The Company of Fiends (Tempting Monsters 2) - Page 105

"She died, actually."

I froze, my eyes wide, staring back at Nireas.

"She died shortly before you arrived," he said, his smile fragile. "No. It was…a year or more. Short for me. We didn't stay together the whole time, and we weren't lovers at the end. She did get sick of the theater in time. I tried playing human for, but I hated it, stuffing myself into spaces that were too small. But we loved each other through all those years, even if the nature of that love changed over the decades."

Mr. Reddy would've known, but who else? If the woman had left the theater years before—and surely she must have, because she would've been at least eighty by the time she'd died—there wouldn't have been anyone else around long enough to know about her.

"You were still mourning her," I said, thinking of the Nireas I'd known when I'd arrived. Quiet, kind, protective. I'd been smitten, soaking up a tender kind of attention I'd never known before, ripe for falling in love with him. And he'd been suffering a quiet, patient heartbreak.

"I was. I am. I will still mourn her," Nireas said, shrugging. "It's no excuse."

"It's a better excuse than I thought you had," I admitted.

He sighed and moved to the bed, arms tangling in front of him as he shook off his jacket and uncuffed his sleeves, an entrancing confusion of limbs moving together familiarly.

"Not for ignoring you, refusing to speak to you. It's not that you remind me of Louise," he said, looking up, two hands unbuttoning the front of his shirt. Was he undressing? No, they stopped halfway down his chest, revealing a glimmer of iridescence that glowed by the lamplight. "It's that I remembered the feeling, that sliding sensation of falling into another person. I felt guilty that it was happening again so soon after she'd died. Mostly, I thought I could stop it, for both our sakes. It's… Hazel, it's such a hard journey," he whispered.

I groaned softly and stomped forward, landing heavily on Nireas's absurdly large and surprisingly soft bed. "You were too late for me."

He reached out with one hand. "I'm sorry."

And maybe it was a mistake, but I scooted back out of reach, deeper onto the bed. "It's not the loss of the romance that hurt me. Or maybe it was, but… You were my friend."

"I am your—"

"No." I shook my head, ignoring the way my body wanted to flinch at the same time he did. "No, you were. And you broke that. You stopped speaking to me! That's not going to…going to heal quickly."

"I didn't mean for eight years to pass," he said, frowning and twisting to face me. "I was waiting…and then I realized you would be leaving soon, and I'm an idiot, I know that. Because eight years is nothing to me, but—"

"It could've been a year and it would've been just as bad. You withdrew completely! Barely a word. And then suddenly, you demand me on stage with you and fuck me—"

"I'm so sorry, Hazel," he rushed out.

I shook my head. "Shut up, you can't be sorry. Not for the—If you apologize for that moment on stage, I'll throttle you to death."

His lips pressed shut, eyes watching me, and I glared down at his hands on the bed. Two of them had absolutely managed to sneak closer to me. I tucked my legs underneath me, widening the space, but what good would it do when I was cornering myself on his bed? What good did I want it to do?

"I have money saved. If you want to leave the theater, it doesn't have to be with Hunter or me. You can have the money, live your own life," Nireas said, eyes widening. "Or settle down with the detective. He could protect you too."


"I don't want you to leave. I'm not saying you have to leave. I want the time to make things up to you, to see if you can forgive me, but…but I can't ask you to stay. You've been miserable this past year."

"Not miserable."

"Not happy," he countered quickly.

I'd lived with my father's grip on my wrist my whole life. Telling me I would leave, emotionally cuffing me in place to deny me the privilege. And maybe no one at the theater had forced me to stay. Maybe I'd created that sense of being trapped, chained to the stage, on my own, so used to the idea.

"I would do anything in my power so that you could just feel…free," he breathed.

The words shocked me, so far from the voice I'd grown up with, so far even from the twist of my own thoughts. Sweet, and honest. Why I'd fallen in love with Nireas in the first place, because yes, he had been the first and most fragile of them. I wasn't forgiving him for eight years of cold silence. Not yet. He couldn't be my friend again until that was fixed, but it didn't stop me from needing him in this moment in a visceral and painful way. As much as the ancient wound hurt, so did staying in this tiny corner of an enormous bed, with a man I…loved reaching out to me when I so badly wanted to be touched.

Nireas gasped as I threw myself forward, but his arms were ready, snapping around me and clutching me to his chest, toppling us down into the mattress.

Tags: Kathryn Moon Tempting Monsters Paranormal
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