And somehow, she sensed she needed him just as much.
When Therese did close her eyes, she felt a peace come over her. And it was something she did not question.
This stranger seemed like destiny in so many ways.
Especially as she thought about her random choice to come to Caldwell when she’d left her family.
It was almost as if meeting him had been the reason.
Trez woke up at the whisper-quiet whirring of the illusion shutters as they came down over all the glass in the little house. For a split second, he knew exactly where he was. He was with his Selena, and they were in their mated bed, and the whole nightmare of her death and the pyre and the aftermath?
Nothing worth worrying about. Just ether coughed out by his subconscious, a nightmare generated by his deepest fears, a burp of terror in his brain.
Releasing his breath, he reclosed his gritty eyes and brought his shellan even closer. In her sleep, her head found the place it always did on his pec, and her arm encircled him, and her hand found the dent in the side of his hip. Finally, her fingertips soothed that contour of his pelvis, just as they always did—
His lids flipped open again.
Oddly enough, the low-level irritation of his eyes was what brought it all back. They were swollen and rough because he had wept in front of her. After he had lost it while they had been having sex. And then not explained his outburst.
Shit, he mouthed into the darkness.
As the recalibration occurred, reality raising its ugly head once again, anxiety churned the two pieces of toast he’d eaten while she’d taken a shower, and he had to sit up so he didn’t get sick. Carefully disentangling himself from her, he pushed his torso higher on the pillows and was glad when she rearranged herself in his lap.
The fact that she slept on reassured him.
So many things between them were complicated, but the way she sought him in her rest was simple.
Looking over at the hearth, there was nothing glowing there now, no hint of warmth or illumination left—
Light pierced through the illusion shutters, emanating from the house next door.
As he spoke up, his female stirred and lifted her head. “What’s wrong?”
Just as he was about to throw himself on her to protect her from the sunlight, the sound of a garage door lifting and of a car not backing out to leave but driving in to stay, made him totally confused.
“Oh, shi—shoot,” she said as she sat all the way up. “We slept through.”
“What?” Except then he glanced at the digital clock on the bed stand. “Oh… it’s six o’clock. At night.”
Or a little before, as was the case.
With this being upstate New York, and daylight savings time having ended back in November, things got dark enough for vampire purposes by six. By even earlier. Hell, a lot of the time in December, you could be outdoors as early as five p.m.
Throwing the covers off, she jumped out of bed. “I’m going to be late again—I’m going to lose this frickin’ job—”
“It’s Monday. The restaurant’s closed.”
As she swung around to him, he did his best not to notice the way her perfect breasts settled from the movement. Or how her hair covered her shoulders and a lot of her back. Or the length of her lovely legs.
He stuck to her eyes. Meeting them, he refused to get aroused.
Okay, fine. His mind refused to go there. His erection on the other hand? Oops.
Glancing down, he made sure he was covered.
“Monday?” she said.
“Yes, Monday. I swear.” Hey, she’d gotten it right on the time of night, and he was nailing the whole day-of-the-week thing. Even steven. “The snowstorm was Saturday and that’s our busiest night at the club. Last night, Sunday, I didn’t have to worry about a big crowd, which was why I had time to fight with my brother.”
“Fight with him?”
Trez shook his head. “It doesn’t matter.”
Her face registered the hint of a frown. But then she looked down at herself in surprise. “Oh. Hello. Sorry, I’m in my birthday suit.”
In spite of all the things unsaid between them, he had to crack a smile. “Are you seriously apologizing to me for being naked?”
“Well, it’s a little much.” She covered her breasts with her arm and her sex with her hand. “I mean—”
“It’s just perfect, actually.” Trez fiddled with the edge of the duvet. “Listen, I need to apologize about what happened last night. I didn’t mean to get all dramatic.”
She approached the bed. Got back in. Tucked the duvet under her arms as she propped herself up next to him. When she looked over, her face was calm and open, and he was glad. He didn’t want some boatload of sympathy or oh-you-poor-baby stuff. But he also didn’t want to be judged for the kind of thing he’d had absolutely no control over.
“I’m not going to ask you what happened,” she said. “Just know, when, and if, you are ever ready to talk about it, I’m here for you.”
They sat in silence for a while. Then, when he couldn’t stand the quiet, he said, “So what are your plans tonight?”
“Nothing much. I think I’ll just go back home—”
“You could stay here. We could move your things in and—”
“God, I wish I could take you up on that.”
She nodded to the bathroom. “You need to try that shower. The water pressure is insane.”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“Was there one?” She glanced over again and exhaled. “Sorry. I’m being evasive, aren’t I. And you’re very sweet. I’ll come see you here, though.”
He had a compulsion to take her hand. So he did. “Please. Move in here and I—”
When she squeezed his palm, he stopped talking.
“Do you remember what I—do you remember everything I told you last night?” she said.
“Every word. You want me to replay it?”
“No, but thank you for listening.” She took a deep breath. “So here’s the thing. Do you know what the second worst thing in my life was, after finding out that I’d been lied to? The second worst moment… was when I decided to leave them. It wasn’t the missing them or the fracturing-of-the-family thing. It was the fact that I didn’t know how to do it. I didn’t know how to take care of myself. I had seven hundred dollars to my name, a phone my parents paid for, an apartment I shared with my brother—I didn’t have my own car, my own space. Even my job? My father got it for me. I was doing IT stuff for his oldest friend. I had nothing that was mine and no skills to take care of myself because my family had done everything for me. Or rather… those people I grew up with had done it all for me. I’ve never been more scared in my life as I filled a duffel with some clothes and walked out of my apartment. Nowhere to go. No idea what I was going to do with myself. I was empty. Empty-headed, empty-hearted… lost in the world.” She squeezed his hand again. “And I am never, ever going through that again. Ever.”
As her eyes met his, she was dead fucking serious. “I love this house,” she continued. “I’d love to visit you in it. But I am going to make sure I don’t rely on anyone else because that is the only way I’m going to make sure I’m not in that position again. I will make it on my own—and listen, I don’t know where this is going between us, but trust me. You don’t want a deadweight around your neck. You want someone who’s a partner, not a problem that needs solving.”
“You are not a problem.” At least… not in the sense she was talking about.
“And I’m going to keep it that way.” Her eyes were dead serious as they met his. “I need to do this. I have to prove to myself I can be strong.”
Reaching up to her face, he caressed her cheek with the back of his knuckles. “Okay. I respect that.”
Trez had an impulse to kiss her, but she got to him first. She leaned forward and pressed her lips to his.
They stayed close for a time. And then he felt compelled by her honesty, her openness. Or maybe it was more like guilted by it.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
“Being such a head case.”
“You’re not a head case. It’s clear you have… something in your past that goes deep and is very painful. And I hate that for you.” She shrugged. “But you are under no obligation to share it or anything else with me or anybody else. I only want the parts of you that you willingly want to give me. Those are the gifts I want, and I can be very patient with you.”
Trez was so struck by her calm surety, her gentle strength, that he leaned in and kissed her. “You are… amazing.”
And he was so grateful for the space she was giving him. The only problem was… he didn’t think that time was going to ease his reticence. It seemed weird to tell her a story in which she was the heroine, a story of love and loss that she herself had lived—even if, at present, she didn’t seem to consciously recall any of it. Still, she had been there at her death, she had suffered and—
Oh, bullshit, he said to himself.
The real reason he didn’t want to tell her everything was because he wanted what he believed to be true to be reality, and if he laid it all on the table, his female had the ability—as no one else did—to blow it all up. iAm could talk in theory. People around him could worry about him. Reason could play endless matches against hope in his head.
But Selena… this female next to him… held the true detonator.
As a sharp, shooting pain went through his head, sure as if an arrow had penetrated his frontal lobe, he thought about his resolve after Xhex had spoken to him. His defensiveness when he’d fought with iAm. His certainty when he and his female had been having sex last night that it was, in fact, Selena and he reunited, the break that had come with her death resoldered, life not so much renewed as resumed.