CRAVING FOR YOU
But he follows suit, moving one step forward for every step I take backward, until I’m caught between him and the chess table pressing into the back of my thighs. And even though there’s nowhere to go, even though I’m stuck right here in front of him, he leans closer still, gets closer still, until I can feel his warm breath on my cheek and the brush of his silky black hair against my skin.
“What are—?” What little breath I’ve managed to recover catches in my throat. “What are you doing?” I demand as he reaches past me.
He doesn’t answer at first. But when he pulls away, he’s got one of the dragon pieces in his hand. He holds it up for me to see, that single eyebrow of his arched provocatively, and answers. “You’re the one who wanted to see the monsters.”
This one is fierce, eyes narrowed, talons raised, mouth open to show off sharp, jagged teeth. But it’s still just a chess piece. “I’m not afraid of a three-inch dragon.”
“Yeah, well, you should be.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not.” The words come out more strangled than I intend, because he may have taken a step back, but he’s still standing too close. So close that I can feel his breath on my cheek and the warmth radiating from his body. So close that one deep breath will end with my chest pressing against his.
The thought sets off a whole new kaleidoscope of butterflies deep inside me. I can’t move back any farther, but I can lean back over the table a little. Which I do—all while those dark, fathomless eyes of his watch my every move.
Silence stretches between us for one…ten…twenty-five seconds before he finally asks, “So if you aren’t afraid of things that go bump in the night, what are you afraid of?”
Images of my parents’ mangled car flash through my brain, followed by pictures of their battered bodies. I was the only family they had in San Diego—or anywhere, really, except for Finn and Macy—so I’m the one who had to go to the morgue. I’m the one who had to identify their bodies. Who had to see them all bruised and bloody and broken before the funeral home had a chance to put them back together again.
The familiar anguish wells up inside me, but I do what I’ve been doing for weeks now. I shove it back down. Pretend it doesn’t exist. “Not much,” I tell him as flippantly as I can manage. “There’s not much to be afraid of when you’ve already lost everything that matters.”
He freezes at my words, his whole body tensing up so much that it feels like he might shatter. Even his eyes change, the wildness disappearing between one blink and the next until only stillness remains.
Stillness and an agony so deep I can barely see it behind the layers and layers of defenses he’s erected.
But I can see it. More, I can feel it calling to my own pain.
It’s an awful and awe-inspiring feeling at the same time. So awful I can barely stand it. So awe-inspiring that I can’t stop it.
So I don’t. And neither does he.
Instead, we stand there, frozen. Devasted. Connected in a way I can feel but can’t comprehend by our very separate horrors.
I don’t know how long we stay like that, staring into each other’s eyes. Acknowledging each other’s pain because we can’t acknowledge our own.
Long enough for the animosity to drain right out of me.
Long enough for me to see the silver flecks in the midnight of his eyes—distant stars shining through the darkness he makes no attempt to hide.
More than long enough for me to get my rampaging heart under control. At least until he reaches out and gently takes hold of one of my million curls.
And just that easily, I forget how to breathe again.
Heat slams through me as he stretches out the curl, warming me up for the first time since I opened the door of Philip’s plane in Healy. It’s confusing and overwhelming and I don’t have a clue what to do about it.
Five minutes ago, this guy was being a total douche to me. And now…now I don’t know anything. Except that I need space. And to sleep. And a chance to just breathe for a few minutes.
With that in mind, I bring my hands up and push at his shoulders in an effort to get him to give me a little room. But it’s like pushing a wall of granite. He doesn’t budge.
At least not until I whisper, “Please.”
He waits a second longer, maybe two or three—until my head is muddled and my hands are shaking—before he finally takes a step back and lets the curl go.
As he does, he sweeps a hand through his dark hair. His longish bangs part just enough to reveal a jagged scar from the center of his left eyebrow to the left corner of his mouth. It’s thin and white, barely noticeable against the paleness of his skin, but it’s there nonetheless—especially if you look at the wicked vee it causes at the end of his dark eyebrow.
It should make him less attractive, should do something—anything—to negate the incredible power of his looks. But somehow the scar only emphasizes the danger, turning him from just another pretty boy with angelic looks into someone a million times more compelling. A fallen angel with a bad-boy vibe for miles…and a million stories to back that vibe up.
Combined with the anguish I just felt inside him, it makes him more…human. More relatable and more devastating, despite the darkness that rolls off him in waves. A scar like this only comes from an unimaginable injury. Hundreds of stitches, multiple operations, months—maybe even years—of recovery. I hate that he suffered like that, wouldn’t wish it on anyone, let alone this boy who frustrates and terrifies and excites me all at the same time.
He knows I noticed the scar—I can see it in the way his eyes narrow. In the way his shoulders stiffen and his hands clench into fists. In the way he ducks his head so that his hair falls over his cheek again.
I hate that, hate that he thinks he has to hide something that he should wear as a badge of honor. It takes a lot of strength to get through something like this, a lot of strength to come out the other side of it, and he should be proud of that strength. Not ashamed of the mark it’s left.
I reach out before I make a conscious decision to do so, cup his scarred cheek in my hand.
His dark eyes blaze, and I think he’s going to shove me away. But in the end, he doesn’t. He just stands there and lets me stroke my thumb back and forth across his cheek—across his scar—for several long moments.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper when I can finally get my voice past the painful lump of sympathy in my throat. “This must have hurt horribly.”
He doesn’t answer. Instead, he closes his eyes, sinks into my palm, takes one long, shuddering breath.
Then he’s pulling back, stepping away, putting real distance between us for the first time since he snuck up behind me, which suddenly feels like a lifetime ago.
“I don’t understand you,” he tells me suddenly, his black-magic voice so quiet that I have to strain to hear him.
“‘There are more things in heaven and hell, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy,’” I answer, deliberately using his earlier misquote.
He shakes his head as if trying to clear it. Takes a deep breath, then blows it out slowly. “If you won’t leave—”
“I can’t leave,” I interject. “I have nowhere else to go. My parents—”
“Are dead. I know.” He smiles grimly. “Fine. If you’re not going to leave, then you need to listen to me very, very carefully.”
“What do you—?”
“Keep your head down. Don’t look too closely at anyone or anything.” He leans forward, his voice dropping to a low rumble as he finishes. “And always, always watch your back.”
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