His gaze locked onto mine and didn’t waiver. His lips were thin. His jaw was locked. He cracked it to ask, “Who placed the ward on me? Who wants me alive?” The tension in his body increased and the curve of his spine straightened. His eyes were narrowed to thin slits.
Pushing myself off the pew, I paced slowly and looked over my shoulder at him. “Me,” I lied. The look of shock on Eric’s face made me smile. He believed me. Good. “You needed to realize that you can’t control me,” my voice deepened and was no louder than a whisper, “with your blood. You cannot hurt me with your lies. If I chose to, I could kill you with my bare hands. I placed the ward. I can remove it. I’m the one who saved you.”
His brow pinched together as his fists balled, “You didn’t save me, you destroyed me,” he hissed. He shot across the room, stopping right before his nose pressed into my forehead. He glared down at me. Every hideous emotion was painted across his face. His eyes burned with rage that was focused singularly on me. He extracted a brimstone blade from his pocket. The movement was quick, faster than I could blink. The tip of the blade touched the top of his forefinger. A ribbon of scarlet snaked down his tapered finger, pooling in his palm. A wicked smile spread across his lips as he held out his bloodied hand in front of me.
Unblinking, I gazed at him. A deep hatred flared within me, white hot. Eric’s blood made my limbs feel alive, and the pit of my stomach swirled as if it were filled with butterflies. The drop of red made my mouth burn. It burnt for him, for his blood in all its scarlet beauty that dripped down his fingers and slid down his wrist. All this warred within me, but I did not move. I did not blink. I could still feel, but the sensations were distant, as if they were someone else’s thoughts hovering at the back of my mind.
Without a word, I reached out for Eric’s hand. His eyes were wide as I took his bloody finger and softly pressed it to my lips. The warm slick substance pooled on my lower lip and slid down my chin. Opening my mouth slowly, I flicked out my tongue and slid it over Eric’s finger tasting his blood. Elation washed over his face. Deep within me, something was screaming as if it was being buried alive. It called out to me, to stop, to feel, to do anything but this… But I didn’t stop.
As my tongue flicked the tip of his finger, I swallowed. Then, I lowered his bloody hand and released it. I could still feel the weight of his arm in my grip. Never blinking, never speaking, I gazed into his amber eyes and slid my tongue over my lips—licking away his blood with the slide of my tongue. Eric’s mouth slid into a slow smile, as he began to speak, but my hand darted up and I pressed a single finger over his lips.
Leaning in close, so close I nearly kissed the finger that separated us, I whispered, “You no longer own me.”
Eric’s chest constricted as if he’d plunged headfirst into an icy river. The fear in his eyes said he was drowning in slow motion. His jaw hung open as he stared at me. The only words he uttered was, “How?”
I laughed. My voice was deep, deeper than usual. More sensual. More confident. I felt my power. I felt it without rage, and I grabbed on. Leaning into his face, I pressed my nose to his. Our eyes locked. Fear flashed behind his orbs of gold. “Does it matter? Does it truly matter how I can resist you?” Pulling away slowly I felt the weight of my words slam down on his shoulders. “You’re mine. Eric. I made you. I claim you. I deny you, and I control you. Your fate is in my hands. So choose. Death or… me.” My eyes didn’t waiver, my words didn’t falter as my tongue wrapped around the lie. I did not make his ward. I cannot kill him, but he didn’t know.
His eyes said they believed me. His gaze said he feared me.
Eric cast his gaze downward. Questions played across his face at a mile a minute. His hands balled into fists at his sides. He finally looked up and said, “I loathe you with every fiber of my being. I will not be satisfied to see your dead body beneath my feet.” He moved slowly toward me, menace in his voice and violence in his stance. “It is not enough to feel your heart wither and die in my hands. You have taken from me more than you’ll ever know, and I will take it back in any way I can.” His fingers flexed at his sides. Eric’s eyes were liquid gold, molten, burning and deadly. He swallowed hard. “What do you want from me?”
My heart felt like it was going to explode. My body still reacted to him, to his blood. I just learned to mask the desires and fears. They no longer danced across my face. I could no longer feel the fear within my racing heart. My words slid out with ease, “I want you to help me find the Satan’s Stone, but first, I need you to answer something.” He let out a short breath, enraged. “Why did you kill Al?”
His lips smashed together and he turned away from me. I grabbed his shoulder and spun him back around. I thought he would snap off my head with his teeth. His jaw was so tense that he could have. “Answer me,” I commanded.
His eyes were slits. His entire body shook as if it were ready to strangle me, but invisible wires held him in place preventing him from doing so. “I needed the book. Something happened, and I snapped. I did anything it took to get it. I said things to you and Collin. I taunted the nun as if I didn’t know her, but when… when she fell, it came flooding back. Everything was there.” He tore his shoulder out of my hand. “I don’t know what happened. I didn’t mean to kill her. She… ” He looked at me from under his brow and turned away.
My feet remained still. The only indication that time was passing was the slow methodic breathing of my body. I stared at his back, mostly talking to myself. I don’t know why I said it. I wasn’t entirely certain that I believed him, but Lorren’s observations made sense. I spoke to his turned back. “Kreturus was there. He was slowly separating me from everyone. Ties were broken. He put seeds of doubt in my mind… ” I shook my head. Eric turned, looking over his shoulder. “If I’d done as I originally planned, you’d be dead. Shannon would be dead. And Al is gone. And Collin,” I shook my head. “I’d be alone—like he wanted. I think it’s what Kreturus set out to do.”
Eric turned to me, suddenly much more interested. His words were sharp. He demanded, “And what about Collin? Where is he?”
My mouth hung open. Soft breaths spilled over my lips, but I couldn’t bring myself to say it. I stared at Eric with my arms folded over my chest, pressing them down tightly to try and kill any remnants of the lingering sensations I had about Collin. Numbness flooded me. And I welcomed it. My gaze returned to Eric’s, “And nothing. There is no one. Nothing. Kreturus successfully isolated me. It was his plan. Without help, I’d be weak. I’d need him to survive. He used you. He used you to get at me.”
Eric’s eyes flicked to the side, and returned to my face. “It was still my hand. And it is still my mind that harbors the memories.” He swallowed hard, casting his gaze away from me. Away from judgment. Away from the shame that pressed on his shoulders.
His dark shirt was rumpled as if he slept in it. But Eric didn’t sleep. His arms were folded over his chest as he gazed across the room. Something had been bothering me about him, something that I didn’t want to ask. But I had to know. “Why do you remember anything? You said things that night. Things you couldn’t possibly know.” I stepped toward him. Eric didn’t move. I took another step, but Eric kept his gaze cast toward the floor. His lips were pressed tightly. I stopped next to him, next to his side, next to his ear. My voice wasn’t commanding. It was soft, as if asking a child to reveal a great secret, “Will you tell me?”
He turned toward me. My breath caught in my throat. Remorse was strewn across his face. It hung there plain and thick, pulling him down toward the pits of Hell where he belonged. My jaw opened, but I was speechless.
“It’s you,” he said. “It’s something to do with you. I can feel remorse. I can feel… ” he sucked in air as if there weren’t enough, and looked at me. “Shit, Ivy. You made Valefar that can feel. What was the one thing I told you? The one thing all Valefar wanted?”
He nodded, “And that they’ll do anything to get it because they don’t feel a damn thing. But me,” he glared at my face with hidden pain seeping through his eyes, “I feel everything. I feel it because of you. Because I remember.” He shook his head, turning away from me and pressed his fingers to his temples. “I remember, because of the kiss.”
I shook my head, not understanding, “What kiss? The Demon Kiss in the Lorren? What are you talking about?”
He turned to me, a lazy smile on his face. “Your kiss. I asked you to kiss me after I was a Valefar. Remember?” His golden eyes searched my face. My stomach flipped. “You did. And I stole from you when you did it. I took back some of the pieces of my life. My essence still lingered in you. It still does.” He looked away, the smile fading. “You hold the key. You hold my memories.”
“No,” I replied moving closer to him. My face scrunched together, “That’s not possible. You can’t steal back your memories. They died with you. Otherwise you’d remember. You’d know things… ” I paused with my mouth hanging open. He’d know where the Satan’s Stone was. He’d remember taking his pen to that book of his and making the markings that no one could read. My eyes shifted, examining his face.
Eric shrugged, turning from me. “Say what you want, but it’s what happened. Your demon kiss isn’t the same as other Valefar. Maybe it’s because you’re not a Valefar. I don’t know.” He ran his fingers through his hair, and looked over his shoulder at me. “I just know that with each kiss, I was able to steal back bits and pieces of things I no longer knew. Things from my previous life. Things I’m not supposed to remember.” He pushed his hair out of his face. It fell in no particular direction, each strand of hair doing its own thing.
I stared at him. He hated me with such raw intensity that I could sense it wafting off of him. A kiss from him could destroy me. He could steal the rest of my soul. It made me wonder how badly he wanted his memories back. Was it enough to keep me alive? My eyes slid over his hard body, still rigid, still tense. He didn’t trust me either.
“What do you remember?” I asked. He cast a glare at me that would have made me gasp if I could feel, but I couldn’t. So I glared back. He spoke. And once he started, words poured out of his mouth in an unending wave. He didn’t remember many things, but he had some memories of things long ago—memories that I didn’t own. Memories that weren’t mine. They were a jumble of scenes, places, and people that made no sense to him. He spoke for nearly an hour when the words stopped. He tilted his head, and stared at me with such longing that my throat tightened in response. Foolishness comes in spurts that appear to be bravery. I had to know why my kiss was different. I had to know if the old Eric existed in some way inside of me. If he did… I had to know.