“Come here,” I tell him, holding my hands out to him. As I look down at them, I notice my wrists are wrapped in gauze and the many cuts on my hands and arms seem to be sealed with a shiny liquid bandage. I’m a mess, but at least I’m a sterilized mess.
He moves closer, but he doesn’t sit on the bed. And he doesn’t touch me. “I don’t want to jostle your shoulder—”
“My shoulder is fine,” I tell him, which isn’t even a lie right now, courtesy of whatever drugs or herbs or spells Alma currently has going on with me. “So come here. Or I’m coming to you.”
I kick the covers down in preparation to do just that, then wince as the motion aggravates my raw ankles—which it turns out are also wrapped. Big surprise.
To be honest, I’m beginning to feel a little like a mummy here. And an unwanted one at that, if Jaxon’s reaction to me is any indication.
“Stay where you are,” he barks as he takes another couple of steps toward me.
“Then get over here and tell me what’s going on,” I say. “Because I’m beginning to feel like I’ve got the plague or something.”
“Yeah, that’s the problem here. You’ve got the plague.” But at least he takes my outstretched hand this time as he settles himself gingerly on the edge of the bed.
“Don’t be snarky,” I say as I rest my forehead on his shoulder. “I did save your life, after all. You should be nice to me.”
“Yeah, and I repaid you for that kindness by nearly killing you, so you should want me as far from you as I can get.”
I roll my eyes, even as exhaustion threatens to swamp me. “Are you always such a drama queen, or do you just trot it out on special occasions?”
The look of shock on his face is priceless. And so is the snitty tone in his voice when he answers, “I don’t think being concerned about you makes me a drama queen.”
“No, but taking on all the blame for what was obviously Lia’s giant head trip, does.” I press a couple of kisses to his neck, reveling in the way he can’t stop himself from shivering at the first touch of my lips to his skin. “So chill out a little, will you? I’m tired.”
His eyebrows disappear under his crazily messed up hair, and I realize it’s the first time since I’ve met him that I’ve ever seen his hair anything less than perfect. “You want me to chill out?” he repeats.
“I do.” I scoot over to make room for him on the bed, biting the inside of my cheek to keep from crying out as I jostle my shoulder in the process. “Now climb on.” I pat the bed next to me.
Jaxon looks from my face to the bed and back again, but he doesn’t move. Which makes me sigh and say, “Come on. You know you want to.”
“I want a lot of things that aren’t good for you.”
“What a coincidence. So do I, though I’m pretty sure we’ll disagree on what’s good for me and what isn’t.”
He sighs. “Grace—”
“Don’t.” I cut him off. “Please, Jaxon, just don’t. Not now, when I’m too tired to argue with you. Do I need to spell it out for you? I need you to hold me.”
And just like that, his resistance melts. Instead of arguing, he settles back against the pillows with me and wraps me in his arms, taking care not to bother my injured shoulder.
We lie like that—in silence—for several minutes, and I don’t truly relax until he rests his cheek against the top of my head and presses kisses into my hair.
“I’m glad we’re okay.”
“Yeah.” His laugh is harsh. “Me too.”
“Don’t say it like that,” I tell him. “We’re lucky.”
“You don’t look so lucky right now.”
“Yeah, well neither do you. But we are.” I take a deep breath, let it out slowly. “We could be…” I trail off, unable to say the words.
“Dead, like Lia and Hudson?” Jaxon fills in the blanks for me.
“Yeah. And we’re not, so I count that as a win.”
He pauses for a minute, but then he nods. Sighs. “Yeah, me too.”
“Flint?” I ask after a second.
“You don’t want to talk to me about the dragon right now.”
“I know,” I soothe, running my right hand up and down his arm for comfort.
“He’s alive, if that’s what you’re asking. And currently in better shape than either one of us, though he shouldn’t be.”
“He thought he was doing the right thing.”
“Are you kidding me?” Jaxon jerks away from me, shoots me an incredulous look. “He and his friends tried to kill you on numerous occasions, then he pulled that stunt down in the tunnels that made everything worse, and you think he was just trying to do the right thing?”
“He was, bizarre as it sounds. And I mean, I’m not happy with him. But I’m glad he isn’t dead.”
“Yeah, well, that makes one of us,” he mutters as he lies back down against me. “I should have killed him when I had the chance.”
I hug him as tightly as my injured shoulder will let me. “I think we have enough blood on our hands right now.”
“You mean I have enough blood on my hands, don’t you?”
“That’s not what I said, is it?” It’s my turn to push away from him, but only because I want to be looking him in the eye when I say this. “This isn’t your fault. It isn’t my fault. And it isn’t Flint’s or the rest of the shifters’ faults. It’s Lia’s fault. She’s the one who devised this plan. And she’s the one who caused everything that happened.” My voice catches in my throat. “Did the shifters tell you? About my parents?”
“Flint told me. He and Cole told Foster and me everything—including why they didn’t trust the witches or the vampires with what they knew.”
“The vampires because they thought you might all be colluding for God only knows what reason,” I guess. “But why not the witches?”
“You aren’t a witch, but your family is. They didn’t think Foster would be able to see past the fact that you’re his niece to the danger having you here at Katmere posed to everyone.”
I roll my eyes at him. “Yeah, well, I’m pretty sure the danger here at Katmere has all been to me and not from me, thank you very much.”
“I should have figured it out sooner.” Jaxon looks tortured.
“You planning on having that god complex of yours looked at any time soon?” I snark. “Or are we all just supposed to live with it?”
“Wow. You’ve been awake fifteen minutes and you’ve called me a drama queen and now accused me of having a god complex.” He raises his brows. “You sure you aren’t mad at me?”
“I’m sure,” I tell him, pulling his face down to mine so I can kiss him.
But he flinches a little when my hand touches his scar, per usual, and damn it, we’ve been through too much for this to keep happening. I pull away before our lips so much as brush.
“What’s wrong?” He looks wary.
I sigh as I stroke my fingers along his jaw. “I know I have no right to tell you how to feel, but I wish you could see yourself as I do. I wish you could see how gorgeous you are to me. How strong and powerful and awe-inspiring you are.”
“Grace.” He turns his head, presses a kiss into my palm. “You don’t need to say that. I know what I look like.”
“But that’s just it. You don’t!” I reach for him and hold on tight, ignoring the pain that shoots up my arm at the movement. “I know you hate your scar because Hudson gave it to you during the most horrible moments of your life—”
“You’re wrong,” he interrupts.
I stare at him. “About what?”
“About everything. I don’t hate my scar, I’m humiliated by the fact that I let it happen. Hudson didn’t give me the scar, the vampire queen did. And the worst moments of my life weren’t when I killed Hudson. They were when I finally regained consciousness on that altar and realized I’d taken too much of your blood. That moment—and all the moments it took for me to get you here? Those will always be the worst seconds, the worst minutes, of my life.”
There are so many important things in what he just said that I don’t know where to start. Except… “Your mother? Your mother did this to you?” I whisper as horror slithers through me.
He shrugs. “When I killed Hudson, I interfered with her plans. I needed to be punished.”
“By tearing up your face?”
“It’s hard to scar a vampire—we heal too quickly. By doing this, and ensuring I didn’t heal, she left a mark of weakness on me for the whole world to see.”
“But you could have stopped her anytime. Why didn’t you?”
“I wasn’t going to fight my mother, and I certainly wasn’t going to hurt her any more than I already had.” He shrugs again. “Besides, she needed someone to punish for what happened, someone to hurt so that she could feel better. Better me than someone who bore no responsibility for what happened.”
I can’t keep the horror from my face, but Jaxon just laughs a little. “Don’t worry about it, Grace. It’s all good.”
“It’s not all good.” I do my best to swallow the rage that’s swelling inside me. “That woman is a monster. She’s evil. She’s …”
“The vampire queen.” He fills in the blank for me. “And there’s nothing any of us can do about it. But thank you.” It’s his turn to whisper as his lips brush over my hair.
“For what?” I nearly choke on the words.
“For caring.” He lowers his head for a kiss.
But our lips barely have a chance to brush before there’s a knock on the open door. “Sorry to interrupt,” Marise says as she sticks her head in the doorway. “But now that you’re awake, I want to check out my favorite patient.”