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Authors: Anthology

Tags: #Fantasy, #Fiction, #General, #Anthologies (Multiple Authors)

Hotter Than Hell (56 page)

BOOK: Hotter Than Hell
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“I missed you, too,” she whispered, eyes closing in bliss as his love soaked into her, his arms gentling her to him, forgiving her for what she did to him, knowing she had no choice. The scent of his soap was sharp, and she drew away when she heard his pulse quicken. She was pulling his strength from him as she soaked in his aura, rich with emotion. That was why he was weak. A person could replace a surprising amount of their aura, but take too much too fast, and the person died when their soul was left bare to the world and unprotected.

“I’m sorry,” she said, blinking to keep her emotions in check. “I shouldn’t have come.”

“I’m fine,” he said, smiling wearily down at her.

“Fine?” she said bitterly as she pulled away. “Look at you. Look what I did to you. I hardly walked in the door, and you’re shaking already.”

“Mia.”

“No!” she exclaimed, pushing him away when he tried to hold her. “I hate who I am. I can’t love anyone. Damn it, Tom, this isn’t fair!”

“Shhhh,” he soothed, and this time, Mia let him take her in his embrace, laying her head against his chest as he swayed her gently as if she was a child. “Mia, I don’t mind giving my strength to you. It comes back.”

Mia couldn’t breathe from the wave of pure love rolling off of him, carrying the delicate beauty of wind chimes tinkling forgotten in the sun. His love was so heady, so sweet. But she shouldn’t take it.

She had to resist. If she could keep from drinking it in, it would eventually flow back into him, keeping him strong and untouched.

“But not fast enough,” she mumbled into his flannel shirt, hardening herself to his emotion if not his words. “I came back too soon. You’re not well. I should go.”

But his arms didn’t release her. “Please stay,” he whispered. “Just a little while? I want to see you smile.”

She pulled back, gazing into his earnest eyes. It was too soon, but she would make it be okay. She could do this. “I’ll make you coffee,” she said as if in concession, and he let her go.

“I’d like that. Thank you.”

Motions unsure, Mia took off her overcoat and slipped off her shoes. Barefoot and in a soft dress of pale blue and gray, she busied herself in the kitchen, taking a moment to arrange her hair in the reflection in the microwave. Guilt stared back at her, with a rising black of hunger in her pale eyes. The pierced coin on the purple ribbon about her neck dangled like a guilty accusation, and her pale fingers held it for a moment as she thought. She would not take anything more from this man. She could do this. She had wanted to find love, and she had. It was worth the risk.

Tom’s sigh as he sat at the table between the kitchen and the living room was weary but happy. Past the tasteful furniture and his scattered music was a large plate-glass window overlooking the street. The drapes were open, but the rain was like a sheet, gray and soothing to create a soft, hidden world.

Her silk dress was a gentle hush as Mia sat two empty cups on the table. She watched Tom’s long fingers curve about his, though the cup was dry and cold. Concerned, she sat beside him and took his hand in her own, drawing his attention to her. Behind them, the coffeemaker warmed. “How are you doing?”

He smiled at the worry in her voice. “Better now that you’re here.”

Mia smiled back, unable to keep from soaking in his love like a sponge. Overcome by the purity of it, she dropped her gaze, only to have them fall upon the coin. Her mood tarnished.

“Work going okay?” she asked, hoping he would practice, but Tom gave her hand an apologetic squeeze in a gentle refusal. When he played, he expended a huge amount of emotion when he became lost in his music, as if tapping into the universe still ringing from its creation. If she were here to soak it up, it would leave him weak for days. If she wasn’t, the expended emotion would linger in his rooms, bathing his soul in what was akin to an extended aura. Not exactly feng shui, but more of a lingering footprint of emotion that could alter moods even days later.

It was what had attracted her to him from the first.

“Work’s going great,” he said, leaning back and away to look at the coffeepot. “There’s a concert next month, and it looks like I’ll be ready.”

As long as you don’t take my strength, Mia could almost hear him finish in his mind.

“I’m sorry,” she breathed, starting to lose her upright posture and her eyes beginning to swim as they looked at his instrument propped lovingly in a corner. She could feel a puddle of intensity on the couch from earlier this morning, and she hardened herself to ignore it. If she went to sit in it, it would warm her like a sunbeam.

“I don’t mean to take so much from you,” she said. A single tear slipped down, and Tom moved his chair to hers. His long arms enfolded her, and her pulse raced from the love swirling through her aura, seeping into her despite her trying to stop it.

“Mia,” he crooned, and she held her breath, stiff and resolved to not take it, but it was hard. So hard.

“Don’t cry,” he soothed. “I know you can’t help it. It must be hell to be a banshee.”

“Everyone I love dies,” she said bitterly into the soft depth of his shirt as the guilt of three hundred years of existence rose anew. “I can’t come back here. I’m making you ill. I have to leave and never come back.”

With an abrupt motion, she broke from him. She stood, panic an unusual showing on her usually collected, proud face. What if he told her to leave? Tom stood with her, and as she reached for her coat, he pulled her back.

“Mia,” he said, giving her a little shake. “Mia, wait!”

Head lowered, she stopped, allowing his fear to coat her in a soothing sheen like fragrant lemon oil, and she felt her hunger jealously claim it. It was bitter after the exquisite airy lightness of love, but she took it. Stronger in body and resolve, she pulled her head up to see him through a haze of unshed tears.

“You are so beautiful,” he said, wiping a tear away with a thumb. “We will find a way to make this work. I recover faster every time.”

He didn’t, and Mia dropped her gaze at the wishful lie.

“There has to be a way,” he said, holding her close.

Head tucked under his chin, Mia felt a quiver start in the deepest part of her soul. Again. It was going to happen again. She had to be strong. Need would not rule her. “There is…” she said, her hand creeping up between them to hold the coin about her neck.

Tom pushed her back, his long face showing his shock. “There’s a way? Why didn’t you tell me before?”

“Because…because it won’t work,” she said, not wanting to deal with a false hope. “It’s too cruel. It’s a lie. If it doesn’t work, you might die.”

“Mia.” His grip on her upper arms pinched. “Tell me!”

In a quandary, she refused to look at him. From the living room, the talk radio turned to a classical guitar, the intensity rising with her tension. “I have a wish…” she breathed, hand clenched about the pierced coin on its purple ribbon. It was how wishes were stored, and she had had it for years.

Braver now for having admitted it, she looked up, feeling his excitement roll off of him in a wave. It washed into her, and she forced herself to keep from taking it. The room grew richer with subtle shades of want and desire, purple and green, shifting about her feet like silk.

“Where…where did you get it? Are you sure it’s real?”

Mia nodded miserably, opening her hand and showing him. “I got it from a vampire. I don’t know why she gave it to me, except perhaps that I shamed her into trying to become who she wanted to be. But that was years ago. I was so bad that day, making her angry so that I could drink in her guilt. I shamed her, but I shamed myself more for telling her I couldn’t love anyone without killing them, giving her my pain in return for her strength. Perhaps she wanted to thank me. Or perhaps she pitied me and wanted to give me the chance…to find love myself.”

Steadying herself, Mia took a breath, refusing to let his hope warm her like the sun. She wouldn’t take any more. She had to be strong. “I’ve had it all this time,” she finished faintly.

Together they looked at it, small and innocuous in her palm.

“You waited?” he said in wonder, taking it up and running his fingertips over the detailed relief engraved on it. “Why?”

Mia blinked to keep from crying as she gazed up at him. “I wanted to fall in love first,” she said, almost bewildered he didn’t understand.

Tom’s expression turned to one of pure, honest love, and Mia choked, muscles trembling from the effort to keep from taking it in. He gathered her to him, and she shook in the effort. Thinking it was tears, Tom shushed her, making things worse. It was almost too much, and Mia forced herself to stay, feeling the emotions in the room build and grow like a sheltering fog. It was like spreading a feast before a starving man, and she held back by her will alone. She would take no more from Tom.

“Use your wish,” he said, and hope leapt in her. “Use it so we can be together.”

“I’m afraid,” she said, trembling. “Wishes don’t always come true. Some things you simply can’t have.

If it doesn’t work, then I not only lose you, but I lose my hope to ever have anyone.” Vision swimming, she gazed at him. “I can’t live without hope. It’s all I have when I’m alone.”

But Tom was shaking his head as if she was a child. “This is love, Mia,” he said, both their hands holding the coin between them. “All things are possible. It’s a wish. It has to work! You have to have faith.”

A single tear slipped from Mia to make a cold trail down to her chin.

“Make the wish,” he said, drying her cheek. “Wish that I can love you.”

“What if it doesn’t work?” she whispered, feeling the weight of the emotions in the room pressing on her skin in a deepening tingle.

His eyes full of his love for her, he timorously smiled with a raw hope. “What if it does?”

“Tom—” she protested, and he leaned over the space between them and covered her mouth with his.

Fear flashed through her, and she tried to pull back. It was too much. She wouldn’t be able to stop herself. If he gave so freely, she had no way to stop it, and he would die!

But his lips were so soft on hers, and her breath caught at the depth of his feeling, his love, all for her, as encompassing and dark as a moonless night. I was right, she thought as she curved her arms around his neck and stretched to reach him. She couldn’t stop herself, not when he was trying to give his love to her, and she soaked in the strength he had put in his kiss, almost crying at the sensation filling her. It was going to happen again. There was nothing that could stop it.

Tom broke their kiss, and she stumbled back, afraid.

“Please,” he said, shaking from the energy he had given to her. “For us. I want to love you,” he pleaded. “All of you in every way.”

Mia leaned against the cheerful yellow wall of the kitchen, her pulse fast and her chin high. This was the best she had felt in weeks. She could take on the world, do anything. To have this every day would be the fulfillment of her deepest wish. Humans were so ignorant, taking for granted what they received from each other, never knowing the energy they passed between themselves. But the only reason she could see it was because it was what she needed to survive. She could drain the love from Tom like scooping water from a well, but it would kill him.

“I’m afraid,” she whispered, though she stood powerful and strong.

Trembling, he stepped forward and took her hands. “Me too. I want you to be happy. Make the wish.”

Mia’s eyes filled, but they didn’t spill over. “I wish,” she said, her voice shaking, “that this man be protected from the pull of a banshee, that love will protect him and keep him safe, that no harm should come to him through my love for him.” She held her breath, forcing herself to keep from taking even a wisp of emotion as a single tear fell to splash on their fingers, joined about the wish.

For a moment, they did nothing, waiting. The guitar on the radio changed to a full orchestra, and Tom looked at her, wide-eyed with his hope radiating to fill the room. Mia almost swooned at the effort to leave it untouched, to keep him strong. “Did it work?” he asked.

A lump in her throat, Mia steadied herself. “Kiss me?”

She tilted her head up as Tom leaned in, his long hands holding her shoulders. Dropping the coin to fall between them, she tentatively put her hands about his waist, unsure at how they felt there. She had never kissed him back. With a gentle sigh, Tom met her lips, and Mia went dizzy from the will needed to keep from soaking him in.

A wall, she thought, strengthening her own aura to keep them separate, gradually making it opaque, and then solid. She thickened her aura so that nothing could penetrate, nothing would come to her. He would fill the room with his love, and if she left it there, he would remain strong. His emotion would wash against her like water on a beach, and like a wave, it would ebb back to the ocean, undiminished.

And though it left her shaking in hunger, it worked.

Hope replaced her aching need in a rush, and somehow Tom felt it. Perhaps having been pulled upon so often by a banshee he had become sensitive to the emotions in a room. Perhaps because of his love for music he could read them easier. Whatever the reason, he knew she was taking nothing from him even as they shared their first passionate kiss.

Breaking from her, he stammered breathlessly, “Mia, I think it worked.”

She smiled at him, a real one, and tamped down her excitement lest it break her control. “Do you?”

In answer, he pulled her to him, and with a tenderness born in the fragile beginnings of love, he cupped her face and kissed her again. Mia felt his lips on hers, but walled herself off, not allowing any of his emotion to stir her, even as his hands left her face and began to search, his beautiful long fingers tentatively seeking her skin beneath the shoulder of her dress. It had been in his eyes a long time and Mia welcomed it, even as she struggled to stay passive, to withhold her instincts to drive him into a deeper state of vulnerability. She wanted this. She wanted this so badly.

“Be careful…” she whispered, her heart pounding as his one hand found the buttons of the back of her dress, and she gasped at the wave of heat that his fingers, slipping the buttons free with a soft pop, made along her spine.

BOOK: Hotter Than Hell
10.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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