Every part of my body felt sticky and moist—a word I hate, but it fit my condition. The guest cabin sits removed from the main house by two barns and an outbuilding. Dagen snored quietly next to me under the light breeze of the ceiling fan. My parents allowed him to stay with me, or maybe he refused to leave.
I peeled off the sweaty sheets and snuck into the small bathroom shower. I washed my hair twice before soaking it in conditioner to remove all the dried blood. Running the bar of soap over the ribbons of keloid flesh running down my body made my bottom lip quiver. Scars, Pax and I discussed they would be there but to feel the ugly flesh with my own hands was sobering.
My leg and arm hair looked like I hadn’t shaved in a month. A quick scan of the medicine cabinet produced a new disposable razor and a toothbrush. My eyes were rimmed in dark red, mimicking the last days of a pink eye infection.
After scrubbing and shaving away all the imperfections possible, I walked out to find Dagen and a towel. He stretched across the white sheets and gazed up at me. I prepared for the moment he noticed my spiderweb scarred face and the vines of angry, red skin running down my torso and leg.
“Are you okay, Sweetheart?” Dagen yawned and craned his neck before walking into the bathroom, half-closing the door behind him. He couldn’t see my scars.
“I wasn’t sure you were awake yet. I’m still dazed. How can I tell if this is a delusion?”
The toilet flushed, and the water ran in the shower. “I’ll need to think about that one. If this is a dream, it’s a good dream.” Water from the bathroom ran loudly beneath the floorboards.
Water in the pipes underground traveled toward the horses stomping on the hard ground in the corral behind us. Trees swaying in the warm morning breeze moaned as their bark gave and withdrew. Birds rustled in the branches—their tiny erratic heartbeats filled my ears.
I opened the back door and stood in the sunshine, letting the life outside wash over my mind.
“I’m not human. I’m not a wolf either. I’m floating.” Dagen’s footsteps behind me painted a picture of the entire room. I couldn’t see him with my eyes, but I knew exactly where he stood, along with every other living creature on the land around us.
His wet skin adhered to my back. Sweeping my damp hair off my neck, he kissed my shoulders tenderly, wrapping his arm around my throat, pulling me to him.
“That feels real.” Dagen’s other hand slid down my stomach stretching down almost where I wanted him to be. I reached back, running my hands through his hair. Dagen pulled me inside the cabin and closed the door.
I tossed the duvet over the dirty sheets and lured him onto the bed. I missed his mouth on mine and his warm hands on my skin.
“This might be a dream,” I suggested seizing his rigid shoulders. “I dream about you a lot recently.”
“Hmm, what happens in these dreams?”
“Usually, you skim your face down my chest, kissing and squeezing me before sliding your wet thumbs up the sides...”
Dagen licked his fingers. “Like this?” He asked, using his sexy Leprechaun voice.
“Oh my God, just like that.”
“Then maybe I lick right here.” Dagen’s usually firm grip turned softer, melting my apprehension. I tried to start confident, assuming his rough edges would need more intensity from me than I could conjure.
I needed him to love me. His gentle approach didn’t disappoint. With my legs already wrapped around his neck, Dagen easily brought me closer, burying his body into mine. Our wolves let us enjoy each other without interrupting this time.
The magic in his blood fed mine leaving behind exquisite warmth like honey pouring over my skin—taking my breath away and leaving my legs quivering.
“We can’t stay here all day. We need food, and messages are blowing up my phone. Let’s see about getting back home.”
“I dread the long drive back. How soon until Leo unites with his body and starts recovering in the Grove?”
Dagen ran his hands through his hair and stared out the window. “One of the many things on today’s list. I can lead you into the Grove from your father’s portal. With the witches angry, you shouldn’t go inside the Grove alone.”
I quietly nodded my head in agreement. “I just want to run and not think.” I took a moment to clean up. My overnight bag was by the door. I pulled out a pair of shorts and a tank top.
“Hmm, we can find time for a run later. It’ll be good for us.”
I could tell the house was empty as we walked into the kitchen. Dagen opened the fridge and removed eggs, leftover ham, and cheese. I sat across the long breakfast bar and watched him prepare omelets. We talked about his impressive list of adopted sons and all the time he spends with them.
“We try for a Sunday lunch every week. Not everyone shows up, but we play football, drink beer, and eat. You should come. Assuming we make it back in time.”
“Sounds like fun. Physically I feel great. My mind is so out of sync and agitated. I need a distraction.”
“Leave your car here, fly back with me. Use one of my cars.”
“I’m not parking an eighty-thousand-dollar car on the street in front of my apartment.”
“There’s a truck and a Chevy something in the garage. Take your pick, but why go back to your place. Just stay with me. The company will move you closer to the White entrance soon. Your apprenticeship will likely be farther upstate.”
“We already skipped a few steps. Do you think it’s wise to move in together so soon?”
“That’s the human way. Besides, Henry convinced you to move into his place.”
“It wasn’t the commitment you’re suggesting. Things changed when Henry found out about Leo,” I exhaled, thinking back to my argument with Henry, “Seeing how happy Henry is in the White. I didn’t move into his place completely.”
“Ah, you gave him what he wanted for the short term.” Dagen flipped the pan and added cheese to the eggs and meat.
“There was no upside to arguing. It wasn’t going to work out for us long-term.”
“So, what does Henry think about Leo?”
“Henry accepts I need magic blood. We had a three-way,” I confessed quietly.
“You know your only supposed to group fuck people you’re not emotionally attached to, right?” Dagen snickered, eating a hot piece of omelet from the pan.
“Nope, but all three of us understand pretty well now.”
Dagen put the spatula in the pan and leaned both his hands on the countertop.
“I’m not going to invite Leo into my bed to share you, Alerie.”
“Seriously, I can’t imagine sharing you with anyone. I have no right to ask for your undivided attention, but I don’t want to know about anyone else you see.”
“That’s a good thing. I’m happy you can’t. You could extend me the same consideration.”
I smiled at Dagen. “Deal. It will be hard to keep my secrets from you. You know everything about me now.”
“The reality is I can outperform Henry and Leo. Neither of them can provide what you need. Pax concerns me.” Dagen slid a fat cheese topped omelet on a plate and pushed it in front of me. He pulled up a barstool next to mine and looked at me blankly.
“Wow, this looks great, thank you.” I squeezed Dagen’s arm and kissed him on the cheek.
“Are we going to ignore the fact Pax is fixated on you?”
“I don’t think explaining is going to make you feel any better.”
“Try me.” Dagen dropped his fork on his plate. I startled, jolting up on my chair.
“Fine.” I cracked my neck and took a deep breath. “Pax wants my body on a cold slab to see how all my parts work. He wants my darkest monster in a combat realm so we can fight. Pax likes to kiss my lips and run his tongue along mine. So, he keeps a human host. His demon vessel doesn’t have lips.”
“Damnit, when I gave you to him. It was the best fucking gift he could ever imagine?” Dagen looked a little queasy. I took a large bite of my omelet and felt it drop to the bottom of my empty stomach.
“My memories flowed into Pax while he repaired me. He knows my every dream and desire. I can see the scars from his work even though you can’t. They will fade, but underneath the spell, I look like Frankenstein’s first attempt.” Taking Dagen’s hand, I pressed his index finger on either side of the invisible scar on my face and pulled it down the side of my neck and across my heart. “I was dead. Henry’s grace kept me alive while Pax stitched me back together.”
Dagen nodded his head and forced a smile on his face. “I’ll send him a corporate fruit basket.”
I shoveled a few more bites of omelet into my mouth while Dagen looked over his texts. “I asked Pax to hide my scars so you wouldn’t think I was repulsive.”
Dagen set down his phone and drew my face to his chest. “I’m grateful you’re alive, but I can’t watch Pax touch you. It makes me sick.” I was glad I stopped short of explaining how much I like being wrapped in Pax’s dark wings.
“Chris is working on an excuse for Henry’s office. He’s going to miss a few days, but there’s a problem with your apartment. The water heater leaked in the unit next-door, flooding your place five inches up the walls.”
“Nooo! Oh shit. I bet my couch is soaked.”
“So’s all the drywall. Chris is moving your belongings to storage and attempting to cancel your lease. Should I ask her to move your personal stuff to my place?”
“Fate does seem to want me under your roof.”
“Seriously, we shouldn’t defy her.” Dagen smiled and brushed his fingers across my cheek.
“Move my clothes and makeup to your place. Oh, and my laptop. Everything else worth keeping can go into storage. And tell Chris, thank you.”
“Okay, that’s done. Let’s finish eating. We should head over to Leo’s parents. I’ll volunteer to run the group through the Grove and back. I’m sure Rafferty wants an update.”
“Won’t the demons see you in the Yolk? I don’t want you going in without me.”
“Without bait to draw them, probably not. Plus, I don’t know how much access you can expect with demon blood coursing through your veins.”
The forest clearing held at least forty people, my parents sat in a tight group with Leo’s. My father popped up to greet us, shaking Dagen’s hand and pulling him aside to talk. My mother motioned for me to join her and Reg.
I hugged Leo’s parents and told them how sorry I was he was in the Grove. They both watched Pax lower my body into a bloody pit less than a day ago. The looks on their faces as their eyes scanned my skin was fear painted with polite amazement.
One by one, the men waiting for Dagen to lead them into the Grove came up to me, cut a slit on their finger, and smeared their blood on my arm. I didn’t understand why.
“Reg, why are they putting their blood on me? Am I supposed to say something?”
“They are acknowledging you saved their lives in battle. Smile, Alerie, it’s an honor.”