He knew about the mark, and he clearly wasn’t doing cartwheels about it.
“He has said, many times, that it was the worst decision he ever made.”
Maybe the beginning wasn’t the best place to start after all. I couldn’t comment on that, though. My heart was now firmly lodged in my throat, choking me.
“That when the woman wearing his mark walked away from him,” Kieran continued, “it invited ridicule. He never said it, but it was clear that he thought the situation with my mother made him look weak.”
“I don’t plan on walking away from you,” I whispered.
His eyes softened for a brief moment. Much too brief.
“What my mother did crushed his ego, and cracked his brain a little, I think, though it can be argued that he was always a little imbalanced.”
It certainly could be argued, yes, and those with nerves of steel usually did.
“I was never taught how to mark a person,” Kieran went on. “Or even what sort of magic goes into it. It is usually something a Demigod parent teaches their child. Kind of like a safe sex talk for those who can accrue diseases.”
A chill spread across my skin because I knew what was coming.
“I didn’t mean to mark you,” he said. “I had no idea I was doing it.”
My lungs burned from holding my breath, terrified he’d say he regretted it.
“A mark is forever,” he continued, his face showing no emotion. “Few Demigods still engage in the practice, and fewer still for love—my father can attest as to why.” He shook his head slowly. “I am sorry, Alexis, please believe that. But I cannot remove it. I cannot alter it.”
His voice held frustration, apology, and most of all, regret.
Swallowing was laborious. A tear escaped and dribbled down my cheek. I opened my mouth to claim nonchalance, but my lower lip trembled so much that I had no choice but to close it again. I managed a shrug before another tear followed the first.
I wiped them away, intense agony eating through me. I had no idea why this hurt so much. Why I was reacting this way. Of course he wasn’t happy he’d accidentally made his claim permanent. It was purely logical for him to be freaked out about this. I should be freaked out.
But for the life of me, it felt like he’d just ripped a gaping hole in my middle, stuck dynamite in it, and lit the fuse. Something in me had thought—hoped—that even if he hadn’t marked me on purpose, he’d be okay with the idea of the long haul. I had been cool with it, enough so that I’d created what I still thought was a permanent connection between our souls.
I’d been a fool. And now I was branded for all to see.
“Now what?” My voice was barely a whisper, and I summoned all my strength to harden it. “Can we hide it?”
His demeanor changed, suddenly vicious and aggressive, even though he’d barely moved a muscle. “Do you want to hide it?”
“Well…” I wiped away another tear, confused. “Why would I want anyone to see a mark you didn’t want to put on me?”
Silence ballooned around us.
“Damn it.” He leaned back and blew out a breath before wiping his hand down his face. “Do you see what I mean?” He put his palms on his chest and I wiped away another tear. I most certainly did not see what he meant. I had no clue.
In a flurry of movement, he was up and pacing the floor. Panic gripped me that he might leave. That he might walk away, leaving me with this rejection and his unintentional brand. But when he reached the end of the space, he turned around and paced back.
“I’m handling this all wrong,” he said, running his fingers through his messy hair. “I can’t think straight. I’m trying to apologize for what I did—but everything in me wants to do it again. Wants to haul you over to that bed, claim you anew, and run my magic across every inch of your beautiful, intoxicating body.”
I could only blink up at him, the mixed messages making my head spin.
He stopped in front of me, his expression frustrated. “Truth?”
He paced away. “There was a time when the mark was used to represent ownership. Prized harem members were marked. A favored king under a Demigod’s control was marked.” He turned and paced back. “The anti-slavery laws put an end to the practice of owning through a mark. That’s when the marks became about love…about sharing power. A king in the magical world might mark his queen.” He stopped and nailed me with a look. “I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how infrequently Demigods choose to share their power.” He started again. “Still, the practice occasionally works out. The Demigod of London and his wife rule together, for example. But what happened with my father and mother isn’t an aberration.”
Kieran sat onto the couch and bent over to rest his elbows on his knees.
“Marking someone is a huge decision. It’s not like marriage, because it can’t be undone.” He turned his head to look at me. “We barely know each other.”
I nodded, because he was exactly right. Regardless, my chest throbbed, another stick of dynamite exploding each time he said something like this.
He leaned back warily, his expression one of exhaustion. “I didn’t give you a chance to say feck off. I did this without your permission. I locked you into forever…without even asking.”
I nodded again, because that was true. Of course, I’d done the same thing by tying our souls together permanently.
“Everything points to my having made an irreversible error—one you should never forgive me for.” He sagged. “But when you asked if there was a way to hide it… I lost myself for a moment. The thought tore at something deep in here.” He pounded a fist to his sternum, the same place my dynamite kept going off. “I don’t know that I could stop myself from marking you again. Even now, after I laid out what a terrible idea it was”—he shrugged helplessly—“I want to do it all over again. I want to sizzle my magic across your skin, and warn anyone else away from touching you. I want to share everything I have, and am, with you. I want you by my side in whatever comes next.” He threw up his hands before letting them fall again. “I don’t know where that leaves us, other than I’m sorry I didn’t ask you, and I hope you can forgive me.”
I stared at him, uncertain. “So…you wouldn’t want to wipe away the mark if you could?”
His look was completely open. Raw. “No. Despite all the reasons I should, I don’t. But depending on how pissed you are, I’ll happily pretend.”
A tear broke loose and tracked down my face. I didn’t want to let relief take hold of me before I could knock on something wooden.
He reached up and wiped my tear away. “I love you, Alexis. Each new thing I learn about you makes me want you more. This love may be new, but the roots have thoroughly taken hold. I have every reason to believe it’ll keep growing until it drives words from the poets and makes even Ed Sheeran’s love ballads pale in comparison.”
I gave him a watery laugh. “And what if I do leave?”
Anger rolled across his face before he regained control. A heaviness filled the moment. He blew out a slow breath. “I’ll take up yoga.” A crooked smile tweaked his lips. “Honestly, it’ll kill me. It’ll drive me to rage. I do have my father in me, and I am possessive to a fault.” His thumb trailed across my cheek. “But I do not own you. You are free to do as you please. I will not hurt you. I will never hurt you. I’ll put checks and balances in place in case I should lose my mind. I will never make a woman suffer as my father made my mother suffer.” His fist clenched. “Never.”
I hadn’t needed to hear any of that. I already believed it, or I wouldn’t have let things go this far in the first place.
He looked at me for a long beat. Finally, he whispered, “I still don’t know where we go from here.”
I fought back laughter. As he sat there, looking to me for guidance, he seemed almost like a normal man, sitting with the woman he loved, wondering if he was in the dog house.
“I thought Demigods were supposed to have all the answers,” I hedged. I snuck my fist up and tapped the window sill. Just in case.
His mouth-watering smile made my stomach flip. “Sometimes we need a little help deciphering which way the wind is blowing.”
I shrugged, finally letting relief take hold of me. He’d told me the truth of his situation, and now it was probably fair for me to be equally open with him.
“You had me going there. I thought you regretted the mark. I freaked out a little more than is probably normal.”
He leaned closer and trailed his thumb across my jaw. “I will never regret that mark. Unlike my father, I don’t see my connection to you as a weakness. I’ve just attached myself to one of the wildest, most unpredictable women I’ve ever met. It’ll be a crazy ride, I have no doubt.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “You marked Bria, too? Because I’m not down with sharing.”
He chuckled and brushed his lips against mine. “Tell me plainly, Alexis. Are you okay with my…accidentally marking you?”
I shook my head and the tip of my nose brushed back and forth against his. “Accidentally? No. If you’re going to do something right, you need to do it on purpose.”
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