I threaded my fingers with his. “Stop,” I said. Had he really been worrying that I would reject him for any of these reasons? “You know how to lead so people want to follow you, and you know the Circle from the inside. You care about people more than you care about politics. You’re exactly what the Circle needs.”
His eyes went soft, surprised in a way I’d never seen them. Was it possible that no one had ever told him that? People told him how good-looking he was. They told him he was talented at being a Keeper—but his ruthless, trained-killer side was his least favorite part of himself. I remembered him talking about how Jack was such a good person. Could it really be that he didn’t believe the same things about himself? I promised myself right then that I’d appreciate all those other parts of him, and I’d let him know it.
“The Circle would be so lucky to have you,” I said again. “They don’t deserve you, really. But I hope I—I hope we do. Us. Me and Jack and Elodie and . . . our family.”
The warmth of the candles around the room flickered over his face, and he gazed down at me like he had on the plane after we’d rescued Anya, like he couldn’t quite believe I was real. “I’ve been waiting for something for so long,” he said. “I didn’t know what it was, but it . . .”
“Hurts,” I whispered.
He nodded. “I kept noticing that I felt different, but it took me a long time to realize what it was. When I’m with you, I don’t ache like something is missing anymore. I think maybe that’s what it feels like to love someone. When being with them makes that ache go away.”
He was right. For the first time I could remember, I didn’t feel empty. I’d always felt so much more alive around him. That was exactly what this feeling was. “I love you,” I said. We’d said it last night, and last night had been amazing. But something in me had been holding back, still guarding my heart. Now that I didn’t have to, it was like a hundred doors inside me had blown open at once, and I couldn’t hold back if I tried. “I should have realized it so much earlier than I did. I think I’ve been accidentally falling in love with you since . . .”
“The train,” he said.
“For me it was earlier than that—in the water in Greece, I think. It made me feel like when you were attacked at Prada. When even though I barely knew you, I lost it at the thought of something happening to you.” He shivered. “But the first time I thought you might feel something, too, was that morning on the train to Cannes. Do you remember that? I woke up with my arms around you. It only happened because I let my guard down, and I was ready to write it off, but the way you looked at me—like it was a mistake, but not like you were upset. Like—”
“Like it was a mistake because I liked it,” I whispered.
His free hand came to my hip, pulling me against him. “I want to sleep with you on lots of trains in the future.”
I raised my eyebrows, and his grin turned sheepish. “I did not mean it like that. Although . . .”
I giggled, my other hand cupping his neck, gently over his scars. I love you, I thought. I love that you make inappropriate jokes without even meaning to, and I love that it always makes me laugh even if it shouldn’t.
“Little doll, I want to see the whole world with you. I want us to jump off a cliff into the ocean in Thailand. I want to know whether you’ll scream or laugh.”
“Scream,” I whispered, and the smile on his face grew.
“And Sweden. We used to visit where my mother grew up, and in the summer, it stays light there until after midnight. I want to show you. I want to do all of that and so much more while we’re not running for our lives.”
I stroked one fingertip over his chest, watched goose bumps rise there.
He was beautiful. He was a cocky pain in the ass and the most broken person I’d ever met, and also one of the strongest.
I love you, I thought again. But now, the words felt so much fuller, thrumming through me like a heartbeat. I love you.
I flattened my palm in the center of his chest. “I love you,” I whispered again.
He exhaled softly. “Kuklachka,” he said, and my own heart sped up to the rhythm of his, fluttering under my hand.
I’d been wrong before. I did want him to need me. I wanted us to need each other.
My eyes were drawn back down to my hand on his chest.
“Here,” I said. “Get the tattoo here.”
The door cracked open and the tattoo artist stuck her head inside. She stopped short just inside the door, and said in French something I was sure had to be “Am I interrupting?”
Stellan ducked his head to plant one firm kiss on my lips, then turned to the tattoo chair, plucking his shirt off it and sitting in its place, balling the shirt in his lap. “Ready,” he said.
I sat in another chair a few feet away, and we didn’t say another word, but I watched the whole time.
When his tattoo was done, he shrugged his shirt back on but left it open so the tattoo peeked out, dark and slightly irritated on his skin. Beautiful. Right in the place where part of it would peek through a shirt with a deep V neckline, but otherwise, it’d be secret. Earlier, I couldn’t stop staring at my tattoo. Now I couldn’t stop staring at his.
“We match,” I whispered, holding my tattoo up next to his. Stellan took my wrist and stared at my tattoo in the candlelight, the black of the symbol and the tiny blue veins underneath. He brought my wrist to his lips. And when he pulled me into his lap in the tattoo chair, it was really, really hard to remember that there were people right outside this room waiting on us.
Finally I stood up and straightened my clothes. “We have responsibilities,” I said, with as harsh a frown as I could muster. “Stop distracting me.”
Jack and Elodie’s voices murmured in the hallway outside, and it sobered me. “What about Jack?” I said. “Will that be weird if we’re actually together and he’s our Keeper?”