In the end, he doesn’t kiss me. But he doesn’t back up, either. And neither do I. So we stand there for I don’t know how long, him looking down, me looking up, the air between us loaded, heavy, electric.
I’m in it now, captivated by everything Jaxon is and everything he isn’t, despite my misgivings. I wait for him to make a move, but he doesn’t. He just keeps looking at me with those midnight eyes of his, emotion he rarely shows seething right below the surface. It makes me ache for him. Makes me physically hurt as I remember the question he asked earlier, the one that started all this.
I finally have the words—or in this case, the word—to answer him. “Overwhelming,” I say just as he starts to slide the blanket from my shoulders.
He freezes, the blanket, and his hands, hovering somewhere around the middle of my back. “What are you talking about?”
“You asked me what it was like to just let go and purge my emotions the way I did. It feels overwhelming sometimes, even a little terrifying. But what you just did for me…made me feel safe in a way I haven’t in quite a while. So thank you. Seriously.”
I take one step closer, until my breasts are just brushing against his chest. I don’t know what I’m doing here. I’ve never made a move on a guy in my life, and Jaxon isn’t just any guy. I’m flying blind, but that doesn’t matter now. Nothing does except touching him somehow.
I want him to feel the strength of my arms around him, the softness of my body against his. And I want to feel the warm power of him against my own.
Except he’s not warm at all, that hoodie of his obviously no defense against the weather, despite what he said.
“Jaxon, you’re freezing!” I pull the blanket from his hands and throw it around his shoulders before wrapping it all the way around him. Then I rub my hands up and down his blanket-covered arms, trying to chafe some warmth back into him.
“I’m fine,” he says, trying to back away.
“You’re obviously not fine. I’ve never felt anyone as cold as you are right now.”
“I’m fine,” he insists again, and this time he does take a step back. Several steps, in fact.
Everything inside me stops. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to invade your personal space…” I break off, because I don’t know what else to say. I don’t know what I’ve done that is so wrong.
“Grace…” His voice trails off, too. And in that moment, he looks different than all the other times. He isn’t confident, isn’t amused, isn’t even stoically silent as he was when I was yelling at him in the art studio.
No, right now he just looks…vulnerable.
There’s a desire in his eyes, a craving that has nothing to do with wanting me and everything to do with needing me. Needing my comfort. Needing my touch.
I can no more deny him than I can jump off this tower and fly under my own power. So I follow his retreat, taking the steps that bring my body back into contact with the hardness of his. Then I cup his face in my hands, stroke my thumbs over his ridiculous cheekbones and my fingers over the jagged edges of his scar.
His breath catches—I hear it in his chest, feel it against me. And though my heart is beating faster than triple time, I don’t back away. I can’t. I’m dazzled, mesmerized, enthralled.
All I can think about is him.
All I can see is him.
All I can smell and hear and taste is him.
And nothing has ever felt so right.
“Can I ask you a question?” I move even closer to him, unable to stop myself. Unwilling to stop myself.
For a second, I think he’s going to take a step back, but he doesn’t. Instead, he opens up the blanket and wraps it around me, too, so that his arms are around my waist and we’re both sheltered within it. “Of course.”
“Who did that Klimt sketch remind you of when you bought it?”
“You.” The answer comes fast and honest. “I just didn’t know it yet.”
And just like that I melt. Just like that, this boy—this dark, damaged, devastating boy—touches a part of me I wasn’t even sure existed anymore. A part of me that wants to believe. Wants to hope. Wants to love.
I want to reach for him, want to grab on—want to hold on—but I can’t. I’m frozen, terrified of wanting too much. Needing too much, in a world where things can just disappear between one moment and the next.
“Grace.” He says my name softly, half whisper, half prayer, as he waits patiently for me to look at him.
But I can’t. Not now. Not yet. “Have you ever—” My voice breaks and I take a deep breath, blow it slowly out. Take another one, and blow that one out, too. Then try again. “Have you ever wanted something so much that you were afraid to take it?”
“Yes.” He nods.
“Like it’s right there, waiting for you to just reach out and grab it, but you’re so terrified of what will happen when you lose it that you never make the reach?”
“Yes,” he says again, his voice low and deep and comforting in a way that burrows inside me.
I tilt my head up until our eyes meet, and then I whisper, “What did you do?”
For long seconds, he doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t do anything. He just stares back at me with a look in his eyes as scarred and broken as the rest of him. And says, “I decided to take it anyway.”
Then he leans down and presses his lips to mine.
It’s not a passionate kiss, not a hard kiss, definitely not a wild kiss. It’s just the brush of one mouth against another, as soft as a snowflake, as delicate as the permafrost that stretches in all directions.
But for me, at least, it’s just as powerful. Maybe more.
And then—suddenly—his hands are on my upper arms, holding me in place. His fingers squeezing tightly, pulling me against him as his mouth goes crazy on mine.
Lips, tongue, teeth, it’s a cacophony of sensations—a riot of pleasure, desperation, need all wrapped into one—as he takes me. As he takes and takes and takes…and gives back even more.
It’s a good thing he’s holding on to me because my head spins and my knees go weak at the first swipe of his tongue along mine—just like one of those heroines from a novel. I’ve been kissed before. But no kiss ever made me feel like this. I strain against him, try to slide my arms up around his neck, but his hands are vises on my biceps, holding me in place. Holding me still, so that all I can do is take what he gives me.
And he gives a lot, head tilting, mouth moving on mine. My head gets lighter, my knees get weaker, and I swear I feel the ground trembling beneath my feet. And still the kiss goes on.
The trembling gets worse, and it hits me a second before my knees buckle. It’s not just our kiss. The earth is actually shaking again.
“Earthquake!” I manage to squeak out, wrenching my mouth from his.
Jaxon doesn’t listen at first, just follows my lips with his like he wants to keep on kissing me forever. And I almost let it go, almost melt back into him—I’m a California girl, after all. If it were a bad one, things would already be falling off the walls.
But it must hit Jaxon at the same time I’m about to forget about it, because not only does he let me go, but he’s halfway across the room between one breath and the next.
I watch as he clenches his fists by his sides, as he takes a long, slow, deep breath…and then another and another as the earth continues to shake.
“It’s okay,” I tell him. “It’s just a small quake, nowhere near as bad as the one this morning. It’ll be over in a second.”
“You have to go.”
“What?” I couldn’t have heard him right. He couldn’t have been kissing me like he wanted to devour me a few seconds ago and now be demanding that I leave in a voice as cold as the air outside. “It’s fine.”
“It’s not fine,” he snaps out, and it’s the only sign of emotion from him now that his face and eyes are blank again. “You. Need. To. Go!”
“Jaxon.” I can’t stop myself from reaching for him. “Please—”
All of a sudden, his bedroom window shatters, glass flying in all directions. It sounds like an explosion, and I let out a strangled scream as shards of glass hit me above my eyebrow and on my neck, my cheek, my shoulder.
“Go!” Jaxon shouts, and this time there’s no defying him. Not when he looks and sounds so out of control.
He advances on me then, fingers flexing and eyes burning like black coals in a face livid with rage.
I turn and run as fast as my weak knees will carry me, determined to get to the staircase, to freedom, before this strange, monstrous version of Jaxon overtakes me.
I don’t make it.
Is More than
I wake up in my bedroom with bandages on my neck and face and shoulder—and absolutely no memory of how I got here.
Macy is sitting cross-legged on the end of my bed, my uncle is standing by the door, and a woman I assume is the school nurse is hovering over me. With her waist-length black hair, bloodred nails, and stern face, she looks nothing like any nurse I’ve ever seen, but she’s got a stethoscope around her neck and a roll of bandages in her hand.
“See, Finn, here she is. I told you the sedative wouldn’t knock her out for long.” She smiles at me and, though it is open and inviting, she still manages to look intimidating af. I think it’s the long, beak-like nose, but it could also be the medicine she said she gave me. I’m awake, but I still feel really fuzzy, like nothing is quite as it appears.
“How are you feeling, Grace?” she asks.
“I’m okay,” I answer, because nothing hurts. In fact, everything feels warm and floaty right now.
“Yeah?” She leans over me. “How many fingers am I holding up?”
“What day is it?”