Home > Entropy (The Countenance #3)

Entropy (The Countenance #3)
Addison Moore

Prologue

There is a shift in your mental state when death comes to knock you off balance—you become the odd pendulum, swinging too quickly—the clock on the wall with hands spinning out of control—the haunted door opening and shutting at an alarming pace for no one in particular.

It is a dimension within a dimension, of sight and sound, with no eyes and no ears. You are the world’s. They can see you, touch you, feel you. You are so real in their fantasy it is almost unfair. But there is balance. After all, this is an orderly universe, created by an orderly God, who gives consideration to His every form of entropy.

For so long, I thought I was lost, meandering, a still life on some incomprehensible canvas, swimming in the torrential river of someone else’s dream. Shattered, I watched as He put together the pieces, dislodged the bone of grief that dammed up the words I was choking on. The consolation came right on time but not before I walked through the valley of the shadow of death.

1

Paragon Island

Laken

Time travel. I’ve never put much thought into the subject with the exception of recently. For so long it was relegated to some dusty science fiction slot in my mind that I had no real use of. It was nothing more than fantasy. That is until my life took a turn for the supernatural, and I discovered I was resurrected from the dead by a band of crooked angels known as the Countenance. And now fantasy and reality merged. Time travel, of all things, was not only possible—probable—it was doable, and here I was about to do it.

Cooper wraps his muscular arms around my waist inviting me to mold over his rock hard body. I had imagined doing a lot of things with Cooper Flanders, but an interdimensional jaunt wasn’t one of them.

Coop holds me tight as we sail through time, two years into the future. A dark cloud boils around us, locking us in a tempest as every age and era groans and shifts under our weight.

An ashen forest materializes around us. Tall spearing evergreens, black as midnight, the purple sky glows through their branches as the fog wafts in and out like a dream.

“We’re here.” Coop pants it out. A smile flickers on his lips like a flame. Coop is handsome in a disarming way with his dark, golden hair, his high cut features, eyes that glow like a pale, grey sunrise. “Welcome to Paragon, Laken.”

The sound of laughter rises through the air, buoyant and light. Some moody love song bleeds from the south, and we head in that direction.

“Did we nail it? Halloween two years in the future?” The words string from my mouth in a white plume as the fog expands around us. The woods disappear and reappear under the supervision of the murky veil.

“Let’s hope.” Coop wraps his arm around my waist. I’m still in my cheer uniform, dressed to unimpress as a cheer-zombie, and Coop is my favorite football player. Wes used to be my favorite football player, once upon a time, but, as it stands, he plays water polo and doesn’t believe in our past lives at Cider Plains High. He would probably gag on his Hermes scarf if I told him he was once proud to be called a Hedgehog. He was the star player both on the field and in my heart, and now I’m not sure where he stands in either.

I take up Coop’s hand. He can hear me if we touch. I’ve been suckling off his neck, drinking his magical Celestra blood, and now I have that power, too. But my bloodlines belong to the Countenance—the exact bastards I’d like to throw in a heap and bathe with gasoline before I gladly torch the entire lot of them. Well, maybe not the entire lot, just their ridiculous leaders.

“Look.” Coop pulls me back into the shadow of a pine and points over to a sea of bodies dancing and laughing within the well-manicured yard of some ritzy estate. “Skyla is in there somewhere. We just need to find her.”

I met Skyla in the Celestra tunnels tonight for the very first time. Technically, it wasn’t the first time. She told me she tried to save my life in the Transfer, whatever that means. I’m assuming that’s where I ended up after I launched through the windshield and met my orchestrated demise, only to eventually wind up at Ephemeral. They tried to make me believe I was a resident of the haunted academy all along, but I’ve never bought their lies. I believed Skyla, though. She knew my real name—Laken Stewart—and my knees turned to water just hearing her say it. Up until now only Coop believed me. The Counts gave me a new name—Laken Anderson. I have never been Laken Anderson, nor will I ever be.

The truth and all of its mysteries have become an exotic elixir, and Skyla Messenger seems to be hoarding it in barrels. Both Coop and I are here from another time and place just begging for one more sip. If we’re lucky she’ll quench our thirst. I’m so incredibly parched for her knowledge that it feels irresponsible to be this calm knowing she’s in that crowd. A part of me wants to run over and shake every person until they lead me right to her.

We step out of the woods and into the pale night as a few stray people meander around us. Mostly couples looking for some privacy in their ghoulish getups.

Up ahead a white gleaming mansion sits perched against the backdrop of the lavender sky like a mountain that dropped out of the blue. It looks Grecian, fairytale-like, and most certainly out of place for almost any reality.

“I bet there’s a Count attached to that real estate blunder,” I whisper. “What’s with them and money, anyway?”

“The Counts are greedy as hell.” Coop digs a smile into his cheek. His lids lower as if he’s flirting with me, and the moon outlines the definition of his biceps with a laser-like glow. “No offense. I don’t really count you in their number.”

“None taken.” I wrap my arms around him and pull his h*ps close to mine until his jeans dig into my skirt. “I meant what I said back at the hotel room—about already being yours.” I glance down at his body and press in closer until I can feel his steely chest against mine. “I guess I was thinking it, but some things need to be verbalized, the right way.” I lock onto his stone-grey eyes and don’t let go. “Coop”—my heart starts drumming against him as if it were putting his body on notice—“what I’m feeling between us is far more than friendship. I know we’re past that little revelation, but I wanted to say it again.”

“It’s okay.” Coop presses out a dull smile and shakes his head. “You don’t have to say anything else.”

“Yes—I do.” Grief the size of a boulder lodges in my throat, making it impossible to push out another word—the exact words I’ve been dying to say all night. I reach up and cup the side of his gorgeous face. His strong jaw twitches in my palm. “I’m in love with you, Coop.” A lone tear runs down my cheek because I may as well have denounced my love for Wesley at the same time. I think I did. “I’m not going to hide it anymore when we get back to Ephemeral. This is it—you and me. I hope you feel the same because I’ve never been so far gone in love, so appreciative of being treated the way you’ve treated me. I think you’re beautiful both inside and out, and I don’t want to live a single day without you by my side.”

The fog lifts, and the moon shines its glory over Cooper’s hotter-than-hell eminence as if the universe were revealing who he truly was all this time—my earthly savior, my one true love, my destiny.

“Laken,”—the corners of his lips curl, his chest expands with a never-ending breath—“I have been in love with you from the moment I saw you. I thought you were too good to be true with your beauty, your kind, gentle heart.” He touches his forehead to mine a moment before pulling back. “And when I thought I would never have you, a part of me died. I knew I’d spend the rest of my life pining after Laken Stewart whether I liked it or not.” He gives my ribs a quick tickle. “And deep down I knew I’d like it no matter who you decided to give your heart to.” His features grow serious as the smile glides off his face. “I’m honored that you would want this with me.” His eyes glint like fractured stars. “I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’m damn glad. But I also know we need to tell Wes about the body in the Cider Plains cemetery.”

My body and soul sag at the mention of Wesley’s name. He’s become a lead straightjacket that holds me down to a past that Wes himself doesn’t believe in. “You mean the fake body.”

Coop and I dug up Wesley Parker’s grave and found nothing more than a wax replica. The picture I tucked into his suit pocket just before they closed the casket was right where I left it. But I know for a fact the boy I kissed, his cheek cold and hard as marble, was my Wes. And my heart still aches for that boy.

“It’s important Wes knows.” Coop brushes his thumb over my cheek. “Things are going to get sticky, Laken.”

I press my lips tight and nod like a child. Cooper is right. If Wes is told the truth, there’s a chance he might remember. What would I do then? It would be a tragedy to wrap my heart around two different boys. But in a strange way, it’s already happened, and I don’t know how to let go of either one of them. The fact that Wesley fully belongs to the Counts is both a blessing and a curse. I can never be with Wes as long as he pledges his allegiance to a bunch of celestial as**oles.

“A blessing and a curse.” Coop gives my hand a squeeze because he heard every word. A sad smile pours from him. “I agree that’s what our love is weighted on. Laken”—he presses my name out soft as a snowflake—“I’m not going to blame you for anything that happens once Wes learns the truth—just know that forever you will hold my heart.”

My chest lurches as I resist the urge to bawl. Coop is noble and far too generous as far as my affections go. I’d like to thank him, repay him somehow, but what do you give someone who’s opened their heart to you? Dinner? A movie? I don’t think so. Instead, I hike up on my tiptoes and crash my lips to his, hard and desperate.

Cooper greets me with hungry, exquisite, very-much-wanted kisses. I hadn’t made a habit of kissing Coop. I explicitly told him I didn’t want to be the girl that ran around kissing two boys. But I hope this sends the message, with actions far more than words could ever do, that Cooper Flanders is the only boy that my tongue wants to explore. Old Wes may hold a piece of my heart, but my future lies with Cooper Flanders—every molecule in my body vibrates in agreement. This is real. This is right. Our future is paved with an unstoppable love, our foundation built on trust and friendship—passion hotter than a funeral pyre. What Coop and I share is God-breathed. Destiny rewrote our paths in life so we could collide in that forest last summer. It was never for Wes and I to find our way back. It was for Coop and I to find our way to each other. Intrinsically I know this much is true.

Cooper and I were meant to be.

We were already happening.

Cooper

The Paragon fog presses in around us like a membrane, encapsulating this moment as Laken and I share our love through a long, beautiful kiss that can safely be described in one word—flawless.

Laken Stewart. My body sings over hers as our arms and tongues struggle to get enough of one another. In truth, I could never get enough of Laken—not sure I would want to or if it’s even possible. I don’t ever want to find out. I just want Laken. I want her to consume me like this with her tongue buried in my mouth. My body is dying to bury far more intimate parts into hers and make her wholly mine in the best way possible. I can’t bear the thought of that not happening—of us not happening. Laken is an entire ocean that I jumped into the first moment I looked into her pale, blue eyes. I was all in before she said one word.

Laken pulls back, her eyes moistened with tears. “An ocean? You are so incredible. You know that?” She shakes her head. “You have the most amazing way with words.”

In all honesty, I wasn’t even mildly aware of the fact she might be listening. I’m too far gone to care at this point.

“It’s the truth,” I whisper. “Every last word.”

Laken giggles into me, her tears all but gone. “I like us.” She leans up and takes a gentle bite out of my bottom lip. “Nothing makes me happier than the thought of you and me.” She pinches her lips together as if it were too much to bear. “There’s not one ounce of sadness that enters my heart when I think of you.” I know there is with Wes, and the fact that I’m the anti-Wes is more than a little flattering. “I want you for you, Coop. There’s no other reason. You have to believe me.”

“I do.” I sink another kiss over her lips as our tongues find one another again. My stomach drops as if we were on some gigantic roller coaster, and it feels damn good. It feels damn good to have Laken lounging around in my mouth like she wants to be here—and the fact she does makes my chest pound because I won a race I didn’t even know I was qualified to run in—the one for her heart.

Laken trails kisses all the way to my cheek. “You did win the race for my heart,” she whispers directly into my ear. “And as soon as we get back to that hotel room, I plan on wrapping myself around you like a medal.”

My eyes fix on hers. My arms wrap tight around her body to keep myself from quaking at the thought of having her that way.

“We don’t have to hurry,” I assure her so fast I almost buy the lie.

She shakes her head just barely. “I want to. You’re the only person I ever want to be with. You—your body—you’re my family, my home.”

“Home,” I repeat the word lower than a whisper as I pull her in. “You’re my home, too. And I’ve never felt more like family with anyone.” I give a wry smile. “You might want to keep that tidbit from Marky.”

Laken bubbles with a laugh at the mention of my little sister.

“She loves you as much as I do,” I say. It’s true. Marky has already put Laken in the big sister role.

“And I love Marky.” She bites down on her lip seductively. “We’re going to have our whole lives together. I can see every season, every holiday with you by my side. I don’t want to waste a minute, Coop.”

“I promise you, not a minute will be wasted.” I press my lips against hers and linger in the heated exchange. This feels holy and right and not in the least as if we were sneaking around behind someone’s back. There’s no way this is wrong. There’s no way this is some accident. This is home.

A group of girls cackle their way in this direction in various stages of Halloween undress.

“This is it,” I whisper, walking Laken over to their midst. Three of the girls are in short skirts, body parts hanging out for all to see, and way too much makeup. The tall brunette is dressed as an overgrown mermaid and looks uninterested as the other girls chatter away about how much they can’t stand a person named Chloe.

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