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“Collin, stop!” I screamed. He turned slowly toward me. His back was curved, ready to fight. Crimson pooled in his blue eyes making them burn like hot coals. Gasping, I backed away from him. Nothing I said would reach him now. Not like this. I tried to slide past him, but he caught my arm. His fingers pressed hard into my flesh. I moved to twist out of his grasp. There was something in his eyes I hadn’t seen in a very long time.

Lust.The desire for a demon kiss. His eyes fixated on me. Their intensity made me feel entirely naked. It was as if I’d been stripped of everything as I stood before him. My breath caught in my throat.

Nodding slowly, talking softly I pressed my fingers on top of his hand—the hand that held my arm. “It’s all right. It’s all right, my love.” I slowly peeled away his fingers as I felt his grip loosen. “You’re starving… ” I asked looking into his eyes as I peeled away another finger. “Aren’t you? It’ll be all right, Collin. Just breathe. Breathe and I’ll help you.” I peeled away the last finger. An inky bruise was blossoming in four narrow patches where he’d held me. I ignored it. It would fade. Collin fought every instinct he had. His eyes remained locked on mine. I couldn’t look away. When I’d freed my arm, I placed my hands on his face and stroked his cheeks, slowly speaking softly to him until the tension that made his body shake ebbed.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

As I watched him fight for control of himself, I could see it in his eyes. Collin’s eyes swirled with deep red flames, burning bright, around the outer iris. The center of his pupil was a tiny black dot. And every shade of flame and fire burned in between. It moved as if liquid within his eyes. Slowly, slowly the reds faded to oranges, and then swirls of blue appeared. They were nearly stripped of color initially, but as I rested my palms on his cheeks, I saw his eyes return to the color of the sea after a storm.

Leaning toward him, my hands were still on his cheeks. He blinked, and looked down, breaking the gentle hold I had on his face. “I’m sorry.” He rose and walked away from me. His arms were folded over his chest. He stared at the floor, seeing nothing. “I denied myself too long. It made me… weak.”

I remained where I was, sitting on the floor looking up at him. “You don’t have to do everything on your own.” My words drifted through the air like a dandelion caught in the wind. He turned toward me slowly with a pained expression on his face. “My fate is set in stone… ” I smiled sadly, “It’s set. I can’t change it.” I rose and walked over to him. I stopped in front of him, looking up to catch his gaze. “You can’t change it. You can’t protect me from this. I have to do it myself. And I need you to let me.”

He glanced down at me. His arms were still folded tightly, pressing into his chest. “You and I… ” he stumbled over his words. The tense posture he held melted and his arms fell to his sides. Turning his head away from me, he ran his hands through his hair. “You and I… ” his mouth hung open. It was as if he wanted to say something but couldn’t. “Our fates… our destinies are intertwined, Ivy. If you accept one part of the prophecy, then you have to accept all of it.” His fingers reached for the hair on my shoulder. He pressed the long curl between his fingers, and looked up at me. “Is that what you want?”

Shaking my head, the brown curl fell away. I stepped toward him, “What are you talking about?”

His lips parted, as his eyes shot to the floor. A dim smile pulled at the corner of his mouth. “I die. The prophecy says I die. You and I cannot coexist if the prophecy is fulfilled.” He shook his head as if it could undo the words.

My gaze fell to the floor as my jaw dropped open. “I thought that had already come to pass?” Collin’s eyebrow arched as he looked at my face. “On Long Island, the night of the Valefar attack… ” I sighed shaking my head… suddenly shaking all over, “Didn’t it? We changed it, didn’t we?” My eyebrows rose as I spoke, saying words that I knew weren’t true. My fingers were at my mouth, pressing on my lips as I thought.

The look on his face said we didn’t change a thing. The look on his face said I didn’t realize things yet. He shook his head. A wan smile made him look more sad than happy. “Nothing’s changed. If you accept the prophecy is real, you accept all of it. You will defeat Kreturus, and become the Demon Queen. The world will end at your hands. The Martis will be destroyed. The Valefar will be annihilated. You will cause the gates of Hell to be flung open and the innocent to perish… ” His eyes searched my face as he spoke. He looked away, his voice dropping to a whisper, “And I will die. It’s my fate, as this is yours.”

Something was choking me. I couldn’t breathe. My throat was so tight that air would not slide down it and into my lungs. What did Locoicia do to me? My body still responded to his words, but I couldn’t feel the warnings my mind shot out. Fear would have told me what was going to happen. The sensation of dread pooling in my stomach would have prompted me to speak. But I didn’t. Instead, I stared at Collin, unable move.

His words were words I’d heard before, but never really accepted. Collin told me that the prophecy said he would die by my hand. It was as clear as me being the one to cause the floodgates of Hell to burst open. But that part, Collin’s death, the Martis weren’t concerned about. I didn’t hear it over and over again. I pushed the thought to the back of mind, hoping that it was no longer true. Of the paintings I’d seen in the Lorren, the prophecies of death and destruction—not one showed me killing the boy who stood in front of me. But I knew that part of the prophecy, and I’d been fighting it. Denying it. I denied it until I accepted Locoicia’s help. Until I made the bargain.

My gaze rushed to Collin. He stood motionless, waiting for me. Waiting for me to realize what he already knew. The prophecy destroyed everything, and everyone.

Even him.

There was no justice. There was no happy ending. These things would come to pass, and I was the one who caused them. I gaped, my jaw hanging open, trying to speak—trying to breathe.

Collin lifted his hands and rested them on my cheeks. His head tilted to the side. Dark brown hair slid into his eyes, eyes that sparkled like brilliant blue gemstones. Eyes that would cease to exist because of me. “I can’t accept it. I can’t accept the prophecy. It’s not my fate. I can’t let it be. I’ll fight it ‘til I die.” He shook his head. There was a sadness deep within that laced his voice. “But, it sounds like you already have accepted your fate. In which case, we are enemies. Ivy… ” he blinked once before he pulled his grip away, before he pulled himself out of my life. “This is the en… ”

I cut off his words, his horrible words, and snatched his hand, shaking my head—shaking all over. “No. No, you can’t be serious. This doesn’t end this way. It doesn’t!”

He pulled away from me again, and looked down. “We both know how it ends, but I can’t accept it. I have to fight.” He reached for a loose curl, twisting it in his fingers as he spoke, “I always thought that we’d find a way, you know. I thought you and I could change things.” He dropped the curl and stepped back. “But, there’s nothing we can do. And I can’t sit around and wait for my death. I have to leave. I have to fight it—I have to.” His foot slid away, another step that felt like a mile. “And I… I am the reason why it began in the first place.” His gaze flicked to mine, and then broke again. “There are words I can’t say, just as there are words you can’t say. Blood bargains. Names. Things I’m sworn to do. Things I wish,” he pressed his eyes closed and breathed.

When he looked back up at me again, his gaze was distant. Cold. “Beware the one you made your blood bargain with. Break it if there is any possibility. It is the only way you’ll win. The demons twist words, they twist meanings… ” he swallowed hard, staring at me like he’d never see me again. He pressed his lips together and spoke, “I can’t say more than that. Don’t default on your end of the bargain, but try to break it. Please.” Heat began to build around him. He was going to effonate. I’d never see him again.

My eyes were wide. Panic choked my throat, but I couldn’t feel it. Numbness tingled, covering my entire body. “Collin. You can’t leave. We can’t end things like this.” The heat stopped. My heart stopped, jerking in my chest. My jaw hung open. My lips were silent, not speaking things that were locked in my heart—things he’d never hear.

Collin looked down, away from me. There was something in his face, a desperation that made him say the words, “Then join Kreturus and end this.” Shock kicked me in the stomach as the words tumbled out. I lurched back away from him as my mouth hung open. He half smiled, “There is no other way to for this to stop. There are two choices; you fight him to the death… Or you join him.” The corners of Collin’s lips twitched as they pulled into a smile so soft and fragile. The shock of his words were still choking me like fingers around my neck. I didn’t speak. Collin’s gaze swept over me. “I knew you wouldn’t join him,” his voice was soft, accepting the unacceptable. “Everyone knows you won’t join him, but that’s the only scenario in which you and I are both still breathing in the end.”

Shaking my head, I said, “It’s not fair. It’s not.” I stared up at him, knowing that we’d never be alone again. We’d never have another moment. My eyelids pressed shut as I felt moisture build behind them. Collin’s fingers stroked my cheek. I gazed up at him.

He dropped his hand and heat surrounded him again. He’d be gone in an instant. “Break the bargain. Pray for a mistake.” His body was absorbed and the intense heat that surrounded him was quashed as quickly as it formed.

I stood alone in Collin’s bedroom. I was surrounded by shattered, splintered, cracked, broken… things.

I was one of those things.

The bond was broken. And I was the one who broke it. It was fading. Dying. The bond was a distant echo of what had once been a powerful connection.

Collin was gone. He would die if I didn’t join Kreturus. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. Everyone knew.

Collin would die. Collin will die… because of me. There wasn’t enough air.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Eric. I needed Eric. He’d know what to do. But he was crazy. I kicked a snow drift as I walked through its center outside of Collin’s home. The dry snow flew through the air and back into my face. It stung like little needles as it clung to my skin and melted on contact. The Valefar were gone. The Martis were gone. No one was here. I was alone. I wiped my face with a gloved hand. I’d borrowed some of Collin’s winter clothes, since I had none. The leather coat smelled like him. My fingers slid into his gloves and made me remember his hands on my body. I suppressed the memory.

It was pointless.

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