Pure, p.45
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       Pure, p.45

         Part #2 of Covenant series by Jennifer L. Armentrout
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Page 45

 

  CHAPTER 22

  I DID SLEEP IN MY BED, IN THAT TERRIBLE ROOM.

  And I did so alone.

  It’d taken every ounce of my self-control to convince Seth that sharing the same bed wasn’t a good idea, which was difficult, mainly because my body had thought it was an awesome idea. Surprisingly, my brain had won that battle.

  I didn’t know why I’d kissed Seth—once, then twice. Hell, I didn’t even know why I agreed to seeing what happens. The smart thing would’ve been to punch Seth and make a run for it.

  But I never did the smart thing.

  “That was a beautiful dress. ” Laadan wore a slight, curious frown. “I guess there are several ways to ruin silk, and I suppose a midnight swim would be one of the more daring ways to do so. ”

  Cringing and flushing, I ran my hands down the only pair of dress pants I owned. They were made of some thin, black material and they swallowed my feet, which sucked. Even after I’d destroyed Laadan’s dress, she’d let me borrow some sexy black pumps that made me feel tall and clever.

  “I’m really sorry about the dress. ” I glanced back at the double doors adorned with a golden eagle. “I have some money saved up. I can pay for it. ”

  “No. Don’t worry about it. ” She patted my shoulder. “Although I am curious to what actually provoked you to leave the ball so quickly, and then go swimming. You left with your Seth. I’m assuming you went swimming with him?”

  My cheeks flamed at the mention of Seth. If my Seth had been here to catch that, I’d never hear the end of it, but he wasn’t allowed in the Council building. “He’s not my Seth. ”

  Marcus and Lucian rounded the corner before Laadan could do more than give me a knowing smile. Oddly, I felt grateful to see them.

  Lucian floated up to me, clasping my cold hand in his. Or maybe his hand was so warm that mine felt chilled to the bone? “Dear, you look so nervous. There is nothing to be worried about. The Council will ask you a few questions, and that is all. ”

  I met Marcus’s stare over Lucian’s shoulder. He looked like there was something to be worried about. Sliding my hand free, I resisted the urge to wipe it across my pants. “I’m not nervous. ”

  Lucian patted my shoulder as he slid around me. “I must go in and take my seat. It’s about to begin. ”

  It being the whole reason I’d come up here. Watching the Council Guards hold the doors for Lucian, I decided I wasn’t nervous. I just wanted to get this over and done with.

  Marcus’s lips were drawn tight when I faced him. Passing a meaningful look at Laadan, he waited until she nodded and followed Lucian into the Council before he spoke. “Alexandria, I expect you to be on your best behavior in there. Do not allow yourself to get drawn into any arguments. Only answer their questions—nothing more. Do you understand?”

  My eyes narrowed as I crossed my arms. “What do you all expect me to do? Go buck wild and start cussing people?”

  “Anything is possible, really. You’re known for your temper, Alex. Some probably expect you to lose your cool,” said a deep, familiar voice from behind me.

  Every cell of my skin recognized and still responded to that voice. It didn’t matter than I’d chosen Seth last night. Wasn’t that what I’d done? My brain screamed at my body to not turn around, but it didn’t listen.

  Aiden looked every inch a pure-blood. One lock of his otherwise tamed, dark hair kept falling forward, brushing against thick, sooty lashes. Dressed in that white, mafia-style getup, he appeared even more untouchable to me.

  Marcus cleared his throat, and I realized I was staring.

  Blushing fire-engine red, I turned to Marcus. “I know. Just answer their questions, blah, blah. I got it. ”

  Marcus glared at me. “I hope so. ”

  I didn’t know how else to prove to them that I wasn’t going to jump out of my chair and body-slam someone.

  Marcus checked his watch. “We must head in. Alexandria, the Guards will call you when the Council is ready. ”

  “I won’t go in with you all?” I asked.

  He shook his head and disappeared into the Council, which left Aiden and me alone with the silent Guards. Ignoring him was out of the question. “So… how have you been?”

  Aiden stared somewhere over my head. “Good. You?”

  “Good. ”

  He nodded and then glanced at the doors.

  The awkwardness of all of this pained me. “You can go in. You don’t have to wait out here. ”

  His gaze fell on me finally. “I do have to go in. ”

  I nodded, biting the inside of my cheek. “I know. ”

  Aiden started toward the door, but then stilled. Seconds went by before he pivoted back to me. “Alex, you can do this. I know you can. ”

  Our eyes locked, and I sucked in air. Speechless, I stood there as his gaze left mine and roamed over my face. I couldn’t remember if I’d put on any makeup today. Maybe some lip gloss? My hair was under control so it fell around my cheeks and covered my neck perfectly. I touched my lips, happy to find they felt glossy.

  His eyes zeroed in on my movements before he broke away, running a hand over his head. He let out a ragged sound and when he spoke; his voice was so low that I barely heard him. “I think… I’ll remember how you looked last night for the rest of my life. Gods, you were so beautiful. ”

  I may have stroked out.

  The next thing I knew he’d disappeared beyond the heavy Council doors. He left me spinning in confusion. Hot then cold, kind and then standoffish. I didn’t get it. Why tell me that… and then walk away? Like the day he’d said he wished Seth had killed the Master for hitting me. Why admit any of that?

  Leaning against the wall, I let out a long, tired sigh. Now wasn’t the time to obsess over Aiden’s manic mood swings. I needed to focus on—

  The door to my left opened, revealing a Council Guard. “Miss Andros, your presence has been requested. ”

  Well, that came sooner than I’d expected. I pushed off the wall and followed the Guard into the Council. It looked different from what I remembered. Granted, the only time I had seen it was from the top balcony, hidden from the pures below. Titanium trim graced the curved benches that filled the ground floor of the coliseum. The symbols etched into the tiles were artfully done—nothing like the chicken scratches in the pathways back home. Things had to be bigger, better here.

  Those in attendance swiveled around in their seats as I made my way down the center aisle. Openly curious stares met mine. Others were not so curious—more like downright hostile and suspicious.

  Steeling myself, I focused on the raised dais ahead instead of the violent roiling in my stomach. The Ministers sat like gods about to rain down some great and terrible divine justice. They watched my progress, picking apart everything about me before I’d even reached them. Only one didn’t seem bothered by me. Reclining in one of the smaller thrones, dressed in lavish white robes, Lucian stared at Telly. Or perhaps he was staring at Telly’s throne, imagining himself in the seat that offered the closest thing our world had to absolute power.

  An open chair faced the audience in front of the Eight, directly between two thrones occupied by Head Minister Telly and Diana Elders. I stared at the seat, unsure if I was supposed to wait until I was given the okay to sit or make myself at home.

  I sat.

  A hush of disapproval swept through the crowd of pures. Apparently, that’d been

  the wrong action. This was starting out great. Lifting my eyes, I glanced at the balcony and caught a shadow flickering back from the railing.

  Seth.

  I felt Telly rise behind me, but I didn’t dare look. Somehow I knew that would also give rise to another murmur of censure. Casually, I rested my hands on the arms of the chair and stared out at the crowd in front of me. I searched out Aiden immediately. He was leaning forward in his seat, eyes fastened on the Ministers behind me.

  “Alexandria Andros. ” Head Minist
er Telly drifted around my chair. He stopped beside me, tipping his head to the side. With an elegant wave toward the audience, he smiled broadly, making him look like a demented cherub past its prime. “We must ask that you swear an oath to the Council and to the gods that you will answer each question today with the utmost honesty. Do you understand?”

  I nodded, eyeing the Head Minister. Was it just me, or did the gray clinging to the hair around his temples appear to be spreading?

  “Breaking this oath would be an act of treason not just against the Council, but also the gods. Doing so would result in your removal from the Covenant. This is also understood, I assume?”

  “Yes. ”

  “Then do you, Alexandria Andros, swear to disclose all information regarding the events that took place in Gatlinburg?”

  I met Telly’s pale eyes. “Yes. ”

  His smile turned brittle as he held my gaze. “Good. How have you found your accommodations here, Alexandria? Have they been to your liking?” Telly tsked softly. “Look only at me, Alexandria. ”

  The arms of the chair groaned as my fingers dug into the wood. “Everything has been lovely. ”

  One dark brow arched as he glided to the other side of my chair. “That pleases me to hear. Alexandria, why did your mother leave the Covenant three years ago?”

  I blinked tightly. “What does that have to do with what happened in Gatlinburg?”

  “You have been asked a question—no, do not look out to the audience. Why did your mother leave the Covenant three years ago?”

  “I… I don’t know why. ” I kept my eyes on Telly this time. “She never told me. ”

  Telly glanced at the audience while he rubbed his thumb and index finger together. “You do not know?”

  “No. ” I heard myself say, staring at his hand.

  “That is not true, Alexandria. You know why your mother left the Covenant. ”

  Jerking my eyes away from his hand, I shook my head. “My mother never told me why. All I know is what other people have said. ”

  “What were those reasons?”

  Where was he going with this? I followed his slow, purposeful movements. He was circling me. “She left because the oracle told her I would become the next Apollyon. ”

  “Why would that make her leave?”

  I couldn’t help it. My gaze moved to the balcony, to where I knew Seth watched.

  “Alexandria, do not look away!” he snapped.

  Now I understood why Marcus had looked so worried. My entire body thrummed with the desire to plant my foot into Telly’s gut. I glared at him. “She wanted to protect me. ”

  A different Minister spoke next. The older pure woman’s voice rubbed like sandpaper over my skin. “From whom would she have wanted to protect you?”

  Was I supposed to continue looking at Telly or the Minister? “I don’t know. Maybe she was worried about the gods getting upset over there being two of us. ”

  “That would be a concern,” she responded. “There should not be two of you in the same generation. ”

  “What other reasons would there be?” asked Telly.

  Words tumbled out of my mouth. Not good or smart ones. “Maybe she was afraid of what the Council would do. ”

 
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