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I moved in front of him, standing within his reach. Looking up into his face, I said, “Kiss me.” Confidence rang in my voice. “Take a memory.”

Eric hesitated. His eyes bore into me, tearing apart each inch of me with razor sharp hatred. His gaze narrowed as he walked toward me. His head tilted down, his eyes hardened and ruthless. The ring of fire in his eyes ignited around each pool of gold as he moved. He stopped in front of me. My heart was pounding in my chest. I could hear it, but the feelings were distant—like a memory. The lack of fear made me reckless. It made me feel alive. His hand shot behind my head, and his fingers snaked around the back of my neck, pulling me to him. The muscles under his shirt bulged. Each one was hard and smooth. I could sense his stomach, his chest, and his arms through our clothes. With one swift pull, my lips were a breath from his.

His voice was barely a whisper. The words slid out of his mouth like vipers, “I could kill you.”

My eyes were locked on his and didn’t waiver. “But you won’t. You need me. The only reason you’re still alive is that ward—my ward protecting you. You need me. I need you. We’re forced to deal with each other.”

Eric’s eyes tore me apart thread by thread. I unraveled in his arms. I saw myself as he saw me—cruel, deceitful, and vindictive. The gaze would have undone me before. It would have twisted into my gut and made me double over, but now—now it lingered in the back of my mind like a wind stripped of its power. It simply brushed against my thoughts. It was a fact. It was a piece of information no more substantial than anything else. Eric’s breath washed over me. His fingers pressed into my neck, making it throb.

Eric hesitated, seemingly frozen or unwilling to take the memories. My tongue pressed to the back of my teeth as my jaw tensed. He still didn’t move. “Do it. Take what you need,” I said through gritted teeth.

Without another word, Eric’s lips smashed down on mine. The grip on the back of my neck tightened as his fingers pressed painfully into my skull. I didn’t writhe, I didn’t cry out. I forced myself to relax in his arms, as his lips pressed mine so hard that he cut my lip against my tooth. The taste of blood filled my mouth. Eric’s other hand had grabbed my waist, as his fingers pressed hard enough to bruise my pale skin. I didn’t move. I didn’t scream. I made Eric what he was. It was my fault. As the words echoed in my mind, I no longer felt the power of their pain. It just was—a fact—like any other. I took his life. I ended him. He is what is, because of me. And I could accept it.

I felt my body go soft in his pressing hands. My lips parted as the kiss intensified. I didn’t make him force me. I said I’d offer him what he needed and I intended to keep my word, but his kiss… It changed. Eric’s fingers no longer pressed into me like he wanted to crush me. The intense hatred that initially pushed his lips to mine faded, as he brushed his tongue past my lips. I could taste him and thoughts of sweet shy Eric rushed to the front of my mind. The hand that was crushing my waist released me, and Eric’s hand slowly, carefully moved higher until it rested on my cheek.

Eric released me from the kiss. He pulled back enough so our lips weren’t intertwined, but our faces were still touching. I could still feel his warm, silky breath slide across my skin. His voice scraped as he spoke between jagged breaths, “What were you just thinking of?”

I kept my cheek pressed to his face, so I couldn’t see his eyes. Eyes that damned me with every glance. Eyes that reflected exactly what I was. My heart was racing in my chest and I wondered when that started. I felt relaxed. Nearly indifferent. Nearly. “You. The way you were… before I changed you. Quiet. Sweet. Shy.” My voice trailed off. His hand was still clutching the side of my face gently. It slid away like he could no longer bear to hold on. I moved away from him and coughed, refusing to look at him. An awkward silence lingered until I finally asked, “Did you get everything?”

He looked at me and laughed. It was a rich sound, like the laughs that used to come from him and not the bitter version that plagued him now. “No. One kiss can’t take every memory. How long does it take to retell a story? To capture every detail? There are ten-thousand years of memories inside of your head. One kiss won’t unlock all of them.” He paused, looking away. The smile vanished, and the tension flowed back into his shoulders and down his arms. Seriousness overcame his features, “And we’re running out of time. Some of the images are getting hazy. Some of the memories, I can’t quite access.” He shook his head, “Did I get everything?” My jaw tightened as my face felt hot. I refused to look at him, but he moved in front of me, his jaw agape. “Holy shit! Are you blushing?” he laughed.

At times I think that I was just made wrong. What could possibly make me blush? And it was Eric. I didn’t like him. I didn’t feel anything, but when his lips were on mine… I don’t know. I was too numb to know.

Eric was suddenly serious, waiting and watching me. The red ran off of my cheeks. I glanced at him and away again, refusing to think more about it. Or what it meant. “How many times?” I asked.

“How much do you trust me?” he asked and nodded with a smirk on his face. “Everything isn’t exactly floating to the surface. I have to find it. It’s like stumbling through the darkness trying to find a piece of coal. It doesn’t shine. It has no color. The only way to find it is to grab it with your hands. And your mind is a maze. My memories are hidden beneath layers of thick sludge, because you don’t trust me. It makes the memories harder to find. Your mind is a labyrinth with things hiding in every corner.” He swallowed and looked away, “And even when I do find my memories, it doesn’t feel like they’re my memories. Not anymore. They aren’t attached to me any longer. I have to sort through everything to find what I’m looking for.”

Glancing away from him, I nodded. “Fine. So, it’ll take a while is what you’re saying? You can’t grab everything until we both trust each other.” He opened his mouth to deny it, but snapped it shut again when I arched my eyebrow at him and said, “Really? You’re going to deny it has anything to do with you. It’s not just me, Eric. Trust takes two people, not one. Memories will flow freely when we trust each other.” Pressing my eyes closed, I leaned forward and pushed my hair out of my face uttering, “Which will be never.”

CHAPTER TWENTY

Eric’s hand pressed against the page to flatten it out. “I would have killed you that night, if I knew the page was missing.” I’d torn the page with my pendant on it out of his book. When he opened it later, he was irate. That was why he came looking for me—to retrieve the page. But things didn’t go as Eric planned. Somehow I overpowered him. There was fear hidden behind his eyes. He was no longer certain that he had the upper hand.

I glared at him. “Likewise.” I bit my lip, not wanting to rehash that evening. “Can you read it?” I watched him, expecting him to read the entire page and then lie to me.

His eyes slipped over the page and back to my face. “I can, but I don’t know what it means. I no longer have the memories that go with making these notations.” He pointed to the ink drawing of my pendant. “This is the Kreturic pendant. It’s the necklace around your neck.” His gaze darted to my throat where the necklace hung. “It’s made from the bones of angel wings and brimstone, and… ”

My lips pulled away from my teeth in repulsion. I lifted the pendant off the hollow of my throat. “The white part—the flower is—it’s… angel bones?” My mouth hung open, mortified.

Eric’s eyebrow pulled up, “Yeah, so? Angels have power. Every piece of them has power. That pendant has power because of what it’s made of. I just don’t know exactly what kind of power it has, or how to use it.” He gazed at the page. Pointing to the hurried script surrounding the edge he said, “These don’t make sense to me.” Black glyphs lined the page. There were no ink splotches. The only way I could tell that Eric had written it hastily was the lack of precision—the lines turned downward and didn’t have the perfection of the rest of his notes. “This is saying that the pendant is tied to Kreturus—that’s where the name came from. But this word here,” he pointed to something that looked like scribbles, “isn’t right. It shouldn’t be that word.” His finger tapped the page.

Turning my face up, and away from the page, I glanced at him. “What word is it?” I asked.

He looked up at me, irritated. “Gloslos. It’s plural. But it should be singular.” His jaw twitched. He hated speaking to me. Eric chewed his bottom lip with his jaw locked tight. He finally asked, “Is it possible I wrote this wrong? Is it possible that the old me, would have written the wrong word?” He stared at me.

I cast my gaze down at the book, and then back up at Eric, shaking my head. “I seriously doubt it. You were meticulous with everything. Nothing was out of place. Everything was… perfect.” My head shook slowly, side to side. “That’s not a mistake. Even if you were writing quickly, you would have chosen the most succinct word possible. You weren’t one for wasting words.”

Eric nodded, and his amber eyes shifted back to the creased page. “If it’s plural, it means something I can’t fathom. It changes the word to something that I don’t know. So it’s not that there are two of something. It more like the difference between a drop of water and the ocean. They are the same, but they aren’t. And there is no way to know what I’m looking for when I search your mind.” He ran his fingers through his hair, and then slapped the table hard, and turned away. He exhaled hard. “I can’t even tell you what to think to try and pull the memory forward. Without understanding this page, I’m searching though millions of memories totally blind. They aren’t even merged with your memories. There’s no point of reference to tell me anything.” He shook his head. “I may not find it.”

I saw the slope of his shoulders, and the tension between his eyes. There was nothing he could do. Looking for a lost memory was like trying to find a speck of dust in the snow. Staring at the page, I curled my fingers, pulling it closer to my face. Finally, I asked, “Will you read it to me? The whole thing?” I studied the page, running my fingers over each carefully crafted character before smoothing it onto the table.

Eric’s face pinched tightly as he looked back at me. “What for?” he asked. “You can’t understand it.”

Turning, I looked up at him, still resting my fingers on the page. “Then explain it to me. Translate. Tell me what this says in its entirety.”

The bottom of Eric’s lip twitched, but he returned to the table. His tapered fingers slid across the old parchment, pointing as he did so. He read, explaining that there were three quadrants to the page. They were in a specific order. The language was neither Greek nor Latin, but something of a code that Eric had created using a combination of both languages. It kept others from reading his notes. The quadrants were separated by a notation. On this page, the notation was the drawing.

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