Authors: J.C. Daniels
I hadn’t even started washing my hair when he joined me. He took over the job. Strong hands kneaded my scalp and neck until I was all but purring with pleasure and then, after he’d nudged me under the water and rinsed me clean, I found myself sighing in sheer contentment as he wrapped himself around me.
His chin tucked against my chest, his arms enfolded me. Closing my eyes, I lost myself in that one moment.
If only I could held onto that moment, that feeling…forever.
That feeling lingered, something that might have been peace sliding through me as we settled down in bed. My bed wasn’t as big as his and he ended up half-wrapped around me.
I didn’t mind that at all.
I hadn’t felt this…easy in a long time.
It wouldn’t last—couldn’t. Under the mask of my calm, there was that underlying tension about what lay ahead—disappearances, Justin…my family.
His lips pressed against my temple. “This…” he muttered, his voice a deep, sleepy rumble. “This is what I missed.”
“What? Me, naked?” I smiled, even though I knew that wasn’t what he was talking about. “That’s because you’re a man, ergo, you’re a pervert.”
He laughed, but it sounded hoarse.
We lay there, like that, just like that, for a long time.
It seemed like I’d lived with a cold, aching knot inside me for too long. Ever since the day I’d collapsed against my car with a tranq dart in my chest and a wrong witch in front of me.
That knot was gone now. I just felt happy.
His hand stroked down my side, rested on my hip. “I miss smelling you on my skin. It didn’t matter if it had been two days since I’d seen you. I could still smell you on my skin. I missed it more than I thought possible.” His hand shifted to my belly, spread wide. “Missed seeing you.”
He hesitated for a moment and then said, “I know we’ve been seeing each other some, but it’s not the same. I don’t let myself touch you. I miss that, being able to touch you and hold you and knowing I’ll have your scent on me when I’m done. I missed that smart mouth of yours…missed everything about you and I came so close to you just being…gone. Forever. And it was my fault.”
Well. That peace hadn’t lasted as long as I’d hoped.
Slowly, I uncurled from his arms. He didn’t seem to want to let go, but I couldn’t have this conversation without looking at him.
I watched him go to his back and then I sat up. Looking into his haunted grey eyes, I reached for the words. In my head, we’d already had this conversation. In my head, it was over and done. But that wasn’t reality.
“What happened…” My voice caught and skipped, tripping over the next few words. “When Jude grabbed me, that wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t anybody’s fault but his.”
“If I hadn’t been such a fucking idiot, then you wouldn’t have been alone.” His arms came around me and when he moved, sitting upright and dragging me onto his lap, I let him. I needed the connection, his touch as much he needed mine. “I…fuck, I was ready to come chasing after you the minute I walked, but I had to calm down. There was something wrong, I knew it and I was ready to kill somebody over it—it didn’t matter who it was, I was ready to kill over it. I had to…”
His eyes slid away. “Because I was so fucked up in the head, because I wasn’t thinking straight, you were alone.”
Looking into his eyes, feeling so vulnerable and exposed, it made it too hard to think. So I did the easy thing. I buried my face against his neck. It shouldn’t matter, those words. So what if he’d been ready to come back after he’d left my office—it didn’t take back the words that had left me bleeding. It shouldn’t undo any of the misery, but it felt like one of those deep, ripping gouges in my heart started to heal.
Because I couldn’t trust my voice to be steady just then, I gave myself a minute and focused on the scent of him, the warmth of his skin against mine. Then, finally, I murmured, “If he didn’t try it then, he would have tried later. Doyle found me, but the reason you all were able to get to me so fast was because of Justin. Justin is used to working with people who track—specifically…people like me. What would have happened if Justin hadn’t been around? If it had been just Doyle and nobody here could help the way Justin could? Sooner or later, it was going to happen. The way it played out…I guess it was my best chance of surviving it.”
Damon’s hand tangled in my hair.
“I should have…”
Lifting my head, I pressed my fingers to his mouth. “We can’t undo it. It’s already done. I’m learning to live with it—or trying to. If we have any chance at all of making it, Damon, you’ll have to do the same. And that means we can’t constantly play the maybe game, the should-have game. It’s done.”
He caught my wrist, kissed my fingers, his gaze intent on mine.
Silence fell between us.
“I love you.” He reached up and laid his hand on my cheek. The emotion churning in his eyes was enough to break me open. “I have to tell you—you didn’t want to hear it before and I won’t say it again after this, but I’m sorry for what I did. I hate myself for not being there.”
Slowly, I let out a breath I hadn’t known I was holding.
“Okay.” I nodded. “Okay. Now…we just…can we just move on from here?”
His arms came around me, tight, so tight I could barely breathe. But I didn’t complain.
“This is what I missed,” I whispered. “Being like this. With you.”
It shouldn’t have been a surprise, the nightmares coming on the way they did, not then. Even though some part of me was vaguely aware that I was still in my bed, even vaguely aware that Damon held me, I could feel it pulling at me.
They’d been getting worse lately. Not that I had them more often, but Jude’s voice was getting stronger in my head. It seemed like the easier it was for me to push his touch away in the day, the harder it was to break free in my dreams.
Sometimes I thought I could even smell him, feel him.
He’s not coming for you.
Jude might be in a box for the next fifty years, but in my head, he was still free. No. He stood right
, beside my bed and as I tried to roll away, he reached out and tangled a hand in my hair.
I froze, the memory of all the pain rising back up. Teeth sharper than blades shredding my skin. Blood pumping out of me. His body ripping into mine. Bones breaking.
“You’re not here! ”
I shouted it at him. Or tried.
He smoothed my hair back, his voice oddly gentle.
he murmured, his voice kind.
I’ll always be here. Don’t you know that?
And then he drove his fists into me, my face, my belly, my ribs. Bones broke under the blows and I tasted my own blood yet again.
Nobody will save you
I broke free, because even in dreams, I always do. I could see the blinding white as I hurtled toward the chasm. Snow stung my skin, my hair blinded me.
Even that will not free you, little warrior. Little weakling
The cliff lay ahead, the dark abyss a promise.
The only way to escape is to die
To be free, all I had to do was jump. The gorge was right
there. I could see it, all but taste the oblivion I’d find once I jumped.
That’s it, darling Kit. Just jump…just jump
, Jude crooned in my ear.
Hands closed around my arms.
I swung out. I had to—
A roar shattered the cold air and then—
“Wake up.” Warm, hard lips pressed to mine. A familiar scent flooded my head. “Wake up, baby girl.”
“You’re not here,” I whispered. “Not here…he said you wouldn’t come.”
Hot hands caught my face. “Open your eyes, Kit. I did come. We all came.”
Damon’s mouth pressed to mine, the taste of him shocking me out of that weird twilight sleep. Jerking back, I stared at him, breath sawing in and out of my lungs.
Just a dream.
“Damon.” I started to shiver.
He pulled me in close, but even the heat of him wasn’t enough to warm me. “You’re okay,” he whispered. “You’re safe.”
I clung to him, waiting for the echoes of the dream to fade. Waiting for the feel of
to fade. In the back of my mind, Jude lingered, almost like he lived inside my head.
Son of a bitch, that had been a bad one.
That nauseating reality of what that might mean left me wanting to puke and I turned my face into his chest. I shivered and Damon stroked his hand up my back. “It’s over,” he whispered.
How could something that felt
real be over? I could still feel the bruises, the ache of broken bones, the lingering pain between my legs. I could still taste the blood and feel the biting cold from when I’d torn out into the snow.
“Come back to me,” Damon murmured, his lips brushing over my brow.
I huddled against him. Under my cheek, Damon’s chest was hard and warm, rising and falling with every breath he took. I spread my hand wide against his skin, the inky black of his tattoo so dark under my hand.
“Sorry,” I muttered. I hated this, how vulnerable—how
I still felt. “Shit. I hate this.
I hate it
“Don’t.” His hand tangled in my hair as he spoke the word against my temple. His voice was low, raw, like he had to force it out. His chest shuddered on a ragged breath and then he spoke again, “We all have nightmares. Don’t apologize for yours.”
“It’s…” I squeezed my eyes closed, focused on the beat of his heart. “It’s not just the nightmares. It just…Damon, these feel…” I stopped, shook my head. I wasn’t explaining this in front of him. I needed to talk to somebody, yes. But not Damon. Not now. “I can’t explain it.”
His hand smoothed down my back, gripped my hip. “Try.”
Of course he wouldn’t just let it go. But there was all sorts of wrong I could detail without lying. Blowing out a sigh, I forced myself to open my eyes, staring out into the dim room. “They won’t stop. If the nightmares don’t stop, maybe I’ll never feel like me. If they’d just stop…”
I let that one fear out. It was a true fear, one that choked me, haunted me. Even as it left me, I wanted to pull it back. Would he even understand?
“You’re going to beat this,” he said when my voice trailed off. “You’re too strong not to.”
Closing my eyes, I turned my face back into his chest. It seems like he almost always understood. A sigh shuddered out of me.
“What scares you?”
It came out of me without me realizing I even wanted to know.
His odd silence had me looking up but his gaze fell away from mine.
I stroked my index finger over his lower lip and waited.
A sigh rumbled out of him and he looked back at me, caught my wrist. “A lot of things. I’ve got my own nightmares, Kit. Losing you—I can’t tell you how many times I’ve woken up remembering the nights you were missing, how it felt to see you on that cliff. I relive it over and over. And there’s…”
He stopped, looked away.
Now he did look at me. “I can’t even remember a lot of it. There are nightmares, but they started when I was a kid. Back when I was too young to remember.”
It’s the story of me…what put me on the road that made me what I am
“Does this have anything to do with your family?”
A shudder fell across his eyes. “You see too much sometimes.” Then he pressed his brow to mine. “I don’t know.”
Before I could even ask, he pressed his thumb to my mouth. “There aren’t any answers. Chang found me—I was maybe four or five. He’d been out hunting with his kin, smelled…decay. Me. I was close to dead. I was too young, too weak to tell him anything. I have no idea. I’d been alone so long—he figured the food had run out a few weeks before. The water supply had dried up a few days earlier. If I would have left, I might have been okay, could have been found sooner. But I wouldn’t…”
The words trailed off.
“You wouldn’t leave.”
He looked back at me. There was a haunted look in his eyes, one I’d never seen before. “I couldn’t. Chang told me he had to drag me out of there, even as weak as I was. As sick as I was. I kept—”
He stopped, eyes closing. When he looked back at me, long moments had passed and suddenly, I didn’t want to know. “He thinks it must have been my father. The body was too decayed for him to tell—Chang said he must have been dead for months. There wasn’t anybody else there.”
“You were alone there for months.”
His gaze slid away. “We lived in the mountains. Sometimes I remember that. Mountains, with the sun rising up over them. I can remember the mists rising up as the sun rose. There were caves, and trees, and paths we’d walk.”
His lashes fell down, hiding his eyes. “We were in a cave. That’s where he found me. The body was in the main cavern—they were man-made. Like somebody had cut them out of the rock. There was a little room…Chang said he’d found the remains of supplies, food up there. That’s where I was. With my father.”
There was nothing to say to that.
I wrapped my arms around him. He tucked his head against my breasts and just held me.
“I understand nightmares, Kit. I’ve had almost forty years to come to grips with mine. Yours are still raw and you remember them all. They don’t make you weak…they’re just part of who you are.” His lips skimmed across my skin as he spoke.
A sigh shuddered out of me and I lay against him.
Moments passed, one hand sliding up and down my back while the other flexed on my hip, kneading the skin there.
As the tension slowly drained out of him, I curled one arm around his neck. Desperate to chase away the dark memories—both his and mind—I stroked my fingers up and down his skin as I said, “Forty years, huh? You’re an old man, Damon.”
A grunt escaped him and then he rolled.
“That a fact?” he asked as he tucked me beneath him.
It was still dark. Morning hadn’t even kissed the horizon, but I didn’t need light to see him. Something that might have been the first edge of humor lit his eyes as he threaded his fingers through my hair.