Sin and Swoon (Blood and Bone Series Book 2)

By: Tara Brown

1. The Iron Butterfly

The mist swirls, attempting to blind me, but I don’t dare back down. I push through, sucking in air so heavy I can barely inhale all the way. Something in my back stings—my lungs maybe, from the thick, heady air of the sea. But that doesn’t seem like the answer. It doesn’t feel like sea air at all. It’s something else altogether.

And as if the air isn’t bad enough, the dense forest looks like a trap set just for me. My bare feet push for it, running toward the chaos of fallen trees, rocks, and holes. Branches stab, but I don’t feel them the way I should. Even my feet ignore the pain. My mind reels at that, and my fingers reach for the branches as I enter the silent woods.

My panicked breath and heaving chest are like percussion instruments in my ears, where blood is racing through at a rapid rate. The crunching of the sticks and branches seems to scream my trail. Even the rocks and dirt try to betray me by announcing where I’m running.

Light filters in through the green canopy as I slide over logs and branches to get deeper into the woods.

“Ashley! I know you think you can get away, but it’s a hundred miles in every direction! Princess, we can talk about this!”

I duck, hearing the shouted words, hiding behind a log and some ferns. I know my dark hair and filthy skin have to be shielding me from his eyes, but the shaking in my aching body and groggy mind seems to be making the woods move in an unnatural way. The trees vibrate with me, and the leaves crinkle and crunch even though nothing is moving, nothing but my beating heart.

“Ash, Princess, I’m not mad, I swear! Just come out and let me tend to your wounds! Come on, Princess, come back!”

His voice grates on my skin. It doesn’t matter if he whispers or shouts, the sound is the same. It nauseates me and haunts my mind. My memories are all groggy, as if they’re leftovers from a drug-laden haze. But his whispering breath on my rocking body is as clear in my mind as it is there in the woods. He fills me up, holding me down, and as much as I beg my brain to turn off, it catalogues every moment. I don’t know to what end.

I hold my breath as he enters the woods. “You’re bleeding! Let me make it better! The animals will track you!”

I tremble but I don’t move. I don’t dare run for it. I wait. He can’t see me, and I might have run in any direction for all he knows.

His breath and heavy steps fill the forest with echoing noises. It’s then I see the clouds rolling in behind us, over the mountain peaks. I realize the air is colder than I thought it was, and I am not on the coast at all. When I take a breath I realize the air isn’t heavy. I’m high in the mountains. The air is thin, and the ache in my chest and lungs is from the elevation. I’m not used to it. I’m usually at sea level when I am forced to exert myself.

I hold my breath, straining my lungs and making the pounding in my head worsen, but it isn’t worth it to let him find me. I force the image of him pinning me down, whispering his love for me. It stops the pain and pushes it away with intense amounts of fear.

“Ash!” His voice sounds farther away, but I don’t lift my head to look. I wait, because there is no way to be sure. My ears are still thick with the thin air and elevation.

A hot shiver breaks out, making me breathe again. The feeling of a fever and possibly a sickness of sorts starts to surface.

I don’t know how long I’ve been here. I don’t know how long I will last here in the woods, bleeding and cold. I do know I will die here, surrounded by trees and freezing, before I will let him find me.

His footsteps crunch, leading away from me, but his bellow is still audible: “When I find you, you’ll be punished for every day you hide! Make no mistake, Princess, I’ll find you!”

The name Princess makes me want to vomit. Not violently and noisily, but the retching is difficult at this elevation, regardless of not getting sick or making a sound. It makes me dizzier.

I sit, wondering if he’s messing with me, waiting for me to make the mistake of standing. But I’m not that dumb. Not to mention, my legs are not that strong. They’ve sort of failed me, in either paralyzing fear or crippling weakness. When I needed them to run they worked, but now they’re heavy like they’re soaked in concrete or caked in mud.

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