Gods & Monsters (Serpent & Dove #3) - Shelby Mahurin Page 0,2

unkempt, concealing most of his face—confirmed my suspicions. “I said get back here—”

He stopped abruptly, skidding to a halt when he saw the rest of us. Instinctively, I turned to hide my face in the shadows. Lou flung her hood over her white hair, and Coco stood, tensing to run. But it was too late. Recognition sparked in his dark eyes.

“Reid Diggory.” His dark gaze swept from my head to my toes before shifting behind me. “Louise le Blanc.” Unable to help himself, Beau cleared his throat from the foyer, and the priest considered him briefly before scoffing and shaking his head. “Yes, I know who you are too, boy. And you,” he added to Coco, whose hood still cloaked her face in darkness. True to his word, Jean Luc had added her wanted poster beside ours. The priest’s eyes narrowed on the blade she’d drawn. “Put that away before you hurt yourself.”

“We’re sorry for trespassing.” I lifted my hands in supplication, glaring at Coco in warning. Slowly, I slid into the aisle, inched toward the exit. At my back, Lou matched my steps. “We didn’t mean any harm.”

The priest snorted but lowered his spoon. “You broke into my home.”

“It’s a church.” Apathy dulled Coco’s voice, and her hand dropped as if it suddenly couldn’t bear the dagger’s weight. “Not a private residence. And the door was unlocked.”

“Perhaps to lure us in,” Lou suggested with unexpected relish. Head tilted, she stared at the priest in fascination. “Like a spider to its web.”

The priest’s brows dipped at the abrupt shift in conversation, as did mine. Beau’s voice reflected our confusion. “What?”

“In the darkest parts of the forest,” she explained, arching a brow, “there lives a spider who hunts other spiders. L’Enchanteresse, we call her. The Enchantress. Isn’t that right, Coco?” When Coco didn’t respond, she continued undeterred. “L’Enchanteresse creeps into her enemies’ webs, plucking their silk strands, tricking them into believing they’ve ensnared their prey. When the spiders arrive to feast, she attacks, poisoning them slowly with her unique venom. She savors them for days. Indeed, she’s one of the few creatures in the animal kingdom who enjoy inflicting pain.”

We all stared at her. Even Coco. “That’s disturbing,” Beau finally said.

“It’s clever.”

“No.” He grimaced, face twisting. “It’s cannibalism.”

“We needed shelter,” I interjected a touch too loudly. Too desperately. The priest, who’d been watching them bicker with a disconcerted frown, returned his attention to me. “We didn’t realize the church was occupied. We’ll leave now.”

He continued to assess us in silence, his lip curling slightly. Gold swelled before me in response. Seeking. Probing. Protecting. I ignored its silent question. I wouldn’t need magic here. The priest wielded only a spoon. Even if he’d brandished a sword, the lines on his face marked him elderly. Wizened. Despite his tall frame, time seemed to have withered his musculature, leaving a spindly old man in its wake. We could outrun him. I seized Lou’s hand in preparation, cutting a glance to Coco and Beau. They both nodded once in understanding.

Scowling, the priest lifted his spoon as if to stop us, but at that moment, a fresh wave of hunger wracked my stomach. Its growl rumbled through the room like an earthquake. Impossible to ignore. Eyes tightening, the priest tore his gaze from me to glare at Saint Magdaleine in the silence that followed. After another beat, he grudgingly muttered, “When did you last eat?”

I didn’t answer. Heat pricked my cheeks. “We’ll leave now,” I repeated.

His eyes met mine. “That’s not what I asked.”

“It’s been . . . a few days.”

“How many days?”

Beau answered for me. “Four.”

Another rumble of my stomach rocked the silence. The priest shook his head. Looking as though he’d rather swallow the spoon whole, he asked, “And . . . when did you last sleep?”

Again, Beau couldn’t seem to stop himself. “We dozed in some fishermen’s boats two nights ago, but one of them caught us before sunrise. He tried to snare us in his net, the half-wit.”

The priest’s eyes flicked to the sanctuary doors. “Could he have followed you here?”

“I just said he was a half-wit. Reid snared him in the net instead.”

Those eyes found mine again. “You didn’t hurt him.” It wasn’t a question. I didn’t answer it. Instead I tightened my grip on Lou’s hand and prepared to run. This man—this holy man—would soon sound the alarm. We needed to put miles between us before Jean Luc arrived.

Lou didn’t seem to share my concern.

“What’s your name, cleric?” she asked