My eyes glanced around cautiously. I knew what to expect in here. I knew what my weakness was. I knew what the Lorren would tempt me with. It would weave the perfect illusion, so warm and inviting that I'd never want to leave. Then the golden flowers would suck me into the wall and I'd be trapped like the rest of them. Collin's warning floated through my mind, the more beautiful - the more deadly. This place was stunning, dripping with beauty.
Dripping with death.
For hours I walked and did not hear or see anything. No noises carried through the golden vines. No voices resonated through the tunnels. I'd thought Shannon would call out at any time, or I'd hear Eric's voice, but it was silent. Moving forward, I wound around the paths going deeper and deeper into the maze. My friends would have to face their own hell and find their own ways out. We were all on our own.
It was then that I heard his voice; when I was at my weakest. The Lorren waited, learning me, tasting my fears. It was patient. Eventually I felt the bond tugging in my gut and pulling me through the maze. Not having a better plan, I followed its pull knowing damn well that Collin would be at the end of the path. What else would the Lorren do? It was a predictable trap. It had to be. Otherwise I was totally screwed, because I didn't have a clue what else could possibly make me want to stay here and die.
Death meant abandoning my friends and forsaking my sister. Valefar or not, she was alive and I intended to keep her that way. I swallowed the lump in my throat. Seeing her face had been a double edged sword. She'd become the very being I was trying to avoid - a Valefar. But, she was alive. That was all that mattered. I had to free her from the Pool. I had to save Collin. I couldn't get sucked into whatever was at the end of this path. The bond propelled me forward, turning me around corners, and through archways of golden flowers. My steps became more cautious and less frantic as the acidic taste of dread rose in my throat. Swallowing it back down, I paused. I could feel it. He was around this corner. I knew it was him. It had to be. Collin was my vice. He always would be. Inhaling deeply, I closed my eyes. I willed myself with my entire being to be strong enough to deal with whatever lay around the corner. Then I walked the final steps half hoping that it would be something else. I had no idea that what I hoped for was worse than anything I'd feared.
My breath caught in my throat as I rounded the golden corner. Collin stood there perfectly healthy. His eyes sparkled that brilliant blue, and that devilish smile that I adored spread across his lips.
It's not him, I thought to myself. That thing was the Lorren. Dim rust-colored light was spilling from the end of the tunnel, just over his shoulder. I was near an exit!
I moved slowly. My heart pounded in my chest more fiercely than when the dragon stood nose to nose with me. I had the brains to resist the dragon, but Collin? Breaking the alluring gaze he cast over me, I looked at the golden walls, the floor...anything except him. Collin shifted his weight onto one foot and stood blocking the path. As I neared him I slowed down realizing that I couldn't pass by him without touching him. My brain immediately registered that as a horrible idea and I withdrew a step.
Collin laughed, "After all this time, you're stepping away from me? No hug for an old friend? No...kiss?"
Swallowing hard, I spit out the words before they froze in my mouth, "You're not him. Step aside, Lorren, and let me pass. Otherwise, I'll make you." I had no idea why I threw that threat in there. It sounded good, so I did. Too bad for me that this Collin liked it.
He smirked, taking a step towards me, "You'll make me?" A smile spread across his entire face. I made the mistake of looking up and seeing the amusement there. It was the same expression Collin had worn so many times.
Looking into his face, I mustered the most calloused expression I could manage. I took two steps toward him and stopped. Confidence I didn't own flowed out of my mouth, "Yes, I'll make you. Move." I took another step toward him and Collin stepped back. The golden light in the Lorren played off his hair, making it appear lighter - almost as if it were kissed with strands of gold.
The corners of his lips tugged upward, "Then, make me, Ivy Taylor." He folded his arms across his chest, clearly amused with the idea. "Make me move."
This wasn't going the way I planned. I just had to pass him and I'd be free. I was so close. My fingertip rubbed my ruby slightly as I thought about efanotating to the other side. That would be simple and effective. But I didn't know what powers the Lorren contained. Was it possible that it drained powers? And I seriously doubted it masked Valefar powers. I thought Kreturus already knew I was in Hell, but I didn't want to send up a flare by using my powers. He'd know exactly where I was and at this moment, I was certain he didn't know. If he did, this place would be crawling with demons. No, I couldn't efanotate past this false Collin. I was freaked, but no powers came to me his time. My hair didn't flame out in purple tongues of fire. The Lorren seemed to drain creatures of power to trap them here. No, I'd have to pass him without using any magic.
He gestured his hands toward his body, "Come on, Ivy." His lips were twisted into a full smirk. "You couldn't make me do anything before and you still can't now. That's just how it was with the two of us...unless you wanna prove me wrong?"
He was trying to bait me. I ignored his words, deciding that shouldering him as I passed was my best option. I had to knock him on his ass, and not touch his skin. I'd melt if I touched him even though it wasn't really Collin. It made me wonder for a second if the Lorren felt like him. If it would treat me like Collin. The danger in those thoughts made me doubt myself. The longer I stayed around him, the foggier my brain got.
So, I launched my body at him, shoulder poised to connect with his stomach. The shot connected and I threw him across the floor. He didn't expect that, which helped me. But, Collin jumped to his feet quickly. Within a matter of seconds he had me pinned me to the floor. He hovered inches above me, trapping me in place. My heart raced in my chest, as I screamed at him. Nothing I did made him move. He didn't release his grip. If anything, it made him hold me tighter. After realizing that flailing and screaming in his face weren't working, I finally stopped. Breathing hard, I tried to look anywhere, except at him. He was gazing at me. I could feel his eyes on the side of my face. The rise and fall of his chest against mine was intoxicating. The mental haze that was forming thickened, making it more difficult to think.
Collin's face loomed nearer to mine. His warm breath slid across my cheek, as he whispered into my ear, "That was a dirty shot. Since when do you like to play dirty?" Every muscle in my body tensed. His words were dripping with innuendo. His fingers slid against the side of my face, turning me to look him in the eye. Oh God. Butterflies filled my stomach as I gazed at him. He felt like Collin. He sounded like Collin. Every time he spoke, every time the Lorren opened its enchanting mouth, I felt woozier. With every moment he held me beneath him the feeling that he was Collin intensified.
Only a very small portion of my brain was functioning at that point. All my senses were drowning in Collin. His scent, his touch, his beautiful face...and more than anything I wanted to taste him. The thought of feeling his kiss against my lips was so enticing that I couldn't stand it. One more word and I knew I'd kiss him. One more sexy glance from his dazzling blue eyes and I was toast.
So, I did the only thing I knew to do. My knee connected with his groin in one hard shot. Collin fell to his side and staggered briefly before reaching for me. I jumped up and ran past him, still feeling the seductive fog lingering in my brain. Collin, no, the Lorren - stop calling him Collin - was right behind me. My heart pounded in my chest with a mixture of passion and fear. Every inch of me felt like it was on fire. In part, I wanted him to catch and seduce me. That was the crazy part of me who thought that this thing was Collin. It was like he was polarizing my brain. The part that acted on lust and passion was dominating. The logical, rational part that did most of my thinking was buried under a pile of mental slush. My legs barely moved. I meant to run, but couldn't seem to get going. It felt like I was running in slow motion.
I didn't get more than a few steps away from him before his body collided with mine. We went sliding across the smooth floor and slammed into a golden wall. Stunned, I shook my head and tried to get away, but I couldn't. Collin was faster. My head was swimming like I drank too much. My arms and legs were moving like they were stuck in gelatin. I lay on the floor, flailing, trying to get up. But, he moved his body over mine, slamming his hips down on top of mine. I was pinned to the floor so tightly that I couldn't move. His knee pressed into my thigh, and his hands gripped my wrists, pressing them to the cold floor.
He breathed heavily in my face, "Do you still want to run?" His lips brushed my ear slightly, and I shivered. "Or did you just want me to pin you to the floor?" The more he spoke the harder it was to resist him. I pressed my eyes closed trying to tune out his words, but I couldn't. The sound of his voice was like a siren song. The more I heard it, the more I wanted to stay and hear his rich, beautiful voice. It felt so good to be near him. Having him so close was pure bliss. I could stay like this with him forever. His body felt so hard and smooth, right on top of mine. I didn't want to free myself from his grasp. I wanted him with me, cradling my body in his arms. A warm kiss slowly grazed my cheek as Collin's lips touched me ever so slightly, teasing me.
The woozy feeling increased. I made the mistake of opening my eyes. Collin's lips lingered right above mine. His warm breath washed over me. His heart raced in his chest. I could feel it beating in sync with mine. A seductive smile appeared on his lips. I sighed, unable to look away from him, and buried my face in his neck. His strong arms pulled me tighter into him. I couldn't get close enough. It felt like I was so far away. So far away from Collin. Collin. My clouded brain was trying to communicate with my body. It was shooting off Danger! Run! messages, but I ignored them. My fight or flight response was totally broken. A giggle spilled from my lips instead.
Collin released one of my wrists, and ran his fingers through my hair. "I love it when you laugh like that." He pressed his cheek to my head and inhaled deeply, before lightening the pressure on my wrist and legs. I didn't try to run. Nothing could force me from his arms. I smiled, and pressed myself closer to him completely content to lay in his arms forever. He held me quietly for a little while, stroking my hair and kissing my face softly. When he spoke, every ounce of desire within me burned like I'd never known. Three simple words ignited me. "Kiss me, Ivy."
I liked that idea. Kiss him. Taste him. Hold him. Turning my face, I looked up at him. His blue eyes bore into me. It felt like he could see inside my soul. My soul. Why did that seem weird? It felt like he could see into my soul, but he couldn't. Why not? That should be normal. Collin could see inside of me. He knew what I felt and what I thought. The fog that clouded my mind wouldn't clear. I couldn't think. Soul. Save. My brain was fighting through the heavy haze that was obscuring my thoughts, but I didn't understand. The words alone confused me, but when a memory connected to the words, I could think better. Kiss. The memory of Collin and I in the old church flooded my mind. My sweat-soaked body. The stone floor. Anger. Rejection. Collin said he wouldn't kiss me that night. The idea terrified him. I remembered.