The graveyard was muddy from several days of rain and we were soaked. As we walked through the old tombstones and trees, I could hear cars echoing somewhere nearby. I stooped to read one of the granite stones. Most of the letters were worn away by the elements. It took two to three stones to be certain we were where I thought.
“I know where we are,” I told her. We were in an old cemetery from the 1600’s that sat high on a hill a mile or so from where we grew up. Apryl wouldn’t remember, but I did. We used to come out here in the summer to read the epitaphs between sprigs of flowers. The dragon must have brought me to this portal on purpose, but I wasn’t sure why. Besides that he seems to have led Apryl there, too. I followed the sound to the road, with Apryl walking behind me. Then we walked to an abandoned warehouse a few blocks away.
Apryl followed me without question. I didn’t like this. I didn’t like her being a Valefar. It was a risk to keep her around because Kreturus could use her any time he wanted. At least I thought he could. I still wasn’t certain how he was moving around. I decided to keep her with me because Apryl was right before. Kreturus had no control over me. He couldn’t touch my power by using demon magic. I was certain of it, because if effonating had a high power price, I would have noticed. I sure as hell noticed the pain. No, Kreturus didn’t have control over me. But then that meant he had control over every other Valefar. He could be anywhere. He could use any of them, except Collin. Collin’s mark was purple, like mine. That made him belong to no one, but I couldn’t be completely certain. I could only hope.
The warehouse was dank and dark. The metal roof sounded like marbles were falling on it instead of rain. We settled down on the floor. There were some crates in the corners with reams of paper that went to waste. I was so tired that I could barely sit up. Apryl said, “You look weak.” I didn’t reply. I couldn’t sleep. Not here. Not now. I was unguarded from both Martis and Valefar—plus I had one sitting next to me. “Is it the poison?”
I yawned, and nodded. “It should have killed me, you know. I shouldn’t be here. That was the second time I should have died this year, and instead—I’m here with you.” Maybe it was foolish to tell her, but I didn’t think stating the obvious put me in any more danger than I was already in. She had eyes after all, and could see I was about to pass out from exhaustion.
She nodded. “Then sleep.” I shot her a look from under my brow. She laughed. “What could I possibly do? You’re far stronger than I am, even weakened like this. I can’t effonate on my best day. But, I do need to… ” she paused and grimaced. “I need to eat. Rest, Ivy. I’ll be back in a while, and then we can talk. I have a feeling that your Valefar 101 classes were skipped.”
I was so sore and tired that I fell asleep almost instantly. The entire time I slept, my dreams were filled with blood and screaming souls. Death ravaged my mind and pulled on my emotions until I cried out in my sleep. With a jerk, I shot upright trying to get my bearings as my scream faded into soft echoes at the back of the warehouse. The silver comb was clutched tightly in my grip. My heart was racing in my chest, as the back of my neck prickled.
Someone was there, and it wasn’t Apryl. I could hear his breath, the slow intake of air as he tried to maintain his composure. The sound was near silent. It came from the very back of the warehouse where the shadows were thick like tar. His body was hidden from sight, but the bond tugged tightly, pulling at my gut. I knew who it was. My muscles relaxed slightly as I rose.
Peering through the darkness, I looked but couldn’t see him. Finally I called out, “Go away. I know you’re here and I don’t want to see you.”
Collin emerged from the darkness, dropping whatever shroud concealed him and moved toward me. My throat tightened. Additional worry creased my brow with each step of his foot. Fear surged through me in an icy cold blast. I was afraid of what Lorren did to me. It didn’t know if it was something that would make me savagely rip my soul from his body, and I didn’t want to find out. I had enough lust induced insanity for one day.
Panicked, I started to step away from him and screamed, “STOP!”
Collin’s feet abruptly immobilized. His head tilted to the side slightly, not certain what to think of the fear that was wafting off of me. I knew he could sense it. I knew the bond told him that I was afraid. He looked at me from across the room with a sea of cement separating us. Industrial lighting hung above, suspended from rusty rafters, but failed to illuminate the room. We stared at each other in the darkness, each of us waiting for the other to move or speak.
As my heart thumped in my chest, I wrung my hands waiting for something to happen—something to change. But it didn’t. Nothing felt different. But I didn’t trust myself, not without knowing exactly what Lorren had done to me. He told me I wouldn’t be able to kiss Collin again without taking my soul back. I didn’t know what that entailed.
And I didn’t trust Collin.
My arms folded tightly across my chest, and I tucked my hands into the crooks of my elbows to prevent him from seeing them shake. His presence sent my heart racing—being this close to him made me want to feel his strong hands sliding across my skin. If Lorren made that worse, in any way, I’d be unable to help myself.
Collin’s hands fell to his sides as his mouth opened, “Ivy… “ His voice was rich and deep. It was the perfect blend of confidence and compassion. The sound made me want to go to him. It made me want to forget the betrayal. It made me want to forget Lorren, and everything else. I’d give anything to have him hold me in his strong arms—the way things used to be. I yearned for it so deeply, but I suppressed the desires before they’d fully formed in my mind. The bond would allow these feelings to slip through more easily if they were full thoughts. But as non-contemplated desires—he would have to intentionally enter my mind to feel them.
I wrapped my arms around my middle. With a deep breath, I turned my back on him, and hung my head low as I gazed at the filthy floor. “Go away.” My hair fell over my shoulder as I whispered the words. I expected him to leave. I expected him to speak. But I failed to expect what he actually did. Before I had a chance to blink he was behind me. I felt the rush of wind at my back from his sudden movement, and I turned on the ball of my foot. My hair swirled around, flying over my shoulders when I suddenly stopped. The silver comb was in my hand ready to strike.
Collin stopped an inch from my face. I sucked in air, surprised. His warm breath washed across my skin as he tried to control himself. “No,” he answered, his deep voice resonating with determination. Sapphire eyes bore into me with such intensity that I wanted to look away. They were that deep blue, the blue his eyes turned when Collin was teetering on the edge of the crazy line. A muscle in my jaw flinched. His eyes darted to the spot as his gaze slipped over my body, taking in the tension throughout. The curve of his lips was nearly absent as his mouth moved into a straight line. “I have to tell you. I have to explain.”
He was too close. Our faces were less than an inch apart and our bodies were even closer. One deep breath and my chest would brush against his. My stomach twisted inside of me. Lorren’s words rang in my ears. I’ve made it so you’ll have to take your soul back. I’d have no choice if Collin kissed me. Desire would flood through me with a seduction too powerful to deny. My breath caught in my throat, as I broke eye contact and slid my foot away. But Collin moved forward filling the void with his body.
“Then explain,” I said refusing to look him in the eye. He spoke, and I tried to listen. His words were urgent and pleading, but I couldn’t listen. I couldn’t look at him.
Terror coursed through me in unrelenting waves, each more powerful than the first. Collin’s voice continued to flow at a rushed pace, as he could see and feel my reaction. He knew that I wanted him to leave, he just didn’t know why. While he spoke the intensity of his emotions cut through the panic that was choking me. Desperation laced his thoughts, but he was confident that I’d forgive him. He saw this conversation ending with a vivid picture in his mind.
A picture that I couldn’t allow.
When he stopped speaking, I noticed it—the faint scent, sweet and seductive, coming from him. It was on his skin, in his hair, and on his breath. Inhaling slightly, I tried to identify what it was. It was familiar, yet different. The scent was intoxicating and I found myself breathing deeper with each breath. The fragrance was alluring in a hypnotic sort of way. I pressed my tongue to the back of my teeth as saliva filled my mouth. Swallowing softly, I looked up at him feeling somewhat dazed.
Dark brown hair fell across his radiant blue eyes. They were wide and earnest, like the only thing of beauty he’d ever seen was standing right in front of him. His pale pink lips were curved just right and slightly parted. His cheeks were perfectly smooth. The tension in his body made his muscular frame curve with the divine subtly in all the right places. He was beautiful.
His blue eyes darted to the side, and then back to my face. His brow creased as he leaned a bit closer and asked, “Did you hear me?” Another second passed and he asked, “Ivy?” I looked into his face, neither smiling nor frowning. Just looking. His dark brows pinched together as he gazed over my shoulder and then back at my eyes. He tilted his head forward and repeated himself, “Do you understand? The blood I gave you should have lost its effect a long time ago. You needed it to survive—it healed you. I’d never hurt you, Ivy. Believe me. Remember. Remember the fights we had following that night. If you were smitten with bloodlust and I wanted to use you—I could have.” He pressed his lips together waiting for me to respond.
His words washed over me. I knew their meaning was important, but it didn’t register with him standing there. Not with him so close. My legs felt like lead. I mentally yanked at them until they could move. When I felt my knee bend, I stepped back from Collin, and nodded. I had to force out the words because my jaw didn’t want to move. I was still high on his scent. That had to be what filled my head with every breath I took. It made me want him more than anything I’ve ever wanted in my entire life. And I couldn’t tell him. I couldn’t offer the forgiveness. I couldn’t offer the kiss. I had to replace the thoughts that floated through my mind with something else—something cold and unforgiving. It was the only way.
My jaw felt like it was made of rusty iron, not wanting to move, not wanting to speak what I had to say. The expression on my face remained vacant, as my gaze was cast toward the floor. “I heard you,” I said. It was barely a whisper. With a shallow breath, I dared a glance at his eyes. There was no comprehension in the blue depths. He didn’t understand why I wanted him to leave, and I couldn’t tell him. His lips parted to speak, but I cut him off, “Just go.”
Collin’s expression remained the same. He looked down at me perplexed. I could sense his dismay, as I knew he could sense my fear. It didn’t matter how hard I tried to bury it, the feelings were jammed into every inch of me. One touch, that’s all it would take to shatter me. Then I’d press my lips to his and… The thought cracked like a piece of ice, splintering into tiny shards. He’d hear me. I couldn’t think it. I had to force him to leave. Wrapping my arms around myself, I took another step back and he didn’t follow. He didn’t move forward to close the space between us.