I’m sure someone more pure than I would have realized that something was wrong, that something was so very wrong. But I left that purity behind last year. I just wanted Sage between my legs, and I didn’t care about anything else.
I didn’t even realize it wasn’t him until I saw Sage—my Sage—running toward me with the most god-awful look in his eyes. I saw terror, horror, rage. I saw the lengths that this man would go for me. And I saw that he wasn’t the one inside me.
The rest was a blur. One minute the demon was Sage, the next minute he was something indescribable. He was worse than my worst nightmare. He’d gotten inside of me. He knew me from the inside. I felt him in more than my body, I felt him in my head.
Thank God, thank him so much, that as physical as it had been, Jacob let me know that most of it wasn’t damaging—to my psyche and soul, yes. But physically, I wasn’t about to be pregnant with demon spawn, and I didn’t suffer any trauma. Not exactly the conversation I wanted to have with Jacob, but at this point there was no point being shy. Apparently some of what had happened was real and some wasn’t. I didn’t know where to draw the line, but if your brain saw a threat as real, what was the difference if it was real or not?
The damage had been done. I loved Sage, wanted Sage, needed him, but some part of me was still scared, like he was going to turn into a yellow-eyed demon at any turn. And now, with him held at a distance, I felt more alone. And with feeling more alone, I felt hopeless. Utterly fucking hopeless.
I just wanted it all over with. I just wanted to say good-bye. You can take and take and take so much, but after a while, it was too much. This was too much. This incident, this violation. This was going to ruin me for a long time. I felt the numbness creeping in and the willingness to just give in. Throw up my hands, wave the white flag, and tell them that I fucking surrendered. What else could they do? I didn’t want to know and yet they would do it because this wasn’t over yet.
Could it ever be over? And what did over feel like?
That morning I told Jacob that I wanted to seek them out, that I wanted it over with, that I wanted the bargain to end. I wanted the unknown to cease—that great big cloud of the unknown that sat over my shoulder. Because what I had just experienced, it would scar me, shape me. It would almost ruin me. And the next things in life that the demons could go after would be the people I loved. Sage, my family. No one was safe.
Jacob, in his very eloquent way, told me that they wanted me to come to them. That they were trying to wear me down, make me weak. Make me give in and agree to whatever they wanted.
And yet I was so fucking tempted. Everyone expected Dawn to be strong and focused and to keep going, but the truth was I wasn’t any of those things. I’d just been going along, trying to pretend like everything—somehow—would be okay. And now I knew that nothing would be. The others had to see how pointless this all was, me following around Sage on tour, pretending to write for a magazine, when all I cared about was trying to stay alive.
And Sage, he wanted to cancel his tour for me. His first European solo tour, the land where people actually got him. He wanted to throw that all away for me. I couldn’t even fathom the dedication that man had to me, how sincere he actually was, that he would injure the career he spent the last fourteen years building. All of that for me when there was no hope for Dawn Emerson.
And so we trudged on to Prague. We went to the next tour stop, the next destination, the next place where I was sure Sage would be a huge hit. The next place where I was sure I would meet my doom.
The only perk to all of this, something that barely even registered the way it should have, was the fact that we took a private jet to Prague. I wouldn’t have to deal with being around strange people. I watched in the plane as Tricky and Garth and everyone else in the band ordered champagne and laughed and sang and acted they were taking the trip of a lifetime. I suppose for them, it was the sure sign that they had made it.
But sitting there next to Sage, feeling so torn up, feeling so desolate, it meant nothing.
I knew Sage was thinking that. He was taking it so easy with me and treating me with kid gloves. He held my hand, squeezing it, letting me know that despite everything I would still be okay. And if I couldn’t be okay, then he was there for me through whatever happened next. His strength and devotion poured through my bones. I hoped it would be enough to keep me sane.
Our arrival into Prague was ominous in itself. There was a huge thunderstorm licking at the edges of the city, plunging the sky and the world into early darkness. The jet wasn’t handling it all that well—she bucked and jerked as the pilots tried to set her down. Rain lashed the windows and even Tricky shut his drunken mouth, knuckles turning ashen as he gripped the armrest.
I didn’t even blink. There’s no way demons would let it all end in a plane crash, no matter how dramatic the storm. This was just a welcome mat. This was their way of letting me know that they were here in Prague, in this ageless, dark city and that they were waiting for me.
I knew from the minute I stepped off the plane and onto the slick, wind-whipped tarmac that this city was where it was all going to go down.
The chances of leaving Prague alive were slim.
We had a day to explore the city and have fun before the show the next night, but after that landing, and when you factored in the stormy weather, no one was really interested. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Sit in my hotel room, paranoid that Sage and Max weren’t really Sage and Max, and wait for whatever doom was coming for me? Or go out into a storm, into the wilds of Prague and—as Sage would say—live a little.
I chose the latter, with Sage, Max, and Jacob accompanying me. In some ways, I wished I could go off on my own, have time to breathe, to think, to prepare for what might come. But after the previous night, there was no way they would let that happen. They wanted at least two of them with me at all times. In no way would they desert me; it didn’t matter if the Prince of Darkness showed up and wanted a private conversation.
Which he kind of did.
The rain had let up as the storm passed over, though the wind still spun us around in its gusts. We had checked into the hotel—a very opulent building compared to the grey concrete blocks around us—and set out into the streets. Though it was eight at night, there were people about, some of them drunk and leaning into each other as they walked down the street, others somber-faced and wearing drab clothing. A pair of women in plain grey shifts stared at me as we walked past, eyeing me like I was a piece of meat.
“Why is everyone staring?” I whispered to Jacob, though his suit today was composed of forest green and yellow and was attracting a few stares itself.
“Hmmm?” He looked me over. “Probably because you’re wearing jeans and you look very fashionable. Denim is hard to come by here, as are Western clothes in general. You forget this is a communist country, love.”
“I thought they were, uh, getting reformed,” Sage spoke up, and I was impressed by his knowledge of politics.
“Slowly,” Jacob said, his eyes taking in every nook and cranny of the medieval streets. “Change takes time. In fact, just up ahead is Wenceslas Square. In 1969, a student lit himself on fire. It was his way of protesting the regime.”
I shuddered and when we turned the corner and saw the large “square” (it was shaped more like a rectangle), I could almost see the flames, the place where the student burned to death. Such a horrible way to go, and I couldn’t help but wonder with morbid curiosity if that would be my fate.
We stopped at a café near a giant oxidized statue of a man on a horse and went inside to grab a drink. The green leaves on the trees that lined the square were being ripped off, the branches creating a skeletal sound, and bits of garbage danced in the air. It would have been pretty at any other time. At any other time, we would have sat outside on the patio chairs, which were now knocked over, had a beer, and laughed. And I would have stared at Sage, my golden god, and thought about how lucky I was to have found him, or for his music to have found me. I would have thought that he filled up a void I had inside myself all these years, the void that was brought on when my mother died, that feeling that no one would ever take care of me, and yet here was Sage, promising me just that.
What a fucking shame it was to finally find that in someone, find the man who could protect you, not because you needed it but because you deserved it, and then find out that it was useless anyway. Sage couldn’t help me now. So instead of having that moment, the one I should have had, I had a sip of Czech pilsner, grabbed Sage’s hand under the knotted pine table, and squeezed it, looking deep into those grey-green eyes and trying to tell him thank you.
He squeezed my hand back, his jaw set strong, but his eyes so very soft, so sad. We sat there drinking while Jacob told us tales of when he first started managing Hybrid and the shenanigans that they had gotten up to. I wondered if Sage still felt guilty, if he was still beating himself up. There’s no way he could think that he escaped unscathed now. He probably thought that what was happening to me was his own form of punishment for making his deal in the first place. As if he hadn’t been punished enough.
When I was done with two beers and a teensy bit tipsy, with only some weird kind of beet soup to tide me over, I excused myself to go to the bathroom.
Max got up with me.
“I can go by myself,” I told him.
He raised his brows. “I’m not going in the washroom with you, but I’m at least standing guard outside.”
“Fine,” I said, grabbing my purse. We walked through the café, with its high ceiling of wooden beams, hardwood floor, and metal beer steins displayed on the walls. The bathroom was a single room with an old-fashioned doorknocker on it and a picture of a girl in a dress, bending over to smell flowers.
Max opened the door and peered inside. It was bare, just a toilet and sink and red walls, which made it seem smaller than it probably was. He nodded, satisfied, then leaned against the wall across from the washroom. I closed the door on him, wondering how long this was going to go on, how long I’d have him as my shadow.
I tried not to think about how the bathroom was like being trapped in a box full of blood, then washed my hands and got myself ready at the sink. I hadn’t looked at myself since that morning and let out a tiny gasp at the sight.
My hair was tangled and wild but not in a pretty way. It looked dry and ragged, with split ends and flyaways. Even the color seemed more of a dull rust. My face was pale and sallow, my cheekbones more pronounced than ever. My freckles all but seemed to disappear, and my eyes were puffy with dark purple-blue crescent moons underneath. I looked like hell. I looked exactly how I was feeling.
I sighed, trying to find the passion inside me to care. I pulled out a stick of concealer from my purse and tried dotting it under my eyes, hoping it would make me look more presentable. It wasn’t really opaque enough, but I did what I could.
It was then that I heard a drop behind me. Something splattering lightly on the floor.
I sucked in my breath, my shoulders tensing up, the hair on my arms prickling. Looking in the mirror, I could see there was nothing behind me, but that didn’t mean anything. I very slowly turned around and looked.
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