The Found (Crow City #2) - Cole McCade


SHE HAD ALWAYS KNOWN IT would come to this.

Willow stared at the blood on her hands and tried to breathe. She couldn’t get enough air; her breaths caught up against a block in her throat, each one filled with the taste of copper and salt and something tinny and mortal and red.

God, why was it so red?

Color so bright, so crisp. Everything was too stark: the press of icy concrete against her knees and the crushing weight of his trembling body across her lap, the cold rush of the air and the hot bleeding spill soaking her thighs, the tiny particles of dust drifting like sun-motes through the pale lamplight, the brimstone-metal scent of gunpowder, the screech of skidding tires outside.

But what consumed her most was the red.

She’d never seen anything so violently red before—as if his blood was a special kind of red that twisted the eye until she couldn’t quite focus. As if her retinas didn’t want to process it; as if she could block it out, make it unreal, a shimmer-burn double image that covered her hands in glistening, dripping gloves. She’d thought it would be hot. Sticky. An old memory—a memory of another Willow, another self she’d tried to forget—remembered stickiness and long, slick drips and a burn like crimson fire.

But this red was watery and cool and strangely tight, and raised goosebumps on her skin.

It matted in the fine translucent hairs on the backs of her knuckles, turning bright, soft copper into crimson. Somehow that was the worst. Like those little hairs would always be dirty, and—if she survived this night—in every day and every week and every year to come, every time she thought she’d finally washed herself clean…she’d find another filmed bit of red, crusted in the arch between hair and skin.

She hated the color red, and everything it meant. She always had. She always would. Every time she saw red, it meant losing everything she had ever loved.

How had everything fallen apart so quickly?

You made this happen, her nasty side whispered. Her ugly side. You did this. Dirty thing, dirty thing.

She curled her fingers into fists; the drying blood stretched and crackled over her skin like when she’d been a little girl and had let glue dry on her fingers so she could peel it off again. She’d never be able to peel this off. Never be able to lift it away, sloughing it like a second skin and taking her sins with it. This was her fault.

And she should have known better.

From the moment she’d met him, her life had been the toss of a coin. Give or take. Truth or lies. Right or wrong. Love or hate. Live or die.

Stay…or leave.

And from the moment he’d bound her in this deal with his devil’s tongue, she’d known she would have to choose. Now his blood was on her hands, her fingers shaking, pain a razor’s weeping slice inside her chest, the sound of sirens growing closer and closer—their screams the cries of baying hounds on the hunt, wild with the scent of blood and closing in. Red and blue strobed through the narrow windows: a warning, a threat, a metronome flashing out the beat of her heart, and yet still she remained paralyzed.

She didn’t know what to do. The wrong choice could kill him. Could kill her. But every second she waited brought the answer closer and closer, until it wouldn’t be her choice but the choice of men with guns and handcuffs and no interest in asking questions, in learning the truth, in understanding the darkly beautiful man who looked up at her with his face a mask of pain and pleading and need, flashing lights drawing out the stark lines of his cheekbones, his full lips smeared in heart’s-blood red, calling to her even now. Plucking the strings of her heart until they tangled, binding her in hopeless knots, keeping her chained while he slipped further and further away.

No. No. Not like this. She wasn’t ready to let go.

But she couldn’t live this way.

“Choose,” he rasped, labored and gasping, a broken growl. “We don’t have much time.”

No. Yes. No. I won’t, I can’t, I need…I need… Her tongue twisted around the words, and if she opened her mouth they would fly out in a strangled scream of sheer, terrified madness. Her eyes burned, blurred. She couldn’t think, not when everything inside her was being pulled apart by two opposing forces, yin and yang with her caught in the no-man’s-land in