“I promise I won’t run,” she whispered, her head tipping up, her hair slipping down her back like liquid honey.
I licked my lips. My blood hummed, and my bones sparked, and I couldn’t fucking breathe without inhaling her delicious scent of papaya, soil, and woodsmoke.
I looked over my shoulder to the screen hiding the bath from the wind. Even from here, remnants of charred firewood and muddy ground were visible, giving simple and obvious evidence that the bath had been used last night.
It’d been filled and lit, and I’d apparently fucked this beautiful girl beneath the moon, and we’d kissed and talked, and I—
I can’t goddamn remember!
It wasn’t fair that I’d forgotten.
I was sick of being sick.
I was done with all of this.
The living alone.
The constant hard work and endless loneliness.
The refusal of my mind to give me anything but darkness.
The blank moments. The haze. The constant headaches and mood swings.
I wanted more.
I wanted her.
I wanted her even knowing I might forget her, hurt her...kill her.
I wanted to be nice to her.
But how do I do that?
How did I put aside a decade of animalistic existence? How did I shrug off the beast I’d become and willingly give up my life?
Because loving her would demand my life.
And I would pay it because the way she looked at me? The way she trembled with welcome, with wariness, with hope—it undid me in the worst kind of ways.
It reminded me of those eight kids who I’d sheltered in the dark. Of my vow to take every rape, every bloodplay, every disgusting game so they didn’t have to.
That was the only part of me that was good.
It redeemed me, even if it condemned me.
But I didn’t know if I had the strength to be that again.
“Kas...” Gemma licked her lips, her blond hair clean and fresh, her body drugging me the longer we stood so close. “You’ve gone white.”
I felt feverish and twitchy.
I wanted to run, to strike, to fuck, to cry.
I wanted her to touch me, all while I wanted her to get far away from me.
I didn’t understand what was happening.
How could I stand so still, all while my thoughts unraveled? How could my heart race with anger directed at everyone, everything, yet my cock hardened with a sudden desperation?
Lust twisted with trust, granting an intoxicating, bone-deep knowledge that I could be true with her.
I could talk to her, and she wouldn’t run.
I could share what I’d done and how I’d been treated, and she wouldn’t look at me as if I was dirty or broken.
It would be a gift.
A brand new experience that would probably break me.
“I...I don’t know what to say.” I shrugged, drawn to her body, her eyes, her goodness. For the first time in my life, I wanted to try out honesty. I didn’t want to filter, choosing what to say in order to protect the family I’d chosen to guard. I wanted to speak from my heart even though it fucking terrified me.
“You don’t have to say a thing.” She inched closer until our feet touched and heat ignited hotter between us. “Do you want me to let you go?” Her fingers curled around the chain, tugging on my waist.
Christ, I don’t know.
“What do you want, Kas?” she whispered. “You’re scaring me, and not in the usual way. You’re impossibly still, yet I know your mind is racing. I see it in your eyes. In the way you clench your jaw and brace your shoulders. You’re fighting something, and I don’t know how to help you.”
I sucked in a heavy breath. “Would you? Help me? If you knew what I’m struggling with? Even after everything?”
She nodded instantly, her hair dancing in the sunlight. “Always.”
Her answer rolled my shoulders with yet another layer of unfathomable emotion.
I didn’t deserve this woman.
Not even a scrap of her.
Whatever had happened last night might always be erased from me, but somehow, we were no longer strangers, no longer enemies.
She had the power to become my fucking everything.
I would fight to the death for her. I would take any beating. I would put myself between her and every monster imaginable.
I would give her everything, and wasn’t that the crux of my problem?
She. Was. Mine.
But in return, that meant I was hers.
Heart, body, and fucked-up soul.
And if I admitted to that, it would be my Fable family all over again.
I would give up my life to keep her safe, even if that meant keeping her safe from me. I would do whatever was necessary to make her happy, and the key to her happiness was to release her.
To let her go home.
Where I wouldn’t be able to watch over her—wouldn’t be able to protect her from men like Storymaker. My gut churned with acid at the thought of Storymaker ever getting his hands on Gemma. Of guests making her scream.