“Please,” Max said. “Ava, if you’d just sit down and—”
“Where’s Leo?” she asked again. She would see him, then leave. She couldn’t stay in this apartment any longer. “Where is he? I just want to see him and then I’ll go back. I don’t want to be here.”
A door down the hall burst open and Leo came charging out with a smile. “Hello, sister.” He rushed over and picked her up in his arms, swinging her around. She buried her face in his chest and took a deep breath.
“I missed you, too.” His arms were warm and steady around her, a familiar comfort. “I’m sorry, Leo. I… I need to go.”
“No. Please, stay. Everything will be all right.”
“It’s not you. I just don’t feel good.”
“There is someone here, Ava. Someone—”
“Your shirt.” She picked at the button on the front, frowning. Something about it.
“You need to sit down. We don’t want to shock you, but… There’s no easy way to say this.”
There was something about the scent of his shirt. Ava took a deep breath as Leo’s hand smoothed over her head.
“We all missed you so much.”
“What is that?” she murmured, staring at the warm flannel that covered his chest.
Her head reared back when she placed the smell. “What the hell?”
Ava shoved away from him, holding up her hands, backing away from all six of her friends.
“Your shirt, Leo.” She didn’t want to be mad, but months of suppressed anger reared up. She’d tried. She’d tried so hard to keep going. And no matter what she did, Malachi followed her. In her memories. Her dreams. Now, even the scent of him crept up on her from his brother’s clothes. It was wrong. So wrong.
Leo only looked confused. “My shirt?”
“It smells—that smells like Malachi’s shirt! Are you wearing his shirts now? Why would you do that?”
Leo grabbed for her hand, but she was already heading toward the door. Whatever sick intervention they had planned was over. She was done. Gone. She never wanted to see them again. She needed to get as far away from their twisted world as she could. Ava was getting off the Irin roller coaster, and she never wanted to—
“Ava, please!” Rhys cried out. He ran to her, wrapping his arms around her before she could open the door. “We didn’t know how to tell you. We didn’t know what was right.”
She whirled around in his arms. “What the hell are you talking about?”
The memory of his voice grew louder. It pressed on her. Without her volition, she saw the mating marks at her wrists begin to glow.
Rhys saw them, too. “Open your mind, Ava. Remember what I said. Look at your arms and listen. Don’t you hear him? Don’t you feel him?”
The memories crashed through her. “Why are you doing this?” she said, tears falling from her eyes. “Why?”
Leo stepped forward and raised his hands in supplication. “He’s alive, Ava.”
“We didn’t know how to tell you.”
“Shut up. Shut up!” She could feel it. Her heart was actually breaking in her chest. “Why would you even say that? I saw him die! Let me go, Rhys. This is sick—”
“We don’t know how,” Rhys whispered. “He’s alive. Your magic. His. Malachi is alive.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” she yelled. “I saw him die! I felt him die!”
Leo pointed down the hall. “He’s in the bedroom, Ava. I’m not lying. It’s been killing him not to come to you.”
She shook her head and wiped the tears from her red, angry cheeks. “I’m leaving. Now. You people are crazy. Rhys, let me go.”
“Listen,” Renata commanded. “Listen to him! I can hear his voice, and I’m not even his mate.”
A muffled shout echoed down the hall, and everyone fell silent.
Her heart stopped, and her mind went blank.
She’d finally broken. She’d been expecting it for years. Maybe it had all been an illusion. Some desperate construct of a sick and lonely mind. Her knees buckled and she went limp as Rhys lifted her.
“Take her to him,” Leo said.
“No.” Ava shook her head.
Rhys carried her down the hall. Ava fought the urge to vomit. Her head swam. The crawling feeling came to her skin again, and the dark voices fluttered at the edges of her mind.
“Rhys,” she whispered, eyeing the door with painful dread. “Don’t. Please, let me go.”
“You have to see,” he said. “You have to see it’s real.”
“Don’t. Please don’t.”
They were at the door. Rhys set her down and pushed it open. Ava drew back but could not stop her eyes from peering into the dimly lit room.
A dark figure was pacing in the lamplight, his hands tearing at his hair. He turned to her, and tortured grey eyes met her own.
She slammed the door and ran.