An Excerpt from
Protected (Ariya Adams Trilogy Book #1)
By Anna Applegate
“I’m stealing your date for a minute.” He smiled over at James, who just nodded. “Ariya, you have to stop looking so good all the time. You really make it hard on a guy.”
He winked at me. His bad mood from earlier today seemed to have vanished completely, for which I was grateful. Caroline was right. It must have been stress from getting everything for the party together.
“How much have you had to drink already, Bullwinkle?” I shoved out of his arms.
“Can’t I give you a compliment without you thinking I’m drunk?”
“No,” I laughed. “I have to get back to my date, you know, the one you actually approve of.”
“I don’t know if I approve of breaking and entering. He’d better be careful with you.”
He stopped and took my chin in his hand, as if inspecting me. Then he turned my cheek, while still holding my chin, and gave me a peck. Whoa, stomach drop. What on earth was that about, and what was wrong with me to react like that?
He walked away from me, leaving me behind. What was that for? Was he worried about something with James? He had seemed to approve earlier until the ice-skating debacle. Where was the “careful” comment coming from?
My thoughts again trailed to the conversation Caroline and I had had earlier. Riley wasn’t in love with me. If he were, he would have said something. He would have tried to convince me not to be with James. He was just looking out for me now. It’s what he always did.
After successfully reassuring myself, I realized I was hot and could feel sweat threatening to slide down my back under the flapper dress. I wasn’t sure if it was the effect James had on me, looking as handsome as he did tonight, Riley’s strange move, or the beer I had just downed. I needed air. The emotions that rocked me every day seemed to calm when I had some space. I noticed getting some fresh air in moments where I felt I was slipping tended to help. It relaxed me when I just could stand and take a few deep breaths in a quiet area.
This had to be because I was tired. Everything had to be tied to that. I was waking up earlier and earlier and jerking awake, too, so maybe that disrupted my sleep cycle. I got outside and inhaled deeply. Everything was going so wonderfully tonight. It was a perfect ending to a great college span. If the year continued like this, I would be even more upset than I originally thought to leave it all behind.
I got lost in my thoughts for a couple moments. It took me some time to realize that James had come up beside me.
“It really is beautiful here. Being in the city, you forget what it’s like to see the sky and stars. It’s nice to be somewhere away from the hustle again. I didn’t think I’d miss it.”
“I can’t imagine not being able to see the sky like this. I could live forever not being near city lights.” We were both looking up at the stars.
Even back home, you couldn’t see them this well. There were speckles everywhere, lighting the night sky. It looked as if someone had painted each one and put them so close together, like a blanket. It was romantic, beautiful, and peaceful. I closed my eyes, taking in another deep breath.
I glanced over at James, and he was staring intently at me. I swear it felt like electricity in my body when I looked at him. He had to feel something, too, anything. I knew I had never felt this way before, and I couldn’t imagine that was something that could happen if it were just one-sided.
He was looking at me with purpose. Nothing prepared me for his next movements. He strode over closer to me and took my face in his hands.
His lips were on mine before I knew what was happening. He tasted sweet, but I could still smell the same scents from the night before. It was a woodsy, Christmassy scent. His lips were perfect, soft, and demanding. I’ve heard the expression weak in the knees before, but it wasn’t just my knees. My whole body was weak. I thought I was going to collapse and have to break the kiss.
He moved one hand into my bobbed hair wig and the other to my lower back and pulled me closer to him. His kiss changed from gentle to passionate. I couldn’t breathe. I was scared if I took too deep a breath, he would stop. I could feel the ripples of muscles beneath his outfit. His body was more solid than I had imagined. I would have given anything to hop up and wrap my legs around him, but I couldn’t move. Tingling sensations had taken over. He broke the kiss and whispered my name.
“Ariya.” His lips brushed mine gently as he spoke.
My heart melted. I couldn’t have dreamt up this moment, even in my best dreams. I dared to open my eyes, hoping that when I did, I wasn’t in my bedroom waking up from this. Taking a chance, I opened my eyes and looked directly into his. His arms loosened a bit, so he could look at me. I smiled and probably looked drunk with happiness. His thumb brushed my jaw line, and he smiled at me. I tilted my head as a signal for more and closed my eyes, but the kiss that I was expecting to follow didn’t come. Instead, his body stiffened.
“Shit, not now.”
My eyes flew open with concern. What could be wrong? When I looked at him his face was tight.
“Ariya, come with me.” Before I could answer, he grabbed my hand. “Stay behind me,” he ordered.
I was a bit shaken and felt like I was still coming out of a dream, like waking up too suddenly. The feelings of tingling and being light-headed from the moment before were still wearing off, so I felt strange having such a quick emotional shift. James was leading me towards the back of Riley’s house. I knew something was wrong.
James started moving faster and gripped my arm tightly. We rounded the corner of Riley’s house, and I saw why he was upset. Devon was there. Of all the people I did not want to see at the moment, there he was, standing away from the house back towards the woods behind Riley’s place. I noticed it was not just Devon standing there, though. He was standing behind Caroline with something in his hand.
He was holding her away from him, gripping the back of her neck. When we approached, he suddenly yanked her in closer to him. Devon was taller and bigger than her, which meant he was also stronger. I started to run over to her, passing James. What was Devon thinking? He’d better not hurt her! I mentally screamed at him, too stunned to get the words to come out just yet.
James’ arm locked around my waist, and he moved me behind him in one quick fluid motion. It was almost like I hadn’t even seen him make the movement, and I was just behind him.
“What do you think you’re doing, and how are you here right now?” James said icily. It startled me to hear that kind of tone coming out of him. No, not startled, it scared me.
“Oh, you mean how did I escape your little dungeon? I have people on the outside who are concerned with my whereabouts. You didn’t check on me tonight. Something must have been distracting you.” Devon paused for a moment, gave me a seductive grin, and then went back to speaking with James.
“Is this allowed, Protector?” He tilted his head towards me when he asked his last question.
Devon’s voice sounded cruel. My insides were bursting with anger. He was not a good person. What was he doing with Caroline? Why was he speaking to James about dungeons? I didn’t even know James and Devon knew each other this well to be speaking so much. And, why did he call James Protector? What was he protecting?
“James, get her out of here,” Caroline said. Devon tightened his grip.
“Shut up. I am stronger than you as it’s the full moon, and you were unprepared for this. Or hadn’t you noticed you can’t move so well, Caroline?”
I saw Nick around the corner, frozen. I could tell he was struggling with deciding to make a run for Devon or letting things play out. James held his hand up in a stopping motion, as if he could see Nick’s struggle, too.
“Let her go, Devon,” I hissed at him from behind James.
Who did he think he was, and why weren’t James and Nick trying to jump him? It was two against one. I looked over at Devon again. I searched for a reason for the lack of movement and noticed his hand again. He was holding a light colored stick. A stick? I thought.
I squinted and tried to look closer. It looked like a stake. A wooden stake? Like for putting in the ground. Something in my stomach clenched. Devon was standing holding Caroline by the throat with a weapon in his hand. I was glad he didn’t have a gun and said a silent prayer of thank you.
“Don’t you worry, sweetheart. I’m sure you can save her.” He was looking at me that time. What was he going to ask me to do?
“Devon, it doesn’t have to be like this,” James said. “Just let her go.”
“We’re tired of waiting for her to know, waiting to see if it’s real. We have some plans for her ourselves, and I think there is only one way to force your hand. A little experiment, like I mentioned to you before at the game.” He turned to me. “You should have just come when I told you.”
I looked up at James, now that I had made my way to stand next to him, confused, but he wouldn’t meet my eyes. He kept his arm out as if trying to remind me to stay near him for some reason.
“Ah, I figured something was off,” Devon continued. “They must have adjusted that memory of yours. You wouldn’t have been so calm and ready to come after me a minute ago otherwise, I think. You’ve forgotten our little rendezvous? I would have loved to have taken things further. Too bad you don’t remember that I said to come with me, but you will, my pet.” He smiled.
“That’s enough!” James yelled.
His anger frightened me. I looked back at Devon and his reaction wasn’t one of fear. He was smiling. His teeth gleamed in the moonlight. I hated him. I don’t know why I hated him so much, but I did. He was a horrible person. He was threatening Caroline, and his words were not making any sort of sense. I felt confused. What rendezvous was he talking about? I would never have agreed to meet him anywhere, so what was he referring to?
“You won’t be able to do it and get away.” Nick spoke up for the first time.
“Oh, on the contrary, I think there’s something you all will be too busy with.” He moved quickly.
I tried keeping up with the movement, but he was so fast. His arm disappeared and Caroline gasped. Nick and James were fast, too, and it seemed everyone was faster than me. They got to Caroline before I could even get out the scream that was escaping my throat.
Devon had plunged the wooden stake into Caroline and bolted away. Caroline lurched forward and fell to the ground. I only heard the end of my scream, and I ran to try and catch up to everyone.
“Caroline! Caroline!” I got to her and shoved the boys out of the way.
Nick pulled the stake out. I turned her over and started shaking her. “Caroline, Caroline. No, no, no!” My body started shaking. This couldn’t be happening to Caroline. What had Devon done?
I screamed at James, “Do something! Call 911! Why are you just standing there? Please, do something!” I was yelling at the boys and couldn’t comprehend their calm states. We needed a doctor!
James knelt down and took my hands from Caroline’s body. “Ariya, I can’t call 911. Do you see blood?”
When I looked down, I didn’t see any blood, but she wasn’t responding to us. She was paler than normal, which scared me. She wasn’t breathing or moving at all. Nothing was going to make this better. My best friend was gone and no one was helping me save her. “James, please help her.” I started hyperventilating.
“Ariya, listen to me. You can help Caroline. Listen.” His voice grew firm.
He wasn’t comforting me, he was pushing me. He needed me to do something, but I couldn’t pay attention to him. I didn’t want to talk to him right now. I wanted Caroline to be better. Pain was overwhelming me. I let out a wail again. I tried to push the hurt away from my heart in order to listen.
“You can save Caroline. Do you hear what I’m saying? Ariya!” He firmly tilted my face up with his hands, and he was looking at me intently. “Ariya, you can save her.”