunately, I had no idea how I was going to do that. The only thing I knew for sure was that it would all come down to one person—the one responsible for all of this.

Trace Macarthur.

The beautiful boy from my dreams turned out to be nothing more than a trickster. An illusion I was too blind to see through. He played me right from the start, used me for his own personal gain, and then threw me down to the Gates of Hell when he was done with me, never bothering to look back once. Not even to see if I had stuck the landing.

I’d spent the last twenty-four hours inventing a million different ways to make him pay for what he did. To make him suffer the way he made me suffer. Unfortunately, all of that amounted to nothing because the fact of the matter was I needed him. I needed to get close to him again and gain his trust. Only then would I be able to get the Amulet back—to swipe it out from under his nose the way he swiped it from me.

Of course, in order to do any of that, I would first have to see him. I would have to look him right in the eye and finally see him for the fraud that he always was. Because that’s all that he was—a fraud, a calculating liar since kickoff. Everything that came out of his cunning mouth was designed to deceive, and I lined right up, eager to buy every word of it.

Visions of his mouth pressed up against mine cut through my mind, puncturing the shaky barricade around my subconscious as I relived the scenes I didn’t want to see anymore. My heart throbbed with pain, with a brand of heartache I never knew existed, and I hated him more for making me feel it.

He was going to get what was coming to him. I was going to make sure of that. But, right now, I had to stay focused on what was most important and that was getting Taylor back.

I looked down at my phone and contemplated my options. Nikki Parker’s last-minute e-vite glared back up at me like an unspoken dare. I knew there was only one reason she would have a sudden change of heart and extend an invitation to me. She was with Trace and she wanted me to know it. She wanted to revel in her conquest, bury me deeper in the wreckage that was now my life. Well, that was just fine by me. Kismet even.

And lucky for her, I already had a shovel.

Nikki’s house was exactly what I expected from yet another upper-crust resident of Hollow Hills. Bloated and over the top with all the fixings of a glamorous life and none of the sustenance to carry it. A short drive from the bordering street took us up to a one-floor glass house that overlooked the town like an empress sitting on her throne.

I thanked Henry for the ride and then hopped out of the car, straightening out my skinny jeans and black halter-top. Cold droplets of rain dotted my shoulders like falling tears as my heart began to race in my chest, reaffirming the fact that this was the very last place on earth I wanted to be tonight. I wanted to be back home—back in Florida, living out my old life, with my old friends, where everything was simple and easy.

That life is gone, Jemma. Get the hell over it, I told myself as I pulled in a lungful of air and made a push for the door before my nerve had a chance to bail out on me.

Inside, the house was crammed with wall-to-wall students from both Weston and Easton Prep alike. Despite the history, the room mixed together like oil and vinegar, two rival schools blending over the promise of alcohol and a good time. Somewhere through the noise, I heard a girl call out my name as I forced my way through the crowd, but I didn’t bother stopping to see who it was. I was here for one reason and she didn’t sound anything like him.

Rounding the corner, I walked into what appeared to be the living room, though it was hard to tell since I couldn’t see any of the furniture with all the half-dressed, gyrating bodies in the way. The air was thick with pheromones and perfume, and it was making the inside of my nose sting. It was hardly their fault though; they were here for a good time. I, on the other hand, was not.

I pushed up onto my toes and craned my neck, scanning the room for any Adonis-like liars I recognized. Before my eyes made it halfway around the room, I felt someone brush up against me from behind.

“What’s up, Blackburn,” said Caleb, his hot breath in my ear. He took a step forward and lined his shoulders up with mine. His chestnut hair was pointing skyward and had that messy-with-a-purpose look to it.

“Hey, Caleb.” There was no point in wasting time with idle chitchat, so I didn't. “Have you seen Trace?” I asked him over the bone-rattling music.