Home > The Sweetest Burn (Broken Destiny #2)(10)

The Sweetest Burn (Broken Destiny #2)(10)
Author: Jeaniene Frost

The mental image of baby Brutus learning how to fly was adorable, but it didn’t quell my apprehension. “But I don’t want to learn how to ride Brutus when he flies.”

The half smile that had curled Adrian’s mouth while he reminisced about Brutus vanished. “You remember why I had to leave you when we rescued Jasmine from the Bennington realm?”

“Yes,” I said hoarsely, fighting the memories from that day, but the most painful one came, anyway.

Adrian grasped my head, his silver-sapphire gaze almost burning into mine. “He can’t fly with all of us, and I’m the heaviest. Brutus’ll take you to the B and B, then you need to cross through the gateway.”

I was appalled. “Adrian, you can’t—”

He pulled my head down, his mouth searing mine in a kiss that matched the blazing intensity in his eyes. Desperation, desire and despair seemed to pour from him into me, but when he lifted his head, he was smiling.

“I love you, Ivy. I love you, and I didn’t betray you. For the first time in my life, I feel like I can do anything.”

Then he stuffed the slingshot into my pocket, slapped the gargoyle on his side and yelled, “Tarate!” Those mighty wings began to beat at once, flying Jasmine and me away while leaving Adrian to face a horde of minions alone...

His stare crashed through the memory and compelled me not to look away. “I don’t regret staying behind to make sure that you and Jasmine made it out, but if a similar situation happens again, I want us all to be able to escape. That’s why I’ve spent the past couple months learning how to ride Brutus when he’s flying, and why I trained him to strengthen his wings so that he can fly while carrying very heavy loads.”

I had to look away and blink several times to clear the sudden blurriness in my vision. “That’s...that’s smart.”

And brave, ballsy, thoughtful and so many other things I didn’t dare say out loud. I’d spent the past two months trying to convince myself that I felt nothing for Adrian. He’d spent that time thinking up new ways to protect me and Jasmine, and while it didn’t make up for everything that had happened, it did leave a dent in my heart.

He shrugged, although the intensity didn’t leave his gaze. “The bus has its perks, but speed isn’t one of them. That makes it terrible for getaways if we come under attack. Brutus has speed, maneuverability, and his hide is so thick, minions would need a rocket launcher to bring him down.”

Brutus chuffed, lifting his head a notch higher. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear he understood every word because then he fluffed out his wings as though he were preening.

“You’re all that and a bag of badass,” I told him, smiling when he chuffed again as if in agreement. Then I returned my attention to Adrian. “I get why you wanted to learn how to ride him, but why do you want me to?”

Adrian fingered the straps around Brutus’s neck, which I now realized was a harness. “It takes strength and concentration. If I were injured, I wouldn’t be able to do it, and Brutus maxes out at carrying three people in his arms.”

I swallowed hard. I didn’t like heights and I hadn’t even been good at horseback riding the few times I’d tried it. The thought of trying to ride on a flying gargoyle’s back made my stomach roil, but the thought of Adrian being left behind again was a thousand times worse. I’d rather puke my guts out than risk that. Hell, I’d rather die, but I’d keep that to myself.

“Okay,” I said, forcing a smile as I approached Brutus. “Let’s get the flying lesson started.”

* * *

“AGAIN!” ADRIAN SAID, followed by a command of “Tarate!” to Brutus. The gargoyle vaulted us upward like he was a reptilian version of a roller coaster.

I slammed back against Adrian, forgetting to hold on to the reins again. Only Adrian’s hold on them, plus his thighs gripping Brutus, kept us from falling as Brutus’s torque made my stomach feel like it bashed into my spine. The rush of wind turned my hair into tiny whips, and when Brutus propelled us higher with another powerful flap of his wings, my guts left my spine to plummet downward like a free-falling elevator.

The fact that I hadn’t thrown up yet was a miracle.

“Hold the reins,” Adrian ordered, pushing them into my hands. I grasped them and held on because refusing and begging for this to stop wouldn’t help. I’d learned that the first time.

Brutus tilted his massive head to glance back at me, as if he could feel that the reins had changed hands. Then he dipped slightly, angling his body downward and to the right. The shift tore a scream from me and it was all I could do not to drop them while grabbing wildly for the sturdier base of his wings. How had Adrian ever mastered this alone? If he hadn’t insisted on staying behind me, I would’ve fallen off a dozen times over.

“You’re doing better,” Adrian said, putting his mouth closer to my ear so he didn’t have to yell.

“Liar!” was my instant response. He chuckled.

“I told you, no more lies. Now, try looking straight ahead, it’ll help with the nausea. Then, try to steer Brutus.”

I opened my eyes into mere slits, wishing I’d worn the goggles Adrian had offered me. He’d insisted on giving me his jacket, which I’d thought was his excuse to show more skin, but now, I was grateful that he hadn’t taken no for an answer on that. March in the Florida panhandle was cooler than expected, or maybe I’d gotten too used to Miami’s perpetual heat. Either way, my fingers felt stiff from the cold, and it might take weeks for the feeling to return to my toes. Between Adrian covering my back and legs and Brutus’s large form blocking the wind from my front, the rest of me was warm enough, at least.

The few times I’d previously opened my eyes, I’d looked down out of a masochistic need to see how high we were. Answer: high. Now, I took Adrian’s advice and looked straight ahead.

At first, I couldn’t see much. There were lights, but they were faint, like indistinct stars. After a few hard blinks to clear wind-induced tears, I was able to see more clearly, and another few minutes of concentration later, I realized that Adrian was right. With Brutus flying relatively parallel to the ground and me staring straight ahead, the urge to puke faded.

“Steer him,” Adrian urged, touching my arm for emphasis.

I pulled the reins a little to the right. Brutus didn’t alter course. I pulled harder and the gargoyle turned, dipping down at the same time. Immediately, I yanked up, and Brutus responded by increasing velocity and torpedoing straight upward.

“Level him out, Ivy!” Adrian yelled, molding his body tighter around mine.

Through my instinctive panic, I remembered the simple lessons Adrian had given me. Pulling up on the reins meant fly higher to Brutus. Pulling down meant dive. I needed to pull straight out for the gargoyle to go back to cruising position, so I did, although harder than I probably should have.

Brutus leveled out, allowing my organs to realign back to their proper positions. Adrian’s grip on me turned less bruising, and when I pulled on the reins again, I made sure to keep them absolutely straight. This time, Brutus turned smoothly in the direction I indicated. Emboldened, I steered him toward the cluster of lights ahead. Within minutes, we were soaring over a city, the tops of tall buildings well below us and little dots in the nearby bay all that marked what might have been large, luxurious yachts.

I surprised myself by laughing as exhilaration replaced my fear. It was scary, yes, but I could, in fact, do this. Adrian’s laughter joined mine, and when he gripped me tighter, this time, it had nothing to do with keeping us from falling off. The gargoyle was the one soaring over the city, but in that instant, I felt like I was able to fly, and sharing that indescribable feeling with Adrian only made the moment more unforgettable.

I was almost sorry several minutes later when Adrian took the reins and turned Brutus back around. All too soon, it seemed, the lights from our house on wheels was back in view. One frightening dive later, we were back on solid ground, and Adrian issued a command that had Brutus lying down so I could slide off instead of jumping like Adrian did.

Once I was on my own feet, Adrian took the reins off Brutus, then said something in Demonish that I loosely translated as “Who’s a good boy?” The gargoyle took his praise as his due, even tilting his head in invitation. Adrian scratched him for a minute, then left Brutus to come toward me.

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