Avenari - Chapter 32
So quiet, so dark…
In life, we had never known true silence, but in the endless void there was no sound—no heartbeat, no breath. Those were things we no longer possessed, the silent abyss so complete that we felt no need to break it with the effort of thought. There were no questions, no answers—no before or after. We just knew that this silence wasn’t meant to be broken, that if something needed to be said it would happen without our help, and if an idea needed to take form it would do so using a consciousness that we could never understand or encounter.
So peaceful, so simple.
We floated for so long—moments, millennia, eternity—but time didn’t have that kind of meaning here. It wasn’t even time anymore, just a state of immeasurable existence, a non-existence that simply was. What felt like an eternity here could easily have been a mere second in the world of the living, but even the attempt at making a comparison wasn’t quite accurate. There was no comparison. The rules of the living no longer applied. We existed beyond time, beyond all the things that had once weighed so heavily. It was true freedom.
It was true silence, the Silence
And then there was pain.
And the Silence rejected me.
Scalding anguish flashed through my being like an angry firestorm, tearing me out of the collective, reminding me that I was. I tried to scream but had no lungs, no voice. Fear began to surface—an alien thing in this realm—starting small and growing like an evil fruit within me.
The Silence was so beautiful. I didn’t want to leave. I tried to resist the terror, but it crawled inside of me, a became a part of me. It snaked through my being, filling me with unrelenting panic. It was too late—I was tainted—
It was gone.
The pain lasted as long as the darkness had. I couldn’t fight it, couldn’t move as an immense maelstrom swept me up in its current and squeezed me into a smaller space than my ethereal form wanted to occupy. I struck something solid, felt it shift to accommodate me and envelop me within, compressing my being to fit the new surroundings. It hurt, but there was nothing I could do to stop it. I tried to move but couldn’t. No matter how I struggled, the force held me in place. I felt my extremities in excruciating clarity, the stabbing pressure as I tried to bend horribly damaged joints and muscles.
Again, I tried to scream, but instead choked on something thick and alive. It forced its way into my body, seeping through broken flesh and bone. It moved though me, knitting me back together in bits and pieces without anything to dull the pain. Little by little, I gained limbs and flesh, skin and bone.
And no matter how hard I tried, the screams just wouldn’t come out.
However, after far too long, the pain faded. Again, I was floating, but now I could feel. I had a body with limits and emotions that limited me and senses that could only tell me so much. Distantly, some part of me remembered. The blood flowed thick and heavy around me—I could taste it now—but its chill made my triggers shudder, and the living energy within it sparked fierce reactions in my veins. This was my blood, the blood of my line. Just because it had been within me didn’t separate it from the source.
I was alive. By some miracle, the blood had forced me back into these fleshy confines.
Slowly, I tested my new limbs, stretching them out to touch the smooth stone wall around me. I could breathe this blood as though it were thickened air, and when I reached up, I felt the two amulets secured around my neck.
My hands glided across soft, familiar skin, and when I touched my breasts there was a flare of longing in my belly—the wish was apparently still in effect. Thoughts of Andris still made me ache in places I didn’t understand as well as I had in my mortal life.
I wasn’t afraid anymore. This was the blood of my ancestors, and though everything in my veins had burned, the whispers in my head were the same as they had always been. Everything was the same…
…Except for the blood bond. I couldn’t feel Andris anymore, though I tried to search my mind for the flicker of his emotions. Nothing but emptiness. Nothing of him remained in my blood. Death was the one thing that could end a blood bond. He hadn’t died with me, and the cord had been severed between us.
Disturbed by this, I concentrated on what was above, sending my spatial sense just beyond the surface.
Andris was still there. I could see him through Nick’s mind. He clutched the edge of the well, his expression horribly blank, and his black eyes beheld the void. Scarlet tears welled up, prepared for the worst. Nick wasn’t any better. He stood frozen, terrified. Neither sensed me, but I knew from their faces that they desperately needed me to be okay.
I didn’t like this. The tension between them was too much, and my own guilt was stifling. How could I have put them through this? I’d never seen Andris cry, and I had never wanted to. He was my precious demon. It tore my heart out to see him in so much pain.
And Nick...he’d been through too much already. I was just throwing more crap onto the pile of tragedy that was his life.
Prodded onward by guilt, I touched both sides of the well and willed myself to rise. The blood helped, gently lifting me up the column as though releasing me into the world again.
I had sunk far, and it took a few seconds to reach the surface, but when I did I was moving fast. I was too intensely focused on getting out of the electrifying, claustrophobic environment and seeing my companions once more.
At last, I broke free of my liquid cell and reached out to Andris.
He gave a start, but as soon as I latched my arms around his neck he unhinged and pulled me out in a flash, coiling me in his warm embrace and shattering the porcelain mask he’d been hiding behind.
“Lynn! Princess! My Lydian—oh, cara mea!” He dropped to his knees and pressed my back against the cool wall of granite, burying his face against my throat and ravishing kisses across my neck and jaw and shoulders. His strong, slender hands gripped my arms as though terrified that I might disappear once more in a poof of ash and flame. He was crying again, but for different reasons this time. His whole body trembled in relief and fear and pain.
To my right, Nick burst into a chorus of cheers and non sequitur cursing. It filled me with so much happiness to see him—an emotion I had truly missed while in my ethereal state. I could sense their emotions with so much more clarity after knowing the feeling of having none myself.
But Andris had shattered to pieces, demanding my attention and begging me to put him back together. A glance was all it took to make me realize that I had broken his heart, and my own façade crumbled.
“Andris...” I whispered hoarsely once the blood seeped into my flesh and cleared my airways. I took handfuls of his amazing hair and turned his face to mine. He paused, and we stared at each other for a long moment. Gently, he slid his hands across my slick skin and gripped my waist, letting his fingers press into my naked flesh as he leaned in.
“I don’t know what I would have done,” he croaked, fighting the urge to break down and losing ground fast. “You’re the center of my universe—I don’t know what I would have done.”
“My demon,” I breathed, and in a surge of ardor, I pushed him onto his back, pressing against the length of his perfect body and kissing him so deeply that he groaned. His hands slipped across every available inch of my skin, testing the extent of my recovery. He still gave me shivers. I could feel him against my thigh, hard and hungry, until he pulled away with a flustered gasp and sat straight up.
“Okay, now you’re just toying with me,” he said, holding my shoulders and leaning his forehead to mine. His eyes were closed, though, and his shaky smile spoke volumes. Red streaks lined his face like shadows of pain.
I smiled and placed a little kiss on his nose. “I love you. No matter what, I’ll be by your side—apparently even in death.” My words were hushed, for his ears alone, and by the time he realized what I meant, I was already looking at Nick.
I got the sense that Nick blamed himself for what had happened. Plus, I was stark naked and thickly coated with blood—the ideal of any blood-craving, lusty teen. And it probably didn’t help that Andris was perfectly capable of beating him senseless for any potential indiscretions. The kid stood motionless, torn between running for his life and greeting me appropriately.
I helped him out. “Hey, kid.”
He blushed furiously and averted his eyes. “Hey, Lynn. Glad you’re back...”
“So are you going to stand there like an idiot or are you going to give me a hug?”
“What?!” two voices demanded at once. I was hearing alarm in stereo.
I frowned at Andris, and before he could get a word in edgewise, I gripped his ruined silk shirt and yanked him to my lips, kissing him so fervently that when I broke away he swayed a little, in surprise.
Sweet sanity, as much as he hated and denied it, he really was adorable.
“Come here,” I said to Nick, motioning him over and giving him an uncompromising stare. I wanted a hug. This was not negotiable.
He balked, more than uncomfortable, but eventually forced one foot in front of the other until he was within my reach—at which point I grabbed the hem of his jeans, jerked his leg from under him, and brought him hard to the floor. He yelped like an injured dog.
Before either could protest for any reason, I snatched them both up, one arm around each of their necks, and held them tightly. “I’m sorry. I’ll be more careful.” My words seemed empty and stupid in my own ears, but I didn’t know what else to say. Guilt was my bane.
It took a few seconds, but eventually they were both holding me in return.
“I fucked up,” Nick said gruffly. “That’ll teach me not to sneak up on people.”
“There’s nothing to forgive. It wasn’t your fault.”
“I wasn’t fast enough,” whispered Andris. “I should have caught…I wasn’t thinking...”
“You, my love, take too much responsibility for stupid accidents,” I replied, unable to muster the will to feel annoyed.
It was okay. Everything was okay. I had my boys with me: my adoring demon and Nick, the silly kid who had started this whole crazy ordeal. I loved them both. They had been there for me when I couldn’t have helped myself. Without them, I would never have come back. There was something selfish about my feelings for those two. I thought of them as mine and mine alone. They were the only people in my life whom I didn’t have to share with my family back at home. My love and my precious friend—they meant worlds to me.
I didn’t realize that I was crying until Nick started pulling away. When I let him go to wipe my eyes, Andris quickly picked me up and held me tight to his chest, more possessive than ever before.
“My Lydian,” he murmured, pressing his lips to my matted hair. He whispered gentle words, telling me that everything was fine now, promising to take care of me.
“Thank you,” I said meekly, curling up to cry against his shoulder. “Both of you.”
“Go take care of her, Andris. I’ll clean up.”
I lifted my head to look at Nick, and he gave me an earnest smile—not a smile tainted with jealousy or resignation, but a truly benevolent smile. What had they said to each other to fix the wrong between them? “Nick...”
“I’ll be fine. If I can’t close the door, I’ll wait for Andris to do it for me.” He shrugged. “Either way, I should clean up the blood. Mizumi finally showed me how to control the water, and there are drains along the wall. I’ll try and get everything back in place, too.”
I stared, unable to put the right words together. Eventually, I just nodded. “Be careful, kid. Don’t break anything.”
“I’ll do my best,” he sighed, giving the enormous puddle of drying blood a poignant frown for my benefit. “You didn’t have to pull a Flipper.”
Despite it all, I laughed, and with my mind at ease I returned to the comfort of Andris’ shoulder. “See you later.”
“Have fun, you kids,” he teased, affecting the tone of a grizzled old man.
Andris rolled his eyes as he carried me out, and at the very last moment he called over his shoulder, “Thanks, runt. I owe you.”
“You owe me more for calling me a runt!” Nick retorted with a hint of laughter.
My demon shook his head, smiling faintly as he brought me past the golden doors, and when I gave him a confused look he instantly grew sober.
“I couldn’t move...when I saw...” he trailed off, and his arms tightened around me. “I didn’t know what to do, but Nick thought of your line’s blood almost immediately. I didn’t save you; Nick did. He gave you back to me. I don’t think I can ever thank him enough, but it still feels awkward.” He spoke in a rush, his eyes trained on a point beyond the end of the corridor, seeing things I couldn’t see, reliving his own version of the horror.
I frowned a little, turning to put my arms around his neck and nuzzle the frosty, blood-streaked hair at his temple. “You both saved me. Nick could never have opened that door. You two will be great friends one day.” I kissed his cheek, laying the affection on thick to keep him from brooding.
“I’ve never been so terrified in my life,” he whispered, turning to kiss me with an aching passion. My soul, my heart, my body...everything I am belongs to you, Lynn. If you ever left, I would be nothing but a monster. Don’t leave me like that. I beg you, Princess.
How could I have allowed myself to hurt him like this?
Lightly, I brushed my fingertips across his lovely, tear-stained cheek, drawing his gaze and whispering with all the tenderness I could muster, “Take me to our room, Andris. The bonds disappeared when I burned. Let’s make them again. I need you again.”
“You need to clean up, too. You’re almost unbearably irresistible right now.” He turned to my palm and kissed it softly.
I gave him a shrewd smile. “The showers can’t get all of it. I’ll have to soak in the bath for a while. Care to join me?”
More than anything, I wanted to renew our blood bond, but tied to that was my desperate need to simply feel him again. In the realm of death, I couldn’t touch him, but now that I could, I wanted to caress every inch of his silken pearl skin, to watch his emotional barriers crumble as our bodies joined. I wanted the pain in his eyes to disappear forever.
No, not even death could keep me from my demon. Regardless of what happened to me, I would always love him, adore him, want him, follow him...
He figured out what I wanted to do in the bath, and with a soft laugh he quickened his pace. “Resurrection sex—interesting,” he said, shaking his head at the morbidity of it all.
“The best kind, I imagine. Better than the make-up variety.”
“It still annoys me though...”
He glanced away, apparently embarrassed, and muttered reluctantly, “Nick saw you nude. I’m the only one who gets to do that.” The indignation in his voice made me smile.
“Ivan’s seen me naked plenty of times,” I pointed out, smirking when his expression darkened. “We used to be naked together quite often, actually.”
“Stop torturing me. Just the thought of another touching you—I’m going to stop thinking now.” He shook the images from his head. “You came back to me, and in return I’m going to pleasure you until you can’t see straight.”
“That actually sounds a little scary. It has to be some kind of myth.”
“I’m a myth, too,” he said. “Believe me, Princess. I’m going to thoroughly ruin you for any other man. No one else will satisfy. You’ll be trapped with me forever and ever and ever...”
“Ooh, nice try, but you’ve already accomplished that,” I teased.
“Well, then I’m just going to fortify my claim on you. The more I do that, the happier I’ll be, and the more you’ll like me.” He smiled tightly and I kissed his cheek. I needed to keep him talking, to take his mind away from everything, but it was as much for my own sake as it was for his. I knew that if he broke down I would, too.
“I don’t think my heart can handle your possessive nature’s exponential growth,” I said.
“Too bad. I’ll compound the pressure until you can’t take it anymore—and even then I won’t set you free.”
I couldn’t help a small laugh. “Wait, doesn’t it go that if you love someone, you should set them free?”
“No. If you love someone, you chase them to the ends of the earth, until your legs give out and your mind breaks from the torture of being alone.” He gave me a pensive frown. “I think I would die of heartache if you ever tried to leave me.”
“Don’t be absurd! I just died, and I still came back for you. If I were you, I’d spend less time worrying about the longevity of our relationship and more time figuring out how to get along with our fledgling.”
“I don’t think either of us needs to be concerned about that.”
We reached the hall where my room was, and as we approached the door I asked after a thought, “Hey, are you and Nick really okay with each other now? Really? Really-really?”
“For now,” he replied with a shrug, “and you said ‘really’ four times.” The door clicked open of its own volition—Andris’ doing, of course—and after he carried me inside, it clicked shut and locked. “I’m thankful for what he did, but it will still take some getting used to. Having a fledgling thrust upon me so suddenly is just awkward. I can be with you because I’m an obsessed fool, but I never asked for Nick.”
“Please don’t start fighting again. I can’t stand it when my best friends fight.”
He stopped halfway to the bath’s entrance and frowned at me. “‘Best friends,’ you say? But I thought I was your blood partner.”
“You are—were—will be again in a few minutes.” I blinked, still miffed that the bonds had come undone. “Anyway, why can’t you be a best friend as well as my love muffin?”
“Please don’t call me that in public,” he grumbled. Clearly, he saw nothing muffin-esque about himself. “It’s just strange. I was always under the impression that love and friendship were different things. You began with the notion of befriending me, but when you accepted me as a lover...I figured it would change.”
The sliding wooden door admitted us into the steamy bath, and as he set me on my feet beneath a shower head, I replied with an ambivalent shrug, “Love and friendship are the same thing to me. I’ll always see Ivan as a friend, even if we were once intimate. My love for him hasn’t really changed—just the physical attraction, really. The same goes for you. I genuinely like your personality, habits, everything that makes you who you are.
“I’m in love with you, but that doesn’t mean I can’t see you as something more than a love interest. On the flip side, I love you as a regular person, too. I only crossed the line because you gave me the nudge I needed, and because you’re perfect for the position as my love muffin.”
“Honestly, Princess, if Nick hears you call me that, I’m going to be very upset.”
I laughed and turned on the shower, rinsing thoroughly and shivering at the sensation of his eyes roaming openly across my body. “You’re not shy at all, are you?” I muttered.
He shrugged, leaning against the creamy marble to fold his arms across his chest and trace my every inch with his gaze. “Not when I’m alone with you, no. Besides, I have a right to stare. I enjoy looking at you, and considering all that has happened in the past hour, I think I’m entitled to a little bit of gawking.” He said that last bit with a heavy dose of stubbornness.
My skin chilled almost immediately after I shut off the water, and I wrapped my arms around myself to keep the autumn cold at bay. There was minimal heating in a place where none of the inhabitants even acknowledged the cold. I was the only one with a wacky trigger. “I’m just going to get in, okay? I really don’t want to deal with my trigger going haywire. Right now, the only thing in me is the fourth line’s source blood, and that’s more than enough of a buzz.”
“Then I guess I’ll skip the shower.” With the ease of practice since the dawn of clothing, he unbuttoned the shirt and slipped it off his shoulders, then carefully unfastened the leather pants and slid them down his long legs.
“I still don’t get how you can move in leather pants,” I said, fixing only half of my attention on the conversation. The rest couldn’t resist staring.
“I’ve been wearing leather since I was a child.” He chuckled, apparently finding my expression amusing, and in a blink he was right in front of me, moving in close and sliding his hands around my waist. “I love it when you look at me that way.”
“What way?” My voice had risen an octave, but with his skin pressed to mine, I didn’t have the will to fight for my dignity.
“As though you want nobody else in the world to hold you—as though no one else is more important to you. No one has ever looked at me with such tenderness.” He kissed my hair, a gesture filled with sweet, silent words. “My thirst is intolerable without the bond, and your scent is thick with powerful Shimari blood. Let me make love to you. Let’s fix our broken bond.”
“Are you okay?” I murmured, touching the shiny little scar on his chest and frowning up into his shadowed eyes.
He offered a tight smile. “I’ll survive, I suppose. The sooner I make you my blood partner again, the sooner I’ll be okay.”
Nodding, I took his hand and tugged him along. “There’s a nice spot in back.”
That made him laugh. “I don’t think you quite understand. I want you so badly right now that I would make love to you on broken glass.”
I quirked an eyebrow at him. “Uh-huh. I guess you’ll just have to bite the bullet and ride out the next few seconds as best you can until we reach the rock.”
“I have a better idea.”
“What?” Before I realized what he was doing, he had already picked me up and walked onto the water.
Wait...onto the water?!
“Andris!” I cried. “You’re not a god!”
He smirked. “No, but if I focus all my power beneath my feet, I don’t have to touch the water. Plus, it’s faster than swimming across.”
“Are you really that desperate?” I mumbled, staring at the rippling surface. I could just barely see something beneath him, a concentration of air strong enough to support our weight and bend the light. He was constantly forcing me to reevaluate his powers.
“Less than an hour ago, I watched the one person I’ve ever loved die.” He reached the granite outcropping and returning me to my feet. “Forgive me if I’m craving a little intimacy.”
He had a point.
I sighed, wrapping my arms around his waist and pressing my ear to his chest. The sound of his heart always made me feel better. This heart beat for me alone—a feeling like no other. Andris was mine. Nobody else held claim to his heart but me, and I loved it.
His fingertips traced down my back and I shivered with pleasure, raising my face when he held my arms in both hands and bent to kiss me.
“Let’s bond while we make love,” I whispered, my breath coming quick when he tugged me to the ground and laid me back. The hot water lapped up my skin, and he knelt between my thighs, sliding his hands up my body as he crept over the length of me. Our eyes met, and I lamented the fact that I couldn’t see his colors during the day. I loved seeing those beautiful emeralds watching me as we tangled together, but the starry ceiling above made an adequate substitute. It felt like we were lying beneath the night sky. In the most secretive depths of my mind, I had always wanted to make love under the stars.
“I like that idea,” my demon whispered, reading my thoughts. He smiled, and I could feel the joy in his gaze like waves of heat from the sun. Watching me burn had broken him, but now that I was back to normal it seemed as though he couldn’t even try to contain his happiness.
He growled softly and claimed my lips again, the sound turning into something more like a sigh as I slipped my hands down his lovely, smooth chest.
I want you, I whispered in his mind.
You can have anything and everything I can give, cara mea. You’ve already given more than this old monster deserves.
His kiss grew more passionate as he slid his hands down to grip my thighs. I clung to him, loving the feel of his skin against my own, and in one swift thrust he plunged deep, stealing the breath from my lungs. The sensation gripped me in an embrace as hot as his flesh, and I tore my lips away when he began to move, my moans echoing off the stone walls. He raised me up into his lap, holding me tightly as I locked my arms around his neck, and I cried out when he pressed against my limits.
“Andris!” I couldn’t stop myself from writhing against him as he moved me slowly, over and over again. Nothing in the world could ever make me give this up, not even death.
He turned to nose my chin up and kiss his way down my throat, leaving a line of heat across my skin. “My precious Lydian,” he whispered. “I’ll never let you escape.”
“Bite me, Andris,” I begged, digging my fingers into his hair and holding him to me.
His fangs grazed my skin like needles as he licked my throat, his tongue seeking where my pulse was strongest, and with a groan he bit down.
I moaned when the sharp, momentary pain transformed into pleasure, and as he drank I sank my own fangs deep, sighing when his nectar hit my tongue and sent shivers through me.
This time we were connecting through more than just blood, and when the bond began to take form, the desperation grew almost unbearable. Like a woman possessed, I gripped his shoulders, moving against him more urgently. He moaned at my throat, and I shuddered, forsaking air as I dragged him further into the depths of my passion and bit deeper into his delicious flesh. I could feel his fangs slicing through my neck in response, a painful wound which quickly became yet another source of pleasure.
This demon...he set my blood afire, demanded all of my attention regardless of what else was happening, pleasured me beyond all reason, gave me whatever I wanted, stole my breath away, loved me so much that the weight of it could destroy me...
His hands squeezed my thighs gently when his thrusts grew more insistent. Our blood reached an almost perfect blending as he stroked deep. I could feel the climax gathering in my belly, larger and larger like a hot plume of lava beneath my skin.
You feel so warm, Andris breathed in my mind. My beautiful Lydian…
I was too close, and when I pulled away my vision danced and swirled, filled with sparks and colors as though the world had decided to celebrate with us.
“You make—make me warm,” I gasped, crying out when he removed his fangs, but moaning softly when he kissed my cheek and pressed me more tightly against him, as if he could pull me through his skin and let us both share his body.
He chuckled, sending a tremor through my flesh, and whispered suggestively, “My intention is to make you hot, Lydian. Should I try harder?”
A sizzling flush swept up my body. “Please, Andris...soon.”
Suddenly, he lunged again at my throat, pushing me onto my back as he devoured me and sent little spasms through my whole being. One of his hands caressed up my thigh, to my waist, before gripping my breast and squeezing gently, coaxing me into shivers as his hips rolled against mine. The other reached up and dug into my hair, stretching my throat tight beneath his hungry mouth.
He was at his limit, and the growing sensation was about ready to burst out of me. Caught up in the heat, I turned my head and bit into him again, moaning when he bit harder in response. He was using his special bite to make every sensation almost impossibly good.
He broke off and gasped, and his final plunge shoved me over the edge of madness, into a dream world of pulsating pleasure and emotion. The spasms tore through my belly and up my back to my shoulders, arching my spine to meet him.
We broke the blood link at the same time, and I held him tightly as he poured his hot essence into me, the two of us moaning together when the bond finally snapped into its proper place between us.
“My demon,” I whispered, my voice thick with rising tears. “Andris, I love you.”
He managed a breathless laugh, still pressing deep to make the beautiful sensations last and send warm tingles cascading through my skin. “I don’t think you have any idea how much I love to hear you say my name, cara mea.”
I smiled, feeling the chill of tears against my cheeks, enjoying the afterglow and the lapping heat of water around our legs. “Andris, Andris, Andris!” I teased.
“Please don’t mock my love for you.”
I raised my lips to his, kissing softly and arching my body to draw a soft moan from him. I smiled at the lovely sound. “Andris,” I sighed, combing my fingers through his damp hair and nuzzling his cheek. “Hell will freeze over and aliens will conquer the human race before I’ll ever mock the love you’ve given me. And even then, all the monsters hiding in the darkest reaches of human imagination will have to torture me for a thousand years before they can get me to say it.”
He laughed and slipped his hands up my chest and throat to cradle my face and give me another ardent kiss. All right, then.
* o * o *
For some time we remained at the water’s edge, holding each other and simply enjoying the fact that we were together again. After so much pain we needed the pleasure, the knowledge that, in the end, neither of us had to suffer. With our bond back where it belonged he seemed less upset, and I could sense that his blood had calmed significantly.
Afterwards, we slipped into the water and helped each other get cleaned up, unable to resist making love twice more in the process. He was breathtaking with his snowy hair slicked back over an obsidian backdrop to leave his large, tapered eyes completely exposed. I would cherish him forever—the taste of water on his slick skin, the ticklish pinch of his fangs when he gave me love bites, the feel of his body pressed to mine, holding me in an aura of latent power. Beneath the surface I could sense his true powers flowing, but I knew in my blood that those powers would never harm me. He was mine to adore, to touch, to taste...
We finally settled on a shallow stone ledge—squeaky clean—and he held me cradled in his arms with our legs loosely tangled together. The water rippled around us like a warm blanket.
“I have a request,” he said softly. Lightly, he touched his forehead to my temple.
“Yes?” I met his eyes, less than an inch away, and fought the urge to tackle him again.
After a pause, he replied hesitantly, “When this is all over, would you come live with me? Nick can come, too, if he wishes. We could find a home...”
I blinked in surprise. “That would be like we were married,” I said, uncertain about whether I wanted to leave my family so soon. I had assumed that we would go back to Simone’s manor and live there for a while.
He gave me a wry smile. “Princess, by all accounts, we are married. Plus, I don’t think Ivan would be particularly enthused by the thought of the three of us living under the same roof. I know it would tear my heart out if I were in his position.”
I couldn’t help but wonder whether something like that would be a breaking point. Even Ivan had to have limits—would he hate me for bringing Andris into our home?
“He won’t hate you if he truly loves you,” Andris reassured me, reading my mind. “And I would do everything in my power to be nice about it.”
“I guess I can see your logic,” I said, “but I don’t know if I’m ready to leave Simone and the others just yet. Yes, Sam will be an intolerable jackass, and Ivan will bottle all of his pain inside like the selfless fool he can be, but they’re still my family. It would hurt them so much more if I left without some sort of transition period.”
He pondered it briefly. “Well, we could get a house nearby. I’m sure Simone would happily allow us into his territory, and we’ll have the added benefit of allies if this war between the Brood Manors ever actually happens. As strange as it feels to say, I’m getting a little bit tired of hiding from the Shimaren, and with you I’m not averse to choosing sides.”
“Simone would be happy to have you on his side, yes, but still...”
“Will you at least think it over for a bit before rejecting my proposal so quickly?” he asked, that familiar ironic smirk playing across his lips. “I’m solitary by nature, and I would be altering my life drastically if I came to reside in Simone’s home with you and your family. I have room in my heart for you, and I can tolerate my own fledgling, but being dropped amongst strangers who fear me would be a little much. Could you at least afford me a transition period?”
It wasn’t at all unreasonable, and after breaking down under his intense gaze I sighed and nodded defeat. “All right, demon. We can play house.”
“Ah, you make all of my dreams come true,” he whispered, slipping his arms tightly around me. “You bonded with me, made love with me, and now you’re going to live with me. How do you string me along so effortlessly? Why do you give me so much?”
“Because you’re kind of needy, and have a frustrating tendency to seduce me whenever I’m trying to disagree with you,” I responded, deadpan.
He gave me a sly look. “Hmm, so you don’t want me touching you?”
“I never said that.”
“You implied it,” he breathed in my ear, tracing it with the tip of his tongue.
Shuddering, I took a fistful of his hair and pulled his head down, claiming his lips for my own and making it crystal clear that nothing in this world or the next could even hope to repel me from him. He seemed to enjoy being yanked around sometimes.
When I drew back, I said softly, “Even when I was avoiding you, I wished you would touch me. Even when my body felt no lust, I wanted you. There is no other place I would rather be, Andris. You’ve possessed me since the moment you invaded my life.”
“Really?” This seemed to surprise him, and I smiled at how endearing he could be.
“Of course, you stubborn, persistent old coot. You pushed until I moved. Besides, you’re so different from what I’m used to. You were this totally new experience, someone who had seen it all, and then some, and I was so sheltered that I couldn’t fight what you were doing to me. I was lost to you from the second I tasted your blood.” Sighing, I slid my hand up his chest and curled it around his jaw, turning him to me and lavishing kisses across his cheeks and lips and eyelids. “You revamped my life—no pun intended—and I love you for it.”
He caught my hand and kissed my knuckles, then laced our fingers together and rested them in my lap under the hot water. “Well, it seemed like you were afraid of me at the time. I had no idea you felt that way even then.”
“I was resisting the unknown. This here now is the only fate I’ll ever believe in.” I rested my head on his shoulder and closed my eyes in contentment.
“Don’t tell me you’re tired already,” he chuckled, hugging me closer.
I shrugged. “No, but it’s so hot. Heat makes me lazy and happy. I never thought I’d find someone warm to share my life with.”
“I never thought I’d find anyone at all,” he said quietly. “Truly, I cherish you, Lynn.”
I smiled. “Well, you found me. I love you, too, Andris.”